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Set in the year 1919, this story begins: Mr Gabriel Bearse was happy. The prominence given to this statement is not meant to imply that Gabriel was, as a general rule, unhappy. Quite the contrary; Mr Bearse's disposition was a cheerful one and the cares of this world had not rounded his plump shoulders. But Captain Sam Hunniwell had once said, and Orham public opinion agreed with him, that Gabe Bearse was never happy unless he was talking. Now here was Gabriel, not talking, but walking briskly along the Orham main road, and yet so distinctly happy that the happiness showed in his gait, his manner and in the excited glitter of his watery eye. Truly an astonishing condition of things and tending, one would say, to prove that Captain Sam's didactic remark, so long locally accepted and quoted as gospel truth, had a flaw in its wisdom somewhere.