The Call of the Forest
Returning to his beloved FOREST OF YS
HORACE ANNESLEY VACHELL
tells why William Mowland left three fiancees in California and returned to seek simple, sun-bonneted Ellen.
QUEEN'S JALLAND shares with Ockley the distinction—if you can call it that—of ignoring postwar progress and post-war activities. Grass grows in its only street, where cows and geese graze undisturbed by fears of motors and motor-bicycles. There is no high road to it from Puddenhurst, the hub of the Forest of Ys, unless you go round by Lingwood. Some of the gaffers have never adventured even as far as Westhampton or Mel ehester. It is beloved by gypsies and pedlars.
Most of the villagers own tiny freeholds, which accounts perhaps for the condition of the cottages. The squire of Queen’s Jalland is patron of the living, and the village takes its name from his family, but he cannot interfere with the freeholders, and is popular because he never attempts to do so.
Adam Mowland was one of these independents. His eldest son, William, had left Queen’s Jalland three years before the war. And he had left it under a misapprehension of the laws of mine and thine. To this day, there lingers in the Forest a superstition that “finding is keeping.” William Mowland had found a pheasant in the squire’s woods, but he had not kept it. The fact that it had been transferred summarily from William’s keeping to that of its owner rankled. The more thoughtless jeered at William. A carter, making a significant loop with his whip-thong, dangled it above William’s head, in front of the Cat and Compasses. William understood that finding and not keeping might lead to the gallows. To save an unendurable situation he bolted, shipped as a roustabout at Westhampton, and sailed away for foreign parts. In due time a letter arrived from California. William informed his parents that he was “punching” cattle in the foothills of the Golden State. Of the punches he had received at the hands of Fortune he said nothing, which is greatly to his credit, because no rawer lad ever stepped into the foc’sle of a sailing ship. From time to time William wrote again, and it was plain to the parson, who read William’s epistles to Adam and Elizabeth, that spelling and grammar had undergone a change for the better. Obviously, William was doing well, although—and here your true Forester peeps out—he had not stuck to cow punching. Milking those gentle animals may have been more in his line. Apparently William was a “caslety man” which is Forest patter means a Jack of All Trades. Now he was coming home.
With money in his pocket!
It was this astounding fact that kindled excitement in the Mowland family. The parson, however, pointed out that money was an indefinite article. It was difficult to believe that William had accumulated a fortune. He might land at Westhampton with a hundred pounds or a thousand. Beyond that limit the parson refused to soar.
He carried himself, and a small grip-sack, modestly. He greeted his parents and the many who were of kin to him without effusion. He might, indeed, have been absent ten days instead of ten years. He wore, it was remarked, good clothes un-English in cut; he spoke with a strong American accent, using strange expressions; he had acquired the swinging gait of a horseman; but he preserved the secretiveness of the Forester.
Money was not mentioned.
Perhaps according to the gaffers, the most confounding thing about William was his effrontery in admitting that he was a Pussyfoot. He dared to sit down in the bar of the Cat and Compasses after calling for—lemonade.
“Lemonade?” gasped the proprietor.
“Stone ginger,” said William, “if you don’t run to lemonade.”
The proprietor could not conceive of anybody running to lemonade, and said so. William smiled. He could read consternation on the red faces stolidly staring at him. Everybody present had looked forward to “lashings” of ale to be paid for by William.
“Bone-dry, I am,” declared the traveler.
“You looks it,” said a gaffer.
THIS was personal but true. William had a desiccated look. There were no pleasing rotundities about him. Keen blue eyes seemed to blaze out of a thin brown face. Another gaffer, realizing that men of means must be treated with respect, said ingratiatingly:
“Now, Willum, I dandled ’ee, yes, I did, when you was not a span long. Rare tales you must have to tell, to be sure. What did ’ee do, me lad, in they furrin’ parts?”
“I worked,” said William incisively. “Yes, old son, all this time, when you’ve bin sleeping like a dormouse, I’ve bin working.”
He smacked his lips. The gaffer sucked aggressively a tooth that needed attention. It was the first sign of aggressiveness.
