The Broom-Squire
by S. (Sabine) Baring-Gould
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

When Jonas robbed her of the sum he cut away from her the chance of subsistence elsewhere save in his house—at all events at such a time as this.

She looked dreamily at the water, that like an eye exercised a fascination on her.

Would it not be well to cast herself into this pool, with her babe, and then both would be together at rest, and away from the cruel world that wanted them not, that rejected them, that had no love, no pity for them?

But she put the thought resolutely from her.

Presently she noticed the flat-bottomed boat usually kept on the pond for the convenience of fishers; it was being propelled over the stream in her direction. A minute later, a man seated in the boat ran it against the bank and stepped out, fastened the point to a willow stump, and came towards her.

"What—is this the Squiress?"

She looked up and recognized him.

The man who came to her and addressed her was Mr. Markham, the young barrister, who had been to the Punch-Bowl to obtain the assistance of Jonas in wild-duck shooting.

She recalled his offensively familiar manner, and was troubled to see him again. And yet she remembered his last remark on leaving, when he had offered his services to help her to free herself from her bondage to Jonas. The words might have been spoken in jest, yet now, she caught at them.

He stood looking at her, and he saw both how pale she was, with a hectic flame in her cheek, and a feverish glitter in her eye, and also how beautiful she thus was.

"Why," said he, "what brings you here?"

"I have been to the silk mill in quest of work."

"Work! Broom-Squiress, one such as you should not work. You missed your vocation altogether when you left the Ship. Jonas told me you had been there."

"I was happy then."

"But are you not so in the Punch-Bowl?"

"No. I am very miserable. But I will not return there again."

"What! fallen out with the Squire?"

"He has made it impossible for me to go back."

"Then whither are you bound?"

"I do not know."

He looked at her intently.

"Now, see here," said he. "Sit down on that log again from which you have risen and tell me all. I am a lawyer and can help you, I daresay."

"I have not much to tell," she answered, and sank on the tree bole. He seated himself beside her.

"There are things that have happened which have made me resolve to go anywhere, do anything, rather than return to Jonas. I promised what I could not keep when I said I would love, honor, and obey him."

Then she began to sob. It touched her that this young man should express sympathy, offer his help.

"Now listen to me," said Mr. Markham; "I am a barrister. I know the law, I have it at my ringers' ends, and I place myself, my knowledge and my abilities at your disposal. I shall feel proud, flattered to do so. Your beauty and your distress appeal to me irresistibly. Has the Squire been beating you?"

"Oh, no, not that."

"Then what has he done?"

"There are things worse to bear than a stick."

"What! Oh, the gay Lothario! He has been casting his eye about and has lost his leathery heart to some less well-favored wench than yourself."

Mehetabel moved further from him on the tree-bole.

He began picking at the great lichen that grew out of the decaying tree, and laughed.

"Have I hit it? Jealous, eh? Jealousy is at the bottom of it all. By Jove, the Broom-Squire isn't worth expending a jealous thought on. He's a poor sordid creature. Not worthy of you. So jealous, my little woman, eh?"

Mehetabel turned and looked steadily at him.

"You do not understand me," she said. "No Jonas has not sunk so low as that."

"He would have been a fool to have cast aside a jewel for the sake of quartz crystal," laughed Markham. "But, come. A lawyer is a confessor. Tell me everything. Make no reservations. Open your heart to me, and see if the law, or myself—between us we cannot assist you."

Mehetabel hesitated. The manner in which the man offered his services was offensive, and yet in her innocent mind she thought that perhaps the fault lay in herself in not understanding and receiving his address in the way in which it was intended. Besides, in what other manner could she obtain relief? Every other means was taken from her.

Slowly, reluctantly, she told him much that she had not told to any one else—only not that Jonas had endeavored to kill the child. That she would not relate.

When she had finished her tale, he said, "What you have told me is a very sad story, and makes my heart ache for you. You can rely on me, I will be your friend and protector. We have had a case on lately, of a woman who was equally unhappy in her married life; her name was Jane Summers. You may have seen it in the papers."

"I'll never see the papers. How did Jane Summers manage?"

"She had a crabbed, ill-conditioned husband, and she was a fine, handsome, lusty woman. He fell ill, and she did not afford him all that care and attention which was requisite in his condition. She went out amusing herself, and left him at home with no one to see to his necessities. The consequence was that he died, and she was tried for it, but the case against her broke down. It could not be proved that had she been devoted to him in his sickness he would have recovered. The law takes cognizance of commission of a crime, and not of neglect of duty."

Mehetabel opened her eyes. "If Jonas were ill I would attend him day and night," she said. "But he is not ill—never was, till the shot entered his arm, and then I was with him all day and all night."

"How did he receive your ministry?"

"He was very irritable. I suppose the pain made him so."

"You got no thanks for your trouble?"

"None at all. I thought he would have been kinder when he recovered."

"Then," said the young man, laughing; "the man is not to be cured. You must leave him."

"I have done so."

"And you are seeking a home and a protector?"

"I want to earn my living somewhere."

"A pretty young thing like you," said the stranger, "cannot fail to make her way. Come! I have offered you my aid," he put his arm round her and attempted to snatch a kiss.

"So!" exclaimed Mehetabel, starting to her feet. "This is the friend and protector you would be! I trusted you with my troubles, and you have taken advantage of my trust. Let me alone! Wherever I turn there hell hath opened her mouth! A moment ago I thought of ending all my troubles in this pond—that a thousand times before trusting you further."

With beating heart—beating with anger—proudly raising her weary head, she walked away.



It occurred to Mehetabel that the rector of Milford had been over at Thursley several times to do duty when the vicar of Witley was ill, and she thought that perhaps she might obtain advice from him.

Accordingly she turned in the direction of that village as soon as she had reached the road. She walked wearily along till she arrived in this, the adjoining parish, separated from Thursley by a tract of healthy common. At her request, she was shown into the library, and she told the parson of her trouble.

He shrugged his shoulders, and read her a lecture on the duties of wife to husband; and, taking his Bible, provided her with texts to corroborate what he said.

"Please, sir," she said, "I was married when I did not wish it, and when I did not know what I could do, and what was impossible. As the Church married me, can it not undo the marriage, and set me free again?"

"Certainly not. What has been joined together cannot be put asunder. It is not impossible to obtain a separation, legally, but you will have to go before lawyers for that."

Mehetabel flushed. "I will have nothing to do with lawyers," she said hastily.

"You would be required to show good cause why you desire a separation, and then it would be expensive. Have you money?"

"Not a penny."

"The law in England—everywhere—is only for the rich."

"Then is there nothing you can advise?"

"Only that you should go home again, and bear what you have to bear as a cross laid on you."

"I will never go back."

"It is your duty to do so."

"I cannot, and will not."

"Then, Mrs. Kink, I am afraid the blame of this domestic broil lies on your shoulders quite as much as on those of your husband. Woman is the weaker vessel. Her duty is to endure."

"And a separation—"

"That is legal only, and unless you can show very good cause why it should be granted, it may be refused. Has your husband beaten you?"

"No, but he has spoken to me—"

"Words break no bones. I don't think words would be considered. I can't say; I'm no lawyer. But remember—even if separated by law, in the sight of God you would still be one."

Mehetabel left, little cheered.

As she walked slowly back along the high-road, she was caught up by Betsy Cheel.

"Halloo!" said this woman; "where have you been?"

Mehetabel told her.

"Want to be separated from Jonas, do you? I'm not surprised. I always thought him a bad fellow, but I doubt if he's worse than my man, Jamaica."

After a while she said: "We'll walk together. Then we can chat. It's dull going over the Common alone. I've been selling eggs in Milford. They're won'erful dear now; nine a shillin'; but the hens feel the cold, and don't lay this time of the year much. How's the child? You didn't ort to be carryin' it about in this weather and at this time o' the year."

"I have nowhere that I can leave it, and its only home is against my heart, in my arms."

"You've run away?"

"Yes; I shall not go back to Jonas."

"I don't call that sense," said Bessy. "If you run away, run away with some one who'll take care of you. That's what I did. My first husband—well, I don't know as he was a proper husband. He called me names, and took the stick to me when drunk; so I went off with Jamaica. That I call reasonable. Ain't you got no one to run away with?"

Mehetabel did not answer. She hastened her pace—she did not relish association with the woman. "I'd have run away from Jamaica scores o' times," continued Mrs. Cheel, "only I ain't so young as I once as, and so the opportunities don't come. There's the pity. I didn't start and leave him when I was good-looking and fresh. I might have done better then. If you think a bad, cross-crabbed man will mend as he grows older, you make a mistake. They grow wusser. So you're right to leave Jonas. Only you've gone about in the wrong way. There's Iver Verstage. I've heard talk about him and you. He don't live such a terrible distance off. I hear he's doin' purty well for himself at Guildford. Why don't you go to him? He's more suitable in age, and he's a nice-lookin' young fellow."

"Mrs. Cheel," said Mehetabel, standing still, "will you go forward a little faster? I cannot walk with you. I do not ask you for any advice. I do not want to hear what you have to say. I have been to the parson. It seems to me that I can get no help from heaven, but that hell is holding out hands on all sides, offering assistance. Go on your way. I shall sit here for half an hour. I am too weary to walk at your pace."

"As you will," said Bessy Cheel. "I spoke out of good will, and told what would be the best for you. If you won't take my opinion—that's no odds to me, and it may turn out wuss for you."

Mehetabel drew aside, to a nodule of ironstone rock that capped the first elevation of the Common, the first stage of the terraces that rise to Hind Head.

Here she remained till all chance of association with Mrs. Cheel was over. Then she went on to Thursley village, to find the Widow Chivers in great excitement. Jonas Kink had been in the village inquiring for his wife and child; and had learned that both had been given shelter by the dame.

He had come to the school, and had demanded his wife and his little son. Betty had taken charge of the infant and laid it to sleep in her own bed and happily at this time it was asleep. When she told Bideabout that Mehetabel had left the house in quest of work, he had happily concluded that she had carried the child with her, and had asked no further questions; but he had been violent and menacing. He had threatened to fetch the constable and recover his child, even if he let the mother go where she liked.

