The men scoffed at him openly, and occasionally gave him surreptitious 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.”
“Didn’ git up an’ look out?” disappointedly.
“No, I didn’t. Why should I get up to look out at a horse? I can see horses any day without getting out of bed in the middle of the night.”
“’Twus the White Horse of the Coupee,”—in a weird whisper.—“I heerd him start in Little Sark, and come across Coupee, an’ up by Colinette, an’ past this house. An’ if you’d ha’ looked out an’ seen him, you’d ha’ died.”