A discussion followed upon work in general and pay in particular. Everybody present wanted to know what William had been paid. In Queen’s Jalland certain catch phrases pass from tankard to tankard. “A fair wage for a fair day’s work” is one of these. But it means really, to the Foresters, getting as much as you can in return for doing as little as possible. They did not get much before the war and they did less after.
“As a milker of cows,” said William, “I can earn in California thirty pounds a month, but I have, when help is short, to milk twentyfive cows.”
“Lard preserve us!”
“I believe he does,” said William. “I’ve got that as a stone cold fact in my pickle barrel. In this Forest the Lord does preserve mossbacks who ain’t got horse sense enough to preserve themselves. He don’t use alcohol neither, but beer.”
In this lively vein the debate went on, untilWilliam having slaked his thirst, and nobody else’s, retired, leav-
nobody else’s, ing behind him a stunned audience.
“Willum,” the proprietor said solemnly, “be daffy. I ’lows that I bain’t a very notable traveler, but I ’tends market, goes thirt an’ across, an’ mixes wi’ me fellow-men. I never heard such rampagious talk in all my barn days, an’ I be sixty-one come Michaelmas. Willum must ha’ made a very large fortin to throw his tongue, as he do, so permiscuous.”
The gaffers nodded portentously.
WILLIAM, after leaving the Cat and Compasses, strolled towards the Mowland cottage. As he did so he regarded lovingly the familiar landscape, sensible that he had changed and nothing else. Until this moment he had hardly measured this tremendous change in himself. Not to his own mother would he have confessed that homesickness had brought him back to Queen’s Jalland. He had been horribly seasick as he lay in his bunk in the foc’sle of the Esmeralda, when that ancient clipper struck blue water after leaving Westhampton. But mere physical convulsions were as nothing compared to the mental agony he had undergone. The mad longing to hurl himself into the Solent was almost irresistible. And, again and again, in California, out on the sun-scorched ranges, in the dust and dirt of the corrals, the Forest had appeared before his aching eyes as a mirage, a paradise seven thousand miles away, to which, one day, he would return. He had worked hard, saved money, lost it, made more with this overwhelming homing instinct underlying and directing his energies.
At last, he was at home.
The geese on the common hissed at him as he passed. The grazing ponies and donkeys moved slowly away. Blue reeks of smoke ascended in thin spirals from half a dozen thatched cottages. In front of one was a ship fashioned out of yew. In his youth William had regarded this as the greatest wonder in the world, a ship anchored for ever in the Forest. In California he had thought sometimes that he would like to buy the Ship Cottage, as it was called, and end his days in it.
He paused now to stare at it. As he did so, the door opened and a girl tripped out. She smiled encouragingly at William, and her features—what could be seen of them under a flapping sun-bonnet—struck William as familiar. Obviously she knew him, and he ought to know her. Yes; it must be little Ellen Mudge grown up. The jolly grin of a ten-year old child widened the mouth of a young woman.
He held out his hand.
‘Tm mighty glad to see you again, Ellen."
“You knowed me, Willum?”
“I be goin’ to fetch in cows.”
William walked beside her. The Mudges were fairly prosperous, because Forest Rights went with Ship Cottage, rights of turbary and grazing. Ellen's father bought and sold ponies, never missed fairs or markets, and could carry a skinful of ale without showing it. Ellen’s mother sold butter and eggs and bacon.
“Do you milk them?” asked Y illiain.
“ ’Course I does."
“What else do you do?"
Ellen replied cheerfully:
“I helps Father an’ Mother. I be busy as any bee from marnin’ till night."
7TLLIAM glanced at her shrewdly. Her dark eyes sparkled: her small white teeth flashed between red lips generously modelled. The man remembered that there was a tincture of gypsy blood in Ellen’s veins. Her grandmother had been of the Romany folk, those genial vagabonds of Arcadia rarely lured out of caravans into cottages. Ellen’s skin, too, had the dusty tint that suggests tents. Generally speaking, and in the opinion of workers, gypsy blood is a disability. But William knew that women in the Forest work harder than men. The more primitive the man, the more is expected of the woman. Indian braves hunt and fight; the squaws work. Y'illiam said pensively:
“I’ve had to work morning, noon, and night.”
