Blackwater Hall, the home of Daniel Quarles and his granddaughter, was none of your old manor-houses with mullioned windows and carven music-galleries, fallen in grandeur and rent. It had barely done yeoman’s service, being just a low whitewashed and thatched cottage, whose upper windows under the overhanging eaves seemed deep-set eyes under jutting brows. Nor was it near the Blackwater, though from its comparatively high ground the broadening river first began to glimmer on the view when you came to the edge of Bradmarsh Common and looked across its brown expanse towards the bluish haze of the background.
It was in reality nearer the Brad, which as seen foreshortened from it seemed to lave the roof of Frog Farm and sentinel it with its willows. Blackwater Hall should in fact—Jinny would jest—have been called Common Cottage. For it was just a way of living on the Common, protected from the elements, yet sucked up into them: a sort of transparent, transpirable shell amid this universal flying, fluttering, hopping, creeping, crawling, soaring, swooping, scampering, twisting, droning, humming, buzzing, barking, chirping, croaking, cawing, and singing: a human nest niched on the edge of a chaos of twigs, roots, old amorphous trunks, tangled faded fern-branches, mossy patches, gorse, ferruginous-leaved oaks, shrubs, ant-heaps innumerable, rabbit-warrens, wild apple, wild plum, black heather, and endless stubs to catch the feet, or branches to whip the face, or thorns to prick the fingers. A garden path to the Hall lay between homely flowers, periwinkle and marigold and the like.
Behind the Hall lay the Quarles estate of an acre and a lug or two, with its poultry-run, its tethered goats, its vegetables, its clothes-lines, its thatched stables, its odd sheds and little barn, and its well. If Daniel Quarles was not nid-nodding over his big Bible or on the bench in the front porch, or pruning the vine over the kitchen door, or exercising his lopping and topping rights on the Common, it was here the nonagenarian was to be found pottering: planting, hoeing, watering, or weeding. He would usually groom Methusalem of a morning—it was his way of asserting his hold over the business—and on Tuesday and Friday evenings, when the wayworn Jinny drove up along the grassy path ’twixt cottage and Common, rutted only from her own wheels, he would generally rub down Methusalem after high tea. Otherwise the multiform labour of house and land, of cooking and bread-baking and goat-milking and scrubbing and washing, all fell upon the little Carrier. And even the work the Gaffer did was far outbalanced by the work he made.
And yet it was Daniel’s personality, not Jinny’s, that was impressed on the house, even as his name remained on the cart. Her own exiguous claim upon life combined with piety and affection to leave everything as she had found it when he brought her here; not only in the big attic where eight had once huddled and which he now occupied in solitary state, sadly conscious of the great, snoreless silences, but in both the ground-floor rooms over which it stretched. The one with the window was the living-room, and the other—on which the front door opened and where a Dutch clock with hanging weights greeted the visitor with a cheery tick that relieved its deadness—was piled pell-mell with old cypress chests and other-litter of the progeny he had outlived, as well as with a few boxes or parcels left by neighbouring clients or as yet undelivered to them. These two rooms communicating, the box-room served both as a business office and a passage to the living-room, from the rear of which you ascended by a door the wriggling staircase to the patriarch’s big bedroom, or tumbled down two steps from another doorway to a combination of kitchen, larder, wood-cellar, and scullery, lit up and aired by one small swinging pane, a den which even Jinny could not keep free of cobwebs and smells. Here was the Gaffer’s beer-barrel, and the thumb-hole tray, painted with tigers, on which she brought in his morning draught from it. Here also were the jug and basin of her toilette, for bedroom Jinny had none; the need of disturbing the ancient chests or the office—which would have been a sad blow to her grandfather—being avoided through the fortunate talent of the chest of drawers in the living-room for turning into a bed. Its drawers, in which the bedding was concealed, would come out and hook on to one another, while legs would swivel out from beneath them.
It was not gay—this room-of-all-work—despite its over-population of china shepherdesses with their swains and hounds and its rank growth of dried grass in vases—all doubled and distorted by the cracked, fustily gilt mirror on the mantelpiece—for the oaken beams of the ceiling, from which hung a gigantic rusty key, had been plastered over, and the walls—in a similar quest of gentility—dulled with a grey paper, sedulously rematched when it fell to pieces; far livelier was the staircase paper—all hearts and roses—if only you could have seen it in the dusky windings and under the menacing bulge of the plaster ceiling.
Apart from the shepherdesses and vases, among which Jinny was not sorry to see a growing mortality, as the Gaffer fumbled for his spectacles, the room was not over-furnished, a small carved wooden settle by the cavernous hearth, a small square, central table without flaps, two squat and cushioned arm-chairs, with one prim wooden chair, and a little lamp with a monstrous fat globe, constituting almost the minimum of necessaries; even their united libraries, the Gaffer’s Family Bible and Jinny’s “Peculiar Hymn-Book” and “Universal Spelling-Book,” being constrained to repose, like the shepherdesses, on top of the chest of drawers—that shifty piece of furniture whose mysterious recesses secreted also the hymn-book recovered from the bushes. That article of bigotry and virtue, hurled from him by the angry boy, lay—long-forgotten—in the top drawer behind the rolled-up wire mattress that uncoiled by a spring.
Yet this shabby room with its drab paper and squat furniture—vivified most of the year only by that tireless tick of the Dutch clock from the office, or the purring of the kettle from the kitchen—made for Jinny the holy conception of home. The very cracks in the mirror had become second nature; a glass that looked one squarely in the face would have put her eye out, and if in an utterly impossible moment the Gaffer had considerately replaced the old one, the tresses she tamed into seemliness by it would have been a sorry sight. Here, without books or friends, mere living was a happiness, especially at night after Gran’fer, whose big Bible invariably turned from a table-book into a pillow, had woke up and remarked he was getting sleepy, and been steered up the corkscrew staircase to his bed. Then, in a silence broken by no human sound—save the snoring of the Gaffer from above—and in a security symbolized by the unlocked gates and doors, Jinny would sit in delicious relaxation with her sewing or knitting or bonnet-trimming, finding compensation for the long laborious day: listening in summer to the late singing birds or gazing in winter at the glowing logs with their delicate flicker of blue, while Nip in his virtuous basket snored in harmony with the Gaffer or uttered joyous yells in his dream-hunting.
In those hours Jinny demanded nothing of man or God, though when she had produced her bed like a conjurer out of its mahogany recesses, prayers came automatically to the sleepy little figure kneeling beside it, with the dark hair flowing over the white shoulders.
That was a pretty sight, but only the cracked mirror saw it.
Yet back, deep back in Jinny’s baby consciousness, lay another home altogether, a home richer in comfort and love; giving not on a tumbling common, but on a strange, flat waterside—with stately dream-ships in swelling white, and black barges, and little boats with ochre or orange sails, and a pervading savour of salt and mud; the real Blackwater Hall she felt dimly, though its name escaped her.
