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Home Again


The Tug of War







Good-day to you, madam; and good-day to
you, sir. "Welcome to Nottingham. Have
you any engagements, or may I hope you will
accept my company for a stroll this sunny Sep-
tember afternoon ? You will ! I am greatly
honoured. You have notseenmuchof the towm,
I daresay ? As I thought ; you have seen
the Market-place pump and the Town Hall,
and that is all. Well, be good enough, with-
out more ceremony, to follow me, and I will
show you a better sight.

Puff: ! Xow we are out of the streets, and
can speak and be heard. This broad avenue
that you see before you is the Queen's Walk.
These buildings that hedge it on every hand



are the Meadows, "so called because once,
tliirty years ago, there were meadows here
green all the year, save in the springtime,
when they were blue over with crocuses.
Ah, if it were only thirty years ago ! And
w^hy not, if we choose to have it so, and for
an hour clear our memory of all the dust and
rubbish that has been accumulating these
tliirty years ? Let it be thirty years ago
now, dear companions. Pardon me, I am too
soon familiar. Let the Queen and all of us
be thirty years younger to-day ; and let us
see here nothiug but what we might have seen
thirty years ago.

So we are now at the end of the Walk, and
by the banks of the Trent. This thing that
fronts us is not an iron bridge, but a rustic
ferry — Wilford Ferry, worked by one man's
arm. We enter the boat, and cross in com-
pany with a milk-cart, a Nottingham stock-
inger, with fishing-rod and mat basket in
hand, and a pair of sweethearts bound for
Clifton Grove. '

Safely landed with a bump ! The village
close at hand, almost hidden by innumerable
elms is Wilford. However, we will not enter


it now, but will turn to the right by this
"White House Inn, making for the church,
whose tower and spire you can see in spite of
the trees.

Allow me, ladies, to assist you over this
hio'h stile. Xow here we are, with nothing^
but a low barrier between us and the church-
yard that grave-baunted Ivirke White loved.
But before you enter, sit down and admire
the scene.

It is scarcely spoilt even now, though
green fields are blotted out with red brick,
and a colliery belches smoke on the opposite
bank of the river. But ves, I remember, we
are at thirty years ago. Northward, beyond
the Trent, see a broad sweep of rich meadow-
land, besprinkled with trees, and bordered
by pleasant hills, from which to our left rise
the heights of Wollaton, clad with verdure,
through which peeps the white face of a soli-
tary mansion. To the right of these lie the
houses and gentler slopes of Lenton ; and
next the bluff on which stands Xottingham,
its two most prominent headlands crowned,
the one by the Castle, the other by St. Mary's


Further still, and faintly seen through the-
September haze, Sneinton Church sits on its
own hill, like a little St. Mary's. Last of alt
the bold Rough Hill, covered with wood,
flings round to our flank, and cuts off the

And all the while the river, placid and full
in this autumn time, rolls swiftly at our feet,
and the breeze flutters the old elms that
overhang us, and the birds that inhabit them
fly busily in and out of doors.

We have loitered here long enough, and
our seat is none of the comfortablest ; let us
over the stile and into the churchyard, which
is closely begirt on every side with great

But hush ! We have company here be-
side the sheep that browse on the graves — a
young gentleman sitting on the low stone
wall that skirts the river. As I happen to
know him pretty well, allow me to introduce
him to you, ladies and gentlemen ; that is,
mentally, for I would not disturb him at this
'moment for a hundred pounds. Mr. Hum-
phrey Denton, ladies and gentlemen ; a
young man aged twenty-one years, and of


much promise ; for that is the promising age.
And the time for f alfilraent — when ? \Yill it
be ever and ever to-morrow ? For oh ! if we
could only live to-morrow, how good should
we become — aye, the worst of us ; and what
good we should do, even the idlest of us.

But all this is nothing to Mr. Humphrey
Denton, who is twenty-one, and still sitting
thoughtfully on the wall. If we could only
draw near enough to hear him think ! Do
not you catch something like this ? —

*' What a voice she has ! and what eyes !
and what an honest heart ! And what — If
ever a man was haunted I am; and by no
evil spirits — crossed in every path by pair of
bright eyes and a supernatural voice. What
a marvel it is, the world of music that one
little throat includes ! Such larks ought not
to be private ; they should be caught and set
in public to sing for the commonwealth's re-
generation. All but Polly ! A flock of such
birds would preach evil out of our thorough-
fares, for who would act basely or give the
world over-much reo^ard while heaven was so
iipparently sounding near him ? "

A very strange young fellovv ! And it is


well be only thinks his wild notions ; for, did
he utter them, he would earn a foolisli name.
But see ! ever on the alert, he catches a
glimpse through tlie hedge of something
womanly coming along the path by wliich we
entered. He is off his seat in a twinkling,
and gfains the cover of one of the church
tower's deep buttresses.