“I reckons you be glad to be over home again.”
“I am and I ain’t.”
To this Ellen made no reply. She looked mildly astonished. She knew that William Mowland had brought money to Queen’s Jalland. It occurred to her feminine mind that he might have left something dearer than money in California. Presently, she said, slyly:
“May be, Willum, you’ve left missus an’ nippers back there.”
'‘Dozens of ’em,” William replied.
“Well, I never—!”
“But not mine. I’m foot-loose, Ellen. I pulled up stakes back there. I can bide here if—if I’ve a mind to. That was my notion, kid, to settle down, to pick a wife from my own people.”
TALLEN received this statement incredulously. William might be thin and sun-baked, but he was a man. “Tell me now,” she cooed, “you must ha’ walked out
wi’ some o’ they wild girls.”
"YTe don’t walk out, Ellen, in California. We goautomobilin’. And the girls ain’t wild but a dam sight tamer than you are. I know because I’ve been engaged
“Peaches, too. I might have married, but not one of ’em would leave California, nary a one, my dear! That kerflummuxed me, because, someway, I wanted the worst kind to come home. Now I am home, and I feel, I feel,” he paused and finished viciously, “like a snowball in Hell.” • ...
“Lard love ’ee, Willum!” .
“Does he?” murmured William. “Do you know, kid, I sometimes think that the Lord, if there be a Lord, ain’t overly kind to them as leaves home and lpndred. I’ve hoed a stiff row. May be I’ve worked too hard.
I can whip my weight in wild cats, but the muscles of my mi'id are dog-weary. Are those your cows?”
Pour cows were placidly surveying Ellen. As she approached, they flicked some flies from their flanks and turned them heads obediently in the direction of Ship Louage.
“Nice cows, bain't. they?" said Ellen.
William eyed critically too small udders.
“How much milk du they give? And what is the percentage of butter you get. from the milk?”
Ellen cocked an enquiring eyebrow.
“You don’t know,” he said, with his easy laugh.
I was a fool to ask such quest jon. I’ve bin home only twenty-four hours, ami (■very time 1 open my mouth I give myself dead away."
“You can say anything you’ve a mm l to to me. We he proud of our cows an' jugs. ’
“You mess along all right.”
■ He grinned at her, not displeased that, he resented a rude remark. In silence he followed the cows who swung too small udders. At the broken-down ga.tr■ of the yard behind Ship Cottage the man said carelessly: “So long."
I T E MOVED away, reflecting that he might have P * offered to milk the cows. Ellen, probably, would not permitted this. He could see that he had offended r But hr* divined, also, that she was interested in him. As he strolled home hrcoolly considered her as a possible wife. He might do worse; he might do better.
Let us not assume rashly that a Californian sun had. sucked romance out of him. Sentiment, perhaps, is the stronger in new countries because it is suppressed. William, when indulging in introspection, believed that he had scrapped sentiment. A sentimentalist, for instance, would have gazed fondly at cows and pigs and barndoor fowls glaringly deficient in quality if they happened to belong to his own people.
He decided that Ellen was not lacking in quality. He described her to himself as “spry.” He had called her “kid.” Kids, in California, were often “cute” and “cunning.” He wondered whether Ellen had “walked out” with many young men. It was certain that she had. If she had not, the boys of Queen’s Jalland must be singularly unenterprising.
Two days passed, including a Sunday. William went to evening church partly out of curiosity, partly because his mother expected him to do so. When he came out, he muttered to himself:
“Same old mumbo-jumbo.”
During the afternoon he had smoked many pipes upon the village green. And he saw Ellen, in her Sunday “costume,” upon the arm of a “boy,” who might be regarded as negligible from William’s point of view. The ill-matched pair strolled down the road, but, apparently, did not wander into the Forest.
