Wesley lost no time in announcing to his friends the decision to which he had come. He was to preach on Sunday at the place where his first meeting had been held, and he felt sure that his congregation would be sufficiently large for his purpose, which was to let it be known throughout the country that he and all those who were associated with him in his work in Cornwall discountenanced Pritchard in every way. To be sure there was very little time left to them to spread abroad the news that Mr. Wesley had returned and would preach on Sunday. Only a single day remained to them, and that was not enough to allow of the announcement being made outside an area of twenty-five or thirty miles from Porthawn; but when Mr. Hartwell and Jake Pullsford shook their heads and doubted if this preaching would bring together more than a few hundred people, these being the inhabitants of the villages and hamlets within a mile or two of Porthawn, Wesley explained that all that was necessary to be done would be accomplished even by a small congregation. All that should be aimed at was to place it on record that Pritchard had done what he had done on his own responsibility and without any previous consultation with the leader of the movement with which he had been associated. But, of course, the more people who would be present the more fully his object would be accomplished, and Wesley's friends sent their message with all speed and in every direction.

“I would fain believe that the news of this distressing folly of Pritchard's has not spread very far abroad,” said Wesley. “I travelled, as you know, through a large portion of the country on my return, and yet it was not until I had reached the head of the valley that the least whisper of the matter reached me; I would fain hope that the trouble will be only local.”

“Those who are opposed to us will take the best of care to prevent it from being circumscribed,” said Mr. Hartwell. “The captain of my mine tells me that there is excitement as far away as Falmouth and Truro over the prediction. In some districts no work has been done for several days. That news I had this morning.”

“'Tis more serious than I thought possible it could be,” said Wesley. “Our task is not an easy one, but with God's help it shall be fulfilled.” Going forth through the village in the early afternoon, he was surprised to find so much evidence of the credence which the people had given to the prediction and so pronounced a tendency to connect it with the movement begun by Wesley in the early Summer. It seemed to be taken for granted that Wesley had come back to urge upon them the need for immediate repentance. This Pritchard had done with great vehemence ever since he had prophesied the Great Day.

Wesley found his old friends agitated beyond measure—even those who had professed to have received the Word that he had preached. No boats except those owned by Nelly Polwhele's father had put off to the fishing ground for some days, and, strange to say, although Isaac Polwhele held that Pritchard had gone too far in all that he had said, he returned on Friday morning from his night's fishing with a strange story of lights seen in the depths of the Channel—something like fires seething beneath the surface—of wonderful disturbances of the waters, although only the lightest of breezes was hovering round the coast; and of a sudden sound, thunderous, with the noise as of a cataract tumbling in the distance, followed by the rolling of large waves in spite of the fact that for the time there was not a breath stirring the air.

The old fisherman told his story of these things without any reserve; but while he was still disposed to give a contemptuous nod when anyone mentioned Pritchard's name, his experience through that night had done much to widen Pritchard's influence until at last there seemed to be neither fisherman nor boat-builder that did not dread the dawning of Monday.

And yet Nelly had not spoken one word about the prophecy when he had talked with her a few hours before!

This circumstance caused Wesley no little surprise. He asked himself if Polwhele's girl was the only sensible person in the neighbourhood. While the other people were overwhelmed at the prospect of a catastrophe on Monday, she had gone to visit her young ladies and brought back with her a pair of young doves.

He began to feel that he had never given the girl credit for some of those qualities which she possessed—qualities which certainly are not shared by the majority of womankind.

Her father told him before he had reached the village something of the marvels which had come under his notice only two nights before. But he tried to make it plain that he did not attach any great importance to them: he did not regard them as portents, however other people might be disposed to do so. The old fisherman was shrewd enough to guess that Mr. Wesley's sympathies were not with Pritchard. Still he could not deny that what he had seen and heard surpassed all his experience of the Channel, although he allowed that he had heard of the like from the lips of mariners who had voyaged far and wide, and had probably been disbelieved in both hemispheres, by the best judges of what was credible. He had heard, for instance, of parallels where through long sultry nights the ocean had seemed one mass of flame. But he himself was no deep-sea sailor.

