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   Chapter 8 THE SQUIRE'S SOUL.

The Ship of Stars By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 9089

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

Two years passed, and a third winter. The church was now well on its way to restoration. The roof had been repaired, the defective timbers removed and sound ones inserted, the south wall strengthened with three buttresses, the foundations on that side examined and shored up. The old Squire did not halt here. Furniture arrived for the interior; a handsome altar cloth, a small gilt cross, a dozen hanging lamps, an oaken lectern, cushions, hymn-books, a big new Bible with purple book-markers. He promised to take out the east window-which was just a patchwork of common glass, like a cucumber frame-and replace it with sound mullions and stained glass, in memory of his only daughter, Honoria's mother. She had run away from Tredinnis House, and married a penniless captain; and Honoria's surname was Callastair, though nobody uttered it in the old man's hearing. Husband and wife had died in India, of cholera, within three years of their marriage; and the old man had sent for the child. Having relented so far, he went on to do it thoroughly, in his own fashion. He neglected Honoria; but she might have anything she wanted for the asking. It seemed, though, that she wanted very little.

He allowed Mr. Raymond to choose the design for this window. He only stipulated that the subject should be Jonah and the whale. "There's no story'll compare with it for trying a man's faith."

When the window came, and was erected, he complained that it left out most of the whale, of which the jaws and one wicked little red eye were all that appeared. "It looks half-hearted. Why didn't they swim en all in? 'Tis neck or nothin' wi' that story; but they've made it neck and nothin'. An' after colouring en violet too!"

In return, the Vicar had hunted up some county histories and heraldic works in the library at Tredinnis, and was now busy re-emblazoning with his own hand the devices carved on the Moyle pew.

Little by little, too, the congregation had grown. The people came shyly at first. They mistrusted the Established Church. But they treated the Vicar with politeness when he visited them. And seeing him so awkward, and how with all his book-learning he listened to their opinions and blushed when he offered any small service, they grew to like him, being shy themselves. They pitied him too, knowing the old Squire better than he did. So from Sunday to Sunday Taffy, pulling at his rope in the belfry, counted the new-comers, and Humility talked about them on the way home and at dinner. They were fisher folk for the most part; the men in blue guernseys and corduroy trousers, and some with curled black beards and rings in their ears; the women, in gayer colours than you see in an up-country church; a southern-seeming race, with southern-sounding names-Santo, Jose, Hugo, Bennet, Cara. They belonged-so Mr. Raymond often told himself-to the class which Christ called His Apostles. Sometimes, scanning an olive-coloured face, he would be minded of the Sea of Gennesareth; and, a minute later, the sight of the grey coast-line with its whirled spray would chill the fancy.

The congregation always lingered outside the porch after service; and then one would say to another: "Wall, there's more in the man than you'd think. See you up to the meetin' this evenin' I s'pose? So long!"

But having come once, they came again. And the family at the Parsonage were full of hope, though Taffy longed sometimes for a play-fellow, and sometimes for he knew not what, and Humility bent over her lace pillow and thought of green lanes and of Beer Village and women at work by sunshiny doorways; and wondered if their faces had changed.

"O, that I were where I would be!

Then would I be where I am not;

But where I am, there I must be,

And where I would be, I cannot."

She never told a soul of her home thoughts. Her husband never guessed them. But Taffy (without knowing why), whenever this verse from his old playbook came into his head, connected it with his mother.

But the old Squire was getting impatient. He took quite a feudal view of the saving of his soul, and would have dragged the whole parish to church by main force, had it been possible.

Late one afternoon, Taffy was lying in one of his favourite nooks in the lee of the towans, when he heard voices and looked up. And there sat the old gentleman gazing down on him from horseback, with Bill Udy at his side. The Squire was in hunting dress.

"What be doin' down there?" he asked. "Praying?"

"No, sir."

"I wish you would. I wish you'd

pray for me. I've heerd that a child'll do good sometimes when grown folk can't. I doubt your father isn't goin' to do the good I looked for from en. He don't believe in sudden conversion. Here, Bill, take the mare and lead her home."

