i00bost.

Favorite authors in prose and poetry online

. (page 23 of 66)
Online Libraryi00bostFavorite authors in prose and poetry → online text (page 23 of 66)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


a-field for society ; so that he sees little of it. A just and a
kind man, but hot-tempered and somewhat arbitrary, from
having had his own way since he was a boy of nineteen,
when his father died. He married early the daughter of a
clergyman's widow, a lady of education and refinement,
whom, nevertheless, he had managed to make very happy,
and who had borne him a large family.

On the morning of the Christmas Eve with which we are
concerned, Mrs. Kendrick is making tea in the south parlor
of the manor, at a long table, w r hile her eldest daughter
Mabel, a girl of eighteen, is cutting large plates of bread-
and-butter, and filling mugs with new milk for the younger
branches. Presently the bell rings for prayers, and the gov-
erness with her convoy arrive at one door, while two school-
boys of fifteen and fourteen, and a small boy of nine
proud of having been out with his big brothers come in
with rosy cheeks from the hall.

" You can call the servants in, Willie," said Mrs. Ken-
drick to the eldest boy, as soon as she had returned all their
salutes ; " we are not to wait for papa."

After prayers, the serious business of breakfast began,
amidst a Babel of talk from the boys.



THE ASHEN FAGOT. lo

" Have n't we had a jolly morning, mamma ? Parker's
pond is frozen over splendidly, and we Ve been sliding ever
since it was light."

" And I can do butter-and-eggs all down the long slide,
which the carter-boys have made, can't I, Willie ? " (The
feat of butter-and-eggs, be it known to those readers who
are not up to the higher mysteries of sliding, consists in
going down the slide on one foot, and beating with the heel
and toe of the other at short intervals.)

" Yes, and Bobby is getting on famously, and goes at the
elide like a little dragon," said Willie. Bobby, the small
boy of nine, looked up proudly at his mother, with his
mouth too full of bread-and-butter to be able to take his own
part \xy speech at the moment.

" Bobby has n't learnt a word of his lessons though," said
a staid little girl of twelve, looking up from her milk ; " and
Miss Smith says he '11 have to stay in after breakfast to do
them."

"That's just like you now, Clara," retorted Dick, the
butter-and-eggg boy; "why can't you mind your own les-
sons, and let Bobby alone ? "

" But, Bobby, how did you get out so early ? " asked Mrs.
Kendrick.

"O, Willie came in and told me I might get up and
come with them."

" Yes, mamma, and I 'm sure it will do him good to be
out with us, instead of being with the girls. He need n't do
lessons, need he, just at Christmas time ? "

" Well, dear, Bobby shall have a holiday, and may go
with you. But you must take care of him, for he 's only a
little fellow, remember."

" O, yes, that we will."

" May n't I have some cold beef, mamma ? " broke in Dick,
and, permission being given, he and Willie helped them-
selves at the sideboard, and kept the conversation alive



16 THOMAS HUGHES.

with accounts of the game of hockey they were going to
have with the carter-boys, who were to break off work at
twelve, and the rat-catching which was to come off in the
big barn in the afternoon.

" And to-ni<rht is Ashen Fagot night, is n't it, mamma ?
and you '11 let us all go, and you and papa will come ? You
did n't go in last year ; and I heard Joe, the head carter, say
it was n't like Ashen Fagot if master and mistress did n't
come in."

A shade passed over Mrs. Kendrick's face, but she said
quietly, " Perhaps your papa will look in, dear ; and, at any
rate, you can all go for an hour or two."

"And O, mamma, shall we see the mummers ?" asked a
little bright-eyed girl of eight.

" Most likely, Maggy. They are sure to come, I think."

" But where 's papa ? Why does n't he come to break-
fast?"

" He has ridden out. He will come down and see you
sliding after breakfast, I 'm sure."

" Do you think I might take his skates? Dick wants to
begin, and I could lend him mine if I may have papa's."

" Yes, certainly, dear. I 'm sure papa would wish you to
have them."

