"I was going from here," he answered. "And you can look to me for making a pound a week, and you can have it all if you'll take nothing from any of my enemies. If you take money from my enemies, then I won't help you."
"You're a man in your opinions seemingly, though I wish to God you hadn't grown out of childhood so quick, if you were going to grow to this. It'll drive you mad if you're not careful. Then where shall I be?"
"I'll drive other people mad—not you. I'll come back home, and then I'll find work at Bridport."
"Where's home going to be—that's the question?" Sabina answered. "There's only one choice for you—between letting him finish your education and going out to work."
"We'll live in Bridport, then," he told her, "and I'll go into something with machinery. I'll soon rise, and I might rise high enough to ruin him yet, some day. And never you forget he had my offer and turned it down. He didn't know what he was doing when he did that."
"He couldn't trust you. How was he to know you wouldn't try to burn the works again—and succeed next time?"
"That was a fool's trick. If they'd gone, he'd only have built 'em again, better. But there are some things he can't insure."
"I know a good few spinners at Bridport. Shall I have a look round for you?" she asked, as they rose to return.
He considered and agreed.
"Yes, if it's only through you. I trust you not to go to him about it. If you did and I found you had—"
"No, no. I'll not go to him."
He came and looked again at the motor car that had brought her. It interested him as keenly as before.
"That's for him to go about the country in, because he's standing for Parliament," explained Sabina.
But his anger was spent. He heeded her no more, and even the fact that his father owned the car did not modify his deep interest.
He rode a mile or two with her when she started to return and remained silent and rapt for the few minutes of the experience.
His mother tried to use the incident.
"If you was to be good and patient and let the right thing be done, I daresay in a few years you'd rise to having a motor of your own," she said, when they stopped and he started to trudge back.
"If ever I do, I'll get it for myself," he answered. "And when you're old, I'll drive you about, very likely."
He left her placidly, and it was understood that in a month he would return to her as soon as she had determined on their immediate future.
For herself she knew that it would be necessary to deceive him, yet feared to attempt it after the recent conversation. She felt uneasily proud of him.
The doctor said Mr. Churchouse was dying because he didn't wish to go on living, and when Estelle taxed the old man with his indifference, he would not deny it.
"I have lived long enough," he said. "The machine is worn out. My thinking is become a painful effort. I forget the simplest matters, and before you are a nuisance to yourself, you may feel very certain you have long been a nuisance to other people."
He had for some months grown physically weaker, and both Raymond and others had noticed an inconsequence of utterance and an inability to concentrate the mind. He liked friends to come and see him and would listen with obvious effort to follow any argument, or grasp any fresh item of news. But he spoke less and less. Nor could Sabina tempt him to eat adequate food. He ignored the doctor's drugs and seemed to shrink physically as well as mentally.
"I'm turning into my chrysalis," he said once to Estelle. "One has to go through that phase before one can be a butterfly. Remember, my pretty girl, you are only burying an empty chrysalis when this broken thing is put into the ground."
"You're very unkind to talk so," she declared. "You might go on living if you liked, and you ought to try—for the sake of those who love you."
But he shook his head.
"One doesn't control these things. You know I've always told you that the length of the thread is no part of our business, but only the spinning. I should have liked to see you married; yet, after all, why not? I may be there. I shall hope to beg a holiday on that occasion and be in church."
He always spoke thus quite seriously. Death he regarded as no discontinuity, or destruction, of life, but merely an alteration of environment.
At some personal cost Miss Ironsyde came to take leave of him, when it seemed that his end was near. He kept his bed now, and by conserving his strength gained a little activity of mind.
He was troubled for Jenny's physical sufferings; while she, for her part, endeavoured to discuss Sabina's problems, but she could not interest the old man in them.
"Abel is safe with his father," said Mr. Churchouse. "As for Sabina, I have left her a competency, and so have you. One has been very heartily sorry for her. She will have no anxiety when my will is read. I am leaving you three books, Jenny. I will leave you more if you like. My library as a whole is bequeathed to Estelle Waldron, since I know nobody who values and respects books so well."
"But Abel," she said.
"I have tried to establish his character and we may find, after all, I did more than we think. Providence is ever ready to water and tend the good seed that we sow. But he must be made to abandon this fatal attitude to his father. It is uncomfortable and inconvenient and helps nobody. I shall talk to him, I hope, before I die. He is coming home in a day or two."
But Abel delayed a week, at his master's request, that he might help pull a field of mangels, and Mr. Churchouse never saw him again.
During his last days Estelle spent much time with him. He seldom mentioned any other person but himself. He wandered in a disjointed fashion over the past and mixed his recollections with his dreams. He remembered jests and sometimes uttered them, then laughed; but often he laughed to himself without giving any reason for his amusement.
He was thoughtful and apologetic. Indeed, when he looked up into any face, he always said, "I mourn to give you so much trouble." Latterly he confused his visitors, but kept Estelle and Sabina clear in his mind. He fancied that they had quarrelled and was always seeking to reconcile them. Every morning he appeared anxious and distressed until they stood by him together and declared that they were the best of friends. Then he became tranquil.
"That being so," he said, "I shall depart in peace."
Estelle relieved the professional nurse and would read, talk, or listen, as he wished. He spoke disjointedly one day and wove reality and imagination together.
"Much good marble is wasted on graves," he declared. "But it doesn't bring the dead to life. Do you believe in the resurrection of the body, Estelle? I hope you find it easy. That is one of the things I never was honestly able to say I had grasped. Reason will fight against the nobler tyranny of faith. The old soul in a glorified body—yet the same body, you understand. We shan't all be in one pattern in heaven. We shall preserve our individuality; and yet I deprecate passing eternity in this tabernacle. Improvements may be counted upon, I think. The art of the Divine Potter can doubtless make beautiful the humblest and the most homely vessel."
"Nobody who loves you would have you changed," she assured him.
Then his mind wandered away and he smiled.
"I listened to a street preacher once—long, long ago when I was young—and he said that the road to everlasting destruction was lined with women and gin shops. Upon which a sailor-man, who listened to him, shouted out, 'Oh death, where is thy sting?' The meeting dissolved in a very tornado of laughter. Sailors have a great sense of humour. It can take the place of a fire on a cold day. One touch of humour makes the whole world kin. If you have a baby, teach it to laugh as well as to walk. But I think your baby will do that readily enough."
On another occasion he laughed suddenly to himself and explained his amusement to Sabina, who sat by him.
"Eunominus, the heretic, boasted that he knew the nature of God; whereupon St. Basil instantly puzzled him with twenty-one questions about the body of the ant!"
Estelle also tried to make Mr. Churchouse discuss Abel Dinnett. She told him of an interesting fact.
"I have got Ray to promise a big thing," she said. "He hesitated, but he loved me too well to deny me. Besides, feeling as I do, I couldn't take any denial. You see Nature is so much greater than all else to me, and contrasted with her, our little man-made laws, often so mean and hateful in their cowardly caution and cruel injustice, look pitiful and beneath contempt. And I don't want to come between Raymond and his eldest son. I won't—I won't do it. Abel is his first-born, and it may be cold-blooded of me—Ray said it was at first—but I insist on that. I've made him see, and I've made father see. I feel so much about it, that I wouldn't marry him if he didn't recognize Abel first and treat him as the first-born ought to be treated."
"Abel—Abel Dinnett," said the other, who had not followed her speech. "A good-looking boy, but lawless. He wants the world to bend to him; and yet, if you'll believe me, there is a vein of fine sentiment in his nature. With tears in his eyes he once told me that he had seen a fellow pupil at school cruelly killing insects with a burning glass; and he had beaten the cruel lad and broken his glass. That is all to the good. The difficulty for him is that he was born out of wedlock. This great disability could have been surmounted in America, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, or, in fact, anywhere but in England. The law of the natural child in this country would bring a blush to the cheek of a gorilla. But neither Church nor State will lift a finger to right the infamy."
"We are always wanting to pluck the mote out of our neighbour's eyes, and never see the beam in our own," she answered. "Women will alter that some day—and the disgusting divorce laws, too. Perhaps these are the first things they will alter, when they have the power."
