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Minor typographical errors in the original text have been corrected. Footnotes have been numbered and moved to the end of the file.
Author of "Mehalah," "Court Royal," "The Gaverocks," "Noemi," "Eve," Etc., Etc.
New York and London Frederick A. Stokes Company Publishers
Copyright 1895, By S. Baring-Gould.
Copyright 1896, By Frederick A. Stokes Company.
I. AT THE SIGN OF THE SHIP 1
II. WANDERING SOULS 8
III. THE PUNCH-BOWL 14
IV. WITHOUT A ROOF 22
V. MEHETABEL 28
VI. MEHETABEL IT MUST BE 35
VII. FALSE PERSPECTIVE 41
VIII. ONLY A CHARITY GIRL 48
IX. BIDEABOUT 55
X. INTO THE NET 63
XI. A SURNAME AT LAST 70
XII. UNEXPECTED 77
XIII. HOME 85
XIV. NOT PARADISE 92
XV. IVER 98
XVI. AGAIN IVER 105
XVII. DREAMS 112
XVIII. REALITIES 117
XIX. BACK AGAIN 124
XX. GONE 131
XXI. THOR'S STONE 137
XXII. IVER! COME 144
XXIII. A SHOT 149
XXIV. THE IRONSTONE HAMMER 156
XXV. AN APPARITION 162
XXVI. A SECRET 169
XXVII. POISON 176
XXVIII. A THREAT 182
XXIX. A HERALD OF STRIFE 189
XXX. A BEQUEST 195
XXXI. SURPRISES 203
XXXII. ANOTHER SURPRISE 208
XXXIII. MARKHAM 216
XXXIV. THE PICTURE 222
XXXV. THE ONLY CHANCE 228
XXXVI. THE SLEEPING DRAUGHT 235
XXXVII. A MENACED LIFE 243
XXXVIII. SHUT OUT 249
XXXIX. AT THE SILK MILL 256
XL. BY THE HAMMER POND 262
XLI. WANDERERS 268
XLII. THE CAVE 275
XLIII. AT COLPUS'S 282
XLIV. AGAIN-IRONSTONE 288
XLV. IN HOPE 294
XLVI. A TROUBLED HOPE 300
XLVII. BEFORE THE JUDGE 307
XLVIII. THE VERDICT 314
XLIX. WELCOME 321
L. MOVE ON 327
LI. THOR'S STONE AGAIN 334
LII. THE ROSE-CLOUD 341
AT THE SIGN OF THE SHIP.
On a September evening, before the setting of the sun, a man entered the tavern of the Ship in Thursley, with a baby under his arm.
The tavern sign, rudely painted, bore, besides a presentment of a vessel, the inscription on one side of the board:—
"Now before the hill you climb, Come and drink good ale and wine."
On the other side of the board the legend was different. It ran thus:—
"Now the hill you're safely over, Drink, your spirits to recover."
The tavern stood on the high-road side between Godalming and Portsmouth; that is to say the main artery of communication between London and Portsmouth.
After rising out of the rich overshadowed weald land, the road had crossed long sandy wastes, where population was sparse, where were no enclosures, no farms, only scattered Scottish firs; and in front rose the stately ridge of sandstone that culminates in Hind Head and Leith Hill. It was to prepare the wayfarer for a scramble to the elevation of a little over nine hundred feet that he was invited to "drink good ale and wine," or, if he were coming from the opposite direction was called upon to congratulate himself in a similar manner on having over-passed this ridge. The wayfarer with the baby under his arm came from the Godalming side. He looked up at the sign, which appealed at once to his heart, for he was obviously a sailor, no less than did the invitation commend itself to his condition.
He entered, tumbled the baby on to the tavern table that was marked with wet rings from beer cans, and upset a saucer containing fly poison, and said, with a sigh of relief—
"There you are! Blowed and all of a lather!"
He pulled out a blue cotton pocket-handkerchief, mopped his face and shouted, "Beer!"
"Well, I never!" exclaimed the landlady. "Whoever heered afore or saw of a babby lugged about wrong side uppermost. What would you say if I was to bring you your tankard topsy-turvy?"
"I wouldn't pay for it," said the sailor.
"'Cos why?" asked the woman, planting herself arms akimbo, in front of the wayfarer.
"'Cos it 'ud capsize the ale," he answered.
"Very well, ain't babbies got no in'ards to capsize?" asked the landlady, defiantly. "And chucked in among the pison for killing them dratted flies, too!"
"Never mind about the kid," said the man.
"I do mind about the child," retorted the woman; "look at him there—the innocent—all in the nasty slops. What'll the mother say to the mess and crumple you've made of the clothes?"
The landlady took the infant from the table, on one arm, and proceeded to the bar to draw the beer.
Presently she returned, kissing the child and addressing it in terms of affection. She thrust the pewter full of foaming ale on the table towards the customer, with resentfulness in her action.
"He's a stomachy (sturdy) young chap," she said, patting the babe with the now disengaged hand.
"He ain't a he at all," retorted the man. "He's a she."
"A girl, is it!" exclaimed the hostess; "and how came you by the precious?"
"Best rights of all," answered the man; "'cos I'm the kid's father."
"Her mother ought to be ashamed of herself letting you haul about the poor mite under your arm, just as though she was pertatoes."
"Her mother can't help it," said the man. "She's dead, and left me wi' this here child a month or six weeks old, and I've been sweating along the way from Lun'non, and she yowlin' enough to tear a fellow's nerves to pieces." This said triumphantly; then in an apologetic tone, "What does the likes o' me know about holdin' babies? I were brought up to seamanship, and not to nussin'. I'd joy to see you, missus, set to manage a thirty-pounder. I warrant you'd be as clumsy wi' a gun as I be wi' a kid."
"D'r say," responded the landlady, "and where be you a-g'win to with this here angel? Takin' her to sea to make a mermaid of her?"
"No, I aren't," said the mariner. "Her mother's dead—in lodgin's down by the Katherine docks, and got no relatives and no friends there. I'm off to sea again when I've dispodged o' this here incumbrance. I'm takin' her down to her mother's sister—that way." He indicated the down road with his thumb.
"It's a wonder you ain't made a crook of her backbone, it is," said the woman. "And if you'd gone and crippled she for life, what would you think o' that?"
"I didn't carry her like that all the road," answered the sailor. "Part ways I slung her over my back."
"Wonder she's alive. Owdatious strong she must be. Come in, my cherry beam. I'll give you as good as mother's milk. Three parts water and a bit o' shuggar. Little your father thinks o' your wants so long as he gets his ale."
"I let her suck my thumb," said the sailor, timidly.
"Much good she got out o' that," retorted the landlady. "Yes, yes, my syrup. I'll give you something."
"If you can stop her yowling, I'll thank you."
With a contemptuous look at the father, the hostess withdrew.
Then the sailor planted his elbows on the table, drank a long draught of beer, and said, sententiously, "It's an institootion is wimin."
"Woman is the joy of our lives," said a lanky, dark-haired man at the table.
"'Tain't exactly that," answered the sailor, now first observing that there were other men in the room. "'Tis that there's things for everything—there's the capstan for hawlin' up the anchor, and there's the woman for nussin'. They was ordained to it—not men—never, no—not men. Look at my hand." The sailor extended his arm across the table. "It's shakin' like a guitar-string when a nigger's playing—and all along of that kid's yawls. Wimin likes it."
"It's their moosic," said the lanky man.
Then in rushed the landlady with flashing eyes, and holding out both palms before her said, "The child's mouth be that purple or blue—it's fits."
"It's blackberries," answered the seaman. "They was nice and ripe, and plenty of them."
"Blackberries!" almost shrieked the hostess, "and the child not six weeks old! You've killed her! It's upset her blessed little inside."
"I thought I'd done wrong," said the sailor, timidly, "that's why I was a-carryin' of her topsy-turvy. I thought to ha' shooked the blackberries out again."
"If that child dies," exclaimed the landlady, solemnly, "then where will you go to, you unnat'ral parient?"
"I did it wi' the best intention," apologized the man.
"That's what Betsy Chaffers said when she gave wrong change. Oh that heaven should ever a created man. They's terrible monsters."
She disappeared again after the child.
The sailor drank more beer, sighed, wiped his brow, then his upper lip, and looked appealingly about him at the men who were present. Of these there were four and a half. That is to say, four men and a boy. Three of the men were at the table, and of these the lanky sallow man was one.
These three men were strange, unpleasant-looking fellows, dressed up in scraps of incongruous clothing, semi-nautical, semi-agricultural. One was completely enveloped in a great-coat that had belonged to a very tall and stout man, and he was short and thin. Another was incompletely dressed, for what garments he had on were in rags that afforded glimpses between them of tattered lining, of flesh, but of no shirt.
The third man had the unmistakable lower jaw and mouth of an Irishman.
By the fire sat an individual of a different type. He was a young man with heavy brows and a large mouth devoid of lips, set tight as a snapped man-trap. He had keen, restless, watchful eyes. His hair was sandy, thrust forward over his brow, and hanging low behind. On the opposite side of the hearth crouched a boy, a timid, delicately formed lad with a large head and full lustrous eyes.
"Come from far?" asked one of the ragamuffins at the table.
"Didn't yur hear me say from Lun'non town?" answered the sailor. "Lagged that there dratted baby the whole way. I'll have another glass of beer."
"And what distance are you going?" asked the lanky man.
"I shall put into the next port for the night, and tomorrow on to Portsmouth, and stow away the kid with my wife's sister. Lord! I wishes the morrer were well over."
"We're bound for Portsmouth," said the man in tatters. "What say you? shall we keep company and relieve you of the kid? If you'll pay the shot here and at the other end, and at the other pubs—can't say but what we'll ease you."
