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Julia And Her Romeo: A Chronicle Of Castle Barfield / From Schwartz" by David Christie Murray" By David Christie Murray Characters: 23087

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Samson Mountain went home in an ill-temper, and, as was usual with him when in that condition, did everything he had to do with a sulky and noisy emphasis, bursting open doors with unnecessary violence, slamming them with needless force behind him, and clamping heavily from room to room. His wife, who was submissive at the surface, but unconquerable at bottom, knew these signs, and accepted them with outer show of meekness. Samson tramped into the sitting-room, and there found his wife alone. He flung to the door behind him with a crash which would have been startling if it had been unexpected, and fell heavily into a roomy arm-chair by the fireside. Mrs. Mountain took no notice of this, but went on placidly with her sewing. Samson threw his heavily-booted feet noisily into the fender, and still Mrs. Mountain went on placidly, without so much as looking at him. Stung by this disregard of his obvious ill-humour, Samson made a lunge with his foot at the fire-irons, and brought them down with a bang.

'Lawk a daisy me, Samson,' said his wife mildly. 'What's the matter with the man?'

'Matter!' growled Samson. 'It's a thing as ud get a saint to set his back up. I was down i' the bridge leasowe bare an hour ago, and who should I see but that young imp of a Reddy along wi' that old viper of a Bubb. Thee know'st the chap-that Ichabod.'

'I know him, Samson,' answered Mrs. Mountain. 'He's the most impudent of all of 'em.'

'They stood atop o' the bridge,' pursued Samson, 'and I could hear 'em talkin'. Th' ode rip was tellin' the young un that outworn lie about the brook. I'd got a shot i' the barrel, and I'd more than half a mind to ha' peppered him. I'd ha' done it if it had been worth while.'

'There's no end to their malice and oncharitable-ness,' said Mrs. Mountain.

'I heard the young imp say he'd fowt our Joe and licked him,' pursued Samson. 'If ever it should come to my knowledge as a truth I'd put Master Joe in such fettle he wouldn't sit down for the best side a month o' Sundays.'

'They 'm giving the child such airs,' said his wife, 'it's enough to turn the bread o' life which nourishes.'

Mrs. Mountain had an object in view, and, after her own fashion, had held it long in view in silence. The moment seemed to her propitious, and she determined to approach it.

'Young toad!' said Samson, rising to kick at the coals with his heavy-heeled boot, and plunging backward into the chair again.

'To hear him talk-that fine an' mincin'-you'd think he was one o' my lord's grandchildren or a son o' the squire's at least,' said Mrs. Mountain, approaching her theme with circuitous caution.

'Ay!' Samson assented 'It's enough to turn your stomach to listen to him.'

'If they go on as they're goings pursued his wife, circling a little nearer, 'we shall live to see fine things.'

'We shall, indeed,' said Samson, a little mollified to find his wife so unusually warm in the quarrel. 'There's no such a thing as contentment to be found amongst 'em. They settle up to be looked upon as gentlefolks.'

'Yes; fine things we shall live to see, no doubt, if we don't tek care. But thanks be, Samson, it's left in our own hands.'

'What be'st hoverin' at?' demanded Samson, turning upon her with his surly red face.

'Things ain't what they used to be when you an' me was younger,' said Mrs. Mountain. 'The plain ode-fashioned Barfield talk as you and me was bred up to, Samson, ain't good enough nowadays for the very kitchen wenches and the labourers on the farm. Everybody's gettin' that new-fangled!'

'Barfield's good enough for me, and good enough for mine,' said Samson, with sulky wrath.

'It's good enough for we, to be sure, but whether it's good enough for ourn is another churnin' o' butter altogether,' his wife answered. 'It ud seem as if ivery generation talked different from one another. My mother, as was a very well-spoken woman for her day, used to call a cup o' tay a dish o' tay, and that's a thing as only the very ignorant ud stoop to nowadays.' Samson growled, and wallowed discontentedly in the big arm-chair. 'A mother's got her natural feelings, Samson,' Mrs. Mountain continued, with an air and tone of mildest resignation. 'I don't scruple to allow as it'll hurt me if I should live to see our Joe looked down upon by a Reddy.'