"Who is going into Parliament?" he asked. "Somebody told me, but I forget. He was a friend of mine. I remember that much."
"Ray hopes to get in. I am going to help him, if I can."
"It is a great responsibility. Tell him, if he is elected, to fight for the natural child. It would well become him to do so. Let him rise to it. Our Saviour said, 'Suffer the little children to come unto Me.' The State, on the contrary, says, 'Suffer the little children to be done to death and put out of the way.'"
"Yes," she answered, "suffer fifty thousand little children to be lost every year, because it is kinder to let them perish, than help them to live under the wicked laws we have planned to govern them."
But his mind collapsed and when she strove to bring it back again, she could not.
Two days before he died, Estelle found him in deep distress. He begged to see her alone, and explained that he had to confess a great sin.
"I ought to tell a priest," he said, "but I dare think that you will do as well. If you absolve me, I shall know I may hope to be forgiven. I have lived a double life, Estelle. I have pretended what was not true—not merely once or twice, but systematically, deliberately, callously."
"I don't believe it, dear Mister Churchouse. You couldn't."
"I should never have believed it myself. But even the old can surprise themselves, painfully sometimes. I have lived with this perfidy for many years; but I can't die with it. There's always an inclination to confess our sins to a fellow creature. To confess them to our Maker is quite needless, because He knows them; but it's a quality of human nature to feel better after imparting its errors to another ear."
He broke off.
"What was I saying? I forget."
"That you'd done something ever so wicked and nobody knew it."
"Yes, yes. The books—the books I used to receive from unknown admirers by post. My child, there were no unknown admirers! Nobody ever admired me, either secretly or openly. Why should they? I used to send the books to myself—God forgive me."
"If I'd only known, I'd have sent you hundreds of books," she said. "I did send you one or two."
"I know it—they are my most precious possessions. They served in some mysterious way to soothe my bad conscience. It would be interesting to examine and find out how they did. But my brain can't look into anything subtle now. I knew you sent the books. My good angel has recorded my thanks. You always increased my vitality, Estelle. You are keeping me alive at present. You have risen in the autumn of my life as a gracious dawn; you have been the sun of my Indian summer. You will be a good wife to Raymond. It seems only yesterday that he was a little thing in short frocks, and Henry so proud of him. Now Henry is dead, and Raymond wife-old and in Parliament. A sound Liberal, like his father before him."
"The election isn't till next year. But I hope he'll get in. They say at Bridport he has a very good chance."
The day before he died, Mr. Churchouse seemed better and talked to Estelle of another visit from her father.
"I always esteem his great good humour and fine British instinct to live and let live. That is where our secret lies. We ride Empire with such a loose rein, Estelle—the only way. You cannot dare to put a curb on proud people. A paradox that—that those who fast bind don't fast find. The instinct of England's greatness is in your father; he is an epitome of our virtues. He has no imagination, however. Nor has England. If she had, doubtless she would not do the great deeds that beggar imagination. That reminds me. There is one little gift that you must have from my own hand. A work of imagination—a work of art. Nobody in the world would care about it but you. A poem, in fact. I have written one or two others, but I tore them up. I sent them to newspapers, hoping to astonish you with them; but when they were rejected I destroyed them. This poem I did not send. Nobody has seen it but myself. Now I give it to you, and I want you to read it aloud to me, that I may hear how it sounds."
"How clever of you! There's nothing you can't do. I know I shall love it."
He pointed to a sheaf of papers on a table.
"The top one. It is a mournful subject, yet I hope treated cheerfully. I wrote it before death was in sight; but I feel no more alarmed or concerned about death now than I did then. You may think it is too simple. But simplicity, though boring to the complex mind, is really quite worth while. The childlike spirit—there is much to be said for it. No doubt I have missed a great deal by limiting my interests; but I have gained too—in directness."
"There is a greatness about simplicity," she said.
"To be simple in my life and subtle in my thought was my ambition at one time; but I never could rise to subtlety. The native bent was against it. The poem—I do not err in calling it a poem—is called 'Afterwards'—unless you can think of a better title. If any obvious and glaring faults strike you, tell me. No doubt there are many."
She read the two pages written in his little, careful and almost feminine hand.
"When I am dead, the storm and stress Of many-coloured consciousness Like blossom petals fall away And drops the calyx back to clay; A man, not woman, makes the bed When our night comes and we are dead.
"When I am dead, the ebb and flow Of folk where I was wont to go, Will never stay a moment's pace, Or miss along the street my face. Yet thoughts may wake and things be said By one or two when I am dead.
"When I am dead, the sunset light Will fill the gap upon the height In summer time, but on the plain Sink down as winter comes again And none who sees the evening red Will know I loved it, who am dead.
"When I am dead, upon my mound Exotic flow'rs may first be found, And not until they've blown away Will other blossoms come to stay. A daisy growing overhead Brings gentle pleasure to the dead.
"When I am dead, I'd love to see An amber thrush hop over me And bend his ear, as he would know What I am whispering down below. May many a song-bird find his bread Upon my grave when I am dead.
"When I am dead, and years shall pass, The scythe will cut the darnel grass Now and again for decency, Where we forgotten people lie. O'er ancient graves the living tread With great impertinence on the dead.
"When I am dead, all I have done Must vanish, like the evening sun. My book about the bells may stay Behind me for a fleeting day; But will not very oft be read By anybody when I'm dead."
She stopped and smiled with her eyes full of tears.
"I had meant to write another verse," he explained, "but I put it off and it's too late now. Such as it is, it is yours. Does it seem to you to be interesting?"
"It's very interesting indeed, and very beautiful. I shall always value it as my greatest treasure."
"Read it to your children," he said, "and if the opportunity occurs, take them sometimes to see my grave. The spot is long chosen. Let there be no gardening upon it out of good heart but bad taste. I should wish it left largely to Nature. There will be daisies for your babies to pick. I forget the text I selected. It's in my will."
He bade her good-bye more tenderly than usual, as though he knew that he would never see her again, and the next morning Bridetown heard that the old man had died in his sleep. The people felt sorry, for he left no enemies, and his many kindly thoughts and deeds were remembered for a little while.
NEW WORK FOR ABEL
With a swift weaver's knot John Best mended the flying yarn. Then he turned from a novice at the Gill Spinner and listened, not very patiently, to one who interrupted his lesson.
"It's rather a doubtful thing that you should always be about the place now you've left it, Levi," he said to Mr. Baggs. "It would be better judgment and more decent on your part if you kept away."
"You may think so," answered the hackler, "but I do not. And until the figure of my pension is settled, I shall come and go and take no denial."
"It is settled. He don't change. He's said you shall have ten shillings a week and no more, so that it will be."
"And what if I decline to take ten shillings a week, after fifty years of work in his beastly Mill?"
"Then you can do the other thing and go without. You want it both ways, you do."
"I want justice—no more. Common justice, I suppose, can be got in Dorset as elsewhere. I ought to have had a high testimonial when I left this blasted place—a proper presentation for all to see, and a public feed and a purse of sovereigns at the least."
"That's what I mean when I say you can't have it both ways," answered Mr. Best. "To be nice and pick words and consider your feelings is waste of time, so I tell you that you can't grizzle and grumble and find fault with everything and everybody for fifty years, and then expect people to bow down and worship you and collect a purse of gold when you retire. If we flew any flags about you, it would be because we'd got rid of you. Mister Ironsyde don't like you, and why should he? You've always been up against the employer and you've never lost a chance to poison the minds of the employed. There's no good will in you and never was, and where you could hang us up in the Mill and make difficulties without getting yourself into trouble, you've always took great pleasure in so doing. Did you ever pull with me, or anybody, if you could help it? Never. You pulled against. You'd often have liked to treat us like the hemp and tear us to pieces on your rougher's hackle. And how does such a man expect anybody to care about him? There was no reason why you should have had a pension at all, in my opinion. You've been blessed with good health and no family, and you've never spent a shilling on another fellow creature in your life. Therefore, it's more than justice that you get ten shillings, and not less as you seem to think."