"It's a bargain," exclaimed the sailor. "By George! I've had enough of it from Lun'non here. As to money, look here," he put his hand into his trousers pocket and pulled out a handful of coins, gold, silver and copper together. "There is brass for all. Just home, paid off—and find my wife dead—and me saddled with the yowling kid. I'm off to sea again. Don't see no sport wider-erring here all bebothered with a baby."
"We are very willing to accompany you," said the tattered man, and turning to the fellow with sallow face and lantern jaws, he said, "What's your opinion, Lonegon?"
"I'm willing, Marshall; what say you, Michael Casey?"
"Begorra—I'm the man to be a wet nuss."
The sailor called for spirits wherewith to treat the men who had offered their assistance.
"This is a mighty relief to me," said he. "I don't think I could ha' got on by myself."
"You've no expayrience, sir," said Casey. "It's I'm the boy for the babbies. Ye must rig up a bottle and fill it with milk, and just a whisk of a drop of the craytur to prevent it curdling, and then stuff the mouth with a rag—and the darlin'll suck, and suck, and be still as the evenin' star as I sees yonder glimmering at the window."
"You'll have to start pretty sharp if you want to get on a stage before dark," said the man by the fire.
"It's a lone road," threw in the boy shyly.
"What's the odds when we are four of us?" asked the man whose name was Lonegon.
"And all of us pertecting the little cherub from ketching cold," threw in Casey.
"We ain't afraid—not we," said the ragged man.
"Not of bogies, at any rate."
"Oh, you need not fear bogies," observed the man at the fire, dryly.
"What is it, then?" asked Michael Casey. "Sure It's not highwaymen?"
The man by the fire warmed his palms, laughed, and said: "It would take two to rob you, I guess, one to put the money into your pocket and the second to take it out."
"You're right there," answered the Irishman, laughing. "It's my pockets be that worn to holes wi' the guineas that have been in them, that now they let 'em fall through."
The man by the fire rubbed his palms together and made a remark in a low tone—addressed to the boy. Lonegon turned sharply round on his seat and cried threateningly, "What's that you're hinting agin us? Say it again, and say it aloud, and I'll knock your silly, imperdent head off."
"I say it again," said the young man, turning his cunning head round, like a jackdaw. "I say that if I were going over Hind Head and by the Punch Bowl at night with as much money in my pocket as has that seaman there—I'd choose my companions better. You haven't heard what I said? I'd choose my companions better."
The long, lean fellow, Lonegon, leaped to his feet, and struck at the man by the fire.
The latter was prepared for him. He had snatched a brand from the hearth, and without losing the sarcastic laugh on his great mouth, presented it sharply in the way of the descending fist, so as to catch Lonegon's wrist.
The sparks flew about at the clash, and the man who had received the blow uttered a howl of pain, for his wrist was torn by the firewood, and his hand burnt by the fire.
With an imprecation and a vow to "do for" "eyes, liver, and lights" of the "clodhopper," he rushed at him blindly. With a mocking laugh, the man assailed thrust forth a leg, and Lonegon, stumbling across it, measured his length on the floor.
The man called Marshall now interfered by snatching the pewter tankard from the sailor, and aiming it at the head of him who had overthrown his mate.
At the same time the boy, terrified, began to scream. "Mother! mother! help! pray! they'll murder Bideabout."
The hostess speedily appeared, set her arms akimbo, planted her feet resolutely on the floor, and said, in commanding tones—
"Now then! No fighting on the premises. Stand up, you rascal. What have you done with the pewter? Ah, crushed out of all shape and use. That's what Molly Luff sed of her new bonnet when she sat down on it—Lawk, a biddy! Who'd ha' thought it?"
Lonegon staggered to his feet, and burst into a torrent of recrimination against the man whom the boy had called Bideabout.
"I don't care where the rights are, or where be the wrongs. An addled egg be nasty eating whether you tackle it one end or 'tother. All I sez is—I won't have it. But what I will have is—I'll be paid for that there tankard. Who threw it?"
"It was he—yonder, in tatters," said the boy.
"You won't get money out o' me," said Marshall; "my pockets—you may turn 'em out and see for yourself—are rich in nothing but holes, and there's in them just about as many of they as there are in the rose o' a watering can."
"I shall be paid," asserted the hostess. "You three are mates, and there'll be money enough among you."
"Look here, mistress," put in the sailor, "I'll stand the damage, only don't let us have a row. Bring me another can of ale, and tell me what it all comes to. Then we'll be on the move."
"The other fellows may clear off, and the sooner the better," said the landlady. "But not you just now, and the baby has dropped off into the sweetest of sleeps. 'Twere a sin to wake her."
"I'm going on to the Huts," said the seaman.
"And we're going with him as a guard to the baby," said the Irish fellow.
"A blackguard set," threw in Bideabout.
"What about the color so long as it is effective?" asked Casey.
By degrees the anger of Lonegon was allayed, and he seated himself growling at the table, and wiped the blood from his torn wrist on his sleeve, and drawing forth a dirty and tattered red kerchief, bound it round the bruised and wounded joint. The man, Bideabout, did not concern himself with the wrath or the anguish of the man. He rubbed his hands together, and clapped a palm on each knee, and looked into the fire with a smirk on his face, but with an eye on the alert lest his adversary should attempt to steal an advantage on him.
Nor was he unjustified in being on his guard, judging by the malignant glances cast at him by Lonegon.
"Whom may you be?" asked the tattered man.
"I'm Jonas Kink," answered the young fellow at the fire.
"He's Bideabout, the Broom-Squire," explained the landlady. Then with a glimmering of a notion that this variation in names might prove confusing, she added, "leastways that's what we calls him. We don't use the names writ in the Church register here. He's the Broom-Squire—and not the sort o' chap for you ragamuffins to have dealings with—let me tell you."
"I don't kear what he be," said Lonegon, sullenly, "but dang it, I'd like a sup o' ale with your leave," and without further ceremony he took the new tankard from the sailor and quaffed off half its contents.
The hostess looked from the drinker to the seaman and said, "Are you standing tick for they?"
"I'll pay for their drink and they'll help me along the road with the baby," said the sailor.
The landlady shrugged her shoulders contemptuously, and asked, "If I may be so bold, what's her name?"
"What's whose name?"
"Ha'n't got none," said the seaman.
"What, ain't she been christened yet?"
"No, I reckon not," answered the father. Then he proceeded to explain. "You see my poor wife she was down in lodgings and hadn't no friends nor relations no'ther nigh her, and she took ill and never got over the birth of this here babe, and so it couldn't be done. But the kid's aunt'll see to all that right enough when I've got her there."
"What! you're trapsing about the country hugging a babe along under your arm and slung over your shoulder and feeding her o' blackberries and chucking her in among fly poison, and not a Christian yet! My! What a world it is!".
"All in good time, missus."
"That's what Betsy Cole said o' her pork and 'ams when the pig wor killed and her hadn't salt nor saltpetre. She'd see to it some day. Meanwhile the maggots came and spiled the lot."
"It shall all be made right in a day or two."
"Ah! but what if it be too late? Then where will you go to some day? How can you say but that the child wi' being hung topsy-turvy and swinging like a pendiddlum may die of the apoplexy, or the blackberries turn sour in her blessed stomach and she go off in convulsions, or that she may ha' put out the end o' her tongue and sucked some o' that there fly paper? Then where will you be?"
"I hope I shall be on board ship just before that comes to pass," said the sailor.
"Do you know what happens if a child dies and ha'n't been christened? It becomes a wanderer."
"What do you mean?"
"It ain't a Christian, so it can't go to heaven. It ain't done no evil, so it can't go to hell; and so the poor spirit wanders about in the wind and never has no rest. You can hear them piping in the trees and sobbin' at the winder. I've heard 'm scores of times. How will you like that when at sea to have your own child sighing and sobbin' up in the rigging of the vessel, eh?"
"I hope it will not come to that," said the sailor.
"That's what Susan Bay said when she put a darnin' needle into the armchair cushion, and I sed, said I, 'twas a ticklesome thing and might do hurt. She did it once too often. Her old man sat down on it."
She brought some more ale at the request of the seaman, and as she set down the tankard said:
"I won't be so bold as to say it's in Scriptur', but it's in the Psalm-book I dare swear. Mother, she were a tip-top tearin' religious woman, and she used to say it to me when I was younger than I be now:—
"'They flies in clouds and flap their shrouds When full the moon doth shine; In dead of night when lacketh light, We here 'em pipe and pine.
"'And many a soul wi' hoot and howl Do rattle at the door, Or rave and rout, and dance about All on a barren moor.'
"And it goes on somehow like this. You can think on it as you go over Hind Head in the dark:
"'Or at the winder wail and weep, Yet never venture nigher; In snow and sleet, within to creep To warm 'em at the fire.'"
The child began to cry in the adjoining room.
"There," said the landlady, "'tis awake she is, poor mite without a name, and not as much Christianity as could make a cat sneeze. If that there child were to die afore you got to Portsmouth and had her baptized, sure as my name is Susanna Verstage, I'd never forgive myself, and I'd hear her for sure and certainty at the winder. I'm a motherly sort of a woman, and there's a lot o' them poor wanderers comes piping about the panes of an evening. But I can do nothing for them."
"Now then, lads, let's be moving," said the mariner.
The three men at the table rose; and when standing exposed more of their raggedness and the incongruity of their apparel than was shown when they were seated.
The landlady reluctantly surrendered the child.
"A babe," said she, "mustn't be shaken after feeding;" then, "a babe mustn't be allowed to get its little feet cold, or gripes comes;" then, "you must mind and carry it with the head to your shoulder, and away from the wind." Presently another item occurred to the good woman, as the men left their places at the table: "You must hold the child on your arm, between the wrist and the elbow-jint."
