Part 3 out of 8
"What kind of things?"
"I don't want you to tell me any secrets," said Ronder. "I only want your
opinion, as a man of the world, as to how things stand--what really wants
doing, who, Beside yourself, are the leading men here and in what
directions they work. I needn't say that this conversation is
"Oh, of course, of course."
"Now, I don't know if I'm wrong, but it seems from what I've seen during
the short time that I've been here that the general point of view is
inclined to be a little too local. I believe you rather feel that
yourself, although I may be prejudiced, coming straight as I have from
"It's odd that you should mention that, Canon," said Bentinck-Major.
"You've put your finger on the weak spot at once. You're only saying what
I've been crying aloud for the last ever so many years. A voice in the
wilderness I've been, I'm afraid--a voice in the wilderness, although
perhaps I _have_ managed to do a little something. But there's no doubt
that the men here, excellent though they are, are a _little_ provincial.
What else can you expect? They've been here for years. They have not had,
most of them, the advantage of mingling with the great world. That I
should have had a little more of that opportunity than my fellows here is
nothing to my credit, but it does, beyond question, give one a wider view
--a wider view. There's our dear Bishop for instance--a saint, if ever
there was one. A saint, Ronder, I assure you. But there he is, hidden away
at Carpledon--out of things, I'm afraid, although of course he does his
best. Then there's Sampson. Well, I hardly need to tell you that he's not
quite the man to make things hum. _Not_ by his own fault I assure
you. He does his best, but we are as we're made...yes. We can only use
the gifts that God has given us, and God has not, undoubtedly, given the
Dean _quite_ the gifts that we need here."
He paused and waited. He was a cautious man and weighed his words.
"Then there's Brandon," said Ronder smiling. "There, if I may say so, is a
splendid character, a man who gives his whole life and energy for the good
of the place--who spares himself nothing."
There was a little pause. Bentinck-Major took advantage of it to look
graver than ever.
"He strikes you like that, does he?" he said at last. "Well, in many ways
I think you're right. Brandon is a good friend of mine--I may say that he
thoroughly appreciates what I've done for this place. But he is--
_quite_ between ourselves--how shall I put it?--just a _little_
autocratic. Perhaps that's too strong a word, but he _is_, some
think, a little too inclined to fancy that he runs the Cathedral! That,
mind you, is only the opinion of some here, and I don't know that I should
entirely associate myself with it, but perhaps there is _something_
in it. He is, as you can see, a man of strong will and, again between
ourselves, of a considerable temper. This will not, I'm sure, go further
"Absolutely not," said Ronder.
"Things have been a little slack here for several years, and although I've
done my own little best, what is one against so many, if you understand
what I mean?"
"Quite," said Ronder.
"Well, nobody could call Brandon an unenergetic man--quite the reverse.
And, to put it frankly, to oppose him one needs courage. Now I may say
that I've opposed him on a number of occasions but have had no backing.
Brandon, when he's angry, is no light opponent, and the result has been
that he's had, I'm afraid, a great deal of his own way."
"You're afraid?" said Ronder.
Bentinck-Major seemed a little nervous at being caught up so quickly. He
looked at Ronder suspiciously. His voice was sharper than it had been.
"Oh, I like Brandon--don't make any mistake about that. He and I together
have done some excellent things here. In many ways he's admirable. I don't
know what I'd have done sometimes without his backing. All I mean is that
he is perhaps a little hasty sometimes."
"Quite," said Ronder. "I can't tell you how you've helped me by what
you've told me. I'm sure you're right in everything you've said. If you
were to give me a tip then, you'd say that I couldn't do better than
follow Brandon. I'll remember that."
"Well, no," said Bentinck-Major rather hastily. "I don't know that I'd
quite say that either. Brandon is often wrong. I'm not sure either that he
has quite the influence he had. That silly little incident of the elephant
the other day--you heard that, didn't you?--well, a trivial thing, but one
saw by the way that the town took it that the Archdeacon isn't
_quite_ where he was. I agree with him entirely in his policy--to
keep things as they always have been. That's the only way to save our
Church, in my opinion. As soon as they tell me an idea's new, that's
enough for me...I'm down on it at once. But what I _do_ think is
that his diplomacy is often faulty. He rushes at things like a bull--
exactly like a bull. A little too confident always. No, if you won't think
me conceited--and I believe I'm a modest man--you couldn't do better than
come to me--talk things over with me, you know. I'm sure we'll see alike
about many things."
"I'm sure we will," said Ronder. "Thank you very much. As you've been so
kind I'm sure you won't mind my asking you a few questions. I hope I'm not
keeping you from anything."
"Not at all. Not at all," said Bentinck-Major very graciously, and
stretching his plump little body back into the arm-chair. "Ask as many
questions as you like and I'll do my best to answer them."
Ronder did then, during the next half-hour, ask a great many questions,
and he received a great many answers. The answers may not have told him
overmuch about the things that he wanted to know, but they did tell him a
great deal about Bentinck-Major.
The clock struck four.
Ronder got up.
"You don't know how you've helped me," he said. "You've told me exactly
what I wanted to know. Thank you so very much."
Bentinck-Major looked gratified. He had, in fact, thoroughly enjoyed
"Oh, but you'll stay and have some tea, won't you?"
"I'm afraid I can't do that. I've got a pretty busy afternoon still in
front of me."
"My wife will be so disappointed."
"You'll let me come another day, won't you?"
"Of course. Of course."
The Canon himself accompanied his guest into the hall and opened the front
door for him.
"Any time--any time--that I can help you."
"Thank you so very much. Good-bye."
So far so good, but Ronder was aware that his next visit would be quite
another affair--and so indeed it proved.
To reach Canon's Yard from Orange Street, Ronder had to go down through
Green Lane past the Orchards, and up by a steep path into Bodger's Street
and the small houses that have clustered for many years behind the
Cathedral. Here once was Saint Margaret's Monastery utterly swept away,
until not a stone remained, by Henry VIII.'s servants. Saint Margaret's
only memory lingers in the Saint Margaret's Hostel for Women at the top of
Bodger's Street, and even that has now a worn and desolate air as though
it also were on the edge of departure. In truth, this part of Polchester
is neglected and forgotten; it has not sunk like Seatown into dirt and
degradation, it has still an air of romance and colour, but the life is
gone from it.
Canon's Yard is behind the Hostel and is a little square, shut-in, cobbled
place with tall thin houses closing it in and the Cathedral towers
overhanging it. Rooks and bells and the rattle of carts upon the cobbles
make a perpetual clatter here, and its atmosphere is stuffy and begrimed.
When the Cathedral chimes ring they echo from house to house, from wall to
wall, so that it seems as though the bells of a hundred Cathedrals were
ringing here. Nevertheless from the high windows of the Yard there is a
fine view of orchards and hills and distant woods--a view not to be
The house in which Canon Foster had his rooms is one of the oldest of all
the houses. The house was kept by one Mrs. Maddis, who had "run" rooms for
the clergy ever since her first marriage, when she was a pretty blushing
girl of twenty. She was now a hideous old woman of eighty, and the house
was managed by her married daughter, Mrs. Crumpleton. There were three
floors and there should have been three clergymen, but for some time the
bottom floor had been empty and the middle apartments were let to
transient tenants. They were at this moment inhabited by a retired sea-
Foster reigned on the top floor and was quite oblivious of neighbours,
landladies, tidiness, and the view--he cared, by nature, for none of these
things. Ronder climbed up the dirty dark staircase and knocked on the old
oak door that had upon it a dirty visiting card with Foster's name. When
he ceased his climb and the noise of his footsteps fell away there was a
great silence. Not a sound could be heard. The bells were not chiming, the
rooks were not cawing (it was not as yet their time) nor was the voice of
Mrs. Crumpleton to be heard, shrill and defiant, as was too often the
case. The house was dead; the town was dead; had the world itself suddenly
died, like a candle whose light is put out, Foster would not have cared.
Ronder knocked three times with the knob of his walking-stick. The man
must be out. He was about to turn away and go when the door suddenly
opened, as though by a secret life of its own, and the pale face and
untidy person of the Canon, like the apparition of a surprised and
indignant _revenant_, was apparent.
"May I come in for a moment?" said Ronder. "I won't keep you long."
Foster stared at his visitor, said nothing, opened the door a little
wider, and stood aside. Ronder accepted this as an invitation and came in.
"You'd better come into the other room," said Foster, looking about him as
though he had been just ruthlessly awakened from an important dream. They
passed through a little passage and an untidy sitting-room into the study.
This was a place piled high with books and its only furniture was a deal
table and two straw-bottomed chairs. At the table Foster had obviously
been working. Books lay about it and papers, and there was also a pile of
manuscript. Foster looked around him, caught his large ears in his fingers
and cracked them, and then suddenly said:
"You'd better sit down. What can I do for you?"
Ronder sat down. It was at once apparent that, whatever the state of the
rooms might be, his reluctant host was suddenly very wide awake indeed. He
felt, what he had known from the very first meeting, that he was in
contact here with a man of brain, of independence, of character. His
capacity for amused admiration that was one of the strongest things in
him, was roused to the full. Another thing that he had also by now
perceived was that Foster was not that type, by now so familiar to us in
the pages of French and English fiction, of the lost and bewildered old
clergyman whose long nose has been for so many years buried in dusty books
that he is unable to smell the real world. Foster was neither lost nor
bewildered. He was very much all there.
What could he do for Ronder? Ronder was, for a moment, uncertain. Here, he
was happy to think, he must go with the greatest care. He did not smile as
he had smiled upon Bentinck-Major. He spoke to Foster as to an equal.
"I can see you're busy," he said. "All the same I'm not going to apologise
for coming. I'll tell you frankly that I want your help. At the same time
I'll tell you that I don't care whether you give it me or no."
"In what way can I help you?" asked Foster coldly.
"There's to be a Chapter Meeting in a few days' time, isn't there?
Honestly I haven't been here quite long enough yet to know how things
stand. Questions may come up, although there's nothing very important this
time, I believe. But there may be important things brewing. Now you've
been here a great many years and you have your opinion of how things
should go. I want your idea of some of the conditions."
"You've come to spy out the land, in fact?"
