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The Conquest of Radical Ted by Mrs. Francis Blundell

 

It was Saturday afternoon, and Ted Wharton and Joe Lovelady had left off work early, as was their custom on that day of the week. They were now betaking themselves with solemn satisfaction to the "Thornleigh Arms," where a certain portion of their weekly wage would presently transfer itself from their own pockets to that of its jovial landlord. Joe Lovelady was a great, soft, lumbering fellow, who was considered rather a nonentity in Thornleigh; but Ted Wharton was a very different person. He was the village Radical--an adventurous spirit who, not content with spelling out his newspaper conscientiously on Sunday, was wont to produce, even on week-day afternoons, sundry small, ill-printed sheets, from which he would read out revolutionary sentiments the like of which had never before been heard in Thornleigh. For the most part his neighbours considered it extremely foolish of Ted to be "weerin' his brass on sich like," when a ha'porth of twist would have been so much more satisfactory. They cared nothing at all about Home Rule, and did not see that the labour question in any way bore upon their own case. What they wanted to know was when Government was going to raise the price of wheat, and what was the use of growing 'taters when it wasn't worth while carting them to Liverpool?

But Ted was not only the village Radical: he was also the village wag, with a reputation for humour which rendered him enormously popular. He was about thirty-five years old; a small man with sandy hair, a serious, not to say solemn, expression of countenance, and twinkling light grey eyes, which he had a trick of blinking when about to perpetrate a joke. His trousers were a little too short, his coat-sleeves--when he wore a coat--a little too long. On ordinary occasions his hat was tilted to the back of his head, and when in a jocular humour he cocked it knowingly over one eye. Probably these peculiarities, coupled with a certain dry method of enunciating, added largely to Ted's renown.

As they walked briskly along this hot summer's afternoon, the two men did not take the trouble to converse with each other. Joe, indeed, was at all times a taciturn person, and Ted was probably reserving himself for the delectation of the cronies whom he expected to meet at the "Thornleigh Arms." When he had caught up Joe on the road he had volunteered that he was steppin' up yonder, and Joe had replied that that was reet, jerking his head forward at the same time as an indication that he was steppin' up yonder too; thenceforth they had, as a matter of course, proceeded together, Ted walking a pace or two in advance and whistling to himself.

The village was now left behind, and on one side of the road, behind the dusty hedge, some colts were keeping step with them, occasionally starting and floundering forward after the manner of their kind, and then wheeling and coming slowly back with foolish heads extended and ears pricked, all ready for another bounce if either of the pedestrians raised his hand or kicked a stone out of his path. To their left the corn stood tall and yellow, almost ready for the harvest. Now they approached some woods, familiarly known as "the Mosses," from the peaty nature of the soil. A few weeks before the thick undergrowth of rhododendrons had been ablaze with clustering purple blossoms, and many wild flowers grew now on the borders of the deep ditch which surrounded them. These woods lay cornerwise with the main road, a sandy lane following the angle they described. On the grassy border of this lane a flock of geese were tranquilly basking, and, as Ted approached, a vigilant and pugnacious gander rushed towards him, flapping its wings and extending its long neck with portentous hisses. Ted had been carrying his coat over his arm for the sake of coolness, and now, whether because he thought it would be a humorous thing to do, or because he was secretly a little terrified at the rapid advance of the bellicose gander, he struck with it at the luckless bird with such force that he stretched it on the sod.

"Hello!" cried Ted, stopping short, astonished and perturbed at his sudden victory, "I b'lieve I've done for th' owd chap."

"My word," commented Joe, "if thou has thou'll be like to hear on it! That theer's Margaret Hep.'s gander; hoo thinks the world on't, hoo does."

Ted was meanwhile bending over his prostrate foe, which, to his relief, was not absolutely dead, though it was gasping and turning up its eyes in rather a ghastly manner. He took it up in his arms, still enfolded in his coat.

"It's wick still, as how 'tis," he remarked. "Eh! how it's kickin' out with they ugly yaller legs! Now then, owd lad, what mun we do wi'it, think'st thou? Mun I finish it off an' carry it wi' me to Jack Orme's for a marlock? Eh! the lads 'ud laugh if they see me coomin' in wi' it! I'll tell 'em I'd brought 'em a Crestmas dinner in July. My word, it's tough enough! I reckon it 'ud want keepin'; it wouldn't be ready mich afore Crestmas!"

Joe's wits, at no time very nimble, required some time to take in this audacious proposal, and he was just beginning the preliminary deprecating roll of the head, which he intended to precede a remark to the effect that Margaret 'ud happen have summat to say about that, when the angular figure of Miss Heptonstall herself appeared at the corner of the lane. She paused a moment aghast at the sight of the struggling gander, still enveloped in Ted's coat, and then, with extended hands and wildly-flapping drapery, hastened towards him--her aspect being not unlike that assumed by the unfortunate biped in question when he had first advanced to the attack.

"Victoria!" she gasped, when she at last halted beside the men. "Eh! whatever's getten Victoria?"

"Do ye mean this 'ere?" questioned Ted, hoisting the gander a little higher up under his arm. "Well, I cannot think whatever coom to the poor thing. Joe and me was goin' our ways along to Orme's when we heerd it give a kind of skrike out, and we looked round, and it were staggerin' along same as if it were fuddled, ye know, and all at once it give another skrike an' tumbled down aside o' th' road. Didn't it, Joe?"

Joe again rolled a deprecatory eye at his crony and cleared his throat, but did not otherwise commit himself.

