“We may need Molly’s mirror to tell us,” Hetty answered lightly: and with that she glanced up as a shadow darkened the golden sky above the mound, and a voice addressed the sisters all. “Good evening, young ladies!”
A broad-shouldered man looked down on them from the summit of the knoll, which he had climbed on its westward side; a tradesman to all appearance, clad in a dusty, ill-fitting suit. So far as they could judge—for he stood with the waning light at his back—he was not ill-featured; but, by his manner of mopping his brow, he was most ungracefully hot, and Molly declared ever afterwards that his thick worsted stockings, seen against the ball of the sun, gave his calves a hideous hairiness. She used to add that he was more than half drunk. His manner of accosting them—half uneasy, half familiar— froze the Wesley sisters.
“Good evening, young ladies! And nice and cool you look, I will say. Can any of you tell me if Parson Wesley’s at home?”
“He is not,” Emilia answered. “He has gone towards Bawtry.”
“Well now, that’s what the maid told me at the parsonage: but I thought, maybe, ’twas a trick—a sort of slip-out-by-the-back and not-at-home to a creditor. I’ve heard of parsons playing that game, and no harm to their conscience, because no lie told.”
“Sir!” Emilia rose and faced him.
“Oh, no offence, miss! I believe you; and for that matter the wench seemed fair-spoken enough, and gave me a drink of cider. ’Tis the matter of a debt, you see.” He drew a scrap of dirty paper from his pocket. “Twelve-seventeen-six, for repairs done to Wroote Parsonage; new larder, fifteen; lead for window-casements, eight-six; new fireplace to parlour, one-four-six: ancettera. I’m a plumber by trade—plumber and glazier—and in business at Lincoln. William Wright’s my name, and Right by nature.” Here he grinned. “Your father would have everything of the best; Epworth tradesman not worth a damn, excuse me, and meaning no offence. So he said, or words to that effect. A very particular gentleman, and his nose at the time into everything. But a man likes to be paid, you understand? So, having a job down Owston way, I thought I’d walk over and jog his reverence’s memory.”
“The money will be paid, sir, in due course, I make no doubt,” said Emilia bravely. Some of her sisters were white in the face. Hetty alone seemed to ignore the man’s presence, and gazed over the fields towards Epworth.
“Ah, ‘in due course!’ Let me tell you, miss, that if all the money owing to me was paid, I’d—I’d—” He broke off. “I have ambitions, I have: and a head on my shoulders. London’s the only place for a man like me. Gad, if these were only full”—he slapped his pockets—“there’s no saying I wouldn’t up and ask one of you to come along o’ me! There’s that beauty,