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The Broad Highway(Book1,Chapter25)

2006-08-28 22:45

  Book One Chapter XXV. Of Black George, the Smith, and How We Threw the Hammer

  "The Bull" is a plain, square, whitewashed building, with a sloping roof, and before the door an open portico, wherein are set two seats on which one may sit of a sunny afternoon with a mug of ale at one's elbow and watch the winding road, the thatched cottages bowered in roses, or the quiver of distant trees where the red, conical roof of some oast-house makes a vivid note of color amid the green. Or one may close one's eyes and hark to the chirp of the swallows under the eaves, the distant lowing of cows, or the clink of hammers from the smithy across the way.

  And presently, as we sat there drowsing in the sun, to us came one from the "tap," a bullet-headed fellow, small of eye, and nose, but great of jaw, albeit he was become somewhat fat and fleshy——who, having nodded to me, sat him down beside the Ancient, and addressed him as follows:

  "Black Jarge be 'took' again, Gaffer!"

  "Ah! I knowed 'twould come soon or late, Simon," said the Ancient, shaking his head, "I knowed as 'e'd never last the month out."

  "Seemed goin' on all quiet and reg'lar, though," said the bullet-headed man, whom I discovered to be the landlord of "The Bull"——"seemed nice and quiet, and nothin' out o' the way, when, 'bout an hour ago it were, 'e ups and heaves Sam out into the road."

  "Ah!" said the old man, nodding his head again, "to be sure, I've noticed, Simon, as 'tis generally about the twentieth o' the month as Jarge gets 'took.'"

  "'E 've got a wonderful 'ead, 'ave the Gaffer!" said Simon, turning to me.

  "Yes," said I, "but who is Black George; how comes he to be 'taken,' and by what?"

  "Gaffer," said the Innkeeper, "you tell un."

  "Why, then," began the Ancient, nothing loth, "Black Jarge be a gert, big, strong man——the biggest, gertest, and strongest in the South Country, d'ye see (a'most as fine a man as I were in my time), and, off and on, gets took wi' tearin's and rages, at which times 'e don't mind who 'e 'its——"

  "No——nor Wheer!" added the Innkeeper.

  "Oh, 'e be a bad man, be Black Jarge when 'e's took, for 'e 'ave a knack, d'ye see, of takin' 'old o' the one nighest to un, and a-heavin' of un over 'is 'ead'."

  "Extremely unpleasant!" said I.

  "Just what he done this marnin' wi' Sam," nodded the Innkeeper ——"hove un out into the road, 'e did."

  "And what did Sam do?" I inquired.

  "Oh! Sam were mighty glad to get off so easy."

  "Sam must be a very remarkable fellow——undoubtedly a philosopher," said I.

  "'E be nowt to look at!" said the Ancient.

  Now at this moment there came a sudden deep bellow, a hoarse, bull-like roar from somewhere near by, and, looking round in some perplexity, through the wide doorway of the smithy opposite, I saw a man come tumbling, all arms and legs, who, having described a somersault, fell, rolled over once or twice, and sitting up in the middle of the road, stared about him in a dazed sort of fashion.

  "That's Job!" nodded the Ancient.

  "Poor fellow!" said I, and rose to go to his assistance.

  "Oh, that weren't nothin'," said the Ancient, laying, a restraining hand upon my arm, "nothin' at all. Job bean't 'urt; why, I've seen 'em fall further nor that afore now, but y' see Job be pretty heavy handlin'——even for Black Jarge."

  And, in a little while, Job arose from where he sat in the dust, and limping up, sat himself down on the opposite bench, very black of brow and fierce of eye. And, after he had sat there silent for maybe five minutes, I said that I hoped he wasn't hurt.

  'Urt?" he repeated, with a blank stare. "'Ow should I be 'urt?"

  "Why, you seemed to fall rather heavily," said I.

  At this Job regarded me with a look half resentful, half reproachful, and immediately turned his back upon me; from which, and sundry winks and nods and shakes of the head from the others, it seemed that my remark had been ill-judged. And after we had sat silent for maybe another five minutes, the Ancient appeared to notice Job's presence for the first time.

  "Why, you bean't workin' 's arternoon then, Job?" he inquired solemnly.


