‘It’s lonesome enough to make a bull-dog afeared,’ whispered Davies, in a frightened tone. But before long they were out of the wood; and in the glimmer of light that lasts all night through during the summer, Stephen saw Black Thompson unwind a net, which had been wrapped round his body under his collier’s jacket. More than half the covey of partridges were bagged; and they had such capital luck, as the men called it, that Stephen soon entered into the daring spirit of the adventure. It sent a thrill of excitement through him, in which poor Snip was for the time forgotten; and when about midnight Black Thompson and Davies said ‘Good-night’ to him at his cottage door, calling him a brave fellow, and giving him a fine young leveret, with the promise that he should have his share of whatever money they received for their spoil, he entered his dark home, where every one was slumbering peacefully, and, without a thought of sorrow or repentance, was quickly asleep himself.
Stephen and the gamekeeper.
Martha’s exclamation of surprise and delight at seeing the leveret was the first sound that Stephen heard in the morning; but he preserved a sullen silence as to his absence the previous night, and Martha was too shrewd to press him with questions. They had not been unused to such fare during their father’s lifetime; and it was settled between them that she should come down from the bilberry-plain early in the afternoon to make a feast of the leveret by the time of Stephen’s return from the pit.
All day long Stephen found himself treated with marked distinction and favour by Black Thompson and his comrades, to some of whom he heard him say, in a loud whisper, that ’Stephen ’ud show himself a chip of the old block yet.’ At dinner they invited him to sit within their circle, where he laughed and talked with the best of them, and was listened to as if he were already a man. How different to his usually hurried meal beside the horses, that worked like himself in the dark, close passages, but did not, like him, ascend each evening to the grassy fields and the pure air of the upper earth! Stephen had a true tenderness in his nature towards these dumb fellow-labourers, and they loved the sound of his voice, and the kindly patting of his hand; but somehow he felt as if they knew how he had left his faithful old Snip unburied on the open hillside, where Black Thompson had found him in his passion the evening before. He was not sorry for what he had done; he would avenge himself on the gamekeeper again whenever there was an opportunity. Even now, he promised Black Thompson, when they were away from the other colliers, to show him the haunts of the scarce black grouse, which would be so valuable to the gamekeeper; and he enjoyed Black Thompson’s applause. But there was a sore pang in his heart, as he remembered dead Snip, unburied on the hillside.