Mr. Baggs glowered at John during this harangue. His was the steadfast attitude of the egoist, who sees all life in terms of his own interest alone.
"We've got to fight for ourselves in this world since there's none other to fight for us," he said, "and, of course, you take his side. You've licked Ironsyde boots all your life, and nothing an Ironsyde can do is wrong. But I might have known the man that's done the wickedness he's done, and deserts his child and let his only son work on the land, wouldn't meet me fair. There's no honour or honesty in the creature, but if he thinks I'm going to take this slight without lifting my voice against it, he's wrong. To leave the works and sneak out of 'em unmourned and without a bit of talk and a testimonial was shameful enough; but ten shilling a week—no! The country shall ring about that and he'll find his credit shaken. 'Tis enough to lose him his election to Parliament, and I hope it will do so."
"You're a cracked old fool, and not a spark of proper pride or gratitude in you. Feeling like that, I wonder you dare touch his money; but you're the sort who would take gifts with one hand and stab the giver with the other. I hope he'll change his mind yet and give you no pension at all."
Levi, rather impressed with this unusual display of feeling from the foreman, growled a little longer, then went his way; while in John there arose a determination to prevent Mr. Baggs from visiting the scene of his old activities. At present force of habit drew the old man to spend half his time here; and now, when Best had returned to the Gill Spinner, Levi prowled off to his old theatre of work, entered the hackling shop and criticised the new hackler. His successor was young and stood in awe of him at first; but awe was not a quality the veteran inspired for long. Already Joe Ash began to grow restive under Levi's criticisms, and dimly to feel that the old hackler was better away. To-day Mr. Baggs allowed the resentment awakened by Best's criticisms to take shape in offensive comments at the expense of his young successor. He was of that order of beings who, when kicked, rests not until he has kicked somebody again.
But to-day the evil star of Mr. Baggs was in ascendant, and when he told the youth that he wasted half his strength and had evidently been taught his business by a fool, Levi was called to suffer a spirited retort. Joe Ash came from the Midlands; his vocabulary was wider than that of Mr. Baggs, and he soon had the old man gasping. Finally he ordered him out of the shop, and told him that if he did not go he would be put out.
"Strength or no strength," he said, "I've got enough for you, so hop out of this and don't come back. If you're to be free of my shop, I leave; and that's all there is to it."
Mr. Baggs departed, having hoped that he might live to see the young man hung with his own long line. He then pursued his way by the river, labouring under acute emotions, and half a mile down stream met a lad engaged in angling.
Abel Dinnett had returned home and was making holiday until his mother should discover work for him, or he himself be able to get occupation.
For the moment Sabina found herself sufficiently busy packing up her possessions and preparing for the forthcoming sale at 'The Magnolias.'
She was waiting to find a new home until Abel's future labour appeared; but, in secret, Raymond Ironsyde had undertaken to obtain it, and she knew that henceforth she would live at Bridport.
Mr. Baggs poured out his wrongs, but he did not begin immediately. Failing adult ears, Abel's served him, and he proceeded to declare that the new hackler was a worthless rogue, who did not know his business and would never earn his money.
Abel, however, had reached a standard of intelligence that no longer respected Mr. Baggs.
"I don't go to the works now," he said, "and never shall again. I don't care nothing about them. My mother and me are going to leave Bridetown when I get a job."
"No doubt—no doubt. Though I dare say your talk is sour grapes—seeing as you'll never come by your rights."
Abel lifted his eyes to the iron-roofed buildings up the valley.
"Oh yes, I could," he said. "That man wants to win me now. He's going to be married, and she—her he's going to marry—told my mother that he's wishful for me to be his proper son and be treated according. But I won't have his damned friendship now. It's too late now. You can't drive hate out of a man with gifts."
"They ain't gifts—they're your right and due. 'Tis done to save his face before the people, so they'll forgive his past and help send him into Parliament. Look at me—fifty years of service and ten shillings a week pension! It shall be known and 'twill lose him countless votes, please God. A dog like that in Parliament! 'Twould be a disgrace to the nation. And you go on hating him if you're a brave boy. Every honest man hates him, same as I do. Twenty shillings I ought to have had, if a penny."
"Fling his money back in his face," said Abel. "Nobody did ought to touch his money, or work for it. And if every man and woman refused to go in his works, then he'd be ruined."
"The wicked flourish like the green bay tree in this country, because there's such a cruel lot of 'em, and they back each other up against the righteous," declared Levi. "But a time's coming, and you'll live to see it, when the world will rise against their iniquity."
"Don't take his money, then."
"It ain't his money. It's my money. He's keeping back my money. When that John Best drops out, as he ought to do, for he's long past his work, will he get ten shillings a week? Two pound, more like; and all because he cringes and lies and lets the powers of darkness trample on him! And may the money turn to poison in his mouth when he does get it."
"Everything about Ironsyde is poison," added Abel. "And that girl that was a friend to me—he's poisoned her now, and I won't know her no more. I won't neighbour with anybody that has a good word for him, and I won't breathe the same air with him much longer; and I told my mother if she took a penny from him, I'd throw her over, too."
"Quite right. I wish you was strong enough to punish him; but if you was, he'd come whining to you and pray you not to. Men like him only make war on women and the weak."
"I'll punish him if he lives long enough," he said. "That's what I'm after. I'll bide my time."
"And for him to dare to get up and ask the people to send him to Parliament. But they won't. He's too well known in these parts for that. Who's he that he should be lifted up to represent honest, God-fearing men?"
"If there was anything to stop him getting in, I'd do it," declared Abel.
"'Tis for us, with weight of years and experience, to keep him out. All sensible people will vote against him, and the more that know the truth of him the fewer will support him. And Republican though I am, I'd rather vote for the Tory than him. And as for you, if you stood up at his meetings when the time comes, while they were all cheering the wretch, and cried out that you was his son—that would be sure to lose him a good few God-fearing votes. You think of it; you might hinder him and even work him a mint of harm that way."
The old man left Abel to consider his advice and the angler sat watching his float for another hour. But his thoughts were on what he had heard; and he felt no more interest in his sport.
Presently he wound up his line and went home. He was attracted by Levi's suggestion and guessed that he might create great feeling against his father in that way. Himself, he did not shrink from the ordeal in imagination; indeed his inherent vanity rather courted it. But when he told his mother what he might do, she urged him to attempt no such thing. Indeed she criticised him sharply for such a foolish thought.
"You'll lose all sympathy from the people," she said, "and be flung out; and none will care twopence for you. When you tried to burn the place down and he forgave you, that made a feeling for him, and since then 'tis well known by those that matter, that he's done all he could for you under the circumstances."
"That's what he hasn't."
"That's what he would if you'd let him. So it's silly to think you've got any more grievances, and if you get up and make a row at one of his meetings, you'll only be chucked into the street. You're nobody now, through your own fault, and you've made people sorry for your father instead of sorry for you, because you're such a pig-headed fool about him and won't see sense."
The boy flushed and glared at his mother, who seldom spoke in this vein.
"If you wasn't my mother, I'd hit you down for that," he said, clenching his fists. "What do you know about things to talk to me like that? Who are you to take his side and cringe to him? If you can't judge him, there's plenty that can, and it's you who are pig-headed, not me, because you don't see I'm fighting your battle for you. It may seem too late to fight for you; but it's never too late to hate a wicked beast, and if I can help to keep him from getting what he wants I will, and I don't care how I do it, either."
She looked at him with little love in her eyes.
"You're only being a scourge to me—not to him," she answered. "You can't hurt him, however much you want to, and you can't hurt his name or reputation, because time heals all and he's done much to others that will make them forget what he did to me. I forget myself sometimes, so 'tis certain enough the people do. And if I can, surely to God you can, if only for my sake. You're punishing me for being your mother, not him for being your father—just contrary to what you want."
"That's all I get, then, for standing up for you against him, and keeping it before him and the people what he's done against you. Didn't you tell me years and years ago I'd fight your battles some day? And now, when I'm got clever enough to set about it, you curse me."
