Scottish Sketches by Amelia E. Barr
In Yorkshire and Lancashire the word "lile" means "little," but in the Cumberland dales it has a far wider and nobler definition. There it is a term of honor, of endearment, of trust, and of approbation. David Denton won the pleasant little prefix before he was ten years old. When he saved little Willy Sabay out of the cold waters of Thirlmere, the villagers dubbed him "Lile Davie." When he took a flogging to spare the crippled lad of Farmer Grimsby, men and women said proudly, "He were a lile lad;" and when he gave up his rare half-holiday to help the widow Gates glean, they had still no higher word of praise than "kind lile Davie."
However, it often happens that a prophet has no honor among his own people, and David was the black sheep of the miserly household of Denton Farm. It consisted of old Christopher Denton, his three sons, Matthew, Sam, and David, and his daughter Jennie. They had the reputation of being "people well-to-do," but they were not liked among the Cumberland "states-men," who had small sympathy for their niggardly hospitality and petty deeds of injustice.
One night in early autumn Christopher was sitting at the great black oak table counting over the proceeds of the Kendal market, and Matt and Sam looked greedily on. There was some dispute about the wool and the number of sheep, and Matt said angrily, "There's summat got to be done about Davie. He's just a clish-ma-saunter, lying among the ling wi' a book in his hand the lee-long day. It is just miff-maff and nonsense letting him go any longer to the schoolmaster. I am fair jagged out wi' his ways."
"That's so," said Sam.
"Then why don't you gie the lad a licking, and make him mind the sheep better? I saw him last Saturday playing sogers down at Thirlston with a score or more of idle lads like himsel'." The old man spoke irritably, and looked round for the culprit. "I'll lay thee a penny he's at the same game now. Gie him a licking when he comes in, son Matt."
"Nay, but Matt wont," said Jennie Denton, with a quiet decision. She stood at her big wheel, spinning busily, though it was nine o'clock; and though her words were few and quiet, the men knew from her face and manner that Davie's licking would not be easily accomplished. In fact, Jennie habitually stood between Davie and his father and brothers. She had nursed him through a motherless babyhood, and had always sympathized in his eager efforts to rise above the sordid life that encompassed him. It was Jennie who had got him the grudging permission to go in the evening to the village schoolmaster for some book-learning. But peculiar circumstances had favored her in this matter, for neither the old man nor his sons could read or write, and they had begun to find this, in their changed position, and in the rapid growth of general information, a serious drawback in business matters.
Therefore, as Davie could not be spared in the day, the schoolmaster agreed for a few shillings a quarter to teach him in the evening. This arrangement altered the lad's whole life. He soon mastered the simple branches he had been sent to acquire, and then master and pupil far outstepped old Christopher's programme, and in the long snowy nights, and in the balmy summer ones, pored with glowing cheeks over old histories and wonderful lives of great soldiers and sailors.
In fact, David Denton, like most good sons, had a great deal of his mother in him, and she had been the daughter of a long line of brave Westmoreland troopers. The inherited tendencies which had passed over the elder boys asserted themselves with threefold force in this last child of a dying woman. And among the sheepcotes in the hills he felt that he was the son of the men who had defied Cromwell on the banks of the Kent and followed Prince Charlie to Preston.
But the stern discipline of a Cumberland states-man's family is not easily broken. Long after David had made up his mind to be a soldier he continued to bear the cuffs and sneers and drudgery that fell to him, watching eagerly for some opportunity of securing his father's permission. But of this there was little hope. His knowledge of writing and accounts had become of service, and his wish to go into the world and desert the great cause of the Denton economies was an unheard-of piece of treason and ingratitude.
David ventured to say that he "had taught Jennie to write and count, and she was willing to do his work."
The ignorant, loutish brothers scorned the idea of "women-folk meddling wi' their 'counts and wool," and, "besides," as Matt argued, "Davie's going would necessitate the hiring of two shepherds; no hired man would do more than half of what folk did for their ain."