'Looked down upon!' cried Samson. 'Where's the Reddy as can count acre for acre agen us, or guinea for guinea?'

'The Reddy's is fairly well-to-do, Samson,' said Mrs. Mountain; 'very nigh as well-to-do as we be.'

'Pooh!' returned Samson.

'Oh, but they be, though,' his wife insisted. 'Pretty near. There's nothing so much between us as'd prevent 'em from taking airs with us if they could find out anything to do it for.'

'If they could!' Samson assented. 'Abel Eeddy was a bragger and a boaster from his cradle days.'

'That's where it is,' cried Mrs. Mountain, in a tone which implied that Samson had made a discovery of the first importance, and that this discovery unexpectedly confirmed her own argument. 'Let 'em have the least little bit of a chance for a brag, and where be you?'

'You might trust 'em to tek advantage on it if they had it,' said her husband.

'Of course you might,' said she, with warmth, 'and that's why I'm fearful on it.'

'Fearful o' what?' demanded Samson.

'O' these here scornful fine-gentleman ways as'll be a thorn in our Joe's side as long as he lives, poor little chap, unless we put him in the way to combat again 'em.'

'Ah!' Samson growled, suddenly enlightened. 'I see now what thee beest drivin' at. Now, you take a straight sayin' from me, Mary Ann. I'll have no fine-mouthed, false-natur'd corruption i' my household. If the Reddys choose to breed up that young imp of theirn to drawl fine and to talk smooth above his station-let 'em.'

'Well, Samson,' returned Mrs. Mountain, who knew by long experience when her husband was malleable, 'you know best, and you're the master here, as it's on'y fit and becomin' an' in the rightful nature o' things as you should be.'

The first effect of the oil of flattery seemed to be to harden him.

'I be, and I mean to be,' he answered, with added surliness. 'If the speech and the clothes and the vittles as have been good enough for me ain't good enough for any young upstart as may follow after me, it is a pity.'

Mary Ann kept silence and looked meek. Samson growled and bullied a little, and wore the airs of a dictator. By and by a serving-maid came in and began to arrange the table for tea, and a little later a boy and a girl stole noiselessly into the room.

'Joe,' said Samson sternly, 'come here!' The boy approached him with evident dread. 'What's this I hear about thee and that young villin of a Reddy?'

'I don't know, father,' the boy answered.

'I heard him makin' a boast this afternoon,' said Samson, rolling bullyingly in his arm-chair, 'as you and him had fowt last holidays, and as he gi'en you a hiding.'

Joe said nothing, but looked as if he expected the experience to be repeated.

'Now, what ha' you got to say to that?' demanded his father.

'Why,' began Joe, edging back a little, 'he's bigger nor I be, an' six months o'der.'

'Do you mean to tell me,' cried Samson, reaching out a hand and seizing the little fellow by the jacket, 'do you mean to tell me as you allowed to have enough to that young villin?'

'No,' Joe protested. 'That I niver did. It was the squire as parted us.'

'You remember this,' said his father, shaking him to emphasise the promise. 'If ever you agree to tek a hiding from a Reddy you've got one to follow on from me. D'ye hear?'

'Yes, father.'

'Tek heed as well as hear. D'ye hear?'

'Yes, father.'

'And here's another thing, mind you. It's brought to me as you and him shook hands and took on to be friends with one another. Is that trew?' Joe looked guilty, but made no answer. 'Is it trew?' Still Joe returned no answer, and his father changing the hand with which he held him, for his own greater convenience, knocked him off his feet, restored him to his balance, knocked him off his feet again, and again settled him. 'Now,' said Samson, 'is it trew?'

The boy tried to recoil from the uplifted threatening hand, and cried out 'No!'

'Now,' said Samson, rising with a grim satisfaction, 'that's a lie. There's nothin' i' the world as I abhor from like a lie I'll teach thee to tell me lies. Goo into the brewus and tek thy shirt off; March!'

The little girl clung to her mother's skirts crying and trembling. The mother herself was trembling, and had turned pale.

