Tom Tiddler's Ground
TOM TIDDLER’S GROUND
Picking up gold and silver;
Daisies and lillies
And daffadowndillies —
O, who would n’t be a delver!
NEXT morning the farmer took him out to the fields, having first provided him with a pair of small leggings; for some rain had fallen during the night, and wading among the flowers would be wet work.
They came to a strip of ground, in size about an acre, set about with a low hedge of veronica, and ablaze with yellow trumpet daffodils; yes, ablaze, though most of the buds were but half open. Half a dozen boys were already at work here, headed (to Jan’s delight) by the brown smiling boy. For most of the men of the farm had started before daybreak to row Young Matthey’s barge, laden with flower-boxes, to the landing on the south point of Iniscaw, where the Lady’s launch would take them in tow across the Sound to St. Lide’s pier, under the lee of which the steamer lay.
The farmer, having briefly instructed Jan what flowers to choose, how to pluck them low down by the base with a sharp snap, and how to basket them when plucked, assigned him his row and left him in charge of Dave, as he called the brown boy.
The field lay on the slope of the cliffs, in a sheltered hollow facing southward, so that, over the sheets of daffodils and over the dwarf hedge, you saw the blue water of the archipelago, right away south to St. Lide’s and to Garrison Hill with the Star Castle crowning it, and, at its base, — so clear was the morning, — the smoke of the steamer as she lay getting up steam.
The sunshine, falling warm on the wet flowers, drew from them the rarest fragrance. (They were trumpet daffodils, as has been said, and nine out of ten of us would have called them odorless; but little Jan, it was to be discovered, had a sense of smell keen, almost, as a wild animal’s.) Their fragrance mingled with the wafted brine of the sea; and between them, what with the breeze and the myriad heads of gold it set nodding, and the spirit of youth dancing inside of him, they flooded the child’s soul with happiness — a happiness so poignant that once, straightening himself up in a pause of the picking, he felt his eyes brim with tears through which the daffodils danced in a mist. Brushing the back of his hand across his eyes he glanced shyly across at the brown boy, fearful lest he had detected his weakness.
And Dave had, but set it down to the wrong cause.
‘Takes ye in the back, first-along, hey?’ said Dave kindly. ‘Nevermind, little un; within a week you ’ll get over the cramps, an’ it’s not bad ye’re doin’ for a beginner.’
Jan blessed him for the misunderstanding. What a splendid fellow Dave was— so brown and strong! But Dave, though he could smile most of his time, had very little mouth speech, as they say on the Islands. He contented himself with showing Jan how to arrange his flowers in the ‘maund’ or basket,—they had one maund between them and were working down two parallel rows, — and he did it mostly by dumb show.
Once, however, he called out, standing up and pointing, ‘There she goes!’ And all the boys paused for a full minute and gazed southward at the steamer heading out from St. Lide’s quay for the Main. As he watched her the old longing came upon Jan with a rush; the old question, as a sudden cloud upon his glee.
They fell to work again. But a few minutes later word arrived that Dave must attend the farmer in an upper field, where he had an ingenious device for forcing some rare bulbs where they stood by covering them with small portable glass-houses mounted on wheels. This matured the plants better than the old way of transferring them to boxes and forcing them in a large greenhouse; but the glass-houses needed handling, and the greater part of the grown men had not yet returned with the barge. So Dave was requisitioned.
He had no sooner left than the industriousness of the boys in the field sensibly slackened. Jan, bending over the row, did not perceive it, and was rudely awakened by a light cuff on the ear. Above him stood the tow-headed boy, grinning and showing the gaps in his teeth.
‘Sneak!’ said the tow-headed boy. ‘That’s for telling tales on me last night.’
A sudden fury leaped up in Jan. He wanted to kill the tow-headed boy,— he was so ugly and told lies. Without waiting to consider, Jan leaped on him, and the attack was so sudden that both rolled over among the dripping daffodils, crushing the flowers as they rolled.
For a few seconds Jan was on top, and his hands felt for the tow-headed boy’s throat, to grip it, but presently age and weight prevailed. ‘Little devil, I’ll teach you!’ The tow-headed boy first clutched the nape of his neck and rubbed his face into the soil, then caught at one of the writhing arms and began to twist it. ‘Now sing small, little devil!’
‘I won’t,’ gasped Jan, almost faint, with pain. ‘You tell lies, and are ugly — ugly!’
It was Dave’s voice, and Dave descended on the scrimmage like a young god. He cuffed the two apart; but Jan, white with passion, flew again at his adversary and had to be caught by the jacket-neck and flung back to earth among the wet flowers.
‘Little spitfire!’ laughed Dave.
‘Seemin’ to me, Ben Lager, this field is n’ safe for you and you ’d better come along an’ help with the glass-boxes. Farmer sent me down to fetch up another hand.’
So the tow-headed boy was marched off and Jan, picking himself up, fell to work again. He was trembling from head to foot. He had never in his short life known such a fit of rage, and it affected him like an ague. For a full hour the trembling lasted, at intervals broken by a sob that convulsed all his limbs.
The harvest had begun late this year, in contrast with last season’s, when picking started before New Year’s Day and went on steadily until May month. Up to the opening days of February, Young Matthey had carried a gloomy face about his fields, consoling himself with market reports of unusually high prices, due to severe weather in the south of France, where the gardens of his trade rivals, the Mediterranean growers, had lain under snow for three weeks on end.
Young Matthey ever spoke with asperity of these distant Frenchmen, his mind confusing them in a queer fashion with what he had read in newspapers concerning Monte Carlo. He imagined them at the end of the season, when he banked his few hard-earned pounds, as flocking to the tables with large sums of money (that ought by rights to be in his pocket) and gambling it away upon roulette, a game happily unknown in the Islands. Indeed the Islanders knew no games at all. Strange to say, even the children played none — until Jan taught them, as you shall hear.
