Part 4 out of 8
custom. "Well, children," he said, blinking at them. Ronder stood,
smiling, in the doorway. At the sight of him Joan was filled with hatred--
vehement, indignant hatred; she had never hated any one before, unless
possibly it was Miss St. Clair, the French mistress. Now, from what source
she did not know, fear and passion flowed into her. Nothing could have
been more amiable and genial than the figure that he presented.
As always, his clothes were beautifully neat and correct, his linen
spotless white, his black boots gleaming.
He beamed upon them all, and Joan felt, behind her, the response that the
whole room made to him. They liked him; she knew it. He was becoming
He had towards them all precisely the right attitude; he was not amiable
and childish like the Dean, nor pompous like Bentinck-Major, nor
sycophantic like Ryle. He did not advance to them but became, as it were,
himself one of them, understanding exactly the way that they wanted him.
And Joan hated him; she hated his red face and his neatness and his broad
chest and his stout legs--everything, everything! She also feared him. She
had never before, although for long now she had been conscious of his
power, been so deeply aware of his connection with herself. It was as
though his round shadow had, on this lovely afternoon, crept forward a
little and touched with its dim grey for the first time the Brandon house.
"Canon Ronder," Gladys Sampson cried, "come and see what we've done."
He moved forward and patted little Betty Callender on the head as he
passed. "Are you all right, my dear, and your father?"
It appeared that Betty was delighted. Suddenly he saw Joan.
"Oh, good evening, Miss Brandon." He altered his tone for her, speaking as
though she were an equal.
Joan looked at him; colour flamed in her cheeks. She did not reply, and
then feeling as though in an instant she would do something quite
disgraceful, she slipped from the room.
Soon, after gently smiling at the parlourmaid, who was an old friend of
hers because she had once been in service at the Brandons, she found
herself standing, a little lost and bewildered, at the corner of Green
Lane and Orange Street. Lost and bewildered because one emotion after
another seemed suddenly to have seized upon her and taken her captive.
Lost and bewildered almost as though she had been bewitched, carried off
through the shining skies by her captor and then dropped, deserted, left,
in some unknown country.
Green Lane in the evening light had a fairy air. The stumpy trees on
either side with the bright new green of the spring seemed to be
concealing lamps within their branches. So thick a glow suffused the air
that it was as though strangely coloured fruit, purple and orange and
amethyst, hung glittering against the pale yellow sky, and the road
running up the hill was like pale wax.
On the other side Orange Street tumbled pell-mell into the roofs of the
town. The monument of the fierce Georgian citizen near which Joan was
standing guarded with a benevolent devotion the little city whose lights,
stealing now upon the air, sprinkled the evening sky with a jewelled haze.
No sound broke the peace; no one came nor went; only the trees of the Lane
moved and stirred very faintly as though assuring the girl of their
Never before had she so passionately loved her town. It seemed to-night
when she was disturbed by her new love, her new fear, her new worldly
knowledge, to be eager to assure her that it was with her in all her
troubles, that it understood that she must pass into new experiences, that
it knew, none better indeed, how strange and terrifying that first
realisation of real life could be, that it had itself suffered when new
streets had been thrust upon it and old loved houses pulled down and the
river choked and the hills despoiled, but that everything passes and love
remains and homeliness and friends.
Joan felt more her own response to the town than the town's reassurance to
her, but she was a little comforted and she felt a little safer.
She argued as she walked home through the Market Place and up the High
Street and under the Arden Gate into the quiet sheltered Precincts, why
should she think that Ronder mattered? After all might not he be the good
fat clergyman that he appeared? It was more perhaps a kind of jealousy
because of her father that she felt. She put aside her own little troubles
in a sudden rush of tenderness for her family. She wanted to protect them
all and make them happy. But how could she make them happy if they would
tell her nothing? They still treated her as a child but she was a woman
now. Her love for Johnny. She had admitted that to herself. She stopped on
the path outside the decorous strait-laced houses and put her cool gloved
hand up to her burning cheek.
She had known for a long time that she loved him, but she had not told
herself. She must conquer that, stamp upon it. It was foolish,
hopeless.... She ran up the steps of their house as though something
She let herself in and found the hall dusky and obscure. The lamp had not
yet been lit. She heard a voice:
She looked up and saw her mother, a little, slender figure, standing at
the turn of the stairs holding in her hand a lighted candle.
"It's I, mother, Joan. I've just come from Gladys Sampson's."
"Oh! I thought it would be Falk. You didn't pass Falk on your way?"
"No, mother dear."
She went across to the little cupboard where the coats were hung. As she
poked her head into the little, dark, musty place, she could feel that her
mother was still standing there, listening.
The Genial Heart
Ronder was never happier than when he was wishing well to all mankind.