  "Goin' to tak' a 'olleyday, p'r'aps?"

  "Ah! I'm done wi' smithin'——leastways, for Black Jarge."

  "And him wi' all that raft o' work in, Job? Pretty fix 'e'll be in wi' no one to strike for 'im!" said Simon.

  "Sarves un right tu!" retorted Job, furtively rubbing his left knee.

  "But what'll 'e do wi'out a 'elper?" persisted Simon.

  "Lord knows!" returned the Ancient; "unless Job thinks better of it."

  "Not me," said that individual, feeling his right elbow with tender solicitude. "I'm done wi' Black Jarge, I am. 'E nigh broke my back for me once afore, but this is the last time; I never swing a sledge for Black Jarge again——danged if I du!"

  "And 'im to mend th' owd church screen up to Cranbrook Church," sighed the Ancient; "a wunnerful screen, a wunnerful screen! older nor me——ah! a sight older hunneds and hunneds o' years older——they wouldn't let nobody touch it but Black Jarge."

  "'E be the best smith in the South Country!" nodded Simon.

  "Ay, an' a bad man to work for as ever was!" growled Job. "I'll work for 'e no more; my mind's made up, an' when my mind's made up theer bean't no movin' me——like a rock I be!"

  "'Twould ha' been a fine thing for a Siss'n'urst man to ha' mended t' owd screen!" said the Ancient.

  "'Twould that!" nodded Simon, "a shame it is as it should go to others."

  Hereupon, having finished my ale, I rose.

  "Be you'm a-goin', young maister?" inquired the Ancient.

  "Why, that depends," said I. "I understand that this man, Black George, needs a helper, so I have decided to go and offer my services."

  "You!" exclaimed Job, staring in open-mouthed amazement, as did also the other two.

  "Why not?" I rejoined. "Black George needs a helper, and I need money."

  "My chap," said Job warningly, "don't ye do it. You be a tidy, sizable chap, but Black Jarge ud mak' no more o' you than I should of a babby——don't ye do it."

  "Better not," said Simon.

  "On the contrary," I returned, "better run a little bodily risk and satisfy one's hunger, rather than lie safe but famishing beneath some hedge or rick——what do you think, Ancient?"

  The old man leaned forward and peered up at me sharply beneath his hanging brows.

  "Well?" said I.

  "You'm right!" he nodded, "and a man wi' eyes the like o' yourn bean't one as 'tis easy to turn aside, even though it do be Black Jarge as tries."

  "Then," said Job, as I took up my staff, "if your back's broke, my chap——why, don't go for to blame me, that's all! You be a sight too cocksure——ah, that you be!"

  "I'm thinkin' Black Jarge would find this chap a bit different to Job," remarked the Ancient. "What do 'ee think, Simon?"

  "Looks as if 'e might take a good blow, ah! and give one, for that matter," returned the Innkeeper, studying me with half-closed eyes, and his head to one side, as I have seen artists look at pictures. "He be pretty wide in the shoulders, and full in the chest, and, by the look of him, quick on 'is pins."

  "You've been a fightin' man, Simon, and you ought to know——but he've got summat better still."

  "And what might that be, Gaffer?" inquired the Innkeeper.

  "A good, straight, bright eye, Simon, wi' a look in it as says, 'I will!'"

  "Ah! but what o' Jarge?" cried Job. "Black Jarge don't mind a man's eyes, 'cept to black frequent; 'e don't mind nothin', nor nobody."

  "Job," said the Ancient, tapping his snuff-box, "theer's some things as is better nor gert, big muscles, and gert, strong fists——if you wasn't a danged fule you'd know what I mean. Young man," he went on, turning to me, "you puts me in mind o' what I were at your age though, to be sure, I were taller 'n you by about five or six inches, maybe more——but don't go for to be too cock-sure for all that. Black Jarge aren't to be sneezed at."

  "And, if you must 'it un," added the Innkeeper, "why, go for the chin——theer aren't a better place to 'it a man than on the chin, if so be you can thump it right——and 'ard enough. I mind 't was so I put out Tom Brock o' Bedford——a sweet, pretty blow it were too, though I do say it."

  "Thank you!" said I; "should it come to fighting, which Heaven forfend, I shall certainly remember your advice." Saying which, I turned away, and crossed the road to the open door of the smithy, very conscious of the three pairs of eyes that watched me as I went.

