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The Broom-Squire
by S. (Sabine) Baring-Gould
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He looked round with a malicious laugh. He saw a flutter of expectation in his sister's eyes.

"No, Sally. I ain't going to give 'em up. I hold em, and ain't goin' to stand no shilly-shally about payments when due. You may be sure of that. And wot is more, I won't stand no nonsense from you or Thomas or Samuel, but I expect you to be my very humble servants, or I'll sell you up."

A look of blank consternation fell on the faces of the Rocliffes. Others looked uneasy. Not the Rocliffes only were partially submerged.

"I've somethin' also to say to Gilly Cheel. I ain't goin' to have the Punch-Bowl made a Devil's cauldron of wi' his quarrels—"

"Hear, hear," from Betsy Cheel.

"And unless he lives peaceable, and don't trouble me wi' his noise and she wi' her cattewawlin'."

"That's for you," said Jamaica, and nudged his wife.

"I'll turn 'em both out," proceeded Jonas. "For I've been gettin' his papers into my hands also. And then, as to the Boxalls—"

The members of that clan now looked blank. Consternation was spreading to all at table.

"As to the Boxalls," continued Jonas, "if their time hasn't come just yet, it's comin'. I hope, neighbors and friends all, you've enjyed the dessert."

A dead silence ensued. Every one felt that it would be better to be in the power of a lawyer than of Bideabout.

Tears of mortification and resentment rose in the eyes of Sally Rocliffe. Mehetabel hung her head in shame.

Then Thomas, stolid and surly, flung a letter across the table to the Broom-Squire. "Take that," he said, "I don't wan't to be burdened with nothin' of your'n. 'Tis a letter been lyin' at the post for you, and Mistress Chivers gave it me. Wish I wos rid of everything atwixt us as I be of that there letter now."

Jonas took the missive, turned it about, then carelessly opened it.

As he read his color faded, and he had hardly read to the end before he sank back in his chair with a cry of rage and despair; "The Wealden bank be broke. I'm a ruined man."



CHAPTER XXXII.

ANOTHER SURPRISE.

Among those present the only one who came to the assistance of Jonas Kink was his brother-in-law, Thomas Rocliffe, who, thinking that Bideabout was going to have a fit, ran to him and unloosed his black satin cravat.

The revulsion of feeling in the rest was so sudden that it produced a laugh. He who had been exulting in having put their necks under his foot had been himself struck down in the moment of his triumph. He had sought to humble them in a manner peculiarly mean, and no compassion was felt for him now in his distress.

The guests filed out without a word of thanks for the meal of which they had partaken, or an expression of pity for the downcast man.

For some while Bideabout remained motionless, looking at the letter before him on the table. Mehetabel did not venture to approach or address him. She watched him with anxiety, not knowing in which direction the brooding rage within him would break forth. He was now like a thunder-cloud charged with electricity and threatening all with whom he came in contact.

Hearing the wail of her child, she was glad noiselessly to leave the room and hasten to comfort it. Presently Jonas rose, and in a half stupefied condition went to the stable and saddled old Clutch that he might ride to Godalming and learn whether things were as bad as represented.

In his impatience to announce to his guests that he had them under his control he had been somewhat premature. It was true that the negotiations were complete whereby their mortgages and obligations were transferred to him, but the money that he was to pay therefor had not been made over. Now it would not be possible for him to complete the transaction. Not only so, but he had incurred expenses by his employment of a solicitor to carry out his design which it would be extremely difficult for him to meet, if the bank had actually failed.

He alone of all the squires in the Punch-Bowl had put his savings into a bank, and he had done this because he was so frequently and so long from home that he did not dare to leave them anywhere in his house, lest it should be broken into during his absence.

As the Broom-Squire approached Thursley village his horse cast a shoe, and he was obliged to stop at the farrier's to have old Clutch shod.

"How do'y do, Squire?" said the blacksmith. "Been christenin' your baby, I hear."

Bideabout grunted in reply.

"One comes and another goes," said the farrier. "S'pose you've heard the news?"

"Think I have," retorted Jonas, irritably. "It's them banks is broke."

"I don't mean no banks," said the blacksmith. "But Susanna Verstage. I s'pose you've heard she's gone?"

"Gone, where to?"

"That's not for me to say. She's been ailin' some time and now has gone off, sudden like. O' course we knowed it must come, but nobody didn't think it would ha' come so sudden—and she seemed such a hearty woman, only a few months ago. Well, I s'pose it's ordained."

The Broom-Squire did not ask questions. He took very little interest in the matter of the death of the hostess of the Ship. His mind was engrossed in his own troubles.

As soon as old Clutch had his shoe fitted on, and the other shoes looked to, Bideabout pursued his way.

His progress was not fast. Clutch was personally unaffected by the failure of the bank, and could not be induced to accelerate his speed. Beating only made him more stubborn, and when Bideabout stretched his legs out to the furthest possible extent apart that was possible, and then brought them together with a sudden contraction so as to dig his heels into the horse's ribs, that brought Clutch to an absolute standstill.

On reaching Godalming, the worst anticipations of Jonas were confirmed. The bank was closed; his savings were lost. Nothing had been withdrawn in time to secure them by giving him a hold on the squatter settlements of his neighbors. And he himself had incurred liabilities that might bring him into the same pit that he had digged for his fellows.

He turned homewards in great discouragement and acridity of heart. His fellows in the Punch-Bowl had never regarded him with cordiality; now they would be his combined enemies. The thoughts of his heart were gloomy. In no direction could he see light. He now did not urge Clutch along beyond the pace at which the old horse had made up his mind to go; it was immaterial to Jonas whether he were on the road or at home. Nowhere would he be free from his trouble.

He would, perhaps, have turned into the Ship for a glass of spirits but, remembering that he had been told the hostess was dead, he did not feel inclined to enter a house where he would be still further depressed. He had not, however, gone far out of the village, before he heard his name called from behind, and on turning his head saw Joe Filmer in pursuit.

The ostler came up to him, panting and said—

"Ter'rible news, ain't it? The old lady gone. But that ain't why I've stopped you. 'Tis she bade me give your missus a message—as she hadn't forgot the bequest of money. But we're that muddled and busy at the Ship, I can't go to the Punch-Bowl, so I just runned after you. You'll take the message for me, won't you?"

"Money!" exclaimed Bideabout, reining in old Clutch, who now objected to be stayed on his way to the familiar stable. "Money!" repeated Bideatout, and then lugged at old Clutch's rein till he had turned the brute about.

The horse had sufficient obstinacy in him to persist in his intentions of not being stopped on the high-road, and though turned round he continued to scramble along in the reverse direction to his home.

"Hang you, you old toad!" exclaimed Jonas. "If you will, I don't care. Be it so. We will go to the Ship. I say, Joe! What was that about money?"

"It was that the missus made me promise to inform your missus, that she'd not forgotten her undertakin', but had made provision that she should have the money as she wished."

"The money—how much?"'

"I do not know. She did not say."

"And she has left money to Matabel?"

"I suppose so. She was always amazin' fond of her. She was a savin' woman, and had put away something of her own."

"I'll go to the Ship. I will, certainly. I ought not to have passed without a word with Simon on his loss. I suppose he's sure to know how much it is?"

"I suppose so. Missus would consult him. She made a show o' that always, but nevertheless followed her own head."

"And Simon is terrible cut up?"

"Bears it like a man."

"Here, take old Clutch; give him some oats, and kick him, he deserves it, he's been so unruly. But, stay—no. Hold his head, and I'll kick him, afore he's had his oats. He's a darned malicious old Radical. Put in some pepper to his nose when he's done his oats."

Bideabout went into the house, through the porch, and entered the bar.

Simon was seated there smoking a long clay, with his feet on the fender, before a glowing fire, and with a stiff glass of hot punch on the table at his side.

"Sorry for you," was Jonas's brief address of salutation and condolence.

Mr. Verstage shook his head. "That's what my old woman said."

Seeing an expression of surprise and query in the Broom-Squire's face, he explained: "Not after, afore, in course. She said, 'Very sorry for you, Simon, very. It's wus for you than for me, I shall die—you'll make yourself ridic'lous.'"

"What did she mean?"

"Can't think," answered Simon, with great solemnity. "Will you have a drop of something? In this vale of tears we want consolation." Then, in a loud voice, "Polly—another glass."

After looking steadily and sadly into the embers, Mr. Verstage said: "I don't believe that woman ever made a mistake in her life—but once."

"When was that?"

"When she gave Matabel to you. We wanted her in this house. Her proper place was here. It all comes wi' meddlin' wi' what ort to be let alone—and that is Providence. There's never no sayin' but Iver—"

Dimly the old host saw that he was floundering upon delicate ground. "My doctrine is," said he, "let things alone and they'll come right in the end."

Bideabout moved uneasily. He winced at the reference to Iver. But what he now really was anxious to arrive at was the matter of money left by Mrs. Verstage to Mehetabel.

"Now," said Simon, looking after the serving-maid, as she left the bar, when she had deposited the tumbler beside Bideabout. "Now, my old woman was amazin' set against that girl. Why—I can't think. She's a good girl when let alone. But Sanna never would let her alone. She were ever naggin' at her; so that she upset the poor thing's nerve. She broke the taypot and chucked the beer to the pigs, but that was because she were flummeried wi' my old woman going on at her so. She said to me she really couldn't bear to think how I'd go on after she were gone. I sed, to comfort her, that I knowed Polly would do her best. 'She'll do the best she can for herself,' answered Sanna, as sharp as she said 'Yes, I will,' when we was married. I don't know what her meanin' was. You won't believe it, but it's true what I'm going to tell you. She said to me, did Susanna, 'Simon there was Mary Toft, couldn't die, because there were wild-fowl feathers in her bed. They had to take her off the four-poster and get another feather-bed, before she could die right off. Now,' said Sanna, 'it's somethin' like that with me. I ain't got wild-bird feathers under me, but there's a wild fowl in the house, and that's Polly. So long as she's here die I can't, and die I won't.' 'Well, old woman,' sed I, if that's all, to accommodate you, I'll send Polly to her mother,' and so I did—and she died right on end, peaceable."

"But Polly is here."

