F. TENNYSON JESSE
Author Of "The Milky Way," "Beggars On Horseback," Etc.
"Bread eaten in secret..."
New York George H. Doran Company
Copyright, 1917, By George H. Doran Company
Printed In The United States Of America
EUSTACE TENNYSON D'EYNCOURT JESSE MY FATHER AND FRIEND
I High Adventures in a Farmyard II The Mill III The Kitchen IV Pagan Pastoral V Head of the House VI Reactions VII The Chapel VIII Seed-Time IX Fresh Pasture X Hilaria XI The Place on the Moor XII Some Ambitions and an Announcement XIII The Wrestling XIV The Wind upon the Grass-Field
I A Family Album II What Men Live By III First Furrow IV The Shadow at the Window V Lull Before Storm VI The Bush-Beating VII The Heart of the Cyclone VIII New Horizons IX Hidden Springs X Blind Steps XI Glamour XII Sheaves XIII The Stile XIV A Letter XV Blown Husks XVI The Grey World XVII The Cliff and the Valley XVIII The Immortal Moment
I Under-Currents II The Passage III Phoebe Pays Toll IV The Discovering of Nicky V Centripetal Movement VI The Nation and Nicky VII Paradise Cottage Again VIII What Nicky Did IX Judith's White Night X Lone Trails XI Ways of Love XII Georgie
BOOK IV—THE SHADOW OF THE SCYTHE
I Questions of Vision II Autumn III Bodies of Fire IV The New Judith V The Parson's Philosophy VI "Something Must Come to All of Us..." VII Earth
I The Four-Acre II Archelaus, Nicky, Jim III The Letters IV Hester V Reaping VI Threshing VII Garnered Grain
There was silence in the room where James Ruan lay in the great bed, awaiting his marriage and his death—a silence so hushed that it was not broken, only faintly stirred, by the knocking of a fitful wind at the casement, and the occasional collapse of the glowing embers on the hearth. The firelight flickered over the whitewashed walls, which were dimmed to a pearly greyness by the stronger light without; the sick man's face was deep in shadow under the bed canopy, but one full-veined hand showed dark upon the blue and white check of the counterpane. All life, both without and within, was dying life—waning day at the casement, failing fire on the hearth, and in the shadowy bed a man's soul waiting to take wing.
Ruan lay with closed eyes, so still he might have been unconscious, but in reality he was gathering together all of force and energy he possessed; every sense was concentrated on the bare act of keeping alive—keenly and clearly alive—until the wished-for thing was accomplished. Then, the effort over, the stored-up vitality spent, he hoped to go out swiftly, no dallying on the dim borderland. As he lay his closed lids seemed like dull red films against the firelight, and across them floated a series of memory-pictures, which he noted curiously, even with a dry amusement.
He saw himself, as a big-boned surly lad, new to his heritage; then as a middle-aged man, living in a morose isolation save for Annie and the children. Little half-forgotten incidents drifted past him, and always, with the strange detachment of the dying, he saw himself from the outside, as it were, even as he saw Annie and the children. Finally, his travelling mind brought him to the present still hour of dusk, so soon to deepen into night. Thinking of that which was to come, his mouth twitched to a smile; he flattered himself he had kept his neighbours well scandalised during his life; now, from his death-bed, he would send widening circles of amazement over the whole county, and set tongues clacking and heads wagging at the last freak of that old reprobate, Ruan of Cloom. He lay there, grimly smiling, the pleasure of the successful creator in his mind as he thought over the last situation of his making. The smouldering patches of red on the crumbling logs shrank smaller and smaller as the close-set little points of fire died out, and the feathery ash-flakes fell in a soft pile on the hearthstone.
Opening his eyes, Ruan turned his head a little on the pillow, so that he could watch the changing square of sky. A ragged curtain of cloud, blurred and wet-looking at the edge, hung almost to the hill-top, but between ran a streak of molten pallor, and against it the hedge of wilted thorns that crowned the hill stood out black and contorted. One great ploughed field stretched from the garden to the hill-crest; in the middle of its curve a tall grey granite monolith reared up, dark where its top came against the sky, but at its base hardly distinguishable from the bare earth around, which was charmed by the hour to a warm purple hue; when Ruan's eyes left the gleam in the sky they could find out the subdued green of the nearer hedge-row. For the last time, he told himself; then, as the gleam faded from the sky and was gone, he swallowed hard upon the knowledge that never again, for him, would the daylight live behind the clouds. He rubbed his finger up and down the sheet, that he might still feel a tangible sensation at will; then, lifting his bare forearm, he looked closely and curiously at it, noting the way the brown hairs lay across the back, and the finer texture of skin down the inside of elbow and wrist. He, his living self, was in that arm—he could still make the fingers contract and straighten, could still pinch the flesh gently till it whitened—could still call it part of himself. He was not thirsty, but he laboriously lifted the glass of water at his side and drank, because the fancy took him to feel one of the accustomed old sensations, the commonplaces of his every-day life, now that his body would so soon be beyond his power. As the slow fingers pushed the glass on to the little table again, the click of a gate sounded sharply, followed by the noise of footsteps on a paved path. The smile flickered back to Ruan's lips, and he settled himself to enjoy his last little comedy.
Up bare stairs came the footsteps, then the room door opened with a protest of rusty hinges, and Ruan saw the Parson standing on the threshold. A woman's face, pale and strained, swam out of the darkness behind, and to Ruan, materialist though he was, came the thought that the pale blur looked like the face of someone drowning in a black flood. He put the idea aside and nodded slightly at the woman. She gave a gasp of relief, and, pushing by the priest, walked over to the bed.
"So you've not cheated me, James!" she said. "I made sure to find 'ee dead when I brought Passon—I thought you'd ha' done it to spite me."
"Dear woman," answered the Squire gently, "it's for my own pleasure I'm wedding you, and not to make an honest woman of you. I've a fancy to have the old place carried on by a child who's got a right to my name, that's all."
"An' our first-born, Arch'laus, can go begging all's days, s'pose? An' t'other lads and Vassie can go starve wi' en?"
Ruan's face changed, grew darker, and he spoke harshly.
"They were the children of our passion—true love-children. They remind me of the days when I was a fool, and I'll leave them only my folly. But the child that's coming—he'll be blessed by the law and the Church—quite a gentleman of quality, Annie; far above the likes of you. He'll live to breed hatred and malice in the pack of ye, and every hand of his own flesh and blood'll be against him.... Parson, do your duty, and tie the holy knot—small harm in it now nothing can hold me long."
The Parson came forward without a word. He was a clever man, whose knowledge of souls was deep, if not wide, and he refrained from asking whether repentance urged this tardy compliance with the law of his religion; such a question could only have provoked a sneer from the old cynic in the bed.
Annie groped along the mantelshelf until her fingers met a tallow rush, which she lit by holding it to the fire, and in the wan flare of yellow her weary figure showed that she was very near to her confinement. She turned to the bed and set the candle on the table, meeting the Squire's quizzical glance with eyes lit only by the tiny reflections of the candle flame—expressionless eyes, the blue of them faded and the life dulled. Then she went out of the room, and the stairs creaked beneath her descending feet; the clamour of her voice came to the two men above as she called through open doors:
"Katie! Kat-ie! Passon's here, and you'm to fetch Philip and come up to wance."
More feet sounded on the stairs, clattering hobnails among them, and Annie returned, accompanied by Katie Cotton, the dairymaid, and her sweetheart, Philip Jacka. Philip was a lithe, restless youth, with curly hair that caught the light and bright, glinting eyes. He was far better-looking than his girl, and far more at his ease; sturdy, high-bosomed Katie was guilty of an occasional sniff of feminine sympathy; Philip looked on with the aloof superiority of the male.
The service began, and Annie listened to the words she had longed to hear for twelve years past, the words that would make her mistress of Cloom Manor. Morality meant as little to her as to any of the half-savage folk of the remote West in the middle of the nineteenth century, when the post of squire's mistress was merely considered less fortunate than that of squire's wife; but socially Annie was gaining—for she would become an eligible widow-woman.
With fumbling hands Ruan slipped his signet-ring on the ugly, work-worn finger of the woman who was at last his wife.
* * * * *
That night Annie gave birth to the latest heir of the house of Ruan, and in the grey of the dawning, when, with the aid of parson and lawyer, the Squire had arranged all his temporal affairs in a manner to ensure as much ill-will as possible in the family he was leaving behind him, he was gathered to his fathers.
In the big kitchen, where the mice skittered nervously over the last night's supper-table, and the tall clock chuckled before it struck each hour, huddled a group of frightened children. The eldest was angry as well, for, while the younger boys and the little girl were but dimly aware that all their world was tumbling about their ears, he, with the precocious knowledge of the ten-year old country lad, knew more nearly how the crying babe was ousting him from his previous height. Resentful, sleepy, fearful, and exiled from the rooms of birth and death they crouched together and watched the paling sky, their own quarrels forgotten in their common discomfort; and overhead the cries of the new-born child pierced the air of the new day.
HIGH ADVENTURES IN A FARMYARD
A bullet-headed little boy of eight sat astride upon a farmyard gate, whistling and beating time with a hazel-switch. He had fastened his belt round the gate-post and was using it as a bridle, his bare knees gripped the wooden bar under him, and his little brass-tipped heels flashed in the sun like spurs. It was Saturday morning, which meant no lessons with Parson Boase at the vicarage, and a fine day in late August, which meant escape from the roof of Cloom and the tongue and hand of its mistress. Ishmael Ruan, his head stuffed with the myths and histories with which the Parson was preparing him for St. Renny Grammar School, felt in the mood for high adventures, and his surroundings were romantic enough to stir the blood.
