Part 2 out of 3
"But talking of fire, Burnes, I find that I can insure at a much cheaper
rate at Lloyds' than at most of the offices. I find that I shall make a
saving of L20 a-year."
"That's worth thinking about, sir."
While the young squire talked to his bailiff Kitty fed her rooks. They
cawed, and flew to her hand for the scraps of meat. The coachman came
to speak about oats and straw. They went to the stables. Kitty adored
horses, it amused John to see her pat them, and her vivacity and
light-heartedness rather pleased him than otherwise.
Nevertheless, during the whole of the following week the ladies held
little communication with John. He lived apart from them. In the
mornings he went out with his bailiffs to inspect farms and consult
about possible improvement and necessary repairs. He had appointments
with his solicitor. There were accounts to be gone through. He never
paid a bill without verifying every item. It was difficult to say what
should be done with a farm for which a tenant could not be found even
at a reduced rent. At four o'clock he came into tea, his head full of
calculations of such a complex character that even his mother could not
follow the different statements to his satisfaction. When she disagreed
with him, he took up the "Epistles of St Columban of Bangor," the
"Epistola ad Sethum," or the celebrated poem, "Epistola ad Fedolium,"
written when the saint was seventy-two, and continued his reading,
making copious notes in a pocket-book. To do so he drew his chair close
to the library fire, and when Kitty came quickly into the room with a
flutter of skirts and a sound of laughter, he awoke from contemplation,
and her singing as she ascended the stairs jarred the dreams of cloister
and choir which mounted from the pages to his brain in clear and
On the third of November Mrs Norton announced that the meet of the
hounds had been fixed for the fifteenth, and that there would be a hunt
"Oh, my dear mother! you don't mean that they are coming here to lunch!"
"For the last twenty years all our side of the county has been in the
habit of coming here to lunch, but of course you can shut your doors to
all your friends and acquaintances. No doubt they will think you have
come down here on purpose to insult them."
"Insult them! why should I insult them? I haven't seen them since I was
a boy. I remember that the hunt breakfast used to go on all day long.
Every woman in the county used to come, and they used to stay to tea,
and you used to insist on a great number remaining to supper."
"Well, you can put a stop to all that now that you have consented to
come to Thornby Place, only I hope you don't expect me to remain here to
see my friends insulted."
"But just think of the expense! and in these bad times. You know I
cannot find a tenant for the Woreington farm. I am afraid I shall have
to provide the capital and farm it myself. Now, in the face of such
losses, don't you think that we should retrench?"
"Retrench! A few fowls and rounds of beef! You don't think of retrenching
when you present Stanton College with a stained glass window that costs
five hundred pounds."
"Of course, if you like it, mother..."
"I like nothing but what you like, but I really think that for you to
put down the hunt breakfast the first time you honour us with a visit,
would look very much as if you intended to insult the whole county."
"It will be a day of misery for me!" replied John, laughing; "but I
daresay I shall live through it."
"I think you will like it very much," said Kitty. "There will be a lot
of pretty girls here: the Misses Green are coming from Worthing; the
eldest is such a pretty girl, you are sure to admire her. And the hounds
and horses look so beautiful."
Mrs Norton and Kitty spoke daily of invitations, and later on of cooking
and the various things that were wanted. John continued to go through
his accounts in the morning, and to read monkish Latin in the evening;
but he was secretly nervous, and he dreaded the approaching day.
He was called an hour earlier--eight o'clock; he drank a cup of cold tea
and ate a piece of dry toast in a back room. The dining-room was full
of servants, who laid out a long table rich with comestibles and
glittering with glass. Mrs Norton and Kitty were upstairs dressing.
He wandered into the drawing-room and viewed the dead, cumbrous
furniture; the two cabinets bright with brass and veneer. He stood at
the window staring. It was raining. The yellow of the falling leaves was
hidden in the grey mist. It ceased to rain. "This weather will keep many
away; so much the better; there will be too many as it is. I wonder who
this can be." A melancholy brougham passed up the drive. There were
three old maids, all looking sweetly alike; one was a cripple who walked
with crutches, and her smile was the best and the gayest imaginable
"How little material welfare has to do with our happiness," thought
John. "There is one whose path is the narrowest, and she is happier and
better than I." And then the three sweet old maids talked with their
cousin of the weather; and they all wondered--a sweet feminine
wonderment--if he would see a girl that day whom he would marry.
Presently the house was full of people. The passage was full of girls; a
few men sat at breakfast at the end of the long table. Some red coats
passed across the green glare of the park, and the hounds trotted about
a single horseman. Voices. "Oh! how sweet they look! oh, the dear dogs!"
The huntsman stopped in front of the house, the hounds sniffed here
and there, the whips trotted their horses and drove them back. "Get
together, get together; get back there; Woodland, Beauty, come up here."
The hounds rolled on the grass, and leaned their fore-paws on the
railings, willing to be caressed.
"How sweet they are, look at their soft eyes," cried an old lady whose
deity was a pug, and whose back garden reeked of the tropics. "Look how
good and kind they are; they would not hurt anything; it is only wicked
men who teach them to be ..." The old lady hesitated before the word
"bad," and murmured something about killing.
There was a lady with melting eyes, many children, and a long sealskin,
and she availed herself of the excuse of seeing the hounds to rejoin a
young man in whom she was interested. There was an old sportsman of
seventy winters, as hale and as hearty as an oak, standing on the
door-step, and he made John promise to come over and see him. The girls
strolled about in groups. As usual young men were lacking. Looking at
his watch, the huntsman pressed the sides of his horse, and rode to draw
the covers at the end of the park. The ladies followed to see the start,
although the mud was inches deep under foot. "Hu in, hu in," cried the
huntsman. The whips trotted round cracking their long whips. Not a sound
was heard. Suddenly there was a whimper, "Hark to Woodland," cried the
huntsman. The hounds rallied to the point, but nothing came of it.
Apparently the old bitch was at fault. The huntsman muttered something
inaudible. But some few hundred yards further on, in an outlying clump
where no one would expect to find, a fox broke clean away.
The country is as flat as a smooth sea. Chanctonbury Ring stands up like
a mighty cliff on a northern shore; its crown of trees is grim. The
abrupt ascents of Toddington Mount bear away to the left, and tide-like
the fields flow up into the great gulf between.
"He's making for the furze, but he'll never reach them; he got no start,
and the ground is heavy."
Then the watchers saw the horsemen making their way up the chalky roads
cut in the precipitous side of the downs. Rain began to fall, umbrellas
were put up, and all hurried home to lunch.
"Now John, try and make yourself agreeable, go over and talk to some of
the young ladies. Why do you dress yourself in that way? Have you no
other coat? You look like a young priest. Look at that young man over
there! how nicely dressed he is! I wish you would let your moustache
grow; it would improve you immensely." With these and similar remarks
whispered to him, Mrs Norton continued to exasperate her son until the
servants announced that lunch was ready. "Take in Mrs So-and-so," she
said to John, who would fain have escaped from the melting glances of
the lady in the long sealskin. He offered her his arm with an air of
resignation, and set to work valiantly to carve a huge turkey.
As soon as the servants had cleared away after one set another came, and
although the meet was a small one, John took six ladies in to lunch.
About half-past three the men adjourned to the billiard-room to smoke.
The girls, mighty in numbers, followed, and, with their arms round each
other's waists, and interlacing fingers, they grouped themselves about
the room. Two huntsmen returned dripping wet, and much to his annoyance,
John had to furnish them with a change of clothes. There was tea in the
drawing-room about five o'clock, and soon after the visitors began to
take their leave.
The wind blew very coldly, the roosting rooks rose out of the branches,
and the carriages rolled into the night; but still a remnant of visitors
stood on the steps talking to John. His cold was worse; he felt very
ill, and now a long sharp pain had grown through his left side, and
momentarily it became more and more difficult to exchange polite words
and smiles. The footmen stood waiting by the open door, the horses
champed their bits, the green of the park was dark, and a group of
kissing girls moved about the loggia, wheels grated on the gravel ...
all were gone! The butler shut the door, and John went to the library
There his mother found him. She saw that something was seriously the
matter. He was helped up to bed, and the doctor was sent for. A bad
attack of pleurisy. John was rolled up in an enormous mustard
plaster--mustard and cayenne pepper; it bit into the flesh. He roared
with pain; he was slightly delirious; he cursed those around him, using
For more than a week he suffered. He lay bent over, unable to
straighten himself, as if a nerve had been wound up too tightly in the
left side. He was fed on gruel and beef-tea, the room was kept very
warm; it was not until the twelfth day that he was taken out of bed.
"You have had a narrow escape," the doctor said to John, who, well
wrapped up, lay back, looking very weak and pale, before a blazing fire.
"It was very lucky I was sent for. Twenty-four hours later I would not
have answered for your life."
"I was delirious, was I not?"
"Yes, slightly; you cursed and swore fearfully at us when we rolled you
up in the mustard plaster.... Well, it was very hot, and must have burnt
"Yes, it was; it has scarcely left a bit of skin on me. But did I use
very bad language? I suppose I could not help it.... I was delirious,
was I not?"
"Yes; but I remember, and if I remember right, I used very bad
language; and people when they are really delirious do not know what
they say. Is not that so, doctor?"
"If they are really delirious they do not remember, but you were only
slightly delirious ... you were maddened by the pain occasioned by the
pungency of the plaster."
"Yes; but do you think I knew what I was saying?"
"You must have known what you were saying, because you remember what you
"But could I be held accountable for what I said?"
"Accountable.... Well, I hardly know what you mean. You were certainly
not in the full possession of your senses. Your mother (Mrs Norton) was
very much shocked, but I told her that you were not accountable for what
"Then I could not be held accountable, I did not know what I was
"I don't think you did exactly; people in a passion don't know what
"Ah! yes, but we are answerable for sins committed in the heat of
passion: we should restrain our passion; we were wrong in the first
instance in giving way to passion.... But I was ill, it was not exactly
passion. And I was very near death; I had a narrow escape, doctor?"
"Yes, I think I can call it a narrow escape."