" But, Willie," interrupted Dick, " there 's that pair of
smaller ones, hanging up by papa's ; they would fit you
better, you know. What's the matter? Why do you
kick me under the table ? "

Willie answered by a frown at his brother, and then
glanced up hastily at his mother, who had bent down over
her teacup. Mabel, who had been watching her mother
since the mention of the Ashen Fagot, got up quickly,
saying,

" O, there 's papa ; I 'm sure I heard his horse. Let us
go and bring him in."

The breakfast circle broke up at once. Willie lingered,



THE ASHEN FAGOT. 17

looking at his mother, who looked up presently, and
said,

" You can take papa's skates, dear ; but you must n't have
the other pair."

" Of course, dear mother, I know," he said, going up to
her fondly. And she kissed him, and he pressed her hand,
and then went off after his brothers. Mabel came back
with her father, and took out some embroidery-work, and
sat by him. while Mrs. Kendrick poured out his tea. Each
of them made some efforts to talk, but they were failures,
and John Kendrick finished his breakfast in silence. When
he had done, he got up and walked to one of the windows
and looked out, and his wife came and put her hand on his
shouldes. He took her other hand in his, and said,

" It was selfish of me to leave you this morning, dear, but
I could n't have borne the children's merry prattle so early.
I shall be better before dinner-time. What are the boys
doing?"

" They have gone down to the pond, dear, full of all their
plans. They are very happy. Shall we dine alone, just
you, I, and Mabel?"

" No, no ! I niust face it. It 's only just to-day. One
must make home cheerful to them in their holidays."

" Indeed, dear John, they are very happy ; are not they,
Mabel?"

" Yes, really, papa ; and Willie is so thoughtful and nice."

" He 's a fine character, thank God," said Mr. Kendrick ;
and then, after a minute's pause, he went on : " Only to
have written those three lines all this time. For myself, I
should n't wonder, but the cruelty of such silence to you,
to Mabel"

"But, dearest John, remember they were written on
board ship. He may never have had a chance of writing
again."

" God knows, dearest A cold heart, I fear."
2



18 THOMAS HUGHES.

"O, no, papa. Indeed you wrong him. He -was wild
and headstrong, but never cold or cruel."

" I would give all I an worth to be sure of it, Mabel.
Come, come, we must bear it as we may. Shall we walk
out presently, dear? I want to go to the bailiff's cottage,
and to call at old Jacob Eagleton's. His wife 's ill again ;
we can carry her some wine, and take the pond on the way
home, and see the boys slide."

" In half an hour, dear ? "

" Yes. You and Mabe will call for me, then, in my
room."

John Kendrick went to his study, and sat down before
his library table, and looked for five minutes absently across
the room and out of the window ; a most unwonted thing
for him. Then he roused himself with a start and a sigh,
and took a small bundle of letters and papers, chiefly bills,
out of the drawer of his library table. The letters were in
a school-boy hand. He read them through, tied up the
packet, and put them back, and then went and unlocked a
cupboard, and was looking at a cap, a riding-whip, and
cricket-bat, and other articles of dress and sport which it
contained, when he heard his wife's step. He shut and
locked the door of the cupboard, and turned to meet her
and Mabel.

" Here we are, dear, ready for our walk, and here 's the
post-bag."

John Kendrick took it and unlocked it, turning the con-
tents on to his table. A couple of papers and a half a
dozen letters fell out. He took up the first and was reading
it, when his wife broke out,

"O John, look here! what is this?"

She held out to him a soiled letter, with a strange stamp
on it. He took it, looked at it for a moment, tore it open
with a trembling hand, and glanced through it, and then,
handing it to his wife, leant forward on the table, burying
his face in his hands.



THE ASHEN FAGOT. 19

Mabel read eagerly over her mother's shoulder, glancing
rapidly from the page to the loved face, out of which the
look of repressed sorrow which had haunted it for more
than a year was passing, while tears ran down her cheeks,
and hindered her from reading. But, as she finished, she
stooped, and threw her arm round her husband's neck and
said,

" John, God has been very good to us to-day. This day,
too, of all others."

