"Don't you have any lessons now?" asked Taffy, after a while.
"Dear me, yes; I've got a tutor. He's no good at it. But what made you ask?"
Really Taffy could not tell. He had asked merely for the sake of saying something. George pulled out a gold watch.
"I must be getting on. Well, good-bye!"
And that was all.
They could manage the carpentering now. And Jacky Pascoe, who, in addition to his other trades, was something of a glazier, had taken the damaged east window in hand. For six months it had remained boarded up, darkening the chancel. Mr. Raymond removed the boards and fixed them up again on the outside, and the Bryanite worked behind them night after night. He could only be spied upon through two lancet windows at the west end of the church, and these they curtained.
But what continually bothered them was their ignorance of iron-work. Staples, rivets, hinges were for ever wanted. At length, one evening, toward the end of March, the Bryanite laid down his tools.
"Tell 'ee what 'tis, Parson. You must send the boy to someone that'll teach en smithy-work. There's no sense in this cold hammering."
"Wheelwright Hocken holds his shop and cottage from the Squire."
"Why not put the boy to Mendarva the Smith, over to Benny Beneath? He's a first-rate workman."
"That is more than six miles away."
"No matter for that. There's Joll's Farm close by; Farmer Joll would board and lodge en for nine shillings a week, and glad of the chance; and he could come home for Sundays."
Mr. Raymond, as soon as he reached home, sat down and wrote a letter to Mendarva the Smith and another to Farmer Joll. Within a week the bargains were struck, and it was settled that Taffy should go at once.
"I may be calling before long, to look you up," said the Bryanite, "but mind you do no more than nod when you see me."
Joll's Farm lay somewhere near Carwithiel, across the moor where Taffy had gone fishing with George and Honoria. On the Monday morning when he stepped through the white front gate, with his bag on his shoulder, and paused for a good look at the building, it seemed to him a very comfortable farmstead, and vastly superior to the tumble-down farms around Nannizabuloe. The flagged path, which led up to the front door between great bunches of purple honesty, was swept as clean as a dairy.
A dark-haired maid opened the door and led him to the great kitchen at the back. Hams wrapped in paper hung from the rafters, and strings of onions. The pans over the fire-place were bright as mirrors, and through the open window he heard the voices of children at play as well as the clacking of poultry in the town-place.
"I'll go and tell the mistress," said the maid; but she paused at the door. "I suppose you don't remember me, now?"
"No," said Taffy truthfully.
"My name's Lizzie Pezzack. You was with the young lady, that day, when she bought my doll. I mind you quite well. But I put my hair up last Easter, and that makes a difference."
"Why, you were only a child!"
"I was seventeen last week. And—I say, do you know the Bryanite, over to St. Ann's—Preacher Jacky Pascoe?"
He nodded, remembering the caution given him.
"I got salvation off him. Master and mis'-ess they've got salvation too; but they take it very quiet. They're very fond of one another; if you please one, you'll please 'em both. They let me walk over to prayer-meetin' once a week. But I don't go by Mendarva's shop— that's where you work—though 'tis the shortest way; because there's a woman buried in the road there, with a stake through her, and I'm a terrible coward for ghosts."
She paused as if expecting him to say something; but Taffy was staring at a "neck" of corn, elaborately plaited, which hung above the mantel-shelf. And just then Mrs. Joll entered the kitchen.
Taffy—without any reason—had expected to see a middle-aged housewife. But Mrs. Joll was hardly over thirty; a shapely woman, with a plain, pleasant face and auburn hair, the wealth of which she concealed by wearing it drawn straight back from the forehead and plaited in the severest coil behind. She shook hands.
"You'll like a drink of milk before I show you your room?"
Taffy was grateful for the milk. While he drank it, the voices of the children outside rose suddenly to shouts of laughter.
"That will be their father come home," said Mrs. Joll, and going to the side door called to him. "John, put the children down! Mr. Raymond's son is here."
Mr. Joll, who had been galloping round the farmyard with a small girl of three on his back, and a boy of six tugging at his coat-tails, pulled up, and wiped his good-natured face.
"Kindly welcome," said he, coming forward and shaking hands, while the two children stared at Taffy.
After a minute the boy said, "My name's Bob. Come and play horses, too."
Farmer Joll looked at Taffy with a shyness that was comic. "Shall we?"
"Mr. Raymond will be tired enough already," his wife suggested.
"Not a bit," declared Taffy; and hoisting Bob on his back, he set off furiously prancing after the farmer.
By dinner-time he and the family were fast friends, and after dinner the farmer took him off to be introduced to Mendarva the Smith.
Mendarva's forge stood on a triangle of turf beside the high-road, where a cart-track branched off to descend to Joll's Farm in the valley. And Mendarva was a dark giant of a man with a beard like those you see on the statues of Nineveh. On Sundays he parted his beard carefully and tied the ends with little bows of scarlet ribbon; but on week days it curled at will over his mighty chest. He had one assistant whom he called "the Dane"; a red-haired youth as tall as himself and straighter from the waist down. Mendarva's knees had come together with years of poising and swinging his great hammer.
"He's little, but he'll grow," said he, after eyeing Taffy up and down. "Dane, come fore and tell me if we'll make a workman of en."
The Dane stepped forward and passed his hands over the boy's shoulders and down his ribs. "He's slight, but he'll fill out. Good pair o' shoulders. Give's hold o' your hand, my son."
Taffy obeyed; not very well liking to be handled thus like a prize bullock.
"Hand like a lady's. Tidy wrist, though. He'll do, master."
So Taffy was passed, given a leathern apron, and set to his first task of keeping the forge-fire raked and the bellows going, while the hammers took up the music he was to listen to for a year to come.
This music kept the day merry; and beyond the window along the bright high-road there was usually something worth seeing— farm-carts, jowters' carts, the doctor and his gig, pedlars and Johnny-fortnights, the miller's waggons from the valley-bottom below Joll's Farm, and on Tuesdays and Fridays the market-van going and returning. Mendarva knew or speculated upon everybody, and with half the passers-by broke off work and gave the time of day, leaning on his hammer. But down at the farm all was strangely quiet, in spite of the children's voices; and at night the quietness positively kept him awake, listening to the pur-r of the pigeons in their cote against the house-wall, thinking of his grandmother awake at home and harkening to the tick-tack of her tall clock. Often when he awoke to the early summer daybreak and saw through his attic-window the grey shadows of the sheep still and long on the slope above the farmstead, his ear was wanting something, asking for something; for the murmur of the sea never reached this inland valley. And he would lie and long for the chirruping of the two children in the next room and the drawing of bolts and clatter of milk-pails below stairs.
He had plenty to eat, and that plenty simple and good, and clean linen to sleep between. The kitchen was his except on Saturday nights, when Mrs. Joll and Lizzie tubbed the children there, and then he would carry his books off to the best parlour or stroll around the farm with Mr. Joll and discuss the stock. There were no loose rails in Mr. Joll's gates, no farm implements lying out in the weather to rust. Mr. Joll worked early and late, and his shoulders had a tell-tale stoop—for he was a man in the prime of life, perhaps some five years older than his wife.
One Saturday evening he unburdened his heart to Taffy. It happened at the end of the hay-harvest, and the two were leaning over a gate discussing the yet unthatched rick.
"What I say is," declared the farmer quite in-consequently, "a man must be able to lay his troubles 'pon the Lord. I don't mean his work, but his troubles; and go home and shut the door and be happy with his wife and children. Now, I tell you that for months—iss, years—after Bob was born I kept plaguing myself in the fields, thinking that some harm might have happened to the child. Why, I used to make an excuse and creep home, and then if I see'd a blind pulled down you wouldn't think how my heart'd go thump; and I'd stand wi' my head on the door-hapse an' say, 'If so be the Lord have took'n, I must go and comfort Susan—not my will, but Thine, Lord— but, Lord, don't 'ee be cruel this time!' And then find the cheeld right as ninepence and the blind only pulled down to keep the sun off the carpet. After a while my wife guessed what was wrong—I used to make up such poor twiddling pretences. She said, 'Look here, the Lord and me'll see after Bob; and if you can't keep to your own work without poking your nose into ours, then I married for worse and not for better.' Then it came upon me that by leaving the Lord to look after my job I'd been treating Him like a farm labourer. It's the things you can't help he looks after—not the work."
A few evenings later there came a knock at the door, and Lizzie, who went to open it, returned with the Bryanite skipping behind her.
"Blessings be upon this here house!" he cried, cutting a sort of double shuffle on the threshold. He shook hands with the farmer and his wife, and nodded toward Taffy. "So you've got Parson Raymond's boy here!"
"Yes," said Mrs. Joll; and turned to Taffy. "He've come to pray a bit: perhaps you would rather be in the parlour?"
Taffy asked to be allowed to stay; and presently Mr. Pascoe had them all down on their knees. He began by invoking God's protection on the household; but his prayer soon ceased to be a prayer. It broke into ejaculations of praise—"Friends, I be too happy to ask for anything—Glory, glory! The blood! The precious blood! O deliverance! O streams of redemption running!" The farmer and his wife began to chime in—"Hallelujah!" "Glory!" and Lizzie Pezzack to sob. Taffy, kneeling before a kitchen chair, peeped between his palms, and saw her shoulders heaving.
The Bryanite sprang to his feet, overturning the settle with a crash. "Tid'n no use. I must skip! Who'll dance wi' me?"
He held out his hands to Mrs. Joll. She took them, and skipped once shamefacedly. Lizzie, with flaming cheeks, pushed her aside. "Leave me try, mis'ess; I shall die if I don't." She caught the preacher's hands, and the two leapt about the kitchen. "I can dance higher than mis'ess!" Farmer Joll looked on with a dazed face. "Hallelujah!" "Amen!" he said at intervals, quite mechanically. The pair stood under the bacon rack and began to whirl like dervishes—hands clasped, toes together, bodies leaning back and almost rigid. They whirled until Taffy's brain whirled with them.
With a louder sob Lizzie let go her hold and tottered back into a chair, laughing hysterically. The Bryanite leaned against the table, panting.
There was a long pause. Mrs. Joll took a napkin from the dresser and fell to fanning the girl's face, then to slapping it briskly. "Get up and lay the table," she commanded; "the preacher'll stay to supper."
"Thank 'ee, ma'am, I don't care if I do," said he; and ten minutes later they were all seated at supper and discussing the fall in wheat in the most matter-of-fact voices. Only their faces twitched now and again.
