It wanted less than an hour to high water when Miss Marty Lear heard her brother’s boat take ground on the narrow beach below the garden, and set the knives and glasses straight while she listened for the click of the garden-latch.
A line of stunted hazels ran along the foot of the garden and hid the landing-place from Miss Lear as she stood at the kitchen window gazing down steep alleys of scarlet runners. But above the hazels she could look across to the fruit-growing village of St. Kits, and catch a glimpse at high tide of the intervening river, or towards low water of the mud-banks shining in the sun.
It was Miss Lear’s custom to look much on this landscape from this window: had, in fact, been her habit for close upon forty years. And this evening, when the latch clicked at length, and her brother in his market-suit come slouching up the path between the parallels of garden-stuff, her eyes rested all the while upon the line of grey water above and beyond his respectable hat.
Nor, when he entered the kitchen, hitched this hat upon a peg in the wall–where its brim accurately fitted a sort of dull halo in the whitewash–did he appear to want any welcome from her. He was a long-jawed man of sixty-five, she a long-jawed woman of sixty-one; and they understood each other’s ways, having kept this small and desolate farm together for thirty years–that is, since their father’s death.
A cold turnip-pasty stood on the table, with the cider-jug that Job Lear regularly emptied at supper. These suggested no small-talk, and the pair sat down to eat in silence.
It was only while holding out his plate for a second helping of the pasty that Job spoke with a full mouth.
“Who d’ee reckon I ran across to-day, down in Troy?”
Miss Marty cut the slice without troubling to say that she had not a notion.
“Why, that fellow Amos Trudgeon,” he went on.
“‘Pears to me you must be failin’ if you disremembers ‘en: son of old Sal Trudgeon, that used to keep the jumble-shop ‘cross the water: him that stole our eggs back-along, when father was livin’.”
“I thought you must. Why, you gave evidence, to be sure. Be dashed! now I come to mind, if you wasn’ the first to wake the house an’ say you heard a man hollerin’ out down ‘pon the mud.”
“Iss, I was.”
“An’ saved his life, though you did get ‘en two months in Bodmin Gaol by it. Up to the arm-pits he was, an’ not five minutes to live, when we hauled ‘en out, an’ wonderin’ what he could be doin’ there, found he’d been stealin’ our eggs. He inquired after you to-day.”
“Iss. ‘How’s Miss Marty?’ says he. ‘Agein’ rapidly,’ says I. The nerve that some folks have! Comes up to me as cool as my lord and holds out a hand. He’ve a-grown into a sort of commercial; stomach like a bow-window, with a watch-guard looped across. I’d a mind to say ‘Eggs’ to ‘en, it so annoyed me.”
“I hope you didn’t.”
“No. ‘Twould have seemed like bearin’ malice. ‘Tis an old tale, after all, that feat of his.”
“Nine an’ thirty year, come seventeenth o’ September next. Did he say any more?”
“Said the weather-glass was risin’, but too fast to put faith in.”
“I mean, did he ask any more about me?”
“Iss: wanted to know if you was married. I reckon he meant that for a bit o’ pleasantness.”
“Not that! Ah, not that!”
Job laid down knife and fork with their points resting on the rim of his plate, and, with a lump of pasty in one cheek, looked at his sister. She had pushed back her chair a bit, and her fingers were plucking the edge of the table-cloth.
“Not that!” she repeated once more, and hardly above a whisper. She did not lift her eyes. Before Job could speak–