He could neither force nor falsify this emotion. If he did not feel it he
did not feel it, and himself was the loser. But it sometimes occurred that
the weather was bright, that his digestion was functioning admirably, that
he liked his surroundings, that he had agreeable work, that his prospects
were happy--then he literally beamed upon mankind and in his fancy
showered upon the poor and humble largesse of glittering coin. In such a
mood he loved every one, would pat children on the back, help old men
along the road, listen to the long winnings of the reluctant poor. Utterly
genuine he was; he meant every word that he spoke and every smile that he
Now, early in May and in Polchester he was in such a mood. Soon after his
arrival he had discovered that he liked the place and that it promised to
suit him well, but he had never supposed that it could develop into such
perfection. Success already was his, but it was not success of so swift a
kind that plots and plans were not needed. They were very much needed. He
could remember no time in his past life when he had had so admirable a
combination of difficulties to overcome. And they were difficulties of the
right kind. They centred around a figure whom he could really like and
admire. It would have been very unpleasant had he hated Brandon or
despised him. Those were uncomfortable emotions in which he indulged as
seldom as possible.
What he liked, above everything, was a fight, when he need have no
temptation towards anger or bitterness. Who could be angry with poor
Brandon? Nor could he despise him. In his simple blind confidence and
self-esteem there was an element of truth, of strength, even of nobility.
Far from despising or hating Brandon, he liked him immensely--and he was
on his way utterly to destroy him.
Then, as he approached nearer the centre of his drama, he noticed, as he
had often noticed before, how strangely everything played into his hands.
Without undue presumption it seemed that so soon as he determined that
something ought to occur and began to work in a certain direction, God
also decided that it was wise and pushed everything into its right place.
This consciousness of Divine partnership gave Ronder a sense that his
opponents were the merest pawns in a game whose issue was already decided.
Poor things, they were helpless indeed! This only added to his kindly
feelings towards them, his sense of humour, too, was deeply stirred by
their own unawareness of their fate--and he always liked any one who
stirred his sense of humour.
Never before had he known everything to play so immediately into his hands
as in this present case. Brandon, for instance, had just that stupid
obstinacy that was required, the town had just that ignorance of the outer
world and cleaving to old traditions.
And now, how strange that the boy Falk had on several occasions stopped to
speak to him and had at last asked whether he might come and see him!
How lucky that Brandon should be making this mistake about the Pybus St.
Finally, although he was completely frank with himself and knew that he
was working, first and last, for his own future comfort, it did seem to
him that he was also doing real benefit to the town. The times were
changing. Men of Brandon's type were anachronistic; the town had been
under Brandon's domination too long. New life was coming--a new world--a
Ronder, although no one believed less in Utopias than he, did believe in
the Zeitgeist--simply for comfort's sake if for no stronger reason. Well,
the Zeitgeist was descending upon Polchester, and Ronder was its agent.
Progress? No, Ronder did not believe in Progress. But in the House of Life
there are many rooms; once and again the furniture is changed.
One afternoon early in May he was suddenly aware that everything was
moving more swiftly upon its appointed course than he, sharp though he
was, had been aware. Crossing the Cathedral Green he encountered Dr.
Puddifoot. He knew that the Doctor had at first disliked him but was
quickly coming over to his side and was beginning to consider him as
"broad-minded for a parson and knowing a lot more about life than you
would suppose." He saw precisely into Puddifoot's brain and watched the
thoughts dart to and fro as though they had been so many goldfish in a
glass bowl. He also liked Puddifoot for himself; he always liked stout,
big, red-faced men; they were easier to deal with than the thin severe
ones. He knew that the time would very shortly arrive when Puddifoot would
tell him one of his improper stories. That would sanctify the friendship.
"Ha! Canon!" said Puddifoot, puffing like a seal. "Jolly day!"
They stood and talked, then, as they were both going into the town, they
turned and walked towards the Arden Gate. Puddifoot talked about his
health; like many doctors he was very timid about himself and eager to
reassure himself in public. "How are you, Canon? But I needn't ask--
looking splendid. I'm all right myself--never felt better really. Just a
twinge of rheumatics last night, but it's nothing. Must expect something
at my age, you know--getting on for seventy."
"You look as though you'll live for ever," said Ronder, beaming upon him.
"You can't always tell from us big fellows. There's Brandon now, for
"Surely there isn't a healthier man in the kingdom," said Ronder, pushing
his spectacles back into the bridge of his nose.
"Think so, wouldn't you? But you'd be wrong. A sudden shock, and that man
would be nowhere. Given to fits of anger, always tried his system too
hard, never learnt control. Might have a stroke any day for all he looks
"Really, really! Dear me!" said Ronder.
