THE TESTING OF JEROME MARTELL
Shivering with cold and fright, Jerome crouched under the bed. His mother was dead; now her murderer hunted him. Could a ten-year-old boy conquer his own fear and find freedom?
Jerome Martell will soon join that select band of fictional Canadians created by the brilliant Montreal novelist Hugh MacLennan. He is the principal character in MacLennan's new novel, The Watch That Ends the Night, which will be published early next year by the Macmillan Company. Spanning forty years, it is the largest novel in scope that the author has attempted. In this self-contained excerpt from the novel, the narrator, George Stewart, sets down the story of Jerome’s boyhood in a New' Brunswick logging camp and of the three days when his life hung in the balance. ©Hugh MacLennan 1958
know that part of
New Brunswick now. 1 have driven through it and flown over it and looking down from the aircraft 1 have seen those steely rivers winding through the sombre green of the spruce and the outcroppings of rock and sometimes on a fine day, looking down from 14,000 feet in the TCA aircraft, I have seen a
sort of shimmering in the green mat of the land and recognized it as sunshine reflected upward through the trees from the water of thin swamps. I also know those little fishing ports and lumber towns along the Gulf shore and in my mind 1 can smell them. Such ripe combination of smells they give out: balsam, lobster pots, drying fish, oakum, new lumber, bilge and stench of fish-offal on beaches under umbrellas of screaming gulls. But inland, even four miles inland in that country, there is no sense of ocean at all, but only of this primeval forest of spruce with the tangle of deadfalls and the sound-absorbing carpet of spruce needles that have accumulated over the centuries. The rivers run through it teeming with trout and salmon; and moose, bear, deer and all the northern animals large and small are at home in the tangle of trees. So are the blackflies and mosquitoes in the spring, and in winter so is the snow. In winter this whole land is like Siberia.
The camp where Jerome lived was an old one; for all 1 know men worked there a century and a half ago when the Royal Navy harvested this forest for masts. He grew up in a works-barracks where his mother was the cook and almost the only woman; almost the only woman because, so Jerome said, it is impossible for a body of men to be located anywhere without at least a few women finding them.
The testing of JEROME MARTELL continued
“You must be sure you are telling the truth,” she said. “He hit her and killed her,” the boy repeated
The camp lay on the left bank of one of the larger rivers and was bordered by a branch of quieter water flowing down through the woods from the north. Around a barn-shaped cookhouse in the centre of a chip-covered clearing were the log bunkhouses of the lumberjacks, a stable for horses and an unpainted shack housing a stationary engine which drove the power saws. When Jerome was a boy the first motorboat appeared on the river.
Those days are gone in Canada. Now the lumbermen eat fresh meat and fare reasonably well, and in some camps they tell me they sleep between sheets. But in those days it was pork and beans, scouse and salted horse and lime juice against the scurvy, it was boils and the savagery of melancholy temper which comes when men live and eat like that. The workmen wore red and black mackinaws and caps, broad leather belts and oiled leather top boots with metal hooks for the laces, and Jerome told me that some of them could be utterly silent for days and would never talk unless there was drink in them. Then they talked violently and fought. Rum got into the camp, smuggled up the river, and raw alcohol and essence of lemon, and when the liquor came the fights broke out.
“Those fights were a substitute for sex,” Jerome said. “That greedy look of a crowd of sex-hungry men watching a fight. It’s in us, George. It’s in us.”
There was no school in the camp, no store or church or any other boys for Jerome to play with, and when he was a child he thought this was how it was for all children, for he knew nothing different. Yet in a way he was privileged, not only because he was the only boy but because his mother was the principal woman.
He lived w'ith her in the kitchen attached to the eating barn, the bedroom they shared being a narrow' room back off the kitchen, and not even the foreman could enter their quarters without his mother’s permission. She was absolute ruler of the kitchen, and more than once she drove men out of it by throwing boiling wafer at them or threatening them
with a carving knife. At meals the men lined up outside in the main cookhouse with tin plates in their hands, and Jerome, helping his mother inside, would watch her ladling out the food from the big pot and dispensing it to each man as he held his plate through the hole in the wall between the kitchen and the eating barn itself. It was in this posture that he best remembered her: a short, square, powerful woman with moist beefy arms and a bead of sweat around the line of her yellow hair.
"That’s what I meant by saying I don’t know who I am.” said Jerome. “I don’t know anything about my mother at all. Where did she come from? I don’t know. Was she local? Somehow' 1 don’t think so. A Balt? A Norwegian or a Swede? Somehow' I think she was a Balt though I don’t know. Who was my father? He’d disappeared long before I could remember anything about him. I don’t suppose he was ever married to my mother, but he may have been.”
It haunted Jerome that he did not know her surname. The men called her "Anna” or "Mrs. Anna” and he remembered her presence in certain smells like porridge and salt codfish and the strong yellow soap they call Surprise Soap in the Maritime provinces. She had a wide straight mouth with thin lips, and as his own lips were rather full, and his stiff hair was dark brown while his mother’s had been yellow, he had conjured up a picture of his unknown begetter as a swarthy man, Portuguese in his swarthiness, surly, haughty and sly, and probably quick with a knife. But this was pure fantasy, for nobody ever told him what his father was like and his mother never mentioned his name.
A red-headed giant, a French Canadian whom Jerome liked, built tiny ship models inside bottles, and it was he who built Jerome's first canoe. It must have been one of the strangest canoes ever made, for it was boy-size, its strakes of varnished birchbark, its frame of thin pine, and there were air cans under the thwarts to keep it afloat if it capsized. When the river was open, Jerome used to paddle in the branch and go considerable distances into the forest, but he was never allowed to take the canoe into the main stream that poured down in front of the camp, for the current was so strong he could never have paddled back against it.
"My mother.” he said once. “I still dream about her sometimes and usually it’s a nightmare. Whoever she was, she must have had character, for she was the queen of the camp and make no mistake about it. She had power over those men, and the power went far past her control of their food. It came out of something inside of her that used to frighten me. Did she love me? I'm sure she thought she did. She was as possessive as a female bear with a cub, and I never had to worry about being molested by the men with her there. She’d have taken the carving knife to any man who so much as looked at me sideways. She hated men as a group and she despised them, too. ‘They're no good,’ she used to say I don’t know how many times. ‘All they want is one thing. That and drink is all they want. And they're all the same.’ ”
continued on page 54
The testing of Jerome Martell continued from page 18
My mother had power over those men, and the
power went far past her control of their food”
Cyclically, this man-hating female required a man, and when she wanted one she took him. There would be weeks when she cooked for them and hardly noticed them, or bothered to answer them when they spoke, and then Jerome would see a certain look on her face and await the night with dread.