Presently a girl shows herself within a few
yards of him ; tall, shapely, and dark-eyed,
carrying a large bundle in a blue checked
wrapper. Evidently a work-girl, though
decently, even gracefully, clad.

The young man, taken so vigilantly un-
awares, will not notice her until she has well
caught sight of him. When he turns, and
says with an air of pleasurable surprise —
" Why, good afternoon, Polly ! "
Her face flushes, until she looks like one of
those roses that we love ; but whether with
pleasure or pain, you could not decide ; per-
haps both.

" Good afternoon, Mr. Humphrey."
" As I have met you," he says again, '' I
have something to tell you. Sit down and
take a little rest meanwhile."


'' I must not loiter, sir," Polly answers ;
" I was delayed half an hour yesterday."

'' But my news concerns Mike,"

" What is it? " she asks, more eagerly.

He motions his hand towards the wall on
which he has been sitting, and says in a busi-
ness-like manner —

'' Sit down then, wliile I tell you."

Beino- anxious to hear, she cannot refuse
to fulfil the conditions. She sits down,
though uneasily, and be beside her.

" I've just heard that the cricket com-
mittee have decided to play Mike all next


" Oh, thank you, Mr. Humphrey!" cries
Vollj, starting up. *' How proud father will
be ! and how o^ad I am ! "

" You are not keeping your contract,
Polly," says Mr. Humphrey, pointing to
lier empty seat; and she sits down again
obediently, for there may be more to hear.

" I knew," he continues, " that they
would play him. YThat splendid cuts he
makes ! "

" And what drives, too ! " cries the enthu-
siastic Polly.


'' And what a steady defence for so young
a player ! "

'* And his fielding, too, so good ! "

" Do you remember when he threw Leggy
out at Sutton in Ashfield?"

*' And when he caught Spooner out at
Burton Joyce ? "

" And his score of a hundred and thirty-
six against the Bumpers ? "

" And ninety-eight not out for the Screw-
drivers ?"

"How is it," says Humphrey, suddenly
changing key, tempo, and tone, '' how is it
that you could sing ' Old Robin Gray ' last
night so feelingly ? You never had the mis-
fortune to marry him, nor yet any younger and
less estimable man."

" If I had," answers Polly, with an archly-
subdued smile, " I fear I should have found
it nothing to sing about."

" How I pitied 3^ou in your heap of woes.
My grief rose at each fresh disaster — your
father's accident, the tlieft of your cow, your
mother's sickness, until when Old Robin
Gray came a-courting you, I could have


PoUy replies —

" You are laughing at me because I was so
•earnest in play."

" ]^ay, I was myself too earnest for play,
and felt the misery more than the art. My
pity fell like the rain, without thinking of the

Polly twists her head away, and kicks a
•stone with a shapely foot, as she replies de-
liberately —

*' You should have gathered up your pity
tis it fell, and saved it against the need."

'' lYell, with the remnants I will be very
pitiful to some one, Polly, for your sake."

" I must go," she says with a jerk, making
to rise.

" One moment more. Does it not make
you happy to sit here at ease, feeling the
sun's warmth in the shade? with the birds
chirruping, the lazy breeze (if this is a breeze
and not an airy sigh of full content and quiet),
the scarecrow's bragging hullabaloo, the
Trent below, which in this mood seems
gladder to be brio-ht than stronor ; the trees'
rustle as they feel their leaves — everything is
as sweet and peaceful and monotonous as a


cuckoo's chime. Could you not be content
to sit here half a day and feel these influ-
ences ? "

But Polly is thinking of something else,
and does not answer this rhapsody, saying
decided!}^, as she rises —

" I must indeed go now."

Humphrey rises with her, and picks up her
bundle from the ground.

''How heavy it is!" he says, looking
ruefully at her. " Have you carried this all
the way from Adams '? " Then with a sudden
shamefaced effort : " Let me carry it a little

" No, no, Mr. Humphrey."