"I hear you had the preacher down to Joll's last night," said Mendarva the Smith. "What'st think of en?"
"I can't make him out," was Taffy's colourless but truthful answer.
"He's a bellows of a man. I do hear he's heating up th' old Squire Moyle's soul to knack an angel out of en. He'll find that a job and a half. You mark my words, there'll be Dover over in your parish one o' these days."
During work-hours Mendarva bestowed most of his talk on Taffy. The Dane seldom opened his lips except to join in the anvil chorus—
"Here goes one— Sing, sing, Johnny! Here goes two— Sing, Johnny, sing! Whack'n till he's red, Whack'n till he's dead, And whop! goes the widow with A brand new ring!"
And when the boy took a hammer and joined in he fell silent. Taffy soon observed that a singular friendship knit these two men, who were both unmarried. Mendarva had been a famous wrestler in his day, and his great ambition now was to train the other to win the County belt. Often after work the pair would try a hitch together on the triangle of turf, with Taffy for stickler, Mendarva illustrating and explaining, the Dane nodding seriously whenever he understood, but never answering a word. Afterwards the boy recalled these bouts very vividly—the clear evening sky, the shoulders of the two big men shining against the level sun as they gripped and swayed, their long shadows on the grass under which (as he remembered) the poor self-murdered woman lay buried.
He thought of her at night, sometimes, as he worked alone at the forge; for Mendarva allowed him the keys and use of the smithy overtime, in consideration of a small payment for coal. And then he blew his fire and hammered, with a couple of candles on the bench and a Homer between them; and beat the long hexameters into his memory. The incongruity of it never struck him. He was going to be a great man, and somehow this was going to be the way. These scraps of iron—these tools of his forging—were to grow into the arms and shield of Achilles. In its own time would come the magic moment, the shield find its true circumference and swing to the balance of his arm, proof and complete.
en d etithei thotamoio mega stheuos okeanoio antuga pad pumatev sakeos puka poietoi. . .
LIZZIE AND HONORIA.
His apprenticeship lasted a year and six months, and all this while he lived with the Jolls, walking home every Sunday morning and returning every Sunday night, rain or shine. He carried his deftness of hand into his new trade, and it was Mendarva who begged and obtained an extension of the time agreed on, "Rather than lose the boy I'll tache en for love." So Taffy stayed on for another six months. He was now in his seventeenth year—a boy no longer. One evening, as he blew up his smithy fire, the glow of it fell on the form of a woman standing just outside the window and watching him. He had no silly fears of ghosts: but the thought of the buried woman flashed across his mind and he dropped his pincers with a clatter.
"'Tis only me," said the woman. "You needn't to be afeard." And he saw it was the girl Lizzie.
She stepped inside the forge and seated herself on the Dane's anvil.
"I was walking back from prayer-meeting," she said. "'Tis nigher this way, but I don't ever dare to come. Might, I dessay, if I'd somebody to see me home."
"Ghosts?" asked Taffy, picking up the pincers and thrusting the bar back into the hot cinders.
"I dunno: I gets frightened o' the very shadows on the road sometimes. I suppose, now, you never walks out that way?"
"Why, towards where your home is. That's the way I comes."
"No, I don't." Taffy blew at the cinders until they glowed again. "It's only on Sundays I go over there."
"That's a pity," said Lizzie candidly. "I'm kept in, Sunday evenings, to look after the children while farmer and mis'ess goes to Chapel. That's the agreement I came 'pon."
"It would be nice now, wouldn't it—" She broke off, clasping her knees and staring at the blaze.
"What would be nice?"
Lizzie laughed confusedly. "Aw, you make me say't. I can't abear any of the young men up to the Chapel. If me and you—"
Taffy ceased blowing. The fire died down, and in the darkness he could hear her breathing hard.
"They're so rough," she went on, "and t'other night I met young Squire Vyell riding along the road, and he stopped me and wanted to kiss me."
"George Vyell? Surely he didn't?" Taffy blew up the fire again.
"Iss he did. I don't see why not, neither."
"Why he shouldn't kiss you?"
"Why he shouldn't want to."
Taffy frowned, carried the white hot bar to his anvil, and began to hammer. He despised girls, as a rule, and their ways. Decidedly Lizzie annoyed him; and yet as he worked he could not help glancing at her now and then, as she sat and watched him. By-and-by he saw that her eyes were full of tears.
"What's the matter?" he asked abruptly.
"I—I can't walk home alone. I'm afeard!" He tossed his hammer aside, raked out the fire, and reached his coat off its peg. As he swung round in the darkness to put it on, he blundered against Lizzie or Lizzie blundered against him. She clutched at him nervously.
"Clumsy! can't you see the doorway?" She passed out, and he followed and locked the door. As they crossed the turf to the high-road, she slipped her arm into his. "I feel safe, that way. Let it stay, co!" After a few paces, she added, "You're different from the others—that's why I like you."
"I dunno; but you be diff'rent. You don't think about girls, for one thing."
Taffy did not answer. He felt angry, ashamed, uncomfortable. He did not turn once to look at her face, dimly visible by the light of the young moon—the hunter's moon—now sinking over the slope of the hill. Thick dust—too thick for the heavy dew to lay—covered the cart-track down to the farm, muffling their footsteps. Lizzie paused by the gate.
"Best go in separate," she said; paused again and whispered, "You may if you like."
"May do what?"
"What—what young Squire Vyell wanted."
They were face to face now. She held up her lips, and as she did so they parted in an amorous little laugh. The moonlight was on her face. Taffy bent swiftly and kissed her.
"Oh, you hurt!" With another little laugh she slipped up the garden path and into the house.
Ten minutes later Taffy followed, hating himself.
For the next fortnight he avoided her; and then, late one evening she came again. He was prepared for this, and had locked the door of the smithy and let down the shutter while, he worked. She tapped upon the outside of the shutter with her knuckles.
"Let me in!"
"Can't you leave me alone?" he answered pettishly. "I want to work, and you interrupt."
"I don't want no love-making—I don't indeed. I'll sit quiet as a mouse. But I'm afeard, out here."
"I'm afeard o' the ghost. There's something comin'—let me in, co-o!"
Taffy unlocked the door and held it half opened while he listened.
"Yes, there's somebody coming, on horseback. Now, look here—it's no ghost, and I can't have you about here with people passing. I—I don't want you here at all; so make haste and slip away home, that's a good girl."
Lizzie glided like a shadow into the dark lane as the trample of hoofs drew close, and the rider pulled up beside the door.
"You're working late, I see. Is it too late to make a shoe for Aide-de-camp here?"
It was Honoria. She dismounted and stood at the doorway, holding her horse's bridle.
"No," said Taffy: "that is, if you don't mind the waiting."
With his leathern apron he wiped the Dane's anvil for a seat, while she hitched up Aide-de-camp and stepped into the glow of the forge-fire.
"The hounds took us three miles beyond Carwithiel: and there, just as they lost, Aide-de-camp cast his off-hind shoe. I didn't find it out at first, and now I've had to walk him all the way back. Are you alone here?"
"Who was that I saw leaving as I came up?"
"You saw someone?"
"Yes." She nodded, looking him straight in the face. "It looked like a woman. Who was she?"
"That was Lizzie Pezzack, the girl who sold you her doll, once. She's a servant down at the farm where I lodge."
Honoria said no more for the moment, but seated herself on the Dane's anvil, while Taffy chose a bar of iron and stepped out to examine Aide-de-camp's hoof. He returned and in silence began to blow up the fire.
"I dare say you were astonished to see me," she remarked at length.
"I'm still forbidden to speak to you. The last time I did it, grandfather beat me."
"The old brute!" Taffy nipped the hot iron savagely in his pincers.
"I wonder if he'll do it again. Somehow I don't think he will."
Taffy looked at her. She had drawn herself up, and was smiling. In her close-fitting habit she seemed very slight, yet tall, and a woman grown. He took the bar to the anvil and began to beat it flat. His teeth were shut, and with every blow he said to himself "Brute!"
"That's beautiful," Honoria went on. "I stopped Mendarva the other day, and he told me wonders about you. He says he tried you with a hard-boiled egg, and you swung the hammer and chipped the shell all round without bruising the white a bit. Is that true?"
"And your learning—the Latin and Greek, I mean; do you still go on with it?"
He nodded again, towards a volume of Euripides that lay open on the workbench.
"And the stories you used to tell George and me; do you go on telling them to yourself?"
He was obliged to confess that he never did. She sat for a while watching the sparks as they flew. Then she said, "I should like to hear you tell one again. That one about Aslog and Orm, who ran away by night across the ice-fields and took a boat and came to an island with a house on it, and found a table spread and the fire lit, but no inhabitants anywhere—You remember? It began 'Once upon a time, not far from the city of Drontheim, there lived a rich man—'"
Taffy considered a moment and began "Once upon a time, not far from the city of Drontheim—" He paused, eyed the horse-shoe cooling between the pincers, and shook his head. It was no use. Apollo had been too long in service with Admetus, and the tale would not come.
"At any rate," Honoria persisted, "you can tell me something out of your books: something you have just been reading."
So he began to tell her the story of Ion, and managed well enough in describing the boy and how he ministered before the shrine at Delphi, sweeping the temple and scaring the birds away from the precincts: but when he came to the plot of the play and, looking up, caught Honoria's eyes, it suddenly occurred to him that all the rest of the story was a sensual one, and he could not tell it to her. He blushed, faltered, and finally broke down.
"But it was beautiful," said she, "so far as it went: and it's just what I wanted. I shall remember that boy Ion now, whenever I think of you helping your father in the church at home. If the rest of the story is not nice, I don't want to hear it." How had she guessed? It was delicious, at any rate, to know that she thought of him; and Taffy felt how delicious it was, while he fitted and hammered the shoe on Aide-de-camp's hoof, she standing by with a candle in either hand, the flame scarcely quivering in the windless night.
When all was done, she raised a foot for him to give her a mount. "Good-night!" she called, shaking the reins. Half a minute later Taffy stood by the door of the forge, listening to the echoes of Aide-de-camp's canter, and the palm of his hand tingled where her foot had rested.
THE SQUIRE'S WEIRD.
He took leave of Mendarva and the Jolls just before Christmas. The smith was unaffectedly sorry to lose him. "But," said he, "the Dane will be entered for the championship next summer, so I s'pose I must look forward to that."