“The nights she had a man in were bad nights for me. I was always afraid. I’d be asleep—I used to sleep in the same bed with her — and I’d wake up with her carrying me out of the bedroom in her arms. She used to put me down on a paillasse she kept beside the stove in the kitchen and she left me there under a blanket with the dog. Sometimes when the man went away she’d take me back to bed with her, and when that happened I’d lie awake all night. But generally she left me till morning under the blanket with the dog.”
It was Jerome’s last year in the camp, the year he was a husky boy of ten withthe strength and robustness of a boy of thirteen that he remembered best. What happened before that last year he could hardly remember at all, but the last year was vivid.
“There was a man that winter,” he said, “that used to frighten me the way a snake frightens me now. There was nothing snakelike about his appearance, but there was a look in his eye, the way he had of looking at everybody. He never talked at all, and when he drank he drank sullenly. We all called him the Engineer because he was in charge of the stationary engine and he was the only man in the camp who could keep the motorboat in repair. He was dark and lean and he had this queer drawn look in his face, and he used to carry a spanner wherever he went as though it proved he wasn't an ordinary lumberjack like the rest of them. He carried it in a loop attached to his pants and he even wore it to meals. Maybe he even slept with it.
“One March morning the Engineer said something to me while I was watching him work on the engine. I used to be fascinated by the engine and I would have watched more if I hadn't been afraid of him. All he said was, ‘I want to eat pancakes tonight. Tell your old lady I want to eat pancakes and syrup.'
“So I went back into the kitchen and told her the Engineer wanted to eat pancakes and syrup, and when she made them I knew I’d soon be seeing him in the kitchen.”
But soon turned out to be quite a long
time, for the Engineer stayed solitary all through the long spring breakup and through all of April into early May. When the ice went out they' floated the logs down in two big drives, the long timber logs going first and the short pitprops following. As soon as the logs were in the river, most of the men left camp and went back to their farms for the spring work. One of the men who remained was the Engineer, for there was still a large pile of logs to be cut into lengths for pit-props.
It began peacefully, Jerome’s last night in the camp. All day long the forest had been hot. Suppertime came and there were pancakes and syrup to follow the pork and beans.
After the men had eaten, in the long spring evening just six weeks from the June solstice, they sat down in the clearing and watched the sun roll down out of sight into the forest. The accordion man took his place on the cookhouse steps and played song after song. Jerome’s mother came out in her apron and leaned in the doorway of the cookhouse listening to the singing; finally it fell dark and one by one the tired men got up and drifted off to the bunkhouse to sleep. When Jerome went to bed it was much later than his usual hour and the camp was so still the only sounds were the singing of frogs and the slow sigh of the river in flood.
HE guessed it was an hour before midnight when he woke in his mother’s arms, his hands about her neck and his chest against her warm, heavy breasts. His face was still hot from the sun and his ears were swollen and hot from the blackfly bites and he woke so slowly it was only when the spaniel nuzzled and licked his face that he opened his eyes. He saw moonlight pouring into the kitchen in three separate shafts through the three high windows that faced the moon, and between those shafts of light he saw the Engineer standing still. The bedroom door opened. Then the man followed her in and the door closed.
This time the encounter was different. The Engineer he had feared so much began talking in a low, earnest stream of conversation, talking about himself and how lonely he was and how wretched was his life, and how different everything would be if she would go away with him. Jerome could only partly hear his words, and hardly any of them could he remember, but he knew that of all the lonely men in the camp this was the loneliest of all, and he yearned for some gentleness to come into his mother’s voice in place of the withholding silence or the sneer he was afraid would come if the Engineer continued to talk like this. He wanted the Engineer to break through his mother’s refusal to some kindness inside, to some safe kindness inside.
After a while the Engineer stopped talking. Soon Jerome heard his mother's voice flare in a jeer of unspeakable contempt.
He heard the man groan and cry something out, and then he heard his mother mock and scorn him, and Jerome remembered thinking: “Don’t let her treat you like that. Engineer! Please, please, please do something to make her stop treating you like that!”
The Engineer did. Suddenly his voice changed as the woman drove back his longing for tenderness into the pride and hatred Jerome had feared in him all winter. The man began to curse the woman in a stream of obscenity using every word Jerome had ever heard the men apply to the women they called whores. There was a short struggle, the pant of his mother’s breath, then a loud smack as she hit him across the face and Jerome thought: “Please, please don't let her !o that again!"
What happened next was as sudden as a bottle exploding. Jerome and the dog sprang up together at the scream of enraged fear that came from his mother. Something bumped and fell in the bedroom, there was a heave of bodies, then the crack — crack — crack of hard fists driven expertly home. This was followed by a yelp from the man, a gasp of pain, then a crunching shock more terrible than a fist blow'. Then silence.
This silence, as abrupt and profound as the end of the world, was soon filled with a multitude of sweet noises. Mating frogs w'ere singing high and happy in the night, so loud and high that the w'hole kitchen was filled with their joy. Then came another sound, the sobbing breath of a frightened man in agony.
Jerome put his hand on the knob of the bedroom door and pulled it open. He saw the Engineer bent double clutching his groin. Beyond the Engineer’s hunched body he saw the shape of his mother's covered body on the bed, but the hunched man was between the boy and her face.
It was the dog who betrayed Jerome’s presence. Whining into the room, the spaniel rubbed against the man's legs and made him turn. The Engineer gasped, his face came around distorted with his sick pain and horrible with the knowledge of what he himself had just done. But he saw Jerome and recognized him, and the moment he saw him he plunged. The boy dodged back and the Engineer stumbled and hit the floor with a crash, his spanner rattling away from his right hand. On the floor the Engineer looked up, his mouth shut, his violence as silent as that of a fish in the sea.
Jerome turned to run, escaped from the room, reached the kitchen door, felt the dog against his legs and had the presence of mind to push him back before he himself went out. He closed the door behind him and with his nightshirt fluttering and his feet bare he ran across the moonlit, chip-strewn clearing into the darkness of the forest. When he was in the trees the undergrowth began cutting his bare feet; he stopped and lay flat.
Nothing moved in the clearing. The long cookhouse with the two metal pipes that served as chimneys stood silent, its sloping roof whitened by the moon, its walls dark, its windows glittering like gun metal. He heard the sigh and gurgle of the river as it poured among the tree trunks along the flooded banks, but there was no sound of men and no light from any of the bunkhouses.
