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HEATHER IN HOLBORN


"I can scarce fancy her living here," said the man, pausing half-way
up the stairs to look upwards at the dusty length which remained to be
traversed. "Nay, she could never live here. I'm come on a fool's
errand, but I may as well see it through."

His tall, broad-shouldered figure disappeared behind another angle,
and halted at length on the fifth floor. On the door facing him a name
was neatly painted: - _Mr. Whiteside_.

"'Tis a Lancashire name, right enough," he said, "but there weren't
any Whitesides in our part when I was a lad. It'll be some stranger as
our Molly took up with - well, let's go for'ard."

His tap was answered by a fresh-coloured woman, neatly clad in a stuff
gown. The man surveyed her with a curious searching look, and she
stared back at him.

"What was you pleased to want, sir?" she inquired at length, growing
uncomfortable under his scrutiny. "Mr. Whiteside - that's my
husband - is out."

"Does Mrs. Rigby live here? No, I'm sure she does not - I beg your
pardon - it is a mistake."

"No, sir, no mistake at all; it's quite right. Mrs. Rigby does live
here - she's my mother."

The stranger again darted a swift, eager glance at her.

"Right," he said. "I'll come in; I want to see her."

Mrs. Whiteside hesitated for a moment. "My mother doesn't often have
visitors," she said. "We've been here more nor ten year now, and
nobody's ever come lookin' for her."

"I've come a long way to look for her," said the man; "I've come from
Australia. I'm bringing her news of her son Will."

"Eh dear!" cried the woman, clapping her hands together, "ye don't say
so! My word, mother will be pleased. We didn't know rightly whether he
were alive or dead. Tis twenty-five year or more since he left home.
Tisn't bad news I hope, mester?" she added anxiously, for the brown
face, as much of it as could be seen under the thick dark beard, wore
a troubled look.

"Bad news? No," returned he with a gruff laugh. "It wouldn't matter
much anyway, would it? seein' as you'd lost sight of him for so long,
and by all accounts he wasn't worth much at the best o' times."

"He's my brother," said Mrs. Whiteside shortly. "Will ye please to
step in, sir?"

He followed her into a narrow passage, and thence into an odd, little
three-cornered room; a room furnished in mahogany and green rep, with
a few brightly-bound books on the shining round table in the centre,
framed oleographs on the walls, stuffed birds in glass cases on the
mantel-piece, and a pervading odour of paraffin.

"I'll call mother," said Mrs. Whiteside, backing towards the door and
eyeing her visitor suspiciously, for her mind misgave her as to
whether it would be safe to leave him alone with the Family Bible or
the stuffed birds. "Mother!" she cried, raising her voice, "will you
come for a minute? There's a visitor here."

"Nay, lass, I can't leave the bread," called back an old woman's
voice, shrill yet strong. "Ax the body to step in here, whoever 'tis."

"Will ye come into the kitchen?" said Mrs. Whiteside unwillingly. "My
mother, 'tis a notion she has, 'ull never set foot in this 'ere room.
We're Lancashire folk, ye see, mester, and tis the custom there to
live mostly in the kitchen."

The visitor followed her in silence across the passage and into the
opposite room. Hardly had he set foot inside the door before he
uttered an exclamation, looking down the while at the floor. The
boards were scrubbed to an immaculate whiteness and strewn with sand.
He rubbed his boot backward and forward over the gritty surface with
an odd smile; then, raising his eyes, he looked hastily round the
room, averting his glance quickly when it fell upon the figure bending
over the great brown pan in the fender. Walking to the window he stood
looking out without speaking.

"I hope the man's got all his wits," said Mrs. Whiteside to herself,
"I never did see a chap act so strange."