"Course these are medical secrets in a way. Know it won't go any farther.
But it's curious, isn't it? Appearances are deceptive--damned deceptive.
That's what they are. Brandon's brain's never been his strong point. Might
go any moment."
"Dear me, dear me," said Ronder. "I'm sorry to hear that."
"Oh, I don't mean," said Puddifoot, puffing and blowing out his cheeks
like a cherub in a picture by Sir Joshua Reynolds, "that he'll die to-
morrow, you know--or have a stroke either. But he ain't as secure as he
looks. And he don't take care of himself as he should."
Outside the Library Ronder paused.
"Going in here for a book, doctor. See you later."
"Yes, yes," said Puddifoot, his eyes staring up and down the street, as
though they would burst out of his head. "Very good--very good. See you
later then," and so went blowing down the hill.
Ronder passed under the gloomy portals of the Library and found his way,
through faith rather than vision, up the stone stairs that smelt of mildew
and blotting-paper, into the high dingy room. He had had a sudden desire
the night before to read an old story by Bage that he had not seen since
he was a boy--the violent and melancholy _Hermsprong_.
It had come to him, as it were, in his dreams--a vision of himself rocking
in a hammock in his uncle's garden on a wonderful summer afternoon, eating
apples and reading _Hermsprong_, the book discovered, he knew not by
what chance, in the dusty depths of his uncle's library. He would like to
read it again. _Hermsprong_! the very scent of the skin of the apple,
the blue-necked tapestry of light between the high boughs came back to
him. He was a boy again.... He was brought up sharply by meeting the
little red-rimmed eyes of Miss Milton. Red-rimmed to-day, surely, with
recent weeping. She sat humped up on her chair, glaring out into the room.
"It's all right, Miss Milton," he said, smiling at her. "It's an old book
I want. I won't bother you. I'll look for myself."
He passed into the further dim secrecies of the Library, whither so few
penetrated. Here was an old ladder, and, mounted upon it, he confronted
the vanished masterpieces of Holcroft and Radcliffe, Lewis and Jane
Porter, Clara Reeve and MacKenzie, old calf-bound ghosts who threw up
little clouds of sighing dust as he touched them with his fingers. He was
happily preoccupied with his search, balancing his stout body precariously
on the trembling ladder, when he fancied that he heard a sigh.
He stopped and listened; this time there could be no mistake. It was a
sigh of prodigious intent and meaning, and it came from Miss Milton.
Impatiently he turned back to his books; he would find his Bage as quickly
as possible and go. He was not at all in the mood for lamentations from
Miss Milton. Ah! there was _Barham Downs. Hermsprong_ could not be
far away. Then suddenly there came to him quite unmistakably a sob, then
another, then two more, finally something that horribly resembled
hysterics. He came down from his ladder and crossed the room.
"My dear Miss Milton!" he exclaimed. "Is there anything I can do?"
She presented a strange and unpoetic appearance, huddled up in her wooden
arm-chair, one fat leg crooked under her, her head sinking into her ample
bosom, her whole figure shaking with convulsive grief, the chair creaking
sympathetically with her.
Ronder, seeing that she was in real distress, hurried up to her.
"My dear Miss Milton, what is it?"
For a while she could not speak; then raised a face of mottled purple and
white, and, dabbing her cheeks with a handkerchief not of the cleanest,
choked out between her sobs:
"My last week--Saturday--Saturday I go--disgrace--ugh, ugh--dismissed--
"But I don't understand," said Ronder, "who goes? Who's disgraced?"
"I go!" cried Miss Milton, suddenly uncurling her body and her sobs
checked by her anger. "I shouldn't have given way like this, and before
you, Canon Ronder. But I'm ruined--ruined!--and for doing my duty!"
Her change from the sobbing, broken woman to the impassioned avenger of
justice was so immediate that Ronder was confused. "I still don't
understand, Miss Milton," he said. "Do you say you are dismissed, and, if
so, by whom?"
"I _am_ dismissed! I _am_ dismissed!" cried Miss Milton. "I
leave here on Saturday. I have been librarian to this Library, Canon
Ronder, for more than twenty years. Yes, twenty years. And now I'm
dismissed like a dog with a month's notice."
She had collected her tears and, with a marvellous rapidity, packed them
away. Her eyes, although red, were dry and glittering; her cheeks were of
a pasty white marked with small red spots of indignation. Ronder, looking
at her and her dirty hands, thought that he had never seen a woman whom he
"But, Miss Milton," he said, "if you'll forgive me, I still don't
understand. Under whom do you hold this appointment? Who have the right to
dismiss you? and, whoever it was, they must have given some reason."
