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   Chapter 3 THE MILLENNIUM.

The Mayor of Troy By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 20149

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Aristotle has laid it down that the highest drama concerns itself with reversal of fortune befalling a man highly renowned and prosperous, of better character rather than worse; and brought about less by vice than by some great error or frailty. After all that has been said, you will wonder how I can admit a frailty in Major Hymen. But he had one.

You will wonder yet more when you hear it defined. To tell the truth, he-our foremost citizen-yet missed being a perfect Trojan. We were far indeed from suspecting it; he was our fine flower, our representative man. Yet in the light of later events I can see now, and plainly enough, where he fell short.

A University Extension Lecturer who descended upon us the other day and, encouraged by the crowds that flocked to hear him discourse on English Miracle Plays, advertised a second series of lectures, this time on English Moralities, but only to find his audience diminished to one young lady (whom he promptly married)-this lecturer, I say, whose text-books indeed indicated several points of difference between the Miracle Play and the Morality, but nothing to account for so marked a subsidence in the register, departed in a huff, using tart language and likening us to a pack of children blowing bubbles.

There is something in the fellow's simile. When an idea gets hold of us in Troy, we puff at it, we blow it out and distend it to a globe, pausing and calling on one another to mark the prismatic tints, the fugitive images, symbols, meanings of the wide world glassed upon our pretty toy. We launch it. We follow it with our eyes as it floats from us-an irrecoverable delight. We watch until the microcosm goes pop! Then we laugh and blow another.

That is where the fellow's simile breaks down. While the game lasts we are profoundly in earnest, serious as children: but each bubble as it bursts releases a shower of innocent laughter, flinging it like spray upon the sky. There in a chime it hangs for a moment, and so comes dropping-dropping-back to us until:

"Quite through our streets, with silver sound"

The flood of laughter flows, and for weeks the narrow roadways, the quays and alleys catch and hold its refluent echoes. Your true Trojan, in short, will don and doff his folly as a garment. Do you meet him, grave as a judge, with compressed lip and corrugated brow? Stand aside, I warn you: his fit is on him, and he may catch you up with him to heights where the ridiculous and the sublime are one and all the Olympians as drunk as Chloe. Better, if you have no head for heights, wait and listen for the moment-it will surely come-when the bubble cracks, and with a laugh he is sane, hilariously sane.

Just here it was that our Mayor fell out with our genius loci. He could smile-paternally, magisterially, benignantly, gallantly, with patronage, in deprecation, compassionately, disdainfully (as when he happened to mention Napoleon Bonaparte); subtly and with intention; or frankly, in mere bonhomie; as a Man, as a Major, as a Mayor. But he was never known to laugh.

Through this weakness he fell. But he was a great man, and it took the Millennium-nothing less-to undo him.

Here let me say, once for all, that the Millennium was no invention of ours. It started with the Vicar of Helleston, and we may wash our hands of it.

On the first Sunday of January 1800, the Vicar of Helleston (an unimportant town in the extreme southwest of Cornwall, near the Lizard) preached a sermon which, at the request of a few parishioners, he afterwards published under the title of Reflections on the New Century. In delight, no doubt, at finding himself in print, he sent complimentary copies to a number of his fellow-clergy, and, among others, to the Vicar of Troy.

Our Vicar, being a scholar and a gentleman, but a determined foe to loose thinking (especially in Cambridge men), courteously acknowledged the gift, but took occasion to remind his brother of Helleston that Reflection was a retrospective process; that Man, as a finite creature, could but anticipate events before they happened; and that if the parishioners of Helleston wished to reflect on the New Century they would have to wait until January 1901, or something more than a hundred years.

The Vicar of Helleston replied, tacitly admitting his misuse of language, but demanding to know if in the Vicar of Troy's opinion the new century would begin on January 1st, 1801: for his own part he had supposed, and was prepared to maintain, that it had begun on January 1st, 1800.

To this the Vicar of Troy retorted that undoubtedly the new century would begin on the first day of January 1801, and that anyone who held another opinion must suffer from confusion of mind.

The Vicar of Helleston stuck to his contention, and a terrific correspondence ensued. With the arguments exchanged-which tended more and more to appeal from common sense to metaphysics-we need not concern ourselves. The most of them reappeared the other day (1900-1901) in the public press, and will doubtless reappear at the alleged beginning of every century to come. But in his sixth letter the Vicar of Helleston opened what I may call a masked battery.