Through the open window a fine view could be had of tall grimy houses,
and sooty roofs, with scarce a glint of sky between the
chimney-stacks, and far down in the street below was the turmoil of
city life; the roar and rush of it came echoing up even to that odd,
peaceful little chamber. The man neither saw nor heard; as he stood
there it seemed to him that he was looking out upon the moorland, with
the smell of the heather strong and spicy and sweet in his nostrils,
and the cry of the peewit in his ears. His chest heaved; then he
turned about and faced the room again. Yes, it was no dream; here was
the house-place of a North Country cottage. The sturdy deal table in
the midst of the sanded floor, the oak dresser with its noble array of
crockery, the big chest in the corner, the screened settle on one side
of the hearth; and there, kneeling on the patchwork rug, the sturdy,
strong-backed old woman, in bedgown and petticoat and frilled white
cap, with lean, vigorous arms half-buried in a shining mass of dough.

"Well, what's to do?" inquired she, glancing sharply over her
shoulder.

"This 'ere gentleman says he's brought news of our Will," said Mrs.
Whiteside hesitatingly.

The old woman uttered a cry, and, withdrawing her hands from the
dough, wiped them hastily in her apron, and ran towards the stranger.

"News indeed," she said. "Eh dear, and how is my poor lad? How is he,
sir? Eh, bless you for coomin'! I scarce reckoned he were wick, 'tis
so long sin' we'n had a word of him."

She was clasping the new-comer's hands now, and shaking them excitedly
up and down, her eyes searching his face the while.

"How is my lad?" she repeated. "He mun be a gradely mon now - a gradely
mon! Tis what he said hisself when he wur breeched. Dear o' me, I mind
it well. He come runnin' in so proud wi's hands in's pockets. 'I'm a
gradely mon now,' he says, 'same's my feyther.'"

She dropped his hands and wiped her eyes.

"My word, mother," said Mrs. Whiteside reprovingly, "how ye do run on!
Was my brother well, mester, when ye see him last?"

"Quite well," responded the stranger gruffly. "Well and hearty."

"Thank God for that!" cried the old woman.

"He told me," went on the other, and his voice still sounded rough and
harsh from behind his great beard; "he told me if I were anywhere in
Lancashire to look up the old place, and tell his folks he was alive
and well."

"Has he been doin' pretty well, sir, d'ye know?" inquired the younger
woman, politely, but with interest.

"Pretty well - lately; so I've been told," returned he.

"And he didn't send nothin' to his mother? Nothin' besides the
message?" she went on. "Well, I call it a sin and a shame; 'twas
scarce worth your while to seek us out for that."

"Howd thy din, Mary," cried Mrs. Rigby angrily. "Not worth while! Why,
I'll bless the gentleman for it, an' pray for him day an' neet while I
live. Wick an' hearty. My lad's wick an' hearty, - an' I was afeared he
wur dead. An' he took thought on his owd mother so fur away, an' sent
her word, bless him!"

"He might ha' sent ye somethin' else I think," said Mary wrathfully;
"I don't hold wi' makin' such a to-do about a chap as never did
nothin' for you in his life. There's others as is worth more nor him."

The old woman drew herself up, her eyes blazing in their sunken
orbits.

"Mary," she said, "if ye mean to cast up as ye're keepin' me in my owd
age, I tell ye plain, though there are strangers here, I think no
shame on't. I brought ye into the world, an' I reared you an' worked
hard for you till ye was up-grown, an' kept a whoam o'er your head wi'
nought but the labour o' my two hands. An' now as I'm stricken in
years an' the owd place is gone, I think no shame o' being' behowden
to ye for mate an' shelter."

"La, mother," stammered Mary "whatever makes ye go for to say such
things? - I'm sure I wasn't castin' up - "

"Ye've no need to cast up," interrupted her mother fiercely. "I'm not
behowden to ye for mich, as how 'tis - I reckon I addle my mate."

The man turned upon the younger woman with a savage glance, but she
was too much absorbed in her own grievance to heed him. "I wasn't
castin' up, mother," she asseverated. "I nobbut meant it seemed a bit
hard as you should think as much of Will as of me."

