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From Out of Soundings, Copyright 1931 by H. M. Tomlinson, New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers. Chapter 10, p148-159.
From A Mingled Yarn, Copyright 1953 by H. M. Tomlinson, Indianapolis and New York, Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc.. Chapter 9, p84-89.

The Gift

H. M. Tomlinson


I WAS in Bridgeworthy again last week. There had been a call to a neighbouring town, and, when that was answered, I thought it would be pleasant to make a sentimental journey by carrier's cart to Bridgeworthy, six miles away. It would have been easier to go by train, though not better. I chose the traditional cart because that was how I first got into Bridgeworthy, and because it was said that in a few days a motor-bus would take its place; besides, old Gollop, most surprisingly, was still driving the cart. His large round face, red and convincing, with its circumference of misty hair, vague as a nimbus round the sun, regarded me with a November expression. He did not recognize me. He was unpleasant too, with his leisurely beasts; maybe he was thinking of that motor-bus, now so close behind us. I had to remember that this was one of his last journeys. It would have been wrong to have expected him to be as cheerily talkative as he was in the past. Indeed, he said nothing to me at all except "Gonnochange."

Perhaps the motor-bus will not afflict Bridgeworthy with too many emendations. That is not my reasonable expectation, but a pious hope. Its street along the river, it was heartening to see, was hardly different from what it was when first I saw it. There is now a war memorial, for one little change; and a picture palace, as stucco in an Oriental style is called, where the Jacobean ferry office used to stand. No, not exactly as I saw it first, for the first sight of it was on a serene day of June, when the pale houses, and the blue tidal river, were dilated in an early clarity of morning. Last week even the sky had a darkened light, the town was grey, and I will not say my own mood was much less critical than old Gollop's. This was a winter visit, with the wind north-west. We see things not as they are, but as we are ourselves.

I rebuked myself with that reminder. The difficulty is that though we think we ought to applaud progress, we hate change. It was pleasing therefore to see the same names over the shops. That confirmed the permanence of the base of the town. It would take something more than national progress, it was pleasant to suppose, to move ancient Bridgeworthy a serious distance. That thought was a good substitute for sunny weather. There still was the tobacco shop with its bow window, and the same blisters on its paint of black antiquity, where two of us filled our pouches in a hurry on our way to the London train, when we were returning to France. The same leisurely deacon filled my pouch again, out of a blue jar, with what appeared to be the same stuff. Smelling that mixture, while looking over the shelves of the bookshop next door, was almost startling. My tobacco smoke, for a moment, made me feel as though I had been spirited back past the clock a few years. But a sight of one of the latest novels synchronized me instantly with the current calendar. I retreated from what was latest; but, outside the bookshop again, what should I do to restore Bridgeworthy to a summer that was gone?

I remembered Mr. Falkland. Was he still there? Not much would have changed essentially if he were still in Limekiln Lane, to talk of Traherne. But the hope was faint. That Nonconformist parson, who read the mystics, yet considered Rabelais and Tristram Shandy to be nearer the right spirit than an Early Father or two, would be getting on. I could confess to the old man, if I could find him. When last we saw him we had thrown him into a little trepidation with some rebellious social opinions, not expressed by us in the best of polished manners, I am afraid, because we were so sure we were right; youth becomes impatient over the objections with which elderly sagacity fuddles the straight and simple way to the truth. He had told us then that London had fevered us. We should never, he advised us, take truth by assault. We ought to live in Bridgeworthy, so that light and quiet might give us a long and steady perspective. He himself seemed quite resigned, much too resigned I thought then, to the tyranny of material things, and he was merely amused by our supposition that anyone could get near the truth in politics. He might be still in the town, I dared to hope, for in Bridgeworthy old speech and traditional ways are stubborn. The town might have treasured him because he was as native to it as the stones of its quay.

There was his church, and I examined its notice-book. That church, that curious Gothic fraud, persisted, but a new name was announced in bright gilt on the board. Somebody named Dudgeon. Falkland had gone.

I went round to the Royal Hart Inn, to wait there for the train. The head of the stag over the dining-room door was as dusty as it used to be. The bell-pulls, too, were the old deer-slots. George, the waiter, was still standing in the empty dining-room, looking over the river, as I entered, and he merely raised his eyebrows, and put his head sideways, in salutation. From the way he spoke, he might only have missed seeing me since yesterday, because that was a wet day.

The landlady, I found, was the one I used to know, but she had married again. The new host was a large and genial soul, and we were the only three to lunch there. I heard of all the changes, except one, for the landlord was pleased to discuss them. His buxom wife, with hard black eyes to match a necklace of jet, was superior to our conversation, and took no part in it. Presently I inquired after the welfare of Mr. Falkland.

