A NEIGHBOURLY ACTION

It was a week after the finding of the water, and Mildred
Greenacre was in the little orchard at the back of the cottage.
There was a sickly smell in the air of dying May flowers; the
parched blossoms fell fast on her head as she stooped over the
nearly dried-up stream to fill her water-can. A half-starved
looking billy-goat rubbed its horned head coaxingly against her
and bleated piteously. It was trying its best to tell her that
there was no nourishment in the burned-up grass, which was all it
had to live on. Milly was paying very little attention to the
poor animal’s complaint, for she was kneeling on the bank,
holding on to a thorn bush with one hand, while she vainly strove
to reach the sunken water with the other. She made a pretty
picture in the broad sunlight, and it was not lost upon the
“laziest chap in th’ place,” as he sat idly balancing himself on
a gate opening into the field on the other side of the water.

For some time, unseen himself, he watched the girl’s fruitless
endeavours, and then he suddenly lifted up his voice and shouted,
so that she started and almost dropped her can.

“Hold hard, and I’ll help yer!”

Milly rose from her stooping position, and looked round to see
where the voice came from. Geo came slowly towards her. He came
slowly, because it never occurred to him to hurry! If ever he had
experienced an impulse to hasten his steps, it was at this
moment.

“I’ll fill yer can,” he said laconically, and without raising his
eyes to the pretty, flushed face across the stream.

“But you can’t,” said Milly; “you’re the wrong side, you see.”

“I on’t be there long, then,” replied Geo, measuring the distance
with his eye. “Yew git out a’ the way, and I’ll soon be alongside
a’ yew.”

“You’re never going to jump?” began Milly, with round eyes of
surprise. As she moved aside, but before the sentence was
finished, Geo had sprung across.

It was not much of a jump–nine feet or so–but Geo had not
attempted anything so athletic for many a long day, and it was
not surprising that he landed somewhat ungracefully on all fours,
and was rather breathless when he picked himself up, only to sit
down again very promptly and wipe his brow with a blue-and-white
handkerchief.

Milly stood looking at him with surprise.

“Have you hurt yourself?” she ventured, after a minute.

“No, no, thank ye, only a bit shook; the ground is hard.”

“That it is,” said Milly–“like iron. If only the rain would
come, what a good job that would be!”

“That would indeed! But we’ve got water to drink at
last–leastways we shall have when the wells are dug.”

“How are they getting on with them?” asked Milly, forgetful of
her morning’s work for the moment.

“Well, the one on the common is gettin’ on fairly well. They’ve
got down about fifty feet; but that’s ‘mazin’ hard work, as you
can see.”

[Illustration: “Nurse cast a satisfied glance round”]

“And the other, the one by the railway? I haven’t been round
there these three days, and my grandfather, he won’t have nothin’
to say to it.” Milly smiled as she said this, and an answering
smile showed itself on Geo’s broad face.

“No, so I heard say. He’s an old-fashioned old gentleman, he is.
He don’t go with th’ times no-how, do ‘ee?”

“That he don’t,” said Milly. “You should hear him goin’ on about
it!”

“Well,” said Geo, rising slowly from his recumbent position and
taking the can from the girl’s hand, “that’s a rum job
altogether. Them at the bridge can’t make nothin’ of it, and no
more—”

“Why do you go with them at the bridge at all?” broke in Milly
impatiently. “Who cares what they say or what they don’t say, I
should like to know?” very haughtily. “Give me my can, please; I
can get it myself!”

Geo stared at her, at a loss to account for the sudden change in
he look and manner. A minute ago she was evidently inclined to be
friendly, but now she was equally evidently inclined to be
extremely annoyed with him. Geo gave vent to his feelings in a
low, long whistle. Milly blushed crimson.

“I beg your pardon,” she said; “I oughtn’t to have said it.
That’s no business of mine whether you loaf all day on the bridge
not. But I have my work to do, and I mustn’t loiter here no more,
or I shall have grandfather after me.”

Geo stood quietly by while she made this rather long speech, and
was surprised to feel that he did not quite like it. He was
inclined to think he liked it better when she flashed out her
contempt for his idleness. But being a man of few words, and not
much felicity of expression, he merely muttered something
unintelligible, and leaning over the bank filled her can.

“I’ll car’ it for you if you’re agreeable,” he said shamefacedly,
and the two moved together towards the cottage.

“Thank you kindly,” Milly said gently when they reached the door;
but she did not ask him to step in, and he turned away awkwardly
enough, wishing he had the courage to tell the girl he had not
spoken to three time in his life since they were at school
together that he was tired of his companions on the bridge, and
would gladly change his habits if only she would be friends with
him.