These disputes grew more frequent and more angry, and when Davie had added to all his other faults the unpardonable one of falling in love with the schoolmaster's niece, there was felt to be no hope for the lad. The Dentons had no poor relations; they regarded them as the one thing not needful, and they concluded it was better to give Davie a commission and send him away.
Poor Jennie did all the mourning for the lad; his father and brothers were in the midst of a new experiment for making wool water-proof, and pretty Mary Butterworth did not love David as David wished her to love him. It was Jennie only who hung weeping on his neck and watched him walk proudly and sorrowfully away over the hills into the wide, wide world beyond.
Then for many, many long years no more was heard of "Lile Davie Denton." The old schoolmaster died and Christopher followed him. But the Denton brothers remained together. However, when men make saving money the sole end of their existence, their life soon becomes as uninteresting as the multiplication table, and people ceased to care about the Denton farm, especially as Jennie married a wealthy squire over the mountains, and left her brothers to work out alone their new devices and economies.
Jennie's marriage was a happy one, but she did not forget her brother. There was in Esthwaite Grange a young man who bore his name and who was preparing for a like career. And often Jennie Esthwaite told to the lads and lasses around her knees the story of their "lile uncle," whom every one but his own kin had loved, and who had gone away to the Indies and never come back again. "Lile Davie" was the one bit of romance in Esthwaite Grange.
Jennie's brothers had never been across the "fells" that divided Denton from Esthwaite; therefore, one morning, twenty-seven years after Davie's departure, she was astonished to see Matt coming slowly down the Esthwaite side. But she met him with hearty kindness, and after he had been rested and refreshed he took a letter from his pocket and said, "Jennie, this came from Davie six months syne, but I thought then it would be seeking trouble to answer it."
"Why, Matt, this letter is directed to me! How dared you open and keep it?"
"Dared, indeed! That's a nice way for a woman to speak to her eldest brother!' Read it, and then you'll see why I kept it from you."
Poor Jennie's eyes filled fuller at every line. He was sick and wounded and coming home to die, and wanted to see his old home and friends once more.
"O Matt! Matt!" she cried; "how cruel, how shameful, not to answer this appeal."
"Well, I did it for the best; but it seems I have made a mistake. Sam and I both thought an ailing body dovering round the hearthstone and doorstone was not to be thought of--and nobody to do a hand's turn but old Elsie, who is nearly blind--and Davie never was one to do a decent hand job, let by it was herding sheep, and that it was not like he'd be fit for; so we just agreed to let the matter lie where it was."
"Oh, it was a cruel shame, Matt."
"Well, it was a mistake; for yesterday Sam went to Kendall, and there, in the Stramon-gate, he met Tom Philipson, who is just home from India. And what does Tom say but, 'Have you seen the general yet?' and, 'Great man is Gen. Denton,' and, 'Is it true that he is going to buy the Derwent estate?' and, 'Wont the Indian Government miss Gen. Denton!' Sam wasn't going to let Tom see how the land lay, and Tom went off saying that Sam had no call to be so pesky proud; that it wasn't him who had conquered the Mahrattas and taken the Ghiznee Pass."
Jennie was crying bitterly, and saying softly to herself, "O my brave laddie! O my bonnie lile Davie!"
"Hush, woman! No good comes of crying. Write now as soon as you like, and the sooner the better."
In a very few hours Jennie had acted on this advice, and, though the writing and spelling were wonderful, the poor sick general, nursing himself at the Bath waters, felt the love that spoke in every word. He had not expected much from his brothers; it was Jennie and Jennie's bairns he wanted to see. He was soon afterwards an honored guest in Esthwaite Grange, and the handsome old soldier, riding slowly among the lovely dales, surrounded by his nephews and nieces, became a well-known sight to the villages around.
