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   Chapter 18 THE BARRIERS FALL.

The Ship of Stars By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 10409

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


There were marks of teeth on his right boot, but no marks at all on his body. Fright-or fright following on that evening's frenzy-had killed him.

He was buried three days later, and Mr. Raymond read the service. No rain had fallen, and the blood of the three hounds still stained the gravel dividing the grave from the porch, where the crowd had shot them down.

For a while his death made small difference to the family at the Parsonage. They had fought his enmity and proved it not formidable for brave hearts. But they had scarcely realised their success, and wondered why his death did not affect them more.

About this time Taffy began to carry out a scheme which he and his father had often discussed, but hitherto had found no leisure for- the setting up of wooden crosses on the graves of the drowned sailormen. They had wished for slate, but good slate was expensive and hard to come by, and Taffy had no skill in stone-cutting. Since wood it must be, he resolved to put his best work into it. The names, etc., should be engraved, not painted merely. Some of the pew-fronts in the church had panels elaborately carved in flat and shallow relief-fine Jacobean designs, all of them. He took careful rubbings of their traceries, and set to work to copy them on the face of his crosses.

One afternoon, some three weeks after the Squire's funeral, he happened to return to the house for a tracing which he had forgotten, and found Honoria seated in the kitchen and talking with his father and mother. She was dressed in black, of course, and either this or the solemnity of her visit gave her quite a grown-up look. But, to be sure, she was mistress of Tredinnis now, and a child no longer.

Taffy guessed the meaning of her visit at once. And no doubt this act of formal reconciliation between Tredinnis House and the Parsonage had cost her some nervousness. As Taffy entered his parents stood up and seemed just as awkward as their visitor. "Another time, perhaps," he heard his father say. Honoria rose almost at once, and would not stay to drink tea, though Humility pressed her.

"I suppose," said Taffy next day, looking up from his Virgil, "I suppose Miss Honoria wants to make friends now and help on the restoration?"

Mr. Raymond, who was on his knees fastening a loose hinge in a pew-door, took a screw from between his lips.

"Yes, she proposed that."

"It must be splendid for you, dad!"

"I don't quite see," answered Mr. Raymond, with his head well inside the pew.

Taffy stood up, put his hands in his pockets, and took a turn up and down the aisle.

"Why," said he, coming to a halt, "it means that you have won.

It's victory, dad, and I call it glorious!" His lip trembled.

He wanted to put a hand on his father's shoulder; but his abominable

shyness stood between.

"We won long ago, my boy." And Mr. Raymond wheeled round on his knees, pushed up his spectacles, and quoted the famous lines, very solemnly and slowly:

"'And not by eastern windows only,

When daylight comes, comes in the light;

In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly!

But westward, look, the land is bright!'"

"I see," Taffy nodded. "And-I say, that's jolly. Who wrote it?"

"A man I used to see in the streets of Oxford and always turned to stare after: a man with big ugly shaped feet and the face of a god-a young tormented god. Those were days when young men's thoughts tormented them. Taffy," he asked abruptly, "should you like to go to Oxford?"

"Don't, father!" The boy bit his lip to keep back the tears. "Talk of something else-something cheerful. It has been a splendid fight, just splendid! And now it's over I'm almost sorry."

"What is over?"

"Well, I suppose-now that Honoria wants to help-we can hire workmen and have the whole job finished in a month, or two at farthest: and you-"

Mr. Raymond stood up, and leaning against a bench-end, examined the thread of the screw between his fingers.

"That is one way of looking at it, no doubt," he said slowly; "and I hope God will forgive me if I have put my own pride before His service. But a man desires to leave some completed work behind him- something to which people may point and say, 'he did it.' There was my book, now: for years I thought that was to be my work. But God thought otherwise and (to correct my pride, perhaps) chose this task instead. To set a small forsaken country church in order and make it worthy of His presence-that is not the mission I should have chosen. But so be it: I have accepted it. Only, to let others step in at the last and finish even this-I say He must forgive me, but I cannot."

"Your book-you can go back to it and finish it."

"I have burnt it."

"Dad!"

"I burned it. I had to. It was a temptation to me, and until I lifted it from the grate and the flakes crumbled in my hands the surrender was not complete."

Taffy felt a sudden gush of pity. And as he pitied suddenly he understood his father.

"It had to be complete?"