With a gruff “You’re welcome, I’m sure,” he slouched off towards
the village.

As he turned out of the lane by the bridge, Corkam caught sight
of him, and called after him,—

“Geo, come here, buoy! What are you arter, slinking away like
that? Why, that nigh on time for a pint!”

But Geo, for once in his life, turned the other way, and
sauntered up the road to the new well by the railway. The men had
given up work for a spell, and were sitting in the shadiest spot
they could find eating their “‘levenses.” Geo lay down under the
fence with them.

“If I’d ha’ known what a job this ‘oud ha’ bin,” said one man,
“blow me if I’d ha’ took it on.”

“Hard work, is it?” said Geo pleasantly.

“Ay, hard work indeed–harder work nor you iver did a’ your born
days, I’ll lay a sovr’in’.”

For the first time since Geo didn’t know when, he felt a twinge
of shame at these rough words, and his eyes fell on his own
hands, fine, strong, well-shaped, capable hands, tanned with sun
and wind, but not hardened with toil like the other men’s. A big,
good-natured looking man, who had just swallowed a good draught
of home-made “small beer,” spoke suddenly, as if he had divined
the other’s thoughts.

“They look as if they cold do a day’s work as well as mine,” he
said, holding out a pair of rough, strong limbs, with sinews like
those of Longfellow’s village blacksmith, and muscles standing
out, hard and healthy, as a working man’s should be. “Let me feel
your muscles, buoy.” He gripped Geo’s arm as he spoke. “Pulp!”
he ejaculated, not ill-naturedly, however–“pulp! How come they
like that? Have you had th’ fever, buoy!”

“Mighty little fever about him,” said the man who had spoken
first. “That’s want a’ work wot’s the matter a’ him! _He_ never
had a wet jacket a’ his life! He’s too much a’ th’ gentleman, is
Mr. George Lummis, and so was his father before ‘im–like father,
like son. He was a precious sight too grand to keep his own wife
when he was alive, and niver did na more nor trap a rabbit when
there worn’t nothin’ to eat in th’ house.”

“You lie!” said George, with sudden anger leaping up in his face,
and standing with blazing eyes staring at the sneering workman.
“Say what you like about me, but you leave my father alone, or
I’ll know what for.”

“Hullo, hullo!” said the good-natured man, who was a stranger,
and had no idea of raising such a storm when he remarked on Geo’s
very apparent strength of frame. “Hullo! stow that; that a sight
too hot for quarrelling. We’ll ha’ to go to work again in twenty
minutes, and tha would be a good lot more pleasant to have a
whiff a’ bacca than commin’ to fisticuffs a’ this heat. Sit down,
young man, and don’t be a fule.”

But Geo was much to irate to follow this obviously good advice.
Without appearing to notice the stranger’s words, he strolled off
with as unconcerned an air as he could to the bridge. His
possible good resolutions had all faded away, swallowed up in the
blow his vanity had received, and a few minutes later he had
joined his friends Farley and Corkam in their far less harmless
“‘levenses” at the inn. Here he regaled them with an account of
his passage of arms with the stranger, and received their
sympathy and strongly-expressed advice to do as he pleased, “and
be hanged to them!” There might be a late “haysel,” and he might
get taken on for the time, and put a few pounds in his pocket to
tide him over till harvest. So when Milly passed over the bridge
at about one o’clock with her grandfather’s dinner, which she was
taking to him where he was at work to save him the hot walk home
and back, she saw Geo with a flushed face and bravado air leaning
against the bridge, with his familiar pals on either side. Milly
saw, but she took no notice, and passed with her head in the air
and an angry spot on either cheek. The girl was furious with
herself for having taken an interest, even a momentary one, in
such a worthless, good-for-nothing as Geo, and still more annoyed
to think that she had let him see it.

“That’s a tidy maid,” said the cripple, with the air of a critic,
as she passed, and both men were surprised at Geo’s answer.

“What’s that to you?” said Geo, in a sullen tone; and he crossed
over, and became apparently completely engrossed in watching for
a trout under a stone.

Continue Reading

TOM CHAPMAN “TAKES ON” AT THE WELL

When Tom Chapman opened his door a sight met him that was not a
grateful one to a tired man, and would have put most men into a
rage, but Tom didn’t seem to mind much. He picked his way
cheerfully along over all manner of things, picking up a crowing
infant as he went that was rolled up in a shawl under the table.
“The only safe place in the room!” his wife said. A cry of joy
greeted daddy’s entrance, and half a dozen grubby little arms
encircled his corduroy legs. His wife, with her hair all over her
face, looked up from the couch where she was sitting, with the
half-dressed youngster jumping about on her knees.

