They started at one another for a few moments. Tom watched with amazement and relief as William's set expression of anger and contempt melted away, to be replaced by a panicky anxiety. At last William took a leather purse from his belt and tossed it to his squire, saying: "Pay them."

At that point Tom pushed his luck. When William pulled on the reins again, and the horse lifted its strong head and stepped sideways, Tom moved with the horse and held on to the bridle, and said: "A full week's wages on dismissal, that is the custom." He heard a sharp intake of breath from Agnes, just behind him, and he knew she thought he was crazy to prolong the confrontation. But he plowed on. "That's sixpence for the laborer, twelve for the carpenter and each of the masons, and twenty-four pence for me. Sixty-six pence in all." He could add pennies faster than anyone he knew.

The squire was looking inquiringly at his master. William said angrily: "Very well."

Tom released the bridle and stepped back.

William turned the horse and kicked it hard, and it bounded forward onto the path through the wheat field.

Tom sat down suddenly on the woodpile. He wondered what had got into him. It had been mad to defy Lord William like that. He felt lucky to be alive.

The hoofbeats of William's war-horse faded to a distant thunder, and his squire emptied the purse onto a board. Tom felt a surge of triumph as the silver pennies tumbled out into the sunshine. It had been mad, but it had worked: he had secured just payment for himself and the men working under him. "Even lords ought to follow the customs," he said, half to himself.

Agnes heard him. "Just hope you're never in want of work from Lord William," she said sourly.

Tom smiled at her. He understood that she was churlish because she had been frightened. "Don't frown too much, or you'll have nothing but curdled milk in your breasts when that baby is born."

"I won't be able to feed any one of us unless you find work for the winter."

"The winter's a long way too," said Tom.

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