Part 1 out of 8
E-book prepared by The Online Distributed Proofreading Team
by HUGH WALPOLE
Author of _The Young Enchanted_, _The Captives_,
_Jeremy_, _The Secret City_, _The Green Mirror_, etc.
JESSIE AND JOSEPH CONRAD
WITH MUCH LOVE
[Illustration: Sonore sans dureto]
BOOK I: Prelude
III. One of Joan's Days
IV. The Impertinent Elephan
V. Mrs. Brandon Goes Out to Tea
VI. Seatown Mist and Cathedral Dust
VII. Ronder's Day
BOOK II: The Whispering Gallery
I. Five O'Clock--The Green Cloud
II. Souls on Sunday
III. The May-Day Prologue
IV. The Genial Heart
V. Falk by the River
VI. Falk's Flight
VII. Brandon Puts On His Armour
VIII. The Wind Flies Over the House
IX. The Quarrel
Book III: The Jubilee
I. June 17, Thursday: Anticipation
II. Friday, June 18: Shadow Meets Shadow
III. Saturday, June 19: The Ball
IV. Sunday, June 20: In the Bedroom
V. Tuesday, June 22: I. The Cathedral
VI. Tuesday, June 22: II. The Fair
VII. Tuesday, June 22: III. Torchlight
Book IV: The Last Stand
I. In Ronder's House: Ronder, Wistons
II. Two in the House
III. Prelude to Battle
IV. The Last Tournament
"Thou shalt have none other gods but Me."
Adam Brandon was born at Little Empton in Kent in 1839. He was educated at
the King's School, Canterbury, and at Pembroke College, Cambridge.
Ordained in 1863, he was first curate at St. Martin's, Portsmouth, then
Chaplain to the Bishop of Worcester; in the year 1875 he accepted the
living of Pomfret in Wiltshire and was there for twelve years. It was in
1887 that he came to our town; he was first Canon and afterwards
Archdeacon. Ten years later he had, by personal influence and strength of
character, acquired so striking a position amongst us that he was often
alluded to as "the King of Polchester." His power was the greater because
both our Bishop (Bishop Purcell) and our Dean (Dean Sampson) during that
period were men of retiring habits of life. A better man, a greater saint
than Bishop Purcell has never lived, but in 1896 he was eighty-six years
of age and preferred study and the sanctity of his wonderful library at
Carpledon to the publicity and turmoil of a public career; Dean Sampson,
gentle and amiable as he was, was not intended by nature for a moulder of
men. He was, however, one of the best botanists in the County and his
little book on "Glebshire Ferns" is, I believe, an authority in its own
Archdeacon Brandon was, of course, greatly helped by his magnificent
physical presence. "Magnificent" is not, I think, too strong a word. Six
feet two or three in height, he had the figure of an athlete, light blue
eyes, and his hair was still, when he was fifty-eight years of age, thick
and fair and curly like that of a boy. He looked, indeed, marvellously
young, and his energy and grace of movement might indeed have belonged to
a youth still in his teens. It is not difficult to imagine how startling
an effect his first appearance in Polchester created. Many of the
Polchester ladies thought that he was like "a Greek God" (the fact that
they had never seen one gave them the greater confidence), and Miss
Dobell, who was the best read of all the ladies in our town, called him
"the Viking." This stuck to him, being an easy and emphatic word and
Indeed, had Brandon come to Polchester as a single man there might have
been many broken hearts; however, in 1875 he had married Amy Broughton,
then a young girl of twenty. He had by her two children, a boy, Falcon,
now twenty-one years of age, and a girl, Joan, just eighteen. Brandon
therefore was safe from the feminine Polchester world; our town is famous
among Cathedral cities for the morality of its upper classes.
It would not have been possible during all these years for Brandon to have
remained unconscious of the remarkable splendour of his good looks. He was
very well aware of it, but any one who called him conceited (and every one
has his enemies) did him a grave injustice. He was not conceited at all--
he simply regarded himself as a completely exceptional person. He was not
elated that he was exceptional, he did not flatter himself because it was
so; God had seen fit (in a moment of boredom, perhaps, at the number of
insignificant and misshaped human beings He was forced to create) to fling
into the world, for once, a truly Fine Specimen, Fine in Body, Fine in
Soul, Fine in Intellect. Brandon had none of the sublime egoism of Sir
Willoughby Patterne--he thought of others and was kindly and often
unselfish--but he did, like Sir Willoughby, believe himself to be of quite
another clay from the rest of mankind. He was intended to rule, God had
put him into the world for that purpose, and rule he would--to the glory
of God and a little, if it must be so, to the glory of himself. He was a
very simple person, as indeed were most of the men and women in the
Polchester of 1897. He did not analyse motives, whether his own or any one
else's; he was aware that he had "weaknesses" (his ungovernable temper was
a source of real distress to him at times--at other times he felt that it
had its uses). On the whole, however, he was satisfied with himself, his
appearance, his abilities, his wife, his family, and, above all, his
position in Polchester. This last was very splendid.
His position in the Cathedral, in the Precincts, in the Chapter, in the
Town, was unshakable.
He trusted in God, of course, but, like a wise man, he trusted also in
It happened that on a certain wild and stormy afternoon in October 1896
Brandon was filled with a great exultation. As he stood, for a moment, at
the door of his house in the Precincts before crossing the Green to the
Cathedral, he looked up at the sky obscured with flying wrack of cloud,
felt the rain drive across his face, heard the elms in the neighbouring
garden creaking and groaning, saw the lights of the town far beneath the
low wall that bounded the Precincts sway and blink in the storm, his heart
beat with such pride and happiness that it threatened to burst the body
that contained it. There had not been, perhaps, that day anything
especially magnificent to elate him; he had won, at the Chapter Meeting
that morning, a cheap and easy victory over Canon Foster, the only Canon
in Polchester who still showed, at times, a wretched pugnacious resistance
to his opinion; he had met Mrs. Combermere afterwards in the High Street
and, on the strength of his Chapter victory, had dealt with her haughtily;
he had received an especially kind note from Lady St. Leath asking him to
dinner early next month; but all these events were of too usual a nature
to excite his triumph.
No, there had descended upon him this afternoon that especial ecstasy that
is surrendered once and again by the gods to men to lead them, maybe, into
some especial blunder or to sharpen, for Olympian humour, the contrast of
some swiftly approaching anguish.
Brandon stood for a moment, his head raised, his chest out, his soul in
flight, feeling the sharp sting of the raindrops upon his cheek; then,
with a little breath of pleasure and happiness, he crossed the Green to
the little dark door of Saint Margaret's Chapel.
The Cathedral hung over him, as he stood, feeling in his pocket for his
key, a huge black shadow, vast indeed to-day, as it mingled with the grey
sky and seemed to be taking part in the directing of the wildness of the
storm. Two little gargoyles, perched on the porch of Saint Margaret's
door, leered down upon the Archdeacon. The rain trickled down over their
naked twisted bodies, running in rivulets behind their outstanding ears,
lodging for a moment on the projection of their hideous nether lips. They
grinned down upon the Archdeacon, amused that he should have difficulty,
there in the rain, in finding his key. "Pah!" they heard him mutter, and
then, perhaps, something worse. The key was found, and he had then to bend
his great height to squeeze through the little door. Once inside, he was
at the corner of the Saint Margaret Chapel and could see, in the faint
half-light, the rosy colours of the beautiful Saint Margaret window that
glimmered ever so dimly upon the rows of cane-bottomed chairs, the dingy
red hassocks, and the brass tablets upon the grey stone walls. He walked
through, picking his way carefully in the dusk, saw for an instant the
high, vast expanse of the nave with its few twinkling lights that blew in
the windy air, then turned to the left into the Vestry, closing the door
behind him. Even as he closed the door he could hear high, high up above
him the ringing of the bell for Evensong.
In the Vestry he found Canon Dobell and Canon Rogers. Dobell, the Minor
Canon who was singing the service, was a short, round, chubby clergyman,
thirty-eight years of age, whose great aim in life was to have an easy
time and agree with every one. He lived with a sister in a little house in
the Precincts and gave excellent dinners. Very different was Canon Rogers,
a thin esthetic man with black bushy eyebrows, a slight stoop and thin
brown hair. He took life with grim seriousness. He was a stupid man but
obstinate, dogmatic, and given to the condemnation of his fellow-men. He
hated innovations as strongly as the Archdeacon himself, but with his
clinging to old forms and rituals there went no self-exaltation. He was a
cold-blooded man, although his obstinacy seemed sometimes to point to a
fiery fanaticism. But he was not a fanatic any more than a mule is one
when he plants his feet four-square and refuses to go forward. No
compliments nor threats could move him; he would have lived, had he had a
spark of asceticism, a hermit far from the haunts of men, but even that
withdrawal would have implied devotion. He was devoted to no one, to no
cause, to no religion, to no ambition. He spent his days in maintaining
things as they were, not because he loved them, simply because he was
obstinate. Brandon quite frankly hated him.
In the farther room the choir-boys were standing in their surplices,
whispering and giggling. The sound of the bell was suddenly emphatic.
Canon Rogers stood, his hands folded motionless, gazing in front of him.
Dobell, smiling so that a dimple appeared in each cheek, said in his
chuckling whisper to Brandon:
"Render comes to-day, doesn't he?"
"Ronder?" Brandon repeated, coming abruptly out of his secret exultation.
"Oh, yes--I believe he does...."
Cobbett, the Verger, with his gold staff, appeared in the Vestry door. A
tall handsome man, he had been in the service of the Cathedral as man and
boy for fifty years. He had his private ambitions, the main one being that
old Lawrence, the head Verger, in his opinion a silly old fool, should die
and permit his own legitimate succession. Another ambition was that he
should save enough money to buy another three cottages down in Seatown. He
owned already six there. But no one observing his magnificent impassivity
(he was famous for this throughout ecclesiastical Glebeshire) would have
supposed that he had any thought other than those connected with ceremony.
As he appeared the organ began its voluntary, the music stealing through
the thick grey walls, creeping past the stout grey pillars that had
listened, with so impervious an immobility, to an endless succession of
voluntaries. The Archdeacon prayed, the choir responded with a long Amen,
and the procession filed out, the boys with faces pious and wistful, the
choir-men moving with nonchalance, their restless eyes wandering over the
scene so absolutely known to them. Then came Rogers like a martyr; Dobell
gaily as though he were enjoying some little joke of his own; last of all,
Brandon, superb in carriage, in dignity, in his magnificent recognition of
the value of ceremony.
