It was some months since Sir John Bardon, Squire of the Manor of Flightshot, had taken advantage of the Inclosure Act and mancuvred a bill for the inclosure of Boarzell. Since then there had been visits of commissioners, roamings of surveyors, deliveries of schedules, strange talk of turbary and estovers, fire-bote and housebote. The neighbourhood was troubled, perplexed. Then perplexity condensed into indignation when all that Inclosure stood for became known-no more pasturage for the cow or goat which meant all the difference between wheaten and oaten bread, no more wood-gleanings for fire or wind-beaten roof, no more of the tussocky grass for fodder, or of gorse to toughen palings against escaping fowls.

Then, when Fair-time came, people began to mutter no more Fair.” It was as hard to imagine Boarzell without the Fair as without its plume of firs. The Squire gave out his intention of tolerating the Fair, as long as it did not straggle from the crest. But this failed to soothe the indignant and sore, for it was humbling to have the Fair as a matter of toleration. Also at that time there was talk of fences. All the Moor had been mapped out, the claims considered, the road repaired, and now nothing more was to be done except to put up the fences which would definitely seal Boarzell as

Flightshot's own.

There was naturally a party who championed Manor rights—Sir John Bardon was a good landlord, and would have been better had his budget cramped him less. Now he would sell Boarzell in building plots, and his tenants

the benefit. He had not inclosed the land for himself. More houses would mean more trade for shops and farms, Peasmarsh might flower into a country




But the majority was anti-Bardon. There were grumblings about allotments, especially from copyholders. The commissioners had been off-hand in their

treatment of claims, ignoring everyone except freeholders, of whom there were only two.

“They say as how Realf's not done badly fur himself at Grandturzel," said old Vennal of Burntbarns; "forty acres they gave him, and all bush and timber rights.”

And what about Odiam?" asked Ticehurst of Hole. “I haven't seen Backfield these three weeks, but there's a tale going räound as how the commissioners have bin tedious sharp, and done him out of everything he hoped to get-surelye!”

And him freehold !"

Sixty acres." “How did they do it ? ”

“Oh, it's just a tale that's going räound-says they found some lawyer's mess in his title-deed. His father never thought of common rights when he bought the land, and it seems as how they must be written down just lik anything else. . . . But there's young Ben Backfield talking to Coalbran. He'll tell us, I reckon."

They went over to a man and a lad, standing together by the gingerbread stall.

We was wondering wot yer fäather had got out o' them commissioners, Ben," said Ticehurst.

Reuben Backfield scowled. His thick black brows scowled easily, but the expression of his face was open and cheerful, would have been kindly even, were it not for a certain ruthlessness of the lips. There was more character in his face than is usual with a boy of fifteenotherwise he looked younger than his age, for though tall and well-knit, his limbs had all the graceful immaturity and supple clumsiness one sees in the limbs of calves and foals.

“ Fäather äun't got naun-haven't you heard ? He made his claim, and then they asked to see the titledeeds, and it turned out as how he hadn't got no common rights at all leastways so the lawyers said."

" But he used to send the cows on, didn't he ? "

[ocr errors]

“Yes-now and agäun-didn't know it wurn't right. Seems it ’ud have been better if he'd sent 'em oftener ; there's no understanding that lawyer rubbidge. Now he mayn't täake so much as a blade of grass."

Realf of Grandturzel has got his bit all safe.” Reuben spat.

“Yes—they couldn't pick any holes in his claim, or they would have, I reckon. The Squire 'ud like every rood of Boarzell, though the Lard knows wot he'll do wud it now he's got it.”

“ Your fäather must be in lamentable heart about all this, surelye."

The boy shrugged and frowned.

“ He döan't care much. Fäather, he likes to be comfortable, and this Inclosure wöan't make much difference to that. 'Täun't as if we wanted the pasture badly, and Fäather he döan't care about land.”

He dragged the last word a little slowly, and there was the faintest hint of a catch in his voice. “And your mother, and Harry ?"

They döan't care, nuther-it's only me." "Lard, boy !and why should you care if they dõạn?t ?

Reuben did not speak, but a dull red crept over the swarthiness of his cheeks, and he turned away.

He walked slowly, his hands in his pockets, to where the gable of the booth jutted between him and his questioners. From here he could see the slope of Boarzell, rolling slowly down to some red roofs and poplars. These roofs and poplars were Odiam, the farm which his grandfather had bought, which his father had tilled and fattened ... and now it was humbled, robbed of its rights and his father still went whistling to the barn, because, though fifty acres had been withheld from him by a quibble, he still had a bright fire, with a pretty wife and healthy boys beside'it.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


Reuben's lip curled. He could not help despising his father for this ambitionless content.

“We're no worser off than we wur before,” Joseph Backfield had said a day or two ago to his complaining boy—“we've our own meadows for the cows—’täun't as if we were poor people.”

“But, fäather, think wot we might have had-forty acres inclosed for us, like they have at Grandturzel.”

Might have-might have '—that döan't trouble me. It's wot I've got I think about. And then, say we had it-wot 'ud you mäake out o' Boarzell ?-nasty mess o' marl and shards, no good to anyone as long as thistles äun't fashionable eating."

I cud mäake something out of Boarzell.”

At this his father burst into a huge fit of laughter, and Reuben walked away.

But he knew he could do it. That morning he churned the soil with his heel, and knew he could conquer it. He could plant those thistle-grounds with wheat. .. Coward! his father was a coward if he shrank from fighting Boarzell. The land could be tamed just as young bulls could be tamed. By craft, by strength, by toughness man could fight the nature of a waste as well as of a beast. Give him Boarzell, and he would have his spade in its red back, just as he would have his ring in a bull's nose.

But it was all hopeless. Most likely in future all that would remain free to him of Boarzell would be this Fair ground, crowded once a year. The rest would be built over—fat shop-keepers would grow fatter-oh, durn it !

He dashed his hand over his eyes, and then swung round, turning back towards the groups, lest he should become weak in solitude. Somehow the character of the crowd had changed while he had been away. Angry murmurs surged through it like waves, curses beat against one another, a rumour blew like foam from mouth to mouth.

[ocr errors]

“ They're putting up the fences—workmen from Tonbridge-fences down by Socknersh."

“ Drat 'em! durn 'em!”

“And why shudn't there be fences? What good did this old rubbidge-pläace ever do anyone ? Scarce a mouthful fur a goat. Now it'll be built on, and there'll be money fur everybody."

Money fur Bardon."

Money fur us all. The Squire äun't no Tory grabber.”

“Then wot dud he täake our land fur?”

“Wot wur the use of it ?-save fur such as wanted a quiet pläace fur their wenching."

“Put up yer fists !”

The fight came, the battering of each other by two men, seemingly because of a private insult, really because they were representatives of two hostile groups, panting to be at each other's throats. They fought without science, staggering up and down, swinging arms like windmills, grabbing tufts of hair. At last old Buck Washington the bruiser could stand it no longer, and with a couple of clouts flung them apart, to bump on the ground and sit goggling stupidly at each other through trickles of blood.

That gave the crowd its freedom-hitherto the conflict had been squeezed into two representatives, leaving some hundred men merely limp spectators; but with the collapse of his proxy, each man felt the rage in him

boil up

"Come, my lads, we'll pull down their hemmed fences !"

“ Down wud the fences ! down wud Bardon !"
'Stand by the Squire, men--we'll all gain by it."
"Shut the Common to wenchers !

But the Anti-Inclosure party was the strongest—it swept along the others as it roared down to Socknersh, brandishing sticks and stones and bottles that had all

« ForrigeFortsett »