Cloom Manor, a deep-roofed, heavy-mullioned pile of grey granite dating from the Restoration, presented a long, low front to the moorland, a front beautified by a pillared porch with the Ruan arms sculptured above it, and at the back it was built round a square court, from which an arch, hollowed through the house itself, led into the farmyard. The windows were low-browed and deep-set, thickly leaded into small squares, with an occasional pane of bottle glass, which winked like an eye rounded by amaze. Within, the wide fireplaces and ceilings were enriched by delicate mouldings, whose once clean-cut outlines were blurred to a pleasing, uncertain quality by successive coats of whitewash. The room where Ishmael had been born boasted a domed ceiling, and a band of moulding half-way up the walls culminated over the bed's head in a representation of the Crucifixion—the drooping Christ surrounded by a medley of soldiers and horses, curiously intent dogs and swooning women, above whose heads the fluttered angels seemed entangled in the host of pennons flaunting round the cross. Cloom was a house of neglected glories, of fine things fallen on base uses, like the family itself. When James Ruan came into his inheritance it was still a gentleman's estate; when he died it was a mere farm. A distorted habit of mind and the incredible difficulties of communication in the remote West during the first half of the nineteenth century had gradually caused James Ruan to sink his gentlehood in a wilful boorishness that left him a fierce pride of race and almost feudal powers, but the tastes and habits of his own labourers. As for the life of his mind, it was concentrated entirely on money-making; and all that he made he invested, till he became the most important landowner for miles, and in a district where no farms were very large his manor lands and cottage property and his nine hundred pounds or so of income made him a figure not to be ignored.
Nevertheless, for all his prosperity, he was a hard master, paying his labourers, who were mostly married men with families, the wage of seven shillings a week, and employing their womenfolk at hoeing or binding for sixpence a day, while for fewer pence still the little children stumbled on uncertain legs after the birds which threatened the new-tilled crops. By such means—common to all his neighbours at a time when cultivation was slow and such luxuries as meat, white bread, bedding, and coal were unknown to the poor, and by a shrewdness peculiar to himself—did James Ruan manage to make his property contribute to his private income, a condition of affairs by no means inevitable in farming, although at that time the hated Corn Law, only repealed soon after Ishmael's birth, had for thirty years been in force for the benefit of landowners. If the Squire had known the worth of the old family portraits hanging in what had been the banqueting hall, where apples were now stored, he would doubtless have sold them, but he had cut himself off from civilised beings who might have praised them, and he thought the beruffed, steel-plated men and high-browed, pearl-decked ladies rather a dry-looking lot, though he never suffered Annie to say a disparaging word on the subject.
Annie deeply resented this silent superiority of the Squire's, this shutting off from her of certain fine points in his garbled scheme of honour, and she chose to regard Ishmael as the embodiment of this habit. Had she been left with unrestricted powers as to estate and money she might have classed herself with her youngest-born and grown to grudge her other children their existence, but as things were Ishmael was as much in her way as he was in that of Archelaus. She realised she had been tricked at the last to satisfy a whim of the Squire's—she would have been far better off under the old will, which left Cloom to her eldest son after her. A dishonoured name was all she had gained by the transaction—a hollow reward, since to her equals it made little difference, and to her superiors none at all, and when she remembered at how much pains the special licence had been obtained from the commissary of the Bishop of Exeter, how she had sent for the Parson the moment the Squire had finally declared his mind made up, and then for Lawyer Tonkin, only to be excluded from the conference that followed, Annie felt her resentment surge up. If it had not been for the fact that the Parson and Tonkin had been appointed guardians to the boy, Ishmael would, in all probability, never have lived beyond babyhood. A little neglect would soon have ended the matter, and even if any local magnate had bestirred himself to make a fuss, no Cornish jury would have convicted. All this Boase knew, and he managed to make Annie aware of the fact that he meant his ward to thrive or he would make trouble, and she was one of those women who tremble before a spiritual pastor and master. Therefore she comforted herself by the reflection that at least Cloom would always be her home, and a home of which she meant to be mistress as long as possible. Under his father's will Ishmael came into the property at eighteen, an additional grievance to Annie, but she told herself that at least a boy of that age would not be able to turn her out—he would still be too afraid both of her and of public opinion. The hardness and the moral elasticity that go to make up a certain phase of the Cornish character, made up Annie's, and grew to sway her utterly, save for gusts of ungovernable emotions and an equally ungovernable temper. The little Ishmael learned to fear, to evade, and to lie, till he bade fair to become an infant Machiavelli, and at night his sins—the tremendous sins of childhood—would weigh upon him so that he broke into a sweat of terror.
On this August morning he had forgotten his crimes and was burning with the high adventures of a farmyard. In the blue of the sky fat gold-white clouds bellied like the sails of enchanted galleons, and the wind ruffled the cock's bronzed feathers about his scaly legs, blew pearly partings on the black-furred cat that sunned herself by the wall, and whirled two gleaming straws, Orthon-wise, about the cobbles. The triumphant cackling of a hen proclaimed an egg to be as much a miracle as the other daily one of dawn, and the shrill-voiced crickets kept up a monotonous and hurried orchestra. A big red cow came across the field and stood in a line with the gate, her head, with its calm eyes and gently moving wet nostrils, turned towards Ishmael. She was against the sun, and at the edges of her the fine outer hairs, gleaming transparent, made her seem outlined in flame—she was a glorified, a transfigured cow, a cow for the gods. In a newly-turned field beyond a man and a boy were planting young broccoli; they worked with the swiftness and smoothness of a machine, the man making a succession of holes with his spud as he walked along, the boy dropping in the plants on the instant. From where Ishmael sat the boy and his basket were hidden behind the man, and it looked as though wherever that shining spud touched the earth a green thing sprang up as by magic. Truly, Cloom was a farm in the grand manner this morning, a farm fit for the slopes of Olympus. Ishmael flogged his gate and bounced up and down till the latch rattled in its socket and the wide collar of his little print shirt blew up under his chin like two cherub wings supporting his glowing face.
A clatter of hoofs made him look around, and a young man rode down the lane opposite and into the farmyard. He was a splendid young man, and he sat the big, bare-backed horse as though he were one with it, his powerful thighs spreading a little as they gripped its glossy sides. His fair hair curled closely over his head and clung to his forehead in damp rings, the sweat standing out all over his face made it shine like metal, and the soaked shirt clung to the big muscles of his body. His face changed a little as he caught sight of the child on the gate—such a faint expression, something between sulkiness and resentment, that it was obviously the result of instinctive habit and not of any particular emotion of the moment. As he flung himself off the horse a woman emerged from the courtyard and called out to Ishmael.
"Come and tak' th' arse to meadow for your brother, instead of wasten' the marnen'. Couldn' 'ee be gleanen' in th' arish? You may be gentry, but you'll go starve if you do naught but twiddle your thumbs for the day."
"Lave en be, lave en be, mother," said Archelaus Beggoe impatiently. "Women's clacken' never mended matters nawthen. It'll be a good day, sure 'nough, when he goes to school to St. Renny, if it gives we a little peace about the place. Do 'ee hold tha tongue, and give I a glass o' cider, for I'm fair sweaten' leaken'."
Mother and son passed through the archway into the courtyard, and Ishmael, who had been silently buckling on his belt, took hold of the rope head-stall and led the horse towards the pasture. As he went his childish mind indulged in a sort of gambling with fate.
"I wonder if my right foot or my left will step into the lane first. If it's my right I'll have it to mean that I shall be saved...." Here he paused for a moment, aghast; it was such a tremendous risk to take, such a staking of his soul. He went forward, measuring the distance with his eye, and trying to calculate which foot would take that fateful step from the cobbles on to the lane. He was there, and for one awful moment it seemed as though it would be his left, but an extra long stride just met the case.
"It didn't come quite natural that way," he thought, anxiously, "but p'raps it means I'll be saved by something I do myself. I wish I could be quite sure. Shall I have it that if I see a crow in the field I shall be saved?"
The reflection that for a dozen times on entering the pasture he saw no crow for once that he did made him change to, "Suppose I say if I don't see a crow I shall be saved?" But that too had its drawback, as if, after laying a wager in which the odds were so tremendously in his favour, he did see a crow, there would then be no smoothing away the fact, as often before, with "Perhaps that doesn't count"—it would be too obviously a sign from Heaven. He finally changed the wager to, "If I see birds in the field I'll see Phoebe to-day:" to such considerations does a man turn after contemplation of his soul. On seeing a couple of magpies, the white and black of their plumage showing silver and iridescent green in the sun as they swooped over the field, he took steps to justify the omen by setting off across the moors in quest of Phoebe.
As Ishmael went along he picked a large bunch of the wayside flowers as an offering to Phoebe—purple knapweed and betony, the plumy dead-pink heads of hemp-agrimony, and tufts of strong yellow fleabane, all squeezed together in his hot little hand. The air seemed alive with butterflies and moths, white and brown and red, and clouds of the "blue skippers" that look like periwinkles blown to life. A bee shot past him so quickly that the thrum of it sounded short as a twanged string, and the next moment a late foxglove spire, naked save for its topmost bell, quivered beneath the onslaught of the arched brown and yellow body. The heat haze shimmered on the distant horizon like an insect's wing, but was tempered on the moorland height by the capricious wind, and Ishmael kept doggedly on.
He was a wiry little boy, thin and brown, with dark hair that grew in a point on the nape of his neck, and hazel eyes set rather deeply under straight, sulky-looking brows. The lower part of his face was small and pointed for the breadth across forehead and cheek bones, and, with his outstanding ears, combined to give him something the look of a piskie's changeling. Already the first innocence of childhood was wearing away, and the deliberate cleanliness of mind achieved, if at all, in the malleable years between fifteen and twenty was as yet far ahead. Nevertheless, Parson Boase was not wrong in scenting the idealist in Ishmael, and he wondered how far the determined but excitable child, with the nervous strain of his race and all the little bluntnesses of a boy ungently reared, might prove the prey of circumstance; or whether, after all, he might not so build up resisting power as to make a fair thing of his life. A no more distant future than the next hour held Ishmael's mind at the moment, and attracted by a strong smell of peppermint from the marsh, the child turned that way, to add the pale purple blossoms to his fast-wilting bunch.
