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    Chapter 2
    Previous Chapter
    (March 1914)

    The valley was so choked with fog that one could scarcely see a cow's
    length across a field. Every blade, twig, bracken-frond, and hoof-print
    carried water, and the air was filled with the noise of rushing ditches
    and field-drains, all delivering to the brook below. A week's November
    rain on water-logged land had gorged her to full flood, and she
    proclaimed it aloud.

    Two men in sackcloth aprons were considering an untrimmed hedge that ran
    down the hillside and disappeared into mist beside those roarings. They
    stood back and took stock of the neglected growth, tapped an elbow of
    hedge-oak here, a mossed beech-stub there, swayed a stooled ash back and
    forth, and looked at each other.

    'I reckon she's about two rod thick,' said Jabez the younger, 'an' she
    hasn't felt iron since--when has she, Jesse?'

    'Call it twenty-five year, Jabez, an' you won't be far out.'

    'Umm!' Jabez rubbed his wet handbill on his wetter coat-sleeve. 'She
    ain't a hedge. She's all manner o' trees. We'll just about have to--' He
    paused, as professional etiquette required.

    'Just about have to side her up an' see what she'll bear. But hadn't we
    best--?' Jesse paused in his turn, both men being artists and equals.

    'Get some kind o' line to go by.' Jabez ranged up and down till he found
    a thinner place, and with clean snicks of the handbill revealed the
    original face of the fence. Jesse took over the dripping stuff as it
    fell forward, and, with a grasp and a kick, made it to lie orderly on
    the bank till it should be faggoted.

    By noon a length of unclean jungle had turned itself into a cattle-proof
    barrier, tufted here and there with little plumes of the sacred holly
    which no woodman touches without orders.

    'Now we've a witness-board to go by!' said Jesse at last.

    'She won't be as easy as this all along,' Jabez answered. 'She'll need
    plenty stakes and binders when we come to the brook.'

    'Well, ain't we plenty?' Jesse pointed to the ragged perspective ahead
    of them that plunged downhill into the fog. 'I lay there's a cord an' a
    half o' firewood, let alone faggots, 'fore we get anywheres anigh
    the brook.'

    'The brook's got up a piece since morning,' said Jabez. 'Sounds like's
    if she was over Wickenden's door-stones.'

    Jesse listened, too. There was a growl in the brook's roar as though she
    worried something hard.

    'Yes. She's over Wickenden's door-stones,' he replied. 'Now she'll flood
    acrost Alder Bay an' that'll ease her.'

    'She won't ease Jim Wickenden's hay none if she do,' Jabez grunted. 'I
    told Jim he'd set that liddle hay-stack o' his too low down in the
    medder. I _told_ him so when he was drawin' the bottom for it.'

    'I told him so, too,' said Jesse. 'I told him 'fore ever you did. I told
    him when the County Council tarred the roads up along.' He pointed
    uphill, where unseen automobiles and road-engines droned past
    continually. 'A tarred road, she shoots every drop o' water into a
    valley same's a slate roof. 'Tisn't as 'twas in the old days, when the
    waters soaked in and soaked out in the way o' nature. It rooshes off
    they tarred roads all of a lump, and naturally every drop is bound to
    descend into the valley. And there's tar roads both two sides this
    valley for ten mile. That's what I told Jim Wickenden when they tarred
    the roads last year. But he's a valley-man. He don't hardly ever
    journey uphill.'

    'What did he say when you told him that?' Jabez demanded, with a little
    change of voice.

    'Why? What did he say to you when _you_ told him?' was the answer.

    'What he said to you, I reckon, Jesse.'

    'Then, you don't need me to say it over again, Jabez.'

    'Well, let be how 'twill, what was he gettin' _after_ when he said what
    he said to me?' Jabez insisted.

    'I dunno; unless you tell me what manner o' words he said to _you_.'

    Jabez drew back from the hedge--all hedges are nests of treachery and
    eavesdropping--and moved to an open cattle-lodge in the centre of
    the field.

    'No need to go ferretin' around,' said Jesse. 'None can't see us here
    'fore we see them.'

    'What was Jim Wickenden gettin' at when I said he'd set his stack too
    near anigh the brook?' Jabez dropped his voice. 'He was in his mind.'

