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      Chapter 16"You'd better ask somebody else."

      "Um," said Reuben.

      That summer Naomi realised that she was going to have another child. She was sorry, for her maternal instincts were satisfied for the present, and she had begun to value her new-returned health. It would be hard to have to go back to bondage again.

      "No; he received his freedom from my father when a boy for some juvenile serviceI hardly remember what. Yet I shall never forget the look of the varletas if it mattered to such as he whether they were free or not! He stared for an instant at my fatherthe tears trembling in his eyes, and all the blood in his body, I verily believe, reddening his face, and he looked as if he would have said something; but my father and I did not care to listen, and we turned away. As for the land he has now received, I promised it him on the field of battle, and I could not retract my word."

      She sat down and held her feet to the brazier. He noticed that her shoes were pulped with wet, and the water was pouring off her skirts to the floor. He did not dare speak, and she evidently did not want to. He felt the colour mounting to his face; he knew that he was dirty and unkempt, for he had been hours in the huthis hands were grimed from the brazier, and he wore an old crumpled slop. She probably despised him.

      "I don't ask for that to-nightall I ask is food and shelter, same as you'd give to a dog."

      "Nay," said Wells, "you know I am slipping my cable, and you shouldn't grudge a parting salute; but, however, don't stand aloofI give you the word of a sailorI cannot say of an honest one, but that's nothingone man's word is as good as another's if he means to keep it, and so I give you my word that I will not offend again, and now give me your hand, and I will trust my secret to a sinless maiden.""Of course I know the Fair has no legal title to this ground, but one must respect public feeling. I will sell you the forty acres adjoining the crest with pleasure, Mr. Backfield, they are no use to me, and you certainly seem to do wonders with the land when you get itbut[Pg 396] the Place itself must be preserved for the people. I'm sure you understand."


      "Stand aside, ye graceless carles! Shame to ye, cursed cravens, to serve a christian priest like an infidel! Stand back, or, by St. Nicholas! you will never die on your beds!" dealing sturdy blows as he spoke, and pressing forward to a postern beside the principal gate which was not many paces from the keep.


      The day would come when Boarzell would no longer drench the night with perfume, when the gorse would be torn out of its hide to make room for the scentless grain. Then Reuben would no longer lean out of his window and dream of it, for dreams, like the peach-scent of the gorse, would go when the corn came. But those days were not yet.


      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.