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"How old do 'ee think I be, Andrews ?" said Mary.
"Why, thirty next grass, maybe," guessed the gallant Andrews.
"A leetle more nor than that, anyhow," said Mary, bridling up, and by no means displeased at the insidious compliment; and then graciously added, "Come, you don't eat; take another slice o' meat, and another mug."
It is needless to say the invitation was complied with.
"What the dickens is the matter with our master?" said Andrews. "He seemed quite in a winegar fever this mornin'."
"I tell you what it is," said Mary; "he ain't bin right sin' them College chaps came among us.
"A couple o' yellow-beaked boys!" muttered Andrews. "Sure-ly they can't put his nose out o joint; thof I did hear say them Watsons up yonder brought out the brown loaf to him t'other day. Sartin 'tis he were as hurried and flurried this mornin' for all the world like a dry leaf in a whirlwind."
"Them are upstart folk, them Watsons," remarked Mary.
"Yes; I've hard Jem say (and he knows a thing or two) that their larder's the smallest possible; and that a dish o' fricaseed wind and stewed tinder would last the two old frumps for a week on end!"
Here ensued another hearty laugh. Andrews, however, notwithstanding the cachinnatory interruption, managed to ply his knife and fork so cleverly during
the colloquy, that he contrived to scrape the bladebone to an alarming bareness.
But no clue to the cause of the "Squire's" unaccountable change was elicited by the two domestics. The fact is, the news had not yet spread abroad. When it had gone the customary round of the teatable tattlers, it gradually extended to the kitchen, and from thence in a right line to the whole village.
It was confidently reported, that late one evening the well-known grey mare of Josiah Greene was seen standing at the door of a small house in the neighbouring market-town, where dwelt in genteel retirement a "young lady," who had certainly no claim to a "character" from her last place!
All the spinsters were "horrified," while the married ladies dreaded the force of example, and all concurred in the opinion that the "Doctor" was a very shocking old man.
The Radical little lawyer, with the fear of an action for slander or calumny before his eyes, pretended to take up the cudgels in favour of his rival, and ingeniously contradicted the report wherever he went.
"Notwithstanding the well-known difference of their political views, he would not-nay, he could not for a moment entertain so injurious and illiberal an opinion of Greene as to think he could possibly do so and so." And then, having completely aroused the curiosity of those who had heard nothing of the malicious report, he proceeded to relate the shameful rumour which had got abroad.
Poor Greene, however, was the only individual in
the village who was in ignorance of the rising storm which threatened the wreck of his moral character, and was daily more and more puzzled to imagine the cause of the frigidity and indifference of his friends.
At length the whole mystery burst upon the astonished philosopher like a thunder-clap.
Busily occupied one evening in the arrangement of his fractured pebbles, his tranquillity was suddenly disturbed by the announcement of the lawyer.
"This is really an unexpected honour," said Greene ironically.
The lawyer bowed, looked grave, and took a
"I have i tidings," - commenced the man of law.
"Eh, what?" cried Greene. "Why, what Radical is likely to lose his election ?"
"None; but there is a staunch Tory likely to be put out,'" retorted the lawyer.
Why, I am sorry to say it, but my client, Farmer Hodges, has instructed me to serve you with notice of action for a trespass."
"Me?" exclaimed Greene, starting up from his
"You. He accuses you of riding across one of his enclosures late on the evening of the 10th instant, and of doing considerable damage to his crop or crops, and of breaking certain fences of wood."
"A fine story, truly!" cried Greene, recovering "Let me see-the 10th-that was
Thursday-yes, Thursday. I was never out of the
house the whole of the day."
"That remains to be proved.
Hodges has three
or four credible witnesses who have made oath to the identity of the horse or mare."
Umph!" cried the mystified Greene; "this is strange very strange! - unaccountable!"
rising, he rang the bell.
Mary answered the summons.
"Where is Andrews ?" demanded he.
Watering the cabbage-plants," replied the ancient
"Send him in immediately."
Old Andrews appeared with his blue apron tucked up on one side, and the perspiration standing upon his brown and ruddy brow.
"Pray, Andrews, do you ever recollect," said Greene," that I have ridden Mimmy of an evening ?" "No, sir, never."
"Can you swear to this?" demanded the lawyer.
"Take my bible-oath on it afore any justice in the county," replied Andrews, positively doubling his huge fist, and beating the air emphatically to clench his asseveration.
The "Squire" then proceeded to repeat the accusation the lawyer had made.
"It's all a flam, by jingo!" cried Andrews, looking excited and confused.
"Are you prepared upon your oath-(remember an oath is an awful thing, Andrews !)—are you ready upon your oath, I repeat, to say that, to the best of
your knowledge and belief, the grey mare was not out of the stable on the evening of Thursday last ?" "Thursday evening!" repeated Andrews, scratching his ear
"The infallible resource
To which embarrassed people have recourse,"
and looking rather confused," Thursday evening?" "Remember, Andrews," said Greene anxiously, "that I am threatened with a law-suit for damages, and that I rely confidently upon your evidence to exculpate me. Yes, your old master may be ruined; for I am resolved to spend the last farthing I have in the world in defending my cause."
Andrews looked seriously at his worthy master, then at the lawyer, and his knees evidently trembled. At last recovering his possession of mind, he exclaimed,
"Yes!-she were out, as I am a sinner, and hope to be saved!"
"There!" said the lawyer; "that is enough." "What! do you, too, mean to bear false witness against me?" said Josiah.
"No, no, no!" said Andrews convulsively, and dropping on his knees. "Pardon me, dear master! I b'lieve for a sartainty the old gentleman ha' got the upper hand o' me. There's never no mischief but he has a finger in the pie. Them two devil-may-care chaps at the house yonder has led me into this