Biddy Tibs, who Cared for Nobody by H. Holl
"Marry in thy youth!" This golden truth is writ in one of the
"gates," or articles of the "Sadder." We know not if the eyes of Jacob
Tibs ever opened upon this questionable axiom; or whether the consciousness
of his own weakness was the load-star which lighted him,
"poor darkened traveller," to the blessed state. Be it as it might,
Jacob, though no longer in youth, and in spite of my Uncle Toby's
showing that "love is below a man,"—Jacob took unto himself a wife,—an
unquestionable better half, seeing his share was so small in the
economy of domestic life. But at how high a standard Jacob ought to
have placed his happiness,—and marriage is with some supposed to
be a good,—he held it a plague, a sickness long in killing! Jacob,
as we have before stated, married, and from that seed his crops of
evil sprung! The apple of his eye, like that of the East, was ashes
to his taste. Alas! that Jacob ever married!
Biddy Tibs, "who cared for nobody," was, at the time we write, a
small withered piece of stale old age. In her husband's days,—and
they a bountiful Providence, or rather rope, had shortened; not that
he was hanged, for Jacob was a modest-minded man!—she made up
in temper what she lacked in size; which temper, in the opinion of
many, was the personal property of the devil! And as the most difficult
conquest of Mahomet was that of his wife, so it proved with
Jacob, who vainly hoped that, "as with time and patience the leaf
of the mulberry-tree becomes satin," so might his wife's temper from
sour turn to sweet! How little did Jacob appreciate the constancy
Jacob Tibs was part owner of a Liverpool West India trader, and
of which he was nominally the captain. But Mrs. T., in this as in all
other instances, was the great "captain's captain:" her lungs—and
never had a speaking-trumpet such lungs—were hurricane-proof!
and the title of "boatswain" was not improperly a sobriquet of this
fair cheapener of sugar, with which the vessel was ostensibly freighted,
though upon occasions she had more slaves than her husband on
board; so that, what with natural and human produce, Jacob climbed
a golden ladder. Tired with a "life of storms," he changed his vessel
for a house, the sea for a quiet town, and might have rested his
old age in peace; but, alas for Jacob! he was married!
Argus is reported to have slept,—can we wonder that Mrs. Tibs's
two eyes for once lost their vigilance, and left her husband the master
of himself, and one day—for that she passed a short distance off;
and Jacob resolved that this drop of comfort should prove a well;
and in truth it did, as will be shown. Old Jacob had friends, as who
has not that has anything to give?—and this day—the only one he
could look forward to with a smile since he had been "blessed"—he
determined should prove a golden one; and, spite of the servant-girl's
warnings of "How missus would wop him!" Jacob held a levee,—some
dozen sons of Eve, whose mouths sucked brandy like a
sponge,—good old souls of a good old age, whose modest wants 'bacca
and brandy could supply.
Jacob held his levee! but as he boasted no privy purse, no stocking
with a foot of guineas, and no brandy but a bottle two-thirds full,
left by strange accident in the cupboard, what was to be done? For
the first time in his life Jacob was surprised into an act of rebellion;
and with a death-doing hammer in one hand, and a screwdriver in
the other, did Jacob invade the—to him—sanctity of the cellar. The
lock was wrenched, lights were stuck in empty bottles, and Jacob,
who in his young-going days had swilled it with the best, soon verified
the sentiment of Le Sage, that "a reformed drunkard should
never be left in a cellar." Now, whether joy or brandy had to answer
for the sin, we know not; but, certain it is, Jacob got drunk, and
measured his length—he was a tall man—upon the ground.
Friends should be our brothers in affliction; his were true ones, and
at happy intervals of time they sank beside him, completely overcome,—showing
how little was their pride, how great their fellowship!
