“I never went to St. John’s mop in my life,” said Mrs. Todhetley.
“That’s no reason why you never should go,” returned the Squire.
“And never thought of engaging a servant at one.”
“There are as good servants to be picked up at a mop as out of it; and you have a great deal better choice,” said he. “My mother has hired many a man and maid at the mop: first-rate servants too.”
“Well, then, perhaps we had better go into Worcester tomorrow and see,” concluded she, rather dubiously.
“And start early,” said the Squire. “What is it you are afraid of?” he added, noting her doubtful tone. “That good servants don’t go to the mop to be hired?”
“Not that,” she answered. “I know it is the only chance farmhouse servants have of being hired when they change their places. It was the noise and crowd I was thinking of.”
“Oh, that’s nothing,” returned the Pater. “It is not half as bad as the fair.”
Mrs. Todhetley stood at the parlour window of Dyke Manor, the autumn sun, setting in a glow, tingeing her face and showing up its thoughtful expression. The Squire was in his easy-chair, looking at one of the Worcester newspapers.
There had been a bother lately about the dairy-work. The old dairy-maid, after four years of the service, had left to be married; two others had been tried since, and neither suited. The last had marched herself off that day, after a desperate quarrel with Molly; the house was nearly at its wits’ end in consequence, and perhaps the two cows were also. Mrs. Todhetley, really not knowing what in the world to do, and fretting herself into the face-ache over it, was interrupted by the Pater and his newspaper. He had just read there the reminder that St. John’s annual Michaelmas Mop would take place on the morrow: and he told Mrs. Todhetley that she could go there and hire a dairy-maid at will. Fifty if she wanted them. At that time the mop was as much an institution as the fair or the wake. Some people called it the Statute Fair.
Molly, whose sweet temper you have had a glimpse or two of before, banged about among her spoons and saucepans when she heard what was in the wind. “Fine muck it ‘ud be,” she said, “coming out o’ that there Worcester mop.” Having the dairy-work to do as well as her own just now, the house scarcely held her.
We breakfasted early the next morning and started betimes in the large open carriage, the Squire driving his pair of fine horses, Bob and Blister. Mrs. Todhetley sat with him, and I behind. Tod might have gone if he would: but the long drive out and home had no charms for him, and he said ironically he should like to see himself attending the mop. It was a lovely morning, bright and sunny, with a suspicion of crispness in the air: the trees were putting on their autumn colours, and shoals of blackberries were in the hedges.
Getting some refreshment again at Worcester, and leaving the Squire at the hotel, I and Mrs. Todhetley walked to the mop. It was held in the parish of St. John’s — a suburb of Worcester on the other side of the Severn, as all the country knows. Crossing the bridge and getting well up the New Road, we plunged into the thick of the fun.
The men were first, standing back in a line on the foot-path, fronting the passers-by. Young rustics mostly in clean smock-frocks, waiting to be looked at and questioned and hired, a broad grin on their faces with the novelty of the situation. We passed them: and came to the girls and women. You could tell they were nearly all rustic servants too, by their high colours and awkward looks and manners. As a rule, each held a thick cotton umbrella, tied round the middle after the fashion of Mrs. Gamp’s, and a pair of pattens whose bright rings showed they had not been in use that day. To judge by the look of the present weather, we were not likely to have rain for a month: but these simple people liked to guard against contingencies. Crowds of folk were passing along like ourselves, some come to hire, some only to take up the space and stare.
Mrs. Todhetley elbowed her way amongst them. So did I. She spoke to one or two, but nothing came of it. Whom should we come upon, to my intense surprise, but our dairy-maid — the one who had taken herself off the previous day!
“I hope you will get a better place than you had with me, Susan,” said the Mater, rather sarcastically.
“I hopes as how I shall, missis,” was the insolent retort. “‘Twon’t be hard to do, any way, that won’t, with that there overbearing Molly in yourn.”
We went on. A great hulking farmer as big as a giant, and looking as though he had taken more than was good for him in the morning, came lumbering along, pushing every one right and left. He threw his bold eyes on one of the girls.
“What place be for you, my lass?”
“None o’ yourn, master,” was the prompt reply.
The voice was good-natured and pleasant, and I looked at the girl as the man went shouldering on. She wore a clean light cotton gown, a smart shawl all the colours of the rainbow, and a straw bonnet covered with sky-blue bows. Her face was fairer than most of the faces around; her eyes were the colour of her ribbons; and her mouth, rather wide and always smiling, had about the nicest set of teeth I ever saw. To take likes and dislikes at first sight without rhyme or reason, is what I am hopelessly given to, and there’s no help for it. People laugh mockingly: as you have heard me say. “There goes Johnny with his fancies again!” they cry: but I know that it has served me well through life. I took a liking to this girl’s face: it was an honest face, as full of smiles as the bonnet was of bows. Mrs. Todhetley noticed her too, and halted. The girl dropped a curtsey.
“What place are you seeking?” she asked.
“Dairy-maid’s, please, ma’am.”