Mehetabel was greatly alarmed.

"I cannot stay here," she said, "in no case will I give up the babe. When Iver Verstage baptized me it was lest I should become a wanderer. I suppose the christening was a poor one—for my wandering is begun, and it is not I only who am condemned to wander, but my little child also."

With a heavy heart she left the dame's school. Had she been alone she would have run to Godalming or Hazelmere, and sought a situation as a domestic servant, but that was not possible to her now, cumbered with the child.

Watching her opportunity, that none of the villagers might observe her leaving the school and note the direction she took, she ran out upon the heath, and turned away from the high-road.

On all sides, as already intimated at the opening of this tale, the sandy commons near Thursley are furrowed as though a giant plough had been drawn along them, but at so remote a period that since the soil was turned the heather had been able to cast its deep brown mantle of velvet pile over every irregularity, and to veil the scars made in the surface.

These gullies or furrows vary in depth from ten to forty feet, and run to various lengths. They were the subaerial excavations and open adits made by miners in quest of iron ore. They are probably of all dates from prehistoric antiquity to the reign of the Tudors, after which the iron smelting of the weald came to an end. The magnificent oaks of the forest of Anderida that stretched from Winchelsea, in Kent, a hundred and twenty miles west, with a breadth of thirty miles between the northern and southern chalk downs—these oaks had been hewn down and used as fuel, in the fabrication of military armor and weapons, and just as the wood was exhausted, coal was discovered in the north, and the entire industry of iron in the weald came to an end.

Mehetabel had often run up these gullies when a child, playing on the commons with Iver, or with other scholars of Dame Chivers school.

She remembered now that in one of these she and Iver had discovered a cave, scooped out in the sandrock, possibly the beginning of an adit, probably a place for storing smuggled goods. On a very small scale it resembled the extraordinary labyrinth of subterranean passages at Puttenham, that may be explored at the present day. During the preceding century and the beginning of that in which we live, an extensive business in smuggled spirits, tea, and tobacco was carried on from the coast to the Thames; and there were certain store places, well-known to the smugglers in the line of trade. In Thursley parish is a farm that is built over vast vaults, carefully constructed, with the entrance of them artfully disguised. The Puttenham labyrinth has its openings in a dense coppice; and it had this advantage, that with a few strokes of the pick a passage could be blocked with sand from the roof.

The cave that Mehetabel had discovered, and in which she had spent many a summer hour, opened out of the side of one of the most profound of the trenches cut in the surface after ore. The entrance was beneath a projecting slab of ironstone, and was concealed by bushes of furze and bramble. It did not penetrate beyond thirty feet into the sand rock, or if it had done so formerly, it was choked when known to Mehetabel, with the falling in of the roof. These sandstone caves are very dry, and the temperature within agreeable.

Here Mehetabel resolved to bide for a while, till she had found some place of greater security for herself and the child.

She did not leave Mrs. Chivers without having arranged with her for the conveyance of food to a place agreed on between them.

With the shawl so kindly given her by the gardener, Mehetabel could exclude all wintry air from her habitation, and abundance of fuel was at hand in the gully, so that she could make and maintain a fire that would be unnoticed, because invisible except to such as happened to enter the ravine.

Mehetabel left the village and emerged on the path bearing that precious but woeful burden, her little babe, in her arms folded about it. Then, all at once, before her she saw that same young lawyer who had insulted her at the Hammer Pond. He recognized her at once, as she did him. She drew back and her heart beat furiously.

"What, Queen of the heath?" said he, "still about with your baby?"

She would not answer him. She stepped back.

"Do not be afraid; I wish you well—you and your little one. Come, for the sake of that mite, accept my offer. What will you say to yourself—how excuse yourself if it die through exposure, and because of your silly scruples?"

She would not listen to him. She darted past, and fled over the down.

She roamed about, lost, distracted. In her confusion she missed the way to the cave, and the darkness was gathering. The moaning little morsel of her flesh could not be comforted. She rocked it violently, then gently. In neither way could she give it relief. She knew not which direction she had taken, on what part of the heath she was straying.

And now rain began to fall, and Mehetabel had to protect her child from being drenched. For herself she had no thought. The rain came down first in a slight sprinkle, and then in large drops, and a cold wind swashed the drops into her face, blinding her.

All at once, in the uncertain light, she saw some dark gap open before her as a grave. She would have fallen headlong into it had she not arrested her foot in time. Then, with a gasp of relief she recognized where she was.

She stood at the edge of the old mining ravine. This trench, cut in the sandy down, had looked like a little bit of Paradise to the child-eyes of the pupils of Betty Chivers in summer, when the air was honey-sweet with the fragrance of the flowering furze, and musical with the humming of bees; and the earth was clotted with spilt raspberry cream—the many-tinged blossom of the heather—alas! it was now sad, colorless, dripping, cold, and repellent.



Mehetabel made her way down the steep side of the gully, and to the cave, burdened with the babe she carried in her arms. She bore a sack over her back that contained some dry turves, shavings, and a few potatoes, given her by the school-dame. The place of refuge had obviously been frequented by children long after the time when Mehetabel and Iver had retired to it on hot summer days. The sides of the entrance had been built up with stones, with moss driven into their interstices. Within, the floor was littered with dry fern, and in one place was a rude hearth, where fires had been kindled; this was immediately under a vertical opening that served as chimney, and prevented the smoke of a fire from filling the cave.

The young mother laid her child on the shawl she spread over the bracken, and proceeded to kindle a fire with a tinder-box lent her by Mrs. Chivers. It amused the babe to watch the sparks as they flew about, and when the pile of turves and sticks and heather was in combustion, to listen to the crackle, and watch the play and leap of the flames.

As the fire burnt up, and the blue smoke stole through the natural chimney, the whole cave glowed orange.

The air was not cold within, and in the radiation from the fire, the place promised to be warm and comfortable.

The child crowed and stretched its feet out to the blaze.

She looked attentively at the babe.

What did that wicked young lawyer mean by saying that it would die through exposure? It had cried and moaned. All children cry and moan. They have no other means of making their wants known. Wet the little creature was not; she had taken every precaution against that, but her own garments steamed in the heat of the fire she had kindled, and leaving the babe to watch the dancing flames, she dried her wet gown and stockings in the glow.

Then by the reflection Mehetabel could see on the nether surface of the sandstone slab at the entrance the initials of herself and Iver that had been cut by the latter many years ago, with a true-lover's knot uniting them. And there on that knot, lost in dream, was a peacock butterfly that had retired to hibernate. The light from the fire glowed in its purple and gold eyes, and the warm ascending air fluttered the wings, but did not restore animation to the drowsy insect. In corners were snails at the limit of their glazed tracks, also in retreat before winter. They had sealed themselves up in their houses against cold.

Mehetabel was constrained to pass in and out of her habitation repeatedly so as to accumulate fuel that might serve through the night. Happily, on her way she had noticed a little shelter hut, probably constructed by a village sportsman, under which he might conceal himself with his gun and await the game. This was made of dry heather, and branches of fir and chestnut. She had no scruple in pulling this to pieces, and conveying as much as she could carry at a time to her cave.

The child, amused by the fire, did not object to her temporary desertion, and it was too feeble and young to crawl near to the flames.

After several journeys to and fro Mehetabel had contrived to form a goodly pile of dry fuel at the back of her habitation, and now that a sufficiency of ash had been formed proceeded to embed in it the potatoes that Betty Chivers had given her.

How often had she and Iver, as children, talked of being savages and living in wigwams and caves, and now she was driven to a life of savagery in the midst of civilization. It would not, however, be for long. She would search the neighborhood round for work, and when she had got it move away from this den in the Common.

A stoat ran in, raised its head, looked at the fire, then at her, with glistening eyes devoid of fear, but at a movement of the child darted away and disappeared.

A Sabbath sense of repose came over Mehetabel. The babe was content and crooning itself to sleep. Her nerves in tension all day were now relaxed; her wearied body rested. She had no inquisitive companion to worry her with questions, none overkind to try her with injudicious attentions. She could sit on the fragrant fern leaves, extend her feet, lean her head against the sandstone, and watch the firelight play over the face of her child.

A slight sound attracted her attention. It was caused by a bramble leaf caught in a cobweb, drawn in by the draught produced by the fire, and it tapped at and scratched the covering stone. Mehetabel, roused from her languor, saw what occasioned the sound, and lost all concern about it. There were particles in the sand that sparkled. It afforded her a childish pleasure to see the twinkles on every side in the rise and fall of the flames. It was no exertion to cast on another branch of heather, or even a bough of pine. It was real pleasure to listen to the crackle and to see the sparks shoot like rockets from the burning wood. The cave was a fairy palace. The warmth was grateful. The potatoes were hissing in the embers. Then Mehetabel dreamily noticed a black shadow stealing along the lower surface of the roof stone. At first she saw it without interest, without inquiry in her mind, but little by little her interest came, and her attention centred itself on the dark object.

It was a spider, a hairy insect with a monstrous egglike belly, and it was creeping slowly and with caution towards the hibernating butterfly. Perhaps its limbs were stiff with inaction, its blood congealed; perhaps it dreaded lest by precipitation it might alarm its prey and lose it.

Mehetabel put out her hand, picked up a piece of furze, and cast it at the spider, which fell.

Then she was uneasy lest it would crawl along the ground and come to her baby, and sting it. She inherited the common superstition that spiders are poisonous insects.

She must look for it.

Only now, as she tried to raise herself, did she discover how stiff her joints had become. She rose to her knees, and raked out some of the potatoes from the ashes, and swept the floor where the spider had dropped with a brush of Scottish pine twigs.

Then, all at once, she remained motionless. She heard steps and voices outside, the latter in low converse. Next a face looked in, and an exclamation followed, "Jamaica! There, sure enough, she be!"

The voice, the face—there was no mistaking either. They belonged to Sally Rocliffe.

