Part 3 out of 9
Meynell's imagination a vision of the two by the river, not in the actual
brightness of the August afternoon, but bathed, as it were, in angry
storm-light; behind them, darkness, covering "old, unhappy, far-off
things." From that tragical gloom it seemed as though their young figures
had but just emerged, unnaturally clear; and yet the trailing clouds were
already threatening the wild beauty of the girl.
He blamed himself for lack of foresight. It should have been utterly
impossible for those two to meet! Meryon generally appeared at Sandford
three times a year, for various sporting purposes. Hester might easily
have been sent away during these descents. But the fact was she had grown
up so rapidly--yesterday a mischievous child, to-day a woman in her first
bloom--that they had all been taken by surprise. Besides, who could have
imagined any communication whatever between the Fox-Wilton household and
the riotous party at Sandford Abbey?
As to the girl herself, Meynell was always conscious of being engaged in
some long struggle to save and protect his ward against her will. There
were circumstances connected with Hester that should have stirred in the
few people who knew them a special softness of heart in regard to her.
But it was not easy to feel it. The Rector had helped two women to watch
over her upbringing; he had brought her to her first communion, and tried
hard, and quite in vain, to instil into her the wholesome mysticisms of
the Christian faith; and the more efforts he made, the more sharply was
he aware of the hard, egotistical core of the girl's nature, of Hester's
fatal difference from other girls.
And yet, as he thought of her with sadness and perplexity, there came
across him the memory of Mrs. Elsmere's sudden movement toward Hester;
how she had drawn the child to her and kissed her--she, so unearthly
and so spiritual, whose very aspect showed her the bondswoman of Christ.
The remembrance rebuked him, and he fell into fresh plans about the
child. She must be sent away at once!--and if there were really any sign
of entanglement he must himself go to Sandford and beard Philip in his
den. There was knowledge in his possession that might be used to frighten
the fellow. He thought of his cousin with loathing and contempt.
But--to do him justice--Meryon knew nothing of those facts that gave such
an intolerable significance to any contact whatever between his
besmirched life and that of Hester Fox-Wilton.
Meryon knew nothing--and Stephen knew nothing--nor the child herself.
Meynell shared his knowledge with only two other persons--no!--three.
Was that woman, that troublesome, excitable woman, whose knowledge had
been for years the terror of three lives--was she alive still? Ralph
Fox-Wilton had originally made it well worth her while to go to the
States. That was in the days when he was prepared to pay anything. Then
for years she had received an allowance, which, however, Meynell believed
had stopped sometime before Sir Ralph's death. Meynell remembered that
the stopping of it had caused some friction between Ralph and his wife.
Lady Fox-Wilton had wished it continued. But Ralph had obstinately
refused to pay any more. Nothing had been heard of her, apparently, for a
long while. But she had still a son and grand-children living in Upcote
* * * * *
Meynell opened the gate leading into the Forkéd Pond enclosure. The pond
had been made by the damming of part of the trout stream at the point
where it entered the Maudeley estate, and the diversion of the rest to a
new channel. The narrow strip of land between the pond and the new
channel made a little waterlocked kingdom of its own for the cottage,
which had been originally a fishing hut, built in an Izaak Walton-ish
mood by one of the owners of Maudeley. But the public footpath through
the park ran along the farther side of the pond, and the doings of the
inhabitants of the cottage, thick though the leafage was, could sometimes
be observed from it.
Involuntarily Meynell's footsteps lingered as the little thatched
house became visible, its windows set wide to the sounds and scents of
the September day. There was conveyed to him a sense of its warm
loneliness in the summer nights, of the stars glimmering upon it through
the trees, of the owls crying round it. And within--in one of those upper
rooms--those soft deep eyes, at rest in sleep?--or looking out, perhaps,
into the breathing glooms of the wood?--the sweet face propped on the
He felt certain that the inner life of such a personality as Mary Elsmere
was rich and passionate. Sometimes, in these lonely hours, did she think
of the man who had told her so much of himself on that, to him, memorable
walk? Meynell looked back upon the intimate and autobiographical talk
into which he had been led, with some wonder and a hot cheek. He had
confessed himself partly to Elsmere's daughter, on a hint of sympathy, as
to one entitled to such a confidence, so to speak, by inheritance, should
she desire it; but still more--he owned it--to a delightful woman. It was
the first time in Meynell's strenuous life, filled to the brim with
intellectual and speculative effort on the one hand, and with the care
of his parish on the other, that he had been conscious of any such
feeling as now possessed him. In his first manhood it had been impossible
for him to marry, because he had his brothers to educate. And when they
were safely out in the world the Rector, absorbed in the curing of sick
bodies and the saving of sick souls, could not dream of spending the
money thus set free on a household for himself.
He had had his temptations of the flesh, his gusts of inclination, like
other men. But he had fought them down victoriously, for conscience sake;
and it was long now since anything of the sort had assailed him.
He paused a moment among the trees, just before the cottage passed out of
sight. The sun was sinking in a golden haze, the first prophecy of
autumnal mists. Broad lights lay here and there upon the water, to be
lost again in depths of shadow, wherein woods of dream gave back
the woods that stooped to them from the shore. Everything was so still he
could hear the fish rising, the run of a squirrel along a branch, the
passage of a coot through the water.
The very profoundity of nature's peace suddenly showed him to himself. A
man engaged in a struggle beyond his power!--committed to one of those
tasks that rend and fever the human spirit even while they ennoble it! He
had talked boldly to Stephen and the Bishop of "war"--"inevitable" and
"necessary war." At the same time there was no one who would suffer from
war more than he. The mere daily practice of Christianity, as a man's
life-work, is a daily training in sensitiveness, involves a daily
refining of the nerves. When a man so trained, so refined, takes up the
public tasks of leadership and organization, in this noisy, hard-hitting
world, his nature is set at enmity with itself. Meynell did not yet know
whether the mystic in him would allow the fighter in him to play his
If the memory of Fenton's cold, unrecognizing eyes and rigid mouth, as
they passed each other in the silence of the Cathedral, had power to
cause so deep a stab of pain, how was he to brace himself in the future
to what must come?--the alienation of friend after friend, the
condemnation of the good, the tumult, the poisoned feeling, the abuse,
public and private.
Only by the help of that Power behind the veil of things, perceived by
the mind of faith! "_Thou, Thou art being and breath_!--Thine is this
truth, which, like a living hand, bridles and commands me. Grind my life
as corn in Thy mill!--but forsake me not! Nay, Thou wilt not, Thou canst
not forsake me!"
No hope for a man attempting such an enterprise as Meynell's but in this
simplicity, this passion of self-surrender. Without it no adventure in
the spiritual fight has ever touched and fired the heart of man. Meynell
was sternly and simply aware of it.
But how is this temper, this passion, kindled?
The answer flashed. Everywhere the divine ultimate Power mediates itself
through the earthly elements and forces, speaks through small, childish
things, incarnates itself in lover, wife, or friend--flashing its mystic
fire through the web of human relations. It seemed to Meynell, as he
stood in the evening stillness by the pond, hidden from sight by the
light brushwood round him, that, absorbed as he had been from his youth
in the symbolism and passion of the religious life, as other men are
absorbed in art or science, he had never really understood one of these
great words by which he imagined himself to live--Love, or Endurance, or
Sacrifice, or Joy--because he had never known the most sacred, the most
intimate, things of human life out of which they grow.
And there uprose in him a sudden yearning--a sudden flame of desire--for
the revealing love of wife and child. As it thrilled through him, he
seemed to be looking down into the eyes--so frank, so human--of Mary
Then while he watched, lost in feeling, yet instinctively listening for
any movement in the wood, there was a flicker of white among the trees
opposite. A girl, book in hand, came down to the water's edge, and paused
there a little, watching the glow of sunset on the water. Meynell
retreated farther into the wood; but he was still able to see her.
Presently she sat down, propping herself against a tree, and began to
Her presence, the grace of her bending neck, informed the silence of the
woods with life and charm. Meynell watched her a few moments in a trance
of pleasure. But memory broke in upon the trance and scattered all his
pleasure. What reasonable hope of winning the daughter of that quiet,
indomitable woman, who, at their first meeting, had shown him with such
icy gentleness the gulf between himself and them?
And yet between himself and Mary he knew that there was no gulf.
Spiritually she was her father's child, and not her mother's.
But to suppose that she would consent to bring back into her mother's
life the same tragic conflict, in new form, which had already rent and
seared it, was madness. He read his dismissal in her quiet avoidance of
him ever since she had been a witness of her mother's manner toward him.
No. Such a daughter would never inflict a second sorrow, of the same
kind, on such a mother. Meynell bowed his head, and went slowly away. It
was as though he left youth and all delightfulness behind him, in the
deepening dusk of the woods.
* * * * *
While Meynell was passing through the woods of Forkéd Pond a very
different scene, vitally connected with the Rector and his fortunes, was
passing a mile away, in a workman's cottage at Upcote Minor.
Barron had spent an agitated day. After his interview with the Bishop, in
which he was rather angrily conscious that his devotion and his zeal were
not rewarded with as much gratitude or as complete a confidence on the
Bishop's part as he might have claimed, he called on Canon France.
To him he talked long and emphatically on the situation, on the excessive
caution of the Bishop, who had entirely refused to inhibit any one of the
eighteen, at present, lest there should be popular commotions; on the
measures that he and his friends were taking, and on the strong feeling
that he believed to be rising against the Modernists. It was evident that
he was discontented with the Bishop, and believed himself the only
saviour of the situation.
Canon France watched him, sunk deep in his armchair, the plump fingers of
one hand playing with certain charter rolls of the fourteenth century,
with their seals attached, which lay in a tray beside him. He had just
brought them over from the Cathedral Library, and was longing to be at
work on them. Barron's conversation did not interest him in the least,
and he even grudged him his second cup of tea. But he did not show his
impatience. He prophesied a speedy end to a ridiculous movement; wondered
what on earth would happen to some of the men, who had nothing but their
livings, and finally said, with a humorous eye, and no malicious
"The Romanists have always an easy way of settling these things. They
find a scandal or invent one. But Meynell, I suppose, is immaculate."
Barron shook his head.
"Meynell's life is absolutely correct, outwardly," he said slowly. "Of
course the Upcote people whom he has led away think him a saint."
"Ah, well," said the Canon, smiling, "no hope then--that way. I rejoice,
of course, for Meynell's sake. But the goodness of the unbeliever is
becoming a great puzzle to mankind."
"Apparent goodness," said Barron hotly.
