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These two new friends of his--for they were never mere acquaintances, but adopted him into fullest brotherhood at sight--proved no small factors in Graeme's extrication from the depths.
Human companionship, even of the loftiest, most philosophic, most gracious, would, for the time being, have jarred and ruffled his naturally equable spirit. Two only exceptions might have been conceivably possible--some humble, large-souled friend, anxious only to antic.i.p.ate his slightest wish, desirous only of his company, and--dumb, and so unable to fret him with inane talk; or--Margaret Brandt.
The first he could have endured. The latter--ah, G.o.d! How he would have rejoiced in her! The spirit groaned within him at times in agonised longing for her; and the glories of the sweet spring days, in a land where spring is joyous and radiant beyond most, turned gray and cheerless in the shadow of his loss. What Might Have Been stabbed What Was to the heart and let its life-blood run.
But, since neither of these was available, a benignant Providence provided him with friends entirely to his taste. For the great brown hound, Punch, was surely, despite the name men had given him, a n.o.bleman by birth and breeding. Powerful and beautifully made, the sight of his long lithe bounds, as he quartered the cliff-sides in silent chase of fowl and fur, was a thing to rejoice in; so exquisite in its tireless grace, so perfect in its unconscious exhibition of power and restraint. For the brown dog never gave tongue, and he never killed. He chased for the keen enjoyment of the chase, and no man had ever heard him speak.
He was the first dumb dog Graeme had ever come across, and the pathetic yearning in his solemn brown eyes was full of infinite appeal to one who suffered also from an unforgettable loss. He answered to his name with a dignified appreciation of its incongruity, and the tail-less white terrier, more appropriately, to that of Scamp.
They were on the very best of terms, these two friends of his, possibly because of their absolute unlikeness,--Punch, large, solemn, imperturbable, with a beautifully-curved slow-waving tail and no voice; Scamp, a bundle of wriggling nerves moved by electricity, with a sharp excited bark and not even the stump of a tail. When he needed to wag he wagged the whole of his body behind his front legs.
These two were sitting watching him expectantly as Mrs. Carre brought in his dinner that first day, and she instantly ordered them out.
Punch rose at once, cast one look of grave appeal at Graeme, as who would say--"Sorry to leave you, but this is the kind of thing I have to put up with,"--and walked slowly away. Scamp grovelled flat and crawled to the door like a long hairy caterpillar.
"Oh, let them stop," said Graeme. "I like them by me," and the culprits turned hopefully with p.r.i.c.ked ears and anxious faces.
"Mais non! They are troublesome beasts. Allez, Ponch! Allez, Scamp! A couche!"--and their heads and ears drooped and they slunk away.
But, presently, there came a rustling at the wide-open window which gave on to the field at the back, and Graeme laughed out--and he had not smiled for days--at sight of two deprecatingly anxious faces looking in upon him,--a solemn brown one with black spots above the eloquent grave eyes, and a roguish white one with pink blemishes on a twisting black nose. And while the large brown face loomed steadily above two powerful front paws, the small white face only appeared at intervals as the nervous little body below flung it up to the sill in a series of spasmodic leaps.
"We would esteem it a very great favour, if you are quite sure it would not inconvenience you," said Punch, as plain as speech.
"Do, do, do, do, do give us leave!" signalled Scamp, with every twist of his quivering nose, and every gleam of his glancing eyes, and every hair on end.
A click of the tongue, a noiseless graceful bound, and Punch was at his side. A wild scrambling rush, a wriggle on the sill, a patter over the window-seat, and Scamp was twisting himself into white figure-eights all over the room, with tremendous energy but not a sound save the soft pad of his tiny dancing feet.
Then, as he ate, the great brown head pillowed itself softly on his knee, and the eloquent brown eyes looked up into his in a way that a stone image could hardly have resisted. The while Scamp, on his hind legs, beat the air frantically with his front paws to attract attention to his needs and danced noiselessly all over the floor.
He gauged their characters with interest. When he gave them morsels turn about, Punch awaited his with gentlemanly patience, and even when purposely pa.s.sed by in order to see what he would do, obtruded his claims by nothing more than a gentle movement of the head on his friend's knee; while Scamp, in like case, twisted himself into knots of anxiety and came perilously near to utterance.
The difference between them when, through lack of intimate knowledge of their likes and dislikes, they got something not entirely to their taste, was also very typical. Punch would retire quietly into obscurity, and having disposed of the objectionable morsel somehow--either by a strenuous swallow or in some corner--would quietly reappear, lay his head on Graeme's knee again, and work it up to his lap with a series of propitiatory little jerks that never failed of their object. Scamp, on the other hand, would hold it in his mouth for a moment till he had savoured it, then place it meekly on the floor, bow his head to the ground, and grovel flat with deprecatory white-eyed up-glances, and as clearly as dog could say, would murmur,--"Oh, Man, Lord of all that go on four legs, forgive thy humble little servant in that he is unable with enjoyment to eat that thou hast of thy bounty tendered him! The fault is wholly his. Yet, of thy great clemency, punish him not beyond his capacity, for his very small body is merely a bundle of nerves, and they lie so very close to the skin that even a harsh word from thee will set them quivering for an hour." But, at a comforting word, he was up in a flash dancing and sparring away as gaily as ever.