As they went to the door she called, "And never be without a drop o' dill water: it's comforting to babies."
As they made their exit—"And when nussin', mind, no green meat nor fruit."
When all had departed the landlady turned to the man by the fire, who still wore his sarcastic smirk, and said "Bideabout! What do you think of they?"
"I think," answered the Broom-Squire, "that I never saw three such cut-throat rascals as those who have gone off with the sailor; and as for him—I take he's softish."
"I thought him a bit of a natural."
"He must be so to start on one of the lonesomest roads in England, at fall of night, with such a parcel of jailbirds."
"Well, dear life!" exclaimed the good woman. "I hope nothing will hap' to the poor child."
"Mother," said the boy, timidly, "it's not true is it about the spirits of babies in the wind?"
"Of course it is. Where would you have them go? and they bain't Christians. Hark! I won't say there be none flying about now. I fancy I hear a sort of a kind o' whistling."
"Your boy Iver, he's coming with me to the Punch-Bowl," said the Broom-Squire; "but I'll not go for half-an-hour, becos I don't want to overtake that lanky, black-jawed chap as they call Lonegon. He ain't got much love for me, and might try to repay that blow on his wrist, and sprawl on the floor I gave him."
"What is Iver going to the Punch-Bowl for?" asked the landlady, and looked at the boy, her son.
"It's a snipe's feather Bideabout has promised me," answered the lad.
"And what do you want a snipe's feather for at this time o' night?"
"Mother, it's to make a paint brush of. Bideabout ain't at home much by day. I've been over the road scores o' times."
"A paint brush! What do you want paint brushes for? Have you cleaned out the pig-stye lately?"
"Yes, mother, but the pig lies abroad now; it's warm in the stye."
"Well, you may go. Dear life! I wish I could see that blessed babe again, safe and sound. Oh, my!"
The good-hearted woman was destined to have her wish answered more speedily than she could have anticipated.
The Broom-Squire and the boy were on their way up the hill that led towards the habitation of the former; or, to be more exact, it led to the summit of the hill whence the Squire would have to diverge at a sharp angle to the right to reach his home.
The evening had closed in. But that mattered not to them, for they knew their way, and had not far to go.
The road mounted continuously, first at a slight incline, over sand sprinkled with Scotch pines, and then more rapidly to the range of hills that culminates in Hind Head, and breaks into the singular cones entitled The Devil's Jumps.
This is one of the loveliest parts of fair England. The pine and the oak and the Spanish chestnut luxuriate in the soil, the sand tracts between the clumps are deep in heather, at intervals the country is furrowed as by a mighty plough; but the furrowing was done by man's hand to extract the metal of which the plough is formed. From a remote antiquity this district of Surrey, as well as the weald of Sussex, was the great centre of the iron trade. The metal lies in masses in the sand, strangely smooth and liver-colored, and going by the name of kidney iron. The forest of Anderida which covered the weald supplied at once the ore and the fuel for smelting.
In many places are "hammer ponds," pools of water artificially constructed, which at one time served to turn wheels and work mechanism for the beating out of the iron that had been won on the spot.
The discovery of coal and iron together, or in close proximity, in the North of England brought this industry of the counties of Surrey and Sussex to an abrupt end. Now the deposits of ore are no longer worked, no furnaces exist, only the traces of the old men's mines and forges and smelting pits remain to attest that from an age before Caesar landed in Kent, down to the close of the last century, all the iron employed in England came from this region.
Another singular feature of the district consists in the masses of hard stone, gray with lichen, that lie about, here topping a sandhill, there dropped at random in the plain. There was at one time many more of these, but owing to their power of resisting heat they were largely exploited as hearthstones. These masses, there can be no doubt, are remains of superincumbent beds of hard rock that have been removed by denudation, leaving but a few fragments behind.
That superstition should attach to these blocks is not marvellous. The parish in which lies the Punch-Bowl and rises Hind Head, comprises one such Thors-stone, named perhaps after the Scandinavian Thunder god. One of these strange masses of stone formerly occupied a commanding position on the top of Borough Hill. On this those in need knocked, whereupon the "Good People" who lived under it lent money to the knockers, or any utensil desired in loan, on condition that it was returned. One night, a petitioner, who was going to give a feast at the baptism of his child, went to the stone, and knocked, and asked in a loud voice for the loan of a cauldron.
This was at once thrust out from under the stone, and was carried away and used for the christening feast. Unhappily, the applicant for the cauldron neglected to return it at the time appointed, and since then no more loans have been made. The cauldron, which is of copper, is now preserved in Frensham parish church. It is two feet in diameter, and stands on an iron trivet.
After the road had ascended some way, all trees disappeared. The scenery was as wild and desolate as any in Scotland. On all sides heathery slopes, in the evening light a broken patch of sand showed white, almost phosphorescent, through contrast with the black ling. A melancholy bird piped. Otherwise all was still. The richly-wooded weald, with here and there a light twinkling on it, lay far below, stretching to Lewes. When the high-road nearly reached the summit, it was carried in a curve along the edge of a strange depression, a vast basin in the sand-hills, sinking three hundred feet to a marshy bottom full of oozing springs. This is termed the Devil's Punch-Bowl. The modern road is carried on a lower level, and is banked up against the steep incline. The old road was not thus protected and ran considerably higher.
The night was gathering in, fold on fold, and obscuring all. The Punch-Bowl that the Broom-Squire and the boy had on their right was a bowl brimming with naught save darkness. Its depths could not be fathomed by the eye at that time of night, nor did any sound issue from it save a hissing as though some fluid were seething in the bowl; yet was this produced solely by the wind swirling in it among the harsh branches of the heather.
"So your mother don't like your drawing and painting," said the Broom-Squire.
"No, Bideabout, she and father be terrible on at me to become a publican, and carry along with the Ship, after father's got old and gived up. But I don't fancy it; in fact, I hate the thought of it. Of course," added the boy; "if they forces me to it, I must. But anyhow I wouldn't like to have that there Ship sign at our door so bad painted as she be. I could do better if I had the paints."
"Oh! drinkers don't care for beautiful pictures at the door, but for good ale within."
"I don't like that there ship, and I wouldn't stand it—if the inn were mine."
"You're a fool," said the Broom-Squire contemptuously. "Here's the spot where the turn comes off the road to my house. Mind where you walk, and don't roll over down the Punch-Bowl; it's all a bog at the bottom."
"There's no light anywhere," observed the boy.
"No—no winders look this way. You can't say if a house is alive or dead from here."
"How long have you had your place in the Punch-Bowl, Bideabout?"
"I've heard say my grandfather was the first squatter. But the Rocliffes, Boxalls, Snellings, and Nashes will have it they're older. What do I care so long as I have the best squat in the lot."
That the reader may understand the allusions a word or two must be allowed in explanation of the settlements in the Punch-Bowl.
This curious depression in the sand range is caused by a number of springs welling up several hundred feet below the summit of the range. The rain that falls on the hills sinks through the sand until it reaches an impervious bed of clay, when it breaks forth at many orifices. These oozing springs in course of vast ages have undermined and washed away the superincumbent sand and have formed the crater called the Devil's Punch-Bowl. The bottom is one impassable swamp, and the water from the springs flows away to the north through an opening in the sand-hills.
At some unknown date squatters settled in the Punch-Bowl, at a period when it was in as wild and solitary a region as any in England. They enclosed portions of the slopes. They built themselves hovels; they pastured their sheep, goats, cattle on the sides of the Punch-Bowl, and they added to their earnings the profits of a trade they monopolized—that of making and selling brooms.
On the lower slopes of the range grew coppices of Spanish chestnut, and rods of this wood served admirably for broom-handles. The heather when long and wiry and strong, covered with its harsh leafage and myriad hard knobs, that were to burst into flower, answered for the brush.
On account of this manufacture, the squatters in the Punch-Bowl went by the designation of Broom-Squires. They provided with brooms every farm and gentleman's house, nay, every cottage for miles around. A wagon-load of these besoms was often purchased, and the supply lasted some years.
The Broom-Squires were an independent people. They used the turf cut from the common for fuel, and the farmers were glad to carry away the potash as manure for their fields.
Another business supplemented farming and broom-making. That was holly-cutting and getting. The Broom-Squires on the approach of Christmas scattered over the country, and wherever they found holly trees and bushes laden with berries, without asking permission, regardless of prohibition, they cut, and then when they had a cartload, would travel with it to London or Guildford, to attend the Christmas market.
Not only did they obtain their fuel from the heaths, but much of their victual as well. The sandy hills abound in rabbits, and the lagoons and morasses at the foot of the hills in the flat land teem with fish and wild fowl. At the present day the ponds about Frensham are much in request for fishing—at the time of our tale they were netted by the inhabitants of the neighborhood when they felt a hankering after fish, and the "moors," as marshes are locally termed, were prowled over for ducks, and the sand burrows watched for rabbits, all without let and hindrance.
At the present date there are eight squatter families in the Punch-Bowl, three belong to the branches of the clan of Boxall, three to that of Snelling, and two to the less mighty clan of Nash. At the time of which I write one of the best built houses and the most fertile patches of land was in the possession of the young man, Jonas Kink, commonly known as Bideabout.
Jonas was a bachelor. His father and mother were dead, and his sister had married one of the Rocliffe's. He lived alone in his tolerably substantial house, and his sister came in when she was able to put it tidy for him and to do some necessary cooking. He was regarded as close-fisted though young; his age about twenty-three years. Hitherto no girl had caught his fancy, or had caught it sufficiently to induce him to take one to wife.