He said-and I believe the fellow had been leading up to this from the start-that he desired to thresh the question out not only on general grounds, but officially as Vicar of Helleston; since he had reason to believe that a certain day in the opening year of the new century would bring a term to the Millennium; that the Millennium had begun in Helleston close on a thousand years ago; and that (as he calculated, on the 8th of May next approaching) Satan might reasonably be expected to regain his liberty (see Revelation xx.). For evidence he adduced a local tradition that in his parish the Archangel Michael (whose Mount stands at no great distance) had met and defeated the Prince of Darkness, had cast him into a pit, and had sealed the pit with a great stone; which stone might be seen by any visitor on application to the landlord of the "Angel" Inn and payment of a trifling fee. Moreover, the stone was black as your hat (unless you were a free-thinking Radical and wore a white one; in which case it was blacker). He pointed out that the name of Helleston-i.q., Hell's Stone-corroborated this tradition. He went on to say that annually, on the 8th of May, from time immemorial his parishioners had met in the streets and engaged in a public dance which either commemorated mankind's deliverance from the Spirit of Evil, or had no meaning at all.

The Vicar of Troy, warming to this new contention, riposted in masterly style. He answered Helleston's claim to a monopoly, or even a predominant interest, in the Devil by pelting his opponent with Devil's Quoits, Devil's Punch-bowls, Walking-sticks, Frying-pans, Pudding-dishes, Ploughshares; Devil's Strides, Jumps, Footprints, Fingerprints; Devil's Hedges, Ditches, Ridges, Furrows; Devil's Cairns, Cromlechs, Wells, Monoliths, Caves, Castles, Cliffs, Chasms; Devil's Heaths, Moors, Downs, Commons, Copses, Furzes, Marshes, Bogs, Streams, Sands, Quicksands, Estuaries; Devil's High-roads, By-roads, Lanes, Footpaths, Stiles, Gates, Smithies, Cross-roads; from every corner of the Duchy. He matched Helleston's May-dance with at least a score of similar May-day observances in different towns and villages of Cornwall. He quoted the Padstow Hobby-horse, the Towednack Cuckoo-feast, the Madron Dipping Day, the Troy May-dragon, and proved that the custom of ushering in the summer with song and dance and some symbolical rite of purgation was well-nigh universal throughout Cornwall. He followed the custom overseas, to Brittany, Hungary, the Black Forest, Moldavia, Lithuania, Poland, Finland, the Caucasus.… He wound up by sardonically congratulating the worthy folk of Helleston: if the events of the past thousand years satisfied their notion of a Millennium, they were easily pleased.

And then-

Well, the next thing to happen was that the Vicar of Helleston published a pamphlet of 76 pages 8vo, entitled Considerations Proper to the New Century, with some Reflections on the Millennium. Note, pray, the artfulness of the title, and, having noted it, let us pass on. Our Vicar did not trouble to reply, being off by this time on a scent of his own.

The dispute had served its purpose. On the morning of March 25th, 1804, he knocked at the Major's door, and, pushing past Scipio, rushed into the breakfast-parlour unannounced.

"My dear Vicar! What has happened? Surely the French-" The Major bounced up from his chair, napkin in hand.

"The Millennium, Major! I have it, I tell you!"

Miss Marty sat down the tea-pot with a trembling hand. She was always timid of infectious disease.

"O-oh!" The Major's tone expressed his relief. "I thought for the moment-and you not shaved this morning-"

"The fellow had hold of the stick all the while. I'll do him that credit. He had hold of the stick, but at the wrong end. I've been working it out, and 'tis plain (excuse me) as the nose on your face. The moment you see 'Napoleon' with the numbers under him-"

"Eh? Then it is the French!" Again the Major bounced up from his chair.

"The French? Yes, of course-but, excuse me-"

"What numbers?" The Major's voice shook, though he bravely tried to control it.

"Six hundred-"

"Good Lord! Where?"

"-And sixty and six. In Revelation thirteen, eighteen-I thought you knew!" went on the Vicar reproachfully, as his friend dropped back upon his chair, and, resting an elbow on the table, shaded his eyes and their emotion. "As I can now prove to you in ten minutes, the Corsican's name spells accurately the Number of the Beast. But that's only the beginning. Power, you remember, was given to the Beast to continue forty and two months. Add forty and two months to the first day of the century, which I have shown to be January 1st, 1801, and you come to May 1st, 1804: that is to say, next May-day. You perceive the significance of the date?"

