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Title: Sussex Gorse - The Story of a Fight
Author: Kaye-Smith, Sheila
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Sussex Gorse - The Story of a Fight" ***

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SUSSEX GORSE



_BY THE SAME AUTHOR_


THE TRAMPING METHODIST
STARBRACE
SPELL LAND
ISLE OF THORNS
THREE AGAINST THE WORLD


SAMUEL RICHARDSON


WILLOW'S FORGE AND OTHER POEMS



SUSSEX GORSE

THE STORY OF A FIGHT

BY

SHEILA KAYE-SMITH

[Illustration: Decoration]

NEW YORK
ALFRED A. KNOPF
MCMXVI



CONTENTS

                                        PAGE
PROLOGUE. THE CHALLENGE                    1

BOOK I    THE BEGINNING OF THE FIGHT      22

BOOK II   THE WOMAN'S PART                78

BOOK III  THE ELDER CHILDREN             120

BOOK IV   TREACHERIES                    192

BOOK V    ALMOST UNDER                   243

BOOK VI   STRUGGLING UP                  331

BOOK VII  THE END IN SIGHT               382

BOOK VIII THE VICTORY                    432



SUSSEX GORSE



PROLOGUE

THE CHALLENGE


§ 1.

Boarzell Fair had been held every year on Boarzell Moor for as long as
the oldest in Peasmarsh could remember. The last Thursday in October was
the date, just when the woods were crumpling into brown, and fogs
blurred the wavy sunsets.

The Moor was on the eastern edge of the parish, five miles from Rye.
Heaving suddenly swart out of the green water-meadows by Socknersh, it
piled itself towards the sunrise, dipping to Leasan House. It was
hummocked and tussocked with coarse grass--here and there a spread of
heather, growing, like all southern heather, almost arboreally. In
places the naked soil gaped in sores made by coney-warrens or uprooted
bushes. Stones and roots, sharn, shards, and lumps of marl, mixed
themselves into the wealden clay, which oozed in red streaks of
potential fruitfulness through their sterility.

The crest of Boarzell was marked by a group of firs, very gaunt and
wind-bitten, rising out of a mass of gorse, as the plumes of some savage
chief might nod mangily above his fillet. When the gorse was in bloom,
one caught the flare of it from the Kentish hills, or away westward from
Brightling and Dallington. This day in the October of 1835, the
flowerets were either nipped or scattered, or hidden by the cloths the
gipsies had spread to dry on the bushes.

The 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.

To-day business was bad. Here and there a ploughboy pulled up his slop
and fumbled for pennies in his corduroys, but for the most part the
stalls were deserted, even in certain cases by their holders. This was
not because the Fair was empty. On the contrary, it was much more
crowded than usual; but the crowd clotted into groups, all discussing
the same thing--the Inclosure.

It was some months since Sir John Bardon, Squire of the Manor of
Flightshot, had taken advantage of the Inclosure Act and manoeuvred a
bill for the inclosure of Boarzell. Since then there had been visits of
commissioners, roamings of surveyors, deliveries of schedules, strange
talk of turbary and estovers, fire-bote and house-bote. The
neighbourhood was troubled, perplexed. Then perplexity condensed into
indignation when all that Inclosure stood for became known--no more
pasturage for the cow or goat which meant all the difference between
wheaten and oaten bread, no more wood-gleanings for fire or wind-beaten
roof, no more of the tussocky grass for fodder, or of gorse to toughen
palings against escaping fowls.

Then, when Fair-time came, people began to mutter "no more Fair." It was
as hard to imagine Boarzell without the Fair as without its plume of
firs. The Squire gave out his intention of tolerating the Fair, as long
as it did not straggle from the crest. But this failed to soothe the
indignant and sore, for it was humbling to have the Fair as a matter of
toleration. Also at that time there was talk of fences. All the Moor had
been mapped out, the claims considered, the road repaired, and now
nothing more was to be done except to put up the fences which would
definitely seal Boarzell as Flightshot's own.

There was naturally a party who championed Manor rights--Sir John Bardon
was a good landlord, and would have been better had his budget cramped
him less. Now he would sell Boarzell in building plots, and his tenants
would reap the benefit. He had not inclosed the land for himself. More
houses would mean more trade for shops and farms, Peasmarsh might flower
into a country town....

But the majority was anti-Bardon. There were grumblings about
allotments, especially from copyholders. The commissioners had been
off-hand in their treatment of claims, ignoring everyone except
freeholders, of whom there were only two.

"They say as how Realf's not done badly fur himself at Grandturzel,"
said old Vennal of Burntbarns; "forty acres they gave him, and all bush
and timber rights."

"And what about Odiam?" asked Ticehurst of Hole. "I haven't seen
Backfield these three weeks, but there's a tale going räound as how the
commissioners have bin tedious sharp, and done him out of everything he
hoped to get--surelye!"

"And him freehold!"

"Sixty acres."

"How did they do it?"

"Oh, it's just a tale that's going räound--says they found some lawyer's
mess in his title-deed. His father never thought of common rights when
he bought the land, and it seems as how they must be written down just
lik anything else.... But there's young Ben Backfield talking to
Coalbran. He'll tell us, I reckon."

They went over to a man and a lad, standing together by the gingerbread
stall.

"We was wondering wot yer fäather had got out o' them commissioners,
Ben," said Ticehurst.

Reuben Backfield scowled. His thick black brows scowled easily, but the
expression of his face was open and cheerful, would have been kindly
even, were it not for a certain ruthlessness of the lips. There was more
character in his face than is usual with a boy of fifteen--otherwise he
looked younger than his age, for though tall and well-knit, his limbs
had all the graceful immaturity and supple clumsiness one sees in the
limbs of calves and foals.

"Fäather äun't got naun--haven't you heard? He made his claim, and then
they asked to see the title-deeds, and it turned out as how he hadn't
got no common rights at all--leastways so the lawyers said."

"But he used to send the cows on, didn't he?"

"Yes--now and agäun--didn't know it wurn't right. Seems it 'ud have
been better if he'd sent 'em oftener; there's no understanding that
lawyer rubbidge. Now he mayn't täake so much as a blade of grass."

"Realf of Grandturzel has got his bit all safe."

Reuben spat.

"Yes--they couldn't pick any holes in his claim, or they would have, I
reckon. The Squire 'ud like every rood of Boarzell, though the Lard
knows wot he'll do wud it now he's got it."

"Your fäather must be in lamentable heart about all this, surelye."

The boy shrugged and frowned.

"He döan't care much. Fäather, he likes to be comfortable, and this
Inclosure wöan't make much difference to that. 'Täun't as if we wanted
the pasture badly, and Fäather he döan't care about land."

He dragged the last word a little slowly, and there was the faintest
hint of a catch in his voice.

"And your mother, and Harry?"

"They döan't care, nuther--it's only me."

"Lard, boy!--and why should you care if they döan't?"

Reuben did not speak, but a dull red crept over the swarthiness of his
cheeks, and he turned away.

He walked slowly, his hands in his pockets, to where the gable of the
booth jutted between him and his questioners. From here he could see the
slope of Boarzell, rolling slowly down to some red roofs and poplars.
These roofs and poplars were Odiam, the farm which his grandfather had
bought, which his father had tilled and fattened ... and now it was
humbled, robbed of its rights--and his father still went whistling to
the barn, because, though fifty acres had been withheld from him by a
quibble, he still had a bright fire, with a pretty wife and healthy boys
beside it.

Reuben's lip curled. He could not help despising his father for this
ambitionless content.

"We're no worser off than we wur before," Joseph Backfield had said a
day or two ago to his complaining boy--"we've our own meadows for the
cows--'täun't as if we were poor people."

"But, fäather, think wot we might have had--forty acres inclosed for us,
like they have at Grandturzel."

"'Might have--might have'--that döan't trouble me. It's wot I've got I
think about. And then, say we had it--wot 'ud you mäake out o'
Boarzell?--nasty mess o' marl and shards, no good to anyone as long as
thistles äun't fashionable eating."

"_I_ cud mäake something out of Boarzell."

At this his father burst into a huge fit of laughter, and Reuben walked
away.

But he knew he could do it. That morning he churned the soil with his
heel, and knew he could conquer it.... He could plant those
thistle-grounds with wheat.... Coward! his father was a coward if he
shrank from fighting Boarzell. The land could be tamed just as young
bulls could be tamed. By craft, by strength, by toughness man could
fight the nature of a waste as well as of a beast. Give him Boarzell,
and he would have his spade in its red back, just as he would have his
ring in a bull's nose....

But it was all hopeless. Most likely in future all that would remain
free to him of Boarzell would be this Fair ground, crowded once a year.
The rest would be built over--fat shop-keepers would grow fatter--oh,
durn it!

He dashed his hand over his eyes, and then swung round, turning back
towards the groups, lest he should become weak in solitude. Somehow the
character of the crowd had changed while he had been away. Angry murmurs
surged through it like waves, curses beat against one another, a rumour
blew like foam from mouth to mouth.

"They're putting up the fences--workmen from Tonbridge--fences down by
Socknersh."

"Drat 'em! durn 'em!"

"And why shudn't there be fences? What good did this old rubbidge-pläace
ever do anyone? Scarce a mouthful fur a goat. Now it'll be built on, and
there'll be money fur everybody."

"Money fur Bardon."

"Money fur us all. The Squire äun't no Tory grabber."

"Then wot dud he täake our land fur?"

"Wot wur the use of it?--save fur such as wanted a quiet pläace fur
their wenching."

"Put up yer fists!"

The fight came, the battering of each other by two men, seemingly
because of a private insult, really because they were representatives of
two hostile groups, panting to be at each other's throats. They fought
without science, staggering up and down, swinging arms like windmills,
grabbing tufts of hair. At last old Buck Washington the bruiser could
stand it no longer, and with a couple of clouts flung them apart, to
bump on the ground and sit goggling stupidly at each other through
trickles of blood.

That gave the crowd its freedom--hitherto the conflict had been squeezed
into two representatives, leaving some hundred men merely limp
spectators; but with the collapse of his proxy, each man felt the rage
in him boil up.

"Come, my lads, we'll pull down their hemmed fences!"

"Down wud the fences! down wud Bardon!"

"Stand by the Squire, men--we'll all gain by it."

"Shut the Common to wenchers!"

But the Anti-Inclosure party was the strongest--it swept along the
others as it roared down to Socknersh, brandishing sticks and stones and
bottles that had all appeared suddenly out of nowhere, shouting and
stumbling and rolling and thumping.... Reuben was carried with it,
conscious of very little save the smell of unwashed bodies and the
bursting rage in his heart.


§ 2.

The fences were being put up in the low grounds by Socknersh, a
leasehold farm on the fringe of the Manor estate. The fence-builders
were not local men, and had no idea of the ill-feeling in the
neighbourhood. Their first glimpse of it was when they saw a noisy black
crowd tilting down Boarzell towards them--nothing definite could be
gathered from its yells, for cries and counter-cries clashed together,
the result being a confused "Wah-wah-wah," accompanied by much
clattering of sticks and stones, thudding of feet and thumping of ribs.

When it came within ten yards of the fences, it doubted itself suddenly
after the manner of crowds. It stopped, surged back, and mumbled. "Down
with the fences!" shouted someone--"Long live the Squire!" shouted
someone else. Then there was a pause, almost a silence.

Suddenly a great hullish lad sprang forward, rushed up to one of the
fence-stakes, and flung it with a tangle of wire into the air.

"Down wud Bardon!"

The spell of doubt was broken. A dozen others sprang towards the
palings, a dozen more were after them to smite. The workmen swung their
tools. The fight began.

It was a real battle with defences and sallies. The supporters of the
Inclosure miraculously knotted together, and formed a guard for the
labourers, who with hammers ready alternately for nail or head, bent to
their work. They had no personal concern in the matter, but they
resented being meddled with.

The Squire's party was much the weakest in numbers, but luck had given
it the best weapons of that chance armament. Alce of Ellenwhorne had a
fine knobbed stick, worth a dozen of the enemy's, while Lewnes of
Coldblow had an excellent broken bottle. Young Elphee had been through
the bruiser-mill, and routed his assailants with successive upper-cuts.
The anti-Bardonites, on the other hand, were inclined to waste their
strength; they fought in a congested, rabblesome way; also they threw
their bottles, not realising that a bottle is much better as a club than
a missile. The result was that quite early in the conflict their
ammunition gave out, and they were reduced to sticks and fists.

This made the two parties fairly equal, and the tide of battle ebbed and
flowed. Now a bit of fence was put up, then it was torn down again; now
it looked as if the fence-builders were going to be swept off the Moor,
then it looked as if their posts were going to straggle up to Totease.

The Fair was quite deserted, the tenants of Socknersh and Totease
climbed to their windows. Someone fetched the constable from Peasmarsh,
but after surveying the battlefield from a distance he strategically
retired. At Flightshot Manor the Squire was troubled. The Inclosure of
Boarzell had been no piece of land-grabbing on his part, but a move for
the good of his estate. He had always wanted to improve his tenants'
condition, but had been thwarted by lack of means. He wondered if he
ought to give orders to stop the fence-building.

"Sir, that would be folly!" cried his son.

"But it seems that there's a regular riot going on--quite a number of
people have been hurt, and two ploughlands trodden up. Kadwell went
over, but says he can do nothing."

"Send to Rye, then. Let 'em swear in some special constables, and drive
the fellows off. But as for stopping the work--that would be to play
into their hands."

So the fight raged on, the Battle of Boarzell. Unfortunately it did not
rage on Boarzell itself, but on its fruitful fringe, where the great
ploughfields lapped up to the base of the Moor, taking the sunset on
their wet brown ridges. Poor Ginner's winter wheat was all pulped and
churned to ruin, and the same doom fell on Ditch's roots. Sometimes it
seemed as if the Squire's men would attain their object, for the
fence--very tottery and uncertain, it must be confessed--had wound a bit
of the way past Totease towards Odiam. Dusk had fallen, but the men
still worked, for their blood was up.

However, the Squire's party began to feel their lack of numbers; they
were growing tired, their arms swung less confidently, and then Lewnes'
bottle was broken right up at the neck, cutting his hand. He shouted
that he was bleeding to death, and frightened the others. Someone sent a
stone into Alce's eye. Then he too made a terrible fuss, threw down his
stick, and ran about bleeding among the workmen.

The ground, soft with autumn rains, was now one great mud broth, and the
men were daubed and spattered with it even to their hair. The attackers
pressed on the wavering ring--one of the fence-builders was hit, and
pitched down, taking a post and a whole trail of wire over with
him--about thirty yards of fence came down with the pull, and flopped
into the mud. The ring broke.

"Hop it, lads!" shouted a workman. Their protectors were gone, mixed
indescribably with their assailants. They must run, or they would be
lynched.

A hundred yards off a Totease barn-door gaped, and the workmen sprinted
for it. In the darkness they were able to reach it without losing more
than one of their number, who fell down and had the wit to pretend to be
dead. The crowd seethed after them, but the door was shut, and the heavy
bolts rattled behind it.

The barn was part of the farmhouse, and from one of the upper windows
Ditch, furious at having his roots messed up, made pantomime to the
effect that he would shoot any man who came further than the yard.

It was then for the first time that Reuben was frightened. Hitherto
there had been too much violence and confusion for him to feel
intensely, even rage. He had thrown stones, and had once been hit by a
stone--a funny dull sore pain on his shoulder, and then the feeling of
something sticky under his shirt. But he had never felt afraid, never
taken any initiative, just run and struggled and shouted with the rest.
Now he was frightened--it would be dreadful if the farmer fired into
that thick sweating mass in the midst of which he was jammed.

Then, just because he was afraid, he flung up his arm, and the stone he
had been grasping crashed into Ditch's window, sending the splintering
glass into the room. He had no thought of doing it, scarcely knew he had
done it--it was just because he was horribly frightened.

The next moment there was a bang, and Ditch's gun scattered duck-shot
into the crowd. Men yelled, fought, struggled, stumbled about with their
arms over their faces. For a moment nothing but panic moved them, but
the next rage took its place. A volley of stones answered the gun, which
being an old one and requiring careful loading, could not be brought
into action again for some minutes.

"Burn him down!--Burn him down!--the hemmed murderer!"

Then began a regular siege. Stones showered upon the farmhouse roof, the
shiver of broken glass tinkled through the dull roar of the attackers,
groans and screams answered the bursting bang of the shot-gun. Men began
to seize faggots from the wood-pile, and run with them towards the
house. Then some tore up a haystack, but the wind caught the hay and
blew it everywhere, flinging swathes and streamers of it into the
rioters' faces, giving them sudden armfuls of it, making their noses and
eyes smart with the dust and litter.

It was quite dark now. The hulk of Boarzell loomed black behind the
struggle, its fir crown standing out against a great wall of starless
sky. Then suddenly something began to blaze--no one seemed to know what,
for it was behind the crowd; but it roared and crackled, and sparks and
great burning strands flew out from it, threatening house and besiegers
alike with destruction.

They had piled the faggots against the door of the barn. The workmen
inside were tumbling about in the dark, half ignorant of what was going
on.

"Bring a light!" called someone. A boy dashed up with a handful of
flaming straw--it blew out of his hand and flared away over the roof,
scattering showers of sparks. A man yelled out that his shirt was
burning. "Bring a light!" someone called again. Then someone else
shouted--"The constables from Rye!"

The crowd ebbed back like a wave, carrying Reuben, now screaming and
terrified, towards where something unknown burned with horrible crackles
and roaring.

"The constables from Rye!"

The crowd was like a boa-constrictor, it seemed to fold itself round
him, smashing his ribs. He screamed, half suffocated. His forehead was
blistered with heat. Again the crowd constricted. A dizziness came this
time with the suffocation, and strange to say, as consciousness was
squeezed out of him like wind out of a bellows, he had one last visit of
that furious hate which had made him join the battle--hate of those who
had robbed his father of Boarzell, and hate of Boarzell itself, because
he would never be able to tame it as one tames a bull with a ring in its
nose.

He choked, and fell into the darkness.


§ 3.

His first sensation on returning to consciousness was of being jolted.
It was, like most half-realised experiences, on the boundary line
between sensation and emotion, an affair almost of the heart. Then
gradually it became more physical, the heart-pain separated itself from
the body-pain. His body was being jolted, his heart was just sick with
the dregs of hate.

Then he saw Orion hanging over him, very low in the windy sky, shaking
with frost. His eyes fixed themselves on the constellation, then
gradually he became aware of the sides of a cart, of the smell of straw,
of the movement of other bodies that sighed and stirred beside him. The
physical experience was now complete, and soon the emotional had shaped
itself. Memory came, rather sick. He remembered the fight, his terror,
the flaming straw, the crowd that constricted and crushed him like a
snake. His rage and hate rekindled, but this time without focus--he
hated just everyone and everything. He hated the wheels which jolted
him, his body because it was bruised, the other bodies round him, the
stars that danced above him, those unknown footsteps that tramped beside
him on the road.

Where was he? He raised himself on his elbow, and immediately a head
looked over the side of the cart.

"Wot's the matter wud you?" asked a gruff voice.

"I want to know where I'm going, surelye."

"You're going to Rye, that's where you're going, just fur a täaste of
the rope's end, you young varmint."

The tones were not unkindly, and Reuben plucked up courage.

"Is the fight over?"

"Surelye! It all fizzled out, soon as them beasts saw the constables.
Fifty speshul constables sworn in at Rye Town Hall, all of 'em wud
truncheons! You couldn't expect any rabble-scrabble to face 'em."

"Reckon that lot had just about crunched me up. I feel all stove in."

"And you'll feel stove in furder when the Crier's done wud you."

It was part of the Rye Town Crier's duties to flog the unruly youth of
the district. Reuben made a face--not that he minded being flogged, but
he felt badly bruised already. He fell back on the straw, and buried his
head in it. They were on the Playden road, near Bannister's Town, and he
would have time for a sleep before they came to Rye. Sleep helped things
wonderfully.

But the strange thing was that he could not sleep, and stranger still,
it was not the ache of his body that kept him awake, but the ache of his
heart. Reuben was used to curling up and going to sleep like a little
dog; only once had he lain awake at night, and that was with the
toothache. Now he had scarcely any pain; indeed, the dull bruised
feeling made him only more drowsy, but in his heart was something that
made him tumble and toss, just as the aching tooth had done, made him
want to snarl and bite. He rolled over and over in the straw, and was
wide awake when they came to Rye. Neither did he sleep at all in the
room where he and some other boys were locked for the night. The Battery
gaol was full of adult rioters, so the youthful element--only some
half-dozen captured--was shut up in the constable's house, where it
played marbles and twisted arms till daylight.

The other boys were much younger than Reuben, who thumped their heads to
let off some of his uncomfortable feelings. Indeed, there was talk of
putting him with the grown-up prisoners, till the magistrate realised
that juveniles were more easily disposed of. The scene at the
court-house was so hurried that he scarcely knew he had been tried till
the constable took him by the collar and threw him out of the dock. Then
came some dreary moments of waiting in a little stuffy, whitewashed
room, while the Town Crier dealt with the victims separately.

Reuben did not in the least mind being flogged--it was all in the day's
work--and showed scant sympathy for those fellow-criminals who cried for
their mothers. Most of the cramp and stiffness had worn off, and his
only anxiety was to have the thing over quickly, so that he could be
home in time for supper.

At one o'clock he was given some bread and cheese, which he devoured
ravenously; then he spent an hour in thinking of the sausages they
always had for supper at Odiam on Fridays. At two the constable fetched
him to his doom; he was grumbling and muttering to himself, and on
arriving at the execution chamber it turned out that he had had words
with the Town Crier, because the latter thought he had only six boys to
flog, so had put on his coat and was going off to the new sluice at
Scott's Float, meaning to get back comfortably in time for an oyster and
beer supper at the London Trader. Having seven boys to flog made all the
difference--he would be late, both at the sluice and the supper.

He took off his coat again, growling, and for the first time Reuben felt
shame. It was such a different matter, this, from being beaten by
somebody who was angry with one and with whom one was angry. He saw now
that a beating was one of the many things which are all right as long as
they are hot, but damnable when they are cold. He hunched his shoulders,
and felt his ears burn, and just the slightest stickiness on his
forehead.

One thing he had made up his mind to--he would not struggle or cry. Up
till now he had not cared much what he did in that way; if yelling had
relieved his feelings he had yelled, and never felt ashamed of it; but
to-day he realised that if he yelled he would be ashamed. So he drove
his teeth into his lower lip and fought through the next few minutes in
silence.

He kept his body motionless, but in his heart strange things were
moving. That hatred which had run through him like a knife just before
he lost consciousness in the battle of Boarzell, suddenly revived and
stabbed him again. It was no longer without focus, and it was no longer
without purpose. Boarzell ... the name seemed to dance before him in
letters of fire and blood. He was suffering for Boarzell--his father had
not been robbed, for his father did not care, but he, Reuben, had been
robbed--and he had fought for Boarzell on Boarzell, and now he was
bearing shame and pain for Boarzell. Somehow he had never till this day,
till this moment, been so irrevocably bound to the land he had played on
as a child, on which he had driven his father's cattle, which had broken
with its crest the sky he gazed on from his little bed. Boarzell was
his, and at the same time he hated Boarzell. For some strange reason he
hated it as much as those who had taken it from him and as those who
were punishing him because of it. He wanted to tame it, as a man tames a
bull, with a ring in its nose.

There, at the post, quivering with a pain he scarcely felt, Reuben swore
that he would tame and conquer Boarzell. The rage, the fight, the
degradation, the hatred of the last twelve hours should not be in vain.
In some way, as yet unplanned, Boarzell should one day be his--not only
the fifty acres the commissioners had tweaked from his father, but the
whole of it, even that mocking, nodding crest of firs. He would subdue
it; it should bear grain as meekly as the most fruitful field; it should
feed fat cattle; it should make the name of Odiam great, the greatest in
Sussex. It should be his, and the world should wonder.

He left the post with a great oath in his heart, and a thin trickle of
blood on his chin.


§ 4.

It was still early in the afternoon when Reuben set out homewards, but
he had a long way to go, and felt tired and bruised. The constable had
given him an apple, but as soon as he had munched up its sweetness, life
became once more grey. The resolve which for a few minutes had been like
a flame warming and lighting his heart, had now somehow become just an
ordinary fact of life, as drearily a part of his being as his teeth or
his stomach. One day he would own Boarzell Moor, subdue it, and make
himself great--but meantime his legs dragged and his back was sore.

All the adventure and excitement he had been through, with no sleep, and
eccentric feeding, combined to make him wretched and cast down. Once he
cried a little, crouching low under the hedge, and thoroughly ashamed of
himself.

However, things grew better after a time. The road broke away from the
fields, and free winds blew over it. On either side swelled a soft
common, not like Boarzell, but green and watery. It was grown with
bracken, and Reuben laughed to see the big buck rabbits loppetting
about, with a sudden scuttle and bob when he clapped his hands. Then a
nice grinning dog ran with him a mile of the way, suddenly going off on
a hunt near Starvecrow. Reuben came to Odiam aching with nothing worse
than hunger.

Odiam Farm was on the northern slope of Boarzell--sixty acres, mostly
grass, with a sprinkling of hops and grain. There was a fine plum
orchard, full of old gnarled trees, their branches trailing with the
weight of continued crops. The house itself was red and weather-stung as
an August pippin, with strange curves in its gable-ends, which had once
been kilns. It was one of those squat, thick, warm-tinted houses of
Sussex which have stood so long as to acquire a kind of naturalisation
into the vegetable kingdom--it was difficult to imagine it had ever been
built, it seemed so obviously a growth, one would think it had roots in
the soil like an oak or an apple tree.

Reuben opened the door, and the welcome, longed-for smell stole out to
him--smothering the rivalry of a clump of chrysanthemums, rotting in
dew.

"Sossiges," he whispered, and ran down the passage to the kitchen.

Here the sound of voices reminded him that he might have difficulties
with his family, but Reuben's attitude towards his family, unless it
forced itself directly into his life, was always a little aloof.

"Well, lad," said his father, "so you're back at last."

"You knew where I wur?"

"Lucky we dud--or we'd have bin in tedious heart about you, away all
night."

Reuben pulled up his chair to the table. His father sat at one end, and
at the other sat Mrs. Backfield; Harry was opposite Reuben.

"If only you wud be a good boy lik Harry," said his mother.

Reuben looked at Harry with detachment. He was not in the least jealous
of his position as favourite son, he had always accepted it as normal
and inevitable. His parents did not openly flaunt their preference, and
they were always very kind to Reuben--witness the gentleness with which
he was received to-day after his escapade--but one could not help seeing
that their attitude towards the elder boy was very different from what
they felt for the younger.

The reasons were obvious; Harry was essentially of a loving and
dependent nature, whereas Reuben seemed equally indifferent to caresses
or commands. He was not a bad son, but he never appeared to want
affection, and was always immersed in dark affairs of his own. Besides,
Harry was a beautiful boy. Though only a year younger than Reuben, in
the midst of the awkward age, his growing limbs quite lacked the
coltishness of his brother's. He was like Reuben, but with all the
little variations that make the difference between good and ordinary
looks. Just as he had Reuben's promising body without that transitory
uncouthness so natural to his years, so he had Reuben's face, more
softly chiselled, more expressive and full of fire. His brows were
lighter, his eyes larger, his hair less shiny and tough, growing in a
soft sweep from his forehead, with the faintest hint of a curl at his
ears. Neighbours spoke of him as "beautiful Harry." Reuben pondered him
occasionally--he would have liked to know his brother better, liked to
love him, but somehow could never quite manage it. In spite of his
clinging nature, there was something about Harry that was unhuman,
almost elfin. The father and mother did not seem to notice this, but
Reuben felt it, scarcely knowing how or why.

To-night Harry did not ask him any questions, he just sat dreamily
listening while Reuben poured out his story, with all the enthusiasms
and all the little reservations which were characteristic of him. Once
Harry put out his hand and stroked his mother's, once he smiled at his
father.

"Well, I shan't go scolding you, lad," said Joseph Backfield, "fur I
reckon you've bin punished enough. Though it wur unaccountable lucky you
dudn't git anything worse. I hear as how Pix and Hearsfield are to be
transported, and there'll be prison for some thirty more. Wot dud yer
want to go mixing up in them things fur?"

"I wur justabout mad."

"How, mad?"

"Mad that they shud shut up Boarzell and that Odiam shudn't have its
rights."

"Wot's Odiam to you?--It äun't yours, it's mine, and if I döan't care
about the land, why shud you go disgracing yourself and us all because
of it?"

"You ought to care, surelye!"

A dull brick-red had crept into the brown cheeks, and Reuben's brows had
nearly met over his nose.

"Ought to! Listen to that, mother. Dud you ever hear the like? And if I
cared, my lad, where wud you all be? Where wud be that plate o' sossiges
you're eating? It's just because I äun't a land-grabber lik so many I
cud näum that you and Harry sit scrunching here instead of working the
flesh off your böans, that your mother wears a muslin apron 'stead of a
sacking one, that you have good food to eat, and white bread, 'stead of
oaten. Wot's the use of hundreds of acres if you äun't comfortable at
höame? I've no ambitions, so I'm a happy man. I döan't want nothing I
haven't got, and so I haven't got nothing I döan't want. Surelye!"

Reuben was silent, his heart was full of disgust. Somehow those
delicious sausages stuck in his throat, but he was too young to push
away his plate and refuse to eat more of this token of his father's
apathy and Odiam's shame. He ate silently on, and as soon as he had
finished rose from table, leaving the room with a mumble about being
tired.

When he was half-way upstairs he heard his mother call him, asking him
if he would like her to bathe his shoulders. But he refused her almost
roughly, and bounded up to the attic under the crinkled eaves, which was
his own, his sanctuary--his land.

It was odd that his parents did not care. Now he came to think of it,
they did not seem to care about anything very much, except Harry. It
never struck him to think it was odd that he should care when they did
not.

He sat down by the window, and leaning his elbow on the sill, looked
out. It was still windy, and the sky was shredded over with cloud, lit
by the paleness of a hidden moon. In the kitchen, two flights below, a
fiddle sounded. It was Harry playing to his parents as he always played
in the evening, while they sat on either side of the fire, nodding,
smiling, half-asleep. Clods! Cowards! A sudden rage kindled in his heart
against those three, his father, his mother, and beautiful Harry, who
cared nothing about that for which he had suffered all things.

The crest of Boarzell was just visible against the luminous sky. There
was something sinister and challenging about those firs. The gorse round
their trunks seemed in that strange half-stormy, half-peaceful night to
throw off a faint glimmer of gold. The fiddle wept and sang into the
darkness, and outside the window two cherry trees scraped their boughs
together.

Reuben's head dropped on his arm, and he slept out of weariness. An hour
later the cramp of his shoulders woke him; the fiddle was silent, the
moon was gone, and the window framed a level blackness. With a little
moan he flung himself dressed on the bed.



BOOK I

THE BEGINNING OF THE FIGHT


§ 1.

It was five years later, in the February of 1840.

A winter sunset sparkled like cowslip wine on the wet roofs of Odiam. It
slipped between the curtains of the room where Reuben watched beside his
dead father, and made a golden pool in the dusk.

Joseph Backfield had been dead twelve hours. His wife had gone, worn out
with her grief, to rest on the narrow unaccustomed bed which had been
put up in the next room when he grew too ill to have her at his side.
Reuben knew that Harry was with her--Harry would be sitting at her head,
his arm under the pillow, ready for that miserable first waking, when
remembering and forgetting would be fused into one pain. Reuben knew
that they did not need him, that they had all they wanted in each
other--now, as during the nights and days of illness, when he had never
felt as if he had any real link with those three, his father and mother
and Harry.

This evening he sat very still beside the dead. Only once he drew down
the sheet from his father's face and gazed at the calm features, already
wearing that strange sculpt look which is the gift of death. The
peaceful lips, the folded hands, seemed part of an embracing
restfulness. Reuben's heart warmed with a love in which was little
grief. He thought of his father's life--calm, kindly, comfortable,
ambitionless. He had been happy; having wanted little he had attained
it and had died enjoying it.

Reuben recalled the last five years--they had been fat years. One by one
small comforts, small luxuries, had been added to the house, as the farm
throve modestly, fulfilling itself within the narrow boundaries its
master had appointed. And all the time that mocking furious crest of
Boarzell had broken the sky in the south--telling of beauty unseized,
might unconquered, pride untamed.

So now was it strange that clashing with his sorrow, and his regretful
love for one who, if he had never truly loved him, had always treated
him with generosity and kindness, there should be a soaring sense of
freedom and relief?--a consciousness of standing on the edge of a
boundless plain after years of confinement within walls? For Reuben was
master now. Odiam was his--and the future of Odiam. He could follow his
own will, he could take up that challenge which Boarzell Moor had flung
him five years ago, when he fought and was flogged because he loved the
red gaping clay between the gorse-stumps.

His plans of conquest were more definite now. He had been forming them
for five years, and he could not deny that during his father's illness
he had shaped them with a certain finality. The road was clear before
him, and to a slight extent fate had been propitious, keeping open a way
which might well have been blocked before he began to tread it. Reuben
had never been able to settle what he should do if the Squire's first
project were fulfilled and the Moor sold in building plots. House
property entered with difficulty into his imagination, and he coveted
only Boarzell virgin of tool and brick. Luckily for him, Bardon's scheme
had completely failed. The position of the common was bad for houses,
windy and exposed in days when the deepest hollows were the most
eligible building sites; the neighbourhood was both unfashionable and
unfruitful, therefore not likely to attract either people of means or
people without them. Also there were grave difficulties about a water
supply. So Boarzell remained desolate, except for the yearly jostle of
the Fair, and rumour said that Bardon would be only too glad to sell it
or any piece of it to whoever would buy.

If Sir Peter had been alive he would probably have given the common back
to the people, but Sir Miles was more far-sighted, also of prouder
stuff. Such a policy would give the impression of weakness, and there
was always a chance of selling the land piecemeal. Reuben's ambition was
to buy a few acres at the end of that year, letting the Squire know of
his plan to buy more--this would encourage him to keep Boarzell
inclosed, and would act as a check on any weak generosity.

There was no reason why this ambition should not be fulfilled, for now
that he himself was at the head of affairs it would be possible to save
money. Reuben's lips straightened--of late they had grown fuller, but
also sterner in that occasional straightening, which changed the
expression of his mouth from half-ripened sensuality to a full maturity
of resolve. Now he was resolved--there should be changes at Odiam. He
must give up that old easy, "comfortable" life on which his father had
set such store. A ghost seemed to whisper in the room, as if the voice
of the dead man once more declared his gospel--"I've no ambitions, so
I'm a happy man. I döan't want nothing I haven't got, and so I haven't
got nothing I döan't want."

Yes--there was no denying his father had been happy. But what a
happiness! Even there by his side Reuben despised it. He, Reuben, would
never be happy till he had torn up that gorse and lopped those firs from
the top of Boarzell. In a kind of vision he saw the Moor with
wheatfields rolling up to the crest, he smelt the baking of glumes in
brown sunlight, the dusty savour of the harvest-laden earth. He heard
the thud of horses' hoofs and the lumber of waggon-wheels, the shouts of
numberless farm-hands. That sinister waste, profitless now to every man,
should be a source of wonder and wealth and fame. "Odiam--the biggest
farm in Sussex. Backfield made it. He bought Boarzell Moor acre by acre
and fought it inch by inch, and now there's nothing like it in the
south." ...

He sprang up and went to the window, pulling back the curtain. The sun
had gone, and the sky was a grey pool rimmed with gold and smoke.
Boarzell, his dreamland, stood like a dark cloud against it, shaggy and
waste. There in the dimness it looked unconquerable. Suppose he should
be able to wring enough money from the grudging earth to buy that
wilderness, would he ever be able to subdue it, make it bear crops? He
remembered words from the Bible which he had heard read in
church--"Canst thou draw out Leviathan with a hook? or bore his jaw
through with a thorn? Will he make a covenant with thee? Wilt thou take
him for a servant for ever?"

He brought his fist down heavily on the sill. He was just as confident,
just as resolute as before, but now for the first time he realised all
that the battle would mean. He could fight this cruel, tough thing only
by being cruel and tough himself. He must be ruthless as the wind that
blustered over it, hard as the stones that covered it, wiry as the
gorse-roots that twisted in its marl. He must be all this if he was even
to start the fight. To begin with, he would have to make his mother and
Harry accept the new state of things. They must realise that the old
soft life was over, that they would have to work, pull from the
shoulder, sacrifice a hundred things to help fulfil his great ambition.
He must not spare them--he must not spare anyone; he would not spare
them, any more than he would spare himself.


§ 2.

Joseph Backfield was buried four days later. His body was carried to the
church in a hay-waggon, drawn by the meek horses which had drawn his
plough. Beside it walked Blackman, the only farm-hand at Odiam, in a
clean smock, with a black ribbon tied to his hat. Five men from other
farms acted with him as bearers--they were volunteers, for old Joseph
had been popular in the neighbourhood, dealing sharply with no man.

Immediately behind the cart walked Reuben with his mother on his arm.
Her face was hidden in a clumsy black veil, which the Rye mantua-maker
had assured her was the London fashion, and she was obviously ill at
ease in the huge black shawl and voluminous skirts which the same
fashion, according to the Rye mantua-maker, had decreed. Her hand pulled
at Reuben's sleeve and stroked it as if for comfort. It was a smallish
hand, and wonderfully soft for a farmer's wife--but then Mary Backfield
had not lived like an ordinary farmer's wife. Under the thick veil, her
face still had a certain soft colour and youthfulness, though she was
nearly forty, and most women of her position were wrinkled and had lost
their teeth by thirty-five. Also the curves of her figure were still
delicate. She had been cherished by her husband, had done only light
household work for him and borne him only two children. She carried the
tokens of her happiness in smooth surfaces and soft lines.

After Mrs. Backfield and her eldest son, walked Harry and his
sweetheart, Naomi Gasson. They had been sweethearts just three months,
and were such a couple as romance gloats over--young, comely, healthy,
and full of love. Years had perfected the good looks of "beautiful
Harry." He was a tall creature, lithe and straight as a birch tree. His
face, agreeably tanned, glowed with youth, half dreamy, half riotous;
his eyes were wild as a colt's, and yet tender. Naomi was a fit mate
for him, with a skin like milk, and hair the colour of tansy. She wore a
black gown like Mrs. Backfield, but she had made it herself, and it was
friendly to her, hinting all the graciousness of her immaturity. These
two tried to walk dejectedly, and no doubt there was some fresh young
sadness in their hearts, but every now and then their bodies would
straighten with their happiness, and their eyes turn half afraid from
each other's because they could not help smiling in spite of the drooped
lips.

Then came old Gasson, Naomi's father, and well-known as a shipbuilder at
Rye--for this was a good match of Harry's, and Reuben hoped, but had no
reason to expect, he would turn it to Odiam's advantage. After him
walked most of the farmers of the neighbourhood, come to see the last of
a loved, respected friend. Even Pilbeam was there, from beyond
Dallington, and Oake from Boreham Street. The Squire himself had sent a
message of condolence, though he had been unable to come to the funeral.
Reuben did not particularly want his sympathy. He despised the Bardons
for their watery Liberalism and ineffectual efforts to improve their
estates.

It was about half a mile to the church--over the hanger of Tidebarn
Hill. The morning was full of soft loamy smells, quickening under the
February sun, which is so pale and errant, but sometimes seems to have
the power to make the earth turn in its sleep and dream of spring.
Peasmarsh church-tower, squab like a toadstool, looked at itself in the
little spread of water at the foot of the churchyard. Beside this pool,
darkened with winter sedges, stood Parson Barnaby, the Curate-in-Charge
of Peasmarsh, Beckley, and Iden. His boots under his surplice were muddy
and spurred, for he had just galloped over from a wedding at Iden, and
his sweat dropped on the book as he read "I know that my Redeemer
liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth."

Before committing the body to the ground, he said a few words in praise
of the dead man. He spoke of his generosity to his neighbours, his
kindness to his dependents, his excellences as a husband and a father.
"This, brethren, was indeed a man after God's own heart. He lived simply
and blamelessly, contented with his lot, and seeking no happiness that
did not also mean happiness to those around him. The call of the
world"--by which Mr. Barnaby meant Babylonish Rye--"fell unheard on ears
attuned to sweet domestic sounds. Ambition could not stir him from the
repose of his family circle. Like a patriarch of old, he sat in peace
under his vine and his fig-tree...."

Reuben stood motionless at the graveside, erect, like a soldier at
attention. People in the crowd, who wearied of the dead man's virtues,
whispered about the eldest son.

"Surelye!--he's a purty feller, is young Ben. To-day he looks nearly as
valiant as Harry."

"He's a stouter man than his brother."

"Stouter, and darker. What black brows he has, Mus' Piper!"

"How straight he stands!"

"I wäonder wot he's thinking of."


§ 3.

Reuben was strangely silent on the walk home. His mother made one or two
small remarks which passed unheeded. She noticed that his arm, on which
her hand lay, was very tense.

When they came to the group of cottages at the Forstal, a girl ran down
the garden path and leaned against the fence. She was a pretty brown
girl, and as they went by she smiled at Reuben. But he did not seem to
see her, he walked steadily on, and she slunk back to the house, biting
her lips. "Dudn't he see me, or wur he jest pretending not to?" she
muttered.

At Odiam dinner was waiting. It was a generous meal, which combined the
good things of this world with the right amount of funereal state.
Several of the neighbours had been invited, and the housewife wished to
do them honour, knowing that her table boasted luxuries not to be found
at other farms--a bottle of French wine, for instance, which though
nobody touched it, gave distinction to the prevalent ale, and one or two
light puddings, appealing to the eye as well as to the palate. As soon
as the meal was over and the guests had gone, Reuben took himself off,
and did not reappear till supper-time.

During dinner he had been even more thoughtful than the occasion
warranted, leaving his mother and Harry to talk to the company, though
he had taken with a certain dignity his place as host and head of the
house. Now at supper he was still inclined to silence. A servant girl
laid the dishes on the table, then retired. Mrs. Backfield and Harry
spoke in low tones to each other.

... "Mother, how much did this chocolate cost wot we're drinking?"
Reuben's voice made them both jump.

"How much? why, two shillings a pound," said Mrs. Backfield, rather
surprised.

"That's too much." Reuben's brows and mouth were straight lines.

"Wot d'you mean, Reuben?"

"Why, two shillings is too much fur farm-folks lik us to give fur a
pound of chocolate. It's naun but a treat, and we can do wudout it."

"But we've bin drinking chocolate fur a dunnamany years now--your poor
fäather always liked it--and I döan't see why we should stop it."

"Look'ee, mother, I've something to tell you. I've a plan in my head,
and it'll justabout mean being shut of a lot of things besides
chocolate. I know fäather dudn't care much about the farm, about mäaking
it grow and buying more land, and all that. But I do. I mean to buy the
whole of Boarzell."

There was a gasping silence.

"The whole of Boarzell," repeated Reuben.

He might have said the whole world, to judge by his mother's and Harry's
faces.

"Yes--I mean every bit, even the bit Grandturzel's got now. Squire he
wöan't be sorry to sell it, and I mean to buy it piece by piece. I'll
buy my first piece at the end of this year. We must start saving money
at wunst. But I can't do naun wudout you help me, you two."

"Wot d'you want to go buying Boarzell fur?" asked Mrs. Backfield in a
bewildered voice; "the farm's präaper as it is--we döan't want it no
bigger."

"And Boarzell's wicked tedious stuff," put in Harry; "naun'll grow there
but gorse."

"I'll have a good grain growing there in five year--döan't you go
doubting it. The ground wants working, that's all. And as fur not
wanting the farm no bigger, that wur fäather's idea--Odiam's mine now."

"Why can't we jest go on being happy and comfortable, lik we wur
before?"

"Because I've thought of something much grander, surelye. I'm going to
mäake us all gurt people, and this a gurt farm. But you've got to help
me, you and Harry."

"Wot d'you want us to do?"

"Well, first of all, we must save all the money we can, and not go
drinking chocolate and French wine, and eating sweet puddens and all
such dentical stuff. And then, Harry and me, we're valiant chaps, and
there never wur enough work for us to do. I'm going to send Blackman
away--Harry and I can do quite easily wudout him and save his wages."

"Send away Blackman!--oh, Ben, he's bin with us fifteen year."

"I döan't care if he's bin a hunderd. There äun't enough work for three
men on this farm, and it's a shame to go wasting ten shilling a week.
Oh, mother, can't you see how glorious it'll be? I know fäather wanted
different, but I've bin thinking and dreaming of this fur years."

"You always wur queer about Boarzell. But your fäather 'ud turn in his
grave to think of you sending off Blackman."

"He'll easily git another pläace--I'll find him one myself. And,
mother--there's something more. Now you haven't got fäather to work fur,
you'll find the time unaccountable long. Wot if you let Becky go, and
did the cooking and that yourself?"

"Oh, Reuben...."

"You shouldn't ought to ask mother that," said Harry. "She 'äun't used
to work. It's well enough fur you and me, we're strong chaps, and
there's no reason we shouldn't pull to a bit. But mother, she'd never do
wudout the girl--you see, there's the dairy and the fowls as well as the
house."

"We could help her out of doors."

"Lard!--you want some work!"

Reuben sprang to his feet. "Yes--I do! You're justabout right there. I'm
starved fur work. I've never really worked in my life, and now I want to
work till I drop. Look at my arm"--and he showed them his brown hairy
arm, where the muscles swelled in lumps under the skin--"that's a
workman's arm, and it's never worked yet--präaperly. You let me send off
Blackman and Becky, and see how we manage wudout 'em. I'll do most of
the work myself, I promise you. I couldn't have too much."

"You're a queer lad, Reuben--and more masterful than your poor fäather
wur."

"Yes--I'm master here." He sat down, and looked round the table quite
calmly. A vague uneasiness disturbed Mrs. Backfield and Harry. For some
unfathomable reason they both felt a little afraid of Reuben.

He finished his supper and went out of the kitchen. Harry and his mother
sat for a moment or two in silence.

"He always wur queer about Boarzell," said Mrs. Backfield at last; "you
remember that time years ago when he got mixed up wud the riot? I said
to his fäather then as I was sure Ben 'ud want to do something crazy wud
the farm. But I never thought he'd so soon be mäaster," and a tear
trickled over her smooth cheek.

"I döan't see no harm in his buying a bit of Boarzell if it's going
cheap--but it äun't worth mäaking all ourselves uncomfortable for it."

"No. Howsumdever, we can't stand agäunst him--the pläace is his'n, and
he can do wot he likes."

"Hush--listen!" said Harry.

The sound of voices came from the passage outside the kitchen. Reuben
was talking to the girl. A word or two reached them.

"Durn! if he äun't getting shut of her!"

"I never said as I'd do her work."

Harry sprang to his feet, but his mother laid her hand on his arm.

"Döan't you go vrothering him, lad. It'll only set him agäunst you, and
I döan't care, not really; there'll be unaccountable liddle work to do
in the house now your poor fäather's gone, and Blackman wöan't be eating
wud us. Besides, as he said, I'll find the days a bit slow wud naun to
occupy me."

"But it's sass of him to go sending off the girl wudout your leave."

"He's mäaster here."

"Ho! we shall see that."

"Now you're not to go quarrelling wud him, Harry. I'd sooner have peace
than anything whatsumdever. I äun't used to being set agäunst people.
Besides, it wöan't be fur long."

"No--you're justabout right there. I ought to be able to wed Naomi next
April year, and then, mother--think of the dear liddle house we shall
live in, you and she and I, all wud our own fields and garn, and no
trouble, and Ben carrying through his own silly consarns here by
himself."

"Yes, dearie, I know, and it's unaccountable good of you and Naomi to
let me come wud you. I döan't think we should ought to mind helping your
brother a bit here, when we've all that to look forrard to. But he's a
strange lad, and your fäather 'ud turn in his grave to see him."


§ 4.

For the next few months Odiam was in a transitional state. It was
gradually being divested of its old comfortable ways, and clad in new
garments of endeavour. Gradually the life grew harder, and gradually the
tense thought, the knife-edged ambition at the back of all the changes,
came forward and asserted themselves openly.

Harry and his mother had not realised till then how hard Reuben could
be. Hitherto they had never truly known him, for he had hidden in
himself his dominant passion. But now it was nakedly displayed, and they
began to glimpse his iron and steel through the elusive nebulousness
that had veiled them--as one might see the body of a steam-engine emerge
through the clouds of draping smoke its activity has flung round it.

They could not help wondering at his strenuousness, his unlimited
capacity for work, though they failed to understand or sympathise with
the object that inspired them. Blackman, grumbling and perplexed, had
gone off early in March to the milder energies of Raisins Farm; Becky,
for want of a place, had married the drover at Kitchenhour--and it was
no empty boast of Reuben's that he would take the greater part of their
work on his own shoulders. From half-past four in the morning till nine
at night he laboured almost without rest. He drove the cows to pasture,
milked them, and stalled them--he followed the plough over the
spring-sown crops, he groomed and watered the horses, he fed the fowls,
watched the clutches, fattened capons for market--he cleaned the pigsty,
and even built a new one in a couple of strenuous days--he bent his back
over his spade among the roots, over his barrow, wheeling loads of
manure--he was like a man who has been starved and at last finds a
square meal before him. He had all the true workman's rewards--the
heart-easing ache of tired muscles, the good bath of sweat in the sun's
heat, the delicious sprawl, every sinew limp and throbbing, in his bed
at nights--and then sleep, dreamless, healing, making new.

But though Reuben bore the brunt of the new enterprise, he had no
intention of sparing others their part. All that he by any exertions
could do himself he did, but the things which inevitably he could not
compass, because he had only two hands, one back, one head, and seven
days a week to work in, must be done by others. He showed himself
unexpectedly stiff, and Mrs. Backfield and Harry found themselves
obeying him as if he were not the son of the one and only a year older
than the other. As a matter of fact, custom gave Reuben authority, in
spite of his years. He was the master, the eldest son inheriting his
father's lordship with his father's farm. Mrs. Backfield and Harry would
have been censured by public opinion if they had set themselves against
him.

Besides, what was the use?--it was only for a few months, and then Harry
would be in a little house of his own, living very like his father,
though more dreamily, more delicately. Then Mrs. Backfield would once
more wear muslin aprons instead of sacking ones, would sit with her
hands folded, kid shoes on the fender.... Sometimes, in the rare moments
they had together, Harry would paint this wonderland for her.

He had been left a small sum by his father--resulting from the sale of a
water-meadow, and securely banked at Rye. Naomi, moreover, was well
dowered; and Tom Gasson, anxious to see the young couple established,
had promised to help them start a grass farm in the neighbourhood. The
project had so far gone no further than discussion. Reuben was opposed
to it--he would have liked Harry to stay on at Odiam after his marriage;
Naomi, too, would be useful in many ways, her dowry supplying a
much-felt want of capital. However, he realised that in this direction
his authority had its limits. He was powerless to prevent Harry leaving
Odiam, and there was nothing to do but to wring as much as possible out
of him while he stayed. Of his mother's planned escape he knew nothing.

Naomi often came over to Odiam, driving in her father's gig. Reuben
disliked her visits, for they meant Harry's abandonment of spade and
rake for the weightier matters of love. Reuben, moiling more desperately
than ever, would sometimes catch a glimpse of her coloured gown through
the bushes of some coppice, or skirting a hedge beside Harry's corduroy.
He himself spoke to her seldom. He could not help being conscious of her
milky sweetness, the soft droop of her figure under its muslins, her
voice full of the music of stock-doves. But he disliked her, partly
because she was taking Harry from Odiam, partly because he was jealous
of Harry. It ought to be he who was to make a wealthy marriage, not his
brother. He chafed to think what Naomi's money might do for the farm if
only he had control of it.

Marriage was beginning to enter into his scheme. Some day he must marry
and beget children. As the farm grew he would want more hands to work
it, and he would like to think of others carrying on its greatness
after he was dead. He must marry a woman with money and with health, and
he was not so dustily utilitarian as not also to demand something of
youth and good looks.

Since his father's death he had denied himself woman's company, after
two years lived in the throb and sweetness of it. A warm and vigorous
temperament, controlled by a strong will, had promised a successful
libertinism, and more than once he had drunk the extasies of passion
without those dregs which spoil it for the more weakly dissolute. But
now, with that same fierce strength and relentless purpose which had
driven him to do the work of two men, to live hard, and sleep rough, he
renounced all the delights which were only just beginning. Henceforth,
with his great ambition before him, there could be nothing but
marriage--prudent, solid, and constructive. His girl at the Forstal knew
him no more, nor any of her kind. He had set himself to build a house,
and for the sake of that house there was nothing, whether of his own or
of others, that he could not tame, break down, and destroy.


§ 5.

By the end of the year Reuben had saved enough money to buy five acres
of Boarzell, in the low grounds down by Totease. He had saved chiefly on
the wages of Blackman and Becky, though, against that, he had been
forced to engage outside help for the hay in June, and also for the
wheat in August. However, he had been lucky enough to secure tramp
labour for this, which meant payment largely in barn-room and bread.

Then there had been a host of minor retrenchments, each in itself so
small as to be almost useless, but mounting together into something
profitable. Chocolate had vanished from the Odiam supper-table, their
bread was made of seconds, the genuines being sold to Iden Mill; they
ate no meat on week-days except bacon, and eggs were forbidden in
puddings. Reuben managed to get a small sale for his eggs and milk at
the Manor and the curate's house, though he had not enough cows and
poultry to make his dealing of much advantage.

Mrs. Backfield was the one to bear the brunt of these economies. She had
been a trifle pampered during the latter days of her marriage, and set
far more store than her sons on dainty food; also the work which she
performed so well was a tax on her unaccustomedness. But she never
grumbled, and this was not only because escape was near at hand. Strange
to say, in these new days of his lordship, Reuben began to fill a place
in her heart which he had never filled before. While her husband was
alive, he had never really come inside her life, he had been an aloof,
inarticulate being whom she did not understand. But now that he had
asserted himself, she found herself turning towards him. She would have
worked without prospect of release--indeed, as the days went by, Harry
and his home and her promised idleness dwindled in her thoughts.

When Reuben told her he could now buy his first piece of Boarzell, she
went through the day's work full of joy. Though, as far as the land
itself was concerned, she would far rather have had new chintz covers
for the parlour chairs.

They never sat in the parlour now.

Harry's pleasure was obviously insincere, just a mask put on out of
kindness to his brother. Naomi was coming over on a few days' visit, and
everything else was smoke. No one, Reuben reflected, as he walked over
to Flightshot to see Sir Miles's agent, no one cared a rap about
Boarzell. His mother thought more of her food and of her furniture,
thought more of him and Harry, while Harry thought of nothing but Naomi.
He would have to wage his fight alone.

The transaction was prompt and satisfactory. Reuben did not haggle over
the price, and was careful to let the agent know of his eagerness to buy
more--otherwise, he was afraid that the Squire might either give the
land back to the people, pushed by his Liberal politics, or else part
with it for a song to some speculator. So he paid really a bit more than
the land was worth, and made the agent a confidant of his dreams.

"It'll want a tedious lot of fighting, will that plot," he asserted, to
counteract any idea his eagerness might give that Boarzell was a mine of
hidden fertility--"Dunno as I shall mäake anything out of it. But it's
land I want--want to mäake myself a sort of landed praprietor"--a
lie--"and raise the old farm up a bit. I'd like to have the whole of
Boarzell. Reckon as Grandturzel 'ud sell me their bit soon as I've got
the rest. They'll never mäake anything out of it."

He walked home over Boarzell, scarcely conscious of the ground he trod.
He felt like a new-crowned king. As he looked round on the swart
hummocks of the Moor, and its crest of firs, dim and bistred against the
grey afternoon clouds, he found it hard to realise that it was not all
his, that he still had almost the whole of it to fight for, acre by
acre. He hurried towards his own little plot, bought, but as yet
unconquered, still shagged with gorse and brittle with shards.

It was down in the hollow by Totease, as unpromising an estate as one
could wish, all on a slope, gorse-grown at the top, then a layer of
bracken, and at the Totease fence a kind of oozy pulp, where a lavant
dribbled in and out of the grass; to Reuben, however, it was a land of
milk and honey. He turned up the soil of it with his foot, and blessed
the wealden clay.

"No flints here," he said; "reckon there's some stiff ground on the
hill--but it's only the surface. Heather äun't growing--that's a tedious
good sign. I'll have oats here--the best in Peasmarsh."

He stood staring at the grass with its dribbles of lavant and spines of
rushes. The wind brought the sound of someone singing. At first he
scarcely noticed, then gradually the song worked in with his daydream,
and ended by rousing him out of it. He strolled across his domain, and
marked half a dozen sturdy willows which must come out somehow roots and
all. He climbed into the bracken zone, and from thence saw Harry sitting
by a gorse thicket some hundred yards off with Naomi Gasson.

The wind puffed gently towards him, bringing him the song and the soft
peach-smell of the gorse. Harry was a musician already of note among the
farms; he had a beautiful voice, and there was very little he could not
do with his fiddle, though of late this had been neglected for the
claims of work and love. To-day he was singing an old song Reuben knew
well--"The Song of Seth's House":


     "'The blackbird flew out from the eaves of the Manor,
       The Manor of Seth in the Sussex countrie,
     And he carried a prayer from the lad of the Manor,
       A prayer and a tear to his faithless ladie.

     "'To the lady who lives in the Grange by the water,
       The water of Iron in the Sussex countrie,
     The lad of Seth's House prays for comfort and pity--
       Have pity, my true love, have pity on me!

     "'O why when we loved like the swallows in April,
       Should beauty forget now their nests have grown cold?
     O why when we kissed 'mid the ewes on the hanger,
       Should you turn from me now that they winter in fold?

     "'O why, because sickness hath wasted my body,
       Should you do me to death with your dark treacherie?
     O why, because brothers and friends all have left me,
       Should you leave me too, O my faithless ladie?

     "'One day when your pride shall have brought you to sorrow,
       And years of despair and remorse been your fate,
     Perhaps your cold heart will remember Seth's Manor,
       And turn to your true love--and find it too late.'"


Harry's voice was very loud and clear, with that element of wildness
which is a compensation for no training. When he had finished "The Song
of Seth's House" he started another, but broke off in the middle of it,
and Reuben saw the two heads suddenly droop together, and fuse, the
golden hair and the brown.

Naomi leaned against Harry, and his hand stole up and down her arm,
stroking its whiteness. Reuben stood watching them, and for a moment he
hungered. This was what he had cast away.

He turned from them sharply, and threw himself down on the dead bracken.
Then suddenly the hunger passed. The reek of the moist earth rose up in
his nostrils; it was the scent of his love, who was sweeter to him than
ever Naomi was to Harry. His hand stole over the short, mould-smelling
grass, caressing it. He had a love more beautiful than Harry's, whose
comeliness would stay unwithered through the years, whose fruitfulness
would make him great, whose allure was salted with a hundred dangers....
His fingers dug themselves into the earth, and he embraced Boarzell with
wide-flung trembling arms. "My land!" he cried--"mine!--mine!"


§ 6.

The neighbourhood sniggered when it heard of Odiam's new land. When it
heard of Reuben's plans for it and the oats that were to be it grew
openly derisive. The idea of anyone thinking he could grow oats on
Boarzell was an excellent joke. Young Backfield, however, ignored public
opinion, and bought rape-dust for manure.

He was as jealous of this strip of earth as of a wife--he would allow
nobody to work there but himself. Alone and unhelped he grubbed up the
bracken, turned the soil, and scattered rape-dust and midden till they
had to shut their windows at Burntbarns. He believed that if the ground
was properly manured it would be ready for sowing in the autumn. The
only difficulty now was the trees; they were casting malevolent
shadows, and dredging up the goodness out of the earth.

Where Ditch of Totease or Vennal of Burntbarns would have taken a couple
of woodmen and a saw, Reuben took nothing but an axe and his bare arms.
His muscles ached for this new carouse of exertion.

"Let me give you a hand," said Harry that day at dinner.

"No--why should I?"

"You'll never do it yourself," said Naomi, who was spending a few days
at Odiam.

"Oh, wöan't I!" and Reuben showed his strong white teeth.

"How many trees are there?"

"Half a dozen--willers. The real trouble will be gitting their roots
out."

"And will you do that alone?"

"I'll see about it."

Naomi looked across at Reuben without speaking. Her lips, a pale
coral-pink, were parted, showing two tiny teeth. She was not the type he
favoured--she was too soft and bloodless--but he could not help feeling
flattered by the frank admiration he saw in her eyes. He knew that this
last year of wind and sun and healthy work had narrowed the gulf between
him and Beautiful Harry. He was as hard as iron and as brown as a nut,
and there was a warm red glowing through the swarthiness of his cheeks
like the bloom on a russet pear.

Harry looked up from his plate, and the gaze became three-cornered.
Reuben, defiant of his brother, grew bold, and ogled, whereupon Naomi
grew timid, and dropped her eyes; Harry found himself speaking with a
rasp:

"I'm coming to help you, Reuben. You'll never tackle them rootses--it
äun't everything you can do surelye!"

"I can do that much. You stay here and play the fiddle to Naomi."

Harry somehow felt he had been insulted, and opened his mouth to retort.
But his brother suddenly began talking about an accident to a labourer
at Grandturzel, and the occasion dropped.

After dinner Reuben set out with his axe, and Harry and Naomi sat
together on the floor beside the kitchen fire. He gave her kisses like
the wind, swift and cool. She was the only woman he had kissed, and she
had never been kissed by any other man. Their love had its wildnesses,
but not the wildnesses of fire--rather of the dancing boughs of some
spring-caught wood, rioting together in May. Now and then he would sing
as he held her to him, his fresh young voice ringing up to the roof....

Later in the afternoon they went out together. It seemed a pity to stay
indoors in the soft swale, and Harry had to look at some poultry at
Doozes. Naomi walked with her arm through his, her grey cloak over her
shoulders.

"I wonder if Reuben's still at it?" said Harry, as the footpath began to
skirt the new land.

"Yes--I see him yonder. He doesn't see us, I reckon."

They stood on the hillside and looked down at Reuben. He had felled five
trees, and was now getting his axe into the sixth. They watched him in
silence, and Naomi found herself remembering the way he had looked at
her at dinner.

"He's a valiant man," said Harry.

Naomi saw him sweep the axe above his shoulder, and the ease and
strength of his swing gave her a strange tingling sensation in her
breast. The axe crashed into the wood, then Reuben pulled it up, and the
muscles of his back made two long, ovoid lumps under his blue shirt.
Again the axe swung and fell, again Naomi's body tingled as with a
physical exhilaration.

The January twilight deepened, and soon Reuben's blue shirt was all that
was clear in the hollow. The bites of the axe cracked out on the still
air--and suddenly with a soft swish of boughs the tree fell.


§ 7.

That night Reuben came to supper as hungry as a wolf. He was in a fine
good humour, for his body, pleasantly tired, glowing, aching, tickled
with the smell of food, was giving him a dozen agreeable sensations.

"Got some splendid fire-wood fur you, mother," he said after a few
minutes' silence enforced by eating.

"And wot about the rootses?" asked Harry, "wull you be digging those out
to-morrer? It'll be an unaccountable tough job."

"Oh, I've found a way of gitting shut of them rootses--thought of it
while I wur working at the trees. I'm going to blast 'em out."

"Blast 'em!"

"Yes. Blast 'em wud gunpowder. I've heard of its being done. I'd never
dig all the stuff out myself--yards of it there be--willer rootses
always wur hemmed spready."

"It's never bin done in these parts."

"Well, it'll be done now, surelye. It'll show the folk here I mean
business--and that I'm a chap wud ideas."

There was indeed a mild excitement in the farms round Boarzell when
Reuben's new plan became known. In those times gunpowder was seldom used
for such purposes, and the undertaking was looked upon as a treat and a
display....

"Backfield's going to bust up his willer-rootses--fine sight it'll
be--like as not blow his own head off--I'll be there to see."

So when Reuben came to his territory the next afternoon he found a
small crowd assembled--Ditch, Ginner, Realf of Grandturzel, Coalbran of
Doozes, Pilcher of Birdseye, with a sprinkling of their wives, families,
and farm-hands. He himself had brought Naomi, and Harry was to join them
when he came back from an errand to Moor's Cottage. Reuben felt a trifle
important and in need of spectators. This was to be the crowning act of
conquest. When those roots were shattered away there would be nothing
but time and manure between him and the best oat-crop in Peasmarsh.

A quarter of an hour passed, and there was no sign of Harry. Reuben grew
impatient, for he wanted to have the ground tidied up by sunset. It was
a wan, mould-smelling afternoon, and already the sun was drifting
through whorls of coppery mist towards the shoulder of Boarzell. Reuben
looked up to the gorse-clump on the ridge, from behind which he expected
Harry to appear.

"I can't wait any longer," he said to Naomi, "something's kept him."

"He'll be disappointed," said Naomi softly.

"I can't help that--the sun's near down, and I must have everything
präaper by dark."

He went to where the fuse lay like a snake in the grass, and struck his
flint.

"Stand back everybody; I'm going to start her."

The group huddled back a few yards. The little flame writhed along
towards the stump. There was silence. Reuben stood a little way in front
of the others, leaning forward with eager, parted lips.

Suddenly Naomi cried out:

"There's Harry!"

A shadow appeared against the copper sky, and ran towards them down the
hill.

For a moment nobody seemed to realise what was boding. Then they heard a
shout that sounded like "Wait for me!" Naomi felt something rise in her
throat and sear the roof of her mouth like a hot cinder. She tried to
scream, but her parched tongue would not move. She staggered forward,
but Reuben flung her back.

"Stop!" he shouted.

Harry did not seem to hear.

"Stop!" yelled Reuben again. Then he cried, "Stand back!" to the crowd,
and ran towards his brother.

But it was too late. There was a sudden roar, a sheet of flame, a crash,
a dreadful scream, and then a far more dreadful silence.

One or two flames sang out of a hole in the ground, but scarcely
anything could be seen for the pall of smoke that hung over Boarzell,
black, and evil-smelling. The fumes made men choke, then they shuddered
and drew together, for through the smell of smoke and gunpowder came the
horrible smell of burnt flesh.

Reuben was lying on his face a few yards in front of the others. For
some seconds nobody moved. Then Backfield slowly raised himself on his
arms.

"I'm not hurt," he said in a shaking voice.

"Harry!" cried Naomi, as if someone were strangling her.

Reuben tottered to his feet. His face was black, and he was still half
stunned by the explosion.

"Harry!" cried Naomi--and then fainted.

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.

Reuben ran towards it, Ditch and Realf followed him. The others huddled
stupidly together like sheep.

"His clothes are still burning--here, help me, you!" cried Reuben,
beating at the flames with his hands.

"He's dead," said Realf.

"Oh Lord!" wailed Ditch--"Oh Lord!"

"He's bin hit on the head wud a piece of wood. I reckon he died
painlessly. All this came afterwards."

"Wipe the blood off his face."

"Tell his poor girl he died wudout suffering."

"He äun't dead," said Reuben.

He had torn off the rags from his brother's heart, and felt it beating.

"He äun't dead."

"Oh Lord!" wailed Ditch.--"Oh Lord!"

"Here, you chaps, fetch a gëat and put him on it--and döan't let Naomi
see him."

Naomi had been taken back to Odiam, when Harry, still motionless and
apparently dead, was lifted on a gate, and borne away. Dark curds of
smoke drifted among the willows, and the acrid smell of powder clung to
the hillside like an evil ghost. The place where Harry had lain was
marked by charred and trampled grass, and a great pool of blood was
sinking into the ground ... it seemed to Reuben, as he turned
shudderingly away, as if Boarzell were drinking it up--eagerly,
greedily, as a thirsty land drinks up its first watering.


§ 8.

Dr. Espinette from Rye stood glumly by Harry's bed. His finger lay on
the fluttering pulse, and his eye studied the little of the sick man's
face that could be seen between its bandages.

"It's a bad business," he said at last; "that wound in the head's the
worst of it. The burns aren't very serious in themselves. You must keep
him quiet, and I'll call again to-morrow morning."

"When ull he wäake up?" asked Mrs. Backfield in the feeble voice her
tears had left her.

"I don't know--it may be in an hour or two, it mayn't be for a week."

"A week!"

"I've known them unconscious longer than that. But, cheer up,
ma'am--we're not going to let him slip past us."

The doctor went away, and after a time Reuben was able to persuade his
mother to go and lie down in the next room. He had quite recovered from
the shock of the explosion; indeed, he was now the only calm person in
the house. He sat down by Harry's bed, gazing at the unconscious face.

How horrible everything had been! How horrible everything was still,
with that loggish, inanimate thing lying there, all that was left of
Beautiful Harry. Reuben wondered if he would die. If so, he had killed
him--he had ignored his own inexperience and played splashy tricks with
his new land. But no--he had not killed him--it was Boarzell, claiming a
victim in the signal-rite of its subjection. He remembered how that
thirsty ground had drunk up Harry's blood. Perhaps it would drink up
much more blood before he had done with it--perhaps it would one day
drink up his blood.... A vague, a sudden, a ridiculous fear clutched his
thoughts; for the first time he felt afraid of the thing he had set out
to conquer--for the first time Boarzell was not just unfruitful soil,
harsh heather clumps and gorse-roots--it was something personal,
opposing, vindictive, blood-drinking.

He sprang to his feet and began pacing up and down the room. The window
square was black. He was glad he could not see Boarzell with its knob of
firs. Gradually the motion of his legs calmed his thoughts, he fell to
pondering more ordinary things--had his mother remembered to stand the
evening's milk in the cream pans? She had probably forgotten all about
the curate's butter to be delivered the next morning. What had Harry
done about those mangolds at Moor's Cottage? Durn it! He would have to
do all the work of the farm to-morrow--how he was to manage things he
didn't know, what with the dairy and the new chicks and the Alderney
having garget. He stopped pacing, and chin in hand was considering the
expediency of engaging outside help, when a voice from the bed cried
feebly:

"Oh!"

Reuben went to Harry's side, and bent over him.

"Oh," moaned his brother, "oh!--oh!"

"I'm here, old feller," said Reuben with a clumsy effort at tenderness.

"Bring a light, do--I can't abide this dark."

Reuben fetched the candle to the bedside.

"Where's Naomi?"

"She's asleep. Do you want her?"

"No--let her sleep. But bring me a light fur marcy's sake."

"I've brought it--it's here by the bed."

"I can't see it."

"You must--it's right in your eyes."

"I can't--oh!"

He started up in bed and gripped his brother's hand. He thrust his head
forward, his eyeballs straining.

"Take it away! take it away!" he screamed.

"Wot?" cried Reuben, sick with the new-born terror.

"That black stuff in front of my eyes. Take it away! Take it away!"

He tore his hand free, and began clawing and beating at his face.

Reuben's teeth were chattering.

"Kip calm, lad--kip calm. There's naun there, naun, I tell you."

"Oh, oh!"--screamed Harry--"Oh, oh, oh!"

The outcry brought Mrs. Backfield from the next room, Naomi shivering in
her wake. Reuben was trying to hold Harry down in bed.

Through the long night they wrestled with him, blind and raving. At
first it seemed as if Naomi's presence soothed him, and he would let her
stroke his arms and hands. But after a time he ceased to recognise her.
He gabbled about her a good deal, but did not know she was there. His
delirium was full of strange tags--a chicken brood he was raising, a
sick cow, a jaunt into Rye with Realf of Grandturzel, a dozen harmless
homely things which were all transfused with an alien horror, all
somehow made frightful, so that Reuben felt he could never look on
chickens, cows or Rye again without a shudder.

Sometimes there were crises of extraordinary violence when he was with
difficulty held down in bed, and these at last wore him out. Towards
dawn he fell into a troubled sleep.

Naomi slept too, huddled in a chair, every now and then a sob quivering
through her. The winter dawn slowly crept in on her, showing her pitiful
figure--showing Mrs. Backfield sick and puffy with tears, Reuben
dry-eyed beside the bed, and Harry respited in sleep. Outside the crest
of Boarzell was once more visible in the growing light--dark, lumpish,
malevolent, against the kindling of the sky.


§ 9.

The next few days were terrible, in the house and on the farm. Indoors
the women nursed Harry, and outdoors Reuben did double work, sleeping at
night in an arm-chair by his brother's side.

Harry had recovered consciousness, but it could not be said that he had
"come to himself." "Beautiful Harry," with all his hopes and ardours,
his dreams and sensibilities, had run away like a gipsy, and in his
place was a new Harry, blind and mad, who moaned and laughed, with stony
silences, and now and then strange fits of struggling as if the runaway
gipsy strove to come back.

Dr. Espinette refused to say whether this state was permanent or merely
temporary. Neither could he be sure whether it was due to his injuries
or to the shock of finding himself blind. Reuben felt practically
convinced that his brother was sane during the few moments he had spoken
to him alone, but the doctor seemed doubtful.

Reuben was glad to escape into his farm work. The atmosphere of sickness
was like a cloud, which grew blacker and blacker the nearer one came to
its heart. Its heart was that little room in the gable, where he spent
those wretched nights, disturbed by Harry's moaning. Out of doors, in
the yard or the cowshed or the stable, he breathed a cleaner atmosphere.
The heaviness, the vague remorse, grew lighter. And strange to say, out
on Boarzell, which was the cause of his trouble, they grew lightest of
all.

Somehow out there was a wider life, a life which took no reck of
sickness or horror or self-reproach. The wind which stung his face and
roughed his hair, the sun which tanned his nape as he bent to his work,
the smell of the earth after rain, the mists that brewed in the hollows
at dusk, and at dawn slunk like spirits up to the clouds ... they were
all part of something too great to take count of human pain--so much
greater than he that in it he could forget his trouble, and find ease
and hope and purpose--even though he was fighting it.

He mildly scandalised his neighbours by blasting--privately this
time--the tree stumps yet in the ground. According to their ethics he
should have accepted Harry's accident as the voice of Providence and
abstained from his outlandish methods--also some felt that it was a
matter of delicacy and decent feeling not to repeat that which had had
such dire consequences for his brother. "I wonder he can bear to do it,"
said Ginner, when 'Bang! Bang!' came over the hummocks to Socknersh.

But Reuben did it because he was not going to be beaten in any respect
by his land. He was not going to accept defeat in the slightest
instance. So he blew up the stumps, tidied the ground, and spread
manure--and more manure--and yet more manure.

Manure was his great idea at that moment. He had carefully tilled and
turned the soil, and he fed it with manure as one crams chickens. It was
of poor quality marl, mostly lime on the high ground, with a larger
proportion of clay beside the ditch. Reuben's plan was to fatten it well
before he sowed his seed. Complaints of his night-soil came all the way
from Grandturzel; Vennal, humorously inclined, sent him a bag of rotten
fish; on the rare occasions his work allowed him to meet other farmers
at the Cocks, his talk was all of lime, guano, and rape-cake, with
digressions on the possibilities of seaweed. He was manure mad.

The neighbours despised and mistrusted his enthusiasm. There he was,
thinking of nothing but his land, when Harry, his only brother, lay
worse than dying. But Reuben often thought of Harry.

One thing he noticed, and that was that the housework was always done
for him by his mother as if there were no sickness to fill her time.
Always when he came home of an evening, his supper was waiting for him,
hot and savoury. He breakfasted whenever he had a mind, and there were
slices of cold pie or dabs of bread and meat for him to take out and eat
as he worked--he had no time to come home to dinner now. Really his
mother was tumbling to things wonderfully well--she looked a little
tired sometimes, it is true, and the lines of her face were growing
thinner, but she was saving him seven shillings a month and the girl's
food; and all that money and food was feeding the hungry earth.

Naomi helped her with the nursing, and also a little about the house.
She had refused to go home to Rye, though Harry did not seem to
recognise her.

"For sometimes," she said, "I think he does."


§ 10.

Towards the middle of February a change took place in Harry. At first it
was little more than a faint creep of life, putting a little glow in his
cheeks, a little warmth in his blood. Then the wounds which had been
healing so slowly began to heal quickly, his appetite returned, and he
slept long and sweetly at nights.

Mrs. Backfield's hope rekindled, but the doctor soon damped it down.
This sudden recrudescence of physical health was a bad sign, for there
was no corresponding revival of intellect, and now the prostration of
the body could no longer account for the aberration of the mind. It was
unlikely that Harry would ever recover his wits--the injuries to his
skull, either with or without the shock of his blindness, had definitely
affected his brain. The strong, clear will, the gay spirits, the quick
understanding, the tender sensibilities which had made him so bright and
lovable a being, were gone--how much of shreds and scraps they had left
behind them to build up the semblance of a man, did not yet appear.

His looks would be only slightly marred. It was the optic nerve which
had been destroyed, and so far there was nothing ugly in the eyes
themselves, except their vacant rolling. The eyelashes and eyebrows had
been burnt off, but they were growing again, and a scar on his cheek and
another on his forehead were not likely to show much in a few weeks'
time. But all the life, the light, the soul had gone out of his face--it
was like a house which had been gutted, with walls and roof still
standing, yet with its essential quality gone from it, a ruin.

Reuben thought long and anxiously about his brother. He did not speak
much of him to his mother or Naomi, for he knew that they would not
understand the problem that confronted him. He felt worn by the extra
load of work, and his brain fretted, spoiling his good sleep. He was
back in his own room now, but he slept worse than in Harry's; he would
lie awake fighting mentally, just as all day he had fought
physically--life was a continuous fight.

It was hard that just at the outset of his enterprise, fresh obstacles
should be thrown in his way. He saw that it was practically impossible
for him to go on working as he did; already he was paying for it in
stiff muscles, loss of appetite, fitful sleep, and drugged wakings. Also
he was growing irritable and frayed as to temper. If he went on much
longer doing the work of three men--he had always done the work of
two--he would end by breaking up completely, and then what would become
of Odiam? He would have to engage outside help, and that would mean
quite ten shillings a week--ten shillings a week, two pounds a month,
twenty-six pounds a year, the figures were like blisters in his head
during the long restless nights. They throbbed and throbbed through his
dreams. He would have to spend twenty-six pounds a year, just when he
was saving so desperately to buy more land and fatten what he already
had. And in addition he would have to pay for Harry's keep. Not only
must he engage a man to do his work, but he would have to support in
absolute idleness Harry himself. He was quite unfit for farm work, he
would be nothing but an expense and an incubus.

In those dark furious hours, Reuben would wish his brother had died. It
was not as if life could be sweet to him. It was terrible to see him
mouching and mumbling about the house, to hold even the brief converse
with him which everyday life enforced. He had not as yet grown used to
his blindness, indeed it would be difficult for him to do so without
wits to stimulate and direct his other senses, and it was dreadful to
see him tumbling over furniture, breaking things and crying afterwards,
spilling food on his clothes and his beard--for now that he could not
shave himself, and others had no time to do it for him, he wore a large
fair beard, which added to his uncouthness.

Oh that his brother had died!

One day Reuben was so tired that he fell asleep over his supper. His
mother cleared the table round him, glancing at him with fond,
submissive eyes. Each day she had come to love him more, with an
obedient love, almost instinctive and elemental, which she had never
felt for the gentle husband or considerate son. This evening she laid
her shawl over his shoulders, and went to her washing-up.

Suddenly a weird noise came from the parlour, a strange groaning and
wailing. Reuben woke up, and rubbed his eyes. What was that? It was
horrible, it was uncanny--and for him it also had that terrifying
unnaturalness which a sudden waking gives even to the most ordinary
sounds.

Then gradually out of the horror beauty began to grow. The sound passed
into an air, faltering at first, then flowing--"Dearest Ellen," on
Harry's violin.

"I'm glad he's found something to amuse him, poor son," said Mrs.
Backfield, coming in to see if Reuben had waked.

"He's not playing badly, is he, mother?"

"Not at all. They say as sometimes blind folk are unaccountable good at
music."

Reuben did not answer; she knew by his attitude--chin in hand--that he
was thinking.

That night he thought it out.

Munds of Starvecrow had had a brother who fiddled at fairs and weddings
and earned, so Munds said, thirty pounds a year. He had also heard of
others who made as good a thing of it. If Harry earned thirty pounds a
year he would pay the wages of an extra farm-hand and also something
towards his own keep. They must find out exactly how many of the old
tunes he remembered, and get somebody musical to teach him new ones.

The idea prospered in Reuben's thoughts that night. The next morning he
was full of it, and confided it to his mother and Naomi.

Naomi, a little paler and more wistful than of old, still spent an
occasional day or two at Odiam. At first she had made these visits for
Harry's sake, flattering herself that he was the better for her
presence; then when even her faith began to fail, she still came, partly
to help Mrs. Backfield, partly driven by such feelings as might drive an
uneasy ghost to haunt the house of his tragedy. Reuben saw little of
her, for his work claimed him, but he liked to feel she was there,
helping his mother with work which it was difficult for her to carry
through alone to Odiam's best advantage.

She heard of Reuben's plan with some shrinking.

"He--he wouldn't like it," she stammered after a pause.

"You'll never go sending our Harry to fiddle at fairs," said Mrs.
Backfield.

"Why not? There's naun shameful in it. Munds's brother did it for twenty
years. And think of the difference it'll mäake to us--thirty pound or so
a year, instead of the dead loss of Harry's keep and the wages of an
extra man beside. I tell you, mother, I wur fair sick about the farm
till I thought of this."

"It's always the farm wud you, Reuben. You might sometimes think of your
own kin."

"I tell you Harry wöan't mind--he'll like it. It'll be something to
occupy him. Besides, hem it all, mother! you can't expect me to kip him
idling here, wud the farm scarce started yet, and nearly the whole of
Boarzell still to buy."

But it was useless to expect either Mrs. Backfield or Naomi to
appreciate the momentousness of his task. Were women always, he
wondered, without ambition? However, though they did not sympathise,
they would not oppose him--Naomi because she was not skilful at
opposition, his mother because he was gradually taking the place of
Harry in her heart.

He had more trouble when a day or so later he asked Naomi to inspect
Harry's musical equipment.

"You see, I döan'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."

"I'd rather not," said Naomi, shuddering.

"Why?"

"Oh--I just can't."

"But why?"

She could not tell him. If he did not understand how every note from
Harry's violin would jab and tear the tortured memories she was trying
to put to sleep--if he did not understand that of himself, she would
never be able to explain it to him.

As a matter of fact he did understand, but he was resolute.

"Help me, Naomi," he pleaded, "fur I can't manage wudout you."

His eyes searched her face. People who met him only casually were
generally left with the impression that he had black eyes, but as a
matter of fact they were dark blue. A hidden power forced Naomi's eyes
to meet them ... they were narrow and deep-set, with extraordinarily
long lashes. She gazed into them for a moment without speaking. Then
suddenly her own filled with an expression of hatred, and she ran out of
the room.

But he had won his point. That evening Naomi made Harry play over his
"tunes," while Reuben sat in the chimney corner watching them both.
Harry's memory was erratic--he would play through some well-known airs
quite correctly up to a certain point, and then interpolate hysterical
variations of his own. At other times memory failed him altogether, but
his natural quickness of ear seemed to have increased since his
blindness, and it only needed Naomi to sing the passage over for him to
fill up the gaps.

She took him through "The Woodpecker Tapping," "Dearest Ellen," "I'd
mourn the hopes that leave me," "The Song of Seth's House," and "The
Blue Bells of Scotland." Each one of them was torment to her gentle
heart, as it woke memory after memory of courtship--on the gorse-slopes
of Boarzell, among the chasing shadows of Iden Wood, on the Rother
marshes by Thornsdale, where the river slinks up from the Fivewatering
... or in this very kitchen here, where the three of them, divided from
one another by dizzy gaps of suffering, desire and darkness, were
gathered together in a horrible false association.

But Harry's face was blank, no memories seemed to stir for him, he just
fiddled on, now and then receiving Naomi's corrections with an outbreak
of childish temper. On these occasions Reuben would stamp his foot and
speak to him in a loud, angry voice which inevitably made him behave
himself.

Naomi always took advantage of these returns to docility, but later that
evening in the dairy, she suddenly swung round on Mrs. Backfield and
exclaimed petulently:

"I hate that Ben of yours!"


§ 11.

Harry made good progress, and Reuben decided that he was to start his
career at the October Fair. There had been a fiddler at the Fair for
years, partly for the lasses and lads to dance to, partly for the less
Bacchic entertainments of their elders. It was at the Fair that men took
his measure, and engaged him accordingly for weddings and such
festivals. Luck would have it that for the last two years there had
been no official fiddler--old Abel Pinch having been seduced by a
semi-urban show, which wandered round London, camping on waste grounds
and commons. The musical element had been supplied by strays, and Reuben
had no doubt but that he should now be able to instal his brother
honourably as chief musician.

He advertised him in the neighbourhood for some weeks beforehand, and
gossip ran high. Condemnation of Backfield's ruthlessness in exploiting
his brother was combined with a furtive admiration of his smartness as a
business man. It was extraordinary how little he cared about "lowering
himself," a vital matter with the other farmers of his position. Just as
he had thought nothing of working his own farm instead of indulging in
the dignity of hired labour, so he thought nothing of making money at
Boarzell Fair with the gipsies and pikers.

Naomi no longer protested. For one thing Harry seemed to like his
fiddling, and was quite overjoyed at the prospect of playing at the
Fair. Strangely enough, he remembered the Fair and its jollities, though
he had forgotten all weightier matters of life and love.

"Where shall I stand?--by the gipsies' tent?--or right forrard by the
stalls? I'd like to stand by the stalls, and then maybe when I'm not
fiddling they'll give me sweeties."

"You must behave yourself," said Reuben, in the tones he would have used
to a child--"you mustn't go vrothering people to give you sweeties."

"I'll give you some sweeties, Harry," said Naomi.

"Oh, will you?--Then I'll love you!"

Naomi turned away with a shudder, her eyes full of inexpressible pain.

Reuben looked after her as she went out of the room, then he took a
couple of strides and caught her up in the passage.

"It's I who'm täaking you to the Fair, remember," he said, his hand on
her arm.

"Oh, no ... I couldn't go to the Fair."

"Nonsense--you're coming wud me."

"Oh, Ben, don't make me go."

It was the cry of her weakness to his purpose.

"I shall mäake you ... dear."

She flung herself from him, and ran upstairs. That night at supper she
took no notice of him, talking garrulously all the time to Mrs.
Backfield.

But she went to the Fair.

In the soft grey gown that the first of the cold demanded she walked
with her arm through Reuben's up the Moor. Her bonnet was the colour of
heather, tied with wide ribbons that accentuated the milkiness of her
chin. Reuben wore his Sunday clothes--drab shorts and a sprigged
waistcoat, and a wide-brimmed hat under which his face looked strangely
handsome and dark. Harry shuffled along, clutching his brother's
coat-sleeve to guide himself. Mrs. Backfield preferred to stay at home,
and Reuben had not tried to make her come.

All Peasmarsh went to the Fair. It was a recognised holiday. All farm
work--except the most barely necessary--was put aside, and the ploughman
and dairymaid rollicked with their betters. The road across Boarzell was
dark with them, coming from all quarters--Playden, Iden, Beckley,
Northiam, Bodiam--Old Turk's Farm, Baron's Grange, Corkwood,
Kitchenhour--even from Blackbrook and Ethnam on the Kentish border.

The tents and stalls were blocked as usual round the central crest of
pines. It was all much as it had been five years ago on the day of the
Riot. There was the outer fringe of strange dwellings--tents full of
smoke and sprawling squalling children, tilt carts with soup-pots
hanging from their axles over little fires, and gorgeously painted
caravans which stood out aristocratically amidst the prevalent sacking.
There was a jangle of voices--the soft Romany of the gipsies, the
shriller cant of the pikers and half-breeds, the broad drawling Sussex
of the natives. Head of all the Fair, and superintending the working of
the crazy merry-go-round, was Gideon Teazel, a rock-like man, son, he
said, of a lord and a woman of the Rosamescros or Hearnes. He stood six
foot eight in his boots and could carry a heifer across his shoulders.
His wife Aurora, a pure-bred gipsy, told fortunes, and was mixed up in
more activities than would appear from her sleepy manner or her
invariable position, pipe in mouth, on the steps of her husband's
caravan. Gideon loved to display his devotion for her by grotesque
endearments and elephantine caresses--due no doubt to the gaujo strain
in him, for the true gipsies always treated their women in public as
chattels or beasts of burden, though privately they were entirely under
their thumbs.

Reuben brought Naomi and Harry into the middle of the Fair. Many people
stared at them. It was Harry's first public appearance since his
illness, and one or two comments louder than the general hum came to
Naomi's ears and made them pink.

Harry was soon established on the upturned cask beside the fighting
booth which had always been the fiddler's place. He began to play at
once--"Nice Young Maidens"--to all appearances quite indifferent to the
jostle round him. Naomi could not help marvelling at Reuben, too--he was
so cool, possessed and assured, so utterly without anything in the way
of embarrassment or self-consciousness.

Wonder was succeeded by wrath--how dare he be calm in the face of such
terrible things? She tried to pull her hand out of his arm, but he held
his elbow close to his side, and the little hand lay there like an
imprisoned mouse.

"Let's go away," she whispered, half nervously and half angrily, "I
hate standing here."

"I want to see how he's going to manage," said Reuben. "What'll he do
when he comes to the end of this tune?"

"Oh, do let's go away."

He did not answer, but stood there imperturbable, till Harry, having
successfully finished "Nice Young Maidens," started "The Woodpecker
Tapping" without any ado.

"He's safe enough now--we may as well go and have a look round."

Naomi followed him out of the little crowd which had grouped round
Harry, and they wandered into the Panorama tent to see the show. After
having sat for half an hour on a crowded bench, in an atmosphere thick
with foul tobacco and the smell of clothes long stored away--watching
"The Coronation of Queen Victoria" and "Scenery on the West Coast of
Scotland" rumble slowly past with many creaks--they moved on to the
sparring booth, where Buck Washington, now a little knotted and disabled
by a bout of rheumatism, arranged scraps between the ploughboys of the
neighbouring farms.

Unluckily, the object of sparring, as practised locally, was to draw as
much blood from the adversary as possible. The combatants went straight
for each others' noses, in spite of the conjurations of Buck, and Naomi
soon exercised her privilege as a town girl, and said she felt faint.
Reuben took her out, and they walked round the stalls, at one of which
he bought her a cherry ribbon for her fairing. At another they bought
gingerbread. Gradually her spirits began to revive--she applauded his
power at the shooting gallery, and when they came to the cocoanut shie,
she was laughing out loud.

Reuben seemed to have an endless supply of money. He, whom she had seen
deny himself white bread and tobacco, and scold his mother if she used
eggs to make a pudding, did not seem now to care how much he spent for
her amusement. He vowed, laughing, that she should not leave the shie
till she had brought down a nut, and the showman pocketed pennies till
he grinned from ear to ear, while Naomi threw the wooden balls in all
directions, hitting the showman and the spectators and once even Reuben
himself. At last he took her arm, and putting himself behind her managed
after one or two attempts to guide a successful throw. They went off
laughing with her prize, and came once more to the open ground where
Harry was still playing his fiddle.

Evidently he had pleased the multitude, for there was now a thick crowd
in the central space, and already dancing had begun. Farm-hands in clean
smocks, with bright-coloured handkerchiefs round their necks, gambolled
uncouthly with farm-girls in spotted and striped muslins. Young farmers'
wives, stiff with the sedateness of their bridehead, were drawn into
reluctant capers. Despairing virgins renewed their hope, and tried wives
their liveliness in unaccustomed arms. Even the elders danced, stumping
together on the outskirts of the whirl as long as their breath allowed
them.

Harry played "The Song of Seth's House," which in spite of--or because
of--its sadness was a good dancing tune. There was no definite step,
just anything the dancers fancied. Some kicked up their heels
vigorously, others slid them sedately, some held their partners by the
hand, others with both arms round their waist.

Then suddenly Naomi found herself in the thick of the crowd, at once
crushed and protected by Reuben's six foot three of strength. At first
she was shocked, chilled--she had never danced at a fair before, and it
seemed dreadful to be dancing here with Reuben while Harry fiddled. But
gradually the jovial movement, the vigour and gay spirits of her
partner, wore down her reluctance. Once more she was impressed by that
entire absence of self-consciousness and false pride which characterised
him. After all, why should they not dance here together? Why should they
stand glum while everyone else was merrymaking? Harry did not notice
them, and if he did he would not care.


     "The blackbird flew out from the eaves of the Manor,
       The Manor of Seth in the Sussex countrie,
     And he carried a prayer from the lad of the Manor,
       A prayer and a tear to his faithless ladie."


She found herself bending to the rhythm of the music, swaying in
Reuben's arms. He held her lightly, and it was wonderful how clever he
was in avoiding concussion with the other dancers, most of whom bumped
about regardless of anybody else.


     "To the lady who lives in the Grange by the water,
       The water of Iron in the Sussex countrie,
     The lad of Seth's House prays for comfort and pity--
       Have pity, my true love, have pity on me!"


A sudden weariness passed over Naomi, and Reuben led her out of the
dance and brought her a drink of mild icy ale. He did not offer to take
her home, and she did not ask to go. If he had offered she would have
gone, but she had no will of her own--all desire, all initiative was
drowned in the rhythm of the dance and the sadness of the old tune.


     "O why when we loved like the swallows in April,
       Should beauty forget now their nests have grown cold?
     O why when we kissed 'mid the ewes on the hanger,
       Should you turn from me now that they winter in fold?"


He led her back into the crowd, and once more she felt his arms round
her, so light, so strong, while her feet spun with his, tricked by
magic. She became acutely conscious of his presence--the roughness of
his coat-sleeve, the faint scent of the sprigged waistcoat, which had
been folded away in lavender. And all the while she had another picture
of him in her heart, not in his Sunday best, but in corduroys and the
blue shirt which had stood out of the January dusk, the last piece of
colour in the day. She remembered the swing of his arm, the crash of the
axe on the trunk, the bending of his back as he pulled it out, the
muscles swelled under the skin ... and then the tingling creep in her
own heart, that sudden suffocating thrill which had come to her there
beside Harry in the gloam....

The dusk was falling now, splashed by crude flares over the stalls, and
once more that creep--delicious, tingling, suffocating--was in her
heart, the intoxication of the weak by the strong. It seemed as if he
were holding her closer. She grew warm, and yet she would not stop.
There was sweat on her forehead, she felt her woollen gown sticking to
her shoulders--but she would not rest. The same old tune jigged on--it
was good to dance to, and Harry liked playing it.


     "O why, because sickness hath wasted my body,
       Should you do me to death with your dark treacherie?
     O why, because brothers and friends all have left me,
       Should you leave me too, O my faithless ladie?"


The dance was becoming more of a rout. Hats fell back, even Naomi's
heather-coloured bonnet became disorderly. Kerchiefs were crumpled and
necks bare. Arms grew tighter, there were few merely clasping hands now.
Then a lad kissed his partner on the neck while they danced, and soon
another couple were spinning round with lips clinging together. The
girls' hair grew rough and blew in their boys' eyes--there were sounds
of panting--of kissing--Naomi grew giddy, round her was a whirl of
colour, hands, faces, the dusk and flaring lights. She clung closer to
Reuben, and his arms tightened about her.


     "One day when your pride shall have brought you to sorrow,
       And years of despair and remorse been your fate,
     Perhaps your cold heart will remember Seth's Manor,
       And turn to your true love--and find it too late."


§ 12.

Reuben was pleased with the results of that Fair Day. Harry had been a
complete success. Even on the day itself he was engaged to fiddle at a
local wedding, and thenceforth no festival was complete without him. He
became the fashion in Peasmarsh. His birth and family gave proceedings
an air of gentility, and his tragic story imparted romance. Also his
real musical gifts were appreciated by some, as well as his tirelessness
and good nature. Occasionally he would have fits of crazy ill-temper,
but only required firm handling. Reuben saw that his brother, instead of
being entirely on the debit side of Odiam's accounts, would add
materially to its revenues. He became exceedingly kind to Harry, and
gave him apples and sweets.

That autumn he had sown his oats. He sowed English Berlie, after
wavering for some time between that and Barbachlaw. Quantities of rape
cake had been delivered in the furrows with the seed, and now the fields
lay, to the eye, wet and naked--to the soul, to Reuben's farmer-soul,
full of the hidden promise which should sprout with May.

He had a man to help him on the farm, Beatup, an uncouth coltish lad,
with an unlimited capacity for work. Reuben never let him touch the new
ground, but kept him busy in barn and yard with the cattle. Mrs.
Backfield worked in the house as usual, and she now also had charge of
the poultry; for Reuben having given them up to her when he was
single-handed, had not taken them back--he had to look after Beatup, who
wanted more watching than Harry, and he also had bought two more pigs as
money-makers. He was saving, stinting, scraping to buy more land.

Mrs. Backfield sometimes had Naomi to help her. Naomi often came to stay
at Odiam. She did not know why she came; it was not for love of Mrs.
Backfield, and the sight of Harry wrung her heart. She had fits of
weeping alternating with a happy restlessness.

Ever since the day of the Fair a strange feeling had possessed her,
sometimes just for fitful moments, sometimes for long days of panic--the
feeling of being pursued. She felt herself being hunted, slowly, but
inevitably, by one a dozen times more strong, more knowing, more
stealthy than herself. She heard his footsteps in the night, creeping
after her down long labyrinths of thought, sometimes his shadow sped
before her with her own. And she knew that one day he would seize
her--though she struggled, wept and fled, she knew that one day she
would be his at last, and of her own surrender. The awful part of that
seizing would be that it would be a matter of her will as well as
his....

She was afraid of Reuben, she fled before him like a poor little lamb,
trembling and bleating--and yet she would sometimes long for the
inevitable day when he would grasp her and fling her across his
shoulders.

She could not discipline her attitude towards him--sometimes she was
composed, distant even in her thoughts; at others a kind of delirious
excitement possessed her, she flushed and held down her head in his
presence, could not speak to him, and groped blindly for escape. She
would, on these occasions, end by returning to Rye, but away from Reuben
a restless misery tormented her, driving her back to Odiam.

She sometimes asked herself if she loved him, and in cold blood there
was only one answer to that question--No. What she felt for him was not
love, but obsession--if she had never loved she might have mistaken it,
but with her memories of Harry she could not. And the awful part of it
was that her heart was still Harry's, though everything else was
Reuben's. Her desires, her thoughts, her will were all Reuben's--by a
slow remorseless process he was making them his own--but her heart, the
loving, suffering part of her, was still Harry's, and might always be
his.

She was not continuously conscious of this--sometimes she forgot Harry,
sometimes he repulsed her, often she was afraid of him. But in moments
of quiet her heart always gave her the same message, like distant music,
drowned in a storm.

One day she was in the dairy at Odiam, skimming the cream-pans. The
sunshine, filtered to a watery yellow by the March afternoon, streamed
in on her, putting a yellow tinge into her white skin and white apron.
Her hair was the colour of fresh butter, great pats and cakes of which
stood on the slabs beside her. There was a smell of butter and standing
milk in the cold, rather damp air. Naomi skimmed the cream off the pans
and put it into a brown bowl.

Suddenly she realised that Reuben had come into the dairy, and was
standing beside her, a little way behind.

"Hullo, Ben," she said nervously--it was one of her nervous days.

"How's the cream to-day?"

"Capital."

He dipped his finger into the pan, and sucked it.

"Oughtn't it to stand a bit longer?"

"I don't think so."

"Taste it----"

He dipped his finger again, and suddenly thrust it between her lips.

She drew her head away almost angrily, and moved to the next pan.

Then he stooped and kissed her quite roughly on the neck, close to the
nape.

She cried out and turned round on him, but he walked out of the dairy.

For a moment Naomi stood stockish, conscious only of two sensations in
her body--the taste of cream on her lips, and a little cold place at the
back of her neck. She began to tremble, then suddenly the colour left
her cheeks, for in the doorway of the wash-house, three yards off, stood
Harry.

He did not move, and for some unaccountable reason she felt sure that he
knew Reuben had kissed her. A kind of sickness crept up to her heart;
she held out her hands before her, and tottered a little. She felt
faint.

"Harry!" she called.

He came shuffling up to her, and for a moment stood straining his blind
eyes into her face.

"Harry--will you--will you take this basin of cream to your mother?"

He was still looking into her eyes, and she was visited by a terrible
feeling that came to her sometimes and went as quickly--that he was not
so mad as people thought.

"Will you take it?"

He nodded.

She gave him the cream bowl. Their hands accidentally touched; she
pulled hers away, and the bowl fell and was broken.


§ 13.

The next day Naomi left for Rye, where she stayed three weeks. She was
mistaken, however, in thinking she had found a place of refuge, the hunt
still went on. Reuben knew that his kiss had given him a definite
position with regard to her, and Naomi knew that he knew. Twice he came
over and visited her at Rye. He never attempted to kiss her again, and
carefully avoided all talk of love. Indeed, her father was generally in
the room. He was much taken with young Backfield, who was ready to talk
shipping and harbour-work with him for hours.

"He's a solider man than ever poor Harry was," said old Gasson to Naomi,
"more dependable, I should think. Reckon he'll do well for himself at
Odiam. She'll be a lucky girl whom he marries."

Naomi had no mother.

Reuben was pleased with the impression he had made. He was now working
definitely. At first he had merely drifted, drawn by the charm of the
female creature, so delicate, soft and weak. Then commonsense had taken
the rudder--he had seen Naomi's desirableness from a practical point of
view; she was young, good-looking, sound if scarcely robust, well
dowered, and of good family--fit in every way to be the mother of his
children. Since Harry was debarred from marrying her, his brother could
even more profitably take his place. Her money would then go direct to
his ambition; he realised the enormous advantage of a little reserve
capital and longed for a relaxation of financial strain. The Gassons
were an old and respected family, and an alliance with them would give
lustre to Odiam. Also he wanted children. He was fond of Naomi for her
own sake. Poor little chicken! Her weakness appealed to him, and he
rather enjoyed seeing her fluttering before his feet.

Towards the middle of April she came back to the farm to help Mrs.
Backfield with her house-cleaning. She clung to the older woman all day,
but she knew that Reuben would at last find her alone.

He did. She was laying the supper while Mrs. Backfield finished mending
a curtain upstairs, when he marched suddenly into the room. He had come
in from the yard, and his clothes smelt of the cow-stalls and of the
manure that he loved. His face was moist; he stood in front of her and
mopped his brow.

"I'm hungry, Naomi. Wot have you got fur me?"

"There's eggs...."

"Wot else?"

"Bread ... cheese...."

She could scarcely frame the homely words. For some unaccountable reason
she felt afraid, felt like some poor creature in a trap.

"Wot else?"

"That's all."

"All! But I'm still hungry. Wot more do you think I want?"

She licked her lips.

He leaned over the table towards her.

"Wot more have you got fur me?"

"Nothing, I--I'm going upstairs. Let me pass, please."

"Maybe I want a kiss."

"Oh, no, no!" she cried, trying to edge between him and the wall.

"Why not?"

He put his hands on her shoulders, she felt the warmth and heaviness of
them, and was more frightened than ever because she liked it.

"Maybe I want more than a kiss."

She was leaning against the wall, if he had released her she could not
have run away. She was like a rabbit, paralysed with fear.

He bent towards her and his lips closed on hers. She nearly fainted, but
she did not struggle or try to scream. It seemed years that they stood
linked by that unwilling kiss. At last he raised his head.

"Will you marry me, Naomi?"

"No---- Oh, no!"

"Why?"

"No--no--I can't--I won't!"

Strength came to her suddenly; it was like awaking from a nightmare. She
thrust him from her, slipped past, and ran out of the room.


The next morning she returned to Rye. But she could not stay there. Her
heart was all restlessness and dissatisfaction. Soon Mrs. Backfield
announced that she was coming back.

"I reckoned she would," said Reuben.

She arrived in the swale. A tender grey mist was in the air, smeething
Boarzell, mingling with the smoke of Odiam chimneys, that curled out
wood-scented into the dark. As Naomi climbed from the carrier's cart
which had brought her, she smelled the daffodils each side of the garden
path. The evening was full of pale perfumes, of ghostly yellows, massing
faintly amidst the grey.

Reuben stood in the doorway and watched her come up the path, herself
dim and ghostly, like the twilight and the flowers. When she was close
he held out his arms to her, and she fell on his breast.


§ 14.

From thenceforward there was no looking back. Preparations for the
wedding began at once. Old Gasson was delighted, and dowered his girl
generously. As for Naomi, she gave herself up to the joys of
bride-elect. Her position as Reuben's betrothed was much more important
than as Harry's. It was more definite, more exalted, the ultimate
marriage loomed more largely and more closely in it. She and Reuben were
not so much sweethearts as husband and wife to be. Their present
semi-attached state scarcely counted, it was just an unavoidable
interval of preparation for a more definite relationship.

She was glad in a way that everything was so different, glad that
Reuben's love-making was so utterly unlike Harry's. Otherwise she could
never have plunged herself so deep into forgetfulness. She was quite
without regrets--she could never have imagined she could be so free of
them. She lived for the present, and for the future which was not her
own. She was at rest. No longer the pursuing feet came after her, making
her life a nightmare of long flights--she was safe in her captor's
grasp, borne homeward on his shoulder.

She was not exaltedly happy or wildly expectant. Her anticipations were
mostly material, buyings and stitchings. She looked forward to her
position as mistress of Odiam, and stocked her linen cupboard. As for
Reuben, her attitude towards him had changed at once with surrender. If
he no longer terrified, also he no longer thrilled. She had grown fond
of him, peacefully and domestically so, in a way she could never have
been fond of Harry. She loved to feel his strong arm round her, his
shoulder under her head, she loved to nestle close up to him and feel
his warmth. His kisses were very different from Harry's, more lingering,
more passionate, but, paradoxically, they thrilled her less. There had
always been a touch of the wild and elfin in Harry's love-making which
suggested an adventure in fairyland, whereas Reuben's suggested nothing
but earth, and the earth is not exciting to those who have been in
faery.

At last the wedding-day came--an afternoon in May, gloriously white and
blue. Naomi stood before her mirror with delicious qualms, while one or
two girl friends took the place of her mother and helped her to dress.
She wore white silk, very full in the skirt, with a bunch of lilies of
the valley in the folds of the bodice, which was cut low, showing the
soft neck that in contrast to the dead white of the silk had taken a
delicious creamy cowslip tint. Her lovable white hat was trimmed with
artificial lilies of the valley, and she had white kid gloves and tiny
white kid shoes.

She was very happy, and if she thought of Harry and what might have
been, it only brought a delightful sad-smiling melancholy over her
happiness like a bridal veil.

"How do I look?" she asked her friends.

"You look charming!"--"how well your hat becomes you!"--"how small your
feet seem in your new shoes!"--"how sweet you smell!"--chorused the
girls, loving her more than ever because they envied her, after the
manner of girls.

Naomi walked to church on her father's arm. She held her head down, and
her bridesmaids saw her neck grow pink below the golden fluff on the
nape. She hid her face from Reuben and would not look at him as they
stood side by side before Rye altar. No one could hear her responses,
they were spoken so faintly, she was the typical Victorian bride, all
shy, trembling, and blushing.

Only once she dared look up, and that was when they were walking
solemnly from the communion table to the vestry--then she suddenly
looked up and saw Reuben's great strong shoulder towering above her own,
his face rather flushed under its sunburn, and his hair unusually sleek
and shining with some oil.

They did not speak to each other till he had her in his gig, driving up
Playden Hill. Then he muttered--"Liddle Naomi--my wife," and kissed her
on the neck and lips. She did not want him to kiss her, because she
wished to avoid crumpling her gown, and also she was afraid Reuben's
horse might choose that moment to kick or run away. But of course such
reasons did not appeal to him, and it was a dishevelled and rather cross
little bride whom he lifted out at Odiam.

The wedding supper was to be held at the bridegroom's house, as old
Gasson's rooms were not large enough, and he objected to "having the
place messed up." During the marriage service Mrs. Backfield had been
worrying about her pie-crusts--indeed she almost wished she had stayed
at home. Naomi helped her dish up the supper, while Reuben received the
guests who were beginning to arrive, some from Rye, some from the
neighbouring farms. There had been a certain amount of disgusted comment
when it became known that Backfield was marrying his brother's
sweetheart; but criticism of Reuben always ended in reluctant
admiration for his smartness as a business man.

"He'll go far, that young feller," said Realf of Grandturzel.

"Where's Harry?" Vennal asked.

"Sh-sh--döan't you go asking ork'ard questions."

"They wöan't have him to fiddle, I reckon," said Realf.

"I shud say even young Ben wudn't do that."

"Why not?" put in Ditch--"he döan't know naun about it. He's forgotten
she ever wur his girl."

"You can't be sure o' that, Mus' Ditch--only the Lard knows wot mad
folkses remember and wot they forget. But there's the supper ready; git
moving or we'll have to sit by the door."

Odiam's strict rule had been relaxed in honour of the wedding, and a
lavish, not to say luxurious, meal covered two long tables laid end to
end across the kitchen. There was beef and mutton, there was stew, there
were apple and gooseberry pies, and a few cone-shaped puddings, pink and
white and brown, giving an aristocratic finish to the supper.

Naomi and Reuben sat at the head of the table, Mr. Gasson and Mrs.
Backfield on either side of them. Harry was not present, for his methods
of feeding made him rather a disgusting object at meals. Naomi had put
herself tidy, but somehow she still felt disordered and flustered. She
hated all this materialism encroaching on her romance. The sight of the
farmers pushing for places at the table filled her with disgust--the
slightest things upset her, the untidy appearance of the dishes after
they had been helped, some beer stains on the cloth, even her husband's
hearty appetite and not quite noiseless eating. The room soon became
insufferably hot, and she felt herself getting damp and sticky--a most
unlovely condition for a bride.

When the actual feeding was over there were speeches and toasts. Vennal
of Burntbarns proposed the health of the bride, and Realf of Grandturzel
that of the groom. Then Mrs. Backfield's health was drunk, then Mr.
Gasson's. There were more toasts, and some songs--"Oh, no, I never
mention her," "The Sussex Whistling Song," and old farmhouse ballads,
such as:


     "Our maid she would a hunting go,
       She'd never a horse to ride;
     She mounted on her master's boar,
       And spurred him on the side.
     Chink! chink! chink! the bridle went,
       As she rode o'er the downs.
     So here's unto our maiden's health,
     Drink round, my boys! drink round!"


Naomi felt bored and sick; twice she yawned, and she stretched her tired
shoulders under her dress. At last Reuben noticed her discomfort.

"You're tired--you'd better go to bed," he whispered, and she at once
gladly rose and slipped away, though she would not have gone without his
suggestion.

"Can I help you, dear?" asked Mrs. Backfield as she passed her chair.
But Naomi wanted to be alone.

She stole out of the kitchen into the peace of the dark house, ran up
the stairs, and found the right door in the unlighted passage. The
bedroom was very big and cold, and on the threshold she wrinkled up her
nose at a strange scent, something like hay and dry flowers.

She groped her way to the chimney-piece and found a candle and a
tinder-box. The next minute a tiny throbbing flame fought unsuccessfully
with the darkness which still massed in the corners and among the
cumbrous bits of furniture. Naomi's new kid shoes were hurting her, and
she bent down to untie them; but even as she bent, her eyes were growing
used to the dim light, and she noticed something queer about the room.
She lifted her head and saw that the outlines of the dressing-table and
bed were rough ... the scent of dry grass suddenly revolted her.

She looked round, and this time she saw clearly. About the mirror, along
the bed-head, and garlanding the posts, were crude twists and lumps of
field flowers--dandelions buttercups, moon daisies, oxlips, fennel, and
cow-parsley, all bunched up with hay grass, all dry, withered, rotting,
and malodorous. There was a great sheaf of them on her pillow, an armful
torn up from a hay-field, still smelling of the sun that had blasted
it....

In a flash Naomi knew who had put them there. No sane mind could have
conceived such a decoration or seeing eyes directed it. Harry, exiled
from church and feast, had spent his time in a crazy effort to honour
the happy pair. He knew she was to marry Reuben, but had not seemed to
take much interest. Doubtless the general atmosphere of festivity and
adornment had urged him to this.

How dreadful! Already she saw an insect crawling over the bed--probably
there were lots of others about the room; and these flowers, all
parched, dead, and evil-smelling, gave a sinister touch to her wedding
day. A lump rose in her throat, the back of her eyes was seared by
something hot and sudden.... Oh, Harry ... Harry....

Then misery turned to rage. It was Reuben who had brought her to this,
who had stolen her from Harry, forced her into marrying him, and exposed
her to this anguish. She hated Reuben. She hated him. With all the
fierceness of her conquered soul and yielded body she hated him. She
would have nothing more to do with him, she would be revenged on him,
punish him ... a little hoarse scream of rage burst from her lips, and
she turned suddenly and ran out of that dreadful room.

She ran down the passage, panting and sobbing with rage. Then at the
stair head something even blacker than the darkness met her. It seized
her, it swung her up, she was powerless as a little bird in its grasp.
Her struggles were crushed in the kind strong arms that held her, and
rage was stifled from her lips with kisses.



BOOK II

THE WOMAN'S PART


§ 1.

An elegy of oats.

Reuben's oats were a dismal failure. All the warm thrilling hopes which
he had put into the ground with the seed and the rape cake, all the
watching and expectation which had imparted as many delights as Naomi to
the first weeks of his married life--all had ended in a few rows of
scraggy, scabrous murrainous little shoots, most of which wilted as if
with shame directly they appeared above the ground, while the others,
after showing him and a derisive neighbourhood all that oats could do in
the way of tulip-roots, sedge-leaves, and dropsical husk, shed their
seeds in the first summer gale, and started July as stubble.

There was no denying it. Boarzell had beaten Reuben in this their first
battle. That coarse, shaggy, unfruitful land had refused to submit to
husbandry. Backfield had not yet taken Leviathan as his servant. His
defeat stimulated local wit.

"How's the peas gitting on, Mäaster?" Ditch of Totease would facetiously
enquire. "I rode by that new land of yours yesterday, and, says I,
there's as fine a crop of creeping plants as ever I did see."

"'Täun't peas, thick 'un," Vennal would break in uproariously, "it's
turnips--each of 'em got a root like my fist."

"And here wur I all this time guessing as it wur cabbages acause of the
leaves," old Ginner would finish, not to be outdone in badinage.

Reuben always accepted such chaff good-humouredly, for he knew it was
prompted by envy, and he would have scorned to let these men know how
much he had been hurt. Also, though defeated, he was quite undaunted. He
was not going to be beaten. That untractable slope of marl should be
sown as permanent pasture in the spring, and he would grow oats on the
new piece he would buy at the end of the year with his wife's fortune.

Naomi's money had been the greatest possible help. He had roofed the
Dutch barn, and retarred the oasts, he had bought a fine new plough
horse and a waggon, and he was going to buy another piece of
Boarzell--ten or twelve acres this time, of the more fruitful clay-soil
by the Glotten brook. Naomi was pleased to see all the new things. The
barn looked so spick-and-span with its scarlet tiles, and the oasts
shone like polished ebony, she loved to stroke the horse's brown,
snuffling nose, and "Oh, what a lovely blue!" she said when she saw the
waggon.

She could not take much interest in Reuben's ambitions, indeed she only
partly understood them. What did he want Boarzell for?--it was so rough
and dreary, she was sure nothing would grow there. She loved the farm,
with the dear faces of the cows, and the horses, and the poultry, and
even the pigs, but talk of crops and acres only bored her. Sometimes
Reuben's enthusiasm would spill over, and sitting by the fire with her
in the evening, he would enlarge on all he was going to do with
Boarzell--this year, next year, ten years hence. Then she would nestle
close to him, and murmur--"Yes, dear" ... "yes, dear" ... "that will be
glorious"--while all the time she was thinking of his long lashes, his
strong brown neck, the clear weight of his arm on her shoulder, and the
kiss that would be hers when he took his pipe out of his mouth.

From this it may be gathered that the sorrow and hate of Naomi's
wedding night had been but the reaction of a moment. Indeed she woke the
next morning to find herself a very happy wife. She fell back into her
old attitude towards Reuben--affection, trust, and compliance, with
which was mixed this time a little innocent passion. She loved being
with him, was scrupulously anxious to please him, and would have worked
her hands to pieces for his sake.

But Reuben did not want her to work. She was rather surprised at this at
first, for she had expected that she would go on helping Mrs. Backfield
as she had done before her marriage. Reuben, however, was quite
firm--his wife was not to redden her skin by stooping over fires, or
coarsen her hands by dabbling them in soapsuds. An occasional visit to
the dairy or some half-playful help on bread-baking days was all he
would allow.

"But won't it be too hard for mother?" Naomi had objected.

"Mother?--she's used to it, and she's tougher than you, liddle
creature."

"But I could help just a bit."

"No, no--I wöan't have you go wearing yourself out. Döan't let's hear no
more about it."

Naomi had submitted, as she always submitted, and after a while
obedience was made easy. In August she realised that she was going to
have a child and any conscientious desires which might have twinged her
at the sight of Mrs. Backfield's seaming face and bending shoulders,
were lost in the preoccupations of her own condition.

At first she had not been pleased. She was only nineteen, not
particularly robust, and resented the loss of her health and freedom;
but after a while sweet thoughts and expectations began to warm in her.
She loved little babies, and it would be delicious to have one of her
own. She hoped it would be a girl, and thought of beautiful names for
it--Victoria, Emilia, Marianna, and others that she had seen in the
Keepsake. But her delight was nothing to Reuben's. She had been
surprised, overwhelmed by his joy when she told him her news. He,
usually so reserved, had become transported, emotional, almost
lyrical--so masterful, had humbled himself before her and had knelt at
her feet with his face hidden in her gown.

She could never guess what that child meant to Reuben. It meant a fellow
labourer on his farm, a fellow fighter on Boarzell, and after he was
dead a Man to carry on his work and his battle. At last he would have
someone to share his ambition--that child should be trained up in the
atmosphere of enterprise; as other fathers taught their children to love
and serve God, so Reuben would teach this son to love and serve Odiam.
He would no longer strive alone, he would have a comrade, a soldier with
him. And after this boy there would be other boys, all growing up in the
love of Odiam, to live for it.

He treated his wife like a queen, he would not allow her the smallest
exertion. He waited on her hand and foot and expected his mother to do
the same. Every evening, or, later in the year, in the afternoon, he
would come home early from his work, and take her out for a walk on his
arm. He would not allow her to go alone, for fear that she might
overtire herself or that anything might frighten her. He insisted on her
having the daintiest food, and never eating less than a certain quantity
every day; he decided that the Odiam chairs were too hard, and bought
her cushions at Rye. In fact he pampered her as much as he denied
everybody else and himself.

Naomi soon came to enjoy her coddling, even though occasionally his
solicitude was inclined to be tiresome. As time wore on he would not let
her walk up and down stairs, but carried her up to bed himself, and
down again in the morning. She grew fat, white, and languorous. She
would lie for hours with her hands folded on her lap, now and then
picking up a bit of sewing for a few minutes, then dropping it again.
She was proud of her position in comparison with other farmers' wives in
the same circumstances. Their men kept them working up to the last week.

During this time she saw very little of Harry and scarcely ever thought
of him. She no longer had any doubts as to his being quite mad.


§ 2.

In the autumn Reuben bought ten more acres of Boarzell--a better piece
of land than the first, more sheltered, with more clay in the soil. Hops
would do well on the lower part of it down by the brook.

He also bought three Jersey cows; they would improve the small dairy
business he had established, and their milk would be good for Naomi. His
watchfulness of his wife had now almost become tyranny. He scolded her
if she stooped to pick up her scissors, and would not let her walk even
in the garden without him.

Naomi submitted languidly. Her days passed in a comfortable heaviness,
and though she occasionally felt bored, on the whole she enjoyed being
fussed over and waited on. During those months her relations with
Reuben's mother became subtly changed. Before her marriage there had
been a certain friendship and equality between them, but now the elder
woman took more the place of a servant. It was not because she waited on
Naomi, fetched and carried--Reuben did that, and was her master still.
It was rather something in her whole attitude. She had ceased to confide
in Naomi, ceased perhaps to care for her very much, and this gave a
certain menial touch to her services. It would be hard to say what had
separated the two women--perhaps it was because one toiled all day while
the other lay idle, perhaps it was a twinge of maternal jealousy on Mrs.
Backfield's part, for Reuben was beginning to notice her less and less.
After a time Naomi realised this estrangement, and though at first she
did not care, later on it came to distress her. Somehow she did not like
the idea of being without a woman associate--in spite of her love for
Reuben, now more passive and more languid, like every other emotion, she
craved instinctively for someone of her own sex in whom she could
confide and on whom she could rely.

The year dipped into winter, then rose again into spring. Lambs began to
bleat in the pens, and with the last of them in March came Naomi's baby.

Reuben was nearly mad with anxiety. His mother's calm, the doctor's
leisureliness, the midwife's bustling common sense, struck him as
callous and unnatural. Even Naomi greeted him with a wan, peaceful
smile, when frantic with waiting, he stole up to her room. Did they all
realise, he wondered, what was at stake? Suppose anything should
happen.... In vain the doctor assured him that everything was normal and
going on just as it should.

He went out and did a little work, but after an hour or so flung down
the chicken-coop he was making, and rushed into the house. His usual
question received its usual answer. He thought the doctor a hemmed fraud
and the doctor thought him a damned fool.

The sun set, and Reuben had given up even the attempt to work. He
wandered on Boarzell till the outline of its crest was lost in the black
pit of night. Then a new anxiety began to fret him. Possibly all was
going well since everybody said so, but--suppose the child was a girl!
Up till now he had scarcely thought of such a thing, he had made sure
that his child would be a boy, someone to help him in his struggle and
to reap the fruits of it after he was gone. But, suppose, after all, it
should be a girl! Quite probably it would be--why should he think it
would not? The sweat stood on Reuben's forehead.

Then suddenly he saw something white moving in the darkness. It was
coming towards him. It was his mother's apron.

He ran to meet her, for his legs tottered so that he could not walk. He
could not frame his question, but she answered it:

"All's well ... it's a boy."


§ 3.

Naomi spent a peaceful and happy convalescence. Everything combined for
her blessedness. The soft April days scattered their scent and sunshine
on her bed, where she lay with her baby, full of drowsy hopes. Even
Boarzell's firs had a mellowness about them, as if her motherhood had
sweetened not only herself and those about her, but the grim face of
nature militant.

Her memories of those days were full of the smell of daffodils blown in
at her window from the garden and of primroses set by Reuben in a bowl
beside the bed--of Reuben stooping over her, smoothing back her hair,
and stroking her face with hands that quivered strangely, or holding the
baby as if it were made of fire and glass.

As soon as she was well enough the christening took place in Peasmarsh
church. The heir of all the Backfields was important enough to receive
three Christian names--Reuben after his father, Thomas after old Gasson,
and Albert after the Prince Consort. "I shall call him Albert," said
Naomi.

That spring and summer Reuben worked with a light heart. His fatherhood
made him proud and expansive. He would boast about the baby to Beatup,
tell him how many ounces it had gained in the week, enlarge on its
strength and energy, with intimate details concerning its digestion--all
of which were received open-mouthed by Beatup who knew pretty well as
much about babies as he did about oecumenical councils.

"He'll soon be able to do a bit of work wud us, Beatup," said Reuben
apocalyptically.--"I'll have him on when he's ten or thereabouts, and at
fifteen he'll be doing full man's work. I shouldn't wonder as how I'd
never want another hand but you--we could manage the pläace, I reckon,
till the lad's old enough, and then there'll be others...."

"Yus, Mäaster," said Beatup.

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."

He pictured Odiam chiefly as a great grain farm--though there might be
more money in fruit or milk, these would be mere temporary profit-making
concerns, means to an end; for glory and real permanent fortune lay in
wheat. He was terribly anxious lest the Corn Laws should be repealed, a
catastrophe which had threatened farming for several years. For the
first time he began to take an interest in politics and follow the trend
of public opinion. He could not read, so was forced to depend on Naomi
to read him the newspaper he occasionally had three days old from Rye.

The Backfields had always been Tory, just as they had always been
Church, because Liberalism and Dissent were "low," and unworthy of
yeomen farmers. But they had never felt very keenly about politics,
which, except at election times, had not come much into their lives.
Even at the elections the interest had been slight, because up till ten
years ago Rye had been a pocket borough, and its Radical member went up
to Parliament without any of the pamphlet-writing, bill-sticking,
mud-throwing, or free-fighting, which stirred the blood in other towns.

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.

The Bardons were strongly anti-Corn Law, but their opposition had that
same touch of inefficiency which characterised all their dealings and
earned Reuben's contempt. In spite of their Liberalism they had been
driven for financial considerations to inclose Boarzell--then even the
inclosure had failed, and they were now, also against their will,
surrendering the land piecemeal to a man who was in every way their
opposite and antagonist. They agitated feebly for Repeal, but were
unable to make themselves heard. They visited the poor, and doled out
relief in ineffectual scraps. Reuben despised them. They were an old
line--effete--played out. He and his race would show them what was a
Man.


§ 4.

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.

However, there was no help for it. Reuben was overjoyed, and once more
she slipped under his tyranny. This time she found it irksome, his
watchfulness was a nuisance, his anxiety was absurd. However, she did
not complain. She was too timid, and too fond of him.

"I hope it'll be a girl this time," she said one afternoon, when
according to custom she was walking along Totease Lane, his arm under
hers.

"A girl---- Oh, no! I want another boy."

"But we've got a boy, Reuben. It would be nice to have a girl now."

"Why, liddle creature?"

"Oh, I justabout love baby girls. They're so sweet--and all their
dresses and that.... Besides we don't want two boys."

To her surprise Reuben stopped in the road, and burst out laughing.

"Two boys!--not want two boys!--Why, we want ten boys! if I cud have
twenty, I shudn't grumble."

"What nonsense you're talking, Backfield," said Naomi primly.

"I äun't talking nonsense, I'm talking sound sense. How am I to run the
farm wudout boys? I want boys to help me work all that land. I'm going
to have the whole of Boarzell, as I've told you a dunnamany times, and
I'll want men wud me on it. So döan't you go talking o' girls. Wot use
are girls?--none! They just spannel about, and then go off and get
married."

"But a girl 'ud be useful in the house--she could help mother when she's
older."

"No, thankee. However hard she works she äun't worth half a boy. You
give me ten boys, missus, and then I döan't mind you having a girl or so
to please yourself."

Naomi was disgusted. Reuben had once or twice offended her by his
coarseness, but she could never get used to it.

"Oh, how can you speak to me so!" she gulped.

"Now, you silly liddle thing, wot are you crying for? Mayn't I have a
joke?"

"But you're so vulgar!"

Reuben looked a little blank. None of the details of his great desire
had hitherto struck him as vulgar.

"Vulgar, am I?" he said ruefully. "No matter, child, we wöan't go
quarrelling. Come, dry your dear eyes, and maybe to-morrow I'll drive
you over to Rye to see the market."

Naomi obediently dried her eyes, but it was rather hard to keep them
from getting wet again. For in her heart she knew that it was not the
vulgarity of Reuben's joke which had upset her, but a certain horrible
convincingness about it. It was not so merely a joke as he would have
her think.

During the days that followed her attitude towards him changed subtly,
almost subconsciously. A strange fear of him came over her. Would he
insist on her bearing child after child to help him realise his great
ambition? It was ridiculous, she knew, and probably due to her state of
health, but sometimes she found herself thinking of him not so much as a
man as a thing; she saw in him no longer the loving if tyrannical
husband, but a law, a force, to which she and everyone else must bow.
She even noticed a kind of likeness between him and Boarzell--swart,
strong, cruel, full of an irrepressible life.


§ 5.

The following spring Naomi gave birth to twin boys. With these twins
really started the epic of her maternity. She was not to be one of those
women for whom motherhood is a little song of baby shoes and blue
sashes, and games and kisses and rockings to sleep. Hers was altogether
a sterner business, her part in a battle--it was motherhood for a
definite purpose, man and woman taking a leaf out of nature's book,
playing her game to their own advantage, using her methods only to crush
her at last. In a word it was epic--and the one drawback was that Naomi
had never been meant for an epic part in life. She of all women had been
meant for baby shoes and blue sashes, and here she was with her shoulder
against Reuben's, helping him in the battle which even he found hard....

However, as yet there were few misgivings. That faintness of spirit
which had come over her during the last few months of her pregnancy,
faded like a ghost in the first joyous days of her deliverance. Reuben's
pride, delight, and humble gratitude were enough to make any woman
happy, even without those two dear fat little babies which the doctor
said were the finest twins he had ever seen. Naomi was one of those
women who, even without very strong maternal instincts, cannot resist a
baby. The soft limbs, the big downy heads, the groping wet mouths of her
boys were a sheer physical delight to her. She even forgot to regret
that one of them was not a girl.

She made a quick recovery, and Robert and Peter were christened at
Easter-time. Naomi looked every inch the proud mother. Her slight figure
had acquired more matronly lines, and she even affected a more elderly
style of dress. For some time afterwards, proud and beloved, she really
felt that motherhood was her vocation, and when in the course of the
summer she realised that her experiences were to be repeated, she was
not so sorry as she had been before. She hoped desperately it would be a
girl--but this time said nothing to Reuben.

Once more her attitude towards him had changed. She no longer felt the
timid passion of the first months after her marriage, but she also no
longer felt that sinister dread and foreboding which had succeeded it.
She looked upon him less as her husband, inspiring alternately love and
terror, than as the father of her children. She saw him, so to speak,
through them. She loved him because they were his as well as hers. She
spoke less of "I" and "he," and more of "us," "we," and "ours."

All the same she was bitterly disappointed when the following year
another boy was born. She sobbed into her pillow, and even Reuben's
delight and little Richard's soft kicks against her breast, could not
comfort her. In fact she felt secretly angry with Reuben for his joy. He
did not think of her and what she wanted. He thought only of his dirty
old farm, and that dreary, horrible Boarzell.

As time wore on, and her hopes were once more roused, she became quite
obsessed by the idea of having a girl. She thought of nothing but the
little frocks, the ribbons with which she would tie the pretty hair. She
pictured the times she and her daughter would have together, the
confidences they would exchange--for old Mrs. Backfield grew more and
more silent and unreceptive, and her neighbours were not of her mould.
They would tell each other everything ... she had dreams of an
impossible little pink-and-white girl like a doll, with golden curls and
blue eyes and a white muslin frock. In her dreams she would stretch out
her arms to this ached-for child, and would wake sobbing, with the tears
running down her face.

Then, at last, after experiences which had had boredom added to their
pain by repetition, she murmured--"What is it, mother?"--and a real,
breathing, living, crying, little girl was put into her arms.


§ 6.

The positions of husband and wife were now reversed. It was Reuben who
sulked and gloomed, looking at the baby askance, while Naomi moved in a
daydream of peace and rapture and desire satisfied. She was too happy to
care much about her husband's disappointment. She would never have
believed it if anyone had told her in the first weeks of her marriage
that she could have a joy and not mind if he did not share it, a child
and not fret if he did not love it. But now her child sufficed her, or
rather she had learned the lesson of wives, to suffice herself, and
could love and rejoice without a comrade.

She had forgotten the Arabellas and Mariannas of the Keepsake, and the
baby was called Fanny after Naomi's own mother, whom she dimly
remembered. Fanny became the centre of Naomi's life; she was not as
healthy as the other children, and her little pains and illnesses were
all so many cords drawing her closer to her mother's heart. Though she
required twice as much attention as the boys, Naomi never fretted or
grew weary, as she had sometimes done in the service of the other little
ones--on the contrary, she bloomed into a new beauty, and recovered the
youthfulness she had begun to lose.

Strange to say, Harry, who had paid little attention to the earlier
babies, seemed drawn to this one. He would hang round Naomi when she had
her in her lap, and sometimes gingerly put out a hand and stroke the
child's limbs. Naomi could not bear that he should touch her; but he
amused Fanny, so she tolerated him. He had fallen into the habit of many
half-witted people and occasionally made strange faces, which though
repulsive to everyone else, filled Fanny with hilarious delight. Indeed
they were the first thing she "noticed."

"Oh, the pretty baby! save the pretty baby!"--Harry would mutter and
shriek, and he would wander about the house crying--"Save the pretty
baby!" till Naomi declared that he gave her the shivers.

"Keep him out of the way, can't you, Backfield?" she said to her
husband.

In Reuben's eyes Naomi was just as irritating and ridiculous as Harry.
She made foolish clothes for Fanny, quite unfit for a child in her
position--muslins and ribbon bows, little knitted shoes, which she was
forever pulling off to kiss the baby's feet. She would seat her on some
high big chair in which she lolled with grotesque importance, and would
kneel before her and call her "Miss Fanny."

"There, Miss Fanny--see what a grand baby you are. Soon all the boys
will be courting you--see if they don't. You shall always wear silk and
muslins and sit on cushions, and you will always love your mother, won't
you, dear little miss?"

Reuben was revolted--also a little hurt. It seemed to him that Naomi was
neglecting the boys he was so proud of. Albert was nearly four years
old, a fine sturdy child, worth a dozen puling Fannys, and Robert and
Pete were vigorous crawlers and adventurers, who ought to rejoice any
mother's heart. Richard was still in an uninteresting stage--but, hem it
all! he was a boy.

Nearly as bad as her indifference to the children she had already borne,
was her indifference to the child she was about to bear. She was
expecting her confinement in the spring, but she did not seem to take
the slightest interest in it or the slightest care of herself. Again and
again she would start up from the sofa where she had lain down by his
orders, because she heard Fanny crying upstairs. She risked injuring
herself by continually carrying her about or by stooping over her as she
rolled on the floor.

Reuben often spoke to her severely, but with no result. There was a time
when he could never chide her without her crying, but now she hardly
seemed to care.

As the autumn wore on Fanny became more and more ailing and Naomi more
and more preoccupied. There were doctor's visits to be paid for, and on
one or two occasions Naomi had sent for him unnecessarily. It maddened
Reuben to think that he was not master of his own household, but though
he could always enforce obedience in person, he was compelled
continually to be out of doors, even sometimes away from the farm, and
he could not control what went on in his absence.

Odiam was passing through anxious times. The expected and dreaded had
happened--the Corn Laws had been repealed, and cursing farmers grubbed
up their wheatfields, hoping no more from grain. Reuben was bitterly
disappointed, the whole future of Odiam was bound up with grain, the
most honourable and--in the long run--most profitable of a farm's
concerns. In his dreams he had seen wind-rippled waves of wheat rolling
up to Boarzell's very crest, he had seen the threshed corn filling his
barn, or rumbling to Iden Mill. Now the cheap abundant foreign grain
would fight his home-sown harvests. He would have to depend for revenue
on milk and hops, and grow wheat only as an expensive decoration. Peel
was a traitor; he had betrayed the staunch grain-growing Tories who had
inconvenienced themselves with muddy rides to vote for his supporters.
For a year or so Reuben hated the Conservatives, and would not vote at
all at the next election.

He had trouble, too, with his new grass. One of his Jersey cows suddenly
died, and it turned out that it had eaten some poisonous plant which
had insinuated itself into the pasture. It was as if Boarzell fought
treacherously--with stabbings in the dark as well as blastings in the
open. The night the Jersey died, Reuben sat with his head buried in his
arms on the kitchen table, while Naomi carried her Miss Fanny about the
room, and told her about the beautiful silk gowns she would wear when
she grew up.


§ 7.

That autumn he had sown catch-crops of Italian rye grass, which gave the
stock a good early winter feed. He had grown sharper in his dealings
with the land, he knew how to take it at a disadvantage, snatch out a
few roots. Every inch of the farm was now at work, for every blade of
grass now counted. He had even dug up the garden, casting aside
rose-bushes, sweet-peas, and dahlias for dull rows of drum-head
cabbages, potatoes, kale, and beans. And manure ... there was manure
everywhere, lying under the very parlour windows, sending up its
effluvium on the foggy winter air till it crept into even the close-shut
bedroom, making Naomi conscious of Reuben in her dreams.

She was inclined to be sulky in those days. She disliked the smell of
manure, she disliked being made to dream of Reuben, towards whom she now
felt a vague hostility. What business had he to go and saddle her with
another child? Surely she had enough--four boys and a girl. What
business had he to make her languid and delicate just when she needed
all her health for the ailing Fanny? He was so unsympathetic about
Fanny, too, one really might think he did not care what the poor little
creature suffered.

Naomi began to complain about him to the neighbours. She joined in those
wifely discussions, wherein every woman plaintively abused her own man,
and rose at once in fury if another woman ventured to do so.

"Backfield he scarcely takes any notice of me now--always thinking
about his farm. Talks of nothing but hops and oats. Would you believe
it, Mrs. Ditch, but he hardly ever looks at this dear little Fanny. He
cares for his boys right enough, because when they're grown up they'll
be able to work for him, but he justabout neglects his girlie--that's
what he does, he neglects her. The other night, there she was crying and
sobbing her little heart out, and he wouldn't let me send for the
doctor. Says he can't afford to have the doctor here for nothing.
Nothing, indeed!..."

So Naomi would maunder to her acquaintance; with Reuben she confined
herself to hints and innuendoes. Sometimes she complained to Mrs.
Backfield, but her husband's mother was unsympathetic.

"You döan't know when you're in luck," she said as she thumped the
dough--"nothing to do but bath and dress the children, and yet you
grumble. If you had to work like me--"

"I don't know why you do it. Make Backfield get a girl to help you."

"And pay eight shillings a month when he wants the money so badly! No,
if a woman can't work fur her son, I döan't see much good in her. Some
women"--rather venomously--"even work fur their husbands."

"You know well enough he won't let me work for him."

"I never said as you ought to work fur him--all I said wur as you
shouldn't ought to grumble."

A loud wail from Fanny in her cradle drove the retort from Naomi's lips.
She sprang from the arm-chair where she had been resting, and ran
heavily across the room to the baby's side.

"What's the matter, my darling? Come to mother, little Miss Fanny. Oh, I
know something's wrong with her, or she wouldn't cry so. She's got such
a sweet temper really."

She picked the child out of the cradle, and began to walk up and down
the room, rocking it in her arms. Fanny's wails grew louder, more
long-drawn, and more plaintive.

Reuben came in, and his brows contracted when he saw what his wife was
doing. There was a slight moisture on her forehead, and she strained the
child violently to her breast.

"Come, Naomi, put her down. It's bad for you to carry her about like
this."

"Oh, Reuben, I'm sure she's ill. Can't we send Beatup over for the
doctor?"

"No, we can't. There's naun the matter wud her really. She's always
crying."

Naomi faced him almost spitefully.

"If one of the boys had hurt his little finger you'd have doctor in at
once. It's only because it's Fanny. You don't love her, you----"

"Now none o' that, missus," said Reuben roughly--"you put the child back
in her cradle, and go and lie down yourself. I döan't want to have to
fetch doctor in to _you_."

Naomi had not acquired the art of flouting him openly. She tearfully put
Fanny into her cradle, and lay and sulked on the sofa for the rest of
the evening.

That night she dreamed that her new baby was born, and that Reuben had
taken away Fanny and given her to Beatup. Beatup was carrying her down
to the pond to drown her as he drowned the kittens, and Naomi stood in
the garden with immovable weights on every limb listening to the
despairing shrieks of her little girl. They were dreadful shrieks, not
like a baby's at all.

They still sounded when Naomi woke. She sat up in bed, uncertain as to
whether she were dreaming or not. Then from Fanny's little bed beside
the big one came something terrible--a low long wail like an animal's
dying into a moan. It seemed as if her heart stopped beating. She felt
the sweat rush out all over her body. The next minute she was out of
bed, groping for Fanny in the darkness.

She found her and lifted her in her arms; once more that dreadful
wailing moan came from the little body, mingling this time with a snore
from Reuben. Naomi, still grasping Fanny, managed to light a candle. The
child's face was deadly white and drawn in a strange way, while her lips
were blue.

"Reuben!" shrieked Naomi.

He did not wake. Worn out with hard work and his anxiety about his farm,
he still slept heavily, rolled in the blanket. A sick insane rage seized
Naomi. She sprang on the bed, tore the clothes off him, shook him, beat
him, pulled his hair, while all the time she grasped the now silent
Fanny convulsively between her left arm and her breast.

"My child's dying. Get up, you brute. Fetch the doctor. My child's
dying!"

For a moment Reuben was bewildered with his sudden waking, but he soon
came to himself at the sight of his wife's distorted face and the
inanimate lop-headed baby. He sprang up, pulled on his trousers, and in
two minutes had bundled the half-conscious but utterly willing Beatup
out of his attic, and sent him off on the fastest horse to Rye. Then he
came back into the bedroom. Naomi was sitting on the floor, her hair
falling over her shoulders, the baby unconscious on her lap.

"Give her to me, child--let me look."

"No, no--get away," and Naomi once more caught up Fanny to her breast.

"I'll go and fetch mother."

Mrs. Backfield arrived in a washed-out bed-gown. A fire was lit and
water put on to boil. Fanny's, however, did not seem just an ordinary
case of "fits"; she lay limp in her mother's arms, strangely blue round
the mouth, her eyes half open.

"Oh, what is it?--what is it?" wailed Naomi--"can't we do anything? Oh,
why doesn't the doctor come?"

Suddenly the baby stiffened on her lap. The limbs became rigid, the face
black. Then something rasped in its throat.

"Bring the water!--Bring the water!" screamed Naomi, hardly knowing what
she said.

Mrs. Backfield poured the water into a basin, and Naomi lifted Miss
Fanny to put her into the steaming bath.

"It's no use," said Reuben. He knew the child was dead.

But Naomi insisted on putting Fanny into the basin. She held her up in
it for a moment. Then suddenly let her drop, and fell forward, wailing.

Reuben and Mrs. Backfield tried in vain to soothe her, and put her back
to bed. She was like a mad woman. She who had always been so timid and
gentle, peevish at the worst, now shouted, kicked and raved.

"You've killed her! it's your doing ... you're a murderer!" she screamed
at Reuben.

He lifted her bodily and laid her on the bed. But she was still half
insane--

"I hate you! I hate you!" she cried, and threw herself about.

When the doctor arrived an hour later, his services were needed after
all. For Naomi gave birth to a little boy at dawn.


§ 8.

Naomi had met her tragedy. In course of time she recovered from her
confinement, but all the joy of life and motherhood had gone from her.
It was inexplicable to Reuben that she could mourn so hopelessly over
the death of a little weak girl, who would have been nothing but a care
and an expense if she had lived. It was inexplicable that she could
take no interest in young Benjamin, a sound, well-made little fellow in
spite of his premature birth. For the first time she was unable to
suckle her baby, and Reuben was forced to engage a nurse, not liking the
responsibility of bringing him up by hand.

But he was very good to Naomi. He tried to forget her indifference to
his beloved boys, and to soothe and strengthen her into something like
her old self. She did not repulse him. All the violence and the
desperation in her had burnt themselves out during that night of frenzy.
She lay in bed hour after hour without moving, her long hair--which was
now beginning to come out in handfuls when she brushed it--spread over
the pillow. Her muscles were slack, she lay without any suppleness,
heavy against the mattress. After some weeks she was able to get up, and
go about her duties with the children. She never spoke of her misery,
she ate, she sewed, she even gossiped with the neighbours, as before.
But something was gone from her--her eye sometimes had a vacant, roving
look, her shoulders stooped, and her skin grew sallow.

She was still fond of her children, but in a listless, mechanical way.
Sometimes when she had them all gathered round her, for their bedtime or
a bath, she would find the tears welling up in her eyes till all the
little faces were blurred. Poor mites! what future lay ahead of them?
They were their father's slaves as well as she--the utmost would be
ground out of them as it had been ground out of her.

Once more she had taken up her unwilling part in Boarzell's epic. She
was expecting another child for the following spring. This would be her
seventh.

She was no longer merely dissatisfied. In her heart she passionately
rebelled. She hated herself, and her condition, for now she hated
Reuben. The vague hostility she had felt towards him during Fanny's
short life had given place to a definite hatred. She looked upon Reuben
as the murderer of her child, and she hated him. During the first days
of her grief he had been so kind to her that she had grown dependent on
him and hatred was delayed, but now dependence and dazed gratitude had
passed away, and in their place was a sick, heavy loathing for the man
whose neglect and indifference she believed had killed her child. She
could not endure the thought of giving him another. Sometimes she
thought she would like to kill herself, but she was too weak a soul for
anything desperate.

In those days she could not bear the sound of Harry's fiddle, and he was
told he must not play it in the house.


§ 9.

The Repeal of the Corn Laws did not have such a bad effect on Odiam as
Reuben had feared. The harvests in '46 and '47 were unusually good, and
a general revival of prosperity throughout the country atoned for the
low price of grain. It was not to be expected, however, that he would
forgive at once the party which had betrayed agricultural interests. He
transferred his political allegiance to Disraeli, whose feudalistic
attitude won his entire respect. It was a great trial to him that he
could not read the newspapers, for nowadays he did not care to have
Naomi read to him. She used to sometimes, but her utter lack of interest
and understanding was no longer atoned for by a voice love-modulated or
a soft hand stroking his. He resolved that none of his children should
share his disabilities, and already the infant Albert toddled daily to a
little house in the village where two vague-looking sisters taught the
rising generation mysteries hidden from their parents. Reuben could
spell out one or two words, and could write "Reuben Backfield" in big
printing letters at the bottom of any document he had to sign, but he
had no time to educate himself further.

He was now twenty-seven, looking in some ways strangely older, in
others far younger, than his age. The boy in him had not had much chance
of surviving adolescence. Life had come down too hard on him. A grim
struggle does not nourish youth, and mentally Reuben was ten or twelve
years ahead of twenty-seven. His splendid health and strength, however,
had maintained a physical boyishness, expressing itself in zeal and high
spirits, a keen appetite, a boundless capacity for work, an undaunted
enterprise. He was always hungry, he fell asleep directly his head
touched the pillow, and slept like a child beside the tossing and
wakeful Naomi.

His work had made him splendid. His skin was the colour of the soil he
tilled, a warm ruddy brown, his hair was black, growing low on the
forehead, and curling slightly behind the ears. The moulding of his neck
and jaw, his eyes, dark, bright, and not without laughter in them, his
teeth, big, white, and pointed, like an animal's--all spoke of clean and
vigorous manhood. He was now unmistakably a finer specimen than Harry.
Harry had lost to a great measure his good looks. Not only had the
vacancy of his face robbed it of much of its attraction--for more
beautiful than shape or colouring or feature had been the free spirit
that looked out of his eyes--but his constant habit of making hideous
grimaces had worked it into lines, while the scar of his burning
sometimes showed across his cheek. Add to this a stoop and a shambling
gait, and it is no longer "Beautiful Harry," nor even the ghost of him,
so much as some changeling, some ill-done counterfeit image, set up by
vindictive nature in his stead.

Harry was no more his mother's favourite son. She was not the type of
woman to whom a maimed child is dearer than half a dozen healthy ones.
On the contrary he filled her with a vague terror and repulsion. She
spoke to him gently, tended him carefully, even sometimes forced
herself to caress him--but for the most part she avoided him, feeling as
she did so a vague shame and regret.

On the other hand, her devotion to Reuben grew more and more absorbing
and submissive. Her type was obviously the tyrant-loving, the more
primitive kind, which worships the strong of the tribe and recoils
instinctively from the weak. Where many a woman, perhaps rougher and
harder than she, would have flung all the love and sweetness of her
nature upon the blasted Harry, she turned instead to the strong,
stalwart Reuben, who tyrannised over her and treated her with less and
less consideration ... and this after twenty years of happy married
life, during which she had idled and been waited on, and learned a
hundred dainty ways.

She had no patience with Naomi's simmering rebellion; she scoffed at her
complaints, and always took Reuben's part against her.

"As long as there's men and women in the world, the men 'ull be top and
the women bottom."

"Why?" asked Naomi.

"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?"

"But we're a sight smarter than men."

"Yes--that makes up to us a bit, but it döan't do us any real good ...
only helps us git round a man sometimes when we can't git over him."

"Then it does us some good after all. A sad state we'd be in if the men
always had their own way."

"You take it from me that it's much better when a man has his own way
than when he hasn't. Then he's pleased wud you and makes life warm and
easy for you. It's women as are always going against men wot are
unhappy. Please men and they'll be good to you and you'll be happy,
döan't please them and they'll be bad to you and you'll be miserable.
But women who're for ever grumbling, and making a fuss about doing wot
they've got to do whether they like it or not, and are cross-grained
wives, and unwilling mothers ..." and so on, and so on.

Yet Mrs. Backfield did not, any more than Naomi, understand Reuben's
great ambition.


§ 10.

That autumn Naomi entered on a time of black depression--an utter gloom
and weariness of body and mind. It was no mere dull staggering under
blows, merciful in its blindness and lack of acute feeling--it was a
clear-eyed misery, in which every object was as distinct as it was dark,
like one of those sudden clearings of a stormy landscape, when trees,
hedges, meadows, loom under the frowning sky, outstanding and black in
detail, more vivid than in sunshine.

She saw now what she was--her husband's victim, the tool of his
enterprise. He had never really loved her. He had been attracted by
her--her beauty, her gentleness, her breeding, had appealed to him. But
that was not why he had married her. He had married her for her money,
which he was now spending on his farm, and he had married her because he
wanted children and she was the most suitable mother he could find. He
had never really loved her.

And she had never really loved him. That was another of the things she
saw clearly. She had married him because his strength and good looks,
his ardent wooing, had turned her head, because she had been weak and he
had been masterful. But she had never loved him.

She had been a fool, and now she was paying the price of folly, which is
always so much heavier than the price of sin. Here she was at
twenty-five, prematurely old, exhausted, sick of life, and utterly
alone. There was no one to turn to in her wretchedness. Her neighbours
were incapable of giving her real help or sympathy, Mrs. Backfield
invariably took Reuben's part and resented the slightest criticism of
him, old Gasson was hard and selfish, and not particularly interested in
his daughter.

She wished, with all the wormwood that lies in useless regrets, that she
had never married. Then, paradoxically, she would not have been so
utterly alone. She would have had at least the help of sweet memories
undefiled. She could have taken refuge in them from her sorrow, built
them perhaps at last into hope. Now she had to thrust them from her, for
they were one and all soiled by her unfaithfulness.

For the first time she began definitely to reproach herself for her
treatment of Harry. Though she could never have married him, she could
at least have been faithful to him.


     "O why, because sickness hath wasted my body,
       Should you do me to death with your dark treacherie?
     O why, because brothers and friends all have left me,
       Should you leave me too, O my faithless ladie!"


Moreover, she still sometimes had a vague feeling that at the start
Harry had not been quite so mad as people thought, that he might perhaps
have recovered if she had made him understand that she was true to him,
still hoping. No doubt that was all nonsense, but she could not quite
smother the idea that she had betrayed Harry. Perhaps it was partly
because even before his accident she had cast longing eyes at Reuben.
Once again she called up memories of him cutting down willows on his new
land, and she acknowledged miserably to herself that in that hour she
had already been unfaithful to Harry in her heart, and that all that
came afterwards was but the following up of that initial act of
treachery. A strong arm, a broad back, a blue shirt in the January
twilight ... and Naomi had set out on a road every step of which was
now over rough stones and broken shards.

In February her child was born--another girl. But this time Reuben was
not sorry, for he realised that his mother would not last for ever, and
that he must have a girl to take her place. It might have been expected
that a baby girl would comfort Naomi for the lost Fanny, but such was
not the case. It seemed as if with Fanny she had lost all power of
loving and of rising again. Once more she was unable to feed the child,
and her convalescence was dragging and miserable. When at last she was
able to go about, a permanent ill-health seemed to have settled on her,
the kind that rides tired women, making their faces sallow, their hair
scanty, filling their backs with strange pains. She grew fretful, too,
and her temper was none of the best.


§ 11.

That year Reuben bought ten more acres of Boarzell, and limed them for
oats. He felt that now he had strength to return to his first battle,
and wring a grain crop out of that grudging soil. The new piece of
ground abutted the Odiam lands on the Flightshot side, and he could see
it from his window. Before going to bed at night, he would lean out and
feast his eyes on it as it lay there softly covered in the dark, or
glimmering in the faint star-dazzle of spring. Sometimes it seemed
almost as if a breath came from it, a fragrance of sleep, and he would
sit there inhaling it till Naomi peevishly begged him to shut the window
and come to bed. Then in the mornings, when he woke according to healthy
habit at five, he would sit up, and even from the bed he could see his
land, waiting for him in the cold whiteness of dawn, silently calling
him out to the freshness of its many dews.

He still kept the farm modestly, for he was anxious to be able to do
without help except from Beatup. His young family were also an expense.
For a few years more he must expect to have them rather heavily on his
hands ... then Albert and the twins would be able to do a little work,
and gradually both the capacity and number of his labourers would
increase, till at last perhaps he would be able to discharge Beatup, and
Backfield alone fight Backfield's battle.

Meantime he was worried about Naomi. It says much for the
ineffectiveness of her emotions that he had not till just then realised
her hostility towards him. Now that he saw it, he put it down to her
ill-health, and re-established the tyrannous watch over her which he had
kept up in the old days. He was sorry for her, and knew now that he had
made a mistake in marrying her. He should have chosen a sturdier, more
ambitious mate. However, there was no help for it, he could not give up
the battle because his fellow-fighter had no stomach for it. He was
grieved for the loss of her beauty, and would make things as easy for
her as possible, but he could not let her off altogether. She must do
her share in the struggle which was so much greater than either of them.
She had rested from child-bearing a year, but he still longed
desperately for children, and she became a mother again at the end of
'49.

The baby was a girl, and Reuben was bitterly disappointed. One girl was
quite enough, and he badly wanted more boys. Besides, Naomi was very
ill, and the doctor told him in private that she ought not to have any
more children, at least for some time.

"She never was a strong woman, and these repeated confinements have
quite worn her out. You have seven children, Mr. Backfield, and I think
that ought to be enough for any man."

"But two of them are girls--it's boys I want, surelye!"

"Aren't five boys enough for you?"

"No--they äun't."

"Well, of course, if she has a thorough rest from all work and worry,
and recovers her health in the meantime, I don't say that in three or
four years.... But she's not a strong subject, Mr. Backfield, and you'd
do well to remember it."


§ 12.

Reuben was very kind to Naomi during her illness. He helped his mother
to nurse her, and spent by her side all the time he could spare from the
farm. He was too strong to vent on her personally the rage and
disappointment with which circumstances had filled him. He pitied her
fragility, he even pitied her for the antagonism which he saw she still
felt towards him.

At nights he slept upstairs in one of the attics, which always smelt of
apples, because it was next to the loft where the apples were stored. He
was happy there, in spite of some dark hours when the deadlock of his
married life kept him awake. He wondered if there was a woman in the
world who could share his ambitions for Odiam. He expected not, for
women were an ambitionless race. If Naomi had had a single spark of zeal
for the great enterprise in which he and she were engaged, she would not
now be lying exhausted by her share in it. He had honoured her by asking
her to join him in this splendid undertaking, and all she had done had
been to prove that she had no fight in her.

He could now gaze out on Boarzell uninterrupted. The sight of the great
Moor made his blood tingle; his whole being thrilled to see it lying
there, swart, unconquered, challenging. How long would it be, he
wondered, before he had subdued it? Surely in all Sussex, in all
England, there had never been such an undertaking as this ... and when
he was triumphant, had achieved his great ambition, won his heart's
desire, how proud, how glorious he would be among his children....

The wind would carry him the scent of gorse, like peaches and apricots.
There was something in that scent which both mocked and delighted him.
It was an irony that the huge couchant beast of Boarzell should smell so
sweet--surely the wind should have brought him a pungent ammoniacal
smell like the smell of stables ... or perhaps the smell of blood.

But, after all, this subtle gorse-fragrance had its suitableness, for
though gorse may cast out the scent of soft fruit from its flowers, its
stalks are wire and its roots iron, its leaves are so many barbs for
those who would lay hands on its sweetness. It was like Boarzell itself,
which was Reuben's delight and his dread, his beloved and his enemy.

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.

Naomi's illness dragged. Sometimes Reuben suspected her of malingering,
she so obviously did not want to get well. He guessed her reasons, and
took an opportunity to tell her of the doctor's verdict. The struggle
was in abeyance--at least her share of it. Nature--which was really what
he was fighting in Boarzell--had gained a temporary advantage, and his
outposts had been forced to retire.

Naomi began now decidedly to improve. She put on flesh, and showed a
faint interest in life. Towards the end of April she was able to come
downstairs. She was obviously much better, and old Mrs. Backfield hinted
that she was even better than she looked. Reuben watched over her
anxiously, delighted to notice day by day fresh signs of strength. She
began to do little things for the children, she even seemed proud of
them. They were splendid children, but it was the first time that she
had realised it. She helped the scholastic elders with their sums and
made frocks for the little girls. She even allowed baby Mathilda to wear
Fanny's shoes.

The summer wore on. The sallow tints in Naomi's skin were exchanged for
the buttery ones which used to be before her marriage. Her hair ceased
to fall, her cheeks plumped out, her voice lost its weak shrillness. She
made herself a muslin gown, and Reuben bought ribbons for it at Rye.

The husband and wife now lived quite independently. They no longer made
even the pretence of walking on the same path. Naomi played with the
children, did a little sewing and housework--exactly what she chose--and
occasionally went over to Totease or Burntbarns for a chat with the
neighbours. She once even spent a couple of nights at her father's, the
first time since her marriage that she had slept away from Odiam.

As for Reuben, he worked as hard as ever, but never spoke of it to his
wife. He seemed to enjoy her society at meals, and now and then would
take her out for a stroll along the lanes, or sit with her in the
evening by the kitchen fire. Once more he liked to have her read him the
papers; and though she understood no more than she had ever done, her
voice had ceased to be dull and fretful. Then at night he would go up to
his attic and drink in the smell of gorse at the window, till he grew
drowsy and shut himself in with the smell of apples.

After a time they began to notice a convergence in these independent
ways. It seemed as if only by running apart had they learned at last to
run together. A certain friendliness and comradery began to establish
itself between them. Reuben began to talk to Naomi about politics and
agricultural doings, and gradually her character underwent a strange
blossoming. She became far more adult in her opinions; she took interest
in matters outside her household and immediate surroundings. He never
spoke to her of his plans for Boarzell, for that would have brought them
back into the old antagonism and unrest; but when she read the papers to
him he would discuss them with her, occasionally interrupt her with
comments, and otherwise show that he had to do with an intelligent
being. She in her turn would enquire into the progress of the hops or
the oats, ask him if his new insect-killer was successful, or whether
Ditch had done well with his harvest, or how much Realf's had fetched at
the corn-market.

Three months passed in this new way. Reuben would never have believed
that Naomi could be a companion to him, especially after the last few
hostile years. As for her, she looked young and pretty again; delicious
slim lines had come into her figure--no longer the slack curves and
emaciation of recent months, or the matronly fullness of earlier times.
Her health seemed completely restored.

Then came a day early in December, when they were walking home together
through the mud of Totease Lane, their faces whipped into redness by the
south-west wind. Naomi wore a russet cloak and hood, and her hair, on
which a few rain-drops glistened, was teasing her eyes. She held
Reuben's arm, for the ruts were treacherous, and he noticed the spring
and freedom of her walk. A sudden turn of the lane brought them round
due west, and between them and the sunset stood Boarzell, its club of
firs knobbily outlined against the grape-red sky. It smote itself upon
Reuben's eyes almost as a thing forgotten--there, half blotting out the
sunset with its blackness. Unconsciously his arm with Naomi's hand on it
contracted against his side, while the colour deepened on his
cheek-bones.

"Naomi."

"What is it?"

"Boarzell."

She lifted her eyes to the shape between her and the sky, and as
unconsciously he had flushed so unconsciously she shuddered.

"Well, what about it?" she asked in a voice that stuck a little.

"It's wunnerful ..." he murmured, "all that great big dark Moor, wot's
going to be mine."

She did not speak.

"Mine!" he repeated almost fiercely.

Then suddenly she began to plead:

"Can't you let it alone, Reuben?--we--we've been so happy these last
months not worrying about it. Must we ever start again?"

Her voice came anxiously, timidly like a child's. He dropped her hand
from his arm.

"Yes--we must," he said shortly.

They reached Odiam, both feeling that the glory of those last three
months had departed. The sight of Boarzell, lying black and hullish
across their path, had made them realise that their happiness was but an
interval, an interlude between more significant, more sinister things.
Naomi had lost her peace and confidence, she seemed to avoid her
husband, was tongue-tied in his presence, gave him a hurried good night
from the door. Reuben was silent and meditative--when his eyes rested on
Naomi they were half regretful.

That night he lay awake long hours in the smell of apples. He pondered
many things. Those past months had been sweet in their revived
tenderness, their simple freedom. But Boarzell had reasserted
itself--Naomi was now quite well again--she must no longer shirk her
duties. She must have more children.

It was cruel, he knew. She had already given him seven, she could not
realise that her task was not yet done. She had just felt what it was
to be well and strong again after long months of illness. It would be
cruel to impose on her once more the pains and weariness of motherhood.
It would be cruel.--But, hem it all! was not the thing he was fighting
cruel? Was not Boarzell cruel, meeting his endeavours with every form of
violence and treachery? If he was to conquer it he too must be cruel,
must harden his heart, and press forward, without caring how much he or
anyone bled on the way. He could not stop to consider even his nearest
and dearest when his foe had neither mercy nor ruth for him.


§ 13.

It was the August of another year. Reuben's new land on Boarzell was
tawny with oats. He had at last broken into that defiant earth and taken
handfuls of its treasure. To-day he inspected his crop, and planned for
its reaping. With parted lips and a faint sensuous gleam in his eyes he
watched it bow and ripple before the little breeze that stole over the
hedges from Tiffenden. He drank in the scent of the baking awns, the
heat of the sun-cracked earth. It was all dear to him--all ecstasy. And
he himself was dear to himself because the beauty of it fell upon him
... his body, strong and tired, smelling a little of sweat, his back
scorched by the heat in which he had bent, his hand strong as iron upon
his sickle. Oh Lord! it was good to be a man, to feel the sap of life
and conquest running in you, to be battling with mighty forces, to be
able to fight seasons, elements, earth, and nature....

He turned and walked slowly homewards, a smile on his lips. As he passed
the orchard, where a crop of plums was ripening, the shrill whir of a
bird-rattle made him look up. There in the long grass stood his young
Albert, dutifully scaring sparrows from the trees. He had been there all
the afternoon, and Reuben beckoned to him to come in to tea. Further
on, in the yard, he encountered Robert feeding the chickens out of an
enormous bowl carried by Pete, whose arms with difficulty embraced its
girth. He summoned these two in. His family trotted after him at a
respectful distance. They did not speak, except to say "Oo" occasionally
to each other.

In the kitchen a substantial meal was prepared. It was the children's
supper, and was to last Reuben till he came in at nine o'clock and had a
bowl of broth before going to bed. Old Mrs. Backfield was settling the
children round the table. Caro and Tilly showed only their heads above
the cloth, a piece of neck proclaimed Benjamin's extra inches, while
Richard had quite two buttons to his credit. Harry sat at the bottom
beside Caroline; when he heard Albert's rattle, he seized it and began
making a hideous din. Caro and Tilly began to cry, and Reuben snatched
the rattle away.

He sat down, and immediately his mother put a plate of hot bacon before
him. She was vexed because it was the only meat he allowed himself on
week-days. The children ate bread and milk, and thrived on it, to judge
by their round healthy faces. Reuben was proud of them. They were fine
children, and he hoped that the one that was coming would be as sturdy.

"How is she?" he asked Mrs. Backfield.

"She slept a bit this afternoon. I took her a cup of tea at five, but I
think the heat tries her."

"I'll go up and see her soon as I've finished--Harry, täake your hand
out of the baby's pläate."

As soon as the supper was over, Reuben still munching bread and bacon
went up to his wife's room. The sunlight was gone, but the sky was
blood-red behind Boarzell's hulk, and a flushed afterglow hung on the
ceiling and moved slowly like a fire over the bed. The corners of the
room, the shadows cast by the furniture, were black and smoky. On
Naomi's face, on her body outlined under the sheet, the lights
crimsoned and smouldered. There was a strange fiery reflection in her
eyes as she turned them to the door.

"Well, my dear, how are you?"

"I'm very well, thank you, Backfield."

She always said that.

He came over to the bed and looked down on her. Her eyes were haunting
... and the vestiges of youth about her face. But he no longer pitied or
spared. Boarzell had taught him his first lesson--that only the hard
shall triumph in the hard fight, and that he who would spare his brother
shall do no better than he who would spare himself.

He sat down beside her and took her hand.

"I hear you had some sleep this afternoon."

"Yes--I slept for an hour. I think I'm better."

Her voice was submissive--or indifferent.

"I've bin on the new land all to-day. It's doing justabout splendid.
Those oats are as dentical as wheat--not a sedge-leaf adin them."

She made a faint sound to show that she had heard him.

"Albert's bin in the orchard scaring sparrers, and Robert and Pete wur
helping wud the chickens. My family's gitting quite valiant now, Mrs.
Backfield."

"Yes."

"I'll soon be able to have Richard on, and then there's still Jemmy to
foller--and George."

"Mmm."

"Now döan't you put me off wud Georgina."

Her mouth stretched mechanically into a smile, and at the same time a
tear slid out of the corner of her eye, and rolled slowly over her thin
cheeks. In the red, smouldering light of the sky behind Boarzell it
looked like a tear of blood.


§ 14.

Early in September George arrived. Reuben's face kindled when the doctor
told him he had escaped Georgina.

The doctor, however, did not look pleased.

"Perhaps now you have enough boys?" he said rather truculently.

"Well, there's six...."

"I hope that's enough to satisfy you. Because there won't be any
more---- She's dying."

"Dying!"

He repeated the word almost stupidly.

"Yes"--said Dr. Espinette. He did not feel inclined to mince matters
with Backfield.

"But--but--can't you do anything for her, surelye?"

"I'm afraid not. Of course, one can never speak with absolute certainty
even in a case like this. But----" and the doctor wasted some medical
technicalities on Reuben.

The young man turned from him, half-dazed. Dying! Naomi! A sudden wild
pang smote through his heart for the mother of his children.

"Do something for her! you can--you must."

"I'm going over to Gablehook now, but I'll call in on the way back. I'm
afraid there's not much hope; however, I'll do my best."

Reuben's sudden pallor and blank eyes had softened his heart a little.
But, he reflected the next moment, there was no sense in pitying
Backfield.

Reuben did not wait any longer--he dashed out of the room and upstairs
to his wife's door.

He knocked. From within came a faint sound of moaning. He knocked again.
The midwife opened the door.

"Go away," she said, "we can't let you in."

"I want to see Naomi."

"You can't."

"I must. Hem it! äun't I her husband?"

"You can come back in an hour or two. But you must go now--" and she
shut the door in his face.

Reuben slunk away, angry and miserable.

He pottered about the farm all the morning. Somehow these terrible
events reminded him of the birth of his first child, when he had moped
and fretted and sulked--and all for nothing. That seemed twenty years
ago. Now he did not fret for nothing. His wife was dying, still young,
still sometimes beautiful. His mind was full of jumbled memories of
her--he saw her as Harry's sweetheart, sitting with him on Boarzell
while he sang; he saw her in the dairy where he had first kissed her
stooping over the cream; he saw her as his bride, flushed and timid
beside him at the wedding-feast, as the mother of his boys, proud and
full-bosomed. But mostly his thoughts were more trivial and
tattered--memories of her in certain gowns, in a cap she had bought
because, having three little boys, she thought she must "dress older";
memories of little things she had said--"Why don't you keep bees,
Reuben? Why don't you keep bees? They're such pretty things, and I like
the honey...."

Towards two in the afternoon he came in, tired and puff-eyed with
misery, his brain all of a jangle. "Why don't you keep bees, Reuben? Why
don't you keep bees?"

He sat down at the table which the children had left, and mechanically
began to eat. His healthy young body claimed its dues, and almost
without knowing it he cleared the plate before him. Harry sat in the
chimney corner, murmuring, "Why döan't you kip bees, Reuben? Why döan't
you kip bees?"--showing that he had uttered his thoughts aloud, just as
the empty platters showed him he had made a very good dinner.

At last, strengthened by the food, he went up to Naomi's room again.
This time he was admitted.

She lay propped high on the pillows, and he was astonished to see how
well she looked, much better than before the baby was born. The infant
George lay like a rather ugly doll on his grandmother's lap. He was not
so healthy as the other children, indeed for a time it had been doubtful
whether he would live.

Naomi smiled feebly, and that smile, so wan, so patient, so utterly
wistful, so utterly unregretful, with which almost every mother first
greets the father of her child, went straight to Reuben's heart. He fell
on his knees by the bed, and covered her hand and her thin arm with
kisses.

"Naomi, my darling, my love, git well--you mustn't die and leave me."

Actually his tears fell on her hand, and a rather bitter compassion for
him drove away the more normal mood. He had killed her, and he was sorry
for it. But if he had it all to do over again he would do it, for the
sake of the land which was so much more to him than her life.

"My sweet," he murmured, holding her palm against his mouth, "my liddle
creature, my liddle sweet. Git well, and you shan't never have to go
through this agäun. Six boys is all I'll want to help me, surelye--and
you shall rest and be happy, liddle wife, and be proud of your children
and the gurt things they're going to do."

She smiled with that same bitter compassion, and stroked his head with
her feeble hand.

"How thick your hair is," she said, and weakly took a handful of it, as
she had sometimes done when she was well.

When he left her, ten minutes later, she struck him as better. He could
not quite smother the hope that Dr. Espinette was mistaken and that she
would recover with nursing and care. After all, even the doctor himself
had said that one could never be certain. He felt his spirits revive,
and called Beatup to go with him to the hop-fields.

Naomi heard him tramp off, talking of "goldings" and "fuggles." She lay
very still, hoping that the light would soon go, and give rest to her
tired eyes--but she was too utterly weary to ask Mrs. Backfield to draw
the curtains. Her mother-in-law put the baby back in its cradle, then
sat down at the foot of the bed, folding her arms over her breast. She
was tired after her labours in the house and in the sick-room, and soon
she began to doze. Naomi felt more utterly alone than before.

Her fingers plucked nervously at the sheet. There seemed to be a strange
tickling irritation in her skin, while her feet were dreadfully cold.
She wondered rather dully about the baby--she supposed he could not come
to any harm over there in the cradle by himself, but really she did not
care much--it was all one to her what happened to him.

Gradually the sun slanted and glowed, and a faint ripple of air stole
into the room, lifting the hair on her forehead, tangled and damp. It
struck her that she must be looking very ugly--she who had used to be
such a pretty girl.

The light trembled and pearled, and in a swift last clearness she saw
the great Moor rolling up against the sky, purple with heather, golden
with gorse, all strength and life. It seemed to mock her savagely--"I
live--you die. You die--I live." It was this hateful land which had
killed her, to which she had been sacrificed, and now it seemed to
flaunt its beauty and life and vigour before her dying eyes. "I
live--you die. You die--I live."

Yes, she was dying--and she hoped that she would die before Reuben came
back. She did not want to feel again that strange, half-bitter
compassion for him. The tears ran quite fast down her cheeks, and her
eyes were growing dim. This was the end, and she knew it. The evening
was full of tender life, but for her it was the end. Ambition and folly
had stolen her out of all this freshness before the spring of her life
had run. She was like a young birch tree blighted with its April leafage
half uncurled.

The tears splashed and dribbled on, till at last for some purely
physical reason they stopped. Then a familiar tune swam into her head.
She had been told of people who heard music when they were dying.


     "At last when your pride shall have brought you to sorrow,
       And years of remorse and despair been your fate,
     Perhaps your cold heart will remember Seth's Manor,
       And turn to your true love--and find it too late."


But her mind was too dim even for regrets. Instead, she seemed to see
herself dancing with Reuben at Boarzell Fair, when the dusk had been
full of strange whirling lights, whispers, and kisses.

Dancing!... dancing!... Dying!... dying! Even the tune had faded now,
and she could see nothing--only a grey patch where the window had been.
She was not frightened, only very lonely. Her legs were like ice, and
the inside of her mouth felt all rough and numb.

... Even the window had faded. Her head had fallen sideways on the
pillow, and behind Boarzell the sky had kindled into a sheet of soaring
triumphant flame.

"I live--you die. You die--I live."



BOOK III

THE ELDER CHILDREN


§ 1.

For some time after Naomi's death Reuben was sick with grief. Her going
had been so cruel, so unexpected--and he could not forget how they had
found her, her eyelashes wetted with tears.

He also missed her in the house--her soft pale face and gentle ways. He
forgot the sallowness and the peevishness of later years, and pictured
her always with creamy roseal skin and timid voice. He was the only one
who missed her. Mrs. Backfield's softer feelings seemed to have been
atrophied by hard work--she grew daily more and more like a machine; the
children were too young to care much, and Harry was incapable of regret.
However, the strange thing about Harry was that he did indeed seem to
miss someone, but not Naomi. For the first time since little Fanny's
death he began to ask for her, and search for her about the
house--"Where's the pretty baby?--oh, save the pretty baby!" he would
wail--"she's gone, she's gone--the pretty baby's gone."

Reuben, as was usual with him, tried to drown sorrow in hard work. He
spent his whole day either in the yard or in the fields or out on
Boarzell. He was digging a ditch round his new land, to let off the
winter rain, and throughout the cool November damps he was on the Moor,
watching the sunset's fiery glow behind the gorse, seeing the red clay
squash and crumble thickly under his spade--spouting out drops of
blood. In time all this fire and blood brought him back into his old
purpose. Gradually the lust of conquest drove away regret. He had no
more cause for self-reproach than an officer who loses a good soldier in
battle. It is the fortune of war. And Naomi had not died without
accomplishing her work and giving him men to help him in the fight.

The young Backfields were beginning to grow into individualities.
Albert, the eldest, was eight, and showed certain tokens of a wilful
nature, which had not much chance where his father was concerned.
Strange fits of dreaminess alternated with vigorous fits of passion. He
was a difficult child to manage, for in addition to his own moods he had
a certain corrupting influence over his more docile brothers. Reuben
already kept him at work most of the day--either at the village school,
or scaring birds from the orchard or the grain fields.

Robert and Peter also did their share, feeding fowls, weeding
vegetables. Robert was a stolid, well-behaved child, a trifle
uninteresting, but hard-working and obedient. Pete was Reuben's
delight--a wonderfully sturdy little fellow, who often amazed his father
and Beatup by his precocious feats of strength. To amuse them he would
sometimes shoulder Beatup's tools, or pick up a bag of chicken-meal with
his teeth--he could even put his back against a young calf and prevent
it entering a gate or reaching its stall. Reuben was careful not to let
him strain himself, but he loved to handle his son's arms and shoulders,
feeling the swell of the muscles under the skin. He even taught him the
rudiments of boxing; he had had some practice himself as a boy in the
Fair sparring booth, and though of late years he had been too busy to
keep it up, he was a good teacher for little Pete, who could soon lick
all his brothers and even deliver respectable punishment on Beatup's
nether limbs. Richard at the age of six was not of any great
agricultural value, but at the village school he outshone the elder
boys. Sometimes he gave Reuben anxious moments, for the smell of the
midden now and then made him sick, which was scarcely a hopeful sign.

The younger children were to their father so many bundles--meek and
mute, but good to count as they sat at table with porridge bowls and
staring eyes. It never occurred to him to pick any of them up and caress
them. Indeed they had no very distinct personalities apart from Odiam,
though Tilly sometimes looked uncomfortably like Naomi.


§ 2.

Towards the end of '53, Reuben bought a pedigree bull at Rye market. He
knew that he could increase his importance and effectiveness in the
neighbourhood if he started as a cattle-breeder, and there was also a
sound profit to be made by the animal's hiring fees. The next year he
bought ten acres more of Boarzell for grass.

He had now spent the whole of Naomi's dowry, and knew that he was not
likely to get anything more out of old Gasson, whose housekeeper had
during the last year smartly married him. However, he felt that the
money had been laid out to the very best advantage, for Odiam was paying
its way, and had, besides, of late become the most important farm in the
neighbourhood except Grandturzel. Reuben watched Grandturzel jealously,
though he was careful to hide his feelings. It had the advantage of
forty acres of Boarzell, granted by the commissioners. Luckily old Realf
was not very enterprising.

In spite of the farm's new activities, he found that he could still
manage without engaging fresh labour. The odds and ends of work which
his boys took off him and Beatup left them free to attack the bigger
enterprises. And as Odiam grew the children would grow. Even now they
were all impressed for service, except little George, who was delicate
and, moreover, subject to fits. Their work was varied--they scared birds
from the crops, fed the poultry, collected the eggs, drove the cows to
and from pasture, fed the pigs, ran errands to the neighbouring farms.
In course of time Albert learned milking, and could saddle old Crump the
roan, or put him into the gig.

Then, in the house, the little girls were useful. Mrs. Backfield was not
so energetic as she used to be. She had never been a robust woman, and
though her husband's care had kept her well and strong, her frame was
not equal to Reuben's demands; after fourteen years' hard labour, she
suffered from rheumatism, which though seldom acute, was inclined to
make her stiff and slow. It was here that Caro and Tilly came in, and
Reuben began to appreciate his girls. After all, girls were needed in a
house--and as for young men and marriage, their father could easily see
that such follies did not spoil their usefulness or take them from him.
Caro and Tilly helped their grandmother in all sorts of ways--they
dusted, they watched pots, they shelled peas and peeled potatoes, they
darned house-linen, they could even make a bed between them.

Needless to say there was not much playtime at Odiam.


§ 3.

During the next ten years the farm went forward by strides. Reuben
bought seven more acres of Boarzell in '59, and fourteen in '60. He also
bought a horse-rake, and threshed by machinery. He was now a topic in
every public-house from Northiam to Rye. His success and the scant
trouble he took to conciliate those about him had made him disliked.
Unprosperous farmers spoke windily of "spoiling his liddle game." Ditch
and Ginner even suggested to Vennal that they should club together and
buy thirty acres or so of the Moor themselves, just to spite him.
However, money was too precious to throw away even on such an object,
especially as everyone felt sure that Backfield would sooner or later
"bust himself" in his dealings with Boarzell.

After all, he had only fifty-six acres out of a possible three hundred,
and had not made much profit out of them, judging by the austerity of
ways at Odiam. Horse-rakes and steam-threshers could not blind his
neighbours to the absence of muslin curtains and butcher's meat. "And
the way he's working them pore childer, too ... all of 'em hard at it
from mornun till evenun, surelye ... enough to make their mother turn in
her grave, pore girl ... not but wot she hadn't every reason to expect
it, considering the way he treated her," etc. etc.

At Flightshot Manor comment was more enlightened.

"I can't understand, papa," said Anne Bardon, "how you can go on selling
land to that odious Backfield."

"Well, my dear, he pays me good money for it, and I'm in precious need
of that just now."

"But in time the whole Moor will fall into his hands--see if it doesn't.
And he's a Tory, a reactionary. It would be a dreadful thing for the
parish if he became a big landowner."

Anne's politics were the most vigorous in the family.

"My dear, if anyone else would buy the Moor, I'd be only too pleased to
sell it to them. But so far there hasn't been a nibble. Backfield's the
only man who has the temerity to think he could make anything out of a
desert like Boarzell, and I must say I admire his pluck."

"It's only because he has no imagination. He's a thick-skinned brute,
and I hate the idea of a man like that becoming powerful. Why don't you
give the land back to the parish? Acknowledge that grandpapa's
inclosure has failed, and let the people have their common again."

"It's all very well for you to talk, Anne," said her brother Ralph, "you
have your godmamma's fortune, and don't need to think of money. But papa
and I have to think of it, and after all we're making a little, a very
little, out of Boarzell--just enough to keep up the Village Institute.
As time goes on, and Backfield gets richer and more ambitious, we shall
sell larger pieces at higher rates, and then we'll be able to repair
those wretched cottages at Socknersh, and do a lot more besides."

"I think it would be better if you gave up the Institute and let the
cottages tumble down. It's no good trying to raise the people if you
leave a man like Backfield loose among them."

"I think you exaggerate his importance, and fail to realise that of the
improvements we are making in Peasmarsh. I can't help thinking, as most
of the people round here think, that Backfield will, as they call it,
'bust himself' over the Moor. After all he's not educated, and an
uneducated man is hampered even in the least intellectual undertakings."

"I do not agree with you, papa."

Anne turned away from her father and brother, and walked towards the
window. She disliked arguing, she thought it undignified. She was a tall
woman, about twenty-eight years old, severely yet rather imposingly
dressed, with a clear complexion, grey eyes, and a nose which was called
by her friends aquiline, by her enemies hooked. She despised the Squire
in his truck with Odiam, yet she was too fair-minded not to see the
considerations that weighed him. And even she, as she gazed from the
window, at the southward heap of Boarzell--stony, gorsy,
heather-shagged, and fir-crowned--could not withhold a certain
admiration from the man who expected of his own arm and tool to subdue
it.


§ 4.

The Crimean War had meant the stoppage for a time of Russian grain
supplies, and Reuben had taken every advantage of this. He had some
forty acres under grain cultivation, mostly oats, but also some good
kinds of wheat and barley. In rotation with these were peas and clover,
turnips and mangolds. He also had twenty acres of hops--the rest was
pasture for his neat Dutch and Jersey cows, which, with the orchard and
poultry yard, were still the most profitable if not the most glorious of
his exploits. The bull had not proved so splendid an investment as he
had hoped; the farmers of the district could not afford big hiring fees,
and at present his space was too limited for extensive breeding of his
own stock. However, he exhibited Alfriston King at Lewes Agricultural
Show, and won a first prize for him. The next year he sold him to a big
cattle breeder down Horeham way, and bought a cheaper but more
serviceable animal for his own business.

His sons were now growing up--Albert was nearly eighteen, and Peter,
though a year younger, looked a full-grown man, with his immense build
and dark hairy skin. Pete was still the most satisfactory of Reuben's
children, he had a huge and glad capacity for work, and took a real
interest in Odiam's progress, though it was not his life, as it was his
father's. It was strange, Reuben thought, that none of the other boys
seemed to have a glimmer of enthusiasm. Though they had grown up under
the shadow of Boarzell, and from their earliest childhood taken part in
the struggle, they seemed still to think more about the ordinary things
of young men's lives than the great victory before them. It was
disappointing. Of course one expected it of girls, but Reuben's heart
ached a little because the men children on whom he had set such hope and
store cared so little about what was life itself to him. It is true
that Robert worked well, nearly as well as Pete, but that was only
because he was of a docile, tractable nature. He did not share his
father's dreams--Boarzell to him was only a piece of waste ground with
some trees on it.

As for Albert and Richard, they did not even work well, and they
grumbled and shirked as much as they dared. They had ambitions, but so
utterly at variance with Odiam's as to be worse than none. Albert wanted
to be a poet and Richard to be a gentleman.

What there was in either Reuben or Naomi to make a poet of their eldest
son would be hard to say. Perhaps it was the glow of their young love,
so golden and romantic during the first year of their marriage. If so,
there was something of bitter irony in this survival and transmutation
of it. Odiam was no place for poets, and Reuben tried by every means in
his power to knock the poetry out of Albert. It was not the actual
poetry he objected to so much as the vices which went with
it--forgetfulness, unpracticalness, negligence. Albert would sometimes
lose quite half an hour's work by falling into a dream, he also played
truant on occasions, and would disappear for hours, indeed now and then
for a day or more, wandering in the fields and spinneys, tasting the
sharp sweetness of the dawn and the earth-flavoured sleep of the night.

For though he did not care for Odiam he loved the country round it, and
made a wonderland and a dreamland of it. He did not see in Boarzell
Robert's tree-capped waste, though neither did he see his father's enemy
and heart's delight. He saw instead a kind of enchanted ground, full of
mysteries of sun and moon, full of secrets that were sometimes
beautiful, sometimes terrifying. It seemed to have a soul and a voice, a
low voice, hoarse yet sweet; and its soul was not the soul of a man or
of a beast, but the soul of a fetch, some country sprite, that clumped,
and yet could skip ... he used to feel it skipping with him in the
evening wind when the dusk made the heather misty round his knees ...
but he knew that it danced heavy-footed round the farm at night,
clumping, clumping, like a clod.

Reuben had no sympathy with these fancies when they took his son out of
hard-working common sense into idle-handed, wander-footed dreams, or
when perhaps he found them scribbled on the back of his corn accounts.
He did not spare the rod, but Albert had all the rather futile obstinacy
of weak-willed people, and could be neither persuaded nor frightened out
of his dreams.

However, though he was a great trouble to his father, he was not so
irritating as Richard. He had the advantage that one could lay hands on
him and vent one's fury in blows, but Richard had an extraordinary knack
of keeping just on the safe side of vengeance. For one thing he was the
best educated of all Reuben's children, and the result of education had
been not so much to fill his mind as to sharpen his wits to a formidable
extent. For another, he loathed to be beaten, and used all his ingenuity
to avoid it. Reuben could flog Albert for going off to the Moor when he
was told to clean out the pigsties, but he could not flog Richard for
being sick at his first spadeful. As a matter of fact he did actually
perpetrate this cruelty when Richard's squeamishness caused him any
gross inconvenience, but there was no denying that the boy was on the
whole successful in avoiding his dues.

Richard had been the brightest light in the Misses Harmans' school. His
teachers had often praised him, and on one occasion suggested in their
ignorance that he should take up a more intellectual trade than farming.
Then when the Curate-in-Charge had inspected the school he had been
struck by Richard's clever, thoughtful answers, and had, for some months
after his leaving, lent him books. Reuben on discovering this, had gone
over at once to the parsonage, and with all the respect due to a
Minister of the Established Church, had informed Mr. Munk that he didn't
want no nonsense put into his boy's head, and spades and spuds were for
Richard's hands, not books.

"I'm going to mäake a farmer of un, your reverence."

"But he says he doesn't want to be a farmer."

"That's why I've got to _mäake_ un one, surelye."


§ 5.

Reuben had sold Alfriston King for two hundred pounds, and this new
capital made possible another enterprise--he bought twenty head of
sheep. For some time he had considered the advantages of keeping sheep.
It was quite likely that his new land on Boarzell would be mostly
pasture, at all events for some time to come, and sheep, properly
managed, ought to be a good source of revenue as well as a hall-mark of
progress. He did not want Odiam to be a farm of one idea; his father had
kept it ambitionlessly to grass, but Reuben saw grain-growing,
dairy-keeping, cattle-breeding, sheep-rearing, hops, and fruit, and
poultry as branches of its greatness.

He decided that the sheep should be Richard's special charge--they, at
all events, could not make him sick; and if he was kept hard at work at
something definite and important it would clear his mind of gentility
nonsense. Reuben also had rather a pathetic hope that it might stir up
his ambition.

Richard grumbled of course, but discreetly. His brothers were inclined
to envy him--Albert saw more romance and freedom in keeping sheep than
in digging roots or cleaning stables, Pete was jealous of an honour the
recipient did not appreciate, Robert and Jemmy would have liked a new
interest in their humdrum lives. Richard was initiated into the
mysteries of his art by a superannuated shepherd from Doozes, only too
glad of a little ill-paid casual labour.

None of the Backfield boys was ever paid a penny of wages. Reuben's idea
in employing them was to save money, besides he feared that his young
men with full pockets might grow independent. It was essential to his
plan that he should keep them absolutely dependent on him, otherwise
they might leave home, marry without his consent, or at best fritter
away their--or rather his--time by running after girls or drinking at
pubs. It is true that now and then stalwart Pete made a few shillings in
the sparring-booth at the Fair, but Reuben could trust Pete in a way he
could not trust the other boys, so he did not offer much objection.

Pete had once given a shilling to Richard, who had bought with it a
second-hand Latin grammar, which he kept carefully hidden under his
pillow by night, and in his pocket by day. He had an idea that the
mastery of its obscurities would give him a key to freedom, but he had
had so far little opportunity of studying it, as he worked and slept
with his brothers. Richard did not extort the same sympathy for his
rebellion as Albert. Albert had a certain influence over Pete and Jemmy,
which he maintained partly by a definite charm of personality, partly by
telling them tales after they were in bed at night. They had never
betrayed his copy of Byron, also bought with a shilling from Pete, but
Richard dared not trust them with his Lilly. Some day he would manage to
irritate them--show his contempt for their bearish manners, scoff at
their talk, or otherwise insult them--and they would deliver him over,
grammar and all, into his father's hands.

His new occupation, however, gave him undreamed-of opportunities. One of
the advantages of shepherding was that it alternated periods of
strenuous work with others of comparative idleness. During these Richard
would pore over his "hic, hæc, hoc," and parse and analyse on bits of
waste paper. He learned very quickly, and was soon casting about for
means to buy a Greek grammar. He felt that his father could not possibly
keep him at the farm if he knew both Latin and Greek.

Thus Richard lived through the feasts and fasts of the Shepherd's Year.
In spring there were hazy, drowsy days when he sat with his book under
the hedge--some hole close by where he could stuff it if Reuben came
that way--now and then lifting an eye to the timid, foolish faces buried
in the sun-stained meadow-grass. Then later came the dipping, the collie
Havelock barking and blustering at one end of the bath, while old
Comfort poked the animals through it with his crook, and Richard
received them terrified and evil-smelling at the other side. He grew
furious because his hands were all sore and blistered with the dip.
Reuben laughed at him grossly--"Yur granny shall mäake you a complexion
wash, surelye!"

Then came the shearing, that queen of feasts. The local band of shearers
called at Odiam for the first time, and were given an inaugural welcome.
Richard sulked at the honour paid him as shepherd--he felt it was indeed
a case of King among Sweepers. However, in point of fact, he enjoyed the
actual shearing well enough. It was a warm July day, the air full of the
scent of hayseed; the sheep came hustling and panting into the
shearing-pens, and the shearers stripped them with songs and jokes and
shouts of "Shear close, boys!" There was also ale in buckets, brought
out by a girl hired for the occasion, who was stout and pretty and
smiled at Richard. And it was good to watch the yellowish piles of
fleece grow at one's knees, and comical to see the poor shorn sheep
stagger up from the ground, all naked and confused, hardly knowing
themselves, it seemed.

When the shearing was done there was supper in the kitchen at Odiam,
with huge drinks of "black ram," and sheep-shearing songs such as "Come,
all my jolly boys," and "Here the rose-buds in June." Also the Sussex
Whistling Song:


     "There was an old Farmer in Sussex did dwell,
     And he had a bad wife, as many knew well."


But Richard did not enjoy the supper as much as the shearing, for most
of the men over-ate themselves, and all of them over-drank. Also the
pretty serving-girl forsook him for Albert, who on one occasion was
actually seen to put his arm round her waist, and hold it there till a
scowl from his father made him drop it.

Then in winter came the lambing, which is the shepherd's Lent. Richard
and the old man from Doozes kept long vigils in the lambing hut, and
those nights and days were to young Backfield dreams of red, fuggy
solitude, the stillness broken only by the slip of coals in the brazier,
or the faint bleating of the ewes outside--while sometimes mad Harry's
fiddle wept down the silences of Boarzell.

Richard began to take a new interest in his flock--hitherto they had
merely struck him as grotesque. Their pale silly eyes, their rough,
tic-ridden fleeces, their scared repulsiveness after the dipping, their
bewildered nakedness after the shearing, had filled him either with
amusement or disgust; but now, when he saw them weakly lick the backs of
their new-born lambs, while the lambs' little tails quivered, and tiny,
entreating sounds came from their mouths, he found in them a new beauty,
which he had found nowhere else in his short, hard life--the beauty of
an utterly loving, tender, and helpless thing.

He had his Lilly with him in the hut, for there were long hours of
idleness as well as of anxiety, but he was careful to hide away the book
if Reuben came to inspect; for he knew that his father would have sat
through the empty hours in concentration and expectancy, his ears
straining for the faintest sound. He would have thought of nothing but
the ewes, and he looked to everyone to think of nothing else. But
Richard studied Latin, and the old Doozes man put in plenty of light,
easily startled sleep.


§ 6.

Towards the end of February there was a period of intense cold, and some
heavy falls of snow. Snow was rare in that south-east corner, and all
farm-work was to a certain extent dislocated. Reuben would have liked to
spread blankets over his corn-fields and put shirts on his cattle.
Adverse weather conditions never failed to stir up his inborn
combativeness to its fiercest. His sons trembled as his brain raged with
body-racking plans for fighting this new move of nature's. Richard was
glad to be away from farmyard exertions, most of which struck him as
absurd. He was now busy with the last of his lambing, the snow blew
against the hut from the north-east, piling itself till nothing was to
be seen from that quarter but a white lump. Inside was a crimson
stuffiness, as the fumes of the brazier found their way slowly out of
the little tin chimney. Sometimes before the brazier a motherless lamb
would lie.

There was a lamb there on the last evening in February, its tiny body
and long, weak legs all rosed over with the glow. Above it Richard
crouched, grammar in hand. There had been a lull in the snowstorm during
the afternoon, but now once more the wind was piping and screaming over
the fields and the whiteness heaping itself against the wall.

Suddenly he heard a knock at the door, and before he could answer, it
flew open, and the icy blast, laden with snow, rushed in, and whirled
round the hut, fluttering the pages of Lilly's grammar and the fleece of
the lamb.

"Shut that door!" cried Richard angrily, and then realised that he was
speaking to a lady.

She had shut the door, and stood against it, a tall, rather commanding
figure, in spite of her snow-covered garments and dishevelled hair.

"Oh--ma'am!" said Richard, rising to his feet, and recognising Miss Anne
Bardon.

"I trust I'm not in the way," she said rather coldly, "but the storm is
so violent, and the drifts are forming so fast, that I hope you will not
mind my sheltering here."

Richard was embarrassed. Her fine words disconcerted him. He had often
watched Miss Bardon from a respectful distance, but had never spoken to
her before.

"You're welcome, ma'am," he replied awkwardly, and offered her his
chair.

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 hut--his hands were grimed from the
brazier, and he wore an old crumpled slop. She probably despised him.

Suddenly he noticed that the wet of her garments was dropping on the
lamb. He hastily gathered it up in his arms.

"What a dear little creature!"

She spoke quite graciously, and Richard felt his spirits revive.

"His mother's dead, and I have to be looking after him, surelye."

"Poor little thing!"

She asked him a few questions about the lambing, then:

"You're one of Mr. Backfield's sons, are you not?"

"Yes, ma'am. I'm Richard."

"I've seen you before--in church, I think. Are you your father's
shepherd?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Again I hope I am not in your way. I've been over to see the carter's
widow at Socknersh--he died two days ago, you know, and she hasn't a
penny to go on with. Then when I saw the storm coming I thought I would
take a short cut home across the fields; I was caught after all--and
here I am!"

She smiled suddenly as she finished speaking. It was a sweet smile,
rather aloof, but lighting up the whole of her face with a sudden flash
of youth and kindness. Richard gazed at her, half fascinated, and
mumbled lamely--"you're welcome, ma'am."

She suddenly caught sight of his Latin grammar.

"That's a strange thing to see in a shepherd's hand."

He felt encouraged, for he had wanted her to see the difference between
him and an ordinary shepherd, but had been too awkward to show her.

"I've had it three months--I can construe a bit of Horace now."

"Acquam memento rebus in arduis servare mentem," said Anne.

"Onmes eodem cogimen," said Richard, and blushed.

There was silence, but not of the former discouraging sort. Richard was
even bold enough to break it:

"I never knew ladies cud speak Latin."

"Some can. I was educated with my brother, you know, and when we
construed Horace I was always five or six pages ahead. What made you
want to learn Latin?"

"I want to git out o' this."

"Out of your farm duties, you mean?"

"Yes."

"But surely your father would let you adopt some other profession if he
knew you did not like this one?"

Richard shook his head.

"He wants justabout all of us--we've got to push on the farm."

"Yes--I know he is ambitious, but surely he doesn't want unwilling
helpers."

"Oh, he döan't mind who it is, so long as the work's done."

"And don't you care about the farm?"

"I, ma'am?--no. I want to be a gentleman."

Anne was growing interested. This farm boy was gloriously unlike others
of his kind that she had met.

"And you think that if you learn Latin, it'll help you be a gentleman
someday?"

"Yes--and Greek, when I've adone wud the Latin."

"Have you many books?"

"No--only this one."

"Then I must lend you some books."

Richard flushed with pleasure. After all he was not acquitting himself
so badly with this fine lady. They talked together for a few more
minutes, the boy trying to clip his speech like hers. He noticed how
much shorter and crisper it was than his--while he said "döan't," she
could say "don't" twice.

They were interrupted by the entrance of the Doozes shepherd,
accompanied by a swirl of flakeless wind. The old man was astonished and
rather scandalised to find Anne Bardon. She looked positively rakish
sitting there in her steaming clothes, her hat over one ear, her hair in
wisps, and her face more animated and girlish than any of his kind had
ever seen it.

Old Comfort scraped and mumbled, and fussed over the lamb, which the two
Latinists had entirely forgotten. Then Richard, seeing himself free and
the sky clear, offered to help her through the drifts to Flightshot. She
let him accompany her as far as the edge of the Manor estate, where the
going was no longer dangerous.

"Your servant, ma'am," he said, as he opened the gate; and she answered
classically:

"Vale!"


§ 7.

On the whole, the most unsatisfactory of Reuben's sons was Albert.
Richard might be more irritating, but Albert had that knack of public
sinning which gives a certain spectacular offensiveness to the most
trivial faults. Any trouble between Reuben and his eldest son invariably
spread itself into the gossip of ten farms; the covert misdoings of and
private reckonings with the other boys gave place to tempestuous
scandals, windy stormings, in which Albert contrived to grab the general
sympathy, and give a decorative impression of martyrdom.

At the same time he tantalised Reuben with vague hints of enthusiasm,
sometimes almost making him think that, undependable and careless as he
was, he had in him certain germs of understanding. But these were mere
promises that were never fulfilled. Albert would whet Reuben's hopes by
asking him questions about the country round: Why was such and such a
farm called Stilliand's Tower or Puddingcake? Why were there about six
places called Iden Green within a square of twenty miles? Was there any
story to account for the names of Mockbeggar, Golden Compasses,
Castweasel, or Gablehook? But directly Reuben digressed from these
general questions to the holy particulars of Odiam and Boarzell, he
would lose his interest and at last even his attention, escaping into
some far-wandering dream.

Reuben could not understand how his sons could care so little about that
which was all things to him. He had brought them up to his
ambitions--they were not like Naomi, thrust into them in later,
less-impressionable years. He had not been weak with them, and not been
cruel--yet only Pete was at all satisfactory. However, he was not the
man to sit down and despair before his obstacles. He made the best of
things as they were--ground work out of his lads, since he could not
grind enthusiasm, and trusted to the future to stir up a greater hope.
He somehow could not believe that his boys could go through all their
lives not caring for Odiam.

Albert continued weakly and picturesquely to offend. He was now nearly
twenty-one, and had begun to run after girls in a stupid way. Reuben,
remembering how sternly he had deprived himself of pleasures of this
kind, ruthlessly spoiled his son's philanderings ... but the crime he
could not forgive, which set the keystone on his and the boy's
antagonism, was the publication of some verses by Albert in the _Rye
Advertiser_.

To begin with, it was a Liberal paper, and though the verses were of a
strictly non-political kind, dealing chiefly with Amelia's eyes, it
seemed to Reuben shockingly unprincipled to defile oneself in any way
with Radical print. But even without that the thing was criminal and
offensive.

"I wöan't have no hemmed poetry in my family!" stormed Reuben, for
Albert had as usual stage-managed a "scene." "You've got your work to
do, and you'll justabout do it."

"But fäather, it didn't täake up any of my time, writing that poem. I
wrote it at my breakfast one mornun two months ago----"

"Yes, that's it--instead of spending twenty minnut at your breakfast,
you spend forty. You idle away my time wud your hemmed tricks, and I
wöan't have it, I tell you, I wöan't have it. Lord! when I wur your age,
I wur running the whole of this farm alone--every ströak of work, I did
it. I didn't go wasting time over my meals, and writing rubbidge fur
low-down Gladstone päapers. Now döan't you go sassing me back, you young
good-fur-nothing, or I'll flay you, surelye!"

Albert could not help a grudging admiration of his father. Reuben could
be angry and fling threats, and yet keep at the same time a certain
splendour, which no violence or vulgarity could dim. The boy, in spite
of his verses, which were execrable enough, had a poet's eye for the
splendid, and he could not be blind to the qualities of his father's
tyranny, even though that tyranny crushed him at times. Reuben was now
forty-three; a trifle heavier in build, perhaps, but otherwise as fine
and straight a man as he had been at twenty. His clear brown skin, keen
eyes, thick coal-black hair, his height, his strength, his dauntless
spirit, could not fail to impress one in whom the sense of life and
beauty was developing. Albert even once began a poem to his father:


     "You march across the mangold field,
     And all our limbs do shake...."


But somehow found the subject more difficult to grapple than the
fascinations of Amelia.

With Richard things were different. He despised Reuben as bestial, and
sometimes jeopardised his skin by nearly showing his contempt. He now
had a peculiar friendship with Anne Bardon. They had met accidentally a
second time, and deliberately half a dozen more. In Richard Anne had
made a discovery--he appealed to her imagination, which ran on severe
lines. She sympathised with his ambition to break free from the grind
and grossness of Odiam, and resolved to help him as much as she could.
She lent him books, and guided him with her superior knowledge and
education.

Their meetings were secret, from her family as well as his. But they
were dignified--there was no scurrying like rabbits. Richard's work kept
him mostly on the Flightshot borders of Odiam, and often the grave Anne
would walk down to the hedge, and help him construe Tacitus or parse
from Ovid. There was an old tree by the boundary fence, in the hollow of
which she put new books for him to find, and into which he would return
those he had finished. She was very careful to maintain the right
attitude towards him; he was always her humble servant, he never forgot
to call her "ma'am."

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.

"'Pray am I to remove this dirt?'--Did you ever hear such präaperness
and denticalness?--all short and soft lik the Squire himself. You wash
out all that mucky sharn, my lad, if that's wot you mean."


§ 8.

Robert Backfield was a member of Peasmarsh choir. He had a good, ringing
bass voice, which had attracted the clerk's notice, and though Reuben
disapproved of his son's having any interests outside Odiam, he realised
that as a good Tory he ought to support the Church--especially as the
hours of the practices did not clash with Robert's more important
engagements.

Peasmarsh choir consisted of about eighteen boys and girls, with an
accompaniment of cornets, flutes, and a bass viol--the last played by an
immensely aged drover from Coldblow, who, having only three fingers on
his left hand, had to compromise, not always tunefully, with the score.
The singing was erratic. Eighteen fresh young voices could not fail to
give a certain pleasure, but various members had idiosyncrasies which
did not make for the common weal--such as young Ditch, who never knew
till he had begun to sing whether his voice would be bass or alto, all
intermediary pitches being somehow unattainable--or Rosie Hubble from
Barline, who was always four bars behind the rest--or even young Robert
himself, who in crises of enthusiasm was wont to sing so loud that his
voice drowned everyone else's, or in a wild game of follow-my-leader led
the whole anthem to destruction.

Robert loved these choir practices and church singings. Though he never
complained of his hard work, he was unconsciously glad of a change from
the materialism of Odiam. The psalms with their outbreathings of a
clearer life did much to purge even his uncultured soul of its
muddlings, the hymns with their sentimental farawayness opened views
into which he would gaze enchanted as into a promised land. He would
come in tired and throbbing from the fields, scrape as much mud as
possible off his boots, put on his Sunday coat, and tramp through the
dusk to the clerk's house ... the little golden window gleaming to him
across Peasmarsh street and pond was the foretaste of the evening's
sweetness.

The practices were held in the clerk's kitchen, into which the
choristers would crush and huddle. On full attendance nights all elbows
touched, and occasionally old Spodgram's bow would be jolted out of his
hand, or someone would complain that Leacher was blowing his trumpet
down his neck. Afterwards the choristers would wander home in clusters
through the fields; the clusters generally split into small groups, and
then the groups into couples. The couples would scatter widely, and vex
their homes with late returnings.

Robert was first of all part of a cluster which included young Coalbran
from Doozes, Tom Sheane from Dinglesden, the two Morfees from Edzell,
Emily Ditch, and Bessie Lamb from Eggs Hole. Then in time the company
reduced itself to Robert, Emily, and Bessie--and one wonderful night he
found himself with Bessie alone. How they had chosen each other he could
not say. All he knew was that for sometime she had become woven with the
music into his thoughts. She was a poor labourer's daughter, living in
a crumbled, rickety cottage on Eggs Hole Farm, helping her mother look
after eight young children. She was only seventeen herself, sturdy yet
soft, with a mass of hay-coloured hair, and rather a broad face with
wistful eyes. Robert thought she was beautiful--but Robert thought that
old Spodgram's playing and the choir's singing were beautiful.

Though they were technically a Couple, they never spoke of love. They
never even kissed or held each other's hands, however tenderly the
velvet darkness called. He told her about his work at Odiam--about the
little calf that was born that day, or the trouble he had had, patching
the rent in the pigsty, or how the poultry had not taken well to their
new food, but preferred something with more sharps in it. She in her
turn would tell him how she had washed little Georgie's shirt--taking
advantage of a warm day when he could run about naked--how her mother
had lamentable hard pains all down her back, how her father had got
drunk at the harvest supper and tried to beat her.

Sometimes they looked in the hedges for birds' nests, or watched the
rabbits skipping in the dusk. They would gape up at the stars together
and call the constellations by names of their own--Orion was "the gurt
tree," and Cassiopeia was "the sheep trough," and Pegasus was "the
square meadow."

It was all very wonderful and sweet to Robert, and when at last he crept
under the sheets in the apple-smelling garret he would dream of him and
Bessie wandering in the Peasmarsh fields--or sometimes in those starry
meadows where the hedges shone and twinkled with the fruit of
constellations, and Charles drove his waggon along a golden road, and
sheep ate from a flickering trough under a great tree of lamps.


§ 9.

Bessie tinted the world for Robert like a sunrise. All through the day
he carried memories of lightless woods, of fields hushed in the swale,
of the smudge of her old purple cotton beside him--of, perhaps, some dim
divine moment when his hand had touched hers hanging at her side.

Then winter came, with carol-singing, and the choristers tramped round,
lantern-led, from farm to farm. There in the fluttering light outside
Kitchenhour, Old Turk, Ellenwhorne, or Edzell, Robert would watch
Bessie's chicory-flower eyes under her hood, while the steam of their
breath mingled in the frosty air, and they drooped their heads together,
singing to each other, only to each other, "Good King Wenceslas," "As
Joseph was a-walking," or "In the Fields with their Flocks."

As they were both simple souls, their love only made the words more
real. Sometimes it seemed almost as if they could see up in the white
glistering field behind the barn, the manger with the baby in it, the
mother watching near, and the ox and the ass standing meekly beside them
in the straw. Bessie said she felt sure that the shepherds watched their
flocks by night in the little old meadow at the corner of Totease ...
she once thought she had heard them singing. But she would not go and
look.

As the year climbed up again into spring, a tender pity for Bessie
mingled with Robert's love. It was not the pity which begets love, but
the sweeter kind which is begotten of it. Robert forgot all about his
own hard life, the monotonous ruthless grind of work, the absence of all
softness, homeliness, or sympathy, the denial of all gaiety and sport.
He thought only of Bessie's troubles, and would have given the world to
lighten them. He longed to give her some little treat, or a present.
But he had no money. For the first time he inwardly rebelled against the
system which kept him penniless. None of the boys had any money, except
Pete on Fair days--not even Albert, for the _Rye Advertiser_ did not pay
its poets. For the first time Robert saw this as unjust.

March blew some warm twilights to Peasmarsh, and the choristers began
their summer lingering. Bessie and Robert often took the longer way home
by Ellenwhorne--he would not leave her now till they were at her cottage
door, and often he would run home hare-footed from Eggs Hole, afraid
that he might be shut out of Odiam, and perhaps his precious comradeship
discovered and put under the tyrant's ban.

Then came an evening in April, when the air smelled of primroses and
young leaves. The choir practice was early, and rifts of sunshine sloped
up the clerk's kitchen, linking in one golden slant Robert's dark
healthy face just under the ceiling, Bessie's shoulders pressed against
his arm, the frail old hands of Joe Hearsfield on his flute, and the
warm plum-brown of the bass viol close to the floor. To Robert it was
all a dream of holiness and harmony. Old Spodgram confined himself
almost entirely to two notes, Miss Hubble insisted on her four bars of
arrears, young Ditch extemporised an alto of surprising reediness, and
Robert bellowed the last lines of the last verse just as the other
choristers were loudly taking in breath preparatory to line three--but
the whole thing was to him a foretaste of Paradise and the angels
singing ever world without end.

When the practice was over it was still light, and Robert and Bessie
turned inevitably along the little bostal that trickles through the
fields towards Ramstile. As usual they did not speak, but in each glowed
the thought that they had a full two hours to live through together in
the mystery of these sorrowless fields.

The sun set as they came to Ellenwhorne. They stood and watched it dip
behind the little cluster of roofs and oast-houses in the west. The
turrets of the oasts stood out black against the crimson, then suddenly
they purpled, faded into their background of night-washed cloud.

The fields were very dark in their low corners, only their high sweeps
shimmered in the ghostly lemon glow. Out of the rabbit-warrens along the
hedges, from the rims of the woods, ran the rabbits to scuttle and play.
Bessie and Robert saw the bob of their white tails through the dusk, and
now and then a little long-eared shape.

The boy and girl were still silent. But in the consciousness each had of
the other, kindled and spread a strange dear poignancy. They walked side
by side through the dusk, now faintly cold. Dew began to tremble and
shine on the grass, to pearl the brambles and glimmer on the twigs.

Robert looked sideways at Bessie. She was colourless in the dark, or
rather coloured all over with the same soft grey, which gathered up into
itself the purple of her gown and the pale web of her hair. In her eyes
was a quiver of starlight.

Their feet splashed on the soaking grass, and suddenly Bessie stopped
and lifted her shoe:

"It's justabout wet, Robby."

He looked.

"So it be--I shudn't have brought you through all this damp grass. We
shud have gone by the lane, I reckon."

"Oh, no," she breathed, and her voice and the half-seen glimmer of her
eyes troubled him strangely.

"Lookee, I'll carry you--you mustn't git wet."

She opened her lips to protest, but the sound died on them, for he
stooped and swept her up in his arms. She slipped her hand to his neck
to steady herself, and they went forward again towards the south.

Bessie was a sturdily built little person, but the weight of her was a
rich delight, and if his arms strained, they strained with tenderness as
well as with effort. Under them her frock crushed and gave out a
fragrance of crumpled cotton, her hand was warm against his neck, and on
his cheek tickled her soft hair. The shadows ran towards them from the
corners of the field, slipping like ghosts over the grass, and one or
two pale stars kindled before them, where the sky dropped into the
woods.... An owl lifted his note of sadness, which wandered away over
the fields to Ellenwhorne....

Her young face bowed to his neck, and suddenly his lips crept round and
lay against the coolness of her cheek. She did not move, and he still
walked on, the grass splashing under his feet, the rabbits scampering
round him, showing their little cotton-tails in the dark.

Then his mouth stole downwards and groped for hers. Their lips fluttered
together like moths. Then suddenly she put her arms round his neck, and
strained his head to her, and kissed him and kissed him, with queer
little sobs in her throat....

He still walked on through the deepening night and skipping rabbits. He
never paused, just carried her and kissed her; and she kissed him,
stroking his face with her hands--and all without a word.

At last they reached the lane by Eggs Hole Cottage, which with
shimmering star-washed front looked towards the south. He stopped, and
she slid to the ground. Then suddenly the words came.

"Oh, my liddle thing! My dear liddle thing ... my sweet liddle thing!"

"Robby, Robby...."

They kissed each other again and again, eagerly like children, but with
the tears of men and women in their eyes.

"Robby ... I love you ... I love you so!"

"Oh, you liddle thing!"

They were hungry ... their arms wound about each other and their faces
pressed close, now cheek to cheek, now with lips fluttering together in
those sweet kisses of youth which have so much of shyness in their
passion.

Suddenly a light kindled in the little house. Bessie slipped from him,
and ran up the pathway into the dark gape of the door.


§ 10.

In August Reuben bought ten more acres of Boarzell, and the yoke
tightened on Odiam. All had now been pressed into service, even the
epileptic George. From morning till night feet tramped, hoofs stamped,
wheels rolled, backs bent, arms swung. Reuben himself worked hardest of
all, for to his actual labour must be added long tramps from one part of
the farm to the other to superintend his sons' work. Besides, he would
allow nothing really important to be undertaken without him. He must be
present when the first scythe swept into the hay, when his wonderful
horse-reaper took its first step along the side of the cornfield, he
must himself see to the spreading of the hops over the drying furnaces
in the oasts, or rise in the cold twinkling hour after midnight to find
out how Buttercup was doing with her calf.

Pete made an able and keen lieutenant, but the other boys were still
disappointing. It is true that Benjamin worked well and was often smart
enough, but he had a roving disposition, which was more dangerous than
Albert's, since it led him invariably down to the muddy Rother banks at
Rye, where the great ships stood in the water, filling the air with good
smells of fish and tar. Jemmy would loaf for hours round the capstans
and building-stocks, and the piles of muddy rope that smelled of ooze,
and he would talk to the sailormen and fishermen about voyages to the
Azores and the Cape or to the wild seas south of the Horn, and would
come home prating of sails and smoke-stacks, charts and logs, and other
vain things that had nothing to do with Odiam. Reuben remembered that
the boy's mother came of a family of ship-builders and sailormen, and he
would tremble for Jemmy's allegiance, and punish his truancies twice as
severely as Albert's.

Another trial to him now was that Robert seemed half-hearted. Hitherto
he had always worked conscientiously and well, even though he had never
been smart or particularly keen; but now he seemed to loaf and slack--he
dawdled, slipped clear of what he could, and once he actually asked
Reuben for wages! This was unheard-of--not one of Reuben's sons had ever
dreamed of such a thing before.

"Wages!--wot are you wanting wages fur, young räascal? You're working to
save money, not to earn it. You wait till all yon Moor is mine, and
Odiam's the biggest farm in Sussex, before you ask fur wages."

Up till then Robert had never troubled much about money. He did not want
to buy books like Albert and Richard, neither did he care for drinking
in Rye pubs with fishermen like Jemmy. But now everything was changed.
He wanted money for Bessie. He wanted to marry her, and he must have
money for that, no matter how meanly they started; and also he wanted to
give her treats and presents, to cheer the dullness of her life. Reuben
had indeed been wise in trying to keep the girls away from his sons!

There are no two such things for sharpening human wits as fullness of
love and shortness of cash. Robert's brain was essentially placid and
lumbering, but under this double spur it began to work wonders. After
much pondering he thought of a plan. It was part of his duties to snare
rabbits on Boarzell. Every evening he went round and inspected the
traps, killed any little squealing prisoners that were in them, and sold
them on market days at Rye. It was after all an easy thing to report and
hand over the money for ten rabbits a week, while keeping the price of,
say, three more, and any other man would have thought of it sooner.

In this way he managed to do a few little things to brighten Bessie's
grey life--and his own too, though he did not know it was grey. Every
week he put aside a shilling or two towards the lump sum which was at
last to make their marriage possible. It was Reuben's fight for Boarzell
on an insignificant scale--though Robert, who had not so much iron in
him as his father, could not resist spending money from time to time on
unnecessary trifles that would give Bessie happiness. For one thing he
discovered that she had never been to the Fair. She had never known the
delights of riding on the merry-go-round, throwing balls at Aunt Sally,
watching the shooting or the panorama. Robert resolved to take her that
autumn, and bought her a pair of white cotton gloves in preparation for
the day.

Unluckily, however, he was not made for a career of prolonged fraud, and
he ingloriously foundered in that sea of practical details through which
the cunning man must steer his schemes. He fixed the number of rabbits
to be sold at Rye as ten a week, pocketing the surplus whether it were
one or six. This was a pretty fair average, but its invariable
occurrence for seven or eight weeks could not fail to strike Reuben,
whose brain was not placid and slow-moving like his son's.

The one thing against the idea that Robert was swindling him was that he
thought Robert utterly incapable of so much contrivance. However, he had
noticed several changes in the boy of late, and he resolved to wait
another two weeks, keeping his eyes open and his tongue still. Each week
ten rabbits were reported sold at Rye and the money handed over to him.
On the morning of the next market day, when Robert's cart, piled with
eggs, fruit, vegetables, and poultry, was at the door, Reuben came out
and inspected it.

"Let's see your conies," he said briefly.

It was as if someone had suddenly laid a cold hand on Robert's heart.
He guessed that his father suspected him. His ears turned crimson, and
his hands trembled and fumbled as he opened the back of the cart and
took out his string of properly skinned and gutted conies.

Reuben counted them--ten. Then he pushed them aside, and began rummaging
in the cart among cabbages and bags of apples. In a second or two he had
dragged out five more rabbits. Robert stood with hanging head, flushed
cheeks, and quivering hands, till his father fulfilled his expectations
by knocking him down.

"So that's the way you queer me, you young villain. You steal, you hide,
you try to bust the farm. It's luck you're even a bigger fool than you
are scamp, and I've caught you justabout purty."

He kicked Robert, and called up Richard to drive the cart over to Rye.

An hour later the whole of the boy's plans, and worse still his sinews
of war, were in the enemy's possession. Reuben ransacked his son's mind
as easily as he ransacked his pockets and the careful obvious little
hiding-place under his mattress where lay the twenty-two shillings of
which he had defrauded Odiam. His love for Bessie, his degraded and
treacherous hopes, filled the father with shame. Had he then lived so
meanly that such mean ambitions should inspire his son?

"A cowman's girl!" he groaned, "at Eggs Hole, too, where they döan't
know plums from damsons! Marry her! I'd sooner have Albert and his
wenches."

"I love her," faltered Robert.

"Well, you'll justabout have to stop loving her, that's all. I'm not
going to have my place upset by love. Love's all very well when there's
something wud it or when there's nothing in it. But marrying cowmen's
girls wudout a penny in their pockets, we can't afford to kip that sort
o' love at Odiam."

"Fäather," pleaded Robert, "you loved my mother."

"Yes--but she wur a well-born lady wud a fortun. D'you think I'd have
let myself love her if she'd bin poor and a cowman's daughter? Not me,
young feller!"

"But you can't help loving, surelye."

"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 colour rushed into Robert's cheeks, and something very unfamiliar
and very unmanly into his eyes.

"I'll----" he began desperately. But even Robert had the wit not to
finish his sentence.


§ 11.

For the next two or three days the boy was desperate. His manhood was in
a trap. He thought of a dozen plans for breaking free, but whichever way
he turned the steel jaws seemed to close on him. What could he do? He
was not strong and ruthless like his father, or he might have broken his
way out; he was not clever like Richard, or he might have contrived it.
Money, money--that was what lay at the bottom of his helplessness. Even
if he had a very little he could take Bessie away and marry her, and
then they could both find work together on a farm. But he had not a
penny. He tried to borrow some of Pete, but Pete showed him his empty
pockets:

"If you'd asked me after the Fair, lad, I might have been able to let
you have a shillun or two. But this time o' year, I'm as poor as you
are."

Meantime Bessie knew nothing of the darkness in her lover's life. She
was working away sturdily and patiently at Eggs Hole, looking forward to
meeting him on practice night, and going with him to the Fair a week
later.

Saturday came, the day which had always been Robert's Sabbath, with a
glimpse into Paradise. He toiled miserably with the horses, Reuben's
stern eye upon him, while hatred rose and bubbled in his heart. What
right had his father to treat him so?--to make a prisoner and a slave of
him? He vowed to himself he would break free; but how?--how?... A chink
of pence in Reuben's pocket seemed like a mocking answer.

In the evening the taskmaster disappeared, to gloat over his
wheatfields. Robert knew he would not be back till supper-time; only
Albert was working with him in the stable, and he felt that he could
persuade his brother to hold his tongue if he disappeared for an hour or
two.

"I want to go into Peasmarsh," he said to Albert; "if Fäather comes and
asks where I am, you can always tell him I've gone over to Grandturzel
about that colt, can't you now?"

"Reckon I can," said Albert good-naturedly, knowing that some day he
might want his brother to do the same for him.

So Robert put on his Sunday coat as usual and tramped away to the
village. The only drawback was that from the high wheatfield Reuben
distinctly saw him go.

He reached the clerk's house a little while after the practice had
started, and stood for a moment gazing in at the window. A terrible
homesickness rose in his heart. Must he really be cut off from all these
delights? There they stood, the boys and girls, his friends, singing
"Disposer Supreme" till the rafters rang. Perhaps after to-night he
would never sing with them again. Then his eyes fell on Bessie, and the
hunger drove him in.

He took his place beside her, but he could not fix his mind on what they
sang. In the intervals between the anthems he was able to pour out
instalments of his tragedy. Bessie was very brave, she lifted her eyes
to his, and would not let them falter, but he felt her little coarse
fingers trembling in his hand.

"I döan't know what I'm to do, my dear," he mumbled; "I think the best
thing 'ud be fur me to git work on a farm somewheres away from here, and
then maybe in time I cud put a liddle bit of money by, and you cud join
me."

"Oh, döan't leave me, Robert."

For the first time the courage dimmed in her eyes.

"Wot else am I to do?" he exclaimed wretchedly; "'täun't even as if I
cud go on seeing you here. Oh, Bessie! I can't even täake you to the
Fair on Thursday!"

"Wot does a liddle thing lik that count when it's all so miserable?"


     "Disposer Supreme,
       And judge of the earth,
     Who choosest for thine
       The weak and the poor...."


The anthem crashed gaily into their sorrow, and grasping the hymn-sheet
they sang together.

"Wöan't you be never coming here no more?" whispered Bessie in the next
pause.

"Depends on if my fäather catches me or not."

He drank in the heat and stuffiness of the little room as a man might
drink water in a desert, not knowing when the next well should be. He
loved it, even to the smoke-stains on the sagging rafters, to the faint
smell of onions that pervaded it all.


     "All honour and praise,
       Dominion and might,
     To God, Three in One,
       Eternally be,
     Who round us hath shed
       His own marvellous light,
     And called us from darkness
       His glory to see."


Young Ralph Bardon had come into the room, and stood by the door while
the last verse was being sung. He was there to give an invitation from
his father, for every year the Squire provided the choristers with a
mild debauch at Flightshot. Robert had been to several of these, and
they glittered in his memory--the laughter and games, the merry fooling,
the grand supper table gay with candles. What a joke it had been when
someone had given the salt to Rosie Hubble instead of the sugar to eat
with her apple pie, and when some other wag had pulled away Ern
Ticehurst's chair from under him....

"Thank you, sir--thank you kindly."

The invitation had been given, and the choristers were crowding towards
the door. Robert followed them mechanically. It was raining hard.

"Oh, dear, oh, dear," said Bessie, "I never brought my cloak."

"You must put on my coat."

He began taking it off when he heard someone beside them say:

"I have a great-coat here."

Robert turned round and faced Bardon, whose eyes rested approvingly on
the gleaming froth of Bessie's hair.

"I'm driving home in my gig with a rug and hood," continued the young
man, "so I've no need of a great-coat as well."

Robert opened his mouth to refuse. He was offended by the way the Squire
looked at Bessie. But on second thoughts he realised that this was no
reason for depriving her of a wrap; his own coat was too short to be
much good. After all he could see that the acquaintance went no further.

Bessie had, however, already taken the matter out of his hands by
saying--"Thank you kindly, sir."

"You see, this is my very best gown," she confided to Robert outside
the house, "and I döan't know wot I shud do if anything happened to it."

"Well, you're not to täake that coat back to Flightshot yourself. Give
it to me when we come to Eggs Hole, and I'll see that he has it."

"Very well, dear," she answered meekly.

They did not speak much on that walk home. Their minds seemed dank and
washed out as the night. Their wet fingers gripped and twined ... what
was the use of speaking? Everything seemed hopeless--no way to turn, no
plans to make, no friends to look to.

It was quite dark when they reached Eggs Hole, and parted after kisses
no longer as shy as they used to be.

On arriving at Odiam, Robert was seized by his father and flogged within
an inch of his life.


§ 12.

Reuben thought that he had efficiently broken his son's rebellion. All
the next day Robert seemed utterly cowed. He was worn out by the misery
of the last few hours, and by the blows which in the end had dulled all
the sore activities of mind and soul into one huge physical ache. Reuben
left him alone most of the day, smiling grimly to himself when he saw
him. Robert spent several hours lying on the hay in the Oast barn, his
mind as inert and bruised as his body. He had ceased to contrive or
conjecture, even to dread.

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 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.

So he managed with an effort to pull himself together and walk a couple
of miles across the fields to the Manor. He was climbing the gate by
Chapel Barn when something fell out of the pocket of the coat. Unluckily
it fell on the far side of the gate, and Robert with many groans and
curses forced his stiff body over again, as the object was a smart
shagreen pocket-book, evidently of some value. It had dropped open in
its fall, and as he picked it up, a bank-note fluttered out and eddied
to the grass. It was a note for ten pounds, and Robert scowled as he
replaced it in the pocket-book.

It was a hemmed shame--life was crooked and unfair, in spite of the
Disposer Supreme and Judge of the Earth. For the first time he doubted
the general providence of things. Why should young Bardon with his easy
manners and roving lustful eye have a pocket full of money to spend as
he pleased, whereas he, Robert, who loved truly and wanted to marry his
love, should not have a penny towards his desires? This was the first
question he had ever asked of life, and its effect was to upset not only
the little store of maxims and truisms which made his philosophy, but
those rules of conduct which depended on them. One did not take what did
not belong to one because in church the Curate said, "Thou shalt not
steal," whereat the choristers would sing, "Lord have mercy upon us, and
incline our hearts to keep this law." Nevertheless, that bank-note spent
the last mile of the way in Robert's pocket.

The act was not really so revolutionary as might at first appear, for
up to the very steps of the Manor he kept on telling himself that he
would put it back. But somehow he did not do so--when he handed the coat
to the man-servant the pocket-book was still in his stable-smelling
corduroys.

Well, he had taken it now--it was too late to give it back. Besides, why
should he not have it? Those ten pounds probably did not mean much to
the Squire, but they meant all things to him and Bessie. He could marry
her now. He could take her away, find work on some distant farm, and
comfortably set up house. The possibilities of ten pounds were
unlimited--at all events they could give him all he asked of life.

In the middle of the night he woke up feeling quite differently. A sick
and guilty horror overwhelmed him. He must have been delirious the day
before, light-headed with pain and misery. Now he saw clearly what he
had done. He was a thief. He had committed a terrible sin--broken one of
the Ten Commandments. He might be caught and put in prison, anyhow, the
God who said, "Thou shalt not" would punish him and perhaps Bessie too.
The sweat poured down Robert's forehead and off his cheeks. The future
seemed to be closing in upon him with iron walls. He trembled, cowered,
and would have said, "Our Father" if he dared. Oh God, why had he done
this dreadful thing?

Luckily his body was so tired that even his kicking mind could not keep
it awake. Suddenly, in the midst of all his remorse and terror, he fell
asleep, and did not wake till sunshine two hours old was on his pillow.

When he woke, the nightmare had passed. Instead, he saw things as he had
seen them yesterday. He could marry Bessie--and he must do so quickly,
seize his chance for fear it should slip from him again. This time he
must not muddle things. Above all he must avoid coming into conflict
with his father--he was more afraid of Reuben than of all the police in
Sussex.


§ 13.

All that day he expected to hear that the theft had been discovered. The
Squire would be sure to remember his pocket-book and where he had put
it. However, time passed and nothing happened. It was possible that
young Bardon had not yet found out his loss. But Robert felt sure that
when, sooner or later, the money was missed, it would be traced to him.
He must act quickly. Oh Lord! how he hated having to act quickly! It was
now a race between him and fate--and Fate must have smiled....

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.

He managed to slip over to Eggs Hole that evening. Albert, whom his
father had not treated gently on the day of the choir practice, refused
to be his accomplice a second time, but Reuben, thinking his rebellion
crushed, kept a less strict watch over him, and took himself off after
supper to the Cocks, where he had weighty matters of politics and
agriculture to discuss. Robert seized his opportunity, and ran the whole
way to Eggs Hole--laid his plans before Bessie--and ran the whole way
back again.

Bessie was as surprised as she was delighted to hear that he should
suddenly have found a friend to lend him ten pounds--"a feller called
Tim Harman, lives over at Rolvenden," said Robert in a perspiring
effort to be convincing. However, it never struck her to doubt his word,
and she put down to emotion and hard running all that seemed strange in
her sweetheart's manner.

Bessie was quicker and more practical than Robert, and between them they
evolved a fairly respectable scheme. Next Thursday was Fair Day, and all
the Backfield family, including Robert, would be at the Fair. She would
meet him in Meridiana the gipsy's tent at five--it was right on the
outskirts of the Fair, and they could enter separately without
attracting attention, on the pretext of having their fortunes told. Then
they could easily steal off under cover of dusk. They would go to
Wadhurst, where there were many farms--get work together, and marry at
once. Meantime Robert was to divert suspicion by his blameless conduct,
and find out as well as he could exactly what one did to get married.

On arriving home he was uncertain as to whether it would be more
diplomatic to go straight to bed or let his father on his return from
the Cocks find him industriously working at the corn accounts. He
decided on the latter, and was soon with many groans and lickings of his
pencil crediting and debiting Odiam's wheat.

Backfield came in about nine, by which time Robert's panting had
completely subsided and his complexion lost the beetroot shade which
might have betrayed his exertions. His father was in a good temper, and
over-flowed with the Cocks' gossip--how Realf had got twenty-five pounds
for his heifer at Battle, how the mustard had mixed in with Ticehurst's
beans and spoilt his crop, how Dunk of Old Turk said he would vote
Radical at the next election, and how young Squire Bardon had been
robbed of his pocket-book, with certificates for three hundred pounds of
Canadian stock and a ten-pound bank-note in it.

Robert bit off the end of his pencil, which his father, who was looking
the other way, luckily did not see. The boy crouched over the fire,
trying to hide his trembling, and longing yet not daring to ask a
hundred questions. He was glad and at the same time sorry when Reuben
having explained to him the right and the wrong way of sowing beans, and
enlarged on the wickedness of Radicals in general and Gladstone in
particular, returned to Bardon's loss.

"Of course he äun't sure as it wur stolen--he may have dropped it. But
policeman döan't think that's likely."

"Then policeman's bin töald about it?" came faintly from Robert.

"Surelye! I wur spikking to him over at the Cocks. I said to him as I
wur sartain as one of those lousy Workman's Institute lads of his had
done it. That's wot comes of trying to help labourers and cowmen and
such--there's naun lik helping the poor fur putting them above
themselves, and in these times when everyone's fur giving 'em votes and
eddicating them free, why----" and Reuben launched into politics again.

That night was another Hell. Robert lay wakeful in a rigor of despair.
It was all over now. The constable would be at Odiam the first thing
next morning. Bardon was bound to remember that his pocket-book was in
the coat he had lent Bessie. He might even think that Bessie had taken
it! This fresh horror nearly sent Robert out of the window and over the
fields to the Manor to confess his crime. But he was kept back by the
glimmerings of hope which, like a summer lightning, played fitfully over
his mental landscape. He dared not stake everything. Perhaps after all
young Bardon could not remember where he had put the pocket-book; he
must have forgotten where it was when he offered the coat to Bessie, and
it was possible that he would not remember till the lovers had
escaped--after which he might remember as much as he liked, for Robert
never thought for a moment that he could be traced once he had left
Peasmarsh.

As a matter of fact his simplicity had done much for him in this matter.
A man with a readier cunning would have taken out the money and restored
the pocket-book exactly as he had found it. Robert had blunderingly
grabbed the whole thing--and to that he owed his safety. If Bardon had
found the pocket-book in his great-coat, he would at once have
reconstructed the whole incident. As things were, he scarcely remembered
lending the coat to Bessie, and it had certainly never occurred to him
that his pocket-book was in it. Being rather a careless and
absent-minded young man, he had no recollection of putting it there
after some discussion with Sir Miles about his certificates. He
generally kept it in his drawer, and thought that it must have been
taken out of that.

So no constable called at Odiam the next morning, and at breakfast the
whole Backfield family discussed the Squire's loss, with the general tag
of "serve him right!"

The following day was market-day at Rye, and Robert and Peter were to
take over the cart. Robert was glad of this, for he had made up his mind
that he must change the bank-note. If he tried to change it at the Fair
or after he had gone away with Bessie it might arouse suspicion; but no
one would think anything of his father having so large a sum, and he
could offer it when he went to pay the harness bill at the saddler's. As
for the pocket-book, he threw that into the horse-pond when no one was
looking; it was best out of the way, and the three hundred pounds' worth
of certificates it contained meant nothing to him.

Fate, having thus generously given him a start, continued to encourage
him in the race he was running against her. On the way to Rye he fell in
with Bertie Ditch. Bertie was going to marry a girl up at Brightling,
and Robert found that there was nothing easier than to discuss with him
the ways and means of marriage. From his ravings on his marriage in
particular precious information with regard to marriage in general could
be extracted. Oh, yes, he had heard of fellows who got married by
licence, but banns were more genteel, and he didn't doubt but that a
marriage by banns was altogether a better and more religious sort. He
and Nellie, etc., etc.... Oh, he didn't think a licence cost much--two
or three pounds, and an ordinary wedding by banns would cost quite as
much as that; when one had paid for the choir and the ringers and the
breakfast. Now he and Nellie ... oh, of course, if you were in a
hurry--yes; but anyhow he thought one of the parties must live a week or
so in the parish where the marriage was to take place.

Robert, after some considering, decided to go with Bessie to Wadhurst,
and ask the clergyman there exactly what they ought to do. He could
easily find a room for her where she could stay till the law had been
complied with. They would travel by the new railway. It would be rather
alarming, but Jenny Vennal had once been to Brighton by train and said
that the only thing against it was the dirt.

So gradually the difficult future was being settled. When they came to
Rye Robert left Peter to unpack the cart and went to pay the harness
bill at the saddler's. Reuben had given him five pounds, but he handed
over the terrible bank-note, which was accepted without comment.

Fate still allowed him to run ahead.


§ 14.

Thursday broke clear and windy--little curls of cloud flew high against
spreads of watery blue, and the wind raced over Boarzell, smelling of
wet furrows. As usual everyone at Odiam was going to the Fair--even
Mrs. Backfield, for Reuben said that he would not let the girls go
without her. Caro and Tilly were now fifteen and sixteen, and their
father began to have fears lest they should marry and leave him. Tilly
especially, with her creamy complexion like Naomi's, and her little
tip-tilted nose, freckled over the bridge, gave him anxious times. He
sternly discouraged any of the neighbouring farmers' sons who seemed
inclined to call; he was not going to lose his daughters just when Mrs.
Backfield's poor health made them indispensable. It could not be long
before his mother died--already her bouts of rheumatism were so severe
that she was practically crippled each winter--and when she died Tilly
and Caro must take her place.

Robert had not slept at all that night. Already sleeplessness,
excitement, and anxiety had put their mark on him, giving a certain
waxiness to his complexion and dullness to his eyes; but this morning he
had curled and oiled his hair and put on his best clothes, which
diverted the family attention, and in some way accounted for his altered
looks. Everyone at the breakfast-table wore Sunday-best, except Beatup,
who was to mind the farm in the morning, Richard taking his place in the
afternoon.

Peter's strong frame and broad shoulders were shown off in all their
glory by his tight blue coat--he was spoiling for the fight, every now
and then clenching his fists under the table, and dreaming of smart cuts
and irresistible bashes. Albert thought of the pretty girls he would
dance with, and the one he would choose to lead away into the rustling
solitude of Boarzell when his father was not looking ... to lie where
the gorse flowers would scatter on their faces, and her dress smell of
the dead heather as he clasped her to him. Richard was inclined to sneer
at these rustic flings, and to regret the westward pastures where Greek
syntax and Anne Bardon exalted life. Jemmy and George thought of
nothing but the swings and merry-go-rounds; Tilly and Caro did not think
at all, but wondered. Reuben watched their big eyes, so different from
the boys', Tilly's very blue, Caro's very brown, and felt relieved when
he looked from them to their grandmother, sitting stiffly in a patched
survival of the widow's dress, her knotted hands before her on the
table, at once too indifferent and too devoted to pity the questing
youth of these two girls.

Reuben himself, in his grey cloth suit, starched shirt, and spotted tie,
was perhaps the most striking of the company. Albert, the only one who
had more than a vague appreciation of his father's looks, realised how
utterly he had beaten his sons in their young men's game before cracked
mirrors, showing up completely the failure of their waistcoats, ties,
and hair oils in comparison with his. As was usual on festive occasions,
his hair was sleeked out of its accustomed roughness, lying in
blue-black masses of extraordinary shininess and thickness on his
temples; his tight-fitting trousers displayed his splendid legs, and
when he spoke he showed finer teeth than any of the youngsters. Albert
scowled as he admired, for he knew that no girl would take him if she
had a chance of his father.

Next to Reuben sat Harry--the other man whom Boarzell had made. He
slouched forward over his plate, in terror lest the food which dropped
continually out of his mouth should fall on the tablecloth, and he
should be scolded. He looked at least ten years older than Reuben, for
his face was covered with wrinkles, and there were streaks of grey in
his hair. As he sat and ate he muttered to himself. No one took any
notice of him, for the children had been brought up to look upon Uncle
Harry as a sort of animal, to whom one must be kind, but with whom it
was impossible to hold any rational conversation. Tilly was the most
attentive to him, and would cut up his food and sometimes even put it
in his mouth.

After breakfast the whole family set out for the Moor. Odiam looked
unnatural with its empty yard, where the discouraged Beatup mouched,
gazing longingly and chewing a straw. But every farm round Boarzell
looked the same, for Boarzell Fair emptied the neighbourhood as
completely as a pilgrimage would empty a Breton hamlet--only the beasts
and unwilling house-keepers were left behind.

Though it was not yet ten o'clock the Fair was crowded. A shout greeted
Harry's appearance with his fiddle, for it was never too early to dance.
Blind Harry climbed on his tub, flourished his bow with many horrible
smiles--for he loved his treats of popularity and attention--and started
the new tune "My Decided Decision," which Caro and Tilly had taught him
the day before. Albert immediately caught a pretty girl by the waist,
and spun round with her on the grass while Pete vanished into the
sparring-booth, his shoulders already out of his coat. Mrs. Backfield
led off Caro and Tilly, looking sidelong at the dancers, to the more
staid entertainment of the stalls. Jemmy and George ran straight to the
merry-go-round, which now worked by steam, and hooted shrilly as it
swung. Robert and Richard stood with their arms folded, watching the
dancing with very different expressions on their faces.

At last Robert decided to lead out Emily Ditch, thinking that it might
lull his father's suspicions if he had any. As a matter of fact the son
Reuben watched most closely was Albert. He looked upon Robert's affair
as settled, for the present at any rate, and credited him--perhaps
rightly--with so poor a cunning that an occasional glance would serve;
whereas Albert's oiled hair, stiff shirt-front, and clean white
handkerchief roused all his fears and carefulness together.

After the dance, which did not last long, as poor Robert trod so
heavily on his partner's feet that she soon begged him to stop, they
strolled off round the Fair. Robert thought that if he made it a custom
to roam among the booths his father would not notice his final
disappearance so quickly. Lord! he was getting a hemmed crafty fellow.
All the boys were allowed a shilling or two to spend at the Fair, so
Robert treated Emily to a ride on the merry-go-round and five sea-sick
minutes in the swings. Then he took Mrs. Button--Realf's married
daughter, who had come over from Hove, to see the Panorama and a new
attraction in the shape of a fat lady, which struck him as disgusting,
but made her laugh tremendously.

He clung to Mrs. Button for most of the morning and afternoon, for he
felt that she drove away suspicion, and at the same time had not the
disadvantage of Emily Ditch, who had once or twice alarmed him by
affectionately squeezing his hand. He did not take her to the fighting
booth, as public opinion had shut that to ladies during the years that
had passed since Reuben had sat with Naomi in the heat and sawdust--but
she stood behind him in the shooting gallery, whilst he impartially
scored bulls in the mouths of Disraeli, Gladstone, and the Emperor of
France.

"Let's go and dance now," she said as he pocketed his bag of nuts.

Robert wondered anxiously what time it was; already a faint blear of red
was creeping into the cold, twinkling afternoon. The moon rose at a
quarter to five--when he saw it come up into the sky out of Iden Wood he
must go to Meridiana's tent. He led Mrs. Button to where the dancers
jigged to Harry's unending tune. Reuben stood on the outskirts, among
the spectators, watching with a stern eye Albert snatch kisses off a
Winchelsea girl's brown neck as he swung her round. Luckily for Robert
his brother was behaving outrageously--his misdeeds were as usual
flagrant; just at that moment he pulled down his partner's hair, and
they whirled about together, laughing in the coarse mesh that blinded
them both. Reuben's mouth was a hard, straight line, and his eyes like
steel. He scarcely noticed Robert and Mrs. Button hopping about
together, and he did not see when half an hour later the boy stole away
alone.

Robert felt warm and glowing--he had enjoyed that dance, and wished he
could have danced with Bessie. Perhaps he would dance with her some
day.... Behind him, the creak of Harry's fiddle sounded plaintively,
with every now and then a hoot from the merry-go-round. The dusk was
falling quickly. Yellow flares sprang up from the stalls, casting a
strange web of light and darkness over the Fair. Gideon Teazel looked
like some carved Colossus as he stood by the roundabout, his great beard
glowing on his breast like flames ... behind, in the smeeth of twilight,
with the wriggling flare of the lamps, the lump of dancers did not seem
to dance, but to writhe like some monster on the green, sending out
tentacles, shooting up spines, emitting strange grunts and squalls--and
at the back of it all the jig, jig, jig of Harry's tune.

Further on, in the secrecy of the tents and caravans, the dusk became
full of cowering shapes, sometimes slipping and sliding about apart,
sometimes blotted together ... there were whispers, rustlings,
strugglings, low cries of "döan't" and "adone do!"--the sound of kisses
... kisses ... they followed Robert all the way to Meridiana's tent,
where, standing in the brazier glow, and flushed besides with crimson of
her own, stood Bessie.

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 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.

Meridiana's low sing-song continued:

"It's a gorgeous time I see before you, dear; riches and a carriage and
servants in livery, and a beautiful wife decked over with jewels and
gold as bright as her hair--success and a fair name, honour and a ripe
old age--and remember the poor gipsy woman, won't you, darling?"

But he had already forgotten her. He stood with his arm round Bessie,
stooping under the canvas roof, half choking in the brazier reek, while
his lips came closer and closer to her face....

"Hir me duval!" said Meridiana to herself, "but they've forgotten the
poor person's child."

She saw them go out of the tent, still linked and in their dream, then
watched their dark shapes stoop against the sky.

They clung together panting and trembling, for she was really his at
last, and he was hers. Before them lay the darkness, but they would go
into it hand in hand. She was his, and he was hers.

At last they dropped their arms and stood apart. The dusk was full of
rustlings, flittings, scuttlings, kisses....

"God bless you, gorgeous lady and gentleman," cried Meridiana shrilly
from the tent--"the dukkerin dukk tells me that you shall always wear
satin and velvet, and have honour wherever you go."

Then suddenly a heavy hand fell on Robert's shoulder, and a voice said:

"Robert Backfield, I arrest you on the charge of stealing a pocket-book
containing bonds and money from Squire Ralph Bardon of Flightshot."


§ 15.

With many tears, and the help of the kindly farmer's daughter at Eggs
Hole, who acted as penwoman, Bessie wrote a letter to Robert in the
Battery gaol:


     "You must not think, my dearest lad, that anything what you have
     done can separate you and me. We belong to each other as it seems,
     and what you have done I forgive as you would if I had done it. I
     shall always be yours, Robby, no matter how long you are in prison,
     I shall be waiting, and thinking of you always. And I forgive you
     for not telling me you had taken the money, but that a friend had
     lent it to you, because you thought I would not have gone away with
     you, but I would have, surely. Be brave and do not fret. I wish it
     was all over, but we must not fret.

     "From your loving
     "BESSIE."


The proceedings before the Rye magistrates had been brief, and ended in
Robert's committal for trial at Quarter Sessions. He had made no attempt
to deny his guilt--it would have been useless. He was almost dumb in the
dock, for his soul was struck with wonder at the cruel circumstances
which had betrayed him.

He had been tracked by the number on the note--it was the first time he
realised that notes had numbers. This particular note had been given by
Sir Miles Bardon to his son as a part of his quarterly allowance, and
though Ralph was far too unpractical to notice the number himself, his
father had a habit of marking such things, and had written it down.

The saddler at Rye had not heard of the theft when young Backfield
handed over the note in payment of the harness bill. He had at the time
remarked to his wife that old Ben seemed pretty flush with his money,
but had thought no more of it till the matter was cried by the Town
Crier that evening, after Robert and Pete had gone home. Then out of
mere curiosity he had looked at the number on his note, and found it was
the same as the Crier had announced. Early the next day he went to the
Police Station, and as young Bardon now remembered lending his coat to
Robert Backfield it was fairly easy to guess how the theft had been
committed.

The Squire regretted the matter profoundly, but it was too late now not
to proceed with it, so he made it a hundred times worse by writing an
apologetic letter to Reuben, and asking the magistrate to deal gently
with the offender. Robert's pathetic story, and the tearful evidence of
his sweetheart, gave him at once all the public sympathy; the blame was
divided pretty equally between the Bardons and Backfield.

Richard bitterly abused his father to Anne, as they met in the midst of
the strife of their two families:

"It's always the same, he keeps us under, and makes our lives a misery
till we do something mad. He's only got himself to thank for this. We're
all the slaves of his tedious farm----"

"I should rather say 'abominable,'" Anne interrupted gently.

"His abominable farm--he gets every bit of work out of us he can, till
we're justabout desperate----"

"Till we're absolutely desperate."

"And he expects us to care for nothing but his vulgar ambitions. Oh
Lord! I wish I was out of it!"

"Perhaps you will be out of it some day."

He shrugged.

"How should I get free?"

"Perhaps a friend might help you."

He looked into her face, then suddenly crimsoned--then paled, to flush
again:

"Oh, ma'am, ma'am--if ever you cud help me get free--if ever ... oh,
I--I'd sarve you all my life--I'd----"

"Hush," she said gently--"that's still in the future--and remember not
to say 'sarve.'"

The Quarter Sessions were held early in December, and Robert's case came
wedged between the too hopeful finances of a journeyman butcher and the
woes of a farmer from Guldeford who had tried to drown himself and his
little boy off the Midrips. Robert was sentenced to three years'
imprisonment.

There was nothing remarkable about the trial, and nothing to be said
against the sentence from the point of either justice or humanity. Ten
years ago the boy would have been transported to Van Diemen's Land. The
Bardons took it upon themselves to be outrageously sorry, and were
rather mystified by Reuben's contemptuous attitude towards them and
their regrets.

The evidence had been merely a repetition of that which had been given
before the magistrate, though Bessie did not cry this time in the
witness-box, and Robert in the dock was not dumb--on the contrary, he
tried to explain to the Recorder what it felt like to have absolutely no
money of one's own.

Reuben was present at the trial, and sitting erect, in his good town
clothes, drew the public glance away both from the prisoner and the
Recorder. Feeling was against him, and when in his summing-up Mr. Reeve
remarked on the strangeness of a young man of Backfield's age having no
money and being compelled to work without wages, a low murmur went round
the court, which Reuben did not seem to hear. He sat very stiffly while
the sentence was pronounced, and afterwards refused to see his son
before he was taken away to Lewes.

"Poor feller, this 'ull be the breaking of him," said Vennal outside the
Court-house.

"No more'n he deserves. He's a hard man," said Ditch.

"Thinks only of his farm and nothing of his flesh and blood," said old
Realf.

"It sarves un right," said Ginner.

So it was throughout the crowd. Some said "poor man," others muttered
"his own fault." But all words, either of pity or blame, were silenced
when Backfield came out of the Court-house and walked through the
people, his head high, his step firm, his back straight.


§ 16.

The next few weeks were for Reuben full of bitter, secret humiliation.
He might show a proud face and a straight back to the world, but his
heart was full of miserable madness. It was not so much his son's
disgrace that afflicted him as the attitude of people towards it--the
Bardons with their regrets and apologies, the small fry with their
wonder and cheap blame. What filled him with rage and disgust beyond all
else was the thought that some people imagined that Robert had disgraced
Odiam--as if a fool like Robert, with his tinpot misdoings, had it in
his power to disgrace a farm like Odiam! This idea maddened him at
times, and he went to absurd lengths to show men how little he cared.
Yet everywhere he seemed to see pity leering out of eyes, he seemed to
see lips inaudibly forming the words: "poor fellow"--"what a blow for
his schemes!"--"how about the farm?--now he'll lie low for a bit."

This was all the worse to bear, as now, for the first time, he began
seriously to dread a rival. The only farm in the district which could
compete with Odiam was Grandturzel, but that had been held back by the
indifference of its owner, old Realf. Early in the March of '65 old
Realf died, and was succeeded by his son, Henry Realf, whom rumour spoke
of as a promising and ambitious young man. Skill and ambition could do
even more with Grandturzel than they could with Odiam, for the former
had the freehold of forty acres of Boarzell. Reuben had always counted
on being able to buy these some day from old Realf, but now he expected
his son to cling to them. There would be two farms fighting for
Boarzell, and Grandturzel would have the start.

All the more reason, therefore, that Odiam should stand high in men's
respect. Now, of all times, Reuben could not afford to be looked upon
with contempt or pity. He must show everyone how little he cared about
his family disgrace, and do everything he could to bring himself more
prominently into the social and agricultural life of the district.

For the first time since his father's death he gave suppers at Odiam;
once more he spent money on French wines which nobody wanted to drink,
and worked his mother and daughters to tears making puddings and pies.
He bought a new gig--a smart turnout, with a sleek, well-bred horse
between the shafts--and he refused to let Harry fiddle any more at Fairs
and weddings; it was prestige rather than profit that he wanted now.

In May people began to talk of a general election; the death of
Palmerston and the defeat of Gladstone's Reform Bill made it inevitable.
Early in June Parliament was dissolved, and Rye electors were confronted
with the postered virtues and vices of Captain MacKinnon (Radical) and
Colonel MacDonald (Conservative).

Reuben had not hitherto had much truck with politics. He had played the
part of a convinced and conscientious Tory, both at home and in the
public-house; and every evening his daughter Tilly had read him the
paper, as Naomi had used to do. But he had never done more at an
election than record his vote, he had never openly identified himself
with the political life of the district. Now it struck him that if he
took a prominent part in this election it would do much to show his
indifference to the recent catastrophe, besides giving him a certain
standing as a politician, and thus bestowing glory and dignity on Odiam.

The local Tories would be glad enough of his support, for he was
important, if not popular, in the neighbourhood, and had always been
known as a man who took an intelligent interest in his country's
affairs.

Not that Rye elections had ever been much concerned with national
events. Borough had always been a bigger word than country on those
occasions. It was the question of the Harbour rather than the Ballot
which had sent up Captain Curteis in 1832, while later contests had
centred round the navigation of the Brede River, the new Sluice at
Scott's Float, or the Landgate clock. Reuben, however, cared little for
these petty town affairs. His chief concern was the restoration of the
tax on wheat, and he also favoured the taxing of imported malt and hops.
He hated and dreaded Gladstone's "free breakfast table," which he felt
would mean the ruin of agriculture in England. He would like to
concentrate country Toryism into an organised opposition of Free Trade,
and his wounded pride found balm in the thought of founding a local
agricultural party of which he would be the inspirer and head.


§ 17.

Reuben began to attend the Tory candidate's meetings. Colonel MacDonald
was not a local man, any more than Captain MacKinnon, but he had some
property in the neighbourhood, down on the marsh by Becket's House. Like
the other candidate, he had spent the last month or so in posting
himself in local affairs, and came to Rye prepared, as he said, "to
fight the election on herrings and sprats."

However, at his first meeting, held at Guldeford Barn, he was surprised
to find a strong agricultural element in the audience. He was questioned
on his attitude towards the wheat tax and towards the enfranchisement of
six-pound householders. The fact was that for a fortnight previously
Reuben had been working up public opinion in the Cocks, and also in the
London Trader, the Rye tavern he used on market-days. He had managed to
convince the two bars that their salvation lay in taxing wheat, malt,
and hops, and in suppressing with a heavy hand those upstarts whom
Radical sentimentalists wanted at all costs to educate and enfranchise.

Reuben could speak convincingly, and his extraordinary agricultural
success gave weight to his words. If not liked, he was admired and
envied. He was "a fellow who knew what he was doing," and could be
trusted in important matters of welfare. In a word, he achieved his
object and made himself head of an Agricultural Party, large enough to
be of importance to either candidate.

It was not long before he had overtures from Captain MacKinnon. The
Captain had expected an easy triumph; never since it became a free
borough had Rye sent a Tory to Parliament. Now he was surprised and a
little alarmed to see signs of definite Tory enterprise, banded under
one of the most important and successful farmers in the district. It is
true that he had the Bardons on his side, but the Bardons were too
gentlemanly to be useful. He would have given much to corrupt Reuben,
but Flightshot, which held the only bribe that could have made him so
much as turn his head, insisted on keeping pure. He tried to hold his
own by appealing to the fishermen and sailors against the
agriculturists--but as these in the past had made little fortunes by
smuggling grain, they joined the farmers in demanding a wheat-tax.

He then turned to the small householders and shop-keepers, dazzling
them with visions of Gladstone's free breakfast table--he even invited
the more prominent ones to an untaxed breakfast in the Town Hall;
whereat the Colonel, at Reuben's instigation, retaliated with a
sumptuous dinner, which he said would be within the reach of every
farmer when a moderate wheat-tax no longer forced him to undersell his
harvests.

Rye platforms, instead of being confined to arguments on herrings and
sprats, rang unusually with matters of national import. The free
education of the poor was then a vital question, which Reuben and his
party opposed with all their might. Educated labourers meant higher
wages and a loss of that submissive temper which resulted in so many
hours' ill-paid work. Here the Bardons waxed eloquent, but Backfield,
helped by Ditch of Totease, who could speak quite well if put through
his paces beforehand, drew such a picture of the ruin which would attend
an educated democracy, that the voice of Flightshot, always too
carefully modulated to be effective, was silenced.

As usual the local printing-presses worked hard over pamphlets and
posters, and as a Rye election was nothing if not personal, Reuben was
soon enlightened as to the Radical opinion of him. Posters of a
startlingly intimate and insulting nature began to appear about the
town; a few were displayed in Peasmarsh, and some were actually found on
the walls of his own barns.


     "Bribed, stolen, or strayed, an Ugly Gorilla, answering to the name
     of Ben. The animal may be distinguished by his filthy habits,
     associates frequently with swine and like hogs, delights in rolling
     in manure, and is often to be found in Ditches. Is remarkable for
     his unnatural cruelty towards his own young, whom he treats with
     shocking unkindness. The animal has likewise a propensity for
     boasting and lies. The Gorilla's temper is dreadfully bad,
     horribly vicious, and fearfully vindictive. A reward of Five Pounds
     will be given by Jothan True Blue, chairman of the Poor Man's Big
     Loaf Association, to any Blue Lamb who may find this Odious
     Creature, as his one object while at large is to steal the Poor
     Man's Loaf. He would also take, if he could, the Poor Man's Vote,
     and confine the Poor Man's Children to the dirt and ignorance in
     which he himself wallows, being unable to read or write, and was
     once heard to ask the Cringing Colonel, his keeper, what was the
     meaning of Tory Principle and Purity' on his election banners. We
     too would like to know."


Reuben tore the posters down whenever he found them, but this kind of
attack did not humiliate him as the old pitying curiosity had done. He
was not lowered in his own esteem. On the contrary, he enjoyed the fame
which Radical hate conferred on him. There was no doubt about Odiam's
importance now.

The Tories were not to be beaten in invective, and posted Rye with
enquiries after the Rabid Hybrid or Crazy Captain:


     "The habits of this loathsome creature are so revolting that all
     who have beheld them turn from them in horror and disgust. It is
     afflicted with a dirty disease called Gladstone Fever, and in its
     delirium barks horribly 'Educate! Educate!'"


Much more was written in this strain on both sides, and Colonel
MacDonald hired a band of youths to parade the streets singing:


     "Conservatives, 'tis all serene--
     MacDonald for ever! Long live the Queen!"


or:


     "The people of Rye now they all seem to say
     That MacDonald's the man who will carry the sway,
     Triumphant he'll drive old MacKinnon away--
       For MacDonald's the man for the people!"


Reuben did not care much for these doings; they were, he thought, a
mere appeal to scum, and he preferred to give his mind to weightier
things. He organised meetings in the furthest hamlets of the district,
and managed to stir up the interest of the farmers to such a pitch that
it soon looked as if the Tory candidate would carry all before him.
MacKinnon could not open his mouth on the platform without shouts of:
"Wheat at seventy shillings a quarter!" or "What's the use of a big loaf
if we've got no money to buy it with?"

The Radicals began to quake for their victory. Speakers were sent for
from London, but could not even get a hearing, owing to the enemy's
supplies of bad eggs. Meetings were everywhere broken up in disorder,
and the Captain was reported to have said that the Liberal party ought
to offer a knighthood to anyone who would poison Backfield's beer.


§ 18.

So time passed till within a week of polling day. The feeling in the
district grew more and more tense--no prominent member of either party
could appear in Rye streets without being insulted by somebody on the
opposite side. Meetings were orgies of abuse and violence, but whereas
the Radical meetings were invariably broken up in disorder by their
opponents, interruptions at Tory meetings resulted only in the
interrupters themselves being kicked out. For the first time it looked
as if a Conservative would be returned for Rye, and the Colonel knew he
owed his success to Backfield's agricultural party.

Then suddenly the unexpected happened. At the end of one of Reuben's
most successful meetings in Iden Schoolhouse, a mild sandy-haired
person, whom nobody knew, rose up and asked meekly whether it was true
that the Scott's Float toll-gate was on Colonel MacDonald's estate, and
if so, what use did he make of the tolls? He was answered by being flung
into the street, but afterwards the Conservative tenant of Loose Farm on
the Marsh remarked to Reuben that it was "a hemmed ark'ard question."

Reuben, however, absorbed by his enthusiasm for Protection and a
restricted franchise, scarcely thought twice about the toll-gate, till
the next day a huge poster appeared all over the district:


                    "MACDONALD'S GATE"

     "Sing ye who will of Love, or War, or Wine,
       Of mantling Cups, Bright Eyes, or deeds of Might--
     A theme unsung by other harps is mine--
       I sing a Gate--a novel subject quite.

     O Tolls! ye do afflict us all--a bore!
       E'en when by Law imposed on evil slight!
     Who has not loaded ye with curses sore
       When in this Coat of Proof enveloped tight?

     Therefore to what is Law I say 'content'--
       But for a Private Man to raise a toll,
     To stop the public, tax them, circumvent,
       Moves me to passion I can scarce control,
       Makes boil the rushing blood and thrills my very soul."


Hitherto any verse that had been written in the controversy had been
meant for street singing, and turned out in the less serious moments of
politicians who certainly were not poets. But "MacDonald's Gate"
impressed the multitude as something altogether different. The sounding
periods and the number of capitals proclaimed it poetry of the very
highest order, and its prominent position throughout the town soon
resulted in the collection of excited groups all discussing the Scott's
Float toll-gate, which nobody hitherto had thought much about.

The Tories were a little disconcerted--the toll-gate did not fit into
their campaign. Tolls had always been unpopular in the neighbourhood,
even though Government-owned, and it was catastrophic that the enemy
should suddenly have swooped down on the Colonel's private venture and
rhymed it so effectively.

Of course a counter-attack was made, but it had the drawback of being
made in prose, none of the Tory pamphleteers feeling equal to meeting
the enemy on his own ground. Also there was not very much to be said, as
it was impossible to deny the Scott's Float toll-gate. So the writers
confined themselves to sneering at the Radical poet's versification, and
hinting that Captain MacKinnon had done many worse things than own a
toll-gate, and that all the money the Colonel had from his went to the
upkeep of his land, a statement which deceived nobody.

The next day a fresh poster appeared, printed this time in flaming red
letters:


     "If you'd know what the Colonel is, pray travel over
     The Sluice at Scott's Float--and then drive on to Dover--
     You'll find yourself quickly brought up by a Gate
     Where a Toll they will charge at no moderate rate.

     Oh why is a Gate stuck across at this Spot?
     Is the Colonel so poor or so grasping--or what?
     'Tis that he may gain some more hundreds this way in,
     To swell out the purse where his Thousands are laying.

     Awake, oh, for shame, ye electors of Rye!
     Let the banner of freedom float gaily on high,
     Throw your bonds to the winds, ye Electors--for know
     That he who'd be free must himself strike the Blow."


Thenceforward the whole character of the election was changed. The Poor
Man's Loaf was forgotten as completely as the wheat-tax which should
make the farmer rich. Six-pound householders became as uninteresting as
anybody else who had not a vote. Nobody cared a damn whether the poor
were educated at the nation's expense or not. The conflict raged
blindly, furiously, degradingly round the Scott's Float toll-gate.

No one thought or spoke or wrote of anything else. If at meetings
Reuben tried to introduce Protection or the Franchise, he was silenced
even by his own party. The Scott's Float toll-gate became as important
as the Sluice or the Brede River or the Landgate Clock had been in other
elections, and nothing, no matter of what national importance, could
stand against it.

Reuben cursed the base trucksters who had brought it forward, and he
cursed the scummy versifier who was its laureate--whose verses appeared
daily on six-foot hoardings, and were sung by drunken Radicals to drown
his speeches. No one knew who the Radical poet was, for his party kept
him a mystery, fearful, no doubt, lest he should be bribed by the other
side. Some said that he was a London journalist, sent down in despair by
the Liberals at head-quarters. If so they must have congratulated
themselves on their forlorn hope, for the tide of events changed
completely.

The worst of that toll-gate was that the Conservatives could never
explain it away. They printed posters, they printed handbills, they
attempted verse, they made speeches, they protested their
disinterestedness, they even tried to represent the abomination as a
philanthropic concern, but all their efforts failed. They quickly began
to lose ground. It was the Conservative instead of the Liberal meetings
that were broken up in disorder. Colonel MacDonald was howled down, and
Reuben came home every evening his clothes spattered with rotten eggs.


§ 19.

Polling day broke gloomily on Rye Tories. The country voters were
brought into town at the Candidates' expense, having received according
to custom printed notices that the Colonel, or the Captain, "would
endeavour to ensure to every elector access to the poll free from every
sort of insult."

In Rye bells were ringing and bands were playing, and the town looked
quite strange with huge crowds surging through its grass-grown streets,
which were, moreover, blocked with every kind of trap, gig, cart, and
wain. About three hundred special constables had been enrolled for the
occasion, and it was likely that they would be needed, for all the
public-houses had been thrown open by the candidates.

In the market-place, where the hustings stood, a dense throng was
packing itself, jostling and shoving, and--Reuben saw to his dismay as
he drove up to the London Trader--showing strong Radical tendencies.
Several Conservative banners waved from the windows of the
public-house--"MacDonald the Farmer's Friend"--"MacDonald and
Protection"--"Wheat at seventy shillings a quarter"--"Ratepayers! beware
of Radical pickpockets." These had all been prepared at the beginning of
the contest. The Radical banners bore but one device--"The Scott's Float
Toll-gate." It waved everywhere, and any other banner which appeared in
the streets was immediately seized and broken, the bearer being made to
suffer so horribly for his convictions, that soon nobody could be found
to carry one.

Every now and then the crowd would break into the latest rhymings of
MacKinnon's poet:


     "Who fill their pockets at Scott's Float,
     And on their private Toll-gate doat,
     While o'er our hard-earned pence they gloat?
           The Tories."


Reuben felt his heart sink, and his beer nearly choked him. Soon a vast
struggle was raging round the hustings, as the voters fought their way
through fists and sticks, often emerging--especially the
Conservatives--with their clothes half torn off their backs and quite
ruined by garbage. The special constables were useless, for their own
feelings betrayed them, and unluckily even in their ranks the Radicals
predominated. The state of the poll at ten-thirty was twenty-seven for
Captain MacKinnon and only eleven for Colonel MacDonald.

Speeches were made from time to time, but were lost in the general
hubbub. One of the local butchers had delivered over his entire stock of
entrails, skin and hoof cuttings, and old blood-puddings to the Radical
cause, and Conservative Speakers were soon a sight to behold. When
Reuben stood up his voice was drowned in shouts of "Ben the Gorilla!
Stop the dirty animal!" while a bleeding sheep's head caught him full on
the chest. Too proud to take his dismissal from the mob, he spoke
unheard for five minutes, at the end of which he was silenced by half a
brick, which hit his temple and stunned him sufficiently for Ditch and
MacDonald to pull him away.

At twelve the poll stood at a hundred and one for the Captain and
sixty-five for the Colonel. The Tories were getting desperate--they
threw into the crowd handbills wet from the printers, declaring that
MacDonald's toll-gate should not stand an hour after he was elected. But
the crowd only sang derisively:


     "Who fill their pockets at Scott's Float,
     And on their private Toll-gate doat,
     While o'er our hard-earned pence they gloat?
           The Tories."


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.

Loud cheers rose up from the struggling, drunken mass in the
market-place.

"Hurray for MacKinnon!--Down with the Tollkeepers!"

In the Court-house the beaten Conservatives heard the shouts and turned
fiercely--on one another.

"It's that hemmed gëate of yourn--lost everything!" cried Reuben.

"By God, it's not my gate--it's your wheat."

"My wheat!--wot d'you mean, sir?"

"I mean that, thanks to you, we wasted about three weeks talking to
those damned fools about a matter they don't care twopence about. You
worked up a false interest, and the result is, that when anything that
really touches them is brought forward, the whole campaign drops to
pieces."

"It's unaccountable easy to put the blame on me, when it's your hemmed
gëate----"

"I tell you, sir, it's your damned wheat----"

"And your damned son!" furiously cried Ditch of Totease.

"My son!"--Reuben swung round on the men who had once rallied under his
leadership, but now stood scowling at him and muttering to themselves.
"My son!"

"Yes," said Coalbran of Doozes, "you know as well as us as how it wur
your Albert wrote them verses about the gëate, wot have bust up
everything."

"You're a liar!" cried Reuben.

"You dare miscall me," and the two men, mad with private hate and public
humiliation, flew at each other's throats.

Ditch and the Colonel pulled them apart.

"Hang it all, Coalbran, we don't know it's his son. But we do know it's
his wheat. Good God, sir--if only you'd kept your confounded self out of
politics----"

Reuben did not wait to hear more. He pushed his way out of the room and
downstairs to where his trap was waiting. The crowd surged round him as
he climbed into it. An egg burst against his ear, and the filthy yolk
ran down his cheek to mingle with the spatter of blood on his neck and
shirt-front.

"Ben the Gorilla! Ben the Gorilla! Give him tar and feathers!"

Reuben struck his horse with the whip, and the animal sprang forward. A
man who had been trying to climb into the gig, fell off, and was nearly
trampled on. Reuben flogged his way through the pack, a shower of
missiles hurtling round him, while his ears burned with the abuse which
had once been his badge of pride, but now in the hour of defeat smote
him with a sick sense of impotence and degradation. "Ben the Gorilla!
Ben the Gorilla!"

He was free of them at last, galloping down the Landgate hill towards
Rye Foreign.

"I'm hemmed," he muttered, grinding his teeth, "if I ever touch their
dirty politics again--from this day forward--so help me God!"


§ 20.

On reaching Odiam, Reuben did not go into the kitchen where his children
were gathered, expectant and curious. He went straight upstairs. Caro,
who caught a glimpse of him in the passage, ran away in terror--he
looked so dreadful, his face all dabbled with blood and yolk of egg.

He went up to Albert's room. He had furiously given Ditch the lie in the
Courthouse, but he had never trusted his son, and the accusation had
poured over him a flood of shame which could be quelled only by its
proof or its refutation. If Albert's guilt were proved--which Reuben,
now bathing in this luminous shame, saw was quite probable--then he knew
what to do to clean the smirch off Odiam; if, on the other hand, his
innocence were established, then he would punish those swine who threw
mud at him and his farm.

Albert slept in one of the attics with Jemmy and Pete. Reuben had no
intention of meeting him till he had something to confront him with, for
he was pretty sure that the boy would lie to him. He began turning the
room topsy-turvy, and had soon found in a drawer a heap of papers
scrawled over with writing. It was unlucky that he could not read, for
he could not even tell whether the handwriting were Albert's--these
might be some letters he had received. Suddenly, however, a word caught
his eye which he had seen a hundred times on hoardings, letters, bills,
and other documents--MacKinnon. He could trace it out quite clearly.
What had Albert to do with MacKinnon? Reuben clenched the papers
together in his fist, and went downstairs to the kitchen.

Albert was not there. All the better! Reuben strode up to Tilly, unaware
of how terrible he looked with the traces of his battle not yet washed
from his face, and banged the papers down in front of her.

"Wot's all this?"

Tilly was frightened.

"It's--it's only poetry, fäather."

"Read me some of it."

"It's only Albert's."

"That's why I want to hear wot it's about. You read it."

Tilly began to read in a faltering voice:


     "If you'd know what the Colonel is, pray travel over
     The Sluice at Scott's Float--and then drive on to Dover--
     You'll find yourself quickly brought up by a Gate...."


Reuben struck his fist on the table, and she dropped the paper with a
little cry.

"It's true, then! Oh Lard! it's true!"

"Wot, fäather?"

"Them's Albert's verses right enough?"

"Yes, fäather, but----"

"Fetch him here."

Tilly was more frightened than ever. She had never heard anything about
the great Gate controversy, and could not understand why Reuben was so
angry with Albert. The verses seemed to her quite harmless, they were
not even about love. However, she could not disobey her father, so she
ran and fetched Albert out of the corn-chamber, begging him to be
careful what he said, "fur fäather's unaccountable vrothered to-night
about something."

"How did the Election go?"

"I never asked."

"Oh, you gals! Well, I expect that's wot's the matter. The Liberal's got
in."

"But why should that mäake fäather angry wud you?"

Albert stuck out his chest and looked important, as he invariably did
before an encounter with Reuben, in spite of the fact that these always
ended most ingloriously as far as he was concerned.

"He's bin reading some poetry of yours, Bertie," continued his sister,
"and he's justabout dreadful, all his clöathes tore about, and a nasty
mess of blood and yaller stuff on his face."

Albert suddenly began to look uneasy.

"Oh Lard! perhaps I'd better bolt fur it.--No, I'll square him out.
You'll stand by me, Tilly?"

"Yes, but döan't mäake him angry--he might beat you."

Bertie's pride was wounded by this suggestion, which was, however,
soundly based on precedent, and he entered the kitchen with something
very like a swagger.

Reuben was standing by the table, erect, and somehow dignified in spite
of the mess he was in.

"Well," he said slowly, "well--MacKinnon's hound!"

Albert saw the heap of scribbled paper on the table, and blenched.

Reuben walked up to him, took him by the shoulders, and shook him as a
dog might shake a rabbit.

"You hemmed, scummy, lousy Radical!"

Albert could not speak, for he felt as if his brains and teeth were
rattling about inside his head. The rest of the family hunched together
by the door, the boys gaping idiotically, the girls in tears.

"Well, wot've you got to say fur yourself before I kick you round the
table?"

"I'll write wot I please, surelye," growled Albert, trying rather
unsuccessfully to resume his swagger.

"Oh, will you! Well, there'll be naun to prevent you when you're out of
this house--and out you go to-night; I'll have no Radical hogs on my
farm. I'm shut of you!"

"Fäather!" cried Tilly.

"Hold your tongue! Does anyone here think I'm going to have a Radical
fur my son?--and a tedious lying traitor, too, wot helps his fäather's
enemies, and busts up the purtiest election that wur ever fought at Rye.
Do you say you didn't write those lousy verses wot have lost us
everything?"

"No--I döan't say it. I did write 'em. But it's all your fault that I
did--so you've no right to miscall me."

"My fault!"--Reuben's jaw dropped as he faced the upstart.

"Yes. You've allus treated me lik a dog, and laughed at my writing and
all I wanted to do. Then chaps came along as didn't laugh, and promised
me all sorts o' things if I'd write fur them."

"Wot sort o' things?"

"Mr. Hedges, the Liberal agent, promised that if I'd write fur him, he'd
git me work on a London paper, and I could mäake my fortune and be free
of all this."

"All wot?"

"Odiam!" shrieked Albert.

Reuben faced him with straight lips and dilated nostrils; the boy was
now quivering with passion, hatred seemed to have purged him of terror.

"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 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 täake it. I'm no
Radical--I döan'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 mäake my fortun, and save me from you and your old farm,
which I wish was in hell."

"Stop your ranting and tell me how the hogs got you."

"I met Mr. Hedges at the pub----"

"Wur it you or him wot thought of the Scott's Float Gëate?"

"I heard of it from old Pitcher down at Loose, and I töald Hedges. I
justabout----"

A terrific blow from Reuben cut him short.


§ 21.

The rest of the family had gone to bed, though scarcely to sleep. Reuben
had washed the blood and filth off his face, and had stripped to his
shirt, but he felt too sick and restless to lie down. He sat at his
window, staring out into the dark gulf of the night.

His skin burned, his pulses throbbed, in his head was a buzzing and
humming.

"Wished my farm wur in hell, dud he? He cursed my farm, dud he? The
young whelp!"

He peered out into the blackness. Was that something he saw moving
against the sky on the shoulder of Boarzell? It was too dark for him to
make sure. Where had Albert gone? To his Radical friends, of course.
They had offered to make his fortune--well, let them make it, and durn
them!

Two sons were gone now. Life was hitting him hard. But he would have no
traitors in his camp. Albert was his son no longer.

He bowed his head on the sill, and his throbbing brain revisualised the
whole horrible day. He owed the humiliation and defeat of it all to
Albert, who for the sake of money and a milk-and-water career, had
betrayed Odiam's glory, and foully smirched its name.

There was no denying it--he had been basely dealt with by his elder
children. Robert was in prison, Albert existed no longer except in the
memory of a bitter disgrace, Richard was contemptuous, and, his father
suspected, up to nothing good.... And he had looked to them all to stand
and fight by his side, to feel his ambition, and share his conquest.
Pete was a good lad, but what was one where there should have been four?
He could not deny it--his elder children had failed him.

Something almost like a sob shook Reuben. Then, ashamed of his weakness,
he raised his head, and saw that behind Boarzell the night had lifted,
and a cowslip paleness was creeping into the sky. The great dark hump of
the Moor showed clearly against it with its tuft of firs. A faint thrill
stole through Reuben's tired limbs. Boarzell was always there to be
loved and fought for, even if he had no heart or arm but his own.
Gradually hope stirred as the dawn crept among the clouds. The wind came
rustling and whiffling to him over the heather, bringing him the rich
damp smell of the earth he loved.

Oh, Boarzell, Boarzell!... his love, his dream, his promised land, lying
there in the cold white hope of morning! No degenerate sons could rob
him of his Moor, though they might leave him terribly alone on it. After
all, better be alone with his ambition, than share it with their
defiling thoughts, their sordid, humdrum, milk-and-water schemes. In
future he would try no more to interest his children in Boarzell. He had
tried to thrill Robert and Albert and Richard with his glorious
enterprise, and they had all forsaken him--one for love, one for fame,
and one for some still unknown unworthiness. He would not trouble about
the others; they should serve him for no other reason but that he was a
hard master. He had been hard with the three boys, but he had been
exciting and confiding too. Now he would drop all that. He would cease
to look for comradeship in his children, as years ago he had ceased to
look for it in his wife. It would be enough if they were just slaves
working under his whip. He had been a fool to expect sympathy....
Boarzell, looming blacker and blacker against the glowing pinks and
purples of the sky, seemed to mock at sympathy and its cheap colours,
seemed to bid him Be Hard, Be Strong, Be Remorseless--Be Alone.



BOOK IV

TREACHERIES


§ 1.

Reuben's domestic catastrophes might be summed up in the statement that
he had lost two farm hands. It is true that Albert had never been much
good--if he had his father would probably not have turned him away--but
he had been better than nothing, and now Reuben would have to hire a
substitute. One would be enough, for Jemmy and George were now able to
do a man's full work each. So another hand was engaged for Odiam--Piper,
a melancholy, lean-jowled cowman from Moor's Cottage.

The family was forbidden to speak of the absent sons. No one ever wrote
to Robert in Lewes gaol or to Albert living on London's cruel
tender-mercies. The shame of them was to be starved by silence. Soon
most of the children had forgotten them, and they lived solely in
Tilly's unhappy thoughts or Richard's angry ones, or in certain bitter
memories of their father's, sternly fought.

Reuben had learnt his first lesson from experience. Quietly but
decidedly he altered his conduct. He no longer made the slightest appeal
to his family's enterprise or ambition, he no longer interrupted his
chidings with those pathetic calls to their enthusiasm which had
mystified or irritated them in times past. On the other hand he was
twice as hard, twice as fierce, twice as ruthless and masterful as he
had ever been.

Old Mrs. Backfield was getting very decrepit. She could not walk
without a stick, and her knotted hands were of little use either in the
kitchen or the dairy. Reuben was anxious to avoid engaging anyone to
help her, yet the developments of her sphere made such help most
necessary. Odiam now supplied most of the neighbouring gentry with milk,
butter, and eggs; the poultry-yard had grown enormously since it had
been a mere by-way of Mrs. Backfield's labours, and she and the girls
also had charge of the young calves and pigs, which needed constant
attention, and meant a great deal of hard work. Besides this, there was
all the housework to do, sweeping, dusting, cooking, baking, and mending
and washing for the males.

It occurred to Reuben that Harry might be of some use to the women.
Since he had given up fiddling he was entirely on the wrong side of
Odiam's accounts; it would do much to justify his existence if he could
help a little in the house and thus save engaging extra labour.

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."

Another habit of his, less alarming, but far more annoying, was to
repeat some chance word or sentence 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.

It was soon found that he hindered rather than helped the work, so
Reuben had to cast about for fresh plans. He felt utterly ruthless now,
and was resolved to make his daughters manage the house alone. He
redistributed the labour, and by handing over the poultry, calves, and
pigs to Beatup, and taking some of his work upon his own shoulders, made
it physically possible for Caro and Tilly to run the house and dairy
with the feeble help of old Mrs. Backfield. He told them that he could
not afford to engage a woman, and that they must do without her--making
no appeal to their interest or ambition as he might have done six months
ago.

Caro and Tilly did not rebel. Somehow or other their young backs did not
break under the load of household toil, nor, more strangely, did their
young hearts, in the loneliness of their hard, uncared-for lives.

Tilly was now nearly eighteen. She had always been like her mother, but
as she grew older the likeness became more and more pronounced, till
sometimes it seemed to Reuben as if it were Naomi herself with her milky
skin and fleeting rose-bloom who sat at his table and moved about his
house. The only difference lay in a certain prominence of the chin which
gave her an air of decision that Naomi had lacked. Not that Tilly was
ever anything but docile, but occasionally Reuben felt that some time or
other she might take her stand--a fear which had never troubled him with
Naomi.

Caro was not like her sister; she was of larger build, yet thinner, and
much darker, inheriting her father's swarthy skin and thick black hair.
She did not give Reuben the same anxiety as Tilly--she was heavy and
coltish, and, he felt, would not appeal to men. But Tilly, especially
when the summer heats had melted together the little freckles over her
nose, struck his masculine eye in a way that made him half proud, half
fearful.

No young men ever visited Odiam. The young Ditches, the young Vennals,
or Coalbrans, or Ginners, who had business to transact with Backfield,
did so only at a safe distance. Reuben could not as yet afford to lose
his housemaids. Some day, he told himself, he would see that the girls
married to the honour of his farm, but at present he could not do
without them.

They did not murmur, for they had known no different life. They had
never, like other girls, wandered with bevies of young people through
the lanes at dusk, or felt in the twilight a man's hand grope for
theirs. They had not had suitors to visit them on Sundays, to sit very
stiff and straight in the parlour, and pass decorous remarks about the
weather all the while their eyes were eating up a little figure from toe
to hair.

Nevertheless when they worked side by side in the kitchen or dairy,
skimming milk, churning butter, watching puddings bubble and steam, or
when they made Reuben's great bed together, they had queer, half-shy,
half-intimate talks--in which their heads came very close and their
voices sank very low, and an eavesdropper might have often caught the
word "lover," uttered mysteriously and sometimes with an odd little
sigh.


§ 2.

That spring the news flew round from inn to inn and farm to farm that
Realf of Grandturzel had bought a shire stallion, and meant to start
horse-breeding. This was a terrible shock to Reuben, for not only was
horse-breeding extremely profitable to those who could afford it, but it
conferred immeasurable honour. It seemed now as if Odiam were seriously
threatened. If Realf prospered at his business he could afford to fight
Reuben for Boarzell.

As a man in love will sometimes see in every other man a plotter for his
beloved, and would never believe it if he were told that he alone sees
charm in her and that to others she is undesirable, so Reuben could not
conceive ambition apart from the rugged, tough, unfruitful Boarzell,
whom no man desired but he. He at once started negotiations for buying
another twenty acres, though at present he could ill afford it, owing to
the expenses involved by his family misfortunes and his new mania for
prestige.

He watched Grandturzel's developments with a stern and anxious eye, and
kept pace with them as well as he could. The farm consisted of about
fifty-five acres of grass and tilth, apart from the forty acres of
Boarzell, which neither Realf nor his father had ever attempted to
cultivate, using them merely for fuel and timber, or as pasturage for
the ewes when their lambs were taken from them. Old Realf had allowed
the place to acquire a dilapidated rakish look, but his son at once
began to smarten it up. He tarred the two oast-houses till they shone
blue with the reflected sky, he painted his barn doors green, and
re-roofed the Dutch Barn with scarlet tiles that could be seen all the
way from Tiffenden Hill. He enriched his poultry-yard with a rare strain
of Orpington, and was the only farmer in the district besides Reuben to
do his reaping and hay-making by machinery.

Realf was about twenty-five, a tall, well-set-up young fellow, with
certain elegancies about him. In business he was of a simple,
open-temperament, genuinely proud of his farm, and naïve enough to boast
of its progress to Backfield himself.

Indeed he was so naïve that it was not till Reuben had once or twice
sneered at him in public that he realised there was any friction between
Grandturzel and Odiam, and even then he scarcely grasped its
importance, for one night at the Cocks, Coalbran said rather maliciously
to Reuben:

"Which of your gals is it that young Realf is sweet on?"

"My gals! Neither of 'em. Wot d'you mean?"

"Only that he walks home wud them from church every Sunday, and föalkses
are beginning to wonder which he's going to mäake Mrs. Realf, surelye!"

Reuben turned brick-red with indignation.

"Neither of my gals is going to be Mrs. Realf. I'd see her dead fust!
And the fellers as spread about such ugly lying tales, I'll----" and
Reuben scowled thunderously at Coalbran, whom he had never forgiven
since the scene in Rye Court-house.

"He slanders my sons and he slanders my daughters," he muttered to
himself as he went home, "and I reckon as this time it äun't true."

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.

There was much turning of heads when Ben Backfield was seen to take his
place with his children in their pew.... "Wot's he arter now?"--"Summat
to do wud his farm you may be sartain."--"He's heard about his gals and
young Realf."--"Ho, the wicked old sinner! I wish as Passon 'ud tip it
to un straight."

Realf of Grandturzel sat a little way ahead on the opposite side, and
Reuben watched him all through the service. Times had changed since
Robert had hurled his big voice among the rafters with the village
choir. The choir now sat in the chancel and wore surplices; the Parson
too wore a surplice when he preached; for the Oxford Movement had spread
to Peasmarsh, and Mr. Barnaby, the new clergyman, lived at the Rectory,
instead of appointing a curate to do so, and unheard-of things happened
in the way of week-day services and Holy Communion at eight o'clock in
the morning. Reuben, however, scarcely noticed the changes, so absorbed
was he in young Realf. Occasionally the boy would turn his head on his
shoulder and rashly contemplate the Backfield pew. Reuben invariably met
him with a stare and a scowl.

All through the sermon he sat with his eyes fixed on Realf's profile.
There was his rival, the man with whom he would have to reckon most
during the difficult future, with whom he was fighting for Boarzell. He
looked marvellously young and comely as he sat there in the fretted
light, and suddenly for the first time Reuben realised that he was not
as young as he had been. He was forty-six--he was getting old.

Something thick and icy seemed to creep into his blood, and he gripped
the edge of the pew, as he stared at Realf, sitting there so
unconsciously, his damped and brushed hair gleaming ruddily in the light
that poured through some saint's aureole. He must not let this youngster
beat him.... Beat him?--the ice in his blood froze thicker--after all he
had not done so very much during the twenty-six years he had toiled and
struggled; he had won only a hundred acres of Boarzell--little more than
Realf had to start with ... and Realf was only twenty-five.

Caro and Tilly, sitting carefully so as not to crush their muslins, both
their heads slewed round a little towards Realf, noticed how their
father's throat was working, how hot flows of colour rushed up and ebbed
away under the tan on his cheeks. For the first time Reuben was
contemplating failure, looking that livid horror full in the face,
seeing himself beaten, after all his toil and heartache, by a younger
man.

But the next moment he cast the coward feeling from him. His experience
had given him immeasurable advantage over this babe. Realf who had never
felt the sweat pouring like water down his tired body, who had never
swooned asleep from sheer exhaustion, or lain awake all night from sheer
anxiety, who had not sacrificed wife and children and friends and self
to one dear, loved, darling ambition ... bah! what could he do against
the man who had done all these things, and was prepared to go on doing
them to the end?

When the congregation rose to sing Reuben held his head proudly and his
shoulders square. He felt himself a match for any youngster.


§ 3.

That summer old Mrs. Backfield became completely bedridden. The
gratefulness of sunshine to her old bones was counteracted by the clammy
fogs that streamed up every night round the farm. It was an
exceptionally wet and misty summer--a great deal of Reuben's wheat
rotted in the ground, and he scarcely took any notice when Tilly
announced one morning that grandmother was too ill to come downstairs.

When the struggle on the lower slopes of Boarzell between the damp earth
and the determined man had ended in the earth's sludgy victory and a
pile of rotten straw which should have been the glory of the man--then
Reuben had time to think of what was going on in the house. He sent for
the doctor--not Dr. Espinette, but a Cockney successor who boiled his
instruments and washed his hands in carbolic--and heard from him that
Mrs. Backfield's existence was no longer justified. She could not expect
to work again.

Reuben was grieved, but not so much grieved as if she had been cut down
in her strength--for a long time she had been pretty useless on the
farm. He handed her over to the nursing of the girls, though they were
too busy to do more for her than the barest necessities. Now and then he
went up himself and sat by her bed, restlessly cracking his fingers, and
fretting to be out again at his work.

Sometimes Harry would sit by her. He had wandered in one day when she
was feeling especially ill and lonely, and in her desperation she had
begged him to stay. At all events he was someone--a human being, or very
nearly so. He shuffled restlessly round and round the room, fingering
her little ornaments and pictures, and muttering to himself, "Stay wud
me, Harry."

He liked her room, for she had a dozen things he could finger and play
with--little vases with flowers modelled over them, woolly mats, a
velvet pincushion, and other survivals of her married life, all very
dusty and faded now. Soon she began to find a strange comfort in having
him there; the uneasiness and vague repulsion with which he had filled
her, died down, and she began to see in him something of the old Harry
whom she had loved so much better than Reuben in days gone by.

As the summer wore on she grew steadily worse. She lay stiff and
helpless, through the long August days, watching the sunlight creep up
the wall, slip along the ceiling, and then vanish into the pale,
heat-washed sky that gleamed with it even after the stars had come. She
did not fret much, or think much--she watched things. She watched the
sunshine from its red kindling to its red scattering, she watched the
moon slide across the window, and haunt the mirror after it had
passed--or the sign of the Scales dangling in the black sky. Sometimes
the things she looked at seemed to fade, and she would see a room in
which she and her husband were sitting or a lane along which they were
walking ... but just as she had begun to wonder whether she were not
really still young and happy and married and this vision the fact and
the sickness and loneliness the dream, then suddenly everything would
pass away like smoke, and she would be back in her bed, watching the
travelling sun, or the haunting moon, or the hanging stars.

In October a steam-thresher came to Odiam. The wheat had been bad, but
there was still plenty of grain to thresh, and for a whole day the
machine sobbed and sang under the farmhouse
walls--"Urrr-um--Urrr-um--Urrr-um."

Mrs. Backfield lay listening to it. She felt very ill, but everyone was
too busy to come to her--Reuben was out in the yard feeding his monster,
while the boys gathered up and sacked what it vomited out; Caro and
Tilly were washing blankets. Harry had gone off on some trackless errand
of his own.

The afternoon was very still and soft. It was full of the smell of
apples--of apples warm and sunny on the trees, of apples fallen and
rotting in the grass, of apples dry and stored in the loft. There were
little apples on the walls of the house, and their skins were warm and
bursting in the heat.

The thresher purred and panted under the window--"Urrr-um--Urrr-um." Now
and then Reuben would call out sharply, "Now then! mind them
genuines--they're mixing wud the seconds!" or "Kip them sacks closed,
Beatup." But for most of the afternoon the stillness was broken only by
the hum of the machine which sometimes almost seemed a part of it.

Mrs. Backfield according to her custom watched the sun. It bathed the
floor at first, but gradually she saw the square of the window paint
itself on the wall, and then slide slowly up towards the ceiling. Her
eyes mechanically followed it; then suddenly it blazed, filmed, flowed
out into a wide spread of light, in the midst of which she saw the
kitchen at Odiam as it used to be, with painted fans on the
chimney-piece and pots of flowers on the window-sill. Her husband sat by
the fire, smoking his pipe, while Harry was helping her tidy her
workbasket.

"There now!" she said to him, "I knew as it really wur a dream."

"Wot?" he asked her, and she, in her dream, felt a spasm of delight, for
it was all happening so naturally--it must be true.

"About fäather being dead, and you being blind, and Ben having the
farm."

"Of course it's a dream--fäather äun't dead, and I äun't blind, and
Ben's picking nuts over at Puddingcake."

"You couldn't spik to me lik this if it wur a dream, Harry--could you,
dear?"

He didn't answer--and then suddenly he turned on her and shouted:

"Sack your chaff, now--can't you sack your chaff?"

"Harry! Harry!" she cried, and came to herself in the little
sun-smouldering room, while outside Reuben stormed at his boys to "sack
their chaff," and the machine purred and sang--"Urrr-um--Urrr-um."

A sudden terrible lucidity came to Mrs. Backfield.

"It's machines as he wants," she said to herself, "it's machines as he
wants...."

Then a gentle darkness stole upon her eyes, as her overworked machine of
flesh and blood ran down and throbbed slowly into stillness and peace.

Outside the great fatigueless machine of steel and iron sang
on--"Urrr-um--Urrr-um--Urrr-um."


§ 4.

The girls cried a great deal at their grandmother's death--she had never
taken up enough room in the boys' lives for them to miss her much. As
for Reuben, though he had been fond of her, he could not sincerely
regret her, since for the last few months she had, so to speak, been
carried on entirely at a loss.

He needed every penny and every minute more desperately than ever, for
Grandturzel ran Odiam closer and closer in the race. Realf now plainly
saw how matters stood. As yet there was no open breach between him and
Reuben--when one of them came into the public-house the other always
waited a decent interval before clearing out--but if there was no open
breach, there was open rivalry. All the neighbourhood knew of it, and
many a bet was made.

The odds were generally on Reuben. It was felt that a certain
unscrupulousness was necessary to the job, and in that Backfield had the
advantage. "Young Realf wudn't hurt a fly," his champions had to
acknowledge. Though the money was with Reuben, the sympathy was mostly
with Realf, for the former's dealings had scarcely made him popular. He
was a hard man to his customers, he never let them owe him for grain or
roots or fodder; his farm-hands, when drunk, spoke of him as a monster,
and a not very tender-hearted peasantry worked itself sentimental over
his treatment of his children.

For some months the antagonism between Odiam and Grandturzel remained in
this polite state, most of the fighting being done by their champions.
The landlord of the Cocks grew quite tired of chucking out Odiamites and
Grandturzelites who could not, like their leaders, confine their war to
words. But it only wanted some cause, however trivial, to make the
principals show their fists. The time that Reuben would stay in the bar
after Realf had entered it grew shorter and shorter, and his pretexts
for leaving more and more flimsy. Realf himself, though a genial,
good-tempered young man, could not help resenting the scorn with which
he was treated. He once told Ginner that Backfield was an uncivilised
brute, and Ginner took care to forward this remark to the proper
quarter.

At last the gods, who are more open-handed than ungrateful people
suppose, took pity on the rivals, and gave them something to fight
about. The pretext was in itself trivial, but when the gunpowder is laid
nothing bigger than a match is needed. This particular pretext was a
barrow of roots which had been ordered from Kitchenhour by Reuben and
sent by mistake to Grandturzel. Realf's shepherd, not seeing any cause
for doubt, gave the roots as winter fodder to his ewes, and said nothing
about them. When Reuben tramped over to Kitchenhour and asked furiously
why his roots had never been sent, the mistake was discovered. He came
home by Grandturzel, and found his precious roots, all thrown out on the
fields, being nibbled by Realf's ewes.

Realf himself was away, but Reuben left such a stinging message for him,
that apology was impossible except in a form that could only be regarded
as a fresh insult. An apology in this shape reached Odiam at
dinner-time, and Reuben at once sent off Beatup with an acceptance of it
that was very nearly obscene. The result was that Realf himself arrived
about three o'clock furiously demanding an explanation of his
neighbour's insulting conduct.

The two men met in the kitchen, Peter backing up his father, and for a
long time the scene was stormy, the word "roots" whirling about the
conversation, with the prefix "my good" or "your hemmed" as the case
might be. Realf was genuinely angry--Reuben's attitude of mingled
truculence and scorn had wounded even his easy pride.

"You're justabout afeard of me, that's wot you are. You think I'll bust
up your old farm and show myself a better man than you. You're afeard of
me because I'm a younger man than you."

"Ho, afeard of you, am I?--and because you're a youngster? I'll
justabout show you wot a youngster's worth. A better man, are you?--Put
up your fists, and we'll see who's the better man."

Reuben began to take off his coat--young Realf drew back almost in
disgust.

"I'm not going to fight a man old enough to be my father," he said,
flushing.

"Ho, äun't you?--Come on, you puppy-dog, and see fur yourself if you
need täake pity on my old age."

He had flung off his coat, and squared up to Realf, who, seeing no
alternative, began to strip.

Peter interposed:

"Let me täake him on, fäather. I'll show him a thing or two."

Reuben turned on him savagely.

"Stand clear!--who wants your tricks? I'm going to show him wot a man's
worth--a man wot's had his beard longer than this puppy's bin in the
warld."

"But you're out of training."

"I'm in training enough to whip boys. Stand clear!"

Pete stood clear, as the two combatants closed. Neither knew much of the
game. Realf had been born too late for boxing to have been considered a
necessary part of his education, and Reuben had been taught in an old
school--the school of Bendigo and Deaf Burke--mighty bashers, who put
their confidence in their strength, despised finesse, and counted their
victories in pints of blood.

He fairly beat down on Realf, who was lithe enough generally to avoid
him, but not experienced enough to do so as often as he might. Every
time Reuben struck him, the floor seemed to rush up to his eyes, and the
walls to sag, and the house to fill with smoke. Pete danced round them
silently, for while his sympathies were with his father his sporting
instincts bade him keep outwardly impartial. He was disgusted with their
footwork, indeed their whole style outraged his bruising ideals; but it
pleased him to see how much Reuben was the better man.

They hardly ever clinched--on the other hand, there was much plunging
and rushing. Reuben brought down Realf three times and Realf brought
down Reuben once. It was noticeable that if the younger man fell more
easily he also picked himself up more quickly. Between the rounds they
leaned exhausted against the wall, Pete prowling about between them,
longing to take his father on his knee, but still resolved to see fair
play.

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.

For once that Realf managed to land a blow, Reuben landed a couple, and
with twice as much weight behind them. The younger man soon began to
look green and sick, he staggered about, and flipped, while the sweat
poured off his forehead into his eyes. Reuben breathed stertorously and
could scarcely see out of his left eye, but was otherwise game. Pete
felt prouder of him than ever.

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.

"You've done it!" cried Pete.

Reuben had flopped down in a heap on the settle, and his son ran off for
help. He flung open the door, and nearly fell over Tilly who was
cowering behind it.


§ 5.

"Here--bring some water!" cried Peter, too much relieved to see her to
be surprised at it.

Tilly flung one wide-eyed glance over her shoulder into the room where
young Realf lay, and dashed off for water and towels, while Pete fetched
a piece of raw meat out of the larder.

It was a minute or two before Realf opened his swollen, watering eyes,
and gazed up bewildered into the face of the woman he had said his
prayers to for a dozen Sundays. She held his head in the crook of her
arm, and wiped the froth and blood from his lips.

"Better now?" asked Pete.

Realf suddenly seemed to shrink into himself. The next minute he was
swaying unsteadily on his legs, refusing the hands held out to support
him.

"I'm going home," he mumbled through his bruised lips.

"I'll täake you," said Pete cheerily.

But Realf of Grandturzel shook his head. His humiliation was more than
he could bear. Without another look at Pete or Tilly, or at Reuben
holding the raw chop to his eye, he turned and walked out of the room
with bent head and dragging footsteps.

For a moment Pete looked as if he would follow him, but Reuben
impatiently called him back.

"Leave the cub alone, can't you? Let him go and eat grass."

Tilly stood motionless in the middle of the room, her little nose
wrinkled with horror at the bloodstains on the floor and at Reuben whose
face was all bruised and swollen and shiny with the juice of the raw
meat. Pete saw her shudder, and resented it.

"It wur a präaper fight," he declared. "You want to manage them feet of
yourn a bit slicker, fäather--but you wur justabout smart wud your
fists."

Tilly's blood ran thick with disgust; she turned from them
suddenly--that coarse, bloodthirsty, revolting pair--and ran quickly out
of the room.

She ran out of the house. Away on Boarzell a man plodded and stumbled.
She saw him stagger as the wind battered him, reel and nearly fall among
the treacheries of the dead heather. He was like a drunken man, and she
knew that he was drunk with shame.

All flushed with pity she realised the bitterness of his fate--he who
was so young and strong and clean and gay, had been degraded, shamed by
her father, whom in that moment she looked upon entirely as a brute. It
must not be. He had been so good to her, so friendly and courteous in
their Sunday walks--she must not let him go away from her shamed and
beaten.

She gathered up her skirts and ran across the garden, out on to the
Moor. She ran through the heather, stumbling in the knotted thickness.
The spines tore her stockings, and in one clump she lost her shoe. But
she did not wait. Her little chin was thrust forward in the obstinacy of
her pursuit, and when she came closer to him she called--"Mr. Realf! Mr.
Realf!"

He stopped and looked round, and the next minute she was at his side.
Her hair was all blown about her face, her cheeks were flushed the
colour of bell-heather, and her breast heaved like a wave. She could not
speak, but her eyes were blessing him, and then suddenly both her hands
were in his.


§ 6.

Early in the next year Sir Miles Bardon died, and his son Ralph became
Squire. Reuben had now, as he put it, lived through three Bardons. He
despised the enfeebled and effete race with its short life-times, and
his own body became straighter when he thought of Sir Miles's under the
earth.

For every reason now, Odiam was being forced on. Realf had sought
comfort for his personal humiliation in making his farm more spick and
span than ever. Reuben became aware of a certain untidiness about Odiam,
and spent much on paint and tar--just as the frills of a younger rival
might incite to extravagance a woman who had hitherto despised the
fashions. He painted his waggons a beautiful blue, and his oasts were
even blacker and shinier than Grandturzel's. He had wooden horses to
dance on their pointers, whereupon Realf put cocks on his.

The thought of Tilly did not check the young man in this
beggar-my-neighbour, for he knew that her father's ambition meant her
slavery. So when Reuben added a prize Jersey heifer to his stock, Realf
bought a Newlands champion milker, and when Reuben launched desperately
on a hay-rope twister, Realf ran him up with a wurzel-cutter. Finally
Reuben bought twenty acres, of Boarzell, in which Realf did not attempt
to rival him, for he already had forty which he did not know what to do
with. Reuben's strugglings with Boarzell struck him as pathetic rather
than splendid, an aberration of ambition which would finally spoil the
main scheme.

So Realf's answer took the form of an extra cowman, whereupon Reuben
hired a couple of new hands, causing his family to leap secretly and
silently for joy and to bless the man who by his rivalry had lightened
their yoke. As a matter of fact, Reuben would have been forced to engage
one man, anyhow; for the new piece of land had at once to be prepared
for cultivation, and gave even more trouble than the pieces which had
already been cultivated but showed a distressing proneness to relapse
into savagery. The lower slope of Boarzell was now covered with fields,
where corn grew, as the neighbours said, "if one wur careful not to spik
too loud," and the ewes could pasture safely if their shepherd were
watchful. But it somehow seemed as if all these things were only on
sufferance, and that directly Reuben rested his tired arm Boarzell would
snatch them back to itself, to be its own for ever.

Reuben swaggered a little about his new farm-hands, especially as Realf
showed no signs of going any further in hirelings. One man, Boorman,
came from Shoyswell near Ticehurst, and was said to be an authority on
the diseases of roots, while the other, Handshut, came from Cheat Land
on the western borders of Peasmarsh. Reuben went over to get his
"character" from Jury the tenant--and that was how he met Alice Jury.


§ 7.

The door was opened to him by a tall young woman in a grey dress covered
by an apron. Reuben was struck by that apron, for it was not the sacking
kind to which he was accustomed, or the plain white muslin which his
women-folk wore on Sundays, but a coarse brick-coloured cotton, hanging
from her shoulders like a pinafore. The girl's face above it was not
pretty, but exceptionally vivid--"vivid" was the word, not prominent in
Reuben's vocabulary, which flashed into his mind when he saw her. Her
colouring was pale, and her features were small and irregular, her hair
was very frizzy and quite black, while her grey eyes were at once the
narrowest and the liveliest he had ever seen.

"I'm sorry--father's not at home," she said in answer to his question.

"But I töald him as I wur coming over--it's about that Handshut."

She smiled.

"I'm afraid father forgets things. But come in, he's bound to be home to
his dinner soon."

Reuben grumbled and muttered to himself as he crossed the
threshold--small fry like these Jurys must not be allowed to think that
he had any time to spare. The young woman led him into the kitchen and
offered him a seat. Reuben took it and crossed his legs, looking
appraisingly round the room, which was poorly furnished, but beautifully
kept, with some attempts at decoration. There was a print of Rossetti's
"Annunciation" above the meal-chest, and a shelf of books by the
fireplace. It all struck him as strange and rather contemptible. He
remembered what he had been told about the Jurys, who had only just come
to Cheat Land. Tom Jury had, so rumour said, kept a bookshop in
Hastings, but trade had gone badly, and as his health demanded an
outdoor life and country air, charitable friends had established him on
a small holding. He had an invalid wife, and one daughter, who was not
very strong either--an ignoble family.

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.

"You come from Odiam, don't you?" she asked.

"Yes, that's it."

"Is Odiam that farm near Totease?"

Reuben looked as if he had swallowed the poker. He stared at her to see
if she were making fun of him, but her bright eyes were quite innocent.

"Yes," he said huskily--"it is."

"We've only been here a month, so I haven't got the neighbourhood quite
clear. You see I can't often go out, as my mother's generally in bed,
and I have all the house-work to do. That's why my father has to have a
man to help him out of doors. It's a pity, for wages are so
high--Handshut's leaving us because we could do with someone cheaper and
less experienced."

Reuben liked her voice, with its town modulation, the only vestige of
Sussex taint being a slight drawl. It struck him that Alice Jury was a
"lady," and that he was not condescending very much in speaking to her.

"It's unaccountable hard to know what to do about labour. Now as these
fellers are gitting eddicated they think no end of theirselves and 'ull
ask justabout anything in wages--as if a man hoed turnups any better for
being able to read and write."

"But don't you think he does?"

"No--I döan't. I'm all agäunst teaching poor people anything and setting
them above theirselves. It's different fur their betters. Now I've got
six boys, and they can all read and write and cast accounts."

"Six boys, have you? Are they grown up?"

"Yes, the youngest's sixteen."

"And do they help you on the farm?"

"Yes--leastways four of 'em do. Two have--have left home."

"I suppose they didn't care for farming?"

"One's in prison, and t'other I turned away."

Reuben had no idea why he said this. It must have been the way her eyes
were fixed on him, glowing above bistred shadows.

"Oh, indeed!--how sad."

He flushed the colour of her apron. What a fool he was!--and yet after
all she would be bound to hear the truth sooner or later; he had only
been beforehand. All the same he was surprised at himself. A sudden tide
of anger went over him.

"Sad fur them, I reckon, but not fur me. I'm well shut of them."

"Don't you miss them at all?"

"Naun particular. Robert he wur good and plodding-like, but you couldn't
trust his stacking, and he'd be all nohow wud the horses--and Albert
he'd shirk everything wotsumdever, he'd go off into dreams in the middle
of killing a pig--surelye!"

"But in themselves, I mean."

"Wot's that--in themselves?"

"Well, as boys, as sons, not as farm-servants."

"I döan't never think of them that way. One's no good to me wudout
t'other."

Alice Jury said nothing, and Reuben began to feel vaguely uncomfortable.
What queer eyes she had!--they seemed to bore into him like nails. He
suddenly rose to his feet.

"See here--I must be going."

"But father won't be long now."

"I'm sorry--I can't wait. I've a load of field-bean coming in. I'll be
round agäun to-morrow."

"What time?--and I'll promise father shall be here to see you."

"About eleven, say. Good-bye, miss."

"Good-bye."

She went with him to the door. A great lump of phlox grew on either side
of it. She stood between them, and suddenly pointed out over Jury's
miserable little root-patch towards Boarzell, heaving its great hummocks
against the east.

"What's that?" she asked.


§ 8.

Reuben came away from Cheat Land with odd feelings of annoyance,
perplexity, and exhilaration. Alice Jury was queer, and she had insulted
him, nevertheless those ten minutes spent with her had left him tingling
all over with a strange excitement.

He could not account for it. Women had excited him before, but merely
physically. He took it for granted that they had minds and souls like
men, but he had not thought much about that aspect of them or allowed it
to enter his calculations. Of late he had scarcely troubled about women
at all, having something better to think of.

Now he found himself thrown into a kind of dazzle by Alice Jury. He
could not explain it. Her personal beauty was negligible--"a liddle
stick of a thing," he called her; their conversation had been limited
almost entirely to her tactless questions and his forbearing answers.

"She äun't my sort," he mumbled as he walked home, "she äun't at all my
sort. Dudn't know where Odiam wur--never heard of Boarzell--oh, yes,
seems as she remembered hearing something when I töald her"--and
Reuben's lip curled ironically.

He had not told her of his ambitions with regard to Boarzell, and now he
found himself wishing that he had done so. He had been affronted by her
ignorance, but as his indignation cooled he longed to confide in her.
Why, he could not say, for unmistakably she "wasn't his sort"; it was
not likely that she would sympathise, and yet he wanted to pour all the
treasures of his hope into her indifference. He had never felt like this
towards anyone before.

He spent the day restlessly, and the next morning walked over to Cheat
Land before half-past ten. Alice Jury opened the door, and looked
surprised to see him.

"You said you were coming at eleven. I'm afraid father's out again."

"I wur passing this way, so thought I'd call in on the chance," said
Reuben guiltily--"I döan't mind waiting."

She called a long-legged boy who was weeding among the turnips, and bade
him go over to Puddingcake and fetch the master. Then she led the way to
the kitchen, which smelled deliciously of baking bread.

"You don't mind if I go on with my baking? I've twelve loaves in the
oven."

"Oh, no," said Reuben, sitting in yesterday's chair, and gazing up at
the Rossetti.

"Do you like pictures?" asked Alice, thumping dough.

"Some," said Reuben, "but I like 'em coloured best."

"I paint a little myself," said Alice--"when I've time."

"Wot sort o' things do you paint?"

"Oh, landscapes mostly. That's mine"--and she pointed to a little
water-colour sketch of a barn.

"Could you paint a picture of Odiam?"

"I expect I could--not really well, you know, just something like this."

"Could you paint Boarzell?"

He leaned towards her over the back of his chair.

"Yes, I dare say."

"Could you do it wud all the colours on it and all that?--all the pinks
you git on it sometimes, and the lovely yaller the gorse mäakes?"

She was surprised at his enthusiasm. His eyes were kindling, and a blush
was creeping under his sunburn.

"Oh, I could try! Do you want a picture of Boarzell?"

"I'd like one if you could really do it to look natural."

She smiled. "Perhaps I could. But why do you think so much of Boarzell?"

"Because I'm going to mäake it mine."

"Yours!"

"Yes--I mean to have the whole of it."

"But can you grow anything on a waste like that?"

"_I_ can. I've got near a hundred acres sown already" ... and then all
the floodgates that had been shut for so long were burst, and the tides
of his confidence rolled out to her, moaning--all the ache of his
ambition which nobody would share.

Her eyes were fixed on him with their strange spell, and her sharp
little face was grave. He knew that she did not sympathise--he had not
expected it. But he was glad he had told her.

Her first words startled him.

"Do you think it's worth while?"

"Wot's worth while?"

"To give up so much for the sake of a piece of land." Reuben gaped at
her.

"I've no right to preach to you; but I think I may be allowed to ask
you--'is it worth while?'"

He was too flabbergasted to be angry. The question had simply never come
into his experience. Many a man had said, "Do you think you'll do it?"
but no one had ever said, "Do you think it's worth while?"

Alice saw her blunder. She saw that she had insulted his ambition; and
yet, though she now understood the ferocities of that ambition, it
filled her with a definite hostility which made her want to fight and
fight and fight it with all the strength she had. At the same time, as
his surprise collapsed, his own antagonism rose up. He felt a sudden
hatred, not for the girl, but for the forces which somehow he knew she
was bringing to oppose him. They faced each other, their eyes bright
with challenge, their breasts heaving with a stormier, earthlier
emotion--and the white flame of antagonism which divided them seemed at
the same time to fuse them, melt them into each other.


§ 9.

Reuben was going through a new experience. For the first time in his
life he had fallen under the dominion of a personality. From his boyhood
he had been enslaved by an idea, but people, in anything except their
relation to that idea, had never influenced him. Now for the first time
he had a life outside Boarzell, an interest, a set of thoughts, which
were not only apart from Boarzell but antagonistic to it.

Hitherto he had always considered the opposite of his ambition to be the
absence of it. Either one lived to subdue the hostile earth, or one
lived with no object at all. It was a new experience to find someone
whose life was full of hopes, ideals, and ambitions, all utterly
unconnected with a farm, and it was even more strange than new that he
should care to talk about them. Not that he ever found himself being
tempted from his own--the most vital part of his relations with Alice
Jury lay in their warfare. He fought her as he fought Boarzell, though
without that sense of a waiting treachery which tinctured his battles
with the Moor; their intercourse was full of conflict, of fiery, sacred
hostilities. They travelled on different roads, and knew that they could
never walk together, yet each wanted to count the other's milestones.

Sometimes Reuben would ask himself if he was in love with her, but as
the physical element which he had always and alone called love was
absent, he came to the conclusion that he was not. If he had thought he
loved her he would have avoided her, but there was no danger in this
parliament of their minds. Her attitude towards life, though it obsessed
him, no more convinced him than his convinced her. They would rail and
wrangle together by the hour.

"Life is worth while," said Alice, "in itself, not because of what it
gives you."

"I agree with you there," said Reuben, "it's not wot life gives that's
good, it's wot you täake out of it."

"I don't see that. Suppose that because I liked that girl's face in the
picture I tore it out and kept it for myself, I should only spoil the
picture--the piece I'd torn out wouldn't be any good to me away from the
rest."

"I can't foller you," said Reuben gruffly.

"Now don't pretend to be stupid--don't pretend you can't understand
anything but turnips."

"And döan't pretend you can't understand naun but picturs. A good solid
turnup in real life is worth a dozen pretty gals in picturs."

"That's right--have the courage of your earthiness. But don't try to
make me think that when you look out of the window at Boarzell, you
don't see the sky beyond it."

"And döan't you try and make out as when you're looking at the sky you
döan't see Boarzell standing in between."

"I don't try and make it out. I see your point of view, but it's only
'in between' me--and you--and something greater."

"Rubbidge!" said Reuben.

He always came away from these wrangles with a feeling as if he had been
standing on his head. He was not used to mental scoutings and
reconnoitrings. Also, he felt sometimes that Alice was laughing at him,
which irritated him, not so much because she mocked as because he could
never be really sure whether she mocked or not. Her laughter seemed to
come from the remotest, most exalted part of her. The gulfs between
their points of view never gaped so wide as when she laughed.


§ 10.

Reuben's constant visits to Cheat Land were soon noticed at Odiam, and
every advantage was taken of them. A period of licence set in. Richard
read Anne Bardon's Homer quite openly by the kitchen fire, Caro dropped
tears over East Lynne in the dairy, and Jemmy spent long tarry hours at
Rye, coming home with a rank chew in his mouth, and sailors' oaths to
salt his work on the farm.

Tilly had private affairs of her own which occasionally led her out on
Boarzell of an afternoon. She always took her sewing, for she dared not
be behindhand with it. Strangely enough, in spite of Jemmy's and Tilly's
truancies, the work was somehow got through as usual, for shortcomings
would have been found out and punished on the master's return--or worse
still, he might have stayed at home. For the first time a certain
freemasonry was established between the brothers and sisters. Hitherto
their rebellion had been too secret even for confederacy, but now some
of the crushing weight was lifted, and they could combine--all except
Peter, who was too much Reuben's man for them to trust him; luckily he
was rather stupid. So Peter did not see and no one else took any notice
if Caro read and wept over sentimental novels, or Jemmy brought home
harbour mud on his shoes, or George, who was delicate and epileptic,
slept away an hour under a haystack, or Richard pondered the Iliad, or
Tilly ran out on the Moor--even though she went to meet Realf of
Grandturzel.

They met on the further side of the fir clump, on the edge of
Grandturzel's inclosure. Here Tilly would sit under a gorse-bush with
her sewing, while young Realf lay along the grass at her feet. They did
not talk much, for Tilly was busy, and generally had her mouth full of
pins; but Realf's manhood worshipped her as she sat there, her delicious
head bowed, and stains of sunshine, with sprinkled gorse-petals, in her
hair. He loved her little determined chin, and the sweet smudge of
freckles on her nose. Love filled their simplest actions, kindled their
simplest words; it dreamed in their eyes and laughed on their lips; its
silences linked them closer than the most passionate embraces.

Both unconsciously dreaded the time when they should demand more of each
other--when the occasional enlacing of their hands would no longer be
enough to open Paradise, when from sweet looking and longing they would
have to pass into the bitterness of action. Tilly, though essentially
practical and determined, was enjoying her first visit to faery, and
also inherited her mother's gift of languor. She basked in those hours
of sun and bees. She, like her father, was passing for the first time
into a life outside the dominion of the farm--but, whereas he fought
it, and sought it only to fight it, she submitted to it as to a caress.

She cared nothing for Odiam; it was no thought of disloyalty to it and
her father, of breaking from her service, which made her mark time in
dreams. As the weeks went by she felt more and more the hatefulness of
the yoke. She now had a standard of comparison by which to judge Reuben
and Odiam. She saw herself and her brothers and her sister more and more
as victims. Other farmers' children were not slaves. Other farms did not
hang like sucking incubuses on boys' and girls' backs, draining all the
youth and joy and sport out of them.

It made her blood boil to think of Robert and Albert in their exile.
Robert had now been released from gaol, and had been sent by a
charitable society to Australia. Reuben had refused to move a hand to
help him. As for Albert, a few months ago a piteous letter had arrived,
begging for money. He had, through Mr. Hedges, found work on a small
Radical paper which soon came to grief, and since then had been
practically starving, having had no success as a freelance. A friend of
his wanted to start a weekly review--Tory this time, for Albert's
politics were subservient to occasion--and only required funds. Did
Reuben feel prepared to make an investment? Thus poor Albert cloaked and
trimmed his begging.

Of course Reuben had refused to help him, and Tilly had been unable to
get any money out of Pete. Her heart bled for her brothers, and at the
same time she could not help envying their freedom, though one enjoyed
it as a beggar and the other as a felon.


§ 11.

At last the crisis came--through George, the youngest, least-considered
son at Odiam. He had always been a weakling, as if Naomi had passed into
his body her own passionate distaste for life. Also, as is common with
epileptic children, his intellect was not very bright. It had been the
habit to spare him, even Reuben had done so within reason. But he should
not really have worked at all, or only in strict moderation--certainly
he should not have been sent out that October evening to dig up the
bracken roots on the new land. Tilly expostulated--"Anyhow he didn't
ought to work alone "--but Reuben was angry with the boy, whom he had
caught loafing once or twice that day, and roughly packed him off.

He himself went over to Moor's Cottage about a load of trifolium, and
returning in the darkness by Cheat Land was persuaded to stay to supper.
That was one of the nights when he did not like Alice Jury--he sometimes
went through the experience of disliking her, which was an adventure in
itself, so wild and surprising was it, so bewildering to remember
afterwards. She seemed a little colourless--she was generally so vivid
that he noticed and resented all the more those times when her shoulders
drooped against her chair, and her little face looked strangely wistful
instead of eager. It seemed as if on these occasions Alice were actually
pleading with him. She lost that antagonism which was the salt of their
relations, instead of fighting she pleaded. Pleaded for what? He dared
not ask that question, in case the answer should show him some strange
new Canaan which was not his promised land. So he came away
muttering--"only a liddle stick of a woman. I like gurt women--I like
'em rosy, I like 'em full-breasted.... She'd never do fur me."

He tramped home through the darkness. A storm was rising, shaking the
fir-plumes of Boarzell against a scudding background of clouds and
stars. The hedges whispered, the dead leaves rustled, the woods sighed.
Every now and then a bellow would come from the Moor, as the sou'wester
roared up in a gust, then a low sobbing followed it into silence.

On the doorstep Reuben was greeted by Tilly--where was George? He had
not been in to supper.

"Have you looked in the new field?"

"Yes--Benjamin went round. But he äun't there."

"Well, I döan't know where he is."

"Reckon he's fallen down in a fit somewhere and died."

Tilly was not looking at all like Naomi to-night.

"Nonsense," said Reuben, resenting her manner.

"It äun't nonsense. I always know when his fits are coming on because
he's tired and can't work präaperly. He was like that to-day. And
you--you drove him out."

Reuben had never been spoken to like this by his daughter. He turned on
her angrily, then suddenly changed his mind. For the first time he
really saw what a fine girl she was--all that Alice was not.

"We'll go and look for him," he said--"send out the boys."

All that night they hunted for George on Boarzell. It was pitch dark.
Soon great layers of cloud were sagging over the stars, and Boarzell's
firs were lost in the blackness behind them. Reuben, his sons, Beatup,
Piper, Handshut, Boorman, fought the dark with lanterns as one might
fight Behemoth with pin-pricks. They scattered over the Moor, searching
the thorn-clumps and gorse-thickets. It was pretty certain that he was
not on the new ground by Flightshot. Richard said openly that he did not
believe in the fit and that George had run away, and--less openly--that
it was a good job too. The other boys, however, did not think that he
had enough sense to run away, and agreed that his condition all day had
foretold an attack.

Reuben himself believed in the fit, and a real anxiety tortured him as
he thrust his lantern into the gaping caverns of bushes. He had by his
thoughtless and excessive zeal allowed Boarzell to rob him of another
man. Of course, it did not follow that George was dead, but unless they
found him soon it was quite likely that he would not survive exposure on
such a night. If so, Reuben had only himself to thank for it. He should
have listened to his daughter, and either let George off his work or
made him work near home. He did not pretend to himself that he loved
this weakling son, or that his death would cause his fatherhood much
grief, but he found himself with increasing definiteness brought up
against the conviction that Boarzell was beating him, wringing its own
out of him by slow, inexorable means, paying him back a hundredfold for
every acre he took or furrow he planted.

He had become separated from the other searchers, and was alone on the
west side of the Moor. The wind barked and howled, hurling itself upon
him as he stood, beating his face with hail, which hissed into the dead
tangles of the heather, while the stripped thorns yapped and rattled,
and the bushes roared. So great was the tumult that he seemed to fall
into it like a stone into a wave--it passed over him, round him, seemed
even to pass under him, he was hardly conscious of the solid ground. The
blackness was impenetrable, save where his lantern stained it with a
yellow smudge. He shouted, but his voice perished in the din--it seemed
as if his whole man, sight, voice, hearing, and sensation, was blurring
into the storm, as if Boarzell had swamped him at last, made him merely
one of its hundred voices, mocking the manhood which had tried so much
against its earth.

The wind seemed to be laughing at him, as it bellowed up in gusts,
struck him, sprayed him, roughed his hair out madly, smacked his cheeks,
drove the rain into his skin, and then rumbled away with a hundred
chatterings and sighings. It seemed to be telling him that as his breath
was to this wind so was he himself to Boarzell. The wind was the voice
of the Moor, and it told him that in fighting Boarzell, he did not fight
the mere earth, an agglomeration of lime and clay which he could
trample and compel, but all the powers behind it. In arming himself
against Boarzell he armed himself against the whole of nature's huge
resources, the winds, the storms, the droughts, the early and the latter
rain, the poisons in plants, and the death in stones, the lusts which
spilling over from the beasts into the heart of man slay him from within
himself. He had armed himself against all these, and once again the old
words sang in his head--"Canst thou draw out Leviathan with a hook? or
bore his jaw through with a thorn? Will he make a covenant with thee?
Wilt thou take him for a servant for ever?"

He had shrunk into the rattling shelter of some thorn-bushes. They
scraped their boughs like grotesque violins, and every other moment they
would sweep down over him and shut him into a cavern of snapping twigs.
He was soaked to the skin and his teeth chattered. He lay close to the
earth, seeking shelter even from the skeleton heather which writhed
woody stems all round him. He cursed. Must he spend the night here, lost
and grovelling, to listen while Boarzell screeched its triumph over his
cold, drenched body....

"Canst thou draw out Leviathan with a hook? or bore his jaw through with
a thorn? Will he make a covenant with thee? Wilt thou take him for a
servant for ever?

"His heart is as firm as a stone; yea, as hard as a piece of the nether
millstone.

"The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold; the spear, the dart,
nor the habergeon.

"He esteemeth iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood.

"Sharp stones are under him...."

A crash of thunder and a spit of lightning tore open the sky, and for a
moment Reuben saw the slope of the Moor livid in the flash, and the
crest of firs standing against the split and tumbling clouds. The air
rang, screamed, hissed, rushed, and rumbled. Reuben, hardly knowing what
he did, had sprung to his feet.

"I'll have wheat growing here in a twelvemonth!" he shouted.


§ 12.

The dawn broke over Boarzell like a reconciliation. The clamouring
voices of wind and trees were still, and only a low sobbing came now and
then from the woods. In the sky pale streamers of rose barred and
striped a spreading violet. One or two clouds flew low, and slowly
pilled themselves, scattering into the fields. On every blade of grass
and twig of thorn, on every leaf and spine, glimmered pearls of rain,
washing the air with a faint scent of stagnant water, perfuming it with
the steams of sodden grass.

Reuben crept out of his thorn cavern and looked down the slope. At the
bottom by Socknersh one or two lanterns moved through the dusk. He
stiffly threw up his arm and tried to shout. His throat felt cramped and
swollen, and it was not till after one or two attempts that a sound
pitifully like a bleat came out of it. A voice answered him from the
hollow, and then he saw that they were carrying something. He limped
painfully down to them. Richard, Boorman, and Handshut carried a hurdle
between them, and on the hurdle lay a draggled boy, whose clenched hand
clutched a tuft of earth and grass as a victim might clutch a handful of
his murderer's hair.

"Is he dead?" asked Reuben.

"Yes, mäaster," said Boorman.

Richard's mouth twisted in contemptuous silence--Handshut being young
and silly was crying.

"He wurn't on the new land," continued Boorman, "he'd fallen into the
ditch by Socknersh palings--that's why we cudn't find un. Reckon as he'd
felt the fitses coming on un, and tried to git höame, pore souly."

"When did you find him?"

"Half an hour agone. He'd bin dead for hours, mäaster. He must have
choked in the ditch--see, his mouth is full of mud."

Reuben drew back with a shiver. He limped behind the little procession
towards Odiam, slouching for the first time in his life. In spite of his
conquests he and Boarzell still were quits, still had to prove which was
the better man. George, lying there muddy, white, and crumpled, was a
sign that the Moor had its victories, in spite of the spreading corn.

He looked down at George--the boy's face had an unhuman chalky
appearance under the mudstains; on the forehead a vein had swollen up in
black knots, others showed pale, almost aqueous, through the stretched
skin. After all, George was the weakest, the best-spared of his
children. This thought comforted and stiffened him a little, and he went
into the house with something of his old uprightness.

The other children were in the kitchen. They had seen their dead brother
from the window, and stood mute and tearless as he was carried into the
room. Reuben gave orders for him to be taken upstairs and the doctor to
be sent for. No one else spoke. Tilly's breast heaved stormily, and he
did not like the dull blaze in her eyes. Strange to say, of his whole
family, excepting Pete, she was the only one of whom he was not faintly
contemptuous. She had spirit, that girl--he prophesied that she would
turn out a shrew.

For the very reason that he could not despise her, he took upon himself
to bully her now.

"Get me some tea," he said roughly, "I'm cold."


§ 13.

Though there had been no open rupture, from that day forward Odiam was
divided into two camps. On one side were Reuben and Pete, on the other,
Tilly and Richard. Benjamin and Caro were neutrals; they were
indifferent to vital issues, one engrossed in snatching holidays, the
other in hankering after she did not quite know what. Pete had always
been a good son, hard-working and enthusiastic, not exactly a comrade,
but none the less an ally, always to be depended on and now and then
taken into confidence. He seemed to accept his father's attitude towards
George's death and to resent Richard's and Tilly's. That spring he beat
Squinty Bream at Robertsbridge Fair, and gave half the purse to Reuben
to buy a chaff-cutter.

Of the enemy Tilly was the most effective--Reuben did not quite know how
to deal with her. His inability to despise her told heavily against him.
Richard, on the other hand, he despised from the depths of his heart.
The boy was insufferable, for he still had his old knack of saving his
skin. It was nearly always impossible to pick any definite faults in his
work--it was wonderful how he managed to combine unwillingness with
efficiency. He also had an irritating habit of speaking correct English,
and of alluding to facts and events of which Reuben had never heard in
such a manner as to make it impossible for him not to show his
ignorance.

Reuben never lost a chance of baiting him, he jibed at his squeamishness
and fine manners, at his polite way of eating and the trouble he took to
clean his nails; he despised him all the more for occasionally getting
the better of him, verbally at any rate, in these encounters. One night
at supper Reuben, having actually succeeded in finding this sneering son
at fault, abused him roundly for the shocking condition of the ewes'
fleeces. Richard had the bad sense to quote Shakespeare, whereat Reuben
told him that if he could not speak English he could leave the room.
Richard replied that he would be very pleased to do so, as certain
people's table-manners made supper rather an ordeal. Reuben helped him
out with a kick most vulgarly placed.

The next day Backfield was due at an auction at Northiam, but before
leaving he ordered Richard to clean out the pig-sties. It was not,
properly speaking, his work at all, but Reuben hoped it would make him
sick, or that he would refuse to obey and thus warrant his father
knocking him down.

"Certainly," said Richard without a tremor.

"Oh, thank you," said Reuben, bowing in mock politeness, and trying to
copy his clipped English.

Ten minutes later he rode off, and the family separated to their tasks,
or to such evasions of them as were possible in the master's absence.

Tilly cleared the table and began to prepare the dinner. She had
promised the boys a bag pudding, and must start it early. She had not
been cooking more than half an hour when the door opened, and Richard
came in, dressed in a neat black suit with a stiff Gladstone collar. His
hair was nicely brushed, and he carried a pair of gloves and a little
valise.

"Oh!" cried Tilly.

"I'm off," said Richard shortly, banging down his valise on the table.

"Off!--where?"

"To London."

Tilly gaped at him.

"I'm sick of all this, I'm sick of the old man and his beastliness. Miss
Bardon is lending me money to go to London University, and perhaps I
shall read for the Bar."

"The Bar," repeated Tilly vaguely.

"Yes, I've learned a heap of Latin and other things during the last
five years, and two or three years at the University ought to be all I
want. Miss Bardon's taught me--I owe everything to her."

"I must say as how you've kept it dark."

She knew of his friendship with Anne Bardon, but had never expected it
to bear such generous fruit.

"Well, it would never have done if the old man had got to know of it.
Good heavens, Tilly! How can you live on with that old brute?"

"Maybe I shan't much longer," said Tilly, looking down at her
rolling-pin.

Richard stared at her for a moment--"I'm glad to hear it. But the
others--oh, my dear girl, this is damnable!"

Tilly sighed.

"The law ought to suppress such men--it ought to be a criminal offence
to revert to type--the primordial gorilla."

"But fäather's a clever man--Albert always used to say so."

"Yes, in a cunning, brutish sort of way--like a gorilla when he's set
his heart on a particular cocoanut. Boarzell's his cocoanut, and he's
done some smart things to get it--and in one way at least he's above the
gorilla, for he can enslave other people of superior intelligence to
sweat under his orders for what they care nothing about."

"We're all very unlucky," said Tilly, "to have been born his children.
But one by one we're gitting free. There'll soon be only Pete and Jemmy
and Caro left."

"And I hope to God they'll have the wit to follow the rest of us. I'd
like to see that old slave-driver left quite alone. Heavens! I could
have strangled him yesterday--I should have, if I hadn't had this to
look forward to."

"Where are you going to stay in London?"

"Miss Bardon's taken some rooms for me in Montague Street."

"She's good to you, Richard."

"She's an angel "--he lifted his eyes, and his mouth became almost
worshipful--"she's an angel, who's raised me out of hell. I shall never
be able to repay her, but she doesn't expect it. All she wants is my
success."

"I wish Caro or Jemmy cud meet someone like her. I döan't think as Pete
minds."

"No, he's quite the young gorilla. Now I must be off, Tilly. I'll write
to you."

"Oh, wöan't fäather be in a taking!"

"I reckon--I expect he will. But don't you mind him, little sister. He
isn't worth it."

He stooped and kissed her.

"Good-bye. Say it to the others for me."

"Good-bye--good luck to you."

... And he was gone--walking past the window in a top-hat.


§ 14.

It would be mere politeness to describe as a "taking" Reuben's condition
when he heard Richard had gone. He was in a stamping, bellowing,
bloodshot rage. He sent for various members of his family, questioned
them, stormed at them, sent them away, then sent for them again. He
boxed Caro's ears because she cried--hitherto he had kept his hands off
the girls. As for Tilly, he would have liked to have whipped her--he
felt sure that somehow it was all her doing--but the more furious he
grew, the more he felt himself abashed by her manner, at once so soft
and so determined, and he dared do no more than throw his boots at her.

After a night of cursings and trampings in his room, he took the
fermenting dregs of his wrath to Cheat Land. It was queer that he should
go for sympathy to Alice Jury, who was chief in the enemy's camp. But
though he knew she would not take his part, she would not be like the
others, leering and cackling. She would give him something vital, even
if it was only a vital opposition. That was all the difference between
her and everyone else--she opposed him not because she was flabby or
uninterested or enterpriseless, but because she really hated what he
strove for. She was his one strong candid enemy, so he went to her as
his only friend.

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.

"The hound!" he cried, striking his fists together, "the miserable,
cowardy hound!--gone and left me--gone to be a gentleman, the lousy pig.
Oh, Lard, I wish as I had him in these hands o' mine!--I'd mäake a
gentleman of him!"

Alice, as he expected, had caustic for him rather than balm.

"Once again," she said slowly, "I ask you--is it worth while?"

"Wot's worth while?"

"You know. I asked you that question the first or second time I saw you.
No one had ever asked it you before, and you would have liked to beat
me."

"I shud like to beat you now--talking of wot you know naun about."

"I daresay--but I'm not your son or your daughter or your wife----"

"I never beat my wife."

"Chivalrous, humane man!--well, anyhow I'm not anyone you can beat, so I
dare ask--is it worth while?"

"And I ask wot d'you mean by 'worth while'?"

"You know that it's Boarzell and your farm which have lost you your
boys."

"I know nothing of the sort."

"Well, would Robert have stolen money, or Albert disgraced your name,
to get free, if you and your farm hadn't made them slaves? If you hadn't
been a heartless slave-driver would George have died the other night
alone on the Moor?--or would Richard have taken advantage of a
neighbour's charity to escape from you? Don't you see that your ambition
has driven you to make slaves of your children?"

"Well, they wöan't wark fur me of their free will. Lard knows I've tried
to interest 'em...."

"But how can you expect them to be interested? Your ambition means
nothing to them."

"It ought to--Odiam's their home jest as it's mine."

"But don't you see that you've forced them to give up all the sweet
things of life for it?--Robert his love, and Albert his poetry, and
Richard his education."

"Well, I gave up all the sweet things of life, as you call 'em--and why
shudn't they?"

"Because you gave those things up of your free will--they were made to
give them up by force. You've no right to starve and deny other people
as you have to starve and deny yourself."

"I döan't see that. Wot I can do, they can."

"But--as experience has taught you--they won't. You can see now what
your slave-driving's brought you to--you've lost your slaves."

"Well, and I reckon they wurn't much loss, nuther"--the caustic was
healing after all--"Robert wur a fool wot didn't know how to steal a
ten-pound note, Albert wur always mooning and wasting his time, and
George wur a pore thing not worth his keep. As for Richard--that
Richard--who wants a stuck-up, dentical, high-nosed, genteel swell about
the pläace? I reckon as I'm well shut of the whole four of 'em. They
wurn't worth the food they ate, surelye!"

"That's what strikes me as so pathetic."

"Wot?"

"That you should be able to comfort yourself with the thought that they
weren't worth much to you as a farmer. What were they worth to you as a
father?"

"Naun."

"Quite so--and that's what makes me pity you," and suddenly her eyes
kindled, blazed, as with her spirit itself for fuel--"I pity you, I pity
you--poor, poor man!"

"Adone do wud that--though you sound more as if you wur in a black
temper wud me than as if you pitied me."

"I am angry with you just because I pity you. It's a shame that I should
have to pity you--you're such a splendid man. It ought to be impossible
to pity you, but I do--I pity you from my soul. Think what you're
missing. Think what your children might have been to you. How you might
have loved that dear stupid Robert--how proud you might have been of
Albert, and of Richard leaving you for a professional career ... and
poor little George, just because he was weak and unlike the rest, he
might have been more to you than them all. Then there's your brother
Harry----"

"Come, come--stick to the truth. I äun't to blame for Harry."

"But can't you see that he's the chief part of the tragedy you're
bringing on yourself and everyone?--He's the type, he's the chorus, the
commentary on every act. Reuben, can't you see--oh, why won't you
see?--he's you, yourself, as you really are!"

"Nonsense!--döan't be a fool, my gal."

"Yes--you--blind, crazy with your ambition, repulsive and alone in it.
Don't you see?"

He smiled grimly--"I döan't."

"No--you don't see this hideous thing that's pursuing you, that's
stripping you of all that ought to be yours, that's making you miss a
hundred beautiful things, that's driving you past all your joys--this
Boarzell...."

"--äun't driving me, anyhow. I'm fighting it."

"No," said Alice. "It's I who am fighting Boarzell."


§ 15.

Early the next year, Tilly married Realf of Grandturzel.

Reuben received the blow in silence--it stunned him. He did not go over
to Cheat Land--something, he scarcely knew what, kept him away. In the
long yellow twilights he wandered on Boarzell. The rain-smelling March
wind scudded over the grass, over the wet furrows of his cornfields,
over the humming tops of the firs that, with the gorse splashed round
their trunks, marked the crest of the Moor and of his ambition. Would
they ever be his, those firs? Would he ever tear up that gorse and fling
it on the bonfire, as he had torn up the gorse on the lower slopes and
burned it with roars and cracklings and smoke that streamed over the
Moor to Totease? Perhaps Realf would have the firs and the gorse, and
pile that gorgeous bonfire. Tilly would put him up to her father's
game--Reuben's imagination again failed to conceive the man who did not
want Boarzell--she would betray Odiam's ambitions, and babble its most
vital secrets. Tilly, Reuben told Boarzell, was a bitch.

It became now all the more necessary to smash Realf. He could no longer
be content with keeping just ahead of him; he must establish a sort of
two-power standard, and crush his rival to the earth. That was not a
good summer for expansion--a drought baked up the greater part of
Sussex, and there was an insect plague in the hops--nevertheless, Reuben
bought thirty-five acres of Boarzell, on the east slope, by the road. He
was tormented by a fear that Realf would buy the land if he did not,
and, moreover, during May two boards had appeared advertising it as "an
eligible building site"; which was possibly bluff, possibly unusual
cunning on the part of Flightshot, made resourceful by its straits.

He no longer had any direct intercourse with the Bardons. Their latest
impropriety had put them beyond even the favour of a casual nod. If they
chose to break up his family they must take the consequences. He only
wished he could break up their estate, sell their rat-holed old Manor
over their heads, and leave them unprotected by landed property to the
sure workings of their own incompetence.

He did not fail to show his neighbours how he despised Flightshot, and
the more humorously inclined among them were never tired of asking how
soon it would be before Richard married Anne.

"Your family seems to be in a marrying way jest now, Mus'
Backfield--there's your daughter made an unaccountable fine match, and
it's only nat'ral as young Richard shud want to do as well fur himself."

Reuben treated these irreverences with scorn. Nothing would make him
abate a jot of his dignity. On the contrary, his manner and his presence
became more and more commanding. He drove a splendid blood mare in his
gig, smoked cigars instead of pipes, and wore stand-up collars about
four inches high--when he was not working, for it had not struck him
that it was undignified to work, and he still worked harder on his farm
than the worst-paid pig-boy.

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 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.

If Grandturzel had fared as badly he could have borne it, but
Grandturzel, though scarred, came out of the summer less battered than
he. Realf's oats, being in a more sheltered position, did no private
threshing of their own; his hops for the most part escaped the blight,
and though he lost a good deal on his plums, his apples were harvested
at a record, and brought him in nearly ten pounds an acre. On both farms
the milk had done badly, but as Realf's dairy business was not so
extensive as Backfield's, he was better able to stand its partial
collapse.

Reuben felt that Tilly was at the bottom of his rival's success. She was
practical and saving, the very virtues which Realf lacked and the want
of which might have wrecked him. She doubtless was responsible for the
good condition of his orchards and the immunity of his hops; she had
probably told her husband of that insect-spray of her father's--which
had failed him that summer, being too much diluted by the fool who mixed
it, but had proved a miracle of devastation in other years.

He wanted to smash Tilly even more than he wanted to smash Realf. He had
seen her twice since her marriage--meeting her once in Rye, and once on
Boarzell--and each sight had worked him into a greater rage. Her little
figure had strengthened and filled out, her demure self-confidence had
increased, her prettiness was even more adorable now that the rose had
deepened on her cheeks and her gowns strained over her breast; she was
enough to fill any man with wrath at the joke of things. Tilly ought to
be receiving the wages of her treachery in weariness and anxiety, fading
colour and withering flesh--and here she was all fat and rosy and happy,
well-fed and well-beloved. He hated her and called her a harlot--because
she had betrayed Odiam for hire and trafficked in its shame.


§ 16.

He had been forced to engage a woman to help Caro in the house, and also
a shepherd for Richard's work. His family had been whittled down to
almost nothing. Only Caro, Pete, and Jemmy were left out of his eight
splendid boys and girls. Caro, Pete, Jemmy, and hideous, mumbling
Harry--he surveyed the four of them with contemptuous scowls. Pete was
the only one who was worth anything--Caro and Jemmy would turn against
him if they had the slightest chance and forsake him with the rest. As
for Harry, he was a grotesque, an image, a hideous fum--"Reuben himself
as he really was." He! He!

The weeks wore on and it dawned on him that he must pull himself
together for a fresh campaign. He must have more warriors--he could not
fight Boarzell with only traitors and hirelings. He must marry again.

It was some time since the abstract idea of marriage had begun to please
him, but lately the abstract of marriage had always led to the concrete
of Alice Jury, so he had driven it from his thoughts. Now, more and more
clearly, he saw that he must marry. He wanted a woman and he wanted
children, so he must marry. But he must not marry Alice.

Of late he had resumed his visits to Cheat Land, discontinued for a
while at Tilly's marriage. The attraction of Alice Jury was as strong,
unfathomable, and unaccountable as ever. Since the stormy interview
after Richard's desertion they had not discussed his ambitions for
Odiam and Boarzell, but that meeting was none the less stamped on
Reuben's memory with a gloomy significance. It was not that Alice's
arguments had affected him at all--she had not penetrated to the springs
of his enterprise, she had not touched or conjured the hidden part of
him in which his ambition's roots were twined round all that was vital
and sacred in the man. But somehow she had expressed her own attitude
with an almost sinister clearness--"It's I who am fighting Boarzell."
What should she fight it for?--imagine that she fought it, rather, for a
woman could not really fight Boarzell. She was fighting it for him. She
wanted him.

He knew that Alice wanted him, and he knew that he wanted Alice. He did
not know why he wanted Alice any more than he knew why Alice wanted him.
"Wot is she?--a liddle stick of a creature. And I like big women."

There was something in the depths of him that cried for her, something
which had never moved or cried in him before. In spite of her lack of
beauty and beguilement, in spite of her hostility to all his darling
schemes, there was something in him to which Alice actually and utterly
belonged. He did not understand it, he could not analyse it, he scarcely
indeed realised it--all he felt was the huge upheaval, the conflict that
it brought, all the shouting and the struggling of the desperate and
motiveless craving that he felt for her--a hunger in him calling through
days and nights, in spite of her insignificance, her aloofness, her
silences, her antagonism.

"I reckon as how I must be in love."

That was the conclusion he came to after much heavy pondering. He had
never been truly in love before. He had wanted women for various
reasons, either for their charm and beauty, or because, as in Naomi's
case, of their practical use to him. Alice had no beauty, and a charm
too subtle for him to realise, though as a matter of fact the whole man
was plastic to it--as for practical usefulness, she was poor, delicate,
unaccustomed to country life, and hostile to all his most vital
ambitions. She would not bring him wealth or credit, she was not likely
to bear him healthy children--and yet he loved her.

Sometimes, roaming through murky dusks, he realised in the dim
occasional flashes which illuminate the non-thinking man, that he was up
against the turning-point of his fight with Boarzell. If he married
Alice it would be the token of what had always seemed more unimaginable
than his defeat--his voluntary surrender. Sometimes he told himself
fiercely that he could fight Boarzell with Alice hanging, so to speak,
over his arm; but in his heart he knew that he could not. He could not
have both Alice and Boarzell.

Yet, in spite of all this, one day at Cheat Land he nearly fell at her
feet and asked her to be his ruin.

It was a March twilight, cold and rustling, and tart with the scents of
newly turned furrows. Reuben sat with Alice in the kitchen, and every
now and then Jury's wretched house-place would shake as the young gale
swept up rainless from the east and poured itself into cracks and
chimneys. Alice was sewing as usual--it struck Reuben that she was very
quick and useful with her fingers, whatever might be her drawbacks in
other ways. Sometimes she had offered to read poetry to him, and had
once bored him horribly with In Memoriam, but as he had taken no trouble
to hide his feelings she had to his great relief announced her intention
of casting no more pearls before swine.

She was silent, and the firelight playing in her soft, lively eyes gave
her a kind of mystery which for the first time allowed Reuben a glimpse
into the sources of her attraction. She was utterly unlike anything
there was or had been in his life, the only thing he knew that did not
smell of earth. The pity of it was that he loved that strong-smelling
earth so much.

"Alice," he said suddenly--"Do you think as how you could ever care
about Boarzell?"

"No, I'm quite sure I couldn't."

"Not ever?"

"Never."

"Why?"

"Because I hate it. It's spoiling your life. It's making a beast and a
maniac of you. You think of nothing--absolutely nothing--but a miserable
rubbish-heap that most people would be throwing their old kettles on."

"That's just the point, my gal. Where most föalkses 'ud be throwing old
kettles, I shall be growing wheat."

"And what good will that do you?"

"Good!--when I've two hundred acres sown with grain!"

"Yes, grain that's fertilised with the rotting remains of all that ought
to have made your life good and sweet."

"You wöan't understand. There's naun in the world means anything to me
but my farm. Oh, Alice, if you could only see things wud my eyes and
stand beside me instead of agäunst me."

"Then there would be no more friendship between us. What unites us is
the fact that we are fighting each other."

"Döan't talk rubbidge, liddle gal. It's because I see, all the fight
there is in you that I'd sooner you fought for me than agäunst me.
Couldn't you try, Alice?"

His voice had sunk very low, almost to sweetness. A soft flurry of pink
went over her face, and her eyelids drooped. Then suddenly she braced
herself, pulled herself taut, grew combative again, though her voice
shook.

"No, Reuben, I could never do anything but fight your schemes. I think
you are wasting and spoiling your life, and there's no use expecting me
to stand by you."

He now realised the full extent of his peril, because for the first
time he saw her position unmasked. She would never beguile him with the
thought that she could help him in his life's desire; she would not
alter the essential flavour of their relationship to suit his
taste--rather she would force him to swallow it, she would subdue by
strength and not by stealth, and fight him to the end.

He must escape, for if he surrendered now the battle was over, and he
would have betrayed Boarzell the loved to something he loved less--loved
less, he knew it, though he wavered.

He rose to his feet. The kitchen was dark, with eddying sweeps of shadow
in the corners which the firelight caressed--while a single star put
faint ghostly romance into the window.

"I--I must be gitting back home."

Alice rose too, and for a moment he was surprised that she did not try
to keep him; instead, she said:

"It's late."

He moved a step or two towards the door, and suddenly she added in a low
broken voice:

"But not too late."

The floor seemed to rise towards him, and the star in the window to
dance down into Castweasel woods and up again.

Alice stood in the middle of the room, her face bloomed with dusk and
firelight, her hands stretched out towards him....

There was silence, in which a coal fell. She still stood with her arms
outstretched; he knew that she was calling him--as no woman had ever
called him--with all that of herself which was in his heart, part of his
own being.

"Reuben."

"Alice."

He came a few steps back into the room....

It was those few steps which lost him to her, for they brought him
within sight of Boarzell--framed in the window, where Castweasel woods
had been. It lay in a great hush, a great solitude, a quiet beast of
power and mystery. It seemed to call to him through the twilight like a
love forsaken. There it lay, Boarzell--strong, beautiful, desired,
untamed, still his hope, still his battle. And Alice?... He gave her a
look, and left her.


"I once töald a boy of mine," he said to himself as he crossed the Moor,
"that the sooner he found he could do wudout love the better.... Well, I
reckon I'm not going to be any weaker than my words."



BOOK V

ALMOST UNDER


§ 1.

Reuben did not go back to Cheat Land for several weeks. Those five
minutes had been too much for him. He would never again risk putting
himself in the power of things he did not understand. Besides, he felt
vaguely that after what had happened Alice would not want to see him.
She had humiliated herself, or rather he had humiliated her--for she had
put out in one swift dark minute all the powers of her nature to bind
him, and she had failed. He remembered her voice when she whispered,
"But not too late," and her eyes afterwards, smouldering in shadow, and
her little hands held out to him.... There had been nothing definite,
obvious, or masterful, yet in those few words and actions her whole self
had pleaded on its knees--and he had turned away.

But sometimes what kept him from her more than the thought of her
humiliation was the thought of his own. For sometimes it seemed almost
as if she had humbled him more than he had humbled her. He could not
tell whether this sick feeling of shame which occasionally swamped him
was due to the fact that he had so nearly surrendered to her or to the
fact that he had not quite done so. Sometimes he thought it was the
latter. The whole thing was ridiculous and perplexing, a lesson to him
not to adventure into subtleties but to keep in communion with the broad
plain things of earth.

Early in May he found a visit to Cheat Land forced upon him. Jury
wanted to buy a cow of his, but one of the sudden chills to which he was
liable kept him indoors. Reuben was anxious to sell the animal, and,
there being one or two weak points about her, would trust nobody but
himself with the negotiations. However, the visit would be quite safe,
for he was not likely to see Alice alone, indeed it was probable that he
might not see her at all.

On reaching the farm he heard several voices in the kitchen, and found
the invalid in an arm-chair by the fire, talking to an oldish man and a
rather plump pretty girl of about twenty. Jury was an intellectual,
incompetent-looking fellow, who seemed elderly, but at the same time
gave one the impression that this was due to his health. His grey hair
straggled over temples where the skin was stretched tight and yellow as
parchment, his cheeks were hollow, his eyes astonishingly like his
daughter's. He was one of the arguments against the marriage.

Alice had let Reuben in. She looked a little tired, but otherwise quite
cheerful, and she welcomed him simply and naturally.

"This is Miss Lardner," she said, introducing him to the girl, "and Mr.
Lardner of Starvecrow."

"I heard as how Starvecrow had been bought at last," said Reuben; "not a
bad farm, Muster, if you're fur green crops mostly."

"Potatoes," said Lardner, "potatoes--if farmers 'ud only grow potatoes
and not think so much of grain and rootses, we shudn't hear of so many
of 'em going bust."

The conversation became agricultural, but in spite of the interest such
a topic always had for him, Reuben could not help watching the two
girls. Miss Lardner, whom Alice called Rose, was a fine creature, so
different from the other as to make the contrast almost laughable. She
was tall and strapping--in later life she might become over stout, but
at present her figure was splendid, superbly moulded and erect. She
looked like a young goddess as she sat there, one leg crossed over the
other, showing her white stocking almost to the knee. There was
something arrogant in her attitude, as if she was aware of the splendour
of her body, and gloried in it. Her face too was beautiful--though less
classically so--rather broad, with high flat cheek-bones, and a wide
full-lipped mouth which would have given it almost a Creole look, if it
had not been for her short delicate nose and her fair ruddiness. Her
hair seemed to hesitate between gold and brown--her eyes between
boldness and languor.

Reuben found himself glancing at her continually, and though she seldom
met his eyes, he knew that she was aware of his scrutiny. He sometimes
felt that Alice was aware of it too.

As the conversation wore on, and became more general, Lardner said
something about going over to Snailham and taking Rose home on the way.

"Oh, no, Uncle--I don't want to go. Alice has asked me to stay to
supper."

"But you can't go home alone, and I can't wait wud you, surelye."

"I'll take Miss Lardner home," said Reuben.

Directly he had said the words, he looked over at Rose to see how she
would receive them. Her eyelashes lay black and curly against her cheek,
then they lifted slowly, and her eyes looked out from under the
half-raised lids with a kind of demure roguishness. At the same time her
lower lip seemed to quiver and plump out, while the corners of her mouth
rose and curled. He suddenly felt a desire to plant a kiss fairly on
that wet red mouth, which from away across the room seemed to pout
towards him.


§ 2.

Supper was a quiet meal. Old Jury and his invalid wife sat at each end
of the table, while Alice did most of the helping and waiting. They
seemed a sorry three to Reuben, pale, washed out, and weakly, their eyes
bright as birds' with the factitious light of their enthusiasms for
things that did not matter. They ate without much appetite, picking
daintily at their food, their knives never in their mouths. Reuben found
himself despising them as he despised the Bardons.

Rose did not talk much, but she ate heartily--she must be as healthy as
she looked. Once or twice during the meal Reuben caught himself staring
at her lips--they were extraordinarily red, and at the end of the meal
the juice of her pudding had stained them purple.

She said that she must leave directly after supper. Alice fetched her
hat, which was not the kind that Reuben had ever seen on country girls,
being of the fashionable pork-pie shape. All her clothes were obviously
town-made; she wore a blue stuff dress, tight-fitting round her bust and
shoulders, full and flounced in the skirt--afterwards he heard that Rose
had spent some years with relations in London before coming to live at
Starvecrow.

He gave her his arm, said good-bye to Alice in the doorway, and went
through the little garden where flowers crowded out vegetables in a very
unbusiness-like way, into the lane which wound past Cheat Land and round
the hanger of Boarzell, to the farms of the Brede Valley.

Rose, a little to his surprise, began to chatter volubly. She talked
very much like a child, with naïve comments, about simple things. She
asked trivial questions, and screamed with delight when some
dusk-blinded bird flew against her breast and dashed down heavily into
the ruts. She exclaimed at the crimson moon which rose behind the hedge
like a hot penny--she laughed at the slightest provocation; and yet all
the while he was conscious of an underlayer of shrewdness, he had an
extraordinary conviction of experience.

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.

"I don't like Alice Jury," she prattled, "she says just the opposite of
what you say. She never lets herself agree with anyone. She's a
contradictious female."

Then suddenly she was silent--and Reuben kissed her.

He crooked his arm round her and held her close to him, standing there
in the lane. Her lips slowly parted under his, then suddenly she threw
her head back in a kind of ecstasy, giving him the white expanse of her
neck, which he kissed, giddy with a soft fragrance that rose from her
clothes, reminding him a little of clover.

She was so obviously and naïvely delighted, that when he drew himself
up, his idea of her was again one of extreme childishness. And yet it
was evident that she was used to kisses, and that he had kissed her at
her own unspoken invitation.

They walked on down the lane. Rose's chatter had ceased, and a complete
silence dropped between the hedges. The moon had risen higher, and the
western hazels were bloomed with light. The moon was no longer crimson
in the dark sky, but had burnt down to copper, casting a copper glow
into the mists, staining all the blues that melted into one another
along the hills. Only the middle of the lane was black--like a well.
Reuben and Rose could see each other's faces in a kind of rusty
glimmer, but their feet stumbled in the darkness, and her hand lay
clutching and heavy on his arm.

At last they came to Castweasel--three old cottages and a ruined one,
leaning together in a hollow like mushrooms. Beside the ruined cottage a
tree-trunk was lying, and Rose suddenly stretched herself with a little
sigh.

"I'm tired--let's sit down and rest a bit."

They sat down on the log, and she immediately crept close to him like a
child. He put his arm round her, and once again she thrilled him with
her own delight--she stole her arms round his neck, holding his head in
the crook of her elbows, and laughed with her mouth against his. Then
her hands crept into his hair, and rumpled it, while she whispered like
a child finding some new virtue in its toy--"How thick! how thick!" At
last she drew his head down to her breast, holding it there with both
hands while she dipped her kisses on his eyes....

Reuben was in ecstasy by this time. It was years since he had caressed a
woman, except casually, for he considered that women interfered with his
work. Rose's eagerness could not cheapen her, for it was so childlike,
and she continued to give him that sense of deep experience which robbed
her attitude of insipidity. Her delight in his kisses was somehow made
sweeter to him by the conviction that she could compare them with other
men's.

She began to laugh--she became gay and mettlesome. Her whole nature
seemed changed, and he found it hard to think of her as the beautiful
yet rather lumpish girl who had sat in the silence of a good appetite at
the Cheat Land supper-table. Behind them the ruin of the old cottage
sent out bitter-sweet scents of decay--its crumbling plaster and rotting
lath perfumed the night. Fragrances strove in the air--the scent of
Rose's clothes, and of her big curls tumbling on his shoulder, the
scent of still water, of dew-drenched leaves, and damp, teeming
soil--sweet vagabond scents of bluebells, puffed on sudden breezes....

Reuben was growing drunken with it all--he strained Rose to him; she was
part of the night. Just as her scents mingled with its scents, so he and
she both mingled with the hush of the lightless, sorrowless fields, the
blots of trees, the woods that whispered voicelessly.... Above the
hedges, stars winked and flashed, dancing in the crystalline air. Right
overhead the Sign of Cancer jigged to its image in Castweasel Pool.
Reuben looked up, and through a gate he saw Boarzell rearing like a
shaggy beast towards him. He suddenly became more aware of Boarzell than
of anything in the night, than of the flowers or the water or the stars,
or even Rose, drowsing against his shoulder with parted lips. Boarzell
filled the night. The breeze became suddenly laden with scents of
it--the faint bitterness of its dew-drenched turf where the
bracken-crosiers were beginning to uncurl, of its noon-smelling gorse,
of its heather-tangle, half budding, half dead, of its fir-needles and
its fir-cones, rotting and sprouting. All seemed to blend together into
a strong, heady, ammoniacal smell ... the great beast of Boarzell
dominated the night, pawed Reuben, roared over him, made him suddenly
mad, clutching Rose till she cried out with pain, kissing her till she
broke free, and stood before him pale and dishevelled, with anger in her
eyes.

He sprang to his feet, the mood had passed--the beast of Boarzell had
ceased to worry him.

"I'm sorry," he said sheepishly.

"And well you may be," said Rose, "you've torn my gown."

They walked on down the lane; she pouted and swung her hat. Reuben,
anxious to propitiate, picked primroses under the hedge and gave them to
her.

She looked pleased at once, and began to eat them.

"Wot," said Reuben, "you eat flowers?"

"Yes," she answered, "I love eating primroses--pick me some more."

So for the rest of the walk to Starvecrow, he picked primroses, and she
nibbled them with her white teeth, which were small and even, except for
the two canines, which were pointed like a little animal's.


§ 3.

During the next day or two Reuben thought a great deal about Rose
Lardner. He made covert enquiries about her in the neighbourhood. He
found out that she was an orphan and old Lardner's only surviving
relative. He was an extremely prosperous man, and at his death Rose
would have all his money. Moreover, rumour gave him a cancer which would
carry him off before very long.

Reuben turned over these facts in his mind. He realised what a fine
thing it would be for Odiam if he married Rose. Here was the very wife
he wanted--of good standing in the neighbourhood, and something of an
heiress, young and healthy, and likely to give him stout boys, and also
exceedingly attractive in herself.

Under the circumstances he hardly knew what held him back, what made the
whole idea vaguely repugnant to him. Surely it could not be his feeling
for Alice Jury. The terrible thought suggested itself that his love for
Alice would survive all the outward signs of its demolition, that though
beaten and killed and destroyed it would haunt him disembodied. That was
the secret of its power--its utter lack of corporiety, its independence
of the material things a strong man could bend to his will, so that, as
it were, one could never lay hands on it, but chased it for ever like a
ghost.

Nevertheless, he called at Starvecrow and renewed his impressions of
Rose. They did not want much adjustment; he found her as he had found
her that first evening--childlike in all things save love, indolent,
languorous, and yet with gay bursts of spirit which made her charming.
He noticed too how well dressed she was--he admired her stuff gown and
neat buttoned boots, so different from what he was accustomed to see on
the feet of his womenfolk; he admired the crinkle and gloss of her hair,
so beautifully waved and brushed, and scented with some lotion--her
hands, too, well kept and white with shining pink nails, her trim muslin
collar, the clover scent of her garments ... it was all new, and gave
him somehow a vague feeling of self-respect.

When they were alone she was as eager as ever for his love. He had a
precious ten minutes with her in the parlour at Starvecrow, at the end
of which in came old Lardner, with talk of crops and beasts. Reuben
considered that he had some knowledge of farming--which was a long way
for him to go--and took him into confidence about some of Odiam's
affairs. The farm was still causing him anxiety, and he felt in need of
ready money. He wanted to establish a milk round, with a dairy shop in
Rye, but he could not spare the capital.

That visit was the first of several others. Starvecrow took the place of
Cheat Land--indeed, he seldom went near Cheat Land now. Rose gave him
all the refuge he wanted from the vexings and thwartings of his daily
life. She was not, like Alice, a counter-irritant, but a sweet drowse of
tenderness and beauty in which he forgot his disappointment, thinking of
nothing but the lovely woman he caressed.

She gave him sympathy, too, in a childlike way. She did not like it if
he interrupted his love-making to tell her about his plans for Boarzell,
but at other moments she seemed to enjoy hearing him talk of his
ambition; and often, when the jar and failure of things depressed him,
she would take him in her arms, and soothe him like a baby with--"Of
course you'll have Boarzell, my Reuben; of course it will be
yours--you're so strong and masterful, you're bound to get all you
want."

Her delight in him never seemed to fail. Sometimes it seemed to him
strange that the difference in their ages did not affect her more. She
never gave him a hint that she thought him too old for her. He once told
her that he was nearly fifty, but she had answered with a happy laugh
that she did not like boys.

As a matter of fact, Reuben at fifty was a lover of whom any girl might
still be proud. If a little grey had come into his hair, it had merely
been to give it the gleam of polished iron, and contrast it more
effectively with the swarthiness of his skin. His teeth were as white
and even as when he was twenty, for he had never risked spoiling them by
too much tobacco--his eyes, dark and bright, were like a boy's; his
broad back was straight, and his powerful arms could lift even the plump
Rose to his shoulder. He once carried her on his shoulder all the way
from Tide Barn to the beginning of Starvecrow lane.


§ 4.

Towards the end of August, Reuben asked Rose to marry him.

The request was not so much the outcome of passion as might have been
imagined from the form it took. It was true that he was deeply enamoured
of her, but it was also true that for three months he had endured the
intoxication of her presence without definitely, or even indefinitely,
claiming her for his own. He had held himself back till he had
thoroughly weighed and pondered her in relation to his schemes--he was
not going to renounce Alice for a wife who would be herself a drawback
in another way.

However, though he had never deceived himself that Rose's sympathetic
tendernesses meant any real sharing of his ambition, he was soon
convinced that to marry her would be materially to help himself in the
battle which was now dragging a little on his side. He wanted ready
money--her settlements would provide that; and her heirship of Lardner
held out dazzling hopes for the future. He wanted children--where could
he find a healthier mother? He wanted to raise the dignity of Odiam, and
could hardly have thought of a better means than marriage with the niece
of one of the wealthiest and most important farmers in the parish. To
crown all, he gave himself an adorable woman, young, lovely, tender, and
gay. This consideration could not have dragged him contrary to his
ambition, but combined with it, it could give to an otherwise very
practical and material plan all the heats of passion and the glories of
romance.

The only disappointment was Rose's reception of his offer. At first she
was unaffectedly surprised. She had looked upon the whole affair as a
flirtation, of which she had had several, and had never expected it to
take such a serious turn.

Even when she had recovered from her surprise, she refused to give him
an answer. He became suddenly alarmed lest she thought him too old, and
pressing her for her reasons, found that the real matter was that she
did not want to sacrifice her freedom.

"Wot do you mean, sweetheart? Döan't you love me?"

"Of course I love you--but it doesn't follow I want to belong to you.
Can't we go on as we are?"

"You queer me, Rose. How can we go on as we are?--it's like walking on a
road that never leads nowhere."

"Well, that's very nice--I don't always want to go somewhere every time
I take a walk, I much prefer just wandering."

"I döan't."

"Because you're so practical and business-like, and I'm afraid you'd try
and make me practical and business-like too. That's why I said I wanted
to be free."

"You shall be free, Rose--I promise you. You shall do wotsumdever you
please."

"Absolutely 'wotsumdever'?"

"Yes--wudin reason, of course."

"Ah, that's it. Your reason mightn't be my reason."

"You wudn't find me unreasonable, dear."

"Well, I shall have to think it over."

She thought it over for two months, during which Reuben suffered all the
torments of his lot. She soon came to realise and appreciate her powers;
she dangled hopes and fears with equal zest before his eyes, she used
his anxieties to stoke the furnaces of his passion, till she had
betrayed him into blazes and explosions which he looked on afterwards
with uneasy shame.

Once in sick amazement at himself he took refuge at Cheat Land, and sat
for an hour in Alice Jury's kitchen, watching her sew. But the springs
of his confidence were dried, he could not tell Alice what he felt about
Rose. She knew, of course. All the neighbourhood knew he was in love
with Rose Lardner, and watched the progress of his courtship with covert
smiles.

Rose used often to come to Odiam, where she was at first rather shy of
Reuben's children, all of whom were older than herself. In time,
however, she outgrew her shyness, and became of an exceedingly mad and
romping disposition. She ran about the house like a wild thing, she
dropped blackberries into Caro's cream, she tickled Pete's neck with
wisps of hay, she danced in the yard with Jemmy. Reuben grew
desperate--he felt the hopelessness of capturing this baby who played
games with his children; and yet Rose was in some ways so much older
than they--she loved to say risky things in front of the innocent Caro,
and howled with laughter when she could not understand--she loved to
prod and baffle the two boys, who in this respect were nearly as
inexperienced as their sister. Then, on the walk home with Reuben, over
Boarzell, she would retail these feats of hers with gusto, she would
invite his kisses, sting up his passion--she tormented him with her
extraordinary combinations of childishness and experience, shyness and
abandonment, innocence and corruption.

In time the state of his own mind reduced Reuben to silence about his
longings. He somehow lost the power of picturing himself married to this
turbulent, bewildering creature, half-woman, half-child. He clung to her
in silent kisses; leading her home over Boarzell, he would suddenly turn
and smother her in his arms, while his breast heaved with griefs and
sighings he had not known in the earlier weeks of his courtship.

Rose noticed this difference, and it piqued her. She began to miss his
continual protestations. Sometimes she tried to stir them up again, but
her bafflings had reacted on herself; she handled him clumsily, he was
too mazed to respond to her flicks. Then she became sulky, irritable,
slightly tyrannous--even stinting her kisses.

One night early in October he was taking her home. They had crossed
Boarzell, and were walking through the lanes that tangle the valley
north of Udimore. She walked with her arm conventionally resting on his,
her profile demure in the starlight. He felt tired, not in his body, but
in his mind--somehow life seemed very aimless and gloomy; he despised
himself because he craved for her arms, for her light thoughtless
sympathy.

"Why döan't you speak to me, Rose?"

"I was thinking."

"Wot about?"

"Oh, clothes and things."

He stopped suddenly in their walk, as he had often done, and seized her
in his arms, swinging her off her feet, burying his face in her wraps to
kiss her neck. She kicked and fought him like a wild cat, and at last he
dropped her.

"Why wöan't you let me kiss you?"

"Because I won't."

She walked quickly, almost running, and he had to stride to keep up with
her.

"You're justabout cruel," he said furiously.

"And so are you."

"Wot have I done?"

"You've changed your mind about wanting to marry me."

He stared at her with his mouth open.

"Rose...."

"Well, don't gape at me. You know you have."

"I justabout haven't. It's you----"

"It isn't me. I only asked for a little time to think it over, and then
you go and cool off."

"I--cool off! My dear, I dudn't ever. I never understood--you're such a
tedious liddle wild thing."

"Well, do you want to marry me?"

"Rose!"

"And you'll let me do as I like?"

"Rose, marry me."

"Very well--I will. But it's funny I should want to."

Then suddenly her expression changed. Her eyes half closed, her lips
parted, and she held out her arms to him with a laugh like a sob.


§ 5.

Reuben and Rose were married in the January of '70. It was the earliest
date compatible with the stocking of her wardrobe, a business which
immediately absorbed her to the exclusion of everything else.

Meantime Reuben, having repapered the parlour and given a new coat of
whitewash to the best bedroom ceiling, discussed settlements with old
Lardner. These did not turn out as large as he had hoped--the old man
was close, and attempts on his generosity only resulted in embarrassing
doubts as to the disinterestedness of his son-in-law's affections.
Reuben comforted himself with the thought that Lardner most certainly
had a cancer.

At the wedding Rose fairly dazed the onlookers. She wore a dress of
heavy white satin, with a white lace veil--and a bustle. It was the
first bustle that had ever been seen in Peasmarsh, or even in Rye. In
itself it was devastating enough, but it soon acquired a prophetic and
metaphorical significance which made it even more impressive. Spectators
saw in it the forecast of Odiam's downfall--"He can't stand that," said
Brazier, the new man at Totease, "she's a Jezebubble."--"Only it äun't
her head as she's tired this time," said Ticehurst.--"She shud have worn
it in front of her, and then we shud have bin interested," said Cooper
of Kitchenhour.

Alice Jury and her father were in church. Reuben saw them as he marched
up the aisle with an enormous flower in his buttonhole, accompanied by
Ginner of Socknersh as his best man. It struck him that she looked more
pretty and animated than usual, in a woolly red dress and a little fur
cap under which her eyes were bright as a robin's. Even then he felt a
little offended and perplexed by her behaviour--she should have
drooped--it would have been more becoming if she had drooped.

The remnants of his family were in a front pew--Pete with an elaborately
curled forelock, Jemmy casting the scent of cheap hair oil into the
prevalent miasma of camphor and moth-killer, and between the two boys,
Caro in an unbecoming hat which she wore at a wrong angle, while her
dark restless eyes devoured Rose's creamy smartness, from her satin
shoes to the wave of curling-irons in her hair. Harry had been left at
home--he was in an impossible mood, tormented by some dark current of
memory, wandering from room to room as he muttered--"Another
wedding--another wedding--we're always having weddings in this house."

After the ceremony nearly a hundred guests were fed at Starvecrow. All
the most important farmers of the neighbourhood were there, except of
course Realf of Grandturzel. Rose was like her name-flower, flushed and
scented. Very different from his earlier bride, she sat beside Reuben
with head erect and smiling lips--she drank with everyone, and the wine
deepened the colour of her cheeks and made her eyes like stars. She
talked, she laughed, she ate, she was so happy that her glances, full of
bold languor, swept round the table, resting on all present as well as
the chosen man--she was a gay wife.

Dancing at weddings was dying out as a local fashion, so when the
breakfast was over the guests melted away, having eaten and drunk
themselves into a desire for sleep. Reuben's family went home. He and
Rose lingered a little with her uncle, then as the January night came
crisping into the sky and fields, he drove her to Odiam in his gig, as
long ago he had driven Naomi. She leaned against his shoulder, for he
wanted both hands for his horse, and her hair tickled his neck. She was
silent for about the first time that day, and as eager for the kisses he
could give her while he drove as Naomi had been shy of them. Above in
the cold black sky a hundred pricks of fire shuddered like sparks--the
lump of Boarzell was blocked against a powder of stars.

At Odiam Rose shook off her seriousness. Supper was ready, and undaunted
by the huge meal she had already eaten, she sat down to it with a hearty
appetite. Her step-children stared at her curiously--Rose had a gust of
affection for them. Poor things!--their lives had been so crude and dull
and innocent. She must give them a little brightness now, soften the
yoke of Reuben's tyranny--that girl Caro, for instance, she must give
her some pretty clothes and show her how to arrange her hair becomingly.

Supper was a very gay meal--the gayest there had ever been at Odiam.
Rose laughed and talked, as at Starvecrow, and soon her husband and the
boys were laughing with her. Some of the things she said were rather
daring, and Caro had only a dim idea of what she meant, but Rose's eyes
rolling mischievously under the long lashes, and the tip of her tongue
showing between her lips, gave her words a devilish bite even if only
half understood. Somehow the whole atmosphere of the Odiam kitchen was
changed--it was like the lifting of a curtain, the glimpsing of a life
where all was gay, where love and ambition and all solemn things were
the stuff of laughter.

The boys beat the handles of their knives on the table and rolled in
their chairs with wide-open mouths as if they would burst; Reuben leaned
back with a great pride and softening in his eyes, round which many hard
lines had traced themselves of late; Caro's lips were parted and she
seemed half enchanted, half bewildered by the other woman's careless
merriment. Only Harry took no interest and looked dissatisfied--"Another
wedding," he mumbled as he dribbled his food unnoticed over the
cloth--"we're always having weddings in this house."

It was strange that during this gay meal the strongest link was forged
between Rose and Caro. Two natures more utterly unlike it would be hard
to find--Caro's starved ignorance of love and aged familiarity with
dustier matters made her the antithesis of Rose, a child in all things
save those of the affections; but the two women's hearts met in their
laughter. It was Rose who invited, Caro who responded, for Rose in spite
of her years and inexperience had the one advantage which made her the
older of the two. She was drawn to Caro partly from essential kindness,
partly because she appreciated the luxury of pitying her--Caro
responded with all the shy devotion of a warped nature going out towards
one who enjoys that for which it unconsciously pines. Rose's beauty,
jollity, and happiness made her a goddess to the less fortunate girl.

After supper Rose turned towards her.

"Will you come up and help me unpack?"

Caro flushed with pleasure--a light had kindled in her grey life, and
she found herself looking forward to days of basking.

They went up together to the huge low-raftered bedroom, which struck
horribly cold.

"Ugh!" said Rose--"no fire!"

"But it's a bedroom."

"That's no reason for not having a fire. I shall freeze. Let's have the
servant up to light one."

"Oh, no. I'll light it; Mary's busy clearing the table. But I reckon as
fäather wöan't be pleased."

"I'll make him pleased. You leave father to me for the future."

Caro fetched some wood and turf and laid the fire, to which Rose applied
a match, feeling that by this she had done her share of the work. Then
they began to unpack. There were two trunks full of clothes, and Rose
complicated matters by refusing to take things out as they came but
diving after various articles she particularly wanted.

"I want my blue negleegy--I must show you my blue negleegy," she panted,
up to her elbows in underlinen.

"Oh, here it is! what do you think of it?"

"It's silk!" said Caro in a hoarse whisper.

"Of course it is--and the very best silk too. I'll put it on. Please
undo my dress."

Caro helped her off with her wedding-dress, and after having recovered
her breath, which she lost completely at the sight of the lace on her
chemise, she helped her arrange the "negleegy," and watched her
open-mouthed as she posed in it before the fragment of looking-glass.

"Isn't it chick?" said Rose, "I got it in Hastings--they say it is
copied from a Paris model. Now let's go on with the unpacking."

They went on--that is to say Rose leaned back in her chair and directed
Caro as she took the things out of the trunks. The girl was fairly
bewildered by what she saw--the laced chemises, the flounced petticoats,
the dainty nightgowns with transparent necks. "But you'll show through,"
she said in tones of horror as she displayed one of these, and could not
understand why Rose rolled in her chair with laughter.

There were little pots of cream and bottles of hair-lotion, there were
ebony-backed brushes, patent leather shoes, kid gloves, all sorts of
marvels which Caro had seen nowhere but in shops. As she unpacked she
felt a kind of soreness in her heart. Why should Rose have all these
beautiful things, these laces, these perfumes, these silks and ribbons,
while Caro wore nothing but stuff and calico or smelt of anything
sweeter than milk? As she glanced at Rose, leaning back in the most
comfortable chair to be found in that uncomfortable room--the firelight
dancing on the silken ripples of her gown, her neck and arms gleaming
through clouds of lace--the soreness woke into a pain. Rose had
something more even than silks and laces. She had love. It was love that
made her hold her chin so proudly, it was love that made her cheeks
flush and her eyes glow. And no one had ever loved Caro--she had never
heard a man's voice in tenderness, or felt even so much as a man's hand
fondle hers....

"Caro, would you mind brushing my hair?"

Rose was taking out the pins, and curls and tendrils of hair began to
fall on her shoulders. Caro took the brush, and swept it over the soft
mass, gleaming like spun glass. A subtle perfume rose from it, the rub
of it on her hand was like silk. Rose's eyes closed as the brush
stroked her, and her lips parted slowly into a smile.

Then suddenly, without warning, all this love and happiness and
possession became too much for Caro--she dropped the brush and the
scented hair, and burst into passionate tears.


§ 6.

Reuben at once laid out his wife's money to the best advantage. He
bought twenty cows, good milkers, and started a dairy business in Rye. A
shop was opened near the Landgate, which sold milk, butter, cream, and
eggs from Odiam. He also tried to establish a milk-round in Rye, sending
circulars to inns and private houses. He engaged a young woman to serve
in the shop, and boys to drive his milk-carts. This meant a big
expenditure, and almost all Rose's money was swallowed up by it.

Reuben was surprised at Lardner's attitude. The old man refused to look
upon this spending of his niece's dowry as an excellent investment,
which would soon bring in returns a hundredfold--he would have preferred
to see her money lying safe and useless in Lewes Old Bank, and accused
Backfield of greed and recklessness. Reuben in his turn was disgusted
with Lardner's parsimony, and would have quarrelled with him had he not
been afraid of an estrangement. The farmer of Starvecrow could not speak
without all sorts of dreadful roars and clearings in his throat, and
Reuben hopefully observed the progress of the cancer.

Rose herself did not much care how her money was spent as long as she
had the things she wanted. First of these at present was Reuben's love,
and that she had in plenty. She was a perpetual source of delight to
him; her beauty, her astounding mixture of fire and innocence, her good
humour, and her gaiety were even more intoxicating than before marriage.
He felt that he had found the ideal wife. As a woman she was perfect,
so perfect that in her arms he could forget her short comings as a
comrade. After all, what did it matter if she failed to plumb the depths
of his desire for things outside herself, as long as she herself was an
undying source of enchantment?--smoothing away the wrinkles of his day
with her caresses, giving him love where she could not give him
understanding, her heart where she could not give her brain. During the
hours of work and fret he would long for her, for the quiet warm
evenings, and the comfort which the wordless contact of her brought. She
made him forget his heaviness, and gather strength to meet his
difficulties, giving him draughts of refreshment for to-morrow's journey
in the desert.

His times were still anxious. Even if the milk-round turned out a
success, it was bound to be a loss to him during the first year. A
multiplication of servants also meant for a man like Reuben a
multiplication of trials. He would have liked to do all the work
himself, and could trust no one to do it properly for him. His
underlings, with their detached attitude towards the farm, were a
perpetual source of anxiety and contempt. His heart sickened for those
stalwart sons he had dreamed of in the days of his first marriage--a
dream which mocked him daily with its pitiful materialisation in the
shred of family that still worked for Odiam. Reuben longed for Rose to
have a child, but the months passed, and she had no favourable answer to
his repeated questionings, which struck her at first as amusing, later
as irritating, and at last--at the suggestion of one or two female
friends--as indelicate.

She herself had no wish for motherhood, and expressed this so openly
that in time Reuben began to entertain dark doubts of her, and to feel
that she would avoid it if she could. Yet she in herself was so utterly
sweet that he could not find it in his heart to be angry, or use
anything but tender remonstrance when she vexed him with her attitude
towards life in general and marriage in particular.

She gulped at pleasure, and she gave him so much that he could not deny
her what she craved for, though the mere decorativeness of her tastes
amazed and sometimes appalled him. She coaxed him to buy her new
curtains and chair-covers for the parlour, and to turn it into a room
which could be used, where she could lounge in her pretty frocks, and
entertain her women-friends--of whom she had a startling number--to
afternoon tea, with cream, and little cakes that cost an amount of money
altogether disproportionate to the space that they filled in one's
inside. She demanded other entertainments too--visits to Rye, and even
to Hastings, and jaunts to fairs other than the sanctioned one on
Boarzell.

Reuben was delighted with her fashionable clothes, the dainty things
with which she managed to surround herself, her fastidious care for her
person, her pomadings, her soapings, her scentings--but he sometimes had
vague doubts of this beautiful, extravagant, irresponsible creature. He
was like a man stirring in a happy dream, realising in the midst of it
that he dreams, and must some day awake.


§ 7.

The year '71 was on the whole a bad one. The summer was parched, the
autumn sodden, and the winter frozen. Reuben's oats after some excellent
promises failed him abruptly, as was the way with crops on Boarzell. His
wheat was better in quality but poor in quantity, his mangolds had the
rot, and his hops, except for the old field by the lane, were brown and
ragged with blight.

This would have been bad enough in any year, but in times when he bore
the burden of his yet profitless milk-round it was only a little short
of catastrophe. Making every allowance for a first year, that milk-round
had disappointed him. He found private custom hard to win, and even the
ceasing of French dairy supplies, owing to the Franco-Prussian war, did
not bring him the relief he had hoped. One or two small farms on the
borders of Rye catered in dairy stuff for its inhabitants, and he found
them hard to outbid or outwit. Also, owing to the scarcity of grass
feed, it was a bad milk year, and poor supplies were put down by
consumers to the new milkman, and in more than one case custom was
withdrawn.

Reuben faced his adversity with set teeth and a dogged countenance. He
had not been farming thirty odd years to be beaten casually by the
weather. Scorching heat and blighting cold, the still blanker doom of
the trickling, pouring rain--the wind that seeded his corn, and beat
down his hay, and flung his hop-bines together in muddled heaps--the
pests that Nature breeds by the ten million out of her own putrefyings
and misbegettings--all things in life from the lowest maggot to the
fiercest storm--he was out to fight them. In challenging Boarzell he had
challenged them all.

In time his struggle began to modify his relations with Rose. At first
he had told himself that her uselessness was only apparent. Though she
herself did no fighting, she gave such rest and refreshment to the
soldier that he went forth strengthened to the war. He had almost begun
to attribute to her his daily renewed courage, and had once or twice
been moved to show his gratitude by acts of expensive indulgence.

Now slowly he began to see that this gratitude was misleading--better
receive no comfort from Rose than pay for it too dear. He must make her
understand that he could not afford to keep a useless and extravagant
wife, however charming she might be. Rose must do her share, as Naomi
had done, as his mother had done, as his children had done.

Sometimes he would expostulate with her, and when she met his
expostulations with blandishments, he would feel himself yielding, and
grow so furious that he would turn upon her in rage and indignation.
Rose was not like Naomi; in her own words "she gave as good as she got,"
and once or twice, for the first time in his life, Reuben found himself
in loud and vulgar altercation with a female. He had never before had a
woman stand up to him, and the experience was humiliating.

He had used to turn from Boarzell to her for rest, and now he found
himself turning from her to Boarzell. It was part of the baffling
paradox that the thing he fought should also be the thing he loved, and
the battlefield his refuge. Out on the Moor, with the south-west wind
rolling over him like the waves of some huge earth-scented sea, he drank
in the spirit of conflict, he was swept back into the cleanness and
singleness of his warfare. It was then that Boarzell nerved him for its
own subduing, stripped his heart of softness, cleansed it of domestic
fret. Rose and her love and sweetness were all very well, but he was out
for something greater than Rose--he must keep in mind that she was only
a part of things. Why, he himself was only a part of things, and in his
cravings and softenings must be conquered and brushed aside even as
Rose. In challenging Boarzell he had challenged the secret forces of his
own body, all the riot of hope and weakness and desire that go to make a
man. The battle was not to be won except over the heaped bodies of the
slain, and on the summit of the heap would lie his own.


§ 8.

The last piece of land had been exceptionally tough even for Boarzell.
It was a high strip, running right across the Moor from the edge of the
twenty-acre piece acquired in '67, over the high-road, to the borders of
Doozes. The soil was amazingly various--it started in the low grounds
almost as clay, with runnels of red water in the irrigation ditches,
then passing through a stratum of marl it became limish, grey and
brittle, powdering under the spade. Reuben's ploughs tore over it,
turning up earth of almost every consistency and colour, till the new
ground looked like a smeared palette. Towards Doozes it became clay
again, and here oats would grow, sedge-leaved and tulip-rooted, with
puffy awns. On the crest was rubble, poor stuff where even the heather
seemed to fight for existence.

Reuben struggled untiringly--he tried manure as in his first
enterprising days, and a horrible stink of guano told traffic on the
road it was passing through Odiam territory. Spades and ploughshares and
harrows scored and pulped the earth. Sometimes with breaking back and
aching head, the sweat streaming over his skin, he would lift himself
stiffly from the plough-handles, and shake his fist at the desert round
him. He had never had such a tussle before, and put it down to the fact
that he was now for the first time on the high ground, on the hard and
sterile scab of the marl, where it seemed as if only gorse would grow.
He felt as if now for the first time he was fighting against odds, his
earlier struggles were tame compared with this.

Often in the evenings, when the exhausting work of the day was done, he
would wander out on the Moor, seeking as usual rest on the field of his
labours. The tuft of firs would grow black and featureless against the
dimming sky, and stars would hang pale lamps above the fog, which smoked
round Boarzell, veiling the fields, till it seemed as if he stood alone
on some desert island, in the midst of a shoreless sea. All sounds would
be muffled, lights and shadows would blur, and he would be alone with
the fir-clump and the stars and the strong smells of his land.

He would wait there till the dew hung in pearls on his clothes and hair,
and the damp chills of the night were in his bones. Then he would creep
down from the Moor, and go back into the warmth and love of the
house--yet with this difference now, that he never quite forgot.

He would wake during the night after cruel dreams of Boarzell stripped
of its tilth, relapsed into wildness; for a few agonised moments he
would wonder if the dream were true, and if he had not indeed failed.
Sometimes he had to get out of bed and steal to the window, to reassure
himself with the sight of his diggings and fencings. Then a horrible
thought would attack him, that though he had not yet actually failed, he
was bound to fail soon, that his task was too much for him, and only one
end possible. He would creep back into bed, and lie awake till dawn and
the restarting of the wheel.

One comfort was that these evil summers had blighted Grandturzel too.
Realf's fruit and grain had both done badly, and he had been unfortunate
with his cows, two of which had died of garget. It was now that the
characters of the two rivals were contrasted. Realf submitted at once to
adversity, cut down his expenses, and practically withdrew from the
fight. Ambitious and enterprising when times were good, he was not the
man to be still ambitious and enterprising when they were bad. The
greatness of his farm was not so much to him as the comfort of his
family. He now had a little son, and was anxious that neither he nor
Tilly should suffer from bad speculations. He despised Reuben for
putting Odiam before his wife and children, and defying adversity at the
expense of his household.

"He'll do fur himself," he said to Tilly, as he watched her bath the
baby before the fire, "and where'll his old farm be then?"

"He's more likely to do fur someone else," said Tilly, who knew her
father.

"Wot about this gal he's married?"

"I'm sorry fur her."

"But she döan't look as if she wanted it, surelye. I never see anything
so smart and well-set-up as she wur in church last Sunday."

"Still, I'm sorry fur her--I'm sorry fur any woman as he takes up with.
Now, Henry, you can't kiss baby while I'm bathing him."

It sometimes grieved Tilly that she could not do more for her brothers
and sister. Pete did not want her help, being quite happy in his work on
the farm. But Jemmy and Caro hated their bondage, and she wished she
could set them free. Reuben had sternly forbidden his children to have
anything to do with the recreant sister, but they occasionally met on
the road, or on the footpath across Boarzell. Once Caro had stolen a
visit to Grandturzel, and held the baby in her arms, and watched her
sister put him to bed; but she was far too frightened of Reuben to come
again.

On Reuben's marriage Tilly had hoped that Rose might do something for
Caro, and indeed the girl had lately seemed to have a few more treats
and pleasures in her life; but from what she had heard and from what she
saw, the younger sister was afraid that Rose's good offices were not
likely to make for Caro's ultimate happiness. Then comfortable little
Tilly would sigh in the midst of her own, and wish that everyone could
have what she had been given.

Benjamin occasionally stole afternoons in Rye--if he was discovered
there would be furious scenes with Reuben, but he had learned cunning,
and also, being of a sporting nature, was willing to take risks. Some
friends of his were building a ship down at the Camber. Week by week he
watched her grow, watched the good timber fill in her ribs, watched her
decks spread themselves, watched her masts rise, and at last smelt the
good smell of her tarring. She was a three-masted schooner, and her
first voyage was to be to the Canaries. Her builders drank many a toast
with Backfield's truant son, who gladly risked his father's blows to be
with them in their work and hearty boozing. He forgot the farmyard
smells he hated in the shipyard smells he loved, and his slavery in
oaths and rum--with buckets of tar and coils of rope, and rousing
chanties and stories of strange ships.

Next spring the news came to Odiam that Benjamin had run away to sea.


§ 9.

It was Rose who had to tell Reuben.

Benjamin had given no one the faintest hint of his plans; indeed for the
last two or three weeks his behaviour had been unusually good. Then one
morning, when Reuben was at Robertsbridge market, he
disappeared--Handshut could not find him to take his place in the
lambing shed. Rose was angry, for she had wanted young Handshut to hang
some curtains for her--one cause of disagreement between her and Reuben
was her habit of coaxing the farm-hands to do odd jobs about the house.

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?

Rose was not sorry to see the last of Benjamin, whom she had always
despised as a coarse lumpkinish youth, whose clothes smelt strongly
either of pitch or manure. But she dreaded breaking the news to Reuben.
She disliked her husband's rages, and now she would have to let one
loose. Then suddenly she thought of something, and a little smile
dimpled the corners of her mouth.

Reuben came in tired after a day's prodding and bargaining in
Robertsbridge market-place. Rose, like a wise woman, gave him his
supper, and then, still wise, came and sat on his knee.

"Ben ..."

"Well, liddle Rose."

"I've some bad news for you."

"Wot?"

"Jemmy's gone for a sailor."

He suddenly thrust her from him, and the lines which had begun to soften
on his face as he held her, reappeared in their old harshness and
weariness.

"Gone!"

"Yes. I had a letter from him this evening. He couldn't stand Odiam any
longer, so he ran away. He's sailed for a place called Palma."

Reuben did not speak. His hands were clenched on the arms of his chair,
and for the first time Rose noticed that he looked old. A faint feeling
of disgust came over her. She shivered, and took a step backwards as if
she would leave him. Then her warm good nature and her gratitude to the
man who had made her so happy, drove away the unnatural mood. She came
close, and slipped her soft arms round his neck, pressing her lips to
his.

He groaned.

"You mustn't fret, Reuben."

"How can I help it?--they're all gone now save one ... my boys...."

"Perhaps there'll be others."

She had slid back to his knee, and the weight and warmth of her
comforted him a little. He lifted his head quickly at her words.

"Others?"

"Yes, why not?"

Her bold sweet eyes were looking into his and her mouth was curved like
a heart.

"Rose, Rose--my dear, my liddle dear--you döan't mean----"

"Of course I mean. You needn't look so surprised. Such a thing has been
known to happen."

"Döan't go laughing at me, but tell me--when?"

"In October."

"Oh, God! oh, God!"

His rapture and excitement alarmed her. His eyes blazed--he threw back
his head and laughed in ecstasy. Then he seized her, and crumpled her to
him, covering her face, her neck, her hair, her ears, with kisses,
murmuring broken phrases of adoration and gratitude.

Rose was definitely frightened, and broke free with some violence.

"Oh, stop it, Ben! can't you see you're spoiling my dress? Why should
you get in such a taking? You've had children before, and they've all
been failures--I expect this one will only be like the rest."


§ 10.

Rose's child was born towards the end of October. Once more Reuben had a
son, and as he looked down on the little red hairless thing all his
hopes and dreams were built anew. He had always lived too near the earth
to let experience thump him into cynicism. He raised as glorious dreams
over this baby as he had raised over the others, and seen crumble into
ashes. Indeed, the fact that his earlier hopes had failed made him warm
himself more gratefully at this rekindling. He saw himself at last
raised out of the pit of difficulty--he would not lose this boy as he
had lost the others, he would perhaps be softer and more indulgent, he
would at all events be wiser, and the child should indeed be a son to
him and to Odiam. "Unto Us--Reuben and Odiam--a child is born; unto Us a
son is given."

He was soon confirmed in his idea that the birth had brought him luck.
Before little David was a week old, the welcome news came that Lardner
had died. For some time he had been able to swallow only milk food, and
his speech had been reduced to a confused roaring, but his death at this
juncture seemed to Reuben a happy coincidence, an omen of good fortune
for himself and his son.

He was so pleased that he forgot to veil his pleasure before Rose, whose
grief reminded him of the fact that Lardner was a near and dear
relation, whose death must be looked upon as a chastisement from heaven.
In a fit of compunction for his behaviour, he ordered a complete suit of
mourning, in which he attended the funeral. He was soft and benign to
all men now, and soothed Rose's ruffled spirit by showing himself to her
in all the glory of a top-hat with crape weepers before setting out for
Starvecrow.

He himself had helped plan the obsequies, which were carried out with
all possible pomp by a Rye undertaker. After the ceremony there was a
funeral meal at Starvecrow, where sedate joints and solemn whiskies were
partaken of in the right spirit by the dozen or so men and women who
were privileged to hear old Lardner's will. This was read by the
deceased's lawyer, and one or two pleased malicious glances were darted
at Reuben from under decorously lowered lids. He sat with his fists
doubled upon his knees, hearing as if in a nightmare:


     "I bequeath the farm of Starvecrow, with all lands, stock, and
     tools pertaining thereto, also the house and fixtures, together
     with seven thousand pounds to Henry Robert Crick of Lone Mills,
     Ontario, Canada, my dear son by Marion Crick.... My household
     furniture and fifty pounds free of legacy duty I bequeath to my
     niece, Rose Backfield, wife of Reuben Backfield of Odiam."


Reuben felt dazed and sick, the solemn faces of the mourners seemed to
leer at him, he was seized by a contemptuous hatred of his kind. There
was some confused buzzing talk, but he did not join in it. He shook
hands deliriously with the lawyer, muttered something about having to
get back, and elbowed his way out of the room. Pete had driven over to
fetch him in his gig, as befitted the dignity of a yeoman farmer and
nephew-by-marriage of the deceased, but Reuben angrily bade him go home
alone. He could not sit still, he must walk, stride off his fury, the
frenzy of rage and disgust and disappointment that consumed him.

What business had old Lardner to have a natural son? Never had the laws
of morality seemed to Reuben so august and necessary as then, or their
infringement more contemptible. He was filled with a righteous loathing
of this crapulous libertine who perpetuated the vileness of some low
intrigue by bequeathing his worldly goods to his bastard. Meantime his
virtuously married niece was put off with fifty pounds and some trashy
furniture. Reuben fairly grovelled before the seventh commandment that
afternoon.

He staggered blindly along the road. His head swam with rage, and also,
it must be confessed, with something else--for he was not used to
drinking whisky, which some obscure local tradition considered the only
decent beverage at funerals. His face was flushed, and every now and
then something would be whirled round by the wind and whip his cheeks
and blind him momentarily in a black cloud. At first he was too confused
to grapple with it, but when two long black arms suddenly wound
themselves about his neck, nearly choking him, he remembered his hat
with the crape weepers, and his rage from red-hot became white-hot and
cinerating. He tore off the hat with its long black tails, and flung it
into the ditch with a volley of those emasculate oaths which are all the
swearing of a Sussex man.

Afterwards he felt better, but he was still fuming when he came to
Odiam, and dashed up straight to Rose's bedroom, where she lay with the
ten-days-old David and a female friend from Rye, who had come in to hear
details about her confinement. Both, not to say all three, were startled
by Reuben's sudden entrance, crimson and hatless, his collar flying, the
dust all over him.

"Here! Wot d'you think?" he shouted; "if that old man äun't left all his
money to a bastard."

"Don't be so excited, Ben," said Rose; "you've no business to come
bursting in here like this."

"Remember your wife's delicate," said the lady friend.

"Well, wot I want to know is why you dudn't tell me all this afore."

"How could I? I didn't know how uncle was going to leave his money."

"You might have found out, and not let me in fur all this. Here I've bin
and gone and spent all your settlements on a milk-round, which I'd never
have done if I hadn't thought summat more 'ud be coming in later."

"Well, I can't help it. I expect that as uncle knew I was well provided
for, married and settled and all that, he thought he'd rather leave his
stuff to someone who wasn't."

"I like that--and you the most expensive woman to keep as ever was.

"Hold your tongue, Ben. I'm surprised at you."

"I justabout will speak. A purty mess you've got me into. You ought to
have told me before we married as he had a son out in Canada."

"I didn't know. This is the first I've heard of it. Anyhow, you surely
don't mean to say you married me for my money."

"Well, I wouldn't have married you if you hadn't got none."

"For Shame!" said the lady friend.

Rose burst into tears, and young David, interrupted in the midst of an
excellent meal, sent up a piercing wail.

"You'd better go downstairs till you know how to speak to your wife
properly," said the female from Rye.

"My wife's deceived me!" shouted Reuben. "I made sure as she'd come in
fur thousands of pounds when old Lardner died, and all she's got out of
him is fifty pounds and his lousy furniture."

"Furniture?" said Rose, brisking up; "why from what you said I thought
there was nothing. I could do with some furniture. I want a bedstead
with brass knobs."

"Well, you shan't have it. I'll justabout sell the whole lot. You can't
prevent me."

Rose's sobs burst forth afresh. Her friend ran up to her and took her in
her arms, badly squeezing poor David, who became purple and entirely
animal in his remonstrances.

Then the two women fairly stormed at Reuben. They told him he was a
money-grubber, an unnatural father, that he had been drinking, that he
ought to be ashamed of himself, that he had only got what he deserved.
Reuben tried to stand up to them, but Rose had an amazing power of
invective, and her friend, who was a spinster, but sometimes forgot it,
filled in the few available pauses so effectively that in the end the
wretched husband was driven from the room, feeling that the world held
even worse things than wealthy and perfidious libertines.


§ 11.

Of course there was a reconciliation. Such things had begun to loom
rather large in Reuben's married life. He had never had reconciliations
with Naomi--the storms had not been fierce enough to warrant a special
celebration of the calms. But he and Rose were always being reconciled.
At first he had looked upon these episodes as sweets of matrimony, more
blessed than any amount of honeymoon, but now he had gone a stage
further and saw them merely as part of the domestic ritual--that very
evening when he held Rose and the baby together in his big embrace he
knew that in a day or two he would be staling the ceremony by another
repetition.

He now began to crave for her active interest in his concerns. Hitherto
he had not much missed it, it had been enough for him if when he came in
tired and dispirited from his day's work, she had kissed him and rumpled
back the hair from his forehead and called him her "poor old man." Her
caresses and sympathy had filled the gap left by her help and
understanding. But now he began to want something more. He saw the
hollowness of her endearments, for she did nothing to make his burden
lighter. She refused to realise the seriousness of his position--left
stranded with an under taking which he would never have started if he
had not been certain of increased capital in the near future. She was
still extravagant and fond of pleasure, she either could not or would
not master the principles of economy; she saw the fat lands of Odiam
round her, and laughed at her husband when he told her that he was
crippled with expenses, and in spite of crops and beasts and barns must
live as if he were a poor man.

Of course, he had been rash--he saw now that he had been a fool to
speculate with the future. But who could have foretold that heir of
Lardner's?--no one had ever heard of him in Peasmarsh, and most people
were as astonished as Reuben though not so disgusted. Sometimes he had
an uneasy feeling that Lardner himself had not thought much about his
distant son till a year or two ago. He remembered how the old man had
disapproved of the way Rose's settlements were spent, and horrible
conjectures would assail him that some earlier will had been revoked,
and Rose disinherited because her uncle did not wish to put more money
into her husband's pocket.

After all, fifty pounds and some furniture was very little to leave his
only niece, who had lived with him, and had been married from his house.
It was nonsense to plead the excuse that she was comfortably settled and
provided for--the old man knew that Backfield had made a desperate
plunge and could not recoup himself properly without ready money. He
must have drawn up his will in the spirit of malice--Reuben could
imagine him grinning away in his grave. "Well, Ben Backfield, I've
justabout sold you nicely, haven't I?--next to no capital, tedious heavy
expenses, and a wife who döan't know the difference between a shilling
and a soverun. You thought you'd done yourself unaccountable well, old
feller, I reckon. Now you've found out your mistake. And you can't git
even wud me where I am. He! He!"

Reuben would imagine the corpse saying all sorts of insulting things to
him, and he had horrible nightmares of its gibes and mockery. One night
Rose woke in the dubious comfort of the new brass bed--which she had
wheedled Reuben into sparing from the auction--to find her husband
kneeling on his pillow and pinning some imaginary object against the
wall while he shouted--"I've got you, you old grinning ghosty--now we'll
see who's sold!"

She thought this immensely funny, and retailed it with glee to her
female friends who continued to invade the place. The multitude of these
increased as time went by, for Rose had the knack of attaching women to
herself by easy bonds. She was extremely confidential on intimate
subjects, and she was interested in clothes--indeed in that matter she
was even practical, and a vast amount of dressmaking was done on the
kitchen table, much to the disorganisation of Caro's cooking.

Sometimes there would be males too, and Reuben found that he could be
jealous on occasion. It annoyed him to see a young counter-jumper from
Rye sitting in the parlour with an unmanly tea-cup, and he would glare
on such aristocracy as a bank-clerk or embryo civil servant, whose
visits Rose considered lent a glamour to Odiam. Like a wise woman she
used her husband's jealousy to her own advantage. She soon grew
extremely skilful in manipulating it, and by its means wrung a good deal
out of him which would not otherwise have been hers.

It was true that her young men were not always on the spot when she
wanted them most, but on these occasions she used the drover Handshut, a
comely, well-set-up young fellow, of independent manners. Reuben more
than once had to drive him out of the kitchen.

"I wöan't have my lads fooling it in the house," he said to his wife,
when he found her winding a skein of wool off Handshut's huge brown
paws--"they've work enough to do outside wudout spannelling after you
women."

Rose smiled to herself, and when she next had occasion to punish Reuben,
invited his drover to a cup of tea.

Then there was an angry scene, stormings and tears, regrets, taunts, and
abuse--and another reconciliation.


§ 12.

In time, as these battles became more usual, the family were forced to
take sides. Peter supported Reuben, Caro supported Rose. There had been
an odd kind of friendship between the downtrodden daughter and the gay
wife ever since they had unpacked the latter's trunks together on her
wedding night and Caro had cried because Rose had what she might never
have.

Rose approved of this attitude--she liked to be envied; also Caro was
useful to her in many ways, helping her in the house, taking the burden
of many irksome duties off her shoulders, leaving her free to entertain
her friends or mix complexion washes. Moreover, there was something in
Caro which appealed in itself, a certain heavy innocence which tickled
the humour of the younger, more-experienced woman. Once her stepdaughter
had asked her what it felt like to be kissed, which had sent Rose into
rockings of laughter and a carnival of reminiscence. She liked to dazzle
this elderly child with her "affairs," she liked to shock her a little
too. She soon discovered that Caro was deeply scandalised at the thought
of a married woman having men friends to visit her, so she encouraged
the counter-jumpers and the clerks for Caro's benefit as well as
Reuben's.

It never occurred to her to throw these young people together, and give
the girl a chance of fighting her father and satisfying the vague
longings for adventure and romance which had begun to put torment into
her late twenties. She often told her it was a scandal that she had
never been allowed to know men, but her own were too few and useful to
be sacrificed to the forlorn. Besides, Caro had an odd shy way with men
which sometimes made them laugh at her. She had little charm, and though
not bad-looking in a heavy black-browed style, she had no feminine arts,
and always appeared to the very worst advantage.

Those were not very good times for Caro. She envied Rose, and at the
same time she loved her, as women will so often love those they envy.
Rose's attitude was one of occasional enthusiasm and occasional neglect.
Sometimes she would give her unexpected treats, make her presents of
clothes, or take her to a fair or to see the shops; at others she would
seem to forget all about her. She thought Caro a poor thing for not
standing up to Reuben, and despised her for her lack of feminine wiles.
At the same time she would often be extremely confidential, she would
pour out stories of love and kisses by moonlight, of ardent words, of
worship, of ecstasy, and send Caro wandering over strange paths, asking
strange questions of herself and fate, and sometimes--to the other's
delight--of Rose.

"Wot do you do to make a man kiss you?"

"Oh, I dunno. I just look at him like this with my eyes half shut. Then
if that isn't enough I part my lips--so."

The two women had been bathing. It was one of Rose's complaints that
Odiam did not make enough provision for personal cleanliness in the way
of baths and tubs. Reuben objected if she made the servant run up and
downstairs ten times or so with jugs of hot water to fill a wash-tub in
her bedroom--they had once had a battle royal about it, during which
Rose had said some humorous things about her man's washing--so in summer
she relieved the tension by bathing in the Glotten brook, where it ran
temporarily limpid and reclused at the foot of the old hop-garden. She
had persuaded Caro to join her in this adventure--according to her ideas
it was not becoming for a woman to bathe alone; so Caro had conquered
her objections to undressing behind a bush, and tasted for the first
time the luxury of a daily, or all but daily, bath.

Now they were dry and dressed once more, all except their stockings, for
Rose loved to splash her bare feet in the water--she adored the caress
of water on her skin. It was a hot day, the sun blinked through the
heavy green of the sallows, dabbling the stream with spots and ripples
of light. June had come, with a thick swarthiness in the fields, and the
scent of hayseed scorching into ripeness.

Rose leaned back against a trunk, a froth of fine linen round her knees.
She splashed and kicked her feet in the stream.

"Yes--I've only to look at a man like this ... and he always does it."

"But not now!" cried Caro.

"What do you mean by 'not now'?"

"Now you're married."

"Oh, no--I'm talking of before. All the same...."

"Wot!"

"Nothing. You'd be shocked."

Caro looked gloomily at the water. She did not like being told she would
be shocked, though she knew she would be.

At that moment there was a sound of "git back" and "woa" beyond the
hedge. The next minute two horses stepped into the Glotten just by the
bend.

"That must be Handshut," said Rose.

It was. He came knee-deep into the water with the horses, and, not
seeing the women, plunged his head into the cool reed-sweetened stickle.

"Take care--he'll see us!"--and Caro sharply gathered up her legs under
her blue and red striped petticoat. Rose continued to dabble hers in the
water, even after Handshut had lifted his head and looked in her
direction.

"Rose!" cried Caro.

"Well, why shouldn't he see my legs? They're unaccountable nice ones."

"All the more reason----"

"Not at all, Miss Prude."

Caro went crimson to the roots of her hair, and began pulling on her
stockings. Rose continued to splash her feet in the water, glancing
sidelong at Handshut.

"He's a nice lad, ain't he?"

Caro vouchsafed no reply.

"Reuben knows he's a nice lad, and he knows I know he's a nice lad.
Hasn't he got a lovely brown skin?"

"Hush."

But Rose was in a devilish mood.

"Look here," she said suddenly, "I'm going to prove the truth of what I
told you just now. I'm going to make that boy kiss me."

"Indeed you äun't."

"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."

"I won't see anything of the kind. I'm ashamed of you."

"Nonsense--it's only fun--we'll make a bet on it. If I fail, I'll give
you my new white petticoat with the lace edging. And I'll allow myself
ten minutes to do it in; that's quite fair, for it usually takes me
longer."

"And what am I to give you if you succeed?"

"Nothing--the kiss'll be enough for me. I've been wanting to know what
he was like to kiss for many a long day."

"Well, I'm justabout ashamed of you, and I wöan't have anything to do
with it."

"You can keep out then."

"Wot if I tell fäather?"

"You wouldn't tell him--you wouldn't be such a sneak. After all, what's
a man for, if it isn't to have a bit of fun with? I don't mean anything
serious--it's just a joke."

"What'll Handshut think it?"

"Just a joke too. You're so glum, Caro--you take everything so
seriously. There's nothing really serious in a kiss."

"Oh, äun't there!"

"No--it's just something one enjoys, same as cakes and bull's-eyes. I've
kissed dozens of people in my time and meant nothing by it, nor they
either. It's because you've no experience of these things that you think
such a lot of 'em. They're quite unimportant really, and it's silly to
make a fuss."

For some obscure reason Caro did not like to see herself credited with
the harshness of inexperience. She did her best to assume an air of
worldly toleration.

"Well, of course if it's only fun.... But fäather wudn't think it that."

"No, and I shouldn't like him to. You _are_ funny, Caro. Don't watch me
if you're shocked--you can know nothing about it, and then you won't be
to blame. But I'm going to have my lark in spite of you."

"Put on your stockings first," said Caro sternly.

Rose made a face at her, but pulled on a pair of gauzy stockings,
securing them with garters of pale blue ribbon. Then she scrambled to
her feet and edged her way through the reeds and bushes to where young
Handshut stood at the bend.

He was not visible from where Caro sat, for he had come out of the
water, and for a minute or two she vowed that she would have nothing to
do with Rose's disgraceful spree. But after a time her curiosity got the
better of her. Would Rose be able to do as she said--persuade her
husband's drover to kiss her, simply by looking at him through
half-closed eyes? Of course Handshut was very forward, Caro told
herself, she had often disliked his attitude towards his mistress--he
would not want much encouragement. All the same she wanted to see if
Rose succeeded, and if she succeeded--how. She craned her neck, but
could see nothing till she had crept a few yards through the reeds. Then
she saw Rose and Handshut sitting just beyond the hedge, by the water's
rim.

The horses were drowsing in the stream, flicking at the flies with their
tails. Rose's dress made a brave blue splash against the green, and the
gold-flecked chestnut of her hair was very close to Handshut's brown
curls. Caro could dimly hear their voices, though she could not
distinguish what they said. Five minutes had passed, and still, though
close, there was a decent space between them. Then there was a little
lull in the flow of talk. They were looking at each other. Caro crept
nearer, something like a hot cinder in her heart.

They were still looking at each other. Then Handshut began to speak in a
lower voice than usual; he stopped--and suddenly their heads stooped
together, the gold and the brown touched, mingled, lingered, then drew
slowly apart.

Caro sprang to her feet. The couple in the field had risen too, but they
did not see her through the hedge. Her heart beat fiercely with an
uncontrollable anger. She could have shouted, screamed at them--at her
rather, this gay, comfortable, plump, spoilt wife, who had so many
kisses that she could look upon one more or less as fun.

Rose's merry, rather strident laugh rang out on the hushed noon.
Handshut stood facing her with his head held down; then she turned away
from him and laughed again. Her laugh rose, fluttered--then suddenly
broke.

It snapped like a broken knife. She turned back towards Handshut, and
they faced each other once more. Then Caro saw a strange and rather
terrible thing. She saw those two who had kissed for fun stumble
together in an embrace which was not for fun at all, and kiss with
kisses that were closer to tears than laughter.


§ 13.

There was a convention of silence between Caro and Rose. From that day
forward neither made any allusion to the escapade which had ended so
unexpectedly. At the same time it was from the other's silence that each
learned most; for Caro knew that if her eyes had deceived her and that
last kiss been like the first, for fun, Rose would have spoken of
it--while Rose knew that Caro had seen the transmutation of her joke
into earnest, because if she had not she would have been full of
comments, questions, and scoldings.

Sometimes Caro in her innocence would think that she ought to speak to
Rose, warn her, and plead with her to go carefully. But a vague fright
sealed her lips, and she was held at a distance by the reserve in which
the merry communicative Rose had suddenly wrapped herself. Those few
minutes by the brookside had changed her, though it would be hard to say
exactly in what the change lay. Caro was both repelled and baffled by
it. A more skilled observer would say that Rose had become suddenly
adult in her outlook as well as her emotions. For the first time she had
seen in its sorrowful reality the force which she had played with for so
many years. The shock disorganised her, drove her into a strange
silence. Love and she had always been hail-fellow-well-met, they had
romped and rollicked together through life; she had never thought that
her good comrade could change, or rather--more unimaginable still--that
she should suddenly discover that she had never really known him.

She was sobered. Her attitude towards things insensibly altered--to her
husband, her child, her servants she was different, and yet in such a
manner that none could possibly lay hands on the difference. Reuben's
jealousies and suspicions were increased. She avoided Handshut, and she
flourished the shopmen and clerks but feebly, yet he mistrusted her in a
way he had never done when her enthusiasms were flagrant. This was not
due to any psychological deduction, rather to a vague kind of guess, an
intuition, an uneasiness that communicated itself from her to him.

Rose had begun to question her attitude towards her husband. She had
hitherto never doubted for a moment that she loved him--of course she
loved him! But now she asked herself--"If I love him, how is it that our
most tender moments have never meant so much to me as that second kiss
of Handshut's?" None of Reuben's kisses stood out in her memory as that
kiss, he had never made the thrill of life go through her, he had never
filled her heart to bursting with joy so infinite that it was sorrow,
and sorrow so exquisite that it was joy. She would observe Reuben, and
she would see him--old. He was fifty-four, and his hair was grey; there
were crow's-feet at the corners of his eyes, and straight lines between
his brows, where he had furrowed them as the pitiless sun beat down upon
his face. There were other lines too, seamed and scored by hard
struggles. He was strong as an ox, but she told herself he was beginning
to move a bit stiffly. He had exposed himself so ruthlessly to the wet
and cold that his joints had become rheumatic. It was nothing very much,
but he liked to have her rub them occasionally, and up till then she had
liked it too. Now she suddenly saw something dreary and preposterous in
it--here she was married to a man thirty years older than herself, his
chattel, his slave. She did not really love him--how could she, with all
those years between them? She was fond of him, that was all--and he was
getting older, and horribly cantankerous; and she was young--oh, God!
she had never known till then how young.

Then suddenly it all changed. One day she found herself alone with
Handshut--and nothing happened. His manner was quite that of the
respectful servant towards his mistress, he made no allusion to the
scene by the brook, spoke entirely of indifferent things. And she, she
herself--that was the biggest, best surprise of all--did not feel the
slightest embarrassment, or the slightest pang. On the contrary, all the
passion which had scorched and withered her heart since the day of the
kiss, seemed to die away, leaving her the old Rose, gay, confident, and
at peace with all men.

She had been a fool--she had brooded over a little trivial incident till
it had assumed unwarranted proportions and frightened her. Nothing
whatever had happened to her and Handshut--they had shared a joke, that
was all. She did not love him, she loved her husband, and she was a fool
to have thought anything else. Love was not a drama or a tragedy, but a
game and a lark, or at times a comfortable emotion towards one's lawful
husband, who was the best and finest man in the world.

The joy of this discovery quite restored Rose, and she flirted with
Handshut so outrageously in front of Reuben, that afterwards they had
one of the biggest quarrels of their lives.


§ 14.

'Seventy-four was another bad year for Odiam, and it was more hopeless
than its predecessors, for Reuben had now no expectations to sustain
him. His position was really becoming serious. In '68 he had bought more
land than he could afford, for fear that Grandturzel would buy it if he
did not, and in '71 he had started his accursed milk-round, which had
proved nothing but an expense and a failure. He still clung to it, for
the shop by the Landgate gave him prestige, and he had always hoped that
affairs would mend, but he was gradually coming to realise that prestige
can be bought too dear, and that his affairs were too heavily clogged to
improve of their own accord.

He must take steps, he must make some sacrifice. He resolved to sell the
milk-round. It was either that or a mortgage, and a mortgage was far the
greater ignominy. After all he had not had the round more than two or
three years, it had never flourished, and the parting wrench would not
be a bad one. Of course his reputation would suffer, but hard cash was
at the present moment more valuable than reputation.

Unfortunately it was also more difficult to get. Those years had been
bad for everybody, and none of the surrounding farmers seemed disposed
to add to his burdens by so uncertain a deal. If the thing had not
thriven with Backfield it was not likely to thrive with anyone else. For
the first time Reuben cursed his own renown.

However, he hoped better things from the next spring. If lambing was
good and the season promising, farmers would not be so cautious.
Meantime he would keep Odiam in chains, he would save every penny, skim,
pare, retrench, and learn the lesson of his lean years.

Unfortunately he had reckoned without Rose--Rose saw no need for such
drastic measures. Because her man had been venturesome and stupid, made
rash speculations, and counted on a quite unwarranted legacy, that was
no reason for her to go without her new spring gown or new covers for
her parlour chairs. She was once more expecting motherhood, and
considered that as a reward for such self-sacrifice the most expensive
luxuries were inadequate.

At the same time, feeling quite at ease about herself and Handshut, she
led Reuben a freakish dance of jealousy, going to extravagant lengths in
the hope of breaking down his resistance and goading him into
compliance. But she did not find jealousy such a good weapon as it had
used to be. Reuben would grow furious, thundery and abusive, but she
never caught him, as formerly, in the softness of reaction, nor did the
fear of a rival stimulate any more profitable emotion than rage.

The truth was that Reuben had now become desperate. He could not give in
to Rose. If he sacrificed his farm to her in the smallest degree he ran
the risk of ruin. He was torn in two by the most powerful forces of his
life. On one side stood Odiam, trembling on the verge of catastrophe,
needing every effort, every sacrifice of his, every drop of his sweat,
every drop of his blood. On the other stood Rose, the dearest human
thing, who demanded that for her sake he should forget his farm and the
hopes bound up in it. He would not do so--and at the same time he would
not lose Rose. Though her love no longer gave him the gift of peace, he
still clung to it; her presence, her voice, her touch, still fired and
exalted him. He would not let her go--and he would not let Odiam go.

The struggle was terrible; it wore him out. He fought it desperately--to
neither side would he surrender an inch. Sometimes with Rose's arms
about him, her soft cheek against his and her perfidy forgotten, he
would be on the brink of giving her the pretty costly thing, whatever it
was, that she wanted at the expense of Odiam. At others, out in his
fields, or on the slope of Boarzell--half wild, half tamed--with all
those unconquered regions swelling above him, he would feel that he
could almost gladly lose Rose altogether, if to keep her meant the
sacrifice of one jot of his ambition, one tittle of his hope. Then he
would go home, and find her ogling Handshut through the window, or
giving tea in her most seductive manner to some young idiot with clean
hands--and round would go the wheel again--round and round....

As a matter of fact he had never been so secure of Rose as then; the
very shamelessness of her flirtations was a proof of it--a whoop of joy,
so to speak, at finding herself free of what she had feared would be a
devastating passion. But who could expect Reuben to guess that? He saw
only the freak of a treacherous nature, turning from him to men younger
and more compliant than himself. Jealousy, from a fit, became a habit.
He grew restless and miserable--he would run in suddenly from his work
to see what his wife was doing, he would cross-examine Caro, he would
even ask Pete to keep an eye on her. Sometimes he thought of dismissing
Handshut, but the lad was an excellent drover, and Reuben had bursts of
sanity in which he saw the foolishness of such a sacrifice. Rose flirted
nowadays with every man she met--she was, he told himself furiously, a
thoroughly light and good-for-nothing girl--she was not worth the loss
of a fellow like Handshut.

Thus the days dragged on wretchedly for everyone except Rose, and in
time they grew wretched for her too. She began to tire of the cracklings
of the flame she had kindled, of Reuben's continued distrust and
suspicion, of Caro's goggle-eyed disapproval, of Peter's spying
contempt. The time of her lying-in drew nearer, she had to give up her
gay doings, and felt frightened and alone. Everyone was against her,
everyone disapproved of her. She began to wish that she had not found
her love for Handshut to be an illusion, to wish that the kiss beside
the Glotten brook had been in reality what she had dreamed it.... After
all, is it not better to embrace the god and die than to go through the
unhappy days in darkness?


§ 15.

One evening when Reuben was out inspecting a sick cow, Rose lay on the
sofa languidly shelling peas. Once more it was June, and a rusty heat
was outside blurring the orchard. Her fingers often lay idle in the bowl
of peas, for though her task relieved the sweltering boredom which had
weighed on her all day, every now and then a great lassitude would sweep
over her, slacking her muscles, slacking her thoughts, till she drooped
into a vague stagnation of sorrow.

She felt horribly, uselessly tired, her gay spirits had trickled from
her in sheer physical discomfort, and in her heart an insistent question
writhed like a little flame.

Two tears formed slowly in the corners of her eyes, welled at last over
the silky, spidery lashes, and rolled down her cheeks. In themselves
they were portents--for Rose hardly ever cried. More wonderful still,
she did not know that she was crying, she merely became stupidly
conscious of a smudging of those motionless trees beyond the garden, and
a washing of the hard, copper-coloured sky.

She feebly put up her hand and brushed the veil away--already something
strange had loomed through it, whipping her curiosity. A man was at the
window, his head and shoulders dark against the sunset.

"Handshut!"

"Yes, ma'am."

She frowned, for she seemed to catch a ring of mockery in the respectful
words. She wondered if it had always been there.

"Where's master?"

"In the shed with Brindle."

"And how is she?"

"I dunno--we've sent for the veterinary."

There was silence. Outside the flowers rustled in the slow hot breeze.
The background of trees was growing dim, a web of shadow at the foot of
the garden.

Handshut still leaned on the sill, and she realised that if his words
were decorous, his attitude was not. Surely he had something better to
do than hang in at her window. Half his face was in shadow, half was
reddened by the smouldering sky--it was the face of a young gipsy,
brown, sullen, and mocking. She suddenly pulled herself into a sitting
posture.

"What are you staying for?--I reckon the master wants you."

"No--it's you that wants me, surelye."

The blood ebbed from her lips. She felt afraid, and yet glad. Then
suddenly she realised what was happening and dragged herself back into
dignity and anger.

"I don't want you."

"Yes you do."

"Kindly go at once, or I shall call someone."

"Rose!"

Once more she fell back into her state of terror and delight. His
coolness seemed to paralyse her--she could not act. She could only lie
and watch him, trembling. Why had he changed so?--he, who had never
faltered in his attitude of stiff respect under her most outrageous and
flirtatious digs.

"Rose," he said again, and his voice quivered as he said it, "you do
want me a liddle bit now."

"What--what makes you think so?"

He shrugged his shoulders--there must have been some foreign streak in
his yokel's blood.

"I döan't think it--I know. A year agone you dudn't want me, so I kipt
back, I wurn't a-going to mäake you suffer. You wur frightened of that
kiss...."

He had spoken it--her terror. "Don't!" she cried.

"You wur frightened, so I saw you wurn't ready, and I tried to mäake you
feel as naun had happened."

"Yes, I thought you were a gentleman," she said with a sudden rap of
anger.

"I äun't that. I'm just a poor labouring man, wot loves you, and wot you
love."

She tried to speak, but the words burnt up in her mouth.

"And a labouring man you love's worth more than a mäaster you döan't
love, I reckon."

She shrank back on the sofa, folding her arms over her breast and
gripping her shoulders.

"You needn't look so frightened. I'm only saying it. It wöan't mäake no
difference--unless you want it to."

"How dare you speak to me like this?"

"Because I see you're justabout miserable, and I thought I'd say as how
I'm beside you--only that."

"How--how d'you know I'm miserable?"

"Plain enough."

The sky had faded behind him and a crimson moon looked over his
shoulder.

"Plain enough," he repeated, "but you needn't be scared. I'll do naun
you döan't want; I'll come no nearer you than I am now--unless you call
me."

She burst into tears.

He did not move. His head and shoulders were now nothing but a dark
block against the purple and blue of the sky. The moon hung just above
him like a copper dish.

"Döan't cry," he said slowly--"I'm only looking in at the window."

She struggled to her feet, sobs shaking and tearing her, and stumbled
through the darkness to the door. Still sobbing she dragged herself
upstairs, clinging to the rail, and every now and then stopping and
bending double. Her loud sobs rang through the house, and soon the
womenfolk were about her, questioning her, soothing her, and in the end
putting her, still weeping, to bed. While outside in the barn Reuben
watched in agony beside a sick cow.


§ 16.

When late the next morning a woman ran out of the house into the
cow-stable, and told Reuben that his wife had given him a fine boy, he
merely groaned and shook his head.

He sat on a stool at the foot of Brindle's stall, and watched her as she
lay there, slobbering her straw. His face was grim and furrowed, lines
scored it from nose to mouth and across the forehead; his hair was damp
and rough on his temples, his eyes were dull with sleeplessness.

"Wöan't yer have summat t'eat, mäaster?" asked Beatup, looking in.

All Reuben said was:

"Has the Inspector come?"

"No, mäaster--I'll bring him räound soon as he does. Wöan't you have a
bite o' cheese if I fetch it?"

Reuben shook his head.

"Mäaster----" continued the man after a pause.

"Well?"

"I hear as how it's a liddle son...."

Reuben mumbled something inarticulate, and Beatup took himself off. His
master's head fell between his clenched hands, and as the cow gave a
sudden slavering cough in the straw, a shudder passed over his skin, and
he hunched himself more despairingly.

Odiam had triumphed at last. Just when Reuben's unsettled allegiance
should have been given entirely to the wife who had borne him a son, his
farm had suddenly snatched from him all his thought, all his care, his
love, and his anxiety, all that should have been hers. It seemed almost
as if some malignant spirit had controlled events, and for Rose's stroke
prepared a counter-stroke that should effectually drive her off the
field. The same evening that Rose had gone weeping and shuddering
upstairs, Reuben had interviewed the vet. from Rye and heard him say
"excema epizootica." This had not conveyed much, so the vet. had
translated brutally:

"Foot-and-mouth disease."

The most awful of a farmer's dooms had fallen on Reuben. The new
Contagious Diseases of Animals Act made it more than probable that all
his herd would have to be slaughtered. Of course, there would be a
certain amount of compensation, but government compensation was never
adequate, and with the multitudinous expenses of disinfecting and
cleansing he was likely to sustain some crippling losses, just when
every penny was vital to Odiam. He knew of a man who had been ruined by
an outbreak of pleuro-pneumonia, of another who had been forced by
swine-fever to sell half his farm. Besides, any hope of a deal over his
milk-round was now at an end. His dairy business, whether in town or
country, was destroyed, and his reputation would be probably as
unjustly damaged, so that he would not be able to adventure on that road
for years--perhaps never again.

Small wonder, then, that the birth of a son brought no joy. The child
was born to an inheritance of shame, the heir of disaster. Reuben's head
bowed nearly to his knees. He felt old and broken. He began to see that
it was indeed dreadfully possible that he had thriven all these years,
conquered waste lands, and enriched fat lands, only to be overthrown at
last by a mere arbitrary piece of ill-luck. How the disease had broken
out he could not tell--he had bought no foreign cattle, indeed recently
he had bought no cattle at all. He could not blame himself in the
smallest degree; it was just a malignant capricious thrust--as if fate
had wanted to show him that what had taken him years of labour and
battle and sacrifice to build up, could be destroyed in as many days.

A little hope sustained him till the Inspector's visit--the vet. might
have been mistaken, the Inspector might not order a wholesale
destruction. But these faint sparks were soon extinguished. The loathed
epidemic had undoubtedly lifted up its head at Odiam, and Reuben's
entire herd of Jersey, Welsh, and Sussex cattle was doomed to slaughter.

The next few days were like a horrible jumbled nightmare, something
malignant, preposterous, outside experience. Three men came over from
the slaughterhouse at Rye, and plied their dreadful work till evening.
The grey and dun-coloured Jerseys with their mild, protruding eyes, the
sturdy Welsh with their little lumpy horns, the Sussex all coloured like
a home-county landscape in reds and greys and browns--bowed their meek
heads under the ox-killer, and became mere masses of meat and horn and
hide. Profitless masses, too, for all the carcases were ordered to be
burned.

The nightmare had its appropriate ending. Sixty dead beasts were burned
in lime. Boarzell became Hinnom--it was the most convenient open space,
so Reuben's herd was burned on it. From a dozen different pyres
streamers of white smoke flew along the wind, and a strange terrible
smell and tickling of the nostrils troubled the labourer on the westward
lands by Flightshot or Moor's Cottage.

The neighbourhood sat up in thrilled dismay, and watched Odiam pass
through its hour. The farm was shut off from civilisation by a barrier
of lime--along every road that flanked it, outside every gate that
opened on it, the stuff of fiery purification was spread. The fields
with their ripening oats and delicately browned wheat, the orchards
where apples trailed the boughs into the grass, the snug red house, and
red and brown barns, the black, turrets of the oasts, all cried
"Unclean! Unclean!"

Odiam was a leper. None might leave it without rubbing his boots in
lime, no beasts could be driven beyond its hedges. More, the curse
afflicted the guiltless--the markets at Rye and Battle were forbidden,
the movements of cattle were restricted, and Coalbran once indignantly
showed Reuben a certificate which he found he must have ready to produce
every time he moved his single cow across the lane from the hedge
pasture to the stream fallow.

Public opinion was against Backfield, and blamed him surlily for the
local inconvenience.

"Döan't tell me," said Coalbran in the bar, "as it wurn't his fault.
Foot-and-mouth can't just drop from heaven. He must have bought some
furriners, and they've carried it wud 'em, surelye."

"Serve un right," said Ticehurst.

"Still, I'm sorry for him," said Realf of Grandturzel--"he's the only
man hereabouts wot's really made a serious business of farming, and it's
a shame he should get busted."

"He äun't busted yet," said Coalbran.

"But you mark my words, he will be," said Ticehurst; "anyways I shud lik
him to be, fur he's a high-stomached man, and only deserves to be put
down."

"He's down enough now, surelye! I saw him only yesterday by the Glotten
meadows, and there was a look in his eye as I'll never forget."

"And yit he's as proud as the Old Un himself. I met him on Thursday, and
I told him how unaccountable sorry we all wur fur him, and he jest
spat."

"I offered to help him wud his burning," said Realf, "and he said as
he'd see me and my lousy farm burnt first."

"He's a tedious contradictious old feller--he desarves all he's got.
Let's git up a subscription fur him--that ud cut him to the heart, and
he wudn't täake it, so it ud cost us naun, nuther."

The rest of the bar seemed to think, however, that Reuben might take the
money out of spite, so Coalbran's charitable suggestion collapsed for
lack of support.

Meantime, so fast bound in the iron of his misery that he scarcely felt
the prick of tongues, Reuben lived through the final stages of his
nightmare--those final stages of shock and upheaval when the fiery
torment of the dream dies down into the ashes of waking. He wandered
over his land in his lime-caked boots, scarcely talking to those at work
on it, directing with mere mechanical activity the labour which now
seemed to him nothing but the writhings of a crushed beetle. Everyone
felt a little afraid of him, everyone avoided him as much as
possible--he was alone.

His nostrils were always full of the smart of lime, and the stench of
those horrible furnaces belching away on the slopes of the Moor. Would
that burning never be done? For days the yellowy white pennons of
destruction had flown on Boarzell, and that acrid reek polluted the
harvest wind. Boarzell was nothing but a huge funeral pyre, a smoking
hell.... "And the smoke of her went up for ever and ever."


§ 17.

An atmosphere of gloom lay over Odiam; Reuben brought it with him
wherever he went, and fogged the house with it as well as the barns.
Even Rose felt an aching pity for her strong man, something quite
different from the easy gushes of condolence which had used to be all
she could muster in the way of sympathy.

But Reuben did not take much notice of Rose, nor even of his little son.
Now and then he would look at them together, sigh impatiently, then go
out of the room.

Sometimes he would be more interested, and, in a fit of reaction from
his proud loneliness, turn to her as of old for comfort. But those were
the bitterest hours of all, for in them he would glimpse a difference,
an aloofness. She had been much quieter since the birth of the second
boy, she had not recovered her health so rapidly, and her eyes were big
in the midst of bistred rings. She had given up flirting with Handshut,
or with the young men from Rye, but she did not turn from them to her
husband. Though he could see she was sorry for him, he felt--vaguely,
uncertainly, yet tormentingly--that she was not all his, as she had been
in brighter months. Sometimes he did not much care--sometimes a dreadful
passion would consume him, and once he caught her to his breast and
bruised her in his arms, crying--"I wöan't lose you--I wöan't lose you
too."

Rose could not read his mood; one day she would feel her husband had
been alienated from her by his sorrow, another that his need of her was
greater than ever. She herself carried a heavy heart, and in her mind a
picture of the man who was "only looking in at the window." She seemed
to see him standing there, with the moon rising over his shoulder,
while from behind him something in the garden, in the night, called ...
and called.

She could still hear that call, muted, tender, wild--the voice of her
youth and of her love, calling to her out of the velvet night, bidding
her leave the house where the hearth was piled with ashes, and feel the
rain and the south wind on her lips. There was no escape in sleep, for
her dreams showed her that window framing a sky soft and dark as a
grape, with the blackness of her lover's bulk against it, while the moon
rose over his shoulder, red, like a fiery pan....

She felt afraid, and did not know where to turn. She avoided Handshut,
who stood remote; and though her husband sometimes overwhelmed her with
miserable hungry love, he often scarcely seemed to notice her or her
children, and she knew that she counted far less than his farm. He was
terribly harsh with her now, frowning by the hour over her
account-books, forbidding this or that, and in his gloom scarcely
noticing her submission.

July passed. Odiam was no longer cut off from the rest of the world by
lime. Reuben with the courage of despair began to organise his shattered
strength. He discharged Piper--now that his cows were gone he could
easily do with a hand less. He sometimes wondered why he had not
discharged Handshut, but the answer was always ready--Handshut was far
the better workman, and Odiam now came easily before Rose. Not that
Reuben's jealousies had left him--they still persisted, though in a
different form. The difference lay in the fact that now he would not
sacrifice to them the smallest scrap of Odiam's welfare.

He sometimes asked himself why he was still jealous. Rose no longer gave
him provocation, she was much quieter than she had used to be, and
seemed busy with her children and straitened house-keeping. It was once
more a case of instinct, of a certain vague sensing of her aloofness.
Often he did not trouble about it, but sometimes it seared through him
like a hot bar.

One evening he came home particularly depressed. He had just finished
the most degrading transaction of his life--the raising of a mortgage on
the Flightshot side of his land. It was horrible, but it was
unavoidable. He could not now sell his milk-round, and yet he absolutely
must have ready money if he was to stand up against circumstances. The
mortgagee was a wealthy Rye butcher, and Reuben had hopes that the
disgraceful affair might be kept secret, but also an uneasy suspicion
that it was at that moment being discussed in every public-house.

He went straight to find Rose, for that mood was upon him. The due of
loneliness which his shame demanded had been paid during the drive home
from Rye, and now he quite simply and childishly wanted his wife. She
was in the kitchen, stooping over some child's garment, the little
frills of which she was pleating in her fingers. She lifted her head
with a start as he came in, and he saw that her face was patched with
tearstains.

"Wot've you bin crying for?" he asked as he slid a chair close to hers.
He wondered if the humiliation of Odiam had at last come to mean to her
a little of what it meant to him.

"I haven't been crying."

"But your face ..."

"That's the heat."

He drew back from her a little. Why should she lie to him about her
tears?

"Oh, well, if you döan't choose to tell me ... But I've eyes in my
head."

She seemed anxious to propitiate him.

"How did it go off? Have you settled with Apps?"

He nodded.

"It's all over now--I've touched bottom."

"Nonsense, Ben. You mustn't say that. After all there's nothing
extraordinary about a mortgage--uncle had one for years on a bit of his
farm at Rowfant. Besides, think of all you've got left."

He laughed bitterly. "I äun't got much left."

Then suddenly he turned towards her as she sat there by him, her head
bowed over her work--her delicate, rather impertinent nose outlined
against the firelight, her cheek and neck bewitched with running
shadows.

"But I've got you."

A great tenderness transported him, a great melting. He put his arm
round her waist, and made as if to pull her close.

She drew back from him with a shudder.

It was only for a moment--the next she yielded. But he had seen her
reluctance, felt the shiver of repulsion go through her limbs. He rose,
and pushed back his chair.

"I'm sorry," he said in a low thick voice--"I'm sorry I interrupted
your--crying."

Then he went out, and gave Handshut a week's notice.


§ 18.

Rose was intensely relieved. She felt that at last and for ever the
tormenting mystery would have gone from her life. Once Handshut was
away, she told herself, she would slip back into the old groove--a
little soberer and softer perhaps, but definitely free of that Reality
which had been so terribly different from its toy-counterfeit.

Once Handshut was gone, her heart would not pursue him. It was his
continual presence that tormented. True, he never sought her out, or
persecuted her, or even spoke to her without her speaking first--he only
looked in at the window.... But a woman soon learns what it means to
have a man's face between her and the simplicities of life in her
garden, between her and the divinities of the stars and moon.

Rose did not find in her love a sweetness to justify the bitterness of
its circumstances. The fact that it had been awakened by a man who was
her inferior in the social-agricultural scale, who could give her
nothing of the material prosperity she so greatly prized, instead of
inspiring her with its beauty, merely convinced her of its folly. She
saw herself a woman crazed, obsessed, bewitched, and she looked eagerly
forward to the day when the spell should be removed and she should go
back chastened to the common, comfortable things of life.

But meantime a strange restlessness consumed her, tinctured by a
horrible boldness. There were moments when she no longer was afraid of
Handshut, when she felt herself impelled to seek him out, and make the
most of the short time they had together. There could be no danger, for
he was going so soon ... so few more words, so few more glances.... Thus
her mind worked.

She was generally able to control these impulses, but as the days
slipped by they grew too strong for her untrained resistance. She felt
that she must make the most of her chances because they were so
limited--before he went for ever she must have one more memory of his
voice, his look--his touch ... oh, no! her thoughts had carried her
further than she had intended.

She found herself beginning to haunt the places where she would be
likely to meet him--the edge of the horse-pond or the Glotten brook, the
door of the huge, desolate cow-stable, where six cheap Suffolks
emphasised the empty stalls. Reuben did not seem to take any notice of
her, he had relieved his feelings by dismissing Handshut, and his farm
had swallowed him up again. Rose felt defiant and forlorn. Both her
husband and her lover seemed to avoid her. She would lean against the
great wooden posts of the door, in the listless weary attitude of a
woman's despair.

Then two days before the end he came. As she was standing by the barn
door he appeared at the horse-pond, and crossed over to her at once. He
had seen that she was waiting for him--perhaps he had seen it on half a
dozen other occasions when she had not seen him.

Rose could calm the silly jumps of her heart only by telling herself
that this was quite an accidental meeting. She made an effort to be
commonplace.

"How's Topsy's foal?"

"Doing valiant. Will you come out wud me to-morrow evenun to see the
toll-burning?"

She flushed at his audacity.

"No!--how can I?"

"You can quite easy, surelye. Mäaster's going to Cranbrook Fair, and
wöan't be home till läate. It's the last night, remember."

She made a gallant effort to be the old Rose.

"What's that to me?--you've got some cheek!"

"I'm only not pretending as much as you are. Why shud you pretend?
Pretending 'ull give you naun sweet to remember when I'm gone."

"What tolls are they going to burn?"

"The gëates up at Leasan and Mockbeggar, and then over the marsh to
Thornsdale. It 'ud be a shame fur you to miss it, and mäaster can't
täake you, since he's going to Cranbrook."

"It would never do if people saw us."

"Why? Since your husband can't go, wot's more likely than he shud send
his man to täake you?"

Rose shuddered. "I'm not coming."

Handshut turned on his heel.


§ 19.

Already the turnpike gates had disappeared from the greater part of
Sussex, but they still lingered in the Rye district, for various
reasons, not always bearing close inspection. There had been an
anti-toll party both before and after the famous Scott's Float gate had
catastrophically ended Reuben's political career--and at last this had
carried the day. All the gates were to come down except those on the
Military Road, and the neighbourhood was to celebrate their abolition by
burning them in tar.

Reuben, still proud and sore, stood aloof from local jollities--besides,
he had heard that there were to be some cheap milkers for sale at
Cranbrook Fair, and he was anxious to add a little to his dairy stock.
Though a large milk-round was out of the question, the compensation
money he had received from Government would allow him to carry on a
small dairy business, as in humbler days. Of course, the fact that he
had lost over sixty cows from foot-and-mouth disease would materially
damage his prospects even in a limited sphere, but a farm which let its
dairy rot was doomed to failure, and Reuben was still untamed by
experience, and hoped much from small beginnings.

So early that morning he drove off in his gig, accompanied by Pete, who
had a good eye for cattle, and had moreover challenged the Canterbury
Kid for a purse of five guineas. Rose watched them go, and waved
good-bye unnoticed to her man, as he leaned forward over the reins,
thinking only of how much he could spare for a yearling. She went back
into the house, and stoned plums. After dinner she mended the children's
clothes, with a little grimace for the faded ribbons and tattered frills
which Reuben would not allow her to renew. Then she took the baby and
little David for an airing in the orchard--Handshut, raking
unromantically in the midden, saw her sitting, a splash of faded violet
under an apple tree--then she bathed them and put them to bed.

All this was a propitiatory offering to the god of the hearth, who,
however, did not take the slightest notice, or stay as he so easily
might (so the scripture saith) that hunger for her beloved which was
gnawing at the young wife's heart. Instead, it seemed to grow in its
devouring pain--her domesticity stimulated rather than deadened it, and
by the time her day's tasks were over it had eaten up her poor heart
like a dainty, and she was its unresisting prey.

After the children were in bed she changed her dress, putting on the
best she had--a washing silk with pansies sewn over it, one of her
wedding gowns. She frowned at it as she had frowned at the babies'
dresses--it was so old-fashioned, and worn in places. She suddenly found
herself wishing that she loved Reuben so much as not to mind wearing old
clothes for his sake. For the first time she could visualise such a
state of affairs, for she had met the man for whom she would have worn
rags. If only that man had been Reuben, her lawful husband, instead of
another! "But I'll be true to him! I'll be true to him!" she murmured,
and found comfort in the words till she realised that it was the first
time that she had ever glimpsed the possibility of not being true.

She went down into the kitchen, where Caro was baking suet.

"Caro, I'm going out to see the gates burned. I expect I'll be back
before Ben is, but if I'm not, tell him where I'm gone."

"You can't go by yourself--he wudn't like it."

"I'm not going by myself--Handshut's taking me."

Caro's suety hands fell to her sides.

"Rose--you know--how can you?--that's worse than alone, surelye!"

"Nonsense! What's more natural that one of my servants should come with
me, since my husband can't?"

"Your servant...."

"Yes, my servant."

Caro, regardless of the suet on her hands, hid her face in them.

"Oh, Rose, I can't tell him--I daren't. Why, he turned away Handshut
because of you."

"He did not, miss--you're impudent!"

"Well, why shud fäather git shut of the best drover he ever had on his
farm, if it äun't----"

"Be quiet! I won't hear such stuff. I'm not going to be a prisoner, and
miss my fun just because you and Ben are jealous fools."

"But I daren't tell him where you've agone."

"I dare say you won't have to--I'm not staying out all night."

She laughed one of her coarse screaming laughs, with the additional
drawback of mirthlessness; then she went out of the room, leaving Caro
sobbing into suety palms.

Outside in the yard, Handshut stood by the pump, apparently absorbed in
studying the first lights of Triangulum as they kindled one by one in
the darkening sky.

Rose pattered up to him in the shabby white kid shoes that had been so
trim and smart five years ago.

"I've changed my mind."

"Then you äun't coming."

"Yes, I am."

"Then you haven't changed it."


§ 20.

The roads outside Rye were dark with people. A procession was forming up
at Rye Foreign, and another at the foot of Cadborough Hill. Outside the
railway station a massed band played something rather like the
Marseillaise, while the grass-grown, brine-smelling streets were spotted
with stragglers, hurrying up from all quarters, some carrying torches
that flung shifting gleams on windows and gable-ends.

Immense barrels of tar had been loaded on four waggons, to which four of
the most prosperous farmers of the district had harnessed teams. Odiam
was of course not represented, nor was Grandturzel, but three
bell-ringing sorrels had come all the way from Kitchenhour, while the
marsh farms of Leasan, the Loose, and Becket's House, accounted for the
rest.

The crowd surged round the waggons, cheered, joked, sang. The whole of
Rye was there--prosperous tradesmen from the High Street or Station
Road, innkeepers, farmers, shop-assistants, chains of fishermen in high
boots, jerseys, and gold ear-rings, coast-guards from the Camber, and
one or two scared-looking women clinging to stalwart arms.

Rose shrank close to Handshut, though she did not take his arm.
Sometimes the crowd would fling them together, so that they were close
as in an embrace, at others they would stand almost apart, linked only
by sidelong glances. The flare of a torch would suddenly slide over
Handshut's face, showing her its dark gipsy profile, and she would turn
away her eyes as from something too bright to bear.

Every now and then the crowd would start singing inanely:


     "Soles, plaice, and dabs,
     Rate, skate, and crabs.
            God save the Queen!"


It was like a muddled dream--people seemed to have no reason for what
they did or shouted; they just ebbed and flowed, jostled and jambed, ran
hither and thither, sang and laughed and swore. Rose looked round her to
see if she could recognise anyone; now and then a face glowed on her in
the torch-light, then died away, once she thought she saw the back of a
tradesman's daughter whom she knew--but her chief feeling was of an
utter isolation with her loved one, as if he and she stood alone on some
sea-pounded island against which the tides of the world roared in vain.

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:


     "Soles, plaice, and dabs,
     Rate, skate, and crabs.
            God save the Queen!"


The stars winked on the black zenith, while troubled winds sped and
throbbed over the fields that huddled in mystery and silence on either
side of the road--where noise and skirmish and darting lights, with the
odours of warm human bodies, and the thudding and scrabbling of a
thousand feet, proclaimed the People's holiday.

They flowed through Playden like a torrent through an open sluice,
sweeping up and carrying on all sorts of flotsam--villagers from cottage
doors, ploughboys from the farms down by the Military Canal, gipsies
from Iden Wood ... a mixed multitude, which the central mass absorbed,
till all was one steaming and shouting blackness.

The first gate was at Mockbeggar, where the road to Iden joins that
which crosses the Marsh by Corkwood and Baron's Grange. In a minute it
was off its hinges, and swealing in tar, while lusty arms pulled twigs,
branches, even whole bushes out of the hedges to build its pyre.

Rose shrank close to Handshut, so close that the clover scents of her
laces were drowned in the smell of the cowhouse that came from his
clothes. She found herself liking it, drinking in that soft, mixed,
milky odour ... till a cloud of stifling tar-smoke swept suddenly over
them, and she reeled against him suffocating, while all round them
people choked and gasped and sneezed.

The fire was lighted, a great crimson tongue screamed up in front of
two motionless poplars, leaped as high as their tops, then spread
fan-shaped, roaring. Men and women joined hands and danced round the
blaze--in the distance, above the surging pack of heads, Rose could see
them jumping and capering, with snatches of song that became screams
every minute.

The fire roared like a storm, and the wood crackled with sudden yelping
reports. The dancing girls' hats flew off, their hair streamed wide,
their skirts belled and swirled ... there was laughter and obscene
remarks from the onlookers. Many from the rear pressed forward to join
the dance, and those who were trampled on screamed or cursed, while one
or two women fainted. Rose felt as if she would faint in the heat and
reek of it all. She leaned heavily against Handshut and closed her eyes
... then she realised that his arm was round her. He held her against
him, supporting her, while either she heard or thought she heard him
say--"Döan't be scared, liddle Rose--I'm wud you. I wöan't let you
fall."

She opened her eyes. The people were moving. The Mockbeggar gate had
been accounted for, and they rolled on towards Thornsdale. The jamb was
not so alarming, for a good many revellers had been left behind, dancing
round the remains of the bonfire, crowding into the public-house, or
scattering in couples over the fields.

But though the jostling was no longer dangerous, Handshut still kept his
arm about Rose, and held her close to his side. Now and then she made a
feeble effort as if to free herself, but he held her fast, and she never
put out her full strength. They walked as if in a dream, they two
together, not speaking to anyone, not speaking to each other. Rose saw
as if in a dream the Sign of Virgo hanging above Stone. The dipping of
the lane showed the Kentish marshes down in the valley, with the hills
of Kent beyond them, twinkling with lights. The band lifted the strains
of Hearts of Oak and Cheer, Boys, Cheer above the thud of marching feet,
or occasionally drifted into sentiment with Love's Pilgrim--while every
now and then, regardless of what was being played, two hundred throats
would bray:


     "Soles, plaice, and dabs,
     Rate, skate, and crabs.
            God save the Queen!"


It was about nine o'clock when they came to Thornsdale, down on the
Rother levels; the moon had risen and the marsh was smeethed in white.
The air was thick with a strong-scented miasma, and beside the dykes
long lines of willows faded into the mist. Here another orgy was
started, in grotesque contrast with the pallid sleep of water. The gate
that barred the Kent road was torn down, the bonfire prepared, the dance
begun.

The mists became patched with leaping shadows, and a dull crimson wove
itself into the prevailing whiteness. Flaming twigs and sparks hissed
into the dykes, rolls of acrid tar-smoke spread like a pall over the
river and the Highnock Sewer, under which their waters were spotted with
fire. The ground was soon pulped and poached with the jigging feet, and
mud and water spurted into the dancers' faces.

It was all rather ugly and ridiculous, and as before at Mockbeggar, the
crowd began to straggle. This time there was no public-house to swallow
up strays, but the marsh spread far and wide, a Land of Promise for
lovers, who began to slink off two by two into the mists. Some who were
not lovers formed themselves into noisy groups, and bumped about the
lanes--waking the farmers' wives from Bosney to Marsh Quarter.

Rose felt Handshut's arm clinging more tenderly about her, and she knew
that he wanted to lead her away from the noise and glare, to the
coolness and loneliness of the waterside. She wanted to go--her head
ached, her nostrils tingled, and her eyes were sore with the fumes of
tar, her ears wearied with the din.

"Let's go home," she said faintly--"it's getting late."

"We can go back by Corkwood across the marshes. It'll be quicker, and we
shan't have no crowd spanneling round."

They elbowed their way into the open, and soon the noise had died into a
subdued roar, not so loud as the sigh of the reeds, while the bonfire
showed only as a crimson stain on the eastward piling fogs.

In time the contrast of silence grew quite painful. It ached. Only the
sough of the wind in the reeds troubled it--the feet of Rose and
Handshut were noiseless on the grass, they breathed inaudibly, only the
breath of the watching night was heard.

They skirted the Corkwood dyke, from which rose the stupefying, sodden,
almost flavorous, smell of dying reeds--a waterfowl suddenly croaked
among them, and another answered her with a wail from beyond Ethnam. The
willows were shimmering silver dreams, bathed in the light of the moon
which hung above the Fivewatering and had washed nearly all the stars
out of the sky--only Sirius hung like a dim lamp over Great Knell, while
Lyra was faint above Reedbed in the north.

Rose walked half leaning against Handshut. She felt a very little feeble
thing in the power of that great amorous night. The warm breath of the
wind in her hair, the caress of moonlight on her eyes, the throbbing,
miasmic, night-sweet scents of water and grass, the hush, the great
sleep ... all tore at her heart, all weakened her with their huge soft
strength, all crushed with their languors the poor resistance of her
will.

The tears began to roll down her cheeks, they shone on her face in the
moonlight--they fell quite fast as she walked on gripped against her
lover's heart. She was leaning more and more heavily against him, for
her strength was ebbing fast--oh, if he would only speak!--she could not
walk much further, and yet she dared not rest beside him on that haunted
ground.

At last they came to where the high land rose out of the levels like a
shore out of the sea, with a lick of road on it, winding up to
Peasmarsh. It was here that Rose's uncertain strength failed her, she
lurched against Handshut, and still encircled by his arms slid to the
grass.

They were in a huge meadow, sloping upwards to mysterious, night-wrapped
hedges. The moonlight still trembled over the marsh, kindling sudden
streaks of water, steeping fogs, silvering pollards and reeds. One could
distinctly see the little houses on the Kent side of the Rother, Ethnam,
and Lossenham, and Lambstand, some with lights blinking from them,
others just black patches on the moon-grey country. Rose looked out
towards them, and tried to picture in each a hearth beside which a
husband and wife sat united ... then suddenly they were blotted out, as
Handshut's face loomed dark between her and them, and his lips slowly
fastened on her own.

For a moment she yielded to the kiss, then suddenly tore herself away.

"Rose ..."

"Let me go--I can't."

"Rose, why shud you pretend? You döan't love the mäaster, and you do
love me. Why shudn't we be happy together?"

"We--I can't."

"Why?--I love you, and you love me. Come away wud me--you shan't have a
hard life----"

"--It's not that."

"Wot is it then?"

"It's--oh, I can't--I'm his wife."

She pushed him from her as he tried to take her in his arms again, and
stumbled to her feet.

"It's late--I--I must go home."

"Rose, you queer me."

He had risen too, and stood before her in mingled pain and surprise. He
thought her resistance mere coyness, and suddenly flung his arms round
her as she stood.

She began to cry.

"No, no--don't be so cruel! Let me go!--I'm his wife."


§ 21.

The walk home was dreary, for Rose and Handshut misunderstood each
other, and yet loved each other too. She was silent, almost shamefaced,
and he was a little disgusted with her--he felt that she had misled him,
and in his soreness added "willingly."

They scarcely spoke, and the night spread round them its web of
pondering silence. Aldebaran guttered above Kent, and the blurred patch
of the Pleiades hung over the curded fogs that hid the Rother. There was
no wind, but every now and then the grass rippled and the leaves
fluttered, while a low hissing sound went through the trees. Sometimes
from the distance came the shouts of some revellers still at large,
echoing weirdly over the moon-steeped fields, and divinely purged by
space and night.

Sobs were still thick in Rose's throat, when they came to Handshut's
cottage, a little tumble-down place, shaped like a rabbit's head. She
stopped.

"Don't come any further."

"Why?"

"It would be better if I wasn't seen with you."

He looked at her white face.

"You're frighted."

"No."

"Yes--and I'm coming wud you, surelye."

"I should be frightened if you came."

She managed to persuade him to go his different way--though the actual
moment of their parting was always a blur in her memory. Afterwards she
could not remember if they had kissed, touched hands, or parted without
a word. Her throat was still full of sobs when she came to Odiam; she
was panting, too, for she had run all the way--she did not know why.

The house was swimming in the light of the western moon. Its strange
curves and bulges, its kiln-shaped ends, and great waving sprawl of roof
all shone in a white glassy brilliance, which was somehow akin to peace.
There was a soft flutter of wind in the orchard and in the sentinel
poplars, while now and then came that distant night-purged scrap of
song:


     "Soles, plaice, and dabs,
     Rate, skate, and crabs.
            God save the Queen!"


Rose wondered uneasily what time it was. Surely it could not be very
late, and yet the house was shut up and the windows dark.

She gently rattled the door-handle. There was no denying it--the house
was locked up. It must be later than she thought--that walk on the
Rother levels must have been longer than it had seemed to her thirsty
love. A thrill of fear went through her. She hoped Reuben would not be
angry. She was his dutiful wife.

She stood hesitating on the doorstep. Should she knock? Then a terrible
thought struck her. Reuben must have meant to lock her out. Otherwise he
would have sat up for her, however late she had been. She started
trembling all over, and felt her skin grow damp.

She began to knock, first softly, then more desperately. She must get
in. Nothing was to be heard except her own despairing din--the house
seemed plunged in sleep. Rose's fear grew, spread black bat's wings,
and darkened all her thoughts--for she knew that someone must have heard
her, she could not make all this racket quite unheard.

What could she do? Caro slept at the back of the house, and it struck
her that she had better go round, and throw up some earth at her window.
Perhaps Caro would let her in. She stepped back from the door, and was
just turning the corner of the house when a window suddenly shot open
above her, and Reuben's tousled head looked out.

"There's no use your trying to git in."

Rose gave a faint scream. In the moonlight her husband's face looked
distorted, while his voice came thick and unnatural.

"Ben!"

"Go away. Go away to where you've come from. I shan't let you in."

"You can't keep me out here. It isn't my fault I'm late--and I'm not so
very late, either."

"It's one o'clock o' the marnun."

She felt her heart grow sick. If she had been happy for four hours, why,
in God's name, had they not passed like four hours instead of like four
minutes?

"Ben, I swear I didn't know. I was up to no harm, I promise you. Please,
please--oh please let me in!"

"Not I--at one o'clock o' the marnun--after you've bin all night wud
a----"

"Ben, I swear I'm your true wife."

She fell against the wall, and her hair, disordered by embraces,
suddenly streamed over her shoulders. The sight of it made Reuben wild.

"Git off--before I täake my gun and shoot you."

"Oh, Ben!..."

"Höald your false tongue. You're no wife o' mine from this day forrard.
I wöan't be cuckolded in my own house."

His face was swollen, his eyes rolled--he looked almost as if he had
been drinking.

"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."

"I want none o' your lying swears--at one o'clock o' the marnun. Go back
to the man you've come from--he'll believe you easier nor I."

"Ben, I'm your wife."

"I tell you, you're no wife of mine. I'm shut of you--you false, fair,
lying, scarlet woman. You needn't cry and weep, nuther--none 'ull say as
Ben Backfield wur a soft man fur woman's tears."

He shut the window with a slam. For some moments Rose stood leaning
against the wall, her sobs shaking her. Then, still sobbing, she turned
and walked away.

She walked slowly down the drive till she came to the little path that
led across the fields to Handshut's cottage. A light gleamed from the
window, and she crept towards it through tall moon-smudged grass--while
from the distance came for the last time:


     "Soles, plaice, and dabs,
     Rate, skate, and crabs.
            God save the Queen!"


§ 22.

A glassy yellow broke into the sky like a curse. It shone on Reuben's
eyes, and he opened them. They were pink and puffed round the rims, and
the whites were shot with little blood-vessels. His cheeks were yellow,
and round his mouth was an odd greyish tinge. He had lain dressed on his
bed, and was surprised to find that he had slept. But the sleep had
brought no refreshment--there was a bad taste in his mouth, and his
tongue felt rough and thick.

He sat up on the tumbled bed and looked round him. Rose's nightgown was
folded on her pillow, and over a chair lay a pair of the thin useless
stockings he had often scolded her for wearing. A drawer was open, and
from it came the soft perfume that adhered to everything she put on. He
suddenly sprang out of bed and shut it with a kick.

"Durn her!" he said, and then two sobs tore their way painfully up his
throat, shaking his whole body.

An hour later he went down. He had washed and tidied himself, none the
less he disconcerted the household. Caro had lain awake all night,
partly from misery, partly because of the baby, which she had been
obliged to take charge of in the mother's absence. She had brought it
down into the kitchen with her, and it had lain kicking in its cradle
while she prepared the breakfast. She was worn out already after her
sleepless night, and could not prevent the tears from trickling down her
face as she cut bread for the meal.

"Stop that!" said Reuben roughly.

Except for this, he did not speak--nor after a few attempts on the
former's part did Pete and Caro. They sat and gulped down their food in
silence. Even Harry seemed to realise the general unrest. He would not
sit at table, but wandered aimlessly up and down the room, murmuring, as
was now his habit in times of domestic upheaval, "Another wedding--deary
me! We're always having weddings in this house."

Then the baby began to howl because it was hungry. Rose had nursed it
herself, and its wants had not occurred to the unhappy Caro or her
father. There was delay and confusion while a bottle was fetched and
milk prepared, and then--to crown all--cow's milk upset it, and it was
sick. But Reuben escaped this final tragedy--he had left the room after
a few mouthfuls, and gone to Handshut's cottage.

He could not restrain himself any longer. He must see Rose, and vent on
her all the miserable rage with which his heart was seething. He longed
to strike her--he longed to beat her, for the wanton that she was. And
he longed to clasp her in his arms and weep on her breast and caress
her, for the woman that she was.

But the cottage was shut. With its red-rotting roof between two tall
chimneys it looked exactly like a rabbit's head between its ears; the
windows were blind, though it was past seven o'clock, and though Reuben
knocked at the door loudly, there was no one to be seen. He prowled once
or twice round the house, fumbling handles and window-latches, but there
was no way of getting in. He listened, but he could not hear a sound. He
pictured Rose and Handshut in each other's arms, laughing at him in his
wretchedness and their bliss--and all the time he wanted the woman's
blood more than the man's.

At last he wandered desperately away, treading the furrows of his new
ground on Boarzell, reckless that he trod the young seed harrowed into
them. In that black moment even his winter crops were nothing to him. He
saw, thought of, realised only one thing--and that was Rose, the false,
the gay, the wanton, and the beautiful--oh the beautiful!--laughing at
him from another man's arms. He could see her laughing, see just how her
lips parted, just how her teeth shone--those little teeth, so regular
except for the pointed canines--just how the dimples came at the corners
of her mouth, those dear little hollows which he had dug with his
kisses....

He ground his heel into the soft harrowed earth, and it cast up its
smell into his nostrils unheeded. But the day of Boarzell was
coming--its rival had been cleared out of the field, and the great hump
with its knob of firs seemed to be lying in wait, till the man had
pulled himself out of the pit of a false woman's love and given himself
back to it, the strong, the faithful enemy.

About an hour later Reuben was down again at Handshut's cottage, but
this time a change had worked itself. The door hung wide open--and the
place was empty. He went through the two miserable little rooms, but
there was no one, and nowhere for anybody to hide. The remains of a meal
of bread and tea were on the table, and a fire of sticks was dying on
the hearth. The lovers had flown--to laugh at him from a safe distance.

All the rest of the day he prowled aimlessly about his land. His men
were afraid, for it was the first time they had seen him spend a day
without work. He touched neither spade nor pitchfork, he gave no orders,
just wandered restlessly about the fields and barns. He ate no supper,
but locked himself into his room, while the baby's thin wail rose
through the beams of the kitchen ceiling, and little David cried
fractiously for "mother."

The next day Caro, haggard after another night made sleepless by her
charges, knocked at his door. He had not come down to breakfast, and at
eight o'clock the postman had brought a letter.

"It's from Rose," said Caro timidly.

"To me?"

"No, to me."

"Read it."

Caro read it. Rose was in London, but left that day for Liverpool.
Handshut had saved a little money, and they were going to Canada. "I
don't ask Ben to forgive me, for I know he never will."

"She's right there," said Reuben grimly.

Caro stood before him, creasing the letter nervously. Her father's wrath
broke upon her, for want of his proper victim.

"Git out, can't yer--wot are you dawdling here for? You women are all
the same--you'd be as bad as her if you cud only git a man."

Caro shrank from the jibe as if from a blow, and Reuben laughed
brutally. He had made one woman suffer anyway.


§ 23.

Of course the neighbourhood gloated; and the rustic convention was set
aside in Rose's favour, and all the shame of her elopement heaped on
Reuben.

"No wäonder as she cudn't stick to him--hard, queer chap as he be."

"And thirty year older nor she, besides."

"Young Handshut wur a präaper lad, and valiant. I äun't surprised as
she'd rather have un wudout a penny than old Ben wud all his gold."

"And he äun't got much o' that now, nuther. They say as he'll be bust by
next fall."

Heads were shaken in triumphant commiseration, and the stones which
according to all decent tradition should have been flung at Rose,
hurtled round her husband instead.

Far away at Cheat Land, Alice Jury watched them fall--Alice Jury five
years older than when she had struggled with Boarzell for Reuben before
he married Rose. Her parents thought he had treated her badly, even
though they did not know of the evening when she had humbled herself to
plead for her happiness and his. She remembered that moment uneasily--it
hurt her pride. But she could not regret having used her most desperate
effort to win him, and she felt sure that he had understood her motive
and realised that it was for him as well as for her that she had spoken.

Now, when she heard of his catastrophe, she wondered if he would come
back. Did men come back?--and if they did, was she the type of woman
they came back to? Perhaps she was too quick, too antagonistic. She told
herself miserably that a softer woman could have saved Reuben, and yet,
paradoxically, a softer woman would not have wished to do so.

She had seen very little of him or of Rose since their marriage. Rose
and she had never been friends, and Reuben she knew was shy of her. He
had been angry with her too, because she had not carried her aching
heart on her sleeve. Outwardly she had worn no badge of sorrow--she was
just as quick, just as combative, just as vivaciously intellectual as
she had always been. Though she knew that she had lost him through these
very characteristics, with which she had also attracted him, she made no
effort to force herself into a different mould. She refused to regret
anything, to be ashamed of anything, to change anything. If he came back
he should find the same woman as he had left.

She felt that he would come--he would return to her in the reaction that
swung him from Rose. But would she be able to keep him? She did not feel
so sure of that--for that did not depend on her or on him, but on that
mysterious force outside themselves with which they had both already
struggled in vain.


§ 24.

Reuben scarcely knew what brought him to Cheat Land. It was about a week
after the blow fell that he found himself treading the once familiar
lane, lifting the latch of the garden gate, and knocking at the green
house-door. Nothing had changed, except to fade a little and show some
signs of wear and tear. Alice herself had not changed, nor had she
faded, though her cheeks might have fallen in a trifle and a few lines
traced themselves round her mouth.

"Welcome," she said, and laughed.

He took her hand, and forgot to be angry because she had laughed.

"Come in, and we'll have a talk. Father's out, and mother's upstairs."

She led the way into the queer little kitchen, which was also unchanged
except for the fading of the curtains, and the introduction of one or
two new books on the shelves. Alice pulled forward his old chair, and
sat down opposite him on the settle. She wore one of her long
wrapper-pinafores, this time of a warm clay-colour, which seemed to put
a glow into her cheeks.

"Well, Alice," he said huskily.

"Well, Reuben, I'm glad to see you."

"You've heard?"

She nodded. Then she said gently:

"Poor Rose."

Reuben flushed.

"One o' my victims, eh?"

"Well, I knew you'd rather I said that than 'poor Reuben.'"

"Reckon I would. I remember as how you wur always trying to make out as
my lazy good-fur-naun sons wur my victims, and as how I'd sacrificed
them all to my farm; now I reckon you're trying to do the same wud
Rose."

"Where is she?"

"I dunno. Somewheres between here and Canada. May she rot there lik a
sheep on its back, and her man too. Now say 'poor Rose.'"

He turned on her almost fiercely, his lips curled back from his teeth in
a sneer.

"If you speak like that I'll say 'poor Reuben.'"

"Well, say it--you wöan't be far wrong. Wot sort o' chap am I to have
pride? My farm's ruined, my wife's run away, my children have left
me--wot right have I to be proud?"

"Because, though all those things have happened, you're holding your
head up still."

"But I äun't--yesterday I wur fair crying and sobbing in front of all
the children. In the kitchen, it wur--after supper--I put down my head
on the table, and----"

"Hush, I don't want to hear any more. I can guess what you must have
suffered. I expect you miss Rose."

"I do--justabout."

"So should I in your place."

"She wur a beautiful woman, Alice."

Alice nodded.

"Oh, and her liddle dentical ways!"

Alice nodded again.

"You döan't mind me talking to you of her?"

"No, of course not."

"She wur the beautifullest I've known, and gay, and sweet, and a woman
to love. But she deceived me. I married her expecting money, and there
wur none--I married her fur her body, and she's given it to another."

"Well, you're not a hypocrite, anyway. You don't pretend you married her
for any but the lowest motives."

"Wot should I have married her fur, then?"

"Some people marry for love."

"Love I--no. I've loved but one woman."

"Me!"

They had both said more than they intended, and suddenly realised it.
Though the self-betrayal meant most to Alice, she was the first to
recover a steady voice.

"But that does not matter now," she said calmly.

He leaned suddenly forward and took her hand.

"Alice."

Her hand lay in his, a very small thing, and her head bent towards it.
She did not want him to see her cheeks flush and her eyes fill at this
his first caress.

"Alice--how did you know?"

"I'm not a fool."

"I guessed too."

"Of course you did. I--I gave myself away. I pleaded with you."

He raised her hand slowly to his lips.

"I forgot you all the time I wur wud Rose," he remarked naively.

"You needn't tell me that."

"But now I--well, it's too late anyhow. I'm a married man, no matter
that my wife's in Canada. Of course, I could git a divorce--but I
wöan't."

"No--it would cost money."

"More than I could spare."

Alice laughed.

"I never looked upon Rose as my rival--I always knew my real rival was
your farm, and though now Rose is out of the way, that still stands
between us."

Reuben was silent. He sat leaning forward in his chair, holding Alice's
hand. Then he abruptly rose to his feet.

"Well, I must be going. It's done me good, our talk. Not that you've
said anything particular comforting, but then you never did. It's good
anyway to sit wud a woman wot's not lik a fat stroked cat--not a thin
kicked one, nuther," he added viciously, remembering Caro. "You're lik a
liddle tit-bird, Alice. I love you. But I'm not sorry I didn't marry
you, for you'd have busted me same as Rose, only in a different way."

"Most likely."

She laughed again. He stooped forward and kissed her forehead, and the
laugh died on her lips.


§ 25.

The rest of that day Reuben was a little happier. He felt comforted and
stimulated, life was not so leaden. In the evening he worked a little in
the hop-gardens. They were almost cleared now, and the smoke of the
drying furnaces was streaming through the cowls of the oasts, shedding
into the dusk a drowsy, malt-sweetened perfume. When the moon hung like
a yellow splinter above Iden Wood, the pickers went home, and Reuben
turned in to his supper, which for the first time since Rose's flight he
ate with hearty pleasure.

He could not tell exactly what it was that had invigorated him, and
jerked him out of his despair. It would seem as if Alice's presence
alone had tonic qualities. Perhaps the secret lay in her
unchangeableness. He had gone back to her after an absence of five
years, and found her just the same, still loving him, still fighting
him, the old Alice. Everything else had changed--his farm which in the
former days had been the thriving envy of the countryside was now little
better than a ruin, his home life had been turned inside out, but in the
woman over at Cheat Land nothing had altered, love and strength and
faithfulness still flourished in her. It was as if a man stumbling in
darkness should suddenly hear a loved, familiar voice say "Here I am."
The situation summed itself up in three words--She was there; and his
heart added--"for me to take if I choose."

In spite of his revived spirits he could not sleep, but he went up early
to his room, for he wanted to think. During the evening the idea had
gained on him that he could still have Alice if he wanted her, and with
the idea had grown the sensation that he wanted her with all his heart.

His return had been complete. All that she had ever had and lost of
empire had re-established itself during that hour at Cheat Land. He
wanted her as he had wanted her before he met Rose, but with a renewed
intensity, for he was no longer mystified by his desire. He no longer
asked himself how he could possibly love "a liddle stick of a woman like
her," for he saw how utterly love-worthy she was and had always been.
For the first time he saw as his, if only he would take it, a great
woman's faithful love. This love of Alice Jury's had nothing akin to
Naomi's poor little fluttering passion, or to Rose's fascination, half
appetite, half game. Someone loved him truly, strongly, purely, deeply,
with a fire that could be extinguished only by death or--he realised in
a dim way--her own will. The question was, should he pay the price this
love demanded, take it to himself at the cost of the ambitions that had
fed his life for forty years?

He sat down by the open window, leaning his elbow on the sill. The night
was as soft as honey, and dark as a bowl of wine. The stars were
scattered and dim, the moon had dipped into a belt of fogs, the fields
were bloomed with darkness and sleep. The ridge of Boarzell was just
visible under the Dog Star--the lump of firs stood motionless, for the
wind had dropped, and not even a whisper from the orchard proclaimed its
sleeping place.

Reuben's eyes swept the dim outlines of his farm--the yard, the barns,
the oasts, the fields beyond, up to where his boundaries scarred the
waste. It was all blurred and blanketed in the darkness, but his mind
could see it in every detail. He saw the cow-stable empty except for the
six cheap Suffolks which just supplied his household and one or two
gentry with milk; he saw doors split and unhinged that he could not
afford to mend, gaping roofs that he could not afford to retile, while
the martins stole his thatch for their autumn broods; he saw his
oat-harvest mostly straw, his hop-harvest gathered at a loss, his hay
spoiled with sorrel; he saw himself short of labour, one man turned off,
another run away; and he saw all the flints and shards and lime of
Boarzell breaking his plough, choking his winter wheat, while on the
lower ground runnels of clay made his corn sedgy, and everywhere the
tough, wiry fibres of the gorse drank all the little there was of
goodness out of the ground and scattered it from its blossoms in useless
fragrance.

This was what his forty years of struggle had brought him to. He saw
himself in the midst of a huge ambitious ruin. He had failed, his hopes
were blighted--what could he expect to pull out of this wreck. It would
be far better and wiser if he gave up the dreary uncertain battle, and
took the sure rest at hand. If he sold some of the more fruitful part of
his land he would be able to divorce Rose, then he could marry Alice and
live with her a quiet, shorn, unambitious life. No one would buy the new
ground on Boarzell, but he could easily sell the low fields by the
Glotten brook; that would leave him with twenty or thirty acres of
fairly good land round the farm, and all his useless encroachments on
Boarzell which he would allow to relapse into their former state. He
would have enough to live upon, to support his children and his delicate
wife--he would be able to take no risks and make no ventures, but he
would be comfortable.

His old father's words came back to him--"I've no ambitions, so I'm a
happy man. I döan't want nothing I haven't got, so I haven't got nothing
I döan't want." Perhaps his father had been right. After all, what had
he, Reuben, got by being ambitious? Comfort, peace, home-life, wife,
children, were all so many bitter words to him, and his great plans
themselves had crumbled into failure--he had lost everything to gain
nothing.

Far better give up the struggle while there was the chance of an
honourable retreat. He realised that he was at the turning point--a step
further along his old course and he would lose Alice, a step along the
road she pointed, and he would lose Boarzell. After all he had not won
Boarzell, most likely never would win it--if he persisted on his old
ways they would probably only lead him to ruin, and later there might be
no Alice to turn to. If he renounced her now, he would be definitely
pledging himself to Boarzell and all his soaring, tottering schemes--he
would not be able to "come back" a second time.

If he lost Alice now he might be losing her for a dream, a bubble, a
will-o'-the-wisp. Surely he would be wise to pull what he could out of
the wreck, take her, and forget all else. Only a fool would turn away
from her now, and press forward. In the old days it had been different,
he had been successful then--now he was a failure, and saw his chance to
fail honourably. Better take it before it was too late.

His mind painted him a picture it had never dared paint before--the
comfortable red house basking in sunshine, with a garden full of
flowers, a cow or two at pasture in the meadow, the little hop-field his
only tilth--his dear frail wife sitting in the porch, his children
playing at her feet or reading at her knee--perhaps they were hers too,
perhaps they were not. He saw himself contented, growing stout, wanting
nothing he hadn't got, so having nothing he didn't want ... he was
leaning over her chair, and gazing away into the southern distance where
Boarzell lay against the sky, all patched with heather and thorns, all
golden with gorse, unirrigated, uncultivated, without furrow or
fence....

... A shudder passed through Reuben, a long shudder of his flesh, for in
at the open window had drifted the scent of the gorse on Boarzell. It
came on no wind, the night was windless as before. It just seemed to
creep to him over the fields, to hang on the air like a reproach. It was
the scent of peaches and apricots, of sunshine caught and distilled. He
leaned forward out of the window, and thought he could see the glimmer
of the gorse-clumps under the stars.

The edge of Boarzell was outlined black against the faintly paler
sky--he traced it from the woods in which it rose, up to its crest of
firs, then down into the woods again. Once more it lay between him and
the soft desires of his weakness; as long ago at Cheat Land, it called
him back to his allegiance like a love forsaken. In the black quiet it
lay hullish like some beast--but it was more than a beast to-night. It
was like the gorse on its heights, delicate perfume as well as
murderous fibre, sweetness as well as ferocity. The scent, impregnating
the motionless air, seemed to remind him that Boarzell was his love as
well as his enemy--more, far more to him than Alice.

His ambition flared up like a damped furnace, and he suddenly saw
himself a coward ever to have thought of rest. Boarzell was more to him
than any woman in the world. For the sake of one weak woman he was not
going to sacrifice all his hopes and dreams and enterprises, the great
love of his life.

Boarzell, not Alice, should be his. He muttered the words aloud as he
strained his eyes into the darkness, tracing the beloved outline. He
despised himself for having wavered even in thought. Through blood and
tears--others' and his own--he would wade to Boarzell, and conquer it at
last. From that night all would be changed, the past should be thrust
behind him, he would pull himself together, make himself a man. Alice
must go where everything else had gone--mother, wife, children, friends,
and love. Thank God! Boarzell was worth more to him than all these.

Leaning out of the window, he breathed in the scent of his slumbering
land. His lips parted, his eyes brightened, the lines of care and age
grew softer on his face. With his darling ambition, he seemed to recover
his youth--once more he felt the blood glowing in his veins, while zeal
and adventure throbbed together in his heart. He had conquered the
softer mood, and banished the sweet unworthy, dreams for ever.
Alice--who had nearly vanquished him--should go the way of all enemies.

_And the last enemy to be destroyed is Love._



BOOK VI

STRUGGLING UP


§ 1.

That night was a purging. From thenceforward Reuben was to press on
straight to his goal, with no more slackenings or diversions.

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.

It was wonderful how soon he adapted himself to his new conditions. At
first he missed Rose, but by the time he had got rid of her clothes and
swept the perfume of her out of his room, he had ceased to hunger. He
never heard of her again--he never knew what life she led in the new
land, whether the reality of love brought her as much happiness as the
game, or whether her old taste for luxury and pleasure reasserted
itself and ruined both love and lover.

As for Alice, he found to his surprise that she was not so dangerous
even as Rose, for an ideal is never so enslaving as a habit. He avoided
Cheat Land, and there was nothing to bring her across his path as long
as he did not seek her. So the yoke of woman dropped from Reuben's neck,
leaving him a free man.

He formed a plan of campaign. The large unreclaimed tracts of Boarzell
must be left for a time, while he devoted his attention to the land
already cultivated. He must economise in labour, so he hired no one in
Handshut's place, but divided his work among the other men. His
rekindled zeal was hot enough to ignite even the dry sticks of their
enterprise, and Odiam toiled as it had never toiled before. Even Harry
was pressed for service, and helped feed the pigs and calves, besides
proving himself a most efficient scarecrow.

Early the next spring Reuben had a stroke of luck, for he was able to
sell the remainder of his lease of the Landgate shop to a greengrocer.
With the proceeds he bought half a dozen more cows, and grounded his
dairy business more firmly. In spite of his increased herd he still had
several acres of superfluous pasture, and pocketing his pride,
advertised "keep" for stock, which resulted in his pocketing also some
much-needed cash. His most immediate ambition was to pay off the
mortgage he had raised a year ago, and restore to Odiam its honourable
freedom.

It seemed almost as if his luck had turned, for the harvests that year
were exceedingly good. In most of his fields there were two hay-crops,
while the oats and wheat yielded generously, even on Boarzell. As for
the hops, he reaped a double triumph, for not only did his hop-gardens
bring in more than the average to the acre, but almost everyone else in
the neighbourhood did badly, so prices rose in a gratifying way.

Under this encouragement, part of the old adventurous spirit revived,
and Reuben bought a Highly Commended bull at Lewes Fair, and advertised
him for service. In spite of catastrophe, he still believed
cattle-rearing to be the most profitable part of a farmer's business,
and resolved to build up his own concern on its old lines. With regard
to the dairy, Caro was an excellent dairy woman, besides looking after
the two little children, and Odiam had a fair custom for its dairy
produce, also for fruit and vegetables.

Thus, in a very small way, and with continual hard work and anxiety, the
farm was beginning to revive. Reuben felt that he was recapturing his
prestige in the neighbourhood, and, when his labours allowed him,
assisted the good work by drinking slow glasses of sherry in the bar of
the Cocks, and making patronising remarks about his neighbours'
concerns.

He was glad from the bottom of his heart that he had not been wooed from
his ambition, in a moment of weakness, by softer dreams which he now
looked upon as so much dust.


§ 2.

In the course of the following year Reuben had news of all his absent
sons, except Benjamin, who was never heard of again.

One day Caro came home from Rye, where she had gone with the vegetables
to market, and said that she had met Bessie Lamb. Bessie was on her way
to the station, where she would take the train for Southampton. Robert
had written that he was now able to have her with him in Australia, and
she had at once packed up her few belongings and set out to join him in
the unknown.

Bessie was now thirty, and looked older, for she had lost a front tooth
and her pretty hair had faded: but she was as confident of Robert's love
as ever. He had written to her by every mail, she told Caro, and they
had both saved and scraped and waited and counted the days till they
could consummate the love born in those fields eternally fixed in
twilight by their memory. There had been no intercourse between Odiam
and Eggs Hole, so, as Robert had never written to his family, Caro heard
for the first time of the sheep-farm in Queensland and its success. He
had done badly at first, Bessie said, what with the drought and many
other things against him, but now he was well established, and she would
be far better off and more comfortable as the felon's wife than she had
ever been as the daughter of honest parents.

She left Caro with a restless aching in her heart. In spite of the lost
front tooth and the faded hair, she had impressed her in much the same
way as Rose on her wedding night. Here was another woman sure of love
looking confidently into a happy future, wooed and sought after, a man's
bride.... Jolting home in the empty vegetable cart beside Peter, one or
two tears found their way down Caro's cheek. Oh, if only some man, no
matter whom, tyrant, criminal, no matter what, would love her, give her
for one moment those divine sensations which she had seen other women
enjoy! Why must she alone, of all the women she knew, be loveless?

It was her father's fault, he had kept her to work for him, he had
starved her purposely of men's society--and now her youth was departing,
she was twenty-nine, and she had never heard a man speak words of love,
or felt his arms about her, or the sweetness of his lips on hers.

When they came to Odiam, she told Reuben what she had heard about
Robert.

"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 he wur in tedious heart over it all, but he pulled through
his bad times, and now he's doing valiant."

"And who has he got to thank fur it, I'd lik to know? Who taught him how
to run a farm, and work, and never spare himself and pull things
through? There he wur, wud no sperrit in him, grudging every ströake he
did fur Odiam. If I hadn't kept him to it, where 'ud he be now?"

News of Richard came a few months later. He was heard of as a barrister
on the Southern Circuit, and defended a gipsy on trial for
turnip-stealing at Lewes. Rumours of him began to spread in the
neighbourhood--he was doing well, Anne Bardon was working for him, and
he was likely to be a credit to her. At the Cocks he was the subject of
much respectful comment, and for the first time Reuben found himself
bathed in glory reflected from one of his children. He could not help
feeling proud of him, but wished he did not owe anything to the Bardons.

"Tedious argumentatious liddle varmint he wur--I'm not surprised as he's
turned a lawyer. And he had good training fur it, too. There's naun to
sharpen the wits lik a farmer's life, and I kept him at it, tough and
rough, though he'd have got away if he cud. Many's the time I've wopped
him near a jelly fur being a lazy-bones, and particular, which you can't
be and a lawyer too. But I reckon he thinks it's all that Bardon woman's
doing."

A few weeks later Richard wrote himself, breaking the silence of years.
Success had made him feel more kindly towards his father. He forgave the
frustrations and humiliations of his youth, and enquired after his
brothers and sisters and the progress of the old farm. Anne Bardon had
kept him fairly well posted in Backfield history, but though he knew of
Reuben's unlucky marriage and of the foot-and-mouth catastrophe, he had
evidently lost count of absconding sons, for he seemed to think Pete
had run away too, which Reuben considered an unjustifiable aspersion on
his domestic order. However, the general tone of his letter was
conciliatory, and his remarks on the cattle-plague "most präaper."

As for himself, his life had been full of hard work and the happiness of
endeavour crowned at last by success. Anne Bardon he referred to as an
angel, which made Reuben chuckle grimly. He had already had a brief,
though he was called to the bar only two years ago--which struck his
father as very slow business.

He also gave news of Albert, but not good news. He had kept more or less
in touch with his brother, and had done what he could to help him, yet
Albert had made a mess of his literary life, partly through incapacity,
partly through dissipation. He had wasted his money and neglected his
chances, and his friends could do little for him. Richard had come more
than once to the rescue, but it was impossible to give real help to one
of his weak nature--also Richard was still poor, and anxious to pay off
his debts to Anne Bardon.

"I reckon," said Reuben, "as how they'd all have been better off if
they'd stayed at home."


§ 3.

Soon afterwards a letter came from Albert, asking for money, but again
Reuben forbade any notice to be taken of it. For one thing he could not
afford to help anyone, for another he would not even in years of plenty
have helped a renegade like Albert. His blood still boiled when he
remembered the boy's share in his political humiliation. He had shamed
his father and his father's farm. Let him rot!

So Albert's letter remained unanswered--Caro felt that Reuben was
unjust. She had grown very critical of him lately, and a smarting
dislike coloured her judgments. After all, it was he who had driven
everybody to whatever it was that had disgraced him. He was to blame for
Robert's theft, for Albert's treachery, for Richard's base dependence on
the Bardons, for George's death, for Benjamin's disappearance, for
Tilly's marriage, for Rose's elopement--it was a heavy load, but Caro
put the whole of it on Reuben's shoulders, and added, moreover, the
tragedy of her own warped life. He was a tyrant, who sucked his
children's blood, and cursed them when they succeeded in breaking free.

Caro had been much unhappier since Rose's flight. She had loved her in
an erratic envious way, and Rose's gaiety and flutters of generosity had
done much to brighten her humdrum life. Now she was left to her
brooding. She felt lonely and friendless. Once or twice she went over to
Grandturzel, but the visits were always difficult to manage, and somehow
the sight of her sister's happiness made her sore without enlivening
her.

It was only lately that her longing for love and freedom had become a
torment. Up till a year or two ago her desires had been merely wistful.
Now a restless hunger gnawed at her heart, setting her continually
searching after change and brightness. She had come to hate her
household duties and the care of the little boys. She wanted to
dance--dance--dance--to dance at fairs and balls, to wear pretty
clothes, and be admired and courted. Why should she not have these
things? She was not so ugly as many girls who had them. It was cruel
that she should never have been allowed to know a man, never allowed to
enjoy herself or have her fling. Even the sons of the neighbouring
farmers had been kept away from her--by her father, greedy for her work.
Tilly, by a lucky chance, had found a man, but lucky chances never came
to Caro. She saw herself living out her life as a household drudge,
dying an old maid, all coarsened by uncongenial work, all starved of
love, all sick of, yet still hungry for, life.

Sometimes she would be overwhelmed by self-pity, and would weep
bitterly over whatever task she was doing at the time, so that her tears
were quite a usual sauce to pies and puddings if only Reuben had known
it.

The year passed, and the new year came, showing the farm still on the
upward struggle, with everyone hard at work, and no one, except Reuben,
enjoying it particularly. Luck again favoured Odiam--the lambing of that
spring was the best for years, and as the days grew longer the furrows
bloomed with tender green sproutings, and hopes of another good harvest
ran high.

Caro watched the year bud and flower--May came and creamed the hedges
with blossom and rusted the grass with the first heats. Then June
whitened the fields with big moon-daisies and frothed the banks with
chervil and fennel. The evenings were tender, languorous, steeped in the
scent of hay. They hurt Caro with their sweetness, so that she scarcely
dared lift her eyes to the purpling twilight sky, or breathe the wind
that swept up heavy with hay and roses from the fields. July did nothing
to heal her--its yellow, heat-throbbing dawns smote her with
despair--its noons were a long-drawn ache, and when in the evening hay
and dust and drooping chervil troubled the air with shreds and ghosts of
scent, something almost akin to madness would twist her heart.

She felt as one whose memory calls and yet has nothing to remember,
whose thoughts run to and fro and yet has nothing to think of, whose
hopes pile themselves, and yet is hopeless, whose love cries out from
the depths, and yet is loveless.

One evening at the beginning of August she wandered out of the kitchen
for a breath of fresh air in the garden before going up to bed. Her head
ached, and her cheeks burned from the fire. She did not know it, but the
flush and fever made her nearly beautiful. She was not a bad-looking
woman, though a trifle too dark and heavy-featured, and now the glow on
her cheeks and the restless brilliancy of her eyes had kindled her
almost into loveliness.

She picked one or two roses that drooped untended against the fence, she
held them to her breast, and the tears came into her eyes. It was nearly
dark, and the lustreless cobalt sky held only one star--Aldebaran, red
above Boarzell's firs. A puff of wind came from the west, and with it a
snatch of song. Someone was singing on the Moor, and the far-away voice
wove itself into the web of trouble and yearning that dimmed her heart.

She moved down to the gate and leaned over it, while her eyes roved the
twilight unseeing. The voice on the Moor swelled clearer. It was a man's
voice, low-pitched and musical:


     "Farewell, farewell, you jolly young girls!
       We're off to Rio Bay!"


She remembered that there had been a wedding at Gablehook. One of the
farmer's girls had married a Rye fisherman, and this was probably a
guest on his way home, a little the worse for drink.


     "At Vera Cruz the days are fine--
     Farewell to Jane and Caroline!"


The song with its hearty callousness broke strangely into the dusk and
Caro's palpitating dreams. Something about it enticed and troubled her;
the singer was coming nearer.


     "At Nombre de Dios the skies are blue--
     Farewell to Moll, farewell to Sue!"


She stood at the gate and could see him as a blot on the Moor. He was
coming towards Odiam, and she watched him as he plunged through the
heather, singing at the pitch of his lungs:


     "At Santiago love is kind,
     And we'll forget those left behind--
       So kiss us long, and kiss us well,
       Polly and Meg and Kate and Nell--
     Farewell, farewell, you jolly young girls!
       We're off to Rio Bay."


He had struck the path that ran by the bottom of the garden, and
swaggered along it with the seaman's peculiar rolling gait, accentuated
by strong liquor. Caro felt him coming nearer, and told herself uneasily
that she had better go back into the house. He was drunk, and he might
speak to her. Still she did not move, she found herself clinging to the
gate, leaning her breast against it, while her tongue felt thick and dry
in her mouth.

He was quite close--she could hear the thud of his step on the soft
earth. Her hands grasped the two gate-posts, and she leaned forward over
the gate, so that her face caught the faint radiance that still lingered
in the zenith. He had stopped singing, but she could see him now
distinctly--a tall, loosely-built figure, with dark face, and woolly
hair like a nigger's, while his seaman's earrings caught the starlight.

He drew level with her, not seeing her. She did not move, she scarcely
breathed, and he had almost passed her ... then suddenly his eyes turned
and met hers.

"Hello, Susan!"

He stood swaying before her on his heels, his hands in his
trouser-pockets, his head a little on one side. Caro did not speak--she
could not.

"What time is it, dear?"

"I--I dunno," she faltered, her voice sounding squeaky and unlike her
own: "it might be nine."


     "It might be Wales or Madagasky,
     It might be Rio de Janeiro."


he trolled, and Caro was suddenly afraid lest someone should hear in
the house. She glanced back uneasily over her shoulder.

"Papa on the look-out?"

She coloured, and began to stutter something.

"I've been to a wedding," he said conversationally; "a proper wedding
with girls and kisses."

He suddenly leaned over the gate and kissed Caro on the lips.

She gave a little scream and started back from him. For a moment earth,
sky, and trees seemed to reel together in one crazy dance. She was
conscious of nothing but the kiss, her first kiss; it had smelt and
tasted strongly of brandy, if the truth were told, but it had none the
less been a kiss, and her sacrament of initiation. She stood there in
the darkness with parted lips and shining eyes. The dusk was kind to
her, and she pleased the sailor.

"Come out for a walk," he said, and lifted the latch.

Caro trembled so that she could hardly move, and once again came the
feeling that she ought to turn and run back into the house. But she was
powerless in the clutch of her long-thwarted emotions. The tipsy sailor
became God to her, and she followed him out on to the Moor.

After all he was not really drunk, only a little fuddled. He walked
straight, and his roll was natural to him, while though he was
exceedingly cheerful, and often burst into song, his words were not
jumbled, and he generally seemed to have a fair idea of what he was
saying.

She wondered if she were awake--everything seemed so strange, so new,
and yet paradoxically so natural. Was she the same Caro who had washed
the babies and cooked the supper and resigned herself to dying an old
maid? She could not ponder things, ask herself how it was that a man who
had not known her ten minutes could love her--all she realised was his
arm round her waist, and in her heart a seethe of happy madness.


     "When the stars are up above the Main
       And winking in the sea,
       'Tis then I dream of thee,
                               Emilee!
     And my dreams are full of pain."


--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.

He was now leaning heavily on Caro as he walked, and too shy, and
perhaps reluctant, to ask him to lift his arm, she naively suggested
that they should sit down and rest. Dansay was delighted--she was not
the timid little bird he had thought, and directly they had sunk into
the heather he seized her in his arms, and began kissing her violently
on neck and lips.

Caro was frightened, horrified--she broke free, and scrambled to her
feet. She nearly wept, and it was clear even to his muddled brain that
her invitation had been merely the result of innocence more profound
than that which had stimulated her shyness. Rough seaman though he was,
he was touched, and managed to soothe her, for she was too bashful and
frightened to be really indignant. They walked a few yards further along
the path, then at her request turned back towards Odiam.

They parted uneasily, without any arrangement to meet again.


§ 4.

For the first few hours of her sleepless night, Caro's happiness
outweighed her regret. Her mind sucked her little experience like a
sugar-plum and filled her thoughts with sweetness. She lived over the
adventure from its birth in a song on Boarzell to its consummation in
the blessedness of a kiss. Afterwards it became a little smudged, a
little terrifying, and the end had not been in keeping with the
beginning. None the less, the fact remained that she had been kissed,
that she had tasted at last of the glories of love, felt the touch of a
man's lips, of his arm about her ... she was no longer without
knowledge; when other women spoke of these things, an answering thrill
would creep into her heart, and words of experience to her tongue.

Then she asked herself--would he come again? Her joy seemed almost too
divine to be renewed, she could hardly picture such a profanity as its
repetition. Yet as the night wore on, the question began to loom larger
than all her blessed certainties--and with it came a growing tendency to
dwell on the latter part of her experience, on the awkward aloofness of
the walk home, and the uneasy parting at the gate. It struck her that
she had been a fool to take fright at his violence. After all, if he
loved her so much ... it was wonderful how quickly he had fallen in
love, and quick things are more apt to be violent than slow ones.
Besides, men were inclined to be rough and fierce by nature. Thus she
reassured and reproached herself. Perhaps she had driven him away,
perhaps her timidity had made him doubt her love. Perhaps she had been
too squeamish. After all....

She rose the next morning with a bad headache and her eyes staring
rather plaintively out of black saucers. None the less she was happy,
even in spite of her regrets. She loved and had been loved, so she told
herself over and over again as she dressed David and Bill and prepared
the breakfast. Why, even if, when he got home, Joe Dansay discovered
that he did not really love her, she would still have had his love, and
as for herself, she would go on loving him for ever--"for ever and ever
and ever," she repeated in a low, trembling voice as she cut her
father's bacon.

During the rest of the day it was the same--she moved in a kind of
exalted dream. The most common objects thrilled her, and gave her
unexpected tokens of divinity. Her work was consuming, her leisure
beatific. The children loved her, for that day she could do what she had
never done properly to their mind, and that is--play; while with Harry,
dribbling and muttering, she was tender, as no one but Naomi had been.

Towards evening uneasiness sprang up again, with the old question--would
he return? She told herself that if he did, she would not hold back, she
would not let her inexperience and timidity rob her or him of their
love. She would let him kiss her as he pleased--love was too good a
thing to risk for a few qualms. But would he come?--would he give her
the chance of reparation? The sun dipped behind Castweasel, the hot sky
cooled into a limpid green--stars specked it in the north, and the moon
came up behind Iden Woods, huge and dim.

Caro ran out once or twice into the garden; the flowers hung pale and
stirless on their stems, and from the orchard, full of the babble of a
hidden wind, came a faint scent of plums. The old walls of Odiam seemed
to smell of the sunshine they had caught and held during the day. The
gable-ends broke into the stars, and the windows gleamed in the
yellowing light of the moon. Up towards the south the mass of Boarzell
rose hullish and deserted--far away at Ellenwhorne a dog was barking,
but all else was still.


§ 5.

There was no doubt that Joe Dansay had got drunk at Willie Tailleur's
wedding. The fact was cruelly emphasised by the headache with which he
woke up the next morning. He thought it very hard luck, for after all,
he had not got nearly so drunk as he might have, as he often had.
However, he had been forced into abstinence by a long voyage from Sierra
Leone, and put down his sufferings to nature's mutiny at such an
unwholesome state of affairs.

At present he lodged with some relations in Watchbell Street, and round
him were all the Dansays and Tailleurs and Espinettes and Perrots, the
Rye fisher tribe, of French origin--which was still traceable in their
names, in their brown eyes, and the sensitiveness of their mouths. He
nearly always went to his people between voyages, for the Rye girls took
his fancy. There was at this moment a charmer in Wish Ward on whom a
good part of his pay had already been spent. Sometimes he went out in
his uncle Bob Dansay's fishing boat, for he was not above handling a net
between his ventures on the high seas.

He mumbled curses as he dressed, and bathed his head in cold water. He
did not deserve this visitation--usually he regarded an after-debauch
headache as one of the marvellous acts of Providence, in which he, like
most sailormen, believed with a faith which though conveniently removed
from works was deeply tinged with admiration. But yesterday he had not
been really drunk--why, he could remember nearly everything that had
happened, the dancing, the songs, the girls, how he had walked home
singing "Rio Bay," and how he had met that queer girl at the farmhouse
gate, and thought he was going to have some fun with her and been
disappointed.

Though he had spent, on and off, some years in Rye, he had seen very
little of the surrounding country, and did not know that Odiam was the
farm of his adventure. Caro had told him her name, and he had heard of
Ben Backfield, but did not remember much about him. The episode did not
affect him very deeply. At dinner he asked his aunt the name of
Backfield's farm, and forgot it as he walked down Wish Ward that
evening, wearing his best guernsey and breeches, his hands in his
pockets, his pipe in his mouth, his earrings glittering in the forest of
his hair.

His headache had passed off, and he felt a man again; so he sought the
woman. She lived in a small old house wedged tight between two new ones;
her window was dark, and her threshold silent, though he knocked again
and again. He walked up and down once or twice in front of the cottage
whistling "Ropes and Rum"--perhaps she had gone to do some shopping; he
saw himself sitting down to a feast of pickled herrings in her kitchen.

Then when he was about a hundred feet from the house the door opened
stealthily and a man slunk out. The gleam of a street lamp passed over
his face, and Dansay rushed at him with his fists up.

The story of Joe Dansay has nothing to do with us except so far as it
affects Caro Backfield, so there will be no digression to explain why he
and Albert Cock fought each other up and down Wish Ward till the police
came running up and hauled them off to gaol. The next morning he came
before the magistrate, and was fined ten shillings and costs or fourteen
days. He was able to find the money, but it was not the fine which made
him drag his footsteps and hang his head as he walked home, it was the
sight of his victim of the night before leaving the court arm-in-arm
with a certain pretty witness.

Evening came, the dusk fell, stars floated up out of the mists that
piled themselves along the shore, the bleat of sheep came from the
marsh, and the eye of Dungeness Lighthouse flashed off the Point into
the fogs. Inland the country was wrapt in a tender haze, perfumed with
hops and harvest. The moon rose above the Fivewatering, and bronzed the
dark masses of wood huddling northward. The scented wind seemed to sigh
to him of a woman's hair and lips, of the softness of a woman's hand in
his, of her silly little voice talking love and nonsense. But the house
in Wish Ward was shut to him--perfidious woman had added yet another
perfidy to her score. For about the twentieth time his love dream had
been shattered. Now she was eating pickled herrings with another man.

A kind of defiance, a kind of swagger possessed him. He would show her
and himself how little he cared. He would find another woman this very
night. He remembered the dark-browed, demure little thing of the
farmhouse gate. He would go back to her, and she would not be so timid
this time--they never were.


§ 6.

"Oh, I thought you wur never coming back."

She murmured it over and over again as he kissed her, and she clung to
him like a child. There was something about her words and about herself
as she quivered in his arms that touched him inexpressibly. He swore
that he loved her, and forgot all about the woman in Wish Ward.

That evening Caro remembered her own counsels and did not draw back from
his love. She let him kiss her as much as he chose, though he saw with
amusement that he frightened her sometimes. They wandered on Boarzell
through webs of star-fretted mist, they drank the night together, and
sacramental silences. It was only when she realised that her father
would be shutting up the house that Caro was able to tear herself away,
and this time they parted with many kisses and vows to meet again.

He came nearly every night. If she was not at the gate he would whistle
a few bars of "Rio Bay," and she would steal out as soon as she could do
so without rousing suspicion. Boarzell became theirs, their accomplice
in some subtle, beautiful way. There was a little hollow on the western
slope where they would crouch together and sniff the apricot scent of
the gorse, which was ever afterwards to be the remembrancer of their
love, and watch the farmhouse lights at Castweasel gleam and gutter
beside Ramstile woods.

Sometimes he would talk to her of the strange voyages he had made--how
he had lived on ships ever since he was a boy of twelve, and had seen
nearly the whole world, from the fiery steaming forests of Equador to
the Northern Lights that make a mock day in Spitzbergen. He told her
strange tales of wooded atolls in the South Seas, painting a fairyland
she had scarcely dreamed, of palms motionless in the aromatic air, of
pink and white shores, and lagoons full of fish all winged and frilled
and iridescent--of the sudden swift sunrises and sunsets between Cancer
and Capricorn, of the great ice-wall in the south, below Tasmania, which
he had longed to penetrate, for who knew what lay beyond it in the
Unknown? "And there's another like it what I've seen from Franz Josef
Land--maybe there's countries beyond it, with gold." Then he told her of
the terrible storms south of the Horn, of the uncharted Nelson
Strait--of northern Baffin Land, where he had once gone on a whaler, of
Rio Grande and the buried city of Tenoctitlan--"where there's gold."
Gold seemed to be hidden in large quantities all over the world
according to Dansay, and Caro once asked him why he had never brought
any back. "Because I love what's better than gold," he answered, and
drew her, happy and quivering, into his arms.

She became inexpressibly dear to him during those meetings. Her timidity
and innocence charmed him so completely that he preserved them longer
than he had at first felt inclined to do. His vanity was tickled to
think that though she was past thirty he was the first man who had
kissed her. She was not bad-looking, either, with her straight black
brows and huge eyes--in spite of toil she did not look her years, and
during the weeks of his courtship she seemed to grow younger and
prettier, she grew daintier. Yet she largely retained the qualities that
had first attracted him, her admiration for him was unbounded and
guilelessly expressed--she would listen in tender reverence to his
yarns, and received his caresses with a humble gratitude that went
straight to his heart.

As for Caro, life was a rainbow dream. The hardships of the day were
gladly lived through in expectation of the joys of the evening. She felt
very few qualms of conscience, even when the barrier was past which she
had thought impassable. Somehow love seemed to alter her whole point of
view, or rather stripped her of one altogether--after all, her point of
view had never been more than the acceptance of other people's. Besides,
there were things in love that she had never guessed; nobody had ever
done anything to make her realise that there was beauty in it--Rose's
flirtations, her father's jealous passion had never suggested such a
thing. But now her life was brimmed with beauty, unimaginable beauty
that welled up into the commonest things and suffused them with light.
Also, about it all was that surprising sense of naturalness; which
almost always comes to women when they love for the first time, the
feeling of "For this I was born."

Sometimes she would have anxious moments, a strange sense of fear. "I'm
a bad woman," she would repeat to herself, and she would dread the
thought of her sister Tilly. But the terrors did not last, they were
driven away by the remembrance of what her life had been before she met
Joe--its drabness, its aimless toil, its lassitude, its humiliations.
She would have been a fool to spurn her golden chance when it came. It
had been her only chance; after all it was not as if she ever could have
married. She had had to choose between the life she had led up to that
August evening and the life she was leading now, and she could not
regret her choice.

She never asked Dansay to marry her. He had given her pretty clearly to
understand that he was not a marrying man, and she was terrified of
doing or saying anything that might turn him against her. One of the
things about her that charmed him most was the absence of all demand
upon him. She never asked for presents, and the few things he bought her
stimulated both her humble gratitude and her alarm lest he should have
spent too much money. One day he suggested that he should take her to
Boarzell Fair.

"Oh, Joe, would you really!"

"Of course, if you can manage it without us being spotted."

"I reckon I cud, for fäather äun't going this year, he's got an auction
at Appledore."

"Then you come along; I'll take you, and we'll have some fun."

"But I döan't want you to waste your money."

"It won't be wasting it. Why, Lord love ye, I'd rather spend it on you
than anything in the world."

Her look of surprise and adoration was his reward.


§ 7.

Boarzell Fair was in many ways a mark of the passage of the years and a
commentary on history. Not only did the atmosphere and persons of it
change very much as the nineteenth century changed, but the side-shows
were so many lights cast on popular opinion, politics, and progress.

For instance, in the year 1878, the Panorama which had started with the
Battle of Trafalgar and the Royal Gardens of Vauxhall, now gave
thrilling if belated episodes of the Siege of Paris, and a gorgeous
picture of the Queen being declared Empress of India at Delhi. The
merry-go round not only went by steam, but was accompanied by a steam
organ playing "The Swell Commercial" and "Married to a Mermaid"
unfalteringly from noon till night. In the shooting gallery men potted
Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Dillon, and Charles Peace, instead of the Russian
Czar or Nana Sahib of their youth, or the hated Boney of their fathers.
It all moved with the times, and yet remained four or five years behind
them. One came in contact with movements which had just ebbed from the
country, waves that had rolled back everywhere except in these lonely
rural districts where interests and hatreds came later and lingered
longer than in more accessible parts.

The population had altered too. Old Gideon Teazel had died some years
ago, and his son Jasper was boss in his place. He was unlike his father
both in character and physique, an undersized little ruffian, seasoned
by a long career in horse-stealing, who beat his wife openly on the
caravan steps, and boasted that he had landed more flats at thimble-rig
than any thimble-engro in England. He would have cheated the shirt off
any man at the Show, and established a sort of ascendancy through sheer
dread of his cunning. The only man who did not fear him was Mexico Bill,
a half-breed in charge of the cocoanut shie. Mexico Bill feared only the
man who could knock him out, and that man had not yet been found in
Boarzell Fair. As a matter of fact he was usually pretty genial and
docile, but he had been wounded in the head by Indians long ago, and
sometimes went mad and ran amok. On these occasions the only thing to
do was to trip him up, and enrol as many volunteers as possible to sit
on him till he came to his senses.

There was no longer any fiddler at the Fair. Harry Backfield's successor
had been a hurdy-gurdy which played dance music louder and more
untiringly than any human arm could do. Dancing was still a vital part
of the festivities, but it was more decorous than in the days when
Reuben and Naomi had danced together to the tune of "Seth's House," or
Robert and Bessie to "My Decided Decision." Only in the evening it
became rowdy, when the sun had set and the mists had walled in the Show
with nacreous battlements.

Joe and Caro joined the dancers on their arrival. It was the first time
in her life that Caro had danced at the Fair, and the experience
thrilled her as wonderfully as if it had not been just a link in the
chain of a hundred new experiences. The hurdy-gurdy was playing "See me
Dance the Polka," and off they skipped, to steps of their own, betraying
in Dansay's case a hornpipe origin.

She saw people that she knew, but had no fear of betrayal, unless from
Pete, who was, however, safe in the fighting-booth, now conveniently
banished by public opinion to the outskirts of the Fair. Pete would
"tell on" her, she knew, but no one else cared enough for Reuben to
betray his daughter to him. She looked with kindly eyes on all the world
as her accomplice--that all the world loves a lover is primarily the
lover's point of view.

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.

In time Caro grew tired, and they wandered off to the shooting-gallery
and the merry-go-round. They patronised the cocoanut shie, and won a
gilt saucer at the hoop-là stall. In the gipsy's tent Caro was told that
she would ride in a carriage with a lord, and have six fine children,
all boys, while Dansay was promised such wealth that he would be able to
throw gold to crossing-sweepers. They sat in the Panorama till it stuck
fast at a gorgeous tableau of Britannia ruling the waves from what
looked like a bath chair. Joe bought Caro a pie at the refreshment
stall, and himself ate many beef rolls. She was overwhelmed by the
lavish way he spent his money, and quite relieved for his sake when they
went back to the dancing green.

The day had slipped by, and twilight was settling down on the Fair. The
stalls flared up, a red glow streamed into the sky, and patched the
shagginess of Boarzell's firs with crimson shreds. The dancing had
become more disorderly, the decent folk had retired, and left the madder
element to its revels. The mass of the dancers was blurred, confused in
the grey smeeth. It seemed to invite Joe and Caro, for now in the thick
of it one could give and take surreptitious kisses; some of the kisses
were not even surreptitious--the love-making was becoming nearly as open
as in the days when Reuben and Naomi had danced together. Caro was no
longer shocked at the "goings-on," which had used to scandalise her in
earlier years when she knew them scarcely more than by hearsay. Her very
innocence had made her easier to corrupt, and she now joined in the
revel with a delight scarcely less abandoned, if more naïve, than that
of the cottage wantons who bumped round her. It was all so new, and yet
so natural, this kicking and capering to a jigging tune. Who would have
imagined that the lonely bitter Caro, enviously watching the fun in
earlier years, should now have both a partner and a lover? She laughed
like a child at the thought.

Then suddenly her laughter died; her expression became fixed, and she
swayed a little in Joe's arms, as she stared into the crowd of
spectators. They were on the outskirts of the dancers, and quite close
to them stood Pete. He had come out of the fighting-booth, still in his
bruiser's dressing-gown, evidently to watch the fun. He was looking
straight at Caro as she danced dishevelled, and both he and Dansay knew
that he had recognised her. They saw his lips tighten, and an angry look
came on his face which his profession had not made more benevolent than
Nature intended.

"Quick," muttered Joe, and he guided her cleverly enough through the
pack of dancers, leading her out on the opposite side.

"Oh, Joe, he's seen us."

Dansay bit his lip--he was afraid so.

Caro began to cry.

"My fäather will kill me, surelye."

She knew for certain that Pete would tell him, and then almost quite as
certainly she would lose the adventure which had become life itself to
her. She would be driven back into the old prison, the old loneliness,
the old despair. She clung to Dansay, weeping and frantic:

"Oh, Joe--döan't let them find me. I can't lose you--I wöan't lose
you--I love you so."

He was leading her away from the people, to the back of the stalls. He
was nearly as miserable and aghast as she. For he had become
extraordinarily fond of her during those few weeks, and the thought of
losing her turned him cold. He had been a fool to bring her to the Fair.

"You must come away with me," he said abruptly.

"Oh, Joe!"

It was a bold step, but he saw that none other would serve, and he
realised that she was not the kind of woman to take advantage of him and
make herself a permanent encumbrance.

"Yes--there's nothing for it but that. We'll go down and stay at the
Camber. You'll be safe with me, and I've got a little money put by."

Considering how much she had already given him, it was perhaps strange
that she shuddered a little at this open venture.

"You'll be good to me, Joe!"

"Won't I, just!"

Something in the wistfulness and humility of her appeal had touched him
to the heart; he clasped her to him with a passion for once free from
roughness, and for one moment at least had every intention of sticking
to her for ever.


§ 8.

It was not from Pete that Reuben first heard of his daughter's
goings-on. Caro's benevolent trust in humanity had been misplaced, and
at the Seven Bells where he called for a refresher on arriving at Rye
station, various stragglers from Boarzell eagerly betrayed her, "just to
see how he wud täake it."

Reuben received the news with the indifference due to outsiders. But he
was not so calm when Pete told his tale at Odiam.

"The bitch," he growled, "I'll learn her. Dancing wud a sailor, you say
she wur, Pete?"

"Yes," said Pete, "and wud her hair all tumbling."

"I'll learn her," repeated Reuben. But he never had the chance. By the
time the two males had sat up till about three or four the next morning,
they came to the conclusion that Caro must have seen Pete watching her
and run away.

"She'll never come back," said Pete that evening--"you täake my word fur
it."

"That's another of my daughters gone fur a whore."

"Who wur the fust?"

"Why Tilly--goes off wud that lousy pig-keeper up at Grandturzel. She's
no better than Caro."

"And there wur Rose," added Pete, anxious to supply instances.

Reuben swore at him.

He felt Caro's disappearance more acutely than he would allow to show.
First, she had left him badly in the lurch in household matters--he had
to engage a woman to take her place, and pay her wages. Also she had
caused a scandal in the neighbourhood, which meant more derisive fingers
pointed at Odiam. Pete was now the only one left of his original
family--his children and their runnings-away had become a byword in
Peasmarsh.

In the course of time he heard that Caro was living with Joe Dansay down
at the Camber, but he made no effort to bring her back. "I'm shut of
her," he told everyone angrily. If Caro preferred a common sailor and
loose living to the dignity and usefulness of her position at Odiam, he
was not going to interfere. Besides, she had disgraced his farm, and he
would never forgive that.

It struck him that his relations with women had been singularly
unfortunate. Caro, Tilly, Rose, Alice, had all been failures--indeed he
had come to look back on Naomi as his only success. Women were all the
same, without ambition, without self-respect, ready to lick the boots of
the first person who stroked them and was silly enough not to see
through their wiles.

During those days he spent most of his time digging on Boarzell. It
relieved him to thrust viciously into the red dripping clay, turn in on
his spade, and fling it back over his shoulder. It was strange that so
few men realised that work was better than women--stranger still that
they did not realise how much better than a woman's beauty was the
beauty of the earth. Toiling there on the Moor, Reuben's heart gave
itself more utterly to its allegiance. The curves of Boarzell against
the sky, its tuft of firs, its hummocked slopes, its wet life-smelling
earth, even its savagery of heather, gorse, and thorn brought healing to
his heart, and strength. Caro and other women could do what they chose,
love, hate, follow, cheat, and betray whom they chose, as long as they
left him the red earth and the labour of his hands.


§ 9.

Early the next year Reuben heard that Caro and her lover had left
Camber, and gone no one knew where, but by that time the elapse of
months had dulled his feelings on the matter, and Caro, never very
important in herself, was buried under the concerns of his farm.

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.

This was an infinite relief to Reuben. He was now no longer under the
continual necessity of going one better than somebody else--he could
rebuild along his own lines, and economise in the way he chose. However,
this very convenient behaviour of Grandturzel did nothing to soften his
resentment. Tilly and Realf were, and were always to be, unforgiven.
Sometimes he could see that they seemed inclined to be friendly--Realf
would touch his hat to him if they met, and perhaps Tilly would
smile--but Reuben was not to be won by such treacly tactics. It was
largely owing to the rivalry of Grandturzel that ruin had nearly
swallowed him up four years ago--and he would never be weak enough to
forget it.

Meantime it was soothing to contemplate the result of his efforts. After
all, his own striving had done more for him than any slackness or
grass-fed contentment on the part of Grandturzel. His greatest
achievement was the paying off of his mortgage, which he managed in the
spring of '79. Now he could once more begin saving money to buy another
piece of Boarzell. There was something both novel and exhilarating about
this return to old ways. It was over ten years since he had bought any
land, but now were renewed all the ticklish delights of calculation, all
the plannings and layings-out, all the contrivances and scrapings and
wrestlings.

There were still about two hundred acres to acquire, including the
Grandturzel inclosure, on which, however, he looked more hopefully than
of old. He had so far subdued not more than about a hundred and forty
acres--most of the northern slope of Boarzell adjoining Odiam and
Totease, and also a small tract on the Flightshot side. This was not
very encouraging, for it represented the labours of two-thirds of a
lifetime, and at the same time left him with more than half his task
still unaccomplished. If it had not been for his setback ten years ago
he would now probably have over two hundred and fifty acres to his
credit. But he told himself that he would progress more quickly now.
Also, though he had not enlarged his boundaries during the last ten
years, he had considerably improved the quality of the land within them.
The first acquired parts of Boarzell were nearly as fruitful and richly
cultivated as the original lands of the farm, and even the '68 ground
was showing signs of coming into subjection.

Besides, Reuben had now a respectable herd of cattle--not quite so
numerous or valuable as the earlier lot which had been sacrificed, but
none the less respectable, and bringing him in good returns. He had made
some sound profit out of his service-bull, and his sheep were paying
better than they had paid for years. He no longer "kept" other people's
cattle. Odiam, whether in stock or cash, was now inviolate.

Soon the rumour spread round Peasmarsh that Backfield was going to buy
some more land. Reuben himself had started it.

"He's done better nor he desarved," said Coalbran of Doozes.

"He's warked fur it all the same, surelye," said Cooper of Kitchenhour.

"He's worked like the Old Un fur the last five year," said Dunn, the new
man at Socknersh.

"Well, let's hope as he's found it worth while now as he's lost two
wives and eight children," was the sage comment of old Vennal of
Burntbarns.

Then the conversation wandered from Reuben's successes to the price he
had paid for them, which proved more interesting and more comforting to
those assembled.

At Flightshot the Squire viewed Odiam's recovery with some uneasiness.
It would be a good thing for him if he could sell more land to old
Backfield, but at the same time his conscience was restless about it.
Backfield was a rapacious old hound, who forced the last ounce of work
out of his labourers, and the last ounce of money out of his tenants. He
was a hard master and a hard landlord, and ought not to be encouraged.
All the same, Bardon did not see how he was to avoid encouraging him. If
Backfield applied for the land it would be suicidal folly to refuse to
sell it. He was in desperate straits for money. He had appealed to Anne,
who had money of her own, but Anne's reply had been frigid. She wrote:--

"I do not see my way to helping Flightshot while I have so many other
calls upon me. Richard is still unsettled, and unable entirely to
support himself. I should be a poor friend indeed if after having
induced my protégé to abandon his home and rely on me, I should forsake
him before he was properly established. Be a man, Ralph, and refuse to
sell any more land to that greedy, selfish, unscrupulous old Backfield."

But Ralph only sighed--it was all very well for Anne to talk!


§ 10.

Except for a steady maintenance of prosperity by dint of hard work, the
year was uneventful. Autumn passed, and nothing broke the strenuous
monotony of the days, not even news of the absent children. Then came an
evening in winter when Reuben, Pete, and Harry were sitting in front of
the kitchen fire. Reuben and his son were half asleep, Harry was
mumbling to himself and playing with a piece of string.

A great quiet was wrapped round the house, and a great darkness, pricked
by winking stars. The barns were shut, the steamings of the midden were
nipped by brooding frosts--now and then the dull movements of some
stalled animal could be heard, but only from the yard; in the house
there was silence except for the singing fire, and Harry's low muttering
which seldom rose into words. Then suddenly there was a knock at the
door.

Reuben started, and Pete awoke noisily. Harry was frightened and dropped
his string, crying because he could not find it. The knock came again,
and this time Pete crossed the room yawning, and opened the door.

For a moment he stood in front of it, while the icy wind swept into the
room. Then he dashed back to Reuben's chair.

"Fäather--it's Albert!"

Reuben sprang to his feet. He was still only half awake, and he rubbed
his eyes as he stared at the figure framed in the doorway. Then suddenly
he pulled himself together.

"Come in, and shut the door behind you."

The figure did not move. Reuben took a step towards it, and then it
tottered forward, and to his horror fell against him, almost bearing him
to the floor.

Pete, who had recovered his faculties to some extent, helped support his
brother. But he had fainted clean away, and the only thing to do was to
let him down as gently as possible.

"Lordy!" said Pete, and stooped over Albert, his hands on his knees.

"You're sure that's Albert?" asked Reuben, though he really did not
doubt it for a moment.

"Course I am. That's his face sure enough, though he's as thin as wire."

"It's nigh fifteen year since he went away. Wot did he want to come back
fur?"

"I reckon he's half starved--and he looks ill too."

"Well, he's swooneded away, anyhow. Can't you do something to mäake him
sensible?"

"Poor feller," said Pete, and scratched his head.

Reuben was irritated by this display of sentiment.

"You needn't go pitying him, nuther--he's a lousy Radical traitor. You
do something to mäake him sensible and out he goes."

At this juncture Albert opened his eyes.

"Hullo," he said feebly.

"Hullo," said Pete. Something in his brother's pitiable condition seemed
to have touched him.

Albert sat up--then asked for some water.

Pete fetched a jug, which he held awkwardly to Albert's lips. Then he
helped him to a chair, and began to unlace his boots.

"Stop that," shouted Reuben--"he äun't to stay here."

"You'll let me stop the night," pleaded Albert. "I'll explain things
when I'm better. I can't now."

"You can go to the Cocks--I wöan't have you in my house."

"But I haven't got a penny--cleaned myself out for my railway ticket.
I've walked all the way from the station, and my lungs are bad."

"Wot did you come here fur?"

"It struck me that you might have some natural affection."

"Me!--fur a hemmed Radical! You'd better have saved your money, young
feller--I'm shut of you."

"If you're still harping on my politics," said Albert fretfully, "you
needn't worry. Either side can go to the devil, for all I care. I
suppose it's natural to brood over things down here, but in London one
forgets a rumpus fifteen years old."

"I'll never disremember the way you shamed me in '65."

"I don't ask you to disremember anything. Only let me have supper and a
bed, and to-morrow----"

A fit of coughing interrupted him. He strained and shook from head to
foot. He had no handkerchief, and spat blood on the floor.

"Fäather!" cried Pete, "you can't turn him out lik this."

"He's shamming," said Reuben.

"Quite so," said Albert, who seemed to have learned sarcasm in
exile--"hæmorrhage is so deuced easy to sham."

"He's come back to git money out of me," said Reuben, "but he shan't
have a penny--I've none to spare."

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

"Well, I'll leave you to Pete," said Reuben, and walked out of the
room. He considered this the more dignified course, and went upstairs to
bed.

The brothers were left alone, except for Harry, who was busy imitating
Albert's cough, much to his own satisfaction.

Pete fetched some soup from the larder and heated it up to a tepid
condition; he also produced bread and cold bacon, which the prodigal
could not touch. Albert sat hunched up by the fire, coughing and
shivering. He had not altered much since he left Odiam; he was thin and
hectic, and had an unshaved look about him, also there were a few grey
streaks in his hair--otherwise he was the same. His manner was the same
too, though his voice had changed completely, and he had lost his Sussex
accent.

Pete ministered to him with a strange devotion, which he carried finally
to the pitch of putting him into his own bed. The absence of so many of
the children did not make much more room in the house, as Reuben's ideas
on sleeping had always been compact--also there were the little boys,
the new dairy woman, and a big store of potatoes. Pete's large untidy
bed was the only available accommodation, and Albert was glad of it, for
he had reached the last stage of exhaustion.

"I bet you anything," he said before he fell asleep, "that now I'm here
the old boy won't be able to turn me out, however much he wants to."


§ 11.

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 had caught a chill, too,
walking in the dark and cold. There could be no thought of moving him.

So Albert stayed in Pete's room, almost entirely ignored by his father.
After some consideration, Reuben had come to the conclusion that this
was the most dignified attitude to adopt. Now and then, when he was
better, he sent him up some accounts to do, as it hurt him to think of
his son lying idle week after week; but he never went near him, and
Albert would never have willingly crossed his path. Those were not the
days of open windows and fresh-air cures, so there was no especial
reason why he should ever leave the low-raftered stuffy room, where he
would lie by the hour in a frowsty dream of sickness, broken only by
fits of coughing and hæmorrhage.

His return had created a mild stir in the neighbourhood, and in Reuben's
breast, despite circumstances and appearances, many thrills of
gratification. Albert's penniless and broken condition was but another
instance of the folly of those who deserted Odiam. None of the
renegades, Reuben told himself, had prospered. Here was Albert come home
to die; Robert, after a prelude in gaol, had exiled himself to
Australia, where the droughts lasted twenty years; Richard, in spite of
studyings and strivings and spendings, had only an occasional brief, and
was unable to support himself at thirty-five; Tilly was living on a
second-rate farm instead of a first-rate one; Caro was living in sin;
Benjamin was probably not living at all. There was no denying it--they
had all done badly away from Odiam.

However, he refused all temptations to discuss this latest prodigal. If
anyone asked him how his son was doing, he would answer, "I dunno; ask
Pete--he's the nurse."

Pete's attitude was Reuben's chief perplexity. It is true that in early
years Albert seemed to have exercised a kind of fascination over his
younger brothers and sisters; still that was long ago, and Pete did not
appear to have given him a thought in the interval. But now he suddenly
developed an almost maternal devotion for the sick and broken Albert. He
would sit up whole nights with him in spite of the toils of the day, he
trod lumberingly about on tiptoe in his presence, he read to him by the
sweat of his brow. Something in his brother's weakness and misery seemed
to have appealed to his clumsy strength. The root of sentimentality
which is always more or less encouraged by a brutal career was quickened
in his heart, and sprouted to an extent that would have mystified the
many he had bashed. It perplexed and irritated his father. To see Pete
hulking about on tiptoe, carrying jugs of water and cups of milk,
shutting doors with grotesque precaution, and perpetually telling
someone upstairs in a voice hoarse with sympathy that he "wurn't to
vrother, as he'd be better soon"--was a foolish and maddening spectacle.
Also Reuben dreaded that Pete would scamp his farm work, so he fussed
round after everything he did, and called him from Albert's bedside
times without number to hoe turnips or guide the plough.

However, someone had to look after the invalid, and Pete might as well
do it as anybody else--as long as he realised that his sick-nursing was
a recreation, and not a substitute for his duties on the farm.

Spring came on, and Albert grew worse. Pete began to look haggard; even
his bullish strength was faltering under sleepless nights, days of moil
and sweat, and constant attendance on the sick man. The dairy-women
helped a little, but what they did they did unwillingly; and as the
dairy was short-handed, Reuben did not like them to take up any extra
work. Pete's existence was a continual round of anxiety and contrivance,
and he was not used to either.

There was also another depressing factor. As he felt his end approaching
Albert began to develop a conscience and remorse. He said he had wasted
his life, and as time wore on and he became weaker he passed from the
general to the particular. The memory of certain sins tormented him, and
he used Pete as his confessor.

Pete was a very innocent soul. He had spoilt many a man's beauty for
him, but he had never been the slave of a woman's. He had broken arms
and ribs, and noses by the score--and he had once nearly killed a man,
and only just escaped being arrested for manslaughter; but he had
remained through it all an innocent soul. He had always lived in the
open air, always worked hard, always fought hard--his recreations had
been whistling and sleep. He had never thought about sin or evil of any
kind, he had never troubled about sex except as it manifested itself in
the brutes he had the care of, he had never read or talked bawdry. All
the energies of his nature had been poured into hard work and hard
blows.

Therefore the confessions of a man like Albert came upon him as a
revelation. Indeed, at first he scarcely understood them. They
disquieted him and sometimes made him nervous and miserable, not because
he had any very definite moral recoil, but because they forced him to
think. Few can gauge the tragedy of thinking when it visits an
unthinking soul. For the first time in his life Pete found himself
confused, questioning, lying awake of nights and asking "why?" The world
suddenly showed itself to him as a place which he could not understand.
It frightened him to think about it. Sometimes he was acutely miserable,
but he would not betray his misery to Albert, as the poor fellow seemed
to find relief in his confidences. And on and on the stream flowed,
swifter and muddier every day.


§ 12.

At last matters reached a climax. It was late in March; Albert was much
worse, and even the doctor looked solemn. "He won't last till the
summer," he said in answer to one of Pete's questions, and unluckily
the sick man heard him.

When Pete went back into the room he found him struggling under the
bedclothes, the sweat trickling down his face.

"Pete!" he cried chokingly--"I won't die!--I won't die!"

"And you wöan't, nuther," said Pete, soothing him.

"But I heard what the doctor said to you."

Pete was at a loss. He could lie if the lie were not too constructive,
but in a case like this he was done for.

"Well, döan't you fret, nohow," he murmured tenderly.

But it was no good telling Albert not to fret. He threw himself from
side to side in the bed, moaned, and almost raved. For months now he had
known that he must die soon, but somehow the idea had not really come
home to him till this moment. He would not let Pete leave him, though
there was a load of mangolds to be brought in; he clung to his brother's
hand like a child, and babbled of strange sins.

"I've been so wicked--I daren't die. I've been the lowest scum. I'm
lost. Pete, I'm damned--I shall go to hell."

Albert had been known openly to scoff at hell, whereas Pete had never
thought much about it. Now it confronted them both under a new
aspect--the scoffer trembled and the thoughtless was preoccupied.

"Döan't fret," reiterated poor Pete, desperate under the fresh
complication of theology, "I reckon you're not bad enough to go to hell,
surelye."

"But I'm the worst--the worst that ever was. I'm scum, I'm dirt"--and
out poured more of the turbid stream, till Pete sickened.

"If I could only see a parson," sobbed Albert at last.

"A parson?"

"Yes--maybe he could comfort me. Oh, I know I've mocked 'em and scoffed
'em all my life, but I reckon they could do summat for me now."

In his weakness he had gone back not only to the religious terrors of
his youth, but to the Sussex dialect he had long forgotten.

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.

"You've told me a dunnamany things, and you can tell me as many more as
you justabout like"--touching the climax of self-sacrifice.

But Albert's weak mind clung to its first idea with scared tenacity. He
was still raving about it when Pete came in from his work that evening.

"I want a parson," he moaned, throwing himself about the bed, and his
terrors seemed to grow upon him as the darkness grew.

Neither of them slept that night. Albert was half delirious, and
obsessed by the thought of hell. The room looked out on Boarzell, and he
became convinced that the swart, tufted mass outlined against the
sprinkled stars was hell, the country of the lost. He pictured himself
wandering over and over it in torment. He said he saw fire on it,
scaring the superstitious Pete out of his life.


     "On the great Moor of the lost
       Wander all the proud and dead--
       Those who brothers' blood have shed,
     Those who brothers' love have crossed."


He broke into his own verse, pouring it out deliriously:


     "There's the shuddering ghost of me
       Lips all black with fire and brine,
       Chained between the libertine
     And the fasting Pharisee."


Then he became obsessed by the idea that he was out on the Moor,
wandering on it, and bound to it. The earth was red-hot under his feet,
and he picked them up off the bed like a cat on hot bricks, till Pete
began to laugh inanely. He saw round him all the places he had known as
a child, and called out for them, because he longed to escape to them
from the burning Moor--"Castweasel! Castweasel!... Ramstile!...
Ellenwhorne...."

It was strange to hear a man calling out the names of places in his
fever as other men might call the names of people.

It was all a return to Albert's childhood. In spite of fifteen years in
London, of a man's work and a man's love and a man's faith, he had gone
back completely to the work and love and faith of his childhood. Odiam
had swallowed him up, it had swallowed him up completely, his very hell
was bounded by it. He spoke with a Sussex accent; he forgot the names of
the women he had loved, and cried instead the names of places, and he
forgot that he did not believe in hell, but thought of it as Boarzell
Moor punctured by queer singing flames.

Pete lay and listened shuddering, waiting with sick desire for the
kindling of the dawn and the whiteness that moved among the trees. At
last they came, the sky bloomed, and the orchard flickered against it,
stirred by a soundless wind. The poor fellow sat up in bed, all troubled
and muddled by things that had never touched him before. He stretched
himself and yawned from force of habit, for he was not in the least
sleepy, then he began to dress.

"What is it?" mumbled Albert, himself again for a moment.

"I'm going to fetch a parson," said Pete.

It was very gallant of him to do so, for it meant venturing still
further into new spheres of thought. None of the Backfields had been to
church for years, though Reuben prided himself on being a good
churchman, and Pete was rather at a loss what to do in a ghostly crisis
such as this. However, on one thing he was resolved--that he would not
go through another night like the last, and he credited a parson with
mysterious cabalistic powers which would miraculously soothe the invalid
and assure him of sleep in future.

So he tramped off towards the Rectory, wondering a little what he should
say when he got there, but leaving it to the inspiration of the moment.
He warmed his honest heart with thoughts of Albert sleeping peacefully
and dying beautifully, though it chilled him a little to think of death.
Why could not Albert live?--Pete would have liked to think of him lying
for years and years in that big untidy bed, pathetic and feeble, and
always claiming by his weakness the whole strength that a day of
unresting toil had left his brother.

The morning flushed. A soft pink crept into ponds and dawn-swung
windows. The light perfumes of April softened the cold, clear air--the
scent of sprouting leaves in the woods, and of primroses in the grass,
while the anemones frothed scentless against the hedges. Pete was about
half a mile from the village when he heard the sound of angry voices
round a bend in the lane, pricked by little screams from a woman.
Expecting a fight he hurried up eagerly, and was just in time to see one
of the grandest upper cuts in his life. A short, well-built man in black
had just knocked down a huge, hulking tramp who had evidently been
improving the hour with a woman now blotted against the hedge. He lay
flat in the road, unconscious, while his adversary stood over him, his
fist still clenched and all the skin off his knuckles.

"Lordy! but that wur justabout präaper!" cried Pete, bustling up, and
sorry that the tramp showed no signs of getting on to his feet.

"It's settled him anyhow," said the man in black.

They both stooped and eyed him critically.

"You've landed him in a good pläace," said Pete; "a little farther back
and he'd have been gone."

"Praise be to God that his life was spared."

Pete looked in some surprise at the bruiser, who continued:

"I'm out of practice, or I shouldn't have skinned myself like this--ah,
here's Coalbran's trap. Perhaps he'll give you a lift, ma'am, into
Peasmarsh."

The woman was helped into the trap, and after some discussion it was
decided not to give themselves the trouble of taking the tramp to the
police station, but to pull him to the side of the road and leave him to
the consequences he had brought upon himself.

"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."

"I'm out of training, as I told you," said the stranger.

"Then you must have bin a valiant basher in your day. It's a pity you
let yourself go slack."

"It was not becoming that I should use my fists, except to defend the
weak. I am a minister of the Lord."

"A parson!" cried Pete.

"A minister of the Lord," repeated with some severity the man in black,
"of the brotherhood named Ebenezer."

Pete remembered hearing that a new parson was coming to the local
Methodists, but nothing had led him to expect such thrilling
developments.

"I used to be in the fancy," said the minister, "but five years ago the
Lord challenged me, and knocked me out in the first round."

Pete was following a train of thought.

"Is a minister the same as a parson?" he asked at length.

"Is a priest of Jehovah the same as a priest of Baal? For shame, young
man!"

"I mean can a minister do wot a Parson does?--tell a poor feller wot's
dying that he wöan't go to hell."

"Not if he's washed in the blood of the Lamb."

"That's wot I mean, surelye. Could you come and talk to a sick man about
all that sort of thing?"

A gleam came into the minister's eyes, very much the same as when he had
knocked out the tramp.

"Reckon I could!" he cried fierily. "Reckon I can snatch a brand from
the burning, reckon I can find the lost piece of silver; reckon I can
save the wandering sheep, and wash it in the blood of the Lamb."

"Same as a parson?" enquired Pete anxiously.

"Better than any mitred priest of Ammon, for I shall not vex the
sinner's soul with dead works, but wash it in the crimson fountain. You
trust your sick man to me, young feller--I'll wash him in blood, I'll
clothe him in righteousness, I'll feed him with salvation."

"I'll justabout täake you to him, then. He asked fur a 'stablished
parson, but I'd sooner far bring you, for, Lordy, if you äun't the
präaperest bruiser I've ever set eyes on."


§ 13.

That was how the Rev. Roger Ades started his ministrations at Odiam. At
first Reuben was disgusted. He had never before had truck with
Dissenters, whom he considered low-class and unfit for anyone above a
tenant farmer. He was outraged by the thought of the pastor's almost
daily visits, accompanied by loud singing of hymns in Albert's bedroom.
However, he did not actually forbid him the house, for Pete had brought
him there, and Reuben never treated Pete exactly as he treated his other
sons. Pete was the only member of his family who had so far not
disgraced Odiam--except the two little boys, who were too young--and he
was always careful to do nothing that might unsettle him and drive him
into his brother's treacherous ways. So the pastor of Ebenezer came
unchecked, and doubtless his ministrations were appreciated, for as time
went by the intervals between them grew shorter and shorter, till at
last Mr. Ades was more often in the house than out of it.

Though strengthened in soul, Albert grew weaker in body, and Pete began
to scamp his farm work. Even when the minister was present, he would not
leave his brother. It grieved Reuben that, while outside matters
prospered, indoors they should remind him of a Methodist conventicle.
The house was full of hymns, they burst through the close-shut windows
of Albert's bedroom and assaulted the ears of workers on Boarzell. In
the evenings, when Ades was gone, Pete whistled them about the house.
Reuben was ashamed; it made him blush to think that his stout
churchmanship should have to put up with this. "I scarcely dare show my
face in the pub, wud all this going on at höame," he remarked
sorrowfully.

Meanwhile, the farm was doing well; indeed, it was almost back at its
former glory. Having laid the foundations, Reuben could now think of
expansion, and he engaged two more farm-hands.

He had quite changed the look of Boarzell. Instead of the swell and
tumble of the heather, were now long stretches of chocolate furrows,
where only the hedge mustard sometimes sprang mutinously, soon to be
rooted up. Reuben, however, looked less on these than on the territories
still unconquered. He would put his head on one side and contemplate the
Moor from different angles, trying to size the rough patch at the top.
He wondered how long it would be before it could all be his. He would
have to work like a fiend if he was to do it in his lifetime. There was
the Grandturzel inclosure, too.... Then he would go and whip up his men,
and make them work nearly as hard as he worked himself, so that in the
evening they would complain at the Cocks of "wot a tedious hard mäaster
Mus' Backfield wur, surelye!"

One day Albert sent his father a message through Pete.

"He wanted me to tell you wot an unaccountable difference he sees in
Boarzell now he's come back. He'd never have known it, 'tis so changed.
All the new bit towards Doozes is justabout präaper."

Reuben said nothing, in spite of the entreaty in Pete's honest eyes, but
his heart warmed towards his son. Albert had shown at last proper
spirit; he had no doubt realised his baseness, and acknowledged that he
had been a fool and villain to betray Odiam. Now he saw how mightily the
farm prospered in spite of adversity, he praised its greatness, and no
man could praise Odiam without winning a little of Reuben's goodwill. He
softened towards the prodigal, and felt that he would like to see the
boy--he still called him "the boy," though he was thirty-seven--and if
he behaved penitently and humbly, forgive him before he died.

That evening he went up to Pete's room. The sound of voices came from
it, one exceedingly loud, and it struck Reuben that "that hemmed
Methody" was there. He opened the door and looked in. Albert lay propped
up in the bed, his hands, wasted into claws, clasped in the attitude of
prayer, his eyes protruding strangely above his sunken cheeks, where the
skin was stretched on the bones. Pete knelt beside him, his eyes closed,
his hands folded, like a child saying its prayers, and at the foot of
the bed stood the Rev. Roger Ades, his face contorted with fervour, his
arms waving in attitudes that were reminiscent of the boxing ring in
spite of his efforts.

None of them saw or heard Reuben's entrance, and at that moment they all
burst into a hymn:


     "There's life in the crimson Fountain,
       There's peace in the Blood of the Slain."


A long shudder of disgust went over Reuben's flesh. He was utterly
shocked by what he saw. That such things could go on in his house struck
him with horror, tinctured by shame. He went out, shutting the door
noisily behind him--the softer feelings had gone; instead he felt
bitterly and furiously humiliated.

The hymn faltered and stopped when the door banged, but the next moment
the minister caught it up again, and hurled it after Reuben's indignant
retreat:


     "My soul is all washed to whiteness,
       And I'll never be foul again.
         Salvation! Salvation full and free!"


§ 14.

Early in May, Pete came out to Reuben on Boarzell and told him that
Albert was dead. Reuben felt a little awkward and a little relieved.

"He died quiet, I hope?"

"Oh, yes," said Pete, "he laid hold on the merits of Jesus."

Reuben started.

"It wur a präaper death," continued Pete; "his soul wur washed as white
as wool. He wur the prodigal son come höame; he wur the Lord's lost
sixpence, I reckon."

"And that son of a harlot from Little Bethel wurn't wud him, I trust?"

"No, I'm going to fetch him now."

His father opened his mouth to forbid him angrily, but changed his mind
and said nothing. Pete walked off whistling--"When the cleansing Blood
is poured."

Reuben could not help feeling relieved at Albert's death, but he had
noticed with some alarm Pete's definitely religious phraseology. He
hoped that Ades had not corrupted him from his pure churchmanship, the
honourable churchmanship of the Backfields. Being a Dissenter was only
one degree better than being a Liberal, and Reuben swore to keep a firm
hand over Pete in future.

That evening he and his son had their first conflict. Pete announced
that he had made arrangements with Ades for Albert's funeral, and Reuben
announced with equal conviction that he was hemmed if Ades had any truck
in it wotsumdever. Albert should be buried according to the rites and
ceremonies of the Church of England, he wasn't going to have any
salvation sung over his grave. Pete, on the other hand, stuck to his
point, and alarmed Reuben with more religious phraseology.

"It wur Ades wot gave him to the Lord, wot found him salvation in the
Blood of the Lamb."

"I döan't care two straws about that. Albert wur born and christened
Church, and he's not going to die chapel because a lousy Methody sings
hymns over him when he's sick and döan't know better. If I find that
feller on my pläace again, I'll break every bone in his body."

Pete angrily defended the minister, which caused Reuben fresh alarm; for
in the old days when his father abused Ades he had tried to conciliate
him by laying stress on the latter's prowess as a bruiser, but now he
never once mentioned his fists, enlarging instead on his qualities of
soul and on the fact that he had found Christ. The two theologians
carried on their argument till well past bedtime, and at last separated
in a great state of dogma and indignation.

In the end it was the Church that won. Reuben went over early the next
morning to the Rectory, and made arrangements for Albert's funeral on
the following Monday. He enlarged on the conflict he had had with Pete,
and was a little dashed by the rector's want of enthusiasm.

Albert was buried with all the decent rites of the Establishment. He
was laid to rest in the Christian company of his mother and his brother
George, at the bottom of the churchyard where it touched the pond; a
little way from him was the old yeoman who had "never wanted anything he
hadn't got, and so hadn't got anything he didn't want." It relieved Pete
a little to think that from where he lay his brother could not see
Boarzell--"not even if he sat up in his grave."

The funeral was dignified and impressive, and every now and then Reuben
glanced across at his son with eyes that said--"Wot could Ebenezer have
done compared wud this?" All the same, he was disappointed. Somehow he
had expected his churchmanship to strike the rector and the curate very
favourably; he had expected them metaphorically to fall on his neck; he
saw himself as a champion of established Christendom, of tithes and
glebes and cosy rectories and "dearly beloved brethren" on Sundays. It
was humiliating to find himself ignored, indeed treated as an outsider,
simply because he had not been to church for ten years. He had had his
children baptised into the Establishment, and now he was burying his son
according to its rites, in spite of opposition, even persecution. These
parsons were ungrateful, bigoted, and blind.

Perhaps though, he thought, their behaviour was partially accounted for
by that of Pete, who stood beside the grave with his eyes shut, saying
"A-aaa-men" at unliturgical intervals, as only Dissenters can say it.


§ 15.

Pete spent that evening with Ades, and Reuben's fireside slumbers were
unrestful because he missed Pete's accustomed snore from the other end
of the settle. The next morning his son did not appear, though there was
plenty of work to be done in the hop-fields. The young hops were now
well above ground, and exposed to the perils of blight, so Reuben and
Beatup were spraying them with insect-killer, badly in need of a third
man to do the mixing.

"Where's Pete?" asked Reuben.

"I dunno--äun't seen un this mornun. Ah--thur he be!"

"Where?"

"Cöaming up by the brook, surelye."

Reuben stared in amazement. The approaching figure undoubtedly was Pete,
but a Pete so changed by circumstances and demeanour as to be almost
unrecognisable. He wore his Sunday black clothes, which--as, with the
exception of the funeral, he had not put them on for ten years--were
something of a misfit. On his head was a black hat with a wide flapping
brim, he walked with a measured step and his hands folded in front of
him.

"Well," cried Reuben, calling abuse to the rescue of surprise--"you
hemmed lazy good-fur-nothing, you!--wud all the Glotten hay to be cut,
and ten acres o' hops to be sprayed, and you go laying in bed lik a
lady, and then come out all dressed as if you wur going to church.
Where's your corduroys?"

"In my box--you can clöathe the naked wud 'em--I'm never going to put
'em on no more."

"I'm hemmed if I'll have you working on my farm in that foolery. You'll
mäake us the laughing-stock of Peasmarsh. You've got Ebenezer on the
brain, you have, and you can justabout git it off again."

"I'm never going to do another ströake of wark on your farm as long as I
live. Salvation's got me."

Reuben dropped the insect-killer.

"I'm the Lord's lost lamb," announced Pete.

"The Lord's lost----!" cried his father angrily. "You täake off them
blacks, and git to work lik a human being."

"I tell you I'm never going to work fur you agäun. I'm going forth to
spread the Word. Salvation's got me."

"You wait till _I_ git you, that's all," and Reuben ran at Pete.

"Kip off, or I'll slosh you one on the boko," cried the Lord's lost lamb
swinging up a vigorous pair of fists. Reuben breathed a sigh of relief.

"There--I knew as there wur reason in you, Pete. You wöan't go and leave
your fäather lik the rest, all fur a hemmed Methody."

"Hemmed Methody! That's how you spik of the man wot's säaved my soul. I
tell you as there I wur lost in trespasses and sins, and now I'm washed
white as wool--there wur my evil doings sticking to my soul lik maggots
to a dead rat, and now my soul's washed in the Blood of the Lamb, and
I'm going out to spread the Word."

"Where are you going?"

"Unto the ends of the earth--Hastings. There's a friend of Ades there
wot'll guide me into the Spirit's ways."

"But you'll never leave me at the time of the hay-harvest, and Emily due
to calve in another month?"

"I tell you I'm shut of your farm--it's wot's led me astray from a lad.
Instead of settin' and reading godly books and singing wud the saints
I've gone and ploughed furrers and carted manure; I've thought only of
the things of the flesh, I've walked lik accursed Adam among the
thistles. But now a Voice says, 'work no more!--go and spread the Word!'
And if you're wise, fäather, you'll cöame too, and you, Beatup. You'll
flee from the wrath to cöame, when He shall shäake the earth and the
elimunts shall dissolve in fervient heat, and He ..."

"Have adone do wud your preaching. I'm ashamed of you, led astray by
lunies as if you wur no better nor poor Harry. You're a hemmed lousy
traitor, you are, the worst of 'em all."

"I'm only fleeing from the wrath to cöame--and if you're wise you'll
foller me. This farm is the city of destruction, I tell you, it's a
snare of the devil, it's Naboth's vineyard, it's the lake that burneth
wud fire and brimstone. Cöame out of her, cöame out of her, my peoples!"

Reuben was paralysed. His jaw worked convulsively, and he looked at Pete
as if he were a specially new and pestilential form of blight.

"Save yourself, fäather," continued the evangelist, "and give up all the
vain desires of the flesh. Is this a time to buy olive-yards and
vineyards? Beware lest there cöame upon you as it did to him wot
purchaised a field, the reward of inquiety, and falling headlong he bust
asunder in the midst and his bowels goshed out----"

But Reuben had found his voice.

"Git out of this!" he shouted. "I wöan't stand here and listen to you
miscalling the farm wot's bred you and fed you over thirty year. Git
out, and never think you'll come back again. I'm shut of you. I döan't
want no more of you--I'm out of the wood now, I've got all the work out
of you I've needed, so you can go, and spread your hemmed Word, and be
hemmed. I'm shut of you."

Pete fixed upon his father a gaze meant to inspire the utmost terrors of
conscience, then turned on his heel and slowly walked away.

The sight of his broad black back disappearing among the hop-bines was
too much for Reuben. He picked up the can of insect-killer and hurled it
after his son, splashing his respectability from head to foot with the
stinking fluid. Pete flung round with his fists up, then suddenly
dropped them and raised his eyes instead.

"You wudn't daur do that if I hadn't been saved!" he shouted.

Then he walked off, beautiful of soul no doubt, but highly unpleasant of
body.



BOOK VII

THE END IN SIGHT


§ 1.

The next five years were comparatively uneventful. All that stood out of
them was the steady progress of the farm. It fattened, it grew, it crept
up Boarzell as the slow tides softly flood a rock.

Reuben was now alone at Odiam with his two small children and Harry.
David and Bill, unlike their predecessors, did not start their career as
farm-hands till well past babyhood. Reuben no longer economised in
labour--he had nearly a dozen men in regular employ, to say nothing of
casuals. Sometimes he thought regretfully of the stalwart sons who were
to have worked for him, to have run the farm without any outside help
... but that dream belonged to bygone days, and he resolutely put it
from him. After all, his posse of farm-hands was the envy of the
neighbourhood; no one in Peasmarsh employed so many.

Reuben himself was still able for a great deal of work. Though over
sixty, he still had much of the vigour, as he had all the straightness,
of his youth. Work had not bent him and crippled him, as it had crippled
Beatup, his junior by several years. The furnace of his pride and
resolution seemed to have dried the damps steamed up by the earth from
her revengeful wounds, so that rheumatism--the plague of the labourer on
the soil--had done no worse for him than shooting pains in the winter
with a slight thickening of his joints.

His hair had been grey for years, and as he grew older it did not
whiten, but stayed the colour of polished iron, straight, shining, and
thick as a boy's. He had lost two back teeth, and made a tremendous fuss
about them, saying it was all the fault of the dentist in Rye, who
preferred a shilling extraction to a threepenny lotion--but the rest of
his teeth were as good as ever, though at last a trifle discoloured by
smoking.

His face was a network of wrinkles. He was not the sort of countryman
whose skin old age stretches smoothly over the bones and reddens
benignly as a sun-warmed apple. On the contrary, he had grown swarthier
with the years, the ruddy tints had been hardened into the brown, and
from everywhere, from the corners of his eyes, of his mouth, of his
nose, across his forehead, along his cheeks, under his chin, spread a
web of lines, some mere hair-tracery on the surface, others wrinkled
deep, others ploughed in like the furrows of his own fields.

Harry had not aged so successfully. He was terribly bent, and some of
his joints were swollen grotesquely, though he had not had so much truck
as Reuben with the earth and her vapours. He was so thin that he
amounted to little more than shrivelled yellow skin over some twisted
bones, and yet he was wiry and clung desperately to life. Reuben was
sorry for this--his brother annoyed him. Harry grew more irritating with
old age. He still played his fiddle, though he had now forgotten every
semblance of a tune, and if it were taken away from him by some
desperate person he would raise such an outcry that it would soon be
restored as a lesser evil. He hardly ever spoke to anyone, but muttered
to himself. "Salvation's got me!" he would croak, for his mind had been
inexplicably stamped by Pete's outrage, and he forgot all about that
perpetual wedding which had puzzled him for so many years. "Salvation's
got me!" he would yell, suddenly waking in the middle of the
night--keeping the memory of the last traitor always green.

But it was for other reasons that Reuben most wished that Harry would
die. Harry was a false note, a discord in his now harmonious scheme. He
was a continual reminder of the power of Boarzell, and would
occasionally sweep Reuben's thoughts away from those fat corn-fields
licking at the crest to that earliest little patch down by Totease,
where the Moor had drunk up its first blood. He called himself a fool,
but he could not help seeing something sinister and fateful in Harry,
scraping tunelessly at his fiddle, or repeating over and over again some
wandering echo from the outside world which had managed to reach his
dungeoned brain. Reuben wished he would die, and so did the farm-boy who
slept with him, and the dairy-woman who fed him at meals.

The only people who would have been sorry if he had died were the
children. Harry was popular with them, as he had been with baby Fanny
long ago, because he made funny faces and emitted strange, unexpected
sounds. He was unlike the accepted variety of grown-up people, who were
seldom amusing or surprising, and one could take liberties with him,
such as one could not take with fäather or Maude. Also, being blind, one
could play on him the most fascinating tricks.

These tricks were never unkind, for David and William were the most
benevolent little boys. They saw life through a golden mist, it smelt of
milk and apples, it was full of soft lowings and bleatings and
cheepings, of gentle noses to stroke and little downy things to hold.
For the first time since it became Reuben's, Odiam made children happy.
The farm which had been a galley and a prison to those before them, was
an enchanted land of adventure to these two. Old Beatup, who remembered
earlier things, would sometimes smile when he saw them trotting hand in
hand about the yard, playing long hours in the orchard, and now and
then pleading as a special favour to be allowed to feed the chickens,
or help fetch the cows home. He seemed to see the farm peopled by little
ghosts who had never dared trot about aimlessly, or had time to play,
and had fed the fowls and fetched the cows not as a treat and an
adventure, but as a dreary part of the day's grind ... he reflected that
"the mäaster had learned summat by the others, surelye."

Of course, one reason why David and Billy were so free was because of
the growing prosperity of the farm, which no longer made it necessary to
save and scrape. But on the other hand, it was a fact that the mäaster
had learned summat by the others. He was resolved that, come what might,
he would keep these boys. They should not leave him like their brothers;
and since harshness had failed to keep those at home, he would now try a
slacker rule. He was growing old, and he wanted to think that at his
death Odiam would pass into loyal and loving hands, he wanted to think
of its great traditions being carried on in all their glory. Sometimes
he would have terrible dreams of Odiam being divided at his death, split
up into allotments and small-holdings, scrapped into building plots.
Such dreams made him look with hungry tenderness at the two little
figures trotting hand in hand about the orchard and the barns.


§ 2.

It was about that time that the great Lewin case came on at the Old
Bailey. The papers were full of it, and Reuben could not suppress a glow
of pride when Maude the dairy-woman read out the name of Richard
Backfield as junior counsel for the defence. But his pride was to be
still further exalted. The senior counsel collapsed with some serious
illness on the very eve of the trial, and Richard stepped into his
shoes. The papers were now full of his name, it was on everyone's lips
throughout the kingdom, and especially in the public-houses between Rye
and the Kent border. Men stopped drinking at the Cocks when Reuben came
in, and women ran down to their garden gates when he passed by. Reuben
himself did not say much, but he now regularly took in a daily paper,
and being able to recognise the name of Backfield in print, sat chasing
the magic word through dark labyrinths of type, counting the number of
its appearances and registering them on the back of his corn accounts.

"How's the Lewin cäase gitting on?" someone would ask at the Cocks, and
Reuben would answer:

"Valiant--my näum wur sixteen times in the päaper this mornun."

He almost taught himself to read by this means, for it was the first
time he had ever studied a printed page, and he had soon picked up
several words besides Backfield. Not that he took much interest in the
case beyond Richard's--that is to say, Odiam's--share in it, but soon it
became clear that Richard was leading it to marvellous developments.
Lewin was a bank-manager accused of colossal frauds, and Richard amazed
the country by dragging a couple of hitherto respected banking knights
into the business. At one time it was thought he would get an acquittal
by this, but Richard was a barrister, not a detective, and he
brilliantly got his client acquitted on a point of law, which though it
may have baffled a little the romantic enthusiasm of his newspaper
admirers, made his name one to conjure with in legal circles, so that
briefs were no longer matters of luck and prayer.

His fortune was made by the Lewin case. He wrote home and told his
father that he had now "arrived," and was going to marry Anne Bardon.

The excitement created by his defence of Lewin was nothing to that which
now raged in Rye and Peasmarsh. Reuben was besieged by the curious, who
found relief for a slight alloy of envy by pointing out how
unaccountable well the young man had done for himself by running away.

"Reckon you dudn't think as how it 'ud turn out lik this, or you wudn't
have been in such tedious heart about it."

"I can't say as I'm pleased at his marrying Miss Bardon," Reuben would
say. "She's ten year older than he if she's a day. 'Twas she who asked
him, I reckon. He could have done better fur himself if he'd stayed at
höame."


§ 3.

Reuben had bought thirty-five more acres of Boarzell in '81, and thirty
in '84. The first piece was on the Flightshot side of the Moor, by Cheat
Land, the second stretched from the new ground by Totease over to
Burntbarns. Now only about fifty acres, including the Fair-place and the
crest, remained to be won outside the Grandturzel inclosure. Bardon
publicly announced his intention never to sell the Fair-place to
Backfield. Flightshot and Odiam had not been drawn together by Richard's
marriage. At first Reuben had feared that the Squire might take
liberties on the strength of it, and had been stiffer than ever in his
unavoidable intercourse with the Manor. But Bardon had been, if
anything, stiffer still. He thoroughly disapproved of Backfield as an
employer of labour--some of his men were housed, with their families, in
two old barns converted into cottages at the cheapest rate--and as he
was too hard up to refuse to sell him Boarzell, he could express his
disgust only by his attitude. Fine shades of manner were apt to be lost
on Reuben, but about the refusal to sell the Fair-place there could be
no mistake.

Meantime he cast covetous and hopeful eyes on the Grandturzel inclosure.
Realf was doing nothing with it, and his affairs were not so prosperous
as they used to be. His abandonment of the struggle had not changed his
luck, and a run of bad luck--the usual farmer's tale of poor harvests,
dead cows, blighted orchards, and low prices--had plunged Grandturzel
nearly as deep as Odiam had once been. Realf had shown himself without
recuperative powers; he economised, but inefficiently, and Reuben
foresaw that the day would come when he would be forced to part with
some of his land. He was in no immediate hurry for this, as he would be
all the readier to spend his money in a few years' time, but
occasionally he gave himself the treat of going up to the Grandturzel
inclosure and inspecting it from the fence, planning exactly what he
would do with it when it was his.

More than once Realf and Tilly saw him in the distance, a tall, sinister
figure, haunting their northern boundaries.

"Fäather's after our land," said Tilly, and shuddered.


§ 4.

The little boys grew big and went to school. This time it was not to the
dame's school in the village, for that had collapsed before the new
board-school which had risen to madden Reuben's eyes with the spectacle
of an educated populace. They went to Rye Grammar School and learned
Latin and Greek like gentlemen. There was something new in Reuben's
attitude towards these boys, for his indulgence had deeper roots than
expediency. Sometimes of an evening he would go to the bottom of the
Totease lane, where it joins the Peasmarsh road, and wait there for his
sons' return. They would see him afar off, and run to meet him, and they
would all three walk home together, arm-in-arm perhaps.

He would have been exceedingly indignant if in bygone days anyone had
ever hinted that he did not love the sons and daughters whom he had
beaten, kicked out of doors, frustrated, suppressed, or driven to
calamity. All the same, he acknowledged that there was a difference
between his feelings towards Rose's children and Naomi's. Though Naomi
was the wife more pleasant to remember, Rose's were the children he
loved best. They had not grown up in the least like her, and he was glad
of that, for he would have hated to confront again her careless, lovely
face, or the provoking little teeth of her smile; they were Backfields,
dark of hair and swarthy of skin, David with grey eyes, William with
brown.

When he saw them running along the lane from school, or tramping the
fields together--they were always together--or helping with the hops or
the hay, his heart would stir with a warm, unwonted sense of fatherhood,
not just the proud paternal impulse which had visited him when he held
his new-born babies in his arms, but something belonging more to the
future than the present, to the days when they should carry on Odiam
after his death. For the first time he had sons whom he looked upon not
merely as labourers to help him in his work, but as men created in his
own image to inherit that work and reap its fruits when he was gone.

He was pleased to see their evident love of the farm. They begged him
not to keep them too long at school, for they wanted to come home and
work on Odiam. So he took David away when he was sixteen, and William
when he was fifteen the next year.

Meantime it seemed as if in spite of his absorption in his new family he
was not to be entirely cut off from the old. In the summer of '87, just
after the Jubilee, he had a letter from Richard, announcing that he and
his wife were coming for a week or so to Rye. Reuben had not heard of
Richard for some years, and had not seen him since he left Odiam--he had
been asked to the wedding, but had refused to go. Now Richard expressed
the hope that he would soon see his father. His was a nature that
mellows and softens in prosperity, and though he had not forgotten the
miseries of his youth, he was too happy to let them stand between him
and Reuben now that they were only memories.

Anne was not so disposed to forgive--she had her brother's score as well
as her husband's to settle, and concealed from no one that she thought
her father-in-law a brutal and conscienceless old slave-driver whose
success was a slur on the methods of Providence. She refused to
accompany Richard on his first visit to Odiam, but spent the afternoon
at Flightshot, while he tramped with Reuben over the land that had once
been so hateful to him.

Reuben, though he would not have confessed it, was much taken with his
son's appearance. Richard looked taller, which was probably because he
held himself better, more proudly erect; his face seemed also subtly
changed; he had almost a legal profile, due partly no doubt to a
gold-rimmed pince-nez. He looked astonishingly clean-shaven, he wore
good clothes, and his hands were slim and white, not a trace of
uncongenial work remaining. He had quite lost his Sussex accent, and
Reuben vaguely felt that he was a credit to him.

Their attitude, at first constrained, soon became more cordial than
either would have thought possible in earlier days. Richard made no
tactless references to his brothers and sisters, and admired and praised
everything, even the pigsties that had used to make him sick. They went
out into the fields and inspected the late lambs, Richard showing that
he had lost every trace of shepherd-lore that had ever been his. His
remarks on shearing gave Reuben a very bad opinion of the English Bar;
however, they parted in a riot of mutual civility, and Richard asked his
father to dine with him at the Mermaid in a couple of days.

Anne was furious when she heard of the invitation.

"You know I don't want to meet your father--and I'm sure he'll disgrace
us."

"He's more likely to amuse us," said Richard; "he's a character, and I
shall enjoy studying him for the first time from an unbiassed
view-point."

"It won't be unbiassed if he disgraces us."

However, Reuben did not disgrace them. On the contrary, more than one
admiring glance drifted to the Backfields' table, and remarks were
overheard about "that picturesque old man." Reuben had dressed himself
with care in a suit of dark grey cloth and the flowered waistcoat he had
bought when he married Rose. His collar was so high and stiff that he
could hardly get his chin over it, his hair was brushed and oiled till
its grey thickness shone like the sides of a man-o'-war, and his hands
looked quite clean by artificial light.

Richard had invited his young half-brothers too, for they had been at
school when he visited Odiam. They struck him as quite ordinary-looking
boys, dressed in modern reach-me-downs, and only partially inheriting
their father's good looks. As for them, they were cowed and abashed past
all words. It seemed incredible that this resplendent being in the white
shirt-front and gold-rimmed eye-glasses was their brother, and the lady
with the hooked nose and the diamonds their sister-in-law. They scarcely
ventured to speak, and were appalled by the knives and forks and glasses
that lay between them and their dinner.

Reuben too was appalled by them, but would not for worlds have shown it.
He attacked the knives and forks with such vigour that he did not get
really involved in them till the joint, and as he refused no drink the
waiter offered he soon had all his glasses harmlessly occupied. Nor was
he at a loss for conversation. He was resolved that neither Richard nor
Anne should ignore the greatness of his farm; if only he could stir up
a spark of home-sickness in his son's white-shirted breast, his triumph
would be complete.

"I reckon I'm through wud my bad luck now--Odiam's doing valiant. I'm
shut of all the lazy-bones, Grandturzel's beat, and I've naun to stand
agäunst me."

"What about Nature?" asked Richard, readjusting his pince-nez and
thrusting forward his chin, whereby it was always known in court that he
meant to "draw out" the witness.

"Nature!" snorted Reuben--"wot's Nature, I'd lik to know?"

"The last word on most subjects," said Richard.

"Well, is it? I reckon it äun't the last word on your wife."

"I beg your pardon!"--Anne's chin came forward so like Richard's that
one might gather he had borrowed the trick from her.

"Well, 'carding to Nature, ma'am, and saving your presence, you're
forty-five year if you're a day. I remember the very 'casion you wur
born. Well, if I may be so bold, you döan't look past thirty. How's
that? Just because you know some dodges worth two of Nature's, you've a
way of gitting even wud her. Now if a lady can bust Nature at her
dressing-täable, I reckon I can bust her on my farm."

"This is most interesting," said Anne icily, raising her lorgnette and
looking at Reuben as if he were a bad smell.

"He means to be complimentary," said Richard.

"Reckon I do!" cried Reuben genially, warmed by various liquors--"naun
shall say I döan't know a fine woman when I see one. And I reckon as me
and my darter-in-law are out after the säum thing--and that's the
beating of Nature, wot you seem to set such a store by, Richard."

"Well, she'll have you both in the end, anyhow."

"She! no--she wöan't git me."

"She'll get you when you die."

"Oh, I döan't count that--that's going to good earth."

"Perhaps she'll get you before then."

Reuben banged the table with his fist.

"I'm hemmed if she does. She'd have got me long ago if she'd ever been
going to--when I wur young and my own hot blood wur lik to betray me.
But I settled her then, and I'll settle her to the end of time. Mark my
words, Richard my boy, there's always some way of gitting even wud her.
Wot's nature?--nature's a thing; and a man's a--why he's a man, and he
can always go one better than a thing. Nature mäakes potato-blight, so
man mäakes Bordeaux spray; nature mäakes calf-husk, so man mäakes
linseed oil; nature mäakes lice, so man mäakes lice-killer. Man's the
better of nature all along, and I döan't mind proving it."

Having thus delivered himself under the combined fire of the lorgnette
and the pince-nez, Reuben poured himself out half a tumblerful of _crème
de menthe_ and drank the healths of them both with their children,
whereat Anne rose quickly from the table and sought refuge in the
drawing-room.

It was after ten o'clock when her father-in-law and his two silent boys
climbed into their trap and started homewards over the clattering
cobbles of Mermaid Street. In the trap the two silent boys found their
tongues, and fell to discussing their brother Richard in awestruck
voices. They whispered about his dinner, his wife, his hands, his
eye-glasses, his voice, while old Dorrington picked his way up Playden
Hill in the white starshine. Reuben heard them as if in a dream as he
leaned forward over the reins, his eyes fixed on Capella, bright and
cold above Bannister's Town. He had drunk more liberally and more
variously than he had ever drunk in his life, but he carried his liquor
well, and all he was conscious of was a slight exaltation, a feeling of
triumph, as if all these huddled woods, lightless farms, and cold
winking stars were in some strange way his by conquest, the tokens of
his honour. The wind lapped round him, baffing at his neck--it sighed in
the woods, and rocked them gently towards the east. In the south Orion
hung above Stonelink, with Sirius at the end of his sword ... the
constellation of the Ram was high....

Then suddenly his sons' voices floated up to him in his dream.

"I wish I could be like Richard, Bill."

"So do I--but I reckon we never shall."

"Not if we stick to the farm. Did you notice that ring on his little
finger?"

"Yes, quite a plain one, but it looked justabout fine."

"And he had a gold watch-chain across his waistcoat."

"I reckon he's done well fur himself by running away."

"Yes, if he'd stayed he'd never have married Miss Bardon and had his
name in all the papers."

"We'll never do anything fur ourselves if we stay at Odiam."

"No--but we'll have to stay. Fäather will make us."

"He couldn't make Richard stay."

Reuben listened as if in a nightmare--the blood in his veins seemed to
turn to ice. He could hardly believe his ears.

"Richard's made his fortune by quitting Odiam. 'Tis a good place, but
he'd never have done half so valiant for himself if he'd stayed."

Reuben pulled himself together, and swinging round cuffed both speakers
unaccustomedly.

"Döan't let me hear another word of that hemmed nonsense. If you think
as Richard's bettered himself by running away from Odiam, you're
unaccountable mistaken. Wot's a dirty lawyer compared wud a farmer as
farms three hundred acres, and owns 'em into the bargain? All my boys
have busted and ruined them selves by running away--Richard's the only
one that's done anything wotsumdever ... and if he's done well, there's
one as has done better, and that's his fäather wot stayed at home."


§ 5.

About three years later Sir Ralph Bardon died. He died of typhus caught
on one of Reuben's insanitary cottages, where he had been nursing a sick
boy. The village was inclined to look upon him as a martyr and Reuben as
his murderer, but Reuben himself preserved a contemptuous attitude. "If
I'd wanted anything as much as he wanted them houses o' mine, I'm hemmed
if I wudn't have had 'em," he said, "and all he could do wur to die of
'em"--and he spat.

Sir Ralph had never married and there was no direct heir; Anne was about
as likely to produce offspring as a Latin grammar, and the property went
to a distant cousin, Eustace Fleet. The very name of Bardon was now
extinct. For two hundred years it had been coupled with Flightshot and
Whig politics and the idea of a gentleman, till the last had finally
been the downfall of the other two. The race of Bardon had died of its
own virtues.

Reuben's hopes of the Fair-place now revived, and he at once approached
the new Squire with a view to purchase; but Sir Eustace turned out to be
quite as wrong-headed as Sir Ralph on the matter of popular rights.

"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 it--but the
Place itself must be preserved for the people. I'm sure you understand."

Reuben didn't, nor pretended that he did.

He started licking his forty acres into shape, with many inward vows
that he would have the rest of them soon, he was hemmed if he didn't. He
was on the high ground now, he could throw a stone into the clump of
firs which still mocked his endeavours. The soil was all hard and
flinty, matted with heather roots and the fibres of gorse. Reuben's men
grumbled and cursed as the earth crumbled and rattled against their
spades, which sometimes broke on the big flints and bits of limestone.
They scoffed incredulously when old Beatup told them that the lower
pastures and the Totease oatfields had once been like this.

Boarzell was almost unrecognisable now. When one climbed the Forstal
Hill behind Peasmarsh and looked southward, one no longer saw a great
roughness of Moor couching like something wild and untrapped in the
midst of the tame fields and domestic cottages. The fields had licked up
its sides till all they had left was the brown and golden crest with its
central clump of firs. Behind this to the north was the Grandturzel
inclosure, but Reuben's land was nibbling round the edge of it, and
everyone knew that Grandturzel would not be able to hold out much
longer.

Opinion in Peasmarsh was divided. There was a general grudging
admiration of the man who seemed able, in defiance of the Scriptures, to
make Leviathan his servant. No one could deny that Backfield had
performed a job which the neighbourhood from the first had declared to
be impossible. He was disliked--not because anyone particularly envied
him the land he bought so eagerly and so strenuously shaped, but because
of his utter disregard of what other men prized and his willingness to
sacrifice it for the sake of what they did not prize at all. He was a
living insult to their hearths, their homes, their wives, their
children, their harmless recreations, the delights of their flesh, all
those things which he had so readily set aside to win his great
ambition. It was not for what he wanted that they hated him so much as
for the things he did not want.

However, everyone viewed with dislike and suspicion his covetous eye
cast on the Fair-place. He might have the rest of Boarzell and welcome,
for no other man had any use for flints, but the Fair was sacred to them
through the generations, and they gauged his sacrilegious desire to rob
them of it for his own ends. He might have the Grandturzel inclosure,
though all the village sympathised with the beaten Realf--beaten, they
said, because he hadn't it in him to be as hard-hearted as the old
Gorilla, and sacrifice his wife and children to his farm--but they would
far rather see Grandturzel swallowed up than Boarzell Fair.

When his failure to buy the crest became known there were great
rejoicings throughout Peasmarsh. The Fair that year was more than
usually crowded, and the merriment was increased by the sight of Reuben
stalking among the booths, and glaring at them as if he wished them all
at blazes.


§ 6.

The boys were now sixteen and eighteen, fine, manly young fellows,
working cheerfully on Odiam and rejoicing their father's heart. Reuben
watched over them sometimes with an odd kind of anxiety--they were so
satisfactory that he felt it could not last. He remembered that
conversation he had overheard in the trap on the way home from Rye, and
though nothing had happened since to remind him of it or cause him fresh
alarm, he could never quite shake off the cold thrills it had given him.

Besides, David and William had come to a dangerous age, they were
beginning to form opinions and ideas of their own, they were beginning
to choose their own friends and pastimes. But what Reuben distrusted
most was their affection for each other, it was more fundamental to his
anxieties than any outside independence. From childhood they had been
inseparable, but in past years he had put this down to the common
interests of their play, for there were few boys of their own age on the
neighbouring farms. But now they were grown up the devotion
persisted--they still did everything together, work or play. Reuben knew
that they had secrets from him, their union gave him a sense of
isolation. They were fond of him, but he was not to them what they were
to each other, and his remoteness seemed to grow with the years.

In his alarm he made plans to separate them. He discovered that the big
attic they slept in was not healthy, and moved their beds to two rooms
divided by his own. He now felt that he had put an end to those bedtime
conferences which must have done so much to unite the brothers and set
him at a distance.

His vigilance increased when their first love affairs began. At first
they would gabble innocently to him about pretty girls they had seen in
Rye, but they soon found out such conversation was most unwelcome.
Reuben looked upon love as the biggest curse and snare of life; if David
and William fell in love they would lose interest in Odiam, they would
do something silly like Robert, or mad like Caro, or bad like Rose. Love
was the enemy of Odiam, and Reuben having trodden it down himself was
not going to see it rise and stamp on his boys. He gave them the benefit
of his experience in no measured terms:

"If you fall in love wud a gal you can't say no to her, and she'll find
it out lamentable soon. When either of you boys finds a nice strong,
sensible gal, wud a bit o' money, and not self-willed, such as 'ull be a
good darter-in-law' to me, I shan't have nothing to say agäunst it. But
döan't you go running after petticoats and mäake fools of yourselves and
disgrace Odiam, and call it being in love. Love mäakes you soft, and if
you're soft you might just as well be buried fur all the good you're
likely to do yourself."

David and William seemed much impressed, and Reuben congratulated
himself. Two days later he went into the dairy to give an order, and saw
one of the dairy girls bending over a pan of cream. Something in her
attitude and in the soft curly down on the nape of her neck reminded him
of Naomi and that early courting scene, now nearly fifty years ago; but
before he had time to recall it, David came in by another door, not
seeing his father, and running lightly up to the dairymaid suddenly
kissed the back of her neck and ran away. She turned round with a
scream, just in time to see him disappearing through one door, while in
the other stood Reuben with grimly folded arms. He gave her a week's
wages and sent her away.

"Where's Agnes?" asked David with laboured carelessness a day or two
later.

"She wasted her time," said Reuben, "so I got shut of her."

"She's gone!"

"Yes--back to her parents at Tonbridge"--and Reuben grinned.

David said no more, but for the rest of the day he seemed glum and
abstracted. In the evening Reuben found him sitting at the corn
accounts, staring through the open window into the dusk.

"Wot's fretting you, boy?" he asked.

"Naun--I'm thinking."

Once or twice Reuben caught him in the same mood, and questioned him.
But David still answered:

"I'm thinking."


§ 7.

That autumn David and William went to Newhaven to see the Rye Football
Club play the West Sussex United. They had more than once gone on such
jaunts together, and on this occasion, trains being difficult, they put
up for the night at a small hotel near the port. It was the first time
they had spent a night away from Odiam, and a certain thrill attached to
it.

When the match was over they went for a stroll on the parade. There was
not much daylight left, but the evening was warm, and the parade was
crowded with saunterers. The young men were glad to think that there was
no homeward train to be caught, or account of the day's doings to be
given to their father. He always asked minutely how they spent their
time, and it annoyed them a little.

To-night they would walk and sit on the parade till supper time, then go
to some coffee-house, and wind up at a music-hall. It was a gay
programme and they discussed it happily, glanced at the passers-by,
inspected the empty bandstand, and finally sat down on one of the seats
to watch the fishing-boats trim their lamps in the amethyst fog of the
sea. For some time they talked about the terrible licking the United had
given Rye, arguing about this or that player, and speculating as to what
would be the Club's fate at Hythe next week.

It was David who drew William's attention to the woman sitting at the
other end of their seat. David piqued himself on his knowledge of the
world.

"She's a--you know," he said.

William peeped round his brother's shoulder.

"How can you tell?"

"Why, you kid, it's as plain as the nose on your face--look at her
paint."

Bill looked, his eyes opening wider than ever. She certainly was a
disreputable female, or there was no judging by appearances. She wore a
big frowsy hat trimmed with roses and ears of corn, under which her
thick black hair was held up by several tawdry pins; her face was more
lavishly than artistically adorned with rouge and _blanc de perle_, and
she pulled a cape of lavender velvet closely round her shoulders as if
she were cold--which might well have been, for, as far as they could
see, her bodice consisted almost entirely of lace.

"It's early for her to be prowling," said the man of the world. "I
reckon she's having just a breath of fresh air before she starts work."

"Where'll she go then?" asked Billy.

"Oh, to the more crowded streets, round about the pubs and that."

"I wonder how much she mäakes at it."

"Not much, I reckon. She's a very low-class sort, and not at all young."

"Täake care--she might hear you."

"Oh, don't you worry," said the lady blandly; "I like listening to you,
and I was only waiting till you'd stopped before I introduced myself."

Bill gasped, and David forgot that he was a man of the world, and sidled
against his brother.

"Don't you know me?" continued the siren, tilting her hat back from her
face.

"No-o-o."

"Ever heard of your sister Caro?"

Both boys started, and stared at her in utter blankness.

"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 you even if you hadn't been the
dead spit of your father."

The boys still didn't seem to have much to say, so she continued:

"I heard of your brother Pete the other day--never knew he'd left home
till I saw his name down to preach at Piddinghoe Mission Hall last
month. He's called Salvation Pete now, as I daresay you know, and I half
thought of going to hear him, only times are so bad I couldn't afford an
evening off. When did he leave Odiam?--I should like some news of home."

"He quitted years ago, when we were little chaps. Salvation got him."

"I reckon that must have come hard on fäather--he always was
unaccountable set on Pete. Heard anything of Tilly lately?"

"No, nothing particular. But fäather's going to buy the Grandturzel
inclosure."

"And Rose?"

"Who's Rose?"

"Your mother, my precious innocents. But look here, you shall ask me to
supper--it'll only be doing the decent thing by me--and you shall tell
me about them all at Odiam--as used to be at Odiam, rather, for I reckon
there's nobody but yourselves there now."

David and William looked at each other uneasily; however, there was
nothing else to be done, and also a certain excitement and curiosity
inspired them. So they set out with Caro to an eating-house chosen by
herself in a small fish-smelling back street. They were much too
embarrassed to order supper, so Caro good-naturedly did this for
them--fish and chips, and three bottles of six ale.

"I don't often come here," she said--"this is a bit too classy for me. I
go mostly to the coffee stalls down by the harbour. You mustn't think as
I'm coining money at this, you know. I work mostly among the fishermen,
and they're a seedy lot. I started up town, but I'm not so young as I
was, and sometimes even at the harbour I find it unaccountable hard to
git off."

With the gas-light flaring on her raddled face, showing up mercilessly
the tawdriness and shoddiness of her clothes, which reeked of a cheap
scent, the boys did not find it hard to believe that she often had a
struggle to "git off "--indeed, it was a mystery how any man, however
unfastidious, however fuddled, could kiss or take kisses from this
bundle of rags and bones and paint. Caro seemed to notice the
disparaging look.

"Oh, I'm a bit off colour to-night, but I can tell you I was a fine girl
when I went away with Joe--and all the time I lived with him, too, first
at the Camber and then at New Romney; there was many as 'ud have been
proud to git me from him. But I stuck to him faithful, I did, till one
morning I woke up and found him gone, off on a voyage to
Australia--wonder if he met Robert--having given me over to a pal of his
for five pounds and a set of oilskins. Oh, I can tell you I took on
something awful--I wasn't used to men in those days. But Joe's pal he
was a decent chap--there was nothing the matter with him save that he
wasn't Joe. He was unaccountable good to me, and I stayed with him three
years--and then I hooked it, scarcely knew why. I got a post as barmaid
in Seaford, but the landlord took up with me and his missus chucked me
out. And now I'm here."

"Have--have you been here long?" stammered David, feeling he must say
something.

"Three year or so. I started up town. But we've spoken enough about me.
Let's hear about you, and the farm. How's Richard?"

The boys told her; they described their prosperous brother with his
white shirt-front, his pince-nez, his ring, and his high-born wife. As
they talked they grew more at their ease.

"Well," said Caro, "I reckon he got away in time."

"From what?"

"From Odiam, of course. I stayed too long. I stayed till I was half
killed by the place. If I'd gone off as a young girl I reckon I'd have
done well by myself, but I waited on till I was ready to take anything
that was going, and when you're like that it's too late."

"I shouldn't think Richard was sorry he left."

"No--and mark you, nor am I. It 'ud have been worse for me if I'd
stayed. I'm miserable in a different way from what I was there--somehow
the life's easier. I'm not happy, but I'm jolly. I'm not good, but I'm
pleasant-like. It's all a change for the better. See?"

"Then you don't wish as you wur back again?"

"Back! Back with fäather! Not me! Now let's hear some more about
him--does he ever speak to you of your mother?"

For the rest of the meal they discussed the absent ones--Rose, Robert,
Albert, Benjamin, Tilly, the boys hearing a great deal that had never
come to their ears before. Caro ordered two more bottles of six, and in
the end the party became quite convivial, and David and William,
forgetting the strangeness of it all, were sorry when their sister at
last stood up and announced that she must wobble off or she'd be late.

"You'll tell father you met me?" she said as they left the eating-house.

David and William looked at each other, and hesitated.

"You've no call to be ashamed of me," said Caro rather irritably.

"We--we äun't ashamed of you."

"That's right--for you've no call to be. I was driven to this, couldn't
help myself. Besides, I'm no worse than a lot of women wot you call
respectable--at least, I put some sort of a price on myself, if it's
only five shillings. Now good night, young men, and thank you for a
very pleasant evening. I don't suppose as you'll ever see me again. And
mind--you tell father as, no matter the life I lead and the knocks I
get, I've never once, not once, regretted the day I ran off from his old
farm. Now mind--you tell him that."


§ 8.

The boys told him. Reuben listened in silence save for one ejaculation
of "the dirty bitch!"

David nudged William.

"And she asked us particular to say as she'd never regretted the day she
left Odiam, or wished herself back there, nuther."

"She wur purty säafe to say that--for who'd have her back, I'd lik to
know? Larmentable creature she always wur, spanneling around lik a mangy
cat. Always thin and always miserable--I'm glad to be shut of her. But
she seemed cheery when you saw her?"

"Unaccountable cheery--and she drank three bottles of six ale."

"Um," said Reuben.

The boys had one or two secret talks about Caro. She also stimulated
that habit of "thinking" which their father so thoroughly disapproved
of. Somehow their encounter with her, combined with their encounter with
Richard, seemed to have modified their enthusiasm for Odiam. They could
not help comparing that supper at Newhaven with that dinner at Rye, and
wondering if it was true what she had said about Richard having got away
in time, whereas she had been too late.

"And yet she was glad she'd gone--she'd rather be free too late than not
at all."

"Bill, do you think that if we stay here, Odiam 'ull' do for us wot it
did for Caro?"

"I döan't think so. Fäather was much harder on Caro than he is on us."

"He's not hard on us--but he's unaccountable interfering; it maddens me
sometimes."

"Seems as if he didn't trust us--seems sometimes as if he was afraid
we'd go off like the others."

"Reckon he is--he saw how we envied Richard."

"Davy, it 'ud be cruel of us to go and leave him."

"I döan't say as I want to do that."

"Besides, it äun't likely as we'd do as well fur ourselves as Richard.
We've no Miss Bardon to trouble about us--reckon we'd come to grief like
Albert."

"Maybe we would."


§ 9.

Four years later Reuben bought the farmstead of Totease. Brazier died,
and the Manor, anxious as usual for ready money, put up his farm for
sale. It was a good place of about sixty acres, with some beautiful hop
gardens and plenty of water. Reuben felt that it would be unwise to
neglect such an opportunity for enlarging the boundaries of Odiam. He
outbid one or two small farmers, put the place under repair, engaged
more hands, and set to work to develop a large business in hops.

His enthusiasm was immense; he saw quicker returns from hops than from
anything else, and the sheltered position of Totease made it possible to
cover the whole of it with goldings and fuggles. He built a couple of
new oasts with concrete roofs, and announced his intention of engaging
London pickers that autumn. There was great perturbation at the
Rectory--the Manor had long since abandoned social crusades--because
Reuben housed these pickers indiscriminately in a barn. It was also said
that he underpaid them. The rector was quite insensible to his argument
that if a man were fool enough to work for two shillings a day, why
should wise men lose money by preventing him? Also he compelled no one
to come, so the indiscriminate sleepers were only, so to speak,
volunteers--and when the rector persisted he became coarse on the
subject.

His temper had grown a little difficult of late years--it had never been
a particularly pleasant one, but it had been fierce rather than quick.
His sons felt uneasily that they were partly responsible for this--they
irritated him by asserting their independence. Also he suspected them of
a lack of enthusiasm. He had tried to arrange a marriage for David with
the daughter of the new farmer at Kitchenhour. She was ten years older
than he, and not strikingly beautiful, but she satisfied Reuben's
requirements by being as strong as a horse and having a hundred a year
of her own. His indignation was immense when David refused this prize.

"I can't abear the sight of her."

"You'll git used to her, lad."

"Well, I want something better than that."

"She's got a hundred a year, and that 'ud mäake our fortunes at Odiam."

"Odiam's doing splendid--you don't want no more."

"I justabout do. I shan't be satisfied till I've bought up Grandturzel
säum as I've bought Totease."

"Well, I'm not going to sacrifice myself for Odiam, and you've no right
to ask me, dad."

"If I haven't got a right to ask you that, wot have I, I'd lik to know?"


§ 10.

In the spring of '99 old Jury died over at Cheat Land. His wife had died
a year or two earlier--Reuben had meant to go over and see Alice, but
the untimely calving of a new Alderney had put the idea entirely out of
his head. On this occasion, however, he attended the funeral, with the
other farmers of the district, and at the churchyard gate had a few
words with Alice before she went home.

She was a middle-aged woman now, but her eyes were as bright as ever,
which made her look strangely young. Her hair had turned very prettily
grey, she was fatter in the face, and on the whole looked well and
happy, in spite of her father's death. She told him she was going to
live at Rye--she had a tiny income, derived from Jury's life insurance,
and she meant to do art needlework for an ecclesiastical firm. Reuben
experienced a vague sense of annoyance--not that he wanted her to be
unhappy, but he felt that she had no right to happiness, going out into
the world, poor and alone, her parents dead, her life's love missed....

That summer the country was shaken by rumours of war, Reuben; having
more leisure on his hands, spent it in the study of his daily paper. He
could now read simple sentences, and considered himself quite an
educated man. When war at last broke out in South Africa he was
delighted. It was the best of all possible wars, organised by the best
of all possible Governments, under the best of all possible ministers.
Chamberlain became his hero--not that he understood or sympathised with
his Imperialism, but he admired him for his attitude towards the small
nations. He hated all talk about preserving the weak--such was not
nature's way, the way of farms; there the weakest always went to the
wall, and he could not see why different methods should obtain in the
world at large. If Reuben had been a politician he would have kept alive
no sick man of Europe, protected no down-trodden Balkan States. One of
the chief reasons why he wanted to see the Boers wiped out was because
they had muddled their colonisation, failed to establish themselves, or
to make of the arid veldt what he had made of Boarzell.

"They're no good, them Boers," he announced at the Cocks; "there they've
bin fur years and years, and they say as how that Transvaal's lik a
desert. They've got mizzling liddle farms such as I wudn't give sixpence
for--and all that gurt veldt's lik the palm of my hand, naun growing.
They döan't deserve to have a country."

He expressed himself so eloquently in this fashion that the member for
the Rye division of Sussex--the borough had been disenfranchised in
'85--asked him to speak at a recruiting meeting at the Court Hall.
Unluckily Reuben's views on recruiting were peculiar.

"Now's your chance," he announced to the assembled yokels; "corn prices
is going up, and every man who wants to do well by himself had better
grub his pastures and sow grain. Suppose we wur ever to fight the
French--who are looking justabout as ugly at us now as they did in
Boney's time--think wot it 'ud be if we had grain-stocks in the country,
and cud settle our own prices. My advice to the men of Rye is the same
as wot I gave in this very hall thirty-five years ago--sow grain, and
grain, and more grain."

The member, the colonel of the volunteers, and others present, pointed
out to Reuben afterwards that the situation was military, not
agricultural; but it was characteristic of him to see all situations
from the agricultural point of view. His old ideas of an agricultural
combine, which had fallen miserably to pieces in '65, now revived in all
their strength. He saw East Sussex as a country of organised
corn-growing, Odiam at the head. His rather eclectic newspaper reading
had impressed him with the idea that England was on the verge of war
with one or two European Powers, notably the French, whose ribald
gloatings over British disasters stirred up all the fury of the man who
had been born within range of the Napoleonic wars and bred on tales of
Boney and his atrocities.

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, 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:


     "Goodbye, Dolly, I must leave you
       Though it breaks my heart to go--
     Something tells me I am wanted
       At the Front to drive away the foe."


Some of them in fact did go. Others remained, and sang:


     "Good-bye, my Bluebell, farewell to you,
       One last long look into your eyes of blue--
     'Mid camp-fires gleaming, 'mid shot and shell,
       I will be dreaming of my own Bluebell."


§ 11.

Quite early in the war David and William walked home in silence after
seeing a troop-train off from Rye, then suddenly, when they came to
Odiam, shook hands.

"It's our chance," said Bill.

"We've waited for it long enough."

"I couldn't have stood much more, and this will be a good excuse."

"The old man 'ull take on no end--wot with his corn-growing plans and
that."

"Funny how he never seems to think of anything but Odiam."

"Strikes me as he's mad--got what you call a fixed idea, same as mad
people have."

"He's sensible enough--but he's unaccountable hard to live with."

"Yes--he's fair made me hate Odiam. I liked the place well enough when I
was a little lad, but he's made me sick of it. It's all very well
living on a farm and working on it, but when you're supposed to give up
your whole life to it and think of nothing else, well, it's too much."

"We won't tell him that, though, Davy--we'll make out as it's pure
patriotic feeling on our part."

"Yes; I don't want him to think we're set on getting away--but, by gum,
Bill! we are."

"If this war hadn't happened we'd have had to have thought of something
else."

So they went and broke their news to Reuben. They were careful and
considerate--but he was knocked out by the blow.

"Going!--both of you!" he cried.

"We feel we've got to. They want all the young men."

"But you could help your country just as well by staying at höame and
growing corn."

"You can grow corn without us--we're wanted out there."

"But you're all I've got--one go, and t'other stay."

"No, we must stick together."

"Oh, I know, I know--you've always thought more of each other than of
your father or of Odiam."

"Don't say that, dad--we care for you very much, and we're coming back."

"There's no one gone from here as has ever come back."

For the first time they noticed something of the cracked falsetto of old
age in his voice, generally so firm and ringing. Their hearts smote
them, but the instinct of self-preservation was stronger than pity. They
knew now for certain that if they stayed Odiam would devour them, or at
best they would escape maimed and only half alive. Either they must go
at once--in time, like Richard, or go in a few years--too late, like
Caro. Besides, the war called to their young blood; they thought of
guns and bayonets, camp-fires and battlefields, glory and victory. Their
youth called them, and even their father's game and militant old age
could not silence its bugles and fifes.

The next day they left Odiam for the recruiting station at Rye. Reuben
and the farm-hands watched them as they marched off whistling "Good-bye,
Dolly, I must leave you," shaking their shoulders in all the delight of
their new freedom. They had gone--as Albert had gone, as Robert, as
Richard, as Tilly, as Benjamin, as Caro, as Pete had gone. Reuben stood
erect and stiff, his eyes following them as they turned out of the drive
and disappeared down the Peasmarsh road.

When they were out of sight he walked slowly to the new ground near the
crest of Boarzell, which was being prepared for the winter wheat. He
made a sign to the man who was guiding the plough, and taking the
handles himself, shouted to the team. The plough went forward, the red
earth turned, sprinkled, creamed into long furrows, and soothed Reuben's
aching fatherhood with its moist fertile smell. It was the faithful
earth, which was his enemy and yet his comforter--which was always
there, though his children forsook him--the good earth to which he would
go at last.


§ 12.

Reuben was now alone at Odiam--for the first time. Of course Harry was
with him still, but Harry did not count. There was an extraordinary
vitality in him, none the less; it was as if the energies unused by his
brain were diverted to keep together his crumbled body. He grew more
shrivelled, more ape-like every day, and yet he persisted in life. He
still scraped at his fiddle, and would often sit for hours at a time
mumbling--"Only a poor old man--a poor old man--old man--old man," over
and over again, sometimes with a sudden shrill cry of "Salvation's got
me!" or "Another wedding!--we're always having weddings in this house."
His brother avoided him, and did his best to ignore him--he was the scar
of an old wound.

His loneliness seemed to drive Reuben closer to the earth. He still had
that divine sense of the earth being at once his enemy and his only
friend. Just as the gorse which murders the soil with its woody fibres
sweetens all the air with its fragrance, so Reuben when he fought the
harsh strangling powers of the ground also drank up its sweetness like
honey. He did not work so hard as formerly, though he could still dig
his furrow with the best of them--he knew that the days had come when he
must spare himself. But he maintained his intercourse with the earth by
means of long walks in the surrounding country.

Hitherto he had not gone much afield. If affairs had called him to
Battle, Robertsbridge, or Cranbrook, he had driven or ridden there as a
matter of business--he had seldom walked in the more distant bye-lanes,
or followed the field-paths beyond the marshes. Now he tramped over
nearly the whole country within a radius of ten miles--he was a tireless
walker, and when he came home knew only the healthy fatigue which is
more delight than pain and had rewarded his dripping exertions as a
young man.

He would walk southwards to Eggs Hole and Dinglesden, then across the
Tillingham marshes to Coldblow and Pound House, then over the Brede
River to Snailham, and turning up by Guestling Thorn, look down on
Hastings from the mill by Batchelor's Bump. Or he would go northwards to
strange ways in Kent, down to the Rother Marshes by Methersham and
Moon's Green, then over to Lambstand, and by side-tracks and bostals to
Benenden--back by Scullsgate and Nineveh, and the lonely Furnace road.

He learned to love the moving shadows of clouds travelling over a
sunlit view--to love ridged distances fading from dark bice, through
blue, to misty grey. He used to watch for the sparkle of light on far
cottage windows, the white sheen of farmhouse walls and the capped
turrets of oasts. But he loved best of all to feel the earth under his
cheek when he cast himself down, the smell of her teeming sap, the
sensation that he lay on a kind breast, generous and faithful. It was
strange that the result of all his battles should be this sense of
perfect union, this comfort in his loneliness. Reuben was not ashamed at
eighty years old to lie full length in some sun-hazed field, and stretch
his body over the grass, the better to feel that fertile quietness and
moist freshness which is the comfort of those who make the ground their
bed.

He never let anyone see him in these moments--somehow they were almost
sacred to him, the religion of his godless old age. But soon the more
distant cottagers came to know him by sight, and watch for the tall old
man who so often tramped past their doors. He always walked quickly, his
head erect, a stout ash stick in his hand. He was always alone--not even
a dog accompanied him. He wore dark corduroys, and either a wide-brimmed
felt hat, or no hat at all, proud of the luxuriance of his iron-grey
hair. They soon came to know who he was.

"'Tis old Mus' Backfield from Odiam farm by Peasmarsh. They say as he's
a hard man."

"They say as he's got the purtiest farm in Sussex--he's done wäonders
fur Odiam, surelye."

"But his wife and children's run away."

"They say he's a hard man."

"And he's allus alöan."

"He döan't seem to care for nobody--never gives you the good marnun."

"It's larmentäable to see an old feller lik that all alöan, wudout
friend nor kin."

"He's straight enough in spite of it all--game as a youngster he is."


§ 13.

Meanwhile the South African War dragged its muddled length from
Stormberg to Magersfontein, through Colenso to Spion Kop. It meant more
to Reuben than any earlier war--more than the Crimea, for then there
were no newspaper correspondents, more than the Indian Mutiny, for that
was with blacks, or the Franco-Prussian, for that was between furriners.
Besides, there were two additional factors of tremendous importance--he
could now spell out a good deal of his daily paper, and his sons were
both fighting. They had gone out early in November, and were very good
about writing to him.

They could afford to be generous now they were free, so they sent him
long letters, carefully printed out, as he could not read running hand.
They told him wonderful stories of camps and bivouacs, of skirmishes and
snipings. They enlarged on the grilling fierceness of the December sun
which had burnt their faces brick-red and peeled their noses--on the
flies which swarmed thicker by far than over Odiam midden--on the awful
dysentery that grabbed at half their pals--on the hypocritical Boers,
who read the Bible and used dum-dum bullets.

They came safely through Magersfontein, the only big encounter in which
they were both engaged. David was made a sergeant soon afterwards.
Reuben sent them out tobacco and chocolate, and contributed to funds for
supplying the troops with woollen comforts. He felt himself something of
a patriot, and would talk eagerly about "My son the Sergeant," or "My
boys out at the Front."

He was very busy over his new corn scheme, and as time went on came to
resent the attitude of the European Powers in not attacking England and
forcing her to subsist on her own grain supplies. All Europe hated
Britain, so his newspapers said, so why did not all Europe attack
Britain with its armies as well as with its Press? We would beat it, of
course--what was all Europe but a set of furriners?--meantime our
foreign wheat supplies would be cut off by the prowling navies of
France, Germany, Russia and everywhere else, which Reuben imagined
crowding the seas, while the true-born sons of Britain, sustaining
themselves for the first time on British-grown corn, and getting drunk
for the first time on beer innocent of foreign hop-substitutes, would
drive upstart Europe to its grave, and start a millennium of high prices
and heavy grain duties.

However, Europe was disobliging; corn prices hardly rose at all, and
Reuben was driven to the unwelcome thought that the only hope of the
British farmer was milk--at least, that was not likely ever to be
imported from abroad.

The year wore on. Kimberley and Ladysmith were relieved. Rye hung out
its flags, and sang "Dolly Grey" louder than ever. Then Mafeking was
saved, and a bonfire was lit up at Leasan House, in which a couple of
barns and some stables were accidentally involved. Everyone wore penny
medallion portraits of officers--Roberts and Baden-Powell were the
favourites at Odiam, which nearly came to blows with Burntbarns over the
rival merits of French. While Reuben himself bought a photograph of
Kitchener in a red, white, and blue frame.

Then suddenly an honour fell on Odiam. The War Office itself sent it a
telegram. But the honour was taken sadly, for the telegram announced
that Sergeant David Backfield had been killed in action at Laing's Nek.


§ 14.

It was not the first time death had visited Reuben, but it was the first
time death had touched him. His father's death, his mother's, George's,
Albert's, had all somehow seemed much more distant than this very
distant death in Africa. Even Naomi's had not impressed him so much with
sorrow for her loss as sorrow for the inadequacy of her life.

But David's death struck home. David and William were the only two
children whom he had really loved. They were his hope, his future. Once
again he tasted the agonies of bereaved fatherhood, with the added
tincture of hopelessness. He would never again see David's brown,
strong, merry face, hear his voice, build plans for him. For some days
the paternal feeling was so strong that he craved for his boy quite
apart from Odiam, just for himself. It had taken eighty years and his
son's death to make a father of him.

An added grief was the absence of a funeral. Reuben did not feel this as
the relief it would have been to some. He had given handsome and
expensive funerals to those not half so dear as this young man who had
been hurried into his soldier's grave on the lonely veldt. In course of
time William sent him a snapshot of the place, with its little wooden
cross. Reuben dictated a tremendously long letter through Maude the
dairy-woman, in which he said he wanted a marble head-stone put up, and
"of Odiam, Sussex," added to the inscription.

The neighbourhood pitied him in his loss. There was indeed something
rather pathetic about this old man of eighty, who had lost nearly all
his kith and kin, yet now tasted bereavement for the first time. They
noticed that he lost some of the erectness which had distinguished him,
the corners of his mouth drooped, and his hair, though persistently
thick, passed from iron grey to a dusty white.

One day when he was walking through the village he heard a woman say as
he passed--"There he goes! I pity un, poor old man!" The insult went
into him like a knife. He turned round and gave the woman his fiercest
scowl. Old indeed! Had one ever heard of such a thing! old!--and he
could guide the plough and dig furrows in the marl, and stack, and reap
with any of 'em. Old!--why, he was only--

--He was eighty. He suddenly realised that, after all, he _was_ old. He
did not carry himself as erectly as he had used; there were pains and
stiffness in his limbs and rheumatic swellings in his joints. His hair
was white, and his once lusty arms were now all shrivelled skin and
sinew, with the ossified veins standing out hard and grey. He was what
Harry was always calling himself--"only a poor old man"--a poor old man
who had lost his son, whom cottage women pitied from their
doorsteps--and be hemmed to them, the sluts!


§ 15.

Meantime affairs at Grandturzel were going from bad to worse. Reuben did
not speak much about Grandturzel, but he watched it all the same, and as
time wore on a look of quiet satisfaction would overspread his face when
it was mentioned at the Cocks. He watched the tiles drip gradually off
its barn roofs, he watched the thatch of its haggards peel and moult, he
watched the oasts lose their black coats of tar, while the wind battered
off their caps, and the skeleton poles stuck up forlornly from their
turrets. Holes wore in the neat house-front, windows were broken and not
mended, torn curtains waved signals of distress. It was only a question
of waiting.

Reuben often went to the Cocks, for he had heard it said that one's
beer-drinking capacities diminished with old age, and he was afraid that
if he stayed away, men would think it was on that account. So he went
frequently, particularly if the weather was of a kind to keep old people
at home. He did not talk much, preferring to listen to what was said,
sitting quietly at his table in the corner, with the quart of Barclay
and Perkins's mild which had been his evening drink from a boy.

It was at the Cocks that he learned most of Grandturzel's straits,
though he occasionally made visits of inspection. Realf had messed his
hops that autumn, and the popular verdict was that he could not possibly
hold out much longer.

"Wot'll become of him, I wäonder?" asked Hilder, the new man at
Socknersh.

"Someone 'ull buy him up, I reckon," and young Coalbran, who had
succeeded his father at Doozes, winked at the rest of the bar, and the
bar to a man turned round and stared at old Reuben, who drew himself up,
but said nothing.

"Wot d'you think of Grandturzel, Mus' Backfield?" someone asked
waggishly.

"Naun," said Reuben; "I'm waiting."

He did not have to wait long. A few days later he was told that somebody
wanted to see him, and in the parlour found his daughter Tilly.

He had seen Tilly at intervals through the years, but as he had never
allowed himself to give her more than a withering glance, he had not a
very definite idea of her. She was now nearly fifty-five, and more than
inclined to stoutness--indeed, her comfortable figure was almost
ludicrous compared with her haggard, anxious face, scored with lines and
patched with shadows. Her grey hair was thin, and straggled on her
forehead, her eyes had lost their brightness; yet there was nothing wild
or terrible about her face, it was just domesticity in desperation.

"Fäather," she said as Reuben came into the room.

"Well?"

"Henry döan't know I've come," she murmured helplessly.

"Wot have you come fur?"

"To ask you--to ask you--Oh, fäather!" she burst into tears, her broad
bosom heaved under her faded gown, and she pressed her hands against it
as if to keep it still.

"Döan't täake on lik that," said Reuben, "tell me wot you've come fur."

"I dursn't now--it's no use--you're a hard man."

"Then döan't come sobbing and howling in my parlour. You can go if
you've naun more to say."

She pulled herself together with an effort.

"I thought you might--perhaps you might help us ..."

Reuben said nothing:

"We're in a larmentable way up at Grandturzel."

Her father still said nothing.

"I döan't know how we shall pull through another year."

"Nor do I."

"Oh, fäather, döan't be so hard!"

"You said I wur a hard man."

"But you'll--you'll help us jest this once. I know you're angry wud me,
and maybe I've treated you badly. But after all, I'm your daughter, and
my children are your grandchildren."

"How many have you got?"

"Five--the youngest's rising ten."

There was a pause. Reuben walked over to the window and looked out.
Tilly stared at his back imploringly. If only he would help her with
some word or sign of understanding! But he would not--he had not
changed; she had forsaken him and married his rival, and he would never
forget or forgive.

She had been a fool to come, and she moved a step or two towards the
door. Then suddenly she remembered the anguish which had driven her to
Odiam. She had been frantic with grief for her husband and children;
only the thought of their need had made it possible for her to override
her inbred fear and dislike of Reuben and beg him to help them. She had
come, and since she had come it must not be in vain; the worst was over
now that she was actually here, that she had actually pleaded. She would
face it out.

"Fäather!" she called sharply.

He turned round.

"I thought maybe you'd lend us some money--just fur a time--till we're
straight agäun."

"You'd better ask somebody else."

"There's no one round here as can lend us wot we need--it's--it's a good
deal as we'll want to see us through."

"Can't you mortgage?"

"We are mortgaged--the last foot"--and she burst into tears again.

Reuben watched her for a minute or two in silence.

"You've bin a bad daughter," he said at last, "and you've got no right
to call on me. But I've had my plans for Grandturzel this long while."

She shuddered.

"This mortgage business alters 'em a bit. I'll have to think it over.
Maybe I'll let you hear to-morrow mornun."

"Oh, fäather, if only you'll do anything fur us, we'll bless you all our
lives."

"I döan't want you to bless me--and maybe you wöan't täake my terms."

"I reckon we haven't much choice," she said sorrowfully.

"Well, you've only got wot you desarve," said Reuben, turning to the
door.

Tilly opened her mouth to say something, but was wise, and held her
tongue.


§ 16.

The next morning Reuben sent his ultimatum to Grandturzel. He would pay
off Realf's mortgage and put the farm into thorough repair, on condition
that Grandturzel was made over to him, root, stock, crop, and inclosure,
as his own property--the Realfs to live in the dwelling-house rent free
and work the place for a monthly wage.

These rather strange terms had been the result of much thought on his
part. His original plan had been simply to buy the farm for as little
money as Realf would take, but Tilly's visit had inspired him with the
happy thought of getting it for nothing. As the land was mortgaged it
would be very difficult for Realf to find buyers, who would also be
discouraged by the farm's ruinous state of disrepair. Indeed, Reuben
thought himself rather generous to offer what he did. He might have
stipulated for Realf to pay him back in a given time part of the money
disbursed on his account. After all, mortgage and repairs would amount
to over a thousand pounds, so when he talked of getting the place for
nothing it was merely because the mortgage and the repairs would have to
be tackled anyhow. He had little fear of Realf's refusing his terms--not
only was he very unlikely to find another purchaser, but no one else
would let him stay on, still less pay him for doing so. Reuben had
thought of keeping him on as tenant, but had come to the conclusion that
such a position would make him too independent. He preferred rather to
have him as a kind of bailiff--the monthly, instead of the weekly, wage
making acceptance just possible for his pride.

Of course Reuben himself would rather have wandered roofless for the
rest of his life than live as a hireling on the farm which had once been
his own. But he hardly thought Realf would take such a stand--he would
consider his wife and children, and accept for their sakes. "If he's got
the sperrit to refuse I'll think better of him than I've ever thought in
my life, and offer him a thousand fur the pläace--but I reckon I'm purty
safe."

He was right. Realf accepted his offer, partly persuaded by Tilly. His
mortgage foreclosed in a couple of months, and he had no hopes of
renewing it. If he rejected Reuben's terms, he would probably soon find
himself worse off than ever--his farm gone with nothing to show for it,
and himself a penniless exile. On the other hand, his position as
bailiff, though ignominious, would at least leave him Grandturzel as his
home and a certain share in its management. He might be able to save
some money, and perhaps at last buy a small place of his own, and start
afresh.... He primed himself with such ideas to help drug his pride.
After all, he could not sacrifice his wife and children to make a
holiday for his self-respect. Tilly was past her prime, and not able for
much hard work, and though his eldest boys had enlisted, like Reuben's,
and were thus no longer on his mind, he had two marriageable girls at
home besides his youngest boy of ten. One's wife and children were more
to one than one's farm or one's position as a farmer--and if they were
not, they ought to be.

So a polite if rather cold letter was written accepting Odiam's
conditions, and Tilly thanked heaven that she had sacrificed herself and
gone to plead with her father.


§ 17.

The whole of Boarzell now belonged to Odiam, except the Fair-place at
the top. Reuben would stare covetously at the fir and gorse clump which
still defied him; but he had reached that point in a successful man's
development when he comes to believe in his own success; bit by bit he
had wrested Boarzell from the forces that held it, and he could not
think that one patch would withstand him to the end.

As luck would have it, the only piece that was not his was the Moor's
most characteristic feature, the knob of firs that made it a landmark
for miles round. While they still stood men could still talk of and
point at Boarzell, but when he had cut them down, grubbed up the gorse
at their roots, ploughed over their place--then Boarzell would be lost,
swallowed up in Odiam; it would be at most only a name, perhaps not even
that. Sometimes Reuben shook his fist at the fir clump and muttered,
"I'll have you yet, you see if I döan't, surelye."

Meantime he devoted his attention to the land he had just acquired. The
Grandturzel inclosure was put under cultivation like the rest of
Boarzell, and a stiff, tough, stony ground it proved, reviving all
Reuben's love of a fight. He was glad to have once more, as he put it, a
piece of land he could get his teeth into. Realf could not help a half
resentful admiration when he saw his father-in-law's ploughs tearing
through the flints, tumbling into long chocolate furrows what he had
always looked upon as an irreclaimable wilderness.

He accepted his position with a fairly good grace--to complain would
have made things worse for Tilly and the children. He was inclined
privately to scoff at some of Reuben's ideas on farming, but even as he
did so he realised the irony of it. He might have done otherwise, yes,
but he was kicked out of his farm, the servant of the man whose methods
he thought ridiculous.

Reuben on his side thought Realf a fool. He despised him for failing to
lift Grandturzel out of adversity, as he had lifted Odiam. He would not
have kept him on as bailiff if he had thought there would have
otherwise been any chance of his accepting Odiam's terms. He disliked
seeing him about the place, and did not find--as the neighbourhood
pictured he must--any satisfaction in watching his once triumphant rival
humbly performing the duties of a servant on the farm that used to be
his own. Reuben's hatreds were not personal, they were merely a question
of roods and acres, and when that side of them was appeased, nothing
remained. They were, like almost everything else of his, a question of
agriculture, and having now settled Realf agriculturally he had no
grudge against him personally.

About this time old Beatup died. He was Odiam's first hand, and had seen
the farm rise from sixty acres and a patch on Boarzell to two hundred
acres and nearly the whole Moor. Reuben was sorry to lose him, for he
was an old-fashioned servant--which meant that he gave much in the way
of work and asked little in the way of wages or rest. The young men
impudently demanded twenty shillings a week, wanted afternoons in the
town, and complained if he worked them overtime--there had never been
such a thing as overtime till board schools were started.

However, of late Beatup had been of very little use. He was some years
younger than Reuben, but he looked quite ten years older, and his figure
was almost exactly like an S. The earth had used him hardly, steaming
his bones into strange shapes and swellings, parching his skin to
something dark and crackled like burnt paper, filling him with stiffness
and pains. Reuben had straightened his shoulders, which had drooped a
little after David's death, and once more carried his old age proudly,
as the crown of a hale and strenuous life.

He looked forward to William coming back and settling down at Odiam. It
would be good to have companionship again. The end of the war was in
sight--only a guerilla campaign was being waged among the kopjes,
Kruger had fled from Pretoria, and everyone talked of Peace.

At last Peace became an accomplished fact. Reuben could not help a few
disloyal regrets that his corn-growing had been in vain, but he consoled
himself with the thought that now he would have William back in a few
weeks. He expected a letter from him, and grew irritable when none came.
Billy had not been so good about writing since David's death, but his
father thought that he at least might have written to announce his
return. As things were, he did not know when to expect him. He supposed
he was bound to get his discharge, and he would have heard if anything
had happened to him. Why did not William hurry home to share Odiam's
greatness with his old father?

At last the letter came. Reuben took it into the oast-barn to read it.
His hands trembled as he tore the envelope, and there was a dimness in
his eyes, so that he could scarcely make out the big printing hand. But
it was not the dimness of his eyes which was responsible for the
impossible thing he saw; at first he thought it must be, and rubbed
them--yet the unthinkable was still there. William was not coming back
at all.


     "This place suits me, and I think I could do well for myself out
     here. I feel I should get on better if I was my own master.... She
     was good and sensible-like, and looked as if she could manage
     things. So I married her.... We're starting up on a little farm
     near Jo'burg ... I can't see it matters her being Dutch ... fifty
     acres of pasture ... ten head of cattle ... niggers to work ..."


... The words danced and swam before Reuben, with black heaving spaces
between that grew wider and wider, till at last they swallowed him up.

For the first time in his life he had fainted.


§ 18.

Reuben's last hope was now gone--for his family, at least. He was forced
regretfully to the conclusion that he was not a successful family man.
Whatever methods he tried with his children, severity or indulgence, he
seemed bound to fail. He had had great expectations of David and
William, brought up, metaphorically, on cakes and ale, and they had
turned out as badly as Albert, Richard--Reuben still looked upon Richard
as a failure--Tilly, or Caro, who had been brought up, literally, on
cuffs and kicks.

And the moral of it all was--not to trust anyone but yourself to carry
on with you or after you the work of your life. Your ambition is
another's afterthought, your afterthought his ambition. He would not
give a halfpenny for that for which you would give your life. If you
have many little loves, you have always a comrade; if you have one great
love, you are always alone. This is the Law.

His pride would not let him give way to his grief. He was not going to
have any more of "Pity the poor old man." He mentioned William's
decision almost casually at the Cocks. However, he need not have been
afraid. "No more'n he desarves," was the universal comment ... "shameful
the way he treated Grandturzel" ... "no feeling fur his own kin" ...
"the young feller was wise not to come back." Indeed, locally the matter
was looked upon as a case of poetic justice, and the rector's sermon on
Sunday, treating of the wonderful sagacity of Providence, was taken,
rightly or wrongly, to have a personal application.

Meantime, in Reuben's heart was darkness. As was usual when any fear or
despair laid hold of him, he became obsessed by a terror of his old age.
Generally he felt so well and vigorous that he scarcely realised he was
eighty-two; but now he felt an old man, alone and childless. Harry's
reiterated "only a poor old man ... a poor old man," rang like a knell
in his ears. It was likely that he would not live much longer--he would
probably die with the crest of Boarzell yet unconquered. He made a new
will, leaving his property to William on condition that he came home to
take charge of it, and did not sell a single acre. If he refused these
conditions, he left it to Robert under similar ones, and failing him to
Richard. It was a sorry set of heirs, but there was no help for it, and
he signed his last will and testament with a grimace.

Fair day was to be a special holiday that year because of the
Coronation. Reuben at first thought that he would not go--it was always
maddening to see the booths and shows crowding over his Canaan, and
circumstances would make his feelings on this occasion ten times more
bitter. But he had never missed the Fair except for some special reason,
such as a funeral or an auction, and he felt that if he stayed away it
might be put down to low spirits at his son's desertion, or, worse
still, to his old age.

So he came, dressed in his best, as usual, with corduroy breeches,
leggings, wide soft hat, and the flowered waistcoat and tail-coat he had
refused to discard. He was no longer the centre of a group of farmers
discussing crops and weather and the latest improvements in
machinery--he stood and walked alone, inspecting the booths and
side-shows with a contemptuous eye, while the crowd stared at him
furtively and whispered when he passed ... "There he goes" ... "old Ben
Backfield up at Odiam." Reuben wondered if this was fame.

The Fair had moved still further with the times. The merry--go-round
organ played "Bluebell," "Dolly Grey," and "The Absent-Minded Beggar,"
the chief target in the shooting-gallery was Kruger, with Cronje and De
Wet as subordinates, and the Panorama showed Queen Victoria's funeral.
The fighting booth was hidden away still further, and dancing now only
started at nightfall. There were some new shows, too. The old-fashioned
thimble-rigging had given place to a modern swindle with tickets and a
dial; instead of the bearded woman or the pig-faced boy, one put a penny
in the slot and saw a lady undress--to a certain point. There was a
nigger in a fur-lined coat lecturing on a patent medicine, while the
stalls themselves were of a more utilitarian nature, selling whips and
trousers and balls of string, instead of the ribbon and gingerbread
fairings bought by lovers in days of old.

Reuben prowled up and down the streets of booths, grinned scornfully at
the efforts in the shooting gallery, watched a very poor fight in the
boxing tent, had a drink of beer and a meat pie, and came to the
conclusion that the Fair had gone terribly to pieces since his young
days.

He found his most congenial occupation in examining the soil on the
outskirts, and trying to gauge its possibilities. The top of Boarzell
was almost entirely lime--the region of the marl scarcely came beyond
the outskirts of the Fair. Of course the whole place was tangled and
matted with the roots of the gorse, and below them the spreading
toughness of the firs; Reuben fairly ached to have his spade in it. He
was kneeling down, crumbling some of the surface mould between his
fingers, when he suddenly noticed a clamour in the Fair behind him. The
vague continuous roar was punctuated by shrill screams, shouts, and an
occasional crash. He rose to his feet, and at the same moment a bunch of
women rushed out between the two nearest stalls, shrieking at the pitch
of their lungs.

They ran down towards the thickset hedge which divided the Fair-place
from Odiam's land, and to his horror began to try to force their way
through it, screaming piercingly the while. Reuben shouted to them:

"Stop--you're spoiling my hëadge!"

"He's after us--he'll catch us--O-o-oh!"

"Who's after you?"

But before they had time to answer, something burst from between the
stalls and ran down the darkling slope, brandishing a knife. It was
Mexico Bill, running amok, as he had sometimes run before, but on less
crowded occasions. The women sent up an ear-splitting yell, and made a
fresh onslaught on the hedge. Someone grabbed the half-breed from
behind, but his knife flashed, and the next moment he was free, dashing
through the gorse towards his victims.

Reuben was paralysed with horror. In another minute they would break
down his hedge--a good young hedge that had cost him a pretty penny--and
be all over his roots. For a moment he stood as if fixed to the spot,
then suddenly he pulled himself together. At all costs he must save his
roots. He could not tackle the women single-handed, so he must go for
the madman.

"Backfield's after him!"

The cry rose from the mass up at the stalls, as the big dark figure with
flapping hat-brim suddenly sprang out of the dusk and ran to meet Mexico
Bill. Reuben was an old man, and his arm had lost its cunning, but he
carried a stout ash stick and the maniac saw no one but the women at the
hedge. The next moment Reuben's stick had come against his forehead with
a terrific crack, and he had tumbled head over heels into a gorse-bush.

In another minute half the young men of the Fair were sitting on him,
and everyone else was crowding round Backfield, thanking him, praising
him, and shaking him by the hand. The women could hardly speak for
gratitude--he became a hero in their eyes, a knight at arms.... "To
think as how when all them young tellers up at the Fair wur no use, he
shud risk his life to save us--he's a präaper valiant man."

But Reuben hardly enjoyed his position as a hero. He succeeded in
breaking free from the crowd, now beginning to busy itself once more
with Mexico Bill, who was showing signs of returning consciousness, and
plunged into the mists that spread their frost-smelling curds over the
lower slopes of Boarzell.

"Thank heaven I saved them rootses!" he muttered as he walked.

Then suddenly his manner quickened; a kind of exaltation came into his
look, and he proudly jerked up his head:

"I'm not so old, then, after all."



BOOK VIII

THE VICTORY


§ 1.

The next year, Richard and Anne Backfield took a house at Playden for
week-ends. Anne wanted to be near her relations at the Manor, and
Richard, softened by prosperity, had no objection to returning to the
scene of his detested youth.

A week or two before they arrived Reuben went to Playden, and looked
over the house. It was a new one, on the hill above Star Lock, and it
was just what he would have expected of Richard and Anne--gimcrack. He
scraped the mortar with his finger-nail, poked at the tiles with his
stick, and pronounced the place jerry-built in the worst way. It had no
land attached to it, either--only a silly garden with a tennis court and
flowers. Richard's success struck him as extremely petty compared with
his own.

He did not see much of his son and daughter-in-law on their visits.
Richard was inclined to be friendly, but Anne hated Odiam and all
belonging to it, while Reuben himself disliked calling at Starcliffe
House, because he was always meeting the Manor people.

The family at Flightshot consisted now of the Squire, who had nothing
against him except his obstinacy, his lady, and his son who was just of
age and "the most tedious young rascal" Reuben had ever had to deal
with. He drove a motor-car with hideous din up and down the Peasmarsh
lanes, and once Odiam had had the pleasure of lending three horses to
pull it home from the Forstal. But his worst crimes were in the hunting
field; he had no respect for roots or winter grain or hedges or young
spinneys. Twice Reuben had written to his father, through Maude the
scribe, and he vowed openly that if ever he caught him at it he'd take a
stick to him.

The result of all this was that George Fleet, being young and humorous,
indulged in some glorious rags at old Backfield's expense. He had not
been to Cambridge for nothing, and one morning Reuben found both his
house doors boarded up so that he had to get out by the window, and on
another occasion his pigs were discovered in a squalling mass with their
tails tied together. There was no good demanding retribution, for the
youth's scandalised innocence when confronted with his crimes utterly
convinced his fools of parents, and gave them an opinion of his accuser
that promised ill for his ultimate possession of the Fair-place.

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.

Though Reuben's corn had not done much for him materially, it had
far-reaching consequences of another kind. It immensely increased his
status in the county. Odiam had more land under grain cultivation than
any farm east of Lewes, and the local Tories saw in Backfield a likely
advocate of Tariff Reform. He was approached by the Rye Conservative
Club, and invited to speak at one or two of their meetings. He turned
out to be, as they had expected, an ardent champion of the new idea. "It
wur wot he had worked and hoped and prayed fur all his life--to git back
them Corn Laws." He was requested not to put the subject quite so
bluntly.

So in his latter days Reuben came back into the field of politics which
he had abandoned in middle age. Once more his voice was heard in
school-houses and mission-halls, pointing out their duty and profit to
the men of Rye. He was offered, and accepted, a Vice-Presidentship of
the Conservative Club. Politics had changed in many ways since he had
last been mixed up in them. The old, old subjects that had come up at
election after election--vote by ballot, the education of the poor, the
extension of the franchise, Gladstone's free breakfast table--had all
been settled, or deformed out of knowledge. The only old friend was the
question of a tax on wheat, revived after years of quiescence--to
rekindle in Reuben's old age dreams of an England where the corn should
grow as the grass, a golden harvest from east to west, bringing wealth
and independence to her sons.


§ 2.

The only part of the farm that was not doing well was Grandturzel. The
new ground had been licked into shape under Reuben's personal
supervision, but the land round the steading, which had been under
cultivation for three hundred years, yielded only feeble crops and
shoddy harvests--things went wrong, animals died, accidents happened.

Realf had never been a practical man--perhaps it was to that he owed his
downfall. Good luck and ambition had made him soar for a while, but he
lacked the dogged qualities which had enabled Reuben to play for years
a losing game. Besides, he had to a certain extent lost interest in land
which was no longer his own. He worked for a wage, for his daily bread,
and the labour of his hands and head which had once been an adventure
and a glory, was now nothing but the lost labour of those who rise up
early and late take rest.

Also he was in bad health--his hardships and humiliations had wrought
upon his body as well as his soul. He was not even the ghost of the man
whose splendid swaggering youth had long ago in Peasmarsh church first
made the middle-aged Reuben count his years. He stooped, suffered
horribly from rheumatism, had lost most of his hair, and complained of
his eyesight.

Reuben began to fidget about Grandturzel. He told his son-in-law that if
things did not improve he would have to go. In vain Realf pleaded bad
weather and bad luck--neither of them was ever admitted as an excuse at
Odiam.

The hay-harvest of 1904 was a good one--of course Realf's hay had too
much sorrel in it, there was always something wrong with Realf's
crops--but generally speaking the yield was plentiful and of good
quality. Reuben rejoiced to feel the soft June sun on his back, and went
out into the fields with his men, himself driving for some hours the
horse-rake over the swathes, and drinking at noon his pint of beer in
the shade of the waggon. In the evening the big hay-elevator hummed at
Odiam, and old Backfield stood and watched it piling the greeny-brown
ricks till darkness fell, and he went in to supper and the sleep of his
old age.

It took about a week to finish the work--on the last day the fields
which for so long had shown the wind's path in tawny ripples, were
shaven close and green, scattering a sweet steam into the air--a soft
pungency that stole up to the house at night and lapped it round with
fragrance. Old Reuben stretched himself contentedly as he went into his
dim room and prepared to lie down. The darkness had hardly settled on
the fields--a high white light was in the sky, among the stars.

He went to bed early with the birds and beasts. Before he climbed into
the bed, lying broad and white and dim in the background of the
candleless room, he opened the window, to drink in the scent of his land
as it fell asleep. The breeze whiffled in the orchard, fluttering the
boughs where the young green apples hid under the leaves, there was a
dull sound of stamping in the barns ... he could see the long line of
his new haycocks beyond the yard, soft dark shapes in the twilight.

He was just going to turn back into the room, his limbs aching
pleasantly for the sheets, when he noticed a faint glow in the sky to
southward. At first he thought it was a shred of sunset still burning,
then realised it was too far south for June--also it seemed to flicker
in the wind. Then suddenly it spread itself into a fan, and cast up a
shower of sparks.

The next minute Reuben had pulled on his trousers and was out in the
passage, shouting "Fire!"

The farm men came tumbling from the attics--"Whur, mäaster?"

"Over at Grandturzel--can't see wot's burning from here. Git buckets and
come!"

Shouts and gunshots brought those men who slept out in the cottages, and
a half-dressed gang, old Reuben at the head, pounded through the misty
hay-sweet night to where the flames were spreading in the sky. From the
shoulder of Boarzell they could see what was burning--Realf's new-made
stacks, two already aflame, the others doomed by the sparks which
scattered on the wind.

No one spoke, but from Realf's yard came sounds of shouting, the uneasy
lowing and stamping of cattle, and the neigh of terrified horses. The
whole place was lit up by the glare of the fire, and soon Reuben could
see Realf and his two men, Dunk and Juglery, with Mrs. Realf, the
girls, and young Sidney, passing buckets down from the pond and pouring
them on the blazing stacks--with no effect at all.

"The fools! Wot do they think they're a-doing of? Döan't they know how
to put out a fire?"

He quickened his pace till his men were afraid he would "bust himself,"
and dashing between the burning ricks, nearly received full in the chest
the bucket his son-in-law had just swung.

"Stop!" he shouted--"are your cattle out?"

"No."

"Then git 'em out, you fool! You'll have the whole pläace a bonfire in a
minnut. Wot's the use of throwing mugs of water lik this? You'll never
put them ricks out. Säave your horses, säave your cows, säave your
poultry. Anyone gone for the firemen?"

"Yes, I sent a boy over fust thing."

"Why didn't you send to me?"

"Cudn't spare a hand."

"Cudn't spare one hand to fetch over fifteen--that's a valiant idea. Now
döan't go loitering; fetch out your cattle afore they're roast beef, git
out the horses and all the stock--and souse them ricks wot äun't burning
yit."

The men scurried in all directions obeying his orders. Soon terrified
horses were being led blindfold into the home meadow; the cows and
bullocks, less imaginative, followed more quietly. Meantime buckets were
passed up from the pond to the stacks that were not alight; but before
this work was begun Reuben went up to the furthest stack and thrust his
hand into it--then he put in his head and sniffed. Then he called Realf.

"Cöame here."

Realf came.

"Wot's that?"

Realf felt the hay and sniffed like Reuben.

"Wot's that?" his father-in-law repeated.

Realf went white to the lips, and said nothing.

"I'll tell you wot it is, then!" cried Reuben--"it's bad stacking. This
hay äun't bin präaperly dried--it's bin stacked damp, and them ricks
have gone alight o' themselves, bust up from inside. It's your doing,
this here is, and I'll mäake you answer fur it, surelye."

"I--I--the hay seemed right enough."

"Maybe it seems right enough to you now?"--and Reuben pointed to the
blazing stacks.

Realf opened his lips, but the words died on them. His eyes looked wild
and haggard in the jigging light; he groaned and turned away. At the
same moment a pillar of fire shot up from the roof of the Dutch barn.

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.

The engine set to work, and soon everything that had not been destroyed
by fire was destroyed by water. But the flames were beaten. They hissed
and blackened into smoke. When dawn broke over the eastern shoulder of
Boarzell, the fire was out. A rasping pungent smell rose from a wreckage
of black walls and little smoking piles of what looked like black rags.
Water poured off the gutters of the house, and soused still further the
pile of furniture and bedding that had been pulled hastily out of it.
The farm men gathered round the buckets, to drink, and to wash their
smoke-grimed skins. Reuben talked over the disaster with the head of the
fire brigade, who endorsed his opinion of spontaneous combustion; and
Realf of Grandturzel sat on a heap of ashes--and sobbed.


§ 3.

That morning Reuben had a sleep after breakfast, and did not come down
till dinner-time. He was told that Mrs. Realf wanted to see him and had
been waiting in the parlour since ten. He smiled grimly, then settled
his mouth into a straight line.

He found his daughter in a chair by the window. Her face was puffed and
blotched with tears, and her legs would hardly support her when she
stood up. She had brought her youngest son with her, a fine sturdy
little fellow of fourteen. When Reuben came into the room she gave the
boy a glance, and, as at a preconcerted signal, they both fell on their
knees.

"Git up!" cried Backfield, colouring with annoyance.

"We've come," sobbed Tilly, "we've come to beg you to be merciful."

"I wöan't listen to you while you're lik that."

The son sprang to his feet, and helped his mother, whose stoutness and
stiffness made it a difficult matter, to rise too.

"If you've come to ask me to kip you and your husband on at
Grandturzel," said Reuben, "you might have säaved yourself the trouble,
fur I'm shut of you both after last night."

"Fäather, it wur an accident."

"A purty accident--wud them stacks no more dry than a ditch. 'Twas a
clear case of 'bustion--fireman said so to me; as wicked and tedious a
bit o' wark as ever I met in my life."

"It'll never happen agäun."

"No--it wöan't."

"Oh, fäather--döan't be so hard on us. The Lord knows wot'll become of
us if you turn us out now. It 'ud have been better if we'd gone five
years ago--Realf wur a more valiant man then nor wot he is now. He'll
never be able to start agäun--he äun't fit fur it."

"Then he äun't fit to work on my land. I äun't a charity house. I can't
afford to kip a man wud no backbone and no wits. I've bin too kind as it
is--I shud have got shut of him afore he burnt my pläace to cinders."

"But wot's to become of us?"

"That's no consarn of mine--äun't you säaved anything?"

"How cud we, fäather?"

"I could have säaved two pound a month on Realf's wage."

Tilly had a spurt of anger.

"Yes--you'd have gone short of everything and made other folks go
short--but we äun't that kind."

"You äun't. That's why I'm turning you away."

Her tears welled up afresh.

"Oh, fäather, I'm sorry I spöake lik that. Döan't be angry wud me fur
saying wot I did. I'll own as we might have managed better--only döan't
send us away--fur this liddle chap's sake," and she pulled forward young
Sidney, who was crying too.

"Where are your other sons?"

"Harry's got a wife and children to keep--he cudn't help us; and
Johnnie's never mäade more'n fifteen shilling a week since the war."

Reuben stood silent for a moment, staring at the boy.

"Does Realf know you've come here?" he asked at length.

"Yes," said Tilly in a low voice.

There was another silence. Then suddenly Reuben went to the door and
opened it.

"There's no use you waiting and vrothering me--my mind's mäade up."

"Fäather, fur pity's säake----"

"Döan't talk nonsense. How can I sit here and see my land messed about
by a fool, jest because he happens to have married my darter?--and
agäunst my wish, too. I'm sorry fur you, Tilly, but you're still young
enough to work. I'm eighty-five, and I äun't stopped working yet, so
döan't go saying you're too old. Your gals can go out to service ... and
this liddle chap here ..."

He stopped speaking, and stared at the lad, chin in hand.

"He can work too, I suppose?" said Tilly bitterly.

"I wur going to say as how I've täaken a liking to him. He looks a
valiant liddle feller, and if you'll hand him over to me and have no
more part nor lot in him, I'll see as he doesn't want."

Tilly gasped.

"I've left this farm to William," continued Reuben, "because I've naun
else to leave it to that I can see. All my children have forsook me; but
maybe this boy 'ud be better than they."

"You mean that if we let you adopt Sidney, you'll mäake Odiam his when
you're gone?"

"I döan't say for sartain--if he turns out a präaper lad and is a
comfort to me and loves this pläace as none of my own children have ever
loved it----"

But Tilly interrupted him. Putting her arm round the terrified boy's
shoulders, she led him through the door.

"Thanks, fäather, but if you offered to give us to-day every penny
you've got, I'd let you have no child of mine. Maybe we'll be poor and
miserable and have to work hard, but he wöan't be one-half so wretched
wud us as he'd be wud you. D'you think I disremember my own childhood
and the way you mäade us suffer? You're an old man, but you're
hearty--you might live to a hundred--and I'd justabout die of sorrow if
I thought any child of mine wur living wud you and being mäade as
miserable as you mäade us. _I'd rather see my boy dead than at Odiam._"


§ 4.

There was a big outcry in Peasmarsh against Backfield's treatment of the
Realfs. Not a farmer in the district would have kept on a hand who had
burnt nearly the whole farm to ashes through bad stacking, but this fact
did little to modify the general criticism. A dozen excuses were found
for Realf's "accident," as it came to be called--"and old Ben cud have
afforded to lose a stack or two, surelye."

Reuben was indifferent to the popular voice. The Realfs cleared out bag
and baggage the following month. No one knew their destination, but it
was believed they were to separate. Afterwards it transpired that Realf
had been given work on a farm near Lurgashall, while Tilly became
housekeeper to a clergyman, taking with her the boy she would rather
have seen dead than at Odiam. Nothing was heard of the daughters, and
local rumour had it that they went on the streets; but this pleasing
idea was shattered a year or two later by young Alce, the publican's
son, coming back from a visit to Chichester and saying he had found both
the girls in service in a Canon's house, doing well, and one engaged to
marry the butler.

Reuben did not trouble about the Realfs. Tilly had been no daughter of
his from the day she married; it was a pity he had ever revoked his
wrath and allowed himself to be on speaking terms with her and her
family; if he had turned them out of Grandturzel straight away there
would have been none of this absurd fuss--also he would not have lost a
good crop of hay. But he comforted himself with the thought that his
magnanimity had put about a thousand pounds into his pocket, so he could
afford to ignore the cold shoulder which was turned to him wherever he
went. And the hay was insured.

He gave up going to the Cocks. It had fallen off terribly those last
five years, he told Maude the dairy-woman, his only confidant nowadays.
The beer had deteriorated, and there was a girl behind the counter all
painted and curled like a Jezebubble, and rolling her eyes at you like
this.... If any woman thought a man of his experience was to be caught,
she was unaccountable mistaken (this doubtless for Maude's benefit, that
she might build no false hopes on the invitation to bring her sewing
into the kitchen of an evening). Then the fellows in the bar never
talked about stocks and crops and such like, but about race-horses and
football and tomfooleries of that sort, wot had all come in through the
poor being educated and put above themselves. Moreover, there was a
gramophone playing trash like "I wouldn't leave my little wooden hut for
you"--and the tale of Reuben's grievances ended in expectoration.

All the same he was lonely. Maude was a good woman, but she wasn't his
equal. He wanted to speak to someone of his own class, who used to be
his friend in days gone by. Then suddenly he thought of Alice Jury. He
had promised to go and see her at Rye, but had never done so. He
remembered how long ago she had used to comfort him when he felt
low-spirited and neglected by his fellows. Perhaps she would do the same
for him now. He did not know her address, but the new people at Cheat
Land would doubtless be able to give it to him, and perhaps Alice would
help him through these trying times as she had helped him through
earlier ones.

A few days later he drove off in his trap to Rye. Though he had scarcely
thought of her for ten years, he was now all aflame with the idea of
meeting her. She would be pleased to see him, too. Perhaps their
long-buried emotions would revive, and as old people they would enjoy a
friendship which would be sweeter than the love they had promised
themselves in more ardent days.

Alice lived in lodgings by the Ypres Tower. The little crinkled cottage
looked out over the marshes towards Camber and the masts of ships.
Reuben was shown into a room which reminded him of Cheat Land long ago,
for there were books arranged on shelves, and curtains of dull red linen
quaintly embroidered. There was a big embroidery frame on the table, and
over it was stretched a gorgeous altar-cloth all woven with gold and
violet tissue.

He was inspecting these things when Alice came in. Her hair was quite
white now, and she stooped a little, but it seemed to Reuben as if her
eyes were still as lively as ever. Something strange suddenly flooded up
in his heart and he held out both hands.

"Alice ..." he said.

"Good afternoon," she replied, putting one hand in his, and withdrawing
it almost immediately.

"I--I--äun't you pleased to see me?"

"I thought you'd forgotten all about me, certainly."

She offered him a chair, and he sat down. Her coldness seemed to drive
back the tides that had suddenly flooded his lips, and slowly too they
began to ebb from his heart. Whom had he come to see?--the only woman he
had ever loved, whose love he had hoped to catch again in these his
latter days, and hold transmuted into tender friendship, till he went
back to his earth? Not so, it seemed--but an old woman who had once been
a girl, with whom he had nothing in common, and from whom he had
travelled so far that they could scarcely hear each other's voices
across the country that divided them. Alice broke the silence by
offering him some tea.

"Thanks, but I döan't täake tea--I've never held wud it."

"How are you, Reuben? I've heard a lot about you, but nothing from you
yourself. Is it true that you've sent away your daughter and her family
from Grandturzel?"

"Yes--after they burnt the pläace down to the ground."

"And where are they now?"

"I dunno."

Alice said nothing, and Reuben fired up a little:

"I daresay you think badly of me, lik everyone else. But if a man mäade
a bonfire of your new stacks, I reckon you wouldn't say 'thank'ee,' and
raise his wages."

Another pause--then Alice said:

"How are you getting on with Boarzell? I hear that most of it's yours
now."

"All except the Fair-pläace--and I mean to have that in a year or two,
surelye."

This time it was she that kindled:

"You talk as if you'd all your life before you--and you must be nearly
eighty-five."

"I döan't feel old--at least not often. I still feel young enough to
have a whack at the Fair-pläace."

"So you haven't changed your idea of happiness?"

"How d'you mean?"

"Your idea of happiness always was getting something you wanted. Well,
lately I've discovered my idea of happiness, and that's--wanting
nothing."

"Then you _have_ got wot you want," said Reuben cruelly.

"I don't think you understand."

"My old fäather used to say--'I want nothing that I haven't got, and so
I've got nothing that I döan't want, surelye.'"

"It's all part of the same idea, only of course he had many more things
than I have. I'm a poor woman, and lonely, and getting old. But"--and a
ring of exaltation came into her voice, and the light of it into her
eyes--"I want nothing."

"I wish you'd talk plain. If you never want anything, then you äun't
präaperly alive. So you äun't happy--because you're dead."

"You don't understand me. It's not because I'm dead and sluggish that I
don't want anything, but because I've had fight enough in me to triumph
over my desires. So now everything's mine."

"Fust you say as how you're happy because you've got nothing, and now
you say as everything's yourn. How am I to know wot you mean?"

"Well, compare my case with yours. You've got everything you want, and
yet in reality you've got nothing."

"That's nonsense, Alice." He spoke more gently, for he had come to the
conclusion that sorrow and loneliness had affected her wits.

"It isn't. You've got what you set out to get--Boarzell Moor, and
success for Odiam; but in getting it you have lost everything that makes
life worth while--wife, children, friends, and--and--love. You're like
the man in the Bible who rebuilt Jericho, and laid the foundations in
his firstborn, and set up the gates in his youngest son."

"There you go, Alice! lik the rest of them--no more understanding than
anyone else. Can't you see that _it's bin worth while_?"

"What do you mean?"

"Why, that it's worth losing all those things that I may get the one big
thing I want. Döan't you see that Boarzell and Odiam are worth more to
me than wife or family or than you, Alice. Come to that, you've got none
o' them things either, and you haven't a farm to mäake up fur it. So
even if I wur sorry fur wot I'm not sorry fur, I'm still happier than
you."

"No you aren't--because you want a thing, and I want nothing."

"I've got a thing, my girl, and you've got nothing."

They had both risen and faced each other, anger in their eyes. But their
antagonism had lost that vital quality which had once made it the salt
of their friendship.

"You döan't understand me," said Reuben--"I'd better go."

"You don't understand me," said Alice--"you can't."

"We've lost each other," said Reuben--"good-bye."

Alice smiled rather bitterly, and had a moment of vision.

"The fact is that we can't forgive each other--for being happy in
different ways."

"I tell you I'm sorry for nothing."

"Nor I."

So they parted.

Reuben drove back slowly through the October afternoon. A transparent
brede of mist lay over the fields, occasionally torn by sunlight.
Everything was very quiet--sounds of labour stole across the valley from
distant farms, and the barking of a dog at Stonelink seemed close at
hand. Now and then the old man muttered to himself: "We döan't
understand each other--we döan't forgive each other--we've lost each
other. We've lost each other."

He knew now that Alice was lost. The whole of Boarzell lay between them.
He had thought that she would be always there, but now he saw that
between him and her lay the dividing wilderness of his success. She was
the offering and the reward of failure--and he had triumphed over
failure as over everything else.

He drove through Peasmarsh and turned into the Totease lane. The fields
on both sides of it were his now. He sniffed delightedly the savour of
their sun-baked earth, of the crumpling leaves in their hedges, of the
roots, round and portly, that they nourished in their soil--and the west
wind brought him the scent of the gorse on Boarzell, very faintly, for
now only the thickets of the top were left.

Almost the whole south was filled by the great lumpish mass of the Moor,
no longer tawny and hummocky, but lined with hedges and scored with
furrows, here and there a spread of pasture, with the dotted sheep. A
mellow corn-coloured light rippled over it from the west, and the sheep
bleated to each other across the meadows that had once been wastes....

"My land," murmured old Reuben, drinking in the breeze of it. "My
land--more to me than Alice." Then with a sudden fierceness:

"I'm shut of her!"


§ 5.

The next year came the great Unionist collapse. The Government which had
bumped perilously through the South African war, went on the rocks of an
indignant peace--wrecked by Tariff Reform with the complication of
Chinese Labour and the Education Bill. Once more Reuben took prominent
part in a general election. The circumstances were altered--no one threw
dead cats at him at meetings, though the common labouring men had a way
of asking questions which they had not had in '65.

Old Backfield spoke at five meetings, each time on Tariff Reform and the
effect it would have on local agriculture. The candidate and the
Unionist Club were very proud of him, and spoke of him as "a grand old
man." On Election Day, one of the candidates' own cars was sent to fetch
him to the Poll. It was the first time Reuben had ever been in a motor,
but he did his best to dissemble his excitement.

"It's lik them trains," he said to the chauffeur, "unaccountable strange
and furrin-looking at first, but naun to spik of when you're used to
'em. Well I remember when the first railway train wur run from Rye to
Hastings--and most people too frightened to go in it, though it never
mäade more'n ten mile an hour."

Though the country in general chose to go to the dogs, Reuben had the
consolation of seeing a Conservative returned for Rye. He put this down
largely to his own exertions, and came home in high good humour from the
declaration of the Poll. Mr. Courthope, the successful candidate, had
shaken him by the hand, and so had his agent and one or two prominent
members of the Club. They had congratulated him on his wonderful energy,
and wished him many more years of usefulness to the Conservative cause.
He might live to see a wheat-tax yet.

He compared his present feelings with the miserable humiliation he had
endured in '65. Queer!--that election seemed almost as real and vivid to
him as this one, and--he did not know why--he found himself feeling as
if it were more important. His mind recaptured the details with
startling clearness--the crowd in the market-place, the fight with
Coalbran, the sheep's entrails that were flung about ... and suddenly,
sitting there in his arm-chair, he found himself muttering: "that hemmed
gëate!"

It must be old age. He pulled himself together, as a farm-hand came into
the room. It was Boorman, one of the older lot, who had just come back
from Rye.

"Good about the poll, mäaster, wurn't it?" he said--the older men were
always more cordial towards Reuben than the youngsters. They had seen
how he could work.

"Unaccountable good."

"I mäade sure as how Mus' Courthope ud git in. 'Täun't so long since we
sent up another Unionist--seems strange when you and me remembers that a
Tory never sat fur Rye till '85."

"When did you come back?"

"I've only just come in, mäaster. Went räound to the London Trader after
hearing the poll. By the way, I picked up a piece of news thur--old
Jury's darter wot used to be at Cheat Land has just died. Bob Hilder
töald me--seems as she lodges wud his sister."

"Um."

"Thought you'd be interested to hear. I remember as how you used to be
unaccountable friendly wud them Jurys, considering the difference in
your position."

"Yes, yes--wot did she die of?"

"Bob dudn't seem to know. She allus wur a delicate-looking woman."

"Yes--a liddle stick of a woman. That'll do, now."

Boorman went out, grumbling at "th' öald feller's cussedness," and
Reuben sat on without moving.

Alice was dead--she had died in his hour of triumph. Just when he had
succeeded in laying his hands on one thing more of goodness and glory
for Odiam, she who had nothing and wanted nothing had gone out into the
great nothingness. A leaden weight seemed to have fallen on him, for all
that he was "shut of her."

The clock ticked on into the silence, the fire spluttered, and a cat
licked itself before it. He sat hunched miserably, hearing nothing,
seeing nothing. In his breast, where his heart had used to be, was a
heavy dead thing that knew neither joy nor sorrow. Reuben was feeling
old again.


§ 6.

"Please, mäaster, there's trouble on the farm."

Reuben started out of the half-waking state into which he had fallen. It
was late in the afternoon, the sunlight had gone, and a wintry twilight
crept up the wall. Maude the dairy-woman was looking in at the door.

"Wot is it? Wot's happened?"

"Boorman asked me to fetch you. They've had some vrother wud the young
Squire, and he's shot a cow."

"Shot one of my cows!" and Reuben sprang to his feet. "Where woman?
Where?"

"Down at Totease. He wur the wuss for liquor, I reckon."

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.

"Wot's happened?" he called to Boorman.

"Only this, mäaster--Dunk and me found Mus' Fleet a-tearing about the
Glotten meadow wud two of his friends, trying to fix Radical posters on
the cows--seems as they'd räaked up one or two o' them old Ben the
Gorilla posters wot used to be about Peasmarsh, and they'd stuck one on
Tawny and one on Cowslip, and wur fair racing the other beasts to death.
Then when me and the lads cöame up and interfere, they want to fight
us--and when we täake höald of 'em, seeing as they 'pear to be a liddle
the wuss for drink, why Mus' Fleet he pulls out a liddle pistol and
shoots all around, and hits poor öald Dumpling twice over."

"Look here, farmer," said one of the young men--"we're awfully sorry,
and we'll settle with you about that cow. We were only having a rag.
We're awfully sorry."

"Ho, indeed! I'm glad to hear it. And you'll settle wud me about the
cow! Wur it you who shot her, I'd lik to know?"

"I didn't actually fire the pistol--but we're all in the same boat. Had
a luncheon over at Rye to cheer ourselves up after seeing the Tory get
in. We're awfully sorry."

"You've said that afore," said Reuben.

He pondered sternly over the three young men, who all looked sober
enough now. As a matter of fact, Dumpling was no great loss; fifteen
pounds would have paid for her. But he was not disposed to let off
George Fleet so easily. Against the two other youths he bore no
grudge--they were just ordinary ineffective young asses, of Radical
tendencies, he noted grimly. George, however, stood on a different
footing; he was the mocker of Odiam, the perpetrator of many gross and
silly practical jokes at its expense. He should not escape with the mere
payment of fifteen pounds, for he owed Reuben the punishment of his
earlier misdeeds.

"The man as shot my cow shall answer fur it before the magistrate," he
said severely.

"Look here----" cried George Fleet, and his two friends began to bid for
mercy, starting with twenty pounds.

"Be a sport," pleaded one of them, when they had come to forty, "you
simply can't hand him over to the police--his father's Squire of the
Manor, and it would be no end of a scandal."

"I know who his fäather is, thank'ee," said Reuben.

Then suddenly a great, a magnificent, a triumphant idea struck him. He
nearly staggered under the force of it. He was like a general who sees
what he had looked upon hitherto as a mere trivial skirmish develop into
a battle which may win him the whole campaign. He spoke almost faintly.

"Someone go fur the Squire."

"Sir Eustace!"

"Yes--fetch him here, and I'll talk the matter over wud him."

"But----"

"Either you fetch him here or I send fur the police."

The two young men stared at each other, then George Fleet nodded to
them:

"You'd better go. The dad'll be better than a policeman anyhow. Try and
smooth him down a bit on the way."

"Right you are"--and they reluctantly moved off, leaving their comrade
in the enemy's hands.

However, Reuben's whole manner had changed. His attitude towards George
Fleet became positively cordial. He took him into the kitchen, and made
Maude give him some tea. He himself paced nervously up and down, a queer
look of exaltation sometimes passing over his face. One would never have
taken him for the same man as the old fellow who an hour ago had huddled
weak and almost senile in his chair, broken under his life's last
tragedy. He felt young, strong, energetic, a soldier again.

The Squire soon arrived. Reuben had him shown into the parlour, and
insisted on seeing him alone.

"You finish your tea," he said to George, "and bring some more, Maudie,
for these gentlemen," nodding kindly to the two young men, who stared at
him as if they thought he had taken leave of his senses.

In the parlour, Sir Eustace greeted him with mingled nervousness and
irritation.

"Well, Backfield, I'm sorry about this young scapegrace of mine. But
boys will be boys, you know, and we'll make it all right about that cow.
I promise you it won't happen again."

"I'm sorry to have given you the trouble of coming here, Squire. But I
thought maybe you and I cud come to an arrangement wudout calling in the
police."

"Oh, certainly, certainly. You surely wouldn't think of doing that,
Backfield. I promise you the full value of the cow."

"Quite so, Squire. But it äun't the cow as I'm vrothered about so much
as these things always happening. This äun't the first 'rag,' as he
calls it, wot he's had on my farm. I've complained to you before."

"I know you have, and I promise you nothing of this kind shall ever
happen again."

"How am I to know that, Squire? You can't kip the young man in a
prammylator. Now if he wur had up before the magistrate and sent to
prison, it 'ud be a lesson as he'd never disremember."

"But think of me, Backfield! Think of his mother! Think of us all! It
would be a ghastly thing for us. I promise to pay you the full value of
the cow--and of your damaged self-respect into the bargain. Won't that
content you?"

"Um," said Reuben--"it might."

The Squire thought he had detected Backfield's little game, and a
relieved affability crept into his manner.

"That'll be all right," he said urbanely. "Of course I understand your
feelings are more important to you than your cow. We'll do our best to
meet you. What do you value them at, eh?"

"The Fair-pläace."


§ 7.

He had triumphed. He had beaten down the last resistance of the enemy,
won the last stronghold of Boarzell. It was all his now, from the clayey
pastures at its feet to the fir-clump of its crown. A trivial event
which he had been able to seize and turn to his advantage had
unexpectedly given him the victory.

The Squire had called it blackmail and made a terrible fuss about it,
but from the first the issues had been in Reuben's hands. A public
scandal, the appearance of Flightshot's heir before the county
magistrates on the charge of shooting a cow in a drunken frolic, was
simply not to be contemplated; the only son of the Manor must not be
sacrificed to make a rustic holiday. After all, ever since the Inclosure
the Fair had been merely a matter of toleration; and as Backfield
pointed out, it could easily go elsewhere--to the big Tillingham meadow
outside Rye, for instance, where the wild beast shows pitched when they
came. All things considered, resistance was not worth while, and
Flightshot made its last capitulation to Odiam.

Of course there was a tremendous outcry in Peasmarsh and the
neighbourhood. Everyone knew that the Fair was doomed--Backfield would
never allow it to be held on his land. His ploughs and his harrows were
merely waiting for the negotiations to be finished before leaping, as it
were, upon this their last prey. He would even cut down the sentinel
firs that for hundreds of years had kept grim and lonely watch over the
Sussex fields--had seen old Peasen Mersch when it was only a group of
hovels linked with the outside world by lanes like ditches, and half the
country a moor like the Boar's Hyll.

The actual means by which he acquired the Fair-place never quite
transpired, for the farm-men were paid for their silence by Sir Eustace,
and also had a kindly feeling for young George which persisted after the
money was spent. However, one or two of the prevalent rumours were worse
for Reuben than the facts, and if anyone, in farmhouse or cottage, had
ever had a grudging kindness for the man who had wrested a victory out
of the tyrant earth, he forgot it now.

But Reuben did not care. He had won his heart's desire, and public
opinion could go where everything else he was supposed to value, and
didn't, had gone. In a way he was sorry, for he would have liked to
discuss his triumph at the Cocks, seasoning it with pints of decadent
ale. As things were, he had no one to talk it over with but the
farm-men, who grumbled because it meant more work--Maude, who said she'd
be sorry when all that pretty gorse was cleared away--and old mad Harry,
now something very like a grasshopper, whose conversation since the
blaze at Grandturzel had been limited entirely to the statement that
"the house was afire, and the children were burning."

But this isolation did not trouble Reuben much. He had lost mankind, but
he had found the earth. The comfort that had sustained him after the
loss of David and William, was his now in double measure. The earth, for
which he had sacrificed all, was enough for him now that all else was
gone. He was too old to work, except for a snip or a dig here and there,
but he never failed to direct and supervise the work of the others.
Every morning he made his rounds on horseback--it delighted him to think
that they were too long to make on foot. He rode from outpost to
outpost, through the lush meadows and the hop-gardens of Totease, across
the lane to the wheatlands of Odiam, and then over Boarzell with its
cornfields and wide pastures to Grandturzel, where the orchards were now
bringing in a yearly profit of fifteen pounds an acre. All that vast
domain, a morning's ride, was his--won by his own ambition, energy,
endurance, and sacrifice.

In the afternoon he took life easy. If it was warm and fine he would sit
out of doors, against the farmhouse wall, his old bones rejoicing in the
sunshine, and his eager heart at the sight of Boarzell shimmering in the
heat--while sounds of labour woke him pleasantly from occasional dozes.

When evening came and the cool of the day, he would go for a little
stroll--round by Burntbarns or Socknersh or Moor's Cottage, just to see
what sort of a mess they were making of things. He was no longer upright
now, but stooped forward from the hips when he walked. His hair was
astonishingly thick--indeed it seemed likely that he would die with a
full head of hair--but he had lost nearly all his teeth--a very sore
subject, wisely ignored by those who came in contact with him. The
change that people noticed most was in his eyes. In spite of their thick
brows, they were no longer fierce and stern;--they were full of that
benign serenity which one so often sees in the eyes of old men--just as
if he had not ridden roughshod over all the sweet and gentle things of
life. One would think that he had never known what it was to trample
down happiness and drive love out of doors--one would think that having
always lived mercifully and blamelessly he had reaped the reward of a
happy old age.


§ 8.

Reuben did not go to the Fair that autumn--there being no reason why he
should and several why he shouldn't. He went instead to see Richard, who
was down for a week's rest after a tiring case. Reuben thought a
dignified aloofness the best attitude to maintain towards his son--there
was no need for them to be on bad terms, but he did not want anyone to
imagine that he approved of Richard or thought his success worth while.
Richard, for his part, felt kindly disposed towards his father, and a
little sorry for him in his isolation. He invited him to dinner once or
twice, and, realising his picturesqueness, was not ashamed to show him
to his friends.

There were several of his friends at Starcliffe that afternoon--men and
women rising in the worlds of literature, law, and politics. It was
possible that Richard would contend the Rye division--in the Liberal
interest, be it said with shame--and he was anxious to surround himself
with those who might be useful to him. Besides, he was one of those men
who breathe more freely in an atmosphere of Culture. Apart from mere
utilitarian questions, he liked to talk over the latest books, the
latest _cause célèbre_ or diplomatic _coup d'étât_. Anne, very upright,
very desiccated, poured out tea, and Reuben noted with satisfaction that
Nature had beaten her at the battle of the dressing-table. Richard, on
the other hand, in spite of an accentuation of the legal profile, looked
young for his age and rather buckish, and rumour credited him with an
intrigue with a lady novelist.

He received his father very kindly, giving him a seat close to the table
so that he might have a refuge for his cup and saucer, and introducing
him to a gentleman who, he said, was writing a book on Sussex commons
and anxious for information about Boarzell.

"But I owe you a grudge, Mr. Backfield, for you have entirely spoilt one
of the finest commons in Sussex. The records of Boarzell go back to the
twelfth century, and in the Visitations of Sussex it is referred to as a
fine piece of moorland three hundred acres in extent and grown over with
heather and gorse. I went to see it yesterday, and found only a tuft of
gorse and firs at the top."

"And they're coming out this week," said Reuben triumphantly.

"Can't I induce you to spare them? There are only too few of those
ancient landmarks left in Sussex."

"And there'd be fewer still, if I had the settling of 'em. I'd lik to
see the whole of England grown over wud wheat from one end to the
other."

"It would be a shame to spoil all the wild places, though," said a
vague-looking girl in an embroidered frock, with her hair in a lump at
her neck.

"One wants a place where one can get back to Nature," said a young man
with a pince-nez and open-work socks.

"But my father's great idea," said Richard, "is that Nature is just a
thing for man to tread down and subdue."

"It can't be done," said the young man in the open-work socks--"it can't
be done. And why should we want to do it?--is not Nature the Mother and
Nurse of us all?--and is it not best for us simply to lie on her bosom
and trust her for our welfare?"

"If I'd a-done that," said Reuben, "I shouldn't have an acre to my näum,
surelye."

"And what do you want with an acre? What is an acre but a man's toy--a
child's silly name for a picture it can't understand. Have you ever
heard Pan's pipes?"

"I have not, young man."

"Then you know nothing of Nature--the real goddess, many-breasted Ceres.
What can you know of the earth, who have never danced to the earth's
music?"

"I once stayed on the Downs," said the girl in the embroidered frock,
speaking dreamily, "and one twilight I seemed to hear elfin music on the
hill. I tore off my shoes and let down my hair and I danced--I
danced...."

"Ah," said the youth in the open-work socks approvingly. "That's very
like an episode in 'Meryon's House,' you know--that glorious scene in
which Jennifer the Prostitute goes down to the New Forest with Meryon
and suddenly begins dancing in a glade."

"Of course, being a prostitute, she'd be closer to Nature than a
respectable person."

"I thought 'Meryon's House' the worst bilge this year has given us,"
said a man in a braided coat.

"Or that Meryon has given us, which is saying more," put in someone
else.

"I hate these romantic realists--they're worse than the old-fashioned
Zola sort."


The conversation had quite deserted Reuben, who sat silent and forgotten
in his corner, thinking what fools all these people were. After he had
wondered what they were talking about for a quarter of an hour, he rose
to go, and gave a sigh of relief when the fresh air of Iden Hill came
rustling to him on the doorstep.

"He's a fine old fellow, your father, Backfield," said the man who was
writing a book on Sussex commons. "I can almost forgive him for spoiling
one of the best pieces of wild land in the county."

"A magnificent old face," said a middle-aged woman with red hair--"the
lining of it reminds me of those interesting Italian peasants one
meets--they wrinkle more beautifully than a young girl keeps her bloom.
I should like to paint him."

"So should I," said the girl in the embroidered frock--"and I've been
taking note of his clothes for our Earlscourt Morris Dancers."

Richard felt almost proud of his parent.

"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."

"Ah--but he's never heard Pan's pipes," said the youth in the open-work
socks.


§ 9.

Reuben drove slowly homewards through the brooding October dusk. The
music of the Fair crept after him up the Foreign, and from the crest he
could see the booths and stalls looking very small in the low fields by
the Rother. "I wouldn't leave my little wooden hut for you," played the
merry-go-round, and there was some mysterious quality in that distant
tune which made Reuben whip the old horse over the hill, so as to be out
of reach of it.

So much of his life had been bound up with the Fair that somehow a part
of him seemed to be jigging at it still, down in the Rother field. It
was at the Fair that he had first resolved to conquer Boarzell, and he
saw himself rushing with the crowd to Totease, scuffling round the barns
while the big flames shot out ... and later he saw himself dancing with
Naomi to Harry's fiddle. What had Harry played?--a strange tune, "The
Song of Seth's Home"--one never heard it now, but he could remember
fragments of it....

These troubling thoughts were forgotten when he came to his own
frontiers. He drove up to the farmhouse door, and handing over the trap
to a boy, went out for his evening inspection of Boarzell.

The sunset guttered like spent candles in the wind--the rest of the sky
was grey, like the fields under it. The distant bleating of sheep came
through the dropping swale, as Reuben climbed the Moor. His men were
still at work on the new ground, and he made a solemn tour of
inspection. They were cutting down the firs and had entirely cleared
away the gorse, piling it into a huge bonfire. All that remained of
Boarzell's golden crown was a pillar of smoke, punctured by spurts and
sparks of flame, rising up against the clouds. The wind carried the
smell away to Socknersh and Burntbarns, and the farm-men there looked up
from their work to watch the glare of Boarzell's funeral pyre.

Reuben moved away from the crest and stood looking round him at what had
once been Boarzell Moor. A clear watery light had succeeded the sunset,
and he was able to see the full extent of his possessions. From the
utmost limits of Grandturzel in the south, to the Glotten brook in the
north, from Socknersh in the east to Cheat Land in the west--all that he
could see was his. Out of a small obscure farm of barely sixty acres he
had raised up this splendid dominion, and he had tamed the roughest,
toughest, fiercest, cruellest piece of ground in Sussex, the beast of
Boarzell.

His victory was complete. He had done all that he had set out to do. He
had done what everyone had told him he could never do. He had made the
wilderness to blossom as the rose, he had set his foot upon Leviathan's
neck, and made him his servant for ever.

He stood with his arms folded over his chest, and watched the first
stars flicker above Castweasel. The scent of the ground steamed up to
mingle with the mists, a soft rasp of frost was in the air and the earth
which he had loved seemed to breathe out towards him, and tell him that
by his faithful service he had won not only Boarzell but all gracious
soil, all the secrets of seed-time and harvest, all the tender mysteries
of sap, and growth.

He knew that not only the land within these boundaries was his--his
possessions stretched beyond it, and reached up to the stars. The wind,
the rain, dawns, dusks, and darkness were all given him as the crown of
his faithfulness. He had bruised Nature's head--and she had bruised his
heel, and given him the earth as his reward.

"I've won," he said softly to himself, while behind him the blazing
gorse spat and crackled and sent flames up almost to the clouds with
triumphant roars--"I've won--and it's bin worth while. I've wanted a
thing, and I've got it, surelye--and I äun't too old to enjoy it,
nuther. I may live to be a hunderd, a man of my might. But if I go next
week, I shan't complain, fur I've lived to see my heart's desire. I've
fought and I've suffered, and I've gone hard and gone rough and gone
empty--but I haven't gone in vain. It's all bin worth it. Odiam's great
and Boarzell's mine--and when I die ... well, I've lived so close to the
earth all my days that I reckon I shan't be afraid to lie in it at
last."


PRINTED BY WILLIAM BRENDON AND SON, LTD., PLYMOUTH, ENGLAND





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