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   Chapter 12 THE OPENING DAY.

Shining Ferry By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 10944

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


It often happens, when a number of persons meet together for some purpose in itself unselfish, that there prevails in the assembly a spirit of its own, recognisably good, surprising even the pettiest with a sudden glow in their hearts, and a sudden revelation that the world is a cheerfuller place than in their daily lives they take it for. This cheerful congregational spirit I take to flow from a far deeper source than the emotion, for example, which a great preacher commands in his audience. It may be-indeed, usually is-accompanied by very poor oratory. The occasion may be trivial as you please; that it be unselfish will suffice to unlock the goodness within men, who, if often worse than they believe, and usually than they make believe, are always better than they know.

This spirit prevailed at the school opening, and because of it Hester felt happy and confident during the little function, and ever afterwards remembered it with pleasure. For the moment Church and Dissent seemed to forget their meannesses and jealousies. The morning sun shone without; the breeze played through the open windows with a thousand hedgerow scents; the two score of children ranged by their desks, fresh-faced and in their cleanest clothes, suggested thoughts innocent and deep as the gospel story; and if Parson Endicott was long-winded, and Mr. Sam spoke tunelessly and accompanied his performance on the bones, so to speak-that is, by pulling at his knuckles till the joints cracked-consolation soon followed. For third and last came the turn of the Inspector, who had halted on his progress through the county to attend a ceremony of the kind in which he took delight. He had lately been transferred from the Charity Commission to this new work, and it fell to him at a time when the selfish ambitions die down, and in their place, if a man's heart be sound, there springs up a fatherly tenderness for the young, with a passionate desire to help them. Hester could not guess that this grave and courteous gentleman, grey-haired, clean shaven, scholarly in his accent, neat even to primness in his dress, spoke with a vision before him of an England to be made happy by making its children happy, that the roots of the few simple thoughts he uttered were watered by ideal springs-

"I will not cease from mental fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,

Till we have built Jerusalem

In England's green and pleasant land."

Simple as the thoughts were, and directly spoken, the children gazed at him with set faces, not appearing to kindle with any understanding; and yet, after the manner of children, they were secreting a seed here and there, to germinate in their dark little minds later on, as in due time Hester discovered. She herself, seated at the harmonium, felt a lift of the heart and mist gathering over her sight at the close of his quiet peroration, and a tear fell as she stretched out her hands over the opening chords of the 'Old Hundredth.' All sang it with a will, and Parson Endicott with an unction he usually reserved for 'The Church's One Foundation.'

With a brief prayer and the benediction the ceremony ended, and while the elders filed out the Inspector walked over for a few words with Hester.

"Ever since I learnt your name, Miss Marvin-excuse me, it is not a common one-I have been wanting to ask you a question. I used to have an old friend-Jeremy Marvin-who lived at Warwick, and found for me some scores of old books in his time. I was wondering-"

"He was my father, sir."

"Indeed? Then, please, you must let me shake hands with his daughter. Yes, yes,"-with a glance down at her black skirt-"I heard of his death, and with a real sense of bereavement."

"I have addressed and posted many a parcel to you, sir, in the days before I left home to earn my living."

"And you weren't going to tell me that? You left me to find out-yes, yes; 'formidable Inspector,' and that sort of thing, eh? I'm not an ogre, though. Now this little discovery has just put the finishing touch to a delightful morning!"

Hester, encouraged by his smile, laughed merrily, and so did he; less at the spoken words than because of the good gladness brimming their hearts.

"But tell me," he went on, becoming serious again, "if a child, out of shyness, hid from you a small secret of that sort, you would be sorry-eh? And you would rightly be sorry, because by missing that little of his entire trust you had by so much fallen short of being a perfect teacher."

"And two of these children," thought Hester, with a glance at Clem and Myra, "solemnly believe I am a witch!"

As the Inspector went down the hill towards the ferry, he overtook another and older acquaintance in an old college friend. This was Sir George Dinham of Troy, who had attended the ceremony uninvited, and greatly to the awe of everyone assembled-the Inspector and Hester alone excepted. Indeed, his presence had bidden fair at the start to upset the proceedings; for Parson Endicott and Mr. Sam had both approached him hat in hand, and begged him, not without servility, to preside. This proposal he had declined with his habitual shy, melancholy smile, and shrunk away to a back row of the audience. In his great house over Troy he lived a recluse: a scholar, a childless man, the last of his race, rarely seen by the townsfolk, of whom two-thirds at least were his tenants. He had heard of the Inspector's coming, and some ray of remembered affecti

on had enticed him forth from his shell, to listen. Now, at the sound of the Inspector's footstep on the road behind him, he turned and waited, leaning on his stick. The two men had not met since a Commemoration Ball when young Dinham led his friend proudly up to a beautiful girl, his bride that was to be. She died a bare six weeks later; and from that day her lover had buried himself with his woe.