"Put it that way if you like," said Ronder seriously, "although I don't
think spying is exactly the word. You're perfectly at liberty, I mean, to
tell anybody that I've been to see you and to repeat to anybody what I
say. It simply is that I don't care to take on all the work that's being
shoved on to my shoulders without getting the views of those who know the
"Oh, if it's my views you want," cried Foster, suddenly raising his voice
and almost shouting, "they're easy enough to discover. They are simply
that everything here is abominable, going to wrack and ruin...Now you
know what _I_ think."
He looked down at his manuscript as much as to say, "Well, good
"Going to ruin in what way?" asked Ronder.
"In the way that the country is going to ruin--because it has turned its
back upon God."
There was a pause. Suddenly Foster flung out, "Do you believe in God,
"I think," said Ronder, "the fact that I'm in the position I'm in----"
"Nonsense," interrupted Foster. "That's anybody's answer. You don't look
like a spiritual man."
"I'm fat, if that's what you mean," said Ronder smiling. "That's my
"If I've been rude," said Foster more mildly, "forgive me. I _am_
rude these days. I've given up trying not to be. The truth is that I'm
sick to the heart with all their worldliness, shams, lies, selfishness,
idleness. You may be better than they. You may not. I don't know. If
you've come here determined to wake them all up and improve things, then I
wish you God-speed. But you won't do it. You needn't think you will. If
you've come like the rest to get what you can out of it, then I don't
think you'll find my company good for you."
"I certainly haven't come to wake them up," said Ronder. "I don't believe
that to be my duty. I'm not made that way. Nor can I honestly believe
things to be as bad as you say. But I do intend, with God's help, to do my
best. If that's not good enough for you, then you must abandon me to my
Foster seemed to appreciate that. He nodded his head.
"That's honest at any rate," he said. "It's the first honest thing I've
heard here for a long time except from the Bishop. To tell you the truth,
I had thought you were going to work in with Brandon. One more of his
sheep. If that were to be so the less we saw of one another the better."
"I have not been here long enough," said Ronder, "to think of working in
with anybody. And I don't wish to take sides. There's my duty to the
Cathedral. I shall work for that and let the rest go."
"There's your duty to God," said Foster vehemently. "That's the thing that
everybody here's forgotten. But you don't sound as though you'd go
Brandon's way. That's something in your favour."
"Why should one go Brandon's way?" Ronder asked.
"Why? Why? Why? Why do sheep huddle together when the dog barks at their
heels?...But I respect him. Don't you mistake me. He's a man to be
respected. He's got courage. He cares for the Cathedral. He's a hundred
years behind, that's all. He's read nothing, he knows nothing, he's a
child--and does infinite harm...." He looked up at Ronder and said quite
mildly, "Is there anything more you want to know?"
"There's talk," said Ronder, "about the living at Pybus St. Anthony. It's
apparently an important place, and when there's an appointment I should
like to be able to form an opinion about the best man----"
"What! is Morrison dead?" said Foster eagerly.
"No, but very ill, I believe."
"Well, there's only one possible appointment for that place, and that is
"Wistons?" repeated Ronder.
"Yes, yes," said Foster impatiently, "the author of _The New
Apocalypse_--the rector of St. Edward's, Hawston."
Ronder remembered. "A stranger?" he said. "I thought that it would have to
be some one in the diocese."
Foster did not hear him. "I've been waiting for this--to get Wistons here
--for years," he said. "A wonderful man--a great man. He'll wake the place
up. We _must_ have him. As to local men, the more strangers we let in
here the better."
"Brandon said something about a man called Forsyth--Rex Forsyth?"
Foster smiled grimly. "Yes--he would," he said, "that's just his kind of
appointment. Well, if he tries to pull that through there'll be such a
battle as this place has never seen."
Ronder said slowly. "I like your idea of Wistons. That sounds
Foster looked at him with a new intensity.
"Would you help me about that?" he asked.
"I don't know quite where I am yet," said Ronder, "but I think you'll find
me a friend rather than an enemy, Foster."
"I don't care what you are," said Foster. "So far as my feelings or
happiness go, nothing matters. But to have Wistons here--in this place....
Oh, what we could do! What we could do!"
He seemed to be lost in a dream. Five minutes later he roused himself to
say good-bye. Ronder once more at the top of the stairs felt about him
again the strange stillness of the house.
Falk Brandon was still, in reality, a boy. He, of course, did not know
this and would have been very indignant had any one told him so; it was
nevertheless the truth.
There is a kind of confidence of youth that has great charm, a sort of
assumption of grown-up manners and worldly ways that is accompanied with
an ingenuous belief in human nature, a naive trust in human goodness. One
sees it sometimes in books, in stories that are like a charade acted by
children dressed in their elders' clothes, and although these tales are
nothing but fairy stories in their actual relation to life, the sincerity
of their belief in life, and a kind of freshness that come from ignorance,
give them a power of their own.
Falk had some of this charm and power just as his father had, but whereas
his father would keep it all his days, Falk would certainly lose it as he
learnt more and went more into the world. But as yet he had not lost it.
This emotion that had now gained such control over him was the first real
emotion of his life, and he did not know in the least how to deal with it.
He was like a man caught in a baffling fog. He did not know in the least
whether he were in love with this girl, he did not know what he wanted to
do with her, he sometimes fancied that he hated her, he could not see her
clearly either mentally or physically; he only knew that he could not keep
away from her, and that with every meeting he approached more nearly the
moment when he would commit some desperate action that he would probably
regret for the rest of his life.
But although he could not see her clearly he could see sharply enough the
other side of the situation--the practical, home, filial side. It was
strange how, as the affair advanced, he was more and more conscious of his
father. It was as though he were an outsider, a friend of his father's,
but no relation to the family, who watched a calamity approach ever more
closely and was powerless to stop it. Although he was only a boy he
realised very sufficiently his father's love for him and pride in him. He
realized, too, his father's dependence upon his dignity and position in
the town, and, last and most important of all, his father's passionate
devotion to the Cathedral. All these things would be bruised were he,
Falk, involved in any local scandal. Here he saw into himself and, with a
bitterness and humility that were quite new to him, despised himself. He
knew, as though he saw future events passing in procession before him,
that if such a scandal did break out he would not be able to stay in the
place and face it--not because he himself feared any human being alive,
but because he could not see his father suffer under it.
Well, then, since he saw so clearly, why not abandon it all? Why not run
away, obtain some kind of work in London and leave Polchester until the
madness had passed away from him?
He could not go.
He would have been one of the first to scorn another man in such a
position, to mock his weakness and despise him. Well, let that be so. He
despised himself but--he could not go.
He was always telling himself that soon the situation would clear and that
he would then know how to act. Until that happened he must see her, must
talk to her, must be with her, must watch her. They had had, by now, a
number of meetings, always in the evening by the river, when her father
was away, up in the town.
He had kissed her twice. She had been quite passive on each occasion,
watching him ironically with a sort of dry amusement. She had given him no
sign that she cared for him, and their conversation had always been bare
and unsatisfactory. Once she had said to him with sudden passion:
"I want to get away out of this." He had asked her where she wanted to go.
"Anywhere--London." He had asked her whether she would go with him.
"I would go with any one," she had said. Afterwards she added: "But you
won't take me."
"Why not?" he had asked.
"Because I'm not in love with you."
"You may be--yet."
"I'd be anything to get away," she had replied.
On a lovely evening he went down to see her, determined that this time he
would give himself some definite answer. Just before he turned down to the
river he passed Samuel Hogg. That large and smiling gentleman, a fat cigar
between his lips, was sauntering, with a friend, on his way to Murdock's
"Evenin', Mr. Brandon."
"Good evening, Hogg."
The shadows, faintly pink on the rise of the hill, engulfed his fat body.
Falk wondered as he had before now done many times, How much does he know?
What's he thinking? What's he want?...The river, at high tide, very
gently lapped the side of the old wall. Its colour to-night was pure
crystal green, the banks and the hills smoky grey behind it. Tiny pink
clouds ran in little fleets across the sky, chasing one another in and out
between the streamers of smoke that rose from the tranquil chimneys.
Seatown was at rest this evening, scarcely a sound came from the old
houses; the birds could be heard calling from the meadows beyond the
river. The pink clouds faded into a rosy shadow, then that in its turn
gave way to a sky faintly green and pointed with stars. Grey mist
enveloped the meadows and the river, and the birds cried no longer. There
was a smell of onions and rank seaweed in the air.
Falk's love-story pursued at first its usual realistic course. She was
there near the waterfall waiting for him; they had very little to say to
one another. She was depressed to-night, and he fancied that she had been
crying. She was not so attractive to him in such a mood. He liked her best
when she was intolerant, scornful, aloof. To-night, although she showed no
signs of caring for him, she surrendered herself absolutely. He could do
what he liked with her. But he did not want to do anything with her.
She leaned over the Seatown wall looking desolately in front of her.
At last she turned round to him and asked him what she had asked him
"What do you come after me for?"
"I don't know," he said.
"It isn't because you love me."
"I don't know."
"_I_ know--there's no mistakin' it when it's there. I've lain awake a
lot o' nights wondering what you're after. You must have your reasons. You
take a deal o' trouble."
Then she put her hand on his. It was the first time that she had ever, of
her own accord, touched him.
"I'm gettin' to like you," she said. "Seein' so much of you, I suppose.
You're only a boy when all's said. And then, somehow or another, men don't
go after me. You're the only one that ever has. They say I'm stuck up...
Oh, man, but I'm unhappy here at home!"
"Well, then--you'd better come away with me--to London."
Even as he said it he would have caught the words back. What use for them
to go? Nothing to live on, no true companionship ...there could be only
one end to that.
But she shook her head.
"No--if you cared for me enough, mebbe I'd go. But I don't know that we'd
be together long if we did. I want my own life, my own, own, own life! I
can look after myself all right...I'll be off by myself alone one day."
Then suddenly he wanted her as urgently as he had ever done.
"No, you must never do that," he said. "If you go it must be with me. You
must have some one to look after you. You don't know what London's like."
He caught her in his arms and kissed her passionately, and she seemed to
him a new woman altogether, created by her threat that she would go away
She passively let him kiss her, then with a little turn in his arms and a
little sigh she very gently kissed him of her own will.
