The End of the World

It was the first night of the Wakes, and the carrier’s 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 farmer’s wife, to the saucy tangle of scarlet poppies that crowned the auburn plaits of the innkeeper’s 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. ‘Trouble’s ower-coomin’ yo’. I reckon yo’r brother’s end’s bin a sad trial.’

The spinster waved her uncouthly-gloved hand. ‘Hoosh!’ she whispered, faintly, ‘they’re 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, I’d just wakkened an’ turned raand i’ bed when a leet ’gan to shine ower th’ moor—exactly as ef th’ day were breekin’. But I felt as I hedna bin a bed long, so I ups an’ looks at mester’s watch, an’ et were on’y five minutes past twelve. “O Lord,” says I, “th’ heather mun be afire an’ th’ corn’s 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. I’ve heerd as et’s 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 spinster’s 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. ‘Et’ld 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 yo’r purse?’ he said. ‘Yo’ do look bad.’

She strove to regain her self-possession.

‘No,’ she replied, with a sickly smile. ‘Et’s on’y as I’m more nor a bit tired. I’ll be all reet i’ a day or two—ay, me, what am I sayin’, when th’ world’s—I mean when I’m a’ whöam.’

‘I s’pose yo’r feelin’ duller ’cause o’ bein’ away fro’ yo’r young chap,’ he remarked, giggling foolishly. ‘I b’lieve as yo’ve 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.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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