With the instinct of an animal Jerome got up and changed his position, slinking through the shadows among the stumps at the edge of the forest fringe to a place he knew about thirty feet away. He found it. a depression in the ground about ten feet from the edge of the moonlight, and lay down and scooped pine needles over himself to conceal the whiteness of his shirt and skin. Lying flat and stiff with his chin in his hands and his elbows in the needles, he stared at the kitchen door and listened to the pounding of his heart.
The Engineer was only ten feet away when Jerome first saw him. He was skirting the forest fringe with the spanner in his hand, staring into the darkness of the trees and stopping to take quick looks behind him. He wore no cap. his mackinawshirt was open and in the moonlight Jerome saw the splash of dark hair rising out of his shirt to his throat. The man stopped directly in front of him and Jerome kept his head down, pressing his face into the needles, the needles itching in his hair. Once he lifted his eyes and saw the man's feet and noticed they were small feet even in those high leather boots. There was a crunch of bracken as the man entered the woods, one of his boots came down within a yard of Jerome’s head, but the Engineer was staring into the total darkness of the forest and did not look down at his feet. In the cool air of the night Jerome could hear the man pant and thought he could feel the heat of his body. The boots turned and went back out of the forest into the clearing and as they crunched farther away Jerome looked up and saw a man’s shoulders go around the corner of the cookhouse and down the path to the bunkhouses.
“I knew for certain that he was after me. He was putting himself between me and the men asleep in the bunkhouse. He knew 1 couldn't get around through the woods without making a noise. He knew the path was the only way I could hope to go.’’
Jerome wondered if he ought to call out. but he knew how hard the men slept and he knew who would be the first to hear him. In any case he was too frightened to call.
Jerome lay still until he began to shiver and when the shivering came it was so violent it seemed to shake the ground. It was like being tied up in the cords of his own muscles shaking the earth so that everyone living on it must know where to find him.
Getting to his feet, he beat the pine needles off his nightshirt and scraped some more of them out of his hair. He stepped slowly out of the forest into the moonlight. He stopped, waiting for the man to appear and give chase, but the only sound he heard was the pounding of his own heart and the only man he saw was the man in the moon.
With his nightshirt fluttering, the boy ran across the clearing, opened the kitchen door and went in. This time he forgot about the dog. who jumped outside and ran away before Jerome could close the door.
Inside the bedroom the blind was drawn and the darkness was total. Jerome found the match box, lit the lamp and turned to look. His mother’s body lay like a sack under the blankets because the Engineer had covered her and pulled the blind before going out.
A step creaked outside and Jerome froze. He blew out the lamp and turned to run into the darkness of the cookhouse where there were tables to hide under, but he was too late. The kitchen door creaked open and he crawled under the bed and crouched there against the wall with the sag of the spring just over his head.
The man entered and when Jerome heard him sniff, he knew he was smelling the snuffed wick of the lamp. When the man lit a match if was like an explosion of sound and light simultaneously, but the man did not carry the match to the lamp. Jerome saw his boots standing by the bed as the light slowly died. Then darkness again. Then the Engineer let out a slow, choking sob and went away. Jerome heard his feet go away noisily, heard him bump into a chair in the kitchen, open the door and leave.
Years afterward he still remembered that this was the first of many occasions when a sudden clear-headed coolness came to him after moments of paralyzing terror. He was only ten years old, but he knew exactly what had happened and what else would happen if his mother’s murderer caught him. He knew the murderer had left the bedroom because he was in terror of what he had done there, but he also knew he would be on the watch outside. The Engineer would almost certainly be watching by the kitchen door, for that was the natural way for Jerome to get out and it would also be the shortest route to the bunkhouse where the rest of the men were sleeping.
Jerome had to escape from the horror of that room where his mother lay dead. He took his clothes from the hooks where they hung: his shirt, stockings, pants, sweater and cap, and the heel-less larrigans of cowhide he wore all year round. He took them out to the kitchen and dressed beside the stove which was still warm.
Very clear in the head now, he opened the big ice chest where the food was and took out the first thing he found. It was a garland of blood sausage much too clumsy and big to carry, so he cut it into lengths and stuffed a length of sausage into each of the side pockets of his pants. He left the kitchen and entered the long eating barn where the benches and trestle tables were, heading for the door at the far end, a door rarely used, and when he reached it he found it unbarred. He guessed that the Engineer had used this door when he had first gone into the clearing to search for him.
"It must have been the dog that saved me that first time. When 1 ran out into
the clearing, the dog must have gone into the eating barn and when the Engineer heard him moving there, he must have mistaken him for me. That was the mistake that gave me time to hide.”
The dog was back with Jerome now and this time the boy made no error; he caught him by the long hairs at the back of his neck, held him while he stepped out, then pushed him inside and closed the door on him.
From this corner of the cookhouse the distance to the edge of the forest was no more than twenty yards and nobody was in sight as Jerome ran across it and disappeared into the trees. He worked his way silently through trees and deadfalls until a quick coolness touched his cheeks and he knew he was near the water on the edge of the northwest branch where his canoe was beached.
He worked his way along, his oiled larrigans keeping the moisture off his soles, but once his foot sank into a hole and the icy wetness poured in through the laceholes and his foot felt cold and soon went numb. After a few minutes he reached the place where the canoes and rowboats were beached, his own little
canoe among them. The camp motorboat was moored to a jetty about a hundred yards downstream in the main river, but the canoes and rowboats were moored where the current was weak, and now he saw their snouts projecting out of the blackness of the woods into the moonlight. He stepped out, looked up, saw the sky a wide open dome with a moon in the middle of it and a vast circle of light shining around it.
j LOST AND FOGNP
"I knew I was going to make it. Every time afterward when I was older, every time when I've been in danger and everything seemed hopeless, some moment like this always came. Suddenly I’d hear myself saying, ‘You're going to make it. You’re going to make it after all.’ ”
The short birchbark canoe with the air cans under the thwarts was easy to lift. He turned it over and ran it out into the water. He found his own paddle made to fit his height, and with a single movement he pushed the canoe off and swung himself over into the stern seat, then crept forward and settled down just abaft midships, got the paddle working and guided the canoe past a tree trunk and clear of some fallen branches. The canoe floated silently out into the great wash of moonlight where the branch widened into the main course of the river. He pointed the bow downstream, and at once he began to move fast on a river wide, firm, silvery and alive bearing him down past the silent camp, utterly alone for the first time in his life, bearing him down under that wide - open sky through the forest to the open sea which he knew was at its end.
