Part 8 out of 9
tell me about that Scotch girl?"
"Richard's Scotch girl?"--he laughed, throwing his handsome head back
against the tree--"whom Richard supposes me to have married? Well, I had
a great flirtation with her, I admit, two years ago, and it is sometimes
rather difficult in Scotland to know whether you are married or no. You
know of course that all that's necessary is to declare yourselves man and
wife before witnesses? However--perhaps you would like to see a letter
from the lady herself on the subject?"
"You had it ready?" she said, doubtfully.
"Well, considering that Richard has been threatening me for months, not
only with the loss of you, but with all sorts of pains and penalties
besides, I have had to do something! Of course I have done a great deal.
This is one of the documents in the case. It is an affidavit really,
drawn up by my solicitor and signed by the lady whom Richard supposes to
be my injured wife!"
He placed an envelope in her hands.
Hester opened it with a touch of scornful reluctance. It contained a
categorical denial and repudiation of the supposed marriage.
"Has Uncle Richard seen it?" she asked coldly, as she gave it back to
"Certainly he has, by now." He took another envelope from his pocket. "I
won't bother you with anything more--the thing is really too absurd!--but
here, if you want it, is a letter from the girl's brother. Brothers are
generally supposed to keep a sharp lookout on their sisters, aren't they?
Well, this brother declares that Meynell's inquiries have come to
nothing, absolutely nothing, in the neighbourhood--except that they have
made people very angry. He has got no evidence--simply because there is
none to get! I imagine, indeed, that by now he has dropped the whole
business. And certainly it is high time he did; or I shall have to be
taking action on my own account before long!"
He looked down upon her, as she stood beside him, trying to make out her
"Hester!" he broke out, "don't let's talk about this any more--it's
damned nonsense! Let's talk about ourselves. Hester!--darling!--I want
to make you happy!--I want to carry you away. Hester, will you marry me
at once? As far as the French law is concerned, I have arranged it all.
You could come with me to a certain Mairie I know, to-morrow, and we
could marry without anybody having a word to say to it; and then, Hester,
I'd carry you to Italy! I know a villa on the Riviera--the Italian
Riviera--in a little bay all orange and lemon and blue sea. We'd
honeymoon there; and when we were tired of honeymooning--though how could
any one tire of honeymooning, with you, you darling!--we'd go to South
America. I have an opening at Buenos Ayres which promises to make me a
rich man. Come with me!--it is the most wonderful country in the world.
You would be adored there--you would have every luxury--we'd travel and
ride and explore--we'd have a glorious life!"
He had caught her hands again, and stood towering over her, intoxicated
with his own tinsel phrases; almost sincere; a splendid physical
presence, save for the slight thickening of face and form, the looseness
of the lips, the absence of all freshness in the eyes.
But Hester, after a first moment of dreamy excitement, drew herself
"No, no!--I can't be such a wretch--I can't! Mamma and Aunt Alice would
break their hearts. I'm a selfish beast, but not quite so bad as that!
No, Philip--we can meet and amuse ourselves, can't we?--and get to know
each other?--and then if we want to, we can marry--some time."
"That means you don't love me!" he said, fiercely.
"Yes, yes, I do!--or at least I--I like you. And perhaps in time--if you
let me alone--if you don't tease me--I--I'll marry you. But let's do it
openly. It's amusing to get one's own way, even by lies, up to a certain
point. They wouldn't let me see you, or get to know you, and I was
determined to know you. So I had to behave like a little cad, or give in.
But marrying's different."
He argued with her hotly, pointing out the certainty of Meynell's
opposition, exaggerating the legal powers of guardians, declaring
vehemently that it was now or never. Hester grew very white as they
wandered on through the forest, but she did not yield. Some last scruple
of conscience, perhaps--some fluttering fear, possessed her.
So that in the end Philip was pushed to the villainy that even he would
Suddenly he turned upon her.
"Hester, you drive me to it! I don't want to--but I can't help it.
Hester, you poor little darling!--you don't know what has happened--you
don't know what a position you're in. I want to save you from it. I
would have done it, God knows, without telling you the truth if I could;
but you drive me to it!"
"What on earth do you mean?"
She stopped beside him in a clearing of the forest. The pale afternoon
sun, now dropping fast to westward, slipped through the slender oaks, on
which the red leaves still danced, touched the girl's hair and shone into
her beautiful eyes. She stood there so young, so unconscious; a victim,
on the threshold of doom. Philip, who was no more a monster than other
men who do monstrous things, felt a sharp stab of compunction; and then,
rushed headlong at the crime he had practically resolved on before they
He told her in a few agitated words the whole--and the true--story of her
birth. He described the return of Judith Sabin to Upcote Minor, and the
narrative she had given to Henry Barron, without however a word of
Meynell in the case, so far at least as the original events were
concerned. For he was convinced that he knew better, and that there was
no object in prolonging an absurd misunderstanding. His version of the
affair was that Judith in a fit of excitement had revealed Hester's
parentage to Henry Barron; that Barron out of enmity toward Meynell,
Hester's guardian, and by way of getting a hold upon him, had not kept
the matter to himself, but had either written or instigated anonymous
letters which had spread such excitement in the neighbourhood that Lady
Fox-Wilton had now let her house, and practically left Upcote for good.
The story had become the common talk of the Markborough district; and all
that Meynell, and "your poor mother," and the Fox-Wilton family could do,
was to attempt, on the one hand, to meet the rush of scandal by absence
and silence; and on the other to keep the facts from Hester herself as
long as possible.
The girl had listened to him with wide, startled eyes. Occasionally a
sound broke from her--a gasp--an exclamation--and when he paused, pursued
by almost a murderer's sense of guilt, he saw her totter. In an instant
he had his arm round her, and for once there was both real passion and
real pity in the excited words he poured into her ears.
"Hester, dearest!--don't cry, don't be miserable, my own beautiful
Hester! I am a beast to have told you, but it is because I am not only
your lover, but your cousin--your own flesh and blood. Trust yourself
to me! You'll see! Why should that preaching fellow Meynell interfere?
I'll take care of you. You come to me, and we'll show these damned
scandal-mongers that what they say is nothing to us--that we don't care a
fig for their cant--that we are the masters of our own lives--not they!"
And so on, and so on. The emotion was as near sincerity as he could push
it; but it did not fail to occur, at least once, to a mind steeped in
third-rate drama, what a "strong" dramatic scene might be drawn from the
Hester heard him for a few minutes, in evident stupefaction; then with a
recovery of physical equilibrium she again vehemently repulsed him.
"You are mad--you are _mad_! It is abominable to talk to me like this.
What do you mean? 'My poor mother'--who is my mother?"
She faced him tragically, the certainty which was already dawning in her
mind--prepared indeed, through years, by all the perplexities and
rebellions of her girlhood--betraying itself in her quivering face, and
lips. Suddenly, she dropped upon a fallen log beside the path, hiding her
face in her hands, struggling again with the sheer faintness of the
shock. And Philip, kneeling in the dry leaves beside her, completed his
work, with the cruel mercy of the man who kills what he has wounded.
He asked her to look back into her childhood; he reminded her of the many
complaints she had made to him of her sense of isolation within her
supposed family; of the strange provisions of Sir Ralph's will; of the
arrangement which had made her Meynell's ward in a special sense.
"Why, of course, that was so natural! You remember I suggested to you
once that Richard probably judged Neville from the same Puritanical
standpoint that he judged me? Well, I was a fool to talk like that. I
remember now perfectly what my mother used to say. They were of different
generations, but they were tremendous friends; and there was only a few
years between them. I am certain it was by Neville's wish that Richard
became your guardian." He laughed, in some embarrassment. "He couldn't
exactly foresee that another member of the family would want to cut in. I
love you--I adore you! Let's give all these people the slip. Hester, my
pretty, pretty darling--look at me! I'll show you what life means--what
And doubly tempted by her abasement, her bewildered pain, he tried again
to take her in his arms.
But she held him at arm's length.
"If," she said, with pale lips--"if Sir Neville was my father--and Aunt
Alsie"--her voice failed her--"were they--were they never married?"
He slowly and reluctantly shook his head.
"Then I'm--I'm--oh! but that's monstrous--that's absurd! I don't believe
She sprang to her feet. Then, as she stood confronting his silence, the
whole episode of that bygone September afternoon--the miniature--Aunt
Alice's silence and tears--rushed back on memory. She trembled, and
the iron entered into her soul.
"Let's go back to the station," she said, resolutely. "It's time."
They walked back through the forest paths, for some time without
speaking, she refusing his aid. And all the time swiftly,
inexorably, memory and inference were at work, dragging to light the
deposit--obscure, or troubling, or contradictory--left in her by the
facts and feelings of her childhood and youth.
She had told him with emphasis at luncheon that he was not to be allowed
to accompany her home; that she would go back to Paris by herself. But
when, at the St. Germains station, Meryon jumped into the empty railway
carriage beside her, she said nothing to prevent him. She sat in the
darkest corner of the carriage, her arms hanging beside her, her eyes
fixed on objects of which she saw nothing. Her pride in herself, her
ideal of herself, which is to every young creature like the protective
sheath to the flower, was stricken to the core. She thought of Sarah and
Lulu, whom she had all her life despised and ridiculed. But they had a
right to their name and place in the world!--and she was their nameless
inferior, the child taken in out of pity, accepted on sufferance. She
thought of the gossip now rushing like a mud-laden stream through every
Upcote or Markborough drawing-room. All the persons whom she had snubbed
or flouted were concerning themselves maliciously with her and her
affairs--were pitying "poor Hester Fox-Wilton."
Her heart seemed to dry and harden within her. The strange thought of her
real mother--her suffering, patient, devoted mother--did not move her. It
was bound up with all that trampled on and humiliated her.
And, moreover, strange and piteous fact, realized by them both! this
sudden sense of fall and degradation had in some mysterious way altered
her whole relation to the man who had brought it upon her. His evil power
over her had increased. He felt instinctively that he need not in future
be so much on his guard. His manner toward her became freer. She had
never yet returned him the kisses which, as on this day, she had
sometimes allowed him to snatch. But before they reached Paris she had
kissed him; she had sought his hands with hers; and she had promised to
meet him again.
While these lamentable influences and events were thus sweeping Hester's
life toward the abyss, mocking all the sacrifices and the efforts that
had been made to save her, the publication of Barron's apology had opened
yet another stage in "the Meynell case."
As drafted by Flaxman, it was certainly comprehensive enough. For
himself, Meynell would have been content with much less; but in dealing
with Barron, he was the avenger of wrongs not his own, both public and
private; and when his own first passion of requital had passed away,
killed in him by the anguish of his enemy, he still let Flaxman decide
for him. And Flaxman, the mildest and most placable of men, showed
himself here inexorable, and would allow no softening of terms. So that
Barron "unreservedly withdrew" and "publicly apologized" "for those false
and calumnious charges, which to my great regret, and on erroneous
information, I have been led to bring against the character and conduct
of the Rev. Richard Meynell, at various dates, and in various ways,
during the six months preceding the date of this apology."
