The Case of Richard Meynell
Mrs. Humphry Ward
Part 7 out of 9
couple of hundred pounds if she'd give him a kiss. She said no, and then
she told an older woman who was supposed to look after her. And what do
you suppose she said?"
Catharine was silent.
"'Well, you _are_ a little fool!' That was all she got for her pains. Men
are villains--_I_ think! But they're exciting!" And Hester clasped her
hands behind her head, and looked at the ceiling, smiling to herself,
while the dressing-gown sleeves fell back from her rounded arms.
Catharine frowned. She suddenly rose, and kneeling down by Hester's
chair, she took the girl in her arms.
"Hester, dear!--if you want a friend--whenever you want a friend--come to
me! If you are ever in trouble send for me. I would always come--always!"
She felt the flutter of the girl's heart as she enfolded her. Then Hester
lightly freed herself, though her voice shook--
"You're the kindest person, Mrs. Elsmere--you're awfully, awfully, kind.
But I'm going to have a jolly good time in Paris. I shall read all kinds
of things--I shall go to the theatre--I shall enjoy myself famously."
"And you'll have Aunt Alice all to yourself."
Hester was silent. The lovely corners of her mouth stiffened.
"You must be very good to her, Hester," said Catharine, with entreaty in
her voice. "She's not well--and very tired."
"Why doesn't she _trust_ me?" said Hester, almost between her teeth.
"What do you mean?"
After a hesitating pause, the girl broke out with the story of the
"How can I love her when she won't trust me?" she cried again, with
Catharine's heart melted within her.
"But you _must_ love her, Hester! Why, she has watched over you all your
life. Can't you see--that she's had trouble--and she's not strong!"
And she looked down with emotion on the girl thus blindly marching to a
veiled future, unable, by no fault of her own, to distinguish her lovers
from her foes. Had a lie, ever yet, in human history, justified itself?
So this pure moralist!--to whom morals had come, silently, easily,
irresistibly, as the sun slips into the sky.
"Oh, I'll look after her," said Hester shortly; "why, of course I will.
I'm very glad she's going to Paris--it'll be good for her. And as for
you"--she bent forward like a queen, and lightly kissed Catharine on the
cheek--"I daresay I'll remember what you've said--you're a great, great
dear! It was luck for Mary to have got you for a mother. But I'm all
right--I'm all right!"
* * * * *
When the Elsmeres were gone, Hester still sat on alone in the
drawing-room. The lamp had burnt dim, and the little room was cold.
Presently she slipped her hand into the white bodice she wore. A letter
lay there, and her fingers caressed it. "I don't know whether I love him
or not--perhaps I do, and perhaps I don't. I don't know whether I believe
Uncle Richard--or this letter. But--I'm going to find out! I'm not going
to be stopped from finding out."
And as she lay there, she was conscious of bonds she was half determined
to escape, half willing to bear; of a fluttering excitement and dread.
Step by step, and with a childish bravado, she had come within the
influences of sex; and her fate was upon her.
Meanwhile, amid this sensitive intermingling of the thoughts and feelings
of women, there arose the sudden tumult and scandal of the new elements
which had thrust themselves into what was already known to the religious
world throughout England as "the Meynell case." During November and
December that case came to include two wholly different things: the
ecclesiastical suit in the Court of Arches, which, owing to a series of
delays and to the illness of the Dean of the Court, was not to be heard
in all probability before February, and the personal charges brought
against the incumbent of Upcote Minor.
These fresh charges were formally launched by Henry Barron, the chief
promoter also, as we know, of the ecclesiastical suit, in a letter
written by him to Bishop Craye, on the very night when Alice Puttenham
revealed her secret to Catharine Elsmere. But before we trace the effect
of the letter, let us look for a moment at the general position of the
Movement when this second phase of Meynell's connection with it began.
At that time the pending suits against the Modernist leaders--for there
were now five instituted by different bishops, as test cases, in
different parts of England--were already the subject of the keenest
expectation and debate not only in church circles, but amid sections of
the nation which generally trouble themselves very little about clerical
or religious disputes. New births of time were felt to be involved in the
legal struggle; passionate hopes and equally passionate fears hung upon
it. There were old men in quiet country parsonages who, when they read
the _Modernist_ and followed the accounts of the Movement, were inclined
to say to themselves with secret joy and humility that other men were
entering into their labours, and the fields were at last whitening to
harvest; while others, like Newman of old, had "fierce thoughts toward
the Liberals," talked and spoke of Meynell and the whole band of
Modernist clergy as traitors with whom no parley could be kept, and were
ready to break up the Church at twenty-four hours' notice rather than sit
down at the same table of the Lord with heretics and Socinians.
Between these two groups of men, each equally confident and clear, though
by no means equally talkative, there was a middle region that contained
many anxious minds and some of the wisest heads in England. If, at the
time of Norham's visit to Maudeley, Bishop Craye of Markborough, and many
other bishops with him, were still certain that the Movement would be
promptly and easily put down, so far at least as its organic effect on
the Church of England was concerned, yet, as November and December wore
on, anxieties deepened, and confidence began to waver. The passion of the
Movement was beginning to run through England, as it seemed to many, like
the flame of an explosion through a dusty mine. What amazed and terrified
the bishops was the revelation of pent-up energies, rebellions, ideals,
not only among their own flocks, but in quarters, and among men and
women, hitherto ruled out of religious affairs by general consent. They
pondered the crowds which had begun to throng the Modernist churches, the
extraordinary growth of the Modernist press, and the figures reported day
by day as to the petition to be presented to Parliament in February.
There was no orthodox person in authority who was not still determined on
an unconditional victory; but it was admitted that the skies were
The effect of the Movement on the Dissenters--on that half of religious
England which stands outside the National Church, where "grace" takes the
place of authority, and bishops are held to be superfluities incompatible
with the pure milk of the Word--was in many respects remarkable. The
majority of the Wesleyan Methodists had thrown themselves strongly on
to the side of the orthodox party in the Church; but among the
Congregationalists and Presbyterians there was visible a great ferment of
opinion and a great cleavage of sympathy; while, among the Primitive
Methodists, a body founded on the straitest tenets of Bible worship, yet
interwoven, none the less, with the working class life of England and
Wales, and bringing day by day the majesty and power of religion to bear
upon the acts and consciences of plain, poor, struggling men, there was
visible a strong and definite current of acquiescence in Modernist ideas,
which was inexplicable, till one came to know that among Meynell's
friends at Upcote there were two or three Primitive local preachers who
had caught fire from him, were now active members of his Church Council,
and ardent though persecuted missionaries to their own body.
Meanwhile the Unitarians--small and gallant band!--were like persons
standing on tiptoe before an opening glory. In their isolated and often
mistaken struggle they had felt themselves for generations stricken with
chill and barrenness; their blood now began to feel the glow of new
kinships, the passion of large horizons. So, along the banks of some
slender and much hindered stream, there come blown from the nearing sea
prophetic scents and murmurs, and one may dream that the pent water knows
at last the whence and whither of its life.
But the strangest spectacle of all perhaps was presented by the orthodox
camp. For, in proportion as the Modernist attack developed, was the
revival of faith among those hostile to it, or unready for it. For the
first time in their lives, religion became interesting--thrilling
even--to thousands of persons for whom it had long lost all real savour.
Fierce question and answer, the hot cut and thrust of argument, the
passion of honest fight on equal terms--without these things, surely,
there has been no religious epoch, of any importance, in man's history.
English orthodoxy was at last vitally attacked; and it began to show a
new life, and express itself in a new language. These were times when men
on all sides felt that stretching and straining of faculty which ushers
in the days of spiritual or poetic creation; times when the most
confident Modernist of them all knew well that he, no more than any one
else, could make any guess worth having as to the ultimate future.
Of all this rapid and amazing development the personality and the
writings of Richard Meynell had in few months become the chief popular
symbol. There were some who thought that he was likely to take much
the same place in the Modernist Movement of the twentieth century as
Newman had taken in the Oxford Movement of the nineteenth; and men were
beginning to look for the weekly article in the _Modernist_ with the
same emotion of a passionate hero-worship on the one hand, and of angry
repulsion on the other, with which the Oxford of the thirties had been
wont to look for each succeeding "Tract," or for Newman's weekly sermon
at St. Mary's. To Newman's high subtleties of brain, to Newman's magic of
style, Richard Meynell could not pretend. But he had two advantages over
the great leader of the past: he was the disciple of a new learning which
was inaccessible to Newman; and he was on fire with social compassions
and enthusiasms to which Newman, the great Newman, was always
pathetically a stranger. In these two respects Meynell was the
representative of his own generation; while the influences flowing from
his personal character and life were such that thousands who had never
seen him loved and trusted him wholly. Men who had again and again
watched great causes break down for want of the incommunicable something
which humanity exacts from its leaders felt with a quiet and confident
gladness that in Meynell they had got the man they wanted, the
efficacious, indispensable man.
And now--suddenly--incredible things began to be said. It was actually
maintained that the leader round whom such feelings had gathered had
been, since his ordination, the betrayer of a young and innocent
girl, belonging to a well-known family; that although it had been in his
power for twenty years to marry the lady he had wronged, he had never
attempted to do so, but had rather, during all that time, actively
connived at the fraud by which his illegitimate child had passed as the
daughter of Sir Ralph Fox-Wilton; while over the whole period he had kept
up relations--and who knew of what character?--with the child's mother,
an inhabitant of the very village where he himself was Rector.
Presently--it was added that Mr. Henry Barron, of Upcote Minor, one of
the prosecutors in the ecclesiastical suit, had obtained unexpected and
startling confirmation of these extraordinary facts from the confession
of a woman who had been present at the birth of the child and had
identified the Rector of Upcote as the father. Then, very soon,
paragraphs of a veiled sort began to appear in some of the less
responsible newspapers. The circulation of the anonymous letters began
to be known; and the reader of a Modernist essay at an Oxford meeting
caused universal consternation by telling an indiscreet friend, who
presently spread it abroad, that Barron had already written to the Bishop
of Markborough, placing in his hands a mass of supporting evidence
relating to "this most lamentable business."
At first Meynell's friends throughout the country regarded these rumours
as a mere device of the evil one. Similar things they said, and with
truth, are constantly charged against heretics who cannot be put down.
