Part 5 out of 9
"Miss Puttenham is coming to-night?"
"Certainly. She comes with Mary--who was to pick her up--after dinner."
Flaxman patrolled the room a little, in meditation. Finally he stopped
before his wife.
"You must realize, darling, that we may be all walking on the edge of a
"If only Henry Barron were!--and I might be behind to give the last
little _chiquenade_!" cried Rose.
Flaxman devoutly echoed the wish.
"But the point is--are there any more of these letters out? If so, we may
hear of others to-night. Then--what to do? Do I make straight for
They pondered it.
"Impossible to leave Meynell in ignorance," said Flaxman--"if the thing
spreads Meynell of course would be perfectly justified--in his ward's
interests--in denying the whole matter absolutely, true or no. But can
he?--with Barron in reserve--using the Sabin woman's tale for his own
Catharine's face, a little sternly set, showed the obscure conflict
"He cannot say what is false," she said stiffly. "But he can refuse to
Flaxman looked at her with an expression as confident as her own.
"To protect a woman, my dear Catharine--a man may say anything in the
Catharine made no reply, but her quiet face showed she did not agree with
"That child Hester!" Rose emerged suddenly from a mental voyage
of recollection and conjecture. "Now one understands why Lady
Fox-Wilton--stupid woman!--has never seemed to care a rap for her. It
must indeed be annoying to have to mother a child so much handsomer than
"I think I am very sorry for Sir Ralph Fox-Wilton," said Catharine, after
"Yes!--just an ordinary dull, pig-headed country gentleman confronted
with a situation that only occurs in plays to which you don't demean
yourself by going!--and obliged to tell and act a string of lies, when
lies happen to be just one of the vices you're not inclined to! And then
afterward you find yourself let in for living years and years with a bad
conscience--hating the cuckoo-child, too, more and more as it grows up.
Yes!--I am quite sorry for Sir Ralph!"
"By the way!"--Flaxman looked up--"Do you know I am sure that I saw
Miss Fox-Wilton--with Philip Meryon--in Hewlett's spinney this morning. I
came back from Markborough by a path I had never discovered before--and
there, sure enough, they were. They heard me on the path, I think, and
vanished most effectively. The wood is very thick. But I am sure it was
they--though they were some distance from me."
"Naughty, _naughty_ child: She has been absolutely forbidden to see
him, the whole Fox-Wilton family have made themselves into gaolers and
spies--and she just outwits them all! Poor Alice Puttenham hovers about
her--trying to distract and amuse her--and has no more influence than a
fly. And as for the Rector, it would be absurd, if it weren't enraging!
Look at all there is on his shoulders just now--the way people appeal to
him from all over England to come and speak--or consult--or organize--(I
don't want to be controversial, Catharine, darling!--but there it is).
And he can't make up his mind to leave Upcote for twenty-four hours till
this girl is safely off the scene! He means to take her to Paris himself
on Monday. I only hope he has found a proper sort of Gorgon to leave her
Flaxman could not but reflect that the whole relation of Meynell to his
ward might well give openings to such a scoundrel like the writer of the
anonymous letters, who was certainly acquainted with local affairs. But
he did not express this feeling aloud. Meanwhile Catharine, who showed an
interest in Hester which surprised both him and Rose, began to question
him on the subject of Philip Meryon. Meryon's mother, it seemed, had been
an intimate friend of one of Flaxman's sisters, Lady Helen Varley, and
Flaxman was well acquainted with the young man's most unsatisfactory
record. He drew a picture of the gradual degeneracy of the handsome lad
who had been the hope and delight of his warm-hearted, excitable mother;
of her deepening disappointment and premature death.
"Helen kept up with him for a time, for his mother's sake, but unluckily
he has put himself beyond the pale now, one way and another. It is too
disastrous about this pretty child! What on earth does she see in him?"
"Simply a means of escaping from her home," said Rose--"the situation
working out! But who knows whether he hasn't got a wife already? Nobody
should trust this young man farther than they can see him."
"It musn't--it can't be allowed!" said Catharine, with energy. And, as
she spoke, she seemed to feel again the soft bloom of Hester's young
cheek against her own, just as when she had drawn the girl to her, in
that instinctive caress. The deep maternity in Catharine had never yet
found scope enough in the love of one child.
Then, with a still keener sense of the various difficulties rising along
Meynell's path, Flaxman and Rose returned to the anxious discussion of
Barron's move and how to meet it. Catharine listened, saying little; and
it was presently settled that Flaxman should himself call on Dawes, the
colliery manager, that afternoon, and should write strongly to Barron,
putting on paper the overwhelming arguments, both practical and ethical,
in favour of silence--always supposing there were no further
"Tell me"--said Rose presently, when Flaxman had left the sisters
alone--"Mary of course knows nothing of that letter?"
"How could she?" She looked almost haughtily at her sister.
Rose murmured an excuse. "Would it be possible to keep all knowledge from
Mary that there _was_ a scandal--of some sort--in circulation, if the
Catharine, holding her head high, thought it would not only be possible,
Rose glanced at her uncertainly. Catharine was the only person of whom
she had ever been afraid. But at last she took the plunge.
"Catharine!--don't be angry with me--but I think Mary is interested in
"Why should I be angry?" said Catharine. She had coloured a little, but
she was perfectly composed. With her gray hair, and her plain widow's
dress, she threw her sister's charming mondanity into bright relief. But
beauty--loftily understood--lay with Catharine.
"It _is_ ill luck--his opinions!" cried Rose, laying her hand upon her
"Opinions are not 'luck,'" said Catharine, with a rather cold smile.
"You mean we are responsible for them? Perhaps we are, if we are
responsible for anything--which I sometimes doubt. But you like
him--personally?" The tone was almost pleading.
"I think he is a good man."
"And if--if--they do fall in love--what are we all to do?"
Rose looked half whimsically--half entreatingly at her sister.
"Wait till the case arises," said Catharine, rather sharply. "And please
don't interfere. You are too fond of match-making, Rose!"
"I am--I just ache to be at it, all the time. But I wouldn't do anything
that would be a grief to you."
Catharine was silent a moment. Then she said in a tone that went to the
"Whatever happened--will be God's will."
She sat motionless, her eyes drooped, her features a little drawn and
pale; her thoughts--Rose knew it--in the past.
* * * * *
Flaxman came back from his interview with Dawes, reporting that nothing
could have been in better taste or feeling than Dawes's view of the
matter. As far as the Rector was concerned--and he had told Mr. Barron
so--the story was ridiculous, the mere blunder of a crazy woman; and, for
the rest, what had they to do in Upcote with ferreting into other
people's private affairs? He had locked up the letter in case it might
some time be necessary to hand it to the police, and didn't intend
himself to say a word to anybody. If the thing went any further, why of
course the Rector must be informed. Otherwise silence was best. He had
given a piece of his mind to Mr. Barron and "didn't want to be mixed up
in any such business." "As far as I'm concerned, Mr. Flaxman, I'm
fighting for the Church and her Creeds--I'm not out for backbiting!"
"Nice man!"--said Rose, with enthusiasm--"Why didn't I ask him to-night!"
"But"--resumed Flaxman--"he warned me that if any letter of the kind got
into the hands of a certain Miss Nairn in the village there might be
"Miss Nairn?--Miss Nairn?" The sisters looked at each other. "Oh, I
know--the lady in black we saw in church the day the revolution began--a
strange little shrivelled spinster-thing who lives in that house by the
post-office. She quarrelled mortally with the Rector last year, because
she ill-treated a little servant girl of hers, and the Rector
"Well, she's one of the 'aggrieved.'"
"They seem to be an odd crew! There's the old sea-captain that lives in
that queer house with the single yew tree and the boarded-up window on
the edge of the Heath. He's one of them. He used to come to church about
once a quarter and wrote the Rector interminable letters on the meaning
of Ezekiel. Then there's the publican--East--who nearly lost his license
last year--he always put it down to the Rector and vowed he'd be even
with him. I must say, the church in Upcote seems rather put to it for
"In Upcote," corrected Flaxman. "That's because of Meynell's personal
hold. Plenty of 'em--quite immaculate--elsewhere. However, Dawes is a
perfectly decent, honest man, and grieved to the heart by the Rector's
Catharine had waited silently to hear this remark, and then went away to
write a letter.
"Poor darling! Will she go and call on Dawes--for sympathy?" said
Flaxman, mischievously to his wife as the door closed.
"Sympathy?" Rose's face grew soft. "It's much as it was with Robert. It
ought to be so simple--and it is so mixed! Nature of course _ought_ to
have endowed all unbelievers with the proper horns and tail. And there
they go--stealing your heart away!--and your daughter's."
The Flaxmans and Catharine--who spent the day with her sister, before the
evening party--were more and more conscious of oppression as the hours
went on; as though some moral thunder hung in the air.
Flaxman asked himself again and again--"Ought I to go to Meynell at
once?" and could not satisfy himself with any answer; while he, his
wife, and his sister-in-law, being persons of delicacy, were all
ashamed of finding themselves the possessors, against their will, of
facts--supposing they were facts--to which they had no right. Meynell's
ignorance--Alice Puttenham's ignorance--of their knowledge, tormented
their consciences. And it added to their discomfort that they shared
their knowledge with such a person as Henry Barron. However, there was no
help for it.
A mild autumn day drew to its close, with a lingering gold in the west
and a rising moon. The charming old house, with its faded furniture, and
its out-at-elbows charm, was lit up softly, with lamps that made a dim
but friendly shining in its wide spaces. It had never belonged to rich
people, but always to people of taste. It boasted no Gainsboroughs or
Romneys; but there were lesser men of the date, possessed of pretty
talents of their own, painters and pastellists, who had tried their hands
on the family, of whom they had probably been the personal friends. The
originals of the portraits on the walls were known neither to history nor
scandal; but their good, modest faces, their brave red or blue coats,
their white gowns, and drooping feathers looked winningly out from the
soft shadows of the rooms. At Maudeley, Rose wore her simplest dresses,
and was astonished at the lightness of the household expenses. The house
indeed had never known display, or any other luxury than space; and to
live in it was to accept its tradition.
