Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XXI

Jack and Jill Go Down the Gill

Upon a little beck that runs away into the Lune, which is a tributary of the Tees, there stood at this time a small square house of gray stone, partly greened with moss, or patched with drip, and opening to the sun with small dark windows. It looked as if it never could be warm inside, by sunshine or by fire-glow, and cared not, although it was the only house for miles, whether it were peopled or stood empty. But this cold, hard-looking place just now was the home of some hot and passionate hearts.

The people were poor; and how they made their living would have been a mystery to their neighbors, if there had been any. They rented no land, and they followed no trade, and they took no alms by land or post; for the begging-letter system was not yet invented. For the house itself they paid a small rent, which Jordas received on behalf of his ladies, and always found it ready; and that being so, he had nothing more to ask, and never meddled with them. They had been there before he came into office, and it was not his place to seek into their history; and if it had been, he would not have done it. For his sympathies were (as was natural and native to a man so placed) with all outsiders, and the people who compress into one or two generations that ignorance of lineage which some few families strive to defer for centuries, showing thereby unwise insistence, if latter-day theories are correct.

But if Master Jordas knew little of these people, somebody else knew more about them, and perhaps too much about one of them. Lancelot Carnaby, still called “Pet,” in one of those rushes after random change which the wildness of his nature drove upon him, had ridden his pony to a stand-still on the moor one sultry day of that August. No pity or care for the pony had he, but plenty of both for his own dear self. The pony might be left for the crows to pick his bones, so far as mattered to Pet Carnaby; but it mattered very greatly to a boy like him to have to go home upon his own legs. Long exertion was hateful to him, though he loved quick difficulty; for he was one of the many who combine activity with laziness. And while he was wondering what he should do, and worrying the fine little animal, a wave of the wind carried into his ear the brawling of a beck, like the humming of a hive. The boy had forgotten that the moor just here was broken by a narrow glen, engrooved with sliding water.

Now with all his strength, which was not much, he tugged the panting and limping little horse to the flat breach, and then down the steep of the gill, and let him walk into the water and begin to slake off a little of the crust of thirst. But no sooner did he see him preparing to rejoice in large crystal draughts (which his sobs had first forbidden) than he jerked him with the bit, and made a bad kick at him, because he could bear to see nothing happy. The pony had sense enough to reply, weary as he was, with a stronger kick, which took Master Lancelot in the knee, and discouraged him for any further contest. Bully as he was, the boy had too much of ancient Yordas pith in him to howl, or cry, or even whimper, but sat down on a little ridge to nurse his poor knee, and meditate revenge against the animal with hoofs. Presently pain and wrath combined became too much for the weakness of his frame, and he fell back and lay upon the hard ground in a fainting fit.

At such times, as everybody said (especially those whom he knocked about in his lively moments), this boy looked wonderfully lovely. His features were almost perfect; and he had long eyelashes like an Andalusian girl, and cheeks more exquisite than almost any doll’s, a mouth of fine curve, and a chin of pert roundness, a neck of the mould that once was called “Byronic,” and curly dark hair flying all around, as fine as the very best peruke. In a word, he was just what a boy ought not to be, who means to become an Englishman.

Such, however, was not the opinion of a creature even more beautiful than he, in the truer points of beauty. Coming with a pitcher for some water from the beck, Insie of the Gill (the daughter of Bat and Zilpie of the Gill) was quite amazed as she chanced round a niche of the bank upon this image. An image fallen from the sun, she thought it, or at any rate from some part of heaven, until she saw the pony, who was testing the geology of the district by the flavor of its herbage. Then Insie knew that here was a mortal boy, not dead, but sadly wounded; and she drew her short striped kirtle down, because her shapely legs were bare.

Lancelot Carnaby, coming to himself (which was a poor return for him), opened his large brown eyes, and saw a beautiful girl looking at him. As their eyes met, his insolent languor fell — for he generally awoke from these weak lapses into a slow persistent rage — and wonder and unknown admiration moved something in his nature that had never moved before. His words, however, were scarcely up to the high mark of the moment. “Who are you?” was all he said.

“I am called ‘Insie of the Gill.’ My father is Bat of the Gill, and my mother Zilpie of the Gill. You must be a stranger, not to know us.”