Slander is the first weapon of religious hatred. Meynell, they
triumphantly answered, will put the anonymous letters in the hands of the
police, and proceed against Henry Barron. And they who have taken up such
a weapon shall but perish by it themselves the sooner.
But the weeks passed on. Not only were no proceedings taken, or,
apparently, in prospect, by Meynell against his accusers; not only did
the anonymous letters reappear from time to time, untracked and
unpunished, but reports of a meeting held at Upcote itself began to
spread--a meeting where Meynell had been definitely and publicly
challenged by Barron to take action for the vindication of his character,
and had definitely and publicly refused.
The world of a narrow and embittered orthodoxy began to breathe again;
and there was black depression in the Modernist camp.
Let us, however, go back a little.
Barron's letter to the Bishop was the first shot in the direct and
responsible attack. It consisted of six or seven closely written sheets,
and agreed in substance with four or five others from the same hand,
addressed at the same moment to the chief heads of the Orthodox party.
The Bishop received it at breakfast, just after he had concluded a hot
political argument with his little granddaughter Barbara.
"All Tories are wicked," said Barbara, who had a Radical father, "except
grandpapa, and he, mummy says, is weally a Riberal."
With which she had leaped into the arms of her nurse, and was carried off
gurgling, while the Bishop threatened her from afar.
Then, with a sigh of impatience, as he recognized the signature on the
envelope, he resigned himself to Barron's letter. When he had done it,
sitting by the table in his library, he threw it from him with
indignation, called for his coat, and hurried across his garden to the
Cathedral for matins. After service, as with a troubled countenance he
was emerging from the transept door, he saw Dornal in the Close and
beckoned to him.
"Come into the library for ten minutes. I very much want to speak to
The Bishop led the way, and as soon as the door was shut he turned
eagerly on his companion:
"Do you know anything of these abominable stories that are being spread
about Richard Meynell?"
Dornal looked at him sadly.
"They are all over Markborough--and there is actually a copy of one of
the anonymous letters--with dashes for the names--in the _Post_ to-day?"
"I never hear these things!" said the Bishop, with an impatience which
was meant, half for a scandal-mongering world, and half for himself. "But
Barron has written me a perfectly incredible letter to-day. He seems to
be the head and front of the whole business. I don't like Barron, and I
don't like his letters!"
And throwing one slender leg over the other, while the tips of his long
fingers met in a characteristic gesture, the little Bishop stared into
the fire before him with an expression of mingled trouble and disgust.
Dornal, clearly, was no less unhappy. Drawing his chair close to the
Bishop's he described the manner in which the story had reached himself.
When he came to the curious facts concerning the diffusion and variety of
the anonymous letters, the Bishop interrupted him:
"And Barron tells me he knows nothing of these letters!"
"So I hear also."
"But, my dear Dornal, if he doesn't, it makes the thing inexplicable!
Here we have a woman who comes home dying, and sees one person
only--Henry Barron--to whom she tells her story."
The Bishop went through the points of Barron's narrative, and concluded:
"Then, on the top of this, after her death--her son denying all knowledge
of his mother's history--comes this crop of extraordinary letters,
showing, you tell me, an intimate acquaintance with the neighbourhood
and the parties concerned. And yet Barron--the only person Mrs. Sabin
saw--knows nothing of them! They are a mystery to him. But, my dear
Dornal, how _can_ they be?" The Bishop faced round with energy on his
companion. "He must at least have talked incautiously before some one!"
Dornal agreed, but could put forward no suggestion of his own. He sat
drooping by the Bishop's fire, his aspect expressing the deep distress he
did not shape in words. That very distress, however, was what made his
company so congenial to the much perturbed Bishop, who felt, moreover, a
warmer affection for Dornal than for any other member of his Chapter.
The Bishop resumed:
"Meanwhile, not a word from Meynell himself! That I confess wounds me."
He sighed. "However, I suppose he regards our old confidential relations
as broken off. To me--until the law has spoken--he is always one of my
'clergy'"--the Bishop's voice showed emotion--"and he would get my
fatherly help just as freely as ever, if he chose to ask for it. But I
don't know whether to send for him. I don't think I can send for him. The
fact is--one feels the whole thing an outrage!"
Dornal looked up.
"That's the word!" he said gratefully. Then he added--hesitating--"I
ought perhaps to tell you that I have written to Meynell--I wrote when
the first report of the thing reached me. And I am sure that he can have
no possible objection to my showing you his reply!" He put his hand into
"By all means, my dear Dornal!" cried the Bishop with a brightening
countenance. "We are both his friends, in spite of all that has happened
and may happen. By all means, show me the letter."
Dornal handed it over. It ran as follows:
"MY DEAR DORNAL: It was like you to write to me, and with such kindness
and delicacy. But even to you I can only say what I say to other
questioners of a very different sort. The story to which you refer is
untrue. But owing to peculiar circumstances it is impossible for me to
defend myself in the ordinary way, and my lips are sealed with regard to
it. I stand upon my character as known to my neighbours and the diocese
for nearly twenty years. If that is not enough, I cannot help it.
"Thank you always for the goodness and gentleness of your letter. I wish
with all my heart I could give you more satisfaction."
The two men looked at each other, the same conjectures passing through
"I hear the Fox-Wiltons and Miss Puttenham have all gone abroad," said
the Bishop thoughtfully. "Poor things! I begin to see a glimmer. It seems
to me that Meynell has been the repository of some story he feels he
cannot honourably divulge. And then you tell me the letters show the
handiwork of some one intimately acquainted with the local circumstances,
who seems to have watched Meynell's daily life. It is of course possible
that he may have been imprudent with regard to this poor lady. Let us
assume that he knew her story and advised her. He may not have been
sufficiently careful. Further, there is that striking and unfortunate
likeness of which Barron of course makes the most. I noticed it myself,
on an evening when I happened, at Maudeley, to see that handsome girl and
Meynell in the same room. It is difficult to say in what it consists, but
it must occur to many people who see them together."
There was silence a moment. Then Dornal said:
"How will it all affect the trial?"
"In the Court of Arches? Technically of course--not at all. But it will
make all the difference to the atmosphere in which it is conducted. One
can imagine how certain persons are already gloating over it--what use
they will make of it--how they will magnify and embroider everything. And
such an odious story! It is the degradation of a great issue!"
The little Bishop frowned. As he sat there in the dignity of his
great library, so scrupulously refined and correct in every detail of
dress, yet without a touch of foppery, the gleam of the cross on his
breast answering the silver of the hair and the frank purity of the
eyes, it was evident that he felt a passionate impatience--half moral,
half esthetic--toward these new elements of the Meynell case. It was
the fastidious impatience of a man for whom personal gossip and scandal
ranked among the forbidden indulgences of life. "Things, not persons!"
had been the time-honoured rule for conversation at the Palace
table--persons, that is, of the present day. In those happy persons who
had already passed into biography and history, in their peccadilloes no
less than their virtues, the Bishop's interest was boundless. The
distinction tended to make him a little super- or infra-human; but it
enhanced the fragrance and delicacy of his personality.
Dornal was no less free from any stain of mean or scandalous gossip than
the Bishop, but his knowledge of the human heart was far deeper, his
sympathy far more intimate. It was not only that he scorned the slander,
but, hour by hour, he seemed to walk in the same cloud with Meynell.
After some further discussion, the Bishop took up Barron's letter again.
"I see there is likely to be a most painful scene at the Church Council
meeting--which of course will be also one of their campaign meetings--the
day after to-morrow. Barron declares that he means to challenge Meynell
publicly to vindicate his character. Can I do anything?"
Dornal did not see anything could be done. The parish was already in open
"It is a miserable, miserable business!" said the Bishop unhappily. "How
can I get a report of the meeting--from some one else than Barron?"
"Mr. Flaxman is sure to be there?"
"Ah!--get him to write to me?"
"And you, my lord--will send for Meynell?"
"I think"--said the Bishop, with returning soreness--"that as he has
neither written to me, nor consulted me, I will wait a little. We must
watch--we must watch. Meanwhile, my dear fellow!"--he laid his hand
on Dornal's shoulder--"let us think how to stop the talk! It will spoil
everything. Those who are fighting with us must understand there are
weapons we cannot stoop to use!"
* * * * *
As Dornal left the Palace, on his way past the Cathedral, he met young
Fenton, the High Churchman who some months earlier had refused to
recognize Meynell after the first Modernist meeting in Markborough.
Fenton was walking slowly and reading the local newspaper--the
same which contained the anonymous letter. His thin, finely modelled
face, which in a few years would resemble the Houdon statue of St. Bruno,
expressed an eager excitement that was not unlike jubilation. Dornal was
practically certain that he was reading the paragraph that concerned
Meynell, and certain also that it gave him pleasure. He hurriedly
passed over to the other side of the street, that Fenton might not accost
Afterward, he spent the evening, partly in writing urgently in Meynell's
defence to certain of his own personal friends in the diocese, and partly
in composing an anti-Modernist address, full of a sincere and earnest
eloquence, to be delivered the following week at a meeting of the Church
party in Cambridge.
* * * * *
Meanwhile Cyril Fenton had also spent the evening in writing. He kept an
elaborate journal of his own spiritual state; or rather he had begun to
keep it about six months before this date, at the moment when the
emergence of the Modernist Movement had detached him from his nascent
friendship with Meynell, and had thrown him back, terrified, on a more
resolute opposition than ever to the novelties and presumptions of free
inquiry. The danger of reading anything, unawares, that might cause him
even a moment's uneasiness had led to his gradually cutting himself off
entirely from modern newspapers and modern books, in which, indeed, he
had never taken any very compelling interest. His table was covered by
various English and French editions of the Fathers--of St. Cyprian in
particular, for whom he had a cult. On the bare walls of his study
were various pictures of saints, a statuette of the Virgin, and another
of St. Joseph, both of them feebly elegant in the Munich manner. Through
his own fresh youthfulness, once so winning and wholesome, something
pinched and cloistered had begun to thrust itself. His natural sweetness
of temper was rapidly becoming sinful in his own eyes, his natural love
of life also, and its harmless, even its ideal, pleasures.
It was a bitter winter day, and he had not allowed himself a greatcoat.
