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"What I feel about it," said Cai modestly at dinner, "is that I mightn't be equal to the position, not havin' studied education."
"Education!" echoed Mrs Bosenna in a high tone of contempt and with a half vicious dig of her carving-fork into the breast of a goose that Dinah had browned to a turn. (Both Cai and 'Bias had offered to carve for her, but she had declined their services, being anxious to provoke no further jealousy. Also be it said that the operation lends itself, even better than does the game of spillikins, to a pretty display of hands and wrists). "Education! You know enough, I hope, to tell the Board to get rid of their latest craze. You'll hardly believe it," she went on, turning to 'Bias, "but I happened to pass the Girls' School the other day, and if there wasn't a piano going!--yes, actually a piano! When you come to think that the parents of some of those children don't earn sixteen shillings a-week!"
"Mons'rous," 'Bias agreed.
"But I don't understand, ma'am," said Cai, "that the children themselves play the piano. I made inquiries about that, it being a new thing since my day: and I'm told it's for the teachers to use in singin' lessson, an' to help the children to keep time at drill an' what-not."
"The teachers? And who are the teachers, I'd like to know?--Nasty stuck-up things, if they want the children to keep time, what's to prevent their calling out 'One, two--right, left' like ordinary people? But--oh, dear me, no! We're quite above that! So it's tinkle-tum, tinkle-tum, and all out of the rates."
"But 'one, two--right, left' wouldn' carry ye far in a singin' lesson," urged Cai.
"And who wants all this singin'? There's William Skin, my waggoner, for instance--five children, and a three-roomed cottage--all the children attending school, and regular, too. Pleasant life it would be for William, with all five coming home with 'The Sea, the Open Sea' in their mouths and all about the house when he gets home from work! Leastways it would be, if he wasn't providentially deaf."
"Is the woman deaf, too?" asked 'Bias.
"No. She believes in Education," said Mrs Bosenna. "She's bound to believe in anything that takes the children off her hands five days in the week."
Cai puckered his brow. "But," said he, harking back, "I made inquiries, too, who paid for the piano, and was told the teachers had collected the money by goin' round with a subscription-list an gettin' up little entertainments. So it doesn't come out of the rates."
"You appear to have had your eye on this openin' for some time," retorted Mrs Bosenna, with a faint flush of annoyance. She very much disliked being proved in the wrong. "And it's not very polite of you to contradict me!"
Cai was crestfallen at once. "I didn' mean it in that light, ma'am," he stammered; "and I only made inquiries, d'ye see? Bein' ignorant of so many things ashore. You'd be astonished how ignorant 'Bias an' me found ourselves, first-goin' off."
"Speak for yourself," put in 'Bias.
"You should have come to me," said Mrs Bosenna. "I could have told you all about Education, especially the sort that ought to be given to labourers' children; and it's astonishin' to me the way some people will talk on matters they know nothing about. My late husband made a study of the question, having been fined five shillin' and costs, the year before he married me, just for withdrawing a dozen children from school to pick his apples for him. As luck would have it, one of them fell off a tree and broke his leg, and that gave the Board an excuse to take the matter up. My husband argued it out with the Bench. 'The children like it,' he said, 'for it keeps 'em out of doors, and provides 'em with healthy exercise. If Education sets a boy against climbing for apples, why then,' says he, speaking up boldly, 'with your Worships' leave, Education must be something clean against Nature, as I always thought it was. And the parents like it, for the coppers it brings in. And the farmer gets his apples saved. If that's so,' says he, 'here's a transaction that benefits everybody concerned, instead of which the Board goes out of its way to harass me for it.' The chairman, Sir Felix, owned he was right, too. 'Bosenna,' says he, 'I can't answer you if I would. Nothing grieves me more, sitting here, than having to administer the law as I find it. But, as things are, I can't let you off with less.'"
* * * * * * *
This anecdote, and the close arguments used by Mr Bosenna, plunged Cai in thought; and for the remainder of the meal he sat abstracted, joining by fits and starts in the conversation, now and then raising his eyes to a portrait of the deceased farmer, an enlarged and highly-tinted photograph, which gazed down on him from the opposite wall. The gaze was obstinate, brow-beating, as though it challenged Cai to find a flaw in the defence: and Cai, although dimly aware of a fallacy somewhere, could not meet the challenge. He lowered his eyes again to his plate. He found himself wondering if, in any future circumstances, Mrs Bosenna would consent to hang the portrait in another apartment. . . .