''Only to the gate."

" I cannot think of it, sir. Please to give
it me back, or I will not stir."

While they are so disputing, a gentleman
with two ladies appear in the avenue that
makes the principal approach to the church.
They are at once so interested in the matter,
that their acquaintance with one at least of
the parties is evident. Would you know their
names ? That tall, pale, well-dressed young


lady, fine bat haughtily featured, is Miss
Manlove. The lady who is giggling is Miss
Flighty. Their escort, Mr. Thomas Chatterly,
junior, a good-looking young man, with good
clothes, a good digestion and good temper, to
speak only of his good parts. Mr. Chatterly
opens the gate for the ladies, and all three
advance towards the disputants.

'' Why, good afternoon, Denton," says Mr.
Chatterly, witli a waggish look at tlie bundle.
" G-lad to see you."

" Yery glad to see you," echoes Miss
Flighty, with smirking emphasis.

"Is it Mr. Denton?" says Miss Manlove, too
calm and cold to be scornful, as she fits her
eye-glasses to her nose. " Indeed it is ! I
am verv srlad indeed to see you, Mr. Denton,
especially under circumstances so charming."

Denton only answers these compliments
with a bow, trying to deny to himself that he
is abashed.

" A ver}' fine day, Denton," says Chatterly,
flourishing his stick, and casting his eye in
mock admiration on all the beauties around,
including Polly.


" Yes," replied Denton.

He could not have answered more shortly
unless he said " No."

Now it is Miss Manlove's turn.

" You do not introduce us to this lady, Mr.
Denton ; a cruel reticence."

The young man made a great effort,
mentally sentencing himself to self-command
or death, and answered gravely —

'' Polly Berridge, Miss Manlove. Those
who cultivate her acquaintance find it most

The tormentor responded in her quiet, in-
variable, slightly drawling tone —

" I shall be delighted, I am sure, to become
a humble member of the circle of her
admirers. It is a very pretty walk this way>
Miss Berridge? "

Polly declining the opening, Chatterly takes
it up.

"Under pretty conditions, eh, Denton? We
.shall not have your company to Nottingham,
I suppose ? Well, good-day. We shall see
you this evening, I hope, at Mrs. Feathers' ! "

" 0, yes, we must of all things," cried Miss
Flighty ; and the trio, having completed


bows of wonderf Lil length and breadth, sail

Polly turns to Humphrey with a glowing
face and flashing eyes, and catching her
bundle from him, says both reproachfully and
angrily —

*' You see you have made both yourself and
me ridiculous ! " So leaving him.

Half-stunned, Humphrey lets her go, and
stands upbraiding himself.

" I'm forsworn if my heart chopped up
small with bread would make a meal for a
jay. Why are my cheeks and tongue so
guilty? Have I been committing a crime?
Surely not. Or a fault? No. A folly
perhaps ? Well, I partly beheve not — or if
I were, woe to the fool that has not the
courage of his foolery. The valiant in folly
has half the merit of a wise man, but the
timorous fool is twice a fool. They have gone
away bursting their sides with genteelly
restrained laughter; and she in as much
anger as her heart knows of ; by which she
looks more amiable than ever. I must go
after her, and make my peace as wisely as I
have wit for."


So tlie last of the intruders has gone, and
left us free to walk round the old fabric that
has now the serene beauty of antiquity,
though its youth, I dare say, was but a
gawky one. Enough, however, has been seen,
and the twilisrbt berais to fall. Let us return
home^ and on the way I will give some further
account of Mr. Denton, whom we have met
here to-day.

He is said to be of good birth ; but all I
know about that is, that his father and mother
were better people than are often seen, and
therefore of bad birth he cannot be. Whether
or no, he lives with his mother, a widow not
yet elderly, in the largest house in the village ;
a great, square, red-brick place, as ugly as
could be built for money (as to love it is
unknown in the building trade), but comfort-
able withal, and surrounded by fine gardens
and plantations that half redeem its plain-
ness. He is also supposed to be sole heir to
his uncle, Mr. Paul Denton's property.

This was the elder brother of Humphrey's
father, and a man of much experience. He has
travelled ; was a soldier in his young days,
and when he left the army, made himself a


iDarrister to employ his leisure. He is said to
have been especially skilf al in cross-examina-
tion, but has now given up practice. He
possesses a good estate within a few miles of
Wilford, to which village he rides round
two or three times a week, paying his sister-
in-law a visit lonoer or shorter according as
his nephew is at home or not, and also calling
on a few old friends in the neighbourhood.
Formerly he used to dine in London with the
wits ; here in the country he is well enough.
liked, but with something of doubt. If you
would know how he looks, he is short and
stout, with a keen eye, and aquiline nose, and
carries himself erect.

