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"True, true." agreed Robert hastily. "Maybe it wasn't convenient. Well, ye see. I do feel myself very much opset by this here mischeevous gossip. There, yesterday, arter the match, folks couldn't make enough o' me; but when I stepped down two or three hours later to the Black Horse, Tom Meadway had been there afore me, an' that tongue o' his, which be the longest an' the foolishest as ever I knowed, had been a-waggin,' an' they was all atitterin' an' a-nudgin' of each other, an' a-makin' out I were nothin' but a poor old sammy what had been took in an' humored like a child. They did say. one an' all, 'twas my maid's Join'—"
"An' what does she say?" growled Jim.
"Nothin'—I can't get her to speak out."
"Well." rejoined Jim, "I won't say nothin' either."
Robert struck his stick sharply on the ground: his face was flushed: head and hand alike shook with anger.
"Now look 'ee here, Jim Fry. I be a-goin' to have an end o' this. I bain't a-goin to lay down under sich treatment. You'll jist coutradic' this here tale, or else you give up any notion ye may ever ha' had o' gettin' married to our Lyddy. Mind ye, the maid be fond on ye too."
Jim's face had been very sullen at the beginning of this onslaught, but at the last sentence it softened; his resolotion was perceptibly shaken.
"What do you want me to do," he asked in an uncertain tone.
"Not so very much," cried Robert eagerly.
He pulled up his smock frock and plunged his hand into the depth of his trouser-pocket, producing a small, battered, and much thumbed book.
"Now this here be the Testament," he said. "i've a-got a bit o' paper inside" (producing a folded slip from be
tween the blackened page). "I did write a few words on it, an' I do want ye first to swear as what l've a-wrote be true, and then to sign your name at the end on't. I've a-brought a pencil, too. look-see."
"What be wrote on the paper?" asked Jim huskily.
Robert unfolded the document, and, holding it very far from his eyes, read out its contents slowly:
"'l swear on the Book as I, James Fry, was beat fair by Robert Inkpeu at Oakleigh Ploughin' Match, an' that l done my best.' You jist takes the book in your right hand, look-see," he continued, "an' first ye kisses it, an' then ye says—" And here he dictated a peculiar and complicated form of oath, partly reminiscent of a certain episode in his youth when he had been called upon to give testimony in a sheep-stealing case, but supplemented by sundry expressions which he himself considered particularly forcible and binding.
"I were that opset last night," he continued, "that l couldn't so much as finish my glass at the Black Horse, an' I were forced to come straight home, an' then when I couldn't get no satisfaction out o' Lyddy I very near went mad. I couldn't rest nohow till I got this paper wrote out, an' settled to start up here wi't first thing to-morn, an' now here I be. Now ye takes the book an' ye kisses it."
But Jim resolutely tucked away his hands behind him. In his extremity a mode of escape from the difficulty had presented itself.
"l 'on't do no such thing," he cried doggedly. "Why should l turn myself into a laughin'-stock for the parish? They could see for theirselves an' they could judge for theirselves. That be enough. I bain't a-goin' to swear, nor yet to sign no papers. Let 'em think what they do like. Gee back!" The horses, roused from their somnolent condition by this admonitory bellow and a jerk of the reins, accomplished the turn which had been previously interrupted, and went up the furrow again, leaving old Robert speechless with fury.
In vain, however, did he shake h'is list, and. ou presently recovering his voice, exhaust himself in threats and vituperation. The racaicltrant young ploughman paid no heed, and at last, breathless and trembling, Robert hobbled home.
He opened the door slowly, meeting the scared glances of his womenfolk with a countenance equally perturbed.
"He won't swear," he said in a voice that was scarcely articulate as he laid the Testament on the table. "He won't say uothin' nor yet swear nothin'. I'm to be disgraced—disgraced before the whole place."
He dropped into the nearest chair, Lyddy hastening forward to take his hat and stick. Her father fixed his dull eyes upon her.
"There's one thing, though, my maid," he said, in a voice which, though too faint to sound very angry, was resolute, "you an' him must think no more on each other. I settled that; my mind be made up on that p'int. i says to en 'if ye don't sign that paper ye must give up all thoughts o' marryin' my darter,' so he kuowed what he were doin'."
Poor Lyddy burst into tears. "Oh, father, that be cruel!" she gasped. "The poor chap couldn't swear sich a thing. it 'ud ha' been a terr'ble wicked sin. He couldn't swear what wasn't true."
Robert's face, hitherto flushed an unnatural purple, assumed a leaden hue.
"What wasn't true?" he repeated slowly. "Be you a-tellin' me, then, as i didn't beat en fair—as he didn't try his best?"
"Nay now, nay now, don't look at me like that, father. 'Twas my fault
—'twas me what did persuade en. i thought ye'd be so set again him if he got the better of 'ee, and mother did think your heart 'ud be broke if ye was beat."
"So ye was all in it?" said the man, turning his gaze slowly upon his wife. "Ye was all in it—all makin' a fool o' me!"
"Dear o' me. Inkpen, I'm sure we done it for the best," sobbed the poor woman.
