It was a week after the finding of the water, and Mildred
Greenacre was in the little orchard at the back of the cottage.
There was a sickly smell in the air of dying May flowers; the
parched blossoms fell fast on her head as she stooped over the
nearly dried-up stream to fill her water-can. A half-starved
looking billy-goat rubbed its horned head coaxingly against her
and bleated piteously. It was trying its best to tell her that
there was no nourishment in the burned-up grass, which was all it
had to live on. Milly was paying very little attention to the
poor animal’s complaint, for she was kneeling on the bank,
holding on to a thorn bush with one hand, while she vainly strove
to reach the sunken water with the other. She made a pretty
picture in the broad sunlight, and it was not lost upon the
“laziest chap in th’ place,” as he sat idly balancing himself on
a gate opening into the field on the other side of the water.
For some time, unseen himself, he watched the girl’s fruitless
endeavours, and then he suddenly lifted up his voice and shouted,
so that she started and almost dropped her can.
“Hold hard, and I’ll help yer!”
Milly rose from her stooping position, and looked round to see
where the voice came from. Geo came slowly towards her. He came
slowly, because it never occurred to him to hurry! If ever he had
experienced an impulse to hasten his steps, it was at this
“I’ll fill yer can,” he said laconically, and without raising his
eyes to the pretty, flushed face across the stream.
“But you can’t,” said Milly; “you’re the wrong side, you see.”
“I on’t be there long, then,” replied Geo, measuring the distance
with his eye. “Yew git out a’ the way, and I’ll soon be alongside
“You’re never going to jump?” began Milly, with round eyes of
surprise. As she moved aside, but before the sentence was
finished, Geo had sprung across.
It was not much of a jump–nine feet or so–but Geo had not
attempted anything so athletic for many a long day, and it was
not surprising that he landed somewhat ungracefully on all fours,
and was rather breathless when he picked himself up, only to sit
down again very promptly and wipe his brow with a blue-and-white
Milly stood looking at him with surprise.
“Have you hurt yourself?” she ventured, after a minute.
“No, no, thank ye, only a bit shook; the ground is hard.”
“That it is,” said Milly–“like iron. If only the rain would
come, what a good job that would be!”
“That would indeed! But we’ve got water to drink at
last–leastways we shall have when the wells are dug.”
“How are they getting on with them?” asked Milly, forgetful of
her morning’s work for the moment.
“Well, the one on the common is gettin’ on fairly well. They’ve
got down about fifty feet; but that’s ‘mazin’ hard work, as you
[Illustration: “Nurse cast a satisfied glance round”]
“And the other, the one by the railway? I haven’t been round
there these three days, and my grandfather, he won’t have nothin’
to say to it.” Milly smiled as she said this, and an answering
smile showed itself on Geo’s broad face.
“No, so I heard say. He’s an old-fashioned old gentleman, he is.
He don’t go with th’ times no-how, do ‘ee?”
“That he don’t,” said Milly. “You should hear him goin’ on about
“Well,” said Geo, rising slowly from his recumbent position and
taking the can from the girl’s hand, “that’s a rum job
altogether. Them at the bridge can’t make nothin’ of it, and no
“Why do you go with them at the bridge at all?” broke in Milly
impatiently. “Who cares what they say or what they don’t say, I
should like to know?” very haughtily. “Give me my can, please; I
can get it myself!”
Geo stared at her, at a loss to account for the sudden change in
he look and manner. A minute ago she was evidently inclined to be
friendly, but now she was equally evidently inclined to be
extremely annoyed with him. Geo gave vent to his feelings in a
low, long whistle. Milly blushed crimson.
“I beg your pardon,” she said; “I oughtn’t to have said it.
That’s no business of mine whether you loaf all day on the bridge
not. But I have my work to do, and I mustn’t loiter here no more,
or I shall have grandfather after me.”
Geo stood quietly by while she made this rather long speech, and
was surprised to feel that he did not quite like it. He was
inclined to think he liked it better when she flashed out her
contempt for his idleness. But being a man of few words, and not
much felicity of expression, he merely muttered something
unintelligible, and leaning over the bank filled her can.
“I’ll car’ it for you if you’re agreeable,” he said shamefacedly,
and the two moved together towards the cottage.