Then, when Mrs. Carre brought in the next course, they both retired discreetly below the tent of the tablecloth. But she, knowing them of old perhaps, found them out at once and cried, "Ah you! I see you there! You are just troublesome beasts!" But, seeing that her guest was in the conspiracy, she permitted them for that once; and in time, seeing that he really desired their company, she allowed them to remain as a matter of course and without any preliminary harrying.
One other acquaintance he made during these dark days,--perhaps one ought to say an acquaintance and a half, if indeed the half in this case was not greater than the whole, a matter which Graeme never fully decided in his own mind,--a small person of grim and gloomy tendencies, whose sombre humours chimed at times with his own,--and that small person's familiar.
His name was Johnnie Vautrin, and, as far as Graeme could make out, he was about eight years old in actual years, but aged beyond belief in black arts which made him a terror to his kind. And his familiar, in the person of an enormous black cat, which came and went, was named Marielihou.
Johnnie, and presumably Marielihou, lived with an ancient dame who was held by some to be their great-grandmother, and by some to be Marielihou herself. This was a moot and much-discussed point among the neighbours. What was beyond dispute was that Johnnie was said to be grievously maltreated by her at times, and to lead her a deuce of a life, and she him. The family came originally from Guernsey and had married into Sark, and, for this and other reasons, was still looked askance at by the neighbours.
Both Johnnie and his ancient relative were popularly--or unpopularly--credited with powers of mischief which secured them immunities and privileges beyond the common and not a little prudently concealed dislike.
Old Mrs. Vautrin could put the evil eye on her neighbours' cows and stop their milk, on their churns and stop their b.u.t.ter, on their kettles and stop their boiling.
Johnnie claimed equal powers, but excelled in forecasts of bad weather and ill luck and evil generally, and, since there was no end to his prognostications, they occasionally came true, and when they did he exulted greatly and let no one forget it.
He had a long, humorously snaky, little face, a deep sepulchral voice, which broke into squeaks in moments of excitement, and curious black eyes with apparently no pupils--little glittering black wells of ill intent, with which he cowed dogs and set small children screaming and grown ones swearing. His little body was as malformed as his twisted little soul, and he generally sat in the hedge taking his pleasure off the pa.s.sers-by, much to their discomfort.
Johnnie also saw ghosts, or said he did, which came to much the same thing since none could prove to the contrary. He had even slept one night in an outhouse up at the Seigneurie, and had carefully locked the door, and so the little old lady in white, who only appears to those who lock their doors of a night, came to him, and, according to Johnnie, they carried on a long and edifying conversation to their mutual satisfaction.
He had also a cheerful habit of visiting sick folks and telling them he had seen their spirits in the lanes at night, and so they might just as well give up all hopes of getting better. On payment of a small fee, however, he was at times, according to his humour, willing to admit that it might have been somebody else's ghost he had seen, but in either case his visitations tended to cheerfulness in none but himself. He was great on the meanings--dismal ones mostly--of flights of birds and falling stars and fallen twigs. And he had been known to throw a branch of hawthorn into a house which had incurred his displeasure.
The men scoffed at him openly, and occasionally gave him surrept.i.tious pennies. The women and children feared him; and the dogs, to the last one, detested him but gave him wide berth.
Graeme had very soon run across the little misanthrope and, in his own black humour, found him amusing. They rarely met without a trial of wit, or parted without a transfer of coppers from the large pocket to the small. Wherefore Johnnie made a special nest in the hedge opposite the cottage, and waylaid his copper-mine systematically and greatly to his own satisfaction and emolument. But, like the dogs, though on a lower level, he too was not without his effect on Graeme's spirits, and if he did not lift him up he certainly at times helped him out of himself and his gloomy thoughts.
"You're just an unmitigated little humbug, Johnnie," said Graeme, as he leaned over the wall smoking, to the small boy whose acquaintance he had made the previous day, and who had promptly foretold a storm which had not come.
"Unmitigumbug! Guyablle! Qu'es' ce que c'es' que ca?" echoed the small boy, with very wide eyes.
"You, my son. Your black magic's all humbug. It lacks the essential attribute of fulfilment. It doesn't work. Black magic that doesn't work is humbug."
"Black-mack-chick! My Good! You do talk!"
"What about that storm?"
"Ah ouaie! Well, you wait. It come."
"So will Christmas, and the summer after next, if we wait long enough.
On the same terms I foretell thunders and lightnings, rain, hail, snow, and fiery vapours, followed by lunar rainbows and waterspouts."
"Go'zamin!" said Johnnie, with a touch of reluctant admiration at such an outflow of eloquence; and then, by way of set-off, "I sec six black crows, 's mawn'n."
"Ah--really? And what do you gather from such a procession as that now?"
"Some un's gwain' to die," in a tone of vast satisfaction.
"Of course, of course--if we wait long enough. It's perhaps you.
You'll die yourself sometime, you know."
"Noh, I wun't. No 'n'll ivver see me die. I'll just turn into sun'th'n--a gull maybe," as one floated by on moveless wing, the very poetry of motion; and the fathomless black eyes followed it with pathetic longing.
"Cormorant more likely, I should say."
"Noh, I wun't. I don' like corm'rants. They stink. Mebbe I'll be a hawk,"--as his eye fell on one, like a brown leaf nailed against the blue sky. "Did ee hear White Horse last night?"
"I did hear a horse in the night, Johnnie, but I couldn't swear that he was a white one."