God's Good Man
Part 7 out of 12
that blessed old Poreham woman drivin' out with 'er fam'ly to
Riversford. They won't likely be back for a couple of hours at
least.' Whereupon Walden straightway took a swinging walk up to 'The
Leas,' deposited his card with the footman, for the absent 'fam'ly'
and returned again in peace to his own dwelling.
This afternoon he had again, as usual, missed the worthy lady, and
he set aside her card, the smile with which he had glanced at it
changing suddenly to a sigh of somewhat wearied impatience. Surely
there was something unusually dark and solitary in the aspect of the
room to which, for so many years, he had been accustomed, and where
he had generally found comfort and contentment? The vivid hues of
the sunset were declining rapidly, and the solemn shadow of evening
was creeping up apace over the sky and outer landscape--but
something heavier than the mild obscurity of approaching night
seemed weighing on the air around him, which oppressed his nerves
and saddened his soul. He stood absently turning over the papers on
his desk, in a frame of mind which left him uncertain how to employ
himself,--whether to read,--to write,--to finish a sketch of the
flowering reeds on the river which he had yesterday begun,--or to
combat with his own mood, fathom its meaning, and conquer its
tendency? There came a light tap at his door and the maid Hester
entered with a letter.
"The last post, sir. Only one for you."
He took it up indifferently as the girl retired,--then uttered a
slight exclamation of pleasure.
"From Brent,"--he said, half aloud--"Dear old fellow! I have not
heard from him since New Year."
He opened the letter, and began to read. The interested look in his
eyes deepened,--and he moved nearer to the open window to avail
himself as much as possible of the swiftly decreasing light.
"DEAR WALDEN,"--it ran--"The spirit moves me to write to you, not
only because it occurs to me that I have failed to do so for a long
time, but also because I feel a certain necessity for thought-
expansion to someone, who, like yourself, is accustomed to the habit
of thinking. The tendency of the majority nowadays is,--or so it
appears to me,--to forget the purpose for which the brain was
designed, or rather to use it for no higher object than that for
which it is employed by the brute creation, namely to consider the
ways and means of securing food, and then to ruminate on the self-
gratification which follows the lusts of appetite. In fact, 'to rot
and rot,--and thereby hangs a tale!' But before I enter into any
particulars of my own special phase or mood, let me ask how it fares
with you in your small and secluded parish? All must be well, I
imagine, otherwise doubtless I should have heard. It seems only the
other day that I came, at your request, to consecrate your beautiful
little church of 'The Saint's Rest,'--yet seven years have rolled
away since then, leaving indelible tracks of age on me, as probably
on you also, my dear fellow!--though you have always carried old
Time on your back more lightly and easily than I. To me he has ever
been the Arabian Nights' inexorable 'Old Man of the Sea,' whose
habit is to kill unless killed. At fifty-one I feel myself either
'rusting' or mellowing; I wonder which you will judge the most
fitting appellation for me when we next meet? Mind and memory play
me strange tricks in my brief moments of solitude, and whenever I
think of you, I imagine it can only be yesterday that we two college
lads walked and talked together in the drowsy old streets of Oxford
and made our various plans for our future lives with all the superb
dominance and assertiveness of youth, which is so delightful while
it lasts, despite the miserable deceptions it practises upon us. One
thing, however, which I gained in the past time, and which has never
deceived me, is your friendship,--and how much I owe to you no one
but myself can ever tell. Good God!--how superior you always were,
and are, to me! Why did you efface yourself so completely for my
sake? I often ask this question, and except for the fact that it
would be impossible to you to even make an attempt to override, for
mere ambition, anyone for whom you had a deep affection, I cannot
imagine any answer. But as matters have turned out with me I think
it might have been better after all, had you been in my place and I
in yours! A small 'cure of souls' would have put my mental fibre to
less torture, than the crowding cares of my diocese, which depress
me more and more as they increase. Many things seem to me hopeless,-
-utterly irremediable! The shadow of a pre-ponderating, defiant,
all-triumphant Evil stalks abroad everywhere--and the clergy are as
much affected by it as the laymen. I feel that the world is far more
Christ-less to-day after two thousand years of preaching and
teaching, than it was in the time of Nero. How has this happened?
Whose the fault? Walden, there is only one reply--it is the Church
itself that has failed! The message of salvation,--the gospel of
love,--these are as God-born and true as ever they were,--but the
preachers and teachers of the Divine Creed are to blame,--the men
who quarrel among themselves over forms and ceremonies instead of
concentrating their energies on ministering to others,--and I
confess I find myself often at a loss to dispose Church affairs in
such wise as to secure at one and the same time, peace and
satisfaction amongst the clergy under me, with proper devotion to
the mental and physical needs of the thousands who have a right, yes
a right to expect spiritual comfort and material succour from those
who profess, by their vows of ordination, to be faithful and
disinterested servants of Christ.
"I daresay you remember how we used to talk religious matters over
when we were young and enthusiastic men, studying for the Church.
You will easily recall the indignation and fervour with which we
repudiated all heresies new and old, and turned our backs with
mingled pity and scorn on every writer of agnostic theories,
estimating such heterodox influences as weighing but lightly in the
balance of belief, and making little or no effect on the minds of
the majority. We did not then grasp in its full measure the meaning
of what is to-day called the 'rush' of life. That blind, brutal
stampede of humanity over every corner and quarter of the earth,--a
stampede which it is impossible to check or to divert, and which
arises out of a nameless sense of panic, and foreboding of disaster!
Like hordes of wild cattle on the prairies, who scent invisible
fire, and begin to gallop furiously headlong anywhere and
everywhere, before the first red gleam of the devouring element
breaks from the undergrowth of dry grass and stubble,--so do the
nations and peoples appear to me to-day. Reckless, maddened, fear-
stricken and reasonless, they rush hither and thither in search of
refuge from themselves and from each other, yet are all the while
driven along unconsciously in heterogeneous masses, as though swept
by the resistless breath of some mysterious whirlwind, impelling
them on to their own disaster. I feel the end approaching, Walden!--
sometimes I almost see it! And with the near touch of a shuddering
future catastrophe on me, I am often disposed to agree with sad King
Solomon that after all 'there is nothing better for a man than that
he should eat, drink and be merry all the days of his life.' For I
grow tired of my own puny efforts to lift the burden of human sorrow
which is laid upon me, aloft on the fainting wings of prayer, to a
God who seems wholly irresponsive,--mind, Walden, I say seems--so do
not start away from my words and judge me as beginning to weaken in
the faith that formerly inspired me. I confess to an intense fatigue
and hopelessness,--the constant unrelieved consciousness of human
wretchedness weighs me down to the dust of spiritual abasement, for
I can but think that if God were indeed merciful and full of loving-
kindness, He would not, He could not endure the constant spectacle
of man's devilish injustice to his brother man! I have no right to
permit myself to indulge in such reflections as these, I know,--yet
they have gained such hold on me that I have latterly had serious
thoughts of resigning my bishopric. But this is a matter involving
other changes in my life, on which I should like to have some long
friendly talks with you, before taking any decisive step. Your own
attitude of mind towards the 'calling and election' you have chosen
has always seemed to me so pre-eminently pure and lofty, that I
should condemn ray own feelings even more than I do, were I to allow
the twin forces of pessimism and despair to possess me utterly
without an attempt to bring them under your sane and healthful
exorcism, the more so, as you know all my personal history and life-
long sorrow. And this brings me to the main point of my letter which
is, that I should much like to see you, if you can spare me two or
three days of your company any time before the end of August. Try to
arrange an early visit, though I know how ill your parishioners can
spare you, and how more than likely they are to grumble at your
absence. You are to be envied in having secured so much affection
and confidence in the parish you control, and every day I feel more
and more how wisely you have chosen your lot in that comparative
obscurity, which, at one time, seemed to those who know your
brilliant gifts, a waste of life and opportunity. Of course you are
not without jealous enemies,--no true soul ever is. Sir Morton
Pippitt still occasionally sends me a spluttering note of
information as to something you have, or have not done, to the
church on which you have spent the greater part of your personal
fortune; and Leveson, the minister at Badsworth, appears to think
that I should assist him by heading a subscription list to obtain
funds for the purpose of making his church as perfect a gem of
architecture as yours. Due enquiries have been made as to the nature
and needs of his parishioners, and it appears that only twenty--five
adult persons on an average ever attend his ministrations, and that
the building for which he pleads is a brick edifice built in 1870
and deliberately allowed to decay by disuse and neglect. However,
Sir Morton Pippitt is taking some interest in it, so I am given to
understand,--and perhaps in 'restoring' a modern chapel, he will be
able to console himself for the ruthless manner in which you
stripped off his 'galvanised tin' roof from your old Norman church
"I am sorry to hear that the historic house of Abbot's Manor is
again inhabited, and by one who is likely to be a most undesirable
neighbour to you."
Here Walden, unable to read very quickly at the window, stepped out
on the lawn, still holding the letter close to his eyes. "A most
undesirable neighbour"--he-murmured-"Yes--now let me see!--where is
that phrase?--Oh, here it is,--'a most undesirable neighbour.'" And
he read on:-"I allude to Miss Vancourt, the only child of the late
Robert Vancourt who was killed some years ago in the hunting field.
The girl was taken away at her father's death by her uncle
Frederick, who, having sown an unusual crop of wild oats, had
married one of those inordinately wealthy American women to whom the
sun itself appears little more than a magnified gold-piece--and of
course between the two she has had a very bad training. Frederick
Vancourt was the worst and weakest of the family, and his wife has
been known for years as a particularly hardened member of the
'smart' set. Under their tutelage Miss Vancourt, or 'Maryllia Van,'
as she appears to be familiarly known and called in society, has
attained a rather unenviable notoriety; and when I heard the other
day that she had left her aunt's house in a fit of ungovernable
temper, and had gone to her own old house to live, I thought at once
of you with a pang of pity. For, if I remember rightly, you have a
great opinion of the Manor as an unspoilt relic of Tudor times, and
have always been rather glad that it was left to itself without any
modern improvement or innovation. I can imagine nothing worse to
your mind than the presence of a 'smart' lady in the unsophisticated
village of St. Rest! However, you may take heart of grace, as it is
not likely she will stay there long. Rumour asserts that she is
shortly to be married to Lord Roxmouth,--he who will be Duke of
Ormistoune and owner of that splendid but half-ruined pile, Roxmouth
Castle. She has, it appears, kept this poor gentleman dancing
attendance on her for a sufficient time to make evident to the world
her desire to secure his title, and her present sudden capricious
retirement into country life is understood to be a mere RUSE to draw
him more swiftly on to his matrimonial doom. No doubt he has an eye
on Mrs. Fred Vancourt's millions, which her niece would inherit in
the event of her marrying a future English duke,--still, from what I
gather, he would deserve some compensation for risking his life's
happiness with such a very doubtful partner. But I daresay I am
retailing information with which you are no doubt already quite
familiar, and in all probability 'Maryllia Van' is not likely to
cross your path at any time, as among her other reported
characteristics is that of a cheap scorn for religion,--a scorn
which sits so unbecomingly on our modern women, and forbodes so much
disaster in the future, they being the mothers of the coming race. I
expect the only circumstance likely to trouble your calm and
pleasant routine of life and labour is, that the present occupation
of Abbot's Manor may have stopped some of your romantic rambles in
the beautiful woods surrounding it! May never any greater care
disturb you, my dear fellow!--for even that is one, which, as I have
pointed out to you, will be of brief duration. Let me know when you
think you will be able to come and spend a couple of days here,--and
I will clear my work ahead in order to leave the time free for an
entire unburdening of my soul to you, as in the days of our youth,
so long ago.--Sincerely and affectionately yours, H.A. BRENT."