In this overlaid life there was a filmy female figure that fed and bathed and rocked one, and kissed the place one had banged, and sometimes held one as passionately as if against some monster that was trying to tear one’s face from that flower-soft cheek; it could scarcely be that burly figure, spasmodically appearing and disappearing, for that too was kind in its different way, and had a knee less cumbered by clothes across which one could ride astride, and pullable hair on its face and curling smoke issuing from its mouth more profusely than from the kettle’s. Out of this general background, like mountains from a plain, stood out a few episodes of peculiar vividness, but of no apparent significance—in one she sat on a rough sea-wall playing with innumerable tiny white shells while a bird hovered over her crying, as if trying to induce her to follow it seaward, but before she could do so the female figure had appeared, frantically scolding and caressing, and had carried her, struggling and kicking, back to a cot. In another she was carried by the burly being to a little room with a strange little bulbous window and a queer smell, where she was kissed by an elderly figure with a cocked hat and a fixed eye that had a strange affinity to the window. Later she seemed to be living in the strange building that held this room: it had a canvas roof, a flag at one end and a mast with ropes at the other, yet puzzlingly was not a ship, for she saw herself running down the stairs to pat Methusalem in the road.
But these shadowy and usually submerged images all leapt into renewed vitality one delectable Wednesday when, clad in a new black dress, hurriedly stitched together by Miss Gentry, she divided the driving-board with her grandfather (looking odd in his white funeral smock beside her blackness), while Methusalem, equally refreshed and exhilarated by the novel roads, almost hurried them by square-towered hamlets and dear little bridges spanning crawling streams to the quaint cemetery where the old man’s sister was to lie. How Nip would have loved the expedition she thought in after days! But he had not yet adopted her.
It was on this trip that she began to hear things that solidified the filmy figures—but it was only from the Gaffer’s spasms of imprecation tailing off into anecdote that she was able in the course of years to piece together her parental history. Boldero, she learnt incidentally, was her real name, not Quarles: a correction that mattered less, since nobody had ever called her anything but Jinny. She gathered that the Gaffer had purposely neglected to perpetuate her father’s name: he was cancelled and annulled.
Roger Boldero, she came gradually to understand, was one of those superior souls of uncertain status who, having got command of a little sailing vessel, were wafted joyously to and fro, exchanging the silks and spirits of France and the tobacco of Holland for the coins of England without any regard for the benighted principles handicapping human intercourse by taxation. Although her father finally came to own the cargoes he ran, he was at first the mere carrier for speculative capitalists; under cover, moreover, of an honest freight of non-dutiable articles. Carrying was thus in Jinny’s blood, both by land and sea, and it is no marvel she made a success of it. But the conjuncture of the two bloods came by the queerest of accidents. The Tommy Devil—the fearsome name of Roger Boldero’s boat was only the Essex name for the swift that flew gigantically in gay wood over its cutwater—being caught one night in a sudden gale at a season of high tides, found herself driven towards a lee shore of her native county. It was a perilous situation, and rather than be dashed on the beach broadside on, Skipper Boldero put his helm up and daringly essayed to land nose first on the mud. But the lugger, whose lightness was so admirable against the King’s cutters, and which had been still further lightened of her ankers of brandy and stone bottles of Schiedam—these, through an interruption by the blockade men, “waiting to be called for” in certain “fleets” and ditches farther along the coast—could not keep her head against the veering welter. With desperate resourcefulness Boldero improvised a drogue by lashing spars and a spare sail to a rope and trailing it at the stern, and, thus steadied before the wind, the Tommy Devil escaped broaching to, and despite the following sea that tilted her figurehead into the depths, she was finally dumped high and wet on the beach, on the very verge of the sea-wall—both uninjured.
It was a fine piece of seamanship (though aided by the rare steepness of this bit of beach and the high water), and the storm beginning to abate and the water to recede, the sails were lowered and the skipper and crew turned thankfully in. They were not wanting in men—carrying of this kind needed large and able-minded crews—yet all hands being worn out by hours of battling with wind and wave—“dilvered,” as old Daniel put it—a watch was deemed superfluous for a vessel no longer at sea, and the Tommy Devil reposed from stem to stern with all the soundness of conscious virtue watched over by Providence.
Now it happened that Lieutenant Dap, commander of His Majesty’s Revenue Cutter, then prowling in the offing in quest of gin-tubs—he had been pressed as a youth, served under Nelson, and had exchanged to the Preventive Service when he married that rustic beauty Susannah Quarles, sister of Daniel—was returning with a lantern at the first peep of dawn to the “Leather Bottel,” to knock up his boat’s crew. His anxious day in Brandy Hole Creek—as everybody called the little place—had ended happily: Susannah’s seventh baby had been safely and punctually launched—and the proud and prolific father was anxious to be back sweeping up the prizes that led to preferment. It being a high occasion, and to impress Mrs. Dap’s neighbours, he had come ashore in a cocked hat, and he felt almost knocked into one when he beheld, towering over the sea-wall, the great masts of a vessel that loomed gigantic in that place and light. He rubbed his one eye—the other he had lost in his original struggle against the pressgang—but the mysterious jetsam remained, and a closer inspection showed it the kind of longish craft whose huge lugsails his clumsier man-o’-war could rarely overtake, despite his square sail yards. But boldly, as befitted a man with a Nelsonic eye, and without waiting even to summon his men, he hailed the stranded stranger. No reply. Nor did even a shower of such small stones as the muddy beach afforded have any effect on the uncanny bark. There was nothing left but to board her—which the hero achieved single-handed, clambering over the sagging bulwark and standing alone on the slanting deck.
Roger Boldero, aroused to find himself challenged by the cocked hat and stony eye of the Law, displayed, though blinking at the lantern, as great a sang-froid as in the presence of the elements. There was, in fact, far less danger. Of the forbidden articles only lace was left on board, and lace has been designed by the said watchful Providence to occupy small space and be easily invisible. A wink to his second in command, and two of the crew who were in excess of the legal number for that small tonnage, smuggled themselves overboard—here being one of the advantages of terra firma. The few odd kegs, flagons, and cigar-boxes were the ship’s own stores Boldero maintained, and he would be very glad if the “Commodore” would join him in sampling them now. Softened by the title, the bold Dap nevertheless declined: the vessel was his prize, he declared.
“And what is to prevent us taking you as our prize?” asked Roger blandly, having by now discovered that Dap was alone.
“You can’t move an inch,” said Dap.
“But we shall float off as soon as the tide rises.”
“Precisely. But it won’t come as high again, not till the next spring tide. Meanwhiles I’ve a gig’s crew ashore and a cutter within gunshot.”
Boldero was taken aback. He realized that he was—in nautical parlance—“neaped.” What a miserable misadventure! What a reward for his seamanship! But, masking his consternation, he rejoined with a smile, “Then you can’t take your prize in tow either.” He proceeded to point out laughingly that there was no question of capture on either side, that there was not a tittle of evidence against him, that he was an honest trader, as his manifest and cargo would show—and that even if His Majesty, through his admirable if over-zealous representative, insisted on taxing his own little modicum of alcohol and tobacco, it had not been technically landed. The nice point whether a cargo which lands inside its ship instead of outside can be said to have landed, side-tracked the question of the status of the ship herself, and entailed so great a consumption of the cheroots and liquor—despite the unearthly hour—that their fiscal value must have been considerably reduced. But the obdurate Dap still insisting they were dutiable, Roger Boldero invited him to seal them up till he sailed, as he had certainly no intention of landing them here. He pointed out, however, that though the tide, like Time, waited for no man, he would have to wait for the tide; and that during this disagreeable interval the hope of again offering the “Commodore” the cordial, if lop-sided, hospitality of his cabin must disappear if the fomenters of friendship were put in bond. Even this argument might have shattered itself against Dap’s fuddled sense of duty had not the twice aforesaid Providence now sent on board a rival cocked hat with a feather salient. With the growing light the local exciseman—of the shoregoing branch of the service—had likewise discovered the strange quarry. But the gleam in the hunter’s eye died when Lieutenant Dap introduced him to his friend Boldero, who was celebrating with him the birth of his seventh baby, and whose society for the next month would, he was sure, add to the amenities of life in Brandy Hole Creek.