"Not entirely," confessed the Major, s

till a trifle pale. "Why, my dear sir, all these rites and customs over which the Vicar of Helleston and I have been disputing-these May-day observances, in themselves apparently so puerile but so obviously symbolical to one who looks below the surface-turn out to be not retrospective, not reminiscent, not commemorative at all, but anticipatory. On every 1st of May our small urchins form a dragon or devil out of old pots and saucepans, and flog it through the streets. Ex ore infantum- on the 1st of May next (mark my words) we shall see Satan laid hold upon and bound for a thousand years."

"Good Lord!" exclaimed the Major once again.

"In the middle of spring-cleaning, too!" quavered Miss Marty.

"You'll find it as clear as daylight," the Vicar assured them, pulling out a pocket Testament and tapping the open page.

"Will it," the Major began timorously, "will it make an appreciable difference?"

"To what?"

"To-to our daily life-our routine? Call it humdrum, if you will-"

"My good friend, the Millennium!"

"I know, I know. Still, at my age a man has formed habits. Of course"-the Major pulled himself together-"if it's a question of Satan's being bound for a thousand years, on general grounds one can only approve. Yes, decidedly, on principle one welcomes it. Nevertheless, coming so suddenly-"

The Vicar tapped his Testament again. "It has been here all the time."

"Yes, yes," the Major sighed impatiently. "Still, it's upsetting, you'll admit."

"The end of the world!" Miss Marty gripped her apron, as if to cast it over her head.

"The Millennium, Miss Marty, is not the end of the world."

"Oh, isn't it?"

"It merely means that Satan will be bound for a thousand years to come."

"If that's all"-Miss Marty walked to the bell-rope-"there's no harm in ringing for Scipio to bring in the omelet."

"I beg your pardon?" The Vicar, not for the first time, found it difficult to follow Miss Marty's train of thought.

"Scipio never repeats what he hears at table: I'll say that for him. And I believe in feeding people up."

The Vicar turned to Major Hymen, who had pushed back his chair and was staring at the tablecloth from under a puckered brow.

"I fear this has come upon you somewhat suddenly: but my first thought, as soon as I had convinced myself-"

"Thank you, Vicar. I appreciate that, of course."

"And, after all-when you come to think of it-an event of this magnitude, happening in your mayoralty-"

"Will they knight him, do you think?" asked Miss Marty.

While the Vicar considered his answer, on top of this interruption came another-Scipio entering with the omelet. Now the entrance of the Major's omelet was a daily ritual. It came on a silver dish, heated by a small silver spirit-lamp, on a tray covered by a spotless linen cloth. Scipio, its cook and compounder, bore it with professional pride, supporting the dish on one palm bent backwards, and held accurately level with his shoulder; whence, by a curious and quite indescribable turn of the wrist (Scipio was double-jointed), during which for one fearful tenth of a second they seemed to hang upside down, he would bring tray, lamp, dish and omelet down with a sweep, and deposit them accurately in front of the Major's plate, at the same instant bringing his heels together and standing at attention for his master's approval.

"Well done, Scipio!" the Major would say, nine days out of ten.

But to-day he pushed the tray from him pettishly, ignoring Scipio.

"You'll excuse me"-he turned to the Vicar-"but if what you say is correct (you may go, Scipio) it puts me in a position of some responsibility."

"I felt sure you would see it in that light. It's a responsibility for me, too."

"To-day is the twenty-fifth. We have little more than a month."

"What am I to say in church next Sunday?"

"Why, as for that, you must say nothing. Good Heavens! is this a time for adding to the disquietude of men's minds?"

"I had thought," the Vicar confessed, "of memorialising the Government."

"Addington!" The Major's tone whenever he had occasion to mention Mr. Addington was a study in scornful expression. He himself had once memorialised the Prime Minister for a couple of nineteen-pounders which, with the two on the Old Fort, would have made our harbour impregnable. "Addington! It's hard on you, I know," he went on sympathetically, "to keep a discovery like this to yourself. But we might tell Hansombody."

"Why Hansombody?" For the second time a suspicion crossed the Vicar's mind that his hearers were confusing the Millennium with some infectious ailment.

"It is bound to affect his practice," suggested Miss Marty.

"To be sure," the Major chimed in. As a matter of fact, he attached great importance to the apothecary's judgment, and was wont to lean on it, though not too ostentatiously. "It can hardly fail to affect his practice. I think, in common justice, Hansombody ought to be told; that is, if you are quite sure of your ground."

