A Son of Eli
Commencing a novel of Rebellious Youth in Quest of Lost Content
W. G. HARDY
BOOK ONE: His Father’s Land
“It is well with the boy when he lives on his father’s land; and well with him again when he is far enough from it to look back on it and see it as a whole.” Gilbert Chesterton, “The Everlasting Man.”
UP THE road from Eldad church toward Honey’s farm a dilapidated mare came slowly, pulling a dilapidated buggy behind her. In the rig sat Richard Noice, leaning forward in his seat, his snowwhite beard stirred gently by a vagrant breeze, his fierce eyes under the heavy tufts of his eyebrows fixed malignantly on the buildings in front of him. For the hundredth time the success of the interloper struck at him. Even the convenience of Honey’s location — midway between church and school—seemed an offense. His lips moved.
“The wicked prosper,” he mumbled. He stared hard at the place as if his eyes could send lightning to pass through those walls and hurt.
“The Philistine!” he cursed, and then a movement on the road in front took his attention. Another rig was coming over the crest of the little rise before him. The old man looked at it.
“Limps in the off hind foot,” he muttered. “Bob McAdoo’s nag.” He pressed his lips together and flicked his mare with the gad he carried for whip, making no move of greeting as the two buggies approached each other and slowed up to pass. But the man in the other rig, old felt hat pushed back on his bald head and a look of guileless and vacant simplicity on his face, pulled up his mare and called to him. Reluctantly Noice stopped.
“Mornin’, Richard,” said Bob.
“Mornin’,” replied Noice sourly. “One of the unregenerit,” he thought to himself. “Burn in hell-fire, he will.”
“Yer out early,” Bob went on conversationally. “Takin’ the meat round, I s’pose.”
“How’d the critter kill?” Bob asked.
“Eighteen pounds short,” Noice told him.
Bob nodded, fixing the old man with his bland and cheerful gaze, and went on talking casually about the crops and the weather until he noticed Noice gather up his reins as if to be off. He tightened up his own lines.
“I heer,” he drawled casually as he prepared to start, ‘‘as how Paul Honey’s back hum from college again.” Noice frowned, drawing the great tufts of his eyebrows together.
“Wunnerful!” went on McAdoo. “Wunnerful how Jim Honey hev got along. Twenty-five year back an’ old Reefe Yerex never ’lowed as how he’d pay for the place. An’ look at him now. New barn, new house,” he waved his arm toward them, “an’ Paul ter college, too. Eddication! ’Tis a wunnerful thing!”
The fire in the old man flared up.
“Wunnerful!” he snorted, the sharptempered lines of his face deepening. “No call ter say that. What goo’ll it do Paul Honey?”
“I dunno,” said Bob, shaking his head,
“but he’s awful smart, Paul is.”
Noice snorted again, checked himself an instant, then leaned out toward McAdoo, shaking his gad.
“Too smart! Don’t the Scripture say,
‘A wayfaring man though a fool.’ Them boys!—Boxin’ and playin’ ball and goin’ ter school. Teachin’ them ter doubt the good Book. He ought ter hev kep’ them t’hum, Jim Honey had. He’d better look out fer all he’s Sunday School sooperintendent. Them sons of his! Limbs o’
He tightened his reins again and chirruped to his mare.
“Reckon,” said Bob, “Satan won’t git much call on them boys this summer. Not with that new farm Honey’s got.”
“What farm?” asked Noice, loosening his lines.
Bob plucked a piece of string from the seat beside him and took a chew at it. He spat it out. “Little Hugh’s farm,” he said, and watched the old man’s face.
Noice stayed still a moment. You would have thought him carved in stone save for the fluttering of his beard. The color drained slowly out of his face, then in a surge it flowed back into it and he burst into speech.
“ ’Taint true,” he roared, “ ’taint true!
Temptin’ me! Temptin’ me ter wrath,
Bob McAdoo! That’s what you be!”
“Why,” said Bob enjoying himself, “was you int’rested?”
“Int’rested—me!” stormed the old man.
“You know I be. I’d as good as bought that place. He give me first call, Little Hugh did. Give me first call. An’ Jim Honey knowed it. The thief, the sneakin’ thief!”
“Hev ter git up in the night,” Bob said,
“ter git ahead of Jim Honey. Smart he is.”
“Smart!” the old man raved. “Smart!
The hypocrite! The Jebusite!”
Abruptly it seemed to come to him that the other was laughing at him. He stopped, glared at Bob, then with an inarticulate cry turned to his mare, brought the gad suddenly and viciously down on her startled back and went rattling up the road.
Bob leaned out of his rig to watch. A wide smile came slowly on his face, a look of complete delight.
“Righteous indignation,” he said, reflectively, as he leaned back and gathered up his lines. “ ’Tis a wunnerful thing.”
nPHE first game of tennis was over. It had been good fun, Paul Honey felt.
He was glad he had brought the two rackets home from the city. His brother and he would have some great old games this summer, even if they did have to play on the bumpy lawn between the house and the road with a string stretched between two stakes for a net. Nice, he reflected, sitting down on the steps of the south verandah for a few moments—Bruce had gone into the house to do his homework—nice that his dad was so open-minded about such things. Paul could imagine what most farmers about Eldad would have said:
“Newfangled foolery; if you want ter work up a sweat—” Old Noice, for instance.
His racket rasped harshly on the cement floor as he pushed it away. It was so quiet here after the city, he told himself, a quietness you could feel, as palpable as the flavor of a peach, say, or the scent of honeysuckle. He dropped his chin into his cupped hands and began to watch the dusk steal like a veiled woman across the country. Never, it seemed to him, had he felt so intensely the beauty of this spot, the charm of this home of his. Perhaps, he thought, it was because he had been away at college, because things old by use struck on him now with all the force of absence. Like an old song, known years before and heard again.
Where, he asked himself, gazing out over the familiar scene, could you find anything more beautiful? To his left on the eastern horizon rose the cathedral arches of the elms in Russell’s Woods, the sky a glory of mauve and pink above them. “Fine day tomorrow,” that meant, he remembered, while in the west—he turned his head to look—there through the tall trees that fringed the road, over the rounded knoll of MacNab’s Hill, glowed the colors left by the last trailing fingers of the sun. The hill seized his attention. Sturdy and immobile it stood; like, he decided, a watcher over his home, like a guardian spirit, while dark along its northern flank ran the serried ranks of the maples in Campbell’s Woods. Fresh the were, he knew, in their spring finery as yet unsoiled.
“Getting fanciful,” he scolded himself and turned to the prospect in front of him. It was familiar, too, but that new feeling for beauty cast a glamor over it, over the two-acre field before him, over the low flat reaches of the front field beyond it with Grierson’s creek flowing into its flank from the road, and over the schoolhouse field. How close and intimate those familiar names seemed to him, he reflected; names that were mere names to other people, but were something tangible and real to him.
The schoolhouse, too—what would that word, for instance, convey to Alec Shore or any other of the fellows he had met in his first year at college? College itself, he thought, as he stared at the little red-bricked building on the corner, felt so inevitably unreal, fantastic like the shadow of a ghost. To think that just two days ago he had been in Toronto, busy in his littered room packing up, shouting to Alec down the hall —tonight here, with the frogs croaking in the meadow to accentuate the quietness. No wonder that in that schoolhouse as he looked at it he could see himself, a little freckle-faced youngster, the floor cold on his bare toes as he padded over to the water pail to drink from the granite cup, or, in winter, crowding at recess around the iron stove for warmth, crunching an apple as he watched the fire glow redly through the cracks.
And in that yard, that patch of ground between the cedars and the school, a weather-beaten old log fence around it, he had played so hard, forgetting in the happy way of boyhood everything else; played at prisoner’s base and bally-over, at two old cat and four old cat, using those .re-blackened spots on which each summer old man MacNab boiled the water for the annual clean-up of the school, as pitcher’s and catcher’s box. He had fought there as well, with Pat McBride for hitting him at shinny, with big Bill MacNab for teasing him about Nettie Noice.
