“These notes will make sure. Give one to the farmer, and one to Ruby, as they stand by the chancel rails. But mainly it rests with you. Take no denial. Say you’ve come to make her your wife, and won’t leave the church till you’ve done it. She’s still the same woman as when she threw you over. Ah, sir, we men change our natures; but woman is always Eve. I suppose you know a short cut to the church? Very well. I shall take your cart and mare, and drive to meet the press-gang, who won’t be in the sweetest of tempers just now. Come, what are you waiting for? You’re ten minutes late as it is, and you can’t be married after noon.”
“Sir,” said Zeb, with a white face; “it’s a liberty, but will ’ee let me shake your hand?”
“I’ll be cursed if I do. But I’ll wish you good luck and a hard heart, and maybe ye’ll thank me some day.”
So Zeb, with a sob, turned and ran from him out of the fosse and towards a gap in the hedge, where lay a short cut through the fields. In the gap he turned and looked back. The stranger stood on the lip of the fosse, and waved a hand to him to hurry.
THE THIRD SHIP.
We return to Ruan church, whence this history started. The parson was there in his surplice, by the altar; the bride was there in her white frock, by the chancel rails; her father, by her side, was looking at his watch; and the parishioners thronged the nave, shuffling their feet and loudly speculating. For the bridegroom had not appeared.
Ruby’s face was white as her frock. Parson Babbage kept picking up the heavy Prayer-book, opening it, and laying it down impatiently. Occasionally, as one of the congregation scraped an impatient foot, a metallic sound made itself heard, and the buzz of conversation would sink for a moment, as if by magic.
For beneath the seats, and behind the women’s gowns, the whole pavement of the church was covered with a fairly representative collection of cast-off kitchen utensils—old kettles, broken cake-tins, frying-pans, saucepans—all calculated to emit dismal sounds under percussion. Scattered among these were ox-bells, rook-rattles, a fog-horn or two, and a tin trumpet from Liskeard fair. Explanation is simple: the outraged feelings of the parish were to be avenged by a shal-lal as bride and bridegroom left the church. Ruby knew nothing of the storm brewing for her, but Mary Jane, whose ears had been twice boxed that morning, had heard a whisper of it on her way down to the church, and was confirmed in her fears by observing the few members of the congregation who entered after her. Men and women alike suffered from an unwonted corpulence and tightness of raiment that morning, and each and all seemed to have cast the affliction off as they arose from their knees. It was too late to interfere, so she sat still and trembled.