The voices ceased,--five o'clock,--the curtains were rosy with lamp
light, and conscience awoke in the langours of convalescent hours. "I
stood on the verge of death!" The whisper died away. John was still very
weak, and he had not strength to think with much insistance, but now and
then remembrance surprised him suddenly like pain; it came unexpectedly,
he knew not whence nor how, but he could not choose but listen. Each
interval of thought grew longer; the scabs of forgetfulness were picked
away, the red sore was exposed bleeding and bare. Was he responsible
for those words? He could remember them all now; each like a burning
arrow lacerated his bosom, and he pulled them to and fro. Remembrance
in the watches of the night, dawn fills the dark spaces of a window,
meditations grow more and more lucid. He could now distinguish the
instantaneous sensation of wrong that had flashed on his excited mind in
the moment of his sinning.... Then he could think no more, and in the
twilight of contrition he dreamed vaguely of God's great goodness, of
penance, of ideal atonements. Christ hung on the cross, and far away the
darkness was seared with flames and demons.
And as strength returned, remembrance of his blasphemies grew stronger
and fiercer, and often as he lay on his pillow, his thoughts passing in
long procession, his soul would leap into intense suffering. "I stood on
the verge of death with blasphemies on my tongue. I might have been
called to confront my Maker with horrible blasphemies in my heart and on
my tongue; but He in His Divine goodness spared me: He gave me time to
repent. Am I answerable, O my God, for those dreadful words that I
uttered against Thee, because I suffered a little pain, against Thee Who
once died on the cross to save me! O God, Lord, in Thine infinite mercy
look down on me, on me! Vouchsafe me Thy mercy, O my God, for I was
weak! My sin is loathsome; I prostrate myself before Thee, I cry aloud
Then seeing Christ amid His white million of youths, beautiful singing
saints, gold curls and gold aureoles, lifted throats, and form of harp
and dulcimer, he fell prone in great bitterness on the misery of earthly
life. His happinesses and ambitions appeared to him less than the
scattering of a little sand on the sea-shore. Joy is passion, passion
is suffering; we cannot desire what we possess, therefore desire is
rebellion prolonged indefinitely against the realities of existence;
when we attain the object of our desire, we must perforce neglect it in
favour of something still unknown, and so we progress from illusion to
illusion. The winds of folly and desolation howl about us; the sorrows
of happiness are the worst to bear, and the wise soon learn that there
is nothing to dream of but the end of desire.... God is the one ideal,
the Church the one shelter from the misery and meanness of life. Peace
is inherent in lofty arches, rapture in painted panes.... See the mitres
and crosiers, the blood-stained heavenly breasts, the loin-linen hanging
over orbs of light.... Listen! ah! the voices of chanting boys, and out
of the cloud of incense come Latin terminations, and the organ still is
In such religious aestheticisms the soul of John Norton had long
slumbered, but now it awoke in remorse and pain, and, repulsing its
habitual exaltations even as if they were sins, he turned to the primal
idea of the vileness of this life, and its sole utility in enabling man
to gain heaven. Beauty, what was it but temptation? He winced before a
conclusion so repugnant to him, but the terrors of the verge on which
he had so lately stood were still upon him in all their force, and he
crushed his natural feelings....
The manifestation of modern pessimism in John Norton has been described,
and how its influence was checked by constitutional mysticity has
also been shown. Schopenhauer, when he overstepped the line ruled by
the Church, was instantly rejected. From him John Norton's faith
had suffered nothing; the severest and most violent shocks had come
from another side--a side which none would guess, so complex and
contradictory are the involutions of the human brain. Hellenism, Greek
culture and ideal; academic groves; young disciples, Plato and Socrates,
the august nakedness of the Gods were equal, or almost equal, in his
mind with the lacerated bodies of meagre saints; and his heart wavered
between the temple of simple lines and the cathedral of a thousand
arches. Once there had been a sharp struggle, but Christ, not Apollo,
had been the victor, and the great cross in the bedroom of Stanton
College overshadowed the beautiful slim body in which Divinity seemed to
circulate like blood; and this photograph was all that now remained of
much youthful anguish and much temptation.
A fact to note is that his sense of reality had always remained in a
rudimentary state; it was, as it were, diffused over the world and
mankind. For instance, his belief in the misery and degradation of
earthly life, and the natural bestiality of man, was incurable; but of
this or that individual he had no opinion; he was to John Norton a blank
sheet of paper, to which he could not affix even a title. His childhood
had been one of bitter tumult and passionate sorrow; the different and
dissident ideals growing up in his heart and striving for the mastery,
had torn and tortured him, and he had long lain as upon a mental rack.
Ignorance of the material laws of existence had extended even into his
sixteenth year, and when, bit by bit, the veil fell, and he understood,
he was filled with loathing of life and mad desire to wash himself
free of its stain; and it was this very hatred of natural flesh that
precipitated a perilous worship of the deified flesh of the God. But
mysticity saved him from plain paganism, and the art of the Gothic
cathedral grew dear to him. It was nearer akin to him, and he assuaged
his wounded soul in the ecstacies of incense and the great charms of
But fear now for the first time took possession of him, and he
realised--if not in all its truth, at least in part--that his love of
God had only taken the form of a gratification of the senses, a
sensuality higher but as intense as those which he so much reproved.
Fear smouldered in his very entrails, and doubt fumed and went out like
steam--long lines and falling shadows and slowly dispersing clouds. His
life had been but a sin, an abomination, and the fairest places darkened
as the examination of conscience proceeded. His thought whirled in
dreadful night, soul-torturing contradictions came suddenly under his
eyes, like images in a night-mare; and in horror and despair, as a woman
rising from a bed of small-pox drops the mirror after the first glance,
and shrinks from destroying the fair remembrance of her face by pursuing
the traces of the disease through every feature, he hid his face in his
hands and called for forgiveness--for escape from the endless record of
his conscience. With staring eyes and contracted brows he saw the flames
which await him who blasphemes. To the verge of those flames he had
drifted. If God in His infinite mercy had not withheld him?... He
pictured himself lost in fires and furies. Then looking up he saw the
face of Christ, grown pitiless in final time--Christ standing immutable
amid His white million of youths....
And the worthlessness and the abjectness of earthly life struck him with
awful and all-convincing power, and this vision of the worthlessness of
existence was clearer than any previous vision. He paused. There was but
one conclusion ... it looked down upon him like a star--he would become a
priest. All darkness, all madness, all fear faded, and with sure and
certain breath he breathed happiness; the sense of consecration nestled
in its heart, and its light shone upon his face.
There was nothing in the past, but there is the sweetness of meditation
in the present, and in the future there is God. Like a fountain flowing
amid a summer of leaves and song, the sweet hours came with quiet and
melodious murmur. In the great arm-chair of his ancestors he sits thin
and tall. Thin and tall. The great flames decorate the darkness, and the
twilight sheds upon the rose curtains, walking birds and falling petals.
But his thoughts are dreaming through long aisle and solemn arch, clouds
of incense and painted panes.... The palms rise in great curls like the
sky; and amid the opulence of gold vestments, the whiteness of the
choir, the Latin terminations and the long abstinences, the holy oil
comes like a kiss that never dies ... and in full glory of symbol and
chant, the very savour of God descends upon him ... and then he awakes,
surprised to find such dreams out of sleep.
His resolve did not alter; he longed for health because it would bring
the realisation of his desire, and time appeared to him cruelly long.
Nor could he think of the pain he inflicted on his mother, so centred
was he in this thought; he was blind to her sorrowing face, he was deaf
to her entreaty; he could neither feel nor see beyond the immediate
object he had in mind, and he spoke to her in despair of the length of
months that separated him from consecration; he speculated on the
possibility of expediting that happy day by a dispensation from the
Pope. The moment he could obtain permission from the doctor he ordered
his trunks to be packed, and when he bid Mrs Norton and Kitty Hare
good-bye, he exacted a promise from the former to be present at Stanton
College on Palm Sunday. He wished her to be present when he embraced
Every morning Mrs Norton flung her black shawl over her shoulders,
rattled her keys, and scolded the servants at the end of the long
passage. Kitty, as she watered the flowers in the greenhouse, often
wondered why John had chosen to become a priest and grieve his mother.
Three times out of five when the women met at lunch, Mrs Norton said:
"Kitty, would you like to come out for a drive?"
Kitty answered, "I don't mind; just as you like, Mrs Norton."
After tea at five Kitty read for an hour, and in the evening she played
the piano; and she sometimes endeavoured to console her hostess by
suggesting that people did change their minds, and that John might not
become a priest after all. Mrs Norton looked at the girl, and it was
often on her lips to say, "If you had only flirted, if you had only paid
him some attentions, all might have been different." But heart-broken
though she was, Mrs Norton could not speak the words. The girl looked so
candid, so flowerlike in her guilelessness, that the thought seemed a
pollution. And in a few days Mr Hare sent for Kitty; and with her
departed the last ray of sunlight, and Thornby Place grew too sad and
solitary for Mrs Norton.
She went to visit some friends; she spent Christmas at the Rectory; and
in the long evenings when Kitty had gone to bed, she opened her heart
to her old friend. The last hope was gone; there was nothing for her to
look for now. John did not even write to her; she had not heard from him
since he left. It was very wrong of the Jesuits to encourage him in such
conduct, and she thought of laying the whole matter before the Pope. The
order had once been suppressed; she did not remember by what Pope; but
a Pope had grown tired of their intrigues, and had suppressed the order.
She made these accusations in moments of passion, and immediately after
came deep regret.... How wrong of her to speak ill of her religion, and
to a Protestant! If John did become a priest it would be a punishment
for her sins. But what was she saying? If John became a priest, she
should thank God for His great goodness. What greater honour could he
bestow upon her? Next day she took the train to Brighton, and went to
confession; and that very same evening she pleadingly suggested to Mr
Hare that he should go to Stanton College, and endeavour to persuade
John to return home. The parson was of course obliged to decline. He
advised her to leave the matter in the hands of God, and Mrs Norton went
to bed a prey to scruples of conscience of all kinds.
She even began to think it wrong to remain any longer in an essentially
Protestant atmosphere. But to return to Thornby Place alone was
impossible, and she begged for Kitty. The parson was loth to part with
his daughter, but he felt there was much suffering beneath the calm
exterior that Mrs Norton preserved. He could refuse her nothing, and he
let Kitty go.
"There is no reason why you should not come and dine with us every day;
but I shall not let you have her back for the next two months."
"What day will you come and see us, father dear?" said Kitty, leaning
out of the carriage window.
"On Thursday," cried the parson.
"Very well, we shall expect you," replied Mrs Norton; and with a sigh
she sank back on the cushions, and fell to thinking of her son.