The good Mater stood, doubtful whether to pursue inquiries or to pass onwards. She liked the face of the girl, but did not like the profusion of blue ribbons.
“I understand my work well, ma’am, please; and I’m not afraid of any much of it, in reason.”
This turned the scale. Mrs. Todhetley stood her ground and plunged into questioning.
“Where have you been living?”
“At Mr. Thorpe’s farm, please, near Severn Stoke.”
“For how long?”
“Twelve months, please. I went there Old Michaelmas Day, last year.”
“Why are you leaving?”
“Please, ma’am”— a pause here —“please, I wanted a change, and the work was a great sight of it; frightful heavy; and missis often cross. Quite a herd o’ milkers, there was, there.”
“What is your name?”
“Grizzel Clay. I be strong and healthy, please, ma’am; and I was twenty-two in the summer.”
“Can you have a character from Mrs. Thorpe?”
“Yes, please, ma’am, and a good one. She can’t say nothing against me.”
And so the queries went on; one would have thought the Mater was hiring a whole regiment of soldiers. Grizzel was ready and willing to enter on her place at once, if hired. Mrs. Thorpe was in Worcester that day, and might be seen at the Hare and Hounds inn.
“What do you think, Johnny?” whispered the Mater.
“I should hire her. She’s just the girl I wouldn’t mind taking without any character.”
“With those blue bows! Don’t be simple, Johnny. Still I like the girl, and may as well see Mrs. Thorpe.”
“By the way, though,” she added, turning to Grizzel, “what wages do you ask?”
“Eight pounds, please, ma’am,” replied Grizzel, after some hesitation, and with reddening cheeks.
“Eight pounds!” exclaimed Mrs. Todhetley. “That’s very high.”
“But you’ll find me a good servant, ma’am.”
We went back through the town to the Hare and Hounds, an inn near the cathedral. Mrs. Thorpe, a substantial dame in a long cloth skirt and black hat, by which we saw she had come in on horse-back, was at dinner.
She gave Grizzel Clay a good character. Saying the girl was honest, clean, hardworking, and very sweet-tempered; and, in truth, she was rather sorry to part with her. Mrs. Todhetley asked about the blue bows. Ay, Mrs. Thorpe said, that was Grizzel Clay’s great fault — a love of finery: and she recommended Mrs. Todhetley to “keep her under” in that respect. In going out we found Grizzel waiting under the archway, having come down to learn her fate. Mrs. Todhetley said she should engage her, and bade her follow us to the hotel.
“It’s an excellent character, Johnny,” she said, as we went along the street. “I like everything about the girl, except the blue ribbons.”
“I don’t see any harm in blue ribbons. A girl looks nicer in ribbons than without them.”
“That’s just it,” said the Mater. “And this girl is good-looking enough to do without them. Johnny, if Mr. Todhetley has no objection, I think we had better take her back in the carriage. You won’t mind her sitting by you?”
“Not I. And I’m sure I shall not mind the ribbons.”
So it was arranged. The girl was engaged, to go back with us in the afternoon. Her box would be sent on by the carrier. She presented herself at the Star at the time of starting with a small bundle: and a little birdcage, something like a mouse-trap, that had a bird in it.
“Could I be let take it, ma’am?” she asked of Mrs. Todhetley. “It’s only a poor linnet that I found hurt on the ground the last morning I went out to help milk Thorpe’s cows. I’m a-trying, please, to nurse it back to health.”
“Take it, and welcome,” cried the Squire. “The bird had better die, though, than be kept to live in that cage.”
“I was thinking to let it fly, please, sir, when it’s strong again.”
Grizzel had proper notions. She screwed herself into the corner of the seat, so as not to touch me. I heard all about her as we went along.
She had gone to live at her Uncle Clay’s in Gloucestershire when her mother died, working for them as a servant. The uncle was “well-to-do,” rented twenty acres of land, and had two cows and some sheep and pigs of his own. The aunt had a nephew, and this young man wanted to court her, Grizzel: but she’d have nothing to say to him. It made matters uncomfortable, and last year they turned her out: so she went and hired herself at Mrs. Thorpe’s.
“Well, I should have thought you had better be married and have a home of your own than go out as dairy-maid, Grizzel.”
“That depends upon who the husband is, sir,” she said, laughing slightly. “I’d rather be a dairy-maid to the end o’ my days — I’d rather be a prisoner in a cage like this poor bird — than have anything to say to that there nephew of aunt’s. He had red hair, and I can’t abide it.”
Grizzel proved to be a good servant, and became a great favourite in the house, except with Molly. Molly, never taking to her kindly, was for quarrelling ten times a day, but the girl only laughed back again. She was superior to the general run of dairy-maids, both in looks and manners: and her good-humoured face brought sweethearts up in plenty.
