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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWe And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 1 - Chapter 4
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We And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 1 - Chapter 4 Post by :tinabarr4 Category :Long Stories Author :Juliana Horatia Ewing Date :May 2012 Read :1058

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We And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 1 - Chapter 4


"The bee, a more adventurous colonist than man."

"Some silent laws our hearts will make,
Which they shall long obey;
We for the year to come may take
Our temper from to-day."--WORDSWORTH.

"You know what an Apiary is, Isaac, of course?"

I was sitting in the bee-master's cottage, opposite to him, in an arm-chair, which was the counterpart of his own, both of them having circular backs, diamond-shaped seats, and chintz cushions with frills. It was the summer following that in which Jem and I had tried to see how badly we could behave; this uncivilized phase had abated: Jem used to ride about a great deal with my father, and I had become intimate with Isaac Irvine.

"You know what an Apiary is, Isaac?" said I.

"A what, sir?"

"An A-P-I-A-R-Y."

"To be sure, sir, to be sure," said Isaac. "An _appyary_" (so he was pleased to pronounce it), "I should be familiar with the name, sir, from my bee-book, but I never calls my own stock anything but the beehives. _Beehives is a good, straightforward sort of a name, sir, and it serves my turn."

"Ah, but you see we haven't come to the B's yet," said I, alluding to what I was thinking of.

"Does your father think of keeping 'em, sir?" said Isaac, alluding to what he was thinking of.

"Oh, he means to have them bound, I believe," was my reply.

The bee-master now betrayed his bewilderment, and we had a hearty laugh when we discovered that he had been talking about bees whilst I had been talking about the weekly numbers of the _Penny Cyclopaedia_, which had not as yet reached the letter B, but in which I had found an article on Master Isaac's craft, under the word Apiary, which had greatly interested me, and ought, I thought, to be interesting to the bee-keeper. Still thinking of this I said,

"Do you ever take your bees away from home, Isaac?"

"They're on the moors now, sir," said Isaac.

"_Are they?" I exclaimed. "Then you're like the Egyptians, and like the French, and the Piedmontese; only you didn't take them in a barge."

"Why, no, sir. The canal don't go nigh-hand of the moors at all."

"The Egyptians," said I, leaning back into the capacious arms of my chair, and epitomizing what I had read, "who live in Lower Egypt put all their beehives into boats and take them on the river to Upper Egypt. Right up at that end of the Nile the flowers come out earliest, and the bees get all the good out of them there, and then the boats are moved lower down to where the same kind of flowers are only just beginning to blossom, and the bees get all the good out of them there, and so on, and on, and on, till they've travelled right through Egypt, with all the hives piled up, and come back in the boats to where they started from."

"And every hive a mighty different weight to what it was when they did start, I'll warrant," said Master Isaac enthusiastically. "Did you find all that in those penny numbers, Master Jack?"

"Yes, and oh, lots more, Isaac! About lots of things and lots of countries."

"Scholarship's a fine thing," said the bee-master, "and seeing foreign parts is a fine thing, and many's the time I've wished for both. I suppose that's the same Egypt that's in the Bible, sir?"

"Yes," said I, "and the same river Nile that Moses was put on in the ark of bulrushes."

"There's no countries I'd like to see better than them Bible countries," said Master Isaac, "and I've wished it more ever since that gentleman was here that gave that lecture in the school, with the Holy Land magic-lantern. He'd been there himself, and he explained all the slides. They were grand, some of 'em, when you got 'em straight and steady for a bit. They're an awkward thing to manage, is slides, sir, and the school-master he wasn't much good at 'em, he said, and that young scoundrel Bob Furniss and another lad got in a hole below the platform and pulled the sheet. But when you did get 'em, right side up, and the light as it should be, they _were grand! There was one they called the Wailing Place of the Jews, with every stone standing out as fair as the flags on this floor. John Binder, the mason, was at my elbow when that came on, and he clapped his hands, and says he, 'Well, yon beats all!' But the one for my choice, sir, was the Garden of Gethsemane by moonlight. I'd only gone to the penny places, for I'm a good size and can look over most folks' heads, but I thought I must see that a bit nearer, cost what it might. So I found a shilling, and I says to the young fellow at the door (it was the pupil-teacher), 'I must go a bit nearer to yon.' And he says, 'You're not going into the reserved seats, Isaac?' So I says, 'Don't put yourself about, my lad, I shan't interfere with the quality; but if half a day's wage 'll bring me nearer to the Garden of Gethsemane, I'm bound to go.' And I went. I didn't intrude myself on nobody, though one gentleman was for making room for me at once, and twice over he offered me a seat beside him. But I knew my manners, and I said, 'Thank you, sir, I can see as I stand.' And I did see right well, and kicked Bob Furniss too, which was good for all parties. But I'd like to see the very places themselves, Master Jack."