The week-enders arrived at tea-time; Mr. Norham with a secretary and a
valet, much preoccupied, and chewing the fag-end of certain Cabinet
deliberations in the morning; Flaxman's charming sister, Lady Helen
Varley, and her husband; his elder brother, Lord Wanless, unmarried, an
expert on armour, slightly eccentric, but still, in the eyes of all
intriguing mothers, and to his own annoyance, more than desirable as a
husband owing to the Wanless collieries and a few other trifles of the
same kind; the Bishop of Markborough; Canon France and his sister; a
young poet whose very delicate muse had lodged itself oddly in the frame
of an athlete; a high official in the Local Government Board, Mr.
Spearman, whom Rose regarded with distrust as likely to lead Hugh into
too much talk about workhouses; Lady Helen's two girls just out, as
dainty and well-dressed, as gayly and innocently sure of themselves
and their place in life as the "classes" at their best know how to
produce; and two or three youths, bound for Oxford by the end of
the week, samples, these last, of a somewhat new type in that old
University--combining the dash, family, and insolence of the old "tuft"
or Bullingdon man, with an amazing aptitude for the classics, rare indeed
among the "tufts" of old. Two out of the three had captured almost every
distinction that Oxford offers; and all three had been either gated for
lengthy periods or "sent down," or otherwise trounced by an angry
college, puzzled by the queer connection between Irelands and Hertfords
on the one hand and tipsy frolics on the other.
Meynell appeared for dinner--somewhat late. It was only with great
difficulty that the Flaxmans had prevailed on him to come, for the
purpose of meeting Mr. Norham. But the party within the church which,
foreseeing a Modernist defeat in the church courts, was appealing to
Parliament to take action, was strengthening every week; Meynell's
Saturday articles in the _Modernist_, the paper founded by the Reformers'
League, were already providing these parliamentarians with a policy and
inspiration; and if the Movement were to go on swelling during the
winter, the government might have to take very serious cognizance of it
during the spring. Mr. Norham therefore had expressed a wish for some
conversation with the Modernist leader, who happened to be Rector of
Upcote; and Meynell, who had by now cut himself adrift from all social
engagements, had with difficulty saved an evening.
As far as Norham was concerned Meynell would have greatly preferred to
take the Home Secretary for a Sunday walk on the Chase; but he had begun
to love the Flaxmans, and could not make up his mind to say No to them.
Moreover, was it not more than probable that he would meet at Maudeley
"one simple girl," of whom he did not dare in these strenuous days to let
himself think too much?
* * * * *
So that Rose, as she surveyed her dinner table, could feel that she was
maintaining the wide social traditions of England, by the mingling of as
many contraries as possible. But the oil and vinegar were after all
cunningly mixed, and the dinner went well. The Bishop was separated from
Meynell by the length of the table, and Norham was carefully protected
from Mr. Spearman, in his eyes a prince of bores, who was always
bothering the Home Office.
The Bishop, who was seated beside Rose at one end of the table, noticed
the black patch on Meynell's temple, and inquired its origin. Rose gave
him a graphic account both of the accident and the riot. The Bishop
raised his eyebrows.
"How does he contrive to live the two lives?" he said in a tone slightly
acid. "If he continues to lead this Movement, he will have to give up
fighting mobs and running up and down mines."
"What is going to happen to the Movement?" Rose asked him, with her most
sympathetic smile. Socially and in her own house she was divinely all
things to all men. But the Bishop was rather suspicious of her.
"What can happen to it but defeat? The only other alternative is the
break-up of the Church. And for that, thank God, they are not strong
"And no compromise is possible?"
"None. In three months Meynell and all his friends will have ceased to
belong to the English Church. It is very lamentable. I am particularly
sorry for Meynell himself--who is one of the best of men."
Rose felt her colour rising. She longed to ask--"But supposing _England_
has something to say?--suppose she chooses to transform her National
Church? Hasn't she the right and the power?"
But her instincts as hostess stifled her pugnacity. And the little Bishop
looked so worn and fragile that she had no heart for anything but
cossetting him. At the same time she noticed--as she had done before on
other occasions--the curious absence of any ferocity, any smell of
brimstone, in the air! How different from Robert's day! Then the
presumption underlying all controversy was of an offended authority
ranged against an apologetic rebellion. A tone of moral condemnation on
the one side, a touch of casuistry on the other, confused the issues. And
now--behind and around the combatants--the clash of equal hosts!--over
ground strewn with dead assumptions. The conflict might be no less
strenuous; nay! from a series of isolated struggles it had developed into
a world-wide battle; but the bitterness between man and man was less.
Yes!--for the nobler spirits--the leaders and generals of each army. But
what of the rank and file? And at the thought of Barron she laughed at
herself for supposing that religious rancour and religious slander had
died out of the world!
"Can we have some talk somewhere?" said Norham languidly, in Meynell's
ear, as the gentlemen left the dining-room.
"I think Mrs. Flaxman will have arranged something," said Meynell, with a
smile--detecting the weariness of the political Atlas.
And indeed Rose had all her dispositions made. They found her in the
drawing-room, amid a bevy of bright gowns and comely faces, illumined by
the cheerful light of a big wood fire--a circle of shimmering stuffs and
gems, the blaze sparkling on the pointed slippers, the white necks and
glossy hair of the girls, and on the diamonds of their mothers.
But Rose, the centre of the circle, sprang up at once, at sight of her
two _gros bonnets_.
"The green drawing-room!" she murmured in Meynell's ear, and tripped on
before them, while the incoming crowd of gentlemen, mingling with the
ladies, served to mask the movement.
Not, however, before the Bishop had perceived the withdrawal of the
politician and the heretic. He saw that Canon France, who followed him,
had also an eye to the retreating figures.
"I trust we too shall have our audience." said the Bishop, ironically.
Canon France shrugged his shoulders, smiling.
Then his small shrewd eyes scanned the Bishop intently. Nothing in that
delicate face beyond the sentiments proper to the situation?--the public
situation? As to the personal emotion involved, that, the Canon knew, was
for the time almost exhausted. The Bishop had suffered much during the
preceding months--in his affections, his fatherly feeling toward his
clergy, in his sense of the affront offered to Christ's seamless vesture
of the Church. But now, France thought, pain had been largely deadened by
the mere dramatic interest of the prospect ahead, by the anodyne of an
immense correspondence, and of a vast increase in the business of the
day, caused by the various actions pending.
Nothing else--new and disturbing--in the Bishop's mind? He moved on,
chatting and jesting with the young girls who gathered round him. He was
evidently a favourite with them, and with all nice women. Finally he sank
into an armchair beside Lady Helen Varley, exchanging Mrs. Flaxman's
cossetting for hers. His small figure was almost lost in the armchair.
The firelight danced on his slender stockinged legs, on his episcopal
shoe buckles, on the cross which adorned his episcopal breast, and then
on the gleaming snow of his hair, above his blue eyes with their slight
unearthliness, so large and flower-like in his small white face. He
seemed very much at ease--throwing off all burdens.
No!--the Slander which had begun to fly through the diocese, like an
arrow by night, had not yet touched the Bishop.
Nor Meynell himself?
Yet France was certain that Barron had not been idle, that he had not
let it drop. "I advised him to let it drop"--he said uneasily to
himself--"that was all I could do."
Then he looked round him, at the faces of the women present. He scarcely
knew any of them. Was she among them--the lady of Barron's tale? He
thought of the story as he might have thought of the plot of a novel.
When medieval charters were not to be had, it made an interesting subject
of speculation. And Barron could not have confided it to any one in the
diocese, so discreet--so absolutely discreet--as he.
* * * * *
"I gather this Movement of yours is rapidly becoming formidable?" said
Norham to his companion.
He spoke with the affectation of interest that all politicians in office
must learn. But there was no heart in it, and Meynell wondered why the
great man had desired to speak with him at all.
He replied that the growth of the Movement was certainly a startling
"It is now clear that we must ultimately go to Parliament. The immediate
result in the Church courts is of course not in doubt. But our hope lies
in such demonstrations in the country as may induce Parliament"--he
paused, laying a quiet emphasis on each word--"to reconsider--and
resettle--the conditions of membership and office in the English Church."
"Good heavens!" cried Norham, throwing up his hand--"What a prospect! If
that business once gets into the House of Commons, it'll have everything
"Yes. It's big enough to ask for time--and take it."
Norham suppressed a slight yawn as he turned in his chair.
"The House of Commons, alas!--never shows to advantage in an
ecclesiastical debate. You'd think it was in the condition of Sydney
Smith with a cold--not sure whether there were nine Articles and
Thirty-Nine Muses--or the other way on!"
Meynell looked at the Secretary of State in silence--his eyes twinkling.
He had heard from various friends of this touch of insolence in Norham.
He awaited its disappearance.
Edward Norham was a man still young; under forty indeed, though marked
prematurely by hard work and hard fighting. His black hair had receded on
the temples, and was obviously thinning on the crown of the head; he wore
spectacles, and his shoulders had taken the stoop of office work. But the
eyes behind the spectacles lost nothing that they desired to see; and the
general impression was one of bull-dog strength, which could be
impertinent and aggressive, and could also masque itself in a good humour
and charm by no means insincere. In his political career, he was on the
eve of great things; and he would owe them mainly to a power of work,
supreme even in these hard-driven days. This power of work enabled him to
glean in many fields, and keep his eye on many chances that his
colleagues perforce neglected. The Modernist Movement was one of these
chances. For years he had foreseen great changes ahead in the relations
of Church and State, and this group of men seemed to be forcing the pace.
Suddenly, as his eyes perused the strong humanity of the face beside him,
Norham changed his manner. He sat up and put down the paper-knife he had
been teasing. As he did so there was a little crash at his elbow and
something rolled on the floor.
"No harm done," said Meynell, stooping--"one of our host's Greek coins.
What a beauty!" He picked up the little case and the coin which had
rolled out of it--a gold coin of Velia, with a head of Athene--one of
the great prizes of the collector.
Norham took it with eagerness. He was a Cambridge man, and a fine
scholar, and such things delighted him.
"I didn't know Flaxman cared for these things."
"He inherited them," said Meynell, pointing to the open cabinet on the
table. "But he loves them too. Mrs. Flaxman always has them put out on
great occasions. It seems to me they ought to have a watcher! They
are quite priceless, I believe. Such things are soon lost."