Two of them were serious. The one was George Roper, bailiff’s man on a neighbouring farm; the other was Sandy Lett, a wheelwright in business for himself at Church Dykely. Of course matters ran in this case, as they generally do run in such cases, all cross and contrary: or, as the French say, à tort et à travers. George Roper, a good-looking young fellow with curly hair and a handsome pair of black whiskers, had not a coin beyond the weekly wages he worked for: he had not so much as a chair to sit in, or a turn-up bedstead to lie on; yet Grizzel loved him with her whole heart. Sandy Lett, who was not bad-looking either, and had a good home and a good business, she did not care for. Of course the difficulty lay in deciding which of the two to choose: ambition and her friends recommended Sandy Lett; imprudence and her own heart, George Roper. Like the donkey between the two bundles of hay, Grizzel was unable to decide on either, and kept both the swains on the tenter-hooks of suspense.
Sunday afternoons were the great trouble of Grizzel’s life. Roper had holiday then, and came: and Lett, whose time was his own, though of course he could not afford to waste it on a week-day, also came. One would stand at the stile in one field, the other at a stile in another field: and Grizzel, arrayed in one of the light print gowns she favoured, the many-coloured shawl, and the dangerous blue-ribboned bonnet, did not dare to go out to either, lest the other should pounce upon his rival, and a fight ensue. It was getting quite exciting in the household to watch the progress of events. Spring passed, the summer came round; and between the two, Grizzel had her hands full. The other servants could not imagine what the men saw in her.
“It is those blue ribbons she’s so fond of!” said Mrs. Todhetley to us two, with a sigh. “I doubted them from the first.”
“I should say it is the blue eyes,” dissented Tod.
“And I the white teeth and laughing face. Nobody can help liking her.”
“You shut up, Johnny. If I were Roper ——”
“Shut up yourself, Joseph: both of you shut up: you know nothing about it,” interrupted the Squire, who had seemed to be asleep in his chair. “It comes of woman’s coquetry and man’s folly. As to these two fellows, if Grizzel can’t make up her mind, I’ll warn them both to keep off my grounds at their peril.”
One evening during the Midsummer holidays, in turning out of the oak-walk to cross the fold-yard, I came upon Grizzel leaning on the gate. She had a bunch of sweet peas in her hand, and tears in her eyes. George Roper, who must have been talking to her, passed me quickly, touching his hat.
“Good evening, sir.”
“Good evening, Roper.”
He walked away with his firm, quick stride: a well-made, handsome, trustworthy fellow. His brown velveteen coat (an old one of his master’s) was shabby, but he looked well in it; and his gaitered legs were straight and strong. That he had been the donor of the sweet peas, a rustic lover’s favourite offering, was evident. Grizzel attempted to hide them in her gown when she saw me, but was not quick enough, so she was fain to hold them openly in her hand, and make believe to be busy with her milk-pail.
“It’s a drop of skim milk I’ve got over; I was going to take it to the pigs,” said she.
“What are you crying about?”
“Me crying!” returned Grizzel. “It’s the sun a shinin’ in my eyes, sir.”
Was it! “Look here, Grizzel, why don’t you put an end to this state of bother? You won’t be able to milk the cows next.”
“‘Tain’t any in’ard bother o’ that sort as’ll keep me from doing my proper work,” returned she, with a flick to the handle of the pail.
“At any rate, you can’t marry two men: you would be taken up by old Jones the constable, you know, and tried for bigamy. And I’m sure you must keep them in ferment. George Roper’s gone off with a queer look on his face. Take him, or dismiss him.”
“I’d take him tomorrow, but for one thing,” avowed the girl in a half whisper.
“His short wages, I suppose — sixteen shillings a week.”
“Sixteen shillings a week short wages!” echoed Grizzel. “I call ’em good wages, sir. I’d never be afraid of getting along on them with a steady man — and Roper’s that. It ain’t the wages, Master Johnny. It is, that I promised mother never to begin life upon less than a cottage and some things in it.”
“How do you mean?”
“Poor mother was a-dying, sir. Her illness lasted her many a week, and she might be said to be a-dying all the time. I was eighteen then. ‘Grizzy,’ says she to me one night, ‘you be a likely girl and’ll get chose afore you be many summers older. But you must promise me that you’ll not, on no temptation whatsoever, say yes to a man till he has a home of his own to take you to, and beds and tables and things comfortable about him. Once begin without ’em, and you and him’ll spend all your after life looking out for ’em; but they’ll not come any the more for that. And you’ll be at sixes-and-sevens always: and him, why perhaps he’ll take to the beer-shop — for many a man does, through having, so to say, no home. I’ve seen the ill of it in my days,’ she says, ‘and if I thought you’d tumble into it I’d hardly rest quiet in the grave where you be so soon a-going to place me.’ ‘Be at ease, mother,’ says I to her in answer, ‘and take my promise, which I’ll never break, not to set-up for marriage without a home o’ my own and proper things in it.’ That promise I can’t break, Master Johnny; and there has laid the root of the trouble all along.”
I saw then. Roper had nothing but a lodging, not a stick or stone that he could call his own. And the foolish man, instead of saving up out of his wages, spent the remnant in buying pretty things for Grizzel. It was a hopeless case.
“You should never have had anything to say to Roper, knowing this, Grizzel.”