“What a mess!” was all Tom said.

“So it is Tom dear,” said his wife cheerily; “but that’ll be all
clear in no time.–Off with you, childer.” And in a trice all the
elder ones were scampering upstairs, laughing with glee, and
carrying the greater part of their garments, of which they had
already divested themselves, with them. “Go you, Polly,” she said
to a girl of perhaps eleven years old, “and tuck ’em all
up–there’s a dear.”

Polly vanished after the rest. Her mother floundered about
collecting oddments for a few minutes, talking volubly all the
time, and giving her husband an amusing and graphic description
of the dowser’s appearance in Gravel-pit Lane. Tom dangled the
baby as he listened, and swallowed his impatience as best he
could, for there were no signs of supper. Annie was incorrigible,
he knew, and he often felt he ought to make a stand against so
much untidiness and unpunctuality; but Annie always disarmed him.
Worn and weary, tired or ill, she always had a smile for him, and
then she had one great and very rare virtue–she _never made_
excuses. She never either denied her faults or tried to explain
them away. Tom, like the vicar, sometimes wished she did, for it
would have given _him_ an excuse for scolding her; but she never
did, and so he learned to put up with it all. And she had also
another rare and excellent gift–she could control the children.
She never “smacked” or scolded them, and she never nagged at
them; but when she told them to do anything, somehow or other,
sooner or later–sometimes, certainly, a little “later”–they
always obeyed, and that without coercion.

In a few minutes there was quiet overhead, for the children were
saying their prayers, and Tom sat down to the table, and ate
heartily of some very good boiled bacon and a mess of cold beans,
washed down with a couple of glasses of fromerty, a drink he had
enjoyed a few years before in the hayfield and having asked and
learned how it was made, had passed his knowledge on to Annie,
who was always quick at anything in the way of cooking, and eager
to add to her store of knowledge in that line, to her husband’s
lasting joy and her own comfort.

“Annie,” he said, when he had finished and she had rocked the
baby to sleep, “I’ve took on as a well hand–leastways I’ve said
I will work with Martin, and I shall go and offer myself
to-morrow at the meetin’.”

Annie’s face fell.

“O Tom, I wish you wouldn’t. That’s such terrible dangerous work,
and what ever shall I do if yew get hurt?”

“No more dangerous than many other things. That’s good pay, and
some one must do it. There’ll be a rare job to find the men for
three wells, to be dug at once the doctor say.”

“Three wells at once! well, that is a job! Which’ll yew be at, I
wonder? P’raps they’ll set yew on the one atop a th’ lane. That
‘ud be nice and handy, and yew could run in for yer dinner. And
what’ll they giv yew a day due yew think, Tom?

“I’m sure I don’t know. Not less than three bob, I’m thinking,
and p’raps more when we git down deep.”

“Three shillin’s a day; why, that’s eighteen shillin’s a week,
and us only gettin’ twelve! Why, we’ll sune grow rich like that,
Tom!”

Chapman laughed. There is not much wealth even on eighteen
shillings for a family of ten! But the more the merrier, he said,
when his friends commiserated him for having so many mouths to
fee.

“Have you seen th’ booy Tommy since th’ mornin’?” asked Annie.

“No,” he said; “I’ve bin after that dowser since I giv up work.
He’s all right up there. I allus said that was th’ right place
for ‘m, though you was so set on keepin’ him here.”

“‘Twasn’t so much that as he wouldn’t go, poor booy. He did beg
me that hard not to send him away, I hadn’t the heart to; and
he’d ‘a bin here now if Mr. Rutland hadn’t come and carried him
away in his own arms. And I’m thankful enough now that I let him
go, for they let me go up and see him this tea-time, and he was
a-lyin’ there so comfortable, with plenty a’ coolin’ drink by his
side, and Mrs. Davies lookin’ after him a lot better than I
could,” said Annie with a sigh; but somehow she was learning to
recognize her own shortcomings, and realizing how unsuitable a
place her cottage was for illness.

“And he say to me, ‘Mother,’ he say, ‘I do very well here; don’t
you take on about me’–for I couldn’t help feelin’ a bit bad
a-leavin’ of him there, in spite of all I see of the comfort
round him. O Tom, the booards was that clean and the room that
sweet!”

“Yis, I know,” said Tom sympathetically; “and let’s hope, now
he’s away, poor boy, the others will escape the fever. Anyways,
the first thing to do is to git pure water, and I’ve set my mind
on that, Annie gal; so don’t yew try to put me off th’ job.”