“I never heard of you in all my life; although you seem to be living on my land. All the land about here belongs to me; though my mother has it for a little time.”

“I did not know,” she answered, softly, and scarcely thinking what she said, “that the land belonged to anybody, besides the birds and animals. And is the water yours as well?”

“Yes; every drop of it, of course. But you are quite welcome to a pitcherful.” This was the rarest affability of Pet; and he expected extraordinary thanks.

But Insie looked at him with surprise. “I am very much obliged to you,” she said; “but I never asked any one to give it me, unless it is the beck itself; and the beck never seems to grudge it.”

“You are not like anybody I ever saw. You speak very different from the people about here; and you look very different ten times over.”

Insie reddened at his steadfast gaze, and turned her sweet soft face away. And yet she wanted to know more. “Different means a great many things. Do you mean that I look better, or worse?”

“Better, of course; fifty thousand times better! Why, you look like a beautiful lady. I tell you, I have seen hundreds of ladies; perhaps you haven’t, but I have. And you look better than all of them.”

“You say a great deal that you do not think,” Insie answered, quietly, yet turning round to show her face again. “I have heard that gentlemen always do; and I suppose that you are a young gentleman.”

“I should hope so indeed. Don’t you know who I am? I am Lancelot Yordas Carnaby.”

“Why, you look quite as if you could stop the river,” she answered, with a laugh, though she felt his grandeur. “I suppose you consider me nobody at all. But I must get my water.”

“You shall not carry water. You are much too pretty. I will carry it for you.”

Pet was not “introspective;” otherwise he must have been astonished at himself. His mother and aunt would have doubted their own eyes if they had beheld this most dainty of the dainty, and mischievous of the mischievous (with pain and passion for the moment vanquished), carefully carrying an old brown pitcher. Yet this he did, and wonderfully well, as he believed; though Insie only laughed to see him. For he had on the loveliest gaiters in the world, of thin white buckskin with agate buttons, and breeches of silk, and a long brocaded waistcoat, and a short coat of rich purple velvet, also a riding hat with a gray ostrich plume. And though he had very little calf inside his gaiters, and not much chest to fill out his waistcoat, and narrower shoulders than a velvet coat deserved, it would have been manifest, even to a tailor, that the boy had lineal, if not lateral, right to his rich habiliments.

Insie of the Gill (who seemed not to be of peasant birth, though so plainly dressed), came gently down the steep brook-side to see what was going to be done for her.

She admired Lancelot, both for bravery of apparel and of action; and she longed to know how he would get a good pitcher of water without any splash upon his clothes. So she stood behind a little bush, pretending not to be at all concerned, but amused at having her work done for her. But Pet was too sharp to play cat’s-paw for nothing.

“Smile, and say ‘thank you,’” he cried, “or I won’t do it. I am not going up to my middle for nothing; I know that you want to laugh at me.”

“You must have a very low middle,” said Insie; “why, it never comes half way to my knees.”

“You have got no stockings, and no new gaiters,” Lancelot answered, reasonably; and then, like two children, they set to and laughed, till the gill almost echoed with them.

“Why, you’re holding the mouth of the pitcher down stream!” Insie could hardly speak for laughing. “Is that how you go to fill a pitcher?”

“Yes, and the right way too,” he answered; “the best water always comes up the eddies. You ought to be old enough to know that.”

“I don’t know anything at all — except that you are ruining your best clothes.”

“I don’t care twopence for such rubbish. You ought to see me on a Sunday, Insie, if you want to know what is good. There, you never drew such a pitcher as that. And I believe there is a fish in the bottom of it.”

“Oh, if there is a fish, let me have him in my hands. I can nurse a fish on dry land, until he gets quite used to it. Are you sure that there is a little fish?”

“No, there is no fish; and I am soaking wet. But I never care what anybody thinks of me. If they say what I don’t like, I kick them.”

“Ah, you are accustomed to have your own way. That any one might know by looking at you. But I have got a quantity of work to do. You can see that by my fingers.”

The girl made a courtesy, and took the pitcher from him, because he was knocking it against his legs; but he could not be angry when he looked into her eyes, though the habit of his temper made him try to fume.

“Do you know what I think?” she said, fixing bright hazel eyes upon him; “I think that you are very passionate sometimes.”