"Ye done very wrong," said Robert in the same muffied tone; "very wrong."
He made no reply to their tearful protests and explanations, and sat with his chin in his hands, refusing to partake of the food which they set before him. Once, with a renewal of his former passion, he snatched the paper from between the pages of the Bible and tore it into shreds; then he sank once more into apathy. He would not even rouse himself when his customary hour for going to work arrived, but sat staring blankly into the fire. On his wife timidly jogging his memory, he remarked that he didn't feel able for work that day. "Besides," he added gloomily, "i couldn't look the other folks i' the face."
it soon became evident that distress of mind had reacted on a body already enfeebled by age and infirmity, and further affected by the strain and effort of the previous day. Towards noon his wife persuaded him to go to bed, with little difficulty, for he was glad enough, as he said, to hide his head.
Shortly before sunset Lyddy was sitting alone in the kitchen, her mother having taken up her post by the sick man's bedside, when there came a timid tap at the door, and Jim Fry entered. He crossed the floor on tip-toe, and made as if he would put his arm around Lyddy's waist, but she indignantly repelled him.
"I don't know how ye can have the face to come here," she cried, springing to her feet . "Ye shamed me—ye gave me up, an' now l truly believe my father's dyin'."
Scarcely was the accusation made than she repented of its injustice.
"Well, I didn't ought to throw that in your teeth. Ye couldn't swear a lie. o' course, an' l mustn't forget 'twas for my sake as you did do what you did do. l can't blame ye for it, but it do seem as if l'd a-lost everything in one day—you, as didn't care to come up when i axed ye last night—an' now poor father himself. . l reckon he'll never get up no more."
Jim had been staring at her with goggling eyes, nervously twisting the cap which he held in his hand.
"Where be that dalled paper?" he cried suddenly. "Fetch it here, my maid, an' i'll sign it."
"Oh, Jim, would ye?" exclaimed Lyddy, aghast, yet full of admiration and unwilling joy.
"Ees, l would," repeated Jim valiantly. "'Twas a thing what l did think at first l couldn't a-bear to do; but there, l'll do it for your sake, an' l'll swear to whatever he likes." "Oh, Jim, would ye really? That 'ud bring father back to life fast enough, an' l d' 'low he'd be awful grateful to 'ee, but—"As Jim turned towards her, however, she stifled all inconvenient qualms of conscience, and hurried off in search of the little Bible. "But he tore that paper up!" she cried, suddenly recalling the fact. "Ees, l mind when he comed back he tore the paper up." "Write it out again, then," said Jim resolutely. "Write it out an' then us'll go into en tigether an' l'll sign it on condition he gives l his word to let you an' me be married."
"Well, that 'ud only be fair," rejoined Lyddy. "I'm sure 'tis a won
LlVlNG AGE. VOL. XLI. 2136
derful thing for any man to do, more particular sich a good man as you've alins been. But l reckon the A'mighty couldn't expect us to let father lay there and die for want of a word of comfort."
"Nay," agreed Jim, with an odd look, "the A'mighty wouldn't expect so much as that."
Lyddy soon possessed herself of a sheet of paper, and, as she remembered every word of the original document, had no difficulty in drawing up a duplicate.
"Now," said Jim in an eager whisper when it was finished, "you go in first an' tell en l be ready to swear all he wants, an' if ye'll fetch the pen i'll sign my name before his eyes."
"l hope we'll be forgiven if it's wrong," muttered Lyddy; yet she hurried forward, Jim following so close upon her heels that he found himself by Robert's bedside before the girl had had time to complete her announcement.
The little room was almost dark, and he could but dimly descry the lean figure of the old man under the coverings, while the curtain at the head of the bed partially concealed the watchful form of Mrs. Inkpen.
"What's that?" asked Robert sternly; and he raised his head a little from the pillow.
"Please, father, Jim Fry have come up to say he's changed his mind, and he be ready to swear what ye did want en to swear this morning, and to sign his name, too. An' l've a-wrote out a paper the same as the one you did tear up, an' he be all ready to do it now."
"Ees," agreed Jim. Robert drew himself up to a sitting posture, and jerked the curtains to one side.
"Light a candle, wold 'oomnu." he commanded; then, after Mrs. lnkpcn had hastily obeyed: "Hand it here."
He held the flat tin candlestick at arm's length, so that the light fell full upon Jim's face, the pupils of his own eyes appearing like pins' heads as they fixed themselves on the young man.
"Now, my lad," he said, "tell me that again—tell me that yourself; an' you, Lyddy, keep quiet. He've a-got a tongue of his own l d' 'low."
Jim, astonished and confused once more, stated his intention of then and there complying with the request which he had previously refused.
"Ye be willin' to do it, be ye?" cried lnkpen. raising his voice. "Ye be willin' to swear to a lie?"
"lt bain't a lie," returned Jim quickly.
He felt Lyddy flinch at his side, and heard her gasp faintly.
"lt bain't a lie," he repeated, with more firmness, "an' to prove it bain't l'll swear over again as l be a-tellin' the truth."
"Oh, Jim, don't!" exclaimed Lyddy, appalled at this accumulation of iniquity. "There, it'll bring a judgment on ye. Nay, not if 'twas for my sake farty times over l couldn't bear it."