  Upon the threshold of the forge I paused to look about me, and there, sure enough, was the smith. Indeed a fine, big fellow he was, with great shoulders, and a mighty chest, and arms whose bulging muscles showed to advantage in the red glow of the fire. In his left hand he grasped a pair of tongs wherein was set a glowing iron scroll, upon which he beat with the hammer in his right. I stood watching until, having beaten out the glow from the iron, he plunged the scroll back into the fire, and fell to blowing with the bellows. But now, as I looked more closely at him, I almost doubted if this could be Black George, after all, for this man's hair was of a bright gold, and curled in tight rings upon his brow, while, instead of the black, scowling visage I had expected, I beheld a ruddy, open, well-featured face out of which looked a pair of eyes of a blue you may sometimes see in a summer sky at evening. And yet again, his massive size would seem to proclaim him the famous Black George, and no other. It was with something of doubt in my mind, nevertheless, that I presently stepped into the smithy and accosted him.

  "Are you Black George?" I inquired. At the sound of my voice, he let go the handle of the bellows, and turned; as I watched, I saw his brows draw suddenly together, while the golden hairs of his beard seemed to curl upward.

  "Suppose I be?"

  "Then I wish to speak with you."

  "Be that what you'm come for?"


  "Be you come far?"


  "That's a pity."


  "'Cause you'll 'ave a good way to go back again."

  "What do you mean?"

  "Well, for one thing, I means as I don't like your looks, my chap."

  And why don't you like my looks?"

  "Lord!" exclaimed the smith, "'ow should I know——but I don't——of that I'm sartin sure."

  "Which reminds me," said I, "of a certain unpopular gentleman of the name of Fell, or Pell, or Snell."

  "Eh?" said the smith, staring.

  "There is a verse, I remember, which runs, I think, in this wise:

  "'I do not love thee, Doctor Fell, or Pell, or Snell,For reasons which I cannot tell;But this I know, and know full well,I do not love thee, Doctor Fell, or Pell, or Snell.'"

  "So you'm a poet, eh?"

  "No," said I, shaking my head.

  "Then I'm sorry for it; a man don't meet wi' poets every day," saying which, he drew the scroll from the fire, and laid it, glowing, upon the anvil. "You was wishful to speak wi' me, I think?" he inquired.

  "Yes," I answered.

  "Ah!"'nodded the smith, "to be sure," and, forthwith, began to sing most lustily, marking the time very cleverly with his ponderous hand-hammer.

  "If," I began, a little put out at this, "if you will listen to what I have to say" But he only hammered away harder than ever, and roared his song the louder; and, though it sounded ill enough at the time, it was a song I came to know well later, the words of which are these:

  "Strike! ding! ding!

  Strike! ding! ding!

  The iron glows,And loveth good blows As fire doth bellows. Strike! ding! ding!"

  Now seeing he was determined to give me no chance to speak, I presently seated myself close by, and fell to singing likewise. Oddly enough, the only thing I could recall, on the moment, was the Tinker's song, and that but very imperfectly; yet it served my purpose well enough. Thus we fell to it with a will, the different notes clashing, and filling the air with a most vile discord, and the words all jumbled up together, something in this wise:

  "Strike! ding! ding!

  A tinker I am, O Strike! ding! ding!

  A tinker am I The iron it glows,A tinker I'll live And loveth good blows,And a tinker I'll die. As fire doth bellows. If the King in his crown Strike! ding! ding!

  Would change places with me Strike! ding! ding!"  And so forth.

  The louder he roared, the louder roared I, until the place fairly rang with the din, in so much that, chancing to look through the open doorway, I saw the Ancient, with Simon, Job, and several others, on the opposite side of the way, staring, open-mouthed, as well they might. But still the smith and I continued to howl at each other with unabated vigor until he stopped, all at once, and threw down his hammer with a clang.

  "Dang me if I like that voice o' yourn!" he exclaimed.

  "Why, to be sure, I don't sing very often," I answered.

  "Which, I mean to say, is a very good thing; ah! a very good thing!"

  "Nor do I pretend to sing——"

  "Then why do 'ee try now?"

  "For company's sake."

