‘Ay, ay, I know—coming over the gentry; and a good thing he’s gone!’ said she. ’The place isn’t to be harbouring thieves and vagrants, or who’s to pay the rates? My eggs are gone, I tell you, and who should take ’em but that lad, I’d like to know?’
’Them was two rotten nest-eggs as I throwed away when I was cleaning the stable.’
‘Who told you to put in your word, John Farden?’ screamed Mrs. Shepherd, turning on him. ’Ye’d best mind what ye’re about, or ye’ll be after him soon.’
‘No loss neither,’ muttered John, stopping to pick up his shovel.
‘And you didn’t see which way he was gone?’ asked Ellen, looking from the labourer to the farmer’s wife.
‘Farmer sent un off or ever I come,’ replied John, ‘or I’d ha’ gied un a breakfast.’
‘I’m sure I can’t tell,’ said Mrs. Shepherd, with a toss of her head. ’And as to you, Ellen King, I’m surprised at you, running after a scamp like that, that you told me yourself was out of a prison.’
‘Oh but, Mrs. Shepherd—’
‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself,’ interrupted Mrs. Shepherd; ’and I wonder your mother allows it. But there’s nothing like girls now-a-days.’
Ellen thought John Farden grinned; and feeling as if nothing so shocking could ever happen to her again, she flew back, she hardly knew how, to her home, clapped the door after, and dropping into a chair as Harold had done, burst into such a fit of crying, that she could not speak, and only shook her head in answer to Harold’s questions as to how Paul was gone.
‘Oh, no one knew!’ she choked out among her sobs; ’and Mrs. Shepherd--such things!’
Harold stamped his foot, and Mrs. King tried to soothe her. In the midst, she recollected that she could not bear her brothers to guess at the worst part of the ‘such things;’ and recovering herself a moment, she said, ’No, no, they’ve driven him off! He’s gone, and— and, oh! Mother, Mrs. Shepherd will have it he’s a thief, and—and she says I said so.’
That was bad enough, and Ellen wept bitterly again; while her mother and Harold both cried out with surprise.
’Yes—but—I did say I dare said he was out of a reformatory—and that she should remember it! Now I’ve taken away his character, and he’s a poor lost boy!’
Oh, idle words! idle words!
There was no helping it! People must have their letters whether Paul Blackthorn were lost or not, and Harold was a servant of the public, and must do his duty, so after some exhortations from his mother, he ruefully rose up, hoping that he should not have to go to Ragglesford.
‘Yes, you will,’ said his mother, ’and maybe to wait. Here’s a registered letter, and I think there are two more with money in them.’
‘To think,’ sighed Harold, as he mounted his pony, ’of them little chaps getting more money for nothing, than Paul did in a month by working the skin off his bones!’