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- Bob Son of Battle - 3/48 -
amaze even James Moore. For a while he watched his mother, Meg, at her business, and with that seemed to have mastered the essentials of sheep tactics.
Rarely had such fiery ‚lan been seen on the sides of the Pike; and with it the young dog combined a strange sobriety, an admirable patience, that justified, indeed, the epithet. "Owd." Silent he worked, and resolute; and even in those days had that famous trick of coaxing the sheep to do his wishes;--blending, in short, as Tammas put it, the brains of a man with the way of a woman.
Parson Leggy, who was reckoned the best judge of a sheep or sheep-dog 'twixt Tyne and Tweed, summed him up in the one word "Genius." And James Moore himself, cautious man, was more than pleased.
In the village, the Dalesmen, who took a personal pride in the Gray Dogs of Kenmuir, began to nod sage heads when "oor" Bob was mentioned. Jim Mason, the postman, whose word went as far with the villagers as Parson Leggy's with the gentry, reckoned he'd never seen a young un as so took his fancy.
That winter it grew quite the recognized thing, when they had gathered of a night round the fire in the Sylvester Arms, with Tammas in the centre, old Jonas Maddox on his right, Rob Saunderson of the Holt on the left, and the others radiating away toward the sides, for some one to begin with:
"Well, and what o' oor Bob, Mr. Thornton?"
To which Tammas would always make reply:
"Oh, yo' ask Sam'l there. He'll tell yo' better'n me, "--and would forthwith plunge, himself, into a yarn.
And the way in which, as the story proLeeded, Tupper of Swinsthwaite winked at Ned Hoppin of Fellsgarth, and Long Kirby, the smith, poked Jem Burton, the publican, in the ribs, and Sexton Ross said, "Ma word, lad!" spoke more eloquently than many words.
One man only never joined in the chorus of admiration. Sitting always alone in the background, little M'Adam would listen with an incredulous grin on his sallow face.
"Oh, ma certes! The devil's in the dog! It's no cannie ava!" he would continually exclaim, as Tammas told his tale.
In the Daleland you rarely see a stranger's face. Wandering in the wild country about the twin dales at the time of this story, you might have met Parson Leggy, striding along with a couple of varmint terriers at his heels, and young Cyril Gilbraith, whom he was teaching to tie flies and fear God, beside him; or Jim Mason, postman by profession, poacher by predilection, honest man and sportsman by nature, hurrying along with the mail-bags on his shoulder, a rabbit in his pocket, and the-faithful Betsy a yard behind. Besides these you might have hit upon a quiet shepherd and a wise-faced dog; Squire Sylvester, going his rounds upon a sturdy cob; or, had you been lucky, sweet Lady Eleanour bent upon some errand of mercy to one of the many tenants.
It was while the Squire's lady was driving through the village on a visit* to Tammas's slobbering grandson--it was shortly after Billy Thornton's advent into the world--that little M'Adam, standing in the door of the Sylvester Arms, with a twig in his mouth and a sneer fading from his lips, made his ever-memorable remark:
"Sail!" he said, speaking in low, earnest voice; " 'tis a muckle wumman."
was this visit which figured in the Grammochtown Argus (local and radical) under the heading of "Alleged Wholesale Corruption by Tory Agents." And that is why, on the following market day, Herbert Trotter, journalist, erstwhile gentleman, and Secretary of the Dale Trials, found himself trying to swim in the public horsetrough.
"What? What be sayin', mon?" cried old Jonas, startled out of his usual apathy.
M'Adam turned sharply on the old man.
"I said the wumman wears a muckle hat!" he snapped.
Blotted out as it was, the observation still remains--a tribute of honest admiration. Doubtless the Recording Angel did not pass it by. That one statement anent the gentle lady of the manor is the only personal remark ever credited to little M'Adam not born of malice and all uncharitableness. And that is why it is ever memorable.
The little Scotsman with the sardonic face had been the tenant of the Grange these many years; yet he had never grown acclimatized to the land of the Southron. With his shrivelled body and weakly legs he looked among the sturdy, straight-limbed sons of the hill-country like some brown, wrinkled leaf holding its place midst a galaxy of green. And as he differed from them physically, so he did morally.