  "Well, I don't like it; I've 'ad enough of it."

  "Then," said I, "suppose you listen to what I have to say?"

  "Not by no manner o' means."

  "Then what do you propose to do?"

  "Why," said the smith, rising and stretching himself, "since you ax me, I'm a-goin' to pitch you out o' yon door."

  "You may try, of course," said I, measuring the distance between us with my eye, "but if you do, seeing you are so much the bigger and stronger man, I shall certainly fetch you a knock with this staff of mine which I think you will remember for many a day."

  So saying, I rose and stepped out into the middle of the floor. Black George eyed me slowly up from the soles of my boots to the crown of my hat and down again, picked up his hammer in an undecided fashion, looked it over as if he had never seen such a thing before, tossed it into a corner, and, seating himself on the anvil, folded his arms. All at once a merry twinkle leapt into the blue depths of his eyes, and I saw the swift gleam of a smile.

  "What do 'ee want——man?" said he.

  Now hereupon, with a sudden gesture, I pitched my staff out through the open doorway into the road, and folded my arms across my chest, even as he.

  "Why did 'ee do that?" he inquired, staring.

  "Because I don't think I shall need it, after all."

  "But suppose I was to come for 'ee now?"

  "But you won't."

  "You be a strange sort o' chap!" said he, shaking his head.

  "So they tell me."

  "And what does the likes o' you want wi' the likes o' me?"


  "Know anythin' about smithin'?"

  "Not a thing."

  "Then why do 'ee come 'ere?"

  "To learn."

  "More fool you!" said the smith.


  "Because smithin' is 'ard work, and dirty work, and hot work, and work as is badly paid nowadays."

  "Then why are you a smith?"

  "My feyther was a smith afore me."

  "And is that your only reason?"

  "My only reason."

  "Then you are the greater fool."

  "You think so, do ye?"


  "Supposin'," said Black George, stroking his golden beard reflectively, "supposin' I was to get up and break your neck for that."

  "Then you would, at least, save me from the folly of becoming a smith."

  "I don't," said Black George, shaking his head, "no, I do not like you."

  "I am sorry for that."

  "Because," he went on, "you've got the gift o' the gab, and a gabbing man is worse than a gabbing woman."

  "You can gab your share, if it comes to that," said I.

  "Can I?"

  "You can."

  "My chap," he growled, holding up a warning hand, "go easy now, go easy; don't get me took again."

  "Not if I can help it," I returned.

  "I be a quiet soul till I gets took——a very quiet soul——lambs bean't quieter, but I won't answer for that neck o' yourn if I do get took——so look out!"

  "I understand you have an important piece of work on hand," said I, changing the subject.

  "Th' owd church screen, yes."

  "And are in need of a helper?"

  "Ah! to be sure——but you aren't got the look o' a workin' cove. I never see a workin' cove wi' 'ands the like o' yourn, so white as a woman's they be."

  "I have worked hard enough in my time, nevertheless," said I.

  "What might you 'ave done, now?"

  "I have translated Petronius Arbiter, also Quintilian, with a literal rendering into the English of the Memoires of the Sieur de Brantome."

  "Oh," exclaimed the smith, "that sounds a lot! anything more?"

  "Yes," I answered; "I won the High Jump, and Throwing the Hammer."

  "Throwin' th' 'ammer!" repeated Black George musingly; "was it anything like that theer?" And he pointed to a sledge near, by.

  "Something," I answered.

  "And you want work?"

  "I do."

  "Tell 'ee what, my fellow, if you can throw that theer 'ammer further nor me, then I'll say, 'Done,' and you can name your own wages, but if I beat you, and I'm fair sure I can, then you must stand up to me for ten minutes, and I'll give 'ee a good trouncin' to ease my mind——what d'ye say?"

  After a momentary hesitation, I nodded my head.

  "Done!" said I.

  "More fool you!" grinned the smith, and, catching up his sledge-hammer, he strode out into the road.

  Before "The Bull" a small crowd had gathered, all newly come from field or farmyard, for most of them carried rake or pitchfork, having doubtless been drawn thither by the hellish outcry of Black George and myself. Now I noticed that while they listened to the Ancient, who was holding forth, snuff-box in hand, yet every eye was turned towards the smithy, and in every eye was expectation. At our appearance, however, I thought they seemed, one and all, vastly surprised and taken aback, for heads were shaken, and glances wandered from the smith and myself to the Ancient, and back again.