The Canon smiled again. He wished--and this time more intensely--that
Barron would go, and let him get to his charters.
And in a few minutes Barron did take his departure. As he walked to the
inn to find his carriage he pondered the problem of the virtuous
unbeliever. A certain Bampton lecture by a well-known and learned Bishop
recurred to him, which most frankly and drastically connected "Unbelief"
with "Sin." Yet somehow the view was not borne out, as in the interests
of a sound theology it should have been, by experience.
After all, he reached Upcote in good time before dinner, and remembering
that he had to inflict a well-deserved lecture on the children who had
been caught injuring trees and stealing wood in his plantations, he
dismissed the carriage and made his way, before going home, to the
cottage, which stood just outside the village, on the way from Maudeley
to the Rectory and the church.
He knocked peremptorily. But no one came. He knocked again, chafing at
the delay. But still no one came, and after going round the cottage,
tapping at one of the windows, and getting no response, he was just going
away, in the belief that the cottage was empty, when there was a rattling
sound at the front door. It opened, and an old woman stood in the
"You've made a pretty noise," she said grimly, "but there's no one in but
"I am Mr. Barron," said her visitor, sharply. "And I want to see John
Broad. My keepers have been complaining to me about his children's
behaviour in the woods."
The woman before him shook her head irritably.
"What's the good of asking me? I only came off the cars here last night."
"You're a lodger, I suppose?" said Barron, eyeing her suspiciously. He
did not allow his tenants to take in lodgers.
And the more he examined her the stranger did her aspect seem. She was
evidently a woman of seventy or upward, and it struck him that she looked
haggard and ill. Her grayish-white hair hung untidily about a thin, bony
face; the eyes, hollow and wavering, infected the spectator with their
own distress; yet the distress was so angry that it rather repelled than
appealed. Her dress was quite out of keeping with the labourer's cottage
in which she stood. It was a shabby blue silk, fashionably cut, and set
off by numerous lockets and bangles.
She smiled scornfully at Barron's questions.
"A lodger? Well, I daresay I am. I'm John's mother."
"His mother?" said Barron, astonished. "I didn't know he had a mother
alive." But as he spoke some vague recollection of Theresa's talk in the
morning came back upon him.
The strange person in the doorway looked at him oddly.
"Well, I daresay you didn't. There's a many as would say the same. I've
been away this eighteen year, come October."
Barron, as she spoke, was struck with her accent, and recalled her
mention of "the cars."
"Why, you've been in the States," he said.
"That's it--eighteen year." Then suddenly, pressing her hand to her
forehead, she said angrily: "I don't know what you mean. What do you come
bothering me for? I don't know who you are--and I don't know nothing
about your trees. Come in and sit down. John'll be in directly."
She held the door open, and Barron, impelled by a sudden curiosity,
stepped in. He thought the woman was half-witted; but her silk dress, and
her jewellery, above all her sudden appearance on the scene as the mother
of a man whom he had always supposed to be alone in the world, with three
motherless, neglected children, puzzled him.
So as one accustomed to keep a sharp eye on the morals and affairs of his
cottage tenants, he began to question her about herself. She had thrown
herself confusedly on a chair, and sat with her head thrown back, and her
eyes half closed--as though in pain. The replies he got from her were
short and grudging, but he made out from them that she had married a
second time in the States, that she had only recently written to her son,
who for some years had supposed her dead, and had now come home to him,
having no other relation left in the World.
He soon convinced himself that she was not normally sane. That she had no
idea as to his own identity was not surprising, for she had left Upcote
for the States years before his succession to the White House estate.
But her memory in all directions was confused, and her strange talk made
him suspect drugs. She had also, it seemed, the usual grievances of the
unsound mind, and believed herself to be injured and assailed by persons
to whom she darkly alluded.
As they sat talking, footsteps were heard in the road outside. Mrs.
Sabin--so she gave her name--at once hurried to the door and looked out.
The movement betrayed her excited, restless state--the state of one just
returned to a scene once familiar and trying, with a clouded brain, to
recover old threads and clues.
Barron heard a low cry from her, and looked round.
"What's the matter?"
He saw her bent forward and pointing, her wrinkled face expressing a wild
"That's her!--that's my Miss Alice!"
Barron, following her gesture, perceived through the half-open door two
figures standing in the road on the farther side of a bit of village
green. Meynell, who had just emerged from Maudeley Park upon the
highroad, had met Alice Puttenham on her way to pay an evening visit to
the Elsmeres, and had stopped to ask a question about some village
affairs. Miss Puttenham's face was turned toward John Broad's cottage;
the Rector had his back to it. They were absorbed in what they were
talking about, and had of course no idea that they were watched.
"Why do you say my Miss Alice?" Barron inquired in astonishment.
Mrs. Sabin gave a low laugh. And at the moment, Meynell turned so that
the level light now flooding the village street shone full upon him. Mrs.
Sabin tottered back from the door, with another stifled cry, and sank
into her chair. Her eyes seemed to be starting out of her head. "But--but
they told me he was dead. He'll have married her then?"
She raised herself, peering eagerly at her companion.
"Married whom?" said Barron, utterly mystified, but affected himself,
involuntarily, by the excitement of his strange companion.
"Why--Miss Alice!" she said gasping.
"Why should he marry her?"
Mrs. Sabin tried to control herself. "I'm not to talk about that--I know
I'm not. But they give me my money for fifteen year--and then they
stopped giving it--three year ago. I suppose they thought I'd never be
back here again. But John's my flesh and blood, all the same. I made Mr.
Sabin write for me to Sir Ralph. But there came a lawyer's letter and
fifty pounds--and that was to be the last, they said. So when Mr. Sabin
died, I said I'd come over and see for myself. But I'm ill--you see--and
John's a fool--and I must find some one as 'ull tell me what to do. If
you're a gentleman living here"--she peered into his face--"perhaps
you'll tell me? Lady Fox-Wilton's left comfortable, I know. Why shouldn't
she do what's handsome? Perhaps you'll give me a word of advice, sir? But
you mustn't tell!--not a word to anybody. Perhaps they'll be for putting
me in prison?"
She put her finger to her mouth; and then once more she bent forward,
passionately scrutinizing the two people in the distance. Barron had
"If you want my advice you must try and tell me plainly what all this
means," he said, sternly.
She looked at him--with a mad expression flickering between doubt and
"Then you must shut the door, sir," she said at last. Yet as he moved to
do so, she bent forward once more to look intently at the couple outside.
"And what did they tell me that lie for?" she repeated, in a tone half
perplexed, half resentful. Then she turned peremptorily to Barron.
"Shut the door!"
* * * * *
Half an hour later Barron emerged into the road, from the cottage. He
walked like a man bewildered. All that was evil in him rejoiced; all that
was good sorrowed. He felt that God had arisen, and scattered his
enemies; he also felt a genuine horror and awe in the presence of
All night long he lay awake, pondering how to deal with the story which
had been told him; how to clear up its confusions and implications; to
find some firm foothold in the mad medley of the woman's talk--some
reasonable scheme of time and place. Much of what she had told him had
been frankly incoherent; and to press her had only made confusion worse.
He was tolerably certain that she was suffering from some obscure brain
trouble. The effort of talking to him had clearly exhausted her; but he
had not been able to refrain from making her talk. At the end of the half
hour he had advised her--in some alarm at her ghastly look--to see a
doctor. But the suggestion had made her angry, and he had let it drop.
In the morning news was brought to him from Broad's cottage that John
Broad's mother, Mrs. Richard Sabin, who had arrived from America only
forty-eight hours before, had died suddenly in the night. The bursting
of an unsuspected aneurism in the brain was, according to the doctor
called in, the cause of death.
"Light as the flying seed-balls is their play
The silly maids!"
"Who see in mould the rose unfold,
The soul through blood and tears."
"I cannot get this skirt to hang as Lady Edith's did," said Sarah
"Spend twenty guineas on it, my dear, as Lady Edith did on hers, and
it'll be all right," said a mocking voice.
Sarah frowned. She went on pinning and adjusting a serge skirt in the
making, which hung on the dummy before her. "Oh, we all know what _you_
would like to spend on your dress, Hester!" she said angrily, but
indistinctly, as her mouth was full of pins.
"Because really nice frocks are not to be had any other way," said Hester
coolly. "You pay for them--and you get them. But as for supposing you can
copy Lady Edith's frocks for nothing, why, of course you can't, and you
"If I had ever so much money," said Sarah severely, "I shouldn't think it
_right_ to spend what Lady Edith does on her dress."
"Oh, wouldn't you!" said Hester with a laugh and a yawn. "Just give _me_
the chance--that's all!" Then she turned her head--"Lulu!--you mustn't
eat any more toffy!"--and she flung out a mischievous hand and captured a
box that was lying on the table, before a girl, who was sitting near it
with a book, could abstract from it another square of toffy.
"Give it me!" said Lulu, springing up, and making for her assailant.
Hester laughingly resisted, and they wrestled for the box a little, till
Hester suddenly let it go.
"Take it then--and good luck to you! I wouldn't spoil my teeth and my
complexion as you do--not for tons of sweets. Hullo!"--the speaker sprang
up--"the rain's over, and it's quite a decent evening. I shall go out for
a run and take Roddy."
"Then I shall have to come too," said Sarah, getting up from her knees,
and pulling down her sleeves. "I don't want to at all, but mamma says you
are not to go out alone."
Hester flushed. "Do you think I can't escape you all--if I want to? Of
course I can. What geese you are! None of you will ever prevent me from
doing what I want to do. It really would save such a lot of time and
trouble if you would get that into your heads."
"Where do you mean to go?" said Sarah stolidly, without taking any notice
of her remark. "Because if you'll go to the village, I can get some
binding I want."
"I have no intention whatever of going out for your convenience, thank
you!" said Hester, laughing angrily. "I am going into the garden, and you
can come or not as you please." She opened the French window as she spoke
and stepped out.
"Has mamma heard from that Paris woman yet?" asked Lulu, looking after
Hester, who was now standing on the lawn playing with a terrier-puppy she
had lately brought home as a gift from a neighbouring farmer--much to
Lady Fox-Wilton's annoyance. Hester had an absurd way of making friends
with the most unsuitable people, and they generally gave her things.
"The Rector expected to hear to-day."