Because to-day was simply an ordinary afternoon with an ordinary Anthem
and an ordinary service (Martin in F) the congregation was small, the
gates of the great screen closed with a clang behind the choir, and the
nave, purple grey under the soft light of the candle-lit choir, was shut
out into twilight. In the high carved seats behind and beyond the choir
the congregation was sitting; Miss Dobell, who never missed a service that
her brother was singing, with her pinched white face and funny old-
fashioned bonnet, lost between the huge arms of her seat; Mrs. Combermere,
with a friend, stiff and majestic; Mrs. Cole and her sister-in-law, Amy
Cole; a few tourists; a man or two; Major Drake, who liked to join in the
psalms with his deep bass; and little Mr. Thompson, one of the masters at
the School who loved music and always came to Evensong when he could.
There they were then, and the Archdeacon, looking at them from his stall,
could not but feel that they were rather a poor lot. Not that he exactly
despised them; he felt kindly towards them and would have done no single
one of them an injury, but he knew them all so well--Mrs. Combermere, Miss
Dobell, Mrs. Cole, Drake, Thompson. They were shadows before him. If he
looked hard at them, they seemed to disappear....
The exultation that he had felt as he stood outside his house-door
increased with every moment that passed. It was strange, but he had never,
perhaps, in all his life been so happy as he was at that hour. He was
driven by the sense of it to that, with him, rarest of all things,
introspection. Why should he feel like this? Why did his heart beat
thickly, why were his cheeks flushed with a triumphant heat? It could not
but be that he was realising to-day how everything was well with him. And
why should he not realise it? Looking up to the high vaulted roofs above
him, he greeted God, greeted Him as an equal, and thanked Him as a fellow-
companion who had helped him through a difficult and dusty journey. He
thanked Him for his health, for his bodily vigour and strength, for his
beauty, for his good brain, for his successful married life, for his wife
(poor Amy), for his house and furniture, for his garden and tennis-lawn,
for his carriage and horses, for his son, for his position in the town,
his dominance in the Chapter, his authority on the School Council, his
importance in the district.... For all these things he thanked God, and he
greeted Him with an outstretched hand.
"As one power to another," his soul cried, "greetings! You have been a
true and loyal friend to me. Anything that I can do for You I will do...."
The time came for him to read the First Lesson. He crossed to the Lectern
and was conscious that the tourists were whispering together about him. He
read aloud, in his splendid voice, something about battles and vengeance,
plagues and punishment, God's anger and the trembling Israelites. He might
himself have been an avenging God as he read. He was uplifted with the
glory of power and the exultation of personal dominion...
He crossed back to his seat, and, as they began the "Magnificat," his eye
alighted on the tomb of the Black Bishop. In the volume on Polchester in
Chimes' Cathedral Series (4th edition, 1910), page 52, you will find this
description of the Black Bishop's Tomb: "It stands between the pillars at
the far east end of the choir in the eighth bay from the choir screen. The
stone screen which surrounds the tomb is of most elaborate workmanship,
and it has, in certain lights, the effect of delicate lace; the canopy
over the tomb has pinnacles which rise high above the level of the choir-
stalls. The tomb itself is made from a solid block of a dark blue stone.
The figure of the bishop, carved in black marble, lies with his hands
folded across his breast, clothed in his Episcopal robes and mitre, and
crozier on his shoulder. At his feet are a vizor and a pair of gauntlets,
these also carved in black marble. On one finger of his right hand is a
ring carved from some green stone. His head is raised by angels and at his
feet beyond the vizor and gauntlets are tiny figures of four knights fully
armed. A small arcade runs round the tomb with a series of shields in the
spaces, and these shields have his motto, 'God giveth Strength,' and the
arms of the See of Polchester. His epitaph in brass round the edge of the
tomb has thus been translated:
"'Here, having surrendered himself back to God, lies Henry of Arden. His
life, which was distinguished for its great piety, its unfailing
generosity, its noble statesmanship, was rudely taken in the nave of this
Cathedral by men who feared neither the punishment of their fellows nor
the just vengeance of an irate God.
"'He died, bravely defending this great house of Prayer, and is now, in
eternal happiness, fulfilling the reward of all good and faithful
servants, at his Master's side.'"
It has been often remarked by visitors to the Cathedral how curiously this
tomb catches light from all sides of the building, but this is undoubtedly
in the main due to the fact that the blue stone of which it is chiefly
composed responds immediately to the purple and violet lights that fall
from the great East window. On a summer day the blue of the tomb seems
almost opaque as though it were made of blue glass, and the gilt on the
background of the screen and the brasses of the groins glitter and sparkle
Brandon to-day, wrapped in his strange mood of almost mystical triumph,
felt as though he were, indeed, a reincarnation of the great Bishop.
As the "Magnificat" proceeded, he seemed to enter into the very tomb and
share in the Bishop's dust. "I stood beside you," he might almost have
cried, "when in the last savage encounter you faced them on the very steps
of the altar, striking down two of them with your fists, falling at last,
bleeding from a hundred wounds, but crying at the very end, 'God is my
As he stared across at the tomb, he seemed to see the great figure,
deserted by all his terrified adherents, lying in his blood in the now
deserted Cathedral; he saw the coloured dusk creep forward and cover him.
And then, in the darkness of the night, the two faithful servants who
crept in and carried away his body to keep it in safety until his day
should come again.
Born in 1100, Henry of Arden had been the first Bishop to give Polchester
dignity and power. What William of Wykeham was to Winchester, that Henry
of Arden was to the See of Polchester. Through all the wild days of the
quarrel between Stephen and Matilda he had stood triumphant, yielding at
last only to the mad overwhelming attacks of his private enemies. Of those
he had had many. It had been said of him that "he thought himself God--the
proudest prelate on earth." Proud he may have been, but he had loved his
Bishopric. It was in his time that the Saint Margaret's Chapel had been
built, through his energy that the two great Western Towers had risen,
because of him that Polchester now could boast one of the richest revenues
of any Cathedral in Europe. Men said that he had plundered, stolen the
land of powerless men, himself headed forays against neighbouring villages
and even castles. He had done it for the greater glory of God. They had
been troublous times. It had been every man for himself....
He had told his people that he was God's chief servant; it was even said
that he had once, in the plenitude of his power, cried that he was God
His figure remained to this very day dominating Polchester, vast in
stature, black-bearded, rejoicing in his physical strength. He could kill,
they used to say, an ox with his fist....
The "Gloria" rang triumphantly up into the shadows of the nave. Brandon
moved once more across to the Lectern. He read of the casting of the
money-changers out of the Temple.
His voice quivered with pride and exultation so that Cobbett, who had
acquired, after many years' practice, the gift of sleeping during the
Lessons and Sermon with his eyes open, woke up with a start and wondered
what was the matter.
Brandon's mood, when he was back in his own drawing-room, did not leave
him; it was rather intensified by the cosiness and security of his home.
Lying back in his large arm-chair in front of the fire, his long legs
stretched out before him, he could hear the rain beating on the window-
panes and beyond that the murmur of the organ (Brockett, the organist, was
practising, as he often did after Evensong).
The drawing-room was a long narrow one with many windows; it was furnished
in excellent taste. The carpet and the curtains and the dark blue
coverings to the chairs were all a little faded, but this only gave them
an additional dignity and repose. There were two large portraits of
himself and Mrs. Brandon painted at the time of their marriage, some low
white book-shelves, a large copy of "Christ in the Temple"--plenty of
space, flowers, light.
Mrs. Brandon was, at this time, a woman of forty-two, but she looked very
much less than that. She was slight, dark, pale, quite undistinguished.
She had large grey eyes that looked on to the ground when you spoke to
her. She was considered a very shy woman, negative in every way. She
agreed with everything that was said to her and seemed to have no opinions
of her own. She was simply "the wife of the Archdeacon." Mrs. Combermere
considered her a "poor little fool." She had no real friends in
Polchester, and it made little difference to any gathering whether she
were there or not. She had been only once known to lose her temper in
public--once in the market-place she had seen a farmer beat his horse over
the eyes. She had actually gone up to him and struck him. Afterwards she
had said that "she did not like to see animals ill-treated." The
Archdeacon had apologised for her, and no more had been said about it. The
farmer had borne her no grudge.
She sat now at the little tea-table, her eyes screwed up over the serious
question of giving the Archdeacon his tea exactly as he wanted it. Her
whole mind was apparently engaged on this problem, and the Archdeacon did
not care to-day that she did not answer his questions and support his
comments because he was very, very happy, the whole of his being thrilling
with security and success and innocent pride.
Joan Brandon came in. In appearance she was, as Mrs. Sampson said,
"insignificant." You would not look at her twice any more than you would
have looked at her mother twice. Her figure was slight and her legs (she
was wearing long skirts this year for the first time) too long. Her hair
was dark brown and her eyes dark brown. She had nice rosy cheeks, but they
were inclined to freckle. She smiled a good deal and laughed, when in
company, more noisily than was proper. "A bit of a tomboy, I'm afraid,"
was what one used to hear about her. But she was not really a tomboy; she
moved quietly, and her own bedroom was always neat and tidy. She had very
little pocket-money and only seldom new clothes, not because the
Archdeacon was mean, but because Joan was so often forgotten and left out
of the scheme of things. It was surprising that the only girl in the house
should be so often forgotten, but the Archdeacon did not care for girls,
and Mrs. Brandon did not appear to think very often of any one except the
Archdeacon. Falk, Joan's brother, now at Oxford, when he was at home had
other things to do than consider Joan. She had gone, ever since she was
twelve, to the Polchester High School for Girls, and there she was
popular, and might have made many friends, had it not been that she could
not invite her companions to her home. Her father did not like "noise in
the house." She had been Captain of the Hockey team; the small girls in
the school had all adored her. She had left the place six months ago and
had come home to "help her mother." She had had, in honest fact, six
months' loneliness, although no one knew that except herself. Her mother
had not wanted her help. There had been nothing for her to do, and she had
felt herself too young to venture into the company of older girls in the
town. She had been rather "blue" and had looked back on Seafield House,
the High School, with longing, and then suddenly, one morning, for no very
clear reason she had taken a new view of life. Everything seemed
delightful and even thrilling, commonplace things that she had known all
her days, the High Street, keeping her rooms tidy, spending or saving the
minute monthly allowance, the Cathedral, the river. She was all in a
moment aware that something very delightful would shortly occur. What it
was she did not know, and she laughed at herself for imagining that
anything extraordinary could ever happen to any one so commonplace as
herself, but there the strange feeling was and it would not go away.
