“Talkin’ ’bout Prue,” said he, taking up his hat and removing his snuff-box therefrom ere he set it upon his head, “talkin’ ’bout Prue,” he repeated, with a pinch of snuff at his nostrils.
“Well?” The word seemed shot out of George involuntarily.
“Talkin’ ’bout Prue,” said the Ancient again, glancing at each of us in turn, “theer was some folks as used to think she were sweet on Jarge theer, but I, bein’ ’er lawful gran’feyther knowed different—didn’t I, Jarge?”
“Ay,” nodded the smith.
“Many’s the time I’ve said to you a-sittin’ in this very corner, ‘Jarge,’ I’ve said, ’mark my words, Jarge—if ever my Prue does marry some’un—which she will—that there some ‘un won’t be you.’ Them be my very words, bean’t they, Jarge?”
“Your very words, Gaffer,” nodded George.
“Well then,” continued the old man, “‘ere’s what I was a-comin’ to—Prue ‘s been an’ fell in love wi’ some ’un at last.”
Black George’s pipe shivered to fragments on the floor, and as he leaned forward I saw that his great hands were tightly clenched.
“Gaffer,” said he, in a strangled voice, “what do ’ee mean?”
“I means what I says, Jarge.”
“How do ’ee know?”
“Bean’t I the lass’s gran’feyther?”
“Be ye sure, Gaffer—quite sure?”
“Ay—sartin sure—twice this week, an’ once the week afore she forgot to put any salt in the soup—an’ that speaks wollums, Jarge, wollums!” Here, having replaced his snuff-box, the Ancient put on his hat, nodded, and bobbled away. As for Black George, he sat there, staring blindly before him long after the tapping of the Ancient’s stick had died away, nor did he heed me when I spoke, wherefore I laid my hand upon his shoulder.
“Come, George,” said I, “another hour, and the screen will be finished.” He started, and, drawing from my hand, looked up at me very strangely.
“No, Peter,” he mumbled, “I aren’t a-goin’ to work no more tonight,” and as he spoke he rose to his feet.
“What—are you going?” said I, as be crossed to the door.
“Ay, I’m a-goin’.” Now, as he went towards his cottage, I saw him reel, and stagger, like a drunken man.
IN WHICH WE DRAW YET NEARER TO THE END OF THIS FIRST BOOK
It is not my intention to chronicle all those minor happenings that befell me, now or afterward, lest this history prove wearisome to the reader (on the which head I begin to entertain grave doubts already). Suffice it then that as the days grew into weeks, and the weeks into months, by perseverance I became reasonably expert at my trade, so that, some two months after my meeting with Black George, I could shoe a horse with any smith in the country.