"I don't believe she'll go," said Lulu, beginning again on the toffy. She
was a heavily made girl of twenty, with sleepy eyes and a dull
complexion. She took little exercise, was inordinately fond of sweet
things, helped her mother a little in the housekeeping, and was
intimately acquainted with all the gossip of the village. So was Sarah;
but her tongue was sharper than Lulu's, and her brain quicker. She was
therefore the unpopular sister; while for Lulu her acquaintances felt
rather a contemptuous indulgence. Sarah had had various love affairs,
which had come to nothing, and was regarded as "disappointed" in the
village. Lulu was not interested in young men, and had never yet been
observed to take any trouble to capture one. So long as she was allowed
sufficient sixpenny novels to read, and enough sweet things to eat, she
was good-humoured enough, and could do kind things on occasion for her
friends. Sarah was rarely known to do kind things; but as her woman
friends were much more afraid of her than of Lulu, she was in general
treated with much more consideration.
Still it could not be said that Lady Fox-Wilton was to be regarded as
blessed in either of her two elder daughters. And her sons were quite
frankly a trouble to her. The eldest, Sarah's junior by a year and a
half, had just left Oxford suddenly and ignominiously, without a degree,
and was for the most part loafing at home. The youngest, a boy of
fifteen, was supposed to be delicate, and had been removed from school by
his mother on that account. He too was at home, and a tutor who lodged in
the village was understood to be preparing him for the Civil Service. He
was a pettish and spiteful lad, and between him and Hester existed
But indeed Hester was at war with each member of the family in turn;
sometimes with all of them together. And it had been so from her earliest
childhood. They all felt instinctively that she despised them and the
slow, lethargic temperament which was in most of them an inheritance from
a father cast in one of the typical moulds of British Philistinism. There
was some insurmountable difference between her and them. In the first
place, her beauty set her apart from the rest; and, beside her, Sarah's
sharp profile, and round apple-red cheeks, or Lulu's clumsiness, made,
as both girls were secretly aware, an even worse impression than they
need have made. And in the next, there were in her strains of romantic,
egotistic ability to which nothing in them corresponded. She could
play, she could draw--brilliantly, spontaneously--up to a certain
point, when neither Sarah nor Lulu could stumble through a "piece," or
produce anything capable of giving the smallest satisfaction to their
drawing-master. She could chatter, on occasion, so that a room full of
people instinctively listened. And she had read voraciously, especially
poetry, where they were content with picture-papers and the mildest of
novels. Hester brought nothing to perfection; but there could be no
question that in every aspect of life she was constantly making, in
comparison with her family, a dashing or dazzling effect all the more
striking because of the unattractive _milieu_ out of which it sprang.
The presence of Lady Fox-Wilton, in particular, was needed to show these
contrasts at their sharpest.
As Hester still raced about the lawn, with the dog, that lady came round
the corner of the house, with a shawl over her head, and beckoned to the
girl at play. Hester carelessly looked round.
"What do you want, mamma!"
"Come here. I want to speak to you."
Hester ran across the lawn in wide curves, playing with the dog, and
arrived laughing and breathless beside the newcomer. Edith Fox-Wilton was
a small, withered woman, in a widow's cap, who more than looked her age,
which was not far from fifty. She had been pretty in youth, and her blue
eyes were still appealing, especially when she smiled. But she did not
smile often, and she had the expression of one perpetually protesting
against all the agencies--this-worldly or other-worldly--which had the
control of her existence. Her weak fretfulness depressed all the
vitalities near her; only Hester resisted.
At the moment, however, her look was not so much fretful as excited. Her
thin cheeks were much redder than usual; she constantly looked round as
though expecting or dreading some interruption; and in a hand which shook
she held a just opened letter.
"What is the matter, mamma?" asked Hester, a sharp challenging note in
her gay voice. "You look as though something had happened."
"Nothing has happened," said Lady Fox-Wilton hastily. "And I wish you
wouldn't romp with the puppy in that way, Hester. He's always doing some
damage to the flowers. I'm going out, and I wished to give you a message
from the Rector."
"Is that from Uncle Richard?" said Hester, glancing carelessly at the
Lady Fox-Wilton crushed it in her hand.
"I told you it was. Why do you ask unnecessary questions? The Rector has
heard from the lady in Paris and he wants you to go as soon as possible.
Either he or Aunt Alice will take you over. We have had the best possible
recommendations. You will enjoy it very much. They can get you the best
lessons in Paris, they say. They know everybody."
"H'm--" said Hester, reflectively. Then she looked at the speaker. "Do
you know, mamma, that I happen to be eighteen this week?"
"Don't be silly, Hester! Of course I know!"
"Well, you see, it's rather important. Am I or am I not obliged to do
what you and Mr. Meynell want me to do? I believe I'm not obliged.
Anyway, I don't quite see how you're going to make me do it, if I don't
"You can behave like a naughty, troublesome girl, without any proper
feeling, of course!--if you choose," said Lady Fox-Wilton warmly. "But I
trust you will do nothing of the kind. We are your guardians till you are
twenty-one; and you ought to be guided by us."
"Well, of course I can't be engaged to Stephen, if you say I
mayn't--because there's Stephen to back you up. But if Queen Victoria
could be a queen at eighteen, I don't see why _I_ shouldn't be fit at
eighteen to manage my own wretched affairs! Anyway--I--am--not--going to
Paris--unless I want to go. So I don't advise you to promise that lady
just yet. If she keeps her room empty, you might have to pay for it!"
"Hester, you are really the plague of my life!" cried Lady Fox-Wilton
helplessly. "I try to keep you--the Rector tries to keep you--out of
mischief that any girl ought to be ashamed--of--and--"
"What mischief?" demanded Hester peremptorily. "Don't run into
"You know very well what mischief I mean!"
"I know that you think I shall be running away some day with Sir Philip
Meryon!" said the girl, laughing, but with a fierce gleam in her eyes. "I
have no intention at present of doing anything of the kind. But if
anything could make me do it, it would be the foolish way in which you
and the others behave. I don't believe the Rector ever told you to set
Sarah and Lulu on to dog me wherever I go!"
"He told me you were not to be allowed to meet that man. You won't
promise me not to meet him--and what can we do? You know what the Rector
feels. You know that he spent an hour yesterday arguing and pleading with
you, when he had been up most of the night preparing papers for this
commission. What's the matter with you, Hester? Are you quite in your
The girl had clasped her hands behind her back, and stood with one foot
forward, "on tiptoe for a flight," her young figure and radiant look
expressing the hot will which possessed her. At the mention of Meynell's
name she clearly hesitated, a frown crossed her eyes, her lip twitched.
Then she said with vehemence:
"Who asked him to spend all that time? Not I. Let him leave me alone. He
does not care twopence about me, and it's mere humbug and hypocrisy all
his pretending to care."
"And your Aunt Alice--who's always worshipped you? Why, she's just
miserable about you!"
"She says exactly what you and Uncle Richard tell her to say--she always
has! Well, I don't know about Paris, mamma--I'll think about it. If you
and Sarah will just let me be, I'll take Roddy for a stroll, and then
after tea I'll tell you what I'll do." And, turning, she beckoned to a
fine collie lazily sunning himself on the drawing-room steps, and he
sprang up, gambolling about her.
"Promise you won't meet that man!" said Lady Fox-Wilton, in agitation.
"I believe he went up to Scotland to-day," said Hester, laughing. "I
haven't the smallest intention of meeting him. Come, Roddy!"
The eyes of the two met--in those of the older woman, impatience, a kind
of cold exasperation; in Hester's, defiance. It was a strange look to
pass between a mother and daughter. Hester turned away, and then paused:
"Oh, by the way, mamma--where are you going?"
Lady Fox-Wilton hesitated unaccountedly.
"Why do you ask?"
Hester opened her eyes.
"Why shouldn't I? Is it a secret? I wanted you to tell Aunt Alice
something if you were going that way."
Sarah suddenly emerged from the schoolroom window and ran excitedly
across the lawn toward her mother. "Have you heard this extraordinary
story about John Broad's mother? Tibbald has just told me."
Tibbald was the butler, and Sarah's special friend and crony.
"What story? I wish you wouldn't allow Tibbald to gossip as you do,
Sarah!" said Lady Fox-Wilton angrily. But a close observer might have
seen that her bright colour precipitately left her.
"Why, what harm was it?" cried Sarah, wondering. "He told me, because it
seems Mrs. Sabin used to be a servant of ours long ago. Do you remember
Again Lady Fox-Wilton stumbled perceptibly in replying. She turned away,
and, with the garden scissors at her waist, she began vaguely to clip off
some dead roses from some bushes near her.
"We once had a maid--for a very short time," she said over her shoulder,
"who married some one of that name. What about her?"
"Well, she came back from America two days ago. John Broad thought
she was dead. He hadn't heard of her for four years. But she turned
up on Tuesday--the queerest old woman! She sat there boasting and
chattering--in a silk dress with gold bracelets!--they thought she was
going to make all their fortunes. But she must just have been off her
head, for she died last night in her sleep, and there were only a few
shillings on her--not enough to bury her. There's to be an inquest this
evening, they say."
"Don't spend all your time chattering in the village, Sarah," said Lady
Fox-Wilton severely, as, still with her back toward the girls, she moved
away in the direction of the drive. "You'll never get your dress done if
"I say--what's wrong with mamma?" said Hester coolly, looking after her.
"I suppose Bertie's been getting into some fresh bother."
Bertie was the elder brother, who was Sarah's special friend in the
family. So that she at once resented the remark.
"If she's worrying about anything, she's worrying about you," said Sarah
tartly, as she went back to the house. "We all know that."
Hester, with her dog beside her, went strolling leisurely through the
village street, past Miss Puttenham's cottage on the one hand and the
Rectory gates on the other, making for a footpath that led from the back
of the village, through fields and woods, on to the Chase.
As she passed beneath the limes that overhung Miss Puttenham's railings
she perceived some distant figures in the garden. Uncle Richard, with
mamma and Aunt Alice on either side of him. They were walking up and down
in close conversation; or, rather, Uncle Richard seemed to be talking
earnestly, addressing now one lady, now the other.
What a confabulation! No doubt all about her own crimes and
misdemeanours. What fun to creep into the garden and play the spy.
"That's what Sarah would do--but I'm not Sarah." Instead, she turned into
the footpath and began to mount toward the borders of the Chase. It was a
brilliant September afternoon, and the new grass in the shorn hayfields
was vividly green. In front rose the purple hills of the Chase, while
to the left, on the far borders of the village, the wheels and chimneys
of two collieries stood black against a blaze of sun. But the sharp
emphasis of light and colour, which in general would have set her own
spirits racing, was for a while lost on Hester. As soon as she was out
of sight of the village, or any passers-by, her aspect changed. Once or
twice she caught her breath in what was very like a sob; and there were
moments when she could only save herself from the disgrace of tears by a
wild burst of racing with Roddy. It was evident that her brush with Lady
Fox-Wilton had not left her as callous as she seemed.
