Is not this the merry month of May,
When love-lads masken in fresh array?
How falls it, then, we no merrier be’n,
Like as others, girt in gaudy green?
Spenser, “The Shepheards Calendar.”
Time hung heavy on Will’s hands the first few days of his return, as heavy as the meals heaped before him by the adoring Martha. There was as much for “bever” as for breakfast, yet quantity did not suffice him. He became almost as finnicking and fractious as Cousin Caroline, not content, for example, to strain the pond-water through muslin for the larger insects, but insisting on its being boiled: indeed hinting preposterously that the mortality among his unknown brothers and sisters might have been connected with potations on which Caleb and Martha had patently flourished. He held views on the house-refuse, ignoring Caleb’s plea that “the best drain be a pig,” and by making hinges the very first evening for the lower windows to open by, he had raised such a draught in the house that it was all they could do to keep their bedroom and their kitchen air-tight, and even Martha was glad when on the Wednesday afternoon he went off to get some fishing in the Brad, and the windows could all be closed up again.
But the few dace and bull-heads that rewarded his rod left too many intervals for reflection, and in the unsettlement of his thoughts, before settling down to a judicious expenditure of his ninety pounds, he felt he needed more deadening exertion. He tried poling against the stream to that ancient faery island—somebody’s half-decked shooting punt was doing no good rusting on the bank in the off-season, he thought—but the process soon became automatic and his mind was still restless, while after the islands of the St. Lawrence this enchanted playground of his youth seemed tame and its prettiness trivial.
He fed his fancy on a salt-water expedition for the Thursday: recalled the great catches of flat-fish he and his brothers had made, the sport to be got out of the voracious if inedible “bull-rout,” but it would be a very long walk, and what if when one arrived the tide should be too low? So he walked inland around Bradmarsh Common. But though it was, he told himself, the “old haunts” that he went out for to see, he omitted to revisit that venerable landmark, Gaffer Quarles. Conscience adjured him he ought to look up the old carrier, whether for respect or reproof—and he actually did hover around Blackwater Hall—but pride forbade his entering, lest he stumble upon the new Carrier. The Hall appeared even more dwindled to him than Frog Farm as he stood surlily surveying it; even the Common—after the Canadian prairie—seemed no longer to roll towards the blue infinities. He had a strong impulse to burst in on that careless old Daniel and give him a piece of his mind, even at the risk of meeting his gadabout granddaughter; but the bleating of the goats sounded forbidding, and as he was hesitating he found himself under the gaze of another gaffer, the crown of whose battered beaver tied on to its brim with coloured strings gave him a festal grotesquerie. Will remembered this ancient, though despite his gay headgear he now seemed inexpressibly grimy in his patched corduroys, his two ragged coats, and the dirty towel wound round his throat. It was the Quarles’s nearest neighbour, “Uncle” Lilliwhyte, who lived in a cottage also on the Common; trading in cress, cherries, and mushrooms, driving home obstreperous cows and doing other odd jobs. This worthy was now exercising his equal right of gathering sticks on the Common, and the sordid association seemed to reduce Jinny to the same shrunken proportions as her cottage.
“Buy a nadder, sir?”
“Sir!” Yes, after all, his father had been a “looker,” not a mere labourer, he himself had a waistcoat lined with bank-notes and cut by Moses & Son, why should he expect a sense of dignity from a girl of so lowly a status? Let her earn her livelihood as she wished—it was not his affair, except in so far as she should have none of his custom. A cock crew lustily, and it subtly heartened him up. Yes, he would go in now, give her back her glove, professing to have just picked it up, and wash his hands of her for ever.
“No, thank you, uncle,” he said, with an irrelevant memory of the ancient’s blind mother, “what should I do with an adder?”
“But that’s a real loive nadder, just kitched, sir.” He cautiously displayed its hissing head and darting tongue. “There’s many a slowworm killed for a woiper, pore things. Onny fowrpence, sir!”
“Well, here’s sixpence,” said Will graciously. “No, no,” he explained hastily, as the ancient began handing over the wriggling reptile. “Kill the beggar.” And he hurried homewards. On second thoughts—inspired perhaps by some dim impression of a female figure flitting among the clothes-lines behind the Hall—he would not risk an encounter with Jinny, but make a special call upon poor, lonely old Daniel on the morrow. Jinny would then be out on her rounds. And if he took care to go at about the hour she was due at Frog Farm, he could avoid her at both places. Yes, that were tactics worthy of a man of the world.
Casual conversation with his elders reminded him, however, that Jinny was not expected that Friday. She had already left the parcel of groceries on the Tuesday. He was thus safe from her for eight days—he had only to remain at home. But the discovery that the whole of Friday was free from any possibility of her appearance at Frog Farm, and that Blackwater Hall was equally immune from her presence, seemed to remove the zest of his diplomacy. Neighbour Quarles remained unvisited, his solitude unmitigated, and Will wandered aimlessly on the high road between Bradmarsh and Chipstone.
The year was at its most beautiful moment. The hedges were white with hawthorn, and the fresh young leaves on the trees gave an exquisite sense of greenness without blurring the structural grace of the branches, while the unspoiled cadence of the cuckoo’s cry came magically over the sunny meadows. But Will could only swish viciously with his stick at the hedges and litter the lanes with ruined blossom.
It was with no little surprise that, as he and his elders sat at high tea on this same evening, they heard the windings of Jinny’s horn. The three sprang up: then Will sat down again.
“Ain’t you comin’ out to see Jinny?” asked Caleb.
“Let the boy drink his tea,” said Martha.
“But you ain’t never spoke to her yet,” persisted Caleb. “And you used to give her eggs.”
“Let the boy eat his eggs himself,” said Martha sternly.
“Oi dedn’t mean they eggs,” laughed Caleb.
“Do go and see what Jinny can want,” Martha commanded him. “I shouldn’t be surprised if it is eggs—now that Mr. Flippance has opened his show he’ll be wanting them regularly.”
“Whatever for?” asked Will.
“He sucks ’em raw, like weasels, him and his darter,” explained Caleb. “They should say it’s good for the woice, and by all accounts showmen fares to have a mort o’ pieces to speak.”
“But why doesn’t Jinny sell him her own eggs?” asked Will.
“How do you know she has them?” asked Martha quickly.
“Hasn’t she?” he said lightly, reddening like the comb of the cock he had heard crowing.
“Not enough. That old sinner eats her out of house and home.”
“Mr. Flippance?” murmured Will.
“No, no. Her grandfather. Why don’t you go, Caleb?”
Will sat on stolidly, helping himself to more tea and pouring the milk into the slop-basin. Presently Caleb returned, announcing that Jinny had brought something for Will—she could only legally deliver it to Mr. Flynt, junior, she said.
Will turned redder than at the egg-talk. “But I never ordered anything,” he said.
“You can’t prewent folks sendin’ you presents, same as they’re foolish enough,” Caleb reminded him.
A fantastic fear that the blue-eyed girl of the train was discharging some proof of devotion at him made him drum nervously with his teaspoon. “But who knows I’m back home?” he answered Caleb.
Through the open house-door came the gay strains of a fresh young voice:
“But still he’d sing fol de rol iddle ol!”
“Don’t she sing pritty?” sighed Caleb.
“I’d sooner hear her singing about Zion,” said Martha. “She’s rather flighty, to my thinking.”
“That’s the first time Oi heard ye say a word agen Jinny,” said Caleb, “leastways behind her back.”
Will, tingling between the two tortures—the song without and the table-talk within—sprang up brusquely. “Drat the girl—my tea’ll get cold. Sit down, dad, I’ll see what she’s brought.”
Jinny sat stiffly on her seat, Nip clasped in her arms. The singing had ceased. Despite himself Will felt an odd pleasure in the sight of the trim figure so competently poised above Methusalem, and he was touched to note Nip’s tail agitating itself amicably at the sight of him.
“Good evening,” she said politely. “I am glad to see it has not developed.”
“What hasn’t developed?”
“Your hydrophobia. And I am keeping the dog tight, you notice.”
He winced. “Oh, I’m not afraid of him.”
“But I am—he’s already bitten you once: get the cages, please, while I hold him.”
“The cages?” He had a confused idea that Nip was to be caged, was dangerous after all.
“They’re near the tail-board. Nothing to pay.”
He went behind the cart, wondering, semi-incredulous; did indeed perceive a couple of cages in the dusk, and reaching for one, drew back his hand in a hurry from some darting, snapping, creamy, pink-eyed yellowness.
“Oh!” he cried involuntarily.
“What’s the matter? Oh, I had forgotten they bite too.”
“What is this practical joke?” he cried angrily.
“Eh?” said Jinny. “Didn’t you order a pair of ferrets to be sent by the Carrier?”
His eyes grew wide. “I beg your pardon—I’d quite forgotten.”
“I thought Deacon Mawhood wasn’t a likely joker. Polecats, he said. Have you got the cages?” she asked, not looking back.
“I’m—I’m getting them,” he stammered, and began cautiously haling them towards him.
“The Deacon asked me to say the hob and the jill must be kept apart.”
“I know,” he grunted, almost as shocked as over her mention of Maria’s litter. The impudicity of her calling was again borne in on him.
“Anything else?” burst from him sardonically.
“No—except there’s no need to cope them. I don’t know what coping is.”
“It’s what you want,” he said brutally. “Muzzling.”
“Afraid of my bite, too?” asked Jinny, and turning towards the interior shelf that held the smaller parcels, she began to sing softly to herself:
“A dashing young lad from Buckingham.”
He had been expecting “Canada” at the end, and felt somehow disappointed at its absence. “But when I gave the order,” he rejoined notwithstanding, “I didn’t know that the Bradmarsh Carrier was a girl.”
“That didn’t prevent you using her when you did know,” she said quietly.
“When have I used her?” he cried hotly.