    'He ain't never been out of it yet to my knowledge,' Jesse drawled, and
    uncorked his tea-bottle.

    'But then Jim says: "I ain't goin' to shift my stack a yard," he says.
    "The Brook's been good friends to me, and if she be minded," he says,
    "to take a snatch at my hay, I ain't settin' out to withstand her."
    That's what Jim Wickenden says to me last--last June-end 'twas,'
    said Jabez.

    'Nor he hasn't shifted his stack, neither,' Jesse replied. 'An' if
    there's more rain, the brook she'll shift it for him.'

    'No need tell _me_! But I want to know what Jim was gettin' _at_?'

    Jabez opened his clasp-knife very deliberately; Jesse as carefully
    opened his. They unfolded the newspapers that wrapped their dinners,
    coiled away and pocketed the string that bound the packages, and sat
    down on the edge of the lodge manger. The rain began to fall again
    through the fog, and the brook's voice rose.

    * * * * *

    'But I always allowed Mary was his lawful child, like,' said Jabez,
    after Jesse had spoken for a while.

    "Tain't so.... Jim Wickenden's woman she never made nothing. She come
    out o' Lewes with her stockin's round her heels, an' she never made nor
    mended aught till she died. _He_ had to light fire an' get breakfast
    every mornin' except Sundays, while she sowed it abed. Then she took an'
    died, sixteen, seventeen, year back; but she never had no childern.'

    'They was valley-folk,' said Jabez apologetically. 'I'd no call to go in
    among 'em, but I always allowed Mary--'

    'No. Mary come out o' one o' those Lunnon Childern Societies. After his
    woman died, Jim got his mother back from his sister over to Peasmarsh,
    which she'd gone to house with when Jim married. His mother kept house
    for Jim after his woman died. They do say 'twas his mother led him on
    toward adoptin' of Mary--to furnish out the house with a child, like,
    and to keep him off of gettin' a noo woman. He mostly done what his
    mother contrived. 'Cardenly, twixt 'em, they asked for a child from one
    o' those Lunnon societies--same as it might ha' been these Barnardo
    children--an' Mary was sent down to 'em, in a candle-box, I've heard.'

    'Then Mary is chance-born. I never knowed that,' said Jabez. 'Yet I must
    ha' heard it some time or other ...'

    'No. She ain't. 'Twould ha' been better for some folk if she had been.
    She come to Jim in a candle-box with all the proper papers--lawful child
    o' some couple in Lunnon somewheres--mother dead, father drinkin'.
    _And_ there was that Lunnon society's five shillin's a week for her.
    Jim's mother she wouldn't despise week-end money, but I never heard Jim
    was much of a muck-grubber. Let be how 'twill, they two mothered up Mary
    no bounds, till it looked at last like they'd forgot she wasn't their
    own flesh an' blood. Yes, I reckon they forgot Mary wasn't their'n
    by rights.'

    'That's no new thing,' said Jabez. 'There's more'n one or two in this
    parish wouldn't surrender back their Bernarders. You ask Mark Copley an'
    his woman an' that Bernarder cripple-babe o' theirs.'

    'Maybe they need the five shillin',' Jesse suggested.

    'It's handy,' said Jabez. 'But the child's more. "Dada" he says, an'
    "Mumma" he says, with his great rollin' head-piece all hurdled up in
    that iron collar. _He_ won't live long--his backbone's rotten, like. But
    they Copleys do just about set store by him--five bob or no five bob.'

    'Same way with Jim an' his mother,' Jesse went on. 'There was talk
    betwixt 'em after a few years o' not takin' any more week-end money for
    Mary; but let alone _she_ never passed a farden in the mire 'thout
    longin's, Jim didn't care, like, to push himself forward into the
    Society's remembrance. So naun came of it. The week-end money would ha'
    made no odds to Jim--not after his uncle willed him they four cottages
    at Eastbourne _an'_ money in the bank.'

    'That was true, too, then? I heard something in a scadderin'
    word-o'-mouth way,' said Jabez.

    'I'll answer for the house property, because Jim he requested my signed
    name at the foot o' some papers concernin' it. Regardin' the money in
    the bank, he nature-ally wouldn't like such things talked about all
    round the parish, so he took strangers for witnesses.'