Mr. Kendrick squeezed his wife's hand, and then got up
and took two or three turns about the room, while his wife
and daughter still pored over the letter.

" He is alive, at any rate, and well, and earning his bread
honestly. * But why could n't he have written before ? Why
does n't he write himself now ? "

" O John, I can quite understand. It was so natural that
he should get this friend to write for him."

" What 's the name ? "

" The signature is H. Upton. What can we do to thank
him?"

" What is the date of the letter ? Let me see the en-
velope. Why, how can it have been so long ? The post-
mark is July 22d."

" Is it longer than it should have been ? "

" Yes, the regular mail comes in less than three months."

" Three months, papa ! what a dreadful distance ! " said
Mabel ; " we may write to him at once, now that we know
where he is, to tell him to come home, may n't we ? "

" We'll, we will think it over, Mabe. Perhaps he is bet-
ter where he is."

" Poor boy ! I wonder how he will spend this Christmas."

Jacob Eagleton's wife got a double allowance of wine-
that morning when Mr. and Mrs. Kendrick and their
daughter visited her.

" Wutever can be cum to the squire and missis ? " the old



20 THOMAS HUGHES.

woman muttered, as they left her ; " thaay hen't looked so
cheerful, not scarce since 'em wur married. "

Every one who met them in their walk made some re-
mark of the same kind.



CHAPTER III.

" WHAT did that old fellow call this road of yours, John-
ny T" asked the elder of our two travellers, giving his
shoulders a shake, which sent an accumulation of an inch
or so of snow off them.

" A unked road to kep in a vail," answered Johnny, imi-
tating the carrier's accent.

"By Jove, he's right! How it does come down! I
had almost forgotten what snow was like, though I rather
enjoy it."

"It must have been snowing up here for hours. Look
how deep it is. Four or five inches at least, already."

" Whereabouts are we ? We should be half-way, at any
rate, by this time."

" That we must be, for we 're on level ground. It is n't
quite two miles now to the dip just above."

They walked on for a minute or two in silence. " What 's
the matter, Johnny ? what are you sighing at ? "

" I 've half a mind to turn back. I almost wish I had
stayed out on your run, instead of coming home."

"Nonsense, man. Cheer up. Why, in an hour's time
you '11 be warming yourself by the Ashen Fagot, you 've
told me so much about. We couldn't have hit a more
lucky day."

"But don't you remember? Ashen Fagot Night was
the very time that it all began."

" And the properest night, then, for it all to end."

" They never answered your letter ! "

"There was no time, man. The answer couldn't have
come out before we had started."



THE ASHEN FAGOT. 21

And you think it will be all right, then ? If they only
knew how bitterly I have grieved over it all, and how I
have longed to see home again ! And now I 'm here, I
don't know how to face them. I almost wish I was back
again."

" Cheer up, Johnny. Why, nothing would serve you but
coming right off, the moment we landed, without giving me
an hour hi London, and now you want to be back again.
Why, man, it will be the happiest minute of their lives,
when they see you again."

" Do you think so ? "

" I 'm sure of it. But I '11 be hanged if I know when it 's
likely to be, though. I can't see five yards ahead. All the
snow in the heavens seems coming straight down on us.
Do you think we 're in the road ? "

" Well, I hope so ; but let 's see." And Johnny stooped
down and scratched a hole in the snow with his hand ; the
result of which was " Hullo ! " and a long whistle.

"Eh, what is it?"

" Grass, by Jove ! We 're on the downs."

" Well, that 's jolly. Let 's try again." So the two tried
several more places on each side of their track, with no
better success.

" Here 's a pretty go. Confound your linked road ! we
shall have to camp out, or walk all night."

" I hope not. If we go on, we must hit the Avenly dip
somewhere."

" Come along, then. It 's no good standing here."

They pushed on again, and soon began to be amused by
their adventure, and laughed and chatted, in defiance of
snow and downs. Their talk turned on home, and the elder
was describing his feelings on coming back.

