Part 4 out of 9
silence of the Cathedral that attempt finally gave way. His longing was
hopeless, but it enriched his life. For it was fused with all that held
him to his task; all that was divinest and sincerest in himself.
One of the great bells of the Cathedral struck the quarter. His moment of
communion and of rest broke up. He rose abruptly and left the Cathedral
for the crowded streets outside, thinking hard as he walked of quite
The death of Mrs. Sabin in her son's cottage had been to Meynell like a
stone flung into some deep shadowed pool--the ripples from it had been
spreading through the secret places of life and thought ever since.
He had heard of the death on the morning after it occurred. John Broad,
an inarticulate, secretive fellow, had come to the Rectory in quest of
the Rector within a few hours of its occurrence. His mother had returned
home, he said, unexpectedly, after many years of wanderings in the
States; he had not had very much conversation with her, as she had seemed
ill and tired and "terrible queer" when she arrived. He and his boys had
given up their room to her for the night, and she had been very late in
coming downstairs the following morning. He had had to go to his work,
and when he came back in the evening he found her in great pain and
unable to talk to him. She would not allow him to call any doctor, and
had locked herself in her room. In the morning he had forced the door and
had found her dead. He did not know that she had seen anybody but himself
and his boys since her arrival.
But she had seen some one else. As the Rector walked along the street he
had in his pocket a cutting from the Markborough _Post_, containing the
report of the inquest, from which it appeared--the Rector of course was
well aware of it--that Mr. Henry Barron of the White House, going to the
cottage to complain of the conduct of the children in the plantation, had
found her there, and had talked to her for some time. "I thought her
excited--and overtired--no doubt by the journey," he had said to the
Coroner. "I tried to persuade her to let me send in a woman to look after
her, but she refused."
In Barron's evidence at the inquest, to which Meynell had given close
attention, there had been no hint whatever as to the nature of his
conversation with Mrs. Sabin. Nor had there been any need to inquire. The
medical evidence was quite clear as to the cause of death--advanced brain
disease, fatally aggravated by the journey.
Immediately after his interview with John Broad the Rector had
communicated the news of Mrs. Sabin's unexpected arrival and sudden death
to two other persons in the village. He still thought with infinite
concern of the effect it had produced on one of them. Since his hurried
note telling her of Barron's evidence before the Coroner, and of his own
impressions of it, he had not seen her. But he must not leave her too
much to herself. A patient and tender pity, as of one on whom the burden
of a struggling and suffering soul has long been thrown, dictated all his
thoughts of her. He had himself perceived nothing which need alarm her in
Barron's appearance at the inquest. Barron's manner to himself had been
singularly abrupt and cold when they happened to run across each other,
outside the room in which the inquest was held; but all that was
sufficiently explained by the position of the heresy suit.
Still anxiously pondering, Meynell passed the last houses in the
Cathedral Close. The last of all belonged to Canon France, and Meynell
had no sooner left it behind him than a full and portly figure emerged
from its front door.
Barron--for it was he--stood a moment looking after the retreating
Rector. A hunter's eagerness gave sharpening, a grim sharpening, to the
heavy face; yet there was perplexity mixed with the eagerness. His
conversation with France had not been very helpful. The Canon's worldly
wisdom and shrewd contempt for enthusiasts had found their natural food
in the story which Barron had brought him. His comments had been witty
and pungent enough. But when it had come to the practical use of the
story, France had been of little assistance. His advice inclined too much
to the Melbourne formula--"Can't you let it alone?" He had pointed out
the risks, difficulties, and uncertainties of the matter with quite
unnecessary iteration. Of course there were risks and difficulties; but
was a man of the type of Richard Meynell to be allowed to play the
hypocrite, as the rapidly emerging leader of a religious movement--a
movement directed against the unity and apostolicity of the English
Church--when there were those looking on who were aware of the grave
suspicions resting on his private life and past history?
On the same afternoon which saw the last meeting of the Commission of
Inquiry at Markborough, the windows of Miss Puttenham's cottage in Upcote
Minor were open to the garden, and the sun stealing into the half
darkened drawing-room touched all the many signs it contained of a
woman's refinement and woman's tastes. The room was a little austere. Not
many books, but those clearly the friends and not the passing
acquaintance of its mistress; not many pictures, and those rather slight
suggestions on the dim blue walls than finished performances; a few
"notes" in colour, or black and white, chosen from one or other of those
moderns who can in a sensitive line or two convey the beauty or the
harshness of nature. Over the mantelpiece there was a pencil drawing by
Domenichino, of the Madonna and Child; a certain ecstatic languor in the
Madonna, and, in all the lines of form and drapery, an exquisite flow and
The little maidservant brought in the afternoon letters and with them a
folded newspaper--the Markborough _Post_. A close observer might have
detected that it had been already opened, and hurriedly refolded in the
old folds. There was much interest felt in Upcote Minor in the inquest
held on John Broad's mother; and the kitchen had taken toll before the
paper reached the drawing-room.
As though the maid's movement downstairs had been immediately perceived
by a listening ear overhead, there was a quick sound of footsteps. Miss
Puttenham ran downstairs, took the letters and the newspaper from the
hands of the girl, and closed the door behind her.
She opened the paper with eagerness, and read the account it gave of the
Coroner's inquiry held at the Cowroast a week before. The newspaper
dropped to the ground. She stood a moment, leaning against the
mantelpiece, every feature in her face expressing the concentration of
thought which held her; then she dropped into a chair, and raising her
two hands to her eyes, she pressed the shut lids close, lifting her face
as though to some unseen misery, while a little sound--infinitely
She saw a bedroom in a foreign inn--a vague form in the bed--a woman
moving about in nurse's dress, the same woman who had just died in John
Broad's cottage--and her sister Edith sitting by the fire. The door
leading to the passage is ajar, and she is watching.... Or is it the
figure in the bed that is watching?--a figure marred by illness and pain?
Through the door comes hastily a form--a man. With his entrance, movement
and life, like a rush of mountain air, come into the ugly shaded room. He
is tall, with a long face, refined and yet violent, instinct with the
character and the pride of an old hectoring race. He comes to the bed,
kneels down, and the figure there throws itself on his breast. There is a
sound of bitter sobbing, of low words--
Alice Puttenham's hands dropped from her face--and lay outstretched upon
her knee. She sat, staring before her, unconscious of the garden outside,
or of the passage of time. In some ways she was possessed of more beauty
at thirty-seven than she had been at twenty. And yet from childhood her
face had been a winning one--with its childish upper lip and its thin
oval, its delicate brunette colour, and the lovely clearness of its brown
eyes. In youth its timid sweetness had been constantly touched with
laughter. Now it shrank from you and appealed to you in one. But the
departure of youth had but emphasized a certain distinction, a certain
quality. Laughter was gone, but grace and character remained, imprinted
also on the fragile body, the beautiful arms and hands. The only marring
of the general impression came from an effect of restlessness and
constraint. To live with Alice Puttenham was to conceive her as a
creature subtly ill at ease, doing her best with a life which was, in
some hidden way, injured at the core.
* * * * *
She thought herself quite alone this quiet afternoon, and likely to
remain so. Hester, who had been lunching with her, had gone shopping into
Markborough with the schoolroom maid, and was afterward to meet Sarah and
Lulu at a garden party in the Cathedral Close. Lady Fox-Wilton had just
left her sister's house after a long, querulous, excited visit, the
latest of many during the past week. How could it be her--Alice's--fault,
that Judith Sabin had come home in this sudden, mysterious way? Yet the
event had reopened all the old wounds in Edith's mind, revived all the
old grievances and terrors. Strange that a woman should be capable of one
supreme act of help and devotion, and should then spend her whole after
life in resenting it!
"It was you and your story--that shocking thing we had to do for
you--that have spoilt my life--and my husband's. Tom never got over it--
and I never shall. And it will all come out--some day--and then what'll
be the good of all we've suffered!"
That was Edith's attitude--the attitude of a small, vindictive soul. It
never varied year by year; it showed itself both in trifles and on great
occasions; it hindered all sisterly affection; and it was the explanation
of her conduct toward Hester--it had indeed made Hester what she was.
Again the same low sound of helpless pain broke from Alice Puttenham's
lips. The sense of her unloved, solitary state, of all that she had borne
and must still bear, roused in her anew a flame of memory. Torch-like it
ran through the past, till she was shaken with anguish and revolt. She
had been loved once! It had brought her to what the world calls shame.
She only knew, at moments of strong reaction or self-assertion like the
present, that she had once had a man at her feet who had been the desired
and adored of his day; that she had breathed her heart out in the passion
of youth on his breast; that although he had wronged her, he had suffered
because of her, had broken his heart for her, and had probably died
because circumstances denied him the power to save and restore her, and
he was not of the kind that bears patiently either thwarting from without
or reproach from within.
For his selfish passion, his weakness and his suffering, and her own
woman's power to make him suffer; for his death, no less selfish indeed
than his passion, for it had taken from her the community of the same
air, and the same earth with him, the sense that somewhere in the world
his warm life beat with hers, though they might be separated in bodily
presence forever--for each and all of these things she had loved him. And
there were still times when, in spite of the years that had passed away,
and of other and perhaps profounder feelings that had supervened, she
felt within her again the wild call of her early love, responding to it
like an unhappy child, in vain appeal against her solitude, her sister's
unkindness, and the pressure of irrevocable and unforgotten facts.
Suddenly, she turned toward a tall and narrow chest of drawers that stood
at her left hand. She chose a key from her watch-chain, a small gold key
that in their childhood had been generally mistaken by her nieces and
nephews for one of the bunch of charms they were allowed to play with on
"Aunt Alsie's" lap. With it she unlocked a drawer within her reach. Her
hand slipped in; she threw a hasty look round her, at the window, the
garden. Not a sound of anything but the evening wind, which had just
risen, and was making a smart rustling among the shrubs just outside. Her
hand, a white, furtive thing, withdrew itself, and in it lay a packet,
wrapped in some faded, green velvet. Hurriedly--with yet more pauses to
listen and to look--the wrapping was undone; the case within fell open.