"Oh, yes—when Sanna were gone—we couldn't do wi'out her. She knowed that well enough and came back—runnin' like a long dog, and very good and thoughtful it was of her. Most young wimen ain't considerate like that."

This was all wide of the subject that engrossed the interest of Bideabout, and had induced him to revisit the Ship. As the host made no allusion to the topic, the Broom-Squire plunged into the matter, headforemost.

"Joe Filmer," said he, "called me back. I didn't wish to come in and trouble you now. But Joe said as how you wanted to speak to me about some money as your wife had left with you for my Matabel; and I thought it might be botherin' your mind when you wanted to turn it to religious thought, and so I came back to say I'd relieve you of it and take it at once."

"Money! Oh!" Mr. Verstage was a little difficult to turn from one line of thought to another. "Polly never stood out for higher wages. Not like some who, when they've been with you just long enough to learn the ways of the house, and to make themselves useful, and not to break everything they handle, and spoil everything they touch, ask, 'Please will you advance my wages?' Polly never did that."

"I am not speakin' of Polly," said Jonas, peevishly, "but of some money that Joe Filmer told me you wanted to tell me about. Something that your poor wife desired you to give to Matabel."

"Oh, you mean that hundred pounds. I wasn't against it. On the contrary, I said I'd add fifty to it. I always said Sanna did wrong in giving Matabel to—I mean flying in the face of Providence."

"I shall be very glad to take it, and thus relieve your mind of all care."

"Oh, it's no care at all."

"It must be, and besides—it must interfere with your turning your mind to serious thoughts."

"Oh, not at all. I can't give you the money. It is not for you."

"No; but it is for Matabel, and we are one."

"Oh, no; it's not for Matabel."

"The hundred and fifty pounds is not for Matabel? And yet you said it was intended to make up to her for something you did not exactly explain."

"No, it is not for Matabel. Matabel might have had it, I daresay, but my old woman said she was set against that."

"Then we are to be deprived of it by her folly?" The Broom-Squire flushed purple.

"Oh, no. It is all right. It is for the child."

"For the child! That is all the same. I am the father, and will take care of the money."

"But I can't give it you."

"Have you not got it?"

"The money is all right. Sanna's hundred pounds—I know where that is, and my fifty shall go along with it. I was always fond of Matabel. But the child was only baptized to-day, and won't be old enough to enjoy it for many years."

"In the meantime it can be laid out to its advantage," urged Bideabout.

"I daresay," said Simon, "but I've nothin' to do with that, and you've nothin' to do with that."

"Then who has?"

"Iver, of course."

"Iver!" The Broom-Squire turned livid as a corpse.

"You see," pursued the host, "Sanna said as how she wouldn't make me trustee, I was too old, and I might be dead, or done something terrible foolish, before the child came of age to take it on itself, to use her very words. So she wouldn't make me trustee, but she put it all into Iver's hands to hold for the little chap. She were a won'erful shrewd woman were Sanna, and I've no doubt she was right."

"Iver trustee—for my child!"

"Yes—why not?"

The Broom-Squire stood up, and without tasting the glass of punch mixed for him, without a farewell to the landlord, went forth.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

MARKHAM.

The funeral of Mrs. Verstage was conducted with all the pomp and circumstance that delight the rustic mind. Bideabout attended, and his hat was adorned with a black silk weeper that was speedily converted by Mehetabel, at his desire, into a Sunday waistcoat.

In this silk waistcoat he started on old Clutch one day for Guildford, without informing his wife or sister whither he was bound.

The child was delicate and fretful, engaging most of its mother's time and engrossing all her thought.

She had found an old cradle of oak, with a hood to it, the whole quaintly and rudely carved, the rockers ending in snakes' heads, in which several generations of Kinks had lain; in which, indeed, Jonas had spent his early infancy, and had pleaded for his mother's love and clamored for her attention. Whether with the thought of amusing the child, or merely out of the overflow of motherly love that seeks to adorn and glorify the babe, Mehetabel had picked the few late flowers that lingered on in spite of frost, some pinched chrysanthemums, a red robin that had withstood the cold, some twigs of butcher's broom with blood-red berries that had defied it, and these she had stuck about the cradle in little gimlet holes that had been drilled round the edge, probably to contain pegs that might hold down a cover, to screen out glaring sun or cutting draught.

Now, as Mehetabel rocked the cradle and knitted, singing to the sobbing child, the flowers wavered about the infant, forming a wreath of color, and freshening the air with their pure fragrance. Each flower in itself was without much perceptible savor, yet the whole combined exhaled a healthy, clean, and invigorating waft as of summer air over a meadow.

The wreath that surrounded the child was not circular but oblong, almost as though engirding a tiny grave, but this Mehetabel did not see.

Playing the cradle with her foot, with the sun shining in at the window and streaking the foot, she sang—

"My heart is like a fountain true That flows and flows with love to you; As chirps the lark unto the tree, So chirps my pretty babe to me. And it's O! sweet, sweet! and a lullaby."

But the answer was a peevish moan from the bed. The young mother stooped over the cradle.

"Oh, little lark! little lark! this is no chirp, Would you were as glad and as gay as the lark!"

Then, resuming her rocking, she sang,

"There's not a rose where'er I seek As comely as my baby's cheek. There's not a comb of honey bee, So full of sweets as babe to me. And it's O! sweet, sweet! and a lullaby."

Again she bowed over the crib, and all the rocking flowers quivered and stood still.

"Baby, darling! Why are there such poor roses in your little cheek? I would value them above all the China roses ever grown! Look at the Red Robin, my sweet, my sweet, and become as pink as is that."

"There's not a star that shines on high Is brighter than my baby's eye. There's not a boat upon the sea Can dance as baby does to me. And it's O! sweet, sweet, and a lullaby."

"No silk was ever spun so fine As is the hair of baby mine. My baby smells more sweet to me Than smells in spring the elder tree. And it's O! sweet, sweet, and a lullaby!"

The child would not sleep.

Again the mother stayed the rocking of the cradle, and the swaying of the flowers.

She lifted the little creature from its bed carefully lest the sharp-leafed butcher's broom should scratch it. How surrounded was that crib with spikes, and they poisonous! And the red berries oozed out of the ribs of the cruel needle-armed leaves, like drops of heart's blood.

Mehetabel took her child to her bosom, and rocked her own chair, and as she rocked, the sunbeam flashed across her face, and then she was in shadow, then another flash, and again shadow, and from her face, when sunlit, a reflection of light flooded the little white dress of the babe, and illumined the tiny arm, and restless fingers laid against her bosom.

"A little fish swims in the well, So in my heart does baby dwell. A little flower blows on the tree, My baby is the flower to me. And It's O! sweet, sweet! and a lullaby!"

A wondrous expression of peace and contentment was on Mehetabel's face. None of the care and pain that had lined it, none of the gloom of hopelessness that had lain on it, had left now thereon a trace. In her child all her hope was centred, all her love culminated.

"The King has sceptre, crown and ball. You are my sceptre, crown and all, For all his robes of royal silk. More fair your skin, as white as milk. And it's O! sweet, sweet, and a lullaby!

"Ten thousand parks where deer may run, Ten thousand roses in the sun. Ten thousand pearls beneath the sea. My babe, more precious is to me. And it's O! sweet, sweet, and a lullaby!"

Presently gentle sleep descended on the head of the child, the pink eyelids closed, the restless hand ceased to grope and clutch, and the breath came evenly. Mehetabel laid her little one again in its cradle, and recommenced the rocking with the accompanying swaying of the flowers.

Now that the child was asleep Mehetabel sat lightly swinging the cradle, afraid to leave it at rest lest that of her infant should again be broken.

She thought of the death of her almost mother Susanna Verstage, the only woman that had shown her kindness, except the dame of the school she had attended as a child.

Mehetabel's heart overflowed with tender love towards the deceased, she fully, frankly forgave her the cruel blow whereby she had wounded her, and had driven her out of her house and into that of Jonas. And yet it was a deadly wrong: a wrong that could never be redressed. The wound dealt her would canker her heart away; it was of such a nature that nothing could heal it. Mehetabel was well aware of this. She could see brightness before her in one direction only. From her child alone could she derive hope and joy in the future. And yet she forgave Mrs. Verstage with a generous forgiveness which was part of her nature. She would forgive Jonas anything, everything, if he would but acknowledge his wrong, and turn to her in love.

And now she found that she could think of Iver without a quickening of her pulses.

In her love for her babe all other loves had been swallowed up, refined, reduced in force. She loved Iver still, but only as a friend, a brother. Her breast had room for one prevailing love only—that of her child.

As she sat, slightly rocking the cradle, and with a smile dimpling her cheek, a knock sounded at the door, and at her call there entered a young man whom she had seen during the winter with Jonas. He was a gentleman, and she had been told that he had lodged at the Huts, and she knew that he had engaged the Broom-Squire to attend him, when duck-shooting, at the Fransham ponds.

Mehetabel apologized for not rising as he entered, and pointed to the cradle.

"My name is Markham," said the young man, "I have come to see Mr. Kink. This is his house, I believe?"

"Yes, sir; but he is not at home."

"Will he be long absent?"

"I do not know. Will you please to take a chair?"

"Thank you." The young gentleman seated himself, wiped his brow, and threw his cap on the floor.

"I want some fishing. I made Mr. Kink's acquaintance, shooting, during the winter. Excuse me, are you his sister or his wife?"

"His wife, sir."

"You are very young."

To this Mehetabel made no reply.

"And uncommonly pretty," pursued Mr. Markham, looking at her with admiration. "Where the deuce did the Broom-Squire pick you up?"

The young mother was annoyed—a little color formed in her cheek. "Can I give a message to Jonas?" she asked.

"A message? Tell him he's a lucky dog. By heaven! I had no idea that a pearl lay at the bottom of the Punch-Bowl. And that is your baby?"

"Yes, sir."

Mehetabel lightly raised the sheet that covered the child's head.

The stranger stooped and looked at the sleeping child, that seemed to be made uneasy by his glance, and turned moaning away.

"It looks as if it were for another world—not this," said the gentleman.

The flush spread over Mehetabel's brow. "Sir," she said in a fluttering voice, "You are not a doctor, are you?"

"Oh, dear, no!—a barrister."

