Part 3 out of 5
wi' her red head an' all."
"Well, it seems afore poor Abel went out he wrote a paper an' give it
to this 'ere maid, a-leavin' her everything as the poor chap had in
"Mercy on me! But she be a-walkin' out wi' somebody else they tell me;
she've a-took up wi' the noo love afore she did leave off wi' the
"She have," agreed the visitor emphatically. "That be the very thing
Susan 'ull find so cruel 'ard. She did say to I to-week afore she
knowed her nevvy were killed, 'If any harm comes to en,' says she, 'it
do fair break my heart to think as that good-for-nothing Jenny Pitcher
'ull have her pick of everything in this place. It bain't the same as
if she'd truly m'urned for en, but she've a-taken up wi' a new young
man,' says she, 'what walks out wi' her reg'lar.'--'My dear,' says I,
'if anything should happen to your nevvy, which the Lard forbid,
she'll never have the face to come to ax for his bits o' things,
seein' as she haven't been faithful to en.' 'She will though,' says
Susan, an' 'tis the talk o' the place that _she will_.'"
Mrs. Haskell clapped her hands together. "Well, well! But what a sammy
the chap was. He did ought to ha' made sure afore makin' sich a will.
It be a will, I suppose, my dear?"
"It be a will sure enough," said Mrs. Tuffin gloomily. "There, Susan
did tell I as that there artful hussy made sure he got it signed an'
all reg'lar. There's a few pounds too in the savings bank--I don't
know if she'd be able to get 'em out or not."
"Well, I never heerd such a tale. That maid must be a reg'lar Jezebel,
Betty, that's what she must be. That hard-hearted, unfeelin'--Lard ha'
mercy me! Well, well, well!"
Betty took up her basket again, and was proceeding leisurely towards
the door, shaking her head and uttering condemnatory groans the while,
when she suddenly gripped her friend by the arm with an eager
"There she be!--there's the very maid a-walkin' by so bold as brass
with her young man along of her!"
"I shouldn't wonder," said Mrs. Haskell in sepulchral tones, "I
shouldn't wonder but what she be a-goin' up to Susan's to pick out
poor Abel's things."
"Dear, do you raly think so?" gasped Betty, almost dropping her basket
in her horror. "Why the noos of him bein' killed only come this
"I d' 'low she be a-goin' there," repeated Mrs. Haskell emphatically.
"If I was you, Betty, I'd follow 'em, careless-like, an' jist find
out. It do really seem like a dooty for to find out. I'd go along of
you only my wold man 'ull be a-hollerin' out for his tea."
A muffled voice was indeed heard at that very moment proceeding from
the bedroom, accompanied by an imperative knocking on the wall.
"There he be," said Mrs. Haskell, not without a certain pride. "He do
know the time so reg'lar as church clock. He'll go on a-shoutin' and
a-hammerin' at wall wi' his wold boot till I do come. I do tell en he
wears out a deal more shoe-leather that way nor if he were on his
She turned to go upstairs, and Betty crossing the threshold stood a
moment irresolute. Her basket, full of purchases recently made at the
shop a mile away, was heavy enough, and her feet were weary; but
Jenny's tantalising red head gleamed like a beacon twenty yards away
from her, and curiosity silenced the pleadings of fatigue. Hitching up
her basket she proceeded in the wake of the young couple, who were
walking slowly enough, the girl's bright head a little bent, the man
slouching along by her side in apparent silence. All at once the
observer saw Jenny's hand go to her pocket, and draw thence a
handkerchief which she pressed to her eyes.
"She be a-cryin'" commented Betty, not without a certain satisfaction.
"They've a-had a bit of a miff, I d' 'low; well, if the young man have
a-got the feelin's of a man he'd be like to object to this 'ere notion
of hers--Nay, now, he do seem to be a-comfortin' of her. There! Well!"
They had left the village behind, and Betty's solitary figure was
probably unnoticed by the lovers. In any case it proved no hindrance
to the very affectionate demonstrations which now took place.
Presently Jenny straightened her hat, restored her handkerchief to her
pocket, and walked on, "arm-in-crook" with her admirer.
"They be a-goin' to Susan's, sure enough. Well, to be sure! Of all the
hard-hearted brazen-faced--!" words failed her, and she quickened her
pace as the couple disappeared round the angle of the lane. A few
minutes' brisk walking brought the pair, with Betty at their heels, to
a solitary cottage standing a little back from the lane in the shelter
of a high furze-grown bank. As the young man tapped at the door Jenny
turned and descried Betty's figure by the garden-gate.
"Is it you, Mrs. Tuffin?" she inquired. "I can scarce see who 'tis wi'
the sun shinin' in my eyes. Be you a-goin' in?"
"It's me," responded Betty tartly, in reply to the first question,
while she dismissed the second with an equally curt "I be."
The door opened and the figure of a stout elderly woman stood outlined
against the glow of firelight within. She peered out, shading her eyes
from the level rays of the sinking sun, and starting back at sight of
"'Tis you, be it? Well, I didn't think you'd have the face to come, so
"I did just look in to say a word o' consolation, Miss Vacher," said
the girl, drawing herself up. "I be very grieved myself about this
melancholy noos. I've a-been cryin' terrible, I have, an' says I, 'Me
an' poor Abel's dear aunt 'ull mingle our tears.'"
"Mingle fiddlesticks!" said Susan. "What be that there young spark o'
yours a-doin' here? Be he come to drop a tear too?"
"He be come along to take care of I," said the girl demurely. "'Tis
Mr. Sam Keynes. He didn't think it right for I to walk so far by
myself. Did ye, Sam?"
"Well, now ye can walk back wi' her," said Susan, addressing that
gentleman before he had time to answer. "I don't want no tears
a-mingled here. Who be that by the gate?"
"'Tis me, Betty Tuffin," returned the owner of that name. "I didn't
come wi' these 'ere young folks--don't think it, my dear. I come to
see if this 'ere noos be true an' to tell you how sorry I be."
"I'd 'low the noos bain't true, but come in all the same, Betty. I be
al'ays glad to see _you_. You'd best be marchin', Jenny Pitcher, you
and your new sweetheart, else it'll be dark afore you get home."
Jenny looked at her admirer, who nodded encouragingly and nudged her
with his elbow.
"I think as we've a-come so far," she remarked, "I must ax leave to
step in for a bit, Miss Vacher. 'Tis a little matter o' business, and
business is a thing what ought to be attended to immediate."
Miss Vacher threw open the door with such violence that the handle
banged against the wall, and stepped back with sarcastic politeness.
"Oh, come in, do. Come, and poke and pry, and see what ye can pick for
Sarcasm had turned to fury by the time the end of the sentence was
reached, and, as Jenny, overcome by conflicting emotions, was about to
sink into the nearest chair, she darted forward and snatched it away.
"That's mine anyhow," she cried emphatically. "You shan't touch that."
Jenny almost fell against the table, and gasped for a moment or two,
partly from breathlessness, partly, as presently appeared, from grief.
"Oh, poor Abel!" she groaned, as soon as she could speak. "The poor
dear fellow. Oh, oh dear!"
"I wouldn't take on so if I was you," said Betty sarcastically, while
even Mr. Keynes surveyed his intended with a lowering brow, and
gruffly advised her to give over.
"'Tis a pity to upset yourself so much," said Miss Vacher, with a
shrill laugh. "I don't believe he be dead. Somebody 'ud ha' wrote if
he was. The papers--you can't credit what they say in them papers."
"Oh, he's dead, sure enough," cried Jenny, suddenly recovering
herself. "I know he's dead--I know'd he'd die afore he went out.
There, I had a kind o' porsentiment he'd be killed, and so had he,
poor fellow. That's why he settled everything so thoughtful and kind.
Oh dear, oh dear! It fair breaks my heart to think on't. Poor Abel! he
was too good for this world--that's what he was. We'll never, never
see his likes again."
"Dear, to be sure, think o' that now!" cackled Betty. "I hope ye like
_that_, Mr. Keynes."
Mr. Keynes evidently did not like it at all, if one might judge from
his expression, but Jenny now turned towards him in artless appeal.
"You do know very well, Sam, don't you, as poor Abel was my first
love? I've often told 'ee so, haven't I? You must remember, Sam, I did
say often and often, as 'whatever happens you can only be my second.
Don't ever think,' says I, 'as you can ever be to me what he was.'"
At this point Sam's feelings were too many for him; he made a stride
towards his charmer, and imperatively announced that he'd be dalled if
he'd stand any more o' that. "Cut it shart, Jenny, cut it shart, or
"There, I did ought to think more o' your feelin's," said Jenny,
drying her eyes with surprising promptitude. "I beg your pardon--I
were that undone, ye see, wi' lookin' round at all my poor Abel's
things, what's to be mine now. They do all seem to speak so plain to
I--the very clock--"
"The clock!" exclaimed Susan, with an indignant start, "why that there
clock have hung over chimney-piece for nigh upon farty year! That
clock didn't belong to Abel!"
"That clock," said Jenny with mild firmness, "did belong to my poor
Abel's father, and 'twas his by rights; he've a-left it to me wi' the
rest of his things, and I shall value it for his sake. When I do hear
it tickin' it will seem to say to I, _Think o'--me; think o'--me_."
"Jenny, drop it," cried Mr. Keynes with a muffled roar of protest; "I
tell 'ee 'tis more nor flesh and blood can bear. If you be a-goin' to
think constant o' he you'd better ha' done wi' I."
"Sam, dear Sam," said Jenny in melting tones, "you be all as I've
a-got left now; don't you desert me."
"Well, don't you go a-carryin' on that way," said Sam, still
unmollified and eyeing her threateningly.
"You don't lay a finger on the clock," said Susan Vacher with spirit.
"Who told you that clock was Abel's? It's a-been there ever since my
mother's time, and I've a-wound it up myself every Saturday night."
"That clock belonged to Abel," repeated Jenny emphatically, "and he've
a-left it to me in his will."
She drew a piece of paper from her pocket, opened it slowly, and
proceeded to read its contents aloud, with great dignity.
"'In case o' my death, I, Abel Guppy, bein' firm in mind and body--'"
"What does he mean by that?" interrupted Betty. "Lawyer Wiggins did
make my father's will an' 'tweren't wrote that way. What's 'firm in
mind and body'?"
"This 'ere was copied from a pattern will what was bought for sixpence
up to Mr. Marsh's in town," said Jenny loftily. "It do begin, '_I,
M.N., bein' o' sound mind though infirm in body_'--Abel, d'ye see,
weren't infirm in body; he were as well as ever he were in his life,
poor chap, when he did set out."
"Well, let's hear," said Susan with a martyrised air.
"'I, Abel Guppy,'" resumed Jenny, "'bein' firm in mind and body, do
hereby state as I wish for to leave my sweetheart, Jenny Pitcher, if I
do die in this 'ere war, all what I've a-got in this world. The money
in the Savings Bank--'" Betty groaned and threw up her eyes to heaven;
Susan involuntarily clenched her fist; Sam's brow cleared.
