"D?an'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." 飞艇平台漏洞 "What do you mean by 'not now'?""He's not hard on us—but he's unaccountable interfering; it maddens me sometimes.""Yes." 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. 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."Put up yer fists!""Yes—he's fair made me hate Odiam. I liked the place well enough when I was a little lad, but he's made[Pg 411] 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." So they went and broke their news to Reuben. They were careful and considerate—but he was knocked out by the blow.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."I can't understand, papa," said Anne Bardon, "how you can go on selling land to that odious Backfield."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[Pg 385] 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 m?aster had learned summat by the others, surelye."Dansay bit his lip—he was afraid so. 飞艇平台漏洞 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....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.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.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,[Pg 35] 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. Her voice was submissive—or indifferent.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."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.""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 t?ake it, so it ud cost us naun, nuther.""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!" "We feel we've got to. They want all the young men.""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.Chapter 11Chapter 21"Soles, plaice, and dabs, Reuben ran towards it, Ditch and Realf followed him. The others huddled stupidly together like sheep."I'm hungry, Naomi. Wot have you got fur me?"The farm men came tumbling from the attics—"Whur, m?aster?" 飞艇平台漏洞 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. 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."Who's Rose?"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.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.