"Then," said she, in a tone of relief, "you do not know. The child is very well, but young."

"That may be."

The young man returned to his seat.

"I have left a fishing-rod outside," he said. "I wanted Kink to accompany me on one of the ponds where there is a punt. There must be plenty of fish in these sheets of water?"

"I believe there are, sir. As Jonas is away, perhaps Samuel Rocliffe can help you. He is my husband's nephew, and lives in the cottage, a little further down."

"Thank you, I'll look him up. But, hang me, if I like to leave—with such attractions here I do not care to leave."

After standing, considering a moment, hardly taking his eyes off Mehetabel, he said—"My pretty little hostess, if ever I begrudged a man in my life, I begrudge Jonas Kink—his wife. Come and tell me when you find him intolerable, and see if I cannot professionally help you to be rid of such a curmudgeon. Who knows?—the time may come! My name is Markham."

Then he departed.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

THE PICTURE.

Meanwhile Bideabout was on his way to the town of Guildford. He made slow progress, for old Clutch had no mind for speed. The horse was mistrustful as to whither he was going, and how he would be treated on reaching his destination. No amount of beating availed. He had laid on his winter growth of hair, which served as a mat, breaking the force of the strokes administered. He was proof against kicks, for whenever Jonas extended his legs for the purpose of bringing his heels sharply against the sides of Clutch, the old horse drew a deep inspiration and blew himself out; thus blunting the force of the heels driven into him.

At length, however, Jonas and old Clutch did reach Guildford. To old Clutch's great astonishment he found himself in a town new to him, more populous than Godalming; and being strongly convinced that he had done enough, and that every house was an inn open to receive him, and being eager to make himself comfortable, he endeavored to carry his master into a china-shop, then into a linen-draper's shop, and next into a green-grocer's.

Jonas was constrained to stable his obstinate steed in the first tavern he came to, and to make the rest of his way on foot.

Guildford is, to this day, a picturesque old town, dominated by the ruins of a fine royal castle, and with a quaint Grammar School and hospital. At the present time it is going through immense transformation. It has become a favorite retiring place for old officers of the army, supplanting in this respect Cheltenham. But at the period of this tale it was a sleepy, ancient, county town that woke to life on market days, and rested through the remainder of the week. It did not work six days and keep one Sabbath, but held the Sabbath for six days and woke to activity on one only.

Now nobody quite knows who are all the new people that flow into the villas, and flood the suburbs. At the period whereof we tell there were no invaders of the place. Everybody knew every one else in his own clique, and knew of and looked down on every one else in the clique below him, and thanked God that he only knew of him, and did not know him; and looked up at and slandered every one else in the clique above him.

At the time of which we tell there was no greater joy to those in each of the many cliques than to be able to stare at those who belonged to a clique esteemed lower, and to ask who those people were, and profess never to have heard their names, and to wonder out of what dungheap they had sprung.

At that time the quintessence of society in the town consisted of such as were called upon and returned the calls of the county families. Now, alas, almost every country gentleman's house in the neighborhood is no longer occupied by its ancient proprietors, and is sold or let to successful tradespeople, so that the quintessence of society in the town plumes itself on not knowing the occupants of these stately mansions.

At that time the family that inhabited a house which had been built fifty years before regarded with contempt those who occupied one built only thirty years before. At that time those who had a remote connection by cousinship twice removed with an Honorable, deemed themselves justified in considering every one else, not so privileged, as dishonorable.

Now all this is past, or is in process of passing away, and in Guildford and its suburbs, as elsewhere, the old order changeth, and the poll of a Parish Council teaches men their levels in the general estimation.

Without much difficulty, Jonas Kink was able to discover where the artist, Iver Verstage, had his house and his studio. The house was small, in a side street, and the name was on the door.

Jonas was ushered into the workshop by an elderly maid, and then saw Iver in a blouse with his arms tied about with string; a mahl-stick in one hand and a brush in the other.

Iver was surprised to see the Broom-Squire, and indisposed to welcome him. He purposely retained stick and brush in his hands, so as not to be able to strike palms with the man who had deprived him of the woman he admired and loved best in the world; and whom he suspected of misusing her.

Jonas looked about the studio, and his eye was caught by a picture of Mehetabel at the well head. The young artist had devoted his best efforts to finishing his study, and working it up into an effective and altogether charming painting.

The Broom-Squire held in the right hand the stick wherewith he had thrashed old Clutch, and this he now transferred to the left, whilst extending his right hand and forcing a smile on his leathery face. The artist made a pretence of seeking out some place where he could put down the articles encumbering his hands, but finding none, he was unable to return the salutation.

"Let bygones be bygones," said Jonas, and he dropped his hand. "Fine pictur' that, very like my wife. What, now, have you sold that for?"

"It is not sold at all. I do not think I shall part with the painting."

"Why not?" asked Jonas, with a malevolent twinkle in his eyes and a flush on his cheek-bones.

"Because it is a good sample of my ability which I can show to such as come as customers, and also because it reminds me of an old friend."

"Then you may take my portrait," said Jonas, "and sell this. Mine will do as well, and you knowed me afore you did Matabel."

"That is true," laughed Iver, "but I am not sure that you would make so striking subject, so inspiring to the artist. Did you come all the way from the Punch-Bowl to see the painting?"

"No, I didn't," answered Jonas.

"Then had you business in the town?"

"None particular."

"Was it to give me the pleasure of seeing you and asking after old friends at Thursley?"

"Old friends," sneered Bideabout; "much the like o' you cares for them as is old. It's the young and the bloomin' as is to your fancy. And I reckon it ain't friends as you would ask about, but a friend, and that's Matabel. Well, I don't mind tellin' of yer that she's got a baby, but I s'pose you've heard that, and the child ain't over strong and healthy, such as ort to be in the Punch-Bowl, where we're all hard as nails."

"Aye, not in physique only?"

"I don't know nothin about physic. I didn't take it when I were poorly, and nobody ever did in the Punch-Bowl as I've heard tell on. I sent once to Gorlmyn (Godalming) for a sleepin' draught, when I were bad wi' that shot in my shoulder as you knows of. But I never took it, not I."

"So you've come to see me?"

"Oh, yes, I've come, civil and neighbor-like, to see you."

"What about? Will you sit down?"

"Thanky, I just about like to stand. Yes, I've come to see you—on business."

"On business!"

"Yes, on business. You're trustee, I hear, for the child."

"To be sure I am. Mother put away a hundred pounds, and father has added fifty to it—and it is for your little one, some day."

"Well," said Jonas, "what I've come about is I wants it now."

"What, the hundred and fifty pounds?"

"Aye, I reckon the hundred and fifty pounds."

"But the money is not left to you."

"I know it b'aint; I want it for the child."

"You are not going to have it."

"Look here. Master Iver Verstage, you never ort to ha' been made trustee for my child. It's so much as puttin' a slight and an insult on me. If that child be mine then I'm the one as should have the trust. Don't I know best what the child wants? Don't I know best how to lay it out for its advantage? The money ort to ha' been put in my hands and in none other. That's my opinion."

"Bideabout!" answered Iver, "it is not a question as to what my father and mother should have done. I did not seek to be made trustee. It was a freak on the part of my dear mother. As she has done it, there it is; neither you nor I can alter that."

"Yes. You can renounce trusteeship."

"That will not help. Then I suppose the money would go into Chancery, and would be consumed there without any of it reaching the child."

Jonas considered, and then shook his head.

"You can hand it over to me."

"Then I should be held responsible and have to refund when the little fellow comes of age."

"He may never come of age."

"That neither you nor I can tell."

"Now look here," said the Broom-Squire, assuming an air of confidence, "between you and me, as old acquaintances, and me as gave you the feathers out o' a snipe's wing to make your first brush—and, so to speak, launched you in your career of greatness—between you and me I'm in an awkward perdic'ment. Through the failure of the Wealden Bank, of which you've heard tell, I've lost pretty much everything as I had managed to save through years of toil and frugality. And now I'm menaced in my little property. I don't know as I shall be able to hold it, unless some friend comes to the help. Well, now, who'll that little property go to but my son—that there precious darlin' baby as we're talkin' about. He'll grow out o' his squawlin', and he'll want his property unincumbered and clear, as it came to me. That I can't give him unless helped. I don't ask that there hundred and fifty pounds for myself. I know very well that I can't have it for myself. But I demand it for the child; it is now or never can the little estate in the Punch-Bowl be saved from fallin' into the hands of them darned lawyers. A stitch in time saves nine, and a little help now may be all that is wanted to keep the property clean and clear and unembarrassed wi' debt. If once we get our heads under water we'll all get drowned, me and Matabel and the kid—sure as crabs ain't garden apples."

"That may be very true, Bideabout," answered Iver, "but for all that I cannot let the money out of my control."

"Ain't you bound to spend it on the child?"

"I am bound to reserve it whole and intact for the child."

"But can you not see," persisted Jonas, "that you are doing that for the child, it would wish above all, when come to years of discretion."

"That is possible, but my hands are tied."

"In truth you will not."

"I cannot."

"I don't believe you. It is because you want to spite me that you will not help."

"Not at all, Bideabout. I wish well to the child and its mother, and, of course, to you. But I cannot break a trust."

"You will not?"

"If no other word will suit you—be it so—I will not."

Jonas Kink fumed blood red.

"You think to have me there. I shouldn't be surprised but it's you who are at the bottom of all—and will buy me up and buy me out, that you and Matabel may have the place to yourselves. It shall never be. I know what was meant when Sanna Verstage made you trustee. I am to be reckoned with. I can assure you of that. I shall find means to keep my property from you and my wife also."

He raised his stick and fell to beating the picture of Mehetabel with it; till it was rent to rags.

"Not even her picture shall you have—and I would it were her I were slashin' and breakin' to pieces as I've done to this picture. It may come to that in the end—but out of my power and into your hands she shall never go."



CHAPTER XXXV.

THE ONLY CHANGE

Jonas Kink, after much objurgation and persuasion, had induced old Clutch to leave his stable at Guildford, and return home by way of Godalming.