'Hush, hush, my pretty,' she said, caressing the child, and averting her eyes from Joe.

'March!' said Samson, and Joe slunk out of the room, hardening his heart as well as might be for endurance. But when he was once out of sight of the huge bullying figure and threatening eye and hand, the sight of his cap lying upon a chair in the hall supplied him with an inspiration. He seized the cap, slipped out at the front door, and ran.

The early winter night was falling fast by this time. Half a dozen stars twinkled intermittently in the black-blue waste of sky, and when the lad paused to listen for possible sounds of pursuit the hollow moaning of the wind and the clang of bare wintry poles mingled with the noise of his own suppressed breathing.

The runaway fancied himself bound (as all British runaway boys seem bound) for sea, and he set out without delay to walk to Liverpool. He got as far as the brook which formed the limit to his father's farm, and lingering before he set foot upon the bridge, began to cry a little, and to bemoan his chances and the dear ones left behind. His father came in for none of Joe's regrets. It was in the nature of things to the boy's mind that his father should administer to him periodical thrashings, whether he had earned them or not. It was the one social relationship which existed between them. It was only quite of late that Joe had begun to discern injustice in his father's bullyings. Children take things as they come, and to the mind of a child-in a modified sense, of course-whatever is, is right. That a thing exists is its own best justification. There is no reason to seek reasons for it. But Joe Mountain, having nearly outgrown this state of juvenile acquiescence, had begun to make inquiry of himself, and, as a result, had familiarised himself with many mental pictures in which he figured as an adventurer rich in adventures. In his day the youth of England were less instructed than they are now, but the immortal Defoe existed, and Lemuel Gulliver was as real as he is to-day. Perhaps the Board schools may have made that great mariner a little less real than he used to be. Joe believed in him with all his heart, had never had the shadow of a doubt about him, and meant to sail straight from Liverpool to Lilliput. He would defer his voyage to Brobdingnagia until he had grown bigger, and should be something of a match for its inhabitants.

But it was cold, it was darkening fast, it was past his ordinary tea-time. Liverpool and Lilliput were far away, pretty nearly equidistant to the juvenile mind, and but for Samson's shadow the tea-table would have looked alluring. To be sure of tea, and a bed to sleep in afterwards, it seemed almost worth while to go back to the brewhouse and obey the paternal command to take his shirt off. To do the child justice, it was less the fear of the thrashing than the hot sense of rebellion at unfairness which kept h

im from returning. His father had beaten him into that untrue cry of 'No,' and had meant to force him to it, and then to beat him anew for it. Joe knew that better than Samson, for Samson, like the rest of us, liked to stand well with himself, and kept self-opinion in blinkers.

Joe set foot on the bridge. He had crossed the boundary brook hundreds of times in his brief life, and it had generally come into his mind, with a boyish sense of adventure, that when he did so he was putting foot into the enemy's country. But the feeling had never been so strong as now. The Mountain Farm was home, and beyond it lay the wide, wide world, looking wide indeed, and bleak and cold. What with hot rebellion at injustice and cold fear of the vast and friendless expanse, Joe's tears multiplied, and leaning his arms upon the low coping of the bridge, with his head between them and his nose touching the frozen stone, he began to cry unrestrainedly.

Suddenly he heard a footstep, and it struck a new terror into his soul. Freebooters, footpads, kidnappers, et hoc genus omne, roamed those fields by night, in course of nature. To the snug security of the home fireside and bed their images came with a delightful thrill of fear, but to be here alone and in the midst of them was altogether another thing. He crept crouching across the bridge, and stowed himself into the smallest possible compass between the end of the stonework and the neighbouring hedgerow, and there waited trembling. His pulses beat so fast and made such a noise in his ears that he was ready to take the sound of footsteps for the tread of a whole ogreish army, when he heard a voice.

'Hode on a minute, while I shift the sack.'

The sack? It was easy-it was inevitable-to know that the sack contained a goblin supper.

'I shall be late for tea, Ichabod,' said another voice, 'and then I shall get a blowing-up for coming.'

Let him who sighs in sadness here,

Rejoice, and know a friend is near.

