“Ninety-one years!” I repeated.
“As ever was!” returned the Ancient, with another nod. “I be the oldest man in these parts ‘cept David Relf, an’ ’e died last year.”
“Why then, if he’s dead, you must be the oldest,” said I.
“No,” said the Ancient, shaking his head,—“ye see it be this way: David were my brother, an’ uncommon proud ‘e were o’ bein’ the oldest man in these parts, an’ now that ‘e be dead an’ gone it du seem a poor thing—ah! a very poor thing!—to tak’ ’vantage of a dead man, an’ him my own brother!” Saying which, the Ancient rose, and we went on together, side by side, towards Sissinghurst village.
OF BLACK GEORGE, THE SMITH, AND HOW WE THREW THE HAMMER
“The Bull” is a plain, square, whitewashed building, with a sloping roof, and before the door an open portico, wherein are set two seats on which one may sit of a sunny afternoon with a mug of ale at one’s elbow and watch the winding road, the thatched cottages bowered in roses, or the quiver of distant trees where the red, conical roof of some oast-house makes a vivid note of color amid the green. Or one may close one’s eyes and hark to the chirp of the swallows under the eaves, the distant lowing of cows, or the clink of hammers from the smithy across the way.
And presently, as we sat there drowsing in the sun, to us came one from the “tap,” a bullet-headed fellow, small of eye, and nose, but great of jaw, albeit he was become somewhat fat and fleshy—who, having nodded to me, sat him down beside the Ancient, and addressed him as follows:
“Black Jarge be ‘took’ again, Gaffer!”
“Ah! I knowed ’twould come soon or late, Simon,” said the Ancient, shaking his head, “I knowed as ’e’d never last the month out.”
“Seemed goin’ on all quiet and reg’lar, though,” said the bullet-headed man, whom I discovered to be the landlord of “The Bull”—“seemed nice and quiet, and nothin’ out o’ the way, when, ’bout an hour ago it were, ’e ups and heaves Sam out into the road.”
“Ah!” said the old man, nodding his head again, “to be sure, I’ve noticed, Simon, as ‘tis generally about the twentieth o’ the month as Jarge gets ‘took.’”
“’E ’ve got a wonderful ’ead, ’ave the Gaffer!” said Simon, turning to me.
“Yes,” said I, “but who is Black George; how comes he to be ‘taken,’ and by what?”
“Gaffer,” said the Innkeeper, “you tell un.”
“Why, then,” began the Ancient, nothing loth, “Black Jarge be a gert, big, strong man—the biggest, gertest, and strongest in the South Country, d’ye see (a’most as fine a man as I were in my time), and, off and on, gets took wi’ tearin’s and rages, at which times ’e don’t mind who ’e ’its—”
“No—nor Wheer!” added the Innkeeper.
“Oh, ’e be a bad man, be Black Jarge when ’e’s took, for ’e ’ave a knack, d’ye see, of takin’ ‘old o’ the one nighest to un, and a-heavin’ of un over ’is ’ead’.”