And “my friend Boldero” did not fail to become it, for Lieutenant Dap’s cruising was confined to the waters on whose border he had built his nest: and he was frequently hove to. And during those tedious four weeks, made still more tedious by rain, Boldero had himself rowed out more than once to the “Channel groper” whose black hull, copious white boats, formidable guns and flaming-flannelled red-capped crew were plainly visible from the beached lugger; and he moved genially among the blue-trousered tars and did full justice to the Lieutenant’s gin-toddy and had his fingers often in the Lieutenant’s snuff-box and lent a sympathetic ear to his methods and devices against those rascally smugglers with their manœuvre of rowing dead to windward.
Their spirit-casks were slung with ropes, the Lieutenant explained, so that their confederates on shore could load them easily on their horses, but only the other night the blockade-men had discomfited a formidable shore-gang of fifty who, despite their stout ashpoles, had been unable to carry off anything except their wounded. He would have caught the lugger, too, had she not kept doubling.
The commander of the amphibious Tommy Devil even shared in an exciting, if unsuccessful, chase after a suspicious landing-party, going out with a galley-crew in a rain-storm in a borrowed tarpaulin petticoat. And once the one-eyed hero—who felt himself none the less a Nelson because his eye had been lost in resisting entry into the navy—returned Roger Boldero’s visit, and after broaching sundry of the happily unsealed kegs, the two skippers repaired arm in arm—the attitude was necessary—to see the seventh baby and present the fond mother with material for a lace cap.
Now while Daniel Quarles’s sister had been lying as helpless as the lugger, his last unmarried daughter, Emma, a beauty still more engaging, was housekeeping for Aunt Susannah and minding the other four children (two were dead). She had come in Daniel Quarles’s cart, and her father was to fetch her again as soon as Susannah was up (or down). He should already have come for her, but the rains had made such glue of the roads that a queerly spelt letter came instead, saying he would wait till they hardened. This delay, brief as it was, sufficed to bring the neaped mariner under the spell of the landlocked village maid, so sweet to look on, so serviceable about a house, and so motherly with a baby that the novel thought of matrimony was popped into a rover’s head. She, for her part, was still more swiftly subjugated by the jolly Roger and the Tommy Devil, and the mutual confession was precipitated by the opposite menaces of tide and cart, each threatening to bear them apart. It was a race between these and the course of true love, which must flow rapid to flow at all. But it did not flow smooth, for when Daniel Quarles arrived to convey his daughter home and found a rival vehicle waiting uncouthly on the beach to bear her off, he roundly damned the “furriner” who aspired to be his son-in-law, and he included in his maledictions the Preventive Service and all its works, especially the new baby, not to mention the times and the tides. For though he had long ago found grace and become a Wesleyan, he had embraced the new doctrine with the old robustiousness. The natural man was no more to be mitigated than a hedgehog. Had he become a Quaker, he would have turned the other cheek in a violent collision with the striker’s jaw. He enjoyed being angry, and that his wrath was “righteous” only added to its zest. And “righteous” it now was.
The trouble was not that Captain Boldero was a Churchman: the fellow was flippantly ready to embrace anything on earth that included Emma. It was not even that Daniel “suspicioned” him a smuggler. Smuggling—even if you had a brother-in-law in the Government—was quite as respectable as poaching, and in days when the rural labourer could not have lived had he not eked out his obolus by occasional rabbits (with the necessary vegetables), only an obtuse squirearchy could hold that sinful.
But even the squire had no opprobrium for the smuggler: gentry and peasantry were at one in backing up the manly patriot who thwarted a wicked Government, supplied Britons with the cup that cheers and their country with a fine naval reserve and early information of Froggy’s movements. The shores of Essex as of all Britain were honeycombed—apart from their large natural resources and their ruins and haunted houses—with artificial hiding-places, cellars, vaults, and secret passages, and every man’s hand was against the Ishmael of the Customs House. Farmers left their gates open at night to facilitate the cavalcades and coaches-and-six, and were but little surprised to find tea or tobacco coming up overnight on their fields like mushrooms. Even parsons were disposed to regard such treasures as drifted their way as heaven-sent flotsam, and Government circles themselves—in that era of purchasable votes and votable purchases—had not the ethical toploftiness which characterizes all Governments to-day. No, it was not Boldero the Smuggler, but Boldero the Smoker that found himself hurled into outer darkness the day poor shrinking Emma was borne off in her father’s cart. “No puffing pirate shall cross my threshold,” swore Daniel, but the accent was on the puffing, not the pirate. For tobacco had become tabu in the Wesleyan ranks: the godless practice of smoking was formally forbidden to the ministers. Swiss Protestantism indeed had once included its prohibition in the Ten Commandments. If Methodism did not thus re-edit the Decalogue, its horror of the abomination was no less keen, and a change of practice being always easier than a change of heart, Daniel Quarles had poured a deal of spiritual energy into the sacrifice of his pipe. The “rapscallion Boldero,” he declared, not only sinned himself, but was the cause of sin in others, trafficking as he did in the unholy weed. If Emma insisted on a “smoker,” wasn’t there the miller at Long Bradmarsh, he inquired with grim facetiousness, meaning that the grotesque Griggs had a vote by living in a house with a chimney.
But Emma for all her gentle airs had proved “obstropolus.” She had discovered that Susannah’s husband smoked as prodigally as Roger—though it had been hidden from the old man on his rare visits—and that so far from bedevilling men, tobacco tended to angelicize them. Would indeed that her father haloed himself with these clouds! Besides, she shrewdly suspected that even a Wesleyan archangel, appearing suddenly as a suitor, would have fared similarly, and that the smoke was only a cover for a wish to keep his last girl. And so, though the lover was left lamenting, and the Tommy Devil duly floated off without the lass, it was not long that Emma was left stranded in Blackwater Hall. With a parent removed by Providence every Tuesday and Friday, even the flabbiest female may be stiffened, and the end was smuggled matrimony; though very soon the blessing of a minister brought Methodism into their madness. Roger Boldero not only became a Wesleyan like his wife and her father, but was one of the first Dissenters to be married in their own chapel by their own clergy under the new Act.
The odd union had turned out happy, but with one dismal drawback—the Bolderos could not rear children. They fared worse even than the Bidlakes, and with no such obvious reason. One hapless infant after another died, and when at last, in their late middle years, little Jinny was safely steered through three winters, it was they who were taken as if in lieu of their progeny.