"I don't curse you, Abel. But time is past for fighting battles. There's nothing to fight about now."
"We're punishing him cruel by not taking his money; but there's more to do yet," he said. "And I'll do it if I can. And you mind that I'm fighting against him for your sake, and if you're grown too old and too tired to hate the man any more, I haven't. I can hate him for you as well as myself."
"And the hate comes back on you," she said. "It's long past the time for all that. You've got plenty of brains and you know that this passion against him is only harming yourself. For God's sake drop it. You say you're a man now. Then be a man and take man's views and look on ahead and think of your future life. Far from helping me, you're only hindering me. We've come to a time when life's altered and the old life here is done. We're going to begin life together—you and me—and you're going to make our fortunes; but it's a mad lookout if you mean to put all your strength into hating them that have no hate for you. It will make you bitter and useless, and you'll grow up a sour, friendless creature, like Levi Baggs. What's he got out of all his hate and unkindness to the world?"
"He hates everybody," he said. "It's no use to hate everybody, because then everybody will hate you. I don't hate everybody. I only hate him."
She argued, but knew that she had not changed her son. And then, when he was gone again, fearing that he might do what he threatened, she went to see Estelle Waldron.
They met on the way to see each other, for Estelle had heard from Raymond that work was found for Abel and, as next step in the plot, it was necessary for Sabina to go to a small spinning mill in Bridport herself. Ironsyde's name was not to transpire.
Gladly enough the mother undertook her task.
"He's out of hand," she said, "and away from home half his time. He roams about and listens to bad counsellors. He's worse than ever since he's idle. He's got another evil thought now, for his thoughts foul his reason, as well I know thoughts can."
She told Estelle what Abel had declared he would do.
"You'd best let Mister Ironsyde know," she said, "and he'll take steps according. If the boy can be kept out from any meeting it would be wisest. But I'm powerless. I've wearied my tongue begging and blaming and praying to him to use his sense; but it's beyond my power to make him understand. There's a devil in him and nobody can cast it out."
"He won't speak to me now. Poor Abel—yes, it's something like a devil. I'll tell his father. We were very hopeful about the future until—But if he gets to work, it may sweeten him. He'll have good wages and meet nice people."
"I wish it had been farther off."
"So did I," answered Estelle; "but his father wants him under his own eye and will put him into something better the moment he can. You won't mention this to Abel, and he won't hear it there, because the workers don't know it; but Raymond has a large interest in the Mill really."
"I'll not mention it. I'll go to-morrow, and the boy will know nothing save that I've got him a good job."
"He can begin next month; and that will help him every way, I hope."
So things fell out, and within a month Abel was at work. He believed his mother solely responsible for this occupation. She had yet to find a home at Bridport, so he came and went from Bridetown.
He was soon deeply interested and only talked about his labours with a steam engine. Of his troubles he ceased to speak, and for many days never mentioned his father's name.
An event which seemed more or less remote, came suddenly to the forefront of Raymond Ironsyde's life, for ill-health hastened the retirement of the sitting member and a parliamentary bye-election was called for.
Having undertaken the constituency he could not turn back, though the sudden demand had not been expected. But he found plenty of enthusiastic helpers and his own personality had made him many friends.
It was indeed upon the significance of personality that much turned, and incidentally the experiences into which he now entered served to show him all that personality may mean. Estelle rejoiced that he should now so swiftly learn what had so long been apparent to her. She always declared an enthusiasm for personality; to her it seemed the force behind everything and the mainspring of all movement. Lack of personality meant stagnation; but granted personality, then advance was possible—almost inevitable.
He caught her meaning and appreciated what followed from it. But he saw that personality demands freedom before its fullest expression and highest altitude are attainable. That altitude had never been reached as yet even by the most liberty-loving people.
"There's no record in all the world of what man might do under conditions of real liberty," said Estelle. "It has never been possible so far; but I do believe history shows that the nearer we approach to it, the more beautiful life becomes for everybody."
Raymond admitted so much and agreed that the world had yet to learn what it might achieve under a nobler dispensation of freedom.
"Think of the art, the thought, the leisure for good things, if the ceaseless fight against bad things were only ended; think of the inspirations that personality will be free to express some day," she said.
But he shattered her dreams sometimes. She would never suffer him to declare any advance impossible; yet she had to listen, when he explained that countless things she cried for were impracticable under existing circumstances.
"You want to get to the goal without running the race, sweetheart," he told her once. "Before this and this can possibly happen, that and that must happen. House-building begins at the cellars, not the roof."
She wrestled with political economy and its bearings on all that was meant by democracy. She was patient and strove to master detail and keep within the domain of reality. But, after all, she taught him more than he could teach her; because her thoughts sprung from an imagination touched with genius, while he was contented to take things as he found them and distrust emotion and intuition.
She exploded ideas in the ordered chambers of his mind. The proposition that labour was not a commodity quite took him off his balance. Yet he proved too logical to deny it when Estelle convinced his reason.
"That fact belongs to the root of all the future, I believe," she said. "From it all the flowers and seed we hope for ought to come, and the interpretation of everything vital. Labour and the labourer aren't two different things; they're one and the same thing. His labour is part of every man, and it can no more be measured and calculated away from him than his body and soul can. But it is the body and soul that must regulate labour, not labour the body and soul. So you've got to regard labour and the rights of labour as part of the rights of man, and not a thing to be bought and sold like a pound of tea. You see that? Labour, in fact, is as sacred as humanity and its rights are sacred too."
"So are the rights of property," he answered, but doubtfully, for he knew at heart that the one proposition did not by any means embrace the other. Indeed Estelle contradicted him very forcibly.
"Not the least bit in the world," she declared. "They are as far apart as the poles. There's nothing the least sacred about property. The rights of property are casual. They generally depend on all sorts of things that don't matter. They happen through the changes and chances of life, and human whims and fads and the pure accident of heredity and descent. They are all on a lower level; they are all suspect, whereas the rights of labour are a part of humanity."
But he followed her parry with a sharp riposte.
"Remember what happened when somebody promised to marry me," he said. "Remember that, as a principle of rectitude, I have recognised my son and accepted your very 'accident of descent' as chief reason for according him all a first-born's rights. That was your instinct towards right—his rights of property."
"It was righteousness, not rights of property that made you decide," she assured him. "Abel has no rights of property. The law ignores his rights to be alive at all, I believe. The law calls him 'the son of none,' and if you have no parents, you can't really exist. But the rights of labour are above human law and founded in humanity. They are Abel's, yours, everybody's. The man who works, by that fact commands the rights of labour. Besides, circumstances alter cases."
"Yes, and may again," he replied. "We can't deny the difficulties in this personal experience of mine. But I'm beginning to think the boy's not normal. I very much fear there's a screw loose."
"Don't think that. He's a very clever boy."
"And yet Sabina tells me frankly that his bitterness against me keeps pace with his growing intelligence. Instead of his wits defeating his bad temper, as they do sooner or later with most sane people, the older he gets, the more his dislike increases and the less trouble he takes to control it."
"If that were so, of course circumstances might alter the case again," she admitted. "But I don't believe there's a weak spot like that. There's something retarded—some confusion of thought, some kind of knot in his mind that isn't smoothed out yet. You've been infinitely patient and we'll go on being infinitely patient—together."
This difficult matter she dropped for the present; but finding him some days later in a recipient mood, followed up her cherished argument, that labour must be counted a commodity no more.
"Listen to me, Ray," she said. "Very soon you'll be too busy to listen to me at all—these are the last chances for me before your meetings begin. But really what I'm saying will be splendidly useful in speeches."
"All very well if getting in was all that mattered," he told her. "I can't echo all your ideas, Chicky, and speeches have a way of rising up against one at awkward moments afterwards."
"At any rate, you grant the main point," she said, "and so you must grant what follows from it; and if you grant that, and put it in your manifesto, you'll lose a few votes, but you'll gain hundreds. If labour's not a commodity, but to be regulated by body and soul, then wages must be regulated by body and soul too. Or, if you want to put it in a way for a crowd to understand, you can say that we give even a steam-engine the oil it must have before it begins to work, so how can we deny a man the oil he wants before he begins to work?"
