The red man opened the lantern and turned it upon the figure of the prostrate boy.
“Who be ye?” he said.
“Johnny Nunsuch, master!”
“What were you doing up there?”
“I don’t know.”
“Watching me, I suppose?”
“What did you watch me for?”
“Because I was coming home from Miss Vye’s bonfire.”
“Why, yes, you be: your hand is bleeding. Come under my tilt and let me tie it up.”
“Please let me look for my sixpence.”
“How did you come by that?”
“Miss Vye gied it to me for keeping up her bonfire.”
The sixpence was found, and the man went to the van, the boy behind, almost holding his breath.
The man took a piece of rag from a satchel containing sewing materials, tore off a strip, which, like everything else, was tinged red, and proceeded to bind up the wound.
“My eyes have got foggy-like—please may I sit down, master?” said the boy.
“To be sure, poor chap. ’Tis enough to make you feel fainty. Sit on that bundle.”
The man finished tying up the gash, and the boy said, “I think I’ll go home now, master.”
“You are rather afraid of me. Do you know what I be?”
The child surveyed his vermilion figure up and down with much misgiving and finally said, “Yes.”
“The reddleman!” he faltered.
“Yes, that’s what I be. Though there’s more than one. You little children think there’s only one cuckoo, one fox, one giant, one devil, and one reddleman, when there’s lots of us all.”
“Is there? You won’t carry me off in your bags, will ye, master? ’Tis said that the reddleman will sometimes.”
“Nonsense. All that reddlemen do is sell reddle. You see all these bags at the back of my cart? They are not full of little boys—only full of red stuff.”
“Was you born a reddleman?”
“No, I took to it. I should be as white as you if I were to give up the trade—that is, I should be white in time—perhaps six months: not at first, because ’tis grow’d into my skin and won’t wash out. Now, you’ll never be afraid of a reddleman again, will ye?”
“No, never. Willy Orchard said he seed a red ghost here t’other day—perhaps that was you?”
“I was here t’other day.”
“Were you making that dusty light I saw by now?”
“Oh yes: I was beating out some bags. And have you had a good bonfire up there? I saw the light. Why did Miss Vye want a bonfire so bad that she should give you sixpence to keep it up?”
“I don’t know. I was tired, but she made me bide and keep up the fire just the same, while she kept going up across Rainbarrow way.”
“And how long did that last?”
“Until a hopfrog jumped into the pond.”
The reddleman suddenly ceased to talk idly. “A hopfrog?” he inquired. “Hopfrogs don’t jump into ponds this time of year.”