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Left in peace, Carlton threw himself into his task with redoubled spirit, and presently forgot the existence of Sir Wilton Gleed. He had just three hours before dark. In this time he succeeded in pulling the rest of the east wall to pieces, even to the loosened plinth, and was adding the good stones to his stack when night fell. It was a night not to be forgotten in the history of Robert Carlton's case. Nothing happened. But he had no proper food in the house, and he began to feel really ill for the want of it. Eggs and bacon he had, but the lighting of the fire fatigued him more than anything he had done all day, and he fell asleep in the kitchen, and the bacon went brittle, and his attempt at bread was become an unmasticable fossil. A very little whisky, from a bottle that had been open for months, did him more good, and enabled him to face the food problem in earnest before he went to bed. It was a very serious problem indeed. Health and strength, success or failure, continued vigour or a swift collapse, all hinged upon the inglorious question, which engrossed till near midnight one of the plainest livers on earth, as his labours had absorbed him since dawn. He had to reckon with his enemies in the matter. He had not the slightest hope of obtaining supplies in the village. But at daylight he walked some miles to see a farmer who had sometimes trudged as many to hear him preach; and the farmer gave him breakfast with a surly pity, which Carlton suffered, as he accepted the meal, for his hard work's sake.
He had explained that he came on business, and after breakfast the farmer asked him, not without suspicion, what his business was.
"Do you kill your own sheep?" inquired Mr. Carlton.
"Only for ourselves."
"When do you kill?"
"Let's see. Friday, is it? Then we kill this mornin'."
"May I wait and watch?"
The other stared.
"I want some mutton," Carlton explained.
"But I don't keep a butcher's shop," growled the farmer. "Well, we'll see what we can do; we may be able to let you have a bit of the neck-end."
"I should be very grateful for it. But I'm afraid I want more."
"A flock of sheep."
He was willing to pay outside prices. So a bargain was struck; and the sheep were in the glebe that night. Meanwhile he had seen one killed and dressed, and was not the less thankful that he had neck-end chops enough to last him that week.
The stacking of the stones was finished early on the Friday afternoon, and Carlton determined to take the rest of that day easily. So he set himself to retrieve the lectern from the ruins, and did finally wheel it to the rectory, on two barrows; the first broke under its weight. Moreover, this had consumed the entire afternoon, as another would have foreseen at a glance, and Carlton emerged as from a pool of ink. Since he had made himself rather hot and black, however, he thought it a pity not to clear a little more of the interior while the light lasted. It must be done some day; but again the task was more formidable than it appeared to dauntless eyes still aflame with vast endeavour. The firemen had not spared the water when all was over, so the big bones of the roof were not burnt through. Tie-beams and principal rafters, in particular, lay whole and heavy, and immovable less from their weight than from the inextricable tangle in which they had fallen. There was nothing but the saw for these, and Carlton had already sawn the lectern from its grave. He learnt to saw with his left hand that evening; and after all had very little but his own personal condition to show for his labour: only the nucleus of a wood-heap near the stack of stones, and a crooked, blackened, brass thing in the dining-room. But then he had not intended to do much that afternoon; he went indoors, and drew the water for his bath with that consolation.
Meat for the second time that day! Carlton began to feel a man. He paced his study with the old rapid step; and he determined to order and arrange his day's work so that the muscles should relieve each other in gangs: varied exertions; that was the principle of all continuous labour. You cannot sit down to rest when you are working hard; but you can do something else. Carlton never rested till he went to bed. But this evening he sat down at his desk.
A sheet of sermon paper was ruled in six columns and a margin; the columns were headed by the days of the week; down the margin the days were divided into three periods, a short and two long; it was the class-room chart of his school-days over again. In future he would rise at five; four was too early. The short period before breakfast should be daily devoted to work in the house. The place must be made and kept habitably clean; that could be left partly to the wet days. Then there was the kitchen work, the preparation of food for the day, baking two days a week, the occasional slaughter of a sheep; and here Carlton paused to grapple with the appalling problem presented by the hungriest of living men and the smallest of slain sheep . . . Salt seemed the solution . . . Salt mutton? . . . At any rate all carnal cares and menial duties should be disposed of for the day as early as possible in the early morning; not till then would he break his fast; and the real day's work should begin as near eight o'clock as might be, but as often as possible on the right side of the hour. Moreover, it should begin with the lighter labour: scraping and repointing the uncondemned walls, for example; that would take one man weeks or months; but it would not tire him out at the beginning of the day. Then there was the preparation of the stones; the careful scraping of those preserved; classification as to size for the various courses; cutting and fitting of fresh stones; the actual building with trowel and plummet. All this went under one head, and was for the body of the day; a long spell broken by a good meal and a determined rest. The day should finish, for many a day to come, with a savage attack upon the chaos within the walls. A hand too tired for skilled labour would still be fit for that.
And as Robert Carlton reached this stage in the laying of his ingenious plans, he leaned back in his chair, and stared at his dull reflection in the diamond panes above his writing table, in a sudden horror of himself and all his ways and works. He was actually happy—he! The reaction was the same in kind as that which had come to him at the shed, in the joy of touching hammer and chisel again, and which had driven him to the hall next morning. But it was greater in degree: for then he had seen how happy he might be; to-night he knew how happy he was.
"But only in my work! Only in my work!" he cried, and fell upon his knees to crave forgiveness from the Almighty for daring to enjoy the consolation which He had ordained for him.
The artist was dead in Carlton for that night. He rose a very miserable sinner, every thought a whip for his poor spirit that had dared to come to life without leave. He had committed deadly sin with deadliest result; let him never forget it! He, God's servant——the morbid rehearsal may be spared. But he did not spare himself. All the aggravating circumstances were recalled, none that extenuated; all that he had suffered he must needs suffer anew, slowly, deliberately, and in due order; that he might not forget, that he might never forget again! Now he was confessing to Musk, now to George Mellis; poor George, where was he? Now they were breaking his windows, and now Tom Ivey was refusing his hand. But at last he was before the bishop; that strong, queer voice was croaking across the desk; and all at once the croak ended, and the voice rang like a sovereign with words of refined gold.
"Courage, brother! Pray without ceasing. Look forward, not back; do not despair. Despair is the devil's best friend; better give way to deadly sin than to deadlier despair!"
And he prayed again; but not in the house.
"For I will look forward," he said as he went. "But let me never again forget!"
There was neither wind nor moon. The sparrows were still, but not the shrill little swifts. And somewhere a thrush was singing, clear and mellow and certain as a bell; and once a bat's wing brushed the bowed bare head of him who prayed not for forgiveness but for the peace of a soul; for neither was it in the ruins that Robert Carlton knelt once more.
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