“Well, what about this?” She produced from the shelf in the cart a long parcel half enclosed by a string in broken, dirty paper, within which showed a layer of grimy straw.
“But what is it?”
“That’s not my business.” She tendered it downwards.
“I never ordered this.”
“Hadn’t you better open it?” she asked with a twinkle. He dumped down the cages violently, to the alarm of the ferrets, and tore it open, only to shudder back before the clammy-looking coils.
“An adder as well?” said Jinny. “You going to open a menagerie?”
“It’s dead,” he said.
“Did you want a live one?”
“I didn’t want one at all—I never ordered it.”
“Why, Uncle Lilliwhyte told me he sold it to you for fourpence and you gave him twopence extra to kill it.”
“I beg your pardon—he misunderstood.” It was his second apology. “But what a dirty way to deliver it.”
“Did you expect me to nurse a viper in my bosom?”
Again this indelicate speech, hardly atoned for by its wit. “The old ragamuffin!” he muttered furiously. “How did the idiot know it was me?”
“Fellow-feeling, I suppose,” said Jinny.
“Now you’re saucy again. You must have told him it was me.”
“Right for once. Honest uncle was upset at your forgetting to tell him where to send your purchase. I was milking my goats and saw you hanging about.”
Again he flushed uneasily. “And how much do I owe you?” he asked hurriedly.
“Twopence for the viper, being only a short way. The Deacon says he prefers to pay the freightage on the ferrets, and to collect it from you himself.”
He put down the straw-entangled snake on top of one of the cages, and pulled out a coin. “Have you got change for sixpence?”
“Not unless I loose Nip.” She fumbled with one hand in her pocket.
He glowered. “Oh, next time will do,” he said angrily.
“Oh, then, there is to be a next time!”
“Not so far as I am concerned.”
“Sure you don’t want any more wild animals?”
“No,” he shouted.
“Don’t be so fierce. The drumstick is found, you will be glad to hear.”
“And the show is doing big business, Mr. Flippance tells me. He was so set up he gave me a pair of new gloves.”
“That old braggart! What business had he to give you gloves?”
“Didn’t I lose one through his drumstick?”
“But then ’tis me ought to pay for them,” he protested.
“You? What nonsense! Why?”
“It was on my account you lost the glove—through trying to get a bite.”
She smiled. “You talk as if I were an angler.”
“I wish you were! Anything but a carrier.”
“Don’t say that. Would you like me to buy another pair of gloves—on your account?”
“If you would!” he said eagerly.
But still he’d-sing fol de rol iddle ol.
“What size do you take?”
“Stow that fol-de-riddling—you know I don’t mean gloves for me.”
“Are you taking back the order?” she said, with feigned disappointment.
“I never gave you an order!” he said, goaded. “I’d cut my tongue out sooner.”
“Keep your tongue between your teeth. You’ll want it to give me an order with before you’re a week older.”
“Never! I’d as soon shoe a horse with a hairpin.” He snatched up his cages decisively, one in each hand, and the adder rolled on to the ground, bursting its strawy cerements.
The girl’s grey eyes flashed steel-like. “And can’t I drive as well as Gran’fer? And don’t I know the roads?” And she uplifted her horn from her girdle and blew a resounding blast of defiance. It set all the cocks crowing behind the house and brought Caleb bustling from within it.
“Did you summon me, Jinny?” he asked. “Gracious, Will, whatever you got there?” His eyes expanded to see the sinuous animals swirling fiercely against their wires; in coming nearer to peer at them, he stumbled over the snake and uttered a cry.
“It’s all right,” called Jinny. “It’s dead.”
“You killed it, Willie?” he asked.
“With a drumstick,” said Jinny gravely.
“Fiddlesticks, father!” said Will angrily.
“Oi don’t care what sort o’ stick you killed that with,” said Caleb, “so long as it’s a dead corpse. But do ye come in now—mother’s grousin’ about the tea gittin’ cold.”
“I like cold tea. Go in, father. I’m just coming.” He harked back to her blast of rebellion. “You may be able to drive, and you may know the roads. But can’t you see how unnatural it is, you perched up there and blowing a horn like Dick Burrage of the County Flyer?”
“And do I blow it as fine as he?” she asked eagerly.
“Anybody can blow a horn,” he answered curtly.
“Can they now?” She was piqued again. “I’d like to see anybody do it. Why, Gran’fer can’t.”
“Gran’fer hasn’t got much breath left. I’m not talking of men in their eighties.”
“He is in his nineties,” she corrected.
“Exactly. I meant anybody with proper lungs.”
“Can you blow it?”
“Why shouldn’t I be able to blow it?”
“All right! Blow it!” said Jinny gravely. She unslung it with one arm and held it down. He gazed at it, taken aback, sandwiched between his cages.
“It’s no good opening your mouth,” she said. “I’m not going to stick it in. You’ll have to put down those horrible beasts and do that yourself. Why don’t they keep still? They make my head ache.”
He moved to the back of the house to place the ferrets out of the way, kicking the poor adder before him—it was a needed relief to his feelings. Returning, thus purged, he took the proffered horn—it was not a professional coach-horn or post-horn, but just the little instrument of a master of foxhounds curling into a circle above—and with but scant misgiving put it to his mouth, and blew. But the silence remained unbroken. He puffed on and on with solemn pertinacity. Not a sound issued. His cheeks swelled to bursting-point, and grew redder and redder with shame and vexation. But silence still reigned.
“You mustn’t put it inside your lips,” corrected Jinny. “Think you’re tum-tumming into a comb.”
He readjusted it sullenly, but the music within was still coy.
“Slacken your lip,” she advised. “Try to splutter br-r-r-rr into it.”
But whatever he spluttered into it, nothing came out.
“I never realized it was quite so difficult, even the lipping,” said Jinny simply. “Of course I didn’t expect you to do the double or treble tonguing at once.”
“What do you mean, tonguing?” he inquired morosely.
“Dividing the notes. Say ‘Tucker, Tucker, Tucker’ into it.”
“But it’s blowing, not saying,” said Will obstinately.
But secretly he modified his methods, and at last a ghostly plangency or a staccato squeak began to reward his apoplectic agonizings, and the still prisoned Nip, who had been yawning in utter boredom, now accompanied the music with a critical and lugubrious howling.
Upon this spectacle and situation reissued the guileless Caleb, and had the Crystal City itself come down upon earth, his eyes could scarcely have orbed themselves more spaciously.
“He didn’t summon you,” observed the merciless Jinny.
“Go away, father! What are you staring at?” yapped the tortured young man.
“You do be a fine musicianer!” And Caleb grinned. “But do ye don’t play now—mother’s gittin’ into her tantarums over your tea.”
“The instrument must be out of order,” said Will, handing it up crossly to Jinny. Remorselessly she drew from it a clarion call that made the welkin ring and the poultry-yard respond in kind.
“How the cocks crow!” she observed artlessly.
“Thinks because she blows a horn she’s a devil of a fellow,” Will remarked witheringly to his receding father. “Say, Jinny, why don’t you wear the breeches?”
“Like those Bloomerites you told me of? I will,” she responded sweetly, “if you think it more becoming.”
“Me! You don’t suppose I notice what you wear.”
“Then how do you know I’m not wearing ’em now?”
“You have me there!” And he smiled despite himself. The smile lit up the face under the aureole of red hair—it seemed to Jinny a sudden glimpse, through a rift of Time, of the boy she had known. “All the same,” he protested, “if I had a horn, I could learn it in an hour.”
“Well, get one,” said Jinny.
“Where can I get one?” he retorted fretfully.
“Dearie! Your tea——!” It was Martha herself now.
“Oh, I’d get you one,” said Jinny carelessly, “but I’ll wager you won’t blow it properly in a week, much less an hour!”
“A week! What nonsense! In a moment.”
“In a moment?”
“I was speaking to mother. What’ll you wager?”
“A pair of gloves,” said Jinny.
“Done!” said Will.
She clucked to Methusalem. “Good-bye,” she called to the couple as the cart moved off. “I’ll deliver your order next Friday, Will—without fail.”
“Dearie, whatever are you running after her for?” cried Martha.
He came back sheepishly: “I thought the gate wasn’t open.”
From the Bradmarsh road the sound of the “fol-de-rol” refrain came sweetly on the quiet air.
“I wish she would sing of Zion,” repeated Martha wistfully.
The pair of polecat ferrets—creamy white albinos, pink of eye and black of belly—hung in the cages on the back wall of the farmhouse, with a spare cage beside them as a retiring-place when a hutch was turned out. But only once—on the Saturday in the first ardour of possession—had Will taken them out a-hunting: on which occasion they had refused to rat or rabbit. Indeed their leaps and gambols persuaded Will that they pursued—as he remembered the Deacon once maintaining sympathetically about rats—their “private sports.” Why indeed should sensible creatures, comfortably fed on chicken-head and blackbirds, and provided with straw to cocoon themselves against cold, go squeezing into holes or drains? Restored to captivity, these fainéant ferrets spent most of their day in squirming with desperate restlessness from one end of the cage to the other and perking their quivering noses and little black claws through the wires. And their master’s own plight was much the same, for after the prairie, Frog Farm was only a hutch to him: his father, too, being so unexpectedly on the shelf, there was nothing that really needed him, nor was there any land for sale in the vicinity on which he might commence operations. Like his ferrets, if with a larger run, he swayed restlessly to and fro; from farm to river, from river to Common, from Common to Steeples Wood, from Steeples Wood to Frog Farm.