Every one in the Joll household gave him a small present on his leaving. Lizzie's was a New Testament, with her name on the flyleaf, and under it, "Converted April 19, 187-." Taffy did not want the gift, but took it rather than hurt her feelings.
Farmer Joll said, "Well, wish 'ee well! Been pretty comfiable, I hope. Now you'm goin', I don't mind telling 'ee I didn't like your coming a bit. But now 'tis wunnerful to me you've been wi' us less than two year'; we've made such friends."
At home Taffy bought a small forge and set it up in the church at the west end of the north aisle. Mr. Raymond, under his direction, had been purchasing the necessary tools for some months past, and now the main expense was the cost of coal, which pinched them a little. But they managed to keep the fire alight, and the work went forward briskly. Save that he still forbade the parish to lend them the least help, the old Squire had ceased to interfere.
Mr. Raymond's hair was greyer, and Taffy might have observed—but did not—how readily towards the close of a day's laborious carpentry he would drop work and turn to Dindorf's Poetae Scenici Graeci, through which they were reading their way. On Sundays the congregation rarely numbered a dozen. It seemed that, as the end of the Vicar's task drew nearer, so the prospect of filling the church receded and became more shadowy. And if his was a queer plight, Jacky Pascoe's was queerer. The Bryanite continued to come by night and help, but at rarer intervals. He was discomforted in mind, as anyone could see, and at length he took Mr. Raymond aside and made confession.
"I must go away; that's what 'tis. My burden is too great for me to bear."
"Why," said Mr. Raymond, who had grown surprisingly tolerant during the last twelve months, "what cause have you, of all men, to feel dejected? You can set the folk here on fire like flax." He sighed.
"That's azactly the reason—I can set 'em afire with a breath, but I can't hold 'em under. I make 'em too strong for me—and I'm afeard. Parson, dear, it's the gospel truth; for two years I've a been strivin' agen myself, wrastlin' upon my knees, and all to hold this parish in." He mopped his face. "'Tis like fightin' with beasts at Ephesus," he said.
"Do you want to hold them in?"
"I do, and I don't. I've got to try, anyway. Sometimes I tell mysel' 'tis putting a hand to the plough and turning back; and then I reckon I'll go on. But when the time comes I can't. I'm afeard, I tell 'ee." He paused. "I've laid it before the Lord, but He don't seem to help. There's two voices inside o' me. 'Tis a terrible responsibility."
"But the people: what are you afraid of their doing?"
"I don't know. You don't know what a runaway hoss will do, but you're afeared all the same." He sank his voice. "There's wantonness, for one thing—six love-children born in the parish this year, and more coming. They do say that Vashti Clemow destroyed her child. And Old Man Johns—him they found dead on the rocks under the Island—he didn't go there by accident. 'Twas a calm day, too."
As often as not Taffy worked late and blew his forge-fire alone in the church, the tap of his hammer making hollow music in the desolate aisles. He was working thus one windy night in February, when the door rattled open and in walked a totally unexpected visitor—Sir Harry Vyell.
"Good evening! I was riding by and saw your light in the windows dancing up and down. I thought I would hitch up the mare and drop in for a chat. But go on with your work."
Taffy wondered what had brought him so far from his home at that time of night, but asked no questions. And Sir Harry placed a hassock on one of the belfry steps, and taking his seat, watched for a while in silence. He wore his long riding-boots and an overcoat with the collar turned up about a neckcloth less nattily folded than usual.
"I wish," he said at length, "that my boy George was clever like you. You were great friends once—you remember Plymouth, hey? But I dare say you've not seen much of each other lately."
Taffy shook his head.
"George is a bit wild. Oxford might have done something for him; made a man of him, I mean. But he wouldn't go. I believe in wild oats to a certain extent. I have told him from the first he must look after himself and decide for himself. That's my theory. It makes a youngster self-reliant. He goes and comes as he likes. If he comes home late from hunting I ask no questions; I don't wait dinner. Don't you agree with me?"
"I don't know," Taffy answered, wondering why he should be consulted.
"Self-reliance is what a man wants."
"Couldn't he have learnt that at school?"
Sir Harry fidgeted with the riding-crop in his hands. "Well, you see, he's an only son—I dare say it was selfish of me. You don't mind my talking about George?"
Taffy laughed. "I like it. But—"
Sir Harry laughed too, in an embarrassed way. "But you don't suppose I rode over from Carwithiel for that? Well, well! The fact is—one gets foolish as one grows old—George went out hunting this morning, and didn't turn up for dinner. I kept to my rule and dined alone. Nine o'clock came; half-past; no George. At ten Hoskins locked up as usual, and off I went to bed. But I couldn't sleep. After a while it struck me that he might be sleeping here over at Tredinnis; that is, if no accident had happened. No sleep for me until I made sure; so I jumped out, dressed, slipped down to the stables, saddled the mare and rode over. I left the mare by Tredinnis great gates and crept down to Moyle's stables like a housebreaker, looked in through the window, and sure enough there was George's grey in the loose box to the right. So George is sleeping there, and I'm easy in my mind. No doubt you think me an old fool?"
But Taffy was not thinking anything of the sort.
"I couldn't wish better than that. You understand?"
"He lost his mother early. He wants a woman to look after him, and for him to think about. If he and Honoria would only make up a match. . . . And Carwithiel would be quite a different house."
Taffy hesitated, with a hand on the forge-bellows.
"I dare say it's news to you, what I'm telling. But it has been in my mind this long while. Why don't you blow up the fire? I bet Miss Honoria has thought of it too: girls are deep. She has a head on her shoulders. I'll warrant she sends half a dozen of my servants packing within a week. As it is, they rob me to a stair. I know it, and I haven't the pluck to interfere."
"What does the old Squire say?" Taffy managed to ask.
"It has never come to saying anything. But I believe he thinks of it, too, when he happens to think of anything but his soul. He'll be pleased; everyone will be pleased. The properties touch, you see."
"To tell you the truth, he's failing fast. This religion of his is a symptom: all of his family have taken to it in the end. If he hadn't the constitution of a horse, he'd have been converted ten years before this. What puzzles me is, he's so quiet. You mark my words "—Sir Harry rose, buttoned his coat and shook his riding-crop prophetically—"he's brewing up for something. There'll be the devil of a flare-up before he has done."
It came with the Midsummer bonfires. At nine o'clock on St. John's Eve, Mr. Raymond read prayers in the church. It was his rule to celebrate thus the vigils of all saints in the English calendar and some few Cornish saints besides; and he regularly announced these services on the preceding Sundays: but no parishioner dreamed of attending them.
To-night, as usual, he and Taffy had prayed alone: and the lad was standing after service at the church door, with his surplice on his arm (for he always wore a surplice and read the lessons on these vigils), when the flame of the first bonfire shot up from the headland over Innis village.
Almost on the moment, a flame answered it from the point where the lighthouse stood; and, within ten minutes, the horizon of the towans was cressetted with these beacon-fires: surely (thought Taffy) with many more than usual. And he remembered that Jacky Pascoe had thrown out a hint of a great revival to be held on Baal-fire Night (as he called it).
The night was sultry and all but windless. For once the tormented sands had rest. The flame of the bonfires shone yellow— orange-yellow—and steady. He could see the dark figures of men and women, passing between him and the nearest, on the high wastrel in front of Tredinnis great gates. Their voices reached him in a confused murmur, broken now and then by a child's scream of delight. And yet a hush seemed to hang over sea and land: an expectant hush. For weeks the sky had not rained. Day after day, a dull indigo blue possessed it, deepening with night into duller purple, as if the whole heavens were gathering into one big thundercloud, which menaced but never broke. And in the hush of those nights a listener could almost fancy he heard, between whiles, the rabbits stirring uneasily in their burrows.
By-and-by the bonfire on the wastrel appeared to be giving out sparks of light which blazed independently; yet without decreasing its own volume of flame. The sparks came dancing, nearer and larger: the voices grew more distinct. The revellers had kindled torches and were advancing in procession to visit other bonfires. The torches, too, were supposed to bless the fields they passed across. Small blessing had they ever brought to the barren towans.
The procession rose and sank as it came over the uneven ridges like a fiery snake; topped the nearest ridge and came pouring down past the churchyard wall. At its head danced Lizzie Pezzack, shrieking like a creature possessed, her hair loose and streaming while she whirled her torch. Taffy knew these torches; bundles of canvas steeped in tar and fastened in the middle to a stout stick or piece of chain. Lizzie's was fastened to a chain; and as he watched her uplifted arm swinging the blazing mass he found time to wonder how she escaped setting her hair on fire. Other torch-bearers tossed their arms and shouted as they passed. The smoke was suffocating, and across the patch of quiet graveyard the heat smote on Taffy's face. But in the crowd he saw two figures clearly—Jacky Pascoe and Squire Moyle; and the Bryanite's face was agitated and white in the infernal glare. He had given an arm to the Squire, who was clearly the centre of the procession and tottered forward with jaws working and cavernous eyes.
"He's saved!" a voice shouted.
Others took up the cry. "Saved!" "The Squire's saved!" "Saved to-night—saved to glory!"
The Squire paused, still leaning on the Bryanite's arm. While the procession swayed around him, he gazed across the gate as a man who had lost his bearings. No glint of torchlight reached his cavernous eyes; but the sight of Mr. Raymond's surpliced figure standing behind Taff's shoulder in the full glare seemed to rouse him. He lifted a fist and shook it slowly.
"Com'st along, sir!" urged the Bryanite. But the Squire stood irresolute, muttering to himself.
"Com'st along, sir!"
"Lev' me be, I tell 'ee!" He laid both hands on the gate and spoke across it to Mr. Raymond, his head nodding while his voice rose.
"D'ee hear what they say? I'm saved. I'm the Squire of this parish, and I'm goin' to Heaven. I make no account of you and your church. Old Satan's the fellow I'm after, and I'm going to have him out o' this parish to-night or my name's not Squire Moyle."
"That's of it, Squire!" "Hunt 'en!" "Out with 'en!"
He turned on the crowd.
"Hunt 'en? Iss fay I will! Come along, boys—back to Tredinnis! No, no"—this to the Bryanite—"we'll go back. I'll show 'ee sport— we'll hunt th' old Divvle by scent and view to-night. I'm Squire Moyle, ain't I? And I've a pack o' hounds, ha'n't I? Back, boys— back, I tell 'ee!"