    'Then 'twill make Mary worth seekin' after?'

    'She'll need it. Her Maker ain't done much for her outside nor yet in.'

    'That ain't no odds.' Jabez shook his head till the water showered off
    his hat-brim. 'If Mary has money, she'll be wed before any likely pore
    maid. She's cause to be grateful to Jim.'

    'She hides it middlin' close, then,' said Jesse. 'It don't sometimes
    look to me as if Mary has her natural rightful feelin's. She don't put
    on an apron o' Mondays 'thout being druv to it--in the kitchen _or_ the
    hen-house. She's studyin' to be a school-teacher. She'll make a beauty!
    I never knowed her show any sort o' kindness to nobody--not even when
    Jim's mother was took dumb. No! 'Twadn't no stroke. It stifled the old
    lady in the throat here. First she couldn't shape her words no shape;
    then she clucked, like, an' lastly she couldn't more than suck down
    spoon-meat an' hold her peace. Jim took her to Doctor Harding, an'
    Harding he bundled her off to Brighton Hospital on a ticket, but they
    couldn't make no stay to her afflictions there; and she was bundled off
    to Lunnon, an' they lit a great old lamp inside her, and Jim told me
    they couldn't make out nothing in no sort there; and, along o' one thing
    an' another, an' all their spyin's and pryin's, she come back a hem
    sight worse than when she started. Jim said he'd have no more
    hospitalizin', so he give her a slate, which she tied to her
    waist-string, and what she was minded to say she writ on it.'

    'Now, I never knowed that! But they're valley-folk,' Jabez repeated.

    "Twadn't particular noticeable, for she wasn't a talkin' woman any time
    o' her days. Mary had all three's tongue.... Well, then, two years this
    summer, come what I'm tellin' you. Mary's Lunnon father, which they'd
    put clean out o' their minds, arrived down from Lunnon with the law on
    his side, sayin' he'd take his daughter back to Lunnon, after all. I was
    working for Mus' Dockett at Pounds Farm that summer, but I was obligin'
    Jim that evenin' muckin' out his pig-pen. I seed a stranger come
    traipsin' over the bridge agin' Wickenden's door-stones. 'Twadn't the
    new County Council bridge with the handrail. They hadn't given it in for
    a public right o' way then. 'Twas just a bit o' lathy old plank which
    Jim had throwed acrost the brook for his own conveniences. The man
    wasn't drunk--only a little concerned in liquor, like--an' his back was
    a mask where he'd slipped in the muck comin' along. He went up the
    bricks past Jim's mother, which was feedin' the ducks, an' set himself
    down at the table inside--Jim was just changin' his socks--an' the man
    let Jim know all his rights and aims regardin' Mary. Then there just
    about _was_ a hurly-bulloo? Jim's fust mind was to pitch him forth, but
    he'd done that once in his young days, and got six months up to Lewes
    jail along o' the man fallin' on his head. So he swallowed his spittle
    an' let him talk. The law about Mary _was_ on the man's side from fust
    to last, for he showed us all the papers. Then Mary come
    downstairs--she'd been studyin' for an examination--an' the man tells
    her who he was, an' she says he had ought to have took proper care of
    his own flesh and blood while he had it by him, an' not to think he
    could ree-claim it when it suited. He says somethin' or other, but she
    looks him up an' down, front an' backwent, an' she just tongues him
    scadderin' out o' doors, and he went away stuffin' all the papers back
    into his hat, talkin' most abusefully. Then she come back an' freed her
    mind against Jim an' his mother for not havin' warned her of her
    upbringin's, which it come out she hadn't ever been told. They didn't
    say naun to her. They never did. _I'd_ ha' packed her off with any man
    that would ha' took her--an' God's pity on him!'

    'Umm!' said Jabez, and sucked his pipe.

    'So then, that was the beginnin.' The man come back again next week or
    so, an' he catched Jim alone, 'thout his mother this time, an' he fair
    beazled him with his papers an' his talk--for the law _was_ on his
    side--till Jim went down into his money-purse an' give him ten shillings
    hush-money--he told me--to withdraw away for a bit an' leave Mary
    with 'em.'

    'But that's no way to get rid o' man or woman,' Jabez said.

