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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 427 pages of information about The Return of the Native.

“They do, for I heard one.”

“Certain-sure?”

“Yes.  She told me afore that I should hear’n; and so I did.  They say she’s clever and deep, and perhaps she charmed ’en to come.”

“And what then?”

“Then I came down here, and I was afeard, and I went back; but I didn’t like to speak to her, because of the gentleman, and I came on here again.”

“A gentleman—­ah!  What did she say to him, my man?”

“Told him she supposed he had not married the other woman because he liked his old sweetheart best; and things like that.”

“What did the gentleman say to her, my sonny?”

“He only said he did like her best, and how he was coming to see her again under Rainbarrow o’ nights.”

“Ha!” cried the reddleman, slapping his hand against the side of his van so that the whole fabric shook under the blow.  “That’s the secret o’t!”

The little boy jumped clean from the stool.

“My man, don’t you be afraid,” said the dealer in red, suddenly becoming gentle.  “I forgot you were here.  That’s only a curious way reddlemen have of going mad for a moment; but they don’t hurt anybody.  And what did the lady say then?”

“I can’t mind.  Please, Master Reddleman, may I go home-along now?”

“Ay, to be sure you may.  I’ll go a bit of ways with you.”

He conducted the boy out of the gravel-pit and into the path leading to his mother’s cottage.  When the little figure had vanished in the darkness the reddleman returned, resumed his seat by the fire, and proceeded to darn again.

IX

Love Leads a Shrewd Man into Strategy

Reddlemen of the old school are now but seldom seen.  Since the introduction of railways Wessex farmers have managed to do without these Mephistophelian visitants, and the bright pigment so largely used by shepherds in preparing sheep for the fair is obtained by other routes.  Even those who yet survive are losing the poetry of existence which characterized them when the pursuit of the trade meant periodical journeys to the pit whence the material was dug, a regular camping out from month to month, except in the depth of winter, a peregrination among farms which could be counted by the hundred, and in spite of this Arab existence the preservation of that respectability which is insured by the never-failing production of a well-lined purse.

Reddle spreads its lively hues over everything it lights on, and stamps unmistakably, as with the mark of Cain, any person who has handled it half an hour.

A child’s first sight of a reddleman was an epoch in his life.  That blood-coloured figure was a sublimation of all the horrid dreams which had afflicted the juvenile spirit since imagination began.  “The reddleman is coming for you!” had been the formulated threat of Wessex mothers for many generations.  He was successfully supplanted for a while, at the beginning of the present century, by Buonaparte; but as process of time rendered the latter personage stale and ineffective the older phrase resumed its early prominence.  And now the reddleman has in his turn followed Buonaparte to the land of worn-out bogeys, and his place is filled by modern inventions.

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