When she was gone he stood listening at the door for some sound—for any sound, even the sound of her dress—but there was none, for her petticoat was of lawn, and the Rector was alone with a silence that he could not bear. He began to pace the room in his thick boots, his hands clenched behind him, his forehead butting the air, his lips folded; thus a bull, penned for the first time, turns and turns, showing the whites of its full eyes.
His thoughts drove here and there, fearful, angered, without guidance; he did not pray. The words he had spoken so many times left him as though of malice. “We are all in the hands of God!—we are all in the hands of God!” Instead of them he could think of nothing but the old saying Mr. Paramor had used in the Squire’s dining-room, “There is moderation in all things,” and this with cruel irony kept humming in his ears. “Moderation in all things—moderation in all things!” and his wife lying there—his doing, and
There was a sound. The Rector’s face, so brown and red, could not grow pale, but his great fists relaxed. Mrs. Pendyce was standing in the doorway with a peculiar half-pitiful, half-excited smile.
“It’s all right—a boy. The poor dear has had a dreadful time!”
The Rector looked at her, but did not speak; then abruptly he brushed past her in the doorway, hurried into his study and locked the door. Then, and then only, he kneeled down, and remained there many minutes, thinking of nothing.
THE SQUIRE MAKES UP HIS MIND
That same evening at nine o’clock, sitting over the last glass of a pint of port, Mr. Barter felt an irresistible longing for enjoyment, an impulse towards expansion and his fellow-men.
Taking his hat and buttoning his coat—for though the June evening was fine the easterly breeze was eager—he walked towards the village.
Like an emblem of that path to God of which he spoke on Sundays, the grey road between trim hedges threaded the shadow of the elm-trees where the rooks had long since gone to bed. A scent of wood-smoke clung in the air; the cottages appeared, the forge, the little shops facing the village green. Lights in the doors and windows deepened; a breeze, which hardly stirred the chestnut leaves, fled with a gentle rustling through the aspens. Houses and trees, houses and trees! Shelter through the past and through the days to come!
The Rector stopped the first man he saw.
“Fine weather for the hay, Aiken! How’s your wife doing—a girl? Ah, ha! You want some boys! You heard of our event at the Rectory? I’m thankful to say——”
From man to man and house to house he soothed his thirst for fellowship, for the lost sense of dignity that should efface again the scar of suffering. And above him the chestnuts in their breathing stillness, the aspens with their tender rustling, seemed to watch and whisper: “Oh, little men! oh, little men!”