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So David laid his trouble aside for the moment, and the four of them sat on the sunny hedge-bank, and said little until for the second or third time they took more cheese to help the butter out, or more bread to help the cheese out, or another pull of ale ‘to settle the lot trimly into place.” * Wonderful March weather,’ said the farmer, draining a last draught. ‘Near to April, and not a lamb-storm yet. 'Twill be twelve year since I remember such a spring.’ ‘Found a primrose fair in bloom this morn,” said one of the farm-men. “Wonderful weather, I’ll own, farmer—but what's to come with April 2 Mistrust these easiful, quiet March-times myself.” “Ah, get ye along !’ cried Farmer Hirst. ‘Believe the best o' the weather, I, and always did. They laugh at me in Shepston market—say I’m no true farmer, because I’ll not speak o’ the weather as if she were a jade for any man to mock at.” There was a silence, while the men lay tranquilly against the bank and watched the blue sky trail her draperies of cool, white fleece across the west wind's track. ‘Reuben Gaunt is back, I’ve heard,” said one of the farmhands presently. “Came last night, all unbeknownst-like, same fashion as he left, five years since.” ‘There’ll be brisk times for the lasses, then,’ put in his fellow drily. Again the farmer's face darkened for a moment. ‘’Tis worktime, lads, not gossip-time, and many a yard of hedge to fettle up before we get our suppers.” “I’ll be getting to my own work, too,” said David, nodding his farewells and moving down the field. At another time he would have put his own work off, would have taken a hand till nightfall with the hedge-trimmers, would have given them jest for jest and laugh for laugh, while he trimmed, and cut, and bent the hawthorn boughs into their place. But to-day he could not. ‘There’ll be a brisk time for the lasses, then, he muttered, echoing the farm-hand's idle speech. ‘Ay, there's always trouble o' that sort when Reuben Gaunt's at hand.’ Through the quiet fields he went, but they brought little benediction to him. He remembered Gaunt and all his ways, remembered how, when he left Garth, there had been no sadness in the men's faces, but grief and bitterness in many women's.
“What the dangment do they see in him, these lasses 7' growled David, as he climbed the wall and dropped into the high road. ‘Littlish in the build—face as good to look at as a mangoldwurzel's—must be those devil's eyes of his, that never lie still for a moment, but go hunting like a dog that sniffs a fresh scent every yard.” David had summed up his man with unerring judgment in that last thought—so far, that is, as we can judge of any man. Had Gaunt been downright evil, it would have been easier for the men of Garth to have thrashed him long ago into a likelier and more wholesome habit. But even to-day, when he was in a mood that, for him, was bitter, the blacksmith knew that his enemy was neither good nor bad, but purposeless. He had watched him grow from childhood ; and year by year his name of Reuben seemed more and more a prophecy of days to come. “Unstable as water—ay, just that,’ thought David, as he reached the smithy. Billy the Fool, after dusting the smithy-fire with coke and smudge, had settled himself to sleep again; but he was awake on the instant when David's footsteps sounded on the roadway. He rose, and shook himself with a big, heedless satisfaction. “I’ve been a-dreaming, David the Smith,’ was his greeting. “Dreamed I was wise, like ye are at most times—saving when Miss Priscilla comes.’ ‘Ay?” said the other, patting Billy on the shoulder. “Didn’t like it, David Glad to waken is Billy the Fool. There wasn’t no frolic in't.” “None at all, so I should think. No news, eh, since I left you in the smithy here ?' It was the habit in Garth village to ask Billy the Fool for news, however many times a day you met him, though none could say how the idle custom had first come into use. * Ay, there's news. I’ve been at my games again, David the Smith.' A smile broadened slowly across the placid face, while the blacksmith listened good-humouredly. * Never met your likes for games, Billy,” he said, fingering his tools after the fashion of a man who means to begin work by and by, but not just yet. David, indeed, was thinking less of work, and less of Billy the Fool, than of the encounter in the mistal. Reuben Gaunt had come like a shadow between the springtime and himself, had blurred the sun for him : keen to foresee, as slow men often are, the blacksmith felt as if a blight had fallen on Garth village, checking the warmth, holding the green buds in their sheaths. Yet Billy the Fool soon claimed his ear. ‘I’d looked to your fire,’ went on the natural, ‘and stepped out into the road, to see what time o' day it was. Perhaps a half-hour since it was—and what d'ye think, David the Smith ? " ‘Couldn't guess, lad, couldn’t guess.’ ‘Well, there was a littlish man, all dressed up as if 'twere Sunday; and he came down the road, and I knew he'd been to Good Intent.” David glanced sharply up. ‘How did you know that ?’ “Miss Priscilla lives there. All the younger men—and happen a few o' the old 'uns too—will always be wending Good Intent way when the spring comes in. Habit o' theirs, David the Smith— habit o' theirs | Wend that way myself sometimes.’ The blacksmith, not for the first time, was puzzled by Billy the Fool. The natural’s unerring instinct for all that made for the primitive in bird or beast or human-folk, when coupled with his child's disdain of everyday good sense, would have troubled keener wits than David’s. He recognised Reuben Gaunt, moreover, from the other's description, and he fingered his tools no longer, but followed Billy's story. ‘Came whistling down the road, did the littlish chap. I wondered, like, at what, for ye or me could have outsized him two or three times over.’ David laughed, though he was little in the mood for it. At every turn of his path to-day—whether he were talking to Priscilla, or dining in the hedge-bottom with Farmer Hirst, or talking to Billy the Fool–Gaunt's shadow crossed his path. Yet he laughed, for he was simple, too, and big, and there was something that tickled his fancy in this quiet assumption that little men had little right to whistle on the Queen's highway. ‘Came whistling down, did he asked the blacksmith, strangely eager for the story. ‘Ay, and stopped when he saw me. “Flick-a-moroo !” says he, and twitched my chin, and seemed to think he'd played a jest on me.” Again David chuckled ; for there was none in the Dale of Langstroth that could mimic a man as faithfully as Billy the Fool, and he had caught Gaunt's mincing accent to the life. ‘Flick-a-moroo, says I, easy as answering a blackbird when he calls. I didn’t like having my chin tickled, David the Smith, but I bided like, as one might say. And then he says—'tis queer and strange how little a grown man can be, yet can strut like a turkey-cock—“Ye seem to know what's the meaning of flick-amoroo,” says he, “though it's more than I do.” “Ay, I know the meaning of flick-a-moroo,” I says.” ‘Well, lad ' ' asked David, waiting till he had finished a laugh that came before the end of the story. ‘Ye see, David the Smith "-a happy, cunning look was in the natural's face—‘ye see, we were near to other side o’ the road yonder, and I minded there was a snug, far drop over th’ wall— young nettles growing soft as a feather-bed, David. So I says again, “Oh, ay,” says I, “I know the meaning o' flick-a-moroo,” says I; and I catches him, heels and head—'twould have made ye crack wi' laughter, David the Smith, to see it—and I holds him over the wall awhile, and drops him soft as a babby into th’ nettles.’ Again David laughed. He could not help it. “And then, Fool Billy he asked. ‘Why, I went and looked at him, and I says, “Oh, ay, I know what's the meaning o' flick-a-moroo,” savs I—“ and so do ye, I’m thinking.”" David felt a joy in this daft enterprise as keen as Billy's. Was it not the expression of feelings which he had himself only checked with an effort up yonder in the mistal-yard 2 ‘’Twas outrageous, and not like ye, Billy, the smith observed, his whole face twinkling. ‘Should'st be more civil when strangers come to Garth.” Billy the Fool looked apprehensive for a moment; of all things, after work, he hated the reproof of those whom, in his innocence, he fancied to be wiser than himself. A glance at David's face, however, reassured him. ‘Civil when strangers are civil, David the Smith,’ he chuckled. For Billy, vague as his outlook upon morals was, showed himself persistently on the side of the Old Testament. ‘I’d bested him, ye see Owned he didn’t know what flick-a-moroo meant. Billy the Fool did.” ‘We’ll have a change of play, Billy,” said the smith. “Just make the bonnie sparks go scummering up again, and I’ll to my work o' making horseshoes.” David stole many a look at the other's face as they went forward with their labour. He was realising that there were possibilities of tragedy about this lad with the big frame and the dangerous strength.o. It was a jest to drop a man gently into a bed of nettles—but what if Billy's passion were roused in earnest ? What if some one pierced through that slothful outer crust of his, and touched some deeper instinct in him 2 Fond as he was of cattle, and friendly with their speech and ways, David had learned from them to keep a watchful eye on all the elemental creatures. The kine, to his mind, made for the softer and more gracious side of life; but he had seen cows run wild when they were robbed of their calves, had seen them run wild at sight of the gore of a wounded sister. And the blacksmith, remembering these matters, kept a thoughtful eye on Billy the Fool, who was working the bellows cheerfully. ‘Might be a sort of earthquake hidden in poor Billy,” he muttered. ‘'Tis hard to guess what he's thinking of, right at the beating heart of the chap.” The smith would have been astonished, had he been able to sound these heart-beats of Billy the Fool. It was Priscilla he was thinking of-Priscilla of the Good Intent—Priscilla, who brought the sunshine into Garth for one poor fool whenever she . crossed his path. “She’ll be fettling up the house-place now, I reckon,’ said Billy suddenly. ‘Who, lad ' ' “Why, Miss Priscilla. 'Tis her time of day for doing on’t. Te-he, David I hoicked yond chap fair grandly over th' wall— Sunday clothes, and pritty-prat speech, and all. Nettles don't sting i' March, they say—but I’ve known 'em do that same.’