THE FISHERMAN AND THE FIDDLER;
“DON’T SAY SO TILL YOU ARE SURE.”
IT is a long day since Zed Marrowby and Phil Garrett passed quietly away from this wilderness of confusion and wrong, and their names are well-nigh forgotten. But they were, each of them, so unlike other folk in their way of life, and in their old-fashioned habits of thinking and talking, that there is no wonder they have slipped out of the world’s memory as well as out of the world itself. Two odd old fellows they were deemed for many a year, albeit there are few happier old fellows, upon the whole, than they were. And who were they?
Zed was an humble fisherman on the Trent, and never knew what it was to be possessed, at once, of twenty shillings in his life. His father was called Zedekiah, but the son never reached that long-name dignity. Zed was taught the art and mystery of fishing with an angle, fishing with set lines and hooks, fishing with nets—in brief, all kinds of fresh-water fishing, when a boy, by his father,—whose father and grandfather before him were each and all fishermen. Zed was a bachelor all his life long, and that means fourscore and five; and Zed never had but one bosom-friend, and that was blind Phil Garrett the fiddler.
Phil could not trace his ancestry in an uninterrupted line for several generations like his friend Zed. In fact, it may seem strange to a world so wise as the world is now-a-days, but Phil Garrett never knew who was his own father! His earliest recollections were of hard usage by all around him save his mother, who herself died of hard usage, and left him to the ruthless world, a blind orphan at a tender age. There was as great doubt about Phil’s true Christian name as there was about his parentage: some said it was Philip, and others said it ought to be Philander; here and there one contended it must be Philibert, while his god-mother, Abigail, inclined to believe it was Philemon, but even she could not justly remember—for, as she used to say, “the parson quite took away her recollection of it, by hemming and hawing, and being so long about the trifling matter of sprinkling the child—and all the while she was pretty sartain the christening—cake would be burnt under the wood ashes, for she made it herself, and placed it under the dish at the last moment, in order that it might not be spoilt while they were at church.” However, Phil contrived to teach himself to play on the fiddle when a boy, and thereby managed to win his own living, without ever seeing the sun, or knowing, exactly, either his own name, or the name of his father.
Zed and Phil were nearly of an age, and became attached to each other when they were in their teens; indeed, from that period of life they were inseparable, except on special occasions. It was a singular companionship, was that of Zed Marrowby, the fisherman, and blind Phil Garrett, the fiddler. As soon as day broke, through spring, summer, and autumn, Zed might be seen wending his way among the osiers, on the banks of Old Trent, towards his small narrow boat; and blind Phil, with his fiddle-case under his arm, might be seen leaning on Zed’s left shoulder, and hurrying along with him. No matter how heavily it rained, or strongly it blew, the two happy old fellows were as constant in their time of rising, and of their embarkation, as the sun was in mounting above the east, unless Phil happened to be engaged for a wedding or a wake, for the blind fiddler was in high request for all the rustic rejoicings around Torksey, where the singular companions lived—I mean, at Marton, and Sturton, and Fenton, and Newton, on the Lincolnshire side of the Trent; and not less at Laneham, and Dunham, and Drayton, and Rampton, and Leverton, on the side of merry Nottinghamshire.
Winter, you would say, would be but a dreary season for the two old cronies, since it would put a stop to their voyaging, and, by confining them within doors, would make them mopish and melancholy. But you are wrong, if you say so. There were nets and lines to make and to mend, and the past to recount, and the future to reckon upon; and Phil would play on his fiddle while Zed would sing, and when Phil’s arm was weary with scraping, and Zed’s throat was sore with piping, Zed would listen till he fell asleep with Phil telling ghost stories and fairy-tales, and love-ditties and robber-ventures,—all of which he had learned from his god-mother, old Abigail Cullsimple, at once the most famous herbwoman, midwife, and tale teller, in her own day and generation, for threescore miles round about ancient Torksey on the Trent,—nay, it were perilous to assert that she ever had an equal in these three combined qualifications, throughout the whole region of Lindsey.