The pair had finally settled down by the same waterside that had united them—the attractions of “Brandy Hole Creek” having been enhanced by the perpetual presence of their relative by marriage, Commander Dap, who with the subsidence of spirit duties and smuggling had found his mobile cutter replaced by the moored “Watch Vessel 23.” Here with Susannah and his children and five satellites (and their wives and families) the veteran lived in domestic beatitude under the title of Chief Coast Guard Officer. High on the beach, and boarded by a commodious staircase, the houseboat seemed a standing reminder of the adventure of the Tommy Devil. Under its challenging eye, that adventurous bark had sailed out and home, till that last fatal voyage when the lugger foundered almost within sight of a little Sussex port, which for weeks after was mysteriously littered with washed-up tobacco-bales. Though Roger Boldero was rescued, it had been the beginning of the end of his prosperity, already undermined by the diminution of duties, and a few years later both he and Emma were dead simultaneously of smallpox. Again the carrier’s cart must fare to the Creek to fetch the penniless little orphan, and there—soon after Will Flynt’s flight—Daniel brought her back for the burial of his sister Susannah. It was what buried Will’s memory too and replaced him in her prayers by a new being, conceived as her “Angel Mother.”
The moment she saw and smelt the creek she knew she had carried it in her soul all along: the white hut with its flagged mast, the great Watch Vessel, the tumble of cottages, sheds, barrels, pecking fowls, grubbing black pigs, recumbent ladders, discoloured boats with their keels upwards, black rotting barges, and rigged smacks stranded on hard steep mud. The sea came in sluggishly through a broad green chine, half slime, half green water, spitted with gaunt encrusted poles to mark the channel. The water seemed even wider than she remembered, and yet not so wide, for it was split by an island or a promontory that gave a second sail-dotted expanse between her and the farther shore. She yearned now towards that ultimate hump of hazy woodland, and it was to remain for ever bathed in the quiet beauty which wrapped it around as Methusalem toiled up to the “Leather Bottel.” They were to stay the night there, for Daniel would have none of the Commander’s hospitality, he being still unforgiven. Besides, the child might be afraid of the corpse.
It was while sitting on that sea-wall with the octogenarian that evening, her great grown-up fingers toying once again with tiny white shells that strewed its top, and pewits again trying to lead her from their young, that she first heard in broken outlines how these waters had washed her into being. Something, too, she gleaned from her refound relative-in-law, the chief mourner, whose cocked hat, tattooed arm and genial senescence—not to mention his house-boat—were one of the pleasantest impressions or re-impressions of the funeral; and whose fascinating trick of rolling one eye while the other was fixed in a glassy stare almost made the child lose the sense of what he was saying. The death of his wife had reminded the veteran of the death of Nelson—nearly forty years before—and his tremulous tones grew still shakier as he recalled how the flags over the hut and the Watch Vessel and every other flag in England had flown at half-mast, though of course there were more joyous aspects of “Trafalgar” to be celebrated in bottles of Bony’s own brandy. He frankly admitted he had himself been “three sheets in the wind”—an image of bed-linen fluttering on a clothes-line that long puzzled her. He took her abaft the Watch Vessel—it was a way of leaving Daniel Quarles alone with his dead sister—and recounted his astonishment at seeing her father’s boat spued up like Jonah out of the whale.
“A handsome man,” he told her to her pleasure. But he spoilt it all by adding, “though he would talk the hind leg off a dog.”
“But wasn’t that cruel?” the little girl faltered.
Dap laughed. “He never did it really, dearie, and if the leg had come off, he’d have helped the lame dog over a stile. And so many lingos—parleyvooing in French and swearing in Double Dutch. I don’t wonder your angel mother fell in love with him.”
“My angel mother!” echoed Jinny excitedly. “Was my mother an angel?”
The veteran was taken aback. For a child who must be past nine such primitiveness was startling. He had spoken loosely, hardly knowing whether he alluded to Emma’s present heavenly abode or to her sweet-temperedness on earth. He did not know that little Jinny read nothing but literature in which angels were a common feature of the landscape, and that Miss Gentry had not measured her for her blacks without dwelling on her own stained-glass specimen.
“She was as pretty as one,” said the Commander after an instant, “and now she is one.” Thus it was that Jinny’s mother, already felt as a hovering sweetness, took on definite wings, and even when Jinny’s maturer experience amputated them from her earthly existence, they were what she still hovered over her child with.
“Susannah and she’ll make a pair now,” he added, feeling suddenly disloyal to the corpse at home.
“Susannah?” queried Jinny, for her grandfather had been calling his sister “Pegs”—“poor Pegs!”
“Your mother’s aunt.”
It was a new idea, an angel’s aunt. She saw the twain flying, Susannah sailing with more sweeping pinions, her mother softly rustling.
The funeral was in style, and Jinny helped to set out the refreshments in the saloon. There was some dispute as to whether her grandfather could join the grand procession in his tilt-cart, but though he urged that squires were proud to be buried from farm-wagons, he consented to ride—like a fish out of water—inside a mourning-coach, and not even on the box.
The Commander and Jinny shared his dismal grandeur, she sitting bodkin though there was an empty seat opposite, which “the seventh baby” had been expected to occupy. But Toby had not arrived from his ship—he was a gunner—in time, and the earlier progeny were still more scattered.
The widower held his handkerchief in his fist, but owing to the heat of a discussion on the manner the Navy had gone to the dogs—or returned from them—since the Admiralty had set up a gunnery school on a Portsmouth ship, he used it only to mop his brow.
“Excellent, indeed!” He was mocking at the ship’s name. “The ruination of the sarvice I tell you. It all comes from doing away with the pressgang—stands to reason they picked out the finest chaps—” here the Gaffer snorted—“Oh you may sniff, but for fighting you want guts and muscle. Look what England was in them days and what she is coming to now.”
“To my lookin’-at-it-an’-thinkin’-o’t-too”—the Gaffer made one breathless word of it—“ ’tis a blessin’ to be riddy of all them gaolbirds, swearers, drinkers, smokers, and fornicators.”
“Hush!” The Commander tried to wink his glass eye towards Jinny.
“She don’t understand. Oi remember, the year my good-for-nawthen Gabriel smashed up a threshin’-machine (and the poor farmer dedn’t git no compensation neither, though ef his furniture had been smashed ’twould have come on the Hundred) that wery same year Ebenezer Wagstaff—for ’twas the coronation year of King William, Oi remember, just afore my Emma desarted me——”
“That was a Sailor King,” interrupted Dap, half to stave off fulminations against Jinny’s dead mother. “Began as middy under Cap’n Digby in the unlucky Royal George—a ninety-eight gun ship she was——”
“Ye put me off the track, drat ye, aldoe it leads back to Ebenezer Wagstaff all the same, seein’ as the Prince might ha’ rubbed showlders with a thief as was sentenced for stealin’ half-a-suvran from a barge on the Brad. He could ha’ been hanged for it in them days, mind you—the case bein’ as clear as day or rather as black as night. But they marcifully brought him in guilty to stealin’ nine and ’levenpence and that saved his neck, being a navigable river, and the judge give him the option of gaol or jinin’ the Navy.”
“And a proper thing too. Set a thief to catch a Frenchy, and him used to taking prizes by water. Nowadays before the captain hoists his pennant he’s got a crew dumped on him that’s no choice of his—mealy-mouthed lubbers, full of book-larnin’, who don’t know a brigantine from a topsail schooner: it’s the red ensign that gets all the good stuff, not the white. You mark me, it’ll be the downfall of England.”
“England’ll never fall down while she’s got God-fearin’ congregations,” maintained Daniel Quarles, and Jinny’s devout little heart thrilled to hear it.
