'LIFE AND TEACHINGS OF JOHN RUSKIN,' 'POPULAR STUDIES IN NINETEENTH CENTURY POETS,' ETC., ETC.
LONDON: FREDERICK WARNE AND CO.
AND NEW YORK.
While Edwin Waugh and Ben Brierley have done much to perpetuate the rude moorland and busy factory life of Lancashire, little has been done to perpetuate the stern Puritanism of the hill sects.
Among these sects there is a poetry and simplicity local in character, yet delightful in spirit; and to recall and record it is the aim of the following Idylls.
The provincialism of Lancashire varies with its valleys. It is only necessary, therefore, to remark that as these Idylls are drawn from a once famous valley in the North-east division of the county, the provincialism is peculiar to that valley—indeed, it would be more correct to say, to that section of the valley wherein Rehoboth lies.
I. MR. PENROSE'S NEW PARISH:
1. A MOORLAND MACHPELAH 2. A CHILD OF THE HEATHER 3. OWD ENOCH'S FLUTE
II. THE MONEY-LENDER:
1. THE UTTERMOST FARTHING 2. THE REDEMPTION OF MOSES FLETCHER 3. THE ATONEMENT OF MOSES FLETCHER
III. AMANDA STOTT:
1. HOME 2. LIGHT AT EVENTIDE 3. THE COURT OF SOULS 4. THE OLD PASTOR
IV. SAVED AS BY FIRE
V. WINTER SKETCHES:
1. THE CANDLE OF THE LORD 2. THE TWO MOTHERS 3. THE SNOW CRADLE
VI. MIRIAM'S MOTHERHOOD:
1. A WOMAN'S SECRET 2. HOW DEBORAH HEARD THE NEWS 3. 'IT'S A LAD!' 4. THE LEAD OF THE LITTLE ONE
VII. HOW MALACHI O' TH' MOUNT WON HIS WIFE
VIII. MR. PENROSE BRINGS HOME A BRIDE
MR. PENROSE'S NEW PARISH.
1. A MOORLAND MACHPELAH. 2. A CHILD OF THE HEATHER. 3. OWD ENOCH'S FLUTE.
A MOORLAND MACHPELAH.
There was a sepulchral tone in the voice, and well there might be, for it was a voice from the grave. Floating on the damp autumnal air, and echoing round the forest of tombs, it died away over the moors, on the edge of which the old God's-acre stood.
Though far from melodious, it was distinct enough to convey to the ear the words of a well-known hymn—a hymn sung in jerky fragments, the concluding syllable always rising and ending with a gasp, as though the singer found his task too heavy, and was bound to pause for breath.
The startled listener was none other than Mr. Penrose, the newly-appointed minister, who was awaiting a funeral, long overdue. Looking round, his already pale face became a shade paler as he saw no living form, other than himself.
There he stood, alone, a stranger in this moorland haunt, amid falling shadows and rounding gloom, mocked by the mute records and stony memorials of the dead.
Again the voice was heard—another hymn, and to a tune as old as the mossed headstones that threw around their lengthening shadows.
'I'll praise my Maker—while I've breath,'
followed by a pause, as though breath had actually forsaken the body of the singer. But in a moment or two the strain continued:
'And when my voice—is lost in death.'
Whereon the sounds ceased, and there came a final silence, death seeming to take the singer at his word.
As Mr. Penrose looked in the direction from which the voice travelled, he saw a shovel thrown out of a newly-made grave, followed by the steaming head and weather-worn face of old Joseph, the sexton, all aglow with the combined task of grave-digging and singing.
'Why, Joseph, is it you? I couldn't tell where the sound came from. It seems, after all, the grave can praise God, although the prophet tells us it cannot. Do you always sing at your work?'
'Partly whod. You see it's i' this way, sir,' said Joseph; 'grave-diggin's hard wark, and if a felley doesn'd sing a bit o'er it he's like baan to curse, so I sings to stop swears. There's a fearful deal o' oaths spilt in a grave while it's i' th' makin', I can tell yo'; and th' Almeety's name is spoken more daan i' th' hoile than it is up aboon, for all th' parson reads it so mich aat of his book. But this funeral's baan to be lat', Mr. Penrose'; and drawing a huge watch from his fob, he exclaimed: 'Another ten minutes and there's no berryin' i' th' yard this afternoon.'
'I don't understand you, Joseph,' said Mr. Penrose wonderingly.
'We never berry here after four o'clock.'
'But there's no law forbidding a funeral at any hour that I know of—is there?'
'There is wi' me. I'm maisther o' this berryin' hoile, whatever yo' may be o' th' chapel. But they're comin', so I'll oppen th' chapel durs.'
Old Joseph, as he was called, had been grave-digger at Rehoboth for upwards of fifty years, and so rooted were his customs that none cared to call them in question. For minister and deacons he showed little respect. Boys and girls fled from before his shadow; and the village mothers frightened their offspring when naughty by threatening to 'fotch owd Joseph to put them in th' berryhoile.' The women held him in awe, declaring that he sat up at night in the graveyard to watch for corpse-candles. Even the shrewd and hard-headed did not care to thwart him, preferring to be friends rather than foes. Fathers, sons and sons' sons—generation after generation—had been laid to rest by the sinewy arms of Joseph. They came, and they departed; but he, like the earth, remained. A gray, gaunt Tithonus, him 'only cruel immortality consumed.'
The graveyard at Rehoboth was his kingdom. Here, among the tombs, he reigned with undisputed sway. Whether marked by lettered stone or grassy mound, it mattered little—he knew where each rude forefather of the hamlet lay. Rich in the family lore of the neighbourhood, he could trace back ancestry and thread his way through the maze of relationship to the third and fourth generations. He could recount the sins which had hurried men to untimely graves, and point to the spot where their bones were rotting; and he could tell of virtues that made the memory of the mouldering dust more fragrant than the sweetbriar and the rose that grew upon the graves.
There was one rule which old Joseph would never break, and that was that there should be no interments after four o'clock. Plead with him, press him, threaten him, it was to no purpose; flinch he would not for rich or for poor, for parson or for people. More than once he had driven the mourners back from the gates, and one winter's afternoon, when the corpse had been brought a long distance, it was left for the night in a neighbouring barn. Upon this occasion a riot was with difficulty averted. But old Joseph stood firm, and at the risk of his life carried the day. This was long years ago. Now, throughout the whole countryside it was known that no corpse passed through Rehoboth gates after four o'clock.
* * * * *
'You'll happen look in an' see th' owd woman afore yo' go wom',' said Joseph to Mr. Penrose, as the minister finished his entry of the funeral in the chapel register, 'hoo's nobbud cratchenly (shaky).'
Joseph and his wife lived in the lower room of a three-storied cottage at the end of the chapel, the second and third stories of the said cottage being utilized by the Rehoboth members as Sunday-schools.
Entering, Mr. Penrose saw the old woman crouching over the hearth and doing her best to feed the fast-dying fires of her vitality. As she raised her wrinkled face, crowned with white hair and covered with a coloured kerchief, a gray shawl wrapped round her lean and stooping shoulders, she smiled a welcome, and bade him be seated.
'So yo'n put away owd Chris,' she said, as soon as Mr. Penrose had taken his seat by her side. 'Well, he were awlus one for sleepin'. Th' owd felley would a slept on a clooas-line if he could a' fun nowhere else to lay hissel. But he'll sleep saander or ever naa. They'll bide some wakkenin' as sleep raand here, Mr. Penrose. Did he come in a yerst, or were he carried?'
'He was carried,' answered the minister, somewhat in uncertainty as to the meaning of the old woman's question.
'I were awlus for carryin'. I make nowt o' poor folk apein' th' quality, and when they're deead and all. Them as keeps carriages while they're wick can ride in yersts to their berryin' if they like, it's nowt to me; but when I dee I's be carried, and noan so far, noather.'
This moralizing on funerals by the sexton's wife was a new phase of life to Mr. Penrose. He had never before met with anyone who took an interest in the matter. It was true that in the city from which he had lately come the question of wicker coffins and of cremation was loudly discussed; but the choice between a hearse and 'carrying' as a means of transit to the tomb never dawned on him as being anything else than a question of utility—the speediest and easiest means of transit.
After the deliverance of her mind on the snobbishness of poor people in the use of the hearse, she continued:
'It'll noan be so long afore they've to carry me, Mr. Penrose. I towd Joseph yesterneet that his turn 'ud soon come to dig my grave wi' th' rest; and he said, "When thy turn comes, lass, I'll do by thee as thou'd be done by."'
'And how would you be done by?' asked the minister.
'Well, it's i' this way, Mr. Penrose,' said the old woman. 'I want a dry grave, wi' a posy growin' on th' top. I somehaa like posies on graves; they mak' me think of th' owd hymn,
'"There everlastin' spring abides, And never-witherin' flaars."'
Now, Mr. Penrose was one of the so-called theological young bloods, and held little sympathy with Dr. Watts's sensuous views of a future state. His common-sense, however, and his discretion came to his rescue, and delivered him from a strong temptation to blast the old woman's paradise with a breath of negative criticism.
'There's a grave daan at th' bottom o' th' yard, Mr. Penrose, where th' sunleet rests from morn till neet, an' I've axed Joseph to lay me there, for it's welly awlus warm, and flaars grow from Kesmas to Kesmas. Th' doctor's little lass lies there. Yo never knowd her, Mr. Penrose. Hoo were some pratty, bless her! Did yo' ever read what her faither put o'er th' top o' th' stone?'
Mr. Penrose confessed he was in ignorance of the epitaph over the grave of the doctor's child. As yet the history and romance of the graveyard were unknown to him.
'Well, it's this,' continued his informant:
'"Such lilies th' angels gather for th' garden of God."