The landlady spoke for the first time. "He's gone," she said, with noticeable emphasis. The Royal Hart Inn had been always faithful to Mr. Falkland's Church. The landlord chuckled. His wife, though, was not at all amused. Had there been a scandal, I wondered? An absurd and improper thought!

The landlord laughed at me. "He was kicked out," he explained.

"Don't talk like that," his wife ordered. She flushed, and her eyes were severe. She turned to me. "We had to ask for his resignation."

"Why," I cried in astonishment. "What had he done?" It occurred to me that Falkland himself had told me, though that was years ago, of a church meeting to come when he was to be presented with something or other. I mentioned this to the landlady. "I thought he was so popular."

"So he was. But he did for himself."

The landlord, indifferent to the glistening jet, did not control his diversion over my innocent wonder. "That's what did it," he explained. "That present. That's what did it."

The landlord did not glance at his wife's eyes. Something funny had taken his fancy. He was enjoying himself. He laughed deeply again. "A microscope! That's what they gave him. He asked for it. Did you ever hear of a man going to the dogs over a microscope? I couldn't do it, could you?"

"It's no business of yours, Henry," said the landlady. "It is nothing to do with you. You never knew Mr. Falkland."

"Not me," remarked her husband cheerfully. "Not me. I wish I had. He must have been a queer old bird. I'm sure I should have liked him."

"Very possibly." She addressed herself, though with dignity, to her serious guest. "How it happened," she said to me, "I don't know. Who suggested a microscope, a thing like that, for a minister, I never asked. He may have asked for it himself. I expect he did."

"Doesn't seem more naughty than some things I've heard tell of," the landlord commented.

"I don't know what you may have heard tell of. Let me speak. He had the thing, in any case. What he used to study with it I can't say, though we began to hear a lot about it in his sermons afterwards. There were complaints long before we had to go and see him. Letting tadpoles loose in the gospels! Then came the day when some of us went to interview him about the young girl who was organist . . ."

"Nothing to do with the microscope, that," the landlord interrupted. "Though a pretty bit of goods she was."

His wife paused for some patient but ominous seconds, while the landlord examined his tankard. "Pretty? Taking enough, I dare say. But I thought it was me who was explaining what happened. As I was saying, we went to see him about that girl. We had to go then, though it was too late. There was the church to think of. She had to go. And what did we get out of the man who ought to have been most concerned for the good name of the church? All we could get out of him was shaking his head. He said it was very sad. And was the girl in distress? That was what he was anxious about. That! What we felt, what the church would suffer, didn't matter to him. He said he would think about it--you'd have thought we were just common busybodies. If he wasn't just trying to put us off I don't know what you'd call it. He spoke of other things. 'Before you go,' he said to me, 'come and look at this.' You may believe me, or believe me not, but he walked over to that microscope. It was on a table. I will say I think the man must have been crazy.

"Don't you believe it. He was only artful," said the landlord.

"Then I'll take your word for it. Artful, was he! Well, I walked over with him, not thinking at first he meant that brass thing. Who would? But he told me to look through it, and like a fool I did. I was that flustered I didn't know what I was doing. And just before we all left him . . ."

"But pardon me," I broke in, "do tell me what you saw in it."

"Nothing. Only a lot of very bright colours. The sort of thing you see in that thing children play with--yes, kaleidoscope. Falkland turned a screw or button, and the colours all changed. Like a child! He told me it was a bit of the rock on which Bridgeworthy was built, though how should I know it was? I still say he was crazy. What do you think he said to me then? This is what he said. 'Now you've seen what a beautiful earth ours is. Even Bridgeworthy is built on a rainbow.' Then he walked over to the window, and looked out. He turned round in a minute, and spoke to me, as if I were the worst of the lot. I don't know why he spoke to me. I was only one of four women. 'If we could only see that child's fault as we see what bright stuff even our old town is built on, we might not be so sure of our own righteousness.'"

"That," continued the landlady calmly, after a pause, "was more than I could stand."

"I reckon it was," agreed her husband.

"I went for him, straight out. 'So you'd make a rainbow of sin, would you, Mr. Falkland,' I said. Just like that. He looked very hurt. I meant him to feel it. Nice thing for a minister to suggest to a mother, wasn't it?"

"How did he take it when he was asked to resign?" I inquired.

"Well, he heard all about it at the church meeting. He sat looking at the floor, smiling a little. When it came to his turn to speak, he merely shook his head, stood up, and was walking out of the vestry. But he stopped at the door, and said, 'I have served you many years, but now I am beginning to learn my work here I must go. I am very sorry.' Then out he went."

We were silent for a time. The landlord finished his tankard and then said, "Well, Bill who ferried him over to the train told me that the old 'un had tears in his eyes as he crossed the water with his bag."

"It was a cold day," said his wife.

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