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Carlton chose a fresh stone from the heap; he was going to begin all over again. He got it in his arms, and he managed to stagger with it to the front of the shed. The stone was at least two feet long, and its other dimensions were about half that of the length; as Carlton set it down, himself all but on the top of it, he trusted it was the largest size in the heap. It was of a rich reddish yellow, roughly rectangular, but lumpy as ill-made porridge, exactly as it had come from the quarry. Carlton tilted it up against a smaller stone, smooth enough in parts, but palpably untrue in its planes and angles. This was the stone that he had been all day spoiling; it had been as big as the new one that morning, when he had begun upon it with a view to the lower eleven-inch courses; and now he had failed to make even a six-inch job of it. The stone was so soft. It cut like cheese. But he was not going to spoil another.
So he rested a minute before beginning again, and he marshalled his tools upon a barrow within reach of his hand. It was rather late on the Saturday afternoon. In the morning he had felt disinclined for violent exertion, but just equal to trying his hand at that stone-dressing which would presently become his chief labour; and his hand had disappointed him. It had the wrong kind of cunning: as amateurs will, Carlton had picked up his fancy craft at the fancy end: gargoyles were his specialty, and an even surface beyond him.
"But I can learn," he had been saying all day; and most times the dog had wagged his tail.
Ten minutes ago his tone had changed.
"I'll start afresh! I'll do one to-night! I won't be beaten!"
And that time Glen had leapt up with his master, and lashed his shins with his tail, as much as to say, "Beaten? Not you!" and had accompanied him to the heap, and was pretending to rest with him now. But Carlton was constitutionally impatient of conscious rest; and this afternoon certain sounds, louder though less incessant than those of his constant comrades, the bees and birds, informed him that the Boys' Friendly were not too proud to use the far strip of glebe land which the rector had levelled for them last year. The discovery made him glad. But it also brought him to his feet within the minute that he had promised himself; and the hammer rang swift blows on the cold-chisel as much to drown the music of bat and ball as to clear the grosser irregularities from one surface of the stone.
This done (and this much he had done successfully enough before), hammer and cold-chisel were thrown aside, and the marbling-hammer taken up, because Tom Ivey had always used it to make the rough sufficiently smooth. But it is a mongrel implement at best, being hammer and chisel in one, with changeable bits like a brace, and yet with less of these than of the pickaxe in its cross-bred composition. Like a pick you wield it, yet lightly and with the one and only curve, or at a stroke you go too deep.
Chip, chip, chip went the sharp seven-eighths-of-an-inch bit; and off curved the soft yellow flakes, to turn to powder as they fell.
Chip, chip, chip along the top; and the keen bit left its mark each time; and the finished row of these was like the key-board of a toy piano.
Chip, chip, chip, always from left to right, a tier below, and then the tier below that. The toy piano is becoming a toy organ of many manuals; and the hue of the keys is not that of the rough outer surface: as they first see the light they are nearer the colour of cigar-ash.
Chip, chip, chip—chip, chip, chip; but swish, swish, swish is a thought nearer the sound. So soft that stone, so sharp that bit, so timorous and tentative the unpractised strokes of Robert Carlton!
Every now and then he would stop, and anxiously apply a straight lath to the spreading smoothness; but he was improving, and in the end the plane was at least as true as it was smooth. The key-marks of the marbling-hammer were not always parallel or of even length, and the rows declined from left to right like the hand of a weak writer: "bad batting," Tom Ivey would have called it, a "bat" being the mark in question, and long, even bats, "straight along the stone," the mason's ideal, as the inquisitive amateur had discovered the first day Ivey worked for him. But knowledge and skill lie a gulf apart, and on the whole Carlton felt encouraged. He had done but one side of four, but the one was smooth enough to face the world as coursed rubble; let him but get and keep his angles, and the other three would matter less. So now he took the straight-edge, as the lath was called, and the bit of black slate which Tom had also left behind him; and with these and the mason's square a rectangular parallelogram with eleven-inch ends was duly ruled on the satisfactory surface. Hammer and cold-chisel again. Much use of the square, but no more play with the marbling-hammer. No need to perfect the parts doomed to mortar and eternal night; rough criss-cross work with a mason's axe is the thing for them; as Carlton knew when he rather reluctantly applied himself to the mastery of that implement, just as he was beginning to acquire some proficiency with the other. The mason's axe was the most treacherous of them all. It was a hand pickaxe with a point like a stiletto; a touch, and the steel lay buried. But it was the right tool to use, and Carlton used it to the best of his ability, stooping more and more over his work as the light began to fail him.