"It mun ha' been a fit or soom sich thing," continued Ted, cocking his hat over his eye and glancing waggishly at Lovelady. "When Joe see it, says he, 'My word, there'll be a pretty to do! This is Margaret Hep.'s gander,' says Joe--no, I think he said, 'Miss Heptonstall's gander.' Didn't thou, Joe? Joe's allus so respectful and civil-spoke, pertic'larly when it's a lady as he's a-talking about."

Joe grinned and began to look jocular too. His friend's last assertion pleased him better than the wild flights of a little time before.

"That's it," said Joe. "Ho, ho! Reet!"

"He'd never go for to call ony lady out o' their name," pursued Ted, placing his hat yet a little more aslant; "never did that in's life. He's quite a lady's mon, Joe is. Haw! haw!"

"Coom!" said Joe, grinning still more broadly.

At this juncture the invalid gander made a frantic struggle, and, freeing one wing from Ted's encircling coat, began to flap it wildly.

"Ye've no need to stan' grinnin' an' makkin' merry theer when th' poor dumb thing's goin' to dee, as like as not," cried Margaret indignantly. "Hand him over to me this minute--theer, my beauty, theer--missus'll see to thee."

"Well, an' ye ought to be very thankful to me," asserted Ted; "didn't I pick him out o' th' road, an' put my own coat o'er him an' fondle him mich same's if he was a babby? Why, he 'ud noan be wick now if it hadn't ha' been for me. Theer, my boy, howd up! Theer, we'se tuck in thy wing for thee, and cover thee up warm an' gradely--'tisn't everybody as 'ud be dressin' up a gander i' their own clooes. Do you know what 'ud do this 'ere bird rale good? Just a drop o' sperrits to warm his in'ards for him--that's what he wants. See here, I'll carry him awhoam for ye, and ye mun jest fotch him a glass o' whisky, and in a two three minutes he'll be as merry as a layrock."

Margaret looked doubtfully at him.

"Do ye raly think it 'ud do the poor thing good?" she asked dolefully.

"I'm sure on't," returned Ted, firmly pinioning the gander's struggling legs, and setting off at a brisk pace towards Margaret's cottage. "Theer's nought as is wick as wouldn't feel the benefit of a drop o' sperrits now an' again."

Joe considered this a very proper sentiment, and gave a grunt by way of endorsing it; he, too, followed Ted and the gander, being as much amused at the transaction as it was in his nature to be at anything.

Margaret kept pace with Ted, every now and then uttering lamentations over her favourite.

"He were as good a gander as a body need wish for; wonderful good breed he were, an' as knowin'! Eh, dear, I never wanted for coompany when Victoria were theer."

"Victoria!" ejaculated Ted, stopping short and facing her; "why, that's a female name!"

"It's the Queen's name," rejoined Margaret, with a certain melancholy triumph.

"I thought it had been a gander; it is a gander, surely?"

"Oh, it's a gander reet 'nough. But I thought it were a goose to begin wi'. It were the biggest o' th' clutch, an' the prattiest, an' so I called it Victoria, an' it geet to know th' name, an' to coom when I called it--eh, it 'ud coom runnin' up an' croodle down aside o' me, turnin' its yead o' one side that knowin'! Eh, dear, theer never was sich a bird. An' when it were upgrown, an' turned out to be a gander, I 'adn't it i' my 'eart to change th' name, seein' as it had getten to know it so well, an' arter all, seein' as it's th' head of all th' fowls i' my place, it doesn't seem to coom amiss. Canon, he wanted me to call it Prince Consort, or else Albert Edward, but it didn't seem natural like, an' I've allus been used to call my white drake Albert Edward; and Prince Consort, he's th' owd rooster."

"Well," said Ted, hoisting up the gander again under his arm, and chuckling as he walked forward, "well, that beats all! I never heerd sich a tale i' my life. Coom, Victoria, howd up, owd lad; we'se soon be theer now. An' so th' owd rooster is Prince Consort? An' the drake's th' Prince o' Wales? Ho, ho! Have ye getten any more royalties yonder?"

"I've used up pretty near all th' royal fam'ly," replied Margaret, with a recurrence of her former dolorous pride; "it's the only mark o' respect as I can show my sovering. Every time Her Gracious Majesty gets a new grandchild or great-grandchild, Canon, he cooms an' says, 'Margaret, have you any more chickens as wants names?' An' soomtimes the one christening 'ull do for a whole brood; they royal childer has sich a mony names, ye know."

Ted sneered and looked immensely superior; the loyalty of this benighted woman filled his Radical mind with as much contempt as amusement. He was about to utter some scathing remark, when his attention was diverted by their arrival at Margaret's cottage.

Throwing open the little wicket-gate which divided her premises from the lane, she pressed forward, and unlocked her door. Ted followed her into the kitchen, while Joe stood without, craning forward his neck to see what was going on in the interior of the cottage, and drawing the back of his hand across his lips when he saw Miss Heptonstall produce a small bottle of whisky.

"He looks a dale livelier now," remarked Ted, uncloaking the gander and setting it on its legs on Margaret's immaculate table. "Whoa, steady theer," as the bird began to struggle in his grasp, flapping uneasy wings, and making a sickly attempt at a hiss.

Margaret, who had been about to uncork the bottle, paused, surveying Victoria with her head on one side.

"Theer dunnot seem to be mich amiss, do theer?" she remarked; "it seems a'most a pity to be givin' it sperrits. It'll upset it again as like as not."

"Theer mun ha' been summat amiss i' th' first place, though," returned Wharton, with a judicial air, "else it wouldn't ha' been took bad same as it were. If I was you, Miss Heptonstall, I'd give it a drop to strengthen its in'ards a bit."

"Ah," agreed Joe from the doorway.

Ted fumbled in his pocket and produced a large red cotton handkerchief, which he carefully spread on the table beneath the gander.

