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Irresolute Catherine written by Violet Jacob who was a Scottish writer, now known especially for her historical novel Flemington and for her poetry. This book was published in 1908. And now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.
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CHAPTER I. BETHESDA
CHAPTER II. A NIGHT OF STARS
CHAPTER III. TALGWYNNE FAIR
CHAPTER IV. ACTION
CHAPTER V. PENCOED
CHAPTER VI. CATHERINE OPENS THE GATE
A DULL patter of sheep’s hurrying feet came from behind a small knoll that jutted into the track along the mountain. The level plateau was wide and smooth below the towering slopes, and the threads of water crossing it at intervals had laid the underlying rock bare. As the sound neared, a travelling flock came round the knoll, herded thickly together and running before a man on horseback like clouds scudding before a gale. Forty pairs of light-coloured eyes, with their clear black bar of pupil, stared limpidly into space, and the backs of the flock bobbed and heaved as the hundred and sixty little cloven hoofs set their mark on the earthy places over which they passed.
Heber Moorhouse, pressing hard on their heels, shouted now and again, swinging the rope’s end he carried and leaning far out of his saddle as he drove the stragglers in. The rough-coated, weedy-looking pony under him cantered on, stubborn in face and obedient in limb to the rider’s hand and balance. ‘Black Heber’ could bring in his sheep as easily without his dog as with him.
It was nothing in his colouring that had earned him the title by which some spoke of him, for his hair was of the same indefinite shade as that of many of his neighbours, and his eyes were rather light than dark. But they had a fire, on occasion, that suggested dark things even to the ardent and sober Baptist community to which he belonged. Though he was a young man he looked older than his years by reason of his gauntness and his thin beard. He had sole charge of the flock on a fair-sized sheep farm, and was counted by his employer a responsible, if inconveniently independent, fellow. He was a convinced chapel-goer, rather bigoted and with qualities which made certain wildnesses in him doubly marked by contrast.
He looked wild enough this afternoon, with his battered, wide-brimmed hat and the arm which swung the rope-end showing sharply against the sky. He was a figure which by no stretch of imagination could be supposed to belong to the valley lying below his feet, rich, chequered, and green; its soft luxuriance pertained to another world from that which had given birth to this crude son of action.
The afternoon was wearing on and he was anxious to get the crowd in front of him to its destination in a pen farther along the plateau; when the sheep were off his hands there would be other matters calling him, and his mind was running on far before the flock.
Meanwhile, as he rode on the mountain turf, a little concourse of people waited about among the trees at the head of the dingle farther on. Where a primitive cart-road plunged through a grove of alders, a two-storied house, scarcely more pretentious than a cottage, stood back from it, facing the passer-by and parted from him by a wide yard. An obliterated signboard, high on the rough-cast wall, showed that the building had formerly been a house of entertainment, while it offered no clue to the device it had once borne, nor suggested the name, “Bethesda,” by which it was now known. What gave the place significance was the stream of water which crossed the road on its downward course and dived in among the trees, falling from level to level, and disappearing in the thicket of hazels and undergrowth.
Opposite to the house, but on the farther side of the way, a paved channel was cut from the stream to a square pool the sides of which were walled by slabs of stone. From this another channel led to the edge of the high ground, but at the present moment it was blocked by a single slab, the removal of which would drain the basin dry. The inlet from the main flow was controlled in like manner, and now both these sluices were closed and more than three feet of water lay in the pool, dark, and spotted with islands of bursting bubbles. A couple of two-wheeled vehicles rested on their shafts in the yard, while the beasts belonging to them, tethered upon the grass, got all they could out of their situation.
As Heber emerged from the outhouse in which he had tied up his pony to approach the pool, two persons were standing apart from the rest, with their backs turned to him, and he went towards a thick place, from which he could see them without being noticed. The woman was a young, slight creature, soft-eyed, and with a swift gentleness of movement unlike that of the working class to which she belonged. Her clear skin flushed when her companion spoke to her as she stood by him holding a hymn-book and nervously turning its leaves. She had a sensitive mouth and when she looked down her lashes rested in a broad fringe upon her cheek.
The other was a human being of a very different type, a man of ruddy complexion, with white teeth showing in a pleasant smile when he spoke; he was well dressed and had the assured bearing of one who expects well of the world. Moorhouse watched the pair from where he stood in the background of alder stems. It was easy now to see why he was called ‘Black Heber.’
As more people arrived at the spot the girl seemed to shrink closer to the man beside her; and when three women went off alone towards the house, she gave her book into his hand and prepared to follow them.
“It’s time now,” she said tremulously. “I must go. You’ll follow soon, Charles.”
“I suppose you must have your way, Catherine,” he said.
He looked after her as she disappeared and the door of the old inn closed behind her. Then a dark-coated man held up his hand for silence and the whole assembly went down upon its knees; Heber, too, knelt in his brake of alder. The dark-coated man began to pray aloud.
The prayer had continued a little time when Charles, who was looking eagerly towards the house from under the hand with which he had covered his face, saw the four women emerge again and come across the yard.
They approached slowly, one behind the other, a grey-headed woman first; and there was something in the solemn demeanour of each that sent Charles Saunders’s mind back to the woodcuts of martyrdoms and executions he had seen as a boy in his school history-books. This half-barbarous scene was heightening the barrier which his slightly superior station had raised between himself and Catherine Dennis, though he was to be married to her in a week, and though he believed it to have fallen altogether. He frowned as the prayer ceased and he took his hands from his eyes. So far as he was anything, he was a Baptist by force of parentage and tradition, though the doctrine of total immersion appealed neither to him nor to his family. Nevertheless, he had promised her that he would embrace it practically, and he glanced at the small knot of men who awaited their turn to be baptized and with whom he was to present himself when the women came up from the pool.