In February the flowers awoke and came on with a rush. The previous summer had been a hot one, baking and ripening the buds in the ground. But November brought a spell of cold, which continued through December and January, holding (as the farmer argued) the head of the procession in check, while the later regiments of flowers pressed up and trod on their leaders’ heels, all waiting the signal of fine weather; so that when the sunshine came, all burst, into bloom together, and bloomed riotously. The Islands had never known such a March. In the first week the workers had to give over saving the flowers in bud and bunching them in water jars under shelter, for they opened faster than the whole population could pick. The sky was clear. The weather-glass stood at ‘ Set Fair.’ The maidens left their glass-houses and worked afield with the lads. In the last week of the holidays the farmers met and sent a deputation to the Lady, protesting that, if the schools reopened as usual, the flower industry would perish amid plenty. What was government, with its education grant, compared to three hundred pounds’ worth that must rot in the fields. The Lady snapped her fingers at the board of education in London, and extended the holidays a fortnight. There was talk even of hiring another steamer to ply from the Main. The present one would carry but fifty tons at a time; for flower-boxes take up much room for their weight. Fifty tons three times a week, — say seventy thousand flowers to the ton, — between nine and ten millions of flowers! Which means a million and a half picked every day, since the Islanders do not work on Sundays.
So, instead of a month, Jan dwelt six weeks upon Brefar, until all the trumpet daffodils and the Leedsii were either picked or overblown, and even the Poet’s Narcissus, latest of all, — in those days little grown on the outer islands, but chiefly under apple trees in the few orchards on St. Lide’s and in the Lady’s gardens at Iniscaw, — were past their prime.
These were happy days for the boy, but they were days of almost constant labor, so that often after supper and prayers he would climb to his attic almost too weary to drag off his clothes, far too weary to loiter at his window picking out and naming the sea-lights, before tumbling into bed and into a dreamless sleep.
On the last ‘steamer day,’ Young Matthey gave him leave to travel across with him to St. Lide’s in the barge and prepare the Treachers for his return. As he stepped ashore on the quay he had a queer feeling of having been absent for years instead of weeks. The steamer lay alongside as he had seen her lie some scores of times; the carts were rattling down from the island; the laden boats hurrying across the Sound, from St. Ann’s in the south, from St. Michael’s in the north (where local report said the men grew tails and spoke an outlandish language amongst themselves). The boxes were being shipped at high pressure; some were being slid down shutes into the hold, others piled on an already monstrous deck cargo; and, as usual, the skipper was holding two altercations at once with shippers who had attempted to overcrowd their allotted space. But it seemed to Jan that either he had grown, or Garland Town had shrunk. He came back to it as one who had seen the world.
At the head of the street, where a rough path climbs to the Garrison Gate, he ran against Dr. Hervey.
‘Hullo, youngster! Well, it’s fine and brown you are!' cried the doctor genially, ‘and have shot up, I protest! Is it Brefar air? or has the world grown for ye?’
Jan returned the doctor’s smile with a new air of independence, yet. modestly enough: ‘It’s different, sir.’
‘Ay, ay! Cælum, non animum, mutant ; worse rubbish was never uttered. But, boy, ye’ve missed your Latin — precious days of it. We must make up leeway. And from Latin, in a year’s time or so, I ’ll lead ye to Greek, which is a baptism, look ye, — a baptism into a cult, — and the only true key to freedom. There be other ways more alluring and that look easier; but if you’d be a free man — free of these Islands, free of the Main, free of the Mediterranean, which is the sea of seas, and of Rome, to which all the roads lead — ye’ll avoid short cuts and sit down with me to mensa, mensam, mensæ.'
MARY MARTHA’S TOMBSTONE
Young Farmer Matthey having business to transact in Garland Town, the return journey was not made until late in the afternoon. Half-way across, the farmer called Jan aft, to speak with him.
‘I’d a sudden thought to-day,’ he said, ‘and meeting Sergeant Treacher on the quay just now, I broached it to him. You seem to be a quiet, steady boy, an’ I hear good reports of ’ee besides what I’ve seen with my own eyes. What’d ye say to livin’ ’long with us at Chy-an-Chy, an’ goin’ to Brefar school along with my own children? You need n’t be in a hurry with “yes” or “no,”’ he added, as Jan stood with face flushed and stammered for words, ‘because anyway we’d have to get the Mistress’s leave first. But I was thinkin’ that I ’ve a shortage of boys — maids in plenty, but no boys to mention, or none to be depended on. There’s Little Matthey, my eldest — he’s a grown man, an’ the farm’ll come to him in God’s time; but he’ve no understandin’ for flowers, an’ never had. As for Mark, his mother spoils en. Goin’ outside my own, Dave is a good lad, but Dave, when he grows up, ’ll go into service with Trinity House. His parents have settled ’pon that, and a very good light-keeper he’ll make. That Lager boy is no good at all, nor Aby Hicks, nor his small brother Sam, nor Seth Piper. What I want is a lad pretty bright at learnin’ — What’s that in your hand?’ he asked, breaking off.
Jan opened the parcel — a scrap of old newspaper enwrapping a flat cupnarcissus, with a belt of earth about the bulb.
‘Hullo! That’s what they call carryin’ coals to Newcastle, eh? Ha’ n’t we ornatuses enough on Brefar, these days?
‘It grows up at the Castle, sir, in the ditch between the house and the outside wall, but near-by the door, where the sun gets at it. And the red in the cup is quite different to any on Brefar. I was carrying it home to — to show to—’
‘So it is, now you mention it,’ said the farmer, examining the flower and not noting Jan’s confusion. He handed if back. ‘Some freak, I should n’t wonder. But that only proves what I was sayin’. You’ve a quickness for flowers, an aptitood. And I was reckonin’ maybe, if I brought ye up an’ gave ye board an’ keep, one o’ these days you’d reward me by turnin’ out a pretty useful apprentice; an’ then who knows but ye won’t finish up as a hind? — at sixteen shillin’ a week an’ your meals!’
‘But this part of the alluring prospect did not touch Jan, who had never possessed any money and knew nothing of the value.
‘Please, sir, what did Sergeant Treacher say?’ he ventured.
‘Oh, the Treachers are ready enough. It’s for your good; and,’ added the farmer, not very lucidly, '’t is n’ as if you was their own flesh an’ blood.’