    'No more 'tis. I told Jim so. "What can I do?" Jim says. "The law's
    _with_ the man. I walk about daytimes thinkin' o' it till I sweats my
    underclothes wringin', an' I lie abed nights thinkin' o' it till I
    sweats my sheets all of a sop. 'Tisn't as if I was a young man," he
    says, "nor yet as if I was a pore man. Maybe he'll drink hisself to
    death." I e'en a'most told him outright what foolishness he was enterin'
    into, but he knowed it--he knowed it--because he said next time the man
    come 'twould be fifteen shillin's. An' next time 'twas. Just fifteen

    'An' _was_ the man her father?' asked Jabez.

    'He had the proofs an' the papers. Jim showed me what that Lunnon
    Childern's Society had answered when Mary writ up to 'em an' taxed 'em
    with it. I lay she hadn't been proper polite in her letters to 'em, for
    they answered middlin' short. They said the matter was out o' their
    hands, but--let's see if I remember--oh, yes,--they ree-gretted there
    had been an oversight. I reckon they had sent Mary out in the candle-box
    as a orphan instead o' havin' a father. Terrible awkward! Then, when
    he'd drinked up the money, the man come again--in his usuals--an' he
    kept hammerin' on and hammerin' on about his duty to his pore dear wife,
    an' what he'd do for his dear daughter in Lunnon, till the tears runned
    down his two dirty cheeks an' he come away with more money. Jim used to
    slip it into his hand behind the door; but his mother she heard the
    chink. She didn't hold with hush-money. She'd write out all her feelin's
    on the slate, an' Jim 'ud be settin' up half the night answerin' back
    an' showing that the man had the law with him.'

    'Hadn't that man no trade nor business, then?'

    'He told me he was a printer. I reckon, though, he lived on the rates
    like the rest of 'em up there in Lunnon.'

    'An' how did Mary take it?'

    'She said she'd sooner go into service than go with the man. I reckon a
    mistress 'ud be middlin' put to it for a maid 'fore she put Mary into
    cap an' gown. She was studyin' to be a schoo-ool-teacher. A beauty
    she'll make!... Well, that was how things went that fall. Mary's Lunnon
    father kep' comin' an' comin' 'carden as he'd drinked out the money Jim
    gave him; an' each time he'd put-up his price for not takin' Mary away.
    Jim's mother, she didn't like partin' with no money, an' bein' obliged
    to write her feelin's on the slate instead o' givin' 'em vent by mouth,
    she was just about mad. Just about she _was_ mad!

    'Come November, I lodged with Jim in the outside room over 'gainst his
    hen-house. I paid _her_ my rent. I was workin' for Dockett at
    Pounds--gettin' chestnut-bats out o' Perry Shaw. Just such weather as
    this be--rain atop o' rain after a wet October. (An' I remember it ended
    in dry frostes right away up to Christmas.) Dockett he'd sent up to
    Perry Shaw for me--no, he comes puffin' up to me himself--because a big
    corner-piece o' the bank had slipped into the brook where she makes that
    elber at the bottom o' the Seventeen Acre, an' all the rubbishy alders
    an' sallies which he ought to have cut out when he took the farm,
    they'd slipped with the slip, an' the brook was comin' rooshin' down
    atop of 'em, an' they'd just about back an' spill the waters over his
    winter wheat. The water was lyin' in the flats already. "Gor a-mighty,
    Jesse!" he bellers out at me, "get that rubbish away all manners you
    can. Don't stop for no fagottin', but give the brook play or my wheat's
    past salvation. I can't lend you no help," he says, "but work an'
    I'll pay ye."'

    'You had him there,' Jabez chuckled.

    'Yes. I reckon I had ought to have drove my bargain, but the brook was
    backin' up on good bread-corn. So 'cardenly, I laid into the mess of it,
    workin' off the bank where the trees was drownin' themselves head-down
    in the roosh--just such weather as this--an' the brook creepin' up on me
    all the time. 'Long toward noon, Jim comes mowchin' along with his
    toppin' axe over his shoulder.

    '"Be you minded for an extra hand at your job?" he says.

    '"Be you minded to turn to?" I ses, an'--no more talk to it--Jim laid in
    alongside o' me. He's no hunger with a toppin' axe.'