How long they might have continued in this undeniable state of
bliss would be an useless guess, for the last of Jacob's friends—and
he was no sudden faller-off—had scarcely deposited himself upon the
ground in happy indifference for his clothes, when the cracked-bell
voice of Mrs. Tibs, who had unexpectedly returned, roused the maid
into a consciousness that missus had come home! Domestic contentions
are at no time an interesting theme; and as most of our
readers—we allude to the married portion—have doubtless experienced
them in real life, romance would fall far short of the truth;
the single we advise to marry, and experience will teach them what
we here pass over. When Jacob's better half beheld her bottles
empty, her casks upturned, and her husband, for the first time since
he had enjoyed that felicity, deaf to the music of her voice, a bucket
of water from the well refreshed Jacob to a truth he would willingly
have slept in ignorance of,—that the wife of his bosom was alive,
and he started as a thief would at an opening door. She seized
him by the collar, and, showering the first-fruits of her passion
upon him who could so well appreciate it, the "boatswain" rose
within her, and, after bestowing sundry terms of approbation upon
his boon companions, she turned them out of the house, as the vulgar
saying hath it, "with their tails between their legs." Jacob
would have slunk away, but Fortune willed it otherwise. His
"rib" shouted the word of command, "Tack, you lubber, and be
---- to you!" Jacob recognised the voice,—how could he have
mistaken it?—and waited for orders. Now it so fell out, as Mrs.
Tibs ran for the bucket of water, her cap, in the press of business,
caught by a twig, dropped into the well, and eighteen-pence had been
that day expended in decoration. With the assistance of Nanny the
maid, Jacob was to be wound down in the bucket; and, spite of his
appeals to the contrary, with one foot in the tub, and both hands on
the rope, he was lowered, and half soused in water, until he reached
the ribbon treasure of his wife's head. The cap clutched in one
hand, he was raised dripping by the windlass. Each twist brought
him nearer to the top, when, sorrowful to relate, the rope gave way,
and Jacob dropped like lead into the well; a hollow splash was heard
in the water, and Mrs Tibs stood by in speechless agony. At length
her grief found vent, and, pitching her voice to its shrillest note,
she cried, "Oh, my cap!"
Alas for Jacob! his head struck with swingeing force against the
bricks, where to this day the impression may be seen: he fell stunned
into the water, and before aid could be obtained, which Mrs. Tibs did
in less than two hours and a half, Jacob was dead!
Now, though Jacob was dead, he was not buried. A good wife is
a jewel to her husband: what must she be to his mortal remains?
Biddy's affection was too great to allow any but herself to be his undertaker,
and she contracted with a jobbing carpenter for a wooden
shell. Jacob never loved luxuries, and the pride of cloth covered
not his outside, gilt nails syllabled not his virtues. Four ploughmen
were hired at a shilling a-head—half-a-crown they had the uncharity
to ask—to be his bearers, and Jacob was lowered to what he had
been for years a stranger to—a house of peace!
In the city of C——, famous for its antiquities, its cathedral, and
its hop-grounds, is a terrace, commanding an extensive view of a
cattle-market and the road beyond; along which road, one sunny afternoon,
a gentleman, or, for fear of mistakes, we will simply call him an
officer, rode on a piebald horse. Passing along, a certain window on
the terrace attracted his attention, and the officer on the piebald
horse kissed his hand to its fair occupant. Now, it so happened that
Miss Lauretta Birdseye was seated at the very next window, in the
very next house to that on which the officer had bestowed his attentions;
and no sooner was the kiss blown, than slam went the window!
A glazier who was passing felt himself a richer man by at least
three and sixpence. No sooner was the window closed, than—curtains
are always in the way—they were drawn aside, and a face
was glued to the glass, all eyes and wire ringlets. Another kiss from
the officer on the piebald horse. The lady nodded her head, and was
thinking of blushing; but as blushes, like hedge-side roses, are vulgar,
and glass so thick, her prudence whispered her not to be wasteful.