"Oh!--they are safe enough here," said Norham, returning the coin to its
place, with another loving look at it. Then, with an effort, he pulled
himself together, and with great rapidity began to question his
companion as to the details and progress of the Movement. All the facts
up to date, the number of Reformers enrolled since the foundation of the
League, the League's finances, the astonishing growth of its petition to
Parliament, the progress of the Movement in the Universities, among the
ardent and intellectual youth of the day, its spread from week to week
among the clergy: these things came out steadily and clearly in Meynell's
"The League was started in July--it is now October. We have fifty
thousand enrolled members, all communicants in Modernist churches.
Meetings and demonstrations are being arranged at this moment all over
England; and in January or February there will be a formal inauguration
of the new Liturgy in Dunchester Cathedral."
"Heavens!" said Norham, dropping all signs of languor. "Dunchester will
Meynell made a sign of assent.
"It is of course possible that the episcopal proceedings against the
Bishop, which, as you see, have just begun, may have been brought to a
close, and that the Cathedral may be no longer at our disposal, but--"
"The Dean, surely, has power to close it!"
"The Dean has come over to us, and the majority of the Canons."
Norham threw back his head with a laugh of amazement.
"The first time in history that a Dean has been of the same opinion as
his Bishop! Upon my word, the government has been badly informed or I
have not kept up. I had no idea--simply no idea--that things had gone so
far. Markborough of course gives us very different accounts--he and the
Bishops acting with him."
"A great deal is going on which our Bishop here is quite unaware of."
"You can substantiate what you have been saying?"
"I will send you papers to-morrow morning. But of course"--added Meynell,
after a pause--"a great many of us will be out of our berths, in a few
months, temporarily at least. It will rest with Parliament whether we
"The Non-Jurors of the twentieth century!" murmured Norham, with a
"Ah, but this _is_ the twentieth century!"--said Meynell smiling. "And in
our belief the _dénouement_ will be different."
"What will you do--you clergy--when you are deprived?"
"In the first place, it will take a long time to deprive us--and so long
as there are any of us left in our livings, each will come to the help of
"But you yourself?"
"I have already made arrangements for a big barn in the village"--said
Meynell, smiling--"a great tithe-barn of the fifteenth century, a
magnificent old place, with a forest of wooden arches, and a vault like a
church. The village will worship there for a while. We shall make it
Norham was silent for a moment. He was stupefied by the energy, the
passion of religious hope in the face beside him. Then the critical
temper in him conquered his emotion, and he said, not without sarcasm:
"This is all very surprising--very interesting--but what are the _ideas_
behind you? A thing like this cannot live without ideas--and I confess I
have always thought the ideas of Liberal Christianity a rather beggarly
set-out--excuse the phrase!"
"There is nothing to excuse!--the phrase fits. 'A reduced
Christianity'--as opposed to a 'full Christianity'--that is the
description lately given, I think, by a divinity professor. I don't
quarrel with it at all. Who can care for a 'reduced' anything! But a
_transformed_ Christianity--that is another matter."
"Why 'Christianity' at all?"
Meynell looked at him in a smiling silence. He--the man of religion--was
unwilling in these surroundings to play the prophet, to plunge into the
central stream of argument. But Norham, the outsider and dilettante, was
conscious of a kindled mind.
"That is the question to which it always seems to me there is no
answer," he said easily, leaning back in his chair. "You think you
can take what you like of a great historical religion and leave the
rest--that you can fall back on its pre-suppositions and build it anew.
But the pre-suppositions themselves are all crumbling. 'God,'--'soul,'
'free-will,' 'immortality'--even human identity--is there one of the old
fundamental notions that still stands, unchallenged? What are we in the
eyes of modern psychology--but a world of automata--dancing to stimuli
from outside? What has become of conscience--of the moral law--of Kant's
imperative--in the minds of writers like these?"
He pointed to two recent novels lying on the table, both of them
brilliant glorifications of sordid forms of adultery.
Meynell's look fired.
"Ah!--but let us distinguish. _We_ are not anarchists--as those men are.
Our claim is precisely that we are, and desire to remain, a part of a
_Society_--a definite community with definite laws--of a National
Church--of the nation, that is, in its spiritual aspect. The question for
which we are campaigning is as to the terms of membership in that
society. But terms and conditions there must always be. The 'wild living
intellect of man' must accept conditions in the Church, as _we_ conceive
it, no less than in the Church as Newman conceived it."
Norham shrugged his shoulders.
"Then why all this bother?"
"Because the conditions must be adjusted from time to time! Otherwise the
church suffers and souls are lost--wantonly, without reason. But there is
no church--no religion--without some venture, some leap of faith! If you
can't make any leap at all--any venture--then you remain outside--and you
think yourself, perhaps, entitled to run amuck--as these men do!" He
pointed to the books. "But _we_ make the venture!--_we_ accept the great
The sound of voices came dimly to them from the farther rooms. Norham
pointed toward them.
"What difference then between you--and your Bishop?"
"Simply that in his case--as _we_ say--the hypothesis of faith is
weighted with a vast mass of stubborn matter that it was never meant to
carry--bad history, bad criticism, an out-grown philosophy. To make
it carry it--in our belief--you have to fly in the face of that gradual
education of the world--education of the mind, education of the
conscience--which is the chief mark of God in the world. But the
hypothesis of Faith, itself, remains--take it at its lowest--as rational,
as defensible, as legitimate as any other!"
"What do you mean by it? God--conscience--responsibility?"
"Those are the big words!" said Meynell, smiling--"and of course the true
ones. But what the saint means by it, I suppose, in the first instance,
is that there is in man something mysterious, superhuman--a Life in
life--which can be indefinitely strengthened, enlightened, purified, till
it reveal to him the secret of the world, till it 'toss him' to the
'breast' of God!--or again, can be weakened, lost, destroyed, till he
relapses into the animal. Believe it, we say! Live by it!--make the
venture. _Verificatur vivendo_!"
* * * * *
Again the conversation paused. From the distance once more came the merry
clamour of the farther drawing-room. A din of young folk, chaffing and
teasing each other--a girl's defiant voice above it--outbursts of
laughter. Norham, who had in him a touch of dramatic imagination, enjoyed
the contrast between the gay crowd in the distance and this quiet room
where he sat face to face with a visionary--surely altogether remote from
the marrying, money-making, sensuous world. Yet after all the League was
a big, practical, organized fact.
"What you have expressed--very finely, if I may say so--is of course the
mystical creed," he replied at last, with suave politeness. "But why call
As he spoke, he was conscious of a certain pride in himself. He felt
complacently that he understood Meynell and appreciated him; and that
hardly any of his colleagues would, or could have done so.
"Why call it Christianity?" he repeated.
"Because Christianity _is_ this creed!--'embodied in a tale.' And mankind
must have tales and symbols."
"And the life of Christ is your symbol?"
"More!--it is our Sacrament--the supreme Sacrament--to which all other
symbols of the same kind lead--in which they are summed up."
"And that is _why you_ make so much of the Eucharist?"
"It is--to us--just as full of mystical meaning, just as much the
meeting-place of God and man, as to the Catholic--Roman or Anglican."
"Strange that there should be so many of you!" said Norham, after a
moment, with an incredulous smile.
"Yes--that has been the discovery of the last six months. But we might
all have guessed it. The fuel has been long laid--now comes the kindling,
and the blaze!"
There was a pause. Then Norham said abruptly--
"Now what is it you want of Parliament?"
The two men plunged into a discussion, in which the politician became
presently aware that the parish priest, the visionary, possessed a
surprising amount of practical and statesman-like ability.
* * * * *
Meanwhile--a room or two away--in the great bare drawing-room, with
its faded tapestries, and its warm mixture of lamplight and firelight,
the evening guests had been arriving. Rose stood at the door of the
drawing-room, receiving, her husband beside her, Catharine a little way
"Oh!" cried Rose suddenly, under her breath, only heard by Hugh--a little
sound of perturbation.
Outside, in the hall, hardly lit at intervals by oil-lamps, a group could
be seen advancing; in front Alice Puttenham and Mary, and behind, the
Fox-Wilton party, Hester's golden head and challenging gait drawing all
_eyes_ as she passed along.
But it was on Alice Puttenham that Rose's gaze was fixed. She came
dreamily forward; and Rose saw her marked out, by the lovely oval of the
face, its whiteness, its melancholy, from all the moving shapes around
her. She wore a dress of black gauze over white; a little scarf of old
lace lay on her shoulders; her still abundant hair was rolled back from
her high brow and sad eyes. She looked very small and childish--as frail
And behind her, Hester's stormy beauty! Rose gave a little gulp. Then she
found herself pressing a cold hand, and was conscious of sudden relief.
Miss Puttenham's shy composure was unchanged. She could not have looked
so--she could not surely have confronted such a gathering of neighbours
and strangers, if--
No, no! The Slander--Rose, in her turn, saw it under an image, as though
a dark night-bird hovered over Upcote--had not yet descended on this
gentle head. With eager kindness, Hugh came forward--and Catharine. They
found her a place by the fire, where presently the glow seemed to make
its way to her pale cheeks, and she sat silent and amused, watching the
triumph of Hester.
For Hester was no sooner in the room than, resenting perhaps the
decidedly cool reception that Mrs. Flaxman had given her, she at once set
to work to extinguish all the other young women there. And she had very
soon succeeded. The Oxford youths, Lord Wanless, the sons of two or three
neighbouring squires, they were all presently gathered about her, as
thick as bees on honeycomb, recognizing in her instantly one of those
beings endowed from their cradle with a double portion of sex-magic, who
leave such a wild track behind them in the world.
By her chair stood poor Stephen Barron, absorbed in her every look and
tone. Occasionally she threw him a word--Rose thought for pure mischief;
and his whole face would light up.
In the centre of the circle round Hester stood one of the Oxford lads, a
magnificent fellow, radiating health and gayety, who was trying to wear
her down in one of the word-games of the day. They fought hard and
breathlessly, everybody listening partly for the amusement of the game,
partly for the pleasure of watching the good looks of the young creatures
playing it. At last the man turned on his heel with a cry of victory.
