Dawn. A rocky path leading to a mountain Chapel. A Peasant sitting on a stone with dog and cross-bow.
Over the wild moor, in reddest dawn of morning,
Gaily the huntsman down green droves must roam:
Over the wild moor, in grayest wane of evening,
Weary the huntsman comes wandering home;
If he has one. Who comes here?
[A Woodcutter enters with a laden ass.]
What art going about?
Woodcutter. To warm other folks’ backs.
Peas. Thou art in the common lot—Jack earns and Gill spends— therein lies the true division of labour. What’s thy name?
Woodc. Be’est a keeper, man, or a charmer, that dost so catechise me?
Peas. Both—I am a keeper, for I keep all I catch; and a charmer, for I drive bad spirits out of honest men’s turnips.
Woodc. Mary sain us, what be they like?
Peas. Four-legged kitchens of leather, cooking farmers’ crops into butcher’s meat by night, without leave or licence.
Woodc. By token, thou’rt a deer-stealer?
Peas. Stealer, quoth he? I have dominion. I do what I like with mine own.
Woodc. Thine own?
Peas. Yea, marry—for, saith the priest, man has dominion over the beast of the field and the fowl of the air: so I, being as I am a man, as men go, have dominion over the deer in my trade, as you have in yours over sleep-mice and woodpeckers.
Woodc. Then every man has a right to be a poacher.
Peas. Every man has his gift, and the tools go to him that can use them. Some are born workmen; some have souls above work. I’m one of that metal. I was meant to own land, and do nothing; but the angel that deals out babies’ souls, mistook the cradles, and spoilt a gallant gentleman! Well—I forgive him! there were many born the same night—and work wears the wits.
Woodc. I had sooner draw in a yoke than hunt in a halter. Hadst best repent and mend thy ways.
Peas. The way-warden may do that: I wear out no ways, I go across country. Mend! saith he? Why I can but starve at worst, or groan with the rheumatism, which you do already. And who would reek and wallow o’ nights in the same straw, like a stalled cow, when he may have his choice of all the clean holly bushes in the forest? Who would grub out his life in the same croft, when he has free-warren of all fields between this and Rhine? Not I. I have dirtied my share of spades myself; but I slipped my leash and went self-hunting.
Woodc. But what if thou be caught and brought up before the Prince?
Peas. He don’t care for game. He has put down his kennel, and keeps a tame saint instead: and when I am driven in, I shall ask my pardon of her in St. John’s name. They say that for his sake she’ll give away the shoes off her feet.
Woodc. I would not stand in your shoes for all the top and lop in the forest. Murder! Here comes a ghost! Run up the bank—shove the jackass into the ditch.