They'll never write that o'er me, Mr. Penrose. I'm nobbud a withered stalk. Hoo were eight—I'm eighty. But for all that I should like a flaar on mi grave, and Joseph says I shall hev one.'
* * * * *
The autumn gave place to a long and cheerless winter, which all too slowly yielded to a late and nipping spring. The wild March wind swept across the moors, roaring loudly around the old conventicle, chasing the last year's leaves in a mad whirl among the rows of headstones, and hissing, as though in anger, through the rank grasses growing on the innumerable mounds that marked the underlying dead, and then careering off, as though wrathful at its powerlessness to disturb the sleepers, to distant farmsteads and lone folds where starved ewes cowered with their early lambs under shivering thorns, and old men complained of the blast that roused the slumbering rheum and played havoc with their feeble frames. Scanty snow showers fell late under 'the roaring moon of daffodil,' whitening the moorlands and lying glistening in the morning light, to be gathered up by the rays of the sun that day by day climbed higher in the cold blue of the sky of spring. Young blades of green lay scattered like emerald shafts amid the tawny wastes of the winter grass, and swelling branches told of a year's returning life. Just as the golden chalice of the first crocus opened on the graves of the Rehoboth burial-yard, the old woman at the chapel-house died.
* * * * *
The funeral was to take place at three o'clock, but long before the hour old Joseph's kitchen was filled with a motley group of mourners. They came from far and near, from moor and field, and from the cottages over the way. Every branch of the family was represented—sons and daughters, grandchildren, nephews and nieces, even to babies in arms. As they straggled in, the women attired in their best black, and the men wearing their top-hats (a headgear worn by the Lancashire operative only on the state occasion of funerals), it seemed as though old Joseph, like Abraham, was the father of a race as the stars of heaven for multitude, and as the sands by the seashore, innumerable.
An oppressive atmosphere filled the room, where, on a table under the window, the open coffin rested, in which lay, exposed to all eyes, the peaceful features and straightened limbs of the dead. As the mourners entered they bent reverently over the corpse, and moistened its immobile features with their tears, whispering kindly words as to the appearance the old woman wore in death, and calling to mind some characteristic grace and virtue in her past life.
On another table was stacked a number of long clay pipes with tobacco, from which the men assisted themselves, smoking with the silence and stolidity of Indians, the women preserving the same mute attitude, save for an occasional groan and suppressed sigh—the feminine method in Lancashire of mourning for the dead.
The last mourners had long arrived, and the company was seated in an attitude of hushed and painful expectancy for the officiating minister. There was no sign, however, of his appearance; and the mourners asked themselves in silence if he who was to perform the final rites for the dead had forgotten the hour or the day.
The fingers of the old clock slowly crept along the dial-plate towards four, the hour so relentlessly enforced for interments for half a century by the sexton, who was now about to lay away his own wife in the greedy maw of the grave. The monotonous oscillation of the pendulum, sounding as the stroke of a passing bell, gathered solemnity of tone in the felt hush that rested upon all in the room—a hush as deep as that which rested upon the dead. All eyes, under the cover of stealthily drooping lids, stole glances at old Joseph, whose face fought hard to hide the emotions running like pulsing tides beneath the surface. At last a woman, whose threescore years and ten was the only warrant for her rude interruption, exclaimed:
'Wheer's th' parson? Hes he forgetten, thinksto?'
'Mr. Penrose is ill i' bed,' replied old Joseph, 'but I seed Mr. Hanson fra Burnt Hill Chapel, and he promised as he'd be here in his place.'
The clock beat out its seconds with the same monotonous sound, and the finger crept towards the fateful hour. Then came the wheeze and whir preliminary to the strokes of four, conveying to familiar ears that only eight more minutes remained. At this warning Joseph arose from his seat, and, walking out into the graveyard, made direct to an eminence overlooking the long trend of road, and, raising one hand to shade his now failing sight, looked down the valley to see if the minister was on his way to the grave. It was in vain. Tears began to dim his sight, and for a moment the man overcame the sexton. The struggle was but brief; in another moment he was again the sexton. Returning to the cottage, he scarcely reached the threshold before he cried out, with all the firmness of his cruelly professional tones:
'Parson or no parson, aat o' this dur (door) hoo goes at four o'clock.'
As the clock struck the fateful hour the old woman was carried to her grave; and as they lowered her, Joseph, with uncovered head, let fall the clods from his own hand, repeating, in a hoarse yet tremulous voice, the words:
'Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.'
In another moment the old sexton reeled, and fell into the arms of the men who stood near him. It was but a passing weakness, for he soon pulled himself together, and accompanied the mourners to the funeral tea, which was served in a neighbouring house.
Never afterwards, however, was old Joseph heard to rail at mourners when late, or known to close the Rehoboth gates against an overdue funeral.
A CHILD OF THE HEATHER.
'What, Milly! Sitting in the dark?' asked Mr. Penrose, as he entered the chamber of the suffering child, who was gazing through the open window at the silent stars.
'I were just lookin' at th' parish candles, as my faither co's 'em; they burn breetsome to-neet, sir.'
'Looking at them, or looking for them?' queried the somewhat perplexed divine. 'Can I bring the candles to you?'
'Yo' cornd bring 'em ony nearer than they are. They're up yon, sithi,' and so saying the child pointed to the evening sky.
'So you call the stars "parish candles," do you?' smilingly inquired Mr. Penrose. 'I never heard them called by that name before.'
'It's my faither co's 'em "parish candles," not me,' said the child.
'And what do you call them?'
'Happen if I tell yo' yo'll laugh at me, as my faither does.'
'No, I shall not. You need not be afraid.'
'Well, I co 'em angels' een (eyes).'
'A far prettier name than your father gives to them, Milly.'
'An' what dun yo' think hoo co's th' dew as it lies fresh on th' moors in a mornin'?' asked the mother, who was sitting in one of the shadowed corners of the room.
'I cannot say, I am sure, Mrs. Lord. Milly has such wonderful names for everything.'
'Why, hoo co's it angels' tears, and says it drops daan fro' th' een o' them as watches fro' aboon at the devilment they see on th' earth.'
'Milly, you are a poetess!' exclaimed the delighted minister. 'But do you really think the angels weep? Would it not destroy the joy of that place where sorrow and sighing are no more?'
'Well, yo' see, it's i' this road, Mr. Penrose. They say as th' angels are glad when bad folk turn good, and I suppose they'll fret theirsels a bit if th' bad folk keeps bad; and there's mony o' that mak' abaat here.'
Mr, Penrose was silent. Once more Milly was, unknown to herself furnishing him with thoughts; for, again and again, from the sickbed of this child had he gone forth with fresh fields of revelation opening before him. True, the idea of heaven's grief at earth's sin was not a pleasant one; but if joy at righteousness and repentance, why not grief at wickedness and hardness of heart?
While thus musing in the quiet of the darkening chamber, Milly turned from her contemplation of the stars with the somewhat startling question:
'Mr. Penrose, dun yo' think there'll be yethbobs (tufts of heather) i' heaven?'
'That's bothered her a deal latly,' broke in the mother, with a choking voice. 'Hoo sez hoo noan cares for heaven if hoo cornd play on th' moors, and yer th' wind, and poo yethbobs when hoo gets there. What dun yo' think abaat it, Mr. Penrose?'
Mr. Penrose was not long from college, and the metaphysics and dogmatics of the schools were more to his mind than the poetry and religion of this moorland child. If asked to discourse on personality, or expound the latest phase of German thought, he would have felt himself at home. Here, however, he who was the idol of the class-room sat silenced and foolish before a peasant girl. True, he could enter into an argument for a future state, and show how spiritual laws opposed the mundane imagination of the child. But, after all, wherein was the use?—perhaps the child was nearer the truth than he was himself. He would leave her to her own pristine fancies.
In a moment Milly continued:
'Th' Bible says, Mr. Penrose, that i' heaven there's a street paved wi' gowd (gold). Naa; I'd raither hev a meadow wi' posies, or th' moors when they're covered wi' yethbobs. If heaven's baan to be all streets, I'd as soon stop o' this side—though they be paved wi' gowd an' o'.'
'Listen yo', how hoo talks, Mr. Penrose. Hoo's awlus talked i' that feshion sin' hoo were a little un. Aar owd minister used to co her "God's child."'
Mr. Penrose was a young man, and thought that 'Nature's child' would be, perhaps, a more fitting name, but held his thought unuttered. Wishing Milly and her mother a 'Good-night,' he descended the old stone staircase to the kitchen, where Abraham Lord sat smoking and looking gloomily into the embers of the fire.
'Has th' missus towd thee ought abaat aar Milly?' somewhat sullenly interrogated the father.
'Nothing of any moment,' said Mr. Penrose. 'Of course she could not; we were never together out of your daughter's presence.'
'Then aw'll tell thee. Milly's baan to-morn to th' infirmary to hev her leg tan off.'
The strong man shook in the convulsive grip of his grief. No tears came to his relief; the storm was deep down in his soul; outlet there was none.
'Mr. Penrose,' said he, laying a hand on the minister's shoulder; 'Mr. Penrose, if I'd ha' known afore I were wed that gettin' wed meant a child o' mine being tan fro' me and cut i' pieces by them doctor chaps, I'd never ha' wed, fond o' Martha as I wor and am. No, Mr. Penrose, I never would. They might tak' me, and do what they'n a mind wi' me, at their butcherin' shops. But her—'
Here the strong man was swept by another convulsive storm of feeling too deep for utterance. Subduing his passion by a supreme effort of will, he continued:
'However, them as knows best says as it's her only chance, and I'm noan goin' agen it. I shall go daan wi' her mysel' to-morn.'