The quiet figures stood modestly in a row behind the minister, Catherine and the grey-haired woman together; the girl’s colour was mounting and fading again in her face. She looked over for a moment at her affianced husband, and he could see the exaltation that burned in her eyes, suggesting to him more than ever the idea of martyrdom. That sexless exaltation divided her from him too. He shifted from foot to foot and a smouldering anger was in him. It grew as he noticed that, though the other three wore boots and stockings, she had slipped her feet into a pair of shoes only and her bare ankles could be seen under her stuff petticoat. Heber’s eyes, which looked dark indeed, were set on her, and, as Saunders suddenly perceived him among the trees, the anger kindled in him like a flame.
He knew little of the man, scarcely more than that he was Catherine’s old lover, and that the two had parted because of some trivial disagreement; but he had once drawn from her the admission that she had been afraid of Black Heber. Saunders, who worked for a well-to-do cattle-breeding uncle, whom he was eventually to succeed in business, was made of a different stuff from the tall shepherd whose ways were in the hill; and though the two men belonged to the same sect they did not go to the same chapel, for Saunders worshipped in Llangarth, where he and his relation lived and drove their trade. Heber’s looks suggested a rebellion against all with which the other held, and the independence that clothed him as a garment irked the richer man; for he had a mortifying certainty that if the other envied him at all, it was on Catherine’s account alone. There was annoyance in the thought that Heber Moorhouse would not have exchanged his sheep and his life of exertion and hardship—the cold winter snow and starlight of the mountain, its burning, shadeless summer heats—for the advantages which had placed himself high in the consideration of Catherine’s few friends. Catherine was an orphan and her lot in life that of a maidservant at a humble farm. She had caught Charles’s affections in spite of every prejudice he possessed and the fact spoke well for the strength of his feelings.
The minister was beginning the opening line of a hymn. His voice was not strong, but the first sharp note pierced the silence of the trees and threw the murmur of falling water into the background. The sound gathered volume as one and then another of the congregation struck in. Saunders alone was silent; he had a rich voice which agreed with his generous type of looks and he was fond of using it; but he stood dumb in his place as verse after verse rose and fell. It seemed to him as if everything—voices, prayers, the very trees and the air of the early autumn afternoon—was conspiring to make a show of the girl who was his own and who was set in front of these scores of eyes, conspicuous, with her bare ankles.
As the last words of the hymn died out the minister stepped down into the water. It swirled round his middle, for he was a small man, and lapped against the stone sides of the pool; and the oddness of his appearance as he stood, fully dressed, in the confined space, with only the upper half of him visible, brought a smile to the lips of a few present to whom the sight was strange.
Catherine was the last of the four to descend into the pool, and she paused before entering it to help her grey-headed predecessor up the slope of the bank. The old woman was bewildered from the shock of the immersion, and her teeth chattered as the girl supported her for a moment before her companions led her away to the house. The minister looked after the retreating women with some concern. Every eye was upon Catherine, who had drawn the shawl she wore more tightly about her and stood waiting for the support of her pastor’s hand. For a minute her heart quailed at the coming chill and her lips trembled; then she put forward one white ankle and found herself clinging to the man’s sleeve, and up to her waist in the pool. Her grasp loosened as she felt her feet and she joined her hands together while he lifted his voice, calling on God to look down on this woman, His servant, who stood forth to be baptized before the little congregation of the faithful. She did not unclasp her hands as he put one arm round her while he gently forced her backwards with the other; her eyes were closed as the water rose about her throat and over her forehead. Just as she disappeared completely under the surface the minister put his foot on a loose stone on the floor of the paved place and slipped. He regained his balance in a moment, but as Catherine felt his support waver, panic took her, and she made a convulsive effort to rise. The water gripped at her shawl and the sudden weight almost dragged her down.
She had fastened the heavy covering securely, but it broke loose and floated, half submerged, on the pool. She stood up, pale and terrified, in her white shift and thick petticoat. The linen clung, dripping, to her shoulders and bosom, outlining every curve of her body, and her loosened hair fell in a coil to her elbows. The minister drew the shawl from the water and wrapped it about her.
Saunders had come a few paces nearer, and as she regained the bank the girl could see, even through the streams pouring from her hair, his look of steady rage. She hurried quickly into the house: the tears were mingling with the colder drops that washed her cheeks. She sank down on a chair, in the room where the other women were putting on their dry clothes, and sobbed. One of them came to her and began to unfasten her wet shift. Adry one lay in a corner, with her stockings and the rest of her garments; she sobbed on, heeding no one, for her thoughts were with the angry man outside. She was very timid and she had looked forward to this day as to a day of happiness.
At the brink of the pool the men who were awaiting baptism were taking off their coats and boots and Saunders stood back again as he saw them making their preparations. The wrath which the sight of Catherine’s bare ankles and her thinly veiled body had raised turned every instinct in revolt against the rite he had witnessed. His foolish promise to share in it had been given in the glamour of some tender moment and he felt it would be impossible to redeem it. The whole thing disgusted him; he took his religion and its forms more as a matter of course than as a matter of conviction; and baptism by immersion struck him now as an absurdity for a man—a positive indecency for a woman. As he saw the minister looking towards him he turned away, and went, in a tumult of revulsion, in among the trees. He would have no part with these people.
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