Clara Vaughan. Volume 1 of 3
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"I have never been in London, Tim, since I was a child; and I know nothing at all about wrestling."
"Wull, Miss, that be nayther here nor there. But there had been a dale of brag after Maister had thrown arl they Carnishers to Barnstable vair, last year, about vetching this here Tom Gundry, who wor the best man in Cornwall, to throw our Maister. Howsomever, it be time for ai to crack on a bit. 'Ah,' zays the man avoot, who zimth had coom to back un, 'ah, 'twor arl mighty faine for Uxtable to play skittles with our zecond rate men. Chappell or Ellicombe cud have doed as much as that. Rackon Jan Uxtable wud vind a different game with Tom Gundry here.' 'Rackon he wud,' zaith Gundry, 'a had better jine a burial club, if her've got ere a waife and vamily.'"
"Noo. Did a zay that though?" inquired Mrs. Huxtable, much excited.
"'Coom now,' my maister zaith, trying to look smarl behaind the fuzz, 'thee must throw me, my lad, avore thee can throw Jan Uxtable. He be a better man mainly nor ai be this dai. But ai baint in no oomer for playin' much jist now, and rackon ai should hoort any man ai kitched on.' 'Her that be a good un, Zam, baint it now?' zaith Gundry to little chap, the very zame as ai be a tullin it now, 'doth the fule s'pose ai be ratten? Ai've half a maind to kick un over this hadge; jist thee hold the nag!' 'Sober now,' zaith varmer, and ai zeed a was gettin' rad in the chakes, 'God knows ai don't feel no carl to hoort 'e. Ai'll gie thee wan chance more, Tom Gundry, as thee'st a coom arl this wai fram Carnwall. Can 'e trod a path in thiccy country, zame as this here be?' And wi' that, a walked into the beg fuzz, twaice so haigh as this here room, and the stocks begger round nor my body, and harder nor wrought hiern. A jist stratched his two hons, raight and left, and twitched un up, wan by wan, vor ten gude lanyard, as asily as ai wud pull spring inyons. 'Now, wull e let me lone?' zaith he, zo zoon as a coom barck, wi his brath a little quicker by rason of the exarcise, 'wull 'e let me lone?' 'Ee's fai, wull I,' zaith the man avoot. 'Hor,' zaith Tom Gundry, who had been a33
I thought poor Tim, in the excitement of his story, would have thrown table and stool over the settle to illustrate it; and if he had, Mrs.Huxtable would have forgiven him.
"'Thar,' zaith our Maister, as plaisant as cud be, and ai thought us shud have died of laffing, 'thar now, if zo be the owner of thiccy falde zummons e for traspash, you zay Jan Uxtable zent e on a little arrand, to vaind a Carnisher as can do the laike to he.' And wi' that, a waiped his hons with a slip of vern, and tuk a little drap of zider, and full to's wark again."
"Wull, but Tim," asked the farmer's wife, to lose no part of the effect, "what zort of a hadge wor it now? Twor a little hadge maybe, no haigher nor the zettle barck."
"Wor it though?" said Tim, "thee knows better nor that, Missus. It be the beggest hadge on arl the varm, wi' a double row of saplin hash atap. Her maks the boundary betwixt the two parishes, and ain't been trimmed these vaive year, ai can swear."
"And how be the both on 'em now, Tim? A must have gone haigh enough to channge the mune.
"Wull, Miss," said Tim, addressing me, for he had told his Mistress all the story twice, "Tom Gundry brak his collar boun, and zarve 'un raight, for a brak Phil Dascombe's a puppose whun a got 'un in a trap, that taime down to Bodmin thar; and harse gat a rick of his taial; but the little chap, he vell upon his hat, and that zaved him kindly. But I heer'd down to Pewter Will's, whur I gooed for a drap of zumthin for my waife's stommick, ai heer'd zay there, as how Constable was a coomin to Maister this very naight, if Carnishers cud have perswadded un. But Constable zaith, zaith he, 'Twor all along o you Garnish chaps, fust battery was mad, and fust blow gien, and wi'out you can zhow me Squaire Drake's warrant, I wunt have nout to do wi' it, not ai; and that be law and gospel in Davonsheer and in Cornwall.'"