As the rider passed, the window was once more opened, and her
head thrust out, to see what to her was indeed a sight,—a man, as she
thought, looking at her,—when what should she behold at the next
window but Laura Dyke, "that impudent slut," as she said, "looking
after the men!" Her modesty was scandalized, and once more the
window descended with a crash!
The following morning Miss Lauretta Birdseye knocked a gentle
knock at the dwelling of Mrs. Tibs, her next-door neighbour. The
door was opened by Laura, who filled the double capacity of drudge
and niece to her loving aunt Biddy Tibs. Since the demise of the late
lamented Jacob, she had led a life of widowhood, no man being found
rash enough to venture where Jacob had trod before. Years had passed,
and Biddy Tibs was old and withered, and her skin, like parchment,
hung dry and shrivelled! The fire of her youth was gone, but the embers
still remained: what her tongue had lost in might it had gained
in bitterness; she stabbed a reputation at each word, and mixed her
gall in every household hive! Such was Biddy Tibs; and, though
possessed of no mean wealth, her avarice clung like birdlime to her.
Biddy had a brother, an honest tradesman: his wife died young,
and his children, for he had two, a boy and a girl, were unto him gold
and jewels! Biddy held up her hands, and called it a tempting of
Providence. Long sickness and misfortunes—for brother Dick had
friends—and serving others, placed him in a debtors' prison! Without
means, and lacking food, Dick asked his sister's aid,—a score of
pounds to make him a man again. Biddy with thousands saw him
want on;—saw him, sick and feeble, die, a prisoner for a friend's
debt, and his children without a roof but heaven! Now, whether
Biddy's conscience smote her,—and it was speculated by some that
she possessed that luxury,—we know not; but, a few weeks after, her
servant-girl, for some or for no fault, had been turned out of doors
in the middle of the night; and, as her place must be supplied, pity
came to Biddy's aid, and her niece, an interesting girl of some sixteen
years, was sent for. The boy, Teg, less fortunate, was left to
starve; but he was a shrewd youth, fourteen, and had a squint eye,
a sign of a kind of cunning, and, if a jest may be pardoned, Teg always
looked round the corner. Laura luxuriated in the waggon; Teg, less
fortunate, trudged behind, begging as he went his food. But charity
dwells not on the highway, and Teg's food was mostly unasked; a
turnip diet and a hedge-side bed ended not a youth who was never
born to be choked by indigestion.
Mrs. Tibs took in the girl, for she must have a drudge; Teg had
a penny given him, and the door shut in his face. Teg cried first,
then got in a passion, and, like most people in a pet, quarrelled with
his bread and butter; for he flung the penny through one of the parlour
windows, when, as ill luck would have it, it missed the head of
his loving aunt, and ended the days of a cracked tea-cup. Alas! that
charity should bring evil upon the giver! for, taking the window and
cup into consideration, Biddy's charity cost her shillings, when she
had only intended to bestow a penny.
Teg spat upon her threshold, and went, no one cared or knew
Laura was now eighteen, and opened the door to Miss Lauretta
Birdseye, who looked daggers of indignation,—for Laura was a pretty
girl,—and asked if Mrs. Tibs were at home. Laura's meek answer
was, "Yes, Miss Birdseye; will you walk in?" Lauretta did, and sat
in the parlour tête-à-tête with Mrs. Tibs.
Mrs. Tibs was to the city of C—— what Ariadne's thread was to
Theseus,—the leading-string in all amours, all stolen meetings, all clandestine
marriages. Numberless were the wives and husbands, maids
and bachelors, who through her means had held communion sweet
with objects of their choice. Messages and letters were her peculiar
province; in fact, Biddy Tibs was a post-office in her own person;
and these praiseworthy efforts she exercised not altogether from mercenary
motives, though, to do her justice, her pride never stood in
the way where money was offered: but she loved mischief as a cat
loves milk, and would cheat for nothing, rather than not cheat at all.
