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'Ho, ho, ho!" came in stentorian tones from the stairs, and a broad red face appeared over Tom's shoulder. "Thou'rt in th' reet on't, mon! I can always tell when yo'r Tom's been ploughin'. The drills goes wrigglin' an' womblin' across the field till they look mich same as snigs."
Tom laughed uneasily, and with a protesting "Nay, nay," moved to one side to make way for the new-comer. This was Joe's special crony, Richard Woodcock, a big burly patriarch well on in the seventies, with a face so red that it positively seemed to glow from out its framework of white whisker, and a figure so broad that he was obliged to turn sideways to enter the door. The boards creaked as he crossed the room to Joe's bed. Taking up his position at the bottom, he leaned over the wooden rail and nodded. Joe nodded back. Richard, putting his hand in his pocket, produced a serviceable black pipe, which he silently proceeded to fill and light. Joe, catching Mary's eye, pointed to a similar pipe on the chimney - piece, and, drawing a tobacco-pouch from under his pillow, nodded again, commandingly. "Yo'd happen best sup your gruel first," insinuated Mary, approaching with the mug aforementioned.
"Gruel!" said Joe, glancing indignantly towards Richard. "Gruel for a mon o' my years, and as wake as I feel mysel'! Theer, Dick, thot's how us owd folk gets put upon! Tom, theer, 'ull be sot down to a gradely bit o' beef in a two three minutes, an' our Mary 'ull gi' him his quart o' beer reet enough; but theer's nobbut gruel for feyther."
"Ah," groaned Richard, commiseratingly, with a sigh which seemed to come from the very depths of his capacious waistcoat. Tom retired discreetly down-stairs; the dispute over Joe's gruel was of nightly occurrence, and he wished to avoid being drawn in by either party.
"Well, yo' known," said Mary, persuasively, "doctor's orders mun be obeyed, else he'll be bargin' at us. An' th' gruel's lovely, feyther! eh, the groats-I never see sich fine ones!
"I never mak' mich count o' groats nobbut i' black-puddin's,” retorted her parent. "Eh! I could fancy a black-puddin' rarely. I could do with summat a bit tasty if I could get it—but this here nasty sickly stuff- -Eh! It fair turns my stoomach!"
Richard groaned again, and withdrawing his pipe from his mouth, pointed with the stem at Mary.
"Th' poor owd lad's welly clemmed," he observed, indignantly. "Clemmed he is! He wants nourishin' food-thot's what he wants. A bit of beefsteak wi' th' gravy in't
"Or a sassage," put in Joe, peering at his daughter from under his eyelashes to see how she took the suggestion.
"Or happen a pork-pie," resumed Farmer Woodcock, with a magisterial air. "Summat as 'ull ston' to him i' th' long weary neets as he lays awake coughin'."
"Well! doctor said," responded Mary, in a plaintive tone, for she was wounded at the implied reflection on her filial piety-"doctor said as he weren't to have nowt nobbut slops. 'Nothin' solid at all,' says he; 'no beer unless yo' want t' kill him straight off. Th' only stimulant mun be a tablespoonful or two o' brandy now an' then.'"
"Well, then," said Joe, somewhat reviving, "go an' fetch it now, theer's a good lass. Happen a drop or two in this here sloppy stuff 'ud mak' it slip down a bit easier-an' fetch a glass an' a sup of hot water for Dick here at same time. Coom then," he added, turning towards his crony with a brightening face as she retired, "we'll have soom mak' of a do to 'earten oursel's up a bit 'as how 'tis."
Mrs Rainford presently returned with a black bottle and a tumbler half full of hot water, and after measuring out a portion for each, again withdrew, closing the door after her. Old Dick followed her with his eyes.
"I know'd hoo'd tak' bottle wi' her!" he remarked, in dudgeon.
"Eb, hoo's noan the lass hoo used to be," returned Joe, falling to at his gruel with an aggrieved expression.
"It's my belief," pursued Richard, drawing a chair forward and seating himself, "as thou'd be a deal better wi'out so mich coddlin' an' doctorin'! Why, thou hasna bin out o' doors all winter, hasto?" "Nawe," responded Joe, shaking his head. "I've bin fastened i' chimney-corner ever sin' Christ
"I dunnot mak' so mich count o' Dr Thring," pursued Richard. "I soomtimes think he doesn't understand thy constitootion. Eh, he is but a yoong whipper-snapper when all's said an' done! He
hasn't 'ad the experience, lad. Eh, poor owd Dr Wells, he were the mon fur my money! Never know'd nought when he coom, an' larn't it all practisin' o' th' cottagefolk. I've 'eard him say so hissel' mony a time. 'That's the way to larn,' he'd say, so jov'al-like, 'buy yo'r experience for yor'sel',' he'd say."
