Now, that answer, made without a thought, stood me for two thousand pounds, as you shall see, by- and-by, perhaps.

‘As for the parish,’ my mother cried, being too hard set to contain herself, ‘the parish can defend itself, and we may leave it to do so. But our Jack is not like that, sir; and I will not have him spoken of. Leave him indeed! Who wants you to do more than to leave him alone, sir; as he might have done you the other night; and as no one else would have dared to do. And after that, to think so meanly of me, and of my children!’

‘Hoity, toity, Sarah! Your children, I suppose, are the same as other people’s.’

‘That they are not; and never will be; and you ought to know it, Uncle Reuben, if any one in the world ought. Other people’s children!’

‘Well, well!’ Uncle Reuben answered, ‘I know very little of children; except my little Ruth, and she is nothing wonderful.’

‘I never said that my children were wonderful Uncle Ben; nor did I ever think it. But as for being good—’

Here mother fetched out her handkerchief, being overcome by our goodness; and I told her, with my hand to my mouth, not to notice him; though he might be worth ten thousand times ten thousand pounds.

But Farmer Snowe came forward now, for he had some sense sometimes; and he thought it was high time for him to say a word for the parish.

‘Maister Huckaback,’ he began, pointing with his pipe at him, the end that was done in sealing-wax, ‘tooching of what you was plaized to zay ‘bout this here parish, and no oother, mind me no oother parish but thees, I use the vreedom, zur, for to tell ’e, that thee be a laiar.’

Then Farmer Nicholas Snowe folded his arms across with the bowl of his pipe on the upper one, and gave me a nod, and then one to mother, to testify how he had done his duty, and recked not what might come of it. However, he got little thanks from us; for the parish was nothing at all to my mother, compared with her children’s interests; and I thought it hard that an uncle of mine, and an old man too, should be called a liar, by a visitor at our fireplace. For we, in our rude part of the world, counted it one of the worst disgraces that could befall a man, to receive the lie from any one. But Uncle Ben, as it seems was used to it, in the way of trade, just as people of fashion are, by a style of courtesy.

Therefore the old man only looked with pity at Farmer Nicholas; and with a sort of sorrow too, reflecting how much he might have made in a bargain with such a customer, so ignorant and hot-headed.

‘Now let us bandy words no more,’ said mother, very sweetly; ‘nothing is easier than sharp words, except to wish them unspoken; as I do many and many’s the time, when I think of my good husband. But now let us hear from Uncle Reuben what he would have us do to remove this disgrace from amongst us, and to satisfy him of his goods.’

‘I care not for my goods, woman,’ Master Huckaback answered grandly; ‘although they were of large value, about them I say nothing. But what I demand is this, the punishment of those scoundrels.’

‘Zober, man, zober!’ cried Farmer Nicholas; ‘we be too naigh Badgery ’ood, to spake like that of they Dooneses.’

‘Pack of cowards!’ said Uncle Reuben, looking first at the door, however; ‘much chance I see of getting redress from the valour of this Exmoor! And you, Master Snowe, the very man whom I looked to to raise the country, and take the lead as churchwarden—why, my youngest shopman would match his ell against you. Pack of cowards,’ cried Uncle Ben, rising and shaking his lappets at us; ‘don’t pretend to answer me. Shake you all off, that I do—nothing more to do with you!’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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