The Ship of Stars/Chapter 11
LIZZIE REDEEMS HER DOLL AND HONORIA THROWS A STONE
A broad terrace ran along the southern front of Tredinnis House. It had once been decorated with leaden statues, but of these only the pedestals remained.
Honoria, perched on the terraced wall, with her legs dangling, was making imaginary casts with a trout-rod, when she heard footsteps. A child came timidly round the angle of the big house—Lizzie Pezzack.
"Hullo! What do you want?"
"If you please, miss——"
"If you please, miss——"
"You've said that twice."
Lizzie held out a grubby palm with a half-crown in it: "I wants my doll back, if you please, miss."
"But you sold it."
"I didn't mean to. You took me so sudden."
"I gave you ever so much more than it was worth. Why, I don't believe it cost you three ha'pence!"
"Tuppence," said Lizzie.
"Then you don't know when you're well off. Go away."
"’Tisn't that, miss——"
"What is it, then?"
Lizzie broke into a flood of tears.
Honoria, the younger by a year or so, stood and eyed her scornfully; then turning on her heel marched into the house.
She was a just child. She went upstairs to her bedroom, unlocked her wardrobe, and took out the doll, which was clad in blue silk, and reposed in a dog-trough lined with the same material. Honoria had recklessly cut up two handkerchiefs (for underclothing) and her Sunday sash, and had made the garments in secret. They were prodigies of bad needlework. With the face of a Medea she stripped the poor thing, took it in her arms as if to kiss it, but checked herself sternly. She descended to the terrace with the doll in one hand and its original calico smock in the other.
"There, take your twopenny baby!"
Lizzie caught and strained it to her breast; covered its poor nakedness hurriedly, and hugged it again with passionate kisses.
"You silly! Did you come all this way by yourself?"
Lizzie nodded. "Father thinks I'm home, minding the house. He's off duty this evening, and he walked over here to the Bryanite Chapel, up to Four Turnings. There's going to be a big Prayer Meeting to-night. When his back was turned I slipped out after him, so as to keep him in sight across the towans."
"I'm terrible timid. I can't bear to walk across the towans by myself. You can't see where you be—they're so much alike—and it makes a person feel lost. There's so many bones, too."
"Yes, and dead folks, I've heard father say."
"Well, you'll have to go back alone, any way."
Lizzie hugged the doll. "I don't mind so much now. I'll keep along by the sea and run, and only open my eyes now and then. Here's your money, miss."
She went off at a run. Honoria pocketed the half-crown and went back to her fly-fishing. But after a few casts she desisted, and took her rod to pieces slowly. The afternoon was hot and sultry. She sat down in the shadow of the balustrade and gazed at the long, blank façade of the house baking in the sun; at the tall, uncurtained windows; at the peacock stalking to and fro like a drowsy sentinel.
"You are a beast of a house," she said contemplatively; "and I hate every stone of you!"
She stood up and strolled toward the stables. The stable yard was empty but for the Gordon setter dozing by the pump-trough. Across from the kitchens came the sound of the servants' voices chattering. Honoria had never made friends with the servants.
She tilted her straw hat further over her eyes, and sauntered up the drive with her hands behind her; through the great gates and out upon the towans. She had started with no particular purpose, and had none in her mind when she came in sight of the Parsonage, and of Humility seated in the doorway with her lace pillow across her knees.
It had been the custom among the women of Beer Village to work in their doorways on sunny afternoons, and Humility followed it.
She looked up smiling. "Taffy is down by the shore, I think."
"I didn't come to look for him. What beautiful work!"
"It comes in handy. Won't you step inside and let me make you a cup of tea?"
"No, I'll sit here and watch you." Humility pulled in her skirts, and Honoria found room on the doorstep beside her. "Please don't stop. It's wonderful. Now I know where Taffy gets his cleverness."
"You are quite wrong. This is only a knack. All his cleverness comes from his father."
