All Millsborough, indeed, was in the streets to look at the procession, and the crowd was swelled by scores of cadets from a neighbouring camp, who were good-heartedly keeping the route, and giving a military air to the show. But the flower-decked wagons were the centre of interest. The first in the line was really a brilliant performance. It was an old wagon of Napoleonic days, lent by a farmer, whose forebears had rented the same farm since William and Mary. Every spoke of the wheels blazed with red geraniums; there was a fringe of heather along the edge of the cart, while vegetables, huge marrows, turnips, carrots, and onions dangled from its sides, and the people inside sat under a nodding canopy of tall and splendid wheat, mixed with feathery barley. But the passengers were perhaps the most attractive thing about it. They were four old women in lilac sunbonnets. They were all over seventy, and they had all worked bravely in the harvest. The crowd cheered them vociferously, and they sat, looking timidly out on the scene with smiling eyes and tremulous lips, their grey hair blowing about their wrinkled, wholesome faces.
Beside the wagon walked a detachment of land girls. One of them was the granddaughter of one of the old women, and occasionally a word would pass between them.
“Eh, Bessie, but I’d like to git down! They mun think us old fools, dizened up this way.”
“No, gran; you must ride. You’re the very best bit of the show. Why, just listen how the folk cheer you!”
The old woman sighed.
“I’d like to look at it mysel’,” she said with a childish plaintiveness. But her tall granddaughter, in full uniform, with a rake over her shoulder, thought this a foolish remark, and made no reply.
In the second wagon, Rachel Henderson in full land-dress—tunic, knee-breeches, and leggings—stood in the front of the cart, guiding two white horses, their manes and tails gaily plaited with ribbons, and scarlet badges on their snowy heads.
“Eh, but yon’s a fine woman!” said an old farmer of the humbler sort to his neighbour. “Yo’ll not tell me she’s a land lassie?”
“Noa, noa; she’s the new farmer at Great End—a proud body, they say, an’ a great hustler! The men say she’s allus at ’em. But they don’t mind her neither. She treats ’em well. Them’s her two land girls walking beside.”
For Betty and Jenny mounted guard, their harvest rakes on their shoulders, beside their mistress, who attracted all eyes as she passed, and knew it. Behind her in the cart sat Janet Leighton; and the two remaining seats were filled by the Vicar of Ipscombe and Lady Alicia Shepherd, the wife of the owner of Great End Farm and of the middle-sized estate to which the farm belonged.