With regard to the anonymous letters--"although they were not written,
nor in any way authorized, by me, I now discover to my sorrow that they
were written by a member of my family on information derived from me.
I apologize for and repudiate the false and slanderous statements these
letters contain, and those also included in letters I myself have written
to various persons. I agree that a copy of this statement shall be sent
to the Bishop of Markborough, and to each parish clergyman in the diocese
of Markborough; as also that it shall be published in such newspapers as
the solicitors of the Rev. Richard Meynell may determine."
The document appeared first on a Saturday, in all the local papers, and
was greedily read and discussed by the crowds that throng into
Markborough on market day, who again carried back the news to the
villages of the diocese. It was also published on the same day in
the _Modernist_ and in the leading religious papers. Its effect on
opinion was rapid and profound. The Bishop telegraphed--"Thank God. Come
and see me." France fidgeted a whole morning among his papers, began two
or three letters to Meynell, and finally decided that he could write
nothing adequate that would not also be hypocritical. Dornal wrote a
little note that Meynell put away among those records that are the
milestones of life. From all the leading Modernists, during January,
came a rush of correspondence and congratulations, in all possible notes
and tones of indignant triumph; and many leaders on the other side wrote
with generous emotion and relief. Only in the extreme camp of the extreme
Right there was, of course, silence and chagrin. Compared to the eternal
interests of the Church, what does one man's character matter?
The old Bishop of Dunchester, a kind of English Döllinger, the learned
leader of a learned party, and ready in the last years of life to risk
what would have tasked the nerves and courage of a man in the prime of
physical and mental power, wrote:
"MY DEAR RICHARD MEYNELL: Against my better judgment, I was persuaded
that you might have been imprudent. I now know that you have only been
heroic. Forgive me--forgive us all. Nothing will induce me to preach the
sermon of our opening day. And if you will not, who will, or can?"
Rose meanwhile descended upon the Rectory, and with Flaxman's help,
though in the teeth of Anne's rather jealous opposition, she carried off
Meynell to Maudeley, that she might "help him write his letters," and
watch for a week or two over a man wearied and overtaxed. It was by her
means also that the reaction in public opinion spread far beyond Meynell
himself. It is true that even men and women of good will looked at each
other in bewilderment, after the publication of the apology, and asked
each other under their breaths--"Then is there no story!--and was Judith
Sabin's whole narrative a delusion?" But with whatever might be true in
that narrative no public interest was now bound up; and discussion grew
first shamefaced, and then dropped. The tendency strengthened indeed to
regard the whole matter as the invention of a half-crazy and dying woman,
possessed of some grudge against the Fox-Wilton family. Many surmised
that some tragic fact lay at the root of the tale, since those concerned
had not chosen to bring the slanderer to account. But what had once been
mere matter for malicious or idle curiosity was now handled with
compunction and good feeling. People began to be very sorry for the
Fox-Wiltons, very sorry for "poor Miss Puttenham." Cards were left, and
friendly inquiries were made; and amid the general wave of scepticism and
regret, the local society showed itself as sentimental, and as futile as
Meanwhile poor Theresa had been seen driving to the station with red
eyes; and her father, it was ascertained, had been absent from home since
the day before the publication of the apology. It was very commonly
guessed that the "member of my family" responsible for the letters was
the unsatisfactory younger son; and many persons, especially in Church
circles, were secretly sorry for Barron, while everybody possessed of any
heart at all was sorry for his elder son Stephen.
Stephen indeed was one of Meynell's chief anxieties during these
intermediate hours, when a strong man took a few days' breathing space
between the effort that had been, and the effort that was to be. The
young man would come over, day by day, with the same crushed, patient
look, now bringing news to Meynell which they talked over where none
might overhear, and now craving news from Paris in return. As to
Stephen's own report, Barron, it seemed, had made all arrangements
to send Maurice to a firm of English merchants trading at Riga. The head
of the firm was under an old financial obligation to Henry Barron, and
Stephen had no doubt that his father had made it heavily worth their
while to give his brother this fresh chance of an honest life. There
had been, Stephen believed, some terrible scenes between the father and
son, and Stephen neither felt nor professed to feel any hope for the
future. Barron intended himself to accompany Maurice to Riga and settle
him there. Afterward he talked of a journey to the Cape. Meanwhile the
White House was shut up, and poor Theresa had come to join Stephen in the
little vicarage whence the course of events in the coming year would
certainly drive him out.
So much for the news he gave. As to the news he hungered for, Meynell had
but crumbs to give him. To neither Stephen nor any one else could Alice
Puttenham's letters be disclosed. Meynell's lips were sealed upon her
story now as they had ever been; and, however shrewdly he might guess at
Stephen's guesses, he said nothing, and Stephen asked nothing on the
As to Hester, he was told that she was well, though often moody and
excitable, that she seemed already to have tired of the lessons and
occupations she had taken up with such prodigious energy at the beginning
of her stay, and that she had made violent friends with a young teacher
from the École Normale, a refined, intelligent woman, in every way fit to
be her companion, with whom on holidays she sometimes made long
excursions out of Paris.
But to Meynell, poor Alice Puttenham poured out all the bitterness of her
"It seems to me that the little hold I had over her, and the small
affection she had for me when we arrived here, are both now less than
they were. During the last week especially (the letter was dated the
fourteenth of January) I have been at my wits' end how to amuse or please
her. She resents being watched and managed more than ever. One feels
there is a tumult in her soul to which we have no access. Her teachers
complain of her temper and her caprice. And yet she dazzles and
fascinates as much as ever. I suspect she doesn't sleep--she has a worn
look quite unnatural at her age--but it makes her furious to be asked.
Sometimes, indeed, she seems to melt toward me; the sombre look passes
away, and she is melancholy and soft, with tears in her eyes now and
then, which I dare not notice.
"Oh, my dear friend, I am grateful for all you tell me of the changed
situation at Markborough. But after all the thing is done--there can be
no undoing it. The lies mingled with the truth have been put down.
Perhaps people are ready now to let the truth itself slip back with
the lies into the darkness. But how can we--Edith and I--and Hester--ever
live the old life again? The old shelter, the old peace, are gone. We are
wanderers and pilgrims henceforward!
"As far as I know, Hester is still in complete ignorance of all that has
happened. I have told her that Edith finds Tours so economical that she
prefers to stay abroad for a couple of years, and to let the Upcote
house. And I have said also that when she herself is tired of Paris, I
am ready to take her to Germany, and then to Italy. She laughed, as
though I had said something ridiculous! One never knows her real mind.
But at least I see no sign of any suspicion in her; and I am sure that
she has seen no English newspaper that could have given her a clue. As to
Philip Meryon, as I have told you before, I often feel a vague
uneasiness; but watch as I will, I can find nothing to justify it. Oh!
Richard, my heart is broken for her. A little love from her, and the
whole world would change for me. But even what I once possessed these
last few months seem to have taken from me!"
"The thing is done!--there can be no undoing it." That was the sore
burden of all Meynell's thoughts, awakening in him, at times, the "bitter
craving to strike heavy blows" at he knew not what. What, indeed, could
ever undo the indecency, the cruelty, the ugly revelations of these
three months? The grossness of the common public, the weakness of
friends, the solemn follies to which men are driven by hate or bigotry:
these things might well have roused the angry laughter that lives in all
quick and honest souls. But the satiric mood, when it appeared, soon
vanished. He remembered the saying of Meredith concerning the spectacle
of Bossuet over the dead body of Molière--"at which the dark angels may,
but men do not, laugh."
This bitterness might have festered within him, but for the blessedness
of Mary Elsmere's letters. She had seen the apology; she knew nothing of
its causes. But she betrayed a joy that was almost too proud to know
itself as joy; since what doubt could there ever have been but that right
and nobleness would prevail? Catharine wrote the warmest and kindest of
letters. But Mary's every word was balm, just because she knew nothing,
and wrote out of the fulness of her mere faith in him, ready to let her
trust take any shape he would. And though she knew nothing, she seemed by
some divine instinct to understand also the pain that overshadowed the
triumph; to be ready to sit silent with him before the irreparable. Day
by day, as he read these letters, his heart burned within him; and Rose
noted the growing restlessness. But he had heavy arrears of parish
business upon him, of correspondence, of literary work. He struggled on,
the powers of mind and body flagging, till one night, when he had been
nearly a week at Maudeley, Rose came to him one evening, and said with a
smile that had in it just a touch of sweet mockery--
"My dear friend, you are doing no good here at all! Go and see Mary!"
He turned upon her, amazed.
"She has not sent for me."
Rose laughed out.
"Did you expect her to be as modern as that?"
"I have been waiting for a word."
"What right had you to wait? Go and get it out of her! Where will you
"There is the farm at the head of the valley."
He thought a little--the colour flooding into his face. And then he
quietly went to Rose's writing-table, and wrote his telegram.
But before he took the midday train from Markborough to the North, on the
following day, Meynell spent half an hour with his Bishop in the
It was a strange meeting. When Bishop Craye first caught sight of the
entering figure, he hurried forward, and as the door closed upon the
footman, he seized Meynell's hand in both his own.
"I see what you have gone through," he said, with emotion; "and you would
not let me help you!"
Meynell smiled faintly.
"I knew you wished to help me--but--"
Then his voice dropped, and the Bishop would not have pressed him for the
world. They fell upon the anonymous letters, a comparatively safe topic,
and the relation of Barron to them. Naturally Meynell gave the Bishop no
hint whatever of the graver matter which had finally compelled Barron's
surrender. He described his comparison of the Dawes letters with "a
document in the young man's handwriting which I happened to have in my
possession," and the gradual but certain conviction it had brought about.
"I was extraordinarily blind, however, not to find the clue earlier."
"It is not only you, my dear Meynell, that need regret it!" cried the
Bishop. "I hope you have sometimes given a thought to the men on our side
compelled to see the fight waged--"
"With such a weapon? I knew very well that no one under your influence,
my lord, would touch it," said Meynell simply.
The Bishop observed him, and with an inner sympathy, one might almost say
a profound and affectionate admiration, which contrasted curiously with
the public position in which they stood to each other. It was now very
generally recognized, and especially in Markborough and its diocese, that
Meynell had borne himself with extraordinary dignity and patience under
the ordeal through which he had passed. And the Bishop--whose guess had
so nearly hit the truth, who had been persuaded that in the whole matter
Meynell was but the victim of some trust, some duty, which honour and
conscience would not let him betray in order to save himself--the Bishop
was but the more poignantly of this opinion now that he had the man
before him. The weeks of suffering, the long storm of detraction, had
left their mark; and it was not a light one. The high-hearted little
Bishop felt himself in some way guilty, obscurely and representatively,
if not directly.
