“Not in the least,” said I, whereupon those nearest instinctively shrank farther from me, while Old Amos rose and shuffled towards the door.
“I’ve heerd o’ folk sellin’ theirselves to the devil afore now.” said he.
“You be a danged fule, Joel Amos!” exclaimed the Ancient angrily.
“Fule or no—I never see a chap wi’ such a tur’ble dark-lookin’ face afore, an’ wi’ such eyes—so black, an’ sharp, an’ piercin’ as needles, they be—ah! goes through a man like two gimblets, they do!” Now, as he spoke, Old Amos stretched out one arm towards me with his first and second fingers crossed: which fingers he now opened wide apart, making what I believe is called “the horns,” and an infallible safeguard against this particular form of evil.
“It’s the ‘Evil Eye,’” said he in a half whisper, “the ’Evil Eye’!” and, turning about, betook himself away.
One by one the others followed, and, as they passed me, each man averted his eyes and I saw that each had his fingers crossed.
So it came to pass that I was, thenceforward, regarded askance, if not openly avoided, by the whole village, with—the exception of Simon and the Ancient, as one in league with the devil, and possessed of the “Evil Eye.”
IN WHICH DONALD BIDS ME FAREWELL
Halcyon days! my masters, happy, care-free, halcyon days! To waken to the glory of a summer’s morning, and shaking off dull sleep, like a mantle, to stride out into a world all green and gold, breathing a fragrant air laden with sweet, earthy smells. To plunge within the clear, cool waters of the brook whose magic seemed to fill one’s blood with added life and lust of living. Anon, with Gargantuan appetite, to sit and eat until even Donald would fall a-marvelling; and so, through shady coppice and sunny meadow, betimes to work.
Halcyon days! my masters, happy, care-free, halcyon days! with the ringing hammers, the dancing sparks mounting upon the smoke, the sweat, the toil, yet all lightened with laugh and song and good-fellowship.
And then, the labor done, the fire dead—Black George to his lonely cottage, and I to “The Bull”—there to sit between Simon and the Ancient, waited upon by the dexterous hands of sweet-eyed Prudence. What mighty rounds of juicy beef, washed down by draughts of good brown ale! What pies and puddings, prepared by those same slender, dexterous hands! And later, pipe in mouth, what grave discussions upon men and things—peace and war—the dead and the living—the rise and fall of nations—and Simon’s new litter of pigs! At last, the “Good nights” being said—homeward through the twilit lanes, often pausing to look upon the shadowy woods, to watch some star, or hearken to the mournful note of a night jar, soft with distance.
What wonder if, at this time, my earlier dreams and ambitions faded from my ken; what wonder that Petronius Arbiter, and the jolly Sieur de Brantome lay neglected in my dusty knapsack.