"Eh," said the old woman, beginning to laugh and shaking her head,
"I'll not deny but what the lad was a great fav'ryite. The only lad
ever I had, and my first-born. Dear o' me, I mind how proud I was when
they telled me 'twas a lad. 'A fine lad,' said the woman as did for
me. Eh, I thought my heart 'ud fair burst wi' joy! An' he wur sech a
gradely little chap, so peart an' lively, crowin' an' laughin' from
morn till neet. Dear, yes - soon as ever leet coom he'd come creepin'
up to our bed an' pull at the sheet. 'Wakken up, mother,' he'd say;
'mother, it's time to wakken up!' Eh, mony a time I fancy I can hear
the little voice when I wak' up now, i' this dark dirty place. I keep
my e'en shut, an' hark at the birds chirrupin', an' think o' the
little hand pluckin' at the sheet, an' the little voice. An' then
clock strikes an' I oppen my e'en and see the smoke an' the black
chimnies - eh, I'm welly smoored among 'em all! I could fair go mad to
find mysel' so far away fro' whoam."

"But surely," said the visitor, with a dreamy glance round, "you've
made this place very home-like."

"'Tis, an' 'tisn't. Says I to Mary when she axed me to shift wi' her,
'I'll not coom,' says I, 'wi'out I bring th' clock an' chest, an' all
they bits o' things as I'm used to.' 'Eh, mother,' says she, 'what
would you be doin' wi' 'em down i' London town?' - 'What should I be
doin' wi' 'em?' says I. 'Same as I do here,' says I. 'If I coom wi'
you, my lass I mun keep to the owd ways. I'm too owd mysel' for aught
else. I mun keep th' owd things an' th' owd fashions.' - Is that a bit
o' heather as ye've getten i' your hat, sir?"

"Yes," said the man deliberately; "'tis a bit of heather - and it comes
from Boggart Moor. I picked it last week when I went to look for you."

"'Twas wonderful kind of you to go all that way, I'm sure," said Mrs.
Whiteside. "I doubt our Will reckoned we was livin' there still. Tis
years an' years since we've had a word from him. He didn't know I'd
got wed, very like."

"No, he didn't," said the man. "He thought his mother and sister were
livin' still in the little cot up yonder. I had hard work to trace
you."

"How does the little place look, sir?" asked the old woman, with a
wistful look.

"Much as usual," returned he, half absently. "They'n shifted the
horse-block, an' thrown the two shippons into one, an' tiled the
wash-house roof."

Mrs. Rigby clacked her tongue, and her daughter stared.

"How did ye know about the horse-block?" she inquired, "an' how did ye
guess the shippons was throwed into one? Did our Will tell you about
the place?"

He paused a moment, and then laughed.

"Often and often. He said he could find his way there blindfold, an' I
doubt he made me know it as well as himself."

Mrs. Rigby stretched out her hand and touched the sprig of heather
wistfully.

"The moor mun be lookin' gradely now," she said; "all one sheet o'
bloom, I reckon. Eh, I mind how I used to leave windows open, summer
an' winter, an let the air come in, soomtimes hot an' soomtimes cowd,
but al'ays wi' the smell o' the moor in it. Dear, when I think on't I
can scarce breathe here."

"Come, mother, we're keepin' the gentleman standin' all this time,"
said Mary, suddenly recalled to a sense of her hospitable duties. "Sit
ye down, sir, and sup a cup o' tea with us. Kettle's boilin', isn't
it, mother? You're not in a hurry, are you, mester?"

"I reckon I can stop a twothree minutes," said the man.

Mrs. Whiteside glanced at him sharply, and her mother clapped her
hands together.

"Ye're a Lancashire lad, for sure," cried she; "ye speak just same as
our own folks up on the moor yon."

He hesitated for a moment.

"Aye, I'll not deny the talk cooms natural to me," he said. "I thought
I'd forgot it, but my tongue seems to turn to it when I get agate o'
talkin' wi' Lancashire folks."

