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"Peter," said the Ancient, after we had gone a little way, "Peter, I do 'opes as you aren't been an' gone an' rose my Prue's 'opes only to dash 'em down again."
"I can but do my best, Ancient."
"Old Un," said Simon, "'tweren't Peter as rose 'er 'opes, 'twere you; Peter never said nowt about bringin' Jarge 'ome--"
"Simon," commanded the Ancient, "hold thy tongue, lad; I says again, if Peter's been an' rose Prue's 'opes only to dash 'em 't will be a bad day for Prue, you mark my words; Prue's a lass as don't love easy, an' don't forget easy."
"Why, true, Gaffer, true, God bless 'er!"
"She be one as 'ud pine--slow an' quiet, like a flower in the woods, or a leaf in autumn--ah! fade, she would, fade an' fade!"
"Well, she bean't a-goin' to do no fadin', please the Lord!"
"Not if me an' Peter an' you can 'elp it, Simon, my bye--but we 'm but poor worms, arter all, as the Bible says; an' if Peter 'as been an' rose 'er 'opes o' freein' Jarge, an' don't free Jarge --if Jarge should 'ave to go a convic' to Austrayley, or--or t' other place, why then--she'll fade, fade as ever was, an' be laid in the churchyard afore 'er poor old grandfeyther!"
"Lord, Old Un!" exclaimed Simon, "who's a-talkin' o' fadin's an' churchyards? I don't like it--let's talk o' summ'at else."
"Simon," said the Ancient, shaking his head reprovingly, "ye be a good bye--ah! a steady, dootiful lad ye be, I don't deny it; but the Lord aren't give you no imagination, which, arter all, you should be main thankful for; a imagination's a troublesome thing --aren't it, Peter?"
"It is," said I, "a damnable thing!"
"Ay--many's the man as 'as been ruinated by 'is imagination --theer was one, Nicodemus Blyte were 'is name--"
"And a very miserable cove 'e sounds, too!" added Simon.
"But a very decent, civil-spoke, quiet young chap 'e were!" continued the Ancient, "only for 'is imagination; Lord! 'e were that full o' imagination 'e couldn't drink 'is ale like an ordinary chap--sip, 'e'd go, an' sip, sip, till 'twere all gone, an' then 'e'd forget as ever 'e'd 'ad any, an' go away wi'out paying for it--if some 'un didn't remind 'im--"
"'E were no fule, Old Un!" nodded Simon.
"An' that weren't all, neither, not by no manner o' means," the Ancient continued. "I've knowed that theer chap sit an' listen to a pretty lass by the hour together an' never say a word--not one!"
"Didn't git a chance to, p'r'aps?" said Simon.
"It weren't that, no, it were jest 'is imagination a-workin' an' workin' inside of 'im, an' fillin' 'im up. 'Ows'ever, at last, one day, 'e up an' axed 'er to marry 'im, an' she, bein' all took by surprise, said 'yes,' an' went an' married some'un else."
"Lord!" said Simon, "what did she go and marry another chap for?"
"Simon," returned the Ancient, "don't go askin' fulish questions. 'Ows'ever, she did, an' poor Nicodemus growed more imaginative than ever; arter that, 'e took to turnips."
"Turnips?" exclaimed Simon, staring.
"Turnips as ever was!" nodded the Ancient, "used to stand, for hours at a time, a-lookin' at 'is turnips an' shakin' 'is 'ead over 'em."
"But--what for?--a man must be a danged fule to go shakin' of 'is 'ead over a lot o' turnips!"
"Well, I don't know," rejoined the Ancient; "'is turnips was very good uns, as a rule, an' fetched top prices in the markets."
At this juncture there appeared a man in a cart, ahead of us, who flourished his whip and roared a greeting, a coarse-visaged, loud-voiced fellow, whose beefy face was adorned with a pair of enormous fiery whiskers that seemed forever striving to hide his ears, which last, being very large and red, stood boldly out at right angles to his head, refusing to be thus ambushed, and scorning all concealment.
"W'at--be that the Old Un--be you alive an' kickin' yet?"
"Ay, God be thanked, John!"
"And w'at be all this I 'ear about that theer Black Jarge--'e never were much good--but w'at be all this?"
"Lies, mostly, you may tak' your oath!" nodded the Ancient.
"But 'e've been took for poachin', ah! an' locked up at the 'All--"
"An' we 'm goin' to fetch un--we be goin' to see Squire--"
"W'at--you, Old Un? You see Squire--haw! haw!"
