"What be lookin' at?" inquired Mrs. Bold, emerging from her dairy,
and incidentally wiping her hands on a corner of her apron. "There
ye've a-been standin' in a regular stud all the time I were a-swillin'
out the churn."
Farmer Bold was standing at the open stable door, his grey-bearded
chin resting on his big brown hand, his eyes staring meditatively in
front of him. It was a breezy, sunny autumn day, and all the world
about him was astir with life; gawky yellow-legged fowls pecked and
scratched round his feet with prodigious activity, calves were bleating
in the adjacent pens, while the very pigs were scuttling about their
styes, squealing the while as though it were supper-time. The wind
whistled blithely round the corners of the goodly cornstacks to the
rear of the barton, and piped shrilly through their eaves; the monthly
roses, still ablow, swung hither and thither in the fresh blast,
strewing the cobblestones with their delicate petals. In all the gay,
busy scene only the figure of the master himself was motionless, if one
might except the old black horse which he appeared to be contemplating,
the angular outlines of whose bony form might be seen dimly defined in
the dusk of its stable.
Towards this animal Farmer Bold now pointed, removing his hand from
his chin for the purpose. "I wur a-lookin' at Blackbird," he said,
"poor wold chap! He was a good beast in his day, but I d' 'low his day
be fair done. Tis the last night what Blackbird 'ull spend in this 'ere
"Why," cried Mrs. Bold quickly, "ye don't mean to say--"
"I mean to say," interrupted her husband, turning to her with a
resolutely final air, "I mean to say as Blackbird's sold."
"Sold!" ejaculated the woman incredulously. "Who'd ever go for to
buy Blackbird?--wi'out it be one o' they rag-and-bone men, or maybe for
a salt cart. Well, Joe," with gathering ire, "I didn't think ye'd go
for to give up the faithful wold fellow after all these years, to be
knocked about and ill-used at the last."
"Nay, and ye needn't think it--ye mid know as I wouldn't do sich a
thing," returned her lord with equal heat. "I've sold en"--he paused,
continuing with some hesitation, as he nodded sideways over his
shoulder, "I've a-sold en up yonder for the kennels."
"What! To be ate up by them there nasty hounds? Joseph!"
"Come now," cried the farmer defiantly, "ye must look at it
sensible, Mary. Poor Blackbird, he be a-come to his end, same as we all
must come to it soon or late. He 've a-been goin' short these two
years--ye could see that for yourself--and now his poor wold back be
a-givin' out, 'tis the most merciful thing to destroy en. They'll turn
en out to-week in the field up along--beautiful grass they have
there--and he'll enjoy hisself a bit, and won't know nothin' about it
when they finish en off."
"I al'ays thought as we'd keep Blackbird so long as he did live,"
murmured Mrs. Bold, half convinced but still lamenting, "seein' as we
did breed en and bring en up ourselves, and he did work so faithful all
his life. Poor wold Jinny! He wur her last colt, and you did al'ays use
to say you'd keep en for her sake. Ah, 'tis twenty year since I run out
and found en aside of her in the paddock--walkin' about as clever as
you please, and not above two hours old. Not a white hair on en--d'ye
mind?--and such big, strong legs! I was all for a-callin' en Beauty,
but you said Beauty was a filly's name. And he did use to run to
paddock-gate when he wur a little un, and I wur a-goin' to feed
chicken--he'd know my very foot, and he'd come prancin' to meet I, and
put his little nose in the bucket. Dear, to be sure, I mind it just so
well as if it wur yesterday!"
The farmer laughed and stroked his beard.
"'E-es, he was a wonderful knowin' colt," he agreed, placidly.
"There's a deal o' sense in beasts if ye take notice on 'em and treat
'em friendly like. Them little lambs as we did bring up to-year was so
clever as Christians, wasn't they? Ye mind the little chap we did call
Cronje, how he used to run to I when he did see I a-comin' wi' the
teapot? And Nipper--ye mind Nipper? He didn't come on so well as the
others; he was sickly-proud, so to speak, and wouldn't suckey out o'
the teapot same as the rest. But he knowed his name so well as any o'
them, and 'ud screw his head round, and cock his ears just as a dog mid
do, when I did call en. Pigs, even," he proceeded meditatively,
"there's a deal o' sense in pigs, if ye look for it. Charl', ye mind
Charl', what he had soon after we was married? That there pig knowed my
v'ice so well as you do. What I did use to come into the yard and did
call 'Charl',' he'd answer me back, 'Umph.' Ho! ho! I used to stand
there and laugh fit to split. Ye never heard anythin' more nat'ral.