Miss Milton, was now the practical woman, speaking calmly, although her
bosom still heaved and her fingers plucked confusedly with papers on the
table in front of her. She spoke quietly, but behind her words there were
so vehement a hatred, bitterness and malice that Ronder observed her with
a new interest.
"There is a Library Committee, Canon Ronder," she said. "Lady St. Leath is
the president. It has in its hands the appointment of the librarian. It
appointed me more than twenty years ago. It has now dismissed me with a
month's notice for what it calls--what it _calls_, Canon Ronder--
'abuse and neglect of my duties.' Abuse! Neglect! Me! about whom there has
never been a word of complaint until--until----"
Here again Miss Milton's passions seemed to threaten to overwhelm her. She
gathered herself together with a great effort.
"I know my enemy, Canon Ronder. Make no mistake about that. I know my
enemy. Although, what I have ever done to him I cannot imagine. A more
"Yes.--But," said Canon Ronder gently, "tell me, if you can, exactly with
what they charge you. Perhaps I can help you. Is it Lady St. Leath
"No, it is _not_ Lady St. Leath," broke in Miss Milton vehemently. "I
owe Lady St. Leath much in the past. If she has been a little imperious at
times, that after all is her right. Lady St. Leath is a perfect lady. What
occurred was simply this: Some months ago I was keeping a book for Lady
St. Leath that she especially wished to read. Miss Brandon, the daughter
of the Archdeacon, came in and tried to take the book from me, saying that
her mother wished to read it. I explained to her that it was being kept
for Lady St. Leath; nevertheless, she persisted and complained to Lord St.
Leath, who happened to be in the Library at the time; he, being a perfect
gentleman, could of course do nothing but say that she was to have the
"She went home and complained, and it was the Archdeacon who brought up
the affair at a Committee meeting and insisted on my dismissal. Yes, Canon
Ronder, I know my enemy and I shall not forget it."
"Dear me," said Canon Ronder benevolently, "I'm more than sorry. Certainly
it sounds a little hasty, although the Archdeacon is the most honourable
"Honourable! Honourable!" Miss Milton rose in her chair. "Honourable! He's
so swollen with pride that he doesn't know what he is. Oh! I don't measure
my words. Canon Ronder, nor do I see any reason why I should.
"He has ruined my life. What have I now at my age to go to? A little
secretarial work, and less and less of that. But it's not _that_ of
which I complain. I am hurt in the very depths of my being, Canon Ronder.
In my pride and my honour. Stains, wounds that I can never forget!"
It was so exactly as though Miss Milton had just been reading
_Hermsprong_ and was quoting from it that Ronder looked about him,
almost expecting to see the dusty volume.
"Well, Miss Milton, perhaps I can put a little work in your way."
"You're very kind, sir," she said. "There's more than I in this town, sir,
who're glad that you've come among us, and hope that perhaps your presence
may lead to a change some day amongst those in high authority."
"Where are you living, Miss Milton?" he asked.
"Three St. James' Lane," she answered. "Just behind the Market and St.
James' Church. Opposite the Rectory. Two little rooms, my windows looking
on to Mr. Morris'."
"Very well, I'll remember."
"Thank you, sir, I'm sure. I'm afraid I've forgotten myself this morning,
but there's nothing like a sense of injustice for making you lose your
self-control. I don't care who hears me. I shall not forgive the
"Come, come, Miss Milton," said Ronder. "We must all forgive and forget."
Her eyes narrowed until they almost disappeared.
"I don't wish to be unfair, Canon Ronder," she said. "But I've worked for
more than twenty years like an honourable woman, and to be turned out.--
Not that I bear Mrs. Brandon any grudge, coming down to see Mr. Morris so
often as she does. I daresay she doesn't have too happy a time if all were
"Now, now," said Ronder. "This won't do, Miss Milton. You won't make your
case better by talking scandal, you know. I have your address. If I can
help you I will. Good afternoon."
Forgetting _Hermsprong_, having now more important things to
consider, he found his way down the steps and out into the air.
On every side now it seemed that the Archdeacon was making some blunder.
Little unimportant blunders perhaps, but nevertheless cumulative in their
effect! The balance had shifted. The Powers of the Air, bored perhaps with
the too-extended spectacle of an Archdeacon successful and triumphant, had
made a sign....
Ronder, as he stood in the spring sunlight, glancing up and down the High
Street, so full of colour and movement, had an impulse as though it were
almost a duty to go and warn the Archdeacon. "Look out! Look out! There's
a storm coming!" Warn the Archdeacon! He smiled. He could imagine to
himself the scene and the reception his advice would have. Nevertheless,
how sad that undoubtedly you cannot make an omelette without first
breaking the eggs! And this omelette positively must be made!
