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   Chapter 9 MR. SAMUEL'S POLICY.

Shining Ferry By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 10084

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Hester's letter accepting the teachership had put Mr. Sam in something of a quandary. It came addressed, of course, to his father, and as his father's heir and executor he had opened it.

"'Hester Marvin'?" He read the signature and pondered, pulling his ragged whisker. "So that was the name on the letter you posted?" (No question had been asked about it at the inquest.)

"That was the name, sir," said Mr. Benny.

"Who is she? How did my father come to select her?"

Mr. Benny had not a notion.

"By her tone, they must have been pretty well acquainted," continued Mr. Sam, still pondering. "She signs herself 'Yours very truly,' and hopes he has been feeling better since his return. You know absolutely nothing about her?"

"Absolutely nothing, sir."

"I wish,"-Mr. Sam began, but checked himself. What he really wished was that Mr. Benny had used less haste in posting the letter-had intercepted it, in short. But he did not like to say this aloud. "I wish," he went on, "I knew exactly what the old man wrote; how far it committed us, I mean." And by 'us' again, he meant the Board of Managers, upon which he had no doubt of being elected to replace his father.

"You may be sure, sir," answered Mr. Benny, "that he made her a definite offer. My dear master was never one to make two bites of a cherry."

"Well, we must let her come, and find out, if we can, how far we're committed. Better write at once and fix a date-say next Thursday. You needn't say anything about my father's death. Just make it a formal letter, and sign your own name; you may add 'Clerk of the School Board.'"

"Can I rightly do that, sir?" Mr. Benny hesitated.

"Why not? You are the clerk, aren't you? As clerk, you answer her simply in the way of business. There's no need to call a meeting of the Board over such a trifle; though, if you wish, I'll explain it personally to the Managers. We may have a dozen cases like this before we get into working order-small odds and ends which require, nevertheless, to be dealt with promptly. We must do what's best, and risk small irregularities."

Mr. Benny, not quite convinced, fell to composing his letter. Mr. Sam leaned back in his chair and mused, tapping his long teeth with a paper-knife. He wondered what kind of a woman this Hester Marvin might be, and of what religious 'persuasion.' In a week or two he would succeed to his father's place on the Board. There would be no opposition, and it seemed to him natural and right that there should be none. Was he not by far the richest man in the parish? Samuel Rosewarne studied his Bible devoutly; but he did not seek it for anything which might stand in the way of his own will or his private advantage. When he came upon a text condemning riches, for instance, or definitely bidding him to forgive a debtor, he told himself that Christ was speaking figuratively, or was, at any rate, not to be taken literally, and with that he passed on to something more comfortable. He did not, of course, really believe this, but he had to tell himself so; for otherwise he would have to alter his whole way of life, or confess himself an irreligious man. But he was, on the contrary, a highly religious man, and he had no disposition to alter his life.

He hated the Church of England, too, because he perceived it to be full of abuses; and he supposed that the best way to counteract these abuses was to put a spoke in the Church's wheel wherever and whenever he could. In this he but copied the adversary-Parson Endicott, for example-who hated Dissent, perceiving that it rested on self-assertiveness, encouraging unlearned men to be opinionative in error. Perceiving this, Parson Endicott supposed himself to be combating error by snatching at every advantage, great or small, which exalted the supremacy of his Church and left Dissent the worse in any bargain. To neither of these men, both confident in their 'cause,' did it occur for a moment to leave that cause to the energy of its own truth.

The parson, however, was not likely to bring forward an opposition candidate; for that would conflict with a second principle of conduct, the principle of siding with the rich on all possible occasions. By doing this in his small way he furthered at once the cause of stable government-that is to say, the rule of the poor by the wealthy-and the cause of his own Church, which (he fully believed) in these times depends for existence upon mendicancy. Therefore Mr. Samuel would certainly be elected; and counting on this, he felt sorry to have missed the chance of giving the teachership, by his casting vote, to one of his own sect-some broad-minded, undenominational person who would teach the little ones to abhor all that savoured of popery. To be sure, this Hester Marvin might be such a person. On the other hand, his father had been capable of choosing some Jew, Turk, infidel, or heretic, or even papist. It remained to discover, first, what kind of woman this Hester Marvin might be; and next, whether or not the terms of her e

ngagement amounted to a contract.

"By the way," said Mr. Sam, as Mr. Benny sat pursing his lips over the letter, "you take in a lodger now and then, I believe?"

