A Son of Eli
In which Youth opens a number of closed doors and discovers that life is very complicated
W. G. HARDY
The Story! Paul Honey, farm-bred, returns on vacation from, university to the country of his beginnings. His father, English by birth, now a prosperous Ontario farmer, is engaged in a silent battle for possessions with Richard Noice, a cast-iron, hell-fire threatening neighbor, whose method of combatting folk obnoxious to himself is the ancient and public one of “churching," testifying against them in open meeting. Paul’s father has just anticipated the old man in a deal for a farm, and Noice is fuming with indignation.
It is wartime, 1915, but the fever has not yet hit the back country. Paul, fresh from the militant atmosphere of Toronto, feels the urge to enlist, but at the insistence of his father that English or not, the war is no concern of theirs, he promises to forget it.
Meanwhile there is Eileen Ainslie in the nearby town, whom Paul has met at Christmas, and of whom his head is full when he returns. There is also, he finds, Nettie Noice, the old man’s downtrodden daughter who is in a fair way to follow her elder sister and escape from her father by elopement: persecuted also by an unprepossessing neighbor known locally as Squint-eyed Pete.
Paul is swept off his feet by Nettie’s helplessness, and is irresistibly drawn to kiss her, when the old man comes upon them. A scene follows in which Noice threatens to “church” Paul’s father.
McADOO’S binder filled the heat of the day with clatter as it moved along the side of the field next the line fence. Noise, Paul reflected, as he pitched sheaves up to his father, always made heat more unendurable. Particularly when it was metallic. He felt drained of thought as well. All last night and this morning he had been turning the same problems over and over, until he was deadened by the very monotony of them. How could he have forgotten Eileen so easily? What was he going to do? He couldn’t go with two girls. Which one should he give up? He couldn’t settle it. He would strive to recapture the memory of how Eileen had looked that Sunday in Glennville, and, just as he had succeeded, in would rush the recollection of that kiss, those kisses.
Other problems as well. What had old man Noice done to Nettie? What would he do? Would Paul ever have the chance to talk to her again? And would old Noice—he glanced up at Mr. Honey’s impassive face— try to have his father churched?
No wonder he was drained of thought, squeezed dry of feeling. He lifted his eyes a moment at the hills to the north, and felt a raising of his spirit toward them. Hills and woods were comforting things on a day with a heat haze shimmering about, and a sun in a brassy sky; a day when one cast about in his thoughts, and found no sure ground on which to stand; a day when one worried beyond measure at what old N oice might do or say.
As he pitched, he realized that there was a void in his consciousness. After an appreciable instant he placed it. The binder had stopped. He looked up. Bob McAdoo was walking over to the fence.
“Ain’t the heat tumble?” he asked, leaning upon it, looking at them.
“Sure is,” Mr. Honey agreed.
Bob lifted his hat and wiped his head. “Wish,” he said, “I had me a head of hair like Absalom. Pertect me from the sun, it would. Why, my pore old scalp’s goin’ ter catch fire soon, an’ the sweat’s been runnin’ off me like as if I were a waterpipe.”
“The Lord,” ventured Paul, remembering a saying of Alec Shore’s at college, “only puts marble tops on good furniture.”
Bob laughed ... “Well, I s’pose it’s all for the best, as William Arthur says, but I hev my doubts.”
“It certainly is hot,” Mr. Honey remarked again. “Likely lookin’ field of oats you have there.”
“Not so bad,” Bob agreed. “The heads ain’t so plump as they might be. But not so bad.” He cleared his throat, hesitated.
“I hear old man Noice has gone on the rampage.”
“Oh!” said Mr. Honey.
“Yep. Saw him goin’ inter William Arthur’s. He’s bin drivin’ ’round, they say, seein’ folks.”
Mr. Honey, standing there on the top of the load took, a bit of straw from a sheaf and chewed it reflectively.
“Thot I’d tell you,” Bob said. “He makes me madder’n a hornet, Noice does. Him so all-fired religious. An’ look at him when he was young. A hell-roarin’ son of a gun !”
“Thanks, Bob,” said Mr. Honey. “I appreciate it.”
“Well,” Bob replied. “There’s some of us fer you, Mr. Honey. But you want ter watch old Noice. He reckons he’s got the world in a corner and a fence put round it just now.” He squinted at the sun, evidently relieved at having said what he wanted to say. “Close ter dinnertime,” he remarked. “I’m kind of sharp-set. Bet I could eat a hoss and chase the rider.” He waved his hand, and went back across the stubble to his waiting horses.
Paul shoved the tines of his fork, bright in the sun, viciously into a sheaf, flung it up with a jerk to his father.
“He makes me tired, old Noice does,” he said.
His father took the sheaf, set it down, straightened up. “Guess you and Bob can draw in this afternoon,” he said. “Think I’ll go to Ebenezer.”
To see the preacher, that must be, Paul thought to himself, and remembered that his father had had quite a bit to do with the new minister, Mr. Stewart, coming to this circuit.
PAUL and Jean were worried that next Sunday afternoon as they walked to church. Neither of them had any heart for the usual comments on the rigs passing them. They moved in silence. Dad and mother, Bruce in the buggy with them had gone on ahead, and were already in their seats when they arrived. Paul—Jean was in the choir—joined them, feeling very self-conscious, imagining that everyone knew about him and Nettie Noice. He grew hot under the collar, feeling eyes boring into the back of his neck. His mother, he sensed, felt much the same, but his father looked quite composed, face calm, movements easy. Paul drew confidence from him.
The service began much like other services. Mr. Stewart spoke lugubriously upon the failing faith of the time, upon the increase of sin, suggesting that here were the latter days. This day, like all of those that week, was hot, and Paul gazed out of the open window to the north, seeing the slopes of McWhirter’s hill, cows and horses grazing peacefully in a nearer field, beyond a plot of uncut grain. He found surcease in gazing at it and in listening to the sounds that came in through the open windows, the tinkle of a bell, as a sheep moved along, cropping the grass at the side of the road, the interrogatory whinny of a restless horse. It helped him to forget, these did, that the church was unwontedly full, that over to his left Richard Noice was sitting in sombre black, and that behind him, forsaking their usual seats, were some of those who had always been his supporters, William Arthur and Abraham Henry among them.
“When would he speak?” he wondered. “And what was he going to say?”
The sermon was over, the anthem—fourteen voices striving manfully to reach the heights of Jerusalem, and calling upon her to lift up her gates and sing—finished, and the collection taken up. There was a momentary pause as the preacher, tucking his handkerchief into his cuff, prepared to rise and give out the closing hymn. But before he reached his feet, into the hushed silence boomed old Noice’s voice.
