Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER III.

year, though he was up early and down “ There's no fears of slatterns in your late, while the toiling and the moiling house." seemed to bear no fruit but in the furrow- Mrs. Wynyate was a very conscientious ing of his own cheeks and the premature woman: she would have cut off her hand whitening of his own head.

and cast it into the fire for what she believed to be right; but then she would have done

it also by any of her children, which is not FISHING IN THE HERON'S POOL.

exactly the same thing — inflicting martyr

dom is not quite so meritorious as enduring THERE was a good deal of wood cut the it, as some people seem to think. She was next spring, and the sound of the axes re- at work from morning till night, never sparsounded through the fields and woods. ing herself in any toil or trouble; it was Amyas went daily round among the wood-wonderful how one pair of hands got cutters, secretly lamenting over each tree through so much. She laboured like the as it fell, with a feeling as if it had been a virtuous woman in Proverbs, and refused living thing. Lettie accompanied him when- herself every indulgence and every pasever she could get away, insisting consci- time; but she had been brought up in the entiously on climbing each fallen trunk, most rigid Methodist creed: she had an unand being jumped down at the highest end. fortunate temper, and it was aggravated inIler uncle submitted with unwearied pa- stead of mended by her conviction that it tience; indeed if he had not been so patient was her duty to be stern. Discipline was it would have been better for the farm. much more thought of fifty years ago, Every labourer on the estate knew that it " Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a was impossible to put the “Master” out; child, but the rod of correction shall drive if a man was so old and infirm that no one it out for him," as she put it, and the rod else would employ him, that was a reason was therefore in constant requisition. why Amyas kept him on; if a boy was too The Sabbath-ılay had always been a day young to be of much use to the neighbour- of grief and wailing and gnashing of teeth ing farmers, and wanted -work, Amyas to her children under her grim creed; but found a place for him. It would have ta- her sons had now pretty nearly grown beken a large fortune to pursue farming on yond her power; she had almost come, insuch principles.

deed, to regard man as a stiff-necked creaThe two went on their devious way: ture from whom no result could be expectAmyas with his hands clasped behind him ed, but Lettice was a little girl whom it was and his meditative look; Lettie springing her duty to mould, and it would be her fault about like a parched pea, scrambling up a if this small vessel of wrath was not rescued hedge for a flower, poking into the bushes from reprobation. Sad was the sobbing, after a nest, and coming up to explain her the putting in closets, the whipping over the prizes in words which tumbled over each stiff Methodist catechism, each point of docother from their eager interest. He saw trine proved by a string of texts, the chapmore than she did, in spite of those bright ter and verse given to each, and all to be little eyes of hers.

learnt accurately; for Lettice, quick enough “That's a night-jar a-making that noise. at her hymns, and who liked her chapter Look at those ants marching like a regi- and her psalm, never could accomplish her ment of soldiers !"

answers.” Any concrete image may be Her grandmother generally, however, in- seized by a child — it is very open to the sisted on some abominable bit of hemming, beauty of melody and rhythm, but an absome grievous button-holes, just at the stract metaphysical proposition is to it a critical moment. She did not approvesof mere string of unintelligible words which the saturnalia of enjoyment consequent on might as well be in Greek, and terrible going out with uncle Amyas.

were these engines of oppression for chilWhy, that bankercher's grimed with dren (fifty years ago). dirt, Lettice, it's been so long about! I “She can learn fast enough when she suppose'you'll have finished that bit oʻknit- likes it,” said her grandmother, in answer ting by the time you're forty. Little girls to Amyas's doubtful remonstrances. “I should take to their needle, Amyas; I won't heerd her singing no end o silly nonsense have ye muddle away the child's time with Ned had teached her only the t'other day,” such nonsense. What's night-jars to her? which was true enough, i. e., she could reand she gets in such a mess. You'll learn collect when there was anything for her her no end o untidy ways."

memory to take hold of; but this was be“Why, ye keep her always as neat as a yond Mrs. Wynyate's comprehension, who new pin, mother," said Amyas, smiling. honestly considered the child very naughty,