But the horse was unfamiliar with the road. He had been ridden along it in reverse direction in the morning, but, as every one knows, a way wears quite a different aspect under such circumstances. Old Clutch was mistrustful. Having been taken such an unprecedentedly long journey, he was without confidence that his master might not prolong the expedition to a still further distance. Accordingly he was exceedingly troublesome and unmanageable on the road from Guildford, and his behavior served to work the temper of Jonas to the extremity of irritability.

The horse, on approaching Godalming, began to limp. Bideabout descended, and examined each hoof. He could see no stone there, nothing to account for the lameness of old Clutch, which, however, became so pronounced as he entered the street of the little town that he was obliged to stable the beast, and rest it.

Then he went direct to the offices of a small attorney of the name of Barelegs, who had been engaged on his business.

As he entered the office, Mr. Barelegs looked up from a deed he was reading, turned his head, and contemplated his client.

There was something in his manner that angered Jonas, already excited and inclined to be annoyed at trifles, and he said irritably,—

"You look at me. Mister Barelegs, just as does old Clutch when I come into the stable, expectin' a feed of corn, he does."

"And no doubt he deserves it."

"He thinks he does, but he don't."

"And no doubt he gets his feed."

"There is doubt about it. He gets it when I choose to give it, not when he glowers at me—that way, he's wonderful artificial is old Clutch."

"I dare be sworn, Mr. Kink, if he has served you well, he expects to be paid for it."

"He's an owdacious old Radical," observed Jonas. "Just now he's shamming lame, becos I rode him into Guildford, and he likes the inn here. There's an old broken-winded, galled gray mare, I reckon he's set his fancy on in the same yard, and I'm pretty sure this lameness means nothin' more nor less than that he wants to be a-courtin'. To see them two hosses, when they meet, rubbin' heads, is enough to make a fellow sick. And Clutch, at his age too—when he ort to be thinkin' of his latter end!"

"We've all our little weaknesses, Mr. Kink, man and beast alike. You courted—not so long ago."

"I never courted in the ridic'lous fashion of other folks. I'd none of your yardin', and aiblen' to aiblen', and waistin'."

"What do you mean, Mr. Kink?"

"Don't you know the three stages o' courtin here? Fust o' all, the young pair walks each other about a yard apart—that's yardin'. Then they gits more familiar, and takes each other's arms. That's wot we calls in these parts aiblen' to aiblen', and last, when they curls their arms round each other, won'erful familiar, that's called waistin'. No, I never went through none o' them courses in my courtship. I weren't such a fool. But I was tellin' you about old Clutch."

"I want to hear about that party. What if he does not receive his feed. Doesn't he kick?"

Jonas laughed ironically.

"He tried that on once. But I got a halter, and fastened it to his tail by the roots, and made a loop t'other end, and when he put up his heels I slipped one into the loop, and he nigh pulled his tail off at the stump."

"Then, perhaps he bites."

"He did try that on," Jonas admitted, "but he won't try that on again."

"How did you cure him of biting?" asked the solicitor.

"I saw what he was up to, when I was a-grooming of him. He tried to get hold of my arm. I was prepared for him. I'd slipped my arm out o' my sleeve and stuffed the sleeve with knee-holm (butcher's broom), and when he bit he got the prickles into his mouth so as he couldn't shut it again, but stood yawnin' as if sleepy till I pulled 'em out. Clutch and I has our little games together—the teasy old brute—but I'm generally too much for him." After a little consideration Bideabout added, "It's only on the road I find him a little too cunnin' for me. Now he's pretendin to be lame, all 'long of his little love-affair with that gray hoss. Sometimes he lies down in the middle of the road. If I had my fowlin' piece I'd shoot off blank cartridge under his belly, and wouldn't old Clutch go up all fours into the air; but he knows well enough the gun is at home. Let old Clutch alone for wickedness."

"Well, Mr. Kink, you haven't come here to get my assistance against old Clutch, have you?"

"No," said Bideabout. "That's gospel. I ain't come here to tell about old Clutch; and it ain't against him as I want your assistance. It is against Iver Verstage, the painter chap at Guildford."

"What has he been doing?"

"Nuthin'! that's just it. He's made treasurer, trustee, or whatever you're pleased to call it, for my baby; and I want the money out."

"Out of his pocket and into yours?"

"Exactly. I don't see why I'm to have all the nussin' and feedin' and clothin' of the young twoad, and me in difficulties for money, and he all the while coaxing up a hundred and fifty pounds, and laying of it out, and pocketin' the interest, and I who have all the yowls by night, and the washin' and dressin' and feedin' and all that, not a ha'penny the better."

"How does this person you name come to be trustee for the child?"

"Becos his mother made him so; and that old idjot of a Simon Verstage, his father, goes and makes the sum bigger by addin' fifty pounds to her hundred, so now there's this tidy little sum lies doin no good to nobody."

"I cannot help you. You cannot touch the principal till the child is of age, and then it will go to the child, and not you."

"Why! that's twenty-one years hence. That's what I call reg'lar foreright (awkward); and worse than foreright, it's unreasonable. The child is that owdacious in the cradle, I shouldn't be surprised when he's of age he would deny me the money."

"The interest will be paid to you."

"What is that—perhaps sixpence in the year. Better than nuthin', but I want the lot of it. Look you here, Master Barelegs, I know very well that I owe you money. I know very well that unless I can raise two hundred pounds, and that pretty smart, I shall have to mortgage my little bit of land to you. I don't forget that. But I daresay you'd rather have the money down than my poor little bit of lean and ribby take out o' the common. You shall have the money if you'll help me to get it. If I can't get that money into my fingers—I'm a done man. But it's not only that as troubles me. It is that the Rocliffes, and the Snellings, and the Boxalls, and Jamaica Cheel will make my life miserable. They'll mock at me, and I shall be to them just as ridic'lous an object as was Thomas Rocliffe after he'd lost his Countess. That's twenty-three years agone, and he can't get over it. Up comes the Countess Charlotte on every occasion, whenever any one gets across with him. It will be the same with me. I told 'em all to their faces that I had got them into my power, and just as the net was about to snap—then the breaking of the bank upset all my reckonings, and spoiled the little game—and what is worse, has made me their sport. But I won't stand no nonsense from old Clutch, nor will I from them."

"I confess I do not quite understand about this money. Was it left by will?"

"Left by will right enough," answered Bideabout. "You see the old woman, Sanna Verstage, had a bit of property of her own when she married, and then, when it came to her dyin', she set to write a will, and wanted to leave a hundred pounds to the little twoad. But she called up and consulted Simon, and he sed, 'Put on another fifty, Sanna, and I'll make that up. I always had a likin' for Matabel.' So that is how it came about as I've heard, and a hundred pound came out of her estate, and Simon made up the other fifty. And for why—but to spite me, I dun know, but they appointed Iver to be trustee. Now, I'm in difficulties about the land. I reckon when I'm dead it will go to the little chap, and go wi' all the goodness drained out of it—acause I have had to mortgage it. Whereas, if I could touch that money now, there'd be nothing of the kind happen."

"I am very sorry for you," remarked the lawyer. "But that bequest is beyond your reach so long as the child lives."

"What's that you say?"

"I say that unless the poor little creature should die, you cannot finger the money."

"And if it did die, would it be mine?"

"Of course it would. By no other way can you get it, but, please Heaven, the child may grow to be a strong man and outlive you."

"It's wonderful weakly," said Jonas, meditatively.

"Weakly in the cradle is sturdy at the table," answered the solicitor, slightly altering a popular maxim.

"It's that peevish and perverse—"

"Then it takes after its father," laughed Mr. Barelegs. "You can't complain of that, Kink."

The Broom-Squire took his hat and stick and rose to leave.

Mr. Barelegs stayed him with a wave of the hand, and, "A word with you further, Mr. Kink. You gracefully likened me, just now, to your horse Clutch expecting his feed of oats after having served you well. Now I admit that, like Clutch, I have spent time and thought and energy in your service, and, like Clutch, I expect my feed of oats. I think we must have all clear and straight between us, and that at once. I have made out my little account with you, and here it is. You will remember that, acting on your instructions, I have advanced money in certain transactions that have broken down through the unfortunate turn in your affairs caused by the failure of the Wealden Bank. There is a matter of two hundred, and something you owe me for payments made and for services. I daresay you are a little put about now, but it will be useful to you to know all your liabilities so as to make provision for meeting them. I will not be hard on you as a client, but, of course, you do not expect me to make you a present of my money, and my professional service."

Jonas took the account reluctantly, and his jaw fell.

"I dare say," pursued the solicitor, "that among your neighbors you may be able to borrow sufficient. The Rocliffes, your own kinsmen, are, I fear, not very flush with money."

"Ain't got any to bless themselves with," said Jonas.

"But the Boxalls are numerous, and fairly flourishing. They have probably put away something, and as neighbors and friends—"

"I've quarrelled with them. I can't borrow of them," growled Bideabout.

"Then there are the Snellings—"

"I've offended them as well."

"But you have other friends."

"I haven't one."

"There is Simon Verstage, a warm man; he could help you in an emergency."

"He's never been the same with me since I married Matabel, his adopted daughter. He had other ideas for her, I fancy, and he is short and nasty wi' me now. I can't ask him."

"Have you then, really, no friends?"

"Not one."

"Then there must be some fault in you, Kink. A man who goes through life without making friends, and quarrels even with the horse that carries him, is not one who will leave a gap when he passes out of the world. I shall expect my money. If you see no other way of satisfying me, I must have a mortgage on your holding. I'll not press you at once—but, like Clutch, I shall want my feed of oats."

"Then," said Jonas, surlily, as he turned his hat about, and looked down into it, "I don't see no other chance of gettin the money than—"

"Than what?"

"That's my concern," retorted the Broom-Squire. "Now I'm goin' to see whether old Clutch is ready—or whether he be shammin' still."



CHAPTER XXXVI.

THE SLEEPING DRAUGHT.

Jonas found that old Clutch was not lavishing endearments on the gray mare over the intervening partition of stalls, but was lying down on the straw. Nothing said or done would induce the horse to rise, and the hostler told Bideabout that he believed the beast was really lame. It had been overworked at its advanced age, and must be afforded rest.

"He's a Radical," said the Broom-Squire. "You move that gray into another stable and Clutch will forget about his lameness, I dare swear. He's twenty-five and has a liquorish eye, still—it's shameful."