“Bretheren,” he said, a depth of bitterness in his tones, “The Scripture saith that if thine eye offend thee pluck it out, for it is better that thine eye should be burned than that thy body should be cast into hell fire. And the Scripture also saith, ‘Repent ye, for the Kingdom of God is at hand,’ and bretheren”—he was speaking more rapidly now, a hint of angry hysteria in his voice—“how I hev prayed, how I hev pleaded on my knees in agony that the sinner should see the light, that he should repent. But he hath not. He hath hardened his heart. Like Pharaoh he hath said in his folly, ‘Lo, no man seeth me,’ and gone on his way rejoicing. And I say unto him”—he was looking directly at Mr. Honey—“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, ere it be too late. Let him confess his sins, for the Lord our God is merciful. Even though his sins be as scarlet, aye, as scarlet.” He paused an instant for breath, then went on, tiembling now with rage, pointing a shaking finger at Honey—“He hath brought up his sons,” he ranted, “to break the Sabbath, to doubt the Good Book. He hath let them mix with pitch and become defiled. Like the sons of Eli they do evil, and he seeth it not.”
All this at him, Paul felt. Would no one stop that raving lunatic? Anger stirred in him, making him forget his embarrassment. He stared back. But Noice was reaching his climax.
“And he himself,” he shouted—so much violence; Paul felt weary of it—“he hath overreached me, his brother before the Lord. Like Naboth and his vineyard, he coveted the place that was mine. By deceit he got it. He arose in the night and said, ‘Lo, I do no evil,’ and the place that was to be mine hath become his, and the devil hath prospered him. That gravel pit—”
He stopped, stárted again, his voice choking with passion. “When I heerd of it,” he said, “the devil tempted me, he tempted me sore. Up in the hay mow I rassied with him. Like Jacob he beset me. But, praise be, I drove him from me, and said again: ‘Let him not be cut off in his wickedness, for the Lord our God is merciful. Let him repent and confess his sin.’ But if he do not,” his voice rose again, “if he do not, if he harden his heart, if he be as the stiff-necked Israelite, did not our Lord Jesus Christ scourge the moneychangers from the temple, did not Saul hew Agag to pieces before the Lord? And shall we not,” he raised his clenched fists high and shook them, “shall we not smite him, shall we not drive him forth, aye, cast him into outer darkness, where shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth?”
He stopped, bringing his hands down on the back of the seat in front of him, incapable of speaking, a little froth around his lips.
As he stood there in the dead silence, Mr. Honey rose.
“I calculated,” he said very quietly, “that something like this might happen. And so last week I gave the minister the correspondence about that farm. As for my sons”—a little warmth came into his voice—“I ask Mr. Noice if he did not, when he was young, mingle with the sons of Belial.” He sat down again.
He had him there, Paul thought admiringly. As if everyone didn’t know what a boozer Noice had been when he was young. But what was this correspondence about the farm? What did it prove or show? He listened eagerly as the minister got up, smoothed his hair back, pulled his cuffs out and looked about him.
“This is most unprecedented,” he was saying, “most unprecedented.”
Paul felt a letting down of the tension. There was no power in this man, not after his father or even old man Noice,' no matter if these countryfolk did hang upon his every word. He waited impatiently for him to get to the heart of the affair.
“It is never well,” he was saying, pulling papers out of his pocket, “for the faithful to quarrel vainly before the people. But since Mr. Noice has brought this charge in public, in public it must be answered.”
He cleared his throat impressively and began. Individual words scarcely registered in Paul’s consciousness, but an overwhelming exultation surged up in him. This was victory, and more than victory. Here was the minister proving from these letters that Mr. Honey had written Little Hugh asking if Mr. Noice had any claim to Little Hugh’s place, and that Little Hugh had answered that he had none. And more, too—
“I have here,” the preacher said, portentously holding it up, “a letter from Mr. Noice to Mr. Hugh MacPherson, giving up his right to first chance at the farm, saying it wasn’t worth the price set on it, saying he’d talk business”—the prosaic phrase fell flatly from his lips—“when Mr. MacPherson came down a bit.” He laid it down. “That, of course,” he said, “clears Mr. Honey, absolutely. He acted in the best of faith.”
There was utter dismay, Paul sensed, among Noice’s following. Blankly they looked at each other, shrinking away from the old man, sitting there, his neck stretched out to hear.
“And as for the other charges,” the preacher continued, “I must say I have found Mr. Honey,” he paused a second to give emphasis to his words, “a very God-fearing man, always instant for righteousness.”
Paul sat back filled with a warm glow, the wine of victory. For once that old man had been beaten; for once violence and passion had gone down before coolness and reasoned action. How had the old man dared to bring this charge, knowing about that letter? he wondered. Was it an old one about which he had forgotten, or had his reckless anger driven him on regardless? He realized suddenly that old Noice was on his feet again, choking and spluttering.
“ ’Tweren’t meant, that letter,” he was crying in a high, cracked voice. “ ’Tweren’t meant. Little Hugh knew ’tweren’ meant. Jes’ dickerin’. A year agone an’ more.”
He looked about him, saw the dumb, unresponsive look in the faces of his followers, knew that he was beaten. As Paul stared at him he saw the red flush of excitement: leave his countenance, saw his jaws clamp together, saw a look of cold bitterness come upon him. Slowly he reached down under the seat as the congregation watched, fished out his hat and stick and straightened up. He looked about him with a depth of hatred in his glance, then with a deliberate gesture jammed his hat down on his head, and moving into the aisle went clumping down it, his footfalls hollow in the silence. At the door he stopped, turned, and as the people watched, slowly, deliberately he wiped the dust of the place from off his feet, his boots rasping harshly on the wooden floor. He finished, straightened up again, stared around slowly over the congregation, and then raised his stick.
“The curse of the Lord be on ye,” he burst out. “Ye sons of Belial,” and dropping his stick with a crash turned and went out the door.
There was silence while the people heard his footsteps sounding on the porch and on the platform and on the pebbles of the driveway, until they died away as he reached the grass. The preacher raised his hand.
“We will have the benediction,” he said, and the people bowed.
"DOB McADOO stepped up to Paul as he stood at the LJ church gate waiting for Jean. There was a broad grin on his face, congratulation in his tone.
“Did yer see,” he said, “the faithful tumblin’ over each other ter make it up ter yer dad?”
“They did seem to be in kind of a hurry,” Paul said, thinking a little scornfully of the way William Arthur and Abe Henry and the rest had come up to his father after the benediction, shaking his hand, assuring him that they had never suspected him, eager to make their peace.