"Beaten!--beaten!--by a hair. But you're wonderful, Miss Fox-Wilton. I
never found anybody near so good as you at it before, except a man I met
once at Newmarket--Philip Meryon--do you know him? Never saw a fellow so
good at games. But an awfully queer fish!"
It seemed to the morbid sensitiveness of Rose that there was an
instantaneous and a thrilling silence. Hester tossed her head; her
colour, after the first start, ebbed away; she grew pale.
"Yes, I do know him. Why is he a queer fish? You only say that because he
The young man gave a half-laugh, and looked at his friends. Then he
changed the subject. But Hester got up impatiently from her seat, and
would not play any more. Rose caught the sudden intentness with which
Alice Puttenham's eyes pursued her.
Stephen Barron came to the help of his hostess, and started more games.
Rose was grateful to him--and quite intolerably sorry for him.
"But why was I obliged to shake hands with the other brother?" she
thought rebelliously, as she watched the disagreeable face of Maurice
Barron, who had been standing in the circle not far from Hester. He had a
look of bad company which displeased her; and she resented what seemed to
her an inclination to stare at the pretty women--especially at Hester,
and Miss Puttenham. Heavens!--if that odious father had betrayed anything
to such a son! Surely, surely it was inconceivable!
The party was beginning to thin when Meynell, impatient to be quit of his
Cabinet Minister that he might find Mary Elsmere before it was too late,
hurried from the green drawing-room, in the wake of Mr. Norham, and
stumbled against a young man, who in the very imperfect illumination had
not perceived the second figure behind the Home Secretary.
"Hullo!" said Meynell brusquely, stepping back. "How do you do? Is
Maurice Barron answered in the affirmative--and added, as though from the
need to say something, no matter what:
"I hear there are some coins to be seen in there?"
Meynell passed on, his countenance showing a sternness, a contempt
even, that was rare with him. He and Norham passed through the next
drawing-room, and met various acquaintances at the farther door. Maurice
Barron stood watching them. The persons invading the room had come
intending to see the coins. But meeting the Home Secretary they turned
back with him, and Meynell followed them, eager to disengage himself from
them. At the door some impulse made him turn and look back. He saw
Maurice Barron disappearing into the green drawing-room.
* * * * *
The night was soft and warm. Catharine and Mary had come prepared to walk
home, Catharine eagerly resuming, now that her health allowed it, the
Spartan habits of their normal life. Flaxman was drawn by the beauty of
the moonlight and the park to offer to escort them to the lower lodge.
Hester declared that she too would walk, and carelessly accepted
Stephen's escort. Meynell stepped out from the house with them, and in
the natural sequence of things he found himself with Mary.
Flaxman and Catharine, who led the way, hardly spoke to each other. They
walked, pensive and depressed. Each knew what the other was thinking of,
and each felt that nothing was to be gained for the moment by any fresh
talk about it. Just behind them they could hear Hester laughing and
sparring with Stephen; and when Catharine looked back she could see
Meynell and Mary far away, in the distance of the avenue they were
* * * * *
The great lime-trees on either side threw long shadows on grass covered
with the fresh fallen leaf, which gleamed, a pale orange, through the
dusk. The sky was dappled with white cloud, and the lime-boughs overhead
broke it into patterns of delight. The sharp scent of the fallen leaves
was in the air; and the night for all its mildness prophesied winter.
Meynell seemed to himself to be moving on enchanted ground, beneath
enchanted trees. The tension of his long talk with Norham, the cares of
his leadership--the voices of a natural ambition, dropped away. Mary in a
blue cloak, a white scarf wound about her head, summed up for him the
pure beauty of nature and the night. For the first time he did not
attempt to check the thrill in his veins; he began to hope. It was
impossible to ignore the change in Mrs. Elsmere's attitude toward him. He
had no idea what had caused it; but he felt it. And he realized also that
through unseen and inexplicable gradations Mary had come mysteriously
near to him. He dared not have spoken a word of love to her; but such
feeling as theirs, however restrained, penetrates speech and gesture, and
irresistibly makes all things new.
They spoke of the most trivial matters, and hardly noticed what they
said. He all the time was thinking: "Beyond this tumult there will be
rest some day--then I may speak. We could live hardly and simply--neither
of us wants luxury. But _now_ it would be unjust--it would bring too
great a burden on her--and her poor mother. I must wait! But we shall see
each other--we shall understand each other!"
Meanwhile she, on her side, would perhaps have given the world to share
the struggle from which he debarred her.
Nevertheless, for both, it was an hour of happiness and hope.
"So I see your name this morning, Stephen, on their list."
Henry Barron held up a page of the _Times_ and pointed to its first
"I sent it in some time ago."
"And pray what does your parish think of it?"
"They won't support me."
Barron rose majestically to his feet, and from the rug surveyed his thin,
fair-haired son. Stephen had just ridden over from his own tiny vicarage,
twelve miles away, to settle some business connected with a family legacy
with his father. Since the outbreak of the Reform Movement there had been
frequent disputes between the father and son, if aggressive attack on the
one side and silent endurance on the other make a dispute. Barron scorned
his eldest son, as a faddist and a dreamer; while Stephen could never
remember the time when his father had not seemed to him the living
embodiment of prejudice, obstinacy, and caprice. He had always reckoned
it indeed the crowning proof of Meynell's unworldly optimism that, at the
moment of his father's accession to the White House estate, there should
have been a passing friendship between him and the Rector. Yet whenever
thoughts of this kind presented themselves explicitly to Stephen he tried
to suppress them. His life, often, was a constant struggle between a
genuine and irrepressible dislike of his father and a sore sense that no
Christian priest could permit himself such a feeling.
He made no reply to his father's interjection. But Barron knew very well
that his son's self-control was no indication of lack of will; quite the
contrary; and the father was conscious of a growing exasperation as he
watched the patient compression of the young mouth. He wanted somehow to
convict and crush Stephen; and he believed that he held the means thereto
in his hand. He had not been sure before Stephen arrived whether he
should reveal the situation or not. But the temptation was too great.
That the son's mind and soul should finally have escaped his father,
"like a bird out of the snare of the fowler," was the unforgivable
offence. What a gentle, malleable fellow he had seemed in his school and
college days!--how amenable to the father's spiritual tyranny! It was
Barron's constant excuse to himself for his own rancorous feeling--that
Meynell had robbed him of his son.
"You probably think it strange"--he resumed harshly--"that I should
rejoice in what of course is your misfortune--that your people reject
you; but there are higher interests than those of personal affection
concerned in this business. We who are defending her must think first of
"Naturally," said Stephen.
His father looked at him in silence for a moment, at the mild pliant
figure, the downcast eyes.
"There is, however, one thing for which I have cause--we all have
cause--to be grateful to Meynell," he said, with emphasis.
Stephen looked up.
"I understand he refused to sanction your engagement to Hester
The young man flushed.
"It would be better, I think, father, if we are to talk over these
matters quietly--which I understood is the reason you asked me to come
here to-day--that you should avoid a tone toward myself and my affairs
which can only make frank conversation difficult or impossible between
"I have no desire to be offensive," said Barron, checking himself with
difficulty, "and I have only your good in view, though you may not
believe it. My reason for approving Meynell in the matter is that he was
aware--and you were not aware"--he fell into the slow phrasing he always
affected on important occasions--"of facts bearing vitally on your
proposal; and that in the light of them he acted as any honest man was
bound to act."
"What do you mean!" cried Stephen, springing to his feet.
"I mean"--the answer was increasingly deliberate--"that Hester
Fox-Wilton--it is very painful to have to go into these things, but it is
necessary, I regret to say--is not a Fox-Wilton at all--and has no right
whatever to her name!"
Stephen walked up to the speaker.
"Take care, father! This is a question of a _girl_--an unprotected girl!
What right have you to say such an abominable thing!"
He stood panting and white, in front of his father.
"The right of truth!" said Barron. "It happens to be true."
"The confession of the woman who nursed her mother--who was _not_ Lady
Barron had now assumed the habitual attitude--thumbs in his pockets, legs
slightly apart--that Stephen had associated from his childhood with the
long bullying, secular and religious, that Barron's family owed to
In the pause, Stephen's quick breathing could be heard.
"Who was she?"
The son's tone had caught the father's sharpness.
"Well, my dear Stephen, I am not sure that I shall tell you while you
look at me in that fashion! Believe me--it is not my fault, but my
misfortune, that I happen to be acquainted with this very disagreeable
secret. And I have one thing to say--you must give me your promise that
you will regard any communication from me as entirely confidential,
before I say another word."
Stephen walked away to the window and came back.
"Very well. I promise."
"Sit down. It is a long story."
The son obeyed mechanically, his frowning eyes fixed upon his father.
Barron at once plunged into an account of his interview with Judith
Sabin, omitting only those portions of it which connected the story with
Meynell. It was evident, presently, that Stephen--to the dawning triumph
of his father--listened with an increasingly troubled mind. And indeed,
at the first whisper of the story, there had flashed through the young
man's memory the vision of Meynell arguing and expostulating on that
July afternoon, when he, Stephen, had spoken so confidingly, so
unsuspectingly of his love for Hester. He recalled his own amazement, his
sense of shock and strangeness. What Meynell said on that occasion
seemed to have so little relation to what Meynell habitually was.
Meynell, for whom love, in its spiritual aspect, was the salt and
significance of life, the foundation of all wisdom--Meynell on that
occasion had seemed to make comparatively nothing of love!--to deny its
simplest rights--to put it despotically out of count. Stephen, as he had
long recognized, had been overborne and silenced by Meynell's personality
rather than by Meynell's arguments--by the disabling force mainly of his
own devotion to the man who bade him wait and renounce. But in his heart
he had never quite forgiven, or understood; and for all the subsequent
trouble about Hester, all his own jealousy and pain, he had not been able
to prevent himself from blaming Meynell. And now--now!--if this story
were true--he began to understand. Poor child--poor mother! With the
marriage of the child, must come--he felt the logic of it--the confession
of the mother. A woman like Alice Puttenham, a man like Meynell, were not
likely to give Hester to her lover without telling that lover what he had
a right to know. Small blame to them if they were not prepared to bring
about that crisis prematurely, while Hester was still so young! It must
be faced--but not, _not_ till it must!