Nettie Noice—the name made his reveries take a new turn. He looked beyond the schoolhouse, beyond Tanner’s Woods with its skirmishing cedars standing forth so bravely, its swamp elms so quiet and strong in their reposeful stateliness, to the long, high ridge of Noice’s Hill. On its crest stood the queer tower of timber set up the summer before—German spies the farmer folk had suggested in solemn conclave at threshings—and halfway down the slope, nestling in a dark tangle of orchard and lane trees, was the low roof of Noice’s house. His eyes focused on it.
That was Nettie’s home. He wondered idly about the sort of life she lived. Not much fun—with old man Noice for a father. “Hew Agag to pieces before the Lord.” That was Noice. You could understand Elijah’s rage at the priests of Baal when you listened to him. “Righteous indignation!” That, Paul told himself bitterly, was what Noice called his fits of devastating anger. How he interfered with other folks! Like, Paul remembered, that Sunday evening years ago when he had been driving the cattle along the road to the stumpy field. A storm had just passed over—ragged turrets of thunder still hanging in the east with the lightning round them—and little Paul had stopped to dam up the rivulets running in the buggy tracks on the road. Old Noice had caught him.
What right, Paul muttered to himself, had they to say you shouldn’t play on Sundays? Even had to have the wood for Sundays in on Saturday night. He wouldn’t stand for it—not now. And yet, just last summer—he flushed as he recalled it—the old fellow had prayed for him and Bruce in fellowship meeting, prayed publicly while he sat there crimson—just because they played ball and boxed. How he would like to give old man Noice a jolt, he thought, staring hard at the little house set there in miniature on tne hill as if he could send his anger like lightning to pass through its walls and hurt. But little Hugh’s place—he relaxed, grinning to himself—that would get old Noice’s goat when he heard about it.
“Old Noice,” Bruce had said, as he drove Paul home from the station, the two of them chatting and letting old Doll choose her own pace, “think’s he’s got Little Hugh’s farm cinched. But dad grabbed it off for Fred and Jean. Quicker’n scat.”
“Doesn’t he know?” Paul had asked.
“He will soon,” Bruce had answered. “Dad told Bob McAdoo today.”
Yes, old Noice would rave, would add it up as one more to the score he had against Paul’s father. But, Paul decided, dad wouldn’t mind. He’d go his own quiet way just as he had when Noice had flared up at him for being made Sunday School superintendent.
You couldn’t faze dad, he thought quite admiringly.
The dusk was stealing the outlines of things away now and Paul shifted his seat a little. His thoughts for no reason at all went back to Nettie. She was unlucky all right—with old Noice for a father. And Nettie was pretty. But no chance—not a ghost of a chance. No fun for her or her sister Pearl. Nothing but work and the Bible. He had seen the two of them again and again, out in the fields in harvest and helping dig up the roots in fall. It was only folks on the back concessions who made their women work as Noice did. No wonder, Paul told himself, that that other sister, Luciny, had run away with Johnny Grant. Paul recalled the hot summer day four years ago when they had eloped. Up the road in a cloud of dust old Noice had come tearing after them —too late, for once.
But the old man had never spoken to Luciny again. Nor gone to her funeral when she died last summer. How pathetic, Paul remembered, Johnny Grant had looked with his hands dangling helplessly in front of him. He’d worshipped Luciny.
That, he decided, would be what would happen to Nettie. Run off with someone, try to get escape somehow. It didn’t seem fair, he reflected, that some folks had no chance and others had everything tumble into their laps. Sit under a tree and wait for the ripened apple to fall. Some of these girls at college, for instance, or those insolent-eyed youngsters who drove their cars about the streets so confidently, or even those daughters of his landlady on St. Joseph Street. He couldn’t imagine Nettie being like them though, so—so flip . . . talking about kissing and not afraid to show their legs. He blushed thinking about it.
Girls, Paul mused, settling his chin deeper into his hands, were funny anyway. Especially city girls. He never knew what to do with them.
“What’s the matter with you?” Alec Shore had said to him one day, catching up to him just as Paul sighted a girl he knew coming toward them. “What you want to cross the street for?”
“Nothing particular,” Paul had mumbled coming back to the sidewalk.
“I’ll bet,” said Alec, touching his cap nonchalantly to the girl, while Paul blushed and fumbled, “I’ll bet you’re scared of them.”
“I’m not scared,” Paul had defended himself, “but I never know what to do with them.”
“A brassy cheek,” Alec had said confidently, “nerve, that’s all you need. Girls—nothing funny about them.” He looked at Paul curiously. “Haven’t you got a girl?” “Oh, yes,” Paul had asserted but he had refused to confide further. He could not, he had felt then, tell Alec about Eileen Ainsley. He wasn’t for that matter sure that she was his girl. All last year in Glennville Collegiate he had worshipped her. He could see a picture of her now in fourth form, slim and straight like a sapling, with lips like cherries and blue eyes that looked straight through you. Everything he had done that year had been done with the thought in the back of his head that she might see it or hear of it. Yet he had scarcely spoken to her. Not until that last Sunday in Glennville when, desperately and yet without premeditation, he had stepped up to her as she came out of church.
Paul wriggled on the steps uncomfortably with a sympathetic feeling for that youngster whose feet had seemed gigantic, whose whole body had felt like that of a lumbering dinosaur as he walked down the street beside Eileen Ainsley. She must have thought him queer, yet, he reflected gratefully, she hadn’t shown it. She had made things easy for him.
He was better now, he told himself, trying to assure himself—more experienced—a college fellow. Look at the way he had come from college to the Christmas prom at the collegiate and taken Eileen home -stars in the frosty skies and stars in her eyes—he thought sentimentally. He would, he told himself, go down to Glennville soon, see her again.
TT WAS getting quite dark now. He had been sitting L here a long time and there was his father coming slowly up the lane. The age in his steps struck Paul as never before. He ought to be good to him, he felt, ought to show his appreciation. He got up and went to the gate leading into the lane to meet him.
“Hello, dad,” he said, “Everything done?”
“Had some good tennis,” he went on. “I wish old man Noice could have seen it.”
“Mr. Noice,” his father said.
“Well, Mr. Noice then,” Paul assented, and intent on his thoughts of a moment before: “I should have helped you tonight, dad. You shouldn’t be working so hard.” “Oh!” his father laughed a little. “Don’t you worry about me, son. I’m all right and you can dig in when you get toughened up a bit more. We’ll have to work hard, now we have that new hundred on our hands.”
Side by side they walked up the gravelled path to the door of the house. Desire for companionship was on Paul—for closer contact with this kindly, silent man who was his father. He was a man who did things, he knew. Think of him landing in Canada a raw immigrant from England, without a cent in his pocket, and now prosperous, respected, a superintendent, circuit steward, and called upon to lead almost every enterprise in the community. More than that, too. Every trace of accent gone, and able to discuss anything. You could talk your hopes and ideas to dad. He listened. You didn’t outrage him with the new notions that kept springing up in you. But what he really thought himself, there was the rub. Paul searched for something of interest to his father and paused on the threshold.
“The new hundred’s good land, isn’t it?” he asked.
“Best there is,” his father said. “Fred and Jean ought to make good there. But we’ll have to work it a year or two. Till they settle down.”
“You’re great,” Paul hinted a little diffidently, “at helping folks out.”
“Well, it’s for your sister Jean, seeing that she’s marrying Fred. Besides ...” his father paused.
“Besides what?” Paul asked.
“Well,” his father went on a little hesitantly, “neither of you boys is taking to the farm and Fred’s done well since coming out.”
“From England.” Paul completed the sentence to himself as they stepped inside. “Just like dad—I suppose that’s why —hello, sis,” he broke off his thoughts to speak to Jean, dropping down on the sofa beside her.
She put aside her book and they talked for a few moments in a desultory fashion, news of the neighborhood, Paul telling an anecdote from college, Bruce looking up from his books to join in the laughter.
“Oh, yes,” said Jean, “How’d you like to go over to Bob McAdoo’s some time next week?”
