Lob Lie-By-The-Fire—the Lubber-fiend, as Milton calls him—is a rough kind of Brownie or House Elf, supposed to haunt some north-country homesteads, where he does the work of the farm labourers, for no grander wages than
“—to earn his cream bowl duly set.”
Not that he is insensible of the pleasures of rest, for
“—When, in one night, ere glimpse of morn, His shadowy flail hath threshed the corn That ten day-labourers could not end, Then lies him down the Lubber-fiend, And, stretched out all the chimney’s length, Basks at the fire his hairy strength.”
It was said that a Lob Lie-by-the-fire once haunted the little old Hall at Lingborough. It was an old stone house on the Borders, and seemed to have got its tints from the grey skies that hung above it. It was cold-looking without, but cosy within, “like a north-country heart,” said Miss Kitty, who was a woman of sentiment, and kept a commonplace book.
It was long before Miss Kitty’s time that Lob Lie-by-the-fire first came to Lingborough. Why and whence he came is not recorded, nor when and wherefore he withdrew his valuable help, which, as wages rose, and prices rose also, would have been more welcome than ever.
This tale professes not to record more of him than comes within the memory of man.
Whether (as Fletcher says) he were the son of a witch, if curds and cream won his heart, and new clothes put an end to his labours, it does not pretend to tell. His history is less known than that of any other sprite. It may be embodied in some oral tradition that shall one day be found; but as yet the mists of forgetfulness hide it from the storyteller of to-day as deeply as the sea fogs are wont to lie between Lingborough and the adjacent coast.
The little old ladies of Lingborough were heiresses.
Not, mind you, in the sense of being the children of some mushroom millionnaire, with more money than manners, and (as Miss Betty had seen with her own eyes, on the daughter of a manufacturer who shall be nameless) dresses so fine in quality and be-furbelowed in construction as to cost a good quarter’s income (of the little old ladies), but trailed in the dirt from “beggarly extravagance,” or kicked out behind at every step by feet which fortune (and a very large fortune, too) had never taught to walk properly.
“And how should she know how to walk?” said Miss Betty. “Her mother can’t have taught her, poor body! that ran through the streets of Leith, with a creel on her back, as a lassie; and got out of her coach (lined with satin, you mind, sister Kitty?) to her dying day, with a bounce, all in a heap, her dress caught, and her stockings exposed (among ourselves, ladies!) like some good wife that’s afraid to be late for the market. Aye, aye! Malcolm Midden—good man!—made a fine pocket of silver in a dirty trade, but his women’ll jerk, and toss, and bounce, and fuss, and fluster for a generation or two yet, for all the silks and satins he can buy ’em.”