The practice of Flamborough was to listen fairly to anything that might be said by any one truly of the native breed, and to receive it well into the crust of the mind, and let it sink down slowly. But even after that, it might not take root, unless it were fixed in its settlement by their two great powers — the law, and the Lord.
They had many visitations from the Lord, as needs must be in such a very stormy place; whereas of the law they heard much less; but still they were even more afraid of that; for they never knew how much it might cost.
Balancing matters (as they did their fish, when the price was worth it, in Weigh Lane), they came to the set conclusion that the law and the Lord might not agree concerning the child cast among them by the latter. A child or two had been thrown ashore before, and trouble once or twice had come of it; and this child being cast, no one could say how, to such a height above all other children, he was likely enough to bring a spell upon their boats, if anything crooked to God’s will were done; and even to draw them to their last stocking, if anything offended the providence of law.
In any other place it would have been a point of combat what to say and what to do in such a case as this. But Flamborough was of all the wide world happiest in possessing an authority to reconcile all doubts. The law and the Lord — two powers supposed to be at variance always, and to share the week between them in proportions fixed by lawyers — the holy and unholy elements of man’s brief existence, were combined in Flamborough parish in the person of its magisterial rector. He was also believed to excel in the arts of divination and medicine too, for he was a full Doctor of Divinity. Before this gentleman must be laid, both for purse and conscience’ sake, the case of the child just come out of the fogs.
And true it was that all these powers were centred in one famous man, known among the laity as “Parson Upandown.” For the Reverend Turner Upround, to give him his proper name, was a doctor of divinity, a justice of the peace, and the present rector of Flamborough. Of all his offices and powers, there was not one that he overstrained; and all that knew him, unless they were thorough-going rogues and vagabonds, loved him. Not that he was such a soft-spoken man as many were, who thought more evil; but because of his deeds and nature, which were of the kindest. He did his utmost, on demand of duty, to sacrifice this nature to his stern position as pastor and master of an up-hill parish, with many wrong things to be kept under. But while he succeeded in the form now and then, he failed continually in the substance.
This gentleman was not by any means a fool, unless a kind heart proves folly. At Cambridge he had done very well, in the early days of the tripos, and was chosen fellow and tutor of Gonville and Caius College. But tiring of that dull round in his prime, he married, and took to a living; and the living was one of the many upon which a perpetual faster can barely live, unless he can go naked also, and keep naked children. Now the parsons had not yet discovered the glorious merits of hard fasting, but freely enjoyed, and with gratitude to God, the powers with which He had blessed them. Happily Dr. Upround had a solid income of his own, and (like a sound mathematician) he took a wife of terms coincident. So, without being wealthy, they lived very well, and helped their poorer neighbors.
Such a man generally thrives in the thriving of his flock, and does not harry them. He gives them spiritual food enough to support them without daintiness, and he keeps the proper distinction between the Sunday and the poorer days. He clangs no bell of reproach upon a Monday, when the squire is leading the lady in to dinner, and the laborer sniffing at his supper pot; and he lets the world play on a Saturday, while he works his own head to find good ends for the morrow. Because he is a wise man who knows what other men are, and how seldom they desire to be told the same thing more than a hundred and four times in a year. Neither did his clerical skill stop here; for Parson Upround thought twice about it before he said anything to rub sore consciences, even when he had them at his mercy, and silent before him, on a Sunday. He behaved like a gentleman in this matter, where so much temptation lurks, looking always at the man whom he did not mean to hit, so that the guilty one received it through him, and felt himself better by comparison. In a word, this parson did his duty well, and pleasantly for all his flock; and nothing imbittered him, unless a man pretended to doctrine without holy orders.
For the doctor reasoned thus — and sound it sounds — if divinity is a matter for Tom, Dick, or Harry, how can there be degrees in it? He held a degree in it, and felt what it had cost; and not the parish only, but even his own wife, was proud to have a doctor every Sunday. And his wife took care that his rich red hood, kerseymere small-clothes, and black silk stockings upon calves of dignity, were such that his congregation scorned the surgeons all the way to Beverley.
Happy in a pleasant nature, kindly heart, and tranquil home, he was also happy in those awards of life in which men are helpless. He was blessed with a good wife and three good children, doing well, and vigorous and hardy as the air and clime and cliffs. His wife was not quite of his own age, but old enough to understand and follow him faithfully down the slope of years. A wife with mind enough to know that a husband is not faultless, and with heart enough to feel that if he were, she would not love him so. And under her were comprised their children — two boys at school, and a baby-girl at home.