'Charl',' I'd call; 'Umph' he'd go. Ho! ho! ho!"
The woman did not laugh; she was screwing up her eyes in the
endeavour to penetrate the darkness of the stable. "Poor wold
Blackbird," she said, "I wish it hadn't come to this. It do seem cruel
someway. There, he did never cost 'ee a penny, wi'out 'twas for shoes,
and he've a-worked hard ever sin' he could pull a cart--never a bit o'
vice or mischief. It do seem cruel hard as he shouldn't end his days on
the place where he was bred."
"My dear woman," said her husband loftily, "what good would it do
the poor beast to end his days here instead of up yonder? He's bound to
end 'em anyways, and we are twenty-two shillin' the better for lettin'
of en go to the kennels."
"Twenty-two shillin'?" repeated his wife.
"'E-es, not so bad, be it? The pore fellow's fair wore out, but
still, d'ye see, he fetches that at the last, and 'tis better nor
puttin' an end to en for nothin'. Ah, there be a deal o' money in
Mrs. Bold sighed. Perhaps she knew almost better than her husband
how much toil and trouble it cost to get twenty-two shillings together.
Twenty pounds of butter, twenty-two dozen eggs, eighty-eight quarts of
milk! What early risings, what goings to and fro, what long sittings
with cramped limbs and aching back, milking cow after cow in summer
heat and winter cold, how many weary hours' standing in the flagged
dairy before twenty-two shillings could be scraped together! She turned
away, without another word.
Later in the evening poor old Blackbird was brought out of his
stall, and, after receiving the farewell caresses of master and
mistress, was led away, limping, to the kennel pasture.
"Don't 'urry en," called the farmer to the lad who had charge of
him. "Tis a long journey for he--two mile and more; let en take his
time. He'll get there soon enough."
The next morning, just as Mrs. Bold had finished getting breakfast,
her husband came to the dairy in a state of amused excitement.
"There, ye'll never think! I al'ays did say beasts was so sensible
as Christians if ye took a bit of notice of 'em. I was a-goin' round
stables jist now, and if I didn't find wold Blackbird in his own stall,
jist same as ever. I did rub my eyes and think I must be dreamin', but
there he were layin' down, quite at home. He al'ays had a trick of
openin' gates, ye know, and he must jist ha' walked away i' th' night.
He wur awful tired, pore beast--'twas so much as I could do to get en
"Ye sent en off again!" cried Mrs. Bold indignantly. "Well, I
shouldn't ha' thought ye could have found it in yer heart! The poor
wold horse did come back to we, so trustin', and you to go an drive en
away again to his death! Dear, men be awful hard-hearted!"
"Of all the onraisonable creeturs, you are the onraisonablest,"
cried the farmer, much aggrieved. "Was I to go and take the folks'
money and keep the money's worth? A nice name I'd get in the country!
They'd be sayin' I stole en away myself, very like. No, I did send en
up so soon as I could, so as they shouldn't be s'archin' for 'en."
Mrs. Bold clapped a plate upon the table.
"Sit down," she cried imperatively. "Ye'll be ready for your own
breakfast, though you wouldn't give pore Blackbird a bit."
"Who says I didn't give en a bit?" retorted Joseph. "Ye be al'ays
jumpin' at notions, Mary. Blackbird had as good a feed o' carn afore he
did go as ever a horse had."
"Much good it'll do en when he's a-goin' to be killed," returned his
spouse inconsequently. "There, it's no use talkin'; I must make haste
wi' my breakfast and get back to my work. It's well for I as I be able
to work a bit yet, else I suppose ye'd be sendin' me to the knackers."
"I never heerd tell as you was a harse," shouted the farmer. The wit
and force of the retort seemed to strike him even as he uttered it, for
his indignant expression was almost immediately replaced by a
good-humoured grin. "I had ye there, Mary," he chuckled. "'I never
heerd tell as you was a harse, says I."
Next churning day Mrs. Bold rose before dawn, according to her
custom, and the churning was already in progress before the first grey,
uncertain light of the autumnal morning began to diffuse itself through
the latticed milk-house windows. All at once, during a pause in the
labour, she fancied she heard a curious, hesitating fumbling with the
latch of the door.