Bideabout was constrained to walk from Godalming to the Punch-Bowl, and this did not serve to mend his humor. He reached home late at night, when the basin was full of darkness, and the only light that showed came from the chamber where Mehetabel sat with her baby.

When Jonas entered, he saw by the rushlight that she was not undressed, and heard by her voice that she was anxious.

"The baby is very unwell, Jonas," she said, and extending her hand, lit a tallow candle at the meagre flame of the rushlight.

As the wick flared, so did something flare up in the face of the Broom-Squire.

"Why do you look like that?" asked Mehetabel, for the look did not escape her.

"Main't I look as I choose?" he inquired surlily.

"It almost seemed as if you were glad to hear that my poor darling is ill," complained she.

"Ain't I glad to be home after bein' abroad all day a-wackin', and abusin' of old Clutch, and then had to walk from Gorlmyn (Godalming), and the aggravation of knowin' how as the hoss be shakin' his sides laughin' at me for doin of it. Wot's up with the kid?"

"I really cannot tell, Jonas; he's been restless and moaning all day. I have not been able to get him to sleep, and I am sure he has had one or two fits. He became white and stiff. I thought he'd a-died, and then my heartstrings were like breaking."

"Oh, drat your heartstrings, I don't care to hear of them. So, you thort he was dyin'. Perhaps he may. More wun'erful things happen than that. It's the way of half the babies as is born."

"It will kill me if mine is taken from me!" cried Mehetabel, and cast herself on her knees and embraced the cradle, regardless of the sprigs of spiked leaves she had stuck round it, and burst into an agony of tears.

"Now look here," said Jonas; "I've been tried enough wi' old Clutch to-day, and I don't want to be worreted at night wi' you. Let the baby sleep if it is sleepin', and get me my vittles. There's others to attend to in the world than squawlin' brats. It's spoilin' the child you are. That's what is the meanin' of its goings-on. Leave it alone, and take no notice, and it'll find out quick enough that squeals don't pay. I want my supper. Go after the vittles."

Mehetabel lay in her clothes that night. The child continued to be restless and fretted. Jonas was angry. If he was out all day he expected to rest well at night; and she carried the cradle in her arms into the spare room, where the peevishness of the child, and the rocking and her lullaby could not disturb her husband. As she bore the cradle, the sprigs of butcher's broom and withered chrysanthemums fell and strewed her path, leaving behind her a trail of dying flowers, and of piercing thorns, and berries like blood-drops. No word of sympathy had the Broom-Squire uttered; no token had he shown that he regarded her woes and was solicitous for the welfare of his child. Mehetabel asked for neither. She had learned to expect nothing from him, and she had ceased to demand of him what he was incapable of giving, or unwilling to show.

Next morning Mehetabel was prompt to prepare breakfast for her husband. The day was fine, but the light streaming in through the window served to show how jaded she was with long watching, with constant attention, and with harrowing care.

Always punctilious to be neat, she had smoothed her hair, tidied her dress, and washed the tears from her face, but she could not give brightness to the dulled eye or bloom to the worn cheek.

For a while the child was quiet, stupefied with weariness and long crying. By the early light Mehetabel had studied the little face, hungering after tokens of recovering powers, glad that the drawn features were relaxed temporarily.

"Where are you going to-day, Bideabout?" she asked, timidly, expecting a rebuff.

"Why do you ask?' was his churlish answer.

"Because—oh! if I might have a doctor for baby!"

"A doctor!" he retorted. "Are we princes and princesses, that we can afford that? There's no doctor nigher than Hazelmere, and I ain't goin' there. I suppose cos you wos given the name of a Duchess of Edom, you've got these expensive ideas in your head. Wot's the good of doctors to babies? Babies can't say what ails them."

"If—if—" began Mehetabel, kindly, "if I might have a doctor, and pay for it out of that fifteen pound that father let me have."

"That fifteen pound ain't no longer yours. And this be fine game, throwin' money away on doctors when we're on the brink of ruin. Don't you know as how the bank has failed, and all my money gone? The fifteen pound is gone with the rest."

"If you had but allowed me to keep it, it would not have been lost now," said Mehetabel.

"I ain't goin' to have no doctors here," said Bideabout, positively, "but I'll tell you what I'll do, and that's about as much as can be expected in reason. I'm goin' to Gorlmyn to fetch old Clutch; and I'll see a surgeon there and tell him whatever you like—and get a mixture for the child. But I won't pay more than half-a-crown, and that's wasted. I don't believe in doctors and their paint and water, as they gives us."

Jonas departed, and then the tired and anxious mother again turned to her child. The face was white spotted with crimson, the closed lids blue.

There was no certainty when Bideabout would return, but assuredly not before evening, as he walked to Godalming, and if he rode home on the lame horse, the pace would be slower than a walk.

Surely she could obtain advice and help from some of the mothers in the Punch-Bowl. Sally Rocliffe she would not consult. The gleam of kindness that had shone out of her when Mehetabel was in her trouble had long ago been quenched.

When the babe woke she muffled it in her shawl and carried the mite to the cottage of the Boxalls. The woman of that family, dark-skinned and gypsy-like, with keen black eyes, was within, and received the young mother graciously. Mehetabel unfolded her treasure and laid it on her knees—the child was now quiet, through exhaustion.

"I'll tell y' what I think," said Karon Boxall, "that child has been overlooked—ill-wished."

Mehetabel opened her eyes wide with terror.

"That's just about the long and short of it," continued Mrs. Boxall. "Do you see that little vein there, the color of 'urts. That's a sure sign. Some one bears the poor creature no love, and has cast an evil eye on it."

The unhappy mother's blood ran chill. This, which to us seems ridiculous and empty, was a grave and terrible reality to her mind.

"Who has done it?" she asked below her breath.

"That's not for me to say," answered the woman. "It is some one who doesn't love the babe, that's sure."

"A man or a woman?"

Mrs. Boxall stooped over the infant.

"A woman," she said, with assurance. "The dark vein be on the left han' side."

Mehetabel's thoughts ran to Sally Rocliffe. There was no other woman who could have felt ill-feeling against the hapless infant, now on her lap.

"What can I do?" she asked.

"There's nothin'. Misfortune and wastin' away will be to the child—though they do say, if you was to take it to Thor's Stone, and carry it thrice round, way of the sun, you might cast off the ill-wish. But I can't say. I never tried it."

"I cannot take it there," cried Mehetabel, despairingly, "the weather is too cold, baby too ill."

Then clasping the child to her bosom, and swaying herself, she sobbed forth—

"A little fish swims in the well. So in my heart does baby dwell, The king has sceptre, crown and ball, You are my sceptre, crown and all."

She went home sobbing, and hugging her child, holding it away from the house of Sarah Rocliffe, lest that woman might be looking forth at her window, and deepen by her glance the spell that held and broke down her child.

Towards evening fall Jonas returned.

Directly he crossed the threshold, with palpitating eagerness Mehetabel asked—

"Have you seen the doctor?"

"Yes," he answered curtly.

"What did he say?"

"He'd got a pass'l o' learned names of maladies—I can't recollect them all. Tain't like as I should."

"But—did he give you any medicine?"

"Yes, I had to pay for it too."

"Oh, Jonas, do give it me, and tell me, are you quite sure you explained to him exactly what ailed baby?"

"I reckon I did."

"And the bottle, Jonas?"

"Don't be in such a won'erful hurry. I've other things to do than get that put yet. How is the child?"

"Rather better."

"Better!" he echoed, and Mehetabel, who looked intently in his face, saw no sign of satisfaction, rather of disappointment.

"Oh, Jonas!" she cried, "is it naught to you that baby is so ill? You surely don't want him to die?"

He turned fiercely on her, his face hard and gray, and his teeth shining—

"What makes you say that—you?"

"Oh, nothin', Jonas, only you don't seem to care a bit about baby, and rather to have a delight in his bein' so ill."

"He's better, you say?"

"Yes—I really do think it."

There was an unpleasant expression in his face that frightened her. Was it the eye of Jonas that had blighted the child? But no—Karon Boxall had said that it was ill-wished by a woman. Jonas left the room, ascended the stairs, and strode about in the chamber overhead.

Swaying in her chair, holding the infant to her heart, the sole heart that loved it, but loved it with a love ineffable, she heard her husband open the window, and then hastily shut it again. Then there was a pause in his movement overhead, and he came shortly after down the stairs. He held a phial in his hand—and without looking at Mehetabel, thrust it towards her, with the curt injunction, "Take."

"Perhaps," said the young mother, "as my darling is better, I need not give him the medicine."

"That's just like your ways," exclaimed the Broom-Squire, savagely. "Fust I get no rest till I promise to go to the doctor, and then when I've put myself about to go, and bring the bottle as has cost me half-a-crown, you won't have it."

"Indeed—it is only——"

"Oh, yes—only—to annoy me. The child is ill. I told the doctor all, and he said, that this would set it to rights and give it sleep, and rest to all of us." He was in a bad temper. Mehetabel did not venture to say more. She took the phial and placed it on the table. It was not wrapped up in paper.

Then Jonas hastily went forth. He had old Clutch to attend to.

Mehetabel remained alone, and looked at the medicine bottle; then she laid the infant on her knees and studied the little face, so blanched with dark rings round the eyes. The tiny hands were drawn up on the breast and clasped; she unfolded and kissed them.

Then she looked again at the phial.

There was something strange about it. The contents did not appear to have been well mixed, the upper portion of the fluid was dark, the lower portion white. How came this about? Jonas had ridden old Clutch home, and the movements of the horse were not smooth. The bottle in the pocket of Bideabout must have undergone such shaking as would have made the fluid contents homogeneous and of one hue. She held the bottle between herself and the light. There was no doubt about it, either the liquid separated rapidly, or had never been mixed.

She withdrew the cork and applied the mouth of the phial to her nose.

The scent of the medicine was familiar. It was peculiar. When had she smelt that odor before. Then she started. She remembered the little bottle containing laudanum, with the death's head on it, in the closet upstairs.

Hastily, her heart beating with apprehension, she laid her babe in the cradle, and taking the light, mounted to the upper chamber. She possessed the key of the cabinet in the wall. She had retained it because afraid to give it up, and Jonas had manufactured for himself a fresh key.