So far, the rector of this parish was truly blessed and blessing. But in every man’s lot must be some crook, since this crooked world turned round. In Parson Upround’s lot the crook might seem a very small one; but he found it almost too big for him. His dignity and peace of mind, large good-will of ministry and strong Christian sense of magistracy, all were sadly pricked and wounded by a very small thorn in the flesh of his spirit.
Almost every honest man is the rightful owner of a nickname. When he was a boy at school he could not do without one, and if the other boys valued him, perhaps he had a dozen. And afterward, when there is less perception of right and wrong and character, in the weaker time of manhood, he may earn another, if the spirit is within him.
But woe is him if a nasty foe, or somebody trying to be one, annoyed for the moment with him, yet meaning no more harm than pepper, smite him to the quick, at venture, in his most retired and privy-conscienced hole. And when this is done by a Nonconformist to a Doctor of Divinity, and the man who does it owes some money to the man he does it to, can the latter gentleman take a large and genial view of his critics.
This gross wrong and ungrateful outrage was inflicted thus. A leading Methodist from Filey town, who owed the doctor half a guinea, came one summer and set up his staff in the hollow of a limekiln, where he lived upon fish for change of diet, and because he could get it for nothing. This was a man of some eloquence, and his calling in life was cobbling, and to encourage him therein, and keep him from theology, the rector not only forgot his half guinea, but sent him three or four pairs of riding-boots to mend, and let him charge his own price, which was strictly heterodox. As a part of the bargain, this fellow came to church, and behaved as well as could be hoped of a man who had received his money. He sat by a pillar, and no more than crossed his legs at the worst thing that disagreed with him. And it might have done him good, and made a decent cobbler of him, if the parson had only held him when he got him on the hook. But this is the very thing which all great preachers are too benevolent to do. Dr. Upround looked at this sinner, who was getting into a fright upon his own account, though not a bad preacher when he could afford it; and the cobbler could no more look up to the doctor than when he charged him a full crown beyond the contract. In his kindness for all who seemed convinced of sin, the good preacher halted, and looked at Mr. Jobbins with a soft, relaxing gaze. Jobbins appeared as if he would come to church forever, and never cheat any sound clergyman again; whereupon the generous divine omitted a whole page of menaces prepared for him, and passed prematurely to the tender strain which always winds up a good sermon.
Now what did Jobbins do in return for all this magnanimous mercy? Invited to dine with the senior church-warden upon the strength of having been at church, and to encourage him for another visit, and being asked, as soon as ever decency permitted, what he thought of Parson Upround’s doctrine, between two crackles of young griskin (come straight from the rectory pig-sty), he was grieved to express a stern opinion long remembered at Flamborough:
“Ca’ yo yon mon ‘Dr. Uproond?’ I ca’ un ‘Dr. Upandoon.’”
From that day forth the rector of the parish was known far and wide as “Dr. Upandown,” even among those who loved him best. For the name well described his benevolent practice of undoing any harsh thing he might have said, sometimes by a smile, and very often with a shilling, or a basket of spring cabbages. So that Mrs. Upround, when buttoning up his coat — which he always forgot to do for himself — did it with the words, “My dear, now scold no one; really it is becoming too expensive.” “Shall I abandon duty,” he would answer, with some dignity, “while a shilling is sufficient to enforce it?”
Dr. Upround’s people had now found out that their minister and magistrate discharged his duty toward his pillow, no less than to his pulpit. His parish had acquired, through the work of generations, a habit of getting up at night, and being all alive at cock-crow; and the rector (while very new amongst them) tried to bow — or rather rise — to night-watch. But a little of that exercise lasted him for long; and he liked to talk of it afterward, but for the present was obliged to drop it. For he found himself pale, when his wife made him see himself; and his hours of shaving were so dreadful; and scarcely a bit of fair dinner could be got, with the whole of the day thrown out so. In short, he settled it wisely that the fishers of fish must yield to the habits of fish, which can not be corrected; but the fishers of men (who can live without catching them) need not be up to all their hours, but may take them reasonably.
His parishioners — who could do very well without him, as far as that goes, all the week, and by no means wanted him among their boats — joyfully left him to his own time of day, and no more worried him out of season than he worried them so. It became a matter of right feeling with them not to ring a big bell, which the rector had put up to challenge everybody’s spiritual need, until the stable clock behind the bell had struck ten and finished gurgling.
For this reason, on St. Swithin’s morn, in the said year 1782, the grannies, wives, and babes of Flamborough, who had been to help the launch, but could not pull the laboring oar, nor even hold the tiller, spent the time till ten o’clock in seeing to their own affairs — the most laudable of all pursuits for almost any woman. And then, with some little dispute among them (the offspring of the merest accident), they arrived in some force at the gate of Dr. Upround, and no woman liked to pull the bell, and still less to let another woman do it for her. But an old man came up who was quite deaf, and every one asked him to do it.
