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Tug of War | Amy C. Walton

The Runswick Sports

“I’ve got a big favor to ask of you, sir,” said Duncan the next day. “You’ll not think I’m taking a liberty, will you?”

“Certainly not, Duncan,” I said. “What do you want?”

“Well, it’s just here, sir—me and my mates, we get up some sports every year on the green. We have ’em in August, sir, just when the visitors are here. They all turn out to see them, and there’s lots of them is very good in subscribing to the prizes. You see, sir, there is a many young fellows here, young chaps who must have something to keep them out of mischief. When they’re not fishing, they’re bound to be after the beer, if they haven’t something to turn their minds to and keep them going a bit. And these sports, why, they like ’em, sir; and a man must keep sober if he’s to win a prize—you understand, sir?”

“Yes, Duncan, I understand,” I said. “It’s first-rate for these young lads, and for the old lads, too, for the matter of that. I suppose you want a subscription for your prizes?” I added, as I handed him half a sovereign.

“Thank ye kindly, sir, I won’t refuse it, and it’s very good of you to help us so largely; but that isn’t what I came to ask of you. I hardly like to bother you, sir,” he said doubtfully.

“Never mind the bother, Duncan. Let’s hear what you want.”

“Well, it’s just here, sir. Could you, do you think, make for us some sort of a program to hang up by the post office there, for visitors to see? You draw them pictures so quick, sir, and—”

“I see, Duncan; you want the program to be illustrated. I’m your man. I’ll do it at once.” I was really only too glad to oblige the dear, honest fellow.

He was wonderfully pleased at my ready consent, and went off at once to procure a board upon which my program might be fastened. We soon made out together a list of attractions, and I had great pleasure in beautifying and illustrating the catalogue of sports.

I headed it thus:

Oyez, Oyez!
Runswick Athletic Sports

Then, from the R of Runswick I hung a long fishing net, covered with floats, and falling down over a fish basket, and some lobster-pots, while on the ground were lying a number of fish which had been emptied out of the basket.

Next followed a list of patrons, such as: The Honourable O’Mackerell, Lord Crabby Lobster, Sir C. Shrimp, etc., etc.

Then came a list of the various sports, each profusely illustrated—the tug of war, the jockey race, the women’s egg and spoon race, the sack race, the greasy pole, the long jump, etc.; and lastly, an announcement of a grand concert to be held in the evening, as a conclusion of the festivities of the day.

Duncan was more than satisfied—he was delighted, and his gratitude knew no bounds. His excitement, as he carried the board away to hang it in a conspicuous place, was like the excitement of a child.

The whole village seemed to be stirred as the eventful day drew near.

“Are you going to see the great tug, big Mr. Jack?” my little friend called to me over the wall as I was painting. As for the York boys, Harry and Bob, they spent a great part of every day in admiring the program, and in bringing other visitors to see and admire the work of their artist.

How anxiously Duncan watched the sky the day before the sports, and how triumphantly Polly announced, when I came down to breakfast, “A fine day, sir. Couldn’t be finer, could it now?”

Those village sports were really a pretty sight. I see it all in my mind’s eye now. I often wonder why I have not made a picture of it. The high cliff stretching overhead, and covered with bushes and bracken, among which nestled the red-tiled cottages. Then below the cliff the level green, covered with strong, hardy fishermen and their sunburnt wives, and surrounding the green, on the sandhills, the visitors old and young, dressed in bright colors and holiday attire. Is it too late to paint it from memory, I wonder? I see it all still so distinctly.

The sports lasted a long time, and went off well. Polly distinguished herself by winning the egg and spoon race, much to the joy of little John, who watched all the proceedings from his father’s arms.

Then came the greatest event of all, the tug of war. A long cable was brought out and stretched across the green, and a pocket handkerchief was tied in the center of it. Two stakes were then driven into the ground, and between these a line was chalked on the grass. The handkerchief was then placed exactly over the line. After this all the fishermen who entered the lists were divided into two parties. Then each side laid hold of one end of the rope, and at a given signal they began to pull. It was a trial of strength; whichever side could draw the handkerchief past the two stakes and over the line, that side would win.

How tremendously those men pulled! What force they put into it! Yet for a long time the rope did not move a single inch. All the strength of those powerful fishermen was put out. They were lying on the ground, that their pull might be all the stronger. Every sinew, every nerve, every muscle seemed to be on the strain, but so evenly were the two sides matched, that the rope was motionless, and it seemed impossible to tell which party would win.