“Just like my innards,” Bob said, “at alsike threshing. Each starts rushin’ ter see which’ll be first up.” He shook his head admiringly. “Smart man, yer dad,” he said. “Who’d ’a thought of gittin’ them letters an’ havin’ them all and settin’ tight till Noice jumped. Smart man, yer dad.”
“Guess Noice won’t forget,” Paul said a little sombrely, “not in a hurry.”
“No,” said Bob, moving off as he saw Jean coming toward them. “Hev’ ter tread light, Paul. That is, if yer still bent on coortin’.”
Paul flushed as he started up the road with Jean. But not so much at what Bob had said. Somehow what folks might say about him and Nettie did not worry him as much as he had imagined it would. After that scene in the church it seemed unimportant. He was more exercised about Nettie than about people talking. This would, he could see, kill any chance he might have had of seeing Nettie openly, of speaking to her. Old Noice would never countenance anything now. She would be cut off from him, would be unattainable. It might be better, settle his problem for him.
Never to speak to her again ! With the thought came a sudden and overpowering desire to see her, to speak to her, to assure himself that she did not share her father’s hatred for him, that that kiss she had given him was no mere accident. That kiss ! He did not comprehend fully himself how completely it colored his thinking, did not admit to himself how eager he was to feel those lips, that submission of hers again. But, he told himself, he must see her. He began to cast about him for ways and means, thinking of various plans. League night! He caught at the hope. Perhaps she would be there this week. Perhaps he could see her then.
URRY up,” said Nettie, “or we’ll be late.”
“I don’t know,” replied Pearl, “as I want ter go. I’m so tired. Besides”—she dropped her voice to a whisper—“perhaps he won’t let us go . .
“It’s only a mile and a half,” Nettie answered, “an’ he ain’t said nuthin’, not yet.”
She snuggled her head close against the cow’s flank, making her tired fingers work more rapidly, shooting little jets of milk with a resonant tang into the milk pail. The cool of evening was come and every sound was clear to her ears, the frogs croaking in the swamp, below them a lamb on the road calling pathetically for its mother, the sound of a cowbell from MacNab’s yard half a mile away, things too common for her to notice. The milk in the pail beat on her ears monotonously.
Too tired to think clearly she was, yet there was in her a vague feeling of content at the thought of getting away, if only for an hour or so, from this scene of monotonous, never-ending toil, from the constant watchfulness of that terrible old man, her father. How she feared him ! Those terrific fits of rage of his ! How he had used to beat her! “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” he had always said. She shivered a little and pressed more closely against the cow’s flank. But at least tonight she would get free from him, she considered hopefully. Unless he wouldn’t let them go. He was queerer than ever since last Sunday in church. Silent, but all the more terrible, with sudden spasms of blinded violence. Still, he hadn’t said anything, and if she got away . . . The desire, the secret hope of romance that springs up in us like a never-failing well, overwhelmed her. Would Paul be there? she wondered. Johnny Grant would, of course. But he didn’t count so much. He wanted to marry her, but after all, he was secondhand. Not that he wasn’t better than Pete. Her fingers stopped working for a moment, and her vague thoughts took on definite color as she reflected on him. Creepy he was. Like a snake. The way he looked at her, avid and hungry, like a weasel going to fasten on something. And her dad favoring him. But he never came up to Eldad to League. Paul might be there, he’d , likely be there. S’posing he walked home with her. S’posing— her eyes went misty—s’posing he kissed her again. Her lips parted, her breath stole through them languidly like a girl creeping along a secret path to meet her lover. She was living over that night at the picnic, a tremble seizing her. How strong he had felt, his arms like bars pressing her, compelling her. His fingers, too, running through her hair. He loved it, she knew, and thrilled at the thought. How wonderful he was, how wonderfully he could talk, knowin’ so much and so smart. What could he ever have seen in her? She realized suddenly with a little moan of sorrow and delight that she would do anything for him.
She milked on, lost in her thoughts, hearing nothing, seeing nothing, not even her father come to the door of the stable, his trimming of the show cattle finished, his great sheep shears in his hand. From behind her cow Pearl spoke up.
“I know why yer so set on goin’ ter league.”
“Why?” said Nettie, flushing, guessing the answer, fearing, and yet eager to hear it.
“ ’Cos Paul Honey’ll be there,” said Pearl.
Nettie laughed, a little conscious laugh, and looked up to see her father over her. To her excited eyes he seemed to tower, to fill Earth and Heaven.
“What be this,” he said chokingly, “what be this?” “Arter—arter—” Words failed him, and he struck her as she shrank from him.
“Thou harlot!” he burst out. “Thou—thou Delilah. Git to the house. I tell ’ee, git to the house.” He paused, looking at her. “Trustin’ in thy charms,” he went on in a strange, low, husky voice. “Thinkin’ to snare Paul Honey! Paul Honey! To snare him with thy hair— Delilah—with—thy—hair.” He looked at the great shears in his hand.
TJAUL sitting in League kept stirring at every noise, searching every newcomer’s face, wondering if Nettie would come. Hope died in him a dozen times, to be renewed as often as a late arrival entered. But at last he gave up.
“Pretty glum tonight, eh?” Fred asked him as they went out.
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“Noice’s girls weren’t out tonight,” Fred hinted slyly. Paul said nothing, but a sullen anger mounted in him. That was what everyone would be saying—laughing at him behind his back. Why hadn’t she come? He had counted so much on it, on seeing her, on talking to her, on reassuring himself that she worshipped him and, perhaps, they might have made a chance to kiss again. That heady wine of being beloved! He had counted so on her being there. And now his evening was spoiled. He tried to argue with himself that she couldn’t come, that her father had prevented her. But he found no comfort in it. He had been too confident that she would be there. Reaction seized him. Perhaps she didn’t care much for him. Perhaps she had let her father turn her against him. Perhaps being kissed wasn’t a new thing to her. Perhaps Johnny Grant—or squint-eyed Pete— He’d go to Glennville tomorrow evening.
NETTIE lying on her bed, shaken still by intermittent sobs, her head strangely light, realized hopelessly and vaguely, like a wounded animal, that everything was over. She couldn’t face him now, show herself marred like this, even if she ever got the chance. Even Johnny Grant wouldn’t want her now. She might as well give up. No use trying to do anything, to get anywhere. Long hours she lay there. Nothing seemed real, not the room wrapped in darkness, or the glimmering square of light that was the window. All orderly sequence of thought had left her. She could only feel, monotonously, over the same deadening circle.
When morning came she went about her tasks like an automaton with no attention to her sister’s frightened looks, with no heed to anyone. A shell of a girl from which the life had gone.
