Chapter 36




SLACK WATER


'O dinna look, ye prideful queen, on a' aneath your ken,
For he wha seems the farthest but aft wins the farthest ben,
And whiles the doubie of the schule tak's lead of a' the rest:
The birdie sure to sing is the gorbal of the nest.

'The cauld, grey, misty morn aft brings a sunny summer day; The tree wha's buds are latest is longest to decay; The heart sair tried wi' sorrow still endures the sternest test: The birdie sure to sing is the gorbal of the nest.

'The wee wee stern that glints in heaven may be a lowin' sun, Though like a speck of light it seem amid the welkin dun; The humblest sodger on the field may win a warrior's crest: The birdie sure to sing is the gorbal of the nest.'--Scotch Newspaper.


The wickedness of the nurse was confirmed in my mother's eyes when the doom on the first-born of the Winslows was fulfilled, and the poor little baby, Clarence, succumbed to a cold on the chest caught while his nurse was gossiping with a guardsman.

He was buried in London. 'It was better for Selina to get those things over as quickly as possible,' said Griff; but Clarence saw that he suffered much more than his wife would let him show to her. 'It is so bad for him to dwell on it,' she said. 'You see. I never let myself give way.'

And she was soon going out, nearly as usual, till their one other infant came to open its eyes only for a few hours on this troublesome world, and owe its baptism to Clarence's exertions. My mother, who was in London just after, attending on the good old Admiral's last illness, was greatly grieved and disgusted with all she heard and saw of the young pair, and that was not much. She felt their disregard of her uncle as heartless, or rather as insulting, on Selina's part, and weak on Griff's; and on all sides she heard of their reckless extravagance, which made her forebode the worst.

All these disappointments much diminished my father's pleasure and interest in his inheritance. He had little heart to build and improve, when his eldest son's wife made no secret of her hatred to the place, or to begin undertakings only to be neglected by those who came after; and thus several favourite schemes were dropped, or prevented by Griffith's applications for advances.

At last there was a crisis. At the end of the second season after their visit to us, Clarence sent a hasty note, begging my father to join him in averting an execution in Griffith's house. I cannot record the particulars, for just at that time I had a long low fever, and did not touch my diary for many weeks; nor indeed did I know much about the circumstances, since my good nurses withheld as much as possible, and would not let me talk about what they believed to make me worse. Nor can I find any letters about it. I believe they were all made away with long ago, and thus I only know that my father hurried up to town, remained for a fortnight, and came back looking ten years older. The house in London had been given up, and he had offered a vacant one of our own, near home, to Griff to retrench in, but Selina would not hear of it, insisting on going abroad.

This was a great grief to him and to us all. There was only one side of our lives that was not saddened. Our old incumbent had died about six months after the Fordyces had gone, and Mr. Henderson had gladly accepted the living where the parsonage had been built. The lady to whom he had been so long engaged was a great acquisition. Her home had been at Oxford; and she was as thoroughly imbued with the spirit that there prevailed as was the Hillside curate. She talked to us of Littlemore, and of the sermons there and at St. Mary's, and Emily and I shared to the full her hero-worship. It was the nearest compensation my sister had had for the loss of Ellen, with this difference, that Mrs. Henderson was older, had read more, and had conversed thoughtfully with some of the leading spirits in religious thought, so that she opened a new world to us.

People would hardly believe in our eagerness and enthusiasm over the revelations of church doctrine; how we debated, consulted our books, and corresponded with Clarence over what now seems so trite; how we viewed the British Critic and Tracts for the Times as our oracles, and worried the poor Wattlesea bookseller to get them for us at the first possible moment.

Church restoration was setting in. Henderson had always objected to christening from a slop-basin on the altar, and had routed out a dilapidated font; and now one, which was termed by the country paper chaste and elegant, was by united efforts, in which Clarence had the lion's share, presented in time for the christening of the first child at the Parsonage. It is that which was sent off to the Mission Chapel as a blot on the rest of Earlscombe Church. Yet what an achievement it was deemed at the time!

The same may be said of most of our doings at that era. We effected them gradually, and have ever since been undoing them, as our architectural and ecclesiastical perceptions have advanced. I wonder how the next generation will deal with our alabaster reredos and our stained windows, with which we are all as well pleased as we were fifty years ago with the plain red cross with a target-like arrangement above and below it in the east window, or as poor Margaret may have been with her livery altar-cloth. Indeed, it seems to me that we got more delight out of our very imperfect work, designed by ourselves and sent to Clarence to be executed by men in back streets in London, costing an immensity of trouble, than can be had now by simply choosing out of a book of figures of cut and dried articles.

What an enthusiastic description Clarence sent of the illuminated commandments in the new Church of St. Katharine in the Regent's Park! How Emily and I gloated over the imitation of them when we replaced the hideous old tables, and how exquisite we thought the initial I, which irreverent youngsters have likened, with some justice, to an enormous overfed caterpillar, enwreathed with red and green cabbage leaves!

My mother was startled at these innovations; but my father, who had kept abreast with the thought of the day, owned to the doctrines as chiming in with his unbroken belief, and transferred to the improvements in the church the interest which he had lost in the estate. The farmers had given up their distrust of him, and accepted him loyally as friend and landlord, submitting to the reseating of the church, and only growling moderately at decorations that cost them nothing. Daily service began as soon as Henderson was his own master, and was better attended than it is now; for the old people to whom it was a novelty took up the habit more freely than their successors, to whom the bell has been familiar through their days of toil. We were too far off to be constant attendants; but evensong made an object for our airings, and my father's head, now quite white, was often seen there. He felt it a great relief amid the cares of his later years.

