Chapter IV.

To children, the customary always appears the normal. I have no doubt that my father had long been ailing, but since his illness had come upon him gradually, I had not noticed it. My eyes were opened now. I saw how hollow his cheeks were—at one time pale as ashes, and then again each spotted with a vivid patch of red, like a poppy-leaf. The light that gleamed beneath his shaggy brows frightened me—it seemed like the reflection of a sunshine that I could not see. The clammy dew upon his forehead reminded me of the dripping walls of the bone-house, where the sexton kept his tools. I knew why my mother wept, as she stood watching him, toiling over the sand-hills, stopping every now and then to lean on a stick he had picked up, whilst his clothes fluttering in the sea-breeze showed how fearfully he was wasted. I felt as though I could have killed the servant whom I overheard, one day, talking about “master's church-yard cough.” I needed no interpreter to tell me what she meant. A solemn awe shadowed for me the brightness of that golden summer; every day appeared a Sunday. I lingered round my father, and followed him from room to room, like a spaniel. I never liked to be away from him; and yet I was almost afraid to be left alone with him, lest then the Dread Messenger, with his fleshless arms, and upraised dart, and horrid grin should come. I durst not look out into the garden in the evening, for I thought Death walked round and round the

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house all night, like a sentry, to prevent his victim from stealing away in the darkness. Meantime, my hatred of my brother increased; for he did not see what I saw, and played about as merrily as ever. Still, though I hated him for doing so, I was glad that he did it, since it gave me more of my father all to myself. I grudged my sweet sisters a word or smile from him, and when he spoke to Willie, or smoothed his curly locks, I quivered like an aspen-tree, with jealousy and rage.

For a few Sundays my father continued to preach, a curate from an adjoining parish reading the prayers. And then for a few more, my father read the Lessons, or the Gospel; but this, too, he had to give up, as his strength melted away like snow. At length, except when he crept out, leaning on my mother's arm, to walk for a little time in the sunshine, he was quite confined to his room; and a strange clergyman, a Mr. Brown, came to live with us at the parsonage, and look after the parish.

He was a short, thick-set, ruddy young man. I disliked him the first time I saw him, because he was so unlike my tall, wasted, and yet still noble-looking father, and because I considered him an interloper. And I soon hated him heartily, for he undertook to teach us children, and—my mother's time being fully occupied in the sick room—tyrannised over us as he pleased. He set us long tasks that we could not understand, and would not suffer us to stir from our seats till we had learnt them. He often beat us cruelly—at least, such beatings seemed rank cruelty to us who had never felt a rod before. He was always talking about our sins; and, though I felt that I was a bad boy, I knew that my sisters—pure as so many snow-drops—had never done anything wrong, and I didn't like a stranger to find fault even with Willie.

One morning a coal-brig had come into the bay, and the Squire's yacht came in a little after. The beach—so solitary at most times—was covered with villagers and sailors. The coal, according to the primitive custom of the place, was roughly divided into pretty equal heaps, upon the sands; and then a man went round with a hat full of tickets, on which the names of the purchasers were written, and threw one upon each heap. The carts rattled down the slipping shingle to receive their loads; and the yachtsmen—looking so smart in their white duck trousers, and frocks with blue, white-braided collars, their loosely-knotted black neckerchiefs, and straw hats with the yacht's name printed in gold letters on the ribands— stood chatting, and laughing with the village girls, who had decked themselves out in their best hats and full-bordered caps, red-green-and-black plaid “bed-gowns,” and Sunday scarlet “whittles.”

