“If I’ve anything to pardon, Banks, it was forgiven the next minute. I look upon life as too short, and the work we have to do as too much, to allow room for nursing up such troubles as that.”
“Don’t say any more, parson,” said Joe, wringing his hand, with a grip of iron; “it makes me feel ’shamed like o’ my sen.”
“I don’t see why,” said the vicar. “If I had been a father I dare say I should have done the same.”
“Down on your knees to-night, parson, and pray as you never may be,” cried the old man fiercely; “that you may never nurse and bring up and love a bairn whom you toil for all your life, to find she throws you over for the first face that pleases her.”
“But we are not quite certain yet, Banks,” said the vicar, laying his hand on the other’s arm.
“Yes, I am,” said Banks, sturdily. “I know enew to satisfy me; but stop a moment, I meant to have a word about that, and let’s have it at once. It’s all my own doing, I know, but there it is, and it can’t be undone. Tell me, though, parson, can you say from your heart, ‘Joe Banks, you’re mista’en; I don’t think Richard Glaire – Richard Glaire – dal me! I will say it.’”
The old man’s voice turned hoarse, and shook at last, so that he could not speak, as he came to Richard Glaire’s name, when, after an effort, he exclaimed as above, and then went on – “I don’t think Richard Glaire stole away your bairn?”
There was silence in the room, as the vicar looked sorrowfully in the keen eyes of Daisy’s father.
“I say, parson,” he repeated, “can you say fro’ your heart, ‘Joe Banks, you’re mista’en; I don’t think Richard Glaire stole away your bairn?’”
There was another pause, and Joe Banks spoke again.
“Can you say that, parson?”
“No, Banks,” said the vicar, sadly. “I may be mistaken, but I cannot say what you wish.”
“Thanky, parson, thanky,” said the old man, quietly. “You’ll shake hands with me afore I go.”
“Indeed I will, Mr Banks; indeed I will,” said the vicar, heartily. “But you are not going yet.”
“Yes, I’m going now, parson, and if in the time as is to come you hear owt as isn’t good of me, put it down to circumstances. You will, wean’t you?”
“You’re not going away, Banks?”
“Nay, nay, man, I’m not going away. Just do as I say, that’s all.”
“How is your wife? I hope better. She seemed ill yesterday.”
“Ah, ah, you called yesterday, as she said. Thanky, she’s on’y a poor creature now. This job’s unsattled her. Good-bye, parson, good-bye.”
“But is there anything I can do for you, Banks?”
“Nay, parson, nowt as I knows on. Good-bye, good-bye.”
He shook hands, and went quietly out to the garden, and along the path, leaving the vicar wondering.
“Did he mean anything by his words?” the vicar said, “or was it only in connection with asking me to forgive him? He couldn’t mean – oh, no, he’s too calm and subdued for that. He’s like a man who knows the worst now, and is better able to bear it.
The vicar used to look sadly at his church every Sunday, at the damp-stained walls, the unpainted high deal pews, with their straw-plaited cushions and hassocks, dotted with exceptions, where the better-off inhabitants had green baize, and in the case of the doctor’s, the lawyer’s, and the Big House pews, scarlet moreen cushions.
It was a dreary, damp place, with a few ugly old tablets, and one large monument, which nearly half filled the little chancel with its clumsy wrought-iron railings, enclosing the gilded and painted marble effigies of Roger de Dumford and Dame Alys, his wife, uncomfortably lying on their backs on a cushion not large enough for them, and turning up the rosetted shoes that they wore in the most ungainly way. Sir Roger was in slashed doublet and puffed breeches, and wore a ruff as stiff as marble could make it, and so did Dame Alys, in long stomacher and farthingale; while their great merits were enumerated, and the number of children they had issue was stated on the tablet on the wall.
This great tomb went pretty close up to the communion-rail, and for generations past the various vicars had hung their surplices on the rails, and changed them for their gowns in the shade, for the vestry was over the porch at the south door, and was only opened for parish meetings, when the officials went in and came out, to adjourn and do business at the big room at the Bull.
Always damp, and smelling of very bad, mouldy cheese, was that church. The schoolmistress, a limp, melancholy woman, always used to give it out to the schoolmaster as her opinion that it was the bodies buried beneath the flags – a matter rather open to doubt, as no one had been interred there for over a hundred years, while the damp-engendered mould and fungi in corner and on wall spoke for themselves.
No stove to warm the place in winter; few windows to open in summer, to admit the pleasant warm air; the place was always dank, dark, and ill-smelling, and from its whitewashed beams overhead to its ancient flag flooring, and again from the stained glass windows on either side, all was oppressive, cold, and shudder-engendering.