"So should I," said I; "but I should like to go farther, all round the world, I think. Do you know, Isaac, you wouldn't believe what curious beasts there are in other countries, and what wonderful people and places! Why, we've only got to ATH--No. 135--now; it leaves off at _Athanagilde_, a captain of the Spanish Goths--he's nobody, but there are _such apes in that number! The Mono--there's a picture of him, just like a man with a tail and horrid feet, who used to sit with the negro women when they were at work, and play with bits of paper; and a Quata, who used to be sent to the tavern for wine, and when the children pelted him he put down the wine and threw stones at them. And there are pictures in all the numbers, of birds and ant-eaters and antelopes, and I don't know what. The Mono and the Quata live in the West Indies, I think. You see, I think the A's are rather good numbers; very likely, for there's America, and Asia, and Africa, and Arabia, and Abyssinia, and there'll be Australia before we come to the B's. Oh, Isaac! I do wish I could go round the world!"

I sighed, and the bee-master sighed also, with a profundity that made his chair creak, well-seasoned as it was. Then he said, "But I'll say this, Master Jack, next to going to such places the reading about 'em must come. A penny a week's a penny a week to a poor man, but I reckon I shall have to make shift to take in those numbers myself."

Isaac did not take them in, however, for I used to take ours down to his cottage, and read them aloud to him instead. He liked this much better than if he had had to read to himself--he said he could understand reading better when he heard it than when he saw it. For my own part I enjoyed it very much, and I fancy I read rather well, it being a point on which Mrs. Wood expended much trouble with us.

"Listen, Isaac," said I on my next visit; "this is what I meant about the barge"--and resting the Penny Number on the arm of my chair, I read aloud to the attentive bee-master--"'Goldsmith describes from his own observation a kind of floating apiary in some parts of France and Piedmont. They have on board of one barge, he says, threescore or a hundred beehives----'"

"That's an appy-ary if ye like, sir!" ejaculated Master Isaac, interrupting his pipe and me to make way for the observation.

"Somebody saw 'a convoy of _four thousand hives----' on the Nile," said I.

The bee-master gave a resigned sigh. "Go on, Master Jack," said he.

"'--well defended from the inclemency of an accidental storm,'" I proceeded; "'and with these the owners float quietly down the stream; one beehive yields the proprietor a considerable income. Why, he adds, a method similar to this has never been adopted in England, where we have more gentle rivers and more flowery banks than in any other part of the world, I know not; certainly it might be turned to advantage, and yield the possessor a secure, though perhaps a moderate, income.'"

I was very fond of the canal which ran near us (and was, for that matter, a parish boundary): and the barges, with their cargoes, were always interesting to me; but a bargeful of bees seemed something quite out of the common. I thought I should rather like to float down a gentle river between flowery banks, surrounded by beehives on which I could rely to furnish me with a secure though moderate income; and I said so.

"So should I, sir," said the bee-master. "And I should uncommon like to ha' seen the one beehive that brought in a considerable income. Honey must have been very dear in those parts, Master Jack. However, it's in the book, so I suppose it's right enough."

I made no defence of the veracity of the _Cyclopaedia_, for I was thinking of something else, of which, after a few moments, I spoke.

"Isaac, you don't stay with your bees on the moors. Do you ever go to see them?"

"To be sure I do, Master Jack, nigh every Sunday through the season. I start after I get back from morning church, and I come home in the dark, or by moonlight. My missus goes to church in the afternoons, and for that bit she locks up the house."

"Oh, I wish you'd take me the next time!" said I.

"To be sure I will, and too glad sir, if you're allowed to go."

That _was the difficulty, and I knew it. No one who has not lived in a household of old-fashioned middle-class country folk of our type has any notion how difficult it is for anybody to do anything unusual therein. In such a well-fitted but unelastic establishment the dinner-hour, the carriage horses, hot water, bedtime, candles, the post, the wash-day, and an extra blanket, from being the ministers of one's comfort, become the stern arbiters of one's fate. Spring cleaning--which is something like what it would be to build, paint, and furnish a house, and to "do it at home"--takes place as naturally as the season it celebrates; but if you want the front door kept open after the usual hour for drawing the bolts and hanging the robbers' bell, it's odds if the master of the house has not an apoplectic fit, and if servants of twelve and fourteen years' standing do not give warning.

And what is difficult on week-days is on Sundays next door to impossible, for obvious reasons.

