As the hollibubber still clung to his arm, he gave a push and broke loose. The old man tumbled beside the path with his head against the potato fence. Zeb with a curse took to his heels and ran; nor for a hundred yards did he glance behind.
When at last he flung a look over his shoulder, the hollibubber had picked himself up and was kneeling in the pathway. His hands were clasped and lifted.
“Too late!” shouted Zeb again, and dashed on without a second look.
YOUNG ZEB WINS HIS SOUL BACK.
At half-past nine, next morning, the stranger sat in the front room of the cottage vacated by the Lewarnes. On a rough table, pushed into a corner, lay the remains of his breakfast. A plum-coloured coat with silver buttons hung over the back of a chair by his side, and a waist-coat and silver-laced hat to match rested on the seat. For the wedding was to take place in an hour and a half.
He sat in frilled shirt, knee-breeches and stockings, and the sunlight streamed in upon his dark head as he stooped to pull on a shoe. The sound of his whistling filled the room, and the tune was, “Soldier, soldier, will you marry me?”
His foot was thrust into the first shoe, and his forefinger inserted at the heel, shoe-horn fashion, to slip it on, when the noise of light wheels sounded on the road outside, and stopped beside the gate. Looking up, he saw through the window the head and shoulders of Young Zeb’s grey mare, and broke off his whistling sharply.
“Come in!” he called, and smiled softly to himself.
The door was pushed open, and Young Zeb stood on the threshold, looking down on the stranger, who wheeled round quietly on his chair to face him. Zeb’s clothes were disordered, and looked as if he had spent the night in them; his face was yellow and drawn, with dark semicircles underneath the eyes; and he put a hand up against the door-post for support.
“To what do I owe this honour?” asked the stranger, gazing back at him.
Zeb pulled out a great turnip-watch from his fob, and said—
“Ay, for the wedding.”
“Then look sharp. You’ve got a bare five-an’-twenty minnits.”
“Excuse me, I’m not to be married till eleven.”
“Iss, iss, but they’re comin’ at ten, sharp.”
“And who in the world may ‘they’ be?”
The stranger sprang up to his feet, and seemed for a moment about to fly at Zeb’s throat.
“You treacherous hound!”
“Stand off,” said Zeb wearily, without taking his hand from the door-post. “I reckon it don’t matter what I may be, or may not be, so long as you’m dressed i’ ten minnits.”
The other dropped his hands, with a short laugh.
“I beg your pardon. For aught I know you may have nothing to do with this infernal plot except to warn me against it.”