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The Ship of Stars By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 18203

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

The summer passed. There was a talk in the early part of it that the Bishop would be coming, next spring, to consecrate the restored church and hold a confirmation service. Taffy and Honoria were to be confirmed, and early in August Mr. Raymond began to set apart an hour each day for preparing them. In a week or two the boy's head was full of religion. He spent much of his time in the church, watching the carpenter at work upon the new seats; his mind ran on the story of Samuel, and he wished his mother had followed Hannah's example and dedicated him to God; he had a suspicion that God would be angry with her for not doing so.

He did not observe that, as the autumn crept on, a shadow gathered on Humility's face. One Sunday the old Squire did not come to church; and again on the next Wednesday, at the harvest festival, Honoria sat alone in the Tredinnis pew. The shadow was on his mother's face as he chatted about this on their way home to the Parsonage; but the boy did not perceive it. He loved his parents, but their lives lay outside his own, and their sayings and doings passed him like a vain show. He walked in the separate world of childhood, and it seemed an enormous world yet, though a few weeks were to bring him abruptly to the end of it.

But just before he came to the precipice he was given a glimpse of the real world-and of a world beyond that, far more splendid and romantic than any region of his dreams.

The children had no lessons during Christmas, or for three weeks after. On the last morning before the holidays George brought a letter for Mr. Raymond, who read it, considered for a while, and laid it among his papers.

"It's an invitation," George announced in a whisper. "I wonder if he'll let you come."

"Where?" whispered Taffy.

"Up to Plymouth-to the Pantomime."

"What's that?"

"Oh-clowns, and girls dressed up like boys, and policemen on slides, and that sort of thing."

Taffy sat bewildered. He vaguely remembered Plymouth as a mass of roofs seen from the train, as it drew up for a minute or two on a high bridge. Someone in the railway carriage had talked of an engine called Brutus, which (it appeared) had lately run away and crashed into the cloak-room at the end of the platform. He still thought of railway engines as big, blundering animals, with wills of their own, and of Plymouth as a town rendered insecure by their vagaries; but the idea that its roofs covered girls dressed up like boys and policemen on slides was new to him, and pleasant on the whole, though daunting.

"Will you give my thanks to Sir Harry," said Mr. Raymond, after lessons, "and tell him that Taffy may go."

So on New Year's Day Taffy found himself in Plymouth. It was an experience which he could never fit into his life except as a gaudy interlude; for when he awoke and looked back upon it, he was no longer the boy who had climbed up beside Sir Harry and behind Sir Harry's restless pair of bays. The whirl began with that drive to the station; began again in the train; began again as they stepped out on the pavement at Plymouth, just as a company of scarlet-coated soldiers came down the roadway with a din of brazen music. The crowd, the shops, the vast hotel, completely dazed him, and he seriously accepted the waiter, in his black suit and big white shirt-front, as a contribution to the fun of the entertainment.

"We must dine early," Sir Harry announced at lunch; "the Pantomime begins at seven."

"Isn't-isn't this the Pantomime?" Taffy stammered.

George giggled. Sir Harry set down his glass of claret, stared at the boy, and broke into musical laughter. Taffy perceived he had made some ridiculous mistake and blushed furiously.

"God bless the child-the Pantomime's at the theatre!"

"Oh!" Taffy recalled the canvas booth and wheezy cornet of his early days with a chill of disappointment.

