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Interlopers at the Knap
by [?]

‘Don’t be out of heart, sonny,’ he cried. ‘Here’s a handpost. Enoch–come and climm this post, and tell us the way.’

The lad dismounted, and jumped into the hedge where the post stood under a tree.

‘Unstrap the baskets, or you’ll smash up that wine!’ cried Darton, as the young man began spasmodically to climb the post, baskets and all.

‘Was there ever less head in a brainless world?’ said Johns. ‘Here, simple Nocky, I’ll do it.’ He leapt off, and with much puffing climbed the post, striking a match when he reached the top, and moving the light along the arm, the lad standing and gazing at the spectacle.

‘I have faced tantalization these twenty years with a temper as mild as milk!’ said Japheth; ‘but such things as this don’t come short of devilry!’ And flinging the match away, he slipped down to the ground.

‘What’s the matter?’ asked Darton.

‘Not a letter, sacred or heathen–not so much as would tell us the way to the great fireplace–ever I should sin to say it! Either the moss and mildew have eat away the words, or we have arrived in a land where the natyves have lost the art o’ writing, and should ha’ brought our compass like Christopher Columbus.’

‘Let us take the straightest road,’ said Darton placidly; ‘I shan’t be sorry to get there–’tis a tiresome ride. I would have driven if I had known.’

‘Nor I neither, sir,’ said Enoch. ‘These straps plough my shoulder like a zull. If ’tis much further to your lady’s home, Maister Darton, I shall ask to be let carry half of these good things in my innerds–hee, hee!’

‘Don’t you be such a reforming radical, Enoch,’ said Johns sternly. ‘Here, I’ll take the turkey.’

This being done, they went forward by the right-hand lane, which ascended a hill, the left winding away under a plantation. The pit-a-pat of their horses’ hoofs lessened up the slope; and the ironical directing-post stood in solitude as before, holding out its blank arms to the raw breeze, which brought a snore from the wood as if Skrymir the Giant were sleeping there.


Three miles to the left of the travellers, along the road they had not followed, rose an old house with mullioned windows of Ham-hill stone, and chimneys of lavish solidity. It stood at the top of a slope beside King’s-Hintock village-street; and immediately in front of it grew a large sycamore-tree, whose bared roots formed a convenient staircase from the road below to the front door of the dwelling. Its situation gave the house what little distinctive name it possessed, namely, ‘The Knap.’ Some forty yards off a brook dribbled past, which, for its size, made a great deal of noise. At the back was a dairy barton, accessible for vehicles and live-stock by a side ‘drong.’ Thus much only of the character of the homestead could be divined out of doors at this shady evening-time.

But within there was plenty of light to see by, as plenty was construed at Hintock. Beside a Tudor fireplace, whose moulded four-centred arch was nearly hidden by a figured blue-cloth blower, were seated two women–mother and daughter–Mrs. Hall, and Sarah, or Sally; for this was a part of the world where the latter modification had not as yet been effaced as a vulgarity by the march of intellect. The owner of the name was the young woman by whose means Mr. Darton proposed to put an end to his bachelor condition on the approaching day.

The mother’s bereavement had been so long ago as not to leave much mark of its occurrence upon her now, either in face or clothes. She had resumed the mob-cap of her early married life, enlivening its whiteness by a few rose-du-Barry ribbons. Sally required no such aids to pinkness. Roseate good-nature lit up her gaze; her features showed curves of decision and judgment; and she might have been regarded without much mistake as a warm-hearted, quick-spirited, handsome girl.