Part 10 out of 12
Art thou afraid to live, my Heart?
Look round and see
What life at its best,
With its strange unrest,
Can mean for thee!
Ceaseless sorrow and toil,
Waits for each son of the soil;
And the highest work seems ever unpaid
By God and man,
In the mystic plan;--
Think of it! Art thou afraid?
Art thou afraid to love, my Heart?
Look well and see
If any sweet thing,
That can sigh or sing,
Hath need of thee!
Of Love cometh wild desire,
Hungry and fierce as fire,
In the souls of man and maid,--
But the fulness thereof
Is the end of love,--
Think of it! Art thou afraid?
Art thou afraid of Death, my Heart?
Look down and see
What the corpse on the bed,
So lately dead,
Can teach to thee!
Is it the close of the strife,
Or a new beginning of Life?
The secret is not betrayed;--
But Darkness makes clear
That Light must be near!
Think of it! Art thou afraid?
"'Darkness makes clear, that Light must be near,'--I am sure that is
true!"--murmured John, as he swung along at a quick pace through a
green lane leading out of the village into the wider country, where
two or three quaint little houses with thatched roofs were nestled
among the fields, looking like dropped acorns in the green,--"It
must be true,--there are so many old saws and sayings of the same
kind, like 'The darkest hour's before the dawn.' But why should I
seek to console myself with a kind of Tupper 'proverbial
philosophy'? I have no black hour threatening me,--I have nothing in
the world to complain of or grumble at except my own undisciplined
nature, which even at my age shows me it can 'kick against the pricks'
and make a fool of me!"
Here turning a corner of the road which was overshaded by a huge
chestnut-tree, he suddenly came face to face with the Reverend
Putwood Leveson, who, squatted on the hank by the roadside, with his
grand-pianoforte legs well exposed to view in tight brown
knickerbockers and grey worsted stockings, was bending perspiringly
over his recumbent bicycle, mending something which had, as usual,
"Hullo, Walden!" he said, looking up and nodding casually--"Haven't
seen you for an age! What have you been doing with yourself? Always
up at the Manor, I suppose! Great attraction at the Manor!--he-he-
A certain quick irritation, like that produced by the teasing buzz
of some venomous insect, affected Walden's nerves. He looked at the
porcine proportions of his brother minister with an involuntary
sense of physical repulsion. Then he answered stiffly--
"I don't understand you. I have not been visiting at the Manor at
all. I dined there the night before last for the first and only
Leveson winked one purple puffy eyelid. Then he began his 'He-he-he'
again to himself, while he breathed hard and sweated profusely over
the rubber tyre of his machine.
"Is that so?" he sniggered--"Well, that's all the better for you!--
you do well to keep away! Men of our cloth ought not to be seen
And scrambling to his feet with elephantine ease, he brushed the
dust from his knickers, and wiped his brows with an uncleanly
handkerchief which looked as if it had been used for drying oil off
the bicycle as well as off the man.
"We ought not to be seen there,"--he repeated, disregarding Walden's
steady coldness of eye--"I myself made a great mistake when I wrote
to the woman. I ought not to have done so. But of course I did not
know--I thought it was all right." And the reverend gentleman
assumed an air of mammoth-like innocence--"I am so mediaeval, you
know!--I never suspect anything or anybody! I wrote to her in quite
a friendly way, suggesting that I should arrange her family papers
for her--I thought she might as well employ me as anyone else--and
she never answered my letter--never answered a word!"
"Well, of course not!" said Walden, composedly, though his blood
began to tingle hotly through his veins with rising indignation--
"Why should she? Her family papers are all in order, and no doubt
she considered your application both ignorant and impertinent."
Leveson's gross countenance flushed a deeper crimson.
"Ignorant and impertinent!" he echoed--"Come, I like that! Why she
ought to have considered herself uncommonly lucky to receive so much
as a civil letter from a respectable man,--such a woman as she is!--
Walden took a quick step towards him.
"What do you mean?" he demanded--"What right have you to speak of
her in such a manner?"
Leveson recoiled, startled by the intense pallor of Walden's face,
and the threatening light in his eyes.
"What right?" he stammered--"Why--why what do yon mean by flaring up
in such a temper, eh? What does it matter to you?"
"It matters this much,--that I will not allow Miss Vaneourt to be
insulted by you or anyone else!" retorted Walden, hotly--"You have
never spoken to her,--you know nothing about her,--so hold your
The Reverend 'Putty's' round eyes protruded with amazement.
"Hold--my--tongue!" he repeated, in a kind of stupefaction--"Are you
gone mad, Walden? Do you know who you are talking to?"
John gave a short laugh. His hands clenched involuntarily.
"Oh, I know well enough!" he said--"I am talking to a man who has no
more regard for a woman's name than a cat has for the mouse it
kills! I am talking to a man who is an ordained Christian minister,
who has less Christianity than a dog, which at least is faithful to
Leveson uttered a kind of inarticulate sound something between a
gasp and a grunt. Then he fell back on his old snigger.
"He-he, he-he-he!" he bleated--"You must be crazy, Walden!--or else
you've been drinking! I've a perfect right to speak of the Abbot's
Manor woman IF I like and as I like! All men have a right to do the
same--she's been pretty well handed round as common property for a
long time! Why, she's perfectly notorious!--everybody knows that!"
And Walden sprang at him, one powerful clenched fist uplifted.
Leveson staggered back in terror,--and so for a moment they
stood, staring upon one another. They did not hear a stealthy rustle
among the branches of the chestnut-tree near which they stood, nor
see a long lithe shadow creep towards them for the dense low-hanging
foliage. Face to face, eye to eye, they remained for a moment's
space as though ready to close and wrestle,--then suddenly Walden's
arm dropped to his side.
"My God!" he muttered--"I nearly struck you!"
Leveson drew a long breath of relief, and sneaked backward on his
"You--you're a nice kind of 'ordained Christian minister' aren't
you?" he spluttered--"With all your humbug and cant you're no better
than a vulgar bully! A vulgar bully!--that's what you are! I'll
report you to the Bishop--see if I don't!--brow-beating me, and
putting me in bodily fear, all about a woman too! Great Scott!--a
fine scandal you'll make in the Church one of these days if you're
not watched pretty closely and pulled up pretty sharply--and pulled
up you shall be, take my word for it! We've had about enough of your
high-and-mighty airs--it's time you learned to know your place---"
The words had scarcely left his mouth when a pair of long muscular
arms seized him by the shoulders, shook him briefly and
emphatically, and turning him easily over, deposited him flat in the
"It is time--yea verily!--it is full time you learned to know your
place!" said Julian Adderley, calmly standing with legs-astride
across his fat recumbent body--"And there it is--and there you are!
My dear Walden, how are you? Excuse my shaking hands with you--
having defiled myself, as the Orientals say, by touching unclean
meat, I must wash first!"
For a moment Walden had been so taken aback by the suddenness of
Leveson's unexpected overthrow that he could scarcely realise what
had happened,--but presently when the Reverend 'Putty's' cobby legs
began to sprawl uneasily on the ground, and the Eeverend 'Putty'
himself gave vent to sundry blasphemous oaths and curses, he grasped
the full humour of the situation. A broad smile lit up his face.
"That was a master-stroke, Adderley!" he said, and the smile
deepened into sudden laughter--"But how in the world did you come
"I was here all the time,"--said Adderley, still standing across
Leveson's prostrate form--"Returning to the habits of primaeval
monkey as I often do, I was seated in the boughs of that venerable
chestnut-tree-and I heard all the argument. I enjoyed it. I was
hoping to see the Church militant belabour the Church recusant. It
would have been so new--so fresh! But as the sacred blow failed, the
secular one was bound to fall. Don't get up, my excellent sir!--
don't, I beseech of you!" This to Leveson, who was trying by means
of the most awkward contortions to rise to a sitting posture--"You
will find it difficult--among other misfortunes your knickers will
burst, and there is no tailor close at hand. Spare yourself,--and
"Oh give him a hand, Adderley!" said Walden, good-naturedly. "Help
him up! He's had his beating!"
"He hasn't,"--declared Julian, with a lachrymose air of intense
regret--"I wish he had! He is less hurt than if he had fallen off
his bicycle. He is in no pain;--would that he were!"
Here Leveson managed to partially lift himself on one side.
"Assault!" he stuttered--"Assault--common assault---"
"AND battery,"--said Julian--"You can summons me, my dear sir--if
you feel so inclined! I shall be happy to explain the whole incident
in court--and also to pay the five pounds penalty. I only wish I
could have got more for my money. There's such a lot of you!--such a
lot!" he repeated, musingly, "And I've only sailed round such a
small portion of your vast fleshy continent!"
Walden controlled his laughter, and stooping, offered to assist
Leveson to get up, but the indignant 'Putty' refused all aid, and
setting his own two hands firmly against the ground, tried again to
"Remove your legs, sir!" he shouted to Julian, who still stood
across him in apparent abstraction--"How dare you--how dare you pin
me down in this fashion?--how dare---"
Here his voice died away choked by rage.
"You are witty without knowing it, my fat friend!" said Julian
languidly--"Legs, in slang parlance, are sometimes known as 'pins,'-
-therefore, when you say I 'pin' you down, you use an expression
which is, like the 'mobled queen' in Hamlet, good. Be unpinned, good
priest--and remember that you must be prepared to say your prayers
backwards, next time you slander a woman!"
He relaxed his position, and Leveson with an effort scrambled to his
feet, covered with dust. Picking up his cap from the gutter where it
had fallen, he got his bicycle and prepared to mount it. He
presented a most unlovely spectacle--his face, swollen and crimson
with fury, seemed twice its usual size,--his little piggy eyes
rolled in his head like those of a man threatened with apoplexy--and
the oily perspiration stood upon his brow and trickled from his
carroty hair in great drops.
"You shall pay for this!" he said in low vindictive tones, shaking
his fist at both Walden and Adderley--"There are one or two old
scores to be wiped off in this village, and mine will help to
increase the account! Your fine lady at the Manor isn't going to
have everything her own way, I can tell you--nor you either, you--
With this last epithet hurled out at Walden, who, shrugging his
shoulders, received it with ineffable contempt, he got on his
machine and worked his round legs and round wheels together
furiously away. When his bulky form had disappeared, the two men he
had left behind glanced at one another, and moved by the same
risible emotion burst out laughing,--and once their laughter began,
they gave it full vent, Walden's mellow 'Ha-ha-ha!' ringing out on
the still air with all the zest and heartiness of a boy's mirth.
"Upon my word, Adderley, you are a capital 'thrower'?" he said,
clapping Julian on the shoulder. "I never was more surprised in my
life than to see that monstrous 'ton of man' heave over suddenly and
sprawl in the dust! It was an artistic feat, most artistically
"It was--it was,--I think so myself!"--agreed Julian--"I am proud of
my own skill! That pious porpoise will not forget me in a hurry. You
see, my dear Walden, you merely threatened punishment,--you did not
inflict it,--I suppose out of some scruple of Church conscience,
which is quite a different conscience to the lay examples,--and it
was necessary to act promptly. The air of St. Rest is remarkably
free from miasma, but Leveson was discharging microbes from his
tongue and person generally that would have been dangerous to life
in another minute." He laughed again. "Were you coming my way?"