" By the way, Herbert, you 've never told me why you
left the old country."

u Because I could n't live in it, Johnny. At my father's



22 THOMAS HUGHES.

death I was left with a magnificent patrimony of 400 and
a clerk's place of 40 a year. That did n't suit me. Be-
sides, to tell the truth, I was in a bad way, ready to hang
myself about a young woman. There was nothing for it but
to bolt, and seek my fortune."

" And you Ve found it, too."

" Yes, in one way. But it does n't seem worth much
after all."

" Is she married then ? "

" Heaven knows. I had a letter from her father, an old
family friend, five years back. I think he suspected how
matters stood. I never spoke, of course, as she was quite a
girl, and it would n't have been fair. I wrote to him several
times, but letters miscarry from our parts. Then I wrote
to some people I knew, and got an answer that he had left
our old neighborhood. Hullo! we Ve run against something
at last. What 's this ? "

" All right. It 's one of the down barns," said Johnny,
when they had groped their way round the building, which
they had nearly run against; "we shall most likely be ahle
to get in."

But they tried both the great side-doors and found them
locked. " Hark ! did n't I hear a sheep bleat ? "

"Very likety. There's often a fold and a shepherd's
cottage close by ; which way was it ? "

" Just down here."

They followed the sound for a short distance, and came
upon haulm walls and hurdles, within which were a large
flock of sheep, and the next moment heard furious barking.
Then through the down-pour of snow they made out a small
cottage, the door of which opened, and a tall figure in smock-
frock and long leather gaiters appeared, thrown out into
relief by the light in the room behind him.

"Quiet w'oot! Dal th' noise! Cas'n't let'm harken?"
As the dog ceased barking, the shepherd's ear caught the



THE ASHEN FAGOT. 23

crunching of the snow under their feet as they approached
Hullo, ther' ! Wut be at wi' the vauld ? "

" AVe 've lost our way on the downs to-night, that 's all.
We came upon your fold by good luck ; may we sit down
till the storm 's over ? "

The shepherd looked somewhat suspiciously at them at
Crst, but then moved aside.

" Ees, ee med cum in. But 'twunt last long this starm."
So they entered the cottage, a low two-roomed place, the
living-room opening to the outer air, in which they found
the shepherd's wife, and tailless dog, a small, carefully-nursed
fire, and the tea-things laid.

The occasion was just the one for the elder traveller, and
he proved <mite equal to it Under his influence the shep-
herd's wife bustled about, and the fire was piled up with as
much fuel of old fagots, coke, and cinders as would have
lasted the worthy couple a fortnight ; the kettle sung and
puffed away at the unwonted stimulant administered to him ;
the three mugs of the establishment were produced, and
Johnny brought out a flask from his knapsack, full of good
brandy. The coats were shaken by the shepherd, and hung
up on pegs to dry, and in five minutes' time the whole party
was settled down, the hosts to their tea, and the guests to
a mug of grog each.

" Well, Johnny, this is n't a bad change from the Downs,
eh ? Look here, ma'am ; let me put a drop of brandy in
your tea ; you can't think what a good thing it is. Eh,
shepherd, you '11 try my prescription, too, won't you ? "

" Ef you plaase, zur. Ah, it do 'mazingly flavor th' tea ;
d'wont it, Betty ? Wun't you tek' nothin' to yeat, zur ?
You be raal welcum to 't"

" No, thankee ; we fed at Lilburne. But if your wife
does n't mind smoking "

"Blessee, noa, zur. Do'ee light up. Hur be terrible
vond o' th' smell o' baccur, tho' hur dwon't zmoke."



24 THOMAS HUGHES.

But you do, shepherd?"

" Lord, ees, zur."

" Then you must take some of my stock " ; and, suiting
the action to the word, he emptied his big pouch on the
table, and, separating the contents, pushed about two thirds
over towards the shepherd, whose eyes glistened at the
sight.