"Oh, books! Of course, Mr. Raymond knows all about books. He's writing one, isn't he?"
Mrs. Raymond nodded.
"It's about St. Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews; in Greek, you know. He has been working at it for years."
"And he's indoors working at it now? What funny things men do!" She was silent for a while, watching Humility's bobbins. "But I suppose it doesn't matter just what they do. The great thing is to do it better than anyone else. Does Mr. Raymond think Taffy clever?"
"He never talks about it."
"But he thinks so. I know; because at lessons when he says anything to Taffy it's quite different from the way he talks to George and me. He doesn't favour him, of course; he's much too fair. But there's a difference. It's as if he expected Taffy to understand. Did Mr. Raymond teach him all those stories he knows?"
"Fairy tales, and that sort of thing."
"Good gracious me, no!"
"Then you must have. And you are clever, after all. Asking me to believe you're not, and making that beautiful lace all the while, under my very eyes!"
"I'm not a bit clever. Here's the pattern, you see, and there's the thread, and the rest is only practice. I couldn't make the pattern out of my head. Besides, I don't like clever women."
"A woman must try to be something." Honoria felt that this was vague, but wanted to argue.
"A woman wants to be loved," said Mrs. Raymond thoughtfully. "There's such a heap to be done about the house that she won't find time for much else. Besides, if she has children, she'll be planning for them."
"Isn't that rather slow?"
Humility wondered where the child had picked up the word. "Slow?" she echoed, with her eyes on the horizon beyond the dunes. "Most things are slow when you look forward to them."
"But these fairy-tales of yours?"
"I'll tell you about them. When my mother was a girl of sixteen she went into service as a nursemaid in a clergyman's family. Every evening the clergyman used to come into the nursery and tell the children a fairy-tale. That's how it started. My mother left service to marry a farmer—it was quite a grand match for her—and when I was a baby she told the stories to me. She has a wonderful memory still, and she tells them capitally. When I listen I believe every word of them; I like them better than books, too, because they always end happily. But I can't repeat them a bit. As soon as I begin they fall to pieces, and the pieces get mixed up, and, worst of all, the life goes right out of them. But Taffy, he takes the pieces and puts them together, and the tale is better than ever: quite different, and new, too. That's the puzzle. It's not memory with him; it's something else."
"But don't you ever make up a story of your own?" Honoria insisted.
Now you might talk with Mrs. Raymond for ten minutes, perhaps, and think her a simpleton; and then suddenly a cloud (as it were) parted, and you found yourself gazing into depths of clear and beautiful wisdom.
She turned on Honoria with a shy, adorable smile: "Why, of course I do—about Taffy. Come in and let me show you his room and his books."
An hour later, when Taffy returned, he found Honoria seated at the table and his mother pouring tea. They said nothing about their visit to his room; and though they had handled every one of his treasures, he never discovered it. But he did notice—or rather, he felt—that the two understood each other. They did; and it was an understanding he would never be able to share, though he lived to be a hundred.
Mr. Raymond came out from his study and drank his tea in silence. Honoria observed that he blinked a good deal. He showed no surprise at her visit, and after a moment seemed unaware of her presence. At length he raised the cup to his lips, and finding it empty set it down and rose to go back to his work. Humility interfered and reminded him of a call to be paid at one of the upland farms. The children might go too, she suggested. It would be very little distance out of Honoria's way.
Mr. Raymond sighed, but went for his walking-stick; and they set out.
When they reached the farmhouse he left the children outside. The town-place was admirably suited for a game of "Follow-my-leader," which they played for twenty minutes with great seriousness, to the disgust of the roosting poultry. Then Taffy spied a niche, high up, where a slice had been cut out of a last year's haystack. He fetched a ladder. Up they climbed, drew the ladder after them, and played at being Outlaws in a Cave, until the dusk fell.
Still Mr. Raymond lingered indoors. "He thinks we have gone home," said Honoria. "Now the thing would be to creep down and steal one of the fowls, and bring it back and cook it."