Yet, at the same time, when the personal matter dropped away, and they
passed, as they soon did, to a perfectly calm discussion of the action in
the Court of Arches which was to begin within a week, nothing could be
clearer or more irrevocable than the differences, ecclesiastical and
intellectual, which divided these two men, who in matters of personal
feeling were so sensitively responsive the one to the other.
Meynell dwelt on the points of law raised in the pleadings, on the
bearing of previous cases--the _Essays and Reviews_ case above all--upon
the suit. The antecedents of the counsel employed on both sides, the
idiosyncrasies of the judge, the probable length of the trial; their talk
ranged round these matters, without ever striking deeper. It was assumed
between them that the expulsion of the Modernist clergy was only a
question of months--possibly weeks. Once indeed Meynell referred slightly
to the agitation in the country, to the growing snowball of the petition
to Parliament, to the now certain introduction of a Bill "To promote an
amended constitution for the Church of England." The Bishop's eyebrows
went up, his lip twitched. It was the scorn of a spiritual aristocracy
threatened by the populace.
But in general they talked with extraordinary frankness and mutual good
feeling; and they grasped hands more than cordially at the end. They
might have been two generals, meeting before a battle, under the white
* * * * *
Still the same mild January weather; with unseasonable shoots putting
forth, and forebodings on the part of all garden-lovers, as fresh and
resentful as though such forebodings, with their fulfilments, were not
the natural portion of all English gardeners.
In the Westmoreland dales, the month was rainier than elsewhere, but if
possible, milder. Yellow buds were already foolishly breaking on the
gorse, and weak primroses, as though afraid to venture, and yet
venturing, were to be found in the depths of many woods.
Meynell had slept at Whindale. In the morning a trap conveyed him and his
bag to the farmhouse at the head of the valley; and the winter sun had
only just scattered the mists from the dale when, stick in hand, he found
himself on the road to Mrs. Elsmere's little house, Burwood.
With every step his jaded spirits rose. He was a passionate lover of
mountains, with that modern spirit which finds in them man's best refuge
from modernness. The damp fragrance of the mossy banks and bare hedges;
the racing freshness of the stream, and the little eddies of foam blown
from it by the wind; the small gray sheep in the fields; the crags
overhead dyed deep in withered heather; the stone farmhouses with their
touch of cheerful white on door and window; all the exquisite detail of
grass, and twig and stone; and overhead the slowly passing clouds in the
wide sweep of the dale--these things to him were spiritual revival, they
dressed and prepared him for that great hour to which dimly, yet through
all his pulses, he felt he was going.
The little house sent up a straight column of blue smoke into the quiet
air. Its upper windows were open; the sun was on its lichened porch, and
on the silver stem of the birch tree which rose from the mossy grass
He did not need to knock. Mary was in the open doorway, her face all
light and rose colour; and in the shadows of the passage behind her stood
Catharine. When with the touch of Mary's hand still warm in his, Meynell
turned to greet her mother, he was seized, even through the quiet emotion
which held them all, by an impression of change. Some energy of physical
life had faded from the worn nobility of Catharine's face, instead a
"grave heavenliness" which disquieted the spectator, beautiful as it was.
But the momentary shock was lost in the quiet warmth of her greeting.
"You are going to take her for a walk?" she asked wistfully, as Mary left
them alone in the little sitting-room.
"You allow it?" said Meynell, hardly knowing what he said, and still
retaining her hand.
"Mary is her own mistress." Then she added, with a deep, involuntary
sigh: "Whatever she says to you, she knows she has her mother's
Meynell stooped and kissed her hand.
A few minutes later, he and Mary had taken the road along the dale.
Catharine stood under the little porch to look after them. Mingled
sweetness and bitterness filled her mind. She pictured to herself for an
instant what it would have been if she had been giving Mary to a
Christian pastor of the stamp of her own father, "sound in the faith," a
"believer," entering upon what had always seemed to her from her
childhood the ideal and exalted life of the Christian ministry. As things
were, in a few weeks, Richard Meynell would be an exile and a wanderer,
chief among a regiment of banished men, driven out by force from the
National Church; without any of the dignity--that dignity which had been
her husband's--of voluntary renunciation. And Mary would become his wife
only to share in his rebellion, his defiance, and his exile.
She crossed her hands tightly upon her breast as though she were
imprinting these sad facts upon her consciousness, learning to face them,
to bear them with patience. And yet--in some surprising way--they did not
hurt her as sharply as they would once have done. Trembling--almost in
terror--she asked herself whether her own faith was weakening. And amid
the intensity of aspiration and love with which her mind threw itself on
the doubt, she turned back, tottering a little, to her chair by the fire.
She was glad to be alone, passionately as she loved her Mary. And as she
sat now following Meynell and Mary in thought along the valley, and now
listening vaguely to the murmur of the fire or the stream outside, there
came upon her a first gentle premonition--as though a whisper, from far
away--of the solitude of death.
Lines from the _Christian Year_, the book on which her girlhood had been
nourished, stole into her mind:
Why should we faint and fear to live alone,
Since all alone, so Heaven has willed, we die?
Never had sunshine seemed to Meynell so life-giving as this pale wintry
warmth. The soft sound of Mary's dress beside him; the eyes she turned
upon him when she spoke, so frank and sweet, yet for her lover, so full
of mystery; the lines of her young form, compact of health and grace; the
sound of her voice, the turn of her head--everything about her filled him
with a tumult of feeling not altogether blissful, though joy was
uppermost. For now that the great moment was come, now that he trembled
on the verge of a happiness he had every reason to think was his, he was
a prey to many strange qualms and tremors. In the first place he was
suddenly and sorely conscious of his age! Forty-four to her twenty-six!
Was it fitting?--was it right? And more than that! Beside her freshness,
her springing youth, he realized his own jaded spirit, almost with a
sense of guilt. These six months of strenuous battle and leadership,
these new responsibilities, and the fierce call which had been made on
every gift and power, ending in the dumb, proud struggle, the growing
humiliation of the preceding weeks, had left him ripened indeed,
magnified indeed, as a personality; but it was as though down the
shadowed vista of life he saw his youth, as "Another self," a
Doppelgänger, disappearing forever.
While she!--before _her_ were all the years of glamour, of happy
instinctive action, when a man or woman is worth just what they dream,
when dream and act flow together. Could he give her anything worth her
having in exchange for this sheer youth of hers? He saw before him a long
and dusty struggle; the dust of it choking, often, the purest sources of
feeling. Cares about money; cares about health; the certain enmity of
many good men; the bitterness that waits on all controversial success or
failure: all these there must be--he could not shield her from them.
She, on her part, saw plainly that he was depressed, knew well that he
had suffered. As the Bishop had perceived, it was written on his aspect.
But her timidity as yet prevented her from taking the initiative with
him, as later she would learn to do. She felt for him at this stage
partly the woman's love, partly the deep and passionate loyalty of the
disciple. And it was possibly this very loyalty in her from which Meynell
shrank. He felt toward himself and his role, in the struggle to which he
was committed, a half despairing, half impatient irony, which saved him
from anything like a prophetic pose. Some other fellow would do it so
much better! But meanwhile it had to be done.
So that, charged as was the atmosphere between them, it was some time
before they found a real freedom of speech. The openings, the gambits,
which were to lead them to the very heart of the game, were at first
masked and hesitating. They talked a little--perfunctorily--about the
dale and its folk, and Mary fell without difficulty now and then into the
broad Westmoreland speech, which delighted Meynell's ear, and brought the
laugh back to his eyes. Then, abruptly, he told her that the campaign of
slander was over, and that the battle, instead of "infinite mess and
dislocation," was now to be a straight and clean one. He said nothing of
Barron; but he spoke tenderly of the Bishop, and Mary's eyes swam a
She on her part dared to speak of Alice and Hester. And very soon it was
quietly recognized between these two that Alice's story was known to
Mary; and, for the first time in his life, Meynell spoke with free
emotion and self-criticism of the task which Neville Flood had laid
upon him. Had there been in Mary some natural dread of the moment when
she must first hear the full story of his relation to Alice? If so, it
was soon dispelled. He could not have told the story more simply; but its
beauty shone out. Only, she was startled, even terrified, by certain
glimpses which his talk gave her into his feeling with regard to Hester.
She saw plainly that the possibility of a catastrophe, in spite of all he
could do, was ever present to him; and she saw also, or thought she saw,
that his conception of his own part in the great religious campaign was
strangely--morbidly--dependent upon the fate of Hester. If he was able to
save her from herself and from the man who threatened her, well and good;
if not, as he had said to Mary once before, he was not fit to be any
man's leader, and should feel himself the Jonah of any cause. There was a
certain mystical passion in it, the strong superstition of a man in whom
a great natural sensitiveness led often and readily to despondency; as
though he "asked for a sign."
They passed the noisy little river by the stepping-stones and then
climbed a shoulder of fell between Long Whindale and the next valley.
Descending a sunny mountainside, they crossed some water meadows, and
mounted the hill beyond, to a spot that Mary had marked in her walks.
Beside a little tumbling stream and beneath a thicket of holly, lay a
flat-topped rock commanding all the spectacle of flood and fell. Mary
guided him there; and then stood silent and flushed, conscious that she
herself had brought the supreme moment to its birth. The same perception
rushed upon Meynell. He looked into her eyes, smiling and masterful, all
his hesitations cleared away....
"Sit there, my lady of the fells!"
He led her to the rocky throne, and, wrapped in his old Inverness cloak,
he took a place on a lesser stone at her feet. Suddenly, he raised a hand
and caught hers. She found herself trembling, and looking down into his
"Mary!--Mary _darling_!--is it mine?"
The question was just whispered, and she whispered her reply. They were
alone in a lovely wilderness of fell and stream. Only a shepherd walked
with his flock in a field half a mile away, and across the valley a
ploughman drove his horses.
At the murmur in his ear, Meynell, this time, put up both hands, and drew
her down to him. The touch of her fresh lips was rapture. And yet--
"My rose!" he said, almost with a groan. "What can you make of such an
old fellow? I love you--_love_ you--but I am not worthy of you!"
"I am the judge of that," she said softly. And looking up he saw the
colour in her cheeks fluttering, and two bright tears in her eyes.
Timidly she took one hand away from him and began to stroke back the hair
from his brow.
"You look so tired!"--she murmured--"as though you had been in trouble.
And I wasn't there!"
"You were always there!"
And springing from his lowly seat, he came to the rock beside her, and
drew her within the shelter of his cloak, looking down upon her with
"You don't know what you're undertaking," he said, his eyes moist, his
lips smiling. "I am an old bachelor, and my ways are detestable! Can you
ever put up with the pipes and the dogs? I am the untidiest man alive!"
"Will Anne ever let me touch your papers?"
"Goodness! what will Anne say to us! I forgot Anne," he said, laughing.
Then, bending over her, "We shall be poor, darling!--and very
uncomfortable. Can you really stand it--and me?"
"Shall we have a roof over our heads at all?" asked Mary, but so dizzily
happy that she knew but vaguely what she said.