Lizzie Pezzack swung her torch. "Back—back to Tredinnis!" The crowd took up the cry, "Back to Tredinnis!" The old man shook off the Bryanite's hand, and as the procession wheeled and reformed itself confusedly, rushed to the head of it, waving his hat—
"Back!—Back to Tredinnis!"
"God help them!" said Mr. Raymond; and taking Taffy by the arm, drew him back into the church.
The shouting died away up the road. For three-quarters of an hour father and son worked in silence. The reddened sky shed its glow gently through the clear glass windows, suffusing the shadows beneath the arched roof. And in the silence the lad wondered what was happening up at Tredinnis.
Jim the Whip took oath afterward that it was no fault of his. He had suspected three of the hounds for a day or two—Chorister, White Boy, and Bellman—and had separated them from the pack. That very evening he had done the same with Rifler, who was chewing at the straw in a queer fashion and seemed quarrelsome. He had said nothing to the Squire, whose temper had been ugly for a week past. He had hoped it was a false alarm—had thought it better to wait, and so on.
The Squire went down to the kennels with a lantern, Jim shivering behind him. They had their horses saddled outside and ready, and the crowd was waiting along the drive and up by the great gates. The Squire saw at a glance that two couples were missing, and in two seconds had their names on his tongue. He was like a madman. He shouted to Jim to open the doors. "Better not, maister!" pleaded Jim. The old man cursed, smote him across the neck with the butt-end of his whip, and unlocked the doors himself. Jim, though half stunned, staggered forward to prevent him, and took another blow, which felled him. He dropped across the threshold of Chorister's kennel; the doors of all opened outwards, and the weight of his body kept this one shut. But he saw the other three hounds run out, saw the Squire turn with a ghastly face, drop the lantern, and run for it as White Boy snapped at his boot. Jim heard the crash of the lantern and the snap of teeth, and with that he fainted off in the darkness. He had cut his forehead against the bars of the big kennel, and when he came to himself one of the hounds was licking his face through the grating.
Men told for years after how the old Squire came galloping up the drive that night, hoof to belly, his chin almost on mare Nonsuch's neck, his face like a man's who hears hell cracking behind him, and of the three dusky hounds which followed (the tale said) with clapping jaws and eyes like coach-lamps.
Down in the quiet church Taffy heard the outcry, and, laying down his plane, looked up and saw that his father had heard it too. Mr. Raymond's mild eyes, shining through his spectacles, asked as plainly as words: "What was that?"
For a minute—two minutes—they heard nothing more. Then out of the silence broke a rapid, muffled beat of hoofs, and Mr. Raymond clutched Taffy's arm as a yell—a cry not human, or if human, insane—ripped the night as you might rip linen, and fetched them to their feet. Taffy gained the porch first; and just at that moment a black shadow heaved itself on the churchyard wall and came hurling over with a thud—a clatter of dropping stones—then a groan.
Before they could grasp what was happening the old Squire had extricated himself from the fallen mare, and came staggering across the graves.
He came with both arms outstretched, his face turned sideways. Behind him, from the far side of the wall, came sounds—horrible shuffling sounds—and in the dusk they saw the head of one of the hounds above the coping and his forepaws clinging as he strained to heave himself over.
"Off! Keep 'en off!"
They caught him by both hands, dragged him within, and slammed the door.
"Hide me! Hi—!"
The word ended with a thud as he pitched headlong on the slate pavement. Through the barred door the scream of the mare Nonesuch answered it.
THE BARRIERS FALL.
There were marks of teeth on his right boot, but no marks at all on his body. Fright—or fright following on that evening's frenzy—had killed him.
He was buried three days later, and Mr. Raymond read the service. No rain had fallen, and the blood of the three hounds still stained the gravel dividing the grave from the porch, where the crowd had shot them down.
For a while his death made small difference to the family at the Parsonage. They had fought his enmity and proved it not formidable for brave hearts. But they had scarcely realised their success, and wondered why his death did not affect them more.
About this time Taffy began to carry out a scheme which he and his father had often discussed, but hitherto had found no leisure for— the setting up of wooden crosses on the graves of the drowned sailormen. They had wished for slate, but good slate was expensive and hard to come by, and Taffy had no skill in stone-cutting. Since wood it must be, he resolved to put his best work into it. The names, etc., should be engraved, not painted merely. Some of the pew-fronts in the church had panels elaborately carved in flat and shallow relief—fine Jacobean designs, all of them. He took careful rubbings of their traceries, and set to work to copy them on the face of his crosses.
One afternoon, some three weeks after the Squire's funeral, he happened to return to the house for a tracing which he had forgotten, and found Honoria seated in the kitchen and talking with his father and mother. She was dressed in black, of course, and either this or the solemnity of her visit gave her quite a grown-up look. But, to be sure, she was mistress of Tredinnis now, and a child no longer.
Taffy guessed the meaning of her visit at once. And no doubt this act of formal reconciliation between Tredinnis House and the Parsonage had cost her some nervousness. As Taffy entered his parents stood up and seemed just as awkward as their visitor. "Another time, perhaps," he heard his father say. Honoria rose almost at once, and would not stay to drink tea, though Humility pressed her.
"I suppose," said Taffy next day, looking up from his Virgil, "I suppose Miss Honoria wants to make friends now and help on the restoration?"
Mr. Raymond, who was on his knees fastening a loose hinge in a pew-door, took a screw from between his lips.
"Yes, she proposed that."
"It must be splendid for you, dad!"
"I don't quite see," answered Mr. Raymond, with his head well inside the pew.
Taffy stood up, put his hands in his pockets, and took a turn up and down the aisle.
"Why," said he, coming to a halt, "it means that you have won. It's victory, dad, and I call it glorious!" His lip trembled. He wanted to put a hand on his father's shoulder; but his abominable shyness stood between.
"We won long ago, my boy." And Mr. Raymond wheeled round on his knees, pushed up his spectacles, and quoted the famous lines, very solemnly and slowly:
"'And not by eastern windows only, When daylight comes, comes in the light; In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly! But westward, look, the land is bright!'"
"I see," Taffy nodded. "And—I say, that's jolly. Who wrote it?"
"A man I used to see in the streets of Oxford and always turned to stare after: a man with big ugly shaped feet and the face of a god—a young tormented god. Those were days when young men's thoughts tormented them. Taffy," he asked abruptly, "should you like to go to Oxford?"
"Don't, father!" The boy bit his lip to keep back the tears. "Talk of something else—something cheerful. It has been a splendid fight, just splendid! And now it's over I'm almost sorry."
"What is over?"
"Well, I suppose—now that Honoria wants to help—we can hire workmen and have the whole job finished in a month, or two at farthest: and you—"
Mr. Raymond stood up, and leaning against a bench-end, examined the thread of the screw between his fingers.
"That is one way of looking at it, no doubt," he said slowly; "and I hope God will forgive me if I have put my own pride before His service. But a man desires to leave some completed work behind him— something to which people may point and say, 'he did it.' There was my book, now: for years I thought that was to be my work. But God thought otherwise and (to correct my pride, perhaps) chose this task instead. To set a small forsaken country church in order and make it worthy of His presence—that is not the mission I should have chosen. But so be it: I have accepted it. Only, to let others step in at the last and finish even this—I say He must forgive me, but I cannot."
"Your book—you can go back to it and finish it."
"I have burnt it."
"I burned it. I had to. It was a temptation to me, and until I lifted it from the grate and the flakes crumbled in my hands the surrender was not complete."
Taffy felt a sudden gush of pity. And as he pitied suddenly he understood his father.
"It had to be complete?"
"Either the book or the surrender. My boy"—and in his voice there echoed the aspiration and the despair of the true scholar, who abhors imperfection and incompleteness in a world where nothing is either perfect or complete; "it is different with you. I borrowed you, so to say, for the time. Without you I must have failed; but this was never your work. For myself, I have learnt my lessons; but, please God, you shall be my Solomon and be granted a temple to build."
Taffy had lost his shyness now. He laid a hand on his father's sleeve.
"We will go on then."
"Yes, we will go on."
"And Jacky? Where has he been? I haven't seen him since the Squire died."
Mr. Raymond searched in his coat-pocket and handed over a crumpled letter. It ran:—
"Dear friend,—this is to say that you will not see me no more. The dear Lord tells me that I have made a cauch of it. He don't say how, all He says is go and do better somewheres else.
"Seems to me a terrable thing to think Religion can be bad for any man. It have done me such powars of good. The late Moyle esq he was like a dirty pan all the milk turned sour no matter what. Dear friend I pored Praise into him and it come out Prayer and all for him self. But the dear Lord says I was to blame as much as Moyle esq so must do better next time but feel terrable timid.
"My respects to Masr Taffy. Dear friend I done my best I come like Nicodemus by night. Seeming to me when Christians fall out tis over what they pray for. When they praise God forget diffnses and I cant think where the quaraling comes in and so no more at present from
After supper that night, in the Parsonage kitchen Humility kept rising from her chair, and laying her needlework aside to re-arrange the pans and kettles on the hearth. This restlessness was so unusual that Taffy, seated in the ingle with a book on his knee, had half raised his head to twit her when he felt a hand laid softly on his hair, and looked up into his mother's eyes.
"Taffy, should you like to go to Oxford?"
"But you can." The tears in her eyes answered his at once. She turned to his father. "Tell him!"
"Yes, my boy, you can go," said Mr. Raymond; "that is, if you can win a scholarship. Your mother and I have been talking it over."
"But—" Taffy began, and could get no further.
"We have money enough—with care," said Mr. Raymond.
But the boy's eyes were on his mother. Her cheeks, usually so pale, were flushed; but she turned her face away and walked slowly back to her chair. "The lace-work," he heard her say: "I have been saving— from the beginning—"
"For this?" He followed and took her hand. With the other she covered her eyes; but nodded.
"O mother—mother!" He knelt and let his brow drop on her lap. She ceased to weep; her palms rested on his bowed head, but now and then her body shook. And but for the ticking of the tall clock there was silence in the room.
It was wonderful; and the wonder of it grew when they recovered themselves and fell to discussing their plans. In spite of his idolatry, Mr. Raymond could not help remembering certain slights which he, a poor miller's son, had undergone at Christ Church. He had chosen Magdalen, which Taffy knew to be the most beautiful of all the colleges; and the news that his name had been entered on the college books for years past gave him a delicious shock. It was now July. He would matriculate in the October term, and in January enter for a demyship. But (the marvels followed so fast on each other's heels) there would be an examination held in ten days' time—actually in ten days' time—a "certificate" examination, Mr. Raymond called it—which would excuse the boy not only the ordinary Matriculation test, but Responsions too. And, in short, Taffy was to pack his box and go.
