“That you won’t wear the shoes again.”
Then Zeb went after Ruby.
“I want to speak a word with ’ee,” he said quietly, stepping up to her.
“I’ the hall.”
“But I can’t come, just now.”
“But you must.”
She followed him out.
“Zeb, what’s the matter with you?”
“Look here”—and he faced round sharply—“I loved you passing well.”
“Well?” she asked, like a faint echo.
“I saw your eyes, just now. Don’t lie.”
“That’s right. And now listen: if you marry me, I’ll treat ’ee like a span’el dog. Fetch you shall, an’ carry, for my pleasure. You shall be slave, an’ I your taskmaster; an’ the sweetness o’ your love shall come by crushin’, like trodden thyme. Shall I suit you?”
“I don’t think you will.”
“Then good-night to you.”
“Good-night, Zeb. I don’t fancy you’ll suit me; but I’m not so sure as before you began to speak.”.
There was no answer to this but the slamming of the front door.
At half-past seven that morning, Parson Babbage, who had risen early, after his wont, was standing on the Vicarage doorstep to respire the first breath of the pale day, when he heard the garden gate unlatched and saw Young Zeb coming up the path.
The young man still wore his festival dress; but his best stockings and buckled shoes were stained and splashed, as from much walking in miry ways. Also he came unsteadily, and his face was white as ashes. The parson stared and asked—
“Young Zeb, have you been drinking?”
“Then ‘tis trouble, my son, an’ I ask your pardon.”
“A man might call it so. I’m come to forbid my banns.”
The elder man cocked his head on one side, much as a thrush contemplates a worm.
“I smell a wise wit, somewhere. Young man, who taught you so capital a notion?”
“Pack o’ stuff! Ruby hadn’t the—stop a minute! ’twas that clever fellow you fetched ashore, on Monday. Of course—of course! How came it to slip my mind?”
Young Zeb turned away; but the old man was after him, quick as thought, and had laid a hand on his shoulder.
“Is it bitter, my son?”
“It is bitter as death, Pa’son.”
“My poor lad. Step in an’ break your fast with me—poor lad, poor lad! Nay, but you shall. There’s a bitch pup i’ the stables that I want your judgment on. Bitter, eh? I dessay. I dessay. I’m thinking of walking her—lemon spot on the left ear—Rattler strain, of course. Dear me, this makes six generations I can count back that spot—an’ game every one. Step in, poor lad, step in: she’s a picture.”
SIEGE IS LAID TO RUBY.