"Tell'y what," said his sister, "you'll be nothing else but an old hudger (bachelor)."
This was coming to be a general opinion. Jonas Kink had a heart for money, and for that only. He sneered at girls and flouted them. It was said that Jonas would marry no girl save for her money, and that a monied girl might pick and choose for herself, and such as she would most assuredly not make election of Bideabout. Consequently he was foredoomed to be a "hudger."
"What's that?" suddenly exclaimed the Broom-Squire, who led the way along a footpath on the side of the steep slope.
"It's a dead sheep, I fancy, Bideabout."
"A dead sheep—I wonder if it be mine. Hold hard, what's that noise?"
"It's like a babe's cry," said the boy. "Oh, lawk! if it be dead and ha' become a wanderer! I shu'd never have the pluck to go home alone."
"Get along with your wanderers. It's arrant nonsense. I don't believe a word of it."
"But there is the crying again. It is near at hand. Oh, Bideabout! I be that terrified!"
"I'll strike a light. I'm not so sure about this being a dead sheep."
Something lay on the path, catching what little light came from the sky above.
Jonas stooped and plucked some dry grass. Then he got out his tinderbox and struck, struck, struck.
The boy's eyes were on the flashing sparks. He feared to look elsewhere. Presently the tinder was ignited, and the Broom-Squire blew it and held dry grass haulms to the glowing embers till a blue flame danced up, became yellow, and burst into a flare.
Cautiously Jonas approached the prostrate figure and waved the flaming grass above it, whilst sparks flew about and fell over it.
The boy, shrinking behind the man, looked timidly forward, and uttered a cry as the yellow flare fell over the object and illumined a face.
"I thought as much," said the Broom-Squire. "What else could he expect? Them three chaps ha' murdered him. They've robbed and stripped him."
"Aye. What other could come o' such companions. They've gone off wi' his clothes—left his shirt—have they? That's curious, as one of the blackguards had none."
Then the child's wailing and sobbing sounded more continuously than before.
"The baby ain't far off," said Jonas. "I suppose we can't leave it here. This is a pretty awkward affair. Tell'y what, Iver. You bide by the dead man and grope about for that there baby, and I'll go down to the houses and get help."
"Oh, Bideabout! I dursn't."
"Not be left alone—here—in the Punch-Bowl with a dead man."
"You're a fool," said Jonas, "a dead man can't hurt nobody, and them rascals as killed him are for sure a long way off by this time. Look here, Iver, you timid 'un, you find that squalling brat and take it up. I don't mind a brass fardin' being here wi' a corpse so long as I can have my pipe, and that I'll light. But I can't stand the child as well. You find that and carry it down, and get the Boxalls, or someone to take it in. Tell 'em there's a murdered man here and I'm by the body, and want to get home and can't till someone comes and helps to carry it away. Cut along and be sharp. I'd ha' given a shilling this hadn't happened. It may cost us a deal o' trouble and inconvenience—still—here it is—and—you pick about and find that creature squealin' its bellows out."
There was callousness unusual and repulsive in so young a man. It jarred with the feelings of the frightened and nervous boy. Tears of alarm and pity were in his eyes. He felt about in the heather till he reached the infant. It was lying under a bush. He took the poor little creature up, and the babe, as though content to feel itself with strong arms under it, ceased to cry.
"What shall I do, Bideabout?"
"Do—cut along and raise the Boxalls and the Snellings, and bid them come and remove the body, and get someone to take the child. Confound the whole concern. I wish they'd done it elsewhere—or I hadn't come on it. But it's like my ill-luck."
WITHOUT A ROOF.
The boy, Iver, trudged along carrying the infant in his arms. The little face was against his cheek, and the warm breath played over it. Whenever the child cried, he spoke, and his voice reassured the babe, and it was quiet again. He walked cautiously, as the path was narrow and the night dark. A false step might send him rolling down the steep slope with his burden.
Iver had often been to the squatters' quarters, and he knew very well his direction; but he was now agitated and alarmed.
After a while he reached bushes and could see trees standing black against the sky, and caught the twinkling of lights. Before him was a cottage, and a little garden in front. He opened a wicket and went up to the door and rapped. A call of "Who is there?" in response. The boy raised the latch and entered.
A red peat fire was burning on the hearth, and a man sat by it. A woman was engaged at needlework by the light of a tallow candle.
"Tom Rocliffe!" exclaimed the boy. "There's been a murder. A sailor—he's dead on the path—there's Bideabout Kink standing by and wants you all to come and help and—here's the baby."
The man sprang to his feet. "A murder! Who's dead?"
"There was a sailor came to our place, it's he."
"Who killed him?"
"Some chaps as was drinking with him, so Bideabout says. They've robbed him—he had a lot of brass."
"Dead—is he?" The man ran out.
"And what have you got there?" asked the woman.
"It's his baby."
"How came he by the baby?"
"I heard him say his wife was dead, and he were going to carry the child to his wife's sister."
"What's the man's name?"
"I don't know."
"Where did he come from?"
"He was a seaman."
"Where was he going to put the baby?"
"I don't know 'xactly—somewhere Portsmouth way."
"What's the man's name?"
"I don't know."
"How'll you find her?"
"I don't know."
"Portsmouth is a large place. Are you sure she's in Portsmouth?"
"He said Portsmouth way, I think."
"Then there be a difficulty in finding her?"
"'Spose there will. Will you take the baby?"
"I-I—" The woman stared. "What's its name?"
"It ain't got none."
"Is it a boy or girl?"
"I think it's a girl."
"How old is it?"
"I think he said about six weeks."
"Is it healthy?"
"I don't know."
"Maybe it has the smallpox."
"I do not think so. Will you take it?"
"I—not I. I know nothin' about it. There's no saying, it might bring diseases into the house, and I must consider my own children. Is it terrible dirty?"
"I—I don't think so."
"And it hasn't got a name?"
"No; the sailor said it was not baptized."
"What's the color of its eyes?"
"I don't know."
"Has it got any hair?"
"I have not looked."
"P'raps it's an idjot?"
"I don't think so."
"And is deformed?"
"Well, I can't have no baby here as I don't know nothin about. You can take it over to the Snellings. They may fancy it. I won't have nothin' to do with a babe as ain't got no parents and no name, and ain't got no hair and no color in its eyes. There is my Samuel snorin'. Take the child away. I don't want no measles, and smallpox, and scarlatina, and rickets brought into my house. Quick, take the nasty thing off as fast as you can."
Iver shrunk away, left the house, and made his way, carrying the baby, to another cottage a hundred yards distant. There was a lane between them, with a stream running through it, and the banks were high and made the lane dark. The boy stumbled and fell, and though he probably had not hurt the child, he had frightened it, and it set up loud and prolonged screams. With brow bathed in perspiration, and heart beating from alarm, Iver hurried up to the second squatter's cabin, and, without knocking, burst in at the door.
"I say," shouted he, "there's been a man killed, and here's a baby yelling, and I don't know what's the matter with it. I stumbled."
A man who was pulling off his boots started to his feet.
"Stop that darned noise," he said. "My wife—she's bad—got the fever, and can't abide no noise. Stop that din instantly, or I'll kick you out. Who are you, and what do'y mean rushing in on a fellow that way?"
The boy endeavored to explain, but his voice was tremulous, and the cries of the infant pitched at a higher note, and louder.
"I can't hear, and I don't want to," said the man. "Do you mind what I sed? My wife be terrible bad wi' fever, and her head all of a split, and can't bear no noise—and will you do what I say? Take that brat away. Is this my house or is it yours? Take that 'orrid squaller away, or I'll shy my boot at yer head."
"But," said Iver, "there's a man dead—been murdered up in the—"
"There'll be more afore long, if you don't cut. I'll heave that boot at you when I've counted thrice, if you don't get out. Drat that child! It'll wake my wife. Now, then, are you going?"
Iver retreated hastily as the man whirled his heavy boot above his head by the lace.
On leaving the house he looked about him in the dark. The cottages were scattered here and there, some in hollows by springs, others on knolls above them, without a definite road between them, except when two enclosures formed a lane betwixt their hedges.
The boy was obliged to step along with great care, and to feel his way in front of him with his foot before planting it. A quarter of an hour had elapsed before he reached the habitation of the next squatter.
This was a ramshackle place put together of doors and windows fitted into walls, made of boards, all taken from ruinous cottages that had been pillaged, and their wreckage pieced together as best could be managed. Here Iver knocked, and the door was opened cautiously by an old man, who would not admit him till he had considered the information given.
"What do you say? A man murdered? Where? When? Are the murderers about?"
"They have run away."
"And what do you want me to do?"
"Would you mind taking in the poor little baby, and going to help Master Bideabout Kink to carry the body down."
"Where to? Not here. We don't want no bodies here."
The old fellow would have slammed the door in Iver's face had not the boy thrust in foot and knee.
Then a woman was heard calling, "What is that there, Jamaica? I hear a babe."
"Please, Mrs. Cheel, here is a poor little creature, the child of the murdered man, and it has no one to care for it," said the boy.
"A babe! Bless me! give the child to me," cried the woman. "Now then, Jamaica, bundle out of that, and let me get at the baby."
"No, I will not, Betsy," retorted the man designated Jamaica. "Why should I? Ask for an inch, and they'll have an ell. Stick in the toe of the baby, and they'll have the dead father after it. I don't want no corpses here."
"I will have the baby. I haven't set my eyes on a baby this hundred years."
"I say you shan't have nothing of the sort."
"I say I shall. If I choose to have a baby, who's to say me nay?"
"I say you nay. You shan't have no babies here."
"This is my house as much as yourn."
"I'm master I reckon."
"You are an old crabstick."
"You're an old broom-handle."
"Say that again."
"I say it."
