Dovecot by Juliana Horatio Ewing
A summer's afternoon. Early in the summer, and late in the afternoon;
with odors and colors deepening, and shadows lengthening, towards
Two gaffers gossiping, seated side by side upon a Yorkshire wall. A wall
of sandstone of many colors, glowing redder and yellower as the sun goes
down; well cushioned with moss and lichen, and deep set in rank grass on
this side, where the path runs, and in blue hyacinths on that side,
where the wood is, and where--on the gray and still naked branches of
young oaks--sit divers crows, not less solemn than the gaffers, and also
One gaffer in work-day clothes, not unpicturesque of form and hue. Gray,
home-knit stockings, and coat and knee-breeches of corduroy, which takes
tints from Time and Weather as harmoniously as wooden palings do; so
that field laborers (like some insects) seem to absorb or mimic the
colors of the vegetation round them and of their native soil. That is,
on work-days. Sunday-best is a different matter, and in this the other
gaffer was clothed. He was dressed like the crows above him, fit
excepted: the reason for which was, that he was only a visitor, a
revisitor to the home of his youth, and wore his Sunday (and funeral)
suit to mark the holiday.
Continuing the path, a stone pack-horse track, leading past a hedge
snow-white with may, and down into a little wood, from the depths of
which one could hear a brook babbling. Then up across the sunny field
beyond, and yet up over another field to where the brow of the hill is
crowned by old farm-buildings standing against the sky.
Down this stone path a young man going whistling home to tea. Then
staying to bend a swarthy face to the white may to smell it, and then
plucking a huge branch on which the blossom lies like a heavy fall of
snow, and throwing that aside for a better, and tearing off another and
yet another, with the prodigal recklessness of a pauper; and so,
whistling, on into the wood with his arms full.
Down the sunny field, as he goes up it, a woman coming to meet him--with
her arms full. Filled by a child with a may-white frock, and hair
shining with the warm colors of the sandstone. A young woman, having a
fair forehead visible a long way off, and buxom cheeks, and steadfast
eyes. When they meet he kisses her, and she pulls his dark hair and
smooths her own, and cuffs him in country fashion. Then they change
burdens, and she takes the may into her apron (stooping to pick up
fallen bits), and the child sits on the man's shoulder, and cuffs and
lugs its father as the mother did, and is chidden by her and kissed by
him. And all the babbling of their chiding and crowing and laughter
comes across the babbling of the brook to the ears of the old gaffers
gossiping on the wall.
Gaffer I. spits out an over-munched stalk of meadow soft-grass, and
"D'ye see yon chap?"
Gaffer II. takes up his hat and wipes it round with a spotted
handkerchief (for your Sunday hat is a heating thing for work-day wear),
and puts it on, and makes reply:
"Aye. But he beats me. And--see there!--he's t'first that's beat me yet.
Why, lad! I've met young chaps to-day I could ha' sworn to for mates of
mine forty years back--if I hadn't ha' been i't' churchyard spelling
over their fathers' tumstuns!"
"Aye. There's a many old standards gone home o' lately."
"What do they call him?"
"T' young chap?"
"They call him--Darwin."
"Dar--win? I should known a Darwin. They're old standards, is Darwins.
What's he to Daddy Darwin of t' Dovecot yonder?"
"He owns t' Dovecot. Did ye see t' lass?"
"Aye. Shoo's his missus, I reckon?"
"What did they call her?"
"Phoebe Shaw they called her. And if she'd been my lass--but
that's nother here nor there, and he's got t' Dovecot."
"Shaw? They're old standards, is Shaws. Phoebe? They called her
mother Phoebe. Phoebe Johnson. She were a dainty lass! My father were
very fond of Phoebe Johnson. He said she allus put him i' mind of our
orchard on drying days; pink and white apple-blossom and clean clothes.
And yon's her daughter? Where d'ye say t'young chap come from? He don't
look like hereabouts."
"He don't come from hereabouts. And yet he do come from hereabouts, as
one may say. Look ye here. He come from t' wukhus. That's the short and
the long of it."
Stupefaction. The crows chattering wildly overhead.
"And he owns Darwin's Dovecot?"
"He owns Darwin's Dovecot."
"And how i' t' name o' all things did that come about'!"
"Why, I'll tell thee. It was i' this fashion."
Not without reason does the wary writer put gossip in the mouths of
gaffers rather than of gammers. Male gossips love scandal as dearly as
female gossips do, and they bring to it the stronger relish and energies
of their sex. But these were country gaffers, whose speech--like
shadows--grows lengthy in the leisurely hours of eventide. The gentle
reader shall have the tale in plain narration.
NOTE--It will be plain to the reader that the birds here described are
Rooks (corvus frugilegus). I have allowed myself to speak of them
by their generic or family name of Crow, this being a common country
practice. The genus corvus, or Crow, includes the Raven,
the Carrion Crow, the Hooded Crow, the Jackdaw, and the Rook.
One Saturday night (some eighteen years earlier than the date of this
gaffer-gossiping) the parson's daughter sat in her own room before the
open drawer of a bandy-legged black oak table, balancing her
bags. The bags were money-bags, and the matter shall be made clear
In this parish, as in others, progress and the multiplication of weapons
with which civilization and the powers of goodness push their conquests
over brutality and the powers of evil, had added to the original duties
of the parish priest, a multifarious and all but impracticable variety
of offices; which, in ordinary and late conditions, would have been
performed by several more or less salaried clerks, bankers, accountants,
secretaries, librarians, club-committees, teachers, lecturers, discount
for ready-money dealers in clothing, boots, blankets, and coal,
domestic-servant agencies, caterers for the public amusement, and
preservers of the public peace.
The country parson (no less than statesmen and princes, than men of
science and of letters) is responsible for a great deal of his work that
is really done by the help-mate--woman. This explains why five out of
the young lady's moneybags bore the following inscriptions in
marking-ink: "Savings' bank," "Clothing club," "Library," "Magazines and
hymn-books," "Three-halfpenny club"--and only three bore reference to
private funds, as--"House-money"--"Allowance "--"Charity."
It was the bag bearing this last and greatest name which the parson's
daughter now seized and emptied into her lap. A ten-shilling piece, some
small silver, and twopence halfpenny jingled together, and roused a
silver-haired, tawny-pawed terrier, who left the hearthrug and came to
smell what was the matter. His mistress's right hand--absently
caressing--quieted his feelings; and with the left she held the
ten-shilling piece between finger and thumb, and gazed thoughtfully at
the other bags as they squatted in a helpless row, with twine-tied
mouths hanging on all sides. It was only after anxious consultation with
an account-book that the half-sovereign was exchanged for silver; thanks
to the clothing-club bag, which looked leaner for the accommodation. In
the three-halfpenny bag (which bulged with pence) some silver was
further solved into copper, and the charity bag was handsomely distended
before the whole lot was consigned once more to the table-drawer.