"I have already bespoken a cottage. They are going to make me Editor of
the _Modernist_. We shall have bread and butter, dearest, but not much
"I have a little," said Mary, shyly.
Meynell looked rather scared.
"Not much, I hope!"
"Enough for gowns!--and--and a little more."
"I prefer to buy my wife's gowns--I will!" said Meynell with energy.
"Promise me, darling, to put all your money into a drawer--or a
money-box. Then when we want something really amusing--a cathedral--or
a yacht--we'll take it out."
So they laughed together, he all the while holding her close crushed
against him, and she deafened almost by the warm beating of a man's heart
beneath her cheek.
And presently silence came, a silence in which one of the rare ecstasies
of life came upon them and snatched them to the third heaven. From the
fold of the hill in which they sat, sheltered both by the fell itself,
and by the encircling hollies, they overlooked a branching dale, half
veiled, and half revealed by sunny cloud. Above the western fells they
had just crossed, hung towers and domes of white cumulus, beneath which a
pearly sunshine slipped through upon the broad fell-side, making of it
one wide sunlit pleasance, dyed in the red and orange of the withered
fern, and dotted with black holly and juniper. Round the head of the dale
the curtain of cloud hung thicker, save where one superb crag tore it
asunder, falling sheer into the green gentleness of the fields. In the
silence, all the voices of nature spoke; the rising wind, which flung
itself against the hill-slopes at their feet; the insistent flow of the
river, descending from the reservoirs far away; and the sharp chatter of
the little beck leaping at their side from stone to stone. Passionately,
in Meynell's heart the "buried life" awoke, which only love can free from
the cavern where it lies, and bring into the full energy of day.
"One goes on talking--preaching--babbling--about love," he said to her;
"what else is there to preach about? If love is not the key to life, then
there is no key, and no man need preach any more. Only, my Amor has been
till now a stern God! He has in his hands!--I know it!--all the noblest
rewards and ecstasies of life; but so far, I have seen him wring them out
of horror, or pain. The most heavenly things I have ever seen have been
the things of suffering. I think of a poor fellow dying in the pit and
trying to give me his last message to his wife; of a mother fading out of
life, still clasping her babes, with hands twisted almost out of human
shape by hard work; or a little lad--" his voice dropped--"only last
week!--who saved his worthless brother's life by giving him warning of
some escaping trucks, and was crushed himself. 'I couldn't help it,
sir!'--_apologizing_ to me and the foreman, as we knelt by him!--'I knew
Jim had the drink in him.' In all these visions, Love was divine--but
awful! And here!--_here_!--I see his wings outspread upon that
mountain-side; he comes clothed, not in agony, but in this golden
peace--this beauty--this wild air; he lays your head upon my breast!"
"There is a new philosophy which has possessed me for months; the thought
of a great man, which seizes upon us dull lesser creatures, and seems to
give us, for a time at least, new eyes and ears, as though, like
Melampus, we had caught the hidden language of the world! It rests
on the notion of the endless creativeness and freedom of life. It is the
negation of all fate, all predestination. _Nothing_ foreknown, nothing
predestined! No _necessity_--no _anangké_--darling!--either in the world
process, or the mind of God, that you and I should sit here to-day, heart
to heart! It was left for our wills to do, our hearts to conceive, God
lending us the world, so to speak, to work on! All our past cutting
into--carving out--this present; all our past alive in the present; as
all this present shall be alive in the future. There is no 'iron law' for
life and will, beloved--they create, they are the masters, they are
forever new. All the same!"--his tone changed--"I believe firmly that
this rock knew from all eternity that you and I should sit here to-day!"
Presently, Mary disengaged herself. Her hat was not what it had been; her
hair had escaped its bounds, and must be rigorously put to rights. She
sat there flushed and bareheaded, her hands working; while Meynell's
eyes devoured her.
"It is January, Richard, and the sun is sinking."
"In your world perhaps, dear, not in mine."
"We must go back to mother." She laid a hand on his.
"We will go back to mother!" he said, joyously, with a tender emphasis on
the word, without moving however. "Mary!--next to you I love your
Mary's sweet face darkened a little; she buried it in her hands. Meynell
drew them tenderly away.
"All that affection can do to soften the differences between us, shall be
done," he said, with his whole heart. "I believe too that the sense of
them will grow less and less."
Mary made no reply, except by the slight pressure of her fingers on his.
She sat in an absorbed sadness, thinking of her mother's life, and the
conflict which had always haunted and scorched it, between love and
religion; first in the case of her husband, and then in that of her
daughter. "But oh! how could I--how could I help it?" was the cry of
Mary's own conscience and personality.
She turned with painful eagerness to Meynell. "How did you think
her?--how does she strike you?"
"Physically?" He chose his words. "She is so beautiful! But--sometimes--I
think she looks frail."
The tears sprang to Mary's eyes. She quickly threw herself upon his
misgiving, and tried to argue it away, both in herself and him. She dwelt
upon her mother's improvement in sleep and appetite, her cheerfulness,
her increased power of walking; she was insistent, almost resentful, her
white brow furrowed with pain, even while her hand lay warm in Meynell's.
He must needs comfort her; must needs disavow his own impression. After
all, what value had such an impression beside the judgment of her daily
and hourly watchfulness?--the favourable opinion too, so she insisted, of
their local doctor.
As they walked home, he startled her by saying that he should only have
three days in the valley.
"Three days!" She looked her remonstrance.
"You know the trial begins next week?"
Yes, she knew, but had understood that the pleadings were all ready, and
that a North-Western train would take him to London in six hours.
"I have to preach at St. Hilda's, Westminster," he said, with a shrug,
and a look of distaste.
Mary asked questions, and discovered that the sermon would no doubt be
made the opportunity for something like a demonstration; and that he
shrank from the thought of it.
She perceived, indeed, a certain general flagging of the merely combative
forces in him, not without dismay. Such moments of recoil are natural to
such men--half saints, half organizers. The immediate effect of her
perception of it was to call out something heroic and passionate in
herself. She was very sweet, and very young; there were eighteen years
between them; and yet in these very first hours of their engagement, he
felt her to be not only rest, but inspiration; not only sympathy, but
When they neared the little ivy-covered house, on their return home, Mary
broke from him. Her step on the gravel was heard by Catharine. She came
quickly to the door and stood awaiting them. Mary ran forward and threw
herself into the tender arms that drew her into the shadows of the
"Oh, mother! mother!--he does love you!" she said, with a rush of tears.
If Catharine's eyes also were dim, she only answered with a tender
"Don't pretend that was all he said to you in these two hours!"
And still holding Mary, she turned, smiling, to Meynell, and let him
claim from her, for the first time, a son's greeting.
For three blissful days, did Meynell pitch his tent in Long Whindale.
Though the weather broke, and the familiar rain shrouded the fells, he
and Mary walked incessantly among them, exploring those first hours of
love, when every tone and touch is charged, for lovers, with the whole
meaning of the world. And in the evenings he sat between the two women in
the little cottage room, reading aloud Catharine's favourite poets; or in
the familiar talk, now gay now grave, of their new intimacy, disclosing
himself ever more fully, and rooting himself ever more firmly in their
hearts. His sudden alarm as to Catharine's health passed away, and Mary's
new terror with it. Scarcely a word was said of the troubles ahead. But
it was understood that Mary would be in London to hear him preach at St.
On the last day of Meynell's visit, Catharine, greatly to her surprise,
received a letter from Hester Fox-Wilton.
It contained a breathless account of an evening spent in seeing
Oedipus Rex played by Mounet Sully at the Comédie Française. In this
half-sophisticated girl, the famous performance, traditional now through
two generations of playgoers, had clearly produced an emotion whereof the
expression in her letter greatly disquieted Catharine Elsmere. She felt
too--a little grimly--the humour of its address to herself.
"Tell me how to answer it, please," she said, handing it to Meynell with
a twitching lip. "It is a language I don't understand! And why did they
take her to such a play?"
Meynell shared her disquiet. For the Greek conception of a remorseless
fate, as it is forever shaped and embodied in the tale of Oedipus, had
led Hester apparently to a good deal of subsequent browsing in the
literature--the magazine articles at any rate--of French determinism; and
she rattled through some of her discoveries in this reckless letter:
"You talked to me so nicely, dear Mrs. Elsmere, that last evening at
Upcote. I know you want me--you want everybody--'to be good!'
"But 'being good' has nothing to do with us.
"How can it?--such creatures, such puppets as we are!
"Poor wretch, Oedipus! He never meant any one any harm--did he?--and
"'_Apollo, friends, Apollo it was, that brought all these my woes, my
sore, sore woes!--to pass_.'
"Dear Mrs. Elsmere!--you can't think what a good doctrine it is after
all--how it steadies one! What chance have we against these blundering
"Nothing one can do makes any difference. It is, really very consoling if
you come to think of it; and it's no sort of good being angry with
* * * * *
"Part nonsense, part bravado," said Catharine, raising clear eyes, with
half a smile in them, to Meynell. "But it makes one anxious."
His puckered brow showed his assent.
"As soon as the trial is over--within a fortnight certainly--I shall run
over to see them."
* * * * *
Meynell and Mary travelled to town together, and Mary was duly deposited
for a few days with some Kensington cousins.
On the night of their arrival--a Saturday--Meynell, not without some
hesitation, made an appearance at the Reformers' Club, which had been
recently organized as a London centre for the Movement, in Albemarle
It was no sooner known that he was in the building than a flutter ran
through the well-filled rooms. That very morning an article in the
_Modernist_ signed R. M. had sounded a note of war, so free, lofty, and
determined, that men were proud to be on Meynell's side in such a battle.
On the following Tuesday the Arches Trial was to begin. Meynell was to
defend himself; and the attention of the country would be fixed upon the
duel between him and the great orthodox counsel, Sir Wilfrid Marsh.
Men gathered quickly round him. Most of the six clergy who, with him, had
launched the first Modernist Manifesto, were present, in expectation of
the sermon on the morrow, and the trial of the following week. Chesham
and Darwen, his co-defendants in the Arches suit, with whom he had been
in constant correspondence throughout the winter, came to discuss a few
last points and understandings; Treherne, the dear old scholar in whose
house they had met to draw up the Manifesto, under the shadow of the
Cathedral, pressed his hand and launched a Latin quotation; Rollin, fat,
untidy and talkative as ever, could not refrain from "interviewing"
Meynell, for a weekly paper; while Derrick, the Socialist and poet,
talked to him in a low voice and with eyes that blazed, of certain
"brotherhoods" that had been spreading the Modernist faith, and Modernist
Sacraments among the slums of a great midland town.
And in the voices that spoke to him, and the eyes that met his, Meynell
could not but realize a wide and warm sympathy, an eagerness to make
amends--sometimes a half confessed compunction for a passing doubt.
He stood among them, haggard and worn, but steeped in a content and
gratitude that had more sources than they knew. And under the kindling of
their faith and their affection, his own hesitations passed away; his
will steeled itself to the tasks before him.