* * * * *
Milly, or 'th' little lass o' Lord's,' as the villagers called her, was one of those phenomenal child personalities which now and again visit this world as though to defy all laws of heredity, and remind the selfish and the mighty of that kingdom in which the little one is ruler. A bright, bonny, light-haired girl—the vital feelings of delight pulsed through all her being. Born amid the moorlands, cradled in the heather, nourished on the breezy heights of Rehoboth, she grew up an ideal child of the hills. For years her morning baptism had been a frolic across the dewy uplands; and, evening by evening, the light of setting suns kindled holy fires in her rapturous and wonder-filled eyes. The native heart, too, was in touch with the native heath; for Milly's nature was deeply poetic, many of her questions betraying a disposition and sympathy strangely out of harmony with the kindly, yet rude, stock from which she sprang. From a toddling child her eye carried sunshine and her presence peace. Unconsciously she leavened the whole village, and toned much of the harsh Calvinism that knit together its iron creed. There was not one who did not in some way respond to the magic of her voice, her mood, her presence. Even Joseph softened as she stood by the yawning graves which he was digging, and questioned him as to the dying and the dead. The old pastor, Mr. Morell, stern man that he was, used to put his hand on her head, and call her his 'Goldilocks'; and he had once been heard to say, after leaving her, 'And a little child shall lead them.' Though somewhat lonely, there was neither priggishness nor precocity in her disposition; she was just herself—unspoiled from the hands of God and of Nature.
Shortly after her twelfth birthday she was caught on the moors by a heavy autumnal shower, and, unwilling to miss her ramble by returning home, pursued her way drenched to the skin. A severe illness was the consequence, an illness which left a weakness in her knee, eventually incapacitating her for all exercise whatever, and keeping her a prisoner to the house. The village doctor laboured long, but in vain was all his skill. At last a specialist from the great city beyond the hills was called, who ordered the child to be removed to the Royal Infirmary, where care, skill, and nourishment would all be within easy reach. So it came to pass one summer morning, as the sun lighted up the wide moors, and the hum of the factories in the valley began to be carried upwards towards the heights, a little crowd of folks gathered round the door of Abraham Lord's cottage to take a farewell of 'th' little lass.' About eight o'clock the doctor drove up, and in a few moments Milly was carried in his and her father's strong arms and gently laid in the cushioned carriage, and then slowly driven away from the home which now for the first time in her life she was leaving. The eyes of the onlookers were as moist as the dewy herbage on which they stood, and many a voice trembled in the farewell given in response to Milly's 'Good-bye.'
Throughout the whole of that dark day Milly's mother never left the cottage; and when her husband, weary and dispirited, returned at nightfall, she could scarcely nerve herself to question him lest some word of his should add another stab to her already sorely wounded heart. When ten o'clock struck, and Abraham Lord laid his hand on the key to shoot the lock for the night, he burst into tears, and turning to his wife, said: 'Never, my lass, wi' Milly on th' wrong side'; and for months the parents slept with an unbarred door.
* * * * *
'You have a remarkable patient in Milly Lord,' said Dr. Franks to Nurse West one morning.
'I have indeed, doctor. I never met with another like her in all my seven years' experience.'
'Does she talk much?'
'At times. But I should call her a silent child; at least, she does not talk like other children. When she does talk it is to make some quaint remark, or to ask some strange question.'
'Ah,' said the doctor, 'she's just asked me one. I referred her to you and the chaplain. Religion, you know, is not much in my line. But for all that, I must own it was a perplexing question.'
'Might I ask what it was, doctor?'
'Oh! she asked if I thought Jesus was sent here to suffer pain in order that God might find out what pain was; and if so, was it not queer that God should allow so much pain to exist. There now, nurse, you have a problem. By the way, do you think the child knows the limb has to be amputated?'
'She has guessed as much, doctor.'
'Does she seem to fear the operation?'
'Not at all. She talks as though it had to be. Do you think it will be successful?'
Dr. Franks shrugged his shoulders, uttering no word by way of reply.
'I should not like Milly to slip from us,' continued the nurse.
'Nor should I. We'll keep her if we can, and if she'll only help us with a good heart we may possibly manage to pull her through.'
And with a mirthless laugh the doctor turned on his heel, removing, when unobserved, his spectacles and wiping the moisture from them and from his eyes.
From the day that Milly entered the great infirmary, the charm of her childhood laid its spell upon all who came near her. Not only was the gloomy ward brighter for her presence, but patients and nurses were infected with her strange personality and undefinable influence. Even the doctors lingered a moment longer at her bedside, looking pensively into the light of those eyes whose fires had been kindled under sunny skies, and at the beauty of that face, kissed into loveliness by the wandering winds that played around Rehoboth heights.
At last the morning of the operation came, and Milly was wheeled into the theatre, where a crew of noisy students were joking and indulging in the frolics which, from time immemorial, have been the privilege of their order. As soon, however, as they caught sight of the child every voice was hushed, and quietness prevailed, for not a few already knew something of her winsomeness and beauty. As she was placed on the operating-table the sunlight fell through the lanthorn, and lighted up the golden clusters of her hair, the welcome rays calling forth from her now pale features a responsive smile. In another minute she lay peaceful and motionless under the anaesthetic—a statue, immobile, yet expressionful, as though carved by some master hand.
A burly-looking surgeon, with the sleeves of his operating coat neatly turned up, approached the table on which Milly was stretched, and in a business-like manner set about his task. Carefully handling one of his cold and glittering instruments, he paused; then bending himself over the patient, appeared as though about to make the first incision, yet hesitated.
'What is the matter with old Rogers?' asked the students, under their breath; and one or two of the doctors looked knowingly at each other.
There was nothing the matter, however, with old Rogers for long. He merely muttered something about it being a shame to cut into such flesh as Milly's, and proceeded to go calmly through his work, like the old hand that he was.
The operation was successful, and yet Milly seemed to make no satisfactory progress. The old flow of life returned not, and a settled gloom rested over her once merry heart. She was as one suffering from an indefinable hunger; even she herself knew not what it was she wanted. Unremitting was the attention shown, nurses and doctors alike doing their utmost, even to works of supererogation, on her behalf. Week by week her parents visited her, while there was not a patient in the ward who would not have sacrificed a half of her own chances of recovery, if by so doing she could have ensured hers. All, however, seemed in vain; rally she could not. The ward oppressed her, and the gloomy autumn clouds that hung over the wilderness of warehouses upon which her eye rested day by day canopied her with despair. She listened for the wind—but all she heard was its monotonous hum along the telegraph wires that stretched overhead. She looked for the birds—but all she saw was the sooty-winged house-sparrow that perched upon the eaves. She longed for the stars—but the little area of sky that grudgingly spared itself for her gaze was oftener clouded than clear as the night hour drew on. The truth was, she was pining for her native heath; but she knew it not, nor did her kindly ministrants.
In the next bed to Milly's lay a young woman slowly dying of an internal malady, whose home, too, was far away among the moors, and whose husband came week by week to visit her. On one of these visits he brought with him a bunch of flowers—for the most part made up of the 'wildings of Nature'—among which was a tuft of heather in all the glory of its autumnal bloom. Turning towards the sick child, the poor woman reached out her wasted arm, and throwing a spray on to Milly's counterpane, said:
'Here, lass, I'll gi' thee that.'
In a moment Milly's eyes flashed light, and the bloom of the moorland flower reflected itself in the blush of her cheeks. Throwing up both hands, and wild with a tide of new life, she cried:
'Nurse! nurse! Sithee—a yethbob—a yethbob!'
From that hour commenced Milly's convalescence. What medicine and nursing failed to accomplish was carried to a successful issue by 'a tuft of heather.' For Milly did not die—indeed, she still lives; and although unable to roam and romp the moors that lie in great sweeps around her cottage home, she sits and looks at 'th' angels' een'—as she still calls the stars—believing that in those heavenly watchers are the eyes that slumber not, nor sleep.
OWD ENOCH'S FLUTE.
It was a sunny afternoon in June, and old Enoch, sitting in the shade of the garden bushes, called forth sweet tones from his flute. No score was before him; that from which he played was scored on his heart. Being in that sweet mood when
'Pleasant thoughts Bring sad thoughts to the mind,'
he was living over again, in the melodies that he played, his chequered past. Forms moved before him to the music, and faces, long since dust, smiled at him, and held converse with him, as the plaintive notes rose and fell and died away. Winds, sweetened by their sweep over miles of ling and herbage, and spiced with the scents of the garden-flowers that like a zone of colour encircled him, kissed his lips, and stole therefrom his melodies, bearing them onwards to the haunts of the wild fowl, or letting them fall where brooklets from the hills sang their silvery songs. Along the path by which he sat, all fringed with London-pride, the leaves spread dappled shadows—a mosaic of nature fit for the tread of angels or the dance of fairy sprites. Beyond the fence that fringed the little cottage rolled great waves of upland, shimmering in the heat of the midsummer glare—that hot breathing of the earth when wooed too fiercely by her wanton paramour, the sun—while the horizon discovered lines of dreamy sweep all crowned with haze, the vestibules to other hills grander and more distant.
As the afternoon passed its golden hours, it passed them in companionship with the notes of old Enoch's flute. Oblivious to the time, oblivious to the surroundings, the musician heard not an approaching step, nor knew that a listener stood behind the garden bushes, with ear responsive to his melodies. How long he would have played, how long his listener would have remained undiscovered, it is hard to say—perhaps until the dews fell and the stars glimmered. This was not to be, however, for forth from the cottage door came his wife, who, with voice drowning the strain of the flute, cried:
'Enoch, owd lad! dun yo' see th' parson?'
Ah, heedless Enoch! What was parson, what was wife to him? Was he not soaring far above theologies and domesticities, over continents traversed only by memory, amid ideals seen only with the eye of hope? But a woman's voice!—what is there it cannot shatter and dispel?
