The Return of the Native By Thomas Hardy Book 1: Chapters 8-9

"No, I took to it. I should be as white as you if I were to give up the trade — that is, I should be white in time — perhaps six months; not at first, because 'tis grow'd into my skin and won't wash out. Now, you'll never be afraid of a reddleman again, will ye?"

"No, never. Willy Orchard said he seed a red ghost here t'other day — perhaps that was you?"

"I was here t'other day."

"Were you making that dusty light I saw by now?"

"Oh yes, I was beating out some bags. And have you had a good bonfire up there? I saw the light. Why did Miss Vye want a bonfire so bad that she should give you sixpence to keep it up?"

"I don't know. I was tired, but she made me bide and keep up the fire just the same, while she kept going up across Rainbarrow way."

"And how long did that last?"

"Until a hopfrog jumped into the pond."

The reddleman suddenly ceased to talk idly. "A hopfrog?" he inquired. "Hopfrogs don't jump into ponds this time of year."

"They do, for I heard one."

"Certain-sure?"

"Yes. She told me afore that I should hear'n; and so I did. They say she's clever and deep, and perhaps she charmed 'en to come."

"And what then?"

"Then I came down here, and I was afeard, and I went back; but I didn't like to speak to her, because of the gentleman, and I came on here again."

"A gentleman — ah! What did she say to him, my man?"

"Told him she supposed he had not married the other woman because he liked his old sweetheart best; and things like that."

"What did the gentleman say to her, my sonny?"

"He only said he did like her best, and how he was coming to see her again under Rainbarrow o' nights."

"Ha!" cried the reddleman, slapping his hand against the side of his van so that the whole fabric shook under the blow. "That's the secret o't!"

The little boy jumped clean from the stool.

"My man, don't you be afraid," said the dealer in red, suddenly becoming gentle. "I forgot you were here. That's only a curious way reddlemen have of going mad for a moment; but they don't hurt anybody. And what did the lady say then?"

"I can't mind. Please, Master Reddleman, may I go home-along now?"

"Ay, to be sure you may. I'll go a bit of ways with you."

He conducted the boy out of the gravel pit and into the path leading to his mother's cottage. When the little figure had vanished in the darkness the reddleman returned, resumed his seat by the fire, and proceeded to darn again.

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