Yes, he understood. A rush of warm and pitiful love filled his heart;
while his intelligence dismally accepted and endorsed the story his
father was telling with that heavy tragic touch which the son
instinctively hated as insincere and theatrical.
"Now then, perhaps,"--Barron wound up--"you will realize why it is I feel
Meynell has acted considerately, and as any true friend of yours was
bound to act. He knew--and you were ignorant. Such a marriage could not
have been for your happiness, and he rightly interposed."
"What difference does it make to Hester herself," cried Stephen
hotly--"supposing the thing is true? I admit--it may be true," and as he
spoke a host of small confirmations came thronging into his unwilling
mind. "But in any case--"
He walked up to his father again.
"What have you done about it, father?" he said, sharply. "I suppose you
went to Meynell at once."
Barron smiled, with a lift of the eyebrows. He knocked off the end of his
cigarette, and paused.
"Of course you have seen Meynell?" Stephen repeated.
"No, I haven't."
"I should have thought that was your first duty."
"It was not easy to decide what my duty was," said Barron, with the same
emphasis, "not at all easy."
"What do you mean, father? There seems to be something more behind. If
there is, considering my feeling for Hester, it seems to me that having
told me so much you are bound to tell me _all_ you know. Remember--this
story concerns the girl I love!"
Passion and pain spoke in the young man's voice. His father looked at him
with an involuntary sympathy.
"I know. I am very sorry for you. But it concerns other people also."
"What is known of the father?" said Stephen abruptly.
"Ah, that is the point!" said Barron, making an abstracted face.
"It is a question to which I am surely entitled to have an answer!"
"I am not sure that I can give it you. I can tell you of course what the
view of Judith Sabin was--what the facts seem to point to. But--in any
case, whether I believe Judith Sabin or no, I should not have said a word
to you on the subject but for the circumstance that--unfortunately--there
are other people in the case."
Whereupon--watching his son carefully--Barron repeated the story that he
had already given to Flaxman.
The effect upon Meynell's young disciple and worshipper may be imagined.
He grew deadly pale, and then red; choked with indignant scorn; and could
scarcely bring himself to listen at all, after he had once gathered the
real gist of what his father was saying.
Yet, by this time, the story was much better worth listening to than it
had been when Barron had first presented it to Flaxman. By dint of much
brooding, and under the influence of an angry obstinacy which must have
its prey, Barron had made it a good deal more plausible than it had been
to begin with, and would no doubt make it more plausible still. He had
brought in by now a variety of small local observations bearing on the
relations between the three figures in the drama--Hester, Alice
Puttenham, Meynell--which Stephen must and did often recognize as true
and telling. It was true that there was much friction and difference
between Hester and the Fox-Wilton family; that Alice Puttenham's
position and personality had always teased the curiosity of the
neighbourhood; that the terms of Sir Ralph's will were perplexing; and
that Meynell was Hester's guardian in a special sense, a fact for which
there was no obvious explanation. It was true also that there emerged at
times a singular likeness in Hester's beauty--a likeness of expression
and gesture--to the blunt and powerful aspect of the Rector....
And yet! Did his father believe, for a moment, the preposterous things he
was saying? The young man sharpened his wits as far as possible for
Hester's and his friend's sake, and came presently to the conclusion that
it was one of those violent, intermittent half-beliefs which, in the
service of hatred and party spirit, can be just as effective and
dangerous as any other. And when the circumstantial argument passed
presently into the psychological--even the theological--this became the
For in order to explain to himself and others how Meynell could possibly
have behaved in a fashion so villainous, Barron had invented by now a
whole psychological sequence. He was prepared to show in detail how the
thing had probably evolved; to trace the processes of Meynell's mind.
The sin once sinned, what more natural than Meynell's proceeding?
Marriage would not have mended the disgrace, or averted the practical
consequences of the intrigue. He certainly could not have kept his living
had the facts been known. On the one hand his poverty--his brothers to
educate,--his benefice to be saved. On the other, the natural desire of
the Fox-Wiltons and of Alice Puttenham to conceal everything that had
occurred. The sophistries of love would come in--repentance--the desire
to make a fresh start--to protect the woman he had sacrificed.
And all that might have availed him against sin and temptation--a
steadfast Christian faith--was already deserting him; must have been
already undermined. What was there to wonder at?--what was there
incredible in the story? The human heart was corrupt and desperately
wicked; and nothing stood between any man, however apparently holy, and
moral catastrophe but the grace of God.
Stephen bore the long, incredible harangue, as best he could, for
Meynell's sake. He sat with his face turned away from his father, his
hand closing and unclosing on his knee, his nerves quivering under the
exasperation of his father's monstrous premises, and still more monstrous
deductions. At the end he faced round abruptly.
"I do not wish to offend you, father, but I had better say at once that I
do not accept, for a single instant, your arguments or your conclusion. I
am positive that the facts, whatever they may be, are _not_ what you
suppose them to be! I say that to begin with. But now the question is,
what to do. You say there are anonymous letters about. That decides it.
It is clear that you must go to Meynell at once! And if you do not, I
Barron's look flashed.
"You gave me your promise"--he said imperiously--"before I told you this
story--that you would not communicate it without my permission. I
withhold the permission."
"Then you must go yourself," said the young man vehemently--"You must!"
"I am not altogether unwilling to go," said Barron slowly. "But I shall
choose my own time."
And as he raised his cold eyes upon his son it pleased his spirit of
intrigue, and of domination through intrigue, that he had already
received a letter from Flaxman giving precisely opposite advice, and did
not intend to tell Stephen anything about it. Stephen's impulsive
candour, however, appealed to him much more than Flaxman's reticence. It
would indeed be physically and morally impossible for him--anonymous
letters or no--to lock the scandal much longer within his own breast. It
had become a living and burning thing, like some wild creature straining
at a leash.
* * * * *
A little while later Stephen found himself alone. He believed himself to
have got an undertaking from his father that Meynell should be
communicated with promptly--perhaps that very evening. But the terms
of the promise were not very clear; and the young man's mind was full of
a seething wrath and unhappiness. If the story were true, so far as
Hester and her unacknowledged mother were concerned--and, as we have
seen, there was that in his long and intimate knowledge of Hester's
situation which, as he listened, had suddenly fused and flashed in a most
unwilling conviction--then, what dire, what pitiful need, on their part,
of protection and of help! If indeed any friendly consideration for
him, Stephen, had entered into Meynell's conduct, the young man angrily
resented the fact.
He paced up and down the library for a time, divided thus between a
fierce contempt for Meynell's slanderers and a passionate pity for
His father had gone to Markborough. Theresa was, he believed, in the
garden giving orders. Presently the clock on the bookcase struck three,
and Stephen awoke with a start to the engagements of the day.
He was in the act of opening the library door when he suddenly
He blamed himself for not having remembered earlier that Maurice was at
home--for not having asked his father about him. He went to look for him,
could not find him in any of the sitting-rooms, and finally mounted to
the second-floor bedroom which had always been his brother's.
"Maurice!" He knocked. No answer. But there was a hurried movement
inside, and something that sounded like the opening of a drawer.
He called again, and tried the door. It was locked. But after further
shuffling inside, as though some one were handling papers, it was thrown
"Well, Maurice, I hope I haven't disturbed you in anything very
important. I thought I must come and have a look at you. Are you all
"Come in, old fellow," said Maurice with affected warmth--"I was only
writing a few letters. No room for anybody downstairs but the pater and
Theresa, so I have to retreat up here."
"And lock yourself in?" said Stephen, laughing. "Any secrets going?" And
as he took a seat on the edge of the bed, while Maurice returned to his
chair, he could not prevent himself from looking with a certain keen
scrutiny both at the room and his younger brother.
He and Maurice had never been friends. There was a gap of nearly ten
years between them, and certain radical and profound differences of
temperament. And these differences nature had expressed, with an entire
absence of subtlety, in their physique--in the slender fairness and
wholesomeness of Stephen, as contrasted with the sallowness, the stoop,
the thin black hair, the furtive, excitable look of Maurice.
"Getting on well with your new work?" he asked, as he took unwilling note
of the half-consumed brandy and soda on the table, of the saucer of
cigarette ends beside it, and the general untidiness and stuffiness of
"Not bad," said Maurice, resuming his cigarette.
"What is it?"
"An agency--one of these new phonographs--Yankee of course. I manage the
office. A lot of cads--but I make 'em sit up."
And he launched into boasting of his success in the business--the orders
he had secured, the economies he had brought about in the office. Stephen
found himself wondering meanwhile what kind of a business it could be
that entrusted its affairs to Maurice. But he betrayed no scepticism, and
the two talked in more or less brotherly fashion for a few minutes, till
Stephen, with a look at his watch, declared that he must find his horse
"I thought you were only coming for the week-end," he said as he moved
toward the door.
"I got seedy--and took a week off. Besides, I found pater in such a
"About the Rector?"
"Pater is in an awful way about it. I've been trying to cheer him up.
Meynell will be turned out, of course."
"Probably," said Stephen gravely. "So shall I."
"What'll you do?"
"Become a preacher somewhere--under Meynell."
The younger brother looked with a sort of inquisitive grin at the elder.
"You're ready to put your money on him to that extent? Well, all I know
is, father's dead set against him--and I've no use for him--never had!"
"That's because you didn't know him," said Stephen briefly. "What did you
ever have against him?"
He looked sharply at his brother. The disagreeable idea crossed his mind
that his father, whose weakness for Maurice he well knew, might have told
the story to the lad.
Maurice laughed, and pulled his scanty moustache as he turned away.
"Oh! I don't know--we never hit it off. My fault, of course. Ta, ta."
As Stephen rode away he was haunted for a few minutes by some
disagreeable reminiscences of a school holiday when Maurice had been
discovered drunk in one of the public-houses of the village by the
Rector, who had firmly dug him out and walked him home. But this and
other recollections, not dissimilar, soon passed away, under the steady
assault of thoughts far more compelling....
* * * * *
He took the bridle-path through Maudeley, and was presently aware, in a
clearing of the wood, of the figure of Meynell in front of him.
The Rector was walking in haste, without his dogs. He was therefore out
on business, which indeed was implied by the energy of his whole
He looked round, frowning as Stephen overtook him.
