"No, Mr. Massey," said Adam. "Mr. and Mrs. Poyser can tell you where I was. I was in no bad company."
"She's gone, Adam — gone to Snowfield," said Mr. Poyser, reminded of Dinah for the first time this evening. "I thought you'd ha' persuaded her better. Nought 'ud hold her, but she must go yesterday forenoon. The missis has hardly got over it. I thought she'd ha' no sperrit for th' harvest supper."
Mrs. Poyser had thought of Dinah several times since Adam had come in, but she had had "no heart" to mention the bad news.
"What!" said Bartle, with an air of disgust. "Was there a woman concerned? Then I give you up, Adam."
"But it's a woman you'n spoke well on, Bartle," said Mr. Poyser. "Come now, you canna draw back; you said once as women wouldna ha' been a bad invention if they'd all been like Dinah."
"I meant her voice, man — I meant her voice, that was all," said Bartle. "I can bear to hear her speak without wanting to put wool in my ears. As for other things, I daresay she's like the rest o' the women — thinks two and two 'll come to make five, if she cries and bothers enough about it."
"Aye, aye!" said Mrs. Poyser; "one 'ud think, an' hear some folks talk, as the men war 'cute enough to count the corns in a bag o' wheat wi' only smelling at it. They can see through a barn-door, they can. Perhaps that's the reason THEY can see so little o' this side on't."
Martin Poyser shook with delighted laughter and winked at Adam, as much as to say the schoolmaster was in for it now.
"Ah!" said Bartle sneeringly, "the women are quick enough — they're quick enough. They know the rights of a story before they hear it, and can tell a man what his thoughts are before he knows 'em himself."
"Like enough," said Mrs. Poyser, "for the men are mostly so slow, their thoughts overrun 'em, an' they can only catch 'em by the tail. I can count a stocking-top while a man's getting's tongue ready an' when he outs wi' his speech at last, there's little broth to be made on't. It's your dead chicks take the longest hatchin'. Howiver, I'm not denyin' the women are foolish: God Almighty made 'em to match the men."
"Match!" said Bartle. "Aye, as vinegar matches one's teeth. If a man says a word, his wife 'll match it with a contradiction; if he's a mind for hot meat, his wife 'll match it with cold bacon; if he laughs, she'll match him with whimpering. She's such a match as the horse-fly is to th' horse: she's got the right venom to sting him with — the right venom to sting him with."
"Yes," said Mrs. Poyser, "I know what the men like — a poor soft, as 'ud simper at 'em like the picture o' the sun, whether they did right or wrong, an' say thank you for a kick, an' pretend she didna know which end she stood uppermost, till her husband told her. That's what a man wants in a wife, mostly; he wants to make sure o' one fool as 'ull tell him he's wise. But there's some men can do wi'out that — they think so much o' themselves a'ready. An' that's how it is there's old bachelors."
"Come, Craig," said Mr. Poyser jocosely, "you mun get married pretty quick, else you'll be set down for an old bachelor; an' you see what the women 'ull think on you."
"Well," said Mr. Craig, willing to conciliate Mrs. Poyser and setting a high value on his own compliments, "I like a cleverish woman — a woman o' sperrit — a managing woman."
"You're out there, Craig," said Bartle, dryly; "you're out there. You judge o' your garden-stuff on a better plan than that. You pick the things for what they can excel in — for what they can excel in. You don't value your peas for their roots, or your carrots for their flowers. Now, that's the way you should choose women. Their cleverness 'll never come to much — never come to much — but they make excellent simpletons, ripe and strong-flavoured."
"What dost say to that?" said Mr. Poyser, throwing himself back and looking merrily at his wife.
"Say!" answered Mrs. Poyser, with dangerous fire kindling in her eye. "Why, I say as some folks' tongues are like the clocks as run on strikin', not to tell you the time o' the day, but because there's summat wrong i' their own inside . . . "
Mrs. Poyser would probably have brought her rejoinder to a further climax, if every one's attention had not at this moment been called to the other end of the table, where the lyricism, which had at first only manifested itself by David's sotto voce performance of "My love's a rose without a thorn," had gradually assumed a rather deafening and complex character. Tim, thinking slightly of David's vocalization, was impelled to supersede that feeble buzz by a spirited commencement of "Three Merry Mowers," but David was not to be put down so easily, and showed himself capable of a copious crescendo, which was rendering it doubtful whether the rose would not predominate over the mowers, when old Kester, with an entirely unmoved and immovable aspect, suddenly set up a quavering treble — as if he had been an alarum, and the time was come for him to go off.
The company at Alick's end of the table took this form of vocal entertainment very much as a matter of course, being free from musical prejudices; but Bartle Massey laid down his pipe and put his fingers in his ears; and Adam, who had been longing to go ever since he had heard Dinah was not in the house, rose and said he must bid good-night.
"I'll go with you, lad," said Bartle; "I'll go with you before my ears are split."
"I'll go round by the Common and see you home, if you like, Mr. Massey," said Adam.
"Aye, aye!" said Bartle; "then we can have a bit o' talk together. I never get hold of you now."
"Eh! It's a pity but you'd sit it out," said Martin Poyser. "They'll all go soon, for th' missis niver lets 'em stay past ten."
But Adam was resolute, so the good-nights were said, and the two friends turned out on their starlight walk together.
"There's that poor fool, Vixen, whimpering for me at home," said Bartle. "I can never bring her here with me for fear she should be struck with Mrs. Poyser's eye, and the poor bitch might go limping for ever after."
"I've never any need to drive Gyp back," said Adam, laughing. "He always turns back of his own head when he finds out I'm coming here."
"Aye, aye," said Bartle. "A terrible woman! — made of needles, made of needles. But I stick to Martin — I shall always stick to Martin. And he likes the needles, God help him! He's a cushion made on purpose for 'em."
"But she's a downright good-natur'd woman, for all that," said Adam, "and as true as the daylight. She's a bit cross wi' the dogs when they offer to come in th' house, but if they depended on her, she'd take care and have 'em well fed. If her tongue's keen, her heart's tender: I've seen that in times o' trouble. She's one o' those women as are better than their word."
"Well, well," said Bartle, "I don't say th' apple isn't sound at the core; but it sets my teeth on edge — it sets my teeth on edge."