But one's parents, though they have their little ways like other people, are, as a rule--oh, my heart! made sadder and wiser by the world's rough experiences, bear witness!--very indulgent; and after a good many ups and downs, and some compromising and coaxing, I got my way.

On one point my mother was firm, and I feared this would be an insuperable difficulty. I must go twice to church, as our Sunday custom was--a custom which she saw no good reason for me to break. It is easy to smile at her punctiliousness on this score; but after all these years, and on the whole, I think she was right. An unexpected compromise came to my rescue, however: Isaac Irvine's bees were in the parish of Cripple Charlie's father, within a stone's throw (by the bee-master's strong arm) of the church itself, which was a small minster among the moors. Here I promised faithfully to attend Evening Prayer, for which we should be in time; and I started, by Isaac Irvine's side, on my first real "expedition" on the first Sunday in August, with my mother's blessing and a threepenny-bit with a hole in it, "in case of a collection."

We dined before we started, I with the rest, and Isaac in our kitchen; but I had no great appetite--I was too much excited--and I willingly accepted some large sandwiches made with thick slices of home-made bread and liberal layers of home-made potted meat, "in case I should feel hungry" before I got there.

It pains me to think how distressed my mother was because I insisted on carrying the sandwiches in a red and orange spotted handkerchief, which I had purchased with my own pocket-money, and to which I was deeply attached, partly from the bombastic nature of the pattern, and partly because it was big enough for any grown-up man. "It made me look like a tramping sailor," she said. I did not tell her that this was precisely the effect at which I aimed, though it was the case; but I coaxed her into permitting it, and I abstained from passing a certain knowing little ash stick through the knot, and hoisting the bundle over my left shoulder, till I was well out of the grounds.

My efforts to spare her feelings on this point, however, proved vain. She ran to the landing-window to watch me out of sight, and had a full view of my figure as I swaggered with a business-like gait by Isaac's side up the first long hill, having set my hat on the back of my head with an affectation of profuse heat, my right hand in the bee-master's coat-pocket for support, and my left holding the stick and bundle at an angle as showy and sailor-like as I could assume.

"And they'll just meet the Ebenezer folk coming out of chapel, ma'am!" said our housemaid over my mother's shoulder, by way of consolation.

Our journey was up-hill, for which I was quite prepared. The blue and purple outline of the moors formed the horizon line visible from our gardens, whose mistiness or clearness was prophetic of the coming weather, and over which the wind was supposed to blow with uncommon "healthfulness." I had been there once to blow away the whooping-cough, and I could remember that the sandy road wound up and up, but I did not appreciate till that Sunday how tiring a steady ascent of nearly five miles may be.

We were within sight of the church and within hearing of the bells, when we reached a wayside trough, whose brimming measure was for ever overflowed by as bright a rill as ever trickled down a hill-side.

"It's only the first peal," said Master Isaac, seating himself on the sandy bank, and wiping his brows.

My well-accustomed ears confirmed his statement. The bells moved too slowly for either the second or the third peal, and we had twenty minutes at our disposal.

It was then that I knew (for the first but not the last time) what refreshment for the weary a spotted handkerchief may hold. The bee-master and I divided the sandwiches, and washed them down with handfuls of the running rill, so fresh, so cold, so limpid, that (like the saints and martyrs of a faith) it would convert any one to water-drinking who did not reflect on the commoner and less shining streams which come to us through lead pipes and in evil communication with sewers.

We were cool and tidy by the time that the little "Tom Tinkler" bell began to "hurry up."

"You're coming, aren't you?" said I, checked at the churchyard gate by an instinct of some hesitation on Isaac's part.

"Well, I suppose I am, sir," said the bee-master, and in he came.

The thick walls, the stained windows, and the stone floor, which was below the level of the churchyard, made the church very cool. Master Isaac and I seated ourselves so that we had a good view within, and could also catch a peep through the open porch of the sunlit country outside. Charlie's father was in his place when we got in; his threadbare coat was covered by the white linen of his office, and I do not think it would have been possible even to my levity to have felt anything but a respectful awe of him in church.

The cares of this life are not as a rule improving to the countenance. No one who watches faces can have failed to observe that more beauty is marred and youth curtailed by vulgar worry than by almost any other disfigurement. In the less educated classes, where self-control is not very habitual, and where interests beyond petty and personal ones are rare, the soft brows and tender lips of girlhood are too often puckered and hardened by mean anxieties, even where these do not affect the girls personally, but only imitatively, and as the daily interests of their station in life. In such cases the discontented, careworn look is by no means a certain indication of corresponding suffering, but there are too many others in which tempers that should have been generous, and faces that should have been noble, and aims that should have been high, are blurred and blunted by the real weight of real everyday care.