"I believe I could care for 'ee," she said softly. "And I want to care for
some one terrible bad."
They were nearer in spirit than they had ever been before; an emotion of
simple human companionship had crept into the unsettled disturbance and
quieted it and deepened it. She wore in his eyes a new aspect, something
wise and reasonable and comfortable. She would never be quite so
mysterious to him again, but her hold on him now was firmer. He was
suddenly sorry for her as well as for himself.
For the first time he left her that night with a sense that comradeship
might grow between them.
But as he went back up the hill he was terribly depressed and humiliated.
He hated and despised himself for longing after something that he did not
really want. He had always, he fancied, done that, as though there would
never be time enough in life for all the things that he would wish to test
and to reject.
When he went to bed that night he was in rebellion with all the world, but
before he fell asleep Annie Hogg seemed to come to him, a gentler, kinder
spirit, and to say to him, "It'll be all right.... I'll look after 'ee....
I'll look after 'ee," and he seemed to sink to sleep in her arms.
Next morning Falk and Joan had breakfast alone with their father, a
headache having laid Mrs. Brandon low. Falk was often late for breakfast,
but to-day had woken very early, had got up and gone out and walked
through the grey mist, turning his own particular trouble over and over in
his mind. To-day Annie had faded back from him again; that tenderness that
he had felt for her last night seemed to have vanished, and he was aware
only of a savage longing to shake himself free of his burden. He had
visions this morning of going up to London and looking for work....
Joan saw that to-day was a "Chapter morning" day. She always knew by her
father's appearance when there was to be a Chapter Meeting. He had then an
extra gloss, an added splendour, and also an added importance. He really
was the smartest old thing, she thought, looking at him this morning with
affectionate pride. He looked as though he spent his time in springing in
and out of cold baths.
The importance was there too. He had the _Glebshire Morning News_
propped up in front of him, and every now and then he would poke his fine
head up over it and look at his children and the breakfast-table and give
them a little of the world's news. In former days it had been only at the
risk of their little lives that they had spoken to one another. Now,
although restrictions had broken down, they would always hear, if their
voices were loud:
"Come, children...come, come. Mayn't your father read the newspaper in
quiet? Plenty of time to chatter during the rest of the day."
He would break forth into little sentences and exclamations as he read.
"Well, that's settled Burnett's hash.--Serve him right, too.... Dear,
dear, five shillings a hundred now. Phillpott's going to St. Lummen! What
an appointment!..." and so on.
Sometimes he would grow so deeply agitated that he would push the paper
away from him and wave vaguely about the table with his hands as though he
were learning to swim, letting out at the same time little snorts of
indignation and wonder:
"The fools! The idiots! Savage, of all men! Fancy listening to him! Well,
they'll only get what they deserve for their weakness. I wrote to Benson,
too--might as well have written to a rhinoceros. Toast, please, Joan!--
Toast, toast. Didn't you hear me? Savage! What can they be thinking of?
Yes, and butter.... Of course I said butter."
But on "Chapter Days" it was difficult for the newspaper to disturb him.
His mind was filled with thoughts for the plan and policy of the morning.
It was unfortunately impossible for him ever to grasp two things at the
same time, and this made his reasoning and the development of any plan
that he had rather slow. When the Chapter was to be an important one he
would not look at the newspaper at all and would eat scarcely any
breakfast. To-day, because the Chapter was a little one, he allowed
himself to consider the outside world. That really was the beginning of
his misfortune, because the paper this morning contained a very vivid
picture of the loss of the _Drummond Castle_. That was an old story
by this time, but here was some especial account that provided new details
and circumstances, giving a fresh vivid horror to the scene even at this
distance of time.
Brandon tried not to read the thing. He made it a rule that he would not
distress himself with the thought of evils that he could not cure. That is
what he told himself, but indeed his whole life was spent in warding off
and shutting out and refusing to listen.
He had told himself many years ago that it was a perfect world and that
God had made it and that God was good. To maintain this belief it was
necessary that one should not be "Presumptuous." It was "Presumptuous" to
imagine for a moment about any single thing that it was a "mistake." If
anything _were_ evil or painful it was there to "try and test" us....
A kind of spring-board over the waters of salvation.
Once, some years ago, a wicked atheist had written an article in a
magazine manifesting how evil nature was, how the animals preyed upon one
another, how everything from the tiniest insect to the largest elephant
suffered and suffered and suffered. How even the vegetation lived a short
life of agony and frustration, and then fell into foul decay.... Brandon
had read the article against his will, and had then hated the writer of it
with so deep a hatred that he would have had him horse-whipped, had he had
the power. The article upset him for days, and it was only by asserting to
himself again and again that it was untrue, by watching kittens at play
and birds singing on the branches and roses bursting from bud to bloom,
that he could reassure himself.
Now to-day here was the old distress back again. There was no doubt but
that those men and women on the _Drummond Castle_ had suffered in
order to win quite securely for themselves a crown of glory. He ought to
envy them, to regret that he had not been given the same chance, and yet--
He pushed the paper impatiently away from him. It was good that there was
nothing important to be discussed at Chapter this morning, because really
he was not in the mood to fight battles. He sighed. Why was it always he
that had to fight battles? He had indeed the burden of the whole town upon
his shoulders. And at that secretly he felt a great joy. He was glad--yes,
he was glad that he had....
As he looked over at Joan and Folk he felt tenderly towards them. His
reading then about the _Drummond Castle_ made him anxious that they
should have a good time and be happy. It might be better for them that
they should suffer; nevertheless, if they _could_ be sure of heaven
and at the same time not suffer too badly he would be glad.
Suddenly then, across the breakfast-table, a picture drove itself in front
of him--a picture of Joan with her baby-face, struggling in the water....
She screamed; she tried to catch on to the side of a boat with her hand.
Some one struck her....
With a shudder of disgust he drove it from him.
"Pah!" he cried aloud, getting up from the table.
"What is it, father?" Joan asked.
"People oughtn't to be allowed to write such things," he said, and went to
When an hour later he sallied forth to the Chapter Meeting he had
recovered his equanimity. His mind now was nailed to the business on hand.
Most innocently as he crossed the Cathedral Green he strutted, his head
up, his brow stern, his hands crossed behind his back. The choristers
coming in from the choir-school practice in the Cathedral passed him in a
ragged line. They all touched their mortar-boards and he smiled benignly
upon them, reserving a rather stern glance for Brockett, the organist, of
whose musical eccentricities he did not at all approve.
Little remained now of the original Chapter House which had once been a
continuation of Saint Margaret's Chapel. Some extremely fine Early Norman
arches which were once part of the Chapter House are still there and may
be seen at the southern end of the Cloisters. Here, too, are traces of the
dormitory and infirmary which formerly stood there. The present Chapter
House consists of two rooms adjoining the Cloisters, once a hall used by
the monks as a large refectory. There is still a timber roof of late
thirteenth century work, and this is supposed to have been once part of
the old pilgrims' or strangers' hall. The larger of the two rooms is
reserved for the Chapter Meetings, the smaller being used for minor
meetings and informal discussions.
The Archdeacon was a little late as, I am afraid, he liked to be when he
was sure that others would be punctual. Nothing, however, annoyed him more
than to find others late when he himself was in time. There they all were
and how exactly he knew how they would all be!
There was the long oak table, blotting paper and writing materials neatly
placed before each seat, there the fine walls in which he always took so
great a pride, with the portraits of the Polchester Bishops in grand
succession upon them. At the head of the table was the Dean, nervously
with anxious smiles looking about him. On the right was Brandon's seat; on
the left Witheram, seriously approaching the business of the day as though
his very life depended upon it; then Bentinck-Major, his hands looking as
though they had been manicured; next to him Ryle, laughing obsequiously at
some fashionable joke that Bentinck-Major had delivered to him; opposite
to him Foster, looking as though he had not had a meal for a week and
badly shaved with a cut on his chin; and next to _him_ Ronder.
At the bottom of the table was little Bond, the Chapter Clerk, sucking his
Brandon took his place with dignified apologies for his late arrival.
"Let us ask God for His blessing on our work to-day," said the Dean.
A prayer followed, then general rustling and shuffling, blowing of noses,
coughing and even, from the surprised and consternated Ryle, a sneeze--
then the business of the day began. The minutes of the last meeting were
read, and there was a little amiable discussion. At once Brandon was
conscious of Ronder. Why? He could not tell and was the more
uncomfortable. The man said nothing. He had not been present at the last
meeting and could therefore have nothing to say to this part of the
business. He sat there, his spectacles catching the light from the
opposite windows so that he seemed to have no eyes. His chubby body, the
position in which he was sitting, hunched up, leaning forward on his arms,
spoke of perfect and almost sleepy content. His round face and fat cheeks
gave him the air of a man to whom business was a tiresome and unnecessary
interference with the pleasures of life.
Nevertheless, Brandon was so deeply aware of Ronder that again and again,
against his will, his eyes wandered in his direction. Once or twice
Brandon said something, not because he had anything really to say, but
because he wanted to impress himself upon Ronder. All agreed with him in
the complacent and contented way that they had always agreed....
Then his consciousness of Ronder extended and gave him a new consciousness
of the other men. He had known for so long exactly how they looked and the
words that they would say, that they were, to him, rather like the stone
images of the Twelve Apostles in the niches round the West Door. Today
they jumped in a moment into new life. Yesterday he could have calculated
to a nicety the attitude that they would have; now they seemed to have
been blown askew with a new wind. Because he noticed these things it does
not mean that he was generally perceptive. He had always been very sharp
to perceive anything that concerned his own position.
Business proceeded and every one displayed his own especial
characteristics. Nothing arose that concerned Ronder. Every one's personal
opinion about every one else was clearly apparent. It was a fine thing,
for instance, to observe Foster's scorn and contempt whilst Bentinck-Major
explained his little idea about certain little improvements that he, as
Chancellor, might naturally suggest, or Ryle's attitude of goodwill to all
and sundry as he apologised for certain of Brockett's voluntaries and
assured Brandon on one side that "something should be done about it," and
agreed with Bentinck-Major on the other that it was indeed agreeable to
hear sometimes music a little more advanced and original than one usually
found in Cathedrals.