Presently the path forsook the open fields and entered a plantation of
dark and closely woven trees where the track was almost lost in the
magnificence of the bracken. Beyond this, a short climb of broken slopes,
and Hester was out on the bare heath, with the moorland wind blowing
She sat down on a bank beneath a birch tree, twisted and tortured out of
shape by the northwesterly gales that swept the heath in winter. All
round her a pink and purple wilderness, with oases of vivid green and
swaying grass. Nothing in sight but a keeper's hut, and some grouse butts
far away; an ugly red building on the horizon, in the very middle of the
heath, the Markborough isolation hospital; and round the edge of the vast
undulating plateau in all directions the faint smoke of the colliery
chimneys. But the colour of the heath was the marvel. The world seemed
stained in crimson, and in every shade and combination of it. Close at
hand the reds and pinks were diapered with green and gold as the
bilberries and the grasses ran in and out of the heather; but on every
side the crimson spread and billowed to the horizon, covering the hollows
and hills of the Chase, absorbing all lesser tones into itself. After the
rain of the morning, the contours of the heath, the distances of the
plain, were unnaturally clear; and as the sunshine, the high air, the
freshly moving wind, played upon Hester, her irritation passed away in a
"Why should I let them worry me? I won't! I am here! I am alive! I am
only eighteen! I am going to manage my life for myself--and get out of
this coil. Now let me think!"
She slid downward among the heather, her face propped on her hands.
Close beneath her eyes was an exquisite tuft of pink bell-heather
intergrown with bunchberries. And while a whole vague series of thoughts
and memories passed through her mind she was still vividly conscious of
the pink bells, the small bright leaves. Sensation in her was
exceptionally keen, whether for pleasure or pain. She knew it and had
often coolly asked herself whether it meant that she would wear out--life
and brain--quicker than other people--burn faster to the socket. So much
the better if it did.
What was it she really wanted?--what did she mean to do? Proudly, she
refused to admit any other will in the matter. The thought of Meynell,
indeed, touched some very sore and bitter chords in her mind, but it did
not melt her. She knew very well that she had nothing to blame her
guardian for; that year after year from her childhood up she had repelled
and resisted him, that her whole relation to him had been one of
stubbornness and caprice. Well, there were reasons for it; she was not
going to repent or change.
Of late his conduct with regard to Stephen's proposal had stirred in her
a kind of rage. It was not that she imagined herself in love with
Stephen; but she had chosen to be engaged to him; and that any one should
affect to control her in such a matter, should definitely and decidedly
cross her will, was intolerable to her wild pride. If Stephen had
rebelled with her, she might have fallen fiercely in love with him--for a
month. But he had submitted--though it was tolerably plain what it had
cost him; and all her careless liking for him, the fruit of years of very
poorly requited devotion on his part, seemed to have disappeared in a
Why shouldn't she be engaged at seventeen--within two months of eighteen,
in fact? Heaps of girls were. It was mere tyranny and nonsense. She
recalled her interview with Meynell, in which the Rector had roused in
her a new and deeper antagonism than any she had yet felt toward his
efforts to control her. It was as though he did not altogether believe in
his own arguments; as though there were something behind which she could
not get at. But if there were something behind, she had a right to know
it. She had a right to know the meaning of her father's extraordinary
letter to Meynell--the letter attached to his will--in which she had been
singled out by name as needing the special tutelage of the Rector. So far
as the Rector's guardianship of the other children was concerned, it was
almost a nominal thing. Another guardian had been named in the will, Lady
Fox-Wilton's elder brother, and practically everything that concerned the
other children was settled by him, in concert with the mother. The Rector
never interfered, was never indeed consulted, except on purely formal
matters of business. But for her--for her only--Uncle Richard--as she
always called her guardian--was to be the master--the tyrant!--close at
hand. For so Sir Ralph had laid it down, in his testamentary letter--"I
commend Hester to your special care. And in any difficulties that may
arise in connection with her, I beg for our old friendship's sake that
you will give my wife the help and counsel that she will certainly need.
She knows it is my wish she should rely entirely upon you."
Why had he written such a letter? Since Sir Ralph's death, two years
before, the story of it had got about; and the injustice, as she held, of
her position under it had sunk deep into the girl's passionate sense, and
made her infinitely more difficult to manage than she had been before. Of
course everybody said it was because of her temper; because of the
constant friction between her and her father; people believed the hateful
things he used sometimes to say about her.
Nor was it only the guardianship--there was the money too! Provision made
for all of them by name--and nothing for her! She had made Sarah show her
a copy of the will--she knew! Nothing indeed for any of them--the girls
at least--till Lady Fox-Wilton's death, or till they married; but nothing
for _her_, under any circumstances.
"Well, why should there be?" Sarah had said. "You know you'll have Aunt
Alice's money. _She_ won't leave a penny to us."
All very well! The money didn't matter! But to be singled out and held up
to scorn by your own father!
A flood of bitterness surged in the girl's heart. And then they expected
her to be a meek and obedient drudge to her mother and her elder sisters;
to open her mouth and take what they chose to send her. She might
not be engaged to Stephen--for two years at any rate; and yet if she
amused herself with any one else she was to be packed off to Paris, to
some house of detention or other, under lock and key.
Her cheeks flamed. When had she first come across Philip Meryon? Only the
day before that evening when Uncle Richard had found her fishing with
him. She knew very well that he was badly spoken of; trust Upcote for
gossip and scandal! Well, so was she!--they were outcasts together.
Anyway, he was more amusing to walk and talk with than her sisters, or
the dreadful young men they sometimes gathered about them. Why shouldn't
she walk and talk with him? As if she couldn't protect herself! As if she
didn't know a great deal more of the world than her stupid sisters did,
who never read a book or thought of anything beyond the tittle-tattle
of their few local friends.
But Philip Meryon had read lots of books, and liked those that she liked.
He could read French too, as she could. And he had lent her some French
books, which she had read eagerly--at night or in the woods--wherever
she could be alone and unobserved. Why shouldn't she read them? There was
one among them--"Julie de Trecoeur," by Octave Feuillet, that still
seemed running, like a great emotion, through her veins. The tragic
leap of Julie, as she sets her horse to the cliff and thunders to her
death, was always in Hester's mind. It was so that she herself would like
to die, spurning submission and patience, and all the humdrum virtues.
She raised herself, and the dog beside her sprang up and barked. The sun
was just dropping below a bank of fiery cloud, and a dazzling and garish
light lay on the red undulations of the heath. As she stood up she
suddenly perceived the figure of a man about a hundred yards off emerging
from a gully--a sportsman with his gun over his shoulder. He had
apparently just parted from the group with whom he had been shooting, who
were disappearing in another direction.
Philip Meryon! Now she remembered! He and two other men had taken the
shooting on this side of the Chase. Honestly she had forgotten it;
honestly her impression was that he had gone to Scotland. But of course
none of her family would ever believe it. They would insist she had
simply come out to meet him.
What was she to do? She was in a white serge dress, and with Roddy
beside her, on that bare heath, she was an object easily recognized.
Indeed, as she hesitated, she heard a call in the distance, and saw that
Meryon was waving to her and quickening his pace. Instantly, with a
leaping pulse, she turned and fled, Roddy beside her, barking his
loudest. She ran along the rough track of the heath, as though some vague
wild terror had been breathed into her by the local Pan. She ran fleet
and light as air--famous as a runner from her childhood. But the man
behind her had once been a fine athlete, and he gained upon her fast.
Soon she could hear his laugh behind her, his entreaties to her to stop.
She had reached the edge of the heath, where the wood began, and the path
ran winding down it, with banks of thick fern on either hand.
If it had not been for the dog she could have slipped under the close-set
trees, whence the light had already departed, and lain close among the
fern. But with Roddy--no chance! She suddenly turned toward her pursuer,
and with her hand on the dog's neck awaited him.
"Caught--caught!--by Jove!" cried Philip Meryon, plunging to her through
the fern. "Now what do you deserve--for running away?"
"A _gentleman_ would not have tried to catch me!" she said haughtily, as
she faced him, with dilating nostrils.
"Take care!--don't be rude to me--I shall take my revenge!"
As he spoke, Meryon was fairly dazzled, intoxicated by the beauty of the
vision before him--this angry wood-nymph, half-vanishing like another
Daphne into the deep fern amid which she stood. But at the same time he
was puzzled--and checked--by her expression. There was no mere
provocation in it, no defiance that covers a yielding mind; but, rather,
an energy of will, a concentrated force, that held at bay a man whose
will was the mere register of his impulses.
"You forget," said Hester coolly, "that I have Roddy with me." And as she
spoke the dog couching at her side poked up his slender nose through the
fern and growled. He did not like Sir Philip.
Meryon looked upon her smiling--his hands on his sides. "Do you mean to
say that when you ran you did not mean me to follow?"
"On the contrary, if I ran, it was evidently because I wished to get
"Then you were very ungrateful and unkind; for I have at this moment in
my pocket a book you asked me to get for you. That's what I get for
trying to please you."
"I don't remember that I asked you to get anything for me."
"Well, you said you would like to see some of George Sand's novels,
which--for me--was just the same. So when I went to London yesterday I
managed to borrow it, and there it is." He pointed triumphantly to a
yellow-paper-bound volume sticking out of his coat pocket. "Of course you
know George Sand is a sort of old Johnnie now; nobody reads her. But
that's your affair. Will you have it?" He offered it.
The excitement, the wild flush in the girl's face, had subsided. She
looked at the book, and at the man holding it out.
"What is it?" She stooped to read the title--"Mauprat." "What's it
"Some nonsense about a cad tamed by a sentimental young woman." He
shrugged his shoulders, "I tried to read it, and couldn't. But they say
it's one of her best. If you want it, there it is."
She took it reluctantly, and moved on along the downward path, he
following, and the dog beside them.
"Have you read the other book?" he asked her.
"'Julie de Trécoeur?' Yes."
"What did you think of it?"
"It was magnificent!" she said shortly, with a quickened breath. "I shall
get some more by that man."
"Well, you'd better be careful!" He laughed. "I've got some others, but I
didn't want to recommend them to you. Lady Fox-Wilton wouldn't exactly
"I don't tell mamma what I read." The girl's young voice sounded sharply
beside him in the warm autumnal dusk. "But if you lent me anything you
oughtn't to lend me I would never speak to you again!"
