« AnkstesnisTęsti »
Then came along the old soldier to old Bob must have known it was coming. Little Sherberton, and he never left it At any rate, there was no choice but to again till five year' ago, when he went out let him stop, for it would have been death feet first.
to turn him out again. So he stopped, and To this day I could n't tell you much when the bad weather was over, he would about him. His character defied me. I n't go. There 's no doubt my sister aldon't know whether he was good or bad, ways liked the man in a way; but women or just neither, like most of us.
like a man in such a lot of different ways the whole I should be inclined to say he that none could have told exactly how or was good. He was cast in a lofty mold, why she set store on him. For that matand had a wide experience of the seamy ter, she could n't herself. Indeed, I axed side of life. I proved him a liar here and her straight out, and she tried to explain there, and he proved me a fool, but neither and failed. It was n't his outer man, for of us shamed the other in that matter; for he had a face like a rat, with a great, I said, and still say, that I 'd sooner be a ragged, gray mustache, thicker on one side fool than a rascal; while he, though he than t' other, and eyebrows like anybody denied being a rascal, said that he'd else's whiskers. And one eyelid was down, sooner be the biggest knave on earth than though he could see all right with the eye a fool. He argued that any self-respecting under it. Round in the back he was, and creature ought to feel the same, and he growing bald on the top; but what hair had an opinion to which he always held he had was long, and he never would cut very stoutly, that the fools made far more it, because he said it kept his neck warm. trouble in the world than the knaves. He He had his history pat, of course, went further than that, and said if there though how much truth there was to it were no fools, there would n't be no we shall never know in this world. He knaves. But there I did n't hold with was an old soldier, and had been shot in him ; for a man be born a fool by the will the right foot in India along with Lord of God, and I never can see 't is anything Roberts in the Chitral campaign. Then to be shamed about; whereas no man need he 'd left the service and messed up his be a knave, if he goes to the Lord and pension, so he said. I don't know how. Father of us all in a proper spirit, and Anyway, he did n't get none. He showed prays for grace to withstand the tempta- a medal, however, which had been won by tions of the world, the flesh, and the dowl. him or somebody else; but it had n't got
Bob Battle he called himself, and he no name on it. He was a great talker, knocked at the door of Little Sherberton and his manners were far ahead of anyon a winter night and asked to see Mary, thing Mary had met with. He 'd think and would not be put off with any less nothing of putting a chair for her, or person. So she saw him and heard how anything like that; and while he was he had been tramping through Holne, and storm-bound, he earned his keep and more,
, stopped for a drink and sang a song to for he was very handy over a lot of little the people in the bar. It happened that things, and clever with hosses and so on, Mr. Churchward, the innkeeper, wanted and not only would he keep 'em amused of a message took to my sister about some a night with his songs and adventures, geese, and none would go for fear of but he'd do the accounts, or anything snow; so the tramp, for Bob was no bet- with figures, and he showed my sister how ter, said that he would go if they'd put in a good few ways she was spending him in the way and give him a shilling. money to poor purpose. He turned out And Churchward trusted him, because he to be a very clean man and very well besaid that he reminded him of his dead haved. He did n't make trouble, but was brother. Though that was n't nothing in all the other way, and when the snow his favor, seeing what Henry Churchward thawed he was as busy as a bee helping had been in life.
the men round about the farm. He made However, Bob earned his money and his head save his heels, too, and was full came along, and Mary saw him and took of devices and inventions. him in and let him shake the snow off his- So when I got over, after the worst was self and eat and drink. Then began the past, to see how they'd come through it, famous blizzard, and I 've often thought there was Bob Battle working with the
others; and when I looked him up and I had n't heard about that and did n't down and said, “Who be you, then?" he expect to, for Mary, though a good, explained, and told me how Mary had straight woman as would n't have robbed took him in out of the storm and let him a lamb of its milk, or done a crooked act lie in the linhay; and how Noah had given for untold money, was n't religious in the him a suit of old clothes, and how much church-going or Bible-reading sense, same he was beholden to them all. And they as me and my wife were. In fact, she all had a good word for the man, and never went to church save for a wedding Mary fairly simpered, so I thought, when or a funeral; but it appeared that Mr. she talked about him. There was no im- Battle set a good bit of store by it, and mediate mention of his going, and when I : when she asked him, if he thought so asked my sister about it, she said:
much of it, why he did n't go, he said it “Plenty of time. No doubt he 'll get was only his unfortunate state of poverty about his business in a day or two."
