They were certainly the very oddest pair that ever the moon shone on,—Stony Durdles and the boy “Deputy.”
Durdles was a stone-mason, from which occupation, undoubtedly, came his nickname “Stony,” and Deputy was a hideous small boy hired by Durdles to pelt him home if he found him out too late at night, which duty the boy faithfully performed. In all the length and breadth of Cloisterham there was no more noted man than the stone-mason, Durdles, not, I regret to say, on account of his virtues, but rather because of his talent for remaining out late at night, and not being able to guide his steps homeward. There is a coarser term which might have been applied to this talent of Durdles, but we have nothing to do with that, here and now; what we desire is an introduction to the small boy who is Durdles’s shadow.
One night, John Jasper, choir-master in Cloisterham Cathedral, on his way home through the Close, is brought to a standstill by the spectacle of Stony Durdles, dinner-bundle and all, leaning against the iron railing of the burial-ground, while a hideous small boy in rags flings stones at him, in the moonlight. Sometimes the stones hit him, and sometimes they miss him, but Durdles seems indifferent to either fortune. The hideous small boy, on the contrary, whenever he hits Durdles, blows a whistle of triumph through a jagged gap in the front of his mouth, where half his teeth are wanting; and whenever he misses him, yelps out, “Mulled agin!” and tries to atone for the failure by taking a more correct and vicious aim.
“What are you doing to the man?” demands Jasper.
“Makin’ a cock-shy of him,” replies the hideous small boy.
“Give me those stones in your hand.”
“Yes, I’ll give ’em you down your throat, if you come a ketchin’ hold of me,” says the small boy, shaking himself loose from Jasper’s touch, and backing. “I’ll smash your eye if you don’t look out!”
“What has the man done to you?”
“He won’t go home.”
“What is that to you?”
“He gives me a ‘apenny to pelt him home if I ketches him out too late,” says the boy. And then chants, like a little savage, half stumbling, and half dancing, among the rags and laces of his dilapidated boots,——
Widdy widdy wen!
I—ke—ches—’im out—ar—ter ten,
Widdy widdy wy!
Widdy widdy Wakecock warning!
—with a sweeping emphasis on the last word, and one more shot at Durdles. The bit of doggerel is evidently a sign which Durdles understands to mean either that he must prove himself able to stand clear of the shots, or betake himself immediately homeward, but he does not stir.
John Jasper crosses over to the railing where the Stony One is still profoundly meditating.
“Do you know this thing, this child?” he asks.
“Deputy,” says Durdles, with a nod.
“Is that its—his—name?”
“Deputy,” assents Durdles, whereupon the small boy feels called upon to speak for himself.
“I’m man-servant up at the Travellers Twopenny in Gas Works Garding,” he explains. “All us man-servants at Travellers Lodgings is named Deputy, but I never pleads to no name, mind yer. When they says to me in the Lockup, ‘What’s your name?’ I says to ’em ‘find out.’ Likewise when they says, ‘What’s your religion?’ I says, ‘find out’!” After delivering himself of this speech, he withdraws into the road and taking aim, he resumes:——
Widdy widdy wen!
“Hold your hand!” cries Jasper, “and don’t throw while I stand so near him, or I’ll kill you! Come Durdles, let me walk home with you to-night. Shall I carry your bundle?”
“Not on any account,” replies Durdles, adjusting it, and continuing to talk in a rambling way, as he and Jasper walk on together.
“This creature, Deputy, is behind us,” says Jasper, looking back. “Is he to follow us?”
The relations between Durdles and Deputy seem to be of a capricious kind, for on Durdles turning to look at the boy, Deputy makes a wide circuit into the road and stands on the defensive.
“You never cried Widdy Warning before you begun tonight,” cries Durdles, unexpectedly reminded of, or imagining an injury.
“Yer lie; I did,” says Deputy, in his only polite form of contradiction, whereupon Durdles turns back again and forgets the offence as unexpectedly as he had recalled it, and says to Jasper, in reference to Deputy.
“Own brother, sir, to Peter, the Wild Boy! But I gave him an object in life.”
“At which he takes aim?” Mr. Jasper suggests.
“That is it, sir,” returns Durdles; “at which he takes aim. I took him in hand and gave him an object. What was he before? A destroyer. What work did he do? Nothing but destruction. What did he earn by it? Short terms in Cloisterham jail. Not a person, not a piece of property, not a winder, not a horse, nor a dog, nor a cat, nor a bird, nor a fowl, nor a pig, but that he stoned for want of an enlightened object. I put that enlightened object before him, and now he can turn his honest halfpenny by the three pennorth a week.”
“I wonder he has no competitors.”
“He has plenty, Mr. Jasper, but he stones ’em all away.”
“He still keeps behind us,” repeats Jasper, looking back, “is he to follow us?”
“We can’t help going round by the Travellers Twopenny, if we go the short way, which is the back way,” Durdles answers, “and we’ll drop him there.”
So they go on; Deputy attentive to every movement of the Stony One, until at length nearly at their destination Durdles whistles, and calls—”Holloa, you Deputy!”
“Widdy!” is Deputy’s shrill response, standing off again.
“Catch that ha’penny. And don’t let me see any more of you to-night, after we come to the Travellers Twopenny.”
“Warning!” returns Deputy, having caught the halfpenny, and appearing by this mystic word to express his assent to the arrangement, then off he darts.
Such was the occupation of the small boy, Deputy, night after night, week after week, month after month, during the year when we catch a glimpse of him, and it is reasonable to suppose that the remainder of his life, after we lose sight of him was spent, in making a cock-shy of everything that came in his way, whether Durdles or inanimate objects. When he had nothing living to stone, I believe that he used to stone the dead, through the railing of the churchyard. He found this a relishing and piquing pursuit; firstly, because their resting place is supposed to be sacred, and, secondly, because the tall headstones are sufficiently like themselves to justify the delicious fancy that they are hurt when hit.
We have nothing told us to support the theory that Deputy’s life ever changed in its routine of work, and I am sure you agree with me that there were never an odder pair than the two: Durdles, the stone-mason, and Deputy, his servant.
Perhaps you will be in Cloisterham at some not far distant time; if so, wander out at night in the old graveyard, when the moon is up, and in among the cathedral crypts, if you can gain access to them; and see if from some shadowy corner of lane or building does not start out before you the wraith of the hideous small boy, Deputy, eluding your touch, and chanting as he dances in front of you the old song which was the badge of his office as the keeper of Durdles,——
Widdy widdy wen! I—ket—ches—’im—out—ar—ter—ten,
Widdy widdy wy!
Widdy widdy Wakecock Warning!