Brandon sniffed something of incipient rebellion in Bentinck-Major's
attitude and looked across the table severely. Bentinck-Major blinked and
nervously examined his nails.
"Of course," said the Archdeacon in his most solemn manner, "there may be
people who wish to turn the Cathedral into a music-hall. I don't say there
_are_, but there _may_ be. In these strange times nothing would
astonish me. In my own humble opinion what was good enough for our fathers
is good enough for us. However, don't let my opinion influence any one."
"I assure you, Archdeacon," said Bentinck-Major. Witheram earnestly
assured every one that he was certain there need be no alarm. They could
trust the Precentor to see.... There was a general murmur. Yes, they
_could_ trust the Precentor.
This little matter being settled, the meeting was very near an agreeable
conclusion and the Dean was beginning to congratulate himself on the early
return to his botany--when, unfortunately, there cropped up the question
of the garden-roller.
This matter of the garden-roller was a simple one enough. The Cathedral
School had some months ago requested the Chapter to allow it to purchase
for itself a new garden-roller. Such an article was seriously needed for
the new cricket-field. It was true that the School already possessed two
garden-rollers, but one of these was very small--"quite a baby one,"
Dennison, the headmaster, explained pathetically--and the other could not
possibly cover all the work that it had to do. The School grounds were
The matter, which was one that mainly concerned the Treasury side of the
Chapter, had been discussed at the last meeting, and there had been a good
deal of argument about it.
Brandon had then vetoed it, not because he cared in the least whether or
no the School had a garden-roller, but because, Hart-Smith having left and
Ronder being not yet with them, he was in charge, for the moment, of the
Cathedral funds. He liked to feel his power, and so he refused as many
things as possible. Had it not been only a temporary glory--had he been
permanent Treasurer--he would in all probability have acted in exactly the
opposite way and allowed everybody to have everything.
"There's the question of the garden-roller," said Witheram, just as the
Dean was about to propose that they should close with a prayer.
"I've got it here on the minutes," said the Chapter Clerk severely.
"Oh, dear, yes," said the Dean, looking about him rather piteously. "Now
what shall we do about it?"
"Let 'em have it," said Foster, glaring across at Brandon and shutting his
mouth like a trap.
This was a direct challenge. Brandon felt his breast charged with the
noble anger that always filled it when Foster said anything.
"I must confess," he said, covering, as he always did when he intended
something to be final, the Dean with his eye, "that I thought that this
was quite definitely settled at last Chapter; I understood--I may of
course have been mistaken--that we considered that we could not afford the
thing and that the School must wait."
"Well, Archdeacon," said the Dean nervously (he knew of old the danger-
signals in Brandon's flashing eyes), "I must confess that I hadn't thought
it _quite_ so definite as that. Certainly we discussed the expense of
"I think the Archdeacon's right," said Bentinck-Major, who wanted to win
his way back to favour after the little mistake about the music. "It was
settled, I think."
"Nothing of the kind," said Foster fiercely. "We settled nothing."
"How does it read on the minutes?" asked the Dean nervously.
"Postponed until the next meeting," said the Clerk.
"At any rate," said Brandon, feeling that this absurd discussion had gone
on quite long enough, "the matter is simple enough. It can be settled
immediately. Any one who has gone into the matter at all closely will have
discovered first that the School doesn't _need_ a roller--they've
enough already--secondly, that the Treasury cannot possibly at the present
moment afford to buy a new one."
"I really must protest, Archdeacon," said Foster, "this is going too far.
In the first place, have you yourself gone into the case?"
Brandon paused before he answered. He felt that all eyes were upon him. He
also felt that Foster had been stirred to a new strength of hostility by
some one--he fancied he knew by whom. Moreover, _had_ he gone into
it? He was aware with a stirring of impatience that he had not. He had
intended to do so, but time had been short, the matter had not seemed of
"I certainly have gone into it," he said, "quite as far as the case
deserves. The facts are clear."
"The facts are _not_ clear," said Foster angrily. "I say that the
School should have this roller and that we are behaving with abominable
meanness in preventing it"; and he banged his fist upon the table.
"If that charge of meanness is intended personally,..." said Brandon
"I assure you, Archdeacon,..." said Ryle. The Dean raised a hand in
"I don't think," he said, "that anything here is ever intended personally.
We must never forget that we are in God's House. Of course, this is an
affair that really should be in the hands of the Treasury. But I'm afraid
that Canon Ronder can hardly be expected in the short time that he's been
with us to have investigated this little matter."
Every one looked at Ronder. There was a pleasant sense of drama in the
affair. Brandon was gazing at the portraits above the table and pretending
to be outside the whole business; in reality, his heart beat angrily. His
word should have been enough, in earlier days _would_ have been.
Everything now was topsy-turvy.
"As a matter of fact," said Ronder, "I _have_ gone into the matter. I
saw that it was one of the most urgent questions on the Agenda.
Unimportant though it may sound, I believe that the School cricket will be
entirely held up this summer if they don't secure their roller. They
intend, I believe, to get a roller by private subscription if we refuse it
to them, and that, gentlemen, would be, I cannot help feeling, rather
ignominious for us. I have been into the question of prices and have
examined some catalogues. I find that the expense of a good garden-roller
is really _not_ a very great one. One that I think the Treasury could
sustain without serious inconvenience...."
"You think then, Canon, that we should allow the roller?" said the Dean.
"I certainly do," said Ronder.
Brandon felt the impression that had been created. He knew that they were
all thinking amongst themselves: "Well, _here's_ an efficient man!"
He burst out:
"I'm afraid that I cannot agree with Canon Ronder. If he will allow me to
say so, he has not been, as yet, long enough in the place to know how
things really stand. I have nothing to say against Dennison, but he has
obviously put his case very plausibly, but those who have known the School
and its methods for many years have perhaps a prior right of judgment over
Canon Ronder, who's known it for so short a time."
"Absurd. Absurd," cried Foster. "It isn't a case of knowing the School.
It's simply a question of whether the Chapter can afford it. Canon Ronder,
who is Treasurer, says that it can. That ought to be enough for anybody."
The atmosphere was now very warm indeed. There was every likelihood of
several gentlemen speaking at once. Witheram looked anxious, Bentinck-
Major malicious, Ryle nervous, Foster triumphant, and Brandon furious.
Only Ronder seemed unconcerned.
The Dean, distress in his heart, raised his hand.
"As there seems to be some difference of opinion in this matter," he said,
"I think we had better vote upon it. Those in favour of the roller being
granted to the School please signify."
Ronder, Foster and Witheram raised their hands.
"And those against?" said the Dean.
Brandon, Ryle and Bentinck-Major were against.
"I'm afraid," said the Dean, smiling anxiously, "that it will be for me to
give the casting vote." He paused for a moment. Then, looking straight
across the table at the Clerk, he said:
"I think I must decide _for_ the roller. Canon Ronder seems to me to
have proved his case."
Every one, except possibly Ronder, was aware that this was the first
occasion for many years that any motion of Brandon's had been defeated....
Without waiting for any further business the Archdeacon gathered together
his papers and, looking neither to right nor left, strode from the room.
The Whispering Gallery
Five O'Clock--The Green Cloud
The cloud seemed to creep like smoke from the funnel of the Cathedral
tower. The sun was setting in a fiery wreath of bubbling haze, shading in
rosy mist the mountains of grey stone. The little cloud, at first in the
shadowy air light green and shaped like a ring, twisted spirally, then,
spreading, washed out and lay like a pool of water against the smoking
Green like the Black Bishop's ring.... Lying there, afterwards, until the
orange had faded and the sky, deserted by the sun, was milk-white. The
mists descended. The Cathedral chimes struck five. February night, cold,
smoke-misted, enwrapped the town.
* * * * *
At a quarter to five Evensong was over and Cobbett was putting out the
candles in the choir. Two figures slowly passed down the darkening nave.
Outside the west door they paused, gazing at the splendour of the fiery
"It's cold, but there'll be stars," Ronder said.
Stars. Cold. Brandon shivered. Something was wrong with him. His heart had
clap-clapped during the Anthem as though a cart with heavy wheels had
rumbled there. He looked suspiciously at Ronder. He did not like the man,
confidently standing there addressing the sky as though he owned it. He
would have liked the sunset for himself.
"Well, good-night, Canon," brusquely. He moved away.
But Ronder followed him.
"One moment, Archdeacon.... Excuse me.... I have been wanting an
Brandon paused. The man was nervous. Brandon liked that.
"Yes?" he said.
The rosy light was fading. Strange that little green cloud rising like
smoke from the tower....
"At the last Chapter we were on opposite sides. I want to say how greatly
I've regretted that. I feel that we don't know one another as we should. I
wonder if you would allow me..."
The light was fading--Ronder's spectacles shone, his body in shadow.
"...to see something more of you--to have a real talk with you?"
Brandon smiled grimly to himself in the dusk. This fool! He was afraid
then. He saw himself hatless in Bennett's shop; outside, the jeering
"I'm afraid, Canon Ronder, that we shall never see eye to eye here about
many things. If you will allow me to say so, you have perhaps not been
here quite long enough to understand the real needs of this diocese. You
must go slowly here--more slowly than perhaps you are prepared for. We are
not Modernists here."
The spectacles, alone visible, answered: "Well, let us discuss it then.
Let us talk things over. Let me ask you at once, Have you something
against me, something that I have done unwittingly? I have fancied lately
a personal note.... I am absurdly sensitive, but if there _is_
anything that I have done, please let me apologise for it. I want you to
Anything that he had done? The Archdeacon smiled grimly to himself in the
"I really don't think, Canon, that talking things over will help us. There
is really nothing to discuss.... Good-night."
The green cloud was gone. Ronder, invisible now, remained in the shadow of
the great door.
Beside the river, above the mill, a woman's body was black against the
gold-crested water. She leaned over the little bridge, her body strong,
confident in its physical strength, her hands clasped, her eyes
No need for secrecy to-night. Her father was in Drymouth for two days.