Now, as the officer on the piebald horse had kissed his hand, as Lauretta
thought, to her, she could not rest until she had consulted old
Tibby, for so she was called. There at all events she should know all
about the officer, and there, no doubt, the officer would inquire after
her; and, seated opposite old Tibby, the conversation began.
"Do you know, Mrs. Tibs," commenced Lauretta, "I am horrorfied
to think what the girls about here are come to; for my part, you
know, I hate the men!"
"I know you do," chimed in Biddy; "your mother tells everybody
so: but them gals about here have no shame!"
"None!" and Lauretta rose with her subject. "As for those
Greyham's girls, I declare a man can't walk for them; and those Miss
Highwaters, they are no better than they should be, I know. Look
how they dress! and we all know what they have to live upon. And
those Miss Cartriges, with their thick ankles, waddling up and down,
and looking after the men: for my part, I never walk without mother's
with me, for those nasty fellows do look at one so."
Here an indistinct "Hem!" escaped Biddy.
"But I never look at them again, like the girls about here! never!"
Biddy looked at her from under her grey eyes, but said nothing.
"Men," continued Miss B. "are such impudent fellows, especially
military men; and, would you think it? an officer on a piebald horse
actually kissed his hand to me yesterday afternoon!"
Old Tibby looked up with a face full of wonder and infidelity.
"Who would have thought it!" ejaculated Lauretta.
Biddy shook her head as she added, "Who, indeed!"
"But I let him know I wasn't one of those sort of people, for I
shut the window in his face, and I saw him kiss his hand again."
"What! after you had shut the window?" and Biddy looked a
note of interrogation in each eye.
"Oh—I—I saw him through the curtains."
"Ah!" was Tibby's echo. "And—well, I couldn't imagine who it
could be for."
"Who what was for?" inquired Miss B.
"A letter!" and Lauretta's voice fluttered.
"Yes," said Tibby; "but, knowing how much you hated the men,
I never thought of you." Saying which, the old woman fumbled in
her pocket, and, taking a three-cornered note from a whole phalanx
of others, read the inscription,—"To Laura."
"People will call me Laura," said Lauretta, as she seized upon the
note, broke the seal, and read as follows:—"Sweet Laura,—When I saw
you at the window, and kissed my hand,"—twice, Mrs. Tibs,—"need
I say how I wished your rosy lips were near me; but, before many
hours, I trust I shall whisper in your ear the love I feel for my pretty
little angel." Lauretta held her breath till she was red in the face in
a vain endeavour to look celestial. The letter continued:—"And if
my sweet Laura will meet me on the 'Mount,' this evening, I will
fly with her from the misery she now suffers, to love and happiness.
Should you not be there, I shall return to the barracks, and put an
immediate end to the existence of your devoted,
Miss Birdseye felt twenty years younger at the intelligence,—for
a man must be in earnest when he threatens to kill himself,—and,
with a true tragedy uplifting of the hands, she exclaimed,
"Mrs. Tibs, I wouldn't have a man's death at my door for a world!
No, Augustus——" Further exclamation was cut short by a sort of
titter outside the parlour-door. Now none knew better than Lauretta
Birdseye how well a keyhole afforded sight and sound; and, throwing
the door suddenly open, she burst into the passage. A hurried
footstep on the stair convinced her of what she knew from experience
to be a fact, that by the time the door is opened the listener gets out
After sundry comments upon the meanness of listening, Lauretta
informed Mrs. Tibs, who sat like a cat watching a mouse, of her
Christian determination to save human life by sacrificing herself, all
loth as she was, to the officer of the piebald horse!
"It was the first time in her life," as she said, "a man had ever
made an appointment with her,"—who shall question the truth?—and
her delicacy yielded to her philanthropy!
Lauretta determined to go,—and, what is more, without her mother.
The "Mount" alluded to in Augustus Green Horn's letter is a
hill planted round with winding hedges; and the lawn on which it
stands forms the principal promenade of all the little gentry, all the
small-consequence people, their pride stuck like a nosegay in their
button-holes, who look in looks of hot-bed consequence the dignity
the tradesman bows to.