At Thornby Place everything was soon discovered to be in a sad state of
neglect. There was much work to be done in the greenhouse, the azaleas
were being devoured by insects, and the leaves required a thorough
washing. It was easy to see that the cats had not been regularly fed,
and one of the tame rooks had flown away. Remedying these disasters,
Mrs Norton and Kitty hurried to and fro. There was a ball at Steyning,
and Mrs Norton consented to do the chaperon for once; and the girl's
dress was a subject of gossip for a month--for a fortnight an absorbing
occupation. Most of the people who had been at the hunt breakfast were
at the ball, and Kitty had plenty of partners. These suggested husbands
to Mrs Norton, and she questioned Kitty; but she did not seem to have
thought of the ball except in the light of a toy which she had been
allowed to play with one evening. The young men she had met there had
apparently interested her no more than if they had been girls, and she
regretted John only because of Mrs Norton. Every morning she ran to see
if there was a letter, so that it might be she who brought the good
news. But no letter came. Since Christmas John had written two short
notes, and now they were well on in April. But one morning as she stood
watching the springtide, Kitty saw him walking up the drive; the sky
was growing bright with blue, and the beds were catching flower beneath
the evergreen oaks. She ran to Mrs Norton, who was attending to the
canaries in the bow-window.
"Look, look, Mrs Norton, John is coming up the drive; it is he; look!"
"John!" said Mrs Norton, seeking for her glasses nervously; "yes, so it
is; let's run and meet him. But no; let's take him rather coolly. I
believe half his eccentricity is only put on because he wishes to
astonish us. We won't ask him any questions; we'll just wait and let him
tell his own story...."
"How do you do, mother?" said the young man, kissing Mrs Norton with
less reluctance than usual. "You must forgive me for not having answered
your letters. It really was not my fault; I have been passing through a
very terrible state of mind lately.... And how do you do, Kitty? Have
you been keeping my mother company ever since? It is very good in you;
I am afraid you must think me a very undutiful son. But what is the
"One of the rooks is gone."
"Is that all?... What about the ball at Steyning? I hear it was a great
"Oh, it was delightful."
"You must tell me about it after dinner. Now I must go round to the
stables and tell Walls to take the trap round to the station to fetch my
"Are you going to be here some time?" said Mrs Norton, assuming an
"Yes, I think so; that is to say, for a couple of months--six weeks. I
have some arrangements to make, but I will speak to you about all that
With these words John left the room, and he left his mother agitated and
"What can he mean by having arrangements to make?" she asked. Kitty
could of course suggest no explanation, and the women waited the
pleasure of the young man to speak his mind. He seemed, however, in
no hurry to do so; and the manner in which he avoided the subject
aggravated his mother's uneasiness. At last she said, unable to bear the
suspense any longer:
"Are you going to be a priest, John, dear?"
"Of course, but not a Jesuit...."
"And why? have you had a quarrel with the Jesuits?"
"Oh, no; never mind; I don't like to talk about it; not exactly a
quarrel, but I have seen a great deal of them lately, and I have found
them out. I don't mean in anything wrong, but the order is so entirely
opposed to the monastic spirit. It is difficult to explain; I really
can't.... What I mean is ... well, that their worldliness is repugnant to
me--fashionable friends, confidences, meddling in family affairs, dining
out, letters from ladies who need consolation.... I don't mean anything
wrong; pray don't misunderstand me. I merely mean to say that I hate
their meddling in family affairs. Their confessional is a kind of
marriage bureau; they have always got some plan on for marrying this
person to that, and I must say I hate all that sort of thing.... If I
were a priest I would disdain to ... but perhaps I am wrong to speak like
that. Yes, it is very wrong of me, and before ... Kitty, you must not
think I am speaking against the principles of my religion, I am only
speaking of matters of--"
"And have you given up your rooms in Stanton College?"
"Not yet; that is to say, nothing is settled definitely, but I do not
think I shall go back there; at least not to live."
"And you still are determined on becoming a priest?"
"Certainly, but not a Jesuit."
"A Carmelite. I have seen a great deal of these monks lately, and it is
only they who preserve some of the old spirit of the old ideal. To enter
the Carmelite Chapel in Kensington is to step out of the mean
atmosphere of to-day into the lofty charm of the Middle Ages. The long
straight folds of habits falling over sandalled feet, the great rosaries
hanging down from the girdles, the smell of burning wax, the large
tonsures, the music of the choir; I know nothing like it. Last Sunday I
heard them sing St Fortunatus' hymn,... the _Vexilla regis_ heard in the
cloud of incense, and the wrath of the organ!... splendid are the rhymes!
the first stanza in U and O, the second in A, and the third in E;
passing over the closed vowels, the hymn ascends the scale of sound--"
"Now, John, none of that nonsense; how dare you, sir? Don't attempt to
laugh at your mother."
"My dear mother, you must not think I am sneering because I speak of
what is uppermost in my mind. I have determined to become a Carmelite
monk, and that is why I came down here."
Mrs Norton was very angry; her temper fumed, and she would have burst
into violent words had not the last words, "and that is why I came down
here," frightened her into calmness.
"What do you mean?" she said, turning round in her chair. "You came down
here to become a Carmelite monk; what do you mean?"
John hesitated. He was clearly a little frightened, but having gone so
far he felt he must proceed. Besides, to-day, or to-morrow, sooner or
later the truth would have to be told. He said:
"I intend altering the house a little here and there; you know how
repugnant this mock Italian architecture is to my feelings.... I am
coming to live here with some monks--"
"You must be mad, sir; you mean to say that you intend to pull down the
house of your ancestors and turn it into a monastery?"
John drew a breath of relief, the worst was over now; she had spoken the
fulness of his thought. Yes, he was going to turn Thornby Place into a
"Yes," he said, "if you like to put it in that way. Yes, I am going to
turn Thornby Place into a monastery. Why shouldn't I? I am resolved
never to marry; and I have no one except those dreadful cousins to leave
the place to. Why shouldn't I turn it into a monastery and become a
monk? I wish to save my soul."
Mrs Norton groaned.
"But you make me say more than I mean. To turn the place into a Gothic
monastery, such a monastery as I dreamed would not be possible, unless
indeed I pulled the whole place down, and I have not sufficient money to
do that, and I do not wish to mortgage the property. For the present I
am determined only on a few alterations. I have them all in my head. The
billiard room, that addition of yours, can be turned into a chapel. And
the casements of the dreadful bow-window might be removed, and mullions
and tracery fixed on, and, instead of the present flat roof, a sloping
tiled roof might be carried up against the wall of the house. The
cloisters would come at the back of the chapel."
John stopped aghast at the sorrow he was causing, and he looked at his
mother. She did not speak. Her ears were full of merciless ruins; hope
vanished in the white dust; and the house with its memories sacred and
sweet fell pitilessly: beams lying this way and that, the piece of
exposed wall with the well-known wall paper, the crashing of slates. How
they fall! John's heart was rent with grief, but he could not stay his
determination any more than his breath. Youth is a season of suffering,
we cannot surrender our desire, and it lies heavy and burning on our
hearts. It is so easy for age, so hard for youth to make sacrifices.
Youth is and must be wholly, madly selfish; it is not until we have
learnt the folly of our aims that we may forget them, that we may pity
the sufferings of others, that we may rejoice in the triumphs of our
friends. To the superficial therefore, John Norton will appear but the
incarnation of egotism and priggishness, but those who see deeper will
have recognised that he is one who has suffered bitterly, as bitterly
as the outcast who lies dead in his rags beneath the light of the
policeman's lantern. Mental and physical wants!--he who may know one may
not know the other: is not the absence of one the reason of the other?
Mental and physical wants! the two planes of suffering whence the great
divisions of mankind view and envy the other's destinies, as we view a
passing pageant, as those who stand on the decks of crossing ships gaze
Those who have suffered much physical want will never understand John
Norton; he will find commiseration only from those who have realised _a
priori_ the worthlessness of existence, the vileness of life; above all,
from those who, conscious of a sense of life's degradation, impetuously
desire their ideal--the immeasurable ideal which lies before them,
clear, heavenly, and crystalline; the sea into which they would plunge
their souls, but in whose benedictive waters they may only dip their
fingertips, and crossing themselves, pass up the aisle of human
tribulation. We suffer in proportion to our passions. But John Norton
had no passion, say they who see passion only in carnal dissipation. Yet
the passions of the spirit are more terrible than those of the flesh;
the passion for God, the passion of revolt against the humbleness of
life; and there is no peace until passion of whatever kind has wailed
Foolish are they who describe youth as a time of happiness; it is one of
fever and anguish.
Beneath its apparent calm, there was never a stormier youth than John's.
The boy's heart that grieves to death for a chorus-girl, the little
clerk who mourns to madness for the bright life that flashes from the
point of sight of his high office stool, never felt more keenly the
nervous pain of desire and the lassitudes of resistance. You think John
Norton did not suffer in his imperious desire to pull down the home of
his fathers and build a monastery! Mrs Norton's grief was his grief, but
to stem the impulse that bore him along was too keen a pain to be
endured. His desire whelmed him like a wave; it filled his soul like a
perfume, and against his will it rose to his lips in words. Even when
the servants were present he could not help discussing the architectural
changes he had determined upon, and as the vision of the cloister, with
its reading and chanting monks, rose to his head, he talked, blinded by
strange enthusiasm, of latticed windows, and sandals.
His mother bit her thin lips, and her face tightened in an expression of
settled grief. Kitty was sorry for Mrs Norton, but Kitty was too young
to understand, and her sorrow evaporated in laughter. She listened to
John's explanations of the future as to a fairy tale suddenly touched
with the magic of realism. That the old could not exist in conjunction
with the new order of things never grew into the painful precision of
thought in her mind. She saw but the show side; she listened as to an
account of private theatricals, and in spite of Mrs Norton's visible
grief, she was amused when John described himself walking at the head
of his monks with tonsured head and a great rosary hanging from a
leather girdle. Her innocent gaiety attracted her to him. As they walked
about the grounds after breakfast, he spoke to her about pictures and
statues, of a trip he intended to take to Italy and Spain, and he did
not seem to care to be reminded that this jarred with his project for
immediate realisation of Thornby Priory.
Leaning their backs against the iron railing which divided the green
sward from the park, John and Kitty looked at the house.