Let it not be imagined, however, that there were stained glass windows of wondrous dye. Nothing of the kind, for they were merely stained and encrusted by time of a dingy, ghastly, yellowish tint, and as full of waves and blurs as the old-fashioned glass could be.
The consequence was the people were slow to come to church, and quick to get out. One or two vicars had had ideas of improving the place, and had mooted the matter at public and parochial meetings. The result had always been whitewash – whitewash on the ceilings, and whitewash on the walls.
The question had been mooted again.
Again, and again, and again, as years rolled on.
More whitewash, and whitewash, and whitewash. Even the two old rusty helmets and pairs of gauntlets hung up in the chancel, said to have been worn by great De Dumfords of the past, had been whitewashed, with a most preservative effect, saving where the rust had insisted upon coming through in stains of brown. The result was that, thanks to the churchwarden’s belief in lime as representing purity, Dumford was the most whitewashed church in the country, and it stood up in waves and corrugations all over the walls, where the damp had not caused it to peel off in plates, varying in thickness from that of a shilling to half an inch; and these scales had a knack of falling into pews during service time, probably from the piercing character of the music causing vibrations that they could not stand.
That music on Sundays was not cheerful, for there was no organ governed by one will, the minstrelsy being supplied by Owd Billy Stocks, who played dismally upon a clarionet, which wailed sadly for the cracks all down its sides; by Tommy Johnson, the baker, who blew a very curly crooked French horn, which he always seemed to fear would make too much noise, so held it in subjection by keeping his fist thrust up the bell; by Joey South, a little old man in tight leather pantaloons, skimpy long-tailed coat, and tight-squeezy hat, turned close up to the sides at the brims, giving him a tighter appearance altogether than the great umbrella, which, evidently an heirloom, he always carried under his arm, as if it were a stiffened fac-simile of himself as he walked to church preceded by a boy carrying his instrument – a thing like a thick black gun, with a brass crook about a foot long coming out of one side – Joey South called it his “barsoon,” but as he sat cuddling it in church, it looked more like some wonderful Eastern pipe that he was smoking, while it emitted strange sounds like a huge bumble-bee stopped constantly in its discourse by a finger placed over its mouth; by Johnny Buffam, the shoemaker, who blew a large brass affair like a small steam thrashing-engine, and boomed and burred in it like “an owd boozzard clock,” as Kitty Stocks said; and lastly, by Trappy Pape, who used to bring a great violoncello in a green baize bag, and saw away solemnly in a pair of round tortoise-shell rimmed spectacles.
These variations of the Christian names of the sacred band were, as before said, common to the town, where every man was a Dicky, or a Tommy, or a Joey, or the like, and generally with an “Owd” before it. The clergyman our vicar succeeded was the Reverend James Bannister, but he was always known as “Owd Jemmy,” and it was a matter of regret to the popular wits of the place that the Reverend Murray Selwood’s name offered no hold for the ingenious to nickname, so they settled down to “Owd Parson,” and so he was called.
But to return to the choir.
They sat in a gallery that crossed the western end of the church, and on Sundays such of them as put in an appearance had it, with the singers and the schoolchildren, all to themselves; and let it not be supposed that the preponderance of bass was noticeable, for it was pretty well drowned by the shrill treble, as the musicians did not get much music out of their instruments, save and excepting Billy Stokes, who always seemed to be dying in agonies, such wails did he send forth in “Portugal,” “Hanover,” and “Old Hundredth,” that it took all the efforts of the basses to smother his piercing cries.
The bells, pulled for a treat by five boys under the direction of Jacky Budd, had had their say; the musicians had blundered and clumped up the dark staircase to their seats, and Trappy Pape was working away with his bow upon a large cake of rosin, while Joey Tight, as he was more generally called, was sucking his brass pipe, and conning over the notes he had known for fifty years, to the great admiration of the schoolboys, one and all longing to “have a blow at that theer big black thing.” The “tingtang” which went for ten minutes in a cracked, doleful, sheep-bell style, was being pulled, and the vicar was standing in his surplice, waiting for the clock to strike – which it would do sometimes with tolerable accuracy – and he was thinking of how he should like to move the people to have something done by way of restoration to the church, when Jacky Budd, with one thumb in his arm-hole, came slinking softly up to try and get a bit of whispered conversation with the parson.
“Strange great congregation this morning, sir,” he whispered.
“Indeed, Budd,” said the vicar, brightening. “I’m glad of that.”
“I counted ’em, sir – there’s two-and-forty.”
“Forty-two, Budd,” said the vicar, with his countenance falling; “and the church holds seven hundred.”
“Two-and-forty, sir, wi’out the schoolchildren.”
“But you counted the singers, Budd?”
“No, sir, I didn’t; two-and-forty wi’out.”