When he was not thus oscillating on the landscape, he was sweating in intellectual indecision in the parlour: trying to write a little note to Jinny to inform her that she was to come to Frog Farm no more, inasmuch as he intended to go into Chipstone himself once or twice a fortnight, and could easily bring home whatever was necessary. He had thought that when he had found a feather dropped by a green goose, cut his quill, concocted an ink out of soot and water, and discovered a piece of white paper wrapped round his bank-notes, that his difficulties were over. But the worst now remained, for he could not satisfy himself as to the phraseology of this note, being, as he had truly pleaded, no great shakes at letter-writing. Such glibness as he could muster in conversation was paralysed in fact by a pen. There was not even one of those word-books he had seen scholarly people use to ensure the spelling, and one must not unnecessarily afford material to a minx who—having obviously to do with bills and accounts—might conceivably be literate. He had a vague remembrance of her reading texts quite easily at the Sunday-school, young as she was. Even if she could spell no better than he, she might possess one of these spelling-protectors.
The only book at Frog Farm being his mother’s Bible, he tried to secure accuracy by limiting himself to its words. But its vocabulary seemed strangely lacking. He had decided, for example, to begin with “Maddam.” One could not call such a stranger as the new Jinny “Dear Miss,” he thought, and “Miss” alone sounded thin and abrupt. No, “Maddam” was the mouth-filling resonance necessary: it struck a note of massive dignity. But did it really have two “d’s”? And to his amazement and anguish neither “Maddam” nor “Madam” was to be discovered from Genesis to Revelation. Adam, the nearest analogue, who came in his reference volume with welcome promptitude, even precipitateness, had, he found, only one “d,” but was he a sure guide to the orthography of the creature formed out of his spare rib? This and the many other curious and amazing passages that beguiled him on his route—presented thus to a fresh and world-experienced eye—ran away with so much time that Martha would be summoning him to the next of his many meals before he had even dipped his quill into the soot.
“Mr. William Flynt presents his complements” was another promising start—he had got a debt-demanding letter once at a boarding-house with this austerely courteous overture—but alas!—marvel on marvel—there did not appear to be a single “complement,” whether in the Old Testament or the New. Not a very courteous people, the Jews, he thought, under either dispensation. This happy-go-lucky hunt for words—an exciting steeplechase in which one skipped over spacious histories and major prophets with the chance of tumbling on the very word—began to be an absorbing substitute for ratting.
“The Epistles of James” suddenly caught his eye. Ah, here was a complete guide to letter-writing, he felt hopefully; what was good enough for James would do for William. But when written out, “William, the son of Caleb, of Frog Farm, to Jinny Quarles of Blackwater Hall, Little Bradmarsh, greeting” did not seem quite the correct opening. An Epistle of John was, even more misguiding. “The Elder to the Elect or Well-Beloved!” Clearly inappropriate to the point of absurdity!
Still, with modifications, Epistles must surely be valid models. So he started writing and re-writing, wrestling and hunting and polishing. But the word-chase had now to be supplemented by a paper-chase. How keep pace in paper with this orgy of penmanship? Every corner of the house was ransacked, with meagre results: he even meditated stealing back his own letter from his mother, knowing it had a blank fly-sheet, but it was always jealously guarded. It was not till he came on Farmer Gale’s boy—schoolward bound—and paid him twopence for the remains of a penny copy-book that he could surrender himself freely to the labours of the file. An hour before this large laying-in of material, he had gone through a curious crisis. He had found in his purse, in a last desperate quest, a piece of paper which, unfolded, afforded a welcome white surface. He was composing quite a successful letter upon it when, on turning it over, he came upon the address of the forgotten blue-eyed charmer of the Chelmsford train. With frowning brow he tore it into small pieces. It was not merely that the letter was spoilt for sending: it was the juxtaposition with Jinny—back to back—that seemed suddenly profane.
After several days’ gestation, many words and turns of expression having to be rejected and replaced by phrases whose spelling could be ascertained from the Bible, the letter emerged as hereunder in a pale and aqueous ink:
“William Flynt to the Damsel of Blackwater Hall greeting. This epistle doth proclaim in the name of the generations of Frog Farm that Methuselah shall not come to pass here henceforward, inasmuch as behold here am I to purchase whatsoever is verily to be desired from Chipstone, be it candles or oil or spice or any manner of thing whatsoever, nor shall you carry forth aught hence, for lo! we will make no further covenant with you or aught that is yours. Peace be with you, as thank God it leaves me at present.
“P.S.—Let not your horn be exalted, nor speak with a stiff neck, for surely this is not the way to find grace in the eyes of the discerning.”
But even this exalted effusion did not survive the first glow of satisfaction, for although it was treasured up as too good to destroy, and did not sound unlike the language that the Brothers and Sisters held in the meeting-house, he could not remember ever seeing a letter thus couched. It was succeeded by a homelier version, in which the word “Epistle” stood out as the only connecting-link. With a composition playing now for safety, and mainly monosyllabic, it would be a poor diplomacy not to work in one high-class word, of whose spelling he was sure.
“This Epistle is to say,” the new version began abruptly, “that we don’t need you to call on Frydays——”
Good heavens! Even Friday was not to be found in the Bible. Pursuing this astonishing line of investigation, he realized that Sunday itself was absent from its pages. The Bible without Sunday! O incredible discoveries of the illuminated!
He altered it, following Genesis, to the “sixth day,” but then came a paralysing doubt whether it was not the fifth, for how could you rest on Sunday if that was not the seventh? He casually remarked to his mother that it was odd they did not rest on the seventh day, as commanded in Genesis. She explained to him that Sunday was the Lord’s Day, but he seemed dissatisfied with the argument. Perhaps Moses & Son were not so wrong, he remarked, repenting of his resentment against them for being closed that Saturday.
He woke up the next morning with the solution of dodging the mention of the day and merely relieving Jinny of the duty of “markiting” for them. He felt sure that this word could be found, remembering a text about two sparrows being sold for a farthing. But to his chagrin it was not in the “markit” that they were sold. In steeplechasing for the word, he tumbled on a text in Hosea: “Blow ye the cornet in Gibeah, and the trumpet in Ramah,” and that seemed like an omen. Yes, he would blow it in Bradmarsh, if not in Ramah. Let him wait till she came with the horn; then after whelming her with the wonder of his execution, he could, face to face and free of orthography, bid her trouble Frog Farm no more. And the postscript of his great letter, “Let not your horn be exalted, nor speak with a stiff neck,” rang through his mind again, like a prophetic warning against overweening damsels.
“He’s come back a new soul,” Martha reported to Caleb, with shining eyes. “He’s found God.”
Caleb shook his head sceptically. “He’s too boxed up for that—he don’t open his heart enough.”
“But he opens the Bible,” urged Martha, “and he won’t close it even for meals. I can never get it for myself nowadays.”
“Dedn’t you read me as the Devil can spout Scripture?” said Caleb shrewdly.
“For shame, Caleb. Anybody can see how changed the boy is—the only thing that makes me anxious is his Sabbatarian leanings. Suppose he should go and join the Seventh-Day Baptists.”
“Dip hisself o’ Saturdays?”
“No, no—’tis those that keep Sunday on Saturday. There’s two in Long Bradmarsh, but I hope Will won’t go straying into strange paths.”
“You better enlighten him,” said Caleb. “Them as is powerful enough to carry boxes from Chipstone ain’t allus bright in the brain-pan. Oi count it ’ud be aukard if he fared to keep Sunday on Saturday, bein’ as he’d want the Sunday dishes fust and we’d get ’em cold.”
“There’s higher considerations than the stomach,” said Martha severely.
“The stomach ain’t low and it ain’t high,” maintained Caleb. “The Lord put the stomach in the middle so as we shouldn’t neither worship it nor forgit it.”
“The only Sunday meal that matters,” persisted Martha, “is the bread and the wine, and though there’s no Lord’s table nigh, such as I could find dozens of in London, nor nobody to worship with except you, yet if you go on scoffing, my duty to my Brethren and Sisters of the synagogue will be to withdraw from you.”
“And where will you goo?” he asked in alarm.
“I won’t go anywhere—‘withdraw’ only means that it is forbidden to break bread with you.”
He was relieved. “Oi don’t mind so long as you don’t goo away.”
“And what will you do in the day of Ezekiel thirty-eight, when Gog and Magog dash themselves to pieces against Israel? And when the eighth of Daniel comes to pass, and the Great Horn is broken and the Little Horn stamps upon the host of heaven?”
“Oi count it won’t be just yet,” he said uneasily.
“You count wrong. To my reckoning the two thousand three hundred days of Daniel are nigh up. In the great day of Isaiah four, when the Tabernacle rises again with the cloud and smoke and the flaming fire, the people of God shall rise too from their graves while the others sleep.”
“Then you can wake me up, dear heart,” he said, “bein’ as you’re sure to be up.”
She shook her head. “You were always up first, sweetheart, but that day you’ll sleep on and I’ll have no power to rouse you—unless, says Isaiah, you ‘look unto me and be saved.’ ‘Dust to dust’—that shows we’re not immortal by nature.”
“But ef it’s comin’ so soon, Oi shan’t be in my grave at all,” he urged anxiously, “and Oi can push into the Tabernacle.”
“No more easy than for wasps to push into the hive. You’ve seen the bees push ’em back.”
“But one or two does get in and Oi reckon Oi’ll take hold o’ your skirt, same as you been readin’ me.”
“I read you there’ll be ten men to take hold of it,” she said.
“Nine other men!” he cried angrily. “But they won’t have no right to take hold o’ my wife’s skirt.”
“That’s what Zechariah says—‘ten men of all languages.’ ”
Caleb’s gloom relaxed. “He was thinkin’ o’ Che’msford and sech-like great places full o’ furriners,” he said decisively. “Here there’s onny Master Peartree, and the shepherd ain’t a Goloiath. Oi’ll soon get riddy o’ him, happen he don’t hook hisself to you with his crook.”
“But I’ll pull in Will too,” said Martha.
But Jinny did not appear on Friday with the musical instrument. Only the unexpected arrived—in the shape of Bundock. That royal messenger was visibly hipped as he delivered the letter to Will.
“A woman’s writing!” he observed reproachfully. “That means dragging me here time and again!”