It contained a miniature portrait of a man--French work, by an excellent
pupil of Meissonier. The detail of it was marvellous; so, in Alice
Puttenham's view, was the likeness. She remembered when and how it had
been commissioned--the artist, and his bare studio in a street on the
island, near Notre Dame; the chestnuts in the Luxembourg garden as
they walked home; the dust of the falling blossoms, and the children
playing in the alleys. And through it all, what passionate, guilty
happiness--what dull sense of things irreparable!--what deliberate
shutting out of the future!
It was as good a likeness as the Abbey picture, only more literal, less
"arranged." The Abbey picture, also by a French artist of another school,
was younger, and had a fine, romantic, René-like charm. "René" had been
her laughing name for him--her handsome, melancholy, eloquent _poseur!_
Like many of his family, he was proud of his French culture, his French
accent, and his knowledge of French books. The tradition that came
originally from a French marriage had been kept up from father to son.
They were not a learned or an industrious race, but their tongue soon
caught the accent of the boulevards--of the Paris they loved and
frequented. Her hand lifted the miniature the better to catch the
As she did so she was freshly struck with a resemblance she had long
ceased to be conscious of. Familiarity with a living face, as so often
happens, had destroyed for her its likeness--likeness in difference--to a
face of the dead. But to-night she saw it--was indeed arrested by it.
"And yet Richard was never one tenth as good-looking!"
The portrait was set in pearls, and at the foot was an inscription in
"_A ma mie!_"
But before she could see it she must with her cold, quick fingers remove
the fragment of stained paper that lay upon it like a veil. The half of a
page of Molière--turned down--like that famous page of Shelley's
"Sophocles"--and stained with sea water, as that was stained.
She raised the picture to her lips and kissed it--not with passion--but
clingingly, as though it represented her only wealth, amid so much
poverty. Then her hand, holding it, dropped to her knee again; the other
hand came to close over it; and her eyes shut. Tears came slowly through
Amazing!--that that woman should have come back--and died--within a few
hundred yards, and she, Alice, know nothing! In spite of all Richard's
persuasions she tortured herself anew with the thought of the interview
between Judith and Mr. Barron. What could they have talked about--so
long? Judith was always an excitable, hot-tempered creature. Her silence
had been heavily and efficiently bought for fifteen years. Then steps
had been taken--insisted upon--by Sir Ralph Fox-Wilton. His wife and his
sister-in-law had opposed him in vain. And Ralph had after all triumphed
in Judith's apparent acquiescence.
Supposing she had now come home, perhaps on a sudden impulse, with a view
to further blackmail, would not her wisest move be to risk some
indiscretion, some partial disclosure, so that her renewed silence
afterward might have the higher price? An hour's _tete-a-tete_ with
that shrewd, hard-souled man, Henry Barron! Alice Puttenham guessed that
her own long-established dislike of him as acquaintance and neighbour was
probably returned with interest; that he classed her now as one of
"Meynell's lot," and would be only too glad to find himself possessed of
any secret information that might, through her, annoy and harass Richard
Meynell, her friend and counsellor.
Was it conceivable that nothing should have been said in that lengthy
interview as to the causes for Judith's coming home?--or of the reasons
for her original departure? What else could have accounted for so
prolonged a conversation between two persons, so different in social
grade, and absolute strangers to each other?
Richard had told her, indeed, and she saw from the _Post_, that at the
inquest Barron had apparently accounted for the conversation. "She gave
me a curious history of her life in the States. I was interested by her
strange personality--and touched by her physical condition."
Richard was convinced that there was no reasonable cause for alarm. But
Richard was always the consoler--the optimist--where she was concerned.
Could she have lived at all--if it had not been so?
And then, for the second time, the rush of feeling rose, welling up, not
from the springs of the past, but from the deepest sources of the
That little villa on the Cap Martin--the steep pathway to it--and Richard
mounting it, with that pale look, those tattered, sea-stained leaves in
his hand--and the tragedy that had to be told, in his eyes, and on his
lips. Could any other human being have upheld her as he did through that
first year--through the years after? Was it not to him that she owed
everything that had been recovered from the wreck; the independence and
freedom of her daily life; protection from her hard brother-in-law, and
from her sister's reproaches; occupation--hope--the gradual healing of
intolerable wounds--the gradual awakening of a spiritual being?
Thus--after passion--she had known friendship; its tenderness, its
disinterested affection and care.
_Tenderness?_ Her hand dashed away some more impetuous tears, then locked
itself in the other, the tension of the muscles answering to the inward
effort for self-control. Thank God, she had never asked him for more; had
often seemed indeed to ask him for much less; had made herself
irresponsive, difficult, remote. At least she had never lost her dignity
in his eyes--(ah! in whose eyes but his had she ever possessed it?)--she
had never forfeited--never risked even--her sacred place in his life, as
the soul he had helped through dark places, true servant as he was of the
Master of Pity.
The alarms of the week died away, as this emotion gained upon her. She
bethought her of certain central and critical years, when, after long
dependence on him as comrade and friend, suddenly, she knew not how, her
own pulse had quickened, and the sharpest struggle of her life had come
upon her. It was the crisis of the mature woman, as compared with that of
the innocent and ignorant girl; and in the silent mastering of it she
seemed to have parted with her youth.
But she had never parted with self-control and self-respect. She had
never persuaded herself that the false was true. She had kept her
counsel, and her sanity, and the wage of it had not been denied her. She
had emerged more worthy of his friendship, more capable of rewarding it.
Yes, but with a clear and sad perception of the necessities laid upon
her--of the sacrifices involved.
He believed her--she knew it--indifferent to the great cause of religious
change and reform which he had at heart. In these matters, indeed, she
had quietly, unwaveringly held aloof. There are efforts and endurances
that can only be maintained--up to a point. Beyond that point resistance
breaks. The life that is fighting emotion must not run too many risks of
emotion. At the root of half the religious movements of the world lies
the appeal of the preacher and the prophet--to women. Because women are
the creatures and channels of feeling; and feeling is to religion as air
But _she_--must starve feeling--not feed and cherish it. Richard's voice
was too powerful with her already. To hear it dealing with the most
intimate and touching things of the soul would have tested the resistance
of her will too sorely. Courage and honour alike told her that she would
be defeated and undone did she attempt to meet and follow him--openly--in
the paths of religion. _Entbehren sollst du_--_sollst entbehren!_
So, long before this date, she had chosen her line of action. She took no
part in the movement, and she rarely set foot in the village church,
which was close to her gates. Meynell sadly believed her unshakeable--one
of the natural agnostics or pessimists of the world who cannot be
comforted through religion.
And meanwhile secretly, ardently, she tracked all the footsteps of his
thoughts, reading what he read, thinking as far as possible what he
thought, and revealing nothing.
Except that, lately, she had been indiscreet sometimes in talk with Mary
Elsmere. Mary had divined her--had expressed her astonishment that her
friend should declare herself and her sympathies so little; and Alice had
set up some sort of halting explanation.
But in this nascent friendship it was not Mary alone who had made
* * * * *
Alice Puttenham sat very still, in the quiet shadowy room, her eyes
closed, her hands crossed over the miniature, the Markborough paper lying
on the floor beside her. As the first activity of memory, stirred and
goaded by an untoward event, lost its poignancy; as she tried in
obedience to Meynell to put away her terrors, with regard to the past,
her thoughts converged ever more intensely on the present--on herself--
There was in the world, indeed, another personality rarely or never
absent from Alice Puttenham's consciousness. One face, one problem, more
or less acutely realized, haunted her life continuously. But this
afternoon they had, for the moment, receded into the background. Hester
had been, surely, more reasonable, more affectionate lately. Philip
Meryon had now left Sandford; a statement to that effect had appeared in
the _Post_; and Hester had even shown some kindness to poor Stephen. She
had at last declared her willingness to go to Paris, and the arrangements
were all made. The crisis in her of angry revolt, provoked apparently by
the refusal of her guardian to allow her engagement to Stephen, seemed to
So that for once Alice Puttenham was free to think and feel for her own
life and what concerned it. From the events connected with Judith Sabin's
death--through the long history of Meynell's goodness to her--the mind
of this lonely woman travelled on, to be filled and arrested by the
great new fact of the present. She had made a new friend. And at the
same moment she had found in her--at last--the rival with whom her
own knowledge of life had threatened her these many years. A rival so
sweet--so unwitting! Alice had read her. She had scarcely yet read
Alice opened her eyes--to the quiet room, and the windy sky
outside. She was very pale, but there were no tears. "It is not
renouncing"--she whispered to herself--"for I never possessed. It
is accepting--loving--giving--all one has to give."
And vaguely there ran through her mind immortal words--"_good
measure--pressed down, and running over_."
A smile trembled on her lip. She closed her eyes again, lost in one of
those spiritual passions accessible only to those who know the play and
heat of the spiritual war. The wind was blowing briskly outside, and from
the wood-shed in the back garden came a sound of sawing. Miss Puttenham
did not hear a footstep approaching on the grass outside.
* * * * *
Hester paused at the window--smiling. There was wildness--triumph--in her
look, as though for her this quiet afternoon had seen some undisclosed
adventure. Her cheek was hotly flushed, her loosened hair made a glory in
the evening sun. Youth, selfishly pitiless--youth, the supplanter and
destroyer--stood embodied in the beautiful creature looking down upon
Alice Puttenham, on the still intensity of the plaintive face, the closed
eyes, the hands holding the miniature.
Mischievously the girl came closer. She took the stillness before her for
"Auntie! Aunt Alsie!"
With a start, Alice Puttenham sprang up. The miniature dropped from
her hands to the floor, opening as it fell. Hester looked at it
astonished--and her hand stooped for it before Miss Puttenham had
perceived her loss.
"Were you asleep, Aunt Alsie?" she asked, wondering. "I got tired of
that stupid party--and I--well, I just slipped away"--the clear high
voice had grown conscious--"and I looked in here, because I left a book
behind me--Auntie, who is it?" She bent eagerly over the miniature,
trying to see it in the dim light.