The power to cry out failed in Mehetabel. She hastily thrust her child behind her, into the depths of the cave, and interposed herself between it and the glittering eyes of the woman.

"Come on, Jamaica, we'll see how she has made herself comfortable," said Mrs. Rocliffe, and she entered, followed by Giles Cheel. Both had to stoop at the opening, but when they were a few feet within, could stand upright.

"Well, now, I call this coorious," said Sarah; "don't you, Jamaica? Here's all the Punch-Bowl turned out. Some runnin' one way, some another, all about Matabel. Some sez she's off her head; some thinks she has drownded herself and the child. And there's Jonas stormin', and in a purty takein'. There is my Thomas—gone with him—and Jamaica and I come this way over the Common. But I had a fancy you might be at the bottom o' one of them Hammer Ponds. I was told you'd been to the silk mill."

"What be you run away for? What be you a hidin' for—just like a wild beast?" asked Giles Cheel.

Mehetabel could not answer. How could she declare her reason? That the life of the child was menaced by its own father.

"Now come back with us," said Jamaica, in a persuasive tone.

"I will not. I never will return," exclaimed Mehetabel with energy. She was kneeling, with her hands extended to screen her child from the eye of Sally Rocliffe.

"I told you so, did I not?" asked the woman.

"She sed as much to me yesterday mornin when I saw her run away."

"I will not go back. I will never go back," repeated Mehetabel

"Where is the child?" asked Sally.

"It is behind me."

"How is it?"

"It is well now, now we are out of the Punch-Bowl, where all hate it and wish it dead."

"Now, look here, Matabel," said Cheel, "you be reasonable, and come peaceably."

"I will not go back; I never will!" she answered with increased vehemence.

"That's all very fine sayin'," pursued Giles Cheel. "But go back you must when Jonas fetches you."

"I will not go back! Never! never!"

"He'll make you."

"Not if I will not go."

"Aye, but he can. If you won't go when he axes, he can get the constable to force you to go home. The law of the land can help him thereto."

"I will not go back! Never!"

"Where he is just now, I can't say," pursued Cheel. "But I have a notion he's prowlin' about the moor, thinkin' you may have gone to Thor's Stone. Come he will, and he'll take you and the baby, and you may squeal and scratch, go back with him you must and will. So I say go peaceable."

"I will not go back!" cried Mehetabel. She picked up a lump of ironstone and said, passionately, "I will defend myself. I am as strong as he. I am stronger, for I will fight for my child. I will kill him rather than let him take my baby from me."

"Hear her!" exclaimed Sally Rocliffe. "She threatens she'll do for Jonas. Every one knows she tried that on once afore, wi' his gun."

"Yes," said Mehetabel, fiercely, "I will even do that. Rather than go back and have my baby in that hated place again, I will fight and kill him. Let him come here and try."

She set her teeth, her eyes glared, her breath came snorting through her nostrils.

"I say, Gilly, I'll go back. It ain't safe here. She's possessed with seven devils."

"I am not possessed, save with mother's love. I will never, never go back and take my babe to the Punch-Bowl. Never, never, allow you, Sally, to look at its innocent face again, nor Jonas to touch it. There is no one cares for it, no one loves it, no one who does not wish its death, but me, and I will fight, and never—"

Her strength gave way, her hands sank in the sand, and her hair fell over her face, as she broke into a storm of sobs and tears.

"I say, Jamaica, come out," whispered Mrs. Rocliffe. "We'll talk over wot's to be done."

Giles Cheel and Sally Rocliffe crept out of the cave backwards. They did so, facing Mehetabel, with mistrust. Each believed that she was mad.

When the two were outside, then Jonas's sister said to her companion "I'll tell you what, Jamaica, I won't have nuthin' more to do with this. There's somethin' queer; and whether Jonas has been doin' what he ort not, or whether Matabel be gone rampagin' mad, that's not for me to say. Let Jonas manage his own affairs, and don't let us meddle no more."

"I am sure it's 'as nuthin' to me," said Cheel. "But this is a fine thing. At the christenin' of that there baby he had words to say about me and my Betsy, as if we was a disgrace to the Punch-Bowl, becos we didn't always agree. But my Betsy and me never came to such a pass as this. I'm willin'. Let's go back and have our suppers, and let her be where she is."

"You need not tell Jonas that we have found her."

"No; not if you wishes."

"Let the matter alone altogether; I reckon she's in a dangerous mood, and so is Jonas. Something may come of it, and I'd as lief be out of it altogether."

"That's my doctrine, too," said Giles.

Then he put his head in at the cave door, and said "Good-night, missus!"



On the morrow Mehetabel, carrying her babe, revisited the schoolmistress, at an early hour, before the children assembled.

Betty Chivers received her with joy.

"Matabel," she said, "I've been thinking about you. There's James Colpus and his daughter are in want of a woman. That girl, Julia Caesar, as has been with them, got at the barrels of ale, and has been givin' drink all round to the men, just when they liked. She'd got a key to the cellar unbeknown to Master Colpus; so she has had to walk off. Polly Colpus, she knows you well enough, and what a managing girl you are. They couldn't do better than take you—that is, if they can arrange with Bideabout, and don't object to the baby."

Accordingly, somewhat later, Mehetabel departed for the farm of James Colpus, that adjoined the land occupied by old Simon Verstage.

James Colpus was preparing to go out fox-hunting when Mehetabel arrived. He wore a tight, dark-colored suit, that made his red face look the redder, and his foxy hair the foxier. His daughter had a face like a full moon, flat and eminently livid;' fair, almost white eyebrows, and an unmistakable moustache. She was extraordinarily plain, but good-natured. She was pouring out currant brandy for her father when Mehetabel arrived.

"Well!" exclaimed Colpus. "Here is the runaway wife. Tally-ho! Tally-ho! We've got her. All the parish has been out after you, and you run to earth here, do you?"

"If you please," said Mehetabel, "I have come to offer my services in the place of Julia Caesar, who has been sent away. You know I can work. You know I won't let nobody have the tap o' the beer—and as for wages, I'll take what you are willing to give."

"That's all very fine, Miss Runaway, but what will Bideabout say to that?"

"I am not going back to Bideabout," answered Mehetabel. "If you cannot take me, I shall go to every farm and offer myself, and if none in Thursley or Witley will have me, I'll beg my bread from door to door, till I do find a house where I may honestly earn it. Go back to the Punch-Bowl I will not."

"I'd like to take you," said Colpus. "Glad to have you. Never a better girl anywhere, of that I am quite certain—only, how about the Broom-Squire? I'm constable, and it must not be said that the constable is keeping a man's wife away from him."

"You will not keep me from him. Nothing in the world will make me go back to him."

"Then—what about the baby? Can you let Bideabout have that?"

Mehetabel flushed almost as red as Colpus and his daughter.

"Never!" she said, firmly.

"But, look here," said the farmer, "if I did agree to take you, why, after a day or two, you'd be homesick, and wantin' to be back in the arms of Jonas. It's always so with women."

"I shall never go back," persisted Mehetabel.

"So you say. But before the week is out you'll be piping another song."

"You may bind me to stay—three months—six—a year,"

"That is all very well to say. Bind me, but how? What bind will hold—when the marriage tie does not?"

"The marriage tie would have held me till death," answered Mehetabel gravely, "if Jonas had not done that which makes it impossible for me to remain. It is not for my sake that I am away. Had I been alone I would have borne all till I died. But I have other duties now. I am a mother. Here is my darling, a charge from God. I owe it to God to do what I am here for—to find another home, a place away from the Punch-Bowl."

"What do you mean?"

"I cannot explain."

"Is the Punch-Bowl unhealthy for the child?"

"Yes, it would die there."

"Who told you so?"

"I know it. My heart says so."

"Now look here," said Colpus, getting red as a poppy, "there's a lot of talk in the place about you. Some say that Bideabout is in the wrong, some say that the wrong lies with you. It is reported that he beat you, and there are folks that tell as how you gave him occasion. You must let me know the right of it all, or I can't take you."

"Then I must go," said Mehetabel, "I cannot tell you all. You may think ill of me if you choose, I cannot help that."

Colpus rubbed his foxy whiskers and head.

"You're a won'erful active woman, and do more work than three ordinary gals. I'd like to have you in the house. But then—what am I to say if Kink comes to claim you?"

"Say you will not give me up."

"But I ain't so sure but what he can force me to surrender you."

"You are the strongest man in Thursley."

"'Tain't that," said Colpus, gratified by the compliment. "'Tis he might bring the law against me. I don't know nuthin' about law, though I'm constable, but I reckon, if I was to keep a cow of his as had strayed and refused to give her up, he could compel me. And what's true of a cow is true of a wife. If I could be punished for stealin' his goose I might be summonsed all on account of you. Then there's the babe—that might be brought in as kidnappin'! I daren't risk it."

"But, father," put in Polly. "How would it do for a time, just to try."

"There's something in that, Polly.

"And Julia Caesar have left things in a terrible mess. We must have all cleared up before another comes in. What if we take Matabel by the day to clear up?"

"Look here, Polly," said Colpus, who visibly oscillated in mind between his wishes to engage Mehetabel and his fears as to what the consequences might be. "It's this," he touched his forehead, and made a sign towards the applicant. "Folk do say it."

"Matabel," said the good-natured farmer's daughter, "you go along to Thursley, and father and I will talk it over. If we think we can take you—where shall we send to find you?"

"To Betty Chivers' house."

"Well, in half an hour I trust we shall have decided. Now go."

As Mehetabel withdrew, Polly said, "It's all gammon, father, about her not being right in her head. Her eye is as steady as the evenin' star. And it's all lies about there bein' any fault in her. Matabel is as honest and true as sunlight."

Then old Colpus shouted after Mehetabel, who was departing by the lane. "Don't go that way, over the field is the path—by the stile. There's a lot o' water in the lane."