He had intended to do a little shopping, an occupation in which he
delighted because of the personal victories to be won, but suddenly now,
moved by what impulse he could not tell, he turned back towards the
Cathedral. He crossed the Green, and almost before he knew it he had
pushed back the heavy West door and was in the dark, dimly coloured
shadow. The air was chill. The nave was scattered with lozenges of purple
and green light. He moved up the side aisle, thinking that now he was here
he would exchange a word or two with old Lawrence. No harm would be done
by a little casual amiability in that direction.
Before he realised, he was close to the Black Bishop's Tomb. The dark grim
face seemed to-day to wear a triumphant smile beneath the black beard. A
shaft of sunlight played upon the marble like a searchlight upon water;
the gold of the ironwork and the green ring and the tracery on the
scrolled borders jumped under the sunlight like living things.
Ronder, moved as always by beauty, smiled as though in answer to the dead
"Why! you're the most alive thing in this Cathedral," he thought to
"Pretty good bit of work, isn't it?" he heard at his elbow. He turned and
saw Davray, the painter. The man had been pointed out to him in the
street; he knew his reputation. He was inclined to be interested in the
man, in any one who had a wider, broader view of life than the citizens of
the town. Davray had not been drinking for several weeks; and always
towards the end of one of his sober bouts he was gentle, melancholy, the
true artist in him rising for one last view of the beauty that there was
in the world before the inevitable submerging.
He had, on this occasion, been sober for a longer period than usual; he
felt weak and faint, as though he had been without food, and his favourite
vice, that had been approaching closer and closer to him during these last
days, now leered at him, leaning towards him from the other side of the
gilded scrolls of the tomb.
"Yes, it's a very fine thing." He cleared his throat. "You're Canon
Ronder, are you not?"
"Yes, I am."
"My name's Davray. You probably heard of me as a drunkard who hangs about
the town doing no good. I'm quite sure you don't want to speak to me or
know me, but in here, where it's so quiet and so beautiful, one may know
people whom it wouldn't be nice to know outside."
Ronder looked at him. The man's face, worn now and pinched and sharp, must
once have had its fineness.
"You do yourself an injustice, Mr. Davray," Ronder said. "I'm very glad
indeed to know you."
"Well, of course, you parsons have got to know everybody, haven't you? And
the sinners especially. That's your job. But I'm not a sinner to-day. I
haven't drunk anything for weeks, although don't congratulate me, because
I'm certainly not going to hold out much longer. There's no hope of
redeeming me, Canon Ronder, even if you have time for the job."
"I'm not going to preach to you," he said, "you needn't be afraid."
"Well, let's forget all that. This Cathedral is the very place, if you
clergymen had any sense of proportion, where you should be ashamed to
preach. It laughs at you."
"At any rate the Bishop does," said Render, looking down at the tomb.
"No, but all of it," said Davray. Instinctively they both looked up. High
above them, in the very heart of the great Cathedral tower, a mist,
reflected above the windows until it was coloured a very faint rose,
trembled like a sea about the black rafters and rounded pillars. Even as
they looked some bird flew twittering from corner to corner.
"When I'm worked up," said Davray, "which I'm not to-day, I just long to
clear all you officials out of it. I laugh sometimes to think how
important you think yourselves and how unimportant you really are. The
Cathedral laughs too, and once and again stretches out a great lazy finger
and just flicks you away as it would a spider's web. I hope you don't
think me impertinent."
"Not in the least," said Ronder; "some of us even may feel just as you do
"Brandon doesn't." Davray moved away. "I sometimes think that when I'm
properly drunk one day I'll murder that man. His self-sufficiency and
conceit are an insult to the Cathedral. But the Cathedral knows. It bides
Ronder looked gravely at the melancholy, ineffective figure with the pale
pointed beard, and the weak hands. "You speak very confidently, Mr.
Davray," he said. "As with all of us, you judge others by yourself. When
you know what the Cathedral's attitude to yourself is, you'll be able to
see more clearly."
"To myself!" Davray answered excitedly. "It has none! To myself? Why, I'm
nobody, nothing. It doesn't have to begin to consider me. I'm less than
the dung the birds drop from the height of the tower. But I'm humble
before it. I would let its meanest stone crush the life out of my body,
and be glad enough. At least I know its power, its beauty. And I adore it!
I adore it!"
He looked up as he spoke; his eyes seemed to be eagerly searching for some
Ronder disliked both melodrama and sentimentality. Both were here.
"Take my advice," he said smiling. "Don't think too much about the
place...I'm glad that we met. Good afternoon."
Davray did not seem to have noticed him; he was staring down again at the
Bishop's Tomb. Ronder walked away. A strange man! A strange day! How
different people were! Neither better nor worse, but just different. As
many varieties as there were particles of sand on the seashore.