It was a dark evening, and the cathedral clock struck nine as Lauretta
Birdseye passed through the gates of the broad walk. Her horror
may be imagined when she saw servant-maids and others,—who had
nothing but their character to live upon, stealing in and out the trees
in loving paces with—Lauretta shut her eyes—the fellows! 'Prentice
boys were here whispering golden precepts in the ears of willing
maids, who, as servant-maids are not supposed to blush, cried "La!"
Lauretta hurried across the green,—doubtless to escape such infamy,—to
the foot of the "Mount;" a man and some "impudent hussy"
were coming down the way she was to go up,—and, or her eyes deceived
her, no less a hussy than Laura Dyke! who, she shuddered to
think, had picked up a new man. Lauretta heard—or fancied she
heard—a titter as they passed; and the man—he looked very like an
officer—laughed outright. Lauretta bridled in the full virginity of
three-and-thirty, and walked up the opposite side! How long she
walked up and down, this side and that side, from the top to the
bottom, and sate "like Patience" on one of the seats at the top, we
will not here describe. Suffice it, after waiting two hours and three-quarters,
a boy, who brought the candles, laid hold of her in the dark,
and, spite of her exertions to the contrary,—Lauretta was strong and
bony,—ravished a kiss! Whether the boy's taste was not matured,
or what, we know not, but he did not offer to repeat his rashness; and
Lauretta, who held kissing a vice, after telling him "what a rude boy
he was," and "hoping he would not do it again," walked very slowly
down the "Mount," waited ten minutes at the bottom, and then, with
a heavy heart went home to bed, strengthened in the truth that men
have no taste, and women no shame!
To her gentle summons on the next morning, Biddy herself opened
the door. Lauretta looked, and so did Biddy as she cried, "What
you! then where's that devil's niece of mine? the jade's been out
all night, and——"
"With some of the fellows, take my word for it. Mrs. Tibs, the
age we live in is a disgrace to our sex—look at me!"
"Well, if I do," half screamed the old woman, "I do more than
the men do. And haven't you been carried off after all? Oh! oh!"
and Biddy wheezed and chuckled like an old grey ape.
"Ma'm!" and Lauretta looked a vestal, "I am not aware, ma'm,
what you mean."
"What! not of the officer on the piebald horse?" Biddy's countenance
changed, and she turned white with passion as she added,
"And that beggar's slut of mine, I'll teach her to cross me!" But, as
her eye rested upon Lauretta, her face changed again, and pursed
into a thousand wrinkles as she chuckled, "How long did you wait?
Oh! oh!" and she gloated on the wincing countenance of her next-door
"Mrs. Tibs!" and Lauretta spoke with the conscious dignity of a
Cleopatra; "I have had a strange thought about Laura, and I am
afraid we have made a little mistake."
"Mistake!" and Biddy's eyes opened like an owl's.
"Yes; for, after the officer kissed his hand, I opened the window,
and there I saw that good-for-nothing girl of yours looking after him,
and he might have blown his filthy kisses to her; and last night,—I
won't be certain,—but I think I saw her coming down the 'Mount'
with a man, and he looked very like my dear Augus——"
The countenance of Biddy fell, and her skin became lead as she
gasped, "Bat that I was not to see it; that letter was for her after all!"
"Instead of me!" and Lauretta waxed wrathful as she added,
"She heard us read it through the key-hole. I thought I heard a
Let us not mistake the passion of Biddy Tibs; it was not the ruin
of her niece grieved her,—no! she could get another servant from
the workhouse; but she had fattened on the idea that, Lucretia as
Lauretta was, she had at length stumbled on a Tarquin!—it was
wine and oil to her heart. But, to find herself cozened, to have
hatched the wrong egg!—her fury knew no bounds. She raved,
and—we trust, for the first time in her life—uttered curses, and in
so wild a scream that neighbours came running to her assistance;
when, lashed by her own temper, the amiable Biddy Tibs fell down in
a swoon, having burst a blood-vessel, and was carried to bed.
