DADDY DARWIN'S DOVECOT
AND OTHER STORIES
JULIANA HORATIO EWING.
"If I might buffet for my love, or bound my horse for her favors, I could lay on like a butcher, and sit like a Jackanapes, never off!"
KING HENRY V, Act 5, Scene 2.
Last noon beheld them full of lusty life, Last eve in Beauty's circle proudly gay, The midnight brought the signal sound of strife, The morn the marshalling in arms—the day Battle's magnificently stern array! The thunder clouds close o'er it, which when rent The earth is covered thick with other clay, Which her own clay shall cover, heaped and pent, Rider and horse:—friend, foe,—in one red burial blent.
Their praise is hymn'd by loftier harps than mine: Yet one would I select from that proud throng. ——to thee, to thousands, of whom each And one as all a ghastly gap did make In his own kind and kindred, whom to teach Forgetfuluess were mercy for their sake; The Archangel's trump, not glory's, must awake Those whom they thirst for. —BYRON.
Two Donkeys and the Geese lived on the Green, and all other residents of any social standing lived in houses round it. The houses had no names. Everybody's address was, "The Green," but the Postman and the people of the place knew where each family lived. As to the rest of the world, what has one to do with the rest of the world, when he is safe at home on his own Goose Green? Moreover, if a stranger did come on any lawful business, he might ask his way at the shop.
Most of the inhabitants were long-lived, early deaths (like that of the little Miss Jessamine) being exceptional; and most of the old people were proud of their age, especially the sexton, who would be ninety-nine come Martinmas, and whose father remembered a man who had carried arrows, as a boy, for the battle of Flodden Field. The Grey Goose and the big Miss Jessamine were the only elderly persons who kept their ages secret. Indeed, Miss Jessamine never mentioned any one's age, or recalled the exact year in which anything had happened. She said that she had been taught that it was bad manners to do so "in a mixed assembly."
The Grey Goose also avoided dates, but this was partly because her brain, though intelligent, was not mathematical, and computation was beyond her. She never got farther than "last Michaelmas," "the Michaelmas before that," and "the Michaelmas before the Michaelmas before that." After this her head, which was small, became confused, and she said, "Ga, ga!" and changed the subject.
But she remembered the little Miss Jessamine, the Miss Jessamine with the "conspicuous" hair. Her aunt, the big Miss Jessamine, said it was her only fault. The hair was clean, was abundant, was glossy, but do what you would with it, it never looked like other people's. And at church, after Saturday night's wash, it shone like the best brass fender after a Spring cleaning. In short, it was conspicuous, which does not become a young woman—especially in church.
Those were worrying times altogether, and the Green was used for strange purposes. A political meeting was held on it with the village Cobbler in the chair, and a speaker who came by stage coach from the town, where they had wrecked the bakers' shops, and discussed the price of bread. He came a second time, by stage, but the people had heard something about him in the meanwhile, and they did not keep him on the Green. They took him to the pond and tried to make him swim, which he could not do, and the whole affair was very disturbing to all quiet and peaceable fowls. After which another man came, and preached sermons on the Green, and a great many people went to hear him; for those were "trying times," and folk ran hither and thither for comfort. And then what did they do but drill the ploughboys on the Green, to get them ready to fight the French, and teach them the goose-step! However, that came to an end at last, for Bony was sent to St. Helena, and the ploughboys were sent back to the plough.
Everybody lived in fear of Bony in those days, especially the naughty children, who were kept in order during the day by threats of, "Bony shall have you," and who had nightmares about him in the dark. They thought he was an Ogre in a cocked hat. The Grey Goose thought he was a fox, and that all the men of England were going out in red coats to hunt him. It was no use to argue the point, for she had a very small head, and when one idea got into it there was no room for another.
Besides, the Grey Goose never saw Bony, nor did the children, which rather spoilt the terror of him, so that the Black Captain became more effective as a Bogy with hardened offenders. The Grey Goose remembered his coming to the place perfectly. What he came for she did not pretend to know. It was all part and parcel of the war and bad times. He was called the Black Captain, partly because of himself, and partly because of his wonderful black mare. Strange stories were afloat of how far and how fast that mare could go, when her master's hand was on her mane and he whispered in her ear. Indeed, some people thought we might reckon ourselves very lucky if we were not out of the frying-pan into the fire, and had not got a certain well-known Gentleman of the Road to protect us against the French. But that, of course, made him none the less useful to the Johnson's Nurse, when the little Miss Johnsons were naughty.
"You leave off crying this minnit, Miss Jane, or I'll give you right away to that horrid wicked officer. Jemima! just look out o' the windy, if you please, and see if the Black Cap'n's a-coming with his horse to carry away Miss Jane."
And there, sure enough, the Black Captain strode by, with his sword clattering as if it did not know whose head to cut off first. But he did not call for Miss Jane that time. He went on to the Green, where he came so suddenly upon the eldest Master Johnson, sitting in a puddle on purpose, in his new nankeen skeleton suit, that the young gentleman thought judgment had overtaken him at last, and abandoned himself to the howlings of despair. His howls were redoubled when he was clutched from behind and swung over the Black Captain's shoulder, but in five minutes his tears were stanched, and he was playing with the officer's accoutrements. All of which the Grey Goose saw with her own eyes, and heard afterwards that that bad boy had been whining to go back to the Black Captain ever since, which showed how hardened he was, and that nobody but Bonaparte himself could be expected to do him any good.
But those were "trying times." It was bad enough when the pickle of a large and respectable family cried for the Black Captain; when it came to the little Miss Jessamine crying for him, one felt that the sooner the French landed and had done with it the better.
The big Miss Jessamine's objection to him was that he was a soldier, and this prejudice was shared by all the Green. "A soldier," as the speaker from the town had observed, "is a bloodthirsty, unsettled sort of a rascal; that the peaceable, home-loving, bread-winning citizen can never conscientiously look on as a brother, till he has beaten his sword into a ploughshare, and his spear into a pruning-hook."
On the other hand there was some truth in what the Postman (an old soldier) said in reply; that the sword has to cut a way for us out of many a scrape into which our bread-winners get us when they drive their ploughshares into fallows that don't belong to them. Indeed, whilst our most peaceful citizens were prosperous chiefly by means of cotton, of sugar, and of the rise and fall of the money-market (not to speak of such salable matters as opium, firearms, and "black ivory"), disturbances were apt to arise in India, Africa and other outlandish parts, where the fathers of our domestic race were making fortunes for their families. And, for that matter, even on the Green, we did not wish the military to leave us in the lurch, so long as there was any fear that the French were coming.
[Footnote 1: "'The political men declare war, and generally for commercial interests; but when the nation is thus embroiled with its neighbors the soldier ... draws the sword, at the command of his country.... One word as to thy comparison of military and commercial persons. What manner of men be they who have supplied the Caffres with the firearms and ammunition to maintain their savage and deplorable wars? Assuredly they are not military.... Cease then, if thou would'st be counted among the just, to vilify soldiers."—W. Napier, Lieut. General, November, 1851.]
To let the Black Captain have little Miss Jessamine, however, was another matter. Her Aunt would not hear of it; and then, to crown all, it appeared that the Captain's father did not think the young lady good enough for his son. Never was any affair more clearly brought to a conclusion. But those were "trying times;" and one moon-light night, when the Grey Goose was sound asleep upon one leg, the Green was rudely shaken under her by the thud of a horse's feet. "Ga, ga!" said she, putting down the other leg, and running away.
By the time she returned to her place not a thing was to be seen or heard. The horse had passed like a shot. But next day, there was hurrying and skurrying and cackling at a very early hour, all about the white house with the black beams, where Miss Jessamine lived. And when the sun was so low, and the shadows so long on the grass that the Grey Goose felt ready to run away at the sight of her own neck, little Miss Jane Johnson, and her "particular friend" Clarinda, sat under the big oak-tree on the Green, and Jane pinched Clarinda's little finger till she found that she could keep a secret, and then she told her in confidence that she had heard from Nurse and Jemima that Miss Jessamine's niece had been a very naughty girl, and that that horrid wicked officer had come for her on his black horse, and carried her right away.
"Will she never come back?" asked Clarinda.
"Oh, no!" said Jane decidedly. "Bony never brings people back."
"Not never no more?" sobbed Clarinda, for she was weak-minded, and could not bear to think that Bony never, never let naughty people go home again.
Next day Jane had heard more.
"He has taken her to a Green?"
"A Goose Green?" asked Clarinda.
"No. A Gretna Green. Don't ask so many questions, child," said Jane; who, having no more to tell, gave herself airs.
Jane was wrong on one point. Miss Jessamine's niece did come back, and she and her husband were forgiven. The Grey Goose remembered it well, it was Michaelmastide, the Michaelmas before the Michaelmas before the Michaelmas—but ga, ga! What does the date matter? It was autumn, harvest-time, and everybody was so busy prophesying and praying about the crops, that the young couple wandered through the lanes, and got blackberries for Miss Jessamine's celebrated crab and blackberry jam, and made guys of themselves with bryony-wreaths, and not a soul troubled his head about them, except the children, and the Postman. The children dogged the Black Captain's footsteps (his bubble reputation as an Ogre having burst), clamoring for a ride on the black mare. And the Postman would go somewhat out of his postal way to catch the Captain's dark eye, and show that he had not forgotten how to salute an officer.
But they were "trying times." One afternoon the black mare was stepping gently up and down the grass, with her head at her master's shoulder, and as many children crowded on to her silky back as if she had been an elephant in a menagerie; and the next afternoon she carried him away, sword and sabre-tache clattering war-music at her side, and the old Postman waiting for them, rigid with salutation, at the four cross roads.
War and bad times! It was a hard winter, and the big Miss Jessamine and the little Miss Jessamine (but she was Mrs. Black-Captain now), lived very economically that they might help their poorer neighbors. They neither entertained nor went into company, but the young lady always went up the village as far as the George and Dragon, for air and exercise, when the London Mail came in.
[Footnote 2: The Mail Coach it was that distributed over the face of the land, like the opening of apocalyptic vials, the heart-shaking news of Trafalgar, of Salamanca, of Vittoria, of Waterloo.... The grandest chapter of our experience, within the whole Mail Coach service, was on those occasions when we went down from London with the news of Victory. Five years of life it was worth paying down for the privilege of an outside place. DE QUINCEY.]