The barge was brought ashore at the little beach where Jan had made his first landing on Brefar. The children, their harvest work over, were all gathered there to welcome it; and Mary Martha, as the custom was at the end of harvest, had brought them down a picnic-
tea from the farm, and had already smashed two cups. The kettle sang on a fire under the cliff’s shadow. All around the head of the cove grew clumps of narcissus poeticus—castaway flowers, unmarketable, the most of them by this time overblown, but beautiful yet — beautiful as white ghosts when the shadows crept down the beach and covered them. For some blossomed ever among the stones at the water’s edge, and would bloom again next year unless, meanwhile, an abnormally high tide came and washed the bulbs away.
Jan joined the tea-drinkers, his heart swelling with his news. Thanks to Mary Martha’s affliction (as she had come to call it) there was no cup for him, and he was told to go shares in Annet’s, taking sip and sip with her — the bliss!
But the bliss did not endure.
‘What’s that you’ve brought me?’ asked Annet, nodding toward the parcel, which he had laid beside him.
‘How did you know I brought it for you?’ he asked, his heart beating.
She pouted. ‘Is it for Linnet, then? Or for Bonnet?’
‘But it is for you.
He unwrapped it, and held it out.
Her pretty face darkened. ‘Is it mocking me? A silly old ornatus!’
‘But it’s different,’ he began stupidly, afraid of the wrath in her voice.
‘As if you did n’t know that I am sick of flowers, yes, sick of them!’
She tossed the bulb away pettishly, and sat staring before her, with tears in her eyes. The heel of her foot ground a pebble or two in the sand.
Poor Jan looked at her ruefully. He had meant to give her pleasure, and a moment ago his own happiness had been brimming. The news he had to tell — news so good for him — would that, too, make her angry?
But at this point Mary Martha let fall a plate, and upon the crash of it uplifted her voice in a wail.
‘An’ now it’s plates — oh, my misguided hands! Plates an’ cups an’ candlesticks will ever be my cross; and no hopes for it, maister, till we meet in the land o’ marrow an’ fatness where there’s no candle an’ the crockery tumbles light.’
‘Never mind a plate, Mary Martha, up or down,’ said the farmer genially. He had done satisfactory business that morning with the bank at Garland Town, and could afford the loss of a plate or two at harvest-ending. To cheat her remorse he suggested that, since she was talking of crosses, she might tell them about the one she had put up to her deceased husband. '’T is a story that never fails to cheer,’he assured the company, tactfully.
‘It cost the all of twenty pounds,’began Mary Martha, cheering up at once. ‘I got Hugh & Co.’s receipt for the money, here in my purse, an’ ne’er will I part with it.’ She opened the purse and showed the paper, greasy with much folding and unfolding. ‘But don’t ’ee go callin’ it a cross, maister, when “t is a collum.’
‘Dear me, so ’t is.’ The farmer took her correction. ‘Iss, iss — a collum; an’ I beg your pardon, woman.’
‘A broken collum, an’ polished granit’, with the ivy growin’ round it nat’ral as life. Not real ivy, you ’ll understand, but granit’, too, same as the collum. When my poor dear man went off in a decline and died, — an’ a kinder man the Lord never put heart into, — I went to Hugh & Co. an’ told him I wanted a tombstone. Hugh & Co. is the tombstone-maker over to Garland Town; his real name is William Hugh, an’ I never saw any Co. about him. I told Hugh & Co. I wanted to be measured for a stone, if he’d understand; because all my savin’s had gone in the funeral, an’ I would n’ have the stone until I’d paid for it, every penny — let alone that the dear man never could abide debt in his lifetime an’ ’d ne’er have rested easy wi’ that weight o’ credit ’pon his remains.
‘Hugh & Co. was very nice about it, an’ accommodatin’; offered to put up one for me on a sort of hire system, an’ made a lot o’ useful suggestions. But I stuck out that I’d have no stone till he had his money; only I wanted to choose the thing aforehand, so’s to have a notion o’ what I ’d be savin ’ for. Seein’ how firm I was about the payment, he took me into his yard — such a place, my dears! Tombstones by the scores, with “Sacred to the Mem’ry” ready carved ’pon ’em, and then a blank, waitin’ till the person died; so that you got the creeps wonderin’ if it might n’ be your turn next. But I did n’t get no creeps, not carin’ just then how soon I was taken.
‘Hugh & Co. showed me all kinds o’ patterns. Bein’ used to his trade, he was as easy about it as a butcher with a calf; an’ yet very kind all the time. He wanted to know if I’d have it in Delabole slate or in a kind o’ what he called compo, that he praised up for standin’ all weathers. “We’ve a cheap line in boards, too,”says he, “all seasoned wood, with two coats o’ best paint besides primin’, an’ the whole concern to be repainted, often as you like, at contrack prices.”
‘But I was looking at something quite different that had caught my eye, standin’ in the middle o’ the yard. “That there pillar would be my fancy,”says I; “if only ’t were n’t broken. How did you meet with such an accydent? ” — “Broken?” says he— “That’s done a-purpose, to show the life underneath was a-broken off afore its time.” When I come to look closer, I saw he was tellin’ the truth. “Just like my poor dear,” says I, an’ asks en the price.
‘He seemed a bit absent-minded of a sudden. “Oh, that there collum’s a masterpiece,” he says, “done by one of our best workmen on the Main. ’T was meant for a deceased party whose name I won’t mention, bein’ actionable, perhaps; but the relatives quarreled over the will, an’ here the blessed thing is back ’pon my hands. I can’t tell you the whole story, missus,” says Hugh & Co., “but here it be through an act o’ carelessness in the foreman who took the order; an’ I’ve stuck it up here to show what we can do when we try.”
