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"Surly Tim" A Lancashire Story
by [?]

“I don’t understand,” I faltered; “you don’t mean to say the poor girl never was your wife, Hibblethwaite.”

“That’s what th’ law says,” slowly; “I thowt different mysen, an’ so did th’ poor lass. That’s what’s the matter, Mester; that’s th’ trouble.”

The other nervous hand went up to his bent face for a minute and hid it, but I did not speak. There was so much of strange grief in his simple movement that I felt words would be out of place. It was not my dogged, inexplicable “hand” who was sitting before me in the bright moonlight on the baby’s grave; it was a man with a hidden history of some tragic sorrow long kept secret in his homely breast,–perhaps a history very few of us could read aright. I would not question him, though I fancied he meant to explain himself. I knew that if he was willing to tell me the truth it was best that he should choose his own time for it, and so I let him alone.

And before I had waited very long he broke the silence himself, as I had thought he would.

“It wur welly about six year ago I comn here,” he said, “more or less, welly about six year. I wur a quiet chap then, Mester, an’ had na many friends, but I had more than I ha’ now. Happen I wur better nater’d, but just as loike I wur loigh-ter-hearted–but that’s nowt to do wi’ it.

“I had na been here more than a week when theer comes a young woman to moind a loom i’ th’ next room to me, an’ this young woman bein’ pretty an’ modest takes my fancy. She wur na loike th’ rest o’ the wenches–loud talkin’ an’ slattern i’ her ways; she wur just quiet loike and nowt else. First time I seed her I says to mysen, ‘Theer’s a lass ‘at’s seed trouble;’ an’ somehow every toime I seed her afterward I says to mysen, ‘Theer’s a lass ‘at’s seed trouble.’ It wur i’ her eye–she had a soft loike brown eye, Mester–an’ it wur i’ her voice–her voice wur soft loike, too–I sometimes thowt it wur plain to be seed even i’ her dress. If she’d been born a lady she’d ha’ been one o’ th’ foine soart, an’ as she’d been born a factory-lass she wur one o’ th’ foine soart still. So I took to watchin’ her an’ tryin’ to mak’ friends wi her, but I never had much luck wi’ her till one neet I was goin’ home through th’ snow, and I seed her afore tighten’ th’ drift wi’ nowt but a thin shawl over her head; so I goes up behind her an’ I says to her, steady and respecful, so as she wouldna be feart, I says:–

“‘Lass, let me see thee home. It’s bad weather fur thee to be out in by thysen. Tak’ my coat an’ wrop thee up in it, an’ tak’ hold o’ my arm an’ let me help thee along.’

“She looks up right straightforrad i’ my face wi’ her brown eyes, an’ I tell yo’ Mester, I wur glad I wur a honest man ‘stead o’ a rascal, fur them quiet eyes ‘ud ha’ fun me out afore I’d ha’ done sayin’ my say if I’d meant harm.

“‘Thank yo’ kindly Mester Hibblethwaite,’ she says, ‘but dunnot tak’ off tha’ coat fur me; I’m doin’ pretty nicely. It is Mester Hibblethwaite, beant it?’

“‘Aye, lass,’ I answers, ‘it’s him. Mought I ax yo’re name.’

“‘Aye, to be sure,’ said she. ‘My name’s Rosanna–‘Sanna Brent th’ folk at th’ mill alius ca’s me. I work at th’ loom i’ th’ next room to thine. I’ve seed thee often an’ often.’

“So we walks home to her lodgins, an’ on the way we talks together friendly an’ quiet loike, an th’ more we talks th’ more I sees she’s had trouble an’ by an’ by–bein’ on’y common workin’ folk, we’re straightforrad to each other in our plain way–it comes out what her trouble has been.