In the pleasant sunny graveyard there were apiaries and a dismantled tower almost smothered by blackberry-bushes, and the tombs and gravestones passed imperceptibly into a garden of monkey-trees and weeping willows. These wrought in her no stirring of memories, but as she had got off the coach, the standing church tower, square and ivy-wrapped, had composed beautifully with ricks of all sorts, with trees, old tiles, and thatch, into a picture that seemed as much hers as the waterside.
The parson—Susannah had remained a Churchwoman—was some minutes late, and Jinny was gratified to note how strong her grandfather was: how pillar-like he stood in his long black mourner’s cloak under the weight of the coffin at the churchyard gate, while all the other bearers, his obvious juniors, shifted and sweated. Nor did he blubber either like the Commander, whose weakness, considering how often she had been adjured to be “spunky,” and not—now that she was “grown up”—to cry, was as disconcerting as the double existence of his wife in the coffin and the empyrean. However, Dap grew “good” again when the thrilling if still more disconcerting episode of lowering his Susannah as far as possible from the skies and banking her safely against ascent, was over; and—Daniel Quarles having gone vaguely roving over the churchyard—the widower led her stealthily in his absence to a stone behind the ruined tower—in the “unconsecrated” or Dissenting area—and read to her the inscription, following it for her confirmation with his black-gloved forefinger:
Here Lies Roger Boldero
After Many Stormy Voyages
Safely Neaped in Christ.
He arrested himself suddenly and whisked her round the tower.
“But we didn’t read it all,” she protested.
“Oh, it only says: ‘And also Emma Boldero, Wife of the Above.’ But don’t tell your grandfather.”
The child wondered why she was to keep Emma’s relationship to the Above a secret—she had already gathered from her grandfather that he knew it—and she was distressed as well as puzzled at the strange quarrel that broke out in the homeward coach.
“It ain’t at all a proper word,” said Daniel Quarles. “You might as well put ‘carted to Christ’ on mine.”
“That’ll be your affair,” persisted the widower, “but this ain’t. And how you came to see it gets over me.”
The Gaffer flushed uneasily. “Oi’ve got two eyes, I suppose,” he jerked.
The naval veteran glared glassily. “Them that pay the piper call the tune,” he retorted defensively. “Besides,” he added more gently, “Emma always said she’d have it somehow on her tombstone.”
“Emma was a silly.”
“Hush!” Dap again indicated the child with his glassy eye, now trickling without the other as in half-mourning.
“Oi won’t hush it up. That’s got to goo. The mason’s got to cut another for me. Who arxed you to pay pipers?”
“Such a handsome stone to be torn up! It’s a desecration, it’s unlawful.”
“Unlawful? Whose darter is she, mine or yourn?”
“Not yours. You cut her off.”
“She cut me off. And ef poor Pegs and you had done your duty by my gal, he’d ha’ never crossed your doorstep.”
“He’d ha’ met her on the sea-wall. I couldn’t help his beholding her looks, any more than you could help having a handsome daughter—or for the matter of that, a handsome sister.” His handkerchief came out again.
“Oi’m not denying their looks—a man with half an eye could see that. ’Tis just the handsome gals as seems to throw theirselves away,” he added musingly.
“Maybe they are unhappy at home,” suggested the widower, with equal philosophic aloofness.
“Or in the housen they stays at,” assented the Gaffer. “But let bygones by bygones. It may be the Lord dumped him down for our good. All Oi say is, that word’s got to goo. A Churchman may not see the blasphemy, but think o’ what John Wesley would ha’ said to it.”
“He’d ha’ said ’twas a wicked extravagance to waste such a fine stone.”
“The mason’ll take it back. Happen there’ll be another Roger Boldero dead and neaped some day.”
“Very likely,” sneered the veteran. “And also an Emma, Wife of the Above.”
“Hush!” The little maid nudged him, wondering he should forget his own monition.
“That has more sense than you!” cried the Gaffer in high glee. “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings!” And drawing the astonished Jinny to his bristly beard, he kissed her lips with a hearty smack.
Despite these half-understood discords, Jinny was very sorry to leave the stony-eyed veteran and the motley waterside.
“Sometimes,” she confided to the more sympathetic swivel eye, as her grandfather was harnessing Methusalem for their return, “I wish I had never come to earth at all.”
Again Dap was startled by her simplicity—had not Daniel been telling him what a useful little body she was in the business?
“But then you’d never have had your grandfather—or me,” he said, stroking her cheek.
“I should have had God—and my angel mother!”
“Noa, arter she run away with her Boldero Oi’d never cross her doorstep, never,” confessed the old carrier, picking up the story later, as she rode beside him on their day’s work. He was getting so old now that he preferred to talk of twenty rather than of two years before, and the veneer of book-education which his unexpected inheritance of the business had necessitated had fallen away, and he was speaking more and more in the idioms of his illiterate youth, curiously tempered at times by the magnificent English of his Bible.
“But that was wicked!” said Jinny decisively. She felt it wrong indeed that a father should thus cut off his daughter, but to have done this when that daughter was an angel (even if only in the making), still more when that daughter was her own mother, seemed to her confused consciousness the climax of iniquity.
“Wicked! The contrairy! Oi’d taken my Bible oath never to set foot over her doorstep. So Oi dedn’t have no chance, you see.”
Jinny was silenced. She herself had succumbed to an oath, and that indeed on a less awful book.
“Arter she had lost two childer,” he went on, “and the third got measles, she sent a man on hossback to beg me to take off the spell. Thought, d’ye see, dearie, that for her frowardness and disobedience Oi’d laid a curse on ’em all. Like one of our Methody preachers, the chap seemed, with all the texts to his tongue’s tip, and pleaded that wunnerful he ’most made me believe Oi did have the evil eye. But though of course Oi hadn’t no more to do wi’ the deaths of your little brothers and sisters than a babe unborn—or you yourself, for the matter o’ that, as was a babe unborn—Oi couldn’t break my oath and goo and pretend to cure the wean, and so when the measles turned to pneumonia and it died, she got woundily distracted, and writ me two sheets sayin’ as Oi was a child-murderer. That didn’t worrit me no more than the child’s death, seein’ as the Lord does everything for the best, though Oi had to pay double on the letter. But one fine arternoon the preachin’ chap comes again and says she’d been layin’ paralysed-like for a month and wouldn’t Oi come and forgive her afore she kicked the bucket!”
“Oh, Gran’fer!” Jinny protested.
“Oi’m givin’ you his words,” said the Gaffer defensively. “At least that was the meanin’, though ’haps he put it different, me not havin’ his gift o’ the gab. But bein’ never a man to nuss rancour, when folks own up, Oi said that even ef Oi could forgive my darter, never could Oi enter a house harbourin’ that rascal Boldero——”
“Oh, Gran’fer!” she protested again.
“There’s no call to bristle up—he wasn’t your father yet. ‘But Boldero ain’t at home, he’s off on a jarney,’ says the chap. ‘D’ye swear that?’ says Oi. ‘By God, Oi will,’ says he. ‘Then od rabbet, Oi’ll goo,’ says Oi.”
“But,” urged Jinny, “if you had taken your oath——”
“You wait till Oi’ve broke it! Oi knew ’twould be dead o’ night by the time Oi got to Brandy Hole Crick and Oi made him swear too he wouldn’t let on to a soul, partic’ler to that rascal Boldero or my sister Pegs and her cock-eyed son of a cocked hat; and off we scuttles in a twinklin’, him on his hoss and me on mine——”
“Noa, Jezebel. Methusalem and you wasn’t born yet!”