Jerome paddled as he had been taught to paddle in a current, slowly and evenly, making long, steady sweeps of the
paddle and after each stroke taking a short rest with the blade trailing behind like a steering oar. The river at this season and place was flowing at more than five miles an hour, breaking and gurgling in the shallows and sparkling in the moon, but out in the central current the flow was so satin-smooth the eddies were like whorls of polished glass. A thin mist lay patchily over water colder than the air and the moon was enormous in the wide greenly shining sky.
Now that he was secure in the canoe, Jerome eased farther back against the air-can lodged under the stern seat and got the head up and sank the stern to give more purchase for the current to take him along. He kept on paddling down, occasionally rubbing against a traveling log and sometimes afraid of holing his canoe, but as the logs were going in the same direction there was little danger of this. There were no lights on the shore, no cabins or houses, there was nothing but the forest, the sky, the moon, the river, the canoe and the logs floating down to the sea.
“I had no sense of time that night, but I’d guess it was about one in the morning when 1 first heard the motorboat. 1 can still hear it. It was a primitive boat, nothing but an old high-bowed fishing boat with an engine installed. Its motor was always getting out of order and the Engineer was the only man in the camp who could do anything with it. When I first heard it, the boat was still around the bend I had just rounded and its sound came to me muffled by trees.”
Jerome was abnormally strong for his age, his shoulders powerful even then, and now fear gave him its added energy. He paddled hard toward the shore, but at this point the current was so swift that when he tried to move athwart it the canoe was .swept hard alee. He knew it would take him minutes to reach the shore and that even if he did, the backwashes would sweep him into the current again. A hundred yards ahead was a small wooded island in the middle of the stream and he brought the bow about and paddled for his life making the featherweight birchbark craft jump to his strokes. The drub-drub-drub of the motorboat struck his ears solidly and looking back he saw its dark shape with the hunched outline of the Engineer sitting at the hand-wheel in the starboard forequarter.
As Jerome drew in toward the island he saw that many logs had got there first. Instead of a beach there was a mat of logs bobbing in the press of the stream and he was panic-stricken, for the log mat spread in clear moonlight about twenty yards out from the shore, and he knew he could never get through it to hide in the trees. There were all kinds of logs there, long ones and pit-props mixed, some of them piled on top of others and the whole mat creaking in the current.
The canoe lifted, slid smoothly up onto some half-sunken logs, stopped dead, and there was nothing for Jerome to do but lie in the bottom and wait. He peered over the side smelling the wet logs and hearing the gurgle and lap of the stream, the canoe bobbing gently with the logs while the motorboat came straight on growing larger all the time, its drubdrub-drub filling the river anti the man at the wheel looming up. Jerome was sure the man was staring straight at him. but when the boat was about twentyfive yards off the island the Engineer moved and Jeorme saw the bow swing sharply off and an instant later the dark length of the boat went out of sight around the left side of the island.
"Then I knew what he was doing. He was running away. All the men knew about the railway track that crossed the river at the town just inside the estuary. It was the railway a man made for when he got into trouble or just wanted to get away. There was no telegraph or telephone and it would be morning by the time any of the men would find my mother and a good time would pass before they missed the Engineer and put two and two together. Once he was at the tracks he’d have his choice of trains moving east or west. I knew nothing about east or west so far as the railway was concerned, not then. I didn’t know that east was down to Moncton and Halifax and a dead end, and that west was up to Quebec and Montreal, and that he’d certainly go west. But I did know he’d be able to catch a train, for all the trains stopped in that town for water.”
For a long time Jerome lay in the canoe listening to the diminishing throb of the engine. Then he began to shiver and cry. He was chilled because at dawn the cold increased and his left foot, which he had soaked while moving through the trees, began to ache. He reached into his pocket and felt the stickiness of the blood sausage he had stored there. He took it out, washed it in the river, bit off a mouthful and ate it. The taste of blood made him feel sick but he went on eating until his shivering stopped and he felt new strength grow inside of him.
Meanwhile more logs from upstream were floating down and kept looming at him out of the dark water, hunching at him silently, pressing at him out of the dark as though they were the river’s muscles forcing him out. The log mat was loose enough for him to get his paddle into the water and he changed position and pushed and paddled until at last the unseen hand of the current caught him. The bow shot around and again he was in the flow, passing the island so effortlessly that he was by before he knew it and now in a widening river he went on with the current pouring down through the forest to the sea.
After a time — how long he did not know for he had lost all sense of time— he became conscious that the world was lighter and opening up. Instead of seeing the forest as a dark mass on either side of him, he saw it clear and close with individual trees standing out. Color appeared, a flush of pink in the east broke apart until it looked like the parallel bars of a gate across the pathway of the dawn, the bars merged, the colors grew stronger, they swelled into a cool conflagration that flushed up into the wide and real sky as the entire world opened up.
‘Let me get this straight — you actually want to sell automobile insurance to old ‘Hell on wheels’ here?”
Now Jerome became aware of life all around him as birds called in the forest on either side of the river; he saw the white trunks of a stand of birch, and as the current at this point swerved in toward the shore, the caroling rings of bird calls were loud and near. A crow flew out from a pine top and its cawing racketed back and forth across the river echoing from shore to shore. The hammer of a hungry woodpecker whacked against a dead trunk while a larger bird, one of the blue herons called cranes in the Maritime provinces, flew slantwise across the rising dawn and turned slowly, its long legs folded in under its body and trailing behind, its snaky head hanging down as it quested for fish with slow flaps of its w'ings heading upstream along the right bank. Jerome heard a snick and saw the flash of a trout’s belly: the lazy roll of a salmon about ten feet from the canoe, the little humping of water as the fish turned and went down. He heard a splash behind him but when he looked over his shoulder there was only a ruffle of broken water. He paddled a few minutes more, the trout still snicking, and then directly in front of the canoe the river broke open and a huge salmon slashed out shining, paused in the air with its hard muscles bending its body like a sickle and dropped with a drenching splash. The canoe crossed the broken water, and Jerome, looking over the side, saw the last twisting tail-thrust as the big fish went down.
Still the tiny canoe throbbed down the stream, the boy in the stern, and around the next bend he saw a shack but no smoke from its chimney pipe. Now he was sleepy and tired and stopped paddling; he sat with the paddle across his knees and his head sunk forward.
“I must have slept like that for half an hour, for when I woke the canoe was drifting slantwise and light was hurting my eyes.”
It was the rising sun, a turmoil of gold like a tremendous excitement in heaven pouring its arrows into the forest and flashing them off the stream. His limbs dead and cold, Jerome straightened the bow of the canoe and let it drift in a current much slower now because here the river was deep and felt the huge unseen pressure of the tide lower down. Close to the shore he passed a deer drinking on a sandspit. He was afraid that if he fell asleep again he would lose his paddle. A small cape stood out with a sentinel pine, the canoe struck it with a soft crunch and Jerome crawled ashore and dragged half of it clear of the stream. Then he got back in and slept.