"But the subjects?"
"You have been reading them and the prescribed books for four months past. And I have had sets of the old papers by me for a guide. Your mathematics are shaky—but I think you should do well enough."
It was now Humility's turn, and the discussion plunged among shirts and collars. Never had evening been so happy; and whether they talked of mathematics or of collars, Taffy could not help observing how from time to time his father's and mother's eyes would meet and say, as plainly as words, "We have done rightly." "Yes, we have done rightly."
And the wonder of it remained next morning, when he awoke to a changed world and took down his books with a new purpose. Already his box had been carried into old Mrs. Venning's room, and his mother and grandmother were busy, the one packing and repacking, the other making a new and important suggestion every minute.
He was to go up alone, and to lodge in Trinity College, where an old friend of Mr. Raymond's, a resident fellow just then abroad and spending his Long Vacation in the Tyrol, had placed his own room at the boy's service.
To see Oxford—to be lodging in college! He had to hug his mother in the midst of her packing.
"You will be going by the Great Western," she said. "You won't be seeing Honiton on your way."
When the great morning came, Mr. Raymond travelled with him in the van to Truro, to see him off. Humility went upstairs to her mother's room, and the two women prayed together—
"They also serve who only stand and wait."
"Know you her secret none can utter? Hers of the Book, the tripled Crown?"
"Eight o'clock, sir!"
Taffy heard the voice speaking above a noise which his dreams confused with the rattle of yesterday's journey. He was still in the train, rushing through the rich levels of Somersetshire. He saw the broad horizon, the cattle at pasture, the bridges and flagged pools flying past the window—and sat up rubbing his eyes. Blenkiron, the scout, stood between him and the morning sunshine emptying a can of water into the tub beside his bed.
Blenkiron wore a white waistcoat and a tie of orange and blue, the colours of the College Servants' Cricket Club. These were signs of the Long Vacation. For the rest his presence would have become an archdeacon; and he guided Taffy's choice of a breakfast with an air which suggested the hand of iron beneath the glove of velvet.
"And begging your pardon, sir, but will you be lunching in?"
Taffy would consult Mr. Blenkiron's convenience.
"The fact is, sir, we've arranged to play Teddy 'All this afternoon at Cowley, and the drag starts at one-thirty sharp."
"Then I'll get my lunch out of college," said Taffy, wondering who Teddy Hall might be.
"I thank you, sir. I had, indeed, took the liberty of telling the manciple that you was not a gentleman to give more trouble than you could 'elp. Fried sole, pot of tea, toast, pot of blackberry jam, commons of bread—" Mr. Blenkiron disappeared.
Taffy sprang out of bed and ran to the open window in the next room. The gardens lay below him—smooth turf flanked with a border of gay flowers, flanked on the other side with yews, and beyond the yews with an avenue of limes, and beyond these with tall elms. A straight gravelled walk divided the turf. At the end of it two yews of magnificent spread guarded a great iron gate. Beyond these the chimneys and battlements of Wadham College stood grey against the pale eastern sky, and over them the larks were singing.
So this was Oxford; more beautiful than all his dreams! And since his examination would not begin until to-morrow, he had a whole long day to make acquaintance with her. Half a dozen times he, had to interrupt his dressing to run and gaze out of the window, skipping back when he heard Blenkiron's tread on the staircase. And at breakfast again he must jump up and examine the door. Yes, there was a second door outside—a heavy oak-just as his father had described. What stories had he heard about these oaks! He was handling this one almost idolatrously when Blenkiron appeared suddenly at the head of the stairs. Blenkiron was good enough to explain at some length how the door worked, while Taffy, who did not need his instruction in the least, blushed to the roots of his hair.
For, indeed, it was like first love, this adoration of Oxford; shamefast, shy of its own raptures; so shy, indeed, that when he put on his hat and walked out into the streets he could not pluck up courage to ask his way. Some of the colleges he recognised from his father's description; of one or two he discovered the names by peeping through their gateways and reading the notices pinned up by the porters' lodges, for it never occurred to him that he was free to step inside and ramble through the quadrangles. He wondered where the river lay, and where Magdalen, and where Christ Church. He passed along the Turl and down Brasenose Lane; and at the foot of it, beyond the great chestnut-tree leaning over Exeter wall, the vision of noble square, the dome of the Radcliffe, and St. Mary's spire caught his breath and held him gasping. His feet took him by the gate of Brasenose and across the High. On the farther pavement he halted, round-eyed, held at gaze by the beauty of the Virgin's porch, with the creeper drooping like a veil over its twisted pillars.
High up, white pigeons wheeled round the spire or fluttered from niche to niche, and a queer fancy took him that they were the souls of the carved saints up there, talking to one another above the city's traffic. At length he withdrew his eyes, and reading the name "Oriel Street" on an angle of the wall above him, passed down a narrow by-lane in search of further wonders.
The clocks were striking three when, after regaining the High and lunching at a pastrycook's, Taffy turned down into St. Aldates and recognised Tom Tower ahead of him. The great gates were closed. Through the open wicket he had a glimpse of green turf and an idle fountain; and while he peered in, a jolly-looking porter stepped out of the lodge for a breath of air and nodded in the friendliest manner.
"You can walk through if you want to. Were you looking for anyone?"
"No," said Taffy, and explained proudly, "My father used to be at Christ Church."
The porter seemed interested. "What name?" he asked.
"That must have been before my time. I suppose you'll be wanting to see the Cathedral. That's the door—right opposite."
Taffy thanked him and walked across the great empty quadrangle. Within the Cathedral the organ was sounding and pausing, and from time to time a boy's voice broke in upon the music like a flute, the pure treble rising to the roof as though it were the very voice of the building, and every pillar sustained its petition, "Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law!" Neither organist nor chorister was visible, and Taffy tiptoed along the aisles in dread of disturbing them. For the moment this voice adoring in the noble building expressed to him the completest, the most perfect thing in life. All his own boyish handiwork, remember, under his father's eye had been guided toward the worship of God.
". . . And incline our hearts to keep this law." The music ceased. He heard the organist speaking, up in the loft; criticising, no doubt: and it reminded him somehow of the small sounds of home and his mother moving about her housework in the hush between breakfast and noon.
He stepped out into the sunlight again, and wandering through archway and cloister found himself at length beyond the college walls and at the junction of two avenues of elms, between the trunks of which shone the acres of a noble meadow, level and green. The avenues ran at a right angle, east and south; the one old, with trees of magnificent girth, the other new and interset with poplars.
Taffy stood irresolute. One of these avenues, he felt sure, must lead to the river; but which?
Two old gentlemen stepped out from the wicket of the Meadow Buildings, and passed him, talking together. The taller—a lean man, with a stoop—was clearly a clergyman. The other wore cap and gown, and Taffy remarked, as he went by, that his cap was of velvet; and also that he walked with his arms crossed just above the wrists, his right hand clutching his left cuff, and his left hand his right cuff, his elbows hugged close to his sides.
After a few paces the clergyman paused, said something to his companion, and the two turned back towards the boy.
"Were you wanting to know your way?"
"I was looking for the river," Taffy answered. He was thinking that he had never in his life seen a face so full of goodness.
"Then this is your first visit to Oxford? Suppose, now, you come with us? and we will take you by the river and tell you the names of the barges. There is not much else to see, I'm afraid, in Vacation time."
He glanced at his companion in the velvet cap, who drew down an extraordinary bushy pair of eyebrows (yet he, too, had a beautiful face) and seemed to come out of a dream.
"So much the better, boy, if you come up to Oxford to worship false gods."
Taffy was taken aback.
"Eight false gods in little blue caps, seated in a trough and tugging at eight poles; and all to discover if they can get from Putney to Mortlake sooner than eight others in little blue caps of a lighter shade. What do they do at Mortlake when they get there in such a hurry? Eh, boy?"
"I—I'm sure I don't know," stammered Taffy.
The clergyman broke out laughing, and turned to him. "Are you going to tell us your name?"
"Raymond, sir. My father used to be at Christ Church."
"What? Are you Sam Raymond's son?"
"You knew my father?"
"A very little. I was his senior by a year or two. But I know something about him." He turned to the other. "Let me introduce the son of a man after your own heart—of a man fighting for God in the wilds, and building an altar there with his own hands and by the lamp of sacrifice."
"But how do you know all this?" cried Taffy.
"Oh," the old clergyman smiled, "we are not so ignorant up here as you suppose."
They walked by the river bank, and there Taffy saw the college barges and was told the name of each. Also he saw a racing eight go by: it belonged to the Vacation Rowing Club. From the barges they turned aside and followed the windings of the Cherwell. The clergyman did most of the talking; but now and then the old gentleman in the velvet cap interposed a question about the church at home, its architecture, the materials it was built of, and so forth; or about Taffy's own work, his carpentry, his apprenticeship with Mendarva the Smith. And to all these questions the boy found himself replying with an ease which astonished him.
Suddenly the old clergyman said, "There is your College!"
And unperceived by Taffy a pair of kindly eyes watched his own as they met the first vision of that lovely tower rising above the trees and (so like a thing of life it seemed) lifting its pinnacles exultantly into the blue heaven.
All three had come to a halt. The boy turned, blushing furiously.
"This is the best of all, sir."
"Boy," said old Velvet-cap, "do you know the meaning of 'edification'? There stands your lesson for four years to come, if you can learn it in that time. Do you think it easy? Come and see how it has been learnt by men who have spent their lives face to face with it."
They crossed the street by Magdalen bridge, and passed under Pugin's gateway, by the Chapel door and into the famous cloisters. All was quiet here; so quiet that even the voices of the sparrows chattering in the ivy seemed but a part of the silence. The shadow of the great tower fell across the grass.
"This is how one generation read the lesson. Come and see how another, and a later, read it."
A narrow passage led them out of gloom into sudden sunlight; and the sunlight spread itself on fair grass-plots and gravelled walks, flower-beds and the pale yellow facade of a block of buildings in the classical style, stately and elegant, with a colonnade which only needed a few promenading figures in laced coats and tie-wigs to complete the agreeable picture.
"What do you make of that?"
As a matter of fact Taffy's thoughts had run back to the theatre at Plymouth with its sudden changes of scenery. And he stood for a moment while he collected them.
