Book the Second - the Golden Thread
23. XXIII. Fire Rises
For, in these times, as the mender of roads worked, solitary, in the
dust, not often troubling himself to reflect that dust he was and to
dust he must return, being for the most part too much occupied in
thinking how little he had for supper and how much more he would eat
if he had it--in these times, as he raised his eyes from his lonely
labour, and viewed the prospect, he would see some rough figure
approaching on foot, the like of which was once a rarity in those
parts, but was now a frequent presence. As it advanced, the mender
of roads would discern without surprise, that it was a shaggy-haired
man, of almost barbarian aspect, tall, in wooden shoes that were
clumsy even to the eyes of a mender of roads, grim, rough, swart,
steeped in the mud and dust of many highways, dank with the marshy
moisture of many low grounds, sprinkled with the thorns and leaves
and moss of many byways through woods.
Such a man came upon him, like a ghost, at noon in the July weather,
as he sat on his heap of stones under a bank, taking such shelter as
he could get from a shower of hail.
The man looked at him, looked at the village in the hollow, at the
mill, and at the prison on the crag. When he had identified these
objects in what benighted mind he had, he said, in a dialect that
was just intelligible:
"How goes it, Jacques?"
"All well, Jacques."
They joined hands, and the man sat down on the heap of stones.
"Nothing but supper now," said the mender of roads, with a hungry face.
"It is the fashion," growled the man. "I meet no dinner anywhere."
He took out a blackened pipe, filled it, lighted it with flint and
steel, pulled at it until it was in a bright glow: then, suddenly held
it from him and dropped something into it from between his finger and
thumb, that blazed and went out in a puff of smoke.