The following day will be long remembered in the annals of the Movement.
The famous church, crowded in every part with an audience representing
science, literature, politics, the best of English thought and English
social endeavour, was but the outward and visible sign of things inward
"_Can these dry bones live_?"
As Meynell gave out the text, there were many who remembered the picture
of Oxford hanging in Newman's study at Edgbaston, and those same words
written below it.
"_Can these dry bones live_?"--So Newman had asked in despair, of his
beloved University, and of English religion, in the early years after he
had deserted Anglicanism for Rome. And now, more than half a century
afterward, the leader of a later religious movement asked the same
question on the eve of another contest which would either regenerate or
destroy the English Church. The impulse given by Newman and the
Tractarians had spent itself, though not without enormous and permanent
results within the life of the nation; and now it was the turn of that
Liberal reaction and recoil which had effaced Newman's work in Oxford,
yet had been itself wandering for years without a spiritual home. During
those years it had found its way through innumerable channels of the
national life as a fertilizing and redeeming force. It had transformed
education, law, science and history. Yet its own soul had hungered. And
now, thanks to that inner necessity which governs the spiritual progress
of men, the great Liberal Movement, enriched with a thousand conquests,
was sweeping back into the spiritual field; demanding its just share in
the National Church; and laying its treasures at the feet of a Christ,
unveiled, illuminated, by its own labour, by the concentrated and
passionate effort of a century of human intelligence.
Starting from this conception--the full citizen-right within the Church
of both Liberal and High Churchman--the first part of Meynell's sermon
became a moving appeal for religious freedom; freedom of development
and "variation," within organized Christianity itself. Simpler Creeds,
modernized tests, alternative forms, a "unity of the spirit in the bond
of peace,"--with these ideas the Modernist preacher built up the vision
of a Reformed Church, co-extensive with the nation, resting on a
democratic government, yet tenderly jealous of its ancient ceremonies, so
long as each man might interpret them "as he was able," and they were no
longer made a source of tyranny and exclusion.
Then, from the orthodox opponent in whose eyes the Modernist faith was a
mere beggarly remnant, Meynell turned to the sceptic for whom it was only
a modified superstition. An eloquent prelude, dealing with the
preconceptions, the modern philosophy and psychology which lie at the
root of religious thought to-day--and the rest of the sermon flowed on
into what all Christian eloquence must ultimately be, the simple
"preaching of Christ."
Amid the hush of the crowded church Meynell preached the Christ of our
day--just as Paul of Tarsus preached the Christ of a Hellenized Judaism
to the earliest converts; as St. Francis, in the Umbrian hills preached
the Lord of Poverty and Love; as the Methodist preachers among the
villages of the eighteenth century preached the democratic individualism
of the New Testament to the English nascent democracy.
In each case the form of the preaching depended on the knowledge and the
thought-world of the preacher. So with Meynell's Christ.
Not the phantom of a Hellenistic metaphysic; not the Redeemer and Judge
of a misunderstood Judaism; not the mere ethical prophet of a German
professorial theology; but the King of a spiritual kingdom, receiving
allegiance, and asking love, from the free consciences of men; repeating
forever in the ears of those in whom a Divine influence has prepared the
way, the melting and constraining message: "This do in remembrance of
"'Of me--and of all the just, all the righteous, all the innocent, of all
the ages, in me--pleading through me--symbolized in me! Are you for
Man--or for the Beast that lurks in man? Are you for Chastity--or
Lust? Are you for Cruelty--or Love? Are you for Foulness or Beauty?
Choose!--choose this day.'
"The Christ who thus speaks to you and me, my brethren, is no longer
a man made God, a God made man. Those categories of thought, for us,
are past. But neither is he merely the crucified Galilean, the
Messianic prophet of the first century. For by a mysterious and unique
destiny--unique at least in degree--that life and death have become
Spirit and Idea. The Power behind the veil, the Spirit from whom issues
the world, has made of them a lyre, enchanted and immortal, through which
He breathes His music into men. The setting of the melody varies with the
generations, but the melody remains. And as we listen to it to-day,
expressed through the harmonies of that thought which is ourselves--blood
of our blood, life of our life--we are listening now, listening always,
as the disciples listened in Nazareth, to the God within us, the very God
who was 'in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.'
"Of that God, all life is in some sense, the sacramental expression. But
in the course of ages some sacraments and symbols of the divine are
approved and verified beyond others--immeasurably beyond others. This is
what has happened--and so far as we can see by the special will and
purpose of God--with the death-unto-life--with the Cross of Christ....
"The symbol of the Cross is concerned with our personal and profoundest
being. But the symbol of the Kingdom is social, collective--the power of
every reformer, every servant of men....
"Many thinkers," said the preacher, in his concluding passage, while all
eyes were fixed on the head sprinkled with gray, and the strong humanity
of the face--"many men, in all ages and civilizations have dreamed of a
City of God, a Kingdom of Righteousness, an Ideal State, and a Divine
Ruler. Jesus alone has made of that dream, history; has forced it upon,
and stamped it into history. The Messianic dream of Judaism--though
wrought of nobler tissue--it's not unlike similar dreams in other
religions; but in this it is unique, that it gave Jesus of Nazareth his
opportunity, and that from it has sprung the Christian Church. Jesus
accepted it with the heart of a child; he lived in it; he died for it;
and by means of it, his spiritual genius, his faithfulness unto death
transformed a world. He died indeed, overwhelmed; with the pathetic cry
of utter defeat upon his lips. And the leading races of mankind have
knelt ever since to the mighty spirit who dared not only to conceive
and found the Kingdom of God, but to think of himself as its Spiritual
King--by sheer divine right of service, of suffering, and of death! Only
through tribulation and woe--through the _peirasmos_ or sore trial of the
world--according to Messianic belief, could the Kingdom be realized, and
Messiah revealed. It was the marvellous conception of Jesus, inspired by
the ancient poetry and prophecy of his nation, that he might, as the
Suffering Servant, concentrate in himself the suffering due from his
race, and from the world, and by his death bring about--violently, "by
force"--the outpouring of the Spirit, the Resurrection, and the dawn of
the heavenly Kingdom. He went up to Jerusalem to die; he provoked his
death; he died. And from the Resurrection visions which followed
naturally on such a life and death, inspired by such conceptions, and
breathing them with such power into the souls of other men, arose the
"The Parousia for which the Lord had looked, delayed. It delays still.
The scope and details of the Messianic dream itself mean nothing to us
"But its spirit is immortal. The vision of a kingdom of Heaven--a polity
of the soul, within, or superseding the earthly polity--once interfused
with man's thought and life, has proved to be imperishable, a thing that
"Only it must be realized afresh from age to age; embodied afresh in the
conceptions and the language of successive generations.
"And these developing embodiments and epiphanies of the kingdom can only
be brought into being by the method of Christ--that is to say, by
"Again and again has the kingdom 'suffered violence'--has been brought
fragmentarily into the world '_by force_'--by the only irresistible
force--that of suffering, of love, of self-renouncing faith.
"To that 'force' we, as religious Reformers, appeal.
"The parables of the mustard seed and the leaven do not express the
whole thought of Christ. When the work of preparation is over, still men
must brace themselves, as their Master did, to the last stroke of
'violence'--to a final effort of resolute, and, if need be, revolutionary
action--to the 'violence' that brings ideas to birth and shapes them into
"It was to 'violence' of this sacred sort that the Christian Church owed
its beginning; and it is this same 'violence' that must, as the
generations rise and fall, constantly maintain it among men. To cut away
the old at need and graft in the new, requires the high courage and the
resolute hand of faith. Only so can the Christian Life renew itself; only
so can efficacy and movement return to powers exhausted or degenerate;
only so 'can these dry bones live!'"
Amid the throng as it moved outward into the bustle of Westminster,
Flaxman found himself rubbing shoulders with Edward Norham. Norham walked
with his eyes on the ground, smiling to himself.
"A little persecution!" he said, rubbing his hands, as he looked up--"and
how it would go!"
"Well--the persecution begins this week--in the Court of Arches."
"Persecution--nonsense! You mean 'propaganda.' I understand Meynell's
defence will proceed on totally new lines. He means to argue each point
on its merits?"
"Yes. The Voysey judgment gave him his cue. You will remember, Voysey was
attacked by the Lord Chancellor of the day--old Lord Hatherley--as a
'private clergyman,' who 'of his own mere will, not founding himself upon
any critical inquiry, but simply upon his own taste and judgment'
maintained certain heresies. Now Meynell, I imagine, will give his judges
enough of 'critical inquiry' before they have done with him!"
Norham shrugged his shoulders.
"All very well! Why did he sign the Articles?"
"He signed them at four-and-twenty!" said Flaxman hotly. "Will you
maintain that a system which insists upon a man's beliefs at forty-four
being identical with his beliefs at twenty-four is not condemned _ipso
"Oh I know what you say!--I know what you say!" cried Norham
good-humouredly. "We shall all be saying it in Parliament presently--Good
heavens! Well, I shall look into the court to-morrow, if I can possibly
find an hour, and hear Meynell fire away."
"As Home Secretary, you may get in!"--laughed Flaxman--"on no other
terms. There isn't a seat to be had--there hasn't been for weeks."
The trial came on. The three suits from the Markborough diocese took
precedence, and were to be followed by half a dozen others--test
cases--from different parts of England. But on the Markborough suits
everything turned. The Modernist defendants everywhere had practically
resolved on the same line of defence; on the same appeal from the mind of
the sixteenth century to the mind of the twentieth; from creeds and
formularies to history; from a dying to a living Church.
The chief counsel for the promoters, Sir Wilfrid Marsh, made a calm,
almost a conciliatory opening. He was a man of middle height, with a
large, clean-shaven face, a domed head and smooth straight hair, still
jetty black. He wore a look of quiet assurance and was clearly a man
of all the virtues; possessing a portly wife and a tribe of daughters.
His speech was marked in all its earlier sections by a studied liberality
and moderation. "I am not going to appeal, sir, for that judgment in the
promoters' favour which I confidently claim, on any bigoted or
obscurantist lines. The Church of England is a learned Church; she is
also a Church of wide liberties."
No slavish submission to the letter of the Articles on the Liturgy was
now demanded of any man. Subscription had been relaxed; the final
judgment in the _Essays and Reviews_ case had given a latitude in the
interpretation of Scripture, of which, as many recent books showed, the
clergy--"I refer now to men of unquestioned orthodoxy"--had taken
reasonable advantage; prayer-book revision "within the limits of the
faith," if constantly retarded by the divisions of the faithful, was
still probable; both High Churchmen and Broad Churchmen--here an aside
dropped out, "so far as Broad Churchmen still exist!"--are necessary to
But there are limits. "Critical inquiry, sir, if you will--reasonable
liberty, within the limits of our formularies and a man's ordination
vow--by all means!