"Now then—are you going to hit me?"
"I intend to."
Then the old man and his wife fell to fighting, clawing and battering each other, the woman screaming out that she would have a baby, the man that she should not.
Iver had managed to enter. The woman snatched at the child, the man wrenched it away from her. The boy was fain to escape outside and fly from the house with the child lest the babe should be torn in pieces between them. He knew old Cheel and his wife well by repute—for a couple ever quarrelling.
He now made his way to another house, one occupied by settlers of another family. There were here some sturdy sons and daughters.
When Iver had entered with the babe in his arms and had told his tale, the young people were full of excitement.
"Bill," said one of the lads to his brother, "I say! This is news. I'm off to see."
"I'll go along wi' you, Joe."
"How did they kill him?" asked one of the girls. "Did they punch him on the head?"
"Or cut his throat?" asked Bill.
"Joe!" called one of the girls, "I'll light the lantern, and we'll all go."
"Aye!" said the father, "these sort o' things don't happen but once in a lifetime."
"I wouldn't be out of seeing it for nuthin'," said the mother. "Did he die sudden like or take a long time about it?"
"I suppose they'll inquitch him," said one of the girls.
"There'll be some hanging come o' this," said one of the boys.
"Oh, my! There will be goings on," said the mother. "Dear life, I may never have such a chance again. Stay for me, Betsy Anne. I'm going to put on my clogs."
"Mother, I ain't agoing to wait for your clogs."
"Why not? He won't run away."
"And the baby?" asked Iver.
"Oh, bother the baby. We want to see the dead man."
"I wonder, now, where they'll take him to?" asked the mother. "Shall we have him here?"
"I don't mind," said the father. "Then he'll be inquitched here; but I don't want no baby."
"Nor do I nuther," said the woman. "Stay a moment, Betsy Anne! I'm coming. Oh, my! whatever have I done to my stocking, it's tore right across."
"Take the child to Bideabout," said one young man, "we want no babies here, but we'll have the corpse, and welcome. Folks will come and make a stir about that. But we won't have no babies. Take that child back where you found it."
"Babies!" said another, scornfully, "they come thick as blackberries, and bitter as sloes. But corpses—and they o' murdered men—them's coorosities."
"But the baby?" again asked the boy.
Iver stood in the open air with the child in his arms. He was perplexed. What should be done with it? He would have rubbed his head, to rub an idea into it, had not both his arms been engaged.
Large warm drops fell from the sky, like tears from an overcharged heart. The vault overhead was now black with rain clouds, and a flicker over the edge of the Punch-Bowl, like the quivering of expiring light in a despairing eye, gave evidence that a thunderstorm was gathering, and would speedily break.
The babe became peevish, and Iver was unable to pacify it.
He must find shelter somewhere, and every door was shut against the child. Had it not been that the storm was imminent, Iver would have hasted directly home, in full confidence that his tender-hearted mother would receive the rejected of the Broom-Squire, and the Ship Inn harbor what the Punch-Bowl refused to entertain.
He stumbled in the darkness to Jonas Kink's house, but finding the door locked, and that the rain was beginning to descend out of the clouds in rushes, he was obliged to take refuge in an out-house or barn—which the building was he could not distinguish. Here he was in absolute darkness. He did not venture to grope about, lest he should fall over some of the timber that might be, and probably was, collected there.
He supposed that he was in the place where Jonas fashioned his brooms, in which case the chopping block, the bundles of twigs, as well as the broom-sticks would be lying about. Bideabout was not an orderly and tidy worker, and his material would almost certainly be dispersed and strewn in such a manner as to trip up and throw down anyone unaccustomed to the place, and unprovided with a light.
The perspiration broke out on the boy's brow. The tears welled up in his eyes. He danced the infant in his arms, he addressed it caressingly, he scolded it. Then, in desperation, he laid it on the ground, and ran forth, through the rain, to the cottage of an old maid near, named Sally, stopping, however, at intervals in his career, to listen whether the child were still crying; but unable to decide, owing to the prolonged chime in his ears. It is not at once that the drums of hearing obtain relief, after that they have been set in vibration by acute clamor. On reaching the old maid's door he knocked.
For some time Sally remained irresponsive.
"I knows very well," said she to herself under the bedclothes, "it's that dratted boy who has been at the Rocliffe's."
Iver persisted in knocking. At length she appeared at the casement, opened it, thrust forth her nightcapped head, and said peevishly, "It ain't no manner o' use. I won't have no babies here, not to my time o' life, thank'y. I sez I won't, and wot I sez that I sticks to like toffee between the teeth. You may knock them there knuckles of yorn into dimples, but open I won't. I won't. I won't."
The old woman stamped on her bedroom floor.
"I do not ask that, Sally," pleaded the boy. "I have set the baby in Bideabout's barn, and there's no knowin', it may get hold of the chopper and hack off its limbs, or pull down all the rick o' broom-handles on Itself, or get smothered in the heather. I want a lantern. I don't know how to pacify the creature, and 'tis squeadling that terrible I don't know what's the matter."
"Is it a drawin' of the hind legs up, and stiffenin' of the back?" asked the old maid.
"I think so," answered the boy, dubiously; then, with further consideration, "I'm sure of it. It wriggled in my arms, like a worm when one's gettin' it on a hook out fishing."
"That's convulsions," said Sally. "'Twill go off in one of they, sure as eggs is eggs and ain't inions."
"Do you really say so?"
"It's that, or water on the brain. Wi' all this pouring rain, I shouldn't wonder if 'twasn't the tother. Not, you know, that I've any acquaintance wi babies. Only I've heard wimmin talk as has had 'em just like rabbits."
"Do they die when they have water on the brain?" asked the boy.
"Always. Babies can't stand it, no more nor can goslings gettin' their backs wetted."
"Don't you think that perhaps it's only hunger?"
"Can't say. Has the babe been a grabbin' and a clawin' at your nose, and a tryin' to suck it?"
"Once, Sally, when my nose got into the way."
"Then there's hunger too," said Sally, sententiously. "Them babies has terrible apertites, like canibals, and don't know what's good for 'em."
"Will you help me?" pleaded the boy. "Have you a feeding bottle?"
"Presarve and deliver us—I! What do you take me for, you imperant bye?"
"I think any medicine bottle would do, if well washed out. I shouldn't like, if there was any castor oil or senna tea dregs left, you know. But properly washed out, it might do, with a little milk in it."
"You'll choke the baby like that," said the old maid.
"I have seen how it is done. You stuff a bit of rag into the throat of the bottle, and leave a tip o' rag hanging out."
"Dare say, but you byes seems to understand these things better than I."
"Won't you come down and help me, Sally?"
"I'll come down presently when I've tumbled into some of my clothes."
Then the head disappeared, and the casement was shut.
After the lapse of a few minutes, a light appeared at the window of the lower room, and the door was slowly unlocked and unbarred.
Then the old woman appeared in the doorway. She wore her huge white-frilled nightcap, that fluttered in the wind about the shrivelled face it enclosed, but she presented an extremely limp and attenuated appearance in her person.
"I've been a turnin' over in my head," she said, "and ten chances to half-a-one, if that there child hev been squealin' so long, it's either broke a blood vessel, or will die o' 'plexy. There'll be a purty expense to the parish. There'll be two buryings laid on it that oughten't to be. That means an extra penny in the rates. If them there chaps wanted to murder a man, why didn't they go and do it in Hampshire, and not go a burdenin' of this county an' parish? There's rayson in everything."
"Do you really suppose the child will die?" asked the boy, more concerned about the life than about the rates.
"How can I say? I've had precious little to do wi' babies, thanks be. Now, sharp, what is it you want? I'm perishin' wi' cold."
"May I have a bottle and some milk, and a lantern?"
"You can have wot you wants, only I protest I'll have no babies foist on me here." Then she added, "I will not trust you byes. Show me your hands that you ain't hidin' of it behind yer back."
"I assure you the child is in Bideabout's shed. Do be quick, and help. I am so afraid lest it die, and becomes a wanderer."
"If I can help it I will do what I can that it mayn't die, for certain," said the woman, "anything but taking it in here, and that I won't, I won't, I won't." Again she stamped.
Iver provided himself with the requisites as speedily as might be, and hastened back to the outhouse. At the door a cat was miawling, and rubbed itself against his shins. When he entered the cat followed him.
The child was still sobbing and fitfully screaming, but was rapidly becoming exhausted.
Iver felt the arms and head and body to ascertain whether any bone was broken or battered by the fall, but his acquaintance with the anatomy of a child was still rudimentary for him to come to any satisfactory conclusion.
He held the bottle in one and, but was ignorant how to administer the contents. Should the child be laid on its back or placed in a sitting posture?
When he applied the moistened rag to its mouth he speedily learned that position was immaterial. The babe fell to work vigorously, with the large expectation of results. Some moments elapsed before it awoke to the fact that the actual results were hardly commensurate with its anticipations, nor with its exertions.
When roused to full consciousness that it was being trifled with, then the resentment of the infant was vehement and vociferous. It drew up its legs and kicked out. It battled with its hands, it butted with its pate, and in its struggles pulled the plug out of the mouth of the flask so that the milk gushed over its face and into its mouth, at once blinding and choking it.
"Oh, dear, oh, dear, what shall I do?" he exclaimed, and began to cry with vexation.
The cat now came to his assistance. It began to lick up the spilled milk.
Iver seized the occasion.
"Look, see, pretty puss!" said he, caressingly, to the child. "Stroke pussy. Don't be afraid. You see she likes the milk that you wouldn't have. Naughty pussy eats little birds and mousies. But she won't touch babies."
