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It was not likely that the fight would be a long one, for both combatants were already winded. Realf, moreover, was bleeding from the nose, and Reuben's left eye was swollen. Once he caught a hit flush on the mouth which cut his nether lip in two, and, owing to his bad footwork, brought him down. But he was winning all the same."When did you find him?"But the disciple of Anne Bardon could aspire to be master among other men. Richard began to startle and amuse his family by strange new ways. He took to washing his neck every morning, and neatly combed his hair. He cut up an old shirt into pocket-handkerchiefs. He began to model his speech on Miss Bardon's—clipping it, and purging it ridiculously. Reuben would roar with laughter. pc蛋蛋公众号群 "He's certainly picturesque—and really there's a good deal of truth in what he says about having got the better of Nature. Thirty years ago I'd have sworn he could never have done it. But it's my firm conviction that he has—and made a good job of it too. He's fought like the devil, he's been hard on every man and himself into the bargain, he's worked like a slave, and never given in. The result is that he's done what I'd have thought no man could possibly do. It's really rather splendid of him.""Hir me duval!" said Meridiana to herself, "but they've forgotten the poor person's child."Besides, she was lost in the crowd which jigged and clumped around her, not even daunted by the unfamiliar waltz that the hurdy-gurdy struck up next. Nobody, except fanatics, bothered about steps, so one could dance to any tune."Ben, don't drive me away. I've been true to you, indeed I have, and Handshut's going to-morrow. Let me in—please let me in. I swear I've been true.""Yes—Odiam!" he continued, clenching his fists—"that blasted farm of yourn wot's the curse of us all. Here we're made to work, and never given a penny fur[Pg 189] our labour—we're treated worse than the lowest farm-hands, like dogs, we are. Robert stole money to git away, and can you wonder that when I see my chance I should t?ake it. I'm no Radical—I d?an't care one way or t'other—but when the Radicals offered me money to write verses fur 'em, I wurn't going to say 'no.' They promised to m?ake my fortun, and save me from you and your old farm, which I wish was in hell.""If I could only see a parson," sobbed Albert at last. "He's had some punishment," said Pete when they were alone. He inspected the tramp, now feebly moaning, with the air of a connoisseur. "I'm hemmed if I ever saw a purtier knock-out."The smoke clouds were lifting, and now everyone could see a smouldering object that lay close to the hole, among bits of wood and stone."Well, if that's wot you think, the sooner you find out that you can help loving the better. Did I ever hear such weak womanish slop! Help loving? You'll help it before you're many days older. Meantime you kip away from that girl, and all them hemmed choir-singings which are the ruin of young people.""The Lord's lost——!" cried his father angrily. "You t?ake off them blacks, and git to work lik a human being."Suddenly Backfield's fist crashed into Realf's body, full on the mark. The wind rushed out of him as out of a bellows, and he doubled up like a screen. This time he made no effort to rise; he lay motionless, one arm thrown out stiff and jointless as a bough, while a little blood-flecked foam oozed from between his teeth. "Oh, certainly, certainly. You surely wouldn't think of doing that, Backfield. I promise you the full value of the cow.""Most likely.""Either you fetch him here or I send fur the police." First of all he had to see Bessie. He could not send her a letter, for she could not read. He must somehow manage to go over to Eggs Hole. He would not tell her how he had come by the ten pounds. A pang went into his heart like a thorn as he realised this, but he felt that if she knew she might refuse to go away with him. He would marry her first, and confess to her afterwards. Perhaps some day they might be able to return the money—meantime he would say that a friend had lent it to him. The thought of this, his first lie to her, hurt him more than the actual theft."And thirty year older nor she, besides."Reuben still dreamed of that Fair-place, and occasionally schemed as well; but everything short of the death of the Squire—and his son—seemed useless. However, he now had the rest of Boarzell in such a state of cultivation that he sometimes found it possible to forget the land that was still unconquered. That year he bought a hay-elevator and a steam-reaper. The latter was the first in the neighbourhood—never very go-ahead in agricultural matters—and quite a crowd collected when it started work in the Glotten Hide, to watch it mow down the grain, gather it into bundles, and crown the miracle by tying these just as neatly as, and much more quickly than, a man.He was dismayed by the lack of local enthusiasm. He dug up one or two of his own pastures and planted wheat; he even sacrificed ten acres of his precious hops,[Pg 410] but nobody seemed inclined to follow his example. The neighbourhood was ornately patriotic, flags flew from the oast-houses at Socknersh, union Jacks washed to delicate pastel shades by the chastening rain—while the Standard misleadingly proclaimed that the Royal Family was in residence at Burntbarns. On Odiam the boys sang: pc蛋蛋公众号群 "Not at all. They say as sometimes blind folk are unaccountable good at music.""O why when we loved like the swallows in April,The lad of Seth's House prays for comfort and pity— "Now, you silly liddle thing, wot are you crying for? Mayn't I have a joke?"Chapter 7"Oh, w?an't I!" and Reuben showed his strong white teeth. He was more stoutly resolved than ever that the mob of small farmers and incompetents should not gape at his misfortunes. So he hid under a highly repulsive combination of callousness and swagger his grief for his sons' defection, his rage and shame at Tilly's marriage, and his growing anxiety about Odiam. That summer had been terrible—a long drought had been followed too late by thundery rains. His harvest had been[Pg 236] parched and scrappy, most of the roots shedding their seed before reaping; the green-fly had spoiled several acres of hops, which otherwise would have been the one bright patch in the season; his apples and pears had been eaten by wasps; and then a few untimely showers had beaten down two fields of barley yet unreaped and his only decent crop of aftermath hay.It was not likely that the fight would be a long one, for both combatants were already winded. Realf, moreover, was bleeding from the nose, and Reuben's left eye was swollen. Once he caught a hit flush on the mouth which cut his nether lip in two, and, owing to his bad footwork, brought him down. But he was winning all the same. Chapter 17 pc蛋蛋公众号群 "Oh, Joe—d?an't let them find me. I can't lose you—I w?an't lose you—I love you so."She was shocked at his white twitching face and bloodshot eyes; for the first time since she had known him, Reuben came to her bereft of that triumphant manhood which had made him so splendid to watch in his struggles. "No, no—I w?an't have you go wearing yourself out. D?an't let's hear no more about it.""Because it wur meant so. If we'd bin meant fur masters d'you think we'd have bin made so liddle and dentical like?"That same evening, before her husband was back, a letter came for Rose. It was from Benjamin at Rye, announcing that he was sailing that night in the Rother Lady for Las Palmas. He was sick of the farm, and could not stand it any longer. Would Rose tell his father?Another habit of his, less alarming, but far more annoying, was to repeat some chance word or sentence[Pg 194] over and over again for hours. If his mother said "Take these plates into the kitchen, Harry," he would spend the rest of the day murmuring, "Take these plates into the kitchen, Harry," till those about him were driven nearly as mad as he.