"From this view it really is not so bad, though the urns and the loggia
are so intolerably out of keeping with the landscape. But when I have
made my alterations it will harmonise with the downs and the
flat-flowing country, so English with its barns and cottages and rich
agriculture, and there will be then a charming recollection of old
England, the England of the monastic ages, before the--but I forgot, I
must not speak to you on that subject."
"Do you think the house will look prettier than it does now? Mrs Norton
says that it will be impossible to alter Italian architecture into
Gothic.... Of course I don't understand."
"Mother does not know what she is talking about. I have it all down in
my pocket-book. I have various plans.... I admit it is not easy, but
last night I fancy I hit on an idea. I shall of course consult an
architect, although really I don't see there is any necessity for so
doing, but just to be on the safe side; for in architecture there are
many practical difficulties, and to be on the safe side I will consult
an experienced man regarding the practical working out of my design. I
made this drawing last night." John produced a large pocket-book.
"But, oh, how pretty; will it be really like that?"
"Yes," exclaimed John, delighted; "it will be exactly like that; but I
will read you my notes, and then you will understand it better.
"_Alter and add to the front to represent the facade of a small
cathedral. This can be done by building out a projection the entire
width of the building, and one storey in height. This will be divided
into three arched divisions, topped with small gables_."
"What are gables, John?"
"Those are the gables. _The centre one (forming entrance) being rather
higher than the other gables. The entrance would be formed with
clustered columns and richly moulded pointed arches, the door being
solid, heavy oak, with large scroll and hammered iron hinges_.
"_The centre front and back would be carried up to form steep gables,
the roof being heightened to match. The large gable in front to have a
large cross at apex_."
"What is an apex? What words you do use."
John explained, Kitty laughed.
"The top I have indicated in the drawing. _And to have a rose window_.
You see the rose window in the drawing," said John, anticipating the
question which was on Kitty's lips.
"Yes," said she, "but why don't you say a round window?"
Without answering John continued:
"_The first floor fronts would be arcaded round with small columns with
carved capitals and pointed arches.
"At either corner of front, in lieu of present Ionic columns, carry up
octagonal turrets with pinnacles at top_.
"You see them in the drawing. These are the octagonal turrets."
"And which are the pinnacles?"
"The ornaments at the top.
"_From the centre of the roof carry up a square tower with battlemented
parapets and pinnacles at all corners, and flying buttresses from the
turrets of the main buildings_.
"_The bow window at side will have the old casements removed, and have
mullions and tracery fixed and filled with cathedral glazings, and,
instead of the present flat, a sloping roof will be carried up and
finished against the outer wall of the house. At either side of bay
window buttresses with moulded water-tables, plinths, &c._
"_From these roofs and the front projections at intersection of small
gables, carved gargoyles to carry off water_.
"_The billiard-room to be converted into a chapel, by building a new
"Oh, John, why should you do away with the billiard-room; why shouldn't
the monks play billiards? You played billiards on the day of the meet."
"Yes, but I am not a monk yet. No one ever heard of monks playing
billiards; besides, that dreadful addition of my mother's could not
remain in its present form, it would be ludicrous to a degree, whereas
it can be converted very easily into a chapel. We must have a
chapel--_building a high-pitched timber roof, throwing out an apse at
the end, and putting in mullioned and traceried windows filled with
"And the cloister you are always speaking about, where will that be?"
"The cloister will come at the back of the chapel, and an arched and
vaulted ambulatory will be laid round the house. Later on I shall add a
refectory, and put a lavatory at one end of the ambulatory."
"But don't you think, John, you may get tired of being a monk, and then
the house will have to be built back again."
"Never, the house will be from every point of view, a better house when
my alterations are carried into effect. Beside, why should I be tired of
being a monk? Your father does not get tired of being a parson."
This reply, although singularly unconvincing, was difficult to answer,
and the conversation fell. And day by day, John's schemes strengthened
and took shape, and he seemed to look upon himself already as a
Carmelite. He had even gone so far as to order a habit, it had arrived
a few days ago; and an architect, too, had come down from London. He
was the ray of hope in Mrs Norton's life. For although he had loudly
commended the artistic taste exhibited in the drawing, and expressed
great wonderment at John's architectural skill, he had, nevertheless,
when questioned as to their practicability, declared the scheme to be
wholly impossible. And the reasons he advanced in support of his
opinions were so conclusive that John was fain to beg of him to draw up
a more possible plan for the conversion of an Italian house into a
Mr ---- seemed to think the idea a wild one, but he promised to see what
could be done to overcome the difficulties he foresaw, and in a week
he forwarded John several drawings for his consideration. Judged by
comparison with John's dreams, the practical architecture of the
experienced man seemed altogether lacking in expression and in poetry
of proportion; and comparing them with his own cherished project, John
hung over the billiard-table, where the drawings were laid out, hour
after hour, only to rise more bitterly fretful, more utterly unable than
usual to reconcile himself to natural limitation, more hopelessly
longing for the unattainable.
He could think of nothing but his monastery; his Latin authors were
forgotten; he drew facades and turrets on the cloth during dinner, and
he went up to his room, not to bed, but to reconsider the difficulties
that rendered the construction of a central tower an impossibility.
Midnight: the house seems alive in the silence: night is on the world.
The twilight sheds on the walking birds, on the falling petals, and in
the rich shadow the candle burns brightly. The great bridal bed yawns,
the lace pillows lie wide, the curtains hang dreamily in the hallowed
light. John leans over his drawings. Once again he takes up the
"_The interior would be so constructed as to make it impossible to
carry up the central tower. The outer walls would not be strong enough
to take the large gables and roof. Although the chapel could be done
easily, the ambulatory would be of no use, as it would lead probably
from the kitchen offices._
"_Would have to reduce work on front facade to putting in new arched
entrance. Buttresses would take the place of columns_.
"_The bow-window could remain_.
"_The roof to be heightened somewhat. The front projection would throw
the front rooms into almost total darkness_."
"But why not a light timber lantern tower?" thought John. "Yes, that
would get over the difficulty. Now if we could only manage to keep my
front ... if my design for the front cannot be preserved, I might as well
abandon the whole thing! And then?"
And then life seemed to him void of meaning and light. He might as well
settle down and marry....
His face contracted in an expression of anger. He rose from the table,
and he looked round the room. Its appearance was singularly jarring,
shattering as it did his dream of the cloister, and up-building in fancy
the horrid fabric of marriage and domesticity. The room seemed to him a
symbol--with the great bed, voluptuous, the corpulent arm-chair, the
toilet-table shapeless with muslin--of the hideous laws of the world
and the flesh, ever at variance and at war, and ever defeating the
indomitable aspirations of the soul. John ordered his room to be
changed; and, in the face of much opposition from his mother, who
declared that he would never be able to sleep there, and would lose his
health, he selected a narrow room at the end of the passage. He would
have no carpet. He placed a small iron bed against the wall; two plain
chairs, a screen to keep off the draught from the door, a basin-stand
such as you might find in a ship's cabin, and a prie-dieu, were all the
furniture he permitted himself.
"Oh, what a relief!" he murmured. "Now there is line, there is definite
shape. That formless upholstery frets my eye as false notes grate on my
ear;" and, becoming suddenly conscious of the presence of God, he fell
on his knees and prayed. He prayed that he might be guided aright in his
undertaking, and that, if it were conducive to the greater honour and
glory of God, he might be permitted to found a monastery, and that he
might be given strength to surmount all difficulties.
Next morning, calm in mind, and happier, he went downstairs to the
drawing-room, a small book in his hand, an historical work of great
importance by the Venerable Bede, intitled _Vita beatorum abbatum
Wiremuthensium, et Girvensiuem, Benedicti Ceolfridi, Easteriwini,
Sigfridi atque Hoetberti_. But he could not keep his attention fixed on
the book, it appeared to him dreary and stupid. His thoughts wandered.
He thought of Kitty--of how beautiful she looked on the background of
red geraniums, with the soft yellow cat on her shoulder, and he wondered
which of the four great painters, Manet, Degas, Monet, or Renoir would
have best rendered the brightness and lightness, the intense colour
vitality of that motive for a picture. He thought of her young eyes, of
the pale hands, of the sudden, sharp laugh; and finally he took up one
of her novels, "Red as a Rose is She." He read it, and found it very
But the evening post brought him a letter from the architect's head
clerk, saying that Mr ---- was ill, had not been to the office for the
last three or four days, and would not be able to go down to Sussex
again before the end of the month. Very much annoyed, John spent the
evening thinking whom he could consult on the practicability of his last
design for the front, and next, morning he was surprised at not seeing
Kitty at breakfast.
"Where is Kitty?" he asked abruptly.
"She is not feeling well; she has a headache, and will not be down
At the end of a long silence, John said:
"I think I will go into Brighton.... I must really see an architect."
"Oh, John, dear, you are not really determined to pull the house down?"
"There is no use, mother dear, in our discussing that subject; each and
all of us must do the best we can with life. And the best we can do is
to try and gain heaven."
"Breaking your mother's heart, and making yourself ridiculous before the
whole county, is not the way to gain heaven."
"Oh, if you are going to talk like that...."
John went into the drawing-room to continue his reading, but the Latin
bored him even more than it had done yesterday. He took up the novel,
but its enchantment was gone, and it appeared to him in its tawdry,
original vulgarity. He got on a horse and rode towards the downs, and
went up the steep ascents at a gallop. He stood amid the gorse at the
top and viewed the great girdle of blue encircling sea, and the long
string of coast towns lying below him, and far away. Lunch was on the
table when he returned. After lunch, harassed by an obsession of
architectural plans, he went out to sketch. But it rained, and resisting
his mother's invitation to change his clothes, he sat down before the
fire, damp without, and feverishly irritable within. He vacillated an
hour between his translation of St Fortunatus' hymn, _Quem terra, pontus
aethera_, and "Red as a Rose is She," which, although he thought it as
reprehensible for moral as for literary reasons, he was fain to follow
out to the vulgar end. But he could interest himself in neither hymn nor
novel. For the authenticity of the former he now cared not a jot, and he
threw the book aside vowing that its hoydenish heroine was unbearable
and he would read no more.
"I never knew a more horrible place to live in than Sussex. Either of
two things: I must alter the architecture of this house, or I must
return to Stanton College."
"Don't talk nonsense, do you think I don't know you? you are boring
yourself because Kitty is upstairs in bed, and cannot walk about with
"I do not know how you contrive, mother, always to say the most
disagreeable possible things; the marvellous way in which you pick out
what will, at the moment, wound me most is truly wonderful. I compliment
you on your skill, but I confess I am at a loss to understand why you
should, as if by right, expect me to remain here to serve continuously
as a target for the arrows of your scorn."
