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in less than a moment. She followed up 'Bias, keeping wide and
running - yet not seeming to hasten - over the unbroken ground to the
left.

"Captain Hunken!"

'Bias, throwing all his weight back on the plough-tail, brought his team
to a halt and looked around. He was bewildered, yet he recognised the
voice.

While he paused thus, Cai steadily advanced to meet and pass him.
He was plainly at the mercy of his team - a grey and a brown, both of
conspicuous height - and they were drawing the furrow at their own sweet
will. But he, too, clung to the plough-tail, and his lips were
compressed, his eyes rigid, as he drew nearer, to meet and pass his
adversary. He, likewise, had cast coat and waistcoat aside: his hat he
had entrusted to an unknown backer. He saw nothing, as he came, but the
line of the furrow he prayed to achieve.

"Captain Hocken!" She stepped forward hardily, holding up a hand, and
Cai's team, too, came to a halt as if ashamed. "What - _what_ is the
meaning of this foolishness?"

"I've had enough, it _he_ has," said Cai sheepishly, glancing past her
and at 'Bias.

"I ain't doin' this for fun, ma'am," owned 'Bias. "Fact is, I'd 'most
as lief steer a monkey by the tail."

"Then drop it this instant, the pair of you!"

'Bias scratched his head.

"As for that, ma'am, I don't see how we can oblige. There's money on
it - bets."

"There won't be money's worth left in my field, at the rate you're
spoilin' it." She turned upon the two judges, who were advancing
timidly to placate her, while the crowd hung back. "And now, Mr
Nicholls - now, Mr Widger - I'd like to hear what _you_ have to say to
this!"

"'Tis a pretty old cauch, sure 'nough," allowed Mr Sam Nicholls, pushing
up the brim of his hat on one side and scratching his head while his eye
travelled along the furrows. "Cruel!"

"And you permitted it! You, that might be supposed to have _some_
knowledge o' farmin'!"

"Why, to be sure, ma'am," interposed Mr Widger, "we never reckoned as
'twould be so bad as all this. . . . Young Bill Crago came to us with
word as how these - these two gentlemen - had made a match, and he asked
us to do the judgin' same as for the classes 'pon the bills - "

"And so you started them? And then, I suppose, you couldn't stop for
laughin'?"

"Something like that, ma'am, _as_ you say," Mr Widger confessed.

"And what sort o' speech will you make, down to County Council, when I
send in my bill for damages? - you that complained to me, only this
mornin', how the rates were goin' up by leaps and bounds! . . . As for
these gentlemen," said Mrs Bosenna, turning on Cai and 'Bias with just a
twinkle of mischief in her eyes, "I shall be at home to-morrow morning
if they choose to call and make me an offer - unless, o' course, they
prefer to do so by letter."

At this, Dinah put up her hand suddenly to cover her mouth. But Cai and
'Bias were in no state of mind to catch the double innuendo.

Having thus reduced the judges to contrition, and having proceeded to
call forward the local secretary and to extort from him a long and
painful apology, Mrs Bosenna wound up with a threat to bundle the whole
Demonstration out of her field if she heard of any further nonsense,
and, taking Dinah's arm, sailed off (so to speak) with all the trophies
of war.

Cai and 'Bias walked away shamefacedly to seek out their bottleholders
and collect each his hat, coat, and waistcoat.

"But which of ee's won?" demanded their backers.

"_Damn_ who's won!" was 'Bias's answer; and he looked too dangerous to
be pressed further.

A wager is a wager, however; and the judges' decision was clamoured for,
with threats that, until it was given, the Agricultural Demonstration
would not be suffered to proceed. Mr Sam Nicholls consulted hastily
with Mr Widger, and announced the award as follows: -

"We consider Captain Hunken's ploughin' to be the very worst ploughin'
we've ever seen. But we award him the prize all the same, because we
don't consider Captain Hocken's ploughin' to be any ploughin' at all."

_Solvuntur risu tabulae_ - They can laugh, too, at Troy!



CHAPTER XIX.


ROSES AND THREE-PER-CENTS.