That same day over at Gibb’s school, old Noice talked to Squint-eyed Pete.
“Does yer want ter marry my Nettie?”
“She won’t have me,” said Pete sulkily.
“She will now,” Noice told him grimly, a strange light in his eye.
“What’s that?” asked Pete, stopping his forking of manure.
“She will now,” Noice repeated sombrely.
Pete thought it over. “What’s come over her?” he demanded finally, suspicion bristling upon him. “What’s the catch? Last time I saw her ...”
“Let thy yea be yea, and thy nay, nay,” Noice broke in. He looked at Pete standing there in thought, his squint eye turned inward, searching. “There’s a farm goes with her,” the old man said reluctantly. “Wherry’s place.”
Pete lifted up his fork and stuck it deep into the manure heap. “I’ll do it,” he said.
TT WAS a long wheel from Eldad to Glennville that same evening. Hot at first, too. Paul sweating as he walked up Noice’s hill, pushing his bicycle. He looked in at Noice’s place as he passed, wondering a little guiltily what Nettie might be doing. It was amazing to be torn between two desires like this. It was not as he had been taught. Love, he had imagined, came on you suddenly. You saw a girl and she was like a goddess in your eyes. You strove to be worthy of her, and to win her favor by some great, some chivalrous deed. Finally in the dim future you married her, and lived happily ever after. That was love.
That his father and mother had their problems, their troubles, that married folk quarrelled and bickered and grew old, these things he saw uncomprehendingly about him, never relating them to himself, living in a romantic Paradise. But now, faced by these two pulls of desire, by his remembrance of those yielding lips of Nettie’s and by his feeling for Eileen, he was in confusion. There was the glamor of the almost unattainable about Eileen, the attraction of someone brought up in a different atmosphere from himself—belonging, too, he half believed, although he would have denied it indignantly if he had been questioned, to a higher grade of society than his own people. Town folks knew how to do things so much better than country people. And yet Nettie—it was not surprising that he was mixed up, that it was difficult to decide how he felt about the two of them.
Was lo ve and marrying, he began to wonder, as simple as it had seemed? Did marriage settle things for you? Had his father, he asked himself, had any other girls before his mother? He put aside the thought at once as heresy.
Getting on his wheel at the top of the hill he started along the half-mile plateau here, looking out to the east as he pedalled, where to his left the country stretched out below him, mile on mile of flat, tree-covered plains. Amazing how wooded this country could look with only a few copses and the trees along the fences to make it so. Down in the plain showed Stanton church, a blotch of red among the trees, and still farther east, eighteen miles away, rising like a thin finger in the distance was the column of Glennville’s stand-pipe showing black against the blue of the far Malvern hills. At the sight of his goal he dug his toes into his pedals, bending low to his wheel, eager to cover the next mile and turn on to the twelfth line.
It was getting late when he reached Glennville. The lights were already on, blinking fitfully through the dusk of evening. Very cool the place seemed. The trees lining the streets breathed repose; the streets themselves, freshly watered, gave off a tang of fresh-laid dust. He put up his wheel at Townsborough’s and arranged for a room for the night.
Mrs. Townsborough was pleasantly facetious. “Long way to wheel for a girl, Paul,” she suggested. “Ain’t there no good-lookin’ ones out your way?”
Paul muttered a reply and ran up to his old room—the one he had had at Collegiate—to brush up. Ossie was there, nose as red as ever, getting ready himself to go out. A banker Ossie was, and a person from whom Paul shrank. He had such an air of knowing the world, such a cynicism about him. Paul could not help squirming inside when Ossie spoke to him.
“Well, going girling again, Paul?”
“Girling!” The word struck at Paul, offended him.
Ossie went on, leering a little as he adjusted a flamboyant tie. “I like your taste anyway. Those red lips. Bet you find her nice to squeeze, eh?”
Paul wanted to smash him, but this, he had thought at Collegiate, this was evidently the way real men of the world talked. You mustn’t show resentment or embarrassment. That would tag you as unsophisticated.
“Seen any shows lately?” he asked to turn the subject. Going to shows and talking about them still gave Paul a thrill. It was so wicked by Eldad’s standards.
“Shows!” said Ossie. “Say, there was a dandy here last week. ‘The Brevity Girls.’ Some pippins! And say, I tell you they were a live bunch. D’you know what they did? After the show they went with Pinky Bradford and that gang down to the Brevoort house . . Paul remembered it, a big deserted spot in the trees near the bridge, “and got pretty gay.”
Paul was shocked yet interested. A secret corner of him wished that he could have been there, watched those women, have had one speak freely to him. What would Nettie—? He broke the thought off abruptly and
started in a panic of haste down the stairs.
Eileen was in the hammock on the verandah. “Hello, so here you are,” she said, as he came up the steps.
She looked lovely tonight, Paul thought, as he took a chair beside her, lovely and so far beyond him. Quick, vivid ways about her, her lips so red. He thought of Ossie and blushed. But how could she be so casual? He had been in agony himself as he neared her home, imagining that all the folks sitting on their verandahs were watching him and commenting on him.
“There goes that Honey boy again,” he had fancied them saying, “going to see Eileen Ainsley.”
It had made him feel so self-conscious, so ridiculous. In Eldad, people always snickered at young folks pairing off. But Eileen didn’t seem to mind even if they were in full view out here. He sat miserably tongue-tied, answering in monosyllables while she rattled on about the weather, about their mutual acquaintances of the year before, about her trip to Preston and her friend Lila there.
But when her tale of news was finished it was worse. She was silent now, too, and the more Paul tried to think of something to say, the more his brain refused to act. He felt as if he had never had an idea in his life, as if he would never have an idea. You could, he told himself, drive a horse and buggy through his brain without raising the trace of a thought. Except about what Ossie had said.
“Like to go down street?” he blurted out desperately. Anything was better than this. So down to the main street they went, to walk aimlessly up and down in the glare of the lights, meeting other couples wandering as aimlessly as themselves. Paul hated it, hated the commonplaces about which he and Eileen were talking, hated the calculating looks from the collegiate girls whom they knew.
