Part 2 out of 8
drawn into a "row." "Peace at any price" was his motto, and this, of
course, as with the famous Vicar of Bray, involved a good deal of
insincerity. The Archdeacon knew that he could not trust him, but a
masterful policy of terrorism had always been very successful. Kyle was
frankly frightened by the Archdeacon, and a very good thing too! Might he
long remain so! Lastly there was Foster, the Diocesan Missioner. Let it be
said at once that the Archdeacon hated Foster. Foster had been a thorn in
the Archdeacon's side ever since his arrival in Polchester--a thin,
shambly-kneed, untidy, pale-faced prig, that was what Foster was! The
Archdeacon hated everything about him--his grey hair, his large protruding
ears, the pimple on the end of his nose, the baggy knees to his trousers,
his thick heavy hands that never seemed to be properly washed.
Nevertheless beneath that hatred the Archdeacon was compelled to a
reluctant admiration. The man was fearless, a fanatic if you please, but
devoted to his religion, believing in it with a fervour and sincerity that
nothing could shake. An able man too, the best preacher in the diocese,
better read in every kind of theology than any clergyman in Glebeshire. It
was especially for his open mind about new religious ideas that the
Archdeacon mistrusted him. No opinion, however heterodox, shocked him. He
welcomed new thought and had himself written a book, _Christ and the
Gospels_, that for its learning and broad-mindedness had created a
considerable stir. But he was a dull dog, never laughed, never even
smiled, lived by himself and kept to himself. He had, in the past, opposed
every plan of the Archdeacon's, and opposed it relentlessly, but he was
always, thanks to the Archdeacon's efforts, in a minority. The other
Canons disliked him; the old Bishop, safely tucked away in his Palace at
Carpledon, was, except for his satellite Rogers, his only friend in
So much for the Chapter. There was now only one unknown element in the
situation--Ronder. Ronder's position was important because he was
Treasurer to the Cathedral. His predecessor, Hart-Smith, now promoted to
the Deanery of Norwich, had been an able man, but one of the old school, a
great friend of Brandon's, seeing eye to eye with him in everything. The
Archdeacon then had had his finger very closely upon the Cathedral purse,
and Hart-Smith's departure had been a very serious blow. The appointment
of the new Canon had been in the hands of the Crown, and Brandon had, of
course, had nothing to say to it. However, one glance at Ronder--he had
seen him and spoken to him at the Dean's a few days after his arrival--had
reassured him. Here, surely, was a man whom he need not fear--an easy,
good-natured, rather stupid fellow by the look of him. Brandon hoped to
have his finger on the Cathedral purse as tightly in a few weeks' time as
he had had it before.
And all this was in no sort of fashion for the Archdeacon's personal
advancement or ambition. He was contented with Polchester, and quite
prepared to live there for the rest of his days and be buried, with proper
ceremonies, when his end came. With all his soul he loved the Cathedral,
and if he regarded himself as the principal factor in its good governance
and order he did so with a sort of divine fatalism--no credit to him that
it was so. Let credit be given to the Lord God who had seen fit to make
him what he was and to place in his hands that great charge.
His fault in the matter was, perhaps, that he took it all too simply, that
he regarded these men and the other figures in Polchester exactly as he
saw them, did not believe that they could ever be anything else. As God
had created the world, so did Brandon create Polchester as nearly in his
own likeness as might be--there they all were and there, please God, they
would all be for ever!
Bending his mind then to this new campaign, he thought that he would go
and see the Dean. He knew by this time, he fancied, exactly how to prepare
the Dean's mind for the proper reception of an idea, although, in truth,
he was as simple over his plots and plans as a child brick-building in its
About three o'clock one afternoon he prepared to sally forth. The Dean's
house was on the other side of the Cathedral, and you had to go down the
High Street and then to the left up Orange Street to get to it, an
irrational roundabout proceeding that always irritated the Archdeacon.
Very splendid he looked, his top-hat shining, his fine high white collar,
his spotless black clothes, his boots shapely and smart. (He and Bentinck-
Major were, I suppose, the only two clergymen in Polchester who used boot-
trees.) But his smartness was in no way an essential with him. Clothed in
rags he would still have the grand air. "I often think of him," Miss
Dobell once said, "as one of those glorious gondoliers in Venice. How
grand he would look!"
However that might be, it is beyond question that the ridiculous clothes
that a clergyman of the Church of England is compelled to wear did not
make him absurd, nor did he look an over-dressed fop like Bentinck-Major.
Miss Dobell's gondolier was, on this present occasion, in an excellent
temper; and meeting his daughter Joan, he felt very genial towards her.
Joan had observed, several days before, that the family crisis might be
said to be past, and very thankful she was.
She had, at this time, her own happy dreams, so that father and daughter,
moved by some genial impulse, stopped and kissed.
"There! my dear!" said the Archdeacon. "And what are you doing this
"I'm going with mother," she said, "to see Miss Ronder. It's time we
called, you know."
"I suppose it is." Brandon patted her cheek. "Everything you want?"
"Yes, father, thank you."
He left the house, humming a little tune. On the second step he paused, as
he was in the habit of doing, and surveyed the Precincts--the houses with
their shining knockers, their old-fashioned bow-windows and overhanging
portals, the Cathedral Green, and the towering front of the Cathedral
itself. He was, for a moment, a kind of presiding deity over all this. He
loved it and believed in it and trusted it exactly as though it had been
the work of his own hands. Halfway towards the Arden Gate he overtook poor
old shambling Canon Morphew, who really ought, in the Archdeacon's
opinion, to have died long ago. However, as he hadn't died the Archdeacon
felt kindly towards him, and he had, when he talked to the old man, a
sense of beneficence and charity very warming to the heart.
"Well, Morphew, enjoying the sun?"
Canon Morphew always started when any one spoke to him, being sunk all day
deep in dreams of his own, dreams that had their birth somewhere in the
heart of the misty dirty rooms where his books were piled ceiling-high and
papers blew about the floor.
"Good afternoon...good afternoon, Archdeacon. Pray forgive me. You came
upon me unawares."
Brandon moderated his manly stride to the other's shuffling steps.
"Hope you've had none of that tiresome rheumatism troubling you again."
"Rheumatism? Just a twinge--just a twinge.... It belongs to my time of
"Oh, don't say that!" The Archdeacon laughed his hearty laugh. "You've
many years in front of you yet."
"No, I haven't--and you don't mean it, Archdeacon--you know you don't. A
few months perhaps--that's all. The Lord's will be done. But there's a
piece of work...a piece of work...."
He ran off into incoherent mumblings. Suddenly, just as they reached the
dark shadows of the Arden Gate, he seemed to wake up. His voice was quite
vigorous, his eyes, tired and worn as they were, bravely scanned Brandon's
health and vigour.
"We all come to it, you know. Yes, we do. The very strongest of us. You're
a young man, Archdeacon, by my years, and I hope you may long live to
continue your good work in this place. All the same, you'll be old
yourself one day. No one escapes.... No one escapes...."
"Well, good-day to you," said the Archdeacon hurriedly. "Good-day to
you.... Hope this bright weather continues," and started rather
precipitately down the hill, leaving Morphew to find his way by himself.
His impetuosity was soon restrained. He tumbled immediately into a crowd,
and pulling himself up abruptly and looking down the High Street he saw
that the pavement on both sides of the street was black with people. He
was not a man who liked to be jostled, and he was the more uncomfortable
in that he discovered that his immediate neighbour was Samuel Hogg, the
stout and rubicund landlord of the "Dog and Pilchard" of Seatown. With him
was his pretty daughter Annie. Near to them were Mr. John Curtis and Mr.
Samuel Croppet, two of the Town Councillors. With none of these gentlemen
did the Archdeacon wish to begin a conversation.
And yet it was difficult to know what to do. The High Street pavements
were narrow, and the crowd seemed continually to increase. There was a
good deal of pushing and laughter and boisterous good-humour. To return up
the street again seemed to have something ignominious about it. Brandon
decided to satisfy his curiosity, support his dignity and indulge his
amiability by staying where he was.
"Good afternoon, Hogg," he said. "What's the disturbance for?"
"Markisses Circus, sir," Hogg lifted his face like a large round sun.
"Surely you'd 'eard of it, Archdeacon?"
"Well, I didn't know," said Brandon in his most gracious manner, "that it
was this afternoon.... Of course, how stupid of me!"
He smiled round good-naturedly upon them all, and they all smiled back
upon him. He was a popular figure in the town; it was felt that his
handsome face and splendid presence did the town credit. Also, he always
knew his own mind. _And_ he was no coward.
He nodded to Curtis and Croppet and then stared in front of him, a fixed
genial smile on his face, his fine figure triumphant in the sun. He looked
as though he were enjoying himself and was happy because he liked to see
his fellow-creatures happy; in reality he was wondering how he could have
been so foolish as to forget Marquis' Circus. Why had not Joan said
something to him about it? Very careless of her to place him in this
He looked around him, but he could see no other dignitary of the Church
close at hand. How tiresome--really, how tiresome! Moreover, as the timed
moment of the procession arrived the crowd increased, and he was now most
uncomfortably pressed against other people. He felt a sharp little dig in
his stomach, then, turning, found close beside him the flushed anxious,
meagre little face of Samuel Bond, the Clerk of the Chapter. Bond's
struggle to reach his dignified position in the town had been a severe
one, and had only succeeded because of a multitude of self-submissions and
abnegations, humilities and contempts, flatteries and sycophancies that
would have tired and defeated a less determined soul. But, in the
background, there were the figures of Mrs. Bond and four little Bonds to
spur him forward. He adored his family. "Whatever I am, I'm a family man,"
was one of his favourite sayings. In so worthy a cause much sycophancy may
be forgiven him. To no one, however, was he so completely sycophantic as
to the Archdeacon. He was terrified of the Archdeacon; he would wake up in
the middle of the night and think of him, then tremble and cower under the
warm protection of Mrs. Bond until sleep rescued him once more.
It was natural, therefore, that however numerous the people in Polchester
might be whom the Archdeacon despised, he despised little Bond most of
all. And here was little Bond pressed up against him, with the large
circumference of the cheerful Mr. Samuel Hogg near by, and the ironical
town smartness of Messrs. Curtis and Croppet close at hand. Truly a
"Ah, Archdeacon! I didn't see you--indeed I didn't!" The little breathless
voice was like a child's penny whistle blown ignerantly. "Just fancy!--
meeting you like this! Hot, isn't it, although it's only February. Yes....
Hot indeed. I didn't know you cared for processions, Arch-deacon----"
"I don't," said Brandon. "I hadn't realised that there was a procession.