"But certain things are _vital_! With certain fundamental beliefs let no
one suppose that either the bishops, or convocation, or these Church
courts, or Parliament, or what the defendants are pleased to call the
nation" [one must imagine the fine gesture of a sweeping hand] "can
meddle." The _animus imponentis_ is not that of the Edwardian or
Elizabethan legislation, it is not that of the Bishops! it is that of the
Christian Church itself!--handing down the _deposition fidei_ from the
earliest to the latest times.
"_The Creeds, sir, are vital_! Put aside Homilies, Articles, the
judgments and precedents of the Church Courts--all these are, in this
struggle, beside the mark. _Concentrate on the Creeds_! Let us examine
what the defendants in these suits have made of the Creeds of
The evidence was plain. Regarded as historical statement, the defendants
had dealt drastically and destructively with the Creeds of Christendom;
no less than with the authority of "Scripture," understanding "authority"
in any technical sense.
It was indeed the chief Modernist contention, as the orator showed, that
formal creeds were mere "landmarks in the Church's life,"
crystallizations of thought, that were no sooner formed than they became
subject to the play, both dissolvent and regenerating, of the Christian
"And so you come to that inconceivable entity, a Church without a
creed--a mere chaos of private opinion, where each man is a law unto
On this theme, Sir Wilfrid--who was a man of singularly strong private
opinions, of all kinds and on all subjects--spoke for a whole day; from
the rising almost to the going down of the sun.
At the end of it Canon Dornal and a barrister friend, a devout Churchman,
walked back toward the Temple along the Embankment.
The walk was very silent, until midway the barrister said abruptly--
"Is it any plainer to you now, than when Sir Wilfrid began, what
authority--if any--there is in the English Church; or what limits--if
any--there are to private judgment within it?"
"My answer, of course, is Sir Wilfrid's. We have the Creeds."
They walked on in silence a moment. Then the first speaker said:
"A generation ago would you not have said--what also Sir Wilfrid
carefully avoided saying--'We have the Scriptures.'"
"Perhaps," said Dornal despondently.
"And as to the Creeds," the other resumed, after another pause--"Do you
think that one per cent of the Christians that you and I know believe in
the Descent into Hell, or the Resurrection of the Body?"
Dornal made no reply.
Cyril Fenton also walked home with a young priest just ordained. Both
were extremely dissatisfied with the later portions of Sir Wilfrid's
speech, which had seemed to them tainted in several passages with
Erastian complacency toward the State. Parliament especially, and a
possible intervention of Parliament, ought never to have been so much as
mentioned--even for denunciation--in an ecclesiastical court.
"_Parliament!"_ cried Fenton, coming to a sudden stop beside the water in
St. James' Park, his eyes afire, "What is Parliament but the lay synod of
the Church of England!"
During the three days of Sir Wilfrid's speech, Meynell took many notes,
and he became perforce very familiar with some of the nearer faces in the
audience day after day; with the Bishop of S----, lank and long-jawed,
with reddish hair turning to gray, a deprecating manner in society, but
in the pulpit a second Warburton for truculence and fire; the Bishop of
D----, beloved, ugly, short-sighted, the purest and humblest soul alive;
learned, mystical, poetical, in much sympathy with the Modernists, yet
deterred by the dread of civil war within the Church, a master of the Old
Latin Versions, and too apt to address schoolgirls on the charms of
textual criticism; the Bishop of F----, courtly, peevish and distrusted;
the Dean of Markborough, with the green shade over his eyes, and fretful
complaint on his lips of the "infection" generated by every Modernist
incumbent; and near him, Professor Vetch, with yet another divinity
professor beside him, a young man, short and slight, with roving,
The temperature of Sir Wilfrid's address rose day by day, and the case
for the prosecution closed thunderously in a fierce onslaught on the
ethics of the Modernist position, and on the personal honesty and
veracity of each and every Modernist holding office in the Anglican
Church, claiming sentences of immediate deprivation against the
defendants, of their vicarages and incumbencies, and of all profits and
benefits derived therefrom "unless within a week from this day they (the
defendants) should expressly and unreservedly retract the several
errors in which they have so offended."
The court broke up in a clamour of excitement and discussion, with crowds
of country parishioners standing outside to greet the three incriminated
priests as they came out.
The following morning Meynell rose. And for one brilliant week, his
defence of the Modernist position held the attention of England.
On the fourth or fifth day of his speech, the white-haired Bishop of
Dunchester, against whom proceedings had just been taken in the
Archbishop's Court, said to his son:
"Herbert, just before I was born there were two great religious leaders
in England--Newman and Arnold of Rugby. Arnold died prematurely, at
the height of bodily and spiritual vigour; Newman lived to the age of
eighty-nine, and to be a Cardinal of the Roman Church. His Anglican
influence, continued, modified, distributed by the High Church movement,
has lasted till now. To-day we have been listening again, as it were, to
the voice of Arnold, the great leader whom the Liberals lost in '42,
Arnold was a devoutly orthodox believer, snatched from life in the very
birth-hour of that New Learning of which we claim to be the children. But
a church of free men, coextensive with the nation, gathering into one
fold every English man, woman and child, that was Arnold's dream, just as
it is Meynell's.... And yet though the voice, the large heart, the
fearless mind, and the broad sympathies were Arnold's, some of the
governing ideas were Newman's. As I listened, I seemed"--the old man's
look glowed suddenly--"to see the two great leaders, the two foes of a
century ago, standing side by side, twin brethren in a new battle,
growing out of the old, with a great mingled host behind them."
Each day the court was crowded, and though Meynell seemed to be
addressing his judges, he was in truth speaking quite as consciously to a
sweet woman's face in a far corner of the crowded hall. Mary went into
the long wrestle with him, as it were, and lived through every moment of
it at his side. Then in the evening there were half hours of utter
silence, when he would sit with her hands in his, just gathering strength
for the morrow.
Six days of Meynell's speech were over. On the seventh the Court opened
amid the buzz of excitement and alarm. The chief defendant in the suit
was not present, and had sent--so counsel whispered to each other--a
hurried note to the judge to the effect that he should be absent
through the whole remainder of the trial owing to "urgent private
In a few more hours it was known that Meynell had left England, and men
on both sides looked at each other in dismay.
Meanwhile Mary had forwarded to her mother a note written late at night,
in anguish of soul:
"Alice wires to me to-night that Hester has disappeared--without the
smallest trace. But she believes she is with Meryon. I go to Paris
to-night--Oh, my own, pray that I may find her!--R. M."
The mildness of the winter had passed away. A bleak February afternoon
lay heavy on Long Whindale. A strong and bitter wind from the north blew
down the valley with occasional spits and snatches of snow, not enough as
yet to whiten the heights, but prophesying a wild night and a heavy fall.
The blasts in the desolate upper reach of the dale were so fierce that a
shepherd on the path leading over the pass to Marly Head could scarcely
hold himself upright against them. Tempestuous sounds filled all the
upper and the lower air. From the high ridges came deep reverberating
notes, a roaring in the wind; while the trees along the stream sent forth
a shriller voice, as they whistled and creaked and tossed in the eddying
gusts. Cold gray clouds were beating from the north, hanging now over the
cliffs on the western side, now over the bare screes and steep slopes of
the northern and eastern walls. Gray or inky black, the sharp edges of
the rocks cut into the gloomy sky; while on the floor of the valley,
blanched grass and winding stream seemed alike to fly scourged before the
A trap--Westmoreland calls it a car--a kind of box on wheels, was
approaching the head of the dale from the direction of Whinborough. It
stopped at the foot of the steep and narrow lane leading to Burwood, and
a young lady got out.
"You're sure that's Burwood?" she said, pointing to the house partially
visible at the end of the lane.
The driver answered in the affirmative.
"Where Mrs. Elsmere lives?"
"Aye, for sure." The man as he spoke looked curiously at the lady he had
brought from Whinborough station. She was quite a young girl he guessed,
and a handsome one. But there seemed to be something queer about her. She
looked so tumbled and tired.
Hester Fox-Wilton took out her purse, and paid him with an uncertain
hand, one or more of the shillings falling on the road, where the driver
and she groped for them. Then she raised the small bag she had brought
with her in the car, and turned away.
"Good day to yer, miss," said the man as he mounted the box. She made no
reply. After he had turned his horse and started on the return journey to
Whinborough, he looked back once or twice. But the high walls of the lane
hid the lady from him.
Hester, however, did not go very far up the lane. She sank down very soon
on a jutting stone beneath the left-hand wall, with her bag beside her,
and sat there looking at the little house. It was a pleasant, home-like
place, even on this bitter afternoon. In one of the windows was a glow of
firelight; white muslin curtains everywhere gave it a dainty, refined
look; and it stood picturesquely within the shelter of its trees, and of
the yew hedge which encircled the garden.
Yet Hester shivered as she looked at it. She was very imperfectly clothed
for such an afternoon, in a serge jacket and skirt supplemented by a
small fur collarette, which she drew closer round her neck from time to
time, as though in a vain effort to get warm. But she was not conscious
of doing so, nor of the cold as cold. All her bodily sensations were
miserable and uncomfortable. But she was only actively aware of the
thoughts racing through her mind.
There they were, within a stone's throw of her--Mary and Mrs. Elsmere--in
the warm, cosy little house, without an idea that she, Hester, the
wretched, disgraced Hester, was sitting in the lane so close to them. And
yet they were perhaps thinking of her--they must have often thought about
her in the last fortnight. Mrs. Elsmere must of course have been sorry.
Good people were always sorry when such things happened. And Mary?--who
was eight years older--_older!_ than this girl of eighteen who sat there,
sickened by life, conscious of a dead wall of catastrophe drawn between
her and the future.
Should she go to them? Should she open their door and say--"Here I
am!--Horrible things have happened. No decent person will ever know me or
speak to me again. But you said--you'd help me--if I wanted it.
Perhaps it was a lie--like all the rest?"
Then as the reddened eyelids fell with sheer fatigue, there rose on the
inward sight the vision of Catharine Elsmere's face--its purity, its
calm, its motherliness. For a moment it drew, it touched, it gave
courage. And then the terrible sense of things irreparable, grim matters
of fact not to be dreamed or thought away, rushed in and swept the
clinging, shipwrecked creature from the foothold she had almost reached.
She rose hastily.
"I can't! They don't want to see me--they've done with me. Or perhaps
they'll cry--they'll pray with me, and I can't stand that! Why did I ever
come? Where on earth shall I go?"
And she looked round her in petulant despair, angry with herself for
having done this foolish thing, angry with the loneliness and barrenness
of the valley, where no inn opened doors of shelter for such as she,
angry with the advancing gloom, and with the bitter wind that teased and
A little way up the lane she saw a small gate that led into the Elsmeres'
garden. She took her bag, and opening the gate, she placed it inside.
Then she ran down the lane, drawing her fur round her, and shivering with
"I'll think a bit--" she said to herself--"I'll think what to say.
Perhaps I'll come back soon."