“No–o, I won’t,” said Annie, as cheerfully as she could; but she
didn’t really like it, all the same, though the eighteen
shillings a week dazzled her eyes.

The next morning Chapman and his mate and some half-dozen other
men presented themselves at the meeting, and were taken on at the
wells. Four of them were sent to the one by the railway station
nearest the village, three were employed to empty one of the
infected wells, and our two friends, Chapman and Martin, were
sent with a couple of men, who had come out from Ipswich, to
start the one over the spring the dowser had marked on the edge
of the common, between the churchyard and Gravel-pit Lane, just
as Annie had hoped.

The well-sinking committee, composed of the vicar, the doctor,
the squire’s agent Mr. Jones, Mr. Barlow, and three of the
principal tradesmen in Willowton, lost no time in setting to work
that afternoon. Boxer, the largest carpenter in the place, got an
order for two cylinders or zones, to be made of the strongest oak
planks, and well clamped, in the fashion of a barrel. These
cylinders, which were, of course, circular, were about three feet
in height, and measured about seven feet in diameter. They were
made with an overhanging edge to hold and retain in their places
the bricks that were to weight them as they sank into the soil;
and a supply of sharp new spades and picks was sent to each
well-side by the village ironmonger. Apparently every one was
going to reap some benefit from this new scheme, and the prospect
of good water, even to the most sceptical, could not fail to be
popular.

Before the evening was out collecting boxes “For the New Wells”
had been put in conspicuous places on the counters of each of the
shops, and a large one was fastened on to the church door. There
was one placed in a prominent position at the post-office, and
old Jimmy tramped off to the station with the doctor’s
compliments to the stationmaster, and “would he put one in the
waiting-room?” Of course the stationmaster was agreeable to this,
and Jimmy had the satisfaction of seeing the box he brought hung
on a nail near the ticket-collector’s window, and of hearing the
chink of the station-master’s own contribution, and the promise
from each of the two porters of all the money they would get in
tips for the next three days.

“Not that that’ll count for much,” one of them remarked, with a
wink at the old man that caused him to chuckle audibly, “‘cos you
know, master, we be’an’t allowed to take no money.”

Willowton was not a crowded junction, but only a little ordinary
station on the line; yet somehow or other, between them those
porters put nearly two shillings into the box.

For the next few days, whenever the vicar or the doctor showed
himself in the village, he was sure to be stopped and asked for a
collecting-card, and before the end of the week there were
thirty-six cards at work in Willowton. Some wag suggested that
there should be one on the bridge, and that Corkam or Farley
should hang it round his neck with a suitable inscription,
because they were certain to be always on the spot! But Corkam
scowled so at the proposition that what might have really been a
most excellent plan was never carried out: for the bridge, as I
said before, was the central point of the little town, and few
people but passed over it some time in the day; consequently
quite good sum might have been collected if anybody had taken
charge of a box. Corkam apparently did all the good works he ever
meant to accomplish in America, and Farley dared not undertake to
collect without his approval.

Continue Reading

PUBLIC OPINION ON THE BRIDGE

The sun was setting, and the long shadows were slanting into the
tired faces of the crowd, before the dowser considered he had
satisfactorily accomplished his self-imposed task. He had made
his circuit of the village, and come back again to the common. He
had found and marked three springs: two were, he said, at a
considerable depth, some hundred or more feet below the surface;
and one, the most conveniently-placed for those who were to
benefit by it, was on the edge of the common, perhaps three or
four hundred yards from the church. When he and his following
returned after their long and successful quest, they found motor
car standing at the Wild Swan, puffing and snorting in the
impatient way that motors do. The driver, who was most
unmistakably out of patience, called out to him to hurry, or
“they would not get to Ipswich that night;” and after a brief
adieu to Mr. Barlow, and a comprehensive word to the assemblage,
he climbed into the car and disappeared in a cloud of dust.

Willowton metaphorically rubbed its eyes. It was like a dream.
This morning they were to die for want of water; this evening it
appeared there was “water, water everywhere, but not a drop to
drink.”

When the last sound of the departing motor’s horn had died away
Geo Lummis joined his cronies on the bridge.

“Well,” said Corkam, in his rancorous voice, “of all the
tomfoolery I ever seed in my life, I never seed anything to ekal
this! Do yew mean ter tell me as that old bloke with a piece a’
stick can find out where the water is, a hundred feet under the
earth? Well, if yew think I’m goin’ ter believe _that_, why
you’re greater fules nor I took yer for.”