'Enoch! Enoch! dun yo' yer? Doesto see th' parson?'
'No, lass, I doan't,' said he, taking the flute from his lips.
'I welly think he's forgetten us this time, Enoch.'
'Nod he, lass; he's too fond o' thi butter-cakes and moufins (muffins) to forgeet. He's some fond o' thi bakin', I con tell thaa. Didn't he say as when he geet wed he'd bring his missis to thee to larn haa to mak' bread?'
'Yi, he did, for sure!'
'And so he will,' said Mr. Penrose, stepping from behind the garden bush. 'You see your husband is right, Mrs. Ashworth. I've not forgotten it is baking-day, or that I was due at your house to tea.'
'Theyer, Enoch, thaa sees what thi tootling on th' owd flute's done for thee,' said the old woman, in her surprise and chagrin. 'Thaa cornd be too careful haa thaa talks. Thaa sees trees hes yers as weel as stoan walls.'
'Ne'er mind, Mr. Penrose; I were nobbud hevin' her on a bit. Hoo thinks a mighty lot o' parsons, I con tell yo'. Hoo's never reet but when hoo's oather listenin' to 'em or feedin' 'em,' and the old man quietly broke into a laugh.
'An' dun yo' know what he sez abaat parsons, Mr. Penrose? I mud as weel tell tales abaat him naa he's started tellin' tales abaat me.'
Mr. Penrose declared he had no idea what old Enoch's criticisms on the members of the cloth were, but expressed a strong desire to be made familiar with them.
'Weel,' continued Mrs. Ashworth, 'he sez as he never noather flatters parsons nor women, for noather on 'em con ston' it. Naa, then, what dun yo' mak' o' that?'
'He's very wise.'
'I only mean as far as the parsons are concerned. As to women—why, I suppose I must be silent.'
'Ne'er mind, Mr. Penrose; tay's waitin', so come along. Yo' cornd bridle women folks, and it's happen as weel yo' cornd; for if they mutn't talk they'd scrat, and that 'ud be a deal wur.'
During tea Mr. Penrose apologized for hiding behind the bushes in the garden while old Enoch was playing the flute: 'But,' continued he, 'the airs were so sweet that it would have been a sin to mar them by interruption.'
Upon hearing this Enoch's eye brightened, and a flush of pride mantled on his cheek. These signs were at once detected by his quick-eyed wife, who broke out in a triumphant voice:
'An' that's him as wouldn't flatter parsons an' women, cose, as he sez, they cornd ston' it; and he's aside hissel cose yo've cracked up his playin', Mr. Penrose.'
'All reet, owd lass,' good-humouredly retorted Enoch, looking love through his mild blue eyes at his wife, who knew so well how to defend her own, 'all reet; but if thaa durnd mind I'll tell Mr. Penrose abaat Dickey o' Wams.'
'An' I'll tell him abaat Edge End "Messiah," and thi marlock wi' th' owd piccolo.'
'Supposing I hear both stories,' said the minister. 'Then I can apply both, and judge between you.'
'Oh! there's nowt in 'em,' replied Enoch. 'Sometimes, thaa knows, when hoo's a bit fratchy, I plague her wi' tellin' o' Dickey o' Wams, who wor talkin' abaat his wife's tantrums, when his maisther stopped him and said, "Dickey, wherever did ta pike her up?" and he said, "Oh, 'mang a lot more lumber up Stackkirk way."'
As this story was told with all the dry humour of which Enoch possessed so large a share, both the old woman and Mr. Penrose crowned it with a hearty laugh, the minister turning to his hostess and saying:
'Now, Mrs. Ashworth, it's your turn. What about the Edge End "Messiah"?'
'Mun I tell him, Enoch?'
'Yi, owd lass; id 'll pleeas thee, and noan hurt me. Brast (start) off.'
'Well, yo' mun know, Mr. Penrose, they were givin' th' "Messiah" at Edge End. Eh! dear, Enoch,' sighed the old woman, stopping short in her story, 'it's thirty year sin' come next Kesmas.'
'Yi, lass, it is. There's some snow fallen sin' then.'
'There hes that, an' we've bed our share and o'. But, as I wor tellin' yo', Mr. Penrose, they wor givin' th' "Messiah" at Edge End, and bed just getten to "How beautiful are th' feet." Naa, it wor arranged that aar Enoch mud play th' piccolo accompaniment, and he started fairly weel. Happen he wor a bit flat, for th' chapel wor very hot, an' most o' th' instruments aat o' pitch. But, as I say, he started fairly weel, when th' conductor, a chap fra Manchester, who thought he knew summat, said, "Hooisht, hooisht!" But th' owd lad stuck to his tune. Then th' conductor banged his stick on th' music, and, wi' a face as red as a soudger's coite (soldier's coat), called aat agen, "Hooisht! Doesto yer?—hooisht!" But he'd mistaan his mon, Mr. Penrose, for Enoch nobbud stopped short to say, "Thee go on with thi conductin'. If hoo'll sing I'll play." And hoo did sing an' o'. An' Enoch welly blew his lips off wi' playin', I con tell thi. But, somehaa or other, hoo never cared to come and sing i' these parts after, and they never geet Enoch to tak' th' piccolo accompaniment agen to "How beautiful are th' feet."'
'Nowe, an' they never will. I somehaa think I had summat to do wi' spoilin' th' beauty of "their feet" that neet, Mr. Penrose, though I've played in mony a oratory (oratorio) sin' then, an' mean to do agen.'
After tea Enoch took Mr. Penrose for a stroll over the moors. The sun was westering, and cool airs crept up from distant wilds, playing softly as they swept among the long grasses, and leading Enoch to say to Mr. Penrose, 'Theer's music for yo'.' The great hills threw miles of shadow, and masses of fleecy clouds slowly crossed the deepening blue like white galleons on a sapphire sea. Along the crests of the far-off hills mystic colours were mingling, deepening, and fading away—the tremulous drapery woven by angel hands, behind which the bridegroom of day was hiding his splendour and his strength. Soft herbage yielded to the tread, and warm stretches of peaty soil lay like bars across the green and gray and gold of what seemed to Mr. Penrose the shoreless waste of moor. On distant hills stood lone farmsteads, their little windows glowing with the lingering beams of the setting sun; the low of kine, the bay of dog, and the shout of shepherd, softened into sweetest sounds as they travelled from far along the wings of the evening wind. It was the hour when Nature rests, and when man meditates—if the soul of meditation be his.
After a silence of some minutes Enoch turned to Mr. Penrose and said:
'Jokin' aside, Mr. Penrose, that owd flute yo' yerd me playin' this afternoon is a part o' my life. Let's sit daan i' this nook and I'll tell yo' all abaat it. Three times in mi history it's bin mi salvation. Th' first wor when I lost mi brass. We lived daan at th' Brig then, and I ran th' factory. I wor thirty-five year owd, and hed a tidy bit o' brass, when they geet me to put a twothree hunderd in a speculation. Ay, dear! I wor fool enugh not to let weel alone. I did as they wanted me. Me, and Bill Stott's faither, and owd Jerry o' th' Moss went in together heavy, and we lost every farthin'. I shall never forgeet it. It wor Sunday mornin' when th' news coome fro' th' lawyer. I wor i' bed when th' missis gav me th' letter, and I could tell by her face summat wor wrang. "What is it, lass?" I axed. "What a towd thee it would be," hoo said. "We are ruined." "Thaa never sez so!" I shaated. "It's paper as says so," hoo said, "noan me," and hoo handed me th' lawyer's letter. I tried to get aat o' bed, Mr. Penrose, but when I set mi feet on th' floor, I couldn't ston'. "I've lost my legs, missis," I cried. "Nay, lad, thank God, thaa's getten thi legs yet; it's thi brass thaa's lost!" I shall never forgeet those days. Then came th' sale, and th' flittin', an' all th' black looks. Yo' know yor friends when th' brass goes, Mr. Penrose. Poverty's a rare hond for pikin' aat hypocrites. It maks no mistakes; it tells yo' who's who. We'd scarce a friend i' those days. I wor weeks and never held up mi yed, and noabry but th' missis to speak to. Then it wor th' owd flute coome to mi help. I'd nobbud to tak' it up, and put it to mi lips, and it ud begin to speyk. Yi, an' it cried an' o', and took my sorrow on itsel, and shifted it away fro' me. I've played o' th' neet thro' on these moors, Mr. Penrose, when I couldn't sleep i' bed, or stay i' th' haas. It's a grond thing, is music, when yo're brokken-hearted. If ever yo' marry and hev childer, teach 'em music—a chap as con play con feight th' devil so much better nor him as cornd.'
Old Enoch took his cap from his head, and wiped his brow, and continued:
'Th' flute were my salvation agen, Mr. Penrose, when our lad deed. He wor just one-and-twenty, and he's bin dead eighteen year. Brass is nothin' when it comes to berryin' yor own, Mr. Penrose. Poverty may touch a mon's pride, but death touches his heart. When yo' see yor own go aat o' th' haas feet fermost, and yo' know it's for good an' o', there's summat taan aat o' yo' that nothin' ever maks up for at afterwards. I wor a long time afore I forgave th' Almeety for takin' aar Joe. And all the time I owed Him a grudge, and kep' on blamin' Him like; I got wurr and wurr, until I welly went mad. Then I coome across th' old flute, and it seemed to say, "I'll help thee agen." "Nay, owd brid," I said, "tha cornd. It's noan brass this time, it's mi lad." And th' owd flute seemed to say, "Try me." So I tuk it up, and put it to mi lips and blew—yi, aat of a sad heart, Mr. Penrose—but it wor reet. Th' owd flute gi' me back mi prayer—grace for grace, as yo' parsons say, whatever yo' mean by't. And as I sat on th' bench i' th' garden—same bench as yo' saw me sittin' on this afternoon—my missis coome to th' dur, and hoo said, "Enoch, what doesto think?" "Nay, lass," I said, "I durnd know." "Why," hoo says, "I think as thaa's fotched aar Joe daan fro' heaven to hear thee playin'; he seems nearer to me naa nor he ever did sin' he left us." And so, ever afterwards, Mr. Penrose, when we want to feel aar Joe near us, I just taks up th' flute and plays, and he awlus comes.'