Quarter to five. The chimes struck out clear across the town. Hearing them
she looked back and saw the sky a flood of red behind the Cathedral. She
longed for Falk to-night, a new longing. He was better than she had
supposed, far, far better. A good boy, tender and warm-hearted. To be
trusted. Her friend. At first he had stood to her only for a means of
freedom. Freedom from this horrible place, from this horrible man, her
father, more horrible than any others knew. Her mother had known. She
shivered, seeing that body, heavy-breasted, dull white, as, stripped to
the waist, he bent over the bed to strike. Her mother's cry, a little
moan.... She shivered again, staring into the sunset for Falk....
He was with her. They leant over the bridge together, his arm around her.
They said very little.
She looked back.
"See that strange cloud? Green. Ever seen a green cloud before? Ah, it's
She turned and looked into his face. As the dusk came down she stroked his
hair. He put his arm round her and held her close to him.
The lamps in the High Street suddenly flaring beat out the sky. There
above the street itself the fiery sunset had not extended; the fair watery
space was pale egg-blue; as the chimes so near at hand struck a quarter to
five the pale colour began slowly to drain away, leaving ashen china
shades behind it, and up to these shades the orange street-lights
extended, patronising, flaunting.
But Joan, pausing for a moment under the Arden Gate before she turned
home, saw the full glory of the sunset. She heard, contending with the
chimes, the last roll of the organ playing the worshippers out of that
mountain of sacrificial stone.
She looked up and saw a green cloud, faintly green like early spring
leafage, curl from the tower smoke-wise; and there, lifting his hat,
pausing at her side, was Johnny St. Leath.
She would have hurried on; she was not happy. Things were _not_ right
at home. Something wrong with father, with mother, with Falk. Something
wrong, too, with herself. She had heard in the town the talk about this
girl who was coming to the Castle for the Jubilee time, coming to marry
Johnny. Coming to marry him because she was rich and handsome. Lovely.
Lady St. Leath was determined....
So she would hurry on, murmuring "Good evening." But he stopped her. His
face was flushed. Andrew heaved eagerly, hungrily, at his side.
"Miss Brandon. Just a moment. I want to speak to you. Lovely evening,
isn't it?...You cut me the other day. Yes, you did. In Orange Street."
She tried to speak coldly.
"We're friends. You know we are. Only in this beastly town no one can be
free.... I only want to tell you if I go away--suddenly--I'm coming back.
Mind that. You're not to believe anything they say--anything that any one
says. I'm coming back. Remember that. We're friends. You must trust me. Do
And he was gone, striding off towards the Cathedral, Andrew panting at his
The light was gone too--going, going, gone.
She stayed for a moment. As she reached her door the wind rose, sifting
through the grass, rising to her chin.
The two figures met, unconsciously, without spoken arrangement, pushed
towards one another by destiny, as they had been meeting now continuously
during the last weeks.
Almost always at this hour; almost always at this place. On the sandy path
in the green hollow below the Cathedral, above the stream, the hollow
under the opposite hill, the hill where the field was, the field where
they had the Fair.
Down into this green depth the sunset could not strike, and the chimes,
telling over so slowly and so sweetly the three-quarters, filtered down
like a memory, a reiteration of an old promise, a melody almost forgotten.
But above her head the woman, looking up, could see the rose change to
orange and could watch the cloud, like a pool of green water, extend and
rest, lying like a sheet of glass behind which the orange gleamed.
They met always thus, she coming from the town as though turning upwards
through the tangled path to her home in the Precincts, he sauntering
slowly, his hands behind his back, as though he had been wandering there
to think out some problem....
Sometimes he did not come, sometimes she could not. They never stayed more
than ten minutes there together. No one from month to month at that hour
crossed that desolate path.
To-day he began impetuously. "If you hadn't come to-night, I think I would
have gone to find you. I had to see you. No, I had nothing to say. Only to
see you. But I am so lonely in that house. I always knew I was lonely--
never more than when I was married--but now.... If I hadn't these ten
minutes most days I'd die, I think...."
They didn't touch one another, but stood opposite gazing, face into face.
"What are we to do?" he said. "It can't be wicked just to meet like this
and to talk a little."
"I'd like you to know," she answered, "that you and my son--you are all I
have in the world. The two of you. And my son has some secret from me.
"I have been so lonely too. But I don't feel lonely any more. Your
friendship for me...."
"Yes, I am your friend. Think of me like that. Your friend from the first
moment I saw you--you so quiet and gentle and unhappy. I realized your
unhappiness instantly. No one else in this place seemed to notice it. I
believe God meant us to be friends, meant me to bring you happiness--a
"Happiness?" she shivered. "Isn't it cold to-night? Do you see that
strange green cloud? Ah, now it is gone. All the light is going.... Do you
believe in God?"
He came closer to her. His hand touched her arm.
"Yes," he answered fiercely. "And He means me to care for you." His hand,
trembling, stroked her arm. She did not move. His hand, shaking, touched
her neck. He bent forward and kissed her neck, her mouth, then her eyes.
She leant her head wearily for an instant on his shoulder, then,
whispering good-night, she turned and went quietly up the path.
Souls on Sunday
I must have been thirteen or fourteen years of age--it may have been
indeed in this very year '97--when I first read Stevenson's story of
_Treasure Island_. It is the fashion, I believe, now with the Clever
Solemn Ones to despise Stevenson as a writer of romantic Tushery,
All the same, if it's realism they want I'm still waiting to see something
more realistic than Pew or Long John Silver. Realism may depend as truly
on a blind man's tap with his stick upon the ground as on any number of
In those young years, thank God, I knew nothing about realism and read the
tale for what it was worth. And it was worth three hundred bags of gold.
Now, on looking back, it seems to me that the spirit that overtook our
town just at this time was very like the spirit that seized upon Dr.
Livesey, young Hawkins and the rest when they discovered the dead
Buccaneer's map. This is no forced parallel. It was with a real sense of
adventure that the Whispering began about the Brandons and Ronder and the
Pybus St. Anthony living and the rest of it. Where did the Whispering
start? Who can ever tell?
Our Polchester Whispering was carried on and fostered very largely by our
servants. As in every village and town in Glebeshire, the intermarrying
that had been going on for generations was astonishing. Every servant-
maid, every errand-boy, every gardener and coachman in Polchester was
cousin, brother or sister to every other servant-maid, errand-boy,
gardener and coachman. They made, these people, a perfect net about our
The things that they carried from house to house, however, were never the
actual things; they were simply the material from which the actual things
were made. Nor was the construction of the actual tale positively
malicious; it was only that our eyes were caught by the drama of life and
we could not help but exclaim with little gasps and cries at the wonderful
excitement of the history that we saw. Our treasure-hunting was simply for
the fun of the thrill of the chase, not at all that we wished harm to a
soul in the world. If, on occasion, a slight hint of maliciousness did
find its place with us, it was only because in this insecure world it is
delightful to reaffirm our own security as we watch our neighbours topple
over. We do not wish them to "topple," but if somebody has got to fall we
would rather it were not ourselves.
Brandon had been for so long so remarkable a figure in our world that the
slightest stir of the colours in his picture was immediately noticeable.
From the moment of Falk's return from Oxford it was expected that
something "would happen."
It often occurs that a situation between a number of people is vague and
indefinite, until a certain moment, often quite undramatic and negative in
itself, arrives, when the situation suddenly fixes itself and stands
forward, set full square to the world, as a definite concrete fact. There
was a certain Sunday in the April of this year that became for the
Archdeacon and a number of other people such a definite crisis--and yet it
might quite reasonably have been said at the end of it that nothing very
much had occurred.
Everything seemed to happen in Polchester on Sundays. For one thing more
talking was done on Sunday than on all the other days of the week
together. Then the Cathedral itself came into its full glory on that day.
Every one gathered there, every one talked to every one else before
parting, and the long spaces and silences and pauses of the day allowed
the comments and the questions and the surmises to grow and swell and
distend into gigantic images before night took every one and stretched
them upon their backs to dream.
What the Archdeacon liked was an "off" Sunday, when he had nothing to do
save to walk majestically into his place in the choir stall, to read,
perhaps, a Lesson, to talk gravely to people who came to have tea with him
after the Sunday Evensong, to reflect lazily, after Sunday supper, his
long legs stretched out in front of him, a pipe in his mouth, upon the
goodness and happiness and splendour of the Cathedral and the world and
his own place in it. Such a Sunday was a perfect thing--and such a Sunday
April 18 ought to have been...alas! it was not so.
It began very early, somewhere about seven in the morning, with a horrible
incident. The rule on Sundays was that the maid knocked at half-past six
on the door and gave the Archdeacon and his wife their tea. The Archdeacon
lay luxuriously drinking it until exactly a quarter to seven, then he
sprang out of bed, had his cold bath, performed his exercises, and shaved
in his little dressing-room. At about a quarter past seven, nearly
dressed, he returned into the bedroom, to find Mrs. Brandon also nearly
dressed. On this particular day while he drank his tea his wife appeared
to be sleeping; that did not make him bound out of bed any the less
noisily-after twenty years of married life you do not worry about such
things; moreover it was quite time that his wife bestirred herself. At a
quarter past seven he came into the bedroom in his shirt and trousers,
humming "Onward, Christian Soldiers." It was a fine spring morning, so he
flung up the window and looked out into the Precinct, fresh and dewy in
the morning sun, silent save for the inquisitive reiteration of an early
jackdaw. Then he turned back, and, to his amazement, saw that his wife was
lying, her eyes wide open, staring in front of her.
"My dear!" he cried. "Aren't you well?"
"I'm perfectly well," she answered him, her eyes maintaining their fixed
stare. The tone in which she said these words was quite new--it was not
submissive, it was not defensive, it was indifferent.
She must be ill. He came close to the bed.
"Do you realise the time?" he asked. "Twenty minutes past seven. I'm sure
you don't want to keep me waiting."
She didn't answer him. Certainly she must be ill. There was something
strange about her eyes.
"You _must_ be ill," he repeated. "You look ill. Why didn't you say
so? Have you got a headache?"
"I'm not ill. I haven't got a headache, and I'm not coming to Early
"You're not ill, and you're not coming..." he stammered in his amazement.
"You've forgotten. There isn't late Celebration."
She gave him no answer, but turned on her side, closing her eyes.
He came right up to the bed, frowning down upon her.
