“We did all we were able,” said the priest. “Master Rector said he would put all the parishioners who came, under the ban of the Church; the fellow snapped his fingers in his face. I told them of Sir James’s wishes; the death of my Lady—it was of no avail. We can do nothing.”
The priest’s sallow face was flushed with fury as he spoke; and his lips trembled piteously with horror and pain. It was the first time that the mummers had been near Overfield; they had heard tales of them from other parts of the country, but had hoped that their own village would escape the corruption. And now it had come.
He stood shaking, as he ended his account.
“Mr. Carleton says it would be of no avail for me to go down myself. I wished to. We can do nothing.”
Again he glanced at Ralph, who had sat down silently in the shadow while the priest talked.
Nicholas could be restrained no longer. He shook off his wife’s hand and took a step across the room.
“And you—you sit there, you devil!” he shouted.
Sir James was with him in a moment, so swiftly that Beatrice did not see him move. Margaret was clinging to her now, whispering and sobbing.
“Nick,” snapped out the old man, “hold your tongue, sir. Sit down.”
“God’s Blood!” bellowed the squire. “You bid me sit down.”
Sir James gripped him so fiercely that he stepped back.
“I bid you sit down,” he said. “Ralph, will you help us?”
Ralph stood up instantly. He had not stirred a muscle as Nick shouted at him.
“I waited for that, sir,” he said. “What is it you would have me do?”
Beatrice saw that his face was quite quiet as he spoke; his eyelids drooped a little; and his mouth was tight and firm. He seemed not to be aware of Nicholas’s presence.
“To hinder the play-acting,” said his father.
There fell a dead silence again.
“I will do it, sir,” said his son. “It—it is but decent.”
And in the moment of profound astonishment that fell, he came straight across the room, passed by them all without turning his head, and went out.
Beatrice felt a fierce emotion grip her throat as she looked after him, and saw the door close. Then Margaret seized her again, and she turned to quiet her.
She was aware that Sir James had gone out after his son, after a moment of silence, and she heard his footsteps pass along the flags outside.
“Oh! God bless him!” sobbed Margaret.
Sir James came back immediately, shook his head, went across the room, and sat down in the seat that Ralph had left. A dreadful stillness fell. Margaret was quiet now. Mary was sitting with her husband on the other side of the hearth. Chris rose presently and sat down by his father, but no one spoke a word.
Then Nicholas got up uneasily, came across the room, and stood with his back to the hearth warming himself. Beatrice saw him glance now and again to the shadowed window-seat where the two men sat; he hummed a note or two to himself softly; then turned round and stared at the fire with outstretched hands.