“Let’s go into the Olymp,” he suggested as they came in front of its broad plate-glass window again. They went in, past the gauntlet of the boys on the high stools, to the counter, to the dim coolness of the palm room. It was better here. Not so many folks and not so much light. Besides, this was what fellows and girls did. Spending money on a girl. Paul could understand that. He took courage to look at Eileen again, to talk and laugh with her. It was with reluctance that he recognized at length that they must go. He picked up his cap and braced himself for the ordeal. But it wasn’t too bad this time. They were out of the Olymp and on the solitary sidestreets before he knew it. The maples along the way were sighing sentimentally. In the half darkness he ventured to take Eileen’s arm, thrilling at the touch, and sensed an unexpected languor about her. A kiss? He tried to nerve himself. If she were only like Nettie. He stole swift speculative glances at her, talking rapidly and feverishly the while, as if she might guess his intention if he stopped. But he was still nerving himself when they reached her home. There was a street light near, swinging above them, and he released her arm. She stood looking at him for a moment and Paul suddenly resolved to risk it. But even as he made to move toward her she spoke:
“Goodnight, Paul.” The casualness of her voice was like a cold douche to him. “You’ll be over tomorrow, of course,” she went on. “Come over for church, won’t you? And stay for dinner.” She smiled at him and turned to go. “Thanks for the sundae.”
Paul started to walk slowly toward Townsborough's. “Darned idiot,” he called himself. If it had been Nettie . . . Yet, he reflected, Eileen looked on him as her fellow. She must, asking him over for church and dinner. If an Eldad girl did that ... A warm glow filled him as he went into Townsborough’s and crept on tiptoes up the stairs to his room. Ought he, he asked himself, as he finished undressing and turned off the light, ought he to tell Eileen about Nettie? What would he do about Nettie anyway? He cuddled down under the covers and turned over to go to sleep. Unbidden, Ossie’s words leaped in front of him. Flushing guiltily he gave himself over to contemplation.
'T'HAT same evening back at Noice’s a minister—not Eldad’s minister but a strange one from Zion—stood in the stuffy dining room, and by the light of the smoky smelly lamp looked with a vague curiosity at the couple in front of him. Funny, he thought, for the girl to have that hat and veil on. Awful quiet, too. Almost as if she was scared or something. He started leafing over his book. The whole thing was funny, being brought to Eldad at this time of night. He peered at the girl again. So quiet. He had, he told himself, half a mind to have that veil off her.
From behind her the old man who had come after him spoke up. “It’s gittin’ late,” he said.
So it was, the minister was reminded. It would be midnight now before he got back to Zion. And if he ever started an argument. These country folk . . . Why couldn’t they do things sensible?
Finding his place hurriedly he began the ceremony.
TJACK on his way home the next evening, Paul was -L* reliving the events of the day before. Now that the agony of self-consciousness was over, he kept picking out the wonders of the visit. Eileen was such a delightful girl, so pretty, with such dainty ways about her. So different from Nettie. Even her prettiness was of a different sort. Not slow-moving or tired-looking like Nettie, but neat and trim, with a quick and tripping gait. Delicate face, too, mobile with those rosebud lips. And the blue of her eyes! None of that pathos, that depth of uncomprehended misery which he had read in Nettie’s look, about them. Only her hair, it wasn’t so wonderful as those dark and rippling waves through which his fingers had run. He remembered the thrill of it again.
There was something very virginal about Eileen, though; in her frank boyishness, in her casual comradeship. So feminine, too! He remembered how she had looked when he had gazed at her covertly in church, the yellow morning light pouring in across the audience, that clean, morning look about and on everyone, a tenor in the choir singing in a pure remote voice
“The valley of peace,
The beautiful valley,
The valley of peace.”
His heart had moved in a great surge of worship toward her. He would never forget that moment though he didn’t know it now, the look of the place, the sound of the voice, and Eileen’s face—a cameo of memory. Oh, you could not compare her and Nettie.
Yet Nettie—he was coming down Noice’s hill now— she did have such a rotten time. Poor girl! And how she had melted in his arms. She must have loved him. Perhaps it wasn’t her fault. Perhaps she hadn’t been able to get out to League after all. It would only be fair to see her, Paul thought, to find out how she felt, whether she really liked him. He looked in at Noice’s house as he passed. There was a light there. Perhaps she was there at the table thinking of him. The sentimentality of the thought touched him. He resolved to try to see her this next week, to make sure of intercepting her, even to risk running into old Noice again. He got on his wheel at the foot of the hill and pedalled on.
Home, and blinking a little into the circle of light. Everybody was reading. Dad, feet upon the oven—the force of habit—glasses on, Jean and Bruce at their novels, his mother putting dishes away. They looked up as he entered.
“Hello, everybody,” he said, and went on to kiss his mother. He came out into the dining room again.
“How’s everything, sis?” he asked, sitting down by Jean.
“Fine,” she answered, and then, marking her place in her book, she looked at him a little strangely. “You didn’t hear the news, did you?” she enquired.
“Why, no. What news?”
“Net Noice and Pete. They were married last night.”
Paul was a man of stone. A voice, he was surprised to hear it but it must be his own, said, “Well, I’ll be darned! How did that happen?”
“Old Noice made her. And the old brute—he cut off her hair.”
“Her hair?” Paul’s voice said. That lovely hair—you ran your fingers through it, his other self told him.
“Yes.” His sister’s voice grew warm with anger. “Isn’t he a beast? If that’s his religion ...”
Paul could not say any more. His whole power was taken up in holding himself unmoved. He mustn’t show what he was feeling to his folks. But he couldn’t sit still. He got up and walked over to the side-table, started to finger the books there. His sister watched him go and turned sedulously to her novel.
Her hair! The brute! A fury of rage shook Paul. He ground his teeth, then looked about him hastily to see if anyone had noticed. No one had, apparently. They were all so placid reading there and he so shaken. You would have thought they would have seen. Last night! And he so happy dreaming about Eileen. Squint-eyed Pete gloating.
“Kind of sleepy,” that voice of his said. “Guess I’ll turn in.” No one commented or made a sign, not his father or his sister or his mother when he kissed them good night. He closed the door behind him on his way upstairs with a sense of relief.
Married! Why hadn’t he done something, he reproached himself, gone to see her, rung her up? Too late now. That was a knell. Old Noice! Religion! That was what he had, they said. He reached his room and sat down on the bed. If that was religion—He clenched his fist. It was cruel—and he hated cruelty. What was the sense of hurting folks—of hurting Nettie?
No good now, his other self mocked him. Heavily he got undressed, blew out the light, lay there staring at the blackness in the grip of vain regrets, until by subtle degrees day dreams crept upon him, scenes in which he showed Pete up and rescued Nettie. He fell asleep.
A FEW days later Mr. Honey walked ■2 over from threshing at MacNab’s to ¡reo Mr. Noice. The old man was ploughing in his alsike ground, and the earth, Mr. Honey noted, was coming up in great cracked chunks.