“Our annual spring visit, eh?” Paul laughed.
“Well,’' Jean countered, “You always say he’s lots of fun.”
“So he is.” Paul told her, “I never heard a fellow tell a story like Bob can. But, just now—that farm.” He and his sister were silent thinking about it.
“Dad must have moved quick,” Paul told himself again, watching his father hunt for his glasses, watching his mother find them for him and then set about her interrupted task of getting things ready for the morrow, her shoes clicking briskly on the maple floor. Suddenly it came to Paul that she was always like this, tending to a hundred tasks. Like his father, work was never really done for her. Did folks always get like that when they were old? he wondered; and did the use of living with them make their children never see it? What strangers his parents were to him anyway! He never got inside their minds. They had their thoughts—as alien as an outsider’s. They had their memories of deeds done in hot youth, of friends and enemies. On impulse he stepped up and took the pail out of his mother’s hands.
JEAN and Paul stepped out of the kitchen door on their way to McAdoo’s. It had rained all day, a gentle seeping rain that had soaked into the ground. The roof and sides of the big new barn, Paul noted, still shone wetly as the sun came out for an instant before its setting to cast a watery and repentant eye upon it. They passed into the yard, picked their way across the soft and springy ground which surrounded the old log hen-house —at one time the only barn the farm possessed—and climbed over the fence into the little meadow that at this point bordered the little creek. Everything seemed so fresh, so odorous after the rain, so full of pushing, clamorous growth. The little brook gurgled along in full current. The mounds of the Indian fort in the centre of the meadow—Paul had long since found out that they were remnants of an old potash plant—stood out abruptly, their outlines firm and clearly cut. From McAdoo’s Woods in front of them came the questing call of a robin.
“Do you remember, Jean,” Paul asked his sister, as he helped her over the line fence, “how we always came over here on quarterly meeting Sunday and wallowed in the dandelions?”
“They’re all closed now,” his sister said regretfully, looking over the little triangle of open ground between them and the woods.
“They’ll be out tomorrow,” Paul answered. “A mat of yellow.” He laughed. “Dear old Midas,” he said, “he would have enjoyed them.”
“Look at the balsams,” Jean said, gazing up at the dead tops of two great trees that sentinelled the opening in the woods toward which they were moving. “That’s a crow’s nest, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” agreed Paul, staring up at the bundle of sticks. “I must come over with the gun some day. Dad says,” he went on as they reached the opening, “that this path used to be the old road in pioneer days. These balsams were the markers.”
“It would be interesting, wouldn’t it?” Jean suggested, instinctively lowering her voice, “to see what these trees have seen. Jumpers bouncing along on the ends of two poles, for instance; or Indians. Didn’t we use to think those big stones up in Campbell’s Woods were Indian graves?”
Paul assented. “There’d be young fellows, too,” he added, “in those knee-high, leather boots that dad talks about. “Or,” he laughed in a subdued tone, “old McAdoo’s dad trudging along with his bag of salt.”
Jean smiled. “He got the whole two hundred acres for it, didn’t he?”
They were well into the woods now. A woodpecker knocking on a trunk a hundred yards away was startlingly loud, a squirrel running out from under their feet to scamper up a tree and scold at them seemed to shatter the silence. Darker, too, than outside. In the background the tree trunks seemed to merge into a shadowy wall, and the tall trees nearer at hand ranged themselves into mysterious alleys leading into the distance. No wonder they felt that they had stepped out of the realm of ordinary things into a place removed.
“Oh! See those violets!” Jean whispered, and_ was down like a flash in a mass of fern to pick them out, delicate blue petals with a yellow heart.
“They smell so lovely and woodsy,” she went on, still in a whisper, “after the rain.”
“It is great,” Paul assented, “after cutting potatoes all day.”
He thought fleetingly of that job as he knelt there picking violets. Of how he had knelt, cramped, hour after hour in the half-darkness of the root house while the rain pattered down outside; of the crisp, juicy sound his knife had made slicing the potatoes, of the squish when his groping fingers picked out a rotten tuber. How messy one’s hands felt—dirt and potato juice caking on them—how cracked and uncomfortable they were when you tried to blow your nose. Yet it had been nice, too, he thought, as they left the bed of flowers and started along the path once more, to talk so intimately to dad, to tell him all your ideas, your achievements, while he listened and assented. Pleasant to hear all about the new hundred, as well as about the chance Fred and Jean would have. Nice to tell him a little about Eileen, about wanting to wheel down to Glennville soon. So understanding dad was, he told himself, as they reached the edge of the wood and moved out into McAdoo’s yard. Only about the war. Dad could not understand it and how people in the city felt about it. In the country, of course—take Bob McAdoo—you couldn’t expect him to understand. But dad . . .
"VÆRS. McADOO was at the door.
1V1 “Oum right in,” she said, all bustling hospitality.
“Bob,” she called, as they entered. “Here’s Jean and Paul.”
“Well, well,” Bob declared, getting up to shake hands with them. “I thought you’d forgotten the old man.”
“We’ll never do that,” Jean assured him.
They were soon comfortably installed, Jean and Paul on the sofa, Mrs. McAdoo on the edge of a chair and Bob in his favorite rocker with his shoeless feet upon the stove. They talked a little on casual matters, the rain —“Things’ll jump now,” Bob said—the crops, the anniversary practices. There was a lull in the conversation and Bob cleared his throat.
“Yer dad says,” he remarked in offhand fashion, “as how he’ve bought Little Hugh’s place.“”
“Yes,” said Paul, “only it’s Fred Dickens has bought it.”
“Same thing,” countered Bob, winking prodigiously at Paul. “Young folks will be young folks. And when,” with a sly glance at Jean, “do young Fred figger on settin’ up house?”
“We’re working the place,” answered Paul, “for a year or two.”
“Oh!” Bob said reflectively. He edged over a little to spit into the wood box. “Got a wunnerful bargain, yer dad did,” he hinted.
“I alius said he were turrible smart,” Bob attested. He chuckled. “Got ahead of old Noice that time,” he went on appreciatively. “I met the old cuss last Friday. You should hev heered him.”
“Why,” Jean asked suddenly, “what did he say?”
“Made him turrible mad,” Bob continued. He chuckled. “One of them fits of his. Righteous indignation.”
“I guess,” Paul said, “he sort of figured on that place for himself.”
“Figgered! Thought he had it hog-tied. He was jes’ waitin’. Waitin’ fer Little Hugh ter cum down a hunderd.”
“It’s good land,” Paul agreed.
“Wouldn’t want no better,” Bob answered him. “An’ right next his Wherry place. You should hev heerd Bill MacNab yesterday, tellin’ about old Noice. He says he’s sure riled. What he ain’t sayin’ about yer dad an’ Fred !”
“Robert!” Mrs. McAdoo protested. “You shouldn’t be tellin’ such things.”
“There, there, ma,” Bob said hastily. “Miss Jeannie knows I don’t mean nuthin’.”
“Just what is he saying, Mr. McAdoo?” Jean asked.
Bob stirred uncomfortably and spat again into the woodbox. “Oh, it’s nuthin’ Miss Jeannie,” he countered evasively. “Nuthin’, he’s jes’ got up on his ear.” A thought seemed to strike him. “Jes’ like my old mare, ’Liza,” he concluded and looked off into space sucking at his pipe.
Paul scented a story. He was getting uncomfortable anyway. He didn’t see why Jean wanted to know what folks were saying. Not if they were saying unpleasant things. He decided to interrupt. “What was that, Bob?” he asked.
“ ’Bout ’Liza?” Bob was sufficiently casual. “Didn’t ye hear?”
“No. I’ve been away, you know. Besides,” Paul added helpfully, “old ’Liza can’t be very perky by this time.” “Perky! Well you should ha’ seed her,” Bob declared taking his feet off the stove and leaning forward. “Why, I guess I sure cum near gittin’ a golden harp that time.” He stopped to chuckle, leaned back in his chair and added, “An’ me so musical the pigs cum runnin’ whenever I starts ter sing. All my fault though.”