Slowly, and with methodical nicety, Walden folded up the letter and
put it in his pocket. With a kind of dazed air he looked about him,
vaguely surprised that the evening seemed to have fallen so soon.
Streaks of the sunset still glowed redly here and there in the sky,
but the dense purple of the night had widened steadily over the
spaces of the air, and just above the highest bough of the apple-
tree on the lawn, the planet Venus twinkled bravely in all its
silver panoply of pride as the Evening Star. Low and sweet on the
fragrant silence came the dulcet piping of a nightingale, and the
soft swishing sound of the river flowing among the rushes, and
pushing against the pebbly shore. A sudden smarting sense of pain
stung Walden's eyes,--pressing them with one hand he found it wet,--
with tears? No, no!--not with tears,--merely with the moisture of
strain and fatigue,--his sight was not so good as it used to be;--of
course he was getting old,--and Bishop Brent's small caligraphy had
been difficult to decipher by the half-light. All at once something
burning and passionate stirred in him,--a wave of chivalrous
indignation that poured itself swiftly through every channel of his
clean and honest blood, and he involuntarily clenched his hand.
"What liars there are in the world!" he said aloud and fiercely--
Venus, peeping at him over the apple-boughs, gave out a diamond-like
sparkle as though she were no greater thing than a loving eye,--the
unseen nightingale, tuning its voice to richer certainties, broke
into a fuller, deeper warble,--more stars flew, like shining fire-
flies, into space, and on the lowest line of the western horizon a
white cloud fringed with silver, floated slowly, the noiseless
herald of the coming moon. But Walden saw nothing of the mystically
beautiful transfiguration of the evening into night. His thoughts
"And yet"--he mused sorrowfully--"How do I know? How can I tell? The
clear childlike eyes may be trained to deceive,--the smile of the
sweet, all too sweet mouth, may be insincere--the pretty, impulsive
confiding manner may be a mere trick---and---after all---what is it
to me? I demand of myself plainly and fairly--what is it to me?"
He gave a kind of unconscious despairing gesture. Was there some
devil in his soul whom he was bound to wrestle with by fasting and
prayer, and conquer in the end? Or was it an angel that had entered
there, before whose heavenly aspect he must kneel and succumb? Why
this new and appalling loneliness which had struck himself and his
home-surroundings as with an earthquake shock, shaking the
foundations of all that had seemed so safe and secure? Why this
feverish restlessness in his mind, which forbade him to occupy
himself with any of the work waiting for him to do, and which made
him unhappy and ill at ease for no visible or reasonable cause?
He walked slowly across the lawn to his favourite seat under the
apple-tree,--and there, beneath the scented fruiting boughs, with
the evening dews gathering on the grass at his feet, he tried
manfully to face the problem that troubled his own inner
"Let me brave it out!" he said--"Let me realise and master the
thoughts that seek to master ME, otherwise I am no man, but merely a
straw to be caught by the idle wind of an emotion. Why should I
shirk the analysis of what I feel to be true of myself? For, after
all, it is only a weakness of nature,--a sense of regret and loss,--
a knowledge of something I have missed in life,--all surely
pardonable if quelled in the beginning. She,--Maryllia Vancourt--is
only at woman,--I am only a man. There is more than at first seems
apparent in that simple qualification 'only'! She, the woman, has
charm, and is instinctively conscious of her power, as why should
she not be?--she has tried it, and found it no doubt in every case
effectual. I, the man, am long past the fervours and frenzies of
life,--and charm, whether it be hers or that of any other of her
sex, should have, or ought to have, no effect upon me, particularly
in my vocation, and with my settled habits. If I am so easily moved
as to be conscious of a certain strange glamour and fascination in
this girl,--for she is a girl to me, nay almost a child,--that is
not her fault, but mine. As well expect the sun not to shine or a
bird not to sing, as expect Maryllia Vancourt not to smile and look
sweet! Walking with her in her rose-garden, where she took me with
such a pretty air of confiding grace, to show me her border of old
French damask roses, I listened to her half-serious, sometimes
playful talk as in a dream, and answered her kindly questions
concerning some of the sick and poor in the village as best I could,
though I fear I must occasionally have spoken at random. Oh, those
old French damask roses! I have known them growing in that border
for years,--yet I never saw them as I saw them to-day,--never looked
they so darkly red and glowing!--so large and open-hearted! I fancy
I shall smell their fragrance all my life! 'Are they doing well, do
you think?'--she said, and the little white chin perked up from
under the pink ribbon which tied her hat, and the dark blue eyes
gleamed drowsily from beneath their drooping lids,--and the lips
parted, smiling--and then--then came the devil and tempted me! I was
no longer middle-aged John Walden, the quiet parson of a country
'cure,'--I was a man unknown to myself,--possessed as it were, by
the ghost of a dead youth, clamouring for youthful joy! I longed to
touch that delicate little pink-and-white creature, so like a rose
herself!--I was moved by an insane desire--yes!--it was insane, and
fortunately quite momentary,--such impulses are not uncommon"--and
here, as he unravelled, to his own satisfaction, the tangled web of
his impressions, his brow cleared, and he smiled gravely,--"I was, I
say, moved by an insane desire to draw that dainty small bundle of
frippery and prettiness into my arms--yes,--it was so, and why
should I not confess it to myself? Why should I be ashamed? Other
men have felt the same, though perhaps they do not count so many
years of life as I do. At any rate with me the feeling was
momentary,--and passed. Then,--some moments later,--under the cedar-
tree she dropped a rose from the cluster she had gathered,--and in
giving it back to her I touched her hand--and our eyes met."
Here his thoughts became disconnected, and wandered beyond his
control. He let them go,--and listened, instead of thinking, to the
notes of the nightingale singing in his garden. It was now being
answered by others at a distance, with incessant repetitions of a
flute-like warble,--and then came the long sobbing trill and cry of
love, piercing the night with insistant passion.
"The Bird of Life is singing on the bough,
His two eternal notes of 'I and Thou'--
O hearken well, for soon the song sings through,
And would we hear it, we must hear it Now."
A faint tremor shook him as the lines quoted by Cicely Bourne rang
back upon his memory. He rose to go indoors.
"I am a fool!"--he said--"I must not trouble my head any more about
a summer day's fancy. It was a kind of 'old moonlight in the blood,'
as Hafiz says,--an aching sense of loss,--or rather a touch of the
spring affecting a decaying tree!" He sighed. "I shall not suffer
from it again, because I will not. Brent's letter has arrived
opportunely,--though I think--nay, I am sure, he has been
misinformed. However, Miss Vancourt's affairs have nothing to do
with me,--nor need I interest myself in what is not my concern. My
business is with those who depend on my care,--I must not forget
myself--I must attend to my work."
He went into the house,--and there was confronted in his own hall by
a big burly figure clad in rough corduroys,--that of Farmer Thorpe,
who doffed his cap and pulled his forelock respectfully at the sight
"'Evenin', Passon!" he said--"I thought as 'ow I'd make bold to coom
an' tell ye my red cow's took the turn an' doin' wonderful! Seems a
special mussy of th' A'mighty, an' if there's anythin' me an' my
darter can do fur ye, ye'll let us know, Passon, for I'm darn
grateful, an' feels as 'ow the beast pulled round arter I'd spoke
t'ye about 'er. An' though as ye told me, 'tain't the thing to say
no prayers for beasties which is worldly goods, I makes a venture to
arsk ye if ye'll step round to the farm to-morrer, jest to please
Mattie my darter, an' take a look at the finest litter o' pigs as
ever was seen in this county, barrin' none! A litter as clean an'
sweet as daisies in new-mown hay, an' now's the time for ye to look
at 'em, Passon, an' choose yer own suckin' beast for bilin' or
roastin' which ye please, for both's as good as t'other,--an' there
ain't no man about 'ere what desarves a sweet suckin' pig more'n you
do, an' that I say an' swear to. It's a real prize litter I do
assure you!--an' Mattie my darter, she be that proud, an' all ye
wants to do is just to coom along an' choose your own!"
"Thank you, Mr. Thorpe!" said Walden with his usual patient
courtesy--"Thank you very much! I will certainly come. Glad to hear
the cow is better. And is Miss Thorpe well?"
"She's that foine,"--rejoined the farmer--"that only the pigs can
beat 'er! I'll be tellin' 'er you'll coom to-morrer then?"
"Oh yes--by all means! Certainly! Most kind of you, I'm sure! Good-
"Same t'ye, Passon, an' thank ye kindly!" Whereat John escaped at
last into his own solitary sanctum.
"My work!" he said, with a faint smile, as he seated himself at his
desk--"I must do my work! I must attend to the pigs as much as
anything else in the parish! My work!"
It was the first Sunday in July. Under a sky of pure and cloudless
blue the village of St. Rest lay cradled in floral and foliage
loveliness, with all the glory of the morning sunshine and the full
summer bathing it in floods of living gold. It had reached the
perfect height of its annual beauty with the full flowering of its
orchards and fields, and with all the wealth of colour which was
flung like spray against the dark brown thatched roofs of its
clustering cottages by the masses of roses, red and white, that
clambered as high as the tops of the chimneys, and turning back from
thence, dropped downwards again in a tangle of blossoms, and twined
over latticed windows with a gay and gracious air like garlands hung
up for some great festival. The stillness of the Seventh Day's pause
was in the air,--even the swallows, darting in and out from their
prettily contrived nests under the bulging old-fashioned eaves,
seemed less busy, less active on their bright pinions, and skimmed
to and fro with a gliding ease, suggestive of happy indolence and
peace. The doors of the church were set wide open,--and Adam Frost,
sexton and verger, was busy inside the building, placing the chairs,
as was his usual Sunday custom, in orderly rows for the coming
congregation. It was about half-past ten, and the bell-ringers,
arriving and ascending into the belfry, were beginning to 'tone' the
bells before pealing the full chime for the eleven o'clock service,
when Bainton, arrayed in his Sunday best, strolled with a casual air
into the churchyard, looked round approvingly for a minute or two,
and then with some apparent hesitation, entered the church porch,
lifting his cap reverently as he did so. Once there, he coughed
softly to attract Frost's attention, but that individual was too
much engrossed with his work to heed any lesser sound than the
grating of the chairs he was arranging. Bainton waited patiently,
standing near the carved oaken portal, till by chance the verger
turned and saw him, whereupon he beckoned mysteriously with a
"Adam! Hi! A word wi' ye!"
Adam came down the nave somewhat reluctantly, his countenance
showing signs of evident preoccupation and harassment.
"What now?" he demanded, in a hoarse whisper-'"Can't ye see I'm
"O' coorse you're busy--I knows you're busy,"--returned Bainton,
soothingly--"I ain't goin' to keep ye back nohow. All I wants to
know is, ef it's true?"
"Ef what's true?"
"This 'ere, wot the folks are all a' clicketin' about,--that Miss
Vancourt 'as got a party o' Lunnon fash'nables stayin' at the Manor,
an' that they're comin' to church this marnin'?"
"True enough!" said Frost--"Don't ye see me a-settin' chairs for 'em
near the poopit? There'll be what's called a 'crush' I can tell ye!-
-for there ain't none too much room in the church at the best o'
times for our own poor folk, but when rich folks comes as well,
we'll be put to it to seat 'em. Mister Primmins, he comes down to me
nigh 'arf an hour ago, an' he sez, sez he: 'Miss Vancourt 'as
friends from Lunnon stayin' with 'er, an' they're comin' to church
this marnin'. 'Ope you'll find room?' An' I sez to 'im, 'I'll do my
best, but there ain't no reserve seats in the 'ouse o' God, an' them
as comes fust gits fust served.' Ay, it's true enough they're a-
comin', but 'ow it got round in the village, I don't know. I ain't
sed a wurrd."
