“Henry,” said Mr. Green, with dangerous calm, “go and fetch a policeman.”
“I’m going,” said Mr. Letts, hastily. “Good-by, Betty; good-by, mother. I sha’n’t be long. I’m only going as far as the post-office. And that reminds me. I’ve been talking so much that I quite forget to tell you that Betty and me were married yesterday morning.”
He nodded pleasantly at the stupefied Mr. Green, and, turning to Mr. Widden, gave him a friendly dig in the ribs with his finger.
“What’s mine is Betty’s,” he said, in a clear voice, “and what’s Betty’s is mine! D’ye understand, step-father?”
He stepped over to Mrs. Green, and putting a strong arm around her raised her to her feet. “And what’s mine is mother’s,” he concluded, and, helping her across the room, placed her in the best arm-chair.
[Illustration: “What’s mine is mother’s.”]
The old man stood by the window, gazing at the frozen fields beyond. The sign of the Cauliflower was stiff with snow, and the breath of a pair of waiting horses in a wagon beneath ascended in clouds of steam.
[Illustration: “The sign of the Cauliflower was stiff with snow.”]
“Amusements” he said slowly, as he came back with a shiver and, resuming his seat by the tap-room fire, looked at the wayfarer who had been idly questioning him. “Claybury men don’t have much time for amusements. The last one I can call to mind was Bill Chambers being nailed up in a pig-sty he was cleaning out, but there was such a fuss made over that —by Bill—that it sort o’ disheartened people.”
He got up again restlessly, and, walking round the table, gazed long and hard into three or four mugs.
“Sometimes a little gets left in them,” he explained, meeting the stranger’s inquiring glance. The latter started, and, knocking on the table with the handle of his knife, explained that he had been informed by a man outside that his companion was the bitterest teetotaller in Claybury.
“That’s one o’ Bob Pretty’s larks,” said the old man, flushing. “I see you talking to ’im, and I thought as ’ow he warn’t up to no good. Biggest rascal in Claybury, he is. I’ve said so afore, and I’ll say so agin.”
He bowed to the donor and buried his old face in the mug.
“A poacher!” he said, taking breath. “A thief!” he continued, after another draught. “I wonder whether Smith spilt any of this a-carrying of it in?”
He put down the empty mug and made a careful examination of the floor, until a musical rapping on the table brought the landlord into the room again.
“My best respects,” he said, gratefully, as he placed the mug on the settle by his side and slowly filled a long clay pipe. Next time you see Bob Pretty ask ’im wot happened to the prize hamper. He’s done a good many things has Bob, but it’ll be a long time afore Claybury men’ll look over that.