Now she unlocked the closet, and at once discovered the laudanum bottle.

It was half empty.

Some of it had been used.

How had it been used? Of that she had little doubt. The dangerous, sleep-bringing laudanum had been put into the medicine for the child. It was to make room for that that Jonas had opened the window and poured forth some of the contents.

A drop still hung on the top of the phial.

She shut and relocked the cupboard, descended, with dismay, despair in her heart, and taking the bottle from the table, dashed it into the fire upon the hearth. Then she caught her babe to her, and through floods of tears, sobbed: "There is none love thee but I—but I—but only I! O, my babe, my babe! My sceptre, crown, and all!"

In the blinding rain of tears, in the tumult of passion that obscured her eyes, that confused her brain, Mehetabel saw, heard nothing. She had but one sense—that of feeling, that thrilled through one fibre only attached to the helpless, suffering morsel in her arms—the infant she held to her breast, and which she would have liked to bury in her heart away from all danger, concealed from the malevolent eye, and the murderous hand.

All the mother's nature in her was roused and flared into madness. She alone loved this little creature, she alone stood between it and destruction. She would fight for it, defend it to her last breath, with every weapon wherewith she was endowed by nature.

After the first paroxysm of passion was passed, and a lull of exhaustion ensued, she looked up, and saw Bideabout enter, and as he entered he cast a furtive glance at the table, then at the child.

In a moment she resolved on the course she should adopt.

"Have you given the babe the draught?" he asked, with averted face.

"Not all."

"Of course, not all."

"Will it make baby sleep?" asked Mehetabel.

"O, sleep—sleep! yes—we shall have rest for one night—for many, I trust. O, do not doubt. It will make it sleep!"



CHAPTER XXXVII.

A MENACED LIFE.

As soon as the Broom-Squire had gone out again to the "hog-pen," as a pigstye is called in Surrey, to give the pig its "randams and crammins," because Mehetabel was unable to do this because unable to leave the child, then she knelt by the hearth, put aside the turves, and, regardless of the fire, groped for the fragments of the broken phial, that nothing might betray to Bideabout her having rejected the medicine with which he had tampered.

She cut and burnt her fingers, but in the excitement of her feelings, was insensible to pain.

She had removed and secreted the glass before he returned. The babe was sleeping heavily, and snoring.

When Jonas came in and heard the sound from the cradle, a look of expectation came over his face.

"The child's burrin' like a puckeridge (night-jar)," he said. "Shouldn't wonder if the medicine ain't done him a lot o' good. It don't need a doctor to come and see to prescribe for a baby. All that little ones want is good sleep, and natur' does the rest."

Owing to the annoyance caused to Bideabout by the child's fretfulness during the night, Mehetabel occupied a separate chamber, the spare bedroom, along with her babe, and spent her broken nights under the great blue and white striped tent that covered the bed.

She had enjoyed but little sleep for several nights, and her days had been occupied by the necessary attention to the suffering child and the cares of the household. Because the babe was ill, that was no reason why his father's meals should be neglected, and because the mother was overwrought, he was not disposed to relieve her of the duties to the pigs and cows save on this one occasion.

That the poor little infant was really more at ease was obvious to the mother's watchful eye and anxious heart, but whether this were due to its malady, whatever that was, having taken a felicitous turn, or to mere exhaustion of powers, she was unable to decide, and her fears almost overbalanced her hopes.

She retired to sleep that night without much expectation of being able to obtain sleep. Her nerves were overstrung, and at times thought in her mind came to a standstill; it was as though a sudden hush came on all within her, so that neither did heart beat nor breath come. But for these pauses, her mind might have given way, a string have snapped, and her faculties have fallen into disorder.

It is said of Talleyrand that he needed no sleep, as his pulse ceased to beat after a certain number of strokes, for a brief space, and then resumed pulsation. During that pause, his physical and mental powers had time for recuperation. Be that as it may, it is certain that to some persons whose minds and feelings are put to extraordinary tension, greatly prolonged, there do come these halts in which all is blank, the brain ceases to think, and the heart to feel, and such gaps in the sequence of thought and emotion have a salutary effect.

Mehetabel did not undress. She had not put off her clothing for several nights. The night was cold, and she would probably have to be incessantly on the move, to meet the little sufferer's necessities, as they arose, and to watch it, whenever her fears prevailed over her hopes, and made her think that a protracted quiet was ominous.

The only light in the room emanated from a smouldering rush, sustained in a tall iron holder, the lower end of which was planted in a block of oak, and stood on the floor. Such holders, now become very scarce, were furnished with snuffers, so contrived that the rushlight had to be taken out of its socket and snuffed by them, instead of their being brought to the rush.

Of rushlights there were two kinds, one, the simplest, consisted of a dry rush dipped in a little grease. The light emitted from such a candle was feeble in the extreme. The second, a superior rushlight, had the rush pealed of its bark with the exception of one small strip which held the pith from breaking. This pith was dipped in boiling fat, and when the tallow had condensed it was dipped again, and the candle given as many coats as was desired. Such a rushlight was a far more useful candle, and if it did not emit as large a flame and give forth so much light as a dip which had a cotton wick it was sufficient to serve most purposes for which in a farmhouse artificial illumination was required.

The first and inferior sort of rushlight was that which Matabel allowed herself for the sick-room.

When she laid her head on the pillow and threw the patched-work quilt over her shoulders the cool of the pillow struck through her head and relieved the fire that had raged therein.

She could not sleep.

She thought over what had happened. She considered Bideabout's action as calmly as possible. Was it conceivable that he should seek the life of his own child? He had shown it no love, but it was a far cry from lack of parental affection to deliberate attempt at murder.

What gain would there be to him in the death of his child? She was too innocent and simple to think of Mrs. Verstage's bequest as supplying the motive. As far as she could find there was nothing to account for Jonas' desire to hasten the child's death save weariness at its cries which distressed him at night, and this was no adequate reason. There was another, but that she put from her in disgust. Bad as Bideabout might be she could not credit him with that.

What was that bottle which Jonas had been given by the doctor when his arm was bound up? Of laudanum she knew nothing, but remembered that it had been recommended as a means for giving him the rest he so required. It was a medicine intended to produce sleep. He had refused it because afraid lest he should administer to himself, or have administered to him, an overdose which would cause him to sleep too soundly, and slide away into the slumber of death.

It was possible that the surgeon at Godalming knew that Jonas possessed this phial, and had given him the medicine for the child along with instructions as to how many drops of the laudanum he was to add to the mixture, to make it serve its proper purpose.

If that were so, then the Broom-Squire had acted as directed by a competent person and for the good of his child, and she, his wife, had cruelly, wickedly, misjudged him. Gentle, generous, incapable of harboring an evil thought, Matabel at once and with avidity seized on this solution, and applied it to her heart to ease its pain and relieve the pressure that weighed on it.

Under the lightening of her anxiety caused by this Mehetabel fell asleep, for how long she was unable to guess. When she awoke it was not that she heard the cry of her child, but that she was aware of a tread on the floor that made the bed vibrate.

Instead of starting up, she unclosed her eyes, and saw in the room a figure that she at once knew was that of Jonas. He was barefooted, and but partially dressed. He had softly unhasped the door and stolen in on tip-toe. Mehetabel was surprised. It was not his wont to leave his bed at night, certainly not for any concern he felt relative to the child; yet now he was by the cradle, and was stooping over it with his head turned, so that his ear was applied in a manner that showed he was listening to the child's breathing. As his face was turned the feeble light of the smouldering rushlight was on it.

Mehetabel did not stir. It was a pleasing revelation to her that the father's heart had warmed to his child, and that he was sufficiently solicitous for the feeble life to be disturbed thereby at night.

Jonas remained listening for a minute, then he rose erect and retreated from the chamber on tiptoe and closed the door noiselessly behind him.

A smile of pleasure came on Mehetabel's lips, the first that had creamed them for many a week, and she slipped away again into sleep, to be aroused after a brief period by the restlessness and exclamations of the child that woke with hunger.

Then promptly she rose up, went to the cradle, and lifted the child out, coaxed it and sang to the infant as she seated herself on the bedside nursing it.

As she swayed herself, holding the child, the door that was ajar opened slightly, and by the feeble light of the rush she could discern something without, and the flame was reflected in human eyes.

"Is that you, Jonas?" she called.

There was no reply, but she could hear soft steps withdrawing in the direction of his room.

"He is ashamed of letting me see how anxious he is, how really fond of the poor pet he is in heart." As the child's hands relaxed, and it sobbed off to sleep, Mehetabel laid it again in the cradle. It was abundantly evident that the infant was getting better. In a couple of days, doubtless, it would be well.

Glad of this, relieved of the care that had gnawed at her heart, she now slipped between the sheets of the bed. The babe would probably sleep on till dawn, and she could herself enjoy much-needed rest.

Then she dreamt that she and her little one were in a fair garden full of flowers; the child had grown somewhat and could enjoy play. She thought that she was plucking violets and making a crown for her baby's head, and then a little staff covered with the same purple, fragrant flowers, to serve as sceptre, and that she approached her little one on her knees, and bent to it, and sang:—

"The king has sceptre, crown and ball, You are my sceptre, crown, and all!"

But then there fell a shadow on them, and this shadow cut off all light from her and from her child. She looked and saw Jonas. He said nothing, but stood where the sun shone and he could obscure it.

She lifted her babe and moved it away from the blighting shadow into warmth and brightness once more. Yet was this but for a moment, as again the shadow of Jonas fell over them. Once more she moved the child, but with like result. Then with a great effort she rose from her knees, carrying the child to go away with it, far, far from Jonas—and in her effort to do so woke.

She woke to see by the expiring rush-candle and the raw light of early dawn, that the Broom-Squire was in the room, and was stooping over the cradle. Still drunk with sleep, she did not stir, did not rally her senses at once.

Then she beheld how he lifted the pillow from under the infants head, went down on his knees, and thrust the pillow in upon the child's face, holding it down resolutely with a hand on each side.

With a shriek of horror, Mehetabel sprang out of bed and rushed at him, stayed his arms, and unable to thrust them back, caught the cradle and plucked it to her, and released the babe, that gasped—seized it in her arms, glued it to her bosom, and dashing past Jonas before he had risen to his feet, ran down the stairs, and left the house—never to enter it again.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

SHUT OUT.