"It 'ud be a pity to let this here table get dirty," he observed, looking admiringly at its spotless surface. Margaret eyed him with more favour than she had hitherto displayed; then, smiling sourly, began to pour out the contents of her little black bottle.

"Fill up, Miss Heptonstall, fill up!" cried Ted, energetically; "eh, if you dunnot gi' it no more nor that, Victoria met jest as well be a bantam. He'll noan as mich as wet that great yaller beak of his wi' that drop."

Margaret smiled no more, but she filled up the glass. Joe, in the doorway, cleared his throat reflectively. Ted, again encircling the gander with his arm, forced open its beak.

"Now then," he whispered eagerly, "fotch a spoon, Miss Hep. Coom, owd bird, this'll fettle thee up, an' no mistake."

But whether Victoria's struggles were more lively than he had anticipated, or whether Ted purposely relaxed his hold, certain it was that the gander, with a scream of fury, backed out of his grasp and fluttered on to the floor; proceeding to waddle with great speed and evident indignation across the kitchen into the yard without.

"He's teetotal," said Ted, gazing at Margaret with a twinkle in his eye. "I met ha' knowed he'd be, seein' as he's bin brought up so careful, an' took to water nateral fro' th' first."

Miss Heptonstall had been about to restore the liquor to its bottle, but she now hesitated, looking towards Ted with a grim smile; his style of humour tickled her. Seized with a sudden fit of generosity, she extended the glass to him.

"You're noan teetotal, I'll be bound," she observed. "Theer! Sup it up."

"Your 'ealth!" said Ted, nodding towards her, much elated. Joe again cleared his throat tentatively, but Margaret ruthlessly corked the bottle, and, assuming her usual frosty air, remarked with somewhat scant politeness that it was time for her to be setting about her business, and there was no need for other folks to be waiting.

Thereupon the "other folks" were constrained to depart, Ted being still jubilant and Joe very glum.

"Well," began the former, as soon as they had advanced some paces, "t' folks up yon 'ull laugh fit to split when they hear this tale! Th' owd lady is a dacent sort o' body when all's said an' done. Hoo behaved uncommon 'andsome to me."

"Ah," returned Joe with surly sarcasm, "uncommon 'andsome. Hoo gave thee th' gander's leavin's, didn't hoo? Ho, ho! gander's leavin's."

Joe so seldom made a joke that he was quite astonished at himself, and after three or four repetitions of the same, with much wagging of the head, and a few knowing jerks of his thumb over his shoulder, apparently to accentuate the point of the jest, he became quite good-humoured again, and the pair walked on in amicable silence, each preparing to astonish his cronies with the recital of his own prowess.

The Thornleigh Arms was a snug old-fashioned hostelry standing a little back from the high-road. An air of homely jollity and comfort seemed to pervade the place; the ruddy afternoon sun lit up the small-paned windows with as cheerful a glow as that which in winter was reflected from the roaring fire piled by old Jack half up the wide chimney; the very Thornleigh lion of the imposing sign seemed to lean confidentially on his toe and to grin affably, as though to assure the passers-by of the good cheer within.

Ted and Joe found the usual Saturday customers already there, and presently shouts of laughter made the very rafters ring as he recounted his adventures with Margaret Heptonstall and her gander; his companion meanwhile sipping his beer with an air of suppressed importance. By-and-by he, too, would add his quota to the evening's entertainment, but he would wait till the culminating point of Ted's story was reached, and the company was, so to speak, ripe for it.

"Me an' Miss Hep. is meeterly thick now, I tell ye," summed up Ted at the conclusion of his tale. "Hoo thinks a dale o' me, if hoo doesn't think mich o' menfolk in general."

"Hoo gived Ted the gander's leavin's," put in Joe, seizing his opportunity, and bringing out his joke with a great shout and a vigorous nudge to his nearest neighbour. "Th' owd lad needn't be that set up--hoo give him nought but the gander's leavin's, when all's said an' done."

"Hoo didn't give thee a drop as how 'tis," retorted Ted. "Poor Joe were stood i' th' doorway, ye know, an' he sighed an' licked his lips, th' poor chap, but he didn't get nought. Miss Hep. didn't fancy nobody but me."

"Thou'll be for coortin' her next," suggested somebody humorously.

"Nay, nay," said an odd little short man with comically uplifted eyebrows. "'T wouldn't be no use coortin' Margaret Heptonstall. Eh, I remember when our missus reckoned hoo were deein' an' took a notion to mak' up a match between Margaret an' me--"

The rest of his narrative was drowned in a roar of laughter. Every one knew that story.

"Hoo wouldn't ha' noan o' thee, would hoo Tom?" cried one.

"Thy missus couldn't bear the notion of havin' all they dumb things about as Margaret sets sich store by?" queried another.

"Nay, 'twas me as couldn't bear the notion of her," rejoined Tom stoutly. "I'd be hard put-to to do wi' onybody at arter our Betty. Hoo's wick an' 'earty, an' I dunnot want nobry; but if I did have to pick a second missus, it shouldn't be Margaret Hep."

"Hoo's reg'lar set in her ways, isn't hoo?" put in old Jack. "Ah, hoo's reg'lar cut out for a single life, Marg'ret is. I reckon nobody'll want to coort her at this time o' day, an' if onybody did, hoo'd send him packin'."

"I haven't tried my hand yet, ye see," remarked Ted, looking round for applause. "If I was to get agate o' coortin' Margaret Hep., hoo'd be fain enough."

There was general laughter at this statement, which nearly every one present hastened to deny. All agreed that were Ted to urge his pretensions he would be very soon sent to the right-about.

"Well, then," cried Ted when the uproar had somewhat subsided, "I'll bet you a nine-gallon cask of owd Jack's best to a five-shillin' bit that Margaret Hep. an' me 'ull be shouted before the month's out."

