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Most Women Are Dull and Stupid

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A man can take his sorrows out on the Earth. He can cut

And pick, sort and barrow, and feel like a job well done,

End of the day. And a road seems a proper sort of thing

For a man to pay his attention to. A road is a solid thing.

It serves. It gets people, and things, there and back.


<Hard physical labor, that's what can burn off sorrow,

When reading and writing can't. Digging up a sapling,

Cutting its root, yanking it loose. When the arm and back

Muscles labor, the heart and mind lose their grip. Sweat

Can be a tonic for the soul, as we wring out the body.>


"Me and the lads generally stop for our dinners

Around now, Miss Lister," I say. "If that's all right..."

"Yes, of course," she says, still digging hard. I hand her

My bottle. "You should have a drop of beer if nowt else

For your dinner, ma'am," I say. "You've been digging


Like the devil." She tosses her shovel, takes it, drinks.

<I drink, deeper than I expected to, more thirsty

Than I had thought. It is refreshing. I say, 'Need to talk

To you about Eugenie. It really is an inconvenience...'

'Oh, it's all off,' he says, sadly. 'Sorry?' 'It's not happening,


So we're all right. As you said, it were a step down

For her. Would never have done. She realized that

When she got back from York. So...' I sat next to him

On the stone wall, playing back recent memories.

I say slowly, 'She was very pale in York and tearful...'


I pretended not to notice, but... Was she pregnant?'

He looked shocked, then relieved. 'Well, it wasn't mine.'

Realization hits me. 'It was George's, wasn't it?

I thought they were getting on well in Hastings and

In Langton and then...Good Lord! I thought she was


Preoccupied with something when we got back here,

But I couldn't decide if was just, you know, Shibden.'

He chuckles, says, 'I felt sorry for her: a new place, and

A load of unfamiliar faces, and Mrs. Cordingly said--'

'Cordingly?' 'She confided in Mrs. Cordingly, what with


Her having a bit of French, and none of us knew what

To do to help her--' 'Sorry, all of the servants knew?'

He nodded guiltily. "Mrs. Cordingly said what Eugenie

Needed was a man with a good Christian heart to step in,

And do the decent thing.' 'Oh, John.' 'Well, it weren't


Entirely a selfless thing. I am a bit smitten with her.'

And I never thought I would say something like this

To one of my servants, but. 'You do realize you are

Too good for her, don't you?' And then, as Ann had,

When I was vacillating about Vere's wedding, and she


Gave me sound, earthy advice, he said, 'Well, isn't that

Often the way when you feel like that about someone?

It's rare both parties feel exactly the same.' And with

Rather more honesty than I'd have expected from myself,

I said, 'I don't know. A thing can start that way, but then...'


'But you won't dismiss her?' he asked. 'Hmm. Well,

Proper French lady’s maids don't grow on trees, certainly

Not in Halifax...' And he asked, 'Are you... all right... ma'am?'

'I'm always all right." I take another swig from the bottle,

Hand it back to him just as Washington appears. Hey ho.>