Into so deep an abstraction it cast him, indeed, that when Mrs Bosenna arose to leave them to their wine and tobacco, he scrambled to his feet a good three seconds too late. . . . 'Bias (usually lethargic in his movements) was already at the door, holding it open for her.
What was worse--'Bias having closed the door upon her, returned to his seat with a slight but insufferable air of patronage, and--passed the decanter of wine to him!
"You'll find it pretty good," said 'Bias, dropping into his chair and heavily crossing his legs.
Cai swallowed down a sudden tide of rage. "After you!" said he with affected carelessness. "I've tasted it afore."
"Well--if you won't--" 'Bias stretched out a slow arm, filled his glass, and set down the decanter beside his own dessert plate. "You'll find those apples pretty good," he went on, sipping the wine, "though not up to the Cox's Orange Pippins or the Blenheim Oranges that come along later." He smacked his lips. "You'd better try this port wine. Maybe 'tis a different quality to what you tasted when here by yourself."
"Thank 'ee," answered Cai. "I said 'after you.'"
"Oh?" 'Bias pushed the decanter. "You weren't very tactful just now, were you?" he asked after a pause. "Is it the same wine?"
"O' course it is. . . . When wasn't I tactful?"
"Why, when you upped an' contradicted her like that." 'Bias started to fill his pipe. "Women are--what's the word?--sensitive; 'specially at their own table."
"I didn' contradict her," maintained Cai. "Leastways--"
"There's no reason to lose your temper about it, is there? . . . You gave me that impression, an' if you didn' give her the same, I'm mistaken."
"I'm not losin' my temper."
"No? . . . Well, whatever you did, 'tis done, an' no use to fret. Only I want you and Mrs Bosenna to be friends--she bein' our landlady, so to speak."
"Thank 'ee," said Cai again, holding a match to his pipe with an agitated hand. "If you remember, I ought to know it, havin' had all the early dealin's with her."
"She's very well disposed to you, too," said 'Bias. "Nothing could have been kinder than the way she spoke when I mentioned this School-Board business: nothing. We'd be glad, both of us, to see you fixed up in that job."
"I wonder you didn't think of takin' it on yourself."
"I did," confessed 'Bias imperturbably.
"You? . . . Well, what next?"
"I thought of it. . . . Only for a moment, though. First place, I didn' want to stand in your way; an' next, as you was sayin' just now, 'tis a ticklish matter when a man starts 'pon a business he knows nothing about. But you'll soon pick it up, bein' able to give your whole time to it."
"That might apply to you."
To this 'Bias made no reply. He smoked on, pressing down the tobacco in the bowl of his pipe. The two friends sat in a constrained silence, now and again pushing the wine politely.
"When you are ready?" suggested 'Bias at length--as Cai helped himself to a final half-glassful, measuring it out with exactitude and leaving as much or may be a trifle more at the bottom of the decanter. "Ladies don't like to be kept waitin' too long."
Cai swallowed the wine and stood up, swallowing down also an inward mirth to which his anger had given way. During the last minute or two he had been recalling many things,--his first meeting with Mrs Bosenna; his first call at Rilla; her remarks on that occasion, upon the grace of a cultivated manner in men; some subsequent glances, intimate almost; above all, the clutch upon his protective arm. . . . He felt sorry for 'Bias. Under the rosy influence of Mrs Bosenna's wine he felt genuinely sorry for 'Bias, while enjoying the humorous aspect of 'Bias's delusion. 'Bias--for whose lack of polish he had from the first made Excuse--'Bias laying down the law on what ladies liked and disliked!
They arose heavily and strolled forth to view the livestock. It was wonderful with what ease these two retired seamen, without instruction, dropped into the farm-master's routine. So (if in other words) Dinah remarked, glancing out of the mullioned window of the kitchen as she fetched a fresh faggot for the hearth on which her mistress had already begun to set out the heavy-cake and potato-cake in preparation for tea-time.
