Better to be Abel than Cain

DAY was breaking at Plashwater Weir Mill Lock. Stars were yet visible, but there was dull light in the east that was not the light of night. The moon had gone down, and a mist crept along the banks of the river, seen through which the trees were the ghosts of trees, and the water was the ghost of water. This earth looked spectral, and so did the pale stars: while the cold eastern glare, expressionless as to heat or colour, with the eye of the firmament quenched, might have been likened to the stare of the dead.

Perhaps it was so likened by the lonely Bargeman, standing on the brink of the lock. For certain, Bradley Headstone looked that way, when a chill air came up, and when it passed on murmuring, as if it whispered something that made the phantom trees and water tremble — or threaten — for fancy might have made it either.

He turned away, and tried the Lock-house door. It was fastened on the inside.

“Is he afraid of me?” he muttered, knocking.

Rogue Riderhood was soon roused, and soon undrew the bolt and let him in.

“Why, T’otherest, I thought you had been and got lost! Two nights away! I a’most believed as you’d giv’ me the slip, and I had as good as half a mind for to advertise you in the newspapers to come for’ard.”

Bradley’s face turned so dark on this hint, that Riderhood deemed it expedient to soften it into a compliment.

“But not you, governor, not you,” he went on, stolidly shaking his head. “For what did I say to myself arter having amused myself with that there stretch of a comic idea, as a sort of a playful game? Why, I says to myself; ‘He’s a man o’ honour.’ That’s what I says to myself. ‘He’s a man o’ double honor.’ ”

Very remarkably, Riderhood put no question to him. He had looked at him on opening the door, and he now looked at him again (stealthily this time), and the result of his looking was, that he asked him no question.

“You’ll be for another forty on ’em, governor, as I judges, afore you turns your mind to breakfast,” said Riderhood, when his visitor sat down, resting his chin on his hand, with his eyes on the ground. And very remarkably again: Riderhood feigned to set the scanty furniture in order, while he spoke, to have a show of reason for not looking at him.

“Yes. I had better sleep, I think,” said Bradley, without changing his position.

“I myself should recommend it, governor,” assented Riderhood. “Might you be anyways dry?”

“Yes. I should like a drink,” said Bradley; but without appearing to attend much.

Mr. Riderhood got out his bottle, and fetched his jug-full of water, and administered a potation. Then, he shook the coverlet of his bed and spread it smooth, and Bradley stretched himself upon it in the clothes he wore. Mr. Riderhood poetically remarking that he would pick the bones of his night’s rest, in his wooden chair, sat in the window as before; but, as before, watched the sleeper narrowly until he was very sound asleep. Then, he rose and looked at him close, in the bright daylight, on every side, with great minuteness. He went out to his Lock to sum up what he had seen.

“One of his sleeves is tore right away below the elber, and the t’other’s had a good rip at the shoulder. He’s been hung on to, pretty tight, for his shirt’s all tore out of the neck-gathers. He’s been in the grass and he’s been in the water. And he’s spotted, and I know with what, and with whose. Hooroar!”

Bradley slept long. Early in the afternoon a barge came down. Other barges had passed through, both ways, before it; but the Lock-keeper hailed only this particular barge, for news, as if he had made a time calculation with some nicety. The men on board told him a piece of news, and there was a lingering on their part to enlarge upon it.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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