Perhaps it was with a view to him that Mr. Castleford arranged that Clarence should become manager for the firm at Bristol, with a good salary. The Robsons would not take a fresh lodger--they were getting too old for fresh beginnings; but they kept their rooms ready for him, whenever he had to be in town, and Gooch found him a trustworthy widow as housekeeper. He took a little cottage at Clifton, availing himself of the coach to spend his Sundays with us; and it was an acknowledged joy to every one that I should drive to meet him every Saturday afternoon at the Carpenter's Arms, and bring him home to be my father's aid in all his business, and a most valuable help in Sunday parish work, in which he had an amount of experience which astonished us.

What would have become of the singing without him? The first hint against the remarkable anthems had long ago alienated our tuneful choir placed on high, and they had deserted en masse. Then Emily and the schoolmistress had toiled at the school children, whose thin little pipes and provincialisms were a painful infliction, till Mrs. Henderson, backed by Clarence, worked up a few promising men's voices to support them. We thought everything but the New and Old Versions smacked of dissent, except the hymns at the end of the Prayer-book, though we did not go as far as Chapman, who told Emily he understood as how all the tunes was tried over in Doctor's Commons afore they were sent out, and it was not 'liable' to change them. One of Clarence's amusements in his lonely life had been the acquisition of a knowledge of music, and he had a really good voice; while his adherence to our choir encouraged other young men of the farmer and artisan class to join us. Choir, however, did not mean surplices and cassocks, but a collection of our best voices, male and female, in the gallery.

Martyn began to be a great help when at home, never having wavered in his purpose of becoming a clergyman. On going to Oxford, he became imbued with the influences that made Alma Mater the focus of the religious life and progress of that generation which is now the elder one. There might in some be unreality, in others extravagance, in others mere imitation; but there was a truly great work on the minds of the young men of that era--a work which has stood the test of time, made saints and martyrs, and sown the seed whereof we have witnessed a goodly growth, in spite of cruel shocks and disappointments, fightings within and fears without, slanders and follies to provoke them, such as we can now afford to laugh over. With Martyn, rubrical or extra-rubrical observances were the outlet of the exuberance of youth, as chivalry and romance had been to us; and on Frank Fordyce's visits, it was delightful to find that he too was in the full swing of these ideas and habits, partly from his own convictions, partly from his parish needs, and partly carried along by curates fresh from Oxford.

In the first of his summer vacations Martyn joined a reading party, with a tutor of the same calibre, and assured them that if they took up their quarters in a farmhouse not many miles by the map from Beachharbour, they would have access to unlimited services, with the extraordinary luxury of a surpliced choir, and intercourse with congenial spirits, which to him meant the Fordyces.

On arriving, however, the bay proved to be so rocky and dangerous that there was no boating across it, as he had confidently expected. The farm depended on a market town in the opposite direction, and though the lights of Beachharbour could be seen at night, there was no way thither except by a six-miles walk along a cliff path, with a considerable detour in order to reach a bridge and cross the rapid river which was an element of danger in the bay, on the north side of the promontory which sheltered the harbour to the south.

So when Martyn started as pioneer on the morning before the others arrived, he descended into Beachharbour later than he intended, but still he was in time to meet Anne Fordyce, a tall, bright-faced girl of fourteen, taking her after-lessons turn on the parade with a governess, who looked amazed as the two met, holding out both hands to one another, with eager joy and welcome.

It was not the same when Anne flew into the Vicarage with the rapturous announcement, 'Here's Martyn!' The vicar was gone to a clerical meeting, and Mrs. Fordyce said nothing about staying to see him. The luncheon was a necessity, but with quiet courtesy Martyn was made to understand that he was regarded as practically out of reach, and 'Oh, mamma, he could come and sleep,' was nipped in the utterance by 'Martyn is busy with his studies; we must not disturb him.' This was a sufficient intimation that Mrs. Fordyce did not intend to have the pupils dropping in on her continually, and making her house their resort; and while Martyn was digesting the rebuff, the governess carried Anne off to prepare for a music lesson, and her mother gave no encouragement to lingering or repeating the visit.

Still Martyn, on his way homewards, based many hopes on the return of Mr. Fordyce; but all that ensued was, three weeks later, a note regretting the not having been able to call, and inviting the whole party to a great school-feast on the anniversary of the dedication of the first of the numerous new churches of Beachharbour. There was no want of cordiality on that occasion, but time was lacking for anything beyond greetings and fleeting exchanges of words. Parson Frank tried to talk to Martyn, bemoaned the not seeing more of him, declared his intentions of coming to the farm, began an invitation, but was called off a hundred ways; and Anne was rushing about with all the children of the place, gentle and simple, on her hands. Whenever Martyn tried to help her, he was called off some other way, and engaged at last in the hopeless task of teaching cricket where these fisher boys had never heard of it.

That was all he saw of our old friends, and he was much hurt by such ingratitude. So were we all, and though we soon acquitted the head of the family of more than the forgetfulness of over occupation, the soreness at his wife's coldness was not so soon passed over. Yet from her own point of view, poor woman, she might be excused for a panic lest her second daughter might go the way of the first.




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