  "Well, I'll be danged!" exclaimed Job.

  "I knowed it! I knowed it!" cried the Ancient, rubbing his hands and chuckling.

  "Knowed what, Gaffer?" inquired Black George, as we came up.

  "Why, I knowed as this young chap would come out a-walkin' 'pon his own two legs, and not like Job, a-rollin' and a-wallerin' in the dust o' th' road——like a hog."

  "Why, y' see, Gaffer," began the smith, almost apologetically it seemed to me, "it do come sort o' nat'ral to heave the likes o' Job about a bit——Job's made for it, y' might say, but this chap 's different."

  "So 'e be, Jarge——so 'e be!" nodded the Ancient.

  "Though, mark me, Gaffer, I aren't nohow in love wi' this chap neither——'e gabs too much to suit me, by a long sight!"

  "'E do that!" chimed in Job, edging nearer; "what I sez is, if 'e do get 'is back broke, 'e aren't got nobody to blame but 'isself ——so cocksure as 'e be."

  "Job," said the Ancient, "hold thee tongue."

  "I sez 'e's a cocksure cove," repeated Job doggedly, "an' a cocksure cove 'e be; what do 'ee think, Jarge?"

  "Job," returned the smith, "I don't chuck a man into t' road and talk wi' 'im both in the same day."

  In this conversation I bore no part, busying myself in drawing out a wide circle in the dust, a proceeding watched by the others with much interest, and not a few wondering comments.

  "What be goin' to du wi' 'ammer, Jarge?" inquired the Ancient.

  "Why," explained the smith, "this chap thinks 'e can throw it further nor me." At this there was a general laugh. "If so be 'e can," pursued Black George, "then 'e comes to work for me at 'is own price, but if I beat 'im, then 'e must stand up to me wi' 'is fists for ten minutes."

  "Ten minutes!" cried a voice; "'e won't last five——see if 'e do."

  "Feel sorry for un," said a second, "'e do be so pale as a sheet a'ready."

  "So would you be if you was in 'is shoes!" chimed in a third; whereat there was a general laugh.

  Indeed, as, I looked round the ring of grinning, unresponsive faces, it was plain to see that all sympathy was against the stranger, as is the way of bird, beast, fish, but especially man, the world over——and I experienced a sudden sense of loneliness which was, I think, only natural. Yet, as I put up my hand to loose the strap of my knapsack, I encountered another already there, and, turning, beheld Simon the Innkeeper.

  "If it do come to fightin'," he whispered close in my ear, "if it do come to fightin', and I'm fair sure it will, keep away as much as you can; you look quick on your pins. Moreover, whatever you do, watch 'is right, and when you do see a chance to strike, go for 'is chin——a little to one side——and strike danged 'ard!"

  "Many thanks for your friendly advice," said I, with a grateful nod and, slipping off my coat, would have handed it to him but that the Ancient hobbled up, and, taking it from me, folded it ostentatiously across his arm.

  "Mark my words, Simon," said he, "this young chap is as like what I were at his age as one pea is to another——I says so, and I means so."

  "Come," said Black George, at this juncture, "I've work waitin' to be done, and my forge fire will be out."

  "I'm quite ready," said I, stepping forward. It was now arranged that, standing alternately within the circle, we should each have three throws——whoever should make the two best throws to win. Hereupon, the smith took his place within the circle, hammer in hand.

  "Wait," said I, "the advantage usually lies with the last thrower, it would be fairer to you were we to toss for it."

  "No," answered Black George, motioning the onlookers to stand back, "I've got th' 'ammer, and I'll throw first."

  Now, as probably every one knows, it is one thing to swing a sledge-hammer in the ordinary way but quite another to throw it any distance, for there is required, beside the bodily strength, a certain amount of knowledge, without which a man is necessarily handicapped. Thus, despite my opponent's great strength of arm, I was fairly sanguine of the result.

  Black George took a fresh grip upon the hammer-shaft, twirled it lightly above his head, swung it once, twice, thrice——and let it go.

  With a shout, Job and two or three others ran down the road to mark where it had fallen, and presently returned, pacing out the distance.