The din at this point reached such a height that Mrs. Jack hastened in from the back premises to inquire what was to-do, and Ted himself was obliged to hammer on the table with his knuckles before he could make himself heard.

"Well," he resumed, "I've said it, an' I'll stick to it. You'll see, Margaret an' me 'ull be keeping coompany afore aught's long, an' Canon 'ull be shoutin' us at th' end o' th' month."

"Mon, you're noan goin' to wed sich an owd, tough, dried-up body as yon, for sure?" cried comfortable Mrs. Orme incredulously. "Ye mun be a good ten or fifteen year younger nor her."

"I didn't say we'd go as fur as wedlock," explained Ted, with a wicked leer. "I said we'd be shouted. Eh, theer's mony a slip 'twixt cup an' lip, ye know. Margaret an' me 'ull happen fall out afore weddin' day cooms; but once Canon shouts us ye mun down wi' your five shillin's."

"Ah, th' marlock 'ull be cheap enough at five shillin'," cried some jovial spirit. "My word, I would laugh to hear the names called! I reckon Canon hisself 'ud scarce keep a straight face."

"Nay, but think of th' poor wench," cried Jack, with an explosion of mirth. "Ted, it's rale cruel o' thee to play an innicent trustin' lass sich a trick."

"I reckon Margaret Hep. can take care of herself," put in Mrs. Jack. "Hoo can keep her e'en oppen as weel's onybody. I don't know but what it 'ull be Ted as 'ull ha' to pay for th' nine-gallon cask. Ye'd best be savin' up your brass, Ted, for we wunnot give no credit for 't."

With this professional sally she retired. Thomas Alty, remarking in an undertone that his Betty would be coming to look for him if he didn't make haste home, withdrew also, after a good-humoured nod to the friend who had treated him; for, as Mrs. Alty invariably impounded Tom's wage, it was only when he met with a crony in a generous humour that he visited the Thornleigh Arms.

It was not till considerably later that Ted betook himself homewards; the plan which he had at first proposed out of a mere spirit of bravado having now, owing to the gibes of Jack and the rest, become a fixed resolution.

On the following afternoon, just at the time when young Thornleigh went a-coortin', and elderly Thornleigh took off its boots and coat, or put a clean white handkerchief over its cap, the better to enjoy its Sabbath snooze in the ingle-nook, Ted Wharton cocked his hat over his eye, put a posy in his coat, and set off to call on Margaret Heptonstall. He found that damsel engaged in neither of the avocations already stated, but, with her Sunday gown pinned behind her, and her week-day sun-bonnet hanging limply over her face, feeding her numerous family in the middle of her yard.

"Good day to ye, Miss Heptonstall," remarked Ted, approaching with a jaunty air, "I thought I'd just call round to ax how Victoria finds hissel this morning."

"Mich the same as us'al, thank ye," replied Miss Hep. with a starched air. "Get out o' the road, Alice," addressing an adventurous pullet. "Thou'rt allus runnin' under a body's feet. Chuck! chuck! chuck! Coom G'arge, coom Adylaide, coom Maud! Now then, Alexandra! Chuck! chuck! coom lovies! That theer vicious Frederick has been a-chivying of you till you're freetened to death, you are."

Ted stood by with his thumbs in his waistcoat pockets, smiling to himself.

"Yon's gradely chickens," he remarked presently. "Ye never eat 'em do ye? 'Twouldn't be respectful, I shouldn't think."

[Illustration: THE CONQUEST OF RADICAL TED "Yon's gradely chickens," he remarked]

Margaret vouchsafed no reply. Ted resumed, with bitter sarcasm.

"H'm, mich the same as their r'yal namesakes, I reckon--kept for show an' no manner o' use to nobry."

Margaret hastily scattered the remainder of the grain in her apron, and whisked round.

"Howd your din," she cried angrily, "or else tak' yoursel' off. I'll noan stand by an' hear sich talk i' my place."

Ted, feeling he had made rather an inauspicious beginning, suddenly became lamb-like.

"No offence," he pleaded humbly. "Mun I carry your basin for you into th' house?"

Margaret looked over her shoulder and snorted; then, without returning yea or nay, she stalked over the cobble-stones and entered her kitchen, followed meekly by her visitor. Miss Heptonstall did not turn her head until the sound of Ted's boots, falling upon her tiled floor, made her look round sharply.

"If ye're for coomin' in ye'd best wipe your feet," she announced briefly.

Ted obediently retraced his steps and polished his boots on the mat outside the door. Then he re-entered, walking gingerly on the tips of his toes, and casting about in his mind for a suitable topic with which to inaugurate the conversation. Margaret's spare angular figure and sharp-featured face did not look encouraging; but surely never before was seen such a dazzling white apron, such a stiffly starched collar, such spotless cuffs. Margaret's cleanliness had in it, it was true, an aggressive quality, but Ted admired it nevertheless. The kitchen and all its appurtenances bore witness to the same scrupulous nicety. No floor in Thornleigh village was raddled so carefully, no fire-irons glittered so bravely; the very walls seemed to shine; and as for the pots and pans they positively winked at one another in the ruddy glow. Ted rested a sunburnt hand on each of his knees, drew a long breath, and remarked fervently--

"Ye mun be wonderful house-proud, Miss Heptonstall."

He could not have chosen a more pleasing theme; Margaret wrinkled up her nose with a sniff and a smile.

"Well, I believe I'm reckoned to be," she remarked modestly; "theer's nought else i' this world as I care for mich, but I'm wonderful fond o' cleanin' and scrubbing', an' I've allus said I'd sooner do things for mysel' nor let onybody do it for me."