"I reckon you and our Will had many a crack together about the bonny
North," said Mrs. Rigby, as she spread the cloth, smoothing it
carefully with her wrinkled hands. "I'm fain to think my lad minds th'
owd place. Eh, I doubt he'd be nigh broken-hearted if he knowed we had
to leave it - I like as if I could be glad to think he knows nought
about it, poor lad. He didn't ever talk o' coomin' back, mester, did
he?"

"He met think on't," said the visitor slowly, "if he could be sure of
a welcome. But he run away, you see, again his father's will, an' he
wur allus reckoned a good-for-nothin' kind o' chap - so he seemed to
think."

"Who said that?" cried the old woman, pausing with the teapot poised
in mid-air, and reddening all over her withered face.

"Well, 'twas a kind o' notion he seemed to have, and o' course, though
it's ill blamin' the absent" - here he uttered a queer little
laugh - "when all's said and done he hasn't acted so very well. Any
chap wi' a heart in's breast 'ud ha' took thought for his own mother,
and 'ud ha' seen as she was kept comfortable an' happy in her owd age,
and not forced to shift to a strange place."

"I'm sure," put in Mrs. Whiteside indignantly, "I can't think what
you're droppin' hints o' that mak' for, sir. A woman has to follow her
husband, an' when his business takes him to London he takes her too.
Doin' very well, he is, i' th' coal business, an' I'm sure I make my
mother as comfortable an' as happy as I can. Turn London into the
moorside is what I cannot do, an' I'm not to be blamed for that. As
you said jest now if any one was to blame 'twas my brother."

"Well, I'll not have nobody blamin' my lad," cried the old woman.
"He's not to be faulted for what he knowed nought about. If he'd
knowed I doubt it 'ud ha' been different."

"That's true," interrupted the man; "if he'd knowed it 'ud ha' been
different. He'd ha' kept his mother on the moor. If he was to come
back now he'd have her awhoam again afore aught were long."

"Tis wonderful to hear you takin' up wi' that homely talk," said Mrs.
Whiteside, with a laugh, as she set a crusty loaf upon the table. "It
fair brings me back. I scarce ever talk i' th' owd fashion now, wi'out
'tis a twothree words now an' then to please mother. Pull up, sir.
Will ye pour out the tea, mother? All's ready now."

"Nay, fetch me a pot of the wimberry jam," said Mrs. Rigby. "Theer's
jest two of 'em left. My son-in-law," she explained to the visitor,
"he's oncommon kind about humourin' my fancies, an' every year he
fetches me a peck or two o' wimberries - you can get 'em reet enough
here i' th' market, an' I make us a few pots o' jam - 'tis the only
kind as ever I could fancy. Eh, what baskets-full the childer used to
bring me in i' th' owd days! Will ye cut yourself a bit o' bread, sir?
Tis a bit hard, I doubt; 'tis the end o' the last bakin'. I wur jest
agate with the next lot when ye coom in."

He cut off a piece, and spread it with the wimberry jam, and ate a
mouthful or two in silence; he seemed to swallow with difficulty, not
because of the hardness of the fare, but because of a certain stirring
at his heart. How long was it since he had sat him down at such a
board as this, and tasted bread, pure and sweet and wholesome, such as
cannot be bought in shops, with the fruit of the moor for condiment?

"I doubt it's hard," said Mrs. Whiteside commiseratingly, "and you're
not eatin' a bit neither, mother. Come, fall to."

"Eh, I canna eat nought fur thinkin' o' yon lad o' mine. How could he
go for to think he'd not be welcome! Ye'll write and an' tell him
he'll be welcome, sir, wunnot ye?"

He nodded.

"Eh, I'd be fain to see him, I would that! Ye'll tell him kind an'
careful, mester, about me havin' to shift here, an' dunnot let him
think I'm axing him to do mich for me."

"It's time for him to do summat for ye, though," said Will's friend
gruffly.

"Nay, I don't ax it - I don't ax for nought. I nobbut want to see his
bonny face again."