When he woke the sun was almost directly overhead, his nostrils were dry with heat and his body felt tired, hot, heavy and stiff. It was a May morning without a cloud in the sky and already the heat had made the balsam forest pungent.
“When I woke up I felt black. I felt the way I felt that morning after I first killed a man in the war. I saw my mother’s dead face hard and angry in front of mine. God, she was an angry woman, that mother of mine. I saw the Engineer with his spanner and when I tried to eat some of my sausage I nearly vomited it up. 1 had to get out of that forest and get off that river. Far away was where I wanted to go, and then I thought about the trains.”
Though he did not know it, Jerome was now close to the sea and was paddling in a new kind of river. As it nears salt water that river becomes wide and is tidal for several miles. The town lies a distance inland and Jerome could not see the open water of the Gulf, but he could smell it and his cheeks felt a new salty moisture in the air. He became conscious of settlement along the shores —not a town, but a scattering of frame houses and large breaks in the forest where there were fields and cattle. He also became aware that paddling had turned into heavy leaden work, for the river was much wider here than it had been at the camp, and its current was stopped by the pressure of an incoming tide from the sea.
Jerome ached all over his body as he forced the canoe forward. He sobbed with exhaustion and shock and was drowned in his own sweat. He was on the point of giving up when he rounded a final bend and there, right in front of him, was the black iron bridge that carried the main railway line between Halifax and Montreal. Beyond it was a small wooden bridge for road traffic and beyond that the river seemed enormously wide. There was a town on Jerome’s left, a small drab town built almost entirely of wood, and through his sweat he remembered having been in it before, last fall when he came down in the steamboat with his mother and some men, the time she bought him his first ice cream. As his canoe drifted in toward the bridge he backed water and tried to ease toward the shore. He was so tired he cried. Then he almost dropped his paddle in terror, for a train appeared out of nowhere almost on top of him as it crossed the bridge.
“It was only a small work-train—an old-fashioned engine with two olive-grey cars and a caboose on the end. It made an awful racket though, for it crossed that iron bridge with me almost underneath it. I looked up and saw a man on the platform of the caboose looking down at me and his face was shiny black. He was the first Negro I ever saw and I wondered if all the people in the world outside the camp were black like him."
“He was the first Negro if every person outside
Jerome forced himself into a last spurt of action and paddled the canoe across the current, making heavy leeway, toward a jetty on the left bank between the two bridges. He remembered it from the time when the steamboat had landed him there. The sight of the jetty also reminded him of the motorboat and he became terrified, for what if the Engineer were waiting for him on the wharf? But there was no sign of the motorboat either at the wharf or along the shore.
Two men in dungarees and peaked caps were sitting on the curb of the jetty watching Jerome as he paddled in, but neither of them moved as he swung against the landing stage. He climbed out and hung onto the canoe with no plan whatever. He was just doing one thing after another and the next thing he did was to take the painter and secure it to a mooring post.
1 ever saw. I wondered the camp was black“
"Wheer’d yew git thet canoe from,
A lean, unshaven face with a chicken throat was staring down at him from the curb of the wharf.
“Littlest canoe I ever seen,” the man said and spat into the water.
Jerome climbed the ladder stiffly and as he reached the wharf the man made a lazy half-turn in his direction.
"Wheer’d yew come from, son?”
“I bin paddlin’."
The man spat again but did not answer and continued sitting with his legs dangling and his unshaven jaws working steadily on his cud of tobacco. Jerome, afraid of everything and everyone and tired in every bone, walked shakily off the dock onto a dirt track that ran along the riverside of the little town. He reached the railway, bent down and touched one of the shiny rails and found it so hot it burned. When he reached the station he saw men unloading freight out of a solitary boxcar and was surprised that none of them were Negroes.
Jerome sat on a bench under the overhang of the station roof and ate one whole length of his blood sausage, and there he continued to sit an unknown length of time half-asleep and half-awake like the town itself, but feeling a little stronger now there was food in his stomach.
The first citizen of organized society who spoke to him was the ticket agent. He bulged at Jerome, armbands on the sleeves of a striped shirt, a blue serge waistcoat protruding over a solid belly burdened by watch chains, lodge charms and indelible pencils, an eyeshade separating the grey baldness of a bullet head from the grey baldness of a pudgy face.
“Who re yew waitin' fer, son?”
Jerome stared at him.
“What’s your name, son?"
Jerome continued to stare at him, and the agent broke into a laugh like a mule’s bray.
“Don’t know mithin’, eh? Haw. haw, haw! Your Maw cornin' in on a train?”
The ticket agent shot a squirt of tobacco juice out of the corner of his mouth and Jerome heard it smack the nearest rail.
“The Maritime, she don't get in here for a long time, son. What hev you been doin’ gettin’ dirtied up like thet?" A big paw shot out and grabbed the boy's shoulder. "Yew come along with me."
Jerome was too tired to struggle and the ticket agent fog-marched him down the platform and into the station where he saw a pot-bellied stove with a dust of grey wood ashes around it, several slopped-over cuspidors and a door with a sign on it.
"Kin yew read?” said the ticket agent. Jerome shook his head.
"Don't know mithin’, eh? Well, that sign says Gents. Git inside and clean.” He opened the door, pushed Jerome in and left him there. The boy stood trembling in the stinking place, knowing from the smell what it was used for. He heard water dripping from a leaking tap, and in a cracked mirror he saw his own face filthy and red about the eyes, some spruce needles in his hair and his cars like fans on either side of his head. There was a cake of grimy yellow soap on the edge of the basin and he washed his hands and face and the back of his neck. As there was no towel he rubbed his sweatered arm over his face and dried his hands on his pants. He bent his mouth to the tap and took a long drink of water. Then he left the washroom and slunk out, crossing the waiting room on tip-toe for fear the strange man would see him.
A WAVE of sleep engulfed Jerome and his eyes closed. He slept unconscious of everything and nobody touched him or troubled to wake him up. It was noon before he woke in fright to feel the whole station shaking as a huge locomotive crashed past hauling a long line of freight cars that blocked the sun and darkened his eyes. The train ground to a stop. Jerome heard the engine panting under the water tower.
"I had to get out of there. I remembered the way the men talked about hopping trains and here was a train right in front of me. 1 saw the back of the ticket agent far up front talking to the engineer and I crawled under the train and came out on the other side. There was a double track and I walked back along the path beside the train looking at it. Most of the cars were red boxcars, but there were some fiats and some black gondola cars for coal.”