" 'T is very kind o' you, zur ; but, can 'ee spare 't ? "

" Yes, yes, there 's plenty more where that came from.
And, now you Ve done your tea, draw round, and brew a
good mug of that stuff. Don't be afraid of it; it won't
hurt you, nor you, ma'am, either, such a night as this. Your
health, ma'am ; your health, shepherd ; and yours, Johnny,
and a merry Christmas to you all."

" The zaam to you, gen'l'men, and many ov 'em."

The shepherd drinks, and passes the mug to his wife, and
then produces a short black pipe, which he fills, and sucks
at with evident delight, Herbert watching him. " There 's
nothing so comforting, when one 's out with the sheep at
nights, as a pinch of good tobacco, eh, shepherd ? "

" Ther' beant, zur. But how do 'ee cum to know 't ? "

" Oh ! I 'm a shepherd myself."

" Noa, be 'ee though ? Thee dost n't look like one, zur.
Wut zart o' vlock 's yourn, zrar ? "

u I Ve three or four, of a thousand each."

" Vour thousand zhep ! I hopes you 've got volks wi'
some gumption in 'em, zur, to look arter 'em these cowld
nights."

" O, it 's lambing time with us, and we never have any
nights like this."

Shepherd chuckles, and looks incredulous.

" You don't believe me, I see, shepherd."

" I never heer'd tell o' lambin' much afore Easter."

" But you don't understand. It 's summer now where 1
live."



THE ASHEN FAGOT. 25

" Zummer at Christmas time ! a martal queer time o' year
for zummer, zur."

" Yes, real hot summer."

" Wher do 'ee live, then, zur ? "

"On the other side of the world. In Xew South
Wales."

" Dear heart ! and zo 't is zummer in them parts at
Christmas time? "Well, 'tis mighty curous to think on,
now."

" Do'st mind, Jonas, as Mrs. Gibbins said, as her sen as
wur transported wrote from Botany Bay as the seasons wur
all got wrong ther ? Zo a zend to zay."

" You dwon't cum from Botany Bay, zur, do 'ee ? "

" Well, k 's in the same part of the world. But we 're
not returned convicts, if that 's what you mean."

Shepherd glances at his wife, and seems much relieved.

" But you may depend upon it, that 's the place for us
shepherds. What would you say now to fifty pounds a
year, and your keep, with as much beef and mutton as you
could eat? You don't get anything like that in the old
country."

Shepherd stops smoking and opens his eyes, " Vifty
pound a year!"

"Ay, every penny of it, and not a bit too much. I
should like to know who ought to be well paid if the shep-
herd is n't

* If 't was n't for the sheep and the poor shepherd,
The world would be starved and naked,'

you know."

" So you knows th' owld zhearing zong ? "

' No, I only know a line or two that I 've picked up from
my friend here. I should like to hear it of all things. Can't
you give it us ? "

The shepherd looks shy, but, after a little persuasion from
his wife, who declares that he is noted for singing, he clears
his throat and croons out :



26 THOMAS HUGHES.

" Zeng, bwoys, zeng, a zhepherd 's as happy as a. lord,
And a /.hep 's the vinest creetur owld England can afford,
And, if you listens vor a while, the truth I zoon will tell 'ee,
'T is clothin' to the back, my bwoys, and linin' to the belly.
The zhepherd stands beneath the bush, a-shiverin' and shakin'
If 't was n't vor th' zhep and th' poor zhepherd th' world 'd go stan ed

and nuked.

All along the winter time we gives our zhep some hay,
Keps fodderin' and fodderin' o'n until the month of May.
And, when the month of May cums in, if the weather should prove fine,
The little lambs will skip and play, and plaase the zhepherd's mind.
And, when the month of June cums in, if the weather should prove hct,
We teks the clothin' off their backs, while the pudding 's in the pot.
And then agen at night, my bwoys, together we will zeng,
For a zhepherd lives as happy as ever a prince or king."

" Thank you. I shall carry the old song back to the other
side of the world. Now, shepherd, come, take another glass.
The brandy is n't out, you see."