In consequence he felt depressed and chilled; yet he could not make up
his mind to go to bed earlier than usual, lest he should be thereby
pampering the flesh. He was thoroughly dissatisfied with his own
spiritual condition during the day, and had just made ample confession
thereof in the pages of his diary. A few entries from that document will
show the tone of a mind morbid for lack of exercise:
"D. came to see me this morning. We discussed war a good deal. In
general, of course, I am opposed to war, but when I think of this ghastly
plague of heresy which is sweeping away so many souls at the present
moment, I feel sometimes that the only war into which I could enter
with spirit would be a civil war.... In a great deal of my talk with D. I
posed abominably. I talked of shooting and yachting as though I knew all
about them. I can't be content that people should think me 'out' of
anything, or a dull fool. It was the same with my talk to S. about church
music. I talked most arrogantly; and in reality I know hardly anything
"As to my vow of simplicity in food, I must keep my attention more on the
alert. Yet to-day I have not done so badly; some cold ends of herring at
breakfast, and a morsel of mackerel at lunch are the only things I have
to reproach myself with; the only lapses from the strict rule of
simplicity. But the quantity was deplorable--no moderation--not even a
real attempt at it. Whenever I am disgusted with myself for having eaten
too much at dinner, I constantly fail to draw the proper inference--that
I should eat less at tea....
"I feel that this scandal about poor Meynell is probably providential. It
must and will weaken the Modernist party enormously. To thank God for
such a thing sounds horrible, but after all, have we any right to be more
squeamish than Holy Writ? 'Let God arise and let His enemies be
scattered.' The warnings and menaces of what are called the Imprecatory
Psalms show us plainly that His enemies must be ours."
He closed his book, and came to shiver over the very inadequate fire
which was all he allowed himself. Every shilling that he could put aside
was being saved in order to provide his church with a new set of altar
furniture. The congregation of the church was indeed fast ebbing
away, and his heart was full of bitterness on the subject. But how could
a true priest abate any fraction of either his Church principles, or his
sound doctrine, to appease persons who were not and could not be judges
of what was necessary to their own spiritual health?
As he warmed his thin hands, his bodily discomfort increased his
religious despondency. Then, of a sudden, his eyes fell upon the portrait
of a child standing on the mantelpiece--his sister's child, aged four.
The cloud on the still boyish brow lightened at once.
"Tommy's birthday to-morrow," he said to himself. "Jolly little chap!
Must write to him. Here goes!"
And reaching out his hand for his writing-case he wrote eagerly, a letter
all fun and baby-talk, and fantastic drawings, in the course of which
Tommy grew up, developed moustaches, and became a British Grenadier.
When he had finished it and put it up, he lay back laughing to himself, a
But the gleam was only momentary. A recurring sense of chill and physical
oppression dispersed it. Presently he rose heavily, glanced at his open
diary, reread the last page with a sigh, and closed it. Then, as it was
nearly midnight, he retreated upstairs to his bare and icy bedroom, where
half-an-hour's attempt to meditate completed the numbness of body and
mind, in which state ultimately he went to bed, though not to sleep.
* * * * *
The meeting of the Church Council of Upcote was held in the Church House
of the village a few days after the Bishop's conversation with Canon
Dornal. It was an evening long remembered by those who shared in it.
The figure of Meynell instinct with a kind of fierce patience; the face
rugged as ever, but paler and tenderer in repose, as of one who,
mystically sustained, had been passing through deep waters; his speech,
sternly repressed, and yet for the understanding ear, enriched by new
tones and shades of feeling--on those who believed in him the effect
of these slight but significant changes in the man they loved was
And five-sixths of those present believed in him, loved him, and were
hotly indignant at the scandals which had arisen. They were, some of
them, the élite of the mining population, men whom he had known
and taught from childhood; there were many officials from the
surrounding collieries; there was a miners' agent, who was also one of
the well-known local preachers of the district; there were half a dozen
women--the schoolmistress, the wife of the manager of the coöperative
store, and three or four wives of colliers--women to whom other women in
childbirth, or the girl who had gone astray, or the motherless child,
might appeal without rebuff, who were in fact the Rector's agents
in any humanizing effort.
All these persons had come to the meeting eagerly expecting to hear from
the Rector's own lips the steps he proposed to take for the putting down
of the slanders circulating in the diocese, and the punishment of their
authors. In the rear of the Council--who had been themselves elected by
the whole parish--there were two or three rows of seats occupied by other
inhabitants of the village, who made an audience. In the front row sat
the strange spinster, Miss Nairn, a thin, sharp nosed woman of fifty, in
rusty black clothes, holding her head high; not far from her the dubious
publican who had been Maurice Barron's companion on a certain walk some
days before. There too were Hugh and Rose Flaxman. And just as the
proceedings were about to begin, Henry Barron opened the heavy door, hat
in hand, came in with a firm step, and took a seat at the back, while a
thrill of excitement went through the room.
It was an ancient room, near the church, and built like it, of red
sandstone. It had been once the tiny grammar school of the village.
Meynell had restored and adapted it, keeping still its old features--the
low ceiling heavily beamed with oak, and the row of desks inscribed with
the scholars' names of three centuries. Against the background of its
white walls he stood thrown out in strong relief by the oil lamp on the
table in front of him, his eyes travelling over the rows of familiar
He spoke first of the new Liturgy of which copies had been placed on the
seats. He reminded them they were all--or nearly all--comrades with him
in the great Modernist venture; that they had given him the help of their
approval and support at every step, and were now rebels with him against
the authorities of the day. He pointed to his approaching trial, and the
probability--nay the certainty--of his deprivation. He asked them to be
steadfast with him, and he dwelt on the amazing spread of the Movement,
the immense responsibility resting upon its first leaders and disciples,
and the need for gentleness and charity. The room was hushed in silence.
Next, he proceeded to put the adoption of the new Liturgy to the vote.
Suddenly Barron rose from his seat at the back. Meynell paused. The
audience looked in suppressed excitement from one to the other.
"I regret," said the Rector, courteously, "that we cannot hear Mr. Barron
at this moment. He is not a member of the Church Council. When the
proceedings of the Council are over, this will become an open meeting,
and Mr. Barron will then of course say what he wishes to say."
Barron hesitated a moment; then sat down.
The revised Liturgy was adopted by twenty-eight votes to two. One of the
two dissentients was Dawes, the colliery manager, a sincere and
consistent evangelical of the Simeon School, who made a short speech in
support of his vote, dwelling in a voice which shook on the troubles
coming on the parish.
"We may get another Rector," he said as he sat down. "We shall never get
another Richard Meynell." A deep murmur of acquiescence ran through the
Meynell rose again from his seat.
"Our business is over. We now become an open meeting. Mr. Barron, I
believe, wishes to speak."
The room was, at this point, densely crowded and every face turned toward
the tall and portly form rising from the back. In the flickering
lamplight it could be seen that the face usually so ruddy and full was
blanched by determination and passion.
"My friends and neighbours!" said Barron, "it is with sorrow and grief
that I rise to say the few words that I intend to say. On the audacity
and illegality of what you have just done I shall say nothing. Argument,
I know, would be useless. But _this_ I have come to say: You have just
been led--misled--into an act of heresy and rebellion by the man who
should be your pastor in the Faith, who is responsible to God for your
souls. _Why_ have you been misled?--_why_ do you follow him?" He flung
out his hand toward Meynell.
"Because you admire and respect him--because you believe him a good
man--a man of honest and pure life. And I am here to tell you, or rather
to remind you, for indeed you all know it--that your Rector lies at this
moment under a painful and disgraceful charge; that this charge has been
circulated--in a discreditable way--a way for which I have no defence and
of which I know nothing--throughout this diocese, and indeed throughout
England; that your fair fame, as well as his are concerned; and,
nevertheless, he refuses to take the only steps which can clear his
character, and repay you for the devotion you have shown him! I call upon
you, sir!"--the speaker bent forward, pointing impressively to the
chairman of the meeting and emphasizing every word--"to take those steps
at once! They are open to you at any moment. Take them against myself!
I have given, I will give, you every opportunity. But till that is done
do not continue, in the face of the congregation you have deceived and
led astray, to assume the tone of hypocritical authority in which you
have just spoken! You have no moral right to any authority among us; you
never had any such right; and in Christian eyes your infidel teaching has
led to its natural results. At any rate, I trust that now, at last, even
these your friends and dupes will see the absolute necessity, before
many weeks are over, of either _forcing_ you to resign your living, or
_forcing_ you to take the only means open to honest men of protecting
He resumed his seat. The audience sat petrified a moment. Then Hugh
Flaxman sprang to his feet, and two or three others, the local preacher
among them. But Meynell had also risen.
"Please, Mr. Flaxman--my friends--!"
He waved a quiet hand toward those who had risen, and they unwillingly
gave way. Then the Rector looked round the room for a few silent
instants. He was very white, but when he spoke it was with complete
"I expected something of this kind to happen, and whether it had happened
or no I should have spoken to you on this matter before we separated. I
know--you all know--to what Mr. Barron refers--that he is speaking of the
anonymous letters concerning myself and others which have been circulated
in this neighbourhood. He calls upon me, I understand, to take legal
action with regard both to them and to the reports which he has himself
circulated, by word of mouth, and probably by letter. Now I want you
plainly to understand"--he bent forward, his hands on the table before
him, each word clear and resonant--"that I shall take no such action!
My reasons I shall not give you. I stand upon my life among you and my
character among you all these years. This only I will say to you, my
friends and my parishioners: The abominable story told in these
letters--the story which Mr. Barron believes, or tries to make himself
believe--is untrue. But I will say no more than that--to you, or any one
else. And if you are to make legal action on my part a test of whether
you will continue to follow me religiously--to accept me as your leader,
or no--then my friends, we must part! You must go your way, and I
must go mine. There will be still work for me to do; and God knows our
hearts--yours and mine."
He paused, looking intently into the lines of blanched faces before him.
Then he added:
"You may wish to discuss this matter. I recognize it as natural you
should wish to discuss it. But I shall not discuss it with you. I shall
withdraw. Mr. Dawes--will you take the chair?"
He beckoned to the colliery manager, who automatically obeyed him. The
room broke into a hubbub, men and women pressing round Meynell as he made
his way to the door. But he put them aside, gently and cheerfully.
"Decide it for yourselves!" he said with his familiar smile. "It is your
And in another moment, the door had opened and shut, and he was gone.
* * * * *
He had no sooner disappeared than a tumultuous scene developed in the
Beswick, the sub-agent and local preacher, a sandy-haired, spectacled,
and powerfully built man, sprang on to the platform, to the right hand of
Dawes, and at last secured silence by a passionate speech in defence of
Meynell and in denunciation of the men who in order to ruin him
ecclesiastically were spreading these vile tales about him "and a poor
lady that has done many a good turn to the folk of this village, and
nothing said about it too!"