It would take some thousands of pages to narrate half the adventures in rain and fair weather, of the fisherman and fiddler, during their threescore years of friendship. Let it suffice to take up their life-story for some two or three days of the last summer they spent together in this world, commencing with a fine morning in which they unmoored their little boat somewhat earlier than usual, in order to reach Littleborough for a wedding, before the turn of the tide. The morning was such a delicious one, that, old as they were, the two old voyagers could not restrain their feeling of pleasure at the balmy and refreshing effect it had upon their weather-beaten frames; and, blind as poor Phil was, you could not have failed, had you seen his expressive face when under very pleasurable emotion, to discern that it scarcely needs the language of eyes to demonstrate the heart’s happiness. Their little skiff darted like a fowl along the stream, so finely did opening nature seem to nerve the old men’s arms, and puff their little sail; the very fishes seemed scarcely to have time to take alarm while the oars plashed amid the liquid silver, but darted and gambolled after each other,—the rapid dace and the delicate bleak, and the golden-finned perch,—every moment to the surface of the stream, exulting, as it seemed, in the solar glory. It was a morning to fill with music every human soul that has any music in itself. The sweet matin lute of the lark thrilled through the heavens, and the still sweeter voice of the blythe milkmaid, as she tripped it, fresh and rosy, over the lea, was heard waking the echoes with her plaintive love-melody. Zed and Phil were too true children of Nature to disobey her influences, and thus chanted their hearts’ sedate joy, as they bent at the oar:—
Merrily we go, my man—
Merrily with the tide!
Catch the breezes while you can—
Here we’ll not abide!
Storm and calm will soon be o’er—
Spread the flowing sail!
Lift thy heart with sorrow sore—
Catch the fav’ring gale!
Wouldst thou weep till set of sun—
From the break of day?
This life’s stream will soon he run—
Laugh, then, while you may!
Mariners in life’s frail boat—
Sighs and tears are vain!
Cheerily let’s onward float—
Soon the port we’ll gain!
Merrily we go, my man—
Merrily with the tide!
Catch the breezes while you can—
Merrily onward glide!
Again and again they doubled the last verse, those brave old voyagers! until many a milkmaid came up the banks of Trent, leaving her cows on the lea, to listen more nearly to the merry song they had so often heard before from the two quaint companions of the fishing-boat.
The little ferry of Littleborough was at length gained, and Zed leaped as gaily on shore as if he were yet in his youth, and then handed Phil out, with his fiddle-case under his arm; and when the skiff was moored, away they hasted to the “Ferry-Boat Inn,” as the humble public-house was loftily termed, and where the intended wedding and merry-making was about to be held. After half-a-dozen hearty gripes of the hand, and as many congratulations on their good looks, the two old men were zealously pressed to “eat and drink, and not spare,” by the bluff landlord. And, nothing loth, Zed and Phil sat down on the long-settle, and made free with a good hearty beef-steak pie, and a tankard of ale; and the landlord was ready to fill again ere the latter was fairly empty. “Don’t ye be dainty about it, my hearties,” said he, “for the youngsters will be downstairs soon: they’ve been dressing this I don’t know how long; and you’ll ha’ plenty to do, I warrant ye, when they happen to find that you’re come: so do justice to your fare!”
And anon the bride that was to be was brought downstairs by a crowd of laughing lasses, and, blushing like the May, was placed in a chair adorned with flowers; and soon the lads burst in with the bridegroom, all in best array of plush and velveteen; and when he stepped up to the chaired beauty for a morning’s buss [Ed.—’buss’—A caress with the lips], the lads pulled him away and said “nay”; and then all clapped their hands with delight when they first saw Zed and Phil in the corner, and all shouted, as if they were mad, for a good thumping ditty that would put mettle in their heels. So Phil struck up first “Malbrook’s gone to battle,” and then “Gee-ho, Dobbin,” and then “Grist the Miller,” and then “She will and she won’t,” and then “Nelly is gone to be married”; and each lad took his lass, and led up or followed the dance to the capers of Phil’s bow, till “The parson’s come!” resounded through the kitchen; and the marriage-procession was immediately formed, and the kitchen was deserted, for even Zed and Phil went off, the one to see, and the other to hear, lovely Polly of the Ferry-Boat Inn given away to sprightly and honest young farmer Brown that morning, at the neighbouring parish church of Sturton-le-Steeple.
The ceremony over, and the kitchen regained, feasting, fun, and frolic, were the order of the day. Phil’s fiddle and Zed’s throat were worked till the owners of them could scarcely work longer; and oh, the tales that Phil told, and the songs that Zed sung, in the course of that merry wedding-day!—why, the like of ’em could not be said or sung by man or maid, wife or widow, within all Christendom!
Don’t imagine, either, that the fun and frolic were partaken of merely by the younkers: let me tell you, that even the fat landlord himself, although verging on fourscore, caught so much of the spirit of the time, that he jumped up, all of a sudden, after watching the nodding head and smirking face of Dame Dinah Brown, the grandmother of the bridegroom, and discerning how she began to fidget, like himself,—I say he jumped up all of a sudden, and, seizing her hand, whirled her away, not in the least unwilling, to show the young lads and lasses that they had not forgotten a quick step, and all that, as old as they were. And, by jingo! how all-alive did Phil look, while he screwed up his catgut for a new strain; and never was anything seen in mortal man more wonderful than the ecstatic changes of his blind face, while he struck up “Green leaves all grow sere!” as an accompaniment to the frisking feet of Dame Dinah and the fat old landlord. And then he changed the strain for one of rich merriment, while his sightless and strangely expressive countenance depicted every shade of wild and wilder glee, and vibrated throughout its whole surface with every thrill of the melody and gambol of the bow; insomuch that more than one youth forgot everything around, and stood gazing at Phil’s face, thinking they would never forget how it looked, if they lived even to be as old as Methusaleh.
