In the Roar of the Sea/Chapter 4

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In the Roar of the Sea by Sabine Baring-Gould
Chapter 4


CHAPTER IV.


HOP-O'-MY-THUMB.


"Listen to me," said Judith.

"Yes, Ju!"

The orphans were together in the room that had been their father's, the room in which for some days he had lain with the blinds down, the atmosphere heavy with the perfume of flowers, and that indescribable, unmistakable scent of death. Often, every day, almost every hour, had Judith stolen into the room while he lay there, to wonder with infinite reverence and admiration at the purity and dignity of the dead face. It was that of the dear, dear father, but sublimed beyond her imagination. All the old vacillation was gone, the expression of distress and discouragement had passed away, and in their place had come a fixity and a calm, such as one sees in the busts of the ancient Roman Caesars, but with a superadded ethereality, if such a word can be used, that a piece of pagan statuary never reached. Marvellous, past finding out, it is that death, which takes from man the spiritual element, should give to the mere clay a look of angelic spirituality, yet so it is so it was with the dead Peter Trevisa; and Judith, with eyes filling as fast as dried, stood, her hands folded, looking into his face, felt that she had never loved, never admired him half enough when he was alive. Life had been the simmer in which all the scum of trivialities, of infirmities, of sordidness had come to and shown itself on the surface. Now Death had cleared these all away, and in the peaceful face of the dead was seen the real man, the nobility, sanctity, delicacy that formed the texture of his soul, and which had impressed the very clay wrapped about that volatile essence.

As long as the dear father's body lay in the house Judith had not realized her utter desolation. But now the funeral was over, and she had returned with her brother to the parsonage, to draw up the blinds, and let the light once more enter, and search out, and revivify the dead rooms.

She was very pale, with reddened eyes, and looking more fragile and transparent than ever she did before, worn and exhausted by tearful, wakeful nights, and by days of alternating gusts of sorrow and busy preparation for the funeral, of painful recollections of joyous days that were past, and of doubtful searchings into a future that was full of cloud.

Her black frock served to enhance her pallor, and to make her look thinner, smaller than when in white or in color.

She had taken her place in her father's high-backed leather chair, studded thick with brass nails, the leather dulled and fretted by constant use, but the nail-heads burnished by the same treatment.

Her brother was in the same chair with her; both his arms were round her neck, and his head was on her shoulder. She had her right arm about his waist, her left was bowed, the elbow leaning on the chair arm, her hand folded inward, and her weary head rested on its back.

The fine weather broken in upon by the gale had returned; the sun shone in unhindered at the window, and blazed on the children's hair; the brass nails, polished by friction, twinkled as little suns, but were naught in lustre to the gorgeous red of the hair of the twins, for the first were but brass, and the other of living gold.

Two more lonely beings could hardly be discovered on the face of the earth—at all events in the peninsula of Cornwall—but the sense of this loneliness was summed in the heart of Judith, and was there articulate; Jamie was but dimly conscious of discomfort and bereavement. She knew what her father's death entailed on her, or knew in part, and conjectured more. Had she been left absolutely alone in the world her condition would have been less difficult than it was actually, encumbered with her helpless brother. Swimming alone in the tossing sea, she might have struck out with confidence that she could keep her head above water, but it was quite otherwise when clinging to her was a poor, half-witted boy, incapable of doing anything to save himself, and all whose movements tended only to embarrass her. Not that she regretted for an instant having to care for Jamie, for she loved him with sisterly and motherly love combined, intensified in force by fusion; if to her a future seemed inconceivable without Jamie, a future without him would be one without ambition, pleasure, or interest.

The twin brother was very like her, with the same beautiful and abundant hair, delicate in build, and with the same refined face, but without the flashes of alternating mood that lightened and darkened her face. His had a searching, bewildered, distressed expression on it—the only expression it ever bore except when he was out of temper, and then it mirrored on its surface his inward ill-humor. His was an appealing face, a face that told of a spirit infantile, innocent, and ignorant, that would never grow stronger, but which could deteriorate by loss of innocence—the only charge of which it was capable. The boy had no inherent naughtiness in him, but was constantly falling into mischief through thoughtlessness, and he was difficult to manage because incapable of reasoning.

What every one saw—that he never would be other than what he was—Judith would not admit. She acknowledged his inaptitude at his books, his frivolity, his restlessness, but believed that these were infirmities to be overcome, and that when overcome the boy would be as other boys are.

Now these children—they were aged eighteen, but Jamie looked four years younger—sat in their father's chair, clinging to each other, all in all to one another, for they had no one else to love and who loved them.

"Listen to me, Jamie."

"Yes, Ju, I be——"

"Don't say 'I be'—say 'I am.’"

"Yes, Ju."

"Jamie, dear!" she drew her arm tighter about him; her heart was bounding, and every beat caused her pain. "Jamie, dear, you know that, now dear papa is gone, and you will never see him in this world again, that——"

"Yes, Ju."

"That I have to look to you, my brother, to stand up for me like a man, to think and do for me as well as for yourself a brave, stout, industrious fellow."

"Yes, Ju."

"I am a girl, and you will soon be a man, and must work for both of us. You must earn the money, and I will spend it frugally as we both require it. Then we shall be happy again, and dear papa in Paradise will be glad and smile, on us. You will make an effort, will you not, Jamie? Hitherto you have been able to run about and play and squander your time, but now serious days have come upon us, and you must fix your mind on work and determine—Jamie—mind, screw your heart to a strong determination to put away childish things and be a man, and a strength and a comfort to me."