Miss Birdseye took the opportunity of informing a room-full of attentive
listeners, "that the shameless hussy, Laura Dyke, had gone
off with a man!" and so great was her horror, that, upon the butcher-boy's
bringing the meat, she wouldn't suffer him to come into the passage,
but kept the door ajar, for fear, as she said, "the fellow should
look at her!"
The sick lion was a baby to Biddy Tibs, and, though she "cared for
nobody," everybody cared for her—last will and testament. Her
wealth had been looked upon by the telescopic eyes of an attentive
few, who brought her—as "trifles show respect"—trifles of the least
ambitious nature; and now, when Biddy was ill, and not likely to
last above a day or two, their consideration knew no bounds. One
would bring her—they were so cooling—some currants, on a cabbage
leaf; another, a pot of jam; a third, an invitation,—if she could go, it
would do her so much good. Biddy was not expected to live the
day. But—oh, the ingratitude of this old creature!—ill as she was,
her grey eyes looked like glass upon them, and twinkled with a cunning
light; and in the course of the day she promised, in no less
than six different quarters, the house she lived in, and a legacy beside.
How good are they who wait upon the sick! but, though sick,
Biddy, as the saying is, was "hard to die," and the doctor was justly
surprised, who, after giving her over the preceding night, found her
alive the next morning; and, notwithstanding she had three doctors,
in the space of a few weeks, as her friends justly lamented, Biddy had
cheated the devil, and, what was of still more consequence, themselves
of currants and jam.
In due course of time Mrs. Tibs was restored to health; and not
only left the city of C——, but her loving friends, who looked their
last of Biddy Tibs, "who cared for nobody."
We have now to trace the history of Teg Dyke, who, we before
said, was a shrewd boy, and, like most shrewd children taught by
bad example, he became of the bad the worst. Driven from his aunt's
door, without shelter and without food, Teg turned his steps where
chance directed, and, "with Providence for his guide," before night-fall
was some miles on the London road. Begging or stealing his
way, as accident and his necessity compelled, the poor lad found himself
sore-footed, hungry, hopeless, in the outskirts of London, which
then, even more than now, was a huge nursery for crime,—a living
chess-board, and circumstance the player! Teg was ragged, and
none would employ him; begging was so unprofitable there was no
living by it. Without food for two whole days Teg grew desperate,
and, tempted by the smell, stole from the door of a cook-shop a
plateful of savoury tit-bits,—the third lost that morning; and, in the
act of tasting, Teg was detected, seized, and, by a merciful magistrate
sent to the House of Correction. Teg, himself no sinner, was
here shut round by sin. Teg stole a meal, urged by the crying
wants of hunger, and he was here mated with those who held theft a
principle; and, like a bur, he clung to vice, since honesty had cast
him down: and, to say truth, Teg found more fellowship in a jail,
more communion, than in the outer world; for here they took delight
in teaching what they knew without a premium. Where else could
Teg have learnt a trade so cheaply? "The cove was quick and willing,"
and, respecting nothing else,—they must have been rogues,—respected
genius! Genius lies hid in corners; and Teg who, had his
aunt not thrust him from her door, might have become merely an
honest man, sent to jail for stealing what none would give him,—food,—became,
with a little practice, an accomplished thief!
Who shall say Biddy was to blame for shutting her door on so
much depravity? Again, was not her wisdom shown in her behaviour
to her niece? Should she have treated her with the least appearance
of kindness, who, driven like a dog, had the wickedness to
stain her threshold with ingratitude? Had she bestowed a sign of
goodness upon her, she had then deserved it. But, no; she had
treated her niece like a beast of burthen, and how had she returned
her affection? Biddy trembled as she thought of it!