Joe sprang from his hiding-place, and startled Master Richard and Ichabod more than a little.

'That thee, Dick?'

He knew it well enough, but it was quite delightful to be able to ask it with certainty.

'Hillo,' said Master Richard, recognising his sworn friend. 'What are you doing? Are you trapping anything?'

'No,' the hereditary enemy answered. He had been crying, the poor little chap, until he had been frightened into quiet, and now on a sudden he was as brave and as glad again as ever he had been in his life. Once more adventures loomed ahead for the adventurous, and he shone within and grew warm with the sweet reflux of courage as he whispered, 'I'm running away from home!'

Once again, the feat was glorious.

'No?' said Master Richard, smitten with envy and admiration. 'Are you? Really?'

'Yes,' Joe answered. 'I'm agooin' to Liverpool, to begin wi'.'

This was exquisitely large and vague, and Master Richard began to yearn for a share in the high enterprise upon which his friend had entered. He had half a mind to run away from home himself, though, to be sure, there was nothing else to run away from. In Joe's case there was a difference.

'Where are you going to stay to-night?' asked Master Richard. The question sounded practical, but at bottom it was nothing of the sort. It was part of the romance of the thing, and yet it threw cold water on Joe's newly-lighted courage, and put it out again.

'I don't know,' said Joe, somewhat forlornly.

'I say,' interjected Ichabod, 'is that young Mountain, Master Richard?'

'Yes,' said Master Richard.

'Thee know'st thy feyther is again thy speakin' to him, and his feyther is again his speakin' to thee.'

'You mind your own business, Ichabod,' said the young autocrat, who was a little spoiled perhaps, and had been accustomed to have his own way in quite a princely fashion.

'I'm mindin' it,' returned Ichabod. 'It's a part o' my business to keep thee out o' mischief.'

'Ah!' piped Master Richard, 'you needn't mind that part of your business to-night.'

'All right,' said Ichabod, reshouldering the sack he had meanwhile balanced on the coping of the bridge. 'See as thee beesn't late for tay-time.'

With that, having discharged his conscience, he went on again, and the two boys stayed behind.

'What are you running away for?' asked Eichard.

'Why, feyther said it was brought to him as you and me had shook hands and had took on to be friends with one another, and he told me to go into the brewus and take my shirt off.'

'Take your shirt off?' inquired the other. In Joe's lifetime, short as it was, he had had opportunity to grow familiar with this fatherly formula, but it was strange to Master Richard. 'What for?'

'What for! Why, to get a hidin', to be sure.'

'Look here!' said Richard, having digested this, 'you come and stop in one of our barns. Have you had your tea?'

'No,' returned Joe, 'I shouldn't ha' minded so much if I had.'

'I'll bring something out to you,' said the protector.

So the two lads set out together, and to evade Ichabod, struck off at a run across the fields, Joe pantingly setting forth, in answer to his comrade's questions, how he was going to be a sailor or a pirate, 'or summat,' or to have a desert island like Crusoe. Of course, it was all admirable to both of them, and, of course, it was all a great deal more real than the fields they ran over.

The runaway was safely deposited in a roomy barn, and left there alone, when once again a life of adventures began to assume a darkish complexion. It was cold, it was anxious, it seemed to drag interminably, and it was abominably lonely. If it were to be all like this, even the prospect of an occasional taking off of one's shirt in the brewhouse looked less oppressive than it had done.

The hidden Joe, bound for piracy on the high seas, or a Crusoe's island somewhere, gave a wonderful zest to Master Richard's meal But an hour, which seemed like a year to the less fortunate of the two, went by before a raid upon the well-furnished larder of Perry Hall could be effected. When the opportunity came, Master Richard, with no remonstrance from conscience, laid hands upon a loaf and a dish of delicious little cakes of fried pork fat, from which the lard had that day been 'rendered,' and thus supplied, stole out to his hereditary enemy and fed him. The hereditary enemy complained of cold, and his host groped the dark place for sacks, and, having found them, brought them to him.

