“Anything up?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Boy. “Up a tree.”
She limped coldly away.
He followed her.
“Are you lul-lame?” he asked, shy and anxious.
“Sprained my off-hind fetlock,” she replied.
Patience Longstaffe was the only child of Preacher
Joe, of God-First
Farm, on the way to Lewes; and she was very like her father.
He had been brought up a Primitive Methodist and had first heard the Word at Rehoboth, the little red brick place of worship of the sect on the outskirts of Polefax; but being strong as he was original he had seceded from the church of his fathers early in life to the Foundation Methodists and started a little chapel of his own, which bore on its red side the inscription that gave the popular name to its founder’s farm.
The chapel was hidden away down a lane; but as you drove in to Lewes along the old coach-road, with the Downs bearing on your left shoulder, you could not mistake Mr. Longstaffe’s farm: for a black barn on the roadside carried in huge letters the text,
Seek ye first the Kingdom of God.
To the cultivated and academic mind there might be something blatant and vulgar about so loud an invitation.
But if its character estranged the carriage-folk, the man who had put it up had sought the Kingdom himself, and had, if all was true, found it. Joe Longstaffe was by common consent a Christian man, and not of that too general kind which excuses its foolishness and fatuity on the ground of its religion. The Duke’s agent disliked him for political reasons, but he would admit that the dissenter was the best farmer in the countryside; and the labourers would have added that he was also the best employer.
The curious who walked over from Lewes to attend the little chapel in which he held forth, found nothing remarkable in the big, gaunt man with the Newgate fringe and clean-shaven lips, who looked like a Scot but was Sussex born and bred. Joe Longstaffe was not intellectual; his theology was such that even the Salvation Army shook their heads over it; he had read nothing but the Bible and Wesley’s Diary—and those with pain; he stuttered and stumbled grotesquely in his speech, and a clerical Oxford don, who pilgrimaged from Pevensey to hear him, remarked that the only thing he brought away from the meeting was the phrase, reiterated ad nauseam,
“As I was sayin’, as you might say.”
But there was one mark-worthy point about the congregation of the chapel; and the Duke in his shrewd way was the first to note it.
“Nine out of ten of the people who attend are his own folk—his carters, shepherds, milk-maids, and the like. And they don’t go for what they can get. Now if I started a chapel—as I’m thinkin’ of doin’—d’you think my people’d come? Yes; if they thought they’d get the sack if they didn’t.”