But Will had broken open the high-class adhesive envelope and was already absorbed in the letter.
“Sir,—Mr. Quarles thanks Mr. William Flynt for his esteemed order, but regrets to inform him that a coach-horn of suitable size for a man is not to be had in Chipstone. They have not even got a little hunting-horn like mine. I will, however, superscribe to Chelmsford and get you one without fail. Trusting for your further patronage,
“N.B.—All orders carried out—or in—with punctuality and dispatch. Goods sent off without fail to any part of Europe, America, and Australia.
“P.S.—Please inform your hond. parents that as she brought q.f. of groceries that Tuesday I shall not call again till I deliver your instrument.”
So Jinny had got in first in the pen-fight! And her letter bowled him over, not only by its bland assumption that she was already established as his carrier, but by the fluency and scholarship of its style, with its incomprehensible “superscribe” and “q.f.” He felt baffled too and even snubbed by the signature, which gave her a businesslike remoteness, and even a legitimate status as a mere representative of the masculine, besides making him feel he had lost a chance by not sending off one of his many scrawls to the address of this same “Daniel Quarles.” His answer would now require the profoundest excogitation, he felt, as he adjusted her missive between the bank-notes and the glove. There was, moreover, the material problem of vying with this real and fashionable correspondence paper. Ultimately he became conscious that Bundock was still standing at attention.
“Do you want anything?” he asked tartly.
“I’m waiting for the answer,” said Bundock nobly, “or you won’t catch a post till to-morrow night unless you trudge to Long Bradmarsh.”
“Oh, there’s no answer—none at all! Thank you all the same.”
“Thank you!” said Bundock. “It’s not often folks consider me nowadays—especially when there’s a woman in the case. They just go on shuttlecocking letters till my feet are sore.”
“But it isn’t a woman!” said Will stiffly. “It’s just a business letter from Gaffer Quarles.” And he pulled it out, and the little glove fell out with it: which did not lessen his annoyance.
“Daniel Quarles never put his fist to a pen this ten year,” asserted Bundock. “He was glad to be done with writing, says my father, for Daniel was never brought up to be a carrier, his parents never dreaming he’d inherit the business.”
“Why not, isn’t he the eldest?”
“The contrairy. Blackwater Hall and the bit of land is one of those queer properties that go to the youngest, if you die without a will.”
“Ay, and that’s what Daniel was. Borough English, ’tis called by scholars,” said Bundock impressively. “However, he picked up a little from his brother Sidrach, who had already set up as a carrier on his own account round about Harwich, and a pretty business he did, old Sidrach, says my father, before he was discovered to be an owler and had to fly to America.”
“Were they so persecuted?” murmured Will.
“And didn’t they deserve it—smuggling our good English wool into France! Pack-horses they loaded with it, the rascals.”
“Oh, I thought they were a sect!”
Bundock laughed. “That’s with an aitch; though I dare say many a man owled all the week and howled on Sunday—he, he, he! Do you know—between you and I—who it is writes the hymns?”
“The village idiot!” answered Will smartly. “You told me so when I was a boy,” he added, seeing the postman’s disconcerted expression.
Bundock brightened up. “Ah, I thought ’twas too clever for you. But as for this letter o’ yours, it’s clearly a woman’s handwriting, and if Jinny once begins writing to her customers, it’s a bad look-out for me.”
Bundock might well feel a grievance, for this was the first letter Jinny had ever written to a client, indeed to anybody with the exception of old Commander Dap, who, clinging to the friendship struck up at his wife’s funeral, sent her birthday presents and the gossip of the Watch Vessel. To him she had written as her heart and her illiteracy prompted, but the elegant epistle received by Will Flynt was not achieved without considerable pains. She had the advantage, however, of not being limited to the Bible for her vocabulary, possessing as she did an almost modern guide in the shape of an olla podrida of a Spelling-Book, whose first edition dated no further back than 1755, the year of the Lisbon Earthquake. “The Universal Spelling-Book” had originally belonged to the “owler,” and it was from the almost limitless resources of this quaint reservoir that, with a pardonable desire not to be outshone by her much-travelled neighbour, she culled both the “superscribe” defined as “to write over” and the q.f. (given in the “List of Abbreviations” as standing for the Latin of “a sufficient quantity”), except that she misread the long “s” for an “f.” The immaculate spelling was, however, no mean feat, for the book’s vocabulary was very incomplete and devoid of order, so that she had almost as much steeplechasing to do as her rival letter-writer. Moreover, she must fain study whole columns of traps for the unwary, where the terms of her own occupation appeared with disconcerting frequency. If there was not in the letter any necessity for distinguishing between “glutinous” and “gluttonous,” “rheum” and “Rome,” or any risk of confusing a “widow” with a “relic,” still “seller,” “fare,” “due”—any of which she might have needed—all had their dangerous doubles, and she did not write “call” without carefully discriminating it from “Cawl, of a Wig or Bowels.” “Punctuality and dispatch” was lifted bodily from Miss Gentry’s billheads, and if she did not offer to send off goods to Asia and Africa, it was because only “Europe, America, and Australia” figured on Mr. Flippance’s posters.
The recipient of this impressive communication was staggered by the strides in female education made since his boyhood. He betook himself at once—to his mother’s joy—to the Bible, like a Cromwell before a great battle. Martha had stolen the book back to the kitchen and was pondering texts anxiously when he wandered in to hunt for it.
“Who sent you a letter?” she inquired uneasily.
“Old Quarles,” he answered readily. “It’s about an order he can’t supply, and he asks me to tell you his granddaughter won’t be coming to-day.”
Martha’s face lit up. “What a pity!” she cried. “She might have taken my bonnet to Miss Gentry to be re-trimmed.” Martha had become reconciled to this minor vanity, now it was strategically unnecessary. “However, your young legs can do that, dearie, now they’re back, can’t they?”
“With pleasure, mother,” he said, all unconscious of the lapsed plan. “Why waste money on carriers?”
She kissed him passionately, but seeing his anxiety to be at the Bible, she released him.
“I should look at Revelation, one, ten, Willie,” she advised, “and you’ll understand why the Sabbath——”
“Yes, yes,” he interrupted soothingly.
“Also Colossians, two, sixteen and seventeen—the seventh day is but a shadow of things to come.”
“I see,” he said, escaping.
It took hours of hard theological study—indeed till Saturday morning—before the reply to Jinny shaped itself:
“Sir,—Mr. William Flynt thanks Mr. Daniel Quarles for his esteemed epistle, and regrets to learn that a coach-horn of suitable size for a gentelman is not to be had in Chipstone. I beseech you, however, not to superscribe to Chelmsford as Methuselah cannot fetch such a compass, and the righteous man regardeth his beast. Neither do I require a horn at her hand now or henceforwards.
“P.S.—Do you think that a maiden of your years aught to superscribe alone to Chelmsford, a city full of lewdness and abominations, where men use deceit with their tongues and the poison of asps is under their lips?”
“What are you writing, Will?” said his mother, coming in to sun herself in his holy studies.
“Nothing.” He put his hand over the page of the copy-book, forgetting she could not read it.
“Are you writing to Jinny?” she inquired suspiciously.
“No, no—-it’s Daniel,” he corrected.
“Daniel!” she said in amaze. “About the Sabbath?”
“No, about the horn,” he blurted out petulantly.
“The Horn!” She was wildly excited. “Is it the Little Horn or the Great Horn?”
He was amazed. “Well it began with the little horn——”
Martha was radiant. She poured forth her own theory of the Beast in Daniel, and emboldened by his silent agreement—when his daze changed into comprehension of her misunderstanding—she proceeded to elaborate her interpretation of the two thousand three hundred days of sacrifice. He, meantime, was finally deciding to turn “Daniel” into “Miss” except in the address.
But Will’s letter could not be posted—for many reasons. He possessed neither an envelope to vie with Jinny’s, nor one that was closed with outside devices, nor any sealing-wax to make his letter its own envelope; he could only fold it into a cocked-hat and deliver it himself. Apart from these material reasons, he could not well let Bundock carry an answer, when he had denied there would be any, and he shrank from conducting his affairs under that official inquisition: moreover, haste was imperative if he was to save the girl from that difficult and dangerous journey, for “superscribe” conveyed to him a sense of precipitation, and he saw her cart almost stampeding to Chelmsford. At any moment she might set out in quest of the Great Horn. That was why he abandoned the idea of toiling to Chipstone to emulate her refined writing materials. He must hie to Blackwater Hall that very afternoon and play postman. He would not, of course, enter the house, but would find a way of slipping the letter in.
The surreptitious deed he meditated gave him almost a skulking air as he neared the Common, and he shrank from the observation of all he met, though with the exception of Uncle Lilliwhyte in a corduroy sleeved waistcoat, driving cows with a weed-hook, and an old crone who stopped and muttered with twisted head, he saw only frightened partridges whirring above or rabbits and field-mice scurrying at his feet. Near Blackwater Hall he encountered two of Jinny’s milch-goats tethered, pasturing on the hedgerows, and their bleat had a cynical ring. The Common itself seemed almost to meet the sky, for clouds had gathered as suddenly as the crowd by the Silverlane Pump. He was feeling dispirited as he stole towards the house, but as he caught sight of the stables and barn at the rear, it seemed a happy idea to plant his note in some obtrusive coign. His heart beat like a raw burglar’s as he stood surveying from afar the primitive sheds whose roofs were thatch, whose gates palings, whose sides faggots, and in one of which he could see Methusalem’s head in a trough of oats. The stable-shed would be the surest place, he thought, or perhaps he could pin the note on to the harness he saw hanging in an adjoining shed from nails in the beams. Coming nearer to peer at Methusalem’s manger, he was startled by the sight of a brown smock-frocked figure crouched on the littered, dungy floor and belatedly brushing Methusalem’s fetlocks. Before he could escape he saw the wizened, snow-bearded, horn-spectacled face turned up at him, and heard himself recognized in a weakened but unmistakable voice.