But with George at his side it was impossible to be anything but happy. After lunch they sallied out, and it would have been hard to choose the gayest of the three. Sir Harry's radiant good-temper seemed to gild the streets. He took the boys up to the Hoe and pointed out the war-ships; he whisked them into the Camera Obscura; thence to the Citadel, where they watched a squad of recruits at drill; thence to the Barbican, where the trawling-fleet lay packed like herring, and the shops were full of rope and oilskin suits and marine instruments, and dirty children rolled about the roadway between the legs of seabooted fishermen; and so up to the town again, where he lingered in the most obliging manner while the boys stared into the fishing-tackle shops and toy shops. On the way he led them up a narrow passage and into a curious room, where fifteen or twenty men were drinking, and talking at the top of their voices. The most of them seemed to know Sir Harry well and greeted him with an odd mixture of respect and familiarity. Their talk was full of mysterious names and expressions, and Taffy thought at first they must be Freemasons. "The Moor point-to-point was a walk-over for the Milkman; Lapidary was scratched, which left it a soft thing, unless Sir Harry fancied a fox-catcher like Nursery Governess, in which case Billy behind the bar would do as much business as he liked at six-to-one." After a while Taffy discovered they were talking about horses, and wondered why they should meet to discuss horses in a dingy room up a back yard. "Youngster of yours is growin', Surrarry," said a red-faced man. "Who's his stable companion?" Taffy was introduced, and to his embarrassment Sir Harry began to relate his ridiculous mistake at lunch. The men roared with laughter.

He made another, quite as ridiculous, at the pastry-cook's where Sir Harry ordered tea. "What'll you take with it? Call for what you like, only don't poison yourselves." Taffy referring his gaze from the buns and confections on the counter to the card in his hands, which was inscribed with words in unknown tongues, made a bold plunge and announced that he would take a "marasheno."

This tickled Sir Harry mightily. He ordered the waitress with a wink to "bring the young gentleman a marasheno"; and Taffy, who had expected something in the shape of a macaroon, was confronted with a tiny glass of a pale liquor, which, when tasted, in the most surprising manner put sunshine into his stomach and brought tears into his eyes. But under Sir Harry's quizzical gaze he swallowed it down bravely, and sat gasping and blinking.

It may have been that the maraschino induced a haze upon the rest of the afternoon. The gas-lamps were lit when they left the pastry-cook's and entered a haberdasher's where Taffy, without knowing why, was fitted with a pair of white kid gloves. Of dinner at the hotel he remembered nothing except that the candles on the tables had red shades, of which the silverware gave funny reflections; that the same waiter flitted about in the penumbra; and that Sir Harry, who was dressed like the waiter, said, "Wake up, young Marasheno! Do you take your coffee black?" "It's usually pale brown at home," answered Taffy; at which Sir Harry laughed again. "Black will suit you better to-night," he said, and poured out a small cupful, which Taffy drank and found exceedingly nasty. And a moment later he was wide awake, and the three were following a young woman along a passage which seemed to run in a complete circle. The young woman flung open a door; they entered a little room with a balcony in front; and the first glorious vision broke on the child with a blaze of light, a crash of music, and the murmur of hundreds of voices.

Faces, faces, faces!-faces mounting from the pit below him, up and up to the sky-blue ceiling, where painted goddesses danced and scattered pink roses around the enormous gasalier. Fauns piping on the great curtain, fiddles sawing in the orchestra beneath, ladies in gay silks and jewels leaning over the gilt balconies opposite-which were real, and which a vision only? He turned helplessly to George and Sir Harry. Yes, they were real. But what of Nannizabuloe, and the sand-hills, and the little parsonage to which that very morning he had turned to wave his handkerchief?

A bell rang, and the curtain rose upon a company of russet-brown elves dancing in a green wood. The play was Jack the Giant-killer; but Taffy, who knew the story in the book by heart, found the story on the stage almost meaningless. That mattered nothing; it was the world, the new and unimagined world, stretching deeper and still deeper as the scenes were lifted-a world in which solid walls crumbled, and forests melted, and loveliness broke through the ruins, unfolding like a rose; it was this that seized on the child's heart until he could have wept for its mere beauty. Often he had sought out the trout-pools on the moors behind the towans, and lying at full length had watched the fish moving between the stones and water-plants; and watching through a summer's afternoon had longed to change places with them and glide through their grottoes or anchor among the reed-stalks and le

t the ripple run over him. As long back as he could remember, all beautiful sights had awakened this ache, this longing-

"O, that I were where I would be!