"Happen you wouldn't know it," said Mrs. Whiteside; "he mun be awful
altered now."

"Know it? Know my own lad! I'd pick him out among a thousand."

"I'm not so sure o' that," persisted her daughter. "Ye've seen our
Will lately, I s'pose, mester? Can ye tell us what like he is?"

"He's rather like me," said the stranger.

"My word, ye don't say so!" gasped Mrs. Whiteside, while her mother,
leaning forward, gazed eagerly into his face.

"He is very like me," he said brokenly, and then, of a sudden,
stretching out his hand he plucked the old woman by the sleeve:
"Wakken up, mother," he cried; "mother, 'tis time to wakken up!"




SENTIMENT AND "FEELIN'"


As a rule our Lancashire peasants are not sentimental; in fact,
degenerate south-countrymen frequently take exception to their blunt
ways and terrible plain-speaking. But occasionally they display an
astonishing impressibility, and at all times know how to appreciate a
bit of romance.

When three months after his wife's death, for instance, Joe Balshaw
married her cousin, because, as he explained, "hoo favoured our Mary,"
all the neighbours thought such fidelity extremely touching.

I remember once when our little church was gaily decorated for the
harvest festival some one had the happy thought of placing among the
garlands of flowers and masses of fruit and vegetables - thank-offerings
from various parishioners - which were heaped on each side of the
chancel, a miniature hayrick beautifully made and thatched, and a tiny
cornstack to correspond. The sermon was over, and the service
proceeding as usual, when suddenly a burst of sobs distracted the
congregation, and Robert Barnes, the bluffest and burliest farmer in
the whole property, was observed to be wiping his eyes with a red
cotton handkerchief. In vain did his scandalised wife nudge and
reprove him; he sobbed on, and she grew alarmed. "Wasn't he well?" she
asked.

"Aye, well enough," groaned Robert; "but it's so beautiful. I cannot
choose but cry!"

"Is't th' music, feyther?" inquired his daughter.

"Nay, nay - it's them there little stacks. Eh, they're - they're
gradely. I never see sich a seet i' my life."

If this was not susceptibility, I don't know where to look for it.

No doubt a certain roughness of speech, an almost brutal frankness, is
a noticeable northern characteristic. It strikes a stranger painfully,
but is accepted and even appreciated by those accustomed to it from
childhood.

A sick man expects to be told he looks real bad, and preserves an
unmoved tranquillity on hearing how small a likelihood there is of his
ever looking up again, and what a deal of trouble he gives. The
visitor unused to our ways shrinks from hearing these subjects
discussed in the presence of the patient, but he himself listens
philosophically, and, it would occasionally appear, with an odd
pleasure in his own importance.

"Eh, I sometimes think it 'ud be a mercy if th' Lord 'ud tak' him,"
says the middle-aged daughter of a paralysed labourer, eyeing him
dispassionately. "Doctor says he'll never be no better, an' I'm sure
he's a misery to hissel', as well's every one else. Aren't ye,
feyther?"

"Ah," grunts feyther. "I'd be fain to go. I would - I'd be fain."

"What wi's restin' so bad o' neets, an' th' gettin' up an' down to
him, an' feedin' him, an' shiftin' him - he's that 'eavy I cannot stir
him mysel' - I 'ave to wait till th' lads comes back fro' work - eh,
it's weary work! I'm very nigh killed wi't."

"Well, but if he gets better, you know," suggests the visitor, "you'll
be glad to have nursed him so well."

"Eh, he'll noan get better now; doctor says he hasn't a chance."

The patient, who has been listening with close attention, and not a
little satisfaction, to his daughter's report, now rolls his eyes
towards his interlocutor.

"Nay, nay, I'll noan get better," he observes somewhat resentfully.
"Tisn't to be expected. I'm gettin' on for seventy-eight, an' this
here's my second stroke."

"Ah, his constitution's worn out," adds the woman; "that was what
doctor said. ''Tisn't to be expected as he could recover,' says he;
'his constitution's worn out.'"