Miss Puttenham's face had faded to a gray-white.
"Give it to me, Hester!" She held out her hand imperiously.
"Mayn't I know even who it is?" asked Hester, as she unwillingly returned
it. In the act she caught the inscription and her face kindled.
Impetuously throwing herself down beside Miss Puttenham, the girl looked
up at her with an expression half mockery, half sweetness, while Alice,
with unsteady fingers, replaced the case and locked the drawer.
"What an awfully handsome fellow!" said Hester in a low voice, "though
you wouldn't let me see it properly. I say, Auntie, won't you tell me--?"
"Tell you what?"
"Who he was--and why I never saw it before? I thought I knew all your
things by heart--and now you've been keeping something from me!" The
girl's tone had changed to one of curious resentment. "You know how you
scold _me_ when you think I've got a secret."
"That is quite different, Hester."
Miss Puttenham tried to rise, but Hester, who was leaning against her
knee, prevented it.
"Why is it different?" she said, audaciously. "You always say
you--you--want to be everything to me--and then you hide things from
She raised herself, sitting upright on the floor, her hands round her
knees, and spoke with extraordinary animation and sparkling eyes.
"Why, I should have loved you twice as much, Aunt Alice--and you know I
_do_ love you!--if you'd told me more about yourself. The people _I_ care
about are the people who _live_--and feel--and do things! There's verse
in one of your books"--she pointed to a little bookshelf of poets on a
table near--"I always think of it when mamma reads the 'Christian Year'
to us on Sunday evenings--
Out of dangers, dreams, disasters
_We_ arise, to be your masters!"
"_We_--the people who want to know, and feel, and _fight_! We who loathe
all the humdrum _bourgeois_ talk--'don't do this--don't do that!' Aunt
Alsie, there's a German line, too, you know it--' _Was uns alle bändigt,
das Gemeine'_--don't you hate it too--_das Gemeine?_" the word came
with vehemence through the white teeth. "And how can we escape it--we
women--except through freedom--through asserting ourselves--through love,
of course? It all comes to love!--love that mamma says one ought not to
talk about. I wouldn't talk about it, if it only meant what it means to
Sarah and Lulu--I'd scorn to!"
She stopped--and looked with her blazing and wonderful eyes at her
companion--her lips parted. Then she suddenly stooped and kissed the cold
hand trying to withdraw itself from hers.
"Who was he, dear?"--she laid the hand caressingly against her
cheek--"I'm good at secrets!"
Alice Puttenham wrenched herself free, and rose tottering to her feet.
"He is dead, Hester--and you mustn't speak of it to me--or any
She leant against the mantelpiece trying to recover herself--but in vain.
"I'm rather faint," she said at last, putting out a groping hand. "No,
don't come!--I'm all right--I'll go upstairs and rest. I got overtired
And she went feebly toward the door.
Hester looked after her, panting and wounded. Aunt Alsie repel--refuse
her!--Aunt Alsie!--who had always been her special possession and
chattel. It had been taken for granted in the family, year after year,
that if no one else was devoted to Hester, Aunt Alsie's devotion, at
least, never failed. Hester's clothes were Miss Puttenham's special care;
it was for Hester that she stitched and embroidered. Hester was to
inherit her jewels and her money. In all Hester's scrapes it was Aunt
Alice who stood by her, who had often carried her off bodily out of reach
of the family anger, to the Lakes, to the sea--once even, to Italy.
And from her childhood Hester had coolly taken it all for granted, had
never been specially grateful, or much more amenable to counsels from
Aunt Alice than from anybody else. The slender, graceful woman, so
gentle, plaintive and reserved, so easily tyrannized over, had never
seemed to mean much to her. Yet now, as she stood looking at the door
through which Miss Puttenham had disappeared, the girl was conscious of a
profound and passionate sense of grievance, and of something deeper,
beneath it. The sensation that held her was new and unbearable.
Then in a moment her temperament turned pain into anger. She ran to the
window and down the steps into the garden.
"If she had told me"--she said to herself, with the childish fury that
mingled in her with older and maturer things--"I might have told _her_.
Now--I fend for myself!"
Meanwhile, in the room upstairs, Alice Puttenham lying with her face
pressed against the back of the chair into which she had feebly dropped,
heard Hester run down the steps, tried to call, or rise, and could not.
Since the death of Judith Sabin she had had little or no sleep, and much
less food than usual, with--all the while--the pressure of a vague
corrosive terror on nerve and brain. The shock of that miniature in
Hester's hands had just turned the scale; endurance had given way.
The quick footsteps receded. Yet she could do nothing to arrest them. Her
mind floated in darkness.
Presently out of the darkness emerged a sound, a touch--a warm hand on
"Dear--dear Miss Puttenham!"
Her voice seemed to herself a sigh--the faintest--from a great distance.
"The servants said you were here. Ellen came up to knock, and you did not
hear. I was afraid you were ill--so I came in--you'll forgive me."
Silence for a while. Mary brought cold water, chafed her friend's hands,
and rendered all the services that women in such straits know how to
lavish on a sufferer. Gradually Alice mastered herself, but more than a
broken word or two still seemed beyond her, and Mary waited in patience.
She was well aware that some trouble of a nature unknown to her had been
weighing on Miss Puttenham for a week or more; and she realized too,
instinctively, that she would get no light upon it.
Presently there was a knock at the door, and Mary went to open it. The
servant whispered, and she returned at once.
"Mr. Meynell is here," she said, hesitating. "You will let me send him
Alice Puttenham opened her eyes.
"I can't see him. But please--give him some tea. He'll have walked--from
Mary prepared to obey.
"I'll come back afterward."
Alice roused herself further.
"No--there is the meeting afterward. You said you were going."
"I'd rather come back to you."
"No, dear--no. I'm--I'm better alone. Good night, kind angel. It's
nothing"--she raised herself in the chair--"only bad nights! I'll go to
bed--that'll be best. Go down--give him tea. And Mrs. Flaxman's going
"No. Mother said she wished to go," said Mary, slowly. "She and I were to
meet in the village."
Alice nodded feebly, too weak to show the astonishment she felt.
"Just time. The meeting is at seven."
Then with a sudden movement--"Hester!--is she gone?"
"I met her and the maid--in the village--as I came in."
A silence--till Alice roused herself again--"Go dear, don't miss the
meeting. I--I want you to be there. Good night."
And she gently pushed the girl from her, putting up her pale lips to be
kissed, and asking that the little parlour-maid should be sent to help
Mary went unwillingly. She gave Miss Puttenham's message to the maid, and
when the girl had gone up to her mistress she lingered a moment at the
foot of the stairs, her hands lightly clasped on her breast, as though to
quiet the stir within.
* * * * *
Meynell, expecting to see the lady of the house, could not restrain the
start of surprise and joy with which he turned toward the incomer. He
took her hand in his--pressing it involuntarily. But it slipped away, and
Mary explained with her soft composure why she was there alone--that Miss
Puttenham was suffering from a succession of bad nights and was keeping
her room--that she sent word the Rector must please rest a little before
going home, and allow Mary to give him tea.
Meynell sank obediently into a chair by the open window, and Mary
ministered to him. The lines of his strong worn face relaxed. His look
returned to her again and again, wistfully, involuntarily; yet not so as
to cause her embarrassment.
She was dressed in some thin gray stuff that singularly became her; and
with the gray dress she wore a collar or ruffle of soft white that gave
it a slight ascetic touch. But the tumbling red-gold of the hair, the
frank dignity of expression, belonged to no mere cloistered maid.
Meynell heard the news of Miss Puttenham's collapse with a sigh--checked
at birth. He asked few questions about it; so Mary reflected afterward.
He would come in again on the morrow, he said, to inquire for her. Then,
with some abruptness, he asked whether Hester had been much seen at the
cottage during the preceding week.
Mary reported that she had been in and out as usual, and seemed
reconciled to the prospect of Paris.
"Are you--is Miss Puttenham sure that she hasn't still been meeting that
Mary turned a startled look upon him.
"I thought he had gone away?"
"There may be a stratagem in that. I have been keeping what watch I
could--but at this time--what use am I?"
The Rector threw himself back wearily in his chair, his hands behind his
head. Mary was conscious of some deep throb of feeling that must not come
to words. Even since she had known it the face had grown older--the
lines deeper--the eyes finer. She stooped forward a little.
"It is hard that you should have this anxiety too. Oh! but I _hope_ there
is no need!"
He raised himself again with energy.
"There is always need with Hester. Oh! don't suppose I have forgotten
her! I have written to that fellow, my cousin. I went, indeed, to see him
the day before yesterday, but the servants at Sandford declared he had
gone to town, and they were packing up to follow. Lady Fox-Wilton and
Miss Alice here have been keeping a close eye on Hester herself, I know;
but if she chose, she could elude us all!"
"She couldn't give such pain--such trouble!" cried Mary indignantly.
The Rector shook his head sadly. Then he looked at his companion.
"Has she made a friend of you? I wish she would."
"Oh! she doesn't take any account of me," said Mary, laughing. "She is
quite kind to me--she tells me when she thinks my frock is hideous--or
my hat's impossible--or she corrects my French accent. She is quite kind,
but she would no more think of taking advice from me than from the
Meynell shrugged his shoulders.
"She has no bump of respect--never had!" and he began to give a half
humorous account of the troubles and storms of Hester's bringing up. "I
often ask myself whether we haven't all--whether I, in particular,
haven't been a first-class bungler and blundered all through with regard
to Hester. Did we choose the wrong governesses? They seemed most
estimable people. Did we thwart her unnecessarily? I can't remember a
time when she didn't have everything she wanted!"
"She didn't get on very well with her father?" suggested Mary timidly.
Meynell made a sudden movement, and did not answer for a moment.
"Sir Ralph and she were always at cross-purposes," he said at last. "But
he was kind to her--according to his lights; and--he said some very sound
and touching things to me about her--on his death-bed."
There was a short silence. Meynell had covered his eyes with his hand.