"Don't you, sir"--he said, addressing Barron with a threatening
finger--"don't you come here, telling us what to think about the man
we've known for twenty years in this parish! The people that don't know
Richard Meynell may believe these things if they please--it'll be the
worse for them! But we've seen this man comforting and uplifting our old
people in their last hours--we've seen him teaching our children--and
giving just a kind funny word now an' again to keep a boy or a girl
straight--aye, an' he did it too--they knew he had his eye on 'em! We've
seen him go down these pits, when only a handful would risk their lives
with him, to help them as was perhaps past hope. We've seen him skin
himself to the bone that other men might have plenty--we've heard him
Sunday after Sunday. We _know_ him!" The speaker brought one massive hand
down on the other with an emphasis that shook the room. "Don't you go
talking to us! If Richard Meynell won't go to law with you and the likes
of you, sir, he's got his reasons, and his good ones, I'll be bound. And
don't you, my friends"--he turned to the room--"don't you be turned back
from this furrow you've begun to plough. You stick to your man! If you
don't, you're fools, aye, and ungrateful fools too! You know well enough
that Albert Beswick isn't a parson's man! You know that I don't hold with
Mr. Meynell in many of his views. There's his views about 'election,' and
the like o' that--quite wrong, in my 'umble opinion. But what does that
matter? You know that I never set foot in Upcote Church till three years
ago--that bishops and ceremonies are nought to me--that I came to God, as
many of you did, by the Bible class and the penitent form. But I declare
to you that Richard Meynell, and the men with him, are _out for a big
thing!_ They're out for breaking down barriers and letting in light.
They're out for bringing Christian men together and letting them worship
freely in the old churches that our fathers built. They're out for giving
men and women new thoughts about God and Christ, and for letting them put
them into new words, if they want to. Well, I say again, it's _a big
thing_! And Satan's out, too, for stopping it! Don't you make any mistake
about it! This bad business--of these libels that are about--is one of
the obstacles in our race he'll trip us up on, if he can. Now I put it to
you--let us clear it out o' the way this very night, as far as we're
concerned! Let us send the Rector such a vote of confidence from this
meeting as'll show him fast enough where he stands in Upcote--aye, and
show others too! And as for these vile letters that are going round--I'd
give my right hand to know the man who wrote them!--and the story that
you, sir"--he pointed again to Barron--"say you took from poor Judith
Sabin when her mind was clouded and she near her end--why, it's base
minds that harbour base thoughts about their betters! He shall be no
friend of mine--that I know--that spreads these tales. Friends and
neighbours, let us keep our tongues from them--and our children's
tongues! Let us show that we can trust a man that deserves our trust. Let
us stand by a good man that's stood by us; and let us pray God to show
The greater part of the audience, sincerely moved, rose to their feet and
cheered. Barron endeavoured to reply, but was scarcely listened to. The
publican East sat twirling his hat in his hands, sarcastic smiles going
out and in upon his fat cheeks, his furtive eyes every now and then
consulting the tall spinster who sat beside him, grimly immovable, her
spectacled eyes fixed apparently on the lamp above the platform.
Flaxman wished to speak, but was deterred by the reflection that as a
newcomer in the district he had scarcely a valid right to interfere. He
and Rose stayed till the vote of confidence had been passed by a large
majority--though not so large as that which had accepted the new
Liturgy--after which they drove home rather depressed and ill at ease.
For in truth the plague of anonymous letters was rather increasing than
abating. Flaxman had had news that day of the arrival of two more among
their own country-house acquaintance of the neighbourhood. He sat down,
in obedience to a letter from Dornal, to write a doleful report of the
meeting to the Bishop.
* * * * *
Meynell received the vote of confidence very calmly, and wrote a short
note of thanks to Beswick. Then for some weeks, while the discussion of
his case in its various aspects, old and new, ran raging through England,
he went about his work as usual, calm in the centre of the whirlwind,
though the earth he trod seemed to him very often a strange one. He
prepared his defence for the Court of Arches; he wrote for the
_Modernist_; and he gave as much mind as he could possibly spare to the
unravelling of Philip Meryon's history.
In this matter, however, he made but very slow and disappointing
progress. He became more and more convinced, and his solicitor with him,
that there had been a Scotch marriage some eighteen months before this
date between Meryon and the sister of a farmer in the Lothians, with whom
he had come in contact during a fishing tenancy. But what appeared in the
course of investigation was that the woman concerned and all her kindred
were now just as anxious--aided by the ambiguities of the Scotch marriage
law--to cover up and conceal the affair as was Meryon himself. She could
not be got to put forward any claim; her family would say nothing; and
the few witnesses hitherto available were tending to disappear. No doubt
Philip was at work corrupting them; and the supposed wife was evidently
quite willing, if not eager, to abet him.
Every week he heard from Mary, letters which, written within bounds fully
understood by them both and never transgressed, revealed to him the
tremulous tenderness and purity of the heart he knew--though he would not
confess it to himself--he had conquered. These letters became to him the
stay of life, the manna which fed him, the water of healing and strength.
It was evident that, according to his wish, she did not know and was
determined not to know the details of his struggle; and nothing helped
him more than the absolute trust of her ignorance.
He heard also constantly from Alice Puttenham. She, too, poor soul--but
how differently!--was protecting herself as best she could from an odious
"Edith writes to me, full of terrible things that are being said in
England; but as I can do nothing, and must do nothing according to you, I
do not read her letters. She sends me a local newspaper sometimes, scored
with her marks and signs that are like shrieks of horror, and I put it in
the fire. What I suffer I will keep to myself. Perhaps the worst part of
every day comes when I take Hester out and amuse her in this gay Paris.
She is so passionately vital herself, and one dreads to fail her in
spirits or buoyancy.
"She is very well and wonderfully beautiful; at present she is having
lessons in dancing and elocution, and turning the heads of her teachers.
It is amusing--or would be amusing, to any one else than me--to see how
the quiet family she is with clucks after her in perpetual anxiety, and
how cavalierly she treats them. I think she is fairly happy; she never
mentions Meryon's name; but I often have a strange sense that she is
looking for some one--expects some one. When we turn into a new street,
or a new alley of the Bois, I have sometimes seemed to catch a wild
_listening_ in her face. I live only for her--and I cannot feel that it
matters to her in the least whether I do or not. Perhaps, some day.
Meanwhile you may be sure I think of nothing else. She knows nothing of
what is going on in England--and she says she adores Paris."
* * * * *
One night in December Meynell came in late from a carpentering class of
village boys. The usual pile of letters and books awaited him, and he
began upon them reluctantly. As he read them, and put them aside, one
by one, his face gradually changed and darkened. He recalled a saying of
Amiel's about the French word "consideration"--what it means to a man to
have enjoyed unvarying and growing "consideration" from his world; and
then, suddenly, to be threatened with the loss of it. Life and
consciousness drop, all in a moment, to a lower and a meaner plane.
Finally, he lit on a letter from one of his colleagues on the Central
Modernist Committee. For some months it had been a settled thing that
Meynell should preach the sermon in Dunchester Cathedral on the great
occasion in January when the new Liturgy of the Reform was to be
inaugurated with all possible solemnity in one of England's most famous
His correspondent wrote to suggest that after all the sermon would be
more fitly entrusted to the Modernist Bishop of Dunchester himself. "He
has worked hard, and risked much for us. I may say that inquiries have
been thrown out, and we find he is willing."
No apology--perfunctory regrets--and very little explanation! Meynell
He put the letter away, conscious of a keenly smarting mind. It was now
clear to him that he had made a grave misreckoning; humiliating, perhaps
irreparable. He had counted, with a certain confident simplicity, on
the power of his mere word, backed by his character and reputation, to
put the thing down; and they were not strong enough. Barron's influence
seemed to him immense and increasing. A proud and sensitive man forced
himself to envisage the possibility of an eventual overthrow.
He opened a drawer in order to put away the letter. The drawer was very
full, and in the difficulty of getting it out he pulled it too far and
its contents fell to the floor. He stooped to pick them up--perceived
first the anonymous letter that Barron had handed to him, the letter
addressed to Dawes; and then, beneath it, a long envelope deep in
dust--labelled "M.B.--Keep for three years." He took up both letter and
envelope with no distinct intention. But he opened the anonymous letter,
and once more looked searchingly at the handwriting.
Suddenly an idea struck him. With a hasty movement, he lifted the long
envelope and broke the seal. Inside was a document headed, "A
Confession." And at the foot of it appeared a signature--"Maurice
Meynell put the two things together--the "confession" and the anonymous
letter. Very soon he began to compare word with word and stroke with
stroke, gradually penetrating the disguise of the later handwriting.
At the end of the process he understood the vague recollection which had
disturbed him when he first saw the letter.
He stood motionless a little, expressions chasing each other across his
face. Then he locked up both letters, reached a hand for his pipe, called
a good night to Anne, who was going upstairs to bed, and with his dogs
about him fell into a long meditation, while the night wore on.
It was in the week before Christmas that Professor Vetch--the same
Professor who had been one of the Bishop's Commission of Inquiry in
Richard Meynell's case--knocked one afternoon at Canon France's door to
ask for a cup of tea. He had come down to give a lecture to the Church
Club which had been recently started in Markborough in opposition to the
Reformers' Club; but his acceptance of the invitation had been a good
deal determined by his very keen desire to probe the later extraordinary
developments of the Meynell affair on the spot.
France was in his low-ceiled study, occupied as usual with drawers full
of documents of various kinds; most of them mediaeval deeds and charters
which he was calendaring for the Cathedral Library. His table and the
floor were littered by them; a stack of the Rolls publications was on his
right hand; a Dugdale's "Monasticon" lay open at a little distance; and
curled upon a newspaper beside it lay a gray kitten. The kitten had that
morning upset an inkstand over three sheets of the Canon's laborious
handwriting. At the time he had indeed dropped her angrily by the scruff
of the neck into a wastepaper basket to repent of her sins; but here she
was again, and the Canon had patiently rewritten the sheets.