One day (it was a day in the following June) it came in earlier than usual, and the young lady was not there to meet it.
But a crowd soon gathered round the George and Dragon, gaping to see the Mail Coach dressed with flowers and oak-leaves, and the guard wearing a laurel wreath over and above his royal livery. The ribbons that decked the horses were stained and flecked with the warmth and foam of the pace at which they had come, for they had pressed on with the news of Victory.
Miss Jessamine was sitting with her niece under the oak-tree on the Green, when the Postman put a newspaper silently into her hand. Her niece turned quickly—"Is there news?"
"Don't agitate yourself, my dear," said her aunt. "I will read it aloud, and then we can enjoy it together; a far more comfortable method, my love, than when you go up the village, and come home out of breath, having snatched half the news as you run."
"I am all attention, dear aunt," said the little lady, clasping her hands tightly on her lap.
Then Miss Jessamine read aloud—she was proud of her reading—and the old soldier stood at attention behind her, with such a blending of pride and pity on his face as it was strange to see:—
"June 22, 1815, 1 A.M."
"That's one in the morning," gasped the Postman; "beg your pardon, mum."
But though he apologized, he could not refrain from echoing here and there a weighty word. "Glorious victory,"—"Two hundred pieces of artillery,"—"Immense quantity of ammunition,"—and so forth.
"The loss of the British Army upon this occasion has unfortunately been most severe. It had not been possible to make out a return of the killed and wounded when Major Percy left headquarters. The names of the officers killed and wounded, as far as they can be collected, are annexed.
"I have the honor——"
"The list, aunt! Read the list!"
"My love—my darling—let us go in and——"
"No. Now! now!"
To one thing the supremely afflicted are entitled in their sorrow—to be obeyed—and yet it is the last kindness that people commonly will do them. But Miss Jessamine did. Steadying her voice, as best she might, she read on, and the old soldier stood bareheaded to hear that first Roll of the Dead at Waterloo, which began with the Duke of Brunswick, and ended with Ensign Brown. Five-and-thirty British Captains fell asleep that day on the bed of Honor, and the Black Captain slept among them.
[Footnote 3: "Brunswick's fated chieftain" fell at Quatre Bras, the day before Waterloo, but this first (very imperfect) list, as it appeared in the newspapers of the day, did begin with his name, and end with that of an Ensign Brown.]
* * * * *
There are killed and wounded by war, of whom no returns reach Downing Street.
Three days later, the Captain's wife had joined him, and Miss Jessamine was kneeling by the cradle of their orphan son, a purple-red morsel of humanity, with conspicuously golden hair.
"Will he live, Doctor?"
"Live? GOD bless my soul, ma'am! Look at him! The young Jackanapes!"
And he wandered away and away With Nature, the dear old Nurse.
The Grey Goose remembered quite well the year that Jackanapes began to walk, for it was the year that the speckled hen for the first time in all her motherly life got out of patience when she was sitting. She had been rather proud of the eggs—they are unusually large—but she never felt quite comfortable on them; and whether it was because she used to get cramp, and got off the nest, or because the season was bad, or what, she never could tell, but every egg was addled but one, and the one that did hatch gave her more trouble than any chick she had ever reared.
It was a fine, downy, bright yellow little thing, but it had a monstrous big nose and feet, and such an ungainly walk as she knew no other instance of in her well-bred and high-stepping family. And as to behavior, it was not that it was either quarrelsome or moping, but simply unlike the rest. When the other chicks hopped and cheeped on the Green all at their mother's feet, this solitary yellow one went waddling off on its own responsibility, and do or cluck what the spreckled hen would, it went to play in the pond.
It was off one day as usual, and the hen was fussing and fuming after it, when the Postman, going to deliver a letter at Miss Jessamine's door, was nearly knocked over by the good lady herself, who, bursting out of the house with her cap just off and her bonnet just not on, fell into his arms, crying—
"Baby! Baby! Jackanapes! Jackanapes!"
If the Postman loved anything on earth, he loved the Captain's yellow-haired child, so propping Miss Jessamine against her own door-post, he followed the direction of her trembling fingers and made for the Green.
Jackanapes had had the start of the Postman by nearly ten minutes. The world—the round green world with an oak tree on it—was just becoming very interesting to him. He had tried, vigorously but ineffectually, to mount a passing pig the last time he was taken out walking; but then he was encumbered with a nurse. Now he was his own master, and might, by courage and energy, become the master of that delightful, downy, dumpy, yellow thing, that was bobbing along over the green grass in front of him. Forward! Charge! He aimed well, and grabbed it, but only to feel the delicious downiness and dumpiness slipping through his fingers as he fell upon his face. "Quawk!" said the yellow thing, and wobbled off sideways. It was this oblique movement that enabled Jackanapes to come up with it, for it was bound for the Pond, and therefore obliged to come back into line. He failed again from top-heaviness, and his prey escaped sideways as before, and, as before, lost ground in getting back to the direct road to the Pond.
And at the Pond the Postman found them both, one yellow thing rocking safely on the ripples that lie beyond duck-weed, and the other washing his draggled frock with tears, because he too had tried to sit upon the Pond, and it wouldn't hold him.
... If studious, copie fair what time hath blurred, Redeem truth from his jawes; if souldier, Chase brave employments with a naked sword Throughout the world. Fool not; for all may have, If they dare try, a glorious life, or grave.
* * * * *
In brief, acquit thee bravely: play the man. Look not on pleasures as they come, but go. Defer not the least vertue: life's poore span Make not an ell, by trifling in thy woe. If thou do ill, the joy fades, not the pains. If well, the pain doth fade, the joy remains.
Young Mrs. Johnson, who was a mother of many, hardly knew which to pity more; Miss Jessamine for having her little ways and her antimacassars rumpled by a young Jackanapes; or the boy himself, for being brought up by an old maid.
Oddly enough, she would probably have pitied neither, had Jackanapes been a girl. (One is so apt to think that what works smoothest works to the highest ends, having no patience for the results of friction.) That Father in GOD, who bade the young men to be pure, and the maidens brave, greatly disturbed a member of his congregation, who thought that the great preacher had made a slip of the tongue.
"That the girls should have purity, and the boys courage, is what you would say, good Father?"
"Nature has done that," was the reply; "I meant what I said."
In good sooth, a young maid is all the better for learning some robuster virtues than maidenliness and not to move the antimacassars. And the robuster virtues require some fresh air and freedom. As, on the other hand, Jackanapes (who had a boy's full share of the little beast and the young monkey in his natural composition) was none the worse, at his tender years, for learning some maidenliness—so far as maidenliness means decency, pity, unselfishness and pretty behavior.
And it is due to him to say that he was an obedient boy, and a boy whose word could be depended on, long before his grandfather the General came to live at the Green.
He was obedient; that is he did what his great aunt told him. But—oh dear! oh dear!—the pranks he played, which it had never entered into her head to forbid!
It was when he had just been put into skeletons (frocks never suited him) that he became very friendly with Master Tony Johnson, a younger brother of the young gentleman who sat in the puddle on purpose. Tony was not enterprising, and Jackanapes led him by the nose. One summer's evening they were out late, and Miss Jessamine was becoming anxious, when Jackanapes presented himself with a ghastly face all besmirched with tears. He was unusually subdued.
"I'm afraid," he sobbed; "if you please, I'm very much afraid that Tony Johnson's dying in the churchyard."
Miss Jessamine was just beginning to be distracted, when she smelt Jackanapes.
"You naughty, naughty boys! Do you mean to tell me that you've been smoking?"
"Not pipes," urged Jackanapes; "upon my honor, Aunty, not pipes. Only segars like Mr. Johnson's! and only made of brown paper with a very, very little tobacco from the shop inside them."
Whereupon, Miss Jessamine sent a servant to the churchyard, who found Tony Johnson lying on a tomb-stone, very sick, and having ceased to entertain any hopes of his own recovery.
If it could be possible that any "unpleasantness" could arise between two such amiable neighbors as Miss Jessamine and Mrs. Johnson—and if the still more incredible paradox can be that ladies may differ over a point on which they are agreed—that point was the admitted fact that Tony Johnson was "delicate," and the difference lay chiefly in this: Mrs. Johnson said that Tony was delicate—meaning that he was more finely strung, more sensitive, a properer subject for pampering and petting than Jackanapes, and that, consequently, Jackanapes was to blame for leading Tony into scrapes which resulted in his being chilled, frightened, or (most frequently) sick. But when Miss Jessamine said that Tony Johnson was delicate, she meant that he was more puling, less manly, and less healthily brought up than Jackanapes, who, when they got into mischief together, was certainly not to blame because his friend could not get wet, sit a kicking donkey, ride in the giddy-go-round, bear the noise of a cracker, or smoke brown paper with impunity, as he could.
Not that there was ever the slightest quarrel between the ladies. It never even came near it, except the day after Tony had been so very sick with riding Bucephalus in the giddy-go-round. Mrs. Johnson had explained to Miss Jessamine that the reason Tony was so easily upset, was the unusual sensitiveness (as a doctor had explained it to her) of the nervous centres in her family—"Fiddlestick!" So Mrs. Johnson understood Miss Jessamine to say, but it appeared that she only said "Treaclestick!" which is quite another thing, and of which Tony was undoubtedly fond. It was at the fair that Tony was made ill by riding on Bucephalus. Once a year the Goose Green became the scene of a carnival. First of all, carts and caravans were rumbling up all along, day and night. Jackanapes could hear them as he lay in bed, and could hardly sleep for speculating what booths and whirligigs he should find fairly established; when he and his dog Spitfire went out after breakfast. As a matter of fact, he seldom had to wait long for news of the Fair. The Postman knew the window out of which Jackanapes' yellow head would come, and was ready with his report.
"Royal Theayter, Master Jackanapes, in the old place, but be careful o' them seats, sir; they're rickettier than ever. Two sweets and a ginger-beer under the oak tree, and the Flying Boats is just a-coming along the road."