Any one accustomed to book-keeping must smile at this bag-keeping of
accounts; but the parson's daughter could never "bring her mind" to
keeping the funds apart on paper, and mixing the actual cash. Indeed,
she could never have brought her conscience to it. Unless she had taken
the tenth for "charity" from her dress and pocket-money in coin, and put
it then and there into the charity bag, this self-imposed rule of the
duty of almsgiving would not have been performed to her soul's peace.
The problem which had been exercising her mind that Saturday night was
how to spend what was left of her benevolent fund in a treat for the
children of the neighboring work-house. The fund was low, and this had
decided the matter. The following Wednesday would be her twenty-first
birthday. If the children came to tea with her, the foundation of the
entertainment would, in the natural course of things, be laid in the
Vicarage kitchen. The charity bag would provide the extras of the feast.
Nuts, toys, and the like.
When the parson's daughter locked the drawer of the bandy-legged table,
she did so with the vigor of one who has made up her mind, and set about
the rest of her Saturday night's duties without further delay.
She put out her Sunday clothes, and her Bible and Prayer-book, and
class-book and pencil, on the oak chest at the foot of the bed. She
brushed and combed the silver-haired terrier, who looked abjectly
depressed whilst this was doing, and preposterously proud when it was
done. She washed her own hair, and studied her Sunday-school lesson for
the morrow whilst it was drying. She spread a colored quilt at the foot
of her white one for the terrier to sleep on--a slur which he always
Then she went to bed, and slept as one ought to sleep on Saturday night,
who is bound to be at the Sunday School by 9.15 on the following
morning, with a clear mind on the Rudiments of the Faith, the history of
the Prophet Elisha, and the destinations of each of the parish
A little work-house-boy, with a swarthy face and tidily-cropped black
hair, as short and thick as the fur of a mole, was grubbing, not quite
so cleverly as a mole, in the work-house garden.
He had been set to weed, but the weeding was very irregularly performed,
for his eyes and heart were in the clouds, as he could see them over the
big boundary wall. For there--now dark against the white, now white
against the gray--some Air Tumbler pigeons were turning somersaults on
their homeward way, at such short and regular intervals that they seemed
to be tying knots in their lines of flight.
It was too much! The small gardener shamelessly abandoned his duties,
and, curving his dirty paws on each side of his mouth, threw his whole
soul into shouting words of encouragement to the distant birds.
"That's a good un! On with thee! Over ye go! Oo--ooray!"
It was this last prolonged cheer which drowned the sound of footsteps on
the path behind him, so that if he had been a tumbler pigeon himself he
could not have jumped more nimbly when a man's hand fell upon his
shoulder. Up went his arms to shield his ears from a well-merited
cuffing; but fate was kinder to him than he deserved. It was only an old
man (prematurely aged with drink and consequent poverty), whose faded
eyes seemed to rekindle as he also gazed after the pigeons, and spoke as
one who knows.
"Yon's Daddy Darwin's Tumblers."
This old pauper had only lately come into "the House" (the house that
never was a home!), and the boy clung eagerly to his flannel sleeve, and
plied him thick and fast with questions about the world without the
workhouse-walls, and about the happy owner of those yet happier
creatures who were free not only on the earth, but in the skies.
The poor old pauper was quite as willing to talk as the boy was to
listen. It restored some of that self-respect which we lose under the
consequences of our follies to be able to say that Daddy Darwin and he
had been mates together, and had had pigeon-fancying in common "many a
long year afore" he came into the House.
And so these two made friendship over such matters as will bring man and
boy together to the end of time. And the old pauper waxed eloquent on
the feats of Homing Birds and Tumblers, and on the points of Almonds and
Barbs, Fantails and Pouters; sprinkling his narrative also with high
sounding and heterogeneous titles, such as Dragons and Archangels, Blue
Owls and Black Priests, Jacobines, English Horsemen and Trumpeters. And
through much boasting of the high stakes he had had on this and that
pigeon-match then, and not a few bitter complaints of the harsh
hospitality of the House he "had come to" now, it never seemed to occur
to him to connect the two, or to warn the lad who hung upon his lips
that one cannot eat his cake with the rash appetites of youth, and yet
hope to have it for the support and nourishment of his old age.
The longest story the old man told was of a "bit of a trip" he had made
to Liverpool, to see some Antwerp Carriers flown from thence to Ghent,
and he fixed the date of this by remembering that his twin sons were
born in his absence, and that though their birthday was the very day of
the race, his "missus turned stoopid," as women (he warned the boy) are
apt to do, and refused to have them christened by uncommon names
connected with the fancy. All the same, he bet the lads would have been
nicknamed the Antwerp Carriers, and known as such to the day of their
death, if this had not come so soon and so suddenly, of croup; when (as
it oddly chanced) he was off on another "bit of a holiday" to fly some
pigeons of his own in Lincolnshire.
This tale had not come to an end when a voice of authority called for
"Jack March," who rubbed his mole-like head, and went ruefully off,
muttering that he should "catch it now."
"Sure enough! sure enough!" chuckled the unamiable old pauper.
But again fate was kinder to the lad than his friend. His negligent
weeding passed unnoticed, because he was wanted in a hurry to join the
other children in the school-room. The parson's daughter had come, the
children were about to sing to her, and Jack's voice could not be
He "cleaned himself" with alacrity, and taking his place in the circle
of boys standing with their hands behind their backs, he lifted up a
voice worthy of a cathedral choir, whilst varying the monotony of sacred
song by secretly snatching at the tail of the terrier as it went
snuffing round the legs of the group. And in this feat he proved as much
superior to the rest of the boys (who also tried it) as he excelled them
in the art of singing.
Later on he learned that the young lady had come to invite them all to
have tea with her on her birthday. Later still he found the old pauper
once more, and questioned him closely about the village and the
Vicarage, and as to which of the parishioners kept pigeons, and where.
And when he went to his straw bed that night, and his black head
throbbed with visions and high hopes, these were not entirely of the
honor of drinking tea with a pretty young lady, and how one should
behave himself in such abashing circumstances. He did not even dream
principally of the possibility of getting hold of that silver-haired,
tawny-pawed dog by the tail under freer conditions than those of this
afternoon, though that was a refreshing thought.
What kept him long awake was thinking of this. From the top of an old
walnut-tree at the top of a field at the back of the Vicarage, you could
see a hill, and on the top of the hill some farm buildings. And it was
here (so the old pauper had told him) that those pretty pigeons lived,
who, though free to play about among the clouds, yet condescended to
make an earthly home--in Daddy Darwin's Dovecot.
Two and two, girls and boys, the young lady's guests marched down to the
Vicarage. The school-mistress was anxious that each should carry his and
her tin mug, so as to give as little trouble as possible; but this was
resolutely declined, much to the children's satisfaction, who had their
walk with free hands, and their tea out of teacups and saucers, like
It was a fine day, and all went well. The children enjoyed themselves,
and behaved admirably into the bargain. There was only one suspicion of
misconduct, and the matter was so far from clear that the parson's
daughter hushed it up, and, so to speak, dismissed the case.