Old Enoch paused, for his voice was thick, and with his handkerchief he wiped away the moisture from his eyes.
In another minute he continued:
'Bud, Mr. Penrose, I'd a wurr trouble than oather o' those I've towd yo' on. A twothree year sin' I wor a reprobate. I don't know how it coom abaat, but somehaa I geet fond o' drink, and I tuk to stopping aat late, and comin' wom' rough like, and turnin' agen th' missus. They coom up to see me from Rehoboth, and owd Mr. Morell prayed wi' me; but it wor all no use. Th' devil hissel wor in me. They say, Mr. Penrose, as yo' durnd believe in a devil; that yo' co evil a principle or summat of that sort. If thaa'd bin like me thaa'd hev no doubts abaat a devil. I've felt him in me, an' I've felt him tak' howd o' me and do as he'd a mind wi' me. One day, when they'd crossed mi name off th' Rehoboth register, and th' missus were sobbin' fit to break her heart, aw coom across th' owd flute as aw were rootin' in a box for some medicine. There it lay, long forgetten. As aw seed it, tears coom in my een. Aw thought haa it bed helped mi when I lost o' mi brass, and when Joe deed, and aw tuk it up and said, "Can ta help me naa, thinksto?" An' aw put it together, and went aat on th' moors and began to play; and fro' that hour to this aw've never wanted to sup a drop o' drink. Naa, Mr. Penrose, yo' preachers talk abaat th' Cross, and it's o' reet that yo' should; but yo' cannot blame me for talkin' abaat my flute, con yo', when it's bin my salvation? And whenever awm a bit daanhearted, or hardhearted, or fratchy wi' th' missus, or plaguey wi' fo'k, aw goes to th' owd flute, and it helps me o'er th' stile. But it's gettin' lat'; let's be goin' wom'.'
Arriving at the cottage, Enoch told his wife how he had given Mr. Penrose the history of his old flute, whereupon the good woman wept and said:
'Him and me, Mr. Penrose, has many a time supped sorrow, but th' owd flute has awlus sweetened aar cup, hesn't it, Enoch?'
'Yi, lass, it awlus hes.'
That night, before Mr. Penrose left the moorland cottage of the Ashworths, old Enoch took up the flute tenderly, and, with a far-off look in his eyes, commenced to play a plaintive air, which the old woman told Mr. Penrose was to 'their Joe,' who was 'up aboon wi' Jesus.' And as the minister descended the brow towards his own home, the sweet, sad music continued to fall in dying strains upon his ears; and that night, and many a night afterwards, did he vex his brain to find out why redemption should be wrought out by a flute, when the creed of Rehoboth was powerless.
1. THE UTTERMOST FARTHING. 2. THE REDEMPTION OF MOSES FLETCHER. 3. THE ATONEMENT OF MOSES FLETCHER.
THE UTTERMOST FARTHING.
'Well! yo' and Jim may do as yo' like—but I'm noan baan to turn aat o' th' owd Fold till I'm ta'en aat feet fermost.'
'Nay, gronny—don't tak' on so. Yo' cornd ston' agen law as haa it be; a writ is a writ, and if yo' hevn't got brass it's no use feightin'.'
'A, lass! I'm feared thaa's reet—naa-a-days them as has most gets most, and their own way i' th' bargain.'
They were sitting over the hearth, the elder woman gazing wearily into the dying embers of the fire, and nursing her chin on her hand; while the younger, with her clog upon the rocker of a deal cradle, gave to that ark of infancy the gentle and monotonous movement which from time immemorial has soothed the restlessness of child-life.
It was a pitiless night—a night the superstitious might well associate with the portent of the downfall of the house around which the storm seemed to rage. The rain beat upon the windows, and the wind with its invisible arms clasped the old farmstead as if to wrench it from its foundations and scatter broadcast its gray stones over the wild moor on the fringe of which it stood. Neither of the women, however, heeded the sweep of the tempest, for their bosoms were racked by storms other than those of the elements. With eyes heavy from pent-up floods of tears, and hearts dark with foreboding, they listened for the footfall which both knew would bring with it their impending fate.
'He's here,' said the old woman, quickly raising her head during one of the lulls of the storm. Nor was she mistaken, for in a moment the door was thrown open by a tall broad-shouldered man, who, seizing the dripping cap from his head, flung it with an oath into the farthest corner of the room.
'Then he'll noan give us another chonce, lad? But thaa cornd mend it wi' swearin'—thaa nobbud makes bad worse by adding thy oaths to his roguery.'
'Oaths, mother! Oaths didsto say? I can tell thee th' Almighty sometimes thinks more o' oaths than prayers. Owd Moses'll say his to-neet—but my oaths'll get to heaven faster.'
'Hooisht, Jim! hooisht! ne'er mind Moses and his prayers. What did he say about th' mortgage?'
'Say! why he said he'd oather hev his brass at ten o'clock to-morn, or skift us wi' law. And he'll do it—that he will.'
'A, lad—thaa says truth. Owd Moses'll keep his word; he never lies when he threatens poor fo'k like us. But I never thought it ud come to this. I could ha' liked to ha' deed in th' owd chamber aboon, and left th' haas feet fermost when I left it for good.' And the old woman rocked herself in her grief over the dying fire.
'Well, gronmother, wee'n all to dee, and I durnd know as it matters where we dee as long as we're ready. It's where we're baan to live as bothers me,' said the hard-headed daughter-in-law.
'I've lived my life, thaa sees, lass. I'm nobbud waitin' to go to them as is gone afore; and I could ha' liked to foller them from th' owd haas. And then thaa'rt noan o' th' owd stock, lass. Thy folks ne'er rooted theirsels i' th' soil like mine. It's fifty year come next Whisundy (Whitsuntide) since Jimmie's faither brought me here; and as I come in by wedlock, I could ha' liked to ha' gone out by berryin'.'
'Come, mother,' said the now subdued son, 'we'll find a home for thee, and when thaa dees we'll put thee away. Durnd tak' on like that.'
But the old woman heeded not the kindly words of her son. Her thoughts were in the past, and she was reliving the years that were gone. Gazing into the expiring embers, she saw the forms of long ago; and talking first to herself, and then to her son and his wife, she continued, in a crooning voice:
'It's fifty year come next Whisundy sin thi faither brought me here, lad—fifty year, and it only seems like yesterday. We were wed at th' owd church i' Manchester. Dan o' Nodlocks, as used to live up at th' Chapel-hill, drove us there and back in his new spring-cart; and what wi' gettin' there and being spliced, and comin' wom' we were all th' day at th' job. Th' sun were just showin' hissel o'er th' hill yonder when we started, and it were goin' daan o'er th' moors when we geet back; and thi faither, Jimmy, as he lifted me daan from th' cart and put me in th' porch yonder, kissed me and said: "Sunshine aatside, Jenny, and sunshine in." An' that's fifty year ago, lad, and I've never slept out o' th' owd haas from that neet to this, and I durnd want to leave it naa.'
'Well, durnd tak' on like that, mother; if tha' does thaa'll break my heart. We shall happen stop yet, who knows?' and Jim almost choked with the lie which he told in his wild anguish to stay the torrent of his mother's grief.
But the crooning old woman heeded him not. With eyes fixed on the fire she continued to read the horoscope of the past:
'We were some happy, those first years, I can tell thee. Then little Billy wor born. Poor little Billy! Thaa's been a good lad, Jim, but I often think what a good un little Billy would ha' been if he'd lived! But he deed. Ay! I con remember it as though it were nobbud yesterneet. It was abaat th' deead hour, and I wakened up sudden-like, for summat towd me all were not reet wi' th' lad. I made thi faither strike a leet, and then I see'd Billy's een were set, and his little mouth twitchin'. Thi faither run off, half dressed as he were, for th' doctor. But it wor no use; Billy were going cowd in my arms when they both geet back. And then they laid th' little lad aat in th' owd chamber, and I used to creep upstairs when thi faither were in th' meadow, and talk to Billy, and ax him to oppen his een. But it wor all no use, he never glent at me agen. I never cried, lad—I couldn't. I felt summat wor taan aat o' me,' and the old woman laid her hand on her heart. 'I was empty-like; and then five years after, as I lay in bed in th' owd chamber aboon—same chamber as Billy were laid out in—Mary o' Sams, who had come to nurse me, said: "Thou mun look up, Jenny, it's another lad," and she put thee in my arms, and then th' warkin' went, and I were a happy woman again. I could ha' liked to ha' kept little Billy, but Him aboon knows best: thaa's bin a good lad to me, Jimmy.'
Tears began to stream from the eyes of Jimmy's wife; and stooping down, she lifted her sleeping baby from its cradle, and hugged it to her breast. The story of little Billy had, for the moment, softened the heart of this practical and common-sense woman.
'That's reet, lass. Keep him close to thee, he'll need thee and thaa'll need him afore yo're both done wi' th' world. Since thi faither deed, Jimmy, I've felt to need thee more and more. It's ten year this last back-end sin' we buried him. And it's nobbud just like yesterday. He wor in th' barn when he wor taan, sudden-like, with apoplex; and he never spoke, or knew me or you at after. And he wor laid aat in th' owd chamber, too, where they laid little Billy aat afore him, and where yo' wor born, lad. I thought I should be laid aat there, and all, and I could ha' liked it to be so. But I mun be off to bed, childer, it's gettin' lat'. I shall sleep in th' owd chamber to-neet, wheresomever I sleep to-morn.'