There were not many softnesses in the Canon's life. The kitten was one;
of the other perhaps only his sister, nearly as old as himself, who
lived with him, was aware. Twenty years before--just after his
appointment to the canonry--he had married a young and--in the opinion of
his family--flighty wife, who had lived a year and then died. She had
passed like a spring flower; and after a year or two all that was
remembered about her was that she had chosen the drawing-room paper,
which was rather garishly pink, like her own cheeks. In the course of
time the paper had become so discoloured and patchy that Miss France was
ashamed of it. For years her brother turned a deaf ear to her remarks on
the subject. At last he allowed her to repaper the room. But she
presently discovered that close to the seat he generally occupied in the
drawing-room of an evening there was a large hole in the new paper made
by the rubbing and scraping of the Canon's fingers as he sat at tea.
Through it the original pink reappeared. More than once Miss France
caught her brother looking contentedly at his work of mischief. But she
dared not speak of it to him, nor do anything to repair the damage.
As France perceived the identity of the visitor whom his old manservant
was showing into the study, a slight shade of annoyance passed over his
face. But he received the Professor civilly, cleared a chair of books in
order that he might sit down, and gave a vigorous poke to the fire.
The Professor did not wish to appear too inquisitive on the subject of
Meynell, and he therefore dallied a little with matters of Biblical
criticism. France, however, took no interest whatever in them; and even
an adroit description of a paper recently read by the speaker himself
at an Oxford meeting failed to kindle a spark. Vetch found himself driven
upon the real object of his visit.
He desired to know--understanding that the Canon was an old friend of
Henry Barron--where the Meynell affair exactly was.
"Am I an old friend of Henry Barron?" said France slowly.
"He says you are," laughed the Professor. "I happened to go up to town in
the same carriage with him a fortnight ago."
"He comes here a good deal--but he never takes my advice," said France.
The Professor inquired what the advice had been.
"To let it alone!" France looked round suddenly at his companion. "I have
come to the conclusion," he added dryly, "that Barron is not a person of
The Professor, rather taken aback, argued on Barron's behalf. Would
it have been seemly or right for a man--a Churchman of Barron's
prominence--to keep such a thing to himself at such a critical moment?
Surely it had an important bearing on the controversy.
"I see none," said France, a spark of impatience in the small black eyes
that shone so vividly above his large hanging cheeks. "Meynell says the
story is untrue."
"Ah! but let him prove it!" cried the Professor, his young-old face
flushing. "He has made a wanton attack upon the Church; he cannot
possibly expect any quarter from us. We are not in the least bound to
hold him immaculate--quite the contrary. Men of that impulsive,
undisciplined type are, as we all know, very susceptible to woman."
France faced round upon his companion in a slow, contemptuous wonder.
"I see you take your views from the anonymous letters?"
The Professor laughed awkwardly.
"Not necessarily. I understand Barron has direct evidence. Anyway, let
Meynell take the usual steps. If he takes them successfully, we shall all
rejoice. But his character has been made, so to speak, one of the pieces
in the game. We are really not bound to accept it at his own valuation."
"I think you will have to accept it," said France.
There was a pause. The Professor wondered secretly whether France too was
beginning to be tarred with the Modernist brush. No!--impossible. For
that the Canon was either too indolent or too busy.
At last he said:
"Seriously, I should like to know what you really think."
"It is of no importance what I think. But what suggests itself, of
course, is that there is some truth in the story, but that Meynell is not
the hero. And he doesn't see his way to clear himself by dishing other
"I see." The obstinacy in the smooth voice rasped France. "If so, most
unlucky for him! But then let him resign his living, and go quietly into
obscurity. He owes it to his own side. For them the whole thing is
disaster. He _must_ either clear himself or go."
"Oh, give him a little time!" said France sharply, "give him a little
time." Then, with a change of tone--"The anonymous letters, of course,
are the really interesting things in the case. Perhaps you have a theory
The Professor shrugged his shoulders.
"None whatever. I have seen three--including that published in the
_Post_. I understand about twenty have now been traced; and that
they grow increasingly dramatic and detailed. Evidently some clever
fellow--who knows a great deal--with a grudge against Meynell?"
"Ye--es," said France, with hesitation.
"You suspect somebody?"
"Not at all. It is a black business."
Then with one large and powerful hand, France restrained the kitten, who
was for deserting his knee, and with the other he drew toward him the
folio volume on which he had been engaged when the Professor came in.
Vetch took the hint, said a rather frosty good-bye, and departed.
"A popinjay!" said France to himself when he was left alone, thinking
with annoyance of the Professor's curly hair, of his elegant serge suit,
and the gem from Knossos that he wore on the little finger of his left
hand. Then he took up a large pipe which lay beside his books, filled it,
and hung meditatively over the fire. He was angry with Vetch, and
disgusted with himself.
"Why haven't I given Meynell a helping hand? Why did I talk like that to
Barron when he first began this business? And why have I let him come
here as he has done since--without telling him what I really thought
He fell for some minutes into an abyss of thought; thought which seemed
to range not so much over the circumstances connected with Meynell as
over the whole of his own past.
But he emerged from it with a long shake of the head.
"My habits are my habits!" he said to himself with a kind of bitter
decision, and laying down his pipe he went back to his papers.
* * * * *
Almost at the same moment the Bishop was interviewing Henry Barron in the
little book-lined room beyond the main library, which he kept for the
business he most disliked. He never put the distinction into words, but
when any member of his clergy was invited to step into the farther room,
the person so invited felt depressed.
Barron's substantial presence seemed to fill the little study, as, very
much on his defence, he sat _tête-à-tête_ with the Bishop. He had
recognized from the beginning that nothing of what he had done was really
welcome or acceptable to Bishop Craye. While he, on his side, felt
himself a benefactor to the Church in general, and to the Bishop of
Markborough in particular, instinctively he knew that the Bishop's taste
ungratefully disapproved of him; and the knowledge contributed an extra
shade of pomposity to his manner.
He had just given a sketch of the church meeting at Upcote, and of the
situation in the village up to date. The Bishop sat absently patting his
thin knees, and evidently very much concerned.
"A most unpleasant--a most painful scene. I confess, Mr. Barron, I think
it would have been far better if you had avoided it."
Barron held himself rigidly erect.
"My lord, my one object from the beginning has been to force Meynell into
the open. For his own sake--for the parish's--the situation must be
brought to an end, in some way. The indecency of it at present is
"You forget. The trial is only a few weeks off. Meynell will certainly be
"No doubt. But then there is the Privy Council Appeal. And even when he
is deprived, Meynell does not mean to leave the village. He has made all
his arrangements to stay and defy the judgment. We _must_ prove to him,
even if we have to do it with what looks like harshness, that until he
clears himself of this business this diocese at least will have none of
"Why, the great majority of the people adore him!" cried the Bishop. "And
meanwhile I understand the other poor things are already driven away.
They tell me the Fox-Wiltons' house is to let, and Miss Puttenham gone to
Barron slightly shrugged his shoulders. "We are all very sorry for them,
my lord. It is indeed a sad business. But we must remember at the same
time that all these persons have been in a conspiracy together to impose
a falsehood on their neighbours; and that for many years we have been
admitting Miss Puttenham to our house and our friendship--to the
companionship of our daughters--in complete ignorance of her character."
"Oh, poor thing! poor thing!" said the Bishop hastily. "The thought
of her haunts me. She must know what is going on--or a great deal of
it--though indeed I hope she doesn't--I hope with all my heart she
doesn't! Well, now, Mr. Barron--you have written me long letters--and I
trust that you will allow me a little close inquiry into some of these
"The closer the better, my lord."
"You have not as yet come to any opinion whatever as to the authorship of
Barron looked troubled.
"I am entirely at a loss," he said, emphatically. "Once or twice I have
thought myself on the track. There is that man East, whose license
"One of the 'aggrieved parishioners'," said the Bishop, raising his hands
"You regret, my lord, that we should be mixed up with such a person? So
do I. But with a whole parish in a conspiracy to support the law-breaking
that was going on, what could we do? However, that is not now the point.
I have suspected East. I have questioned him. He showed extraordinary
levity, and was--to myself personally--what I can only call insolent. But
he swore to me that he had not written the letters; and indeed I am
convinced that he could not have written them. He is almost an
illiterate--can barely read and write. I still suspect him. But if he is
in it, it is only as a tool of some one else."
"And the son--Judith Sabin's son?"
"Naturally, I have turned my mind in that direction also. But John Broad
is a very simple fellow--has no enmity against Meynell, quite the
contrary. He vows that he never knew why his mother went abroad with Lady
Fox-Wilton, or why she went to America; and though she talked a lot of
what he calls 'queer stuff' in the few hours he had with her before my
visit, he couldn't make head or tail of a good deal of it, and didn't
trouble his head about it. And after my visit, he found her incoherent
and delirious. Moreover, he declared to me solemnly that he knew nothing
about the letters; and I certainly have no means of bringing it home to
The Bishop's blue eyes were sharply fixed upon the speaker. But on the
whole Barron's manner in these remarks had favourably impressed his
"We come then"--he said gravely--"to the further question which you will,
of course, see will be asked--must be asked. Can you be certain that your
own conversation--of course quite unconsciously on your part--has not
given hints to some person, some unscrupulous third person, an enemy of
Meynell's, who has been making use of information he may have got from
you to write these letters? Forgive the inquiry--but you will realize how
very important it is--for Church interests--that the suit against Meynell
in the Church Courts should not be in any way mixed up with this wretched
and discreditable business of the anonymous letters!"
Barron flushed a little.
"I have of course spoken of the matter in my own family," he said
proudly. "I have already told you, my lord, that I confided the whole
thing to my son Stephen very early in the day."
The Bishop smiled.
"We may dismiss Stephen I think--the soul of honour and devoted to
Meynell. Can you remember no one else?"
Barron endeavoured to show no resentment at these inquiries. But it was
clear that they galled.
"The only other members of my household are my daughter Theresa, and
occasionally, for a week or two, my son Maurice. I answer for them both."
"Your son Maurice is at work in London."
"He is in business--the manager of an office," said Barron stiffly.
The Bishop's face was shrewdly thoughtful. After a pause he said:
"You have, of course, examined the handwriting? But I understand that
recently all the letters have been typewritten?"
"All but two--the letter to Dawes, and a letter which I believe was
received by Mrs. Elsmere. I gave the Dawes letter to Meynell at his
"Having failed to identify the handwriting?"