The children were playing at some game in which Jack March was supposed
to excel, but when they came to look for him he could nowhere be found.
At last he was discovered, high up among the branches of an old
walnut-tree at the top of the field, and though his hands were unstained
and his pockets empty, the gardener, who had been the first to spy him,
now loudly denounced him as an ungrateful young thief. Jack, with
swollen eyes and cheeks besmirched with angry tears, was vehemently
declaring that he had only climbed the tree to "have a look at Master
Darwin's pigeons," and had not picked so much as a leaf, let alone a
walnut; and the gardener, "shaking the truth out of him" by the collar
of his fustian jacket, was preaching loudly on the sin of adding
falsehood to theft, when the parson's daughter came up, and, in the end,
acquitted poor Jack, and gave him leave to amuse himself as he pleased.
It did not please Jack to play with his comrades just then. Pie felt
sulky and aggrieved. He would have liked to play with the terrier who
had stood by him in his troubles, and barked at the gardener; but that
little friend now trotted after his mistress, who had gone to
Jack wandered about among the shrubberies. By-and-by he heard sounds of
music, and led by these he came to a gate in a wall, dividing the
Vicarage garden from the churchyard. Jack loved music, and the organ and
the voices drew him on till he reached the church porch; but there he
was startled by a voice that was not only not the voice of song, but was
the utterance of a moan so doleful that it seemed the outpouring of all
his lonely, and outcast, and injured feelings in one comprehensive howl.
It was the voice of the silver-haired terrier. He was sitting in the
porch, his nose up, his ears down, his eyes shut, his mouth open,
bewailing in bitterness of spirit the second and greater crook of his
To what purpose were all the caresses and care and indulgence of his
mistress, the daily walks, the weekly washings and combings, the
constant companionship, when she betrayed her abiding sense of his
inferiority, first, by not letting him sleep on the white quilt, and
secondly, by never allowing him to go to church?
Jack shared the terrier's mood. What were tea and plum-cake to him, when
his pauper-breeding was so stamped upon him that the gardener was free
to say--"A nice tale too! What's thou to do wi' doves, and thou a
work'us lad?"--and to take for granted that he would thieve and lie if
he got the chance?
His disabilities were not the dog's, however. The parish church was his
as well as another's, and he crept inside and leaned against one of the
stone pillars, as if it were a big, calm friend.
Far away, under the transept, a group of boys and men held their music
near to their faces in the waning light. Among them towered the burly
choirmaster, baton in hand. The parson's daughter was at the organ. Well
accustomed to produce his voice to good purpose, the choirmaster's words
were clearly to be heard throughout the building, and it was on the
subject of articulation and emphasis, and the like, that he was
speaking; now and then throwing in an extra aspirate in the energy of
that enthusiasm without which teaching is not worth the name.
"That'll not do. We must have it altogether different. You two lads are
singing like bumblebees in a pitcher--border there, boys!--it's no
laughing matter--put down those papers and keep your eyes on me--inflate
the chest--" (his own seemed to fill the field of vision) "and try and
give forth those noble words as if you'd an idea what they meant."
No satire was intended or taken here, but the two boys, who were
practicing their duet in an anthem, laid down the music, and turned
their eyes on their teacher.
"I'll run through the recitative," he added, "and take your time from
the stick. And mind that OH."
The parson's daughter struck a chord, and then the burly choirmaster
spoke with the voice of melody:
"My heart is disquieted within me. My heart--my heart is disquieted
within me. And the fear of death is fallen--is fallen upon me."
The terrier moaned without, and Jack thought no boy's voice could be
worth listening to after that of the choirmaster. But he was wrong. A
few more notes from the organ, and then, as night-stillness in a wood is
broken by the nightingale, so upon the silence of the church a
boy-alto's voice broke forth in obedience to the choirmaster's uplifted
"Then, I said--I said----"
Jack gasped, but even as he strained his eyes to see what such a singer
could look like, with higher, clearer notes the soprano rose above him
--"Then I sa--a--id," and the duet began:
"Oh that I had wings--O that I had wings like a dove!"
Soprano.--"Then would I flee away." Alto.--"Then would I
flee away." Together.--"And be at rest--flee away and be at
The clear young voices soared and chased each other among the arches, as
if on the very pinions for which they prayed. Then--swept from their
seats by an upward sweep of the choirmaster's arms--the chorus rose, as
birds rise, and carried on the strain.
It was not a very fine composition, but this final chorus had the
singular charm of fugue. And as the voices mourned like doves, "Oh that
I had wings!" and pursued each other with the plaintive passage, "Then
would I flee away--then would I flee away----," Jack's ears knew no
weariness of the repetition. It was strangely like watching the rising
and falling of Daddy Darwin's pigeons, as they tossed themselves by
turns upon their homeward flight.
After the fashion of the piece and period, the chorus was repeated, and
the singers rose to supreme effort. The choirmaster's hands flashed
hither and thither, controlling, inspiring, directing. He sang among the
Jack's voice nearly choked him with longing to sing too. Could words of
man go more deeply home to a young heart caged within workhouse walls?
"Oh that I had wings like a dove! Then would I flee away--" the
choirmaster's white hands were fluttering downwards in the dusk, and the
chorus sank with them--"flee away and be at rest!"
Jack March had a busy little brain, and his nature was not of the limp
type that sits down with a grief. That most memorable tea-party had
fired his soul with two distinct ambitions. First, to be a choir-boy;
and, secondly, to dwell in Daddy Darwin's Dovecot. He turned the matter
over in his mind, and patched together the following facts:
The Board of Guardians meant to apprentice him, Jack, to some master, at
the earliest opportunity. Daddy Darwin (so the old pauper told him) was
a strange old man, who had come down in the world, and now lived quite
alone, with not a soul to help him in the house or outside it. He was
"not to say mazelin yet, but getting helpless, and uncommon
A nephew came one fine day and fetched away the old pauper, to his great
delight. It was by their hands that Jack despatched a letter, which the
nephew stamped and posted for him, and which was duly delivered on the
following morning to Mr. Darwin of the Dovecot.
The old man had no correspondents, and he looked long at the letter
before he opened it. It did credit to the teaching of the workhouse
"They call me Jack March. I'm a workhouse lad, but, sir, I'm a
good one, and the Board means to 'prentice me next time. Sir,
if you face the Board and take me out you shall never regret it.
Though I says it as shouldn't I'm a handy lad. I'll clean a floor
with any one, and am willing to work early and late, and at your
time of life you're not what you was, and them birds must take a
deal of seeing to. I can see them from the garden when I'm set
to weed, and I never saw nought like them. Oh, sir, I do beg and
pray you let me mind your pigeons. You'll be none the worse of a
lad about the place, and I shall be happy all the days of my life.
Sir, I'm not unthankful, but please GOD, I should like to have
a home, and to be with them house doves.