Meryon gave a low whistle.
"My goodness! I shall have to mind my p's and q's. I don't know that I
ought to have lent you 'Julie de Trécoeur' if it comes to that."
"Why not?" Hester turned her great, astonished eyes upon him. "One might
as well not read Byron as not read that."
"Hm--I don't suppose you read _all_ Byron."
He threw her an audacious look.
"As much as I want to," she said, indifferently. "Why aren't you in
"Because I had to go to London instead. Beastly nuisance! But there was
some business I couldn't get out of."
"Debts?" she said, raising her eyebrows.
The self-possession of this child of eighteen was really amazing. Not a
trace in her manner of timidity or tremor. In spite of her flight from
him he could not flatter himself that he had made any impression on her
nerves. Whereas her beauty and her provocative way were beginning to tell
deeply on his own.
"Well, I daresay!" His laugh was as frank as her question. "I'm generally
"Why don't you do some work, and earn money?" she asked him, frowning.
"Frankly--because I dislike work."
"Then why did you write a play?"
"Because it amused me. But if it had been acted and made money, and I had
had to write another, that would have been work; and I should probably
have loathed it."
"That I don't believe," she said, shaking her head. "One can always do
what succeeds. It's like pouring petrol into the motor."
"So you think I'm only idle because I'm a failure?" he asked her, his
tone betraying a certain irritation.
"I wonder why you _are_ idle--and why you _are_ a failure?" she said,
turning upon him a pair of considering eyes.
"Take care, Mademoiselle!" he said, gasping a little. "I don't know why
you allow yourself these _franchises_!"
"Because I am interested in you--rather. Why won't the neighbourhood call
on you--why do you have disreputable people to stay with you? It is all
so foolish!" she said, with childish and yet passionate emphasis. "You
needn't do it!"
Meryon had turned rather white.
"When you grow a little older," he said severely, "you will know better
than to believe all the gossip you hear. I choose the friends that suit
me--and the life too. My friends are mostly artists and actors--they are
quite content to be excluded from Upcote society--so am I. I don't gather
you are altogether in love with it yourself."
He looked at her mockingly.
"If it were only Sarah--or mamma," she said doubtfully.
"You mean I suppose that Meynell--your precious guardian--my very amiable
cousin--allows himself to make all kinds of impertinent statements about
me. Well, you'll understand some day that there's no such bad judge of
men as a clergyman. When he's not ignorant he's prejudiced--and when he's
not prejudiced he's ignorant."
A sudden remorse swelled in Hester's mind.
"He's not prejudiced!--he's not ignorant! How strange that you and he
should be cousins!"
"Well, we do happen to be cousins. And I've no doubt that you would
like me to resemble him. Unfortunately I can't accommodate you. If I
am to take a relation for a model, I prefer a very different sort of
person--the man from whom I inherited Sandford. But Richard, I am sure,
never approved of him either."
"Who was he?--I never heard of him." And, with the words, Hester
carelessly turned her head to look at a squirrel that had run across the
glade and was now peeping at the pair from the first fork of an oak tree.
"My uncle? Well, he was an awfully fine fellow--whatever Meynell may say.
If the Abbey wasn't taboo, I could show you a portrait of him there--by a
Frenchman--that's a superb thing. He was the best fencer in England--and
one of the best shots. He had a beautiful voice--he could write--he could
do anything he pleased. Of course he got into scrapes--such men do--and
if Richard ever talked to you about him, of course he'd crab him. All the
same, if one must be like one's relations--which is, of course, quite
unnecessary--I should prefer to take after Neville than after Richard."
"What was his name?"
"Neville--Sir Neville Flood." Hester looked puzzled.
"Well!--if you want the whole genealogical tree, here it is: There was a
certain Ralph Flood, my grandfather, an old hunting squire, a regular bad
lot! Oh! I can tell you the family history doesn't give me much chance!
He came from Lincolnshire originally, having made the county there too
hot to hold him, and bought the Abbey, which he meant to restore and
never did. He worried his wife into her grave, and she left him three
children: Neville, who succeeded his father; and two daughters--Meynell's
mother, who was a good deal older than Neville and married Colonel
Meynell, as he was then; and my mother, who was much the youngest, and
died three years ago. She was Neville's favourite sister, and as he knew
Richard didn't want the Abbey, he left it to me. A precious white
elephant--not worth a fiver to anybody. I was only thirteen when Neville
Meryon explained that Neville Flood had lost his life in a storm on an
Irish lough; a queer business, which no one had ever quite got to the
bottom of. Many people had talked of suicide. There was no doubt he was
in very low spirits just before it happened. He was unhappily married,
mainly through his own fault. His wife could certainly have got a divorce
from him if she had applied for it. But very soon after she separated
from Flood she became a Catholic, and nothing would induce her to divorce
him. And against her there was never a breath. It was said of course that
he was in love with some one else, and broken-hearted that his wife
refused to lend herself to a divorce. But nobody knew anything.
"And, by Jove, I wonder why I'm telling you all these shady tales. You
oughtn't to know anything about such things," Meryon broke off suddenly.
Hester's beautiful mouth made a scornful movement.
"I'm not a baby--and I intend to know what's _true_. I should like to see
"What--of my Uncle Neville?"
Meryon eyed her curiously, as they strolled on through the arched green
of the woodland. Every now and then there were openings through which
poured a fiery sun, illuminating Hester's face and form.
"Do you know"--he said at last--"there is an uncommonly queer likeness
between you and that picture?"
"Me?" Hester opened her eyes in half-indifferent astonishment.
"People say such absurd things. Heaps of people think I am like Uncle
Richard--not complimentary, is it? I hope his uncle was better looking.
And, anyway, I am no relation of either of them."
"Neville and Richard were often mistaken for one another--though Neville
was a deal handsomer than old Richard. However, nobody can account for
likenesses. If you come to think of it, we are all descended from a small
number of people. But it has often struck me--" He looked at her again
attentively. "The setting of the ear--and the upper lip--and the shape
of the brow--I shall bring you a photograph of the picture."
"What does it matter!" said Hester impatiently. "Besides, I am going away
"To Paris!--why and wherefore?"
"To improve my French--and"--she turned and looked at him in the face,
laughing--"to make sure I don't go walks with you!"
He was silent a moment, twisting his lip.
"When do you go?"
"In a week or two--when there's room for me."
"Oh! come then--there's time for a few more talks. Listen--you think I'm
such an idle dog. I'm nothing of the sort. I've nearly finished a whole
new play. Only--well, I couldn't talk to you about it--it's not a play
for _jeunes filles_. But after all I might read you a few scenes. That
wouldn't do any harm. You're so deuced clever!--your opinion would be
worth having. I can tell you the managers are all after it! I'm getting
letters by every post asking for parts. What do you say? Can you meet
me somewhere? I'll choose some of the best bits. Just name your time!"
Her face had kindled, answering to the vivacity--the peremptoriness--in
his. Her vanity was flattered at last; and he saw it.
"Send me a word!" he said under his breath. "That little schoolroom
maid--is she safe?"
"Quite!" said Hester, also under her breath, and smiling.
"You beautiful creature!" he spoke with low intensity. "You lovely, wild
"Take care!" Hester sprang away from him as he put out an incautious
hand. "Come, Roddy! Goodnight!"
In a flash the gloom of the wood closed upon her, and she was gone.
Meryon walked on laughing to himself, and twisting his black moustache.
After some years of bad company and easy conquests, Hester's proud grace,
her reckless beauty, her independent, satiric ways had sent a new
stimulus through jaded nerves. Had he met her in London on equal terms
with other men he knew instinctively that he would have had but small
chance with her. It was the circumstances of this quiet country place,
where young men of Hester's class were the rarest of apparitions, and
where Philip, flying from his creditors and playing the part of a needy
Don Juan amid the picturesque dilapidations of the Abbey, was gravelled
day after day for lack of occupation--it was these surroundings that had
made the flirtation possible. Well, she was a handsome daredevil little
minx. It amused him to make love to her, and in spite of his parsonical
cousin, he should continue to do so. And that the proceeding annoyed
Richard Meynell made it not less, but more, enticing. Parsons, cousins or
no, must be kept in their place.
Hester ran home, a new laugh on her lip, and a new red on her cheek.
Several persons turned to look at her in the village street, but she took
no notice of any one till, just as she was nearing the Cowroast, she saw
groups round the door of the little inn, and a stream of men coming out.
Among them she perceived the Rector. He no sooner saw her than with an
evident start he altered his course and came up to her.
"Where have you been, Hester?"
She chose to be offended by the inquiry, and answered pettishly that for
once she had been out by herself without a keeper. He took no notice of
her tone, and walked on beside her, his eyes on the ground. Presently she
wondered whether he had heard her reply at all, he was so evidently
thinking of something else. In her turn she began to ask questions.
"What's happening in the village? Why are those people coming out of the
"There's been an inquest there."
"On that old woman who was once a servant of ours?"
The Rector looked up quickly.
"Who told you anything about her?"
"Oh, Sarah heard from Tibbald--trust him for gossip! Was she off her
"She died of disease of the brain. They found her dead in her bed."
"Well, why shouldn't she? An excellent way to die! Good night, Uncle
Richard--good night! You go too slow for me."
She walked away with a defiant air, intended to show him that he was in
her black books. He stood a moment looking after her, compunction and sad
affection in his kind eyes.
Meanwhile, for Catharine Elsmere and Mary these days of early autumn were
passing in a profound external quiet which bore but small relation to the
mental history of mother and daughter.
The tranquillity indeed of the little water-locked cottage was complete.
Mrs. Flaxman at the big house took all the social brunt upon herself. She
set no limit to her own calls, or to her readiness to be called upon. The
Flaxman dinner and tennis parties were soon an institution in the
neighbourhood; and the distinguished persons who gathered at Maudeley for
the Flaxman week-ends shed a reflected lustre on Upcote itself. But Rose
Flaxman stoutly protected her widowed sister. Mrs. Elsmere was delicate
and in need of rest; she was not to be expected to take part in any
social junketings, and callers were quite plainly warned off.
For all of which Catharine Elsmere was grateful to a younger sister,
grotesquely unlike herself in temperament and character, yet brought
steadily closer to her by the mere passage of life. Rose was an artist
and an optimist. In her youth she had been an eager and exquisite
musician; in her middle life she was a loving and a happy woman, though
she too had known a tragic moment in her first youth. Catharine, her
elder by some years, still maintained, beneath an exquisite refinement,
the strong north-country characteristics of the Westmoreland family to
which the sisters belonged. Her father had been an Evangelical scholar
and headmaster; the one slip of learning in a rude and primitive race.