“Why, bless my soul! Ef that bain’t little Willie Flynt!”
Daniel Quarles rose and straightened himself to his full height, but nothing in Little Bradmarsh had seemed to Will so pitifully shrunken. “Little” Willie Flynt indeed towered over the patriarch who had once seemed Herculean to him. Yet if the robustiousness that the old carrier had preserved in his eighties had vanished at last, there was still fire in his eye and a fang or two in his mouth.
“Hope you are well, Mr. Quarles,” said Will, recovering from the double shock of discovering and being discovered.
“No, you don’t, my lad,” piped the Gaffer. “Did, you’d a come sooner, seein’ as Time is gettin’ away from me.”
“Did Jin—did your granddaughter tell you I was back?”
“She ain’t scarcely told me nawthen else.”
Will’s cheeks burned.
“You ain’t come back improved, says she.”
Will’s flush grew redder.
“But Oi don’t agree with her—you’ve growed like a prize marrow. Come into the house and she shall make you a dish o’ tay—Oi don’t drink it myself, bein’ as Oi promised John Wesley.”
“No, thank you—I’d rather talk where we are.”
“Well, Oi can’t inwoite you in here—’tis too mucky.” He gave Methusalem’s tail a final flick with the brush. “And it’s blowin’ up for rine. We’ll goo into the barn.” And he led the way imperiously round by a great and ramifying apple-tree that hid a little black door secured by a padlock and infinite knots of string.
“One has to be witty,” he commented, patiently undoing the complications, “with so many thieves about to steal my dole hay.”
Will had not heard of these thieves, and thought Little Bradmarsh must be changed indeed, but he waited silently, wondering what to do with his note. And as he stood thus, there came from the cottage the sound of a girl’s singing. Fortunately it was not satirical, so Will could hear it with pleasure:
“Of all the horses in the merry greenwood
The bob-tailed mare bears the bells away.”
“Always jolly, my little mavis,” said the patriarch, fumbling on, and, unable to resist the infection, his sepulchral bass voice took up the Carters’ Chorus:
“There is Hey, there is Ree,
There is Hoo, there is Gee——”
“Oi wouldn’t unlock the barn,” he broke off to explain as the door swung open, “ef Oi hadn’t such good company.” He stood peering suspiciously into the tall raftered and beamed glooms; redolent of old hay and punctuated with a few cobwebbed and rusty instruments amid the endless litter. Will’s eye was fascinated by an old wine-barrel flanked by a chaff-cutter and a turnip-cutter and covered with boards and weights. He divined it held corn and was thus closed against rats, and a whiff of aniseed came up in memory, and in a flash he saw the faces of Tony Flip and the Deacon—and himself flying after a carrier’s cart.
“They’ve stole my flail,” cried the Gaffer.
“Why, there it is, under that straw,” said Will.
“Oh, ay. But there was more logs, Oi’ll goo bail. Drat ’em, can’t they chop for theirselves? It’ll be that Uncle Lilliwhyte.”
“Oh, but he’s only too honest,” said Will incautiously.
“There ain’t nobody honest,” barked the Gaffer.
“But he sent me an adder——” he began.
“Not he. ’Twas Jinny told him to send the adder. He’d ha’ kept your sixpence and let you whistle for your sarpint. But next time you want an adder, you come to me.”
“Do you sell ’em too?” he murmured, surprised.
“Oi be an adder!”
“What do you mean?”
His spectacles glowed strangely. “Read your Bible, young man—Dan is an adder in the path, what biteth the horse’s heels, so that the rider should fall backwards—that’s the blessing of Jacob—and let no man try to ride roughshod over the likes o’ me.”
Will shrank back before the passion of his words. Indeed in that gloomy old barn he began to feel a bit nervous.
“I’ve brought a note for Jinny,” he said hastily. “Will you give it to her?”
The old man took the cocked-hat. “Mr. Daniel Quarles!” he read slowly. “But it’s for me!”
Will’s blush was now papaverous. “No—no!” he stammered. It was a conjuncture he had not foreseen.
The fire in the old eye leapt up at the contradiction, shot through the spectacles. “Plain as a pikestaff—Mr. Daniel Quarles! And then you has the imperence to say there ain’t no thieves. But ye can’t bamboozle me. Oi could read afore you could woipe your nose with a muckinger, ay, and my feyther afore me. Carriers ha’ we been for over a hundred year, and my big brother Sidrach he had his own pack-horses loaded up with waluable stuff and writ me a piece ten year ago come haysel, sayin’ as he hoped Oi should jarney to see him, and please God Oi will, he gittin’ old.”
“But where is he?” asked Will, glad that the Gaffer’s monologue had drifted from its angry beginning.
“Babylon?” gasped Will, whose recent theological excursions had made him almost at home in that purpureal city.
“That’s my nickname for Che’msford, chuck-full o’ lewdness and Church-folk. But Oi’ve been meanin’ to goo and look Sidrach up and hear all about his travels, he bein’ a rare one for adwentures, but somehow what with my carryin’ work and one thing and the tother my days fly by—like the Book says—swifter than a weaver’s shuttle. Happen lucky, though, Oi’ll git over there to-year.”
“I hope so,” murmured Will vaguely.
“No you don’t, drat you!” said the veteran with sudden viciousness. “Tain’t your care whether Oi ever clap eyes on my beloved brother agen. A ’nation cowld day it was he had to goo away—the Brad all ice and they should be tellin’ of the Che’msford coach as come in without the driver, and he fallen down on the road, frozen stiff as a sparrow.”
“What year was that?” asked Will, to keep the conversation on this more agreeable level.
“It was the year my brother Sidrach went away,” said Daniel Quarles simply. “ ’Nation cowld. We heerd that in Lunnon the river was as froze as ourn, and flue-full o’ sports—booths and turnabouts and pigs roasted whole, and great crowds to see a young bear baited. But feyther’s cart went to and fro Chipstone just the same, and brought the news as how a woman was burned at Newgate for coinin’—it dedn’t seem wery dreadful in that weather. Waterloo year that was another cowld winter—all the marsh ditches was solid ice, and all the eels was found dead and frozen. Couldn’t eat ’em neither, not after the first day, they stank so. That numb was my fingers Oi could scarce howld the reins, and you’d ha’ thought by my breath Oi was a wicked smoker. But ’twas wunnerful times, and we heaped up a deadly great pile o’ fagots and bushes for the beacon, top o’ yonder rise where ye see Beacon Hill Farm.”
“Ah, the bonfire to celebrate the victory!” said Will, rejoiced to find irascibility cooled into reminiscence.
“Wictory! That was the name o’ Nelson’s ship as that silly old Dap should say he sarved in. Nay, this was but a bonfire to be lit when Bony landed. All along Blackwater we was ready for the inwasion, and when the beacon was fired, that was to be the signal. The soldiers was to goo to the coast and the ciwilians inland. But Bony never come, and ’twas a great waste. And Sidrach never come neither. ’Nation cowld the day he went away—Oi moind me gooin’ through a foot o’ snow across Chipstone poor-piece to the Church to see the Knight Templar what was dug up in the north aisle, pickled inside three coffins, but they’d put him back in the outer lead time Oi arrived. They should say it was a sort o’ mushroom ketchup as kept him together for the Resurrection Day—a bit blackish, but wellnigh as sound and good-lookin’ as you.”
It was a compliment that made the young man shudder again.
“Ah, there is the rain!” he exclaimed, with relief at the hearty patter on the apple-tree.
But the old man would not be fobbed off so enjoyable a topic. “Three coffins—lead, ellum, and a shell—’twas a witty way agin them body-snatchers—you ain’t safe agin thieves even in your tomb. And when you’re above ground they tries to steal your wery letters.” He pulled open the note.
“It’s merely addressed to you as head of the business,” Will explained.
“Ay, that Oi be, though the youngest. He that is last shall be fust, says the Book, ay, and the Law too, though ’twasn’t fair to Sidrach to my thinkin’, bein’ agin nature. And next time a letter comes for me, do ye don’t bring it and play your tricks, but let it come natural through Bundock’s grandson. What’s this? ‘Mr. William Flynt thanks Miss Quarles for her esteemed epistle.’ And who is Miss Quarles, and what’s she been writin’ to you?”
“About—about business,” said Will.
“There ain’t no Miss Quarles in the business,” said the old man testily. “That be my business, and Oi lets Jinny amuse herself jauntin’ to and fro, pore gal, she bein’ that lonely on the Common and afeared o’ dangerous charriters. Rare mistakes, she makes, bein’ onny a gal, and costs me a pritty penny. But it ’ud cost me more ef Oi dedn’t stop at home and guard the house from thieves. And now she wastes more o’ my hard-earned dubs writin’ to you as is a neighbour—drat the child, ain’t that got a tongue? ‘A suitable horn?’ Dash my buttons! What do you be wantin’ with a horn—you bain’t a guard or a postman, be you?”
“No, but——!” he stammered. The explanation was not simple.
“ ‘Oi beseech you, however, not to superscroibe to Che’msford’ . . . ‘the righteous man regardeth his beast.’ Dang your imperence! Why shouldn’t Oi goo to Che’msford? Oi ain’t seen him these sixty year, and do ye don’t come interferin’ ’twixt brothers. Sidrach writ me a piece ten years agoo come haysel, arxin’ me to superscroibe to Che’msford, and Oi’ll not be put off by the likes o’ you. You look here, my lad, ef you’re come home to meddle or make, the sooner you goos furrin agen, the better.”
“But it’s not you—it’s Miss Quarles I don’t like journeying to Chelmsford. Look at the P.S.”
It was imprudent counsel, for, as the Gaffer followed it, his face became a black cloud, the fire in his eye was lightning, the odd fangs in his mouth showed like tigers’ tusks, and his beard seemed like a tempestuous besom sweeping all before it.