"We can make believe to do it," Taffy suggested.
Honoria considered for a moment. "I'll tell you what: there's a great Bryanite meeting to-night, down at the Chapel. I expect there'll be a devil hunt."
"They turn out the lights and hunt for him in the dark."
"But he isn't really there?"
"I don't know. Suppose we play at scouts and creep down the road? If the Chapel is lit up we can spy in on them; and then you can squeeze your nose on the glass and make a face, while I say 'Boo!' and they'll think the Old Gentleman is really come."
They stole down the ladder and out of the town-place. The Chapel stood three-quarters of a mile away, on a turfed wastrel where two high roads met and crossed.
Long before they reached it they heard clamorous voices and groans.
"I expect the devil hunt has begun," said Honoria. But when they came in sight of the building its windows were brightly lit. The noise inside was terrific.
The two children approached it with all the precaution proper to scouts. Suddenly the clamour ceased and the evening fell so silent that Taffy heard the note of an owl away in the Tredinnis plantations to his left. This silence was daunting, but they crept on and soon were standing in the illuminated ring of furze whins which surrounded the Chapel.
"Can you reach up to look in?"
Taffy could not; so Honoria obligingly went on hands and knees, and he stood on her back.
"Can you see? What's the matter?"
Taffy gasped. "He's in there!"
"What?—the Old Gentleman?"
"Yes; no—your grandfather!"
"What? Let me get up. Here, you kneel——"
It was true. Under the rays of a paraffin lamp, in face of the kneeling congregation, sat Squire Moyle; his body stiffly upright on the bench, his jaws rigid, his eyes with horror in them fastened upon the very window through which Honoria peered—fastened, it seemed to her, upon her face. But, no; he saw nothing. The Bryanites were praying; Honoria saw their lips moving. Their eyes were all on the old man's face. In the straining silence his mouth opened—but only for a moment—while his tongue wetted his parched lips.
A man by the pulpit-stairs shuffled his feet. A sigh passed through the Chapel as he rose and relaxed the tension. It was Jacky Pascoe. He stepped up to the Squire, and, laying a hand on his shoulder, said, gently, persuasively, yet so clearly that Honoria could hear every word:
"Try, brother. Keep on trying. O, I've knowed cases——You can never tell how near salvation is. One minute the heart's like a stone, and the next maybe 'tis melted and singing like fat in a pan. 'Tis working! 'tis working!"
The congregation broke out with cries: "Amen!" "Glory, glory!" The Squire's lips moved and he muttered something. But stony despair sat in his eyes.
"Ay, glory, glory! You've been a doubter, and you doubt no longer. Soon you'll be a shouter. Man, you'll dance like as David danced before the Ark! You'll feel it in your toes! Come along, friends, while he's resting a minute! Sing all together—oh, the blessed peace of it!——
I long to be there, His glory to share—
He pitched the note, and the congregation took up the second line with a rolling, gathering volume of song. It broke on the night like the footfall of a regiment at charge. Honoria scrambled off Taffy's back, and the two slipped away to the high road.
"Shall you tell your father?"
"I—I don't know."
She stooped and found a loose stone. "He shan't find salvation to-night," she said heroically.
As the stone crashed through the window the two children pelted off. They ran on the soft turf by the wayside, and only halted to listen when they reached Tredinnis's great gates. The sound of feet running far up the road set them off again, but now in opposite ways. Honoria sped down the avenue, and Taffy headed for the Parsonage, across the towans. Ordinarily this road at night would have been full of terrors for him; but now the fear at his heels kept him going, while his heart thumped on his ribs. He was just beginning to feel secure, when he blundered against a dark figure which seemed to rise straight out of the night.
Blessed voice! The wayfarer was his own father.
"Taffy! I thought you were home an hour ago. Where on earth have you been?"
"With Honoria." He was about to say more, but checked himself. "I left her at the top of the avenue," he explained.