How impossible to be bored with life. Nevertheless, entering his own home
he was instantly bored. He found there, having tea with his aunt and
sitting beneath the Hermes, so that the contrast made her doubly
ridiculous, Julia Preston. Julia Preston was to him the most boring woman
in Polchester. To herself she was the most important. She was a widow and
lived in a little green house with a little green garden in the Polchester
outskirts. She was as pretty as she had been twenty years before, exactly
the same, save that what nature had, twenty years ago, done for the
asking, it now did under compulsion. She believed the whole world in love
with her and was therefore a thoroughly happy woman. She had a healthy
interest in the affairs of her neighbours, however small they might be,
and believed in "Truth, Beauty, and the Improvement of the Lower Classes."
"Dear Canon Ronder, how nice this is!" she exclaimed. "You've been hard at
work all the afternoon, I know, and want your tea. How splendid work is! I
often think what would life be without it'."
Ronder, who took trouble with everybody, smiled, sat down near to her and
looked as though he loved her.
"Well, to be quite honest, I haven't been working very hard. Just seeing a
"Just seeing a few people!" Mrs. Preston used a laugh that was a favourite
of hers because she had once been told that it was like "a tinkling bell."
"Listen to him! As though that weren't the hardest thing in the world.
Giving out! Giving out! What is so exhausting, and yet what so worth while
in the end? Unselfishness! I really sometimes feel that is the true secret
"Have one of those little cakes, Julia," said Miss Ronder drily. She,
unlike her nephew, bothered about very few people indeed. "Make a good
"I will, as you want me to, dear Alice," said Mrs. Preston. "Oh, thank
you, Canon Ronder! How good of you; ah, there! I've dropped my little bag.
It's under that table. Thank you a thousand times! And isn't it strange
about Mrs. Brandon and Mr. Morris?"
"Isn't what strange?" asked Miss Ronder, regarding her guest with grim
"Oh well--nothing really, except that every one's asking what they can
find in common. They're always together. Last Monday Aggie Combermere met
her coming out of the Rectory, then Ellen Stiles saw them in the Precincts
last Sunday afternoon, and I saw them myself this morning in the High
"My dear Mrs. Preston," said Ronder, "why _shouldn't_ they go about
"No reason at all," said Mrs. Preston, blushing very prettily, as she
always did when she fancied that any one was attacking her. "I'm sure that
I'm only too glad that poor Mrs. Brandon has found a friend. My motto in
life is, 'Let us all contribute to the happiness of one another to the
best of our strength.'
"Truly, that's a thing we can _all_ do, isn't it? Life isn't too
bright for some people, I can't help thinking. And courage is the thing.
After all, it isn't life that is important but simply how brave you are.
"At least that's my poor little idea of it. But it does seem a little odd
about Mrs. Brandon. She's always kept so much to herself until now."
"You worry too much about others, dear Julia," said Miss Ronder.
"Yes, I really believe I do. Why, there's my bag gone again! Oh, how good
of you, Canon! It's under that chair. Yes. I do. But one can't help one's
nature, can one? I often tell myself that it's really no credit to me
being unselfish. I was simply born that way. Poor Jack used to say that he
wished I _would_ think of myself more! I think we were meant to share
one another's burdens. I really do. And what Mrs. Brandon can see in Mr.
Morris is so odd, because _really_ he isn't an interesting man."
"Let me get you some more tea," said Ronder.
"No, thank you. I really must be going. I've been here an unconscionable
time. Oh! there's my handkerchief. How silly of me! Thank you so much!"
She got up and prepared to depart, looking so pretty and so helpless that
it was really astonishing that the Hermes did not appreciate her.
"Good-bye, dear Canon. No, I forbid you to come out. Oh, well, if you
will. I hear everywhere of the splendid work you're doing. Don't think it
flattery, but I do think we needed you here. What we have wanted is a
message--something to lift us all up a little. It's so easy to see nothing
but the dreary round, isn't it? And all the time the stars are shining....
At least that's how it seems to me."
The door closed; the room was suddenly silent. Miss Ronder sat without
moving, her eyes staring in front of her.
Soon Ronder returned.
Miss Ronder said nothing. She was the one human being who had power to
embarrass him. She was embarrassing him now.
"Aren't things strange?" he said. "I've seen four different people this
afternoon. They have all of their own accord instantly talked about
Brandon, and abused him. Brandon is in the air. He's in danger."
Miss Ronder looked her nephew straight between the eyes.
"Frederick," she said, "how much have you had to do with this?"
"To do with this? To do with what?"
"All this talk about the Brandons."
"I! Nothing at all."
"Nonsense. Don't tell me. Ever since you set foot in this town you've been
determined that Brandon should go. Are you playing fair?"