He neither understood them nor attempted to. The North-country character was an unsolved mystery to him, and that after ten years' study. "One-half o' what ye say they doot, and they let ye see it; t'ither half they -disbelieve, and they tell ye so," he once said. And that explained his attitude toward them, and consequently theirs toward him.
He stood entirely alone; a son of Hagar, mocking. His sharp, ill tongue was rarely still, and always bitter. There was hardly a. man in the land, from Langholm How to the market-cross in Grammoch-town, but had at one time known its sting, endured it in silence,--for they are slow of speech, these men of the fells and meres,--and was nursing his resentment till a day should bring that chance which always comes. And when at the Sylvester Arms, on one of those rare occasions when M'Adam was not present, Tammas summed up the little man in that historic phrase of his, "When he's drunk he's wi'lent, and when he bain't he's wicious," there was an applause to gratify the blas‚ heart of even Tammas Thornton.
Yet it had not been till his wife's death that the little man had allowed loose rein to his ill-nature. With her firmly gentle hand no longer on the tiller of his life, it burst into. fresh being. And alone in the world with David, the whole venom of his vicious temperament was ever directed against the boy's head. It was as though he saw in his fair-haired son the unconscious cause of his ever-living sorrow. All the more strange this, seeing that, during her life, the boy had been to poor Flora M'Adam as her heart's core. And the lad was growing up the very antithesis of his father. Big and hearty, with never an ache or ill in the whole of his sturdy young body; of frank, open countenance; while even his speech was slow and burring like any Dale-bred boy's. And the fact of it all, and that the lad was palpably more Englishman than Scot--ay, and gloried in it--exasperated the little man, a patriot before everything, to blows. While, on top of it, David evinced an amazing pertness fit to have tried a better man than Adam M'Adam.
On the death of his wife, kindly Elizabeth Moore had, more than once, offered such help to the lonely little man as a woman only can give in a house that knows no mistress. On the last of these occasions, after crossing the 'Stony Bottom, which divides the two farms, and toiling up the hill to the Grange, she had met M'Adam in the door.
"Yo' maun let me put yo' bit things straight .for yo', mister," she had said shyly; for she feared the little man.
"Thank ye, Mrs. Moore," he had answered with the sour smile the Dalesmen knew so well, "but ye maun think I'm a waefu' cripple." And there he had stood, grinning sardonically, opposing his small bulk in the very centre of the door.
Mrs. Moore had turned down the hill, abashed and hurt at the reception of her offer; and her husband, proud to a fault, had forbidden her to repeat it. Nevertheless her motherly heart went out in a great tenderness for the little orphan David. She knew well the desolateness of his life; his father's aversion from him, and its inevitable consequences.
It became an institution for the boy to call every morning at Kenmuir, and trot off to the village school with Maggie Moore. And soon the lad came to look on Kenmuir as his true home, and James and Elizabeth Moore as his real parents. His greatest happiness was to be away from the Grange. And the ferret-eyed little man there noted the fact, bitterly resented it, and vented his ill-humor accordingly.
It was this, as he deemed it, uncalled-for trespassing on his authority which was the chief cause of his animosity against James Moore. The Master of Kenmuir it was at whom he was aiming when he remarked one day at the Arms: "Masel', I aye prefaire the good man who does no go to church, to the bad man who does. But then, as ye say, Mr. Burton, I'm peculiar."
The little man's treatment of David, exaggerated as it was by eager credulity, became at length such a scandal to the Dale that Parson Leggy determined to bring him to task on the matter.
Now M'Adam was the parson's pet antipathy. The bluff old minister, with his brusque manner and big heart, would have no truck with the man who never went to church, was perpetually in liquor, and never spoke good of his neighbors. Yet he entered upon the interview fully resolved not to be betrayed into an unworthy expression of feeling; rather to appeal to the little man's better nature.
The conversation had not been in progress two minutes, however, before he knew that, where he had meant to be calmly persuasive, he was fast become hotly abusive.
"You, Mr. Hornbut, wi' James Moore to help ye, look after the lad's soul, I'll see to his body," the little man was saying.
The parson's thick gray eyebrows lowered threateningly over his eyes.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself to talk like that. Which d'you think the more important, soul or body? Oughtn't you, his father, to be the very first to care for the boy's soul? If not, who should? Answer me, sir."
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