“A sea of flame is common enough in some quarters,” said Wesley. “I myself have seen the Atlantic palpitating like a furnace, and our ship dashed flakes of fire from the waters that were cloven by her cut-water. But the sounds which you say you heard—think you not that they came from a distant thunderstorm?”

“Likely enough, sir, likely enough,” replied the man after a pause; but he spoke in a way that assured Mr. Wesley that he knew very well that the sounds had not come from a thunderstorm, however distant. He had had plenty of experience of thunderstorms, near at hand as well as far off.

“Or Admiral Hawke's ships—might not some of the Admiral's fleet have come within a mile or two of the coast and discharged their carronades?” Wesley suggested.

“Ay, sir, the boom of a ship's gun carries a long way on the water,” said the fisherman, but in a tone that suggested graver doubt than before.

“'Tis clear you are convinced that what you heard was stranger than either thunder or gunpowder,” said he.

“Nay, sir, what I am thinking of is the sudden uprise of the sea,” said Polwhele. “Without warning our smack began to sway so that the mast well-nigh went by the board, albeit there was ne'er a draught o' wind. And there was summat besides that I kept back from all the world.”

“A greater mystery still?” said Wesley.

“The biggest of all, sir; after the last rumblings my mates thought that we had been long enough anchored on the fishing bank; so we got in the grapple and laid out sweeps to pull the smack to the shore.”

He made another pause, and looked into the face of his auditor and then out seawards. He took a step or two away and stood thoughtfully with pursed out lips.

“And then?” said Wesley.

“And then, sir, then—sir, the oar blades refused to sink. They struck on something hard, though not with the hardness of a rock or even a sand bank. 'Twas like as if they had fallen on a floating dead body—I know what the feel is, sir. When the Gloriana, East Indiaman, went ashore forty years agone, and broke up on the Teeth—you know the reef, sir—we were coming on the bodies o' the crew for weeks after, as they came to the surface, as bodies will after eight days—some say ten, but I stick to eight.”

“But if you came upon the body of a drowned man the night before last you would surely have reported it, Polwhele,” said Wesley.

“It were dead bodies that we touched wi' our blades, but they was the dead bodies of fishes. There they floated, sir, thick as jelly bags after a Spring tide—hundreds of them—thousands of them—all round the boats—big and little—mackerel and cod and congers and skates and some monsters that I had never seen before, with mighty heads. They held the boat by their numbers, blocking its course till we got up a flare o' pitch and held it out on an oar and saw what was the matter. That was how it came about that we landed with fish up to the gunwale, though we had hauled in empty seines—or well-nigh empty half an hour before. And if all the other boats had been out that night they would have been filled likewise. I tell you, sir, all we picked up made no difference to the shoals that was about us. But I said no word to mortal man about this event nor e'en to my own wife. What would be the good? I asks you, sir. The poor folk be troubled enow over Dick Pritchard, as no doubt you heard. I would that Tuesday was safe o'er us. List, you can hear the voice o' Simon Barwell baying the boys into the fold like a sheep dog. Simon was a sad evil liver before he heard you preach, sir, and now he's telling the lads that they have only another day and half to repent, so they'd best not put it off too long.”

Wesley looked in the direction he indicated and saw a young fellow mounted on a fish barrel, haranguing a group of men and women. He was far off, but his voice every now and again reached the place where Wesley and the old man stood.

“There be some that holds that Simon himself would ha' done well to begin his repentance a while back,” resumed Polwhele. “And there's some others that must needs scamp their penitence, if I have a memory at all; howsomever, Dick Pritchard——”

“Ah, friend,” said Wesley, “if I could think that the repentance which is being brought about through fear of Monday will last, I would take joy to stand by the side of Pritchard and learn from him, but alas, I fear that when Monday comes and goes——”

“But will it come and go?” cried the old man eagerly.

“I cannot tell—no man living can tell if to-morrow will come and go, or if he will live to see the day dawn. We know so much, but no more, and I hold that any man who says that he knows more is tempting the Lord.”

“And I hold with you, Mr. Wesley; only not altogether so fast since those happenings I have rehearsed to you. What was it slew them fish, sir?”