“Thank you kindly,” Milly said gently when they reached the door;
but she did not ask him to step in, and he turned away awkwardly
enough, wishing he had the courage to tell the girl he had not
spoken to three time in his life since they were at school
together that he was tired of his companions on the bridge, and
would gladly change his habits if only she would be friends with
With a gruff “You’re welcome, I’m sure,” he slouched off towards
As he turned out of the lane by the bridge, Corkam caught sight
of him, and called after him,—
“Geo, come here, buoy! What are you arter, slinking away like
that? Why, that nigh on time for a pint!”
But Geo, for once in his life, turned the other way, and
sauntered up the road to the new well by the railway. The men had
given up work for a spell, and were sitting in the shadiest spot
they could find eating their “‘levenses.” Geo lay down under the
fence with them.
“If I’d ha’ known what a job this ‘oud ha’ bin,” said one man,
“blow me if I’d ha’ took it on.”
“Hard work, is it?” said Geo pleasantly.
“Ay, hard work indeed–harder work nor you iver did a’ your born
days, I’ll lay a sovr’in’.”
For the first time since Geo didn’t know when, he felt a twinge
of shame at these rough words, and his eyes fell on his own
hands, fine, strong, well-shaped, capable hands, tanned with sun
and wind, but not hardened with toil like the other men’s. A big,
good-natured looking man, who had just swallowed a good draught
of home-made “small beer,” spoke suddenly, as if he had divined
the other’s thoughts.
“They look as if they cold do a day’s work as well as mine,” he
said, holding out a pair of rough, strong limbs, with sinews like
those of Longfellow’s village blacksmith, and muscles standing
out, hard and healthy, as a working man’s should be. “Let me feel
your muscles, buoy.” He gripped Geo’s arm as he spoke. “Pulp!”
he ejaculated, not ill-naturedly, however–“pulp! How come they
like that? Have you had th’ fever, buoy!”
“Mighty little fever about him,” said the man who had spoken
first. “That’s want a’ work wot’s the matter a’ him! _He_ never
had a wet jacket a’ his life! He’s too much a’ th’ gentleman, is
Mr. George Lummis, and so was his father before ‘im–like father,
like son. He was a precious sight too grand to keep his own wife
when he was alive, and niver did na more nor trap a rabbit when
there worn’t nothin’ to eat in th’ house.”
“You lie!” said George, with sudden anger leaping up in his face,
and standing with blazing eyes staring at the sneering workman.
“Say what you like about me, but you leave my father alone, or
I’ll know what for.”
“Hullo, hullo!” said the good-natured man, who was a stranger,
and had no idea of raising such a storm when he remarked on Geo’s
very apparent strength of frame. “Hullo! stow that; that a sight
too hot for quarrelling. We’ll ha’ to go to work again in twenty
minutes, and tha would be a good lot more pleasant to have a
whiff a’ bacca than commin’ to fisticuffs a’ this heat. Sit down,
young man, and don’t be a fule.”
But Geo was much to irate to follow this obviously good advice.
Without appearing to notice the stranger’s words, he strolled off
with as unconcerned an air as he could to the bridge. His
possible good resolutions had all faded away, swallowed up in the
blow his vanity had received, and a few minutes later he had
joined his friends Farley and Corkam in their far less harmless
“‘levenses” at the inn. Here he regaled them with an account of
his passage of arms with the stranger, and received their
sympathy and strongly-expressed advice to do as he pleased, “and
be hanged to them!” There might be a late “haysel,” and he might
get taken on for the time, and put a few pounds in his pocket to
tide him over till harvest. So when Milly passed over the bridge
at about one o’clock with her grandfather’s dinner, which she was
taking to him where he was at work to save him the hot walk home
and back, she saw Geo with a flushed face and bravado air leaning
against the bridge, with his familiar pals on either side. Milly
saw, but she took no notice, and passed with her head in the air
and an angry spot on either cheek. The girl was furious with
herself for having taken an interest, even a momentary one, in
such a worthless, good-for-nothing as Geo, and still more annoyed
to think that she had let him see it.
“That’s a tidy maid,” said the cripple, with the air of a critic,
as she passed, and both men were surprised at Geo’s answer.
“What’s that to you?” said Geo, in a sullen tone; and he crossed
over, and became apparently completely engrossed in watching for
a trout under a stone.