“Too dry,”he thought, kicking at one of the lumps as he waited for the old man’s team to come down the furrow. Mr. Noice was shouting at his horses, bawling to them as if mere volume would force them to understand; slashing, too, at their steaming sides with the rope lines, oblivious, apparently, of his visitor.
As the team came abreast of him Mr. Honey stepped forward.
“Good day, Richard,” he said. The horses stopped automatically at the sound of his voice. Old Noice, still leaning on his plough handles, looked up from under the tufts of his eyebrows but made no answer.
“I wanted,” Mr. Honey went on, “to see you about the ruction we had.”
The old man straightened up, pointed to the fence, his eyes still on Mr. Honey’s face.
“Git Off my place,” he said, strangely quiet.
“I’m willing,” Mr. Honey urged, “to let bygones be bygones. After all we belong to the same church.”
“Church!” the old man said still quietly. “B’aint no church. Git off my place.”
Mr. Honey took a step or two toward the road, decided to try again.
“I should think—” he began.
“Thee beat me, Jim Honey,” the old man flared, dropping his lines and taking a step toward him. “Thee beat me. But bide a bit, I tell ’ee, bide a bit.”
“It was your mistake,” Mr. Honey started to say, but Noice was off in full torrent.
“Thee beat me,” he shouted, “but I saved my dahter.” He spat. “Yer son wanted her,” he mocked. “He can’t have her. Not now.”
“If,” Mr. Honey said very sternly, “you call treating her like you did saving her. Cutting off her hair, marrying her to . . .” He stopped, fought down his anger. “Did you call that Christian, Mr. Noice?” he asked.
“Christian!” the old man raved. “Christian !” “ ’Ee talk about what’s Christian ! Son of Belial!” he spat. “Spawn of Satan!”
“I see,” Mr. Honey said, turning to go, “we won’t get any further.”
“Nor ever will!” shouted the old man, stumbling across the ploughed ground after him as he went, shaking a trembling fist at him. “Nor ever will ! Thee beat me. But wait,” shaking his fist, “bide a bit.”
“Mr. Honey got over the snake fence and took a last look at Mr. Noice standing in the middle of the ploughed field, still shouting incoherently, his bowed legs trembling in their patched overalls, his long beard fluttering.
“I guess,” he told himself, as he started down the road, “that was a mistake. But you couldn’t tell.”
AUTUMN had come. The grain was 2L au cut and packed, load on load, into every nook and corner of the big barn. Potatoes, too, were in. A back-breaking job this, on hands and knees, grubbing the tubers out of the ridges the plough had turned up, carrying pailfuls of them laboriously over the waggon, to hear them roll later like distant thunder down the chute into the potato bin.
Everything about smelled of autumn, the faint haze of the horizon, the stubble standing out forlornly, bleached by frequent rains, waiting for the plough to cover its nakedness, lamenting, Paul imagined, the heavy-headed crops of wheat and oats and barley which had rippled so joyously under the summer sky; the maples, too, showing here and there tentative touches of color, like a country girl timidly essaying her first touch of rouge.
Yes, autumn was here. But that did not spoil the beauty of things, Paul thought, looking up from his work at the top end of the twenty-acre field to gaze over the drooping green leaves of the mangolds and turnips, and over the stubble beyond them toward his home, there on the opposite slope of the little valley made by Grierson’s creek. A bright sun was on it. Behind were the maples of Campbell’s woods to pastel its background with color. So beautiful! Paul thought again, trying to put a picture of it on his memory, to put a picture there, too, of the decrepit, vine-clad log house in which they had lived until so recently—remembering that he was off to college on the evening train.
It was a little sad to leave home and to leave his folks, he reflected, as they started another stook, fitting the first sheaves into the corners made by the long nose of the horse and the stick thrust at right angles through it. It was so happy here even if the work was hard. Why, he couldn’t have been contented on the farm? But there were those long winters —each day like the next, interminable chores, a dead round of monotony. And college—he looked forward to it eagerly, to reliving all those experiences of last year when, like stars from a rocket, green, purple and yellow, a new firmament had burst upon him. Tennis in the golden autumn days, rugby in the great stadium, one of thousands shouting on a Saturday afternoon, hockey in the arena when the snow howled so forlornly over the desolate fields of the country; the library, too, and the joy of finding out things. There was the club as well, and his friends, Alec and Steve and the rest. It would be great to see them again.
Yes, he was as ever torn between two desires—desire to be with his people, and desire for this newer world. And, he thought, he would after all be even more eager to get to college this year—after the turmoil of emotion through which he had passed this summer. Nettie, married to that Squint-eyed Pete ! He looked over to the Northwest—across there, four miles beyond that rolling slope, was where she lived. He hadn’t seen her again—would never see her again, he supposed. “Tears, idle tears,” he repeated softly to himself, tears coming to his own eyes, enjoying, though he did not dream of it, his own misery.
And yet, there was still Eileen. Funny how in her presence he seemed to forget Nettie. How could a man be so inconsistent? Was there, he wondered, something wrong with him? Was he peculiar? He dallied with this thought, then turned to the consideration of Eileen again. He hadn’t, after all, got much further with her than before. He jammed a sheaf of corn down viciously. The way she went about with other fellows and laughed when he tried to talk about it! Somehow, he sensed, she didn’t take him seriously. Why? he wondered. There had been the torture of that visit when he had arrived to find another fellow, Booth Fraser, calling on her, and had sat there stubbornly, saying nothing, white with anger, until Booth left. But Eileen hadn’t seemed to notice. She even talked about the times she had been out with Booth that summer. Did she, he asked himself, care for him at all? He wished he could think of some way to impress her. He thought over various plans. Day dreams, these were at first. Enlisting, for instance. Eileen, he knew, would be impressed by that. Booth Fraser was talking of joining up—“Easy enough for him,” his father had said when he mentioned it. “He’s got lots of pull. Get a commission any time.” With a sigh he turned to practical considerations and reflected about college. The reception—that was it! He’d ask her to that! He jammed a butt down triumphantly.
“Five o’clock,” his father said. “Guess we’d better go in and get ready.”
“All right, dad.”
Silently the two walked down the path to the gate, silently they passed over the bridge, each full of emotion they did not know how to express—were, in fact, ashamed to express. Mr. Honey stopped. "I’ll get the rig,” he said, and turned off to the barn.
Paul went into the house to find his mother and his sister busy packing up. They explained things to him.
“There’s your winter underwear.”
“Do you think there’s room for a few apples?”
“Be sure and wear that flannel on your chest.”
Paul assented in monosyllables, more affected than he would have cared to admit. He went upstairs to change and came down for a hasty meal—too excited to eat more than a mouthful.