The cat having appropriated the spilled milk looked at the infant with an uncanny way out of her glinting green eyes, as though by no means indisposed to try whether baby was not as good eating as a fledgling bird, as toothsome as a mouse.
Iver caught up the cat and scratched her under the chin and behind the ears.
"Do you hear? The pussy purrs. Would that you also might purr. She is pleased to make your acquaintance. Oh do, do, do be quiet!"
Then casting aside the cat he endeavored slowly to distil some of the milk down the child's throat without suffering it to swallow too much at once, but found the task difficult, if not impossible for his hand shook.
"Wait a bit," said he. "There are straws here. I will cut one and put it through the rag, and then you can tipple like a king upon his throne."
He selected a stout barley straw, and finding a knot in it endeavored to perforate the obstruction with a pin. When this failed he looked about for another straw, and at last discovered one that was strong, uninterrupted by knots, and sufficiently long to serve his purpose.
For awhile he was so engrossed in his occupation that the child remained unnoticed. But when the straw had been adjusted satisfactorily, and the apparatus was in working order, as Iver ascertained by testing it himself, then he looked round at his charge.
The babe was lying silent and motionless.
His heart stood still.
"It is dead! It is going to die! It will become a wanderer!" he exclaimed; and putting down the feeding bottle, snatched up the lantern, crept on his knees to the child, and brought the little face within the radius of the sickly yellow light.
"I cannot see! O, I can see nothing! There is no light worth having!" he gasped, and proceeded to open the door in the lantern side.
"What is do be done?" he asked despairingly. "I do not know if it be dying or be in a fit. O! live! do, do live! I'll give you a brass button and some twine out of my pocket! I promise you my next lollipops if you will. Nasty, cross, disobliging thing." He went to the barn door and looked out, saw that the rain was coming down in torrents, came back. "Is it true," asked he, "that you must be a wanderer, if you die unchristened? Shall I ever hear you yowling in the wind? It is too, too dreadful!"
A chill came over the boy's heart.
Iver had never seen death. He was vastly frightened at the thought that the little soul might fleet away whilst he was watching. He dared not leave the child. He was afraid to stay. If he were to desert the babe, and it expired—and to run home, would not the soul come crying and flapping after him?
He considered with his hands to his head.
"I know what I will do!" exclaimed he, suddenly; "I'll make a Christian of it, anyhow."
There was standing on the floor an old broken red bowl of coarse pottery, out of which fowls had been fed. It was now empty.
Iver took it, wiped it out with his hand, and went with it to the door, where a rude "launder" or shoot of wood carried the water from the thatch immediately over the door, and sent the collected moisture in a stream down one side. The boy held the vessel under the shoot till he had obtained sufficient for his purpose, and then, returning within, said, "I'll stop your wandering," went up to the child, sprinkled some water over it and said, "Mehetabel, I baptize thee—"
The cat made a spring and dashed past.
Down went the contents of the bowl over the babe, which uttered a howl lusty, loud enough to have satisfied any nurse that the baptism was valid, and that the devil was expelled.
MEHETABEL IT MUST BE.
In at the barn door came Mrs. Verstage, Iver's mother.
"Iver! Wot's up?"
"Where's that babe?"
"Here, mother, on the ground."
"On the ground! Good life! Sowsed, soaked through and through, whatever have you been doin'? Holdin' it under the spout?"
"Baptizin' it, mother."
"Baptizin' of it?" The woman stared.
"I thought the creetur was dyin'."
"Well, and wot then?"
"Mother. Lest it shud take to wanderin'."
"Baptizin' of it. Dear life! And what did you call it?"
"Mehetabel! 'Taint a human name."
"It is, mother. It's a Scriptur name."
"Never heard on it."
"Mehetabel was the wife of Hadar."
"And who the dickens was Hadar?"
"He was a dook—a dook of Edom."
In the churchyard of Thursley stands a large white stone, on which is carved a medallion, that contains the representation of a man falling on the ground, with one arm raised in deprecation, whilst two men are robbing and murdering him, and a third is represented as acting sentinel lest the ruffians should be surprised. On the ground are strewn the garments of the man who is being killed. Beneath this rudely sculptured group is this inscription:—
I N M E M O R Y O F
A generous, but unfortunate Sailor, Who was barbarously murdered on Hind Head, On September 24th, 1786,
B Y T H R E E V I L L A I N S,
After he had liberally treated them and promised them his farther Assistance on the Road to Portsmouth.
In the "Royal Huts," a tavern, in which now very good entertainment for man and beast may be had, a tavern which stands somewhat further along the way to Portsmouth than Hind Head, may be seen at this day some rude contemporary paintings representative of the murder.
The ruffians after having killed their victim, robbed him, not only of his money, but also of his clothes, and hastened on their way.
A hue and cry were raised, when the corpse had been discovered, and the men were arrested upon the following day at Sheet, near Peterhead, and were found in possession of the clothing of the deceased. In due course of time they were tried at Kingston, and on the 7th of April, 1787, were hung and gibbeted in chains on Hind Head Hill, beside the old road and close to the scene of their crime.
A cross now marks the summit, and indicates the spot where stood the gallows, and a stone for some time pointed out the locality where the murder was committed. When, however, the new Portsmouth Road was cut further down the hill, skirting the Punch-Bowl at a lower level, then the stone was removed to the side of the new road. At present it is an object visited by vast numbers of holiday-makers, who seem to take almost as lively an interest in the crime that was committed over a century ago as if it were an event of the present day. At the time the murder aroused the greatest possible excitement in the neighborhood, and pre-eminently in the parish of Thursley.
As may be gathered from the wording of the inscription on the tombstone that covers the victim, his name never transpired. No relations claimed the right to bury him. None appeared to take charge of his orphan child.
The parish fretted, it fumed, it protested. But fret, fume, and protest availed nothing, it had to defray the cost of the funeral, and receive and lap the child in its parochial mercies.
A deceased wife's sister undoubtedly existed somewhere. Such was the conviction of every parishioner. The poor man was on his way to Portsmouth to deposit his child with her when the tragic event took place. Why did she not come forward? Why did she hold her tongue?
Had there existed in her bosom one particle of natural feeling she would not have remained mute and motionless, and allowed the parish to bury her brother-in-law and encumber itself with her niece.
So the parish talked, appealingly, argumentatively, blusteringly, objurgatively, but all to no purpose. The deceased wife's sister kept mum, and invisible. Reluctantly, resentfully, the parish was finally obliged to face the facts, pay the expenses of the interment, and settle that a weekly dole should be afforded for the maintenance of the child, and as that deceased wife's sister did not appear, the parochial bile overflowed upon the hapless babe, who came to be regarded as an incubus on the ratepayers and a general nuisance.
The one difficulty that solved itself—ambulando, was that as to who would take charge of the child. That was solved by the hostess of the Ship.
The parish endeavored to cajole the good woman into receiving the babe as a gift from Heaven, and to exact no compensation for her labors in rearing it, for the expense of clothing, feeding, educating it. But Mrs. Verstage was deaf to such solicitations. She would take charge of the child, but paid she must be. Eventually the parochial authorities, after having called a vestry, and sat three hours in consultation, and to "knuckle under," as the hostess expressed it, and allow a trifle for the entertainment of the little waif.
So the matter was settled.
Then another had to be determined. What about the christening performed in the shed by Iver? What about the outlandish name given the child? The landlady raised no question on these heads till it was settled that the little being was to be an inmate of her house, and under her care. Then she reasoned thus—"Either this here child be a Mehetabel or she bain't. Either it's a Christian or it's a heathen. What is it? Is it fish, is it flesh, or is it good red herring? It ain't no use my calling her Mehetabel if she bain't nothing of the sort. And it ain't no use teachin' her the caterplasm, if she ha'n't been made a Christian. I'll go and ax the pa'son."
Accordingly the good woman took Iver by the shoulder and dragged him to Witley Vicarage, and stated her case and her difficulties. The Vicar had already had wind of what had occurred. Thursley was at the period a chapelry in the extensive parish of Witley, and the church therein had, before the Reformation, been regularly served by the monks of Witley Abbey. It was afterwards more or less irregularly supplied with sacred ministrations from the mother-church, and had no resident pastor.
In former days the parishioners were never very sure whether there was to be a service in Church at Thursley or not. The sexton was on the look-out, and if he saw the parson's wig glimmering over the hedge top, as he rode along, then he at once rushed to the bell-rope and announced to such of the parishioners as were within hearing, that there was to be divine service. If there were no service, then those who had come from a distance in expectation of devotion, retired to the tavern and drank and gossiped, and were not disposed to cavil. The Church of Thursley is curious, it has a central bell-tower supported on huge beams of oak, such oaks they must have been as are never seen now. Those desiring to see the parson had to seek him in the Vicarage of the mother parish.
Mrs. Verstage accordingly had to go with her boy to Witley.
"If the boy gave a name," said the parson.
"He did, your Reverence, and such a name."
"What is it?"
"Wherever did you pick up that name?" asked the Vicar, turning to the boy.
"Please, sir, we was doin' the Dooks of Edom in Sunday-school. We'd already learned David's mighty men, and could run 'em off like one o'clock, and—I don't know how it was, sir, but the name slipped out o' my mouth wi'out a thought. You see, sir, we had so many verses to say for next Sunday, and I had some of the Dooks of Edom to repeat."
"Oh! So you gave it the name of one of the Dukes."
"Please, sir, no. Mehetabel was the wife of one, she was married to his Grace, Dook Hadar."
"Oh, Hadar! to be sure, quite so; quite so! Very good boy, glad you are so well primed in all things necessary to salvation."
"And is the child to be called Mehetabel?" asked the woman.
"That depends," said the Vicar. "How did the boy perform the sacred function?"