"It's different: I mean," he added, feeling that this was intolerably lame, "it means something different; I cannot tell what."
"It means the difference between godly fear and civil ease, between a house of prayer and one of no prayer. It spells the moral change which came over this University when religion, the spring and source of collegiate life, was discarded. The cloisters behind you were built for men who walked with God."
"But why," objected Taffy, plucking up courage, "couldn't they do that in the sunlight?"
Velvet-cap opened his mouth. The boy felt he was going to be denounced; when a merry laugh from the old clergyman averted the storm.
"Be content," he said to his companion; "we are Gothic enough in Oxford nowadays. And the lad is right too. There was hope even for eighteenth-century Magdalen while its buildings looked on sunlight and on that tower. You and the rest of us lay too much stress on prayer. The lesson of that tower (with all deference to your amazing discernment and equally amazing whims) is not prayer, but praise. And when all men unite to worship God, it'll be praise, not prayer, that brings them together.
"'Praise is devotion fit for noble minds, The differing world's agreeing sacrifice.'"
"Oh, if you're going to fling quotations from a tapster's son at my head. . . . Let me see . . . how does it go on? . . . Where— something or other—different faiths—
"'Where Heaven divided faiths united finds. . . .'"
And in a moment the pair were in hot pursuit after the quotation, tripping each other up like two schoolboys at a game. Taffy never forgot the final stanza, the last line of which they recovered exactly in the middle of the street, Velvet-cap standing between two tram-lines, right in the path of an advancing car, while he declaimed—
"'By penitence when we ourselves forsake, 'Tis but in wise design on piteous Heaven; In praise—'"
(The gesture was magnificent)
"'In praise we nobly give what God may take, And are without a beggar's blush forgiven.'
"—Confound these trams!"
The old clergyman shook hands with Taffy in some haste. "And when you reach home give my respects to your father. Stay, you don't know my name. Here is my card, or you'll forget it."
"Mine, too," said Velvet-cap.
Taffy stood staring after them as they walked off down the lane which skirts the Botanical Gardens. The names on the two cards were famous ones, as even he knew. He walked back toward Trinity a proud and happy boy. Half-way up Queen's Lane, finding himself between blank walls, with nobody in sight, he even skipped.
TAFFY GIVES A PROMISE.
The postman halted by the foot-bridge and blew his horn. The sound sent the rabbits scampering into their burrows; and just as they began to pop out again, Taffy came charging across the slope. Whereupon they drew back their noses in disgust, and to avoid the sand scattered by his toes.
The postman held up a blue envelope and waved it. "Here, 'tis come, at last!"
"It may not be good news," said Taffy, clutching it, and then turning it over in his hand.
"Well, that's true. And till you open it, it won't be any news at all."
"I wanted mother to be first to know."
"Oh, very well—only, as you say, it mightn't be good news."
"If it's bad news, I want to be alone. But why should they trouble to write?"
"True again. I s'pose now you're sure it is from them?"
"I can tell by the seal."
"Take it home, then," said the postman. "Only if you think 'tis for the sake of a twiddling sixteen shilling a week that I traipse all these miles every day—"
Taffy fingered the seal. "If you would really like to know—"
"Don't 'ee mention it. Not on any account." He waved his hand magnanimously and trudged off toward Tredinnis.
Taffy waited until he disappeared behind the first sand-hill, and broke the seal. A slip of parchment lay inside the envelope.
"This is to certify—"
He had passed! He pulled off his cap and waved it round his head. And once more the rabbits popped back into their burrows.
Toot—toot—toot!—It was that diabolical postman. He had fetched a circuit round the sand-hill, and was peeping round the north side of it and grinning as he blew his horn.
Taffy set off running, and never stopped until he reached the Parsonage and burst into the kitchen. "Mother—It's all right! I've passed!"
Somebody was knocking at the door. Taffy jumped up from his knees, and Humility made the lap of her apron smooth.
"May I come in?" asked Honoria, and pushed the door open. She stepped into the middle of the kitchen and dropped Taffy an elaborate courtesy.
A thousand congratulations, sir!"
"Why, how did you know?"
"Well, I met the postman; and I looked in through the window before knocking."
Taffy bit his lip. "People seem to be taking a deal of interest in us all of a sudden," he said to his mother.
Humility looked distressed, uncomfortable. Honoria ignored the snub. "I am starting for Carwithiel to-day," she said, "for a week's visit, and thought I would look in—after hearing what the postman told me— and pay my compliments."
She talked for a minute or two on matters of no importance, asked after old Mrs. Venning's health, and left, turning at the door and giving Humility a cheerful little nod.
"Taffy, you ought not to have spoken so." Humility's eyes were tearful.
Taffy's conscience was already accusing him. He snatched up his cap and ran out.
She did not turn.
"Miss Honoria—I am sorry!" He overtook her, but she turned her face away. "Forgive me!"
She halted, and after a moment looked him in the eyes. He saw then that she had been crying.
"The first time I came to see you he whipped me," she said slowly.
"I am sorry; indeed I am."
"Do you know what it is to feel lonely here?"
Taffy remembered the afternoons when he had roamed the sand-hills longing for George's company. "Why, yes," said he; "it used to be always lonely."
"I think we have been the loneliest children in the whole world—you and I and George—only George didn't feel it the same way. And now it's coming to an end with you. You are going up to Oxford, and soon you will have heaps of friends. Can you not understand? Suppose there were two prisoners, alone in the same prison, but shut in different cells, and one heard that the other's release had come. He would feel—would he not?—that now he was going to be lonelier than ever. And yet he might be glad of the other's liberty, and if the chance were given, might be the happier for shaking hands with the other and wishing him joy."
Taffy had never heard her speak at all like this.
"But you are going to Carwithiel, and George is famous company."
"I am going over to Carwithiel because I hate Tredinnis. I hate every stone of it, and will sell the place as soon as ever I come of age. And George is the best fellow in the world. Some day I shall marry him (oh, it is all arranged!), and we shall live at Carwithiel and be quite happy; for I like him, and he likes people to be happy. And we shall talk of you. Being out of the world ourselves, we shall talk of you, and the great things you are going to do, and the great things you are doing. We shall say to each other, 'It's all very well for the world to be proud of him, but we have the best right, for we grew up with him and know the stories he used to tell us; and when the time came for his going, it was we who waved from the door—"
"But there is one thing you haven't told, and you shall now, if you care to—about your examination and what you did at Oxford."
So he sat down beside her on a sand-hill and told her: about the long low-ceiled room in the quadrangle of the Bodleian, the old marbles which lined the walls, the examiner at the blue baize table, and the little deal tables (all scribbled over with names and dates and verses and ribald remarks) at which the candidates wrote; also of the viva voce examination in the antechamber of the Convocation House, He told it all as if it were the great event he honestly felt it to be.
"And the others," said she, "those who were writing around you, and the examiner—how did you feel towards them?"
Taffy stared at her. "I don't know that I thought much about them."
"Didn't you feel as if it was a battle and you wanted to beat them all?"
He broke out laughing. "Why, the examiner was an old man, as dry as a stick! And I hardly remember what the others were like—except one, a white-headed boy with a pimply face. I couldn't help noticing him, because whenever I looked up there he was at the next table, staring at me and chewing a quill."
"I can't understand," she confessed. "Often and often I have tried to think myself a man—a man with ambition. And to me that has always meant fighting. I see myself a man, and the people between me and the prize have all to be knocked down or pushed out of the way. But you don't even see them—all you see is a pimply-faced boy sucking a quill. Taffy—"
"I wish you would write to me when you get to Oxford. Write regularly. Tell me all you do."
"You will like to hear?"
"Of course I shall. So will George. But it's not only that. You have such an easy way of going forward; you take it for granted you're going to be a great man—"
"Yes, you do. You think it just lies with yourself, and it is nobody's business to interfere with you. You don't even notice those who are on the same path. Now a woman would notice every one, and find out all about them."
"Who said I wanted to be a great man?"
"Don't be silly, that's a good boy! There's your father coming out of the church porch, and you haven't told him yet. Run to him, but promise first."
"That you will write."
"CARWITHIEL, Oct. 25, 18—."
"MY DEAR TAFFY,—Your letter was full of news, and I read it over twice: once to myself, and again after dinner to George and Sir Harry. We pictured you dining in the college hall. Thanks to your description, it was not very difficult: the long tables, the silver tankards, the dark panels and the dark pictures above, and the dons on the dais, aloof and very sedate. It reminded me of Ivanhoe—I don't know why; and no doubt if ever I see Magdalen, it will not be like my fancy in the least. But that's how I see it; and you at a table near the bottom of the hall, like the youthful squire in the story-books—the one, you know, who sits at the feast below the salt until he is recognised and forced to step up and take his seat with honour at the high table. I began to explain all this to George, but found that he had dropped asleep in his chair. He was tired out after a long day with the pheasants."
"I shall stay here for a week or two yet, perhaps. You know how I hate Tredinnis. On my way over, I called at the Parsonage and saw your mother. She was writing that very day, she said, and promised to send my remembrances, which I hope duly reached you. The Vicar was away at the church, of course. There is great talk of the Bishop coming in February, when all will be ready. George sends his love; I saw him for a few minutes at breakfast this morning, before he started for another day with the pheasants."
"Your friend," "HONORIA."
"CARWITHIEL, Nov. 19, 18—."
"MY DEAR TAFFY,—Still here, you see! I am slipping this into a parcel containing a fire-screen which I have worked with my very own hands; and I trust you will be able to recognise the shield upon it and the Magdalen lilies. I send it, first, as a birthday present; and I chose the shield—well, I dare say that going in for a demy-ship is a matter-of-fact affair to you, who have grown so exceedingly matter-of-fact; but to me it seems a tremendous adventure; and so I chose a shield—for I suppose the dons would frown if you wore a cockade in your college cap. I return to Tredinnis to-morrow; so your news, whatever it is, must be addressed to me there. But it is safe to be good news."
"Your friend," "HONORIA."
"TREDINNIS, Nov. 27, 18—."