Although in her rose-garden - the rose-garden proper - Mrs Bosenna grew
all varieties of "Hybrid Perpetuals" (these ranked first with her, as
best suited to the Cornish soil and climate), with such "Teas" and
"Hybrid Teas" as took her fancy, and while she pruned these plants hard
in spring, to produce exhibition blooms, sentiment or good taste had
forbidden her to disturb the old border favourites that lined the
pathway in front of the house, or covered its walls and even pushed past
the eaves to its chimneys. Some of these had beautified Rilla year by
year for generations: the Provence cabbage-roses, for instance, in the
border, the Crimson Damask and striped Commandant Beaurepaire; the
moss-roses, pink and white, the China rose that bloomed on into January
by the porch. These, with the Marechal Niel by her bedroom window, the
scented white Banksian that smothered the southern wall, and the
climbing Devoniensis that nothing would stop or stay until its flag was
planted on the very roof-ridge, had greeted her, an old man's bride, on
her first home-coming. They had, in the mysterious way of flowers,
soothed some rebellion of young blood and helped to reconcile her to a
lot which, for a shrewd and practical damsel, was, after all, not
unenviable. She had no romance in her, and was quite unaware that the
roses had helped; but she took a sensuous delight in them, and this had
started her upon her hobby. A success or two in local flower-shows had
done the rest.

Now with a rampant climber such as Rosa Devoniensis it is advisable to
cut out each autumn, and clean remove some of the old wood; and this is
no easy job when early neglect has allowed the plant to riot up and over
the root-thatch. Mrs Bosenna had a particular fondness for this rose,
and for the gipsy flush which separates it from other white roses as an
unmistakable brunette. Yet she was sometimes minded to cut it down and
uproot it, for the perverse thing would persist on flowering at its
summit, and William Skin, sent aloft on ladders - whether in autumn or
spring to prune this riot, or in summer to reap blooms by the armful -
invariably did damage to the thatch.

Mrs Bosenna, then, gloved and armed with a pair of secateurs, stood next
morning by the base of the Devoniensis holding debate with herself.

The issue - that she would decide to spare the offender for yet another
year - was in truth determined; for already William Skin had planted one
ladder against the house-wall and had shuffled off to the barn for
another, to be hoisted on to the slope of the thatch, and there belayed
with a rope around the chimney-stack. But she yet played with the
resolve, taken last year, to be stern and order execution. She was
still toying with it when the garden-gate clicked, and looking up, she
perceived Captain Cai.

"Ah! . . . Good morning, Captain Hocken!"

Cai advanced along the pathway and gravely doffed his hat.
"Good morning, ma'am - if I don't intrude?"

"Not at all. In fact I was expecting you."

"Er - on which errand, ma'am?"

" - Which?" echoed Mrs Bosenna, as if she did not understand.

"Shall we take the more painful business first?" suggested Cai humbly.
"If indeed it has not - er - wiped out the other. The damage done
yesterday to your field, ma'am - "

"Have you brought Captain Hunken along with you?" asked Mrs Bosenna,
interrupting him.

"No, ma'am. He will be here in half an hour, sharp." Cai consulted his
watch.

"You have stolen a march on him then?" she smiled.

Cai flushed. "No, again, ma'am. Er - in point of fact we tossed up
which should call first."

"Then," said she calmly, "we'll leave that part of the business until he
arrives; though, since it concerns you both, I can't see why you did not
bring him along with you. Do you know," she added with admirable
simplicity, "it has struck me once or twice of late that you and Captain
Hunken are not the friends you were?"

Still Cai stared, his face mantling with confusion. This woman was an
enigma to him. Surely she must understand? Surely she must have
received that brace of letters to which she evaded all allusion?
And here was she just as blithely postponing all allusion to yesterday's
offence!

But no; not quite, it seemed; for she continued -

"I cannot think why you two should challenge one another as you did
yesterday, and make sillies of yourselves before a lot of farmers.
It - it humiliates you."

"We were a pair of fools," conceded Cai.

"What men cannot see somehow," she went on angrily, "is that it doesn't
end there. That kind of thing humiliates a woman; especially when - when
she happens to be cast on her own resources and it is everything to her
to find a man she can trust."

Mrs Bosenna threw into these words so much feeling that Cai in a moment
forgot self. His awkwardness fell from him as a garment.

"You may trust me, ma'am. Truly you may. Tell me only what I can do."

At this moment William Skin - a crab-apple of a man, whose infirmity of
deafness had long since reduced all the world for him to a vain
tolerable show, in which so much went unexplained that nothing caused
surprise - came stumbling around the corner of the house with a
waggon-rope and a second ladder, which he proceeded to rest alongside
the first one; showing the while no recognition of Cai's presence, even
by a nod.

"I want you," said Mrs Bosenna, "to invest a hundred pounds for me.
Oh!" - as Cai gave a start and glanced at Skin - "we may talk before him:
he's as deaf as a haddock."

"A hundred pounds?" queried Cai, still in astonishment.