He dismounted, and seated himself with a groan on the edge of the sand-pit.

"Look here; I've got convictions of sin, but I can't get no forrader.

What's to be done?"

"I don't know, sir," Taffy stammered, with his eyes on the Squire's spurs.

"You can pray for me, I suppose?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, do it. Do it to-night. I've got convictions, boy; but my heart's like a stone. I've had a wisht day of it. If the weather holds back, we'll kill a May fox this year. But where's the comfort? All the time to-day 'twas 'Lippety-lop, no peace for the wicked! Lippety-lop, no peace for the wicked!' I couldn't stand it; I came away. You'll do it, won't 'ee?"

"Yes, sir."

"Is your father at home? I'll call an' speak to en. He does me good; but he can't melt what I carry here."

He tapped his breast and rising without another word strode off across the sand-hills with his head down and his hands clasped beneath his coat-tails, which flapped in the wind as he went.

Taffy ran and overtook Bill Udy and the mare.

"He's in a wisht poor state, id'n a'?" said Bill Udy, who was parish clerk. "Bless 'ee, tidn' no manner of use. His father before en was took in just the same way. Turned religious late in life. What d'ee think he did? Got his men together one Sunday mornin', marched them up to Meetin' house, up to Four Turnin's; slipped his ridin' crop through the haps o' the door, an' 'Now my Billies,' says he, through the key-hole, 'not a man or woman of 'ee leaves the place till you've said that Amazin' Creed. Come along,' he says, 'Whosoever will be saved an' the sooner 'tis over, the sooner you gets home to dinner.' A fine talk there was! Squire, he's just such another. Funny things he've a-done. Married a poor soul from Roseland way-a Miss Trevanion-quite a bettermost lady. When Miss Susannah was born-that's Miss Honoria's mother-she went to be churched. What must he do, to show his annoyance that 'twasn't a boy, but drive a she-ass into church? Very stiff behaviour. He drove the beast right fore an' into the big pew. The Moyles, you see, 've got a mule for their shield of arms. He've had his own way too much; that's of it.

"One day he dropped into church just before sarmon-time. There was a rabbit squattin' outside 'pon his father's tombstone. Squire crep' up an' clapped his Sunday hat 'pon top of en. Took en into church. One o' the curate chaps was preachin'-a timorous little fellah. By-'n'-by Squire slips out his rabbit. 'Wirroo, boys! Coorse en, coorse en-we'll have en for dinner!' Aw, a pretty dido! The curate fellah ran out to door an' the rabbit after en. Folks did say the rabbit was the old Squire's soul, an' that he'd turned black inside the young Squire's hat. Very stiff behaviour.

"He've had his own way too much; that's what it is. When he was pricked for sheriff, he hired a ramshackle po'shay, painted a mule 'pon the panel, an' stuffed the footmen's stockings with bran till it looked a case of dropsy. He was annoyed at bein' put to the expense. The judge lost his temper at bein' met in such a way, an' pitched into en in open court, specially about the mule. He didn't know 'twas the Squire's shield of arms. Squire stood it for some time; but at last he ups an' says, 'If you was an old woman of mine, I'd dress 'ee different; an' if you was an old woman of mine an' kep' scolding like that, I'd have 'ee in the duckin'-stool for your sauce!' He almost went to gaol for that. But they put it on the ground the judge had insulted his shield of arms, an' so he got off.

"Well, wish-'ee-well! Don't you trouble about he. He've had his own way too much, but he won't get it this time."

That night Taffy dreamt that he met Squire Moyle walking along the shore; but the sand clogged him, and his spurs sank in it and his riding-boots. When he was ankle deep he began to call out, "Pray for me!" Then Taffy saw a black rabbit running on the firm sand to the breakers; and the Squire cried "Pray for me! I must catch en! 'Tis my father's soul running off!" and put his hand into his breast and drew out a stone and flung it. But the stone, as soon as it touched the sand, turned into another rabbit, and the pair ran off together along the shore. The old man tried to follow, but the sand held him; and the tide was rising. . . .

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