As he was walking along wanting to climb on board but afraid to, the train itself made up his mind for him. It gave a shudder and a volley of crashes went banging down its entire length as the engine gave its first heave and the couplings cracked tight. The noise terrified him, for up front the engine was giving out the shuddering roars of an old-fashioned locomotive getting under way with a heavy weight behind it. An empty fiatcar moved by and Jerome caught the iron ladder at the end, climbed in and lay down on the boards until it had passed the station. Looking up he saw the town and the river recede around a bend and for the rest of the afternoon the train took him down the eastern side of New Brunswick.
Late in the afternoon he ate the last of his sausage and slept, and when he woke the train was still and a huge eye of light was bearing down on him. He leaped up in terror to hear the crunch of feet on cinders and that enormous light made his hair prickle. He crouched back against the floor of the car as the light came on top of him and then it was suddenly dark and he looked up and saw, so close he could almost reach out and touch, the shoulders of a man in overalls sitting in the cab of a locomo|| live with one elbow on the ledge of the M cab window and his right hand working the throttle. A red glare burst into Jerome’s eyes and he saw the toss of the fireman’s shoulders swinging a shovelful of coal into the firebox, then the engine passed, moving with no cars behind it, and looking over the edge of the flatcar Jerome saw a forest of trains.
“Hey there, you kid! What the hell are you doing on that train?”
A man was standing below with one hand pointing at him and the other holding a lantern. Jerome jumped back, crossed the car, swung down the ladder on the far side and felt his feet touch ashes. He broke into a run between two stationary freight trains anil fell flat on his face as his foot stumbled over a switchblock. Cinders cut his forehead and the heels of his hands, but he felt no pain because he was so frightened and got up and tried to escape from where he was. He was in a maze of boxcars with his ears hearing hammer clangs in all directions as the workmen tested wheels and looked for hotboxes. The two ¡1 lines of cars were sheer walls on either if side and the lane between them dark and interminable. Suddenly the train on his |§ left jerked and crashed and began to || inch forward, frightening him so much he bent double and crawled underneath the train he had just left. When he came out on the far side there was a clear length of track ahead of him to a point about fifty yards away where it ended with the shunting engine whose light had wakened him. Beyond this empty track was still another train. He crawled under it, felt a small scratching pain as his knee caught a splinter from a sleeper, and came out on the other side. Another train faced him and again he crawled under.
There were no more trains. Instead he found himself facing a sight he had never seen in his life: a large town at night. Everywhere he looked there were lights.
He was on the edge of a cinder embankment and when he scrambled down he felt a cinder lodge harsh and gritty against the tender skin of his ankle, but he went sliding down in a spray of cinders and coal dust until he hit the bottom and tripped and fell.
He got up and dusted himself. He was absolutely lost because he did not understand what a town is or what people in a town do. He was on a wooden sidewalk beside a dirt street and a team of horses was hauling a heavy cart up the slope of it to the station with a teamster sitting on the wagon box cracking his whip. Jerome called out to the teamster but the man merely turned his head, looked at him and spat (this was a spitting country in those days), so Jerome walked up the slope beside the wagon and stopped abruptly on the top. He recognized a station platform, one far larger than the one he had left that noon, with a new kind of train standing beside it. This train was full of lights and there seemed to be hundreds of people.
GERRY JAMES* giving his wife for Christmas?
SEE PAGE 51
He looked around for a place to hide, but the platform was as bright as day and everywhere he looked there were people—people strangely dressed, women among them who did not look at all like his mother, men who did not look at all like the men in the camp.
“I had reached Moncton without knowing it. It's all very well to say now that Moncton is only a fair-sized railway town where trains come in from Montreal, Boston, Saint John and Halifax and are shunted around and regrouped. I tell you that no city I ever saw afterward, not even London, seemed as colossal and terrifying as Moncton did that night with all those trains and lights and noises and strange-looking people coming and going.”
Jerome slunk through the crowd without anyone noticing him, and in the waiting room when he looked at his hands they were like raw hamburger with coal dust ground into it.
“You know, in those days this country was used to ragamuffins. Kids who looked like me were a part of the landscape.”
The ticket agent in that little sawmill town had already made Jerome ashamed of being filthy and he was afraid somebody here in Moncton would see him and talk as the ticket agent had done and throw him out into the dark. He stole through the waiting room sure that everyone was staring at him until he found an empty corner in the farthest and darkest corner, and there he sat with his body crowded against the wall.
It must have been half an hour before anyone noticed the dirty-faced boy huddled in the corner. An old sweeper came slowly up the floor pushing his wide broom ahead of him, and whenever he had a big enough pile of peanut shells and candy papers and orange peels he bent down and swept the debris into a wide dustpan which he then emptied into a tin pail. When he reached Jerome’s corner he stopped and looked at the boy and Jerome hung his head. Then the sweeper passed and the thought came to the boy that this old man was as lonely and wretched as himself.
From watching the people he had guessed where the men’s room was, so now he went into it and let out a deep breath when he found himself alone. He ran water and cleansed his hands and once the dirt was off they did not look so bad: they were pitted with tiny red specks but they did not bleed. When he left the men’s room he wandered about the big empty station alone. He stared through the windows of the doors at the lights of the town and they seemed marvelous to him, the shabby buildings splendid as palaces, the street lights amazing as they shone over the empty sidewalks and against the fronts of locked stores. Soon he feit tired and returned to his corner where he sat with his back against the wall and his feet stretched out along the bench.
It was then that the wretchedness of his life finally overwhelmed him. He longed for the camp and the dog beside the stove and the warmth of his mother’s body as he lay beside her in the bed. He whispered the word "Mama” over and over like a litany and his eyes were hot with tears as he sat in that dark Lysoland-cuspidor-smelling waiting room not knowing anyone, or where he was, or what would happen to him, or anything a.t all. His final night on the river had gone away like a ghost and with it the exhilaration of his escape. “Mama, come back!” he whimpered. And then he screamed as loudly as he could. "Mama, Mama, Mama, come back!" There was no answer and not even the man in the ticket office moved. At last the boy's exhaustion was merciful to him and he fell into such a deep sleep that he was unconscious of any of the trains that passed in the night.
When Jerome awoke it was bright day and the station hummed with movement and a man and a woman were looking down at him. The man smiled and Jerome, rubbing his eyes as he came out of sleep, smiled back. He was a thin little man with the kindliest, funniest face Jerome had ever seen, with crow’s-feet smiling out from the corners of his blue eyes and a grey goat’s tuft on a pointed chin. His suit was of pale grey serge, his waistcoat a shiny black bib and his collar white, round and without a tie. On his bead was a soft black hat and his long hands were thin, graceful and astonishingly white and clean. Beside him was a woman as short as himself, but plump, with wide apple cheeks, a smiling mouth, hair flecked with grey and a straw hat square on the top of her head.