‘“How much might it be, sir?” I asks, my heart in my mouth, “Well,” says he, “ if you should know any one who happens to be in want of such a thing, you can tell ’em that, misfit tho’ ’t is, I can’t let it go under twenty pound.” I stood there of a sudden, all of a tremble. “ I ’ll take it,” says I, hardly believing the sound o’ my own voice. “What?” says he. “That is, if you’re sure they relatives won’t put in no claim, an’ if you’ll let me bring the money from time to time, just to show how I’m gettin’ on, an’ that I mean honest.” — “Well,” says Hugh & Co. surprised out of hisself, “ you’ll excuse me, missus, but this beats cock-fightin’.” —“It may or it may n’t,” says I, “but there’s one other thing I’d like to mention: could ye saw off the broken end clean for me?” I says, “for I see what it means, now you’ve told me; but other people won’t, maybe. They’ll think I got so far wi’ the payments an’ no further, or, maybe, they’ll think I picked up with a damaged article. I could n’ be in the churchyard all the time explainin’; besides which I’m goin’ over to Brefar to young Matthey Hender, who’ve been a father to the fatherless, at five pounds a year and my keep.”’
‘Get along with your story, woman,’said the farmer hastily.
‘Which he agreed,’ continued Mary Martha, ‘and I came over here, an’ saved an’ saved till I had five pound put by! An’ then I turned to again, an’ saved and saved till I had another five pound — if some one will be good enough to count! An’ after that I saved an’ saved another five! An’ last, of all I saved an’ saved another five, an’ that made TWENTY!’
Mary Martha ran up to the climax with a shout of triumph, and ceasing abruptly, looked round the circle of her audience, expecting the applause which was duly given.
‘It’s gospel truth, too, the woman be tellin’,’ said the farmer, rising from his meal and preparing to walk away. Long years of ceaseless daily labor — and in the beginning, before the daffodils brought prosperity, they had been years of daily planning and contriving against want — had left him unapt for relaxation. He had been restless for some time before the close of Mary Martha’s enthralling story. ‘She hid it from us, too, though the Lord knows we’d ha’ been ready to make a push an’ help her t’wards the money.’
‘But ’t would n’t ha’ been the same thing, maister,’ chuckled Mary Martha gleefully.
‘No, woman; you’re right there,’ he answered, and went his way, to look over his harvested fields and — if truth must be told — to rest a minute at the gate of each, bless God’s mercy, and entreat it for his children, of whom the younger ones were all too young to remember less prosperous times.
HOW THE CHILDREN LEARNED TO PLAY
‘It must be a fine thing to live on the Main,’ said Annet, thoughtfully.
The children turned their eyes together over the sea across which the sunset, behind the cliff that shaded them, spread a soft radiance, warming a few high clouds with its afterglow. The Main was not visible from the low beach where they sat, but they knew where it lay, afar, beyond the point of Iniscaw.
‘Ay,’ said Dave, ‘and be rich enough to order a tombstone like that; and, when it’s made, to tell the mason you ’ve changed your mind.’
‘For my part,’ said Linnet, who was a practical little body, ’I don’t want to make acquaintance with any such whimsical people. You may be sure they’d look down on you, bein’ so rich; and I’d hate to live where I was looked down upon.’
‘I was n’t meaning,’ said Annet, ‘that I’d like to go over from here an’ be treated as they chose. I meant it would be fine to be one o’ them an’ so rich that you could look down on everybody else.’
‘But why should you?’ put in Jan, puzzled.
‘Oh, you don’t understand!’
Here Bennet — who was as practical as Linnet, but in a different way — opined that on the Main the Queen rode in a glass coach — which even the Mistress never did, in the Islands.
‘She couldn’, not very well,’ retorted Linnet, ever a loyal Islander. ‘But there’s glass windows to the cabin of her launch.’
Here Mary Martha, whom the children allowed to listen to their talk, feeling no shyness with one so simplehearted, laid her head in her lap with a sigh. ‘I’ve longed sometimes to be Queen of England,’ she confessed, ‘though it don’t happen to me so often as it did when I was savin’ up for the tombstone. But that cures me. Fancy me ridin’ in a glass coach, with my unfortunate habits!’
‘Let’s pretend that one of us is goin’ across to the Main to-morrow,’ suggested Bennet, ‘and we’ll each choose what we’d like for a present. Dave’s the oldest — Dave, you’re to start by the steamer to-morrow, and —’
‘But the steamer went to-day,’ Dave objected.
‘Well, then, the day after to-morrow. It don’t make any difference to our pretendin’.’
‘I didn’t want to disappoint you, that’s all. Very well, I ’m to go the day after to-morrow,’ Dave announced. ‘Now fire ahead, and choose what you want me to bring back.’
‘It’s like the beginning of “Beauty and the Beast,”’ said Annet — ‘Once upon a time there lived a merchant who had three daughters. A message came to him that he had to travel and do business in a country a long way off. So he called his daughters together and asked what they would like him to bring home for fairings. The first daughter asked for a necklace of ruby stones and satin slippers and a canary bird in a golden cage. The second wanted a new kitten and some strings for a harp and a dress all over diamonds. But when it came to the third —’
‘Well, what did she want?’ asked Dave, as Annet came to a halt.
Her face had flushed of a sudden. ‘I don’t know. I didn’t set out to tell you all the story — ’
‘But I know!’ cried Jan, sitting up suddenly and clutching two small pebbles he had been tossing idly in his hand. ‘The third one wanted a flower.’
‘She did n’t,’ Annet contradicted angrily. ‘Not first-along, at any rate. And you don’t know any stories. You told me so yourself, the day you came here.’
Jan passed the back of his hand over his eyes. ‘No, first-along she did n’t want anything. But after that, because she did n’t like to disappoint her father, she chose a flower. When her father was away on the Main and just about, to start, back for home, he found himself walking in a beautiful garden, and it came into his mind that he’d remembered to buy the other fairings but forgotten about the flower for his youngest daughter. So he picked the prettiest he could see, when out from the bushes jumped a great roaring lion. “Who gave you leave to pick my flowers?” roared the lion. The merchant dropped on his knees and cried out that he had only picked one; it was for his daughter who lived on the other side of the sea and had made him promise to bring her home a flower. “By rights I ought to kill you,” said the lion, “and I will only spare you if you promise to go home and fetch your daughter to me. Bring her to my palace and leave her here. You won’t see anybody. But if you don’t obey me, be sure I will kill you.”