"Is that you, Stephen? Are you going home?"
"Yes. And you?"
Meynell did not immediately reply. The autumn wood, a splendour of
gold and orange leaf overhead, of red-brown leaf below, with passages
here and there where the sun struck through the beech trees, of purest
lemon-yellow, or intensest green, breathed and murmured round them. A
light wind sang in the tree-tops, and every now and then the plain broke
in--purple through the gold; with its dim colliery chimneys, its wreaths
of smoke, and its paler patches which stood for farms and villages.
Meynell walked by the horse in silence for a while, till, suddenly wiping
a hot brow, he turned and looked at Stephen.
"I think I shall have to tell you, Stephen, where I am going, and why,"
he said, eyeing the young man with a deprecating look, almost a look of
Stephen stared at him in silence.
"Flaxman walked home with me last night--came into the Rectory, and told
me that--yesterday--he saw Meryon and Hester together--in Hewlett's
wood--as you know, a lonely place where nobody goes. It was a great blow
to me. I had every reason to believe him safely out of the neighbourhood.
All his servants have clearly been instructed to lie--and Hester!--well,
I won't trust myself to say what I think of her conduct! I went up this
morning to see her--found the whole household in confusion! Nobody knew
where Hester was. She had gone out immediately after breakfast, with
the maid who is supposed to be always with her. Then suddenly--about an
hour later--one of the boys appeared, having seen this woman at the
station--and no Hester. The woman, taken by surprise--young Fox-Wilton
just had a few words with her as the train was moving off--confessed she
was going into Markborough to meet Hester and come back with her. She
didn't know where Miss Hester was. She had left her in the village, and
was to meet her at a shop in Markborough. After that, things began to
come out. The butler told tales. The maid is clearly an unprincipled
hussy, and has probably been in Meryon's pay all the time--"
"Where is Hester?--where are you going to?" cried Stephen in impatient
misery, slipping from his horse, as he spoke, to walk beside the Rector.
"In my belief she is at Sandford Abbey."
"At Sandford!" cried the young man under his breath. "Visit that
scoundrel in his own house!"
"It appears she has once or twice declared that, in spite of us all, she
would go and see his house and his pictures. In my belief, she has done
it this morning. It is her last chance. We go to Paris to-morrow.
However, we shall soon know."
The Rector pushed on at redoubled speed. Stephen kept up with him, his
"Why did you separate us?" he broke out at last, in a low, bitter voice.
And yet he knew why--or suspected! But the inner smart was so great he
could not help the reproach.
"I tried to act for the best," said Meynell, after a moment, his eyes on
Stephen watched his friend uncertainly. Again and again he was on the
point of crying out--
"Tell me the truth about Hester!"--on the point also of warning and
informing the man beside him. But he had promised his father. He held his
tongue with difficulty.
When they reached the spot where Stephen's path diverged from that which
led by a small bridge across the famous trout-stream to Sandford Abbey,
Stephen suddenly halted.
"Why shouldn't I come too? I'll wait at the lodge. She might like to ride
home. She can sit anything--with any saddle. I taught her."
"Well--perhaps," said Meynell dubiously. And they went on together.
Presently Sandford Abbey emerged above the road, on a rising ground--a
melancholy, dilapidated pile; and they struck into a long and neglected
evergreen avenue leading up to it. At the end of the avenue there was an
enclosure and a lodge, with some iron gates. A man saw them, and came out
to the gate.
"Sir Philip's gone abroad, sir," he said, affably, when he saw them.
"Shall I take your card?"
"Thank you. I prefer to leave it at the house," said Meynell shortly,
motioning to him to open the gate. The man hesitated, then obeyed.
The Rector went up the drive, while Stephen turned back a little along
the road, letting his horse pasture on its grassy fringe. The lodge
keeper--sulky and puzzled--watched him a few moments and then went back
into the house.
* * * * *
The Rector paused to reconnoitre as he came in sight of the house. It was
a strange, desolate, yet most romantic spot. Although, seen from the road
and the stream, it seemed to stand on an eminence, it was really at the
bottom of a hill which encircled it on three sides, and what with its own
dilapidation, its broken fences and gates, the trees which crowded about
it, and the large green-grown pond in front of it, it produced a dank and
sinister impression. The centre of the building, which had evidently been
rebuilt about 1700, to judge from its rose-red brick, its French
classical lunettes, its pedimented doors and windows, and its fine
_perron_, was clearly the inhabited portion of the building. The two
wings of much earlier date, remains of the old Abbey, were falling into
ruin. In front of one a garage had evidently been recently made, and a
motor was standing at its door. To the left of the approaching spectator
was a small deserted church, of the same date as the central portion of
the Abbey, with twin busts of William and Mary still inhabiting a niche
above the classical entrance, and marking the triumph of the Protestant
Succession over the crumbling buildings of the earlier faith. The windows
of the church were boarded up and a few tottering tombstones surrounded
No sign of human habitation appeared as the Rector walked up to the door.
A bright sunshine played on the crumbling brick, the small-paned windows,
the touches of gilding in the railings of the _perron;_ and on the slimy
pond a few ducks moved to and fro, in front of a grass-grown sun-dial.
Meynell walked up to the door, and rang.
The sound of the bell echoed through the house behind, but, for a while,
no one came. One of the lunette windows under the roof opened overhead;
and after another pause the door was slowly opened a few inches by a man
in a slovenly footman's jacket.
"Very sorry, sir, but Sir Philip is not at home."
"When did he leave?"
"The end of last week, sir," said the man, with a jaunty air.
"That, I think, is not so," said Meynell, sternly. "I shall not trouble
you to take my card."
The youth's expression changed. He stood silent and sheepish, while
Meynell considered a moment, on the steps.
Suddenly a sound of voices from a distance became audible through the
grudgingly opened door. It appeared to come from the back of the house.
The man looked behind him, his mouth twitching with repressed laughter.
Meynell ran down the steps and turned to the left, where a door led
through a curtain-wall to the garden. Meanwhile the house door was
hastily banged behind him.
* * * * *
Behind the house Meynell came upon the persons he sought. In an overgrown
formal garden, full of sun, he perceived an old stone bench, under an
overhanging yew. Upon it sat Hester, bareheaded, the golden masses of her
hair shining against the blackness of the tree. Roddy mounted guard
beside her, his nose upon her lap; and on a garden chair in front of her
lounged Philip Meryon, smoking and chatting. At sight of Meynell they
both sprang to their feet. Roddy first growled, and then, as soon as he
recognized Meynell, wagged his tail. Philip, with a swaying step,
advanced toward the newcomer, cigar in hand.
"How do you do, Richard! It is not often you honour me with a visit."
For a moment Meynell looked from one to the other in silence.
And they, whether they would or no, could not but feel the power of the
rugged figure in the short clerical coat and wide-awake, and of the
searching look with which he regarded them. Hester nervously began to
put on her hat. Philip threw away his cigar, and braced himself angrily.
"Your mother has been anxious about you, Hester," said Meynell, at last.
"And I have come to bring you home."
Then turning to Meryon he said--"With you, Philip, I will reckon later
on. The lies you have instructed your servants to tell are a sufficient
indication that you are ashamed of your behaviour. This young lady is
under age. Her mother and I, who are her lawful guardians, forbid her
acquaintance with you."
"By what authority, I should like to know?" said Philip sneeringly.
"Hester is not a child--nor am I."
"All that we will discuss when we meet," said the Rector. "I propose to
call upon you to-morrow."
"This time you may really find me fled," laughed Philip, insolently. But
he had turned white.
Meynell made no reply. He went to Hester, and lifting the girl's silk
cape, which had fallen off, he put it round her shoulders. He felt them
trembling. But she looked at him fiercely, put him aside, and ran to
"Good-bye, Philip, good-bye!--it won't be for long!" And she held out
her two hands--pleadingly. Meryon took them, and they stared at each
other--while the Rector was conscious of a flash of dismay.
What if there was now more in the business than mere mischief and
wantonness? Hester was surprisingly lovely, with this touching, tremulous
look, so new, and, to the Rector, so intolerable!
"I must ask you to come at once," he said, walking up to her, and the
girl, with compressed lips, dropped Meryon's hands and obeyed.
Meryon walked beside them to the garden door, very pale, and breathing
"You can't separate us"--he said to Meynell--"though of course you'll
try. Hester, don't believe anything he tells you--till I confirm it."
"Not I!" she said proudly.
Meynell led her through the door, and then turning peremptorily desired
Meryon not to follow them. Philip hesitated, and yielded. He stood in the
doorway, his hands in his pockets, watching them, a splendid figure, with
his melodramatic good looks and vivid colour.
Hester and Meynell walked down the avenue, side by side. Behind them, the
lunette window under the roof opened again, and a woman's face, framed in
black, touzled hair, looked out, grinned and disappeared.
Hester carried her head high, a scornful defiance breathing from the
flushed cheeks and tightened lips. Meynell made no attempt at
conversation, till just as they were nearing the lodge he said--"We shall
find Stephen a little farther on. He was riding, and thought you might
like his horse to give you a lift home."
"Oh, a _plot_!"--cried Hester, raising her chin still higher--"and
Stephen in it too! Well, really I shouldn't have thought it was worth
anybody's while to spy upon my very insignificant proceedings like this.
What does it matter to him, or you, or any one else what I do?"
She turned her beautiful eyes--tragically wide and haughty--upon her
companion. There was absurdity in her pose, and yet, as Meynell
uncomfortably recognized, a new touch of something passionate and real.
The Rector made no reply, for they were at the turn of the road and
behind it Stephen and his horse were to be seen waiting.
Stephen came to meet them, the bridle over his arm.
"Hester, wouldn't you like my horse? It is a long way home. I can send
for it later."
She looked proudly from one to the other. Her colour had suddenly faded,
and from the pallor, the firm, yet delicate, lines of the features
emerged with unusual emphasis.
"I think you had better accept," said Meynell gently. As he looked at
her, he wondered whether she might not faint on their hands with anger
and excitement. But she controlled herself, and as Stephen brought the
brown mare alongside, and held out his hand, she put her foot in it, and
he swung her to the saddle.