To-day, as always when her father was there, she came in very quietly, sat
down near her mother, saw that she made no sort of interruption to the
Archdeacon's flow of conversation. She found that he was in a good humour
to-day, and she was glad of that because it would please her mother. She
herself had a great interest in all that he said. She thought him a most
wonderful man, and secretly was swollen with pride that she was his
daughter. It did not hurt her at all that he never took any notice of her.
Why should he? Nor did she ever feel jealous of Falk, her father's
favourite. That seemed to her quite natural. She had the idea, now most
thoroughly exploded but then universally held in Polchester, that women
were greatly inferior to men. She did not read the more advanced novels
written by Mme. Sarah Grand and Mrs. Lynn Linton. I am ashamed to say that
her favourite authors were Miss Alcott and Miss Charlotte Mary Yonge.
Moreover, she herself admired Falk extremely. He seemed to her a hero and
always right in everything that he did.
Her father continued to talk, and behind the reverberation of his deep
voice the roll of the organ like an approving echo could faintly be heard.
"There was a moment when I thought Foster was going to interfere. I've
been against the garden-roller from the first--they've got one and what do
they want another for? And, anyway, he thinks I meddle with the School's
affairs too much. Who wants to meddle with the School's affairs? I'm sure
they're nothing but a nuisance, but some one's got to prevent the place
from going to wrack and ruin, and if they all leave it to me I can't very
well refuse it, can I? Hey?"
"You see what I mean?"
"Well, then--" (As though Mrs. Brandon had just been overcome in an
argument in which she'd shown the greatest obstinacy.) "There you are. It
would be false modesty to deny that I've got the Chapter more or less in
my pocket And why shouldn't I have? Has any one worked harder for this
place and the Cathedral than I have?"
"Well, then.... There's this new fellow Ronder coming to-day. Don't know
much about him, but he won't give much trouble, I expect--trouble in the
way of delaying things, I mean. What we want is work done expeditiously.
I've just about got that Chapter moving at last. Ten years' hard work.
Deserve a V.C. or something. Hey?"
"Yes, dear, I'm sure you do."
The Archdeacon gave one of his well-known roars of laughter--a laugh
famous throughout the county, a laugh described by his admirers as
"Homeric," by his enemies as "ear-splitting." There was, however, enemies
or no enemies, something sympathetic in that laugh, something boyish and
simple and honest.
He suddenly pulled himself up, bringing his long legs close against his
"No letter from Falk to-day, was there?"
"Humph. That's three weeks we haven't heard. Hope there's nothing wrong."
"What could there be wrong, dear?"
"Nothing, of course.... Well, Joan, and what have you been doing with
yourself all day?"
It was only in his most happy and resplendent moods that the Archdeacon
held jocular conversations with his daughter. These conversations had
been, in the past, moments of agony and terror to her, but since that
morning when she had suddenly woken to a realisation of the marvellous
possibilities in life her terror had left her. There were other people in
the word besides her father....
Nevertheless, a little, her agitation was still with her. She looked up at
"Oh, I don't know, father.... I went to the Library this morning to change
the books for mother--"
"Novels, I suppose. No one ever reads anything but trash nowadays."
"They hadn't anything that mother put down. They never have. Miss Milton
sits on the new novels and keeps them for Mrs. Sampson and Mrs.
"Sits on them?"
"Yes--really sits on them. I saw her take one from under her skirt the
other day when Mrs. Sampson asked for it. It was one that mother has
wanted a long time."
The Archdeacon was angry. "I never heard anything so scandalous. I'll just
see to that. What's the use of being on the Library Committee if that kind
of thing happens? That woman shall go."
"Oh no! father!..."
"Of course she shall go. I never heard anything so dishonest in my
Joan remembered that little conversation until the end of her life. And
The door was flung open. Some one came hurriedly in, then stopped, with a
sudden arrested impulse, looking at them. It was Falk.
Falk was a very good-looking man--fair hair, light blue eyes like his
father's, slim and straight and quite obviously fearless. It was that
quality of courage that struck every one who saw him; it was not only that
he feared, it seemed, no one and nothing, but that he went a step further
than that, spending his life in defying every one and everything, as a
practised dueller might challenge every one he met in order to keep his
play in practice. "I don't like young Brandon," Mrs. Sampson said. "He
snorts contempt at you...."
He was only twenty-one, a contemptuous age. He looked as though he had
been living in that house for weeks, although, as a fact, he had just
driven up, after a long and tiresome journey, in an ancient cab through
the pouring rain. The Archdeacon gazed at his son in a bewildered,
confused amaze, as though he, a convinced sceptic, were suddenly
confronted, in broad daylight, with an undoubted ghost.
"What's the matter?" he said at last. "Why are you here?"
"I've been sent down," said Falk.
It was characteristic of the relationship in that family that, at that
statement, Mrs. Brandon and Joan did not look at Falk but at the
"Yes, for ragging! They wanted to do it last term."
"Sent down!" The Archdeacon shot to his feet; his voice suddenly lifted
into a cry. "And you have the impertinence to come here and tell me! You
walk in as though nothing had happened! You walk in!..."
"You're angry," said Falk, smiling. "Of course I knew you would be. You
might hear me out first. But I'll come along when I've unpacked and you're
a bit cooler. I wanted some tea, but I suppose that will have to wait. You
just listen, father, and you'll find it isn't so bad. Oxford's a rotten
place for any one who wants to be on his own, and, anyway, you won't have
to pay my bills any more."
Falk turned and went.
The Archdeacon, as he stood there, felt a dim mysterious pain as though an
adversary whom he completely despised had found suddenly with his weapon a
joint in his armour.
The train that brought Falk Brandon back to Polchester brought also the
Ronders--Frederick Ronder, newly Canon of Polchester, and his aunt, Miss
Alice Ronder. About them the station gathered in a black cloud, dirty,
obscure, lit by flashes of light and flame, shaken with screams,
rumblings, the crashing of carriage against carriage, the rattle of cab-
wheels on the cobbles outside. To-day also there was the hiss and scatter
of the rain upon the glass roof. The Ronders stood, not bewildered, for
that they never were, but thinking what would be best. The new Canon was a
round man, round-shouldered, round-faced, round-stomached, round legged. A
fair height, he was not ludicrous, but it seemed that if you laid him down
he would roll naturally, still smiling, to the farthest end of the
station. He wore large, very round spectacles. His black clerical coat and
trousers and hat were scrupulously clean and smartly cut. He was not a
dandy, but he was not shabby. He smiled a great deal, not nervously as
curates are supposed to smile, not effusively, but simply with geniality.
His aunt was a contrast, thin, straight, stiff white collar, little black
bow-tie, coat like a man's, skirt with no nonsense about it. No nonsense
about her anywhere. She was not unamiable, perhaps, but business came
"Well, what do we do?" he asked.
"We collect our bags and find the cab," she answered briskly.
They found their bags, and there were a great many of them; Miss Ronder,
having seen that they were all there and that there was no nonsense about
the porter, moved off to the barrier followed by her nephew.
As they came into the station square, all smelling of hay and the rain,
the deluge slowly withdrew its forces, recalling them gradually so that
the drops whispered now, patter-patter--pit-pat. A pigeon hovered down and
pecked at the cobbles. Faint colour threaded the thick blotting-paper
Old Fawcett himself had come to the station to meet them. Why had he felt
it to be an occasion? God only knows. A new Canon was nothing to him. He
very seldom now, being over eighty, with a strange "wormy" pain in his
left ear, took his horses out himself. He saved his money and counted it
over by his fireside to see that his old woman didn't get any of it. He
hated his old woman, and in a vaguely superstitious, thoroughly Glebeshire
fashion half-believed that she had cast a spell over him and was really
responsible for his "wormy" ear.
Why had he come? He didn't himself know. Perhaps Ronder was going to be of
importance in the place, he had come from London and they all had money in
London. He licked his purple protruding lips greedily as he saw the
generous man. Yes, kindly and generous he looked....
They got into the musty cab and rattled away over the cobbles.
"I hope Mrs. Clay got the telegram all right." Miss Ronder's thin bosom
was a little agitated beneath its white waistcoat. "You'll never forgive
me if things aren't looking as though we'd lived in the place for months."
Alice Ronder was over sixty and as active as a woman of forty. Ronder
looked at her and laughed.
"Never forgive you! What words! Do I ever cherish grievances? Never...
but I do like to be comfortable."
"Well, everything was all right a week ago. I've slaved at the place, as
you know, and Mrs. Clay's a jewel--but she complains of the Polchester
maids--says there isn't one that's any good. Oh, I want my tea, I want my
They were climbing up from the market-place into the High Street. Ronder
looked about him with genial curiosity.
"Very nice," he said; "I believe I can be comfortable here."
"If you aren't comfortable you certainly won't stay," she answered him
"Then I _must_ be comfortable," he replied, laughing.
He laughed a great deal, but absent-mindedly, as though his thoughts were
elsewhere. It would have been interesting to a student of human nature to
have been there and watched him as he sat back in the cab, looking through
the window, indeed, but seeing apparently nothing. He seemed to be gazing
through his round spectacles very short-sightedly, his eyes screwed up and
dim. His fat soft hands were planted solidly on his thick knees.
The observer would have been interested because he would soon have
realised that Render saw everything; nothing, however insignificant,
escaped him, but he seemed to see with his brain as though he had learnt
the trick of forcing it to some new function that did not properly belong
to it. The broad white forehead under the soft black clerical hat was
smooth, unwrinkled, mild and calm.... He had trained it to be so.
The High Street was like any High Street of a small Cathedral town in the
early evening. The pavements were sleek and shiny after the rain; people
were walking with the air of being unusually pleased with the world,
always the human expression when the storms have withdrawn and there is
peace and colour in the sky. There were lights behind the solemn panes of
Bennett's the bookseller's, that fine shop whose first master had seen Sir
Walter Scott in London and spoken to Byron. In his window were rows of the
classics in calf and first editions of the Surtees books and _Dr.
Syntax_. At the very top of the High Street was Mellock's the pastry-
cook's, gay with its gas, rich with its famous saffron buns, its still
more famous ginger-bread cake, and, most famous of all, its lemon
biscuits. Even as the Ronders' cab paused for a moment before it turned to
pass under the dark Arden Gate on to the asphalt of the Precincts, the
great Mrs. Mellock herself, round and rubicund, came to the door and
looked about her at the weather. An errand-boy passed, whistling, down the
hill, a stiff military-looking gentleman with white moustaches mounted
majestically the steps of the Conservative Club; then they rattled under
the black archway, echoed for a moment on the noisy cobbles, then slipped
into the quiet solemnity of the Precincts asphalt. It was Brandon who had
insisted on the asphalt. Old residents had complained that to take away
the cobbles would be to rid the Precincts of all its atmosphere.
