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      But he knew he could do it. That morning he churned the soil with his heel, and knew he could conquer it.... He could plant those thistle-grounds with wheat.... Coward! his father was a coward if he shrank from fighting Boarzell. The land could be tamed just as young bulls could be tamed. By craft, by strength, by toughness man could fight the nature of a waste as well as of a beast. Give him Boarzell, and he would have his spade in its red back, just as he would have his ring in a bull's nose....

      "Yes," replied De Boteler.

      Immediately behind the cart walked Reuben with his mother on his arm. Her face was hidden in a clumsy black veil, which the Rye mantua-maker had assured her was the London fashion, and she was obviously ill at ease in the huge black shawl and voluminous skirts which the same fashion, according to the Rye mantua-maker, had decreed. Her hand pulled at Reuben's sleeve and stroked it as if for comfort. It was a smallish hand, and wonderfully soft for a farmer's wifebut then Mary Backfield had not lived like an ordinary farmer's wife. Under the thick veil, her face still had a certain soft colour and youthfulness, though she was nearly forty, and most women of her position were wrinkled and had lost their teeth by thirty-five. Also the curves of her figure were still delicate. She had been cherished by her husband, had done only light household work for him and borne him only two children. She carried the tokens of her happiness in smooth surfaces and soft lines.

      "Stephen, my son," she continued (as with his aid she arose and seated herself upon a wooden stool), "many days of sorrow have I seen, but this proud day is an atonement for all. My father was a freeman, but thy father was a serf;but all are alike in His eyes, who oftentimes gives the soul of a churl to him who dwelleth in castles, and quickens the body of the base of birth with a spirit that might honour the wearer of crimson and gold. My husband was a villein, but his soul spurned the bondage; and oftentimes, my son, when you have been an infant in my arms, thy father wished that the free-born breast which nourished you, could infuse freedom into your veins. He did not live to see it; but oh! what a proud day was that for me, when my son no longer bore the name of slave! I had prayedI had yearned for that day; and it at length repaid me for all the taunts of our neighbours, who reviled me because my spirit was not such as theirs!"The Squire's party was much the weakest in numbers,[Pg 9] but luck had given it the best weapons of that chance armament. Alce of Ellenwhorne had a fine knobbed stick, worth a dozen of the enemy's, while Lewnes of Coldblow had an excellent broken bottle. Young Elphee had been through the bruiser-mill, and routed his assailants with successive upper-cuts. The anti-Bardonites, on the other hand, were inclined to waste their strength; they fought in a congested, rabblesome way; also they threw their bottles, not realising that a bottle is much better as a club than a missile. The result was that quite early in the conflict their ammunition gave out, and they were reduced to sticks and fists.

      Chapter 2

      "He'll soon be able to do a bit of work wud us, Beatup," said Reuben apocalyptically."I'll have him on when he's ten or thereabouts, and at fifteen he'll be doing full man's work. I shouldn't wonder as how I'd never want another hand but youwe could manage the pl?ace, I reckon, till the lad's old enough, and then there'll be others...."


      Also he was in bad healthhis hardships and humiliations had wrought upon his body as well as his soul. He was not even the ghost of the man whose splendid swaggering youth had long ago in Peasmarsh church first made the middle-aged Reuben count his years. He stooped, suffered horribly from rheumatism, had lost most of his hair, and complained of his eyesight.The Tories."


      The frown was still on the baron's brow when Turner was introduced; but Isabella, veiling her displeasure under a smile of courtesy, said, with gentle condescension,


      "Oh, f?ather, d?an't be so hard!""He ?un't busted yet," said Coalbran.