`Matthew Moon, ma'am,' said a singular framework of clothes with nothing of any consequence inside them, which advanced with the toes in no definite direction forwards, but turned in or out as they chanced to swing.
`Matthew Mark, did you say? - speak out - I shall not hurt you,' inquired the young farmer kindly.
`Matthew Moon, mem,' said Henery Fray, correctingly, from behind her chair, to which point he had edged himself.
`Matthew Moon,' murmured Bathsheba, turning her bright eyes to the book. `Ten and twopence halfpenny is the sum put down to you, I see?'
`Yes, mis'ess,' said Matthew, as the rustle of wind among dead leaves. `Here it is, and ten shillings. Now the next - Andrew Randle, you are a new man, I hear. How came you to leave your last farm?'
`P-p-p-p-p-pl-pl-pl-pl-l-l-l-l-ease, ma'am, p-p-p-p-pl-pl-pl-pl-please, ma'am-please'm-please'm--'
`'A's a stammering man, mem,' said Henery Fray in an undertone, `and they turned him away because the only time he ever did speak plain he said his soul was his own, and other iniquities, to the squire. 'A can cuss, mem, as well as you or I, but 'a can't speak a common speech to save his life.'
`Andrew Randle, here's yours - finish thanking me in a day or two. Temperance Miller - oh, here's another, Soberness - both women, I suppose?'
`Yes'm. Here we be, 'a b'lieve,' was echoed in shrill unison. `What have you been doing?'
`Tending thrashing-machine, and wimbling haybonds, and saying "Hoosh!" to the cocks and hens when they go upon your seeds, and planting Early Flourballs and Thompson's Wonderfuls with a dibble.'
`Yes - I see. Are they satisfactory women?' she inquired softly of Henery Fray.
`O mem - don't ask me! Yielding women - as scarlet a pair as ever was!' groaned Henery under his breath.
Joseph Poorgrass, in the background, twitched, and his lips became dry with fear of some terrible consequences, as he saw Bathsheba summarily speaking, and Henery slinking off to a corner.
`Now the next. Laban Tall, you'll stay on working for me?'
`For you or anybody that pays me well, ma'am,' replied the young married man.
`True - the man must live!' said a woman in the back quarter, who had just entered with clicking pattens.
`What woman is that?' Bathsheba asked.
`I be his lawful wife!' continued the voice with greater prominence of manner and tone. This lady called herself five-and-twenty, looked thirty, passed as thirty-five, and was forty. She was a woman who never, like some newly married, showed conjugal tenderness in public, perhaps because she had none to show.
`Oh, you are,' said Bathsheba. `Well, Laban, will you stay on?'
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