“He, he, he!” laughed the cripple admiringly. “He knaw a thing or
tew, due Mr. Corkham.”

“Well,” said Corkam, swelling with importance, “if I di’n’t I
ought ter, for I’ve been twice ter ‘Meriky, and that’s moor nor
the rest of yer hev.”

This argument was unanswerable, for nobody else certainly had
crossed the Atlantic, or had, for the matter of that, ever
experienced the slightest desire to do so; but still, to have
been a traveller gives one importance in one’s native village,
and Corkam never let the American experience be forgotten. There
was a tradition that an impudent boy, with an inquiring mind, had
once asked him how long he had been there; and there _were_
people in the upper walks of life in Willowton who had expressed
an opinion that he had gone over as a stoker in one of the
“Cunarders,” but had never done more than set his foot on the
soil of the other hemisphere. But the fate of the indiscreet boy,
whose ears had tingled for some time after his awkward question,
had successfully deterred others from indulging in any undue
thirst for information on that point, and Corkam was popularly
supposed to be a mine of knowledge. It was, therefore, distinctly
disappointing to find that the afternoon’s excitement was to go
for nothing, and that they were, so to speak, “no forrader” than
they were before.

There was soon quite a little crowd round the “traveller,” who
was airing his opinions freely, and consequently enjoying himself
exceedingly.

“And if he hev found water,” he was saying–“s’posin’, as we’ll
say, s’posin’ there _is_ water where he say–why, he didn’t find
that for nothin’. Bah! _I_ knaw better’n that. He knaw wot he’s
about, does that gen’lm; he’ll be round here in a month or two,
I’ll lay a soverin’, arstin’ for yer wotes for the next election!
I knaw ’em; they’re all alike–doctors, parsons, jowsers–they
don’t do anythin’ for nothin’. Mark my words, he’ll git suffin’
out on yer before long. I knaw ’em, an’ I ought’er, I’m shore,
for ha’int I’ve bin te ‘Meriky?”

How long this harangue might have continued one cannot tell, but
an interruption was cased by the arrival on the scene of the
doctor in his high dog-cart. He pulled up on the bridge and
addressed the crowd.

“This seems to be a good opportunity of speaking to you, my men,
on the subject which will be discussed in the schoolroom
to-morrow at dinner-time. Three springs of water are said to have
been discovered, and it has been decided to sink wells, if
possible, in all three places; and also to clear out those wells
which already exist, with a hope that when the rain _does_ come,
and the springs begin to work again, the water may be purer and
more fit to drink. The wells must be dug at once, the funds must
be raised somehow or other; we can’t stop to consider how at this
moment, for it is a matter, as you all know, of life and death.
What we propose to ask of you is to come forward with offers of
help. The farmers have kindly consented to spare those of their
men who know anything about well-sinking. I am about to send
telegrams to several well-known men to come to our assistance,
and I now ask you to think the matter over this evening, and
those men who are willing to offer their services will, I hope,
come in person to the meeting at one o’clock to-morrow, when a
selection will be made by a committee, which will be formed this
evening. I should like to add that the question of wages will be
also settled, and that the vicar and I will be responsible for
their prompt payment. All we ask of you is your hearty
co-operation in what is for the good of the whole parish.”

“Hear, hear!” shouted a few voices in the crowd, who, for the
most part, received the intimation with sullen silence and
imperturbability of countenance. Corkam’s words had done their
work, and Willowton had veered round again and become
incredulous. The doctor drove off, first to call at a
fever-smitten house at the extreme end of the village, and then
to beat up a committee of influential men for the meeting next
day.

“Responsible fur the wages, indeed!” sneered Corkam. “I’d like
ter know where they’re agoin’ ter git th’money from! They’ll
borrer it, I s’pose, and make a good thing out of it. Never fear,
yer don’t blind _me;_ _I_ know ’em!”

“Well,” said a man who had hitherto preserved a stony silence,
“th’ wells have got to be dug somehow, and I don’t see what call
anybody hev ter bother about where th’ money come from so that’s
good money, and that they come by it honest. I know sumthin’
about well-diggin’, and I shall go if they’ll hev me.”

“And so’ll I, Martin, if yue due,” said Tom Chapman, who stood
beside him. “I don’t know nothin’ about it; but I know that’s
dangerous work, and is well paid, and I can work under yur and
due my best.”

“That you can, booy,” said the other man, clapping him on the
back, “an’ a better mate I don’t never want te see.”

After a little more desultory talk the crowd separated, and they
all went home to their evening meal, and to talk the matter over
with their wives.