A raw gray morning.

Mehetabel had run forth into it with nothing over her head, no shawl about her shoulders, with hair tangled, and eyes dazed, holding her child to her heart, with full resolve never again to set foot across the threshold of the farmhouse of Jonas Kink.

No doubt whatever remained now in her mind that the Broom-Squire had endeavored to compass the death of his child, first by means of poison, and then by suffocation.

Nothing would ever induce her again to risk the precious life of her child at his hands. She had no thought whither she should go, how she should live—her sole thought was to escape from Jonas, and by putting a distance between herself and him, place the infant beyond danger.

As she ran up the lane from the house she encountered Sally Rocliffe at the well head.

"Where be you goyne to, like that; and with the child, too?" asked the woman.

Mehetabel drew the little face of the babe to her, lest the eye of its aunt should light on it. She could not speak, palpitating with fear, as she was.

"What be you runnin' out for this time o' the mornin'?" asked Mrs. Rocliffe again.

"I cannot tell you," gasped the mother.

"But I will know."

"I shall never, never go back again," cried Mehetabel.

"Oh! he's kicked you out, has he? That's like Jonas."

"I'm runnin' away.

"And where be yo goyne to?"

"I don't know."

"But I do," said Mrs. Rocliffe with a chuckle.

Mehetabel gave no thought to her words. She thrust past her, and ran on.

Fear, love, gave strength to her limbs. She had no consideration for herself, that she was dishevelled and incompletely clad, that she had eaten nothing; she sped up the side of the Common, to escape from the Punch-Bowl, the place where she had weltered in misery. There was no hope for her and her child till she had escaped from that.

In the cold air, charged with moisture, the larks were singing. A ploughboy was driving his horses to the field that was to be turned up by the share.

As she passed him he stared at her with surprise. She reached the village. The blacksmith was up and about; he was preparing to put a tire on a cart-wheel. For this purpose he had just kindled a fire of turf "bats," that were heaped round the fire on the ground outside the forge. He looked up with astonishment as Mehetabel sped past, and cast to her the question, "Wot's up?" which, however, she did not stay to answer.

She made no tarry till she reached the Ship Inn. There she entered the porch, and would have gone through the door into the house, had she not been confronted by Polly, the maid, who at that moment was coming up the passage from the bar.

Polly made no attempt to give room for Mehetabel to pass; she saluted her with a stare and a look at her from head to feet, full of insolence.

"Wot do you want?" asked the girl.

"I wish to see and speak to father," answered Mehetabel.

"I always heard as your father lies in Thursley Churchyard," answered the servant.

"I mean I should like to speak with Mr. Verstage."

"Oh! the landlord?"

"Yes; the landlord. Where is he?"

"Don' know. Somewhere about, I reckon."

"It is cold, and my child is ill. I would go into the kitchen, by the fire."

"Why don't you then go home?"

"I have no home."

"Oh! it's come to that, is it?"

"Yes. Let me in."

"No, indeed. This ain't the place for you. If you think you're goyne to be mistress and order about here you're mistaken. You go along; I'm goyne to shut the door."

Mehetabel had not the spirit to resent this insolence.

She turned in the porch and left the inn, that had once been her home, and the only home in which she had found happiness.

She made her way to the fields that belonged to Simon Verstage, and after wandering through a ploughed glebe she found him.

"Ah, Matabel!" said he, "glad to see you. What brings you here so early in the day?"

"Dear father, I cannot tell you all, but I have left Bideabout. I can stay with him no longer, something has happened. Do not press me to tell—at least not now. I can never return to the Punch-Bowl. Will you take me in?"

The old man mused.

"I'll consult Polly. I don't know what she'll say to it. I'm rather dependent on her now. You see, I know nothing of the house, I always put that into Susanna's charge, and now poor Sanna is gone, Polly has taken the management. Of course, she makes mistakes, but wun'erfully few. In fact, it is wun'erful how she fits into Sanna's place, and manages the house and all—just as if she had been brought up to it. I'll go and ask her. I couldn't say yes without, much as I might wish."

Mehetabel shook her head.

The old man was become feeble and dependent. He had no longer a will of his own:

"I will not trouble you, dear father, to ask Polly. I am quite sure what her answer will be. I must go further. Who is Guardian?"

"That's Timothy Puttenham, the wheelwright."

Then Mehetabel turned back in the direction of the village and came in front of the shop. Puttenham and his apprentice were engaged on the fire, and Mehetabel stood, with the babe folded in her arms, watching them at work. They might not be disturbed at the critical period when the tire was red hot and had to be fitted to the wheel.

A circle of flame and glowing ashes and red-hot iron was on the ground. At a little distance lay a flat iron disc, called the "platform"; with a pole in the centre through which ran a spindle. On this metal plate lay a new cast wheel, and the wright with a bar screwed a nut so as to hold the cart-wheel down firmly on the "platform."

"Now, boy, the pincers!"

Then he, grasping a long pair of forceps, his apprentice with another, laid hold of the glowing tire, and raising it from the fire carried it scintillating to the wheel, lifted it over the spindle, and dropped it about the woodwork. Then, at once, they seized huge hammers and began to belabor the tire, to drive it on to the wheel, which smoked and flamed.

"Water, boy, water!"

The apprentice threw water from a pitcher over the tire throughout its circumference, dulling its fire, and producing clouds of steam.

Mehetabel, well aware that at this juncture the wright must not be interfered with, drew close to the fire, and kneeling by it warmed herself and the sleeping child, whilst she watched the sturdy men whirling their hammers and beating the tire down into place around the wheel.

At length the wright desisted. He leaned on his great hammer; and then Mehetabel timidly addressed him.

"Please, Mr. Puttenham, are you not Guardian of the Poor?"

"Certainly, Mrs. Kink."

"May I be put in the Poors' House?"

"You!"

The wheelwright opened his eyes very wide.

"Yes, Mr. Puttenham, I have no home."

"Why, Matabel! What is the sense of this? Your home is in the Punch-Bowl."

"I have left it."

"Then you must return to it again."

"I cannot. Take me into the Poors' House."

"My good girl, this is rank nonsense. The Poor House is not for you, or such as you."

"I need its shelter more than most. I have no home."

"Are you gone off your head?"

"No, sir. My mind is sound, but to the Punch-Bowl I cannot, and will not, return. No, never!"

"Matabel," said the wheelwright, "I suppose you and Jonas have had a quarrel. Bless you! Such things happen in married life, over and over again, and you'll come together and love each other all the better for these tiffs. I know it by experience."

"I cannot go back! I will not go back!"

"It is not cannot or will not—it is a case of must. That is your home. But this I will do for you. Go in and ask my old woman to let you have some breakfast, and I'll send Jack"—he signed to his apprentice—"and bid him tell Bideabout where you are, and let him fetch you. We mustn't have a scandal."

"If Jonas comes, I shall run away."

"Whither?"

That Mehetabel could not say.

"Where can you go? Nowhere, save to your husband's house. For God's sake!" he suddenly exclaimed, knocking his hammer on the tire, "don't say you are going to Guildford—to Iver Verstage."

Mehetabel raised her heavy eyes, and looked the wheelwright frankly in the face. "I would rather throw myself and baby into one of the Hammer Ponds than do that."

"Right! You're a good gal. But there was no knowing. Folks talk. Come in! You shall have something—and rest a while."

The kind, well-intentioned man laid his large hand on her shoulder and almost forced her, but gently, towards the house. She would not enter the door till he had promised not to send for Jonas.

Selena Puttenham, the wright's wife, was a loquacious and inquisitive woman, and she allowed Mehetabel no rest. She gave her bread and milk with readiness, and probed her with questions which Mehetabel could not answer without relating the whole horrible truth, and this she was resolved not to do.

The wright was busy, and could not remain in his cottage. The wife, with the kindest intentions, was unable to restrain herself from putting her guest on the rack. The condition of Mehetabel was one to rouse curiosity. Why was she there, with her baby, in the early morning? Without having even covered her head; fasted and jaded? Had there been a quarrel. If so—about what? Had Bideabout beaten her? Had he thrust her out and locked the door? If so, in what had she offended him? Had she been guilty of some grievous misdemeanor?

At length, unable further to endure the torture to which she was subjected, Mehetabel sprang up, and insisted on leaving the cottage.

Without answering Mrs. Puttenham's question as to whither she was going, what were her intentions, the unhappy girl hastened out of the village clasping in her arms the child, which had begun to sob.

And now she made her way towards Witley, of which Thursley was a daughter parish. She would find the Vicar, who had always treated her with consideration, and even affection. The distance was considerable, in her weary condition, but she plodded on in hopes. He was a man of position and authority, and she could trust him to protect her and the child. To him she would tell all, in confidence that he would not betray her secret.

At length, so fagged that she could hardly walk, her arms cramped and aching, her nerves thrilling, because the child was crying, and would not be comforted, she reached the Vicarage, and rang at the back door bell. Some time elapsed before the door was opened; and then the babe was screaming so vociferously, and struggling in her arms with such energy, that she was not able to make herself heard when she asked for the Parson.

The woman who had answered the summons was a stranger, consequently did not know Mehetabel. She made signs to her to go away.

The cries of the child became more violent, and the mother's efforts were directed towards pacifying it. "Let me come in, I pray! I pray!" she asked with a brow, in spite of the cold, bathed in perspiration.

"I cannot! I must not!" answered the woman. She caught her by the arm, drew her aside, and said—"Do you not know? Look! the blinds are all down. He died in the night!"

"Dead!" cried Mehetabel, reeling back. "My God! whither shall I go?"



CHAPTER XXXIX.

AT THE SILK MILL.

Mehetabel sank on the grass by the drive.

"I am worn out. I can go no further," she said, and bowed her head over the child.

"You cannot remain here. It is not seemly—a house of mourning," said the woman.

"He would not mind, were he alive," sobbed Mehetabel. "He would have cared for me and my babe; he was always kind."

"But he is not alive; that makes the difference," said the servant. "You really must still the child or go away."

"I cannot go another step," answered Mehetabel, raising her head and sinking it again, after she had spoken.