"From your humble servent--hoping to be--
"Mr. Darwin, Sir. I love them Tumblers as if they was my own."
Daddy Darwin thought hard and thought long over that letter. He changed
his mind fifty times a day. But Friday was the Board day, and when
Friday came he "faced the Board." And the little workhouse lad went home
to Daddy Darwin's Dovecot.
The bargain was oddly made, but it worked well. Whatever Jack's
parentage may have been (and he was named after the stormy month in
which he had been born), the blood that ran in his veins could not have
been beggar's blood. There was no hopeless, shiftless, invincible
idleness about him. He found work for himself when it was not given him
to do, and he attached himself passionately and proudly to all the
belongings of his new home.
"Yon lad of yours seem handy enough, Daddy;--for a vagrant, as one may
say." Daddy Darwin was smoking over his garden wall, and Mrs. Shaw, from
the neighboring farm, had paused in her walk for a chat. She was a
notable housewife, and there was just a touch of envy in her sense of
the improved appearance of the doorsteps and other visible points of the
Dovecot. Daddy Darwin took his pipe out of his mouth to make way for the
force of his reply:
"Vagrant! Nay, missus, yon's no vagrant. He's fettling up all
along. Jack's the sort if he finds a key he'll look for the lock; if
ye give him a knife-blade he'll fashion a heft. Why, a vagrant's a chap
that, if he'd all your maester owns to-morrow, he'd be on the tramp
again afore t' year were out, and three years wouldn't repair the
mischief he'd leave behind him. A vagrant's a chap that if ye lend him a
thing he loses it; if ye give him a thing he abuses it----"
"That's true enough, and there's plenty servant-girls the same," put in
"Maybe there be, ma'am--maybe there be; vagrants' children, I reckon.
But yon little chap I got from t' House comes of folk that's had stuff
o' their own, and cared for it--choose who they were."
"Well, Daddy," said his neighbor, not without malice, "I'll wish you a
good evening. You've got a good bargain out of the parish, it seems."
But Daddy Darwin only chuckled, and stirred up the ashes in the bowl of
"The same to you, ma'am--the same to you. Aye! he's a good bargain--a
very good bargain is Jack March."
It might be supposed from the foregoing dialogue that Daddy Darwin was a
model householder, and the little workhouse boy the neatest creature
breathing. But the gentle reader who may imagine this is much mistaken.
Daddy Darwin's Dovecot was freehold, and when he inherited it from his
father there was, still attached to it a good bit of the land that had
passed from father to son through more generations than the church
registers were old enough to record. But the few remaining acres were so
heavily mortgaged that they had to be sold. So that a bit of house
property elsewhere, and the old homestead itself, were all that was
left. And Daddy Darwin had never been the sort of man to retrieve his
luck at home, or to seek it abroad.
That he had inherited a somewhat higher and more refined nature than his
neighbors had rather hindered than helped him to prosper. And he had
been unlucky in love. When what energies he had were in their prime, his
father's death left him with such poor prospects that the old farmer to
whose daughter he was betrothed broke off the match and married her
elsewhere. His Alice was not long another man's wife. She died within a
year from her wedding-day, and her husband married again within a year
from her death. Her old lover was no better able to mend his broken
heart than his broken fortunes. He only banished women from the Dovecot,
and shut himself up from the coarse consolation of his neighbors.
In this loneliness, eating a kindly heart out in bitterness of spirit,
with all that he ought to have had--
To plough and sow
And reap and mow--
gone from him, and in the hands of strangers; the pigeons, for which the
Dovecot had always been famous, became the business and the pleasure of
his life. But of late years his stock had dwindled, and he rarely went
to pigeon-matches or competed in shows and races. A more miserable fancy
rivalled his interest in pigeon fancying. His new hobby was hoarding;
and money that, a few years back, he would have freely spent to improve
his breed of Tumblers or back his Homing Birds he now added with
stealthy pleasure to the store behind the secret panel of a fine old oak
bedstead that had belonged to the Darwyn who owned Dovecot when the
sixteenth century was at its latter end. In this bedstead Daddy slept
lightly of late, as old men will, and he had horrid dreams, which old
men need not have. The queer faces carved on the panels (one of which
hid the money hole) used to frighten him when he was a child. They did
not frighten him now by their grotesque ugliness, but when he looked at
them, and knew which was which, he dreaded the dying out of
twilight into dark, and dreamed of aged men living alone, who had been
murdered for their savings. These growing fears had had no small share
in deciding him to try Jack March; and to see the lad growing stronger,
nimbler, and more devoted to his master's interests day by day, was a
nightly comfort to the poor old hoarder in the bed-head.
As to his keen sense of Jack's industry and carefulness, it was part of
the incompleteness of Daddy Darwin's nature, and the ill-luck of his
career, that he had a sensitive perception of order and beauty, and a
shrewd observation of ways of living and qualities of character, and yet
had allowed his early troubles to blight him so completely that he never
put forth an effort to rise above the ruin, of which he was at least as
conscious as his neighbors.
That Jack was not the neatest creature breathing, one look at him, as he
stood with pigeons on his head and arms and shoulders, would have been
enough to prove. As the first and readiest repudiation of his workhouse
antecedents he had let his hair grow till it hung in the wildest
elf-locks, and though the terms of his service with Daddy Darwin would
not, in any case, have provided him with handsome clothes, such as he
had were certainly not the better for any attention he bestowed upon
them. As regarded the Dovecot, however, Daddy Darwin had not done more
than justice to his bargain. A strong and grateful attachment to his
master, and a passionate love for the pigeons he tended, kept Jack
constantly busy in the service of both; the old pigeon-fancier taught
him the benefits of scrupulous cleanliness in the pigeon-cote, and Jack
"stoned" the kitchen-floor and the doorsteps on his own responsibility.
The time did come when he tidied up himself.
Daddy Darwin had made the first breach in his solitary life of his own
free will, but it was fated to widen. The parson's daughter soon heard
that he had got a lad from the workhouse, the very boy who sang so well
and had climbed the walnut-tree to look at Daddy Darwin's pigeons. The
most obvious parish questions at once presented themselves to the young
lady's mind. "Had the boy been christened? Did he go to Church and
Sunday School? Did he say his prayers and know his Catechism? Had he a
Sunday suit? Would he do for the choir?"
Then, supposing (a not uncommon case) that the boy had been
christened, said he said his prayers, knew his Catechism,
and was ready for school, church, and choir, but had not got a
Sunday suit--a fresh series of riddles propounded themselves to her busy
brain. Would her father yield up his everyday coat and take his Sunday
one into weekday wear? Could the charity bag do better than pay the
tailor's widow for adapting this old coat to the new chorister's back,
taking it in at the seams, turning it wrong-side out, and getting new
sleeves out of the old tails? Could she herself spare the boots which
the village cobbler had just re-soled for her--somewhat clumsily--and
would the "allowance" bag bear this strain? Might she hope to coax an
old pair of trowsers out of her cousin, who was spending his Long
Vacation at the Vicarage, and who never reckoned very closely with
his allowance, and kept no charity bag at all? Lastly would "that
old curmudgeon at the Dovecot" let his little farm-boy go to church and
school and choir?