“There’s a lunch,” his mother said, “in your suitcase.”
His father hustled in. “Time to be off,” he remarked with forced cheerfulness, and the two of them, Bruce helping, roped the trunk and bound it securely to the back of the buggy. Leave-takings—a shake of the hand with Bruce, “Take care of yourself, old man.” A fleeting kiss from his sister—“So long, Jean !”—and his mother’s embrace. Not a word here, only Paul felt her strain him to her for a moment, then, as if ashamed of her own emotion, she let him go. He hesitated, caught her again abruptly, kissed her cheek, picked up his suitcase and went out.
Up on Noice’s hill he looked back for a moment. A mile behind, the eyes of his home—gleaming with the rays of the setting sun—looked, he fancied, reproachfully at him. “I’ll be back,” he reminded himself aloud, “at Christmas.”
“Sure you will, son.”
The long drive to the station was over, the trunk was checked, everything was in order. Paul and his father stood on the platform.
“Well, I won’t wait, son.”
A grip of the hand, a sudden kiss in which mustache and stubble brushed against Paul’s cheek. His father was gone.
Five minutes later, like a snorting Moloch, the train came roaring in. Paul got aboard.
Three hours later, carrying his suitcase, he made his way up the stairs to the main hall of the Union Station. Alec was there, as he had said he would be. A clasp of the hand—“How are you, old scout?” and Paul felt the edges of the new envelope fitting around him. The farm was years away.
“I’ve got a spot for us,” said Alec, “until the club opens. Up on Breadalbane.” He dug his fingers into Paul’s ribs. “There’s a pretty girl, there, old scarlet face,” he added.
Paul laughed and heaved on his suitcase. They fared forth to find a street-car.
VXTELL, I’ll see,” Eileen said. “Ring ** me up later.”
“Who was that?” her sister asked, looking up from her absorption in the latest novel.
“Booth Fraser,” Eileen told her, coming in and stretching herself out in an easychair.
“What did he want?”
“Oh! Just wanted me to go to the pictures tonight.”
“Well, why don’t you?”
“Oh! I don’t know. Don’t feel like it.” “You’d be silly,” said her sister, “not to go. Once boys get the notion . . .” “Well,” Eileen replied defensively, “I’d just as soon go with Evelyn or Mary.”
“That’s not the point,” Etta answered closing her book. “It’s all right now, but Evelyn and Mary’ll soon get paired off. You’ll soon find out that having a good time means having lots of boys. I ought to know,” she added bitterly.
“I don’t see why,” Eileen declared. “Boys are all right, but I’d just as soon go with girls. And why girls can’t have a good time without bothering with boys.” “They don’t,” Etta pronounced. “That’s always at the back of their heads—with girls. Look here, kid,” she went on, sitting up, “you watch your step. You’re pretty, and you can have lots of boys running around with you. I never did, just because,” she laughed—“I’m homely.” “You’re not homely,” Eileen said quickly.
“No?” said Etta and laughed again. “Don’t I know it! But you take my advice.”
“Well, perhaps I will. There’s,” Eileen hesitated, spoke diffidently., “there’s Paul Honey, though.”
“That country bumpkin!” her sister said scornfully. “I’ll bet his folks are poorer than poverty. What you can see in him . . .”
“They’re not poor,” Eileen answered defensively. “Besides he’s clever and he’s at college.”
“You’d never know it. Acts like a camel trying to be playful. Anyway, why should he make you cut out all your friends?”
“I guess I don’t need to, only he seems to act like—” she stopped.
“Like as if he wanted you to ditch them, eh?” Etta finished the sentence for her. “Well, don’t let him; that’s all. See here,” she leaned forward, “you’re just a kid. It’ll be years before you’ll be thinking anything serious. And he’s away at college. Are you going to cut out all your chances of having a good time—stay home like a bump on a log?”
Eileen thought it over. “I suppose there’s no reason to,” she said slowly.
“None in the world. Look at Jack Carnes and Helen Hazelwood. Look at any two you know. They don’t mind going out with other folks. You go tonight.”
“I guess,” Eileen said reluctantly, “I might as well.”
Etta took a look at her, pondering the matter, started to speak, checked herself, and returned to her reading.
LATE that night Booth Fraser and 4 Eileen stopped under the trees on the sidewalk in front of Eileen’s home, the lights flickering above them. The steps of another late pedestrian sounded briskly a block or two away; down in the yards an engine was puffing and snorting, thick choked snorts, in the foolish way engines have, not able to make up its mind, apparently, whether to go backward or forward.
“Well, thanks, Booth,” Eileen said. “It was a lovely picture.”
“Glad you liked it. We’ll take in another one some time. Not that there’s much to do here. Are you going out to the lake any more this fall?”
“I think so. In a week or two.”
“I’ll be out myself. What say we take a whirl in the motorboat some night?” “Fine,” said Eileen absently.
“And we might have a spin in the old man’s car.”
“Fine,” Eileen said again, starting to move away. “Good night, Booth.”
“Well, what,” said Booth, staring after her, “do you know about that?” He started down the street, lit a cigarette, laughed. “After all, she’s pretty,” he told himself.
ISABELLA STREET runs off Yonge Street near Bloor, a street with houses of all sorts. Many of them take in boarders. Universities, after all, have more uses than one. And so have university students, troublesome though they may be, tearing up and dôwn stairs, shouting their senseless songs, playing their violent, silly tricks, laughing at everything.
Nor did 213 Isabella Street differ much from its neighbors. It was of brick like them, and like many of them it shared its nondescript, dingy architecture with another half—for it was a semi-detached house. But 213 Isabella was dignified above its neighbors. It housed a students’ club—a students’ eating-club. A group of thirty or so composed this club, drawn together not by community of ideals or faculties, but by a common hunger. There were Meds in it, always busy dissecting some stiff over again with intimate anatomical details as they tore their meat apart; there were theologs from Vic professing a somewhat staider gait—but wait, hinted the knowing ones—until some deviltry was afoot; rude S.P.S. men, too, with their scorn for culture, and the Arts students, and Dents and Forestry and the rest. A hodgepodge from all the faculties and the more interesting for it.