"Yes, I was," replied Walden, as they began to walk along the road
together--"I am going away on a visit, and I meant to call and say
good-bye to you."
Julian glanced at him curiously.
"Going away? For long?"
"Oh no! Only for two or three days. I want to see my Bishop."
"On a point of conscience?"
John smiled, but coloured a little too.
"No--not exactly! We are very old friends, Brent and I--but we have
not met for seven years,--not since my church was consecrated. It
will be pleasant to us to have a chat about old times---"
"And new times--don't leave THEM out," said Julian--"They are quite
as interesting. The present is as pleasing as the past, don't you
Walden hesitated. A touch of sorrow and lingering regret clouded his
"No--I cannot say that I do!" he answered, at last, with a sigh--"In
the past I was young, with all the world before me,--in the present
I am old, with all the world behind me!"
"Does it matter?" and Adderley lifted his eyelids with a languid
expression--"For instance let us suppose that in the past you have
lost something and that in the present you gain something, does it
not equalise the position?"
"The gain is very little in my case!"--said John, yet even as he
spoke he felt a pang of shame at his own thanklessness. Had he not
secured a peaceful home, a round of work that he loved, and
happiness far beyond his merits, and had not God blessed him with
health and a quiet mind? Yes--till quite lately he had had a quiet
"You perhaps do not realise how much the gain is, or how far it
extends,"--pursued Adderley, thoughtfully--"Youth and age appear to
me to have perfectly equal delights and drawbacks. Take me, for
example,--I am young, but I am in haste to be older, and when I am
old I am sure I shall never want to be young again. It is too
unsettled a condition!"
Walden smiled, but made no answer. They walked on in comparative
silence till they reached Adderley's cottage--a humble but
charmingly artistic tenement, with a thatched roof and a small
garden in front which was little more than a tangle of roses.
"I am taking this house--this mansion--on," said Julian, pausing at
the gate--"I shall stop here all winter. The surroundings suit me.
Inspiration visits me in the flowering of the honeysuckle, and
encircles me in the whispering of the wind among the roses. When the
leaves drop and the roses fade, I shall hear a different chord on
the harp of song. When the sleet and snow begin to fall, I shall
listen to the dripping of the tears of Nature with as much sympathy
as I now bask in her smiles. I have been writing verses to the name
of Maryllia--they are not finished--but they will come by degrees--
yes!--I am sure they will come! This is how they begin,"--and
leaning on the low gate of his cottage entrance he recited softly,
with half-closed eyes:
In the flowering-time of year
When the heavens were crystal clear,
And the skylark's singing sweet
Close against the sun did beat,--
All the sylphs of all the streams,
All the fairies born in dreams,
All the elves with wings of flame,
Trooping forth from Cloudland came
To the wooing of Maryllia!
Walden murmured something inarticulate, but Adderley waved him into
silence, and continued:
Woodland sprites of ferns and trees,
Ariels of the wandering breeze,
Kelpies from the hidden caves
Coral-bordered 'neath the waves,
Sylphs, that in the rose's heart,
Laugh when leaves are blown apart,--
All the Faun and Dryad crew
From their mystic forests flew
To the wooing of Maryllia!
"Very fanciful!" said John, with a forced smile--"I suppose you can
go on like that interminably?"
"I can, and I will,"--said Julian--"So long as the fit possesses me.
But not now. You are in a hurry, and you wish to say good-bye. You
imply the P.P.C. in your aspect. So be it! I shall see you on Sunday
in the pulpit as usual?"
"Badsworth Hall will probably attend your ministrations, so I am
told,"--continued Julian--"Lord Roxmouth wants to hear you preach,--
and Sir Morton himself proposes to 'sit under' you."
"Sorry for it!" said Walden abruptly--"He should attend his own
"Of course you don't credit that story about Miss Vancourt's
marriage with Lord Roxmouth?" queried Adderley, suddenly.
"I am slow to believe anything I hear,"--replied John--"But--is it
quite without foundation?"
Adderley looked him straight in the eyes.
"Quite! Very quite! Most quite! My dear Walden, you are pale! A
change, even a brief one, will do you good. Go and see your Bishop
by all means. And tell him how nearly, how very nearly you gave
prestige to the calling of a Churchman by knocking down a rascal!"
They parted then; and by sundown Walden was in the train speeding
away from St. Rest at the rate of fifty miles an hour to one of the
great manufacturing cities where human beings swarm together more
thickly than bees in a hive, and overcrowd and jostle each other's
lives out in the desperate struggle for mere bread. Bainton and
Nebbie were left sole masters of the rectory and its garden, and
both man and dog were depressed in spirits, and more or less
restless and discontented.
"'Tain't what it used to be by no manner o' means,"--muttered
Bainton, looking with a dejected air round the orchard, where the
wall fruit was hanging in green clusters of promise--"Passon don't
seem to care, an' when HE don't care then I don't care! Why, it
seems onny t'other day 'twas May morning, an' he was carryin' Ipsie
Frost on his shoulder, an' leadin' all the children wi' the Maypole
into the big meadow, an' all was as right as right could be,--yet
'ere we're onny just in August an' everything's topsy-turvy like.
Lord, Lord!--'ow trifles do make up a sum o' life to be sure, as the
copybooks sez--for arter all, what's 'appened? Naught in any wise
partikler. Miss Vancourt 'as come 'ome to her own,--an' she's 'ad a
few friends from Lunnon stayin' with 'er. That's simple enough, as
simple as plantains growin' in a lawn. Then Miss Vancourt's 'usband
that is to be, comes down an' stays with old Blusterdash Pippitt at
the 'All, in order to be near 'is sweet'art. There ain't nothin' out
of the common in that. It's all as plain as piecrust. An' Passon
ain't done nothin' either but jest his dooty as he allus doos it,--
he ain't been up to the Manor more'n once,--he ain't been at the
'All,--an' Miss Vancourt she ain't been 'ere neither since the day
he broke his best lilac for her. So it can't be she what's done
mischief--nor him, nor any on 'em. So I sez to myself, what is it?
What's come over the old place? What's come over Passon? Neither
place nor man's the same somehow, yet blest if I know where the
change comes in. It's like one of the ways o' the Lord, past findin'
He might have thought there was something still more to wonder at if
he could have looked into Josey Letterbarrow's cottage that evening
and seen Maryllia there, sitting on a low stool at the old man's
knee and patting his wrinkled hand tenderly, while she talked to him
in a soft undertone and he listened with grave intentness and
sagacity, though, also with something of sorrow.
"An' so ye think it's the onny way, my beauty!" he queried,
anxiously--"There ain't no other corner round it?"
"I'm afraid not, dear Josey!" she answered, with a sigh--"And I'm
telling you all about it, because you knew my father, and because
you saw me when I was a little child. You would not like me to marry
a man whom I hate,--a man who is bad right through, and who only
wants my aunt's money, which he would get if I consented to be his
wife. I am sure, Josey, you don't think money is the best thing in
life, do you?--I know you agree with me that love is better?"
Josey looked down upon her where she sat with an almost devout
"Love's the onny thing in the world worth 'avin' an' keeping my
beauty!" he said--"An' love's wot you desarves, an' wot you're sure
to get. I wouldn't see Squire's gel married for money, no, not if it
was a reglar gold mine!--I'd rather see 'er in 'er daisy grave fust!
An' I don't want to see 'er with a lord nor a duke,--I'll be content
to see 'er with a good man if the Lord will grant me that 'fore I
die! An' you do as you feels to be right, an' all things 'ull work
together for good to them as loves the Lord! That's Passon's
teachin' an' rare good teachin' it be!"
At this Maryllia rose rather hurriedly and put on her hat, tying its
chiffon strings slowly under her chin.
"Good-bye, Josey dear!"--she said--"It won't be for very long. But
you must keep my secret--you mustn't say a word, not even"--here she
paused and laughed a little forcedly--"not even to the Parson you're
so fond of!"
Josey looked at her sideways, with a quaintly meditative expression.
"Passon be gone away hisself,"--he said, a little smile creeping
among the kindly wrinkles of his brown weather-beaten face--"He
baint comin' back till Sunday."
"Gone away?" Maryllia was quite unconscious of the vibration of pain
in her voice as she asked the question, as she was equally of the
startled sorrow in her pretty eyes.
"Ah, my beauty, gone away,"--repeated Josey, with a curious sort of
placid satisfaction--"Passon, he be lookin' downhearted like, an' a
change o' scene 'ull do 'im good mebbe, an' bring 'im back all the
better for it. He came an' said good-bye to me this marnin'."
Maryllia stood for a moment irresolute. Why had he gone away? Her
brows met in a little puckered line of puzzled wonder.
"He be gone to see the Bishop,"--pursued Josey, watching her
tenderly with his old dim eyes,--it was like reading a love-story to
see the faint colour flushing those soft round cheeks of hers, and
the tremulous quiver of that sweet sensitive mouth--"Church
business, likely. But never you mind, my beauty!--he'll be 'ere to
preach, please the Lord, on Sunday."
"Oh, I don't mind," said Maryllia, quickly recovering herself--"Only
I shan't be here, you see--and--and I had intended to explain
something to him--however, it doesn't matter! I can write all I
wanted to say. Good-bye, Josey! Give my love to Ipsie!"
"Good-bye, my beauty!" returned Josey, with emphatic earnestness--
"An' God bless ye an' make all the rough places smooth for ye!
You'll find us all 'ere, lovin' an' true, whenever ye comes,
mornin', noon or night--the village ain't the world, but you've got
round it, my dearie--you've got round it!"
And in the deep midnight when the church chimes rang the hour, and
the moon poured a pearly shower of luminance over the hushed
woodland and silently winding river, Josey lay broad awake,
resignedly conscious of his extreme age, and thinking soberly of the
beginning and end of life,--the dawn and fruition of love,--the
wonderful, beautiful, complex labyrinth of experience through which
every human soul is guided from one mystic turn to another of
mingled joy and sorrow by that supreme Wisdom, Whom, though we
cannot see, we trust,--and feeling the near close of his own long
life-journey, he folded his withered hands and prayed aloud:
"For all Thy childern, O Lord God, that 'ave gone by the last
milestone on the road an' are growin' footsore an' weary, let there
be Thy peace which passeth all understandin'!--but for Squire's gel
with the little lonely heart of 'er beatin' like the wings of a bird
that wants a nest, let there be Love!"
Next day at Badsworth Hall, a stately luncheon was in progress.