“But, Mr. McAdoo,” Jean tried to interrupt.
“All my fault though,” Bob repeated oblivious, apparently, of her, “flyin’ in the face of Proverdence as it were.” Jean’s voice, quiet and cool, broke in on Paul’s laughter. “But what was that about Mr. Noice, Bob?” she asked.
Bob opened his mouth, closed it and tried again.
“Oh, nuthin’ much. Jes’ shootin’ off his mouth. Like when Luciny ran away. Did ye hear,” suddenly animated, “as how Johnny Grant is sparkin’ Nettie?” “No!” said Mrs. McAdoo.
“Yep. First Luciny, then Nettie. Sort of likes the family.”
He stopped to chuckle and Jean repeated again. “I’d like to hear what Mr. Noice is saying.”
Bob looked at her reproachfully, “How you do stick, Miss Jeannie!” he said. “Tighter’n a burr on a cow’s tail!”
“Well,” Jean replied, a little color coming into her face, “I ought to know, seeing as how dad bought it for Fred.”
“Better tell her, Bob,” Mrs. McAdoo put in. “Since you’ve gone this far.” “Well,” Bob cleared his throat. “It’s jes’ like old Noice. He claims yer dad was a little sharp. Says Little Hugh promised him first call on the place. Says yer dad knowed it and sneaked in ahead when he weren’t lookin’. Says he ought ter be churched.” He stopped, knocked his pipe on the side of his chair. “This dingbusted pipe!” he exclaimed.
“That isn’t all,” Jean stated calmly. Bob cleared his throat, “You mustn’t mind Miss Jean, but he’s sayin’ that Fred hasn’t any mind of his own, says yer dad runs him.”
“Oh !” said Jean, that little spot of color Paul noticed as he stole a look at her, deepening in her cheeks. The first part of Noice’s accusation was, he realized, bad enough. He knew how country folks loved to talk, how they’d spread a notion like this, mouthing it over, looking at Honeys askance, whispering in the corners. It it wasn’t killed—maybe old Noice would have the handle against his dad he’d wanted for years. Folks hadn’t paid so much attention when the old fellow ranted that Jim Honey wasn’t so strong on doctrine as he might be. After all, the middle-aged people didn’t care quite so much about points of doctrine as Noice and his generation did. But if one church member was caught injuring another . . . Take that time Hezron Clark had been churched—Paul remembered how he had felt, a little wide-eyed youngster sitting in the hushed silence of Eldad church while old Noice laid the charge, while Hezron tried to reply, while the congregation solemnly voted the sinner “from out among the Lord’s People.” The thought of it made him shiver. And all for getting mad one day and shouting at
Noice that he cheated, that he watered the milk he sent to the cheese factory. Most likely he did, too. But Hezron couldn’t prove it. So out he went. Out of the neighborhood as well. If his dad got called up like that ... He cast about for a new topic of conversation.
“A terrible war,” he suggested, and Bob was off again.
“Old Noice,” Paul said to Jean as they walked home through the darkness of the woods, “seems pretty well stirred up. It may make trouble.”
“It will,” his sister said, “if it gets to Fred. I wish—” She stopped and they were both silent considering the matter. Fred might, Paul realized, not like hearing that Mr. Honey ran him. It would get his goat sure enough. Still he didn’t matter. Not to Paul. It was Noice saying his dad cheated. That was what stung.
TN THE morning, down in the stable
before breakfast getting the horses harnessed for the day’s work—seeding was in full swing now—the matter occurred to him again. He paused in the act of throwing the harness on old Doll and looked at his father, busy there loading the wheelbarrow with manure. He ought to tell him. But how was he to begin? You couldn’t just come right out with it. And he didn’t want to sound as if he suspected dad. If he could only lead up to it somehow.
Through the open door the new-risen sun was winking hopefully on the horizon like a hypocritical sinner begging for another chance and making large promises. But it would be hot later. He could not, he realized, stand there all day. He flung the harness on, fitted the hames around the collar and started to tug at the strap which fastened them. His stomach had that familiar, before-breakfast feeling as if a vacuum cleaner had sucked it dry and the walls of it had collapsed. His head felt just as empty. He succeeded in buckling the hames strap, kicked old Doll to make her get over and bent under her to get the belly band. Probably, he reflected, all this dust old Noice was raising wasn’t worth a cuss anyway— would all die down in a week or so. Though in the country you never could tell. Things would simmer along and simmer along and then, just when you had forgotten all about it, there would be a deuce of an explosion. He got the belly band through the loop in the martingale and started to buckle it. And that about Fred. Fred was pretty fiery all right. You couldn’t tell what he might do. Look at the way Jean was worried. Yes, he ought to tell dad. Though how to go about it.
“Old Noice,” he blurted out, “is saying you cheated him.”
His father put a forkful of manure on the load as if he hadn’t heard.
“About Little Hugh’s place you know,” Paul stumbled on. “Of course, I don’t
Mr. Honey put another forkful on the load, patted it down and straightened up. “Oh?” he said.
Paul was constrained to continue. “Bob McAdoo says old Noice says you’re running Fred.”
Mr. Honey spat on his hands, bent down to the handles of the wheelbarrow, lifted them up and paused an instant. “Lucky for him if I am,” he remarked and wheeled the load out.
Paul fastened the crupper and gave old Doll a slap, relieved that he had got the job over. Things would be all right now. His dad would see to that. He whistled as he took Tinker’s harness from the peg.
T)AUL and Bruce were down in the T meadow bathing. They splashed about in the shallow channel of the creek, throwing water at each other, jumping out to chase each other over the grass, their bodies gleaming greyish-white in the darkness. The rattle of a buggy would come to them from far down the road— some fellow out driving his girl around this Sunday evening—and back they would rush to the water to cower under its protection until the rig was by. At last, reluctantly, they dried themselves and began to put on their clothes.
“I wish,” Bruce said, “we didn’t have to wear clothes.”
"What you think you are?” Paul demanded, slipping on his shirt—“a South Sea Islander?”
“I wish I were,” Bruce answered. His shirt and pants were on now and he was fumbling with his shoes. He giggled. “How’d you like,” he asked, “to walk into church with nothing on?”
Paul blushed a little at the suggestion. All the girls there, he thought. But he answered brazenly enough. “You’d break up the meeting, old man. Adam couldn’t go to Eldad church.” He climbed the rail fence. “Nowadays,” he went on, as they started across the yard: “As the prof, says, we’ve got three-ply morality.” “Three-ply?” Bruce asked, puzzled. “Three layers of clothes,” Paul pointed out. “That,” he says, “explains our code of morals.”
“You’re only wearing one now,” Bruce said, “so you can’t be so moral.”
Bantering in this fashion they went up to the path to the house and burst into the dining room, faces shining, hair wet, full of vigor. Paul flung his wet towel down on a chair.
“Hooray! Great to be clean,” he declared, and then he noticed his sister on the sofa, sobbing, with his mother comforting her. “Why, what’s wrong?” he asked.
“It’s Fred,” his mother told him. “He says he’s going to the city.”
Paul whistled. “Leaving McWhirter’s?” he asked. “What for?”
“What Mr. Noice said,” his mother answered. “That upset him.”
Paul sat down. “Well, of all the . . . what does dad say?”
“He’s in there now,” his mother replied, nodding toward the parlor door, “trying to talk some sense into him.”
CO, THOUGHT Paul, old Noice had ^ stirred up trouble after all. If Fred left McWhirter’s—why, folks would say old Noice was right, that there was something fishy about that deal. How they would chuckle in the corners—and how Noice would talk! Could his father, he wondered, win Fred over, hold him back? They all sat there wondering while the minutes ticked by.
Abruptly the door of the parlor opened. Jean sat up on the sofa. “All right, Jean,” Mr. Honey said.
With a little cry Jean got up and was past her father into the room. Before Mr. Honey could close the door Paul heard her exclaim, “Oh, Fred!” in a tone so richly deep, so torn by emotion that it embarrassed him, made him blush. There was the sound of a kiss and Fred said, “There, there,” in a deep, protective voice as the door closed.