No doubt it was partly because he had already suffered severely in the Flying Boats, that Tony collapsed so quickly in the giddy-go-round. He only mounted Bucephalus (who was spotted, and had no tail) because Jackanapes urged him, and held out the ingenious hope that the round-and-round feeling would very likely cure the up-and-down sensation. It did not, however, and Tony tumbled off during the first revolution.
Jackanapes was not absolutely free from qualms, but having once mounted the Black Prince he stuck to him as a horseman should. During the first round he waved his hat, and observed with some concern that the Black Prince had lost an ear since last Fair; at the second, he looked a little pale but sat upright, though somewhat unnecessarily rigid; at the third round he shut his eyes. During the fourth his hat fell off, and he clasped his horse's neck. By the fifth he had laid his yellow head against the Black Prince's mane, and so clung anyhow till the hobby-horses stopped, when the proprietor assisted him to alight, and he sat down rather suddenly and said he had enjoyed it very much.
The Grey Goose always ran away at the first approach of the caravans, and never came back to the Green till there was nothing left of the Fair but footmarks and oyster-shells. Running away was her pet principle; the only system, she maintained, by which you can live long and easily, and lose nothing. If you run away when you see danger, you can come back when all is safe. Run quickly, return slowly, hold your head high, and gabble as loud as you can, and you'll preserve the respect of the Goose Green to a peaceful old age. Why should you struggle and get hurt, if you can lower your head and swerve, and not lose a feather? Why in the world should any one spoil the pleasure of life, or risk his skin, if he can help it?
"'What's the use' Said the Goose."
Before answering which one might have to consider what world—which life—whether his skin were a goose-skin; but the Grey Goose's head would never have held all that.
Grass soon grows over footprints, and the village children took the oyster-shells to trim their gardens with; but the year after Tony rode Bucephalus there lingered another relic of Fairtime, in which Jackanapes was deeply interested. "The Green" proper was originally only part of a straggling common, which in its turn merged into some wilder waste land where gipsies sometimes squatted if the authorities would allow them, especially after the annual Fair. And it was after the Fair that Jackanapes, out rambling by himself, was knocked over by the Gipsy's son riding the Gipsy's red-haired pony at break-neck pace across the common.
Jackanapes got up and shook himself, none the worse, except for being heels over head in love with the red-haired pony. What a rate he went at! How he spurned the ground with his nimble feet! How his red coat shone in the sunshine! And what bright eyes peeped out of his dark forelock as it was blown by the wind!
The Gipsy boy had had a fright, and he was willing enough to reward Jackanapes for not having been hurt, by consenting to let him have a ride.
"Do you mean to kill the little fine gentleman, and swing us all on the gibbet, you rascal?" screamed the Gipsy-mother, who came up just as Jackanapes and the pony set off.
"He would get on," replied her son. "It'll not kill him. He'll fall on his yellow head, and it's as tough as a cocoanut."
But Jackanapes did not fall. He stuck to the red-haired pony as he had stuck to the hobbyhorse; but oh, how different the delight of this wild gallop with flesh and blood! Just as his legs were beginning to feel as if he did not feel them, the Gipsy boy cried "Lollo!" Round went the pony so unceremoniously, that, with as little ceremony, Jackanapes clung to his neck, and he did not properly recover himself before Lollo stopped with a jerk at the place where they had started.
"Is his name Lollo?" asked Jackanapes, his hand lingering in the wiry mane.
"What does Lollo mean?"
"Is Lollo your pony?"
"No. My father's." And the Gipsy boy led Lollo away.
At the first opportunity Jackanapes stole away again to the common. This time he saw the Gipsy-father, smoking a dirty pipe.
"Lollo is your pony, isn't he?" said Jackanapes.
"He's a very nice one."
"He's a racer."
"You don't want to sell him, do you?"
"Fifteen pounds," said the Gipsy-father; and Jackanapes sighed and went home again. That very afternoon he and Tony rode the two donkeys, and Tony managed to get thrown, and even Jackanapes' donkey kicked. But it was jolting, clumsy work after the elastic swiftness and the dainty mischief of the red-haired pony.
A few days later Miss Jessamine spoke very seriously to Jackanapes. She was a good deal agitated as she told him that his grandfather, the General, was coming to the Green, and that he must be on his very best behavior during the visit. If it had been feasible to leave off calling him Jackanapes and to get used to his baptismal name of Theodore before the day after to-morrow (when the General was due), it would have been satisfactory. But Miss Jessamine feared it would be impossible in practice, and she had scruples about it on principle. It would not seem quite truthful, although she had always most fully intended that he should be called Theodore when he had outgrown the ridiculous appropriateness of his nickname. The fact was that he had not outgrown it, but he must take care to remember who was meant when his grandfather said Theodore.
Indeed for that matter he must take care all along.
"You are apt to be giddy, Jackanapes," said Miss Jessamine.
"Yes aunt," said Jackanapes, thinking of the hobby-horses.
"You are a good boy, Jackanapes. Thank GOD, I can tell your grandfather that. An obedient boy, an honorable boy, and a kind-hearted boy. But you are—in short, you are a Boy, Jackanapes. And I hope,"—added Miss Jessamine, desperate with the results of experience—"that the General knows that Boys will be Boys."
What mischief could be foreseen, Jackanapes promised to guard against. He was to keep his clothes and his hands clean, to look over his catechism, not to put sticky things in his pockets, to keep that hair of his smooth—("It's the wind that blows it, Aunty," said Jackanapes—"I'll send by the coach for some bear's-grease," said Miss Jessamine, tying a knot in her pocket-handkerchief)—not to burst in at the parlor door, not to talk at the top of his voice, not to crumple his Sunday frill, and to sit quite quiet during the sermon, to be sure to say "sir" to the General, to be careful about rubbing his shoes on the doormat, and to bring his lesson-books to his aunt at once that she might iron down the dogs' ears. The General arrived, and for the first day all went well, except that Jackanapes' hair was as wild as usual, for the hair-dresser had no bear's-grease left. He began to feel more at ease with his grandfather, and disposed to talk confidentially with him, as he did with the Postman. All that the General felt it would take too long to tell, but the result was the same. He was disposed to talk confidentially with Jackanapes.
"Mons'ous pretty place this," he said, looking out of the lattice on to the Green, where the grass was vivid with sunset, and the shadows were long and peaceful.
"You should see it in Fair-week, sir," said Jackanapes, shaking his yellow mop, and leaning back in his one of the two Chippendale armchairs in which they sat.
"A fine time that, eh?" said the General, with a twinkle in his left eye. (The other was glass.)
Jackanapes shook his hair once more. "I enjoyed this last one the best of all," he said. "I'd so much money."
"By George, it's not a common complaint in these bad times. How much had ye?"
"I'd two shillings. A new shilling Aunty gave me, and elevenpence I had saved up, and a penny from the Postman—sir!" added Jackanapes with a jerk, having forgotten it.
"And how did ye spend it—sir?" inquired the General. Jackanapes spread his ten fingers on the arms of his chair, and shut his eyes that he might count the more conscientiously.
"Watch-stand for Aunty, threepence. Trumpet for myself, twopence, that's fivepence. Ginger-nuts for Tony, twopence, and a mug with a Grenadier on for the Postman, fourpence, that's elevenpence. Shooting-gallery a penny, that's a shilling. Giddy-go-round, a penny, that's one and a penny. Treating Tony, one and twopence. Flying Boats (Tony paid for himself), a penny, one and threepence. Shooting-gallery again, one and four-pence; Fat Woman a penny, one and fivepence. Giddy-go-round again, one and sixpence. Shooting-gallery, one and sevenpence. Treating Tony, and then he wouldn't shoot, so I did, one and eightpence. Living Skeleton, a penny—no, Tony treated me, the Living Skeleton doesn't count. Skittles, a penny, one and ninepence Mermaid (but when we got inside she was dead), a penny, one and tenpence. Theatre, a penny (Priscilla Partington, or the Green Lane Murder. A beautiful young lady, sir, with pink cheeks and a real pistol), that's one and elevenpence. Ginger beer, a penny (I was so thirsty!) two shillings. And then the Shooting-gallery man gave me a turn for nothing, because, he said, I was a real gentleman, and spent my money like a man."
"So you do, sir, so you do!" cried the General. "Why, sir, you spend it like a prince—And now I suppose you've not got a penny in your pocket?"
"Yes I have," said Jackanapes. "Two pennies. They are saving up." And Jackanapes jingled them with his hand.
"You don't want money except at fair-times, I suppose?" said the General.
Jackanapes shook his mop.
"If I could have as much as I want, I should know what to buy," said he.
"And how much do you want, if you could get it?"
"Wait a minute, sir, till I think what twopence from fifteen pounds leaves. Two from nothing you can't, but borrow twelve. Two from twelve, ten, and carry one. Please remember ten, sir, when I ask you. One from nothing you can't, borrow twenty. One from twenty, nineteen, and carry one. One from fifteen, fourteen. Fourteen pounds nineteen and—what did I tell you to remember?"
"Ten," said the General.
"Fourteen pounds nineteen shillings and ten-pence then, is what I want," said Jackanapes.
"Bless my soul, what for?"
"To buy Lollo with. Lollo means red, sir. The Gipsy's red-haired pony, sir. Oh, he is beautiful! You should see his coat in the sunshine! You should see his mane! You should see his tail! Such little feet, sir, and they go like lightning! Such a dear face, too, and eyes like a mouse! But he's a racer, and the Gipsy wants fifteen pounds for him."
"If he's a racer, you couldn't ride him. Could you?"
"No—o, sir, but I can stick to him. I did the other day."
"You did, did you? Well, I'm fond of riding myself, and if the beast is as good as you say, he might suit me."
"You're too tall for Lollo, I think," said Jackanapes, measuring his grandfather with his eye.
"I can double up my legs, I suppose. We'll have a look at him to-morrow."
"Don't you weigh a good deal?" asked Jackanapes.
"Chiefly waistcoats," said the General, slapping the breast of his military frock-coat. "We'll have the little racer on the Green the first thing in the morning. Glad you mentioned it, grandson. Glad you mentioned it."