"I must go and persuade him," said the young lady.
What she said, and what (at the time) Daddy Darwin said, Jack never
knew. He was at high sport with the terrier round the big sweet-brier
bush, when he saw his old master slitting the seams of his
weather-beaten coat in the haste with which he plucked crimson clove
carnations as if they had been dandelions, and presented them, not
ungracefully, to the parson's daughter.
Jack knew why she had come, and strained his ears to catch his own name.
But Daddy Darwin was promising pipings of the cloves.
"They are such dear old-fashioned things," said she, burying her nose in
"We're old-fashioned altogether, here, Miss," said Daddy Darwin, looking
wistfully at the tumble-down house behind them.
"You're very pretty here," said she, looking also, and thinking what a
sketch it would make, if she could keep on friendly terms with this old
recluse, and get leave to sit in the garden. Then her conscience smiting
her for selfishness, she turned her big eyes on him and put out her
"I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Darwin, very much obliged to you
indeed. And I hope that Jack will do credit to your kindness. And thank
you so much for the cloves," she added, hastily changing a subject which
had cost some argument, and which she did not wish to have reopened.
Daddy Darwin had thoughts of reopening it. He was slowly getting his
ideas together to say that the lad should see how he got along with the
school before trying the choir, when he found the young lady's hand in
his, and had to take care not to hurt it, whilst she rained thanks on
him for the flowers.
"You're freely welcome, Miss," was what he did say after all.
In the evening, however, he was very moody, but Jack was dying of
curiosity, and at last could contain himself no longer.
"What did Miss Jenny want, Daddy?" he asked.
The old man looked very grim.
"First to make a fool of me, and i' t' second place to make a fool of
thee," was his reply. And he added with pettish emphasis, "They're all
alike, gentle and simple. Lad, lad! If ye'd have any peace of your life
never let a woman's foot across your threshold. Steek t' door of your
house--if ye own one--and t' door o' your heart--if ye own one--and then
ye'll never rue. Look at this coat!"
And the old man went grumpily to bed, and dreamed that Miss Jenny had
put her little foot over his threshold, and that he had shown her the
secret panel, and let her take away his savings.
And Jack went to bed, and dreamed that he went to school, and showed
himself to Phoebe Shaw in his Sunday suit.
This dainty little damsel had long been making havoc in Jack's heart.
The attraction must have been one of contrast, for whereas Jack was
black and grubby, and had only week-day clothes--which were ragged at
that--Phoebe was fair, and exquisitely clean, and quite terribly tidy.
Her mother was the neatest woman in the parish. It was she who was wont
to say to her trembling handmaid, "I hope I can black a grate without
blacking myself." But little Phoebe promised so far to out-do her
mother, that it seemed doubtful if she could "black herself" if she
tried. Only the bloom of childhood could have resisted the polishing
effects of yellow soap, as Phoebe's brow and cheeks did resist it. Her
shining hair was--compressed into a plait that would have done credit to
a rope-maker. Her pinafores were speckless, and as to her white Whitsun
frock--Jack could think of nothing the least like Phoebe in that, except
a snowy fantail strutting about the Dovecot roof; and, to say the truth,
the likeness was most remarkable.
It has been shown that Jack March had a mind to be master of his fate,
and he did succeed in making friends with little Phoebe Shaw. This was
before Miss Jenny's visit, but the incident shall be recorded here.
Early on Sunday mornings it was Jack's custom to hide his work-day garb
in an angle of the ivy-covered wall of the Dovecot garden, only letting
his head appear over the top, from whence he watched to see Phoebe pass
on her way to Sunday School, and to bewilder himself with the sight of
her starched frock, and her airs with her Bible and Prayer-book, and
class card, and clean pocket-handkerchief.
Now, amongst the rest of her Sunday paraphernalia, Phoebe always carried
a posy, made up with herbs and some strong smelling flowers.
Countrywomen take mint and southernwood to a long hot service, as fine
ladies take smelling-bottles (for it is a pleasant delusion with some
writers that the weaker sex is a strong sex in the working classes). And
though Phoebe did not suffer from "fainty feels" like her mother, she
and her little playmates took posies to Sunday School, and refreshed
their nerves in the stream of question and answer, and hair oil and
corduroy, with all the airs of their elders.
One day she lost her posy on her way to school, and her loss was Jack's
opportunity. He had been waiting half-an-hour among the ivy, when he saw
her just below him, fuzzling round and round like a kitten chasing
its tail. He sprang to the top of the wall.
"Have ye lost something?" he gasped.
"My posy," said poor Phoebe, lifting her sweet eyes, which were full of
A second spring brought Jack into the dust at her feet, where he
searched most faithfully, and was wandering along the path by which she
had come, when she called him back.
"Never mind," she said. "They'll most likely be dusty by now."
Jack was not used to think the worse of anything for a coating of dust;
but he paused, trying to solve the perpetual problem of his situation,
and find out what the little maid really wanted.
"'Twas only Old Man and marygolds," said she. "They're common enough."
A light illumined Jack's understanding.
"We've Old Man i' plenty. Wait, and I'll get thee a fresh posy." And he
began to reclimb the wall.
But Phoebe drew nearer. She stroked down her frock, and spoke mincingly
but confidentially. "My mother says Daddy Darwin has red bergamot i' his
garden. We've none i' ours. My mother always says there's nothing like
red bergamot to take to church. She says it's a deal more refreshing
than Old Man, and not so common. My mother says she's always meaning to
ask Daddy Darwin to let us have a root to set; but she doesn't often see
him, and when she does she doesn't think on. But she always says there's
nothing like red bergamot, and my Aunt Nancy, she says the same."
"Red is it?" cried Jack. "You wait there, love." And before
Phoebe could say him nay, he was over the wall and back again with his
"Is it any o' this lot?" he inquired, dropping a small haycock of
flowers at her feet.
"Don't ye know one from t'other?" asked Phoebe, with round eyes of
reproach. And spreading her clean kerchief on the grass she laid her
Bible and Prayer-book and class card on it, and set vigorously and
nattily to work, picking one flower and another from the fragrant
confusion, nipping the stalks to even lengths, rejecting withered
leaves, and instructing Jack as she proceeded.
"I suppose ye know a rose? That's a double velvet. 
They dry sweeter than lavender for linen. These dark red
things is pheasants' eyes; but, dear, dear, what a lad! Ye'd dragged it
up by the roots! And eh! what will Master Darwin say when he misses
these pink hollyhocks And only in bud, too! There's red Bergamot:
smell it!" 
velvet, an old summer rose, not common now It is described by
5. Red Bergamot, or Twinflower; Monarda
It had barely touched Jack's willing nose when it was hastily withdrawn.