Paul sat amazed. Was that love, real love? He had never felt that deeply; could not, he thought, ever feel that deeply. How could one be so mastered by emotion so as not to care whether folks heard you or not? If love did that to you . . .
His father was walking across the room to get his glasses. His step, Paul noted, v/as tired; his face had, he fancied, new lines in it.
“You got him to stay?” he said inadequately.
His father nodded, put on his glasses, sat down and picked up his paper. “Upsetting Jean like this !” Paul’s mother exclaimed. “I hope he’ll leave the rest of it in your hands.”
Mr. Honey looked up from his paper. “He will,” he replied and went back to his reading.
But Paul’s high spirits were gone, put out like a fire when you throw a pail of water on it. He wandered about restlessly, picking up a Sunday-school paper, dropping it disconsolately, looking over the books on the side table, unable to concentrate.
Would any woman—the thought came to him abruptly—ever love him like Jean loved Fred? Somehow he couldn’t imagine Eileen . . .
CEEDING was over, hoeing was in full ^0 swing. Paul and his father were thinning mangolds in the twenty-acre field. The sun was blazing in a hot and distant sky; as blue, Paul thought irrelevantly, as the dress Eileen Ainsley had worn the Sunday before. That visit, he decided, had been worth while. Nice to see Eileen again and to find her as pretty as his dreams. Well worth while—even if he had felt so horribly conspicuous walking with her, with all those folks out on their front porches talking, he had imagined, about them. And eating with her folks had been worse. Not only his embarrassment—his knife like a giant scythe his fork too heavy to lift, the glass of water he had spilled—but so—so final to be eating with her people. Made you feel like beating it, that did.
He tore out a plant he should have left and came back to his work. In front of his hoe stretched the weed-filled ridge of mangolds, each side shorn away by the scuffler. His hoe pulled toward him and pushed back of its own volition, relegating the weeds to the scuffler’s furrow, leaving behind him a limply drooping row of plants, hoe’s width apart, small and hopeless-looking things in their setting of fresh-scraped earth. Yet they would grow into rows of prodigious tubers, and pigs would gouge bites out of them, holding them in the filth of their pens, champing at them with their noisy jaws.
The end of the row seemed a long way off. When he reached it, there would be a drink from the pail of tepid water under the elm tree, flavored with a bread crust to help keep it cool. You would put a fresh leaf from the basswood tree into your hat and stretch out on your face for the relief of a moment or two’s grace before going out into the beating sun for another round.
Paul loved those relaxing moments. It seemed to put him close to the source of things; his face and chest against the bruised grass of the fence corner; his legs on the warm, crumbly soil of the headlands. Coolness and quiet flowed into him. The silence felt intense.
It took a few yards of thinning to get back to normal once more. He became conscious of his father beside him and sought for something about which to talk. Old Noice? He wouldn’t get anything out of dad on that. Nothing further had happened anyway since Fred had decided not to go to the city. Not likely to be anything, either. Folks were talking, of course, and whispering in the corners. But there was nothing that old Noice could do. Nothing but rave. Still, Paul was diffident about talking to dad about it. He’d try something else.
“Who’s coming for anniversary service next Sunday?” he asked.
“Mortimer,” his father answered.
“Oh, yes. He enlisted this winter, didn’t he?”
“Yes, young fool !”
“I don’t see why.” Paul was a little timid at setting up his opinion against his father. It was not the first time they had clashed on this. “After all, if your country’s at war it seems to me—at least the Greeks seemed to think that a man’s first duty was to defend it.”
“It ain’t our war,” his father said reasonably, as if explaining to a child. “I’ve told you before, son, that we shouldn’t ever have had anything to do with it. England—let her fight if she’s got to. We ought to have stayed out.”
“What do you think England cares for us?” his father went on, warming up a little and speaking with unwonted eloquence. “Colonials, that’s what they call us. We ought to be independent, running our own show.” He stopped his hoeing. “This winter it was, taking a load of chop to the mill, I gave a ride to a chap. He was an old country fellow and he started to talk. Nothing was right out here. We didn’t farm in the right way. Nobody could cook like they could in England. It was the same way about everything and I said: ‘Young man, you’d better get the first boat back.’ Fie didn’t know as he would. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘then you’d better stop growling and get to work!’ But that’s the way they feel. We’re colonials. Not so good as they are. Taffy us up a bit when they get in a pinch. But don’t think any the more of us.”
Paul objected. “But you’re English, dad. I’d think you’d—”
Flis father broke in on him. “I was born in England,” he said, “and what chance did it give me? If I’d stayed there—never been nowhere. Touch my cap to the vicar when I met him; kowtow to the squire; be glad of a chance to hoe somebody else’s roots. Everything was ticketed off there. Why, you couldn’t even cut a switch from a copse without having a policeman after you. And never more than just enough to eat. Keep you in your place. That was the idea. I’d of been living from hand to mouth if I’d stayed in England.” “But it’s changed now,” suggested Paul. “Maybe so! But I don’t owe her anything. It’s this country—that’s the one that gave me a show. You youngsters don’t realize what it means to be free, to be independent, to feel you don’t have to take off your cap to the squire. Hold your head up and be as good as the next fellow.”
“But it’s changed now,” Paul reiterated stubbornly. “Fred Dickens says so.” “Maybe so,” his father repeated without conviction. “I’m telling it as I knew it back in the seventies. I know I was glad to get away. You’ve never noticed your dad wanting to go back. Or talking like an Englishman. I made up my mind to root it out.”
He lifted his hoe and stamped it down, crushing a couple of mangold plants, driving them into the ground.
“That’s one thing I fault Fred for. That Devonshire tang he keeps. But anyway as I told him and I’ve told you, we ought to be on our own feet. We shouldn’t be mixed up in this war. Anyway, it’ll be over in a few months.”
He reached out and put his hand on Paul’s shoulder.
“I want you to promise me, Paul, you won’t break into your college course and enlist.”
Paul was silent, still a little stubborn. “I know it’s hard,” his father went on gently. “It’s always whoop it up for the soldier, and it sort of gets in the air. But remember lots of fellows can fight that can’t study. I’ve never said anything about it before, but you know I’ve had to scrimp a bit to give you and Bruce this chance at schooling. I never had the chance. I’d liked to have been a lawyer. But if you youngsters get a show, that’s all I want. I’ll just live it out with you.
I want you to promise, Paul.”
Paul was affected. War seemed a long way off, anyway, here in this countryside. Nobody except Mortimer had gone. Only last summer after a baseball game, sitting around in the field with some of the boys, Alf Roberts had asked him how it was the Germans didn’t go right across to England. Paul had had to explain the Channel. But no one ever thought of the war as near, as touching themselves. It was something remote, a nine days wonder to liven up the newspapers, a source of solemn amazement. But as for the farmers themselves, they were apart from it. They did not feel as keenly as his father did about the war. They simply never dreamed of it as affecting themselves—except in so far as it sent prices up.
It was only since going to the university —since being in the war-fevered atmosphere of Toronto; since seeing in this year of 1915 his college mates beginning to enlist—that Paul had begun to worry about it, to wonder if he shouldn’t join the gang. He had been wondering, too, since he had been to Glennville, whether Eileen would expect it of him. Her brother was talking of it and was going to join up in a month or so. He had fancied, too, that Eileen’s older sister, Madge, had looked at him with that speculative look he had noticed in women’s eyes in the city. “You look young and healthy,” that look seemed to say, “why aren’t you in the army?”
Suppose he did enlist. Think of the way girls would look at him, think of the way Eileen would look at him.
Perhaps, too—he wouldn’t admit this thought beyond the fringe of his consciousness—but perhaps he might win the V.C., come home in glory. War had, indeed, always appeared romantic to him. Take that History of the Boer War some agent had sold his father. He still remembered how as a little youngster lying on his stomach on the floor, warmed by the stove, he had looked at it and had been fascinated by the picture of a stalwart Britisher shoving a bright bayonet through a protesting Boer. That was why ancient history had gripped him. Again and again he had waged Alexander’s campaigns or been a Spartan king fighting against Rome and saving Greece from the conquering and cruel legions. Funny how that desire pulled at him still! How he would like to make his dreams come true! But if his father wanted it so badly. Paul felt close to him.