Stupidly, I had forgotten----"
"Well, well," came the good-natured voice of Mr. Hogg. "It'll do us no
harm, Archdeacon--no harm at all. I forget whether you rightly know my
little girl. This is Annie--come out to see the procession with her
The Archdeacon was compelled to shake hands. He did it very graciously.
She was certainly a fine girl--tall, strong, full-breasted, with dark
colour and raven black hair; curious, her eyes, very large and bright.
They stared full at you, but past you, as though they had decided that you
were of insufficient interest.
Annie thus gazed at the Archdeacon and said no word. Any further
intimacies were prevented by approach of the procession. To the present
generation Marquis' Circus would not appear, I suppose, very wonderful. To
many of us, thirty years ago, it seemed the final expression of Oriental
splendour and display.
There were murmurs and cries of "Here they come! Here they come! 'Ere they
be!" Every one pressed forward; Mr. Bond was nearly thrown off his feet
and caught at the lapel of the Archdeacon's coat to save himself. Only the
huge black eyes of Annie Hogg displayed no interest. The procession had
started from the meadows beyond the Cathedral and, after discreetly
avoiding the Precincts, was to plunge down the High Street, pass through
the Market-place and vanish up Orange Street--to follow, in fact, the very
path that the Archdeacon intended to pursue.
A band could be heard, there was an astounded hush (the whole of the High
Street holding its breath), then the herald appeared.
He was, perhaps, a rather shabby fellow, wearing the tarnished red and
gold of many a procession, but he walked confidently, holding in his hand
a tall wooden truncheon gay with paper-gilt, having his round cap of cloth
of gold set rakishly on one side of his head. After him came the band,
also in tarnished cloth of gold and looking as though they would have been
a trifle ashamed of themselves had they not been deeply involved in the
intricacies of their music. After the band came four rather shabby riders
on horseback, then some men dressed apparently in admiring imitation of
Charles II.; then, to the wonder and whispered incredulity of the crowd,
Britannia on her triumphal car. The car--an elaborate cart, with gilt
wheels and strange cardboard figures of dolphins and Father Neptune--had
in its centre a high seat painted white and perched on a kind of box.
Seated on this throne was Britannia herself--a large, full-bosomed,
flaxen-haired lady in white flowing robes, and having a very anxious
expression of countenance, as, indeed, poor thing, was natural enough,
because the cart rocked the box and the box yet more violently rocked the
chair. At any moment, it seemed, might she be precipitated, a fallen
goddess, among the crowd, and the fact that the High Street was on a slope
of considerable sharpness did not add to her ease and comfort. Two stout
gentlemen, perspiration bedewing their foreheads, strove to restrain the
ponies, and their classic clothing, that turned them into rather tattered
Bacchuses, did not make them less incongruous.
Britannia and her agony, however, were soon forgotten in the ferocious
excitements that followed her. Here were two camels, tired and dusty, with
that look of bored and indifferent superiority that belongs to their
tribe, two elephants, two clowns, and last, but of course the climax of
the whole affair, a cage in which there could be seen behind the iron bars
a lion and a lioness, jolted haplessly from side to side, but too deeply
shamed and indignant to do more than reproach the crowd with their burning
eyes. Finally, another clown bearing a sandwich-board on which was printed
in large red letters "Marquis' Circus--the Finest in the World--Renowned
through Europe--Come to the Church Meadows and see the Fun"--and so on.
As this glorious procession passed down the High Street the crowd
expressed its admiration in silent whispering. There was no loud applause;
nevertheless, Mr. Marquis, were he present, must have felt the air
electric with praise. It was murmured that Britannia was Mrs. Marquis,
and, if that were true, she must have given her spouse afterwards, in the
sanctity of their privacy, a very grateful account of her reception.
When the band had passed a little way down the street and their somewhat
raucous notes were modified by distance, the sun came out in especial
glory, as though to take his own peep at the show, the gilt and cloth of
gold shone and gleamed, the chair of Britannia rocked as though it were
bursting with pride, and the Cathedral bells, as though they too wished to
lend their dignified blessing to the scene, began to ring for Evensong. A
sentimental observer, had he been present, might have imagined that the
old town was glad to have once again an excuse for some display, and
preened itself and showed forth its richest and warmest colours and
wondered, perhaps, whether after all the drab and interesting citizens of
to-day were not minded to return to the gayer and happier old times. Quite
a noise, too, of chatter and trumpets and bells and laughter. Even the
Archdeacon forgot his official smile and laughed like a boy.
It was then that the terrible thing happened. Somewhere at the lower end
of the High Street the procession was held up and the chariot had suddenly
to pull itself back upon its wheels, and the band were able to breathe
freely for a minute, to gaze about them and to wipe the sweat from their
brows; even in February blowing and thumping "all round the town" was a
Now, just opposite the Archdeacon were the two elephants, checked by the
sudden pause. Behind them was the cage with the lions, who, now that the
jolting had ceased, could collect their scattered indignities and roar a
little in exasperated protest. The elephants, too, perhaps felt the
humility of their position, accustomed though they might be to it by many
years of sordid slavery. It may be, too, that the sight of that
patronising and ignorant crowd, the crush and pack of the High Street, the
silly sniggering, the triumphant jangle of the Cathedral bells, thrust
through their slow and heavy brains some vision long faded now, but for an
instant revived, of their green jungles, their hot suns, their ancient
royalty and might. They realised perhaps a sudden instinct of their power,
that they could with one lifting of the hoof crush these midgets that
hemmed them in back to the pulp whence they came, and so go roaming and
bellowing their freedom through the streets and ways of the city. The
larger of the two suddenly raised his head and trumpeted; with his dim
uplifted eyes he caught sight of the Archdeacon's rich and gleaming top-
hat shining, as an emblem of the city's majesty, above the crowd. It
gleamed in the sun, and he hated it. He trumpeted again and yet again,
then, with a heavy lurching movement, stumbled towards the pavement, and
with little fierce eyes and uplifted trunk heaved towards his enemies.
The crowd, with screams and cries, fell back in agitated confusion. The
Archdeacon, caught by surprise, scarcely realising what had occurred,
blinded a little by the sun, stood where he was. In another movement his
top-hat was snatched from his head and tossed into air....
He felt the animal's hot breath upon his face, heard the shouts and cries
around him, and, in very natural alarm, started back, caught at anything
for safety (he had tumbled upon the broad and protective chest of Samuel
Hogg), and had a general impression of whirling figures, of suns and roofs
and shining faces and, finally, the high winds of heaven blowing upon his
In another moment the incident was closed. The courtier of Charles II. had
rushed up; the elephant was pulled and hustled and kicked; for him swiftly
the vision of power and glory and vengeance was over, and once again he
was the tied and governed prisoner of modern civilisation. The top-hat
lay, a battered and hapless remnant, beneath the feet of the now advancing
Once the crowd realised that the danger was over a roar of laughter went
up to heaven. There were shouts and cries. The Archdeacon tried to smile.
He heard in dim confusion the cheery laugh of Samuel Hogg, he caught the
comment of Croppet and the rest.
With only one thought that he must hide himself, indignation, humiliation,
amazement that such a thing could be in his heart, he backed, turned,
almost ran, finding at last sudden refuge in Bennett's book-shop. How
wonderful was the dark rich security of that enclosure! The shop was
always in a half-dusk and the gas burnt in its dim globes during most of
the day. All the richer and handsomer gleamed the rows of volumes, the
morocco and the leather and the cloth. Old Mr. Bennett himself, the son of
the famous man who had known Scott and Byron, was now a prodigious age (in
the town his nickname was Methusalem), but he still liked to sit in the
shop in a high chair, his white beard in bright contrast with the chaste
selection of the newest works arranged in front of him. He might himself
have been the Spirit of Select Literature summoned out of the vasty deep
by the Cultured Spirits of Polchester.
Into this splendid temple of letters the Archdeacon came, halted,
breathless, bewildered, tumbled. He saw at first only dimly. He was aware
that old Mr. Bennett, with an exclamation of surprise, rose in his chair.
Then he perceived that two others were in the shop; finally, that these
two were the Dean and Ronder, the men of all others in Polchester whom he
least wished to find there.
"Archdeacon!" cried the Dean.
"Yes--om--ah--an extraordinary thing has occurred--I really--oh, thank
you, Mr. Wilton...."
Mr. Frank Wilton, the young assistant, had offered a chair.
"You'll scarcely believe me--really, I can hardly believe myself." Here
the Archdeacon tried to laugh. "As a matter of fact, I was coming out to
see you...on my way...and the elephant..."
"The elephant?" repeated the Dean, who, in the way that he had, was
nervously rubbing one gaitered leg against the other.
"Yes--I'm a little incoherent, I'm afraid. You must forgive me...
breathless too.... It's too absurd. So many people..."
"A little glass of water, Mr. Archdeacon?" said young Wilton, who had a
slight cast in one eye, and therefore gave the impression that he was
watching round the corner to see that no one ran off with the books.
"No, thank you, Wilton.... No, thank you.... Very good of you, I'm sure.
But really it was a monstrous thing. I was coming to see you, as I've just
said, Dean, having forgotten all about this ridiculous procession. I was
held up by the crowd just below the shop here. Then suddenly, as the
animals were passing, the elephant made a lurch towards me--positively,
I'm not exaggerating--seized my hat and--ran off with it!"
The Archdeacon had, as I have already said, a sense of fun. He saw, for
the first time, the humour of the thing. He began to laugh; he laughed
more loudly; laughter overtook him altogether, and he roared and roared
again, sitting there, his hands on his knees, until the tears ran down his
"Oh dear...my hat...an elephant...Did you ever hear----? My best hat...!"
The Dean was compelled to laugh too, although, being a shy and hesitating
man, he was not able to do it very heartily. Young Mr. Wilton laughed,
but in such a way as to show that he knew his place and was ready to be
serious at once if his superiors wished it. Even old Mr. Bennett laughed
as distantly and gently as befitted his great age.
Brandon was conscious of Ronder. He had, in fact, been conscious of him
from the very instant of his first perception of him. He was giving
himself away before their new Canon; he thought that the new Canon,
although he was smiling pleasantly and was standing with becoming modesty
in the background, looked superior....
The Archdeacon pulled himself up with a jerk. After all, it was nothing of
a joke. A multitude of townspeople had seen him in a most ludicrous
position, had seen him start back in terror before a tame elephant, had
seen him frightened and hatless. No, there was nothing to laugh about.
"An elephant?" repeated the Dean, still gently laughing.
"Yes, an elephant," answered Brandon rather testily. That was enough of
the affair, quite enough. "Well, I must be getting back. See you to-
"Anything important you wanted to see me about?" asked the Dean,
perceiving that he had laughed just a little longer than was truly
"No, no...nothing. Only about poor Morrison. He's very bad, they tell
me...a week at most."