“ ‘Lewdness and abominations.’ You call my Jinny a Jezebel! Git out o’ my house!”
“I’m only in your barn,” Will reminded him, “and it’s raining, and you just said yourself that Chelmsford is a Babylon chock-full of abominations. And you’d let a young girl superscribe there all alone!”
“Jinny shall superscroibe where she pleases!” roared the Gaffer. “For over a hundred year the Quarleses have superscroibed in foul weather or foine, with none to say ’em nay, and it ain’t for a looker’s son to come here dictatin’.”
“I didn’t dictate,” said Will, with a fleeting schoolboy memory. “I wrote it with my own hand. Look here, Mr. Quarles,” he went on, trying another tack, “you’re a sensible old gent with great experience of the world, and it makes me frightened to see that grandchild of yours gadding about so far from home, and sometimes not getting back here till dark.”
“That ain’t timorsome—onny when she’s alone here,” he added cunningly.
“Maybe, but with such a pretty girl——!”
“Ay, she’s like a little bird with her little fitten—and allus singin’ like one too—all the day that goos about singin’, ‘Fol de rol——’ ”
“Yes, yes,” said Will, wincing.
“And Oi’d best tear up your letter—she don’t want to read about lewdness and abomination except in the Howly Book. And Oi count she has enough o’ that on Sunday with you Peculiars.”
“It is better she should read about it than scutter about seeing it. A cart ain’t a suitable place for a girl.”
“A cart’s as suitable for Jinny as a horn for you,” retorted the old man, bridling up again. “Oi suspicion you’re plottin’ to steal her away from me.”
“What!” Will’s cheeks burned with indignation.
“And Oi count you’ve got your eye on the cart too, like you bolted off to Harwich with your feyther’s wagon. There won’t be naught left for me but the poorhouse. But Oi’d die sooner.” He was almost blubbering now with self-pity.
“Oi saved a mort o’ money once,” he said, “though it took a deadly time scrapin’ the dubs together, what with the expense o’ dinner at “The Black Sheep” and the hoss’s feed—fower parcels or fowerty, Oi never stinted him o’ his peck o’ chaff, and three and a half pound o’ oats and the same o’ ground beans, and there’s folks as grumble to pay accordin’ to the soize and compass o’ the parcel, though there’s nights your hoss goos so lame and you’re that pierced with wind and snow you got to knock up a farm and borry a hoss to git home with, and them days it was the barges took away custom. Old Bidlake used to goo along canals and cricks as ain’t there no longer, thank the Lord, bein’ as they sea-walls have made a many willages high and droy. But Oi had to pay all my savin’s away to keep our name from disgrace, so as Emma should howd up her head in Kingdom Come. He hadn’t the bed he died in, for all his traipsin’ around in Tommy Devils; but time Oi went down to git Jinny, Oi made inquirations among the tradespeople and paid ’em to the last farden, aldoe soon as my back was turned, my own sister plots with her one-eyed little ship’s monkey to pay for a stone, as ef Oi’d neglected my own darter, and all spiled with wicked words—did you ever see such words in a Christian churchyard?”
“No, of course not,” soothingly murmured Will, to whom the long rigmarole conveyed nothing except: a sense of pathetic and loquacious senility.
“Ha!” said the Gaffer with satisfaction. “Oi says to Dap, says Oi, ‘A Churchman like you may not see the blarsphemy, but think what John Wesley would ha’ said to it.’ ‘Sir,’ Oi says to the old gentleman, ‘you jump into my cart,’ says Oi, ‘and not a sowl here shall harm a hair o’ your wig’; and with that Oi wheeled round my whip, and bein’ then an able-bodied young man (’twas the wery fust year arter feyther died), them as was throwin’ stones and cryin’ ‘Knock his brines out’ slunk away like blackbeadles, which was a pity, seein’ as they missed the be-yutiful words he preached from my cart. From Chipstone to Che’msford Oi carried him—a dogged piece out o’ my way, bein’ as he wanted to preach there and his own hoss had gone lame—’twas the wile o’ that great old murderer, Satan, says he, but the Almoighty sent you to confound his knavish tricks. That was a man of God, my lad, never out of heart, roighteous and bold as a lion, would preach even in front of a gin-shop where ’twas writ up: ‘Drunk a penny, dead-drunk twopence, clean straw for nawthen.’ Pounded glass mixed with mud the sons of Bellal threw in his face, but his eye-soight was not dimmed, nor his nat’ral force abated. Used to preach as much as foive times a day, gittin’ up at fower o’ the clock, and travellin’ a bigger round than me, but wunnerful healthy, slept like a baby in my cart, and that saintly he said all his life he’d never done naught as ’ud bear lookin’ at. He made me sing a hume with him and we was singin’ it as we come into Babylon:
Oi the chief of sinners am,
But Jesus died for me.”
As the sepulchral bass quavered out the tune, Jinny’s fresh voice could be heard from the back door calling “Gran’fer! Gran’fer! Where are you?”
“She thinks Oi’m out in the rine,” chuckled the old man, “but let her come and find me. His blessin’ he gave me at partin’, did John Wesley, and do ye don’t never smoke nor drink that pison stuff, tay, says he. ‘Oi’ll promise ye tay and gin too,’ says Oi, bein’ as Oi liked beer best. ‘But to give up baccy, that’s main hard,’ Oi says. ‘There’s harder,’ says he, lightning-like. ‘Promise me as ye won’t be friends with a woman as is younger than your wife, for there’s unhowly sperrits about,’ says he, ‘as brings gales and earthquakes and tempitations, and the best o’ men may git capsoized same as the Royal George, our best ship, t’other year.’ Lord, that fair capsoized me, for how could this furrin ole gen’leman in his eighties know about Annie, as wasn’t seventeen yet for all her wunnerful fine buzzom, and the missus older than me, in looks Oi mean, bein’ as she was two years younger the fust time that worritin’ census paper come along.”
“When was that?”
“That would be the year Oi put new thatch on this wery barn for the new century.”
“And what year did you meet John Wesley?”
“Ye’d best git Jinny to work that out. But it couldn’t be many year afore the Jew Mendoza boxed Dick Humphreys for the Championship, for Oi wouldn’t goo, ne yet bet on it, bein’ as my sowl was saved, and when Oi lifted up my woice at the camp-meetin’s and chapels in praise and repentance and shouted ‘Glory! Glory!’ dancin’-like, with the tears for my sins runnin’ down my cheeks, that was more joy to me than Annie and the prize-ring and cock-foightin’ rolled into one. And Oi ain’t never backslided, praise the Lord, bein’ as Annie married a sedan-chair man and was hiked away to Cowchester, and Oi hope for your immortal sowl’s sake, my lad, you bain’t like what Oi was at your age.”
“I hope so,” said Will, not without uneasiness.
The patriarch shook his head. “There’s the old Adam in you, plain to discern. Ye won’t be safe till ye’re married. But do ye don’t marry an old gander of a widow like that potboy they should be tellin’ of,”—he began to cackle—“that’ll onny lead to wuss mischief. Wait till you happen on a clean little lass, rosy and untapped.”
“A girl like your granddaughter, you mean?” Will heard himself saying.
The cackle ceased abruptly and the grin was replaced by a glare. “That ain’t gooin’ to be married! That’s got to goo out with my cart, whenever Oi’m too busy workin’. Ef a rich man like Farmer Gale as drives her to chapel Sundays should be wantin’ her all the week, Oi don’t say Oi wouldn’t goo with her to the big house, but that ain’t likely, and she can’t have nawthen to say to a rollin’ stone as mebbe left a pack o’ wives among they Mormons.”
Will was nettled. “And who asked for your granddaughter?” he retorted. “Besides, you’re quite right. I married dozens of wives in America—all widows too!”
The veteran chuckled afresh. “Dash my buttons! How you do mind me o’ your feyther when he was your age—always had his little joke. Not that Oi count him growed up yet, he havin’ never cut his wisdom teeth, but gooin’ off as skittish as a colt arter peculiar doctrines and seducin’ sperrits.”
“Oh, there you are, Gran’fer!” And pat as to a cue a most “seducin’ sperrit” flashed, like a shaft of sunshine, through the half-open door into the gloomy old barn. But she was aproned and bare-armed to the elbow, and rain-spotted, and a ringlet of hair was blown almost across her mouth, and the instant she perceived Will, she drew back in confusion, patting her hair tidy.
“Sorry, Gran’fer. I didn’t know you had visitors.”
But Will, to whom the sense she conveyed of brooms and dusters was sweetly reassuring of a still unsubmerged femininity, cried out as hastily:
“No, I was just going. You’ll get drowned.”
And he tried to pass her.
But the old man dramatically extended the uncocked hat.
“Howd hard, sonny.”
Will, disconcerted, found his feet sticking to the floor.
“He’s writ me a letter, imperent little Willie, and brought it hisself.” Then a flash of amusement toned down the asperity. “Aldoe he had his tongue with him!” And the old man chuckled.
“Shall I read it?” murmured Jinny, putting forth her hand.
“Nay, nay!” He snatched the note back and tore it into careful pieces. “Ain’t fit to be seen.”
“No more am I,” said Jinny with an uneasy laugh, and again she essayed to escape.
“Stop!” commanded the ancient, kindled afresh. “Willie’s got to tell you what’s in they scraps.”
Will was silent.
“Don’t stand gawmin’. Out with the abomination.”
But no sound issued from the young man’s lips. It was not merely that this new housemaidenly figure seemed safe enough even in Chelmsford, wrapped in its own sweet domesticity, and that adjurations designed for the minx bade fair to blunt themselves against this sober angelhood; but that the girl’s radiance against the littered gloom within and the rainfall without, robbed him literally of breath.
“Speak out, Willie!” said the Gaffer, softened to contempt by his obvious confusion.