“Sure, dad,” he said.
"pLDAD church was crowded to the doors. There were chairs up the aisles. Folks stood at the back and sat in the windows, and overflowed on to the platform. There was even a row of little youngsters around the edge of the platform, nodding in the shadow of the flowers ranged behind them, desperately sleepy. Paul could recollect how he had felt when he had been one of them at previous anniversaries—waking up with little starts when a singer shrilled a triumphant note or an orator reached his climax.
Paul, himself, crushed in a seat at the side, felt far from comfortable. He was to recite, and the burden of being a college boy and appearing before this crowd was almost too much for him. Desperately he kept going over his piece, filled with dread lest suddenly on the platform he should be smitten and would not be able to go on. A quartette encore —Big Hugh’s high falsetto voice sounding shrilly above Alf Robert’s bass—was just ending. His own show was next, and then there would be another song, and, finally, Mortimer to give the address of the evening.
He looked at Mortimer sitting there in private’s uniform—no pull to get a chaplaincy, his father had explained with a little smile, so he had joined an infantry battalion. What did he feel like? he wondered. He half envied him as he sat, the curious eyes of the country folk on him, a potential hero. He tried to think of himself in uniform. The girls would be conscious of him, then. He shifted his gaze to the choir, filled for this evening with most of the young people of the community. Nettie Noice was among them, he noticed. She was pretty, he decided, so pathetic-looking with that pale, unsmiling face and those heavylidded eyes. So different from that fierce, baffled old man, her father.
His thoughts came back to his own task with a jerk. The quartette was done, and the minister supplying for Mortimer, a theolog just graduated from Victoria College, full of new-won dignity, his sleek hair brushed hack into a pompadour from a steeple brow, was on his feet.
“We will now be favored,” he announced, “by a recitation from Paul Honey.”
Paul got up trembling and went to the platform to face the crowd. All their countenances melted before his eyes into one upturned white blank, like a great page on which he was to write emotions. This biur was, he knew, his salvation. To try to pick out one face would be disaster. He began his piece, his knees still shaking, and then, as so often in a crisis with him, he felt cool, detached, his mind outside himself, running ahead of his voice, picking out the words, seizing the right stress, the correct value for them. He had their interest, he realized, and with that knowledge came power. He finished in a blaze of glory, went to his seat amid a thunder of handclapping, returned for his encore, and sat down again warm with praise and the sense of achievement, scarcely conscious of what his sister, Jean, was singing in her clear mezzo-soprano, scarcely conscious when she finished and Mortimer began to speak.
But suddenly a phrase caught at him —“Those heroes of the Retreat from Mons, think of them. Falling back day by day like the bulldogs they were, dying where they stood, like Harold’s Saxons at Senlac.”
Paul sat up, thrilled by this rhetoric. How he would like to have been one of them, to have come through that struggle —subconsciously his thoughts refused death, refused the horrors of the actual experience—and be acclaimed like this. He had a vision of himself fighting in a forlorn cause, but miraculously saved.
Mortimer was going on. He seemed transfigured; that little insignificant man seemed beyond himself. There was a fire in him, a lambent flame, the zeal of a crusader. St. Julien was his theme, and the gas attack. Vividly he painted the breaking of the line before the crawling terror, painted the confusion and despair, and then as if he caught a glimpse of hope past all belief, he lifted his head and his voice pealed out.
“And the Canadians!” he exclaimed. Simply he went on. “They filled the gaps. Facing death, facing an unknown terror, they stood firm. They died where they stood. They put fear and agony behind them, and knowing the value of life chose rather to die.”
He went on developing his theme, but Paul scarcely heard him. Rapt away, he sat as in a dream. He would enlist, he thought. He must. What did anything matter beside it? Thermopylae, The Charge of the Light Brigade—and St. Julien. He thrilled as he had used to do when on Sundays his sister had played the organ, its rolling notes catching at him, holding him captive. The organ was rolling now as the anniversary service was finished, the audience singing that martial hymn, “All Hail the Power.” He went out, still in a daze, and spoke mechanically to one or two who greeted him. He felt the need of expression.
“Some talk Mortimer gave, eh?” he said to Alf Roberts.
“Yes, pretty good. Kind of fiery, all right. Looks like rain termorrer, don’t you think?”
A/TOST of the people were gone, driving -L’'-*off with laughter and badinage to click clack home through the darkness. The great day was over for another year. But out in a corner of the church shed Abraham Henry spoke in lowered tones to Richard Noice.
“Did ye hear,” he said, “that the council hev made Jim Honey an offer for a pit on Little Hugh’s place?”
There was an appreciable pause.
“Gravel fer the county road.” There was another pause. “Eighteen hundred dollars.” The speaker’s voice dwelt lovingly and respectfully on the figures.
“What!” exclaimed Noice. “Not that much? Jim Honey’d never git that much?”
“That’s what they’ve offered,” affirmed the other. “An’ on Little Hugh’s place. Fer five acres. He only paid six thousand fer the whole hunderd.”
“The wicked prosper,” the old man said in a choked voice, “like a green bay tree. But in the day of jedgment . .
“But what kin you do?” asked Abe.
“He be Ahab,” Noice went on. “Like Ahab he cast eyes on my vineyard and coveted it.”
“But what kin you do?” persisted the other.
“A-whoring after strange gods,” continued old Noice. “An’ them sons of his. Breakin’ the Lord’s day! Boxin’ on Sunday! Readin’ strange books! By their works ye shall know them !”
“But what about this farm?” Abe insisted impatiently. “Didn’t you say Little Hugh had promised he wouldn’t sell it to nobuddy else? Not until you had first chance at it? And didn’t Jim Honey sneak in ahead of you?” He spat reflectively. “Bet he knew about this pit,” he said.
“The Jebusite! The Amalekite!” the old man cursed.
“Well,” said Abe, taking his foot off the wheel of Noice’s buggy, “I wish, Richard, you’d come down tuh earth and do suthin’ about it. Sneakin’ all that money offen you! Have him churched, or suthin’.” He moved off, stopped. “We’ll back you up,” he said, “William Arthur an’ Henry Warren an’ me.”
THE summer had slipped away unnoticed like a small boy edging out of the house to go fishing. The hay was in the mow, most of the grain was cut and all about Eldad the farmers were busy drawing in. Wagon load after wagon load had creaked its dusty way across the field to the barn. It was hot work, Paul had found, and hotter still after the slings had dumped the tangled mass of grain into the mow to climb up and stow it away sheaf by sheaf under the scorching rafters.
Today had been especially trying. Barley beards have a devilish habit of finding their way through the toughest shirt. Paul tossed his sweaty clothes into a corner of his room with a sigh of relief and looked for an instant at the mingled dust and dirt which darkened his skin. There wasn’t time to go down and get a pail of water to have a bath. Not if he was going to Epworth League with Jean. He started to fling on his best clothes. Fifteen minutes later he stepped out of the little gate on to the road and drew in a deep breath of the cool evening air.
“There’s Noice’s girls,” Jean said, looking back. “We’d better wait for them.”
She’s thinking of that trouble with old Noice, Paul told himself as they waited. Trying to fix it up to show folks we’re friends again. The whole affair, he reflected, seemed far off now. Even that flare-up of the old man after he heard about the gravel-pit had died away. To be sure the old codger was still muttering —like a thunderstorm which has slipped around but still threatens angrily. That didn’t signify, however. It was over and Paul was glad.
He looked with a closer interest at the two Noice girls as they trudged through the dust up the rise toward his sister and himself. In spite of numberless good resolutions he felt nervous, and he realized with disgust that he had not yet got over his shyness. He was, in fact, worse than ever this summer. His tanned face and red hands made him feel so coarsely masculine. If he could only take girls casually—even Eileen
The girls were just up to them now, and he braced himself for the ordeal, straightening his tie and wishing that his hands and face were white as they had been when he came home from college. These girls, he remembered suddenly, must think a college man a wonderful being. He must live up to what they would expect. Formally he touched his cap as they came up and Jean spoke to them.