“Ah, Budd, it’s very sad,” said the vicar, sighing. “I hoped for better things by now.”
“Why, we never used to hev such congregations in the owd vicar’s time, sir, as we do wi’ you. We never used to hev more than five-and-twenty o’ wet Sundays, and I hev know’d him preach to six.”
“Hah!” A long sigh and a mental question, “What can I do to bring them here?” as Jacky Budd shuffled as far as the door and back.
“Owd Robinson from the Bull, and his missus, just come in, sir; and Master Bultitude and Miss Jessie, and John Maine from the farm, makes forty-seven, sir. If I might make so bold, sir, don’t you think we ought to hev a collection?”
“Why, that’s due next Sunday, Budd, and a strange clergyman coming,” said the vicar, hardly able to restrain a smile.
“That’s why I said it, sir,” said Budd, slily. “You wean’t get a score o’ people here nex’ Sunday.”
The vicar shook his head, and looked at his watch, which Jacky took as a hint to go, and he went as far as his desk, opened his book, and then saw something that made him softly shuffle back to where the vicar was waiting for the first stroke of the clock to start for the reading-desk.
“They’ve come to the big pew, sir,” he whispered behind his hand.
“Mrs Glaire, sir, and Miss Eve, and young Master Dicky.”
The vicar started slightly. This was a change, indeed, and full of promise. Richard Glaire, who had not been out of the house nor into the garden since the attack made upon him, and who had never been seen in the old pew since the vicar’s coming, had walked down the High Street between his mother and Eve, and made his appearance at church.
“Well, of course, he would be safe on such a day,” thought the vicar, “and the people have been quieter. God grant this is the beginning of the end, and that this little feud may be succeeded by peace.”
He thought this as the clock was striking, and he walked to the reading-desk, glanced through the Prayer-Book and Bible, where the markers were, to see that Jacky Budd, whose memory was erratic, had made no mistakes, and given him wrong psalms and lessons to read, and then turned to the opening sentences, and was about to commence; but the presence of Richard Glaire troubled him. He was glad at heart that he should be there, and now that he had come he wished to influence him for good, – to bring him to a different way of thinking, for Eve’s sake; and now these sentences all seemed, as of course they were, personal, and such as would make Richard Glaire think that they were selected and aimed specially at him.
“When the wicked man,” read the vicar to himself. No. “I acknowledge.” No, no, no, one after the other they seemed warnings to the sinner, such a one as Richard Glaire, and in the hurried glance down he came to, “I will arise.”
“More pointed still,” he thought, and having no time to study the question, he read the two last, beginning, “Enter not into judgment,” etc., and “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves,” etc.
As the service went on the vicar’s eyes took in by turns the members of his congregation, and at last he let them light on the Glaires’ pew.
There stood Mrs Glaire, looking old and careworn; in another corner, Eve Pelly, with her sweet, innocent face, looking to him angelic in her rapt absorption, as she listened to his words, and there, with his back to them, and leaning over the edge of the pew in a negligent d?gag? attitude, as if bent on showing the congregation the whiteness of the hands he held up for inspection, stood Richard Glaire, gazing at him with half-closed eyes, in a supercilious, sneering manner.
“Poor boy!” thought Murray Selwood, as his eyes met those of the young man for a moment, and then, like a sudden flash, a thought occurred to the vicar, which made the blood flush to his face, and then seem to run back to his heart.
It was the time for reading the first lesson, and his hand was seeking the book-mark in the Bible.
“Sixth Sunday after Trinity,” he thought.
He will think it chosen, and directed at him. What should he do? Change it and read the lesson for that day of the month. No, that would look as if he had purposely avoided it, and it would take some few minutes to find, for his calmness was leaving him, and he could not recall the date. No, he must read it – it was his duty, and it was like a stroke of fate that Richard Glaire should come there upon such a day.
His voice shook slightly, and his eyes dimmed as he read the first words of the beautiful old story, and then moved to the very core, and in deep rich tones, he read on in the midst of a stillness only broken by the soft chirp of some sparrow on the roof; while Mrs Glaire’s head went lower and lower, Eve Pelly’s hand stole softly across to touch her, and the young man sat with his back to the congregation, now white with rage, now burning with shame.
“A coward – a sneak!” he muttered between his ground teeth. “He has chosen that chapter to shame me before all the people. I won’t stand it. I’ll get up and go out.”
But to do that was not in Richard Glaire’s power. He had not the strength of mind and daring for so defiant an act, and he sat on, thrilled in every fibre, as the deep, mellow voice went on telling how the Lord sent Nathan unto David, and he told him of the rich man, who in his wealth spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, but took the poor man’s lamb, who was to him as a daughter; and as these words were told, there came from the body of the church the stifled sobs of one of the women of the congregation who could not control her feelings. And at last, in spite of himself, Murray Selwood was moved to such an extent by the words he was reading, that he spoke as if he were the prophet of old, his voice rising and falling as it thrilled his hearers, till it was deep and denunciatory, as he exclaimed: —
“And Nathan said unto David – Thou art the man.”