A man in a black cassock, looped up for convenience in walking by a shabby cincture, was wandering among the brambles and gorse bushes, peering short-sightedly here and there, and as Ishmael appeared the man's hand closed suddenly over some object on a leaf. Ishmael had hardly recognised the Parson before he himself was seen.
"Come and look at what I've got here," shouted Boase, straightening his long back and holding his curved-out hands aloft. Ishmael ran towards him, the tussocks, dry from long drought, swaying and sagging beneath him. As he drew near he caught a whirring sound, so strong as to seem metallic, and saw a big green and yellow dragon-fly fighting in the Parson's hands. Boase took hold of it carefully but firmly by the wings, and the creature stared angrily at Ishmael with its huge glassy green eyes, opening its oddly-fleshy mouth and wagging its fawn-coloured lips like an evil infant cockatrice.
Suddenly the Parson launched it in the air again, raising two fingers in whimsical blessing, then he looked down at Ishmael with a queer expression in his eyes. That was Ishmael's fate, of which he was as yet unconscious—no one looked at him absolutely naturally. His mother saw him with aversion, Archelaus with resentment, and the younger brothers and the little sister took their cue from their elders. The neighbouring gentry treated him with an embarrassed kindness when they met him with Parson Boase, and solved the problem by leaving him alone on other occasions; the farmers looked at him as though he embodied a huge joke, and their wives mothered him surreptitiously, giving him saffron-cake, which he loved, and quick, hard kisses, which he detested. Even Boase looked at him not only as a child whom he loved, but as the incarnation of a hope, a theory—in short, as an Experiment. Nevertheless, it was the Parson to whom Ishmael came with his pleasures, and for all the intuition which told him the child went to no one in his griefs Boase had not quite enough of the feminine in him to realise the importance of the omission.
"Where are you off to, my son?" asked Boase, sticking his hand in the pocket of his shabby old cassock. He knew better than to pat a boy's head or thump him between the shoulder-blades with the hearty manner peculiar to men who have forgotten their own boyhood.
"Oh, I'm just gwain to see if the mill-wheel's workin' down along," said Ishmael—not for worlds would he have admitted Phoebe Lenine as the object of his visit. The Parson's eyes twinkled as they rested on the bouquet.
"Going, not 'gwain,'" he corrected gently.
"Going," repeated Ishmael, with his deceptive docility in little things.
"I'll come to the mill with you," said the Parson briskly, and Ishmael set off by his side without a word, but presently lagged behind a moment to drop his carefully-prepared offering between two gorse-bushes. Boase smiled, then sighed, wondering where such an abnormal dread of ridicule as Ishmael's would lead; it was a result of the Parson's calling that he should feel anxiety as to the ultimate trend of things.
The two trudged on in silence; their friendship was so tried, and the understanding between them so complete, that they sometimes spent an hour or more together with hardly a remark. Finally Ishmael broke silence.
"You coming to Cry the Neck this evening, Da Boase?" he asked.
"I'm going to look in before supper," replied the Parson; and unconsciously his lips took on a sterner line. He was building much on that evening's "Crying the Neck," which for the first time Ishmael was to attend, and at the succeeding supper Boase meant him to take his place at the head of the table, as future master of Cloom. "Crying the Neck" was a moribund custom in the eighteen-fifties, and it was the Parson, with an eye to its possibilities, who had encouraged what proved to be its last revival.
"Mr. Lenine's coming," remarked Ishmael presently.
"Ah! Is he coming alone?" asked Boase carelessly.
"Happen he will, or maybe they'll all come, but Mrs. Lenine always says she must stay in of an evening when others are trapesing," replied Ishmael, with equal carelessness. For they were Cornishmen, these two, and the Parson would no more have asked outright "Is Phoebe coming?" than Ishmael would have given a direct answer.
Lenine's mill, known as Vellan-Clowse, which means "The Mill by the Wood," nestled in a valley below the Cloon moor where the leet ran along built-up banks to the dam and then down a succession of wooden troughs to the crest of the wheel. Facing the mill was the great cluster of elms that headed the valley, and behind only a tiny little yard divided it from the steepness of the hillside. The trees were the biggest for miles in that wind-swept district, and the bed of the valley showed green and lush with its marshy pastures, where the ugly red and white cows were tearing at the grass. The wheel was standing dumb, as harvest was not yet garnered, and Boase and Ishmael passed the mill door and went on to the house. There the door stood open, as did the further one at the end of the cool, straight passage that looked dark by contrast with the yard beyond, where, under the blazing sun, a little girl was feeding some fowls. The whole scene, set in the black oblong of the doorway, was compact of blue and flame colour—the blue of the frock and the shadows and the pale flame of the gravel where the shadows lay and the deeper flame fowls clustered. The man and the boy looked through for a moment in silence, then Phoebe turned and saw them.
Phoebe Lenine, being a woman of some eight years old, shook the remains of the corn off her small blue lap with no signs of haste or discomposure, and, turning her back, called to a hidden corner of the yard.
"Faether! Faether! Passon's come to see you!"
"How d'you know I haven't called to see you, Miss Phoebe?" asked Boase, stepping into the passage. She ran and seized him by the knees, flinging back her head so that her dark curls hung away from her softly-rounded face. Her pouting mouth, always slightly open to show a hint of two little front teeth, laughed up at him, her dove's eyes narrowed with her mirth. Of Ishmael she took no more notice than if he had not been there, and he leant against the doorpost, scraping the earth with the toe of his hard little boot, his thumbs stuck in his belt.
"I be gwain to help cry the Neck over to Cloom!" announced Phoebe—to the Parson and at Ishmael—"and I be gwain to stay to th' supper, and maybe I'll dance wi' a chap. There's Maister Jacka's John-Willy would be proud to dance wi' I!"
"So you're fond of dancing, Phoebe?" asked the Parson.
"Sure 'nough! Dancen' and singen'—that's life, that is. Ef you can't dance and sing I don't see no good in liven'! I don't hold wi' chaps who think of nawthen but wanten' to be saved. Time 'nough for that when gettin' on for thirty!"
Ishmael winced at the hit, and the Parson laughed as he tied two of Phoebe's ringlets into a bow under her chin.
"There are ways and ways of remembering the Creator in the days of your youth, Phoebe," he said, "and one of them's by dancing and singing—if it's with the right kind of chap. I don't think much of Jacka's John-Willy; if you really want to be a great lady to-night you must get Ishmael to dance with you. He's going to be master of the feast, and perhaps if you ask him very nicely he'll dance with you just once."
This view of Ishmael as a person of importance was a new one to Phoebe, and she looked at him as though appraising him afresh.
"I don't ask no chaps to dance wi' I," she announced loftily. "Faether's just comen' to see you, Da Boase."
She wriggled her sleek little otter-like head under his arm and slipped past him as she spoke. Then:
"Like to see the pigs?" she asked Ishmael carelessly. "Da ringed 'en the marnen'."
"Don't mind if I do," answered Ishmael, still scraping the gravel.
"Naden't come ef 'ee don't want to more'n thet!" retorted Phoebe, "and I could have shown 'ee where the old pig was killed. There's been a dark place on the stones ever since. I saw it killed, I did, Ishmael Ruan. I saw Da stick in the knife and the blood come all out, I ded!"
"So 'a ded, my 'andsome, so 'a ded!" applauded the miller, whose big form, powdery white, had appeared in the passage.
The Parson felt decidedly sick. He was country-born himself, and, being no mere dreamer of dreams, realised that it was as well that country people should not flinch at the less poetic side of their lives, but this callousness struck him as horrible in a young child like Phoebe. Yet as he saw Ishmael wince he regretted the very sensibility in the boy, the lack of which had shocked him in Phoebe. He knew Ishmael had a horror of blood and disagreeable sights, and the thought of how often the boy would have to encounter them struck at his heart.
"I won't see it," said Ishmael, pressing himself back against the house wall; "I won't see where no pig was killed." Then, afraid lest Phoebe should taunt him with his fear: "But I'll come and see the pigs, though I don't s'pose they're as fine as ours. They were ringed yesterday was a week, and even the piggy-widden's bigger than most pigs."
"Ours is bigger, ours is bigger!" cried Phoebe indignantly, "and you'm nawthen but a geat coward, Ishmael Ruan. I don't want my pigs to set eyes on 'ee!"
She sauntered away across the yard, but turned her head as she reached the far end, and glanced back at Ishmael. He hesitated, pride fighting with longing; then he also began to saunter—aimlessly at first; then, giving up the struggle, he frankly followed her. Lenine chuckled softly.
"Talk o' the way o' a man wi' a maid—'tes nawthen to the way o' a maid wi' a man, is it, Passon? She'll be one for the chaps, she will!"
Boase assented, laughing, then his eyes saddened, as he watched the two little figures, side by side now, disappear round the corner of the pig-styes. It suddenly struck him as rather horrible that anything so innocent as Ishmael still was should develop into a man, even a healthy, clean-living man; such a pity that the instinct that was the cause of charming play with Phoebe should ever become desire. It was a feeling that a mother might have had, and Boase smiled at it even as he gave a sigh to the pity of inexorable things.
"So you're bringing Phoebe over to Cry the Neck, Sam?" he asked casually. Sam Lenine nodded.
"Gwain be there, Passon?"
"Maybe. Fact is, Sam, I thought it would be a good opportunity to sit that boy at the head of the table—"
Lenine nodded again, but waited in silence.
"You're an influential man," continued Boase, "and the way you speak of him and treat things generally would rather give the lead to the people round here."
For the third time the miller nodded, then started a little as he caught sight of Ishmael and Phoebe reappearing from the pig-stye, and his eyes lightened suddenly. He dropped his thickly-veined lids to hide them.
"Happen I can do a little, Passon," he said; "I'll think on et."