Along the road they went, Jean with Pearl and Nettie with him. He forced himself to speak casually to her, fearful lest he should stub his toe or stumble, trying to set each foot down carefully like a cat picking its way across a stream. But her answers were but monosyllables, and consciousness came to Paul that she was as frightened as he, more frightened, perhaps. The knowledge gave him confidence and he began to talk and to talk well, looking at the averted line of her face softened by the half-light, remembering that she was pretty. Gradually her face turned toward him. He fancied that she smiled, and felt a great kindness for her, recollecting how little chance she had had. Poor starved thing with so little in life! His hand brushed against hers.
Embarrassment did not seize him again until they neared the church and he saw the glaring acetylene lamp at the entrance. There would be people there, fellows and girls. Alf Roberts, for instance, with his rude wit that people laughed at because he had a reputation for being funny. Paul flushed through all his veins thinking of some smart remark he might make. Hilda Johnstone, too. He could picture her cold condemning eyes, her look of acidulous virginity measuring him as he came in. He steeled himself to the ordeal and then at the gate Jean said:
“I suppose you’ll want to go in the back way,” and he was saved.
TNOWN in the basement on rows of chairs the folks were sitting, the girls in front, the men and boys in the back. Paul looked at the girls, seeking for Nettie, and picked her out. She was pretty, he thought again, even if her clothes were old. That wavy hair of hers. He would like—he blushed a little—would like to run his fingers through it. It would ripple, be electric. Behind him he heard the preacher talking in throaty tones to John Quibell, and twisting about could just see them from the corner of his eye. Placid-looking John was like all the Quibells, with his great slow moving bulk and oxlike eyes.
“Ettie will read the lesson tonight, won’t she, John?” the preacher was urging. John shook his head.
“No—not tonight, Mr. Stewart,” he replied.
“But why?” urged the preacher. “Ettie reads very well.”
“I know,” John answered patiently. “But she ain’t had time to practise.”
Paul felt Fred Dickens nudge him and grinned inside. That was just like the Quibells. He heard the preacher speaking to him. “You’ll read the lesson, won’t you, Paul?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” he said reluctantly.
“Sure you will,” said the preacher moving away. “I’ll call on you.”
The meeting began—a slow moving thing in the ghastly light of the acetylene lamps, dingy tunes sung in spiritless fashion by the tired folk of the farm. What did they come for? Paul wondered, scarcely comprehending that this was the one possible mid-week break in the monotony of life. Two short prayers, one by Fred, already marked as a pillar-to-be of the church, and another by William Arthur, the latter a lugubrious petition for saving grace—for the spirit of the Lord to come down upon these young folks. What did these things mean? Paul wondered, or what would they do with them if they did come? Paul felt somewhat vaguely that he had these other prayers offered by way of contrast, that he liked to show off his own florid eloquence with its emotions carefully graduated to correspond with the tones of voice production taught him in college. Then Paul was called up to the front and, rather conscious of himself, read out a piece of Scripture.
“He that hath clean hands and a pure heart.”
But his mind was on his pronunciation and on the impression that he was making, not on the words. Finally, somewhat timidly, Margaret Crossley got up to read the topic. Words composed miles away in a Yankee city by some writer who made a business of Christianity, of supplying Canadian churches with suitable interpretations of the weekly league topic. This was on “Citizenship,” and Margaret stumbled over the long words drawing on to the inevitable conclusion that we must all become Citizens of God. Another short prayer, a final hymn—a more stirring one this time—and the meeting broke up. This was the moment of release. Some of the girls nodded to Paul as they left their seats. There was a general breaking forth of little scraps of conversation. Paul, back with Percy Warren and Alf Roberts, talking first of the harvest, then with more interest of baseball practice—“We’ll play Gibb’s school at the lawn social two weeks from now”—noticed the Noice girls moving out. He began to wonder whether Jean and Fred and he could walk home with them. He looked at his sister talking with Hilda Johnstone. Surely they could break away.
“Guess we’ll be getting along,” he said to Alf, and moved unobtrusively up to Jean. Hilda spoke to him with that smile of hers which seemed to hover on the brink of petulant tears—she led her old dad quite a life, he’d heard—and Jean and he started to move off up the steps to the front porch. He looked for Nettie. There she was starting off with Pearl, and who was that joining them? Johnny Grant! He couldn’t mistake him.
He heard Fred Dickens say to Jean, “Old Noice better watch out—Johnny’s tired of batching it.” He moved along beside his sister and her fiancé, his thoughts tumbling in a confused turmoil as he remembered what Bob McAdoo had said so casually.
“That was Johnny Grant, was it?” he heard Jean ask.
“Yes,” Fred assented. “Net wants to watch out for her old man. If he catches Johnny around . .
“Guess Net figures he’d be better than Squint-Eyed Pete anyway,” Jean said defensively. “What Mr. Noice sees in him !”
Paul felt ashamed of himself, but was compelled by an overpowering curiosity. Funny how one’s interest in a girl could grow so quickly.
“Why?” he asked. “Does Pete go round with her, too?”
“All last winter,” Jean replied. “And he took her home from the anniversary. Old Mr. Noice has got an eye on Pete’s farm—the one he’ll have when his folks die.” She paused and added, “Nettie hates him, she says.”
“Squint-Eyed Pete!” Paul remembered him, remembered the year before when he had come out of the social after the tea to hear him talking obscenely about a passing girl. A little undersized fellow with an evil sneer and that appalling cast in his eye. But going to be rich and pretending to be awfully religious. No wonder Nettie preferred Johnny. The anger he had felt leap up in him—the instinctive anger of the possessive male—died down when he thought of it. “Poor kid,” he reflected, and began to think sentimentally of catching Pete trying to kiss her, of freeing her, of smashing his fist home in that squinting eye. He clenched his hand and ground his teeth.
“What’s the matter?” Fred asked. “Got the pip or something.”
“Nothing,” Paul answered.
ry'HE baseball game had reached its crucial point. Young Paul, hot and perspiring in the pitcher’s box, was conscious of nothing except the batter facing him. His mind refused the triangle of spectators, refused the three men of Gibb’s school on base, refused the knowledge that one run would tie the score that nobody was out, refused even the evident panic in the catcher’s voice as he called to him, entreating him. With desperate intensity his fingers gripped the ball. All the determination in him welled up as he swung back and came forward again. A long moment it seemed to him as he watched the ball streaking to the plate, saw it reach almost to the batter and then break in a dazzling curve. A sense of strength came on him. First one player, then a second struck out, flinging their bats aside disgustedly. But the next one was Jim Bradley facing him, Paul noted, with a quizzical grin, reminiscent of those two runs he had made already. Paul’s sense of power weakened. He faltered for an instant as a bee does in its flight, and then winding up began to pitch. But not so successfully. His first two attempts were wide. Then came two strikes. Bradley was waiting him out. Another ball. Three and two while the base runners began to grow desperate He took a long breath, conscious of the stillness about him. Nothing else mattered to him, he felt, except this last ball he was to throw. This pasture field, grass dry and crackling in the parching sun; the trees along the brow of Warren’s hill showing cool and green above him to his right; the group of farmers in their accustomed black suits and white collars; and farther off at the rail fence the flutter of white that showed where the women were—this was the stage of the intensest of dramas to him.
“A straight ball?” he questioned himself. “Jim would murder that.” He’d try a curve again. The ball left his hand. He watched it come up to the batter and swing in to the plate. But not enough, he almost shrieked it. He knew it wasn’t enough. It was outside an inch or more. The agonies of defeat seized at him and he heard the umpire’s voice from a distance.
“Strike three! Batter out.”
It couldn’t be. Paul knew that the ball was outside. Eddie Whetter must have stretched a point, must have given him the strike. What should he do? He had wanted it so badly. The thoughts raced through his mind. He couldn’t. Silently he took off his glove and started to walk off the field.