“I cannot tell you that. I have heard that some of your mines are pierced far below the sea, and that for miles out. Perhaps we shall hear that a store of gunpowder exploded in one of them, throwing off the roof and killing the fish in the water over it—I do not say that this is the only explanation of the matter. I make no pretence to account for all that you saw and heard. I have heard of earthquakes beneath the water.”

“Earthquakes in divers places, Mr. Wesley, 'twas from that text Dick Pritchard preached last Sunday.” The man's voice was lowered, and there was something of awe in his whisper. “He prophesied that there would be an earthquake in divers places—meaning the sea—before the coming of the terrible day, Monday next. Now you know, sir, why I said naught that was particular—only hazy like—that none could seize hold upon about Thursday's fishing. But I've told you, Mr. Wesley, whatever may happen.”

He took off his hat and walked away, when he had looked for some moments into Wesley's face, and noted the expression that it wore.

And, indeed, Wesley was perturbed as he turned and went up the little track that led to the summit of the cliffs, and the breezy space that swept up to the wood. He was greatly perturbed by the plain statement of the fisherman. He had been anxious to take the most favourable view of Pritchard and his predictions. He had believed that the man, however foolish and vain he might be, had been sincere in his conviction that he was chosen by Heaven to prophesy the approaching end of all things; but now the impression was forced upon him that the man was on a level with the soothsayers of heathendom.

Even though he had taken a ludicrously illiterate view of the text, “There shall be earthquakes in divers places,” he had made it the subject of another prediction, and it seemed as if this prediction had actually been realised, although only a single fisherman, and he a friend of Pritchard's, was in a position to testify to it.

Wesley had heard it said more than once that the finding of water by the aid of a divining rod was a devil's trick; but he had never taken such a view of the matter; he affirmed that he would be slow to believe that a skill which had for its object so excellent an object as the finding of a spring of the most blessed gift of water, should be attributed to the Enemy. He preferred to assume that the finding of water was the result of a certain delicacy of perception on the part of the man with the hazel wand, just as the detection of a false harmony in music is due to a refinement of the sense of hearing on the part of other men.

But was he to believe that any man possessed such a sense as enabled him to predict an earthquake?

It was impossible for him to believe it. And what then was he to think of the man who had foretold such an event—an event which had actually taken place within a week of his prediction?

The man could only be a soothsayer. The very fact of his corrupting the text out of the Sacred Word was a proof of this. If he were in the service of God, he would never have mistaken the word in the text to mean the sea. The man was a servant of the Evil One, and Wesley felt once more that he himself had been to blame in admitting him to his fellowship, without subjecting him to such tests as would have proved his faith.

And then he found himself face to face with the further question: If the man had, by reason of his possession of a certain power, achieved success in his forecast of one extraordinary event, was it to be assumed that the other event—the one of supreme importance to the world, and all that dwell therein—would also take place?

What, was it possible that the Arch Enemy had been able to get possession of the secret which not even the angels in heaven had fathomed, and had chosen this man to communicate it to some people in the world?

What, was it possible that Satan, if he acquired that secret, would allow it to be revealed, thereby losing his hold upon as many of the people of the world as became truly repentant, and there was no doubt that Pritchard had urged repentance upon the people?

It was a tangled web that Wesley found in his hand this day. No matter which end of it he began to work upon, his difficulties in untangling seemed the same. He was fearful of doing the man an injustice; but how could he, as a faithful servant, stand by and see the work with which he had been entrusted, wrecked and brought to naught?

And then another point suggested itself to him: what if this prediction became the means of calling many to repentance—true repentance—how dreadful would be his own condemnation if he were to oppose that which had been followed by blessing!

It was the flexibility and the ceaseless activity of his mind that increased the difficulties of his position. He, and he only, could look at the matter from every standpoint and appreciate it in all its bearings. If he had not had the refuge of prayer, having faith that he would receive the Divine guidance, he would have allowed the vanity—if it was vanity—of Pritchard to be counteracted in the ordinary—in what seemed to be the natural way—namely, by the ridicule which would follow the nonfulfilment of his prophecy.

He prayed.

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