And so saying, the grandmother took her lamp, and climbed the worn stone staircase to her room—a staircase trodden so many times in changing moods of joy and sorrow, and with feet now gladsome and now weary with honest toil and household care.
When Jimmy and his wife were alone, and the sound of the old woman's voice no longer fell upon their ears, they realized, as never before, the anguish of their surroundings. They were spending their last night in what to one had been a life-long home, and to the other a shelter of happiness for ten years of married life. The story was a sad one, and yet, alas! not uncommon. Crawshaw Fold—the old farmstead—dated back two hundred years, and from the time of its erection to the present, had known neither owners nor occupiers save those of the sturdy yeoman family from which it took its name. It had been the boast of the Crawshaws that no alien ever lorded it beneath their roof, or sat as presiding genius at their hearth. They were proud to tell how all the heirs of Crawshaw Fold only entered its portals by the mystic gate of birth, nor departed until summoned by the passing bell. But families, like individuals, grow old, and with the course of years the richest blood runs thin. Bad seasons, which are the friends of the money-lender and mortgagee, are the foes of hereditary descent and family pride, and many are the escutcheons erased and the lines of lineage broken by reverses wrought through their fitful moods. The Crawshaws were no exception. A succession of disasters on their little farmstead brought them to sore straits, and for deliverance they sought help of one Moses Fletcher, who advanced money on the deeds of the property. So bad were the times that James Crawshaw was unable to meet the interest, and on the morrow Moses was putting in force his claim. This was the shadow that fell across the hearth—the despair that was seated like a hideous ghoul by their fireside. In the morning three generations of Crawshaw would be homeless.
'Well, lad,' said Jimmy's wife, 'it's no use lying daan to dee afore one's time; there's this little un to fend for, and, as I say, th' wick is o' more value than th' deeing. Th' owd Book says as th' deead is to bury th' deead, but I'm noan deead yet.'
'Thaa'rt hard on th' owd woman, lass. It's nobbud natural as hoo should want to lie daan and dee where all her folk has deed afore her.'
'Nay, lad, I'm noan hard. Hoo'll go where we go, and we's be doin' aar duty both to her and th' child here by workin' for 'em, instead of frettin' and sobbin' as though all wor o'er.'
'Happen so; but thaa's more hope nor I hev. I durnd think th' sun will ever shine again for us, lass.'
'Get away wi' thee! Th' sun 'll shine to-morn for them as has een to see.'
Throughout this conversation the footfall of the old grandmother was heard distinctly on the chamber floor above, for on reaching her room she did not, as was her wont, seek at once the shelter of her bed, but, placing the lamp on the table, commenced a fond and farewell survey of the old chamber. Over the fireplace hung an old sampler, worked by her deft fingers in girlhood's days—her maiden name spelt out in now faded silks, with a tree of paradise on either side and under it the date of a forgotten year; while an old leather-cased Bible, in which were inscribed the epochs of the family, lay open upon a chair.
Withdrawing her eyes from these, she slowly turned towards the clothes-press, and, opening the oaken doors, looked at a suit of black—'the Sunday best' of her dead husband, left undisturbed since his sudden decease ten years before. Then, turning to a box at the foot of the bed—that historic four-poster whereon the twin messengers of birth and death had so often waited—she knelt and raised the lid, looking into its secrets by the feeble ray emitted from the lamp. What she saw therein we care not to tell. Our pen shall not blur the bloom of that romance and association which for her the years could not destroy. Enough that this was her ark, within which were relics as precious as the budding rod and pot of manna. She was low before her holy of holies—face to face with a light which falls from the inalienable shrine of every woman who has been wife and mother, who has loved a husband and carried a child.
By this time the storm was over, and the winds, lately so tempestuous, were gathered together and slept. A strange hush—a hush as of appeased nature—rested like a benediction over the house. The moon sailed along a swiftly clearing sky of blue, and shot its silver shafts through the great cloud-bastions that still barriered the horizon, and lighted up the chamber in which the old woman was kneeling before her shrine. It was across these God sent His kindly messenger with noiseless tread to bear her sore and sorrowing soul 'where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.'
* * * * *
At an early hour the minions of Moses Fletcher, the money-lender, were hovering round Crawshaw Fold, not daring, however, to enter until the fateful hour of ten. Jimmy, with his wife, sat before an untasted breakfast, wondering how it was his mother was so late in coming downstairs; and when at half-past eight there was no sign of her appearance, he sent his wife, with a strong feeling of foreboding, to find out the reason of the delay. Slowly she climbed the stairs to awaken, as she supposed, the old woman for the last tragic act of the drama. When she stood upon the threshold of the chamber, however, she saw at a glance that a kindly hand had drawn the curtain before the enactment of the fateful and final scene. Calling her husband, he hurried to her side; and, together, they raised Jenny from her kneeling posture before the old chest, and laid her on the bed, thanking God that for her the worst had been forestalled. Four days afterwards old Jenny was carried out of the Fold, feet foremost; and, amid a falling shower of snow, was laid away by the side of little Billy and the good man with whom, for forty years, she had shared her life. As the mourners returned, chilled by the winter's blast, sleek Moses Fletcher crossed their path, an old woman flinging at him the words:
'Thaa's had th' uttermost farthin', but thaa's God to square wi' yet.'
THE REDEMPTION OF MOSES FLETCHER.
Moses Fletcher was suffering from what the doctor called 'nervous shock,' with sundry wounds of a severe nature received in an attempt to rescue his dog in a canine melee.
He was a medium-sized man, with a hatchet face, lit by keen gray eyes, small as a ferret's; and, by way of apology for a mouth, displayed a thin lip-line which fell at either end with a cruel and cynical curve.
As he lay in bed, with a face as white as the counterpane which covered him, he now and again extended his bandaged hand to the favourite hound that rested on a plaid shawl at his feet, calling it by endearing names, and welcoming its warm and faithful caresses.
The chamber was small, but cosy, with many evidences of comfort. Trellised greenery looked in at him through the deep-splayed windows, and tapped a welcome on the diamond panes. He had, however, no ear for this salute. Nor did he eye with delight the flowering geraniums that clustered so thickly in the pots filling the sills. Nor did he even care for the great bars of sunlight that fell in golden splendour across his bed, causing the old dog to wink, and sneeze, and smile beneath their mellowing beams. No, these were nothing to him; indeed, they never had been—he had lived for years oblivious alike to tree and flower and sun.
On the walls of his bedroom hung a number of rude prints, chief among which was a hideous representation of Jesus Christ driving the money-changers out of the Temple—the man of gentleness being represented as a stern, passionless Master, the strength of whose person was thrown into a relentless face, and a mighty arm wielding a massive whip. At this figure he often glanced, and now and again a look of recognition seemed to steal over his features, as though the essence of his religion was embodied in that act—a gospel anodyne for a suffering soul.
By the side of his bed was a small table on which lay two books, the one bound in morocco, the other in leather—a Bible and a ledger—his sole literature during the weary hours of sickness, and wittily denominated by his wife, 'the books of mercy and of judgment.' Indeed, she often told him that he knew 'a deal more o' th' book o' judgment than he did o' t'other'; and it was even so.
Moses languidly took up his Bible. It was a veritable study in black and white, many passages being underscored, and many remaining as unsoiled as though seldom read. Indeed, the Gospels seldom had been read, while the imprecatory Psalms and the latter part of the Epistle to the Romans were greasy and stained with oft perusal. But there was a more remarkable feature about the Bible than this—its margin was filled with a number of pen-and-ink notes! figures and calculations of money advanced and interest drawn and due; his clever, sarcastic wife calling this his 'reference Bible,' and sometimes telling him he was 'mighty i' th' Scriptures' when his own interest was concerned.
He laid down the Bible and took up his ledger. Ah! how he knew that book!—to him actually and literally a book of life. He knew its every page, and every name that headed those pages. True, Moses knew the generations of the patriarchs, the names of the sons of Jacob, the chronologies of the Chronicles, but he knew the families of Rehoboth better. These latter were engraved on the palms of his hands, and written with corroding ink on the fleshly tables of his heart. As he turned over the well-thumbed pages he made many mental calculations, sometimes smiling and sometimes sighing as his eye fell on an irreclaimable debt. Then, taking up his pencil, he entered an account on the fly-sheet of the Bible, and seemed satisfied when he discovered that his illness would not involve him in the loss which he had anticipated; and smiling the smile of selfish gain, he closed his eyes and slept.
Poor Moses Fletcher! For with all his riches he was poor—if being a pauper in the sight of Heaven is to be poor. How he had lived to make money, and, having made it, how terrible was the cost! Old Mr. Morell once told him that the angels reversed his balance year by year, writing in invisible ink against his material profits his moral and spiritual depreciation. And yet there was one redeeming feature in the character of Moses—he loved his dog. 'Captain,' as the brute was called, kept one spot warm in his callous nature, a little patch of vegetation on the bare surface of his granite heart. The only noble acts in the life of Moses Fletcher were acts wrought on behalf of this dog. Years ago he risked his life to save it, when, as a whelp, mischievous boys sought to drown it in the Green Fold Lodge; and only a week or two ago he rescued it from the infuriated grip of a bull-terrier, at the expense of injuries from which he was now slowly recovering. Wherever Moses went he was followed by his dog; and if the dog was seen alone it was known Moses was not far distant. Now, this dog had to suffer for Moses' sins. It was, as Mr. Penrose used to say, 'a vicarious dog'—the innocent bearing the sins of the guilty. Affectionate, faithful, gentle, with no spice of viciousness in its nature, it was none the less stoned by children and tormented by man and woman alike. One of Moses' debtors, a stalwart quarryman, once took it on the moors and sent it home with a spray of prickly holly tied under its tail. On another occasion, an Irish labourer, whom Moses put in the County Court, hurled a handful of quicklime in its eye, by which its sight had been in part destroyed; and its glossy skin was all patched with bare spots where outraged housewives had doused it with scalding water.
