“Then good-day t’ ye, friends,” answered Young Zeb, and turned the mare. “Cl’k, Jessamy!” He rattled away down the lane.
“What an admirable youth!” murmured the stranger, falling back a pace and gazing after the back of Zeb’s head as it passed down the line of the hedge. “What a messenger! He seems eaten up with desire to get you a chest of drawers that shall be wholly satisfying. But why do you allow him to call you ’my dear’?”
“Because, I suppose, that’s what I am,” answered Ruby; “because I’m goin’ to marry him within the month.”
But, as a matter of fact, the stranger had known before asking.
THE STRANGER DANCES IN ZEB’S SHOES.
It was close upon midnight, and in the big parlour at Sheba the courant, having run through its normal stages of high punctilio, artificial ease, zest, profuse perspiration, and supper, had reached the exact point when Modesty Prowse could be surprised under the kissing-bush, and Old Zeb wiped his spectacles, thrust his chair back, and pushed out his elbows to make sure of room for the rendering of “Scarlet’s my Colour.” These were tokens to be trusted by an observer who might go astray in taking any chance guest as a standard of the average conviviality. Mr. and Mrs. Jim Lewarne, for example, were accustomed on such occasions to represent the van and rear-guard respectively in the march of gaiety; and in this instance Jim had already imbibed too much hot “shenachrum,” while his wife, still in the stage of artificial ease, and wearing a lace cap, which was none the less dignified for having been smuggled, was perpending what to say when she should get him home. The dancers, pale and dusty, leant back in rows against the wall, and with their handkerchiefs went through the motions of fanning or polishing, according to sex. In their midst circulated Farmer Tresidder, with a three-handled mug of shenachrum, hot from the embers, and furred with wood-ash.
“Take an’ drink, thirsty souls. Niver do I mind the Letterpooch so footed i’ my born days.”
“’Twas conspirator—very conspirator,” assented Old Zeb, screwing up his A string a trifle, and turning con spirito into a dark saying.
“Greek for elbow-grease. Phew!” He rubbed his fore-finger round between neck and shirt-collar. “I be vady as the inside of a winder.”
“Such a man as you be to sweat, crowder!” exclaimed Calvin Oke. “Set you to play six-eight time an’ ’tis beads right away.”
“A slice o’ saffern-cake, crowder, to stay ye. Don’t say no. Hi, Mary Jane!”
“Thank ’ee, Farmer. A man might say you was in sperrits to-night, makin’ so bold.”
“I be; I be.”
“Might a man ax wherefore, beyond the nat’ral hail-fellow-well-met of the season?”
“You may, an’ yet you mayn’t,” answered the host, passing on with the mug.