“Were we both in heaven, then?”
“Hosses don’t come from heaven.”
“From where then?”
“From stables o’ course. And you should see them two animals gallopin’ like hell. ’Twas a race for the Crick. We went down this wery road like fleck and turned off by the smithy——”
“And who won?” asked Jinny breathlessly.
“He hadn’t a chance, his hoss bein’ that winded already, and him a heavyweight; Oi had the best part of an hour with your mother afore he crossed the doorstep.”
“But how could you break your Bible oath?” persisted Jinny.
He chuckled. “Oi dedn’t cross her doorstep. Oi’d sworn not to, and a Quarles never breaks even his plain word, bein’ a forthright family. ’Twas gettin’ on to bull’s-noon and like pitch, but Oi could see her bedroom above by the light in it, and up Oi climbs on Jezebel’s back and lifted myself up by the sill and got my knee acrost it and pushed open the casement. Lord, how she screamed! Up she flew from her dyin’-bed—no more paralysis or sich-like maggots and molligrubs Oi warrant you!” And his chuckle broadened into a hearty laugh.
Jinny was strangely relieved. “Then she didn’t die!”
“How could she die, silly, when you wasn’t there yet? Od rabbet, wasn’t your feyther flabbergasted to see her up and bobbish and me holdin’ her hand!”
“My father! But he was on a journey!”
“Yes, to me, the great ole sinner. You ain’t guessed ’twas him with the gift o’ the gab? But no more did Daniel Quarles, never conceivin’ a sailor on hossback and him swelled in the stomach with prodigal livin’ since the day he diddled Pegs’s husband and tried to diddle me out o’ my darter. But Oi’ll do him the justice to say he never did blab to the Daps about my comin’—and no more dedn’t your mother.”
Jinny’s hand sought her grandfather’s, though through the whip-handle in his she could only secure a finger. “But why should you hide your goodness, Gran’fer?”
“ ’Twasn’t no goodness, only nat’ral, Emma bein’ punished and chastised enough from on high. Why, if Pegs and her false-eyed mannikin’d a-got wind as we’d made it up, Emma and me and Roger, they’d ha’ come to think they was in the right arter all, lettin’ Emma be kidnapped by a furriner. And that ’ud ha’ been the last straw. As ill luck would have it Dap come knockin’ there that wery dead o’ night, he havin’ just come home from a trip and heard from Pegs as her niece was dyin’. Oi shan’t soon forgit the start Oi got at that knockin’, all on us settin’ so hearty at supper, and Emma in her scarlet dressin’-gownd, smart as a carrot. Noigh quackled Oi was, with the brandy gooin’ the wrong way. Your feyther he goes to the door with his face full o’ lobster and sputters through the crack as they’d got a new doctor who was operatin’ on her and wery ’opeful.” He chuckled again. “And Oi count ’twas a better doctor than any in Brandy Hole Crick, for wery soon there was a new baby—though that died too, Oi’m thankful to say!”
“You aren’t!” The little listener loosed his finger.
“Yes, Oi am, dearie.” He cracked his whip. “Otherwise wouldn’t Pegs ha’ gone to her grave believin’ it was my onforgiveness laid a spell on the tothers? That’s what womenkind be. Same as when the Faith Healers got hold of her. Arter you was oiled and prayed over, they said ’twas want o’ faith had killed all the tothers.”
“Was I oiled and prayed over?”
“Well, you see when you come, poor Emma felt elders and oils was all there was left to try—there’s a rare lot of you Peculiars down them parts and all the way to Southend, and they’d been gettin’ round her like gulls round the plough—so the instant you started barkin’——”
“Barking?” gasped the little girl.
“You had the croup—so she turned Peculiar,” he explained. “Like you,” he added reproachfully. “And a wery dangerous thing to do, bein’ as you might ha’ died like the tothers. Did, she’d ha’ been had up for child-murder—what she accused me of.”
“And why weren’t the doctors had up, that didn’t save all my little brothers and sisters?” asked Jinny.
“That’s just how your mother used to argufy,” he said angrily, flicking at poor Methusalem. “Turnin’ everything topsy-tivvy, Oi says. And what was the result? Two years arter you was prayed and oiled out o’ croup, she was took herself with smallpox and wouldn’t see a soul except elders and deacons and sich-like truck. Oi will say for your father though, that he was allus firm with her; naught she could say could turn him from his Wesleyan principles, and when he caught her smallpox he had the doctor in like blazes and took all the medicine he could lay hands on. But Emma would stick to her own way—though she died of it, poor thing.”
“But didn’t you tell me father died the same day as my angel mother?”
“Ain’t that why Oi come for you in my cart, bein’ as the creditors sold up everythin’ except the infected beddin’?”
“I know, Gran’fer,” she interrupted. “But then didn’t father die of his way just as much as mother of hers?”
“That’s a nat’ral death when you die with a doctor,” he maintained.
“And were you there when they died?” said the child after a mournful pause.
His brow clouded obstinately. “How could Oi be, dearie, bein’ as Oi’d taken my Bible oath?”
“You could ha’ gone through the window?”
“With folks lookin’ on and nusses about, as ’ud ha’ thought me loony. Why, ’twas impossible for me even to goo to the funeral.”
He looked fiercer, and poor Methusalem got another flick. “Wouldn’t Pegs be there, she havin’ her nat’ral feelin’? Could Oi let her think Oi’d come ’cos Oi was sorry Oi hadn’t made it up with my darter afore she died? Nay, that ’ud a-been right-down deceit, bein’ as there wasn’t no ground for remorse. Happen he’d a-been at the churchyard too with his fish-eye—dedn’t you see the stone he put up, drat his imperence, as ef Emma and Roger was aught of hisn—mebbe he’d a-preached to me as Oi ought to ha’ forgiven my darter time she was still alive. ’Twas on the cards he’d say Oi’d broken your mother’s heart, the blinkin’-fool, he not knowin’ ’twas me as raised her from the dead and had her goffling lobster with your feyther in a scarlet dressin’-gownd time he was knockin’ at her door to make inquirations——”
“Yes, I’ve heard about that,” she interrupted.
“Who told you?” he said suspiciously. “There was only three of us inside the door and two’s dead.”
“You told me.”
“Me! Oi never told a soul—Oi’ll take my Bible oath.”
“You told me just a minute ago.”
“Ah!” He was appeased. “That may be. But Oi never told you afore—Oi’ll take my oath.”
“No, never before, Gran’fer.”
There was a pause of peace.
Jinny was afraid to stir up the subject for weeks. But her little brain had been busy with the story, and finally taking advantage of a not unfriendly reference to Roger Boldero, she asked: “And was that the last time you saw father, when he was eating lobster with my angel mother in the dead of night?”
“Nay, nay, Oi seen lots of ’em both, afore Oi was shet out agen by molloncholy circumstances.”
“Ah!” Jinny brightened up. “And did you always go in by the window?”
“ ’Twasn’t in the house: ’twas on board the Tommy Devil. And that ain’t got no doorstep.” He laughed gleefully.
“Then did you go in by the porthole?” asked Jinny, smiling.
