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   Chapter 13 THE BUILDERS.

The Ship of Stars By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 14775

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


These things happened on a Friday. After breakfast next morning Taffy went to fetch his books. He did so out of habit and without thinking; but his father stopped him.

"Put them away," he said. "Some day we'll go back to them, but not yet."

Instead of books Humility packed their dinner in the satchel. They reached the church and found the interior just as they had left it. Taffy was set to work to pick up and sweep together the scraps of broken glass which littered the chancel. His father examined the wreckage of the pews.

While the boy knelt at his task, his thoughts were running on the Pantomime. He had meant, last night, to recount all its wonders and the wonders of Plymouth; but somehow the words had not come. After displaying his presents he could find no more to say: and feeling his father's hand laid on his shoulder, had burst into tears and hidden his face in his mother's lap. He wanted to console them, and they were pitying him-why he could not say-but he knew it was so.

And now the Pantomime, Plymouth, everything, seemed to have slipped away from him into a far past. Only his father and mother had drawn nearer and become more real. He tried to tell himself one of the old stories; but it fell into pieces like the fragments of coloured glass he was handling, and presently he began to think of the glass in his hands and let the story go.

"On Monday we'll set to work," said his father. "I dare say Joel"- this was the carpenter down at Innis village-"will lend me a few tools to start with. But the clearing up will take us all to-day."

They ate their dinner in the vestry. Taffy observed that his father said: "We will do this," or "Our best plan will be so-and-so," and spoke to him as to a grown man. On the whole, though the dusk found them still at work, this was a happy day.

"But aren't you going to lock the door?" he asked, as they were leaving.

"No," said Mr. Raymond. "We shall win, sonny; but not in that way."

On the morrow Taffy rang the bell for service as usual. To his astonishment Squire Moyle was among the first-comers. He led Honoria by the hand, entered the Tredinnis pew and shut the door with a slam. It was the only pew left unmutilated. The rest of the congregation- and curiosity made it larger than usual-had to stand; but a wife of one of the miners found a hassock and passed it to Humility, who thanked her for it with brimming eyes. Mr. Raymond said afterward that this was the first success of the campaign.

Not willing to tire his audience, he preached a very short sermon; but it was his manifesto, and all the better for being short. He took his text from Nehemiah, Chapter II., verses 19 and 20- "But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard it, they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said: 'What is this thing that ye do? Will ye rebel against the King?'"

"Then answered I them and said unto them, 'The God of Heaven, He will prosper us; therefore, we His servants will arise and build.'

"Fellow-parishioners," he said, "you see the state of this church. Concerning the cause of it I require none of you to judge. I enter no plea against any man. Another will judge, who said, 'Destroy this temple and in three days I will rear it up.' But He spake of the temple of His body; which was destroyed and is raised up; and its living and irrevocable triumph I, or some other servant of God, will celebrate at this altar, Sunday by Sunday, that whosoever will may see, yes, and taste it. The state of this poor shell is but a little matter to a God whose majesty once inhabited a stable; yet the honour of this, too, shall be restored. You wonder how, perhaps. It may be the Lord will work for us; for there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few. Go to your homes now and ponder this; and having pondered, if you will, pray for us."

As the Raymonds left the church they found Squire Moyle waiting by the porch. Honoria stood just behind him. The rest of the congregation had drawn off a little distance to watch. The Squire lifted his hat to Humility, and turned to Mr. Raymond with a sour frown.

"That means war?"

"It means that I stay," said the Vicar. "The war, if it comes, comes from your side."

"I don't think the worse of 'ee for fighting. You're not going to law then?"

Mr. Raymond smiled. "I don't doubt you've put yourself within the reach of it. But if it eases your mind to know, I am not going to law."

The Squire grunted, raised his hat again and strode off, gripping

Honoria by the hand.

She had not glanced towards Taffy. Clearly she was not allowed to speak to him.

The meaning of the Vicar's sermon became plain next morning, when he walked down to the village and called on Joel Hugh, the carpenter.

"I knows what thee'rt come after," began Joel, "but 'tis no use, parson dear. Th' old fellow owns the roofs over us, and if I do a day's work for 'ee, out I goes, neck and crop."