'We cornd get at him,' they used to say, 'but we con get at his dog, and mak' him smart i' that road.'
The last outrage, however, was by far the most brutal, and it came about in this manner. It was County Court day at a small market town over the hills, and Moses, accompanied by his dog, went with his summonses. One of these was served against a man known as 'Oliver o' Deaf Martha's'—himself the owner of the most belligerent dog in the neighbourhood—who, like Moses, never moved without his canine friend. When his summons was heard judgment went against him, and he was ordered to pay ten shillings a month until the debt was wiped off. At this he uttered a curse, muttering to Moses that he would be even with him, but little thinking his chance would so soon come to hand. Passing out of the Court into the street, he saw his own dog and that of Moses snarling at one another, but harmlessly, as both were muzzled. Taking a knife from his pocket, he cut the leather straps that bound the mouth of his own dog, and, throwing it at the other, bade it go to work with its worrying. It needed no second word of encouragement; and in a moment, the other dog, handicapped by its muzzle, was at the mercy of its foe. Over and over they rolled, amid jeers, and cheers, and curses, worrying, foaming, and choking, until at last the dog owned by Moses was hors de combat, and helpless in the other's grip.
'Fair play!' cried some among the crowd. 'Cut t'other dog's muzzle!' screamed others. 'Tak' thy dog off, Oliver,' urged a youth, who saw the injustice of the fight. Yet none dared to approach.
Suddenly, Moses appeared on the steps of the Court-house, and seeing the peril of his much-loved dog, rushed into the fray, defenceless as he was, and seizing his pet, tore it from the grip of its opponent.
'At him!' cried Oliver, and in another moment Moses and his dog were on the ground, and powerless beneath the attack of the bull-terrier. Moses remembered no more. When he came to himself he was lying in his bed, under the smart of the doctor's caustic and his wife's fomentations.
'Is th' dog alive, missis?' was the first question he asked. And when told that it was, he faintly breathed a 'Thank God!' and fell away into another swoon.
* * * * *
'Here's Mr. Penrose to see thee, Moses; mun I ax him up?'
'Thaa con do as thaa likes.'
'Come upstairs, Mr. Penrose; thaa con see him, he sez, if thaa likes.'
'All right, Mrs. Fletcher; I'm coming,' and in a moment the minister was at the bedside of the sick man.
Mr. Penrose and Moses were not the best of friends. Indeed, the latter had threatened to gag the young preacher with the doctrinal deeds of Rehoboth, and was only waiting his opportunity. Thus Mr. Penrose hardly knew how to console this sick member of his flock, and words refused to flow from his ministerial lips. After a somewhat awkward pause, however, he ventured to remark:
'This is the second time, I suppose, you have risked your life on behalf of Captain, Mr. Fletcher.'
'Yi, it is,' responded Mrs. Fletcher. 'He geet rheumatic fayver six year sin', when he poo'd it aat o' Green Fowd Lodge; and now he's getten welly worried to deeath by savin' it fro' that bull-terrier o' Oliver's o' Deaf Martha's.'
'Ay! they'n welly done for us both this time, hevn't they, Captain?' faintly said Moses, addressing the dog, and extending his hand wearily for a canine caress. 'But aar time 'll come. Wee'n nobbud to wait, and we'll mak' it even wi' 'em yet.'
'But you must not forget the Divine injunction, Mr. Fletcher. "Avenge not yourselves; vengeance is Mine, I will repay."'
'Ay! bless yo',' interrupted the wife, 'they think as he's mad' 'em pay too mich already.'
'Who, Mrs. Fletcher?' asked the minister. 'The Almighty?'
'Nay; I mean our Moses there. They say as he's awlus makin' 'em pay.'
'Thee howd thi tung. I know mi business baat bein' helped or hindered by thee, or onybody else.'
This last with biting emphasis, as though to include the pastor.
Then, turning to Mr. Penrose, he continued:
'Hoo'd let 'em off if hoo'd her way, but that's noan o' my creed.'
'I think her creed is the better of the two, though, Mr. Fletcher. If thine enemy hunger, give him—'
'A summons if he willn'd pay for what he gets.'
'Nay, the Bible does not say so.'
'Ne'er mind th' Bible—it's what aw say.'
After another painful pause, Mrs. Fletcher continued:
'Eh, Mr. Penrose, I do wish aar Moses 'ud find summat else to do nor lendin' brass and collectin' debts. We haven't a friend i' th' world naa, and we used never bein' baat. Mi own fo'k wernd look at me naa, 'cose he caanty-courted aar Bella's husband.'
'Thee howd thi tung, aw tell thee. Aw know mi wark; and if fo'k willn'd pay for what they get, then they mun be made to.'
'But supposing they cannot pay, Mr. Fletcher—what then?'
'What then? Then they mun go up yon,' and Moses extended his bandaged hand in the direction of the Union workhouse.
'But you know there was One who said, "Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that borroweth turn not away."'
'Yi, but He didn'd live at Rehoboth. Th' pulpit's th' place for that mak' o' talk. It'll do for Sundo; but fo'k as hes their livin' to ged want noan on't i' th' week.'
'But is getting a living more essential than doing right? If it came to a choice between the two, which would you select?'
'Aw durnd know as that's ony business o' yours. Th' owd Book yo' quote fro' says summat abaat a man stonnin' and falling to his own Judge—doesn'd it?'
'Why keep all your kindness for your dog, Mr. Fletcher? Why not extend the same acts of mercy to those who are of more value than many dogs? If you did that your dog would not be your only friend, nor would it be called upon to suffer for you as it does.'
'I durnd know, Mr. Penrose, as I want ony friends.'
'I think there's one Friend you cannot do without—the one you recommended me to keep in the pulpit. Don't you think we need Him in the home as well?'
'Ther's noabry kept Him aat o' aar haas, as I know on, hes ther, Sally?' said Moses, turning to his wife.
'Doesto think 'at onybody's axed Him?' she replied. 'And if He coome, what kind o' a welcome would He ged, thinksto? I know thaa reckons to meet Him on a Sundo, and when thaa sits at "His table," as tha co's th' sacrament, and at th' deacons' meetings. But that's abaat as mich on Him as yo' want, I think.'
Mr. Penrose stood up to leave, but, recollecting himself, he said:
'Shall I pray with you, Mr. Fletcher?'
To which he received the curt reply:
'Thaa con pleeas thisel.'
Mr. Penrose knelt by the bedside of the poor mammon-worshipper—self-blinded and hardened by the god of this world—and with a full soul cried:
'Merciful Father! Who hast forgiven so much, and in whose continued forgiveness lies our only hope, inspire us with the spirit of Thy forgiveness towards all men, and grant that Thy great heart, which bears enmity towards none, may so warm these selfish hearts of ours that we may not only love our neighbours but our enemies, with the love wherewith we are loved. Pardon our littlenesses, consume our selfishness, and fashion us after Him whose strength bore all burdens, whose heart heard all entreaties, and whose love went out alike to friend and foe. Amen.'
* * * * *
It was in the golden autumn weather when Moses and his dog, for the first time after the melee, turned out for an afternoon's stroll. Both bore sore evidences of the severity of the struggle, one being bandaged over his forehead, the other following with tell-tale limp and disfigured coat.
Not caring to face the inquisitorial eye of the villagers, nor hear the rude sarcasm and stinging wit which he knew they would hurl at him from their tongues, Moses turned down a foot-road leading from his garden to Folly Clough, and thus secured the quiet ever found in those deeply-wooded seams that plough into the very heart of the moors. Following the water-worn path which wound in tortuous ascent under clustering trees and between slopes of bracken, the two soon gained the head of the Clough, and climbed towards the banks of the Green Fold Lodge, a stretch of water into which drained the moisture of vast tracts of uplands, its overflow rushing through flood-gates and pouring its volume through the Clough to feed the factories below. Seating himself on the bank of the Lodge, he recalled the day when he rescued his dog from its chill deeps, and, turning to Captain, he said:
'It wor welly bein' thi grave once, owd lad. Aw wonder why it wor aw saved thee. Thaa's getten many a lickin' (thrashing) sin' then on my accaant.'
Whereupon the dog bounded round his feet, and held up its head for one of those caresses which Moses was never known to extend save to his dog.
As they rested together Moses continued:
'Thaas noan a bad sort, Captain; and thaa'd ha' done a deal more good if aw'd a let thee. Thaa wor awlus fond o' childer', bud they'd never let thee alone. It wor happen as weel if aw'd a bit more o' thi spirit i' me, owd lad; but if there wor more fo'k like thee there'd be less like me.'
And at this Captain wagged his tail with delight, and rubbed his cold nose under the palm of Moses' hand.
'Aw've gin thee a bad name, owd mon, and they'n tried to hang thee for't; but thaa'll happen do summat some day as they'll tee a medal raand thi neck for, and when thaa'rt deead build thee a moniment.'
And Moses actually laughed at his burst of mirth, which was of rare occurrence in his taciturn life.
Moses' wit, however, was soon cut short, for he started and stayed his monologue at the sight of a child sailing paper boats on the opposite and deeper side of the reservoir,
'Why, yon's that little lad o' Oliver o' Deaf Martha's!' exclaimed Moses to himself. 'What a foo' (fool) his mother mun be to let him marlock on th' Lodge banks by hissel. By Guy! he's i' th' watter!'