and his clothes and boots that kept him But of course he had n't no business to
away. get about, and though he talked in a "Not that the Lord minds,” said Bob; vague sort of way concerning his home “but the church-goers do, and a pair of in Exeter and a brother up to Salisbury, pants like mine ain't welcomed except by it was all rubbish, as he afterward admit- the Salvationists, and I don't hold with ted. He was a tramp and nothing more, that body." and the life at Little Sherberton and the So he got a suit of flame-new clothes good food and the warm lying of nights out of her, and a new hat into the barevidently took his fancy. So he stuck to gain; and then I said that he'd soon be a it, and such was his natural cleverness goner. But I was wrong, for he stopped, and power of being in the right place at and went down to Huccaby Chapel for the right moment that from the first no- holy service twice a Sunday; and what 's body wished him away. He was always more, he kept it up. And then, if you talking of going, and it was always next please, my sister went with him one day; Monday morning that he meant to start; and coming to it with all the charm of but the time went by, and Bob Battle novelty, she took to it very kindly, and did n't. A very cunning man, and must got to be a right-down church-goer, much have been in farming some time of his to my satisfaction, I 'm sure. And her life, for he knew a lot, and all worth up home five-and-sixty years old at the knowing, and I 'm not denying that he time! was useful to me as well as to my sister. To sum up, Bob stayed. She offered
She was as good as a play with Bob, him wages, and he took them. Twentyand me and my wife, and another married five shillings a week and his keep he got party here and there, often died of laugh- out of her after the lambing season, for ing to hear her talk about him, because with the sheep he proved a fair wonder, the way that an unmarried female regards same as he done with everything else. the male is fearful and wonderful to the And nothing was a trouble. For a fortknowing mind.
night the man never slept save a nod now Mary spoke of him as if she 'd invented and again in the house on wheels, where him, and knew his works, like a clock- he dwelt in the valley among the ewes. maker knows a clock. He interested her And old shepherds, with all the will to something tremendous, and got to be her flout him, was tongue-tied afore the man, only subject presently.
because of his excellent skill and far"Mr. Battle was the very man for a reaching knowledge. farmer like me,” she said once, "and I 'm Mary called him “my bailiff," and was sure I thank God's goodness for sending terrible proud of him, and he accepted the him along. He 's a proper bailiff about position, and always addressed her as the place, and that clever with the men "Ma'am" afore the hands, though “Miss that nobody quarrels with him. Of Blake" in private. And in fullness of course he does nothing without consulting time he called her “Miss Mary.” The me; but he 's never mistaken, and apart first time he went so far as that she came from the worldly side of Mr. Battle, running to me all in a twitter, but I could there 's the religious side.”
see she liked it at heart. She got to trust
him a lot, and though I warned her more the world. I'm not saying it ain't a good than once, it were n't easy to say any- home and a happy one; but I 'm free to thing against a man like Battle, as steady tell you that the luck ain't all one side; as you please, never market-merry, and and for your sister to fall in with me in always ready for church on Sundays. her declining years was a very fortunate
When I got to know him pretty well, thing for her, and I don't think that Miss I put it to him plain. One August day Blake would deny it if you was to ask it was, when we were going up to Prince- her." town on our ponies to hear tell about the “In fact, you reckon yourself a proper coming fair.
angel in the house,” I said in my comical “What 's your game, Bob?" I asked tone of voice. But he did n't see nothing the man.
“I 'm not against you," I said, very funny in that. “and I 'm not for you. But you was
"So I do," he said. “It was always my blowed out of a snow-storm, remember, intention to settle down and be someand we 've only got your word for it that body's right hand some day; and if it you 're a respectable man."
had n't been your sister, it would have “I never said I was respectable,” he been some other body. I 'm built like answered me; “but since you ask, I 'll be that,” he added. “I never did much good plain with you, Rupert Blake. 'T is true for myself, owing to my inquiring mind I was a soldier, and done my duty and and great interest in other people; but fought under Lord Roberts; but I did n't I've done good for others more than once, like it, and hated being wounded, and was and shall again." glad to quit. And after that I kept a “And what about church-going?” I shop of all sorts on Salisbury Plain till I asked him. “Is that all ‘my eye and Betty lost my little money.