"'The money in the Savings Bank,'" repeated Jenny unctuously, "'and
any bits o' furniture what belongs to I, more partic'lar the clock
over the chimney-piece, the two chaney dogs, and the warmin'-pan--'"
"Well, I never!" interrupted Susan; "them two chaney dogs my mother
bought herself off a pedlar that come to the door. I mind it so well
as if it were yesterday."
"Very like she did," returned Jenny sharply. "And when she died hadn't
Abel's father, what was her eldest son, the best right to 'em? And
when he went to his long home they was Abel's, and now they'm
mine--and the warmin'-pan too," she added defiantly.
"Well, of all the oudacious--" Susan was beginning, when Jenny cut her
short, continuing to read in a high clear voice--
"'And half-a-dozen silver spoons, also the hearth-rug what was made
out o' my old clothes--'"
"I'm--I'm blowed if you shall get the hearthrug," cried Susan
explosively. "That's mine whatever the rest mid be. Them clothes was
only fit to put on a scarecrow, an' I cut 'em up, and picked out the
best bits, and split up a wold sack and sewed on every mortial rag
myself; and I made a border out of a wold red skirt o' mine."
"And a handsome thing it is too, my dear," said Betty admiringly.
"They was Abel's clothes, though," said Jenny; "ye can't get out o'
that, Miss Vacher."
"No, but there's one thing _you_ can't get out of, Miss Jenny, so
clever as ye think yerself," cried the outraged possessor of the
hearthrug. "You be a-comed here on false pertences. Even if my nevvy
_be_ dead you han't a-got no right to these 'ere things now. He wrote
it plain, 'I leave 'em all _to my sweetheart_ if I'm killed.' Well,
you wasn't his sweetheart when he was killed--you was a-walkin' out
wi' this 'ere chap."
"Abel Guppy did mean I to have they things," said Jenny. "I was his
sweetheart at the time he wrote it, and if I left off bein' his
sweetheart 'twas because I felt he was too good to live. I knowed he
wouldn't come back--as I tell you I had a porsentiment. I were forced
to take up wi' Sam because I knowed Abel 'ud never make any livin'
maid his bride."
"That's the third time!" cried Sam, ramming on his hat, and making for
the door. "I've had about enough o' this. I'll look out for another
maid as hasn't got a sweetheart i' th' New House--you be altogether a
cut above the likes of I."
Susan obligingly opened the door for him, and in a moment he was gone,
leaving Jenny staring blankly after him.
The banging of the garden-gate seemed to restore her to her senses.
With a scream she threw the paper on the floor, and rushed out of the
house, calling wildly on her lover. Soon the sound of the hurrying
steps was lost in the distance, and the two women simultaneously
turned to each other, eyes and mouth equally round with amazement.
At last Betty, slowly extending her forefinger, pointed to the will.
"I know," said Susan, finding voice all at once. "I've a good mind to
pop it i' the fire."
Betty shook her head admonishingly.
"I wouldn't do that," she said, with a note of reproof in her voice.
"'T'ud be real dangerous. Folks could be sent to prison for meddling
wi' wills, an' sich."
Susan, who had grasped the document in question, dropped it as if it
"My very spoons!" she said with a groan. "I tell 'ee, Betty, I'd a
deal sooner bury 'em nor let her have 'em."
"I d' 'low you would," said Mrs. Tuffin commiseratingly; "but I don't
advise 'ee to do it, my dear--'twouldn't be safe, an' you'd be bound
to give 'em up one time or another. I d' 'low that maid be a-actin' as
she be to spite ye more nor anythin' else; the more unwillin' you be,
the more she'm pleased."
"Very like," agreed Susan. "She knowed I never were for Abel takin' up
wi' her, an' al'ays said so much as I could again the match."
"Well, if you'll take my advice, Susan, you'll jist disapp'int her by
givin' in straight off. If I was you I'd jist make up a bundle o' they
things what Abel left her; pack 'em all up an' pin the will on top,
an' give 'em to carrier to take to her, an' jist write outside, 'Good
riddance o' bad rubbish,' or 'What ye've touched ye may take,' or some
sich thing to show ye didn't care one way or t'other. I d' 'low that
'ud shame her."
"Maybe it would," said Miss Vacher dubiously, though with a latent
gleam of malice in her eye.
"Take my advise an' do it then," urged Mrs. Tuffin earnestly. "Make
the best of a bad job an' turn the tables on she. All the village 'ull
be mad wi' her--the tale 'ull be in every one's mouth."
Miss Vacher compressed her lips and meditatively rubbed her hands.
"Well, I will; but I'll tell 'ee summat--I'll cut off every inch o'
that red border."
She picked up the rug as she spoke and held it out. "That'll spile the
looks of it anyhow," she remarked triumphantly.
The threat was carried into effect, and on the morrow poor Abel
Guppy's little household gods were duly transferred to the home of his
former sweetheart. Jenny professed great indifference to Susan's
scornful message, and continued to hold her head high in spite of the
storm of indignation provoked by her conduct. She claimed and carried
off the departed yeoman's Savings Bank book, and was much aggrieved on
finding that the authorities would not at once permit her to avail
herself of the little vested fund; inquiries must be made, they said,
and in any case some time must elapse before she could be permitted to
draw the money out.
This was the only real cloud on Jenny's horizon, however, and she
speedily forgot it in the midst of her wedding preparations. She and
her Sam had made up their little difference, and as he was well-to-do
in the world, and quite able to support a wife, there seemed to be no
reason for delay.
The banns were duly called, therefore, and on one sunshiny summer's
day Jenny and Sam, followed by a little band of near relatives, walked
gleefully to their new home from the church where they had been made
one. Betty Tuffin, who, as a lone woman, could not in justice to
herself refuse any paying job, however little she might approve of her
employer, had been left to take care of the house and to assist in
preparing the refreshments, As the little party approached the cottage
door they were surprised to see her standing on the threshold, now
portentously wagging her black-capped head, now burying her face in
her apron, evidently a prey to strong emotion, though of what
particular kind it was difficult to say.
The bride hastened her steps, and Betty, who had for the twentieth
time taken refuge in her apron, cautiously uncovered what seemed to be
a very watery eye, and remarked in muffled and quavering tones from
behind its enveloping folds--
"I'm afeared you'll be a bit took a-back when ye go indoor, my dear;
best go cautious. I d' 'low ye'll be _surprised_!'
"What d'ye mean?" cried Jenny in alarm. "What's the matter?"
"Anything wrong?" inquired Sam from the rear.
But Betty was apparently entirely overcome, and could only intimate by
repeated jerking of her thumb over her shoulder her desire that they
should go in and see for themselves.
A long table was spread in the centre of the living-room, and, at the
moment that the bridal party entered, a tall figure, dressed in
kharki, was walking hastily round it, picking up a spoon from each
"Abel!" shrieked Jenny, staggering back against her husband.
"What, bain't ye dead?" gasped the latter with a dropping jaw.
Abel added another spoon to his collection, and then looked up:--"This
'ere only makes five," he said; "there did ought to be six. Where's
"Dear heart alive!" groaned Jenny's mother. "Jist look at en. We
thought en dead an' buried, an' here he be a-carryin' off the spoons!"
"I bain't dead, ye see," returned the yeoman fiercely. "There's more
Abel Guppys nor one i' the world, an' the man what got shot was a chap
fro' Weymouth. If I _was_ dead an' buried, all the same d'ye think I'd
leave my spoons to be set out at another man's weddin'? Where's the
other chaney dog?"
He had already pocketed one, and now cast a vengeful glance round.
"On the dresser, Abel," gasped Jenny faintly; "oh, my poor heart, how
it do beat! To think o' your comin' back like that! Oh, Abel, I made
sure you was killed."
"And you're very sorry, bain't ye?" returned her former lover with
wrathful irony, "I'll thank ye for my bank-book, if ye please. Ye
haven't drawed the money out--that's one good thing. They telled I all
about it at the post-office yesterday. That's my dish, too." Extending
a long arm he deftly whisked away the large old-fashioned platter
which had supported the wedding-cake, dusting off the crumbs with an
air of great disgust.
"I think ye mid have found summat else to put your cake on," he said,
with a withering look; "I think ye mid ha' showed a bit more feelin'
"I'm sure," protested Jenny plaintively, "'twas only out o' respect
for you, Abel, that I set out the things. 'Twas out o' fond memory for
you. You know you did say yourself when you was a-writin' out your
will, 'I'll leave you all my things, Jenny, so as you'll think o'
me,'--an' I _did_ think o' you," she added, beginning to sob, "I'm
sure I--I--I even wanted to put a bit o' black crape on your clock,
but mother wouldn't let me."
"Well," interrupted Mrs. Pitcher apologetically, "I didn't think, ye
know, it 'ud look very well to have crape about on my darter's
weddin'-day. It wouldn't seem lucky. Or else I'm sure I wouldn't ha'
had no objections at all--far from it, Abel."
"But I'd ha' had objections," cried Sam, who had stood by swelling
with wrath. "I do think my feelin's ought to be considered so much as
yon chap's, be he alive or dead. It's me what's married your darter,
"It be, Samuel; 'e-es I d' 'low it be," returned Mrs. Pitcher, with a
deprecating glance at the yeoman who was now rolling up the rug. "We
all on us thought as Abel was dead, ye see."
"Meanin', I suppose, as if ye knowed he was alive I shouldn't ha' had
her," retorted Sam explosively. "Well, I d' 'low, it bain't too late
yet to come to a understandin'. Jenny be married to I, sure enough,
but I bain't a-goin' to ha' no wives what be a-hankerin' arter other
folks. She may take herself off out of this wi'out my tryin' for to
hinder her. If she can't make up her mind to give over upsettin'
hersel' along o' he you may take her home-along, Mrs. Pitcher."
A dead silence ensued within the house, but Betty's strident tones
could be heard without, uplifted in shrill discourse to curious
"'E-es, d'ye see, he did write home so soon as he did get to
Darchester, a-tellin' of his aunt as he was a-comin' private-like so
as to surprise his sweetheart. And Susan, she did write back immediate
an' say, 'My poor bwoy, there be a sad surprise in store for _you_.'
And then when he comed they did make it up between them to keep quiet
"There's the clock, too," observed Abel, ending the pause at last.
"You can take the clock," cried Jenny, simultaneously recovering
speech and self-possession. "Take the clock, Abel Guppy, and take
yourself off. There ben a mistake, but it be all cleared up at last."
She stepped with dignity across the room, and slipped her arm through
Sam's, who made several strenuous but ineffectual efforts to shake her
"You get hold o' he," cried Sam; "you cut along an' catch hold o' he.
It be he you do want."
"No, Samuel," said the incomparable Jenny with lofty resolution, "it
bain't he as I do want. I mid ha' been took up wi' some sich foolish
notion afore, bein' but a silly maid, but now I be a married 'ooman,
an' I do know how to vally a husband's love."
The new-made bridegroom ceased struggling and gaped at her. Jenny,
gazing at her former lover more in sorrow than in anger, pointed
solemnly to the clock:--
"Take down that clock, Abel Guppy," she repeated. "I do know you now
for what you be. I consider you've behaved most heartless an'
unfeelin' in comin' here to try an' make mischief between man an'
wife. I thank the Lard," she added piously, "as I need never ha' no
more to do with you. Walk out o' my house, if ye please--"
"_Your_ house," interpolated Sam, a note of astonished query
perceptible in his tone despite its sulkiness.