'I say,' said Joe, when he had tasted the provender, 'them's scratchings. That's gay and fine. I never had as many as I should like afore. Mother says they're too rich, but that's all rubbish.'

He made oily feast in the dark, with the sacks heaped about him. With Master Richard to help him, he began to swim in adventure, and the pair were so fascinated and absorbed that one of the farm-servants went bawling 'Master Richard' about the outlying buildings for two or three minutes before they heard him. When at last the call reached their ears they had to wait until it died away again before the surreptitious host dare leave the barn, lest his being seen should draw attention to the place.

Then Joe, who had been hunting wild beasts of all sorts with the greatest possible gusto, began in turn to be hunted by them. The rattlesnake, hitherto unknown to Castle Barfield, became a common object; the lion and the polar bear met on common ground in the menagerie of Joe's imagination. Whatever poor blessings and hopes he had, and whatever schoolboy wealth he owned, he would have surrendered all of them to be in the brewhouse of the Mountain Farm, even though he were there to take his shirt off But the empty, impassable, awful night stood between him and any refuge, and he must need stay where he was, and sweat with terror under his sacks, through all the prodigious tracts of time which lay between the evening and the morning. He was to have been up and afoot for Liverpool before dawn, but tired nature chose the time he had fixed for starting to send him to sleep, and when Master Richard stole into the barn with intent to disperse the sacks and clear away any sign of Joe's occupancy, he found him slumbering soundly, with a tear-stained cheek resting on a dirty brown hand.

There had been the wildest sort of hubbub and disorder at the Mountain Farm all night. Mrs. Mountain had wept and wrung her hands, and rocking herself to and fro, had poured forth doleful prophecy. Samson, who had begun with bluster, had fallen into anxiety, and had himself traced the course of the brook for a full mile by lanthorn-light. The farm hands had been sent abroad, and had tracked every road without result. Of course the one place where nobody so much as thought of making inquiry was the house of the hereditary foe, but pretty early, in the course of the morning, the news of Joe Mountain's disappearance, and something of the reasons for it, reached Perry Hall. Everybody at Perry Hall knew already what a terrible personage Samson Mountain was, and his behaviour on this occasion was the theme of scathing comment.

Master Richard was guilty at heart, but exultant. Being a boy of lively imagination, he took to a secrecy so profound, and became so strikingly stealthy, as to excite observation and remark. He was watched and tracked to the barn, and then the discovery came about as a matter of course. The Reddys made much of Joe-they had no quarrel with an innocent persecuted child-but their kindness and commiseration were simply darts to throw at Samson.

It was noon when Reddy put the trembling adventurer into his trap, and with his own hands drove him home. The two enemies met and glowered at each other.

'I've found your lad and brought him home,' said Reddy; 'though I doubt it's a cruel kindness to him.'

Samson, with all the gall in his nature burning at his heart, lifted Joe from the trap and set him on the ground in silence. Reddy, in silence, turned his horse's head, touched him with the whip, and drove away. Joe was welcomed home by a thrashing, which he remembers in old age.

The episode bore fruit in several ways. To begin with, Master Joe was packed off to a distant school, far from that to which young Reddy was sent. But the boys found each other out in the holidays, and became firm friends on the sly, and Joe was so loyal and admiring that he never ceased to talk to his one confidante of the courage, the friendliness, the generosity, the agility, and skill of his secret hero. The confidante was his sister Julia, to whom the young hereditary enemy became a synonym for whatever is lovely and of good report. She used to look at him in church-she had little other opportunity of observing him-and would think in her childish innocent mind how handsome and noble he looked. He did not speak like the Barfield boys, or look like them, or walk like them. He was a young prince, heir to vast estates, and a royal title in fairyland. If story-books were few and far between, the sentimental foolish widow, Jenny Busker, was a mine of narrative, and a single fairy tale is enough to open all other fairy lore to a child's imagination. If the little girl worshipped the boy, he, in his turn, looked kindly down on her. He had fought for her once at odds of two to one, and he gave her a smile now and then. It happened that in this wise began the curious, half-laughable, and half-pathetic little history which buried the hatreds of the Castle Barfield Capulet and Montague for ever.

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