John walked out of the room. During dinner mother and son spoke very
little, and he retired early, about ten o'clock, to his room. He was in
high dudgeon, but the white walls, the prie-dieu, the straight, narrow
bed were pleasant to see. His room was the first agreeable impression
of the day. He picked up a drawing from the table, it seemed to him
awkward and slovenly. He sharpened his pencil, cleared his crow-quill
pens, got out his tracing-paper, and sat down to execute a better. But
he had not finished his outline sketch before he leaned back in his
chair, and as if overcome by the insidious warmth of the fire, lapsed
into fire-light attitudes and meditations.
He looked a little backwards into the blaze; he nibbled his pencil
point. Wavering light and wavering shade followed fast over the Roman
profile, followed and flowed fitfully--fitfully as his thoughts. Now his
thought followed out architectural dreams, and now he thought of
himself, of his unhappy youth, of how he had been misunderstood, of his
solitary life; a bitter, unsatisfactory life, and yet a life not wanting
in an ideal--a glorious ideal. He thought how his projects had always
met with failure, with disapproval, above all failure ... and yet, and
yet he felt, he almost knew there was something great and noble in him.
His eyes brightened; he slipped into thinking of schemes for a monastic
life; and then he thought of his mother's hard disposition and how she
misunderstood him,--everyone misunderstood him. What would the end be?
Would he succeed in creating the monastery he dreamed of so fondly? To
reconstruct the ascetic life of the Middle Ages, that would be something
worth doing, that would be a great ideal--that would make meaning in his
life. If he failed ... what should he do then? His life as it was, was
unbearable ... he must come to terms with life....
That central tower! how could he manage it! and that built-out front.
Was it true, as the architect said, that it would throw all the front
rooms into darkness? Without this front his design would be worthless.
What a difference it made!
Kitty liked it. She had thought it charming. How young she was, how
glad and how innocent, and how clever, her age being taken into
consideration. She understood all you said. It would not surprise him if
she developed into something: but she would marry....
But why was he thinking of her? What concern had she in his life? A
little slip of a girl--a girl--a girl more or less pretty, that was all.
And yet it was pleasant to hear her laugh. That low, sudden laugh--she
was pleasanter company than his mother, she was pleasant to have in the
house, she interrupted many an unpleasant scene. Then he remembered what
his mother had said. She had said that he was disappointed that she was
ill, that he had missed her, that ... that it was because she was not
there that he had found the day so intolerably wearisome.
Struck as with a dagger, the pain of the wound flowed through him
piercingly; and as a horse stops and stands trembling, for there is
something in the darkness beyond, John shrank back, his nerves
vibrating like highly-strung chords; and ideas--notes of regret and
lamentation died in great vague spaces. Ideas fell.... Was this all; was
this all he had struggled for; was he in love? A girl, a girl ... was a
girl to soil the ideal he had in view? No; he smiled painfully. The sea
of his thoughts grew calmer, the air grew dim and wan, a tall foundered
wreck rose pale and spectral, memories drifted. The long walks, the
talks of the monastery, the neighbours, the pet rooks, and Sammy the
great yellow cat, and the green-houses ... he remembered the pleasure he
had taken in those conversations!
What must all this lead to? To a coarse affection, to marriage, to
children, to general domesticity.
And contrasted with this....
The dignified and grave life of the cloister, the constant sensation of
lofty and elevating thought, a high ideal, the communion of learned men,
the charm of headship.
Could he abandon this? No, a thousand times no; but there was a melting
sweetness in the other cup. The anticipation filled his veins with
And trembling and pale with passion, John fell on his knees and prayed
for grace. But prayer was sour and thin upon his lips, and he could only
beg that the temptation might pass from him....
"In the morning," he said, "I shall be strong."
But if in the morning he were strong, Kitty was more beautiful than
ever, and they walked out in the sunlight. They walked out on the green
sward, under the evergreen oaks where the young rooks are swinging; out
on the mundane swards into the pleasure ground; a rosery and a rockery;
the pleasure ground divided from the park by iron railings, the park
encircled by the rich elms, the elms shutting out the view of the lofty
The meadows are yellow with buttercups, and the birds fly out of the
gold. And the golden note is prolonged through the pleasure grounds by
the pale yellow of the laburnums, by the great yellow of the berberis,
by the cadmium yellow of the gorse, by the golden wallflowers growing
amid rhododendrons and laurels.
And the transparent greenery of the limes shivers, and the young rooks
swinging on the branches caw feebly.
And about the rockery there are purple bunches of lilac, and the striped
awning of the tennis seat touches with red the paleness of the English
Pansies, pale yellow pansies!
The sun glinting on the foliage of the elms spreads a napery of vivid
green, and the trunks come out black upon the cloth of gold, and the
larks fly out of the gold, and the sky is a single sapphire, and two
white clouds are floating. It is May time.
They walked toward the tennis seat with its red striped awning. They
listened to the feeble cawing of young rooks swinging on the branches.
They watched the larks nestle in, and fly out of the gold. It was May
time, and the air was bright with buds and summer bees. She was dressed
in white, and the shadow of the straw hat fell across her eyes when she
raised her face. He was dressed in black, and the clerical frock coat
buttoned by one button at the throat fell straight.
They sat under the red striped awning of the tennis seat. The large
grasping hands holding the polished cane contrasted with the reedy
translucent hands laid upon the white folds. The low sweet breath of the
May time breathed within them, and their hearts were light; hers was
conscious only of the May time, but his was awake with unconscious love,
and he yielded to her, to the perfume of the garden, to the absorbing
sweetness of the moment. He was no longer John Norton. His being was
part of the May time; it had gone forth and had mingled with the colour
of the fields and sky; with the life of the flowers, with all vague
scents and sounds; with the joy of the birds that flew out of and
nestled with amorous wings in the gold. Enraptured and in complete
forgetfulness of his vows, he looked at her, he felt his being
quickening, and the dark dawn of a late nubility radiated into manhood.
"How beautiful the day is," he said, speaking slowly. "Is it not all
light and colour, and you in your white dress with the sunlight on your
hair seem more blossom-like than any flower. I wonder what flower I
should compare you to.... Shall I say a rose? No, not a rose, nor a
lily, nor a violet; you remind me rather of a tall delicate pale
"Why, John, I never heard you speak like that before; I thought you
never paid compliments."
The transparent green of the limes shivers, the young rooks caw feebly,
and the birds nestle with amorous wings in the blossoming gold. Kitty
has taken off her straw hat, the sunlight caresses the delicate
plenitudes of the bent neck, the delicate plenitudes bound with white
cambric, cambric swelling gently over the bosom into the narrow circle
of the waist, cambric fluted to the little wrist, reedy translucid
hands; cambric falling outwards and flowing like a great white flower
over the green sward, over the mauve stocking, and the little shoe set
firmly. The ear is as a rose leaf, a fluff of light hair trembles on the
curving nape, and the head is crowned with thick brown gold. "O to bathe
my face in those perfumed waves! O to kiss with a deep kiss the hollow
of that cool neck!..." The thought came he know not whence nor how, as
lightning falls from a clear sky, as desert horsemen come with a glitter
of spears out of the cloud; there is a shock, a passing anguish, and
they are gone.
He left her. So frightened was he at this sudden and singular obsession
of his spiritual nature by a lower and grosser nature, whose existence
in himself was till now unsuspected, and of whose life and wants in
others he had felt, and still felt, so much scorn, that in the tumult of
his loathing he could not gain the calm of mind necessary for an
examination of conscience. He could not look into his mind with any
present hope of obtaining a truthful reply to the very eminent and vital
question, how far his will had participated in that burning but wholly
inexcusable desire by which he had been so shockingly assailed.
That inner life, so strangely personal and pure, and of which he was so
proud, seemed to him now to be befouled, and all its mystery and inner
grace, and the perfect possession which was his sanctuary, lost to him
for ever. For he could never quite forget the defiling thought; it would
always remain with him, and the consciousness of the stain would
preclude all possibility of that refining happiness, that attribute of
cleanliness, which he now knew had long been his. In his anger and
self-loathing his rage turned against Kitty. It was always the same
story--the charm and ideality of man's life always soiled by woman's
influence; so it was in the beginning, so it shall be....
He stopped before the injustice of the accusation; he remembered her
candour and her gracious innocence, and he was sorry; and he remembered
her youth and her beauty, and he let his thoughts dwell upon her.
Turning over his papers he came across the old monk's song to David:
"Surge meo domno dulces fac, fistula versus:
David amat versus, surge fac fistula versus,
David amat vates vatorum est gloria David...."
The verses seemed meaningless and tame, but they awoke vague impulses in
him, and, his mind filled by a dim dream of King David and Bathsheba, he
opened his Bible and turned over the pages, reading a phrase here and
there until he had passed from story and psalm to the Song of songs, and
was finally stopped by--"I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye
find my beloved, that ye tell him that I am sick of love."
He laid the book down and leaned back in his chair, and holding his
temple with one hand (this was his favourite attitude) he looked in the
fire fixedly. He was ravaged by emotion. The magical fervour of the
words he had just read had revealed to him the depth of his passion.
But he would tear the temptation out of his heart. The conduct of his
life had been long ago determined upon. He had known the truth as if by
instinct from the first; no life was possible except an ascetic life, at
least for him. And in this hour of weakness he summoned to his aid all
his ancient ideals: the solemnity and twilight of the arches, the
massive Gregorian chant which seems to be at once their voice and their
soul, the cloud of incense melting upon the mitres and sunsets, and the
boys' treble hovering over an ocean of harmony. But although the picture
of his future life rose at his invocation it did not move him as
heretofore, nor did the scenes he evoked of conjugal grossness and
platitude shock him to the extent he had expected. The moral rebellion
he succeeded in exciting was tepid, heartless, and ineffective, and he
was not moved by hate or fear until he remembered that God in His
infinite goodness had placed him for ever out of the temptation which he
so earnestly sought to escape from. Kitty was a Protestant. In a pang
of despair, windows and organ collapsed like cardboard; incense and
arches vanished, and then rose again with the light of a more gracious
vision upon them. For if the dignity and desire of mere self-salvation
had departed, all the lighter colours and livelier joys of the
conversion of others filled the sky of faith with morning tones and
harmonies. And then?... Salvation before all things, he answered in his
enthusiasm;--something of the missionary spirit of old time was upon
him, and forgetful of his aisles, his arches, his Latin authors, he went
down stairs and asked Kitty to play a game of billiards.