‘The merchant had to promise, and when he reached home and told the news they were all very sad. But the youngest was brave, and said she must go: so her father took her back with him to the lion’s palace and left her. They saw nobody, and when her father had gone she wandered about alone until she was tired; and, at last, coming to a bedroom, she lay down and slept. But by and by she woke up. It was dark, and there was somebody talking to her in the dark, and although she could n’t see his face, she knew he was a beautiful Prince. He went away before daylight, but before going he told her that he would always love her, but he must always come in the dark and she must, never try to see his face.’
‘You ’re telling it all wrong,’ broke in Annet. ‘That’s not the story at all.’
’It’s a very good yarn, anyway,’ said Dave, as the child came to a stop, all confused, ‘and I don’t see why you want to interrupt. — Go on, Janny boy.’
‘She — she was never to see his face,’ pursued Jan; but the words came halting, and he seemed to be casting about for the broken thread of the story. ‘She wanted to — more and more, and — oh yes! — it goes on that one night while he was sleeping, she lit a lamp — it was a lamp like the chill2up in the kitchen — and bent over to look at him. He was handsome, ten times handsomer than she had ever supposed. He was so handsome that her hand shook, and a drop of the hot oil fell on his shoulder. He opened his eyes, and then —’
Jan came to a halt again.
‘Tell us what happened!' Annet was as eager, now, as the others.
‘He — he flew away, out of her sight. She had broken her promise, you see. I don’t rightly know the end,’ Jan confessed, rubbing his eye perplexedly.
Where had he learned the story? It all came to him so clearly, up to a point. ‘I think she searched after him — yes, and at last they were married and lived happy ever after,’ he wound up, like one repeating a lesson.
‘I don’t think much of a story that breaks off in the middle,’ said Annet cruelly. ‘Linnet, ’t is your turn. Tell us about Peter Piper that went down to the bottom of the sea and married a mermaid.’
Linnet told the story of Peter Piper, and when Linnet had clone, another child told about the Pixies — how they stole a baby out of its cradle, and how the mother made them bring it back, by boiling a crockful of eggshells. Jan listened, tossing his two pebbles idly and catching them. It was queer. These stories also he had heard at sometime, somewhere; or else he had dreamed them, not exactly as the children were telling them, but so nearly that to all intents they were the same.
Dave’s turn came next; but Dave for some minutes had been watching Jan, and the way he tossed the pebbles, turning his hand and catching them neatly on the back of his knuckles.
‘That’s a funny game you are playin’, little Jan. Who taught ’ee the trick of it?’
‘Nobody,’ answered Jan, after considering a moment. ‘It came into my head one day, and I ’ve been playing at it ever since, off and on. There are lots of different ways.’ He added a third small pebble, tossed up all three and caught them on the back of his hand where they lay disposed as though they had been carefully placed there. With a quick upward jerk he sent them in air again to fall, just as neatly, upon the back of his other hand.
The children watched him curiously. One or two chose out pebbles and tried to imitate these tricks. Within five minutes every child in the circle was engaged in the game, and all were laughing at one another’s awkwardness.
In this way Jan taught them the beginnings of a game old as the hills, played by shepherds and fisher-boys on far-away Grecian isles before ever Homer sang; and thus it came about that the Brefar children play at ‘Knuckle-bones’ to-day, with oddly shaped pebbles.
Also, unknowingly, he taught them to laugh. They were laughing yet, when the bell tinkled up at the farm, summoning them home to supper and bed; and, as they climbed the hill, echoes of their laughter floated back to the deserted beach.
The echoes died away; faded into the perpetual low hum of the tide-races sweeping around the northern isles. In the twilight a belated bee continued at work, —zzoom,—busy among the glimmering flowers of the Poet’s Narcissus. The bee pitched on a flower which lay broken among them where Annet had tossed it, and entered its cup inquisitively.
You that leap besprinkling the rock stream-
He has been our fellow, the morning of our days;
Us he chose for house-mates, and this way went. — Phœbus with Admetus.
So Jan continued with Young Farmer Matthey and grew up as one of the household. The story has no concern with these years, beyond telling that he went with the other children to Brefar school and was passably sharp with his books; and that he grew into a handsome lad, fair-skinned, beautifully-limbed, cheerful and docile of temper. He never quarreled, but would walk away whenever the children started bickering among themselves. On the other hand, he never quite broke through his shyness. He craved for their love, but (save unconsciously) could go no way to meet it, even when he taught them to laugh and play games. Only with Dave he had no reserve. If Dave was David, he as surely was Jonathan. As a rule, between growing lads two years’ difference of age is a gulf: but Jan (as the farmer put it) was old for his years, and in one particular he established a mastery which helped to bring, them level.
They learned to swim together; and at swimming from the start, the younger boy out-paced and out-distanced the elder. Dave had no jealousy in his nature. He toiled admiringly in Jan’s wake, and it was he, not Jan, who boasted of Jan’s beautiful diving. When they grew up and fitted out an old boat of the farmer’s, it was Dave’s turn to resume the mastery. Dave had a turn for carpentering. In steering and handling a boat, too, Dave was the teacher, Jan the learner. Moreover, Dave had a sense of navigation which Jan lacked; he seemed, being born to the Islands, to have an instinct for their rocks, shoals, and dangers, the set and run of the tides, what the wind would do next, and how far to trust it.
One other gift of Jan’s must be mentioned, since by virtue of it he repaid the farmer’s kindness. He developed a wonderful sense of flowers, so that none of the other children, between harvest and harvest, could compare with him. For to harvest the daffodils is simple enough: the grower’s real skill shows itself in the between-times, in divining when to lift and transplant, in sorting out the strong from the weakly bulbs, in strengthening the soil, in choosing new situations and aspects. At the age of fourteen Jan appeared, merely by turning a bulb over in his hand, to know what it wanted. It was he, too, who discovered for the farmer that daffodil leaves, duly dried, made good fodder. The green leaves are poisonous for cattle; and hitherto the rakings of the fields — when the flowers’ sap had run back into the bulbs — had been gathered in heaps and burnt. The farmer saved some, however, and used it for litter, never supposing that the cows would eat the dried stuff. Jan pointed out that they ate their bedding with relish, and moreover that they took no harm. Next year the farmer surprised his neighbors by building a rick of daffodil leaves alongside his hay-ricks.
