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The Distracted Preacher
by [?]

‘I can manage it,’ said the young man, and acting as she ordered, he uncovered, to his surprise, a row of little barrels bound with wood hoops, each barrel being about as large as the nave of a heavy waggon- wheel.

When they were laid open Lizzy fixed her eyes on him, as if she wondered what he would say.

‘You know what they are?’ she asked, finding that he did not speak.

‘Yes, barrels,’ said Stockdale simply. He was an inland man, the son of highly respectable parents, and brought up with a single eye to the ministry; and the sight suggested nothing beyond the fact that such articles were there.

‘You are quite right, they are barrels,’ she said, in an emphatic tone of candour that was not without a touch of irony.

Stockdale looked at her with an eye of sudden misgiving. ‘Not smugglers’ liquor?’ he said.

‘Yes,’ said she. ‘They are tubs of spirit that have accidentally come over in the dark from France.’

In Nether-Moynton and its vicinity at this date people always smiled at the sort of sin called in the outside world illicit trading; and these little kegs of gin and brandy were as well known to the inhabitants as turnips. So that Stockdale’s innocent ignorance, and his look of alarm when he guessed the sinister mystery, seemed to strike Lizzy first as ludicrous, and then as very awkward for the good impression that she wished to produce upon him.

‘Smuggling is carried on here by some of the people,’ she said in a gentle, apologetic voice. ‘It has been their practice for generations, and they think it no harm. Now, will you roll out one of the tubs?’

‘What to do with it?’ said the minister.

‘To draw a little from it to cure your cold,’ she answered. ‘It is so ‘nation strong that it drives away that sort of thing in a jiffy. O, it is all right about our taking it. I may have what I like; the owner of the tubs says so. I ought to have had some in the house, and then I shouldn’t ha’ been put to this trouble; but I drink none myself, and so I often forget to keep it indoors.’

‘You are allowed to help yourself, I suppose, that you may not inform where their hiding-place is?’

‘Well, no; not that particularly; but I may take any if I want it. So help yourself.’

‘I will, to oblige you, since you have a right to it,’ murmured the minister; and though he was not quite satisfied with his part in the performance, he rolled one of the ‘tubs’ out from the corner into the middle of the tower floor. ‘How do you wish me to get it out–with a gimlet, I suppose?’

‘No, I’ll show you,’ said his interesting companion; and she held up with her other hand a shoemaker’s awl and a hammer. ‘You must never do these things with a gimlet, because the wood-dust gets in; and when the buyers pour out the brandy that would tell them that the tub had been broached. An awl makes no dust, and the hole nearly closes up again. Now tap one of the hoops forward.’

Stockdale took the hammer and did so.

‘Now make the hole in the part that was covered by the hoop.’

He made the hole as directed. ‘It won’t run out,’ he said.

‘O yes it will,’ said she. ‘Take the tub between your knees, and squeeze the heads; and I’ll hold the cup.’

Stockdale obeyed; and the pressure taking effect upon the tub, which seemed, to be thin, the spirit spirted out in a stream. When the cup was full he ceased pressing, and the flow immediately stopped. ‘Now we must fill up the keg with water,’ said Lizzy, ‘or it will cluck like forty hens when it is handled, and show that ’tis not full.’