Grizzel twirled the sweet peas round and round in her fingers, and looked foolish, answering nothing.
“Lett has a good home to give you and means to keep it going. He must make a couple of pounds a week. Perhaps more.”
“But then I don’t care for him, Master Johnny.”
“Give him up then. Send him about his business.”
She might have been counting the blossoms on the sweet-pea stalks. Presently she spoke, without looking up.
“You see, Master Johnny, one does not like to — to lose all one’s chances, and grow into an old maid. And, if I can’t have Roper, perhaps — in time — I might bring myself to take Lett. It’s a better opportunity than a poor dairy-maid like me could ever ha’ looked for.”
The cat was out of the bag. Grizzel was keeping Lett on for a remote contingency. When she could make up her mind to say No to Roper, she meant to say Yes to him.
“It is awful treachery to Roper; keeping him on only to drop him at last,” ran my thoughts. “Were I he, I should give her a good shaking, and leave ——”
A sudden movement on Grizzel’s part startled me. Catching up her pail, she darted across the yard by the pond as fast as her pattens would go, poured the milk into the pig-trough with a dash, and disappeared indoors. Looking round for any possible cause for this, I caught sight of a man in light fustian clothes hovering about in the field by the hay-ricks. It was Sandy Lett; he had walked over on the chance of getting to see her. But she did not come out again.
The next move in the drama was made by Lett. The following Monday he presented himself before the Squire — dressed in his Sunday-going things, and a new hat on — to ask him to be so good as to settle the matter, for it was “getting a’most beyond him.”
“Why, how can I settle it?” demanded the Squire. “What have I to do with it?”
“It’s a tormenting of me pretty nigh into fiddle-strings,” pleaded Lett. “What with her caprices — for sometimes her speaks to me as pleasant as a angel, while at others her won’t speak nohow; and what with that dratted folk over yonder a-teasing of me”— jerking his head in the direction of Church Dykely —“I don’t get no peace of my life. It be a shame, Squire, for any woman to treat a man as she’s a-treating me.”
“I can’t make her have you if she won’t have you,” exploded the Squire, not liking the appeal. “It is said, you know, that she would rather have Roper.”
Sandy Lett, who had a great idea of his own merits, turned his nose up in the air. “Beg pardon, Squire,” he said, “but that won’t wash, that won’t. Grizzel couldn’t have nothing serious to say to that there Roper; nought but a day-labourer on a farm; she couldn’t: and if he don’t keep his distance from her, I’ll wring his ugly head round for him. Look at me beside him! — my good home wi’ its m’hogany furniture in’t. I can keep her a’most like a lady. She may have in a wench once a week for the washing and scrubbing, if she likes: I’d not deny her nothing in reason. And for that there Roper to think to put hisself atween us! No; ‘twon’t do: the moon’s not made o’ green cheese. Grizzel’s a bit light-hearted, sir; fond o’ chatter; and Roper he’ve played upon that. But if you’d speak a word for me, Squire, so as I may have the banns put up ——”
“What the deuce, Lett, do you suppose I have to do with my women-servants and their banns?” testily interrupted the Squire. “I can’t interfere to make her marry you. But I’ll tell you thus much, and her too: if there is to be this perpetual uproar about Grizzel, she shall quit my house before the twelvemonth she engaged herself for is up. And that’s a disgrace for any young woman.”
So Sandy Lett got nothing by coming, poor unfortunate man. And yet — in a sense he did. The Squire ordered the girl before him, and told her in a sharp, decisive tone that she must either put an end to the state of things — or leave his service. And Grizzel, finding that the limit of toleration had come, but unable in her conflicting difficulties to decide which of the swains to retain and which discard, dismissed the two. After that, she was plunged over head and ears in distress, and for a week could hardly see to skim off the cream for her tears.
“This comes of hiring dairy wenches at a statty fair!” cried wrathful Molly.
The summer went on. August was waning. One morning when Mr. Duffham had called in and was helping Mrs. Todhetley to give Lena a spoonful of jam (with a powder in it), at which Lena kicked and screamed, Grizzel ran into the room in excitement so great, that they thought she was going into a fit.
“Why, what is it?” questioned Mrs. Todhetley, with a temporary truce to the jam hostilities. “Has either of the cows kicked you down, Grizzel?”
“I’m — I’m come into a fortin!” shrieked Grizzel hysterically, laughing and crying in the same breath.
Mr. Duffham put her into a chair, angrily ordering her to be calm — for anger is the best remedy in the world to apply to hysterics — and took a letter from her that she held out. It told her that her Uncle Clay was dead, and had left her a bequest of forty pounds. The forty pounds to be paid to her in gold whenever she should go and apply for it. This letter had come by the morning post: but Grizzel, busy in her dairy, had only just now opened it.
“For the poor old uncle to have died in June, and them never to ha’ let me hear on’t!” she said, sobbing. “Just like ’em! And me never to have put on a bit o’ mourning for him!”
She rose from the chair, drying her eyes with her apron, and held out her hand for the letter. As Mrs. Todhetley began to say she was very glad to hear of her good luck, a shy look and a half-smile came into the girl’s face.
