Enoch Strone - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

Enoch Strone ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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Opis

Upward in long sinuous bends the road wound its way into the heart of the hills. The man, steadily climbing to the summit, changed hands upon the bicycle he was pushing, and wiped the sweat from his grimy forehead. It had been a gray morning when he had left, with no promise of this burst of streaming sunshine. Yet the steep hill troubled him but little--he stepped blithely forward with little sign of fatigue.

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Liczba stron: 328

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Contents

BOOK I

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II.

CHAPTER III.

CHAPTER IV.

CHAPTER V.

CHAPTER VI.

CHAPTER VII.

CHAPTER VIII.

CHAPTER IX.

CHAPTER X.

CHAPTER XI.

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII.

CHAPTER XIV.

CHAPTER XV.

CHAPTER XVI.

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII.

CHAPTER XIX.

CHAPTER XX.

BOOK II

CHAPTER I.

CHAPTER II.

CHAPTER III.

CHAPTER IV.

CHAPTER V.

CHAPTER VI.

CHAPTER VII.

CHAPTER VIII.

CHAPTER IX.

CHAPTER X.

CHAPTER XI.

CHAPTER XII.

CHAPTER XIII.

CHAPTER XIV.

CHAPTER XV.

CHAPTER XVI.

CHAPTER XVII.

CHAPTER XVIII.

BOOK I

CHAPTER I

Upwards in long sinuous bends the road wound its way into the heart of the hills. The man, steadily climbing to the summit, changed hands upon the bicycle he was pushing and wiped the sweat from his grimy forehead. It had been a grey morning when he had left, with no promise of this burst of streaming sunshine. Yet the steep hill troubled him but little–he stepped blithely forward with little sign of fatigue. Once he paused to gather a little clump of primroses, and once to stoop down and admire a few shoots of soft green bracken springing up by the roadside. His workman’s clothes, open at the throat, showed him the possessor of a magnificent pair of shoulders, the suggestion of great physical strength was carried out also in his hard, clean cut features and deep set piercing grey eyes. He passed a spinny where the ground was blue with budding hyacinths, and he loitered for a moment, leaning upon the saddle of his bicycle, and gazing up the sunlit grade. A line or two of Keats sprang to his lips. As he uttered them a transfiguring change swept across his face, still black in patches as though from grimy labour. His hard, straight mouth relaxed into a very pleasant curve, a softer light flashed in his steely eyes. A tiny rabbit scudded across the grass grown path and disappeared down a friendly hole. He smiled at its frantic haste, and presently resumed his climb. He reached a wooden gate at last on his right hand side, and pushing it open skirted a grey stone wall until he came to a sudden dip in the field, and with its back against a rocky eminence a tiny cottage built of the stones which lay in heaps about the turf. He leaned his bicycle against the wall, and taking a key from his pocket unlocked the door.

“Saturday at last,” he exclaimed aloud, in a tone which, save for a note of bitterness, would have been full and pleasant enough. “Thirty-six hours of freedom. Phew!”

He had plunged a basin into the soft water tank outside and held his head in it for a moment. Then all dripping he carried a canful to a hollow bath ingeniously fixed amongst the rocks against which the cottage was built, and throwing off his soiled clothes plunged in. Unconsciously he straightened himself at the touch of the water, stinging cold from the well, and with his head thrown back, and clean, strong limbs thrown into vivid relief against the shelving green turf, he seemed for a moment, notwithstanding a certain ferocity of bearing and demeanour, to grow into the semblance of one of those ancient and mythical gods who walked naked the dark green slopes of Olympus. Certainly there was no longer any sign of the grease-stained mechanic when he emerged, and with his towel wrapped lightly around him stepped into the cottage.

He reappeared in a few minutes clad in a grey homespun suit, which showed many signs of wear, a pipe in his mouth, a book in his hand. Leisurely he filled a kettle from the well and thrust it into the centre of the small wood fire which he had kindled. Then with a sigh of relief he threw himself upon the soft mossy turf.

The book lay unheeded by his side. From his high vantage point he looked downwards at the wide panorama which stretched to the horizon, faintly and mistily blue. The glorious spring sunshine lay like a quickening fire upon the land. The tree tops, moving lightly in the west wind, were budding into tender green, the dark pine groves were softened, the patches of rich brown soil freshly turned by the plough gleamed as though with promise of the crops to come. Below him the dusty white lane along which he had travelled stretched like a narrow white belt, vanishing here and there in the woods and disappearing at times between lichen-stained grey walls. He traced it backwards across the silvery brook back to the quaint village with its clustering grey stone houses, red-tiled roofs and strange church tower, and watched for a moment the delicate wreaths of smoke curl upwards, straight with the promise of fine weather. Further still he followed it into the flat country past the reservoirs, a brilliant streak of scintillating light, back into the heart of the town from whence he had come, and which stretched there now in the middle distance a medley of factory chimneys and miles of houses–a great foul blot upon the fair landscape. He remembered it as he had ridden out an hour or so ago, the outskirts with all their depressing ugliness, a cobbled road, a shabby tram-car with a tired horse creeping along a road where dirty children played weary games and shouted shrilly to one another. A miserable region of smoke-begrimed houses and small shops, an unattractive public-house at every corner round which loafed men with the white faces of tired animals, and women dragging babies and shouting abuse to their more venturesome offspring. With painful distinctness he saw it all–the opened factory gates, the belching out of a slatternly mob of shrieking girls and ribald youths, the streets untidy with the refuse of the greengrocers’ shops, the hot, fetid atmosphere of the low-lying town. He closed his eyes–ah, how swiftly it all vanished! In his ears was the pleasant chirping of many insects, the glorious sunshine lay about him like wine, the west wind made music in the woods, one thrush in particular was singing to him blithely from the thatched roof of his cottage–a single throbbing note against a melodious background of the whole wood full of twittering birds. The man smiled to himself, well pleased. A day and half’s respite from slavery–here! It was worth while after all.