"Please, sir," said Iver, "I did it as your Honor does, after the second lesson on Sunday afternoon, and the churching."
"He hadn't no surplice on," argued the mother.
"You had a bowl of pure water?" asked the parson.
"Yes, sir, rain water. I caught it out of the spout."
"And the words used?"
"The same as you say, sir; exactly."
The parson rubbed his chin.
"Was it done in thoughtlessness—in irreverent folly?"
"Oh, no, sir! I did it in sober earnest. I thought the child was going to die."
"Of course," said the Vicar, "lay baptism is valid, even if administered by a Dissenter; but—it is very unusual, very much so."
"I didn't do all that about the cross," observed Iver, "because the cat jumped and upset the bowl."
"Of course, of course. That belongs to the reception into the church, and you couldn't do that as it was—"
"In Bideabout's basin," said Iver.
"You are certain the water touched the child?"
"Soused her," responded the hostess. "She caught a tremendous cold out o' it, and has been runnin' at the nose ever since."
"I think the very best thing we can do," said the Vicar, "is that I should baptize the child conditionally, in church,—conditionally mind."
"And call her by another name?" asked the woman.
"I do not think I can do that."
"It's a terrible mouthful," observed Mrs. Verstage.
"I daresay that in practice you will be able to condense it. As for that boy of yours, ma'am, I should like a word with him, by himself."
"So, the creetur must bide Mehetabel?"
"Mehetabel it must be."
As this story concerns that child which received the name of Mehetabel, it has been necessary to begin de novo with her as a babe, and to relate how she came by her name—that is her Christian name—and how it was that she had no surname at all. Also, how it was that she came to be an inmate of the Ship, and how that her fortunes were linked at the very outset of her career, on the one hand with Iver, who baptized her, and on the other hand with the Broom-Squire, whose roof—that at least of his shed—had sheltered her when every door of the squatter settlement in the Punch-Bowl, was resolutely closed against her.
But although this story begins with Mehetabel before she could speak, before she could assimilate anything more substantial than milk, yet the author has no intention of inflicting on the reader the record of her early days, of her acquisition of the power of speech, and capacity for consuming solid food. Neither is it his purpose to develop at large the growth of her mental powers, and to describe the evolution of her features. Suffice it then to say that Mehetabel grew up in the Ship Inn, almost as a child of the hostess and of her husband, with Iver as her playmate, and somewhat consequential patron.
By the parish at large, whether that of Witley or of its subdivision Thursley, she was coldly regarded. She was but a charity girl, and kind as Mrs. Verstage was, the hostess never forgot that.
Iver was fourteen years older than Mehetabel, and, above all, was a boy, whereas Mehetabel was a waif, and only a girl.
Iver, moreover, regarded the child with gracious condescension. Had he not baptized her? Did she not owe her name to him? Had he not manufactured her first feeding-bottle?
As Mehetabel grew up, it is not surprising that she should regard Iver with admiration and affection, that she cherished every kindness he showed her, and in every way sought to deserve his notice.
The child had an affectionate, a clinging nature, and she threw the tendrils of her heart around the handsome boy, who was both patron and playmate.
It is a matter wholly immaterial whether Mehetabel underwent the ordeal of the customary childish maladies, measles, chicken-pox, whooping-cough for certainty, and scarlet fever and smallpox as possibilities, for none of them cut short the thread of her life, nor spoiled her good looks; either of which eventualities would have prevented this story proceeding beyond the sixth chapter. In the one case, there would have been no one about whom to write, in the other, had she been marked by smallpox or deafened by scarlatina, the interest of the reader could not have been claimed for her—so exacting is the reader of fiction. A heroine must be good-looking, or she will not be read about.
Indeed, it is more than probable, that had the author announced his story to be one of a very plain woman, he might have looked in vain for a publisher to undertake the issue of the story.
Before proceeding further it will be well to assure the reader that, from an early age, promise of beauty was given, and not of beauty only, but of intelligence and robust health.
Mehetabel was sent by Mrs. Verstage not only to a day school, kept by a widow, in Thursley, but also on the Lord's Day to the Vicar's Sunday-school at Witley. The Vicar was an excellent man, kindly disposed, earnest in his desire to do good, so long as the good was to be done in a novel fashion, absolutely untried. Sunday-schools were but a recent introduction, and he seized on the expedient with avidity. Hitherto the children had been catechised in Church after the second lesson in the afternoon, before their parents and the entire congregation. But as this was an usage of the past the Vicar rejected it in favor of the new system. According to the traditional custom the children had been instructed in the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. But this did not please the innovating Vicar, who cast these out of his curriculum to make way for a knowledge of the geography of Palestine, and an accurate acquaintance with the genealogies that are to be found scattered here and there in the pages of Holy Writ, The teaching of doctrine, according to the Vicar, lay at the bottom of the divisions of Christendom, but there could be no controversy over the latitude and longitude of the sites mentioned in Scripture.
The landlord, proprietor of the Ship and of Mrs. Susanna Verstage, was a dull, obstinate man, slow of thought and of speech, withal kindly. Like many another dull man, if he did a stupid thing he stuck to it; and the stupider the thing done, the greater the tenacity with which he held to the consequences. His mind was chiefly occupied with a small farm acquired out of the sand waste, hedged about, dressed and cultivated, and increasing annually in value. In this was his interest and pride; he cared nothing for the tavern, save as an adjunct to the farm. All his energies were devoted to the latter, and he allowed his wife to rule supreme in the inn. Simon Verstage was a well-to-do man. He must have managed very ill had he not made a farm answer for which he paid no rent, save an acknowledgment of 6d. an acre to the lord of the manor. He held the land on a head rent upon the lives of himself, his wife, and his son. The public-house, well frequented by wayfarers, and in good repute among the villagers, supplemented the profits made out of the farm in good years, and made up for deficit in such years as rain and deficiency in sun made bad agriculturally.
The inn stood at a junction of roads, or rather where two lanes fell into the main London and Portsmouth road. It sometimes went in consequence by the name of The Lane End Inn. In situation it was fairly sheltered, a hillock of sand rock sheltered it on the east from the bitter winds that swept the waste between Milford and Thursley, and a growth of huge hollies was its protection against the equally cold blasts from the north.
So long as Iver was a small boy, his father employed him about the farm, to assist him in ploughing, to hoe potatoes, and wield the muck-fork in the cow-house, or, to use the local term, the cow-stall. He kept the lad hard at work from morning rise till set of day.
Iver endured this, not entering with interest and pleasure into the work of the farm. He had no perception of the points of a bullock, and he had a prejudice in favor of ragged hedges.
Iver's neglect of duties, and forgetfulness of what was told him, called forth reprimand and provoked chastisement. They were not due to wilfulness or frivolity, but to preoccupation of the mind. The boy had no natural taste for the labors of the field. He disliked them; for everything else he had eyes, save for that which pertained to the tasks imposed on him.
Throughout early boyhood this lack of interest and inattention had caused much friction, and this friction became aggravated as he grew older, and his natural bent became more marked.
It would be hard to find in one family two persons so utterly dissimilar as Iver and his father. They seemed to have diverse faculties seated in their several organs. They neither saw, heard, nor smelt in the same manner, or rather saw, heard, and smelt so differently as to feel in distinct fashion. What pleased the one was distasteful to the other.
It was not possible for Iver to open his mind to his father, because his father could not understand and appreciate his thoughts.
But if his heart was sealed to Simon Verstage, it was open to his mother, who loved and spoiled him, and took his part invariably, whether the boy were in the right or wrong. In every way possible she humored his fancies; and she, unwisely, condoled with him on what she was pleased to consider as his father's injustice. At length there ensued a rupture so wide, so aggravated by mutual recrimination, that Mrs. Verstage doubted her ability to bridge it over.
This breach was occasioned by Iver one morning climbing to the sign-board and repainting the stern of the vessel, which had long irritated his eye because, whereas the ship was represented sideways, the stern was painted without any attempt at fore-shortening; in fact, full front, if such a term can be applied to a stern.
The laws of perspective were outraged in the original painting; of such laws Iver knew nothing. What he did know was that the picture was wrong. His eye, his natural instinct told him so. The matter had been for long one of controversy between himself and his father. The latter had been unable to understand that if the portholes at the side were visible, the entire stern could not possibly be viewed in full.
"She's got a stern, ain't she?" asked the old man. "If she has, then wot's we to deny it her?"
At length Iver cut the controversy short, and brought the quarrel to a crisis by climbing a ladder with a brush and some paints obtained from the village carpenter, during the temporary absence of his father, and putting the foreshortening to rights to the best of his ability.
When the old man was aware what his son had done on his return from Godalming, whither he had betaken himself to a fair, then he was furious. He stormed at Iver for daring to disfigure the sign-board, and at his wife for suffering him to do it unreproved.
Iver turned stubborn and sulky. He muttered an answer, lacking in that respect due to a parent. The old man became abusive.
Mrs. Verstage intervened ineffectually; and when night arrived the youth made a bundle of his clothes and left the house, with the resolve not to return to it so long as his father lived.
Whither he had gone, for a long time was unknown. His mother wept, so did Mehetabel. The old man put on an assumption of indifference, was short and ungracious to his wife. He was constrained to engage a man to do the farm work hitherto imposed upon Iver, and this further tended to embitter him against his rebellious son. He resented having to expend money when for so long he had enjoyed the work of Iver free of cost.
The boy's pride prevented him from writing home till he had secured himself a position in which he could maintain himself. When he did communicate with Thursley, it was through Mehetabel, because Simon had forbidden any allusion to the truant boy, and Mrs. Verstage was not herself much of a scholar, and did not desire unnecessarily to anger her husband by having letters in his handwriting come to her by the post.
