Richard took the small folio and carried it to his own chamber, where he read and partly understood the poem. But he was not ripe enough either in philosophy or religion for such meditations. Having executed his task, for as such he regarded it, he turned to look through the strange mixture of wisdom and credulity composing the volume. One tale after another, of witch, and demon, and magician, firmly believed and honestly recorded by his worthy relative, drew him on, until he sat forgetful of everything but the world of marvels before him—to none of which, however, did he accord a wider credence than sprung from the interest of the moment. He was roused by a noise of quarrel in the farmyard, towards which his window looked, and, laying aside reading, hastened out to learn the cause.
It was a bright Autumn morning. A dry wind had been blowing all night through the shocks, and already some of the farmers had begun to carry to their barns the sheaves which had stood hopelessly dripping the day before. Ere Richard reached the yard, he saw, over the top of the wall, the first load of wheat-sheaves from the harvest-field, standing at the door of the barn, and high-uplifted thereon the figure of Faithful Stopchase, one of the men, a well-known frequenter of puritan assemblies all the country round, who was holding forth, and that with much freedom, in tones that sounded very like vituperation, if not malediction, against some one invisible. He soon found that the object of his wrath was a certain Welshwoman, named Rees, by her neighbours considered objectionable on the ground of witchcraft, against whom this much could with truth be urged, that she was so far from thinking it disreputable, that she took no pains to repudiate the imputation of it. Her dress, had it been judged by eyes of our day, would have been against her, but it was only old-fashioned, not even antiquated: common in Queen Elizabeth’s time, it lingered still in remote country places—a gown of dark stuff, made with a long waist and short skirt over a huge farthingale; a ruff which stuck up and out, high and far, from her throat; and a conical Welsh hat invading the heavens. Stopchase, having descried her in the yard, had taken the opportunity of breaking out upon her in language as far removed from that of conventional politeness as his puritanical principles would permit. Doubtless he considered it a rebuking of Satan, but forgot that, although one of the godly, he could hardly on that ground lay claim to larger privilege in the use of bad language than the archangel Michael. For the old woman, although too prudent to reply, she scorned to flee, and stood regarding him fixedly. Richard sought to interfere and check the torrent of abuse, but it had already gathered so much head, that the man seemed even unaware of his attempt. Presently, however, he began to quail in the midst of his storming. The green eyes of the old woman, fixed upon him, seemed to be slowly fascinating him. At length, in the very midst of a volley of scriptural epithets, he fell suddenly silent, turned from her, and, with the fork on which he had been leaning, began to pitch the sheaves into the barn. The moment he turned his back, Goody Rees turned hers, and walked slowly away.