"Ye hear what the maid do say!" cried Robert, pointing an accusing finger at the culprit. "The very maid can't bide to hear ye say sich things. She've a-told l the truth, mind ye, an' l know so well as you do as it 6e a He. Lyddy owned up as ye promised her not to do your best so as l could beat ye. l know as you be jist maktn' n fool o' me. 'Tis a wonder the earth don't open an' swaller ye up." Jim gave a desperate glance round. "lt'll all have to come out, l see," he said, after a pause, resignedly. "'Tis true what Lyddy did tell ye as l promised to let you win, an' when I went down to the field l'd made up my mind to do it: but her an' me had words— jist a few minutes afore the match began. Ye know ye didn't treat l fair, my maid," he added reproach
fully. "You did twite l shameful."
Lyddy, who was gazing at him with a startled look, made no reply, and he went on hastily, turning again to the old man:
"She did twite i; she did boast as you could easy get the better of l, so l jist thought i'd let her see."
The gnarled hand which held the candlestick wavered, and Robert, leaning forward and supporting himself with the other arm, gazed eagerly at the speaker; his eyes were shining, his lips parted.
"i thought i'd start off in my best style," continued Fry, "an' gie her a good fright, an' l could easy make a mess at the end. But when we was started. Measter lnkpen, an' l found ye was a match for me—'ees, an' more nor a match—l clean give up the notion o' keepin' my promise; l jist settled to the job in hand. l done my very best to win that prize, but 'twas you was the better man."
The candlestick fell clattering to the floor, the candle being extinguished. A certain confusion ensued while Mrs. lnkpen recovered both, and sought for the matches: but meanwhile Robert had thrown himself back, crowing with laughter so loud and jubilant as to drown the whispered discussion which took place between the young couple.
When the candle had been lighted and placed in safety on a corner of the chest of drawers, Jim, with a very red face, was found to be clasping struggling Lyddy round the waist.
"Fetch that there paper!" cried Robert, sitting up again with the agility of a jack-in-the-box. "Let go of the maid, ye foolish feller, an' come here an' sign!"
"l'll sign in a minute." rejoined Jim; "but l must make friends wi' Lyddy first. Tell her she must forgive an' forget, Measter Inkpen, same as you've a-done."
"There, forgive en, maidie, forgive en," chuckled Robert. "He be a good chap an' straight-forrard, jist about."
"i bain't so sure o' that," said Lyddy, not harshly, however.
"Nay, now, he be," asserted her father. "Come, forgive an' forget, my dear, same as I be a-doin'—leastways, i'll forgive—haw, haw! But I can't say as i'll ever forget!"
lt is to be presumed that Lyddy ultimately forgave her persistent suitor, for they were married very soon after
Tbe CornhlU Magazine.
wards; but it is by no means certain that she fulfilled the last part of the precept, for there were occasions—on market days and the like—when she reminded her husband of his liability to trip.
As for Robert, his trinmph seemed to give him a new lease of life, and though he and his son-in-law were ever on the most amicable terms he never failed to assert his own pre-eminence as the ploughing champion.
M. E. Francis.
THE IRREPRESSIBLE CASTRO.
President Castro of Venezuela again holds the stage. it is Holland's turn this time. The whys and the wherefores are complex and entangled, as matters Venezuelan, more especially under the Castro regime, are wont to be. The Dutch complain of ill-treatment of all sorts meted out to their subjects by the arbitrary Castro Government, of the ruin to the trade of their West indian colonies by Venezuelan official measures, dating several years back. and finally of gross violation of international courtesy, verging on insult to their diplomatic representative, who had been unceremoniously handed his papers, with the request that he should .vacate Venezuelan territory forthwith. This is, mutatis mutandis, a repetition of the story of a few years ago when the French diplomatic representative at Caracas was equally unceremoniously dismissed. The French Government then, even as the Dutch government now, was greatly annoyed; there was talk of blockade, whispers of invasion, orders given to men-ofwar to prepare for a protracted and aggressive cruise on the Caribbean along the Venezuelan coast, and much comment as to what the United States would allow and as to what, in the ex
ercise of their paternal solicitude for the liberty and independence of the Latin-American nations, they would and would not tolerate. Matters, however, subsided in due course, the days, the weeks and the months acted as a balm upon the wounded spirit of French pride, which had to content itself by retaliation. The Venezuelan Cbarge d'Affaires was ousted from France; and the world forgot the incident. it was very much as in the case of the Spanish popular ditty, describing the action of a vain braggart: "He set his hat firmly upon his head, his hand upon the pummel of his sword, he spat viciously sideways, looked most fiercely around him, and . . . walked away without any further ado." In connection with these events, it is to be remembered that the cantankerousness of Castro has in its turn been displayed towards the United States itself on more than one occasion, as well as to Germany, Italy and England. The joint naval demonstration of these three Powers at the close of 1902 achieved some result, as it brought about a settlement of certain pending debts. Ostensibly it was undertaken for the purpose of coercing Venezuela to pay her debts to German, Italian