Luncheon, or indeed any meal, partaken of under the rolling and
excitable eye of Sir Morton Pippitt, was always a function fraught
with considerable embarrassment to any guests who might happen to be
present, being frequently assisted by the Shakespearean stage
direction 'alarums and excursions.' With Sir Morton at the head of
the table, and the acid personality of his daughter Miss Tabitha at
the foot, there was very little chance of more than merely
monosyllabic conversation, while any idea of merriment, geniality or
social interchange of thought, withered in conception and never came
to birth. The attention of both host and hostess was chiefly
concentrated on the actual or possible delinquencies of the servants
in attendance--and what with Sir Morton's fierce nods and becks to
unhappy footmen, and Miss Tabitha's freezing menace of brow bent
warningly against the butler, those who, as visitors, were outside
these privacies of the domestic circle, never felt altogether at
their ease. But the fact that other people were made uncomfortable
by his chronic irascibility moved Sir Morton not at all, so long as
he personally could enjoy himself in his own fashion, which was to
browbeat, bully and swear at every hapless household retainer that
came across his path in the course of the day. He was more than
usually choleric and fussy in the 'distinguished' presence of Lord
Roxmouth, for though that individual had gone the social pace very
thoroughly, and was, to put it mildly, a black sheep of modern
decadence, hopelessly past all regeneration, he still presented the
exterior appearances of a gentleman, and was careful to maintain
that imperturbable composure of mien, dignity of bearing, and
unruffled temper which indicate breeding, though they are far from
being evidences of sincerity. And thus it very naturally happened
that in the companionship of the future Duke of Ormistoune, Sir
Morton did not shine. His native vulgarity came out side by side
with his childish pomposity, and Roxmouth, after studying his
habits, customs and manners for two or three days, began to feel
intensely bored and out of humour.
"Upon my word,"--he said, to his fidus Achates, Marius Longford,--"I
am enduring a great deal for the sake of the Vancourt millions! To
follow an erratic girl like Maryllia from one Continental resort to
another was bad enough,-but to stay here in tame, highly respectable
country dullness is a thousand times worse! Why on earth, my good
fellow, could you not have found a more educated creature to play
host to me than this terrible old Bone-Boiler?"
Longford pressed the tips of his fingers together with a deprecatory
"There was really no one else who could receive you,"--he answered,
almost apologetically--"I thought I had managed the affair rather
well. You will remember that directly Miss Vancourt had announced to
her aunt her intention to return to her own home, you sent me down
here to investigate the place and its surroundings, and see what I
could do. Sir Morton Pippitt seemed to be the only person, from the
general bent of his character, to suit your aims, and his house was,
(before he had it) of very excellent historic renown. I felt sure
you would be able to use him. There is no other large place in the
neighbourhood except Miss Vancourt's own Manor, and Ittlethwaite
Park--I doubt whether you could have employed the Ittlethwaites to
"Spare me the suggestion!" yawned Roxmouth--"I should not have
"Well, there is no one else of suitable position, or indeed of
sufficient wealth to entertain you,"--continued Longford--"Unless
you had wished me to fraternise with the brewer, Mordaunt Appleby?
HE certainly might have been useful! oj He would sell his soul to a
Roxmouth gave an exclamation of mingled contempt and impatience, and
dropped the conversation. But he was intensely weary of Sir Morton's
'fine jovial personality'--he hated his red face, his white hair,
his stout body, his servile obsequiousness to rank, and all his
'darling old man' ways. Darling old man he might be, but he was
unquestionably a dull old man as well. So much so, indeed, that when
at luncheon on the day now named, his lordship Roxmouth, as Mr.
Netlips would have styled him, was in a somewhat petulant mood,
being tired of the constant scolding of the servants that went on
around him, and being likewise moved to a sort of loathing repulsion
at the contemplation of Miss Tabitha's waxy-clean face lined with
wrinkles, and bordered by sternly smooth grey hair. He was lazily
wondering to himself whether she had ever been young--whether the
same waxy face, wrinkles and grey hair had not adorned her in her
very cradle,--when the appearance of an evidently highly nervous boy
in buttons, carrying a letter towards his host on a silver salver,
distracted his attention.
"What's this--what's this?" spluttered Sir Morton, hastily dropping
a fork full of peas which he had been in the act of conveying to his
mouth--"What are you bringing notes in here for, eh? Haven't I told
you I won't have my meals disturbed by messages and parcels? What
d'ye mean by it? Take it away--take it away!--No!--here!--stop a
minute, stop a minute! Yes--yes!--I see!--marked 'immediate,' and
from Abbot's Manor. My dear lord!"--And here he raised his voice to
a rich warble-"I believe this will concern you more than me--ha-ha-
ha!--yes, yes! we know a thing or two! 'When a woman will, she will,
you may depend on't!'--never mind the other line!--never mind, never
mind!" And he broke open the seal of the missive presented to him,
and adjusted his gold-rimmed spectacles to read its contents. "Eh--
what's this--what's this? God bless my soul!" And his round eyes
protruded in astonishment and dismay--"Look here!--I say--really!
You'd better read this, my lord! God bless my soul! She's bolted!"
Roxmouth started violently. Mr. Marius Longford looked up sharply--
and Miss Tabitha laid down her knife and fork with the regular old
maid's triumphant air of 'I told you so!'
"God bless my soul!" said Sir Morton again--"Was ever such a bit of
damned cheek!--beg pardon, my lord!---"
"Don't apologise!" said Roxmouth, with courteous languor, "At least,
not to ME! To Miss Tabitha!" and he waved his hand expressively.
"May I see the letter?"
"Certainly--certainly!" and Sir Morton in a great fluster passed it
along. It was a very brief note and ran as follows:
"DEAR SIR MORTON,--I quite forgot to tell you, when you and your
friends dined with me the other day, that I am leaving home
immediately and shall be away for the rest of the summer. Lady
Wicketts and Miss Fosby are staying on at the Manor for a fortnight
or three weeks, as the country air does them so much good. It will
be very kind if you and Lord Roxmouth will call and see them as
often as you can,--they are such dear kind people!--and I am sure
Miss Tabitha will be glad to have them near her as she already likes
them so much. Anything you can do to give them pleasure while they
are here, will be esteemed as a personal favour to myself. I am
sorry not to have the time to call and say good-bye--but I am sure
you will excuse ceremony. I shall have left before you receive this
note.--With kind regards, sincerely yours,"
Roxmouth read this letter, first to himself, and then aloud to all
at table. For a moment there was a silence of absolute stupefaction.
"Then she's gone!" at last said Miss Tabitha, placidly nodding,
while the suspicion of a malign smile crept round the hard corners
of her mouth.
"Evidently!" And Roxmouth crumbled the bread beside his plate into
fine shreds with a nervous, not to say vicious clench of his hand.
He was inwardly furious. There is nothing so irritating to a man of
his type as to be made ridiculous. Maryllia had done this. In the
most trifling, casual, and ordinary way she had compelled him to
look like a fool. All his carefully laid plans were completely
upset, and he fancied that even Longford, his tool, to whom he had
freely confided his wishes and intentions, was secretly laughing at
him. To have plotted and contrived a stay at Badsworth Hall with the
blusterous Pippitt in order to have the opportunity of crossing
Maryllia's path at every turn, and compromising her name with his in
her own house and county, and then to find himself 'left,' with the
civil suggestion that he should 'call and see' the antique Sisters
Gemini, Lady Wicketts and Miss Fosby, was somewhat too much for his
patience. The blow was totally unexpected,--the open slight to his
amour propre sudden and keen. His very blood tingled under the lash
of Maryllia's disdain--she had carried a point against him, and he
almost imagined he could hear the distant echo of her light mocking
laughter. His brow reddened,--he gnawed his under-lip angrily, and
sat mute, aware that he had been tricked and foiled.
Longford watched him narrowly and with something of dismay,--for if
this lordly patron, who, by his position alone, was able to push
things on in certain quarters of the press, were to suddenly turn
crusty and unreasonable, where would his, Longford's, 'great
literary light' be? Quenched utterly like a rush-light in a gale!
Sir Morton Pippitt during the uncomfortable pause of silence had
grown purple with suppressed excitement. He knew perfectly well,--
because he had consented to it,--that his house had only been 'used'
for Roxmouth's purposes, and that he, personally, was of no more
consideration to a man like the future Duke of Ormistoune than a
landlord for the time being, whose little reckoning for
entertainment would in due course be settled in some polite and
ceremonious fashion. And he realised dolefully that his
'distinguished' guest might, and probably would, soon take his
departure from Badsworth Hall, that abode no longer being of any
service to him. This meant annihilation to many of Sir Morton's
fondest hopes. He had set his heart on appearing at sundry garden-
parties in the neighbourhood during the summer with Lord Roxmouth
under his portly wing--he had meant to hurl Lord Roxmouth here, Lord
Roxmouth there at all the less 'distinguished' people around him, so
that they should almost sink into the dust with shame because they
had not had the honour of sheltering his lordship within their
walls,--and he had expected to add considerably to his own
importance by 'helping on' the desired union between Roxmouth Castle
and the Vaneourt millions. Now this dream was over, and he could
willingly have thrown plates and dishes and anything else that came
handy at the very name of Maryllia for her 'impudence' as he called
it, in leaving them all in the lurch.
"It will be quite easy to ascertain where she has gone,"--said
Marius Longford presently, in soft conciliatory accents--"Lady
Wicketts will probably know, and Miss Fosby---"
"Damn Lady Wicketts and Miss Fosby!" snapped out Sir Morton, this
time without any apology--"A couple of female donkeys! 'Kind of me
to call upon them!' God bless my soul! I should think it WOULD be
kind! Nobody but a fool would go near them---"
"They are very pleasant, good women,"--said Miss Tabitha with severe
serenity--"Personally, I much prefer them to Miss Vancourt."
Sir Morton snorted contempt; Mr. Longford coughed discreetly.
"Miss Vancourt has not yet ripened sufficiently to bear comparison
with Lady Wicketts,"--he said, smoothly--"or with Miss Fosby. But I
think, Miss Pippitt, there is a great deal in what you say!" Miss
Tabitha bowed, and smiled a vinegary smile. "Lady Wicketts has a
fine mind--very fine! Her husband, Sir Thomas---"
"Oh never mind her husband!" blustered Sir Morton,--
"He's dead. And a good job too--for himself. Now what's to be done,
my dear lord, eh?--what's to be done?"
Roxmouth looked up and managed to force his usual conventional
"Nothing? Oh come, come! That won't do! Paint heart never won fair
lady--ha-ha-ha! God bless my soul! The course of true love never did
run smooth--that's the advice of what's-his-name--Shakespeare. Ha-
ha! By the bye, what's become of that poet acquaintance of yours,
Longford? Oughtn't HE to have known something about this? Didn't you
tell him to keep a sharp look-out on Maryllia Van, eh?"
Longford reddened slightly under his pale yellow skin. What a vulgar
way Sir Morton had of putting things, to be sure!
"I certainly asked Mr. Adderley to let us know if there was anything
in which we could possibly participate to give pleasure and
entertainment to Miss Vancourt,"--he answered frigidly--"He seems to
have ingratiated himself with both Miss Vancourt and her young
friend Miss Bourne--I should have thought he would have been told of
their intending departure."