"Do," said Boase heartily. Then he too started slightly and looked at the miller a little suspiciously, and, though he said nothing, his face darkened. Already the cords of intrigue were beginning to close round Ishmael Ruan, and the Parson longed to break them with one clean stroke, even while he realised the futility of the wish. He called rather sharply to the children.
"Ishmael! You must come back with me now; there are things I want you to do at the vicarage. Come."
Ishmael recognised the tone of authority. He was an obedient child simply because he was so proud he would not fight a losing battle. Sooner than be conquered he obeyed as though he were doing the thing commanded merely because he himself wished to, and for the same reason if he could forestall a command by his own action he did. He came to the Parson's side.
"Must be going, Phoebe," he remarked carelessly; "I've a heap of things to do for to-night, you see. Morning, Mr. Lenine!"
And he set off again, with his thumbs in his belt.
Annie Ruan and three of the children were assembled in the great kitchen preparing for the supper party that was to be held after the Neck had been cried. The world without was still steeped in the golden light of full afternoon, but the small windows only looked on to the courtyard and let little of the gleam into the low-ceiled room; dimness veiled the corners, and through it each plate on the old dresser held a faintly glimmering crescent of light. On a sheet of iron laid upon the open hearth the last loaves of barley-bread were baking under a crock, and Vassilissa Beggoe was preserving the leaven for next week's breadmaking by the simple process of placing it in a saucer of water, where it would mildew in peace.
Vassilissa was the youngest of the four Beggoes,—only three years older than Ishmael. She was the most like Archelaus in face, and showed promise of a sleek, white and gold beauty to come; at present, being far too tall for her age, she seemed unable to manage her long legs and arms, but her movements had the graceful ungainliness of a young animal. She was muffled in a dirty print pinafore, and above its faded blue her neck looked a delicate privet-white, and would have looked whiter still had it been cleaner. In the dusk her little pale head, the shape of it clearly defined by the way in which she wore her hair sticking stiffly out from her nape in two tiny plaits, took on a quality suggestive of a frescoed angel—a delicately-modelled, faintly-shadowed quality that she might miss in a stronger light. Putting the saucer of leaven on the untidy dresser, she spoke over her shoulder to her mother.
"I be gwain to give myself a rub over and put on my Sunday gown. I be gwain now."
Annie paused in the act of washing a plate, and let the film of dirty water run off it into the pan again. Then she drew a deep breath, as though the greasy-smelling steam that wavered up towards her nostrils were the sweetest of incense. Vassilissa, who was accustomed to this silent gathering of the forces before her mother broke into specially impassioned speech, began calmly to untie her pinafore.
"That's right!" cried Annie, with sudden vigour; "go off and make yourself fine, and lave me to wash all the cloam that's been standen' up in grease these three days. Vanities o' the flesh are all you think on, 'stead of helpen' your mother as has done everything for 'ee since you was naught but a young babe, and that scrawlen' come night there was no gettin' any sleep. You might not be a maid toall for the help I get of 'ee."
"I'll help wi' the cloam," said a big, heavily-made boy who was seated at one end of the table, eating a pasty. He crammed the last pale, stodgy morsel into his mouth and pushed back his chair, saying:
"I'll do the cloam for 'ee, mother. Lave the maiden be."
John-James was a good-natured, thick-headed boy, the third in the family, and the one of her children who seemed to have inherited Annie's peasant blood undiluted. He supplied the restful element in a house where the eldest-born was hot-tempered and revengeful and the second son more like a girl-child for sharpness and a woman grown for scheming. Tom had already made up his mind to be Mr. Tonkin's office boy, and from that he meant to become articled clerk, and from that—who could tell? Tom remained quiet on the subject of his ultimate intentions, but he was fighting his mother's apathy and natural habit of opposition to attain the first step in his career. Mr. Tonkin, who, as Ishmael's guardian, visited fairly frequently at the Manor, was expected to the supper that night, and Tom meant matters to come to a head. He had noticed what an influence the Methodist lawyer had over his mother and meant to use it for his own ends. Annie had a secret fear of Tom; Archelaus she adored, and Vassilissa came only second; but John-James she held of small account. She turned on him now even while she gave the dish into his hands.
"There you go, John-James Beggoe, talken' as though I grudged my own cheild maken' herself 'ansome. Vassie, my worm, you may have that bit o' blue ribbon I bought last Corpus Fair—'tes in the chest."
Vassie was off before her mother had time to change her mind, and John-James began slowly to rinse the china through the darkened water, on whose surface the grease lay in a shimmering arabesque. Annie went round the kitchen rasping the chairs over the stone floor and making futile dabs at their seats with her apron. She had that curious uncertainty of aim usually seen in dogs, who never seem to be sure of touching the object at which they paw.
The head and shoulders of Archelaus, furze-laden, passed the window, apparently floating through the luminous warmth of afternoon that filled the courtyard as through the depths of the sea. The illusion was shattered when he kicked the door open and, striding in, flung his burden on to the dying fire. The sudden glow that leapt up revealed Tom ensconced in the settle, cleaning his boots with a pat of butter stolen from the dairy. He continued his occupation quite unmoved by the fulminations of his mother, bending his ruddy head over the boots. Tom was the "red-headed Dane" who crops up generation after generation in some Cornish families.
"Hold your tongue, mother," he said at last, holding one boot at arm's length and cocking his head sideways the better to admire the effect of the buttering; "I'm going to look decent to-night if no one else is. And so I don't mind a-tellen' 'ee—" with a sudden slip into the dialect that he studiously trained himself to avoid. Any lapse of the kind meant that Tom was not in a mood to be trifled with, and Annie turned suddenly to Archelaus.
"Where's the cheild?" she asked.
"I set'n to gather bullock's glows for th' fire—we shall want more'n furze for to-night," replied Archelaus. "Give I a light to take overstairs; 'tes time I was cleanen' of myself. I'm gwain to run with the Neck to-night."
Annie went obediently to a cupboard and took out a little cup of oil in which a wick lay, the tongue of it drooping over the cup's rim. She lit it with a twig from the fire and stood looking at Archelaus for a moment with the cup in her hand. The footlight effect softened her prominently-boned face and struck some of the over-strong colour from her cheeks—she showed a faint hint of the prettiness that had attracted the old Squire.
"An' who is it you'm thinken' will be at the door for 'ee to kiss when you get in wi' the Neck?" she asked grimly.
Archelaus shuffled from one big foot to the other.
"Jenifer Keast, maybe?" pursued his mother.
"Happen Jenifer, happen another. A maid's a maid," mumbled the disconcerted Archelaus.
Tom put his boots on the settle and stood up.
"It makes me sick to hear you, Archelaus," he declared slowly, but with extraordinary venom for a boy of fifteen; "Jenifer Keast! Have you no sense of who you are that you should think of Jenifer Keast?"
"She'm a fitty maid," muttered Archelaus.
"A fitty maid! Listen to the great bufflehead! She's fitty enough but with nothing to her but the clothes on her back. You've no call to be leading a maid toall yet. S'pose you was ever master of Cloom, what would you be wanting with Jenifer Keast?"
"Master o' Cloom! That's plum foolishness. We all d'knaw I'd be master o' Cloom if right were right, but there's the law siden' wi' the cheild; devil run off wi' en!"
"If the devil don't somebody else might," said Tom, "and then Cloom'd be mother's and ours. Eh, I wish I was the eldest; I'm the only one with a headpiece on me."
"Th' cheild's healthy enough," grumbled Archelaus.
"My children are all healthy; I never buried but the one between Tom and John-James and the one as never drew breath," interrupted Annie, "and if the cheild is set up by the law he's your own flesh and blood. He would have been as fine a cheild as any of 'ee if he'd kept his place."
"I'm not saying nothing against the brat," cried Tom in exasperated tones; "anyone'd think I wanted'n to die by the way you go on at me. I don't—it don't matter to me, for I'm going to be a lawyer like Mr. Tonkin to Penzance, but Archelaus'll be a fool if he don't look higher than Jenifer Keast."
"I'm not looken' to lead no maid," cried the badgered Archelaus, snatching the light. "Do 'ee grudge a chap a kiss or two? What's the harm in kissen'? You knew all about it when you was young, mother; you're a nice one to talk to a chap, you are!"
With which unfilial gibe he disappeared.
Annie was one of those women who like a buffet, verbal or physical, from a man, whether he be husband, brother, or son. She looked after Archelaus with pride.
"He be rare and like his da when he's got the uglies," she said; "he'll look fine at the head o' the table to-night, will Arch'laus."
"Parson Boase'll put Ishmael at the head of the table," announced Tom carelessly, with a sly glance at his mother. Annie whipped round at him in blank surprise, while even John-James paused in his washing-up and stood gaping over a dish.
"Gwain to put my own cheild auver my head and the head of my first-born, is 'ee?" cried Annie. "Eh, that passon! Sim'me he's lacken' his senses! Sim'me that when the law lets a man like that come shoven' and meddlen' in a woman's house that the law's lacken' its senses too!"
"Don't fret about the law," advised Tom; "I've heard tell the law can be turned any way a clever chap has a mind. I'll see what I can do with it when I'm to Mr. Tonkin, and then perhaps we'll all snap our fingers at Parson Boase."
"Tom do talk a wunnerful passel o' nonsense," remarked John-James placidly as his brother picked up his boots and went out. But Tom was of the truly great who can always contain themselves when there is nothing to be gained by an explosion, and he disappeared without answering.
Annie and John-James proceeded to put the finishing touches to the kitchen—John-James doing all the real good that was done, and Annie setting things backwards and forwards in her strange aimless way. Upstairs Vassie was tying her hair—brushed out now into a short, crimped fluff that made her look more like an angel than ever—with the blue ribbon; while Archelaus and Tom greased their locks with the remains of Tom's stolen butter. Soon Annie and John-James also went upstairs to prepare themselves for the feast, and the kitchen grew slowly dark.
