The Sundering Flood, by William Morris

Chapter iv. Surly John Falls Out with the Goodman

On the morrow comes John to the goodman, and quoth he: “Master, there is small doubt that I shall one day pay thee for the pudding in the pot which thou gavest me yestereen, and after that I shall have to take my soles out of this straightway; so meseemeth I had best go hence today.”

“Well,” said the goodman, “if thou must go, go, and the devil go with thee. But as to the knock on thy cheekbone, I will boot thee therefor, if thou wilt take boot and abide, for though thou be no hard worker, nor very deft of thy hands, yet the winter is lonely here, and thou wilt be missed somewhat.”

Quoth John: “Yea, goodman, but there is this in it withal, that Wethermel liketh me not, though I say nought against thee for a master. I love not thy were-wolves, that are big and gruesome enough to frighten two stout armed men; and I love not thy Dwarfs, who cut off their own heads and stick them on again, and give guesting to little lads, doing them no hurt; for meseems that means that the said Dwarf will be carving guest-quarters here one day, and who knows how soon; and I care not for such an one as a fellow at board. And then there is thy grandson, and a fair boy he is and a good scald, though that be come upon him somewhat suddenly. But he is over bigwordy for me, and I see clearly that soon there shall be two masters in this house, and one is well enough for me. And lastly as to thy kinswomen; I wot well I shall have no good word from them year in year out. So take this for my last word, that I shall turn my back upon thee so soon as thou hast paid me my hire, and shall go seek quarters down the Dale, at some merrier stead than this.”

The goodman looked on him sourly, and then turned about and took a bag from the chest, and drew silver from it, and told over certain pieces and laid them before John (who is henceforth called Surly John) and said: “Here is thine hire in good silver. And now I shall not say one more word to thee for good or bad, save this, that thou hadst best look to it that thy silver melt not before many months are over. Take thy soles out of this straightway.” So John took up his silver, and stowed it in his pouch, and then he said: “Well, goodman, now that I am paid I think that I had best pay thee for the cheek-knock of last night.”

He was a tall man and strong of thirty winters, and the goodman somewhat on in years and not over strong, wherefore the battle seemed like to go all one way. But lo, as he rushed on the goodman, of a sudden he felt his feet pulled away from under him, and fell noseling to the ground; and when he would rise, lo there was on one side of him the goodman with a cudgel in his hand, and Osberne on the other, with his whittle drawn; and the lad laughed and said: “Thou has been a long while and used many words about going, so belike thou wert best tarry no longer; or wert thou thinking thou wouldst go to bed? Nay, thou hast talked long, but nought so long that it is night yet.”

So therewith Surly John arose and shook the dust of the floor off him, shouldered his bag, which he had ready by, and went out-of-doors and down the Dale afoot, for he was too shamefaced to crave the loan of a horse, to which forsooth the kinsmen would have made him welcome.

So the day wore amidst divers matters, and the sheep pastured anigh to the Mel; but ever the goodman said that wolves or no wolves he must drive them up the bent next day. But he said this so often, that it seemed as if he were not over willing thereto; and in the evening he took forth an old sword which he had, a good one, and sat whetting it with a hone. So they fared to bed.

But in the morning ere it was light the goodman deemed he heard goings-on in the house, and he sat up and hearkened. Next then he heard a hand amongst the three shields which hung on the panel the other side of his shut-bed, and thereafter he heard one going to the door; and he smiled thereat and lay down again, and presently there came the sound of the bleating of many sheep. So the carle stands up therewith and does on his raiment and takes his spear and shield and girds his sword to him, and goeth forth and out of the garth, and turns his face up toward the bent, but goes very slow; and day was now just beginning to dawn though the stars yet shone; clear was the morning. Now in the grey light the carle could just see what he looked to see, to wit, the whole flock going together toward the bent, and a little figure of a son of Adam going after them, on whom a red scarlet hue was even dimly to be seen.

The carle smiled, and said to himself, Forsooth, yonder ruffler must needs clothe him in holiday raiment to do his doughty deed! Now will I not follow him to mar his championship, but will leave him alone to his luck, which I see to be great.

So he abode a little in an ingle of the garth wall, while the sheep lessened but grew clearer before him, and the scarlet raiment of his grandson grew brighter; and then he went swiftly, skirting the knoll till he had it betwixt him and the stead, and thereafter he went more leisurely toward the north. And he said to himself, The lad will do well enough; and as to the women, they will make the less outcry, that when they find me and my weapons gone they will think I have fared with him up the bent. So therewith he betook himself well out of the way, keeping near to the bank of the river.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 22:07