66

and punished her accordingly. One Sunday send word to bid me to the funeral, motbevening, her task still undone, the tearful er," said Amyas a day or two after. Lettie took refuge with her book by her “Dear heart, but 'tis a dreadful sudden uncle, who was sitting meditatively in the take off; I trust he had assurance of his orchard; but she was not attending, as she soul. I know he was ever one of the elect ought to have been doing, to “ The other from his youth up," replied Mrs. Wynyate. benefits that we receive with justification Fifteen miles in those days was such a are adoption and regeneration," — the milk gulf that they rarely had any intercourse for babes “ of seven years and upwards," with Amos King, who, besides, had given which she had to learn. As she sat on her his nephew to understand that he considered three-legged cricket” by Amyas's side him as little better than a castaway, one her quick little eyes caught sight at one mo- who had put his hand to the plough and ment of a duck, followed by her brood, go- taken it away again. In spite of this esing down to the pond; at another the coo-trangement, however, it was a sad expediing of the pigeons in the high trees above tion to Amyas's affectionate nature: he felt their heads made her look up.

as if he ought not to have left the old man “ Isn't it very wicked of the birds, uncle so long without a sign, and it was with a Amyas, doing same as they does upon week sore heart that he prepared to ride over one days, like that?” said she at last, feeling evening, to return the next day after the that her case was hard, and that if they were ceremony. allowed to play she ought, at least, to have Mrs. Wynyate was doubly busy in his the comforts of self-righteousness, and pride absence, and Lettie had a sort of holiday. of looking down on their evil ways. At the bottom of the orchard was a wild

Amyas was so modest a man that he al- tangle of hawthorn and holly, a secluded ways doubted his own judgment when op- place where the child used to take reture posed to others, and he had a beautiful re- when she was afraid of being seen in the spect for his mother, whom he really loved farmyard. Ned, too, when he was at home in spite of her sternness: moreover, he was from school, had his own operations there: too uncertain in his doubts as to the truth he was a born sportsman, and every hedgeof her doctrines to formularise his opposi- | row at the Woodhouse being a miniature tion even to himself, and he was puzzled. copse, there was a good deal of game about,

Well, Lettie,” he said at last, “ thee none of which came amiss to him: rabbits, see'st God made ’um so, and, I suppose, He weasels, pike and eel fishing, rat-hunts in knew 'twas best. They can't sit still and the big barn,

6 nestes of wild-fowl, on read (not the birds), and pr’aps He thinks which Lettie reported progress with the utthey're praising him in their own way o' that most zeal. fashion all the days of their lives, not only It was the last day of his holidays, and on the Sabbath-day; and that's best of all, a beautiful afternoon, when he came out to thou knowest, Paul says."

look for her, his mouth full of lines, both Luckily, Lettie was not logical, or she hands occupied with bait, and a landing-net might have asked, like a celebrated prelate over his shoulder. She was a pleasant little of late, whether something of the same companion, and though he felt it to be a kind might not be said in behalf of the chil- condescension on his part, he liked to hare dren. Some of the most cruel things in the her with him. world have been done by the most excellent There were some tall white lilies in the people; mistakes, want of imagination, igno- neglected bit of garden at the upper end of rance, iníliet almost as much suffering as the orchard; they grew among the thorns wickedness. The early inquisitors were and thistles and great dock-leaves, and most conscientious, benevolent men, only looked almost more striking in their desoanxious for the souls of their victims ; Lu- late beauty than set in trim borders. Lettie ther directed that a child possessed by the was sitting before them with her doll in her devil should be drowned; Sir Matthew arms, talking and answering herself eagerly, Hale burnt a witch, all upon the highest quite unconscious that any one was near. principles: and Mrs. Wynyate made Let- A whole story seemed to be enacting: tie's life miserable from the sincerest desire “ And the white ladies they say to me to do right by the little girl's soul. Still, and baby, · Little girl, take her up tight in when we undertake the part of Providence your arms, and we'll go and dance with the to a child, it is perhaps well to make quite king and the queen, and we fly up in the air sure we have done our best to enlighten so high over the tops of the trees'. ourselves as to what is and what is not de- What are you doing, Lettie ? " said the sirable.

boy, coming up, laughing, behind her. Uncle Amos is dead sudden, and they “Who are you talking to ? who are the

