He took a green hazel which he had used as a walking-stick, split it at the end, inserted a small pebble, and with the lantern in his hand went out into the heath. Clym had by this time lit a small fire, and despatched Susan Nunsuch for a frying-pan. Before she had returned Sam came in with three adders, one briskly coiling and uncoiling in the cleft of the stick, and the other two hanging dead across it.
“I have only been able to get one alive and fresh as he ought to be,” said Sam. “These limp ones are two I killed today at work; but as they don’t die till the sun goes down they can’t be very stale meat.”
The live adder regarded the assembled group with a sinister look in its small black eye, and the beautiful brown and jet pattern on its back seemed to intensify with indignation. Mrs. Yeobright saw the creature, and the creature saw her: she quivered throughout, and averted her eyes.
“Look at that,” murmured Christian Cantle. “Neighbours, how do we know but that something of the old serpent in God’s garden, that gied the apple to the young woman with no clothes, lives on in adders and snakes still? Look at his eye—for all the world like a villainous sort of black currant. ’Tis to be hoped he can’t ill-wish us! There’s folks in heath who’ve been overlooked already. I will never kill another adder as long as I live.”
“Well, ’tis right to be afeard of things, if folks can’t help it,” said Grandfer Cantle. “’Twould have saved me many a brave danger in my time.”
“I fancy I heard something outside the shed,” said Christian. “I wish troubles would come in the daytime, for then a man could show his courage, and hardly beg for mercy of the most broomstick old woman he should see, if he was a brave man, and able to run out of her sight!”
“Even such an ignorant fellow as I should know better than do that,” said Sam.
“Well, there’s calamities where we least expect it, whether or no. Neighbours, if Mrs. Yeobright were to die, d’ye think we should be took up and tried for the manslaughter of a woman?”
“No, they couldn’t bring it in as that,” said Sam, “unless they could prove we had been poachers at some time of our lives. But she’ll fetch round.”
“Now, if I had been stung by ten adders I should hardly have lost a day’s work for’t,” said Grandfer Cantle. “Such is my spirit when I am on my mettle. But perhaps ’tis natural in a man trained for war. Yes, I’ve gone through a good deal; but nothing ever came amiss to me after I joined the Locals in four.” He shook his head and smiled at a mental picture of himself in uniform. “I was always first in the most galliantest scrapes in my younger days!”
“I suppose that was because they always used to put the biggest fool afore,” said Fairway from the fire, beside which he knelt, blowing it with his breath.
“D’ye think so, Timothy?” said Grandfer Cantle, coming forward to Fairway’s side with sudden depression in his face. “Then a man may feel for years that he is good solid company, and be wrong about himself after all?”