    'Maybe, but I've seed him at a job o' throwin' in the woods, an' he
    didn't seem to make out no shape,' said Jabez. 'He haven't got the
    shoulders, nor yet the judgment--_my_ opinion--when he's dealin' with
    full-girt timber. He don't rightly make up his mind where he's goin' to
    throw her.'

    'We wasn't throwin' nothin'. We was cuttin' out they soft alders, an'
    haulin' 'em up the bank 'fore they could back the waters on the wheat.
    Jim didn't say much, 'less it was that he'd had a postcard from Mary's
    Lunnon father, night before, sayin' he was comin' down that mornin'.
    Jim, he'd sweated all night, an' he didn't reckon hisself equal to the
    talkin' an' the swearin' an' the cryin', an' his mother blamin' him
    afterwards on the slate. "It spiled my day to think of it," he ses, when
    we was eatin' our pieces. "So I've fair cried dunghill an' run.
    Mother'll have to tackle him by herself. I lay _she_ won't give him no
    hush-money," he ses. "I lay he'll be surprised by the time he's done
    with _her_," he ses. An' that was e'en a'most all the talk we had
    concernin' it. But he's no hunger with the toppin' axe.

    'The brook she'd crep' up an' up on us, an' she kep' creepin' upon us
    till we was workin' knee-deep in the shallers, cuttin' an' pookin' an'
    pullin' what we could get to o' the rubbish. There was a middlin' lot
    comin' down-stream, too--cattle-bars, an' hop-poles and odds-ends bats,
    all poltin' down together; but they rooshed round the elber good shape
    by the time we'd backed out they drowned trees. Come four o'clock we
    reckoned we'd done a proper day's work, an' she'd take no harm if we
    left her. We couldn't puddle about there in the dark an' wet to no more
    advantage. Jim he was pourin' the water out of his boots--no, I was
    doin' that. Jim was kneelin' to unlace his'n. "Damn it all, Jesse," he
    ses, standin' up; "the flood must be over my doorsteps at home, for here
    comes my old white-top bee-skep!"'

    'Yes. I allus heard he paints his bee-skeps,' Jabez put in. 'I dunno
    paint don't tarrify bees more'n it keeps em' dry.'

    '"I'll have a pook at it," he ses, an' he pooks at it as it comes round
    the elber. The roosh nigh jerked the pooker out of his hand-grips, an'
    he calls to me, an' I come runnin' barefoot. Then we pulled on the
    pooker, an' it reared up on eend in the roosh, an' we guessed what
    'twas. 'Cardenly we pulled it in into a shaller, an' it rolled a piece,
    an' a great old stiff man's arm nigh hit me in the face. Then we was
    sure. "'Tis a man," ses Jim. But the face was all a mask. "I reckon it's
    Mary's Lunnon father," he ses presently. "Lend me a match and I'll make
    sure." He never used baccy. We lit three matches one by another, well's
    we could in the rain, an' he cleaned off some o' the slob with a tussick
    o' grass. "Yes," he ses. "It's Mary's Lunnon father. He won't tarrify us
    no more. D'you want him, Jesse?" he ses.

    '"No," I ses. "If this was Eastbourne beach like, he'd be half-a-crown
    apiece to us 'fore the coroner; but now we'd only lose a day havin' to
    'tend the inquest. I lay he fell into the brook."

    '"I lay he did," ses Jim. "I wonder if he saw mother." He turns him
    over, an' opens his coat and puts his fingers in the waistcoat pocket
    an' starts laughin'. "He's seen mother, right enough," he ses. "An' he's
    got the best of her, too. _She_ won't be able to crow no more over _me_
    'bout givin' him money. _I_ never give him more than a sovereign. She's
    give him two!" an' he trousers 'em, laughin' all the time. "An' now
    we'll pook him back again, for I've done with him," he ses.

