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"But, dear heart!" said Mrs. Maxley, "ye don't tell me what he ailed. Ma'am, if you had seen him you would have said he was taken for death."
"Pray what _is_ the complaint?" inquired Mrs. Dodd.
"Oh, didn't I tell ye? Poisoned."
This intelligence was conveyed with true scientific calmness, and received with feminine ejaculations of horror. Mrs. Maxley was indignant into the bargain: "Don't ye go giving my house an ill name! We keeps no poison."
Sampson fixed his eyes sternly on her: "Wumman, ye know better: ye keep strychnine, for th' use and delectation of your domestic animal."
"Strychnine! I never heard tell of it. Is that Latin for arsenic?"
"Now isn't this lamentable? Why, arsenic is a mital; strychnine a vigitable. N'hist me! Your man was here seeking strychnine to poison his mouse; a harmless, domistic, necessary mouse. I told him mice were a part of Nature as much as Maxleys, and life as sweet tit as tim: but he was dif to scientific and chrisehin preceps; so I told him to go to the Deevil: 'I will,' sis he, and went t' a docker. The two assassins have poisoned the poor beastie between 'em; and thin, been the greatest miser in the world, except one, he will have roasted his victim, and ate her on the sly, imprignated with strychnine. 'I'll steal a march on t'other miser,' sis he; and that's you: t' his brain flew the strychnine: his brain sint it to his spinal marrow: and we found my lorrd bent like a bow, and his jaw locked, and nearer knowin the great secret than any man in England will be this year to live: and sairves the assassinating old vagabin right."
"Heaven forgive you, Doctor," said Mrs. Maxley, half mechanically.
"For curin a murrderer? Not likely."
Mrs. Maxley, who had shown signs of singular uneasiness during Sampson's explanation, now rose, and said in a very peculiar tone she must go home directly.
Mrs. Dodd seemed to enter into her feelings, and made her go in the fly, taking care to pay the fare and the driver out of her own purse. As the woman got into the fly, Sampson gave her a piece of friendly and practical advice. "Nixt time he has a mind to breakfast on strychnine, you tell me; and I'll put a pinch of arsenic in the salt-cellar, and cure him safe as the bank. But this time he'd have been did and stiff long before such a slow ajint as arsenic could get a hold on um."
They sat down to luncheon, but neither Alfred nor Julia fed much, except upon sweet stolen looks; and soon the active Sampson jumped up, and invited Alfred to go round his patients. Alfred could not decline, but made his adieux with regret so tender and undisguised, that Julia's sweet eyes filled, and her soft hand instinctively pressed his at parting to console him. She blushed at herself afterwards, but at the time she was thinking only of him.
Maxley and his wife came up in the evening with a fee. They had put their heads together, and proffered one guinea. "Man and wife be one flesh, you know, Doctor," said the rustic miser.
Sampson, whose natural choler was constantly checked by his humour, declined this profuse proposal. "Here's vanity!" said he. "Now do you really think your two lives are worth a guinea? Why, it's 252 pence! 1008 farthings!"
The pair affected disappointment--vilely.
At all events, he must accept this basket of gudgeons Maxley had brought along. Being poisoned was quite out of Maxley's daily routine, and had so unsettled him, that he had got up, and gone fishing--to the amazement of the parish.
Sampson inspected the basket. "Why, they are only fish," said he; _"I was in hopes they were pashints._" He accepted the gudgeons, and inquired how Maxley got poisoned. It came out that Mrs. Maxley, seeing her husband set apart a portion of his Welsh rabbit, had "grizzled," and asked what that was for; and being told "for the mouse," and to "mind her own business," had grizzled still more, and furtively conveyed a portion back into the pan for her master's own use. She had been quaking dismally all the afternoon at what she had done, but finding Maxley--hard but just--did not attack her for an involuntary fault, she now brazened it out, and said, "Men didn't ought to have poison in the house unbeknown to their wives. Jem had got no more than he worked for," &c. But, like a woman, she vowed vengeance on the mouse: whereupon Maxley threatened her with the marital correction of neck-twisting if she laid a finger on it.
"My eyes be open now to what a poor creature do feel as dies poisoned. Let her a be: there's room in our place for her and we."
Next day he met Alfred, and thanked him with warmth, almost with emotion. "There ain't many in Barkington as ever done me a good turn, Master Alfred; you be one on 'em: you comes after the Captain in my book now."