Little by little, as the boy grew, the old longings, the old questionings, faded out of his mind. Work at Chyan-Chy Farm was hard, if cheerful: the day over, he climbed the stairs to bed, too wholesomely tired to lie awake and fret, as he had been used to fret, asking ‘Who am I?’ ‘How came I here?’
Maybe, too, the companionship of the patient cattle, the lesson of the flowers, so obedient, so unexacting, so eager and happy to do their best when the daytime came, in spite of wind and storm, helped to discipline him.
But says not, ‘I will only blow
Upon a southern land’; the cedar makes no coil
What rocks shall owe
The springs that wash his feet;
The crocus cannot arbitrate the soil
That for its purple radiance is most meet. —
Lord, even so
I ask one prayer;
The which if it be granted,
It skills not where
Thou plantest me, only I would be planted.
But the trouble awoke again.
One evening in early summer, — he was now in his fifteenth year, — he and Dave took a long swim together out to a naked island that stands about midway in Cromwell’s Sound. The pair had spent, the day in trimming hedges, working under a hot sun with their shirts open at the throat. The pollen of flowers, the blown seeds of early grasses, clung stickily to the sweat of their young bodies, and they sought the water as a salmon seeks the freshet to rid himself of sea-lice.
As usual, Jan quickly out-distanced Dave, and by and by, close under the rocks of the island, ceased swimming and turned over on his back, floating, waiting for Dave to come up. As he lay so, a sound came borne to him across the waters — a sound of a woman’s voice singing.
He had never heard singing, save by the children in school, or by their elders in chapel, or at evening prayer, droning out Wesley’s hymns at distressful length. He had never imagined that any sound could ravish the ear as did this. He turned about and trod water gently, lifting his head to listen. On the Iniscaw shore a light shone among the dark deodars, — for twilight was falling, — and thence the voice sang to him.
With a few easy strokes he reached the island. He groped for a landing in the shadow of the rocks, found handhold and scrambled ashore. Still the divine voice floated over the waters.
He stood, naked, rigid as a statue, every nerve held and strung by it. Below his feet, somewhere in the shadow, Dave called up to him that the swim had been long — it was time to return.
‘It’s the Lady, singing to herself. She has her window open, and sometimes, they say, you can hear every note as far as Brefar. Come back, Jan.’
Dave headed back as Jan dived. But Jan neither overtook him nor heeded his shouts. Dave, judging that he himself had barely strength enough left to swim back, swam doggedly on. Within a hundred yards of the beach his limbs began to feel as heavy as lead. But he struggled on and reached shore, his teeth chattering, his body shaking woefully as with an ague.
Meanwhile Jan was swimming for Iniscaw and the voice. Of the long return he recked nothing. No thought crossed his mind that Dave might perhaps be in danger; he would at any time have given his life for Dave’s. But just now he was oblivious of all save the voice, and he swam toward the lighted window as a moth is drawn to a lamp.
Within her room, high above the terrace, the Lady sang to herself; and her song was ‘Caro Nome.' Whoso will, let him despise; but when a great singer understands Verdi, it is a great and wonderful thing. While the Lady sang, the moon — almost at its full — swam up above the deodars, and toward it Jan swam, toward the lamp beneath it, toward the scent wafted across the summer night from garden flowers and dark pines.
Loyal Dave, although his teeth chattered, had no sooner reached the shore than he dragged down the boat and — all naked — pushed across in search of his friend. The rowing by degrees brought back warmth to his blood. When he reached the farther side the Lady had ceased singing and pulled down the blind. He found Jan stretched naked on the sand, shivering, sobbing with exhaustion, and carefully tided him home.
That was Dave all over — Dave, the good friend, solid, always ready at need.
But the time came when Dave must put on the uniform of the Trinity House and go off to the lightship on the Stones.
The children saw him off tearfully, though he was cheerful enough. From the upper windows of Chy-an-Chy farmhouse they could see the white flash traveling across the waters from the lightship — three white flashes in twenty-four seconds, followed by darkness for thirty-six seconds —and knew, when the flashes came round again, that Dave was alive and well, and keeping watch.
The joy of Jan’s life, however, was to welcome Dave home when the reliefboat brought him off; for life on a lightship is deadly trying to the nerves of most men, and the rule is — or then was — to relieve one third of the crew every month, each man spending two months on board and taking a month’s furlough on shore. Dave had no nerves; he said that with so much cleaning and polishing to do out yonder, there was no time to be melancholy; and besides there was a great deal more to talk about than any one would think: tramp steamers heading round land (in time you got to know one and another like old friends, and to time their comings and goings), full sail to the southward making for the Channel, at the worst a school of porpoises, or a sun-fish, or a line of little murres flying, or a gannet to watch by the hour, counting his dives. And sometimes the fishing-fleet would come out toward sunset, down sail, and hang out their riding-lights, which gave a friendly feeling, though to be sure they came from the Main. By night, of course, there were the other sea-lights to watch, particularly the red light on North Island, which (said Dave) put him in mind of Chy-an-Chy window at supper-time.
Nevertheless, Dave allowed that it was good to be home, especially on the first Sunday, when he put on his best shore-going clothes (Trinity House uniform) and the girls — Annet, Linnet, and Bennet — wore their white frocks to church in the morning and to meeting-house in the evening; this division of worship being the comfortable rule in the Islands (and, I dare say, no one a penny the worse for it). He said in his matter-of-fact way that even the smell of rotten fish at the corner of St. Lide’s quay was good enough to come back to, but the best smell was that of the lilac-bush by the lych-gate of Brefar Channel, because it had been in full bloom, with the bees about it, at his first home-coming.
The next year he returned in the very height of the daffodil harvest, and Jan — kept busy from morning to night — saw little of him. Somewhere deep down in his heart was a feeling that Dave, having nothing to do on his furlough, might have spared more time to stand by his side in the fields and chat. He understood when Dave, the night before departure, drew him aside and told him shyly — after much pretense of asking advice — that he and Annet had ‘made it up.’ ‘Of course,’ added Dave, ‘that don’t make any difference to you and me.’
