So it was arranged that the four were to meet me that very night after sunset and before moonrise, and move the goods, and I mounted and rode away, with Parson Downs shouting after me his proposition to trade horses, and even offering ten pounds to boot when he saw the splendid long pace of my thoroughbred flinging out his legs with that freest motion of anything in the world, unless it be the swift upward cleave of a bird when the fluttering of wing wherewith he hath gained his impetus hath ceased, and nothing except that invincible rising is seen.
The first man my eyes fell upon was Parson Downs, lolling in a chair by the fireless hearth, for there was no call for fire that May night. His bulk of body swept in a vast curve from his triple chin to the floor, and his great rosy face was so exaggerated with merriment and good cheer that it looked like one seen in the shining swell of a silver tankard. When Nick Barry finished a roaring song, he stamped and clapped and shouted applause till it set off the others with applause of it, and the place was a pandemonium. Then that same coloured woman who had parleyed with me the other day, and was that night glowing like a savage princess—as in truth she may have been, for she had a high look as of an unquenched spirit, in spite of her degradation of body and estate—went about with a free swinging motion of hips, bearing a tray filled with pewter mugs of strong spirits. Around this woman’s neck glittered row on row of beads, and she wore a great flame-coloured turban, and long gold eardrops dangled to her shoulders against the glossy blackness of her cheeks, and bracelets tinkled on her polished arms, which were mighty shapely, though black. In faith, the wench, had she but possessed roses and lilies for her painting, instead of that duskiness as of the cheek of midnight, had been a beauty such as was seldom seen. Her dark face was instinct with mirth and jollity, and, withal, a fierce spark in the whitening roll of her eyes under her flame-coloured turban made one think of a tiger-cat, and roused that knowledge of danger which adds a tingle to interest. A man could scarce take his eyes from her. though there were other women there and not uncomely ones. Another black wench there was, clad as gayly, but sunk in a languorous calm like a great cat, with Nick Barry, now his song was done, lolling against her, and two white women, one young and well favoured, and the other harshly handsome, both with their husbands present, and I doubt not decent women enough, though something violent of temper. As I entered, Mistress Allgood, one of them, begun a harangue at the top of a shrill voice, with her husband plucking vainly at her sleeve to temper her vehemence. Mistress Allgood was long and lean, and gaunt, with red fires in the hollows of her cheeks and a compelling flash of black eyes under straight frowning brows. “Gentlemen,” said