The young mother turned, thanked him with an inclination of the head, and pressing her cheek to the child she bore, she took the path that crossed a meadow, and which led to a tuft of holly, near which was the stile, into the lane. She walked on, with her cheek resting on the child's head, and her eyes on the trodden, cropped wintry grass, with a flutter of hope in her bosom; for she was almost certain that with the influence of Polly engaged on her side, old Colpus would agree to receive her.

She did not walk swiftly. She had no occasion for haste. She hoped that the objections of the farmer would give way before she had reached the hedge, and that he would recall her.

She had almost arrived t the turf of holly, singing in a low tone to the child in her arms, when, a voice made her start and cry out.

She looked up. Jonas was before her.

Unobserved by her he had entered the field. From the lane he had seen her, and he had crossed the stile and come upon her.

She stood frozen to the spot. Each muscle became rigid; the blood in her arteries tingled as though bees were making their way through every vein. Her brows met in a black band across her face. She trembled for a moment, and then was firm. A supreme moment, the supreme moment in her life was come.

"So I have found you at last," sneered Jonas. Hatred, fury, were in him and sent a quiver through the tones of his voice.

"Yes, you have found me," she answered with composure.

"You—do you know what you have done? Made me a derision and a talk to all Thursley, a jest in every pot-house."

"I have not done this. It is your doing."

"Is it not enough that I have lost my money, but must I have this scandal and outrage in my home?"

She did not answer him. She looked steadily at him, and he dared not meet her eyes.

"You must come with me at once," he said.

"I will not go with you."

"I will make you."

"That you cannot."

"You are mad. You must be put under restraint."

"I will go to the madhouse, but not to the Punch-Bowl."

"You shall be forced to return."


"I will have you tied. I will swear you are crazed. I will have you locked up, and I will beat you till you learn to obey and behave as I would have you."

"Jonas," said Mehetabel, "this is idle talk. Never, never will I go back to you."


He approached, his eyes glaring, his white fangs showing, like those of a dog about to bite.

Instinctively she put her hand into her pocket and drew forth a lump of ironstone, that she had brandished the previous evening before Sally Rocliffe and Giles Cheel; and which she carried with her as her only weapon of defence.

"Jonas," said Mehetabel. "You may threaten, but your threats do not move me. I can defend myself."

"Oh, with a stone? he scoffed.

"Yes, if need be with a stone. But I have better protection than that."

"Indeed—let me hear it."

"If you venture to touch me—venture to threaten any more—then I shall appeal for protection."

"To whom—to Iver?"

"Not to Iver," her heart boiled up, and was still again.

"To whom—to Farmer Colpus?"

"To the law."

"The law!" jeered Jonas. "It is the law that will send you back to me."

"It is the law which will protect me from you," answered Mehetabel.

"I am fain to learn how."

"How! I have but to go before a magistrate and tell how you tried to poison your own child—how, when that failed, you tried to smother it. And, Jonas," she added—as she saw his face grow ashen, and a foam bubble form on his lips—"and, Jonas," she stepped forward, and he backed—his glassy eyes on her face, "and, Jonas," she said, "look here, I have this stone. With the like of this you sought to kill me in the moor." She raised it above her head, "you would-be murderer of your wife and your child—I am free from you." She took another step forward—he reeled back and vanished—disappeared instantly from her sight with a scream—instantly and absolutely, as when the earth opened its mouth at the word of Moses and swallowed up Korah.



Mehetabel heard shouts, exclamations, and saw Thomas Rocliffe and his son, Samuel, come up over the stile from the lane, and James Colpus running towards her.

What had happened? Whither had Jonas vanished? She drew back and passed her hand, still holding the ironstone, over her face.

Then she saw Thomas and Samuel stoop, kneel, and Thomas swing himself down and also disappear; thereupon up came the farmer.

"What is it? Has he fallen in—into the kiln?"

That the reader may understand what had occurred, it is necessary that a few words of explanation should be given.

At the time when the country was densely wooded with oaks, then the farmers were wont annually to draw chalk from the quarries in the flank of the Hog's Back, that singular ridge, steep as a Gothic roof, running east and west from Guildford, and to cart this to their farms. On each of these was a small brick kiln, constructed in a sand-bank beside a lane, so that the chalk and fuel might be thrown in from above, where the top of the kiln was level with the field, and the burnt quicklime drawn out below and shovelled into a cart that would convey it by the road to whatever field was thought to require such a dressing.

But fuel became scarce, and when the trees had vanished, then sea coal was introduced. Thereupon the farmers found it more convenient to purchase quicklime at the kiln mouth near the chalk quarry, than to cart the chalk and burn it themselves.

The private kilns were accordingly abandoned and allowed to fall to ruin. Some were prudently filled in with earth and sand, but this was exceptional. The majority were allowed to crumble in slowly; and at the present day such abandoned kilns may be found on all sides, in various stages of decay.

Into such a kiln, that had not been filled in, Jonas had fallen, when he stepped backwards, unconscious of its existence.

Polly Colpus had followed her father, but kept in the rear, alarmed, and dreading a ghastly sight. The farmer bent with hands on his knees over the hole. Samuel knelt.

"Have you got him?" asked Colpus.

"Lend a hand," called Thomas from below, and with the assistance of those above the body of Jonas Kink was lifted on to the bank.

"He's dead," said the farmer.

Then Mehetabel laughed.

The three men and Polly Colpus turned and looked at her with estrangement.

They did not understand that there was neither mockery nor frivolity in the laugh, that it proceeded involuntarily from the sudden relaxation of overstrained nerves. At the moment Mehetabel was aware of one thing only, that she had nothing more to fear, that her baby was safe from pursuit. It was this thought that dominated her and caused the laugh of relief. She had not in the smallest degree realized how it was that this relief was obtained.

"Fetch a hurdle," said Colpus, "and, Polly, run in and send a couple of men. We must carry him to the Punch-Bowl. I reckon he's pretty well done for. I don't see a sign of life in him."

The Broom-Squire was laid on the gass.

Strange is the effect of death on a man's clothes. The moment the vital spark has left the body, the garments hang about him as though never made to fit him. They take none of the usual folds; they lose their gloss—it is as though life had departed out of them as well.

Mehetabel seated herself on a bit of swelling ground and looked on, without understanding what she saw; seeing, hearing, as in a dream; and after the first spasm of relief, as if what was being done in no way concerned her, belonged to another world to her own. It was as though she were in the moon and saw what men were doing on the earth.

When the Broom-Squire had been lifted upon a hurdle, then Polly Colpus thought right to touch Mehetabel, and say in a low tone: "You will follow him and go to the Punch-Bowl?"

"I will never, never go there again. I have said so," answered Mehetabel.

Then to avoid being pressed further, she stood up and went away, bearing her child in her arms.

The men looked after her and shook their heads.

"Bideabout has had a blow on the forehead," said Colpus.

Mehetabel returned to the school, entered without a word, and seated herself by the fire.

"Have you succeeded?" asked the widow.


"Will Farmer Colpus take you?"

"I don't know."

"What have you in your hand?"

Mehetabel opened her fingers and allowed Betty Chivers to remove from her hand a lump of ironstone.

"What are you carrying this for, Matabel?"

"I defend baby with it," she answered.

"Well, you do not need it in my house," said the dame, and placed the liver-colored lump on the table.

"How hot your hand is," she continued. "Here, let me feel again. It is burning. And your forehead is the same. Are you unwell, Matabel?"

"I am cold," she answered dreamily.

"You have been over-worried and worked," said the kind old woman. "I will get you a cup of tea."

"He won't follow me any more and try to take my baby away," said Mehetabel.

"I am glad of that."

"And I also."

Then she moved her seat, winding and bending on one side.

"What is it, my dear?" asked Betty.

"His shadow. It will follow me and fall over baby."

"What do you mean?"

Mehetabel made no reply, and the widow buried herself in preparation for the midday meal, a very humble one of bread and weak tea.

"There's drippin' in the bowl," she said, "you can put some o' that on the bread. And now, give me the little chap. You are not afraid of trusting him to me?"

"Oh, no!"

The mother at once surrendered the child, and Mrs. Chivers sat by the fire with the infant in her lap.

"He's very like you," she said.

"I couldn't love him if he were like him," said Mehetabel.

"You must not say that."

"He is a bad man."

"Leave God to judge him."

"He has judged him," answered the girl, looking vacantly into the fire, and then passed her hand over her eyes and pressed her brow.

"Have you a headache, dear?"

"Yes—bad. It is his shadow has got in there—rolled up, and I can't shake it out."

"Matabel—you must go to bed. You are not well."

"No—I am not well. But my baby?"

"He is safe with me."

"I am glad of that, you will teach him A B C, and the Creed, and to pray to and fear God. But you needn't teach him to find Abelmeholah on the map, nor how many gallons of water the Jordan carries into the Dead Sea every minute, nor how many generations there are in Matthew. That is all no good at all. Nor does it matter where is the country of the Gergesenes. I have tried it. The Vicar was a good man, was he not, Betty?"

"Yes, very good."

"He would give the coat off his back, and the bread out of his mouth to the poor. He gave beef and plum pudding all around at Christmas, and lent out blankets in winter. But he never gave anything to the soul, did he, Betty? Never made the heart warm. I found it so. What I got of good for that was from you."

"My dear," said the old woman, starting up. "I insist on your going to bed at once. I see by your eye, by the fire in your cheek, that you are ill."

"I will go to bed; I do not want anything to eat, only to lay my head down, and then the shadow will run out at my ear—only I fear it may stain the pillow. When I'm rich I will buy you another. Baby is rich; he has got a hundred and fifty pounds. What is his is mine, and what is mine is his. He will not grudge you a new pillow-case."

Mehetabel, usually reserved and silent, had become loquacious and rambling in her talk. It was but too obvious, that she was in a fever, and wandering. Mrs. Chivers insisted on her taking some tea, and then she helped her upstairs to the little bedroom, and did not leave her till she was asleep. The school children, who came in after their dinner hour, were dismissed, so that Mrs. Chivers had the afternoon to devote to the care of the child and of the sick mother, who was in high fever.