William talked with his brothers, who listened to him pop-eyed with amazement. To them he appeared like a being from another planet, a sort of messenger from Mars. He pointed a derisive finger at the apple trees in the garden, at the ramshackle fences, at the dirty sties. Everything was N.G.—“no good.” But he held his tongue in the presence of his father and mother. When bis brothers recovered from stupefaction, one said significantly:
“If you be minded, Willum, to spend money. . . .”
“More than money is wanted,” replied William.
He set to work, vigorously, on Monday morning, cleaning up. Nobody objected. Adam Mowland watched his son’s activities with pride. Towards tea-time, they slackened a bit.
Adam said drawlingly:
“Willum, you be a rare worker. You’ve earned a big tea, you have, an’ Mother’ll see you gets it.”
“I must have a big wash first.”
“I don’t hold wi’ too much washin’,” said Adam. “Town ways bain’t our ways.”
WILLIAM got a mash-tub, hauled it up narrow stairs to his bedroom, and scrubbed himself thoroughly. Then he put on clean clothes and went down to the kitchen, where a Forest tea was laid out. By the luck of things, Lady Mary Jalland dropped in. She had heard of William’s return. She had seen him in church. And she had noted, with dismay, that he seemed unfamiliar with the beloved ritual. She was the elderly wife of the local magnate, whose pheasant William had found and not kept. She belonged, too, to a type rapidly becoming extinct except in the remoter rural districts. She rejoiced exceedingly because there was no chapel in Queen’s Jalland. She told everybody that her lines lay in pleasant places. Lady Mary tapped at the cottage door and came in. Mrs. Mowland rose hastily, and dropped a curtesy.
“This,” said Lady Mary, graciously, “must be William. How do you do, William?”
“I’m quite all right,” said William cheerfully.
Her ladyship was entreated to sit down, and did so. “I heard that you had come back,” said Lady Mary. “I dare say you have remarked changes?”
She spoke interrogatively.
“Not one,” said William. He added frankly, perfectly at his ease: “It bothers me considerable.”
“Looks like sleeping sickness, my lady. Out there on the Pacific Slope, there’s more change in a village in two weeks than you’d find here in ten years.”
“Yes; we thank God that it is so, William.”
“We had that good old hymn yester eve,” said William, “ ‘Abide with me.’ I don’t say the parson chose it on my account.”
“I’m quite sure he didn’t.”
“But it rattled me, set me thinking. And that line: ‘change and decay in all around I see’ . . .”
“I see no change, my lady, but decay—! Gee!”
Lady Mary started. Mrs. Mowland murmured
“Willum, bain’t you a-forgettin’ yourself?”
“No, no,” interposed Lady Mary, “plain speech is— a refreshing. You see decay, William?”
‘1 seem to see nothing else. And I smell—dry-rot.” Lady Mary looked astonished. She began to talk to the old people, asking questions, giving advice, playing delightfully the part of chatelaine. Then she drifted out, promising to come again. William laughed.
“1 wonder you can stand for it.”
Mrs. Mowland was puzzled. William went on cheerfully:
"I’d like to see her face if I told her what to do at
Jalland Court. God knows there’s more left undone than done up there.”
“Now, Willum, you have another cup o’ tea.”
Adam stared at his eldest born.
“ ’Tis good ale that Willum wants, not tea.”
'C'OR several days William “cleaned up” round the 1 Mowland cottage without assistance from his father or his brethren. As he worked he thought to himself: “I’ll fix things and make the old folks comfortable; then I’ll clear out.”
Ellen, however, made him modify this intention.
He saw the girl every day; and he saw other girls. Ellen, he decided, was the pick of the Queen’s Jalland basket. The other young women ogled William freely. Most of them had been in service. Some, during the War had worked as land girls or in factories. William was asked pertly if he had done his bit.. He told the fact simply. He had been turned down as unfit to serve, twice, because at the time he was suffering from malaria, now out of his system. Malaria happened to be one of the “punches” which he had accepted philosophically. These would-be up-to-date young females slightly exasperated William. What they earned they spent upon themselves. They flaunted an urban air. Ellen had remained at home. She talked the dialect, long ago abandoned by William, which he heard and loved in his dreams. From her artless person radiated something hardly definable: a whiff of the Forest, a fragrance of Arcadia. He could talk to her freely.