On and on the aged dancers skipped, and “crossed” and “set,” looking as gleeful as if they had never known what it was to be grave, until, streaming with sweat, and fairly wearied out with the mad employment they had been giving their heels, and to which they had been strangers for many a long year, they were constrained to sit down, avowing, meanwhile, that “they only wished they were young again, for then they would show the youngsters what a bit o’ dancing was in their time!”
When the sun had set, Zed began to feel some degree of uneasiness to be gone. There was the Trent to voyage, for at, least three miles, in order to reach their home at Torksey, and Zed knew the stream would be somewhat swollen, but much more he feared the state of his own upper story, since he had not been able to resist the pressing invitations and challenges, first of one and then of another, and, consequently, his potations had been somewhat numerous. Having given Phil the hint, Phil began to complain of exhaustion as to his tale-budget, and of the power of his nerves to direct the bow; but it was long ere this would avail, and many a roaring ditty was launched forth from the thunder of Phil’s catgut, amid the thundering heels of the country lads and lasses, before the two aged cronies could manage to obtain leave, once more, to launch their little boat, and strike off for home. The farewell chords were at last struck, the fiddle was boxed; and, accompanied to the water’s edge by a merry company, Zed and Phil pushed oft from shore amidst the hearty cheers of the merry-makers. Then, each taking his oar, as usual, away they went with the tide, that now swept up the river’s course.
Much as they had sung that merry day, the two brave old fellows, nevertheless, trolled forth more than one ditty before they reached Torksey; and neither of them suffered any depression of spirits or strength as they prosecuted their homeward voyage. Zed Marrowby, especially—and, in good faith his alacrity must be fairly confessed to have owed its greater intensity to his most frequent potations—Zed, especially, sprang on shore with the nimbleness of a lad of twenty, as soon as they arrived in front of the ruins of old Torksey castle, which stands like a blighted, and yet beautiful thing of the past, beside the very brink of the noble stream.
“As sure as a gun, Phil,” cried the mellow old fellow, stamping with vehemence, as he was leading Phil under a propped fragment of the old fabric, “we’ll not go to bed to-night till we’ve seen whether there be any gold in these vaults, as the story goes! I’ve heard you tell the tale about folks hiding their coin here, in the time of bloody Oliver, until my patience is worn out. I’m determined, Phil, to know whether any money can be found here, or not!”
“Why, zowks, Zed!” exclaimed Phil Garrett, “you’re not so mad with that glass of rum they gave you before you pushed off as to have taken it into your head to—”
“Don’t bother me, Phil,” said the fisherman in a pet: “I’m determined to fish up the gold out of these old vaults before midnight, as late as it is, and that’s the long and short on’t!”
“‘Don’t say so till you’re sure!'” cried Phil, uttering an old saying that he was very fond of; “how will you dig up the gold, Zed?—you have never a shovel nor a pickaxe, you know.”
“Then I’ll soon have both,” replied Zed; “you sit down here on this stone, Phil, and I’ll go and slive [Ed.—sneak] into the Talbot yard, and I’ll warrant it I’ll soon have a pickaxe and a shovel.” And off Zed scampered as fast as his old heels, impelled by his heated head, could carry him.
“Bring the dark lanthorn with you!” cried Phil, shouting after him as loudly as he dared to shout ; and then, sitting down on the grass in lieu of the hard stone, began to think of the oddness and suddenness of Zed’s resolution. “What a fool Zed always becomes when he gets a drop of rum!” thought Phil to himself; “and, confound it! I feel queerish, somehow, myself. I wish I had not drunk that tipler o’ rum. It was very foolish of me, for I always tell Zed to stick to good old Sir John Barleycorn, and then no great harm can come on it. But what’s the use of grumbling and growling at one’s self when it’s done? I’ll e’en make the best on’t, since it is so.” And Phil was about to troll forth another merry ditty, when he remembered that it was near midnight, that it must be thereabouts pitch dark, and that he was among the ruins of Torksey castle, where, according to a queer skin-freezing story he was wont to tell himself, the lady without the head was often seen to walk at midnight! So Phil, too muddled to remember that he could not have seen the headless lady if she had appeared, held his peace, and thought it was better to keep quiet in such a queer place and at such a queer time of night.
