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- The Hallam Succession - 4/43 -
"It must have been Martha Craven. I wonder what is the matter!" and they walked together to the open door. The squire had just alighted from his horse, and was talking earnestly to his favorite servant. He seemed to be in trouble, and he was not the man to keep either Sorrow of joy to himself. "Elizabeth! my word, but I'm bothered! Here's Jonathan Clough murdered, and Ben Craven under lock and key for it!"
"Why, father! Ben would never do a thing like that!"
"Not he! I'd be as like to do it mysen. Thou must go thy ways and see Martha as soon as iver t' dinner is eat. I s'all stand by Martha and Ben to t' varry last. Ben Craven murder any-body! Hee! I crack't out laughing when I heard tell o' such nonsense."
In fact, the squire had been touched in a very tender spot. Martha Craven's mother had been his nurse, and Martha herself, for many years, his wife's maid and confidential servant. He felt the imputation as a personal slander. The Cravens had been faithful servants of the Hallams for generations, and Clough was comparatively a new-comer. Right or wrong, the squire would have been inclined to stand by an old friend, but he had not a doubt of Ben's innocence.
"What have you done about it?" asked Antony.
"I've been to see Israel Potter, and I've bound him to stand up for Ben. What Israel doesn't know 'bout law, and what Israel can't do with t' law, isn't worth t' knowing or t' doing. Then I went for t' Wesleyan minister to talk a bit wi' Martha, poor body? She seemed to want something o' t' kind; and I'm bound to say I found him a varry gentlemanly, sensible fellow. He didn't think owt wrong o' Ben, no more than I did."
"People would wonder to see you at the Wesleyan's door."
"May be they'll be more cap't yet, son Antony. I'll ask neither cat nor Christian what door to knock at. I wish I may nivver stand at a worse door than Mr. North's, that's a'. What say you to that, then?"
"I say you are quite right, father."
"I'm nivver far wrong, my lad; nobody is that lets a kind heart lead them, and it would be against nature if I didn't stand up for any Craven that's i' trouble."
Phyllis, who was sitting beside him, laid her hand upon his a moment, and he lifted his eyes and met hers. There was such a light and look of sympathy and admiration in them, that she had no need to say a word. He felt that he had done the right thing, and was pleased with himself for doing it. In a good man there is still a deal of the divinity from which he has fallen, and in his times of trial his heart throbs upward.
Dinner was insensibly hurried, and when Elizabeth rose Phyllis followed her. "I must go with you dear; if Martha is a Methodist she is my sister, and she has a right to my sympathy and my purse, if it is necessary to her."
"I shall be glad. It is only a pleasant walk through the park, and Antony and Richard can meet us at the park gates. I think you will like Martha."
Few words were spoken by the two girls as they went in the amber twilight across the green, green turf of the park. Martha saw them coming and was at her door when they stepped inside the fragrant patch which she called her garden. She was a woman very pleasant to look at, tall and straight, with a strong ruddy face--and blue eyes, a little dim with weeping. Her cotton dress of indigo blue, covered with golden-colored moons, was pinned well up at the back, displaying her home-knit stockings and low shoes fastened with brass latchets. She had on her head a cap of white linen, stiffly starched, and a checkered kerchief was pinned over her ample bosom.
Even in her deep sorrow and anxiety her broad sweet mouth could not forget its trick of smiling. "Come this ways in, Joy," she said to Elizabeth, at the same moment dropping a courtesy to Phyllis, an old-fashioned token of respect, which had no particle of servility in it.
"This is my cousin, Miss Fontaine, from America, Martha."
"Well, I'm sure I'm right suited at meeting her. Mother used to talk above a bit about Sibbald Hallam as crossed t' seas. She looked for him to come back again. But he nivver came."
"I am his granddaughter. I am very sorry, Sister Martha, to hear of your trouble."
"Why-a! Is ta a Methodist, dearie?"
Phyllis nodded brightly and took her hand.
"Well I nivver! But I'm fain and glad! And as for trouble, I'll not fear it. Why should I, wi' t' love o' God and t' love o' man to help me?"
"When did it happen, Martha?"
"Last night, Miss Hallam. My Ben and Jonathan Clough wern't as good friends as might be. There's a lass at t' bottom o' t' trouble; there's allays that. She's a good lass enough, but good 'uns mak' as much trouble as t' bad 'uns sometimes, I think. It's Jonathan's daughter, Mary. She's ta'en Ben's fancy, and she's ta'en Bill Laycock's fancy, too. T' lass likes my Ben, and Clough he liked Laycock; for Laycock is t' blacksmith now, and owns t' forge, and t' house behind it. My Ben is nobbut Clough's overlooker."