Mary was at a loss how to continue the conversation, when he resumed:
"I wonder if you will understand how strangely this anxiety weighs upon
"Here am I preaching to others," he said slowly, "leading what people
call a religious movement, and this homely elementary task seems to be
all going wrong. I don't seem to be able to protect this child confided
"Oh, but you will protect her!" cried Mary, "you will! She mayn't seem to
give way--when you talk to her; but she has said things to me--to my
"That shows her heart isn't all adamant? Well, well!--you're a comforter,
"I mean that she knows--I'm sure she does--what you've done for her--how
you've cared for her," said Mary, stammering a little.
"I have done nothing but my plainest, simplest duty. I have made
innumerable mistakes; and if I fail with her, it's quite clear that I'm
not fit to teach or lead anybody."
The words were spoken with an impatient emphasis to which Mary did not
venture a reply. But she could not restrain an expression in her gray
eyes which was a balm to the harassed combatant beside her.
They said no more of Hester. And presently Mary's hunger for news of
the Reform Movement could not be hid. It was clear she had been reading
everything she could on the subject, and feeding upon it in a loneliness,
and under a constraint, which touched Meynell profoundly. The conflict
in her between a spiritual heredity--the heredity of her father's
message--and her tender love for her mother had never been so plain to
him. Yet he could not feel that he was abetting any disloyalty in
allowing the conversation. She was mature. Her mind had its own rights!
Mary indeed, unknown to him, was thrilling under a strange and secret
sense of deliverance. Her mother's spiritual grip upon her had relaxed;
she moved and spoke with a new though still timid sense of freedom.
So once again, as on their first meeting, only more intimately, her
sympathy, her quick response, led him on. Soon lying back at his ease,
his hands behind his head, he was painting for her the progress of the
campaign; its astonishing developments; the kindling on all sides of the
dry bones of English religion.
The new--or re-written--Liturgy of the Reform was, it seemed, almost
completed. From all parts: from the Universities, from cathedral
cloisters, from quiet country parishes, from the clash of life in the
great towns, men had emerged as though by magic to bring to the making of
it their learning and their piety, the stored passion of their hearts.
And the mere common impulse, the mere release of thoughts and aspirations
so long repressed, had brought about an extraordinary harmony, a
victorious selflessness, among the members of the commission charged with
the task. The work had gone with rapidity, yet with sureness, as in those
early years of Christianity, which saw so rich and marvellous an upgrowth
from the old soil of humanity. With surprising ease and spontaneity the
old had passed over into the new; just as in the first hundred years
after Christ's death the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs of the
later Judaism had become, with but slight change, the psalms and hymns of
Christianity; and a new sacred literature had flowered on the stock of
"To-night--here!--we submit the new marriage service and the new burial
service to the Church Council. And the same thing will be happening, at
the same moment, in all the churches of the Reform--scattered through
"How many churches now?" she asked, with a quickened breath.
"Eighteen in July--this week, over a hundred. But before our cases come
on for trial there will be many more. Every day new congregations come in
from new dioceses. The beacon fire goes leaping on, from point to point!"
But the emotion which the phrase betrayed was instantly replaced by the
business tone of the organizer as he went on to describe some of the
practical developments of the preceding weeks: the founding of a
newspaper; the collection of propagandist funds; the enrolment of
teachers and missionaries, in connection with each Modernist church. Yet,
at the end of it all, feeling broke through again.
"They have been wonderful weeks!--wonderful! Which of us could have hoped
to see the spread of such a force in the dusty modern world! You remember
the fairy story of the prince whose heart was bound with iron bands--and
how one by one, the bands give way? I have seen it like that--in life
"And the fighting?"
She had propped her face on her hands, and her eyes, with their eager
sympathy, their changing lights, rained influence on the man beside her;
an influence insensibly mingling with and colouring the passion for ideas
which held them both in its grip.
"--Has been hot--will be of course infinitely hotter still! But yet,
again and again, with one's very foes, one grasps hands. They seem to
feel with us 'the common wave'--to be touched by it--touched by our hope.
It is as though we had made them realize at last how starved, how shut
out, we have been--we, half the thinking nation!--for so long!"
"Don't--don't be too confident!" she entreated. "Aren't you--isn't it
natural you should miscalculate the forces against you? Oh! they are so
strong! and--and so noble."
She drew in her breath, and he understood her.
"Strong indeed," he said gravely. "But--"
Then a smile broke in.
"Have I been boasting? You see some signs of swelled head? Perhaps you
are right. Now let me tell you what the other side are doing. That
chastens one! There is a conference of Bishops next week; there was one
a week ago. These are of course thundering resolutions in Convocation.
The English Church Union has an Albert Hall meeting; it will be
magnificent. A 'League of the Trinity' has started against us, and will
soon be campaigning all over England. The orthodox newspapers are all in
full cry. Meanwhile the Bishops are only waiting for the decision of my
case--the test case--in the lower court to take us all by detachments.
Every case, of course, will go ultimately to the Supreme Court--the Privy
Council. A hundred cases--that will take time! Meanwhile--from us--a
monster petition--first to the Bishops for the assembling of a full
Council of the English Church, then to Parliament for radical changes in
the conditions of membership of the Church, clerical and lay."
Mary drew in her breath.
"You _can't_ win! you _can't_ win!"
And he saw in her clear eyes her sorrow for him and her horror of the
conflict before him.
"That," he said quietly, "is nothing to us. We are but soldiers under
He rose; and, suddenly, she realized with a fluttering heart how empty
that room would be when he was gone. He held out his hand to her.
"I must go and prepare what I have to say to-night. The Church Council
consists of about thirty people--two thirds of them will be miners."
"How is it _possible_ that they can understand you?" she asked him,
"You forget that half of them I have taught from their childhood. They
are my spiritual brothers, or sons--picked men--the leaders of their
fellows--far better Christians than I. I wish you could see them--and
hear them." He looked at her a little wistfully.
"I am coming," she said, looking down.
His start of pleasure was very evident.
"I am glad," he said simply; "I want you to know these men."
"And my mother is coming with me."
Her voice was constrained. Meynell felt a natural surprise. He paused an
instant, and then said with gentle emphasis:
"I don' think there will be anything to wound her. At any rate, there
will be nothing new, or strange--to _her_--in what is said to-night."
"Oh, no!" Then, after a moment's awkwardness, she said, "We shall soon be
His face changed.
"Going away? I thought you would be here for the winter!"
"No. Mother is so much better, we are going to our little house in the
Lakes, in Long Whindale. We came here because mother was ill--and Aunt
Rose begged us. But--"
"Do you know"--he interrupted her impetuously--"that for six months I've
had a hunger for just one fortnight up there among the fells?"
"You love them?" Her face bloomed with pleasure. "You know the dear
"It doesn't do to think of them, does it? You should see the letters on
my table! But I may have to take a few days' rest, some time. Should I
find you in Long Whindale--if I dropped down on you--over Goat Scar?"
"Yes--from December till March!" Then she suddenly checked the happiness
of her look and tone. "I needn't warn you that it rains."
"Doesn't it rain! And everybody pretends it doesn't. The lies one tells!"
They stood looking at each other. An atmosphere seemed to have sprung up
round them in which every tone and movement had suddenly become
Meynell recovered himself. He held out his hand in farewell, but he had
scarcely turned away from her, when she made a startled movement toward
the open window.
"What is that?"
There was a sound of shouting and running in the street outside. A
crowd seemed to be approaching. Meynell ran out into the garden to
listen. By this time the noise had grown considerably, and he thought
he distinguished his own name among the cries.
"Something has happened at the colliery!" he said to Mary, who had
And he hurried toward the gate, bareheaded, just as a gray-haired lady in
black entered the garden.
"Mother," cried Mary, in amazement.
Catharine Elsmere paused--one moment; she looked from her daughter to
Meynell. Then she hurried to the Rector.
"You are wanted!" she said, struggling to get her breath. "A terrible
thing has happened. They think four lives have been lost--some accident
to the cage--and people blame the man in charge. They've got him shut up
in the colliery office--and declare they'll kill him. The crowd looks
dangerous--and there are very few police. I heard you were here--some
one, the postman, saw you come in--you must stop it. The people will
listen to you."
Her fine, pale face, framed in her widow's veil, did not so much ask as
command. He replied by a gesture--then by two or three rapid inquiries.
Mary--bewildered--saw them for an instant as allies and equals, each
recognizing the other. Then Meynell ran to the gate, and was at once
swallowed up in the moving groups which had gathered there, and seemed to
carry him back with them toward the colliery.
Catharine Elsmere turned to follow--Mary at her side. Mary looked at her
in anxiety, dreading the physical strain for one, of late, so frail.
"Mother darling!--ought you?"
Catharine took no heed whatever of the question.
"It is the women who are so terrible," she said in a low voice, as they
hurried on; "their faces were like wild beasts. They have telephoned to
Cradock for police. If Mr. Meynell can keep them in check for half an
hour, there may be hope."
They ran on, swept along by the fringe of the crowd till they reached the
top of a gentle descent at the farther end of the village. At the bottom
of this hill lay the colliery, with its two huge chimneys, its shed and
engine houses, its winding machinery, and its heaps of refuse. Within the
enclosure, from the height where they stood, could be seen a thin line of
police surrounding a small shed--the pay-office. On the steps of it stood
the manager, and the Rector, to be recognized by his long coat and his
bare head, had just joined him. Opposite to the police, and separated
from the shed by about ten yards and a wooden paling, was a threatening
and vociferating mob, which stretched densely across the road and up the
hill on either side; a mob largely composed of women--dishevelled,
furious women--their white faces gleaming amid the coal-blackened forms
of the miners.
"They'll have 'im out," said a woman in front of Mary Elsmere. "Oh, my
God!--they'll have 'im out! It was he caused the death of the boy--yo
mind 'im--young Jimmy Ragg--a month sen; though the crowner's jury did
let 'im off, more shame to them! An' now they say as how he signalled for
'em to bring up the men from the Albert pit afore he'd made sure as the
cage in the Victory pit was clear!"
"Explain to me, please," said Mary, touching the woman's arm.
Half a dozen turned eagerly upon her.