“I feel out of it,” he admitted. “Games now, this cricket and football. I’m not taking any. Ale-swilling—! Drink, kid, was the curse of California. The women laid that curse. I spent all I made for three years on rot-gut whisky. Never again! Fag-smoking—! Give me my old pipe.”
“Forest ways, seemin’ly, bain’t your ways?”
“They were my ways. What’s wrong with me anyhow?”
But Ellen could not answer that question. She was wondering what was wrong with herself. Life had become less rosy. Until she talked with William, she had been contented with her lot, faithful to the conviction that all was well with the Mudges. Now, she looked at her cows and pigs with doubting glances. She no longer sang as she worked, because she was thinking of William.
He puzzled her. He talked almost like the quality. Ellen said to her mother:
“Willum thinks no more o’ her ladyship than he do o’ me an’ you, Mother.”
“Ah-h-h!” replied Mrs. Mudge, sagaciously. “ ’Tis all along o’ Willum’s money.”
“We hasn’t seen any of it,” hazarded Ellen.
“That’s why he’s got it, dearie. I’llwager now that Willum has sacks o’ gold hid away somewheres.”
ELLEN walked out with William, but that meant nothing. He attempted no familiarities. She was conscious that he eyed her with disconcerting detachment. She wondered whether “they wild girls” in California had broken off their engagements because of his coldness. When he spoke, as he often did, of the Golden State, she listened perfunctorily, but Desdemona was no more attentive to the Moor than Ellen to William when he spoke of his adventures and misadventures. Ultimately, he grasped the fact that the girl was interested profoundly in himself, not in that distant country where all things were possible to young men not afraid to work. He said abruptly:
“Ain’t you fed up with doing chores?”
He had to explain what he meant. Ellén shook her head.
“I be needed at home,” she said decidedly.
“Have you ever thought of a home of your own, kid?” “Ye—es.”
William observed reflectively:
“I’ve an eye peeled for what’s O.K. in cattle, horses and men. There ain’t many young men in-; Queen’s Jalland who could make a decent home for you, Ellen. That boy you were with. . .
“Oh! Him—!” Ellen tossed her head. “I can keep the likes o’ him in his place. Saucy, he be, too.”
William tried to recall what the adjective meant when applied by a maid to a man.
“Tried to kiss you, did he?”
“You saw ’un?”
“No. Well, I don’t blame him, but—” he paused, glancing at her blushing cheeks.
“What was you a-goin’ to say, Willum?”
“I’m ever so glad to think,” he replied slowly, “that you don’t hold your kisses too cheap. A kiss from you, by thunder, ought to be earned. We fee! that way out West, about the girls we respect.”
“You respect me?” she whispered.
“More, perhaps, than you’ve any notion of,” he replied.
With these words he crossed his Rubicon. He knew —and Ellen knew—that he was making love. But he walked beside her calmly, with his hands thrust into his pockets, looking ahead, as men walk in wild places.
She had noticed this wary, alert expression. It distressed and excited her. It indicated, vaguely, danger, a hidden danger. She said shyly:
“Thank you, Willum. Why be you so different from the other boys?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “I’m trying to find that out. There.are.two me’s, Ellen. If the boy is father to the man, I’m a Mowland, but,” he laughed humorously, “the other me is a darned orphan.”
She laughed with him.
“You’d better bide here, till Motherin’ Sunday comes along.”
“I will, kid, if you’ll do the mothering.”
They had wandered on to the high moor above the village. Even in summer a cooling breeze sweeps deliciously across these uplands, bearing with it from the south-west a tang of the sea. No houses were in sight. They stood upon heather. The great woods of oak and beech and fir encompassed the moor. Forest ponies were moving slowly on the sky line, disturbed, possibly, by a passing red deer. The cattle were high up. William stood still and took off his cap, inhaling the pungent air. But Ellen saw that he was gazing westward. She had never heard Horace Greeley’s famous injunction: “Young man, go west!” But she knew that William had gone west. For the moment he was seven thousand miles away. She felt strangely forlorn and sad. If William did not bide—!