She was in the bedroom when she heard a knock at the door, and then a heavy foot below. She descended the rickety stairs as gently as possible, and found Farmer Colpus in the schoolroom.

"How do you do, Mrs. Chivers? Can you tell me, is Matabel Kink here?"

"Yes—if you do not mind, Mr. Colpus, to speak a little lower. She is in bed and asleep."


"She came in at noon, rather excited and queer, and her hand burnin' like a hot chestnut, so I gave her a dish o' tea and sent her upstairs. I thought it might be fever—and her eyes were that strange and unsteady—"

"It is rather odd," said the constable, "but my daughter observed how calm and clear her eye was—only an hour before."

"Maybe," said Mrs. Chivers, "and yet she was that won'erful wanderin' in her speech—"

"You don't think she was shamming?"

"Shammin'! Lord, sir—that Matabel never did, and I've knowed her since she was two-year old. At three and a half she comed to my school."

"By the way, what is that stone on your table?" asked Colpus.

"That, sir? Matabel had it in her hand when she comed in. I took it away, and then I felt how burnin' she was, like a fire."

"Oh! she was still holding that stone. Did she say anything about it?"

"Yes, sir, she said that she used it to defend herself and baby."

"From whom?"

"She didn't say—but you know, sir, there has been a bit of tiff between her and the Broom-Squire, and she won't hear of goin back to the Punch-Bowl, and she has a fancy he wants to take the baby away from her. That's ridic'lous, of course. But there is no getting the idea out of her head."

"I must see her."

"You can't speak to her, sir. She is asleep still." Colpus considered.

"I'll ask you to allow me to take this stone away, Betty. And I must immediately send for the doctor. He has been sent for to the Punch-Bowl, and I'll stop him on the way back to Godalming. I must be assured that Matabel is in a fit state to be removed."

"Removed, whither?"

"To the lock-up."

"The lock-up, sir?"

"To the lock-up. Do you know, Mrs. Chivers, that Jonas Kink is dead, and that very strong suspicions attach to Matabel, that she killed him?"

"Matabel killed him!"

"Yes, with that very stone."



When the surgeon, on his return from the Punch-Bowl was called in to see Mehetabel, he at once certified that she was not in a condition to be removed, and that she would require every possible attention for several days.

Accordingly, James Colpus allowed her to remain at the Dame's School, but cautioned Betty Chivers that he should hold her responsible for the appearance of Mehetabel when required.

Jonas Kink was not dead, as Colpus thought when lifted out of the kiln into which he had been precipitated backwards, but he had received several blows on the head which had broken in the skull and stunned him. Had there been a surgeon at hand to relieve the pressure on the brain, he might perhaps have recovered, but there was none nearer than Godalming; the surgeon was out when the messenger arrived, and did not return till late, then he was obliged to get a meal, and hire a horse, as his own was tired, and by the time he arrived at the Punch-Bowl Jonas had ceased to breathe, and all he could do was to certify his death and the cause thereof.

Mehetabel's nature was vigorous and elastic with youth. She recovered rapidly, more so, indeed than Mrs. Chivers would allow to James Colpus, as she was alarmed at the prospect of having to break to her that a warrant was issued against her on the charge of murder.

When she did inform her, Mehetabel could not believe what she was told.

"That is purely," she said. "I kill Jonas! If he had touched me and tried to take baby away I might have done it. I would have fought him like a tiger, as I did before."

"When did you fight him?"

"In the Moor, by Thor's Stone, over the gun—there when the shot went off into his arm."

"I never knew much of that, though there was at the time some talk."

"Yes. I need say nothing of that now. But as to hurting Jonas, I never hurted nobody in my life save myself, and that was when I married him. I don't believe I could kill a fly—and then only if it were teasin' baby."

"There is Joe Filmer downstairs, has somethin' to say. Can he come up?"

"Yes," answered Mehetabel. "He was always kind to me."

The ostler of the Ship stumbled up the stairs and saluted the sick girl with cordiality and respect.

"Very sorry about this little affair. 'Tis a pity, I sez, that such a fuss be made over trifles. There's been the crownin' of the body, and now there's to be the hearin' of you afore the magistrates, and then they say you'll have to go to the 'sizez, and there'll come the hangin'. 'Tis terrible lot o' fuss all about Jonas as wasn't worth it. No one'll miss him and if you did kill him, well, there was cause, and I don't think the wuss o' you for it."

"Thank you, Joe, but I did not kill him."

"Well—you know—it's right for you to say so, 'cos you'll have to plead not guilty. Polly, at our place never allows she's broke nothin', but the chinay and the pipkins have got a terrible way of committin' felo de se since she came to the Ship. She always sez she didn't do it—and right enough. No one in this free country is obliged to incriminate hisself. That's one of our glorious institootions."

"I really am guiltless," urged Mehetabel.

"Quite right you should say so. Pleased to hear it. But I don't know what the magistrates will say. Most folks here sez you did, and all the Punch-Bowl will swear it. They sez you tried to kill him wi' his own gun, but didn't succeed as you wished, so now you knocked him on the head effectual like, and tippled his dead body down into the kiln. He was an aggravatin' chap, was Bideabout, and deserved it. But that is not what I come here to say."

"And that was—"

"Well, now, I mustn't say it too loud. I just slipped in when nobody was about, as I don't want it to be known as I am here. The master and I settled it between us."

"Settled what, Joe?"

"You see he always had a wonderful liking for you, and so had I. He was agin you marryin' the Broom-Squire, but the missus would have it so. Now he's goyne to send me with the trap to Portsmouth. He's had orders for it from a gent as be comin' wild fowl shootin' in the Moor. So my notion is I'll drive by here in the dark, and you'll be ready, and come along wi' me, takin' the baby with you, and I'll whip you off to Portsmouth, and nobody a penny the wiser. I've got a married sister there—got a bit o' a shop, and I'll take you to her, and if you don't mind a bit o' nonsense, I'll say you're my wife and that's my baby. Then you can stay there till all is quiet. I've a notion as Master Colpus be comin' to arrest you to-morrow, and that would be comical games. If you will come along wi' me, and let me pass you off as I sed, then you can lie hid till the wind has changed. It's a beautiful plan. I talked it over with the master, and he's agreeable; and as to money—well, he put ten pound into my hand for you, and there's ten pound of my wages I've saved and hid in the thatchin' of the cow-stall, and have no use for; that's twenty pound, and will keep you and the baby goin' for a while, and when that's done I daresay there'll be more to be had."

"I thank you, Joe," began Mehetabel, the tears rising in her eyes.

He cut her short. "The master don't want Polly to know nothin' of it. Polly's been able to get the mastery in the house. She's got the keys, and she's a'most got the old chap under lock. But it's my experience as fellows when they get old get won'erful artful, and master may be under her thumb in most things, but not all. And he don't fancy the notion of your bein' hanged. So he gave me that ten pound, and when I sed I'd drive you away afore the constable had you—why, he just about jumped out o' his breeches wi' joy. Only the first thing he said then was—'Not a word to Polly.'"

"Indeed, Joe, you are good, but I cannot go."

"You must go either to Portsmouth or to Gorlmyn. You may be a free woman, but in hidin', or go to prison. There's the choice before you. And if you b'ain't a fool, I know what you will take."

"I do not think it right to run away."

"Of course if you killed him deliberate, then you may go cheerful like and be hanged for it. But wot I sez and most sez, but they in the Punch-Bowl, is that it worn't deliberate. It were done under aggravatin' sarcumstances. The squatters in the Bowl, they have another tale. They say you tried to shoot him, and then to poison him, and he lived in fear of his life of you, and then you knocked him head over heels into the kiln, and served him right is my doctrine, and I respect you for it. But then—wot our people in Thursley sez is that it'll give the place a bad name if you're hung on Hind Head. They've had three hangin' there already, along of wot they did to your father. And to have another might damage the character of the place. I don't fancy myself that farmer Colpus is mighty keen on havin' you hanged."

"I shall not be hanged when I am guiltless," said Mehetabel.

"My dear," answered the hostler, "it all depends not on what you are but on what the judge and jury think, and that depends on the lawyers what they say in their harangues. There's chances in all these things, and the chance may be as you does get found guilty and be sentenced to the gallows. It might cause an unpleasantness here, and that you would wish to avoid I don't say as even Sally Rocliffe and Thomas would like it, for you're related to them somehow, and I'm quite sure as Thursley villagers won't like it, cos we've all respected you and have held Jonas cheap. And why we should have you hanged becos he's dead—that's unanswerable I say. So I'll be round after dark and drive you to Portsmouth."

"No, indeed, I cannot go."

"You can think it over. What about the little chap, the baby? If they hang you, that'll be wuss for him than it was for you. For you it were bad enough, because you had three men hanged all along of your father, but for he it'll be far more serious when he goes about the world as the chap as had his mother hanged."

"Joe, you insist on imagining the worst. It cannot, it will not, be that I shall be condemned when guiltless."

"If I was you I'd make sure I wasn't ketched," urged the hostler. "You may be quite certain that the master will do what he can for you; but I must say this, he is that under Polly that you can't depend on him. There was old Clutch on the day when Bideabout was killed. The doctor came from Gorlmyn on a hired hoss, and it was the gray mare from the inn there. Well, old Clutch seems to have found it out, and with his nose he lifted the latch of the stable-door and got out, and trotted away after the doctor or the old mare all the road to Gorlmyn; and he's there now in a field with the mare, as affable as can be with her. It's the way of old horses—and what, then, can you expect of old men? Polly can lead the master where she pleases."

"Joe," said Mehetabel, "I cannot accept your kind offer. Do not think me ungrateful. I am touched to the heart. But I will not attempt to run away; that would at once be taken as a token that I was guilty and was afraid of the consequences. I will not do anything to give occasion for such a thought. I am not guilty, and will act as an innocent person would."

"You may please yourself," answered Filmer; "but if you don't go, I shall think you what I never thought you before—a fool."

"I cannot help it; I must do what is right," said Mehetabel. "But I shall never forget your kindness, Joe, at a time when there are very few who are friends to me."

