At much length did the schoolmaster speak on the joys of learning, and, pointing proudly to a few shelves filled by his savings, he formally made Jan “free of” his books. “When ye’ve learnt to read them,” he added. Jan thanked him for this, and for leave to visit him. But he looked out of the window instead of at the book-shelves.
Beyond Master Swift’s gay flowers stretched the rich green of the water-meads, glowing yellow in the sunlight. The little river hardly seemed to move in its zig-zag path, though the evening breeze was strong enough to show the silver side of the willows that drooped over it. Jan wondered if he could match all these tints in the wood, and whether Master Swift would be willing to have leaf-pictures painted on that table in the window. Then he found that the old man was speaking, though he only heard the latter part of what he said. “—a celebrated inventor and mechanic, and that’s what you’ll be, maybe. Ay, ay, a Great Man, please the Lord; and, when I’m laid by in the churchyard yonder, folks’ll come to see the grave of old Swift, the great man’s schoolmaster. Ye’ll be an inventor yet, lad, a benefactor to your kind, and an honor to your country. I’m not raising false hopes in ye, without observing your qualities. You’ve the quick eye, the slow patience, and the inventive spark. You can find your own tools and all, and don’t stop where other folk leaves off: witness yon bluebells ye took to make skies with! But, bless the lad, he’s not heeding me! Is it the bit of garden you’re looking at? Come out then.” And, putting the biography back in the book-shelf, the kindly old man led Jan out of doors.
“Say what you said in the wood again,” said Jan.
But Master Swift laughed, and, stretching his hand towards the sweet-peas hedge began at another part of the poem: —
“Here are sweet
peas on tiptoe for a flight:
With wings of gentle flush o’er delicate white,
And taper fingers catching at all things
To bind them all about with tiny rings.”
Then, bending towards the river, he continued in a theatrical whisper: —
“How silent comes
the water round that bend!
Not the minutest whisper does it send
To the o’erhanging sallows” —
But here he stopped suddenly, though Jan’s black eyes were at their roundest, and his attention almost breathless.
“There, there! I’m an old fool, and for making you as bad. Poetry’s not your business, you understand: I’m giving ye no encouragement to dabble with the fine arts. Science is the ladder for a working-man to climb to fame. In addition to which, the poet Keats, though he certainly speaks the very language of Nature, was a bit of a heathen, I’m afraid, and the fascination of him might be injurious in tender youth. Never mind, child, if ye love poetry, I’ll learn ye pieces by the poet Herbert. They’re just true poetry, and manly, too; and they’re a fountain of experimental religion. And, if this style is too sober for your fancy, Charles Wesley’s hymns are touched with the very fire of religious passion.”