When she reached the main road again, she looked uncertainly to right and
left. Which way? The thought of the long dreary road back to Whinborough
repelled her. She turned toward the head of the valley. Perhaps she might
find a house which would take her in. The driver had said there was a
farm which let lodgings in the summer. She had money--some pounds at any
rate; that was all right. And she was not hungry. She had arrived at a
junction station five miles from Whinborough by a night train. At six
o'clock in the morning she had found herself turned out of the express,
with no train to take her on to Whinborough. But there was a station
hotel, and she had engaged a room and ordered a fire. There she had
thrown herself down without undressing on the bed, and had slept heavily
for four or five hours. Then she had had some breakfast, and had taken
a midday train to Whinborough, and a trap to Long Whindale.
She had travelled straight from Nice without stopping. She would not let
herself think now as she hurried along the lonely road what it was she
had fled from, what it was that had befallen. The slightest glimpse into
this past made her begin to sob, she put it away from her with all her
strength. But she had had, of course, to decide where she should go, with
whom she should take refuge.
Not with Uncle Richard, whom she had deceived and defied. Not with "Aunt
Alice." No sooner did the vision of that delicate withered face, that
slender form come before her, than it brought with it terrible fancies.
Her conduct had probably killed "Aunt Alice." She did not want to think
But Mrs. Elsmere knew all about bad men, and girls who got into trouble.
She, Hester, knew, from a few things she had heard people say--things
that no one supposed she had heard--that Mrs. Elsmere had given years of
her life, and sacrificed her health, to "rescue" work. The rescue of
girls from such men as Philip? How could they be rescued?--when--
All that was nonsense. But the face, the eyes--the shining, loving eyes,
the motherly arms--yes, those, Hester confessed to herself, she had
thirsted for. They had brought her all the way from Nice to this northern
valley--this bleak, forbidding country. She shivered again from head to
foot, as she made her way painfully against the wind.
Yet now she was flying even from Catharine Elsmere; even from those
tender eyes that haunted her.
The road turned toward a bridge, and on the other side of the bridge
degenerated into a rough and stony bridle path, giving access to two gray
farms beneath the western fell. On the near side of the bridge the
road became a cart-track leading to the far end of the dale.
Hester paused irresolute on the bridge, and looked back toward Burwood. A
light appeared in what was no doubt the sitting-room window. A lamp
perhaps that, in view of the premature darkening of the afternoon by the
heavy storm-clouds from the north, a servant had just brought in. Hester
watched it in a kind of panic, foreseeing the moment when the curtains
would be drawn and the light shut out from her. She thought of the little
room within, the warm firelight, Mary with her beautiful hair--and Mrs.
Elsmere. They were perhaps working and reading--as though that were all
there were to do and think about in the world! No, no! after all they
couldn't be very peaceful--or very cheerful. Mary was engaged to Uncle
Richard now; and Uncle Richard must be pretty miserable.
The exhausted girl nearly turned back toward that light. Then a hand came
quietly and shut it out. The curtains were drawn. Nothing now to be seen
of the little house but its dim outlines in the oncoming twilight, the
smoke blown about its roof, and a faint gleam from a side-window, perhaps
Suddenly, a thought, a wild, attacking thought, leapt out upon her, and
held her there motionless, in the winding, wintry lane.
When had she sent that telegram to Upcote? If she could only remember!
The events of the preceding forty-eight hours seemed to be all confused
in one mad flux of misery. Was it _possible_ that they too could be
Here--Uncle Richard, and "Aunt Alice?" She had said something about Mrs.
Elsmere in her telegram--she could not recollect what. That had been
meant to comfort them, and yet to keep them away, to make them leave
her to her own plans. But supposing, instead, its effect had been to
bring them here at once, in pursuit of her?
She hurried forward, sobbing dry sobs of terror as though she already
heard their steps behind her. What was she afraid of? Simply their
love!--simply their sorrow! She had broken their hearts; and what could
she say to them?
The recollection of all her cruelty to "Aunt Alice" in Paris--her
neglect, her scorn, her secret, unjust anger with those who had kept from
her the facts of her birth--seemed to rise up between her and all ideas
of hope and help. Oh, of course they would be kind to her!--they would
forgive her--but--but she couldn't bear it! Impatience with the very
scene of wailing and forgiveness she foresaw, as of something utterly
futile and vain, swept through the quivering nerves.
"And it can never be undone!" she said to herself roughly, as though she
were throwing the words in some one's face. "It can never, _never_ be
undone! What's the good of talking?"
So the only alternative was to wander a while longer into these clouds
and storms that were beginning to beat down from the pass through the
darkness of the valley; to try and think things out; to find some shelter
for the night; then to go away again--somewhere. She was conscious now of
a first driving of sleet in her face; but it only lasted for a few
minutes. Then it ceased; and a strange gleam swept over the valley--a
livid storm-light from the west, which blanched all the withered grass
beside her, and seemed to shoot along the course of the stream as she
toiled up the rocky path beside it.
What a country, what a sky! Her young body was conscious of an angry
revolt against it, against the northern cold and dreariness; her body,
which still kept as it were the physical memory of sun, and blue sea, and
orange trees, of the shadow of olives on a thin grass, of the scent of
orange blossom on the broken twigs that some one was putting into her
Another fit of shuddering repulsion made her quicken her pace, as though,
again, she were escaping from pursuit. Suddenly, at a bend in the path,
she came on a shepherd and his flock. The shepherd, an old white-haired
man, was seated on a rock, staff in hand, watching his dog collect the
sheep from the rocky slope on which they were scattered.
At sight of Hester, the old man started and stared. Her fair hair
escaping in many directions from the control of combs and hairpins, and
the pale lovely face in the midst of it, shone in the stormy gleam that
filled the basin of the hills. Her fashionable hat and dress amazed him.
Who could she be?
She too stopped to look at him, and at his dog. The mere neighbourhood of
a living being brought a kind of comfort.
"It's going to snow--" she said, as she stood beside him, surprised by
the sound of her own voice amid the roar of the wind.
"Aye--it's onding o' snaw--" said the shepherd, his shrewd blue eyes
travelling over her face and form. "An' it'll mappen be a rough night."
"Are you taking your sheep into shelter?"
He pointed to a half-ruined fold, with three sycamores beside it, a
stone's throw away. The gate of it was open, and the dog was gradually
chasing the sheep within it.
"I doan't like leavin' 'em on t' fells this bitter weather. I'm afraid
for t' ewes. It's too cauld for 'em. They'll be for droppin' their lambs
too soon if this wind goes on. It juist taks t' strength out on 'em, doos
"Do you think it's going to snow a great deal?"
The old man looked round at the clouds and the mountains; at the
powdering of snow that had already whitened the heights.
"It'll be more'n a bit!" he said cautiously. "I dessay we'll have to be
gettin' men to open t' roads to-morrow."
"Does it often block the roads?"
"Aye, yance or twice i' t' winter. An' ye can't let 'em bide. What's ter
happen ter foak as want the doctor?"
"Did you ever know people lost on these hills?" asked the girl, looking
into the blackness ahead of them. Her shrill, slight voice rang out in
sharp contrast to the broad gutturals of his Westmoreland speech.
"Aye, missy--I've known two men lost on t' fells sin I wor a lad."
"Were they shepherds, like you?"
"Noa, missy--they wor tramps. Theer's mony a fellow cooms by this way i'
th' bad weather to Pen'rth, rather than face Shap fells. They say it's
betther walkin'. But when it's varra bad, we doan't let 'em go on--noa,
it's not safe. Theer was a mon lost on t' fells nine year ago coom
February. He wor an owd mon, and blind o' yan eye. He'd lost the toother,
"How could he do that?" Hester asked indifferently, still staring ahead
into the advancing storm, and trembling with cold from head to foot.
"Why, sum o' the dippin' stuff got into yan eye, and blinded him. It was
my son, gooin afther th' lambs i' the snaw, as found him. He heard
summat--a voice like a lile child cryin'--an he scratted aboot, an
dragged th' owd man out. He worn't deed then, but he died next mornin'.
An t' doctor said as he'd fair broken his heart i' th' storm--not in a
figure o' speach yo unnerstan--but juist th' plain truth."
The old man rose. The sheep had all been folded. He called to his dog,
and went to shut the gate. Then, still curiously eyeing Hester, he came
back, followed by his dog, to the place where she stood, listlessly
"Doan't yo go too far on t' fells, missy. It's coomin' on to snaw, an
it'll snaw aw neet. Lor bless yer, it's wild here i' winter. An when t'
clouds coom down like yon--" he pointed up the valley--"even them as
knaws t' fells from a chilt may go wrang."
"Where does this path lead?" said Hester, absently.
"It goes oop to Marly Head, and joins on to th' owd road--t' Roman road,
foak calls it--along top o' t' fells. An' if yo follers that far enoof
you may coom to Ullswatter an' Pen'rth."
"Thank you. Good afternoon," said Hester, moving on.
[Illustration: "The old shepherd looked after her doubtfully"]
The old shepherd looked after her doubtfully, then said to himself that
what the lady did was none of his business, and turned back toward one of
the farms across the bridge. Who was she? She was a strange sort of body
to be walking by herself up the head of Long Whindale. He supposed she
came from Burwood--there was no other house where a lady like that could
be staying. But it was a bit queer anyhow.
* * * * *
Hester walked on. She turned a craggy corner beyond which she was
out of sight of any one on the lower stretches of the road. The struggle
with the wind, the roar of water in her ears, had produced in her a kind
of trance-like state. She walked mechanically, half deafened, half
blinded, measuring her force against the wind, conscious every now and
then of gusts of snow in her face, of the deepening gloom overhead
climbing up and up the rocky path. But, as in that fatal moment when she
had paused in the Burwood lane, her mind was not more than vaguely
conscious of her immediate surroundings. It had become the prey of
swarming recollections--captured by sudden agonies, unavailing,
At last, out of breath, and almost swooning, she sank down under the
shelter of a rock, and became in a moment aware that white mists were
swirling and hurrying all about her, and that only just behind her, and
just above her, was the path clear. Without knowing it, she had
climbed and climbed till she was very near the top of the pass. She
looked down into a witch's cauldron of mist and vapour, already thickened
with snow, and up into an impenetrable sky, as it seemed, close upon her
head, from which the white flakes were beginning to fall, steadily and
She was a little frightened, but not much. After all, she had only to
rest and retrace her steps. The watch at her wrist told her it was not
much past four; and it was February. It would be daylight till half-past
five, unless the storm put out the daylight. A little rest--just a little
rest! But she began to feel ill and faint, and so bitterly, bitterly
cold. The sense of physical illness, conquering the vague overwhelming
anguish of heart and mind, began to give her back some clearness of
Who was she?--why was she there? She was Hester Fox-Wilton--no! Hester
Meryon, who had escaped from a man who had called himself, for a few days
at least, her husband; a man whom in scarcely more than a week she had
come to loathe and fear; whose nature and character had revealed to her
infamies of which she had never dreamed; who had claimed to be her
master, and use her as he pleased, and from whom she had escaped by
night, after a scene of which she still bore the marks.