"Dear, dear--is that so?" said the Dean. "Poor fellow, poor fellow!"
Brandon was now acutely conscious of Ronder. Why didn't the fellow say
something instead of standing silently there with that superior look
behind his glasses? In the ordinary way he would have greeted him with his
usual hearty patronage. Now he was irritated. It was really most
unfortunate that Ronder should have witnessed his humiliation. He rose,
abruptly turning his back upon him. The fellow was laughing at him--he was
sure of it.
"Well--good-day, good-day." As he advanced to the door and looked out into
the street he was aware of the ludicrousness of going even a few steps up
the street without a hat.
But there was scarcely any one about now. The street was almost deserted.
He peered up and down.
In the middle of the road was a small, shapeless, black object.
Mrs. Brandon Goes Out to Tea
Mrs. Brandon hated her husband. No one in Polchester had the slightest
suspicion of this; certainly her husband least of all. She herself had
been first aware of it one summer afternoon some five or six years ago
when, very pleasantly and in the kindest way, he had told her that she
knew nothing about primroses. They had been having tea at the Dean's, and,
as was often the case then, the conversation had concerned itself with
flowers and ferns. Mrs. Brandon was quite ready to admit that she knew
nothing about primroses--there were for her yellow ones and other ones,
and that was all. The Archdeacon had often before told her that she was
ignorant, and she had acquiesced without a murmur. Upon this afternoon,
just as Mrs. Sampson was asking her whether she liked sugar, revelation
came to her. That little scene was often afterwards vividly in front of
her--the Archdeacon, with his magnificent legs spread apart in front of
the fireplace; Miss Dobell trying to look with wisdom upon a little bundle
of primulas that the Dean was showing to her; the sunlight upon the lawn
beyond the window; the rooks in the high elms busy with their nests; the
May warmth striking through the misty air--all was painted for ever
afterwards upon her mind.
"My dear, you may as well admit at once that you know nothing whatever
"No, I'm afraid I don't--thank you, Mrs. Sampson. One lump, please."
She had been coming to it. Of course, a very long time before this--very,
very far away, now an incredible memory, seemed the days when she had
loved him so passionately that she almost died with anxiety if he left her
for a single night. Almost too passionate it had been, perhaps. He himself
was not capable of passionate love, or, at any rate, had been quite
satisfied to be _not_ passionately in love with _her_. He pursued
other things--his career, his religion, his simple beneficence, his
health, his vigour. His love for his son was the most passionately
personal thing in him, and over that they might have met had he been able
to conceive her as a passionate being. Her ignorance of life--almost
complete when he had met her--had been but little diminished by her time
with him. She knew now, after all those years, little more of the world
and its terrors and blessings than she had known then. But she did know
that nothing in her had been satisfied. She knew now of what she was
capable, and it was perhaps the thought that he had, by taking her,
prevented her fulfilment and complete experience that caused her, more
than anything else, to hate him.
She very quickly discovered that he had married her for certain things--to
have children, to have a companion. He had soon found that the latter of
these he was not to obtain. She had in her none of the qualities that he
needed in a companion, and so he had, with complete good-nature and
kindliness, ceased to consider her. He should have married a bold
ambitious woman who would have wanted the things, that he wanted--a woman
something like Falk, his son. On the rare occasions when he analysed the
situation he realised this. He did not in any way vent his disappointment
upon, her--he was only slightly disappointed. He treated her with real
kindness save on the occasions of his violent loss of temper, and gave her
anything that she wanted. He had, on the whole, a great contempt for women
save when, as for instance with Mrs. Combermere, they were really men.
It was to her most humiliating of all, that nothing in their relations
worried him. He was perfectly at ease about it all, and fancied that she
was the same. Meanwhile her real life was not dead, only dormant. For some
years she tried to change the situation; she made little appeals to him,
endeavoured timidly to force him to need her, even on one occasion
threatened to sleep in a separate room. The memory of _that_ little
episode still terrified her. His incredulity had only been equalled by his
anger. It was just as though some one had threatened to deprive him of his
Then, when she saw that this was of no avail, she had concentrated herself
upon her children, and especially upon Falk. For a while she had fancied
that she was satisfied. Suddenly--and the discovery was awful--she was
aware that Falk's affection all turned towards his father rather than
towards her. Her son despised her and disregarded her as his father had
done. She did not love Falk the less, but she ceased to expect anything
from him--and this new loss she put down to her husband's account.
It was shortly after she made this discovery that the affair of the
Many a woman now would have shown her hostility, but Mrs. Brandon was, by
nature, a woman who showed nothing. She did not even show anything to
herself, but all the deeper, because it found no expression, did her
hatred penetrate. She scored now little marks against him for everything
that he did. She did not say to herself that a day of vengeance was
coming, she did not think of anything so melodramatic, she expected
nothing of her future at all--but the marks were there.
The situation was developed by Falk's return from Oxford. When he was away
her love for him seemed to her simply all in the world that she possessed.
He wrote to her very seldom, but she made her Sunday letters to him the
centre of her week, and wrote as though they were a passionately devoted
mother and son. She allowed herself this little gentle deception--it was
her only one.
But when he returned and was in the house it was more difficult to cheat
herself. She saw at once that he had something on his mind, that he was
engaged in some pursuit that he kept from every one. She discovered, too,
that she was the one of whom he was afraid, and rightly so, the Archdeacon
being incapable of discovering any one's pursuits so long as he was
engaged on one of his own. Falk's fear of her perception brought about a
new situation between them. He was not now oblivious of her presence as he
had been. He tried to discover whether she knew anything. She found him
often watching her, half in fear and half in defiance.
The thought that he might be engaged now upon some plan of his own in
which she might share excited her and gave her something new to live for.
She did not care what his plan might be; however dangerous, however
wicked, she would assist him. Her moral sense had never been very deeply
developed in her. Her whole character was based on her relations with
individuals; for any one she loved she would commit murder, theft or
blasphemy. She had never had any one to love except Falk.
She despised the Archdeacon the more because he now perceived nothing.
Under his very nose the thing was, and he was sublimely contented. How she
hated that content, and how she despised it!
About a week after the affair of the elephants, Mrs. Combermere asked her
to tea. She disliked Mrs. Combermere, but she went to tea there because it
was easier than not going. She disliked Mrs. Combermere especially because
it was in her house that she heard silly, feminine praise of her husband.
It amused her, however, to think of the amazed sensation there would be,
did she one day burst out before them all and tell them what she really
thought of the Archdeacon.
Of course she would never do that, but she had often outlined the speech
in her mind.
Mrs. Combermere also lived in the Precincts, so that Mrs. Brandon had not
far to go. Before she arrived there a little conversation took place
between the lady of the house, Miss Stiles, Miss Dobell and Dr. Puddifoot,
that her presence would most certainly have hindered. Mrs. Combermere was
once described by some one as "constructed in concrete"; and that was not
a bad description of her, so solid, so square and so unshakable and
unbeatable was she. She wore stiff white collars like a man's, broad thick
boots, short skirts and a belt at her waist. Her black hair was brushed
straight back from her forehead, she had rather small brown eyes, a large
nose and a large mouth. Her voice was a deep bass. She had some hair on
her upper lip, and thick, strong, very white hands. She liked to walk down
the High Street, a silver-topped cane in her hand, a company of barking
dogs at her heels, and a hat, with large hat-pins, set a little on one
side of her head. She had a hearty laugh, rather like the Archdeacon's.
Dr. Puddifoot was our doctor for many years and brought many of my
generation into the world. He was a tall, broad, loose-set man, who always
wore tweeds of a bright colour.
Mrs. Combermere cared nothing for her surroundings, and her house was
never very tidy. She bullied her servants, but they liked her because she
gave good wages and fulfilled her promises. She was the first woman in
Polchester to smoke cigarettes. It was even said that she smoked cigars,
but no one, I think, ever saw her do this.
On this afternoon she subjected Miss Stiles to a magisterial inquiry; Miss
Stiles had on the preceding evening given a little supper party, and no
one in Polchester did anything of the kind without having to render
account to Mrs. Combermere afterwards. They all sat round the fire,
because it was a cold day. Mrs. Combermere sat on a straight-backed chair,
tilting it forward, her skirt drawn up to her knees, lier thick-stockinged
legs and big boots for all the world to see.
"Well, Ellen, whom did you have?"
"Ronder and his aunt, the Bentinck-Majors, Charlotte Kyle and Major
"Sorry I couldn't have been there. What did you give them?"
"Soup, fish salad, cutlets, chocolate souffle, sardines on toast."
"Sherry, claret, lemonade for Charlotte, whisky."
"No, I don't think so. Bentinck-Major sang afterwards."
"Hum--not sorry I missed _that_. When was it over?"
"What did you ask them for?"
"For the Ronders."
Mrs. Combermere, raising one foot, kicked a coal into blaze.
"Tea will be in in a minute.... Now, I'll tell you for your good, my dear
Ellen, that I don't like your Ronder."
Miss Stiles laughed. "Oh, you needn't mind me, Betsy. You never have. Why
"In the first place, he's stupid."
Miss Stiles laughed again.
"Never wronger in your life. I thought you were smarter than that."
Mrs. Combermere smacked her knee. "I may be wrong. I often am. I take
prejudices, I know. Secondly, he's fat and soft--too like the typical
"It's an assumed disguise--however, go on."
"Third, I hear he agrees with everything one says."
"You hear? You've not talked to him yourself, then?"
Mrs. Combermere raised her head as the door opened and the tea came in.
"No. I've only seen him in Cathedral. But I've called, and he's coming to-
Miss Stiles smiled in her own dark and mysterious way.
"Well, Betsy, my dear, I leave you to find it all out for yourself.... I
keep my secrets."
"If you do," said Mrs. Combermere, getting up and going to the tea-table,
"it's the first time you ever have. _And_ Ellen," she went on, "I've
a bone to pick. I won't have you laughing at my dear Archdeacon."
"Laughing at your Archdeacon?" Miss Stiles' voice was softer and slower
than any complaining cow's.
"Yes. I hear you've all been laughing about the elephant. That was a thing
that might have happened to any one."
Puddifoot laughed. "The point is, though, that it happened to Brandon.
That's the joke. _And_ his new top hat."
"Well, I won't have it. Milk, doctor? Miss Dobell and I agree that it's a
Miss Dobell, who was in appearance like one of those neat silk umbrellas
with the head of a parrot for a handle, and whose voice was like the
running brook both for melody and monotony, thus suddenly appealed to,
blushed, stammered, and finally admitted that the Archdeacon was, in her
opinion, a hero.