"You may depend he knows all about it!" said Sir Mortou--"He's
double-faced, that's what he is! Poets always are. I hate 'em!
Regular sneaks!--always something queer about their morals--look at
Byron!--God bless my soul!--he ought to have been locked up--
positively locked up, he-ha-ha! We'll come down on this Adderley--
we'll take him by surprise and cross-examine him--we'll ask him why
the devil he has played a double game---"
"Pray do not think of such a thing!"--interrupted Roxmouth, quietly-
-"I really doubt whether he knows any more than we do. Maryllia--
Miss Vancourt--is not of a character to confide her movements, even
to a friend,--she has always been reticent---" He paused.
"And sly!"--said Miss Tabitha, finishing his sentence for him, "Very
sly! The first time I ever saw Miss Vancourt I knew she was
deceitful! Her very look expresses it!"
"I'm afraid,"--murmured Roxmouth,--and then hesitating a moment, he
raised his eyes with an affectation of great frankness--"I'm really
afraid you may be right, Miss Tabitha! I had hoped that I should not
have had to speak of a matter,--a very disagreeable matter which
happened the other night--but, under the circumstances, it may be as
well to mention it. You can perhaps imagine how distressing it has
been to me--distressing and painful--and indeed incredible,--to
discover the lady whom I have every right to consider almost my
promised wife, entering into a kind of amorous entanglement down
here with a clergyman!"
Sir Morton bounced in his chair.
"God bless my soul! A clergyman?"
"A clergyman?" echoed Miss Tabitha, with sudden sharpness in her
tone--"What clergyman do you mean?"
"Who should I mean!" And Roxmouth affected a somewhat sad and
forbearing demeanour--"There is only one who appears to be welcome
at the Manor-the Reverend John Walden."
Miss Tabitha turned a paler waxen yellow-Sir Morton shot forth a
deep, dreadful and highly blasphemous oath.
"That prig?" he roared, with a bull-like loudness and fury--"That
high-and-mighty piece of damned superior clerical wisdom? God bless
my soul! There must be some mistake---"
"Yes surely!"--murmured Miss Tabitha, feeling the clutch of a deadly
spite and fear at her heart,--for was not Walden HER clergyman?--HER
choice of a husband?--the man she had resolved to wed sooner or
later, even if she had to wait till he was senile, and did not know
what he was doing when led to the altar? "Mr. Walden is not a man
who would be easily allured---"
"Perhaps not,"--said Roxmouth, quietly--"But I can hardly refuse to
accept the witness of my own eyes and ears." And, attended by an
almost breathless silence on the part of his auditors, he related
with an air of patient endurance and compassionate regret, his own
account of the interview between Maryllia and Walden in the picture-
gallery, exaggerating something here, introducing a suggestive
insinuation there, suppressing the simplicity of the true facts, and
inserting falsehood wherever convenient, till he had succeeded in
placing Walden's good name at Miss Tabitha's cat-like mercy for her
to rend and pounce upon to the utmost extent of her own jaundiced
rage and jealous venom.
Nothing could equal or surpass Sir Morton's amazement and wrath as
he listened to the narration. His eyes seemed to literally start out
of his head,--his throat swelled visibly till a fat ridge of flesh
lolled over the edge of his stiff shirt-collar, and he threw in
various observations of his own with regard to Walden, such as
'Sniveling puppy!' 'Canting rascal!' 'Elderly humbug!' 'Sneaking
upstart,' which were quite in accordance with his native good taste
and refinement of speech. And when at last his stock of expletives
became, for the time being, exhausted, and when Miss Tabitha's dumb
viciousness had, like an invisible sculptor's chisel, carved sudden
deep lines in her face as fitting accompaniments to the deepening
malice of her thoughts, they all rose from the luncheon table and
went their several ways in their several moods of disconcerted
confusion, impotence and vexation, in search of fresh means to gain
new and unexpected ends. Roxmouth, reluctantly yielding to the
earnest persuasions of Longford, walked with him into the village of
St. Rest, and made enquiries at the post-office as to whether Miss
Vancourt's sudden departure was known there, or whether any
instructions had been left as to the forwarding of her letters. But
the postmistress, Mrs. Tapple, breathing hard and curtseying
profoundly to the 'future Dook' declared she ''adn't heard nothink,'
and ''adn't 'ad no orders.' Miss Vancourt's letters and telegrams
all went up to the Manor as usual. Whereupon, still guided by the
astute Longford, Roxmouth so far obeyed Maryllia's parting
suggestion as to go and 'kindly call' upon Lady Wicketts and Miss
Fosby at the Manor itself. The beautiful old house looked the same
as usual; there were no shutters up, no blinds drawn, in any of the
windows,--nothing indicated absence on the part of the reigning
mistress of the fair domain; and even the dog Plato was comfortably
snoozing according to daily custom, on the sun-baked flag-stones in
the Tudor court. Primmins opened the door to them with his usual
well-trained and imperturbable demeanour.
"Miss Vancourt is not at home?" began Roxmouth tentatively.
"Miss Vancourt has left for the Continent, my lord," replied
Longford exchanged a swift glance with his patron. The latter gave a
slight, weary shrug of his shoulders.
"Miss Bourne."--began Longford then.
"Miss Bourne and Mr. Gigg have also left," said Primmins.
"I suppose Miss Vancourt went with them?"
This was baffling.
"Lady Wicketts is staying here, I believe,"--murmured Roxmouth--"Can
"Her ladyship has the neuralgy and is lying down, my lord," and an
acute observer might have noticed the tremor of a wink in Primmins'
eye--"Miss Fosby is in the drawing-room."
With a profound sigh Roxmouth glanced at Longford. That gentleman
smiled a superior smile.
"We should like to see Miss Fosby."
Primmins at once threw open the door more widely.
"This way, if you please!"
In another moment they were ushered into the presence of Miss Fosby,
who, laying aside her embroidery, rose with punctilious ceremony to
"Lady Wicketts is not well,"--she said, in tenderly lachrymose
accents--"Dear Lady Wicketts! She is always so good!--always
thinking of other people and doing such kind things!--she fatigues
herself, and she is so delicate--ah!--so very delicate! She is
suffering from neuralgia, I am sorry to say!"
"Don't mention it,"--said Roxmouth, hastily--"We would not disturb
her for the world! The fact is, we called to see Miss Vancourt---"
"Yes?" queried Miss Fosby, gently, taking up her embroidery again,
and carefully setting her needle into the petal of a rosebud she was
designing--"Dear girl! She left here yesterday."
"Rather sudden, wasn't it?" said Longford.
Miss Fosby looked up placidly, and smiled. She had a touch of humour
about her as well as much 'early Victorian' sentiment, and she was
just now enjoying herself.
"I think not! Young women like change and travel. Maryllia has
always been accustomed to go abroad in August. The first time Lady
Wicketts and I ever met her, she was travelling with her aunt. Oh
no, I don't think it is at all sudden!"
"Where has she gone?" asked Roxmouth, affecting as much ease and
lightness of manner as he could in putting the question.
Miss Fosby smiled a little more.
"I really don't know,"--she replied, with civil mildness--"I fancy
she has no settled plans at all. She has kindly allowed Lady
Wicketts and myself the use of the Manor for three weeks."
"Till she returns?" suggested Longford.
This time Miss Fosby laughed.
"Oh no! When WE leave it, the Manor is to be shut up again for quite
a long time--probably till next summer."
"Miss Bourne has gone with her friend, I suppose?" "No,"--and Miss
Fosby sought carefully among her embroidery silks for some special
tint of colour--"Little Cicely and Monsieur Gigue, her master, went
away together only this morning."
"Well, I suppose Miss Vancourt's letters will he forwarded on
somewhere!"--said Eoxmouth, unguardedly. Miss Fosby's back stiffened
"Really, my lord, I know nothing about that,"--she said, primly--
"Nor should I even make it my business to enquire." There was an
awkward pause after this, and though Longford skilfully changed the
subject of conversation to generalities, the rest of the interview
was fraught with considerable embarrassment. Miss Fosby was not to
be 'drawn.' She was distinctly 'old-fashioned,'--needless therefore
to add that she was absolutely loyal to her absent friend and
Leaving the Manor, Lord Roxmouth and his tame pussy sought for
information in other quarters with equal futility. The agent, Mr.
Stanways, 'knew nothing.' His orders were to communicate all his
business to Miss Vancourt's solicitors in London. Finally the last
hope failed them in Julian Adderley. They found that young gentleman
as much taken aback as themselves by the news of Maryllia'a
departure. He had been told nothing of it. A note from Cicely Bourne
had been brought to him that morning by one of the gardeners at the
Manor--and he showed this missive to both Roxmouth and Longford with
perfect frankness. It merely ran: "Goodbye Moon-calf! Am going away.
No time to see you for a fond farewell! Hope you will be famous
before I come back. Enclosed herewith is my music to your 'Little
Eose Tree,' GOBLIN."
This, with the accompanying manuscript score of the song alluded to
was all the information Julian could supply,--and his own surprise
and consternation at the abrupt and unexpected termination of his
pleasant visits to the Manor, were too genuine to be doubted.
"It is positively remote!" he said, staring vaguely at his visitors-
-"Too remote for realisation! Mr. Walden has gone away too."
"Yes." And Julian looked surprised at the other's hasty tone,--"But
only to see his Bishop. He will preach here as usual on Sunday."
"Are you sure of that?" asked Longford, sharply scanning Julian's
flabby face, green-grey eyes and ruddy locks with sudden suspicion--
"Or is it only a blind?"
"A blind?" And Adderley lifted his shoulders to the lobes of his
ears and spread out his hands in flat amazement,--"What do you mean,
most obscure Marius? For what purpose should a blind be used? Mr.
Walden is the last person in the world to wish to cover his
intentions, or disguise his motives. He is the sincerest man I ever
Longford glanced at his patron for instructions. Was Adderley to be
told of the 'amorous entanglement' of Miss Vancourt? Roxmouth
frowned at him warningly, and he understood his cue.
"Well, if you hear any news from the Manor, you can let us know,"--
he said--"You are quite aware of the position---"
"Quite!" murmured Julian, lazily.
"And if you want to get on, you will hardly find a better friend
than Lord Roxmouth,"--pursued Longford, with meaning emphasis--"He
has made many a man famous!"
"Oh, my dear Longford!-pray do not speak of these things!"--
interrupted Roxmouth, with an air of gentlemanly humility. "Merit
always commands my interest and attention--and Mr. Adderley's talent
as a poet--naturally--!" Here he waved his hand and allowed the
sentence to finish itself.
Julian looked at him thoughtfully.