"Tim," said Mrs. Huxtable, "I'se warrant thee's niver tould so long a spin up in thee's laife avore. And thee's tould it wonnerful well too; hathn't un Miss Clerer? Zuke, here be the kay of zellar, gie Tim a half a paint more zider; and thee mai'st have a drap theesell, gall. Waipe thee mouth fust."
"Ah," said Tim, favouring me with a wink, in the excess of his glory, "rackon they Carnishers 'll know the wai off Tossil's Barton varm next taime, wi'out no saign postesses."44
Two or three days after this, I was keeping school in the dairy, the parlour being too small for that purpose, and the kitchen and "wash-up" (as they called the back-kitchen) too open to inroads from Suke and Tim. My class consisted of ten, or rather was eight strong, the two weames (big baby and little baby), only attending for the sake of example, and because they would have roared, if parted from the other children. So those two were allowed to spraddle on the floor, where sometimes they made little rollers of themselves, with much indecorum, and between whiles sat gravely sucking their fat red fingers, and then pointed them in a glistening state at me or my audience, and giggled with a large contempt. The eight, who made believe to learn something, were the six elder Huxtables, and two of Tim Badcock's "young uns." I marshalled them, four on each side, against the low lime-whitened walls, which bore the pans of cream and milk. Little Sally, my head scholar, was very proud of measuring her height, by the horizontal line on the milk-pan where the glazing ended; which Tabitha Badcock, even on tiptoe, could not reach. They were all well "claned," and had white pinnies on, and their ruddy cheeks rubbed up to the highest possible polish, with yellow soap and the jack-towel behind the wash-up door. Hence, I never could relieve them from the idea that Sunday now came every day in the week.
I maintained strict discipline, and allowed no nonsense; but two sad drawbacks constantly perplexed me. In the first place, their ways were so ridiculous, and they laboured so much harder to make me laugh, than they did to learn, that I could not always keep my countenance, and when the spelling-book went up before my face, they knew, as well as possible, what was going on behind it, and peeped round or below, and burst out all together. The second drawback was, that Mrs. Huxtable, in spite of all my protests, would be always rushing in, upon errands purely fictitious; and the farmer himself always found some special business in the yard, close to the wired and unglazed window, whence every now and then his loud haw-haws, and too audible soliloquies, "Dang me! wull done, Zally, that wor a good un; zay un again, cheel! zay un again, wull 'e?" utterly overthrew my most solemn institutions.
"Coom now, smarl chillers" – I addressed them in my unclassical Devonshire dialect, for it kept their attention alive to criticise me when I "spak unvitty" – "coom now, e've a been spulling lang enough: ston round me now, and tull me what I axes you."
Already, I had made one great mistake, by saying "round" instead of "raound," and Billy, the genius of the family, was upon the giggle.
"Now thun, wutt be a quadripade?"
"Ai knoo!" says Sally, with her hand held out.
"Zo do ai," says Jack, thrusting forth his stomach.
"Who wur axing of you?" I inquire in a stately manner. "You bain't the smarl chillers, be 'e? Bill knows," I continue, but wax doubtful from the expression of Bill's face.
"Ees fai," cries Bill, suddenly clearing up, "her be wutt moother zits on vor to mulk the coos. Bain't her now?"
"Thee bee'st ony wan leg out, Bill. Now Tabby Badcock?"
While Tabby is splashing in her memory (for I told them all last week), the farmer much excited, and having no idea what the answer should be, but hoping that one of his own children may discover it first, boldly shows his face at the wired window, but is quite resolved to allow fair play. Not so Mrs. Huxtable, who, in full possession of the case, suddenly appears behind me, and shakes her fist at poor puzzled Tabby. "Thee'dst best pretend to know more than thy betters." She tries to make Tabby hear, without my catching her words. But the farmer hotly shouts, "Lat un alo-un, waife. Tak thee hon from thee mouth, I tull 'e. Spak up now, little wanch."
Thus encouraged, Tabby makes reply, looking cross-wise at Mrs. Huxtable.
