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The Star-Gazers   By: (1831-1909)

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Volume 1, Chapter I.


Ben Hayle, keeper, stepped out of his rose covered cottage in Thoreby Wood; big, black whiskered, dark eyed and handsome, with the sun tanned look of a sturdy Englishman, his brown velveteen coat and vest and tawny leggings setting off his stalwart form.

As he cleared the porch, he half turned and set down his carefully kept double barrelled gun against the rough trellis work; as, at the sound of his foot, there arose from a long, moss covered, barn like building, a tremendous barking and yelping.

"Now then: that'll do!" he shouted, as he walked towards the great double door, which was dotted with the mortal remains of what he termed "varmin" to wit, the nailed up bodies of stoats, weasels, hawks, owls, magpies and jays, all set down as being the deadly enemies of the game he reared and preserved for Mrs Rolph at The Warren. But even these were not the most deadly enemies of the pheasants and partridges, Thoreby Wood being haunted by sundry ne'er do weels who levied toll there, in spite of all Ben Hayle's efforts and the stern repression of the County Bench.

"May as well stick you up too," said Ben, as he took a glossy skinned polecat from where he had thrown it that morning, after taking it from a trap.

He opened one of the doors, and two Gordon setters and a big black retriever bounded out, to leap up, dance around him, and make efforts, in dog like fashion, to show their delight and anxiety to be at liberty once more.

"Down, Bess! Down, Juno! Steady, Sandy! Quiet! Good dogs, then," he cried, as he entered the barn, took a hammer from where it hung, and a nail from a rough shelf, and with the dogs looking on after sniffing at the polecat, as if they took human interest in the proceeding, he nailed the unfortunate, ill odoured little beast side by side with the last gibbeted offender, a fine old chinchilla coated grey rat.

"'Most a pity one can't serve Master Caleb Kent the same. Dunno, though," he added with a chuckle. "Time was that was years ago, though, and nobody can't say I've done badly since. But I did hope we'd seen the last of Master Caleb."

Ben Hayle took off his black felt hat, and gave his dark, grizzled hair a scratch, and his face puckered up as he put away the hammer, to stand thinking.

"No, hang him, he wouldn't dare!"

Ben walked back to the porch to take up his gun, and a look of pride came to brighten his face, as just then a figure appeared in the porch in the shape of Judith Hayle, a tall, dark eyed girl of twenty, strikingly like her father, and, as she stood framed in the entrance, she well warranted the keeper's look of pride.

"Are you going far?"

"'Bout the usual round, my dear. Why, Judy, the place don't seem to be the same with you back home. But it is dull for you, eh?"

"Dull, father? No," said the girl laughing.

"Oh, I dunno. After your fine ways up at The Warren with Miss Marjorie and the missus, it must seem a big drop down to be here again."

"Don't, father. You know I was never so happy anywhere as here."

"But you are grown such a lady now; I'm 'most afraid of you."

"No you are not. I sometimes wish that Mrs Rolph had never had me at the house."


"Because it makes you talk to me like that."

"Well, then, I won't say another word. There, I must be off, but "

He hesitated as if in doubt.

"Yes, father."

"Well, I was only going to say, I see young Caleb has come back to the village, and knowing how he once "

"Come back, father!" cried Judith, with a look of alarm.

"Yes, I thought I'd tell you; but I don't think he'll come nigh here again."

"Oh, no, father, I hope not," said the girl, looking thoughtfully towards the wood, with her brows knitting.

"He'd better not," said the keeper, picking up and tapping the butt of his gun. "Might get peppered with number six. Good bye, my dear."

He kissed her, walked to the edge of the dense fir wood, gave a look back at the figure by the porch, and then plunged in among the bushes and disappeared, closely followed by the eager dogs, while Judith stood frowning at the place where he had disappeared... Continue reading book >>

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