“I can get the home now, ma’am, with all this fortin,” she whispered.
Molly banged her pans about worse than ever, partly in envy at the good luck of the girl, partly because she had to do the dairy work during Grizzel’s absence in Gloucestershire: a day and a half, which was given her by Mrs. Todhetley.
“There won’t be no standing anigh her and her finery now,” cried rampant Molly to the servants. “She’ll tack her blue ribbons on to her tail as well as her head. Lucky if the dairy some fine day ain’t found turned all sour!”
Grizzel came back in time; bringing her forty pounds in gold wrapped-up in the foot of a folded stocking. The girl had as much sense as one here and there, and a day or two after her arrival she asked leave to speak to her mistress. It was to say that she should like to leave at the end of her year, Michaelmas, if her mistress would please look out for some one to replace her.
“And what are you going to do, Grizzel, when you do leave? What are your plans?”
Grizzel turned the colour of a whole cornfield of poppies, and confessed that she was going to be married to George Roper.
“Oh,” said Mrs. Todhetley. But she had nothing to urge against it.
“And please, ma’am,” cried Grizzel, the poppies deepening and glowing, “we’d like to make bold to ask if the master would let to us that bit of a cottage that the Claytons have went out of.”
The Mater was quite taken aback. It seemed indeed that Grizzel had been laying her plans to some purpose.
“It have a nice piece o’ ground to grow pertaters and garden stuff, and it have a pigsty,” said Grizzel. “Please, ma’am, we shall get along famous, if we can have that.”
“Do you mean to set up a pig, Grizzel?”
Grizzel’s face was all one smile. Of course they did. With such a fortune as she had come into, she intended herself and her husband to have everything good about them, including a pig.
“I’ll give Grizzel away,” wrote Tod when he heard the news of the legacy and the projected marriage. “It will be fun! And if you people at home don’t present her with her wedding-gown it will be a stingy shame. Let it have a good share of blue bows.”
“No, though, will he!” exclaimed Grizzel with sparkling eyes, when told of the honour designed her by Tod. “Give me away! Him! I’ve always said there’s not such another gentleman in these parts as Mr. Joseph.”
The banns were put up, and matters progressed smoothly; with one solitary exception. When Sandy Lett heard of the treason going on behind his back, he was ready to drop with blighted love and mortification. A three-days’ weather blight was nothing to his. Quite forgetting modesty, he made his fierce way into the house, without saying with your leave or by your leave, and thence to the dairy where Grizzel stood making-up butter, startling the girl so much with his white face and wild eyes that she stepped back into a pan of cream. Then he enlarged upon her iniquity, and wound up by assuring her that neither she nor her “coward of a Roper” could ever come to good. After that, he left her alone, making no further stir.
Grizzel quitted the Manor and went into the cottage, which the Squire had agreed to let to them: Roper was to come to it on the wedding-day. A daughter of Goody Picker’s, one Mary Standish (whose husband had a habit of going off on roving trips and staying away until found and brought back by the parish), stayed with Grizzel, helping her to put the cottage in habitable order, and arrange in it the articles she bought. That sum of forty pounds seemed to be doing wonders: I told Grizzel I could not have made a thousand go as far.
“Any left, Master Johnny? Why of course I shall have plenty left,” she said. “After buying the bed and the set o’ drawers and the chairs and tables; and the pots and pans and crockeryware for the kitchen; and the pig and a cock and hen or two; and perviding a joint of roast pork and some best tea and white sugar for the wedding-day, we shall still have pounds and pounds on’t left. ‘Tisn’t me, sir, nor George nether, that ‘ud like to lavish away all we’ve got and put none by for a rainy day.”
“All right, Grizzel. I am going to give you a tea-caddy.”
“Well now, to think of that, Master Johnny!” she said, lifting her hands. “And after the mistress giving me such a handsome gownd! — and the servants clubbing together, and bringing a roasting oven and beautiful set o’ flat irons. Roper and me’ll be set up like a king and queen.”
On Saturday, the day before that fixed for the wedding, I and Tod were passing the cottage — a kind of miniature barn, to look at, with a thatched roof, and a broken grindstone at the door — and went in: rather to the discomfiture of Grizzel and Mrs. Standish, who had their petticoats shortened and their arms bare, scouring and scrubbing and making ready for the morrow. Returning across the fields later, we saw Grizzel at the door, gazing out all ways at once.
“Consulting the stars as to whether it will be fine tomorrow, Grizzel?” cried Tod, who was never at a loss for a ready word.
“I was a-looking out for Mary Standish, sir,” she said. “George Roper haven’t been here to-night, and we be all at doubtings about several matters he was to have come in to settle. First he said he’d go on betimes to the church o’ Sunday morning; then he said he’d come here and we’d all walk together: and it was left at a uncertainty. There’s the blackberry pie, too, that he’ve not brought.”
“The blackberry pie!” said I.