“Well, if I am, it is my own business. Who told you anything about it? Whoever it was shall pay out for it.”

“Nobody told me, Sir. You must remember that I never even heard of your name before.”

“Oh, come, I can’t quite take down that. Everybody knows me for fifty miles or more; and I don’t care what they think of me.”

“You may please yourself about believing me,” she answered, without concern about it. “No one who knows me doubts my word, though I am not known for even five miles away.”

“What an extraordinary girl you are! You say things on purpose to provoke me. Nobody ever does that; they are only too glad to keep me in a good temper.”

“If you are like that, Sir, I had better run away. My father will be home in about an hour, and he might think that you had no business here.”

“I! No business upon my own land! This place must be bewitched, I think. There is a witch upon the moors, I know, who can take almost any shape; but — but they say she is three hundred years of age, or more.”

“Perhaps, then, I am bewitched,” said Insie; “or why should I stop to talk with you, who are only a rude boy, after all, even according to your own account?”

“Well, you can go if you like. I suppose you live in that queer little place down there?”

“The house is quite good enough for me and my father and mother and brother Maunder. Good-by; and please never to come here again.”

“You don’t understand me. I have made you cry. Oh, Insie, let me have hold of your hand. I would rather make anybody cry than you. I never liked anybody so before.”

“Cry, indeed! Who ever heard me cry? It is the way you splashed the water up. I am not in the habit of crying for a stranger. Good-by, now; and go to your great people. You say that you are bad; and I fear it is too true.”

“I am not bad at all. It is only what everybody says, because I never want to please them. But I want to please you. I would give anything to do it; if you would only tell me how.”

The girl having cleverly dried her eyes, poured all their bright beauty upon him, and the heart of the youth was enlarged with a new, very sweet, and most timorous feeling. Then his dark eyes dropped, and he touched her gently, and only said, “Don’t go away.”

“But I must go away,” Insie answered, with a blush, and a look as of more tears lurking in her eyes. “I have stopped too long; I must go away at once.”

“But when may I come again? I will hold you, and fight for you with everybody in the world, unless you tell me when to come again.”

“Hush! I am quite ashamed to hear you talk so. I am a poor girl, and you a great young gentleman.”

“Never mind that. That has nothing to do with it. Would you like to make me miserable, and a great deal more wicked than I ever was before? Do you hate me so much as all that, Insie?”

“No. You have been very kind to me. Only my father would be angry, I am sure; and my brother Maunder is dreadful. They all go away every other Friday, and that is the only free time I have.”

“Every other Friday! What a long time, to be sure! Won’t you come again for water this day fortnight?”

“Yes; I come for water three or four times every day. But if they were to see you, they would kill you first, and then lock me up forever. The only wise plan is for you to come no more.”

“You can not be thinking for a moment what you say. I will tell you what; if you don’t come, I will march up to the house, and beat the door in. The landlord can do that, according to law.”

“If you care at all for me,” said Insie, looking as if she had known him for ten years, “you will do exactly what I tell you. You will think no more about me for a fortnight; and then if you fancy that I can do you good by advice about your bad temper, or by teaching you how to plait reeds for a bat, and how to fill a pitcher — perhaps I might be able to come down the gill again.”

“I wish it was tomorrow. I shall count the days. But be sure to come early, if they go away all day. I shall bring my dinner with me; and you shall have the first help, and I will carve. But I should like one thing before I go; and it is the first time I ever asked anybody, though they ask me often enough, I can tell you.”

“What would you like? You seem to me to be always wanting something.”

“I should like very much — very much indeed — just to give you one kiss, Insie.”

“It can not be thought of for a moment,” she replied; “and the first time of my ever seeing you, Sir!”

Before he could reason in favor of a privilege which goes proverbially by favor, the young maid was gone upon the winding path, with the pitcher truly balanced on her well-tressed head. Then Pet sat down and watched her; and she turned round in the distance, and waved him a kiss at decorous interval.

Not more than three days after this, Mrs. Carnaby came into the drawing-room with a hasty step, and a web of wrinkles upon her generally smooth, white forehead.

“Eliza,” asked her sister, “what has put you out so? That chair is not very strong, and you are rather heavy. Do you call that gracefully sinking on a seat, as we used to learn the way to do at school?”