The period of Mehetabel's illness had been a trying one for the infant, and its health, never strong, had suffered. Happily, the little children who came to the Dame's school were ready and suitable nurses for it. A child can amuse and distract a babe from its woes in an exceptional manner, and all the little pupils were eager to escape A B C by acting as nurses.

When the mother was better, the babe also recovered; but it was, at best, a puny, frail creature.

Mehetabel was aware how feeble a life was that which depended on her, but would not admit it to herself. She could not endure to have the delicacy of the child animadverted upon. She found excuses for its tears, explanations of its diminutive size, a reason for every doubtful sign—only not the right one. She knew she was deceiving herself, but clung to the one hope that filled her—that she might live for her child, and her child might live for her.

The human heart must have hope. That is as necessary to its thriving as sun is to the flowers. If it were not for the spring before it, the flower-root would rot in the ground, the tree canker at the core; the bird would speed south never to return; the insect would not retreat under shelter in the rain; the dormouse would not hibernate, the ant collect its stores, the bee its honey. There could be no life without expectation; and a life without hope in man or woman is that of a machine—not even that of an animal. Hope is the mainspring of every activity; it is the spur to all undertakings; it is the buttress to every building; it runs in all youthful blood; it gives buoyancy to every young heart and vivacity to every brain. Mehetabel had hope in her now. She had no thought for herself save how it concerned her child. In that child her hope was incorporate.



On the following morning Mehetabel was conveyed to Godalming, and was brought before the magistrates, assembled in Petty Sessions.

She was in no great anxiety. She knew that she was innocent, and had a childlike, childish confidence that innocence must come out clear of stain, and then only guilt suffered punishment.

Before the magistrates this confidence of hers was rudely shaken. The evidence that would be produced against her at the Assizes was gone through in rough, as is always done in these cases, and the charge assumed a gravity of complexion that astonished and abashed her. That she and her husband had not lived in harmony was shown; also that he had asserted that she had attempted his life with his gun; that he was afraid she would poison him if trusted with the opiate prescribed for him when suffering from a wound. It was further shown by Giles Cheel and Sarah Rocliffe that she had threatened to kill her husband with a stone, if not that actually used by her, and then on the table, by one so like it as to be hardly distinguishable from it. This threat had been made on the night previous to the death of Jonas Kink. On the morning she had encountered her husband in a field belonging to Mr. James Colpus, and this meeting had been witnessed by the owner of the field, his daughter, and by Thomas Rocliffe and his son Samuel.

Colpus and his daughter had been at some distance in the rear, but Thomas and Samuel Rocliffe had been close by, in a sunken lane; they had witnessed the meeting from a distance of under thirty feet, and were so concealed by the hedge of holly and the bank as to render it improbable that they were visible to the accused.

James Colpus had seen that an altercation took place between Mehetabel and the deceased, but was at too great a distance to hear what was said. He had seen Mehetabel raise her hand, holding something—what he could not say—and threaten Jonas with it; but he did not actually see her strike him, because at that moment he turned to say something to his daughter.

The evidence of Mary Colpus was to much the same effect. The accused had come to her to ask for a situation vacant in the house, through the dismissal of Julia Caesar, her former servant, and some difficulty had been raised as to her reception, on account of the doubt whether Jonas would allow his wife to go out into service, and leave her home. She and her father had promised to consider the matter, and with this understanding Mehetabel had left, carrying her babe.

Just as she reached the further extremity of the field, she met her husband, Jonas Kink, who came up over the stile, out of the lane, apparently unobserved by Mehetabel; for, when he addressed her, she started, drew back, and thrust her hand into her pocket and pulled out a stone. With this she threatened to strike him; but whether she carried her threat into execution, or what occasioned his fall, she could not say, owing to her father having spoken to her at that moment, and she had diverted her eyes from the two in the field to him. When next she looked Jonas had disappeared, and she heard the shouts, and saw the faces of Thomas and Samuel Rocliffe, as they came through the hedge.

Then her father said, "Something has happened!" and started running. She had followed at a distance, and seen the Rocliffes pull the body of Jonas Kink out of the kiln and lay it on the grass.

Thomas Rocliffe was a stupid man, and the magistrates had difficulty with him. They managed, however, to extract from him the following statement on oath:

He and Samuel had been out the previous day along with Jonas Kink, his brother-in-law, looking for Mehetabel. Jonas thought she had gone to the Moor and had drowned herself, and he had said he did not care "such a won'erful sight whether she had."

On the morning of the event of his death Jonas had come to them, and asked them to attend him again, and from what he, Thomas, had heard from Sally, he said that they had been on the wrong scent the night before, and that they must look for Matabel nigher, in or about the village.

They had gone together, he and Jonas and his son Samuel, along the lane that led out of the Punch-Bowl towards Thursley by the Colpus's farm, and as they went along, in the deep lane, Jonas shouted out that he saw his wife coming along. Then he, Thomas and Samuel looked, and they also saw her. She was walking very slow, and "was cuddlin' the baby," and did not seem to know where she was going, for she went wide of the stile. Then Jonas got up over the stile, and told Thomas and Samuel to bide where they were till he called them. They did so, and saw him address Mehetabel, who was surprised when he spoke to her, and then something was said between them, and she pulled a big stone out of her pocket and raised it over her head, stepped forward, "sharp-like," and knocked him with it, on the head, so that he fell like one struck with a thunderbolt, backward into the kiln. Thereupon he and Samuel came up over the hedge, and he jumped into the kiln, and found his brother-in-law there, huddled up in a heap at the bottom. He managed with difficulty to heave him out, and with the assistance of Samuel and Farmer Colpus, to lay him on the grass, when all three supposed he was dead.

When they said that he was dead, then Mehetabel laughed.

This statement produced a commotion in court. Then they got a hurdle or gate, he couldn't say which, and lifted the deceased on to it and carried him home to the Punch-Bowl. It was only when they laid him on the bed that they saw he still breathed. They heard him groan, and he moved one hand—the right. He was rather stiff and awkward with his left since his accident.

This evidence was corroborated at every point by the testimony of Samuel, who was quite positive that Mehetabel had struck Jonas on the head. Like all stupid people, the two Rocliffes were ready to swear to and maintain with tenacity those points which were false or inaccurate, and to hesitate about asserting with confidence such as were true, and could not be other than true. It is not always in the power of a wise and observant man to discriminate between facts and imagination, and a dull and undeveloped intelligence is absolutely incapable of distinguishing between them.

The evidence of the surgeon was to the effect that Jonas Kink had died from the consequences of fracture of the skull, but whether caused by a blow from a stone or from a fall he was unable to state. There were contusions on his person. He probably struck his head against the bricks of the kiln as he fell or was thrown into it. Abrasions of the skin were certainly so caused. When he, the witness, arrived at the Punch-Bowl, Kink was already dead. He might have been dead an hour, the body was not absolutely cold. When asked whether the piece of ironstone on the table might have dealt the blow which had broken in the skull of Jonas, he replied, that it might have done so certainly, and the fracture of the skull was quite compatible with the charge advanced that it had been so caused.

The next witness summoned was Betty Chivers, who gave her evidence with great reluctance, and with many tears. It was true that the stone produced in court had been taken by her from the hand of the accused, and that immediately on her return from the farm of Mr. Colpus. Mehetabel had not told her that she had met her husband, had not said that he was dead, but had admitted that she had armed herself with the stone for the purpose of self-defence against Jonas, her husband, who, she believed, desired to take the child from her.

Mehetabel was asked if she had anything to say, and when she declined to say anything, was committed for trial at the ensuing assizes at Kingston.

Throughout the hearing she had been uneasy. The cell where she had been confined was close to the court, and she had been obliged to leave her child with a woman who had attended to her; and with this person the infant would not be at rest. Faintly, and whenever there was a lull in the court, she could hear the wail of her child, the little voice rising and falling, and she was impatient to be back with it, to still its cries and console the little heart, that was frightened at the presence of strangers and separation from its mother.

Through all the time that she was in court, Mehetabel was listening for the voice of the little one, and paying far more attention to that, than to the evidence produced against her.

It was not till Mehetabel was removed to Kingston on Thames and put in the prison to await her trial, that the full danger that menaced was realized by her, and then it was mainly as it affected her child, that it alarmed her. Life had not been so precious, that she valued it, save for the sake of this feeble child so dependent on her for everything.

Her confidence in justice was no longer great. Ever since her marriage—indeed, ever since Mrs. Verstage had turned against her, she had been buffeted by Fortune, devoid of friends. Why should a Court of Justice treat her otherwise than had the little world with which she had been brought in contact.

In Kingston prison the wife of the jailer was kind, and took a fancy to the unhappy young mother. She sat with and talked to her.

"If they hang me," said Mehetabel, "what will become of my baby?"

"It will go to a relation."

"It has no relations but Sally Rocliffe, and she has ill-wished it. She will be unkind to it, she wants it to die; and if it lives, she will speak to my child unkindly of me."

She wiped her eyes. "I cannot bear to think of that. I might make up my mind to die, if I knew my baby would be kindly cared for and loved—though none could love it and care for it as I do. But I could not die thinking it was taught that I was a bad woman, and heard untrue things said of me every day. I know Sally, she would do that. I had rather my child went on the parish, as I did, than that Sally Rocliffe should have it. I was a charity girl, and I was well cared for by Susanna Verstage, but that was a chance, or rather a Providence, and I know very well there are not many Susanna Verstages in the world. There is not another in Thursley, no, nor in Witley either."

"Your child could not go on the parish. Your husband, as I have been told, had a freehold of his own and some money."

"He lost all his money."

"But the farm was his, and that must be worth a few hundred pounds, so that it would not be possible for the child to go on the parish."

"Then it must go to Sally Rocliffe. There is no other relation."

This was now the great trouble of Mehetabel. She had accepted the inevitable, that wrong judgment would be pronounced, and that she would be hung. Then the thought that her little darling would be placed under the charge of the woman who had embittered her married life, the woman who believed her to be guilty of murder,—this was more than she could endure.