She heard him speak, half to himself:
“It’s out there.”
“The land that made me what I am.”
“You be Forest barn an’ bred.”
“I know—I know.”
He took her hand and pressed it gently.
“Do you think,” he asked softly, “that you could leave the Forest?”
SHE turned aside a piteous face. He was asking her to leave everything and everybody she knew, to go “out there.” And if she did this great thing for love of him, she would never come back. Why did he demand such a tremendous sacrifice? If he loved her, couldn’t he bide with her in his country and hers? A fierce hatred of the unknown, far-off California possessed her. She beheld it as a monster, stretching out tentacles. She had seen once a picture of an octopus,, a Devil Fish, attacking a man. She had always wondered if the man, by some miracle, had escaped.
“Leave here?” she gasped.
“You couldn’t,” he said sharply. “I’ve felt what you feel. But I cut loose in a mad moment. If I’d been older; if I’d stopped to think, I should have stayed at home.”
“But you wasn’t needed over home as I be.”
“That is true, too. Don’t look so miserable, kid! I put the question to you, because I was putting it to myself. I know what I can do out there. I doh’t know what I can do here.
I’m figuring things up— see?” 1
She saw clearly. She knew that tshe was holding him against the lure of the land that had made a man of., him. She hoped and prayed that he would bide with her. But she disdained wiles and guiles. And he, taught to think for others because he had been forced to think so hard for himself, remained passive. A kiss might have turned the scale.
It was not given.
JUNE followed May, and the cuckoo’s broken call ushered in haying-time. Every able-bodied man,and most of the women, were in the sweet-smelling meadows. William’s brothers were working Lingwood way. William was invited to join them. Hay-making is not taken too seriously in the Forest of Ys. Those who own small freeholds get in
their hay without extraneous assistance. The big farmers, with vast water-meadows, pay good wages to indifferent workers for some six weeks. A joyous carnival goes on, and gallons of small ale are drunk. William, however, “fixed things” about the homestead. Adam said to him:
“You can earn good money, Willum, if you’ve a mind to.”
“Money,” replied his eldest son, “cuts no ice with me here.”
Adam and Elizabeth were unable to assimilate this astounding statement. They assumed that William must be rich beyond dreams of avarice. William, on his part, was in no mood to explain what baffled his own not inconsiderable powers of explanation. He could earn good money in California. But he had come home for a holiday. When the holiday was over moneymaking might engross his energies. Meanwhile, he was working harder than anybody else in the family for nothing.
Was he working for love? Or pride? Or because the habit of hard work was ineradicable?
He couldn’t say. But his actions were eloquent. Obviously, he was spending good money upon timber, paint, and straw. The thatching season is in August and September. Queen’s Jalland was shaken to its centre because William took liberties with the calendar. The gaffers became inordinately thirsty when they beheld William “fixing up” the Mowland cottage. It will never be known what Ellen said to her father and mother, but facts speak for themselves. A new gate at Ship Cottage hit, so to speak, the “mossbacks” bang in the eye!
William, so the ' gossips affirmed, was so incredibly busy that he had no time to walk out with Ellen. And Ellen, oddly enough, as if she had caught a contagious disease, was overworking herself at Ship Cottage. Her cheeks lost their damask; her dark eyes no longer sparkled.
Before haying was over, it became generally known that William was not going to bide. Fortified by ale and the conviction that California must be a Tom Tiddler’s Ground with gold to be picked up for the stooping, some of the younger men considered the adventure of going west with William. But he did not encourage them.
Finally, he told his parents that he was returning to the Golden State at the beginning of September. They accepted this sad news, resignedly. Adam, after sucking at his pipe, said slowly:
“You bide here,” he said, with his perplexing grin, “where you can keep the crows off the wheat. California can worry along without a leisure class. We haven’t much use for—tramps.”
“I ’lows you knows best, my son.”
Two tears trickled down Elizabeth’s wrinkled cheeks. She said nothing to William, but, next day, meeting the parson in the village, she dropped a courtesy and half a dozen words:
“Our Willum, seemin’ly, can’t bide wi’ us.”