"'E-es," said Jenny firmly. "He shall never show his face inside the
door where I be missis. Take down the clock, Abel Guppy," she repeated
for the third time. "You'd best help him, Sam. He don't seem able to
reach to it."
Encumbered as he was with newly-regained possessions, the yeoman had
made but abortive attempts to detach the timepiece; and Sam, with a
dawning grin on his countenance, now mounted on a chair, officiously
held by one of the guests, and speedily handed it down.
After all it was the ill-used Abel Guppy who looked most foolish as he
made his way to the door, loaded with his various goods, the relatives
of bride and bridegroom casting scornful glances at him as he passed.
Before he had proceeded twenty yards Sam ran after him with the
bank-book, which the other pocketed without a word, while the
bridegroom returned to the house, rubbing his hands and chuckling.
Jenny was already seated at the head of the table and received him
with a gracious smile:--
"If you'll fetch another plate, Sam, my dear," she remarked, "I can
begin for to cut the cake."
"What be lookin' at?" inquired Mrs. Bold, emerging from her dairy, and
incidentally wiping her hands on a corner of her apron. "There ye've
a-been standin' in a regular stud all the time I were a-swillin' out
Farmer Bold was standing at the open stable door, his grey-bearded
chin resting on his big brown hand, his eyes staring meditatively in
front of him. It was a breezy, sunny autumn day, and all the world
about him was astir with life; gawky yellow-legged fowls pecked and
scratched round his feet with prodigious activity, calves were
bleating in the adjacent pens, while the very pigs were scuttling
about their styes, squealing the while as though it were supper-time.
The wind whistled blithely round the corners of the goodly cornstacks
to the rear of the barton, and piped shrilly through their eaves; the
monthly roses, still ablow, swung hither and thither in the fresh
blast, strewing the cobblestones with their delicate petals. In all
the gay, busy scene only the figure of the master himself was
motionless, if one might except the old black horse which he appeared
to be contemplating, the angular outlines of whose bony form might be
seen dimly defined in the dusk of its stable.
Towards this animal Farmer Bold now pointed, removing his hand from
his chin for the purpose. "I wur a-lookin' at Blackbird," he said,
"poor wold chap! He was a good beast in his day, but I d' 'low his day
be fair done. Tis the last night what Blackbird 'ull spend in this
"Why," cried Mrs. Bold quickly, "ye don't mean to say--"
"I mean to say," interrupted her husband, turning to her with a
resolutely final air, "I mean to say as Blackbird's sold."
"Sold!" ejaculated the woman incredulously. "Who'd ever go for to buy
Blackbird?--wi'out it be one o' they rag-and-bone men, or maybe for a
salt cart. Well, Joe," with gathering ire, "I didn't think ye'd go for
to give up the faithful wold fellow after all these years, to be
knocked about and ill-used at the last."
"Nay, and ye needn't think it--ye mid know as I wouldn't do sich a
thing," returned her lord with equal heat. "I've sold en"--he paused,
continuing with some hesitation, as he nodded sideways over his
shoulder, "I've a-sold en up yonder for the kennels."
"What! To be ate up by them there nasty hounds? Joseph!"
"Come now," cried the farmer defiantly, "ye must look at it sensible,
Mary. Poor Blackbird, he be a-come to his end, same as we all must
come to it soon or late. He 've a-been goin' short these two years--ye
could see that for yourself--and now his poor wold back be a-givin'
out, 'tis the most merciful thing to destroy en. They'll turn en out
to-week in the field up along--beautiful grass they have there--and
he'll enjoy hisself a bit, and won't know nothin' about it when they
finish en off."
"I al'ays thought as we'd keep Blackbird so long as he did live,"
murmured Mrs. Bold, half convinced but still lamenting, "seein' as we
did breed en and bring en up ourselves, and he did work so faithful
all his life. Poor wold Jinny! He wur her last colt, and you did
al'ays use to say you'd keep en for her sake. Ah, 'tis twenty year
since I run out and found en aside of her in the paddock--walkin'
about as clever as you please, and not above two hours old. Not a
white hair on en--d'ye mind?--and such big, strong legs! I was all for
a-callin' en Beauty, but you said Beauty was a filly's name. And he
did use to run to paddock-gate when he wur a little un, and I wur
a-goin' to feed chicken--he'd know my very foot, and he'd come
prancin' to meet I, and put his little nose in the bucket. Dear, to be
sure, I mind it just so well as if it wur yesterday!"
The farmer laughed and stroked his beard.
"'E-es, he was a wonderful knowin' colt," he agreed, placidly.
"There's a deal o' sense in beasts if ye take notice on 'em and treat
'em friendly like. Them little lambs as we did bring up to-year was so
clever as Christians, wasn't they? Ye mind the little chap we did call
Cronje, how he used to run to I when he did see I a-comin' wi' the
teapot? And Nipper--ye mind Nipper? He didn't come on so well as the
others; he was sickly-proud, so to speak, and wouldn't suckey out o'
the teapot same as the rest. But he knowed his name so well as any o'
them, and 'ud screw his head round, and cock his ears just as a dog
mid do, when I did call en. Pigs, even," he proceeded meditatively,
"there's a deal o' sense in pigs, if ye look for it. Charl', ye mind
Charl', what he had soon after we was married? That there pig knowed
my v'ice so well as you do. What I did use to come into the yard and
did call 'Charl',' he'd answer me back, 'Umph.' Ho! ho! I used to
stand there and laugh fit to split. Ye never heard anythin' more
nat'ral. 'Charl',' I'd call; 'Umph' he'd go. Ho! ho! ho!"
The woman did not laugh; she was screwing up her eyes in the endeavour
to penetrate the darkness of the stable. "Poor wold Blackbird," she
said, "I wish it hadn't come to this. It do seem cruel someway. There,
he did never cost 'ee a penny, wi'out 'twas for shoes, and he've
a-worked hard ever sin' he could pull a cart--never a bit o' vice or
mischief. It do seem cruel hard as he shouldn't end his days on the
place where he was bred."
"My dear woman," said her husband loftily, "what good would it do the
poor beast to end his days here instead of up yonder? He's bound to
end 'em anyways, and we are twenty-two shillin' the better for lettin'
of en go to the kennels."
"Twenty-two shillin'?" repeated his wife.
"'E-es, not so bad, be it? The pore fellow's fair wore out, but still,
d'ye see, he fetches that at the last, and 'tis better nor puttin' an
end to en for nothin'. Ah, there be a deal o' money in twenty-two
Mrs. Bold sighed. Perhaps she knew almost better than her husband how
much toil and trouble it cost to get twenty-two shillings together.
Twenty pounds of butter, twenty-two dozen eggs, eighty-eight quarts of
milk! What early risings, what goings to and fro, what long sittings
with cramped limbs and aching back, milking cow after cow in summer
heat and winter cold, how many weary hours' standing in the flagged
dairy before twenty-two shillings could be scraped together! She
turned away, without another word.
Later in the evening poor old Blackbird was brought out of his stall,
and, after receiving the farewell caresses of master and mistress, was
led away, limping, to the kennel pasture.
"Don't 'urry en," called the farmer to the lad who had charge of him.
"Tis a long journey for he--two mile and more; let en take his time.
He'll get there soon enough."
The next morning, just as Mrs. Bold had finished getting breakfast,
her husband came to the dairy in a state of amused excitement.
"There, ye'll never think! I al'ays did say beasts was so sensible as
Christians if ye took a bit of notice of 'em. I was a-goin' round
stables jist now, and if I didn't find wold Blackbird in his own
stall, jist same as ever. I did rub my eyes and think I must be
dreamin', but there he were layin' down, quite at home. He al'ays had
a trick of openin' gates, ye know, and he must jist ha' walked away i'
th' night. He wur awful tired, pore beast--'twas so much as I could do
to get en off again."
"Ye sent en off again!" cried Mrs. Bold indignantly. "Well, I
shouldn't ha' thought ye could have found it in yer heart! The poor
wold horse did come back to we, so trustin', and you to go an drive en
away again to his death! Dear, men be awful hard-hearted!"
"Of all the onraisonable creeturs, you are the onraisonablest," cried
the farmer, much aggrieved. "Was I to go and take the folks' money and
keep the money's worth? A nice name I'd get in the country! They'd be
sayin' I stole en away myself, very like. No, I did send en up so soon
as I could, so as they shouldn't be s'archin' for 'en."
Mrs. Bold clapped a plate upon the table.
"Sit down," she cried imperatively. "Ye'll be ready for your own
breakfast, though you wouldn't give pore Blackbird a bit."
"Who says I didn't give en a bit?" retorted Joseph. "Ye be al'ays
jumpin' at notions, Mary. Blackbird had as good a feed o' carn afore
he did go as ever a horse had."
"Much good it'll do en when he's a-goin' to be killed," returned his
spouse inconsequently. "There, it's no use talkin'; I must make haste
wi' my breakfast and get back to my work. It's well for I as I be able
to work a bit yet, else I suppose ye'd be sendin' me to the knackers."
"I never heerd tell as you was a harse," shouted the farmer. The wit
and force of the retort seemed to strike him even as he uttered it,
for his indignant expression was almost immediately replaced by a
good-humoured grin. "I had ye there, Mary," he chuckled. "'I never
heerd tell as you was a harse, says I."
Next churning day Mrs. Bold rose before dawn, according to her custom,
and the churning was already in progress before the first grey,
uncertain light of the autumnal morning began to diffuse itself
through the latticed milk-house windows. All at once, during a pause
in the labour, she fancied she heard a curious, hesitating fumbling
with the latch of the door.
"Hark!" she cried, "what's that?"
"Tis the wind," said one of the churners.
"Nay, look, somebody's a-tryin' to get in," returned the mistress, as
the latch rose in a ghostly manner, fluttered, and fell. "Go to the
door, Tom," she continued, "and see what's wanted."
"'Tis maybe a spirit," said Tom, shrinking back.
"Nonsense! What would a spirit want at the dairy door? 'Tis more like
a tramp. Open it at once--You go, Jane."
"I dursen't," said Jane, beginning to whimper.
"Not one of ye has a grain o' sense!" said Mrs. Bold angrily.
She went to the door herself, just as the odd rattling began for the
third time, opened it cautiously, and uttered a cry.
There stood the attenuated form of poor old Blackbird, looking huge
and almost spectral in the dim light, but proclaiming its identity by
a low whinny.
"Rabbit me!" exclaimed Tom, "if that there wold carcase ain't found
his way here again!"
But Mrs. Bold's arms were round the creature's neck, and she was
fairly hugging him.
"Well done!" she cried ecstatically, "well done! Ye did well to come
to I, Blackbird. I'll stand by ye, never fear! I'll not have ye drove
Blackbird stood gazing at her with his sunken eyes, his loose nether
lip dropping, his poor old bent knees bowed so that they seemed
scarcely able to sustain his weight; the rusty skin, which had once
been of so glossy a sable, was scratched and torn in many places.
