"Wot?"At three o'clock the poll stood at two hundred and twelve and eighty-three. Then came the close—Captain MacKinnon elected by a majority of sixty-nine.Chapter 6—sang the sailor sentimentally. His arm crept up from her waist to her shoulder and lay heavy there. They strolled on along the narrow path, and the darkness stole down on them from the Moor, wrapping them softly together. They told each other their names—his was Joe Dansay, and he was a sailorman of Rye, who had been on many voyages to South America and the Coral Seas. He looked about twenty-five, though he was tanned and weather-beaten all over. His eyes were dark and foreign-looking, so was his hair. His mouth was a trifle too wide, his nose short and stubborn. 新加坡幸运28 The second piece of land had thriven better than the first. The hops were sturdy and promising beside the brook, and on the higher grounds the new pastures fattened. Reuben had decided to dig up a couple of his old grass meadows and prepare them for grain-sowing in the autumn. The soil was good, and it was only his father's want of enterprise which had kept so much of Odiam as mere grazing land. As for the cows, there was ample provision for them on the new pastures, which Boarzell would continue to yield, even if it refused oats—"But I'll have oats there some day, I reckon," said Reuben, "oats, and barley, and maybe wheat."The flying sparks had soon done their work. Fires sprang up at a distance from the ricks, sometimes in two places at once. Everyone worked desperately, but the water supply was slow, and though occasionally these sporadic fires were put out, generally they burned fiercely. Wisps of blazing hay began to fly about the yard, lodging in roofs and crannies. By the time the fire engine arrived from Rye, the whole place was alight except the dwelling-house and the oasts. Pete remembered hearing that a new parson was coming to the local Methodists, but nothing had led him to expect such thrilling developments.Reuben was out of the house bare-headed, and running across the yard to the Totease meadows. He soon met a little knot of farm-hands coming towards him, with three rather guilty-looking young men.Whether Reuben would have succeeded or not is uncertain, for he was never put to the proof. The next day Albert was feverish and delirious, and the doctor had to be sent for. He cheerfully gave the eldest Backfield three months to live—his lungs were in a dreadful state, one completely gone, the other partly so. He[Pg 364] had caught a chill, too, walking in the dark and cold. There could be no thought of moving him."I know you have, and I promise you nothing of this kind shall ever happen again."Odiam, after superhuman efforts, was looking up again. Years of steady work and strenuous economy had restored it to something like its former greatness. Reuben was no longer hampered by an extravagant wife, and he also had the advantage of a clear field. For at last Grandturzel had given up the battle. Realf and Tilly were now the parents of four healthy, growing, hungry children, and had come to the conclusion that domestic happiness was better than agricultural triumph. They were contented with their position on a farm of considerable importance and fair prosperity. They took no risks, but lived happily with each other and their children, satisfied that they could comfortably rear and educate their little family, and leave it an inheritance which, if not dazzling, was not to be despised. "Well, it wasn't to be expected as you'd recognise me. You were only little boys, and I've changed a bit. Maybe I shouldn't have spoken to you—got no decent feelings, some people would say; but I justabout couldn't help it. I heard you call each other David and Bill, and talk about Odiam and that, so I'd have known[Pg 402] you even if you hadn't been the dead spit of your father."Pete scarcely knew what to do. He had become used to his brother's gradual disintegration, but this utter collapse was terrifying. He offered his own ministrations.Besides, while she laughed and babbled like a child, her eyes continually rose towards his with a woman's calculated boldness. They spoke something quite different from her lips—the combination was maddening; and those lips, too, in their rare silences, were so unlike the words they uttered that he scarcely knew whether he wanted most to silence them completely or never let them be silent."You've heard?" "Well, I'm justabout ashamed of you, and I w?an't have anything to do with it.""Aren't five boys enough for you?""Would you believe it, he has a hundred sheep—and a man working under him—and money coming in quite easy now. It wur hard at first, Bessie says, and[Pg 335] he wur in tedious heart over it all, but he pulled through his bad times, and now he's doing valiant."Reuben said nothing: 新加坡幸运28 Now, however, having vital interests at stake, Reuben became an absorbed and truculent Conservative. He never called in at the Cocks without haranguing the company on the benefits of the wheat-tax, and cursing Cobden and Bright. On the occasion of the '42 election, he abandoned important obstetric duties in the cow-stable to Beatup, and rode into Rye to record his vote for the unsuccessful Tory candidate. The neighbourhood was of Whig tendencies, spoon-fed from the Manor, but the Backfields had never submitted to Bardon politics; and now even the fact that the Squire held Reuben's land of promise, failed to influence him.Meridiana's low sing-song continued:The daughter must be the girl who was talking to him now. She