Ted sighed and cast up his eyes.

"It seems a pity, Miss Heptonstall, as it's only yoursel' ye're doin' it for--"

"Why so?" interrupted Margaret snappishly.

"Well, it seems sich terrible waste, ye know. It seems a pity ye shouldn't be doin' for soombry else at th' same time."

"I dunnot want to do for nobry, nobbut mysel'," returned Margaret with a toss of her head. "Did ye think I'd be for takkin' lodgers at this time o' day?" she added suspiciously. "Nay, nay, I'll noan ha' strangers here, botherin' an' messin' about."

"Eh, I wasn't thinkin' o' strangers," explained Wharton, hitching his chair a little nearer. "I were jest wonderin' to mysel', seein' you're so manageable an' clever an' that, as you hadn't never thought o' gettin' wed an' doin' for a husband as well as yoursel'. I raly do wonder, Miss Heptonstall," he repeated insinuatingly, "as ye haven't getten wed."

He expected Margaret to be surprised and flattered, but she gave no indication of being either the one or the other. She fixed her steely blue eyes sternly on the visitor, and inquired stiffly what he thought she wanted a husband for, and what use he reckoned sich-like 'ud be to her. Ted edged his chair yet a little nearer, and thrust forward his face till it was within a yard of Margaret's.

"A good husband 'ud be a great comfort to ye, Miss Heptonstall," he urged. "He'd--he'd love ye, ye know"--(hesitating)--"an' work for ye."

This last was said with more assurance. Margaret appeared unconvinced.

"Eh, he'd be more bother than he was worth," she remarked trenchantly. "Think 'o th' litter alone he'd mak' coomin' in an' out o' th' house. It's bad enough to be cleanin' up arter th' cats an' the dog--poor dumb things, they knows no better! But a mon stumpin' in an' out wi's dirty boots, an' clooes as 'ud allus want mendin', an' stockin's weerin' at th' 'eel! Eh, theer'd be no end to 't! An' then th' doin' for; gettin's mate an' that--turnin' up 's nose very like--ill-satisfied wi' a washin'-day dinner! Nay, nay, I'd sooner bide as I am wi' nobbut mysel' to look to."

Ted threw back his head and coughed behind his hand, nonplussed for the moment; presently, noting that the practical side of the case was the only one likely to meet with favour, he resumed artfully--"Think how coomfortable it 'ud be of a rainy day, i'stead o' startin' out i' th' wet to feed pig an' do for chickens, to say to your gaffer, 'Sitha, thou mun see to they things afore thou goes to thy wark'--an' of an evening, when he' coom awhoam, ye could set him to get th' 'taters, an' chop wood an' that."

Margaret crossed her arms and appeared to reflect.

"An' of a Saturday--pay day, ye know--ye'd jest say: 'Hand o'er, wilto?' An' he'd hand o'er."

A faint smile began to play about the lady's lips; she leaned back in her chair and looked attentively at Ted.

"'Tisn't everybody as 'ud be willin' to do that," she remarked after a pause; "theer's a mony as 'ud sooner spend their brass at th' Thornleigh Arms."

Ted privately thought this extremely likely, but he assumed an air of virtuous indignation.

"Theer's chaps an' chaps! I reckon if onybody was to ax to wed you, Miss Heptonstall, he'd be a steady-goin' sort o' fellow as wouldn't be up to they mak' o' games."

Margaret smiled outright. Ted thought he would follow up his advantage and clinch the point at once.

"Now, Miss Heptonstall," said he, "for instance, if I was to coom coortin' ye, I wouldn't be thinkin' of onything but makkin' ye coomfortable. I reckon ye'd mak' me coomfortable"--(with an air of great fairness and impartiality)--"that's wheer 'tis; it 'ud be 'give an' take, give an' take.' I feel dreadful lonely of an evenin', an' it's a sad thing when a man allus has to do for hissel'. I'd be thankful if ye'd have me--"

"I reckon ye would," interrupted Margaret with disconcerting frankness; "I've a good bit o' brass saved."

This was news to Ted, and he looked at her with genuine interest.

"Have ye?" said he. "I raly didn't know. Well, I'm doin' pratty well too, an' I've got a nice little place--"

"Nay," put in Margaret, "it isn't mich of a place; this here's twice th' size, an' a dale coomfortabler. Nay, if we was to get wed, ye'd ha' to coom here--I wouldn't go yonder."

Ted started for a moment, somewhat taken back by the matter-of-fact coolness with which his advances were received; he might as well finish the job now however, he reflected, and as he did not mean the business to proceed beyond the "shouting" stage, it would not hurt him to make any concession that Margaret might please to exact.

"Ah, I could coom here," he remarked heroically; "my little nook isn't sich an ill place for all that; but I'll do it, an' I'll gi' ye my wage reg'lar an' do th' dirty work all round, an'--an' turn teetotal if ye want it."

"Naw," said Miss Heptonstall, "I wouldn't go as far as that; I like a glass o' beer mysel' at dinner-time--I allus keep a little cask i' th' buttery yon--but you'll ha' to gi' o'er callin' at th' Thornleigh Arms."

"Tisn't like I'd want to be callin' at th' Thornleigh Arms if I'd a coomfortable place like this to set in o' neets, and a missus o' my own to look to."

He had for a moment contemplated qualifying the word "missus" with some such adjective as "bonny," but a glance at Margaret's face nipped this poetical flower in the bud. After a moment she sat upright, gazing at him stolidly.

"I'll think on 't," she said. "Theer's things for it an' theer's things agin it. One thing's agin it--I dunnot fancy your talk out o' th' newspapers--speakin' ill o' th' Queen an' that--I reckon we'd ha' words if ye carried on that road when we was mon an' wife."