"Thanks! I THINK I see what you mean!"--he said slowly--"But I'm
afraid I am not a useful person. I never have been useful in my
life--neither to myself, nor to anybody else. To be useful would be
new--and in some cases, fresh,"--here he smiled dubiously--"Yes--
very fresh!--and delightful! But I fear--I very much fear that I
shall always 'lack advancement' as Hamlet says--I can never
accommodate myself to other people's plans. You will excuse my
Roxmouth flushed angrily. He understood. So did Marius Longford--
resolving in his own mind that whenever, IF ever, a book of poems
appeared by Julian Adderley, he would so maul and pounce upon it in
the critical reviews, that there should not be a line of it left
unmangled or alive. They parted with him, however, on apparently
Returning to Badsworth Hall they found no further news awaiting them
than they had themselves been able to obtain. Sir Morton's fussy
enquiries had brought no result--Miss Tabitha had scoured the
neighbourhood in her high dogcart, calling on the Ittlethwaites and
Mandeville Porehams, all in vain. Nobody knew anything. Nobody had
heard anything. The sudden exit of Maryllia from the scene took
everyone by surprise. And when Miss Pippitt began to hiss a
scandalous whisper concerning John Walden, and a possible intrigue
between him and the Lady of the Manor, the 'county' sat up amazed.
Here indeed was food for gossip! Here was material for 'local'
"Old Tabitha's jealous!--that's what it is!" said Bruce Ittlethwaite
of Ittlethwaite Park, to his maiden sisters,--"Ha-ha-ha! Old green-
and-yellow Tabitha is afraid she'll lose her pet parson! Dammit! A
pretty woman always starts this kind of nonsense. If it wasn't the
clergyman, it would be somebody else--perhaps Sir Morton himself--or
perhaps me! Ha-ha-ha! Dammit!"
"I don't believe a word of it!" declared the eldest Miss
Ittlethwaite,--"I do not attend Mr. Walden's services myself, but I
am quite sure he is an excellent man--and a perfect gentleman.
Nothing that Tabitha Pippitt can ever say, will move me on that
"I always had my suspicions!"--said Mrs. Mandeville Poreham,
severely, when she in her turn heard the news--"I heard that Miss
Vancourt had insisted--positively INSISTED on Mr. Walden's visiting
her nearly every day, and I trembled for him! MY girls have gone
quite crazy about Miss Vancourt ever since they met her at Sir
Morton Pippitt's garden-party, but _I_ have NEVER changed my
opinion. MY poor mother always taught me to be firm in my
convictions. And Miss Vancourt is a designing person. There's no
doubt of it. She affects the innocence of a child--but I doubt
whether I have ever met anyone QUITE so worldly and artful!"
So the drops of petty gossip began to trickle,--very slowly at
first, and then faster and faster, as is their habitude in the
effort to wear away the sparkling adamant of a good name and
unblemished reputation. The Reverend Putwood Leveson, vengefully
brooding over the wrongs which he considered he had sustained at the
hands of Walden, as well as Julian Adderley, rode to and fro on his
bicycle from morn till dewy eye, perspiring profusely, and shedding
poisonous slanders almost as freely as he exuded melted tallow from
his mountainous flesh, aware that by so doing he was not only
ingratiating himself with the Pippitts, but also with Lord Roxmouth,
through whose influence he presently hoped to 'get a thing or two.'
Mordaunt Appleby, the Riversford brewer, and his insignificant
spouse, irritated at never having had the chance to 'receive' Lord
Roxmouth, were readily pressed into the same service and did their
part of scandal-mongering with right good-will and malignant
satisfaction. And in less than forty-eight hours' time there was no
name too bad for the absent Maryllia; she was 'mixed up' with John
Walden,--she had 'tried to entangle him'--there had been 'a scene
with him at the Manor,'--she was 'forward,' 'conceited'--and utterly
lost to any sense of propriety. Why did she not marry Lord Roxmouth?
Why, indeed! Many people could tell if they chose! Ah yes!--and with
this, there were sundry shakings of the head and shruggings of the
shoulders which implied more than whole volumes of libel.
But while the county talked, the village listened, sagaciously
incredulous of mere rumour, quiescent in itself and perfectly
satisfied that whoever else was wrong, 'Passon Walden' in everything
he did, said, or thought, was sure to be right. Wherefore, until
they heard their 'man o' God's' version of the stories that were
being so briskly circulated, they reserved their own opinions. The
infallibility of the Supreme Pontiff was not more securely founded
in the Roman Catholic Ritual than the faith of St. Rest in the
'gospel according to John.'
Meanwhile Walden himself, ignorant of all the 'local' excitement so
suddenly stirred up in his tiny kingdom, had arrived on a three
days' visit at the house, or to put it more correctly, at the
palace, of his friend Bishop Brent. It was, in strict reality a
palace, having been in the old days one of the residences of Henry
VII. Much of the building had been injured during the Cromwellian
period, and certain modern repairs to its walls had been somewhat
clumsily executed, but it still retained numerous fine old mullioned
windows, and a cloistered court of many sculptured arches still
eminently beautiful, though grey and crumbling under the touch of
the melancholy vandal, Time. The Bishop's study had formerly been
King Henry's audience chamber, and possessed a richly-wrought
ceiling of interlaced oak rafters, and projecting beams smoothly
polished at the ends and painted with royal emblems, from which
projections no doubt, in early periods, many a banner of triumph had
floated and many a knightly pennon. Bishop Brent was fond of this
room, and carefully maintained its ancient character in the style of
its furniture and general surroundings. The wide angle-nook and high
carved chimney-piece, supported by two sculptured angel-figures of
heroic size, was left unmodernised, and in winter the gaping recess
was filled with great logs blazing cheerily as in olden times, but
in summer, as now, it served as a picturesque setting for masses of
rare flowers which, growing in pots, or cut freshly and set in
crystal vases, were grouped together with the greatest taste and
artistic selection of delicate colouring, forming, as it seemed, a
kind of blossom-wreathed shrine, above which, against the carved
chimney itself, hung a wonderfully impressive picture of the Virgin
and Child. Placed below this, and slightly towarde the centre of the
room, was the Bishop's table-desk and chair, arranged so that
whenever he raised his head from his work, the serene soft eyes of
Mary, Blessed among Women, should mystically meet his own. And here
just now he sat at evening, deep in conversation with John Walden,
who with the perfect unselfishness which was an ingrained part of
his own nature, had for the time put aside or forgotten all his own
little troubles, in order to listen to the greater ones of his
friend. He had been shocked at the change wrought in seven years on
Brent's form and features. Always thin, he had now become so
attenuated as to have reached almost a point of emaciation,--his
dark eyes, sunk far back under his shelving brows, blazed with a
feverish brilliancy which gave an almost unearthly expression to his
pale drawn features, and his hand, thin, long, and delicate as a
woman's, clenched and unclenched itself nervously when he spoke,
with an involuntary force of which he was himself unconscious.
"You have not aged much, Walden!" he said, thoughtfully regarding
his old college chum's clear and open countenance with a somewhat
sad smile--"Your eyes are the same blue eyes of the boy that linked
his arm through mine so long ago and walked with me through the
sleepy old streets of 'Alma Mater!' That time seems quite close to
me sometimes--and again sometimes far away--dismally, appallingly,
He sighed. Walden looked at him a little anxiously, but for the
moment said nothing.
"You give me no response,"--continued Brent, with sudden
querulousness--"Since you arrived we have been talking nothing but
generalities and Church matters. Heavens, how sick I am of Church
matters! Yet I know you see a change in me. I am sure you do--and
you will not say it. Now you never were secretive--you never said
one thing and meant another--so speak the truth as you have always
done! I AM changed, am I not?"
"You are,"--replied Walden, steadily--"But I cannot tell how, or in
what way. You look ill and worn out. You are overworked and
overwrought--but I think there is something else at the root of the
evil;--something that has happened during the last seven years. You
are not quite the man you were when you came to consecrate my church
at St. Rest."
"St. Rest!" repeated the Bishop, musingly--"What a sweet name it is-
-what a still sweeter suggestion! Rest--rest!--and a saint's rest
too!--that perfect rest granted to all the martyrs for Christ!--how
safe and peaceful!--how sure and glorious! Would that such rest were
mine! But I see nothing ahead of me but storm and turmoil, and
stress of anguish and heartbreak, ending in--Nothingness!"
Walden bent a little more forward and looked his friend full in the
"What is wrong, Harry?" he asked, with exceeding gentleness.
At the old schoolboy name of bygone years, Brent caught and pressed
his hand with strong fervour. A smile lighted his eyes.
"John, my boy, everything is wrong!" he said--"As wrong as ever my
work at college was, before you set it right. Do you think I forget!
Everything is wrong, I tell you! I am wrong,--my thoughts are
wrong,--and my conscience leaves me no peace day or night! I ought
not to be a Bishop--for I feel that the Church itself is wrong!"
John sat quiet for a minute. Then he said--
"So it is in many ways. The Church is a human attempt to build
humanity up on a Divine model, and it has its human limitations. But
the Divine model endures!"
Brent threw himself back in his chair and closed his eyes.
"The Divine model endures--yes!" he murmured--"The Divine foundation
remains firm, but the human building totters and is insecure to the
point of utter falling and destruction!" Here, opening his eyes, he
gazed dreamily at the pictured face of the Madonna above him.
"Walden, it is useless to contend with facts, and the facts are,
that the masses of mankind are as unregenerate at this day as ever
they were before Christ came into the world! The Church is powerless
to stem the swelling tide of human crime and misery. The Church in
these days has become merely a harbour of refuge for hypocrites who
think to win conventional repute with their neighbours, by affecting
to believe in a religion not one of whose tenets they obey!
Blasphemy, rank blasphemy, Walden! It is bad enough in all
conscience to cheat one's neighbour, but an open attempt to cheat
the Creator of the Universe is the blackest crime of all, though it
be unnamed in the criminal calendar!"
He uttered these words with intense passion, rising from his seat,
and walking up and down the room as he spoke. Walden watched his
restless passing to and fro, with a wistful look in his honest eyes.
Presently he said, smiling a little--
"You are my Bishop--and I should not presume to differ from you,
Brent! YOU must instruct ME,--not I you! Yet if I may speak from my
"You may and you shall!"--replied Brent, swiftly--"But think for a
moment, before you speak, of what that experience has been! One
great grief has clouded your life--the loss of your sister. After
that, what has been your lot? A handful of simple souls set under
your charge, in the loveliest of little villages,--souls that love
you, trust you and obey you. Compared to this, take MY daily life!
An over-populated diocese--misery and starvation on all sides,--men
working for mere pittances,--women prostituting themselves to obtain
food--children starving--girls ruined in their teens--and over it
all, my wretched self, a leading representative of the Church which
can do nothing to remedy these evils! And worse than all, a Church
in which some of the clergy themselves who come under my rule and
dominance are more dishonourable and dissolute than many of the so-
called 'reprobates' of society whom they are elected to admonish! I
tell you, Walden, I have some men under my jurisdiction whom I
should like to see soundly flogged!--only I am powerless to order
the castigation--and some others who ought to be serving seven years
in penal servitude instead of preaching virtue to people a thousand
times more virtuous than themselves!"
"I quite believe that!" said Walden, smiling--"I know one of them!"
The Bishop glanced at him, and laughed.