The General was as good as his word. Next morning the Gipsy and Lollo, Miss Jessamine, Jackanapes and his grandfather and his dog Spitfire, were all gathered at one end of the Green in a group, which so aroused the innocent curiosity of Mrs. Johnson, as she saw it from one of her upper windows, that she and the children took their early promenade rather earlier than usual. The General talked to the Gipsy, and Jackanapes fondled Lollo's mane, and did not know whether he should be more glad or miserable if his grandfather bought him.
"I've bought Lollo, but I believe you were right. He hardly stands high enough for me. If you can ride him to the other end of the Green, I'll give him to you."
How Jackanapes tumbled on to Lollo's back he never knew. He had just gathered up the reins when the Gipsy-father took him by the arm.
"If you want to make Lollo go fast, my little gentleman—"
"I can make him go!" said Jackanapes, and drawing from his pocket the trumpet he had bought in the fair, he blew a blast both loud and shrill.
Away went Lollo, and away went Jackanapes' hat. His golden hair flew out, an aureole from which his cheeks shone red and distended with trumpeting. Away went Spitfire, mad with the rapture of the race, and the wind in his silky ears. Away went the geese, the cocks, the hens, and the whole family of Johnson. Lucy clung to her mamma, Jane saved Emily by the gathers of her gown, and Tony saved himself by a somersault.
The Grey Goose was just returning when Jackanapes and Lollo rode back, Spitfire panting behind.
"Good, my little gentleman, good!" said the Gipsy. "You were born to the saddle You've the flat thigh, the strong knee, the wiry back, and the light caressing hand, all you want is to learn the whisper Come here!"
"What was that dirty fellow talking about, grandson?" asked the General.
"I can't tell you, sir. It's a secret."
They were sitting in the window again, in the two Chippendale arm-chairs, the General devouring every line of his grandson's face, with strange spasms crossing his own.
"You must love your aunt very much, Jackanapes?"
"I do, sir," said Jackanapes warmly.
"And whom do you love next best to your aunt?"
The ties of blood were pressing very strongly on the General himself, and perhaps he thought of Lollo. But Love is not bought in a day, even with fourteen pounds nineteen shillings and ten-pence. Jackanapes answered quite readily, "The Postman."
"Why the Postman?"
"He knew my father," said Jackanapes, "and he tells me about him, and about his black mare. My father was a soldier, a brave soldier. He died at Waterloo. When I grow up I want to be a soldier too." "So you shall, my boy. So you shall."
"Thank you, grandfather. Aunty doesn't want me to be a soldier for fear of being killed."
"Bless my life! Would she have you get into a feather-bed and stay there? Why, you might be killed by a thunderbolt, if you were a butter-merchant!"
"So I might. I shall tell her so. What a funny fellow you are, sir! I say, do you think my father knew the Gipsy's secret? The Postman says he used to whisper to his black mare."
"Your father was taught to ride as a child, by one of those horsemen of the East who swoop and dart and wheel about a plain like swallows in autumn. Grandson! Love me a little too. I can tell you more about your father than the Postman can."
"I do love you," said Jackanapes. "Before you came I was frightened. I'd no notion you were so nice."
"Love me always, boy, whatever I do or leave undone. And—God help me—whatever you do or leave undone, I'll love you! There shall never be a cloud between us for a day; no, sir, not for an hour. We're imperfect enough, all of us, we needn't be so bitter; and life is uncertain enough at its safest, we needn't waste its opportunities. Look at me! Here sit I, after a dozen battles and some of the worst climates in the world, and by yonder lych gate lies your mother, who didn't move five miles, I suppose, from your aunt's apron-strings,—dead in her teens; my golden-haired daughter, whom I never saw."
Jackanapes was terribly troubled.
"Don't cry, grandfather," he pleaded, his own blue eyes round with tears. "I will love you very much, and I will try to be very good. But I should like to be a soldier."
"You shall, my boy, you shall. You've more claims for a commission than you know of. Cavalry, I suppose; eh, ye young Jackanapes? Well, well; if you live to be an honor to your country, this old heart shall grow young again with pride for you; and if you die in the service of your country—GOD bless me, it can but break for ye!"
And beating the region which he said was all waistcoats, as if they stifled him, the old man got up and strode out on to the Green.
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."—JOHN XV. 13.
Twenty and odd years later the Grey Goose was still alive, and in full possession of her faculties, such as they were. She lived slowly and carefully, and she lived long. So did Miss Jessamine; but the General was dead.
He had lived on the Green for many years, during which he and the Postman saluted each other with a punctiliousness that it almost drilled one to witness. He would have completely spoiled Jackanapes if Miss Jessamine's conscience would have let him; otherwise he somewhat dragooned his neighbors, and was as positive about parish matters as a ratepayer about the army. A stormy-tempered, tender-hearted soldier, irritable with the suffering of wounds of which he never spoke, whom all the village followed to his grave with, tears.
The General's death was a great shock to Miss Jessamine, and her nephew stayed with her for some little time after the funeral. Then he was obliged to join his regiment, which was ordered abroad.
One effect of the conquest which the General had gained over the affections of the village, was a considerable abatement of the popular prejudice against "the military." Indeed the village was now somewhat importantly represented in the army. There was the General himself, and the Postman, and the Black Captain's tablet in the church, and Jackanapes, and Tony Johnson, and a Trumpeter.
Tony Johnson had no more natural taste for fighting than for riding, but he was as devoted as ever to Jackanapes, and that was how it came about that Mr. Johnson bought him a commission in the same cavalry regiment that the General's grandson (whose commission had been given him by the Iron Duke) was in, and that he was quite content to be the butt of the mess where Jackanapes was the hero; and that when Jackanapes wrote home to Miss Jessamine, Tony wrote with the same purpose to his mother; namely, to demand her congratulations that they were on active service at last, and were ordered to the front. And he added a postscript to the effect that she could have no idea how popular Jackanapes was, nor how splendidly he rode the wonderful red charger whom he had named after his old friend Lollo.
* * * * *
A Boy Trumpeter, grave with the weight of responsibilities and accoutrements beyond his years, and stained, so that his own mother would not have known him, with the sweat and dust of battle, did as he was bid; and then pushing his trumpet pettishly aside, adjusted his weary legs for the hundredth time to the horse which was a world too big for him, and muttering, "'Tain't a pretty tune," tried to see something of this, his first engagement, before it came to an end.
Being literally in the thick of it, he could seen less or known less of what happened in that particular skirmish if he had been at home in England. For many good reasons; including dust and smoke, and that what attention he dared distract from his commanding officer was pretty well absorbed by keeping his hard-mouthed troop-horse in hand, under pain of execration by his neighbors in the melde. By-and-by, when the newspapers came out, if he could get a look at one before it was thumbed to bits, he would learn that the enemy had appeared from ambush in overwhelming numbers, and that orders had been given to fall back, which was done slowly and in good order, the men fighting as they retired.
Born and bred on the Goose Green, the youngest of Mr. Johnson's gardener's numerous off-spring, the boy had given his family "no peace" till they let him "go for a soldier" with Master Tony and Master Jackanapes. They consented at last, with more tears than they shed when an elder son was sent to jail for poaching, and the boy was perfectly happy in his life, and full of esprit de corps. It was this which had been wounded by having to sound retreat for "the young gentlemen's regiment," the first time he served with it before the enemy, and he was also harassed by having completely lost sight of Master Tony. There had been some hard fighting before the backward movement began, and he had caught sight of him once, but not since. On the other hand, all the pulses of his village pride had been stirred by one or two visions of Master Jackanapes whirling about on his wonderful horse. He had been easy to distinguish, since an eccentric blow had bared his head without hurting it, for his close golden mop of hair gleamed in the hot sunshine as brightly as the steel of the sword flashing round it.
Of the missiles that fell pretty thickly, the Boy Trumpeter did not take much notice. First, one can't attend to everything, and his hands were full. Secondly, one gets used to anything. Thirdly, experience soon teaches one, in spite of proverbs, how very few bullets find their billet. Far more unnerving is the mere suspicion of fear or even of anxiety in the human mass around you. The Boy was beginning to wonder if there were any dark reason for the increasing pressure, and whether they would be allowed to move back more quickly, when the smoke in front lifted for a moment, and he could see the plain, and the enemy's line some two hundred yards away.
And across the plain between them, he saw Master Jackanapes galloping alone at the top of Lollo's speed, their faces to the enemy, his golden head at Lollo's ear.
But at this moment noise and smoke seemed to burst out on every side, the officer shouted to him to sound retire, and between trumpeting and bumping about on his horse, he saw and heard no more of the incidents of his first battle.
Tony Johnson was always unlucky with horses, from the days of the giddy-go-round onwards. On this day—of all days in the' year—his own horse was on the sick list, and he had to ride an inferior, ill-conditioned beast, and fell off that, at the very moment when it was a matter of life or death to be able to ride away. The horse fell on him, but struggled up again, and Tony managed to keep hold of it. It was in trying to remount that he discovered, by helplessness and anguish, that one of his legs was crushed and broken, and that no feat of which he was master would get him into the saddle. Not able even to stand alone, awkwardly, agonizingly unable to mount his restive horse, his life was yet so strong within him! And on one side of him rolled the dust and smoke-cloud of his advancing foe, and on the other, that which covered his retreating friends.
He turned one piteous gaze after them, with a bitter twinge, not of reproach, but of loneliness; and then, dragging himself up by the side of his horse, he turned the other way and drew out his pistol, and waited for the end. Whether he waited seconds or minutes he never knew, before some one gripped him by the arm.
"Jackanapes! GOD bless you! It's my left leg. If you could get me on—"
It was like Tony's luck that his pistol went off at his horse's tail, and made it plunge; but Jackanapes threw him across the saddle.
"Hold on anyhow, and stick your spur in. I'll lead him. Keep your head down, they're firing high."
And Jackanapes laid his head down—to Lollo's ear.
It was when they were fairly off, that a sudden upspringing of the enemy in all directions had made it necessary to change the gradual retirement of our force into as rapid a retreat as possible. And when Jackanapes became aware of this, and felt the lagging and swerving of Tony's horse, he began to wish he had thrown his friend across his own saddle, and left their lives to Lollo.
