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When The Sap Rose – A Fantasia
by [?]

He issued on a small clearing by the edge of the brook, where the grass was a delicate green, each blade pushing up straight as a spear-point from the crumbled earth. Here were more anemones, between patches of last year’s bracken, and on the further slope a mass of daffodils. He pulled out a pocket-knife that had sharpened some hundreds of quill pens, and looking to his right, found what he wanted at once.

It was a sycamore, on which the buds were swelling. He cut a small twig, as big round as his middle finger, and sitting himself down on a barked log, close by, began to measure and cut it to a span’s length, avoiding all knots. Then, taking the knife by the blade between finger and thumb, he tapped the bark gently with the tortoise-shell handle. And as he tapped, his face went back to boyhood again, in spite of the side-whiskers, and his mouth was pursed up to a silent tune.

For ten minutes the tapping continued; the birds ceased their contention, and broke out restlessly at intervals. A rabbit across the brook paused and listened at the funnel-shaped mouth of his hole, which caught the sound and redoubled it.

“Confound these boots!” said the Registrar, and pulling them off, tossed them among the primroses. They were “elastic-sides.”

The tapping ceased. A breath of the land-ward breeze came up, combing out the tangle that winter had made in the grass, caught the brook on the edge of a tiny fall, and puffed it back six inches in a spray of small diamonds. It quickened the whole copse. The oak-saplings rubbed their old leaves one on another, as folks rub their hands, feeling life and warmth; the chestnut-buds groped like an infant’s fingers; and the chorus broke out again, the thrush leading–“Tiurru, tiurru, chippewee; tio-tee, tio-tee; queen, queen, que-een!”

In a moment or two he broke off suddenly, and a honey-bee shot out of an anemone-bell like a shell from a mortar. For a new sound disconcerted them–a sound sharp and piercing. The Registrar had finished his whistle and was blowing like mad, moving his fingers up and down. Having proved his instrument, he dived a hand into his tail-pocket and drew out a roll, tied around with ribbon. It was the folded leather-bound volume in which he kept his blank certificates. And spreading it on his knees, he took his whistle again and blew, reading his music from the blank pages, and piping a strain he had never dreamed of. For he whistled of Births and Marriages.

O, happy Registrar! O, happy, happy Registrar! You will never get into those elastic-sides again. Your feet swell as they tap the swelling earth, and at each tap the flowers push, the sap climbs, the speck of life moves in the hedge-sparrow’s egg; while, far away on the downs, with each tap, the yellow van takes bride and groom a foot nearer felicity. It is hard work in worsted socks, for you smite with the vehemence of Pan, and Pan had a hoof of horn.

* * * * *

The Registrar’s mother lived in the fishing-village, two miles down the coombe. Her cottage leant back against the cliff so closely, that the boys, as they followed the path above, could toss tabs of turf down her chimney: and this was her chief annoyance.

Now, it was close on the dinner-hour, and she stood in her kitchen beside a pot of stew that simmered over the wreck-wood fire.

Suddenly a great lump of earth and grass came bouncing down the chimney, striking from side to side, and soused into the pot, scattering the hot stew over the hearth-stone and splashing her from head to foot.

Quick as thought, she caught up a besom and rushed out around the corner of the cottage.

“You stinking young adders!” she began.

A big man stood on the slope above her.

“Mother, cuff my head, that’s a dear. I couldn’ help doin’ it.”

It was the elderly Registrar. His hat, collar, tie, and waistcoat were awry; his boots were slung on the walking-stick over his shoulder; stuck in his mouth and lit was a twist of root-fibre, such as country boys use for lack of cigars, and he himself had used, forty years before.

The old woman turned to an ash-colour, leant on her besom, and gasped.

“William Henry!”

“I’m not drunk, mother: been a Band of Hope these dozen years.” He stepped down the slope to her and bent his head low. “Box my ears, mother, quick! You used to have a wonderful gift o’ cuffin’.”

“William Henry, I’m bound to do it or die.”

“Then be quick about it.”

Half-laughing, half-sobbing, she caught him a feeble cuff, and next instant held him close to her old breast. The Registrar disengaged himself after a minute, brushed his eyes, straightened his hat, picked up the besom, and offered her his arm. They passed into the cottage together.