"Ill news travels fast,"--said Bainton, sententiously, "Mister
Primmins no doubt called on his young 'ooman at the 'Mother Huff'
an' told 'er to put on 'er best 'at. She's a reg'ler telephone tube
for information--any bit o' news runs right through 'er as though
she was a wire. 'Ave ye told Passon Waldon as 'ow Miss Vancourt an'
visitors is a-comin' to 'ear 'im preach?"
"No,"--replied Adam, with some vigour--"I ain't told 'im nothin'.
An' I ain't goin' to neither!"
Bainton looked into the crown of his cap, and finding his
handkerchief there wiped the top of his head with it.
"It be powerful warm this marnin', Adam,"--he said--"Powerful warm
it be. So you ain't goin' to tell Passon nothin',--an' for why, may
I ask, if to be so bold."
"Look 'ere, Tummas,"--rejoined the verger, speaking slowly and
emphatically--"Passon, 'e be a rare good man, m'appen no better man
anywheres, an' what he's goin' to say to us this blessed Sunday is
all settled-like. He's been thinkin' it out all the week. He knows
what's what. 'Tain't for us,--'tain't for you nor me, to go puttin'
'im out an' tellin' 'im o' the world the flesh an' the devil all a-
comin' to church. Mebbe he'a been a-prayin' to the Lord A'mighty to
put the 'Oly Spirit into 'im, an' mebbe he's got it--just THERE."
And Adam touched his breast significantly. "Now if I goes, or you
goes and sez to 'im: 'Passon, there's fash'nable folks from Lunnon
comin' 'ere to look at ye an' listen to ye, an' for all we kin tell
make mock o' ye as well as o' the Gospel itself in their 'arts'--
d'ye think he'd be any the better for it? No, Tummas, no! I say
leave Passon alone. Don't upset 'im. Let 'im come out of 'is 'ouse
wise an' peaceful like as he allus do, an' let 'im speak as the
fiery tongues from Heaven moves 'im, an' as if there worn't no
fashion nor silly nonsense in the world. He's best so, Tummas!--you
b'lieve me,--he's best so!"
"Mebbe--mebbe!" and Bainton twirled his cap round and round
dubiously--"But Miss Vancourt---"
"Miss Vancourt ain't been to church once till now,"--said Adam,--
"An' she's only comin' now to show it to her friends. I doesn't want
to think 'ard of her, for she's a sweet-looking little lady an' a
kind one--an' my Ipsie just worships 'er,--an' what my baby likes
I'm bound to like too--but I do 'ope she ain't a 'eathen, an' that
once comin' to church means comin' again, an' reg'lar ever
arterwards. Anyway, it's for you an' me, Tummas, to leave Passon to
the Lord an' the fiery tongues,--we ain't no call to interfere with
'im by tellin' 'im who's comin' to church an' who ain't. Anyone's
free to enter the 'ouse o' God, rich or poor, an 'tain't a world's
wonder if strangers worships at the Saint's Rest as well as our own
Here the bells began to ring in perfect unison, with regular rhythm
and sweet concord.
"I must go,"--continued Adam--"I ain't done fixin' the chairs yet,
an' it's a quarter to eleven. We'll be 'avin 'em all 'ere d'rectly."
He hurried into the church again just as Miss Eden and her boy-and-
girl 'choir' entered the churchyard, and Bainton seeing them, and
also perceiving in the near distance the slow halting figure of
Josey Letherbarrow, who made it a point never to be a minute late
for divine service, rightly concluded that there was no time now,
even if he were disposed to such a course, to 'warn Passon' that he
would have to preach to 'fashionable folks' that morning.
"Mebbe Adam's right," he reflected--"An' yet it do worry me a bit to
think of 'im comin' out of 'is garden innercent like an' not knowin'
what's a-waitin' for 'im. For he's been rare quiet lately--seems as
if he was studyin' an' prayin' from mornin' to night, an' he ain't
bin nowhere,--an' no one's bin to see 'im, 'cept that scarecrow-
lookin' chap, Adderley, which HE stayed a 'ole arternoon, jabberin'
an' readin' to 'im. An' what's mighty queer to me is that he ain't
bin fidgettin' over 'is garden like he used to. He don't seem to
care no more whether the flowers blooms or doesn't. Them phloxes up
against the west wall now--a finer show I never seen--an' as for the
lilum candidum, they're a perfect picter. But he don't notice 'em
much, an' he's not so keen on his water-lilies as I thought he would
be, for they're promisin' better this year than they've ever done
before, an' the buds all a-floatin' up on top o' the river just
lovely. An' as for vegetables--Lord!--he don't seem to know whether
'tis beans or peas he 'as--there's a kind o' sap gone out o' the
garden this summer, for all that it's so fine an' flourishin'.
There's a missin' o' somethin' somewheres!"
His meditations were put to an end by the continuous arrival of all
the villagers coming to church;--by twos and threes, and then by
half dozens and dozens, they filed in through the churchyard,
exchanging brief neighbourly greetings with one another as they
passed quietly into the sacred edifice, where the soft strains of
the organ now began to mingle with the outside chiming of the bells.
Bainton still lingered near the porch, moved by a pardonable
curiosity. He was anxious to see the first glimpse of the people who
were staying at the Manor, but as yet there was no sign of any one
of them, though the time wanted only five minutes to eleven.
The familiar click of the latch of the gate which divided the church
precincts from the rectory garden, made him turn his head in that
direction, to watch his master approaching the scene of his
morning's ministrations. The Reverend John walked slowly, with
uplifted head and tranquil demeanour, and, as he turned aside up the
narrow path which led to the vestry at the back of the church the
faithful 'Tummas' felt a sudden pang. 'Passon' looked too good for
this world, he thought,--his dignity of movement, his serene and
steadfast eyes, his fine, thoughtful, though somewhat pale
countenance, were all expressive of that repose and integrity of
soul which lifts a man above the common level, and unconsciously to
himself, wins for him the silent honour and respect of all his
fellows. And yet there was a touch of pathetic isolation about him,
too,--as of one who is with, yet not of, the ordinary joys, hopes,
and loves of humanity,--and it was this which instinctively moved
Bainton, though that simple rustic would have been at a loss to
express the sense of what he felt in words. However there was no
more leisure for thinking, if he wished to be in his place at the
commencement of service. The servants from Abbot's Manor were just
entering the churchyard-gates, marshalled, as usual, by the
housekeeper, Mrs. Spruce, and her deaf but ever dutiful husband,--
and though Bainton longed to ask one of them if Miss Vancourt and
her guests were really coming, he hesitated,--and in that moment of
hesitation, the whole domestic retinue passed into church before
him, and he judged it best and wisest to follow quickly in silence,
lest, when prayers began, his master should note his absence.
The building was very full,--and it was difficult to see where, if
any strangers did arrive, they could be accommodated. Miss Eden, in
her capacity as organist, was still playing the opening voluntary,
but, despite the fact that there was no apparent disturbance of the
usual order of things, there was a certain air of hushed expectancy
among the people which was decidedly foreign to the normal
atmosphere of St. Rest. The village lasses looked at each other's
hats with keener interest,--the lads fidgeted with their ties and
collars more strenuously, and secreted their caps more
surreptitiously behind their legs,--and the most placid-looking
personage in the whole congregation was Josey Letherbarrow, who, in
a very clean smock, with a small red rose in his buttonhole, and his
silvery hair parted on either side and just touching his shoulders,
sat restfully in his own special corner not far from the pulpit,
leaning on his stick and listening with rapt attention to the fall
and flow of the organ music as it swept round him in soft and ever
decreasing eddies of sound. The bells ceased, and eleven o'clock
struck slowly from the church tower. At the last stroke, the
Reverend John entered the chancel in his plain white surplice,
spotless as new-fallen snow,-and as he knelt for a moment in silent
devotion, the voluntary ended with a grave, long, sustained chord. A
pause,--and then the 'Passon' rose, and faced his little flock, his
hand laid on the open 'Book of Common Prayer.'
"When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath
committed and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save
his soul alive."
Walden's voice rang clear and sonorous,--the sunshine pouring
through the plain glass of the high rose-window behind and above
him, shed effulgence over the ancient sarcophagus in front of the
altar and struck from its alabaster whiteness a kind of double light
which, circling round his tall slight figure made it stand out in
singularly bold relief.
"If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is
not in us, but if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to
forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
A ripple of gay laughter here echoed in through the church doors,
which were left open for air on account of the great heat of the
day. There was an uneasy movement in the congregation,--some men and
women glanced at one another. That light, careless laughter was
distinctly discordant. The Reverend John drew himself up a little
more rigidly erect, and his face grew a shade paler. Steadily, he
"Dearly beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us in sundry places
to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness; and
that we should not dissemble nor cloke them before the face of
Almighty God our Heavenly Father, but confess them with an humble,
lowly, penitent and obedient heart---"
He ceased abruptly. A glimmer of colour,--a soft gliding swish of
silken skirts, an affectation of tip-toe movement up the nave,--a
wave of indescribable artificial perfume,--and then, a general stir
and head-turning among the people showed that a new and unaccustomed
element had suddenly merged into the simple human material whereof
the village of St. Rest was composed,--an element altogether strange
to it, not to say troublous and confusing. Walden saw, and bit his
lips hard,--his hand instinctively clenched itself nervously on the
'Book of Common Prayer.' But his rigid attitude did not relax, and
he remained mute, his eyes fixed steadily on the fashionably dressed
new-comers, who, greatly embarrassed by the interruption their late
entrance had caused,--an interruption emphasised in so marked a
manner by the silence of the officiating minister, made haste to
take the chairs pointed out to them by the verger, with crimsoning
faces and lowered eyelids. It was a new and most unpleasant
experience for them. They did not know, of course, that it was
Walden's habit to pause in whatever part of the service he was
reading if anyone came in late,--to wait till the tardy arrivals
took their places,--and then to begin the interrupted sentence over
again,--a habit which had effectually succeeded in making all his
But Maryllia, whose guests they were,--Maryllia, who was responsible
as their hostess for bringing them to church at all, and who
herself, with Cicely, was the last to enter after service had begun,
felt a rebellious wave of colour rushing up to her brows. It was
very rude of Mr. Walden, she thought, to stop short in his reading
and cause the whole congregation to turn and stare curiously at
herself and her friends just because they were a little bit behind
time! It exposed them all to public rebuke! And when the stir caused
by their entrance had subsided, she stood up almost defiantly,
lifting her graceful head haughtily, her soft cheeks glowing and her
eyes flashing, looking twenty times prettier even than usual as she
opened her daintily bound prayer-book with a careless, not to eay
indifferent air, as though her thoughts were thousands of miles away
from St. Rest and all belonging to it. Glancing at the different
members of her party, she was glad that one of them at least, Lady
Eva Beaulyon, had secured a front seat, for her ladyship was never
content unless she was well to the foremost of everything. She was a
reigning beauty,--the darling of the society press, and the model of
all aspiring photographers,--and she could hardly be expected to put
up with any obscure corner, even in a church;--if she ever went to
the Heaven of monkish legend, one could well imagine St. Peter
standing aside for her to pass. Close beside her was another
wonderful looking woman, a Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay, a 'leader' in
society, who went everywhere, did everything, wore the newest coat,
skirt or hat from Paris directly it was put on the market, and wrote
accounts of herself and her 'smartness' to the American press under
a 'nom-de-plume.' She was not, like Lady Beaulyon, celebrated for
her beauty, but for her perennial youth. Her face, without being in
the least interesting or charming, was smooth and peach-coloured,
without a line of thought or a wrinkle of care upon it. Her eyes
were bright and quite baby-like in their meaningless expression, and
her hair was of the loveliest Titian red. She had a figure which was
the envy of all modellers of dress-stands,--and as she was wont to
say of herself, it would have been difficult to find fault with the
'chic' of her outward appearance. Painters and sculptors would have
found her an affront to nature--but then Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay had
no acquaintance with painters and sculptors. She thought them
'queer' people, with very improper ideas. She was exceedingly put
out by Walden's abrupt pause in his reading of the 'Dearly beloved,'
while she and the other members of the Manor house-party rustled
into their places,--and when he recommenced the exordium she
revenged herself by staring at him quizzically through a long-
handled tortoiseshell-mounted lorgnon. But she did not succeed in
confusing him at all, or in even attracting his attention,--so she
merely shrugged her shoulders, with what the French call an 'air
The momentary confusion caused by the pause in the service soon
passed, and the spirit of calm again settled on the scene after the
'General Confession.' But Maryllia was deeply conscious of hurt and
vexation. It was too bad of Mr. Walden, she kept on. saying to
herself over and over again,--too bad! Her friends and herself were
only five or six minutes late, and to have stopped in his reading of
the service like that to put them all to shame was unkind--'yes,
unkind,' she said in her vexed soul,--vexed all the more because she
was inwardly conscious that Walden was right and herself wrong. She
knew well enough that she could have reached the church at eleven
had she chosen, and have brought her friends punctual to time as
well. She knew it was neither reverent nor respectful to interrupt
divine worship. But she was too irritated to reason the matter out
calmly just then,--all she could think of was that she and her
London guests had received a reproof from the minister of the
parish--silent, but none the less severe--before all the villagers-
before her own servants--and on the first occasion of her coming to
church, too! She could not get over it.