"That's not exactly the point, dear Mary," said Miss Stiles. "The point
is, surely, that an elephant straight from the desert ate our best
Archdeacon's best hat in the High Street. You must admit that that's a
laughable circumstance in this the sixtieth year of our good Queen's
reign. I, for one, intend to laugh."
"No, you don't, Ellen," and, to every one's surprise, Mrs. Combermere's
voice was serious. "I mean what I say. I'm not joking at all. Brandon may
have his faults, but this town and everything decent in it hangs by him.
Take him away and the place drops to pieces. I suppose you think you're
going to introduce your Ronders as up-to-date rivals. We prefer things as
they are, thank you."
Miss Stiles' already bright colouring was a little brighter. She knew her
Betsy Combermere, but she resented rebukes before Puddifoot.
"Then," she said, "if he means all that to the place, he'd better look
after his son more efficiently."
"_And_ exactly what do you mean by that?" asked Mrs. Combermere.
"Oh, everybody knows," said Miss Stiles, looking round to Miss Dobell and
the doctor for support, "that young Brandon is spending the whole of his
time down in Seatown, and that Miss Annie Hogg is not entirely unconnected
with his visits."
"Really, Ellen," said Mrs. Combermere, bringing her fist down upon the
table, "you're a disgusting woman. Yes, you are, and I won't take it back,
however much you ask me to. All the worst scandal in this place comes from
you. If it weren't for you we shouldn't be so exactly like every
novelist's Cathedral town. But I warn you, I won't have you talking about
Brandon. His son's only a boy, and the handsomest male in the place by the
way--present company, of course, excepted. He's only been home a few
months, and you're after him already with your stories. I won't have
Miss Stiles rose, her fingers trembling as she drew on her gloves.
"Well, I won't stay here to be insulted, anyway. You may have known me a
number of years, Betsy, but that doesn't allow you _all_ the
privileges. The only matter with me is that I say what I think. You
started the business, I believe, by insulting my friends."
"Sit down, Ellen," said Mrs. Combermere, laughing. "Don't be a fool. Who's
insulting your friends? You'd insult them yourself if they were only
successful enough. You can have your Ronder."
The door opened and the maid announced: "Canon Ronder."
Every one was conscious of the dramatic fitness of this, and no one more
so than Mrs. Combermere. Ronder entered the room, however, quite unaware
of anything apparently, except that he was feeling very well and expected
amusement from his company. He presented precisely the picture of a nice
contented clergyman who might be baffled by a school treat but was
thoroughly "up" to afternoon tea. He seemed a little stouter than when he
had first come to Polchester, and his large spectacles were as round as
two young moons.
"How do you do, Mrs. Combernere? I do hope you will forgive my aunt, but
she has a bad headache. She finds Polchester a little relaxing."
Mrs. Combermere did not get up, but stared at him from, behind her tea-
table. That was a stare that has frightened many people in its time, and
to-day it was especially challenging. She was annoyed with Ellen Stiles,
and here, in front of her, was the cause of her annoyance.
They faced one another, and the room behind them was aware that Mrs.
Combermere, at any rate, had declared battle. Of what Ronder was aware no
"How do you do, Canon Ronder? I'm delighted that you've honoured my poor
little house. I hear that you're a busy man. I'm all the more proud that
you can spare me half an hour."
She kept him standing there, hoping, perhaps, that he would be consciously
awkward and embarrassed. He was completely at his ease.
"Oh, no, I'm not busy. I'm a very lazy man." He looked down at her,
smiling, aware, apparently, of no one else in the room. "I'm always
meaning to pull myself up. But I'm too old for improvement"
"We're all busy people here, although you mayn't think it, Canon Ronder.
But I'm afraid you're giving a false account of yourself. I've heard of
"Nothing but good, I hope."
"Well, I don't know. That depends. I expect you're going to shake us all
up and teach us improvement."
"Dear me, no! I come to you for instruction. I haven't an idea in the
"Too much modesty is a dangerous thing. Nobody's modest in Polchester."
"Then I shall be Polchester's first modest man. But I'm not modest. I
simply speak the truth."
Mrs. Combermere smiled grimly. "There, too, you will be the exception. We
none of us speak the truth here."
"Really, Mrs. Combermere, you're giving Polchester a dreadful character."
He laughed, but did not take his eyes away from her. "I hope that you've
been here so long that you've forgotten what the place is like. I believe
in first impressions."
"So do I," she said, very grimly indeed.
"Well, in a year's time we shall see which of us is right. I'll be quite
willing to admit defeat."
"Oh, a year's time!" She laughed more pleasantly. "A great deal can happen
in a year. You may be a bishop by then, Canon Ronder,"
"Ah, that would be more than I deserve," he answered quite gravely.
The little duel was over. She turned around, introduced him to Miss Dobell
and Puddifoot, both of whom, however, he had already met. He sat down,
very happily, near the fire and listened to Miss Dobell's shrill
proclamation of her adoration of Browning. Conversation became general,
and was concerned first with the Jubilee and the preparations for it,
afterwards with the state of South Africa, Lord Penrhyn's quarries, and
bicycling. Every one had a good deal to say about this last topic, and the
strange costumes which ladies, so the papers said, were wearing in
Battersea Park when out on their morning ride.
Miss Dobell said that "it was too disgraceful," to which Mrs. Combermere
replied "Fudge! As though every one didn't know by this time that women
Everything, in fact, went very well, although Ellen Stiles observed to
herself with a certain malicious pleasure that their hostess was not
entirely at her ease, was "a little ruffled, about something."
Soon two more visitors arrived--first Mr. Morris, then Mrs. Brandon. They
came close upon one another's heels, and it was at once evident that they
would, neither of them, alter very considerably the room's atmosphere. No
one ever paid any attention to Mrs. Brandon in Polchester, and although
Mr. Morris had been some time now in the town, he was so shy and retiring
and quiet that no one was, as yet, very distinctly aware of him. Mrs.
Combermere was occupied with her own thoughts and the others were talking
very happily beside the fire, so it soon happened that Morris and Mrs.
Brandon were sitting by themselves in the window.
There occurred then a revelation.... That is perhaps a portentous word,
but what else can one call it? It is a platitude, of course, to say that
there is probably no one alive who does not remember some occasion of a
sudden communion with another human being that was so beautiful, so
touching, so transcendentally above human affairs that a revelation was
the only definition for it. Afterwards, when analysis plays its part, one
may talk about physical attractions, about common intellectual interests,
about spiritual bonds, about what you please, but one knows that the
essence of that meeting is undefined.
It may be quite enough to say about Morris and Mrs. Brandon, that they
were both very lonely people. You may say, too, that there was in both of
them an utterly unsatisfied longing to have some one to protect and care
for. Not her husband nor Falk nor Joan needed Mrs. Brandon in the least--
and the Archdeacon did not approve of dogs in the house. Or you may say,
if you like, that these two liked the look of one another, and leave it at
that. Still the revelation remains--and all the tragedy and unhappiness
and bitterness that that revelation involved remains too....
This was, of course, not the first time that they had met. Once before at
Mrs. Combermere's they had been introduced and talked together for a
moment; but on that occasion there had been no revelation.
They did not say very much now. Mrs. Brandon asked Morris whether he liked
Polchester and he said yes. They talked about the Cathedral and the coming
Jubilee. Morris said that he had met Falk. Mrs. Brandon, colouring a
little, asked was he not handsome? She said that he was a remarkable boy,
very independent, that was why he had not got on very well at Oxford....
He was a tremendous comfort to her, she said. When he went away...but
she stopped suddenly.
Not looking at him, she said that sometimes one felt lonely even though
there was a great deal to do, as there always was in a town like
Yes, Morris said that he knew that. And that was really all. There were
long pauses in their conversation, pauses that were like the little wooden
hammerings on the stage before the curtain rises.
Mrs. Brandon said that she hoped that he would come and see her, and he
said that he would. Their hands touched, and they both felt as though the
room had suddenly closed in upon them and become very dim, blotting the
other people out.
Then Mrs. Brandon got up to go. Afterwards, when she looked back to this,
she remembered that she had looked, for some unknown reason, especially at
Canon Ronder, as she stood there saying good-bye.
She decided that she did not like him. Then she went away, and Mrs.
Combermere was glad that she had gone.
Of all the dull women....
Seatown Mist and Cathedral Dust
Falk Brandon knew quite well that his mother was watching him.
It was a strange truth that until this return of his from Oxford he had
never considered his mother at all. It was not that he had grown to
disregard her, as do many sons, because of the monotonous regularity of
her presence. Nor was it that he despised her because he seemed so vastly
to have outgrown her. He had not been unkind nor patronising nor
contemptuous--he had simply not yet thought about her. The circumstances
of his recent return, however, had forced him to consider every one in the
house. He had his secret preoccupation that seemed so absorbing and
devastating to him that he could not believe that every one around him
would not guess it. He soon discovered that his father was too cock-sure
and his sister too innocent to guess anything. Now he was not himself a
perceptive man; he had, after all, seen as yet very little of the world,
and he had a great deal of his father's self-confidence; nevertheless, he
was just perceptive enough to perceive that his mother was thinking about
him, was watching him, was waiting to see what he would do....
His secret was quite simply that, for the last year, he had been
devastated by the consciousness of Annie Hogg, the daughter of the
landlord of "The Dog and Pilchard." Yes. devastated was the word. It would
not be true to say that he was in love with her or, indeed, had any
analysed emotion for her--he was aware of her always, was disturbed by her
always, could not keep away from her, wanted something in connection with
her far deeper than mere love-making--
What he wanted he did not know. He could not keep away from her, and yet
when he was with her nothing occurred. She did not apparently care for
him; he was not even sure that he wanted her to. At Oxford during his last
term he had thought of her--incessantly, a hot pain at his heart. He had
not invited the disturbance that had sent him down, but he had welcomed
Every day he went to "The Dog and Pilchard." He drank but little and
talked to no one. He just leaned up against the wall and looked at her.
Sometimes he had a word with her. He knew that they must all be speaking
of it. Maybe the whole town was chattering. He could not think of that. He
had no plans, no determination, no resolve--and he was desperately
Into this strange dark confusion the thought of his mother drove itself.
He had from the very beginning been aware of his father in this
connection. In his own selfish way he loved his father, and he shared in
his pride and self-content. He was proud of his father for being what he
was, for his good-natured contempt of other people, for his handsome body
and his dominance of the town. He could understand that his father should
feel as he did, and he did honestly consider him a magnificent man and far
above every one else in the place. But that did not mean that he ever
listened to anything that his father said. He pleased himself in what he
did, and laughed at his father's temper.
He had perceived from the first that this connection of his with Annie
Hogg might do his father very much harm, and he did not want to harm him.