But here we are back again, and you are
weary of me, though you will not say so.
Farewell for the present.


The cottage of the Berridges' still stands at
the farther end of Wilford, near the lane that
leads to the Trent Bridge. It is a thatched
and patched building, ranked sideways to the
road on which it abuts. Mark the gray belly-
ing walls, the tiny casements, and the little
latticed porch facing the south. In the front
is a garden, the borders of which bloom, in
spite of the lateness of the season, with rose,
geranium, and verbena; while the rest of the
plot is green with kidney beans, cabbage, and
celery. At the rear there is a large orchard,
famous for its apples as far as Nottingham.
Amos Berridge, the occupier, had formerly
been a framework knitter at Nottingham, but
having, like many of his class, a fondness for
gardening, had some few years before the time
that we speak of, retired hither with his small
savings, and set up as market gardener, the
dream of his youth. If all youthful ambi-
tions were as moderate, they would oftener
be realised ; and, being so, be enjoyed. He


Las one son, Mike, employed in a lace factory,
and one daughter, Polly, who is a mender for
one of the great warehouses.

In the dusk of the day on which we saw
Humphrey Denton meet his daughter Polly
in the churchyard, Amos stood at his cottage
door smoking ; an ageing man with bent
shoulders, and a gentle face that has seen
troubles. While he is there his daughter
comes up the garden path, a manly shape at
the same time being dimly perceived to turn
away from the gate.

" Is that Mr. Humphrey, lass ? " said Amos
quietly, and barely looking at her, as if to
say, ''Don't answer me if you'd rather not,
you know."

"Yes, father." -

" Has he come up wi' thee ? "

" Yes, father."

" He does so often, lass ! "

" Yes, father."

" Ah," said Berridge, with something like
a sigh, as he turned in.

Polly lights a candle, and while she hangs
her bonnet and shawl behind the stair- dooiv
we may take a quiet survey of the room.


A quaint place, indeed, sliowing the different
work of several generations. The floor is
partly of brick and partly boarded. One side
of the roof slopes, until the smallest man
could touch it with his head ; the other
portion is flat and crossed by a rugged beam,
from which hans: bao:s of herbs. Two
cushioned arm-chairs stand like sentinels on
either hand of the gaping chimney, in which
is a hug^e o^rate reduced to a reasonable size
with bricks. The walls are well white-washed
and adorned with brightly-coloured prints.
Do not be too much surprised if you see in
the nook between the window and the chimney
a little piano. A poor jingling thing, no
doubt, which your dainty fingers, young lady,
would scorn to touch ; picked up cheap at an
auction, but under Polly's fingers it makes
music which her father, and mother, and
brother, and some one else loves.

" Why, what is it, lass?" said Berridge,
as Polly brought her face to the light. " Thou
looks all ill to fare. Has any one said oat to
thee?" he suddenly asked, almost fierce at
the suspicion. >

" no, father."


He laid his pipe down on the table, and,
putting both his hands on her shoulders,
looked with fatherly confidence into her face,

'• What grieves thee, my lass ? "

'' O, father," she cried, bursting into tears,
and falling on his neck, ''he keeps meeting
me, and he oughtn't, he oughtn't. I went
round by the churchyard to-day, and he met
me ao'ain."

" Ne'er mind, my lass, ne'er mind," said
the father's pity, comforting her like a child,
as he pressed her to him, and put his rough,
cheek on her smooth one. " There, there.
Hang on feyther. Nay, nay."

When she had been a little soothed by his
gentle admonitions, he drew her to his old
arm-chair by the chimney, and set her on his
knee, fondling her with rugged tenderness.

" Now art better ? " he murmurs, in a soft
tone for a man, and a working man, too, that
had nearly done a life's work. " Art better
now? Wi' thee lying on feyther' s knee like
a little wench, I feel like to begin wi' lullaby
babby, or some other oad nonsense. Ay,
many's the time I've lullabied thee to sleep


wi' thy pretty face. Ah, oad times, oad
times. Thou'st thy babby face yet, lass."