Mr. Raymond had expected this. "It's not for work I'm come," said he; "but to hire a few tools, if you're minded to spare them."

Joel scratched his head. "Might manage that, now. But, Lord bless 'ee! thee'll never make no hand of it." He chose out saw, hammer, plane and auger, and packed them up in a carpenter's frail, with a few other tools. "Don't 'ee talk about payment, now; naybors must be nayborly. Only, you see, a man must look after his own."

Mr. Raymond climbed the hill toward the towans with the carpenter's frail slung over his shoulder. As luck would have it, near the top he met Squire Moyle descending on horseback. The Vicar nodded "Good-morning" in passing, but had not gone a dozen steps when the old man reined up and called after him.

"Hi!"

The Vicar halted.

"Whose basket is that you're carrying?" Then, getting no answer,

"Wait till next Saturday night, when Joel Hugh comes to thank you.

I suppose you know he rents his cottage by the week?"

"No harm shall come to him through me," said the Vicar, and retraced his steps down the hill. The Squire followed at a foot-pace, grinning as he went.

That night Mr. Raymond went back to his beloved books, but not to read; and early next morning was ready at the cross-roads for the van which plied twice a week between Innis village and Truro. He had three boxes with him-heavy boxes, as Calvin the van-driver remarked when it came to lifting them on board.

"Thee'rt not leaving us, surely?" said he.

"No."

"But however didst get these lumping boxes up the hill?"

"My son helped me."

He had modestly calculated on averaging a shilling a volume for his books; but discovered on leaving the shop at Truro that it worked out at one-and-threepence. He returned to Nannizabuloe that night with one box only-but it was packed full of tools-and a copy of Fuller's "Holy State," which at the last moment had proved too precious to be parted with-at least, just yet.

The woodwork of the old pews-painted deal for the most part, but mixed with a few boards of good red pine and one or two of teak, relics of some forgotten shipwreck-lay stacked in the belfry and around the font under the west gallery. Mr. Raymond and Taffy spent an hour in overhauling it, chose out the boards for their first pew, and fell to work.

At the end of another hour the pair broke off and looke

d at each other. Taffy could not help laughing. His own knowledge of carpentry had been picked up by watching Joel Hugh at work, and just sufficed to tell him that his father was possibly the worst carpenter in the world.

"I think my fingers must be all thumbs," declared Mr. Raymond.

The puckers in his face set Taffy laughing afresh. They both laughed and fell to work again, the boy explained his notions of the difficult art of mortising. They were rudimentary, but sound as far as they went, and his father recognised this. Moreover, when the boy had a tool to handle he did it with a natural deftness, in spite of his ignorance. He was Humility's child, born with the skill-of-hand of generations of lace-workers. He did a dozen things wrongly, but he neither fumbled, nor hammered his fingers, nor wounded them with the chisel-which was Humility's husband's way.

At the end of four days of strenuous effort, they had their first pew built. It was a recognisable pew, though it leaned to one side, and the door (for it had a door) fell to with a bang if not cautiously treated. The triumph was, the seat could be sat upon without risk. Mr. Raymond and Taffy tested it with their combined weight on the Saturday evening, and went home full of its praises.

"But look at your clothes," said Humility; and they looked.

"This is serious," said Mr. Raymond. "Dear, you must make us a couple of working suits of corduroy or some such stuff: otherwise this pew-making won't pay."

Humility stood out against this for a day or two. That her husband and child should go dressed like common workmen! But there was no help for it, and on the Monday week Taffy went forth to work in moleskin breeches, blue guernsey, and loose white smock. As for Mr. Raymond, the only badge of his calling was his round clerical hat; and as all the miners in the neighbourhood wore hats of the same soft felt and only a trifle higher in the crown, this hardly amounted to a distinction.

Humility's eyes were full of tears as she watched them from the door that morning. But Taffy felt as proud as Punch. A little before noon he carried out a board that required sawing, and rested it on a flat tombstone where, with his knee upon it, he could get a good purchase. He was sawing away when he heard a dog barking, and looked up to see Honoria coming along the path with George's terrier frisking at her heels.

She halted outside the lych-gate, and Taffy, vain of his new clothes, drew himself up and nodded.

