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Page 1

"--When, in one night, ere glimpse of morn,
His shadowy flail hath threshed the corn
That ten day-labourers could not end,
Then lies him down the Lubber-fiend,
And, stretched out all the chimney's length,
Basks at the fire his hairy strength."

It was said that a Lob Lie-by-the-fire once haunted the little old Hall
at Lingborough. It was an old stone house on the Borders, and seemed to
have got its tints from the grey skies that hung above it. It was
cold-looking without, but cosy within, "like a north-country heart,"
said Miss Kitty, who was a woman of sentiment, and kept a commonplace
book.

It was long before Miss Kitty's time that Lob Lie-by-the-fire first came
to Lingborough. Why and whence he came is not recorded, nor when and
wherefore he withdrew his valuable help, which, as wages rose, and
prices rose also, would have been more welcome than ever.

This tale professes not to record more of him than comes within the
memory of man.

Whether (as Fletcher says) he were the son of a witch, if curds and
cream won his heart, and new clothes put an end to his labours, it does
not pretend to tell. His history is less known than that of any other
sprite. It may be embodied in some oral tradition that shall one day be
found; but as yet the mists of forgetfulness hide it from the
storyteller of to-day as deeply as the sea fogs are wont to lie between
Lingborough and the adjacent coast.



THE LITTLE OLD LADIES.--ALMS DONE IN SECRET.


The little old ladies of Lingborough were heiresses.

Not, mind you, in the sense of being the children of some mushroom
millionnaire, with more money than manners, and (as Miss Betty had seen
with her own eyes, on the daughter of a manufacturer who shall be
nameless) dresses so fine in quality and be-furbelowed in construction
as to cost a good quarter's income (of the little old ladies), but
trailed in the dirt from "beggarly extravagance," or kicked out behind
at every step by feet which fortune (and a very large fortune, too) had
never taught to walk properly.

"And how should she know how to walk?" said Miss Betty. "Her mother
can't have taught her, poor body! that ran through the streets of Leith,
with a creel on her back, as a lassie; and got out of her coach (lined
with satin, you mind, sister Kitty?) to her dying day, with a bounce,
all in a heap, her dress caught, and her stockings exposed (among
ourselves, ladies!) like some good wife that's afraid to be late for the
market. Aye, aye! Malcolm Midden--good man!--made a fine pocket of
silver in a dirty trade, but his women'll jerk, and toss, and bounce,
and fuss, and fluster for a generation or two yet, for all the silks and
satins he can buy 'em."

From this it will be seen that the little old ladies inherited some
prejudices of their class, and were also endowed with a shrewdness of
observation common among all classes of north-country women.

But to return to what else they inherited. They were heiresses, as the
last representatives of a family as old in that Border country as the
bold blue hills which broke its horizon. They were heiresses also in
default of heirs male to their father who got the land from his uncle's
dying childless, sons being scarce in the family. They were heiresses,
finally, to the place and the farm, to the furniture that was made when
folk seasoned their wood before they worked it, to a diamond brooch
which they wore by turns, besides two diamond rings, and two black lace
shawls, that had belonged to their mother and their Auntie Jean, long
since departed thither where neither moth nor rust corrupt the true
riches.

As to the incomings of Lingborough, "It was nobody's business but their
own," as Miss Betty said to the lawyer who was their man of business,
and whom they consulted on little matters of rent and repairs at as much
length, and with as much formal solemnity, as would have gone elsewhere
to the changing hands of half a million of money. Without violating
their confidence, however, we may say that the estate paid its way, kept
them in silk stockings, and gave them new tabbinet dresses once in three
years. It supplied their wants the better that they had inherited house
plenishing from their parents, "Which they thanked their stars was not
made of tag-rag, and would last their time," and that they were quite
content with an old home and old neighbours, and never desired to change
the grand air that blew about their native hills for worse, in order to
be poisoned with bad butter, and make the fortunes of extortionate
lodging-house keepers.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Sun 15th Sep 2019, 16:40