He stretched out his hand for his bode, and puffed contentedly at his pipe. Suddenly he looked up, frowning. Someone was scrambling up the rude path from behind the cottage. In a moment appeared the head and shoulders of a man against the sky line. The new comer paused for a moment to admire the view–then, seeing the figure recumbent upon the grass, came hastily down.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Strone! I am glad to find you at home.”

Enoch Strone looked his visitor up and down with frowning face.

“Have you lost your way?” he asked, gruffly. “This is private property.”

The new comer flushed slightly. He was a middle-aged, pleasant faced man, with brown beard and humourous mouth, quietly dressed in dark grey. He wore a clergyman’s hat.

“I came to see you,” he answered. “My name is Martinghoe, and I am the vicar of Bangdon.”

Strone frowned more heavily than ever. He rose to his feet without any attempt at greeting, burly, almost repulsive-looking in his slow anger.

“Yes, yes,” he said, impatiently. “I know who you are. But what do you want with me?”

“You are one of my few parishioners,” Martinghoe explained, with a smile. “I have tried twenty times to catch you, but always unsuccessfully. Once or twice I fancy that I have seen you in full retreat into the woods–this time I think I have run you to earth!”

Strone smiled grimly.

“I am afraid that you have wasted your time,” he said, shortly, “if you have come out here purposely to see me. I am not a Christian, and nothing would induce me to set foot in a church. I have no money to give away, and I get very bad-tempered when I am intruded upon. You will find a more direct path into the road by that gate,” he added, pointing downwards.

“I’ll try it soon,” Martinghoe answered, pleasantly. “In the meantime you won’t object to my sitting down for a moment and enjoying your view. I’m really out of breath.”

Strone grunted something inarticulate, relit his pipe, and took up his book. The sound of a match made him glance up quickly. His unbidden visitor had also lit a huge briar, and was puffing away contentedly.

“Not in the way, am I?” he asked. “This is such a delightful spot.”

Strone laid down his book once more.

“Yes,” he said, “you are. Listen. I’ll be frank with you, and then perhaps you’ll go. I’m a mechanic, foreman at Dobell’s engineering works in Gascester, and I’ve bought this piece of land and built this cottage myself because I’m fond of solitude, and I ride backwards and forwards, winter and summer, for the very same reason. This is my Saturday afternoon, which I look forward to all the week, and you’ve already spoilt ten minutes of it. Now is that plain enough?”

“Quite,” Martinghoe answered, without any sign of annoyance. “I’ll go! But first, is this book yours? It was brought to me by one of the keepers, and I fancied that those might be your initials in it.”

Strone literally pounced upon it The blackness vanished from his face like magic. He took the volume almost tenderly into his hands.

“Yes, it’s mine,” he exclaimed. “I lost it last Sunday, and I’ve spent hours looking for it.”

“Heggs picked it up and he thought it might be mine. I hope you don’t mind. I read it through last night from beginning to end.”

A transfiguring gleam of humour flashed across Strone’s face.

“You!” he exclaimed, “a parson, and read fairy tales!”

Martinghoe roared out laughing.

“My dear fellow,” he answered, “if you’ve read more poetry and fairy tales than I have I’ll make you a present of my whole library. I have a first edition of the ‘Sundering Flood,’ and I know my Morris well. Do you think that we read nothing but the Bible and theology?”

“I didn’t know,” Strone answered. “How should I?”

Martinghoe’s hand fell upon his shoulder.

“Look here,” he said, “don’t send me away till we’ve had a chat. I’m a lonely man, and I ain’t so fond of it as you are. I haven’t a soul to talk to from week end to week end. You read a bit and so do I. You have grit in you, or you wouldn’t be here. Let’s have a pipe together.”

Strone smoked stolidly for a moment.

“You don’t know the sort of man I am,” he said, suddenly. “I don’t believe in a word of the Bible, and I’m not at all sure that I believe in a hereafter at all. I look upon church-going as a farce, and nothing would induce me to set foot inside one. Besides, I am a working-man–my father died of drink, mother in the asylum. Is it likely that I’m fit company for a parson?”

Martinghoe smiled.

“I don’t believe that you’ve ever spoken to one in your life,” he said, “and you’ve an idea that we go about like Salvation Army captains shouting for souls. I’m quite prepared to respect your religious beliefs or disbeliefs. Your brain is as good as mine. You may be right and I wrong. Who knows? Some day, perhaps, we’ll talk of it, but not unless you wish. As to the rest–well, it only proves that you’re a better man than I. The balance is on your side at any rate.”

Strone for the first time surveyed his visitor with some appearance of interest. He took note of the shapely, sensitive mouth, the broad forehead, the clear, bright eyes which sought his so frankly. This was a different type of parson to any with whom he had ever come into contact. A man all over, loveable, human, magnetic! Yet Strone was-obstinate to the backbone. He hated to change his mind.

“You don’t approve of the Salvation Army, then!” he remarked, gruffly.

“I didn’t say so,” Mr. Martinghoe answered, smiling. “Only I think that theirs is one of those rare cases in which enthusiasm defeats its own object–over enthusiasm, of course, I mean. Yet it is very hard to be critical, for they appeal to a class who are almost hopeless. Their mistake, I think, is that they do not limit their energies to that class. The attempt to convert men and women of education can do nothing but harm!”

Strone looked up with a grim smile.

“Proselytism is a feverish pursuit,” he remarked. “The man who has once converted another to his opinion is never happy until he can start on somebody else. You’re quite sure you haven’t a Bible in your tail-coat pocket, Mr. Martinghoe?”

Martinghoe laughed.

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