"Now then, little man, and what may your name be?”
The man said this so pleasantly, the pompousness of his words sounding so fresh because Jerome had never been spoken to in such tones, that he lost all his fear and smiled back.
"Jerome,” he said.
“Are you all by yourself, Jerome?” asked the woman.
"No mother or anything like that?” asked the man. "No father? No uncle? No brothers or sisters? Nobody at all?”
“My Mama’s dead.”
"So is mine.” said the man. “Ah well.”
The kindly wrinkles about the clergyman’s eyes never altered, but when he glanced at his wife he ceased smiling and Jerome knew with a child's intuition that this strange little person might be willing to help him. Even more certain was he that this funny little woman would be his friend. Her lips were so warm looking and soft; when she smiled she was like a gentle bird, and that hat of hers—
"You’ve got a dishpan on your head,” the boy said suddenly.
"By Jove, but so she has!” said the man. "Jo, this is a clever boy.”
"You must be hungry if you’re all alone,” she said. "How would you like something to eat? How would you like a nice cup of tea?”
"Cocoa, my dear,” the man said. "There’s so much more food in cocoa.”
"What would you like, Jerome—cocoa or tea?”
He was afraid of offending one or the other, but the word “cocoa” sounded so nice he said he would like it.
"Then cocoa you shall have," the woman said, and her husband went up and crossed to the coffee stall to get it.
It was then that the gentle care in her voice reached down inside of him. touched the hard knot and dissolved it, and in a passion of sobbing he scrambled off the bench and buried his face against her shoulder. He threw his arms around her small plump body and she smelled clean and fresh to him, and all the while he hid his face against her he felt her short little fingers stroking his hair and heard her voice soothing him. At last she forced him gently back and when he looked up she was bending down—she was so small she did not have far to bend —and the brim of her straw hat scratched his forehead as she dabbed his eyes with her handkerchief. She took a comb from her bag and combed his hair, and then she stood back, smiled and said, "There now!”
The tears had ceased, leaving Jerome hungry. He scrambled back onto the bench and smiled at her. He looked around for her husband but all he could see was his narrow back at the stall.
"My husband has gone to get food for us. We're hungry ourselves, you know. We've been up half the night in a train. 1 do so dislike railway stations. They’re so dirty and noisy. You poor little boy—are you lost?”
"I don't know.” “What's your other name, Jerome?” the clergyman's wife asked him.
His face remained blank and she added: "All little boys have more names than one, don’t they? Don’t you have more names than just Jerome? Tell me.”
“My name’s Jerome."
"Dear me!" said the woman.
Now the little clergyman approached with a tray in his hands. "What’s this little man's name?” he asked.
“He says it's Jerome,” said the man's wife.
The clergyman beamed at Jerome. Then he removed his hat' and became solemn.
“The Engineer was going to kill me so I ran away from him in my canoe”
“Now my boy, close your eyes while I say grace. Come now, close them tight. It won’t take long.”
Jerome did not understand why he should close his eyes, but he closed them and at once the clergyman began to pray.
“Most merciful God, we thank Thee for this food, such as it is. Most humbly do we beseech Thee to bless it to our use and us to Thy service. We pray Thee also to guard us against the seeds of indigestion we suspect lurk within it. And especially do we pray that we may be guided to help this lost child, who from his appearance and general plight seems to have been conceived in sin somewhat grosser than most, and we ask Thee also to tell us what to do with him, Amen. Now Jerome, open your eyes and eat.”
The boy instantly closed his eyes lest the clergyman should see that he had opened them too soon, then he opened them again and took the heavy mug of cocoa and drank half of it down.
“Giles,” said the woman mildly. “When you said grace, you didn’t have to put all that in about Jerome.”
“More cocoa, Jerome?” said the clergyman.
The sweet warmth of cocoa and the filling solidity of ham and buttered bread began to make strength in Jerome. He ached all over from his efforts of the day before and the night on the river, his hands were painful and the splinter in his knee had begun to fester, but now he could smile because he was with friends.
The clergyman ate and talked simultaneously, now praising the ham, now blaming the poor quality of the bread, and when the food was consumed he wiped his hands on a white handkerchief, crossed his short, thin legs, put his fingertips together and cleared his throat.
“Jerome, we shall now introduce ourselves. Our name is Martell—M-A-RT-E-double-L, Martell. I’m Giles Martell and this woman is my wife whom I call Jo. Do you know what a clergyman is, Jerome?”
The boy shook his head.
“I rather suspected that might be the case,” said the clergyman. "Well, I am one of the species. It is a most unpopular calling and its chief disadvantage lies in the fact that one’s parishioners have such a poor view of their Master’s intelligence that they deny in their minds that he was in earnest when he performed the miracle at Cana."
“Giles!” said his wife.
“Now Jerome, if we are to help you we must know more about you. Your first name you have told us, but not your second. Don’t you have a second name?”
“My name is Jerome,” the boy said.
“I have heard of such cases in London.” said the clergyman to his wife. He pressed his fingertips so hard that the lean fingers bent, and again he looked at the hoy. “You must know where you come from, Jerome. Tell us where you come from.”
“Ah. the camp! Now where might this camp be?”
Jerome stared and said nothing.
“Was it a lumber camp, by any chance?”
“Now how did you get to Moncton?”
Again the boy stared.
“This place here”—the clergyman waved his arm round about him—"is Moncton. We must not be harsh in our judgments, so we will let it go at that—the place is called Moncton. But how did you get here?”
“I jumped a freight.”
“You wluit a freight?”
“Giles,” said the woman, “please! You know perfectly well what Jerome means.” “You did this thing alone? Not with
your father or mother?”
The boy nodded.
“Well, to be sure you must have come a long way.” Looking into the hoy’s eyes, one hand stroking his goat’s beard, the little man said gently: “Tell us
all about it.”
“I was scared.” Suddenly Jerome burst into tears and began talking wildly. "He was going to kill me so I ran away from him in my canoe.”
“Who was going to kill you?”
“He killed my Mama.”
The two older people stared at each other and Jerome felt the woman’s arm come about his shoulder and press him against herself.
“There now!” she murmured. “There now! There now!”
"He was the Engineer and I saw him.”
AT that moment a short, stout figure in a blue suit with a blue cap encircled with silver braid entered from the platform, cupped his hands about his mouth and brayed that the train for Halifax was ready and would depart in ten minutes. The clergyman groaned and got to his feet.