Nor were the individuals any the less diverse, Paul thought, as he looked about him at dinner, two weeks from the time he had reached Toronto. There was Bill Porteous across from him, one of three Newfoundland theologs from Cat Harbor, rotund, stately, setting each foot down with a solidity that impressed, but with a rollicking laugh and a genius for puns. Next him sat Alec Shore, rotund, too, but small, with a brisk way and a knowing way—a capital vintner Alec would have made. Farther down the table crouched Steve Powers, stocky, black-haired, his eager hook-nosed face bearing an air of silent, repressed strength. Steve was the leader of the Government in the Students’ Parliament, and to Paul a person to be regarded with awe. He was so palpably one of the world’s great men. A man of many affairs, too. It seemed only reasonable that he should be the club’s buyer, dealing mysteriously behind the scenes with butchers and bakers, keeping tab on the man and wife and daughter whom he had hired to cook and wait on table. The daughter offended Paul; he kept wishing that her pimples weren’t quite so prominent, and feeling that it was scarcely polite to take notice of them. Steve, though, was much too busy to worry about pimples. He always ate like this, crouched over his food as if he was afraid it would escape him. Close to him was another type, John Gunn, a Med and the greatest arguer in the club. Arguing was the breath of life to him, and Paul felt rather shy of him and of Bentley Dickson as well. This last was a theolog, but one, they said, with dangerous views, radical views. There were many others, too, folks who were, years later, to win fame, to make Paul marvel that he had sat at the same table with them without suspecting them.
But to Paul at this time they were not, as they might have been to a sentimental outsider, “Canada’s future leaders!” “the men who would guide the ship of state.” He had no thought of them being men with portentous futures. To him they were fellow students, fellow club-members engaged just now with him in tearing some tough beef apart, carrying on half a dozen little arguments up and down the long table, cracking jokes, having a hilarious time with the consciousness of a relaxation before afternoon labs and lectures began again.
Paul, too, felt the relaxation, enjoyed the atmosphere, seemed to lose part of that infernal self-consciousness of his. It was an effort, indeed, here to call up pictures of home, to think of his folks, or of Nettie and her father. They all seemed far away, remote, except on Sundays, when the day dragged, even with long walks and the discussion group which met upstairs. Eileen thought—thoughts of her were easier to evoke. Besides, he would see her again soon, he reflected. She was coming up for the reception this week. Who, he wondered, would he get to promenade with her? Alec, of course.
“I tell you, Bentley,” a shout of Gunn’s above the general tumult broke into his thoughts; Gunn was hammering the table with his fork handle as he spoke. “I tell you, it’s as easy as pie. All these virtues the preachers rave about. How did they start? Selfishness, I tell you, selfishness. Take unselfishness. It started as selfishness if you analyze it.”
The table was all attention for the moment.
“Gunn chasing the poor old paradox again,” remarked Porteous.
“Paradox or not,” said Gunn, turning his attention to him, “you’ve got to admit what I’ve been telling Bentley. Virtues are tribal virtues. The tribe gets together and says, ‘Whatever is for the good of the tribe, that’s virtue, and whatever’s against it, that’s vice.’ Even a wolf pack knows that.”
“Maybe,” said Bentley. “But who wants to live like a wolf pack?”
The table dissolved once more into a turmoil of little arguments and anecdotes. Gunn’s outburst was forgotten. After all, it had only been one of those innumerable explosions which were as much a part of the meal for these students as the tough beef before them. Exercise for their minds great discoveries for puppies let out of the cellar for the first time, and just as necessary to their growing up.
But Paul, isolated for the moment in the eddy of conversation about him, did not dismiss what Gunn had said so lightly. These ideas might be old stuff for the others. But they were still new to him. Where he had been brought up no one had ever questioned these things. Unselfishness, chastity, prohibition, the Bible, these were taken for granted. Paul had supposed that everyone believed in them, and his first year in college— studying hard in an isolated room—had done little to enlighten him. Yet here, he thought to himself, fellows discussed them so casually. What the folks down home would have thought—he grinned as he started to eat his dessert of stewed plums —he’d like to watch William Arthur’s face or Old Noice’s, if they had been listening to this . . .
“Drive the cow up,” someone was shouting. Paul passed the milk mechanically and came back to his reflections. Take miracles. They were always spouting about them down home—the passage of the Red Sea, the widow’s cruse, you would think, he told himself, remembering the testimonies in fellowship meeting, that Old Noice had been present in person at all of them.
But here—look at the way Gunn and Bentley had slashed at miracles in the discussion group upstairs last Sunday, how they had clamored at fat Bill Porteous, when he had admitted that miracles might possibly be kicked out of the Old Testament, but had wanted to retain them for the New; how they had talked of things of which Paul had never heard—oral transmission, uncanonized gospels, borrowings from Mithraism . . .
And to think, Paul reminded himself as he fished out a toothpick from a mug on the table that he had almost refused to go, and said that he’d had enough of prayer meetings. Prayer meetings were as dull as ditchwater—but this discussion group, and what Old Noice would think of it?
He got up from the table and walked through the old-fashioned sitting room into the hall, the stale smell of the dining room following him. Suppose, he asked himself, as he started to climb the stairs to his room, suppose these fellows were
right? Suppose the miracles hadn’t happened. Suppose you could criticize the Bible as you could Tacitus, say, or Thucydides? He felt a surge of elation. Was that what the prof, had meant when he had said, “Follow the argument whithersoever it leads?” If so, no more locked doors; find out about things, everything—
He stood at his window looking across the littered backyard scorched by the noon sun, at the houses beyond the odorous back lane. Over there was where Camilla lived. He began to speculate about her. She was tall and dark and queerly silent. Her mother and she had just moved in from West Hill, so they said, and were trying desperately to make a go of it by keeping boarders. Alec and he had stayed there for the week before the club had opened. There was something strange about the family, he felt. The mother was so tragic-looking, Camilla so silent, and her brother was a white-faced young man whose eyes had an air of insolent knowledge about them. Paul wondered about them again, impressed by how little one comes to know of people one meets, of how their real self eludes one, of how one touches only the fringe of their consciousness and thoughts —like blindfold boxers searching for each other and, when they do touch, hitting they know not what, not knowing if they have inflicted hurt or why or how . . .
He had gone back to see Camilla just the once. They had taken in a show and, on coming back to the house she had invited him in. No one was in the parlor and the room was dark except for the street lights glimmering in through the window. She had sat on the sofa saying nothing. As the faint light flickered on her face Paul had seen an expectant look, a mysterious smile, and had been clutched by embarrassment. He had tried first one subject and then another. But she would not talk; was almost, he had imagined, smiling at him for trying to talk. In panic he had got up, found his hat and left.
What had she wanted? he asked himself again now. She couldn’t have expected him to kiss her when he had only known her for a week. And yet—he blushed at his thoughts. Hurriedly he turned from the window, gathered his books and went down the stairs two at a time, to walk sedately to Yonge Street, across it, and up St. Mary’s to where the arch of Burwash Hall admitted him to the college grounds.