There was an audible sigh of relief as the lesson ended, and the vicar wiped the dew from his forehead, for it had been to him a trial, and his voice was low and troubled as he continued the service, but feeling glad at heart that he had not chosen that lesson for the strong, suitable discourse which he afterwards delivered.
It is needless to do more than refer to it here, even though Joey Tight stood up with his hand to his ear so as not to miss a word, and winked and blinked ecstatically, and though it, too, struck Richard Glaire home, inasmuch as it was in allusion to the trade troubles in the town, and ended with a prayer that the blessings of unity and brotherly love might come among them, and peace and plenty once more reign in their homes.
Old Bultitude and Jessie were waiting at the door as the vicar came out, to look in a troubled way up the High Street, after Richard Glaire and his companions; but there was nothing to fear, the street was deserted, save by the people leaving church.
“He’s raight enew to-day, parson,” said the old farmer, divining his thought. “Nobody will touch him o’ Sunday, and wi’ the women. Zoonds, but you gi’e it him hot, and no mistake. That were clever o’ ye. Dal it all, parson, I could like to ha’ offended you, for the sake of getting such a tongue thrashing.”
“My dear Mr Bultitude,” said the vicar sadly, “if you will look at your Prayer-book, you will find that this was no plan of mine, but a matter of accident, or fate – who can say which.”
“Weer it, though?” said the farmer, as they walked on, his road lying by the vicarage, and he stared round-eyed at his companion. “Think o’ that, Jess. I wouldn’t ha’ believed it: it’s amazing. By the way, parson, I want a few words wi’ you. Jess, lass, walk on a bit. Theer, ye needn’t hurry. I don’t want ye to o’ertake John Maine.”
Jessie blushed, and the tears came into her eyes as she went on a few paces; and the farmer, as soon as she was out of ear-shot, pointed at her with his thumb.
“Bit touched, parson, courting like. She’s fond o’ that lad, John Maine, and I want her to wed young Brough.”
“Maine seems to me a very good worthy young fellow,” said the vicar.
“Hem!” said the farmer. “I don’t know so much about that, and t’other’s got the brass.”
“Money won’t bring happiness, Mr Bultitude.”
“Raight, parson, raight; but it’s main useful. Me and my poor missis, as lies there in chutchyard, hedn’t nowt when we began; but we made some,” he continued, proudly.
“By sheer hard work, no doubt.”
“Ay, we hed to work, but that’s nowt after all. I wouldn’t gi’ a straw for a lad as can’t work, and is skeart of it. Why, when I went to the bit o’ farm, ‘Boottherboomp’ they used to call it then, cause of the ‘boottherboomps.’”
“Let me see, that’s your local name for the bittern, is it not?”
“Yes; big brown bird, some’at like a hern,” said old Bultitude. “They lives in wet, swampy places. Well, parson, that place was all one swamp when I went, and I says to mysen, where rushes is a growing now, I mean to grow wheat; and so every year I used to do nowt but spend i’ dreaning, and now there isn’t a finer farm i’ the county.”
“It’s perfect,” said the vicar, “perfect.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear thee say it, parson, because I know thee sayst what thee means, and thou’rt as good a judge of a crop and stack as iver I see, for a man as isn’t a farmer. It isn’t ivery man as comes fro’ the wild parts ’bout London as can tell as a hog or a hogget isn’t a pig, but a ship, and knows what he’s worth to a shilling or two. But just hearken to me, going on like that, when I wanted to say a word or two ’bout our John Maine.”
“Yes, parson. I’m mortal feard that lad’s going wrong. He’s got some ’at on his mind, and he’s always in confab wi’ young Podmore as was Daisy Banks’ sweetheart, and there’s some mystery about it. Young Brough says he’s mixed up wi’ a blackguard low lot, poaching or some’at o’ that sort; but I don’t tak’ much notice o’ he, for he’s a bit jealous of him. But what I want you to do is to get hold of John and talk to him, for he’s upsetting our Jess, and I shall hev to get shoot of him if things don’t alter, and I doan’t want to do that, parson, for I rayther like the lad, if he’d go back to what he weer. Good day; you’ll see him, will you?”
“Indeed I will.”
“And young Podmore, too, parson?”
“Yes, if it’s necessary.”
“Oh, it is; and you’ll put ’em raight, I know. But I say, parson – but that was a hot one for Dicky Glaire. Good-bye.”