The thought of this did not mean that for a moment he contemplated
dropping the affair because of his father--no, indeed--but the thought of
the old man, as he termed him, added dimly to his general unhappiness. He
appreciated the way that his father had taken his return from Oxford. The
old man was a sportsman. It was a great pity that he should have to make
him unhappy over this business. But there it was--you couldn't alter
It was this fatalistic philosophy that finally ruled everything with him.
"What must be must." If things went wrong he had his courage, and he was
helped too by his contempt for the world....
He knew his father, but he was aware now that he knew nothing at all about
"What's _she_ thinking about?" he asked himself.
One afternoon he was about to go to Seatown when, in the passage outside
his bedroom, he met his mother. They both stopped as though they had
something to say to one another. He did not look at all like her son, so
fair, tall and aloof, as though even in his own house he must be on his
guard, prepared to challenge any one who threatened his private plans.
"She's like a little mouse," he thought to himself, as though he were
seeing her for the first time, "preparing to run off into the wainscot" He
was conscious, too, of her quiet clothes and shy preoccupied timidity--all
of it he seemed to see for the first time, a disguise for some purpose as
secret, perhaps, as his own.
"Oh, Falk," she said, and stopped, and then went on with the question that
she so often asked him:
"Is there anything you want?"
"No, mother, thank you. I'm just going out."
"Oh, yes...." She still stayed there nervously looking up at him.
"I was wondering----Are you going into the town?"
"Yes, mother. Is there anything I can do for you?"
"No, thank you." Still she did not move.
"Joan's out," she said. Then she went on quickly, "I wish you'd tell me if
there were anything----"
"Why, of course." He laughed. "What exactly do you mean?"
"Nothing, dear. Only I like to know about your plans."
"Plans? I haven't any."
"No, but I always think you may be going away suddenly. Perhaps I could
help you. I know it isn't very much that I can do, but anything you told
me I think I could help you about.... I'd like to help you."
He could see that she had been resolving for some time to speak to him,
and that this little appeal was the result of a desperate determination.
He was touched.
"That's all right, mother. I suppose father and you think I oughtn't to be
hanging around here doing nothing."
"Oh, your father hasn't said anything to me. I don't know what he thinks.
But I should miss you if you went. It is nice for us having you, although,
of course, it must seem slow to you here."
He stood back against the wall, looking past her out through the window
that showed the grey sky of a misty day.
"Well, it's true that I've got to settle about doing something soon. I
can't be home like this for ever. There's a man I know in London wants me
to go in for a thing with him...."
"What kind of a thing, dear?"
"It's to do with the export trade. Travelling about. I should like that.
I'm a bit restless, I'm afraid. I should want to put some money into it,
of course, but the governor will let me have something.... He wants me to
go into Parliament."
"Yes," Falk laughed. "That's his latest idea. He was talking about it the
other night. Of course, that's foolishness. It's not my line at all. I
told him so."
"I wouldn't like you to go away altogether," she repeated. "It would make
a great difference to me."
"Would it really?" He had a strange mysterious impulse to speak to her
about Annie Hogg. The thought of his mother and Annie Hogg together showed
him at once how impossible that was. They were in separate worlds. He was
suddenly angry at the difficulties that life was making for him without
his own wish. "Oh, I'll be here some time yet, mother," he said. "Well, I
must get along now. I've got an appointment with a fellow."
She smiled and disappeared into her room.
All the way into Seatown he was baffled and irritated by this little
conversation. It seemed that you could not disregard people by simply
determining to disregard them. All the time behind you and them some force
was insisting on places being taken, connections being formed. One was
simply a bally pawn...a bally pawn....
But what was his mother thinking? Had some one been talking to her?
Perhaps already she knew about Annie. But what could she know? Girls like
Annie were outside her ken. What could his mother know about life? The day
did not help his dissatisfaction. The fog had not descended upon the town,
but it had sent as its forerunner a wet sea mist, dim and intangible,
depressing because it removed all beauty and did not leave even
challenging ugliness in its place.
On the best of days Seatown was not beautiful. I have read in books
romantic descriptions of Glebeshire coves, Glebeshire towns with the
romantic Inn, the sanded floor, fishermen with gold rings in their ears
and strange oaths upon their lips. In one book I remember there was a fine
picture of such a place, with beautiful girls dancing and mysterious old
men telling mysterious tales about ghosts and goblins, and, of course,
somewhere in the distance some one was singing a chanty, and the moon was
rising, and there was a nice little piece of Glebeshire dialect thrown in.
All very pretty.... Seatown cannot claim such prettiness. Perhaps once
long ago, when there were only the Cathedral, the Castle, the Rock, and a
few cottages down by the river, when, at night-tide, strange foreign ships
came up from the sea, when the woods were wild forest and the downs were
bare and savage, Seatown had its romance, but that was long ago. Seatown,
in these latter days, was a place of bad drainage, bad drinking, bad
living and bad dying. The men who haunted its dirty, narrow little streets
were loafers and idlers and castaways. The women were, most of them, no
better than they should be, and the children were the most slatternly and
ill-bred in the whole of Glebeshire. Small credit to the Canons and the
Town Councillors and the prosperous farmers that it was so, but in their
defence it might be urged that it needed a very valiant Canon and the most
fearless of Town Councillors to disturb that little nest. And the time
came when it was disturbed....
Even the Pol, a handsome river enough out beyond the town in the reaches
of the woods, was no pretty sight at low tide when there was nothing to
see but a thin, sluggish grey stream filtering through banks of mud to its
destination, the sea. At high tide the river beat up against the crazy
stone wall that bordered Pennicent Street; and on the further side there
were green fields and a rising hill with a feathery wood to crown it. From
the river, coming up through the green banks, Seatown looked picturesque,
with its disordered cottages scrambling in confusion at the tail of the
rock and the Cathedral and Castle nobly dominating it. That distant view
is the best thing to be said for Seatown.
To-day, in the drizzling mist, the place was horribly depressing. Falk
plunged down into Bridge Street as into a damp stuffy well. Here some of
the houses had once been fine; there were porticoes and deep-set doors and
bow-windows, making them poor relations of the handsome benevolent
Georgian houses in Orange Street. The street, top-tilting down to the
river, was slovenly with dirt and carelessness. Many of the windows were
broken, their panes stuffed with paper; washing hung from house to house.
The windows that were not broken were hermetically sealed and filled with
grimy plants and ferns, and here and there a photograph of an embarrassed
sailor or a smiling married couple or an overdressed young woman placed
face outward to the street. Bridge Street tumbled with a dirty absent-
mindedness into Pennicent Street. This, the main thoroughfare of Seatown,
must have been once a handsome cobbled walk by the river-side. The houses,
more than in Bridge Street, showed by their pillared doorways and their
faded red brick that they had once been gentlemen's residences, with
gardens, perhaps, running to the river's edge and a fine view of the
meadows and woods beyond. To-day all was shrouded in a mist that was never
stationary, that seemed alive in its shifting movement, revealing here a
window, there a door, now a chimney-pot, now steps that seemed to lead
into air, and the river, now at full tide and lapping the stone wall,
seemed its drunken bewildered voice.
"Bally pawns, that's what we are," Falk muttered again. It seemed to be
the logical conclusion of the thoughts that had worried him, likes flies,
during his walk. Some one lurched against him as he stayed for a moment to
search for the inn. A hot spasm of anger rose in him, so sudden and fierce
that he was frightened by it, as though he had seen his own face in a
mirror. But he said nothing. "Sorry," said a voice, and shadow faded into
He found the "Dog and Pilchard" easily enough. Just beyond it the river
was caught into a kind of waterfall by a ridge of stone that projected
almost into mid-stream. At high tide it tumbled over this obstruction with
an astonished splash and gurgle. Even when the river was at its lowest
there was a dim chattering struggle at this point. Falk always connected
this noise with the inn and the power or enchantment of the inn that held
him--"Black Enchantment," perhaps. He was to hear that struggling chatter
of the river until his dying day.
He pushed through the passage and turned to the right into the bar. A damp
day like this always served Hogg's trade. The gas was lit and sizzled
overhead with a noise as though it commented ironically on the fatuity of
the human beings beneath it. The room was full, but most of the men--
seamen, loafers, a country man or two--crowded up to the bar. Falk crossed
to a table in the corner near the window, his accustomed seat. No one
seemed to notice him, but soon Hogg, stout and smiling, came over to him.
No one had ever seen Samuel Hogg out of temper--no, never, not even when
there had been fighting in the place and he had been compelled to eject
men, by force of arms, through the doors and windows. There had not been
many fights there. Men were afraid of him, in spite of his imperturbable
good temper. Men said of him that he would stick at nothing, although what
exactly was meant by that no one knew.
He had a good word for every one; no crime or human failing could shock
him. He laughed at everything. And yet men feared him. Perhaps for that
very reason. The worst sinner has some kind of standard of right and
wrong. Himself he may not keep it, but he likes to see it there. "Oh, he's
deep," was Seatown's verdict on Samuel Hogg, and it is certain that the
late Mrs. Hogg had not been, in spite of her husband's good temper, a
He came up to Falk now,--smiling, and asked him what he would have. "Nasty
day," he said. Falk ordered his drink. Dimly through the mist and
thickened air the Cathedral chimes recorded the hour. Funny how you could
hear them in every nook and corner of Polchester.
"Likely turn to rain before night," Hogg said, as he turned back to the
bar. Falk sat there watching. Some of the men he knew, some he did not,
but to-day they were all shadows to him. Strange how, from the moment that
he crossed the threshold of that place, hot, burning excitement and
expectation lapped him about, swimming up to him, engulfing him, swamping
him body and soul. He sat there drowned in it, not stirring, his eyes
fixed upon the door. There was a good deal of noise, laughter, swearing,
voices raised and dropped, forming a kind of skyline, and above this a
voice telling an interminable tale.
Annie Hogg came in, and at once Falk's throat contracted and his heart
hammered in the palms of his hands. She moved about, talking to the men,
fetching drinks, unconcerned and aloof as she always was. Seen there in
the mist of the overcrowded and evil-smelling room, there was nothing very
remarkable about her. Stalwart and resolute and self-possessed she looked;
sometimes she was beautiful, but not now. She was a woman at whom most men
would havel ooked twice. Her expression was not sullen nor disdainful; in
that, perhaps, there was something fine, because there was life, of its
own kind, in her eyes, and independence in the carriage of her head.
Falk never took his eyes from her. At that moment she came down the room
and saw him. She did not come over to him at once, but stopped and talked
to some one at another table. At last she was beside him, standing up
against his table and looking over his head at the window behind him.