"Plase, Miss, it be a beastie wi vour taials."
"Raight," cries the farmer, with admiration conquering his disappointment; "raight this taime, ai'll tak my oath on it. I zeed wan to Barnstaple vair last year, and her wor karled, 'Phanominy Quadripade,' her Kirsten name and her zurname, now ai coom to racollack."
Tabby looks elated, and Mrs. Huxtable chagrined. Before I can redress the situation, a sound of heavy blows, delivered on some leathery substance, causes a new stir. All recognise the arrival of Her Majesty's mail, a boy from Martinhoe, who comes upon a donkey twice a week, if there happen to be any letters for the village below.
Out rush Mrs. Huxtable and Suke (who once received an epistle), and the children long to go, but know better. The boy, however, has only a letter for me, which is from Mrs. Shelfer (a cousin of Ann Maples), to whom I wrote a few days since, asking whether she had any rooms to let. Mrs. Shelfer replies that "she has apartments, and they are splendid, and the rent quite trifling;" so the mail is bribed with a pint of cider, while I write to secure a new home.
My departure being now fixed and inevitable, the women naturally began to remonstrate more than over. It had been settled that Ann Maples should go with me, not to continue as my servant, but to find a place for herself in London.
My few arrangements, which cost me far more pain than trouble, were not long in making; and after saying good-bye to all the dear little children and weanies, and kissing their pretty faces in their little beds, amid an agony of tears from Sally, I was surprised, on entering the kitchen, to find there Mr. Beany Dawe. There was little time for talking, and much less for poetry. We were to start at three in the morning, the farmer having promised to drive us to meet the coach in Barnstaple, whence there would be more than thirty miles of hilly road to Tiverton, the nearest railway station. The journey to London could thus be made in a day, though no one in the parish could be brought to believe it.
The poet had been suborned, no doubt, by Mrs. Huxtable, and now detained me to listen to an elegy upon the metropolis of England. I cannot stop to repeat it, neither does it deserve the trouble; but it began thus: -
"Lor," cried Mrs. Huxtable, "however could they do their washing? Thee vayther must a been as big a liar as thee, Beany. Them gifts always runs in the family."
When, with remarkable patience, I had heard out his elegant effusion, the author, who had conceived much good will towards me, because I listened to his lays and called him Mr. Dawe, the author dived with a deep-drawn sigh into a hole in his sack, and produced in a mysterious manner something wrapped in greasy silver paper, and well tied up. He begged me to accept, and carry it about me most carefully and secretly, as long as I should live. To no other person in the world would he have given this, but I had earned it, as a true lover of poetry, and required it as a castaway among the perils of London. In vain I declined the present; refusal only confirmed his resolution. As the matter was of so little importance, I soon yielded upon condition that I should first examine the gift. He gave me leave with much reluctance, and I was surprised at the beauty and novelty of the thing. It was about the size of a Geneva watch, but rather thicker, jet black and shining, and of the exact shape of a human heart. Around the edge ran a moulding line or cord of brilliant red, of the same material as the rest. In the centre was a white spot like a siphuncle. What it was I could not guess, but it looked like some mineral substance. Where the two lobes met, a small hole had been drilled to receive a narrow riband. After putting me through many guesses, Mr. Dawe informed me that it was a pixie's heart, a charm of unequalled power against witchcraft and assassination, and to enthral the affection of a loved one. He only smiled, and rubbed his nose, on hearing that I should never want it in the last capacity. Being greatly pleased with it, I asked him many questions, which he was very loth to answer. Nevertheless I extorted from him nearly all he knew.
As he was sawing into boards a very large oak-tree, something fell from the very heart of it almost into his mouth, for poor Ebenezer was only an undersawyer. As he could not stop the saw without his partners concurrence, and did not wish to share his prize, he kicked some sawdust over it until he could stoop to pick it up unobserved. In all his long experience of the woods, he had seen but two of these rare and beautiful things, and now assured me that any sawyer was considered lucky who found only one in the course of his career. The legend on the subject was rather quaint and graceful, and deserves a better garb than he or I can furnish.