"That means a minimum of wages."
"Yes, a minimum consistent with human needs, below which wages cannot and must not fail. That minimum should be just as much taken for granted as the air a man breathes, or the water he drinks, or the free education he gets as a boy. It isn't wages really; it's recognition of a man's right to live and share the privileges of life, and be self-respecting, just because he is a man. Everybody who is born, Ray, ought to have the unquestioned right to live, and the amplest opportunity to become a good and useful citizen. After that is granted, then wages should begin, and each man, or woman, should have full freedom and opportunity to earn what he, or she, was worth. That does away with the absurd idea of equality, which can only be created artificially and would breed disaster if we did create it."
"There's no such thing as equality in human nature, any more than in any other nature, Estelle. Seeds from the same pod are different—some weak, some strong. But I grant the main petition. The idea's first rate—a firm basis of right to reasonable life, and security for every human being as our low-water mark; while, on that foundation, each may lift an edifice according to their power. So that none who has the power to rise above the minimum would be prevented from doing so, and no Trades Union tyranny should interfere to prevent the strong man working eight hours a day if he desires to do so, because the weaker one can only work seven."
"I think the Trades Unions only want to prevent men being handicapped out of the race at the start," she answered. "They know as well as we do, that men are not born equal in mind or body; but rightly and reasonably, they want them all to start equal as far as conditions go. The race is to the strong and the prize is to the strong; but all, at least, should have power to train for the race and start with equal opportunities to win. There's such a lot to be done."
"There is," he admitted. "The handicap you talk of is created for thousands and thousands before they are born at all."
"Think of being handicapped out of the race before you are born!" she cried. "What could be more unjust and cruel and wicked than that?"
"Very few will put the unborn before the living, or think of a potential child rather than the desires of the parents—selfish though they may be. It's a free country, and we don't know enough to start stopping people from having a hand in the next generation if they decide to do so."
But her enthusiasm was not quenched by difficulties.
"We want science and politics and good will to work together," she said.
He returned to the smaller argument.
"It's a far cry to what you want, yet I for one don't shrink from it. The better a man is, the larger share he should have of the profits of any enterprise he helps to advance. Then wages would take the shape of his share in the profits, and you might easily find a head workman of genius drawing more out of a business than—say, a junior partner, who is a fool and not nearly so vital to the enterprise as he. But, you see, if we say that, we argue in a circle, for the junior partner, ass though he is, represents oil and fuel, which are just as important as the clever workman's brains—in fact, his brains can't work without them. Capital and labour are two halves of a whole and depend upon each other, as much as men depend on women and women on men. Capital does a great deal more than pay labour wages, remember. It educates his children, builds his houses and doctors his ailments. Soon—so they tell me—capital will be appropriated to look after labour's old age also, and cheer his manhood with the knowledge that his age is safe."
"You don't grudge any of these things, Ray?"
"Not one. Every man should have security. But, after all, capital cannot be denied its rights. It has got rights of some sort, surely? Socialists would kill the goose that lays the golden eggs; but though they lack power yet to kill the goose, they possess plenty of power to frighten it away to foreign shores, where it can build its nest a bit more hopefully than here. Many, who scent repudiation and appropriation, are flying already. Capital is diminishing, and there seems a fair chance of labour being over-coddled, at the expense of capital, when the Liberals come in again. If that happens, labour is weakened as well as capital. But both are essential to the power and well-being of the State. If we ever had another war, which God forbid, labour and capital would have to sink all differences and go to battle together unless we meant to be defeated. Both are vital to our salvation."
"Then give labour an interest in the blessing of capital," she said. "Open labour's eyes to the vital values of capital—its strength as well as weakness. Let the units of labour share the interests of their employers and each become a capitalist in their own right. What does it matter where the capital is as long as the nation has got it safe? You might make England a thousand times richer if all those in the country, who want to save money, had the power to save."
"How can we? There's not enough to go round," he told her. But she declared that no argument.
"Then create conditions under which there might be much more. Let the workers be owners, too. If the owners only took their ownership in a different spirit and felt no man is more than a trustee for all—if they were like you, Ray, who are a worker and an owner both, what great things might happen! Make all industry co-operation, in reality as well as theory, and a real democracy must come out of it. It's bound to come."
"Well, I suppose nothing can help it coming. We are great on free institutions in this country and they get freer every year."
So they argued, much at one in heart, and an impartial listener had felt that it was within the power of the woman's intelligence and the man's energy and common sense, to help the world as far as individuals can, did chance and the outcome of their union afford them opportunity.
But Estelle knew that good ideas were of little value in themselves. Seed is of no account if the earth on which it falls be poisoned, and a good idea above all, needs good will to welcome it. Good will to the inspirations of man is as sunshine, rain, sweet soil to the seed; without good will all thinking must perish, or at best lie dormant. She wondered how much of good seed had perished under the bad weather of human weakness, prejudice and jealousy. But she was young, and hope her rightful heritage. The blessed word 'reconstruction' seemed to her as musical as a ring of bells.
"There are some things you never will be able to express in political terms, and life is one of them," Ernest Churchouse had assured her; but she was not convinced of it. She still reverenced politics and looked to it to play husbandman, triumph over party and presently shine out, like a universal sun, whose sole warmth was good will to man.
And as she felt personally to Raymond's work, so did she want the world of women to feel to all men's work. She would not have them claim their rights in the argument of parity of intellect, for that she felt to be vain. It was by the virtue of disparity that their equality should appear. Their virtue and essential aid depended on the difference. The world wanted women, not to do what men had done, but to bring to the task the special qualities and distinctive genius of womanhood to complement and crown the labour of manhood. The mighty structure was growing; but it would never be finished without the saving grace of woman's thought and the touch of woman's hand. The world's work needed them—not for the qualities they shared with men, but for the qualities men lacked and they possessed. If Raymond represented the masculine worker, she hoped that she might presently stand in the ranks of the women, and doubted not that great women would arise to lead her.
She remembered that the Roman element of humanity was described as representing the male spirit, while the Greek stood for the female; and she could easily dream a blend of the two destined to produce a spirit greater than either. Love quickened her visions and added the glow of life to her hopes.
So together she and her future husband prepared for their wedded days, and if ever a man and woman faced the future with steadfast determination to do justly and serve their kind with the best of their united powers, this man and woman did.
They were to be married after the election, and that would take place early in the coming year.
Ironsyde for once found himself part of a machine, and by no means the most important part. He fought the election resolutely and spared no energy. The attraction of the contest grew upon him, and since he contended against a personal acquaintance, one who rated sportsmanship as highly as Arthur Waldron himself, the encounter proceeded on rational lines. It became exceedingly strenuous in the later stages and Raymond's agent, from an attitude of certainty, grew more doubtful. But the personal factor told for the Liberal. He was popular in the constituency and Waldron, himself a strong Conservative, whose vote must necessarily be cast against his future son-in-law, preached the moral.
"If you beat us, Ray, it will be entirely owing to the fact that you played cricket and football in the public eye for twenty years," he asserted and believed.
The Liberal Committee room was at 'The Seven Stars,' for Mr. Legg supported the cause of democracy and pinned his highest hopes thereto. He worked hard for Ironsyde and, on the sole occasion when painful incidents threatened to spoil a public meeting, Job exercised tact and saved the situation.
At one of the last of his gatherings, in the great, new public room of 'The Seven Stars,' Ironsyde had been suddenly confronted with his son. Abel attended this meeting of his father's supporters and attempted to interrupt it. He had arrived primed with words and meant to declare himself before the people; but when the time came, he was nervous and lost his head. Sitting and listening grew to an agony. He could not wait till question time and felt a force within him crying to him, to get upon his feet and finish the thing he had planned to do. But Job, who was among the stewards, kept watchful eyes upon the benches, and Abel had hardly stood up, when he recognised him. Before the boy had shouted half a dozen incoherent words, Mr. Legg and a policeman were at his side.
