‘Then what I want to say is this—I won’t have any one courting my mother.’

‘Coortin’ of thy mother, lad?’ cried Farmer Snowe, with as much amazement as if the thing were impossible; ‘why, who ever hath been dooin’ of it?’

‘Yes, courting of my mother, sir. And you know best who comes doing it.’

‘Wull, wull! What will boys be up to next? Zhud a’ thought herzelf wor the proper judge. No thank ‘ee, lad, no need of thy light. Know the wai to my own door, at laste; and have a raight to goo there.’ And he shut me out without so much as offering me a drink of cider.

The next afternoon, when work was over, I had seen to the horses, for now it was foolish to trust John Fry, because he had so many children, and his wife had taken to scolding; and just as I was saying to myself that in five days more my month would be done, and myself free to seek Lorna, a man came riding up from the ford where the road goes through the Lynn stream. As soon as I saw that it was not Tom Faggus, I went no farther

to meet him, counting that it must be some traveller bound for Brendon or Cheriton, and likely enough he would come and beg for a draught of milk or cider; and then on again, after asking the way.

But instead of that, he stopped at our gate, and stood up from his saddle, and halloed as if he were somebody; and all the time he was flourishing a white thing in the air, like the bands our parson weareth. So I crossed the court-yard to speak with him.

‘Service of the King!’ he saith; ‘service of our lord the King! Come hither, thou great yokel, at risk of fine and imprisonment.’

Although not pleased with this, I went to him, as became a loyal man; quite at my leisure, however, for there is no man born who can hurry me, though I hasten for any woman.

‘Plover Barrows farm!’ said he; ‘God only knows how tired I be. Is there any where in this cursed county a cursed place called Plover Barrows farm? For last twenty mile at least they told me ‘twere only half a mile farther, or only just round corner. Now tell me that, and I fain would thwack thee if thou wert not thrice my size.’

‘Sir,’ I replied, ‘you shall not have the trouble. This is Plover’s Barrows farm, and you are kindly welcome. Sheep’s kidneys is for supper, and the ale got bright from the tapping. But why do you think ill of us? We like not to be cursed so.’

‘Nay, I think no ill,’ he said; ‘sheep’s kidneys is good, uncommon good, if they do them without burning. But I be so galled in the saddle ten days, and never a comely meal of it. And when they hear “King’s service” cried, they give me the worst of everything. All the way down from London, I had a rogue of a fellow in front of me, eating the fat of the land before me, and every one bowing down to him. He could go three miles to my one though he never changed his horse. He might have robbed me at any minute, if I had been worth the trouble. A red mare he rideth, strong in the loins, and pointed quite small in the head. I shall live to see him hanged yet.’

All this time he was riding across the straw of our courtyard, getting his weary legs out of the leathers, and almost afraid to stand yet. A coarse-grained, hard-faced man he was, some forty years of age or so, and of middle height and stature. He was dressed in a dark brown riding suit, none the better for Exmoor mud, but fitting him very differently from the fashion of our tailors. Across the holsters lay his cloak, made of some red skin, and shining from the sweating of the horse. As I looked down on his stiff bright head-piece, small quick eyes and black needly beard, he seemed to despise me (too much, as I thought) for a mere ignoramus and country bumpkin.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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