"Either the book or the surrender. My boy"-and in his voice there echoed the aspiration and the despair of the true scholar, who abhors imperfection and incompleteness in a world where nothing is e

ither perfect or complete; "it is different with you. I borrowed you, so to say, for the time. Without you I must have failed; but this was never your work. For myself, I have learnt my lessons; but, please God, you shall be my Solomon and be granted a temple to build."

Taffy had lost his shyness now. He laid a hand on his father's sleeve.

"We will go on then."

"Yes, we will go on."

"And Jacky? Where has he been? I haven't seen him since the Squire died."

Mr. Raymond searched in his coat-pocket and handed over a crumpled letter. It ran:-

"Dear friend,-this is to say that you will not see me no more.

The dear Lord tells me that I have made a cauch of it.

He don't say how, all He says is go and do better somewheres

else.

"Seems to me a terrable thing to think Religion can be bad for any man. It have done me such powars of good. The late Moyle esq he was like a dirty pan all the milk turned sour no matter what. Dear friend I pored Praise into him and it come out Prayer and all for him self. But the dear Lord says I was to blame as much as Moyle esq so must do better next time but feel terrable timid.

"My respects to Masr Taffy. Dear friend I done my best I come like Nicodemus by night. Seeming to me when Christians fall out tis over what they pray for. When they praise God forget diffnses and I cant think where the quaraling comes in and so no more at present from

"Yours respffly

"J. Pascoe."

After supper that night, in the Parsonage kitchen Humility kept rising from her chair, and laying her needlework aside to re-arrange the pans and kettles on the hearth. This restlessness was so unusual that Taffy, seated in the ingle with a book on his knee, had half raised his head to twit her when he felt a hand laid softly on his hair, and looked up into his mother's eyes.

"Taffy, should you like to go to Oxford?"

"Don't, mother!"

"But you can." The tears in her eyes answered his at once.

She turned to his father. "Tell him!"

"Yes, my boy, you can go," said Mr. Raymond; "that is, if you can win a scholarship. Your mother and I have been talking it over."

"But-" Taffy began, and could get no further.

"We have money enough-with care," said Mr. Raymond.

But the boy's eyes were on his mother. Her cheeks, usually so pale, were flushed; but she turned her face away and walked slowly back to her chair. "The lace-work," he heard her say: "I have been saving- from the beginning-"

"For this?" He followed and took her hand. With the other she covered her eyes; but nodded.

"O mother-mother!" He knelt and let his brow drop on her lap. She ceased to weep; her palms rested on his bowed head, but now and then her body shook. And but for the ticking of the tall clock there was silence in the room.

It was wonderful; and the wonder of it grew when they recovered themselves and fell to discussing their plans. In spite of his idolatry, Mr. Raymond could not help remembering certain slights which he, a poor miller's son, had undergone at Christ Church. He had chosen Magdalen, which Taffy knew to be the most beautiful of all the colleges; and the news that his name had been entered on the college books for years past gave him a delicious shock. It was now July. He would matriculate in the October term, and in January enter for a demyship. But (the marvels followed so fast on each other's heels) there would be an examination held in ten days' time-actually in ten days' time-a "certificate" examination, Mr. Raymond called it-which would excuse the boy not only the ordinary Matriculation test, but Responsions too. And, in short, Taffy was to pack his box and go.

"But the subjects?"

"You have been reading them and the prescribed books for four months past. And I have had sets of the old papers by me for a guide. Your mathematics are shaky-but I think you should do well enough."

It was now Humility's turn, and the discussion plunged among shirts and collars. Never had evening been so happy; and whether they talked of mathematics or of collars, Taffy could not help observing how from time to time his father's and mother's eyes would meet and say, as plainly as words, "We have done rightly." "Yes, we have done rightly."

And the wonder of it remained next morning, when he awoke to a changed world and took down his books with a new purpose. Already his box had been carried into old Mrs. Venning's room, and his mother and grandmother were busy, the one packing and repacking, the other making a new and important suggestion every minute.

He was to go up alone, and to lodge in Trinity College, where an old friend of Mr. Raymond's, a resident fellow just then abroad and spending his Long Vacation in the Tyrol, had placed his own room at the boy's service.

To see Oxford-to be lodging in college! He had to hug his mother in the midst of her packing.

"You will be going by the Great Western," she said. "You won't be seeing Honiton on your way."

When the great morning came, Mr. Raymond travelled with him in the van to Truro, to see him off. Humility went upstairs to her mother's room, and the two women prayed together-

"They also serve who only stand and wait."

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