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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesJan Of The Windmill - Chapter 21. Master Swift At Home.--Rufus...
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Jan Of The Windmill - Chapter 21. Master Swift At Home.--Rufus... Post by :mrj_60 Category :Long Stories Author :Juliana Horatia Ewing Date :May 2012 Read :2773

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Jan Of The Windmill - Chapter 21. Master Swift At Home.--Rufus...


It was a lovely autumn evening the same year, when the school having broken up for the day, Master Swift returned to his home for tea. He lived in a tiny cottage on the opposite side of the water-meadows to that on which Dame Datchett dwelt, and farther down towards the water-mill. He had neither wife nor child, but a red dog with a plaintive face, and the name of Rufus, kept his house when he was absent, and kept him company when he was at home.

Rufus was a mongrel. He was not a red setter, though his coloring was similar. A politely disposed person would have called him a retriever, and his curly back and general appearance might have carried this off, but for his tail, which, instead of being straight and rat-like, was as plumy as the Prince of Wales's feathers, and curled unblushingly over his back, sideways, like a pug's. "It was a good one to wag," his master said, and, apart from the question of high breeding, it was handsome, and Rufus himself seemed proud of it.

Since half-past three had Rufus sat in the porch, blinking away positive sleep, with his pathetic face towards the road down which Master Swift must come. Unnecessarily pathetic, for there was every reason for his being the most jovial of dogs, and not one for that imposing melancholy which he wore. His large level eyelids shaded the pupils even when he was broad awake; an intellectual forehead, and a very long Vandykish nose, with the curly ears, which fell like a well-dressed peruke on each side of his face, gave him an air of disinherited royalty. But he was in truth a mongrel, living on the fat of the land; who, from the day that this wistful dignity had won the schoolmaster's heart, had never known a care, wanted a meal, or had any thing whatever demanded of him but to sit comfortably at home and watch with a broken-hearted countenance for the schoolmaster's return from the labors which supported them both. The sunshine made Rufus sleepy, but he kept valiantly watchful, propping himself against the garden-tools which stood in the corner. Flowers and vegetables for eating were curiously mixed in the little garden that lay about Master Swift's cottage. Not a corner was wasted in it, and a thick hedge of sweet-peas formed a fragrant fence from the outer world.

Rufus was nodding, when he heard a footstep. He pulled himself up, but he did not wag his tail, for the step was not the schoolmaster's. It was Jan's. Rufus growled slightly, and Jan stood outside, and called, "Master Swift!" He and Rufus both paused and listened, but the schoolmaster did not appear. Then Rufus came out and smelt Jan exhaustively, and excepting a slight flavor of being acquainted with cats, to whom Rufus objected, he smelt well. Rufus wagged his tail, Jan patted him, and they sat down to wait for the master.

The clock in the old square-towered church had struck a quarter-past four when Master Swift came down the lane, and Rufus rushed out to meet him. Though Rufus told him in so many barks that there was a stranger within, and that, as he smelt respectable, he had allowed him to wait, the schoolmaster was startled by the sight of Jan.

"Why, it's the little pig-minder!" said he. On which Jan's face crimsoned, and tears welled up in his black eyes.

"I bean't a pig-minder now, Master Swift," said he.

"And how's that? Has Master Salter turned ye off?"

"I gi'ed HIM notice!" said Jan, indignantly. "But I shan't mind pigs no more, Master Swift"

"And why not, Master Skymaker?"

"Don't 'ee laugh, sir," said Jan. "Master Salter he laughs. 'What's pigs for but to be killed?' says he. But I axed him not to kill the little black un with the white spot on his ear. It be such a nice pig, sir, such a very nice pig!" And the tears flowed copiously down Jan's cheeks, whilst Rufus looked abjectly depressed. "It would follow me anywhere, and come when I called," Jan continued. "I told Master Salter it be 'most as good as a dog, to keep the rest together. But a says 'tis the fattest, and 'ull be the first to kill. And then I telled him to find another boy to mind his pigs, for I couldn't look un in the face now, and know 'twas to be killed next month, not that one with the white spot on his ear. It do be such a VERY nice pig!"

Rufus licked up the tears as they fell over Jan's smock, and the schoolmaster took Jan in and comforted him. Jan dried his eyes at last, and helped to prepare for tea. The old man made some very good coffee in a shaving-pot, and put cold bacon and bread upon the table, and the three sat down to their meal. Jan and his host upon two rush-bottomed chairs, whilst Rufus scrambled into an armchair placed for his accommodation, from whence he gazed alternately at the schoolmaster and the victuals with sad, not to say reproachful, eyes.

"I thought that would be your chair," said Jan.

"Well, it used to be," said Master Swift, apologetically. "But the poor beast can't sit well on these, and I relish my meat better with a face on the other side of the table. He found that too slippery at first, till I bought yon bit of a patchwork-cushion for him at a sale."

