Between his out-spread legs, as it seemed, a thin streak of silver was creeping along the flooring. He rubbed his eyes, and looked again.
He was straddling across a stream of molten metal.
As Zeb caught sight of this, the stranger twirled, leapt a foot in the air, and came down smartly on the final note, with a click of his heels. The music ceased abruptly.
A storm of clapping broke out, but stopped almost on the instant: for the stranger had flung an arm out towards the hearth-stone.
“A mine—a mine!”
The white streak ran hissing from the heart of the fire, where a clod of earth rested among the ashen sticks.
“Witchcraft!” muttered one or two of the guests, peering forward with round eyes.
“Fiddlestick-end! I put the clod there myself. ’Tis lead!”
“Ay, naybours all,” broke in Farmer Tresidder, his bald head bedewed with sweat, “I don’t want to abash ’ee, Lord knows; but ’tis trew as doom that I be a passing well-to-do chap. I shudn’ wonder now”—and here he embraced the company with a smile, half pompous and half timid— “I shudn’ wonder if ye was to see me trottin’ to Parlyment House in a gilded coach afore Michaelmas—I be so tremenjous rich, by all accounts.”
“You’ll excoose my sayin’ it, Farmer,” spoke up Old Zeb out of the awed silence that followed, “for doubtless I may be thick o’ hearin’, but did I, or did I not, catch ‘ee alludin’ to a windfall o’ wealth?”
“You’ll excoose me sayin’ it, Farmer; but was it soberly or pleasantly, honest creed or light lips, down-right or random, ‘out o’ the heart the mouth speaketh’ or wantonly and in round figgers, as it might happen to a man filled with meat and wine?”
“’Twas the cold trewth.”
“By what slice o’ fortune?”
“By a mine, as you might put it: or, as between man an’ man, by a mine o’ lead.”
“Farmer, you’re either a born liar or the darlin’ o’ luck.”
“Aye: I feel it. I feel that overpowerin’ly.”
“For my part,” put in Mrs. Jim Lewarne, “I’ve given over follerin’ the freaks o’ Fortune. They be so very undiscernin’.”
And this sentence probably summed up the opinion of the majority.
In the midst of the excitement Young Zeb strode up to the stranger, who stood a little behind the throng.
“Give me back my shoes,” he said.
The other kicked them off and looked at him oddly.
“With pleasure. You’ll find them a bit worn, I’m afraid.”
“I’ll chance that. Man, I’m not all sorry, either.”
“’Cause they’ll not be worn agen, arter this night. Gentleman or devil, whichever you may be, I bain’t fit to dance i’ the same parish with ’ee—no, nor to tread the shoeleather you’ve worn.”
“By the powers!” cried the stranger suddenly, “two minutes ago I’d have agreed with you. But, looking in your eyes, I’m not so sure of it.”