The Distracted Preacher

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Authors: Thomas Hardy
girl having run off into the village during the afternoon, too full of excitement at the proceedings to remember her state of life. However, almost before the sad lovers had said anything to each other, Martha came in in a steaming
state.
    â€œOh, there’s such a stoor, Mrs. Newberry and Mr. Stockdale! The King’s excisemen can’t get the carts ready nohow at all! They pulled Thomas Ballam’s, and William Rogers’s, and Stephen Sprake’s carts into the road, and off came the wheels, and down fell the carts; and they found there was no linchpins in the arms; and then they tried Samuel Shane’s wagon, and found that the screws were gone from he, and at last they looked at the dairyman’s cart, and he’s got none neither! They have gone now to the blacksmith’s to get some made, but he’s nowhere to be found!”
    Stockdale looked at Lizzy, who blushed very slightly, and went out of the room, followed by Martha Sarah; but before they had got through the passage there was a rap at the front door, and Stockdale recognized Latimer’s voice addressing Mrs. Newberry, who had turned
back.
    â€œFor God’s sake, Mrs. Newberry, have you seen Hardman the blacksmith up this way? If we could get hold of him, we’d e’en a’most drag him by the hair of his head to his anvil, where he ought to be.”
    â€œHe’s an idle man, Mr. Latimer,” said Lizzy, archly. “What do you want him for?”
    â€œWhy, there isn’t a horse in the place that has got more than three shoes on, and some have only two. The wagon-wheels be without strakes, and there’s no linchpins to the carts. What with that, and the bother about every set of harness being out of order, we sha’n’t be off before nightfall—upon my soul we sha’n’t. ’Tis a rough lot, Mrs. Newberry, that you’ve got about you here; but they’ll play at this game once too often, mark my words they will! There’s not a man in the parish that don’t deserve to be whipped.”
    It happened that Hardman was at that moment a little farther up the lane, smoking his pipe behind a holly-bush. When Latimer had done speaking he went on in this direction, and Hardman, hearing the exciseman’s steps, found curiosity too strong for prudence. He peeped out from the bush at the very moment that Latimer’s glance was on it. There was nothing left for him to do but to come forward with unconcern.
    â€œI’ve been looking for you for the last hour!” said Latimer, with a glare in his eye.
    â€œSorry to hear that,” said Hardman. “I’ve been out for a stroll, to look for more hid tubs, to deliver ’em up to Gover’ment.”
    â€œOh yes, Hardman, we know it,” said Latimer, with withering sarcasm. “We know that you’ll deliver ’em up to Gover’ment. We know that all the parish is helping us, and have been all day! Now, you please walk along with me down to your shop, and kindly let me hire ye in the King’s name.”
    They went down the lane together, and presently there resounded from the smithy the ring of a hammer not very briskly swung. However, the carts and horses were got into some sort of travelling condition, but it was not until after the clock had struck six, when the muddy roads were glistening under the horizontal light of the fading day. The smuggled tubs were soon packed into the vehicles, and Latimer, with three of his assistants, drove slowly out of the village in the direction of the port of Budmouth, some considerable number of miles distant, the other excisemen being left to watch for the remainder of the cargo, which they knew to have been sunk somewhere between Ringsworth and Lullstead Cove, and to unearth Owlett, the only person clearly implicated by the discovery of the cave.
    Women and children stood at the doors as the carts, each chalked with the Government pitchfork, passed in the

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