The Wonder

Free The Wonder by J. D. Beresford

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Authors: J. D. Beresford
the Stotts had broken another of his ordinances, for father and mother had stood as godparents to their own child, and Crashaw himself had been the second godfather ordained as necessary by the rubric. He had given way on these important points so weakly; he had to find excuse, and he talked himself into a false belief with regard to the child he had baptised.
    He began with his wife. “I would allow more latitude to medical men,” he said. “In such a case as this child of the Stotts, for instance; it becomes a burden on the community, I might say a danger, yes, a positive danger. I am not sure whether I was right in administering the holy sacrament of baptism. …”
    “Oh! Percy! Surely …” began Mrs. Crashaw.
    “One moment, my dear,” protested the rector, “I have not fully explained the circumstances of the case.” And as he warmed to his theme the image of Victor Stott grew to a fearful grotesqueness. It loomed as a threat over the community and the church. Crashaw quoted, inaccurately, statistics of the growth of lunacy, and then went off at a tangent into the theory of possession by evil spirits. Since his rejection of science, he had lapsed into certain forms of mediævalism, and he now began to dally with the theory of a malign incarnation which he elaborated until it became an article of his faith.
    To his poorer parishioners he spoke in vague terms, but he changed their attitude; he filled them with overawed terror. They were intensely curious still, but, now, when the gate was slammed, one saw a face pressed to the window, the door remained fast; and the children no longer clustered round that gate, but dared each other to run past it; which they did, the girls with a scream, the boys with a jeering “Yah—ah!” a boast of intrepidity.
    This change of temper was soon understood by the persons most concerned. Stott grumbled and grew more morose. He had never been intimate with the villagers, and now he avoided any intercourse with them. His wife kept herself aloof, and her child sheltered from profane observation. Naturally, this attitude of the Stotts fostered suspicion. Even the hardiest sceptic in the taproom of the Challis Arms began to shake his head, to concede that there “moight be soomething in it.”
    Yet the departure from Stoke might have been postponed indefinitely, if it had not been for another intrusion. Both Stott and his wife were ready to take up a new idea, but they were slow to conceive it.
II
    The intruder was the local magnate, the landlord of Stoke, Wenderby, Chilborough, a greater part of Ailesworth, two or three minor parishes, and, incidentally, of Pym.
    This magnate, Henry Challis, was a man of some scholarship, whose ambition had been crushed by the weight of his possessions. He had a remarkably fine library at Challis Court, but he made little use of it, for he spent the greater part of his time in travel. In appearance he was rather an ungainly man; his great head and the bulk of his big shoulders were something too heavy for his legs.
    Crashaw regarded his patron with mixed feelings. For Challis, the man of property, the man of high connections, of intimate associations with the world of science and letters, Crashaw had a feeling of awed respect; but in private he inveighed against the wickedness of Challis, the agnostic, the decadent.
    When Victor Stott was nearly three months old, the rector met his patron one day on the road between Chilborough and Stoke. It was three years since their last meeting, and Crashaw noticed that in the interval Challis’s pointed beard had become streaked with grey.
    “Hallo! How d’ye do, Crashaw?” was the squire’s casual greeting. “How is the Stoke microcosm?”
    Crashaw smiled subserviently; he was never quite at his ease in Challis’s presence. “Rari nantes in gurgite vasto,” was the tag he found in answer to the question put. However great his contempt for Challis’s way of life, in his presence Crashaw was often

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