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      Mrs. Backfield was the one to bear the brunt of these economies. She had been a trifle pampered during the latter days of her marriage, and set far more store than her sons on dainty food; also the work which she performed so well was a tax on her unaccustomedness. But she never grumbled, and this was not only because escape was near at hand. Strange to say, in these new days of his lordship, Reuben began to fill a place in her heart which he had never filled before. While her husband was alive, he had never really come inside her life, he had been an aloof, inarticulate being whom she did not understand. But now that he had asserted himself, she found herself turning towards him. She would have worked without prospect of releaseindeed, as the days went by, Harry and his home and her promised idleness dwindled in her thoughts."Friends," Greta said firmly. "That's nice. He's such a nice guyI bet you are, too." She smiled and took his arm. Her hand was slightly warm and very dry. Johnny took his first real look at her: she seemed shining, somehow, as if the hair had been lacquered, the face sprayed with a clear polish. The picture she made was vaguely unpleasant, and a little threatening.

      Caro was frightened, horrifiedshe broke free, and scrambled to her feet. She nearly wept, and it was clear even to his muddled brain that her invitation had been merely the result of innocence more profound than that which had stimulated her shyness. Rough seaman though he was, he was touched, and managed to soothe her, for she was too bashful and frightened to be really indignant. They walked a few yards further along the path, then at her request turned back towards Odiam.

      murmured Monty Scruggs. "I didn't suppose there was as many soldiers in all the world before."

      Once more she fell back into her state of terror and[Pg 293] delight. His coolness seemed to paralyse hershe could not act. She could only lie and watch him, trembling. Why had he changed so?he, who had never faltered in his attitude of stiff respect under her most outrageous and flirtatious digs.

      Something thick and icy seemed to creep into his blood, and he gripped the edge of the pew, as he stared at Realf, sitting there so unconsciously, his damped and brushed hair gleaming ruddily in the light that poured through some saint's aureole. He must not let this youngster beat him.... Beat him?the ice in his blood froze thickerafter all he had not done so very much during the twenty-six years he had toiled and struggled; he had won only a hundred acres of Boarzelllittle more than Realf had to start with ... and Realf was only twenty-five.Shorty came across a new cedar canteen with bright brass hoops. He slung it over his shoulder, with the thought that it would be a nice thing to send back to Maria, as a souvenir of the battle. She might hang it up in her room, or make a pin-cushion or a work-basket out of it.


      Reuben sprang to his feet. "YesI do! You're justabout right there. I'm starved fur work. I've never really worked in my life, and now I want to work till I drop. Look at my arm"and he showed them his brown hairy arm, where the muscles swelled in lumps under the skin"that's a workman's arm, and it's never worked yetpr?aperly. You let me send off Blackman and Becky, and see how we manage wudout 'em. I'll do most of the work myself, I promise you. I couldn't have too much."She was generally able to control these impulses, but as the days slipped by they grew too strong for her untrained resistance. She felt that she must make the most of her chances because they were so limitedbefore he went for ever she must have one more memory of his voice, his lookhis touch ... oh, no! her thoughts had carried her further than she had intended.



      "I do not see my way to helping Flightshot while I have so many other calls upon me. Richard is still unsettled, and unable entirely to support himself. I should be a poor friend indeed if after having induced my protg to abandon his home and rely on me, I should forsake him before he was properly established. Be a man, Ralph, and refuse to sell any more land to that greedy, selfish, unscrupulous old Backfield."