“One that Mrs. Dodd, where he lodges, have made a present of to us for dinner, Master Johnny. Roper was to ha’ brought it in to-night ready. It won’t look well to see him carrying of a baked-pie on a Sunday morning, when he’ve got on his wedding-coat. I can’t think where he have got to!”
At this moment, some one was seen moving towards us across the field path. It proved to be Mary Standish: her gown turned up over her head, and a pie in her hands the size of a pulpit cushion. Red syrup was running down the outside of the dish, and the crust looked a little black at the edges.
“My, what a big beauty!” exclaimed Grizzel.
“Do take it, Grizzel, for my hands be all cramped with its weight,” said Mrs. Standish: who, as it turned out, had been over to Roper’s lodgings, a mile and a half away, with a view to seeing what had become of the bridegroom elect. And she nearly threw the pie into Grizzel’s arms, and took down her gown.
“And what do Roper say?” asked Grizzel. “And why have he not been here?”
“Roper’s not at home,” said Mary Standish. “He come in from work about six; washed and put hisself to rights a bit, and then went out with a big bundle. Mrs. Dodd called after him to bring the pie, but he called back again that the pie might wait.”
“What was in the bundle?” questioned Grizzel, resenting the slight shown to the pie.
“Well, by the looks on’t, Mother Dodd thought ’twas his working clothes packed up,” replied Mary Standish.
“His working clothes!” cried Grizzel.
“A going to take ’em to the tailor’s, maybe, to get ’em done up. And not afore they wanted it.”
“Why, it’s spending money for nothing,” was Grizzel’s comment. “I could ha’ done up them clothes.”
“Well, it’s what Mother Dodd thought,” concluded Mary Standish.
We said good night, and went racing home, leaving the two women at the door, Grizzel lodging the heavy blackberry pie on the old grindstone.
It was a glorious day for Grizzel’s wedding. The hour fixed by the clerk (old Bumford) was ten o’clock, so that it might be got well over before the bell rang out for service. We reached the church early. Amongst the few spectators already there was cross-grained Molly, pocketing her ill-temper and for once meaning to be gracious to Grizzel.
Ten o’clock struck, and the big old clock went ticking on. Clerk Bumford (a pompous man when free from gout) began abusing the wedding-party for not keeping its time. The quarter past was striking when Grizzel came up, with Mary Standish and a young girl. She looked white and nervous, and not at all at ease in her bridal attire — a green gown of some kind of stuff, and no end of pink ribbons: the choice of colours being Grizzel’s own.
“Is Roper here yet?” whispered Mary Standish.
“It’s too bad of him!” she continued. “Never to send a body word whether he meant to call for us, or not: and us a waiting there till now, expecting of him.”
But where was George Roper? And (as old Bumford asked) what did he mean by it? The clergyman in his surplice and hood looked out at the vestry twice, as if questioning what the delay meant. We stood just inside the porch, and Grizzel grew whiter and whiter.
“Just a few minutes more o’ this delay, and there won’t be no wedding at all this blessed morning,” announced Clerk Bumford for the public benefit. “George Roper wants a good blowing up, he do.”
Ere the words were well spoken, a young man named Dicker, who was a fellow-lodger of Roper’s and was to have accompanied him to church, made his appearance alone. That something had gone wrong was plainly to be seen: but, what with the publicity of his present position, and what with the stern clerk pouncing down upon him in wrath, the young man could hardly get his news out.
In the first place, Roper had never been home all night; never been seen, in short, since he had left Mrs. Dodd’s with the bundle, as related by Mary Standish. That morning, while Dicker in his consternation knew not what to be at — whether to be off to church alone, or to wait still, in the hope that Roper would come — two notes were delivered at Mrs. Dodd’s by a strange boy: the one addressed to himself, John Dicker, the other to “Miss Clay,” meaning Grizzel. They bore ill news; George Roper had given up his marriage, and gone away for good.
At this extraordinary crisis, pompous Clerk Bumford was so taken aback, that he could only open his mouth and stare. It gave Dicker the opportunity to put in a few words.
“What we thought at Mother Dodd’s was, that Roper had took a drop too much somewhere last evening, and couldn’t get home. He’s as sober a man as can be-but whatever else was we to think? And when this writed note come this morning, and we found he had gone off to Ameriky o’ purpose to avoid being married, we was downright floundered. This is yours, Grizzel,” added the young man in as gently considerate a tone as any gentleman could have used.
Grizzel’s hand shook as she took the letter he held out. She was biting her pale lips hard to keep down emotion. “Take it and read it,” she whispered to Mary Standish — for in truth she herself could not, with all that sea of curious eyes upon her.
But Mary Standish laboured under the slight disadvantage of not being able to read writing: conscious of this difficulty, she would not touch the letter. Mr. Bumford, his senses and his tongue returning together, snatched it without ceremony out of Grizzel’s hand.
“I’ll read it,” said he. And he did so. And I, Johnny Ludlow, give you the copy verbatim.