"Why, you see, miss, as the two cages is like buckets in a well--the yan
goes down, as the other cooms up. An' there's catches as yo mun knock
away to let 'un go down--an' this banksman--ee's a devil!--he niver so
much as walked across to the other shaft to see--an' theer was the
catches fast--an' instead o' goin' down, theer was the cage stuck, an'
the rope uncoilin' itsel', and fallin' off the drum--an' foulin' the
other rope--An' then all of a suddent, just as them poor fellows wor
nearin' top--the drum began to work t'other way--run backards, you
unnerstan?--an' the engineman lost 'is head an' niver thowt to put on
t'breaks--an'--oh! Lord save us!--whether they was drownt at t'bottom
i' the sump, or killt afore they got theer--theer's no one knows
yet--They're getten of 'em up now."
And as she spoke, a great shout which became a groan ran through the
crowd. Men climbed up the railings at the side of the road that they
might see better. Women stood on tiptoe. A confused clamour came from
below, and in the colliery yard there could be seen a gruesome sight;
four stretchers, borne by colliers, their burdens covered from view.
Beside them were groups of women and children and in front of them the
crowd made way. Up the hill they came, a great wail preceding and
surrounding them; behind them the murmurs of an ungovernable indignation.
As the procession neared them Mary saw a gray-haired woman throw up her
arm, and heard her cry out in a voice harsh and hideous with excitement:
"Let 'im as murdered them pay for't! What's t' good o' crowner's
juries?--Let's settle it oursel's!"
Deep murmurs answered her.
"And it's this same Jenkins," said another fierce voice, "as had a sight
to do wi' bringin' them blacklegs down here, in the strike, last autumn.
He's been a great man sense, has Jenkins, wi' the masters; but he sha'n't
murder our husbinds and sons for us, while he's loafin' round an' playin'
the lord--not he! Have they got 'un safe?"
"Aye, he's in the pay-house safe enough," shouted another--a man. "An' if
them as is defendin' of 'un won't give 'un up, there's ways o' makin'
The procession of the dead approached--all the men baring their
heads, and the women wailing. In front came a piteous group--a young
half-fainting wife, supported by an older woman, with children clinging
to her skirts. Catharine went forward, and lifted a baby or two that was
being dragged along the ground. Mary took up another child, and they both
joined the procession.
As they did so, there was a shout from below.
Mary, white as her dress, asked an elderly miner beside her, who had
shown no excitement whatever, to tell her what had happened. He clambered
up on the bank to look and came back to her.
"They've beaten 'un back, miss," he said in her ear. "They've got the
surface men to help, and Muster Meynell he's doing his best; if there's
anybody can hold 'em, he can; but there's terrible few on 'em. It is time
as the Cradock men came up. They'll be trying fire before long, an' the
women is like devils."
On went the procession into the village, leaving the fight behind them.
In Mary's heart, as she was pushed and pressed onward, burnt the memory
of Meynell on the steps--speaking, gesticulating--and the surging crowd
in front of him.
There was that to do, however, which deadened fear. In the main street
the procession was met by hurrying doctors and nurses. For those broken
bodies indeed--young men in their prime--nothing could be done, save to
straighten the poor limbs, to wash the coal dust from the strong faces,
and cover all with the white linen of death. But the living--the crushed,
stricken living--taxed every energy of heart and mind. Catharine,
recognized at once by the doctors as a pillar of help, shrank from no
office and no sight, however terrible. But she would not permit them to
Mary, and they were presently separated.
Mary had a trio of sobbing children on her knee, in the living-room of
one of the cottages, when there was a sudden tramp outside. Everybody in
Miners' Row, including those who were laying out the dead, ran to the
"The police from Cradock!"--fifty of them.
The news passed from mouth to mouth, and even those who had been maddest
half an hour before felt the relief of it.
Meanwhile detachments of shouting men and women ran clattering at
intervals through the village streets. Sometimes stragglers from them
would drop into the cottages alongside--and from their panting talk, what
had happened below became roughly clear. The police had arrived only just
in time. The small band defending the office was worn out, the Rector had
been struck, palings torn down; in another half-hour the rioters would
have set the place on fire and dragged out the man of whom they were in
The narrator's story was broken by a howl--
"Here he comes!" And once again, as though by a rush of muddy water, the
street filled up, and a strong body of police came through it, escorting
the banksman who had been the cause of the accident. A hatless, hunted
creature, with white face and loosened limbs, he was hurried along by the
police, amid a grim silence that had suddenly succeeded to the noise.
Behind came a group of men, officials of the colliery, and to the right
of them walked the Rector, bareheaded as before, a bandage on the left
temple. His eyes ran along the cottages, and he presently perceived Mary
Elsmere standing at an open door, with a child that had cried itself to
sleep in her arms.
Stepping out of the ranks, he approached her. The people made way for
him, a few here and there with sullen faces, but in the main with a
friendly and remorseful eagerness.
"It's all over," he said in Mary's ear. "But it was touch and go. An
unpopular man--suspected of telling union secrets to the masters last
year. He was concerned in another accident to a boy--a month ago; they
all think he was in fault, though the jury exonerated him. And now--a
piece of abominable carelessness!--manslaughter at least. Oh! he'll catch
it hot! But we weren't going to have him murdered on our hands. If he
hadn't got safe into the office, the women alone would have thrown him
down the shaft. By the way, are you learned in 'first aid'?"
He pointed, smiling, to his temple, and she saw that the wound beneath
the rough bandage was bleeding afresh.
"It makes me feel a bit faint," he said with annoyance; "and there is so
much to do!"
"May I see to it?" said her mother's voice behind her. And Catharine, who
had just descended from an upper room, went quickly to a nurse's wallet
which had been left on a table in the kitchen, and took thence an
antiseptic dressing and some bandaging.
Meynell sat down by the table, shivering a little from shock and strain,
while she ministered to him. One of the women near brought him brandy;
and Catharine deftly cleaned and dressed the wound. Mary looked on,
handing what was necessary to her mother, and in spite of herself, a ray
of strange sweetness stole through the tragedy of the day.
In a very few minutes Meynell rose. They were in the cottage of one of
the victims. The dead lay overhead, and the cries of wife and mother
could be heard through the thin flooring.
"Don't go up again!" he said peremptorily to Catharine. "It is too much
She looked at him gently.
"They asked me to come back again. It is not too much for me. Please let
He gave way. Then, as he was following her upstairs, he turned to say to
"Gather some of the people, if you can, outside. I want to give a notice
when I come down."
He mounted the ladder-stairs leading to the upper room. Violent sounds of
wailing broke out overhead, and the murmur of his voice could be heard
Mary quietly sent a few messengers into the street. Then she gathered
up the sleeping child again in her arms, and sat waiting. In spirit she
was in the room overhead. The thought of those two--her mother and
Meynell--beside a bed of death together, pierced her heart.
After what seemed to her an age, she heard her mother's step, and the
Rector following. Catharine stood again beside her daughter, brushing
away at last a few quiet tears.
"You oughtn't to face this any more, indeed you oughtn't," said Meynell,
with urgency, as he joined them. "Tell her so, Miss Mary. But she has
been doing wonders. My people bless her!"
He held out his hand, involuntarily, and Catharine placed hers in it.
Then, seeing a small crowd already collected in the street, he hurried
out to speak to them.
Meanwhile evening had fallen, a late September evening, shot with gold
and purple. Behind the village the yellow stubbles stretched up to the
edge of the Chase and drifts of bluish smoke from the colliery chimneys
hung in the still air.
Meynell, standing on the raised footpath above the crowd, gave notice
that a special service of mourning would be held in the church that
evening. The meeting of the Church Council would of course be postponed.
During his few words Mary made her way to the farther edge of the
gathering, looking over it toward the speaker. Behind him ran the row of
cottages, and in the doorway opposite she saw her mother, with her arm
tenderly folded round a sobbing girl, the sister of one of the dead. The
sudden tranquillity, the sudden pause from tumult and anguish seemed to
draw a "wind-warm space" round Mary, and she had time, for a moment, to
think of herself and the strangeness of this tragic day.
How amazing that her mother should be here at all. This meeting of the
Reformers' League to which she had insisted on coming--as a spectator of
course, and with the general public--what did it mean? Mary did not yet
know, long as she had pondered it.
How beautiful was the lined face!--so pale in the golden dusk, in its
heavy frame of black. Mary could not take her eyes from it. It betrayed
an animation, a passion of life, which had been foreign to it for months.
In these few crowded hours, when every word and action had been simple,
instructive, inevitable; love to God and man working at their swiftest
and purest; through all the tragedy and the horror some burden seemed to
have dropped from Catharine's soul. She met her daughter's eyes, and
When Meynell had finished, the crowd silently drifted away, and he
came back to the Elsmeres. They noticed the village fly coming toward
them--saw it stop in the roadway.
"I sent for it," Meynell explained rapidly. "You mustn't let your mother
do any more. Look at her! Please, will you both go to the Rectory? My
cook will give you tea; I have let her know. Then the fly will take you
They protested in vain--must indeed submit. Catharine flushed a little at
being so commanded; but there was no help for it.
"I _would_ like to come and show you my den!" said Meynell, as he put
them into the carriage. "But there's too much to do here."
He pointed sadly to the cottages, shut the door, and they were off.
During the short drive Catharine sat rather stiffly upright. Saint as she
was, she was accustomed to have her way.
They drove into the dark shrubbery that lay between the Rectory and the
road. At the door of the little house stood Anne in a white cap and clean
apron. But the white cap sat rather wildly on its owner's head; nor would
she take any interest in her visitors till she had got from them a fuller
account of the tumult at the pit than had yet reached her, and assurances
that Meynell's wound was but slight. But when these were given she
pounced upon Catharine.
"Eh, but you're droppin'!"
And with many curious looks at them she hurried them into the study,
where a hasty clearance had been made among the books, and a tea-table
She bustled away to bring the tea.