  "Fifty-nine!" they announced.

  "Can 'ee beat that?" inquired Black George complacently.

  "I think I can," I answered as, taking up the hammer, I, in turn, stepped into the ring. Gripping the shaft firmly, I whirled it aloft, and began to swing it swifter and swifter, gaining greater impetus every moment, till, like a flash, it flew from my grasp. Panting, I watched it rise, rise, rise, and then plunge down to earth in a smother of dust.

  "'E've beat it!" cried the Ancient, flourishing his stick excitedly. "Lord love me, 'e've beat it!"

  "Ay, 'e've beat it, sure-ly," said a man who carried a rake that was forever getting in everybody's way.

  "An' by a goodish bit to!" shouted another.

  "Ah! but Jarge aren't got 'is arm in yet," retorted a third; "Jarge can do better nor that by a long sight!"

  But now all voices were hushed as Job paced up.

  "Eighty-two!" he announced. Black George looked hard at me, but, without speaking, stepped sulkily into the ring, moistened his palms, looked at me again, and seizing the hammer, began to whirl it as he had seen me. Round and round it went, faster and faster, till, with a sudden lurch, he hurled it up and away. Indeed it was a mighty throw! Straight and strong it flew, describing a wide parabola ere it thudded into the road.

  The excitement now waxed high, and many started off to measure the distance for themselves, shouting one to another as they went. As for the smith, he stood beside me, whistling, and I saw that the twinkle was back in his eyes again.

  "One hunner and twenty!" cried half-a-dozen voices.

  "And a half," corrected Job, thrusting the hammer into my hand, and grinning.

  "Can 'ee beat that?" inquired Black George again.

  "Ay, can 'ee beat that?" echoed the crowd.

  "It was a marvellous throw!" said I, shaking my head. And indeed, in my heart I knew I could never hope to equal, much less beat, such a mighty cast. I therefore decided on strategy, and, with this in mind, proceeded, in a leisurely fashion, once more to mark out the circle, which was obliterated in places, to flatten the surface underfoot, to roll up my sleeves, and tighten my belt; in fine, I observed all such precautions as a man might be expected to take before some supreme effort.

  At length, having done everything I could think of to impress this idea upon the onlookers, I took up the hammer.

  "Means to do it this time!" cried the man with the rake; knocking off Job's hat in his excitement, as, with a tremendous swing, I made my second throw. There was a moment's breathless silence as the hammer hurtled through the air, then, like an echo to its fall, came a shout of laughter, for the distance was palpably far short of the giant smith's last. A moment later Job came pacing up, and announced:

  "Eighty-seven!" Hereupon arose a very babel of voices:

  "You've got un beat a'ready, Jarge!"

  "Well, I knowed it from the start!"

  "Let un alone," cried Simon, "'e've got another chance yet."

  "Much good it'll do 'im!"

  "Ah! might as well give in now, and take 'is thrashin' and ha' done wi' it."

  That my ruse had succeeded with the crowd was evident; they——to a man——believed I had done my best, and already regarded me as hopelessly beaten. My chance of winning depended upon whether the smith, deluded into a like belief, should content himself with just beating my last throw, for, should he again exert his mighty strength to the uttermost, I felt that my case was indeed hopeless.

  It was with a beating heart, therefore, that I watched him take his place for the last throw. His face wore a confident smile, but nevertheless he took up the hammer with such a businesslike air that my heart sank, and, feeling a touch upon my arm, I was glad to turn away. "I be goin' to fetch a sponge and water," said Simon.

  "A sponge and water!"

  "Ah! Likewise some vinegar——theer's nothin' like 'vinegar——and remember——the chin, a little to one side preferred."

  "So then you think I shall be beaten?"

  "Why, I don't say that, but it's best to be prepared, aren't it now?"

  And, with a friendly nod, the Innkeeper turned away. In that same minute there arose another shout from the crowd as they greeted Black George's last throw, and Job, striding up, announced:


  Then, while the air still echoed with their plaudits, I stepped into the ring, and, catching up the hammer, swung it high above my head, and, at the full length of my arms, began to wheel it. The iron spun faster and faster till, setting my teeth, with the whole force of every fibre, every nerve, and muscle of my body, I let it fly.