Wharton rubbed his hands and looked embarrassed; he had hitherto had no hesitation in perjuring himself, but he could not for the life of him swallow his principles.

Margaret marched across the room and took down a framed photograph from a shelf of the old-fashioned dresser. It represented Her Majesty in royal robes.

"This here Canon give me at th' time o' th' Jubilee," she pursued. "I've vallyed it--well, I couldn't say how mich I've vallyed it an' do vally it. See here, dunnot hoo look noble? I couldn't do wi' onybody i' th' house as didn't respect this same as I do."

Ted cast a depreciating eye towards the portrait, but, after a glance at it, suddenly regained his tongue and his spirits.

"See here, Miss Heptonstall," he cried eagerly, "th' Queen's not like that! Theer now, it just shows how poor folks gets imposed upon! I've seen the Queen mysel'--walked all the road to Liverpool when I didn't know no better, an' I see her, an' hoo were nought but a wumman i' black! Theer now, I'll tak' my oath on 't! Hoo hadn't no crown on, nor yet no blue ribbon, an' none o' they fal-lals o' medals, an' nought i' her hand. Hoo was jest an ord'nary wumman same 's ony other wumman. 'Well,' thinks I to mysel', 'if yon is to be stuck up at th' 'ead o' Government, an' we all mun bow down afore a wuimman as isn't nought different to ony other wumman, it's a shame,' I says. An' it is a shame, Miss Heptonstall."

Ted was working up into a fine declamatory vein, and would probably have continued to hold forth for some time had not Margaret indignantly interrupted him.

"Stop that! I'll ha' noan of it i' this 'ouse, an' so I tell ye. Did ever a body hear sich talk! Ye ought to be ashamed o' yoursel', Edward Wharton! If you was a mon ye should be ready to lay down your life for your Queen!"

"Lay down my life!" repeated Ted, who was getting slightly irate in his turn. "I'd do no sich thing. I wouldn't put mysel' onyways out o' my road for th' Queen, now I know what hoo is. Hoo's fools enough to fight for her and wark for her. I wouldn't do nought for her."

"Ye would then," said Margaret, suddenly becoming calm again and smiling grimly to herself. "Theer's one thing ye'd do for her, Edward Wharton--ye'd drink her 'ealth."

Before he could retort she rose and went into the buttery, returning after a moment or two with a foaming brown jug in one hand and a quaintly shaped Toby-mug in the other. She placed them both on the table in inviting proximity to Ted.

"Now then," she said persuasively, "ye'll drink Long Life to Her Gracious Majesty."

The day was exceedingly warm, and if there was one thing on earth for which Radical Ted had a weakness it was his native nut--brown ale. He looked at Margaret and grinned--the grin of compromise. Margaret, still smiling, slowly filled the beaker, a beautiful creamy head bubbling over the brim.

"Coom," she said, "ye'll say: 'Her Majesty's 'ealth, an' long life to her.'"

Ted stretched out his hand and grasped the tempting handle; then, averting his eyes, he hastily mumbled the prescribed words, burying his face in the mug immediately after. While he slowly drained its contents Margaret chanted the last verse of the National Anthem, to a tune which might possibly have been like "God Save the Queen" if it had not borne an equal resemblance to "The Dead March in Saul."

Music, we know, has charms to soothe the savage breast, and, whether because of Margaret's patriotic outburst, or because the beer was of excellent quality, Ted's face was wreathed in smiles when he set down the mug.

"Ah," he said, "we'se never ha' no words if ye tackle me this gate. I'd drink the Queen's 'ealth again if you axed me."

"Enough's good as a feast," returned his hostess sententiously. "It'll be tay-time afore aught's long."

"Mun I bide for tay?" inquired Ted, with his head on one side.

"Ye can if ye've a mind," said Margaret, accommodatingly. "Ye can be lookin' round if ye like while I'm gettin' things ready."

Ted complied, nothing loth, and stalked about the place with his thumbs in his armholes and an air of proprietorship. Everything without was as snug, neat, and prosperous as everything within. The garden was well-stocked and weedless; the potatoes seemed to be coming on nicely; the pig was as fat as a self-respecting pig ought to be, and the chickens were healthy and well-grown. Ted re-entered the house, scraping his feet carefully this time, and looking at Margaret with increased respect as she bustled about. The kettle already sung merrily on the hob, a plateful of most inviting buttered toast was keeping warm within the fender, and Miss Hep. was in the act of placing on the table a smoking dish of nicely-browned sausages.

"I made 'em mysel'," she explained briefly. "I dunnot often have 'em at this time o' day, but this here's an occasion."

Ted looked blank for a moment, then, suddenly remembering that this was practically a betrothal-feast, responded heartily, and drew in his chair to the table with pleased anticipation.

Miss Heptonstall, he remarked, had everything "gradely" about her. The table-cloth was not only snow-white and beautifully mended, but of fine quality; the spoons were silver, worn to egg-shell thinness, but resplendently bright; the teapot, a heavy, old-fashioned Britannia metal one, was polished till it might have been of the same precious ore; the cups and plates were of delicate transparent china. Margaret came of good old north-country stock, and these possessions were heirlooms. Ted looked at her, and a queer feeling suddenly came over him. Supposing--only supposing--that instead of a jest his wooing had been undertaken in sober earnest, he would be doing rather well for himself than otherwise. Now that he was at leisure to survey Miss Heptonstall with an impartial eye, it appeared to him that she really was not ill-looking, and he didn't believe she could be more than nine or ten years older than he was. She certainly was a notable sort of body; she kept her place wonderful nice, and she had a tidy bit of brass laid by in the bank. There was a very comfortable ring about this last item. It was odd that from the time these reflections took possession of him Ted became pensive and serious. The conversation flagged, and by-and-by he rose to take his leave. Margaret accompanied him to the door.