sat on a little stool by the fire, and had brought out some sewing. "And Boarzell's wicked tedious stuff," put in Harry; "naun'll grow there but gorse.""You see, I d?an't know one tune from another, so I can't do it myself. You might git him to play one or two things over to you, Naomi, and find out what he remembers." Chapter 6The gipsies always camped on the flanks of the Fair, which they looked on with greater detachment than the gaujos who crowded into its heart, either selling or buying, doing or being done. Just within the semicircle of their earth-coloured tents were the caravans of the showmen, gaudily painted, with seedy horses at tether, very different from the Romany gris. Then came the booths, stalls piled with sweets in an interesting state of preservation, trays of neck and shoulder ribbons, tinsel cords, tin lockets with glass stones, all fairings, to be bought out of the hard-won wages of husbandry in love. Then there was the panorama, creaking and torn in places, but still giving a realistic picture of the crowning of King William; there was the merry-go-round, trundled noisily by two sweating cart-horses; there was the cocoa-nut shy, and the fighting booth, in the doorway of which half-breed Buck Washington loved to stand and display his hairy chest between the folds of his dressing-gown; and there was the shooting-gallery, where one could pot at the cardboard effigies of one's hates, Lord Brougham who had robbed the poor working man of his parish relief, or Boney, still a blood-curdler to those who had seen the building of the Martello towers.At last the crowd began to move. The band had crushed through to the front of it, and was braying Rule Britannia up Playden Hill; then came the waggons, then the stout champions of freedom, singing at the pitch of their lungs:Their eyes met over the flames, then Robert remembered the need for keeping up appearances, and said he wanted his fortune told. He could scarcely wait while Meridiana muttered about a fair young lady and[Pg 168] a heap of money coming to him in a year or two. Bessie slipped round the brazier and stood beside him, their hands impudently locked, each finger of the boy's clinging round a finger of the girl's. Unfortunately Harry's ideas of work were fantastic, and he was, besides, hindered by his blindness. Any use he could be put to was more than balanced by the number of things he broke. His madness had of late developed both a terrible and an irritating side. He was sometimes consumed by the idea that the house was burning, and had on one or two occasions scared the family by jumping out of bed in the middle of the night and running about the passages shouting—"The house is afire! the house is afire! Oh, God save us all!" After he had done this once or twice, young Piper was made to sleep in his room, but even so he was often visited by his terrors during the day, and would interrupt work or meals with shrieks of—"The house is afire! Oh, wot shall we do! The house is afire, and the children are burning.""Yes I am. I'll go down and talk to him at the bend, and you can creep along and watch us through the hedge; and I'll shut my eyes and maybe part my lips, and he'll kiss me, you see if he don't." 新加坡幸运28 "Well, Reuben, I'm glad to see you." However, next Sunday he astonished his family by saying he would accompany them to church. Hitherto Reuben's churchmanship had been entirely political, he had hardly ever been inside Peasmarsh church since his marriage, except for the christenings of his children—though he considered himself one of the pillars of the Establishment. His family were exceedingly suspicious of this change of heart, and the girls whispered guiltily together. "He's found out," said Caro, and Tilly sighed.Albert saw the heap of scribbled paper on the table, and blenched.He had learned one sound lesson, which was the superfluousness of women in the scheme of life. From henceforward he was "shut of" them. Long ago he had denied himself women in their more casual aspect, using them entirely for practical purposes, but now he realised that women no longer had any practical purpose as far as he was concerned. The usefulness of woman was grossly overrated. It is true that she produced offspring, but he thought irritably that Providence might have found some more satisfactory way of perpetuating the human race. Everything a woman did was bound to go wrong somehow. She was nothing but a parasite and an incubus, a blood-sucking triviality, an expense and a snare. So he tore woman out of his life as he tore up the gorse on Boarzell.Towards evening, however, a new alarm stirred him a little. He remembered Bardon's coat, which he had brought back with him to Odiam. If he did not take it over to Flightshot, the young Squire might call for it at Eggs Hole. Robert was most anxious that he should not meet Bessie again; he could not forget the admiration in his eyes, and was consumed with fear and jealousy lest he should try to take his treasure from him, or frighten or hurt her in any way. It is true that Bardon had a blameless record, and also a most shy and[Pg 156] fastidious disposition, but Robert was no psychologist. And if anyone had said that the Squire's gaze had merely been one of tolerant approval of a healthy country-wench, and that he would not have taken the peerless Bessie as a gift, and rather pitied the man who could see anything to love in that bursting figure and broad yokelish face—then Robert would not only have disbelieved him, but fought him into the bargain.Emilee!