He was going to succeed at last! If only he had not lost so much time! Then he might have mixed some mortar and laid the first stone of his own cutting—the first stone of the new church! That would have been something like a day's work; yet he was not dissatisfied with his progress. Swish, swish, swish; he might have done much worse. He had pulled down the bad walls—swish—and what was good of them—swish—he had saved and there they were. He looked up, the perspiration standing thick upon his white forehead, his eyes all eagerness and determination. He stood upright to rest a moment in the mellow light—happy again! Happy because he had not time to think of himself, but only of what he was doing, and of what he felt certain he could do: happy in his aching limbs and soaking flannels, and all that with a happiness he was for once not destined to realise and to check. For, even as he stood, Glen barked, and Carlton turned in time to see the village constable tuck his cane under his arm while he stood still to feel in his pockets. The man was in full uniform—a strange circumstance in itself.
"Good evening, Frost," said Mr. Carlton.
The constable was an imposing figure of a man, with a handsome stupid face, and a stolid deliberation of word and deed which gave an impression of artless but indefatigable vigilance. In reality the fellow had few inferiors in the parish.
"For me?" and Carlton held out his hand as the other produced a paper.
"For you an' me," said the constable, winking as he kept the paper to himself. And in an impressive voice he read out a warrant for the apprehension of the Reverend Robert Carlton, Clerk in Holy Orders, on a charge of unlawfully and maliciously setting fire to the parish church of Long Stow, in the County of Suffolk, on the night of the 24th or the morning of the 25th June, in the year of grace 1882; the warrant was signed by two justices—Sir Wilton Gleed of Long Stow Hall, and Canon Wilders of Lakenhall.
"Like to see it for yourself?" inquired Frost.
"No, thank you; that's quite enough for me. Well, upon my word!"
And Carlton stood staring into space, a glitter in his eyes, a smile upon his lips, incapable of unmixed indignation: really, Sir Wilton was a better fighter than he had supposed.
"You will have to come with me to Lakenhall," said the constable's voice.
Carlton realised the situation.
"At once, sir, if you please. They've sent a trap for us from Lakenhall. That's waiting at the gate."
The mason's axe was still in his hand, the unfinished stone at his feet. Carlton looked wistfully from one to the other, and thence in appeal to the officer of the law.
"I say, Frost, is there any hurry for a quarter of an hour? I'd—I'd give a sovereign to finish this stone!"
Virtue blazed in the constable's face.
"You don't bribe me, sir!" he cried. "I'm ashamed of you, I am, for tryin' that on! No, Mr. Carlton, you've got to come straight away."
"But surely I may change first?"
"You'll have to be quick, and I'll have to come with you."
"Is that necessary?" asked Carlton with some heat, as he flung his tools under cover.
"That's left to me, sir, and I don't trust no gentleman in his dressing-room. My orders are to take you alive, Mr. Carlton."
Carlton was upon him in two strides.
"Very well," said he, "you shall; and you shall come upstairs and see me change. But address another word to me at your peril!"
A small crowd had collected at the gate; a Lakenhall policeman was waiting in the trap. Carlton came down the drive with his long coat flying and his head thrown back. Somehow he was allowed to depart without a groan.
On the way he never spoke, and something kept the constables from speaking before him. They had a slow horse; it was nearly an hour before Carlton saw the inside of a police-station for the first time in his life. Here he was formally charged by a portly inspector with whom he had some slight acquaintance; the charge concluded with the usual warning that anything he said might be given in evidence against him.