"He must have found his way out through the hedge. Well, to think of
his coming here, Missis!"
"He knowed he come to the right place," said Mrs. Bold, with flashing
eyes. "Turn that there new horse out o' the stall and put Blackbird
back, and give en a feed o' earn, and shake down a bit o' fresh straw.
'Tis what ye couldn't put up wi', could ye, Blackbird?" she continued,
addressing the horse, "to find a stranger in your place! Ye come to
tell I all about it, didn't ye?"
When the farmer came down half-an-hour later, his wife emerged from
the shed in the neighbourhood of the pig-styes, where she had been
ministering to the wants of two motherless little pigs. One small
porker, indeed, was still tucked away under her arm as she advanced to
meet her husband, and she was brandishing the teapot, from which she
had been feeding it, in her disengaged hand.
"Joseph," she said, planting herself opposite to him, and speaking
with alarming solemnity, "we've a-been wed now farty year come Lady
Day. Have I bin a good wife to 'ee, or have I not?"
"Why, in course," Joseph was beginning, when he suddenly broke off.
"What's the new colt standing in the cart-shed for?"
"Never you mind the new colt--attend to I! Have I been a good wife to
'ee, or have I not?"
"In course ye have--no man need ax for a better. But why--"
"Haven't I worked early and late, and toiled and moiled, and never
took a bit o' pleasure, and never axed 'ee to lay out no money for I?
Bain't I a-bringin' up these 'ere pigs by hand for 'ee, Joseph Bold?
And a deal of worry they be. 'Twasn't in the marriage contract, I
think, as I should bottle-feed sucking-pigs--was it now, Joseph? I d'
'low parson never thought o' axin' me if I were willin' to do that,
but I've a-done it for your sake."
"Well, but what be ye a-drivin' at?" interrupted the farmer, with a
kind of aggrieved bellow, for his wife's sorrowfully-reproachful tone
cut him to the quick. "What's it all about? What be a-complainin' of?
What d'ye want, woman? What d'ye want?"
"I want a pet," returned Mrs. Bold vehemently. "Here I've been
a-livin' wi' ye all these years, and ye've never let me keep so much
as a canary bird. There's the Willises have gold-fish down to their
place, and they be but cottagers; and Mrs. Fripp have got a parrot. A
real beauty he be, what can sing songs and laugh and shout like the
children, and swear--ye'd think t'was Fripp hisself, he do do it so
Joseph Bold fairly groaned:
"Good Lard! I never did think to hear 'ee talk so voolish--a sensible
body like ye did always use to seem! Dear heart alive! Gold-fish! And
a poll parrot! Well, Mary, I did think as a body o' your years could
content herself wi' live things as had a bit more sense in 'em nor
"Oh, I dare say," returned his spouse sarcastically. "Pigs and
sich-like!" giving a little tap to the wriggling, squeaking creature
at that moment struggling under her arm, "and chicken and ducks! Nice
pets they be."
"Upon my word, a man 'ud lose patience to hear you. _Pets_--at your
time o' life, wi' children grown up and married. Well, if ye want
pets, ha'n't ye had enough of 'em. Don't ye have nigh upon a dozen
lambs to bring up every spring?"
"'E-es, and where be they now, Joseph? Where be the lambs as I got up
afore light in the frostis and snow to attend to? Where be they? Ye
know so well as I do as butcher had 'em, every one. That's my
complaint--you do never let me keep a thing as isn't for killin'. A
body'd need a heart o' stone to stand it. This 'ere pig--ye know right
well as he'll be bacon afore this time next year."
[Illustration: BLACKBIRD'S INSPIRATION
"Here's my little pet," she cried jubilantly]
"Then, in the name of furtin have your fancy, woman! Give it a name,
and I'll get it for 'ee."
"Ye give me your word, do ye, Joseph?"
"I bain't a man to break it," responded the farmer shortly.
Mrs. Bold set the little pig carefully on its feet, and sidled across
the yard, eyeing her husband the while with a curious expression that
was half-fearful, half-triumphant. When she reached the closed stable
door she opened it, plunged into the dark recess within, and
reappeared, dragging forth by a wisp of his ragged mane--poor,
decrepit old Blackbird.
"Here's my little pet," she cried jubilantly, delight at her success
overmastering all other feelings. "You've give me your word, Joseph,
and, as ye d'say yerself, ye bain't the one to take it back. Here's
the only pet I'll ever ax to keep. He'll not cost much," she added,
seeing her husband's face redden and his eyes roll threateningly. "He
can pick about in the summer, and a bit of hay in the winter'll be all
he'll need. I'll make it up to 'ee, see if I don't; and I think you do
owe I summat, anyhow, for workin' so hard as I always do."
"Oh, in course, if ye put it that way," he returned, huffily, "I
haven't got a word to say. I al'ays thought 'twas a wife's dooty to
help her husband, but since it seems to be a favour, I'm sure I did
ought to be very grateful. Thank ye kindly, ma'am! P'r'aps ye'll be so
good as to shut up that beautiful pet o' yourn now, and give me a bit
o' breakfast, if it bain't troublin' ye too much."
"Oh, go on, Joseph!" exclaimed Mrs. Bold, with heightening colour,
turning Blackbird about as she spoke, and propelling him before her
towards the stall. "I couldn't do nothin' else nor want to keep him,"
she added in an aggrieved tone, "when he come to the dairy door--he
come actually to the dairy door!--same as if he knowed 'twas his last
The farmer did not answer, but in spite of himself a dawning
expression of interest was perceptible on his face.
"'E-es, an' he must ha' broke through a hedge to get out; he be cut
about terrible wi' thorns."
"They did padlock th' gate when I sent en back last time," returned
Joseph gruffly, adding, in the same tone, "Ye'd better sponge they
sore places a bit after breakfast, and get dust out of 'em."
Mrs. Bold installed Blackbird in his old quarters, and hastened to the
The meal which ensued was at first a somewhat silent one. In spite of
her satisfaction at having gained her point, Mrs. Bold felt somewhat
remorseful for the tactics she had employed; and her husband stolidly
munched his bread and bacon with a solemn, not to say gloomy,
All at once, however, he began to roll his head from side to side,
while the colour on his already rubicund face deepened so much that
his wife gazed at him in alarm, dreading the ensuing outburst. But
when after long repression the explosion actually took place, it
proved to be one of harmless and jovial laughter.
"What is it?" inquired Mrs. Bold, laughing delightedly too, though she
knew not at what.
"I've bin a-thinkin' o' summat. Dear heart alive, Mary, the queer
notions as do seem to be a-comin' into our heads all this week! D'ye
mind my sayin', 'I never knowed as you was a harse'? Ha! ha! Ye
couldn't say much to that, could 'ee? And when I think o' you standin'
in yard jist now, wavin' the teapot and tuckin' the little pig under
your arm! 'Bottle-feedin' suckin'-pigs weren't in the marriage
contract,' says you. Ho! ho! ho! Whatever put it i' your head to say
that, I can't think."
"I didn't really mean it, my dear," said Mary penitently, though she
"I dare say not, but I've bin a-thinkin' 'tis a pity your pet bain't a
size or two smaller--he be sixteen hands if he be a inch--else maybe
ye'd like to have en in here a-layin' on the hearthrug."
Then husband and wife laughed long and loud, and their little
difference was forgotten as their eyes met.
THE GIRL HE LEFT BEHIND HIM
On one particular Sunday in August, a brilliant sunny, breezeless day,
such a day as would under ordinary circumstances conduce to certain
drowsiness even in the most piously disposed, the church-goers of
Little Branston were preternaturally alert, if not quite so attentive
as usual. For behold! Corporal Richard Baverstock, Widow Baverstock's
only son, and the father of Matilda Ann, the three-year-old darling of
the village, had returned from the wars with a very brown face, a
medal, two or three honourable scars, and, it was whispered, a
pocketful of "dibs."
Every one knew about Corporal Dick, the sharp boy who had been the
general pet and plaything in early years, much as his own "Tilly Ann"
was now; the dashing soldier, whose occasional visits to his native
place in all the glories of uniform had caused on each occasion a
flutter of excitement which had endured long after his own departure;
the hero of romance, whose sudden appearance with a beautiful bride,
wedded secretly somewhere up the country, had made more than one
pretty maid's heart grow sore within her, and caused many wiseacres to
shake their heads; the disconsolate young widower whose year-old wife
had been laid to rest in the churchyard yonder, immediately after the
birth of their child; the boy-father, bending half wonderingly over
the blue-eyed baby on his mother's knee; the warrior, wounded "out
abroad," whose letters had been passed from hand to hand in the little
place, and conned over and admired and marvelled at till old Mrs.
Baverstock, when each mail came to hand, found herself raised to a
pinnacle of honour to which otherwise she would never have dared to
aspire--he had come home now for a brief blissful fortnight before
rejoining his regiment at the depot. Not one of the congregation there
present but had heard of his return on the previous day, and of how he
had almost knocked over the old mother in the vehemence of his
greeting, and how he had caught up Tilly Ann and hugged her, and some
said cried over her; and how he had almost within the hour walked up
to the little cemetery and knelt by his wife's grave, which, the
neighbours opined, "howed a wonderful deal o' feelin' in the man as
'twas a'most to be expected he'd ha chose a second by now."
"But they d' say, my dear, as the women out abroad be a terrible ugly
lot, and most of 'em black. Tisn't likely as Corporal Baverstock 'ud
so much as look at any o' they, arter pickin' sich a vitty maid for
his first missis."
It was Mrs. Cousins who made this remark to Mrs. Adlam, as they paced
together along the flagged path that led to the church porch; and it
is not surprising that both ladies felt constrained to turn their
heads when the martial tread of Soldier Dick resounded up the church a
few moments later.
Jenny Meatyard nudged Maggie Fripp.
"Do 'ee see his medal?" she inquired in a whisper.
Maggie nodded. "That there korky uniform do suit en wonderful well."
Two village mothers exchanged glances of tender approbation, for,
clinging to Corporal Baverstock's hand, and taking preposterously long
steps in the endeavour to keep pace with his strides, was Tilly Ann,
in her best starched white frock, and with her yellow hair curled in a
greater profusion of corkscrew ringlets than her granny had ever yet
"Bain't it a pictur'?" one pair of motherly eyes seemed to say to the
other, and I think many of the good simple folk performed their
devotions all the better because of the consciousness of the two happy
hearts, the man's and the little child's, beating in their midst.
The service once over, friends and neighbours gathered round the young
soldier outside the church door. Those nearest spoke to him; those
less fortunate, on the outskirts of the little crowd, contented
themselves with admiring comments.
"He d' seem to have filled out, though he have been punished so
terrible out yonder."
"My dear, they did tell I as his poor leg was all one solid wownd.
D'ye mind how Mrs. Baverstock did take on, pore 'ooman. And well she
"Well she mid, indeed. Ah! 'tis a comfort to see as Corporal
Baverstock d' seem able to walk so well as ever. I see Mrs. Baverstock
didn't come to church--'tis a wonder."