Ishmael staggered across the last field with his bucket of fuel, his lean little arms aching under its weight, but his mind singing the triumphant refrain:
"The evening's coming, and I'm going to cry the Neck! I'm going to cry the Neck!"
The last of the corn had been reaped in Cloom fields and all was ready for the ceremony of "Crying the Neck." The labourers, their womenfolk and children, had gathered together, and Annie, with a select party of friends, took her place in the forefront of the crowd. A very old labourer who bore the splendid name of Melchisedec Baragwaneth, went from sheaf to sheaf, picking out a handful of the most heavily-bearded ears, which, though they are apt to grind the worst, still make the bravest show. He was stiff with his great age and the cruel rheumatism that is the doom of the field-worker; and against the brass and leather of his boots the stubble whispered loudly. Overhead the rooks and gulls gave short, harsh cries as they circled around hoping for stray grains; but the thousand little lives which had thriven in the corn—the field mice and frogs and toads—had been stilled by the sickles; some few had escaped to the shelter of the hedges, but most were sacrifices to the harvest.
Melchisedec Baragwaneth intertwined with his wheat ears some splendid stalks of ragwort and chamomile, like a cluster of yellow and white stars, and twisted tendrils of bindweed, with frail, trumpet-shaped blossoms already drooping, around the completed bunch. His thick old fingers fumbled over the niceties of the task, but he pushed the women's officious hands aside, and by the aid of his toothless but bone-hard gums pulled the knot to successfully, and the bunch became the "Neck." Then he set off, followed by the rest of the folk, to the highest field under grass, cresting the slope behind Cloom, the field that had been ploughed earth when the old Squire's dying eyes looked on it from his bedroom window.
The last of the day still held the world, and from the western rim the sunset beat up on to one vast level stretch of cloud that nearly covered the sky, drenching it with rose-coloured light which refracted to the earth, steeping everything in one warm glow. The stubble stood up like thin straight flames from a soil that showed wine-coloured, and the green of leaf and pasture was turned by the warmth of the light to that tender but brilliantly vivid emerald to which it wakes in the gleam of a lantern at night. All colour was intensified, though all was suffused with the triumphant rose, which steeped sky and air and earth till they seemed infused with some impalpable wine; and the procession moved through an atmosphere full of refractions and bright edges afloat in the tender glow.
Melchisedec Baragwaneth took his stand in the middle of the field beside the tall monolith, and his followers made a huge circle about him. Jacka's John-Willy staggered round with a firkin of cider, and each man set his hands about its body and took a long drink. Then Melchisedec Baragwaneth bent slowly down, holding the Neck towards the ground, and all the labourers bowed low over their billhooks. Still more slowly the old man straightened himself, raising his arms till he held the bunch of corn high above his head, like some sylvan priest elevating the Host. The billhooks, which a moment before had lain like shining crescents on the grass, went flashing up into blackness against the glow of the sky, and from each man came a great shout:
"A nack! A nack! A nack! We hav'en! We hav'en! We hav'en!"
Three times the rite was performed, and the rose-light, that so soon dies, had faded away, though no one could have told the actual moment of its passing. A vibrant dusk, that to eyes still glamour-ridden seemed full of millions of little, pricking points of light, permeated the world, and in their harmonious-coloured clothes the people mingled with the soft grey-green of the pasture, only their faces and hands gleamed out a few tones paler.
With the fall of the billhooks fell solemnity, and men, women and children ran wildly hither and thither, shouting, singing, and breaking out into rough dances.
A new and blissful excitement tingled through Ishmael. When the labourers had shouted he had dropped Phoebe's hand and shouted with them, flinging up his arms. The glamorous light, the sense of something primitive and vital that the ceremony expressed, and the stir at the pulses caused by the sight of many people moved to do the same thing at the same moment, went to his head. He ran about singing and leaping like the rest, but keeping a little away from them, and quite suddenly there came to him for the first time that consciousness of pleasure which marks man's enjoyment off from the animal's. Hitherto, in his moments of happiness, he had not paused to consider the matter, but merely been happy as a puppy is when it plays in the sun. Now, suddenly, he stopped still, and stood looking at the distant blackthorn hedge that made a dark network against the last gleam in the west.
"I am happy? I am being happy!" he said to himself, and he turned this consciousness over in his mind as he would have turned a sweet in his mouth. Ever afterwards the memory of that moment's realisation was connected for him with a twisted line of hedge and a background of pale greenish sky. He stared at the distorted hedgerow that stood out so clearly, and to him this moment was so vividly the present that he did not see how it could ever leave off.... "This is now ..." he thought; "how can it stop being now?" And the shouting and the still air and the definite look of that hedge all seemed, with himself as he was and felt at that moment, to be at the outermost edge of time, suspended there for ever by that extreme vividness....
And then Phoebe ran up to him and dragged him off to where Sam Lenine stood examining some of the ears he had picked on his way past the sheaves. The miller took the toll of one twelfth of the farmer's grist, so Sam studied the ears with care. Owing to the drought the corn was very short in the straw, but that was not Sam's part of the business, and he nodded his head approvingly over the quality of the ear.
Suddenly Archelaus sprang forward, snatched the Neck from Melchisedec Baragwaneth, and made for the house, everyone crowding after him to see the fun. At the front door stood the dairymaid, Jenifer Keast, holding a pail of water in her strong arms, ready to souse him unless he succeeded in entering by another way before she could reach him with the water, when he could claim a kiss. Archelaus made a dash for the parlour window, but the bucket swept round at him threateningly and he drew back a moment, as though to consider a plan of campaign. He was determined to have his kiss, for through the soft dusk that veiled any coarseness of skin or form, and only showed the darkness of eyes and mouth on the warm pallor of her face, she looked so eminently kissable. Before she could guess his intention he ran round the angle of the house wall, down to the dairy window, and, plunging through it, came up the passage at her back. Seizing her by the waist, he swung her round and took his kiss fairly from her mouth, and, though she struggled so that the water drenched him, he felt her lips laughing as they formed a kiss.
HEAD OF THE HOUSE
For years Ishmael was unable to remember that evening without a tingling sense of shame. The unwonted excitement, combined with the prominence which the Parson successfully achieved for him, went to his head and caused him to "show off." The thought of how he had chattered and boasted, talking very loudly and clumping with his feet when he walked, so as to sound and feel like a grown-up man, would turn him hot for years, when, in the watches of the night, it flashed back on him. Long after everyone else had forgotten, even if they had ever noticed it, his lack of self-control on that evening was a memory of shame to him. He clattered across to his place at the head of the table, and was mortified that a couple of big old calf-bound books had to be placed on his chair to make him sit high enough. Phoebe and the Parson were at either side, and the foot of the table was taken by Annie, Archelaus, defiant and monosyllabic, on her left, and Lawyer Tonkin, glossy with black broadcloth, on her right. The lawyer had a haunting air as of cousinship to things ecclesiastical, and, indeed, he was lay-preacher at a Penzance chapel. Tom, who had taken care to set himself on his other hand, kept a careful eye for his plate and glass, being particularly liberal with the cider. The lawyer spoke little; when he did his voice was rich and unctuous—the sort of voice that Ishmael always described to himself as "porky." He was as attentive to Mrs. Ruan's wants as Tom to his, and she, never a great talker save in her outbursts, still kept up a spasmodic flow of low-toned remarks to him, whom of all men she held in highest veneration.
His spiritual powers she rated far higher than those of the Parson, who never fulminated from the pulpit till she felt the fear of hell melting her bones within her. This the lawyer did, and managed at the same time to make her feel herself a good woman, one of the saved, and the piquancy of the double sensation was the hidden drug of Annie's life. She dallied with thoughts of eternal suffering as a Flagellant with imagings of torture, and when her mind was reeling at the very edge of the pit she would pull herself back with a loud outcry on the Almighty, followed by a collapse as sensuous in its utter laxity.
Annie would have been shocked if anyone had tried to force on her the idea, that, in the unacknowledged warfare which enwrapped Ishmael, Tonkin was on her side as against the child; but even she was dimly aware that he and Boase, joint guardians as they were, stood in opposite camps. But it was towards her, the respectable widow-woman, the owner, but for Ishmael, of the biggest estate in all Penwith, that Tonkin's current of consideration flowed, whereas hers, after her religion, was perpetually set about Archelaus. He, the beautiful young man with the round red neck and the white arms and the strong six feet of height, whom she had made and given to the world, to him she would have given the world and all the heavens had it been in her power. And, as things were, she could not even give him Cloom Manor and its fruitful acres. Of this impotency Archelaus was even more aware than usual as he sat beside her and glowered down the table at his little brother.
Ishmael was still showing off, though less noisily, for he was feeling very tired and sleepy; the unaccustomed cider and the heavy meal of roast mutton, in a house where there was rarely any meat except occasional rashers, were proving too potent for him. The room was intensely hot, the prevailing notion of comfort being to shut every window at night, and a large fire, before which the side of mutton had been gravely twirling for hours, was only now beginning to subside. The candles guttered and grew soft in the warmth, beads of moisture stood out on the faces of the company, and the smell of incompletely-washed bodies reminded the Parson of hot afternoons with his Sunday school.
Phoebe found Ishmael dull since his volubility had begun to desert him, and turning a disdainful shoulder, she tried to draw Jacka's John-Willy into conversation—a difficult matter, since, though he had been placed there instead of in the barn for Phoebe's benefit, he felt the watchful eye of his mother, who was waiting at table, too frequently upon him for his comfort.
Katie Jacka, her colour more set than it had been when she witnessed that marriage eight years ago, was as emotional as ever, her facile feelings only restrained at all by her husband's rigid taciturnity, even as her high bosom was kept up by the stiffest of "temberan busks"—a piece of wood which, like all self-respecting Cornishwomen, she wore thrust inside the front of her stays. Philip Jacka, who was now headman at the farm, presided at the labourer's supper in the big barn, whither everyone would presently repair, including Ishmael, if he were not too sleepy. The Parson divided his attention between him and Mr. Lenine, who was expanding to greater and greater geniality, always with that something veiled behind his eyes. He encouraged Ishmael, trying to draw him out when the Parson, seeing the child was, in nursery parlance, "a bit above himself," would have kept him quiet.