“I am sorry,” said the parson, gravely.
He was an old friend, a kindly man, wise after a fashion that is not the fashion of this world. He had never sought preferment. He was distantly of kin to the squire, Lady Mary’s husband. The living, not a rich one, had been offered to him when his health had broken down working in the slums of Manchester. The Forest had given him back a percentage of his former energies.
The parson, possibly, was the only person in Queen’s Jalland who could understand why William could not bide with his own people. He alone knew, leaving out William himself, what California had done for a boy whom he had baptised. He had read William’s letters; he had marked the subtle change in tone, apart from better spelling and improvement in grammar. Since. William’s arrival he had talked a little with him, quite alive to the fact that the young man kept out of his way. William, he guessed, would resent “jawing.”
At the moment, the parson said little to comfort Elizabeth. Indeed, she told Adam that “pa’son” didn’t care. More than likely a stickler for authority was secretly glad to be “quit” of a disturber of the peace. The thickest-headed gaffer in the village knew that William did disturb his peace. In his quiet, aloof, independent fashion “Willum rampaged.”
TWO days later, the parson heard that William had presented his,^father with a pig, a young sow of unblemished lineage, bought in Melchester. An angel, coming straight from Heaven to drink ale in the bar of the Cat and Compasses, could hardly have caused greater excitement. The parson went to look at it. He found William at work. After praising the piglet, the parson said genially: “So you’re pff to California, with your banjo on your knee?”
William had never, owned a banjo, but hè appreciated the misquotation.
“That’s about the size of it,” he admitted.
“Before you weigh anchor, William drop in at the Vicarage and smoke a pipe with me. I should like to hear some information, at first hand, about this adopted1 country of yours.”
Only a'churL could have refúsed 'such âh invitation. And the unsuspecting William" ‘ yearned to talk about California to a sympathetic listener. His résolution may -.hâve needed bolstering." ” 1
“Thank ;ypu,'.'(.sir. May L drop in, 'this èyening?”
At the hour named he .appeared .in the shabby, book-lined study, where he had been prepared for confirmation. He filled his pipe with the parson’s tobacco.
“Sail in, William! You hold in this village a master’s certificate as a mariner amongst the reefs and shoals of speech. Tell an old friend what this lure of a new country is.”
Thus encouraged William did “sail in.” He spoke at some length. The parson soon perceived that, in a sense, William was arguing with himself, defending
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The Call of the Forest
Continued from page 21
I himself, entrenching himself against all and sundry who might happen to differ from him. As a young man, the parson had exercised powers of argument in the pulpit in much the same way. Boiled i down, William’s Apologia pro sua vita amounted to this: in California every tub stood upon its own bottom. Efficiency reaped its reward, regardless of tradition, class, and privilege. There were no restrictions of output. Progress was acclaimed as the One and Only Gospel.
When William finished, and was refilling his pipe, the parson congratulated him:
“You have learnt to talk well, William. California has sharpened your tongue and your wits. From a material point of view I can’t gainsay your arguments.”
“Was I arguing?”
“With yourself, surely?”
“May be,” he admitted reluctantly. Then, with a slightly defiant air, he sat up in his easy chair, and looked alertly into the parson’s mild eyes. He was sharp enough to realize that a good listener intended to have his innings.
“You sail in, sir.”
The parson made a deprecating gesture with his thin hands.
“I told your mother, William, that I was sorry you are leaving us, and I didn’t say it out of politeness. I am grievously sorry.”
“You are so badly needed here. How badly I can measure; you can’t. Speaking as man to man, as worker to worker, I am not sure that your work of the past six weeks has not done more for Queen’s Jalland than my work of thirty years. All of us look for results. We are all at heart Thomases. A parson is only a person paid to preach what few try to practise. I try to open ears; you have opened eyes. Your gospel of work has achieved more than my gospel of words. Your father’s cottage is an object lesson. That pig you gave him will breed a better understanding of pigs, and pigs count in the Forest. Lady Mary told me that you saw no change here, nothing but decay. Am I betraying her confidence when I tell you that you have made her reconsider some very unsound conclusions? You smell the dry rot in our pretty cottages. You made her smell it. The leaven is working in high places and low. The Mudges are mending their fences. The youngsters are understudying you. No stranger could have done what you have done. They see at last whàt a Forester can accomplish. The stream has risen higher than its source. I hoped that you would bide with us. I hoped .that I should live to see the right : changes in this village. But it is not to be.
