|←Chapter VIII. Mr. Ffrench|| Haworth's by
Chapter IX. "Not for One Hour"
|Chapter X. Christian Murdoch→|
The meetings of the malcontents continued to be held at the "Who'd ha' thowt it," and were loud voiced and frequent, but notwithstanding their frequency and noisiness resulted principally in a disproportionate consumption of beer and tobacco and in some differences of opinion, decided in a gentlemanly manner with the assistance of "backers" and a ring.
Having been rescued from these surroundings by Murdoch on several convivial occasions, Briarley began to anticipate his appearance with resignation if not cheerfulness, and to make preparations accordingly.
"I mun lay a sup in reet at th' start," he would say. "Theer's no knowin' how soon he'll turn up if he drops in to see th' women. Gi' me a glass afore these chaps, Mary. They con wait a bit."
"Why does tha stand it, tha foo'?" some independent spirit would comment. "Con th' chap carry thee whoam if tha does na want to go?"
But Briarley never rebelled. Resistance was not his forte. If it were possible to become comfortably drunk before he was sought out and led away he felt it a matter for mild self-gratulation, but he bore defeat amiably.
"Th' missis wants me," he would say unsteadily but with beaming countenance, on catching sight of Murdoch or Janey. "Th' missis has sent to ax me to go an'—an' set wi' her a bit. I mun go, chaps. A man munna negleck his fam'ly."
In response to Mrs. Briarley's ratings and Janey's querulous appeals, it was his habit to shed tears copiously and with a touch of ostentation.
"I'm a poor chap, missus," he would say. "I'm a poor chap. Yo' cunnot be hard on me. I nivver wur good enow fur a woman loike yoursen. I should na wonder if I had to join th' teetotals after aw. Tha knows it allus rains o' Whit-Saturday, when they ha' their walk, an' that theer looks as if th' Almoighty wur on th' teetotal soide. It's noan loike he'd go to so mich trouble if he were na."
At such crises as these "th' women foak," as he called his wife and Janey, derived their greatest consolation from much going to chapel.
"If it wur na fur th' bit o' comfort I get theer," said the poor woman, "I should na know whether I wur standin' on my head or my heels—betwixt him, an' th' work, an' th' childer."
"Happen ye'd loike to go wi' us," said Janey to Murdoch, one day. Yo'll be sure to hear a good sermont."
Murdoch went with them, and sat in a corner of their free seat—a hard one, with a straight and unrelenting back. But he was not prevented by the seat from being interested and even absorbed by the doctrine. He had an absent-minded way of absorbing impressions, and the unemotional tenor of his life had left him singularly impartial. He did not finally decide that the sermon was good, bad, or indifferent, but he pondered on it and its probable effects deeply, and with no little curiosity. It was a long sermon, and one which "hit straight from the shoulder." It displayed a florid heaven and a burning hell. It was literal, and well garnished with telling and scriptural quotations. Once or twice during its delivery Murdoch glanced at Janey and Mrs. Briarley. The woman, during intervals of eager pacifying of the big baby, lifted her pale face and listened devoutly. Janey sat respectable and rigorous, her eyes fixed upon the pulpit, her huge shawl folded about her, her bonnet slipping backward at intervals, and requiring to be repeatedly rearranged by a smart hustling somewhere in the region of the crown.
The night was very quiet when they came out into the open air. The smoke-clouds of the day had been driven away by a light breeze, and the sky was bright with stars. Mrs. Briarley and the ubiquitous baby joined a neighbor and hastened home, but Murdoch and Janey lingered a little.
"My father is buried here," Murdoch had said, and Janey had answered with sharp curiousriess,—
"Wheer's th' place? I'd loike to see it. Has tha gotten a big head-stone up?"
She was somewhat disappointed to find there was none, and that nothing but the sod covered the long mound, but she appeared to comprehend the state of affairs at once.
"I s'pose tha'lt ha' one after a bit," she said, "when tha'rt not so short as tha art now. Ivverybody's short i' these toimes."
She seated herself upon the stone coping of the next grave, her elbow on her knee, a small, weird figure in the uncertain light.
