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The Ship of Stars By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 9120

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

They were in the church-Squire Moyle, Mr. Raymond, and Taffy close behind. The two men were discussing the holes in the roof and other dilapidations.

"One, two, three," the Squire counted. "I'll send a couple of men with tarpaulin and rick-ropes. That'll tide us over next Sunday, unless it blows hard."

They passed up three steps under the belfry arch. Here a big bell rested on the flooring. Its rim was cracked, but not badly. A long ladder reached up into the gloom.

"What's the beam like?" the Squire called up to someone aloft.

"Sound as a bell," answered a voice.

"I said so. We'll have en hoisted by Sunday, I'll send a waggon over to Wheel Gooniver for a tackle and winch. Damme, up there! Don't keep sheddin' such a muck o' dust on your betters!"

"I can't help no other, Squire!" said the voice overhead; "such a cauch o' pilm an' twigs, an' birds' droppins'! If I sneeze I'm a lost man."

Taffy, staring up as well as he could for the falling rubbish, could just spy a white smock above the beam, and a glint of daylight on the toe-scutes of two dangling boots.

"I'll dam soon make you help it. Is the beam sound?"

"Ha'n't I told 'ee so?" said the voice querulously.

"Then come down off the ladder, you son of a-"

"Gently, Squire!" put in Mr. Raymond.

The Squire groaned. "There I go again-an' in the House of God itself! Oh! 'tis a case with me! I've a heart o' stone-a heart o' stone." He turned and brushed his rusty hat with his coat-cuff. Suddenly he faced round again. "Here, Bill Udy," he said to the old labourer who had just come down the ladder, "catch hold of my hat an' carry en fore to porch. I keep forgettin' I'm in church, an' then on he goes."

The building stood half a mile from the sea, surrounded by the rolling towans and rabbit burrows, and a few lichen-spotted tombstones slanting inland. Early in the seventeenth century a London merchant had been shipwrecked on the coast below Nannizabuloe and cast ashore, the one saved out of thirty. He asked to be shown a church in which to give thanks for his preservation, and the people led him to a ruin bedded in the sands. It had lain since the days of Arundel's Rebellion. The Londoner vowed to build a new church there on the towans, where the songs of prayer and praise should mingle with the voice of the waves which God had baffled for him. The people warned him of the sand; but he would not listen to reason. He built his church-a squat Perpendicular building of two aisles, the wider divided into nave and chancel merely by a granite step in the flooring; he saw it consecrated, and returned to his home and died. And the church steadily decayed. He had mixed his mortar with sea-sand. The stonework oozed brine, the plaster fell piece-meal; the blown sand penetrated like water; the foundations sank a foot on the south side, and the whole structure took a list to leeward. The living passed into the hands of the Dean and Chapter of Exeter, and from them, in 1730, to the Moyles. Mr. Raymond's predecessor was a kinsman of theirs by marriage, a pluralist, who lived and died at the other end of the Duchy. He had sent curates from time to time; the last of whom was dead, three years since, of solitude and drink. But he never came himself, Squire Moyle having threatened to set the dogs on him if ever he set foot in Nannizabuloe; for there had been some dispute over a dowry. The result was that nobody went to church, though a parson from the next parish held an occasional service. The people were Wesleyan Methodists or Bryanites. Each sect had its own chapel in the fishing village of Innis, on the western side of the parish; and the Bryanites a second one, at the cross-roads behind the downs, for the miners and warreners and scattered farmfolk.


It was Sunday morning, and Taffy was sounding the bell, by a thin rope tied to its clapper. The heavy bell-rope would be ready next week; but Humility must first contrive a woollen binding for it, to prevent its chafing the ringer's hands.

Out on the towans the rabbits heard the sound, and ran scampering. Others, farther away, paused in their feeding, and listened with cocked ears.


Mr. Raymond stood in the belfry at the boy's elbow. He wore his surplice, and held his prayer-book, with a finger between the pages. Glancing down toward the nave, he saw Humility sitting in the big vicarage pew-no other soul in church.

He took the cord from Taffy, "Run to the door, and see if anyone is coming."

Taffy ran, and

after a minute came back.

"There's Squire Moyle coming along the path, and the little girl with him, and some servants behind-five or six of them. Bill Udy's one."

"Nobody else?"

"I expect the people don't hear the bell," said Taffy. "They live too far away."

"God hears. Yes, and God sees the lamp is lit."

"What lamp?" Taffy looked up at his father's face, wondering.

"All towers carry a lamp of some kind. For what else are they built?"

It was exactly the tone in which he had spoken that afternoon at Tewkesbury about men being like towers. Both these sentences puzzled the boy; and yet Taffy never felt so near to understanding him as he had then, and did again now. He was shy of his father. He did not know that his father was just as shy of him. He began to ring with all his soul-ding-ding-ding, ding-ding.

The old Squire entered the church, paused, and blew his nose violently, and taking Honoria by the hand, marched her up to the end of the south aisle. The door of the great pew was shut upon them, and they disappeared. Before Honoria vanished Taffy caught a glimpse of a grey felt hat with pink ribbons.

The servants scattered and found seats in the body of the church. He went on ringing, but no one else came. After a minute or two Mr. Raymond signed to him to stop and go to his mother, which he did, blushing at the noise of his shoes on the slate pavement. Mr. Raymond followed, walked slowly past, and entered the reading-desk.

"When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. . . ."

Taffy looked towards the Squire's pew. The bald top of the Squire's head was just visible above the ledge. He looked up at his mother, but her eyes were fastened on her prayer-book. He felt-he could not help it-that they were all gathered to save this old man's soul, and that everybody knew it and secretly thought it a hopeless case. The notion dogged him all through the service, and for many Sundays after. Always that bald head above the ledge, and his father and the congregation trying to call down salvation on it. He wondered what Honoria thought, boxed up with it and able to see its face.

Mr. Raymond mounted an upper pulpit to preach his sermon. He chose his text from Saint Matthew, Chapter vii., verses 26 and 27:

"And every one that heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man which built his house upon the sand;

"And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell; and great was the fall of it."

Taffy never followed his father's sermons closely. He would listen to a sentence or two, now and again, and then let his wits wander.

"You think this church is built upon the sands. The rain has come, the winds have blown and beaten on it; the foundations have sunk and it leans to leeward. . . . By the blessing of God we will shore it up, and upon a foundation of rock. Upon what rock, you ask? . . . Upon that rock which is the everlasting foundation of the Church spiritual. . . . Hear what comfortable words our Lord spake to Peter. . . . Our foundation must be faith, which is God's continuing Presence on earth, and which we shall recognise hereafter as God Himself. . . . Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. . . . In other words, it is the rock we search for. . . . Draw near it, and you will know yourself in God's very shadow-the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. . . . As with this building, so with you, O man, cowering from wrath, as these walls are cowering. . . ."

The benediction was pronounced, the pew-door opened, and the old man marched down the aisle, looking neither to right nor to left, with his jaw set like a closed gin. Honoria followed. She had not so much as a glance for Taffy; but in passing she gazed frankly at Humility, whom she had not seen before.

Humility was rather ostentatiously cheerful at dinner that day; a sure sign that at heart she was disappointed. She had looked for a bigger congregation. Mrs. Venning, who had been carried downstairs for the meal, saw this and asked few questions. Both the women stole glances at Mr. Raymond when they thought he was not observing them. He at least pretended to observe nothing, but chatted away cheerfully.

"Taffy," he said, after dinner, "I want you to run up to Tredinnis with a note from me. Maybe I will follow later, but I must go to the village first."

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