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All this we could see and hear from the library, where we were saying our before-breakfast lessons; and my brother and sisters had made up their minds to go down to the beach, as soon as breakfast was over, to enjoy the unwonted bustle. I meant to spend the interval between breakfast and school-time as I always spent it,—in sitting outside my father's bedroom door; because there I could catch a glimpse of his face when his tea and dry toast were carried in, and sometimes, too, he saw me peeping underneath the tray, and would beckon to me, and hold my hand in his until it was time for me to go to my books again. My mother was always kinder to me then than at other times, I thought; but I hardened my heart against her, partly because I believed she smiled on me only to please my father, and partly because I didn't want any one to steal any of my love from him. When I was with him—knowing, child as I was, that in a little time he would be gone away for ever—I considered it a sin to show affection for any one besides. That morning, directly after breakfast, Mr. Brown ordered us all back to the library, told us to write copies until he returned from the village, and locked the door. Willie, however, was not to be so balked of his pleasure. Having seen our despot safely off, my brother opened the window, dropped upon the lawn, and before my eldest sister could prevent her, Minnie (Willie and Minnie were twins) had followed him. Hand in hand they ran down the gravel path, crept through a clump of rose bushes that overhung the garden wall (whitening the grass with the rain of petals they shook off), jumped into the road, and soon were on the beach. Both of them were great pets with the village people. A game of romps began; and presently a party of girls and sailors moved towards the yacht's boat, and Willie and Minnie went with them for a row.

Mr. Brown came back long before they did. The brute struck Marion in the face for suffering his orders to be disobeyed, gave Janet, my second sister, a chapter in Chronicles, full of -aims and -eths, and -ites and -iahs, to get off by heart, and told me that he should “inform Mr. Owen, my sick father, how abominably his eldest son had behaved—it was no wonder that the younger should take after him.” The devil knew how, to make me wince. I, too, to lead Willie into mischief! Of course, the fellow said it to remind me that my brother was twice the man that I was. This dear disciple of Him who took the little children up in His arms and blessed them, then posted himself at the window to watch for the truants' return.

The boat pulled back close in shore, and had almost touched the beach, within a stone's throw of the garden, before Brown saw it. Directly he

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did see it, he jumped out of the window, and ran without his hat down to the sea. He was going to strike Willie there, but a great, brown, hairy-breasted tar, without condescending to take his huge fists out of his waistband for such a thing as that, swayed himself in between the pair, with a “G-d damn it, schoolmaster! you're not going to wallop the youngster? You went skylarkin', I guess, when you was young. Damn me, though, if I think you had the spunk! What the devil are you shaking for, man?”

I, too, could see that our mighty master was afraid, and I rejoiced over the discovery, as one who hath found great spoil; for I had thought before that I was the only coward in the world, and now to find that he —the man who was always making me tremble—could be made to tremble, too, was as big a coward as myself—oh, it was sweet!

Pale with wrath and fear, Mr. Brown drew up his stumpy little figure to its utmost height—almost up to the glorious old sailor's shoulder—as he demanded,

“Do you know who I am, sirrah? I am the clergyman of the parish! I shall inform Mr. Gwynne———”

“I humbly beg your reverence's pardon. Youngster, why didn't you tell us 'twas your par?”

He my papa!” cut in little Willie, who had all his mother's pride. “My papa is a gentleman. And he's not the clergyman. Pa pays him just like Thomas. And he can't ride the brown mare, and Thomas can. And he beats us, and—and—and——I hate him—so there!”

Catching Willie in one hand and Minnie in the other, the discomfited pedagogue, in a towering passion, marched back his prisoners to the library. Willie instantly received a merciless thrashing. The proud little fellow was sitting in a corner, almost choking himself in his attempts to swallow his sobs, when he heard Brown tell Minnie to hold out her hand. The flat ruler was just about to descend on the fair, frail little fingers, but up started Willie—

“Beat me again, Mr. Brown! You shan't beat Minnie. I took her.”

He was beaten again—till his cowardly torturer's arm ached. Minnie, however, was saved—and cried far more than her brother did.

My mother noticed their red eyes at dinner, and asked what had happened. Brown said that both Willie and Minnie had been exceedingly naughty, and advised that they should be locked up, in separate rooms, for the rest of the day. Willie was my mother's pet; but she never suffered her affection to interfere with what she thought her duty, so she ordered him to leave the table, and go up into the dormitory. Then he

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did cry, for he loved his mother as dearly as I loved my father. He entreated her to kiss him, and promised never to offend Mr. Brown again; taking care to lay all the blame of the morning's escapade upon himself, by protesting that he had made Minnie go with him. My mother, however, refused to kiss him, and he was locked up with his dinner in the bedroom.