"If he can see me," she thought, "he will know that I am angry!"
Chafed little spirit!--as if it mattered to Walden whether she was
angry or not! He saw her well enough,--he noted her face 'red as a
rose,' with its mobile play of expression, set in its frame of
golden-brown hair,--it flitted, sunbeam-like between his eyes and
the 'Book of Common Prayer'--and, when he ceased reading, while the
village choir, rendered slightly nervous by the presence of 'the
quality,' chanted the 'O come let us sing unto the Lord,' he was
conscious of a sudden lassitude, arising, as he knew, from the
strain he had put upon himself for the past few minutes. He was,
however, quite calm and self-possessed when he rose to read the
Lessons of the Day, and the service proceeded as usual in the
perfectly simple, unadorned style of 'that pure and reformed part of
Christ's Holy Catholic Church which is established in this Realm.'
Now and then his attention wandered--once or twice his eyes rested
on the well-dressed group directly opposite to him with a kind of
vague regret and doubt. There was an emotion working in his soul to
which he could scarcely give a name. Instinctively he was conscious
that a certain embarrassment and uneasiness affected the ordinary
members of his congregation,--he knew that their minds were
disquieted and distracted,--that the girls and women were open-eyed
and almost open-mouthed at the sight of the fashionable costumes and
wondrous millinery which the ladies of Miss Vancourt's house-party
wore, and were dissatisfied with their own clothing in consequence,-
-and that the lads and men felt themselves to be awkward, uncouth
and foolish in the near presence of personages belonging to quite
another sphere than their own. He knew that the showy ephemera of
this world had by a temporary fire-fly glitter, fascinated the
simple souls that had been erstwhile glad to dwell for a space on
the contemplation of spiritual and heavenly things. He saw that the
matchless lesson of Christ's love to humanity was scarcely heeded in
the contemplation of how very much humanity was able to do for
itself even without Christ's love, provided it had money and the
devil to 'push' it on! He sighed a little;--and certain words in the
letter of his friend Bishop Brent came back to his memory--"Many
things seem to me hopeless,-utterly irremediable ... I grow tired of
my own puny efforts to lift the burden which is laid upon me." Then
other, and stronger, thoughts came to him, and when the time arrived
to read the Commandments, a rush of passion and vigorous intensity
filled him with a force far greater than he knew. Cicely Bourne said
afterwards that she should never forget the thrill that ran through
her like a shock of electricity, when he proclaimed from the altar:-
-"GOD spake these words and said: Thou shalt have none other gods
Looking up at this moment, she saw Julian Adderley in the aisle on
her left-hand side,--he too was staring at Walden as though he saw
the figure of a saint in a vision. But Maryllia kept her face
hidden, listening in a kind of awe, as each 'Commandment' was, as it
seemed, grandly and strenuously insisted upon by the clear voice
that had no tone of hypocrisy in its whole scale.
"Thou shalt NOT bear false witness against thy neighbour!"
Lady Beaulyon forgot to droop her head in the usual studied way
which she knew was so becoming to her,--the NOT was so emphatic. An
unpleasant shiver ran through her daintily-clothed person,--dear
me!--how often and often she had 'borne false witness,' not only
against her neighbour, but against everyone she could think of or
talk about! Where could be the fun of living if you must NOT swear
to as many lies about your neighbour as possible? No spice or savour
would be left in the delicate ragout of 'swagger' society! The
minister of St. Rest was really quite objectionable,--a ranter,--a
noisy, 'stagey' creature!--and both she and Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay
murmured to each other that they 'did not like him.'
"So loud!" said Lady Beaulyon, breathing the words delicately
against her friend's Titian-red hair.
"So provincial!" rejoined Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay, in the same dulcet
undertone, adding to her remark the fervent--"Lord have mercy upon
us and incline our hearts to keep this law!"
One very gratifying circumstance to these ladies, however, and one
that considerably astonished all the members of Miss Vancourt's
house-party, as well as Miss Vancourt herself, was that no
'collection' was made. Neither the church, the poor, nor some
distant mission to the heathen served as any excuse for begging, in
the shrine of the 'Saint's Rest.' No vestige of a money-box or
'plate' was to be seen anywhere. And this fact pre-disposed them to
survey Walden's face and figure with critical attention as he left
the chancel and ascended the pulpit during the singing of 'The Lord
is my Shepherd.' At the opening chords of that quaint and simple
hymn, Cicely Bourne glanced at Miss Eden and Susie Prescott with a
little suggestive smile, and caught their appealing glances,--then,
as the quavering chorus of boys and girls began, she raised her
voice as the 'leading soprano,' and like a thread of gold it twined
round all the notes and tied them together in clear and lovely
"The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want,
He maketh me down to lie,
In pleasant fields where the lilies grow,
And the river runneth by."
Everyone in the congregation stared and seemed stricken with sudden
wonderment. Such singing they had never heard before. Mrs. Bludlip
Courtenay put up her lorgnon.
"It's Maryllia Vancourt's creature,"--she whispered--"The ugly child
she picked up in Paris. I suppose it really IS a voice?"
"It really is, I think!" responded Lady Beaulyon, languidly, turning
her fair head to look at the plain sallow girl with the untidy black
hair whom she had only seen for a few minutes on her arrival at
Abbot's Manor the previous day, and whom she had scarcely noticed.
But Cicely saw her not--her whole soul was in her singing,--and she
had no glance even for Julian Adderley, who, gazing at her as if she
were already the prima donna in an opera, listened enrapt.
"The Lord is my Shepherd; He feedeth me,
In the depth of a desert land;
And, lest I should in the darkness slip,
He holdeth me by the hand."
Maryllia felt a contraction in her throat, and her eyes
unconsciously filled with tears. How sweet that hymn was!--how very
sweet! Tender memories of her father crowded upon her,--her mother's
face, grown familiar to her sight from her daily visits to the now
no longer veiled picture in the Manor gallery, shone out upon her
from the altar like a glorified angel above the white sarcophagus
where the word 'Resurget' sparkled jewel-like in the sunshine,--and
she began to feel that after all there was something in the
Christian faith that was divinely helpful and uplifting to the soul.
"The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want,
My mind on Him is stayed,
And though through the Valley of Death I walk,
I shall not be afraid!"
Pure and true rang Cicely's young, fresh and glorious voice,
carrying all the voices of the children with it on the pulsating
waves of the organ chords,--and an impression of high exaltation,
serenity and peace, rested on the whole congregation with the
singing of the last verse--
"The Lord is my Shepherd: O Shepherd sweet,
Leave me not here to stray;
But guide me safe to Thy heavenly fold,
And keep me there, I pray!
During the silence that immediately followed, Walden stood erect in
the pulpit, looking down upon the people. He saw Maryllia's face,--
he saw all the eyes of her London friends fixed on him with a more
or less critical and supercilious stare,--he saw his own flock'
waiting for his first word with their usual air of respectful
attention,--every small point and detail in his surroundings became
suddenly magnified to his sight,--even the little rose in old Josey
Letherbarrow's smock caught his eye with an almost obtrusive flare.
The blithe soft carol of the birds outside sounded close and loud,--
the buzzing of a bumble-bee that had found its way into the church
and was now bouncing fussily against a sunlit window, in its efforts
to pass through what seemed to itself clear space, made quite an
abnormal noise. His heart beat heavily,--he fancied he could hear it
thudding in his breast,--then, all at once, an inflow of energy
rushed upon him as though the 'fiery tongues' of which Adam Frost
had spoken, were in very truth descending upon him. Maryllia's face!
There it was--so winsome, so bright, and proud and provocative in
its every feature,--and the old French damask roses growing in her
garden borders could not show a prettier colour than her cheeks! He
lifted his hands. "Let us pray!"
The villagers all obediently dropped on their knees. The Manor
'house-party' politely bent their heads.
"Supreme Creator of the Universe, without Whose power and permission
no thought is ever generated in the brain of Thy creature, man; Be
pleased to teach me, Thy unworthy servant, Thy will and law this
day, that I may speak to this congregation even as Thou shalt
command, without any care for myself or my words, but in entire
submission to Thee and Thy Holy Spirit! Amen."
He rose. The congregation rose with him. Some of the village folks
exchanged uneasy glances with one another. Was their beloved
'Passon' quite himself? He looked so very pale,--his eyes were so
unusually bright,--and his whole aspect so more than commonly
commanding. Almost nervously they fumbled with their Bibles as he
gave out the text:--"The twenty-sixth verse of the sixteenth chapter
of the Gospel according to St. Matthew."
He paused, and then, as was his usual custom, patiently repeated--
"The sixteenth chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew,
twenty-sixth verse." Again he waited, while the subdued rustling of
pages and turning over of books continued,--and finally pronounced
the words--"What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world
and lose his own soul?" Here he closed the Testament, leaning one
hand upon it. He had resolved to speak 'extempore,' just as the mood
moved him, and to make his discourse as brief as possible,--a mere
twelve minutes' sermon. For he knew that his ordinary congregation
were more affected by a sense of restlessness and impatience than
they themselves realised, and that such strangers as were present
were of a temperament more likely to be bored, than interested.