"MOST HONOURED SCHOLAR,—Behold me, an hour ago, a great lady, seated in lonely grandeur at the head of my own ancestral table. This is the first time I have used the dining-room; usually I take all my meals in the morning-room, at a small table beside the fire. But to-night I had the great table spread and the plate spread out, and wore my best gown, and solemnly took my grandfather's chair and glowered at the ghost of a small girl shivering at the far end of the long white cloth. When I had enough of this (which was pretty soon) I ordered up some champagne and drank to the health of Theophilus John Raymond, Demy of Magdalen College, Oxford. I graciously poured out a second glass for the small ghost at the other end of the table; and it gave her the courage to confess that she, too, in a timid way, had taken an interest in you for years, and hoped you were going to be a great man. Having thus discovered a bond between us, we grew very friendly; and we talked a great deal about you afterwards in the drawing-room, where I lost her for a few minutes and found her hiding in the great mirror over the fire-place—a habit of hers."
"It is time for me to practise ceremony, for it seems that George and I are to be married some time in the spring. For my part I think my lord would be content to wait longer; for so long as he is happy and sees others cheerful he is not one to hurry or worry. But Sir Harry is the impatient one: and has begun to talk of his decease. He doesn't believe in it a bit, and at times when he composes his features and attempts to be lugubrious I have to take up a book and hide my smiles. But he is clever enough to see that it worries George."
"I saw both your father and mother this morning. Mr. Raymond has been kept to the house by a chill; nothing serious: but he is fretting to be out again and at work in that draughty church. He will accept no help; and the mistress of Tredinnis has no right to press it on him. I shall never understand men and how they fight. I supposed that the war lay between him and my grandfather. But it seems he was fighting an idea all the while; for here is my grandfather beaten and dead and gone; and still the Vicar will give no quarter. If you had not assured me that your demy-ship means eighty pounds a year, I could believe that men fight for shadows only. Your mother and grandmother are both well. . . ."
It was a raw December afternoon—within a week of the end of term— and Taffy had returned from skating in Christ Church meadow, when he found a telegram lying on his table. There was just time to see the Dean, to pack, and to snatch a meal in hall, before rattling off to his train. At Didcot he had the best part of an hour to wait for the night-mail westward.
"Your father dangerously ill. Come at once."
There was no signature. Yet Taffy knew who had ridden to the office with that telegram. The flying dark held visions of her, and the express throbbed westward to the beat of Aide-de-camp's gallop. Nor was he surprised at all to find her on the platform at Truro Station. The Tredinnis phaeton was waiting outside.
He seemed to her but a boy after all, as he stepped out of the train in the chill dawn: a wan-faced boy, and sorely in need of comfort.
"You must be brave," said she, gathering up the reins as he climbed to the seat beside her.
Surely yes; he had been telling himself this very thing all night. The groom hoisted in his portmanteau, and with a slam of the door they were off. The cold air sang past Taffy's ears. It put vigour into him, and his courage rose as he faced his shattered prospects, shattered dreams. He must be strong now for his mother's sake; a man to work and be leant upon.
And so it was that whereas Honoria had found him a boy, Humility found him a man. As her arms went about him in her grief, she felt his body, that it was taller, broader; and knew in the midst of her tears that this was not the child she had parted from seven short weeks ago, but a man to act and give orders and be relied upon.
"He called for you . . . many times," was all she could say.
For Taffy had come too late. Mr. Raymond was dead. He had aggravated a slight chill by going back to his work too soon, and the bitter draughts of the church had cut him down within sight of his goal. A year before he might have been less impatient. The chill struck into his lungs. On December 1st he had taken to his bed, and he never rallied.
"He called for me?"
They went up the stairs together and stood beside the bed. The thought uppermost in Taffy's mind was—"He called for me. He wanted me. He was my father and I never knew him."
But Humility in her sorrow groped amid such questions as these, "What has happened? Who am I? Am I she who yesterday had a husband and a child? To-day my husband is gone and my child is no longer the same child."
In her room old Mrs. Venning remembered the first days of her own widowhood, and life seemed to her a very short affair, after all.
Honoria saw Taffy beside the grave. It was no season for out-of-door flowers, and she had rifled her hothouses for a wreath. The exotics shivered in the north-westerly wind; they looked meaningless, impertinent, in the gusty churchyard. Humility, before the coffin left the house, had brought the dead man's old blue working-blouse, and spread it for a pall. No flowers grew in the Parsonage garden; but pressed in her Bible lay a very little bunch, gathered, years ago, in the meadows by Honiton. This she divided and, unseen by anyone, pinned the half upon the breast of the patched garment.
On the evening after the funeral and for the next day or two she was strangely quiet, and seemed to be waiting for Taffy to make some sign. Dearly as mother and son loved one another, they had to find their new positions, each toward each. Now Taffy had known nothing of his parents' income. He assumed that it was little enough, and that he must now leave Oxford and work to support the household. He knew some Latin and Greek; but without a degree he had little chance of teaching what he knew. He was a fair carpenter, and a more than passable smith. . . . He revolved many schemes, but chiefly found himself wondering what it would cost to enter an architect's office.
"I suppose," said he, "father left no will?"
"Oh yes, he did," said Humility, and produced it: a single sheet of foolscap signed on her wedding day. It gave her all her husband's property absolutely—whatever it might be.
"Well," said Taffy, "I'm glad. I suppose there's enough for you to rent a small cottage, while I look about for work?"
"Who talks about your finding work? You will go back to Oxford, of course."
"Oh, shall I?" said Taffy, taken aback.
"Certainly; it was your father's wish."
"But the money?"
"With your scholarship there's enough to keep you there for the four years. After that, no doubt, you will be earning a good income."
"But—" He remembered what had been said about the lace-money, and could not help wondering.
"Taffy," said his mother, touching his hand, "leave all this to me until your degree is taken. You have a race to run and must not start unprepared. If you could have seen his joy when the news came of the demy-ship!"
Taffy kissed her and went up to his room. He found his books laid out on the little table there.
"TREDINNIS, February 13, 18—."
"MY DEAR TAFFY,—I have a valentine for you, if you care to accept it; but I don't suppose you will, and indeed I hope in my heart that you will not. But I must offer it. Your father's living is vacant, and my trustees (that is to say, Sir Harry; for the other, a second cousin of mine who lives in London, never interferes) can put in someone as a stop-gap, thus allowing me to present you to it when the time comes, if you have any thought of Holy Orders. You will understand exactly why I offer it; and also, I hope, you will know that I think it wholly unworthy of you. But turn it over in your mind and give me your answer."
"George and I are to be married at the end of April. May is an unlucky month. It shall be a week—even a fortnight—earlier, if that fits in with your vacation, and you care to come. See how obliging I am! I yield to you what I have refused to Sir Harry. We shall try to persuade the Bishop to come and open the church on the same day."
"Always your friend," "HONORIA."
"TREDINNIS, February 21. 18—."
"My Dear Taffy,—No, I am not offended in the least; but very glad. I do not think you are fitted for the priesthood; but my doubts have nothing to do with your doubts, which I don't understand, though you tried to explain them so carefully. You will come through them, I expect. I don't know that I have any reasons that could be put on paper: only, somehow, I cannot see you in a black coat and clerical hat."
"You complain that I never write about George. You don't deserve to hear, since you refuse to come to our wedding. But would you talk, if you happened to be in love? There, I have told you more than ever I told George, whose conceit has to be kept down. Let this console you."
"Our new parson, when he comes, is to lodge down in Innis Village. Your mother—but no doubt she has told you—stays in the Parsonage while she pleases. She and your grandmother are both well. I see her every day: I have so much to learn, and she is so wise. Her beautiful eyes—but oh, Taffy, it must be terrible to be a widow! She smiles and is always cheerful; but the look in them! How can I describe it? When I find her alone with her lace-work, or sometimes (but it is not often) with her hands in her lap, she seems to come out of her silence with an effort, as others withdraw themselves from talk. I wonder if she does talk in those silences of hers. Another thing, it is only a few weeks now since she put on a widow's cap, and yet I cannot remember her—can scarcely picture her—without it. I am sure that if I happened to call one day when she had laid it aside, I should begin to talk quite as if we were strangers."
"Believe me, yours sincerely," "HONORIA."
But the wedding, after all, did not take place until the beginning of October, a week before the close of the Long Vacation; and Taffy, after all, was present. The postponement had been enforced by many delays in building and furnishing the new wing at Carwithiel; for Sir Harry insisted that the young couple must live under one roof with him, and Honoria (as we know) hated the very stones of Tredinnis.
The Bishop came to spend a week in the neighbourhood; the first three days as Honoria's guest. On the Saturday he consecrated the work of restoration in the church, and in the afternoon held a confirmation service. Taffy and Honoria knelt together to receive his blessing. It was the girl's wish. The shadow of her responsibility to God and man lay heavy on her during the few months before her marriage: and Taffy, already weary and dispirited with his early doubtings, suffered her mood of exaltation to overcome him like a wave and sweep him back to rest for a while on the still waters of faith. Together they listened while the Bishop discoursed on the dead Vicar's labours with fluency and feeling; with so much feeling, indeed, that Taffy could not help wondering why his father had been left to fight the battle alone.
On the Sunday and Monday two near parishes claimed the Bishop. On the Tuesday he sent his luggage over to Carwithiel, whither he was to follow after the wedding service, to spend a day or two with Sir Harry. It had been Honoria's wish that George should choose Taffy for his best man; but George had already invited one of his sporting friends, a young Squire Philpotts from the eastern side of the Duchy; and as the date fell at the beginning of the hunting season, he insisted on a "pink" wedding. Honoria consulted the Bishop by letter. "Did he approve of a 'pink' wedding so soon after the bride's confirmation?" The Bishop saw no harm in it.
So a "pink" wedding it was, and the scarlet coats made a lively patch of colour in the gray churchyard: but it gave Taffy a feeling that he was left out in the cold. He escorted his mother to the church, and left her for a few minutes in the Vicarage pew. The bridegroom and his friends were gathered in a showy cluster by the chancel step, but the bride had not arrived, and he stepped out to help in marshalling the crowd of miners and mine-girls, fishermen, and mothers with unruly children—a hundred or so in all, lining the path or straggling among the graves.
Close by the gate he came on a girl who stood alone.
"Hullo, Lizzie—you here?"
"Why not?" she asked, looking at him sullenly.
"Oh, no reason at all."
"There might ha' been a reason," said she, speaking low and hurriedly. "You might ha' saved me from this, Mr. Raymond; and her too; one time, you might."
"Why, what on earth is the matter?" He looked up. The Tredinnis carriage and pair of grays came over the knoll at a smart trot, and drew up before the gate.
"Matter?" Lizzie echoed with a short laugh. "Oh, nuthin'. I'm goin' to lay the curse on her, that's all."
