The village of Brammerton seemed only
half awake. A rumbling cart was slowly wending
its way up the hill, three or four old men were standing
yarning at the inn corner; now and again, a busy housewife
would appear at her door and take a glimpse of what
little was going on and disappear inside just as quickly
as she had shown herself. The sound of the droning
voices of children conning their lessons came through
the open window of the old schoolhouse.
These were the only signs and sounds
of life that forenoon in Brammerton. Stay! there
was yet another. Breaking in on the general
quiet of the place, I could hear distinctly the regular
thud of hard steel on soft, followed by the clear
double-ring of a small hammer on a mellow-toned anvil.
One man, at any rate, was hard at
work, Jim Darrol, big, honest,
serious giant that he was.
Light of heart and buoyant in body,
I turned down toward the smithy. I looked in
through the grimy, broken window and admired the brawny
giant he looked there in the glare of the furnace,
with his broad back to me, his huge arms bared to
the shoulders. Little wonder, thought I, Jim
Darrol can whirl the hammer and put the shot farther
than any man in the Northern Counties.
How the muscles bulged, and wriggled,
and crawled under his dark, hairy skin! What
a picture of manliness he portrayed! And, best
of all, I knew his heart was as good and
clean as his body was sound.
I tiptoed cautiously inside and slapped
him between the shoulders. He wheeled about
quickly. He always was a solemn-looking owl,
but this morning his face was clouded and grim.
As he recognised me, a terrible anger seemed to blaze
up in his black eyes. I could see the muscles
tighten in his arms and his fingers close firmly over
the shaft of the hammer he held. I could see
a new-born, but fierce hatred burning in every inch
of his enormous frame.
“Hello, Jim, old man!
Who has been rubbing you the wrong way?” I cried.
His jaws set. He raised his
left hand and pointed with his finger to the open
“Get out!” he growled, in a deep, hoarse
I stood dumbfounded for a brief moment,
then I replied roughly and familiarly: “Oh,
you go to the devil! Keep your anger for those
who have caused it.”
“Get out, will you!” he
cried again, taking a step nearer to me, his brows
lowered, his lips drawn to a thin line.
I had seen these danger signals in
Jim before, but never with any ill intent toward me.
I was so astounded I could scarcely think aright.
What could he mean? What was the matter?
“Jim, Jim,” I soothed,
“don’t talk that way to old friends.”
“You’re no friend of mine,”
he shouted. “Will you get out of here?”
In some respects, I was like Jim Darrol:
I did not like to be ordered about.
“No! I will not get out,”
I snapped back at him. “I mean to remain
here until you grow sensible.”
I went over to his anvil, set my leg
across it and looked straight at him.
He raised his hammer high, as if to
strike me; and I felt then that if I had taken my
eyes from Jim’s for the briefest flash of time,
my last minute on earth would have arrived.
With an oath, the first
I ever heard him utter, he cast the hammer
from him, sending it clattering into a corner among
the old horse shoes.
“Damn you, I hate
you and all your cursed aristocratic breed,”
he snarled. And, with the spring of a tiger,
he had me by the throat, with those great, grabbing
hands of his, his fingers closing cruelly on my windpipe
as he tried to shake the life out of me.
I had always been able to account
for Jim when it came to fisticuffs, but never at close
quarters. This time, his attack was violent as
it was unexpected. I did not have the ghost
of a chance. I staggered back against the furnace
wall, still in his devilish clutch. Not a gasp
of air entered or left my body from the moment he clutched
He shook me as a terrier does a rat.
Soon my strength began to go; my eyes
bulged; my head felt as if it were bursting; dancing
lights and awful darknesses flashed and loomed alternately
before and around me. Then the lights became
scarcer and the darknesses longer and more intense.
As the last glimmer of consciousness was leaving
me, when black gloom had won and there was no more
light, I felt a sudden release, painful and almost
unwelcome to the oblivion to which I had been hurling.
The lights came flashing back to me again and out
of the whirling chaos I began to grasp the tangible
once more. As I leaned against the side of the
furnace, pulling at my throat where those terrible
fingers had been, gasping, gasping, for
glorious life-giving, life-sustaining air, I gradually
began to see as through a haze. Before long,
I was almost myself again.
Jim was standing a few paces away,
his chest heaving, his shaggy head bent and his great
hands clenched against his thighs.
I gazed at him, and as I gazed something
wet glistened in his eyes, rolled down his cheeks
and splashed on the back of his hand, where it dried
up as if it had fallen on a red-hot plate.
I took an unsteady step toward him and held out my
“Jim,” I murmured, “my poor old
His head remained lowered.
“Strike me,” he groaned
huskily. “For God’s sake strike me,
for the coward I am!”
“I want your hand, Jim,”
I answered. “Tell me what is wrong?
What is all this about?”
At last he looked into my eyes.
I could see a hundred conflicting emotions working
in his expressive face.
“You would be friends after what I have done?”
“I want your hand, Jim,” I said again.
