thou not that narrow path
So thick beset with thorns and briars?
It is the path of righteousness,
And after it but few aspires.
thou not the little path
That winds about the ferny brae?
That is the road to bonnie Elf-land,
Where thou and I this night maun gae.”
“Where is it?” said Jan, earnestly. “Is’t a town?”
The old man laughed. “I’m thinking it would be well to let that path be, in your company. We’d hardly get out under a year and a day.”
“I’d go—with you,” said Jan, confidently. Many an expedition had he undertaken on his own responsibility, and why not this?
“First, show me what ye were going to show me,” said the old man. “Where’s this sky you’ve been manufacturing?”
“It’s on the ground, sir.”
“On the ground! And are ye for turning earth into heaven among your other trades?” What this might mean Jan knew not; but he led his friend round, and pointed out the features of his leaf-picture. He hoped for praise, but the old man was silent,—long silent, though he seemed to be looking at what Jan showed him. And when he did speak, his broken words were addressed to no one.
“Wonderful! wonderful! The poetry of ’t. It’s no child’s play, this. It’s genius. Ay! we mun see to it!” And then, with clasped hands, he cried, “Good Lord! Have I found him at last?”
“Have you lost something?” said Jan.
But the old man did not answer. He did not even speak of the leaf-picture, to Jan’s chagrin. But, stroking the boy’s shoulder almost tenderly, he asked, “Did ye ever go to school, laddie?”
Jan nodded. “At Dame Datchett’s,” said he.
“Ah! ye were sorry to leave school for pig-minding, weren’t ye?”
Jan shook his head. “I likes pigs,” said he. “I axed Master Salter to let me mind his. I gets a shilling a week and me tea.”
“But ye like school better? Ye love your books, don’t ye?”
Jan shook his head again. “I don’t like school,” said he, “I likes being in the wood.”
The old man winced as if some one had struck him in the face, then he muttered, “The wood! Ay, to be sure! And such a school, too!”
Then he suddenly addressed Jan. “Do ye know me, my lad?”
“No, sir,” said Jan.
“Swift—Master Swift, they call me. You’ve heard tell of Master Swift, the schoolmaster?”
Jan shrank back. He had heard of Master Swift as a man whose stick was more to be dreaded than Dame Datchett’s strap, and of his school as a place where liberty was less than with the Dame.
“See thee!” said the old man, speaking broader and broader in his earnestness. “If thy father would send thee,—nay, what am I saying?—if I took thee for naught and gladly, thou’dst sooner come to the old schoolmaster and his books than stay with pigs, even in a wood? Eh, laddie? Will ye come to school?”