The artifice was too palpable to escape Rotha’s observation. Without a word she put her arms about Liza and kissed her. Then the lurking tears gushed out openly, and the girl wept on her breast. They parted in silence, and Rotha walked towards a little company gathered under the glow of a red sun on the highway, and almost in front of the village inn. They were the “new preachers” of whom Liza had spoken. The same that had, according to Robbie’s landlady, foretold the plague. They were three men, and they stood in the middle of a ring of men, women, and children. One of them, tall and gaunt, with long gray hair and wild eyes, was speaking at the full pitch of his voice. Another was emphasizing his words with loud hallelujahs. Then the third dropped down on his knees in the road, and prayed with earnestness in a voice that rang along the village street—silent to-day, save for him—and echoed back and back. Before the prayer had quite ended a hymn was begun in a jaunting measure, with a chorus that danced to a spirit of joyfulness.
Then came another exhortation. It was heavy with gloomy prediction. The world was full of oppression, and envy, and drunkenness, and vain pleasures. Men had forsaken the light that should enlighten all men. They were full of deceit and vanities. They put their trust in priests and professors who were but empty hollow casks. “Yet the Lord is at hand,” cried the preacher, “to thrash the mountains, and beat them to dust.”
Another hymn followed, more jubilant than before. One by one the people around caught the contagion of excitement. There were old men there with haggard faces that told of the long hard fight with the world in which they were of the multitude of the vanquished; old women, too, jaded and tired, and ready to slip into oblivion, their long day’s duty done; mothers with babes in their arms and young children nestling close at their sides; rollicking boys and girls as well, with all the struggle of life in front of them.
The simple Quaker hymn told of a great home of rest far away, yet very near.
The tumult had attracted the frequenters of the Red Lion, and some of these had stepped out on to the causeway. Two or three of them were already drunk. Among them was Garth, the blacksmith. He laughed frantically, and shrieked and crowed at every address and every hymn. When the preachers shouted “Hallelujah,” he shouted “Hallelujah” also; shouted again and again, in season and out of season; shouted until he was hoarse, and the perspiration poured down his crimsoning face. His tipsy companions at first assisted him with noisy cheers. When one of the men in the ring lifted up his voice in the ardor of prayer, Garth yelled out yet louder to ask if he thought God Almighty was deaf.
The people began to tremble at the blacksmith’s blasphemies. The tipsiest of his fellows slunk away from his side.
The preacher spoke at one moment of the numbers of their following.