Phil had not long to wait for the return of his eccentric companion. Zed soon was at Phil’s side, and grasping his hand, assured him they would soon be as rich as Jews with the buried gold.
“‘Don’t say so till you’re sure!'” again cried Phil; but Zed took no notice of it, and upheaving the pickaxe, without spending a moment in considering whereabouts he ought to begin, struck at the ground with all his might, assisted, not a little, at the first, by his invisible but potent friend, Dr. Alcohol.
“Have you begun so soon, Zed?” asked Phil.
“Ay, to be sure,” replied Zed, “I’m in earnest, man, and mean to have this gold, depend on’t.”
“I’faith, it seems as though you did,” returned Phil, feeling disposed to roast his old friend, as they say; “do you find aught yet?”
“Pooh!” answered Zed, “let me get another foot or so deeper, and then ask me.”
“Oh, I’m in no hurry,” said Phil; “only I thought I might as well be knowing. But are you tired so soon, Zed?”
“I’m only just resting a moment,” replied Zed; but he was up, and was working away again with the pickaxe the next minute. Then he took the shovel and began to clear away the loose earth, so as to be able to see, by the light of the lanthorn, how deeply he had penetrated the ground.
“Do you see aught yet?” asked Phil with a slight titter which he suppressed as well as he could.
“Don’t be in such a confounded hurry! I didn’t think a bit o’ gold would ha’ made you so covetous to get at it!” answered Zed, throwing down the pickaxe, and pretending to be in a pet, though, in reality, it was the tremendous ache in his back that caused him to throw down an instrument of labour to which his aged hands were quite unused.
“Nay, nay, I tell you, I’m in no hurry at all,” again retorted Phil; “only, as I, said before, I thought I might as well be knowing.”
“All right, Phil!” cried Zed, in a twinkling of time, “here goes again!” and struck more savagely at the ground this time than ever; for, in spite of his affected coolness, the old fisherman began to feel very impatient. In the course of a very few minutes, however, Zed was again unable, from sheer weariness, to proceed, and, although he changed his implement again for the spade, yet his back ached too violently for him to go on with his gold-finding, so he sat down once more to rest, and wiped the streaming perspiration from his aged face with a hand that trembled, as indeed he trembled all over, like an aspen leaf.
“Mercy on us!” cried Phil, “how you puff and blow, Zed! Do you begin to feel ill with your hard work?”
“Pshaw! how old-womanish you talk!” retorted the fisherman, and started up again, like a young blood of four-and-twenty. But, somehow or other, Zed found it quite impossible to get on, the ache in his old back was so violent.
“I say, Phil,” he said, pausing suddenly, and looking very cunning at the fiddler,—though the fiddler could not see either the sly wink of his eye or any other of the signs by which the old fisherman intended it to be understood that a very shrewd thought had struck him,—”I say, Phil, what d’ye suppose I’m just now thinking about?”
“Can’t tell exactly,” replied Phil, though he had a somewhat knowing idea of what was coming, for all that.
“Why, I was thinking——Oh!” said the poor old fisherman, feeling a twinge in his back so dreadfully excruciating that it forced him to cry out before he was aware—
“What! have you found the gold?” asked Phil, bursting into a titter; “have you found it, Zed?”
“Found the devil!” exclaimed Zed, growing really ill-tempered at being thus coolly roasted by his old companion. “For Heaven’s sake, take care, Zed; or we may find him, with a witness, in this queer place, and at this queer time o’ night!” rejoined the fiddler; “but what may you be thinking about, after all, Zed?”
“Why, I was thinking we might cover up this hole, so that no notice would be taken of it, and then come and finish the job another time,” replied Zed, who felt so much ashamed of what pain compelled him to say, that he could with difficulty get through his speech.
“Come, now, sit you down a bit, Zed,” said Phil, in a tone of hearty kindness, that always came over Zed’s more boisterous nature with the power of a sweet lull after a squall,—”sit you down a bit, and let’s have a bit o’talk, while you rest yourself, for I’m sure your old bones must ache with pain and weariness. Now, I say, Zed, just tell me, will you, what would you do with this gold if you found it?”
“Do with it! ” exclaimed Zed, staring at the fiddler, though the fiddler could not stare at him; “what would I do with it, Phil?”
“Ay, what would you do with it? Are you tired of the old boat, after we’ve cruised in her so many long years?”
“Tired of her! God forbid!” answered Zed, with warmth rendered ludicrous by his insobriety; “no, Phil! you and I will never forsake the old boat until our own poor old timbers fall fairly in pieces!”
“I thought you could not be thinking about that,” said Phil; “but what, then, I say, Zed,—what could you contrive to do with this gold, if you found it?”