"Good-morning," said Honoria. "I'm not allowed to speak to you and I'm not going to, after this." She swooped on the puppy and held him. "See what George brought home from Plymouth for me. Isn't he a beauty?"

Held so, by the scruff of his neck, he was not a beauty. Taffy had it on the tip of his tongue to tell her about the collar. He wished he had brought it.

"I wonder," she went on pensively, "your mother had the heart to dress you out in that style. But I suppose now you'll be growing up into quite a common boy."

Taffy decided to say nothing about the collar. "I like the clothes," he declared defiantly.

"Then you can't have the common instincts of a gentleman. Well, good-bye! Grandfather has salvation all right this time; he said he'd put the stick about me if I dared to speak to you."

"He won't know."

"Won't know? Why I shall tell him, of course, when I get back."

"But-but he mustn't beat you!"

She eyed him for a moment or two in silence. "Mustn't he? I advise you to go and tell him." She walked away slowly, whistling; but by-and-by broke into a run and was gone, the puppy scampering behind her.

As the days grew longer and the weather milder, Taffy and his father worked late into the evenings; sometimes, if the job needed to be finished, by the light of a couple of candles.

One evening, about nine o'clock, the boy as he planed a bench paused suddenly. "What's that?"

They listened. The door stood open, and after a second or two they heard the sound of feet tiptoeing away up the path outside.

"Spies, perhaps," said his father. "If so, let them go in peace."

But he was not altogether easy. There had been strange doings up at the Bryanite Chapel of late. He still visited a few of his parishioners regularly-hill farmers and their wives for the most part, who did not happen to be tenants of Squire Moyle, and on whom his visits therefore could bring no harm; and one or two had hinted of strange doings, now that the Bryanites had hold of the old Squire. They themselves had been up-just to look; they confessed it shamefacedly, much in the style of men who have been drinking overnight. Without pressing them and showing himself curious, the Vicar could get at no particulars. But as the summer grew he felt a moral sultriness, as it were, growing with it. The people were off their balance, restless; and behind their behaviour he had a sense, now of something electric, menacing, now of a hand holding it in check. Slowly in those days the conviction deepened in him that he was an alien on this coast, that between him and the hearts of the race he ministered to there stretched an impalpable, impenetrable veil. And all this while the faces he passed on the road, though shy, were kindlier than they had been in the days before his self-confidence left him-it seemed not so long ago.

On a Saturday night early in May, the footsteps were heard again, and this time in the porch itself. While Mr. Raymond and Taffy listened the big latch went up with a creak, and a dark figure slipped into the church.

"Who is there?" challenged Mr. Raymond from the chancel where he stood peering out of the small circle of light.

"A friend. Pass, friend, and all's well!" answered a squeaky voice.

"Bless you, I've sarved in the militia before now."

It was Jacky Pascoe, with his coat-collar turned up high about his ears.

"What do you want?" Mr. Raymond demanded sharply.

"A job."

"We can pay for no work here."

"Wait till thee'rt asked, Parson, dear. I've been spying in upon 'ee these nights past. Pretty carpenters you be! T'other night, as I was a-peeping, the Lord said to me, 'Arise, go, and for goodness' sake show them chaps how to do it fitty.' 'Dear Lord,' I said, 'Thou knowest I be a Bryanite.' The Lord said to me, 'None of your back answers! Go and do as I tell 'ee.' So here I be."

Mr. Raymond hesitated. "Squire Moyle is your friend, I hear, and the friend of your chapel. What will he say if he discovers that you are helping us?"

Jacky scratched his head. "I reckon the Lord must have thought o' that, too. Suppose you put me to work in the vestry? There's only one window looks in on the vestry: you can block that up with a curtain, and there I'll be like a weevil in a biscuit."

When this screen was fixed, the little Bryanite looked round and rubbed his hands. "Now I'll tell 'ee a prabble," he said-"a prabble about this candle I'm holding. When God Almighty said 'let there be light,' He gave every man a candle-to some folks, same as you, long sixes perhaps and best wax; to others, a farthing dip. But they all helps to light up; and the beauty of it is, Parson"-he laid a hand on Mr. Raymond's cuff-"there isn't one of 'em burns a ha'porth the worse for every candle that's lit from en. Now sit down, you and the boy, and I'll larn 'ee how to join a board."

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