"We play billiards here on Sunday, but you would think it wrong to do
"But to-day is not Sunday."
"No, I was only speaking in a general way. Yet I often wonder how you
can feel satisfied with the protection your Church affords you against
the miseries and trials of the world. A Protestant, you know, may
believe pretty nearly as little or as much as he likes, whereas in our
church everything is defined; we know what we must believe to be saved.
There is a sense of security in the Catholic Church which the Protestant
"Do you think so? That is because you do not know our Church," replied
Kitty, who was a little astonished at this sudden outburst. "I feel
quite happy and safe. I know that our Lord Jesus Christ died on the
Cross to save us, and we have the Bible to guide us."
"Yes, but the Bible without the interpretation of the Church is ... may
lead to error. For instance..."
John stopped abruptly. Seized with a sudden scruple of conscience he
asked himself if he, in his own house, had a right to strive to
undermine the faith of the daughter of his own friend.
"Go on," cried Kitty, laughing, "I know the Bible better than you,
and if I break down I will ask father." And as if to emphasise her
intention, she hit her ball which was close under the cushion as hard as
John hailed the rent in the cloth as a deliverance, for in the
discussion as to how it could be repaired, the religious question was
But if he were her lover, if she were going to be his wife, he would
have the right to offer her every facility and encouragement to enter
the Catholic Church--the true faith. Darkness passes, and the birds are
carolling the sun, flowers and trees are pranked with aerial jewellery,
the fragrance of the warm earth flows in your veins, your eyes are fain
of the light above and your heart of the light within. He would not jar
his happiness by the presence of Mrs Norton, even Kitty's presence was
too actual a joy to be home. She drew him out of himself too completely,
interrupted the exquisite sense of personal enchantment which seemed to
permeate and flow through him with the sweetness of health returning to
a convalescent on a spring day. He closed his eyes, and his thoughts
came and went like soft light and shade in a garden close; his happiness
was a part of himself, as fragrance is inherent in the summer time.
The evil of the last days had fallen from him, and the reaction was
equivalently violent. Nor was he conscious of the formal resignation he
was now making of his dream, nor did he think of the distasteful load of
marital duties with which he was going to burden himself; all was lost
in the vision of beautiful companionship, a sort of heavenly journeying,
a bright earthly way with flowers and starlight--he a little in advance
pointing, she following, with her eyes lifted to the celestial gates
shining in the distance. Sometimes his arms would be thrown about her.
Sometimes he would press a kiss upon her face. She was his, his, and he
was her saviour. The evening died, the room darkened, and John's dream
continued in the twilight, and the ringing of the dinner bell and the
disturbance of dressing did not destroy his thoughts. Like fumes of
wine they hung about him during the evening, and from time to time he
looked at Kitty.
But although he had so far surrendered himself, he did not escape
without another revulsion of feeling. A sudden realisation of what his
life would be under the new conditions did not fail to frighten him, and
he looked back with passionate regret on his abandoned dreams. But his
nature was changed, abstention he knew was beyond his strength, and
after many struggles, each of which was feebler than the last, he
determined to propose to Kitty on the first suitable occasion.
Then came the fear of refusal. Often he was paralysed with pain,
sometimes he would morbidly allow his thoughts to dwell on the moment
when he would hear her say, it was impossible, that she did not and
could not love him. The young grey light of the eyes would be fixed upon
him; she would speak her sorrow, and her thin hands would hang by her
side in the simple attitude that was so peculiar to her. And he mused
willingly on the long meek life of grief that would then await him. He
would belong to God; his friar's frock would hide all; it would be the
habitation, and the Gothic walls he would raise, the sepulchre of his
"But no, no, she shall be mine," he cried out, moved in his very
entrails. Why should she refuse him? What reason had he to believe that
she would not have him? He thought of how she had answered his questions
on this and that occasion, how she had looked at him; he recalled every
gesture and every movement with wonderful precision, and then he lapsed
into a passionate consideration of the general attitude of mind she
evinced towards him. He arrived at no conclusion, but these meditations
were full of penetrating delight. Sometimes he was afflicted with an
intense shyness, and he avoided her; and when Mrs Norton, divining his
trouble, sent them to walk in the garden, his heart warmed to his
mother, and he regretted his past harshness.
And this idyll was lived about the beautiful Italian house, with its
urns and pilasters; through the beautiful English park, with its elms
now with the splendour of summer upon them; in the pleasure grounds with
their rosary, and the fountain where the rose leaves float, and the
wood-pigeons come at eventide to drink; in the greenhouse with its live
glare of geraniums, where the great yellow cat, so soft and beautiful,
springs on Kitty's shoulder, rounds its back, and purring, insists on
caresses; in the large clean stables where the horses munch the corn
lazily, and look round with round inquiring eyes, and the rooks croak
and flutter, and strut about Kitty's feet. It was Kitty; yes, it was
Kitty everywhere; even the blackbird darting through the laurels seemed
to cry Kitty.
To propose! Time, place, and the words he should use had been carefully
considered. After each deliberation, a new decision had been taken:
but when he came to the point, John found himself unable to speak
any one of the different versions he had prepared. Still he was very
happy. The days were full of sunshine and Kitty, and he mistook her
light-heartedness for affection. He had begun to look upon her as his
certain wife, although no words had been spoken that would suggest such
a possibility. Outside of his imagination nothing was changed; he stood
in exactly the same relation to her as he had done when he returned from
Stanton College, determined to build a Gothic monastery upon the ruins
of Thornby Place, and yet somehow he found it difficult to realise that
this was so.
One morning he said, as they went into the garden, "You must sometimes
feel a little lonely here ... when I am away ... all alone here with
"Oh dear no! we have lots to do. I look after the pets in the morning.
I feed the cats and the rooks, and I see that the canaries have fresh
water and seed. And then the bees take up a lot of our time. We have
twenty-two hives. Mrs Norton says she ought to make five pounds a year
on each. Sometimes we lose a swarm or two, and then Mrs Norton is so
cross. We were out for hours with the gardener the other day, but we
could do no good; we could not get them out of that elm tree. You see
that long branch leaning right over the wall; well it was on that branch
that they settled, and no ladder was tall enough to reach them; and when
Bill climbed the tree and shook them out they flew right away."
"Shall I, shall I propose to her now?" thought John. But Kitty continued
talking, and it was difficult to interrupt her. The gravel grated under
their feet; the rooks were flying about the elms. At the end of the
garden there was a circle of fig trees. A silent place, and John vowed
he would say the word there. But as they approached his courage died
within him, and he was obliged to defer his vows until they reached the
"So your time is fully occupied here."
"And in the afternoon we go out for drives; we pay visits. You never
pay visits; you never go and call on your neighbours."
"Oh, yes I do; I went the other day to see your father."
"Ah yes, but that is only because he talks to you about Latin authors."
"No, I assure you it isn't. Once I have finished my book I shall never
look at them again."
"Well, what will you do?"
"Next winter I intend to go in for hunting. I have told a dealer to look
out for a couple of nice horses for me."
Kitty looked up, her grey eyes wide open. If John had told her that he
had given the order for a couple of crocodiles she could not have been
"But hunting is over now; it won't begin again till next November. You
will have to play lawn tennis this summer."
"I have sent to London for a racquet and shoes, and a suit of flannels."
"Goodness me.... Well, that is a surprise! But you won't want the
flannels; you might play in the Carmelite's habit which came down the
other day. How you do change your mind about things!"
"Do you never change your mind, Kitty?"
"Well, I don't know, but not so suddenly as you. Then you are not going
to become a monk?"
"I don't know, it depends on circumstances."
"What circumstances?" said Kitty, innocently.
The words "_whether you will or will not have me_" rose to John's lips,
but all power to speak them seemed to desert him; he had grown suddenly
as weak as melting snow, and in an instant the occasion had passed. He
hated himself for his weakness. The weary burden of his love lay still
upon him, and the torture of utterance still menaced him from afar. The
conversation had fallen. They were approaching the greenhouse, and the
cats ran to meet their patron. Sammy sprang on Kitty's shoulder.
"Oh, isn't he a beauty? stroke him, do."
John passed his hand along the beautiful yellow fur. Sammy rubbed his
head against his mistress' face, her raised eyes were as full of light
as the pale sky, and the rich brown head and the thin hands made a
picture in the exquisite clarity of the English morning,--in the
homeliness of the English garden, with tall hollyhocks, espalier apple
trees, and one labourer digging amid the cabbages. Joy crystal as the
morning itself illumined John's mind for a moment, and then faded, and
he was left lonely with the remembrance that his fate had still to be
decided, that it still hung in the scale.
One evening as they were walking in the park, shadowy in the twilight of
an approaching storm, Kitty said:
"I never would have believed, John, that you could care to go out for a
walk with me."
"And why, Kitty?"
Kitty laughed--her short sudden laugh was strange and sweet. John's
heart was beating. "Well," she said, without the faintest hesitation or
shyness, "we always thought you hated girls. I know I used to tease you,
when you came home for the first time; when you used to think of nothing
but the Latin authors."
"What do you mean?"
Kitty laughed again.
"You promise not to tell?"
This was their first confidence.
"You told your mother when I came, when you were sitting by the fire
reading, that the flutter of my skirts disturbed you."
"No, Kitty, I'm sure you never disturbed me, or at least not for a long
time. I wish my mother would not repeat conversations, it is most
"Mind you, you promised not to repeat what I have told you. If you do,
you will get me into an awful scrape."
The conversation came to a pause. Presently Kitty said, "But you seem to
have got over your dislike to girls. I saw you talking a long while with
Miss Orme the other day; and at the Meet you seemed to admire her. She
was the prettiest girl we had here."
"No, indeed she wasn't!"
"Who was, then?"
Kitty looked up; and there was so much astonishment in her face that
John in a sudden access of fear said, "We had better make haste, the
storm is coming on; we shall get wet through."
