“Much rustier!” Very slowly a smile dawned on the wrinkled old face, and very slowly the eyes were lowered till they met mine.
“Eh, lad! but I be glad o’ that—we be all growin’ older, Peter, an’—though I be a wonnerful man for my age, an’ so strong as a cart-’orse, Peter, still, I du sometimes feel like I be growin’ rustier wi’ length o’ days, an’ ’tis a comfort to know as that theer stapil’s a-growin’ rustier along wi’ me. Old I be, but t’ stapil’s old too, Peter, an’ I be waitin’ for the day when it shall rust itself away altogether; an’ when that day comes, Peter, then I’ll say, like the patriach in the Bible: ’Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace!’ Amen, Peter!”
“Amen!” said I. And so, having watched the old man totter across to “The Bull,” I turned into the smithy and, set about lighting the fire.
IN WHICH I LEARN OF AN IMPENDING DANGER
I am at the forge, watching the deepening glow of the coals as I ply the bellows; and, listening to their hoarse, not unmusical drone, it seems like a familiar voice (or the voice of a familiar), albeit a somewhat wheezy one, speaking to me in stertorous gasps, something in this wise:
“Charmian Brown—desires to thank—Mr. Smith but because thanks —are so poor and small—and his service so great—needs must she remember him—”
“Remember me!” said I aloud, and, letting go the shaft of the bellows the better to think this over, it naturally followed that the bellows grew suddenly dumb, whereupon I seized the handle and recommenced blowing with a will.
“—remember him as a gentleman,” wheezed the familiar.
“Psha!” I exclaimed.
“—yet oftener as a smith—”
“Hum!” said I.
“—and most of all—as a man.”
“As a man!” said I, and, turning my back upon the bellows, I sat down upon the anvil and, taking my chin in my hand, stared away to where the red roof of old Amos’s oast-house peeped through the swaying green of leaves.
“As a man?” said I to myself again, and so fell a-dreaming of this Charmian. And, in my mind, I saw her, not as she had first appeared, tall and fierce and wild, but as she had been when she stooped to bind up the hurt in my brow—with her deep eyes brimful of tenderness, and her mouth sweet and compassionate. Beautiful eyes she had, though whether they were blue or brown or black, I could not for the life of me remember; only I knew I could never forget the look they had held when she gave that final pat to the bandage. And here I found that I was turning a little locket round and round in my fingers, a little, old-fashioned, heart-shaped locket with its quaint inscription:
“Hee who myne heart
would keepe for long
Shall be a gentil man and strong.”
I was sitting thus, plunged in a reverie, when a shadow fell across the floor, and looking up I beheld Prudence, and straightway, slipping the locket back into the bosom of my shirt, I rose to my feet, somewhat shamefaced to be caught thus idle.