"I don't want both of you," she said, passionately. "One warder is
"Hester!" cried Stephen, reproachfully. Then he added, trying to smile,
"I am going into Markborough. Any commission?"
Hester disdained to answer. She gathered up the reins and set the horse
in motion. Stephen's way lay with them for a hundred yards. He tried to
make a little indifferent conversation, but neither Meynell nor Hester
replied. Where the lane they had been following joined the Markborough
road, he paused to take his leave of them, and as he did so he saw his
two companions brought together, as it were, into one picture by the
overcircling shade of the autumnal trees which hung over the road; and he
suddenly perceived as he had never yet done the strange likeness between
them. Perplexity, love--despairing and jealous love--a passionate
championship of the beauty that was being outraged and insulted by the
common talk and speculation of indifferent and unfriendly mouths; an
earnest desire to know the truth, and the whole truth, that he might the
better prove his love, and protect his friend; and a dismal certainty
through it all that Hester had been finally snatched from him--these
conflicting feelings very nearly overpowered him. It was all he could do
to take a calm farewell of them. Hester's eyes under their fierce brows
followed him along the road.
Meanwhile she and Meynell turned into a bridle-path through the woods.
Hester sat erect, her slender body adjusting itself with unconscious
grace to the quiet movements of the horse, which Meynell was leading.
Overhead the October day was beginning to darken, and the yellow leaves
shaken by occasional gusts were drifting mistily down on Hester's hair
and dress, and on the glossy flanks of the mare.
At last Meynell looked up. There was intense feeling in his face--a deep
and troubled tenderness.
"Hester!--is there no way in which I can convince you that if you go on
as you have been doing--deceiving your best friends--and letting this man
persuade you into secret meetings--you will bring disgrace on yourself,
and sorrow on us? A few more escapades like to-day, and we might not be
able to save you from disgrace."
He looked at her searchingly.
"I am going to choose for myself!" said Hester after a moment, in a low,
resolute voice; "I am not going to sacrifice my life to anybody."
"You _will_ sacrifice it if you go on flirting with this man--if you will
not believe me--who am his kinsman and have no interest whatever in
blackening his character--when I tell you that he is a bad man, corrupted
by low living and self-indulgence, with whom no girl should trust
herself. The action you have taken to-day, your deliberate defiance of us
all, make it necessary that I should speak in even plainer terms to you
than I have done yet; that I should warn you as strongly as I can that by
allowing this man to make love to you--perhaps to propose a runaway match
to you--how do I know what villainy he may have been equal to?--you are
running risks of utter disaster and disgrace."
"Perhaps. That is my affair."
The girl's voice shook with excitement.
"No!--it is not your affair only. No man liveth to himself, and no man
dieth to himself! It is the affair of all those who love you--of your
family--of your poor Aunt Alice, who cannot sleep for grieving--"
Hester raised her free hand, and angrily pushed back the masses of fair
hair that were falling about her face.
"What is the good of talking about 'love,' Uncle Richard?" She spoke with
a passionate impatience--"You know very well that _nobody_ at home loves
me. Why should we all be hypocrites? I have got, I tell you, to look
after _myself_, to plan my life for myself! My mother can't help it if
she doesn't love me. I don't complain; but I do think it a shame you
should say she does, when you know--know--_know_--she doesn't! My sisters
and brothers just dislike me--that's all there is in that! All my life
I've known it--I've felt it. Why, when I was a baby they never played
with me--they never made a pet of me--they wouldn't have me in their
games. My father positively disliked me. Whenever the nurse brought me
downstairs--he used to call to her to take me up again. Oh, how tired I
got of the nursery!--I hated it--I hated nurse--I hated all the old
toys--for I never had any new ones. Do you remember"--she turned on
him--"that day when I set fire to all the clean clothes--that were airing
before the fire?"
"Perfectly!" said the Rector, with an involuntary smile that relaxed the
pale gravity of his face.
"I did it because I hadn't been downstairs for three nights. I might
have been dead for all anybody cared. Then I was determined they should
care--and I got hold of the matches. I thought the clothes would burn
first--and then my starched frock would catch fire--and then--everybody
would be sorry for me at last. But unfortunately I got frightened, and
ran up the passage screaming--silly little fool! That might have made an
end of it--once for all--"
"And after it," he said, looking her in the eyes--"when the fuss was
over--I remember seeing you in Aunt Alsie's arms. Have you forgotten how
she cried over you, and defended you--and begged you off? You were ill
with terror and excitement; she took you off to the cottage, and nursed
you till you were well again, and it had all blown over; as she did again
and again afterward. Have you forgotten _that_--when you say that no one
He turned upon her with that bright penetrating look, with its touch of
accusing sarcasm, which had so often given him the mastery over erring
souls. For Meynell had the pastoral gift almost in perfection; the
courage, the ethical self-confidence and the instinctive tenderness
which belong to it. The certitudes of his mind were all ethical; and in
this region he might have said with Newman that "a thousand difficulties
cannot make one doubt."
Hester had often yielded, to this power of his in the past, and it was
evident that she trembled under it now. To hide it she turned upon him
with fresh anger.
"No, I haven't forgotten it!--and I'm _not_ an ungrateful fiend--though
of course you think it. But Aunt Alsie's like all the others now.
She--she's turned against me!" There was a break in the girl's voice that
she tried in vain to hide.
"It isn't true, Hester! I think you know it isn't true."
"It _is_ true! She has secrets from me, and when I ask her to trust
me--then she treats me like a child--and shakes me off as if I were just
a stranger. If she holds me at arm's-length, I am not going to tell her
all _my_ affairs!"
The rounded bosom under the little black mantle rose and fell
tumultuously, and angry tears shone in the brown eyes. Meynell had raised
his head with a sudden movement, and regarded her intently.
"I found her--one day--with a picture--she was crying over. It--it was
some one she had been in love with--I am certain it was--a handsome, dark
man. And I _begged_ her to tell me--and she just got up and went away. So
then I took my own line!"
Hester furiously dashed away the tears she had not been able to stop.
Meynell's look changed. His voice grew strangely pitiful and soft.
"Dear Hester--if you knew--you couldn't be unkind to Aunt Alice."
"Why shouldn't I know? Why am I treated like a baby?"
"There are some things too bitter to tell,"--he said gravely--"some
griefs we have no right to meddle with. But we can heal them--or make
them worse. You"--his kind eyes scourged her again--"have been making
everything worse for Aunt Alsie for a long time past."
Hester shrugged her shoulders passionately, as though to repel the
charge, but she said nothing. They moved on in silence for a little. In
Meynell's mind there reigned a medley of feelings--tragic recollections,
moral questionings, which time had never silenced, perplexity as to the
present and the future, and with it all, the liveliest and sorest pity
for the young, childish, violent creature beside him. It was not for
those who, with whatever motives, had contributed to bring her to that
state and temper, to strike any note of harshness.
Presently, as they neared the end of the woody path, he looked up again.
He saw her sitting sullenly on the gently moving horse, a vision of
beauty at bay. The sight determined him toward frankness.
"Hester!--I have told you that if you go on flirting with Philip Meryon
you run the risk of disgrace and misery, because he has no conscience and
no scruples, and you are ignorant and inexperienced, and have no idea of
the fire you are playing with. But I think I had better go farther. I am
going to say what you force me to say to you--young as you are. My strong
belief is that Philip Meryon is either married already, or so entangled
that he has no right to ask any decent woman to marry him. I have
suspected it a long time. Now you force me to prove it."
Hester turned her head away.
"He told me I wasn't to believe what you said about him!" she said in her
most obstinate voice.
"Very well. Then I must set at once about proving it. The reasons
which make me believe it are not for your ears." Then his tone
changed--"Hester!--my child!--you can't be in love with that fellow--that
false, common fellow!--you can't!"
Hester tightened her lips and would not answer. A rush of distress came
over Meynell as he thought of her movement toward Philip in the garden.
He gently resumed:
"Any day now might bring the true lover, Hester!--the man who would
comfort you for all the past, and show you what joy really means. Be
patient, dear Hester--be patient! If you wanted to punish us for not
making you happy enough, well, you have done it! But don't plunge us all
into despair--and take a little thought for your old guardian, who seems
to have the world on his shoulders, and yet can't sleep at nights, for
worrying about his ward, who won't believe a word he says, and sets all
his wishes at defiance."
His manner expressed a playful and reproachful affection. Their eyes met.
Hester tried hard to maintain her antagonism, and he was well aware that
he was but imperfectly able to gauge the conflict of forces in her mind.
He resumed his pleading with her--tenderly--urgently. And at last she
gave way, at least apparently. She allowed him to lay a friendly hand on
hers that held the reins, and she said with a long bitter breath:
"Oh, I know I'm a little beast!"
"My old-fashioned ideas don't allow me to apply that epithet to young
women! But if you'll say 'I want to be friends, Uncle Richard, and I
won't deceive you any more,' why, then, you'll make an old fellow
happy! Will you?"
Slowly she let her cold fingers slip into his warm, protecting palm
as he smiled upon her. She yielded to the dignity and charm of
Meynell's character as she had done a thousand times before; but in the
proud, unhappy look she bent upon him there were new and disquieting
things--prophecies of the coming womanhood, not to be unravelled. Meynell
pressed her hand, and put it back upon the reins with a sigh he could not
He began to talk with a forced cheerfulness of their coming journey--of
the French _milieu_ to which she was going. Hester answered in
monosyllables, every now and then--he thought--choking back a sob. And
again and again the discouraging thought struck through him--"Has this
fellow touched her heart?"--so strong was the impression of an emerging
soul and a developing personality.
Suddenly through the dispersing trees a light figure came hurriedly
toward them. It was Alice Puttenham.
She was pale and weary, and when she saw Hester, with Meynell beside her,
she gave a little cry. But Meynell, standing behind Hester, put his
finger on his lips, and she controlled herself. Hester greeted her
without any sign of emotion; and the three went homeward along the misty
ways of the park. The sun had been swallowed up by rising fog; all colour
had been sucked out of the leaves and the heather, even from the golden
glades of fern. Only Hester's hair, and her white dress as she passed
along, uplifted, made of her a kind of luminous wraith, and beside her,
like the supports of an altar-piece, moved the two pensive figures of
Meynell and Alice.
