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Wheat in the Ear

Chapter III. — Her Name Was Called John

page 25

Chapter III.
Her Name Was Called John.

By the time Joan had cut her teeth, the evolution of the father in Tom had abundantly developed, and Janet sometimes wished he would mind his own business; but, with the spirit of the true egotist, Tom could not take a commonplace view of anything. In all departments of his realm the electricity of his enthusiasm sooner or later made itself felt.

Joan was developing tantrums, and her father, desiring to build up her character, in the third year of her reign brought home a little birch. Not that he meant to use it, but he thought it would convince everyone concerned—himself included—that he was not one of those reprehensively weak fathers who spare the rod and spoil the child.

But the incident so incensed his wife that she peremptoril directed her husband's attention to page 26 his sheep and calves. When he gently expostulated pointing out that the child was mistress of the situation, Janet asked what he could expect.

“It's your own identical manner, it is,” said she. “You never would come second to anybody, nor take a decent time to get in first. An' Joan's like you, bless her little heart!”

Tom betook himself to the calves, and mentally registered a vow to curb himself for the sake of example.

Although the man still followed his agricultural pursuits with ardour, and packed his days with energetic action, he was conscious of a new joyousness—a new sensibility. The toiling, patient oxen looked at him with the child's wistful eyes.

The child developed the latent poetry and religion in the man; but it was Janet who carried Joan into the camp of the Christians. While busy with her maidens, with a keen eye to the dairy and the presses, she yet was observant of the child's slightest mood. Her religious sense had never moved her to fervour, but she wanted the best possible for her child. For her sake she was greedy to snatch out of the here and hereafter all that she could. By her own thrift she would secure the child a goodly page 27 portion of this world's goods; but she was not custodian of the next. If there was any virtue in infant baptism, it would be a pity to miss it. Tom knew by the quiet manner in which Janet spoke that her mind was made up, and submitted gallantly.

The morning that was to initiate Joan into spiritual grace and favour was one in early winter, keen, sweet, and dusted with silver hoar-frost; a morning for the world and the flesh to revel in. Before the sun had dried the mist off the cobwebs on the gorse hedges, the buggy was bowling from the farm door, with Tom driving, and mother seated behind holding a bundle well down under the rugs. There was a drive of fifteen miles to the church, so an early start was necessary. When they passed through the home enclosures and paddocks the sun was not yet high enough in the heavens to disperse the clinging vapour billows which rolled over the plains, and the scene opened up to them only as they advanced. Here loomed the granaries and woolsheds, there a hayrick, now a plough with horses and driver, and long, newly-turned furrows of brown earth. The fresh, ferny smell of tussock, the swift movement through the page 28 crisp air, the trip, trop, trop of the horse's hoofs, and Tom's cheerful and strong man's talk,—all combined to make the woman's blood run warm with a half-forgotten sense of youth and well-being. The cramping influence of four walls, and the infinitesimal worries of churning and baking were removed; and the ever-widening view of an illimitable distance thrilled her with anticipation. Of late she had been losing touch with Nature and the impersonal, feeling no connection, no sympathy with the world at large; and she caught a dim idea that, in pursuance of the child's good, she would get at the great heart of things. She had been imprisoned in a dead materialism; the child would be her emancipator from a pulseless egotism. She drew it closer, but little Joan strained from the encircling arms, and craned her neck to see all of the world she could with two wide, bright grey eyes.

The little church was built on the outskirts of the straggling township—a cheerless building with a corrugated iron roof, standing in an uncultivated paddock. The incumbent of the parish was away on a holiday, and when Tom and Janet led their offspring up the church steps, and passed out of page 29 the sunshine along the strip of cocoa-nut matting to the font, they were received by a severe-faced stranger, very old, very bald, and very deaf, from whose pinched and regular features the last memory of youth and freshness had departed long ago. He fixed his penetrating eyes first upon Janet, who trembled, and coughed apologetically for having to trouble him, then upon Tom the unabashed, and lastly upon the rosy-cheeked darling of their hearts, as though he were seriously displeased and desired them to know it. Mother burned at the stern look directed towards her lambkin; she had a sudden impulse to snatch up her treasure and run. She was arrested by a bright effulgence surrounding Joan, touching her short brown locks, shining on her long fringe-like eyelashes, softening her tinted cheeks, and splashing with purple and crimson the white of her frock. Turning to follow the transformation to its source, her eyes were riveted by a stained glass window representing Christ wearing His thorn crown in simple majesty. From His outstretched hands the light shaft streamed upon the child.

Janet smiled. When her emotion had passed she became aware that the old man had drawn Joan near, and that Joan was bridling.

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“Name this child.”

“Joan,” said Tom, with his head in the air and shoulders back, and an expression which affirmed that he should like to know why not.

John!” snapped the deaf clergyman, “… and do sign him with the sign … in token that he shall not be ashamed … and manfully to fight—”

But Joan's growing sense of insult had culminated at the indignity of having cold water thrown into her face, and with crimson cheeks and flashing eyes, she clenched her little fists, and said, in a tone that rang rebelliously through the sacred edifice:

“I 'on't fight! I 'on't—I 'on—I 'on't!”

And she never did—not as an othodox Christian.