"Nasty weather, Mr. Brandon," she said. Her voice was low and not
unpleasant; although she rolled her r's her Glebeshire accent was not very
strong, and she spoke slowly, as though she were trying to choose her
"Yes," Falk answered. "Good for your trade, though."
"Dirty weather always brings them in," she said.
He did not look at her.
"Been busy to-day?"
"Nothing much this morning," she answered. "I've been away at my aunt's,
out to Borheddon, these last two days."
"Yes. I saw you were not here," he said. "Did you have a good time?"
"Middling," she answered. "My aunt's been terrible bad with bronchitis
this winter. Poor soul, it'll carry her off one of these days, I reckon."
"What's Borheddon like?" he asked.
"Nothing much. Nothing to do, you know. But I like a bit of quiet just for
a day or two. How've you been keeping, Mr. Brandon?"
"Oh, I'm all right. I shall be off to London to look for a job one of
He looked up at her suddenly, sharply, as though he wanted to catch her
interest. But she showed no emotion.
"Well, I expect this is slow for you, a little place like this. Plenty
going on in London, I expect."
"Yes. Do you ever think you'd like to go there?"
"Daresay I shall one of these days. Never know your luck. But I'm not
terrible anxious.... Well, I must be getting on."
He caught her eyes and held them.
"Come back for a moment when you're less busy. I've got something I want
to say to you."
Very slightly the colour rose in her dark cheek.
"All right," she said.
When she had gone he drew a deep breath, as though he had surmounted some
great and sudden danger. He felt that if she had refused to come he would
have risen and broken everything in the place. Now, as though he had, by
that little conversation with her, reassured himself about her, he looked
around the room. His attention was at once attracted by a man who was
sitting in the further corner, his back against the wall, opposite to him.
This was a man remarkable for his extreme thinness, for the wild lock of
black hair that fell over his forehead and almost into his eyes, and for a
certain sort of threadbare and dissolute distinction which hung about him.
Falk knew him slightly. His name was Edmund Davray, and he had lived in
Polchester now for a considerable number of years. He was an artist, and
had arrived in the town one summer on a walking tour through Glebeshire.
He had attracted attention at once by the quality of his painting, by the
volubility of his manner, and by his general air of being a person of
considerable distinction. His surname was French, but no one knew anything
with any certainty about him. Something attracted him in Polchester, and
he stayed. He soon gave it out that it was the Cathedral that fascinated
him; he painted a number of remarkable sketches of the nave, the choir,
Saint Margaret's Chapel, the Black Bishop's Tomb. He had a "show" in
London and was supposed to have done very well out of it. He disappeared
for a little, but soon returned, and was to be found in the Cathedral most
days of the week.
At first he had a little studio at the top of Orange Street. At this time
he was rather popular in Polchester society. Mrs. Combermere took him up
and found him audacious and amusing. His French name gave a kind of
piquancy to his audacity; he was unusual; he was striking. It was right
for Polchester to have an artist and to stick him up in the very middle of
the town as an emblem of taste and culture. Soon, however, he began to
decline. It was whispered that he drank, that his morals were "only what
you'd expect of an artist," and that he was really "too queer about the
Cathedral." One day he told Miss Dobell that the amount that she knew
about literature would go inside a very small pea, and he was certainly
"the worse for liquor" at one of Mrs. Combermere's tea-parties. He did
not, however, give them time to drop him; he dropped himself, gave up his
Orange Street studio, lived, no one knew where, neglected his appearance,
and drank quite freely whenever he could get anything to drink. He now cut
everybody, rather than allowed himself to be cut.
He was in the Cathedral as often as ever, and Lawrence and Cobbett, the
Vergers, longed to have an excuse for expelling him, but he always behaved
himself there and was in nobody's way. He was finally regarded as "quite
mad," and was seen to talk aloud to himself as he walked about the
"An unhappy example," Miss Dobell said, "of the artistic temperament, that
wonderful gift, gone wrong."
Falk had seen him often before at the "Dog and Pilchard," and had wondered
at first whether Annie Hogg was the attraction. It was soon clear,
however, that there was nothing in that. He never looked at the girl nor,
indeed, at any one else in the place. He simply sat there moodily staring
in front of him and drinking.
To-day it was clear that Falk had caught his attention. He looked across
the room at him with a queer defiant glance, something like Falk's own.
Once it seemed that he had made up his mind to come over and speak to him.
He half rose in his seat, then sank back again. But his eyes came round
again and again to the corner where Falk was sitting.
The Cathedral chimes had whispered twice in the room before Annie
"What is it you're wanting?" she asked.
"Come outside and speak to me."
"No, I can't do that. Father's watching."
"Well, will you meet me one evening and have a talk?"
"It isn't right, Mr. Brandon. What's a gentleman like you want with a girl
"I only want us to get away a little from all this noise and filth."
Suddenly she smiled.
"Well, I don't mind if I do. After supper's a good time. Father goes up
the town to play billiards. After eight."
"What about to-morrow evening?"
"All right. Where?"
"Up to the Mill. Five minutes up from here."
"I'll be there," he said.
"Don't let father catch 'ee--that's all," she smiled down at him. "You'm a
fule, Mr. Brandon, to bother with such as I." He said 'nothing and she
walked away. Very shortly after, Davray got up from his seat and came over
to Falk's corner. It was obvious that he had been drinking rather heavily.
He was a little unsteady on his feet.
"You're young Brandon, aren't you?" he asked.
In ordinary times Falk would have told him to go to the devil, and there
would have been a row, but to-day he was caught away so absolutely into
his own world that any one could speak to him, any one laugh at him, any
one insult him, and he would not care. He had been meditating for weeks
the advance that he had just taken; always when one meditates for long
over a risk it swells into gigantic proportions. So this had been; that
simple sentence asking her to come out and talk to him had seemed an
impossible challenge to every kind of fate, and now, in a moment, the gulf
had been jumped...so easy, so strangely easy....
From a great distance Davray's words came to him, and in the dialogue that
followed he spoke like a somnambulist.
"Yes," he said, "my name's Brandon."
"I knew, of course," said Davray. "I've seen you about." He spoke with
great swiftness, the words tumbling over one another, not with eagerness,
but rather with a kind of supercilious carelessness. "Beastly hole, isn't
this? Wonder why one comes here. Must do something in this rotten town.
I've drunk enough of this filthy beer. What do you say to moving out?"
Falk looked up at him.
"What do you say?" he asked.
"Let's move out of this. If you're walking up the town I'll go with you."
Falk was not conscious of the man, but it was quite true that he wanted to
get out of the place now that his job in it was done. He got up without a
word and began to push through the room. He was met near the door by Hogg.
"Goin', Mr. Brandon? Like to settle now or leave it to another day?"
"What's that?" said Falk, stopping as though some one had touched him on
the shoulder. He seemed to see the large smiling man suddenly in front of
him outlined against a shifting wall of mist.
"Payin' now or leavin' it? Please yourself, Mr. Brandon."
"Oh--paying!" He fumbled in his pocket, produced half-a-crown, gave it to
Hogg without looking at him and went out. Davray followed, slouching
through the room and passage with the conceited over-careful walk of a man
a little tipsy.
Outside, as they went down the street still obscured with the wet mist,
Davray poured out a flow of words to which he seemed to want no answer.
"I hope you didn't mind my speaking to you like that--a bit
unceremonious. But to tell you the truth I'm lonely sometimes. Also, if
you want to know the whole truth and nothing but the truth, I'm a bit
tipsy too. Generally am. This air makes one feel queer after that stinking
hole, doesn't it? If you can call this air. I've seen you there a lot
lately and often thought I'd like to talk to you. You're the only decent-
looking fellow in the whole of this town, if you'll forgive my saying so.
Isn't it a bloody hole? But of course you think so too. I can see it in
your face. I suppose you go to that pub after that girl. I saw you talking
to her. Well, each man to his taste. I'd never interfere with any man's
pleasure. I loathe women myself, always have. They never appealed to me a
little bit. In Paris the men used to wonder what I was after. I was after
Ambition in those days. Funny thing, but I thought I was going to be a
great painter once. Queer what one can trick oneself into believing--so I
might have been if I hadn't come to this beastly town. Hope I'm not boring
He stopped as though he had suddenly realised that his companion had not
said a word. They were pushing now up the hill into the market-place and
the mist was now so thick that they could scarcely see one another's face.
Falk was thinking. "To-morrow evening.... What do I want? What's going to
happen? What do I want?"
The silence made him conscious of his companion.
"What do you say?" he asked.
"Hope I'm not boring you."
"No, that's all right. Where are we?"
"Just coming into the market."
"If I talk a lot it's because I haven't had any one to talk to for weeks.
Not that I want to talk to any one. I despise the lot of them. Conceited
set of ignorant parrots.... Whole place run by women and what can you
expect? You're not staying here, I suppose. I heard you'd had enough of
Oxford and I don't wonder. No place for a man, beautiful enough but spoilt
by the people. _Damn_ people--always coming along and spoiling
places. Now there's the Cathedral, most wonderful thing in England, but
does any one know it? Not a bit of it. You'd think they fancied that the
Cathedral _owes_ them something--about as much sense of beauty as a
They were pressing up the High Street now. There was no one about. It was
a town of ghosts. By the Arden Gate Falk realised where he was and halted.
"Hullo! we're nearly home.... Well...good afternoon, Mr. Davray."
"Come into the Cathedral for a moment," Davray seemed to be urgent about
this. "Have you ever been up into the King Harry Tower? I bet you
"King Harry Tower?..." Falk stared at the man. What did the fellow want
him to do? Go into the Cathedral? Well, why not? Stupid to go home just
now--nothing to do there but think, and people would interrupt.... Think
better out of doors. But what was there to think about? He was not
thinking, simply going round and round.... Who was this fellow anyway?
"As you like," he said.
They crossed the Precincts and went through the West door into the
Cathedral. The nave was full of dusky light and very still. Candles
glimmered behind the great choir-screen and there were lamps by the West
door. Seen thus, in its half-dark, the nave bore full witness to the fact
that Polchester has the largest Cathedral in Northern Europe. It is
certainly true that no other building in England gives the same
overwhelming sense of length.
In full daylight the nave perhaps, as is the case with all English
Cathedrals, lacks colour and seems cold and deserted. In the dark of this
spring evening it was full of mystery, and the great columns of the nave's
ten bays, rising unbroken to the roof groining, sprang, it seemed, out of
air, superbly, intolerably inhuman.
The colours from the tombs and the brasses glimmered against the grey, and
the great rose-coloured circle of the West window flung pale lights across
the cold dark of the flags and pillars.
The two men were held by the mysterious majesty of the place. Falk was
lifted right out of his own preoccupied thoughts.
