Widdershins

by


A DROLL.


Once upon a time there was a small farmer living in Wendron parish, not far from the church-town. 'Thaniel Teague was his name. This Teague happened to walk into Helston on a Furry-day, when the Mayor and townspeople dance through the streets to the Furry-tune. In the evening there was a grand ball given at the Angel Hotel, and the landlord very kindly allowed Teague--who had stopped too late as it was--to look in through the door and watch the gentry dance the Lancers.

Teague thought he had never seen anything so heavenly. What with one hindrance and another 'twas past midnight before he reached home, and then nothing would do for him but he must have his wife and six children out upon the floor in their night-clothes, practising the Grand Chain while he sang--


Out of my stony griefs Bethel I'll raise!


The seventh child, the babby, they set down in the middle of the floor, like a nine-pin. And the worst of it was, the poor mite twisted his eyes so, trying to follow his mammy round and round, that he grew up with a cast from that hour.

'Tis of this child--Joby he was called--that I am going to tell you. Barring the cast, he grew up a very straight lad, and in due time began to think upon marrying. His father's house faced south, and as it came easier to him to look north-west than any other direction, he chose a wife from Gwinear parish. His elder brothers had gone off to sea for their living, and his sister had married a mine-captain: so when the old people died, Joby took over the farm and worked it, and did very well.

Joby's wife was very fond of him, though of course she didn't like that cast in his looks: and in many ways 'twas inconvenient too. If the poor man ever put hand on plough to draw a straight furrow, round to the north 'twould work as sure as a compass-needle. She consulted the doctors about it, and they did no good. Then she thought about consulting a conjurer; but being a timorous woman as well as not over-wise, she put it off for a while.

Now, there was a little fellow living over to Penryn in those times, Tommy Warne by name, that gave out he knew how to conjure. Folks believed in him more than he did himself: for, to tell truth, he was a lazy shammick, who liked most ways of getting a living better than hard work. Still, he was generally made pretty welcome at the farm-houses round, for he could turn a hand to anything and always kept the maids laughing in the kitchen. One morning he dropped in on Farmer Joby and asked for a job to earn his dinner; and Joby gave him some straw to spin for thatching. By dinner-time Tom had spun two bundles of such very large size that the farmer rubbed his chin when he looked at them.

"Why," says he, "I always thought you a liar--I did indeed. But now I believe you can conjure, sure enough."

As for Mrs. Joby, she was so much pleased that, though she felt certain the devil must have had a hand in it, she gave Tom an extra helping of pudding for dinner.

Some time after this, Farmer Joby missed a pair of pack-saddles. Search and ask as he might, he couldn't find out who had stolen them, or what had become of them.

"Tommy Warne's a clever fellow," he said at last. "I must see if he can tell me anything." So he walked over to Penryn on purpose.

Tommy was in his doorway smoking when Farmer Joby came down the street. "So you'm after they pack-saddles," said he.

"Why, how ever did you know?"

"That's my business. Will it do if you find 'em after harvest?"

"To be sure 'twill. I only want to know where they be."

"Very well, then; after harvest they'll be found."

Home the farmer went. Sure enough, after harvest, he went to unwind Tommy's two big bundles of straw-rope for thatching the mow, and in the middle of each was one of his missing pack-saddles.

"Well, now," said Joby's wife, "that fellow must have a real gift of conjurin'! I wonder, my dear, you don't go and consult him about that there cross-eye of yours."

"I will, then," said Joby; and he walked over to Penryn again the very next market-day.

"'Cure your eyes,' is it?" said Tommy Warne. "Why, to be sure I can. Why didn't you ax me afore? I thought you liked squintin'."

"I don't, then; I hate it."

"Very well; you shall see straight this very night if you do what I tell you. Go home and tell your wife to make your bed on the roof of the four-poster; and she must make it widdershins, turnin' bed-tie and all against the sun, and puttin' the pillow where the feet come as a rule. That's all."

"Fancy my never thinkin' of anything so simple as that!" said Joby. He went home and told his wife. She made his bed on the roof of the four-poster, and widdershins, as he ordered; and they slept that night, the wife as usual, and Joby up close to the rafters.

But scarcely had Joby closed an eye before there came a rousing knock at the door, and in walked Joby's eldest brother, the sea-captain, that he hadn't seen for years.

"Get up, Joby, and come along with me if you want that eye of yours mended."

"Thank you, Sam, it's curin' very easy and nice, and I hope you won't disturb me."

"If 'tis Tommy Warne's cure you're trying, why then I'm part of it; so you'd best get up quickly."

"Aw, that's another matter, though you might have said so at first. I'd no notion you and Tommy was hand-'n-glove."

Joby rose up and followed his brother out of doors. He had nothing on but his night-shirt, but his brother seemed in a hurry, and he didn't like to object.

They set their faces to the road and they walked and walked, neither saying a word, till they came to Penryn. There was a fair going on in the town; swing-boats and shooting-galleries and lillybanger standings, and naphtha lamps flaming, and in the middle of all, a great whirly-go-round, with striped horses and boats, and a steam-organ playing "Yankee Doodle." As soon as they started Joby saw that the whole thing was going around widdershins; and his brother stood up under the naphtha-lamp and pulled out a sextant and began to take observations.