"Well, young maister"—at the phrase in the miller's booming voice ears seemed visibly to prick down the length of the table—"well, and how do 'ee like helpen' to Cry the Neck?"
"Fine, that I do," came Ishmael's shrill tones; "an' I'm gwain to have en cried every year, and I'll give ever so much bigger suppers, with beef and pasties and beer as well as cider, and saffern cakes and—"; here his tongue failed at the list in his excitement.
Annie had gone a dull crimson, and she drew the whistling breath that with her was the precursor of storm. Help for her outraged feelings and a snub for the young master came from a quarter which surprised them both.
"It is not you who give the supper, Ishmael," spoke the Parson quietly; "it is your mother. And unless you show you know how to behave she will never let you sit up again."
Annie expelled the breath unaccompanied by any flow of words. Archelaus sniggered, and Ishmael sat in that terrible embarrassment that only children know, when the whole world turns black and shame is so intense that it seems impossible to keep on with life at all. His face was one burning flush, his eyes stung with tears he was too proud to let fall. All his wonderful day had fallen about his ears, and it seemed to him that such a mortification, added to his own shamed sense of having disappointed Da Boase, would burden him so that he could never be happy again. And only a couple of hours earlier he had realised for the first time how splendid somehow life and everything in it was, himself included ... and now all was over. He sat staring at the congealed remains of a pasty on his plate. He did not see how it was possible to go on living.
Suddenly a soft, very small hand slid into his lap under cover of the table's corner, and Phoebe's fingers curled round his as she whispered: "Don't 'ee mind, Ishmael. Don't cry. Tell 'ee what, I'll dance weth 'ee, so I will."
"I'm not cryen'." Ishmael's accent was always most marked when he was struggling with emotion. "I'm not cryen' toall. But I don't mind if I do dance a bit weth 'ee if you want me to."
A grinding of chair legs over the flags proclaimed the end of the feast, and the Parson, who, rather to Ishmael's resentment, was smiling as though nothing had been the matter, caught hold of him with one hand and of Phoebe with the other and led the way to the barn.
Out-of-doors the air struck exquisitely cool and fresh to heated faces; the courtyard was lapped in shadow, but once through and in the farmyard the moon was visible, still near the horizon and swimming up inflated, globulous, like a vast aureate bubble. Save for that one glow everything looked as chill as underseas; the whitewashed walls of the out-buildings glimmered faintly, the heaped corn had paled to a greyish silver, the shadows were blue as quiet pools. The whole world seemed to have been washed clean by the moonlight.
The sense of calm only lasted as far as the door of the barn—not as far to the ear, for the sounds of merry-making came gustily out before the opening of the door showed an oblong of glowing orange that sent a shaft into the night, to fade into the darkness that it deepened. It was not quite as hot in the barn as it had been in the kitchen, for the building was much loftier and boasted no fire. Lanterns swung from the beams, throwing upwards bars of shadow that criss-crossed with the rafters and trembled slightly as the flames flickered, so that the whole roof seemed spun over by some gigantic spider's web, while the shadow-patterns thrown by the lanterns on to the floor below looked like great spiders dropped from the meshes. In this impalpable tangle sat the men and women—tenants of cottages, labourers, farm servants and their children, all who had been helping with the harvest. Jenifer Keast was there, flushed now instead of with that mysterious pallor of the dusk, and to her Archelaus made his way with a sort of bashful openness, followed by glances and sly smiles. People felt disposed to condone whatever was in the way of nature, for the meal of hoggans—pasties with chunks of bacon in them, superior to the fuggans of everyday life, which only harboured raisins—of pilchards steeped in vinegar and spices, all washed down by strong cider, had combined to give that feeling of physical well-being which causes the soul also to relax.
Archelaus, suddenly irked by proximity to the girl or fired by the thought of an excuse to clasp her more fully, sprang up and called for helpers to clear the floor. The long trestle tables were pushed to one side and everything that lay upon the dusty boards swept away, even to the form of old Melchisedec Baragwaneth, the high-priest of an earlier hour, who was found with his head under a bench and his stiff old legs sprawled helplessly.
The Parson did not mean Ishmael to stay for more than a dance or two, if that, so he determined to get the thing on which he had set his mind done at once. Picking the boy up, he stood him on the table, just where a lantern, hitched to the wall, threw its beam of light, for the Parson was nothing if not a stage manager by instinct. An awkward silence fell upon the assembly; men scraped their feet uneasily through its hush.
For a moment the Parson let his eyes wander over the clustered faces, full of strong colour in the warm light, with bright, vacant looks and half-open mouths. He knew everyone there, had christened and married many of them, he knew their individual count of kindness and coarseness and self-seeking; knew how hard-working they were, how thriftless, how generous and strangely tolerant, yet how harsh at times in condemnation. It was to their charity of outlook he wished to appeal now, or rather wished Ishmael to make an unconscious appeal.
"There's no need for me to make any speech to you, my friends," he began. "You all know me, and I know you. We've trusted each other and worked together for a good many years now, and please God we shall for many more. You are all to me as my children. But there's one amongst us—" (and here his hand on Ishmael's shoulder seemed to bring the shrinking little boy into greater prominence) "who is even more of a trust to me than any of you. He is a trust to you too—to me because I am his guardian, pledged to see that he grows up into a man who will make a good and just Squire to his tenants, to you because you are those tenants. I think I can promise you that as your Squire grows up it will mean better and better times for all of you, that things won't be so hard. There was a time when the Squires of Cloom were noted for their generosity and just dealing, when, so they say, every man on the estate had his side of pork—ay, and half a sheep too—in his kitchen, and a good coat to his back the year round, and wages to put in his stocking. Those times will come again when the glories of Cloom are restored, when it is once more a good gentleman's estate...."
The Parson had spoken quietly but very deliberately. He knew how public feeling had sided with Annie and the dispossessed Archelaus. The people had grown so used to associating on a familiar level with the powers at the Manor that they had ceased to think of the advantages of a different mode of intercourse. The idea that they would themselves benefit by the restoration of Cloom and its owner to the old position of gentry had never occurred to them. It was true that it would mean the elevation of this intruding child, who was merely the son of their Annie, whom they all knew, but at the same time it meant certain obligations towards them. It meant more money, help in times of stress, security. That was a thing worth considering. The old Squire had hoarded his income and let his fortune swell; if the all-powerful Parson were going to bring this child up in the way he suggested it meant that money would be spent, and on them....
The Parson gave his idea time enough to arrive, though not long enough to be turned over. He pushed Ishmael gently forward again.
"Say what I told you," he bade him, "and no more."
At that moment something came to Ishmael which had failed him in that evening's ordeal—a poise, a confidence of touch which was his by inheritance, though so long unsummoned. He straightened himself and thrust his hands into the pockets of his little breeches.
"Thank you very much for having come to-night," he said, in a voice free from any twang of dialect—the voice he fell into naturally after a day alone with the Parson: "I'm very glad you could come. I hope I'll often see you and that we'll all be very happy together...." He paused, could think of nothing more to say, so retreated back in sudden shyness against the Parson's arm.
There was another moment of hush. Archelaus was sitting, his face suffused, staring in front of him; a murmuring of "the pretty lil' dear" ... ran amongst the women. It was Lenine who brought the moment to its fit rounding.
"Three cheers for Missus and the lil' Squire," he called, and on that able blend of sentiments all voices met with a roar. As the last sound died away Phoebe could be heard clamouring:
"I can do things too; Da Boase nadn't think Ishmael can do it all. I can dance and sing, I can!"
"So thee can, my worm," boomed the miller, and, swinging her up, he stood her also on the table. "Shaw us what 'ee can do, my beauty," he encouraged her.
Phoebe, not at all shy, spread her crumpled skirts and did a little dance that consisted of jigging up and down in the same place, to the accompaniment of a sing-song of one verse:
"I likes coffee an' I likes tea, I likes th' chaps an' th' chaps likes me, So, mawther, you go an' hold your tongue— You had a fellow when you was young!"
Thus piped Phoebe, and the audience applauded with clapping and laughter. Her cheeks were ablaze with the excitement of success; she seized on Ishmael for the promised dance. But the Parson bade him say good-night and come away. He remained deaf to all appeals from Phoebe for just one dance, only one, and, making his own farewells, bore Ishmael back with him to the Vicarage for the night. He was going to run no risk of an anti-climax.
There are days in life which, to the backward look of later years stand out with undying vividness, and this not necessarily because of any import attached to them; often, in the irrational workings of memory, very vital affairs refuse to come when bid, while quite little things or aspects of them are imprinted on the mind for ever. That ceremony of "Crying the Neck" at Cloom had, it is true, been for Ishmael Ruan a notable happening, but it was for a certain pictorial brilliance that he retained it so clearly in after years, and not for any strategic importance, which at the time would not have impressed him. Yet, long afterwards, in the light of that memory, he saw how his life had turned a corner on that occasion, and how after it a different phase began.
Life to him at that time was, of course, entirely centred round himself, the only organism of which he was thoroughly aware. People went to fill his world, but only as they affected him. Archelaus was a terrific being whom he held in awe for his feats of strength, but about whom he was beginning to be conscious of a certain inferiority. Tom he dreaded for his powers of sarcasm, and here he felt no sense of superiority as he did over Archelaus; Tom could make him feel even smaller than the Parson could, and with no kindly intention behind to soften the knock.