"What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world and lose
his own soul?"--he began, slowly, and with emphasis, his eyes
resting steadfastly on the fashionably-attired group of persons
immediately under his observation--"This was one of the questions
put by the Divine Man Christ, to men,--and was no doubt considered
then, as it surely is considered now, a very foolish enquiry. For to
'gain the whole world' is judged as so exceedingly profitable to
most people that they are quite willing to lose everything else they
have in exchange for it. They will gladly barter conscience,
principle, honour and truth to gain 'the whole world'--and as for
the 'soul,' that fine and immortal essence is treated by the
majority as a mere poetic phrase--a figure of speech, without any
real meaning behind it. I know well how some of you here to-day will
regret wasting your time in listening, even for a few minutes, to
anything about so obsolete a subject as the Soul! The Soul! What is
it? A fiction or a fact? How many of us possess a Soul, or THINK we
possess one? Of what is it composed, that it should be judged as so
much more precious than the Body?--the dear Body, which we pamper
and feed and clothe and cosset and cocker, till it struts on the
face of the planet, a mere magnified Ape of conceit and trickery,
sloth and sensuality, the one unforgivable anachronism in an
otherwise perfect Creation! For Body without Soul is a blot on the
Universe,--a distortion and abomination of nature, with which nature
by and by will have nothing to do. Yet I freely grant that while
Soul animates and inspires all creation, man cannot or will not
comprehend it; he may, therefore, in part, be condoned for not
endeavouring to 'save' what he is not taught to truly recognise. To
explain the 'Soul' more clearly, I will refer you all to the Book of
Genesis, where it is written--'And God made man of the dust of the
ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man
became A LIVING SOUL.' Thus we see that 'Soul' is the breath of God,
which is also the Eternal breath of Eternal Life. Each human being
is endowed with this essence of immortality, which cannot die with
death, being, as it is, the embryo of endless lives to come. This is
why it is pre-eminently valuable--this is why we should take heed
that it be not 'lost.' It may be argued--'How can anything be lost
which is eternally alive?' That proposition is easily answered. A
jewel may be 'lost' in the sea, but it is still existent as a jewel.
In the same way a man may 'lose' his Soul, though he can never
destroy it. It is the 'breath of God'--the germ of immortal Life,--
and if one 'loses' it, another may find it. This is not only
religion,--it is also science. In the present age, when all
imagination, all poetry, all instinctive sense of the divine, is
being subordinated to what we consider as Fact, there is one supreme
mystery which eludes the research of the most acute and pitiless
materialist--and that is life itself,--its origin, its evolution and
its intention. We can do many wonderful things,--but we cannot re-
animate the corpse of a friend! Christ could do this, being Divinity
incarnate,--but we can only wring our hands helplessly, and wonder
where the spirit has fled,--that spirit which made our beloved one
speak to us, smile, and exchange the looks which express the
emotions of the heart more truly than words. We want the 'Soul' we
loved! The inanimate clay, stretched cold in its coffined rest, is a
strange sight to us. We do not know it. It is not our friend! Our
friend was the 'Soul' that lived in the clay,--the 'breath of God'
that moved our own 'Soul' to respond to it in affection and
tenderness. And we instinctively know and feel that though this
breath of God' is gone from us, it cannot be dead. And 'lost' is not
an expression that we would ever apply to it, because we hope and
believe it is 'found'--found by its Creator, and taught to realise
and rejoice in its own immortality. All religion means this,--the
'finding' of the Soul. The passion of our Saviour teaches this,--His
resurrection, His ascension into Heaven, symbolises and expresses
the same thing. Yet, in the words of Christ Himself, it would
nevertheless seem, that the 'Soul' divinely generated and immortal
as it is, can be 'lost' by our own act and will. 'What is a man
profited, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?' I
venture to think the text implies, that in the very attempt to 'gain
the whole world,' the loss of the soul is involved. I am not going
to detain you here this morning with a long exordium concerning how
some of you can and may, if you choose, play havoc with the
priceless gift God baa bestowed upon each one of you. I only desire
to impress upon you all, with the utmost earnestness, that it is
idle to say among yourselves 'We have no souls,' or 'The soul is an
unknown quantity and cannot be proved.' The soul is as and actual a
part of you as the main artery is of the body,--and that you cannot
see it, touch it, or put it under the surgeon's dissecting knife is
no proof that it is not there. You might as well say life itself
does not exist, because you cannot see its primaeval causes or
beginnings. The Soul is the centre of your being,--the compass of
your life-journey,--the pivot round which, whether you will or not,
you shape your actions in this world for the next. If you lose that
mainspring of motive, you lose all. Your conduct, your speech, your
expression in every movement and feature all show the ungoverned and
ungovernable condition in which you are. God is not mocked,--and in
many cases,--taking the grand majority of the human race,--neither
He paused. The congregation was very quiet. He felt, rather than
saw, that Maryllia's eyes were fixed upon him,--and he was perfectly
aware that Lady Beaulyon,--whom he recognised, as he would have
recognised an actress, on account of the innumerable photographs of
her which were on sale in the windows of every stationer in every
moderate-sized town,--was gazing straight up at him with a bright,
mocking glance in which lurked a suspicion of disdain and laughter.
Moved by a sudden impulse, he bent his own regard straight down upon
her with an inflexible cool serenity. An ugly frown puckered her
ladyship's brow at once,--and she lowered her eyelids angrily.
"I say God is not mocked,"--he continued slowly; "Neither is man!
The miserable human being that has 'lost' his or her Soul, may be
assured that the 'gain' of the whole world in exchange, will prove
but Dead Sea fruit, bitter and tasteless, and in the end wholly
poisonous. Loss of the Soul is marked by moral degradation and
deterioration,--and this inward crumbling and rotting of all noble
and fine feeling into baseness, shows itself on the fairest face,--
the proudest form. The man who lies against his neighbour for the
sake of worldly convenience or personal revenge, writes the lie in
his own countenance as he utters it. It engraves its mark,--it can
be seen by all who read physiognomy--it says plainly--'Let not this
man be trusted!' The woman who is false and treacherous carries the
stigma on her features, be they never so perfect. The creature of
clay who has lost Soul, likewise lacks Heart,--and the starved,
hopeless poverty of such an one is disclosed in him, even if he be a
world's millionaire. Moreover, 'Soul'--that delicate, divine,
eternal essence, is easily lost. Any earthly passion carried to
excess, will overwhelm it, and sink it in an unfathomable sea. It
can slip away in the pursuit of ambition,--in schemes for self-
aggrandisement,--in the building up of huge fortunes,--in the pomp,
and show, and vanity of mundane things. It flies from selfishness
and sensuality. It can be lost in hate,--it can equally be lost in
Again he paused--then went on--"Yes--for even in love, that purest
and most elevating of human emotions, the Soul must have its way
rather than the Body. Loss of the 'Soul' in love, means that love
then becomes the mere corpse of itself, and must needs decay with
all other such dust-like things. In every sentiment, in every
thought, in every hope, in every action, let us find the 'Soul,' and
never let it go! For without it, no great deed can be done, no
worthy task accomplished, no life lived honourably and straightly in
the sight of God. It shall profit us nothing to be famous, witty,
wealthy, or admired, if we are mere stuffed figures of clay without
the 'breath of God' as our animating life principle. The simple
peasant, who has enough 'soul' in him to reverently watch the sunset
across the hills, and think of God as the author of all that
splendour, is higher in the spiritual scale than the learned scholar
who is too occupied with himself and his own small matters to notice
whether it is a sunset or a house on fire. The 'soul' in a man
should be his sense, his sight, his touch, his very inmost and
dearest centre,--the germ of all good,--the generator of all peace
and hope and happiness. It is the one and only thing to foster,--the
one and only thing to save,--the only part of man which, belonging
as it does to God, God will require again. Some of you here present
to-day will perhaps think for a little while on what I have said
when you leave this church,--and others will at once forget it,--but
think, forget, or remember as you choose, the truth remains, that
all of you, young and old, rich and poor, are endowed in your own
selves with the 'making of an angel.' The 'Soul' within you, which
you may elect to keep or to lose, is the infant of Heaven. It
depends on you for care,--for sustenance;--it needs all your work
and will to aid it in growing up to its full stature and perfection.
It shall profit you nothing if you gain the whole world, and at
death have naught to give to your Maker but crumbling clay. Let the
Angel be ready,--the 'Soul' in you prepared, and full-winged for
flight! According to the power and purity with which you have
invested and surrounded it, will be its fate. If you have
voluntarily checked and stunted its aspirations, even so checked and
stunted must be its next probation,--but if you have faithfully done
your best to nourish it with loving thoughts and noble aims,--if you
have given it room to expand and shine forth with all its own
original God-born radiance, then will its ascension to a higher
sphere of action and attainment be attended with unimaginable joy
and glory. Let the world go, rather than lose the Divine Light
within you! For that Light will, and must, attract all that is worth
knowing, worth loving and worth keeping in our actual environment.
The rest can be well spared,--whether it be money, position,
notoriety or social influence,--for none of these things last,--none
of them are in any way precious, save to such ignorant and misguided
persons as are deceived by external shows. The Soul is all! Keep but
that 'breath of God' within you, and the world becomes merely one
step of the ladder on which you may easily mount through everlasting
love upon love, joy upon joy, to the utmost height of Heaven!"
He ceased. For a moment there was a profound stillness. And then,
with the usual formula--"Now to God the Father, God the Son, and God
the Holy Ghost be praise, honour and glory for ever and ever"--the
congregation stood up. Lady Beaulyon shook her silken skirts
delicately. Mrs. Bludlip Oourtenay put her hand to her back hair
coil and made sure that it was safe. And there was a general stir
and movement, which instantly subsided again, as the people knelt to
receive the parting benediction. Maryllia's eyes were riveted on
Walden as he stretched out his hands;--she was conscious of a
certain vague awe and reverence for this man with whom she had so
casually walked and talked, only as it seemed the other day;--he
appeared, as it were, removed from her by an immeasurable distance,-
-his spirit and hers had gone wide apart,--his was throned upon a
height of noble ideals,--hers was low, low down in a little valley
of worldly nothings,--and oh, how small and insignificant she felt!
Cicely's hand caught hers and gave it an affectionate little
pressure, as they bowed their heads together under the solemnly
"The peace of God which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts
and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of His Son Jesus
Christ our Lord,"--here Walden turned ever so slightly towards the
place where Maryllia knelt; "and the blessing of God Almighty, the
Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with
With this last response from the choir, the congregation began to
disperse, and Walden, glancing over the little moving crowd, saw the
eager bustle and pressure of all its units to look at 'the ladies
from the Manor' and take stock of their wonderful costumes. The grip
of 'the world' was on them, and the only worshipper remaining
quietly in his place, with hands clasped across his stick, and eyes
closed, was Josey Letherbarrow. The old man seemed to be praying
inwardly--his face was rapt and serene. Walden looked down upon him
very tenderly. A verse of Browning's ran through his mind:--
"Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life for which the first was made.
Our times are in His hand,
Who saith: 'A whole I planned,'
Youth shows but half; trust God; see all, nor be afraid!"
And musing on this, he descended slowly from the pulpit and retired.
Outside in the churchyard, there was a general little flutter of
local excitement. Maryllia lingered there for several minutes,
pointing out the various beauties in the architecture of the church
to her guests, not that these individuals were very much interested
in such matters, for they were of that particular social type which
considers that the highest form of good breeding is to show a polite
nullity of feeling concerning everything and everybody. They were
eminently 'cultured,' which nowadays means pre-eminently dull. Had
they been asked, they would have said that it is dangerous to
express any opinion on any subject,--even on the architecture of a
church. Because the architect himself might be somewhere near,--or
the architect's father, or his mother or his great-grandam--one
never knows! And by a hasty remark in the wrong place and at the
wrong moment, one might make an unnecessary enemy. It is so much
nicer--so much safer to say nothing at all! Of course they looked at
the church,--it would have been uncivil to their hostess not to look
at it, as she was taking the trouble to call their attention to its
various points, and they assumed the usual conventional air of
appreciative admiration. But none of, them understood anything about
it,--and none of them cared to understand. They had not even noticed
the ancient sarcophagus in front of the altar except as 'some odd
kind of sculptured ornament.' When they wore told what it was, they
smiled vacuously, and said: 'How curious!' But further than this
mild and non-aggressive exclamation they did not venture. The
villagers hung about shyly, loth to lose sight of the 'quality';--
two or three 'county' people lingered also, to stare at, and comment
upon, the notorious 'beauty,' Lady Beaulyon, whose physical charms,
having been freely advertised for some years in the society columns
of the press, were naturally 'on show' for the criticism of Tom,
Dick and Harry,--Mrs. Mandeville Poreham, marshalling her five
marriageable daughters together, stalked magisterially to her
private 'bus, very much en evidence, and considerably put out by the
supercilious gaze and smile of the perfectly costumed Mrs. Bludlip
Courtenay,--Julian Adderley, coming up in response to the beckoning
finger of Cicely Bourne, was kindly greeted by Maryllia, introduced
to one or two of her friends, and asked then and there to luncheon,
an invitation he accepted with alacrity, and, after this, all the
Manor party started with their hostess to walk home, leaving the
village and villagers behind them, and discussing as they went, the
morning's service and sermon in the usual brief and desultory style
common to fashionable church-goers. The principal impression they
appeared to have on their minds was one of vague amusement. The
notion that any clergyman should have the 'impudence'--(this was the
word used by Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay)--to pause in the service
because people came in late, touched the very apex of absurdity.