He sat far down the hall and the little disturbance he had been able to create was hardly appreciated. For Raymond now neared the end of his speech and it had contained matter which aroused attention from all who listened to it, awakened disquiet in some, but enthusiasm among the greater number. He was telling of such hopes and desires as he and Estelle shared, and though an indifferent speaker, the purity of his ambitions and their far-reaching significance challenged intelligent listeners.
In less than half a minute Abel was removed. He did not struggle, but his first instinct was great relief to be outside. Not until later did his reverse breed wrath. His father had not seen him and when Ironsyde inquired afterwards, what the trouble was, Mr. Legg evaded the facts. But he looked to it that Abel should be powerless to renew disturbances. He warned those who controlled the remaining meetings not to admit him, and henceforth kept at the doors a man who knew Abel. Mr. Legg also saw Sabina, who was now much in Bridport concerned with a little house that she had taken, and the boy's mother implored him to do no more evil. To her surprise he admitted that he had been wrong. But he was dark and stormy. She saw but little of him and did not know how he occupied his leisure, or spent his wages.
There is no doubt that, at this time, Abel sank out of mind with those most interested in him. Estelle was entirely preoccupied with the election, and when once the lad's new work had been determined and he went to do it, Raymond dismissed him for the present from his thoughts. He felt grateful to Sabina for falling in with his wishes and hoped that, since she was now definitely on his side, a time might soon come when she would be able to influence her son. Indeed Sabina herself was more hopeful, and when Estelle came to see her in Bridport, declared that Abel kept regular hours and appeared to be interested in his work.
Neither she nor anybody belonging to him heard of the boy's escapade at the meeting, for upon that subject Job Legg felt it wisest to be silent. And when the penultimate meeting passed, the spirit of it was such that those best able to judge again felt very sanguine for Ironsyde. He had created a good impression and won a wide measure of support. He had worked hard, traversed all the ground and left the people under no shadow of doubt as to his opinions. Bridetown was for him; West Haven and Bridport were said to be largely in his favour, but the outlying agricultural district inclined towards his rival. Raymond had, however, been at great pains to win the suffrage of the farmers, and his last meeting was on their account.
Before him now lay the promise of two days' rest, and he accepted them very thankfully, for he began to grow weary in mind and body. He had poured his vitality into the struggle which, started more or less as a sporting event, gradually waxed into a serious and all-important matter. And as his knowledge increased and his physical energy waned, a cloud dulled his enthusiasm at times and more than once he asked himself if it was all worth while—if this infinite trouble and high tension were expended to the wisest purpose on these ambitions. He had heard things from politicians, who came to speak for him, that discouraged him. He had found that single-mindedness was not the dominant quality of those who followed politics as a profession. The loaves and fishes bulked largely in their calculations, and he heard a distinguished man say things at one of his meetings which Raymond knew that it was impossible he could believe. For example, it was clearly a popular catchword that party politics had become archaic, and that a time was near when party would be forgotten in a larger and nobler spirit. Speakers openly declared that great changes were in sight, and the constitution must be modified; but, privately, they professed no such opinions. All looked to their party and their party alone for personal advance. It seemed to Ironsyde that their spirits were mean spirits; that they concealed behind their profession a practice of shrewd calculation and a policy of cynical self-advance. The talk behind the scenes was not of national welfare, but individual success, or failure. The men who talked the loudest on the platform of altruism and the greatest good to the greatest number, were most alive in private conversation to the wire-pulling and intrigue which proceeded unseen; and it was in the machinery they found their prime interest and excitement, rather than in the great operations the machine was ostensibly created to achieve. The whole business on their lips in private appeared to have no more real significance than a county cricket match, or any other game.
Thanks largely to the woman he was to wed, Ironsyde took now a statesman-like rather than a political view as far as his inexperience could do so. He had no axe to grind, and from the standpoint of his ignorance, progress looked easy and demanded no more than that good will of which Estelle so often spoke. But in practice he began to perceive the gulf between ideal legislation and practical politics and, in moments of physical depression, as the election approached, his heart failed him. He grew despondent at night. Then, after refreshing sleep, the spirit of hope reawakened. He felt very certain now that he was going to get in; and still with morning light he hailed the victory; while, after a heavy day, he doubted of its fruits and mistrusted himself. His powers seemed puny contrasted with the gigantic difficulties that the machine set up between a private member and any effective or independent activity in the House.
He was cast down as he rode home after his last meeting but one, and his reflections were again most deeply tinged with doubt as to the value of these heroic exertions. Looked at here, in winter moonlight under a sky of stars, this fevered strife seemed vain, and the particular ambition to which he had devoted such tremendous application appeared thin and doubtful—almost unworthy. He traversed the enterprise, dwelt on outstanding features of it and comforted himself, as often he had done of late, by reflecting that Estelle would be at his right hand. If, after practical experience and fair trial, he found himself powerless to serve their common interests, or advance their ideals, then he could leave the field of Parliament and seek elsewhere for a hearing. His ingenuous hope was to interest his leaders; for he believed that many who possessed power, thought and felt as he did.
He had grown placid by the time he left South Street and turned into the road for home. The night was keen and frosty. It braced him and he began to feel cheerful and hungry for the supper that waited him at North Hill.
Then, where the road forked from Bridetown and an arm left it for West Haven, at a point two hundred yards from outlying farm-houses, a young, slight figure leapt from the hedge, stood firmly in the road and stopped Raymond's horse. The moonlight was clear and showed Ironsyde his son. Abel leapt at the bridle rein, and when the rider bade him loose it, he lifted a revolver and fired twice pointblank.
Ten minutes later, on their way back from the meeting and full of politics, there drove that way John Best, Nicholas Roberts and a Bridetown farmer. They found a man on his back in the middle of the road and a horse standing quietly beside him. None doubted but that Raymond Ironsyde was dead, yet it was not possible for them to be sure. They lifted him into the farmer's cart therefore, and while Best and Roberts returned with him to Bridport Hospital, the farmer mounted Ironsyde's horse and galloped to North Hill with his news. Arthur Waldron was from home, but Estelle left the house as quickly as a motor car could be made ready, and in a quarter of an hour stood at Raymond's side.
He was dead and had, indeed, died instantly when fired upon. He had been shot through the lung and heart, and must have perished before he fell from his horse to the ground.
They knew Estelle at the hospital and left her with Raymond for a little while. He looked ten years younger than when she had seen him last. All care was gone and an expression of content rested upon his beautiful face.
The doctor feared to leave her, judging of the shock; but when he returned she was calm and controlled. She sat by the dead man and held his hand.
"A little longer," she said, and he went out again.
No doubt existed as to the murderer of Raymond Ironsyde, for on the night of his death, Abel Dinnett did not return home. He had left work at the usual time, but had not taken his bicycle; and from that day he was seen no more.
It appeared impossible that he could evade the hue and cry, but twenty-four hours passed and there came no report of his capture. Little mystery marked the matter, save that of Abel's disappearance. His animosity towards his father was known and it had culminated thus. None imagined that capture would be long delayed; but forty-eight hours passed and still there came no news of him.
Estelle Waldron fled from all thought of him at first; then she reflected upon him—driven to do so by a conviction concerning him that commanded action from her.
On the day after the coroner's inquest, for the first time she sought Sabina. The meeting was of an affecting character, for each very fully realised the situation from the standpoint of the other. Sabina was the more distressed, yet she entertained definite convictions and declared herself positive concerning certain facts. Estelle questioned her conclusions and, indeed, refused to believe them.
"I hope you'll understand my coming, Sabina," she said.
She was clad, as usual, in a grey Harris tweed, and the elder wondered why she did not wear black. Estelle's face was haggard and worn, with much suffering. But it seemed that the last dregs of her own cup were not yet drunk, for an excruciating problem faced her. There was none to help her solve it, yet she took it to Sabina.
"I thought you'd come, sooner or later. This is a thing beyond any human power to make better. God knows I mourn for you far more than I mourn for myself. I don't mourn for myself. Long ago I saw that the living can't be happy, though the dead may be. The dead may be—we'll hope it for them."