She had been trained by him; and in spite of her seven years of married
life beside a nature so plastic and sensitive as Elsmere's, and of her
passionate love for her husband, it was the early influences on her
character which had in the end proved the more enduring.
For years past she had spent herself in missionary work for the Church,
in London; and though for Robert's sake she had maintained for long a
slender connection that no one misunderstood with the New Brotherhood,
the slow effect of his withdrawal from her life made itself inevitably
felt. She stiffened and narrowed intellectually; while for all sinners
and sufferers, within the lines of sympathy she gradually traced out
for herself, she would have willingly given her body to be burned, so
strong was the Franciscan thirst in her for the self-effacement and
self-sacrifice that belong to the Christian ideal, carried to intensity.
So long as Mary was a child, her claim upon her mother had to some extent
balanced the claims of what many might have thought a devastating and
depersonalizing charity. Catharine was a tender though an austere mother;
she became and deserved to become the idol of her daughter. But as Mary
grew up she was drawn inevitably into her mother's activities; and
Catharine, in the blindness of her ascetic faith, might have injured the
whole spring of the girl's youth by the tremendous strain thus put upon
it by affection on the one hand and pity on the other.
Mercifully, perhaps, for them both, Catharine's nerve and strength
suddenly gave way; and with them that abnormal exaltation and clearness
of spiritual vision which had carried her through many sorrowing years.
She entered upon a barren and darkened path; the Christian joy deserted
her, and there were hours and days when little more than the Christian
terrors remained. It was her perception of this which roused such a
tender and desperate pity in Mary. Her mother's state fell short indeed
of religious melancholy; but for a time it came within sight of it.
Catharine dreaded to be found herself a castaway; and the memory of
Robert's denials of the faith--magnified by her mental state, like trees
in mist--had now become an ever-haunting misery which tortured her
unspeakably. Her mind was possessed by the parables of judgment--the
dividing of the sheep from the goats, the shutting of the door of
salvation on those who had refused the heavenly offers, and by all those
sayings of the early Church that make "faith" the only passport to
Her saner mind struggled in vain against what was partly a physical
penalty for defied physical law. And Mary also, her devoted companion,
whose life depended hour by hour on the aspects and changes of her
mother, must needs be drawn within the shadow of Catharine's dumb and
phantom-ridden pain. The pain itself was dumb, because it concerned the
deepest feelings of a sternly reserved woman. But mingled with the pain
were other matters--resentments, antagonisms--the expression of which
often half consciously relieved it. She rose in rebellion against those
sceptical and deadly forces of the modern world which had swept her
beloved from the narrow way. She fled them for herself; she feared them
for Mary, in whom she had very early divined the working of Robert's
aptitudes and powers.
And now--by ill-fortune--a tired and suffering woman had no sooner found
refuge and rest in the solitude of Forkéd Pond than, thanks partly to the
Flaxmans' new friendship for Upcote's revolutionary parson, and partly to
all the public signs, not to be escaped, of the commotion brewing in the
diocese, and in England generally, the same agitations, the same troubles
which had destroyed her happiness and peace of mind in the past, came
clattering about her again.
Every one talked of them; every one took a passionate concern in them;
the newspapers were full of them. The personality of Meynell, or that of
the Bishop; the characters and motives of his opponents; the chances of
the struggle--and the points on which it turned; even in the little
solitary house between the waters Catharine could not escape them. The
Bishop, too, was an old friend; before his promotion he had been the
incumbent of a London parish in which Catharine had worked. She was no
sooner settled at Forkéd Pond than he came to see her; and what more
natural than he should speak of the anxieties weighing upon him to one so
able to feel for them?
Then!--the first involuntary signs of Mary's interest in, Mary's sympathy
with, the offender! In Catharine's mind a thousand latent terrors sprang
at once to life. For a time--some weeks--she had succeeded in checking
all developments. Invitations were refused; meetings were avoided. But
gradually the situation changed. Points of contact began inevitably to
multiply between Mary and the disturber of Christ's peace in Upcote.
Mary's growing friendship for Alice Puttenham, her chance encounters with
Meynell there, or in the village, or in the Flaxmans' drawing-room, were
all distasteful and unwelcome to Catharine Elsmere. At least her Robert
had sacrificed himself--had done the honest and honourable thing. But
this man--wounding the Church from within--using the opportunities of the
Church for the destruction of the Church--who would make excuses for such
And the more keenly she became aware of the widening gulf between her
thoughts and Mary's--of Mary's involuntary, instinctive sympathy with the
enemy--the greater was her alarm.
For the first time in all her strenuous, self-devoted life she would
sometimes make much of her physical weakness in these summer days, so as
to keep Mary with her, to prevent her from becoming more closely
acquainted with Meynell and Meynell's ideas. And in fact this new anxiety
interfered with her recovery; she had only to let herself be ill, and ill
most genuinely she was.
Mary understood it all, and submitted. Her mother's fears were indeed
amply justified! Mary's secret mind was becoming absorbed, from a
distance, in Meynell's campaign; Meynell's personality, through all
hindrance and difficulty--nay, perhaps, because of them--was gradually
seizing upon and mastering her own; and processes of thought that, so
long as she and her mother were, so to speak, alone in the world
together, were still immature and potential, grew apace. The woods and
glades of Maudeley, the village street, the field paths, began to be for
her places of magic, whence at any moment might spring flowers of joy
known to her alone. To see him pass at a distance, to come across him in
a miner's cottage, or in Miss Puttenham's drawing-room--these rare
occasions were to her the events of the summer weeks. Nevertheless, when
September arrived, she had long since forbidden herself to hope for
Meanwhile, Rose Flaxman was the only person who ever ventured to feel and
show the irritation of the natural woman toward her sister's
"Do for heaven's sake stop her reading these books!" she said impatiently
one evening to Mary, when she had taken leave of Catharine, and her niece
was strolling back with her toward Maudeley.
"Why, lives of bishops and deans and that kind of thing! I never come but
I find a pile of them beside her. It should be made absolutely illegal to
write the life of a clergyman! My dear, your mother would be well in a
week if we could only stop it and put her on a course of Gaboriau!"
Mary smiled rather sadly.
"They seem to be the only things that interest her now."
"What, the deans? I know. It's intolerable. She went to speak to the
postman just now while I was with her, and I looked at the book she had
been reading with her mark in it. I should like to have thrown it into
the pond! Some tiresome canon or other writing to a friend about Eternal
Punishment. What does he know about it? I should like to ask! I declare I
hope he may know something more about it some day! There was your mother
as white as her ruffles, with dark lines under her eyes. I tell you
clerical intimidation should be made a punishable offence. It's just as
bad as any other!"
Mary let her run on. She moved silently along the grassy path, her pretty
head bent, her hands clasped behind her. And presently her aunt resumed:
"And the strange thing is, my dear, saving your presence--that your
beloved mother is quite lax in some directions, while she is so strict in
others. I never can make her pay the smallest attention to the things I
tell her about Philip Meryon, for instance, that Hugh tells me. 'Poor
fellow!' she always calls him, as though his abominable ways were like
the measles--something you couldn't help. And as for that wild minx
Hester!--she has positively taken a fancy to her. It reminds me of what
an old priest said to me once in Rome--'Sins, madame!--the only sins that
matter are those of the intellect!' There!--send me off--before I say any
Mary waved farewell to her vivacious aunt, and walked slowly back to the
cottage. She was conscious of inner smart and pain; conscious also for
the first time of a critical mind toward the mother whose will had been
the law of her life. It was not that she claimed anything for herself;
but she claimed justice for a man misread.
"If they could only know each other!"--she found herself saying at last
aloud--with an impetuous energy; and then, with a swift return upon
herself--"Mother, _darling_!--mother, who has no one in the world--but
As the words escaped her, she came in sight of the cottage, and saw that
her mother was sitting in her usual place beside the water. Catharine's
hands were resting on a newspaper they had evidently just put down, and
she was gazing absently across the lights and shadows, the limpid blues
and browns of the tree-locked pool before her.
Mary came to sit on the grass beside her.
"Have you been reading, dearest?"
But as she spoke she saw, with discomfort, that the newspaper on her
mother's knee was the _Church Guardian_, in which a lively correspondence
on the subject of Meynell and the Modernist Movement generally was at the
"Yes, I have been reading," said Catharine slowly--"and I have been very
"Then I wish you wouldn't read!" cried Mary, kissing her hand. "I should
like to burn all the newspapers!"
"What good would that do?" said Catharine, trying to smile. "I have been
reading Bishop Craye's letter to the _Guardian_. Poor Bishop!--what a
cruel, cruel position!"
The words were spoken with a subdued but passionate energy, and when Mrs.
Elsmere perceived that Mary made no reply, her hand slipped out of her
There was silence for a little, broken by Catharine, speaking with the
same quiet vehemence:
"I cannot understand how you, Mary, or any one else can defend what this
man--Mr. Meynell--is doing. If he cannot agree with the Church, let him
leave it. But to stay in it--giving this scandal--and this offence--"
Her voice failed her. Mary collected her thoughts as best she could.
At last she said, with difficulty:
"Aren't you thinking only of the people who may be hurt--or scandalized?
But after all, there they are in the Church, with all its privileges and
opportunities--with everything they want. They are not asked to give
anything up--nobody thinks of interfering with them--they have all the
old dear things, the faiths and the practices they love--and that help
_them_. They are only asked to tolerate other people who want different
things. Mr. Meynell stands--I suppose--for the people--who are starved,
whose souls wither, or die, for lack of the only food that could nourish
"'I am the bread of life,'" said Catharine with an energy that shook her
slight frame. "The Church has no other food to give. Let those who refuse
it go outside. There are other bodies, and other means."
"But, mother, this is the _National_ Church!" pleaded Mary, after a
moment. "The Modernists too say--don't they?--that Christ--or what
Christ stands for--is the bread of life. Only they understand the
words--differently from you. And if"--she came closer to her mother, and
putting her hands on Catharine's knees, she looked up into the elder
woman's face--"if there were only a few here and there, they could of
course do nothing; they could only suffer, and be silent. But there are
so many of them--so many! What is the 'Church' but the living souls that
make it up? And now thousands of these living souls want to change things
in the Church. Their consciences are hurt--they can't believe what they
once believed. What is the justice of driving them out--or leaving them
starved--forever? They were born in the Church; baptized in the Church!