"Sure?" The Vicar opened his Testament afresh and plunged into an explanation. "And forty-two months," he wound up, "are forty-two months, unless you prefer to fly in the face of Revelation."

His demonstration fairly staggered the Major. "My good sir, where did you say? Patmos? Now, if anyone had come to me a week ago and told me-Martha, ring for Scipio, please, and tell him to fetch me my hat."

Although the Major and the Vicar had as good as made solemn agreement to impart their discovery to no one but Mr. Hansombody; and, although Miss Marty admittedly (and because, as she explained, no one had forbidden her) imparted it to Scipio and again to Cai Tamblyn in the course of the morning; yet, knowing Troy, I hesitate to blame her that before noon the whole town was discussing the Millennium, notice of which (it appeared) had come down to the Mayor by a private advice and in Government cipher.

"But what is a Millennium?" asked someone of Gunner Sobey (our readiest man).

"It means a thousand years," answered Gunner Sobey; "and then, if you're lucky, you gets a pension accordin'."

Miss Marty confessed later that she had confided the secret to Scipio. Now Scipio, a sentimental soul, cherished a passion. In church every Sunday he sat behind his master and in full view of a board on the wall of the south aisle whereon in scarlet letters on a buff ground were emblazoned certain bequests and charities left to the parish by the pious dead. The churchwardens who had set up this list, with the date, September 1757, and attested it with their names, had prudently left a fair blank space thereunder for additions. Often, during the Vicar's sermons, poor Scipio's gaze had dwelt on this blank space. Maybe the scarlet lettering above it fascinated him. Negroes are notoriously fond of scarlet. But out upon me for so mean a guess at his motives! Scipio, regarding this board Sunday by Sunday, saw in imagination his own name added to that glorious roll. He had a few pounds laid by. He owned neither wife nor child. Why should it not be? He was black: but a black man's money passed current as well as a white man's. Might not his name, Scipio Johnson, stand some day and be remembered as well as that of Joshua Milliton, A.M. (whatever A.M. might mean), who in 1714 had bequeathed moneys to provide, every Whit-Sunday and Christmas, "twelve white loaves of half a peck to as many virtuous poor widows"?

So when Miss Marty confided the news to him in the pantry where, as always at ten in the morning, he was engaged in cleaning the plate, Scipio's hand shook so violently that the silver sugar-basin slipped from his hold and, crashing down upon the breakfast-tray, broke two cups and the slop-basin into small fragments.

"Oh, Scipio!" Miss Marty's two hands went up in horrified dismay. "How could you be so careless!"

"The Millennium, miss!"

"We can never replace it-never!"

Scipio gazed at the tray: but what he saw was a shattered dream-a cracked board strewn with fragmentary scarlet letters and flourishes, "brief flourishes."-"Ole man Satan is among us sho 'nuff, Miss Marty: among us and kickin' up Saint's Delight, because his time is short. I was jes' thinkin' of the widows, miss."

"You have spoilt the set… eh? what widows? You don't mean to tell me that Satan-?"

Miss Marty broke off and gazed at Scipio with dawning suspicion, distrust, apprehension. She had never completely reconciled herself with the poor fellow's colour. The Major, in moments of irritation, would address him as "You black limb of Satan." He came from the Gold Coast, and she had heard strange stories of that happily distant, undesirable shore; stories of devil-worship, and-was it there they practised suttee? What did he mean by that allusion to widows? And why had he turned pale-yes, pale-when she announced the Evil One's approaching overthrow?

Miss Marty left him to pick up the pieces, and withdrew in some haste to the kitchen. Then, half an hour later, while rolling out the paste for a pie-crust, she imparted the news to Lavinia.

"It's to happen on May-day, Lavinia. The Major had word of it this morning, and-only think!-Satan is to be bound for a thousand years."

"Law, miss!" said Lavinia. "Apprentice?"

Cai Tamblyn heard of it in the garden, which was really a small flagged courtyard leading to the terrace, which again was really a small, raised platform with a table and a couple of chairs, where the Major sometimes smoked his pipe and overlooked the harbour and the shipping. Along each side of the courtyard ran a flower-bed, and in these Cai Tamblyn grew tulips and verbenas, according to the season, and kept them scrupulously weeded. He was stooping over his tulips when Miss Marty told him of the Millennium.

"What's that?" he asked, picking up a slug and jerking it across the harbour wall.

"It's a totally different thing from the end of the world. To begin with, Satan is to be taken and bound for a thousand years."

"Oh!" said Cai Tamblyn with fine contempt. "Him!"

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