Then exhaustion seized on Catharine. She submitted to be put on the sofa
after it had been cleared of its pile of books; and Mary sat by her a
while, holding her hands. Death and the agony of broken hearts
But then the dogs came in, discreet at first, and presently--at scent of
currant cake--effusively friendly. Mary fed them all, and Catharine
watched the colour coming back to her face, and the dumb sweetness in the
Presently, while her mother still rested, Mary took courage to wander
round the room, looking at the books, the photographs on the walls, the
rack of pipes, the carpenter's bench, and the panels of half-finished
carving. Timidly, yet eagerly, she breathed in the message it seemed
to bring her from its owner--of strenuous and frugal life. Was that
half-faded miniature of a soldier his father--and that sweet gray-haired
woman his mother? Her heart thrilled to each discovery.
Then Anne invaded them, for conversation, and while Catharine, unable to
hide her fatigue, lay speechless, Anne chattered about her master. Her
indignation was boundless that any hand could be lifted against him in
his own parish. "Why he strips himself bare for them, he does!"
And--with Mary unconsciously leading her--out came story after story, in
the racy Mercian vernacular, illustrating a good man's life, and all
His little nameless unremembered acts
Of kindness and of love.
As they drove slowly home through the sad village street they perceived
Henry Barron calling at some of the stricken houses. The squire was
always punctilious, and his condolences might be counted on. Beside him
walked a young man with a jaunty step, a bored sallow face, and a long
moustache which he constantly caressed. Mary supposed him to be the
squire's second son, "Mr. Maurice," whom nobody liked.
Then the church, looming through the dusk; lights shining through its
fine perpendicular windows, and the sound of familiar hymns surging out
into the starry twilight.
Catharine turned eagerly to her companion.
"Shall we go in?"
The emotion of one to whom religious utterance is as water to the thirsty
spoke in her voice. But Mary caught and held her.
"No, dearest, no!--come home and rest." And when Catharine had yielded,
and they were safely past the lighted church, Mary breathed more freely.
Instinctively she felt that certain barriers had gone down before the
tragic tumult, the human action of the day; let well alone!
And for the first time, as she sat in the darkness, holding her mother's
hand, and watching the blackness of the woods file past under the stars,
she confessed her love to her own heart--trembling, yet exultant.
* * * * *
Meanwhile in the crowded church, men and women who had passed that
afternoon through the extremes of hate and sorrow unpacked their hearts
in singing and prayer. The hymns rose and fell through the dim red
sandstone church--symbol of the endless plaint of human life, forever
clamouring in the ears of Time; and Meynell's address, as he stood on the
chancel steps, almost among the people, the disfiguring strips of
plaster on the temple and brow sharply evident between the curly black
hair and the dark hollows of the eyes, sank deep into grief-stricken
souls. It was the plain utterance of a man, with the prophetic gift,
speaking to human beings to whom, through years of checkered life, he had
given all that a man can give of service and of soul. He stood there as
the living expression of their conscience, their better mind, conceived
as the mysterious voice of a Divine power in man; and in the name of that
Power, and its direct message to the human soul embodied in the tale we
call Christianity, he bade them repent their bloodthirst, and hope in God
for their dead. He spoke amid weeping; and from that night forward one
might have thought his power unshakeable, at least among his own people.
But there were persons in the church who remained untouched by it. In the
left aisle Hester sat a little apart from her sisters, her hard, curious
look ranging from the preacher through the crowded benches. She surveyed
it all as a spectacle, half thrilled, half critical. And at the western
end of the aisle the squire and his son stood during the greater part of
the service, showing plainly by their motionless lips and folded arms
that they took no part in what was going on.
Father and son walked home together in close conversation.
And two days later the first anonymous letter in the Meynell case was
posted in Markborough, and duly delivered the following morning to an
address in Upcote Minor.
"What on earth can Henry Barron desire a private interview with me
about?" said Hugh Flaxman looking up from his letters, as he and
his wife sat together after breakfast in Mrs. Flaxman's sitting-room.
"I suppose he wants subscriptions for his heresy hunt? The Church party
seem to be appealing for funds in most of the newspapers."
"I should have thought he knew I am not prepared to support him," said
"Where are you, old man?" His wife laid a caressing hand on his
shoulder--"I don't really quite know."
Flaxman smiled at her.
"You and I are not theologians, are we, darling?" He kissed the hand. "I
don't find myself prepared to swear to Meynell's precise 'words' any more
than I was to Robert's. But I am ready to fight to prevent his being
"So am I!" said Rose, erect, with her hands behind her.
"We want all sorts."
"Ye-es," said Rose doubtfully. "I don't think I want Mr. Barron."
"Certainly you do! A typical product--with just as much right to a place
in English religion as Meynell--and no more."
"Hugh!--you must behave very nicely to the Bishop to-night."
"I should think I must!--considering the _ominum gatherum_ you have asked
to meet him. I really do not think you ought to have asked Meynell."
"There we must agree to differ," said Rose firmly. "Social relations in
this country must be maintained--in spite of politics--in spite of
religion--in spite of everything."
"That's all very well--but if you mix people too violently, you make them
"My dear Hugh!--how many drawing-rooms are there?" His wife waved a vague
hand toward the folding doors on her right, implying the suite of
Georgian rooms that stretched away beyond them; "one for every _nuance_
if it comes to that. If they positively won't mix I shall have to
segregate them. But they will mix." Then she fell into a reverie for a
moment, adding at the end of it--"I must keep one drawing-room for the
Rector and Mr. Norham--"
"That I understand is what we're giving the party for. Intriguer!"
Rose threw him a cool glance.
"You may continue to play Gallio if you like. _I_ am now a partisan."
"So I perceive. And you hope to turn Norham into one."
Rose nodded. Mr. Norham was the Home Secretary, the most important member
in a Cabinet headed by a Prime Minister in rapidly failing health; to
whose place, either by death or retirement it was generally expected that
Edward Norham would succeed.
"Well, darling, I shall watch your manoeuvres with interest," said
Flaxman, rising and gathering up his letters--"and, _longo intervallo_, I
shall humbly do my best to assist them. Are Catherine and Mary coming?"
"Mary certainly--and, I think, Catharine. The Fox-Wiltons of course,
and that mad creature Hester, who goes to Paris in a few days--and
Alice Puttenham. How that sister of hers bullies her--horrid little
woman! _And_ Mr. Barron!"--Flaxman made an exclamation--"and the deaf
daughter--and the nice elder son--and the unpresentable younger one--in
fact the whole menagerie."
Flaxman shrugged his shoulders.
"A few others, I hope, to act as buffers."
"Heaps!" said Rose. "I have asked half the neighbourhood--our first big
party. And as for the weekenders, you chose them yourself." She ran
through the list, while Flaxman vainly protested that he had never in
their joint existence been allowed to do anything of the kind. "But
to-night you're not to take any notice of them at all. Neighbours first!
Plenty of time for you to amuse yourself to-morrow. What time does Mr.
"In ten minutes!" said Flaxman, hastily departing, only, however, to be
followed into his study by Rose, who breathed into his ear--
"And if you see Mary and Mr. Meynell colloguing--play up!"
Flaxman turned round with a start.
"I say!--is there really anything in that?"
Rose, sitting on the arm of his chair, did her best to bring him up to
date. Yes--from her observation of the two--she was certain there was a
good deal in it.
Rose's eyebrows expressed the uncertainty of the situation.
"But such an odd thing happened last week! You remember the day of the
accident--and the Church Council that was put off?"
"Catharine made up her mind suddenly to go to that Church Council--after
not having been able to speak of Mr. Meynell or the Movement for weeks.
_Why_--neither Mary nor I know. But she walked over from the cottage--the
first time she has done it. She arrived in the village just as the
dreadful thing had happened in the pit. Then of course she and the Rector
took command. Nobody who knew Catharine would have expected anything
else. And now she and Mary and the Rector are busy looking after the poor
survivors. 'It's propinquity does it,' my dear!"
"Catharine could never--never--reconcile herself."
"I don't know," said Rose, doubtfully. "What did she want to go to that
"Perhaps to lift up her voice?"
"No. Catharine isn't that sort. She would have suffered dreadfully--and
And with a thoughtful shake of the head, as though to indicate that the
veins of meditation opened up by the case were rich and various, Rose
went slowly away.
* * * * *
Then Hugh was left to his _Times_, and to speculations on the reasons why
Henry Barron--a man whom he had never liked and often thwarted--should
have asked for this interview in a letter marked "private." Flaxman made
an agreeable figure, as he sat pondering by the fire, while the _Times_
gradually slipped from his hands to the floor. And he was precisely what
he looked--an excellent fellow, richly endowed with the world's good
things, material and moral. He was of spare build, with grizzled hair;
long-limbed, clean-shaven and gray-eyed. In general society he appeared
as a person of polished manners, with a gently ironic turn of mind. His
friends were more numerous and more devoted than is generally the case in
middle age; and his family were rarely happy out of his company. Certain
indeed of his early comrades in life were inclined to accuse him of a too
facile contentment with things as they are, and a rather Philistine
estimate of the value of machinery. He was absorbed in "business" which
he did admirably. Not so much of the financial sort, although he was a
trusted member of important boards. But for all that unpaid multiplicity
of affairs--magisterial, municipal, social or charitable--which make the
country gentleman's sphere Hugh Flaxman's appetite was insatiable. He was
a born chairman of a county council, and a heaven-sent treasurer of a
And no doubt this natural bent, terribly indulged of late years, led
occasionally to "holding forth"; at least those who took no interest in
the things which interested Flaxman said so. And his wife, who was much
more concerned for his social effect than for her own, was often
nervously on the watch lest it should be true. That her handsome, popular
Hugh should ever, even for a quarter of an hour, sit heavy on the soul
even of a youth of eighteen was not to be borne; she pounced on each
incipient harangue with mingled tact and decision.