From a covert of thorn in the park, a youth who had retreated into its
shelter on their approach watched them with malicious eyes. Another man
was with him--a sheepish, red-faced person, who peered curiously at the
little procession as it passed about a hundred yards away.
"Quite a family party!" said Maurice Barron with a laugh.
* * * * *
In the late evening Meynell returned to the Rectory a wearied man, but
with hours of occupation and correspondence still before him. He had left
Hester with Alice Puttenham, in a state which Meynell interpreted as at
once alarming and hopeful; alarming because it suggested that there might
be an element of passion in what had seemed to be a mere escapade
dictated by vanity and temper; and hopeful because of the emotion the
girl had once or twice betrayed, for the first time in the experience
of any one connected with her. When they entered Alice Puttenham's
drawing-room, for instance--for Hester had stipulated she was not to be
taken home--Alice had thrown her arms round her, and Hester had broken
suddenly into crying, a thing unheard of. Meynell of course had hastily
Since then the parish had taken its toll. Visits to two or three sick
people had been paid. The Rector had looked in at the schools, where a
children's evening was going on, and had told the story of Aladdin with
riotous success; he had taken off his coat to help in putting up
decorations for an entertainment in the little Wesleyan meeting-house of
corrugated iron; the parish nurse had waylaid him with reports, and he
had dashed into the back parlour of a small embarrassed tradesman, in
mortal fear of collapse and bankruptcy, with the offer of a loan, sternly
conditional upon facing the facts, and getting in an auditor. Lady
Fox-Wilton of course had been seen, and the clamour of her most
unattractive offspring allayed as much as possible. And now, emerging
from this tangle of personal claims and small interests, in the silence
and freedom of the night hours, Meynell was free to give himself once
more to the intellectual and spiritual passion of the Reform Movement.
His table was piled with unopened letters; on his desk lay a half-written
article, and two or three foreign books, the latest products of the
Modernist Movement abroad. His crowded be-littered room smiled upon him,
as he shut its door upon the outer world. For within it, he lived more
truly, more vividly, than anywhere else; and all the more since its
threadbare carpet had been trodden by Mary Elsmere.
Yet as he settled himself by the fire with his pipe and his letters for
half an hour's ease before going to his desk, his thoughts were still
full of Hester. The incurable optimism, the ready faith where his
affections were concerned, which were such strong notes of his character,
was busy persuading him that all would be well. At last, between them,
they had made an impression on the poor child; and as for Philip, he
should be dealt with this time with a proper disregard of either his own
or his servants' lying. Hester was now to spend some months with a
charming and cultivated French family. Plenty of occupation, plenty of
amusement, plenty of appeal to her intelligence. Then, perhaps, travel
for a couple of years, with Aunt Alice--as much separation as possible,
anyway, from the Northleigh family and house. Alice was not rich, but she
could manage as much as that, if he advised it, and he would advise it.
Then with her twenty-first year, if Stephen or any other wooer were to
the fore, the crisis must be faced, and the child must know! and it would
be a cold-blooded lover that would weigh her story against her face.
Comfort himself as he would, however, dream as he would, Meynell's
conscience was always sore for Hester. Had they done right?--or hideously
wrong? Had not all their devices been a mere trifling with nature--a mere
attempt to "bind the courses of Orion," with the inevitable result in
Hester's unhappy childhood and perverse youth?
The Rector as he pulled at his pipe could still feel the fluttering of
her slender hand in his. The recollection stirred in him again all the
intolerable pity, the tragic horror of the past. Poor, poor little girl.
But she should be happy yet, "with rings on her fingers," and everything
Then from this fatherly and tender preoccupation he passed into a more
intimate and poignant dreaming. Mary!--in the moonlight, under the
autumn trees, was the vision that held him; varied sometimes by the dream
of her in that very room, sitting ghostly in the chair beside him, her
lovely eyes wandering over its confusion of books and papers. He thought
of her exquisite neatness of dress and delicacy of movement, and smiled
happily to himself. "How she must have wanted to tidy up!" And he dared
to think of a day when she would come and take possession of him
altogether--books, body and soul, and gently order his life....
"Why, you rascals!"--he said, jealously, to the dogs--"she fed you--I
know she did--she patted and pampered you, eh, didn't she? She likes
dogs--you may thank your lucky stars she does!"
But they only raised their eager heads, and turned their loving eyes upon
him, prepared to let loose pandemonium as soon as he showed signs of
"Well, you don't expect me to take you out for a walk at ten o'clock at
night, do you?--idiots!" he hurled at them reprovingly; and after another
moment of bright-eyed interrogation, disappointment descended, and down
went their noses on their paws again.
* * * * *
His trust in the tender steadfastness of Mary's character made itself
powerfully felt in these solitary moments. She knew that while these
strenuous days were on he could allow himself no personal aims. But the
growing knowledge that he was approved by a soul so pure and so devout
had both strung up all his powers and calmed the fevers of battle. He
loved his cause the more because it was ever more clear to him that
she passionately loved it too. And sensitive and depressed as he often
was--the penalty of the optimist--her faith in him had doubled his faith
There was a singular pleasure also in the link his love for her had
forged between himself and Elsmere--the dead leader of an earlier
generation. "Latitudinarianism is coming in upon us like a flood!"--cried
the _Church Times_, wringing its hands. In other words, thought Meynell,
"a New Learning is at last penetrating the minds and consciences of
men--in the Church, no less than out of it." And Elsmere had been one of
its martyrs. Meynell thought with emotion of the emaciated form he had
last seen in the thronged hall of the New Brotherhood. "_Our_ venture is
possible--because _you_ suffered," he would say to himself, addressing
not so much Elsmere, as Elsmere's generation, remembering its struggles,
its thwarted hopes, and starved lives.
And Elsmere's wife?--that rigid, pathetic figure, who, before he knew her
in the flesh, had been to him, through the reports of many friends, a
kind of legendary presence--the embodiment of the Old Faith. Meynell only
knew that as far as he was concerned something had happened--something
which he could not define. She was no longer his enemy; and he blessed
her humbly in his heart. He thought also, with a curious thankfulness, of
her strong and immovable convictions. Each thinking mind, as it were,
carries within it its own Pageant of the Universe, and lights the show
with its own passion. Not to quench the existing light in any human
breast--but to kindle and quicken where no light is: to bring forever new
lamp-bearers into the Lampadephoria of life, and marshal them there in
their places, on equal terms with the old, neither excluded, nor
excluding: this, surely this was the ideal of Modernism.
Elsmere's widow might never admit his own claim to equal rights within
the Christian society. What matter! It seemed to him that in some
mysterious way she had now recognized the spiritual necessity laid upon
him to fight for that claim; had admitted him, so to speak, to the rights
of a belligerent. And that had made all the difference.
He did not know how it had happened. But he was strangely certain that it
But soon the short interval of rest and dream he had allowed himself was
over. He turned to his writing-table.
What a medley of letters! Here was one from a clergyman in the Midlands:
"We introduced the new Liturgy last Sunday, and I cannot describe the
emotion, the stirring of all the dead-bones it has brought about. There
has been of course a secession; but the church at Patten End amply
provides for the seceders, and among our own people one seems to realize
at last something of what the simplicity and sincerity of the first
Christian feeling must have been! No 'allowances' to make for scandalous
mistranslations and misquotations--no foolish legends, or unedifying
tales of barbarous people--no cursing psalms--no old Semitic nonsense
about God resting on the seventh day, delivered in the solemn sing-song
which makes it not only nonsense but hypocrisy....
"I have held both a marriage and a funeral this week under the new
service-book. I think that all persons accustomed to think of what they
are saying felt the strangest delight and relief in the disappearance of
the old marriage service. It was like the dropping of a weight to which
our shoulders had become so accustomed that we hardly realized it till it
was gone. Instead of pompous and futile absurdity--as in the existing
exhortation, and homily--beautiful and fitting quotation from the unused
treasures of the Bible. Instead of the brutal speech, the crudely
physical outlook of an earlier day, the just reticence and nobler
perceptions of our own, combined with perfectly plain and tender
statement as to the founding of the home and the family. Instead of
besmirching bits of primitive and ugly legend like the solemn
introduction of Adam's rib into the prayers, a few new prayers of great
beauty--some day you must tell me who wrote them, for I suppose you know?
(and, by the way, why should we not write as good prayers, to-day, as in
any age of the Christian Church?). Instead of the old 'obey,' for the
woman, which has had such a definitely debasing effect, as I believe, on
the position of women, especially in the working classes--a formula, only
slightly altered, but the same for the man and the woman....
"In short, a seemly, and beautiful, and moving thing, instead of a
ceremony which in spite of its few fine, even majestic, elements, had
become an offence and a scandal. All the fine elements have been kept,
and only the scandal amended. Why was it not done long ago?
"Then as to the burial service. The Corinthian chapter stripped of its
arguments which are dead, and confined to its cries of poetry and faith
which are immortal, made a new and thrilling impression. I confess I
thought I should have broken my heart over the omission of 'I know that
my Redeemer liveth'--and yet now that it is gone, there is a sense of
moral exhilaration in having let it go! One knew all the time that
whoever wrote the poem of Job neither said what he was made to say in the
famous passage, nor meant what he was supposed to mean. One was perfectly
aware, from one's Oxford days, as the choir chanted the great words, that
they were a flagrant mistranslation of a corrupt and probably
interpolated passage. And yet the glory of Handel's music, the glamour
of association overcame one. But now that it is cut ruthlessly away
from those moments in life when man can least afford any make-believe
with himself or his fellows--now that music alone declaims and fathers
it--there is the strangest relief! One feels, as I have said, the joy
that comes from something difficult and righteous _done_--in spite of
"I could go on for hours telling you these very simple and obvious things
which must be so familiar to you. To me the amazement of this Movement is
that it has taken so long to come. We have groaned under the oppression
of what we have now thrown off, so long and so hopelessly; the Revision
that the High Churchmen made such a bother about a few years ago came to
so little; that now, to see this thing spreading like a great spring-tide
over the face of England is marvellous indeed! And when one knows what it
means--no mere liturgical change, no mere lopping off here and changing
there, but a transformation of the root ideas of Christianity; a