"--the afternoon habits, I mean," explained Dinah. "Just glimpsy out o' window, mistress, an' see the pair o' men down there--along studyin' the pigs. Wouldn' know a pig's starn from his stem, I b'lieve, if th' Almighty hadn' clapped on a twiddling tail, same as they put in books to show where a question ends. When they come to that, they're safe. . . . But from their backs, mistress--do 'ee but take a look now, do--you wouldn' guess they weren't just as knowledgeable as th' old master himself, as used to judge pigs for the Royal Cornwall--the poor old angel! I can see him now, after the best part of a bottle o' sherry, strollin' out to the styes."
"Don't, Dinah!" entreated Mrs Bosenna, stealing a glance nevertheless: which Dinah demurely noted. "It's--it's all so recent!"
"Ay," agreed Dinah, and mused, standing boldly before the window, knuckles on hips. "You couldn' say now, takin' 'em separate, what it is that puts me more in mind of th' old master."
"Go about your work, you foolish woman."
"I suppose," said Dinah, withdrawing her gaze reluctantly and obeying, "there's always a something about a man!"
Mrs Bosenna stood by the kitchen-table, patting up another barm-cake. She had a hand even lighter than Dinah's with flour and pastry. . . . The two captains had moved on to the gate of Home Parc, and she could still espy them past the edge of the window. She saw Captain Hunken draw his hand horizontally with a slow explanatory gesture and then drop it abruptly at a right angle.
* * * * * * *
'Bias was, in fact, at that moment expounding to Cai, point by point and in a condescending way, the right outline of a prize Devon shorthorn. Mrs Bosenna (who had taught him the little he knew) guessed as she watched the exposition, pursing her lips.
* * * * * * *
"A trifle o' bluffness in the entry don't matter, if you understand me," said 'Bias, retrieving his lesson. "Aft o' that, no sheer at all; a straight line till you come to the rump,--or, as we'll say, for argyment's sake, the counter--an' then a plumb drop, plumb as a quay-punt."
"Where did you pick up all this?" asked Cai.
"I don't make any secret about it," 'Bias owned. "Mrs Bosenna taught me. Though, when you come to think it out, 'tis as straightforward as sizing up a vessel. You begin by askin' yourself what the objec' in question--call it a cow, or call it a brigantine--was designed for. Now what's a cow designed for?"
"Milk, I suppose," hazarded Cai.
"Very well, then, I take you at that: the squarer the cow the more she holds. It stands to reason."
"I don't know." Cai made some show of obstinacy, but, it is feared, rather to test his friend than to arrive at the truth. "A round cow,-- supposing there was such a thing--"
"But there isn't. It's out of the question."
"I speak under correction," said Cai thoughtfully; "but looking at what cows I've seen,--end on. And anyway, you can't call a cow's udder square; not in any sense o' the word."
"What beats me, I'll confess," said 'Bias, shifting the argument, "is how these butchers and farmers at market can cast their eye over a bullock an' judge his weight to a pound or two. 'Tis a trick, I suppose; but I'd like to know how it's worked."
"If 'twas a vessel, now, an' tons burden in place o' pounds' weight, you an' me might guess pretty right. But when it comes to a bullock!"
"I don't see," objected Cai, "how it consarns either of us."
"You don't?" asked 'Bias with a look which, for him, was quick and keen.
"To be sure I don't," answered Cai. "If it happened as I wanted to buy a bullock to eat, all at one time--and if so be as I found myself at market in search o' one,--I should be anxious about the weight. That goes without sayin'. An' the odds are I should ask the honestest-lookin' fellow handy to give a guess for me. But with you an' me 'tis a question o' two pounds o' rump steak. I know by the look if 'tis tender, and I can tell by a look at the scales if 'tis fair weight. I don't ask to be shown the whole ox."
"I daresay you're right," said 'Bias, apparently much 'relieved. "It'll save a lot of trouble, anyhow, if you're goin' in for public life. A man in public life can't afford time for details such as weighin' bullocks. But, for my part, I'm beginnin' to take an interest in agriculture."
"And why not?" agreed Cai. "There's no prettier occupation than farmin', so long as a man contents himself with lookin' on an' don't start practising it. Actual farmin' needs capital, o' course."
To this 'Bias made no response, but continued to stare thoughtfully at Mrs Bosenna's kine.