There are yet others; in which the spirit is too strong for mortal accidents to pull it down--minds that the narrowest career cannot vulgarize--faces to which care but adds a look of pathos--souls which keep their aims and faiths apart from the fluctuations of "the things that are seen." The personal influence of natures of this type is generally very large, and it was very large in the case of Cripple Charlie's father, and made him a sort of Prophet, Priest, and King over a rough and scattered population, with whom the shy, scholarly poor gentleman had not otherwise much in common.

It was his personal influence, I am sure, which made the congregation so devout! There is one rule which, I believe, applies to all congregations, of every denomination, and any kind of ritual, and that is, that the enthusiasm of the congregation is in direct proportion to the enthusiasm of the minister; not merely to his personal worth, nor even to his popularity, for people who rather dislike a clergyman, and disapprove of his service, will say a louder Amen at his giving of thanks if his own feelings have a touch of fire, than they would to that of a more perfunctory parson whom they liked better. As is the heartiness of the priest, so is the heartiness of the people--with such strictness that one is disposed almost to credit some of it to actual magnetism. _Response is no empty word in public worship.

It was no empty word on this occasion. From the ancient clerk (who kept a life-interest in what were now the duties of a choir) to some gaping farm-lads at my back, everybody said and sang to the utmost of his ability. I may add that Isaac and I involuntarily displayed a zeal which was in excess of our Sunday customs; and if my tongue moved glibly enough with the choir, the bee-master found many an elderly parishioner besides himself and the clerk who "took" both prayer and praise at such independent paces as suited their individual scholarship, spectacles, and notions of reverence.

It crowned my satisfaction when I found that there was to be a collection. The hymn to which the churchwardens moved about, gathering the pence, whose numbers and noisiness seemed in keeping with the rest of the service, was a well-known one to us all. It was the favourite evening hymn of the district. I knew every syllable of it, for Jem and I always sang hymns (and invariably this one) with my dear mother, on Sunday evening after supper. When we were good, we liked it, and, picking one favourite after another, we often sang nearly through the hymn-book. When we were naughty, we displayed a good deal of skill in making derisive faces behind my mother's back, as she sat at the piano, without betraying ourselves, and in getting our tongues out and in again during the natural pauses and convolutions of the tune. But these occasional fits of boyish profanity did not hinder me from having an equally boyish fund of reverence and enthusiasm at the bottom of my heart, and it was with proud and pleasurable emotions that I heard the old clerk give forth the familiar first lines,

"Soon shall the evening star with silver ray
Shed its mild lustre o'er this sacred day,"

and got my threepenny-bit ready between my finger and thumb.

Away went the organ, which was played by the vicar's eldest daughter--away went the vicar's second daughter, who "led the singing" from the vicarage pew with a voice like a bird--away went the choir, which, in spite of surplices, could not be cured of waiting half a beat for her--and away went the congregation--young men and maidens, old men and children--in one broad tide of somewhat irregular harmony. Isaac did not know the words as well as I did, so I lent him my hymn-book; one result of which was, that the print being small, and the sense of a hymn being in his view a far more important matter than the sound of it, he preached rather than sang--in an unequal cadence which was perturbing to my more musical ear--the familiar lines,

"Still let each awful truth our thoughts engage,
That shines revealed on inspiration's page;
Nor those blest hours in vain amusement waste
Which all who lavish shall lament at last."

During the next verse my devotions were a little distracted by the gradual approach of a churchwarden for my threepenny-bit, which was hot with three verses of expectant fingering. Then, to my relief, he took it, and the bee-master's contribution, and I felt calmer, and listened to the little prelude which it was always the custom for the organist to play before the final verse of a hymn. It was also the custom to sing the last verse as loudly as possible, though this is by no means invariably appropriate. It fitted the present occasion fairly enough. From where I stood I could see the bellows-blower (the magnetic current of enthusiasm flowed even to the back of the organ) nerve himself to prodigious pumping--Charlie's sister drew out all the stops--the vicar passed from the prayer-desk to the pulpit with the rapt look of a man who walks in a prophetic dream--we pulled ourselves together, Master Isaac brought the hymn book close to his glasses, and when the tantalizing prelude was past we burst forth with a volume which merged all discrepancies. As far as I am able to judge of my own performance, I fear I _bawled (I'm sure the boy behind me did),

"Father of Heaven, in Whom our hopes confide,
Whose power defends us, and Whose precepts guide,
In life our Guardian, and in death our Friend,
Glory supreme be Thine till time shall end!"