“Der Grisl, saterdy evenin, this comes hoppin you be wel as it leves
me at presint, Which this is to declar to you der grisl that our
marage is at an end, it hav ben to much for me and praid on my
sperits, I cant stand it no longer nohow and hav took my leve of you
for ivir, Der Grisl I maks my best way this night to Livirpol to tak
ship for Ameriky, and my last hops for you hearby xprest is as you
may be hapy with annother, I were nivir worthey of you der grisl and
thats a fac, but I kep it from you til now when I cant kep it no
longer cause of my conshunse, once youv red this hear letter dont
you nivir think no mor on me agen, which I shant on you, Adew for
“your unfortnit friend George Roper.
“Ide av carred acros that ther blakbured pi but shoud have ben to late, my good hops is youl injoy the pi with another better nor you ivir could along with me, best furwel wishes to Mary Standish.
What with the penmanship and what with the spelling, it took old Bumford’s spectacles some time to get through. A thunderbolt could hardly have made more stir than this news. No one spoke, however; and Mr. Bumford folded the letter in silence.
“I always knowed what that there Roper was worth,” broke forth Molly. “He pipe-clayed my best black cloak on the sly one day when I ordered him off the premises. You be better without him, Grizzel, girl — and here’s my hand and wishing you better luck in token of it.”
“Mrs. Dodd was right — them was a change a’ clothes he was a taking with him to Ameriky,” added Mary Standish.
“Roper’s a jail-bird, I should say,” put in old Bumford. “A nice un too.”
“But what can it be that’s went wrong — what is it that have took him off?” wondered the young man, Dicker.
The parson in his surplice had come down the aisle and was standing to listen. Grizzel, in the extremity of mental bitterness and confusion, but striving to put a face of indifference on the matter before the public, gazed around helplessly.
“I’m better without him, as Molly says — and what do I care?” she cried recklessly, her lips quivering. The parson put his hand gravely on her arm.
“My good young woman, I think you are in truth better without him. Such a man as that is not worthy of a regret.”
“No, sir, and I don’t and won’t regret him,” was her rapid answer, the voice rising hysterically.
As she turned, intending to leave the church, she came face to face with Sandy Lett. I had seen him standing there, drinking in the words of the note with all his ears and taking covert looks at Grizzel.
“Don’t pass me by, Grizzel,” said he. “I feel hearty sorry for all this, and I hope that villain’ll come to be drowned on his way to Ameriky. Let me be your friend. I’ll make you a good one.”
“Thank you,” she answered. “Please let me go by.”
“Look here, Grizzel,” he rejoined with a start, as if some thought had at that moment occurred to him. “Why shouldn’t you and me make it up together? Now. If the one bridegroom’s been a wicked runagate, and left you all forsaken, you see another here ready to put on his shoes. Do, Grizzel, do!”
“Do what?” she asked, not taking his meaning.
“Let’s be married, Grizzel. You and me. There’s the parson and Mr. Bumford all ready, and we can get it over afore church begins. It’s a good home I’ve got to take you to. Don’t say nay, my girl.”
Now what should Grizzel do? Like the lone lorn widow in “David Copperfield,” who, when a ship’s carpenter offered her marriage, “instead of saying, ‘Thank you, sir, I’d rather not,’ up with a bucket of water and dashed it over him,” Grizzel “up” with her hand and dealt Mr. Sandy a sounding smack on his left cheek. Smarting under the infliction, Sandy Lett gave vent to a word or two of passion, out of place in a church, and the parson administered a reprimand.
Grizzel had not waited. Before the sound of her hand had died away, she was outside the door, quickly traversing the lonely churchyard. A fine end to poor Grizzel’s wedding!
The following day, Monday, Mrs. Todhetley went over to the cottage. Grizzel, sitting with her hands before her, started up, and made believe to be desperately busy with some tea-cups. We were all sorry for her.
“Mr. Todhetley has been making inquiry into this business, Grizzel,” said the Mater, “and it certainly seems more mysterious than ever, for he cannot hear a word against Roper. His late master says Roper was the best servant he ever had; he is as sorry to lose him as can be.”
“Oh, ma’am, but he’s not worth troubling about — my thanks and duty to the master all the same.”
“Would you mind letting me see Roper’s note?”
Grizzel took it out of the tea-caddy I had given her — which caddy was to have been kept for show. Mrs. Todhetley, mastering the contents, and biting her lips to suppress an occasional smile, sat in thought.
“I suppose this is Roper’s own handwriting, Grizzel?”
“Oh, ma’am, it’s his, safe enough. Not that I ever saw him write. He talks about the blackberry pie, you see; one might know it is his by that.”
“Then, judging by what he says here, he must have got into some bad conduct, or trouble, I think, which he has been clever enough to keep from you and the world.”
“Oh yes, that’s it,” said Grizzel. “Poor mother used to say one might be deceived in a saint.”
“Well, it’s a pity but he had given some clue to its nature: it would have been a sort of satisfaction. But now — I chiefly came over to ask you, Grizzel, what you purpose to do?”
“There’s only one thing for me now, ma’am,” returned poor crestfallen Grizzel, after a pause: “I must get another place.”
