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Lay Morals

The Great North Road
Chapter 1. Nance At The 'Green Dragon'
Nance Holdaway was on her knees before the fire blowing the green wood that
voluminously smoked upon the dogs, and only now and then shot forth a
smothered flame; her knees already ached and her eyes smarted, for she had
been some while at this ungrateful task, but her mind was gone far away to meet
the coming stranger. Now she met him in the wood, now at the castle gate, now
in the kitchen by candle-light; each fresh presentment eclipsed the one before; a
form so elegant, manners so sedate, a countenance so brave and comely, a
voice so winning and resolute--sure such a man was never seen! The thick-
coming fancies poured and brightened in her head like the smoke and flames
upon the hearth.
Presently the heavy foot of her uncle Jonathan was heard upon the stair, and as
he entered the room she bent the closer to her work. He glanced at the green
fagots with a sneer, and looked askance at the bed and the white sheets, at the
strip of carpet laid, like an island, on the great expanse of the stone floor, and at
the broken glazing of the casement clumsily repaired with paper.
'Leave that fire a-be,' he cried. 'What, have I toiled all my life to turn innkeeper at
the hind end? Leave it a-be, I say.'
'La, uncle, it doesn't burn a bit; it only smokes,' said Nance, looking up from her
position.
'You are come of decent people on both sides,' returned the old man. 'Who are
you to blow the coals for any Robin-run-agate? Get up, get on your hood, make
yourself useful, and be off to the "Green Dragon."'
'I thought you was to go yourself,' Nance faltered.
'So did I,' quoth Jonathan; 'but it appears I was mistook.'
The very excess of her eagerness alarmed her, and she began to hang back. 'I
think I would rather not, dear uncle,' she said. 'Night is at hand, and I think, dear,
I would rather not.'
'Now you look here,' replied Jonathan, 'I have my lord's orders, have I not? Little
he gives me, but it's all my livelihood. And do you fancy, if I disobey my lord, I'm
likely to turn round for a lass like you? No, I've that hell-fire of pain in my old
knee, I wouldn't walk a mile, not for King George upon his bended knees.' And he
 
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