They ran towards the house. John reproached himself bitterly, but
he made no further attempt to screw his courage up to the point
of proposing. His disappointment was followed by doubts. Was his
powerlessness a sign from God that he was abandoning his true vocation
for a false one? and a little shaken, he attempted to interest himself
in the re-building of his house; but the project had grown impossible to
him, and he felt he could not embrace it again, with any of the old
enthusiasm at least, until he had been refused by Kitty. There were
moments when he almost yearned to hear her say that she could never love
him. But in his love and religious suffering the thought of bringing a
soul home to the true fold remained a fixed light; he often looked to it
with happy eyes, and then if he were alone he fell on his knees and
prayed. Prayer like an opiate calmed his querulous spirit, and having
told his beads--the great beads which hung on his prie-dieu--he would go
down stairs with peace in his heart, and finding Kitty, he would ask her
to walk with him in the garden, or they would stroll out on the tennis
lawn, racquet in hand.
One afternoon it was decided that they should go for a long walk. John
suggested that they should climb to the top of Toddington Mount, and
view the immense plain which stretches away in dim blue vapour and a
You see John and Kitty as they cross the wide park towards the vista in
the circling elms,--she swinging her parasol, he carrying stiffly his
grave canonical cane. He still wears the long black coat buttoned at the
throat, but the air of hieratic dignity is now replaced by, or rather it
is glossed with, the ordinary passion of life. Both are like children,
infinitely amused by the colour of the grass and sky, by the hurry of
the startled rabbit, by the prospect of the long walk; and they taste
already the wild charm of the downs, seeing and hearing in imagination
its many sights and sounds, the wild heather, the yellow savage gorse,
the solitary winding flock, the tinkling of the bell-wether, the
cliff-like sides, the crowns of trees, the mighty distance spread out
like a sea below them with its faint and constantly dissolving horizon
of the Epsom Hills.
"I never can cross this plain, Kitty, without thinking of the Dover
cliffs as seen in mid Channel; this is a mere inland imitation of them."
"I have never seen the Dover cliffs; I have never been out of England,
but the Brighton cliffs give me an idea of what you mean."
"On your side--the Shoreham side--the downs rise in a gently sloping
ascent from the sea."
"Yes, we often walk up there. You can see Brighton and Southwick and
Worthing. Oh! it is beautiful! I often go for a walk there with my
friends, the Austen girls--you saw them here at the Meet."
"Yes, Mr Austen has a very nice property; it extends right into the town
of Shoreham, does it not?"
"Yes, and right up to Toddington Mount, where we are going. But aren't
you a little tired, John? These roads are very steep."
"Out of breath, Kitty; let's stop for a minute or two." The country lay
below them. They had walked three miles, and Thornby Place and its elms
were now vague in the blue evening. "We must see one of these days if we
cannot do the whole distance."
"What? right across the downs from Shoreham to Henfield?"
"Well, it is not more than eight miles; you don't think you could manage
"I don't know, it is more than eight miles, and walking on the downs is
not like walking on the highroad. Father thinks nothing of it."
"We must really try it."
"What would you do if I were to get so tired that I could not go back or
"I would carry you."
They continued their climb. Speaking of the Devil's Dyke, Kitty said--
"What! you mean to say you never heard the legend? You, a Sussex man!"
"I have lived very little in Sussex, and I used to hate the place; I am
only just beginning to like it."
"And you don't like the Jesuits any more, because they go in for
"They are too sly for me, I confess; I don't approve of priests meddling
in family affairs. But tell me the legend."
"Oh, how steep these roads are. At last, at last. Now let's try and find
a place where we can sit down. The grass is full of that horrid prickly
"Here's a nice soft place; there is no gorse here. Now tell me the
"Well, I never!" said Kitty, sitting herself on the spot that had been
chosen for her, "you do astonish me. You never heard of the legend of St
"No, do tell it to me."
"Well, I scarcely know how to tell it in ordinary words, for I learnt it
"In poetry! In whose poetry?"
"Evy Austen put it into poetry, the eldest of the girls, and they made
me recite it at the harvest supper."
"Oh, that's awfully jolly--I never should have thought she was so
clever. Evy is the dark-haired one."
"Yes, Evy is awfully clever; but she doesn't talk much about it."
"Do recite it."
"I don't know that I can remember it all. You won't laugh if I break
THE LEGEND OF ST CUTHMAN.
"St Cuthman stood on a point which crowns
The entire range of the grand South Downs;
Beneath his feet, like a giant field,
Was stretched the expanse of the Sussex Weald.
'Suppose,' said the Saint,''twas the will of Heaven
To cause this range of hills to be riven,
And what were the use of prayers and whinings,
Were the sea to flood the village of Poynings:
'Twould be fine, no doubt, these Downs to level,
But to do such a thing I defy the Devil!'
St Cuthman, tho' saint, was a human creature,
And his eye, a bland and benevolent feature,
Remarked the approach of the close of day,
And he thought of his supper, and turned away.
Walking fast, he
Had scarcely passed the
First steps of his way, when he saw something nasty;
'Twas tall and big,
And he saw from its rig
'Twas the Devil in full diabolical fig.
There were wanting no proofs,
For the horns and the hoofs
And the tail were a fully convincing sight;
But the heart of the Saint
Ne'er once turned faint,
And his halo shone with redoubled light.
'Hallo, I fear
You're trespassing here!'
Said St Cuthman, 'To me it is perfectly clear,
If you talk of the devil, he's sure to appear!'
'With my spade and my pick
I am come,' said old Nick,
'To prove you've no power o'er a demon like me.
I'll show you my power--
Ere the first morning hour
Thro' the Downs, over Poynings, shall roll in the sea.'
'I'll give you long odds,'
Cried the Saint, 'by the gods!
I'll stake what you please, only say what your wish is.'
Said the devil, 'By Jove!
You're a sporting old cove!
My pick to your soul,
I'll make such a hole,
That where Poynings now stands, shall be swimming the fishes.'
'Done!' cried the Saint, 'but I must away
I have a penitent to confess;
In an hour I'll come to see fair play--
In truth I cannot return in less.
My bet will be won ere the first bright ray
Heralds the ascension of the day.
If I lose!--there will be _the devil to pay!_'
He descended the hill with a firm quick stride,
Till he reached a cell which stood on the side;
He knocked at the door, and it opened wide,--
He murmured a blessing and walked inside.
Before him he saw a tear-stained face
Of an elderly maiden of elderly grace;
Who, when she beheld him, turned deadly pale,
And drew o'er her features a nun's black veil.
'Holy father!' she said, 'I have one sin more,
Which I should have confessed sixty years before!
I have broken my vows--'tis a terrible crime!
I have loved _you_, oh father, for all that time!
My passion I cannot subdue, tho' I try!
Shrive me, oh father! and let me die!'
'Alas, my daughter,' replied the Saint,
'One's desire is ever to do what one mayn't,
There was once a time when I loved you, too,
I have conquered my passion, and why shouldn't you?
For penance I say,
You must kneel and pray
For hours which will number seven;
Fifty times say the rosary,
(Fifty, 'twill be a poser, eh?)
But by it you'll enter heaven;
As each hour doth pass,
Turn the hour glass,
Till the time of midnight's near;
On the stroke of midnight
This taper light,
Your conscience will then be clear.'
He left the cell, and he walked until
He joined Old Nick on the top of the hill.
It was five o'clock, and the setting sun
Showed the work of the Devil already begun.
St Cuthman was rather fatigued by his walk,
And caring but little for brimstone talk,
He watched the pick crash through layers of chalk.
And huge blocks went over and splitting asunder
Broke o'er the Weald like the crashing of thunder.
St Cuthman wished the first hour would pass,
When St Ursula, praying, reversed the glass.
'Ye legions of hell!' the Old Gentleman cried,
'I have such a terrible stitch in the side!'
'Don't work so hard,' said the Saint, 'only see,
The sides of your dyke a heap smoother might be.'
'Just so,' said the Devil, 'I've had a sharp fit,
So, resting, I'll trim up my crevice a bit.'
St Cuthman was looking prodigiously sly,
He knew that the hours were slipping by.
I've cramp at my back!
I've needles and pins
From my hair to my shins!
I tremble and quail
From my horns to my tail!
I will not be vanquished, I'll work, I say,
This dyke shall be finished ere break of day!'
'If you win your bet, 'twill be fairly earned,'
Said the Saint, and again was the hour-glass turned.
And then with a most unearthly din
The farther end of the dyke fell in;
But in spite of an awful rheumatic pain
The Devil began his work again.
'I'll not be vanquished!' exclaimed the old bloke.
'By breathing torrents of flame and smoke,
Your dyke,' said the Saint, 'is hindered each minute,
What can one expect when the Devil is in it?'
Then an accident happened, which caused Nick at last
To rage, fume, and swear; when the fourth hour had passed,
On his hoof there came rolling a huge mass of quartz.
Then quite out of sorts
The bad tempered old cove
Sent the huge mass of stone whizzing over to Hove.
He worked on again, till a howl and a cry
Told the Saint one more hour--the fifth--had gone by.
'What's the row?' asked the Saint, 'A cramp in the wrist,
I think for a while I had better desist.'
Having rested a bit he worked at his chasm,
Till, the hour having passed, he was seized with a spasm.
He raged and he cursed,
'I bore this at first,
The rheumatics were awful, but this is the worst.'
With awful rage heated,
The demon defeated,
In his passion used words that can't be repeated.
Feeling shaken and queer,
In spite of his fear,
At the dyke he worked on until midnight drew near.
But when the glass turned for the last time, he found
That the head of his pick was stuck fast in the ground.
'Cease now!' cried St Cuthman, 'vain is your toil!
Come forth from the dyke! Leave your pick in the soil!
You agreed to work 'tween sunset and morn,
And lo! the glimmer of day is born!
In vain was your fag,
And your senseless brag.'
Dizzy and dazed with sulphureous vapour,
Old Nick was deceived by St Ursula's taper.
'The dawn!' yelled the Devil, 'in vain was my boast,
That I'd have your soul, for I've lost it, I've lost!'
'Away!' cried St Cuthman, 'Foul fiend! away!
See yonder approaches the dawn of day!
Return to the flames where you were before,
And molest these peaceful South Downs no more!'
The old gentleman scowled but dared not stay,
And the prints of his hoofs remain to this day,
Where he spread his dark pinions and soared away.
At St Ursula's cell
Was tolling the bell,
And St Cuthman in sorrow, stood there by her side.
'Twas over at last,
Her sorrows were past,
In the moment of triumph St Ursula died.
Tho' this was the ground,
There never were found
The tools of the Devil, his spade and his pick;
But if you want proof
Of the Legend, the hoof-
Marks are still in the hillock last trod by Old Nick."