“Good pitching,” old Harry Warren said grudgingly as he came in and Paul began to come out of his daze.
“Well, Paul,” the preacher was speaking. “Pretty good luck! Not but what it was pretty skilful, too, I guess,” he hastened to add.
A glow began to come over Paul. After all, his eye might have been wrong, and it had been good pitching. He had achieved, even if that suspicion lurked there to embitter the cup. He tried to push the taste of it away, to listen only to the other players making one or two remarks, in the slow way of country folks, that put a warmth on him. Gradually he began to feel victorious, to feel his feet light. His mind began to wonder now who had seen him. He looked at the men, and then in concealed fashion at the girls getting off the fence, and making ready to walk the half mile round the corner. There on the lawn in front of Harry Warren’s house, itself built on a little knoll rising from the swamp, the tables for the lawn social were spread. Was Nettie among the girls? he wondered, and then he saw her. An impulse to go up to her and to speak to her, came over him, but custom was too strong on him, custom and shyness. That would be too conspicuous. Unwillingly he trailed along behind with the other young fellows, laughing and talking all of them more loudly than they needed to, conscious that the girls were conscious of them.
But after the meal—raspberries and cream and towering cakes and multitudinous pies—waiting for the concert on the improvised platform in the open air, wandering about, watching the men light the Chinese lanterns that festooned the place, he found himself near the Noice girls. He meditated about going up to them. After all he had won the game, he argued with himself, fighting down his shyness. What if folks did notice him? A little defiantly he stepped up to the girls and walked along with them, finding few words to say, stumbling over commonplaces, until a chance remark brought the game in. They had seen him, he found. A glow came over him. Embarrassment was forgotten.
Somehow Nettie seemed very desirable to him tonight. She was so impressed by him, he sensed, so tremblingly eager for him to find her attractive, and yet so unhoping for it. Pearl left them with some muttered excuse, and they moved out a little farther away from the lights to the edge of the knoll and gazed out over the swamp. Black and mysterious it looked in the light of the rising moon, with darker patches to mark the little tufts of bushes in it, and little streaks of silver showing where water was. Here and there a firefly flickered against the intermittent black, and beyond lay the long slope of Warren’s hill bathed in a flood of softening, other-worldly light. Dark were the lines of the fence rows, and dark the cluster of trees and buildings that marked Warren’s house; and glimmering to its right, a thing of beauty now, if never before, was the corrugated steel roof of his barn.
“Doesn’t it get you,” he said, overcome by it, looking over it, “doesn’t it get you?”
She made no answer and he turned to look at her; spiritual she seemed in the moon; her face, framed by that glorious hair of hers, softened to a shimmering pallor, her eyes large, lips parted a little. Something ineffably sad about her look seemed to tear at his heart. He read into her face all the misery and all the tragedy of the world.
Suddenly, unpremeditatingly, he bent to kiss her. He saw an appalled look in her eyes, felt her lips in a hard frightened line, and then she drew away, he still holding her, their eyes fastened on each other. What Paul read in hers caught at him again. He put his hand to her hair, rumpling it, and then she was against him once more, her lips soft, her wide and startled eyes closing. Their lips met and they stood there, lost, conscious of none but themselves.
“What be this?” A voice shattered into Paul’s ears. Electric his response was, and his next knowledge that he stood back several feet from Nettie, and that between them, looking at them, was old man Noice, bristling with rage, all the fierce Puritan in him up in flames.
“What be this?” he roared again, grasping Nettie by the shoulder and shaking her. “Chambering and wantonness! An’ with this—this son of Belial !”
He released his grip, and Nettie scurried away toward the lights. Paul swallowed at a lump in his throat which, like the phoenix, seemed to keep mysteriously rising. He must fix it up. What did one do?
“It’s all right, Mr. Noice,” he said. “Nettie and I—we’re engaged.” He had taken the plunge.
But strangely it didn’t fix it up. The old man swept out his arm as if to seize Paul, changed his mind, shook his fist at him. “Engaged ter yew!” he roared. “Ter yew! Jim Honey’s son! An’ he cheatin’ me!” He towered over Paul, shaking a minatory finger at him. “Cheatin’ me, I say ! An’ yew kin tell your paw. Tell him he ain’t fit ter be sooperintendent. Him a liar and a Jebusite! I’ll hev him churched, I will!”
Paul stared at him. There was nothing to say. You couldn’t strike an old man. He turned to go and realized quite unexpectedly that there were people around the two of them. There they stood, the folk whom curiosity had so quickly collected, drinking it all in, in the way of country people. Not a word from them, not a titter, not even a nudging of elbows. But wait, Paul knew, until they were talking it over and he went by. “Old Noice seems ter need his gals tuh hum,” someone would drawl. Head down he made his way through them, imagining with burning cheeks that there was a snicker from someone as he walked away.
The glimmer of the lights brought him up. He shied at them like a startled horse and made a circle around them, avoiding even the distant approach of anyone. Before he knew it he found himself down the lane and out of the gate and on to the road. Above him on the little knoll the lights flickered merrily, and there was a cheerful hum of folks settling themselves for the concert. Talk and laughter floated out to him as from another world. How many of them, he wondered miserably, were laughing at him? A horse tied to the road fence near him—there was a whole row of them along the ditch—champed at his bit. Paul felt a vague comfort at their presence. Animals, at least, wouldn’t laugh. He made his way along the row of buggies, found that of his own people, clambered in and sat there, humped up, a mere blurred outline watching the lights, listening to the sudden silence as the concert began, hearing the minister’s voice as he started to announce the programme. Paul was on that programme. But he wouldn’t be there. He couldn’t be there. He couldn’t face those people. Had anyone else besides Noice, a panic-stricken question came to him, seen him kissing Nettie? He writhed on the seat. If Alf Roberts had, or young Bradley . . . his whole being seemed to shrink, to coil round itself at the thought of it, at the thought of what they might say.
Someone was singing now, and the notes came out spaced to him as from a great distance over water. What, he asked himself, was Nettie doing? As miserable as he? He didn’t dream of trying to find her. He didn’t want to find her. But he would have liked to.
The scent of the low-lying land was about him, of cedar and hemlock, of water-laden fern and moss. So wretched now. Yet only a few hours ago. He sat there, tears in his eyes.
Would old Noice—would old Noice try to have his father churched? Suppose, he told himself, suppose he had brought trouble on his father. He tried to reassure himself, to remind himself that if old Noice had had any evidence he would have moved long ago. But he found no comfort. Country folk, he remembered were like that—wait and wait patient as a toad on a stone. Old Noice couldn’t have any evidence. But perhaps he had a little, perhaps he had just enough truth to distort things, to make his father out a trickster, to get folks worked up till they couldn’t see reason. He could visualize one of those senseless riots of emotion of theirs, could imagine his father the butt of it. If Old Noice had been waiting—and if he had set him off—tonight anything seemed possible.
But that night going home he heard his mother say to his father, “Jim, aren’t you going to do anything?”
“Yes,” his father answered, “I’m ready.”
Something in his quiet voice began to assure Paul and to ease his fear. Surely, he told himself, his father would win; surely he was too brainy for old Noice.
The horse trotted on through the darkness, a spark flashing every now and then as the iron of her shoe struck fire from a stone. As the movement and the quietness lulled him still more, Paul started to think again about Nettie and himself. It had been terrible, old Noice catching him like that and proclaiming it, letting everyone know. It made him blush all over. But perhaps he had been a little hasty. Would Nettie—he remembered an argument at college last year— be, after all, a suitable wife for a man in the professions? There was Eileen, too, down there in Glennville. How could he have forgotten her? Conscience whispered to him. His first girl—and so sweet and pure. He tried to recall her face, wondered that he had not thought of her before.
Into his attempt at reflection burst suddenly the memory of those kisses, his first kisses. What wonderful things women were! The way her lips had felt, the soft yield of her body. He breathed quickly thinking of it, strangely excited. Another kiss like that—he would give the world for it!