    'So we pooked him back into the middle of the brook, an' we saw he went
    round the elber 'thout balkin', an' we walked quite a piece beside of
    him to set him on his ways. When we couldn't see no more, we went home
    by the high road, because we knowed the brook 'u'd be out acrost the
    medders, an' we wasn't goin' to hunt for Jim's little rotten old bridge
    in that dark--an' rainin' Heavens' hard, too. I was middlin' pleased to
    see light an' vittles again when we got home. Jim he pressed me to come
    insides for a drink. He don't drink in a generality, but he was rid of
    all his troubles that evenin', d'ye see? "Mother," he ses so soon as the
    door ope'd, "have you seen him?" She whips out her slate an' writes
    down--"No." "Oh, no," ses Jim. "You don't get out of it that way,
    mother. I lay you _have_ seen him, an' I lay he's bested you for all
    your talk, same as he bested me. Make a clean breast of it, mother," he
    ses. "He got round you too." She was goin' for the slate again, but he
    stops her. "It's all right, mother," he ses. "I've seen him sense you
    have, an' he won't trouble us no more." The old lady looks up quick as a
    robin, an' she writes, "Did he say so?" "No," ses Jim, laughin'. "He
    didn't say so. That's how I know. But he bested _you_, mother. You can't
    have it in at _me_ for bein' soft-hearted. You're twice as
    tender-hearted as what I be. Look!" he ses, an' he shows her the two
    sovereigns. "Put 'em away where they belong," he ses. "He won't never
    come for no more; an' now we'll have our drink," he ses, "for we've
    earned it."

    'Nature-ally they weren't goin' to let me see where they kep' their
    monies. She went upstairs with it--for the whisky.'

    'I never knowed Jim was a drinkin' man--in his own house, like,' said

    'No more he isn't; but what he takes he likes good. He won't tech no
    publican's hogwash acrost the bar. Four shillin's he paid for that
    bottle o' whisky. I know, because when the old lady brought it down
    there wasn't more'n jest a liddle few dreenin's an' dregs in it. Nothin'
    to set before neighbours, I do assure you.'

    '"Why, 'twas half full last week, mother," he ses. "You don't mean," he
    ses, "you've given him all that as well? It's two shillin's worth," he
    ses. (That's how I knowed he paid four.) "Well, well, mother, you be too
    tender-'carted to live. But I don't grudge it to him," he ses. "I don't
    grudge him nothin' he can keep." So, 'cardenly, we drinked up what
    little sup was left.'

    'An' what come to Mary's Lunnon father?' said Jabez after a full
    minute's silence.

    'I be too tired to go readin' papers of evenin's; but Dockett he told
    me, that very week, I think, that they'd inquested on a man down at
    Robertsbridge which had poked and poked up agin' so many bridges an'
    banks, like, they couldn't make naun out of him.'

    'An' what did Mary say to all these doin's?'

    'The old lady bundled her off to the village 'fore her Lunnon father
    come, to buy week-end stuff (an' she forgot the half o' it). When we
    come in she was upstairs studyin' to be a school-teacher. None told her
    naun about it. 'Twadn't girls' affairs.'

    'Reckon _she_ knowed?' Jabez went on.

    'She? She must have guessed it middlin' close when she saw her money
    come back. But she never mentioned it in writing so far's I know. She
    were more worritted that night on account of two-three her chickens
    bein' drowned, for the flood had skewed their old hen-house round on her
    postes. I cobbled her up next mornin' when the brook shrinked.'

    'An' where did you find the bridge? Some fur down-stream, didn't ye?'

    'Just where she allus was. She hadn't shifted but very little. The brook
    had gulled out the bank a piece under one eend o' the plank, so's she
    was liable to tilt ye sideways if you wasn't careful. But I pooked
    three-four bricks under her, an' she was all plumb again.'

    'Well, I dunno how it _looks_ like, but let be how 'twill,' said Jabez,
    'he hadn't no business to come down from Lunnon tarrifyin' people, an'
    threatenin' to take away children which they'd hobbed up for their
    lawful own--even if 'twas Mary Wickenden.'

    'He had the business right enough, an' he had the law with him--no
    gettin' over that,' said Jesse. 'But he had the drink with him, too, an'
    that was where he failed, like.'

    'Well, well! Let be how 'twill, the brook was a good friend to Jim. I
    see it now. I allus _did_ wonder what he was gettin' at when he said
    that, when I talked to him about shiftin' the stack. "You dunno
    everythin'," he ses. "The Brook's been a good friend to me," he ses,
    "an' if she's minded to have a snatch at my hay, _I_ ain't settin' out
    to withstand her."'

    'I reckon she's about shifted it, too, by now,' Jesse chuckled. 'Hark!
    That ain't any slip off the bank which she's got hold of.'