Yet, even as he spoke, for the first time, a sudden misgiving, like the
pinch of an insect, brushed Barron's consciousness. He had not, as a
matter of fact, examined the Dawes letter very carefully, having been, as
he now clearly remembered, in a state of considerable mental excitement
during the whole time it was in his possession and thinking much more of
the effect of the first crop of letters on the situation, than of the
details of the Dawes letter itself. But he did remember, now that the
Bishop pressed him, that when he first looked at the letter he had been
conscious of a momentary sense of likeness to a handwriting he knew; to
Maurice's handwriting, in fact. But he had repelled the suggestion as
absurd in the first instance, and after a momentary start, he angrily
repelled it now.
The Bishop emerged from a brown study.
"It is a most mysterious thing! Have you been able to verify the
"So far as I know, all the letters were posted at Markborough."
"No doubt by some accomplice," said the Bishop. He paused and sighed.
Then he looked searchingly, though still hesitatingly, at his companion.
"Mr. Barron, I trust you will allow me--as your Bishop--one little
reminder. As Christians, we must be slow to believe evil."
Barron flushed again.
"I have been slow to believe it, my lord. But in all things I have put
the Church's interest first."
Something in the Bishop suddenly and sharply drew away from the man
beside him. He held himself with a cold dignity.
"For myself, personally--I tell you frankly--I cannot bring myself to
believe a word of this story, so far as it concerns Meynell. I believe
there is a terrible mistake at the bottom of it, and I prefer to trust
twenty years of noble living rather than the tale of a poor distraught
creature like Judith Sabin. At the same time, of course, I recognize
that you have a right to your opinions, as I have to mine. But, my dear
sir"--and here the Bishop rose abruptly--"let me urge upon you one thing.
Keep an open mind--not only for all that tells against Meynell, but all
that tells for him! Don't--you will allow me this friendly word--don't
land yourself in a great, perhaps a life-long self-reproach!"
There was a note of sternness in the speaker's voice; but the small
parchment face and the eyes of china-blue shone, as though kindled from
within by the pure and generous spirit of the man.
"My lord, I have said my say." Barron had also risen, and stood towering
over the Bishop. "I leave it now in the hands of God."
The Bishop winced again, and was holding out a limp hand for good-bye,
when Barron said suddenly:
"Perhaps you will allow me one question, my lord? Has Meynell been to see
you? Has he written to you even? I may say that I urged him to do so."
The Bishop was taken aback and saw no way out.
"I have had no direct communication with him," he said, reluctantly; "no
doubt because of our already strained relations."
On Barron's lips there dawned something which could hardly be called a
smile--or triumphant; but the Bishop caught it. In another minute the
door had closed upon his visitor.
* * * * *
Barron walked away through the Close, his mind seething with anger and
resentment. He felt that he had been treated as an embarrassment rather
than an ally; and he vowed to himself that the Bishop's whole attitude
had been grudging and unfriendly.
As he passed on to the broad stone pavement that bordered the south
transept he became aware of a man coming toward him. Raising his eyes he
saw that it was Meynell.
There was no way of avoiding the encounter. As the two men passed Barron
made a mechanical sign of recognition. Meynell lifted his head and looked
at him full. It was a strange look, intent and piercing, charged with the
personality of the man behind it.
Barron passed on, quivering. He felt that he hated Meynell. The disguise
of a public motive dropped away; and he knew that he hated him
At the same time the sudden slight misgiving he had been conscious of in
the Bishop's presence ran through him again. He feared he knew not what;
and as he walked to the station the remembrance of Meynell's expression
mingled with the vague uneasiness he tried in vain to put from him.
Meynell walked home by Forkéd Pond to Maudeley. He lingered a little in
the leafless woods round the cottage, now shut up, and he chose the
longer path that he might actually pass the very window near which Mary
had stood when she spoke those softly broken words--words from a woman's
soul--which his memory had by heart. And his pulse leapt at the scarcely
admitted thought that perhaps--now--in a few weeks he might be walking
the dale paths with Mary. But there were stern things to be done first.
At Maudeley he found Flaxman awaiting him, and the two passed into the
library, where Rose, though bubbling over with question and conjecture,
self-denyingly refrained from joining them. The consultation of the two
men lasted about an hour, and when Flaxman rejoined his wife, he came
"Gone?" said Rose, with a disappointed look. "Oh! I did want to shake his
Flaxman's gesture was unsympathetic.
"It is not the time for that yet. This business has gone deep with him. I
don't exactly know what he will do. But he has made me promise various
"When does he see--Torquemada?" said Rose, after a pause.
"I think--to-morrow morning."
"H'm! Good luck to him! Please let me know also precisely when I may
crush Lady St. Morice."
Lady St. Morice was the wife of the Lord Lieutenant, and had at a recent
dinner party, in Rose's presence, hotly asserted her belief in the
charges brought against the Rector of Upcote. She possessed a private
chapel adorned with pre-Raphaelite frescoes, and was the sister of one of
the chief leaders of the High Orthodox party in convocation.
"She doesn't often speak to the likes of me," said Rose; "which of course
is a great advantage for the likes of me. But next time I shall speak to
her--which will be so good for her. My dear Hugh, don't let Meynell be
too magnanimous--I can't stand it."
Flaxman laughed, but rather absently. It was evident that he was still
under the strong impression of the conversation he had just passed
Rose stole up to him, and put her lips to his ear.
Flaxman looked up.
"I haven't the least idea."
"But of course we must all know some time," said Rose discontentedly.
"Catharine knows already."
* * * * *
Meynell passed that evening in his study, after some hours spent in the
Christmas business of a large parish. His mind was full of agitation, and
when midnight struck, ushering in Christmas Eve, he was still undecided
as to his precise course.
Among the letters of the day lying scattered beside him on the floor
there was yet further evidence of the power of Barron's campaign. There
were warm expressions indeed of sympathy and indignation to be found
among them, but on the whole Meynell realized that his own side's belief
in him was showing some signs of distress, while the attack upon him was
increasing in violence. His silence even to his most intimate friends,
even to his Bishop; the disappearance from England of the other persons
named in the scandal; the constant elaborations and embellishments of the
story as it passed from mouth to mouth--these things were telling against
him steadily and disastrously.
As he hung over the fire, he anxiously reconsidered his conduct toward
the Bishop, while Catharine's phrase--"He, too, has his rights!" lingered
in his memory. He more than suspected that his silence had given pain;
and his affection for the Bishop made the thought a sore one.
But after all what good would have been done had he even put the Bishop
in possession of the whole story? The Bishop's bare denial would have
been added to his; nothing more. There could have been no explanation,
public or private; nothing to persuade those who did not wish to be
His thought wandered hither and thither. From the dim regions of the past
there emerged a letter....
"My dear old Meynell, the thing is to be covered up. Ralph will
acknowledge the child, and all precautions are to be taken. I think
what he does he will do thoroughly. Alice wishes it--and what can I do,
either for her or for the child? Nothing. And for me, I see but one way
out--which will be the best for her too in the end, poor darling. My
wife's letter a week ago destroyed my last hope. I am going out
to-night--and I shall not come back. Stand by her, Richard. I think this
kind of lie on which we are all embarked is wrong (not that you had
anything to do with it!) But it is society which is wrong and imposes it
on us. Anyway, the choice is made, and now you must support and protect
her--and the child--for my sake. For I know you love me, dear boy--little
as I deserve it. It is part of your general gift of loving, which has
always seemed to me so strange. However--whatever I was made for, you
were made to help the unhappy. So I have the less scruple in sending you
this last word. She will want your help. The child's lot in that
household will not be a happy one; and Alice will have to look on. But,
help her!--help her above all to keep silence, for this thing, once done,
must be irrevocable. Only so can my poor Alice recover her youth--think,
she is only twenty now!--and the child's future be saved. Alice, I
hope, will marry. And when the child marries, you may--nay, I think you
must--tell the husband. I have written this to Ralph. But for all the
rest of the world, the truth is now wiped out. The child is no longer
mine--Alice was never my love--and I am going to the last sleep. My
sister Fanny Meryon knows something; enough to make her miserable; but no
names or details. Well!--good-bye. In your company alone have I ever
seemed to touch the life that might have been mine. But it is too late.
The will in me--the mainspring--is diseased. This is a poor return--but
forgive me!--my very dear Richard! Here comes the boat; and there is a
splendid sea rising."
* * * * *
There, in a locked drawer, not far from him, lay this letter. Meynell's
thought plunged back into the past; into its passionate feeling, its
burning pity, its powerless affection. He recalled his young hero-worship
for his brilliant kinsman; the hour when he had identified the battered
form on the shore of the Donegal Lough; the sight of Alice's young
anguish; and all the subsequent effort on his part, for Christ's sake,
for Neville's sake, to help and shield a woman and child, effort from
which his own soul had learnt so much.
Pure and sacred recollections!--mingled often with the moral or
intellectual perplexities that enter into all things human.
Then--at a bound--his thoughts rushed on to the man who, without pity,
without shame, had dragged all these sad things, these helpless,
irreparable griefs, into the cruel light of a malicious publicity--in the
name of Christ--in the name of the Church!
To-morrow! He rose, with a face set like iron, and went back to his table
to finish a half-written review.
* * * * *
"Theresa--after eleven--I shall be engaged. See that I am not disturbed."
Theresa murmured assent, but when her father closed the door of her
sitting-room, she did not go back immediately to her household accounts.
Her good, plain face showed a disturbed mind.
Her father's growing excitability and irritation, and the bad accounts of
Maurice, troubled her sorely. It was only that morning Mr. Barron had
become aware that Maurice had lost his employment, and was again adrift
in the world. Theresa had known it for a week or two, but had not been
allowed to tell. And she tried not to remember how often of late her
brother had applied to her for money.
Going back to her accounts with a sigh, she missed a necessary receipt
and went into the dining-room to look for it. While she was there the
front door bell rang and was answered, unheard by her. Thus it fell out
that as she came back into the hall she found herself face to face with
She stood paralyzed with astonishment. He bowed to her gravely and passed
on. Something in his look seemed to her to spell calamity. She went back
to her room, and sat there dumb and trembling, dreading what she might
see or hear.
Meanwhile Meynell had been ushered into Barron's study by the old butler,
who was no less astonished than his mistress.
Barron rose stiffly to meet his visitor. The two men stood opposite each
other as the door closed.
Barron spoke first.