In spite of the scarcity of all good things, Mrs. Cockscroft had thoroughly fed the little stranger, and washed him, and undressed him, and set him up in her own bed, and wrapped him in her woollen shawl, because he shivered sadly; and there he stared about with wondering eyes, and gave great orders — so far as his new nurse could make out — but speaking gibberish, as she said, and flying into a rage because it was out of Christian knowledge. But he seemed to understand some English, although he could only pronounce two words, both short, and in such conjunction quite unlawful for any except the highest Spiritual Power. Mrs. Cockscroft, being a pious woman, hoped that her ears were wrong, or else that the words were foreign and meant no harm, though the child seemed to take in much of what was said, and when asked his name, answered, wrathfully, and as if everybody was bound to know, “Izunsabe! Izunsabe!”
But now, when brought before Dr. Upround, no child of the very best English stock could look more calm and peaceful. He could walk well enough, but liked better to be carried; and the kind woman who had so taken him up was only too proud to carry him. Whatever the rector and magistrate might say, her meaning was to keep this little one, with her husband’s good consent, which she was sure of getting.
“Set him down, ma’am,” the doctor said, when he had heard from half a dozen good women all about him; “Mistress Cockscroft, put him on his legs, and let me question him.”
But the child resisted this proceeding. With nature’s inborn and just loathing of examination, he spun upon his little heels, and swore with all his might, at the same time throwing up his hands and twirling his thumbs in a very odd and foreign way.
“What a shocking child!” cried Mrs. Upround, who was come to know all about it. “Jane, run away with Miss Janetta.”
“The child is not to blame,” said the rector, “but only the people who have brought him up. A prettier or more clever little head I have never seen in all my life; and we studied such things at Cambridge. My fine little fellow, shake hands with me.”
The boy broke off his vicious little dance, and looked up at this tall gentleman with great surprise. His dark eyes dwelt upon the parson’s kindly face, with that power of inquiry which the very young possess, and then he put both little hands into the gentleman’s, and burst into a torrent of the most heart-broken tears.
“Poor little man!” said the rector, very gently, taking him up in his arms and patting the silky black curls, while great drops fell, and a nose was rubbed on his shoulder; “it is early for you to begin bad times. Why, how old are you, if you please?”
The little boy sat up on the kind man’s arm, and poked a small investigating finger into the ear that was next to him, and the locks just beginning to be marked with gray; and then he said, “Sore,” and tossed his chin up, evidently meaning, “Make your best of that.” And the women drew a long breath, and nudged at one another.
“Well done! Four years old, my dear. You see that he understands English well enough,” said the parson to his parishioners: “he will tell us all about himself by-and-by, if we do not hurry him. You think him a French child. I do not, though the name which he gives himself, ‘Izunsabe,’ has a French aspect about it. Let me think. I will try him with a French interrogation: ‘Parlez-vous Francais, mon enfan?’”
Dr. Upround watched the effect of his words with outward calm, but an inward flutter. For if this clever child should reply in French, the doctor could never go on with it, but must stand there before his congregation in a worse position than when he lost his place, as sometimes happened, in a sermon. With wild temerity he had given vent to the only French words within his knowledge; and he determined to follow them up with Latin if the worst came to the worst.
But luckily no harm came of this, but, contrariwise, a lasting good. For the child looked none the wiser, while the doctor’s influence was increased.
“Aha!” the good parson cried. “I was sure that he was no Frenchman. But we must hear something about him very soon, for what you tell me is impossible. If he had come from the sea, he must have been wet; it could never be otherwise. Whereas, his linen clothes are dry, and even quite lately fullered — ironed you might call it.”
“Please your worship,” cried Mrs. Cockscroft, who was growing wild with jealousy, “I did up all his little things, hours and hours ere your hoose was up.”
“Ah, you had night-work! To be sure! Were his clothes dry or wet when you took them off?”
“Not to say dry, your worship; and yet not to say very wet. Betwixt and between, like my good master’s, when he cometh from a pour of rain, or a heavy spray. And the color of the land was upon them here and there. And the gold tags were sewn with something wonderful. My best pair of scissors would not touch it. I was frightened to put them to the tub, your worship; but they up and shone lovely like a tailor’s buttons. My master hath found him, Sir; and it lies with him to keep him. And the Lord hath taken away our Bob.”