“Perhaps he hasn’t brought his tongue,” suggested Jinny, recovering herself.
“Then Oi’ll lend him mine. You ain’t to goo to Che’msford, he says.”
“But I don’t want to go to Chelmsford, Gran’fer. Why should I go to Chelmsford?”
“To get his horn, you baggage. And he don’t be wantin’ it.”
“Oh, but he ordered it—it’s too late now.”
“Ay,” said Daniel Quarles, “and goo you shall to git it ef the adder has to bite Methusalem’s heels.”
“But I don’t have to go to Chelmsford for it!”
“You said you’d go to Chelmsford,” burst out Will at last.
“Nothing of the sort.”
“But I’ve got your letter!” He pulled it out, and again that awkward glove fell out. “Ah, there’s your glove I’ve found on the road,” he said, crimsoning furiously.
“Thank you!” She took both letter and glove placidly. “Now I shall have two pairs! But where do I say anything about going to Chelmsford?”
Thus invited, he came and looked down at the paper she held, and gripped an end of it himself, very conscious of her near fingers, and her bared arm, and her bending head. He was about to cry: “Why, there!” when a horrible doubt lest “superscribe” did not mean dashing away, or stampeding, or scurrying, or driving, or even going, checked the exclamation.
“I must ha’ misread it,” he said. “I beg your pardon.”
“Spoken like a Christian!” said the Gaffer. “And Oi count John Wesley ’ud a said let bygones be bygones. Sow bring out the beer, Jinny.”
“Thank you—I’m afraid I can’t stay,” said Will. He had a sullen sense of defeat, which the loss of the glove seemed to accentuate and symbolize. “My folks’ll expect me home to tea.”
“Your Mormon wives? Ay, Jinny, you may well blush,” the Gaffer chuckled. “Willie’s been and married a pack o’ widows in America.”
“And left them there!” said Will, permitting himself a faint smile.
“Left all those widows!” laughed Jinny. “How deadly dead you must be!”
But despite the merriment in which the episode had so unexpectedly ended, and despite the rain which had now grown torrential, he tore himself obstinately away, even refusing the “umberella” which the old man suggested and Jinny offered to fetch; though as he stepped under the plashing apple-boughs, he felt himself doubly foolish to refuse what would have been a literal handle for a return visit. And now that he had caught a glimpse of what he told himself was the real Jinny, not the Tuesday and Friday swashbuckler, but the Saturday-cleaning-up-for-Sunday house-angel, he did not despair of inducing her to shed these husks of bravado. But he had said “no,” and “no” to his great annoyance it must be.
“When do you propose to superscribe?” he asked with crafty lightness, as he raised his hat.
“Oh, but I have superscribed,” said Jinny. “But of course if it doesn’t come soon, I shall write over to Chelmsford again.”
The first Sunday of Will’s home-coming, nothing had been said about chapel. That, his elders thought, might be still a sore subject with the boy whose resentment at sacrificing his buttons on the altar had driven him “furrin.” Still more delicate was the theological position into which the couple themselves had gradually drifted, and of which they now—before a spectator and critic—grew uneasily conscious. Martha’s Ecclesia in Long Bradmarsh having collapsed almost as soon as she had been converted to it, she had no meeting-house to go to, and, almost simultaneously, Caleb, whose farm-wagons had recently been shifted to the new “looker’s” headquarters, ceased to attend his Chipstone Chapel. This was partly to keep his wife company of a Sunday, partly because so many miles there and back was getting too much for his legs. In consequence the pair had arrived by compromise at a Sunday ritual of their own, a sort of Peculiar Christadelphianism, and Uncle Lilliwhyte, who never entered any of the many houses of God—it was popularly supposed he would not or could not remove his gay-stringed beaver—would often loiter outside Frog Farm in Church hours, listening to their loudly trolled and hybrid hymnology in a sort of pious eavesdropping. That was Uncle Lilliwhyte’s individual contribution to the chaos of creeds that reigned in Bradmarsh.
But even this minimum of religion was denied the honest snake-seller when Will returned. The first Sunday, Caleb and Martha held their services furtively in their hermetically sealed bedroom, hardly daring to hum what they had so lustily intoned: by a common instinct they shrank from obtruding their departure from that straitness of doctrine in which Will had been reared. They were indeed secretly relieved that he made no reference to religion, nor seemed to expect them to go to the old chapel, nor even noted the Sundayness of the dishes that Martha served up with the same careful everyday air with which Caleb consumed them. They were equally relieved, however, that he did not go out rabbiting on the holy day with his new pet ferrets. “Oi’ve known some as dedn’t consider that work,” said Caleb, as they discussed this dread possibility. “But to my thinkin’, if ye goo out with a spade, ye might as well be ploughin’.”
That was what they said in bed on the first Saturday night. Very different was their conversation on the eve of the next Sunday. The problems all came now from Will’s over-interest in religion. True, the Sabbatarian peril had not yet materialized: he had neither worn his best clothes on the Saturday nor demanded priority in the Sabbath dishes. But he had dropped more than one perturbing remark. Old Quarles, he supposed, was now too old to worship at his Wesleyan Chapel in Long Bradmarsh, to which Caleb had replied naïvely: “Ay, he sleeps at home Sunday mornings.” Presumably, then, Jinny would not leave the old man alone on Sunday as well as on Tuesday and Friday: to which Caleb had answered cautiously—and without admitting that his observations were not up to date—that doubtless Jinny could only worship occasionally with the Peculiars and it depended on her getting a lift, Methusalem being a strict Sunday observer. Yes, he had heard Farmer Gale sometimes gave her a lift—who had told Willie? he wondered—but he supposed it was because the farmer, like her grandfather, was a Wesleyan. Later, Will had remarked casually to his mother that he didn’t suppose Miss Quarles would be able to get to chapel on the morrow, as he had happened on her old grandfather, who seemed quite breaking up. Martha, murmuring sympathetically that Mr. Quarles must be getting old, was likewise compelled to gloss over her inacquaintance with Jinny’s latest Sunday habits: she shocked and surprised herself by remarking that one’s grandfather would hardly count against Farmer Gale, and hastened to add—especially as Will seemed shocked too—that such was Jinny’s devotion to her grandfather that not for some years had she been able to stay longer than the Morning Service. Rejoiced though the old woman was at Will’s mingled concern for the religion of the young and the weal of the old, she was a little uneasy at this personal turn of his theological thinking, and she quickly changed the conversation to the Great Horn and the Beast, a discussion which in her eagerness she hardly noticed was practically a monologue.
By nightfall that Saturday Caleb had gathered, with a sinking of the heart, that Will designed to accompany his elders on the morrow—and to Early Service! The boy had apparently failed to remark the breach in the old chapel routine the previous Sabbath: the Sunday had been hushed up only too successfully. It was as far as Caleb dared go, in the first plunge of confession, to say that, in the absence of a vehicle, Early Service at Chipstone was out of the question nowadays.
Such was the situation that faced the old couple in the sleepless watches of the second Saturday night, and dimmed even Martha’s joy in the prodigal’s return to religion.
“Best go with him, like when he was little,” she decided. “We mustn’t unsettle him so soon, now he’s found God again.”
“Ain’t so sure he’s found God,” said Caleb shrewdly. “God ain’t in a goose-quill, and writin’ a piece about Daniel ain’t the road to heaven, else where would me and most o’ the Brethren be? To my thinkin’ Will’s onny lost the Devil.”
“It’s the same thing. What else does he want to go to chapel for, and Early Service at that?”
“To make trouble,” said Caleb fretfully. “We was all so happy till he come—and you had Maria.”
“Oh, Caleb, you don’t deserve the Lord should give him back to you! And if you don’t go to-morrow, I’ll withdraw from you.”
“That ain’t right,” said poor Caleb, puzzled by the unscrupulous threat. “But ef it’s onny for Morning Sarvice he’ll expect you to goo too.”
“He knows about my rheumatics, dear heart,” she said casuistically. “He knows I couldn’t walk even to get my bonnet cleaned.”
“But ef you were to tell him about the New Jerusalem——?”
“He’d best find that himself, now he’s on the way. It’s not far from Daniel.”
Thus it was that Uncle Lilliwhyte was again defrauded of his ritual and that after a still more furtive and still earlier service in the sanctity of their airless bedroom, with hymns muted and prayers guiltily whispered, the couple appeared at an eight o’clock breakfast with an air of devotions unpaid, and Caleb, hurrying the meal, remarked that ’twas time to get ready for chapel or they would miss even the Morning Service.
At this, Will, who was in his fashionable London jacket—to the admiring awe of his elders—sprang up, and rushing to the back of the house near the water-barrel, brushed away hastily at a dull speck on his boot where a spurt from the boiling kettle had blotted out the shine he had so laboriously imparted. The male ferret, caged just above his stooping head, awoke at the agitation, and started rubbing itself under the neck as if in parody, but far more swiftly and persistently; then it jerked its nose and its thin whiskers through the wires.
“Not to-day,” laughed Will, jabbing its nose with the blacking-brush. He felt very gentlemanly and happy, for the brief rain of the evening before had dried up, and the day was as fine as his clothes. As Caleb came out in quest of Will, the ferret was just snuggling back to slumber, and the old man, yawning with the loss of his Sunday morning sleep, looked enviously at the creature coiling itself so voluptuously in its straw.
“Lucky Jinny brought me sech a noice Sunday neckercher,” he said, “or Oi’d ha’ been ashamed to walk with ye. Ye look like our Member o’ Parlyment.” He himself looked, however, a respectable figure enough in his tall hat and finely stitched and patterned Sunday smock, his high-lows and gaiters, and it was not till they were getting over the stile that led to the short cut through the Green Lane that Will observed that his senior carried, like a tramp, a bundle in his handkerchief.
“What’s that?” he inquired fretfully, becoming aware too that the Green Lane, even at its best, offered perils to his boot-polish.