Alfred suggested that his claims were humble compared with Sampson's.
"No, no," said Maxley, going down to his whisper, and looking, monstrous wise: "Doctor didn't go out of his business for me: you did."
The sage miser's gratitude had not time to die a natural death before circumstances occurred to test it. On the morning of that eventful day which concluded my last chapter, he received a letter from Canada. His wife was out with eggs; so he caught little Rose Sutton, that had more than once spelled an epistle for him; and she read it out in a loud and reckless whine: "'At -- noon -- this -- very -- daie -- Muster -- Hardie's a-g-e-n-t, aguent -- d-i-s dis, h-o-n -- honour_ed_ -- dis-honour_ed_--a--bill; and sayed.'" Here she made a full stop. Then on to the next verse.
"'There -- were no -- more -- asses.'"
"Mercy on us! but it can't be asses, wench: drive your spe-ad into't again."
"Ah! Go an! go an!"
"'Now -- Fatther -- if -- you -- leave -- a s-h-i-l-l-i-n-g, shilling -- at --Hardie's -- after -- this -- b-l-a-m-e, ble-am -- your -- self -- not-- me -- for -- this -- is -- the -- waie -- the r-o-g-u-e-s, rogews -- all-- bre-ak -- they -- go -- at -- a-- d-i-s-t-a-n-c-e, distance -- first-- and -- then -- at -- h-o-m-e, whuoame. -- Dear -- fatther' -- Lawk o' daisy, what ails you, Daddy Maxley? You be as white as a Sunday smock. Be you poisoned again, if _you_ please?"
"Worse than that--worse!" groaned Maxhey, trembling all over. "Hush!--hold your tongue! Give me that letter! Don't you never tell nobody nothing of what you have been a reading to me, and I'll--I'll--It's only Jem's fun: he is allus running his rigs--that's a good wench now, and I'll give ye a halfpenny."
"La, Daddy," said the child, opening her eyes, "I never heeds what I _re-ads:_ I be wrapped up in the spelling. Dear heart, what a sight of long words folks puts in a letter, more than ever drops out of their mouths; which their fingers be longer than their tongues, I do suppose."
Maxley hailed thus information characteristically. "Then we'll say no more about the halfpenny."
At this, Rose raised a lamentable cry, and pearly tears gushed forth.
"There, there!" said Maxley, deprecatingly; "here's two apples for ye; ye can't get them for less: and a halfpenny or a haporth is all one to you, but it is a great odds to me. And apples they rot; halfpence don't."
It was now nine o'clock. The bank did not open till ten; but Maxley went and hung about the door, to be the first applicant.
As he stood there trembling with fear lest the bank should not open at all, he thought hard, and the result was a double resolution: he would have his money out to the last shilling; and, this done, would button up his pockets and padlock his tongue. It was not his business to take care of his neighbours; nor to blow the Hardies, if they paid him his money on demand. "So not a word to my missus, nor yet to the town-crier," said he.
Ten o'clock struck, and the bank shutters remained up. Five minutes more, and the watcher was in agony. Three minutes more, and up came a boy of sixteen whistling, and took down the shutters with an indifference that amazed him. "Bless your handsome face!" said Maxley with a sigh of relief.
He now summoned up all his firmness, and, having recourse to an art in which these shrewd rustics are supreme, made his face quite inexpressive, and so walked into the bank the every-day Maxley externally, but within a volcano ready to burst if there should be the slightest hesitation to pay him his money.
"Good morning, Mr. Maxley," said young Skinner.
"Good morning, sir."
"What can we do for you?"
"Oh, I'll wait my turn, sir."
"Well, it is your turn now, if you like."
"How much have you got of mine, if you please, sir?"
"Your balance? I'll see. Nine hundred and four pounds."
"Well, sir, then, if _you_ please, I'll draa _that._"
("It has come!" thought Skinner.) "What, going to desert us?" he stammered.
"No," said the other, trembling inwardly, but not moving a facial muscle: "it is only for a day or two, sir."
"Ah! I see, going to make a purchase. By-the-bye, I believe Mr. Hardie means to offer you some grounds he is buying outside the town: will that suit your book?"
"I dare say it will, sir."
"Then perhaps you will wait till our governor comes in?"
"I have no objection."
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