Many in Thirlston remembered him, and none of his old companions found themselves forgotten. Nor did he neglect his brothers. These cautious men had become of late years manufacturers, and it was said were growing fabulously rich. They had learned the value of the low coppice woods on their fell-side, and had started a bobbin-mill which Sam superintended, while Matt was on constant duty at the great steam-mill on Milloch-Force, where he spun his own wools into blankets and serges.
The men were not insensible to the honor of their brother's career; they made great capital of it privately. But they were also intensely dissatisfied at the reckless way in which he spent his wealth. Young David Esthwaite had joined a crack regiment with his uncle's introduction and at his uncle's charges, and Jennie and Mary Esthwaite had been what the brothers considered extravagantly dowered in order that they might marry two poor clergymen whom they had set their hearts on.
"It is just sinful, giving women that much good gold," said Matt angrily: "and here we are needing it to keep a great business afloat."
It was the first time Matt had dared to hint that the mill under his care was not making money, and he was terribly shocked when Sam made a similar confession. In fact, the brothers, with all their cleverness and industry, were so ignorant that they were necessarily at the mercy of those they employed, and they had fallen into roguish hands. Sam proposed that David should be asked to look over their affairs and tell them where the leakage was: "He was always a lile-hearted chap, and I'd trust him, Matt, up hill and down dale, I would."
But Matt objected to this plan. He said David must be taken through the mills and the most made of everything, and then in a week or two afterwards be offered a partnership; and Matt, being the eldest, carried the day. A great festival was arranged, everything was seen to the best advantage, and David was exceedingly interested. He lingered with a strange fascination among the steam-looms, and Matt saw the bait had taken, for as they walked back together to the old homestead David said, "You were ever a careful man, Matt, but it must take a deal of money--you understand, brother--if you need at any time--I hope I don't presume."
"Certainly not. Yes, we are doing a big business--a very good business indeed; perhaps when you are stronger you may like to join us."
"I sha'n't get stronger, Matt--so I spoke now."
Sam, in his anxiety, thought Matt had been too prudent; he would have accepted Davie's offer at once; but Matt was sure that by his plan they would finally get all the general's money into their hands. However, the very clever always find some quantity that they have failed to take into account. After this long day at the mills General Denton had a severe relapse, and it was soon evident that his work was nearly finished.
"But you must not fret, Jennie dear," he said cheerfully; "I am indeed younger in years than you, but then I have lived a hundred times as long. What a stirring, eventful life I have had! I must have lived a cycle among these hills to have evened it; and most of my comrades are already gone."
One day, at the very last, he said, "Jennie, there is one bequest in my will may astonish you, but it is all right. I went to see her a month ago. She is a widow now with a lot of little lads around her. And I loved her, Jennie--never loved any woman but her. Poor Mary! She has had a hard time; I have tried to make things easier."
"You had always a lile heart, Davie; you could do no wrong to any one."
"I hope not. I--hope--not." And with these words and a pleasant smile the general answered some call that he alone heard, and trusting in his Saviour, passed confidently
"The quicks and drift that fill the rift Between this world and heaven."
His will, written in the kindest spirit, caused a deal of angry feeling; for it was shown by it that after his visit to the Denton Mills he had revoked a bequest to the brothers of L20,000, because, as he explicitly said, "My dear brothers do not need it;" and this L20,000 he left to Mary Butterworth Pierson, "who is poor and delicate, and does sorely need it." And the rest of his property he divided between Jennie and Jennie's bairns.
In the first excitement of their disappointment and ruin, Sam, who dreaded his brother's anger, and who yet longed for some sympathetic word, revealed to Jennie and her husband the plan Matt had laid, and how signally it had failed.
"I told him, squire, I did for sure, to be plain and honest with Davie. Davie was always a lile fellow, and he would have helped us out of trouble. Oh, dear! oh, dear! that L20,000 would just have put a' things right."
"A straight line, lad, is always the shortest line in business and morals, as well as in geometry; and I have aye found that to be true in my dealings is to be wise. Lying serves no one but the devil, as ever I made out."