“It is true,” said Dr. Upround, gently, and placing the child in her arms again, “the Almighty has chastened you very sadly. This child is not mine to dispose of, nor yours; but if he will comfort you, keep him till we hear of him. I will take down in writing the particulars of the case, when Captain Robin has come home and had his rest — say, at this time tomorrow, or later; and then you will sign them, and they shall be published. For you know, Mrs. Cockscroft, however much you may be taken with him, you must not turn kidnapper. Moreover, it is needful, as there may have been some wreck (though none of you seem to have heard of any), that this strange occurrence should be made known. Then, if nothing is heard of it, you can keep him, and may the Lord bless him to you!”
Without any more ado, she kissed the child, and wanted to carry him straight away, after courtesying to his worship; but all the other women insisted on a smack of him, for pity’s sake, and the pleasure of the gold, and to confirm the settlement. And a settlement it was, for nothing came of any publication of the case, such as in those days could be made without great expense and exertion.
So the boy grew up, tall, brave, and comely, and full of the spirit of adventure, as behooved a boy cast on the winds. So far as that goes, his foster-parents would rather have found him more steady and less comely, for if he was to step into their lost son’s shoes, he might do it without seeming to outshine him. But they got over that little jealousy in time, when the boy began to be useful, and, so far as was possible, they kept him under by quoting against him the character of Bob, bringing it back from heaven of a much higher quality than ever it was upon the earth. In vain did this living child aspire to such level; how can an earthly boy compare with one who never did a wrong thing, as soon as he was dead?
Passing that difficult question, and forbearing to compare a boy with angels, be he what he will, his first need (after that of victuals) is a name whereby his fellow-boys may know him. Is he to be shouted at with, “Come here, what’s your name?” or is he to be called (as if in high rebuke), “Boy?” And yet there are grown-up folk who do all this without hesitation, failing to remember their own predicament at a by-gone period. Boys are as useful, in their way, as any other order; and if they can be said to do some mischief, they can not be said to do it negligently. It is their privilege and duty to be truly active; and their Maker, having spread a dull world before them, has provided them with gifts of play while their joints are supple.
The present boy, having been born without a father or a mother (so far as could yet be discovered), was driven to do what our ancestors must have done when it was less needful. That is to say, to work his own name out by some distinctive process. When the parson had clearly shown him not to be a Frenchman, a large contumely spread itself about, by reason of his gold, and eyes, and hair, and name (which might be meant for Isaak), that he was sprung from a race more honored now than a hundred years ago. But the women declared that it could not be; and the rector desiring to christen him, because it might never have been done before, refused point-blank to put any “Isaac” in, and was satisfied with “Robin” only, the name of the man who had saved him.
The rector showed deep knowledge of his flock, which looked upon Jews as the goats of the Kingdom; for any Jew must die for a world of generations ere ever a Christian thinks much of him. But finding him not to be a Jew, the other boys, instead of being satisfied, condemned him for a Dutchman.
Whatever he was, the boy throve well, and being so flouted by his playmates, took to thoughts and habits and amusements of his own. In-door life never suited him at all, nor too much of hard learning, although his capacity was such that he took more advancement in an hour than the thick heads of young Flamborough made in a whole leap-year of Sundays. For any Flamburian boy was considered a “Brain Scholar,” and a “Head–Languager,” when he could write down the parson’s text, and chalk up a fish on the weigh-board so that his father or mother could tell in three guesses what manner of fish it was. And very few indeed had ever passed this trial.
For young Robin it was a very hard thing to be treated so by the other boys. He could run, or jump, or throw a stone, or climb a rock with the best of them; but all these things he must do by himself, simply because he had no name. A feeble youth would have moped, but Robin only grew more resolute. Alone he did what the other boys would scarcely in competition dare. No crag was too steep for him, no cave too dangerous and wave-beaten, no race of the tide so strong and swirling as to scare him of his wits. He seemed to rejoice in danger, having very little else to rejoice in; and he won for himself by nimble ways and rapid turns on land and sea, the name of “Lithe,” or “Lyth,” and made it famous even far inland.
For it may be supposed that his love of excitement, versatility, and daring demanded a livelier outlet than the slow toil of deep-sea fishing. To the most patient, persevering, and long-suffering of the arts, Robin Lyth did not take kindly, although he was so handy with a boat. Old Robin vainly strove to cast his angling mantle over him. The gifts of the youth were brighter and higher; he showed an inborn fitness for the lofty development of free trade. Eminent powers must force their way, as now they were doing with Napoleon; and they did the same with Robin Lyth, without exacting tithe in kind of all the foremost human race.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50