"Ah, he were a mon o' the reet mak'," agreed Joe. "Allus that friendly an' pleasant, ready for a joke wi' ony one, an' thankful fur a glass o' summat warm jest same as oursel's. I mind him here when our missus were layin'-in' wi' our Mary, theer he sot i' th' nook suppin' at's tumbler, and lookin' round now an' again-' Cheer up, woman,' he'd say; 'it's a poor 'eart as niver rejoices,' says he."
"Ah!" resumed Richard, admiringly, "I have seen poor owd Dr Wells as fuddled as I met be mysel'-mony a time I have! Allus so hearty-like! One o' th' better mak' he was, an' niver one for physickin' an' clemmin' a mon. I mind when my owd feyther were agate o' deein' he coom an' stood a'side o' bed. 'Mon,' says he, 'yo'r time's up. I can do nought to mend ye,' says he. 'But mak' the best of a bad job! Con yo' fancy a mutton-chop?' An' iny feyther shook's 'ead: he were past it, thou knows. 'Coom then,' says doctor, 'happen yo' could do wi' a drop o' beer?' An' my feyther made a shift to nod. Reet,' says doctor. Sup it up like a mon an' then fall to at your prayers,' says he."
"Thot's th' mak' o' doctor that 'ud do a body good," observed Joe, regretfully; "but this here Mester Thring, eh, I welly lose patience wi' him. He coom yesterday, and oppened my shirt, and went thumpin' an' feelin' o' me till I were tired, and then he whips out soom mak' o' trumpet-lookin' thing wi'
two handles 'as he stuck in his ears till his face looked fur all the world same as a Toby-mug, an' he listened at my breast, an' he sighed, an' took handle out o's ears, an' says he, Mester Orrell, yo'r 'eart's wore out!' 'How con you tell thot?' says I, a bit rough-like, fur I were vexed wi' th' chap. 'We doctors 'as our ways o' knowin',' says he, lookin' very solemn. 'I fear I cannot do mich fur ye. Yo'r heart's the size of two,' he says. 'Did yo' see it,' says I. 'Nay,' he says, an' he laughs a bit. Well, then,' I says, 'seein's believin'!' Ho, ho, ho! He couldn't say mich to thot!"
“ Nay,” responded Richard,
much tickled at his friend's astuteness. "Seein's believin',' says thou, didn't thou? An' so 'tis, mon. Why, how could a body tell what mak' o' heart thou had, wi' nobbut feelin' o' th' outside? I allus thought Dr Thring weren't up to mich, and now I am sure on't. But thou was in th' reet to ston' up to him. If I were thee, Joe, I wouldn't be put upon no longer-I wouldn't be kept to bed if I felt mysel' able to get up, and I'd tell thy Mary straight out, if hoo were my lass, as I'd noan be put off wi' gruel and sichlike when there was owt else to be had."
Joe's wrinkled face flushed, and he rolled his head uneasily from side to side.
Richard gazed at him sternly through the clouds of tobaccosmoke which now encircled his ruddy countenance.
"I'd ha' thought thou'd 'ave had a bit more sperrit," he observed presently.
"Gruel isn't like to put mich sperrit into a mon," retorted Joe. "An' when me an' our Mary has words it starts me coughin', thou knows, an' my 'eart begins o' thumpin' till I am welly smoored."
Farmer Woodcock appeared unconvinced. "Well, if Mary were my lass," he was beginning, when a rush of hammering feet upon the stairs outside interrupted him, and the door bursting open, three or four sturdy little folks came rushing into the room.
"Coom now," said old Richard, with a good-natured change of tone, assisting the smaller fry as they clambered over his legs and made straight for their grandfather's bed, "Coom! What's all yo'r hurry? Gronfeyther's noan bahn to run away fro' yo'! Theer he lays, fast on's back, and like to stay theer for all as we know. Up hoo goes! Now, Teddy! Thot's a bonny mak' o' whip thou's getten, Joey!"
"Teddy an me's been playin' we're ploughin'," cried Joey, junior, marching up and down the room and cracking the implement in question. "Gee back, Blossom!” -with great energy-" Coom up, Prince! Haw!"
Old Joe chuckled in his bed, raising himself on his elbow and craning forward his neck, the better to view his grandson's performance.
Chip o' th' owd block, eh?" he laughed, winking with both eyes together at his crony. "Ark
Thy dad's gaffer now, and gronfeyther's fast on's back, as Mester Woodcock says."
The two smaller children, crawling about the bed, were prattling meanwhile of their doings out of doors. Joe absently stroked their tangled locks, and all at once put his horny hand under the chin of the little roly-poly girl and turned up her face.
"An' what says our little wench?" he asked tenderly, and fell to patting the dimpled cheek fresh and cool from the evening air.
"Daffies is ablow, grondad, daffy-dillies all yaller! An' Teddy an' me found some primroses this arternoon!"
"An' we saw the lickel lambs," put in Teddy; "they was jumpin' an' playin'!" immediately proceeding to simulate the lambs' antics till his grandfather's bed shook again.
The old man laughed, but with a puzzled look. "Lambin'-time a'ready!" he said, gazing inquiringly at Richard.