They love the old ways, the old buildings, the old traditions. 'Comfort
our consciences!' they say; 'we will never tyrannize over yours. Give us
the teaching and the expression we want; you will always have what you
want! Make room for us--beside you. If your own faith is strong it will
only be the stronger because you let ours speak and live--because you
give us our bare rights, as free spirits, in this Church that belongs to
the whole English people.' Dear mother, you are so just always--so
loving--doesn't that touch you--doesn't it move you--at all?"
The girl's charming face had grown pale. So had Catharine's.
"This, I suppose, is what you have heard Mr. Meynell say," she answered
Mary turned away, shading her eyes with her hand.
"Yes," she said, with shrinking; "at least I know it is what he would
"Oh, Mary, I wish we had never come here!" It was a cry of bitterness,
almost of despair. Mary turned and threw her arms round the speaker's
"I will never hurt you, my beloved! you know I won't."
The two gazed into each other's eyes, questions and answers, unspoken yet
understood, passing between them. Then Catharine disengaged herself,
rose, and went away.
During the night that followed Mary slept little. She was engaged in
trying to loosen and tear away those tendrils of the heart that had begun
to climb and spread more than she knew. Toward the early dawn it seemed
to her she heard slight sounds in her mother's room. But immediately
afterward she fell asleep.
The next day, Mary could not tell what had happened; but it was as
though, in some inexplicable way, doors had been opened and weights
lifted; as though fresh winds had been set blowing through the House of
Life. Her mother seemed shaken and frail; Mary hovered about her with
ministering tenderness. There were words begun and left unfinished,
movements and looks that strangely thrilled and bewildered the younger
woman. She had no key to them; but they seemed to speak of change--of
something in her mother that had been beaten down, and was still faintly,
pitifully striving. But she dared say nothing. They read, and wrote
letters, and strolled as usual; till in the evening, while Mary was
sitting by the water, Catherine came out to her and stood beside her,
holding the local paper in her hand.
"I see there is to be a meeting in the village next Friday--of the
Reformers' League. Mr. Meynell is to speak."
Mary looked up in amazement.
"You would perhaps like to go. I will go with you."
"Mother!" Mary caught her mother's hand and kissed it, while the tears
sprang to her eyes. "I want to go nowhere--to do nothing--that gives you
"I know that," said Catharine quietly. "But I--I should like to
And with a light touch of her hand on Mary's red-gold hair, she went back
into the house. Mary wandered away by herself into the depths of the
woods, weeping, she scarcely knew why. But some sure instinct, lost in
wonder as she was, bade her ask her mother no questions; to let time
The day of the League meeting came. It happened also to be the date on
which the Commission of Inquiry into the alleged heresies and
irregularities of the Rector of Upcote was holding its final meeting at
The meetings of the commission were held in the Library of the Cathedral,
once a collegiate church of the Cistercian order. All trace of the great
monastery formerly connected with it had disappeared, except for the
Library and a vaulted room below it which now made a passageway from the
Deanery to the north transept.
The Library offered a worthy setting for high themes. The walls were, of
course, wreathed in the pale golds and dignified browns of old books. A
light gallery ran round three sides of the room, while a large
perpendicular window at the farther end contained the armorial bearings
of various benefactors of the see. Beneath the window was a bookcase
containing several chained books--a Vulgate, a Saint Augustine, the
_Summa_ of St. Thomas; precious possessions, and famous in the annals of
early printing. And wherever there was a space of wall left free,
pictures or engravings of former bishops and dignitaries connected with
the Cathedral enforced the message and meaning of the room.
A seemly, even beautiful place--pleasantly scented with old leather, and
filled on this September afternoon with the sunshine which, on the Chase,
was at the same moment kindling the heather into a blood-red
magnificence. Here the light slipped in gently, subdued to the quiet note
and standard of the old Library.
The Dean was in the Chair. He was a man of seventy who had only just
become an old man, submitting with difficulty, even with resentment, to
the weight of his years. He wore a green shade over his eyes, beneath
which his long sharp nose and pointed chin--in the practical absence of
the eyes--showed with peculiar emphasis. He was of heavy build, and
suffered from chronic hoarseness. In his youth he had been a Broad
churchman and a Liberal, and had then passed, through stages mysterious
to his oldest friends, into an actively dogmatic and ecclesiastical
phase. It was rumoured that he had had strange spiritual experiences; a
"vision" was whispered; but all that was really known was that from an
"advanced" man, in the Liberal sense, he had become the champion of high
orthodoxy in the Chapter, and an advocate of disestablishment as the only
means of restoring "Catholic liberty" to the Church.
The Dean's enemies, of whom he had not a few, brought various charges
against him. It was said that he was a worldling with an undue leaning to
notabilities. And indeed in every gathering, social or ecclesiastical,
the track of the Dean's conversation sufficiently indicated the relative
importance of the persons present. Others declared that during his long
tenure of a country living he had left the duties of it mainly to a
curate, and had found it more interesting to live in London, conferring
with Cabinet Ministers on educational reform; while the women-folk of the
Chapter pitied his wife, whose subdued or tremulous aspect certainly
suggested that the Dean's critical and sarcastic temper sharpened itself
at home for conflicts abroad.
On the Dean's right hand sat Canon Dornal, a man barely forty, who owed
his canonry to the herculean work he had done for fourteen years in a
South London parish, work that he would never have relinquished for the
comparative ease of the Markborough precincts but for a sudden failure in
health which had pulled him up in mid-career, and obliged him to think of
his wife and children. He had insisted, however, on combining with his
canonry a small living in the town, where he could still slave as he
pleased; and his sermons in the Cathedral were generally held to be, next
to the personality of the Bishop, all that was noblest in Markborough
Christianity. His fine head, still instinct with the energy of youth, was
covered with strong black hair; dark brows shadowed Cornish blue eyes,
simple, tranquil, almost _naif_, until of a sudden there rushed into them
the passionate or tender feeling that was in truth the heart of the man.
The mouth and chin were rather prominent, and, when at rest, severe. He
was a man in whom conscience was a gadfly, remorseless and tormenting. He
was himself overstrained and his influence sometimes produced in others a
tension on which they looked back with resentment. But he was a saint;
open, pure, and loving as a child; yet often tempest-driven with new
ideas, since he possessed at once the imagination that frees a man from
tradition, and the piety which clings to it.
Beside him sat a University professor, the young holder of an important
chair, who had the face, the smile, the curly hair of a boy of twenty, or
appeared to have them, till you came to notice the subtleties of the
mouth and the crow's-feet which had gathered round the eyes. And the
paradox of his aspect only repeated the paradox within. His "History and
the Gospels," recently published, would have earned him excommunication
under any Pope; yet no one was a more rigid advocate of tests and creeds,
or could be more eloquent in defence of damnatory clauses. The clergy who
admired and applauded him did not read his books. It was rumoured indeed
that there were many things in them which were unsound; but the rumour
only gave additional zest to the speeches in which at Church Congresses
and elsewhere he flattered clerical prejudice, and encouraged clerical
ignorance. To him there was no more "amusing" study--using "amusing" in
the French sense as meaning something that keeps a man intellectually
happy and awake--than the study of the Gospels. They presented an endless
series of riddles, and riddles were what he liked. But the scientific
treatment of these riddles had, according to him, nothing to do with the
discipline of the Church; and to the discipline of the Church this young
man, with the old eyes and mouth, was rigorously attached. He was a
bachelor and a man of means--facts which taken together with his literary
reputation and his agreeable aspect made him welcome among women; of
which he was well aware.
The Archdeacon, Doctor Froswick, and the Rural Dean, Mr. Brathay, who
completed the Commission of Inquiry, were both men of middle age; the
Archdeacon, fresh-coloured and fussy, a trivial, kindly person of no
great account; the Rural Dean, broad-shouldered and square-faced, a
silent, trustworthy man, much beloved in a small circle.
A pile of books, MSS., and letters lay to the Chairman's right hand. On
the blotting-pad before him was the voluminous written report of the
commission which only awaited the signatures of the Commissioners,
and--as to one paragraph in it--a final interview with Meynell himself,
which had been fixed for noon. Business was now practically over till he
arrived, and conversation had become general.
"You have seen the leader in the _Oracle_ this morning?" asked the
Archdeacon, nervously biting his quill. "Perfectly monstrous, I think! I
shall withdraw my subscription."
"With the _Oracle_," said the Professor, "it will be a mere question of
success or failure. At present they are inclined to back the rebellion."
"And not much wonder!" put in the Dean's hoarse voice. "The news this
morning is uncommonly bad. Four more men joined the League here--a whole
series of League meetings in Yorkshire!--half the important newspapers
gone over or neutral--and a perfectly scandalous speech from the Bishop
"I thought we should hear of Dunchester before long," said the Professor,
with a sarcastic lip. "Anything that annoys his brethren has his constant
support. But if the Church allows a Socinian to be put over her, she must
take the consequences!"
"What can the Church do?" said the Dean, shrugging his shoulders. "If we
had accepted Disestablishment years ago, Dunchester would never have been
a bishop. And now we may have missed our chance."
"Of what?"--Canon Dornal looked up--"of Disestablishment?"
The Dean nodded.
"The whole force of _this_ Liberal movement," he said slowly, "will be
thrown against Disestablishment. There comes the dividing line between it
and the past. I say again, we have missed our chance. If the High
Churchmen had known their own minds--if they had joined hands boldly with
the Liberation society, and struck off the State fetters--we should at
least have been left in quiet possession of what remained to us. We
should not have been exposed to this treachery from within. Or, at least,
we should have made short work of it."
"That means, that you take for granted we should have kept our endowments
and our churches?" said Canon Dornal.
The Dean flushed.
"We have been called a nation of shopkeepers," he said vehemently, "but
nobody has ever called us a nation of thieves."
The Canon was silent. Then his eye caught the bulky MS. report lying
before the Dean, and he made a restless movement as though the sight of
it displeased him.
"The demonstrations the papers report this morning are not all on one
side," said the Rural Dean slowly but cheerfully, as though from a rather
unsatisfactory reverie this fact had emerged.
"No--there seems to have been something like a riot at Darwen's church,"
observed the Archdeacon. "What can they expect? You don't outrage
people's dearest feelings for nothing. The scandal and misery of it! Of
course we shall put it down--but the Church won't recover for a
generation. And all that this handful of agitators may advertise
themselves and their opinions!"
Canon Dornal frowned and fidgeted.
