“What do you mean?” she asked quickly.
“I mean that, in all probability, the man you saw was Black George, a very good friend of mine, who, though he may imagine he has a grudge against me, is too much of a man to lie in wait to do me hurt.”
“Then why should he hide in the hedge?”
“Because he committed the mistake of throwing the town Beadle over the churchyard wall, and is, consequently, in hiding, for the present.”
“He has an ill-sounding name.”
“And is the manliest, gentlest, truest, and worthiest fellow that ever wore the leather apron.”
Seeing how perseveringly she kept the whole breadth of the path between us, I presently fell back and walked behind her; now her head was bent, and thus I could not but remark the little curls and tendrils of hair upon her neck, whose sole object seemed to be to make the white skin more white by contrast.
“Peter,” said she suddenly, speaking over her shoulder, “of what are you thinking?”
“Of a certain steak pasty that was promised for my supper,” I answered immediately, mendacious.
“And what,” I inquired, “what were you thinking?”
“I was thinking, Peter, that the—shadow in the hedge may not have been Black George, after all.”
“This table wobbles!” said Charmian.
“It does,” said I, “but then I notice that the block is misplaced again.”
“Then why use a block?”
“A book is so clumsy—” I began.
“Or a book? Why not cut down the long legs to match the short one?”
“That is really an excellent idea.”
“Then why didn’t you before?”
“Because, to be frank with you, it never occurred to me.”
“I suppose you are better as a blacksmith than a carpenter, aren’t you, Peter?” And, seeing I could find no answer worthy of retort, she laughed, and, sitting down, watched me while I took my saw, forthwith, and shortened the three long legs as she had suggested. Having done which, to our common satisfaction, seeing the moon was rising, we went and sat down on the bench beside the cottage door.
“And—are you a very good blacksmith?” she pursued, turning to regard me, chin in hand.
“I can swing a hammer or shoe a horse with any smith in Kent —except Black George, and he is the best in all the South Country.”
“And is that a very great achievement, Peter?”
“It is not a despicable one.”
“Are you quite satisfied to be able to shoe horses well, sir?”
“It is far better to be a good blacksmith than a bad poet or an incompetent prime minister.”
“Meaning that you would rather succeed in the little thing than fail in the great?”
“With your permission, I will smoke,” said I.
“Surely,” she went on, nodding her permission, “surely it is nobler to be a great failure rather than a mean success?”