Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 892
It is nearly midnight on October 31, the night before All Saints’ Day. A tiny church is deserted. The beams of the full moon have not yet pierced its darkness directly, but here and there a marble head, a wing tip, a pointing finger gleams coldly.
A stealthy footfall crunches on the rain-soaked gravel, a key is heard turning in a lock, a toy lantern emerges from behind the vestry curtain carried by a small boy. He is shivering from the cold and from qualms and forebodings. He calls low and hoarsely, “Dick, are you there?” When there is no answer, he timidly enters a pew, rapidly repeats a prayer and half-covertly crosses himself. While he is admiring the gilded figure of an angel, he hears a faint shuffle in the vestry. He drops out of sight and wails. No response. He is certain that this must be the friend he is expecting but worries that it is not. He leaps up and flashes the lantern into the glittering eyes of a dwarfish and motionless shape that is wearing a battered black mask. He shudders with rage and terror while Dick roars with laughter.
Philip angrily tells his friend to be quiet and to remember that he is in a church. Dick is at once solemn and contrite. He explains that he is late because he was first waiting for his father to finish reading. Asked if his father would have whacked him much if he had caught him leaving, Dick replies that his mother will not let him punish the boy. Dick then says that his mother came home yesterday with an enormous bundle of old clothes, including a green silk dressing gown, which he is now wearing under his jacket. Philip immediately recognizes it as his own but says loftily that he does not want it now. He suddenly remarks that if Dick’s real father had found him skulking in the church he would whack him hot and strong. Dick stiffens and denies this, adding that his real father leaves him alone although he went rabbiting with him one night last summer until the moon came up. Besides, his father is dead.
Philip immediately contradicts this. He heard his people reading aloud from a newspaper only a few days ago and he knows what has become of the man. He says cruelly that if Dick’s other father had not been Chapel, he would never have had any father to show and his mother could not have continued to live in the village. Now there is a discussion about ghosts with Philip claiming, unconvincingly, that he does not believe in them and that he came only because Dick dared him to come. He promises to dare Dick in a minute.
Dick goes outside to reconnoiter for ghosts while Philip stares again at a huge figure of the angel clasping a gilded trumpet. This angel has been for some years the habitual center of his Sunday evening reveries whenever he is escorted to church by the family cook. He has asked the cook why the angel was made so that she cannot blow the trumpet, but the real question in his mind is what would happen if she did. Mrs. Sullivan, the cook, has suggested that the angel is depicted as waiting for the Last Day. Philip still wants to know what will happen after the Last Day; he is fascinated by any reference to an angel or a trumpet.
Twelve o’clock strikes; nothing happens. Philip has lost faith in the angel’s power. As he sits there, cold and sick, he hears a fiendish screech and sees a lean, faceless shape coming toward his pew. Recognizing Dick, he is despite his terror passionately angry. He dares Dick to stay on in the church alone; if Dick is afraid, he will never again be allowed to enter Philip’s house or yard. Philip now proposes several impractical dares and finally orders Dick to climb almost to the roof and blow the trumpet. He says that if anyone blows the trumpet it will be the Last Day. Dick asks what the Bible says about angels, and Philip recounts many instances of their mention and then describes their awesome power, insisting that the Devil has crowds of angels under his command.
Philip starts to leave. Dick detects scorn on his face and says that he has always done anything that Philip asked. He begins to climb. Philip suddenly realizes how enormously high the angel rises. He calls to Dick to come down, but Dick cannot hear him. Philip leaves the church but flies back to tempt Dick with the news that someone, not a man and not a woman, is coming. He is sobbing with rage, apprehension, and despair.
Dick shouts down to ask if they can still be friends if he blows with all his might and the trumpet does not sound. Philip begs him to come down, but Dick declares calmly, “I believe it is hollow, and I think she knows I’m here. You won’t say I was afraid now! Philip, I’d do anything in the world for you.”
The tapering wooden trumpet splinters off from the angel’s grasp and Dick, clutching it, falls to the flagstones below. He is dead. In anguish, Philip creeps home.
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