When Tony became aware of it, several things came into his head. 1. That the dangers of their ride for life were now more than doubled. 2. That if Jackanapes and Lollo were not burdened with him they would undoubtedly escape. 3. That Jackanapes' life was infinitely valuable, and his—Tony's—was not. 4. That this—if he could seize it—was the supremest of all the moments in which he had tried to assume the virtues which Jackanapes had by nature; and that if he could be courageous and unselfish now—
He caught at his own reins and spoke very loud—
"Jackanapes! It won't do. You and Lollo must go on. Tell the fellows I gave you back to them, with all my heart. Jackanapes, if you love me, leave me!"
There was a daffodil light over the evening sky in front of them, and it shone strangely on Jackanapes' hair and face. He turned with an odd look in his eyes that a vainer man than Tony Johnson might have taken for brotherly pride. Then he shook his mop and laughed at him.
"Leave you? To save my skin? No, Tony, not to save my soul!"
Mr. VALIANT summoned. His will. His last words.
Then, said he, "I am going to my Father's.... My Sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my Pilgrimage, and my Courage and Skill to him that can get it." ... And as he went down deeper, he said, "Grave, where is thy Victory?"
So he passed over, and all the Trumpets sounded for him on the other side. BUNYAN'S Pilgrim's, Progress.
Coming out of a hospital-tent, at headquarters, the surgeon cannonaded against, and rebounded from, another officer; a sallow man, not young, with a face worn more by ungentle experiences than by age; with weary eyes that kept their own counsel, iron gray hair, and a moustache that was as if a raven had laid its wing across his lips and sealed them.
"Beg pardon, Major. Didn't see you. Oh, compound fracture and bruises, but it's all right. He'll pull through."
It was probably an involuntary expression, for prayer and praise were not much in the Major's line, as a jerk of the surgeon's head would have betrayed to an observer. He was a bright little man, with his feelings showing all over him, but with gallantry and contempt of death enough for both sides of his profession; who took a cool head, a white handkerchief and a case of instruments, where other men went hot-blooded with weapons, and who was the biggest gossip, male or female, of the regiment. Not even the Major's taciturnity daunted him.
"Didn't think he'd as much pluck about him as he has. He'll do all right if he doesn't fret himself into a fever about poor Jackanapes."
"Whom are you talking about?" asked the Major hoarsely.
"Young Johnson. He—"
"What about Jackanapes?"
"Don't you know? Sad business. Rode back for Johnson, and brought him in; but, monstrous ill-luck, hit as they rode. Left lung—"
"Will he recover?"
"No. Sad business."
"What a frame—what limbs—what health—and what good looks? Finest young fellow—"
"Where is he?"
"In his own tent," said the surgeon sadly.
The Major wheeled and left him.
* * * * *
"Can I do anything else for you?"
"Nothing, thank you. Except—Major! I wish I could get you to appreciate Johnson."
"This is not an easy moment, Jackanapes."
"Let me tell you, sir—he never will—that if he could have driven me from him, he would be lying yonder at this moment, and I should be safe and sound."
The Major laid his hand over his mouth, as if to keep back a wish he would have been ashamed to utter.
"I've known old Tony from a child. He's a fool on impulse, a good man and a gentleman in principle. And he acts on principle, which it's not every—some water, please! Thank you, sir. It's very hot, and yet one's feet get uncommonly cold. Oh, thank you, thank you. He's no fire-eater, but he has a trained conscience and a tender heart, and he'll do his duty when a braver and more selfish man might fail you. But he wants encouragement; and when I'm gone——"
"He shall have encouragement. You have my word for it. Can I do nothing else?"
"Yes, Major. A favor."
"Thank you, Jackanapes."
"Be Lollo's master, and love him as well as you can. He's used to it."
"Wouldn't you rather Johnson had him?"
The blue eyes twinkled in spite of mortal pain.
"Tony rides on principle, Major. His legs are bolsters, and will be to the end of the chapter. I couldn't insult dear Lollo, but if you don't care——Whilst I live——which will be longer than I desire or deserve——Lollo shall want nothing, but——you. I have too little tenderness for——my dear boy, you're faint. Can you spare me for a moment?"
"My head drifts so—if you wouldn't mind."
"Say a prayer by me. Out loud please, I am getting deaf."
"My dearest Jackanapes—my dear boy——"
"One of the Church Prayers—Parade Service, you know——"
"I see. But the fact is—GOD forgive me, Jackanapes—I'm a very different sort of fellow to some of you youngsters. Look here, let me fetch—"
But Jackanapes' hand was in his, and it wouldn't let go.
There was a brief and bitter silence.
"'Pon my soul I can only remember the little one at the end."
"Please," whispered Jackanapes.
Pressed by the conviction that what little he could do it was his duty to do, the Major—kneeling—bared his head, and spoke loudly, clearly, and very reverently—
"The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ—"
Jackanapes moved his left hand to his right one, which still held the Major's—
"—The love of GOD."
And with that—Jackanapes died.
"Und so ist der blaue Himmel groesser als jedes Gewolk darin, und dauerhafter dazu." JEAN PAUL RICHTER.
Jackanapes' death was sad news for the Goose Green, a sorrow justly qualified by honorable pride in his gallantry and devotion. Only the Cobbler dissented, but that was his way. He said he saw nothing in it but foolhardiness and vainglory. They might both have been killed, as easy as not, and then where would ye have been? A man's life was a man's life, and one life was as good as another. No one would catch him throwing his away. And, for that matter, Mrs. Johnson could spare a child a great deal better than Miss Jessamine.
But the parson preached Jackanapes' funeral sermon on the text, "Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it;" and all the village went and wept to hear him.
Nor did Miss Jessamine see her loss from the Cobbler's point of view. On the contrary, Mrs. Johnson said she never to her dying day should forget how, when she went to condole with her, the old lady came forward, with gentle-womanly self-control, and kissed her, and thanked GOD that her dear nephew's effort had been blessed with success, and that this sad war had made no gap in her friend's large and happy home circle.
"But she's a noble, unselfish woman," sobbed Mrs. Johnson, "and she taught Jackanapes to be the same, and that's how it is that my Tony has been spared to me. And it must be sheer goodness in Miss Jessamine, for what can she know of a mother's feelings? And I'm sure most people seem to think that if you've a large family you don't know one from another any more than they do, and that a lot of children are like a lot of store-apples, if one's taken it won't be missed."
Lollo—the first Lollo, the Gipsy's Lollo—very aged, draws Miss Jessamine's bath-chair slowly up and down the Goose Green in the sunshine.
The Ex-postman walks beside him, which Lollo tolerates to the level of his shoulder. If the Postman advances any nearer to his head, Lollo quickens his pace, and were the Postman to persist in the injudicious attempt, there is, as Miss Jessamine says, no knowing what might happen.
In the opinion of the Goose Green, Miss Jessamine has borne her troubles "wonderfully." Indeed, to-day, some of the less delicate and less intimate of those who see everything from the upper windows, say (well behind her back) that "the old lady seems quite lively with her military beaux again."
The meaning of this is, that Captain Johnson is leaning over one side of her chair, whilst by the other bends a brother officer who is staying with him, and who has manifested an extraordinary interest in Lollo. He bends lower and lower, and Miss Jessamine calls to the Postman to request Lollo to be kind enough to stop, whilst she is fumbling for something which always hangs by her side, and has got entangled with her spectacles.
It is a two-penny trumpet, bought years ago in the village fair, and over it she and Captain Johnson tell, as best they can, between them, the story of Jackanapes' ride across the Goose Green; and how he won Lollo—the Gipsy's Lollo—the racer Lollo—dear Lollo—faithful Lollo—Lollo the never vanquished—Lollo the tender servant of his old mistress. And Lollo's ears twitch at every mention of his name.
Their hearer does not speak, but he never moves his eyes from the trumpet, and when the tale is told, he lifts Miss Jessamine's hand and presses his heavy black moustache in silence to her trembling fingers.
The sun, betting gently to his rest, embroiders the sombre foliage of the oak-tree with threads of gold. The Grey Goose is sensible of an atmosphere of repose, and puts up one leg for the night. The grass glows with a more vivid green, and, in answer to a ringing call from Tony, his sisters, fluttering over the daisies in pale-hued muslins, come out of their ever-open door, like pretty pigeons form a dovecote.
And, if the good gossips, eyes do not deceive them, all the Miss Johnsons, and both the officers, go wandering off into the lanes, where bryony wreaths still twine about the brambles.
* * * * *
A sorrowful story, and ending badly?
Nay, Jackanapes, for the end is not yet.
A life wasted that might have been useful?
Men who have died for men, in all ages, forgive the thought!
There is a heritage of heroic example and noble obligation, not reckoned in the Wealth of Nations, but essential to a nation's life; the contempt of which, in any people, may, not slowly, mean even its commercial fall. Very sweet are the uses of prosperity, the harvests of peace and progress, the fostering sunshine of health and happiness, and length of days in the land.
But there be things—oh, sons of what has deserved the name of Great Britain, forget it not!—"the good of" which and "the use of" which are beyond all calculation of worldly goods and earthly uses; things such as Love, and Honor, and the Soul of Man, which cannot be bought with a price, and which do not die with death. "And they who would fain live happily EVER after, should not leave these things out of the lessons of their lives."
DADDY DARWIN'S DOVECOT.
* * * * *
A summer's afternoon. Early in the summer, and late in the afternoon; with odors and colors deepening, and shadows lengthening, towards evening.
Two gaffers gossiping, seated side by side upon a Yorkshire wall. A wall of sandstone of many colors, glowing redder and yellower as the sun goes down; well cushioned with moss and lichen, and deep set in rank grass on this side, where the path runs, and in blue hyacinths on that side, where the wood is, and where—on the gray and still naked branches of young oaks—sit divers crows, not less solemn than the gaffers, and also gossiping.
One gaffer in work-day clothes, not unpicturesque of form and hue. Gray, home-knit stockings, and coat and knee-breeches of corduroy, which takes tints from Time and Weather as harmoniously as wooden palings do; so that field laborers (like some insects) seem to absorb or mimic the colors of the vegetation round them and of their native soil. That is, on work-days. Sunday-best is a different matter, and in this the other gaffer was clothed. He was dressed like the crows above him, fit excepted: the reason for which was, that he was only a visitor, a revisitor to the home of his youth, and wore his Sunday (and funeral) suit to mark the holiday.