Richard removed his pipe, stared stolidly at his friend, and put it back again without replying.
Joey now came prancing over to the bed.
"Daisy's cauve is sich a pretty one, grondad; it's a wy-cauve, an' it's red wi' a little white star on its for yead
Joe sat up. "Why, Daisy is noan due yet, sure? It's noan of Daisy's cauve, lad. Daisy wunnot cauve till end of March."
"The lad's in the reet on't," said Richard, indorsing Joey's shrill protest. "This here's the twentysixth o' March, thou knows. Yigh, March is going out like a lamb for sure."
"Eh dear o' me!" groaned the old man; "so it is. Eh, I reckoned to be about afore this."
“Thou'll be about soon enough,"
growled Richard, 'once warm weather cooms, thou knows.”
Joe patted the little round cheek nearest him and sighed. The children chattered on. All their talk was of the budding life without of posies in the grass, and blossom on the hedge, and chickens and downy ducklings in the yard; of how Bob was sowing "wuts" yonder in the five-acres, and Will'um of the Lone End, an' Gronny Makin was sot in the backkitchen cuttin' up "sets." Even in the stuffy little room, amid the reek of brandy and tobacco-smoke, there seemed to be a kind of atmosphere of spring.
Joe listened in silence, fingering his empty pipe, and sighing. At last Richard, extending an immense forefinger, pointed inquiringly, first at the pipe, and then at the well-filled pouch beside it. But his friend shook his head.
"I donnot seem to want it toneet," he said.
"Mon, thou'lt never rest wi’out thou smokes thy pipe," he said, in alarmed tones.
"I hannot th' 'eart fur't," persisted Joe.
"Coom, this 'ull never do! Here, little uns-be off wi' yo'! Gronfeyther's had enough o' yo' now."
"Nay, let them bide," said gronfeyther. "I'll happen not ha' them so long. Weel, Teddy, an' how many chickens is yonder, saysto?"
He scarcely appeared to hear the answer, and presently Richard, much distressed in his mind, went ponderously down the stairs in search of Mary. The latter agreed with him that Joe's refusal to smoke his pipe was a very bad sign. So much alarmed indeed was the good woman that, after the children were duly fed and tucked up, she prepared with the
most solemn of faces to sit up with her father during the night. Joe did not seem to find it easy to compose himself, in spite of his daughter's repeated adjurations that he would "try to settle off." At last, however, he fell into an uneasy doze, and though poor hard-working Mary made strenuous efforts to keep awake, her heavy eyelids drooped at last, and she too slept.
The dawn was breaking when Joe awoke. He sat up and glanced uneasily at Mary. Her head had fallen back, her sturdy outstretched legs were wide apart, and her portly bosom rose and fell, accompanied by a continuous sound of snoring, like the rumbling of a distant cannonade. Joe rubbed his chin the bristles of his beard rasping his fingers—and nodded to himself.
"Hoo's dropped off, poor lass!" he muttered." Welly tired out, I reckon. I could a'most wish I were out of her road for good what wi' shiftin' me, an physickin' me, an' sittin' up o' neets, hoo mun be half killed."
The row of empty medicinebottles on the chimney - piece next caught his eye.
"Lord, to think as I 'ave 'ad to sup all as was i' yon! Why, it's a wonder I am wick at all."
He clenched his fist, and thumped the bedclothes with a gathering sense of ill-usage. How could he ever get well if he was kept in bed during the beautiful spring weather, while every one else was out an' about, and Mester Tom gaffering the men, and giving his orders as free as if the place belonged to him?
"They tellen me nought," he muttered to himself. "I niver know what's doin' wi'out one o' th' childer lets summat out."
His face worked a little at the recollection of his grievances. All the winter he had sat in the inglenook while other folks came and went, the labourers clumping in at meal-time with the smell of the soil clinging to their garments. Occasionally with a nod and a grin for "owd mester," they had talked of the jobs actually in hand, and "owd mester" had sometimes disapproved of his sonin-law's arrangements, and sometimes exhausted himself by giving advice; so that Tom and Mary deemed it best to discourage such communications, and indeed since Joe had been confined to his room, all intercourse with the outer world was necessarily stopped. Had it not been for a chance word let fall by his daughter that morning, he would never even have known of the ploughing of the Sunny fields.
The light brightened and grew, spreading out fan-like on the white walls, and reaching to the low ceiling; a branch of the little monthly-rose tree flapped against the window; louder even than Mary's snores came the trill of a lark. It was broad day, and no one yet was stirring about the place-not the clink of a pail, not the clatter of a clog.
Pretty times these! A nice hand Tom would make of his farming, if this was how he started! If Joe were not tied there like a log, he would soon make them tumble out of their beds and bustle about - he had a great mind, as it was, to go and pull the long ears of that great lazy ne'er-do-weel, his son-in-law. What a start it would give him!
Out of bed came one long lean leg, then the other. Joe gasped a little as his feet touched the floor: he had not left his bed for more than a fortnight, and felt, as