Most say yer knows everything, and can give philters and charms for sickness and heart-ache and the like. Well I know nothing, nor don't want to; but, said he, dropping his voice to a whisper, "if yer could only give me a charm to keep her tongue quiet, and he pointed with his thumb meaningly over his shoulder in the direction of the cottage, I'd bless yer from the bottom of my heart as long as I live. Matthew considered a moment, as the question somewhat puzzled him. Here was a woman who had apparently neither kith nor kin belonging to her, one who stood, as far as he could see, alone in the world.
How was he to give her a blessing? She had neither children, nor husband to be kind or unkind to her; she might be a prosperous woman for aught he or the neighbours knew, or she might be the very reverse. She never seemed to crave for sympathy from anyone, but rather to shun it, and never allowed a question of herself on former days to be asked, without growing angry, and if it was repeated, or persisted in, violent.
Presently Matthew hit upon what he thought a safe expedient. What blessing do yer most want?
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I'll give yer one Ma'am all the same. Most of us wish for something, and I'll pray that the one wish of yer heart, whatever it is, yer may get. How dare you wish me that? Good Lord! Grey, ma'am; how you scare a man. Who should tell me? I don't know nothing at all about yer; how should I?
All I know is that most folks has wishes of some kind or another; nobody's satisfied in this world, and in course you ain't, and so I just wished yer might be, that's all; there's no great harm in that, is there?
Mrs. Henry Wood and Lev Tolstoy: Formulation of a Question
Come, come, don't let's have words. I didn't mean to vex yer, you're a lone woman with not a soul to stand by yer, and the Lord knows what you've got on yer mind. And she was passing on; but Matthew could not let her go so; he must have the charm, even at the risk of offending her again. He had thought of it for days past, it was the one wish of his heart; he had longed and sought for this opportunity and it must not slip through his fingers thus, so he said meekly, but still rather doubtfully,.
Well it may be going to rain; yer know a deal better than I do, and I won't gainsay yer? And now Mrs.
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Grey will yer give me the charm? Can't be done without, said he decidedly. I've tried everything else I know of, and it ain't no use, said he despairingly. Well, said Goody Grey, after a moment's consideration, do you see this box? Then there's nothing more to be done, except to sit quiet and silent and watch your wife's face. You are a man, what need you care? Do as I bid you every time you are tempted to go to the Public-house; never miss once until the box is empty. Then bring it back to me.
Why; what if when I finds myself so near the door of the Public—you see, ma'am, it's a great temptation—I turns in and gets a drop afore I comes home? Then you must add another stone instead of taking one away, and don't attempt to deceive me, or the charm will work harm instead of good. Deceive her; no. Matthew had far too much faith in the charm to do that; there was no occasion for her fears. The only one. When the box is empty the cure is certain; but remember the conditions, a silent tongue and not a drop of drink; the breaking of either one of these at the time when the charm is working, and a stone must be added.
The box'll never be empty in this world, said he, with a deep sigh; but I'll try. My thanks to yer all the same, ma'am. Pretty tidy, thank yer, but he looked crestfallen, notwithstanding his assertion. I never know'd her ill; she's like a horse, always ready for any amount of work, nothing knocks her up. Sometimes the trees we think the strongest, wither the soonest, said Goody Grey passing on, while Matthew leant against the gate and counted the stones in the box.
There's eight of them, said he. I wish it had been an uneven number, it's more lucky. Eight times! More than a week.
It'll never be empty—never! What did she mean by them? Did she mean that his old woman was going to die? Then he considered if he should tell her, and whether if he did she would believe it, and take to her bed at once, and leave him in quiet possession of the cottage and his own will; somehow his heart leaped at the thought of the latter, although he shook his head sadly while the former flashed through him.
Was when you was out, retorted she; but it's at home now, and likely to remain so for to-night. Best not, for you won't as long as I know it. You were drunk enough when the young master passed through the 'pike to last for a precious sight to come; you're not going to make a beast of yourself to-night if I can help it. Marks was scrubbing the table down. She was one of those women who, if they have no work to do, make it. She was never idle. Her house, or rather cottage—there were only four rooms in it—was as clean as a new pin; not a speck of dirt to be seen, and as to dust, that was a thing unknown; but then she was always dusting, scrubbing, or sweeping.
Matthew hated the very sight of a brush or pail, and would have grumbled if he dared; but he dared not; he was thoroughly henpecked. Had he been a sober man this would not have been the case; but he was not, and he knew it, and she knew it too; and knowing his weak points she had him at her mercy, and little enough she showed him. He answered her fast enough sometimes, but he dared not go in opposition to her will, even when he came reeling home from the Public-house. Appearances were too against him: he being small and thin, she a tall, stout, strong-looking woman.
Certainly the scrubbing agreed wonderfully with her, and there seemed little prospect of Goody Grey's prophecy being verified. White; as owns the Easdale Farm down yonder, with no more manners than old Jenny out there—the donkey,—she lets her heels fly, but I'm blessed if this chap don't let fly heels and hands both. Marks, where's your manners? He's a deal above you in the world. May be. But Goody Grey don't say so. She says he was no better nor a gleaner time gone by. Marks, contemptuously.
What does she know about it? She's crazed! I am glad of it, said Mrs. Marks sneeringly, for it's a precious little I think of either her or her sayings. Why don't you be minding your own business, instead of talking and gossiping with every tom-fool you meet. She's no woman to gossip with, or fool either; she made me tremble and shake again, even the fire don't warm me, said he, lighting his pipe and settling himself in the chimney corner.
I'll take your word for her having scared you. There's few as couldn't do that easy enough. Matthew's hand went instinctively into his pocket; he could scarcely refrain from trying the effect of the charm, but it was growing dusk, and he was afraid that for that night at least it was too late. No, she said— and Matthew took the pipe out of his mouth so that he might be heard the plainer, she said; 'all trees wither the first as looks fat and strong. No, I'm not, replied he doggedly, that's what she said, and no mistake; the very words, I'll take my oath of it; and if you don't see the drift of 'em I do.
Well, said Matthew solemnly, she meant one or t'other of us was going to die, and he looked her full in the face to see how she would take it, expecting it would alarm her as it had done him.
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Well I'd have more spirit in me than to list to the words of a mad woman. His astonishment may be better guessed at than described. He had so entirely made up his mind that his wife was the one Goody Grey had so vaguely hinted at, that he never deemed it possible any one could think otherwise; least of all Mrs. Marks herself: he glanced downwards at his thin legs, then stretched out his arms one after the other and felt them, as if to satisfy himself that he had made no mistake, and that he really was the spare man he imagined.
No, you're deceiving yourself, said he, I'll declare it wasn't me she meant. She said fat, I call it to mind well; and I'm as thin as the sign post out yonder and no mistake. Then he glanced at the stout, strong arms of his wife, now fully developed with her determined scrubbing. If she meant anyone, said he decidedly, she just meant you!
Marks, Is it me you are worriting yourself about, you simpleton? There, rest easy; I'm not afraid of her evil tongue; not that I suppose I've longer to live than other folks: I'm ready to go when my time comes and the Lord pleases; but I'm not to be frightened into my bed by Mrs.