At tea time I was sent to let him out, but no Willie could I see. I looked under all the beds. I punched my sister's frocks, hanging in the closet, fancying that he might be hiding behind them. I took down the fire-board, and peeped up the chimney. But no,—he was certainly gone. I felt afraid for a moment, thinking that the devil had—according to a frequent prediction of Mr. Brown's—come and carried him away, for being naughty; but my child's sense of justice rose up indignantly at the suggestion, and told me that the prophet should rather have been kidnapped by the fiend, if wickedness provoked that punishment. The window was open. My brother had evidently made his escape by descending a pear-tree that grew close to the wall. I went down and told my story. The garden was searched, the “park,” the churchyard; but no trace of him could be found. The servants were sent in pursuit and the yachtsmen, and the men belonging to the collier, who had been, drinking at the Bull, sallied out and joined in the quest; and, as the alarm spread, numbers of the villagers, too, scattered themselves over the Burrows, whither it was thought my brother must have gone.

That was a dreary night. My mother could not leave my father, who was worse than usual, except for a few moments, when she would slip out of his room, come gliding along the dark passage—looking like a ghost, with her pale face and white dressing gown—go down to the front door, stand listening there awhile, and then return without saying a word, but with horror and anguish written on each frozen feature. She knew the proud spirit of her boy. Mr. Brown having ridden over to the next parish just before tea, there was no one to look after my sisters and myself, and we stayed up all night—Minnie crying as though her heart would break, dear, calm Marion striving to comfort her, brave little Janet running out every now and then to research some place about the premises; whilst I sat moping on a box beside my bed, a little grieved about my brother, but envying more the excitement that his loss had occasioned.

“They wouldn't have made such a fuss about me,” I said within myself.

Mastering my dread of the garden, now that so many people were out of doors, I crept down about midnight to the open hall door, and sat

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down upon the steps. The night was very dark, and still, and close. The scent of the seringas, in the shrubbery, was almost sickening. At long intervals I saw a faint flash of lightning, far away, and then, a long time after, heard a low growl of thunder. Sometimes, too, I heard the searchers shouting to each other, and could see their lanterns moving over the sand-hills like corpse-candles. I was awoke from a doze into which I had fallen, by something scrambling up the garden wall; there was a great rustling in the rose-bushes, feet came pattering along the gravel path, and Ponto pushed his cold nose against my face, and dropped something on the ground. He caught the skirt of my tunic in his teeth, and pulled me from the steps, wheeled round me, whining, once or twice, and then, with a snappish, disappointed yelp, darted off again into the darkness. Even Ponto knew very well that I was good for nothing. If Janet had been there, he wouldn't have gone without her.

I picked up what the dog had dropped, and went up stairs to shew it to my sisters. It was little Willie's shoe. The button had come off the ankle-band.

Daylight came at last. The red spots in the dappled east grew brighter and brighter, and soon were drowned in gold, as the sun arose in his glory, and shot his dazzling rays over wood and crag and sea. A cluster of sailors were examining the sand a short distance from our house; and presently they started off in a body, running as though they ran a race with Death. He's a hard runner to outstrip, is Death! By seven the bulk of the searchers came languidly back to the village. One of them walked (very unwillingly, I thought) up to the parsonage, and bade me tell my mother that they had seen no trace of Willie,—I knew from his eyes that he was lying—but that, as soon as they had got their breakfasts, they would start again to seek him. Neither the servants nor any of the sailors had returned, I noticed, but I saw both the yacht's boat and the collier's, pulling across the bay to the mouth of the Pwl.

Mr. Brown rode up, hung his bridle on the gate, and found his way into the pantry, whence he brought copious materials for his morning's meal. He had heard that Willie was missing, and looked rather anxious, or, perhaps, annoyed; but his feelings, whatever they were, did not interfere with his appetite. He was taking his solitary breakfast in the library,—Marion, Minnie, and myself conning the tasks to which he had set us as soon as he came home, when little Janet rushed in, shrieking, “Oh, here comes Silly Sally!”