"Ye'll be lookin' in again, I fancy, afore th' weekend?" she remarked casually.

Ted cleared his throat and replied that very like he would. He walked rather slowly till he reached the corner of the lane, and there he paused, slapping his thigh as he suddenly remembered something.

"I haven't said a word about the shoutin'!" he cried in a vexed tone. He retraced his steps more quickly, and presently re-entered Margaret's cottage.

"Miss Heptonstall," he began, screwing his head insinuatingly round the doorpost.

"Well?" returned Margaret. She was standing with her back to him, gazing meditatively into the fire.

"I were thinkin'," continued Wharton, "you an' me, ye know--theer isn't much use in waitin', is theer?"

Margaret turned and looked at him, but did not speak.

"We met as well let Canon begin o' shoutin' us, dunnot ye think?"

Margaret reflected. "It 'ud be a pity for ye to gi' up your house afore th' end o' th' year," she remarked. "Th' agent wouldn't let ye, would he? Ye'll ha' to gi' six months' notice, wunnot ye? Theer's time enough as how 'tis."

Ted bethought him of the cask of beer, and his face fell. If he was to win his wager the banns must be published before the end of the month, and but ten days of it remained to run.

"Well, I'd as soon as not hurry up things," he said, screwing a little more of his person on the other side of the door. "I'm awful tired o' livin' by mysel'. An' we met let my house an' turn o'er a bit o' money that way. If we was to get wed at once ye'd be havin' the benefit o' that as well's me. It 'ud be more to our mutual advantage," delivering this phrase, culled from one of his favourite papers, with great emphasis, "nor for both of us to remain single. That's what I think, Miss Heptonstall, but ye mun do as you choose."

"Well, theer's summat i' what ye say," returned Margaret. "Happen 'twould be best to get the job done. Dear o' me, it seems sudden like! I raly never thought o' changin' my state. Once before, ye may ha' heerd, Mrs. Alty wanted me to wed her Thomas. I was again it, dreadful again it at first, but hoo persuaded me, so I very nigh gave in. But him an' me didn't agree so well at arter, and Betty didn't dee, so that settled it. Well, then, I said to mysel', 'It's all for th' best,' an' I reckoned to bide as I were. But raly now, as ye've coom," a sudden smile lit up her face, a smile less frosty, less sour, less grim than any that had hitherto found their way there, "I dunno how it is, but I seem to ha' taken a fancy to ye. I did fro' th' first. I reckon ye'll mak' a good husband."

Ted left off embracing the lintel of the door and walked straight up to her, quite forgetting to wipe his feet. His face was very red and his eyes avoided hers; making a sudden dart at her hand, he shook it solemnly.

"I will, Margaret, I will," he said huskily, "an' I reckon ye'll mak' a good wife--better nor I deserve."

In another moment he was gone, walking very rapidly this time, almost running indeed, as though to give himself no time for thought. When he reached home, he shut the door hastily behind him and sat down on the nearest chair.

"Well," he said, scratching his head, with an exceedingly perturbed expression, "this here's a queer kind o' business! I didn't quite know what I were lettin' mysel' in for, it seems."

Once or twice during the week he called upon his lady-love, who, on one occasion, permitted him to inspect her Savings Bank book, and, on another, presented him with a handsome silver-mounted pipe, which her father had won many years before at some village sports. It was bestowed, it must be owned, on the understanding that it was never on any account to be used, but Ted's pride of possession was none the less great. At the conclusion of each visit she had not failed to make him drink Her Majesty's health.

On the following Sunday, when the Canon with the portentous "Hem," and solemn glance round which invariably preceded the announcement of banns, began: "Be it known unto all here present," it was observed that the corners of his mouth were twitching in a most peculiar manner, and his voice actually trembled as he coupled the names of Margaret Heptonstall and Edward Wharton.

Had any stranger chanced to enter Thornleigh church at that moment, I fear he would have been much disedified; every single member of the congregation was a-grin; the Canon himself was smiling; the only person who preserved his entire seriousness being Radical Ted himself.

Those among his cronies who were in the secret of the wager considered this gravity affected, and part of the joke; and greeted him hilariously on quitting the church.

"Well done, owd bird! Thou's lost no time as how 'tis."

"Ah," replied Ted, still solemn, "I haven't lost mich time."

"Well, thou's won th' bet i' gradely style! When wilto coom to Thornleigh Arms to have th' five shillin' paid over?"

"Eh, I doubt Ted 'ud sooner ha' th' five shillin' worth," suggested one of Ted's boon companions.

"I dunno," replied Ted; "I reckon I'd as soon ha' th' brass."

"Ah, but thou'lt coom to Orme's for it?"

"Nay--I fancy one on you had best bring it to my place--hoo met get to hear on 't, ye know," he explained with a sheepish smile.

There was a great guffawing and stamping of feet at this. Ted was slapped on the shoulder, his friends declaring that nobry could beat him. By-and-by he managed to make his escape, and walked pensively homewards, shaking his head now and then, and muttering to himself:--

"Ah, hoo'd happen get to hear on 't if I went yonder; aye, the brass 'ull coom in reet 'nough. I'll say nought about that."

He continued his courting assiduously during the ensuing week, and on the Sunday he and Margaret were "shouted" for the second time.

The ecstasy of his friends knew no bounds. Was there ever such a chap as Ted for a marlock? How long would he keep it up? they wondered. In a day or two the news flew from mouth to mouth that Ted had given the agent six months' notice, and that he had announced his intention of letting his house and taking up his abode at Margaret's after their wedding.

