Dave was always the unlucky one. When he wasn’t bitten by a snake or a dog he was gored by a cow or something. This time it was a woman. Dave was in love. And such love! We could see it working in him like yeast. He became affable—smiled all day long and displayed remarkable activity. He didn’t care how hard he worked or whose work he performed. He did anything—everything, and without help. He developed a passion for small things—trifles he had hitherto regarded with contempt, purchased silk handkerchiefs and perfume and conversation-lollies at the store, and secreted them in the pockets of his Sunday coat, which he left hanging in his room. Sarah would find them when dusting the coat and hawk them to Mother, and they’d spend an hour rejoicing and speculating over the discovery. Sarah never allowed any dust to settle on Dave’s Sunday coat.
Dave went out every night. It amused Joe. He would be on pins and needles till supper was ready, then he’d bolt his food and rush off to saddle a horse, and we wouldn’t see him again till breakfast-time next morning.
For more than a year Dave rushed off every night. “Damme! look at that horse!” Dad used to say, when he’d be at the yard. Then he’d think hard, and begin again when he met Mother. “This night-work’ll have t’ stop, or there won’t be a horse about the place fit t’ ride. What the devil the fellow wants chasing round the country for every night I don’t know, I’m sure.” (Dad knew well enough.)
“Well”—Mother would say good-naturedly, “you were just as bad y’self once, Father.”
“Never, woman!”—with virtuous indignation. “I never left a horse hanging to a fence night after night to starve.”
But there the matter always ended, and Dave continued his courting without interruption.
It was Fanny Bowman, of Ranger’s Rise, Dave was after. She was twenty, dark, fresh-complexioned, robust and rosy—a good rider, good cook, and a most enterprising flirt.
Tom Black, Tom Bell, Joe Sibly, and Jim Moore all had sought her affections unsuccessfully. And young Cowley climbed into a loft one night and would have hanged himself with the dog-chain because of her inconstancy, only a curlew screeched “so awfully sudden” just outside the door that he rushed out and fell down sixteen steps and “injured himself internally”.
Fanny Bowman was a dairymaid—mostly neat and natty and nice. But there were times when she didn’t look so nice. She had frequently to go into the yard and milk fifteen and twenty cows before breakfast; and a glimpse at her then—especially in wet weather, with a man’s hat on, her skirts gathered round her waist, bare-footed, slush over her ankles, slush on her arms and smeared on her face—wasn’t calculated to quicken a fellow’s pulse. But then it wasn’t at such times that Dave passed judgment on her, any more than the city swell would judge his Hetty while her hair was on the dresser and her teeth in a basin.
Some Sundays Dave used to bring Fanny to spend the afternoon at our place, and Jack Gore very often came with them. Jack Gore was Bowman’s man—a superior young fellow, so Bowman boasted—one that could always be depended upon. He took his meals with the family and shared the society of their friends; went to church with them, worked his own horse in their plough, and was looked upon as one of the family.
Dave didn’t look upon him as one of the family, though. He was the fly in Dave’s ointment. Dave hated him like poison.
When it was time to leave, Dave had almost to break his neck to reach Fanny’s side in time to lift her into the saddle. If he were a moment late, Gore would lift her. If he were slow at all in mounting his horse, Gore would coolly ride off with Fanny. If he didn’t happen to be slow in mounting, Gore would ride on the near side of her and monopolize the conversation. He monopolized it in any case.
Mother and Sarah used to talk about Jack Gore.
“If I were Dave,” Sarah would say, “I’m blest if I’d have her carrying on with him the way she does.”
“But Fanny only means it as a sister,” Mother would answer in palliation.
“Does she indeed! . . . Dave’s an old fool to bother about her at all, if y’ arsk me!” Sarah was developing a keen interest.
Jack Gore left Bowman’s service one morning. He left it suddenly. Bowman sacked him, and Mrs. Bowman talked to the neighbours about him with the wrath of an insulted mother.
“The cheek of him”—she said to Mother—“to think he was good enough for Fanny! Why, we wouldn’t have kept him a day if we’d thought—if we’d even dreamt. Fanny, indeed!”
But she spoke highly of Dave. She moved Mother to tears of admiration for him. And Mother couldn’t resist telling Dave all that was said. Dave went to Bowman’s a little earlier that night—but returned quite unexpectedly and went to bed in a bad humour.
A change came over Dave. He ceased to smile, and scarcely did any work, and never brought Fanny to see us on Sundays. At last Dave met Fanny on her way to the railway station one day, and when he came home he went straight to the album and took out her photo and jumped on it.
Jack Gore had been away from Saddletop for several months, when—“Girls are more of a trouble than boys,” Mrs. Bowman said despondingly to Mother one evening, at the gate. “Boys is nothing; they can always take care of their-selves. But girls—” And she shook her head.
Jack Gore returned to Bowman’s one day and neither Bowman nor Mrs. Bowman attempted to chase him away. Work was suspended for twenty-four hours, and at midday, a tired, dust-covered parson came to their door astride a poor horse and got down and married Jack Gore to Fanny.
It was a quiet wedding.
When they heard of it Mother and Sarah whispered things to one another, and Dad thought of Dave.
“Thank God!” he said, “th’ horses’ll have a chance ter get fat now!”