By no means a "little heart," it seemed to me, for a fairy to have owned, but as large as it was loving. I assured Mr. Dawe that he was quite untaught in fairy lore, or he never would have confounded fairies with pixies, a different class of society. But he treated my learning with utter contempt, and reasonably enough declared that he who spent all his time in the woods must know more than any books could tell.
He also informed me, that the proper name for the lignified fairy heart, was a "gordit: " but he did not choose to tell me what had become of the other, which was not so large or handsome as this, yet it had saved him a month's sawing, and earned him "a rare time," which meant, I fear, that the proceeds had been spent in a very long cruise.
After refusing all compensation, Mr. Dawe made his farewell in several couplets of uncouth but hearty blessing, begging me only to shake hands with him once, and venturing as a poet to prophesy that we should meet again. The "gordit" was probably nothing more than a rare accretion, or ganglion, in the centre of an aged oak. However, it was very pretty; and of course I observed the condition upon which I had received it, valuing it moreover as a token of true friends.
But how can I think of such trifles, while sitting for the last time in the room where my mother died? To-morrow all the form and colour of my life shall change; even now I feel once more my step on the dark track of justice, which is to me revenge. How long have I been sauntering on the dreary moor of listlessness and hollow weariness, which spreads, for so many dead leagues, below the precipice of grief? How long have I been sauntering, not caring to ask where, and conscious of existence only through the nerves and fibres of the memory. The things I have been doing, the duties I have discharged, the vague unlinked ideas, startling me by their buffoonery to grief-might not these have all passed through me, every whit as well, if I had been set against a wall, and wound up for three months, and fitted with the mind expressed in the chuckle of a clock? Nay, worse than all-have I not allowed soft thoughts to steal throughout my heart, the love of children, the warmth of kindness, the pleasure of doing good in however small a way? Much more of this, and I shall learn forgiveness of my wrong!
But now I see a clearer road before me. Returning health renews my gall. Death recedes, and lifts his train from the swords that fell before him. Once more my pulse beats high with hatred, with scorn of meanness, treachery, and lies, with admiration of truth and manhood, not after the fashion of fools.
But dare I mount the Judge's throne? Shall the stir of one frail heart, however fresh from its Maker's hand, be taken for His voice pronouncing right and wrong?
These thoughts give me pause, and I dwell again with my mother. But in all the strength of youth and stern will, I tread them down; and am once more that Clara Vaughan whose life shall right her father's death.
At last we got through our parting with the best of people (far worthier than myself to interest any reader), and after it the dark ride over the moors, and the farmer's vain attempt at talking to relieve both himself and us. The honest eyes were bright with tears, tears of pity for my weakness, which now he scarcely cared to hide, but would not show by wiping away; and how many times he begged for frequent tidings of us, which Sally could now interpret, if written in large round hand. How many times he consulted, commanded, and threatened the coachman, and promised him a goose at Michaelmas, if he took good care of us and our luggage! These great kindnesses, and all the trifling cares which strew the gap of long farewells, were more to think of than to tell. But I ought to mention, that much against the farmer's will, I insisted on paying him half the sum, which he had lent me in a manner never to be forgotten. Moreover, with the same presentiment which he had always felt, he made me promise once more to send for him, if I fell into any dreadful strait.
It was late at night when our cabman, the most polite, and (if his word may be trusted) the most honourable of mankind, rang the bell of Mrs. Shelfer's house. The house was in a by-street near a large unfinished square, in the northern part of London. Mrs. Shelfer came out at once, sharp and quick and short, and wonderfully queer. At first she took no notice at all of either of as, but began pulling with all her strength at the straps of the heaviest boxes, which, by means known to herself alone, she contrived to drag through the narrow passage, and down three low steps into the little kitchen. Then she hurried back, talking all the time to herself, re-opened the door of the fly, jumped in, and felt under both the seats, and round the lining. Finding nothing there, she climbed upon the driver's box, and thoroughly examined both that and the roof. Being satisfied now that none of our chattels were left in the vehicle, she shook her little fist at two or three boys, who stood at the corner near the mews, and setting both hands to the farmer's great hamper or "maun" (as he called it), she dragged it inside the front door, and turned point blanc upon me.
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