Darkness came down. The man on the hill said to himself, “Now they are having supper,” and he crept down again to the farm, and crouching and wriggling along he made his way again to the big window, over which the curtains had been drawn. There was no one in the sitting-room, however, to judge from the silence, but from the kitchen across the passage came a rush of voices, together with a clatter of plates. The kitchen looked out on the front of the farm, and a wooden shutter had been fastened across the window. But the wood of the shutter was old and full of chinks, and Delane, pressing his face to the window, was able to get just a glimpse of the scene within—Rachel at the head of the table, the man in uniform beside her—three other women. A paraffin lamp threw the shadow of the persons at the table sharply on the white distempered wall. There were flowers on the table, and the meal wore a home-like and tempting air to the crouching spy outside. Rachel smiled incessantly, and it seemed to Delane that the handsome man beside her could not take his eyes from her. Nor could Delane. Her brown head and white throat, her soft, rose-tinted face emerging from the black dress, were youth itself—a vision of youth and lusty-hood brilliantly painted on the white wall.
Delane looked his fill. Then he dropped down the bank on which the farm stood, and avoiding the open track through the fields, he skirted a hedge which led down to the road, and was lost in the shadows of advancing night.
Rain!—how it pelted the September fields day after day and week after week, as though to remind a world still steeped in, still drunk with the most wonderful of harvests, that the gods had not yet forgotten their old jealousy of men, and men’s prosperity. Whenever a fine day came the early ploughing and seeding was in full swing, and Rachel on one side of the largest field could watch the drill at work, and on the other the harrow which covered in the seed. In the next field, perhaps, she would find Betty and Jenny lifting potatoes, and would go to help with them, digging and sorting, till every limb ached and she seemed to be a part herself of the damp brown earth that she was robbing of its treasure. For a time when the harvest was done, when the ricks were thatched ready for threshing, there had been a moment of ease. But with the coming of October, the pressure began again. The thought of the coming frost and of all those greedy mouths of cattle, sheep, and horses to be filled through the winter, drove and hunted the workers on Great End Farm, as they have driven and hunted the children of earth since tilling and stock-keeping began. Under the hedges near the house, the long potato caves had been filled and covered in; the sheep were in the turnips, and every two or three days, often under torrents of rain, Rachel and the two girls must change the hurdles, and put the hungry, pushing creatures on to fresh ground. On the top of the down, there was fern to be cut and carted for the winter fodder, and fallen wood to be gathered for fuel, under the daily threats of the coal-controller.