"Amy--what does this mean? You're not ill, and yet you're not coming to
Celebration? Why? I insist upon an answer."
She said nothing.
He felt that anger, of which he had tried now for many years to beware,
flooding his throat.
With tremendous self-control he said quietly: "What is the matter with
you, Amy? You must tell me at once."
She did not open her eyes but said in a voice so low that he scarcely
caught the words:
"There is nothing the matter. I am not ill, and I'm not coming to Early
"Because I don't wish to go."
For a moment he thought that he was going to bend down and lift her bodily
out of bed. His limbs felt as though they were prepared for such an
But to his own surprised amazement he did nothing, he said nothing. He
looked at the bed, at the hollow where his head had been, at her head with
her black hair scattered on the pillow, at her closed eyes, then he went
away into his dressing-room. When he had finished dressing he came back
into the bedroom, looked across at her, motionless, her eyes still closed,
lying on her side, felt the silence of the room, the house, the Precincts
broken only by the impertinent jackdaw.
He went downstairs.
Throughout the Early Celebration he remained in a condition of amazed
bewilderment. From his position just above the altar-rails he could see
very clearly the Bishop's Tomb; the morning sun reflected in purple
colours from the East window played upon its blue stone. It caught the
green ring and flashed splashes of fire from its heart. His mind went back
to that day, not so very long ago, when, with triumphant happiness, he had
seemed to share in the Bishop's spirit, to be dust of his dust, and bone
of his bone. That had been the very day, he remembered, of Falk's return
from Oxford. Since that day everything had gone wrong for him--Falk, the
Elephant, Ronder, Foster, the Chapter. And now his wife! Never in all the
years of his married life had she spoken to him as she had done that
morning. She must be on the edge of a serious illness, a very serious
illness. Strangely a new concern for her, a concern that he had never felt
in his life before, arose in his heart. Poor Amy--and how tiresome if she
were ill, the house all at sixes and sevens! With a shock he realised that
his mind was not devotional. He swung himself back to the service, looking
down benevolently upon the two rows of people waiting patiently to come in
their turn to the altar steps.
At breakfast, however, there Mrs. Brandon was, looking quite her usual
self, in the Sunday dress of grey silk, making the tea, quiet as she
always was, answering questions submissively, patiently, "as the wife of
an Archdeacon should." He tried to show her by his manner that he had been
deeply shocked, but, unfortunately, he had been shocked, annoyed,
indignant on so many occasions when there had been no real need for it,
that to-day, when there was the occasion, he felt that he made no
The bells pealed for morning service, the sun shone; as half-past ten
approached, little groups of people crossed the Precincts and vanished
into the mouth of the great West door. Now were Lawrence and Cobbett in
their true glory--Lawrence was in his fine purple robe, the Sunday silk
one. He stood at the far end of the nave, just under the choir-screen,
waiting for the aristocracy, for whom the front seats were guarded with
cords which only he might untie. How deeply pleased he was when some
unfortunate stranger, ignorant in the ways of the Cathedral, walked, with
startling clatter, up the whole length of the shining nave and endeavoured
to penetrate one of these sacred defences! Majestically--staff in hand, he
came forward, shook his snow-white head, looking down upon the intrusive
one more in sorrow than in anger, spoke no word, but motioned the audacity
back down the nave again to the place where Cobbett officiated. Back,
clatter, clatter, blushing and confused, the stranger retreated, watched,
as it seemed to him, by a thousand sarcastic and cynical eyes. The bells
slipped from their jangling peal into a solemn single note. The Mere
People were in their places at the back of the nave, the Great Ones
leaving their entrance until the very last moment. There was a light in
the organ-loft; very softly Brockett began his voluntary--clatter,
clatter, clatter, and the School arrived, the small boys, swallowed by
their Eton collars, first, filing into their places to the right of the
screen, then the middle boys, a little indifferent and careless, then the
Fifth and Sixth in their "stick-up" collars, haughty and indifferent
Dimly, on the other side of the screen, the School boys in their surplices
could be seen settling into their places between the choir and the altar.
A rustling of skirts, and the aristocracy entered in ones and twos from
the side doors that opened out of the Cloisters. For some of them--for a
very few--Lawrence had his confidential smile. For Mrs. Sampson, for
instance--for Mrs. Combermere, for Mrs. Ryle and Mrs. Brandon.
A very special one for Mrs. Brandon because of his high opinion of her
husband. She was nothing very much--"a mean little woman," he thought her
--but the Archdeacon had married her. That was enough.
Joan was with her, conscious that every one must be noticing her-the
D'Arcy girls and Cynthia Ryle and Gladys Sampson, they would all be
looking and criticising. Hustle, rustle, rustle--here was an event indeed!
Lady St. Leath was come, and with her in attendance Johnny and Hetty.
Lawrence hurried forward, disregarding Mrs. Brandon, who was compelled to
undo her cord for herself. He led Lady St. Leath forward with a ceremony,
a dignity, that was marvellous to see. She moved behind him as though she
owned the Cathedral, or rather could have owned it had she thought it
worth her while. All the little boys in the Upper Third and Lower Fourth
turned their necks in their Eton collars and watched. What a bonnet she
was wearing! All the colours of the rainbow, odd, indeed, perched there on
the top of her untidy white hair!
Every one settled down; the voluntary was louder, the single note of the
bell suddenly more urgent. Ladies looked about them. Ellen Stiles saw Miss
Dobell--smile, smile. Joan saw Cynthia Ryle--smile, smile. Lawrence, with
the expression of the Angel Gabriel waiting to admit into heaven a new
troop of repentant sinners, stood expectant. The sun filtered in dusty
ladders of coloured light and fell in squares upon the empty spaces of the
The bell suddenly ceased, a long melodious and melancholy "Amen" came from
somewhere far away in the purple shadow. Every one moved; a noise like a
little uncertain breeze blew through the Cathedral as the congregation
rose; then the choir filed through, the boys, the men, the Precentor, old
Canon Morphew and older Canon Batholomew, Canon Rogers, his face bitter
and discontented, Canon Foster, Bentinck-Major, last of all, Archdeacon
Brandon. They had filed into their places in the choir, they were
kneeling, the Precentor's voice rang out....
The familiar sound of Canon Ryle's voice recalled Mrs. Brandon to time and
place. She was kneeling, her gloved hands pressed close to her face. She
was looking into thick dense darkness, a darkness penetrated with the
strong scent of Russia leather and the faint musty smell that always
seemed to rise from the Cathedral hassocks and the woodwork upon which she
leant. Until Ryle's voice roused her she had been swimming in space and
eternity; behind her, like a little boat bobbing distressfully in her
track, was the scene of that early morning with which that day had opened.
She saw herself, as it were, the body of some quite other woman, lying in
that so familiar bedroom and saying "No"--saying it again and again and
again. "No. No. No."
Why had she said "No," and was it not in reality another woman who had
said it, and why had he been so quiet? It was not his way. There had been
no storm. She shivered a little behind her gloves.
"Dearly beloved brethren," began the Precentor, pleading, impersonal.
Slowly her brain, like a little dark fish striking up from deep green
waters, rose to the surface of her consciousness. What she was then most
surely aware of was that she was on the very edge of something; it was a
quite physical sensation, as though she had been walking over mist-soaked
downs and had suddenly hesitated, to find herself looking down along the
precipitances of jagged black rock. It was "jagged black rock" over which
she was now peering.
The two sides of the choir were now rivalling one another over the psalms,
hurling verses at one another with breathless speed, as though they said:
"Here's the ball. Catch. Oh, you _are_ slow!"
In just that way across the field of Amy Brandon's consciousness two
voices were shouting at one another.
One cried: "See what she's in for, the foolish woman! She's not up to it.
It will finish her."
And the other answered: "Well, she is in for it! So it's no use warning
her any longer. She wants it. She's going to have it."
And the first repeated: "It never pays! It never pays! It never pays!"
And the second replied: "No, but nothing can stop her now. Nothing!"
Could nothing stop her? Behind the intricacies of one of Smart's most
elaborate "Te Deums," with clenched hands and little shivers of
apprehension, she fought a poor little battle.
"We praise Thee, O God. We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord...."
"The goodly fellowship of the prophets praise Thee...." A boy's voice
rose, "Thou did'st not abhor the Virgin's womb...."
Let her step back now while there was yet time. She had her children. She
had Talk. Falk! She looked around her, almost expecting him to be at her
side, although she well knew that he had long ago abandoned the Cathedral
services. Ah, it wasn't fair! If only he loved her, if only any one loved
her, any one whom she herself could love. If any one wanted her!
Lawrence was waiting, his back turned to the nave. As the last words of
the "Te Deum" rose into a shout of triumphant confidence he turned and
solemnly, his staff raised, advanced, Archdeacon Brandon behind him. Now,
as always, a little giggle of appreciation ran down the nave as the
Archdeacon marched forward to the Lectern. The tourists whispered and
asked one another who thai fine-looking man was. They craned their necks
into the aisle. And he _did_ look fine, his head up, his shoulders
back, his grave dignity graciously at their service. At their service and
The sight of her husband inflamed Mrs. Brandon. She stared at him as
though she were seeing him for the first time, but in reality she was not
seeing him as he was now, but rather as he had been that morning bending
over her bed in his shirt and trousers. That movement that he had made as
though he would lift her bodily out of the bed.
She closed her eyes. His fine rich voice came to her from a long way off.
Let him boom as loudly as he pleased, he could not touch her any more. She
had escaped, and for ever. She saw, then, Morris as she had seen him at
that tea-party months ago. She recovered that strange sense that she had
had (and that he had had too, as she knew) of being carried out right away
from one's body into an atmosphere of fire and heat and sudden cold. They
had no more been able to avoid that look that they had exchanged than they
had been able to escape being born. Let it then stay at that. She wanted
nothing more than that. Only that look must be exchanged again. She was
hungry, starving for it. She _must_ see him often, continually. She
must be able to look at him, touch the sleeve of his coat, hear his voice.
She must be able to do things for him, little simple things that no one
else could do. She wanted no more than that. Only to be near to him and to
see that he was cared for...looked after. Surely that was not wrong. No
one could say....
Little shivers ran continually about her body, and her hands, clenched
tightly, were damp within her gloves.