"After all," pursued Cai cheerfully, "these little interests are the salt of a leisurable man's life. I dare say, f'r instance, as Philp gets quite an amount o' fun out o' funerals, though to me it seems a queer taste. Every man to his hobby; and yours, now, I can understand. When you've finished potterin' around the garden, weedin' an' plantin', --an', by the way, the season for plantin' isn't far off. It's about time we looked up those autumn catalogues we talked so much about back in the spring."
"True," said 'Bias. "It has slipped my mind of late. An' you not mentionin' either--"
"Somehow it had slipped mine too. . . . All that Regatta business, I suppose. . . . And now, if I am to take up with this School Board there'll be more calls on my time. But there! If I turn over both the gardens to you, I reckon you won't object. 'Twill be so much the more occupation,--not o' course," added Cai, "that I want to shirk doin' my share. But, as I was sayin', when you've done your day's job at the garden, an' taken your stroll down to the quay to pick up the evenin' gossip, what healthier wind-up can there be than to stretch your legs on a walk to one of the two-three farms in the parish, an' note how the crops are comin' on, an' the beef an' mutton, so to speak, an' how the cows are in milk; an' maybe drop in for tea an' a chat?--here at Rilla, f'r instance, where you'll always be sure of a welcome."
"You're sure o' that?" asked 'Bias. The words came slowly, heavily charged with meaning.
"Why, o' course you will! . . . 'Twas your own suggestion, mind you. 'Takin' an' interest in agriculture' was your words. I don't promise, o' course, that you'll make much of it, first along. Learnin's half the fun--"
But here Mrs Bosenna's voice called to them, and they turned together almost guiltily to see her climbing the slope above the mow-hay, with springy gait and cheeks charmingly flushed by recent caresses of the kitchen-fire.
"If you care for it," she greeted them, "there's just time for a stroll to Higher Parc and back while Dinah lays tea. A breath of fresh air will do me all the good in the world"--little she looked to be in need of it--"and I don't suppose either of you knows what a glorious view you'll get up there? All the harbour and shipping at your feet, and miles of open Channel beyond! My poor dear Robert used to say there wasn't its equal in Cornwall."
Cai could assure her in all innocence that he had never heard tell of Higher Parc and its famous view; nor did it occur to him to turn and interrogate his friend, who was flushing guiltily.
If Mrs Bosenna saw the flush, she ignored it. She led the way to a stile; clambered over it, declining their help, agile as a maid of seventeen; and struck a footpath slanting up and across a turnip-field at the back of the farmstead. The climb, though not steep, was continuous, and the chimneys of Rilla lay some twenty or thirty feet below them, when they reached a second stile and, overing it, stood on the edge of a mighty field, the extent of which could not be guessed, for it domed itself against the sky, cutting off all view of hedge or limit beyond.
"This is Higher Parc," announced Mrs Bosenna. "Ten acres."
"Oh?" exclaimed Cai with a sudden flash of memory. "And stubble!"
He glanced at 'Bias. But 'Bias, who, if he heard the innuendo, read nothing in it, was gazing up the slope as though he had never set eyes on Higher Parc before in all his life.
They made their way up across the stubble, Mrs Bosenna picking her steps daintily among the sharp stalks that shone like a carpet stiff with gold against the level sunset. The shadows of the three walked ahead of them, stretching longer and longer, vanishing at length over the ridge. . . . And the view from the ridge was magnificent, as Mrs Bosenna had promised. The slope at their feet hid the jetties--or all save the tops of the loading-cranes: but out in midstream lay the sailing vessels and steamships moored to the great buoys, in two separate tiers, awaiting their cargoes. Of the sailing vessels there were Russians, with no yards to their masts, British coasters of varying rig, Norwegians, and one solitary Dutch galliot. But the majority flew the Danish flag--your Dane is fond of flying his flag, and small blame to him!--and these exhibited round bluff bows and square-cut counters with white or varnished top-strakes and stern-davits of timber. To the right and seaward, the eye travelled past yet another tier, where a stumpy Swedish tramp lay cheek-by-jowl with two stately Italian barques--now Italian-owned, but originally built in Glasgow for traffic around the Horn--and so followed the curve of the harbour out to the Channel, where sea and sky met in a yellow flood of potable gold. To the left the river-gorge wound inland, hiding its waters, around overlapping bluffs studded with farmsteads and (as the eye threaded its way into details) peopled here and there with small colonies of farm-folk working hard, like so many groups of ants,--some cutting, others saving, the yellow corn, all busy forestalling night, when no man can work.