Little John was eagerly watching his father.

“Pull, Daddy, pull!” I heard him cry. And I think I was nearly as pleased as he and Polly were when Duncan and the mates on his side suddenly made one mighty effort, and the handkerchief was drawn across the line. There was tremendous cheering after this. Polly clapped her hands with delight, and little Jack and big Jack nearly shouted themselves hoarse.

It was an interesting sight, and I had reason to remember it afterwards, as you will see. The evening concert went off as well as the sports had done, and Duncan came in at night rather tired, but well satisfied with the day’s proceedings.

I enjoyed all the sights at Runswick Bay, but I think I was particularly charmed with what happened on the day after the sports. All the village was early astir, and as I was dressing, it seemed to me that every fisherman in the place was hurrying down to the beach. It was not long before I followed them to see what they were doing. I found that they were about to draw the crab boats up from the shore, to a place where they would be safe from the winter storms. It was hard work, but everyone was there to give a hand. A long string of men and lads laid hold of the strong cable fastened to the boat. Even the wives and elder children caught hold of it. I myself went to their help, and several of the visitors followed my example. Then, when we were all in position, there came a pause, for Duncan, who was directing the proceedings, charged us not to pull till the signal was given. Then there rose a peculiar cry or yodel, all the fishermen uttering it together, and as soon as it ceased we gave our united, mighty pull. Then we paused to take breath, until once more there came a yodel followed by another pull, and as this was repeated again and again, it was grand to see the heavy boat making steady and regular progress. Across the heavy sand she came, up the low bank, over the rough grass, slowly, steadily, surely, she moved onward, until at length she was placed in safety, far out of reach of the highest tide and the strongest sea. Thus, one after another, the boats were drawn up, and we were fairly tired before our work was done.

I think it must have been that very day, that, as I was sitting painting, I once more heard the broken notes of the instrument which had troubled me so much before. It was that tune again, my mother’s tune, and somehow, I do not know how it was, with the sound of my mother’s tune there came back to my mind the remembrance of the Sunday service. Ah! my mother was on the right side of the line, I said to myself. She was a servant of Christ. But her son! What is he?

I did not want to follow out this subject, so I jumped up from my campstool, and standing under the wall, I called, “Little Jack, little Jack.”

The music stopped at once, and the child came out. Dear, little merry fellow, how fond I was of him already!

“Yes, Mr. Big Jack,” he said, as he ran out of the gate.

“Come and talk to me, old chappie,” I said, “while I paint. Who plays music in your house?”

“I do,” said little Jack.

“You do, Jack? Why, you are a funny little fellow to play music! What do you play on, and who taught you?”

“Nobody teached me, Mr. Jack,” he said. “I teached my own self.”

“Teached your own self? Why, how did you manage that?” I asked.

“I turned him round and round and round, Mr. Jack, and the music came, and I teached my own self,” he repeated.

“What is it, Jack?” I asked. “Is it an old musical box?”

“No, it’s an organ, a barrow-organ, Mr. Jack.”

“Oh, a barrel-organ you mean, little chappie. Why, however in the world did you get hold of a barrel-organ? Is it a little toy one?”

“No, it’s big, ever so big,” he said, stretching out his hands to show me its size.

“Why, whoever gave you it?” I asked.

“It isn’t Jack’s own organ,” said the child.

“Whose is it, then?”

“It’s Father’s, Father’s own organ.”

It seemed to me a most extraordinary thing for the mission preacher of Runswick Bay to have in his possession, but I did not like to ask any more questions at that time.

However, in the afternoon my little friend called to me over, the wall, “Big Mr. Jack, come here.”

“Come where, my little man?”

“Come inside and look at Father’s organ. I’ll play it to you, Mr. Jack.”

“What will Father say if I come in?”

“Father’s out.”

“What will Mother say?”

“Mother’s out, too.”

I did not much relish the idea of entering a man’s house in his absence, but such plaintive entreaties came from the other side of the wall. Over and over again he pleaded, “Do come, Mr. Jack; do come quick, Mr. Jack!” that at last, to please the child, I left my work for a few minutes and went up the steps which led to the gate of their garden.