“Lord, missie, wherever did ye get that word? Ah, Oi mind me now—you was aboard the Watch Wessel the time we buried poor Pegs. No, dearie, Oi just shinned up the ladder, loight as a bird with that liddle ole oath off my showlders. But Pegs and her one-eyed fool of a pardner never suspicioned naught, for Oi never would set foot on the Tommy Devil except she was layin’ up in coves and cricks where the Gov’ment turned its glass eye—he, he, he! Not that Oi had much stomach for his etarnal brandy—you can’t take a satisfactory swig o’ that and keep your sea-legs—but your feyther he kept a cask o’ beer special for me, and Emma she ’ad allus cold roasts and kickshaws to be washed down with it. Oi reckon Oi was on board with your parents nigh once a month.”
“Then what a pity they didn’t invite you on board years before!”
“Ay, ’twas a pity. Only none of us ’ad never thought o’ that way out.”
“Or that way in,” added Jinny excitedly. “Why, you might have gone to my mother the day after your oath!”
The Gaffer sighed. “Mebbe that ’ud only ha’ ruinated your folks quicker. For Oi ain’t been on the lugger a dozen times afore she went down and your feyther was picked up by the revenue cutter, bein’ the onny toime he was took at sea—he, he, he! Thussins there wasn’t no place to meet in, and to goo over Emma’s window-sill was too risky, for Pegs and her friends was allus spyin’ around, and there wasn’t a sharper eye in the Gov’ment than that dirty little Dap’s—when he was off duty.”
“But why didn’t they come to see you at Blackwater Hall?”
“Nay, they couldn’t do that. That was in my oath too. Never shall they cross my doorstep, neither—Oi’d sworn it on the Book!”
“But why didn’t they come in through our window? There’s hardly ever anybody on the common?”
“We never thought o’ that, neither.” He heaved a deeper sigh. “Ay, ’twas a pity,” he repeated.
That night Jinny caught his eye resting more than once on the vases of dried grass before their casement.
“He was a bonkka man, your feyther,” he observed at last. “Wery big-built, and it’s a middlin’ weeny window.”
Though Jinny winced at her grandfather’s attacks on the Peculiar Faith of her angel mother, she grew in time to understand the odd magnanimity he had evinced in letting her go to Sunday-school with the Flynt family and pick up the doctrine. That her one surviving child should be brought up of the sect that had saved it, was, it transpired, poor Emma’s dying request, as conveyed by his sister Susannah Dap to the unforgiving father, whose oath never to cross his daughter’s doorstep still held when he drew up Methusalem at it after the double funeral, and found the house empty even of Jinny.
“ ‘Child-stealin’, that’s what it is,’ Oi told Pegs when Oi boarded the Watch Wessel,” he recounted once to his granddaughter in the cart. “ ‘Ain’t you got enough o’ your own?’ says Oi. ‘’Twas through your havin’ one too many that Jinny’s here at all,’ Oi says. ‘Then,’ says she, sharp as a needle, ‘the more reason she’s mine. You cut off her mother,’ says she, ‘and now, Daniel, Jinny cuts you off.’ ‘Not so fast, sister,’ says Oi. ‘Whatever my conduct to Emma—and folks with stone eyes don’t allus see through stone walls—the poor little brat haven’t enough sense to cut me off, and Oi don’t cut her off, for Oi ain’t got to wisit sins to the fourth generation, not bein’ the Almighty, thank the Lord. That’s my lawful property, Pegs,’ Oi says, ‘and same as you don’t hand her over, Oi’ll summons you and carry off two o’ yourn in my cart—and what’s more Oi’ll ill-treat ’em cruel and hide ’em twice a day with my whip.’ ”
“You didn’t mean it,” said Jinny.
“Dedn’t Oi, though?”
“But they were your nephews and nieces!”
“The more right to wallop ’em. You should ha’ seen Pegs climb down. She know’d well as Oi never broke my word, she bein’ o’ the same forthright family. Right up and down, Jo Perry, as the sayin’ goos. Do to others as they’d like to do to you—that’s good Christian gospel. Pegs she went as pale as a white butterfly and hiked you out on deck in your little yaller frock lookin’ as pritty as a gay. Lord, Oi reckonized you on the nail, though Oi’d never clapped eyes on you afore.”
“You’d never seen me before?” cried Jinny, amazed.
“How could Oi see you—you came arter the Tommy Devil was at the bottom, and your feyther never got the dubs from the insurance company, bein’ a flaw in the articles as swallered up all the rest of his cash in the lawsuit. But you’d got his ways and your mother’s looks”—Jinny flushed with pleasure—“and ’steddy cuttin’ me off, you—ha, ha, ha!—made straight for my great ole beard and pulled out a great ole fistful.”
“Ought I to have cut it off?” laughed Jinny happily.
“ ‘D’ye see that, Pegs,’ says Oi, ‘blood’s thicker than water. Will you come along o’ your gran’fer, liddle maid?’ says Oi.”
“And what did I say?” asked Jinny breathlessly.
“You dedn’t say naught—you bust into tears, bein’ as you thought Oi was the auctioneerer and you’d been sold with everything else, poor liddle ole orphan, and then Pegs catches hold o’ you and says you was clinging to her. But Oi soon stopped that lob-loll, for Oi holds you over the rail and shows you Methusalem all prancin’ in his pride, and ‘Won’t you go with your gran’fer’s hoss, liddle maid?’ says Oi.”
“And what did I say then?”
“You dedn’t say naught, but in a twinklin’ you jumps out o’ Susannah’s arms, scrambles down the accommodation ladder, and was rubbin’ noses with Methusalem. And Oi count his was as damp as yourn, bein’ as he’d come without a stop.”
“Dear old Methusalem!” And nothing would content Jinny but she must jump down and rub noses with him now, and again both noses were damp. But as Methusalem had seized the opportunity to come to a standstill, and Jinny, lost in shadowy memories, continued the caress ten seconds too long, the old carrier declared with sudden querulousness that he hadn’t got time for foolishness, and that since he had burdened himself with Jinny his business had gone “to rack and ruination.”
“Peculiar, Pegs warned me, Oi’d have to bring you up,” he added, as Jinny hastily clambered back to his side. “And Peculiar’s the word for your gooin’s on. Not that Methusalem’s got more sense nor you. Oi count ef there was churches for cattle, he’d a-stoyled hisself Brother Methusalem and kicked over his drench.”
It was the Gaffer’s instinctive conviction that faith went with the father. In thus yielding to Emma’s dying breath he may, apart from the pressure of death-bed wishes, have found vent for a lingering resentment against the seductive Boldero. Or was it that he had a lurking apprehension that the one child of Emma’s which had at least survived prayer, might really be a testimony to the teaching, and as such entitled to share it? Jinny at any rate had absolute faith in the doctrine. It rested on the fifth chapter of James as clearly as the big Bible containing that chapter rested on the chest of drawers. Once indeed when the Gaffer was unbearably mocking, she had been goaded to read him the basal verses:
“Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:
“And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up: and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.”
But the Gaffer had not collapsed as she expected. It only meant a spiritual saving, in case he died, Daniel Quarles maintained, unruffled: otherwise why speak of his sins being forgiven? Moreover it didn’t say you couldn’t have a doctor, too.