Laura's ingratitude must have risen like a ghost upon her sleepless
eye! What must have been her self-accusation when, deserted by
the Honourable Augustus Green Horn, she found herself not only a
mother, but a beggar, halting in the streets, and with a pale and
stricken countenance suing for bread? Then, indeed, must her
aunt's loving-kindness have come in sweet dreams of the past, and
whispered love and gentleness! But Laura had a callous mind, and,
strange to say, never once felt her deprivation, or she would have
sunk beneath it, as an outcast from society, her freshness gone; her
beauty, like an autumn's leaf, seared, and cast forth unto the winds;
her heart bruised, and her hopes destroyed, she crawled at midnight
through the worst streets of London's worst quarter, the scoff of
many, the despised of all, the debauched victim of any, her child a
cripple from its birth, and in the malignity of a fever dead! And
yet Laura, midst all these evils, wept hot tears; but, what proved
she must have been dead to feeling, she never once thought of the
motherly kindness of Biddy Tibs.* * *
Some years had passed since Biddy turned her back upon the city
of C——, and left a name blushing with its good deeds behind her.
She now lived in a small town in the neighbourhood of the metropolis,
where her riches formed the subject of many an alehouse gossip.
But, as old age fell upon her, the vice of gold came with it, and she
lived in a crazy wooden house, without the fellowship of a breathing
thing, and for the best of reasons. No cat could live upon her fare,
and hope to be alive at the end of the month,—no dog was ever
seen to stop at a bone Biddy threw away; her charity never descended
to her garden, nor did the sparrows,—they knew it would
be a waste of time;—and thus she lived without kin and without
kind, no servant being so little a feeder as to live upon abuse.
And it was noted as a peculiar fact, that, the older she grew, the
more evil grew her tongue. Characters fell like grass before her.
Young or old, weak or strong, all felt her lash! And upon one
occasion she made such inroads upon the chastity of two maiden
ladies, sisters, and worthy to be so of the far-famed Irish giant, that,
under pretence of tea and scandal, Biddy could not resist the temptation;
she was induced to pay them a visit. A stream ran through
these maiden sisters' grounds; and lifting Biddy in their arms,—a
mere shuttlecock to two such battledores,—she was gently dropt into
the water, where she enjoyed, what she had been for years a stranger
to, a comfortable wash. So runs the story; and Biddy, vowing vengeance
and the law, which last she obtained, for Biddy was rich,
added so much by her daily tales to their reputations, that in the end
she remained sole mistress of the field,—the maiden ladies leaving
Biddy and the town behind them.
It was a cold November night, the wind howled, and the rain beat
against the windows as Biddy Tibs sat in her room; the night was
without moon or stars, and the sky looked black as the old woman
peered through the window into the garden, and the fields at the
back of her house; the rain fell in streams, and the wind moaned like
a human voice. For an instant she saw, or thought she saw, a light
shoot across the garden. She looked, and looked, and—she closed the
shutters, and sat closer to the fire; and, rocking herself over it in her
chair, mumbled, "Blind eyes that I have!—how should a light get
there? I could see in the dark once like a cat; but now—" and the
old woman rocked over the fire, with her head bent double to the
grate. A rushlight with a long snuff burnt on the table, and the
room looked shadowy and full of forms.