Phoebe had caught eight of Polly and Susan Smith coming to school, and
crying that she should be late and must run, the little maid picked up
her paraphernalia (not forgetting the red bergamot), and fled down the
lane. And Jack, with equal haste, snatched up the tell-tale heap of
flowers and threw them into a disused pig-sty, where it was unlikely
that Daddy Darwin would go to look for his poor pink hollyhocks.
April was a busy month in the Dovecot. Young birds were chipping the
egg, parent birds were feeding their young or relieving each other on
the nest, and Jack and his master were constantly occupied and excited.
One night Daddy Darwin went to bed; but, though he was tired, he did not
sleep long. He had sold a couple of handsome but quarrelsome pigeons, to
advantage, and had added their price to the hoard in the bed-head. This
had renewed his old fears, for the store was becoming very valuable; and
he wondered if it had really escaped Jack's quick observation, or
whether the boy knew about it, and, perhaps, talked about it. As he lay
and worried himself he fancied he heard sounds without--the sound of
footsteps and of voices. Then his heart beat till he could hear nothing
else; then he could undoubtedly hear nothing at all; then he certainly
heard something which probably was rats. And so he lay in a cold sweat,
and pulled the rug over his face, and made up his mind to give the money
to the parson, for the poor, if he was spared till daylight.
He was spared till daylight, and had recovered himself, and
settled to leave the money where it was, when Jack rushed in from the
pigeon-house with a face of dire dismay. He made one or two futile
efforts to speak, and then unconsciously used the words Shakespeare has
put into the mouth of Macduff, "All my pretty 'uns!" and so burst into
And when the old man made his way to the pigeon-house, followed by poor
Jack, he found that the eggs were cold and the callow young shivering in
deserted nests, and that every bird was gone. And then he remembered the
robbers, and was maddened by the thought that whilst he lay expecting
thieves to break in and steal his money he had let them get safely off
with his whole stock of pigeons.
Daddy Darwin had never taken up arms against his troubles, and this one
The fame and beauty of his house-doves were all that was left of
prosperity about the place, and now there was nothing
left--nothing! Below this dreary thought lay a far more bitter
one, which he dared not confide to Jack. He had heard the robbers; he
might have frightened them away; he might at least have given the lad a
chance to save his pets, and not a care had crossed his mind except for
the safety of his own old bones, and of those miserable savings in the
bed-head, which he was enduring so much to scrape together (oh satire!)
for a distant connection whom he had never seen. He crept back to the
kitchen, and dropped in a heap upon the settle, and muttered to himself.
Then his thoughts wandered. Supposing the pigeons were gone for good,
would he ever make up his mind to take that money out of the money-hole,
and buy a fresh stock? He knew he never would, and shrank into a meaner
heap upon the settle as he said so to himself. He did not like to look
his faithful lad in the face.
Jack looked him in the face, and, finding no help there, acted pretty
promptly behind his back. He roused the parish constable, and fetched
that functionary to the Dovecot before he had had bite or sup to break
his fast. He spread a meal for him and Daddy, and borrowed the Shaws'
light cart whilst they were eating it. The Shaws were good farmer-folk,
they sympathized most fully; and Jack was glad of a few words of pity
from Phoebe. She said she had watched the pretty pets "many a score of
times," which comforted more than one of Jack's heartstrings. Phoebe's
mother paid respect to his sense and promptitude. He had acted exactly
as she would have done.
"Daddy was right enough about yon lad," she admitted. "He's not one to
let the grass grow under his feet."
And she gave him a good breakfast whilst the horse was being "put to."
It pleased her that Jack jumped up and left half a delicious cold
tea-cake behind him when the cart-wheels grated outside. Mrs. Shaw sent
Phoebe to put the cake in his pocket, and "the Measter" helped Jack in
and took the reins. He said he would "see Daddy Darwin through it," and
added the weight of his opinion to that of the constable, that the
pigeons had been taken to "a beastly low place" (as he put it) that had
lately been set up for pigeon-shooting in the outskirts of the
They paused no longer at the Dovecot than was needed to hustle Daddy
Darwin on to the seat beside Master Shaw, and for Jack to fill his
pockets with peas, and take his place beside the constable. He had
certain ideas of his own on the matter, which were not confused by the
jogtrot of the light cart, which did give a final jumble to poor Daddy
No wonder they were jumbled! The terrors of the night past, the shock of
the morning, the completeness of the loss, the piteous sight in the
pigeon-house, remorseful shame, and then--after all these years, during
which he had not gone half a mile from his own hearthstone--to be set up
for all the world to see, on the front seat of a market-cart, back to
back with the parish constable, and jogged off as if miles were nothing,
and crowded streets were nothing, and the Beaulieu Gardens were nothing;
Master Shaw talking away as easily as if they were sitting in two
armchairs, and making no more of "stepping into" a lawyer's office, and
"going on" to the Town Hall, than if he were talking of stepping up to
his own bedchamber or going out into the garden!
That day passed like a dream, and Daddy Darwin remembered what happened
in it as one remembers visions of the night.
He had a vision (a very unpleasing vision) of the proprietor of the
Beaulieu Gardens, a big greasy man, with sinister eyes very close
together, and a hook nose, and a heavy watch chain, and a bullying
voice. He browbeat the constable very soon, and even bullied Master Shaw
into silence. No help was to be had from him in his loud indignation at
being supposed to traffic with thieves.
When he turned the tables by talking of slander, loss of time, and
compensation, Daddy Darwin smelt money, and tremblingly whispered to
Master Shaw to apologize and get out of it. "They're gone for good," he
almost sobbed: "Gone for good, like all t' rest! And I'll not be long
But even as he spoke he heard a sound which made him lift up his head.
It was Jack's call at feeding-time to the pigeons at the Dovecot. And
quick following on this most musical and most familiar sound there came
another. The old man put both his lean hands behind his ears to be sure
that he heard it aright--the sound of wings--the wings of a dove!
The other men heard it and ran in. Whilst they were wrangling, Jack had
slipped past them, and had made his way into a weird enclosure in front
of the pigeon-house. And there they found him, with all the captive
pigeons coming to his call; flying, fluttering, strutting, nestling from
head to foot of him, he scattering peas like hail.
He was the first to speak, and not a choke in his voice. His iron
temperament was at white heat, and, as he afterwards said, he "cared no
more for yon dirty chap wi' the big nose, nor if he were a ratten
 in a hay-loft!"
6. AnglicÚ Rat.
"These is ours," he said, shortly. "I'll count 'em over, and see if
they're right. There was only one young 'un that could fly. A white
'un." ("It's here," interpolated Master Shaw.) "I'll pack 'em i' yon,"
and Jack turned his thumb to a heap of hampers in a corner. "T' carrier
can leave t' baskets at t' toll-bar next Saturday, and ye may send your
lad for 'em, if ye keep one."