The Precentor gave out the words of the Anthem, "Little children, love one
Every one rose--save Lady St. Leath, who settled herself magnificently in
her seat and looked about her as though she challenged anybody to tell her
that she was wrong to do so.
Yes, that was all Amy Brandon wanted. Who could say that she was wrong to
want it? The little battle was concluded.
Old Canon Foster was preaching to-day. Always at the conclusion of the
Anthem certain ruffians, visitors, tourists, clattered out. No sermon for
them. They did not matter very greatly because they were far away at the
back of the nave, and nobody need look at them; but on Foster's preaching
days certain of the aristocracy also retired, and this was disconcerting
because their seats were prominent ones and their dresses were of silk.
Often Lady St. Leath was one of these, but to-day she was sunk into a kind
of stupor and did not move. Mrs. Combermere, Ellen Stiles and Mrs. Sampson
were the guilty ones.
Rustle of their dresses, the heavy flop of the side Cloister door as it
closed behind them, and then silence once more and the thin angry voice of
Canon Foster, "Let us pray."
Out in the grey Cloisters it was charming. The mild April sun flooded the
square of grass that lay in the middle of the thick rounded pillars like a
floor of bright green glass.
The ladies stood for a moment looking out into the sunny silence. The
Cathedral was hushed behind them; Ellen Stiles was looking very gay and
very hideous in a large hat stifled with flowers, set sideways on her
head, and a bright purple silk dress pulled in tightly at the waist,
rising to high puffed shoulders. Her figure was not suited to the fashion
of the day.
Mrs. Sampson explained that she was suffering from one of the worst of her
nervous headaches and that she could not have endured the service another
moment. Miss Stiles was all eager solicitude.
"I _am_ so sorry. I know how you are when you get one of those
things. Nothing does it any good, does it? I know you've tried everything,
and it simply goes on for days and days, getting worse and worse. And the
really terrible part of them is that, with you, they seem to be
constitutional. No doctors can do anything--when they're constitutional.
There you are for the rest of your days!"
Mrs. Sampson gave a little shiver.
"I must say, Dr. Puddifoot seems to be very little use," she moaned.
"Oh! Puddifoot!" Miss Stiles was contemptuous. "He's past his work. That's
one comfort about this place. If any one's ill he dies. No false hopes. At
least, we know where we are."
They walked through the Martyr's Passage out into the full sunlight of the
"What a jolly day!" said Mrs. Combermere, "I shall take my dogs for a
walk. By the way, Ellen," she turned round to her friend, "how did Miss
Burnett's tea-party go? I haven't seen you since."
"Oh, it was too funny!" Miss Stiles giggled. "You never saw such a
mixture, and I don't think Miss Burnett knew who any one was. Not that she
had much time to think, poor dear, she was so worried with the tea. Such a
maid as she had you never saw!"
"A mixture?" asked Mrs. Combermere. "Who were they?"
"Oh, Canon Ronder and Bentinck-Major and Mrs. Brandon and--Oh, yes!
actually Falk Brandon!"
"Falk Brandon there?"
"Yes, wasn't it the strangest thing. I shouldn't have thought he'd have
had time--However, you told me not to, so I won't--"
"Who did you talk to?"
"I talked to Miss Burnett most of the time. I tried to cheer her up. No
one else paid the least attention to her."
"She's a very stupid person, it seems to me," Mrs. Sampson murmured. "But
of course I know her very slightly."
"Stupid!" Miss Stiles laughed. "Why, she hasn't an idea in her head. I
don't believe that she knows it's Jubilee Year. Positively!"
A little wind blew sportively around Miss Stiles' large hat. They all
"The funny thing was--" Miss Stiles paused and looked apprehensively at
Mrs. Combermere. "I know you don't like scandal, but of course this isn't
scandal--there's nothing in it--"
"Come on, Ellen. Out with it," said Mrs. Combermere.
"Well, Mrs. Brandon and Mr. Morris. I caught the oddest look between
"Look! What do you mean?" asked Mrs. Combermere sharply. Mrs. Sampson
stood still, her mouth a little open, forgetting her neuralgia.
"Of course it was nothing. All the same, they were standing at the window
saying something, looking at one another, well, positively as though they
had known one another intimately for years. I assure you--"
Mrs. Combermere turned upon her. "Of all the nasty minds in this town,
Ellen, you have the nastiest. I've told you so before. People can't even
look at one another now. Why, you might as well say that I'd been gazing
at your Ronder when he came to tea the other day."
"Perhaps I shall," said Miss Stiles, laughing. "It would be a delightful
story to spread. Seriously, why not make a match of it? You'd just suit
"Once is enough for me in a life-time," said Mrs. Combermere grimly. "Now,
Ellen, come along. No more mischief. Leave poor little Morris alone."
"Mrs. Brandon and Mr. Morris!" repeated Mrs. Sampson, her eyes wide open.
"Well, I do declare."
The ladies separated, and the Precincts was abandoned for a time to its
beautiful Sunday peace and calm.
The May-day Prologue
May is the finest month of all the year in Glebeshire. The days are warm
but not too hot; the sky is blue but not too blue, the air is soft but
with a touch of sharpness The valleys are pressed down and overflowing
with flowers; the cuckoo cries across the glassy waters of blue harbours,
and the gorse is honey-scented among the rocks.
May-day in Polchester this year was warm and bright, with a persistent
cuckoo somewhere in the Dean's garden, and a very shrill-voiced canary in
Miss Dobell's open window. The citizens of Polchester were suddenly aware
that summer was close upon them. Doors were flung open and the gardens
sinuously watered, summer clothes were dragged from their long confinement
and anxiously overlooked, Mr. Martin, the stationer, hung a row of his
coloured Polchester views along a string across his window, the dark,
covered ways of the market-place quivered and shone with pots of spring
flowers, and old Simon's water-cart made its first trembling and shaking
appearance down the High Street.
All this was well enough and customary enough, but what marked this spring
from any other spring that had ever been was that it was Jubilee Year. It
was on this warm May-day that Polchester people realised suddenly that the
Jubilee was not far away. The event had not quite the excitement and
novelty that the Jubilee of 1887 had had; there was, perhaps, in London
and the larger towns, something of a sense of repetition. But Polchester
was far from the general highway and, although the picture of the
wonderful old lady, now nearly eighty years of age, was strong before
every one's vision, there was a deep determination to make this year's
celebration a great Polchester affair, to make it the celebration of
Polchester men and Polchester history and Polchester progress.
The programme had been long arranged--the great Service in the Cathedral,
the Ball in the Assembly Rooms, the Flower Show in the St. Leath Castle
grounds, the Torchlight Procession, the Croquet Tournament, the School-
children's Tea and the School Cricket-match. A fine programme, and the
Jubilee Committee, with the Bishop, the Mayor, and the Countess of St.
Leath for its presidents, had already held several meetings.
Nevertheless, Glebeshire has a rather languishing climate. Polchester has
been called by its critics "a lazy town," and it must be confessed that
everything in connection with the Jubilee had been jogging along very
sleepily until of a sudden this warm May-day arrived, and every one sprang
into action. The Mayor called a meeting of the town branch of the
Committee, and the Bishop out at Carpledon summoned his ecclesiastics, and
Joan found a note from Gladys Sampson beckoning her to the Sampson house
to do her share of the glorious work. It had been decided by the Higher
Powers that it would be a charming thing for some of the younger
Polchester ladies to have in charge the working of two of the flags that
were to decorate the Assembly Room walls on the night of the Ball. Gladys
Sampson, who, unlike her mother, never suffered from headaches, and was a
strong, determined, rather masculine girl, soon had the affair in hand,
and the party was summoned.
I would not like to say that Polchester had a more snobbish spirit than
other Cathedral towns, but there is no doubt that, thirty years ago, the
lines were drawn very clearly indeed between the "Cathedral" and the
"Cathedral" included not only the daughters of the Canons and what Mr.
Martin, in his little town guide-book, called "General Ecclesiastical
Phenomena," but also the two daughters of Puddifoot's sister, Grace and
Annie Trudon; the three daughters of Roger McKenzie, the town lawyer;
little Betty Callender, the only child of old, red-faced Major Callender;
Mary and Amy Forrester, daughters of old Admiral Forrester; and, of
course, the St. Leath girls.
When Joan arrived, then, in the Deanery dining-room there was a fine
gathering. Very unsophisticated they would all have been considered by the
present generation. Lady Rose and Lady Mary, who were both of them nearer
forty than thirty, had of course had some experience of London, and had
been even to Paris and Rome. Of the "Others," at this time, only Betty
Callender, who had been born in India, and the Forresters had been
farther, in all their lives, than Drymouth. Their lives were bound, and
happily bound, by the Polchester horizon. They lived in and for and by the
local excitements, talks, croquet, bicycling (under proper guardianship),
Rafiel or Buquay or Clinton in the summer, and the occasional (very, very
occasional) performances of amateur theatricals in the Assembly Rooms.
Moreover, they were happy and contented and healthy. For many of them
_Jane Eyre_ was still a forbidden book and a railway train a
Polchester was the world and the world was Polchester. They were at least
a century nearer to Jane Austen's day than they were to George the
Joan saw, with relief, so soon as she entered the room, that the St. Leath
women were absent. They overawed her and were so much older than the
others there that they brought constraint with them and embarrassment.
Any stranger, coming suddenly into the room, must have felt its light and
gaiety and happiness. The high wide dining-room windows were open and
looked, over sloping lawns, down to the Pol and up again to the woods
beyond. The trees were faintly purple in the spring sun, daffodils were
nodding on the lawn and little gossamer clouds of pale orange floated like
feathers across the sky. The large dining-room table was cleared for
action, and Gladys Sampson, very serious and important, stood at the far
end of the room under a very bad oil-painting of her father, directing
operations. The girls were dressed for the most part in white muslin
frocks, high in the shoulders and pulled in at the waist and tight round
the neck--only the McKenzie girls, who rode to hounds and played tennis
beautifully and had, all three of them, faces of glazed red brick, were
clad in the heavy Harris tweeds that were just then beginning to be so
Joan, who only a month or two ago would have been devoured with shyness at
penetrating the fastnesses of the Sampson dining-room, now felt no shyness
whatever but nodded quite casually to Gladys, smiled at the McKenzies, and
found a place between Cynthia Ryle and Jane D'Arcy.