"Nay, no wonder at all. It bain't likely as the poor body could leave
her Sunday dinner the very first day her son be a-comed home. She's
busy, that's what she be."
"Ah! to be sure. There, Lard now, look at Tilly Ann! He've a-got her
up in his arms. Dear, to be sure, 'tis a beautiful sight, they two
faces side by side. The maid doesn't favour her daddy a bit--nay, 'tis
the very pictur' o' the pore wife."
"'E-es; she had that yellow hair, and them great big blue eyes. There,
I've a-got a china cup at home what be jist the same colour. 'Tisn't
nat'ral for a maid to have eyes that blue. I wouldn't mention it to
Mrs. Baverstock, nor yet to Dick, but I shouldn't wonder at all if
Tilly Ann was to follow her mother afore very long, pore little maid."
"Ah! they do say as when a young mother be took like that, as often as
not she'll keep on a-callin' and a-callin', till the pore little thing
she've a-left behind fair withers away."
While this cheerful line of prognostication was being followed up
beyond her ken, Tilly Ann sat bolt upright in her father's arms,
looking round her with a proprietary air, and occasionally patting his
cheek with a broad dimpled little palm. She was a tall, well-made
child, plump and fair, with rosy cheeks and sturdy limbs that would in
themselves have given the lie to any dismal croakings; it was no
wonder that "daddy's" eyes perpetually rested on her with a glow of
"And she were quite a little 'un when ye did last see her, weren't
she, Corporal?" said some one. (In Branston the good folk were
punctilious with regard to titles.) "Ye'd scarce ha' knowed her I d'
'low if ye'd met her on the road."
"Know her," said Corporal Baverstock, "I'd know her among a thousand!
'Tis what I did write to my mother. Says I, 'I'd pick her out
anywheres, if 'twas only by the dimple in her chin.'"
The bystanders nodded at each other; they remembered that particular
letter well, and had much appreciated the phrase in question.
"To be sure, Corporal, so ye did, so ye did. And the maid have a
dimple sure enough. There, 'tis plain for all folks to see."
Tilly Ann turned up her little face, and her father kissed the cleft
chin with sudden passion. Then he tossed her up in his arms and
"Many a time I've a-thought o' that dimple," he observed, in rather an
unsteady voice, "and wondered if I'd ever set eyes on it again."
"And look at her curls," said a woman admiringly. "They be a-sheenin'
like gold to-day. She thinks a deal o' they curls, don't 'ee, Tilly?
If anybody axed her for one she'd al'ays say she was a-savin' on 'em
up for daddy--didn't 'ee, Tilly?"
Tilly Ann, overcome with coyness, buried her face in her father's
shoulder, and giggled, wriggling her little fat body the while, and
drumming on his side with her lace-up boots.
"Hold hard there!" cried he. "Them boots of yourn be so bad as a
pom-pom. Come, we must be lookin' up the wold lady. Say Ta-ta, and
we'll be off."
One blue eye peeped out shyly from beneath the forest of curls, one
little sunburnt hand was waved comprehensively; a smothered voice
uttered the necessary "Ta-ta," with an accompaniment of chuckles and
wriggles, and the soldier, clasping his burden more tightly, and
nodding laughingly right and left made his way towards home.
No one, looking at Mrs. Baverstock as she stood at her doorway in her
neat black stuff gown, the sleeves of which were decently drawn down
to her very wrists, would have guessed at the magnitude of the
culinary labours in which she had been employed. The beef was now done
to a turn, the "spuds" boiled to a nicety; she had made pastry of the
most solid description, which was even now simmering in the oven--I
use the word "simmering" advisedly, for in the generosity of her heart
she had not spared the dripping. The tea was brewed, hot and strong,
the teapot, singed by long use, standing on the hob. There was a
crusty loaf, a pat of butter indented in the middle with one of Dick's
regimental buttons, and a plate of cakes, hard as the nether--millstone
and very crumbly, having been purchased from the distant town at the
beginning of the week in expectation of this auspicious day.
"Well, mother, this be a spread!" cried the soldier, good-humouredly,
as he set the child upon her legs. "I haven't sat down to such a meal
as this since I left old England. 'Tis fit for a king."
Mrs. Baverstock rubbed her bony hands together; and laughed
deprecatingly. She was a little woman, with very bright, beady black
eyes, and hair that was still coal-black in spite of her wrinkled
face. Her son was like her, but taller and better looking. One had but
to glance at the child to realise that she must be the image of her
"Nay, now," said the widow; "I do do my best for 'ee, Dick, but I d'
'low it bain't so very grand. I'd like to do 'ee honour. There bain't
nothin' too good for 'ee to my mind, if I could give it 'ee."
"I tell 'ee, mother, some of the poor chaps out yonder 'ud give summat
to sit down to this 'ere dinner. Bully beef wi' a pound or two o' raw
flour, what you haven't got nothin' to cook wi'--it do make a man feel
a bit sick, I can tell 'ee, when it do come day arter day."
"Dear heart alive," groaned his mother, "a body 'ud think they mid
manage a bit better! Lard, to think on't! Tis all along o' the poor
dear Queen bein' dead, ye mid be sure! There needs to be a woman at
the head o' things! I reckon the Government be all made up o' men
folks now, and men never has any notion o' doin' for theirselves.
There, I did use to say to father many a time, 'If I was to leave 'ee
to yourself I d' 'low ye'd go eatin' any kind o' rubbish.' There wants
to be a sensible woman or two i' th' Government--no woman 'ud ever
think o' sendin' out the poor chaps' bit o' food raw. There bain't a
hedger or ditcher but has his bit o' dinner put ready for en, and I
reckon soldiers have got stummicks much same as other folks."
Dick had only half attended to this speech; he had been standing by
the door intently gazing up the village street, and shading his eyes
with his hand.
"Why, I'm blowed!" he exclaimed. "Here's a mate o' mine ridin' this
way! Yes, so it be. I thought he was goin' a-coortin'. Hullo, Billy!"
A bicycle wheeled round abruptly, and the rider alighted at the
cottage door. A big young man, with the bronzed face which would have
announced his recent return from the front, even had not his khaki
uniform proclaimed the fact.
"I thought I'd look 'ee up," he explained, shaking hands with his
friend with a somewhat sheepish air. "You and me bein' mates, d'ye
see, and me feelin' a bit dull over yonder."
"Why, what's become o' she?" interrupted Dick, with a grin.
"Don't talk about her! She be just like the rest--'Out o' sight out o'
mind'--took up wi' a civilian soon as my back were turned. I reckoned
I'd come and have a look at _your_ maid."
"Yes, to be sure!" cried Dick jovially. "My sweetheart han't a-took up
wi' anybody else--she've a-been faithful and true."
"What's that?" inquired Mrs. Baverstock, coming forward, her little
black eyes looking ready to start from her head.
"Tis a kind of a little joke what me and Billy have a-got between us
about my sweetheart. There, he can tell 'ee the tale while we're
eatin'. This 'ere be my mother, Billy. This be Mr. Billy Caines--a
Darset man same as myself. Him and me was reg'lar pals out there,
wasn't we, Bill?"
"I d' 'low we was," responded Private Caines, after ceremoniously
pumping Mrs. Baverstock's hand up and down. "We did fight side by
side, and we was wounded side by side, and we was a-layin' side by
side for weeks in the field hospital, wasn't us, Dick?"
"I reckon we had a bit too much o' that there hospital," responded the
Corporal, drawing forward a chair for his friend. "'Twas there we did
have so much talk about my sweetheart. Ha, ha, ye didn't know as I'd
a-got a sweetheart, did ye, old lady?" he inquired of his mother.
"Billy 'ull tell 'ee about that," and he winked surreptitiously at his
Mrs. Baverstock was evidently in a flutter. What between this sudden
arrival of six feet of khaki-clad humanity and the innuendoes which
had been recently thrown out, touching a subject on which she felt
strongly (the possibility of Dick's marrying again), she actually set
the pastry on the table in the place of the beef, and helped the two
soldiers to a cake each instead of a piece of bread.
"Why, you be wool-gathering, that you be. You've a-got everything in a
reg'lar caddie!" cried her son, as she paused to clack her tongue
remorsefully over her mistakes. "Business first and pleasure
arterwards. Up wi' the beef! Now then, Billy, fall to! A bit better
tasted nor bully, bain't it?"
Billy groaned appreciatively, with his mouth full, and silence ensued,
during which Mrs. Baverstock cut up Tilly Ann's dinner, and presented
her with a spoon.
Tilly Ann's eyes had been fixed unwinkingly upon the new comer since
his arrival, and she had now apparently classified him, for, after
successfully piloting one or two spoonfuls of beef and potato to her
little red mouth, she paused, drummed on the table with the handle of
her spoon, and remarked conclusively:
"Dear, to be sure! Hark to the child," said granny, while the two men
"The little maid's sharp, I can tell 'ee," announced Dick; "she do
know the difference between soldier and civilian a'ready. Never see'd
no soldier but I afore, and now, when another do come, says she to
herself, 'This must be another daddy.' Ho! ho!"
"She've a-got more sense nor many a wolder maid," returned Private
Caines gloomily; "she do know what's what--I d' 'low she wouldn't ha'
gone a-takin' up wi' a (qualified) civilian when you weren't to the
fore. She be a bonny little maid, too," he added reflectively, eyeing
the chubby pink and white face. "Yes, you've a-got good taste, as you
did tell I out yonder."
"Come, don't 'ee spoil the tale," cried the Corporal, laughing; "begin
at the right end. My mother here do want to hear about my sweetheart."
"I don't want to hear no sich thing," retorted the old woman,
querulously, but anxiously, too. "I do know 'ee better nor to think
you'd have any sich nonsensical notions; you as be a widow man, and
have a-buried sich a lovin' wife, what have a-left 'ee the darlingest
little maid to keep. Us do want no step-mothers; us do want all the
love, the wold mother and the little maid."
Dick's face twitched, and his eyes clouded, but before he could
answer, Private Billy Caines, who was not endowed with remarkably
acute perceptions, began his narrative in a loud and merry voice.
"Him and me was knocked over the same day--I shouldn't wonder but what
it was the same shell. I couldn't tell 'ee for sure about that, for I
were hit all to flinders, and for a bit they thought I was done for.
But when I did get a bit better, and did begin to look about, I'm
danged if the first thing I did see weren't poor old Dick's long white
face, lyin' there so solemn, wi' his girt hollow black eyes, a-starin'
and a-starin' straight i' front of en. I did use to watch en, and he
did always look the same--sorrowful and anxious, and one day I did
call out to en, soft like, 'What be thinkin' on, man? The us'al thing,
I s'pose?' He did scraggle his head a bit round on the pillow and
squint back at me. 'What mid that be?' says he. 'Why,' says I, 'the
girl I left behind me!' 'Be that what you be a-thinkin' on?' says he.
'O' course,' says I; 'what else?' 'What else, indeed?' says he, and he
did sigh same as if he had a bellows inside of en."
"Did he actually say he was a-thinkin' about soom maid?" interrupted
Mrs. Baverstock wrathfully.