‘Of course,’ agreed Jan, believing him. His own heart was not seriously engaged, though from the first (now he came to think of it) Annet was by far the prettiest girl on Brefar, and therefore marked out to be Dave’s sweetheart.
‘I’d take it kindly,’ said Dave quite solemnly, ‘if you’d just bear that in mind. It was you, as a fact, that brought us together.’
‘Was it?' said Jan doubtfully, wondering when and how this could have happened.
‘She thinks a lot of you, too,’ said Dave. ‘She’ve told me so.’ He said it in a tone which conveyed that Jan ought to be proud, and proud Jan accordingly was. ‘Now I’m thinking that she’ll be feelin’ my goin’ out to the Stones, this time, more ’n ordinary.’
‘Of course she will,’ Jan agreed.
‘An’ that,’said his friend, ‘is where you can help. We can’t be married till the summer after next; but mean time you can do a lot for us.'
‘Can I?’ asked Jan doubtfully. ‘Well, I’ll do my best. If only you mean what you say: that it — that this— ’ll make no difference between us.’
‘Why should it?’ (How splendid Dave looked as he asked the question!)
Jan never said a word to Annet concerning her troth with Dave, nor she a word to him. But on the day after Dave’s departure he took her for a sail to cheer up her spirits, and they talked much of the hero by the way. Somehow it came to be understood that Jan, as Dave’s friend, in a sense belonged to Annet, to be at her beck and call, and during that summer the pair sailed on many an excursion together among the off-islands, being absent for a whole afternoon — always after getting leave from the farmer.
There could be no harm in it. The farmer, though inclined to spoil Annet, knew her to be a shrewd girl and level-headed. (He was delighted, by the way, that she had chosen Dave; for Dave, in addition to his other good qualities, was an only son, and his parents had a little money laid up in the savings bank. A better son-in-law could not be wished for.)
As for Jan, his loyalty to his friend was a household word, almost a household jest at Chy-an-Chy Farm. (In these trips he now and again came near to boring Annet with his heroworship.)
But when the relief-boat brought Dave home, Jan would efface himself, asking no better reward than the old quiet understanding.
And the spring comes slowly up this way.
One day early in the next spring Annet suggested that instead of tacking among the oil-islands, they should sail boldly out for the Stones and pay a surprise visit to the light-vessel.
The enterprise was not so very audacious, after all. A steady northerly breeze had been blowing all day and would certainly hold until sunset; it was a ‘soldier’s breeze,’ too, and would serve them going and coming. Moreover, this would be their last opportunity, for the daffodil harvest was close at hand, and while it lasted there could be no more holidays.
Jan blamed himself because the suggestion had not come first from him — that Annet should have been left to make it.
On the way out they talked gayly for a while, anticipating Dave’s astonishment. Then they fell to discussing the prospects of harvest. All pointed to a good crop and good prices. The farmer would enjoy another prosperous season, and in the summer there would be a merry wedding.
‘It’s good to think,’ said Annet graciously, ‘that you and Dave will always be friends.’
‘We shall always be friends,’ said Jan, and added quickly, ‘Whatever becomes of me, I could never do other than love Dave.’
His hand was on the tiller and trembled slightly; his eyes were fixed on the water ahead. The boat had broken the charmed circle of the island tides and danced over open sea.
‘Whatever becomes of you ?’ echoed Annet. ‘ Why, you never mean to leave Brefar, surely!’
‘This summer, perhaps; after the wedding. Dave knows. I have n’t told your father yet, and it won’t be easy. But I belong to the Main, you know — somewhere.’ His gaze traveled ahead, eagerly. ‘I can’t explain; but when you belong to the Main, you know.’
‘Dave ought to have told me,’ said Annet pettishly. She was silent for a full minute. Then she asked, ‘And when you get to the Main, what will you do?’
‘Who knows? I shall fall on my feet, never you fear.’
‘I heard father telling mother the other day that he was lucky to keep you. You could get good gardener’s wages anywhere, and his wonder was the Mistress had n’t heard of you and snapped you up.’
‘I don’t suppose the Mistress wants a gardener,’ said Jan. ‘But anyway she’d never bear the sight of me — the teacher told me that. The Commandant was a friend of hers, you know; and he lost his life, saving me.’
Annet nodded, but she was not heeding. ‘I don’t see,’ she said, ‘that one needs belong to the Main to want to live there. I ’ve longed for that, all my life. Dave, now — he’s happy anywhere. I’ve asked him again and again how he can stand it, bobbing up an’ down, up an’ down, out yonder at the end of a chain. Then he laughs and says something foolish — that there’s the holidays to look forward to, or some nonsense of that sort.’
‘And so he feels it.’
‘But ’t is no life for a man,’ insisted Annet, tapping her foot on the bottom boards. ‘Up an’ down on the end of a chain, and looking forward to nothing but that all your life long.’
‘If he’s happy —’ began Jan.
‘What about me?' asked Annet, almost fiercely.
She recovered her graciousness as they neared the light-vessel, and answered Dave’s ecstatic signals with a sufficiently affectionate wave of her handkerchief.
Dave was in transports. He had recognized the boat at two miles’ distance, and as she rounded up alongside you would have thought the good fellow clear out of his mind.
‘What a notion, too!’ he kept shouting. ‘What a notion! Now which of ’es thought of it?’
‘Why, Annet, of course,’ answered Jan.
‘Ha, ha! — Did she now? Did she really?’ he fairly bellowed; while Annet blushed and the crew — bronzed friendly fellows — grinned down overside.
‘Oh, hush—please!' Annet entreated him in a vexed voice. ‘Makin’ such a noise, an’ before folks. If I’d known you’d behave like this—’
But honest Dave was not to be denied. He reached down his arms to lift her on board, and no sooner had her on deck than he kissed her unblushingly; whereat the crew laughed aloud. They caught the painter thrown by Jan and, as he jumped aboard after Annet, let the boat fall astern, to be made fast there.