"I allus did loike a big head-stone," she remarked, reflectively. "Theer's sumrnat noice about a big white un wi' black letters on it. I loike a white un th' best, an' ha' th' letters cut deep, an' th' name big, an' a bit o' poitry at th' eend:
'Stranger, a moment linger near.
Summat loike that. But yo' see it ud be loike to cost so much. What wi' th' stone an' paint an' cuttin', I should na wonder if it would na coom to th' matter o' two pound—an' then theer's th' funeral."
She ended with a sigh, and sank for a moment into a depressed reverie, but in the course of a few moments she roused herself again.
"Tell me summat about thy feyther," she demanded.
Murdoch bent down and plucked a blade of grass with a rather uncertain grasp.
"There isn't much to tell," he answered. "He was unfortunate, and had a hard life—and died."
Janey looked at his lowered face with a sharp, unchildish twinkle in her eye.
"Would tha moind me axin thee summat?" she said.
But she hesitated a little before she put the question.
"Is it—wur it true as he wur na aw theer—as he wur a bit—a bit soft i' th' yed?"
"No, that is not true."
"I'm glad it is na," she responded. "Art tha loike him?""I don't know." "I hope tha art na, if he did na ha' luck. Theer's a great deal i' luck." Then, with a quick change of subject,—"How did tha loike tli' sermont?"
"I am not sure," he answered, "that I know that either. How did you like it yourself?"
"Ay," with an air of elderly approval, "it wur a good un. Mester Hixon allus gi'es us a good un. He owts wi' what he's getten to say. I loike a preacher as owts wi' it."
A few moments later, when they rose to go home, her mind seemed suddenly to revert to a former train of thought.
"Wur theer money i' that thing thy feyther wur try in' at?" she asked.
"Not for him, it seemed."
"Ay; but theer mought be fur thee. Tha mayst ha' more in thee than he had, an' mought mak' summat on it. I'd nivver let owt go as had money i' it. Tha'dst mak' a better rich mon than Haworth."
After leaving her Murdoch did not go home. He turned his back upon the village again, and walked rapidly away from it, out on the country road and across field paths, and did not turn until he was miles from Broxton.
Of late he had been more than usually abstracted. He had been restless, and at times nervously unstrung. He had slept ill, and spent his days in a half-conscious mood. More than once, as they walked together, Floxham had spoken to him amazed.
"What's up wi' thee, lad?" he had said. "Art dazed, or hast tha takken a turn an' been on a spree?"
One night, when they were together, Haworth had picked up from the floor a rough but intricate-looking drawing, and, on handing it to him, had been bewildered by his sadden change of expression.
"Is it aught of yours?" he had asked.
"Yes," the young fellow had answered; "it's mine."
But, instead of replacing it in his pocket, he had torn it slowly into strips, and thrown it, piece by piece, into the fire, watching it as it burned.
It was not Janey's eminently practical observations which had stirred him to-night. He had been drifting toward this feverish crisis of feeling for months, and had contested its approach inch by inch. There were hours when he was overpowered by the force of what he battled against, and this was one of them.
It was nearly midnight when he returned, and his mother met him at the door with an anxious look. It was a look he had seen upon her face all his life; but its effect upon himself had never lessened from the day he had first recognized it, as a child.
"I did not think you would wait for me," he said. "It is later than I thought."
"I am not tired," she answered.
She had aged a little since her husband's death, but otherwise she had not changed. She looked up at her son just as she had looked at his father,—watchfully, but saying little.
"Are you going to bed?"
"I am going upstairs," he replied. But he did not say that he was going to bed.
He bade her good-night shortly afterward, and went to his room. It was the one his father had used before his death, and the trunk containing his belongings stood in one corner of it.
For a short time after entering the room he paced the floor restlessly and irregularly. Sometimes he walked quickly, sometimes slowly; once or twice he stopped short, checking himself as he veered toward the corner in which stood the unused trunk.
"I'm in a queer humor," he said aloud. "I'm thinking of it as if—as if it were a temptation to sin. Why should I?"
He made a sudden resolute movement forward. He knelt down, and, turning the key in the lock, flung the trunk-lid backward.