"Yes; it's a sum I happen to have lyin' idle. At this moment it's in
the Bank, on deposit, where they give you something like two-and-a-half
only: and in the ordinary way I should put it into Egyptian three per
cents, or perhaps railways. My poor dear Samuel always had a great
opinion of Egypt, for some reason. He used to say how pleasant it was
in church to hear the parson readin' about Moses and the bulrushes, and
the plague of frogs and suchlike, and think he had money invested in
that very place, and how different it was in these days. Almost in his
last breath he was beggin' me to promise to stick to Egyptians, or at
any rate to something at three per cent and gilt-edged: because, you
see, he'd always managed all the business and couldn't believe that
women had any real sense in money affairs. . . . I didn't make any
promise, really; though in a sort of respect to his memory I've kept on
puttin' loose sums into that sort of thing. Three per cent is a silly
rate of interest, when all is said and done: but of course the poor dear
thought he was leavin' me all alone in the world, with no friend to
advise. . . ."

"I see," said Cai, his heart beginning to beat fast. "And it's
different now?"

"I - I was hopin' so," said Mrs Bosenna softly.

Cai glanced at the back of William Skin, who had started to hum - or
rather to croon - a tuneless song while knotting a rope to the second
ladder. No: it was impossible to say what he wished to say in the
presence of William Skin, confound him! Skin's deafness, Skin's
imperturbability, might have limits. . . .

"You wish me to advise you?" he controlled himself to ask.

"No, I don't. I wish you - if you'll do me the favour - just to take the
money and invest it without consultin' me. It's - well, it's like the
master in the Bible - the man who gave out the talents. . . . Only don't
wrap it in a napkin!" She laughed. "I don't even want to be told
_what_ you do with the money. I'd rather not be told, in fact.
I want to trust you."

"Why?"

She laughed again, this time more shyly. "'Trust is proof,'" she
answered, quoting the rustic adage. "You have given me some right to
make that proof, I think?"

Ah - to be sure - the letters! She must, of course, have received his
letter, along with 'Bias's, though this was her first allusion to it.
. . . Cai's brain worked in a whirl for some moments. She was offering
him a test; she was yielding upon honest and prudent conditions; she was
as good as inviting him to win her. . . . To do him justice, he had
never - never, at any rate, consciously - based his wooing on her wealth.
For aught he cared, she might continue to administer all she possessed.
The comforts of Rilla Farm may have helped to attract him, but herself
had been from the first the true spell.

He did not profess any knowledge of finance. A return of four per cent
on his own modest investments contented him, and he left these to Mr
Rogers.

"Ah!"

His mind had caught, of a sudden, at a really brilliant idea.

"I accept," said he firmly, looking Mrs Bosenna hard in the eyes, and
her eyes sank under his gaze.

"Hi! Heads!" sang out a voice, and simultaneously the ladder which
William Skin had been hauling aloft, came crashing down and struck the
flagged path scarcely two yards away.

A second later Cai had Mrs Bosenna in his arms. "You are not hurt?" he
gasped.

She disengaged herself with a half-hysterical laugh. "Hurt?
Am I? . . . No, of course I am not."

"The damned rope slipped," growled William Skin in explanation, from his
perch on the ladder under the eaves.

"Slipped?" Cai ran to the rope and examined it. "Of course it slipped,
you lubber!" He stepped back on the pathway and spoke up to Skin as he
would have talked on shipboard to a blundering seaman in the
cross-trees. "Ain't a slip-knot _made_ to slip? And when a man's fool
enough to tie one in place of a hitch - "

He cast off the rope, bent it around the rung with, as it seemed, one
turn of the hand, and with a jerk had it firm and true.

"Make way, up there!" he called.

"You're never going to - to risk yourself," protested Mrs Bosenna.

"Risk myself? Lord, ma'am, for what age d'ye take me?" Cai caught up
the slack of the rope and hitched it taut over his shoulder. He was
rejuvenated. He made a spring for the ladder, and went up it much as
twenty years ago he would have swarmed up the ratlines. "Make yourself
small," he commanded, as Skin, at imminent risk of falling, drew to one
side before his onset. Cai was past him in a jiffy, over the eaves,
balancing himself with miraculous ease on the slippery thatch.
"Now ease up the ladder!"

He had anchored himself by pure trick of balance, and was pulling with a
steady hand almost as soon as Skin, collecting his wits, could reach out
to fend the ladder off from crushing the edge of the eaves. Ten seconds
later, by seaman's sleight of foot, he had gained a second anchorage
half-way up the slope, had gathered up all the slack of the rope into a
seaman's coil, and with a circular sweep of the arm had flung it deftly
around the chimney. The end, instead of sliding down to his hand,
hitched itself among the thorns of the rampant Devoniensis. Did this
daunt him? It checked him for an instant only. The next, he had
balanced himself for a fresh leap, gained the roof-ridges, and, seated
astride of it, was hauling up the ladder, hand over fist, close to the
chimney-base.