Crestfallen, the child wept in a corner and did not recover her spirits till at Sunday-school Elder Mawhood had supplied her for the first part of the Gaffer’s contention with Mark xvi. 18: “They shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover”; while Martha, who was still at that date a Peculiar, comforted and equipped her against the second part with Asa, King of Judah, who (II Chronicles xvi) was diseased in his feet: “yet sought not to the Lord but to the physicians.” The Lord’s wishes in the matter were thus seen to be clearly indicated. “And the Lord’s the same now as then, isn’t He?” Martha wound up crushingly. “You ask your grandfather that.”
The courage to launch this counter-attack never came to her, however, and henceforward she and her grandfather lived in that kindly toleration of each other’s folly which comes from holding the proofs of it, yet letting sleeping dogmas lie. What after all was the old man’s obduracy, Jinny told herself, but part of the perverseness and obstinacy of age? The fact that she now never needed either doctors or elders saved her from any personal problem. Such waverings as she had felt at fifteen were not towards Wesleyanism, but towards Martha’s mushroom doctrine. The texts of this convert to the latest thing in creeds were certainly staggering, and her scorn for the still unconverted, sublime. “We don’t take some bits o’ the Word and leave others.” That was an argument not easy to answer, and the bits now exhumed in support of Christadelphianism by the tireless discoverer of King Asa were ever accumulating. Fortunately Jinny was far too busy for religious discussions or doubts, and the “angel mother,” softly hovering, made a restful background for the one true Faith.
And a sensational episode in the history of the local Brethren came to strengthen the sect as well as to add to the number of Jinny’s homes: came too, at the very crisis when the impossibility of carrying the Carrier with her through the coming winter threatened to leave her stranded alone at “The Black Sheep” during the midday rest at Chipstone. It would have been easy enough in summer to sit in her cart in the courtyard munching her bread and cheese, while Methusalem was lost in his nosebag, and clients were coming with commissions, but the parcel-shed had no stove, and to wait in the bar or taproom or even the parlour—all alike masculine haunts where one could hardly dump the “scarecrow” or swain-chaser beside one—was not a pleasant prospect.
Jinny’s and the Brotherhood’s good fortune began—such are the ways of Providence—with the death of the landlord.
Mother Gander—so everybody called Jeff Gander’s buxom spouse—had fought like a lioness to save him. “Not a doctor for miles around,” as the paralysed old Bundock put it triumphantly from his bed-of-all-news, “but she carted him over, and set ’em all consulting and quarrelling. There was two from London, one of ’em a bart, and all wasted. Charlie the potboy, as he was then, feelingly told my boy, the postman, that he could ha’ set up a public-house with the fees. Not that I approve o’ public-houses, but leastways they give you more waluable drinks than doctors does. And when poor Jeff was gone, and Mother Gander was carrying on like crazy, comes the Parson and tells her ’tis the Lord’s will.
“ ‘Then if it’s the Lord’s will,’ says she, like lightning, for she was always quick in the uptake, ‘why do you run down the Peculiars as just begs the Lord to alter His will, instead o’ throwing their hard-earned gold to the doctors?’ That was the way her eyes opened to the Truth, and she learnt how to save her soul as well as her money.”
The Peculiars, they often lamented, were “not strong enough” in Chipstone: they looked yearningly “over the water”—to Rochford where the great Banyard himself was prophesying; or to Woodham where no less than five hundred Brethren and Sisters fevered themselves in a hall too small for the throngs that sought admission. But their own meetings, though, if we may trust Caleb, “noice things were brought out,” were numerically disheartening. The capture of “The Black Sheep”—a hostelry to which all social roads radiated—was thus an event of considerable importance.
Nevertheless the dismay of the Congregationalists, of whose community Mother Gander was a fallen pillar, was not counter-poised in jubilation by the Brethren. For if a stronghold had been captured, the devil had not been dispossessed. Mother Gander doffed her gold chain, but Sister Gander gave no sign of emptying her liquor into the gutters, and to be proud of a convert against whose establishment you have to admonish one another is not simple. The Peculiars managed it, however, after some heart-searching. It was true old Bundock had been wont to make great play with Banyard’s declaration—universally admired as a gem of humour—“If you want to get me to a public-house, you’ll have to take a horse and hook me.” But after all, Elder Mawhood pointed out, “The Black Sheep” was far more than a public-house: as the headquarters for the mail-coach it was part of the constitution of the country, and it was better for the farmers to eat their ordinary under a God-fearing roof—even if they would drink with it—than for the profits of their custom to go to a rival house which would contribute no farthing to the Brethren’s treasury. It was Brother Flynt, however, who supplied the finest soothing-powder. “Oi used to condemn myself,” he said, “but ’twasn’t no good. You must drink when you’re harvestin’. Don’t, you’ll be drippin’ as you goo.” If he did not drink now that his harvesting days were over, that did not prove other drinkers were wicked. You had to consider circumstances. And playing the Sancho Panza still more unexpectedly, he hinted that there was such a thing as over-zeal. “They used to call me a Banyard as a revilin’ word, them as made fun of us, but to tell the truth Oi’ve never got out o’ my warm bed in the middle o’ the noight to pray as he exhorted—leastways, not in winter. We’ve got to be thankful for Sister Gander, and not expect her to goo all the way at the start. She don’t want to lose her business as well as her husband.”
But it appeared that Mother Gander did not want to go without a husband either. She suddenly, and before her year of mourning was up, married Charley Mott, the aforesaid potboy, not half her age, and this was a fresh upset for the Brethren, modified only by the conversion of Charley. The Congregationalists took the opportunity to give the couple “rough music,” and the whole neighbourhood joined in with kettles and pokers. Brother Bundock from his omniscient bed at first proclaimed the scandal as a divine chastisement on his Brethren for having failed to “admonish” her to give up purveying “beer and ’bacca”—he himself would have dared it, he declared without fear of contradiction, had he only had his legs—but finally, when the storm blew over, he would relate with gusto how she had weathered it.
“What with hating us and hating her marriage and hating the new landlord with his jackanip’s airs, they quit her, nearly all her customers, and them as was faithful looked askance at her between the drinks. So she offs with her silks and on with her apron and up with her sleeves, and back to the kitchen! She’d been poor Jeff’s cook, you know, in the long, long ago, and ’twas her steak and kidney puddens and her gravies and sauces that he married, and now she was back at the old game. Whether ’twas partly to escape the sour looks that she burrowed in her kitchen or whether the whole thing was female artfulness I don’t pretend to say, but in two months she’d cooked ’em all back again. Don’t come in good time, you couldn’t get a chair at the ordinary for all the tips at Chipstone, and my boy, the postman, he told me he hears everybody joking over the rhubarb tart and saying as the Lord’s will is best. And she never come out o’ that kitchen till she’d cooked it all down.”
It was during the dark interval that Jinny and Sister Mott alias Mother Gander were first drawn together, the girl being summoned to the kitchen to receive instructions for such purchases from local tradesmen as the lady-hermit found indispensable yet dreaded to make in person. The fact that the little carrier was of the despised sect cemented the relationship. Jinny passed her midday respite in the warm kitchen, even sharing the cook’s meal. And when at last Sister Mott resumed her blue silk bodice and faced her tradesmen and her customers, new and old, the run of the kitchen and the freedom of the joint remained gratuitous to the lucky Jinny. Here under the great bacon-hung oak beams of the ancient apartment, before a huge fire mirroring itself rosily in the copper pans and skillets, she could sit thawing her toes beside the clanking smokejack, while the wind howled through the arch of the sleety courtyard.
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