But though Flaxman was a man of the world, he was by no means a
worldling. Tenderly, unflinchingly, with a modest and cheerful devotion,
he had made himself the stay of his brother-in-law Elsmere's harassed and
broken life. His supreme and tyrannical common sense had never allowed
him any delusions as to the ultimate permanence of heroic ventures like
the New Brotherhood; and as to his private opinions on religious matters
it is probable that not even his wife knew them. But outside the strong
affections of his personal life there was at least one enduring passion
in Flaxman which dignified his character. For liberty of experiment, and
liberty of conscience, in himself or others, he would gladly have gone to
the stake. Himself the loyal upholder of an established order, which he
helped to run decently, he was yet in curious sympathy with many obscure
revolutionists in many fields. To brutalize a man's conscience seemed to
him worse than to murder his body. Hence a constant sympathy with
minorities of all sorts; which no doubt interfered often with his
practical efficiency. But perhaps it accounted for the number of his
* * * * *
"We shall, I presume, be undisturbed?"
The speaker was Henry Barron; and he and Flaxman stood for a moment
surveying each other after their first greeting.
"Certainly. I have given orders. For an hour if you wish, I am at your
"Oh, we shall not want so long."
Barron seated himself in the chair pointed out to him. His portly
presence, in some faultlessly new and formal clothes, filled it
substantially; and his colour, always high, was more emphatic than usual.
Beside him, Flaxman made but a thread-paper appearance.
"I have come on an unpleasant errand"--he said, withdrawing some papers
from his breast pocket--"but--after much thought--I came to the
conclusion that there was no one in this neighbourhood I could consult
upon a very painful matter, with greater profit--than yourself."
Flaxman made a rather stiff gesture of acknowledgment.
"May I ask you to read that?"
Barron selected a letter from the papers he held and handed it to his
Flaxman read it. His face changed and worked as he did so. He read it
twice, turned it over to see if it contained any signature, and returned
it to Barron.
"That's a precious production! Was it addressed to yourself?"
"No--to Dawes, the colliery manager. He brought it to me yesterday."
Flaxman thought a moment.
"He is--if I remember right--with yourself, one of the five aggrieved
parishioners in the Meynell case?"
"He is. But he is by no means personally hostile to Meynell--quite the
contrary. He brought it to me in much distress, thinking it well that we
should take counsel upon it, in case other documents of the same kind
should be going about."
"And you, I imagine, pointed out to him the utter absurdity of the
charge, advised him to burn the letter and hold his tongue?"
Barron was silent a moment. Then he said, with slow distinctness:
"I regret I was unable to do anything of the kind." Flaxman turned
sharply on the speaker.
"You mean to say you believe there is a word of truth in that
"I have good reason, unfortunately, to know that it cannot at once be put
Both paused--regarding each other. Then Flaxman said, in a raised accent
"You think it possible--_conceivable_--that a man of Mr. Meynell's
character--and transparently blameless life--should have not only been
guilty of an intrigue of this kind twenty years ago--but should have
done nothing since to repair it--should actually have settled down to
live in the same village side by side with the lady whom the letter
declares to be the mother of his child--without making any attempt to
marry her--though perfectly free to do so? Why, my dear sir, was there
ever a more ridiculous, a more incredible tale!"
Flaxman sprang to his feet, and with his hands in his pockets, turned
upon his visitor, impatient contempt in every feature.
"Wait a moment before you judge," said Barron dryly. "Do you remember a
case of sudden death in this village a few weeks ago?--a woman who
returned from America to her son John Broad, a labourer living in one of
my cottages--and died forty-eight hours after arrival of brain disease?"
Flaxman's brow puckered.
"I remember a report in the _Post_. There was an inquest--and some
curious medical evidence?"
Barron nodded assent.
"By the merest chance, I happened to see that woman the night after she
arrived. I went to the cottage to remonstrate on the behaviour of John
Broad's boys in my plantation. She was alone in the house, and she came
to the door. By the merest chance also, while we stood there, Meynell and
Miss Puttenham passed in the road outside. The woman--Mrs. Sabin--was
terribly excited on seeing them, and she said things which astounded me.
I asked her to explain them, and we talked--alone--for nearly an hour. I
admit that she was scarcely responsible, that she died within a few hours
of our conversation, of brain disease. But I still do not see--I wish to
heaven I did!--any way out of what she told me--when one comes to combine
it with--well, with other things. But whether I should finally have
decided to make any use of the information I am not sure. But
unfortunately"--he pointed to the letter still in Flaxman's hand--"that
shows me that other persons--persons unknown to me--are in possession of
some, at any rate, of the facts--and therefore that it is now vain to
hope that we can stifle the thing altogether."
"You have no idea who wrote the letter?" said Flaxman, holding it up.
"None whatever," was the emphatic reply.
"It is a disguised hand"--mused Flaxman--"but an educated one--more or
less. However--we will return presently to the letter. Mrs. Sabin's
communication to you was of a nature to confirm the statements contained
"Mrs. Sabin declared to me that having herself--independently--become
aware of certain facts, while she was a servant in Lady Fox-Wilton's
employment, that lady--no doubt in order to ensure her silence--took
her abroad with herself and her young sister, Miss Alice, to a place in
France she had some difficulty in pronouncing--it sounded to me like
Grenoble; that there Miss Puttenham became the mother of a child, which
passed thenceforward as the child of Sir Ralph and Lady Fox-Wilton, and
received the name of Hester. She herself nursed Miss Puttenham, and no
doctor was admitted. When the child was two months old, she accompanied
the sisters to a place on the Riviera, where they took a villa. Here
Sir Ralph Wilton, who was terribly broken and distressed by the whole
thing, joined them, and he made an arrangement with her by which she
agreed to go to the States and hold her tongue. She wrote to her people
in Upcote--she had been a widow for some years--that she had accepted a
nurse's situation in the States, and Sir Ralph saw her off from Genoa for
New York. She seems to have married again in the States; and in the
course of years to have developed some grievance against the Fox-Wiltons
which ultimately determined her to come home. But all this part of her
story was so excited and incoherent that I could make nothing of it. Nor
does it matter very much to the subject--the real subject--we are
Flaxman, who was standing in front of the speaker, intently listening,
made no immediate reply. His eyes--half absently--considered the man
before him. In Barron's aspect and tone there was not only the pompous
self-importance of the man possessed of exclusive and sensational
information; there were also indications of triumphant trains of
reasoning behind that outraged his listener.
"What has all this got to do with Meynell?" said Flaxman abruptly.
Barron cleared his throat.
"There was one occasion"--he said slowly--"and one only, on which the
ladies at Grenoble--we will say it was Grenoble--received a visitor. Miss
Puttenham was still in her room. A gentleman arrived, and was admitted to
see her. Mrs. Sabin was bundled out of the room by Lady Fox-Wilton. But
it was a small wooden house, and Mrs. Sabin heard a good deal. Miss
Puttenham was crying and talking excitedly. Mrs. Sabin was certain from
what, according to her, she could not help overhearing, that the man--"
"Must one go into this back-stairs story?" asked Flaxman, with repulsion.
"As you like," said Barron, impassively. "I should have thought it was
necessary." He paused, looking quietly at his questioner.
Flaxman restrained himself with some difficulty.
"Did the woman have any real opportunity of seeing this visitor?"
"When he went away, he stood outside the house talking to Lady
Fox-Wilton. Mrs. Sabin was at the window, behind the lace curtains,
with the child in her arms. She watched him for some minutes."
"Well?" said Flaxman sharply.
"She had never seen him before, and she never saw him again, until--such
at least was her own story--from the door of her son's cottage, while I
was with her, she saw Miss Puttenham--and Meynell--standing in the road
Flaxman took a turn along the room, and paused.
"You admit that she was ill at the time she spoke to you--and in a
distracted, incoherent state?"
"Certainly I admit it." Barron drew himself erect, with a slight frown,
as though tacitly protesting against certain suggestions in Flaxman's
manner and voice. "But now let us look at another line of evidence. You
as a newcomer are probably quite unaware of the gossip there has always
been in this neighbourhood, ever since Sir Ralph Wilton's death, on the
subject of Sir Ralph's will. That will in a special paragraph committed
Hester Fox-Wilton to Richard Meynell's guardianship in remarkable terms;
no provision whatever was made for the girl under Sir Ralph's will, and
it is notorious that he treated her quite differently from his other
children. From the moment also of the French journey, Sir Ralph's
character and temper appeared to change. I have inquired of a good many
persons as to this; of course with absolute discretion. He was a man of
narrow Evangelical opinions"--at the word "narrow" Flaxman threw a
sudden glance at the speaker--"and of strict veracity. My belief is that
his later life was darkened by the falsehood to which he and his wife
committed themselves. Finally, let me ask you to look at the young lady
herself; at the extraordinary difference between her and her supposed
family; at her extraordinary likeness--to the Rector."
Flaxman raised his eyebrows at the last words, his aspect expressing
disbelief and disgust even more strongly than before. Barron glanced at
him, and then, after a moment, resumed in another manner, loftily
"I need not say that personally I find myself mixed up in such a business
with the utmost reluctance."
"Naturally," put in Flaxman dryly. "The risks attaching to it are simply
"I am aware of it. But as I have already pointed out to you, by some
strange means--connected I have no doubt with the woman, Judith Sabin,
though I cannot throw any light upon them--the story is no longer in my
exclusive possession, and how many people are already aware of it and may
be aware of it we cannot tell. I thought it well to come to you in the
first instance, because I know that--you have taken some part lately--in
"Ah!" thought Flaxman--"now we've come to it!"
Aloud he said:
"By which I suppose you mean that I am a subscriber to the Reform Fund,
and that I have become a personal friend of Meynell's? You are quite
right. Both my wife and I greatly like and respect the Rector." He laid
stress on the words.
"It was for that very reason--let me repeat--that I came to you. You have
influence with Meynell; and I want to persuade you, if I can, to use it."