But if everyone else were out of temper, there was always one person he could be sure of finding the same, and that was John-James—good, kind, reliable John-James, whom he adored. Did he want a boat made? John-James would do it with those big hands which looked so clumsy and were so sure and careful. Had he broken the rope reins with which he and Jacka's John-Willy played at horses? John-James would mend them. All of kindness and consideration to be found for him in that house he extracted from John-James. One thing only he could not get even from him, and that was a return of his deep devotion. This was not because of any bitter feeling in the elder boy's heart. Ishmael had done him no harm, and he bore him no grudge; neither, since he was not an admirer of his elder brother Archelaus, did he take up his cause. It simply was that John-James was not made for the emotions. He knew nothing about them and they made him uncomfortable. For a long while Ishmael failed to discover this. He flung himself upon John-James, and felt him satisfactorily solid and worried no more on the matter. But when, in the natural course of development, his mind began to feel pain as well as discomfort at the chill which met him from his family, he turned to his sure support for help in this also, he found a blank. John-James would take him fishing, save his pastry for him, stand between him and harshness, but he would not, because he could not, give him love to live on. If he had one outward-flowing sensation it was towards his sister Vassilissa. Ishmael was just the "lil' un" and a trouble because the cause of trouble, but Vassie was something so infinitely quicker, cleverer, more elusive than himself that she stood to John-James for what of beauty was interwoven with the very everyday stuff of his life. She, like Ishmael, was at the intensely personal period, though with her it took objective form in dress and pleasures rather than in the subjective wonderings of her youngest brother. As to John-James, he hardly entered into the fabric of her existence. Life to her was the cat-like attempt to get as much comfort as possible regardless of others. The only emotion Ishmael obtained out of Cloom came from Katie Jacka, and that was rather unhealthy, because furtive and sentimental, and he only detested it. As to his mother, that hectic, uneven creature, she was to him a loud-voiced person of tempers and tendernesses equally gusty, not a being as much "I" to herself as he was to himself. It was only on the day following the supper party that he began to be affected by her as a violent personality.
It was a grey day, threatening with rain which might mean ruin to the cut corn waiting to be stacked in the great arishmows that always seemed to Ishmael like the tents of some magic host. All the way up from the Vicarage, which lay a couple of sloping miles away, his thoughts and hopes were busy, triumphing over the greyness and the faint damping mist that blew in from the sea like smoke. For, somehow, after last night, he expected everything to be "different." How, he hardly knew; but for the first time in his life he had been allowed to be himself—more, himself had been discovered to be Somebody. True, there had been that mortification at supper which gave him what felt like an actual physical hollow in his chest when he thought of it, but after that the Parson had set him up and everyone had cheered him, and Archelaus had not dared do anything to spoil it. He had been called "the little master"—well, if last night, why not to-day? Katie would probably be cleaning up when he arrived, but she would see him and call out. "Here's the little master come back!" ... and his mother would ask him whether he would like a piece of cake. So he went on planning, after the dramatic manner of all imaginative children. He would be very nice to them all, but he too would be different, now that he knew who he was. For the Parson, finding him intensely puzzled, had partially explained to him that morning. Questions of legitimacy, and any reflection on his mother, Boase had omitted for the time being, merely telling him that when he was grown up Cloom would be his because his father had willed it so. He tried to impress on Ishmael that usually the eldest son inherited everything, and so it was natural that Archelaus should feel hurt about it. At first Ishmael, with the quick generosity of his age, had wanted to give Cloom up to his brother there and then, but the Parson talked gravely to him, impressing on him for the first time what was to be the keynote of his teaching, that never, never must he forget that Cloom was the great trust of his life. What he made of Cloom was everything; he could not shift this thing God had put upon him. Thus the Parson, to whom what he was to make of Ishmael had become the absorbing passion of his own life.
Boase made Ishmael promise not to let anyone know he had been told about it; that, too, was part of the trust—that Ishmael should prepare himself in secret, by diligent study, for this thing that was to be his. The child promised, proud of the confidence, his imagination thrilled by the romance that had come to him, and so, although he meant to be quite nice to everyone, there was a tinge of kindly pity in the manner he pictured himself displaying when he arrived home. And, overriding even these plans for the immediate future, was a tingling sense of glory he had never known before, the glory of this trust that was to fill his life....
No hailing of him as little master or as anything else took place when he reached home; Katie was busy at the washhouse, and he met no one amidst all the dreary litter of last night's festivities till he came on his mother in the back kitchen. The piled dresser showed a muddle of unwashed dishes, and the floor was gritty with mud. Annie looked, and was, dirty with exertion; and even the steam that wreathed upwards from the washbowl added a sense of uncleanness to the air. Ishmael was too young to be depressed by dirt, which he rather liked, but the greyness of it all settled on him like a blight.
He had been right about one thing—there was a distinct change in Annie's manner. It was not, however, any difference such as he had imagined; it went deeper than mere speech. As he entered his mother came over to him, and, tilting up his chin, searched his eyes with hers till he felt uncomfortable. He jerked his head away, retreating against the door which had swung to behind him.
"Eh," said Annie, and he knew it was not to him she spoke; "it is to be. The Lard will accept him as He accepted the infant Samuel."
Ishmael began to be afraid; his mother's eyes had the glitter in them that usually went with one of her storming fits, but now she was quiet, though tense. "What is it, mother?" he asked nervously, staring at her in his turn.
"You'm a brand to be plucked from the burning," she told him, "an' by the grace of God mine's to be the hand that'll pluck 'ee. You'll be saved along of your poor old mawther, won't 'ee, dearie?"
Then, as Ishmael showed no disposition to do anything but try and get away, she caught up a slab of heavy-cake which lay on the dresser. "Thee mustn't be afeared of thy mawther, my worm," she murmured, her voice more coaxing than he had ever heard it; "we're gwain before the Lard hand in hand.... There, take this bit o' food into the yard, but don't 'ee go far. Do 'ee hear what I say, Ishmael?"
He hastened with a submissive "Yes" and then fled, cake in hand. Out in the yard his little mind struggled in vain with the problem of this change, for there was no added respect in his mother's treatment of him, such as his stepping openly into the position of owner of Cloom might have made. Neither, his child's true instinct told him, was it affection suddenly awakened in her. He cast about vainly for what it might mean. Presently he went into the washhouse, where Katie and another woman were busy; they took scant notice of him, but went on discussing the fact that Archelaus had not been home to bed all night, had not long come in, and gone upstairs, where he still was, snoring for all to hear. Ishmael was not altogether ignorant, and allusions were bandied back and forth across his head which he was at once too young and too old to hear unscathed.
Left alone, Annie went upstairs, listened a moment outside the door of her eldest-born, then went on to the tiny room over the porch that was Ishmael's. And there, on her knees by the bed, she prayed silently, her eyes rolling till a slather of white showed beneath each faded iris, her reddened fingers wringing each other so that patches of pallor sprang out on them.
Annie was in the midst of a religious crisis that had overwhelmed her like a typhoon. She was one of those women who must have an outlet for passion. It had taken merely physical form with her in the days of the old Squire, but since her elevation to the position of a widow-woman she had undergone "conversion." What she had hitherto accepted, much as her farm beasts accepted it—as a clamorous necessity—she now held to be a thing accursed. Her position was an inconsistent one, as she was quick to uphold her ill-used righteousness with her neighbours; but that did not worry Annie, whose mind, blurred and wavering, never faced anything squarely.
Lawyer Tonkin had gazed into her eyes when he said good-night, and she had felt his moist and pudgy hand squeeze hers; but she knew it was the eyes and hand of the widow-woman, the owner, but for Ishmael, of Cloom Manor, with which the lawyer had dallied. Her sense of her position was flattered and a glimpse of a yet more consequential one flashed before her, but no thrill went with it. It was in the grip of what she would have thought a very different emotion that she had gone up to her room. For Tonkin had told her of a noted revivalist who was coming through West Penwith, and already she felt the first delicious tremblings of that orgy of fear which should be hers.
Hers and another's, for she was set on the redemption of her beloved first-born, her beautiful Archelaus. Him she would lead to the heavenly courts and win forgiveness for the sin of his creation; he, the brand she had lit, should by her be plucked from the burning. Crossing over to her window, she had leaned her hot brow against the pane, closing her eyes in an ecstasy of prayer. It was very dim still in the house, but without the first faint pallor of the dawn was growing, and against it every solid object showed distinct and black. And, opening her eyes, Annie saw, silhouetted darkly with the precision of sculpture against the paling sky, the figures of Archelaus and a girl. He was half-lifting her over the stile whose stone steps crested the edge of the hill, and for a second the two figures stayed poised on the topmost step. The girl seemed protesting, even struggling, though with slaps that were more horseplay than earnest, and the next moment the boy's big arms had caught her and dragged her out of sight down on the far side of the stile.
The whole quick vignette was over in a flash, but Annie fell back from the window with all the egoism in her dulled nature torn awake. A more normal mother, of a more refined type, might have thought what she had seen meant nothing but a rude flirtation; Annie's blood told her differently. If she had merely heard of the matter her lack of visualising power would have saved her from sensation; it was the sight of those two striving figures which had made her feel. She moaned that her baby son had grown up and away from her, and she agonised over his soul, which she had planned to wrest for the Lord during the coming revival—small heed would she get Archelaus to pay to his soul now this new thing was opening before him. Her mind was conscious of a great emptiness where her scheme for the salvation of Archelaus had been waxing.
Annie had about as much true moral sense as a cat. Her quarrel with Archelaus was not that, in a wayside copse, with some girl, Jennifer or another, he was learning as fact what he had long known in theory; the chastity of a man, even of her beloved son, meant very little to her. Terrible things, far worse than the casual mating of a man and a maid, happen in the country, and it needed something keenly sharpened to make Annie's dulled sensitiveness feel a shock. She raged that her son was taken from her, but she would have felt indignant anger if the girl had denied her lovely boy. And behind her sense of loss in Archelaus, behind her terror that he was being led in the way of destruction, there lurked, unknown to her, another anger, an anger against life. Some last remnant of femininity cried out because for her it was all over—gone the shudderings and the fierce delights.... Suddenly she felt intensely old, and she collapsed from her kneeling attitude on to her heels and sat there slackly. Youth is so confident that it can never grow old, and then one day unthinking middle age awakens and finds that it has become so.
