The End of the World
It was the first night of the Wakes, and the carriers big cart was crowded with folk who came from the neighbouring country to visit their relations and friends. The greasy lamps that diffused a rank, fishy smell threw quivering lights on fantastic bonnets, that ranged in style from the antiquated scuttle with its fall of black net embroidered with chenille of the rich old farmers wife, to the saucy tangle of scarlet poppies that crowned the auburn plaits of the innkeepers daughter.
In the right-hand corner, farthest from the door, sat a withered spinster, dressed in a crape gown and a loose bertha of knitted silk which her mother had worn forty years ago. Her peaked face was very wan, and her eyes sparkled in the semi-darkness like live coals.
The woman who sat nearest to her noted her suppressed excitement, and offered her a draught from a jack-bottle of gin.
Tek a pull, Miss Bland, she said. Troubles ower-coomin yo. I reckon yor brothers ends bin a sad trial.
The spinster waved her uncouthly-gloved hand. Hoosh! she whispered, faintly, theyre talkin abaat a roary-boary-ailis daan theer!
The wearer of the scuttle was describing a meteor which she had seen in the night.
Well, Id just wakkened an turned raand i bed when a leet gan to shine ower th moorexactly as ef th day were breekin. But I felt as I hedna bin a bed long, so I ups an looks at mesters watch, an et were ony five minutes past twelve. O Lord, says I, th heather mun be afire an th corns ready for cuttin! Peter he hears me an slips fro th bed an draws up th blind, an when we looks aat, we sees all th north sky blazin wi colours like a rainbow. Et were i th form o a crown at first, then et gathered westwards an changed to summat like a sword. Theer werena hawf-an-hour ere et died, but nayther me nor mester slept a wink after. Ive heerd as ets a sign o fair weather.
The girl with the poppies chimed in with: Fayther said as fowk proffersied th end o th world fro et!
A low moan crept from the spinsters lips. She had slept heavily at the house in the distant town where her brother had died, and this was the first she had heard of the apparition. She pressed her thin hands against the back of the seat and attempted to rise, but fell back awkwardly.
I canna tell em, she muttered. Etld breek their hearts. Best for et to coom like a thief i th neet.
The facetious man who sat in the opposite corner overheard her last words.
Bless me, mam, hes somebody stole yor purse? he said. Yo do look bad.
She strove to regain her self-possession.
No, she replied, with a sickly smile. Ets ony as Im more nor a bit tired. Ill be all reet i a day or twoay, me, what am I sayin, when th worldsI mean when Im a whöam.
I spose yor feelin duller cause o bein away fro yor young chap, he remarked, giggling foolishly. I blieve as yove never bin parted for so long sin he began coortin yo, thirty-five year sin.
To their credit, the other travellers ignored his attempt to excite their mirth. The story of her courtship belonged to the older generation, and although in her early days folk had spoken jestingly of the lovers who could never make up their minds to wed, time had accustomed them to look compassionately upon the affair. The sole hindrances had been two old mothers who had declared that their homes should never be broken up. But they had died fifteen years ago, and the courtship had continued until both were grey and wrinkled.
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