Continuing the path, a stone pack-horse track, leading past a hedge snow-white with may, and down into a little wood, from the depths of which one could hear a brook babbling. Then up across the sunny field beyond, and yet up over another field to where the brow of the hill is crowned by old farm-buildings standing against the sky.
Down this stone path a young man going whistling home to tea. Then staying to bend a swarthy face to the white may to smell it, and then plucking a huge branch on which the blossom lies like a heavy fall of snow, and throwing that aside for a better, and tearing off another and yet another, with the prodigal recklessness of a pauper; and so, whistling, on into the wood with his arms full.
Down the sunny field, as he goes up it, a woman coming to meet him—with her arms full. Filled by a child with a may-white frock, and hair shining with the warm colors of the sandstone. A young woman, having a fair forehead visible a long way off, and buxom cheeks, and steadfast eyes. When they meet he kisses her, and she pulls his dark hair and smooths her own, and cuffs him in country fashion. Then they change burdens, and she takes the may into her apron (stooping to pick up fallen bits), and the child sits on the man's shoulder, and cuffs and lugs its father as the mother did, and is chidden by her and kissed by him. And all the babbling of their chiding and crowing and laughter comes across the babbling of the brook to the ears of the old gaffers gossiping on the wall.
Gaffer I. spits out an over-munched stalk of meadow soft-grass, and speaks:
"D'ye see yon chap?"
Gaffer II. takes up his hat and wipes it round with a spotted handkerchief (for your Sunday hat is a heating thing for work-day wear), and puts it on, and makes reply:
"Aye. But he beats me. And—see there!—he's t'first that's beat me yet. Why, lad! I've met young chaps to-day I could ha' sworn to for mates of mine forty years back—if I hadn't ha' been i't' churchyard spelling over their fathers' tumstuns!"
"Aye. There's a many old standards gone home o' lately."
"What do they call him?"
"T' young chap?"
"They call him—Darwin."
"Dar—win? I should known a Darwin. They're old standards, is Darwins. What's he to Daddy Darwin of t' Dovecot yonder?"
"He owns t' Dovecot. Did ye see t' lass?"
"Aye. Shoo's his missus, I reckon?"
"What did they call her?"
"Phoebe Shaw they called her. And if she'd been my lass—but that's nother here nor there, and he's got t' Dovecot."
"Shaw? They're old standards, is Shaws. Phoebe? They called her mother Phoebe. Phoebe Johnson. She were a dainty lass! My father were very fond of Phoebe Johnson. He said she allus put him i' mind of our orchard on drying days; pink and white apple-blossom and clean clothes. And yon's her daughter? Where d'ye say t'young chap come from? He don't look like hereabouts."
"He don't come from hereabouts. And yet he do come from hereabouts, as one may say. Look ye here. He come from t' wukhus. That's the short and the long of it."
Stupefaction. The crows chattering wildly overhead.
"And he owns Darwin's Dovecot?"
"He owns Darwin's Dovecot."
"And how i' t' name o' all things did that come about'!"
"Why, I'll tell thee. It was i' this fashion."
* * * * *
Not without reason does the wary writer put gossip in the mouths of gaffers rather than of gammers. Male gossips love scandal as dearly as female gossips do, and they bring to it the stronger relish and energies of their sex. But these were country gaffers, whose speech—like shadows—grows lengthy in the leisurely hours of eventide. The gentle reader shall have the tale in plain narration.
NOTE—It will be plain to the reader that the birds here described are Rooks (corvus frugilegus). I have allowed myself to speak of them by their generic or family name of Crow, this being a common country practice. The genus corvus, or Crow, includes the Raven, the Carrion Crow, the Hooded Crow, the Jackdaw, and the Rook.
One Saturday night (some eighteen years earlier than the date of this gaffer-gossiping) the parson's daughter sat in her own room before the open drawer of a bandy-legged black oak table, balancing her bags. The bags were money-bags, and the matter shall be made clear at once.
In this parish, as in others, progress and the multiplication of weapons with which civilization and the powers of goodness push their conquests over brutality and the powers of evil, had added to the original duties of the parish priest, a multifarious and all but impracticable variety of offices; which, in ordinary and late conditions, would have been performed by several more or less salaried clerks, bankers, accountants, secretaries, librarians, club-committees, teachers, lecturers, discount for ready-money dealers in clothing, boots, blankets, and coal, domestic-servant agencies, caterers for the public amusement, and preservers of the public peace.
The country parson (no less than statesmen and princes, than men of science and of letters) is responsible for a great deal of his work that is really done by the help-mate—woman. This explains why five out of the young lady's moneybags bore the following inscriptions in marking-ink: "Savings' bank," "Clothing club," "Library," "Magazines and hymn-books," "Three-halfpenny club"—and only three bore reference to private funds, as—"House-money"—"Allowance "—"Charity."
It was the bag bearing this last and greatest name which the parson's daughter now seized and emptied into her lap. A ten-shilling piece, some small silver, and twopence halfpenny jingled together, and roused a silver-haired, tawny-pawed terrier, who left the hearthrug and came to smell what was the matter. His mistress's right hand—absently caressing—quieted his feelings; and with the left she held the ten-shilling piece between finger and thumb, and gazed thoughtfully at the other bags as they squatted in a helpless row, with twine-tied mouths hanging on all sides. It was only after anxious consultation with an account-book that the half-sovereign was exchanged for silver; thanks to the clothing-club bag, which looked leaner for the accommodation. In the three-halfpenny bag (which bulged with pence) some silver was further solved into copper, and the charity bag was handsomely distended before the whole lot was consigned once more to the table-drawer.
Any one accustomed to book-keeping must smile at this bag-keeping of accounts; but the parson's daughter could never "bring her mind" to keeping the funds apart on paper, and mixing the actual cash. Indeed, she could never have brought her conscience to it. Unless she had taken the tenth for "charity" from her dress and pocket-money in coin, and put it then and there into the charity bag, this self-imposed rule of the duty of almsgiving would not have been performed to her soul's peace.
The problem which had been exercising her mind that Saturday night was how to spend what was left of her benevolent fund in a treat for the children of the neighboring work-house. The fund was low, and this had decided the matter. The following Wednesday would be her twenty-first birthday. If the children came to tea with her, the foundation of the entertainment would, in the natural course of things, be laid in the Vicarage kitchen. The charity bag would provide the extras of the feast. Nuts, toys, and the like.
When the parson's daughter locked the drawer of the bandy-legged table, she did so with the vigor of one who has made up her mind, and set about the rest of her Saturday night's duties without further delay.
She put out her Sunday clothes, and her Bible and Prayer-book, and class-book and pencil, on the oak chest at the foot of the bed. She brushed and combed the silver-haired terrier, who looked abjectly depressed whilst this was doing, and preposterously proud when it was done. She washed her own hair, and studied her Sunday-school lesson for the morrow whilst it was drying. She spread a colored quilt at the foot of her white one for the terrier to sleep on—a slur which he always deeply resented.
Then she went to bed, and slept as one ought to sleep on Saturday night, who is bound to be at the Sunday School by 9.15 on the following morning, with a clear mind on the Rudiments of the Faith, the history of the Prophet Elisha, and the destinations of each of the parish magazines.
A little work-house-boy, with a swarthy face and tidily-cropped black hair, as short and thick as the fur of a mole, was grubbing, not quite so cleverly as a mole, in the work-house garden.
He had been set to weed, but the weeding was very irregularly performed, for his eyes and heart were in the clouds, as he could see them over the big boundary wall. For there—now dark against the white, now white against the gray—some Air Tumbler pigeons were turning somersaults on their homeward way, at such short and regular intervals that they seemed to be tying knots in their lines of flight.
It was too much! The small gardener shamelessly abandoned his duties, and, curving his dirty paws on each side of his mouth, threw his whole soul into shouting words of encouragement to the distant birds.
"That's a good un! On with thee! Over ye go! Oo—ooray!"
It was this last prolonged cheer which drowned the sound of footsteps on the path behind him, so that if he had been a tumbler pigeon himself he could not have jumped more nimbly when a man's hand fell upon his shoulder. Up went his arms to shield his ears from a well-merited cuffing; but fate was kinder to him than he deserved. It was only an old man (prematurely aged with drink and consequent poverty), whose faded eyes seemed to rekindle as he also gazed after the pigeons, and spoke as one who knows.
"Yon's Daddy Darwin's Tumblers."
This old pauper had only lately come into "the House" (the house that never was a home!), and the boy clung eagerly to his flannel sleeve, and plied him thick and fast with questions about the world without the workhouse-walls, and about the happy owner of those yet happier creatures who were free not only on the earth, but in the skies.
The poor old pauper was quite as willing to talk as the boy was to listen. It restored some of that self-respect which we lose under the consequences of our follies to be able to say that Daddy Darwin and he had been mates together, and had had pigeon-fancying in common "many a long year afore" he came into the House.
And so these two made friendship over such matters as will bring man and boy together to the end of time. And the old pauper waxed eloquent on the feats of Homing Birds and Tumblers, and on the points of Almonds and Barbs, Fantails and Pouters; sprinkling his narrative also with high sounding and heterogeneous titles, such as Dragons and Archangels, Blue Owls and Black Priests, Jacobines, English Horsemen and Trumpeters. And through much boasting of the high stakes he had had on this and that pigeon-match then, and not a few bitter complaints of the harsh hospitality of the House he "had come to" now, it never seemed to occur to him to connect the two, or to warn the lad who hung upon his lips that one cannot eat his cake with the rash appetites of youth, and yet hope to have it for the support and nourishment of his old age.
The longest story the old man told was of a "bit of a trip" he had made to Liverpool, to see some Antwerp Carriers flown from thence to Ghent, and he fixed the date of this by remembering that his twin sons were born in his absence, and that though their birthday was the very day of the race, his "missus turned stoopid," as women (he warned the boy) are apt to do, and refused to have them christened by uncommon names connected with the fancy. All the same, he bet the lads would have been nicknamed the Antwerp Carriers, and known as such to the day of their death, if this had not come so soon and so suddenly, of croup; when (as it oddly chanced) he was off on another "bit of a holiday" to fly some pigeons of his own in Lincolnshire.