Then would I be where I am not;

For where I am I would not be,

And where I would be, I cannot."

It seemed to him that these bright beings on the stage had broken through the barriers, had stepped beyond the flaming ramparts, and were happy. Their horseplay, at which George laughed so immoderately, called to Taffy to come and be happy, too; and when Jack the Giant-killer changed to Jack in the Beanstalk, and when in the Transformation Scene a real beanstalk grew and unfolded its leaves, and each leaf revealed a fairy seated, with the limelight flashing on star and jewelled wand, the longing became unbearable. The scene passed in a minute. The clown and pantaloon came on, and presently Sir Harry saw Taffy's shoulders shaking, and set it down to laughter at the harlequinade. He could not see the child's face.

But, perhaps, the queerest event of the evening (when Taffy came to review his recollections) was this: He must have fallen into a stupor on leaving the theatre, for when he awoke he found himself on a couch in a gas-lit room, with George beside him, and Sir Harry was shaking him by the collar, and saying, "God bless the children, I thought they were in bed hours ago!" A man-the same who had talked about racehorses that afternoon-was standing by the table, on which a quantity of cards lay scattered among the drinking-glasses; and he laughed at this, and his laugh sounded just like the rustling of paper. "It's all very well-" began Sir Harry, but checked himself and lit a candle, and led the two boys off shivering to bed.

The next morning, too, had its surprises. To begin with, Sir Harry announced at breakfast that he must go and buy a horse. He might be an hour or two over the business, and meanwhile the boys had better go out into the town and enjoy themselves. Perhaps a sovereign apiece might help them.

Taffy, who had never in his life possessed more than a shilling, was

staring at the gold piece in his hand, when the door opened, and Sir

Harry's horse-racing friend came in to breakfast and nodded


"Pity you're leaving to-day," he said, as he took his seat at a table hard by them.

"My revenge must wait," Sir Harry answered.

It seemed a cold-blooded thing to be said so carelessly. Taffy wondered if Sir Harry's search for a horse had anything to do with this revenge, and the notion haunted him in the intervals of his morning's shopping.

But how to lay out his sovereign? That was the first question. George, who within ten minutes had settled his own problem by purchasing a doubtful fox-terrier of the Boots of the hotel, saw no difficulty. The Boots had another pup for sale-one of the same litter.

"But I want something for mother, and the others-and Honoria."

"Botheration! I'd forgotten Honoria, and now the money's gone!

Never mind; she can have my pup."

"Oh!" said Taffy ruefully. "Then she won't think much of my present."

"Yes, she will. Suppose you buy a collar for him-you can get one for five shillings."

They found a saddler's and chose the dog-collar which came to four shillings; and for eighteenpence the shopman agreed to have "Honoria from Taffy," engraved on it within an hour. Humility's present was chosen with surprising ease-a large, framed photograph of the Bishop of Exeter; price, six shillings.

"I don't suppose," objected George, "your mother cares much for the

Bishop of Exeter."

"Oh, yes, she does," said Taffy; "he's coming to confirm us next spring. Besides," he added, with one of those flashes of wisdom which surely he derived from her, "mother won't care what it is, so long as she's remembered. And it costs more than the collar."

This left him with eight-and-sixpence; and for three-and-sixpence he bought a work-box for his grandmother, with a view of Plymouth Hoe on the lid. But now came the crux. What should he get for his father?

"It must be a book," George suggested.

"But what kind of a book? He has so many."

"Something in Latin."

The bookseller's window was filled with yellow-backed novels and toy-books, which obviously would not do. So they marched in and demanded a book suitable for a clergyman who had a good many books already-"a middle-aged clergyman," George added.

"You can't go far wrong with this," suggested the bookseller, producing Crockford's "Clerical Directory" for the current year. But this was too expensive; "and," said Taffy, "I think he would rather have something in Latin." The bookseller rubbed his chin, went to his shelves, and took down a small De Imitatione Christi, bound in limp calf. "You can't go far wrong with this, either," he assured them. So Taffy paid down his money.