"George!"

"How d'ye do, Jack? I had to turn out to listen, you see-ecce quam sempiterna vox juventutis! You have improved on your old debating style, having, as I gather, found belief."

The Inspector flushed. "Ah, you gathered that?"

"Yes, I haven't lost the knack of understanding those I once understood. Not that it needed anything of the sort. Man, you were admirably straight-and gentle, too-you that used to be intolerant. You mustn't think, though, that I'm convinced; I can't afford to be."

"You mean-?"

"I mean that, if you are right, I ought to be a sun worshipper, and sit daily at dawn on top of my tower yonder, warming my hands against the glow of children's faces, trooping to school. Whereas the little beggars run wild and rob my orchards, and I don't remember at this moment my parish schoolmaster's name."

The Inspector bethought him of the broken bridge in his friend's life-the bridge by which men cross over from self into love of a new generation- and was silent.

"But look here," Sir George went on, "the fun was your preaching the doctrine in that temple. You didn't know the man who built it. He died a week or two ago; a man of character, I tell you, and a big fellow, too, in his way."

"I have heard of this Rosewarne. All I know of him is that he's to be thanked for the best-fitted school, for its size, in all Cornwall. I'm not talking of expense merely; he used thought, down to the details. When you begin to study these things, you recognise thought, down to the raising or lowering of a desk, or the screws in a cupboard. You don't get your fittings right by giving carte blanche to a wholesale firm."

"Of course you don't. But what, think you, had the man in view? I tell you, Jack, you are a fossil beside him. You talk of making good citizens, quite in the old Hellenic style. Oh yes, I recognised the incurable Aristotle in your exhortation, though you did address it to two score of rustic British children. But, my dear fellow, you are a philosopher in a barbarian's court, and your barbarian has been reading his Darwin. Where you see a troop of little angels-"

"Non Angeli sed Angli," the Inspector put in, with a smile.

"Where you behold a vision, then, of little English citizens growing up to serve the State, he saw a horde of little struggle-for-lifers climbing on each other's backs; and these fellows-that son of his, and the parson- will follow his line by instinct. They don't reason; but Darwin and the rest have flung them on the scent of selfishness, and they have a rare nose for self. Struggle-for-life or struggle-for-creed, the scent is the same, and they're hot upon it."

"Think of these last fifty years of noble reform. Is England going back upon herself-upon the spirit, for instance, that raised Italy, freed the slave, and cared for the factory child?"

"To be sure she will. She has found a creed to vindicate the human brute, and the next generation-mark my words-will be predatory. Within twenty years we shall be told that it is inevitable the weak should suffer to enrich the strong; we shall accept the assurance, and our poets will hymn it passionately."

"If that day should ever come, we can still die fighting it. But I trust to Knowledge to do her own work. You remember that sentence in the Laws, 'Many a victory has been and will be suicidal to the victors, but education is never suicidal'? Nor will you persuade me easily that the new mistress up yonder,"-the Inspector nodded back at the school building-"is going to train her children to be little beasts of prey."

"The girl with the Madonna face? No; you're right there. But the Managers will find a short way with her; she'll go."

"She turns out to be the daughter of an old friend of mine, Marvin of Warwick, the second-hand bookseller."

"Marvin? Jeremiah Marvin? Why, I must have received his catalogues by the score."

"Jeremy," his friend corrected him. "He was christened Jeremiah, to be sure, and told me once it was the handiest name on earth, and could be made to express anything, 'from the lugubrious, sir, to the rollicking. In my young days, sir,'-for he had been a soldier in his time-'I was Corporal Jerry. Corporal Jerry Marvin! How's that for a name? Jeremiah I hold in reserve against the blows of destiny or promotion to a better world. But Jeremy, sir, as I think you'll allow, is the only wear for a second-hand bookseller.' A whimsical fellow!"

"He is dead, then?"

"Yes, he died a few weeks since; and poorly-off, I'm afraid. He had a habit of reading the books he vended. Look here, George,"-the Inspector halted in the middle of the roadway-"I want you to do me a favour, or rather, to promise one."

"What is it?"

"I want you to promise that, if these fellows get rid of Miss Marvin, you will see that she suffers no harsh treatment from them. I can find her another post, no doubt; but there may be an interval in which you can help."

"Very well," Sir George answered, after a pause. "I can manage that.

But they'll eject her, you may bet."

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