She had passed completely from confidence that her innocence would be acknowledged and that she would at once be released, a condition in which she had rested previous to her appearance before the magistrates at Godalming, into the reverse state, she accepted, now that she was in prison, awaiting her trial, as a certainty that she would be condemned and sentenced to the gallows.

This frame of mind in which she was affected the jailer's wife, and made her suppose that Mehetabel was guilty of the crime wherewith she was charged.

All Mehetabel's thoughts and schemings were directed towards the disposal of her child and its welfare after she was taken from it. All the struggle within her torn heart was to reconcile herself to the parting, and to have faith in Providence that her child would be cared for when she was removed.

How that could be she saw not; and she came at length to hope that when she was taken away the poor little orphan babe would follow her. In that thought she found more comfort than in the anticipation of its living, ill-treated by its aunt, and brought up to be ashamed of its mother.

"You say," said Mehetabel to the jaileress, "that they don't hang women in chains now. I am glad of that. But where will I be buried? Do you think it could be contrived that if my baby were to die at some time after me it might be laid at my side? That is the only thing I now desire—and that—oh! I think I could be happy if I were promised that."



Previous to the Assizes, Joe Filmer arrived in Kingston in a trap drawn by old Clutch. He was admitted into the prison on his expressing his desire to see Mehetabel.

After the first salutations were passed, Joe proceeded to business. "You see, Matabel," said he, "the master don't want you to think he won't help you out o' this little mess you've got into. But he don't want Polly to know it. The master, he's won'erful under that young woman's—I can't say thumb, but say her big toe. So if he does wot he does about you, it's through me, and he'll sit innercent like by the fire twiddlin' of his thumbs, and talkin' of the weather. Master would be crafty as an old fox if he weren't stupid as an owl. I can't think how he can have allowed himself to get so much into Polly's power. It is so; and when he wants to do a thing without her knowin', he has to do it underhand ways. Well, he thort if he let our 'oss and trap go, as Polly'd be suspectin' something, and Polly's terrible set against you. So he told me to take a holiday and visit a dyin' aunt, and borrow old Clutch and a trap from the Angel at Gorlmyn. Clutch have been there all along, ever since your affair. There's no keepin' him away. So I came here; and won'erful slow Clutch was. When I came to Kingston I put up at the Sun, and sez I to the ostler: Be there a good lawyer hereabouts, think you? 'Well,' sez he, 'I'm a stranger to Kingston. I were born and bred at Cheam, but I was ostler first in Chertsey, and then for six months at Twickenham. But there's a young woman I'm courtin', I think she does the washin' for a soort of a lawyer chap, and I'll ax she at my dinner time.' So he did, and he came back and told me as the gal sed her master was a lawyer. She didn't think much of the missus, she was mean about perquisates, but the master was decent enough, and never came pokin into the kitchen except when he wanted to have his socks dried. So I reckon he'll do the job for you. Well, I gave that there ostler threepence, and axed him to do me the favor of tellin' that there lawyer that I'd be glad to stand him a glass o' ale if he'd step over to the bar of the Angel. I'd got a bit of business I wanted to consult him about. Well, he came, affable enough, and I told him all—as how I wanted him to defend you, and get you out of this tidy hobble you was in, and wot it 'ud cost. Then he thought a bit, and said that he could get up the case, but must engage counsel. He was only a turnkey, or some name like that; I sed, sed I, he was to manage all, and he might take it or lump it on these terms: Five and twenty pounds if he got you off clear, and if he didn't, and you was hanged, then nuthin'."

Joe smiled and rubbed his hands in self-satisfaction. Then he continued: "You know the master stands behind me. He'll find the money, so long as Polly don't know; but he thort, and so does I, as it could be done cheapest if I took it on me. So I sed to the lawyer chap, who was makin' faces as if he'd got a herrin' bone in his teeth, sez I, 'I'm nort but an ostler in a little country inn, and it's not to be supposed I've much savin's. Nor is Matabel any relation, only she wos maid in the inn whilst I wos ostlin', so I feels a sort o' a likin' for the girl, and I don't mind standin' five and twenty pound to get her off. More I can't give.' That, Matabel, was gammon. The master wouldn't stick at five and twenty, but he told me to try on this little game. He's deep is the master, for, all the innercence he puts on. I said to the ostler I'd give him half-a-crown for the gal as washes, as she introduced me to the lawyer. That there turnkey, as he calls himself, he sez he must get the counsel, and I sez, that, of course, and it comes out of the five and twenty. Then he made more faces, but I stuck to it, and I believe he'll do it. He axed me about particulars, and I sed he wos to consult you. The master sed that durin' the trial I wos to be nigh the lawyer, and if he seemed to flag at all I wos to say, 'Another five pound, old ginger, if you gets her off.' So I think we shall manage it, and Polly be never the wiser."

The Assizes began. Mehetabel, in her prison, could hear the church bells ring merry peals to welcome the judge. She was in sore anxiety about the child, that had failed greatly of late. The trouble in which its mother had been involved had told on its never strong constitution. Even had she been occupied with her own defence and ultimate fate, the condition of the babe imperiously demanded that the main solicitude of its mother should be devoted to it, to still its cries, to relieve its pains, to lull it to necessary sleep.

When Mahetabel knew that she was in a few minutes to be summoned to answer in court for her life, she hung over the little sufferer, clasped it and its crib in her arms, and laid her cheek beside its fevered face on the pillow. She could rest in no other position. If she left the child, it was to pace the cell—if she turned her thoughts to her defence, she was called back by a peevish cry to consider the infant.

When finally summoned to the court she committed the babe to the friendly and worthy jaileress, who undertook to care for it to the best of her abilities. The appearance of Mehetabel in the court produced at once a favorable impression. Her beauty, her youth, the sweetness and pathos of expression in her intelligent face, and the modesty with which she bore the stare of the crowd, sent a wave of sympathy through all present, and stirred pity in every heart. When Mehetabel had recovered the confusion and alarm into which she was thrown by finding herself in the dock with heads all about her, eyes fixed upon her, and mouths whispering comments, she timidly looked up and around.

She saw the judge in his robes under the Royal arms, the barristers, in gowns and wigs, she looked in the direction of the jury, and with a start recognized one amongst them. By a strange chance Iver Verstage had been chosen as one of the petty jury, and the prosecution not suspecting that he was in any way mixed up in the matter before the court, not knowing that he was acquainted with the prisoner, that he came from the neighborhood of the scene of the murder, suffered him to pass unchallenged. Iver did not turn his face her way, and avoided meeting her eye.

Then she saw Joe Filmer's honest countenance; he sought what Iver avoided, and greeted her with a smile and a nod.

There was one more present whom Mehetabel recognized, and that in spite of his wig. She saw in the barrister who was to act as counsel in the prosecution that same young man who had insulted her on the dam of the Hammer Pond.

There was little fresh evidence produced beyond that elicited before the magistrates. Almost the only new matter was what was drawn from the two Rocliffes relative to the conversation that had passed between the prisoner and the deceased previous to his death. But neither father nor son could give a clear account, and they contradicted each other and themselves. But both were confident as to Mehetabel having struck Jonas on the head.

The counsel for the defence was able to make a point here. According to their account they were in a lane, the level of which was considerably lower than that of the field in which the altercation took place. There was a hedge of holly intervening. Now holly does not lose its leaves in winter. Holly does not grow in straggling fashion, but densely. How were these two men able to see through so close a screen? Moreover, if they could see the prisoner then it was obvious she could see them, and was it likely that she would strike her husband before their eyes. Neither Samuel nor Thomas Rocliffe was able to explain how he saw through a hedge of holly, but he had no hesitation in saying that see he did. They were both looking and had chosen a spot where a view was possible, and that Mehetabel did not know they were present was almost certain, as she was looking at Jonas all the while and not in their direction. The counsel was disappointed, he had hoped to make much of this point.

Mehetabel was uneasy when she noticed now that the bewigged young man who had spoken with her at the Hammer Pond labored to bring out from the witnesses' admissions that would tell against her. He was not content with the particulars of the death of Jonas, he went back to the marriage of Mehetabel, and to her early history. He forced from the Rocliffes, father and son, and also from Colpus and his daughter the statement that when Mehetabel had been told her husband was dead she had laughed.

Up to this the feeling of all in court had been unmistakably in her favor, but now, as in the petty sessions, the knowledge that she had laughed turned the current of sympathy from her.

When all the evidence had been produced, then the counsel for the prosecution stood up and addressed the court. The case, said he, was a peculiarly painful one, for it exhibited the blackest ingratitude in one who owed, he might say, everything to the deceased. As the court had heard—the accused had been brought up in a small wayside tavern, the resort of sailors on their way between London and Portsmouth, where she had served in the capacity of barmaid, giving drink to the low fellows who frequented the public-house, and he need hardly say that such a bringing up must kill all the modesty, morality, sense of self-respect and common decency out of a young girl's mind. She was good-looking, and had been the object of familiarities from the drunken vagabonds who passed and repassed along the road, and stayed to slake their thirst, and bandy jokes with the pretty barmaid. From this situation she had been rescued by Jonas Kink, a substantial farmer. Having been a foundling she had no name. She had been brought up at the parish expense, and had no relatives either to curb her propensities for evil, or to withdraw her from a situation in which no young woman, he ventured to say, could spend her early years without moral degradation. It might almost be asserted that Jonas Kink, the deceased, had lifted this unfortunate creature from the gutter. He had given her his name, he had given her a home. He had treated her with uniform kindness—no evidence had been produced that he had ever maltreated her. On the contrary, as the widow Chivers had admitted—the prisoner said herself that the deceased had never struck her with a stick. That there had been quarrels he freely admitted, that the deceased had spoken sharply was not to be denied. But he asked: What husband would endure that the young wife who was indebted to him for everything, should resume her light and reprehensible conduct, or should show inclination to do so, after he had made her his own? No doubt whatever that the prisoner at the bar felt the monotony of a farmhouse irksome after the lively existence in a public house. No doubt she missed the society of topers, and their tipsy familiarities. But was that reason why she should kill her husband?