Then I took up Martin,' or do you go because you like farm-laborer's work for a good few years, going?" and tried to get in along with the people “ 'T is a good thing for the women to at a farm. But they would n't promise go to church,” he answered, “and your me nothing certain for my old age, so I sister is all the better for it, and has often left them, and padded the country for a thanked me for putting her in the way." bit. And I liked tramping, owing to the “ 'T was more than I could do, though variety. And I found I could sing well I 've often been at her," I told the man, enough to get a bed and a supper most admiring his determined character. times; and for three years I kept at it and And then came the beginning of the saw my native country-towns in winter real fun, when Mary turned up at Brownit was, and villages in summer. I was on berry after dark one night in a proper my way to Plymouth when I dropped into tantara, with her eyes rolling and her Holne, and Mr. Churchward offered me bosom heaving like the waves of the sea. a bob if I 'd travel to Little Sherberton. She'd come over Dart by the steppingAnd when I arrived there, and saw how stones, a tricky road for an old woman it was, I made up my mind that it would even by daylight, but a fair marvel at serve my turn very nice; then I set out to night. satisfy your sister and please her every "God 's my judge,” began Mary, dropway I could. For I 'm too old now for ping in the chair by the fire—“God 's my the road, and would sooner ride than judge, Rupert and Susan, but he 's offered walk, and sooner sleep in a bed than under marriage !" a haystack.”
"Bob!" I said; and yet I were n't so “You fell into a proper soft thing,” I surprised as I pretended to be. And my said; but he would n't allow that.
wife did n't even pretend. “No," he answered; " 't is a good bil- "I've seen it coming this longful time, let, but nothing to make a fuss about. Of Mary,” she declared. “And why not?" course for ninety-nine men out of a hun- “Why not? I wonder at you, Susan!" dred it would be a godsend and above my sister answered all in a fame. “To their highest hopes or deserts; but I 'm think an old woman like me, with white the hundredth man-a man of very rare hair and a foot in the grave!" gifts and understanding, and full of ac- “You ain't got a foot in the grave,” complishments gathered from the ends of answered Susan. “In fact, you be peart
as a wagtail on both feet, else you 'd never “I looked in where he sleeps,” said my
“Trust him for being calm and com-
in otherwise. He 's a ruler of men for certheir early forties nowadays, like they used tain, but whether he 's a ruler of women to do. In fact, far from it. Did n't I see remains to be seen; for that 's a higher Squire Bellamy's lady riding cross-legged branch of l'arning, as we all know.” to hounds but yester-week, in male trou- Next day I went over and had a tell sers and a tight habit, and her forty-six with Bob, and he said it were n't so much if a day? You 're none too old for him, my business as I appeared to think. if that was all."
“There 's no doubt it Aurried us both a “But it ain't all," answered Mary. lot,” he told me. “To you, as an old mar"Why, he offered me his brains to help ried man, 't is nothing; but for us, bacheout mine, and his strong right arm for me lor and spinster as we are, it was a great to lean upon. And he swears to goodness adventure. But these things will out, and that he never offered marriage before be- I was sorry she took it so much to heart. cause he never found the woman worthy 'T was the surprise, I reckon, and me of it, and so on, and all to me! Ne-a
green at the game. However, she 'll get spinster from my youth up, and never a over it, give her time." thought of a man!
He did n't offer no apology nor nothI 'll be a laughing-stock to Dartymoor, and ing like that. a figure of fun for every thoughtless fool “Well," I said, in two minds what to to snigger at."
say, “she 've made it clear what her feel"You could n't help his doing it,” ings are, so I 'll ask you not to let it occur said. “ 'T is a free country.”
again." "And more could he help it seemingly, “She made it clear her feelings were she answered. “Anyway, he swore he very much upheaved," answered Bob; was driven to speak; in fact, he have had "but she did n't make it clear what her the thing in his prayers for a fortnight. feelings were, because she did n't say yes 'T is a most ondacent, plaguy prank for and she did n't say no." love to play; for surely at our time of life “You don't understand nothing about we ought to be dead to such things." women," I replied to him, “so you can
“A man 's never dead to such things, take it from me that 't is no good trying especially a man that 's been a soldier or a
She 's far too old in her own sailor," I told my sister; and Susan said opinion. In a word, you shocked her. the same, and assured Mary that there She was shaking like an aspen when she was nothing whatever ondacent to it, silly ran over to me.' though it might be.
Bob Battle nodded. Then Mary fired up in her turn, and "I may have been carried away and said there was n't nothing whatever silly forced it on her too violent, or I may have to it that she could see. In fact, quite the put it wrong,” he said. “It 's an intercontrary, and she dared Susan to use the esting subject; but we'd better• let it word about her or Mr. Battle, either. rest." And she rattled on in her excited and vio- So nothing more was heard of the aflent way, and was on the verge of the fair at the time, though Bob stopped on, hystericals now and again. And for my and Mary never once alluded to the thing life I could n't tell if she was pleased as afterward. In fact, it was sinking to a Punch about it or in a proper tearing nine-days' wonder with us when be blessed rage. I don't think she knew herself how if she did n't fly over once more, this time she felt.
in the middle of a January afternoon. We poured some sloe gin into her and 'He's done it again!” she shouted out calmed her down, and then my eldest son to me, where I stood shifting muck in the took her home; and when he came back, yard. “He 's offered himself again, Ruhe said that Bob Battle had gone to bed. pert! What 's the world coming to?"
This time she 'd put on her bonnet and first time since I had known him he was cloak and, Dart being in spate, she'd got short and sharp like, and what I had to on her pony and ridden round by the say did n't interest him in the least. In bridge.
fact, he told me to mind my own business She was excited, and her lip bivered and leave him to mind his. like a baby's; but on the whole she took it Then another busy spring kept us apart a thought cooler than before. To get a good bit, till one evening Noah Sweet sense out of her was beyond us, and after came up, all on his own, with a bit of she'd talked very wildly for two hours startling news. and gone home again, my wife and me “I was n't listening," he said, “and I compared notes about her state; and my should feel a good bit put about if you wife said that Mary was n't displeased at thought I was; but passing the parlor heart, but rather proud about it than not, door last Sunday, I heard the man at her while I felt the contrary, and believed the again. I catched the words, We 're neiman was getting badly on her nerves. ther of us growing any younger, Mary
“ 'T is very bad for her to have this Blake,' and then I passed on my way. sort of thing going on, if 't is to become And coming back a bit later, with my ear chronicle,” I said. And if the man was open, out of respect for the missis, I heard a self-respecting man, as he claims to be, the man kiss her. I'll swear he did, for he would n't do it. I 'm a good bit sur- you can't mistake the sound if once you've prised at him."
heard it. And she made a noise like a "She 'd send him going if she did n't kettle bubbling over. And so of course I like it,” declared Susan, and I reminded felt that it would be doing less than my her that my sister had actually talked of duty if I did n't come over and tell you, doing so. But it died down again, and because your sister's eyes was red as fire Bob held on, and I had speech with Noah at supper-table, and 't was very clear Sweet and his wife, and they said that she'd been weeping a bucketful about it. Vary was just as usual and Bob as busy And me and my wife feel 't is an out
rageous thing, and something ought to be However, my sister spoke of it on and done against the man.” off, and when I asked her if the man per- Well, I went over next morning, and secuted her, and if she wanted my help to Mary would n't see me! thrust him out once for all, she answered: For the only time in all our lives she
"You can't call it persecution,” she would n't see me. And first I was proptold me, “but often he says of a night, erly angry with her, and next, of course, speaking in general-like, that an English- I thought how 't was, and guessed the man never knows when he 's beat, and man had forbidden her to speak to me for things like that; and when he went to fear of my power over her. Him I could Plymouth, he spent a month of his money, n't see neither, because he was gone to and bought me a ring with a blue stone in Plymouth. Of course he'd gone for it for my sixty-sixth birthday. And noth- craft, that I should n't tackle him, neiing will do but I wear it on my rheumatic ther. So I left it there, and walked home finger. In fact, you can't be even with very much enraged against Bob Battle, the man, and I feel like a bird afore a because I felt it was getting to be a proper snake."
struggle between him and me for Mary, All the same she would n't let me speak and that it was about time I set to work a word to him. She wept a bit, and then against him in earnest. she began to laugh, and, in fact, went on The climax happened a week later, about it like a giglet wench of twenty- when the Lord's Day came round again, five. But my firm impression continued and we went to church as usual. Then to be that she was suffering, and growing a proper awful shock fell on me and my feared of the man, and would soon be in wife. the doctor's hands for her nerves, if some- For at the appointed time, if the Rev. thing were n't done.
Batson did n't ax 'em out! “Robert BatI troubled a good bit and tried to get tle, bachelor, and Mary Blake, spinster, a definite view out of her, but I failed. both of this parish," he said; and so I Then I had a go at Bob, too; but for the knew the old rascal had gone too far at
as a bee.