"So against his own interests too,"--said Lady Beaulyon, carelessly-
-"Because where would all the parsons be if they offended their
Mr. Bludlip Courtenay, a thin gentleman with a monocle--assented to
this proposition with a "Where indeed!" He considered that clergymen
should not forget themselves,--they should show proper respect
towards those on whom they depended for support.
"Mr. Walden depends on God for support, I believe,"--said Cicely
Mr. Bludlip Courtenay fixed his monocle firmly in his left eye and
stared at her.
"Really!" he drawled dubiously--"You surprise me!"
"It IS funny, isn't it?" pursued Cicely--"So unlike the Apostles!"
Maryllia smiled. Lady Beaulyon laughed outright.
"Are you trying to be satirical, you droll child?" she enquired
"Oh no, I'm not trying,"--replied Cicely, with a quick flash of her
dark eyes--"It comes quite easy! You were talking about clergymen
offending their patrons. Now Mr. Walden hasn't got any patron to
offend. He's his own patron." "Has he purchased the advowson,
then?" enquired Mr. Courtenay--"Or, to put it more conventionally,
has he obtained it through a friend at court?"
"I don't know anything about the how or the why or the when,"--said
Cicely--"But I know he owns the living and the church. So of course
if he chooses to show people what he thinks of them when they come
in to service late, he can do it. If they don't like it, he doesn't
care. He doesn't ask anybody for anything,--he doesn't even send
round a collection plate."
"No--_I_ noticed that!--awfully jolly!"--said a good-natured looking
man who had been walking beside Julian Adderley,--a certain Lord
Charlemont whose one joy in life was motoring--"Awfully game! Ought
to make him quite famous!"
"It ought,--it ought indeed!" agreed Adderley--"I do not suppose
there is another clergyman in England who obliterates the plate from
the worship of the Almighty! It is so remote--so very remote!"
"I think he's a funny sort of parson altogether,"--said Cicely
meditatively--"He doesn't beg, borrow or steal,--he isn't a toady,
he isn't a hypocrite, and he speaks his mind. Queer, isn't it?"
"Very!" laughed Lord Charlemont--"I don't know another like him,
give you my word!"
"Well, he can't preach,"--said Lady Beaulyon, decisively--"I never
heard quite such a stupid sermon."
All the members of the house-party glanced at one another to see if
this verdict were generally endorsed. Apparently some differed in
"Didn't you like it, Eva?" asked Maryllia.
"My dear child! Who COULD like it! Such transcendental stuff! And
all that nonsense about the Soul! In these scientific days too!"
"Ah science, science!" sighed Mr. Bludlip Courtenay, dropping his
monocle with a sharp click against his top waistcoat button--"Where
will it end?"
Nobody volunteered a reply to this profound proposition.
"'Souls' are noted for something else than being saved for heaven
nowadays, aren't they, Lady Beaulyon?" queried Lord Charlemont, with
a knowing smile.
Lady Beaulyon's small, rather hard mouth tightened into a thin line.
"I really don't know!"--she said carelessly--"If you mean the social
'Souls,' they are rather unconventional certainly, and not always
discreet. But they are generally interesting--much more so, I should
think, than such 'Souls' as the parson preached about just now."
"Indeed, yes!" agreed Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay--"I can imagine nothing
more tiresome than to be a Soul without a Body, climbing from height
to height of a heaven where there is no night, no sleep, no rest for
ever and ever. Simply dreadful! But there!--one only goes to church
for form's sake--just as an example to one's servants--and when it's
done, don't you think it's best to forget it as soon as possible?"
She raised her baby eyes appealingly as she put the question.
Everybody laughed, or rather sniggered. Real honest laughter is not
considered 'good form' by certain sections of society. A gentle
imitation of the nanny-goat's bleat is the most seemly way for
cultured persons to give vent to the expression of mirth. Maryllia
alone was grave and preoccupied. The conversation of her guests
annoyed her, though in London she had been quite well accustomed to
hear people talk lightly and callously of religion and all religious
subjects. Yet here, in the quiet country, things were different,
somehow. God seemed nearer,--it was more difficult to blaspheme and
ignore Him. And there was a greater sense of regret and humiliation
in one's self for one's own lack of faith. Though, at the same time,
it has to be reluctantly conceded that in no quarter of the world is
religious hypocrisy and sham so openly manifested as in the English
provinces, and especially in the small towns, where, notwithstanding
the fact that all the Sundays are passed in persistent church and
chapel going, the result of this strenuous sham piety is seen in the
most unchristian back-biting and mischief-making on every week-day.
But St. Rest was not a town. It was a tiny village apart,--utterly
free from the petty pretensions of its nearest neighbour,
Riversford, which considered itself almost 'metropolitan' on account
of its modern red-brick and stucco villas into which its trades-
people 'retired' as soon as they had made enough money to be able to
pretend that they had never stood behind a counter in their lives.
St. Rest, on the contrary, was simple in its tastes,--so simple as
to be almost primitive, particularly in its religious sentiments,
which the ministry of John Walden had, so far, kept faithful and
pure. Its atmosphere was therefore utterly at variance with the
cheap atheism of the modern world, and it was this discordancy which
struck so sharply on Maryllia's emotional nature and gave her such a
sense of unaccustomed pain.
At the Manor there were a few other visitors who had not attended
church,--none of them important, except to themselves and the
society paragraphist,--none of them distinguished as ever having
done anything particularly good, or useful in the world,--and none
of them possessing any very unconventional characteristics, with the
exception of two very quaint old ladies, who were known somewhat
irreverently among their acquaintances as the 'Sisters Gemini.' They
were of good birth and connection, but, being cast adrift as wrecks
on the shores of Time,--the one as a widow, the other as a
spinster,--had sworn eternal friendship on the altar of their
several disillusioned and immolated affections. In the present day
we are not overtroubled by any scruples of reverence for either old
widowhood or old spinsterhood; and the 'Sisters Gemini' had become a
standing joke with the self-styled 'wise and witty' of London
restaurants and late suppers. Lady Wicketts and Miss Fosby were
their actual names, and they were happily unconscious of the
unfeeling sobriquet bestowed upon them when they were out of
hearing. Lady Wicketts had once been a reigning 'beauty,' and she
lived on the reputation of that glorious past. Miss Fosby aided and
abetted her in this harmless self-deception. Lady Wicketts had been
painted by all the famous artists of her era, from the time of her
seventeeth birthday to her thirtieth. She had been represented as a
'Shepherdess,' a 'Madonna,' a 'Girl with Lilies,' a 'Lady with a
Greyhound,' a 'Nymph Sleeping,' and more briefly and to the
purpose, as 'Portrait of Lady Wicketts,' in every exhibition of
pictures that had been held during her youth and prime. Miss Fosby
carried prints and photographs of these works of art everywhere
about with her. She would surprise people by casually taking one of
them out of her album and saying softly "Isn't that beautiful?"
And then, if the beholders fell into the trap and uttered
exclamations of rapture at the 'Shepherdess' or the 'Madonna,' or
whatever allegorical subject it happened to be, she would smile
triumphantly and say-'Lady Wicketts!'--to all appearance enjoying
the violent shock of incredulous amazement which her announcement
invariably inflicted on all those who received it.
"Not possible!" they would murmur--"Lady Wicketts---!"
"Yes,--Lady Wicketts when she was young,"--Miss Fosby would say
mildly--"She was very beautiful when she was twenty. She is sixty-
seven now. But she is still beautiful,--don't you think so? She has
such an angelic expression! And she is so good--ah!--so very goodl
There is no one like Lady Wicketts!"
All this was very sweet and touching on the part of Miss Fosby, so
far as Miss Fosby alone was concerned. To her there was but one
woman in the world, and that was Lady Wicketts. But the majority of
people saw Lady Wicketts in quite another light. They knew she had
been, in her time, as unprincipled as beautiful, and that she had
'gone the pace' more openly than most of her class. They beheld her
now without spectacles,--an enormously fat woman, with a large round
flaccid face, scarred all over by Time's ploughshare with such deep
furrows that one might have sown seed in them and expected it to
But Miss Fosby still recognised the 'Shepherdess,' the 'Madonna' and
the 'Girl with Lilies,' in the decaying composition of her friend,
and Miss Fosby was something of a bore in consequence, though the
constancy of her devotion to a totally unworthy object was quaintly
pathetic in its way. The poor soul herself was nearer seventy than
sixty, and she was quite as lean as her idol was fat,--she had never
been loved by anyone in all her life, but,--in her palmy days,--she
had loved. And the necessity of loving had apparently remained a
part of her nature, otherwise it would have been a sheer
impossibility for her to have selected so strange a fetish as Lady
Wicketts for her adoration. Lady Wicketts did not, in any marked
way, respond to Miss Fosby's tenderness,--she merely allowed herself
to be worshipped, just as in her youth she had allowed scores of
young bloods to kiss her hand and murmur soft nothings in her then
'shell-like' ear. The young bloods were gone, but Miss Fosby
remained. Better the worship of Miss Fosby than no worship at all.
Maryllia had met these two old ladies frequently at various
Continental resorts, when she had travelled about with her aunt,--
and she had found something amusing and interesting in them both,
especially in Miss Fosby, who was really a good creature,--and when
in consultation with Cicely as to who, among the various people she
knew, should be asked down to the Manor and who should not, she had
selected them as a set-off to the younger, more flippant and casual
of her list, and also because they were likely to be convenient
personages to play chaperones if necessary.
For the rest, the people were of the usual type one has got
accustomed to in what is termed 'smart' society nowadays,--listless,
lazy, more or less hypocritical and malicious,--apathetic and
indifferent to most things and most persons, save and except those
with whom unsavoury intrigues might or would be possible,--sneering
and salacious in conversation, bitter and carping of criticism,
generally blase, and suffering from the incurable ennui of utter
selfishness,--the men concentrating their thoughts chiefly on
racing, gaining, and Other Men's Wives,--the women dividing all
their stock of emotions between Bridge, Dress, and Other Women's
Husbands. And when Julian Adderley, as an author in embryo, found
himself seated at luncheon with this particular set of persons, all
of whom were more or less well known in the small orbit wherein they
moved, he felt considerably enlivened and exhilarated. Life was
worth living, he said to himself, when one might study at leisure
the little tell-tale lines of vice and animalism on the exquisite
features of Lady Beaulyon, and at the same time note admiringly how
completely the united forces of massage and self-complacency had
eradicated every wrinkle from the expressionless countenance of Mrs.