The shepherd, after some coquetting, makes another mix-
ture in his cup, and hands it to his wife, who puts down her
knitting, and gets up to make a little courtesy, and say, " Your
health, gentl'men." The shepherd takes a drink.

" Ah ! it zims to do a body good, that do, now, to put
the heart into 'un, zur."

" I 'm glad you like it, You must have a hard life of it
up here on the downs at times."

"Ah, 't is, zur, I assure 'ee, and I had ought to know.
Nigh varty year, man and bwoy, I 've ben a zheperdin', and
afore that I wur bird-kepin', when I wur quite a leetel 'un.
I allus liked bird-kepin^ and I 've zhot a zite on 'em wi' th'
owld king's-arm as maester kep vor 't."

" What was the best shot you ever made, now ? "

" Well, zur, I '11 tell 'ee. It wur at th' rooks, and, ef you
knows about bird-kepin', you minds how keen the rooks be
at seedin' time, to light and snicker about wher' thaay can
see arra bit ov a scratch, specially in the niornin's. So I
casts about in my yead I haint got much book-larnin', but
I Ve got a yead on m' zhoulders as answers to 't how to



THE ASHEX FAGOT. 27

cotch 'em, cos' 'em be aggravatin' birds, plague} cunnin' let
'em be never zo lear. One mornin' afore light I hucks up a
bit o' ground right afore the barn ther', and drows a handful
o* zeed corn auver the scratch, and gets inside zo as um
med n't zee m', and then puts two pipes-full o' powder, and
a'mwoost all the shot as I M got, into the gun, and waits.
Arter a bit I hears one on 'em a cawin' up above, and then
down a cums, plump. Th' owld wosbird teks a look at th'
barn, but both doors was wide open, zo as a' could zee right
droo. Zo a gevs a caw as tho' 'twur all right (a could n't
zee I, for a bit o' straw as I 'd got round m') and falls to
hisself, and, a'most afore you could look, the scratch wur all
black wi' 'em, scrouging and cawin' together. Then I zets
up zoftly and teks a long breath, and zhuts m' eyes, and pulls.
A went off wi' th' mwost all-fired noise, and kicked I fit to
bust. Wen I cum to, and zet up in the straw, and could
look out, ' Lord,' sez I, ' wut ! haint I killed not one on 'em ? '
Then I hears a floppeting behind m', and turns round. You
zee, zur, th' owld king's-arm had took and kicked I right
round, zo as I wur looking out o' t'other door o' the barn wen
I cum *o."

" O yes, shepherd, I dare say."

" Well, but when you got faced round again to the right
door what had you done ? "

" Lord, zur, the ground wur all black wi' 'em, mostly
dead, but zum on 'em hobblin' about, more nor dree-score
on 'em "

The shepherd is interrupted by the laughter of the younger
of his guests.

" You med b'leeve m' or not, as you plazes, zur."

" Threescore rooks at a shot. What do you say to that,
ma'am ? "

" 'T wur afore my time, zur, but I never heerd Jonas tell
it no other waay."

" Well, it would take a big whale to swallow you, Jonas."



28 THOMAS HUGHES.

" Poor owld mother tuk and put zum on 'em into a pie
But 'em did yeat terrible runk, I wun't deny but 'em wur
terrible runk."

" So I should think. Let 's see, what 's the time ? Not
half past seven. How 's the night, shepherd ? "

The shepherd gets up and goes to the door.

Johnny, in a low voice to Herbert, "I know all about
where we are now, only about a mile and a half from
home. It 's the great barn we used to call the haunted
barn."

" What was it haunted with ? "

" Cats ; I '11 tell you the story presently. I don't want to
talk, or Jonas might recognize me."

" Not he. Well, what do you make of the night, shep-
herd ? "

'T is clearin' off, zur. 'T will be vine enuff d'rectly."

" Did you ever see any ghosts in the barn ? "

" Haw ! haw ! Noa, zur. Ther' beant no bogles up here ;
thaay keps down below, thaay does."



Online Libraryi00bostFavorite authors in prose and poetry → online text (page 23 of 66)