"Bide a bit," retorted Private Caines, wagging his head portentously;
"I be a-tellin' the tale so quick as I can. Well, I did get tired o'
watchin' en layin' there, starin' and sighin', so I did begin to tell
en about somebody _I_ did think a deal on then, but have a-changed my
mind about now; and he did listen and laugh a bit, but I could see he
were a-thinkin' about his own sweetheart all the time. So says I at
last, 'I d' 'low she be a vitty maid?' 'Who?' says he, scraggling
round again. 'The girl ye left behind ye,' says I. 'Ah, to be sure,'
says he. 'Yes, she be a reg'lar pictur.' 'Well, you mid tell us a bit
about her,' says I; 'I've a-told 'ee all about my maid. Blue eyes, I
s'pose?' Seein' as his own be so black as sloes, I reckoned 'twould
come naitral to en to take up wi' a fair maid. 'Yes,' says he, 'so
blue as the sky at home on a June day!' I made a good shot, I told en.
'A good bit o' colour, I d' 'low!' (Him bein' a sallow man, d'ye see.)
'A pair o' cheeks like roses,' he says; 'and a little neck as
white--as the snow--nay, that's too cold--'tis more like the white of
a white flower, bless her!'"
Mrs. Baverstock threw herself back in her chair and snorted.
"This here be a pretty kind o' story to tell your mother the very
first day as you do come home," she said, in trembling tones. "And the
poor, innocent child a-sittin' there a-listenin' to every word."
"Nay, now, ma'am, you must hear me to the end," cried Caines, bursting
into a guffaw; while Dick, looking somewhat conscience-stricken,
patted his mother's hand and besought her in a loud whisper not to
"Lard bless 'ee, that weren't all!" exclaimed Billy. "You should ha'
heerd the chap a-ravin' about her little hands, and her darlin' little
feet, and I don't know what all. 'And what colour mid her hair be?' I
axed him arter a bit, when he'd a-told me everythink else he could
call to mind. 'I s'pose her hair be fair?' 'I s'pose so,' says he,
lookin' a bit queer. 'Why, don't ye know?' says I. 'D'ye mean to say
ye've forgot the colour?' 'Why,' says he, 'to tell 'ee the truth,
mate, she hadn't much hair o' any kind when last I did see her.'
'Bless us!' says I. 'What be talkin' on? Ye haven't been and took up
wi' a bald wold maid?' 'She bain't so very old,' says he, and he did
pull blanket up o'er his mouth so as I shouldn't see en laughin'!"
Here the hero of the tale startled his mother by suddenly exploding,
and she turned upon him indignantly.
"I do really think as we've a-had enough o' this here nonsense. I
can't make head or tail on't. You and your friend do seem to be
a-keepin' up a regular charm, and I can't make out no sense in it."
"I be very nigh done now, missis," cried Caines jubilantly; "there be
but a little bit more. I did sit and stare at en when he did say his
sweetheart hadn't no hair, and at last I did ax en the question
straight out, 'How old mid she be when you did last see her?' 'About
two months,' says he. Ho, ho, ho! 'About two months!' Yes, I've a-been
away from England a good bit, an' when I left her she hadn't a hair on
her head, nor yet a tooth in her mouth.' And the two of us did laugh
and laugh till we did very nigh bust our bandages."
"'Twas the little maid I did mean," explained Dick, as his mother
still stared gapingly from one to the other. "'Twas my little maid as
I was a-thinkin' on when I did lie on that there wold stretcher what I
did think I should never leave again. I did think o' she and wonder
what 'ud become o' she if doctor couldn't make a job o' me. Come here,
Tilly. You be daddy's little sweetheart, bain't ye?"
The child ran to him, and climbed upon his knee, and he passed his
hand proudly through her mass of yellow curls.
"See here, mate; plenty o' hair here now."
He gathered up the thick locks half absently, twisting them clumsily
into a kind of knot, and, throwing back his head, surveyed her
pensively for a moment; then he kissed her just at the nape of the
neck, and let the curls drop again with a sigh.
Mrs. Baverstock's beady eyes became momentarily dim; she did not
possess by nature a very large amount of intuition, but love is a
wonderful sharpener of wits.
"Dear, yes," she said. "She be the very pictur' of her mother." Then,
suddenly bursting out laughing and clapping her hands together, "So
that were the girl ye left behind ye!"
[Illustration: THE GIRL HE LEFT BEHIND HIM
'So that were the girl ye left behind ye']
Mrs. McNally's house was situated at the extreme end of the village,
and looked not upon the street, but right out into the glen, so that
when Elleney opened her attic window in the morning her blue eyes
feasted on a wilderness of trees, exquisite at this season with an
infinite variety of tints; for the tender bloom of an Irish spring is
only surpassed in beauty by the glories of an Irish autumn. The
undulating masses that would in October glow with a myriad fires were
now clad in the colours of the opal, delicate pinks and blues and
greys of yet unopened buds forming a background to the pure vigorous
green of larch or chestnut in full leaf, while here and there a group
of wild cherry-trees--trees which in a few months would be clothed in
the hues of the sunset--caught the morning light now on raiment as
snowy as the summit of the Jungfrau.
Elleney gazed, and rubbed big eyes yet heavy with slumber, and gazed
again; then she heaved a deep sigh, half of rapture, half of regret.
"It's beautiful, entirely," she said. "An' that big black hill at the
back o' the trees is the grandest ever I seen. But I'd sooner be
lookin' out at the little green hills at our own place, with me poor
father--the Lord ha' mercy on his soul!--walkin' about on them."
She passed her hand across her eyes now for another reason, and then
sighed again, but presently took herself to task.
"Sure, I've no call at all to be frettin'; I have a right to know
better, so I have. Me poor dada is gone where he's out of his
throubles, please God; an' amn't I too well off myself here in this
grand place, with me a'nt an' everywan so kind to me? Ye ought to be
ashamed o' yourself, Elleney, to go cryin' an' frettin' when it's down
on your knees ye should be, thankin' God. Hurry up now, an' on with
your clothes an' get the breakfast! Sunday mornin' an' all, an' the
girls down an' workin' about, I'll engage."
These remonstrances, which were made aloud with exceptional severity
of aspect, but in the sweetest, softest little voice in the world,
appeared to have the desired effect. The eyes were dried, the sobs
checked, and soon Elleney emerged from her garret, and came clattering
down the corkscrew stairs in her unyielding little best boots, clad
all in her Sunday finery, every sunshiny hair in its place, and her
blooming face a vision of wonder and delight to any chance beholder.
One such beholder encountered her in the narrow passage downstairs,
and respectfully flattened himself against the wall to let her pass.
"It's a fine mornin', Miss Elleney," said the young man.
Elleney started, stared, and then broke into a laugh.
"It's you, is it, Pat Rooney? I didn't know ye, ye're so grand this
mornin'. You do be generally all over flour--I never see you without
lookin' out for flour."
"An' I never see you, Miss Elleney," responded Pat Rooney gallantly,
"without bein' put in mind of another kind o' flower. Sure, you look
the very same as a rose to-day."
"Not at all," laughed Elleney, blushing, but quite frank and
unconcerned; "I wouldn't ask to be thought aiqual to anything so grand
as that. A daisy maybe, or--"
"Elleney!" called a shrill voice from some distant region. "_Elleney!_
We are all famished entirely. Girl alive, do ye forget it's your week
for the breakfast? I never heard the like! We've been waitin' this
"Laws," ejaculated Elleney under her breath, and with a
conscience-stricken face. "I didn't forget; but sure I didn't know
what o'clock it was, an' there's the eggs to boil an' all. Me cousin
Juliana 'ull be murderin' me. I'm just bringin' it, Ju," she called
back apprehensively. "And goodness only knows if the kettle 'ull be
boilin', itself," she added in a distracted undertone, "an' I'm afther
forgetting my big aperon upstairs, an' if I go an' black my best dress
me a'nt 'ull be the death o' me."
"Aisy now, don't be tormentin' yourself that way," cried Pat
soothingly. "Sure I'll just go along wid ye into the kitchen, an' if I
don't have that kettle bilin' in next to no time my name's not Pat
Rooney. It's me that's used to fires--ye'll see how I'll blow up yours
for ye, miss. There now, wasn't it by the greatest good luck I looked
in this mornin' to pick up my pipe that I left down below in the
bakehouse? Cheer up, Miss Elleney--we'll not be keepin' them long
waitin' for their breakfasts now."
Even while speaking the young baker had preceded the girl into the
kitchen, possessed himself of the bellows, and blown up the fire; he
now deftly dropped an entire basketful of eggs into a saucepan, and,
with a large loaf in one hand and a knife in the other, began with
almost incredible speed to cut off thick rounds.
"I suppose ye have the cloth laid?" he inquired presently.
"Me cousin Henerietta does that; I only has the breakfast itself to
get, an' there's not much trouble in that, on'y I'm such a slowcoach,
an' someway--I don't know how it was--my wits went wool-gatherin' this
"Well, I'll tell ye what, miss; if ye'll wet the tay an' pop the pot
down on the hob, the eggs 'ull be done, an' by the time ye have them
brought in the bread 'ull be toasted illigant. Herself won't know ye,
the way ye'll have got up the breakfast so quick."
"I'm very thankful to ye, Pat," said Elleney gratefully. "I'm sure I
don't know what in the world I'd have done without ye. But it's too
bad to be givin' ye all that trouble."
"Not at all, miss; no trouble at all. Sure I wouldn't have it on me
conscience for you to be roastin' that lovely face off o' yourself at
this terrible hot fire. The egg-cups is there on the shelf behind
ye--I can see them from here. There now, sure ye have it all
grand--wait till I open the door for ye. Now I'll have the loveliest
lot o' toast ready for ye when ye come back. That thray's too heavy
for ye entirely--it's a poor case altogether that I haven't got
another pair o' hands."
Elleney's gay little laugh trilled out again, and she shot a glance of
confiding gratitude from under her thick dark lashes in the direction
of the young baker which set the honest fellow's heart dancing, though
he well knew how little such innocent warmth meant.
"God bless her," he murmured as he returned to his toasting fork; "if
a dog done anything for her she'd look at it the same. If she wasn't
the mistress's niece itself, ye might whistle for her, Pat, me boy."
Meanwhile Elleney had gone staggering along the passage with her heavy
tray, and now bumped it against the parlour door as an intimation that
she would like some one to open it.
This unspoken request was acceded to so suddenly that she almost fell
forward into the room.
"I was waitin' on the eggs," she explained hurriedly, as she recovered
her balance and tottered forward with her burden; "but here they are
for yous now, and the tea is wet this good bit, an' the toast is very
The room was full of women; no less than eight of them sat expectantly
round the empty board. Besides Mrs. McNally herself and her four
daughters, three nieces had been added to her family on the death of
their mother, Mrs. McNally's only sister.
"Sure they're all the same as me own," the good woman was wont to say,
looking round affectionately at the girls. "There's times when I have
to be thinkin' which is which--upon me honour, there is." And
thereupon she would roll her broad shoulders, and wink with both eyes
together after her own good-natured fashion; and no one who lived in
the house with her could doubt that she spoke the truth.
