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IRRESOLUTE CATHERINE ***




Produced by Paul Haxo with special thanks to the New York
Public Library, Google, and the HathiTrust Digital Library.





IRRESOLUTE CATHERINE



IRRESOLUTE CATHERINE

BY VIOLET JACOB
(MRS. ARTHUR JACOB)

AUTHOR OF "THE SHEEPSTEALERS," "AYTHAN WARING," ETC.

LONDON
JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET, W.
1908



COPYRIGHT, 1908, IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.



CONTENTS

CHAPTER I
PAGE
BETHESDA 9

CHAPTER II
A NIGHT OF STARS 37

CHAPTER III
TALGWYNNE FAIR 73

CHAPTER IV
ACTION 101

CHAPTER V
PENCOED 121

CHAPTER VI
CATHERINE OPENS THE GATE 151



CHAPTER I

BETHESDA



CHAPTER I

BETHESDA

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. A dry 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.

He felt a wide difference between himself and these men and women of
the hillside; and he would take care that his wife should have no more
to do with them. She had no relations, fortunately, to beset her with
their influence.

He strode over the channel which was the outlet of the pool, his head
down, his angry look fixed on the ground. He would have turned his
back upon Bethesda, there and then, had he not told Catherine that he
would walk home with her to the farmhouse at which she served. He knew
that most of the congregation was aware of his intention to be
baptized to-day, and he could not endure the well-meaning glances of
inquiry that followed him. He hated every creature in it.

He reached a large alder whose divided stems rose from a wet place,
dark with that touch of the unhallowed which is the charm of alder
trees; Heber was leaning against the trunk amid the thick brush of
leaves. He was so appropriate a figure to his surroundings that an
imaginative person might have been startled. Saunders, who had for the
time being forgotten his existence, stopped. He was not imaginative,
but Heber - or, rather, the religious aspect of him - stood in his mind
for everything he was rebelling against now; for at this moment
Charles felt ready to become an infidel. The other aspect of
Heber - the one which had been uppermost while he watched the woman he
loved from the alder brake - only struck him as the man spoke.

"I thought ye were to go down to the water alongside o' her," he said.
"I would ha' done better for her than that."

There was savage contempt in his voice.

"_You!_" exclaimed the other, catching his breath; "_you_, indeed!"

"Yes, I."

"Ah! you scoundrel!" cried Saunders suddenly, "you black scoundrel,
hiding there among the trees with your eyes on another man's girl!"

"She won't be yours long," replied Heber.

"No, that she won't!" shouted Saunders, "not if she's going to keep up
wi' you folks on the hill! not if she's to make a show of herself and
a shame! not if she's to go a different way to heaven from me that's
to be her husband! What'll take me there'll take her too, and she
shall know it!"

His voice was so loud that many of the congregation were turning in
his direction. By this time the minister had come up from the water
and was speaking to the newly baptized persons who were standing about
him. Catherine and the three women waited afar off in the yard of the
inn.

Charles controlled himself and his voice dropped. He went off to the
house, skirting the limits of the crowd.

"I must be going home now," said the girl nervously, as he joined her.

He made no reply, merely starting off down the road and bidding her
come quickly. The people beside the pool had begun to talk and laugh,
now that the business that had brought them together was over, and the
sound of their loosened tongues made him hurry out of earshot. When
they had gone a little way he turned upon Catherine. The fact that she
had made no mention of his broken promise showed her to be entirely
conscious of his mood.

"You're angry with me," she said as he was about to speak.

"Why did you come out i' the face of all the people without your
stockings and without your gown? What took you that you couldn't be
decent and modest like the other women? There were you in your smock
for all these gaping fellows to see - good-for-nothing rascals like
that Black Heber sneaking there among the trees - damn him! I have no
mind for my wife to be a sight for the like of him!"

Catherine looked up at him with an agonised face.

"I was ashamed of you - that's what I was," continued he, "and I'll
have no more of it! I tell you to be done with all these common folk
that can't get baptized without making a parade and a show of
themselves. I wonder that an honest old grandmother like the woman
beside you should let you go out of the house like that."

"But my shawl came off," protested Catherine, who was now crying
bitterly; "the water pulled it away from me."

"And where was your gown that should have kept you decent?"

"I've only got one," sobbed the girl, "an' I was afraid to spoil it;
I've been pinching an' saving to buy my wedding dress, and there's
only this one to my back. Mrs. Job lent me her shawl that I mightn't
spoil what I've got."