"You shall not!" There was no time to lose.
Honoria's trustee—the second cousin from London, a tall, clean-shaven man with a shiny bald head, and a shiny hat in his hand—had stepped out and was helping the bride to alight. What Lizzie meant Taffy could not tell; but there must be no scene. He caught her hand. "Mind—I say you shall not!" he whispered.
"Lemme go—you're creamin' my fingers."
"Be quiet then."
At that moment Honoria passed up the path. Her wedding gown almost brushed him as he stood wringing Lizzie's hand. She did not appear to see him; but he saw her face beneath the bridal veil, and it was hard and white.
"The proud toad!" said Lizzie. "I'm no better'n dirt, I suppose, though from the start she wasn' above robbin' me. Aw, she's sly ... Mr. Raymond, I'll curse her as she comes out, see if I don't!"
"And I swear you shall not," said Taffy. The scent of Honoria's orange-blossom seemed to cling about them as they stood.
Lizzie looked at him vindictively. "You wanted her yourself, I know. You weren't good enough, neither. Let go my fingers!"
"Go home, now. See, the people have all gone in."
"Go'st way in too, then, and leave me here to wait for her."
Taffy shut his teeth, let go her hand, and taking her by the shoulders, swung her round face toward the gate.
"March!" he commanded, and she moved off whimpering. Once she looked back. "March!" he repeated, and followed her down the road as one follows and threatens a mutinous dog.
The scene by the church gate had puzzled Honoria, and in her first letter (written from Italy) she came straight to the point, as her custom was:
"I hope there is nothing between you and that girl who used to be at Joll's. I say nothing about our hopes for you, but you have your own career to look to; and as I know you are too honourable to flatter an ignorant girl when you mean nothing, so I trust you are too wise to be caught by a foolish fancy. Forgive a staid matron (of one week's standing) for writing so plainly, but what I saw made me uneasy—without cause, no doubt. Your future, remember, is not yours only. And now I shall trust you, and never come back to this subject."
"We are like children abroad, George's French is wonderful, but not so wonderful as his Italian. When he goes to take a ticket he first of all shouts the name of the station he wishes to arrive at (for some reason he believes all foreigners to be deaf), then he begins counting down francs one by one, very slowly, watching the clerk's face. When the clerk's face tells him he has doled out enough, he shouts 'Hold hard!' and clutches the ticket. It takes time; but all the people here are friends with him at once—especially the children, whom he punches in the ribs and tells to 'buck up.' Their mothers nod and smile and openly admire him; and I—well, I am happy and want everyone else to be happy."
MEN AS TOWERS.
It was May morning, and Taffy made one of the group gathered on the roof of Magdalen Tower. In the groves below and across the river meadows all the birds were singing together. Beyond the glimmering suburbs, St. Clement's and Cowley St. John, over the dark rise by Bullingdon Green, the waning moon seemed to stand still and wait, poised on her nether horn. Below her the morning sky waited, clean and virginal, letting her veil of mist slip lower and lower until it rested in folds upon Shotover. While it dropped a shaft of light tore through it and smote flashing on the vane high above Taffy's head, turning the dark side of the turrets to purple and casting lilac shadows on the surplices of the choir. For a moment the whole dewy shadow of the tower trembled on the western sky, and melted and was gone as a flood of gold broke on the eastward-turned faces. The clock below struck five and ceased. There was a sudden baring of heads; a hush; and gently, borne aloft on boys' voices, clear and strong, rose the first notes of the hymn—
"Te Deum Patrem colimus, Te laudibus prosequimur, Qui corpus cibo reficis, Coelesti mentem gratia."
In the pauses Taffy heard, faint and far below, the noise of cowhorns blown by the street boys gathered at the foot of the tower and beyond the bridge. Close beside him a small urchin of a chorister was singing away with the face of an ecstatic seraph; whence that ecstasy arose the urchin would have been puzzled to tell. There flashed into Taffy's brain the vision of the whole earth lauding and adoring— sun-worshippers and Christians, priests and small children; nation after nation prostrating itself and arising to join the chant— "the differing world's agreeing sacrifice." Yes, it was Praise that made men brothers; Praise, the creature's first and last act of homage to his Creator; Praise that made him kin with the angels. Praise had lifted this tower; had expressed itself in its soaring pinnacles; and he for the moment was incorporate with the tower and part of its builder's purpose. "Lord, make men as towers!"—he remembered his father's prayer in the field by Tewkesbury, and at last he understood. "All towers carry a lamp of some kind"—why, of course they did. He looked about him. The small chorister's face was glowing—
"Triune Deus, hominum Salutis auctor optime, Immensum hoc mysterium Ovante lingua canimus!"
Silence—and then with a shout the tunable bells broke forth, rocking the tower. Someone seized Taffy's college cap and sent it spinning over the battlements. Caps? For a second or two they darkened the sky like a flock of birds. A few gowns followed, expanding as they dropped, like clumsy parachutes. The company—all but a few severe dons and their friends—tumbled laughing down the ladder, down the winding stair, and out into sunshine. The world was pagan after all.
At breakfast Taffy found a letter on his table, addressed in his mother's hand. As a rule she wrote twice a week, and this was not one of the usual days for hearing from her. But nothing was too good to happen that morning. He snatched up the letter and broke the seal.
"My dearest boy," it ran, "I want you home at once to consult with me. Something has happened (forgive me, dear, for not preparing you; but the blow fell on me yesterday so suddenly)—something which makes it doubtful, and more than doubtful, that you can continue at Oxford. And something else they say has happened which I will never believe in unless I hear it from my boy's lips. I have this comfort, at any rate, that he will never tell me a falsehood. This is a matter which cannot be explained by letter, and cannot wait until the end of term. Come home quickly, dear; for until you are here I can have no peace of mind."
So once again Taffy travelled homewards by the night mail.
"Mother, it's a lie!"
Taffy's face was hot, but he looked straight into his mother's eyes. She too was rosy-red: being ever a shamefast woman. And to speak of these things to her own boy—
"Thank God!" she murmured, and her fingers gripped the arms of her chair.
"It's a lie! Where is the girl?"
"She is in the workhouse, I believe. I don't know who spread it, or how many have heard. But Honoria believes it."
"Honoria! She cannot—" He came to a sudden halt. "But, mother, even supposing Honoria believes it, I don't see—"
He was looking straight at her. Her eyes sank. Light began to break in on him.
Humility did not look up.
"Mother! Don't tell me that she—that Honoria—"
"She made us promise—your father and me. . . . God knows it did no more than repay what your father had suffered. . . . Your future was everything to us. . . ."
"And I have been maintained at Oxford by her money," he said, pausing in his bitterness on every word.
"Not by that only, Taffy! There was your scholarship . . . and it was true about my savings on the lace-work. . . ."
But he brushed her feeble explanations away with a little gesture of impatience. "Oh why, mother?—Oh why?"
She heard him groan and stretched out her arms.
"Taffy, forgive me—forgive us! We did wrongly, I see—I see it as plain now as you. But we did it for your sake."
"You should have told me. I was not a child. Yes, yes, you should have told me."
Yes; there lay the truth. They had treated him as a child when he was no longer a child. They had swathed him round with love, forgetting that boys grow and demand to see with their own eyes and walk on their own feet. To every mother of sons there comes sooner or later the sharp lesson which came to Humility that morning; and few can find any defence but that which Humility stammered, sitting in her chair and gazing piteously up at the tall youth confronting her: "I did it for your sake." Be pitiful, oh accusing sons, in that hour! For, terrible as your case may be against them, your mothers are speaking the simple truth.
Taffy took her hand. "The money must be paid back, every penny of it."
Humility kept a small account-book in the work-box beside her. She opened the pages, but, seeing his outstretched hand, gave it obediently to Taffy, who took it to the window.
"Almost two hundred pounds." He knit his brows and began to drum with his fingers on the window-pane. "And we must put the interest at five per cent. . . . With my first in Moderations I might find some post as an usher in a small school. . . . There's an agency which puts you in the way of such things: I must look up the address. . . . We will leave this house, of course."
"Why of course we must. We are living here by her favour. A cottage will do—only it must have four rooms, because of grandmother. . . . I will step over and talk with Mendarva. He may be able to give me a job. It will keep me going, at any rate, until I hear from the agency."
"You forget that I have over forty pounds a year—or, rather, mother has. The capital came from the sale of her farm, years ago."
"Did it?" said Taffy grimly. "You forget that I have never been told. Well, that's good, so far as it goes. But now I'll step over and see Mendarva. If only I could catch this cowardly lie somewhere on my way!"
He kissed his mother, caught up his cap, and flung out of the house. The sea breeze came humming across the sandhills. He opened his lungs to it, and it was wine to his blood; he felt strong enough to slay dragons. "But who could the liar be? Not Lizzie herself, surely! Not—"
He pulled up short in a hollow of the towans.
Treachery is a hideous thing; and to youth so incomprehensibly hideous that it darkens the sun. Yet every trusting man must be betrayed. That was one of the lessons of Christ's life on earth. It is the last and severest test; it kills many, morally, and no man who has once met and looked it in the face departs the same man, though he may be a stronger one.
Taffy stood there so still that the rabbits crept out and, catching sight of him, paused in the mouths of their burrows. When at length he moved on it was to take, not the path which wound inland to Mendarva's, but the one which led straight over the higher moors to Carwithiel.
It was between one and two o'clock when he reached the house and asked to see Mr. and Mrs. George Vyell, They were not at home, the footman said; had left for Falmouth the evening before to join some friends on a yachting cruise. Sir Harry was at home; was, indeed, lunching at that moment; but would no doubt be pleased to see Mr. Raymond.
Sir Harry had finished his lunch, and sat sipping his claret and tossing scraps of biscuits to the dogs.
"Hullo, Raymond!—thought you were in Oxford. Sit down, my boy; delighted to see you. Thomas, a knife and fork for Mr. Raymond. The cutlets are cold, I'm afraid; but I can recommend the cold saddle, and the ham—it's a York ham. Go to the sideboard and forage for yourself. I wanted company. My boy and Honoria are at Falmouth yachting, and have left me alone. What, you won't eat? A glass of claret, then, at any rate."
"To tell the truth, Sir Harry," Taffy began awkwardly. "I've come on a disagreeable business."
Sir Harry's face fell. He hated disagreeable business. He flipped a piece of biscuit at his spaniel's nose and sat back, crossing his legs.