[ocr errors]

white ladies? Why, it sounds as if there half-dead willow-trunk which stuck far out were a dozen of ye!”

into the water, and was just stretching out The little girl blushed deeply. Children her hand to take out one of the eggs, when, have a curious horror of being laughed at. to her horror, she saw her grandmother,

“Who are the white ladies ? " he re- who hardly ever left the immediate prepeated.

cincts of the house, coming along the road. She pointed to the lilies; she did not She had been to look after a "cade lambo like even so far to destroy the illusion as to in Amyas's absence; she now saw her own name them.

suspended in the air, and called out in a “ And what were they telling ye about wrathful voice, the dance with the king and the queen?”. “Lettice, what are you doing there?

“You shouldn't laugh so, Uncle Ned,” Come back directly!” said she, indignantly, driven to bay; you The child turned in terror, lost her hold tell yourself tales at school; there's that on the slippery green moss, and tumbled one about the gentleman as went away in a into the deep water with a cry. Edward, ship and found the great bird and the dia- who was close at hand, sprang up at the monds, and the old man that sat upon his sound, and had plunged in and brought her shoulders. What are diamonds, Uncle to land almost before she sank. As he carNed?"

ried her home, dripping like himself from “No, we tell ourselves no tales ex- head to foot, Mrs. Wynyate, excessively cept sometimes at dinner-time, and then we angry with them both, followed behind, redon't waste our time with rubbish stories proaching him with such effect, that whereas about white ladies," said her uncle, in a at first he had been both pained and penigrand and moral mood. “Now come down tent for what had happened, by the time to the Heron's Pool: we'll set some night- they reached the house he was in as furious lines,” he added, making peace with this to a state as his mother. him the most delightful occupation in the · Danger! not a bit of it: the water world.

wasn't up to my waist,” he repeated. He It was a charming spot; the branches of was in an amphibious state of discipline bethe great oaks still left swept down close to tween home and school, which made her the little gravelly shore; a heron stood con- cling the more to her waning authority. templating life and the chance of a gudgeon As for Lettie, she had torn and dirtied her on one leg at the upper end on a small spit frock and narrowly escaped drowning, two of sand, and a dabchick was diving on the almost equally unpardonable offences. in other side.

her grandmother's eyes.

Even Amyas “May I go and paddle, Uncle Ted?” | could not have saved her this time had he said Lettie, who was under strict orders reached home; she was whipped and put never to go near the water by her little to bed, after which operation Mrs. Wynself, and for whom it therefore had a spe- yate followed Ned, who had gone up to his cial attraction.

own garret to change his wet clothes, and He was much too busy to reply, but he stood fiercely scolding over him all the nodded his head; and Lettie, to her in- time. He answered in her own tone, and finite delight, unreproved, pulled off her she suddenly locked the door and left him shoes and stockings and walked slowly into supperless for the evening. the tiny stream which ran out at one end A little time afterwards, Amyas, coming of the pool, and as she grew bolder into in sadly from his uncle's funeral, found Letthe lake itself. Presently, although she tie sobbing in an agony of fright and repentthought she was very careful, the tail of ance upstairs, while Ned, who had climbed her frock dipped into the water behind, and out of the window of his garret prison, she wrung it dry with much trouble: then and let himself down by the old pear-tree the little white feet slipped upon a stone against the wall, at the risk of his neck, and the front fell into the mud, and the was marching up and down the room with more she rubbed the worse the stains ap- her, fuming at the injustice and absurdity peared; her grandmother's coming wrath of his mother's punishments. grew terrible in her mind — the “ you bad “As if I couldn't get out of that room child” which was perpetually heard; but as easy enough! and as for Lettie, she'd never she knew all sins were alike in the eyes of a have fallen in a bit if it hadn't been for certain Draconian impartial justice, she mother calling of her in a voice as would now became reckless in her crimes, for the have frightened the dead! She blared at frock was past all hope of concealment. the little mayd like a polecat. I was close At last she spied a coot's nest, and creep-by- there wasn't no danger — where was ing under the boughs she crawled along a the harm? She were with me fishing; LIVING AGE.