Charles hardly knew what to say. In his heart he really acquitted
Catherine of the immodest behaviour with which he had charged her, but
his humour demanded an outlet. What really wrung his withers was his
smarting sense of the gulf between himself and the community from
which he was taking a wife. His origin was no higher than that of the
people whose voices he could still hear as they chatted round the
precincts of Bethesda, but his uncle's business had led him into a
more sophisticated class, and he had identified himself passionately
with it. In this access of contempt and wrath he had been stung into
positive fury by the meeting with Heber Moorhouse; for he was a
jealous man, and the thought that the girl he loved had been the
promised wife of such an one as Black Heber was more than he could
bear. It had almost made him hate Catherine.

They walked on in silence. She turned her face from him and wept on;
and Saunders's sense of justice was beginning to be touched - as the
sense of justice in the weak so often is - not by the actual rights
of the matter, but by his own sentiments. He grew a little less
furious. By the time they neared their destination he put out his hand
and drew her closer to him.

"There, there," he said, speaking more gently, "we'll say no more
about it. You'll have more than one gown, I'll go bail, when we're man
an' wife."

Catherine Dennis's existence had been dependent upon the will of
others ever since she could remember and no thought of rebellion
against her lover's unreasonableness came to her. A so-called aunt had
brought her up and at her death she had gone into service; she had
never had any choice in her course of life until 'Black Heber' had
found his way into it. Even the quarrel which parted them had been the
work of a third person, and Catherine had suffered and wept in secret
and been barely consoled by those who never ceased telling her that he
was a wild fellow and that she was well rid of him.

Only one person had taken a different line, and that was Mrs. Job
Williams who lived near Pencoed Chapel, on the lower slope of the
Black Mountain.

"Mrs. Job," as she was called by her neighbours, was a sharp-featured,
middle-aged matron, whose absolute ascendency over her husband had
made him almost a negligible quantity with his acquaintance. Her own
personality was so marked, and the impression she made upon the minds
of her neighbours so keen, that it was considered a lucky thing for
Catherine Dennis, tossed about, as she was, to have found anchorage in
'Mrs. Job's' goodwill. Her mission was to keep the little Baptist
Chapel of Pencoed in order, and she lived in a cottage beside the
green track connecting that place with the more frequented ways along
the hill. She was a fervent Baptist and it was owing to her that
Catherine had been brought into the community. Only her feeling of
responsibility for the girl's soul had prevented her from turning her
angular back upon her when Heber arrived one evening at her door, and
she discovered that the two had parted; she had wrestled sorely with
herself in her determination to keep friendly with Catherine, and that
responsibility was probably the one thing that could have enabled her
to do so. The girl was impressionable and excitable; she was
determined that it should not be her fault if the lamb she had brought
into the fold wandered back into the Church. She it was who had
influenced Catherine to persuade Saunders to be rebaptized in Bethesda
pool. Mrs. Job's heart was hot within her, for she liked the shepherd
more than she did most people. She had no child and the lonely visions
that came to her of the son she might have borne wore the face of
Black Heber.

And now Catherine's wedding was only a few days off. It was to take
place at an early hour in the morning and she was to sleep at Mrs.
Job's house on the preceding night. But though her prospects were so
good and though she was leaving a life of hard work for one of
comparative ease; though Charles's wrath had cooled during their long
walk, she stood at the gate of the farm looking after him with a
downcast heart. She had expected to be so happy, but it had been a day
of tears. He had not said a word about his broken promise, and she had
not found courage to speak of it.



CHAPTER II

A NIGHT OF STARS



CHAPTER II

A NIGHT OF STARS

ON the night before Catherine Dennis's wedding the spangled sky
spread, still and cloudless, above Pencoed Chapel. The plain
squareness of the house of worship, and the treeless stretch
surrounding it and Mrs. Job's cottage hard by, looked all the plainer
for the white points of light that burned in remote solemnity over the
mountain. The building, but for the one insignificant dwelling, was,
as it were, the solitary feature in a bare world; and the starlight on
the grey walls gave them an even greater austerity than they had by
day.

In the moonless night the gravestones round the chapel, having no
shadows to throw them into relief, were merged into general neutrality
with the grass. The sharpest things in earth or heaven were the angles
of Cassiopeia's Chair, high among the constellations, which seemed not
to look down on the sleep-bound world but to be turning from it,
consciously aloof in their unwavering detachment; a sight to affect
some not at all; to oppress some by the comparison of infinitude with
their own individualities; to raise others, by that very comparison,
to the height of ecstasy - the dim foreknowledge of what that true
sense of proportion must be which swallows the individual into the
immutable and divine.

At the back of Mrs. Job's house the small barn, which had been made
habitable as a lodging for travelling preachers, contained a single
light; and Mrs. Job, whose eye had caught the glimmer, crossed the
intervening space in the darkness and pushed the door open. Catherine
Dennis rose from her knees at the bedside and faced her, startled,


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