'Twas midnight; but still Biddy sat within her chair, and rocked,
and rocked, and looking at the fire, as cinder after cinder blackened
in the grate, she muttered, and spoke as to herself, "They're none
of my getting,—none of my flesh! Didn't I feed, clothe her?—she
ran away from my roof, and let her want. A night like this will
break her spirit, and teach her what it is to be without one—'twill——"
She paused suddenly, and bent her ear as in the act of listening; her
grey eyes gazed round the room as she said, "It sounded like a door
creaking, or a bolt;" and again she listened. The candle burnt dimly
on the table, and the embers grew darker and darker as Biddy spread
her hands to catch their warmth, and muttered, "At night, one is
full of fancies; it's only the wind;" and, communing with herself, she
added, "I've paid them back their own, and given them lies for lies, and
they hate me for it: but they fear me, too,—that's one comfort,—for
they know I'm rich. Rich—ha! ha! there's a sly cupboard there,"
and she pointed to a recess in the wall, where a concealed door stood
half ajar; "there's a nest holds more eggs than they think for; and
if I had liked—but the boy is none of mine—the boy—" A draught
of air as from an opened door made her look round. She sat frozen
to her chair as the figure of a man darkened in the room; a second,
masked like his fellow, stood in the shadow of the door; and Biddy,
with a fixed stare, looked like a corpse, blue-lipped and hollow-eyed.
Her chair shook under her, and her voice came not, though her mouth
opened, and her throat worked as if to scream! The man moved a
step; it was electric! Biddy started to her feet, and with a hollow
voice cried "Murder!" The ruffian with a curse darted at her
throat, and, in a hissing whisper between his teeth, cried, "Quiet, you
hag, or I'll settle you!" Biddy, old and feeble as she was, fastened
with both hands upon his, and struggled in his grip. The mask fell
from his face, and with starting eyes she looked at what seemed to
scorch them, uttered a choking scream, and—Let us draw the curtain.
The next morning speculation was busy that at so late an hour the
shutters of Mrs. Tibs's house remained unopened; she was an early
riser, and now 'twas noon; their knocking obtaining no answer, the
door was forced; and in the back room they found Biddy Tibs upon
the ground, dead, with a handkerchief knotted round her throat.
The small cupboard in the recess was thrown wide open, and her
drawers forced; and it was soon spread over the town that Biddy Tibs
A few weeks had passed, and anxious and expectant thousands
were seen moving in a huge mass on the road to Tyburn. A man
was to be hanged! And, as the people have so little recreation, of
course the roads were thronged with delighted crowds, all hastening
to the "gallows-tree." Women yelled their execrations at the head
of the pale and shaking culprit, for he had murdered one of their own
sex; and clapped and shouted as the cart drew from under his clinging
feet. Men, "as it was only for a woman," "thought hanging too
bad," and merely hooted, groaned, and hissed. Indeed, so popular
was the excitement, that ladies—real ones, for they paid guineas for
a sight on a waggon,—waved their handkerchief, and wondered such
wretches were suffered to exist.
As the last struggle of the swinging corpse left him stiff and dead,
a half-clothed and haggard woman asked, in a hoarse and shaking
voice, the name of the murderer.
"What, that 'ere?" was the reply, and a finger pointed to the
stripling figure of the hanging man; "he as murdered his aunt?—why
Slashing Bill, alias Teg Dyke."
A scream—a wild and shrieking scream rang through the air, and
Laura dropt senseless.
The bulk of Mrs. Tibs's property came to her niece, but disease
had left her scarce a shadow of herself. Her eyes looked leaden!
Want, sorrow, and dissipation had writ their blight upon her, and, at
the end of six months,—an apothecary having been frequent in his
visits,—poor Laura was no more!
How different had been the fate of Biddy Tibs had she lent her
brother Dick the score of pounds! Teg would have been an honest
tradesman like himself, Laura a tradesman's wife, Biddy had lived
for years, and the pillow of her death-bed been smoothed by the
hands of loving friends. But, as it was, her brother died from want;
Biddy fell, strangled by her nephew's hand. He had been seen
in a taproom, where the wealth of the old woman who lived at the
wooden house was talked of; part was traced to him; his companion
confessed; and Teg died a felon's death; Laura, from the effects
of want and dissipation!
Biddy's property was the subject of a law-suit between two of
her distant relations, which, to the best of our knowledge, remains
unsettled to this day!
In a village churchyard in the neighbourhood of London the grass
grows rank about a tombstone which is still pointed at as the grave
of "Biddy Tibs, who cared for nobody!"