Just as the boys reached the hotel, Sir Harry drove up in a cab; and five minutes later they were all rattling off to the railway station. Taffy eyed the cab-horse curiously, never doubting it to be Sir Harry's new purchase; and was extremely surprised when the cabman whipped it up and trotted off-after receiving his money, too. But in the bustle there was no time to ask questions.

It was about three in the afternoon, and the sun already low in the south-west, when they came in sight of the cross-roads and Sir Harry pulled up his bays. And there, on the green by the sign-post, stood Mrs. Raymond. She caught Taffy in her arms and hugged him till he felt ashamed, and glanced around to see if the others were looking; but the phaeton was bowling away down the road.

"But why are you here, mother?"

Mrs. Raymond gazed a while after the carriage before speaking.

"Your father had to be at the church," she said.

"But there's no service-" He broke off "See what I've brought for you!" And he pulled out the portrait. "Do you know who it is?"

Humility thanked him and kissed him passionately. There was something odd with her this afternoon.

"Don't you like your present?"

"Darling, it is beautiful," she stooped and kissed him again, passionately.

"I've a present for father, too; a book. Why are you walking so fast?" In a little while he asked again, "Why are you walking so fast?"

"I-I thought you would be wanting your tea."

"Mayn't I take father his book first?"

She did not answer.

"But mayn't I?" he persisted.

They had reached the garden-gate. Humility seemed to hesitate.

"Yes; go," she said at length; and he ran, with the De Imitatione

Christi under his arm.

As he came within view of the church he saw a knot of men gathered about the door. They were pulling something out from the porch. He heard the noise of hammering, and Squire Moyle, at the back of the crowd, was shouting at the top of his voice:

"The church is yours, is it? I'll see about that! Pitch out the furnitcher, my billies-that's mine, anyway!"

Still the hammers sounded within the church.

"Don't believe in sudden convarsion, don't 'ee? I reckon you will when you look round your church. Bishop coming to consecrate it, is he? Consecrate my furnitcher? I'll see you and your bishop to blazes first!"

A heap of shattered timber came flying through the porch.

"Your church, hey? Your church?"

The crowd fell back and Mr. Raymond stood in the doorway, between Bill Udy and Jim the Huntsman. Bill Udy held a brazen ewer and paten, and Jim a hammer; and Mr. Raymond had a hand on one shoulder of each.

For a moment there was silence. As Taffy came running through the lych-gate a man who had been sitting on a flat tombstone and watching, stood up and touched his arm. It was Jacky Pascoe, the Bryanite.

"Best go back," he said, "'tis a wisht poor job of it."

Taffy halted for a moment. The Squire's voice had risen to a sudden scream-he sputtered as he pointed at Mr. Raymond.

"There he is, naybours! Get behind the varmint, somebody, and stop his earth! Calls hisself a minister of God! Calls it his church!"

Mr. Raymond took his hands off the men's shoulders, and walked straight up to him. "Not my church," he said, aloud and distinctly. "God's church!"

He stretched out an arm. Taffy, running up, supposed it stretched out to strike. "Father!"

But Mr. Raymond's palm was open as he lifted it over the Squire's head. "God's church," he repeated. "In whose service, sir, I defy you. Go! or if you will, and have the courage, come and stand while I kneel amid the ruin you have done and pray God to judge between us."

He paused, with his eyes on the Squire's.

"You dare not, I see. Go, poor coward, and plan what mischief you will. Only now leave me in peace a little."

He took the boy's hand and they passed into the church together. No one followed. Hand in hand they stood before the dismantled chancel. Taffy heard the sound of shuffling feet on the walk outside, and looked up into Mr. Raymond's face.


"Kiss me, sonny."

The De Imitatione Christi slipped from Taffy's fingers and fell upon the chancel step.

So his childhood ended.

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