“That’s my hume-book and our dinner and tea. There’s two packets for each on us, and we must be home for supper. Don’t, your poor mother will be lonely.”
Will had forgotten these meals: they had, in his boyhood, been carried decorously in the wagon. But the sunshine of the mid-May morning did not permit ill-humours, and they strode happily along the dappled by-ways, bounding over the shrunken sloughs, the son uplifted even beyond boot-polish by the intoxication of the Spring, and the father by the intoxication of the Spirit. For, the moment Caleb had crossed the stile, the old rapture of fellow-worship had returned, and the absence of Martha seemed to lift the shadow of her criticism; while doubts of his son’s regeneration could hardly survive the sight of his springy step chapelwards.
Will was indeed living over again his childish memories of these Sunday journeys, and, somewhat to his surprise, something fresh and delicious seemed to emanate from them. It had after all been a pleasant change in the weekly round, this family jaunt with the big double-lidded provision basket, while the congregational picnicking in the chapel had not been without its jollity.
But Caleb did not leave him long to his memories. The old Peculiar was anxious to have a problem solved that had been weighing upon him these two years. In the New Jerusalem, whose descent to earth—ready-made and complete—was, according to Martha, imminent, to the impending confusion of disbelievers, there was to be “A street of pure gold, as it were transparent glass.” Martha—as if to immunize him against his visit to the old Peculiar Meeting-house—had read out the text that very morning at their surreptitious service. And his ear had always heard “brass” instead of “glass.” But how could gold be brass or either transparent? He did not like to shock her by questioning the letter of a text—his differences from her turned merely on the relative importance and significance of her texts as compared with those he had picked up from the Peculiars. Yet this puzzle was perhaps what really prevented him making the final plunge into Christadelphianism. It is true he might have demanded her solution of it—often through those long months of controversy as he looked at her saintly face so quiet on the pillow beside him, it was borne in upon him that in that bookish brain, under that frilled cotton nightcap, lay the explanation of the holy mystery. But possibly, with the subterranean obstinacy of the peasant, he shrank from an elucidation which might have left him irremediably at her mercy. A vindication of the text by Will, on the other hand, would give him time to turn round, take his new bearings. And a young man who was capable of composing a thesis upon the Little Horn and the Great Horn, could surely wrestle with this mystery.
“Oi hear you writ a piece about Daniel,” he began tactfully, as they crossed the bridge.
Will frowned. He had forgotten Martha’s misunderstanding. “Has he been round telling you?” he asked angrily.
“Me!” Caleb stared. “Oi bain’t howly enough for wisions.”
Will was puzzled in his turn. “You mean he can’t walk so far!”
“Oi wouldn’t say that: happen he can fly if he wants to.”
“Surely! A man so howly in his life—him what——”
Dead! So suddenly! Will stood still. This altered many things. The winged image of the Gaffer faded before the picture of a lonely Jinny. “When did he die?”
“You know that better than me,” said Caleb meekly.
At this the thought that his “epistle” had over-excited the patriarch and stilled that aged heart, shot up, agitating the young man. That was why relief mingled with a vague disappointment when Caleb went on: “They lions couldn’t kill him, but Oi reckon he had to die some time. But many of them what sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, he tells us, and maybe”—he added with a flash—“they’ll wake up in that golden city.”
Will grunted a vague “Maybe.”
“Touching that there city,” said Caleb, “the gold of the street thereof will be transparent.”
“I know,” murmured Will, suppressing a yawn.
He knew! And the contradiction did not strike him! Instantly, as by another flash, the text solved itself in the old man’s mind—gold in those millennial days, while it retained its sacred splendour would also lose its gross opaqueness, becoming rarefied, disembodied, spiritualized, so that gold was as brass since both were like glass, making thus a harmony of light with the jasper wall, clear as crystal, and the twelve giant pearls of the gates.
“It’ll be a pritty sight!” he mused aloud.
“Yes, like the Crystal Palace,” sneered Will.
“You seen that?” asked Caleb eagerly.
“A man couldn’t be in London and escape seeing it,” said Will. “Every cad drags you into his omnibus bound for Hyde Park. Such a crowd!”
“Yes, the chimney-sweep got his pocket picked, Bundock’s buoy-oy was a-tellin’,” said Caleb, “but the streets thereof, be they of gold?”
“The streets of London?” said Will, smiling.
“Noa, the streets of the Crystal City?”
“No, of course not, father.”
“Then they can’t be brass neither?”
“More like grass,” Will laughed. “For there’s real trees left standing inside.”
Caleb joined in the boy’s laugh. Though he had never really believed that the Crystal Palace represented the Millennial City, it was well to have the danger finally cleared away. And, abandoning the gold-brass puzzle, his mind flew back illogically but passionately to his Peculiar Brethren and the joy of the awaiting ritual.
“Ah, here’s Plashy Hall!” said Will. “And the dog seems having his Sunday nap.” He threw open the white gate marked “No thoroughfare!”
“But that’s closed.”
“Closed!” said Will in fiery accents. “I shan’t even close it after us.”
“I count they won’t mind you in your Parlyment coat, but——”
“Go along, dad.” And Will pushed the old man into Plashy Walk and strode forward like a village Hampden. Within a minute he missed Caleb, and looking back, saw him hurrying back from the gate.
“Must allus shut ga-aites!” he apologized with his rising accent.
“I’ll burn it next time,” said Will. “Why, this saves us a mile.”
“But we’ll miss the Early Sarvicers,” complained Caleb. “You’ve forgot how they walk out to meet the Brethren, what come footin’ it from afar, and have an extry sarvice at a half-way house back o’ Long Bradmarsh.”
“Surely the regular services will be enough.”
“But ’tis noice to git an extry snack,” said Caleb wistfully. “Many’s the Sunday Oi’ve had foive sarvices.” He sighed voluptuously.
“Well, better luck next time,” said Will lightly.
The tone was not unkindly, but Caleb took it in full earnest, and his long secret grievance against Martha began to ooze into speech under the spell of his son’s sympathy. Her warning against unsettling the boy was forgotten in this natural gravitation of male to male against female fantasy.
“Yes,” he said, “I’ve allus been fast and faithful all along. ’Tis mother that’s allus gooin’ forrard. And woundily wilful—Oi never met nobody loike her, barrin’ old Quarles. When we married we was both Sprinklers, but scarcely had we got six childer afore she says she must be baptoized. Wait till the summer, says Oi, for ’twas a black Feb’ary. But no—sow headlong is her natur’ they had to break the ice. She give a deep soigh when the water took her—it a’most unhinged me. But she would have it she felt sow happy and contented. She drilled me hard to make me take the total immersion too—’nation obstinate is mother, but Oi’ve allus stood out stubborn for the Truth. Fast and faithful,” he repeated, as if to reassure himself.
“Well, but you changed too!” Will reminded him less kindly. “You weren’t born a Faith-Healer.”
“That ain’t my fault, bein’ as the truth wasn’t found out in my young days, though they warses o’ Jeames was there all the time. But the fust day Oi met the Brethren Oi knowed they were the people for me. There was one on ’em among my own labourers. When Oi said as we didn’t know ’zactly what God was, he said, says he: ‘God’s like you and me, bein’ as He made man in His own image.’ That was an eye-opener to me. But the others parsecuted him and called him Brother Jerusalem as a rewoilin’ word. He had a fork to pitch a high load—cost foive shillin’s, fancy what a good fork that must ha’ been—and they went and broke it. Oi was grieved, but naught grieved him except to grieve the Lord. He dedn’t drink neither, and you look so odd if you don’t drink. But when they wanted to stand treat, he said he’d take bread and cheese. ‘Goo to hell,’ says they. ‘There ain’t no hell, even for you,’ he answers soft; ‘you’ll be in the same darkness as now, that’s all.’ That was another eye-opener. Oi was taken with that hell—not bright and burnin’, but all black and cowld—so Oi came out o’ my darkness and jined the Brethren, and gave up beer, barrin’ harvest-time, which rejoiced mother and was money saved for the childer. Be-yu-tiful things were brought to pass and be-yu-tiful things were said the day Oi went to my fust sarvice, and ef the Lord is with you to-day when you speak o’ your experiences, Oi count be-yu-tiful things will be brought out agen.”
Will shuddered. He stopped abruptly and was nigh turning back. He had forgotten that the Brethren would expect his soul-experiences and confessions—especially after this spacious and adventurous interval.
“What’s-a-matter?” asked Caleb.
“Nothing, nothing,” he said, remembering his own power of sullen silence. And to say something, he asked, as he walked on: “And what’s wrong with mother now?”
“Wrong?” Caleb was shocked at this crude interpretation. “Oi don’t be meanin’ she ain’t in her rights to hunt out new texts, she bein’ a scholard. There was allus a bran-span-new one, Oi mind me, the Sundays I used to goo a-courtin’ her. A wery long way she lived—they talk broad and careless where she comes from, not moist and proper like here—and Oi had to git up early and goo along the sea-wall—deadly dark and lonesome it was winter nights and mornin’s, but her face was allus with me like the moon.”
“Why, was she pretty then?” asked Will.
“Can’t you see?” replied Caleb, with a faint surprise. “She ain’t changed much, she havin’ allus the peace of God in her heart.”
Will was touched and astonished by this revelation of romance in the two elderly people foisted upon him as parents, whom he had all his life taken as eternally elderly. But still more surprising was the realization forced upon him that the religion which to him was a bore was to them a thrill.
“Shall I carry the parcel, father?” he asked gently.
“Nay, nay, that don’t goo with Parlyment clothes. And it ain’t as sizeable as the box you carried from Chipstone.” He chuckled in freshly admiring glee.
Passing adown the long hawthorn avenue, they now issued from Plashy Walk, the rights of leg vindicated, and soon they began to see signs of other pilgrims faring towards Chipstone, that great gathering-place of faiths and creeds.
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