The proprietor of the Beaulieu Gardens was not a man easily abashed, but
most of the pigeons were packed before he had fairly resumed his
previous powers of speech. Then, as Master Shaw said, he talked "on the
other side of his mouth." Most willing was he to help to bring to
justice the scoundrels who had deceived him and robbed Mr. Darwin, but
he feared they would be difficult to trace. His own feeling was that of
wishing for pleasantness among neighbors. The pigeons had been found at
the Gardens. That was enough. He would be glad to settle the business
out of court.
Daddy Darwin heard the chink of the dirty man's money, and would have
compounded the matter then and there. But not so the parish constable,
who saw himself famous; and not so Jack, who turned eyes of smouldering
fire on Master Shaw.
"Maester Shaw! you'll not let them chaps get off? Daddy's mazelin' wi'
trouble, sir, but I reckon you'll see to it."
"If it costs t' worth of the pigeons ten times over, I'll see to it, my
lad," was Master Shaw's reply. And the parish constable rose even to a
vein of satire as he avenged himself of the man who had slighted his
office. "Settle it out of court? Aye! I dare say. And send t' same chaps
to fetch 'em away again t' night after. Nay--bear a hand with this
hamper, Maester Shaw, if you please--if it's all t' same to you, Mr.
Proprietor, I think we shall have to trouble you to step up to t' Town
Hall by-and-by, and see if we can't get shut of them mistaking friends
o' yours for three months any way."
If that day was a trying one to Daddy Darwin the night that followed it
was far worse. The thieves were known to the police, and the case was
down to come on at the Town Hall the following morning; but meanwhile
the constable thought fit to keep the pigeons under his own charge in
the village lock-up. Jack refused to be parted from his birds, and
remained with them, leaving Daddy Darwin alone in the Dovecot. He dared
not go to bed, and it was not a pleasant night that he spent, dozing
with weariness, and starting up with fright, in an arm-chair facing the
Some things that he had been nervous about he got quite used to,
however. He bore himself with sufficient dignity in the publicity of the
Town Hall, where a great sensation was created by the pigeons being let
loose without, and coming to Jack's call. Some of them fed from the
boy's lips, and he was the hero of the hour, to Daddy Darwin's delight.
Then the lawyer and the lawyer's office proved genial and comfortable to
him. He liked civil ways and smooth speech, and understood them far
better than Master Shaw's brevity and uncouthness. The lawyer chatted
kindly and intelligently; he gave Daddy Darwin wine and biscuit, and
talked of the long standing of the Darwin family and its vicissitudes;
he even took down some fat yellow books, and showed the old man how many
curious laws had been made from time to time for the special protection
of pigeons in Dovecots, very ancient statutes making the killing of a
house-dove felony. Then 1 James I. c. 29 awarded three months'
imprisonment "without bail or main price" to any person who should
"shoot at, kill, or destroy with any gun, crossbow, stone-bow, or
longbow, any house-dove or pigeon;" but allowed an alternative fine of
twenty shillings to be paid to the churchwardens of the parish for the
benefit of the poor. Daddy Darwin hoped there was no such alternative in
this case, and it proved that by 2 Geo. III. c. 29, the twenty-shilling
fine was transferred to the owner of birds; at which point another
client called, and the polite lawyer left Daddy to study the laws by
It was when Jack as helping Master Shaw to put the horse into the cart,
after the trial was over, that the farmer said to him, "I don't want to
put you about, my lad, but I'm afraid you won't keep your master long.
T'old gentleman's breaking up, mark my words! Constable and me was going
into the George for a glass, and Master Darwin left us and went
back to the office. I says, 'What are ye going back to t' lawyer for?'
and he says, 'I don't mind telling you, Master Shaw, but it's to make my
will.' And off he goes. Now, there's only two more things between that
and death, Jack March! And one's the parson, and t' other's the doctor."
Little Phoebe Shaw coming out of the day school, and picking her way
home to tea, was startled by folk running past her, and by a sound of
cheering from the far end of the village, which gradually increased in
volume, and was caught up by the bystanders as they ran. When Phoebe
heard that it was "Constable, and Master Shaw, and Daddy Darwin and his
lad, coming home, and the pigeons along wi' 'em," she felt inclined to
run too; but a fit of shyness came over her, and she demurely decided to
wait by the school-gate till they came her way. They did not come. They
stopped. What were they doing? Another bystander explained, "They're
shaking hands wi' Daddy, and I reckon they're making him put up t' birds
here, to see 'em go home to t' Dovecot."
Phoebe ran as if for her life. She loved beast and bird as well as Jack
himself, and the fame of Daddy Darwin's doves was great. To see them put
up by him to fly home after such an adventure was a sight not lightly to
The crowd had moved to a hillock in a neighboring field before she
touched its outskirts. By that time it pretty well numbered the
population of the village, from the oldest inhabitant to the youngest
that could run. Phoebe had her mother's courage and resource. Chirping
out feebly but clearly, "I'm Maester Shaw's little lass, will ye let me
through?" she was passed from hand to hand, till her little fingers
found themselves in Jack's tight clasp, and he fairly lifted her to her
She was just in time. Some of the birds had hung about Jack, nervous, or
expecting peas; but the hesitation was past. Free in the sweet
sunshine--beating down the evening air with silver wings and their
feathers like gold--ignorant of cold eggs and callow young dead in
deserted nests--sped on their way by such a roar as rarely shook the
village in its body corporate--they flew straight home--to Daddy
Daddy Darwin lived a good many years after making his will, and the
Dovecot prospered in his hands.
It would be more just to say that it prospered in the hands of Jack
By hook and by crook he increased the live stock about the place. Folk
were kind to one who had set so excellent an example to other farm lads,
though he lacked the primal virtue of belonging to the neighborhood. He
bartered pigeons for fowls, and some one gave him a sitting of eggs to
"see what he would make of 'em." Master Shaw gave him a little pig, with
kind words and good counsel; and Jack cleaned out the disused pigstys,
which were never disused again. He scrubbed his pigs with soap and water
as if they had been Christians, and the admirable animals regardless of
the pork they were coming to, did him infinite credit, and brought him a
profit into the bargain, which he spent on ducks' eggs, and other
additions to his farmyard family.
The Shaws were very kind to him; and if Mrs. Shaw's secrets must be
told, it was because Phoebe was so unchangeably and increasingly kind to
him, that she sent the pretty maid (who had a knack of knowing her own
mind about things) to service.
Jack March was a handsome, stalwart youth now, of irreproachable
conduct, and with qualities which Mrs. Shaw particularly prized; but he
was but a farm-lad, and no match for her daughter.
Jack only saw his sweetheart once during several years She had not been
well, and was at home for the benefit of "native air." He walked over
the hill with her as they returned from church, and lived on the
remembrance of that walk for two or three years more. Phoebe had given
him her Prayer-book to carry, and he had found a dead flower in it, and
had been jealous. She had asked if he knew what it was, and he had
replied fiercely that he did not, and was not sure that he cared to
"Ye never did know much about flowers," said Phoebe, demurely, "it's red
"I love--red bergamot," he whispered penitently. "And thou owes me a
bit. I gave thee some once." And Phoebe had let him put the withered
bits into his own hymn-book, which was more than he deserved.
