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Love Among the Haystacks
by [?]

“I thought you said next load,” Maurice called, sulkily.

“Aye! All right. But isn’t this bottom corner–?”

Maurice, impatient, took no notice.

Geoffrey strode over the stack, and stuck his fork in the offending corner.”What–here?” he bawled in his great voice.

“Aye–isn’t it a bit loose?” came the irritating voice.

Geoffrey pushed his fork in the jutting corner, and, leaning his weight on the handle, shoved. He thought it shook. He thrust again with all his power. The mass swayed.

“What art up to, tha fool!” cried Maurice, in a high voice.

“Mind who tha’rt callin’ a fool,” said Geoffrey, and he prepared to push again. Maurice sprang across, and elbowed his brother aside. On the yielding, swaying bed of hay, Geoffrey lost his foothold, and fell grovelling. Maurice tried the corner.

“It’s solid enough,” he shouted angrily.

“Aye–all right,” came the conciliatory voice of the father; “you do get a bit of rest now there’s such a long way to cart it,” he added reflectively.

Geoffrey had got to his feet.

“Tha’ll mind who tha’rt nudging, I can tell thee,” he threatened heavily; adding, as Maurice continued to work, “an’ tha non ca’s him a fool again, dost hear?”

“Not till next time,” sneered Maurice.

As he worked silently round the stack, he neared where his brother stood like a sullen statue, leaning on his fork-handle, looking out over the countryside. Maurice’s heart quickened in its beat. He worked forward, until a point of his fork caught in the leather of Geoffrey’s boot, and the metal rang sharply.

“Are ter going ta shift thysen?” asked Maurice threateningly. There was no reply from the great block. Maurice lifted his upper lip like a dog. Then he put out his elbow, and tried to push his brother into the stack, clear of his way.

“Who are ter shovin’?” came the deep, dangerous voice.

“Thaïgh,” replied Maurice, with a sneer, and straightway the two brothers set themselves against each other, like opposing bulls, Maurice trying his hardest to shift Geoffrey from his footing, Geoffrey leaning all his weight in resistance. Maurice, insecure in his footing, staggered a little, and Geoffrey’s weight followed him. He went slithering over the edge of the stack.

Geoffrey turned white to the lips, and remained standing, listening. He heard the fall. Then a flush of darkness came over him, and he remained standing only because he was planted. He had not strength to move. He could hear no sound from below, was only faintly aware of a sharp shriek from a long way off. He listened again. Then he filled with sudden panic.

“Feyther!” he roared, in his tremendous voice: “Feyther! Feyther!”

The valley re-echoed with the sound. Small cattle on the hill-side looked up. Men’s figures came running from the bottom field, and much nearer a woman’s figure was racing across the upper field. Geoffrey waited in terrible suspense.

“Ah-h!” he heard the strange, wild voice of the girl cry out.”Ah-h!”–and then some foreign wailing speech. Then: “Ah-h! Are you dea-ed!”

He stood sullenly erect on the stack, not daring to go down, longing to hide in the hay, but too sullen to stoop out of sight. He heard his eldest brother come up, panting:

“Whatever’s amiss!” and then the labourer, and then his father.

“Whatever have you been doing?” he heard his father ask, while yet he had not come round the corner of the stack. And then, in a low, bitter tone:

“Eh, he’s done for! I’d no business to ha’ put it al
l on that stack.”

There was a moment or two of silence, then the voice of Henry, the eldest brother, said crisply:

“He’s not dead–he’s coming round.”

Geoffrey heard, but was not glad. He had as lief Maurice were dead. At least that would be final: better than meeting his brother’s charges, and of seeing his mother pass to the sick-room. If Maurice was killed, he himself would not explain, no, not a word, and they could hang him if they liked. If Maurice were only hurt, then everybody would know, and Geoffrey could never lift his face again. What added torture, to pass along, everybody knowing. He wanted something that he could stand back to, something definite, if it were only the knowledge that he had killed his brother. He musthave something firm to back up to, or he would go mad. He was so lonely, he who above all needed the support of sympathy.