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Two Sides of the Face: Midwinter Tales By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 5867

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Well, the congregation settled itself, and service began, and not a sign- as why should there be?-of any feelings but holy devotion. The Whigs looked at their books, and the Tories looked at their books; and poor old Curate Grandison lost his place and his spectacles, and poor old Parson Polsue dropped asleep in the First Lesson. He'd neglected two parishes to come and preach the sermon: for Ardevora, you must know, was one of three livings he held besides a canonry, and he kept Grandison to serve the three, that being all he could afford after paying for his carriage-and-pair and postillions to carry him back and forth between us and Penzance, where he lodged for the sake of his asthma and the little card-parties for which Penzance was famous in those days. But not even an Election Sunday could keep him properly awake. So on went the old comedy, as by law established; the congregation, Whig and Tory, not able to hear one word in ten, but taking their cues from Tommy Size, the parish clerk.

The first sign of something amiss came about midway in the hymn before the sermon, with old Squire Martin's setting down his book and dropping into his seat very sudden. Few noticed it, the pew being a tall one; but the musicianers overlooking it from the gallery saw him crossing his hands over his waistcoat, which caused one or two to play their notes false; and Nance Julian in the pew behind heard him groan: "I can't sit it out! Not for a hundred pounds can I sit it out!"

By this time Parson Polsue, with his sermon tucked under his arm, was tottering up the pulpit stairs, and Churchwarden Hancock standing underneath, as usual, to watch him arrive safe or to break his fall if he tumbled. And just as he reached the top and caught hold of the desk cushion to stay himself, Lord William dropped out of view in the face of the congregation, and the hymn-music and singing together-ciphered out like an organ with its bellows slit.

The next moment open flew the door of the Tregoose pew, and out poured Lord William and Squire Martin with judgment on their faces, making a bee-line for the fresh air; and after them Major Dyngwall with a look of concern; and after him young Bob Martin, that had only waited to pick up the others' hats.

Well, you can't run a spark through a barrel of gunpowder. Like wildfire it flew about the church that the Duke's party and the Parson had quarrelled, and this was a public protest. Whig and Tory settled that with one scrape of the feet, and Major Dyngwall turned in the porch to find the whole crowd at his heels.

"My good people," says he, "pray don't alarm yourselves! I-I don't quite know what's the matter: a sudden indisposition-nothing serious. Do, please, go back!"

"Go back? Not a bit of it! You're quite right, sir-disgrace to a Christian country-high time for a public example-stand to it, sir, and the Bishop will have to interfere. Three cheers for the R

ed and Orange! Three cheers for Religion and no Abuses! Three cheers for Lord William and Major Dyngwall! Hip-hip-hooray!" Do what the Major might, the crowd swept him and the poor sufferers through the churchyard and across the street, and hung cheering around the "George and Dragon," while he dosed the pair inside with hot brandy-and-water.

And all this while Kitty stood-as she declared ever after-with the thoughts hissing in her head like eggs in a frying-pan. She heard the crowd cheering outside, and felt the votes slipping away with every cheer. She cast her eyes up to the pulpit, and there, through a haze, saw old Parson Polsue rubbing his spectacles and shaking like an aspen. Her wits only came back to her when the Tory candidates, in the pew before her, reached for their hats and prepared to follow the mob. Dr. Macann was actually fumbling with the button of the door. Quick as thought then she seized a hassock, sprang on it, and, reaching over the partition, pressed a hand down on his chestnut wig.

"Sit still-sit still, man!" she commanded. "Thee'rt throwing helve after hatchet, I tell 'ee. What's a stomach-ache, after all?"

"I don't follow you, Mrs. Lebow," said the Doctor: and small blame to him.

"Never you mind about understanding," said Kitty. "But sit you down and keep your eye on the Parson. See the colour on him-that's anger, my dear! And see his jaw, full of blessed stubbornness! Nine good votes he has, and old Grandison a couple beside: and every one of 'em as good as cast for you, if you'll sit it out. Sit quiet for two minutes now, and to-morrow you shall sit for Ardevora."

"But the crowd?" the Doctor couldn't help murmuring, though none the less he obeyed.

Kitty's eye began to twinkle. "Leave the crowd to me," she was beginning, when her eye lit on John à Hall, that had entered and was making his way towards the pulpit, from which in the fury of his anger old Polsue was climbing down with a nimbleness you wouldn't believe. And with that she almost laughed out, for a worse peacemaker the Whigs couldn't have chosen. But Major Dyngwall had sent him, having none to advise, and being near to his wits' end, poor young man.

"Beg your pardon, Parson," began John à Hall, stepping up with that grin on his face which he couldn't help and which the Parson abominated: "but I'm here to bring Lord William's compliments and apologies, and assure you from him that your sermon had nothing to do with his stomach-ache. Nothing whatever!"

Parson Polsue opened his mouth to answer, but thought better of it. I reckon he remembered the sacred edifice. At any rate he went past John à Hall with a terrific turn of speed, and old Grandison after him: and the next news was the vestry-door slammed-to behind them both, as 'twere with the very wind of wrath.

"And my poor mother used to recommend it for the colic!" said Kitty; which puzzled the Doctor worse than ever.

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