"You mean Putwood Leveson?" he said--"He seems a mischievous fool--
but I don't suppose there is any real harm in him, is there?"
"Real harm?"--and John flared up in a blaze of wrath--"He is the
most pernicious scoundrel that ever masqueraded in the guise of a
The Bishop paused in his walk up and down, and clasping his hands
behind his back, an old habit of his, looked quizzically at his
friend. A smile, kindly and almost boyish, lightened the grey pallor
of his worn face.
"Why, John!" he said--"you are actually in a temper! Your mental
attitude is evidently that of squared fists and 'Come on!' What has
roused the slumbering lion, eh?"
"It doesn't need a lion to spring at Leveson,"--said Walden,
contemptuously--"A sheep would do it! The tamest cur that ever
crawled would have spirit enough to make a dash for a creature so
unutterably mean and false and petty! I may as well admit to you at
once that I myself nearly struck him!"
"You did?" And Bishop Brent's grave dark eyes flashed with a sudden
suspicion of laughter.
"I did. I know it was not Churchman-like,--I know it was a case of
'kicking against the pricks.' But Leveson's 'pricks' are too much
like hog's bristles for me to endure with patience!"
The Bishop assumed a serious demeanour.
"Come, come, let me hear this out!" he said--"Do you mean to tell me
that you--YOU, John--actually struck a brother minister?"
"No--I do not mean to tell you anything of the kind, my Lord
Bishop!" answered Walden, beginning to laugh. "I say that I 'nearly'
struck him,--not quite! Someone else came on the scene at the
critical moment, and did for me what I should certainly have done
for myself had I been left to it. I cannot say I am sorry for the
"It sounds like a tavern brawl,"--said the Bishop, shaking his head
dubiously--"or a street fight. So unlike you, Walden! What was it
"The fellow was slandering a woman,"--replied Walden, hotly--
"Poisoning her name with his foul tongue, and polluting it by his
mere utterance--contemptible brute! I should like to have
"Stop, stop!" interrupted the Bishop, stretching out his thin long
white hand, on which one single amethyst set in a plain gold ring,
shone with a pale violet fire--"I am not sure that I quite follow
you, John! What woman is this?"
Despite himself, a rush of colour sprang to Walden's brows. But he
answered quite quietly.
"Miss Vancourt,--of Abbot's Manor."
"Miss Vancourt!" Bishop Brent looked, as he felt, utterly
bewildered. "Miss Vancourt! My dear Walden, you surprise me! Did I
not write to you--do you not know---"
"Oh, I know all that is reported of her,"--said John, quickly--"And
I remember what you wrote. But it's a mistake, Brent! In fact, if
you will exonerate me for speaking bluntly, it's a lie! There never
was a gentler, sweeter woman than Maryllia Vancourt,--and perhaps
there never was one more basely or more systematically calumniated!"
The Bishop took a turn up to the farther end of the room. Then he
came back and confronted Walden with an authoritative yet kindly
"Look me straight in the face, John!"
John obeyed. There was a silence, while Brent scanned slowly and
with appreciative affection the fine intellectual features, brave
eyes, and firm, yet tender mouth of the man whom he had, since the
days of their youth together, held dearest in his esteem among all
other men he had ever known, while Walden, in his turn, bore the sad
and searching gaze without flinching. Then the Bishop laid one hand
gently on his shoulder.
"So it has come, John!" he said.
Then and then only the brave eyes fell,--then and then only the firm
mouth trembled. But Walden was not the man to shirk any pain or
confusion to himself in matters of conscience.
"I suppose it has!" he answered, simply.
The Bishop sat down, and, seemingly out of long habit, raised his
eyes to the blandly smiling Virgin and Child above him.
"I am sorry!"--he murmured--"John, my dear old fellow, I am very
"Why should you be sorry?" broke out Walden, impetuously, "There is
nothing to be sorry for, except that I am a fool! But I knew THAT
long ago, even if you did not!"--and he forced a smile--"Don't be
sorry for me, Brent!--I'm not in the least sorry for myself. Indeed,
if I tell you the whole truth, I believe I rather like my own folly.
It does nobody any harm! And after all it is not absolutely a
world's wonder that a decaying tree should, even in its decaying
process, be aware of the touch of spring. It should not make the
The Bishop raised his eyes. They were full of a deep melancholy.
"We are not trees--we are men!" he said--"And as men, God has made
us all aware of the love of woman,--the irresistible passion that at
one time or another makes havoc or glory of our lives! It is the
direst temptation on earth. Worst of all and bitterest it is when
love comes too late,--too late, John!--I say in your case, it comes
John sighed and smiled.
"Love--if it has come to me at all--is never too late,"--he said
with quiet patience,--"My dear Brent, don't you understand? This
little girl--this child--for she is nothing more than that to a man
of my years--has slipped into my life by chance, as it were, like a
stray sunbeam--no more! I feel her brightness--her warmth--her
vitality--and my soul is conscious of an animation and gladness
whenever she is near, of which she is the sole cause. But that is
all. Her pretty ways--her utter loneliness,--are the facts of her
existence which touch me to pity, and I would see her cared for and
protected,--but I know myself to be too old and too unworthy to so
care for and protect her. I want her to be happy, but I am fully
conscious that I can never make her so. Would you call this kind of
chill sentiment 'love'?"
Brent regarded him steadfastly.
"Yes, John! I think I should!--yes, I certainly should call 'this
chill sentiment' love! And tell me--have you never got out of your
depth in the water of this 'chill sentiment,' or found yourself
battling for dear life against an outbreak of volcanic fire?"
Walden was silent.
"I never thought,"--continued the Bishop, rather sorrowfully,--"when
I wrote to you about the return of Robert Vancourt's daughter to her
childhood's home, that she would in any serious way interfere with
the peace of your life, John! I told you just what I had heard--no
more. I have never seen the girl. I only know what people say of
her. And that is not altogether pleasing."
"Do you believe what people say?" interrupted Walden, suddenly,--"Is
it not true that when a woman is pretty, intelligent, clean-souled
and pure-minded, and as unlike the rest of 'society' women as she
can well be, she is slandered for having the very virtues her rivals
do not possess?"
"Quite true!"--said Brent--"and quite common. It is always the old
story--'Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not
escape calumny.' Do not imagine for a moment, John, that I am going
to run the risk of losing your friendship by repeating anything that
may have been said against the reputation or the character of Miss
Vancourt. I have always prayed that no woman might ever come between
us,"--and here a faint tinge of colour warmed the pallor of his
face--"And, so far, I fancy the prayer has been granted. And I do
not think that this--this--shall we call it glamour, John?--this
glamour, of the imagination and the senses, will overcome you in any
detrimental way. I cannot picture you as the victim of a 'society'
John smiled. A vision rose up before his eyes of a little figure in
sparkling white draperies--a figure that bent appealingly towards
him, while a soft childlike voice said--'I'm sorry! Will you forgive
me?' The tender lines round his mouth deepened and softened at the
"She is not a society siren,"--he said, gently--"Poor little soul!
She is a mere woman, needing what woman best thrives upon--love!"
"Well, she has been loved and sought in marriage for at least three
years by Lord Roxmouth,"--said the Bishop.
"Has SHE been loved and sought, or her aunt's millions?" queried
Walden--"That is the point at issue. But my dear Brent, do not let
us waste time in talking over this little folly of mine--for I grant
you it is folly. I'm not sorry you have found it out, for in any
case I had meant to make a clean breast of it before we parted,"--he
hesitated--then looked up frankly--"I would rather you spoke no more
of it, Harry! I've made my confession. I admit I nearly struck
Leveson for slandering an innocent and defenseless woman,--and I
believe you'll forgive me for that. Next, I own that though I am
getting into the sere and yellow leaf, I am still conscious of a
heart,--and that I feel a regretful yearning at times for the joys I
have missed out of my life--and you'll forgive me for that too,--I
know you will! For the rest, draw a curtain over this little
weakness of mine, will you? I don't want to speak of it--I want to
fight it and conquer it."
The Bishop stretched out a hand and caught Walden's in a close
"Right!"--he said--"Do that, and you will do well! It is all a
question of fighting and conquering, or--being conquered. But YOU
will never give in, John! You are not the man to yield to the wiles
of the devil. For there IS a devil!--I am sure of it!" And his dark
eyes flashed with a sudden wild light. "A cozening, crafty, lurking
devil, that sets temptation before us in such varied and pleasing
forms that it is difficult--sometimes impossible--to tell which is
right and which is wrong! Walden, we must escape from this devil--we
He sprang up with an impulsive quickness which startled Walden, and
began to pace up and down the room again.
"A mocking devil,"--he said--"a lying devil!--whispering from
morning till evening, and from evening till morning, doubts of God!
Doubts whether He, the Creator of worlds, really exists,-doubts as
to whether He, or It, is not some huge blind, deaf Force, grinding
its way on through limitless and eternal Production and Reproduction
to one end,--Annihilation! Walden, you must now hear MY confession!
These doubts are driving me mad! I cannot bear the thought of the
whirl of countless universes, immeasurable solar systems, crammed
with tortured life for which there seems to be no hope, no care, no
rescue, no future! I am unable to preach or to FEEL comfort for the
human race! The very tragedy of the Cross only brings me to one
result--that Truth is always crucified. The world prefers Falsehood.
So much so indeed that the Christian religion itself is little more
than a super-structure of lies raised above the sepulchre of a
murdered Truth. I told you in my letter I had serious thoughts of
resigning my bishopric. So I have. My spirit turns to Rome!"
"Rome!" cried Walden--"What, YOU, Brent!--you think of going over to
Rome? What strange fantasy has seized you?"
"Rome," said Brent, slowly, stopping in his restless walk--"is the
Mother of Creeds--the antique Muse of the world's history! Filled
with the blood of martyrs, hallowed by the memories of saints, she
is, she must always be, supreme in matters of faith--or
superstition!" And he smiled,--a wan and sorrowful smile--"Or even
idolatry, if you will! Emotionalism,--sensationalism in religion--
these the craving soul must have, and these Rome gives! We must
believe,--mark you, Walden!--we must positively BELIEVE that the
Creator of all Universes was moved to such wrath against the
helpless human creature He had made, that he cursed that creature
forever for merely eating, like a child, fruit which had been
forbidden! And after that we must believe everything else that has
since followed in the track of the Woman, the Serpent and the Tree.
Now in the Church of England I find I cannot believe these things--
in the Church of Rome I WILL believe, because I MUST! I will humble
myself in dust and ashes, and accept all--all. Anything is better
than Nothingness! I will be the lowest of lay brethren, and in
solitude and silence, make atonement for my unbelief. It is the only
way, Walden!--for me, it is the only way! To Her!" And he pointed up
to the picture of the Virgin and Child--"To Her, my vows! As Woman,
she will pity me--as Woman, she can be loved!"
Walden heard this wild speech without any word or gesture of
interruption. Then, raising his eyes to the picture Brent thus
apostrophised, he said, quietly--
"When did you have that painted, Brent?"