Rufus sighed, and Master Swift gave him a piece of bread, which, having smelt, he allowed to lie before him on the table till his master, laughing, rubbed the bread against the bacon, with which additional flavor Rufus seemed content, and ate his supper.

"So you've come to the old schoolmaster, after all?" said Master Swift: "that's right, my lad, that's right."

"'Twas Abel sent me," said Jan; "he said I was to take to my books. So I come because Abel axed me. For I be main fond of Abel."

"Abel was right," said the old man. "Take to learning, my lad. Love your books,--friends that nobody can kill, or part ye from."

"I'd like to learn pieces like them you say," said Jan.

"So ye shall, so ye shall!" cried Master Swift. "It's a fine thing, is learning poetry. It strengthens the memory, and cultivates the higher faculties. Take some more bacon, my lad."

Which Jan did. At that moment he was not reflecting on his doomed friend, the spotted pig. Indeed, if we reflected about every thing, this present state of existence would become intolerable.

At much length did the schoolmaster speak on the joys of learning, and, pointing proudly to a few shelves filled by his savings, he formally made Jan "free of" his books. "When ye've learnt to read them," he added. Jan thanked him for this, and for leave to visit him. But he looked out of the window instead of at the book- shelves.

Beyond Master Swift's gay flowers stretched the rich green of the water-meads, glowing yellow in the sunlight. The little river hardly seemed to move in its zig-zag path, though the evening breeze was strong enough to show the silver side of the willows that drooped over it. Jan wondered if he could match all these tints in the wood, and whether Master Swift would be willing to have leaf- pictures painted on that table in the window. Then he found that the old man was speaking, though he only heard the latter part of what he said. "--a celebrated inventor and mechanic, and that's what you'll be, maybe. Ay, ay, a Great Man, please the Lord; and, when I'm laid by in the churchyard yonder, folks'll come to see the grave of old Swift, the great man's schoolmaster. Ye'll be an inventor yet, lad, a benefactor to your kind, and an honor to your country. I'm not raising false hopes in ye, without observing your qualities. You've the quick eye, the slow patience, and the inventive spark. You can find your own tools and all, and don't stop where other folk leaves off: witness yon bluebells ye took to make skies with! But, bless the lad, he's not heeding me! Is it the bit of garden you're looking at? Come out then." And, putting the biography back in the book-shelf, the kindly old man led Jan out of doors.

"Say what you said in the wood again," said Jan.

But Master Swift laughed, and, stretching his hand towards the sweet-peas hedge began at another part of the poem: -

"Here are sweet peas on tiptoe for a flight:
With wings of gentle flush o'er delicate white,
And taper fingers catching at all things
To bind them all about with tiny rings."

Then, bending towards the river, he continued in a theatrical whisper: -

"How silent comes the water round that bend!
Not the minutest whisper does it send
To the o'erhanging sallows" -

But here he stopped suddenly, though Jan's black eyes were at their roundest, and his attention almost breathless.

"There, there! I'm an old fool, and for making you as bad. Poetry's not your business, you understand: I'm giving ye no encouragement to dabble with the fine arts. Science is the ladder for a working-man to climb to fame. In addition to which, the poet Keats, though he certainly speaks the very language of Nature, was a bit of a heathen, I'm afraid, and the fascination of him might be injurious in tender youth. Never mind, child, if ye love poetry, I'll learn ye pieces by the poet Herbert. They're just true poetry, and manly, too; and they're a fountain of experimental religion. And, if this style is too sober for your fancy, Charles Wesley's hymns are touched with the very fire of religious passion."

"Are your folk religious, Jan?" he added, abruptly. And whilst Jan stood puzzling the question, he asked with an almost official air of authority, "Do ye any of ye come to church?"

"My father does on club-days," said Jan.

"And the rest of ye,--do ye attend any place of worship?" Jan shook his head.

"And I'll dare to say ye didn't know I was the clerk?" said Master Swift. "There's paganism for ye in a Christian parish! Well, well, you're coming to me, lad, and, apart from your secular studies, you'll be instructed in the Word of GOD, and in the Church Catechism on Fridays."

"Thank you, sir," said Jan. He felt this civility to be due, though of the schoolmaster's plans for his benefit he had a very confused notion. He then took leave. Rufus went with him to the gate, and returned to his master with a look which plainly said, "We could have done with him very well, if you had kept him."

When Jan had reached a bit of rising ground, from which the house he had just left was visible, he turned round to look at it again.

Master Swift was standing where he had left him, gazing out into the distance with painful intensity. The fast-sinking sun lit up his heavy face and figure with a transforming glow, and hung a golden mist above the meads, at which he stared like one spellbound. But when Jan turned to pursue his way to the windmill, the schoolmaster turned also, and went back into the cottage.

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