Jack was still in the choir, and taught in the Sunday School where he
used to learn. The parson's daughter had had her own way; Daddy Darwin
grumbled at first, but in the end he got a bottle-green Sunday-coat out
of the oak-press that matched the bedstead, and put the house-key into
his pocket, and went to church too. Now, for years past he had not
failed to take his place, week by week, in the pew that was
traditionally appropriated to the use of the Darwins of Dovecot. In such
an hour the sordid cares of the secret panel weighed less heavily on his
soul, and the things that are not seen came nearer--the house not made
with hands, the treasures that rust and moth corrupt not, and which
thieves do not break through to steal.
Daddy Darwin died of old age. As his health failed, Jack nursed him with
the tenderness of a woman; and kind inquiries, and dainties which Jack
could not have cooked, came in from many quarters where it pleased the
old man to find that he was held in respect and remembrance.
One afternoon, coming in from the farmyard, Jack found him sitting by
the kitchen-table as he lad left him, but with a dread look of change
upon his face. At first he feared there had been "a stroke," but Daddy
Darwin's mind was clear and his voice firmer than usual.
"My lad," he said, "fetch me yon tea-pot out of the corner cupboard. T'
one wi' a pole-house  painted on it, and some letters. Take care how ye
shift it. It were t' merry feast-pot  at my christening, and yon's t' letters of my father's and
mother's names. Take off t' lid. There's two bits of paper in the
7. A pole-house is a small dovecot
on the top of a pole.
8. "Merry feast-pot" is a
name given to old pieces of ware, made in local potteries for local
Jack did as he was bid, and laid the papers (one small and yellow with
age, the other bigger, and blue, and neatly written upon) at his
master's right hand.
"Read yon," said the old man, pushing the small one towards him. Jack
took it up wondering. It was the letter he had written from the
workhouse fifteen years before. That was all he could see. The past
surged up too thickly before his eyes, and tossing it impetuously from
him, he dropped on a chair by the table, and snatching Daddy Darwin's
hands he held them to his face with tears.
"GOD bless thee!" he sobbed. "You've been a good maester to me!"
"Daddy," wheezed the old man. "Daddy, not maester." And
drawing his right hand away, he laid it solemnly on the young man's
head. "GOD bless thee, and reward thee. What have I done i' my
feckless life to deserve a son? But if ever a lad earned a father and a
home, thou hast earned 'em, Jack March."
He moved his hand again and laid it trembling on the paper.
"Every word i' this letter ye've made good. Every word, even to t' bit
at the end. 'I love them tumblers as if they were my own,' says you.
Lift thee head, lad, and look at me. They are thy own!... Yon
blue paper's my last will and testament, made many a year back by Mr.
Brown, of Green Street, Solicitor, and a very nice gentleman too; and
witnessed by his clerks, two decent young chaps, and civil enough, but
with too much watchchain for their situation. Jack March, my son, I have
left thee maester of Dovecot and all that I have. And there's a bit of
money in t' bed-head that'll help thee to make a fair start, and to bury
me decently atop of my father and mother. Ye may let Bill Sexton toll an
hour-bell for me, for I'm a old standard, if I never were good for much.
Maybe I might ha' done better if things had happened in a different
fashion; but the Lord knows all. I'd like a hymn at the grave, Jack, if
the Vicar has no objections, and do thou sing if thee can. Don't fret,
my son, thou'fet no cause. Twas that sweet voice o' thine took me back
again to public worship, and it's not t' least of all I owe thee, Jack
March. A poor reason lad, for taking up with a neglected duty--a poor
reason--but the Lord is a GOD of mercy, or there'd be small chance for
most on us. If Miss Jenny and her husband come to t' Vicarage this
summer, say I left her my duty and an old man's blessing; and if she
wants any roots out of t' garden, give 'em her, and give her yon old
chest that stands in the back chamber. It belonged to an uncle of my
mother's--a Derbyshire man. They say her husband's a rich gentleman, and
treats her very well. I reckon she may have what she's a mind, new and
polished, but she's always for old lumber. They're a whimsical lot,
gentle and simple. A talking of women, Jack, I've a word to say,
if I can fetch my breath to say it. Lad! as sure as you're maester of
Dovecot, you'll give it a missus. Now take heed to me. If ye fetch any
woman home here but Phoebe Shaw, I'll walk, and scare ye away
from t' old place. I'm willing for Phoebe, and I charge ye to tell the
lass so hereafter. And tell her it's not because she's fair--too many on
'em are that; and not because she's thrifty and houseproud--her mother's
that, and she's no favorite of mine; but because I've watched her
whenever t' ould cat 's let her be at home, and it's my belief that she
loves ye, knowing nought of this" (he laid his hand upon the
will), "and that she'll stick to ye, choose what her folks may say. Aye,
aye, she's not one of t' sort that quits a falling house--like
Language fails to convey the bitterness which the old man put into these
last two words. It exhausted him, and his mind wandered. When he had to
some extent recovered himself he spoke again, but very feebly.
"Tak' my duty to the Vicar, lad, Daddy Darwin's duty, and say he's at t'
last feather of the shuttle, and would be thankful for the Sacrament."
The Parson had come and gone. Daddy Darwin did not care to lie down, he
breathed with difficulty; so Jack made him easy in a big armchair, and
raked up the fire with cinders, and took a chair on the other side of
the hearth to watch with him. The old man slept comfortably and at last,
much wearied, the young man dozed also.
He awoke because Daddy Darwin moved, but for a moment he thought he must
be dreaming. So erect the old man stood, and with such delight in his
wide-open eyes. They were looking over Jack's head.
All that the lad had never seen upon his face seemed to have come back
to it--youth, hope, resolution, tenderness. His lips were trembling with
the smile of acutest joy.
Suddenly he stretched out his arms, and crying, "Alice!" started forward
and fell--dead--on the breast of his adopted son.
Craw! Craw! Craw! The crows flapped slowly home, and the Gaffers moved
off too. The sun was down, and "damps" are bad for "rheumatics."
"It's a strange tale," said Gaffer II., "but if all's true ye tell me,
there's not too many like him."
"That's right enough," Gaffer I. admitted. "He's been t' same all
through, and ye should ha' seen the burying he gave t' old chap. He was
rare and good to him by all accounts, and never gainsaid him ought,
except i' not lifting his voice as he should ha' done at t' grave. Jacks
sings a bass solo as well as any man i' t' place, but he stood yonder,
for all t' world like one of them crows, black o' visage, and black wi'
funeral clothes, and choked with crying like a child i'stead of a man."
"Well, well, t' old chap were all he had, I reckon," said Gaffer II.
"That's right enough; and for going backwards, as ye may say, and
setting a wild graff on an old standard, yon will's done well for DADDY