"Ah, me!--an' Peter, an' Simon, 'ere--why not?"
"_You_ see 'is Worship Sir Peregrine Beverley, Baronet, an' Justice o' the Peace--you? Ecod! that's a good un--danged if it ain't! An' what might you be wishful to do when ye see 'im--which ye _won't?_"
"Fetch back Jarge, o' course."
"Old Un, you must be crazed in your lead, arter Jarge killin' four keepers--Sir Peregrine's own keepers too--shootin' 'em stone dead, an' three more a-dyin'--"
"John," said the Ancient, shaking his head, "that's the worst o' bein' cursed wi' ears like yourn--"
"My ears is all right!" returned John, frowning.
"Oh, ah!" chuckled the old man, "your ears is all right, John --prize ears, ye might call 'em; I never seed a pair better grow'd--never, no!"
"A bit large, they may be," growled John, giving a furtive pull to the nearest ambush, "but--"
"Large as ever was, John!" nodded the Ancient--"oncommon large! an', consequent, they ketches a lot too much. I've kep' my eye on them ears o' yourn for thirty year an' more, John--if so be as they grows any bigger, you'll be 'earin' things afore they're spoke, an'--"
John gave a fierce tug to the ambush, muttered an oath, and, lashing up his horse, disappeared down the road in a cloud of dust.
"'Twere nigh on four year ago since Black Jarge thrashed John, weren't it, Simon?"
"Ah!" nodded Simon, "John were in 'The Ring' then, Peter, an' a pretty tough chap 'e were, too, though a bit too fond o' swingin' wi' 'is 'right' to please me."
"'E were very sweet on Prue then, weren't 'e, Simon?"
"Ah!" nodded Simon again; "'e were allus 'anging round 'The Bull'--till I warned 'im off--"
"An'-'e laughed at 'ee, Simon."
"Ah! 'e did that; an' I were going to 'ave a go at 'im myself; an' the chances are 'e'd 'ave beat me, seein' I 'adn't been inside of a ring for ten year, when--"
"Up comes Jarge," chuckled the Ancient. 'What's all this?' say Jarge. 'I be goin' to teach John 'ere to keep away from my Prue,' says Simon. 'No, no,' says Jarge, 'John's young, an' you bean't the man you was ten years ago--let me,' says Jarge. 'You?' says John, 'you get back to your bellers--you be purty big, but I've beat the 'eads off better men nor you!' 'Why, then, 'ave a try at mine,' says Jarge; an' wi' the word, bang! comes John's fist again' 'is jaw, an' they was at it. Oh, Peter! that were a fight! I've seed a few in my time, but nothin' like that 'ere."
"And when 'twere all over," added Simon, "Jarge went back to 'is 'ammer an' bellers, an' we picked John up, and I druv 'im 'ome in this 'ere very cart, an' nobody's cared to stand up to Jarge since."
"You have both seen Black George fight, then?" I inquired.
"Many's the time, Peter."
"And have you ever--seen him knocked down?"
"No," returned the Ancient, shaking his head, "I've seed 'im all blood from 'ead to foot, an' once a gert, big sailor-man knocked 'im sideways, arter which Jarge got fu'rus-like, an' put 'im to sleep--"
"No, Peter!" added Simon, "I don't think as there be a man in all England as could knock Black Jarge off 'is pins in a fair, stand-up fight."
"Hum!" said I.
"Ye see--'e be that 'ard, Peter!" nodded the Ancient. "Why, look!" he cried--"look 'ee theer!"
Now, looking where he pointed, I saw a man dart across the road some distance away; he was hidden almost immediately, for there were many trees thereabouts, but there was no mistaking that length of limb and breadth of shoulder.
"'Twere Black Jarge 'isself!" exclaimed Simon, whipping up his horses; but when we reached the place George was gone, and though we called and sought for some time, we saw him no more.
So, in a while, we turned and jogged back towards Sissinghurst.
"What be you a-shakin' your 'ead over, Old Un?" inquired Simon, after we had ridden some distance.
"I were wonderin' what that old fule Amos'll say when we drive back wi'out Jarge."
Being come to the parting of the ways, I descended from the cart, for my head was strangely heavy, and I felt much out of sorts, and, though the day was still young I had no mind for work. Therefore I bade adieu to Simon and the Ancient, and turned aside towards the Hollow, leaving them staring after me in wonderment.
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