Years passed, during which the landlady's heart ached for her son: and as she might not speak of him to Simon, she made a confidant of Mehetabel.
Thus, the old woman and the girl were drawn closer together, and Mehetabel glowed with the thought that she was loved by the hostess as though she were her own daughter.
To talk about the absent one was the great solace of Susanna Verstage's life. There ever gnawed at her heart the worm of bereavement from the child in whom her best affections, her highest pride, her sole ambitions were placed. It may be questioned whether, without the sympathetic ear and heart of Mehetabel into which to pour her troubles and to which to confide her hopes, the woman would not have deteriorated into a hard-hearted virago.
Her love to Simon, never very hot, had dried up. He had wounded her to the quick in unpardonable fashion in driving her only child out of the house, and all for the sake of a two-penny-ha'penny signboard.
Throughout her work she schemed, she thought for Iver; she toiled and endured in the tavern only to amass a competence for him. She clung to the place only because she trusted some day he would return to it, and because every corner was sweet with recollections of him.
When not at work she dreamed, waking or sleeping, and all her dreams were of him. She built castles in the air—all occupied by him. She had but one hope: to meet her son again. All her activities, all her thoughts, all her aspirations, all her prayers were so many lines focussing on one point, and that her son. To Mehetabel she told her mind, and Mehetabel shared all her hopes; the heart of the girl beat in entire sympathy with that of the hostess. Iver's letters were read and re-read, commented on, and a thousand things read into them by the love of the mother that were not, and could not be there. These letters were ever in the girl's bosom, kept there to be out of reach of old Simon, and to be accessible at all moments to the hungering mother. They heard that Iver had taken to painting, and that he was progressing in his profession; that he gave lessons and sold pictures.
What musings this gave rise to! what imaginations! What expectations!
Mrs. Verstage never wearied of talking of Iver to Mehetabel, and it never wearied the girl to speak with the mother about him.
The girl felt that she was indispensable to the old woman; but that she was only indispensable to her so long as Iver was away never entered into her imagination.
There is a love that is selfish as well as a love that is wholly self-annihilating, and an inexperienced child is incapable of distinguishing one from the other.
There is false perspective in the human heart as well as upon signboards.
ONLY A CHARITY GIRL.
Simon Verstage sat outside the door of his house, one hot June evening, smoking his pipe.
By his side sat his wife, the hostess of the Ship. Eighteen years have passed since we saw her last, and in these years she has become more plump, a little more set in features, and mottled in complexion, but hardly otherwise older in appearance.
She was one of those women who wear well, till a sickness or a piercing sorrow breaks them down, and then they descend life's ladder with a drop, and not by easy graduation.
Yet Mrs. Verstage had not been devoid of trouble, for the loss of her son, the very apple of her eye, had left an ache in her heart that would have been unendurable, were not the balm of hope dropped into the wound. Mehetabel, or as she was usually called Matabel, had relieved her of the most onerous part of her avocation. Moreover, she was not a woman to fret herself to fiddle-strings; she was resolute and patient. She had formed a determination to have her son home again, even if she had to wait for that till his father was put under ground. She was several years younger than Simon, and in the order of nature might calculate on enjoyment of her widowhood.
Simon and his wife sat in the wide porch. This had been constructed as an accommodation for wayfarers, as an invitation to take shade and shelter in hot weather or Mustering storm; but it also served what was uncontemplated, as an ear to the house. Whatever was uttered there was audible within—a fact very generally forgotten or unsuspected by such as occupied the porch. And, indeed, on the present occasion, this fact was wholly unconsidered by the taverner and his spouse, either because it escaped their minds that the porch was endowed with this peculiarity, or else because the only person then in the house was Mehetabel, and her hearing or not hearing what was said was an indifferent matter.
Had there been customers present, drinking, the two would not have been together when and where they were, nor would the topic of conversation between them have been of a private nature.
The innkeeper had begun with a remark which all the world might hear, and none would controvert, viz., that it was fine hay-making weather, and that next day he purposed carrying the crop.
But Mrs. Verstage was indisposed to discuss a matter so obvious as the weather, and so certain as that it would be utilized for saving the hay. She plunged at once into that which lay near her heart, and said, "Simon, you'll answer that there letter now?"
"Of course, Iver's letter. Now you yourself have heard from him, and what does that mean but he wants all square between you. He has got into a famous business. He sells his pictures and gives lessons in drawing and painting at Guildford. It's but a matter of time and he will be a great man."
"What! as a drawing master? I'd as lief he played the fiddle and taught dancing."
"How can you say that, Simon?"
"Because it is what I feels. Here he had a good farm, a good inn, and a good business—one that don't dwindle but is on the increase, and the land bettering every day—and yet off he went, chucked aside the blessin's of Providence, to take up wi' scribblin' and scrawlin' on paper. If it weren't a thing altogether shameful it would be clear ridic'lous."
Simon sucked in smoke enough to fill his lungs, and then blew it forth leisurely in a long spiral.
"Odds' life," said he, "I don't see why I shu'd concern myself about the hay, nor anythin' else. I've enough to live upon and to enjye myself. What more do I want now?"
"What more?" inquired the landlady, with a sigh and a catch in her voice—a sigh of sorrow, a catch of resentment. "What more—when your son is away?"
"Whose fault is that? Home weren't good enough for he. Even the Old Ship on the sign-board didn't give him satisfaction, and he must alter it. I don't see why I should worrit myself about the hay or any other thing. I'll just put up my feet an enjye myself."
"Simon, I pray you answer Iver's letter. Opportunities be like fleas, to be took sharp, or away they goes, they be terrible long-legged. Opportunities only come now and then, and if not caught are lost past recall. 'Twas so wi' Temperance Noakes, who might a' had the chimbley-sweep if she'd a kissed him when he axed. But she said, Wipe and wash your face fust—and she's an old maid now, and goin' sixty. Consider, Simon. Iver be your son, your only child. It's Providence makes us wot we is; that's why you're a man and not a woman. Iver hadn't a gift to be a farmer, but he had to paintin'. It can't be other—it's Providence orders all, or you might be a mother and nursin' a baby, and I smokin' and goin' after the plough in leggin's."
"That's all gammon," growled the landlord.
"We be gettin' old," pursued Mrs. Verstage. "In the end you'll have to give up work, and who but Iver is to come after you here?"
"Him—Iver!" exclaimed Simon. "Your own self says 'e ain't fit to be a farmer."
"Then he may let the farm and stick to the inn."
"He ain't got the makin' of a publican in him," retorted the man; "he's just about fit for nothin' at all."
"Indeed, but he is, Simon," pleaded the woman, "only not in the way you fancies. What good be you now in a public-house? You do nothing there, it is I who have all the managin'."
"I attend to the farm. Iver can do neither. All the money you and I ha' scraped together he'll chuck away wi' both hands. He'll let the fences down I ha' set up; he'll let weeds overrun the fields I ha' cleared. It shall not be. It never shall be."
"He may marry a thrifty wife, as you have done."
"And live by her labor!" he exclaimed, drawing his pipe from his mouth and in knocking out the ash in his anger breaking the stem. "That a child o' mine should come to that!"
"Iver is your own flesh and blood," persisted the woman, in great excitement. "How can you be so hard on him? It's just like that old fowl as pecked her eggs, and we had to wring her neck. It's like rabbits as eat their own young. Nonsense! You must be reconciled together. What you have you cannot leave to a stranger."
"I can do what I will with my own," retorted Simon. "Look here, Susanna, haven't you had that girl, Matabel, with you in place of a child all these years? Don't she work like a slave? Don't she thoroughly understand the business? Has she ever left the hogs unmeated, or the cow unmilked? If it pleases you to go to market, to be away for a week, a fortni't you know that when you come home again everything will be just as you left it, the house conducted respectable, and every drop o' ale and ounce o' 'backy accounted for."
"I don't deny that Matabel's a good girl. But what has that to do with the matter?"
"What! Why everything. What hinders me leavin' the whole pass'l o' items, farm and Ship to her? She'll marry a stiff man as'll look after the farm, and she'll mind the public-house every mite as well as ever have you, old woman. That's a gal as knows chalk from cheese."
Mrs. Verstage leaned back with a gasp of dismay and a cramp at her heart. She dropped her hands on her lap.
"You ain't speaking serious, Simon?"
"I might do wuss," said he; "and the wust I could do 'ad be to give everythin' to that wastrel, Iver, who don't know the vally of a good farm and of a well-established public-house. I don't want nobody after I'm dead and gone to see rack and ruin where all were plenty and good order both on land and in house, and that's what things would come to wi' Iver here."
"Simon, he is a man now. He was a boy, and what he did as a boy he won't do as a man."
"He's a dauber of paints still."
The taverner stood up. "I'll go and cast an eye over the hay-field," he said. "It makes me all of a rage like to think o' that boy."
He threw away the broken pipe and walked off.
Mrs. Verstage's brain spun like a teetotum; her heart turned cold.
She was startled out of her musings by the voice of Mehetabel, who said, "Mother, it is so hot in the kitchen that I have come out to cool myself. Where is father? I thought I heard him talking with you?"
"He's gone to the hay-field. He won't answer Iver's letter. He's just about as hard as one o' them Hammer Ponds when frozen to the bottom, one solid lump."
"No, mother, he is not hard," said Mehetabel, "but he does not like to seem to give way all at once. You write to Iver and tell him to come here; that were better than for me to write. It will not seem right for him to be invited home by me. The words from home must be penned by you just as though spoke by you. He will return. Then you will see that father will never hold out when he has his own son before his eyes."
"Did you hear all that father and I was sayin'?" asked the hostess, suspiciously.
"I heard him call out against Iver because he altered the signboard; but that was done a long time agone."