This tale had not come to an end when a voice of authority called for "Jack March," who rubbed his mole-like head, and went ruefully off, muttering that he should "catch it now."
"Sure enough! sure enough!" chuckled the unamiable old pauper.
But again fate was kinder to the lad than his friend. His negligent weeding passed unnoticed, because he was wanted in a hurry to join the other children in the school-room. The parson's daughter had come, the children were about to sing to her, and Jack's voice could not be dispensed with.
He "cleaned himself" with alacrity, and taking his place in the circle of boys standing with their hands behind their backs, he lifted up a voice worthy of a cathedral choir, whilst varying the monotony of sacred song by secretly snatching at the tail of the terrier as it went snuffing round the legs of the group. And in this feat he proved as much superior to the rest of the boys (who also tried it) as he excelled them in the art of singing.
Later on he learned that the young lady had come to invite them all to have tea with her on her birthday. Later still he found the old pauper once more, and questioned him closely about the village and the Vicarage, and as to which of the parishioners kept pigeons, and where.
And when he went to his straw bed that night, and his black head throbbed with visions and high hopes, these were not entirely of the honor of drinking tea with a pretty young lady, and how one should behave himself in such abashing circumstances. He did not even dream principally of the possibility of getting hold of that silver-haired, tawny-pawed dog by the tail under freer conditions than those of this afternoon, though that was a refreshing thought.
What kept him long awake was thinking of this. From the top of an old walnut-tree at the top of a field at the back of the Vicarage, you could see a hill, and on the top of the hill some farm buildings. And it was here (so the old pauper had told him) that those pretty pigeons lived, who, though free to play about among the clouds, yet condescended to make an earthly home—in Daddy Darwin's Dovecot.
Two and two, girls and boys, the young lady's guests marched down to the Vicarage. The school-mistress was anxious that each should carry his and her tin mug, so as to give as little trouble as possible; but this was resolutely declined, much to the children's satisfaction, who had their walk with free hands, and their tea out of teacups and saucers, like anybody else.
It was a fine day, and all went well. The children enjoyed themselves, and behaved admirably into the bargain. There was only one suspicion of misconduct, and the matter was so far from clear that the parson's daughter hushed it up, and, so to speak, dismissed the case.
The children were playing at some game in which Jack March was supposed to excel, but when they came to look for him he could nowhere be found. At last he was discovered, high up among the branches of an old walnut-tree at the top of the field, and though his hands were unstained and his pockets empty, the gardener, who had been the first to spy him, now loudly denounced him as an ungrateful young thief. Jack, with swollen eyes and cheeks besmirched with angry tears, was vehemently declaring that he had only climbed the tree to "have a look at Master Darwin's pigeons," and had not picked so much as a leaf, let alone a walnut; and the gardener, "shaking the truth out of him" by the collar of his fustian jacket, was preaching loudly on the sin of adding falsehood to theft, when the parson's daughter came up, and, in the end, acquitted poor Jack, and gave him leave to amuse himself as he pleased.
It did not please Jack to play with his comrades just then. Pie felt sulky and aggrieved. He would have liked to play with the terrier who had stood by him in his troubles, and barked at the gardener; but that little friend now trotted after his mistress, who had gone to choir-practice.
Jack wandered about among the shrubberies. By-and-by he heard sounds of music, and led by these he came to a gate in a wall, dividing the Vicarage garden from the churchyard. Jack loved music, and the organ and the voices drew him on till he reached the church porch; but there he was startled by a voice that was not only not the voice of song, but was the utterance of a moan so doleful that it seemed the outpouring of all his lonely, and outcast, and injured feelings in one comprehensive howl.
It was the voice of the silver-haired terrier. He was sitting in the porch, his nose up, his ears down, his eyes shut, his mouth open, bewailing in bitterness of spirit the second and greater crook of his lot.
To what purpose were all the caresses and care and indulgence of his mistress, the daily walks, the weekly washings and combings, the constant companionship, when she betrayed her abiding sense of his inferiority, first, by not letting him sleep on the white quilt, and secondly, by never allowing him to go to church?
Jack shared the terrier's mood. What were tea and plum-cake to him, when his pauper-breeding was so stamped upon him that the gardener was free to say—"A nice tale too! What's thou to do wi' doves, and thou a work'us lad?"—and to take for granted that he would thieve and lie if he got the chance?
His disabilities were not the dog's, however. The parish church was his as well as another's, and he crept inside and leaned against one of the stone pillars, as if it were a big, calm friend.
Far away, under the transept, a group of boys and men held their music near to their faces in the waning light. Among them towered the burly choirmaster, baton in hand. The parson's daughter was at the organ. Well accustomed to produce his voice to good purpose, the choirmaster's words were clearly to be heard throughout the building, and it was on the subject of articulation and emphasis, and the like, that he was speaking; now and then throwing in an extra aspirate in the energy of that enthusiasm without which teaching is not worth the name.
"That'll not do. We must have it altogether different. You two lads are singing like bumblebees in a pitcher—border there, boys!—it's no laughing matter—put down those papers and keep your eyes on me—inflate the chest—" (his own seemed to fill the field of vision) "and try and give forth those noble words as if you'd an idea what they meant."
No satire was intended or taken here, but the two boys, who were practicing their duet in an anthem, laid down the music, and turned their eyes on their teacher.
"I'll run through the recitative," he added, "and take your time from the stick. And mind that OH."
The parson's daughter struck a chord, and then the burly choirmaster spoke with the voice of melody:
"My heart is disquieted within me. My heart—my heart is disquieted within me. And the fear of death is fallen—is fallen upon me."
The terrier moaned without, and Jack thought no boy's voice could be worth listening to after that of the choirmaster. But he was wrong. A few more notes from the organ, and then, as night-stillness in a wood is broken by the nightingale, so upon the silence of the church a boy-alto's voice broke forth in obedience to the choirmaster's uplifted hand:
"Then, I said—I said——"
Jack gasped, but even as he strained his eyes to see what such a singer could look like, with higher, clearer notes the soprano rose above him —"Then I sa—a—id," and the duet began:
"Oh that I had wings—O that I had wings like a dove!"
Soprano.—"Then would I flee away." Alto.—"Then would I flee away." Together.—"And be at rest—flee away and be at rest."
The clear young voices soared and chased each other among the arches, as if on the very pinions for which they prayed. Then—swept from their seats by an upward sweep of the choirmaster's arms—the chorus rose, as birds rise, and carried on the strain.
It was not a very fine composition, but this final chorus had the singular charm of fugue. And as the voices mourned like doves, "Oh that I had wings!" and pursued each other with the plaintive passage, "Then would I flee away—then would I flee away——," Jack's ears knew no weariness of the repetition. It was strangely like watching the rising and falling of Daddy Darwin's pigeons, as they tossed themselves by turns upon their homeward flight.
After the fashion of the piece and period, the chorus was repeated, and the singers rose to supreme effort. The choirmaster's hands flashed hither and thither, controlling, inspiring, directing. He sang among the tenors.
Jack's voice nearly choked him with longing to sing too. Could words of man go more deeply home to a young heart caged within workhouse walls?
"Oh that I had wings like a dove! Then would I flee away—" the choirmaster's white hands were fluttering downwards in the dusk, and the chorus sank with them—"flee away and be at rest!"
Jack March had a busy little brain, and his nature was not of the limp type that sits down with a grief. That most memorable tea-party had fired his soul with two distinct ambitions. First, to be a choir-boy; and, secondly, to dwell in Daddy Darwin's Dovecot. He turned the matter over in his mind, and patched together the following facts:
The Board of Guardians meant to apprentice him, Jack, to some master, at the earliest opportunity. Daddy Darwin (so the old pauper told him) was a strange old man, who had come down in the world, and now lived quite alone, with not a soul to help him in the house or outside it. He was "not to say mazelin yet, but getting helpless, and uncommon mean."
A nephew came one fine day and fetched away the old pauper, to his great delight. It was by their hands that Jack despatched a letter, which the nephew stamped and posted for him, and which was duly delivered on the following morning to Mr. Darwin of the Dovecot.
The old man had no correspondents, and he looked long at the letter before he opened it. It did credit to the teaching of the workhouse schoolmistress:
"They call me Jack March. I'm a workhouse lad, but, sir, I'm a good one, and the Board means to 'prentice me next time. Sir, if you face the Board and take me out you shall never regret it. Though I says it as shouldn't I'm a handy lad. I'll clean a floor with any one, and am willing to work early and late, and at your time of life you're not what you was, and them birds must take a deal of seeing to. I can see them from the garden when I'm set to weed, and I never saw nought like them. Oh, sir, I do beg and pray you let me mind your pigeons. You'll be none the worse of a lad about the place, and I shall be happy all the days of my life. Sir, I'm not unthankful, but please GOD, I should like to have a home, and to be with them house doves.
"From your humble servent—hoping to be—
"Mr. Darwin, Sir. I love them Tumblers as if they was my own."
Daddy Darwin thought hard and thought long over that letter. He changed his mind fifty times a day. But Friday was the Board day, and when Friday came he "faced the Board." And the little workhouse lad went home to Daddy Darwin's Dovecot.
The bargain was oddly made, but it worked well. Whatever Jack's parentage may have been (and he was named after the stormy month in which he had been born), the blood that ran in his veins could not have been beggar's blood. There was no hopeless, shiftless, invincible idleness about him. He found work for himself when it was not given him to do, and he attached himself passionately and proudly to all the belongings of his new home.