The rugged old face on the pillow is indeed lined and wrinkled; the
one big hand lying outside the coverlet is gnarled and knotted, like
the branch of an ancient tree; the form outlined by the bedclothes is
of massive proportions. A fine wreck of a man this useless cumberer of
the earth.

"I shouldn't be worth my mate if I did get better," he says,
reflectively, and without the faintest trace of bitterness. "Nought
but lumber - in every one's road. Nay, I'd a deal sooner shift
a'together. I've allus worked 'ard - it 'ud not coom nat'ral to be
idle. I'm ready to go, if it's the A'mighty's will."

"Eh, He'll be like to tak' ye soon, feyther. He will - He'll tak' ye
afore aught's long," says the daughter. "Raly," she adds, as she
pilots her visitor downstairs after this consolatory remark, "it's
a'most to be 'oped as He will."

Yet when He does, and poor feyther is carried away to his long home by
his sons and cronies, there is genuine distress in the little
household. When the daughter has got her "blacks," and drawn the club
money, and the excitement of the funeral is over, she has leisure to
miss the quiet presence, the familiar voice. She starts up at night
many a time fancying she hears it, and weeps as she falls back on her
pillow again. She polishes "feyther's cheer" reverently, and treasures
his pipe, and sobs as she cuts up his clothes for suits for her little
lads, and takes in his great-coat to make it fit her gaffer.

"It was a blessed release," she says, wiping her eyes, "an' we had a
nice funeral, but it's lonely wi'out him."

"A nice funeral" is the most important of all desiderata, and many are
the privations which the living cheerfully endure, that the dead may
be interred with due respect and decorum. The most improvident of
these people look forward to and prepare for the contingency,
inevitable indeed, and yet deemed by other folk unutterably remote.

"Ah! it's bin a struggle to keep 'em," said a poor woman once,
speaking of her little flock of ten healthy hearty children. "I've
noan bin able to put by much, but theer's wan thing, I've got 'em all
in a buryin'-club."

Now and then when the death has been preceded by a long illness, and
the family exchequer has sunk low, the neighbours come to the rescue,
and with characteristic straightforwardness and goodnature avert
impending disgrace. One such case occurred here recently. The father
of the family had been hovering for months between life and death, and
when he "drew away" at last, wife and children were left absolutely
without means. Nevertheless the funeral was beautiful, it was
universally agreed. The wheelwright made a coffin free of charge, one
of the farmers sent the necessary refection; each household in the
village did something, one supplying a whole dress, one merely a
hatband. When the time came for the procession to start, every child
had its decent blacks, and though the question of how to live
to-morrow was still unanswered, the poor widow, wiping her eyes behind
her flowing veil, felt soothed and in a manner elated. No one could
say but what her master had a gradely buryin'. She could not repress a
certain honest pride, and, oddly enough, though the neighbours were
quite aware that without their assistance this desirable appearance
would never have been presented, they were none the less impressed,
and felt that Mrs. - - deserved great credit.

If sentiment be not common among us, there is no dearth of "feelin',"
though it is sometimes exhibited in unusual and rather startling
fashion. The doctor, for instance, was somewhat taken aback one day by
the reply of a poor man with whom he had been condoling over the death
of an only son.

"I tell ye," sobbed the inconsolable parent, "if it hadn't bin for
what neighbours 'ud say, I'd ha' had th' little divil stuffed."

There is no rule without its exception, and, though our people are for
the most part affectionate and tender-hearted in their own rugged way,
I am bound to own there are some Stoics in our midst.

One old woman, in particular, whom I have known to be afflicted in a
variety of ways, has never betrayed the least sign of emotion; whether
she is incapable of it, or whether she heroically conceals it, I have
been unable to discover.

She lost two sons in rapid succession after a few hours' illness.

"What did they die of?" asked some one sympathetically.

As a rule such a remark would have led to a flood of tearful and


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