443

VOL. XI.

where could she be better, I'd like to know?, him, and repeated the half-charm, halfAnd who's a right to fish (you letting of me) prayer. sooner nor me, I wonder ? " cried Ned, • And now my little Lettie's going to passionately.

sleep, God bless her, and all will be right Injustice has generally a different effect to-morrow!” And under the shadow of his on boys and girls : a little girl's conscience wing she lay down to rest. is much more active; the sense of justice is “Uncle Amyas, are you there?” she much stronger in a boy. Lettie was over- started up once or twice to say; but he was whelmed with grief at her own wickedness in still standing at the window, waiting pabeing nearly drowned, Ned was furious at tiently till she was asleep, and looking out at the idea of punishing a misfortune, brought the deepening twilight. He had had a tryon, as he believed, by the judge herself. ing day, and would have been glad of a

“ It's mother as ought to be beat! I'll quiet evening; and here on his return he tell ye what, Amyas, I won't stand it any found that in the course of her one day's longer; I've been thinking of it this age. driving, his mother had contrived to upset I'll go out somewhere, into a trade or summat. the coach: a painful proof, which he could I'll not stay any more, and be sat upon by have dispensed with, that he was master in my mother rampaging about like anything : his own household. And then his thoughts I'm a man now, I'm a'most sixteen !'” went back to the scene at his uncle's fune

Lettie's tears fell faster at these terrible ral: when the will was opened after their threats. Amyas was silent.

return from the churchyard, it was found, “We'll talk of it all to-morrow, Ned," to his astonishment, that the old man, who he said at last, quietly. “If you're a man had quarrelled with his daughter and her you should behave as one, and not speak as husband, had left Amyas all his property. you did to mother but now. You'd best He had immediately taken steps to transfer perhaps go to bed now; I'll fetch the key the whole to his unlucky cousin, who and your supper up here. Quiet the little scarcely thanked him, but observed coldly one a bit,” he whispered kindly, as he went that “ so far as she could see he had only out; see, she's like to go into a fit she's so done his duty like as everybody ought to tlustered, and be thankful, my boy: we do." And Amyas was quite of the same should have been bad off if aught had be- mind, and thought also that such a self-evifallen her.” Ned's under lip had begun to dent thing as one's duty was the only one quiver, and it was evident that if it had not possible and required no thanks.. been for bis manhood the hardened sinner It was not the property that now was in would, by this time, have burst out crying. his mind: he was thinking regretfully that

Amyas found his mother sternly prepar- he should never see the old man again. ing supper, with a pretence to herself that " And I could have asked him help, find a all was right upstairs, and that her conduct place for Ned,” said he to himself. He was had been most judicious.

not so alarmed about the wickedcess of the And now ye tell me about yer uncle," world as his mother, but the boy was full said she as he took the basin of bread-and-young yet to be sent out to fare for himself, milk which she offered him and turned to and he began to inquire whether he were carry it up stairs. “I warn yer, Amyas, not himself to blame in the management of it's just flying in the face of Providence "the lad: it somehow never seemed to occur (whatever that curious process may be), to him to find fault with anybody but himn** for you to give them children their own self. A very tender conscience becomes way i' that fashion.”

occasionally an unconscionable tyrant. Dear mother," he answered quietly, as “And you haven't telled me anything yet he went out, “they're not having their own about Amos !” said his mother, when he way: Ned is going to bed with a sore heart, came down stairs. " And how did he die ? and the little 'un's frightened half out o’ her and how were it with his soul, taken off so wits; they'll not do it again anyhow." sudden? And about his will, what have he

The two culprits fed together in silence, a done with all that nice litrle bit o'property Lettice hardly touching the food, and the as he owned ? ” she went on, somewhat glad boy went off to bed.

to escape out of the “ignorant present ” of * And now, my little 'un, what's that the concews about her. pretty hymn-carol you says: “It was not And Amyas told her everything excepting down to housen gay, that Christ a child the important part of his day's work, and the came for to stay, ,** said Amyas, looking at change he had made in the will. What was the small flushed, tear-stained face. the use of discussing the matter?

The child knelt up, looking like an in- “I did think as he'd a left you or me fant Samuel, laid her head tenderly against summat out o’all that money," said Mrs. family."

