“Make anything of it?” he said.
I lifted my eyebrows. “Only your vigneron’s explanation—” I began, but stopped again, seeing that wouldn’t do.
“Anybody make anything of it?” said Loder, turning from one to another.
I gathered from Smith’s face that he thought one thing might be made of it—namely, that Loder had invented the whole tale. But even Smith didn’t speak.
“Were any English ladies ever found to have lived in the place—murdered, you know—bodies found and all that?” young Marsham asked diffidently, yearning for an obvious completeness.
“Not that we could ever learn,” Loder replied. “We made inquiries too.... So you all give it up? Well, so do I....”
And he rose. As he walked to the door, myself following him to get his hat and stick, I heard him humming softly the lines—they are from Oft in the Stilly Night—
“I seem like one who treads alone
Some banquet-hall deserted,
Whose guests are fled, whose garlands dead,
And all but he—departed!”
There was little need for the swart gipsies to explain, as they stood knee-deep in the snow round the bailiff of the Abbey Farm, what it was that had sent them. The unbroken whiteness of the uplands told that, and, even as they spoke, there came up the hill the dark figures of the farm men with shovels, on their way to dig out the sheep. In the summer, the bailiff would have been the first to call the gipsies vagabonds and roost-robbers; now ... they had women with them too.
“The hares and foxes were down four days ago, and the liquid-manure pumps like a snow man,” the bailiff said.... “Yes, you can lie in the laithes and welcome—if you can find ’em. Maybe you’ll help us find our sheep too—”
The gipsies had done so. Coming back again, they had had some ado to discover the spot where their three caravans made a hummock of white against a broken wall.
The women—they had four women with them—began that afternoon to weave the mats and baskets they hawked from door to door; and in the forenoon of the following day one of them, the black-haired, soft-voiced quean whom the bailiff had heard called Annabel, set her babe in the sling on her back, tucked a bundle of long cane-loops under her oxter, and trudged down between eight-foot walls of snow to the Abbey Farm. She stood in the latticed porch, dark and handsome against the whiteness, and then, advancing, put her head into the great hall-kitchen.
“Has the lady any chairs for the gipsy woman to mend?” she asked in a soft and insinuating voice....
They brought her the old chairs; she seated herself on a box in the porch; and there she wove the strips of cane in and out, securing each one with a little wooden peg and a tap of her hammer. The child remained in the sling at her back, taking the breast from time to time over her shoulder; and the silver wedding ring could be seen as she whipped the cane, back and forth.