There was only one thing he wanted, and he knew where to find it. It lay buried at the bottom, under the unused garments, which gave forth a faint, damp odor as he moved them. When he rose from his knees he held the wooden case in his hand. After he had carried it to the table and opened it, and the model stood again before him, he sat down and stared at it with a numb sense of fascination.
"I thought I had seen the last of it," he said; "and here it is."
Even as he spoke he felt his blood warm within him, and flush his cheek. His hand trembled as he put it forth to touch and move the frame-work before him. He felt as if it were a living creature. His eye kindled, and he bent forward.
"There's something to be done with it yet," he said. "It's not a blunder, I'll swear!"
He was hot with eagerness and excitement. The thing had haunted him day and night for weeks. He had struggled to shake off its influence, but in vain. He had told himself that the temptation to go back to it and ponder over it was the working of a morbid taint in his blood. He had remembered the curse it had been, and had tried to think of that only; but it had come back to him again and again, and—here it was.
He spent an hour over it, and in the end his passionate eagerness had grown rather than diminished. He put his hand up to his forehead and brushed away drops of moisture, his throat was dry, and his eyes strained.
"There's something to be brought out of it yet," he said, as he had said before. "It can be done, I swear!"
The words had scarcely left his lips before he heard behind him a low, but sharp cry—a miserable ejaculation, half uttered.
He had not heard the door open, nor the entering footsteps; but he knew what the cry meant the moment he heard it. He turned about and saw his mother standing on the threshold. If he had been detected in the commission of a crime, he could not have felt a sharper pang than he did. He almost staggered against the wall and did not utter a word. For a moment they looked at each other in a dead silence. Each wore in the eyes of the other a new aspect. She pointed to the model.
"It has come back," she said. "I knew it would."
The young fellow turned and looked at it a little stupidly.
I—didn't mean to hurt you with the sight of it," he said. "I took it out because—because——"
She stopped him with a movement of her head.
"Yes, I know," she said. "You took it out because it has haunted you and tempted you. You could not withstand it It is in your blood."
He had known her through all his life as a patient creature, whose very pains had bent themselves and held themselves in check, lest they should seem for an hour to stand in the way of the end to be accomplished. That she had, even in the deepest secrecy, rebelled against fate, he had never dreamed.
She came to the table and struck the model aside with one angry blow.
"Shall I tell you the truth?" she cried, panting. "I have never believed in it for an hour—not for one hour!"
He could only stammer out a few halting words.
"This is all new to me," he said. "I did not know——"
"No, you did not know," she answered. "How should you, when I lived my whole life to hide it? I have been stronger than you thought. I bore with him, as I should have borne with him if he had been maimed or blind—or worse than that. I did not hurt him—he had hurt enough. I knew what the end would be. He would have been a happy man and I a happy woman, if it had not been for that, and there it is again. I tell you," passionately, "there is a curse on it!"
"And you think," he said, "that it has fallen upon me?"
She burst into wild tears.
"I have told myself it would," she said. "I have tried to prepare myself for its coming some day; but I did not think it would show itself so soon as this."
"I don't know why," he said slowly. "I don't know—what there is in me that I should think I might do what he left undone. There seems a kind of vanity in it."
"It is not vanity," she said; "it is worse. It is what has grown out of my misery and his. I tell you it is in your blood."A flush rose to his face, and a stubborn look settled upon him. "Perhaps it is," he answered. "I have told myself that, too."
She held her closed hand upon her heart, as if to crush down its passionate heavings.
"Begin as he began," she cried, "and the end will come to you as it came to him. Give it up now—now!"
"Give it up!" he repeated after her.
"Give it up," she answered, "or give up your whole life, your youth, your hope,—all that belongs to it."
She held out her hands to him in a wild, unconsciously theatrical gesture. The whole scene had been theatrical through its very incongruousness, and Murdoch had seen this vaguely, and been more shaken by it than anything else.
Before she knew what he meant to do, he approached the table, and replaced the model in its box, the touch of stubborn desperateness on him yet. He carried the case back to the trunk, and shut it in once more.
"I'll let it rest a while," he said; "I'll promise you that. If it is ever to be finished by me, the time will come when it will see the light again, in spite of us both."