I Good-bye, William, and God bless you!” i Me rose and held out his hand.
William took it, mumbled something j and withdrew.
HE PASSED down the Vicarage drive, skirted the churchyard wall, and found himself close to Ship Cottage. It I was late, past nine o’clock, and a star or two was twinkling in the pale sapphire sky. Ellen could see William, but he did not see Ellen, lie stood still, staring at the new gate. The parson’s words I buzzed in his ears like angry bees. He I wanted to brush them away.
Ellen thought that he was coming in, i hesitating, perhaps. She was tempted to I call him by name. The girl thrilled with excitement because he was so near to her. After an eternity of suspense William moved away. She saw him cross the white road, step lightly on to the turf of
the common, and thence into the shadows of the beeches.
She dared not shout. He was too far off to hear the impassioned invocation. Nobody was in sight. Ellen, unable to bear her disappointment, flitted across the road, across the common, and into the Forest which held William,
His quick ear heard the' crackle of dry twigs beneath her feet. He was striding along, trying to escape from the parson’s words. With every step, his determination to leave the Forest became stronger. Yet, instinctively, he was plunging deeper into it.
He turned and stood still.
She stood abashed before him, realizing what she had done.
“You followed me?”
She nodded her head.
There was enough light to see her face. Her dark eyes accentuated the pallor of her cheeks. His voice softened:
“Are you ill, Ellen?”
She did not answer the question. Possibly she never heard it. She had followed him with a definite purpose in her mind. Gossip said this and that. She wanted the truth from his own lips.
“You be goin’ back?”
“Yes,” he said. “I am.”
“I mean to book my passage to-morrow.”
SHE stood before him, so he fancied, like an accusing spirit, the wraith of the red-cheeked Ellen, who had laughed her way into his heart. It flashed into his mind that she—she—was in collusion with the parson, capable of going to him, of beseeching him to interfere. And, of course, she was like the other women, those “peaches,” sun-ripened, sun-loving, who had wanted him to stay “over there.” They were all cats, asking for cream and caresses, but refusing to stray from their own walks. She maddened him, -as she stood before him with love in her eyes. She would stick at nothing to keep him with her. But her love was not great enough to satisfy the supreme test. For his sake she refused to leave home and kindred.
“I’ll go wi’ you, Willum,” she whisoered.
“What do you say?”
“I can’t bide here wi’out you. .You wants me, don’t you?”
He answered that question unmistakably. As they clung to each other, William saw a light through the trees. It was only the harvest moon rising in the East, but it silvered, with magic touch, the dark places in the Forest and the darker places in his heart. The pure beams fell upon the face upturned to his. He recalled the moon-gilias of Southern California never seen in the hot sunshine. They opened their delicate petals at night only. Would this gilia of the Forest bear transplanting?
“You’ll be kind to me, Willum? Over there I shan’t have nobody but you.”
His grip of her was reassuring.
“I bain’t afeard no longer, Willie.” “You needn’t be—now."
Something in his voice arrested her attention, one of those rare inflections that reveal one human heart to another. He spoke with conviction.
“I wanted this,” he told her. “I wanted a wife who wanted me, as you want me. But now—now I see. You ain’t going to California, Ellen; you ain’t going to leave
the Forest; you and I, dear, will bide in the place where we were born.”
The moon rose higher above the far horizon. Beyond the beech trees stretched the moor. Upon the edge of it gleamed the lights of the gypsy camp fires. A faint fragrance of burning wood floated to the lovers on the breeze. A bell tinkled drowsily.
“That was a cow-bell. Shall us have— cows?”
“I brought back from California nigh upon two thousand pounds. We shall have cows, and pigs, and horses, and— and—”
“ Kids," he whispered.
The moon hid herself discreetly behind a cloud.