Bludlip Courtenay. These two women were, in a way, notorious as
'leaders' of their own special coteries of social scandalmongers and
political brokers; Lady Beaulyon was known best among Jew
financiers; Mrs. Courtenay among American 'Kings' of oil and steel.
Each was in her own line a 'power,'--each could coax large advances
of money out of the pockets of millionaires to further certain
'schemes' which were vaguely talked about, but which never came to
fruition,--each had a little bevy of young journalists in
attendance,--press boys whom they petted and flattered, and
persuaded to write paragraphs concerning their wit, wisdom and
beauty, and how they 'looked radiant in pink' or 'dazzling in pea
green.' Contemplating first one and then the other of these ladies,
Julian almost resolved to compose a poem about them, entitled 'The
Sirens' and, dividing it into Two Cantos, to dedicate the First
Canto to Lady Beaulyon and the Second to Mrs. Courtenay.
"It would be so new--so fresh!" he mused, with a bland anticipation
of the flutter such a work might possibly cause among society dove-
cots--"And if ALL the truth were told, so much more risque than 'Don
Glancing up and down, and across the hospitable board, exquisitely
arranged with the loveliest flowers and fruit, and the most
priceless old silver, he noticed that every woman of the party was
painted and powdered except Maryllia, and her young protegee,
Cicely. The dining-room of Abbot's Manor was not a light apartment,-
-its oak-panelled walls and raftered ceiling created shadow rather
than luminance,--and though the windows were large and lofty, rising
from the floor to the cornice, their topmost panes were of very old
stained glass, so that the brightest sunshine only filtered, as it
were, through the deeply-encrusted hues of rose and amber and
amethyst squares, painted with the arms of the Vancourts, and
heraldic emblems of bygone days. Grateful and beautiful indeed was
this mysteriously softened light to the ladies round the table,--and
for a brief space they almost LOVED Maryllia. For HER face was
flushed, and quite uncooled by powder--'like a dairymaid's--she will
get so coarse if she lives in the country always!' Mrs. Bludlip
Courtenay confided softly to Lord Charlemont, who vaguely murmured--
'Ah! Yes! I daresay!' quite without any idea of what the woman was
talking about. Maryllia's pretty hair too was ruffled, she having
merely taken off her hat in the hall on her return from church,
without troubling to go up to her room and 'touch up' her appearance
as all the other ladies who had suffered from walking exercise had
done,--and her eyes looked just a trifle tired. Adderley found her
charming with this shade of fatigue and listlessness upon her,--more
charming than in her most radiant phases of vivacity. Her peach-like
skin, warmed as it was by the sun, was tinted with Nature's own
exquisite colouring, and compared most favourably with the cosmetic
art so freely displayed by her female friends on either side of her.
Julian began to con verses in his head, and he recalled the lines of
seventeeth-century Eichard Crashaw:--
"A Face that's best
By its own beauty drest,
And can alone command the rest."
And he caught himself wondering why,--whenever he came near the Lady
of the Manor,--he was anxious to seem less artificial, less
affected, and more of a man than his particular 'Omar Kayyam' set
had taught him to be. The same praiseworthy desire moved him in the
company of John Walden, therefore sex could have nothing to do with
it. Was it 'Soul'?--that 'breath of God' which had been spoken of in
the pulpit that morning?
He could not, however, dwell upon this rather serious proposition at
luncheon, his thoughts being distracted by the conversation, if
conversation it could be called, that was buzzing on either side of
the table, amidst the clattering of plates and the popping of
champagne corks. It was neither brilliant, witty nor impersonal,--
brilliant, witty and impersonal talk is never generated in modem
society nowadays. "I would much rather listen to the conversation of
lunatics in the common room of an asylum, than to the inane gabble
of modern society in a modern drawing-room"--said a late
distinguished politician to the present writer--"For the lunatics
always have the glimmering of an idea somewhere in their troubled
brains, but modern society has neither brains nor ideas."
Fragmentary sentences, often slangy, and occasionally ungrammatical,
seemed most in favour with the Manor 'house-party,'--and for a time
splinters of language flew about like the chips from dry timber
under a woodman's axe, without shape, or use, or meaning. It was a
mere confused and senseless jabber--a jabber in which Maryllia took
no part. She sat very quietly looking from one face to the other at
table with a critical interest. These were the people she had met
every day more or less in London,--some of them had visited her aunt
constantly, and had invited her out to dinners and luncheons, 'at
homes,' balls and race parties, and all were considered to be 'very
select' in every form that is commended by an up-to-date
civilisation. Down here, in the stately old-world surroundings of
Abbot's Manor, they looked very strange to her,--nay, even more than
strange. Clowns, columbines and harlequins with all their 'make-up'
on, could not have seemed more out of place than these socially
popular persons in the historic house of her ancestors. Lady
Beaulyon was perhaps the most remarkable 'revelation' of the whole
company. Maryllia had always admired Eva Beaulyon with quite an
extravagant admiration, on account of her physical charm and grace,-
-and had also liked her sufficiently well to entirely discredit the
stories that were rife about the number of her unlawful amours. That
she was an open flirt could not be denied,--but that she ever
carried a flirtation beyond bounds, Maryllia would never have
believed. Now, however, a new light seemed thrown upon her--there
was a touch of something base in her beauty--a flash of cruelty in
her smile--a hardness in her eyes. Maryllia looked at her wistfully
now and then, and was half sorry she had invited her, the
disillusion was so complete.
The luncheon went on, and was soon over, and coffee and cigarettes
were served. All the women smoked with the exception of Maryllia,
Cicely and old Miss Fosby. The rings of pale blue vapour circled
before Maryllia's eyes in a dim cloud,--she had seen the same kind
of mixed smoking going on before, scores of times, and yet now--why
was it that she felt vaguely annoyed by a sense of discrepancy and
vulgarity She could not tell. Cicely watched her lovingly,--and
every now and again Julian Adderley, waving away the smoke of his
own cigar with one hand, studied her face and tried to fathom its
expression. She spoke but little, and that chiefly to Lord
Charlemont who was on her left-hand side.
"And how long are you going to stay in this jolly old place, Miss
Vancourt?" he asked.
"All my life, I hope,"--she said with a little smile--"It is my own
home, you know."
"Oh yes!--I know!--but--" he hesitated for a moment; "But your aunt-
"Aunt Emily and I don't quite agree,"--said Maryllia, quietly--"She
has been very kind to me in the past,--but since Uncle Fred's death,
things have not been just as pleasant. You see, I speak frankly.
Besides I'm getting on towards thirty,--it's time I lived my own
life, and tried to do something useful."
"You look more like eighteen than thirty,"--he said--"Why give
"Is that giving myself away?" and she raised her eyebrows
quizzically--"I'm not thirty yet--I'm twenty-seven,--but that's old
enough to begin to take things seriously. I've made up my mind to
live here at Abbot's Manor and do all I can for the tenantry and the
village generally--I'm sure I shall be perfectly happy." "How about
getting married?" he queried.
Her blue eyes darkened with a shade of offence.
"The old story!" she said--"Men always think a woman must be married
to be happy. It doesn't at all follow. I know heaps and heaps of
married women, and they are in anything but an enviable state. I
would not change with one of them!"
"Would you like to be another Miss Fosby?" he suggested in a
"Well--no! But I would rather be Miss Fosby than Lady Wicketts!"
Here she rose, giving the signal for general adjournment to the
drawing-room. The windows of this apartment were set open, and a
charming garden vista of lawn and terraee and rose-walk opened out
before the eyes.
"Now for Bridge!" said Lady Beaulyon--"I'm simply dying for a game!"
"So am I!" declared Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay--"Lord Charlemont, you'll
"Charmed, I'm sure!" was the ready response. "Where shall we put the
card tables? Near the window? Such an enjoyable prospect!"
"We'll have two tables, or even three,"--said Lady Beaulyon; "I
suppose most of us will play?"
"Oh yes!" "Why of course!" "I should think so!" "Just what we're all
longing for!" Such were the expressions of general delight and
acceptance chorussed by the whole party.
"You'll join, Lady Wicketts?"
"With pleasure!" and Lady Wicketts' sunken old eyes gleamed with an
anxious light over the furrows of flesh which encircled them, as she
promptly deserted Miss Fosby, who had been sitting next to her, for
the purpose of livelier entertainment;--and in a moment there was a
general gathering together in the wide embrasure of the window nook,
and an animated discussion as to who should play Bridge and who
should not. Maryllia watched the group silently. There were varying
shades of expression on her mobile features. She held Cicely's hand
in her own,--and was listening to some of Adderley's observations on
quite ordinary topics, when suddenly, with, an impulsive movement,
she let Cicely go, and with an 'Excuse me!' to Julian, went towards
her guests. She had made a resolve;--it would be an attempt to swim
against the social current, and it was fraught with difficulty and
unpleasantness,--yet she was determined to do it. "If I am a coward
now," she thought--"I shall never be brave!" Her heart beat
uncomfortably, and she could feel the blood throbbing nervously in
her veins, as she bent her mind to the attitude she was about to
take up, regardless of mockery or censure. Scraps of the window
conversation fell on her ears--"I won forty pounds last Wednesday,--
it just paid my boot-bill!" said one young woman, laughing
"Luckier than me!" retorted a man next to her--"I had to pay a
girl's losses to the tune of a hundred. It's all right though!" And
he grinned suggestively.
"Is she pretty?"
"I want to make up five hundred pounds this week," observed Mrs.
Bludlip Courtenay, in the most serious and matter-of-fact way--"I've
won it all but a hundred and fifty."
"Good for you!"
"Rather!" said Lord Charlemont, nodding approval--"I'd like to get
you for a partner!"
"I AM considered lucky,"--smiled Mrs. Courtenay, with an air of
virtuous pride--"I always win SOMETHING!"
"Well, let's begin at once,--we'll play all the afternoon." said
"Where are the tables?" "AND the cards?"
But at that moment Maryllia stepped gently into their midst, her
eyes shining, her face very pale.
"Not on Sunday, please!" she said.
A stillness fell upon them all. They gazed upon each other in sheer
stupefaction. Lady Beaulyon smiled disdainfully.
"Not on Sunday? What are you talking about, Maryllia? Not WHAT on
"Not Bridge,"--replied Maryllia, in her clear soft voice--"I do not
Fresh glances of wonderment were exchanged. The men hummed and hawed
and turned themselves about on their heels--the women simply stared.
Lady Beaulyon burst out laughing.
"Ridiculous!" she exclaimed,--then flushed, and bit her lip, knowing
that such an ejaculation was scarcely civil to her hostess. But
Maryllia took no offence.
"Pray do not think me discourteous,"--she said, very sweetly. "I
would not interfere with your pleasure in any way if I could
possibly help it. But in this instance I really must do so."
"Oh certainly, Miss Vancourt!" "We would not think of playing if you
do not wish it!" These, and similar expressions came from Lord
Charlemont, and one or two others.
"My dear Maryllia," said Mrs. Courtenay, reproachfully--"You are
really VERY odd! I have myself seen you playing Bridge, Sunday after
Sunday at your aunt's house in London. Why should you now suddenly
object to your friends doing what you have so often done yourself?"
Maryllia flushed a pretty rose-red.
"In my aunt's house I had to do as my aunt wished, Mrs. Courtenay,"
she said--"In my own house I do as _I_ wish!"