"I don't know what to do. This is unreasonable; I'll go call the gardener. If you won't go when asked you must be removed by force."

The woman retired, and presently the gardener came up. He knew Mehetabel—that is to say, knew who she was.

"Come," said he, "my cottage is just yonder. You must not remain here on the green, and in the cold. No wonder the child screams. There is a fire in my house, and you can have what you like for a while, till you are rested. Give me your hand."

Mehetabel allowed him to raise her, and she followed him mechanically from the drive into the cottage, that was warm and pleasant.

"There now, missus," said the man; "make yourself comfortable for an hour or two."

The rest, the warmth, were grateful to Mehetabel. She was almost too weary to thank the man with words, but she looked at him with gratitude, and he felt that her heart was over full for her to speak. He returned to his work, and left her to herself. There was no one else in the cottage, as he was a widower, and had no family.

After a considerable time, when Mehetabel had had time to recruit her strength, he reappeared. The short winter day was already closing in. The cold black vapors rose over the sky, obscuring the little light, as though grudging the earth its brief period of illumination.

"I thought I'd best come, you know," said the man, "just to tell you that I'm sorry, but I can't receive you here for the night. I'm a widower, and folk might talk. Why are you from home?"

"I ran away. I cannot return to the Punch-Bowl."

"Well, now. That's curious!" said the gardener. "Time out of mind I've had it in my head to run away when my old woman was rampageous. I've knowed a man who actually did run to Americay becos his wife laid on him so. But I never, in my experience, heard of a woman runnin' away from her husband, that is to say—alone. You ain't got no one with you, now?"

"Yes, my baby."

"I don't mean that. Well, it is coorious, a woman runnin' away with her baby. I'm terrible sorry, but I can't take you in above another half-hour. Where are you thinking of goyne to?"

"I know of no where and no one."

"Why not try Missus Chivers at Thursley. You was at her school, I suppose?"

"Yes, I was there."

"Try her, and all will come right in the end."

Mehetabel rose; her child was now asleep.

"Look here," said the gardener. "Here's a nice plaid shawl, as belonged to my missus, and a wun'erful old bonnet of hers—as the cat has had kittens in since she went to her rest—and left me to mine. You are heartily welcome. I can't let you turn out in the cold with nothing on your head nor over your shoulders."

Mehetabel gladly accepted the articles of clothing offered her. She had already eaten of what the man had placed on the table for her, when he left the house. She could not burden him longer with her presence, as he was obviously nervous about his character, lest it should suffer should he harbor her. Thanking him, she departed, and walked back to Thursley through the gathering gloom.

Betty Chivers kept a dame's school, in which she had instructed the children of Thursley in the alphabet, simple summing, and in the knowledge and fear of God. With the march of the times we have abolished dames schools, and cut away thereby a means of livelihood from many a worthy woman; but what is worse, have driven the little ones into board schools, that are godless, where they are taught to despise manual labor, and to grow up without moral principle. Our schools are like dockyards, whence expensively-equipped vessels are launched provided with everything except ballast, which will prevent their capsizing in the first squall. The Vicar of Witley had been one of those men, in advance of his time, who had initiated this system.

Whatever of knowledge of good, and of discipline of conscience Mehetabel possessed, was obtained from Mrs. Susanna Verstage, or from old Betty Chivers.

We are told that if we cast our bread on the waters, we shall find it after many days. But simple souls are too humble to recognize it.

So was it with Goodie Chivers.

That Mehetabel, through all her trials, acted as a woman of principle, clung to what she knew to be right, was due very largely to the old dame's instructions, but Betty was too lowly-minded for one instant to allow this, even to suspect it.

Our Board School masters and mistresses have quite as little suspicion that they have sowed the seed which sprung up in the youths who are dismissed from offices for defalcation, and the girls who leave menial service to walk the streets.

Mrs. Chivers was glad to see Mehetabel when she entered. She had heard talk about her—that she had run away from her husband, and was wandering through the country with her babe; and having a tender heart, and a care for all her old pupils, she had felt anxious concerning her.

Mehetabel pleaded to be taken in for the night, and to this Mrs. Chivers readily consented. She would share her bed with the mother and the child, as well as her crust of bread and cup of thin tea. Of milk, in her poverty, the old woman allowed herself but a few drops, and of butter with her bread none at all.

Yet what she had, that she cheerfully divided with Mehetabel.

On the morrow, after a restful sleep, the young wife started for a silk mill on one of those Hammer ponds that occupied a depression in the Common. These ponds were formed at the time when iron was worked in the district, and the ponds, as their name implies, were for the storage of water to beat out the iron by means of large hammers, set in motion by a wheel. When these ponds were constructed is not known. The trees growing on the embankments that hold back the water are of great size and advanced age.

One of these ponds, at the time of our tale, was utilized for a silk mill.

On reaching the silk mill, she timidly asked for the manufacturer. She knew him slightly, as he had been occasionally to the "Ship," where he had lodged a guest at one time when his house was full, and at another to call on a fisherman who was an acquaintance, and who was staying there. He was a blunt man, with a very round head and a very flat face. His name was Lilliwhite. He had exchanged words with Mehetabel when she was at the inn, and had always been kindly in his address.

When she was shown into his office, as ill-luck would have it at once the child became fretful and cried.

"I beg your pardon," said Mehetabel. "I am sorry to trouble you, but I wish you would be so good, sir, as to let me do some work for you in the mill."

"You, Mehetabel! Why, what do you mean?"

"Please, sir, I have left the Punch-Bowl. I cannot stay there any longer. Do not ask me the reasons. They are good ones, but I had rather not tell them. I must now earn my own livelihood, and—" She was unable to proceed owing to the wailing of the infant.

"Look here, my dear," said the silk weaver, "I cannot hear you on account of the noise, and as I have something to attend to, I will leave you here alone for a few minutes, whilst I look to my business. I will return shortly, when the young dragon has ceased rampaging. I dare say it is hungry."

Then the good-natured man departed, and Mehetabel used her best endeavors to reduce her child to quiet. It was not hungry, it was not cold. It was in pain. She could feed it, she could warm it, but she knew not how to give it that repose which it so much needed.

After some minutes had elapsed, Mr. Lilliwhite looked in again, but as the child was still far from pacified, he retired once more.

Twenty minutes to half-an-hour had passed before the feeble wails of the infant had decreased in force, and had died away wholly, and then the manufacturer returned, smiling, to his office.

"'Pon my soul," said he, "I believe this is the first time my shop has been turned into a nursery. Come now, before the Dragon of Wantley is awake and roaring, tell me what you want."

Mehetabel repeated her request.

"There is no one I would more willingly oblige," said he. "You have ever conducted yourself well, and have been industrious. But there are difficulties in the way. First and foremost, the Dragon of Wantley."

"I beg your pardon, sir."

"I mean the child. What will you do with it? If you come here, engaged by me, you must be at the mill at seven o'clock in the morning. There is an hour for dinner at noon, and the mill hands are released at five o'clock in the afternoon in winter and six in summer. What will the Dragon do all the time its mother is spinning silk? You cannot have the creature here—and away, who will care for it? Who feed it?"

"I had thought of leaving my baby at Mrs. Chivers'."

"That is nonsense," said the silk weaver. "The Dragon won't be spoon-fed. Its life depends on its getting its proper, natural nourishment. So that won't do. As for having it here—that's an impossibility. Much you would attend to the spindles when the Dragon was bellowing. Besides, it would distract the other girls. So you see, this won't do. And there are other reasons. I couldn't receive you without your husband's consent. But the Dragon remains as the insuperable difficulty. Fiddle-de-dee, Matabel! Don't think of it. For your own sake, for the Dragon's sake, I say it won't do."



CHAPTER XL.

BY THE HAMMER POND.

Discouraged at her lack of success, Mehetabel now turned her steps towards Thursley. She was sick at heart. It seemed to her as if every door of escape from her wretched condition was shut against her.

She ascended the dip in the Common through which the stream ran that fed the Hammer ponds, and after leaving the sheet of water that supplied the silk mill, reached a brake of willow and bramble, through which the stream made its way from the upper pond.

The soil was resolved into mud, and oozed with springs; at the sides broke out veins of red chalybeate water, of the color of brick.

She started teal, that went away with a rush and frightened her child, which cried out, and fell into sobs.

Then before her rose a huge embankment; with a sluice at the top over which the pond decanted and the overflow was carried a little way through a culvert, beneath a mound on which once had stood the smelting furnace, and which now dribbled forth rust-stained springs.

The bank had to be surmounted, and in Mehetabel's condition it taxed her powers, and when she reached the top she sank out of breath on a fallen bole of a tree. Here she rested, with the child in her lap, and her head in her hand. Whither should she go? To whom betake herself? She had not a friend in the world save Iver, and it was not possible for her to appeal to him.

Now, in her desolation, she understood what it was to be without a relative. Every one else had some one tied by blood to whom to apply, who would counsel, assist, afford a refuge. A nameless girl, brought up by the parish, with—as far as she was aware—but one relative in the world, her mother's sister, whose name she knew not, and whose existence she could not be sure of—she was indeed alone as no other could be.

The lake lay before her steely and cold.

The chill wind hissed and sobbed among the bulrushes, and in the coarse marsh grass that fringed the water on all sides except that of the dam.

The stunted willows shed their broad-shaped leaves that sailed and drifted, formed fleets, and clustered together against the bank.

The tree bole on which she was seated was rotting away; a huge fleshy fungus had formed on it, and the decaying timber emitted a charnel-house smell.

Now the babe in Mehetabel's arms was quiet. It was asleep. She herself was weary, and quivering in all her limbs, hot and yet cold, with an aguish feeling. Her strength of purpose was failing her. She was verging on despair.

She could not remain with Betty Chivers without paying for her lodging and for her food. The woman did but just maintain herself out of the little school and the post-office. She was generous and kind, but she had not the means to support Mehetabel, nor could Mehetabel ask it of her.

What should she do? What the silk manufacturer had said was quite true. The babe stood in her way of getting employment, and the babe she must not leave. That little life depended on her, and her time, care, thought must be devoted to it.

Oh, if now she could but have had that fifteen pounds which Simon Verstage in his providence had given her on her wedding day! With that she would have been easy, independent.

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