"I hear," said Carlton. "And now?"
The inspector shrugged his personal regret.
"I'm afraid there's only one thing for it now, sir."
"The cells, eh?"
"That's it, Mr. Carlton."
"Monday morning, sir, the magistrates sit."
"Lead the way, then," said Carlton. "I can spend my Sunday in gaol as well as in my own rectory."
His eye was stern but steady; he was filled with contempt, but without a fear. He knew who was at the bottom of this charge, and had begun by quite admiring the man's resource; but his admiration did not survive a second thought. What a fool the fellow must be! No fool like an old fool, said the proverb; and none so insanely reckless as your prudent people, once they lose their head, thought Robert Carlton in his cell. Of the charge itself he scarcely condescended to think at all; for to his mind, the more innocent on that score for his guilt upon another, the thing seemed more preposterous than it really was. He burn the church! With what object, pray? And what did they suppose he had risked his life for at the fire? Remorse, or show? He could have laughed; he was unable to imagine a shred of evidence against himself.
There was a Testament on the table, but he had brought his Bible in his pocket; and by the gas-jet in its wire guard, that striped the walls with lean shadows like the bars of some wild beast's cage, Robert Carlton forgot his own sins, persecution and imprisonment, in those of his hero St. Paul; and was in another world when the rattle of a key brought him back to this. It was the fat inspector himself, with good news on his face, and in his hand the card of Canon Wilders, Rector of Lakenhall and chairman of the local bench.
"He doesn't want to see me, does he?" said Carlton, in plain alarm.
"If you've no objection to seeing him, sir."
"But he was one of those who signed the warrant! Tell him I can't see anybody. Thank him very much. Say that I appreciate his kindness, but would prefer to be alone."
In a few minutes the man returned.
"That's a pity you won't see the canon, sir; he don't half like it. He couldn't help signing the warrant, not in his position; that seem to me to be the very reason why he come the minute he heard we had you here; and it's my opinion he'd like to see you out of custody."
"You mean on bail?"
"Because I'm a clergyman, and it's a disgrace to the cloth!"
This explanation was a sudden idea impulsively expressed; but the inspector's face was its tacit confirmation.
"Is he here still?" demanded the prisoner.
"Yes, sir, he is."
"You can say I've been taken on a false and abominable charge," cried Carlton, "and I don't want my liberty till the falsehood's proved! But I am equally obliged to Canon Wilders," he added with less scorn, "and you will kindly tell him so with my compliments."
But he paced his cell in a curious twitter for one who had entered it without a qualm. In all his trouble this was the first word from a clerical neighbour: to a man they had stood aloof from him in his shame. His own movements were in part responsible: he had disappeared from view. Nor had he expected or coveted their sympathy; yet, now that one of them had come forward, Carlton was conscious of a wound he had not felt before. There was Preston of Linkworth—but his wife would account for him. There was Bosanquet of Bedingfield, and there were others. They might have inquired at the infirmary (Preston had), but he had never heard of it. As for Wilders, he was a worthy man of local mark, for whom Carlton had preached upon occasion; one prosperous alike in worldly welfare and in spiritual satisfaction; the last person to go into disgrace; and yet, by reason of a certain officiousness of character, the first to come forward as he had done. Carlton had no wish to be ungracious or ungrateful, or to make a personal matter of the signing of the warrant; but he could not face his fellows with this new charge hanging over him, nor was he going free by the favour of living man. On the other hand, he pondered more upon his brother clergymen that Saturday night in gaol than in all these eight weeks past. And the sense of mere social downfall, the dullest of his aches hitherto, became suddenly acute, so that for that alone he wished they had not put him in prison. But for all the rest he cared as little as before, and showed as little interest in the pending event.
His indifference quite troubled the inspector, who evinced a desire to show the prisoner every possible consideration, and was an early visitor next morning.
"That ain't no business of mine, sir; but you'll be wanting to see a solicitor during the day?"
"Why so?" asked Carlton.
"Well, sir, your case will come up to-morrow morning."
"But what do I want with a solicitor?"
"Why, sir, every pris—that is, accused——"
The inspector boggled at the word, and stood confounded by the other's density.p>"Oh, I see!" cried Carlton. "So you're thinking of my defence, are you? Thanks very much, but I don't want a lawyer to defend me. I make your side a present of the lawyers, Mr. Inspector; they'll want them all. It's for them to prove me guilty, not for me to prove my innocence."
"And do you really think we have no case against you?" inquired the inspector, with a change of tone, for he happened to have charge of the case himself.
"I don't think about it," returned Carlton, with unaffected indifference. "The thing's too preposterous to be worth a thought."
"I'm glad you find it so," said the other, nettled; "let's hope you won't change your mind. I only spoke for your own good; there's plenty would blame me for speaking at all. I won't trouble you no more, sir. I might have known I'd get no thanks, after the way you served Canon Wilders last night. Defend yourself, and let's see you do it!"
The door shut with a clang, and Carlton watched the vibrations in some distress. He was sorry to hurt the feelings of his would-be friends, but he needed no man's friendship in the present crisis. God would be his friend; his faith in Him was as profound as his contempt of the false charge hanging over himself. The latter, he felt convinced, must break down as it deserved; but if not, then the meaning would be clear. It would mean that he had not been punished sufficiently for what he had done, and must accordingly be prepared to suffer something for that which he had not done, but of which his sin had indubitably caused the doing. And Robert Carlton was so prepared in his heart of hearts. Yet he was unable to carry his pious fatalism to its logical conclusion, and to abate his bitterness against the human instruments of a vengeance he was willing to think Divine.
On the contrary, he condescended at intervals of the day to give his mind to the proceedings of the next; and he did recall one or two circumstances which prejudice and malice might twist against him. To consider these was to be instantly inspired with a conclusive reply on every point; but Carlton was not sure whether the law would permit him to reply at all. So in the afternoon he begged for newspapers, and his request, though acceded to, was all over Lakenhall by nightfall. A suspended clergyman who thought so little of his notorious sins that he could ask for newspapers on a Sunday afternoon! The inference drawn by a small community, greatly excited about the case, and unconsciously anxious to believe the worst of one who was bad enough at best, will be readily imagined. The whole town shook its head.
Meanwhile the object of popular detestation was comparatively happy in the exercise of his receptive powers. By good luck his bundle of provincial newspapers contained that which can only be met with in a local press: a verbatim report of the police-court proceedings in a painful case of infinitesimal interest to the world at large. The interest, however, was all-absorbing to Robert Carlton. The accused had been represented by a solicitor. The solicitor had fought his case tooth-and-nail. There had been certain "scenes in court"; all were reported in the local paper, and no point involved was lost upon the alert brain of the imprisoned clergyman. It was with difficulty that he dismissed the subject from his mind when the church-bells rang once more through the quiet country town. It happened, however, that the parish church was quite near the police-court; and in the morning Carlton had been enabled to follow the whole service, partly through knowing it by heart, partly from the strains of hymn or psalm that reached him at due intervals through the grated window: and ever since then he had been looking forward to evensong. So now when first the bells ceased, and then the voluntary, the prisoner presently rehearsed the exhortation (in silence) on his feet, the general confession (half aloud) upon his knees; then followed the psalms, also from memory, his lips moving, his hands folded; then knelt again to pray the prayers. And his eyes were as earnest, his attitude as reverent, and even certain gestures as punctilious, as though he were back in his church that had been burnt, instead of lying in gaol for burning it.
The August evening came early to its close; a little while the new moon glimmered in the cell; then the organ pealed the people out of church, and a few steps passed that way, and a few voices floated in through the bars, before all was quiet in the little old town. And Robert Carlton thought no more that night upon his enemies, and took no further heed for the morrow.
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