Silly Sally was an idiot of whom we stood greatly in dread. She was boarded by the parish with any cottager who would take her, but as she

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often became violent, her changes of residence were frequent. When in her ordinary state, she was suffered to wander about with handcuffs on, and my mother had won the poor thing's love by taking them off whenever she called at the parsonage, dressing her galled wrists, and giving her some little dainty. Sally was still fonder of Willie, for he had driven away a cur, set on her by the village boys, that had pulled her down, and bitten her. She would bring him wild flowers, and birds' eggs when she could get them. Any of the rest of us she greeted with horrid noises and grimaees, that nearly frightened us into fits.

“Where's Parson Brown? Where's Parson Brown? Where's Parson Brown? I say!” shouted Sally, as she stumped along the passage.

My mother entered the library by one door, as Sally came in by another, carrying something wrapped up in her whittle, as carefully as her manacled hands would permit her. Ponto, with slouching head and drooping tail, followed her.

She laid the bundle on the table, drew back the shawl with her teeth and hands, yelled out, with a voice harsh as the howl of a wild beast, “Ay, there's the beautiful boy as Parson Brown has killed! Why don't 'ee kill him, Madam Owen?” and ran out of the room, crying like a beaten child.

There lay Willie—dead; his clothes all wet, and shells and sand and sea-weed in his matted hair. One shoeless foot was scratched and torn, and the wheals of yesterday's flogging stood up puffed and blue on his fair neck and arms. Clutched in his tiny hand, he held a gilt-edged story book, on the cover of which I read—the delicate pointed letters I used to admire so much, smeared and blotched and swollen—“William Owen. A little Birth-day Present from his dear Mamma.”

The sailors had tracked the footprints to the Pwl. Sally had found the corpse washed up on the beach, with Ponto standing over it, licking the face and hands. She held but a short inquest on the body, but I am convinced that her verdict was—virtually—a true one.

“Do kiss me, do kiss me, dear Mamma! Indeed, indeed, I will be good!” he had sobbed yesterday. There was little need to ask for kisses now. I thought my mother had gone mad. She seemed to think her clinging lips could give him life again; and her eye was like a live coal when it fell for a moment upon Brown. I wondered that it did not scorch his cheek. For I was not overwhelmed, but watched all that was going on with a strange mingled feeling of rage at him, and joy as for a deliverance from a weight that I had imagined would hang round me all my life. —Brown had driven Willie, in one of his proud passions, to drown himself

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that I fully believed; and, therefore, had I dared, I would have stabbed the monster where he stood. But Willie could never more be preferred to me—I saw the glance in my mother's eye, when it fell upon the token of her that her darling had carried with him to his cold, dark, rushing grave; and then I learnt that I had gained nothing—that Love can clasp, and Jealousy can dog, the dead.

Marion wept silently, and Janet was loud in her wailings; but Minnie, to my astonishment, did not cry at all. She started back when she first saw her brother's cold, calm face, but instantly a look almost as cold and calm came over hers. She went up to him, and lifted the curls from his forehead, and kissed him, and sat down by his side, taking his hand in here, just as though he had been sleeping, and she watching him. She was not afraid to go into the spare bedroom, when he lay there, stiff and clothed in white; but would spend the whole day sitting by the corpse, and pleaded so earnestly to be allowed to stay with “brother Willie, because it would be so unkind to leave him all alone up there,” that my mother suffered her to have her meals in the sad, shaded room. It was very little that she ate. She could hardly be persuaded to come to bed, and as soon as she was dressed in the morning, she returned to her quiet post.

On the evening before the day fixed for the funeral, she had taken tea with the rest of us, and sat very silent at my mother's knee for a little time afterwards. Suddenly she got up, and kissed us all; and then said, “Mamma, may I bid Papa good night?” I crept up behind them when they went up-stairs, and saw Minnie playing with my father's hair and patting his cheek, as he pressed her fondly to his breast. Fearing she might weary him, my mother lifted her off the bed, kissed her, and told her to go down to her sisters. I waited for her to come out, as I did not like to pass the room where Willie was lying by myself. When she came to the dreaded door, she said “Good night, dear Arthur! Kiss me a many times!” She hugged me in her tiny arms, and then went in; whilst I hurried down to the lights below. The servant went up at eight, to put her to bed; and found her with her arms round her brother's neck—in as sound a sleep as his!

The funeral was deferred for a day, and the Twins lie buried in one grave.