Continue Reading

OLD JIMMY’S SCRUPLES

In the meantime the vicar had eaten a hurried luncheon of bread
and cheese in the master’s room, and leaving the Union walked
quickly down to the church. He had barely time to put on his
surplus and stole when the mournful procession came in sight; and
with a sad heart he went to meet it, reading, of course, as he
went the opening sentences of our beautiful burial service for
two more victims of the epidemic–a young girl and a child from
Gravel-pit Lane.

After the service, when he once more emerged from the vestry, he
was followed by the old man in whose person were embodied the
three offices of verger, sexton, and clerk–“Jimmy the clerk,” as
the parish dubbed him.

If anybody had asked me to point out a few of the “characters”
which are to be found in every village as well as in Willowton, I
think, without hesitation, I should have begun with Jimmy
Greenacre. I do not know if I shall be able to show you dear old
Jimmy just as I saw him, because his quaintness was a great deal
made up of a whimsical twist of his funny old face, a touch of
humour in the turn of his sentences, and an absurd habit of
gabbling his information like an eager child who has been given a
few minutes only to say his say–a habit partly the result of
having only three or four teeth left in his head, and partly from
a laudable desire to use the best and most appropriate words in
conversation with those he was pleased to look upon as his
betters.

In person he was rather inclined to be tall, spare, and sinewy;
his hair was thick, and still dark in spite of his seventy-three
years; and being an economical gentleman, he was not as
intimately acquainted with the barber as the vicar would have
liked, but his rugged-lined old face was clean shaven, and tanned
to a deep mahogany. He walked with the slow, rather shuffling
gait of the agricultural labourer, and stooped a little from the
shoulders with the stoop that comes of hard work in early youth.
Jimmy had been born and bred in Willowton, and he was destined to
die there. In his humble way he was a perfect walking De Brett:
he knew the family history of every man, woman, and child in the
place, and that of their forebears for the last two generations
or more–some people said his memory was far too good! But if
they had only known it, they themselves had benefited oftentimes
by that same memory. To the vicar he was invaluable. The late
incumbent had died very suddenly, and his wife had followed him
within a few days. They had no children, and but for old Jimmy,
Mr. Rutland would have had to find out everything for himself.
But Jimmy knew the ropes, and taught the new vicar to put his
hands on them. “Jimmy is as good as a curate to me any day!” the
vicar would say with a kindly hand on the old man’s shoulder when
he introduced him to any of his friends; and old Jimmy would slip
away with a pleased chuckle and a modest, “No, no, master; but I
does my best, and a carn’t due no more–so I carn’t.” Nor could
he.

It was due to this passion for genealogies on the part of the old
man that he took such a lively interest in Geo Lummis, the
“laziest booy,” as he termed him in his own mind, in Willowton.

“That there chap harn’t got a chance, that he harn’t,” he would
tell the vicar. “His fayther was jist sich another, and his
grandfa’ afore him–poochin’, good-fur-noethin’s booth on ’em!
messin’ about all day a’ the bridge, and creepin’ out a’ nights
after the trout–ticklin’ of ’em, yer mind, and layin’ abed the
best o’ ther mornin’ afterwards. This here booy–why, Mr. Morse,
he took a likin’ tew ‘um, and had ‘um up here teachin’ of ‘um all
manner a’ things. He set ‘im tew a trade along av a carpenter in
Walden; but he was sune back agen, an’ dun no good at all! And
here he be, herdin’ along a’ that scum Corkam, and talkin’ all
manner a’ rubbidge along a’ him. His mother’s ter blame, I say.
She knew well enow how it was with her husband, and here’s she
a-lettin’ a’ the booy go th’ same way. But there, what can yew
expect a’ her when yew cum to recollect that her mother, Mary
Anne, was–” But when Jimmy went into the next generation the
vicar was apt to interrupt him, for he was an impetuous, hasty
young man, and not so good a listener as the old man would have
wished him to be.

But on this occasion Jimmy’s words commanded attention.

“Look yew there sir!” he exclaimed in a hollow tone, grasping the
vicar’s arm, and pointing with a gnarled old finger that shook
partly from age and partly from excitement–“look you there, sir!
There go Mosus to strike th’ rock. ‘Must we find you water?’ he
say; and yer know what happened tew ‘um, yer know, and so dew
he–well!” and Jimmy threw out both hands with a gesture that
implied that he, at least, would have no traffic with such evil
doings.

Mr. Wilman and his following had just come over the common, and
were bearing down again on the village, and the vicar was all
eagerness to join them. It was tiresome of Jimmy to detain him
just now, and Jimmy was as difficult to shake off as a terrier
with a rat.