"Hark!" she cried, "what's that?"
"Tis the wind," said one of the churners.
"Nay, look, somebody's a-tryin' to get in," returned the mistress,
as the latch rose in a ghostly manner, fluttered, and fell. "Go to the
door, Tom," she continued, "and see what's wanted."
"'Tis maybe a spirit," said Tom, shrinking back.
"Nonsense! What would a spirit want at the dairy door? 'Tis more
like a tramp. Open it at once--You go, Jane."
"I dursen't," said Jane, beginning to whimper.
"Not one of ye has a grain o' sense!" said Mrs. Bold angrily.
She went to the door herself, just as the odd rattling began for the
third time, opened it cautiously, and uttered a cry.
There stood the attenuated form of poor old Blackbird, looking huge
and almost spectral in the dim light, but proclaiming its identity by a
"Rabbit me!" exclaimed Tom, "if that there wold carcase ain't found
his way here again!"
But Mrs. Bold's arms were round the creature's neck, and she was
fairly hugging him.
"Well done!" she cried ecstatically, "well done! Ye did well to come
to I, Blackbird. I'll stand by ye, never fear! I'll not have ye drove
Blackbird stood gazing at her with his sunken eyes, his loose nether
lip dropping, his poor old bent knees bowed so that they seemed
scarcely able to sustain his weight; the rusty skin, which had once
been of so glossy a sable, was scratched and torn in many places.
"He must have found his way out through the hedge. Well, to think of
his coming here, Missis!"
"He knowed he come to the right place," said Mrs. Bold, with
flashing eyes. "Turn that there new horse out o' the stall and put
Blackbird back, and give en a feed o' earn, and shake down a bit o'
fresh straw. 'Tis what ye couldn't put up wi', could ye, Blackbird?"
she continued, addressing the horse, "to find a stranger in your place!
Ye come to tell I all about it, didn't ye?"
When the farmer came down half-an-hour later, his wife emerged from
the shed in the neighbourhood of the pig-styes, where she had been
ministering to the wants of two motherless little pigs. One small
porker, indeed, was still tucked away under her arm as she advanced to
meet her husband, and she was brandishing the teapot, from which she
had been feeding it, in her disengaged hand.
"Joseph," she said, planting herself opposite to him, and speaking
with alarming solemnity, "we've a-been wed now farty year come Lady
Day. Have I bin a good wife to 'ee, or have I not?"
"Why, in course," Joseph was beginning, when he suddenly broke off.
"What's the new colt standing in the cart-shed for?"
"Never you mind the new colt--attend to I! Have I been a good wife
to 'ee, or have I not?"
"In course ye have--no man need ax for a better. But why--"
"Haven't I worked early and late, and toiled and moiled, and never
took a bit o' pleasure, and never axed 'ee to lay out no money for I?
Bain't I a-bringin' up these 'ere pigs by hand for 'ee, Joseph Bold?
And a deal of worry they be. 'Twasn't in the marriage contract, I
think, as I should bottle-feed sucking-pigs--was it now, Joseph? I d'
'low parson never thought o' axin' me if I were willin' to do that, but
I've a-done it for your sake."
"Well, but what be ye a-drivin' at?" interrupted the farmer, with a
kind of aggrieved bellow, for his wife's sorrowfully-reproachful tone
cut him to the quick. "What's it all about? What be a-complainin' of?
What d'ye want, woman? What d'ye want?"
"I want a pet," returned Mrs. Bold vehemently. "Here I've been
a-livin' wi' ye all these years, and ye've never let me keep so much as
a canary bird. There's the Willises have gold-fish down to their place,
and they be but cottagers; and Mrs. Fripp have got a parrot. A real
beauty he be, what can sing songs and laugh and shout like the
children, and swear--ye'd think t'was Fripp hisself, he do do it so
Joseph Bold fairly groaned:
"Good Lard! I never did think to hear 'ee talk so voolish--a
sensible body like ye did always use to seem! Dear heart alive!
Gold-fish! And a poll parrot! Well, Mary, I did think as a body o' your
years could content herself wi' live things as had a bit more sense in
'em nor that."
"Oh, I dare say," returned his spouse sarcastically. "Pigs and
sich-like!" giving a little tap to the wriggling, squeaking creature at
that moment struggling under her arm, "and chicken and ducks! Nice pets
"Upon my word, a man 'ud lose patience to hear you. Pets--at
your time o' life, wi' children grown up and married. Well, if ye want
pets, ha'n't ye had enough of 'em. Don't ye have nigh upon a dozen
lambs to bring up every spring?"