It was only a small place, but very prettily laid out. There was a tiny lawn, well kept, and covered with short, soft grass, and in the center of this a round bed filled with geraniums, calceolarias, and lobelias. Round the lawn, at the edge of the garden, was a border, in which grew all manner of gay and sweet-smelling flowers. There were asters and mignonette, sweet-peas and convolvolus, heliotrope and fuchsias. Then in front of me was the pretty cottage, with two gables and a red-tiled roof, the walls of which were covered from top to bottom with creeping plants. Ivy and jessamine, climbing roses, virginia-creeper, and canariensis, all helped to make the little place beautiful.

“What a pretty home you have, little Jack!” I said.

He kept tight hold of my hand, lest I should escape from him, and led me on—into a tiny entrance hall, past one or two doors, down a dark passage, and into a room at the back.

This room had a small bay window overlooking the sea, the walls were covered with bookshelves, a writing-table stood in the window, and in the corner by the fireplace was the extraordinary object I had been brought to see—an extremely ancient and antiquated barrel-organ.

What a peculiar thing to come across in a preacher’s study! What possible use could he have for it? It was a most dilapidated old instrument, almost falling to pieces with old age. The shape was so old-fashioned that I do not remember ever having seen one like it. The silk, which had doubtless once been its adornment, was torn into shreds, and it was impossible to tell what its original color had been. The wood was worm-eaten and decayed, and the leg upon which it had rested could no longer support its weight.

“Let me hear you play it, Jack,” I said.

He sat down with great pride to turn the handle, but I noticed that half the notes were broken off the barrel, which accounted for only fragments of each tune being heard, while many bars of some were wanting altogether. However, Jack seemed very proud of his performance, and insisted on my staying till he had gone through the whole of the four tunes which the poor old thing was supposed to play. He announced their names, one by one, as each began.

“This is ‘My Poor Mary Anne,’ Mr. Jack, “very sad.” Then when that was finished, “This is the Old Hundred, very old.”

After this there was a long turning of the handle without any sound being heard, for the first part of the next tune was gone entirely. “I can’t say the name of this one, Mr. Jack,” he explained. “Marjorie calls its something like ‘Ma says.’ ”

“Oh! the ‘Marseillaise,’” I said, laughing. “All right, little man, I know that.”

“Then comes Father’s tune, Father does like it so. Listen, ‘Home, sweet home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.’ Do you like it, Mr. Jack?”

“Yes, I do like it, Jack,” I said. “I knew it when I was a little chap like you.”

As he played, once more it brought before me my mother’s voice and my mother’s words. I had not thought of my mother for years so much as I had done at Runswick Bay. Even the old organ brought her back to me, for she was always kind to organ-grinders. There was an Italian who used to come round with a barrel-organ when I was a little boy. I can see him now. I used to watch for him from my nursery window, and as soon as he came in sight I flew down to my mother for a penny, and then went into the garden and stood beside him while he played. My mother gave me a musical-box on my birthday. It was in the shape of a barrel-organ, and had a strap which I could hang round my neck. I used to take this box with me, and standing beside the Italian, I imitated his every movement, holding my little organ just as he held his big one, and playing beside him as long as he remained. So delightful did this man’s occupation seem to me, that I can remember quite well when my father asked me one day what I would like to be when I was a man, I answered without a moment’s hesitation, “An organ-grinder, of course, Father.”

Those old boyish days, how long ago they seemed! What was the use of recalling them? It would not bring back the mother I had lost, or the father who had cared for me, and it only made me depressed to think of them. What good, I asked myself, would my vacation do me if I spent it in brooding over bygone sorrow? I must forget all this kind of thing, and cheer up, and get back my spirits again.

“Now, little Jack,” I said, “big Jack must go back to his picture. Come and climb into the old boat, and I’ll see how you would do in the foreground of it.” He looked such a merry little rogue, perched among the nets and fishing tackle, that I felt I should improve my picture by introducing him into it, and therefore from that day he came for a certain time every morning to be painted. He was such a good little fellow, he never moved a limb after I told him I was ready, and never spoke unless I spoke to him. A more lovable child I never saw, nor a more obedient one. With all his fun, and in spite of his flow of spirits, he was checked in a moment by a single word. No one could be dull in his company, and as the week passed on I began to regain my usual cheerfulness, and to lose the uncomfortable impression left on my mind by the sermon on the shore and the questions the preacher had asked us.