Elleney had only recently been added to the group; she spoke of the
head of the house as "me a'nt," but she was in truth no relation to
the kindly soul who had taken compassion on her destitute condition,
being a niece of the late Mr. McNally's first wife. Perhaps no other
woman in the world would thus have admitted her to a circle already
somewhat inconveniently large; but, as Mrs. McNally said, "One more or
less didn't make much differ, an' sure the Lord 'ud be apt to make it
up to her, an' Elleney was a useful little girl, a great hand at her
needle, an' with a wonderful turn for business, God bless her."
Mrs. McNally invariably alluded to the odd little house where her many
avocations were carried on as her "establishment," and spoke
habitually of "the business." It would have been hard to define the
precise nature of this business. There was a bakery attached to it,
over which Pat Rooney presided, driving round the country each
afternoon with the results of his labours. Juliana and Henrietta
McNally sold groceries at one counter, and Matilda and Maria sold
calico and flannel and boots at another. Hams and stockings hung in
parallel lines from the ceiling, and there was a mysterious little
railed-off chamber at the back of the house, reached by a swing door,
on which the word "Bar" was set forth in gold letters, with a printed
legend underneath announcing that Diana McNally was licensed to sell
wines and spirits to be consumed on the premises. Here Bridget and
Mary Nolan held sway. They were "stale girls" in the opinion of the
neighbours, and therefore, as their aunt felt, the most suited for
this post. Maggie, their youngest sister, migrated between shop and
bar, and spent much of her time in rolling up "ha'porths o' twist" in
scraps of newspaper. Elleney, who was "tasty," and possessed of a
wonderful light hand, turned her talent for millinery to account, and
soon Mrs. McNally was able to add trimmed hats and ready-made dresses
to the other departments of her flourishing concern. Predisposed as
she was by nature to like any helpless young creature, she had rapidly
grown to appreciate the girl's talents, and was now genuinely fond of
her, though it must be owned that her daughters occasionably grumbled,
and that the real nieces were undisguisedly jealous.
Bridget looked up now, with a sniff, as Elleney began with great haste
to hand the eggs about the table.
"You've been long enough over it, anyhow," she remarked. "Mary and me
was wonderin' whether 'twas milkin' the cow ye were or bakin' the
"An' she hasn't brought the toast yet," grumbled Mary, drawing up her
"It's very near done," returned Elleney eagerly. "Pat Rooney said he'd
have it ready by the time I come back."
"Pat Rooney!" exclaimed the eight voices, in varying tones of
amazement and disapproval; even Mrs. McNally's sounding forth a deep
note of wondering concern.
"Pat Rooney, child! What brings him into the house at this time o' th'
mornin'? What brings him here at all to-day indeed?"
"He come to fetch his pipe," explained Elleney, scarlet with
confusion; "and when he seen me so run, an' so put about because I was
a bit behind, he offered to stay an' help me. It's him that's makin'
Juliana McNally, a frosty-faced person, no longer in her first youth,
looked round with a scandalised face.
"Did ye ever hear the like o' that?" she exclaimed. "Pat Rooney! The
impident fellow! If I was you, m'mah, I'd walk him out o' the kitchen
this very minute. Ye had no call to let him in at all, Elleney. Not
one of us 'ud ever dream o' such a thing, would we, Henny?"
"Indeed we would _not_," returned Henny or Henrietta as she was
indifferently called in the family. "Cockin' him up that way. He had a
right to know better, an' not go forgettin' himself and his place
"Aye, indeed," chimed in Bridget. "Set him up! Him and his ould cart."
"Then if it was nothin' but the cart that ailed him, Bridget,"
returned Juliana severely, "there wouldn't be much to complain of.
I'll throuble ye not to be turnin' up your nose at the beautiful new
cart me mother sent for all the way to Dublin. Ye paid pounds and
pounds for that same cart, didn't ye, m'mah?"
"To be sure I did," responded Mrs. McNally promptly. "There, now,
don't be upsettin' yourselves, girls. Elleney didn't know any better,
she's that innicent, poor little girl. She won't do it again, I'll
engage--will ye, Elleney? Ye see, me dear," she added in a
confidential undertone, "we do have to be very particular in an
establishment like this. 'Twouldn't do for me at all to go lettin' a
boy like Pat Rooney forget himself. He's a very decent boy, poor
fellow, an' his mother--the Lord ha' mercy on her!--was a most
respectable poor woman. But he must be kept in his place, me child,
an' ye see--"
"A-ah, m'mah, in the name of goodnsss sit down and pour out the tea,"
interrupted Anna Maria impatiently. "I'm dyin' for me cup. An' sure ye
haven't brought us anythin' at all to eat yet, Elleney. Off with you
now, an' bring that same toast whoever made it. The poor child's
frightened out of her wits. Sure what harm if ye did ask Pat Rooney to
help ye, itself--ye can soon get shut of him again. Ju, for mercy's
sake take that crabby ould face off o' ye. 'Pon me word 'tis enough to
curdle the milk."
Anna Maria's own face was of the round good-humoured order. "She took
after the mother," the neighbours said, and had certainly inherited a
large share of kindliness and jollity.
"Faith! Nanny's right," cried Mrs. McNally, relaxing. "Go fetch the
toast, Elleney, and give Mr. Pat Rooney his marchin' orders at the
"What am I to say?" inquired Elleney, her eyes round with alarm above
cheeks that were still crimson.
"Bid him get out of that," returned her aunt, laughing.
Elleney took up her tray, and went away with a lagging step. The
kitchen door was wide open, and in the aperture stood Pat, flushed
with his exertions, and holding triumphantly aloft an immense dish of
beautifully browned toast.
"There now," he cried jubilantly, "I'll throuble them to put their
teeth through the whole o' that in a hurry. Isn't that a fine lot? But
I know they does be great aiters within there."
"I'm very thankful to ye, Pat," said Elleney, with a downcast face.
"Sure I'm not meanin' to show disrespect," resumed he, quick to note
her expression, but mistaking its cause. "It's a powerful big family
your a'nt has, first and last, and why wouldn't they ait? I'll tell ye
what, Miss Elleney, I'll just stop here in the chimbley corner, an' if
they does be wantin' any more toast I'll have it made for them afore
you can turn round."
"Oh no, Pat," cried Elleney in alarm. "That wouldn't do at all. Me
a'nt bid me tell ye--me a'nt said--"
"Well, what did she say, miss, dear?" inquired Pat, as she faltered.
"She wasn't best pleased," stammered the girl. "She thought I done
wrong lettin' you help me; she bid me give ye marchin' orders"--catching
at what seemed to her the least offensive manner of conveying her
"Well, I can soon march," said Pat, in a slightly offended tone, and
turning even a deeper red than before. "I'll be off out o' this in a
"Sure ye're not angry with me, Pat?" said Elleney timidly, as she
followed him to the door. "I'm very grateful for all ye done for me."
"To be sure you are," said Rooney, without turning his head, and in
another moment the house door slammed behind him.
Elleney returned somewhat mournfully to the parlour, there to find the
whole family in a state of violent excitement.
Mrs. McNally had just received a letter, which she was clutching fast
with both fat hands; while the seven girls were simultaneously
endeavouring to read its contents over her broad shoulders.
"If yez 'ull sit down like good children," she exclaimed, as Elleney
entered, "I'll read it all out--every word. An' yez 'ull all know as
soon as meself. But ye have me distracted entirely, tormentin' me the
way ye're doin' now. Musha! did anybody ever see such a scrawl as the
"Sure, I can see it plain enough from here," cried Juliana, and with a
sudden deft movement she twitched the document out of her mother's
hands. "I'll read it, m'mah, in half the time you do be thinkin' about
"Very well, me dear, very well," agreed Mrs. McNally resignedly. "Ye
have the best right, afther all. It concerns you more nor me."
Juliana smoothed out the paper, and began to read in a high-pitched
monotonous voice, and without any regard to punctuation, of which,
indeed, in all probability, the letter was devoid.
"'Dear Mrs. McNally,--I write these few lines hoping you are quite
well as I am at present thank God it's a long time since we come
across each other but I haven't forgot the old times and I am sure
yourself is the same I did be hearin' a while ago about the fine
family of daughters you have God bless them and how well you prospered
in business dear Mrs. McNally I have one son a fine young man that I
do be anxious to settle in life--'
"Look at that now!" put in Mrs. McNally jocularly. "Didn't I say the
letter was more for you than for me, girls?"
"Whisht! can't you whisht?" put in Henrietta eagerly. "Go on, Ju!"
"'Settle in life,' resumed Ju. 'The farm is doin' finely for me thanks
be to God though I'm not able to stock it as well as I'd like these
bad times.' He's lookin' out for a bit o' money, ye see, m'mah?"
"To be sure he is," responded her mother comfortably. "Trust Tim
Brennan to be lookin' out for that. An' why wouldn't he, the poor ould
fellow? Dear knows, it's hard set the most o' the farmers is to live
at all. He's a cute ould schemer, Tim is, though."
"'There's not one o' the girls in these parts I'd let him take up with
at all,' went on the reader, 'but it come to me mind that if you was
willin' we might make up a match between himself an' one o' your fine
"Yous 'ull have all the luck, I suppose?" put in Maggie Nolan
"Not at all. What's that he says here about nieces, Ju?" returned Mrs.
McNally, leaning over her daughter's shoulder, and pointing with her
"'Or maybe one of them three nieces I was hearin' ye have livin' with
ye I knew your poor sister Bridget R.I.P. as well as I know yourself
an' I know all she done for her family.'"
"The sharpness o' that!" interrupted Henrietta. "The ould fellow knows
me A'nt Bridget had a nice little fortun', an' I'll engage he made
sure the three of yous has a share in the business."
"Young nieces," soliloquised Matilda, looking pensively at Bridget and
"Young daughters, too, if ye please," returned Bridget with spirit,
and her glance fell upon Juliana.
"Well, go on, Ju, finish it," said Mrs. McNally, laughing
immoderately. "You can all be pulling caps for him afterwards."
"'Me son,' read Juliana, 'has business in Dublin this next week an' if
you've no objections he could run out on an early train some mornin'
an' pay his respects to yourself an' the girls an' he can be tellin'
ye all about our place an' his prospects in life he's the only son I
have an' its a good farm an' a comfortable house an' many a girl would
think she was doin' well for herself so hopin' you'll think well of
the idea I will say no more this time yours ancettery, TIMOTHY
BRENNAN. P.S.--My son Brian is six foot high an' has a beautiful head
of hair he is very--' What in the name o' fortun' is that word,
"Hearty, is it?" said Mrs. McNally, craning her short neck. "No--happy,
maybe--no, that's not it. _Healthy_, that's it! 'He is very healthy.'"
"Laws!" said Henrietta, "that's a quare thing to be sayin'. Who cares
whether he's healthy or not?"
"A-ah, me dear," returned her mother sagely, "when ye get to my age
ye'll know it makes a great deal o' differ--especially to a farmer.
The poor d'da! Rest his soul!--well, well, we won't be talkin' o' them
times, but he was a great sufferer; an' if it was a farmer he was the
house wouldn't have held him. It's a terrible thing for a poor farmer
to be tryin' to go about his place, an' him not gettin' his health.