"Well! well!" cried the initiated, casting up their hands and eyes to heaven; the more moderate among them were of the opinion that Ted was carrying things a bit too far, particularly when' it became known that Margaret was boiling hams and killing chickens--yes, Sophia and Ernest, William and Augusta were laid low--in preparation for the forthcoming nuptial feast.

On the third Sunday the general excitement reached fever-height, and when once more the Canon linked the names of Edward Wharton and Margaret Heptonstall, a kind of amazed murmur rippled from bench to bench. All those who had been party to the plot against Margaret's peace were totally at a loss to account for the conduct of the chief conspirator. They made up their minds to take him to task at the earliest possible opportunity; but, as on that particular morning he did not come to church, they were forced to restrain their curiosity till later in the day.

After dinner, therefore, a select deputation waited on Mr. Edward Wharton at his own residence, but was again doomed to disappointment; that gentleman having gone to call on his charmer, and not returning till evening. However, the ardour of the deputation, though damped, was not extinguished, and when the shades of night were falling, it again betook itself to the abode of the bridegroom elect.

As the half-dozen members who made up the embassy walked at the usual slow and somewhat shambling pace which the Lancashire rustic assumes at times of leisure--pausing every now and then to emphasise the point of some remark, switching at the hedge with their sticks, playfully kicking up the dust, or sending a tempting pebble spinning along in front of them--faint notes of music reached them, coming apparently from the direction towards which they were bending their steps. These notes were feeble and faltering, as though the player were practising an unfamiliar air; in another moment or two it became evident that the sounds proceeded from Ted's cottage, and that the musician was no other than Mr. Wharton himself.

Quickening their pace, the hilarious party burst open the door, discovering the master of the house seated astride a wooden chair, concertina in hand; his face wore a most serious, not to say dismal, expression, and his whole attitude betokened absorption.

Joe Lovelady advanced and clapped him on the shoulder with a loud laugh; the others followed, less jubilantly; one or two of them, indeed, felt themselves somewhat aggrieved at Ted's unaccountable demeanour.

"Coom," cried Joe, "thou mun explain a bit, Ted, lad. We're gettin' fair moidered wi' this job; how long dost thou mean to keep it up?"

"Haven't you and Margaret fallen out yet?" put in another. "Ye're carryin' on th' coortin' longer nor we looked for."

"Ah, thou said thou'd content thysel' with bein' shouted, didn't thou? Thou allus said thou didn't mean it to coom to wedlock."

Ted heaved a deep sigh, and looked solemnly from one to the other.

"Theer's no knowin' i' this warld what folks cooms to," he replied seriously. "We says one thing an' we reckon we'se do it, an' when th' time cooms it's impossible."

A blank silence fell upon the company, broken presently by Joe.

"Why," he said, "thou doesn't mean thou'rt goin' to carry out this here business?"

Ted nodded, seriously and regretfully.

There was a general shout.

"Thou'rt never goin' to wed owd Marg'ret Hep.?"

"Hoo's noan so owd as that cooms to," retorted Ted indignantly. "Her an' me's mich of an age--I am goin' to wed her. Now then! I've coorted her, an' we'n been shouted, an' I'm goin' to let it go forrud. Theer! I hope nobry hasn't got no objections."

Nobody hadn't none, it appeared, though from certain low murmurs and a general shuffling of feet, it was evident that this unexpected outcome of Ted's joke caused a good deal of dissatisfaction. Joe, indeed, gave voice to the universal opinion when he observed that it wasn't what he had looked for, and he couldn't think it altogether 'andsome of Ted. Somebody else wanted to know what about their five shillin'?

"Well, an' what about the five shillin'?" repeated Ted, reddening, however, a little uncomfortably.

"Well, this here isn't what we expected; nay, not by a long road. We was lookin' for summat joy'al, a gradely marlock, thou knows. This here's an ord'nary kind o' business."

"Ah, we all paid up--we did that, an' we'n been waitin' for thee to look in yonder at Orme's! We was all expectin' a bit of a do, thou knows--an' thou's never so much as coom nigh th' place. An' thou settled to get wed an' all, wi'out namin' it to nobry! It's scarce honest."

Ted scratched his jaw reflectively; the argument seemed to touch him. After a pause he rose and crossed the room to a chest of drawers in the corner. Unlocking an upper drawer he took out a greasy leathern purse with which he returned to the expectant group. Opening it, with a kind of groan, he extracted five shillings, which he handed over to Joe Lovelady.

"Theer," he said, "it is but fair when all's said an' done. Theer! ye can have a wet wi' that."

"Reet, I knowed ye wasn't one as 'ud play us a dirty trick. Coom along, an' we'se have a drop all round, an' drink thy 'ealth an' th' bride's too. Ho! ho! ho! Aye, we'se wish thee an' thy missus good luck! Coom, we'se step out an' mak' up for lost time."

"Nay, nay," said Ted, shaking his head with gentle melancholy. "I'll noan go wi' you--I met rue it at arter. Nay, I'll wish ye good-bye an' good luck, all on you, but I'll bide wheer I am."

He returned thereupon to his concertina, meeting all further persuasions by deep sighs and obdurate shakes of the head; and, finding their efforts useless, the party withdrew at last, to drink his health without him.

As they retraced their steps the uncertain notes of Ted's concertina came floating after them, borne upon the evening breeze; gradually these shaped themselves into a tune, a tune which their incredulous ears were at last forced to identify. Joe Lovelady suddenly paused and threw out his hand.

"'Ark, all on ye, 'ark at that! Do ye know the tune th' owd lad's hammerin' at?"

They all paused, holding their breaths; and then shouts of laughter broke the stillness.

Radical Ted was playing God Save the Queen.