"What's the latitude?" asked Joby. He felt that he ought to say something to his brother, after being parted all these years.

"Decimal nothing to speak of," answered Sam.

"Then we ought to be nearing the Line," said Joby. He hadn't noticed the change, but now he saw that the boat they sat in was floating on the sea, and that Sam had stuck his walking-stick out over the stern and was steering.

"What's the longitude?" asked Joby.

"That doesn't concern us."

"'Tis west o' Grinnidge, I suppose?" Joby knew very little about navigation, and wanted to make the most of it.

"West o' Penryn," said Sam, very sharp and short. "'Twasn' Grinnidge Fair we started from."

But presently he sings out "Here we are!" and Joby saw a white line, like a popping-crease, painted across the blue sea ahead of them. First he thought 'twas paint, and then he thought 'twas catgut, for when the keel of their boat scraped over it, it sang like a bird.

"That was the Equator," said Sam. "Now let's see if your eyes be any better."

But when Joby tried them, what was his disappointment to find the cast as bad as ever?--only now they were slewing right the other way, towards the South Pole.

"I never thought well of this cure from the first," declared Sam. "For my part, I'm sick and tired of the whole business!" And with that he bounced up from the thwart and hailed a passing shark and walked down its throat in a huff, leaving Joby all alone on the wide sea.

"There's nice brotherly behaviour for you!" said Joby to himself. "Lucky he left his walking-stick behind. The best thing I can do is to steer along close to the Equator, and then I know where I am."

So he steered along close to the Line, and by and by he saw something shining in the distance. When he came nearer, 'twas a great gilt fowl stuck there with its beak to the Line and its wings sprawled out. And when he came close, 'twas no other than the cock belonging to the tower of his own parish church of Wendron!

"Well!" said Joby, "one has to travel to find out how small the world is. And what might you be doin' here, naybour?"

"Is that you, Joby Teague? Then I'll thank you to do me a good turn. I came here in a witch-ship last night, and the crew put this spell upon me because I wouldn't pay my footing to cross the Line. A nice lot, to try and steal the gilt off a church weather-cock! 'Tis ridiculous," said he, "but I can't get loose for the life o' me!"

"Why, that's as easy as ABC," said Joby. "You'll find it in any book of parlour amusements. You take a fowl, put its beak to the floor, and draw a chalk line away from it, right and left--"

Joby wetted his thumb, smudged out a bit of the Equator on each side of the cock's nose, and the bird stood up and shook himself.

"And now is there anything I can do for you, Joby Teague?"

"To be sure there is. I'm getting completely tired of this boat: and if you can give me a lift, I'll take it as a favour."

"No favour at all. Where shall we go visit?--the Antipodes?"

"No, thank you," said Toby. "I've heard tell they get up an' do their business when we honest folks be in our beds: and that kind o' person I never could trust. Squint or no squint, Wendron's Wendron, and that's where I'm comfortable."

"Well, it's no use loitering here, or we may get into trouble for what we've done to the Equator. Climb on my back," said the bird, "and home we go!"

It seemed no more than a flap of the wings, and Joby found himself on his friend's back on one of the pinnacles of Wendron Church and looking down on his own farm.

"Thankin' you kindly, soce, and now I think I'll be goin'," said he.

"Not till I've cured your eyesight, Joby," said the polite bird.

Joby by this time was wishing his eyesight to botheration; but before he could say a word, a breeze came about the pinnacles, and he was spinning around on the cock's back--spinning around widdershins-- clutching the bird's neck and holding his breath.

"And now," the cock said, as they came to a standstill again, "I think you can see a hole in a ladder as well as any man."

Just then the bells in the tower below them began to ring merrily.

Said Joby, "What's that for, I wonder?"

"It looks to me," said the cock, "as if your wife was gettin' married again."

Sure enough, while the bells rang, Joby saw the door of his own house open, and his own wife come stepping towards the church, leaning on a man's arm. And who should that man be but Tommy Warne?

"And to think I've lived fifteen years with that woman, and never lifted my hand to her!"

Said the bird, "The wedding is fixed for eleven o'clock, and 'tis on the stroke now. If I was you, Joby, I'd climb down and put back the church clock."

"And so I would, if I knew how to get to it."

"You've but to slide down my leg to the parapet: and from the parapet you can jump right on to the string-course under the clock."

Joby slid down the bird's leg, and jumped on to the ledge. He had never before noticed a clock in Wendron Church tower; but there one was, staring him in the face.

"Now," cried his friend, "catch hold of the minute-hand and turn!" Joby did so--"Widdershins!" screamed the bird: "faster! faster!" Joby whizzed back the minute-hand with all his might.

"Aie, ul--ul--oo! Lemme go! 'Tis my arm you're pullin' off!" 'Twas his own wife's voice in his own four-poster. Joby had slid down the bed-post and caught hold of her arm, and was workin' it round like mad from right to left.

"I ax your pardon, my dear. I was thinkin' you was another man's bride."

"Indeed, I must say you wasn't behavin' like it," said she.

But when she got up and lit a candle, she was pleased enough. For Joby's eyes were as straight as yours or mine. And straight they have been ever since.


THE END.


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