"You little wild-cat! You think you can defy me--do you?"
And then her arms held--and her despairing eyes looking down into his
mocking ones--and the helpless sense of indignity and wrong--and of her
own utter and criminal folly.
And through her memory there ran in an ugly dance those things, those
monstrous things, he had said to her about the Scotch woman. It was not
at all absolutely sure that she, Hester, was his wife. He had shown her
those letters at St. Germains, of course, to reassure her; and the
letters were perfectly genuine letters, written by the people they
professed to be written by. Still Scotch marriage law was a damned
business--one never knew. He _hoped_ it was all right; but if she did
hate him as poisonously as she said, if she did really want to get rid of
him, he might perhaps be able to assist her.
Had he after all tricked and ruined her? Yet as her consciousness framed
the question in the conventional phrases familiar to her through
newspapers and novels, she hardly knew what they meant, this child of
eighteen, who in three short weeks had been thrust through the fire of an
experience on which she had never had time to reflect. Flattered vanity,
and excitement, leading up almost from the first day to instinctive and
fierce revolt--intervals of acquiescence, of wild determination to be
happy, drowned in fresh rebellions of soul and sense--through these
alternations the hours had rushed on, culminating in her furtive and
sudden escape from the man of whom she was now in mad fear--her blind
flight for "home."
The _commonness_ of her case, the absence of any romantic or poetic
element in it--it was that which galled, which degraded her in her own
eyes. Only three weeks since she had felt that entire and arrogant belief
in herself, in her power over her own life and Philip's, on which she now
looked back as merely ludicrous!--inexplicable in a girl of the most
ordinary intelligence. What power had girls over men?--such men as Philip
Her vanity was bleeding to death--and her life with it. Since the
revelation of her birth, she seemed to have been blindly struggling to
regain her own footing in the world--the kind of footing she was
determined to have. Power and excitement; _not_ to be pitied, but to be
followed, wooed, adored; not to be forced on the second and third bests
of the world, but to have the "chief seat," the daintest morsel, the
_beau rôle_ always--had not this been her instinctive, unvarying demand
on life? And now? If she were indeed married, she was tied to a man who
neither loved her, nor could bring her any position in the world; who was
penniless, and had only entrapped her that he might thereby get some
money out of her relations; who, living or dead, would be a disgrace to
her, standing irrevocably between her and any kind of honour or
importance in society.
And if he had deceived her, and she were not his wife--she would be free
indeed; but what would her freedom matter to her? What decent man would
ever love her now--marry her--set her at his side? At eighteen--eighteen!
all those chances were over for her. It was so strange that she could
have laughed at her own thoughts; and yet at the same time it was so
ghastly true! No need now to invent a half-sincere chatter about "Fate."
She felt herself in miserable truth the mere feeble mouse wherewith the
great cat Fate was playing.
And yet--after all--she herself had done it!--by her own sheer madness.
She seemed to see Aunt Alice's plaintive face, the eyes that followed
her, the lip that trembled when she said an unkind or wanton thing; she
heard again the phrases of Uncle Richard's weekly letters, humorous,
tender phrases, with here and there an occasional note of austerity, or
Oh yes--she had done it--she had ruined herself.
She felt the tears running over her cheeks, mingling with the snow as it
pelted in her face. Suddenly she realized how cold she was, how soaked.
She must--must go back to shelter--to human faces--to kind hands. She put
out her own, groping helplessly--and rose to her feet.
But the darkness was now much advanced, and the great snowstorm of the
night had begun. She could not see the path below her at all, and only
some twenty yards of its course above her. In the whirling gloom and in
the fury of the wind, although she turned to descend the path, her
courage suddenly failed her. She remembered a stream she had crossed
on a little footbridge with a rail; could she ever see to recross it
again?--above the greedy tumult of the water? Peering upward it seemed to
her that she saw something like walls in front of her--perhaps another
sheepfold? That would give her shelter for a little, and perhaps the snow
would stop--perhaps it was only a shower. She struggled on, and up, and
found indeed some fragments of walls, beside the path, one of the many
abandoned places among the Westmoreland fells that testify to the closer
settlement of the dales in earlier centuries.
And just as she clambered within them, the clouds sweeping along the
fell-side lifted and parted for the last time, and she caught a glimpse
of a wide, featureless world, the desolate top of the fells, void of
shelter or landmark, save that straight across it, from gloom to gloom,
there ran a straight white thing--a ghostly and forsaken track. The Roman
road, no doubt, of which the shepherd had spoken. And a vision sprang
into her mind of Roman soldiers tramping along it, helmeted and speared,
their heads bent against these northern storms--shivering like herself.
She gazed and gazed, fascinated, till her bewildered eyes seemed to
perceive shadows upon it, moving--moving--toward her.
A panic fear seized her.
"I must get home!--I must!--"
And sobbing, with the sudden word "mother!" on her lips, she ran out of
the shelter she had found, taking, as she supposed, the path toward the
valley. But blinded with snow and mist, she lost it almost at once. She
stumbled on over broken and rocky ground, wishing to descend, yet keeping
instinctively upward, and hearing on her right from time to time, as
though from depths of chaos, the wild voices of the valley, the wind
tearing the cliffs, the rushing of the stream. Soon all was darkness; she
knew that she had lost herself; and was alone with rock and storm. Still
she moved; but nerve and strength ebbed; and at last there came a step
into infinity--a sharp pain--and the flame of consciousness went out.
The February afternoon in Long Whindale, shortened by the first heavy
snowstorm of the winter, passed quickly into darkness. Down through all
the windings of the valley the snow showers swept from the north,
becoming, as the wind dropped a little toward night, a steady continuous
fall, which in four or five hours had already formed drifts of some depth
in exposed places.
Toward six o'clock, the small farmer living across the lane from Burwood
became anxious about some sheep which had been left in a high "intak" on
the fell. He was a thriftless, procrastinating fellow, and when the
storm came on about four o'clock had been taking his tea in a warm
ingle-nook by his wife's fire. He was then convinced that the storm would
"hod off," at least till morning, that the sheep would get shelter enough
from the stone walls of the "intak," and that all was well. But a couple
of hours later the persistence of the snowfall, together with his wife's
reproaches, goaded him into action. He went out with his son and
lanterns, intending to ask the old shepherd at the Bridge Farm to help
them in their expedition to find and fold the sheep.
Meanwhile, in the little sitting-room at Burwood Catherine Elsmere and
Mary were sitting, the one with her book, the other with her needlework,
while the snow and wind outside beat on the little house. But Catharine's
needlework often dropped unheeded from her fingers; and the pages of
Mary's book remained unturned. The postman who brought letters up the
dale in the morning, and took letters back to Whinborough at night, had
just passed by in his little cart, hooded and cloaked against the storm,
and hoping to reach Whinborough before the drifts in the roads had made
travelling too difficult. Mary had put into his hands a letter addressed
to the Rev. Richard Meynell, Hotel Richelieu, Paris. And beside her on
the table lay a couple of sheets of foreign notepaper, covered closely
with Meynell's not very legible handwriting.
Catharine also had some open letters on her lap. Presently she turned to
"The Bishop thinks the trial will certainly end tomorrow."
"Yes," said Mary, without raising her eyes.
Catharine took her daughter's hand in a tender clasp.
"I am so sorry!--for you both."
"Dearest!" Mary laid her mother's hand against her cheek. "But I don't
think Richard will be misunderstood again."
"No. The Bishop says that mysterious as it all is, nobody blames him for
being absent. They trust him. But this time, it seems, he _did_ write to
the Bishop--just a few words."
"Yes, I know. I am glad." But as she spoke, the pale severity of the
girl's look belied the word she used. During the fortnight of Meynell's
absence, while he and Alice Puttenham in the south of France had been
following every possible clue in a vain search for Hester, and the Arches
trial had been necessarily left entirely to the management of Meynell's
counsel, and to the resources of his co-defendants, Darwen and Chesham,
Mary had suffered much. To see his own brilliant vindication of himself
and his followers, in the face of religious England, snuffed out and
extinguished in a moment by the call of this private duty had been
hard!--all the more seeing that the catastrophe had been brought about by
misconduct so wanton, so flagrant, as Hester's. There had sprung up in
Mary's mind, indeed, a _saeva indignatio,_ not for herself, but for
Richard, first and foremost, and next for his cause. Dark as she knew
Meynell's forebodings and beliefs to be, anxiety for Hester must
sometimes be forgotten in a natural resentment for high aims thwarted,
and a great movement risked, by the wicked folly of a girl of eighteen,
on whom every affection and every care had been lavished.
"The roads will be impassable to-morrow," said Catharine, drawing aside
the curtain, only to see a window already blocked with drifted snow.
"But--who can be ringing on such a night!"
For a peal of the front door bell went echoing through the little house.
Mary stepped into the hall, and herself opened the door, only to be
temporarily blinded by the rush of wind and snow through the opening.
"A telegram!" she exclaimed, in wonder. "Please come in and wait. Isn't
it very bad?"
"I hope I'll be able to get back!" laughed the young man who had brought
it. "The roads are drifting up fast. It was noa good bicycling. I got 'em
to gie me a horse. I've just put him in your stable, miss."
But Mary heard nothing of what he was saying. She had rushed back into
"Mother!--Richard and Miss Puttenham will be here to-night. They have
heard of Hester."
In stupefaction they read the telegram, which had had been sent from
"Received news of Hester on arrival Paris yesterday. She has left M. Says
she has gone to find your mother. Keep her. We arrive to-night
"It is now seven," said Catharine, looking at her watch. "But
where--where is she?"
Hurriedly they called their little parlour-maid into the room and
questioned her with closed doors. No--she knew nothing of any visitor.
Nobody had called; nobody, so far as she knew, had passed by, except the
ordinary neighbours. Once in the afternoon, indeed, she had thought she
heard a carriage pass the bottom of the lane, but on looking out from the
kitchen she had seen nothing of it.
Out of this slender fact, the only further information that could be
extracted was a note of time. It was, the girl thought, about four
o'clock when she heard the carriage pass.
"But it couldn't have passed," Catharine objected, "or you would have
seen it go up the valley."
The girl assented, for the kitchen window commanded the road up to the
bridge. Then the carriage, if she had really heard it, must have come to
the foot of the lane, turned and gone back toward Whinborough again.
There was no other road available.
The telegraph messenger was dismissed, after a cup of coffee; and
thankful for something to do, Catharine and Mary, with minds full of
conjecture and distress, set about preparing two rooms for their guests.
"Will they ever get here?" Mary murmured to herself, when at last the two
rooms lay neat and ready, with a warm fire in each, and she could allow
herself to open the front door again, an inch or two, and look out into
the weather. Nothing to be seen but the whirling snow-flakes. The horrid