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The Broad Highway(Book1,Chapter33)

2006-08-28 22:47

  Book One Chapter XXXIII. In Which We Draw Yet Nearer to the End of This First Book

  It is not my intention to chronicle all those minor happenings that befell me, now or afterward, lest this history prove wearisome to the reader (on the which head I begin to entertain grave doubts already). Suffice it then that as the days grew into weeks, and the weeks into months, by perseverance I became reasonably expert at my trade, so that, some two months after my meeting with Black George, I could shoe a horse with any smith in the country.

  But, more than this, the people with whom I associated day by day——honest, loyal, and simple-hearted as they were, contented with their lot, and receiving all things so unquestioningly and thankfully, filled my life, and brought a great calm to a mind that had, hitherto, been somewhat self-centred and troubled by pessimistic doubts and fantastic dreams culled from musty pages.

  What book is there to compare with the great Book of Life——whose pages are forever a-turning, wherein are marvels and wonders undreamed; things to weep over, and some few to laugh at, if one but has eyes in one's head to see withal?

  To walk through the whispering cornfields, or the long, green alleys of the hop-gardens with Simon, who combines innkeeping with farming, to hear him tell of fruit and flower, of bird and beast, is better than to read the Georgics of Virgil.

  To sit in the sunshine and watch the Ancient, pipe in mouth, to hearken to his animadversions upon Life, and Death, and Humanity, is better than the cynical wit of Rochefoucauld, or a page out of honest old Montaigne.

  To see the proud poise of sweet Prue's averted head, and the tender look in her eyes when George is near, and the surge of the mighty chest and the tremble of the strong man's hand at the sound of her light footfall, is more enthralling than any written romance, old or new.

  In regard to these latter, I began, at this time, to contrive schemes and to plot plots for bringing them together——to bridge over the difficulty which separated them, for, being happy, I would fain see them happy also. Now, how I succeeded in this self-imposed task, the reader (if he trouble to read far enough) shall see for himself.

  "George," said I, on a certain Saturday morning, as I washed the grime from my face and hands, "are you going to the Fair this afternoon?"

  "No, Peter, I aren't."

  "But Prudence is going," said I, drying myself vigorously upon the towel.

  "And how," inquired the smith, bending in turn above the bucket in which we performed our ablutions, "and how might you know that, Peter?"

  "Because she told me so."

  "Told you so, did she?" said George, and immediately plunged his head into the bucket.

  "She did," I answered.

  "And supposin'," said George, coming up very red in the face, and with the water streaming from his sodden curls, "supposin' she is goin' to the Fair, what's that to me? I don't care wheer she comes, no, nor wheer she goes, neither!" and he shook the water from him as a dog might.

  "Are you quite sure, George?"

  "Ah! sartin sure. I've been sure of it now ever since she called me——"

  "Pooh, nonsense, man! she didn't mean it——women especially young ones——often say things they do not mean——at least, so I am given to understand."

  "Ay, but she did mean it," said George, frowning and nodding his head; "but it ain't that, Peter, no, it aren't that, it's the knowin' as she spoke truth when she called me 'coward,' and despisin' me for it in 'er heart, that's wheer it is, Peter."

  "Nevertheless, I'm sure she never meant it, George."

  "Then let 'er come and tell me so."

  "I don't think she'll do that," said I.

  "No more do I, Peter." Saying which, he fell to work with the towel even as I had done.

  "George," said I after a silence.

  "Well, Peter?"

  "Has it ever struck you that Prudence is an uncommonly handsome girl?"

  "To be sure it 'as, Peter——I were blind else."

  "And that other men may see this too?"

  "Well, Peter?"

  "And some one——even tell her so?" His answer was a long time coming, but come it did at last:

  "Well, Peter?"

  "And——ask her to marry him, George?" This time he was silent so long that I had tied my neckerchief and drawn on my coat ere he spoke, very heavily and slowly, and without looking at me.

  "Why, then, Peter, let 'im. I've told 'ee afore, I don't care wheer she comes nor wheer she goes, she bean't nothin' to me no more, nor I to she. If so be some man 'as a mind to ax 'er for 'isself, all open an' aboveboard, I say again——let 'im. And now, let's talk o' summat else."

  "Willingly. There's to be boxing, and single-stick, and wrestling at the Fair, I understand."

  "Ay."

  "And, they tell me, there is a famous wrestler coming all the way from Cornwall to wrestle the best man for ten guineas."

  "Ay, so there be."

  "Well?"

  "Well, Peter?"

  "They were talking about it at 'The Bull' last night——"

  "'The Bull'——to be sure——you was at 'The Bull' last night——well?"

  "They were saying that you were a mighty wrestler, George, that you were the only man in these parts who could stand up to this Cornishman."

  "Ay, I can wrastle a bit, Peter," he replied, speaking in the same heavy, listless manner; "what then?"

  "Why then, George, get into your coat, and let's be off."

  "Wheer to?"

  "The Fair." Black George shook his head.

  "What, you won't?"

  "No, Peter."

  "And why not?"

  "Because I aren't got the mind to——because I aren't never goin' to wrastle no more, Peter——so theer's an end on 't." Yet, in the doorway I paused and looked back.

  "George."

  "Peter?"

  "Won't you come——for friendship's sake?"

  Black George picked up his coat, looked at it, and put it down again.

  "No, Peter!"

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