The marvel was, the close thatch showed no trace of having been trampled
or disturbed.

"Darn the feller, he's as ajjile as a cat!" swore William Skin.

"Pass up the clippers, you below!" Cai commanded, forgetting that the
man was deaf. "If your mistress'll stand back in the path a bit, I'll
pick out the shoots one by one and hold 'em up for her to see, so's she
can tell me which to cut away."

"You'll scratch your hands to ribbons," Mrs Bosenna warned him.

"'Tisn't worth while comin' down for a pair of hedgin' gloves. . . .
I say, though - I've a better notion! 'Stead of lettin' this fellow run
riot here around the chimney-stack, why not have him down and peg him
horizontal, more or less, across and along the thatch, where he can be
seen?"

"Capital!" she agreed. "He'd put out more than twice the number of
blooms too. They do always best when laid lateral."

"He'll come down bodily with a little coaxin'. The question is how to
peg him when he's down?"

"Rick-spars," answered Mrs Bosenna promptly. "The small kind. There's
dozens in the waggon-house loft." She signalled to William Skin to come
down, bawled an order in his ear, and despatched him to fetch a score or
so.

"Hullo!" cried Cai, who, being unemployed for the moment, had leisure to
look around and enjoy the view from the roof-ridge. "If it isn't 'Bias
comin' up the path! . . . Hi! 'Bias!" he hailed boyishly, in the old
friendly tone.

'Bias, stooping to unlatch the gate, heard the call which descended, as
it were, straight from heaven, and gazed about him stupidly. He was
aware of Mrs Bosenna in the pathway, advancing a step or two to make him
welcome. She halted and laughed, with a glance up towards the roof.
'Bias's eyes slowly followed hers.

"Lord!" he muttered, "what made ye masthead him up there? . . . Been
misbehavin', has he? 'Tis the way I've served 'prentices afore now."

"On the contrary, he has been behaving beautifully - "

"Here, 'Bias!" called down Cai again. "Heft along the tall ladder half
a dozen yards to the s'yth'ard, and stand by to help. I'm bringin' down
this plaguy rose-bush, and I'll take some catchin' if I slip with it."

"'Who ran and caught him when he fell?' 'His Bias,'" quoted Mrs
Bosenna. "He has been doin' wonders up there, Captain Hunken. But if I
were you - a man of your weight - "

"I reckon," said 'Bias, stepping forward and seizing the ladder, which
he lifted as though it had been constructed of bamboo, "I han't forgot
all I learnt o' reefin' off the Horn." He planted the ladder and had
mounted it in a jiffy. "Now, then, what's the programme?" he demanded.

"You see this rose? Well, I got to collect it - I've tried the main
stem, and it'll bend all right, - and then I got to slide down to you.
After that we've to peg it out somewheres above the eaves, as Madam
gives orders. See?"

"I see. When you're ready, slide away."

Just then William Skin came hurrying back with an armful of rick-spars:
and within ten minutes the two rivals were hotly at work - yet
cheerfully, intelligently, as though misunderstanding had never been, -
clipping out dead wood from the rose-bush, layering it, pegging it,
driving in the spars, - while Mrs Bosenna called directions, and William
Skin gazed, with open mouth.

"This is better than ploughin', ma'am?" challenged Cai in his glee.

"So much better," agreed the widow, smiling up, "that I've almost a mind
to forgive the pair of you."

"But I won't ask you to stay for dinner to-day," she said later, when
the tangled mass of the Devoniensis had been separated, shoot from
shoot, and pegged out to the last healthy-looking twig, and the two men
stood, flushed but safe, on the pathway beside her. She stole a
confidential little glance at Cai. "For I understand from Captain
Hocken that you prefer to make your excuses separately. I have already
forgiven _him_: and it's only fair to give Captain Hunken his turn."

Who less suspicious than Cai? Had he been suspicious at all, what
better reassurance than the sly pressure of her hand as he bade her
good-day? . . . Poor 'Bias!

Once past the gate, and out of sight, Cai felt a strange desire to skip!


"Well, mistress, you are a bold one, I must say!" commented Dinah that
night by the kitchen fire, where Mrs Bosenna enjoyed a chat and, at this
season of the year, a small glass of hot brandy-and-water, with a slice
of lemon in it, before going to bed.

"I don't see where the boldness comes in," said the widow. She was
studying the fire, and spoke inattentively.

"Two hundred pounds!"