"I don't care about atmosphere," said the Archdeacon, "I want to sleep at
Very quiet here; not a sound penetrated. The Cathedral was a huge shadow
above its darkened lawns; not a human soul was to be seen.
The cab stopped with a jerk at Number Eight. The bell was rung by old
Fawcett, who stood on the top step looking down at Ronder and wondering
how much he dared to ask him. Ask him too much now and perhaps he would
not deal with him in the future. Moreover, although the man wore large
spectacles and was fat he was probably not a fool.... Fawcett could not
tell why he was so sure, but there was something....
Mrs. Clay was at the door, smiling and ordering a small frightened girl to
"hurry up now." Miss Ronder disappeared into the house. Ronder stood for a
moment looking about him as though he were a spy in enemy country and must
let nothing escape him.
"Whose is that big place there?" he asked Fawcett, pointing to a house
that stood by itself at the farther corner of the Precincts.
"Archdeacon Brandon's, sir."
"Oh!..." Ronder mounted the steps. "Good night," he said to Fawcett. "Mrs.
Clay, pay the cabman, please."
The Ronders had taken this house a month ago; for two months before that
it had stood desolate, wisps of paper and straw blowing about it, its "To
let" notice creaking and screaming in every wind. The Hon. Mrs.
Pentecoste, an eccentric old lady, had lived there for many years, and had
died in the middle of a game of patience; her worn and tattered furniture
had been sold at auction, and the house had remained unlet for a
considerable period because people in the town said that the ghost of Mrs.
Pentecoste's cat (a famous blue Persian) walked there. The Ronders cared
nothing for ghosts; the house was exactly what they wanted. It had two
panelled rooms, two powder-closets, and a little walled garden at the back
with fruit trees.
It was quite wonderful what Miss Ronder had done in a month; she had
abandoned Eaton Square for a week, worked in the Polchester house like a
slave, then retired back to Eaton Square again, leaving Mrs. Clay, her
aide-de-camp, to manage the rest. Mrs. Clay had managed very well. She
would not have been in the service of the Ronders for nearly fifteen years
had she not had a gift for managing....
Ronder, washed and brushed, came down to tea, looked about him, and saw
that all was good.
"I congratulate you, Aunt Alice," he said--"excellent!"
Miss Ronder very slightly flushed.
"There are a lot of things still to be done," she said; nevertheless she
was immensely pleased.
The drawing-room was charming. The stencilled walls, the cushions of the
chairs, the cover of a gate-legged table, the curtains of the mullioned
windows were of a warm dark blue. And whatever in the room was not blue
seemed to be white, or wood in its natural colour, or polished brass.
Books ran round the room in low white book-cases. In one corner a pure
white Hermes stood on a pedestal with tiny wings outspread. There was only
one picture, an excellent copy of "Rembrandt's mother." The windows looked
out to the garden, now veiled by the dusk of evening. Tea was on a little
table close to the white tiled fireplace. A little square brass clock
chimed the half-hour as Ronder came in.
"I suppose Ellen will be over," Ronder said. He drank in the details of
the room with a quite sensual pleasure. He went over to the Hermes and
lifted it, holding it for a moment in his podgy hands.
"You beauty!" he whispered aloud. He put it back, turned round to his
"Of course Ellen will be over," he repeated.
"Of course," Miss Ronder repeated, picking up the old square black lacquer
tea-caddy and peering into it.
He picked up the books on the table--two novels, _Sentimental Tommy_,
by J. M. Barrie, and _Sir George Tressady_, by Mrs. Humphry Ward, Mr.
Swinburne's _Tale of Balen_, and _The Works of Max Beerbohm_.
Last of all Leslie Stephen's _Social Rights and Duties_.
He looked at them all, with their light yellow Mudie labels, their fresh
bindings, then, slowly and very carefully, put them back on the table.
He always handled books as though they were human beings.
He came and sat down by the fire.
"I won't see over the place until to-morrow," he said. "What have you done
about the other books?"
"The book-cases are in. It's the best room in the house. Looks over the
river and gets most of the light. The books are as you packed them. I
haven't dared touch them. In fact, I've left that room entirely for you to
"Well," he said, "if you've done the rest of this house as well as this
room, you'll do. It's jolly--it really is. I'm going to like this place."
"And you hated the very idea of it."
"I hated the discomfort there'd be before we settled in. But the settling
in is going to be easier than I thought. Of course we don't know yet how
the land lies. Ellen will tell us."
They were silent for a little. Then he looked at her with a puzzled, half-
humorous, half-ironical glance.
"It's a bit of a blow to you, Aunt Alice, burying yourself down here.
London was the breath of your nostrils. What did you come for? Love of
She looked steadily back at him.
"Not love exactly. Curiosity, perhaps. I want to see at first hand what
you'll do. You're the most interesting human being I've ever met, and that
isn't prejudice. Aunts do not, as a rule, find their nephews interesting.
And what have you come here for? I assure you I haven't the least idea."
The door was opened by Mrs. Clay.
"Miss Stiles," she said.
Miss Stiles, who came in, was not handsome. She was large and fat, with a
round red face like a sun, and she wore colours too bright for her size.
She had a slow soft voice like the melancholy moo of a cow. She was not a
bad woman, but, temperamentally, was made unhappy by the success or good
fortune of others. Were you in distress, she would love you, cherish you,
never abandon you. She would share her last penny with you, run to the end
of the world for you, defend you before the whole of humanity. Were you,
however, in robust health, she would hint to every one of a possible
cancer; were you popular, it would worry her terribly and she would
discover a thousand faults in your character; were you successful in your
work, she would pray for your approaching failure lest you should become
arrogant. She gossiped without cessation, and always, as it were, to
restore the proper balance of the world, to pull down the mighty from
their high places, to lift the humble only that they in their turn might
be pulled down. She played fluently and execrably on the piano. She spent
her day in running from house to house.
She had independent means, lived four months of the year in Polchester
(she had been born there and her family had been known there for many
generations before her), four months in London, and the rest of the year
abroad. She had met Alice Ronder in London and attached herself to her.
She liked the Ronders because they never boasted of their successes,
because Alice had a weak heart, because Ronder, who knew her character,
half-humorously deprecated his talents, which were, as he knew well
enough, no mean ones. She bored Alice Ronder, but Ronder found her useful.
She told him a great deal that he wanted to know, and although she was
never accurate in her information, he could separate the wheat from the
chaff. She was a walking mischief-maker, but meant no harm to a living
soul. She prided herself on her honesty, on saying exactly what she
thought to every one. She was kindness itself to her servants, who adored
her, as did railway-porters, cabmen and newspaper men. She overtipped
wherever she went because "she could not bear not to be liked." In our
Polchester world she was an important factor. She was always the first to
hear any piece of news in our town, and she gave it a wrong twist just as
fast as she could.
She was really delighted to see the Ronders, and told them so with many
assurances of affection, but she was a little distressed to find the room
so neat and settled. She would have preferred them to be "in a thorough
mess" and badly in need of her help.
"My dear Alice, how quick you've been! How clever you are! At the same
time I think you'll find there's a good deal to arrange still. The
Polchester girls are so slow and always breaking things. I suppose some
things have been smashed in the move--nothing very valuable, I hope."
"Lots of things, Ellen," said Ronder, laughing. "We've had the most awful
time and badly need your help. It's only this room that Aunt Alice got
straight--just to have something to show, you know. And our journey down!
I can't tell you what it was, hardly room to breathe and coming up here in
"Oh, you poor things! What a welcome to Polchester! You must simply have
hated the look of the whole place. _Such_ a bad introduction, and
everything looking as gloomy and depressing as possible. I expect you
wished yourselves well out of it. I don't wonder you're depressed. I hope
you're not feeling your heart, Alice dear."
"Well, I am a little," acknowledged Miss Ronder. "But I shall go to bed
early and get a good night."
"You poor dear! I was afraid you'd be absolutely done up. Now, you're
_not_ to get up in the morning and I'll run about and do your
shopping for you. I _insist_. How's Mrs. Clay?"
"A little grumpy at having so much to do," said Ronder, "but she'll get
"I'm afraid she's a little ill-tempered at times," said Miss Stiles with
satisfaction. "I thought when I came in that she looked out of sorts.
Troubles never come singly, of course."
All was well now and Miss Stiles completely satisfied. She admired the
room and the Hermes, and prophesied that, after a week or two, they would
probably find things not so bad after all. She drank several cups of tea
and passed on to general conversation. It was obvious, very soon, that she
was bursting with a piece of news.
"I can see, Ellen," said Ronder, humorously observing her, "that you're
longing to tell us something."
"Well, it is interesting. What do you think? Falk Brandon has been sent
down from Oxford for misbehaviour."
"And who is Falk Brandon?" asked Ronder.
"The Archdeacon's son. His only boy. I've told you about Archdeacon
Brandon many times. He thinks he runs the town and has been terribly above
himself for a long while. This will pull him down a little. I must say,
although I don't want to be uncharitable, that I'm glad of it. It's too
absurd the way that he's been having everything his own way here. All the
Canons are over ninety and simply give in to him about everything."
"When did this happen?"
"Oh, it's only just happened. He arrived by your train. I saw young George
Lascelles as I was on my way up to you. He met him at the station--Falk, I
mean--and he didn't pretend to disguise it. George said 'Hullo, Brandon,
what are you doing here?' and Falk said 'Oh, I've been sent down'--just
like that. Didn't pretend to disguise it. He's always been as brazen as
anything. He'll give his father a lot of trouble before he's done."
"There's nothing very terrible," said Ronder, laughing, "in being sent
down from Oxford. I've known plenty of good fellows who were."
Miss Stiles looked annoyed. "Oh, but you don't know. It will be terrible
for his father. He's the proudest man in England. Some people call it
conceit, but, however that may be, he thinks there's nothing like his
family. Even poor Mrs. Brandon he's proud of when she isn't there. It will
be awful for him that every one should know."
Ronder said nothing.
"You know," said Miss Stiles, who felt that her news had fallen flat,
"you'll have to fight him or give in to him. There's no other way here. I
hope you'll fight him."
"I?" said Ronder. "Why, I never fight anybody. I'm much too lazy."
"Then you'll never be comfortable here, that's all. He can't bear being
crossed. He must have his way about everything. If the Bishop weren't so
old and the Dean so stupid.... What we want here is a little life in the
"You needn't look to us for that, Ellen," said Ronder. "We've come here to
"Peace, perfect peace...."