“Will you come back to the Manor?”
A hesitation — a struggle — and then she flung her apron up to her face and burst into tears. Dairy-maids have their feelings as well as their betters, and Grizzel’s “lines” were very bitter just then. She had been so proud of this poor cottage home; she had grown to love it so in only those few days, and to look forward to years of happiness within it in their humble way: and now to find that she must give it up and go to service again!
“The Squire says he will consider it as though you and Roper had not taken the cottage; and he thinks he can find some one to rent it who will buy the furniture of you — that is, if you prefer to sell it,” she resumed very kindly. “And I think you had better come back to us, Grizzel. The new maid in your place does not suit at all.”
Grizzel took down her apron and rubbed her eyes. “It’s very good of you, ma’am-and of the master — and I’d like to come back only for one thing. I’m afraid Molly would let me have no peace in my life: she’d get tanking at me about Roper before the others. Perhaps I’d hardly be able to stand it.”
“I will talk to her,” said Mrs. Todhetley, rising to leave. “Where is Mary Standish today?”
“Gone over to Alcester, ma’am. She had a errand there she said. But I think it was only to tell her folks the tale of my trouble.”
Molly had her “talking to” at once. It put her out a little; for she was really feeling some pity for Grizzel, and did not at all intend to “get tanking” at her. Molly had once experienced a similar disappointment herself; and her heart was opening to Grizzel. After her dinner was served that evening, she ran over to the cottage, in her coarse cooking apron and without a bonnet.
“Look here,” she said, bursting in upon Grizzel, sitting alone in the dusk. “You come back to your place if you like — the missis says she has given you the option — and don’t you be afeard of me. ‘Tisn’t me as’ll ever give back to you a word about Roper; and, mind, when I says a thing I mean it.”
“Thank you, Molly,” humbly replied poor Grizzel, catching her breath.
“The sooner you come back the better,” continued Molly, fiercely. “For it’s not me and that wench we’ve got now as is going to stop together. I had to call the missis into the dairy this blessed morning, and show her the state it was in. So you’ll come back, Grizzel — and we’ll be glad to see you.”
Grizzel nodded her head: her heart was too full to speak.
“And as to that false villain of a Roper, as could serve a woman such a pitiful trick, I only wish I had the doctoring of him! He should get a — a — a ——” Molly’s voice, pitched in a high tone, died gradually away. What on earth was it, stepping in upon them? Some most extraordinary object, who opened the door softly, and came in with a pitch. Molly peered at it in the darkness with open mouth.
A cry from Grizzel. A cry half of terror, half of pain. For she had recognized the object to be a man, and George Roper. George Roper with his hair and handsome whiskers cut off, and white sleeves in his brown coat — so that he looked like a Merry Andrew.
He seemed three parts stupefied: not at all like a traveller in condition to set off to America. Sinking into the nearest wooden chair, he stared at Grizzel in a dazed way, and spoke in a slow, questioning, wondering voice.
“I can’t think what it is that’s the matter with me.”
“Where be your whiskers — and your hair?” burst forth Molly.
The man gazed at her for a minute or two, taking in the question gradually; he then raised his trembling hand to either side his face — feeling for the whiskers that were no longer there.
“A nice pot o’ mischief you’ve been a getting into!” cried sharp Molly. “Is that your own coat? What’s gone of the sleeves?”
For, now that the coat could be seen closely, it turned out that its sleeves had been cut out, leaving the bare white shirt-sleeves underneath. Roper looked first at one arm, then at the other.
“What part of Ameriky be you bound for, and when do the ship sail?” pursued sarcastic Molly.
The man opened his mouth and closed it again; like a born natural, as Molly put it. Grizzel suddenly clung to him with a sobbing cry.
“He is ill, Molly; he’s ill. He has had some trick played on him. George, what be it?” But still George Roper only gazed about him as if too stupid to understand.
In short, the man was stupid. That is, he had been stupefied, and as yet was only partially recovering its effects. He remembered going into the barber’s shop on Saturday night to have his hair cut, after leaving his bundle of clothes at the tailor’s. Some ale was served round at the barber’s, and he, Roper, took a glass. After that he remembered nothing: all was blank, until he woke up an hour ago in the unused shed at the back of the blacksmith’s shop.
That the ale had been badly drugged, was evident. The question arose — who had played the trick? In a day or two, when Roper had recovered, an inquiry was set on foot: but nothing came of it. The barber testified that Roper seemed sleepy after the ale, and a joke went round that he must have been drinking some previously. He went out of the shop without having his hair cut, with several more men — and that was all the barber knew. Of course Sandy Lett was suspected. People said he had done it in hope to get himself substituted as bridegroom. Lett, however, vowed through thick and thin that he was innocent; and nothing was traced home to him. Neither was the handwriting of the note.
They were married on the Thursday. Grizzel was too glad to get him back unharmed to make bones about the shorn whiskers. No difficulty was made about opening the church on a week-day. Clerk Bumford grumbled at it, but the parson put him down. And the blackberry pie served still for the wedding-dinner.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55