  The blood was throbbing at my temples and my breath coming fast as I watched its curving flight. And now all voices were hushed so that the ring of the iron could be plainly heard as it struck the hard road, and all eyes watched Job, as he began pacing towards us. As he drew nearer I could hear him counting to himself, thus:

  "Ninety-one, ninety-two, ninety-three, ninety-four, ninety-five, ninety-six, ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred, one hundred and one, one hundred and two——one hundred and two!"

  Next moment, as it seemed to me, an inarticulate Ancient was desperately trying to force me into my coat, wrong side first, and Simon was shaking my hand.

  "You tricked me!" cried a voice, and turning, I found Black George confronting me, with clenched fists.

  "And how did I trick you?"

  "I could ha' chucked farther nor that."

  "Then why didn't you?"

  "Because I thought you was beat. I say you tricked me."

  "And I tell you the match was a fair one from start to finish!"

  "Put up your hands!" said the smith, advancing in a threatening manner.

  "No," said I, "a bargain is a bargain," and turning my back upon him, I fell to watching the man with the rake, who, not content with Job's word, was busily pacing out the distance for himself.

  "Put up your hands!" repeated Black George hoarsely.

  "For the last time, no," said I over my shoulder. "Strike me if you will," I went on, seeing him raise his fist, "I shall not defend myself, but I tell you this, Black George, the first blow you strike will brand you coward, and no honest man."

  "Coward, is it?" cried he, and, with the word, had seized me in a grip that crushed my flesh, and nigh swung me off my feet; "coward is it?" he repeated.

  "Yes," said I, "none but a coward would attack an unresisting man." So, for a full minute we stood thus, staring into each other's eyes, and once again I saw the hairs of his golden beard curl up, and outwards.

  What would have been the end I cannot say, but there came upon the stillness the sound of flying footsteps, the crowd was burst asunder, and a girl stood before us, a tall, handsome girl with raven hair, and great, flashing black eyes.

  "Oh!——you, Jarge, think shame on yourself——think shame on yourself, Black Jarge. Look!" she cried, pointing a finger at him, "look at the great, strong man——as is a coward!"

  I felt the smith's grip relax, his arms dropped to his sides, while a deep, red glow crept up his cheeks till it was lost in the clustering curls of gleaming, yellow hair.

  "Why, Prue——" he began, in a strangely altered voice, and stopped. The fire was gone from his eyes as they rested upon her, and he made a movement as though he would have reached out his hand to her, but checked himself.

  "Why, Prue——" he said again, but choked suddenly, and, turning away, strode back towards his forge without another word. On he went, looking neither to right nor left, and I thought there was something infinitely woebegone and pitiful in the droop of his head.

  Now as I looked from his forlorn figure to the beautiful, flushed face of the girl, I saw her eyes grow wonderfully soft and sweet, and brim over with tears. And, when Black George had betaken himself back to his smithy, she also turned, and, crossing swiftly to the inn, vanished through its open doorway.

  "She 've a fine sperrit, 'ave that darter o' yourn, Simon, a fine sperrit. Oh! a fine sperrit as ever was!" chuckled the Ancient.

  "Prue aren't afeard o' Black Jarge——never was," returned Simon; "she can manage un——allus could; you'll mind she could allus tame Black Jarge wi' a look, Gaffer."

  "Ah! she 'm a gran'darter to be proud on, be Prue," nodded the Ancient, "an' proud I be to!"

  "What," said I, "is she your daughter, Simon?"

  "Ay, for sure."

  "And your granddaughter, Ancient?"

  "Ay, that she be, that she be."

  "Why, then, Simon must be your son."

  "Son as ever was!" nodded the old man, "and a goodish son 'e be to——oh, I've seen worse."

  "And now," added Simon, "come in, and you shall taste as fine a jug of ale as there be in all Kent."

  "Wait," said the old man, laying his hand upon my arm, "I've took to you, young chap, took to you amazin'; what might your name be?"

  "Peter," I answered.

  "A good name, a fine name," nodded the old man.

  "Peter——Simon," said he, glancing from one to the other of us. "Simon——Peter; minds me o' the disciple of our blessed Lord, it du; a fine name be Peter."

  So Peter I became to him thenceforth, and to the whole village.

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