"I don't believe you," said Miss Stiles, tossing her head. "I'd be
disappointed to think it of you."
Alice Ronder gave her nephew a curious look, half of amusement, half of
"It's quite true, Ellen," she said. "Now, if you've finished your tea,
come and look at the rest of the house."
One of Joan's Days
I find it difficult now to realise how apart from the life of the world
Polchester was in those days. Even now, when the War has shaken up and
jostled together every small village in Great Britain, Polchester still
has some shreds of its isolation left to it; but then--why, it might have
been a walled-in fortress of mediaeval times, for all its connection with
the outside world!
This isolation was quite deliberately maintained. I don't mean, of course,
that Mrs. Combermere and Brandon and old Bentinck-Major and Mrs. Sampson
said to themselves in so many words, "We will keep this to ourselves and
defend its walls against every new invader, every new idea, new custom,
new impulse. We will all be butchered rather than allow one old form,
tradition, superstition to go!" It was not as conscious as that, but in
effect it was that that it came to. And they were wonderfully assisted by
circumstances. It is true that the main line ran through Polchester from
Drymouth, but its travellers were hurrying south, and only a few trippers,
a few Americans, a few sentimentalists stayed to see the Cathedral; and
those who stayed found "The Bull" an impossibly inconvenient and
uncomfortable hostelry and did not come again. It is true that even then,
in 1897, there were many agitations by sharp business men like Crosbie and
John Allen, Croppet and Fred Barnstaple, to make the place more widely
known, more commercially attractive. It was not until later that the golf
course was laid out and the St. Leath Hotel rose on Pol Hill. But other
things were tried--steamers on the Pol, char-a-bancs to various places of
local interest, and so on--but, at this time, all these efforts failed.
The Cathedral was too strong for them, above all Brandon and Mrs.
Combermere were too strong for them. Nothing was done to encourage
strangers; I shouldn't wonder if Mrs. Combermere didn't pay old Jolliffe
of "The Bull" so much a year to keep his hotel inconvenient and
insanitary. The men on the Town Council were for the most part like the
Canons, aged and conservative. It is true that it was in 1897 that
Barnstaple was elected Mayor, but without Ronder I doubt whether even he
would have been able to do very much.
The town then revolved, so to speak, entirely on its own axis; it revolved
between the two great events of the year, the summer Polchester Fair, the
winter County Ball, and those two great affairs were conducted, in every
detail and particular, as they had been conducted a hundred years before.
I find it strange, writing from the angle of to-day, to conceive it
possible that so short a time ago anything in England could have been so
conservative. I myself was only thirteen years of age when Ronder came to
our town, and saw all grown figures with the exaggerated colour and
romance that local inquisitive age bestows. About my own contemporaries,
young Jeremy Cole for instance, there was no colour at all, but the older
figures were strange--gigantic, almost mythological. Mrs. Combermere, the
Dean, the Archdeacon, Mrs. Sampson, Canon Ronder, moved about the town, to
my young eyes, like gods and goddesses, and it was not until after my
return to Polchester at the end of my first Cambridge year that I saw
clearly how small a town it was and how tiny the figures in it.
Joan Brandon thought her father a marvellous man, as I have already said,
but she had seen him too often lose his temper, too often snub her mother,
too often be upset by trivial and unimportant details, to conceive him
romantically. Falk, her brother, was romantic to her because she had seen
so much less of him; her father she knew too well. For some time after
Falk's return from Oxford nothing happened. Joan did not know what exactly
she had expected to happen, but she had an uneasy sense that more was
going on behind the scenes than she knew.
The Archdeacon did not speak to Falk unless he were compelled, but Falk
did not seem to mind this in the least. His handsome defiant face flashed
scorn at the whole family.
He was out of the house most of the day, came down to breakfast when every
one else had finished, and often was not present at dinner in the evening.
The Archdeacon had said that breakfast was not to be kept for him, but
nevertheless breakfast was there, on the table, however late he was. The
cook and, indeed, all the servants adored him because, I suppose, he had
no sense of class-difference at all and laughed and joked with any one if
he was in a good temper. All these first days he spoke scarcely one word
to Joan; it was as though the whole family were in his black books for
some disgraceful act--they were the guilty ones and not he.
Joan blamed herself for feeling so light-hearted and gay during this
family crisis, but she could not help it. A very short time ago the
knowledge that battle was engaged in the very heart of the house would
have made her miserable and apprehensive, but now it seemed to be all
outside her and unconnected with her as though she had a life of her own
that no one could touch. Her courage seemed to grow with every half-hour
of her life. Some months passed, and then one morning she came into the
drawing-room and found her mother rather bewildered and distressed.
"Oh dear, I really don't know what to do!" said her mother.
It was so seldom that Joan was appealed to for advice that her heart now
beat with pride.
"What's the matter, mother?" she asked, trying to look dignified and
Mrs. Brandon looked at her with a frightened and startled look as though
she had been speaking to herself and had not wished to be overheard.
"Oh, Joan!...I didn't know that you were there!"
"What's the matter? Is it anything I can help about?"
"'No, dear, nothing...really I didn't know that you were there."
"No, but you must let me help, mother." Joan marvelled at her own boldness
as she spoke.
"It's nothing you can do, dear."
"But it's sure to be something I can do. Do you know that I've been home
for months and months simply with the idea of helping you, and I'm never
allowed to do anything?"
"Really, Joan--I don't think that's quite the way to speak."
"No, but, mother, it's true. I _want_ to help. I'm grown up. I'm
going to dinner at the Castle, and I _must_ help you, or--or--I shall
go away and earn my own living!"
This last was so startling and fantastic that both Joan and her mother
stared at one another in a kind of horrified amazement.
"No, I didn't mean that, of course," Joan said, hurriedly recovering
herself. "But you must see that I must have some work to do."
"I don't know what your father would say," said Mrs. Brandon, still
"Oh, never mind father," said Joan quickly; "this is a matter just between
you and me. I'm here to help you, and you must let me do something. Now,
what's the trouble to-day?"
"I don't know, dear. There's no trouble exactly. Things are so difficult
just now. The fact is that I promised to go to tea with Miss Burnett this
afternoon and now your father wants me to go with him to the Deanery. So
provoking! Miss Burnett caught me in the street, where it's always so
difficult to think of excuses."
"Let me go to Miss Burnett's instead," said Joan. "It's quite time I took
on some of the calling for you. I've never seen Mr. Morris, and I hear
he's very nice."
"Very well, dear," said Mrs. Brandon, suddenly beginning, as her way was
when there was any real opposition, to capitulate on all sides at once.
"Suppose you do go, dear. I'm sure it's very kind of you. And you might
take those books back to the Circulating Library as well. It's Market-Day.
Are you sure you won't mind the horses and cows and dogs?"
Joan laughed. "I believe you think I'm still five years old, mother.
That's splendid. I'll start off after lunch."
Joan went up to her room, elated. Truly, this was a great step forward. It
occurred to her on further reflection that something very serious indeed
must be going on behind the scenes to cause her mother to give in so
quickly. She sat on her old faded rocking-chair, her hands crossed behind
her head, thinking it all out. Did she once begin calling on her own
account she was grown-up indeed. What would these Morrises be like?
She found now that she was beginning to be a little frightened. Mr. Morris
was the new Rector of St. James', the little church over by the cattle
market. He had not been in Polchester very long and was said to be a shy
timid man, but a good preacher. He was a widower, and his sister-in-law
kept house for him. Joan considered further on the great importance of
these concessions; it made all the difference to everything. She was now
to have a life of her own, and every kind of adventure and romance was
possible for her. She was suddenly so happy that she sprang up and did a
little dance round her room, a sort of polka, that became so vehement that
the pictures and the little rickety table rattled.
"I'll be so grown-up at the Morrises' this afternoon that they'll think
I've been calling for years," she said to herself.
She had need of all her courage and optimism at luncheon, for it was a
gloomy meal. Only her father and mother were present. They were all very
After lunch she went upstairs, put on her hat and coat, picked up the
three Library books, and started off. It was a sunny day, with shadows
chasing one another across the Cathedral green. There was, as there so
often is in Polchester, a smell of the sea in the air, cold and
invigorating. She paused for a moment and looked across at the Cathedral.
She did not know why, but she had been always afraid of the Cathedral. She
had never loved it, and had always wished that they could go on Sundays to
some little church like St. James'.
For most of her conscious life the Cathedral had hung over her with its
dark menacing shadow, forbidding her, as it seemed to her, to be gay or
happy or careless. To-day the thought suddenly came to her, "That place is
going to do us harm. I hate it," and for a moment she was depressed and
uneasy; but when she came out from the Arden Gate and saw the High Street
all shining with the sun, running down the hill into glittering distance,
she was gloriously cheerful once more. There the second wonderful thing
that day happened to her. She had taken scarcely a step down the hill when
she came upon Mrs. Sampson. There was nothing wonderful about that; Mrs.
Sampson, being the wife of a Dean who was much more retiring than he
should be, was to be seen in public at all times and seasons, having to
do, as it were, the work of two rather than one. No, the wonderful thing
was that Joan suddenly realised that her terror of Mrs. Sampson--a terror
that had always been a real thorn in her flesh--was completely gone. It
was as though a charm, an Abracadabra, had been whispered over Mrs.
Sampson and she had been changed immediately into a rabbit. It had never
been Mrs. Sampson's fault that she was alarming to the young. She was a
good woman, but she was cursed with two sad burdens--a desperate shyness
and a series, unrelenting, unmitigating, mysterious, desperate, of nervous
Her headaches were a feature of Polchester life, and those who were old
enough to understand pitied her and offered her many remedies. But the
young cannot be expected to realise that there can be anything physically
wrong with the old, and Mrs. Sampson's sharpness of manner, her terrifying
habit of rapping out a "Yes" or a "No," her gloomy view of boisterous
habits and healthy appetites, made her one most truly to be avoided.
Before to-day Joan would have willingly walked a mile out of her way to
escape her; to-day she only saw a nervous, pale-faced little woman in an
ill-fitting blue dress, for whom she could not be anything but sorry.
"Good morning, Mrs. Sampson."
"Good morning, Joan."
"Isn't it a nice day?"
"It's cold, I think. Is your mother well?"
"Very well, thank you."
"Give her my love."
"I will, Mrs. Sampson."
Mrs. Sampson's nose, that would take on a blue colour on a cold day,
quivered, her thin mouth shut with a snap, and she was gone.