"We must remember," he said, "that--unfortunately--they have the greater
part of European theology behind them."
"European theology!" cried the Archdeacon. "I suppose you mean German
"The same thing--almost," said the Canon, smiling a little sadly.
"And what on earth does German theology matter to us?" retorted the
Archdeacon. "Haven't we got theologians of our own? What have the Germans
ever done but set up one mare's nest after another, for us to set right?
They've no sooner launched some cocksure theory or other than they have
to give it up. I don't read German," said the Archdeacon, hastily, "but
that's what I understand from the Church papers."
Silence a moment. The Professor looked at the ceiling, a smile twitching
the corners of his mouth. The green shade concealed the Dean's
expression. He also knew no German, but it did not seem necessary to say
so. Canon Dornal looked uncomfortable.
"Do you see who it was that protected Darwen from the roughs outside his
church?" he said presently.
Brathay looked up.
"A party of Wesleyans?--class-leaders? Yes, I saw. Oh! Darwen has always
been on excellent terms with the Dissenters!"
"Meynell too," said the Professor. "That of course is their game. Meynell
has always gone for the inclusion of the Dissenters."
"Well, it was Arnold's game!" said the Canon, his look kindling. "Don't
let's forget that. Meynell's dream is not unlike his--to include
everybody that would be included."
"Except the Unitarians," said the Professor with emphasis--"the deniers
of the Incarnation. Arnold drew the line there. So must we."
He spoke with a crisp and smiling decision--as of one in authority. All
kinds of assumptions lay behind his manner. Dornal looked at him with a
rather troubled and hostile eye. This whole matter of the coming trial
was to him deeply painful. He would have given anything to avoid it; but
he did not see how it could be avoided. The extraordinary spread of the
Movement indeed had made it impossible.
At this moment one of the vergers of the Cathedral entered the room to
say that Mr. Meynell was waiting below. The Dean directed that he should
be shown up, and the whole commission dropped their conversational air
and sat expectant.
Meynell came in, rather hastily, brushing his hair back from his
forehead. He shook hands with the Dean and the Archdeacon, and bowed
to the other members of the commission. As he sat down, the Archdeacon,
who was very sensitive to such things, and was himself a model of
spick-and-span-ness, noticed that the Rector's coat was frayed, and one
of the buttons loose. Anne indeed was not a very competent valet of her
master; and nothing but a certain esthetic element in Meynell preserved
him from a degree of personal untidiness which might perhaps have been
excused in a man alternating, hour by hour, between his study-table and
the humblest practical tasks among his people.
[Illustration: "He shook hands with the Dean"]
The other members of the commission observed him attentively. Perhaps all
in their different ways and degrees were conscious of change in him: the
change wrought insensibly in a man by some high pressure of emotion and
responsibility--the change that makes a man a leader of his fellows,
consecrates and sets him apart. Canon Dornal watched him with a secret
sympathy and pity. The Archdeacon said to himself with repugnance that
Meynell now had the look of a fanatic.
The Dean took a volume from the pile beside him, and opened it at a
"Before concluding our report to the Bishop, Mr. Meynell, we wished to
have your explanation of an important passage in one of your recent
sermons; and you have been kind enough to meet us with a view to giving
us that explanation. Will you be so good as to look at the passage?"
He handed the book to Meynell, who read it in silence. The few marked
sentences concerned the Resurrection.
"These Resurrection stories have for our own days mainly a symbolic,
perhaps one might call it a sacramental, importance. They are the
'outward and visible' sign of an inward mystery. As a simple matter of
fact the continuous life of the spirit of Christ in mankind began with
the death of Jesus of Nazareth. The Resurrection beliefs, so far as we
can see, were the natural means by which that Life was secured."
"Are we right in supposing, Mr. Meynell," said the Dean, slowly, "that in
those sentences you meant to convey that the Resurrection narratives of
the New Testament were not to be taken as historical fact, but merely as
"The passage means, I think, what it says, Mr. Dean."
"It is not, strictly speaking, logically incompatible," said the
Professor, bending forward with a suave suggestiveness, "with acceptance
of the statement in the Creed?"
Meynell threw him a slightly perplexed look, and did not reply
immediately. The Dean sharply interposed.
"Do you in fact accept the statements of the Creed? In that case we might
report to the Bishop that you felt you had been misinterpreted--and would
withdraw the sermon complained of, in order to allay the scandal it has
Meynell looked up.
"No," he said quietly, "no; I shall not withdraw the sermon.
Besides"--the faintest gleam of a smile seemed to flit through the
speaker's tired eyes--"that is only one of so many passages."
There was a moment's silence. Then Canon Dornal said:
"Many things--many different views--as we all know, are permitted, must
be permitted, nowadays. But the Resurrection--is vital!"
"The physical fact?" said Meynell gently. His look met that of Dornal;
some natural sympathy seemed to establish itself at once between them.
"The _historical_ fact. If you could see your way to withdraw some of the
statements in these volumes on this particular subject, much relief would
be given to many--many wounded consciences."
The voice was almost pleading. The Dean moved abruptly in his chair.
Dornal's tone was undignified and absurd. Every page of the books teemed
But Meynell was for the moment only aware of his questioner. He leaned
across the table as though addressing him alone.
"To us too--the Resurrection is vital--the transposition of it, I
mean--from the natural, or physical to the spiritual order."
Dornal did not of course attempt to argue. But as Meynell met the
sensitive melancholy of his look the Rector remembered that during the
preceding year Dornal had lost a little son, a delicate, gifted child, to
whom he had been peculiarly attached. And Meynell's quick imagination
realized in a moment the haunted imagination of the other--the dear ghost
that lived there--and the hopes that grouped themselves about it.
* * * * *
A long wrestle followed between Meynell and the Professor. But Meynell
could not be induced to soften or recant anything. He would often say
indeed with an eager frown, when confronted with some statement of his
own, "That was badly put! It should be so-and-so." And then would follow
some vivid correction or expansion, which sometimes left the matter worse
than before. The hopes of the Archdeacon, for one set of reasons, and of
Dornal, for another, that some bridge of retreat might be provided by the
interview, died away. The Dean had never hoped anything, and Mr. Brathay
sat open-mouthed and aghast, while Meynell's voice and personality drove
home ideas and audacities which on the printed page were but dim to him.
Why had the Anglican world been told for the last fifteen years that the
whole critical onslaught--especially the German onslaught--was a beaten
and discredited thing? It seemed to him terribly alive!
* * * * *
The library door opened again, and Meynell disappeared--ceremoniously
escorted to the threshold by the Professor. When that gentleman was
seated again, the Dean addressed the meeting.
"A most unsatisfactory interview! There is nothing for it, I fear, but to
send in our report unaltered to the Bishop. I must therefore ask you to
append your signatures."
All signed, and the meeting broke up.
"Do you know at all when the case is likely to come on?" said Dornal to
"Hardly before November. The Letters of Request are ready. Then after the
Arches will come the appeal to the Privy Council. The whole thing may
take some time."
"You see the wild talk in some of the papers this morning," said the
Professor, interposing, "about a national appeal to Parliament to 'bring
the Articles of the Church of England into accordance with modern
knowledge.' If there is any truth in it, there may be an Armageddon
Dornal looked at him with distaste. The speaker's light tone, the note of
relish in it, as of one delighting in the drama of life, revolted him.
On coming out of the Cathedral Library, Dornal walked across to the
Cathedral and entered. He found his way to a little chapel of St. Oswald
on the north side, where he was often wont to sit or kneel for ten
minutes' quiet in a busy day. As he passed the north transept he saw
a figure sitting motionless in the shadow, and realized that it was
The silence of the great Cathedral closed round him. He was conscious of
nothing but his own personality, and, as it seemed, of Meynell's. They
two seemed to be alone together in a world outside the living world.
Dornal could not define it, save that it was a world of reconciled
enmities and contradictions. The sense of it alternated with a
disagreeable recollection of the table in the Library and the men sitting
round it, especially the cherubic face of the Professor; the thought also
of the long, signed document which reported the "heresy" of Meynell.
He had been quite right to sign it. His soul went out in a passionate
adhesion to the beliefs on which his own life was built. Yet still the
strange reconciling sense flowed in and round him, like the washing of a
pure stream. He was certain that the Eternal Word had been made flesh in
Jesus of Nazareth, had died and risen, and been exalted; that the Church
was now the mysterious channel of His risen life. He must, in mere
obedience and loyalty, do battle for that certainty--guard it as the
most precious thing in life for those that should come after.
Nevertheless he was conscious that there was in him none of the righteous
anger, none of the moral condemnation, that his father or grandfather
might have felt in the same case. As far as _feeling_ went, nothing
divided him from Meynell. They two across the commission table--as
accuser and accused--had recognized, each in the other, the man of faith.
The same forces played on both, mysteriously linking them, as the same
sea links the headland which throws back its waves with the harbour which
* * * * *
Meynell too was conscious of Dornal as somewhere near him in the still,
beautiful place, but only vaguely. He was storm-beaten by the labour and
excitement of the preceding weeks, and these moments of rest in the
Cathedral were sometimes all that enabled him to go through his day. He
endeavoured often at such times to keep his mind merely vacant and
passive, avoiding especially the active religious thoughts which were
more than brain and heart could continuously bear. "One cannot always
think of it--one must not!" he would say to himself impatiently. And then
he would offer himself eagerly to the mere sensuous impressions of the
Cathedral--its beauty, its cool prismatic spaces, its silences.
He did so to-day, though always conscious beyond the beauty, and the
healing quiet, of the mysterious presence on which he "propped his
Conscious, too, of a dear human presence, closely interwoven now with his
sense of things ineffable.
Latterly, as we have seen, he had not been without some scanty
opportunities of meeting Mary Elsmere. In Miss Puttenham's drawing-room,
whither the common anxiety about Hester had drawn him on many occasions,
he had chanced once or twice on Miss Puttenham's new friend. In the
village, Mrs. Flaxman was beginning to give him generous help; the parish
nurse was started. And sometimes when she came to consult, her niece was
with her, and Meynell, while talking to the aunt either of his people or
of the progress of the heresy campaign, was always keenly aware of the
girlish figure beside her--of the quick, shy smile--the voice and its
She was with him in spirit--that he knew--passionately knew. But the
barriers between them were surely insurmountable. Her sympathy with him
was like some warm, stifled thing--some chafing bird "beating up against
For a time, indeed, he had tried to put love from him, in the name of his
high enterprise and its claims upon him. But as he sat tranced in the