“We could comfort the hearts of poor Dick Toller’s motherless and fatherless children, and poor Bob Wilson’s and Joe Martin’s widows with it, you know, Phil,” answered the old fisherman.
“God bless your old heart, Zed!” cried Phil, grasping his old comrade’s hand, while his voice faltered with deep emotion, “that’s spoken just like you! But I tell you, Zed, it is but a wild scheme to be killing yourself with trying to find this gold.”
“To speak truth,” said Zed, interrupting the other, “I begin to think so, too: only, you see, Phil, this old head o’ mine always turns so wild when I happen to be such a fool as to take rum when they offer it me. As you always say, Phil, if one could but have the resolution to stick to Sir John Barleycorn instead of—
“Well, well, Zed, say no more about it,” said Phil, remembering that the transgression was not entirely confined to his friend; “shovel in the moulds as soon as you can, and let us be making our way home, for yon’s twelve by the church clock, and we musn’t be after sunrise, you know, to-morrow; ’twill be bad luck if we be, depend on’t.”
So Zed shovelled in the earth as fast as his aches and pains would permit him; and at length Phil threw the pickaxe over his shoulder, and Zed bearing the fiddle-box, and shovel, and lanthorn, without spending more time in talking, they hied them home as nimbly as they could, dropping the pickaxe and shovel over the Talbot yard wall as they went by, and speedily throwing themselves on a joint bed, when they had reached it, fell asleep almost in a moment.
Before the sun arose, however, they were up and in the open air; but Zed groaned heavily, more than once, as they went along towards the Trent bank, for his aged bones were very stiff at the joints, as he said, and he often called himself a fool, inwardly, as he thought of his wild, money-digging freak of the preceding night. His melancholy, however, was but transitory. The merry-hearted old men were soon on their favourite element; the sun began to throw its cheering beams once more upon the rippling waters; and, as the willows on the banks of the noble Trent waved in the gentle breeze, and the rich meadows on the border of the river sent forth their reviving fragrance, Zed lifted up his head, while his hand plied the oar, and in the fulness of a happy heart thus opened the conversation for the day:—
“Well, I wouldn’t change places with the king on his throne, Phil; I don’t believe there’s a happier pair than you and I, Phil, in the wide world. And yet, now, as wild a scheme as that was of mine last night, I cannot help wishing, this morning, that we had some o’ that gold at this moment. I could like to try my hand, Phil, as old and inexperienced as it is in such work, at making some part of the world happier.”
“And so could I, Zed,” said Phil; “and now don’t you think that my godmother’s grandfather’s plan of dividing the land would be a good one, and tend to make the world happier, if it were carried into effect?”
“The deuce is in you, Phil, for always bringing up that plan of your godmother’s grandfather!” said old Zed; “why, the plan may be good enough, Phil; but how can it be brought about?”
“How can you get the gold?” retorted Phil.
“Good!” said Zed, with a hearty laugh; “i’faith, Phil, one scheme is as likely to be brought about as the other: but, take hold of that end o’ the net, Phil, for I see a famous pike or two, darting about; and, you know, we must try to get something to-day.”
The net was thrown out, but failed; and, what was most unusual, the labour of Zed and Phil was continued for several hours without the capture even of a solitary eel. Phil often thought Zed threw out the net very wildly, and imagined the liquor he took at the wedding had not yet spent its effects on him; but the blind man could not be sure, for Zed seemed resolutely taciturn. ,
‘Twas about ten in the forenoon that Phil felt the little boat was “brought up,”—he thought in an inlet, or small creek, on the Lindsey side of the Trent, after they had laboured with nets and lines ever since a little after sunrise, and all without a single instance of success.——
“Phil, d’ye know why I’ve pulled in here this morning?” said Zed, as he was mooring the skiff.
“No, by’r leddy!” answered the old-fashioned fiddler, “I can’t tell, for the life of me! but it seems to me that you’ve pulled in at Burton Folly, have you not, Zed? and what’s the meaning of it?”
“Look sharp, Phil!” said Zed, briskly helping Phil out of the boat, “we’ve had hard luck in the water this morning, but we’ll try our luck on land for once: we’ll have one or two of Squire Hutton’s pheasants before we leave the holt.”
“‘Don’t say so till you’re sure!”‘ said Phil, for that was a common saying with him, as I hinted before; “I wish I could look sharp, as you bid me, Zed, for I’ll be hanged if you are not tearing my poor legs among the whins, like old pork, as the saying goes.”
“The deuce I am!” exclaimed Zed, slackening his pace; “I wouldn’t hurt you, for all the world, Phil: but you know it’s worth while trying to catch a pheasant or two, they’re such fine game.”
“I don’t know, Zed,” rejoined Phil, “whether it be worth while or not: we may get into a scrape by it, as old as we are, and—”
“Pshaw!” cried Zed, with an air of resolute contempt; “come along, Phil!—come along!”