"But I wasn't afraid of her!" She was almost frightened at this new spirit
that had come to her, and, feeling rather that in another moment she would
be punished for her piratical audacity, she turned up the steps into the
It was the custom in those days that far away from the dust of the grimy
shelves, in the very middle of the room, there was a table with all the
latest works of fiction in their gaudy bindings, a few volumes of poetry
and a few memoirs. Close to this table Miss Milton sat, wrapped, in the
warmest weather, in a thick shawl and knitting endless stockings. She
hated children, myself in particular. She was also a Snob of the Snobs,
and thanked God on her knees every night for Lady St. Leath, Mrs.
Combermere and Mrs. Sampson, by whose graces she was left in her present
Joan was still too near childhood to be considered very seriously, and it
was well known that her father did not take her very seriously either. She
was always, therefore, on the rare occasions when she entered the Library,
snubbed by Miss Milton. It must be confessed that to-day, in spite of her
success with Mrs. Sampson, she was nervous. She was nervous partly because
she hated Miss Milton's red-rimmed eyes, and never looked at them if she
could help it, but, in the main, because she knew that her mother was
returning the Library books too quickly, and had, moreover, insisted that
she should ask for Mr. Barrie's _Sentimental Tommy_ and Mr. Seton
Merriman's _The Sowers_, both of them books that had been asked for
for weeks and as steadily and persistently refused.
Joan knew what Miss Milton would say, "That they might be in next week,
but that she couldn't be sure." Was Joan strong enough now, in her new-
found glory, to fight for them? She did not know.
She advanced to the table smiling. Miss Milton did not look up, but
continued to knit one of her horrible stockings.
"Good-morning, Miss Milton. Mother has sent back these books. They were
not quite what she wanted."
"I'm sorry for that." Miss Milton took the books into her chilblained
protection. "It's a little difficult, I must say, to know what Mrs.
"Well, there's _Sentimental Tommy_," began Joan.
But Miss Milton was an old general.
"Oh, that's out, I'm afraid. Now, here's a sweetly pretty book--_Roger
Varibrugh's Wife_, by Adeline Sergeant. It'a only just out...."
"Or there's _The Sowers,"_ said Joan, caught against her will by the
red-rimmed eyes and staring at them.
"Oh, that's out, I'm afraid. There are several books here--"
"You promised mother," said Joan, "that she should have _Sentimental
Tommy_ this week. You promised her a month ago. It's about time that
mother had a book that she cares for."
"Really," said Miss Milton, wide-eyed at Joan's audacity. "You seem to be
charging me with some remissness, Miss Brandon. If you have any complaint,
I'm sure the Library Committee will attend to it. It's to them I have to
answer. When the book is in you shall have it. I can promise no more. I am
"You have said that now for three months," said Joan, beginning, to her
own surprised delight, to be angry. "Surely the last reader hasn't been
three months over it. I thought subscribers were only allowed to keep a
book a week."
Miss Milton's crimson colouring turned to a deep purple.
"The book is out," she said. "Both books are out. They are in great
demand. I have no more to say."
The Library door opened, and a young man came in. Joan was still too young
to wish for scenes in public. She must give up the battle for to-day.
When, however, she saw who it was she blushed. It was young Lord St. Leath
--Johnny St. Leath, as he was known to his familiars, who were many and of
all sorts and conditions. Joan hated herself for blushing, especially
before the odious Miss Milton, but there was a reason. One day in last
October after morning service Joan and her mother had waited in the
Cloisters to avoid a shower of rain. St. Leath had also waited and very
pleasantly had talked to them both. There was nothing very alarming in
this, but as the rain cleared and Mrs. Brandon had moved forward across
the Green, he had suddenly, with a confusion that had seemed to her
charming, asked Joan whether one day they mightn't meet again. He had
given her one look straight in the eyes, tried to say something more,
failed, and turned away down the Cloisters.
Joan had never before been asked by any young man to meet him again. She
had told herself that this was nothing but the merest, most obvious
politeness; nevertheless the look that he had given her remained.
Now, as she saw him advancing towards her, there was the thought, was it
not on that very morning that her new courage and self-confidence had come
to her? The thought was so absurd that she flung it at Miss Milton. But
the blush remained.
Johnny was an ungainly young man, with a red face, freckles, a large
mouth, and a bull-terrier--a conventional British type, I suppose, saved,
nevertheless, from conventionality by his affection for his three plain
sisters, his determination to see things as they were, and his sense of
humour, the last of these something quite his own, and always appearing in
unexpected places. The bull-terrier, in spite of the notice on the Library
door that no dogs were admitted, advanced breathlessly and dribbling with
excitement for Miss Milton's large black felt slippers.
"Here, Andrew, old man. Heel! Heel!" said Johnny. Andrew, however, quite
naturally concluded that this was only an approval of his intentions, and
there might have followed an awkward scene had his master not caught him
by the collar and held him suspended in mid-air, to his own indignant
surprise and astonishment.
Joan laughed, and Miss Milton, quivering between indignation, fear and
snobbery, dropped the stocking that she was knitting.
Andrew burst from his master's clutches, rushed the stocking into the
farthest recesses of the Library, and proceeded there to enjoy it.
"Oh, it's quite all right, Lord St. Leath," said Miss Milton. "What a fine
"Yes, he is," said Johnny, rescuing the stocking. "He's as strong as
Lucifer. Here, Andrew, you devil, I'll break every bone in your body."
During this little scene Johnny had smiled at Joan, and in so pleasant a
way that she was compelled to smile back at him.
"How do you do, Miss Brandon?" He had recalled Andrew now, and the dog was
slobbering happily at his feet. "Jolly day, isn't it?"
"Yes," said Joan, and stood there awkwardly, feeling that she ought to go
but not knowing quite how to do so. He also seemed embarrassed, and turned
abruptly to Miss Milton.
"I say, look here.... Mother asked me to come in and get that book you
promised her. What's the name of the thing?...I've got it written down."
He fumbled in his pocket and produced a bit of paper.
"Here it is. _Sentimental Tommy_, by a man called Barrie. Silly name,
but mother's always reading the most awful stuff."
Joan turned towards Miss Milton.
"How funny!" she said. "That's the book I've just been asking for. It's
Miss Milton's face was a curious purple.
"Well, that's odd," said Johnny. "Mother told me that you'd sent her a
line to say it was in whenever she sent for it."
"It's been out three months," said Joan, staring now straight into Miss
Milton's angry eyes.
"I've been keeping..." said Miss Milton. "That is, there's a special
copy.... Lady St. Leath specially asked----"
"Is it in, or isn't it?" asked Johnny.
"There _is_ a copy, Lord St. Leath----" With confused fingers Miss
Milton searched in a drawer. She produced the book.
"You told me," said Joan, forgetting now in her anger St. Leath and all
the world, "that there wouldn't he a copy for weeks. If you'd told me you
were keeping one for St. Leath, that would have been different. You
shouldn't have told me a lie."
"Do you mean to say," said Johnny, opening his eyes very widely indeed,
"that you refused this copy to Miss Brandon?"
"Certainly," said Miss Milton, breathing very hard as though she had been
running a long distance. "I was keeping it for your mother."
"Well, I'm damned," said Johnny. "I beg your pardon, Miss Brandon,...but
I never heard such a thing. Does my mother pay a larger subscription than
"Then what right had you to tell Miss Brandon a lie?"
Miss Milton, in spite of long training in the kind of warfare attaching,
of necessity, to Circulating Libraries, was very near to tears--also
murder. She would have been delighted to pierce Joan's heart with a bright
stiletto, had such a weapon been handy. She saw the softest, easiest,
idlest job in the world slipping out of her fingers; she saw herself, a
desolate and haggard virgin, begging her bread on the Polchester streets.
She saw...but never mind her visions. They were terrible ones. She had
recourse to her only defence.
"If I have misunderstood my duty," she said in a trembling voice, "there
is the Library Committee."
"Oh, never mind," said Joan whose anger had disappeared. "It doesn't
matter a bit. We'll have the book after Lady St. Leath."
"Indeed you won't," said Johnny, seizing the volume and forcing it upon
Joan. "Mother can wait. I never heard of such a thing." He turned fiercely
upon Miss Milton. "My mother shall know exactly what has happened. I'm
sure she'd be horrified if she understood that you were keeping books from
other subscribers in order that she might have them.... Good afternoon."
He strode from the room. At the door he paused.
"Can I--Shall we--Are you going down the High Street, Miss Brandon?"
"Yes," said Joan. They went out of the room and down the Library steps
In the shiny, sunny street they paused. The dark cobwebs of the Library
hung behind Joan's consciousness like the sudden breaking of a mischievous
She was so happy that she could have embraced Andrew, who was, however,
already occupied with the distant aura of a white poodle on the other side
of the street.
Johnny was driven by the impulse of his indignation down the hill. Joan,
rather breathlessly, followed him.
"I say!" said Johnny. "Did you ever hear of such a woman! She ought to be
poisoned. She ought indeed. No, poisoning's too good for her. Hung, drawn
and quartered. That's what she ought to be. She'll get into trouble over
"Oh no," said Joan. "Please, Lord St. Leath, don't say any more about it.
She has a difficult time, I expect, everybody wanting the same books.
After all a promise is a promise."
"But she'd promised your mother----"
"No, she never really did. She always said that it would be in in a day or
two. She never properly promised. I expect we'd have had it next."
"The snob, the rotten snob!" Johnny paused and raised his stick. "I hate
women like that. No, she's not doing her job properly. She oughtn't to be
So swift had been their descent that they arrived in a moment at the
Because to-day was market-day there was a fine noise, confusion and
splendour--carts rattling in and out, sheep and cows driven hither and
thither, the wooden stalls bright with flowers and vegetables, the dim
arcades looming behind the square filled with mysterious riches. They
could not talk very much here, and Joan was glad. She was too deeply
excited to talk. At one moment St. Leath took her arm to guide her past a
confused mob of bewildered sheep. The Glebeshire peasant on marketing-day
has plenty of conversation. Old wrinkled women, stout red-faced farmers,
boys and girls all shouted together, and above the scene the light driving
clouds flung their transparent shadows, like weaving shuttles across the
"Oh, do let's stop here a moment," said Joan, peering into one of the
arcades. "I've always loved this one all my life. I've never been able to
This was the Toy Arcade, now, I'm afraid, gone the way of so many other
romantic things. It had been to all of us the most wonderful spot in
Polchester from the very earliest days, this partly because of the toys
themselves, partly because it was the densest and darkest of all the
Arcades, never utterly to be pierced by our youthful eyes, partly because
only two doors away were the sinister rooms of Mr. Dawson, the dentist.