A sudden change came over the Bishop's features. He looked as though
startled by some vague terror. Then he answered, slowly:
"Some years ago--in Florence. Why do you ask? It is a copy---"
"Of HER likeness--yes!" said Walden, softly--"I saw that at once.
You had it done, of course! She was beautiful and good--she died
young. I know! But you have no right to turn your personal passion
and grief into a form of worship, Harry!"
The Bishop gazed at him fixedly and solemnly.
"You do not know,"--he murmured--"You have not seen what I have
seen! She has come to me lately--she, who died so long ago!--she has
come to me night after night, and she has told me to pray for her--
'pray' she says--'pray that I may help to save your soul!' And I
must surely do as she bids. I must get away from this place--away
from this city of turmoil and wickedness, into some quieter comer of
the world,--some monastic retreat where I may end my days in peace,-
-I cannot fight my devils here--they are too strong for me!"
"They will be too strong for you anywhere, if you are a coward!"--
said Walden, impetuously. "Brent, I thought you had gotten the
victory over this old despair of yours long ago! I thought you had
made the memory of the woman you loved a noble spur to noble
actions! I never dreamed that it would be possible for you to brood
silently on your sorrow till you made it a cause of protest against
God's will! And worst and strangest of all is this frenzied idea of
yours to fly to the Church of Rome for shelter from yourself and
your secret misery, and there give yourself over to monasticism and
a silent, idolatrous worship,--not of Mary, the Mother of Christ,--
but of the mere picture of the woman you loved! And you would pray
to THAT?--you would kneel before THAT?--you would pass long hours of
fasting and vigil, gazing at that face, till, like the 'stigmata,'
it is almost outlined in blood upon your heart? My dear Brent, is it
possible your brain is so shaken and your soul so feeble that you
must needs seek refuge in a kind of half-spiritual, half-sensuous
passion, which is absolute rank blasphemy?"
At this the Bishop raised his head with an air of imperious
"I cannot permit!---" he said, in unsteady accents--"You have no
right to speak to me in such a tone--it is not your place---"
Then, suddenly, his voice broke, and throwing himself into his
chair, he dropped his head forward on the desk and covered it with
his hands in an attitude of the utmost abandonment and dejection.
The moisture rose to Walden's eyes,--he knew the great tragedy of
his friend's life--all comprised in one brief, romantic episode of
the adoring love, and sudden loss of a beautiful woman drowned by
accident in her own pleasure-boat on the very eve of her marriage
with him,--and be knew that just as deep and ardent as the man's
passion had been, so deep and ardent was his sorrow--a sorrow that
could never be consoled. And John sat silent, deeply moved in
himself, and ever and anon glancing upwards at the exquisite face of
the painted Virgin above him,--the face of the dead girl whom her
lover had thus sanctified. Presently Brent raised his head,--his
face was white and worn--his eyes were wet.
"Forgive me, John!" he said--"I have been working hard of late, and
my nerves are unstrung. And--I cannot, I cannot forget her! And what
is more awful and terrible to me than anything is that I cannot
forgive God!" He uttered these words in an awed whisper. "I cannot!
I bear the Almighty a grudge for wrenching her life away from mine!
Of what use was it to be so cruel? Of what purpose to kill one so
young? If God is omnipotent, God could have saved her. But He let
her die! I tell you, Walden, that ever since I have been Bishop of
this diocese, I have tried to relieve sorrow and pain whenever I
have met with it--I have striven to do my duty, hoping against hope
that perhaps God would teach me--would explain the why and wherefore
of so much needless agony to His creatures--and that by discovering
reasons for the afflictions of others, I should learn to become
reconciled to my own. But no!--nothing has been made clear! I have
seen innocent women die in the tortures of the damned--while their
drunken husbands have lived to carouse over their coffins.
Children,--mere babes--are afflicted with diseases for which often
no cause can be assigned and no cure discovered--while over the
whole sweltering mass of human helplessness and ignorance, Death
stalks triumphant,--and God, though called upon for rescue with
prayers and tears, withdraws Himself in clouds of impenetrable
silence. It is all hopeless, useless, irremediable! That is why my
thoughts turn to Rome--I say, let me believe in SOMETHING, if it be
only a fairy tale! Let me hear grand music mounting to heaven, even
if human words cannot reach so high!--let me think that guardian
angels exist, even if there is nothing in space save a blind Chance
spawning life particles uselessly,--let my soul and senses feel the
touch of something higher, vaster, purer and better than what the
Church of England calls Christianity at this present day!"
"And that 'something higher, vaster, purer and better'--would you
call it the Church of Rome?" asked Walden. "In suggestion,--in
emotion and poetic inspiration, yes!"--said Brent--"In theory and in
There was a pause. Walden sat for a few moments absorbed in anxious
thought. Then he looked up with a cheerful air.
"Harry," he said--"Will you do me a favour? Promise that you will
postpone the idea of seceding, or as you put it, 'returning' to
Rome, for six months. Will you? At the end of that time we'll
discuss it again."
The Bishop looked uneasy.
"I would rather do what has to be done at once,"--he said.
"Then I must talk to you straightly,"--continued John, bracing
himself up, and squaring his shoulders resolutely--"I must forget
that you are my Bishop, and speak just as man to man. All the facts
of the case can be summed up in one word--Selfishness! Pure
Selfishness, Harry!--and I never thought I should have had to
convict you of it!"
Brent drew himself slowly up in his chair.
"Selfishness!" he echoed, dreamily--"I can take anything from you,
John!--I did at college,--but--selfishness---"
"Selfishness!" repeated John, firmly--"You have had to suffer a
grief--a great grief,--and because it was so sudden, so tragic and
overwhelming, you draw a mourning veil of your own across the very
face of God! You try to rule your diocese by the measure of your own
rod of affliction. And, finding that nothing is clear to you,
because of your own obstructive spirit, you would set up a fresh
barrier between yourself and Eternal Wisdom, by deserting your post
here, and separating yourself from all the world save the shadow of
the woman you yourself loved! Harry, my dear old friend, unless I
had heard this from your own lips, I should never have believed it
Brent sat heavily in his chair, sunk in a brooding melancholy.
"'The heart knoweth its own bitterness!'"--he murmured wearily--
"Your reproaches are just,--I know I deserve them, but they do not
rouse me. They do not stir one pulse in my soul! What have _I_
learned of Eternal Wisdom?--what have _I_ seen? Nothing but cruelty
upon cruelty dealt out, not to the wicked, but to the innocent! And
because I protest against this, you call my spirit an obstructive
one--well!--it may be so! But, Walden, you have never loved!--you
have never felt all your life rush like a river to the sea of
passion!--not low, debasing passion, but passion born of vitality,
ardour, truth, hope, sympathy!--such emotion as most surely
palpitates through the whole body of the natural creation, else
there would be naught created. God Himself--if there be a God--must
be conscious of Love! Do we not say: 'God IS Love'?--and this too
while we suffer beneath His heavy chastisements which are truely
more like Hate! I repeat, Walden, you have never loved,--till now
perhaps--and even now you are scarcely conscious of the hidden
strength of your own feelings. But suppose--just for the sake of
argument--suppose this 'little girl' as you call her, Maryllia
Vancourt, were to die suddenly, would you not, as you express it,
'draw a mourning veil of your own across the face of God'?"
Walden started as though suddenly wounded. If Maryllia were to die!'
He shuddered as the mere thought passed across his brain. 'If
Maryllia were to die!' Why then--then the world would be a blank--
there would be no more sunshine!--no roses!--no songs of birds!--
nothing of fairness or pleasure left in life--not for him, whatever
there might be for others. Was it possible that her existence meant
so much to him? Yes, it meant so much!--it had come to mean so much!
He felt his old friend's melancholy eyes upon him, and looking up
met their searching scrutiny with a serious and open frankness.
"Honestly, I think I should die myself, or lose my senses!"--he
said--"And honestly, I hardly realised this,--which is just as much
selfishness on my part as any of which I hastily accused you,--till
you put it to me. I will not profess to have a stoicism beyond
mortal limits, Harry, nor should I expect such from you. But I WILL
say, that despite our human weakness, we must have courage!--we are
not men without it. And whether faith stands fast or falters,
whether God seems far off or very near, we must face and fight our
destiny--not run away from it! You want to run away,"--and he smiled
gravely--"or rather, just in the present mood of yours you think of
doing so--but I believe it is only a mood--and that you will not,
after putting your hand to the plough, turn back because of the
aridness or ungratefulness of the soil,--that would not be like you.
If one must needs perish, it is better to perish at one's post of
duty than desert over to the enemy."
"I am not sure that Rome is an enemy;"--said the Bishop, musingly.
To this Walden gave no reply, and the conversation fell into other
channels. But, during the whole time of his visit, John was forced
to realise, with much acute surprise and distress, that constant
brooding on grief,--and excessive spiritual emotion of an exalted
and sensuous kind, with much perplexed pondering on human evils for
which there seemed no remedy, had produced a painful impression of
life's despair and futility on Brent's mind,--an impression which it
would be difficult to eradicate, and which would only be softened
and possibly diminished by tenderly dealing with it as though it
were an illness, and gradually bringing about restoration and
recovery through the gentlest means. Though sometimes it was to be
feared that all persuasion would be useless, and that the scandalous
spectacle of an English Bishop seceding to the Church of Rome would
be exhibited with an almost theatrical effect in his friend's case.
For the ornate ritual which the Bishop maintained in his Cathedral
services was almost worthy of a Mass at St. Peter's. The old, simple
chaste English style of 'Morning Prayer' was exchanged for
'Matins,'--choristers perpetually chanted and sang,--crosses were
carried to and fro,--banners waved--processions were held--and the
'Via Crucis' was performed by a select number of the clergy and
congregation every Friday.
"I never have this sort of thing in my church,"--said Walden,
bluntly, on one occasion--"My parishioners would not understand it."
"Why not teach them to understand it?" asked the Bishop, dreamily.
They were standing together in the beautiful old Cathedral, now
empty save for their presence, and Brent's eyes were fixed with a
kind of sombre wistfulness on a great gold crucifix up on the altar.
"Teach them to understand it?" echoed Walden, with a touch of sorrow
and indignation--"You are my Bishop, but if you commanded me to
teach them these 'vain repetitions' prohibited by the Divine Master,
I should disobey you!"
The Bishop flushed red.
"I disapprove of everything that tends to put England back again
into the old religious fetters which she so bravely broke and cast
aside,"--said John, warmly--"I disapprove of all that even hints at
the possibility of any part of the British Empire becoming the slave
Brent gave a weary gesture.
"In religious matters it is wiser to be under subjection than
free,"--he said, with a sigh--"In a state of freedom we may think as
we please--and freedom of thought breeds doubt,--whereas in a state
of subjection we think as we MUST, and so we are gradually forced
into an attitude of belief. The spread of atheism among the English
is entirely due to the wild, liberty of opinion allowed tham by
their forms of faith."