Here her face relaxed into a bright smile, as she raised her candid
blue eyes to the men standing about her--"I'm sure you won't mind
amusing yourselves with something else than cards, just for one day,
will you? Come into the garden,--it's such a perfect afternoon! The
rose-walk just opposite leads down to the bank of the river,--would
some of you like to go on the water? There are two boats ready there
if you would. And do forgive me for stopping your intended game!--
you can play Bridge every day in the week if you like, but spare the
There was a brief awkward pause. Then Eva Beaulyon turned her back
indifferently on the whole party and stepped out on the lawn. She
was followed by Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay, and both ladies gave vent to
small smothered bleats of mocking laughter as they sauntered across
the grass side by side. But Maryllia did not care. She had carried
her point, and was satisfied. The Sunday's observance in Abbot's
Manor, always rigorously insisted upon by her father, would not be
desecrated by card-playing and gambling under his daughter's sway.
That was enough for her. A serene content dwelt in her eyes as she
watched her guests disperse and scatter themselves in sections of
twos and threes all over the garden and grounds--and she said the
pleasantest and kindest things when any of them passed her on their
way, telling them just where to find the prettiest nooks, and where
to pick the choicest fruit and flowers. Lord Charlemont watched her
with a sense of admiration for her 'pluck.'
"By Jove!" he thought--"I'd rather have fronted the guns in a
pitched battle than have forbidden my own guests to play Bridge on
Sunday! Wants nerve,--upon my soul it does!--and the little woman's
got it--you bet she has!" Aloud he said--
"I'm awfully glad to be let off Bridge, Miss Vancourt! A day's
respite is a positive boon!"
"Do you play it so often, then?" she asked gently. He flushed
"Too often, I'm afraid! But how can I help it? One must do something
to kill time!"
"Poor Time!" said Maryllia, with a smile--"Why should he be killed?
I would rather make much of him while I have him!"
Charlemont did not answer. He lit a cigar and strolled away by
himself to meditate.
Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay just then re-entered the drawing-room from
the garden, fanning herself vigorously with her handkerchief.
"It is so frightfully warm!" she complained--"Such a burning sun! So
bad for the skin! They are picking strawberries and eating them off
the plants--very nice, I daresay--but quite messy. Eva Beaulyon and
two of the men have taken a boat and gone on the water. If you don't
mind, Maryllia, I shall rest and massage till dinner."
"Pray do so!" returned Maryllia, kindly, smiling, despite herself;
Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay's life was well-nigh, spent in 'massage' and
various other processes for effacing the prints of Time from her
carefully guarded epidermis--"But I was just going to ask Cicely to
play us something. Won't you wait five minutes and hear her?"
Mrs. Courtenay sighed and sank into a chair. Nothing bored her so
utterly as music,--but as it was only for 'five minutes,' she
resigned herself to destiny. And Cicely, at a sign from Maryllia,
went to the piano and played divinely,--wild snatches of Polish and
Hungarian folk-songs, nocturnes and romances, making the instrument
speak a thousand things of love and laughter, of sorrow and death,--
till the glorious rush of melody captivated some of the wanderers in
the garden and brought them near the open window to listen. When she
ceased, there was a little outbreak of applause, and Mrs. Bludlip
Courtenay rose languidly.
"Yes, very nice!" she said--"Very nice indeed! But you know,
Maryllia, if you would only get one of those wonderful box things
one sees advertised so much in the papers, the pianista or mutuscope
or gramophone--no, I THINK it's pianola, but I'm not quite sure--you
would save such a lot of study and brain-work for this poor child!
And it sounds quite as well! I'm sure she could manage a gramophone
thing--I mean pianista--pianola--quite nicely for you when you want
any music. Couldn't you, my dear?"
And she gazed at Cicely with a bland kindliness as she put the
question. Cicely's eyes sparkled with fun and satire.
"I'm sure I could!" she declared, with the utmost seriousness--"It
would be delightful! Just like organ-grinding, only much more so! I
should enjoy it of all things! Of course one ought NEVER to use the
brain in music!"
"Not nowadays,"--said Mrs. Courtenay, with conviction--"Things have
improved so much. Mechanism does everything so well. And it is SUCH
a pity to use up one's vital energy in doing what one of those box-
things can do better. And do you too play music?"
And she addressed herself to Adderley who happened to be standing
near her. He made one of his fantastic salutes.
"Not I, madam! I am merely a writer,--one who makes rhymes and
Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay waved him away with a hand on which at least
five diamond rings sparkled gorgeously.
"Oh dear! Don't come near me!" she said, with a little affected
laugh--"I simply HATE poetry! I'm so sorry you write it! I can't
think why you do. Do you like it?--or are you doing it for somebody
because you must?"
Julian smiled, and ran his fingers through his hair, sticking it up
rather on end, much to Mrs. Courtenay's abhorrence.
"I like it more than anything else in the world!" he said. "I'm
doing it quite for myself, and for nobody else."
"Really!"--and Mrs. Courtenay gave him a glance of displeased
surprise--"How dreadful!" Here she turned to Maryllia. "Au revoir,
my dear, for the present! As you won't allow any Bridge, I'm going
to sleep. Then I shall do massage for an hour. May I have tea in my
"Certainly!" said Maryllia.
"Thanks!" She glided out, with a frou-frou of her silken skirts and
a trail of perfume floating after her.
The three she left behind her exchanged amused glances.
"Wonderful woman!" said Adderley,--"And, no doubt, a perfectly happy
"Why of course! I don't suppose she has ever shed a tear, lest it
should make a wrinkle!" And Cicely, as she made these remarks,
patted her own thin, sallow cheeks consolingly. "Look at my poor
face and hers! Mine is all lined and puckered with tears and sad
thoughts--SHE hasn't a wrinkle! And I'm fourteen, and she's forty!
Oh dear! Why did I cry so much over all the sorrow and beauty of
life when I was young!"
"Ah--and why didn't you have a pianista-pianola!" said Adderley.
They all laughed,--and then at Maryllia's suggestion, joined the
rest of the guests in the garden.
That same evening when Maryllia was dressing for dinner, there came
a tap at her bedroom door, and in response to her 'Come in!' Eva
"May I speak to you alone for a minute?" she said.
Maryllia assented, giving a sign to her maid to leave the room.
"Well, what is it, Eva?" said Maryllia, when the girl had gone--
Eva Beaulyon sank into a chair somewhat wearily, and her beautiful
violet eyes, despite artistic 'touching up' looked hard and tired.
"Not so far as I am concerned,"--she said, with a little mirthless
laugh--"Only I think you behaved very oddly this afternoon. Do you
really mean that you object to Bridge on Sundays, or was it only a
"It was a put off!" responded Maryllia, gaily--"It stopped the
intended game! Seriously, Eva, I meant it and I do mean it. There's
too much Bridge everywhere--and I don't think it necessary,--I don't
think it even decent--to keep it going on Sundays."
"I suppose the parson of your parish has told you that!" said Lady
Maryllia's eyes met hers with a smile.
"The parson of the parish has not presumed to dictate to me on my
actions,"--she said--"I should deeply resent it if he did."
"Well, he had no eyes for anyone but you in the church this morning.
A mole could have seen that in the dark. He was preaching AT us and
FOR you all the while!"
A slight flush swept over Maryllia's cheeks,--then she laughed.
"My dear Eva! I never thought you were imaginative! The parson has
nothing whatever to do with me,--why, this is the first Sunday I
have ever been to his church,--you know I never go to church."
Lady Beaulyon looked at her narrowly, unconvinced.
"What have you left your aunt for?" she asked.
"Simply because she wants me to marry Roxmouth, and I won't!" said
"First, because I don't love him,--second, because he has slandered
me by telling people that I am running after his title, to excuse
himself for running after Aunt Emily's millions; and lastly, but by
no means leastly, because he is--unclean."
"All men are;" said Eva Beaulyon, drily--"It's no use objecting to
Maryllia made no remark. She was standing before her dressing-table,
singing softly to herself, while she dexterously fastened a tiny
diamond arrow in her hair.
"I suppose you're going to try and 'live good' down here!"--went on
Lady Beaulyon, after a pause--"It's a mistake,--no one born of human
flesh and blood can do it. You can't 'live good' and enjoy
"No?" said Maryllia, tentatively.
"No, certainly not! For if you never do anything out of the humdrum
line, and never compromise yourself in any way, Society will be so
furious with your superiority to itself that it will invent a
thousand calumnies and hang them all on your name. And you will
never know how they arise, and never be able to disprove them."
"Does it matter?"--and Maryllia smiled--"If one's conscience is
clear, need one care what people say?"
"Conscience!" exclaimed Lady Beaulyon--"What an old-fashioned
expression! Surely it's better to do something people can lay hold
of and talk about, than have them invent something you have never
done! They will give you no credit for virtue or honesty in this
world, Maryllia, unless you grow ugly and deformed. Then perhaps
they will admit you may be good, and they will add--'She has no
temptation to be otherwise.'"
"I do not like your code of morality, Eva," said Maryllia, quietly.
"Perhaps not, but it's the only one that works in OUR day!" replied
Eva, with some heat, "Surely you know that?"
"I try to forget it as much as possible,"--and Maryllia's eyes were
full of a sweet wistfulness as she spoke--"Especially here--in my
"Oh well!" said Lady Beaulyon, with a touch of impatience--"You are
a strange girl--you always were! You can 'live good,' or try to, if
you like; and stay down here all alone with the doldrums and the
humdrums. But you'll be sick of it in six months. I'm sure you will!
Not a man will come near you,--they hate virtuous women nowadays,--
and scarce a woman will come either, save old and ugly ones! You
will kill yourself socially altogether by the effort. Life's too
short to lose all the fun out of it for the sake of an ideal or a
Here the gong sounded for dinner. Maryllia turned away from her
dressing-table, and confronted her friend. Her face was grave and
earnest in its expression, and her eyes were very steadfast and
"I don't want what you call 'fun,' Eva,"--she said--"I want love!
Love seems to me the only good thing in life. Do you understand? You
ask me why I left my aunt--it was to escape a loveless marriage,--a
marriage that would be a positive hell to me for which neither
wealth nor position could atone. As for 'living good,' I am not
trying that way. I only want to understand myself, and find out my
own possibilities and limitations. And if I never do win the love I
want,--if no one ever cares for me at all, then I shall be perfectly
content to live and die unmarried."
"What a fate!" laughed Lady Beaulyon, shrugging her white shoulders.
"A better one than the usual divorce court result of some 'society'
marriages,"--said Maryllia, calmly--"Anyhow, I'd rather risk single
blessedness than united 'cussedness'! Let us go down to dinner, Eva!
On all questions pertaining to 'Souls' and modern social ethics, we
must agree to differ!"
For the next fortnight St. Rest was a scene of constant and unwonted
excitement. There was a continual coming and going, to and from
Abbot's Manor,--some of the guests went away to be replaced by
others, and some who had intended to spend only a week-end and then
depart, stayed on, moved by unaccountable fascination, not only for
their hostess, but for the general pleasantness of the house, and
the old-world, tranquil and beautiful surroundings of the whole
neighbourhood. Lord Charlemont and Mr. Bludlip Courtenay had brought
their newest up-to-date motor-cars with them,--terrible objects to
the villagers whenever they dashed, like escaped waggons off an
express train, through the little street, with their horns blowing
violently as though in a fog at sea. Mrs. Frost was ever on the
alert lest any of her smaller children should get in the way of
these huge rubber-tyred vehicles tearing along at reckless speed,--
and old Josey Letherbarrow resolutely refused to go outside his
garden gate except on Sundays.
"Not but what I ain't willin' an' cheerful to die whenever the Lord
A'mighty sends for me;"--he would say--"But I ain't got no fancy for
bein' gashed and jambled."
'Gashed and jambled,' was his own expression,--one that had both
novelty and suggestiveness. Unfortunately, it happened that a small
pet dog belonging to one of the village schoolboys, no other than
Bob Keeley, the admitted sweet-heart of Kitty Spruce, had been run
over by Mr. Bludlip Courtenay, as that gentleman, driving his car
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