He got up, stood opposite her, legs apart, his hands crossed behind his
Her eyes were full of distress. "Through all these years," she said, "I've
never truly known you. All I know is that you've always got what you
wanted. You're going to get what you want now. Do it decently."
"You needn't be afraid," he said.
"I _am_ afraid," she said. "I love you, Fred; I have always loved
you. I'd hate to lose that love. It's one of my most precious
He answered her slowly, as though he were thinking things out. "I've
always told you the truth," he said; "I'm telling you the truth now. Of
course I want Brandon to go, and of course he's going. But I haven't to
move a finger in the matter. It's all advancing without my agency. Brandon
is ruining himself. Even if he weren't, I'm quite square with him. I
fought him openly at the Chapter Meeting the other day. He hates me for
"And you hate _him_."
"_Hate_ him? Not the least in the world. I admire and like him. If
only he were in a less powerful position and were not in my way, I'd be
his best friend. He's a fine fellow--stupid, blind, conceited, but finer
made than I am. I like him better than any man in the town."
"I don't understand you"; she dropped her eyes from his face. "You're
He sat down again as though he recognised that the little contest was
"Is there anything in this, do you think? This chatter about Mrs. Brandon
"I don't know. There's a lot of talk beginning. Ellen Stiles is largely
responsible, I fancy."
"Mrs. Brandon and Morris! Good Lord! Have you ever heard of a man called
"Yes, a drunken painter, isn't he? Why?"
"I talked to him in the Cathedral this afternoon. He has a grudge against
Brandon too...Well, I'm going up to the study."
He bent over, kissed her forehead tenderly and left the room.
Throughout that evening he was uncomfortable, and when he was
uncomfortable he was a strange being. His impulses, his motives, his
intentions were like a sheaf of corn bound tightly about by his sense of
comfort and well-being. When that sense was disturbed everything fell
apart and he seemed to be facing a new world full of elements that he
always denied. His aunt had a greater power of disturbing him than had any
other human being. He knew that she spoke what she believed to be the
truth; he felt that, in spite of her denials, she knew him. He was often
surprised at the eagerness with which he wanted her approval.
As he sat back in his chair that evening in Bentinck-Major's comfortable
library and watched the other, this sense of discomfort persisted so
strongly that he found it very difficult to let his mind bite into the
discussion. And yet this meeting was immensely important to him. It was
the first obvious result of the manoeuvring of the last months. This was
definitely a meeting of Conspirators, and all of those engaged in it, with
one exception, knew that that was so. Bentinck-Major knew it, and Foster
and Ryle and Rogers. The exception was Martin, a young Minor Canon, who
had the living of St. Joseph's-in-the-Fields, a slum parish in the lower
part of the town.
Martin had been invited because he was the best clergyman in Polchester.
Young though he was, every one was already aware of his strength,
integrity, power with the men of the town, sense of humour and
intelligence. There was, perhaps, no man in the whole of Polchester whom
Ronder was so anxious to have on his side.
He was a man with a scorn of any intrigue, deeply religious, but human and
impatient of humbug.
Ronder knew that he was the Polchester clergyman beyond all others who
would in later years come to great power, although at present he had
nothing save his Minor Canonry and small living. He was not perhaps a
deeply read man, he was of no especial family nor school and had graduated
at Durham University. In appearance he was common-place, thin, tall, with
light sandy hair and mild good-tempered eyes. It had been Ronder's
intention that he should be invited. Foster, who was more responsible for
the meeting than any one, had protested.
"Martin--what's the point of Martin?"
"You'll see in five years' time," Ronder had answered.
Now, as Ronder looked round at them all, he moved restlessly in his chair.
Was it true that his aunt was changing her opinion of him? Would he have
to deal, during the coming months, with persistent disapproval and
opposition from her? And it was so unfair. He had meant absolutely what he
said, that he liked Brandon and wished him no harm. He _did_ believe
that it was for the good of the town that Brandon should go....
He was pulled up by Foster, who was asking him to tell them exactly what
it was that they were to discuss. Instinctively he looked at Martin as he
spoke. As always, with the first word there came over him a sense of
mastery and happiness, a desire to move people like pawns, a readiness to
twist any principle, moral and ethical, if he might bend it to his
purpose. Instinctively he pitched his voice, formed his mouth, spread his
hands upon the broad arms of his chair exactly as an actor fills in his
"I object a little," he said, laughing, "to Foster's suggestion that I am
responsible for our talking here. I've no right to be responsible for
anything when I've been in the place so short a time. All the same, I
don't want to pretend to any false modesty. I've been in Polchester long
enough to be fond of it, and I'm going to be fonder of it still before
I've done. I don't want to pretend to any sentimentality either, but there
are broader issues than merely the fortunes of this Cathedral in danger.