The speaker paused a moment, looking steadily at Flaxman. "What I venture
to suggest is that you should inform him of the stories that are now
current. It is surely just that he should be informed. And then--we
have to consider the bearings of this report on the unhappy situation in
the diocese. How can we prevent its being made use of? It would be
impossible. You know what the feeling is--you know what people are. In
Meynell's own interest, and in that of the poor lady whose name is
involved with his in this scandal, would it not be desirable in every
way that he should now quietly withdraw from this parish and from
the public contest in which he is engaged? Any excuse would be
sufficient--health--overwork--anything. The scandal would then die out of
itself. There is not one of us--those on Meynell's side, or those against
him--who would not in such a case do his utmost to stamp it out. But--if
he persists--both in living here, and in exciting public opinion as he is
now doing--the story will certainly come out! Nothing can possibly stop
Barron leant back and folded his arms. Flaxman's eyes sparkled. He felt
an insane desire to run the substantial gentleman sitting opposite to the
door and dismiss him with violence. But he restrained himself.
"I am greatly obliged to you for your belief in the power of my good
offices," he said, with a very frosty smile, "but I am afraid I must ask
to be excused. Of course if the matter became serious, legal action would
be taken very promptly."
"How can legal action be taken?" interrupted Barron roughly. "Whatever
may be the case with regard to Meynell and her identification of him,
Judith Sabin's story is true. Of that I am entirely convinced."
But he had hardly spoken before he felt that he had made a false step.
Flaxman's light blue eyes fixed him.
"The story with regard to Miss Puttenham?"
"Then it comes to this: Supposing that woman's statement to be true,
the private history of a poor lady who has lived an unblemished life in
this village for many years is to be dragged to light--for what? In
order--excuse my plain speaking--to blackmail Richard Meynell, and to
force him to desist from the public campaign in which he is now engaged?
These are hardly measures likely, I think, to commend themselves to some
of your allies, Mr. Barron!"
Barron had sprung up in his chair.
"What my allies may or may not think is nothing to me. I am of course
guided by my own judgment and conscience. And I altogether protest
against the word you have just employed. I came to you, Mr. Flaxman, I
can honestly say, in the interests of peace!--in the interests of Meynell
"But you admit that there is really no evidence worthy of the name
connecting Meynell with the story at all!" said Flaxman, turning upon
him. "The crazy impression of a woman dying of brain disease--some gossip
about Sir Ralph's will--a likeness that many people have never perceived!
What does it amount to? Nothing!--nothing at all!--less than nothing!"
"I can only say that I disagree with you." The voice was that of a
rancorous obstinacy at last unveiled. "I believe that the woman's
identification was a just one--though I admit that the proof is
difficult. But then perhaps I approach the matter in one way, and you in
another. A man, Mr. Flaxman, in my belief, does not throw over the faith
of Christ for nothing! No! Such things are long prepared. Conscience, my
dear sir, conscience breaks down first. The man becomes a hypocrite in
his private life before he openly throws off the restraints of religion.
That is the sad sequence of events. I have watched it many times."
Flaxman had grown rather white. The man beside him seemed to him a kind
of monstrosity. He thought of Meynell, of the eager refinement, the clean
idealism, the visionary kindness of the man--and compared it with the
"muddy vesture," mental and physical, of Meynell's accuser.
Nevertheless, as he held himself in with difficulty he began to perceive
more plainly than he had yet done some of the intricacies of the
"I have nothing to do," he said, in a tone that he endeavoured to make
reasonably calm, "nor has anybody, with generalization of that kind, in a
case like this. The point is--could Meynell, being what he is, what we
all know him to be, have not only betrayed a young girl, but have then
failed to do her the elementary justice of marrying her? And the reply is
that the thing is incredible!"
"You forget that Meynell was extremely poor, and had his brothers to
Flaxman shrugged his shoulders in laughing contempt.
"Meynell desert the mother of his child--because of poverty--because of
his brothers' education!--_Meynell_! You have known him some years--I
only for a few months. But go into the cottages here--talk to the
people--ask them, not what he believes, but what he _is_--what he has
been to them. Get one of them, if you can, to credit this absurdity!"
"The Rector's intimate friendship with Miss Puttenham has long been an
astonishment--sometimes a scandal--to the village!" exclaimed Barron,
Flaxman stared at him in a blank amazement, then flushed. He took a turn
up and down the room, after which he returned to the fireside, composed.
What was the use of arguing with such a disputant? He felt as though the
mere conversation were an insult to Meynell, in which he was forced to
He took a seat deliberately, and put on his magisterial manner, which,
however, was much more delicately and unassumingly authoritative than
that of other men.
"I think we had better clear up our ideas. You bring me a story--a
painful story--concerning a lady with whom we are both acquainted, which
may or may not be true. Whether it is true or not is no concern of ours.
Neither you nor I have anything to do with it, and legal penalties would
certainly follow the diffusion of it. You invite me to connect with it
the name of a man for whom I have the deepest respect and admiration; who
bears an absolutely stainless record; and you threaten to make use of the
charge in connection with the heresy trials now coming on. Now let me
give you my advice--for what it may be worth. I should say--as you have
asked my opinion--have nothing whatever to do with the matter! If anybody
else brings you anonymous letters, tell them something of the law of
libel--and something too of the guilt of slander! After all, with a
little good will, these are matters that are as easily quelled as raised.
A charge so preposterous has only to be firmly met to die away. It is
your influence, and not mine, which is important in this matter. You are
a permanent resident, and I a mere bird of passage. And"--Flaxman's
countenance kindled--"let me just remind you of this: if you want to
strengthen Meynell's cause--if you want to win him thousands of new
adherents--you have only to launch against him a calumny which is sure
to break down--and will inevitably recoil upon you!"
The two men had risen. Barron's face, handsome in feature, save for some
thickened lines and the florid tint of the cheeks, had somehow emptied
itself of expression while Flaxman was speaking.
"Your advice is no doubt excellent," he said quietly, as he buttoned his
coat, "but it is hardly practical. If there is one anonymous letter,
there are probably others. If there are letters--there is sure to be
talk--and talk cannot be stopped. And in time everything gets into the
Flaxman hesitated a moment. Something warned him not to push matters to
extremities--to make no breach with Barron--to keep him in play.
"I admit, of course, if this goes beyond a certain point it may be
necessary to go to Meynell--it may be necessary for Meynell to go to his
Bishop. But at present, if you _desire_ to suppress the thing, you have
only to keep your own counsel--and wait. Dawes is a good fellow, and
will, I am sure, say nothing. I could, if need be, speak to him myself. I
was able to get his boy into a job not long ago."
Barron straightened his shoulders slowly.
"Should I be doing right--should I be doing my duty--in assisting to
suppress it--always supposing that it could be suppressed--my convictions
being what they are?"
Then--suddenly--it was borne in on Flaxman that in the whole interview
there had been no genuine desire whatever on Barron's part for advice and
consultation. He had come determined on a certain course, and the object
of the visit had been, in truth, merely to convey to one of Meynell's
supporters a hint of the coming attack, and some intimation of its
strength. The visit had been in fact a threat--a move in Barron's game.
"That, of course, is a question which I cannot presume to decide," said
Flaxman, with cold politeness. His manner changed instantly. Peremptorily
dismissing the subject, he became, on the spot, the mere suave and
courteous host of an interesting house; he pointed out the pictures and
the view, and led the way to the hall.
As he took leave, Barron stiffly intimated that he should not himself be
able to attend Mrs. Flaxman's party that evening; but his daughter and
sons hoped to have the pleasure of obeying her invitation.
"Delighted to see them," said Flaxman, standing in the doorway, with his
hands in his pockets. "Do you know Edward Norham?"
"I have never met him."
"A splendid fellow--likely I think to be the head of the Ministry before
the year's out. My wife was determined to bring him and Meynell together.
He seems to have the traditional interest in theology without which no
English premier is complete."
Pursued by this parting shot, Barron retired, and Flaxman went back
thoughtfully to his wife's sitting-room. Should he tell her? Certainly.
Her ready wits and quick brain were indispensable in the battle that
might be coming. Now that he was relieved from Barron's bodily presence,
he was by no means inclined to pooh-pooh the communication which had been
made to him.
As he approached his wife's door he heard voices. Catharine! He
remembered that she was to lunch and spend the day with Rose. Now what to
do! Devoted as he was to his sister-in-law, he was scarcely inclined to
trust her with the incident of the morning.
But as soon as he opened the door, Rose ran upon him, drew him in and
closed it. Catharine was sitting on the sofa--with a pale, kindled
look--a letter in her hand.
"Catharine has had an abominable letter, Hugh!--the most scandalous
Flaxman took it from Catharine's hand, looked it through, and turned it
over. The same script, a little differently disguised, and practically
the same letter, as that which had been shown him in the library! But it
began with a reference to the part which Mrs. Elsmere and her daughter
had played in the terrible accident of the preceding week, which showed
that the rogue responsible for it was at least a rogue possessed of some
local and personal information.
Flaxman laid it down, and looked at his sister-in-law.
Catharine met his eyes with the clear intensity of her own.
"Isn't it hard to understand how anybody can do such a thing as that?"
she said, with her patient sigh--the sigh of an angel grieving over the
perversity of men.
Flaxman dropped on the sofa beside her.
"You feel with me, that it is a mere clumsy attempt to injure Meynell, in
the interests of the campaign against him?" he asked her, eagerly.
"I don't know about that," said Catharine slowly--a shining sadness in
her look. "But I do know that it could only injure those who are trying
to fight his errors--if it could be supposed that they had stooped to
"You dear woman!" cried Flaxman, impulsively, and he raised her hand to
his lips. Catharine and Rose looked their astonishment. Whereupon he gave
them the history of the hour he had just passed through.
But although what one may call the natural freemasonry of the children of
light had come in to protect Catharine from any touch of that greedy
credulity which had fastened on Barron; though she and Rose and Hugh
Flaxman were at one in their contemptuous repudiation of Barron's reading
of the story, the story itself, so far as it concerned Alice Puttenham
and Hester, found in all their minds but little resistance.
"It may--it may be true," said Catharine gently. "If so--what she has
gone through! Poor, poor thing!"
And as she spoke--her thin fingers clasped on her black dress, the
nun-like veil falling about her shoulders, her aspect had the frank
simplicity of those who for their Lord's sake have faced the ugly things
"What a shame--what an outrage--that any of us here should know a word
about it!" cried Rose, her small foot beating on the floor, the hot
colour in her cheek. "How shall we ever be able to face her to-night?"