Fear Stalks the Village
Fear Stalks the Village
III. THE HERALD
TEN minutes later Dr. Perry lay stretched on a shabby 'Varsity chair on the Rector's yew-shaded lawn, while his host paced the daisied grass, waving his pipe, and declaiming as he tramped. In his character of a human dynamo, he was a source of interest to the doctor's curious mind; and, as he smoked, he studied him with cool detachment.
The Reverend Simon Blake was a tall, bull-necked man, of great muscular strength, with blunted, classic features, crisp coal-black hair, and flashing, arrogant eyes. He looked rather like the offspring of a union between a battered Roman emperor and an anonymous plebeian mother. His voice was strong and vibrant, and all his gestures expressed vehemence. He appeared never to have acquired the habit of sitting, and he talked continuously.
Dr. Perry knew that his display of overflowing vitality was misleading, and that he was only in the process of rekindling fires which had blazed too fiercely, and died. It was the last back-kick of nervous tension which made him such a restless planet of a fellow. He had worked himself out in a Dockside parish, sticking to his job long after he was beaten. Not until he had crashed, both mentally and physically, had he consented to accept this living in the country.
"Sit down, man," urged the doctor. "You're like the spirit of atomic energy."
The Rector obediently dropped down on his protesting chair, with the force of machinery, only to spring up again.
"This place, doctor," he said, "is perfect. I pray I may end my days here. Look at it, now."
He waved his pipe towards the village street, which staged the usual sunset pageant. Children skipped and played on the cobbles, exactly like golden girls and boys and little chimney-sweepers, long passed to dust. Women gossiped over their garden gates, just as they had gossiped in Tudor times, and they talked of much the same things. At a quarter-to-eight, Mr. and Mrs. Scudamore emerged from the gates of the Clock House for their evening stroll. The lady wore a feathered hat and a fichu of real lace, and all the village did homage to the Honiton point.
The doctor studied the Rector, and he-in his turn-watched the stately advance of the pair. The clergyman noticed how the lawyer's frost-bitten face thawed whenever he spoke to his wife, and he was delighted by her responsive smile. Yet they were not too engrossed in each other to pass a couple of sunburnt children, in old-fashioned lilac sun-bonnets. The little girl took a sugar almond out of her mouth, to prove that its colour had turned from pink to white, and the Scudamores rather overdid their pantomimic surprise at the miracle.
The doctor's lip curled slightly, but the Rector beamed.
"Lovers still," he said. "That's a perfect marriage."
"In the sight of God and the neighbours," murmured the doctor. He added with a bleak smile, "There is only one danger in this 'God save the Squire and his relations' attitude. The villagers would be too sunken in tradition to complain, in case of abuse. They know they wouldn't be believed."
"Abuse?" echoed the Rector. "Here? Are you mad?"
"Probably. Most of us are, if we're normal. By the way, when I get a free Sunday I'm coming to hear you preach, padre. You're the one man who can keep me awake."
The Rector grinned in a boyish, half-bashful manner.
"I know I'm a noisy fellow," he confessed, "but oratory is my talent. It's out of place here, but I dare not let it rust. Besides, it may do secret good. Who knows?"
He knew that his red-hot Gospel, with which he had blasted his old Parish to attention, was like a series of bombs exploding under the arches of the Norman church. But habit persisted, and he exhorted his hearers, every Sunday, to search their hearts for hidden sin. The congregation remained tranquil, while he liked the sound of his own organ-voice.
The Scudamores had