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Adam Bede

grey bristly hair, cut down to about an inch in length, stood round it in as close
ranks as ever.
"Nay, Bill, nay," Bartle was saying in a kind tone, as he nodded to Adam, "begin
that again, and then perhaps, it'll come to you what d-r-y spells. It's the same
lesson you read last week, you know."
"Bill" was a sturdy fellow, aged four-and-twenty, an excellent stone-sawyer, who
could get as good wages as any man in the trade of his years; but he found a
reading lesson in words of one syllable a harder matter to deal with than the
hardest stone he had ever had to saw. The letters, he complained, were so
"uncommon alike, there was no tellin' 'em one from another," the sawyer's
business not being concerned with minute differences such as exist between a
letter with its tail turned up and a letter with its tail turned down. But Bill had a firm
determination that he would learn to read, founded chiefly on two reasons: first,
that Tom Hazelow, his cousin, could read anything "right off," whether it was print
or writing, and Tom had sent him a letter from twenty miles off, saying how he
was prospering in the world and had got an overlooker's place; secondly, that
Sam Phillips, who sawed with him, had learned to read when he was turned
twenty, and what could be done by a little fellow like Sam Phillips, Bill
considered, could be done by himself, seeing that he could pound Sam into wet
clay if circumstances required it. So here he was, pointing his big finger towards
three words at once, and turning his head on one side that he might keep better
hold with his eye of the one word which was to be discriminated out of the group.
The amount of knowledge Bartle Massey must possess was something so dim
and vast that Bill's imagination recoiled before it: he would hardly have ventured
to deny that the schoolmaster might have something to do in bringing about the
regular return of daylight and the changes in the weather.
The man seated next to Bill was of a very different type: he was a Methodist
brickmaker who, after spending thirty years of his life in perfect satisfaction with
his ignorance, had lately "got religion," and along with it the desire to read the
Bible. But with him, too, learning was a heavy business, and on his way out to-
night he had offered as usual a special prayer for help, seeing that he had
undertaken this hard task with a single eye to the nourishment of his soul--that he
might have a greater abundance of texts and hymns wherewith to banish evil
memories and the temptations of old habit--or, in brief language, the devil. For
the brickmaker had been a notorious poacher, and was suspected, though there
was no good evidence against him, of being the man who had shot a
neighbouring gamekeeper in the leg. However that might be, it is certain that
shortly after the accident referred to, which was coincident with the arrival of an
awakening Methodist preacher at Treddleston, a great change had been
observed in the brickmaker; and though he was still known in the neighbourhood
by his old sobriquet of "Brimstone," there was nothing he held in so much horror
as any further transactions with that evil-smelling element. He was a broad-
chested fellow. with a fervid temperament, which helped him better in imbibing