"Oh! that is jolly. Well, I never thought the girl was clever enough to
write that. And there are some excellent rhymes in it, 'passed he'
rhyming with 'nasty,' and 'rosary' with 'poser, eh;' and how well you
"Oh, I recited it better at the harvest supper; and you have no idea how
the farmers enjoyed it. They know the place so well, and it interested
them on that account. They understood it all."
John sat as if enchanted,--by Kitty's almost childish grace, her
enthusiasm for her friend's poem, and her genuine enjoyment of it; by
the abrupt hills, mysterious now in sunset and legend; by the vast
plains so blue and so boundless: out of the thought of the littleness
of life, of which they were a symbol, there came the thought of the
greatness of love.
"Won't you cross the poor gipsy's palm with a bit of silver, my pretty
gentleman, and she will tell you your fortune and that of your pretty
Kitty uttered a startled cry, and turning they found themselves facing a
strong, black-eyed girl. She repeated her question.
"What do you think, Kitty, would you like to have your fortune told?"
Kitty laughed. "It would be rather fun," she said.
She did not know what was coming, and she listened to the usual story,
full by the way of references to John--of a handsome young man who would
woo her, win her, and give her happiness, children, and wealth.
John threw the girl a shilling. She withdrew. They watched her passing
through the furze. The silence about them was immense. Then John spoke:
"What the gipsy said is quite true; I did not dare to tell you so
"What do you mean, John?"
"I mean that I am in love with you, will you love me?"
"You in love with me, John; it is quite absurd--I thought you hated
"Never mind that, Kitty, say you will have me; make the gipsy's words
"Gipsies' words always come true."
"Then you will marry me?"
"I never thought about marriage. When do you want me to marry you? I am
"Oh! when you like, later on, only say you will be mine, that you will
be mistress of Thornby Place one day, that is all I want."
"Then you don't want to pull the house down any more."
"No, no; a thousand times no! Say you will be my wife one of these
"Very well then, one of these days...." "And I may tell my mother of
your promise to-night?... It will make her so happy."
"Of course you may tell her, John, but I don't think she will believe
"Why should she not believe it?"
"I don't know," said Kitty, laughing, "but how funny, was it not, that
the gipsy girl should guess right?"
"Yes, it was indeed. I wanted to tell you before, but I hadn't the
courage; and I might never have found the courage if it had not been for
In his abundant happiness John did not notice that Kitty was scarcely
sensible of the importance of the promise she had given. And in silence
he gazed on the landscape, letting it sink into and fix itself for ever
in his mind. Below them lay the great green plain, wonderfully level,
and so distinct were its hedges that it looked like a chessboard.
Thornby Place was hidden in vapour, and further away all was lost in
darkness that was almost night.
"I am sorry we cannot see the house--your house," said John as they
descended the chalk road.
"It seems so funny to hear you say that, John."
"Why? It will be your house some day."
"But supposing your Church will not let you marry me, what then...."
"There is no danger of that; a dispensation can always be obtained. But
who knows.... You have never considered the question.... You know
nothing of our Church; if you did, you might become a convert. I wish
you would consider the question. It is so simple; we surrender our own
wretched understanding, and are content to accept the Church as wiser
than we. Once man throws off restraint there is no happiness, there is
only misery. One step leads to another; if he would be logical he must
go on, and before long, for the descent is very rapid indeed, he finds
himself in an abyss of darkness and doubt, a terrible abyss indeed,
where nothing exists, and life has lost all meaning. The Reformation was
the thin end of the wedge, it was the first denial of authority, and you
see what it has led to--modern scepticism and modern pessimism."
"I don't know what it means, but I heard Mrs Norton say you were a
"I was; but I saw in time where it was leading me, and I crushed it out.
I used to be a Republican too, but I saw what liberty meant, and what
were its results, and I gave it up."
"So you gave up all your ideas for Catholicism...."
John hesitated, he seemed a little startled, but he answered, "I would
give up anything for my Church..."
"That is not required."
"And did it cost you much to give up your ideas?"
John raised his eyes--it was a look that Balzac would have understood
and would have known how to interpret in some admirable pages of human
suffering. "None will ever know how I have suffered," he said sadly.
"But now I am happy, oh! so happy, and my happiness would be complete
if.... Oh! if God would grant you grace to believe...."
"But I do believe. I believe in our Lord Christ who died to save us. Is
not that enough?"
Like Juggernaut's car, Catholicism had passed over John's mind, crushing
all individualism, and leaving it but a wreck of quaking mysticism.
Twenty times a day the spectre of his conscience rose and with menacing
finger threatened him with flames and demons. And his love was a source
of continual suffering. How often did he ask himself if he were
surrendering his true vocation? How often did he beg of God to guide him
aright? But these mental agitations were visible to no one. He preserved
his calm exterior and the keenest eye detected in him only an ordinary
young man with more than usually strict business habits. He had
appointments with his solicitor. He consulted with him, he went into
complex calculations concerning necessary repairs, and he laid plans for
the more advantageous letting of the farms.
His mother encouraged him to attend to his business. Her head was full
of other matters. A dispensation had to be obtained; it was said that
the Pope was more than ever opposed to mixed marriages. But no objection
would be made to this one. It would be madness to object.... A rich
Catholic family at Henfield--nearly four thousand a-year--must not be
allowed to become extinct. Thornby Place was the link between the Duke
of Norfolk and the So and So's. If those dreadful cousins came in for
the property, Protestantism would again be established at Thornby Place.
And what a pity that would be; and just at a time when Catholicism was
beginning to make headway in Sussex. And if John did not marry now he
would never marry; of that she was quite sure.
As may be imagined, these were not the arguments with which Mrs Norton
sought to convince the Rev. William Hare; they were those with which she
besieged the Brompton Oratory, Farm Street, and the Pro-Cathedral. She
played one off against the other. The Jesuits were nettled at having
lost him, but it was agreeable to learn that the Carmelites had been no
less unfortunate than they. The Oratorians on the whole thought he was
not in their "line"; and as their chance of securing him was remote,
they agreed that John would prove more useful to the Church as a married
man than as a priest. A few weeks later the Papal sanction was obtained.
The clause concerning the children affected Mr Hare deeply, but he was
told that he must not stand in the way of the happiness of two young
people. He considered the question from many points of view, but in the
meantime Mrs Norton continued to deluge Kitty with presents, and to talk
to everybody of her son's marriage. The parson's difficulties were
thereby increased, and eventually he found he could not withhold his
And as time went on, John seemed to take a more personal delight in
life than he had done before. He forgot his ancient prejudices if not
his ancient ideals, and, as was characteristic of him, he avoided
thinking with any definiteness on the nature of the new life into which
he was to enter soon. His neighbours declared he was very much improved;
and there were dinner parties at Thornby Place. One of his great
pleasures was to start early in the morning, and having spent a long
day with Kitty, to return home across the downs. The lofty, lonely
landscape, with its lengthy hills defined upon the flushes of July, came
in happy contrast with the noisy hours of tennis and girls; and standing
on the gently ascending slopes, rising almost from the wicket gate of
the rectory, he would wave farewells to Kitty and the Austins. And in
the glittering morning, grey and dewy, when he descended these slopes to
the strip of land that lies between them and the sea, he would pause on
the last verge where the barn stands. Squire Austin's woods are in
front, and they stretch by the town to the sleepy river with its
spiderlike bridge crossing the sandy marshes. The church spire and roofs
show through each break in the elm trees, and higher still the horizon
of the sea is shimmering.
The rectory is rich brown brick and tiles. About it there is an ample
farmyard. Mr Hare has but the house and an adjoining field, the three
great ricks are Mr Austin's; the sunlight is upon them, and through the
long shadows the cart horses are moving with the drays; and now a
hundred pigeons rise and are seen against the green velvet of the elms,
and one bird's wings are white upon the white sea.
Mr Hare is sitting in the verandah smoking, Kitty is attending to her
"Good morning, John," she cried, "but I can't shake hands with you, my
hands are dirty. Do you talk to father, I haven't a moment. There is
such a lot to do. You know the Miss Austins are coming here to early
dinner, and we have two young men coming from Worthing to play tennis.
The court isn't marked yet."
"I will help you to mark it."
"Very well, but I am not ready yet."
John lit a cigar, and he spoke of books to Mr Hare, whom he considered a
gross Philistine, although a worthy man. The shadows of the Virginia
creeper fell on the red pavement, and Kitty's light voice was heard on
the staircase. Presently she appeared, and lifting the trailing foliage,
she spoke to him. She took him away, and the parson watched the white
lines being marked on the sward. He watched them walk by the iron
railing that separated Little Leywood from Leywood, the Squire's house.
They passed through a small wooden gate into a bit of thick wood, and so
gained the drive. Mr Austin took John to see the horses, Kitty ran to
see the girls who were in their room dressing. How they chattered as
they came down stairs, and with what lightness and laughter they went to
Little Leywood. Their interests were centred in John, and Kitty took
the foremost place as an engaged girl. After dinner young men arrived,
and tennis was played unceasingly. At six o'clock, tired and hot with
air and exercise, all went in to tea--a high tea. At seven John said he
must be thinking of getting home; and happy and glad with all the
pleasant influences of the day upon them, Kitty and the Miss Austins
accompanied him as far as the farm gate.
"What a beautiful walk you will have, Mr Norton; but aren't you tired?
Seven miles in the morning and seven in the evening!"
"But I have had the whole day to rest in."
"What a lovely evening! Let's all walk a little way with him," said
"I should like to," said the elder Miss Austin, "but we promised father
to be home for dinner. The one sure way of getting into his black books
is to keep his dinner waiting, and he wouldn't dine without us."
"Well, good-bye, dear," said Kitty, "I shall walk as far as the burgh."
The Miss Austins turned into the rich trees that encircle Leywood, Kitty
and John faced the hill. They were soon silhouettes, and ascending, they
stood, tiny specks upon the pink evening hours. The table-land swept
about them in multitudinous waves; it was silent and solitary as the
sea. Lancing College, some miles distant, stood lonely as a lighthouse,
and beneath it the Ada flowed white and sluggish through the marshes,
the long spine of the skeleton bridge was black, and there, by that low
shore, the sea was full of mist, and sea and shore and sky were lost in
opal and grey. Old Shoreham, with its air of commerce, of stagnant
commerce, stood by the sea. The tide was out, the sea gates were dry,