They all sat, bathed in the sunshine, and looked at Gladys Sampson. She
cleared her throat and said in her pounding heavy voice--her voice was
created for Committees: "Now all of you know what we're here for. We're
here to make two banners for the Assembly Rooms and we've got to do our
very best. We haven't got a great deal of time between now and June the
Twentieth, so we must work, and I propose that we come here every Tuesday
and Friday afternoon, and when I say _here_ I mean somebody or
other's house, because of course it won't be always here. There's cutting
up to do and sewing and plenty of work really for everybody, because when
the banners are done there are the flags for the school-children. Now if
any one has any suggestions to make I shall be very glad to hear them."
There was at first no reply to this and every one smiled and looked at the
portrait of the Dean. Then one of the McKenzie girls remarked in a deep
"That's all right, Gladys. But who's going to decide who does what? Very
decent of you to ask us but we're not much in the sewing line--never have
"Oh," said Gladys, "I've got people's names down for the different things
they're to do and any one whom it doesn't suit has only got to speak up."
Soon the material was distributed and groups were formed round the room. A
chatter arose like the murmur of bees. The sun as it sank lower behind the
woods turned them to dark crimson and the river pale grey. The sun fell
now in burning patches and squares across the room and the dim yellow
blinds were pulled half-way across the windows. With this the room was
shaded into a strong coloured twilight and the white frocks shone as
though seen through glass. The air grew cold beyond the open windows, but
the room was warm with the heat that the walls had stolen and stored from
Joan sat with Jane D'Arcy and Betty Callender. She was very happy to be at
rest there; she felt secure and safe. Because in truth during these last
weeks life had been increasingly difficult--difficult not only because it
had become, of late, so new and so strange, but also because she could not
tell what was happening. Family life had indeed become of late a mystery,
and behind the mystery there was a dim sense of apprehension, apprehension
that she had never felt in all her days before. As she sank into the
tranquillity of the golden afternoon glow, with the soft white silk
passing to and fro in her bands, she tried to realise for herself what had
been occurring. Her father was, on the whole, simple enough. He was
beginning to suffer yet again from one of his awful obsessions. Since the
hour of her earliest childhood she had watched these obsessions and
There had been so many, big ones and little ones. Now the Government, now
the Dean, now the Town Council, now the Chapter, now the Choir, now some
rude letter, now some impertinent article in a paper. Like wild fierce
animals these things had from their dark thickets leapt out upon him, and
he had proceeded to wrestle with them in the full presence of his family.
Always, at last, he had been, victorious over them, the triumph had been
publicly announced, "Te Deums" sung, and for a time there had been peace.
It was some while since the last obsession, some ridiculous action about
drainage on the part of the Town Council. But the new one threatened to
make up in full for the length of that interval.
Only just before Falk's unexpected return from Oxford Joan had been
congratulating herself on her father's happiness and peace of mind. She
might have known the omens of that dangerous quiet. On the very day of
Falk's arrival Canon Ronder had arrived too.
Canon Ronder! How Joan was beginning to detest the very sound of the name!
She had hated the man himself as soon as she had set eyes upon him. She
had scented, in some instinctive way, the trouble that lay behind those
large round glasses and that broad indulgent smile. But now! Now they were
having the name "Ronder" with their breakfast, their dinner, and their
tea. Into everything apparently his fat fingers were inserted; her father
saw his rounded shadow behind every door, his rosy cheeks at every window.
And yet it was very difficult to discover what exactly it was that he had
done! Now, whatever it might be that went wrong in the Brandon house, in
the Cathedral, in the town, her father was certain that Ronder was
responsible,--but proof. Well, there wasn't any. And it was precisely
this absence of proof that built up the obsession.
Everywhere that Ronder went he spoke enthusiastically about the
Archdeacon. These compliments came back to Joan again and again. "If
there's one man in this town I admire----" "What would this town be
without----" "We're lucky, indeed, to have the Archdeacon----" And yet was
there not behind all these things a laugh, a jest, a mocking tone,
something that belonged in spirit to that horrible day when the elephant
had trodden upon her father's hat?
She loved her father, and she loved him twice as dearly since one night
when on driving up to the Castle he had held her hand. But now the
obsession had killed the possibility of any tenderness between them; she
longed to be able to do something that would show him how strongly she was
his partisan, to insult Canon Ronder in the market-place, to turn her back
when he spoke to her--and, at the same time, intermingled with this hot
championship was irritation that her father should allow himself to be
obsessed by this. He who was so far greater than a million Ronders!
The situation in the Brandon family had not been made any easier by Falk's
strange liking for the man. Joan did not pretend that she understood her
brother or had ever been in any way close to him. When she had been little
he had seemed to be so infinitely above her as to be in another world, and
now that they seemed almost of an age he was strange to her like some one
of foreign blood. She knew that she did not count in his scheme of life at
all, that he never thought of her nor wanted her. She did not mind that,
and even now she would have been tranquil about him had it not been for
her mother's anxiety. She could not but see how during the last weeks her
mother had watched every step that Falk took, her eyes always searching
his face as though he were keeping some secret from her. To Joan, who
never believed that people could plot and plan and lead double lives, this
all seemed unnatural and exaggerated.
But she knew well enough that her mother had never attempted to give her
any of her confidence. Everything at home, in short, was difficult and
confused. Nobody was happy, nobody was natural. Even her own private
history, if she looked into it too closely, did not show her any very
optimistic colours. She had not seen Johnny St. Leath now for a fortnight,
nor heard from him, and those precious words under the Arden Gate one
evening were beginning already to appear a dim unsubstantial dream.
However, if there was one quality that Joan Brandon possessed in excess of
all others, it was a simple fidelity to the cause or person in front of
Her doubts came simply from the wonder as to whether she had not concluded
too much from his words and built upon them too fairy-like a castle.
With a gesture she flung all her wonders and troubles out upon the gold-
swept lawn and trained all her attention to the chatter among the girls
around her. She admired Jane D'Arcy very much; she was so "elegant."
Everything that Jane wore became her slim straight body, and her pale
pointed face was always a little languid in expression, as though daily
life were an exhausting affair and not intended for superior persons. She
had been told, from a very early day, that her voice was "low and
musical," so she always spoke in whispers which gave her thoughts an
importance that they might not otherwise have possessed. Very different
was little Betty Callender, round and rosy like an apple, with freckles on
her nose and bright blue eyes. She laughed a great deal and liked to agree
with everything that any one said.
"If you ask me," said Jane in her fascinating whisper, "there's a lot of
nonsense about this old Jubilee."
"Oh, do you think so?" said Joan.
"Yes. Old Victoria's been on the throne long enough, 'Tis time we had
Joan was very much shocked by this and said so.
"I don't think we ought to be governed by _old_ people," said Jane.
"Every one over seventy ought to be buried whether they wish it or no."
Joan laughed aloud.
"Of course they wouldn't wish it," she said.
Laughter came, now here, now there, from different parts of the room.
Every one was very gay from the triple sense that they were the elect of
Polchester, that they were doing important work, and that summer was
Jane D'Arcy tossed her head.
"Father says that perhaps he'll be taking us to London for it," she
"I wouldn't go if any one offered me," said Joan. "It's Polchester I want
to see it at, not London. Of course I'd love to see the Queen, but it
would probably be only for a moment, and all the rest would be horrible
crowds with nobody knowing you. While here! Oh! it will be lovely!"
Jane smiled. "Poor child. Of course you know nothing about London. How
should you? Give me a week in London and you can have your old Polchester
for ever. What ever happens in Polchester? Silly old croquet parties and a
dance in the Assembly Rooms. And _never_ any one new."
"Well, there _is_ some one new," said Betty Callender, "I saw her
"Her? Who?" asked Jane, with the scorn of one who has already made up her
mind to despise.
"I was with mother going through the market and Lady St. Leath came by in
an open carriage. She was with her. Mother says she's a Miss Daubeney from
London--and oh! she's perfectly lovely! and mother says she's to marry
Lord St. Leath----"
"Oh! I heard she was coming," said Jane, still scornfully. "How silly you
are, Betty! You think any one lovely if she comes from London."
"No, but she was," insisted Betty, "mother said so too, and she had a blue
silk parasol, and she was just sweet. Lord St. Leath was in the carriage
"Poor Johnny!" said Jane. "He always has to do just what that horrible old
mother of his tells him."
Joan had listened to this little dialogue with what bravery she could.
Doom then had been pronounced? Sentence had fallen? Miss Daubeney had
arrived. She could hear the old Countess' voice again. "Claire Daubeney-
Monteagle's daughter--such, a nice girl--Johnny's friend-----"
Johnny's friend! Of course she was. Nothing could show to Joan more
clearly the difference between Joan's world and the St. Leath world than
the arrival of this lovely stranger. Although Mme. Sarah Grand and others
were at this very moment forcing that strange figure, the New Woman, upon
a reluctant world, Joan belonged most distinctly to the earlier
generation. She trembled at the thought of any publicity, of any thrusting
herself forward, of any, even momentary, rebellion against her position.
Of course Johnny belonged to this beautiful creature; she had always
known, in her heart, that her dream was an impossible one. Nevertheless
the room, the sunlight, the white dresses, the long shining table, the
coloured silks and ribbons, swam in confusion around her. She was suddenly
miserable. Her hands shook and her upper lip trembled. She had a strange
illogical desire to go out and find Miss Daubeney and snatch her blue
parasol from her startled hands and stamp upon it.
"Well," said Jane, "I don't envy any one who marries Johnny--to be shut up
in that house with all those old women!"
Betty shook her head very solemnly and tried to look older than her years.
The afternoon was drawing on. Gladys came across and closed the windows.
"I think that's about enough to-day," she said. "Now we'll have tea."
Joan's great desire was to slip away and go home. She put her work on the
table, fetched her coat from the other end of the room.
Gladys stopped her. "Don't go, Joan. You must have tea."
"I promised mother-----" she said.
The door opened. She turned and found herself close to the Dean and Canon
The Dean came forward, nervously rubbing his hands together as was his
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