Dick Jackson stirred on his straw mattress. The floor beneath the mattress was hard and uneven, but Dick slept here these winter nights to take advantage of the little heat his dying fire gave him, and it was fire that woke him now. But this was not his fire. Dick tottered to his door and opened it. His friend, cousin and neighbour, Jeffrey Drabble, had done the same. They stared at an inferno where a cottage had been.
The flames lit the dark night almost like day. The silence of a country parish after midnight was rent by the sound of cracking timbers. ‘Reuben Cooper is going to meet his maker,’ said Drabble.
‘Do you suppose the old fool was smoking in bed? It will be a black night in hell when that one arrives. The Devil will have a fight to keep his place.’
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