I'm glad this young fellow is healthy."
"Six foot!" commented Matilda, who was inclined to be sentimental.
"A beautiful head of hair," exclaimed Anna Maria, with a giggle.
"Troth, if it's me he takes a fancy to I'll be combin' it for him."
"Well," said Juliana indignantly, "I think ye're takin' too much on
yourself, Nanny, to go pickin' him up that way. There's others has a
better right to be considered first."
"You're the oldest, of course," said Anna Maria meekly.
"There's others older nor her, though," burst out Bridget.
"The oldest daughter has the first claim," cried Juliana, with
"To be sure, to be sure," said Mrs. McNally nervously. She was very
much in awe of her firstborn, who was indeed possessed of a
considerable amount of determination. "The young man, of course, 'ull
make his own choice, but I must say I think it 'ud be only becoming if
it was Ju."
Juliana glanced triumphantly round on the row of crestfallen faces,
and a sudden silence fell, during which Elleney, who had stood
listening with deep interest, suddenly remembered the now sodden toast
and handed it dutifully round.
Maggie Nolan's eyes met hers in wrathful protest as she helped
"Did ye ever see sich a girl as Ju?" she whispered.
"A regular grab-all. Of course if me a'nt goes favourin' her, the poor
fellow 'ull have to take her. But I pity him, aye do I."
"Sure maybe he won't," whispered Elleney back, consolingly. "He'll be
apt to be pickin' wan o' the young ones--I shouldn't wonder if it was
"If it wasn't for the money I dare say you'd have as good a chance as
the rest of us," said Maggie, mollified by this tribute; "but of
course the father wouldn't hear of any girl without a fortun'."
By an odd freak of fate, however, it was Elleney who first had speech
with Brian Brennan when he came to seek a wife in Mrs. McNally's
house. Elleney, indeed, was not in the house when his eyes first fell
upon her; she was kneeling on the doorstep, scrubbing it with might
and main. He had driven out from Dublin instead of coming by train,
and arrived in consequence earlier than was expected. Elleney wore the
pink cotton frock in which she went about her work of a morning; her
sleeves were rolled up, and her skirt pinned back. Her face was
flushed with a lovely colour, and the breeze lifted loose strands of
her nut-brown hair, as she squatted back on her heels in answer to the
"Is Mrs. McNally within? I think she's expecting me."
"Oh," said Elleney, looking up with those big astonished eyes of hers,
"is it Mr. Brennan?"
"It's that same," responded Brian cheerfully.
Elleney jumped up, knocking over her pail in her agitation, and wiped
her little damp hands on her apron.
"Me a'nt is in the shop," she said hurriedly. "If ye'll walk inside
I'll call her in a minute."
"A-ha!" said Mr. Brian, "you're one o' the nieces, are ye? Are the
rest anyways like ye?"
"They wouldn't take it as a compliment if ye were to say so," replied
Elleney. "This way, sir."
The big young man followed her into the parlour. He was a very big
young man, and he had a beautiful head of hair, black and curly; and
he looked extremely well fed and pleased with the world in general.
"Bless me, child, what a show ye are!" exclaimed Mrs. McNally, when
Elleney breathlessly summoned her. "Look at your sleeves, and your
skirt tucked up an' all. I declare I'm ashamed of my life--"
"How could I know it was him?" protested Elleney.
"To be sure, to be sure, none of us expected him; an' any way it
doesn't matter about you. Here, pull down your sleeves, dear, and take
my place for a bit. Where's Ju?"
"She's above, doin' her hair, and Henny's sewin' the bows on her
"Well, well, I'll call them. You'll have to keep the shop goin'
altogether, Elleney, this day. All the girls is wild to have a chance,
an' I know ye won't mind doin' a bit extra."
"I wonder which it will be," meditated Elleney. "If I was him I'd take
But Mr. Brian seemed quite unmoved by Nanny's rollicking charms. He
was, indeed, to some extent struck by the appearance of Juliana, who,
with her hair done up into what her mother called a "shin-on"--a
fashion much affected when she was a young woman--and wearing a silk
dress with flounces innumerable of the terra-cotta hue beloved, for
some occult reason, of her kind, entered the room with an air of
stately magnificence. The young visitor was very respectful to
Juliana, and spoke in particularly genteel tones when addressing her.
But his eyes wandered perpetually towards the door, and an acute
observer might have detected a certain lengthening of visage at each
fresh arrival on the scene.
When the seven specimens of maidenhood, from among whom he was
expected to make his choice, were at length seated in various
constrained attitudes about the room, a dead silence fell, broken only
by an occasional nervous remark from Mrs. McNally, and a monosyllabic
response from the wooer. The relief was general when the "decent
body," engaged to help for the day, opened the door with a very black
hand, kicked it still further back with a gaping shoe, and finally
entered the room bearing a large tray.
A repast, which the lady aforesaid subsequently described as
"sumpchus," soon adorned the board, and Mrs. McNally, with a
deprecating giggle, advised Brian to sit next the partner he liked
He hesitated, and cast a baffled glance round the room.
"Sure the whole of the family isn't here, is it?" he inquired.
"How many more would you want?" returned Juliana, with a playfulness
strongly tinged with asperity.
"Didn't I see another young lady an' I comin' in?" he persisted.
"Who in the name of wonder did he see, m'mah?" whispered Henrietta,
while the others looked blank.
"I b'lieve 'twas Elleney let him in," said Mrs. McNally. "The poor
fellow, he's that well-mannered he thinks bad o' sittin' down without
her. We're all here that can be here at present, Mr. Brian," she
remarked aloud. "Little Elleney that ye seen awhile ago is mindin' the
shop for me. We'll keep a bit hot for her till I go to take her
"Oh! that indeed?" said Brian rather blankly. "Isn't it clever of her
to be able to mind the shop, and she so young? I s'pose she's the
youngest of them?"
"Well, there isn't much to choose between her and Maggie there,"
returned his hostess; "and, indeed, I may say the same o' my daughter
Anna Maria. There is but a year between the three, one way or the
other. Well, since you're so bashful, Mr. Brian, I'd best choose a
place for ye. Will ye sit there on me right, between Bridget and
Juliana? There does be safety in numbers, they say, so ye needn't be
"Afeard is it?" responded Brian, with simulated jocularity, though his
countenance still wore an expression of dismay. "Troth! it 'ud be a
poor lookout if I was that easy frightened. 'Faint heart,' ye know."
But, though Mr. Brennan was very gallant and witty, the entertainment
was felt by every one to be somewhat flat, and the relief was general
when the young man proposed to go outside and smoke a bit of a pipe.
Mrs. McNally, however, considered it her duty to protest.
"Sure, we're not that particular," she observed, with her jolly laugh.
"Don't be goin' out in the cold, Mr. Brian."
"Why, what sort of a fellow would I be at all if I could forget myself
that way," he returned, rising with alacrity. "Would ye have me
pizenin' the young ladies? I hope I know me manners better."
"There's no denyin' he has elegant manners," commented his hostess, as
the door closed behind him. "I never wish to see a nicer young man.
Well, girls, what do ye think of him!"
"The poor fellow was shy, m'mah," said Juliana. "He kept blushin'
every time I looked at him."
"A-ah, g' long!" exclaimed Bridget, with startling warmth. "Not a
blush on him, then! Sure, it was his natural colour; he has a
"His eyes was rovin' from one to the other," cried Anna Maria,
giggling; "I was near dyin' with laughin'. You could see as plain as
anything he was axin' himself all the time, "Will I have this one,' or
'Will I have that one?'"
"A-ah, not at all," cried Juliana, reddening. "I didn't see a sign of
his eyes rovin'. Anybody with a grain of sense 'ud know his mind was
pretty well made up."
"Listen to that, now!" laughed Nanny, who was certainly good-tempered.
"You're out there, Ju. No; but I'll tell you the way it was with him.
Says he to himself, looking at you, 'That one is the eldest and a fine
girl altogether, but her nose is too long.' An' then he'd look round
at Bridget, 'She's got a nice bit o' money,' he'd say, 'but she's a
bit too old for me.' An' then he'd look at me, 'A nice healthy lump of
a girl,' he'd say, 'but too many freckles.' An' then Maggie maybe 'ud
have a turn--"
"Och, don't be goin' on with such nonsense, child," interrupted her
mother, quick to observe certain tokens of an impending storm. "Don't
let him find yez quarrellin' an' fightin' when he does be comin' back.
Wait till I tell yez all he's afther tellin' me about his own place. I
questioned him a bit afore yez come down."
The girls crowded eagerly round her, and she repeated with unction the
description of the various glories which awaited the future Mrs. Brian
Every one had forgotten Elleney and her little bit of dinner; every
one, that is, except the new-comer, who, after casting a nervous
glance at the parlour window on finding himself outside the house, had
made straightway for the almost deserted shop.
Customers were not many at that hour of the day, and Elleney had only
sold a pound of bacon and a couple of bootlaces since her aunt's
departure. She was sorting ribbons with a somewhat melancholy face
when Brian passed through the glass door and made his way to the
"Is that where ye have yourself hidden?" he inquired gaily. "They
thought to keep ye shut up out o' me sight, but I was a match for them
as cute as they were. 'Twas a shame for them not to let you come in to
"Sure somebody had to mind the shop," returned Elleney. Then her
little pink and white face dimpled all over with smiles. "Have ye
chose yet, Mr. Brian?" said she.
"Bedad, I think I have," quoth Brian, gazing at her admiringly.
Elleney clapped her hands. "Oh dear, is it Juliana?"
"It's not Juliana, then," said he. "Is that the big one with the
top-knot? Sure, what sort of taste d'ye think I have?"
"It wouldn't be Bridget!" cried she, laughing till every little white
tooth was visible.
"That's a bad shot--I'm afeard ye're no hand at guessin'."
"I wished it was Nanny," said Elleney earnestly; "she's the
best-hearted girl in the world."
"You wished it was her, do ye? Well, I'm sorry I can't gratify ye. My
choice was made before I ever set eyes on e'er a one of them."
"Then ye'd no call to come here at all," interrupted Elleney
"Whisht! Don't be bitin' the nose off me that way. Ye little schemer,
ye know very well it's yerself that carries all before ye. Sure, who'd
have eyes for any one else when you were to the fore?"
"Och, Mr. Brian, it's a shame for ye!" cried Elleney, with flashing
eyes. "Ye've no right to come givin' me impidence that way. I'll call
"An' what would ye do that for? It's the truth I'm tellin' ye,
darlint. The very first minute I seen ye on the doorstep the heart
leapt out o' me breast. You're my choice, mavourneen, though I don't
so much as know your name yet."
Elleney gazed at him timidly. He was a pleasant-looking young fellow,
and his eyes were very kind. She turned quite pale because of the
rapid beating of her heart. What a wonderful thing it was that the
prize over whom all her rich cousins had been disputing should have
fallen to her share--to her, poor little penniless Elleney.
"It's too good of you entirely," she was beginning in a tremulous
voice; "but I don't think you ought to go disappintin' your father and