“It’s the way of the world,” he said, “that when nothing important is happening there is all the time possible for it to happen in, while if anything important is afoot there is none. Here we are with this—”
“Go see to our bags, Giles,” the woman said, “while I stay and talk to Jerome.”
The clergyman crossed the floor to the baggage room.
“Jerome, dear,” the woman said quietly, “we haven’t much time. Mr. Martell and I must take that train for Halifax and it leaves in a few minutes. The thing you just told us is so terrible we must be very sure you are telling the truth. So now you must look into my eyes, Jerome, and tell it to me all over again.”
He did so and saw the woman’s grey eyes kind and earnest.
“You must tell me how this awful thing happened. Or—” she smiled—“if it didn’t happen, then you must also tell me that.”
Jerome was terrified that she would be displeased and leave him. He felt he would have to make her believe he was telling the truth.
“He was with my mother and she said he was no good, so he got mad and he hit her and he killed her and there was blood.”
A blush struck the woman’s face like a blow and Jerome saw her mouth drop open and his terror grew, for now he had certainly displeased her and now she would certainly leave him.
“He hit her and he killed her,” he repeated desperately.
The woman’s hand came over his mouth and closed it. “Child, do you know what you’re saying?”
He nodded desperately and watched her. seeing the flush change to the color of chalk. Then she took away her hand and surveyed him calmly.
“What you have just told me is the most terrible thing anyone has ever told me,” she said. “It is so terrible a thing that I know you have spoken the truth, for a little boy like you would never have been able to make up a thing like that.” Tears welled into her eyes. “You poor child! And I suppose there are thousands of other little children just like you in the world!”
He looked up at her dumbly.
"Was this man your father, Jerome?”
He shook his head. “I got no father.”
The little clergyman was returning, his narrow shoulders bowed under the weight of the two bags he carried. As he deposited them the stout man in the blue uniform came inside and again cupped his hands about his mouth.
"Aila-booooard for Sackville, Amherst, Truro, New Glasgow, Sydney and Halifax! Alla-bo-o-oard!”
People began moving toward the doors. A man and a woman embraced and exchanged a quick kiss. Children toddled doorwards holding the hands of their parents and Mrs. Martell rose from the bench and smoothed down her skirt.
“Jerome has been telling me what happened,” she whispered to her husband. “We mustn’t ask him any more questions now.”
The clergyman looked at his wife, then over his shoulder, then at Jerome, and seemed worried about something.
“The train is leaving,” he said. "1 suppose I should speak to the police or the stationmaster before we go.”
In terror Jerome scrambled off the bench and clutched the woman’s hand, pressing it against his cheek.
“Please don’t leave me! Please don't leave me!”
The two older people looked at each other again, and the little woman bent down and kissed the child on the forehead.
“Jerome, dear, we will never leave you unless the time comes when you may wish to leave us.”
Then a feeling of joy filled the child so that he could not speak. He took the woman's hand and went out to the platform with her just like any other child who was getting onto the train with his parents. The conductor took the clergyman’s bags and hoisted them up to the platform of the car and the three of them climbed aboard. The clergyman found two empty seats in the middle of the car, swung one of the backs over to make a space for four and they sat down together, just as other families were sitting in other parts of the car. The train started and pulled out of Moncton, and looking out the window Jerome saw the station and the shunting yards and the lines of boxcars slowly disappear. Soon they were running smoothly through a green countryside.
The train rumbled on, whistling every now and then before it crossed a road, and Jerome lay half asleep and half awake. He sensed that the little clergyman was becoming restless.
"It’s nearly five o'clock and I haven't had a drop all day. I think it’s time, don't you. Jo?”
"Pshaw! How will they guess?” He touched his dog collar. “I'm perfectly disguised. I could go to the water cooler and come back with a paper cup—with two paper cups—and who would notice?
I think I’ll go now.”
"Please be careful, Giles.”
"You know I'm careful. When am I not?”
Jerome fell asleep again and when he woke the clergyman was gently shaking his shoulder and on the clergyman's breath he smelled the sweet familiar odor of rum.
“Wake up, Jerome, we're nearly there!”
The train’s rumble changed into a solid heavy roar, daylight disappeared as though a shade had been drawn and they passed under the smoke-stained glass canopy of Halifax’s old North Street station and stopped.
A cab drove them along Barrington Street, then over a very steep hill crowded with houses and after what seemed a long time to Jerome, it came to rest in front of a house with a little lawn before it and three cannon balls making a black triangle beside the bottom step. There was an ivy-shaded porch with a hammock concealed behind the ivy and there were white curtains at the windows.
"This is where we live,” the little clergyman said. “It’s a small house and it’s not in the best part of town by a long chalk, but we like it.”
That evening Jerome w'as given a cold meal out of tins while kettles boiled on the stove and an ancient, spluttering, English-style geyser, heated by gas, warmed the water for his bath. He was undressed and his filthy clothes were burned. He was put into the tub. which was made of tin and painted white, and the paint felt delightfully rough against the skin of his back. The warm water soothed his skin and the fresh-smelling soap made it feel slippery and clean. He laughed as Josephine Martell bathed and dried him. then he held his arms over his head while she put a flannelette nightgown on him.
“This is one of mine.” she said, "but I’m so small and you're so big it will fit you quite nicely, at least for the time being.”
Soon he found himself in bed between cool sheets looking at pictures on the wall. One was a print of Joshua Reynolds’ Age of Innocence and the other was a sailing ship in a storm, and he lay in the white-linen smoothness and looked up at the woman and smiled.
She bent and kissed the boy's forehead and was about to leave the room when she remembered something and came back.
"Jerome, dear — have you ever been taught to pray?”
He shook his head, not knowing what the word meant.
“Then I think I'd better begin teaching you your first prayer tonight. Usually you pray on your knees because that shows how much you respect God, but you're so tired tonight I don't think He will mind if you pray just where you are in bed. All you have to do is shut your eyes and repeat after me.”
Jerome shut his eyes and felt the woman's hand close over his own.
"Now 1 lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep ...”
He repeated the words without understanding what they meant.
"If 1 die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
Again he made the repetition, she laid her hand on his forehead, he felt its cool softness, he felt her lips brush his cheek and then he closed his eyes.
That night while Jerome slept the clergyman and his wife sat before their empty hearth holding hands and talking for hours. Before they went to bed they fell on their knees and thanked God and promised that they would lead this child it\to the paths of righteousness. They believed, they believed at last, that goodness and mercy would follow them all the days of their lives, now that they had a son. if