"Now and then," Mr. Benny assented, looking up and biting the end of his quill. He did not understand the drift of the question. "Now and then, sir," he repeated; "when my wife's health allows."

"Then add a line, telling her she shall be met at the station, and that you will put her up."

"But, Mr. Samuel, I could scarcely bring myself to offer."-

"Tut, man; you don't ask her to pay. I'll see to that. Merely say that you hope she will be your guest until she finds suitable lodgings."

"That is very kind of you, sir."

"Not at all." He reached out a hand for Mr. Benny's letter, read it through, and nodded. "Yes, that will do; seal it up and let it go by next post. My father had great confidence in you, Benny."

"He ever did me that great honour, sir."

"I hope we shall get on together equally well. I daresay we shall."

"It comforts me to hear you say so, sir. When a man gets up in years- with a long family depending on him."-

"Of course, if this Miss Marvin should happen to give you further particulars of my father's offer, so much the better," said Mr. Sam negligently.

As the little man went down the hill toward the ferry he was pounced upon by Mother Butson, who regularly now watched for him and waylaid him on his way home.

"Hold hard, Peter Benny-it's no use your trying to slip by now!"

"I wasn't, Mrs. Butson; indeed, now, I wasn't!" he protested; though indeed this waylaying had become a torment to him.

"Well, and what have they decided?" The poor old soul asked it fiercely, yet trembled while waiting for his answer, almost hoping that he would have none.

Mr. Benny longed to say that nothing was decided; but the letter in his pocket seemed to be burning against his ribs. He was a truthful man.

"It don't lie with me, Mrs. Butson; I'm only the clerk, and take my orders. But I must warn you not to be too hopeful. The person that Mr. Rosewarne selected will come down and be interviewed. That's only right and proper."

All the village knew by this time what had happened at the last Board meeting.

"Coming, is she? Then 'tis true what I've heard, that the old varmint went straight from the meetin' and wrote off to the woman, and that the hand of God struck 'en dead in his chair. Say what you will,"-the cracked voice shrilled up triumphantly-"'tis a judgment! What's the woman's name?"

"That I'm not allowed to tell you. And look here, Mrs. Butson-you mustn't use such talk of my poor dead master; indeed you mustn't." He looked past her appealingly and at Mrs. Trevarthen, who had come to her doorway to listen.

"I said what I chose to 'en while he was alive, and I'll say what I choose now. You was always a poor span'el, Peter Benny; but John Rosewarne never fo'ced me to lick his boots. 'Poor dead master!'" she mimicked. "Iss fay!-dead enough now, and poor, he that ground the poor!" At once she began to fawn. "But Mr. Sam'll see justice done. You'll speak a word for me to Mr. Sam? He's a professin' Christian, and like as not when this woman shows herself she'll turn out to be some red-hot atheist or Jesuit. To bring the like o' they here was just the dirty trick that old heathen of yours would enjoy. Some blasphemy it must ha' been, or the hand o' God'd never have struck 'en as it did."

"Folks are saying," put in Mrs. Trevarthen from the doorway, "that Sall here ill-wished 'en. But she didn't. 'Twas his own sins compassed his end. Look to your ways, Peter Benny! Your master was an unbeliever and an oppressor, and now he's in hell-fire."

Mr. Benny put his hands to his ears and ran from these terrible women. For the moment they had both believed what they said, and yet old Rosewarne's belief or unbelief had nothing to do with their hatred. They gloated because he had been removed in the act of doing that which would certainly impoverish them. They, neither less nor more than Mr. Sam and Parson Endicott, made identical the will of God with their own wants.

Peter Benny as he crossed the ferry would have been uneasier and unhappier had he understood Mr. Sam's parting words. He had not understood them because he had never laid a scheme against man, woman, or child in his life. Still he was uneasy and unhappy enough: first, because it hurt him that anyone should speak as these old women had spoken of his dead master; next, because he really felt sorry for them, and was carrying a letter to their hurt; again because, in spite of Mr. Sam's reassuring words, he could not shake off a sense of having exceeded his duties by signing that letter without consulting the Board; and lastly, because in his confusion he had forgotten his wife's state of health, and must break to the poor woman, just arisen from bed and nursing a three-weeks'-old baby, that he had invited a lodger. Now that he came to think of it, there was not a spare bedroom in the house!

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