He had never considered the Cathedral except as a place to which he was
dragged for services against his will, but to-night, perhaps because of
his own crisis, he seemed to see it all for the first time. He was
conscious now of Davray and was aware that he did not like him and wished
to be rid of him--"an awful-looking tout" he thought him, "with his greasy
long hair and his white long face and his spindle legs."
"Now we'll go up into King Harry," Davray said. But at that moment old
Lawrence came bustling along. Lawrence, over seventy years of age, had
grown stout and white-haired in the Cathedral's service. He was a fine
figure in his purple gown, broad-shouldered, his chest and stomach of a
grand protuberance, his broad white flowing beard a true emblem of his
ancient dignity. He was the most autocratic of Vergers and had been
allowed now for many years to do as he pleased. The only thorn in his
flesh was Cobbett, the junior Verger, who, as he very well realised, was
longing for him to die, that he might step into his shoes. "I do believe,"
he was accustomed to say to Mrs. Lawrence, a little be-bullied woman,
"that that man will poison me one of these fine days."
His autocracy had grown on him with the size and the whiteness of his
beard, and there were many complaints--rude to strangers, sycophantic to
the aristocracy, greedy of tips, insolent and conceited, he was an
excellent example of the proper spirit of the Church Militant. He had,
however, his merits. He loved small children and would have allowed them
to run riot on the Cathedral greens had he not been checked, and he had a
pride in the Cathedral that would drive him to any sacrifice in his
defence of it.
It was natural enough that he should hate the very sight of Davray, and
when that gentleman appeared he hung about in the background hoping that
he might catch him in some crime. At first he thought him alone.
"Oh, Verger," Davray said, as though he were speaking to a beggar who had
asked of him alms. "I want to go up into King Harry. You have the key, I
"Well, you can't, sir," said Lawrence, with considerable satisfaction.
"'Tis after hours." Then he saw Falk.
"Oh, I beg your pardon, Mr. Brandon, sir. I didn't realise. Do you want to
go up the Tower, sir?"
"We may as well," said Falk.
"Of course for you, sir, it's different. Strangers have to keep certain
hours. This way, sir."
They followed the pompous old man across the nave, up the side aisle, past
"tombs and monuments and gilded knights," until they came to the King
Harry Chapel. This was to the right of the choir, and before the screen
that railed it off from the rest of the church there was a notice saying
that this Chapel had been put aside for private prayer and it was hoped
that no one would talk or make any noise, were some one meditating or
praying there. The little place was infinitely quiet, with a special air
of peace and beauty as though all the prayers and meditations that had
been offered there had deeply sanctified it; Lawrence pushed open the door
of the screen and they crossed the flagged floor. Suddenly into the heart
of the hush there broke the Cathedral chimes, almost, as it seemed,
directly above their heads, booming, echoing, dying with lingering music
back into the silence. At the corner of the Chapel there was a little
wooden door; Lawrence unlocked it and pushed it open. "Mind how you go,
sir," he said, speaking to Falk as though Davray did not exist. "'Tis a
bit difficult with the winding stair."
The two men went forward into the black darkness, leaving the dusky light
behind them. Davray led the way and Falk followed, feeling with his arms
the black walls on either side of him, knocking with his legs against the
steps above him. Here there was utter darkness and no sound. He had
suddenly a half-alarmed, half-humorous suspicion that Davray was suddenly
going to turn round upon him and push him down the stair or stick a knife
into him--the fear of the dark. "After all, what am I doing with this
fellow?" he thought. "I don't know him. I don't like him. I don't want to
be with him."
"That's better," he heard Davray say. There was a glimmer, then a shadow
of grey light, finally they had stepped out into what was known as the
Whispering Gallery, a narrow railed platform that ran the length of the
Chapel and beyond to the opposite Tower. They did not stop there. They
pushed up again by more winding stairs, black for a space, then lit by a
window, then black again. At last, after what had seemed a long journey,
they were in a little, spare, empty room with a wooden floor. One side of
this little room was open and railed in. Looking down, the floor of the
nave seemed a vast distance below. You seemed here to be flying in glory.
The dim haze of the candles just touched the misty depth with golden
colour. Above them the great roof seemed close and menacing. Everywhere
pillars and buttresses rose out of space. The great architect of the
building seemed here to have his true kingdom, so vast was the depth and
the height and the grandeur. The walls and the roof and the pillars that
supported it were alive with their own greatness, scornful of little men
and their little loves. The hush was filled with movement and stir and a
The two men leaned on the rails and looked down. Far below, the white
figured altar, the brass of the Black Bishop's tomb, the glitter of Saint
Margaret's screen struck in little points of dull gold like stars upon a
grey inverted sky.
Davray turned suddenly upon his companion. "And it's men like your
father," he said, "who think that this place is theirs.... Theirs!
Presumption! But they'll get it in the neck for that. This place can bide
its time. Just when you think you're its master it turns and stamps you
Falk said nothing. Davray seemed irritated by his silence. "You wait and
see," he said. "It amuses me to see your governor walking up the choir on
Sundays as though he owned the place. Owned it! Why, he doesn't realise a
stone of it! Well, he'll get it. They all have who've tried his game.
"Look here," said Falk, "don't you say anything about my father--that's
none of your business. He's all right. I don't know what the devil I came
up here for--thinking of other things."
Davray too was thinking of other things.
"You wonderful place!" he whispered. "You beautiful place! You've ruined
me, but I don't care. You can do what you like with me. You wonder! You
Falk looked at him. The man was mad. He was holding on to the railing,
leaning forward, staring....
"Look here, it isn't safe to lean like that. You'll be tumbling over and
breaking your neck if you're not careful."
But Davray did not hear him. He was lost in his own dreams. Falk despised
dreams although just now he was himself in the grip of one. Besides the
fellow was drunk.
A sudden disgust of his companion overtook him.
"Well, so long," he said. "I must be getting home!"
He wondered for a moment whether it were safe to leave the fellow there.
"It's his own look-out," he thought, and as Davray said no more he left
Back once more in the King Harry Chapel, he looked up. But he could see no
one and could hear no sound.
Ronder had now spent several months in Polchester and was able to come to
an opinion about it, and the opinion that he had come to was that he could
be very comfortable there. His aunt, who, in spite of her sharpness, never
was sure how he would take anything, was a little surprised when he told
her this. But then she was never certain what were the secret springs from
which he derived that sense of comfort that was the centre of his life.
She should have known by now that he derived it from two things--luxury
and the possibility of intrigue.
Polchester could not have appeared to any casual observer a luxurious
town, but it had for Ronder exactly that combination of beauty and mystery
that obtained for him his sensation.
He did not analyse it as yet further than that--he knew that those two
things were there; he might investigate them at his leisure.
In that easy, smiling fashion that he had developed from his earliest days
as the surest protection for his own security and ease, he arranged
everything around him to assure his tranquillity. Everything was not as
yet arranged; it might take him six months, a year, two years for that
arrangement...but he knew now that it would be done.
The second element in his comfort, his love of intrigue, would be
satisfied here simply because everything was not, as yet, as he would have
it. He would have hated to have tumbled into the place and found it just
as he required it.
He liked to have things to move, to adjust, to arrange, just as when he
entered a room he always, if he had the power, at once altered the chairs,
the cushions. It was towards this final adjustment that his power of
intrigue always worked. Once everything was adjusted he sank back
luxuriously and surveyed it--and then, in all probability, was quickly
tired of it and looked for new fields to conquer.
He could not remember a time when he had not been impelled to alter things
for his comfort. He did not wish to be selfish about this, he was quite
willing for every one else to do the same--indeed, he watched them with
geniality and wondered why on earth they didn't. As a small boy at Harrow
he had, with an imperturbable smile and a sense of humour that, in spite
of his rotund youth and a general sense amongst his elders that he was
"cheeky," won him popularity, worked always for his own comfort.
He secured it and, first as fag and afterwards as House-prefect, finally
as School-prefect, did exactly what he wanted with everybody.
He did it by being, quite frankly, all things to all men, although never
with sycophancy nor apparent falseness. He amused the bored, was
confidential with the wicked, upright with the upright, and sympathetic
with the unfortunate.
He was quite genuine in all these things. He was deeply interested in
humanity, not for humanity's sake but his own. He bore no man any grudge,
but if any one was in his way he worked hard until they were elsewhere.
That removal attained, he wished them all the luck in the world.
He was ordained because he thought he could deal more easily with men as a
parson. "Men always take clergymen for fools," he told his aunt, "and so
they sometimes are...but not always." He knew he was not a fool, but he
was not conceited. He simply thought that he had hit upon the one secret
of life and could not understand why others had not done the same. Why do
people worry so? was the amused speculation. "Deep emotions are simply not
worth while," he decided on his coming of age. He liked women but his
sense of humour prevented him from falling in love. He really did
understand the sensual habits and desires of men and women but watched
them from a distance through books and pictures and other men's stories.
He was shocked by nothing--nor did he despise mankind. He thought that
mankind did on the whole very well considering its difficulties. He was
kind and often generous; he bore no man alive or dead any grudge. He
refused absolutely to quarrel--"waste of time and temper."
His one danger was lest that passion for intrigue should go deeper than he
allowed anything to go. Playing chess with mankind was to him, he
declared, simply a means to an end. Perhaps once it had been so. But, as
he grew older, there was a danger that the end should be swallowed by the
This danger he did not perceive; it was his one blindness. Finally he
believed with La Rochefoucauld that "Pity is a passion which is wholly
useless to a well-constituted mind."
At any rate he discovered that there was in Polchester a situation exactly
suited to his powers. The town, or the Cathedral part of it, was dominated
by one man, and that man a stupid, autocratic, retrogressive, good-natured
child. He bore that child not the slightest ill-will, but it must go or,
at any rate, its authority must be removed. He did, indeed, like Brandon,
and through most of this affair he did not cease to like him, but he,
Ronder, would never be comfortable so long as Brandon was there, he would
never be free to take the steps that seemed to him good, he would be
interfered with and patronised. He was greatly amused by Brandon's
patronage, but it really was not a thing that could be allowed to remain.
If he saw, as he made his plans, that the man's heart and soul, his life,
physical and spiritual, were involved--well he was sorry. It simply proved
how foolish it was to allow your heart and soul to be concerned in
He very quickly perceived that the first thing to be done was to establish
relations with the men who composed the Chapter. He watched, he listened,
he observed, then, at the end of some months, he began to move.
Many men would have considered him lazy. He never took exercise if he
could avoid it, and it was Polchester's only fault that it had so many
hills. He always had breakfast in bed, read the papers there and smoked a
cigarette. Every morning he had a bath as hot as he could bear it--and he
could bear it very hot indeed. Much of his best thinking was done there.