"It is a pity he stopped at Clough's mill, if there was ill-feeling between them."
"T' lad's none to blame for that. Clough is makkin' some new kind o' figured goods, and t' men are all hired by t' twelvemonth, and bound over to keep a quiet tongue i' their mouths about t' new looms as does t' work. Two days ago Clough found out that Tim Bingley hed told t' secret to Booth; and Clough wer' neither to hold nor bind. He put Bingley out o' t' mill, and wouldn't pay him t' balance o' t' year, and somehow he took t' notion that Ben was in t' affair. Ben's none so mean as that, I'm sure."
"But Bingley is a very bad man. My father sent him to the tread-mill last year for a brutal assault. He is quite capable of murder. Has no one looked for him?"
"Bingley says he saw my Ben shoot Clough, and Clough says it was Ben."
"Then Clough is still alive?"
"Ay, but he'll die ere morning. T' magistrates hev been wi' him, and he swears positive that Ben Craven shot him."
"Where was Ben last night?"
"He came from t' mill at six o'clock, and hed a cup o' tea wi' me. He said he'd go to t' chapel wi' me at eight o'clock; and after I hed washed up t' dishes, I went to sit wi' Sarah Fisher, who's bad off wi' t' fever; and when I came back Ben was standing at t' door, and folks wer' running here, and running there, and all t' village was fair beside itseln. We wer' just reading a bit in t' Bible, when constables knocked at t' door and said they wanted Ben. My heart sank into my shoes, Miss Hallam, and I said, 'That's a varry unlikely thing, lads; you're just talking for talking's sake.' And Jerry Oddy said, 'Nay, we bean't, dame; Jonathan Clough is dying, and he says Ben Craven shot him.' Then I said, 'He'll die wi' t' lie on his lips if he says that, thou tell him so.' And Jerry Oddy said, 'Not I, dame, keep a still tongue i' thy mouth, it'll mebbe be better for thee.'"
"Martha! How could you bear it?"
"I didn't think what I wer' bearing at t' time, Miss Hallam; I wer' just angry enough for any thing; and I wer' kind o' angry wi' Ben takkin' it so quiet like. 'Speak up for thysen, lad,' I said; 'hesn't ta got a tongue i' thy head to-neet?'"
"Poor Ben! What did he say?"
"He said, 'Thou be still, mother, and talk to none but God. I'm as innocent o' this sin as thou art;' and I said, 'I believe thee, my lad, and God go wi' thee, Ben.' There's one thing troubles me, Miss Hallam, and it bothered t' squire, too. Ben was in his Sunday clothes-- that wasn't odd, for he was going to t' chapel wi' me--but Jerry noticed it, and he asked Ben where his overlooker's brat and cap was, and Ben said they wer' i' t' room; but they wern't there, Miss Hallam, and they hevn't found 'em either."
"That is strange."
"Ay, its varry queer, and t' constables seemed to think so. Jerry nivver liked Ben, and he said to me, 'Well, dame, it's a great pity that last o' t' Cravens should swing himsen to death on t' gallows.' But I told him, 'Don't thee be so sure that Ben's t' last o' t' Cravens: Thou's makkin' thy count without Providence, Jerry;' and I'm none feared," she added, with a burst of confidence; "I'll trust in God yet! I can't see him, but I can feel him."
"And you can hold fast to his hand, Sister Martha; and the darker it gets, you can cling the closer, until the daylight breaks and the shadows flee away."
"That I can, and that I will! Look there, my dearies!" and she pointed to a little blue and white tea-pot on the high mantle-shelf, above the hearth on which they were sitting. "Last night, when they'd taken Ben away, and I couldn't finish t' psalm and I couldn't do much more praying than a little bairn thet's flayed and troubled in t' dark night, I lifted my eyes to thet tea-pot, and I knew t' words thet was on it, and they wer' like an order and a promise a' in one; and I said, 'There! thet's enough, Lord!' and I went to my bed and slept, for I knew there 'ud be a deal to do to-day, and nothing weakens me like missing my sleep."
"And did you sleep, Martha?"
"Ay, I slept. It wasn't hard wi' t' promise I'd got."
Then Phyllis took a chair and stood upon it, and carefully lifted down the tea-pot. It was of coarse blue and white pottery, and had been made in Staffordshire, when the art was emerging from its rudeness, and when the people were half barbarous and wholly irreligious--one of half a dozen that are now worth more than if made of the rarest china, the Blue Wesley Tea-pot; rude little objects, yet formed by loving, reverential hands, to commemorate the apostolic labors of John Wesley in that almost savage district. His likeness was on one side,
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