    The Brook had changed her note again. It sounded as though she were
    mumbling something soft.


    When Julius Fabricius, Sub-Prefect of the Weald,
    In the days of Diocletian owned our Lower River-field,
    He called to him Hobdenius--a Briton of the Clay,
    Saying: 'What about that River-piece for layin' in to hay?'

    And the aged Hobden answered: 'I remember as a lad
    My father told your father that she wanted dreenin' bad.
    An' the more that you neeglect her the less you'll get her clean.
    Have it jest _as_ you've a mind to, but, if I was you, I'd dreen.'

    So they drained it long and crossways in the lavish Roman style.
    Still we find among the river-drift their flakes of ancient tile,
    And in drouthy middle August, when the bones of meadows show,
    We can trace the lines they followed sixteen hundred years ago.

    Then Julius Fabricius died as even Prefects do,
    And after certain centuries, Imperial Rome died too.
    Then did robbers enter Britain from across the Northern main
    And our Lower River-field was won by Ogier the Dane.

    Well could Ogier work his war-boat--well could Ogier wield
    his brand--
    Much he knew of foaming waters--not so much of farming land.
    So he called to him a Hobden of the old unaltered blood.
    Saying: 'What about that River-bit, she doesn't look no good?'

    And that aged Hobden answered: "Tain't for _me_ to interfere,
    But I've known that bit o' meadow now for five and fifty year.
    Have it _jest_ as you've a mind to, but I've proved it time
    on time,
    If you want to change her nature you have _got_ to give her lime!'

    Ogier sent his wains to Lewes, twenty hours' solemn walk,
    And drew back great abundance of the cool, grey, healing chalk.
    And old Hobden spread it broadcast, never heeding what was in't;
    Which is why in cleaning ditches, now and then we find a flint.

    Ogier died. His sons grew English. Anglo-Saxon was their name,
    Till out of blossomed Normandy another pirate came;
    For Duke William conquered England and divided with his men,
    And our Lower River-field he gave to William of Warenne.

    But the Brook (you know her habit) rose one rainy Autumn night
    And tore down sodden flitches of the bank to left and right.
    So, said William to his Bailiff as they rode their dripping rounds:
    'Hob, what about that River-bit--the Brook's got up no bounds?'

    And that aged Hobden answered: "Tain't my business to advise,
    But ye might ha' known 'twould happen from the way the valley lies.
    When ye can't hold back the water you must try and save the sile.
    Hev it jest as you've a _mind_ to, but, if I was you, I'd spile!'

    They spiled along the water-course with trunks of willow-trees
    And planks of elms behind 'em and immortal oaken knees.
    And when the spates of Autumn whirl the gravel-beds away
    You can see their faithful fragments iron-hard in iron clay.

    * * * * *

    _Georgii Quinti Anno Sexto_, I, who own the River-field,
    Am fortified with title-deeds, attested, signed and sealed,
    Guaranteeing me, my assigns, my executors and heirs
    All sorts of powers and profits which--are neither mine nor theirs.

    I have rights of chase and warren, as my dignity requires.
    I can fish--but Hobden tickles. I can shoot--but Hobden wires.
    I repair, but he reopens, certain gaps which, men allege,
    Have been used by every Hobden since a Hobden swapped a hedge.

    Shall I dog his morning progress o'er the track-betraying dew?
    Demand his dinner-basket into which my pheasant flew?
    Confiscate his evening faggot into which the conies ran,
    And summons him to judgment? I would sooner summons Pan.

    His dead are in the churchyard--thirty generations laid.
    Their names went down in Domesday Book when Domesday Book was made.
    And the passion and the piety and prowess of his line
    Have seeded, rooted, fruited in some land the Law calls mine.

    Not for any beast that burrows, not for any bird that flies,
    Would I lose his large sound council, miss his keen amending eyes.
    He is bailiff, woodman, wheelwright, field-surveyor, engineer,
    And if flagrantly a poacher--'tain't for me to interfere.

    'Hob, what about that River-bit?' I turn to him again
    With Fabricius and Ogier and William of Warenne.
    'Hev it jest as you've a mind to, _but_'--and so he takes command.
    For whoever pays the taxes old Mus' Hobden owns the land.

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