I was about to answer when Dick raised his head, with a queer alertness in his eyes. Then he vented a long, low whistle, and went on binding up Meg’s jaw.
Immediately after, there was a crackling of boughs to the left and my father’s head appeared above the slope, with the red face of the pastor behind it. We were caught.
On the harangue that followed I have no wish to dwell. My father and the pastor pitched it in by turns, while Dick went on with his surgery, his mouth pursed up for a soundless whistle. The prosecution had it all its own way, and I felt uncomfortably sure about the sentence.
But at last, to our amazement, Dick, having finished the bandaging, let Meg go and advanced. He picked up my sketch-book.
“Gentlemen both,” said he, “I’ve been listening respectful to your talk about God and his wrath, and as a poor heathen I’d like to know your idea of him. Here’s a pencil and paper. Will you be kind enough to draw God? that I may see what he’s like.”
The pastor’s jaw dropped. My father went grey with rage. Dick stood a pace back, smiling; and the sun glanced on the gold rings in his ears.
“No, sirs. It ain’t blasphemy. But I know you can’t give me a notion that won’t make him out to be a sort of man, pretty much like yourselves—two eyes, a nose, mouth, and beard perhaps. Now my wife says there’s points about a woman that you don’t reckon into your notion; and my dog says there’s more in a tail than most men estimate—”
“You foul-tongued poacher—” broke out my father.
“Now you’re mixing matters up,” Dick interrupted, blandly; “I poach, and that’s a crime. I’ve shown your boy to-day how men kill badgers, and maybe that’s wrong. But look here, sir—I’ve taught him some things besides; the ways of birds and beasts, and their calls; how to tell the hour by sun and stars; how to know an ash from a beech, of a pitch-dark night, by the sound of the wind in their tops; what herbs will cure disease and where to seek them; why some birds hop and others run. Sirs, I come of an old race that has outlived books and pictures and meeting-houses: you belong to a new one and a cock-sure, and maybe you’re right. Anyhow, you know precious little of this world, whatever you may of another.”
He stopped, pushed a hand through his coarse black hair, and, as if suddenly tired, resumed the old, sidelong gypsy look that he had been straightening with an effort.
“Your boy’ll believe what you tell him: he’s got the strength in his blood. Take him home and don’t beat him too hard.”
He glanced at me with a light nod, untied his dogs, shouldered his tools, and slouched away down the path, to sleep under his accustomed tree that night and be off again, next day, travelling amongst men and watching them with his weary ironical smile.