“No, I do not call it anything of the kind. And if I am heavy, I only keep my heart in countenance, Philippa. You know not the anxieties of a mother.”

“I am thankful to say that I do not. I have plenty of larger cares to attend to, as well as the anxieties of an aunt and sister. But what is this new maternal care?”

“Poor Pet’s illness — his serious illness. I am surprised that you have not noticed it, Philippa; it seems so unkind of you.”

“There can not be anything much amiss with him. I never saw any one eat a better breakfast. What makes you fancy that the boy must be unwell?”

“It is no fancy. He must be very ill. Poor dear! I can not bear to think of it. He has done no mischief for quite three days.”

“Then he must indeed be at the point of death. Oh, if we could only keep him always so, Eliza!”

“My dear sister, you will never understand him. He must have his little playful ways. Would you like him to be a milksop?”

“Certainly not. But I should like him first to be a manly boy, and then a boyish man. The Yordases always have been manly boys; instead of puling, and puking, and picking this, that, and the other.”

“The poor child can not help his health, Philippa. He never had the Yordas constitution. He inherits his delicate system from his poor dear gallant father.”

Mrs. Carnaby wiped away a tear; and her sister (who never was hard to her) spoke gently, and said there were many worse boys than he, and she liked him for many good and brave points of character, and especially for hating medicine.

“Philippa, you are right; he does hate medicine,” the good mother answered, with a soft, sad sigh; “and he kicked the last apothecary in the stomach, when he made certain of its going down. But such things are trifles, dear, in comparison with now. If he would only kick Jordas, or Welldrum, or almost any one who would take it nicely, I should have some hope that he was coming to himself. But to see him sit quiet is so truly sad. He gets up a tree with his vast activity, and there he sits moping by the hour, and gazing in one fixed direction. I am almost sure that he has knocked his leg; but he flew into a fury when I wanted to examine it; and when I made a poultice, there was Saracen devouring it; and the nasty dog swallowed one of my lace handkerchiefs.”

“Then surely you are unjust, Eliza, in lamenting all lack of mischief. But I have noticed things as well as you. And yesterday I saw something more portentous than anything you have told me. I came upon Lancelot suddenly, in the last place where I should have looked for him. He was positively in the library, and reading — reading a real book.”

“A book, Phillppa! Oh, that settles everything. He must have gone altogether out of his sane mind.”

“Not only was it a book, but even a book of what people call poetry. You have heard of that bold young man over the mountains, who is trying to turn poetry upside down, by making it out of every single thing he sees; and who despises all the pieces that we used to learn at school. I can not remember his name; but never mind. I thought that we ought to encourage him, because he might know some people in this neighborhood; and so I ordered a book of his. Perhaps I told you; and that is the very book your learned boy was reading.”

“Philippa, it seems to me impossible almost. He must have been looking at the pictures. I do hope he was only looking at the pictures.”

“There is not a picture in the hook of any sort. He was reading it, and saying it quite softly to himself; and I felt that if you saw him, you would send for Dr. Spraggs.”

“Ring the bell at once, dear, if you will be kind enough. I hope there is a fresh horse in the stable. Or the best way would be to send the jumping-car; then he would be certain to come back at once.”

“Do as you like. I begin to think that we ought to take proper precautions. But when that is done, I will tell you what I think he may be up the tree for.”

A man with the jumping-car was soon dispatched, by urgency of Jordas, for Dr. Spraggs, who lived several miles away, in a hamlet to the westward, inaccessible to anything that could not jump right nimbly. But the ladies made a slight mistake: they caught the doctor, but no patient.

For Pet being well up in his favorite tree — poring with great wonder over Lyrical Ballads, which took his fancy somehow — thence descried the hateful form of Dr. Spraggs, too surely approaching in the seat of honor of the jumping-car. Was ever any poesy of such power as to elevate the soul above the smell of physic? The lofty poet of the lakes and fells fell into Pet’s pocket anyhow, and down the off side of the tree came he, with even his bad leg ready to be foremost in giving leg-bail to the medical man. The driver of the jumping-car espied this action; but knowing that he would have done the like, grinned softly, and said nothing. And long after Dr. Spraggs was gone, leaving behind him sage advice, and a vast benevolence of bottles, Pet returned, very dirty and hungry, and cross, and most unpoetical.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31