"You will, I trust, let me know, Mr. Meynell, without delay to what I owe
this unexpected visit. I was of course quite ready to meet your desire
for an interview, but your letter gave me no clue--"
"I thought it better not," said Meynell quietly. "May we sit down?"
Barron mechanically waved the speaker to a chair, and sat down himself.
Meynell seemed to pause a moment, his eyes on the ground. Then suddenly
he raised them.
"Mr. Barron, what I have come to say will be a shock to you. I have
discovered the author of the anonymous letters which have now for nearly
three months been defiling this parish and diocese."
Barron's sudden movement showed the effect of the words. But he held
himself well in hand.
"I congratulate you," he said coldly. "It is what we have all been trying
"But the discovery will be painful to you. For the author of these
letters, Mr. Barron--is--your son Maurice."
At these words, spoken with an indescribable intensity and firmness,
Barron sprang from, his seat.
"It was not necessary, I think, sir, to come to my house in order to
insult my family and myself! It would have been better to write. And you
may be very sure that if you cannot punish your slanderers we can--and
His attitude expressed a quivering fury. Meynell took a packet from his
breast-pocket and quietly laid it on the table beside him.
"In this envelope you will find a document--a confession of a piece of
wrongdoing on Maurice's part of which I believe you have never been
informed. His poor sister concealed it--and paid for it. Do you remember,
three years ago, the letting loose of some valuable young horses from
Farmer Grange's stables--the hue and cry after them--and the difficulty
there was in recapturing them on the Chase?"
Barron stared at the speaker--speechless.
"You remember that a certain young fellow was accused--James Aston--one
of my Sunday school teachers--who had proposed to Grange's daughter,
and had been sent about his business by the father? Aston was in fact
just about to be run in by the police, when a clue came to my hands. I
followed it up. Then I found out that the ringleader in the whole affair
had been your son Maurice. If you remember, he was then at home, hanging
about the village, and he had had a quarrel with Grange--I forget about
what. He wrote an anonymous post-card accusing Aston. However, I got on
the track; and finally I made him give me a written confession--to
protect Aston. Heavy compensation was paid to Grange--by your
daughter--and the thing was hushed up. I was always doubtful whether I
ought not to have come to you. But it was not long after the death of
your wife. I was very sorry for you all--and Maurice pleaded hard. I did
not even tell Stephen; but I kept the confession. I came upon it a night
or two ago, in the drawer where I had also placed the letter to Dawes
which I got from you. Suddenly, the likeness in the handwritings struck
me; and I made a very careful comparison."
He opened the packet, and took out the two papers, which he offered to
"I think, if you will compare the marked passages, you will see at least
a striking resemblance."
With a shaking hand Barron refused the papers.
"I have no doubt, sir, you can manufacture any evidence you please!--but
I do not intend to follow you through it. Handwriting, as we all know,
can be made to prove anything. Reserve your documents for your solicitor.
I shall at once instruct mine."
"But I am only at the beginning of my case," said Meynell with the same
composure. "I think you had better listen ... A passage in one of the
recent letters gave me a hint--an idea. I went straight to East the
publican, and taxed him with being the accomplice of the writer. I
blustered a little--he thought I had more evidence than I had--and at
last I got the whole thing out of him. The first letter was written"--the
speaker raised his finger, articulating each word with slow precision,
"by your son Maurice, and posted by East, the day after the cage-accident
at the Victoria pit; and they have pursued the same division of labour
ever since. East confesses he was induced to do it by the wish to revenge
himself on me for the attack on his license; and Maurice occasionally
gave him a little money. I have all the dates of the letters, and a
statement of where they were posted. If necessary, East will give
A silence. Barron had resumed his seat, and was automatically lifting a
small book which lay on a table near him and letting it fall, while
Meynell was speaking. When Meynell paused, he said thickly--
"A plausible tale no doubt--and a very convenient one for you. But allow
me to point out, it rests entirely on East's word. Very likely he wrote
the letters himself, and is attempting to make Maurice the scapegoat."
"Where do you suppose he could have got his information from?" said
Meynell, looking up. "There is no suggestion that _he_ saw Judith Sabin
before her death."
Barron's face worked, while Meynell watched him implacably. At last he
"How should I know? The same question applies to Maurice."
"Not at all. There the case is absolutely clear. Maurice got his
information from you."
"A gratuitous statement, sir!--which you cannot prove."
"From you"--repeated Meynell. "And from certain spying operations that he
and East undertook together. Do you deny that you told Maurice all that
Judith Sabin told you--together with her identification of myself?"
The room seemed to wait for Barron's reply. He made none. He burst out
"What possible motive could Maurice have had for such an action? The
thing isn't even plausible!"
"Oh, Maurice had various old scores to settle with me," said Meynell,
quietly. "I have come across him more than once in this parish--no need
to say how. I tried to prevent him from publicly disgracing himself
and you; and I did prevent him. He saw in this business an easy revenge
on a sanctimonious parson who had interfered with his pleasures."
Barron had risen and was pacing the room with unsteady steps. Meynell
still watched him, with the same glitter in the eye. Meynell's whole
nature indeed, at the moment, had gathered itself into one avenging
force; he was at once sword and smiter. The man before him seemed to him
embodied cruelty and hypocrisy; he felt neither pity nor compunction. And
presently he said abruptly--
"But I am afraid I have much more serious matter to lay before you than
this business of the letters."
"What do you mean?"
Taking another letter from his pocket, Meynell glanced at it a moment,
and then handed it to Barron. Barron was for an instant inclined to
refuse it, as he had refused the others. But Meynell insisted.
"Believe me, you had better read it. It is a letter from Mr. Flaxman to
myself, and it concerns a grave charge against your son. I bring you a
chance of saving him from prosecution; but there is no time to be lost."
Barron took the letter, carried it to the window, and stood reading it.
Meynell sat on the other side of the room watching him, still in the same
impassive "possessed" state.
Suddenly, Barron put his hand over his face, and a groan he could not
repress broke from him. He turned his back and stood bending over the
At the same instant a shiver ran through Meynell, like the return to life
of some arrested energy, some paralyzed power. The shock of that sound of
suffering had found him iron; it left him flesh. The spiritual habit of a
lifetime revived; for "what we do we are."
He rose slowly, and went over to the window.
"You can still save him--from the immediate consequences of this at
least--if you will. I have arranged that with Flaxman. It was my seeing
him enter the room alone where the coins were, the night of the party,
that first led to the idea that he might have taken them. Then, as you
see, certain dealers' shops were watched by a private detective. Maurice
appeared--sold the Hermes coin--was traced to his lodgings and
identified. So far the thing has not gone beyond private inquiry; for the
dealer will do what Flaxman wants him to do. But Maurice still has the
more famous of the two coins; and if he attempts to sell that, after the
notices to the police, there may be an exposure any day. You must go up
to London as soon as you can--"
"I will go to-night," said Barron, in a tone scarcely to be heard. He
stood with his hands on his sides, staring out upon the wintry garden
outside, just as a gardener's boy laden with holly and ivy for the
customary Christmas decorations of the house was passing across the lawn.
There was silence a little. Meynell walked slowly up and down the room.
At last Barron turned toward him; the very incapacity of the plump and
ruddy face for any tragic expression made it the more tragic.
"I propose to write to the Bishop at once. Do you desire a public
"There must be a public statement," said Meynell gravely. "The thing has
gone too far. Flaxman and I have drawn one up. Will you look at it?"
Barron took it, and went to his writing-table.
"Wait a moment!" said Meynell, following him, and laying his hand on the
open page. "I don't want you to sign that by _force majeure_. Dismiss--if
you can--any thought of any hold I may have upon you, because of
Maurice's misdoing. You and I, Barron, have known each other some years.
We were once friends. I ask you--not under any threat--not under any
compulsion--to accept my word as an honest man that I am absolutely
innocent of the charge you have brought against me."
Barron, who was sitting before his writing-table, buried his face in his
hands a moment, then raised it.
"I accept it," he said, almost inaudibly.
"You believe me?"
"I believe you."
Meynell drew a long breath. Then he added, with a first sign of
emotion--"And I may also count upon your doing henceforth what you can to
protect that poor lady, Miss Puttenham, and her kinsfolk, from the
consequences of this long persecution?"
Barron made a sign of assent. Meynell left him to read and sign the
public apology and retraction, which Flaxman had mainly drawn up; while
the Rector himself took up a Bradshaw lying on the table, and walked to
the window to consult it.
"You will catch the 1.40," he said, as Barron rose from the
writing-table. "Let me advise you to get him out of the country for a
Barron said nothing. He came heavily toward the window, and the two men
stood looking at each other, overtaken both of them by a mounting wave of
consciousness. The events, passions, emotions of the preceding months
pressed into memory, and beat against the silence. But it was Meynell who
"What a pity--to spoil the fight!" he said in a low voice. "It would have
been splendid--to fight it--fair."
"I shall of course withdraw my name from the Arches suit," said Barron,
leaning over a chair, his eyes on the ground.
Meynell did not reply. He took up his hat; only saying as he went toward
"Remember--Flaxman holds his hand entirely. The situation is with you."
Then, after a moment's hesitation, he added simply, almost shyly--"God
help you! Won't you consult your daughter?"
Barron made no answer. The door opened and shut.
MEYNELL AND MARY
".... but Life ere long
Came on me in the public ways and bent
Eyes deeper than of old; Death met I too,
And saw the dawn glow through."
A mild January day on the terrace of St. Germains. After a morning of
hoar-frost the sun was shining brightly on the terrace, and on the
panorama it commands. A pleasant light lay on the charming houses that
front the skirts of the forest, on the blue-gray windings of the Seine,
on the groves of leafless poplars interwoven with its course, on the
plain with its thickly sown villages, on the height of Mont Valérien,
behind which lay Paris. In spite of the sunshine, however, it was winter,
and there was no movement in St. Germains. The terrace and the road
leading from it to the town were deserted; and it was easy to see from
the aspect of the famous hotel at the corner of the terrace that,
although not closed, it despaired of visitors. Only a trio of French
officers in the far distance of the terrace, and a white-capped
_bonne_ struggling against the light wind with a basket on her arm,
offered any sign of life to the observant eyes of a young man who was
briskly pacing up and down that section of the terrace which abuts on the
The young man was Philip Meryon. His dark tweed suit and fur waistcoat
disclosed a figure once singularly agile and slender, on which
self-indulgence was now beginning to tell. Nevertheless, as the _bonne_
passed him she duly noted and admired his pictorial good looks, opining
at the same time that he was not French. Why was he there? She decided in
her own mind that he was there for an assignation, by which she meant, of
course, a meeting with a married woman; and she smiled the incorrigible
Assignation or no, she would have seen, had she looked closer, that the
young man in question was in no merely beatific or expectant frame of
mind. Meryon's look was a look both of excitement--as of one under the
influence of some news of a startling kind--and of anxiety.