"I do not agree with you!"--declared Walden, firmly--"The spread of
atheism is due, not to freedom of opinion, nor forms of faith, but
simply to the laxity and weakness of the clergy."
The Bishop looked at him with a smile.
"You always speak straight out, John!" he said--"You always did! And
strange to say, I like you all the better for it. I could, if I
chose, both reprove and command you--but I will do neither. You must
take your own way, as you always have done. But there is a flavour
of Rome even in your little church of St. Rest,--your miracle
shrine,--your unknown saint in the alabaster coffin. You and your
parishioners kneel before that every Sunday."
"True--but we do not kneel to IT,--nor do we pray through It,"--
replied Walden--"It stays in the chancel because it was found in the
chancel. But it does not make a miracle shrine' as you say,--there
is nothing miraculous about it."
"If it contains the body of a Saint,"--said the Bishop, slowly--"it
MUST be miraculous! If, in the far-gone centuries, the prayers and
tears of sorrowful human beings have bedewed that cold stone, some
efficacy, some tenderness, some vitality, born of these prayers and
tears, must yet remain! Walden, we preach the supernatural--do we
not believe in it?"
"The Divine supernatural--yes!" answered Walden,--"But---" The
Bishop interrupted him by a gesture of his delicate hand.
"There are no 'buts' in the matter, John,"--he said, quietly--"What
is supernatural is so by its own nature. The Divine is the Human,
the Human is the Divine. In all and through all things the Spirit
moves and makes its way. Our earth and ourselves are but particles
of matter, worked by the spirit or essence of creative force. This
spirit we can neither see nor touch, therefore we call it super-
natural. But it permeates all things,--the stone as completely as
the flower. It circulates through that alabaster sarcophagus in your
church, as easily as through your own living veins. Hence, as I say,
if the mortal remains of a saint are enshrined within that
reliquary, the spirit or 'soul' enveloping it MAY work 'miracles,'
for all we dare to know!" He paused, and looking kindly at Walden's
grave and somewhat troubled face, added--"Some day, when we are in
very desperate straits, John, we will am what your saint can do for
He smiled. Walden returned the smile, but nevertheless was conscious
of a sorrowful sense of regret at what he considered his friend's
leaning toward superstitious observances and idolatrous ceremonies.
At the same time he well knew that any violent opposition on the
subject would be worse than useless in the Bishop's present mood. He
therefore contented himself with, as he mentally said, 'putting in
the thin end of the wedge'--and,--carefully steering clear of all
controversial matters,--contrived in a great measure to reassert the
old magnetic sway he had been wont to exercise over Brent's more
pliable mind when at college--so that before they parted, he had
obtained from him a solemn promise that there should be no
'secession' or even preparation for secession to Rome, till six
months had elapsed.
"And if you would only put away that picture,"--said Walden,
earnestly, pointing towards the 'Virgin and Child'--"Or rather, if
you would have another one painted of the sweet woman you loved as
she really was in life, it would be wiser and safer for your own
The Bishop shook his head.
"The Virgin and Child are a symbol of all humanity,"--he said--
"Mother and Son,--Present and Future! Woman holds the human race in
her arms--at her breast!--without her, Chaos would come again! And
for me, all Womanhood is personified in that one face!"
He raised his eyes to the picture with an almost devout passion--and
then abruptly turned away. The conversation was not renewed again
between them, but when Walden parted from his friend, he had the
satisfaction of knowing that he left him in a brighter, more hopeful
and healthful condition, cheered, soothed and invigorated by the
exchange of that mutual confidence and close sympathy which had
linked their two lives together in boyhood, and which held them
still subtly and tenderly responsive to each other's most intimate
emotions as men.
Arriving home at his own domain late on the Saturday night, Walden
had no opportunity to learn anything of the incidents which had
occurred during his brief absence. Letters were waiting for him, but
he opened none, and shut himself up in his study at once to prepare
his next day's sermon. He wrote on far into the night, long after
all the servants of his household had retired to rest, and overslept
himself the next morning in consequence, therefore his preparation
for the eleven o'clock service were necessarily somewhat hurried,
and he had not time to say more than a cheery 'Good-morning' even to
Bainton, whom he passed on his way into the church, or to Adam
Frost, though he fancied that both, men looked at him somewhat
curiously, as with an air of mingled doubt and enquiry. Once within
the sacred building he was conscious of an exceptionally crowded
congregation. None that he could see were missing from their usual
places. Maryllia certainly was not there,--but as she was admittedly
not a church-goer, he did not expect her to be present. Badsworth
Hall was entirely unrepresented, much to his relief; neither Sir
Morton Pippitt nor Lord Roxmouth, nor Mr. Marius Longford were
anywhere visible. Old Josey Letherbarrow sat in his usual corner,--
everything was precisely the same as it was wont to be--and yet a
sense of vague trouble oppressed him,--he saw, or thought he saw, an
expression on some of the faces of his parishioners which was new to
him, and he felt instinctively that some disturbing element had
found its way into the peace of the village, though what the trouble
could be, he was at a loss to imagine. He chose as his text: 'What
went ye out for to see? A reed shaken with the wind?' and preached
thereon with wonderful force, simplicity, eloquence and fervour--
though all the time he spoke he wondered why his people stared at
him so persistently, and why so many round eyes in so many round
faces appeared to express such a lively, not to say questioning
After service, however, the whole mystery was cleared up. Bainton,
in his Sunday best, with hat in hand, presented himself at the
garden gate on his master's return from the church to the rectory,
and after a word or two was admitted into the study. Bainton, honest
as the daylight, and sturdy in his principles as an oak in its
fibres, had determined to have 'no humbuggin' wi' Passon.' And in a
few words, spoken with a great deal of feeling and rough eloquence,
he had told all,--how Miss Vancourt had gone away 'suddint-like'
from the Manor,--and how it was said and reported all through the
county and neighbourhood that she had gone because her engaged
husband, Lord Roxmouth, had caught her 'makin' love' to a parson,
that parson being no other than St. Rest's own beloved 'man o' God,'
John Walden. And that Lord Roxmouth had at once gone after her, and
that neither of the twain 'weren't never comin' back no more.' So
said Bainton, twirling his cap round, and fixing his eyes
sympathetically on his master's face,--eyes as faithful as those of
the dog Nebbie, who clambered at his master's knee, equally gazing
up at him with a fondness exceeding all speech.
John Walden sat, white and rigid, in his chair and heard the tale
out to its end.
"Is that all?" he asked, when Bainton had concluded.
"That's all, an' ain't it enough, Passon?" queried Bainton in
somewhat dismal accents. "Not that I takes in 'arf wot I hears, but
from the fust I sez you should know every bit on it, an' if no one
else 'ad the 'art or the pluck to tell ye straight out, I'd tell ye
myself. For that old Miss Tabitha's got a tongue as long as a
tailor's yard-measure wot allus measures a bit oif to 'is own good,
an' Sir Morton Pippitt he do nothin' but run wild-like all over the
place a-talkin' of it everywhere, an' old Putty Leveson, he's up at
the 'All, day in, an' day out, tellin' 'ow you was goin' to hit 'im
in the eye--hor-hor-hor!--an' why didn't ye do it, Passon?--'twould
a' been a real Gospel mercy!--an' 'ow 'twas all about Miss Vancourt,
till Mr. Hadderley 'e come up an throwed 'im over in the road on 'is
back which makes me think all the better o' that young man,
'owsomever, I never took to 'im afore. But though he's all skin an'
bone an' long 'air as red as a biled carrot, he's got a fist of 'is
own, that's pretty plain, an' if he knocked down old Putty Leveson
it shows 'e's got some sense in 'im as well as sperrit. For it's all
over the place that there's trouble about Miss Vancourt, an' you may
take my wurrd for it, Passon, they don't leave the poor little leddy
alone, nor you neither, an' never takes into their minds as 'ow
you're old enough to be 'er father. That Miss Tabitha don't spare no
wurrds agin 'er--an' as ye know, Passon, she's a leddy wot's like
curdled cream all gone wrong in a thunderstorm. Anyways, I thought
it best to tell ye straight out an' no lyin' nor trickin'--an' if
I've stepped over my dooty, I 'umbly axes pardin, but I means well,
Passon,--I means well,--I do reely now!"
Walden looked up,--his eyes were glittering--his lips were pate and
"I know-I know!"--he said, speaking with an effort--"You're an
honest fellow, Bainton!--and--and--I thank you! Tou not only mean
well--you have done well. But it's a lie, Bainton!--it's all a
wicked, damnable lie!"
He sprang to his feet as he said this, the wrath in his eyes
flashing a steel-like lightning.
"It's a lie!" he repeated--"Do you understand? A cruel, abominable
Bainton twirled his cap sympathetically.
"So it be, Passon,"--he murmured--"So it be--I know'd that all
along! It's a lie set goin' by that fine gentleman rascal, Lord
Roxmouth, wot can't get Miss Maryllia and 'er aunt's money nohow.
Lor' bless ye, I sees that plain enough! But take it 'ow we will, a
lie's a nasty sort o' burr to stick to a good name, 'speshully a
name like yours, Passon,--an' when it comes to that I feel that
moithered an' worrited-like not knowin' 'ow to pick the burr off
again. An' Lord Roxmouth he be gone away or mebbe you could a' had
it out wi' him---"
"That will do, Bainton!"--said Walden, interrupting him by a
gesture--"Say no more about it, please! I'm glad you've spoken,--I'm
glad I know! But,--let it rest there! Never allude to it again!"
Bainton glanced up timorously at his master's pale set face.
"Ain't nothin' goin' to be done?" he faltered anxiously--"Nothin' to
say as 'ow it's all a lie---"
"Nothing on my part!"--said Walden, quickly and sternly, "The best
answer to such low gossip and slander is silence. You understand?"
His look was a command, and Bainton felt it to be such. Shuffling
about a little, he murmured something about the 'apples comin' on
fine in the orchard'--as if Walden's three days' absence had somehow
or other accelerated their ripening, and then slowly and reluctantly
retired, deeply dejected in his own mind.
"For silence gives consent," he argued dolefully with himself--
"That's copybook truth! Yet o' coorse 'tain't to be expected as
Passon would send for the town-crier from Riversford to ring a bell
through the village an' say as 'ow he 'adn't nothin' to dp with Miss
Vancourt nor she with 'im. Onny the worst of it is that in this
wurrld lies is allus taken for truth since the beginnin', when the
Sarpint told the first big whopper in the Garden of Eden an' took in
poor silly Eve. An' ye can't contradict a lie somehow without makin'
it look more a truth than ever,--that's the way o' the thing. An' it
do stick!--Passon himself 'ull find that out,--it do stick, it do
Meantime, Walden, left alone, gave himself up to a tumult of misery
and self-torture. His sensitive nature shrank from the breath of
vulgar scandal like the fine frond of delicate foliage from the
touch of a coarse finger. He had never before been associated with
the faintest rumour of it,--his life had been too simple, too
austere, and too far removed from all the trumpery shows and petty