"'E-es, and where be they now, Joseph? Where be the lambs as I got
up afore light in the frostis and snow to attend to? Where be they? Ye
know so well as I do as butcher had 'em, every one. That's my
complaint--you do never let me keep a thing as isn't for killin'. A
body'd need a heart o' stone to stand it. This 'ere pig--ye know right
well as he'll be bacon afore this time next year."
[Illustration: BLACKBIRD'S INSPIRATION "Here's my little pet," she
"Then, in the name of furtin have your fancy, woman! Give it a name,
and I'll get it for 'ee."
"Ye give me your word, do ye, Joseph?"
"I bain't a man to break it," responded the farmer shortly.
Mrs. Bold set the little pig carefully on its feet, and sidled
across the yard, eyeing her husband the while with a curious expression
that was half-fearful, half-triumphant. When she reached the closed
stable door she opened it, plunged into the dark recess within, and
reappeared, dragging forth by a wisp of his ragged mane--poor, decrepit
"Here's my little pet," she cried jubilantly, delight at her success
overmastering all other feelings. "You've give me your word, Joseph,
and, as ye d'say yerself, ye bain't the one to take it back. Here's the
only pet I'll ever ax to keep. He'll not cost much," she added, seeing
her husband's face redden and his eyes roll threateningly. "He can pick
about in the summer, and a bit of hay in the winter'll be all he'll
need. I'll make it up to 'ee, see if I don't; and I think you do owe I
summat, anyhow, for workin' so hard as I always do."
"Oh, in course, if ye put it that way," he returned, huffily, "I
haven't got a word to say. I al'ays thought 'twas a wife's dooty to
help her husband, but since it seems to be a favour, I'm sure I did
ought to be very grateful. Thank ye kindly, ma'am! P'r'aps ye'll be so
good as to shut up that beautiful pet o' yourn now, and give me a bit
o' breakfast, if it bain't troublin' ye too much."
"Oh, go on, Joseph!" exclaimed Mrs. Bold, with heightening colour,
turning Blackbird about as she spoke, and propelling him before her
towards the stall. "I couldn't do nothin' else nor want to keep him,"
she added in an aggrieved tone, "when he come to the dairy door--he
come actually to the dairy door!--same as if he knowed 'twas his last
The farmer did not answer, but in spite of himself a dawning
expression of interest was perceptible on his face.
"'E-es, an' he must ha' broke through a hedge to get out; he be cut
about terrible wi' thorns."
"They did padlock th' gate when I sent en back last time," returned
Joseph gruffly, adding, in the same tone, "Ye'd better sponge they sore
places a bit after breakfast, and get dust out of 'em."
Mrs. Bold installed Blackbird in his old quarters, and hastened to
The meal which ensued was at first a somewhat silent one. In spite
of her satisfaction at having gained her point, Mrs. Bold felt somewhat
remorseful for the tactics she had employed; and her husband stolidly
munched his bread and bacon with a solemn, not to say gloomy,
All at once, however, he began to roll his head from side to side,
while the colour on his already rubicund face deepened so much that his
wife gazed at him in alarm, dreading the ensuing outburst. But when
after long repression the explosion actually took place, it proved to
be one of harmless and jovial laughter.
"What is it?" inquired Mrs. Bold, laughing delightedly too, though
she knew not at what.
"I've bin a-thinkin' o' summat. Dear heart alive, Mary, the queer
notions as do seem to be a-comin' into our heads all this week! D'ye
mind my sayin', 'I never knowed as you was a harse'? Ha! ha! Ye
couldn't say much to that, could 'ee? And when I think o' you standin'
in yard jist now, wavin' the teapot and tuckin' the little pig under
your arm! 'Bottle-feedin' suckin'-pigs weren't in the marriage
contract,' says you. Ho! ho! ho! Whatever put it i' your head to say
that, I can't think."
"I didn't really mean it, my dear," said Mary penitently, though she
"I dare say not, but I've bin a-thinkin' 'tis a pity your pet bain't
a size or two smaller--he be sixteen hands if he be a inch--else maybe
ye'd like to have en in here a-layin' on the hearthrug."
Then husband and wife laughed long and loud, and their little
difference was forgotten as their eyes met.