"Eh? . . . There's no risk in that. You may say what you like of
Captain Hocken or of Captain Hunken: but they're honest as children.
The money's as safe with them as in the bank."

"Well, it do seem to me a dashin' and yet a very cold-blooded way of
choosin' a man. Now, if I was taken with one - "

"Well?" prompted Mrs Bosenna, as Dinah paused.

"Call me weak, but I couldn't help it. I should throw myself straight
at his head, an' ask him to trample me under his boots!"

"A nice kind of husband you'd make of him then!" said her mistress
scornfully.

"I know, I know," agreed Dinah. "I've no power o' resistance at all,
an' I daresay the Almighty has saved me a lifetime o' trouble.
'Twould ha' been desperet pleasant at the time though." She sighed.

"But to give two men a hundred pound each, an' choose the one that
manages it best - "

"Worst," corrected Mrs Bosenna. "You ninny!" she went on with sovereign
contempt. "Do you really suppose I'd marry a man that could handle my
money, or was vain enough to suppose he could?"

"O - oh!" gasped Dinah as she took enlightenment. . . . "But two hundred
pounds is a terrible sum to spend in findin' out which o' two men is the
bigger fool. Why not begin wi' the one you like best, and find out
first if he's foolish enough to suit?"

"Because," answered Mrs Bosenna, turning meditative eyes again upon the
fire, "I don't happen to know which I like best."

"Then you can't be in love," declared foolish Dinah.

"Sensible women ain't; not until afterwards. . . . Now, which would you
advise me to marry?"

"Captain Hunken." Dinah's answer was prompt. "He's that curt. I like
a man to be curt; he makes it so hard for 'ee to say no. Besides which,
as you might say, that parrot of his did break the ice in a manner of
speakin'."

"Dinah, I'm ashamed of you."

"Well, mistress, natur' is natur': and we knows what we can't help
knowin'."

"That's true," Mrs Bosenna agreed. It was her turn to sigh.

"Cap'n Hunken's the man," repeated Dinah. She nodded her head on it and
paused. "Though, if you ask my opinion, Cap'n Hocken 'd make the better
husband."

"It's difficult."

"Ay. . . . For my part I don't know what you want with a husband at
all."

"Nor I," said Mrs Bosenna, still gazing into the fire.

"At the best 'tis a risk."

Mrs Bosenna sighed again. "If it weren't, where'd be the fun?"



CHAPTER XX.


A NEWSPAPER PARAGRAPH.

Mr Rogers enjoyed his newspaper. To speak more accurately, he enjoyed
several: and one of Fancy's duties - by no means the least pleasant or
the least onerous - was to read to him daily the main contents of
'The Western Morning News,' 'The Western Daily Mercury,' and
'The Shipping Gazette': and on Thursdays from cover to cover - at a
special afternoon _seance_ - 'The Troy Herald,' with its weekly bulletin
of more local news.

"What's the items this week?" asked Mr Rogers, puffing at a freshly lit
pipe and settling himself down to listen.

Fancy opened the paper at its middle sheet, folded it back and scanned
it.

"Here we are. 'If you want corsets, go to - ' no, that's an
advertisement. 'Troy Christian Endeavour. Under the auspices of the
above-named flourishing society - '"

"Skip the Christian Endeavour."

"Very well. The next is 'Wesley Guild. A goodly company met this week
to hear the Rev. J. Bates Handcock on "Gambling: its Cause and Cure."
The reverend gentleman is always a favourite at Troy - '"

"He's none of mine, anyway. Skip the Wesley Guild."

"Right-o! 'On Wednesday last, in spite of counter attractions, much
interest was testified by those who assembled in the Institute Hall to
hear Mr Trudgeon, lately returned from the United States, on the Great
Canyon of Colorado, illustrated with lantern slides. The lecturer in a
genial manner, after personally conducting his audience across the Great
Continent - '"

"Damn," said Mr Rogers. "Get on to the drunks. Ain't there any?"

"Seems not. How will this do?"

'Report says that Monday's Agricultural Demonstration
- a full report of which will be found in
another column - was not without its comic relief,
beloved of dramatists. On dit that - '"

"On what?"

"Dit. Misprint, perhaps."

'On dit that two highly respected sons of the
brine, recently settled in our midst, and one of
whom has recently been elected to teach our young
ideas how to shoot, were so fired with emulation
by the ploughing in Class C as to challenge one
another then and there to a trial of prowess, much
to the entertainment of our agricultural friends.
The stakes were for a considerable amount, and
the two heroes who had elected to plough something
more solid than the waves, quickly found
themselves the observed of all observers. Rumour,
that lying jade, hints at a lady in the case.


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