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KEP 2OEE S| “ALLS WELL.” ' CHAPTER L FRIENDS AND NEIGHBOURS. IVE you good-morrow, neighbour! Whither away with that great fardel,! prithee ?” “Truly, Mistress, home to Staplehurst, and the fardel holdeth broadcloth for my lads’ new jerkins.” The speakers were two women, both on the younger side of middle age, who met on the road between Staplehurst and Cranbrook, the former coming to- wards Cranbrook and the latter from it. They were in the midst of that rich and beautiful tract of country known as the Weald of Kent, once the eastern part of the great Andredes Weald, a vast forest which in Saxon days stretched from Kent to the border of Hampshire. There was still, in 1556, much of the forest about the Weald, and even yet it is a well- 1 Bundle. 10 ALL'S WELL. wooded part of the country, the oak being its principal tree, though the beech sometimes grows to an enormous size. Trees of the Weald were sent to Rome for the building of St. Peter’s. “ And how go matters with you, neighbour?” asked the first speaker, whose name was Alice Benden. “Well, none so ill,” was the reply. “My master’s in full work, and we've three of our Iads at the cloth- works. We're none so bad off as some.” “T marvel how it shall go with Sens Bradbridge, poor soul! She'll be bad off enough, or I err greatly.” “Why, how so, trow? I’ve not heard what ails her.” “Dear heart! then you know not poor Benedict is departed ?” “Eh, you never mean it!” exclaimed the bundle- bearer, evidently shocked. ‘Why, I reckoned he'd taken a fine turn toward recovery. Well, be sure! Ay, poor Sens, I’m sorry for her.” “Two little maids, neither old enough to earn a penny, and she a stranger in the town, pretty nigh, with never a ’quaintance saving them near about her, and I guess very few pennies in her purse. Ay, ’tis a sad look-out for Sens, poor heart.” “Trust me, I'll look in on her, and see what I may do, so soon as I’ve borne this fardel home. Good lack! but the burying charges ‘Il come heavy on her! and I doubt she’s saved nought, as you say, Benedict being sick so long.” “T scarce think there’s much can be done,” said Alice, as she moved forward; ‘‘I was in there of early morrow, and Barbara Final, she took the maids home FRIENDS AND NEIGHBOURS. x with her. But a kindly word’s not like to come amiss. Here’s Emmet! Wilson at hand: she'll bear you company home, for I have ado in the town. Good- morrow, Collet.” “Well, good-morrow, Mistress Benden. I'll rest my fardel a bit on the stile while Emmet comes up.” And, lifting her heavy bundle on the stile, Collet Pardue wiped her heated face with one end of her mantle—there were no shawls in those days—and waited for Emmet Wilson to come up. Emmet was an older woman than either Alice or Collet, being nearly fifty years of age. She too carried a bundle, though not of so formidable a size. Both had been to Cranbrook, then the centre of the cloth- working industry, and its home long before the days of machinery. There were woven the solid grey broad- cloths which gave to the men of the Weald the title of “the Grey-Coats of Kent.” From all the villages round about, the factory-hands were recruited. The old factories had stood from the days when Edward III. and his Flemish Queen brought over the weavers of the Netherlands to improve the English manufactures ; and some of them stand yet, turned into ancient re- sidences for the country squires who had large stakes in them in the old days, or peeping out here and there in the principal streets of the town, in the form of old gables and other antique adornments. “Well, Collet! You've a brave fardel yonder!” “Y’ve six lads and two lasses, neighbour,” said 1 Emmet is a very old variation of Emma, and sometimes spelt Emmot; Sens is a corruption of Sancha, naturalised among us in the thirteenth century; and Collet or Colette, the diminutive of Nichola, a common and favourite name in the Middle Ages.