“You’ll be thankful enough to drink the clear water when we get
it, I’ll be bound. And as for the means, it isn’t for you or me
either to criticise Mr. Wilman. God has given him apparently an
unusual gift, and he is going to use it for our good. Be off with
you and cut the grass, you old goose.”

“Cut the grass! He, he!” This was a little joke between the vicar
and the clerk, and Jimmy never failed to laugh at the sarcasm (it
had been so long since there had been a blade of grass to cut).
“Well, well, let his punishment fall on his own hid!” said Jimmy
piously.

“Jimmy,” said the vicar, quite seriously this time, “if I wasn’t
a parson, I should tell you you’re a regular old fool. There’s a
proverb somewhere (you won’t find it in the Bible, so don’t think
you’ve caught me tripping) that says, ‘God helps those who help
themselves;’ and do you honestly tell me that if we kneel down
every Sunday and pray for rain, and don’t accept every chance of
getting good water that God puts in our way, that He will pay any
heed to us? Must we have it in our own special way, or not at
all? Jimmy, Jimmy, your argument won’t hold water; you’d better
come with me and see how it’s done.”

But Jimmy scorned the suggestion, and went off mumbling about
judgements to come, and doers of iniquities, and witches, and
soothsayers, till he had grumbled himself out of the churchyard
and up the lane till he reached his own door.

He found the house empty. Milly had been smitten with the quest,
and had gone out to the dowser. Jimmy could hardly believe his
ears when the next door neighbour–a lame woman who “would have
gone on her own account if she could,” as she stoutly protested
when Jimmy lifted up his voice in a gabble of invective–informed
him that Milly had asked her to see to the kettle, and the cake
in the oven, while she went off to see the water found. “And
small blame, too! Who wouldn’t see a miracle when they could in
these days when nothing happened that—”

“There’s no miracle at all about it,” grumbled Jimmy, turning
round and arguing the other way when he found himself worsted.

“Well, then, I don’t see that you have no call to make such a
to-due about it. If that be so as you say jest ordinary tappin’,
there can’t be no witchcraft nor Satan’s work about it. Bless me,
if I’d a got your legs I’d have been there long ago.”

And so it happened that before many minutes were over Jimmy’s
curiosity had overcome his scruples, and he became one of the
fast-increasing crowd.

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THE SEARCH FOR WATER

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It will readily be imagined that the “dowser,” as he called
himself, was not allowed to go on his quest accompanied only by
Mr. Barlow. He was followed, as was only natural, at a fairly
respectable distance, by by a selection of all the idle boys and
girls in Willowton, and for once Geo Lummis had deserted his
friends on the bridge, and followed the little crowd leisurely in
the rear, with his hands in his pockets, and his hat tilted at
the back of his head.

The water-finder carried in his hand a freshly-cut hazel rod,
which he had brought from Mr. Barlow’s garden. It was about two
feet long, and forked at one end. He held it, point downwards,
straight in front of him, with a “prong” in each hand, and he
walked at a fair pace, his eyes fixed on the rod, and preserving
a dead silence.

As he went the little procession followed him up the main street
over the bridge nearly as far as Gravel-pit Lane. Here the
lookers-on noticed the hazel twig jerk outwards unmistakably. Mr.
Barlow, who was walking abreast of him, sent an inquiring glance
at him.

“Only drain water,” said the dowser laconically, without
slackening his pace.

A few more steps brought him to the bottom of Gravel-pit Lane,
and Annie Chapman, with a tribe of dirty, bright-eyed children
clinging to her bedraggled skirts, came out to see the fun. The
sun had gone in, and a sort of thick heat-mist pervaded
everything. It was the sort of afternoon that during any other
summer than that of 1901 would have ended in a thunderstorm; but
it seemed as if the clouds had forgotten how to rain, and the
parched ground looked thirstier than ever, while an unsavoury
drainy smell rose from the cluster of infected houses.

In the garden of the Chapman’s house was a condemned well, now,
fortunately perhaps, dry. A wooden cover was over the brickwork,
and it was safely padlocked. Annie and her brood rested against
this as they watched the dowser advancing.

He made straight for her gate. At a sign from her one of the
children opened it, and he and Mr. Barlow passed through; the
crowd remained outside. The door into the untidy sitting-room was
open, and without a “with your leave” or “by your leave” the
water-finder passed in, the twig jerking violently all the time.
Annie coloured, and sprang towards the house. Mr. Barlow, who was
following mechanically, stopped. “An Englishman’s house is his
castle.” He waited for permission. Annie was always hospitable in
spite of what to her was a sudden inexplicable feeling of shame
that the gentlemen should see what a pigsty the house was. She
smiled, however, as she held open the door, and drew her fairly
clean apron as far over her dress as she could.