“O come along, ay!” said Phil; “I shall go with you, if you go to the very deuce!—but then I don’t see what’s the use of going there, yet, as old Squire Pimpleface used to say, when he gave up playing cards at Saturday midnight, and refused, ever after to play on Sunday mornings,—”
“Hush!” said Zed, stopping short,—”my eyes! why, that must be the gamekeeper! No, it isn’t: but we had better lie down, Phil.”
“Down be it then!” said Phil, prostrating himself among the long grass, while the old fisherman followed his example.
“Now, tell me,” continued the fiddler, in a whisper, as they lay among the grass, and the fisherman was anxiously keeping the look-out,—”tell me how you intend to catch the pheasants, Zed: you know you’ve no gun; and you can’t catch ’em with a net in open day,—besides you haven’t brought the net out of the boat, have you?”
“Pooh!” replied Zed, “why, I’ve heard my father say that ‘Squire Hutton’s pheasants used to be as tame as bantam cocks, even in his time. We may catch ’em, bless your soul! ay, easily! And, if not, I’m sure I could hit one and knock it down with my hat.”
The blind fiddler burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughter on hearing this artless declaration from his ancient companion.
“Zowks, Zed!” he exclaimed at last, “thou hast got some wild maggots, for sure, into thy head this morning! prythee look out again, and see if the coast be clear; for the sooner we shove off in the boat again the better, I’m very sartain.”
“Confound that fellow! he’s coming this way,” said Zed, in a voice of alarm. And, indeed, there now seemed to be cause for fear, seeing that a tall man, with a gun on his shoulder, was hastening down the hill, apparently in a direction towards the foolish hiding-place of the fiddler and the fisherman.
“What shall we do, Phil?” asked Zed, in the next breath.
“Cut and run!” cried Phil, and sprang up as nimbly as a hare when you stumble upon her seat.
“Come along, then!” said Zed; and, seizing his blind companion by the hand, away they galloped, as fast as their old limbs would wag down the declivity, to the boat.
Zed pushed Phil, head over heels, into the skiff, and jumping in himself, scudded away out of the creek as fast as he could possibly “scull,” or turn the oar, at the boat’s stern, after the manner of a screw, in the water. The gamekeeper came up the water-side, and approached within a few yards of the boat, before the adventurers could make their way back into the broad Trent.
“You are two very old men,” said he, lifting up his hand in a warning manner, “or I would certainly detain you, and have you indicted for trespass. Take care you are never found here again!”
Neither of the old men made a word of reply; and the gamekeeper walked away.
“Detained us!—would he?” said Zed, in a low, but contemptuous tone, as soon as they had gained the breadth of the river, and the gamekeeper was sufficiently out of hearing,—”how could he have done that, if he had tried, think you, Phil?”
“Never mind talking about that, Zed,—let us be content with having got out of a scrape,” answered blind Phil: “but now tell me, Zed,” he continued, putting an oar on one side of the boat, and taking his share of labour with as easy naturalness as if he had possessed the most perfect eyesight,” what it could be that put such a wild notion into your head as to lead you to think of catching a pheasant with your hand, or of knocking it down with your hat:—why didn’t you take a bit o’ salt to throw on its tail, Zed?” concluded the fiddler, and burst into another fit of helpless laughter.
“He—he—he!” said the fisherman, forcing a faint laugh, to conceal his shame and vexation; “never mind,—never mind that, Phil!” he said,—”my old head gets weak, or I might ha’ been sure it would be a fool’s errand. Was not it a mighty piece of impudence in that thief of a gamekeeper, think you, to tell us he had a mind to indict us for ‘trespass,’ as the Jack-in-office called it?—what harm could we do, Phil, by just trampling among the grass for a few minutes?”
“Poor folks are not allowed to tread upon rich folks’ land, you know, Zed, without their leave,” said the fiddler.
“No; but isn’t it hard that there should be such a law, Phil?” said the fisherman.
“Why, as for that, Zed,” replied Phil, “my godmother’s grandfather,—who, my godmother used to tell me, was a famous scholar in his day,—used to say that all the land belonged to everybody, and that nobody ought ever to have called an acre his own, in particular. If that had been the case, you see, Zed, the gamekeeper could not have threatened to indict you and me for trespass this morning.”
“No more he could, Phil,” rejoined Zed; “but, then, if the land belonged to everybody,—in such a way that nobody could say an acre belonged to him, only,—why, how would the land be ploughed and the grain sown,—for you know the old saying, Phil, ‘What’s everybody’s business is nobody’s business?”‘
“My godmother’s grandfather used to say that people ought to join in companies to do it,” replied Phil: “it’s a subject I am not master of to the extent he was, by all account; but I feel sure of one thing, Zed,—that the world could not have been much worse divided than it is at present, since the rich have so much land among them, and the poor have none.”
