“‘Oh, he’s all right,’ the old man replied indifferently; ’but come along in to supper.’
“Now, my dear sir”—the schoolmaster thus concluded his tale, tucking his umbrella tightly under his armpit, and tapping his right forefinger on the palm of his left hand—“these pagans whom I teach are as sensitive as I to ridicule. If I only knew how to take them—if only I could lay my finger on the weak spot—I’d send their whole fabric of silly superstitions tumbling like a house of cards.”
This happened last Thursday week. Early this morning I crossed the road as usual with my thermometer, and found a strip of pink calico hanging from the brambles by the mouth of Scarlet’s Well. I had seen the pattern before on a gown worn by one of the villager’s wives, and knew the rag was a votive offering, hung there because her child, who has been ailing all the winter, is now strong enough to go out into the sunshine. As I bent the bramble carefully aside, before stooping over the water, Lizzie Polkinghorne came up the lane and halted behind me.
“Have ’ee heard the news?” she asked.
“No.” I turned round, thermometer in hand.
“Why, Thomasine Slade’s goin’ to marry the schoolmaster! Their banns ’ll be called first time nest Sunday.”
We looked at each other, and she broke into a shout of laughter. Lizzie’s laugh is irresistible.
The small rotund gentleman who had danced and spun all the way to Gantick village from the extreme south of France, and had danced and smiled and blown his flageolet all day in Gantick Street without conciliating its population in the least, was disgusted. Towards dusk he crossed the stile which divides Sanctuary Lane from the churchyard, and pausing with a leg on either side of the rail, shook his fist back at the village which lay below, its grey roofs and red chimneys just distinguishable here and there between a foamy sea of apple-blossom and a haze of bluish smoke. He could not well shake its dust off his feet, for this was hardly separable on his boots from the dust of many other villages, and also it was mostly mud. But his gesture betokened extreme rancour.
“These Cor-rnishmen,” he said, “are pigs all! There is not a Cor-rnishman that is not a big pig!”
He lifted the second leg wearily over the rail.
“As for Art—”
“Words failed him here, and he spat upon the ground, adding—
“Moreover, they shut up their churches!”
This was really a serious matter; for he had not a penny-piece in his pocket—the last had gone to buy a loaf—and there was no lodging to be had in the village. The month was April—a bad time to sleep in the open; and though the night drew in tranquilly upon a day of broad sunshine, the earth had by no means sucked down the late heavy rains. The church porch, however, had a broad bench on either side and faced the south, away from the prevailing wind. He had made a mental note of this early in the day, being schooled to anticipate such straits as the present. While, with a gait like a limping hare’s, he passed up the narrow path between the graves, his eyes were busy.