The sermon was short, and when the service was over Master Isaac and I spent a delightful afternoon with his bees among the heather. The "evening star" had come out when we had some tea in the village inn, and we walked home by moonlight. There was neither wind nor sun, but the air was almost oppressively pure. The moonshine had taken the colour out of the sandy road and the heather, and had painted black shadows by every boulder, and most things looked asleep except the rill that went on running. Only we and the rabbits, and the night moths and the beetles, seemed to be stirring. An occasional bat appeared and vanished like a spectral illusion, and I saw one owl flap across the moor with level wings against the moon.

"Oh, I _have enjoyed it!" was all I could say when I parted from the bee-master.

"And so have I, Master Jack," was his reply, and he hesitated as if he had something more to say, and then he said it. "I never enjoyed it as much, and you can thank your mother, sir, with old Isaac's duty, for sending us to church. I'm sure I don't know why I never went before when I was up yonder, for I always took notice of the bells. I reckon I thought I hadn't time, but you can say, with my respects, sir, that please GOD I shan't miss again."

I believe he never did; and Cripple Charlie's father came to look on him as half a parishioner.

I was glad I had not shirked Evening Prayer myself, though (my sex and age considered) it was not to be expected that I should comfort my mother's heart by confessing as much. Let me confess it now, and confess also that if it was the first time, it was not the last that I have had cause to realize--oh women, for our sakes remember it!--into what light and gentle hands GOD lays the reins that guide men's better selves.

* * * * *

The most remarkable event of the day happened at the end of it. Whilst Isaac was feeling the weight of one of his hives, and just after I lost chase of a very peculiar-looking beetle, from his squeezing himself away from me under a boulder, I had caught sight of a bit of white heather, and then bethought me of gathering a nosegay (to include this rarity) of moor flowers and grasses for Mrs. Wood. So when we reached the lane on our way home, I bade Isaac good-night, and said I would just run in by the back way into the farm (we never called it the Academy) and leave the flowers, that the school-mistress might put them in water. Mary Anne was in the kitchen.

"Where's Mrs. Wood?" said I, when she had got over that silly squeak women always give when you come suddenly on them.

"Dear, dear, Master Jack! what a turn you did give me! I thought it was the tramp."

"What tramp?" said I.

"Why, a great lanky man that came skulking here a bit since, and asked for the missus. She was down the garden, and I've half a notion he went after her. I wish you'd go and look for her, Master Jack, and fetch her in. It's as damp as dear knows what, and she takes no more care of herself than a baby. And I'd be glad to know that man was off the place. There's wall-fruit and lots of things about, a low fellow like that might pick up."

My ears felt a little hot at this allusion to low fellows and garden thieving, and I hurried off to do Mary Anne's bidding without further parley. There was a cloud over the moon as I ran down the back garden, but when I was nearly at the end the moon burst forth again, so that I could see. And this is what I saw:--

First, a white thing lying on the ground, and it was the widow's cap, and then Mrs. Wood herself, with a gaunt lanky-looking man, such as Mary Anne had described. Her head came nearly to his shoulder, as I was well able to judge, for he was holding it in his hands and had laid his own upon it, as if it were a natural resting-place. And his hair coming against the darker part of hers, I could see that his was grey all over. Up to this point I had been too much stupefied to move, and I had just become conscious that I ought to go, when the white cap lying in the moonlight seemed to catch his eye as it had caught mine; and he set his heel on it with a vehemence that made me anxious to be off. I could not resist one look back as I left the garden, if only to make sure that I had not been dreaming. No, they were there still, and he was lifting the coil of her hair, which I suppose had come down when the cap was pulled off, and it took the full stretch of his arm to do so, before it fell heavily from his fingers.

When I presented myself to my mother with the bunch of flowers still in my hand, she said, "Did my Jack get these for Mother?"

I shook my head. "No, Mother. For Mrs. Wood."

"You might have called at the farm as you passed," said she.

"I did!" said I.

"Couldn't you see Mrs. Wood, love?"

"Yes, I saw her, but she'd got the tramp with her."

"What tramp?" asked my mother in a horror-struck voice, which seemed quite natural to me, for I had been brought up to rank tramps in the same "dangerous class" with mad dogs, stray bulls, drunken men, and other things which it is undesirable to meet.

"The great lanky one," I explained, quoting from Mary Anne.

"What was he doing with Mrs. Wood?" asked my mother anxiously.

I had not yet recovered from my own bewilderment, and was reckless of the shock inflicted by my reply.

"_Pooring her head, and kissing it."

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