“You are right there, Phil, beyond a grain o’ doubt,” rejoined Zed.
“And my godmother’s grandfather used to say besides,” continued the fiddler, “that God Almighty gave the world to everybody, and that the rich had stolen the poor’s share of the land—for God Almighty never left them destitute.”
“Then, in that case, Phil,” said the fisherman, “there is a share, each, belonging to you and to me: and then it seems doubly hard to be told, when your own share has been stolen from you, that you shall be indicted for trespassing upon the land of one that has more than his share—doesn’t it, Phil?”
“Right, Zed, right!” returned Phil; “I’m pleased to find you relish a bit of sensible talk, now and then; and can you deny, now, that that plan of my godmother’s grandfather would be a real good one, and tend to make everybody happy? Place all the folks in the world on a level, Zed,—and let every man take his fair share in ploughing and tilling, you know, Zed,—and then let every man share in cutting the corn,—and all would have a fair title to eat it. You must see this to be fair,—quite fair, Zed?”
“Fair enough, no doubt,” replied the fisherman; “but then, Phil,—as I always ask you, but you never answer me,—how can you contrive to bring all this about?”
“Nay, now, you don’t argue fair!” answered Phil; and it was the only answer he had, like many more learned proposers of good theories.
“A plague on all such gibberish!” exclaimed Zed; “we shall want but a small share of anything long, and if we don’t get our fair six feet of land when we have done sailing, why, we can rest very well in Davy Jones’s locker. Where’s the use of bothering our old brains with such crabbed matters?”
“Ods bobs and bodikins!” replied Phil, “but I think you are about right, Zed: I must own it’s only a simple sort of a thing for you and I to be troubling our heads about great folks and their lands.”
“I’ faith, you talk sense, Phil! ” said Zed; “confound the great folks! let ’em take their land! We’ve managed to push along through threescore summers and more, and we can manage to get through, I think, now. But, swape in, Phil! for we’re just alongside Littleborough again, and I’m so hungry that I feel inclined to step on shore, and ask for a bite of the wedding-cake this morning: I’ll warrant ’em they’ll be keeping up the merriment yet.”
“Promise me one thing though, Zed,” said Phil,—”that you’ll take no more rum, if they offer it you, and that you won’t stay longer than a couple of hours or so.”
“Don’t think I shall play the fool twice over!” retorted Zed; “I’ll warrant it I’ll come away as sober as a judge this time, and take no more fool’s tricks into my head today. ”
“‘Don’t say so till you’re sure!”‘ observed Phil, in his usual sly way; but Zed did not answer, for they were now at shore, and the fisherman had leaped out, and was once more mooring the little boat.
It is hardly necessary to relate that Zed found it impossible to keep his hasty promise of a very short stay, seeing that the “Weddingers” were “keeping it up” in true old-fashioned style, and Phil’s fiddle became, right soon, the very soul of their merriment. Phil, however, had made his mind up, and succeeded, though with great effort, in getting his old companion once more fairly afloat and on the way home about an hour before sunset. Although Zed had, indeed, the virtue to refuse the parting cup of rum, when it was offered, yet his old noddle was far from being its own perfect master, by reason of his frequent revisitations of the ale-pottle; and the first mile on the water was all music of the most gleeful nature with the old voyagers. “Indeed,” as Phil himself used to say, when talking about it,—we had each of us whetted our whistles till, will-ye, nil-ye, we must pipe and couldn’t help it !” They were trolling forth, for the last time, their old burthen of
Says I to myself, says I,
Though I can’t laugh, I won’t cry;
Let ’em kill us that dare; they’re all fools that care:
We all shall live till we die!
when the report of a gun, and the sudden flight of a drooping heron across the Trent, arrested their music.
“By jingo! she’s a dead bird, in three minutes!” exclaimed Zed; “mark how her right wing droops, Phil!”
“I wish I could mark it,” said Phil; “but you always forget that my poor old eyes are blanks, when you’ve—”
“There she goes, plop among the osiers!” cried Zed, in an ecstasy; “pull away to the larboard, Phil. I’ll have her in a twink.”
“‘Don’t say so till you’re sure!”‘ observed Phil, but pulled away like a dragon in the direction recommended by his companion, nevertheless.
Zed leaped out of the boat in a confounded hurry, when he thought it was near enough for him to gain the shore; but he leaped out too soon, for he fell flat on his face among the “warp,” as the mud of the Trent is called in Lincolnshire, and floundered like a flat fish when it has been left by the water in a situation where it cannot get away.