In a moment, both his were clasped over mine, in his
he cried. “We’ve always been friends, chums.
I have always known you were not like the rest of
He drew his forearm across his brow.
“I am not myself, George. You’ll
forgive me for what I did, won’t you?”
“Man, Jim, there
is nothing done that requires forgiving; only,
you have the devil’s own grip. I don’t
suppose I shall be able to swallow decently for a
“But you are in trouble:
what is it, Jim? Tell me; maybe I can help.”
“Ay, it’s trouble
enough, God forbid. It’s Peggy,
George, my dear little sister, Peggy, that
has neither mother nor father to guide her; only
me, and I’m a blind fool. Oh! I
can’t speak about it. Come over with me
and see for yourself.”
I followed him slowly and silently
out of the smithy, down the lane and across the road
to his little, rose-covered cottage. We went
round to the back of the house. Jim held up
his hand for caution, as he peeped in at the kitchen
window. He turned to me again, and beckoned,
his big eyes blind with tears.
“Look in there,” he gulped.
“That’s my little sister, my little Peggy;
she who never has had a sorrow since mother left us.
She’s been like that for four hours and she
gets worse when I try to comfort her.”
I peered in.
Peggy was sitting on the edge of a
chair and bending across the table. Her arms
were spread out in front of her and her face was buried
in them. Her brown, curly hair rippled over
her neck and shoulders like a mountain stream.
Great sobs seemed to be shaking her supple body.
I listened, and my ears caught the sound of a breaking
heart. There was a fearful agony in her whole
I turned away without speaking and
followed Jim back to the smithy. When we got
there, something pierced me like a knife, although
all was not quite clear to my understanding.
I cried, “surely you never fancied I I
was in any way to blame for this. Why!
Jim, I don’t even know yet what it
is all about.”
He laughed unpleasantly. “No,
George, no! Oh! I can’t tell
you. Here ”
He went to his coat which hung from
a hook in the wall. He pulled a letter from
his inside pocket. “Read that,” he
I unfolded the paper, as he stood watching me keenly.
The note was in handwriting with which I was well
“My dear little Peggy,
I am very, very sorry, but
surely you know that what you ask is impossible.
I shall try to find time to run out and see you at
the usual place, Friday night at nine o’clock.
Do not be afraid, little woman; everything will come
out all right. You know I shall see that you
are well looked after; that you do not want for anything.
Burn this after you read it.
Keep our secret, and bear up, like the good little
girl you are. Yours affectionately,
As I read, my blood chilled in my
veins, was, there could be no mistaking
“My God! Jim,” I
cried, “this is terrible. Surely, surely ”
“Yes! George,” he
said, in a tensely subdued voice, “your brother
did that. Your brother, with his
glib tongue and his masterful way. Oh! well
I know the breed. They are to be found in high
and low places; they are generally not much for a
man to look at, but they are the kind no woman is
safe beside; the kind that gets their soft side whether
they be angels or she-devils. Why couldn’t
he leave her alone? Why couldn’t he stay
among his own kind?
“And now, he has the gall to
think that his accursed money can smooth it over.
Damn and curse him for what he is.”
I had little or nothing to say.
My heart was too full for words and a great anger
was surging within me against my own flesh and blood.
“Jim, does this make
any difference between you and me?” I asked,
crossing over to him on the spongy floor of hoof parings
and steel filings. “Does it, Jim?”
He caught me by the shoulders, in
his old, rough way, and looked into my face.
Then he smiled sadly and shook his head.
“No, George, no! You’re
different: you always were different; you are
the same straight, honest George Brammerton to me; still
“Then, Jim, you will let me
try to do something here? You will promise me
not to get into personal contact with Harry, at
least until I have seen him and spoken with him.
Not that he does not deserve a dog’s hiding,
but I should like to see him and talk with him first.”
“Why should I promise that?” he asked
“For one thing, because,
doubtless, Harry is home now. And again, there
is going to be a week-end House Party at our place.
Harry’s engagement of marriage with Lady Rosemary
Granton is to be announced; and Lady Rosemary will
“It would only mean trouble
for you, Jim; and, God knows, this is trouble
“What do I care for trouble?”
he cried defiantly. “What trouble can
make me more unhappy than I now am?”
“You must avoid further trouble
for Peggy’s sake,” I interposed.
“Jim, let me see Harry first.
Do what you like afterwards. Promise me, Jim.”
He swallowed his anger.
“God! it will be
a hard promise to keep if ever I come across him.
But I do promise, just because I like you, George,
as I hate him.”
“May I keep this meantime?”
I asked, holding up Harry’s letter to Peggy.
“No! Give it to me. I might need
“But I might find greater use
for it, Jim. Won’t you let me have it,
for a time at least?”
“Oh! all right, all right,”
he answered, spreading his hands over his leather
I left him there amid the roar of
the fire and the odour of sizzling hoofs, and wended
my way slowly up the dust-laden hill, back home, having
forgotten entirely, in the great sorrow that had fallen,
to tell Jim my object in calling on him that day.