" Dear father," was answer enough and
thanks enough, with the caress that went
with it.

There they sat unspeaking with their hearts
so close together, both thinking of the same
thing. Polly's thoughts I could not venture
to interpret, so wildly changeable they were,
taking a fresh dye from every imagination,
especially the somberer ones. Her father,
too, was trying, without any ingenuity, to
solve the question. He thought well of the
young gentleman ; he loved his frequent
visits ; and wise or otherwise, with what face
could he ask him to discontinue them ? He
kijew how to trust his daughter with his
honour as well as her own ; and this was his
conclusion, with one prayer to leave all to
Him to whom he had surrendered every tittle
of his life.

Now bursts in brother Mike, a tall, big-
jointed, ungainly colt, yet with a clean and
bright face. He flings his hat as it happens,
and then, staring with great eyes at the group
in the arm-chair, cries, boyishly boisterous —


*' Hullo, what's up wi' our Poll ? "

" Ke'er mind, lad," answered the father ;
** it's nothing."

" I'm not going to be shoved o' one side,"
■said the son, rebelliously. '' I'm going to mind
a jolly lot. Our Poll don't have megrims
about nothing. What's matter, Poll ? "

" I'll tell you another time, Mike, perhaps,"
the girl answered.

''AH right," says the unsuspicious Mike.
" I don't want to hurry ; I only want to know
as all's right with our Poll. But if somebody
does want anything " — showing a powerful
arm — '' I can give it him."

" JSTo, Mike," said Polly, rising with a smile
to kiss him. " No one wants anything j
every one is quite contented with nothing.
Do I look all rio^ht now ? "

" I should like to hear as anybody looks
lighter," cried Mike, half angry at his own
supposition. " Now, where's my supper ?
You're on to clamming me; that's what it is.'

'' Ay," said the father, as he left the room,
smiling through his trouble, " get the lad his
supper ; he features to be pinched very nigh."

The deft Polly soon supplied the famishing


boy, who showed the dreadful extent of his
previous privations by the violence with
which he now satisfied his famine. Never-
theless, after a few minutes' silent exertion,
he suddenly shouted, with his mouth full, to
his sister, who was three yards distant —

" I say, Polly ! "

''Yes, Mike."

" Ain't it spanking ? "

" Glorious ! " cried Polly, seeming to under-
stand her brother's thoughts.

" I say ! " he yelled again.

" Yes."

" I wish next May was to-morrow ! "

" That would be rather awkward," said
Polly, " for then, you see, to-morrow would
be next May. A long time to wait for break-
fast, eh ? " she added, skilfully appealing to
his more sensitive feelings. "I'm going to
make a scholar of you, Mike."

" Don't," he said, shrinking ; he was too
healthy to turn pale.

" It's my desire, sir," was the decided

" Oh, very well," said Mike, at once care-
lessly submissive. " I won't objeck."


Polly seized tlie opportunity to begin Ms
lessons at once.

*' Say object, Mike, not objeck. 0, b, j, e, c, t
— object."

" Object," Mike repeated, apparently with-
out troubling himself much about the matter.

"Now shall vou remember?" asked the

" Well, you see. Poll," he replied, rubbing
his pate, ''if 'twas a bit o' machinery, or a gun,
or a bat, or summat I could lay hands on — "

" I'll show it you in a book, and that will
impress it on your stupid head."

" Will it?" enquired Mike, doubtfully.

" See here. What is that, sir ? " she said,
with severit}^, tweaking his ear.

" 0, b, j, e, c, t — object. Ay, it's there fair
an' square. But s'pose books are alius right,
* though ? "

" Well — hm — not always," answered Polly,
truthfully, but doubtful of destroying the

" Then they ain't so clever, eh, after all ? "
the cross-examiner pursued.

" Well, not always," again the conscientious
witness replied.



Grim reality now dimly loomed on the
young man througli the fictitious vapours of

" I thought they only wrote cos they'd — "
They d what, Mike ? "
Like bust, if they didn't."

'' Burst, Mike."

" Ah, they'd burst, would they now?'*

Just then the cottage door opened, and
before anything was visible at it but a big
basket, Mike screamed, at the top of his voice —

"Mother, I'm to play for the County next
season. Hooray ! "

Even Polly chimed in with a sympathetic
" Hooray ! " and waved her hand as Mrs.

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Online LibraryJames PriorThree shots from a popgun → online text (page 1 of 13)