He put up his lips to kiss her cheek, but could not reach it, as her head was leaning on her hand away from him.

"What are you fidgeting at, my dear?" she asked, without stirring, feeling his body restless under her arm.

"A nail is coming out," he answered.

It was so; whilst she had been speaking to him he was working at one of the brass studs, and had loosened its bite in the chair.

"Oh, Jamie! you are making work by thus drawing out a nail. Can you not help me a little, and reduce the amount one has to think of and do I You have not been attending to what I said, and I was so much in earnest." She spoke in a tone of discouragement, and the tone, more than the words, impressed the susceptible heart of the boy. He began to cry.

"You are cross."

"I am not cross, my pet; I am never cross with you, I love you too dearly; but you try my patience sometimes, and just now I am overstrained—and then I did want to make you understand."

"Now papa's dead I'll do no more lessons, shall I?" asked Jamie, coaxingly.

"You must, indeed, and with me instead of papa."

"Not rosa, rosœ?"

"Yes, rosa rosœ."

Then he sulked.

"I don't love you a bit. It is not fair. Papa is dead, so I ought not to have any more lessons. I hate rosa, rosœ!" He kicked the legs of the chair peevishly with his heels. As his sister said nothing, seemed to be inattentive—for she was weary and dispirited—he slapped her cheek by raising his hand over his head.

"What, Jamie, strike me, your only friend?"

Then lie threw his arms round her again, and kissed her. "I'll love you; only, Ju, say I am not to do rosa, rosœ!"

"How long have you been working at the first declension in the Latin grammar, Jamie?"

He tried for an instant to think, gave up the effort, laid his head on her shoulder, and said:

"I don't know and don't care. Say I am not to do rosa, rosœ!"

"What! not if papa wished it?"

"I hate the Latin grammar!"

For a while both remained silent. Judith felt the tension to which her mind and nerves had been subjected, and lapsed momentarily into a condition of something like unconsciousness, in which she was dimly sensible of a certain satisfaction rising out of the pause in thought and effort. The boy lay quiet, with his head on her shoulder, for a while, then withdrew his arms, folded his hands on his lap, and began to make a noise by compressing the air between the palms.

"There's a finch out there going 'chink! chink!' and listen, Ju, I can make 'chink! chink!' too."

Judith recovered herself from her distraction, and said:

"Never mind the finch now. Think of what I say. We shall have to leave this house."

"Why?"

"Of course we must, sooner or later, and the sooner the better. It is no more ours."

"Yes, it is ours. I have my rabbits here."

"Now that papa is dead it is no longer ours."

"It's a wicked shame."

"Not at all, Jamie. This house was given to papa for his life only; now it will go to a new rector, and Aunt Dunes[1] is going to fetch us away to another house."

"When?"

"To-day."

"I won't go," said the boy. "I swear I won't."

"Hush, hush, Jamie! Don't use such expressions. I do not know where you have picked them up. We must go."

"And my rabbits, are they to go too?"

"The rabbits? We'll see about them. Aunt——"

"I hate Aunt Dunes!"

"You really must not call her that; if she hears you she will be very angry. And consider, she has been taking a great deal of trouble about us."

"I don't care."

"My dear, she is dear papa's sister."

"Why didn't papa get a nicer sister—like you?"

"Because he had to take what God gave him."

The boy pouted, and began to kick his heels against the chair-legs once more.

"Jamie, we must leave this house to-day. Aunt is coming to take us both away."

"I won't go."

"But, Jamie, I am going, and the cook is going, and so is Jane."

"Are cook and Jane coming with us?"

"No, dear."

"Why not?"

"We shall not want them. We cannot afford to keep them any more, to pay their wages; and then we shall not go into a house of our own. You must come with me, and be a joy and rest to me, dear Jamie."

She turned her. head over, and leaned it on his head. The sun glowed in their mingled hair—all of one tinge and lustre. It sparkled in the tears on her cheek.

"Ju, may I have these buttons?"

"What buttons?"

"Look!"

He shook himself free from his sister, slid his feet to the ground, went to a bureau, and brought to his sister a large open basket that had been standing on the top of the bureau. It had been turned out of a closet by Aunt Dionysia, and contained an accumulation of those most profitless of collected remnants—odd buttons, coat buttons, brass, smoked mother-of-pearl, shirt buttons, steel clasps—buttons of all kinds, the gathering together made during twenty-five years. Why the basket, after having been turned out of a lumber-closet, had been left in the room of death, or why, if turned out elsewhere, it had been brought there, is more than even the novelist can tell. Suffice it that there it was, and by whom put there could not be said.

"Oh! what a store of pretty buttons!" exclaimed the boy. "Do look, Ju, these great big ones are just like those on Cheap Jack's red waistcoat. Here is a brass one with a horse on it. Do see! Oh, Ju, please get your needle and thread and sew this one on to my black dress."

Judith sighed. It was in vain for her to impress the realities of the situation on his wandering mind.

"Hark!" she exclaimed. "There is Aunt Dunes. I hear her voice—how loud she speaks! She has come to fetch us away."

"Where is she going to take us to?"

"I do not know, Jamie."

"She will take us into the forest and lose us, like as did Hop-o'-my-Thumb's father."

"There are no forests here hardly any trees."

"She will leave us in the forest and run away.

"Nonsense, Jamie!"

"I am sure she will. She doesn't like us. She wants to get rid of us. I don't care. May I have the basket of buttons?"

"Yes, Jamie."

"Then I'll be Hop-o'-my-Thumb."

  1. Dunes is the short for Dionysia.