'And above all things mind this, Charley! Be sure you always speak well of father. Be sure you always give father his full due. You can't deny that because father has no learning himself he is set against it in you; but favour nothing else against him, and be sure you say--as you know--that your sister is devoted to him. And if you should ever happen to hear anything said against father that is new to you, it will not be true. Remember, Charley! It will not be true.'
The boy looked at her with some doubt and surprise, but she went on again without heeding it.
'Above all things remember! It will not be true. I have nothing more to say, Charley dear, except, be good, and get learning, and only think of some things in the old life here, as if you had dreamed them in a dream last night. Good-bye, my Darling!'
Though so young, she infused in these parting words a love that was far more like a mother's than a sister's, and before which the boy was quite bowed down. After holding her to his breast with a passionate cry, he took up his bundle and darted out at the door, with an arm across his eyes.
The white face of the winter day came sluggishly on, veiled in a frosty mist; and the shadowy ships in the river slowly changed to black substances; and the sun, blood-red on the eastern marshes behind dark masts and yards, seemed filled with the ruins of a forest it had set on fire. Lizzie, looking for her father, saw him coming, and stood upon the causeway that he might see her.
He had nothing with him but his boat, and came on apace. A knot of those amphibious human-creatures who appear to have some mysterious power of extracting a subsistence out of tidal water by looking at it, were gathered together about the causeway. As her father's boat grounded, they became contemplative of the mud, and dispersed themselves. She saw that the mute avoidance had begun.
Gaffer saw it, too, in so far as that he was moved when he set foot on shore, to stare around him. But, he promptly set to work to haul up his boat, and make her fast, and take the sculls and rudder and rope out of her. Carrying these with Lizzie's aid, he passed up to his dwelling.
'Sit close to the fire, father, dear, while I cook your breakfast. It's all ready for cooking, and only been waiting for you. You must be frozen.'
'Well, Lizzie, I ain't of a glow; that's certain. And my hands seem nailed through to the sculls. See how dead they are!' Something suggestive in their colour, and perhaps in her face, struck him as he held them up; he turned his shoulder and held them down to the fire.
'You were not out in the perishing night, I hope, father?'
'No, my dear. Lay aboard a barge, by a blazing coal-fire.--Where's that boy?'
'There's a drop of brandy for your tea, father, if you'll put it in while I turn this bit of meat. If the river was to get frozen, there would be a deal of distress; wouldn't there, father?'
'Ah! there's always enough of that,' said Gaffer, dropping the liquor into his cup from a squat black bottle, and dropping it slowly that it might seem more; 'distress is for ever a going about, like sut in the air--Ain't that boy up yet?'
'The meat's ready now, father. Eat it while it's hot and comfortable. After you have finished, we'll turn round to the fire and talk.'
But, he perceived that he was evaded, and, having thrown a hasty angry glance towards the bunk, plucked at a corner of her apron and asked:
'What's gone with that boy?'
'Father, if you'll begin your breakfast, I'll sit by and tell you.' He looked at her, stirred his tea and took two or three gulps, then cut at his piece of hot steak with his case-knife, and said, eating:
'Now then. What's gone with that boy?'
'Don't be angry, dear. It seems, father, that he has quite a gift of learning.'
'Unnat'ral young beggar!' said the parent, shaking his knife in the air.
'And that having this gift, and not being equally good at other things, he has made shift to get some schooling.'
'Unnat'ral young beggar!' said the parent again, with his former action.