“Holloa! what, in the name o’ bad luck, are you about?” cried Phil, hearing poor Zed make a mighty scuffle among the mud.
Zed made no answer, but kept struggling on; for the fact was, that he was so eager to secure the bird, that he had succeeded in laying hold of one of its legs, and, keeping hold, prevented himself from rising. The heron and Zed made a desperate flapping and floundering, insomuch that Phil roared out, more than once,
“What, in the name of heaven and earth, are you about, I say, Zed?”
“Keep the boat in shore,” cried Zed, with his mouth half filled with mud; “I shall have her in another minute.”
“‘Don’t say so till you’re sure!”‘ retorted Phil again; and just then the sportsman who had shot the heron jumped out of his boat on a firmer part of the strand, and, running along the bank, arrived at the spot where Zed was struggling with the bird. He struck off Zed’s hold of the fowl with a slight blow from his fowling-piece, and bore away the bird in triumph. Zed slipped into the Trent, and went souse over head, but rose instantly, and clambered into the boat. He vented his disappointment and vexation against the sportsman in no very gentle terms, while the sportsman mocked him from the bank; and, when the captor of the heron stepped into his boat, Zed urged Phil to pull away, that they might capsize the fellow, and give him a ducking, as he said in his foolish haste. But Phil was always Zed’s better angel, though he was but a blind old fiddler. “No, no, Zed,” he cried, “you shall not go that way. Let us make for home, that you may get to the fire-side. I say you shall not go—and I mean it, too.”
Nobody in the world could control Zed Marrowby but Phil Garrett, when old Zed was in his fuddled freaks; and even Phil could not always succeed; but Zed’s wet shirt helped to cool his choler in this instance.
“To old Nick with the fellow, and his heron-sue! ” cried Zed, pulling in the same direction with Phil; “I’ll e’en let him take his live lumber: what good will it do him?”
“Just as the fox said of the grapes, when he couldn’t reach ’em—’Hang ’em! they’re as sour as crabs!'” rejoined Phil; “but that was what I said to myself, when you were struggling so hard to get the useless fowl; and what good would it have done you, Zed?”
“Hang me, if I know, exactly!” replied Zed, looking foolish, and wishing himself in a corner.
“You wouldn’t like to eat a heron-sue; for they’re as rank as stinking fish, I’ve heard say,” continued Phil; “and what else you would have done with it I’m quite at a loss to guess: but never mind, Zed, you’ve got a cooler, now,—and I think you won’t be so hot again for some time to come.”
“Well, well, it’s all in our lifetime,” said Zed, resolving to be cheerful;” only pull away, and let us get to our own fire-side, that I may dry my old skin, there’s a jolly fellow! ”
“So I will, Zed,” replied Phil, and doubled the force of his strokes at the oar;” but I hope you’ll promise me not to resume your gold-digging when we land under the old castlewalls.”
“I will, I will, Phil,—and so don’t banter me any more; I shall be a cooler man for some time to come, after this, depend on’t,” answered Zed, with his teeth chattering.
And Zed spoke as truly as ever a prophet spoke, and much more truly than many; for, although he got well warmed ere he went to bed, yet his participation of so much extra liquor at the wedding, his foolish freak at money-digging the preceding night, and his cold bath to conclude, operating together upon his aged frame, produced rheumatic effects which never left him.
Zed Marrowby and Phil Garrett left their voyaging at the close of that summer. True, they made all fit and industrious preparation for the next spring; and Zed’s heart was gleefully bent on resuming their old cruises on their beloved Trent, and in their beloved old boat; but Phil listened with a foreboding heart to the deep cough which shook Zed’s old body through the winter, and often interrupted his fervid utterances of what pleasure he expected when summer should come again. And when Zed Marrowby would exclaim, “We shall have another merry summer’s cruise yet, Phil!” Phil Garrett would answer with more solemnity, much more than was his wont to put on, “‘Don’t say so till you’re sure.’ I think, Zed, we shall cruise no more in this world; and I hope our next port will be in a better land.” Zed poohed and pshawed, for sometime, at this “solemn way o’ talking,” as he called it; but at length he began to feel that Phil was right—he grew feebler as the spring drew nearer, and when it came, feeling the expectation to be vain of ever stepping again into the beloved old boat, he took Phil’s advice—for he said he always thought it worth more than the parson’s—and strove to fix his mind on reaching the happy port in the better land.
Zed Marrowby’s end was calm and peaceful; and so was that of Phil Garrett, his faithful companion, who was also laid under the green sod in old Torksey churchyard within six months after. The memory of their names and lives is well nigh lost in the rural locality where they lived; but there is not a saying more common in old Lincolnshire to this day than that quaint caution so often uttered by the blind fiddler to his less grave comrade, “Don’t say so till you are sure!”