At that moment Captain sprang up, and would have leapt after the child, but Moses bade him lie still.
The dog, for the first time in its life, resented the command of his master, and a low, ominous growl came from a mouth that displayed a row of threatening teeth. At this Moses, for the first time in his life too, raised his foot and kicked the brute he had so lately been apostrophizing, and, seizing it by the collar, held it to the spot.
'Thaa doesn't know whose bairn it is, Captain, or thaa'd never trouble to go in after it. It's his whose dog welly worried thee and me on th' Caanty Court day.'
But the instinct of Captain was nearer the thought of God than was the moral nature of Moses, and, despite threat and cuff and kick, the dog so dragged his collar that Moses, weak from his long illness, felt he must either let go his hold or follow the leading of the noble creature.
And now commenced a terrible struggle in the soul of Moses. He turned pale, and great drops of sweat stood upon his brow, as he felt himself in the grasp of a stronger and better nature than his own. Looking round to see if his relentless act were watched, he breathed more freely as he saw along the miles of moorland no sign of human life. Only his eye, and the eye of Captain—and then he realized that other Eye that filled all space—the Eye that looked down from the cloudless light. Fiercely the struggle waged. The voice of Moses cried out of the deeps of his own black heart, 'My time has come, as I said it would.' But the words of Mr. Penrose—heeded not when uttered—rang out clear and telling: 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.'
'But is not this God's vengeance?' replied the voice of the lower man.
And then came the reply:
'Would God punish Oliver through his child as Oliver punished you through your dog? Am I a man, and not God?'
Moses looked round, as though someone had spoken in his ear, and, loosing his hold of Captain, muttered:
'Go, if thaa wants.'
A mighty bound, and Captain was in mid-stream, and with a few strong and rapid strokes he reached the sinking child. But the flood-gates were open, the reservoir was emptying its overflow down the steep falls into the Clough fifty yards below, and child and dog were slowly but unmistakably being carried towards the gorge.
Again the struggle commenced, and once more Moses was the prey of the relentless reasoners—Love and Self.
'A man's life is worth more than a dog's,' cried Self.
'And more than a child's?' asked Love.
'But it's Oliver o' Deaf Martha's child, is it not?'
'And your dog is seeking to save it.'
'Shamed by a dog!' All the remains of the nobleness so long dormant in the nature of Moses—the passion, and valour, and love which he had allowed to die down long, long ago—awakened into life. For the first time for thirty years he forgot himself, and with a great light breaking round him, and sounds of sweetest music in his heart, he leapt into the Lodge, struck out for the struggling dog and its fainting burden, and strengthened and steadied both to land.
Many years before Moses had been immersed in the baptistery at Rehoboth by the old pastor, Mr. Morell. He stepped into those waters as Moses Fletcher, and he was Moses Fletcher when he came up out of them, despite the benediction breathed on his dedicated soul. But on this autumn afternoon Moses Fletcher—the cruel, exacting, self-righteous Moses Fletcher—was buried in baptism, and there stepped out of those moorland waters another man, bearing in his arms a little child.
THE ATONEMENT OF MOSES FLETCHER.
On the evening of the day following the rescue of Oliver o' Deaf Martha's child, Moses Fletcher was walking over the moors towards his own home, a great peace possessing his soul, and a buoyant step bearing him through a new world. Above him the mellow moon of September dreamed in blue distances, the immensities of which were measured by innumerable constellations. Around, the great hills loomed dark in shadow, and bulked in relief against the far-off horizon of night. Along the troughs and gullies lay streaks of white fog, ever shaping themselves into folds and fringes, and, like wraiths, noiselessly vanishing on the hillside; while over all rested a great stillness, as though for once the fevered earth slept in innocence beneath the benediction of that world so vast, so high, and yet so near. Many a time, amid such surroundings, had Moses traversed the same path. Never before, however, had he passed through the same world. To him it was a new heaven and a new earth, for he carried with him a new soul.
Crossing the stretch of hill on the crest of which lay the Rehoboth burial-ground, Moses made his way to the stone wall fencing in that God's acre, and paused to lean his arms on its rude and irregular coping. There stood the old chapel, square and gaunt, its dark outline clearly cut against the moonlit sky, each window coldly gleaming in the pale light, while the scattered headstones, sheeted in mist, stood out like groups of mourners mute in their sorrow over the dead. Below lay the village—that little tragic centre of life and death—half its inhabitants in sleep, hushed for a few brief hours in their humble moorland nests. The fall of waters from the weir at the Bridge Factory came up from the valley in dreamy cadences; a light dimly burned in old Joseph's window; and a meteor swept with a mighty arc the western sky. The soul of Moses Fletcher was at peace.
He sprang with a light step over the low wall of boundary, and crossed the wave-like mounds that heaved as a grassy sea, and beneath which lay the unlettered dead, the long grasses writhing and clinging to his feet, as though loath to let him escape the dust upon which they fed and grew so rank. Heedless of their greedy embrace, he walked with long stride towards the lower end of the yard, until he stood before a gray and lichen-covered slab, on which were letters old and new. There, by the moonlight, he read the record of a baby boy of two, carrying back the reader forty years. Above it was the name of a father, dead these ten years, and between these, all newly cut, were the lines:
WIFE OF THE ABOVE, WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE, ——- ——-
For some moments Moses stood before the stone; then, taking the hat from his head, he knelt down on the cold grass and, kissing the newly-cut name, he vowed a vow. If, with the power of his Master, whom he had only just begun to serve, he could have raised the sleeper, as Lazarus and the widow's son and the ruler's little child were raised, then the great grief of his heart would have disappeared. But he could not—the past, his past, was irrevocable. But there were the living—Jim Crawshaw, his wife, his babe—these were still within his reach of recompense. And again he vowed his vow, and the still night air carried it far beyond the distant stars to where He sits who knows the thoughts and tries the reins of men.
* * * * *
'Thaa'rt lat' to-neet, Moses; where hasto bin?'
'Nowhere where thaa couldn't go wi' me, lass,' and so saying, Moses kissed his wife, an act which he had dexterously and passionately performed several times since his immersion in the Green Fold Lodge on the previous day.
'Whatever's come o'er thee, Moses? Thaa fair maks me shamed. It's thirty year an' more sin' thaa kissed me. Hasto lost thi yed?'
'Yi, lass, but I've fun mi heart,' and he again clasped his startled wife, and grew young in his caresses.
'I thought thaa kept thi luv for Captain, Moses. But I durnd mind goin' hawves wi' th' owd dog. I awlus said that a chap as could luv a dog hed summat good abaat him somewhere—and thaa's luved Captain sum weel.'
'And others a deal too little, lass. But all that's o'er'—and Moses burst into tears.
'Nay, lad—forshure thaa'rt takken worse. Well, I never seed thee cry afore. Mun I ged thee a sooap o' summat hot, thinksto? or mun I run for th' doctor?' and Mrs. Fletcher looked at her husband with a scared and troubled face.
'Why, lass, I've been cryin' all th' day—and that's why I've bin so long away fro' thee—I didn'd want to scare thee. I cornd help but cry. I tell thee I've fun mi heart.'
And Moses again sobbed like a child.
That night, when his wife was in bed, and Captain slept soundly on the rug in front of the fire, Moses opened a safe that stood in the corner of the room, and, taking therefrom a bundle of deeds, selected one docketed 'Crawshaw Fold.' He then took from a drawer a number of agreements, and carefully drew forth those which gave him his hold on the Crawshaws. These he enclosed with the deeds in a large blue envelope, and in a clerkly hand addressed them, with a note, to James Crawshaw. After this he knelt down, and, as he prayed, Captain came and laid his head upon the clasped hands of his master.
* * * * *
'Good-mornin', Abram. Hasto ought fresh daan i' th' village?'
'Plenty, Enoch; hasto yerd naught?'
'Nowe; I hevn't bin daan fro' th' moors sin' Sundo.'
'Then yo've yerd naught abaat Moses Fletcher?'
'Nowe; nor I durnd want. When yo' cornd yer owt good abaat a mon yo'd better yer naught at all.'
'But I've summat good to tell thee abaat owd Moses.'
'Nay, lad, I think nod. Th' Etheop cornd change his skin, nor th' leopard his spots.'
'But Moses hes ged'n aat o' his skin, and changed it for a gradely good un and o'.'
'And what abaat his spots, Abram?'
'Why, he's weshed 'em all aat in th' Green Fowd Lodge wi' savin' Oliver o' Deaf Martha's little un.'
Enoch whistled the first bar or two of an old tune, and stood silent in thought, and then exclaimed:
'Well, aw'v yerd o' th' seven wonders, but if what thaa sez is true, it mak's th' eighth.'
'Yi, owd mon, but there's a bigger wonder nor that. He's gi'n Jim Crawshaw th' deeds o' Crawshaw Fowd, and towd him as he can pay him back when he geds th' brass.'
'Abram, thaa'rt gammin'.'
'Jim Crawshaw towd me this mornin', and I seed th' deeds wi' mi own een in his hond, and read th' letter Moses bed written.'
At this moment Mr. Penrose came along the field-path, and joined the two men. He, too, was strangely excited about Moses Fletcher, and, guessing what was uppermost in the minds and conversation of the two men, at once heartily joined them.
'God moves in a mysterious way, doesn'd He, Mr. Penrose?' said old Enoch.
'He does indeed, Enoch. Here I've been trying to convert Moses with my preaching, and the Almighty sets aside His servant, and converts the sinner by means of a dog and a little child. After all, there's something can get at the heart besides theology and philosophy. The foolishness of God is greater than the wisdom of man.'