When he came downstairs he reserved the first hour for his own reading,
reading, that is, that had nothing to do with any kind of work, that was
purely for his own pleasure. He allowed nothing whatever to interfere with
this--Gautier and Flaubert, La Bruyere and Montaigne were his favourite
authors, but he read a great deal of English, Italian, and Spanish, and
had a marvelous memory. He enjoyed, too, erotic literature and had a fine
collection of erotic books and prints shut away in a cabinet in his study.
He found great fascination in theological books: he laughed at many of
them, but kept an open mind--atheistic and materialistic dogmas seemed to
him as absurd as orthodox ones. He read too a great deal of philosophy
but, on the whole, he despised men who gave themselves up to philosophy
more than any other human beings. He felt that they lost their sense of
humour so quickly, and made life unpleasant for themselves.
After his hour of reading he gave himself up to the work of the day. He
was the most methodical of men: the desk in his study was full of little
drawers and contrivances for keeping things in order. He had a thin vase
of blue glass filled with flowers, a small Chinese image of green jade, a
photograph of the Blind Homer from the Naples Museum in a silver frame,
and a little gold clock; all these things had to be in their exactly
correct positions. Nothing worried him so much as dust or any kind of
disorder. He would sometimes stop in the middle of his work and cross the
room, in the soft slippers of brown kid that he always wore in his study,
and put some picture straight or move some ornament from one position to
another. The books that stretched along one wall from floor to ceiling
were arranged most carefully according to their subjects. He disliked to
see some books projecting further from the shelf than others, and, with a
little smile of protest, as though he were giving them a kindly scolding,
he would push them into their right places.
Let is not be supposed, however, that he was idle during these hours. He
could accomplish an astonishing amount of work in a short time, and he was
never idle except by deliberate intention.
When luncheon time arrived he was ready to be charming to his aunt, and
charming to her he was. Their relations were excellent. She understood him
so well that she left his schemes alone. If she did not entirely approve
of him--and she entirely approved of nobody--she loved him for his good
company, his humour, and his common-sense. She liked it too that he did
not mind when she chose to allow her irony to play upon him. He cared
nothing for any irony.
At luncheon they felt a very agreeable intimacy. There was no need for
explanations; half allusions were enough. They could enjoy their joke
without emphasising it and sometimes even without expressing it. Miss
Ronder knew that her nephew liked to hear all the gossip. He collected it,
tied it into little packets, and put them away in the little mechanical
contrivances with which his mind was filled. She told him first what she
heard, then her authorities, finally her own opinions. He thoroughly
enjoyed his meal.
He had, by now, very thoroughly mastered the Cathedral finances. They were
not complicated and were in good order, because Hart-Smith had been a man
of an orderly mind. Ronder very quickly discovered that Brandon had had
his fingers considerably in the old pie. "And now there'll be a new pie,"
he said to himself, "baked by me."...He traced a number of stupid and
conservative decisions to Brandon's agency. There was no doubt but that
many things needed a new urgency and activity.
People had had to fight desperately for money when they should have been
given it at once; on the other hand, the Cathedral had been well looked
after--it was rather dependent bodies like the School, the Almshouses, and
various livings in the Chapter grant that had suffered.
Anything that could possibly be considered a novelty had been fought and
generally defeated. "There will be a lot of novelties before I've finished
with them," Ronder said to himself.
He started his investigations by paying calls on Bentinck-Major and Canon
Foster. Bentinck-Major lived at the top of Orange Street, in a fine house
with a garden, and Foster lived in one of four tumble-down buildings
behind the Cathedral, known from time immemorial as Canon's Yard.
The afternoon of his visit was about three days after a dinner-party at
the Castle. He had seen and heard enough at that dinner to amuse him for
many a day; he considered it to have been one of the most entertaining
dinners at which he had ever been present. It had been here that he had
heard for the first time of the Pybus St. Anthony living. Brandon had been
present, and he observed Brandon's nervousness, and gathered enough to
realise that this would be a matter of considerable seriousness. He was to
know a great deal more about it before the afternoon was over.
As he walked through the town on the way to Orange Street he came upon
Ryle, the Precentor. Ryle looked the typical clergyman, tall but not too
tall, here a smile and there a smile, with his soft black hat, his
trousers too baggy at the knees, his boots and his gold watch-chain both
He cared, with serious devotion, for the Cathedral music and sang the
services beautifully, but he would have been able to give more time to his
work were he not so continuously worrying as to whether people were vexed
with him or no. His idea of Paradise was a place where he could chant
eternal services and where everybody liked him. He was a good man, but
weak, and therefore driven again and again into insincerity. It was as
though there was for ever in front of him the consciousness of some secret
in his past life that must on no account be discovered; but, poor man, he
had no secret at all.
"Well, Precentor, and how are you?" said Ronder, beaming at him over his
Ryle started. Ronder had come behind him. He liked the look of Ronder. He
always preferred fat men to thin; they were much less malicious, he
"Oh, thank you, Canon Ronder--very well, thank you. I didn't see you.
Quite spring weather. Are you going my way?"
"I'm off to see Bentinck-Major."
"Oh, yes, Bentinck-Major...."
Ryle's first thought was--"Now is Bentinck-Major likely to have anything
to say against me this afternoon?"
"I'm going up Orange Street too. It's the High School Governors' meeting,
"Oh, yes, of course."
The two men started up the hill together. Ronder surveyed the scene around
him with pleasure. Orange Street always satisfied his aesthetic sense. It
was the street of the doctors, the solicitors, the dentists, the bankers,
and the wealthier old maids of Polchester. The grey stone was of a
charming age, the houses with their bow-windows, their pillared porches,
their deep-set doors, their gleaming old-fashioned knockers, spoke
eloquently of the day when the great Jane's Elizabeths and D'Arcys, Mrs.
Morrises and Misses Bates found the world in a tea-cup, when passions were
solved by matrimony and ambitions by the possession of a carriage and a
fine pair of bays. But more than this was the way that the gardens and
lawns and orchards ran unchecked in and out, up and down, here breaking
into the street, there crowding a church with apple-trees, seeming to
speak, at every step, of leisure and sunny days and lives free of care.
Ronder had never seen anything so pretty; something seemed to tell him
that he would never see anything so pretty again.
Ryle was not a good conversationalist, because he had always before him
the fear that some one might twist what he said into something really
unpleasant, but, indeed, he found Ronder so agreeable that, as he told
Mrs. Ryle when he got home, he "never noticed the hill at all."
"I hope you won't think me impertinent," said Ronder, "but I must tell you
how charmed I was with the way that you sang the service on Sunday. You
must have been complimented often enough before, but a stranger always has
the right, I think, to say something. I'm a little critical, too, of that
kind of thing, although, of course, an amateur...but--well, it was
Ryle flushed with pleasure to the very tips of his over-large ears.
"Oh, really, Canon...But indeed I hardly know what to say. You're too
good. I do my poor best, but I can't help feeling that there is danger of
one's becoming stale. I've been here a great many years now and I think
some one fresh...."
"Well, often," said Ronder, "that _is_ a danger. I know several cases
where a change would be all for the better, but in your case there wasn't
a trace of staleness. I do hope you won't think me presumptuous in saying
this. I couldn't help myself. I must congratulate you, too, on the choir.
How do you find Brockett as an organist?"
"Not quite all one would wish," said Ryle eagerly--and then, as though he
remembered that some one might repeat this to Brockett, he added
hurriedly, "Not that he doesn't do his best. He's an excellent fellow.
Every one has their faults. It's only that he's a _little_ too fond
of adventures on his own account, likes to add things on the spur of the
moment...a little _fantastic_ sometimes."
"Quite so," said Ronder gravely. "That's rather what I'd thought myself.
I noticed it once or twice last Sunday. But that's a fault on the right
side. The boys behave admirably. I never saw better behaviour."
Kyle was now in his element. He let himself go, explaining this, defending
that, apologising for one thing, hoping for another. Before he knew where
he was he found himself at the turning above the monument that led to the
"Here we part," he said.
"Why, so we do," cried Ronder.
"I do hope," said Ryle nervously, "that you'll come and see us soon. Mrs.
Ryle will be delighted...."
"Why, of course I will," said Ronder. "Any day you like. Good-bye. Good-
bye," and he went to Bentinck-Major's.
One look at Bentinck-Major's garden told a great deal about Bentinck-
Major. The flower-beds, the trim over-green lawn, the neat paths, the
trees in their fitting places, all spoke not only of a belief in material
things but a desire also to demonstrate that one so believed....
One expected indeed to see the Bentinck-Major arms over the front-door.
They were there in spirit if not in fact.
"Is the Canon in?" Ronder asked of a small and gaping page-boy.
He was in, it appeared. Would he see Canon Ronder? The page-boy
disappeared and Ronder was able to observe three family trees framed in
oak, a large china bowl with visiting-cards, and a huge round-faced clock
that, even as he waited there, pompously announced that half-hour.
Presently the Canon, like a shining Ganymede, came flying into the hall.
"My dear Ronder! But this is delightful. A little early for tea, perhaps.
Indeed, my wife is, for the moment, out. What do you say to the library?"
Ronder had nothing to say against the library, and into it they went. A
fine room with books in leather bindings, high windows, an oil painting of
the Canon as a smart young curate, a magnificent writing-table, _The
Spectator_ and _The Church Times_ near the fireplace, and two deep
leather arm-chairs. Into these last two the clergymen sank.
Bentinck-Major put his fingers together, crossed his admirable legs, and
looked interrogatively at his visitor.
"I'm lucky to catch you at home," said Ronder. "This isn't quite the time
to call, I'm afraid. But the fact is that I want some advice."
"Quite so," said his host.
"I'm not a very modest man," said Ronder, laughing. "In fact, to tell you
the truth, I don't believe very much in modesty. But there _are_
times when it's just as well to admit one's incompetence. This is one of
"Why, really, Canon," said Bentinck-Major, wishing to give the poor man
"No, but I mean what I say. I don't consider myself a stupid man, but when
one comes fresh into a place like this there are many things that one
_can't_ know, and that one must learn from some one wiser than
oneself if one's to do any good."
"Oh, really, Canon," Bentinck-Major repeated. "If there's anything I can
"There is. It isn't so much about the actual details of the work that I
want your advice. Hart-Smith has left things in excellent condition, and I
only hope that I shall be able to keep everything as straight as he has
done. What I really want from you is some sort of bird's-eye view as to
the whole situation. The Chapter, for instance. Of course, I've been here
for some months now and have a little idea as to the people in the place,
but you've been here so long that there are many things that you can tell
"Now, for instance," said Bentinck-Major, looking very wise and serious.