“Go you in, sir,” she said; “though God a’mighty knows what he’s
after there, I don’t.”

Before Mr. Barlow could take advantage of her invitation,
however, the dowser had passed out through the little kitchen
into the yard behind, where, stumbling along over Annie’s pots
and pans and other utensils, which were everywhere but where they
ought to be, he stopped short at a high privet fence, neatly
clipped; for with the backyard Annie’s dominion ended and Tom’s
began, so the fences and the gate and the palings were in good
order. There was no getting over this fence; it ran all the
length of the row of houses. The dowser retraced his steps, and
led by Mr. Barlow soon reappeared by a circuitous route at the
opposite side of the fence. Annie and her children made a big
hole in the dusty green of it and peered through.

Behind this hedge was a small piece of waste land, or common,
where the boys played desultory games of cricket in the hot
evenings; and when there was any feed at all on it, the few
people who owned donkeys in Willowton turned them out to graze.
Just now it was as hard brickbats and guiltless of any signs of
green. All the way across this piece the rod jerked and twisted.

“There is water here,” the dowser said, stopping and wiping his
brow. He looked exhausted, and sat down on the bank that ran
along the top of the rather shallow gravel-pit that gave the name
to the place. “The spring is a deep one, too,” he continued
thoughtfully–“perhaps eighty or a hundred feet below the
surface; but it is a bad place for sinking a well–too dangerous
by far with all this gravel. We will try somewhere else.”

At Mr. Barlow’s request, however, he marked the spot with a large
stone, for it was impossible to put a stick in the hard ground.

“How do you know what depth it is down, may I ask?” said the
farmer politely; and the crowd of boys and girls listened eagerly
for the answer, and none more eagerly than Geo, who stood a
little aloof with an unusual alertness in his bearing.

“I know in this way,” said the dowser, taking up his twig which
he had laid down for a moment and standing over the place
indicated. “I judge by the distance from it at which the rod is
influenced. Deep-lying water affects a smaller area than that
which is nearer the surface. My rod, as I daresay you observed,
began to jerk before we reached yonder cottage,” pointing back at
the Chapman’s house. “That must be a couple of hundred yards or
more away. No,” he added in answer to further questions, “I don’t
go by any exact scale of measurement. Other people may do so, but
I don’t. Experience enables me to be pretty certain about it,
and I trust to that.”

Geo was so intensely interested at this conversation that he
could not help advancing nearer than manners permitted. The
dowser noticed him.




“I think I saw you at the meeting,” he said, looking kindly at
him. “Have you ever seen water found like this before?”

Geo touched his hat respectfully.

“No, sir,” he said, “that I hain’t. That’s the most wonderful
thing I ever see in my life.”

The dowser smiled.

“It does not seem so wonderful to me,” he said. “I come of a
family of dowsers. My father was one before me, and my
grandfather, and I have a sister with the same gift, though I
have but lately discovered my own power. There are a good many
of us in the south-west of England–Wiltshire, Dorset, Cornwall;
I am a Wilts man myself.”

“Oh, indeed, sir,” said Geo because he had nothing else to say.

“You do it professionally, I conclude, then?” said Mr. Barlow,
inwardly quaking lest Mr. Wilman should demand an exorbitant fee.

“Dear me, no–not at all. I do it quite in an amateur way, just
for the love of it. A man must sometimes help his
fellow-creatures. I am not a rich man. I can’t do much in the way
of money, but having this gift, I occasionally make use of it. I
was taking a holiday just now. I am on a motor car with a friend,
and we are stopping a few days in your neighbourhood. I heard of
your difficulties, as I think I mentioned at your meeting, and
saw my opportunity for indulging in my hobby. When I am at home I
am a very busy man, Mr. Barlow. I am sub-agent to Lord
Atherthy.”

“Indeed, sir, indeed,” said Mr. Barlow, with considerable relief
and a palpable increase of respect. “And I’m sure it is very
kind of you. We are as a parish immensely indebted to you; at
least, ahem, we shall be when—”

“When I find the water, eh? Well, I am not content with this
place. I am rested now; I think we’ll go on.–You, young man,”
addressing Geo, “can come alongside if you like, but not too
near. Keep, like Mr. Barlow, a few paces behind me.”

So once more the procession moved on, and the dowser, after
walking perhaps some hundred yards away from the place where he
professed to have discovered a spring, took up his rod in his
accustomed way and strode on.

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