He believed that he had been able to show that this murder had been planned; that the prisoner had provided herself with the implement wherewith it was her purpose to rid herself of the husband who was distasteful to her. With deliberate intention to free herself, she had waited to catch him alone, and where she believed she was unobserved. The jury must consider how utterly degraded a woman must be to compass the death of the man to whom she had sworn eternal fidelity and love. A woman who could do this was not one who should be suffered to live; she was a scandal to her sex; she dishonored humanity.

The counsel proceeded to say: "Gentlemen of the jury, I have anxiously looked about for some excuses, something that might extenuate the atrocity of this crime. I have found none. The man who steals bread to support his starving children must suffer under the law for what he has done. Can you allow to go free a woman, because young, who has wilfully, wantonly, and deliberately compassed the murder of her husband, merely, as far as we can judge, because he stood in her way pointing the direction to morality and happiness. Whatever may be said in defence of this unfortunate prisoner now on her trial, gentlemen of the jury, do not mistake your office. You are not here to excuse crime and to forgive criminals, but to judge them with justice. Do not be swayed by any false feeling of commiseration because of the sex and youth of the accused. Remember that a wife guilty of the murder of her husband, who is allowed to run free, encourages all others, possibly even your own, to rid themselves of their husbands, whenever they resent a look or a word of reproach. I will lose no more words, but demand a sentence of guilty against Mehetabel Kink."

The young mother had hardly been able to endure the sense of shame that overwhelmed her during the progress of the speech of the counsel. Flushes of crimson swept through her face, at his insinuations and statements affecting her character, and then the color faded leaving her deadly white. This was an agony of death worse than the gallows. She could have cried out, "Take my life—but spare me this dishonor."

Joe Filmer looked troubled and alarmed; he worked his way to the back of the bench, where sat the counsel for the defence, and said: "Old Crock, five guineas—ten, if you'll get her off. Five from the master, and five from me. And I'll kick that rascal who has just spoken, as he comes out; I will, be Jiggers!"



When the counsel for the defense stood up, Mehetabel raised her shame-stricken face. This man, she knew, would speak a good word for her—had he not done so already? Had not all his efforts been directed towards getting out of the witnesses something favorable to her, and to showing contradictions in their statements which told against her?

But she looked timidly towards him, and dared not meet the glances of the crowd in the court. What must they think of her—that she was an abandoned woman without self-restraint; a disgrace to her sex, as that young barrister had said.

Again, it must be said, she was accustomed to injustice. She had been unfairly treated by Susanna Verstage. She had met with cruel wrong from her husband. By the whole of the Punch-Bowl she had been received without generosity, without that openness of mind which should have been manifested towards a stranger claiming its hospitality. She had not received the kindness that was her due from her sister-in-law. Even the well-disposed Joe Filmer believed her to be guilty of murder. But perhaps she could have borne all this better than the wounding insults offered her by the counsel for the prosecution, blasting her character before the world.

The barrister engaged to defend her did his utmost, and did it with ability. He charged the jury not to be deceived into believing that this was a case of premeditated murder, even if they were satisfied that Jonas had been killed by the stone carried by the defendant.

As he had brought out by the evidence of the widow Betty Chivers, and by that of the surgeon, the prisoner had been off her head, and was not responsible for what she said or did. What more likely then that she raved in delirium when she asserted that she would kill her husband, and what more evident token of having her brain overbalanced than that she should be running about the country hiding in caves, carrying her child with her, under the impression that her husband desired to take it from her, and perhaps do it an injury. That was not the conduct of a sane woman. Why should a father seek to rob her of her child? Could he suckle it? Did he want to be encumbered with an unweaned infant? Then as to the alleged murder. Was the testimony of the two men, Thomas and Samuel Rocliffe, worth a rush? Was not this Thomas a fool, who had been enveigled into a marriage with a tramp who called herself a countess? Did he not show when under cross-examination that he was a man of limited intelligence? And was his son Samuel much better? There was a dense holly hedge betwixt them and the prisoner. He put it to any candid person, who can see so clearly through a holly bush as to be able to distinguish the action of parties on the further side? These two witnesses had fallen into contradiction as to what they had heard said, through the holly hedge, and it was much easier to hear than to see athwart such an obstruction.

There was enough to account for the death of Jonas Kink without having recourse to the theory of murder. He had received a blow on his head, but he had received more blows than one; when a man falls backwards and falls down into a kiln that yawns behind him he would strike his head against the side more than once, and with sufficient force to break in his skull and kill him. How could they be sure that he was not killed by a blow against the bricks of the kiln edge? The accused had charged the deceased with having tried to murder her baby. That was what both the witnesses had agreed in, though one would have it she had asserted he tried to poison it, and the other that he had endeavored to strangle it. Such a charge was enough to surprise a father, and no wonder that he started back, and in starting back fell into the kiln, the existence of which he had forgotten if he ever knew of it. He the counsel, entreated the jury not to be led away by appearances, but to weigh the evidence and to pronounce as their verdict not guilty.

No sooner had he seated himself than he was nudged in the back, and Joe Filmer said, in a loud whisper, "Famous! Shake hands, and have a drop o' Hollands." Then the ostler thrust forward a bottle that had been in his pocket. "It's first-rate stuff," he said. "The master gave it me."

The Judge summed up and charged the jury. As Joe Filmer described his address afterwards, "He said that there were six things again' her, and about a half-a-dozen for her; there was evidence as went one road and evidence as went t'other way. That she was either guilty or not guilty, and the gem'men of the jury was to please themselves and say wot they liked."

Thereupon the jury withdrew.

Now when the twelve men were in the room to which they had retired, then the foreman said:—"Well, gents, what do you think now? You give us your opinion, Mr. Quittenden."

"Then, sir," answered the gentleman addressed, an upholsterer. "I should say 'ang 'er. It won't do, in my opinion, to let wives think they can play old Harry with their 'usbands. What the gentleman said as acted in the prosecution was true as gospel. It won't do for us to be soft heads and let our wives think they can massacre us with impunity. Women ain't reasonin' creatures, they're hanimals of impulse, and if one of us comes 'ome with a drop too much, or grumbles at the children bein' spoiled, then, I say, if our wives think they can do it and get let off they'll up wi' the flat iron and brain us. I say guilty. Ang 'er."

"Well, sir," said the foreman, "that's your judgment. Now let us hear what Josias Kingerle has to say."

"Sir," said the gentleman addressed, who was in the tannery business, "if she weren't so good-lookin' I'd say let her off."

As an expression of surprise found utterance Mr. Kingerle proceeded to explain.

"You see, gentlemen of the jury, and you, Mr. Foreman, I have a wife, and that good lady was in court, an' kept her eye on me all the time like a rattlesnake. I couldn't steal a peep at the prisoner but she was shakin' of her parasol handle at me, and though she didn't say it with words yet I read it in her eye, 'Now then, Josiah, none o' your games and gushes of pity over pretty gals.' It's as much as my domestic felicity is worth, gentlemen, to say not guilty. My wife would say, and your wives would all say, 'O yes! very fine. Because she was 'andsome you have acquitted her. Had we—' I'm speakin' as if it was our wives addressin' of us, gentlemen—'Had we been in the dock, or had there been an ugly woman, you would have said guilty at once.' So for peace and quietness I say guilty. 'Ang 'er."

"Well, Mr. Kingerle," said the foreman, "that is your opinion; you agree with Mr. Quittenden. Now then, what say you, Mr. Wrist?"

The juryman addressed was a stout and heavy man. He stretched his short legs, seated himself in his chair, and after a long pause said, "I don't know as I care particular, as far as I'm concerned. But it's better in my opinion to hang her, even if innocent, than let her off. It's setting an example, a fine one, to the wimen. I agree with Mr. Quittenden, and say—guilty. 'Ang 'er.'

"Now then, Mr. Sanson."

"I," answered a timid little apothecary, "I wouldn't wish to differ from any one. I had rather you passed me over now, and just asked the rest. Then I'll fall in with the general division."

"Very well, then—and you, Mr. Sniggins."

"I am rayther hard of hearing," answered that gentleman, "and I didn't catch all that was said in evidence, and then I had a bad night. I'd taken some lobster last evening, and it didn't agree with me, and I couldn't sleep, and it was rayther hot in the court, and I just closed my eyes now and again, and what with being hard of hearing and closing my eyes, I'm not very well up in the case, but I say—guilty. 'Ang 'er."

"And you, Mr.—I beg your pardon, I did not catch your name."


"Not a Kingston gent?"

"Oh, no, from Guildford,"

"What say you, sir?"

"I—emphatically, not guilty." Iver threw himself back in his chair, extended his legs, and thrust his hands into his trouser pockets. "The whole thing is rank nonsense. How could a woman with a baby in her arms knock a man down? You try, gents, any one of you—take your last born, and whilst nursing it, attempt to pull your wife's nose. You can't do it. The thing is obvious." He looked round with assurance. "The man was a curmudgeon. He misused her. He was in bad circumstances through the failure of the Wealden Bank. He wanted money, and the child had just had a fortune left it—something a little under two hundred pounds."

"How do you know that?" asked the foreman. "That didn't come out in evidence."

"P'raps you shut your ears, as Mr. Sniggins shut his peepers. P'raps it came out, p'raps it didn't. But it's true all the same. And the fellow wanted the money. Matabel—I mean the prisoner at the bar thought—rightly or wrongly matters not—that he wished for the death of his child, and she ran away. She was not crazy; she was resolved to protect her child. She swore that she would defend it. That Giles Cheel and Mrs. Rocliffe said. What mother would not do the same? As for those two men, Thomas and Samuel Rocliffe, they never saw her knock down Jonas Kink, for the good reason that she was holding the baby, and couldn't do it. But when she told him, he was seeking his child's life—all for the money left it—then he stumbled back, and fell into the kiln—not guilty. If I sit here till I starve you all—not guilty."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse