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Next morning he was early at his arch, and had soon finished the voussoir which he had been roughing out when this vital interruption occurred. But he was not satisfied with the stone, and wasted much time in turning it over and over and wondering whether it would do or not. Now this was a point upon which Carlton usually knew his mind in a twinkling. Indecision of any sort was, indeed, among the last of his failings; but that man is not himself who has not closed an eye all night; and Robert Carlton had only closed his in prayer.
Later in the morning his case was worse. He would think of the boy until the chisel went too deep and spoilt another stone. Or, just when he was beginning to get on, he would drop his tools and wheel round suddenly, half hoping to see a second little apparition in a sailor hat with the brim turned down. But these things do not happen twice, much less when looked and longed for, as Carlton knew very well. And yet his knowledge did not help him in the matter; on the other hand, it drove him again and again to his gate, to gaze wistfully up and down the road he never traversed; and this was the most disastrous habit of all.
Once more the work stood still; for the first time in three whole years, it stood practically still for days.
Meanwhile, at the Flint House, there had never been any secret as to what had happened between showers at the church. Gwynneth had told Mrs. Musk, and Mrs. Musk had deemed it better to tell Jasper himself than to let him gather the truth from Georgie's prattle. And in the event Musk took it better than his wife had dared to hope, merely vilifying quick and dead with renewed rancour, and grimly undertaking that the incident should not occur again.
So Georgie saw more of his grandfather than he had ever seen before, and rather more than he cared to see after his close association with Gwynneth, whose wonderful letter from Leipzig was small comfort to so small a soul, though Mrs. Musk had to read it to Georgie many times a day.
"Oh! I wish I would go and see workman," the boy would exclaim without fear. "I wish I would! I wish I would!"
"I daresay you do," Jasper would growl from his chair.
"Then can I; can I, I say, grand-daddy?"
"No, you can't."
"Oh! why can't I?"
"Because I tell you."
"But, you see, grand-daddy, he was making me such a lovely, lovely face. I must go back for it. Really I must. He did say he finish fen I go back. So of course I must go. See? See? See?"
Thus pestered, Jasper once thundered:
"Oh, yes, I see! I know him—I know him. I see hard enough! But if ever you do go I'll—I'll—I'll give ye what ye never had afore and'll never want again!"
"Oh, don't be angry wif me," Georgie whimpered. "Oh, I wish my lady would come back!"
"I daresay you do," said Jasper, calming. "And I don't."
But a child forgets; at all events Georgie did; and so surely as his ennui in the garden, within strict sight of the terrible old man in the chair, reached a certain pitch, so surely did the treasonable aspiration rise to his innocent lips.
"I wish I would go and see workman. I wish I would!"
But at last one day the old man rose, stick and all; and at this even Georgie trembled; for it was long since he had seen his grandfather on his feet. Over the grass he came hobbling, ungainly, abnormal, frowning down upon the buttercups. Georgie crept aside. But Musk passed him without a word. Three times he limped the length of the overgrown lawn, muttering, frowning; and the third time his lameness was palpably less.
"Why, Jasper," cried Mrs. Musk, running out, "you're getting better!"
"No, I ain't," he roared. "You mind your own business and get away indoors."
Mrs. Musk was meekly obeying, and Georgie escaping at her skirt, when a second roar recalled the child. Jasper was leaning with both hands on the stick before him, his frown gone, but in its place a surely devilish smile, since the child mistook it for the real thing.
"So you're still longun to go back and see the workman, as you call him, at the church?"
"Oh, yes, I are!"
And round eyes kindled at the thought.
"Very well. You may."
Georgie could scarcely believe his ears.
"Fen may I? Now? Now, I say?"
"When you like, so long as you don't bother me."
Georgie jumped and shouted in his joy.
"Goin' to see workman, goin' to see workman! Oh, my Jove, my Jove! Goin' to see workman makin' lovely, lovely faces all for me—every bit!"
"Hold your noise," said Jasper, roughly; "and go, if you're going."
Carlton had given up expecting him, divining at last that Musk knew of their one interview, and would never let them have another. So once more Georgie surprised him at his work; but this time he had to hail his friend; for now Carlton was making up for lost time, and at the moment, up on a scaffolding, was all absorbed in the exciting task of fitting the finished voussoirs over the wooden centre which supported the arch until the keystone should complete it. And the keystone was actually in one hand, a trowel full of mortar in the other, when the first sound of Georgie's voice drove all else from his mind.
"I say, I say, I say!" he ran up shouting. "Workman, workman!"
But now the workman was only collecting himself, and thanking God with quivering lips, before he could trust himself upon his ladder.
"So here you are at last," he said, swinging the child off his legs without endearment. Yet all his being yearned towards the merry independent little boy. The straight strong legs seemed browner and rounder already. It might have been the same holland pinafore; it was the same sailor hat.
"Yes, here I are," said Georgie, "and I wish you would make lovely, lovely faces out of bwick."
"Not run away again, I hope?"
"No, 'cos I came by my own self."
Carlton asked no more questions. Any minute the child might be missed and sent for; every moment was precious meanwhile. It was a heavenly day in early June, the elms in full leaf at last against the blue, the churchyard dappled with light and shade, the fresh sandstone yellow as gold where the sun caught it fairly. And in the sunlight stood its own incarnation—sturdy champion of the golden age—laughing child of June.
Carlton could see nothing else.
"Come on, I say," urged Georgie; "come an' make faces, quick, sharp!"
And he dragged the sculptor to his rude studio.
"There it is, there it is," shouted Georgie, spying the unfinished head high up on the shelf. "You did say you finish fen I come back. Finish—finish—quick, sharp!"
Carlton brought the thing outside, for the shed was close, and went to work at the foot of his ladder, with Georgie sitting on the lowest rung. And any merit which the rough attempt had possessed was speedily removed by an over-elaboration on which Georgie insisted, and which certainly served its purpose by earning his vociferous applause.
"Oh, his eyes! What funny eyes! Make them open and shut, I say—can you?"
A doll, which Gwynneth had unearthed, before she knew her Georgie very well, had retained this accomplishment even when the head was off its body.
"I'm afraid I can't do that," said Carlton.
So Carlton gouged in the soft stone till the holes for the eyeballs had disappeared.
"Now open them again!"
And fresh holes were made: they were the most sunken eyes ever seen before Georgie was tired of the game. Next he must have ears, which were supposed to be concealed by the very heavy head of hair; and when the ears arrived, they were not worth having without ear-rings; but there the sculptor was nonplussed, and struck.
"All right," said Georgie, cheerfully; "then I'll carry it home without."
"What, run away directly it's done?"
The cold-blooded ingratitude of infancy was new to Carlton, as his hurt face was to Georgie, who eyed it with some compassion.
"All right," said he; "I'll stay a little bit if you like."
"And sit on my knee, Georgie."
But there was no sentiment about Georgie to-day; it was mere magnanimity, and he showed it.
"Quite comfy, Georgie?"
"No," sighed the boy, screwing about on the one thin thigh; "I think it's only a little comfy."
And, the other leg being slipped under his small person, Georgie said it was.
"Are you sure, Georgie, that you want to take that head home at all?"
"Course I are," said Georgie, decidedly. "I must take it, you see; course I must."
Carlton was again tormented by the ignoble inclination which he had overcome by impulse rather than by will at the last interview. Was a child of four too young to keep a secret? If only this one could be induced to go and come back, and back, and back, without ever saying a word to anybody! The proposition had shamed him before; and did now; but the new love within him was stronger than his shame.
"You wouldn't show it," suggested Carlton, "to your grandfather, would you?"
"Course I'll show it to him," said Georgie, for whom the stipulation was too oblique.
"But he'll be angry!"
"Course he won't," said Georgie, more superior than ever, and with the air of one who does not care to argue any more.
"But you know he was before," said Carlton, drawing his bow.
"Oh, bovver!" exclaimed Georgie, losing patience. "Well, then, he won't be angry to-day, I know he won't."
"How do you know, Georgie?"
"'Cos he did tell me I could come."
Georgie nodded solemnly.
"Yes, he did. I know he did."
What could it mean? The child was strangely dependable for his years; indeed, it was impossible to look in those great and candid eyes and to doubt the testimony of the equally candid little tongue. Then what could it mean? Had Musk relented? Was he relenting? Carlton's heart leapt at the thought, and with his heart his eyes; and in the same second he had his answer.
Close at hand in the sunlight, where Georgie had stood last, brimming over with delight, there now stood Jasper Musk himself, huge with hate, livid with rage, vindictive, remorseless—but not surprised. Carlton saw this at the first glance, in the triumphant lightning flashing from the fixed eyes, and playing over the heavy, grim, inexorable face. And that was his answer; furthermore it prepared him for all, and more than all, that was to come.
"Put the boy down," said Jasper Musk, with sinister self-control.
Instinctively the child slipped to the ground; but there his courage failed him, so that he turned his back upon the terrible old man, and hid his face in the lap that he had left.
"Come here, George!"
But Carlton held him firmly with both hands.
Musk bore down on them in a series of little shuffling steps, his great face wincing with the pain of each. His voice had already risen; now it was so terrible to hear, so hoarse and high with passion, that in an instant Carlton had his thumbs in the small boy's ears.
"Snivelling hypocrite! Whited sepulchre! Do you hand the child over to me, or I'll break this stick across your back. So I've caught ye, temptun him here to make up to him behind my back! But you don't—no, you don't—not while I'm alive to stop that. He's nothun to you and you're nothun to him, and do you meddle with him again at your peril. I've taken the trouble to learn the law of it, so I know. God damn ye! will you take your hands off him, or am I to break your blasted head?"
"You can do what you like," said Carlton; "but the boy shall not hear you using that language to me. So you will never get a better opportunity than you have." And his nostrils curled as he bent his defenceless head over that of the boy, and pressed a little harder with his thumbs.
The other gnashed his teeth, and his great hand tightened on his stick. But he could not strike like that. And his enemy knew it; trust him to know when he was safe!
"I'm not going to prison for ye," said Musk, "if that's what you want. I daresay you'd think that worth a crack on the head to get me locked up for a bit; well, then, you shan't. Do you leave go o' the kid, and I won't swear no more."
The effort at self-control was plain enough, as Carlton looked up, without complying all at once.
"One moment," he said. "You sent him here yourself, I think?"
"What, the child?"
"I didn't send him. He was pestering me to come. So at last I gave him leave to do as he liked."
"In order that you might follow and abuse me in front of him!"
"I'll tell no lies," said Musk, sturdily. "I meant to let him hear what I thought of you, and I won't deny it."
Carlton looked a little longer upon the broad face between the steely bristles and the silvery hair; it had aged nothing in these years which had been as twenty to himself; and for the moment there was all the old rugged dignity in its independent purpose and honest unrelenting hate. A bargain had been in Carlton's mind, but at the last he decided to trust his enemy instead.
"It's all right, Georgie," he whispered: "we are not really angry with each other. Run away and play."
"But I don't want to!"
"You must," said Carlton, and rose without taking further notice of the child. "Mr. Musk," he said, in a low voice but firm, "is it to be like this between us to the bitter end?"
"I do not ask your forgiveness——"
"Glad to hear it."
"I only ask—in pity's name—to be allowed to do something for the boy!"
Musk moved a muscle at last, and his eyes came close together with a gleam. "I daresay you do," said he.
"But will you not listen——"
"I'm listening now, ain't I?"
"Ah, but not to my prayer! I see it in your face; you have no pity. God knows how little I deserve! Yet it's little enough that I ask: only to see him sometimes, and not even to see him if you set your face against it. I would be content—at least I would try to be—if I knew he was going to good schools, if—if I might have hand or voice in his life. You say I have no rights. That is my punishment; a new one, that I never felt until I saw the boy for the first time the other day; but if you knew how I have felt it since! If you knew what it would be to me to do anything—give anything——"
"I knew that were comun," said Musk, nodding to himself . . . "So you'd like to do the handsome, would you?" His whole face became suddenly suffused, as with walnut-juice; the very whites of his eyes seemed white no longer, while the pupils shrank to steel points in their midst. "I know you!" he cried, beside himself again; "but don't you try them games with me. That's your line, that is—buy your way back! You'd buy it with the parish, by making them a church; and you'd buy it with the boy, by making things for him; but that's what you never shall do, not while I live to prevent it . . . What you got there, George? You give that here!"
It was the sandstone head with the sunken eyes, and Georgie was clinging to it in his trouble underneath the scaffolding; in an instant Musk had seized it from him, and dashed it with all his might against the wall, so that the soft stone flew into a dozen pieces. It was like blood to a wild beast: the demon of destruction broke loose in Jasper Musk.
"And that's how I'd treat the rest of your damned handiwork," he roared, "if I was the village! I'd have no church of your building; I'd bring that down about your ears right quick!" His wild eye lit upon the wooden centre of the unfinished arch, and "This is what I'd do," he shouted, lunging at the woodwork with his heavy stick. "Hypocrite! Pharisee! Disgrace to God and man! Leper as——"
But the centre had been dealt a heavy thrust, as from a battering ram, with each expression; with each it had bulged a little; but the last lunge drove the whole framework from under the unfinished arch, which came crashing down amid a yellow cloud. Musk shuffled backward in time to save his toes; for an instant then both he and Carlton stood aghast.
Robbed of his latest treasure, and moreover having seen it smashed to atoms before his eyes, Georgie had been howling lustily when the crash came: when the yellow cloud lifted he lay silent enough, in a little brown heap below the scaffolding, and already the blood was through his hair.
Carlton had him in his arms that instant.
"He's insensible," he said quietly. "A nasty scalp wound, and may be more. What day is this?"
Musk did not know what he was saying, but the cool question had elicited a correct though unconscious reply.
"Wednesday used to be the doctor's day at the dispensary——"
"And is still," cried Musk, coming to his senses.
"Then one of us must run for him."
"I can't run!"
"Then you must hold him while I do. Stop! I'll take him to the house; you must bathe his head while I'm gone."
Another minute and the boy lay in the rectory study, upon the little bed in which Carlton had fought death and won three years before; yet another, and up limped Jasper, crooked with pain, out of breath, but gasping for news of Georgie as though he had been a week on the way.
"Has he come to yet?"
"No, and there's a lot of blood. We must stop it if we can. Wait till I get a sponge and some water."
Jasper Musk was bending over the boy, looking huger than ever upon his knees, when Carlton returned to the room.
"What have I done?" he was muttering. "What have I done? What have I done?"
"Nothing that you could help," replied Carlton, briskly. "Now you keep squeezing this sponge out over his head—never mind the bed—till I get back."
Georgie lay insensible for hours. It was not the loss of blood, which looked much worse than it was, and ceased altogether with the dressing of the wound. There was, however, somewhat serious concussion underneath; and Dr. Marigold bluntly refused to guarantee the event.
"The pity is to move him," he grumbled towards night. "But is there anybody here who could nurse the boy?"
"Only myself," said Carlton, who had been quiet and quick to help all the afternoon.
The doctor shot an upward glance through his shaggy white eyebrows.
"Well, you're handy enough, I must say; and, as we know, the very devil to do things single-handed; but this you couldn't do. No, I'd like to take him straight to the infirmary, only I'm on horseback."
"There are traps in the village."
"They would jolt too much."
"Then let me carry him."
"It's five miles."
"Never mind. I could do it. And he shouldn't jolt—he shouldn't jolt!"
The mellow voice that had charmed the countryside in bygone years, it fell and quivered with infinite tenderness and love, and it sped to the heart of the gaunt old doctor. So this time Marigold raised his whole head, and his look was open, prolonged, and penetrating.
"No, no, Mr. Carlton," he said at length, and in the tone of old times. "It might do no good, after all. But I'll tell you what you shall do: you shall carry him to the Flint House, and I'll spend the night there if I must."
All this while Jasper Musk was sitting stunned and staring in the rector's chair. He had not moved for an hour, nor did he now until Carlton touched him on the shoulder.
"We are going, Mr. Musk. I am carrying Georgie to your house."
Musk raised a ghastly face.
"He isn't dead?"
"Nor going to die?"
"God forbid! But the danger is great. The doctor is going to stay with him all night."
And there was a touch of jealousy in his tone, lost upon Jasper Musk, but not on him who inspired it. Silently they left the house, and stole down the drive in the blue twilight. Carlton led, treading almost on tip-toe, as if not to wake a child that only slept in his arms. And so they came to the Flint House, its master limping on the doctor's arm.
"Go in, Mr. Carlton," said Marigold. "There's no one else to carry him upstairs."
And he detained Jasper below.
"You must let that man stay till he is out of danger," the doctor said.
"Why must I?"
"Because I am not justified in staying all night; and he will look after the boy as you and your wife cannot, and as no one else will, now that Miss Gleed is away."
Jasper bowed sullenly to his fate. But the doctor was not done.
"Besides," said he, his kind hand on the other's arm; "besides, he feels this as much as you do, and God knows he's gone through enough! To-day, I tell you candidly, but for him your little lad would be in a worse way than he is. Now don't you think after this that all of us—even you—might begin to be just a little less hard—even on him?"
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