"It's death to me as well as to him," said Estelle simply. "As far as I'm concerned, I feel that I'm dead from now and shall live on as somebody different—somebody I don't know yet. All that we were and had and hoped—everything is gone with him. The future was to be spent in trying to do good things. We shared the same ideas about it. But that's all over. I'm left—single-handed, Sabina."
"Yes, I know how you feel."
"I can't bear to think of it yet. I didn't come to talk about him, or myself. I came to talk about Abel."
"I can't tell you anything about him."
"I know you know nothing. I think I know more than you do."
"Know more of him than I do?" asked the mother. There was almost a flash of jealousy in her voice. But it faded and she sighed.
"No, no. You needn't fret for him. They may find him, or they may not; but they'll not find him alive."
Estelle started. She believed most steadfastly that Abel was alive, and felt very certain that she knew his hiding-place.
"Why do you think that?" she asked. "You might hope it; but why do you think it? Have you any good reason for thinking it?"
"There are some things you know," answered the mother. "You know them without being told and without any reason. You neither hope nor fear—you know. I might ask you how you know where he is. But I don't want to ask you. I've taken my good-bye of him, poor, wasted life. How had God got the heart to let him live for this? People will say it was fitting, and happened by the plan of his Maker. No man's child—not even God's. It's all hidden, all dark to me. It's worked itself out to the bitter end. Men would have been too kind to work it out like this. Only God could. I can't say much to you. I'm very sorry for you. You were caught up into the thing and didn't know, or guess, what you were thrusting yourself into. But now it's your turn, and you'll have to wait long years, as I did, before you can look at life again without passion or sorrow."
"It doesn't matter about me. But, if you feel Abel is dead, I feel just as strongly that he is alive, and that this isn't the end of him."
"I know him better than you, and I know Providence better than you do," she answered. "It's like the wonder you are—to think on him without hate. But you're wasting your time and showing pity for nothing. He's beyond pity. Why, I don't pity him—his mother."
"I'm only doing what Raymond tried to do so often and failed—what he would have me do now if he'd lived. And if I know something that nobody else does, I must use that knowledge. I'm sorry I do know, Sabina, but I do."
"You waste your time, I expect. If the hunt that's going on doesn't find him, how shall you do it? He's at the bottom of the sea, I hope."
They parted and the same night Estelle set out to satisfy her will. She told nobody of her purpose, for she knew that her father would not have allowed her to pursue it. Waldron was utterly crushed by the death of his friend and could not as yet realise the loss.
Nor did Estelle realise it, save in fitful and fleeting agonies. As yet the full significance of the event was by no means weighed by her. It meant far more than she could measure and receive and accept in so brief a space of time. Seen from the standpoint of this death, every plan of her life, every undertaking for the future, was dislocated. She left that complete ruin for the present. There was no hurry to restore, or set about rebuilding the fabric of her future. She would have all her life to do it in.
The thought of Abel came as a demand to her justice. Her knowledge, amounting to a conviction, required action. The nature of the action she did not know, but something urged her to reach him if she could. For she believed him mad. Great torture of spirit had overtaken her under her loss; but upon this extreme grief, ugly and incessant, obtruded the thought of Abel, the secret of his present refuge and the impulse to approach him. Her personal suffering established rather than shook her own high standards. She had promised the boy never to tell anybody of the haunt he had shown her under the roof in the old store at West Haven; and if most women might now have forgotten such a promise, Estelle did not. But she very strenuously argued against the spiritual impulse to seek him, for every physical instinct rose against doing so. To do this was surely not required of her, for whereunto would it lead? What must be the result of any such meeting? It might be dreadful; it could not fail to be futile. Yet all mental effort to escape the task proved vain. Her very grief edged her old, austere, chivalrous acceptance of duty. She felt that justice called her to this ordeal, and she went—with no fixed purpose save to see him and urge him to surrender himself for his own peace if he could understand. No personal fear touched her reflections. She might have welcomed fear in these unspeakable moments of her life, for she was little enamoured of living after Raymond Ironsyde died. The thought of death for herself had not been distasteful at that time.
She went fearlessly, when all slept and her going and coming would not be observed. She left her home at a moonless midnight, took candle and matches, dressed in her stoutest clothes and walked over North Hill towards Bridport. But at the eastern shoulder of the downs she descended through a field and struck the road again just at the fork where Raymond had perished.
Then she struck into the West Haven way and soon slipped under the black mass of the old store. The night was cloudy and still. No wind blew and the sigh of the sea beneath the shelving beaches close at hand, had sunk to a murmur. West Haven lay lost in darkness. The old store had been searched, as many other empty buildings, for the fugitive; but he was not specially associated with this place, save in the mind of Estelle. The police had hunted it carefully, no more, and she guessed that his eerie under the roof, only reached by a somewhat perilous climb through a broken window, would not be discovered.
She remembered also that there were some students of Raymond's murder who did not associate Abel with it. Such held that only accident and coincidence had made him run away on the night of Ironsyde's end. They argued that in these cases the obvious always proved erroneous, and the theory most transparently rational seldom led the way to the truth.
But she had never doubted about that. It seemed already a commonplace of knowledge, a lifetime old, that Abel had destroyed his father, and that he must be insane to have ruined his own life in this manner.
She ascended cautiously through the darkness, reached a gap—once a window—from which her ascent must be made, and listened for a few moments to hear if anything stirred above her.
It seemed as though the old store was full of noises, for the fingers of decay never cease from picking and, in the silence of night, one can best hear their stealthy activities. Little falls of fragments sounded loudly, even echoed, in this great silence. There was almost a perpetual rustle and whisper; and once a thud and skurry, when a rat displaced a piece of mortar which fell from the rotting plaster. Dark though the heaven was and black the outer night, it had the quality that air never loses and she saw the sky as possessed of illumination in contrast with its setting of the broken window. Within all was blankly black; from above there came no sound.
She climbed to the window ledge, felt for the nails that Abel had hammered in to hold his feet and soon ascended through a large gap under the eaves of the store. Some shock had thrown out a piece of brickwork here. Seen from the ground the aperture looked trifling and had indeed challenged no attention; but it was large enough to admit a man.
For a moment Estelle stood in this aperture before entering the den within. She raised her voice, which fluttered after her climb, and called to him.
"Abel! Abel! It's Estelle."
There came the thought, even as she spoke, that he might answer with a bullet; but he answered not at all. She felt thankful for the silence and hoped that he might have deserted his retreat. Perhaps, indeed, he had never come to it; and yet it seemed impossible that he had for two days escaped capture unless here concealed. It occurred to her that he might wander out by night and return before day. He might even now be behind her, to intercept her return. Still no shadow of fear shook her mind or body. She felt not a tremor. All that concerned her conscience was now completed and she hoped that it would be possible to dismiss from her thoughts the fellow creature who had destroyed her joy of life and worked evil so far reaching. She could leave him now to his destiny and feel under no compulsion to relate the incidents of her nocturnal search. Had he been there, she would have risked the meeting, urged him to surrender and then left him if he allowed her to do so. She would never have given him up, or broken her promise to keep his secret.
But the chamber under the roof was large and she did not leave it without making sure that he was neither hiding nor sleeping within it. She entered, lighted her candle and examined a triangular recess formed by the converging beams of the roof above her and the joists under her feet.
The boy had been busy here. There were evidences of him—evidences of a child rather than a man. Boyish forethought stared her in the face and staggered her by its ghastly incongruities with the things this premeditating youth had done. Here were provisions, not such as a man would have selected to stand a siege, but the taste of a schoolboy. She looked at the supplies spread here—tins of preserved food, packets of chocolate, bottles of ginger beer, bananas, biscuits. But it seemed that the hoard had not been touched. One tin of potted salmon had been opened, but no part of the contents was consumed. Either accident had changed his purpose and frightened him elsewhere at the last moment, or the energies and activities that had gone to pile this accumulation were all spent in the process and now he did not need them.