The next hour was spent in admiring the ship, the machinery of the lantern, the hundred-and-one cunning little contrivances for economizing space in galley, pantry, sleeping-bunks. It was all very wonderful and amazingly cosy, yet Jan kept marveling how Dave, having once broken away from the Islands, could endure (as Annet put it) to live out his life tethered thus.
Annet had recovered her composure, and at tea — the crew insisted on making tea for them before they started for home — she reigned as a queen in the small cabin. The ship smelled potently of oil and brick-dust, from end to end, and the smell was disagreeable to Jan.
‘Well, an’ what news o’ the flowers?’ demanded Dave.
They told him.
‘As if I didn’t know!’ he shouted delightedly. ‘We can taste the flowers, even out here. There’s the birds arrivin’, too, to tell us that spring is comin’ along.’
On the whole, the surprise visit proved a great success; and yet Jan felt that something was lacking. He noted with some wonder that Dave, the lover, seemed to detect nothing amiss, and to be entirely — oven to foolishness — content with Annet’s behavior and bearing.
The time came to say good-bye, and he and Annet sailed back toward the sunset, followed for a long way by the cheers of the lightship’s crew. Jan steered. Annet sat on the mid-ship thwart gazing out to leeward under the sail.
For a mile and more they exchanged not a word.
At length Annet said slowly, ‘That kind of life don’t improve Dave, seemin’ to me.’
‘Dave don’t want improvin’,’ Jan answered her shortly.
There was a long pause during which Annet watched the froth rushing by under the boat’s lee. She broke it, saying, ‘You must ha’ noticed that I did n’t like it.’
‘Ay,’ Jan replied, ‘I took note o’ that.’
Another long pause followed.
‘An’ that’s to go on forever an’ ever, I suppose. An’ with any pluck he might have gone to the Main and made his fortune.’
‘But he’s content as he is, lookin’ forward to you.’
‘An’ what about me?’ she cried for the second time that day. ‘D’ ye think that’s all I’m worth? Oh,’ she broke off, ‘some folk have no eyes in their head!’
But Jan had — and so had Annet; wicked, enticing eyes they were, albeit demurely dropped. They watched him from under their long lashes, and he read their meaning. They were asking him to betray his friend.
A shiver ran down his body. She was fair and desirable. But his grip tightened on the tiller as he lied bravely.
‘I don’t know what you mean, Annet.’
She said no more until they reached the entrance of Cromwell’s Sound and ran the boat in for shore at the accustomed cove. But her face was dark.
‘It’s late,’ said Jan, for indeed twilight had already gathered. ‘They’ll be getting anxious about us, up yonder. You’d best run along and tell them it’s all right, while I stow sail and haul the boat up.’
Annet lingered. She had a mind to tell him that she was afraid of the gathering dark, but she knew very well that he would not believe her. But the devil was in her now, and she would not lose her game without a last throw. She went up some way along the path, and dashed aside among the darkling furze-bushes. There she would wait for him, and springing out seize his arm as he came along. The scent of the furze-blossom was intoxicating as it floated close about her on the evening air.
The boat’s keelson grated on the beach below. He was hauling her up, then, before lowering sail. Or had she missed to hear the creak of the sheave? If he was hauling the boat up, in another moment the keelson would grate again.
But half a minute passed. He was stumbling about in the boat. Then she heard the soft plash of a paddle and, not knowing what to make of it, stepped out into the pathway for a look. She was barely in time. While she stood there, doubting her eyes, the white sail slid past the southerly point of the cove and out of sight.
Annet tore down to the beach, calling, demanding to know where he was bound, what he meant by it. But Jan looked back once only, as he paid out sheet. The northerly wind still held behind him, and he headed the boat straight down Cromwell’s Sound for the roadstead. A light glimmered above the trees on Iniscaw shore; but the Lady might sing at the window now if she listed. No spell could any longer bind him. He had tasted liberty to-day and looked on fear; and while the one beckoned him, the other shouted him away from the Islands to his fate.
Still with a free sheet he ran across the roadstead, and hauling close under the lee of St. Lide’s fetched out past the land. He was in open water now, with the sea-lights and the stars for guides. The sea was smooth, and he could make no mistake.
At daybreak he saw the tall cliffs of the Main, at no more than a mile’s distance, rising sheer from the sea, their fissures penciled with violet shadows; and following the coast-line southward he came to a bay, wherein was a harbor, thrice the size of St. Lide’s Pool.
He steered in boldly. Half a dozen tall ships lay alongside the quay there, and on one of them a man was hauling up a red-white-and-green flag. Having hauled it chock-a-block, he proceeded to make fast the halyards at the rail, and grinned down in friendly fashion as the boat slid close.
‘Want, a hand, do you?’ asked Jan.
‘Siete Italiano ?'
Jan rounded alongside.
The good harvest was over. The family had celebrated its close, as usual, by a ‘tea-drinking’ on Brefar beach, and were wending homeward up the hill through the dusk. But on the beach a young man and a maid loitered, listening to their voices.
‘Poor old Jan!’ said Dave thoughtfully. ‘I wonder what took him. Did n’t notice anything queer with him, that day, did you? I did n’t’
‘He was always queer,’answered Annet. ‘You never can depend on folks from the Main.'
’You used to worry me about going to live there, one time,’ Dave reminded her.
‘Girls can’t help havin’ their silly notions.’
‘No, I suppose. But poor old Jan! I wonder if he’ll write to us some day. He ought, you know, for I never had no other real friend,’ mused Dave wistfully.
‘What does it matter?' asked Annet. ‘Have n’t we one another?’
At their feet, unnoted by them, a narcissus bloomed; a flower with white perianth and a cup of flame. This year it must bloom in patience and fade — this year, and another, and another; until Young Farmer Matthey comes along with a sharper eye than any of his children’s and discovers it, the glory of the Islands.
- Begun in the May number.↩
- Chill: a stone lamp, shaped like a candlestick and having a shallow saucer on top. A little train (fish) oil was poured into the saucer, and a floating rush served for wick. Such a lamp was used up to recent years on the Islands; and the glimmer it gave was called by the housewife an ‘idle light,’meaning that she and her maidens could not see to sew by it.↩