Here not only was there every kind of toy--dolls, soldiers, horses, carts,
games, tops, hoops, dogs, elephants--but also sweets--chocolates, jujubes,
caramels, and the best sweet in the whole world, the Polchester Bull's-
They went in together. Mrs. Magnet, now with God, an old woman like a
berry, always in a bonnet with green flowers, smiled and bobbed. The
colours of the toys jumbled against the dark walls were like patterns in a
"What do you say, Miss Brandon?" said Johnny. "If I give you a toy will
you give me one?"
"Yes," said Joan, afraid a little of Mrs. Magnet's piercing black eye.
"You're not to see what I get. Turn your back a moment."
Joan turned around. As she waited she could hear the "Hie!...Hie! Woah!"
of the market-cries, the bleating of the sheep, the lowing of a cow.
"Here you are, then." She turned. He presented her with a Japanese doll,
gay in a pink cotton frock, his waist girdled with a sash of gold tissue.
"Now you turn your back," she said.
In a kind of happy desperation she seized a nigger with bold red checks, a
white jacket and crimson trousers.
Mrs. Magnet wrapped the presents up. They paid, and walked out into the
"I'll keep that doll," said Johnny, "just as long as you keep yours."
"Good-bye," said Joan hurriedly. "I've got to call at a house on the other
side of the market.... Good-bye."
She felt the pressure of his hand on hers, then, clutching her parcel,
hurried, almost ran, indeed, through the market-stalls. She did not look
When she had crossed the Square she turned down into a little side street.
The plan of Polchester is very simple. It is built, as it were, on the
side of a rock, running finally to a flat top, on which is the Cathedral.
Down the side of the rock there are broad ledges, and it is on one of
these that the market-place is built. At the bottom of the rock lies the
jumble of cottages known most erroneously as Seatown, and round the rock
runs the river Pol, slipping away at last through woods and hills and
valleys into the sea. At high tide you can go all the way by river to the
sea, and in the summer, this makes a pleasant and beautiful excursion. It
is because of this that Seatown has, perhaps, some right to its name,
because in one way and another sailors collect in the cottages and at the
"Dog and Pilchard," that pleasant and democratic hostelry of which, in
1897, Samuel Hogg was landlord. Many visitors have been known to declare
that Seatown was "too sweet for anything," and that "it would be really
wicked to knock down the ducks of cottages," but "the ducks of cottages"
were the foulest and most insanitary dwelling-places in the south of
England, and it has always been to me amazing that the Polchester Town
Council allowed them to stand so long as they did. In 1902, as all the
Glebeshire world knows, there was the great battle of Seatown, ending in
the cottages' destruction. In 1897 those evil dwelling-places gloried in
their full magnificence of sweet corruption, nor did the periodical
attacks of typhoid alarm in the least the citizens of the Upper Town. Once
and again gentlemen from other parts paid mysterious official visits, but
we had ways, in old times, of dealing with inquisitive meddlers from the
Because the market-place was half-way down the Rock, and because the
Rectory of St. James' was just below the market-place, the upper windows
of that house commanded a wonderful view both of the hill, High Street and
Cathedral above it, and of Seatown, river and woods below it. It was said
that it was up this very rocky street from the river, through the market,
and up the High Street that the armed enemies of the Black Bishop had
fought their way to the Cathedral on that great day when the Bishop had
gone to meet his God, and a piece of rock is still shown to innocent
visitors as the place whence some of his enemies, in full armour, were
flung down, many thousand feet, to the waters of the Pol.
Joan had often longed to see the view from the windows of St. James'
Rectory, but she had not known old Dr. Burroughs, the former Rector, a
cross man with gout and rheumatism. She walked up some steps and found the
house the last of three all squeezed together on the edge of the hill. The
Rectory, because it was the last, stood square to all the winds of heaven,
and Joan fancied what it must be in wild wintry weather. Soon she was in
the drawing-room shaking hands with Miss Burnett, who was Mr. Morris'
sister-in-law, and kept house for him.
Miss Burnett was a stout negative woman, whose whole mind was absorbed in
the business of housekeeping, prices of food, wickedness and ingratitude
of servants, maliciousness of shopkeepers and so on. The house, with all
her managing, was neither tidy nor clean, as Joan quickly saw; Miss
Burnett was not, by temperament, methodical, nor had she ever received any
education. Her mind, so far as a perception of the outside world and its
history went, was some way behind that of a Hottentot or a South Sea
Islander. She had, from the day of her birth, been told by every one
around her that she was stupid, and, after a faint struggle, she had
acquiesced in that judgment. She knew that her younger sister, afterwards
Mrs. Morris, was pretty and accomplished, and that she would never be
either of those things. She was not angry nor jealous at this. The note of
her character was acquiescence, and when Agatha had died of pleurisy it
had seemed the natural thing for her to come and keep house for the
distressed widower. If Mr. Morris had since regretted the arrangement he
had, at any rate, never said so.
Miss Burnett's method of conversation was to say something about the
weather and then to lapse into a surprised and distressed stare. If her
visitor made some statement she crowned it with, "Well, now, that was just
was I was going to say."
Her nose, when she talked, twinkled at the nostrils apprehensively, and
many of her visitors found this fascinating, so that they suddenly, with
hot confusion, realised that they too had been staring in a most offensive
manner. Joan had not been out in the world long enough to enable her to
save a difficult situation by brilliant talk, and she very quickly found
herself staring at Miss Burnett's nose and longing to say something about
it, as, for instance, "What a stronge nose you've got, Miss Burnett--see
how it twitches!" or, "If you'll allow me, Miss Burnett, I'd just like to
study your nose for a minute." When she realised this horrible desire in
herself she blushed crimson and gazed about the untidy and entangled
drawing-room in real desperation. She could see nothing in the room that
was likely to save her. She was about to rise and depart, although she had
only been there five minutes, when Mr. Morris came in.
Joan realised at once that this man was quite different from any one whom
she had ever known. He was a stranger to her Polchester world in body,
soul and spirit, as though, a foreigner from some far-distant country, he
had been shipwrecked and cast upon an inhospitable shore. So strangely did
she feel this that she was quite surprised when he did not speak with a
foreign accent. "Oh, he must be a poet!" was her second thought about Mr.
Morris, not because he dressed oddly or had long hair. She could not tell
whence the impression came, unless it were in his strange, bewildered,
lost blue eyes. Lost, bewildered--yes, that was what he was! With every
movement of his slim, straight body, the impulse with which he brushed
back his untidy fair hair from his forehead, he seemed like a man only
just awake, a man needing care and protection, because he simply would not
be able to look after himself. So ridiculously did she have this
impression that she almost cried "Look out!" when he moved forward, as
though he would certainly knock himself against a chair or a table.
"How strange," she thought, "that this man should live with Miss Burnett!
What does he think of her?" She was excited by her discovery of him, but
that meant very little, because just now she was being excited by
everything. She found at once that talking to him was the easiest thing in
the world. Mr. Morris did not say very much; he smiled gently, and when
Miss Burnett, awaking suddenly from her torpor, said, "You'll have some
tea, Miss Brandon, won't you?" he, smiling, softly repeated the
"Thank you," said Joan. "I will. How strange it is," she went on, "that
you are so close to the market and, even on market-day, you don't hear a
And it was strange! as though the house were bewitched and had suddenly,
even as Joan entered it, gathered around it a dark wood for its
"Yes," said Mr. Morris. "We found it strange at first. But it's because we
are the last house, and the three others protect us. We get the wind and
rain, though. You should hear this place in a storm. But the house is
strong enough; it's very stoutly built; not a board creaks in the wildest
weather. Only the windows rattle and the wind comes roaring down the
"How long have you been here?" asked Joan.
"Nearly a year--and we still feel strangers. We were near Ashford in Kent
for twelve years, and the Glebeshire people are very different."
"Well," said Joan, who was a little irritated because she felt that his
voice was a little sadder than it ought to be, "I think you'll like
Polchester. I'm _sure_ you will. And you've come in a good year, too.
There's sure to be a lot going on this year because of the Jubilee."
Mr. Morris did not seem to be as thrilled as he should be by the thought
of the Jubilee, so Joan went on:
"It's so lucky for us that it comes just at the Polchester Feast time. We
always have a tremendous week at the Feast--the Horticultural Show and a
Ball in the Assembly Rooms, and all sorts of things. It's going to be my
first ball this year, although I've really come out already." She laughed.
"Festivities start to-morrow with the arrival of Marquis."
"Marquis?" repeated Mr. Morris politely.
"Oh, don't you know Marquis? His is the greatest Circus in England. He
comes to Polchester every year, and they have a procession through the
town--elephants and camels, and Britannia in her chariot, and sometimes a
cage with the lions and the tigers. Last year they had the sweetest little
ponies--four of them, no higher than St. Bernards--and there are the
clowns too, and a band."
She was suddenly afraid that she was talking too much--silly too, in her
childish enthusiasms. She remembered that she was in reality deputising
for her mother, who would never have talked about the Circus. Fortunately
at that moment the tea came in; it was brought by a flushed and
contemptuous maid, who put the tray down on a little table with a bang,
tossed her head as though she despised them all, and slammed the door
Miss Burnett was upset by this, and her nose twitched more violently than
ever. Joan saw that her hand trembled as she poured out the tea, and she
was at once sorry for her.
Mr. Morris talked about Kent and London, and tea was drunk and the saffron
cake praised, and Joan thought it was time to go. At the last, however,
she turned to Mr. Morris and said:
"Do you like the Cathedral?"
"It's wonderful," he answered. "You should see it from our window
"Oh, I hate it--" said Joan.
"Why?" Morris asked her.
There was a curious challenge in his voice. They were both standing facing
"I suppose that's a silly thing to say. Only you don't live as close to it
as we do, and you haven't lived here so long as we have. It seems to hang
right over you, and it never changes, and I hate to think it will go on
just the same, years after we're dead."
"Have you seen the view from our window?" Morris asked her.
"No," said Joan, "I was never in this house before."
"Come and see it," he said.
"I'm sure," said Miss Burnett heavily, "Miss Brandon doesn't want to be
bothered--when she's seen the Cathedral all her life, too."
"Of course I'd love to see it," said Joan, laughing. "To tell you the
truth, that's what I've always wanted. I looked at this house again and
again when old Canon Burroughs was here, and thought there must be a
She said good-bye to Miss Burnett.
"My mother does hope you will soon come and see us," she said.
"I have just met Mrs. Brandon for a moment at Mrs. Combermere's," said Mr.
Morris. "We'll be very glad to come."
She went out with him.
"It's up these stairs," he said. "Two flights. I hope you don't mind."