Then she looked further, to the extremity of the den he had made, and there, lying comfortably on a pile of shavings, Estelle found him.
She guessed that the storm and stress of his crime had exhausted him and thrown him into heaviest possible physical slumber after great mental tribulation. She shuddered as she looked down on him and a revulsion, a loathing tempted her to creep away again before he awakened. She did not think of him as a patricide, nor did her own loss entirely inspire the emotion; she never associated him with that, but kept him outside it, as she would have kept some insensible or inanimate object had such been responsible for Ironsyde's end. It was the sudden thought of all Raymond's death might mean—not to her but the world—that turned her heart to stone for a fearful second as she looked down upon the unconscious figure. Her own sorrow was sealed at its fountains for the time. But her sorrow for the world could not be sealed. And then came the thought that the insensible boy at her feet, escaping for a little while through sleep's primeval sanctity, was part of the robbed world also. Who had lost more than he by his unreason? If her heart did not melt then, it grew softer.
But there was more to learn before she left him and the truth can be recorded.
Abel had killed his father and hastened to his lair exultant. He had provided for what should follow and vaguely hoped that presently, before his stores were spent, the way would be clearer for escape. He assured himself safe from discovery and guessed that when a fortnight was passed, he might safely creep out, reach a port, find work in a ship and turn his back upon England for ever.
That was his general plan before the deed. Afterwards all changed for him. He then found himself a being racked and over-mastered by new sensations. The desirable thing that he had done changed its features, even as death changes the features of life; the ideal, so noble and seemly before, when attained assumed such a shape as, in one of Abel's heredity, it was bound to assume. Not at once did the change appear, but as a cloud no bigger than a man's hand in the clear, triumphant sky of his achievement. Even so an apple, that once he had stolen and hidden, was bruised unknown to him and thus contained the seed of death, that made it rot before it was ripe. The decay spread and the fruit turned to filth before he could win any enjoyment from it.
He shook off the beginnings of doubt impatiently. He retraced his grievances and dwelt on the glory of his revenge as he reached his secret place after the crime. But the stain darkened in the heart of his mind; and before dawn crept through cracks in the roof above his lair, dissolution had begun.
Through the hours of that first day he lay there with his thoughts for company and a process, deepening, as dusk deepened, into remorse began to horrify him. He fought with all his might against it. He resented it with indignation. His gorge rose against it; he would have strangled it, had it been a ponderable thing within his power to destroy; but as time passed he began to know it was stronger than he. It gripped his spirit with unconquerable fingers and slowly stifled him. Time crept on interminable. When the second night came, he was faint and turned to his food. He struggled with himself and opened a tin of salmon. But he could not eat. He believed that he would never eat again. He slept for an hour, then woke from terrifying dreams. His mind wandered and he longed to be gone and tear off his clothes and dip into the sea.
At dawn of the second day men were hunting the old stores, from its cellars to the attics below him. He heard them speaking under his feet and listened to two men who cursed him. They speculated whether he was too young to hang and hoped he might not be. Yet he could take pride in their failure to find him. There was, as he remembered, only one person in the world who knew of his eerie; but terror did not accompany this recollection. His exultation at the defeat of the searchers soon vanished, and he found himself indifferent to the thought that Estelle might remember.
He knew that his plans could not be fulfilled now: it was impossible for him to live a fortnight here. And then he began stealthily, fearfully, to doubt of life itself. It had changed in its aspect and invitation. Its promises were dead. It could hold nothing for him as he had been told by Levi Baggs. The emotions now threatening his mind were such that he believed no length of days would ever dim them; from what he suffered now, it seemed that time's self could promise no escape. Life would be hell and not worth living. At this point in his struggles his mind failed him and became disordered. It worked fitfully, and its processes were broken with blanks and breaks. Chaos marked his mental steps from this point; his feet were caught and he fell down and down, yet tried hard for a while to stay his fall. His consciousness began to decide, while his natural instincts struggled against the decision. Not one, but rival spirits tore him. Reason formed no part in the encounter; no arbiter arose between the conflicting forces, between a gathering will to die and escape further torment, and the brute will to live, that must belong to every young creature, happy or wretched.
The trial was long drawn out; but it had ended some hours before Estelle stood beside him.
She considered whether she should waken Abel and determined that she must do so, since to speak with him, if possible, she held her duty now. He was safe if he wished to be, for she would never tell his secret. So she bent down with her light—to find him dead. He had shot himself through the right temple after sunset time of the second day.
Estelle stood and looked at him for a little while, then climbed back to earth and went away through the darkness to tell his mother that she was right.
The Human Boy and the War
BY EDEN PHILLPOTTS
In this book of stories Mr. Phillpotts uses his genial gift of characterization to picture the effect of the European War on the impressionable minds of boys—English school-boys far away from anything but the mysterious echo of the strange terrors and blood-stirring heroisms of battle, who live close only to the martial invitation of a recruiting station. There are stories of a boy who runs away to go to the front, teachers who go—perhaps without running; the school's contest for a prize poem about the war, and snow battles, fiercely belligerent, mimicking the strategies of Flanders and the Champagne. They are deeply moving sketches revealing the heart and mind of English youth in war-time.
"The book is extraordinary in the skill with which it gets into that world of the boy so shut away from the adult world. It is entirely unlike anything else by Phillpotts, equal as it is to his other volumes in charm, character study, humor and interest. It is one of those books that every reader will want to recommend to his friends, and which he will only lend with the express proviso that it must be returned."—New York Times.
"In this book Mr. Phillpotts pictures a boy, a real human boy. The boy's way of thinking, his outlook upon life, his ambitions, his ideals, his moods, his peculiarities, these are all here touched with a kindly sympathy and humor."—New York Sun.
"Mr. Phillpotts writes from a real knowledge of the schoolboy's habit of thought. He writes with much humor and the result is as delightful and entertaining a volume as has come from his pen for some time."—Buffalo Evening News.
CHRONICLES OF ST. TID
BY EDEN PHILLPOTTS
"The gifts of the short-story writer are wholly Mr. Phillpotts'. Here, as elsewhere in his works, we have the place painted with the pen of an artist, and the person depicted with the skill of the writer who is inspired by all types of humanity."—Boston Evening Transcript.
"No one rivals Phillpotts in this peculiar domain of presenting an ancient landscape, with its homes and their inmates as survivals of a past century. There is nothing vague about his characters. They are undeniable personalities, and are possessed of a psychology all their own."—The Chicago Tribune.
THE BANKS OF COLNE
BY EDEN PHILLPOTTS
"Absorbing, written with sure power and a constant flow of humor.... Has the warm human glow of sympathy and understanding, and it is written with real mastery."—New York Times.
"A tale of absorbing interest from its start to the altogether unusual and dramatic climax with which it closes."—Philadelphia Public Ledger.
"Stands in the foremost rank of current fiction."—New York Tribune.
"His acute faculties of sympathetic observation, his felicitous skill in characterization, and his power to present the life of a community in all its multiple aspects are here combined in the most mature and absorbing novel of his entire career."—Philadelphia Press.
THE GREEN ALLEYS
BY EDEN PHILLPOTTS
"As long as we have such novels as The Green Alleys and such novelists as Mr. Phillpotts, we need have no fears for the future of English fiction. Mr. Phillpotts' latest novel is a representative example of him at his best, of his skill as a literary creator and of his ability as an interpreter of life."—Boston Transcript.
"A drama of fascinating interest, lightened by touches of delicious comedy ... one of the best of the many remarkable books from the pen of this clever author."—Boston Globe.
BY EDEN PHILLPOTTS
The regeneration of a faulty character through association with dignified honest work and simple, sincere people is the theme which Mr. Phillpotts has chosen for this novel. The scene is largely laid in a pottery, where a lad, having escaped from a reform school, has sought shelter and work. Under the influence of the gentle, kindly folk of the community he comes in a measure to realize himself.
BY EDEN PHILLPOTTS
"Besides being a good story, richly peopled, and brimful of human nature in its finer aspects, the book is seasoned with quiet humor and a deal of mellow wisdom."—New York Times.