Uplands, where the harvesters Pause in the swathe, shading their eyes, to watch Or barge or schooner stealing up from sea: Themselves in twilight, she a twilit ghost Parting the twilit woods.
. . . While Cai and 'Bias stood at gaze, drinking it all in, Mrs Bosenna--whose senses were always quick--turned, looked behind her, and uttered a little scream.
"Steers! . . . That Middlecoat's steers--they've broken fence again! Oh--oh! and whatever shall I do?"
Cai and 'Bias, wheeling about simultaneously, were aware of a small troop of horned cattle advancing towards them leisurably, breasting the golden rays on the stubble-field, and spreading as they advanced.
"Do, ma'am?" echoed 'Bias, taking in the situation at a glance. "Why, turn 'em back, to be sure!" He started off to meet the herd.
"--While you run for the stile," added Cai, preparing to follow as bravely. But Mrs Bosenna caught his arm.
"I'm--I'm so silly," she confessed in a tremulous whisper, "about horned beasts--when they don't belong to me."
"Dangerous, are they?" asked Cai. He lingered, although 'Bias had advanced some twenty paces to meet the herd, three or four of which had already come to a halt, astonished at being thus interrupted in an innocent ramble. "We'll head 'em off while you run."
"No, no!" pleaded Mrs Bosenna; and Cai hung irresolute, for the pressure on his arm was delicious. It crossed his mind for a moment that a lady so timid with cattle had no business to be dwelling alone at Rilla Farm.
"It's different--with my own cows," gasped Mrs Bosenna, as if interpreting and answering this thought in one breath. "I'm used to them--but Mr Middlecoat will insist on keeping these wild beasts!-- though he knows I'm a lone woman and they're not to be held by any fences--"
"I'd like to give that Middlecoat a piece of my mind," growled Cai, and swore. His arm by this time was about Mrs Bosenna's waist, and she was yielding to it. But he saw 'Bias still steadily confronting the herd-- saw him lift an arm, a hand grasping a hat, and wave it violently--saw thereupon the steers swing about and head back for the gate, heads down, sterns heaving and plunging. Cai swore again and reluctantly loosened his embrace.
"Run, dear!" The word drummed in his ears as he pelted to 'Bias's rescue. 'Bias, as a matter of fact, needed neither rescue nor support. The steers after spreading and scattering before his first onset, were converging again in a rush back upon the open gateway. They charged through it in a panic, jostling, crushing through the narrow way: and 'Bias, still frantically waving his hat, had charged through it after them before Cai, assured now that his friend had the mastery, halted and drew breath, holding a hand to his side.
'Bias had disappeared. Cai heard his voice, at some little distance, still chivvying the steers down the lane beyond the gate. . . . Then, as it seemed, another voice challenged 'Bias's, and the two were meeting in angry altercation.
"Mr Middlecoat!" gasped a voice close behind him. Cai swung about, and to his amazement confronted Mrs Bosenna. Instead of retreating she had followed up the pursuit.
"But I told you--" he began, in a tone of indignant command.
"You don't know Mr Middlecoat's temper. I'm afraid--if they meet--" She hurried by him, towards the gate.
Cai took fresh breath and dashed after her. They passed the gateway neck and neck. At a turning some fifty yards down the lane--Cai leading now by a stride or two--they pulled up, panting.
'Bias, his back blocking the way, stood there confronting a young farmer: and the young farmer's face was red with a bull-fury.
"You damned trespasser!"
"Trespasser?" echoed 'Bias, squaring up. "What about your damned trespassing cattle?"
Mrs Bosenna stepped past Cai and flung herself between the combatants. Strange to say she ignored 'Bias, and faced the enemy, to plead with him.
"Mr Middlecoat, how can you be so foolish? He's as good as a prize-fighter!"
The young farmer stared and lowered his guard slowly.
"Your servant, ma'am! . . . A prize-fighter? Why couldn't he have told me so, at first?"
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