Would she come? And if she came would he be able to bring and hold her to
any decision, without--without doing what even he shrank from doing?
For that ill chance in a thousand which Meynell had foreseen, and hoped,
as mortals do, to baffle, had come to pass. That morning, a careless
letter enclosing the payment of a debt, and written by a young actor, who
had formed part of one of the bohemian parties at the Abbey, during the
summer, and had now been playing for a week in the Markborough theatre,
had given Meryon the clue to the many vague conjectures or perplexities
which had already crossed his mind with regard to Hester's origin and
* * * * *
"Your sanctified cousin, Richard Meynell" [wrote the young man] "seems
after all to be made of the common clay. There are strange stories going
the round about him here; especially in a crop of anonymous letters of
which the author can't be found. I send you a local newspaper which has
dared to print one of them with dashes for the names. The landlord of the
inn told me how to fill them up, and you will see I have done it. The
beauteous maiden herself has vanished from the scene--as no doubt you
know. Indeed you probably know all about it. However, as you are abroad,
and not likely to see these local rags, and as no London paper will print
these things, you may perhaps be interested in what I enclose. Alack, my
dear Philip, for the saints! They seem not so very different from you and
* * * * *
The eagerness with which Philip had read the newspaper cutting enclosed
in the letter was only equalled by the eagerness with which afterward he
fell to meditating upon it; pursuing and ferreting out the truth, through
a maze of personal recollection and inference.
Richard!--nonsense! He laughed, from a full throat. Not for one moment
was Philip misled by Judith Sabin's mistake. He was a man of great
natural shrewdness, blunted no doubt by riotous living; but there was
enough of it left, aided by his recent forced contacts with his cousin
Richard all turning on the subject of Hester, to keep him straight. So
that without any demur at all he rejected the story as it stood.
But then, what was the fact behind it? Impossible that Judith Sabin's
story should be all delusion! For whom did she mistake Richard?
Suddenly, as he sat brooding and smoking, a vision of Hester flashed upon
him as she had stood laughing and pouting, beneath the full length
picture of Neville Flood, which hung in the big hall of the Abbey. He had
pointed it out to her on their way through the house--where she had
peremptorily refused to linger--to the old garden behind.
He could hear his own question: "There!--aren't you exactly like him?
Turn and look at yourself in the glass opposite. Oh, you needn't be
offended! He was the handsome man of his day."
Of course! The truth jumped to the eyes, now that one was put in the way
of seeing it. And on this decisive recollection there had followed a rush
of others, no less pertinent: things said by his dead mother about the
brother whom she had loved and bitterly regretted. So the wronged lady
whom he would have married but for his wife's obstinacy was "Aunt Alice!"
Philip remembered to have once seen her from a distance in the Upcote
woods. Hester had pointed her out, finger on lip, as they stood hiding in
a thicket of fern; a pretty woman still. His mother had never mentioned a
name; probably she had never known it; but to the love-affair she had
always attributed some share in her brother's death.
From point to point he tracked it, the poor secret, till he had run it
down. By degrees everything fitted in; he was confident that he had
guessed the truth.
Then, abruptly, he turned to look at its bearing on his own designs and
He supposed himself to be in love with Hester. At any rate he was
violently conscious of that hawk-like instinct of pursuit which he was
accustomed to call love. Hester's mad and childish imprudences, which the
cooler self in Meryon was quite ready to recognize as such, had made the
hawking a singularly easy task so far. Meynell, of course, had put up
difficulties; with regard to this Scotch business it had been necessary
to lie pretty hard, and to bribe some humble folk in order to get round
him. But Hester, by the double fact that she was at once so far removed
from the mere _ingénue_, and so incredibly ready to risk herself, out of
sheer ignorance of life, both challenged and tempted the man whom a
disastrous fate had brought across her path, to such a point that he had
long since lost control of himself, and parted with any scruples of
conscience he might possess.
At the same time he was by no means sure of her. He realized his
increasing power over her; he also realized the wild, independent streak
in her. Some day--any day--the capricious, wilful nature might tire,
might change. The prey might escape, and the hawk go empty home. No
dallying too long! Let him decide what to risk--and risk it.
Meantime that confounded cousin of his was hard at work, through some
very capable lawyers, and unless the instructions he--Philip--had
conveyed to the woman in Scotland, who, thank goodness, was no less
anxious to be rid of him than he to be rid of her, were very shrewdly
and exactly carried out, facts might in the end reach Hester which would
give even her recklessness pause. He knew that so far Meynell had been
baffled; he knew that he carried about with him evidence that, for the
present, could be brought to bear on Hester with effect; but things were
by no means safe.
For his own affairs, they were desperate. As he stood there, he was
nothing more in fact than the common needy adventurer, possessed,
however, of greater daring, and the _dèbris_ of much greater pretensions,
than most such persons. His financial resources were practically at an
end, and he had come to look upon a clandestine marriage with Hester as
the best means of replenishing them. The Fox-Wilton family passed for
rich; and the notion that they must and would be ready to come forward
with money, when once the thing was irrevocable, counted for much in the
muddy plans of which his mind was full. His own idea was to go to South
America--to Buenos Ayres, where money was to be made, and where he had
some acquaintance. In that way he would shake off his creditors, and the
Scotch woman together; and Meynell would know better than to interfere.
* * * * *
Suddenly a light figure came fluttering round the corner of the road
leading to the château and the town. Philip turned and went to meet her.
And as he approached her he was shaken afresh by the excitement of her
presence, in addition to his more sordid preoccupation. Her wild,
provocative beauty seemed to light up the whole wintry scene; and the few
passers-by, each and all, stopped to stare at her. Hester laughed aloud
when she saw Meryon; and with her usual recklessness held up her umbrella
for signal. It pleased her that two _rapins_ in large black ties and
steeple hats paid her an insolent attention as they passed her; and she
stopped to pinch the cheek of a chubby child that had planted itself
straight in her path.
"Am I late?" she said, as they met. "I only just caught the train. Oh! I
am so hungry! Don't let's talk--let's _déjeuner_."
"Will you dare the hotel?"
And he pointed to the Pavillion Henri Quatre.
"Why not? Probably there won't be a soul."
"There are always Americans."
"Why not, again? _Tant mieux_! Oh, my hair!"
And she put up her two ungloved hands to try and reduce it to something
like order. The loveliness of the young curving form, of the pretty
hands, of the golden brown hair, struck full on Meryon's turbid sense.
They turned toward the hotel, and were presently seated in a corner of
its glazed gallery, with all the wide, prospect of plain and river spread
beneath them. Hester was in the highest spirits, and as she sat waiting
for the first _plat_, chattering, and nibbling at her roll, her black
felt hat with its plume of cock feathers falling back from the brilliance
of her face, she once more attracted all the attention available; from
the two savants who, after a morning in the Chateau, were lunching at a
farther table; from an American family of all ages reduced to silence
by sheer wonder and contemplation; from the waiters, and, not least, from
the hotel dog, wagging his tail mutely at her knee.
Philip felt himself an envied person. He was, indeed, vain of his
companion; but certain tyrannical instincts asserted themselves once or
twice. When, or if, she became his possession, he would try and moderate
some of this chatter and noise.
For the present he occupied himself with playing to her lead, glancing
every now and then mentally, with a secret start, at the information he
had possessed about her since the morning.
She described to him, with a number of new tricks of gesture caught from
her French class-mates, how she had that morning outwitted all her
guardians, who supposed that she had gone to Versailles with one of the
senior members of the class she was attending at the Conservatoire, a
young teacher, "_très sage_," with whom she had been allowed once or
twice to go to museums and galleries. To accomplish it had required an
elaborate series of deceptions, which Hester had carried through,
apparently, without a qualm. Except that at the end of her story there
was a passing reference to Aunt Alice--"poor darling!"--"who would have a
fit if she knew."
Philip, coffee-cup in hand, half smiling, looked at her meantime through
his partially closed lids. Richard, indeed! She was Neville all through,
the Neville of the picture, except for the colour of the hair, and the
soft femininity. And here she sat, prattling--foolish dear!--about
"mamma," and "Aunt Alice," and "my tiresome sisters!"
"Certainly you shall not pay for me!--not a _sou,_" said Hester flushing.
"I have plenty of money. Take it please, at once." And she pushed her
share over the table, with a peremptory gesture.
Meryon took it with a smile and a shrug, and she, throwing away the
cigarette she had been defiantly smoking, rose from the table.
"Now then, what shall we do? Oh! no museums! I am being educated to
death! Let us go for a walk in the forest; and then I must catch my
train, or the world will go mad."
So they walked briskly into the forest, and were soon sufficiently deep
among its leaf-strewn paths, to be secure from all observation. Two hours
remained of wintry sunlight before they must turn back toward the
Hester walked along swinging a small silk bag in which she carried her
handkerchief and purse. Suddenly, in a narrow path girt by some tall
hollies and withered oaks, she let it fall. Both stooped for it, their
hands touched, and as Hester rose she found herself in Meryon's arms.
She made a violent effort to free herself, and when it failed, she stood
still and submitted to be kissed, like one who accepts an experience,
with a kind of proud patience.
"You think you love me," she said at last, pushing him away. "I wonder
whether you do!"
And flushed and panting, she leant against a tree, looking at him with a
strange expression, in which melancholy mingled with resentment; passing
slowly into something else--that soft and shaken look, that yearning of
one longing and yet fearing to be loved, which had struck dismay into
Meynell on the afternoon when he had pursued her to the Abbey.
Philip came close to her.
"You think I have no Roddy!" she said, with bitterness. "Don't kiss me
He refrained. But catching her hand, and leaning against the trunk beside
her, he poured into her ear protestations and flattery; the ordinary
language of such a man at such a moment. Hester listened to it with a
kind of eagerness. Sometimes, with a slight frown, as though ear and mind
waited, intently, for something that did not come.
"I wonder how many people you have said the same things to before!" she
said suddenly, looking searchingly into his face. "What have you got to
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