"Yon lad of yours seem handy enough, Daddy;—for a vagrant, as one may say." Daddy Darwin was smoking over his garden wall, and Mrs. Shaw, from the neighboring farm, had paused in her walk for a chat. She was a notable housewife, and there was just a touch of envy in her sense of the improved appearance of the doorsteps and other visible points of the Dovecot. Daddy Darwin took his pipe out of his mouth to make way for the force of his reply:
"Vagrant! Nay, missus, yon's no vagrant. He's fettling up all along. Jack's the sort if he finds a key he'll look for the lock; if ye give him a knife-blade he'll fashion a heft. Why, a vagrant's a chap that, if he'd all your maester owns to-morrow, he'd be on the tramp again afore t' year were out, and three years wouldn't repair the mischief he'd leave behind him. A vagrant's a chap that if ye lend him a thing he loses it; if ye give him a thing he abuses it——"
"That's true enough, and there's plenty servant-girls the same," put in Mrs. Shaw.
"Maybe there be, ma'am—maybe there be; vagrants' children, I reckon. But yon little chap I got from t' House comes of folk that's had stuff o' their own, and cared for it—choose who they were."
"Well, Daddy," said his neighbor, not without malice, "I'll wish you a good evening. You've got a good bargain out of the parish, it seems."
But Daddy Darwin only chuckled, and stirred up the ashes in the bowl of his pipe.
"The same to you, ma'am—the same to you. Aye! he's a good bargain—a very good bargain is Jack March."
It might be supposed from the foregoing dialogue that Daddy Darwin was a model householder, and the little workhouse boy the neatest creature breathing. But the gentle reader who may imagine this is much mistaken.
Daddy Darwin's Dovecot was freehold, and when he inherited it from his father there was, still attached to it a good bit of the land that had passed from father to son through more generations than the church registers were old enough to record. But the few remaining acres were so heavily mortgaged that they had to be sold. So that a bit of house property elsewhere, and the old homestead itself, were all that was left. And Daddy Darwin had never been the sort of man to retrieve his luck at home, or to seek it abroad.
That he had inherited a somewhat higher and more refined nature than his neighbors had rather hindered than helped him to prosper. And he had been unlucky in love. When what energies he had were in their prime, his father's death left him with such poor prospects that the old farmer to whose daughter he was betrothed broke off the match and married her elsewhere. His Alice was not long another man's wife. She died within a year from her wedding-day, and her husband married again within a year from her death. Her old lover was no better able to mend his broken heart than his broken fortunes. He only banished women from the Dovecot, and shut himself up from the coarse consolation of his neighbors.
In this loneliness, eating a kindly heart out in bitterness of spirit, with all that he ought to have had—
To plough and sow And reap and mow—
gone from him, and in the hands of strangers; the pigeons, for which the Dovecot had always been famous, became the business and the pleasure of his life. But of late years his stock had dwindled, and he rarely went to pigeon-matches or competed in shows and races. A more miserable fancy rivalled his interest in pigeon fancying. His new hobby was hoarding; and money that, a few years back, he would have freely spent to improve his breed of Tumblers or back his Homing Birds he now added with stealthy pleasure to the store behind the secret panel of a fine old oak bedstead that had belonged to the Darwyn who owned Dovecot when the sixteenth century was at its latter end. In this bedstead Daddy slept lightly of late, as old men will, and he had horrid dreams, which old men need not have. The queer faces carved on the panels (one of which hid the money hole) used to frighten him when he was a child. They did not frighten him now by their grotesque ugliness, but when he looked at them, and knew which was which, he dreaded the dying out of twilight into dark, and dreamed of aged men living alone, who had been murdered for their savings. These growing fears had had no small share in deciding him to try Jack March; and to see the lad growing stronger, nimbler, and more devoted to his master's interests day by day, was a nightly comfort to the poor old hoarder in the bed-head.
As to his keen sense of Jack's industry and carefulness, it was part of the incompleteness of Daddy Darwin's nature, and the ill-luck of his career, that he had a sensitive perception of order and beauty, and a shrewd observation of ways of living and qualities of character, and yet had allowed his early troubles to blight him so completely that he never put forth an effort to rise above the ruin, of which he was at least as conscious as his neighbors.
That Jack was not the neatest creature breathing, one look at him, as he stood with pigeons on his head and arms and shoulders, would have been enough to prove. As the first and readiest repudiation of his workhouse antecedents he had let his hair grow till it hung in the wildest elf-locks, and though the terms of his service with Daddy Darwin would not, in any case, have provided him with handsome clothes, such as he had were certainly not the better for any attention he bestowed upon them. As regarded the Dovecot, however, Daddy Darwin had not done more than justice to his bargain. A strong and grateful attachment to his master, and a passionate love for the pigeons he tended, kept Jack constantly busy in the service of both; the old pigeon-fancier taught him the benefits of scrupulous cleanliness in the pigeon-cote, and Jack "stoned" the kitchen-floor and the doorsteps on his own responsibility. The time did come when he tidied up himself.
Daddy Darwin had made the first breach in his solitary life of his own free will, but it was fated to widen. The parson's daughter soon heard that he had got a lad from the workhouse, the very boy who sang so well and had climbed the walnut-tree to look at Daddy Darwin's pigeons. The most obvious parish questions at once presented themselves to the young lady's mind. "Had the boy been christened? Did he go to Church and Sunday School? Did he say his prayers and know his Catechism? Had he a Sunday suit? Would he do for the choir?"
Then, supposing (a not uncommon case) that the boy had been christened, said he said his prayers, knew his Catechism, and was ready for school, church, and choir, but had not got a Sunday suit—a fresh series of riddles propounded themselves to her busy brain. Would her father yield up his everyday coat and take his Sunday one into weekday wear? Could the charity bag do better than pay the tailor's widow for adapting this old coat to the new chorister's back, taking it in at the seams, turning it wrong-side out, and getting new sleeves out of the old tails? Could she herself spare the boots which the village cobbler had just re-soled for her—somewhat clumsily—and would the "allowance" bag bear this strain? Might she hope to coax an old pair of trowsers out of her cousin, who was spending his Long Vacation at the Vicarage, and who never reckoned very closely with his allowance, and kept no charity bag at all? Lastly would "that old curmudgeon at the Dovecot" let his little farm-boy go to church and school and choir?
"I must go and persuade him," said the young lady.
What she said, and what (at the time) Daddy Darwin said, Jack never knew. He was at high sport with the terrier round the big sweet-brier bush, when he saw his old master slitting the seams of his weather-beaten coat in the haste with which he plucked crimson clove carnations as if they had been dandelions, and presented them, not ungracefully, to the parson's daughter.
Jack knew why she had come, and strained his ears to catch his own name. But Daddy Darwin was promising pipings of the cloves.
"They are such dear old-fashioned things," said she, burying her nose in the bunch.
"We're old-fashioned altogether, here, Miss," said Daddy Darwin, looking wistfully at the tumble-down house behind them.
"You're very pretty here," said she, looking also, and thinking what a sketch it would make, if she could keep on friendly terms with this old recluse, and get leave to sit in the garden. Then her conscience smiting her for selfishness, she turned her big eyes on him and put out her small hand.
"I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Darwin, very much obliged to you indeed. And I hope that Jack will do credit to your kindness. And thank you so much for the cloves," she added, hastily changing a subject which had cost some argument, and which she did not wish to have reopened.
Daddy Darwin had thoughts of reopening it. He was slowly getting his ideas together to say that the lad should see how he got along with the school before trying the choir, when he found the young lady's hand in his, and had to take care not to hurt it, whilst she rained thanks on him for the flowers.
"You're freely welcome, Miss," was what he did say after all.
In the evening, however, he was very moody, but Jack was dying of curiosity, and at last could contain himself no longer.
"What did Miss Jenny want, Daddy?" he asked.
The old man looked very grim.
"First to make a fool of me, and i' t' second place to make a fool of thee," was his reply. And he added with pettish emphasis, "They're all alike, gentle and simple. Lad, lad! If ye'd have any peace of your life never let a woman's foot across your threshold. Steek t' door of your house—if ye own one—and t' door o' your heart—if ye own one—and then ye'll never rue. Look at this coat!"
And the old man went grumpily to bed, and dreamed that Miss Jenny had put her little foot over his threshold, and that he had shown her the secret panel, and let her take away his savings.
And Jack went to bed, and dreamed that he went to school, and showed himself to Phoebe Shaw in his Sunday suit.
This dainty little damsel had long been making havoc in Jack's heart. The attraction must have been one of contrast, for whereas Jack was black and grubby, and had only week-day clothes—which were ragged at that—Phoebe was fair, and exquisitely clean, and quite terribly tidy. Her mother was the neatest woman in the parish. It was she who was wont to say to her trembling handmaid, "I hope I can black a grate without blacking myself." But little Phoebe promised so far to out-do her mother, that it seemed doubtful if she could "black herself" if she tried. Only the bloom of childhood could have resisted the polishing effects of yellow soap, as Phoebe's brow and cheeks did resist it. Her shining hair was—compressed into a plait that would have done credit to a rope-maker. Her pinafores were speckless, and as to her white Whitsun frock—Jack could think of nothing the least like Phoebe in that, except a snowy fantail strutting about the Dovecot roof; and, to say the truth, the likeness was most remarkable.
It has been shown that Jack March had a mind to be master of his fate, and he did succeed in making friends with little Phoebe Shaw. This was before Miss Jenny's visit, but the incident shall be recorded here.
Early on Sunday mornings it was Jack's custom to hide his work-day garb in an angle of the ivy-covered wall of the Dovecot garden, only letting his head appear over the top, from whence he watched to see Phoebe pass on her way to Sunday School, and to bewilder himself with the sight of her starched frock, and her airs with her Bible and Prayer-book, and class card, and clean pocket-handkerchief.
Now, amongst the rest of her Sunday paraphernalia, Phoebe always carried a posy, made up with herbs and some strong smelling flowers. Countrywomen take mint and southernwood to a long hot service, as fine ladies take smelling-bottles (for it is a pleasant delusion with some writers that the weaker sex is a strong sex in the working classes). And though Phoebe did not suffer from "fainty feels" like her mother, she and her little playmates took posies to Sunday School, and refreshed their nerves in the stream of question and answer, and hair oil and corduroy, with all the airs of their elders.
One day she lost her posy on her way to school, and her loss was Jack's opportunity. He had been waiting half-an-hour among the ivy, when he saw her just below him, fuzzling round and round like a kitten chasing its tail. He sprang to the top of the wall.