They climbed on to the second landing. At the end of the passage there was
a window. The evening was grey and only little faint wisps of blue still
lingered above the dusk, but the white sky threw up the Cathedral towers,
now black and sharp-edged in magnificent relief. Truly it _was_ a
The window was in such a position that through it you gazed behind the
neighbouring houses, above some low roofs, straight up the twisting High
Street to the Cathedral. The great building seemed to be perched on the
very edge of the rock, almost, you felt, swinging in mid-air, and that so
precariously that with one push of the finger you might send it staggering
into space. Joan had never seen it so dominating, so commanding, so fierce
in its disregard of the tiny clustered world beneath it, so near to the
stars, so majestic and alone.
"Yes--it's wonderful," she said.
"Oh, but you should see it," he cried, "as it can be. It's dull to-day,
the sky's grey and there's no sunset,--but when it's flaming red with all
the windows shining, or when all the stars are out or in moonlight...
it's like a great ship sometimes, and sometimes like a cloud, and
sometimes like a fiery palace. Sometimes it's in mist and you can only see
just the top of the towers...."
"I don't like it," said Joan, turning away. "It doesn't care what happens
"Why should it?" he answered. "Think of all it's seen--the battles and the
fights and the plunder--and it doesn't care! We can do what we like and it
will remain just the same."
"People could come and knock it down," Joan said.
"I believe it would still be there if they did. The rock would be there
and the spirit of the Cathedral.... What do people matter beside a thing
like that? Why, we're ants...!"
He stopped suddenly.
"You'll think me foolish, Miss Brandon," he said. "You have known the
Cathedral so long----" He paused. "I think I know what you mean about
He saw her to the door.
"Good-bye," he said, smiling. "Come again."
"I like him," she thought as she walked away. What a splendid day she had
The Impertinent Elephant
Archdeacon Brandon had surmounted with surprising celerity the shock of
Falk's unexpected return. He was helped to this firstly by his confident
belief in a God who had him especially in His eye and would, on no
account, do him any harm. As God had decided that Falk had better leave
Oxford, it was foolish to argue that it would have been wiser for him to
stay there. Secondly, he was helped by his own love for, and pride in, his
son. The independence and scorn that were so large a part of Falk's nature
were after his own heart. He might fight and oppose them (he often did),
but always behind the contest there was appreciation and approbation. That
was the way for a son of his to treat the world--to snap his fingers at
it! The natural thing to do, the good old world being as stupid as it was.
Thirdly, he was helped by his family pride. It took him only a night's
reflection to arrive at the decision that Falk had been entirely right in
this affair and Oxford entirely in the wrong. Two days after Falk's return
he wrote (without saying anything to the boy) Falk's tutor a very warm
letter, pointing out that he was sure the tutor would agree with him that
a little more tact and diplomacy might have prevented so unfortunate an
issue. It was not for him, Brandon, to suggest that the authorities in
Oxford were perhaps a little behind the times, a little out of the world.
Nevertheless it was probably true that long residence in Oxford had
hindered the aforesaid authorities from realising the trend of the day,
from appreciating the new spirit of independence that was growing up in
our younger generation. It seemed obvious to him, Archdeacon Brandon, that
you could no longer treat men of Falk's age and character as mere boys
and, although he was quite sure that the authorities at Oxford had done
their best, he nevertheless hoped that this unfortunate episode would
enable them to see that we were not now living in the Middle Ages, but
rather in the last years of the nineteenth century. It may seem to some a
little ironical that the Archdeacon, who was the most conservative soul
alive, should write thus to one of the most conservative of our
institutions, but--"Before Oxford the Brandons were...."
What the tutor remarked when he read this letter is not recorded. Brandon
said nothing to Falk about all this. Indeed, during the first weeks after
Falk's return he preserved a stern and dignified silence. After all, the
boy must learn that authority was authority, and he prided himself that he
knew, better than any number of Oxford Dons, how to train and educate the
young. Nevertheless light broke through. Some of Falk's jokes were so good
that his father, who had a real sense of fun if only a slight sense of
humour, was bound to laugh. Very soon father and son resumed their old
relations of sudden tempers and mutual admiration, and a strange, rather
pathetic, quite uneloquent love that was none the less real because it
was, on either side, completely selfish.
But there was a fourth reason why Falk's return caused so slight a storm.
That reason was that the Archdeacon was now girding up his loins before he
entered upon one of his famous campaigns. There had been many campaigns in
the past. Campaigns were indeed as truly the breath of the Archdeacon's
nostrils as they had been once of the great Napoleon's--and in every one
of them had the Archdeacon been victorious.
This one was to be the greatest of them all, and was to set the sign and
seal upon the whole of his career.
It happened that, three miles out of Polchester, there was a little
village known as Pybus St. Anthony. A very beautiful village it was, with
orchards and a stream and old-world cottages and a fine Norman church. But
not for its orchards nor its stream nor its church was it famous. It was
famous because for many years its listing had been regarded as one of the
most important in the whole diocese of Polchester. It was the tradition
that the man who went to Pybus St. Anthony had the world in front of him.
When likely men for preferment were looked for it was to Pybus St. Anthony
that men looked. Heaven alone knows how many Canons and Archdeacons had
made their first bow there to the Glebeshire world! Three Deans and a
Bishop had, at different times, made it their first stepping-stone to
fame. Canon Morrison (Honorary Canon of the Cathedral) was its present
incumbent. Less intellectual than some of the earlier incumbents, he was
nevertheless a fine fellow. He had been there only three years when
symptoms of cancer of the throat had appeared. He had been operated on in
London, and at first it had seemed that he would recover. Then the dreaded
signs had reappeared; he had wished, poor man, to surrender the living,
but because there was yet hope the Chapter, in whose gift the living was,
had insisted on his remaining.
A week ago, however, he had collapsed. It was feared now that at any
moment he might die. The Archdeacon was very sorry for Morrison. He liked
him, and was deeply touched by his tragedy; nevertheless one must face
facts; it was probable that at any moment now the Chapter would be forced
to make a new appointment.
He had been aware--he did not disguise it from himself in the least--for
some time now of the way that the appointment must go. There was a young
man, the Rev. Rex Forsyth by name, who, in his judgment, could be the only
possible man. Young Forsyth was, at the present moment, chaplain to the
Bishop of St. Minworth. St. Minworth was only a Suffragan Bishopric, and
it could not honestly be said that there was a great deal for Mr. Forsyth
to do there. But it was not because the Archdeacon thought that the young
man ought to have more to do that he wished to move him to Pybus St.
Anthony. Far from it! The Archdeacon, in the deep secrecy of his own
heart, could not honestly admit that young Forsyth was a very hard worker
--he liked hunting and whist and a good bottle of wine...he was that
kind of man.
Where, then, were his qualifications as Canon Morrison's successor? Well,
quite honestly--and the Archdeacon was one of the honestest men alive--his
qualifications belonged more especially to his ancestors rather than to
himself. In the Archdeacon's opinion there had been too many _clever_
men of Pybus. Time now for a _normal_ man. Morrison was normal and
Forsyth would be more normal still.
He was in fact first cousin to young Johnny St. Leath and therefore a very
near relation of the Countess herself. His father was the fourth son of
the Earl of Trewithen, and, as every one knows, the Trewithens and the St.
Leaths are, for all practical purposes, one and the same family, and
divide Glebeshire between them. No one ever quite knew what young Rex
Forsyth became a parson for. Some people said he did it for a wager; but
however true that might be, he was not very happy with dear old Bishop
Clematis and very ready for preferment.
Now the Archdeacon was no snob; he believed in men and women who had long
and elaborate family-trees simply because he believed in institutions and
because it had always seemed to him a quite obvious fact that the longer
any one or anything remained in a place the more chance there was of
things being done as they always had been done. It was not in the least
because she was a Countess that he thought the old Lady St. Leath a
wonderful woman; not wonderful for her looks certainly--no one could call
her a beautiful woman--and not wonderful for her intelligence; the
Archdeacon had frequently been compelled to admit to himself that she was
a little on the stupid side--but wonderful for her capacity for staying
where she was like a rock and allowing nothing whatever to move her. In
these dangerous days--and what dangerous days they were!--the safety of
the country simply depended on a few such figures as the Countess. Queen
Victoria was another of them, and for her the Archdeacon had a real and
very touching devotion. Thank God he would be able to show a little of it
in the prominent part he intended to play in the Polchester Jubilee
festivals this year!
Any one could see then that to have young Rex Forsyth close at hand at
Pybus St. Anthony was the very best possible thing for the good of
Polchester. Lady St. Leath saw it, Mrs. Combermere saw it, Mrs. Sampson
saw it, and young Forsyth himself saw it. The Archdeacon entirely failed
to understand how there could be any one who did not see it. However, he
was afraid that there were one or two in Polchester.... People said that
young Forsyth was stupid! Perhaps he was not very bright; all the easier
then to direct him in the way that he should go, and throw his forces into
the right direction. People said that he cared more for his hunting and
his whist than for his work--well, he was young and, at any rate, there
was none of the canting hypocrite about him. The Archdeacon hated canting
There had been signs, once and again, of certain anarchists and devilish
fellows, who crept up and down the streets of Polchester spreading their
wicked mischief, their lying and disintegrating ideas. The Archdeacon was
determined to fight them to the very last breath in his body, even as the
Black Bishop before him had fought _his_ enemies. And the Archdeacon
had no fear of his victory.
Rex Forsyth at Pybus St. Anthony would be a fine step forward. Have one of
these irreligious radicals there, and Heaven alone knew what harm he might
wreak. No, Polchester must be saved. Let the rest of the world go to
pieces, Polchester would be preserved.
On how many earlier occasions had the Archdeacon surveyed the Chapter,
considered it in all its details and weighed up judiciously the elements,
good and bad, that composed it. How well he knew them all! First the Dean,
mild and polite and amiable, his mind generally busy with his beloved
flora and fauna, his flowers and his butterflies, very easy indeed to deal
with. Then Archdeacon Witheram, most nobly conscientious, a really devout
man, taking his work with a seriousness that was simply admirable, but
glued to the details of his own half of the diocese, so that broader and
larger questions did not concern him very closely. Bentinck-Major next.
The Archdeacon flattered himself that he knew Bentinck-Major through and
through--his snobbery, his vanity, his childish pleasure in his position
and his cook, his vanity in his own smart appearance! It would be
difficult to find words adequate for the scorn with which the Archdeacon
regarded that elegant little man. Then Byle, the Precentor. He was, to
some extent, an unknown quantity. His chief characteristic perhaps was his
hatred of quarrels--he would say or do anything if only he might not be