Then stirred in Annie the outraged feeling of a parent, which says that it seems somehow wrong, almost indecent, for offspring to feel passion. It had been all right for her and her generation, but incomprehensible in her own parents, and now it was equally so when she saw it beginning to work out in her children. She supposed vaguely, confronted by the fact that the race went on multiplying, that everyone might feel like that about other people, but differently about themselves.
Broad daylight had seen Archelaus return, but by then Annie had fallen into a heavy sleep and did not hear his entry, though there was nothing furtive about it; rather was it the unashamed clatter of the master. She awoke to deadness of all feeling except the thought of the revival that was to sweep like a flail over the land, and in her tired but avid mind that winnowing began to assume the proportions of the chief thing for which to live. She saw herself in it, and with her, by a flash of inspiration, not the fair eldest-born who had failed her, but the youngest—he whom she could flaunt in the face of God and men. Some receptacle for passion Annie had to have, and being an uneducated woman, it had to be a personal one. Archelaus had gone beyond her clutch, Tom she knew would evade her, John-James she, like Ishmael, found unresponsive. As for girls, she placed them below any male creature. She loved Vassie far more than she did Ishmael, if she could be said to love him at all, but nevertheless he was a son. Her punishment for sin might be that those other more dearly loved ones were not to be among the saved, but this child she could shake in the face of the Almighty....
It was by this new passion that Ishmael, with his foolish little plans of a new importance, found himself caught up and held relentlessly.
The revivalist preacher had come, and was indeed sweeping the land like a flail. Everyone was caught up in that threshing, and staid old church-goers of years rushed into the chapels and added their groans and outcries to the rest. Parson Boase stood aside, powerless while the excitement lasted. Those were days when Methodism was at its most harsh; the pure, if fierce, white flame of Whitefield and Thomson and Wesley had become obscured by the redder glare and smoke of that place whose existence seemed the chief part of these latter-day Methodists' creed. Hell was the theme of sermon and hymn—a hell of concrete terrors enough to scare children in their beds at night. Thanks to the Parson, Ishmael had hitherto been kept out of this maelstrom of gloomy fears, but now that Annie, with the vicarious piety of so many women, had set her mind on his "conversion," he too was to run the gamut of religious emotion, in which it has been said there are contained all the others.
Ishmael, in so far as at that age he could be said to wish to attend any place of prayer at all, was quite pleased to be going to chapel, partly because he had never been allowed to, and partly because the singing, from without, always sounded so much noisier and more frequent than church music. Annie impressed on him that he was to say nothing to the Parson about her intentions, and, though it made Ishmael uncomfortable and even miserable to think of deceiving his friend, he was too afraid of his mother to go against her, especially since this new sustained violence was upon her.
It was a weekday evening when the preacher came to the gaunt little chapel which affronted the skies at the highest curve of the moorland road. Annie had put on her Sunday clothes, though she had ripped the feather out of her bonnet as a concession to the spirit of repentance, and she dressed Ishmael with care in the fine little nankeen suit with braided tunic that the Parson's housekeeper had made for him. She oiled his unruly black hair till it looked as though painted on to his bullet head, except for the obstinate forelock that would fall over his eyes; then she took him firmly by the hand and they set out together. Vassie, to whom any gathering was better than none, was already gone with a girl friend; John-James, who was the Martha of the family, had too much to attend to at the farm; while Archelaus was frankly a scoffer, though an uneasy one. Neither was Annie anxious for the presence of her other children at chapel. The belief that as a judgment on her these dearly-loved ones were not to be among the saved had been growing; it was to be Ishmael whom the Lord demanded of her; it was by the tail of his little tunic that she, clinging, should also be swept into the region of the secure. Archelaus had failed her; that must be meant to show that it was not the children of her heart who were chosen by the Almighty. It was with a set mind and look that she urged Ishmael along the rough track that curved inland over the moor, its rain-filled ruts shining in the glamorous evening light.
They were not the only people on that errand; the pale road was scattered with moving specks of blackness—solitary old men and women that stumbled on faster than they had done for years in their anxiety lest no place should be left for them; family groups already discussing all they had heard of the preacher; knots of youths, half-ribald and half-curious, encouraging each other as over their reluctant spirits there blew the first breath of that dread which was to send them, shaking, to the penitents' bench. Little children, sagging sideways from the hand of a grown-up relation, dragged their feet along that road, taken to the means of salvation willy-nilly.
Ishmael's heart began to stir within him; the sight of so many people all intent on the same way affected him curiously with a tingling of excitement. But at the first glimpse of the hideous chapel—one of those buildings found throughout the Duchy which rebuke God for ever having created beauty—seemed to Ishmael like some awful monster sucking in its prey. The chapel had one chimney cocked like an ear, and two large front windows that were the surprised eyes in a face where the door made a mouth, into which the black stream of people was pouring. If he had ever heard of Moloch he would have been struck by the resemblance, and unfairly so, for when revivals were not in the air that ugly little chapel was served very faithfully by a spiritually-minded minister, who hurled himself all the year round against the obduracy of the people. Ishmael had a quick movement of withdrawal as his mother led him in through the prosaic yellow-grained doors, but it availed him nothing. Another moment and he was being propelled into a pew.
They were in good time, and Ishmael stared about him curiously. The place was very bare and ugly—the walls washed a cold pale green, the pews painted a dull chocolate that had flaked off in patches, the pulpit a great threatening erection that stood up in the midst of the pews and dominated them, like a bullying master confronting a pack of little boys.
The chapel was lit by lamps hung in iron brackets, and, the oil used being extracted from pilchards, a strong fishy odour pervaded the air. The pews soon filled to overflowing; people even sat up the steps of the pulpit and stood against the walls; every place was taken save in the front pew that was being kept for penitents. Annie had told Ishmael of its import, and he stared at it in morbid fascination.
There was a stir and a sound throughout the chapel when the preacher made his appearance. Quite an ordinary-looking man, thought Ishmael with a sense of flatness, unable to note the height of the brow and its narrowness at the temples, the nervous twitching of the lids over the protuberant eyeballs and the abrupt outward bulge of the head above the collar at the back. Abimelech Johns was a tin-miner who had spent his days in profane swearing and coursing after hares with greyhounds until the Lord had thrown him into a trance like that which overtook Saul of Tarsus, and not unlike an epileptic fit Abimelech himself had had in childhood. Since the trance he was a changed man; his passion for souls was now as great as his passion for pleasure had been before, and he had a name for working himself and his congregations up to a higher pitch than any one who had been on that circuit for years past. It was known to be a terrible thing to see Abimelech wrestling with the Lord.
The meeting began quietly enough with a long extemporary prayer from the preacher that was more a confident button-holing of the Almighty, and Ishmael began to feel bored and at the same time relieved. Then the first thrill of instinctive protest ran through him as the voices of old and young arose in a hymn:
"There is a dreadful hell And everlasting pains, Where sinners do with devils dwell, In darkness, fire and chains."
Thus bellowed the strong voices of the men and the reedier tones of the women, while the clear little pipes of the children went up complacently. Ishmael was not alarmed yet, but his attention was attracted. Then Abimelech went up into the pulpit and stood there a few moments with closed eyes, communing with unseen powers before entering on the good fight. When he opened them it could be seen that in one he had a slight cast; this was wont to grow more marked with emotion, and gave at all times the disconcerting impression that he was looking every way at once. It seemed to Ishmael that that light glittering gaze was fixed on him, and he was aware of acute discomfort. Annie whispered him sharply not to fidget, and the next moment the preacher gave out his text: "For many are called, but few are chosen." With a long breath of anticipation the congregation settled itself to listen.
Of what was done and said that evening Ishmael fortunately only carried away a blurred impression, owing to the frenzy that it all threw him into. Every text in the Old Testament and the New that bore on hell-fire and the unrelenting wrath of God the preacher poured down. He impressed on his hearers that eternity went on for ever and ever, that each night's sleep in this world might be the last moment of unconsciousness the soul would know for everlasting. He painted man as being guilty from his start, only to be saved by the grace of this offended tyrant Who had made him vile because it seemed good to Him so to do. The preacher called on all present to flee from the wrath to come, from the inevitable condemnation hanging over them if they persisted in their sins; he talked of lusts and dishonesties and lies and envyings, and accused everyone of all of them. Ishmael, his heart turning cold within him, remembered how he had lied to the Parson about that evening's meeting, how he lied to his mother many times a day for the sake of ease; remembered how he and Jacka's John-Willy had pored over a snail which they had unearthed in the act of laying her eggs. There they were, still adhering to her—a cluster of little opaque white spheres, like soapy bubbles. He and John-Willy had used the occasion to try and add to their store of knowledge, and the memory of that unedifying discussion made Ishmael burn now. That time, too, when he stole his mother's Bible from her room that he might puzzle over portions of it which he had better have left unread. True, it had been John-Willy—whose household did not include a Bible and who could not read—who had started him on the course and urged him on, for as boys go, especially country-bred boys, Ishmael was singularly clean of thought by nature, and also far more ignorant than he knew, but none the less conscience accused him and him only. He knew the sin of it, because he was aware of what the Parson thought of such goings-on, and John-Willy had no such guide to right and wrong. All these crimes thronged on him now, and still the awful voice went on. The chapel grew hotter and hotter, and the flames shuddered at the wicks till to Ishmael's starting eyes the shadowy walls seemed a-quiver, and the people's faces swelled and diminished again. The groans that began to sound from all around him bewildered him so that sight and hearing became one confused sense and the place seemed dark with the groaning. Then cries began to pierce the medley of sound and vision. "Lord, save us, we perish!" shrieked a woman just behind Ishmael, while Annie rocked herself back and forth, the tears streaming down her face as she gave vent to little howls like an animal in distress.