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

CHAPTER IV.

Wynyate, somewhat discontentedly, " and the most rumbustical: and when childer his daughter marrying to disoblige her takes to their ranties, seems as if we'd no

call for to kip 'um at home any more. So Surely, mother, it's his own child a man dunnot ye cry, my little mayd, he'll do well should leave his fortune to, if he's got enough. If they can't be comf'able in their one,” replied Amyas, quietly, as he went nestes at home, my old woman used allays off to bed. “And Susan have a sent you for to zay zays she, Why, let 'um goo; the old cuckoo-clock as were your father's, they must jist fight along like as we did you know, as a keepsake.”

afore 'um.' Tis like the birds : when they're "Well, and I shall be glad for to see its big enough they just flies away from the old old face again, and hear the chime. 1 'uns, and it's a chance they never sees 'um mind that cuckoo singing that way ever again, or else how ever could there be folk sin I were a child – eh, what a many years enough out in the wide world for to make ago!” said Mrs. Wynyate, with unwonted all things goo ?." feeling. And Amyas did not mention that “But what shall I do without him, Danwhen he had asked for this little waif out nel ? ” said the tender-hearted Lettie, not of the property which he had given up, as at all consoled by this philosophic view of a recollection for his mother, Mrs. Susan the demands of humanity upon man. She had demurred at parting with it, and had looked very pale and shaken with the peronly finally yielded because, as she said, formances of the day before. “after all, we've got a better one at home, He'll come back fast enough, child: an and it Inses so as I don't know as we've any he's ailing or sorrowful, the old place will use for it in the kitchen here." Amyas was look fair in his eyes when he's a long way a perfect non-conductor for all cross words off, and 'twill have long strings to his heart or unkind actions: they all died a natural for to pull it back. Don't ye be afraid, poor death and were buried when they reached dear heart, he'll rub along." him.

The next morning Ned was firm in his fancy to leave home, and Amyas could not

LETTIE'S SCHOOLMASTERS. but agree, though it went to his heart to part with the boy. He could not afford to Amyas bad so few ties with the outer keep him longer at school, and there was world that it was with great difficulty a no room for him in the Wynyate household, small place as clerk, without any salary, where the feud between him and his mother was at length found for Edward at a little was always smouldering. She expected the seaport town some twenty miles away. submission of a child from the great lad, The boy's courage rather failed when he where her efforts of strong-willed, impotent found himself committed to leaving home, authority were always made without the but his dignity held him up, and when the hope that the master of the house would time at last arrived, he went off apparently stand by her in her unreasonable claims. undismayed, and of good courage. Amyas She had attempted the same with her hus- was, indeed, the most distressed of the two, band about the public-house, and with her which gave the lad a reason for heroism daughter about her acquaintance and her and a feeling of dignity as the strong man marriage, never considering the use of of the family. laying down positive commands which she “Don't cry!” said he, majestically, to had no power to enforce. As with many Lettice, who hung round him, drowned in other people, there was a confusion in her tears, as if he had been going to the anthoughts between her own will and the will tipodes. “I dare say you'll all do pretty of heaven: she had an unfortunate temper, well in a short time, little 'un, without me. and she often could not distinguish between You'll get over it, Lettie, in a little while,” its decrees and those of Providence; her he repeated; "and mind yer don't forget own opinion and abstract right were hon- the terrier pups: they're to be ready afore estly the same in her eyes, and there is evi- I come home again for rabbiting, you'll dently positive impiety in viewing a thing recollect ?" And as he drove off in the or acting differently from abstract right. taxed-cart to join the coach, he called

So young Ned's a-goin' to leave us ! I out once more to his sorrowing relatives, thowt as it weren't for nowt as I heerd the “You'll not forget the pups ! old ash-tree a-groanin' by our door last The boy, indeed, would have been shocked night," said the old blind man next day, to see how well everything went on at the when the great event was announced to Woodhouse after his important departure. him. “I bean't sure as it isn't quite right; Lettie's tender little heart never quite forhe's the littlest on 'um, but he's ever been I got him, and in her solitary plays“ Uncle

« PreviousContinue »