"Because I feel the danger, I intend to speak out about it, and get any
one on my side I can. When I find that Canon Foster who has been here so
long and loves the Cathedral so passionately and so honestly, if I may say
so, feels as I do, then I'm only strengthened in my determination. I don't
care who says that I've no right to push myself forward about this. I'm
not pushing myself forward.
"As soon as some one else will take the cause in hand I'll step back, but
I'm not going to see the battle lost simply because I'm afraid of what
people will say of me.... Well, this is all fine words. The point simply
is that, as every one knows, poor Morrison is desperately ill and the
living of Pybus St. Anthony may fall vacant at any moment. The appointment
is a Chapter appointment. The living isn't anything very tremendous in
itself, but it has been looked upon for years as _the_ jumping-off
place for preferment in the diocese. Time after time the man who has gone
there has become the most important influence here. Men are generally
chosen, as I understand it, with that in view. These are, of course, all
commonplaces to you, but I'm recapitulating them because it makes my point
the stronger. Morrison with all his merits was not out of the way
intellectually. This time we want an exceptional man.
"I've only been here a few months, but I've noticed many things, and I
will definitely say that the Cathedral is at a crisis in its history.
Perhaps the mere fact that this is Jubilee Year makes us all more ready to
take stock than we would otherwise have been. But it is not only that. The
Church is being attacked from all sides. I don't believe that there has
ever been a time when the west of England needed new blood, new thought,
new energy more than it does at this time. The vacancy at Pybus will offer
a most wonderful opportunity to bring that force among us. I should have
thought every one would realise that.
"It happens, however, that I have discovered on first-hand evidence that
there is a strong resolve on the part of most important persons in this
town (I will mention no names) to fill the living with the most
unsatisfactory, worthless and conservative influence that could possibly
be found anywhere. If that influence succeeds I don't believe I'm
exaggerating when I say that the progress of the religious life here is
flung back fifty years. One of the greatest opportunities the Chapter can
ever have had will have been missed. I don't think we can regard the
crisis as too serious."
Foster broke in: "Why _not_ mention names, Canon? We've no time to
waste. It's all humbug pretending we don't know whom you mean. It's
Brandon who wants to put young Forsyth into Pybus whom we're fighting.
Let's be honest."
"No. I won't allow that," Ronder said quickly. "We're fighting no
personalities. Speaking for myself, there's no one I admire more in this
town than Brandon. I think him reactionary and opposed to new ideas, and a
dangerous influence here, but there's no personal feeling in any of this.
We've got to keep personalities out of this. There's something bigger than
our own likes and dislikes in this."
"Words! Words," said Foster angrily. "I hate Brandon. You hate him,
Ronder, for all you're so circumspect. It's true enough that we don't want
young Forsyth at Pybus, but it's truer still that we want to bring the
Archdeacon's pride down. And we're going to."
The atmosphere was electric. Rogers' thin and bony features were flushed
with pleasure at Foster's denunciation. Bentinck-Major rubbed his soft
hands one against the other and closed his eyes as though he were
determined to be a gentleman to the last; Martin sat upright in his chair,
his face puzzled, his gaze fixed upon Ronder; Ryle, the picture of nervous
embarrassment, glanced from one face to another, as though imploring every
one not to be angry with him--all these sharp words were certainly not his
Ronder was vexed with himself. He was certainly not at his best to-night.
He had realised the personalities that were around him, and yet had not
steered his boat among them with the dexterous skill that was usually his.
In his heart he cursed Foster for a meddling, cantankerous fanatic.
Rogers broke in. "I must say," he exclaimed in a strange shrill voice like
a peacock's, "that I associate myself with every word of Canon Foster's.
Whatever we may pretend in public, the great desire of our hearts is to
drive Brandon out of the place. The sooner we do it the better. It should
have been done long ago."
Martin spoke. "I'm sorry," he said. "If I had known that this meeting was
to be a personal attack on the Archdeacon, I never would have come. I
don't think the diocese has a finer servant than Archdeacon Brandon. I
admire him immensely. He has made mistakes. So do we all of course. But I
have the highest opinion of his character, his work and his importance
here, and I would like every one in the room to know that before we go any
"That's right. That's right," said Ryle, smiling around nervously upon
every one. "Canon Martin is right, don't you think? I hope nobody here
will say that I have any ill feeling against the Archdeacon. I haven't,
indeed, and I shouldn't like any one to charge me with it."
Ronder struck in then, and his voice was so strong, so filled with
authority, that every one looked up as though some new figure had entered
"I should like to emphasise at once," he said, "so that no one here or
anywhere else can be under the slightest misapprehension, that I will take
part in nothing that has any personal animus towards anybody. Surely this
is a question of Pybus and Forsyth and of nothing else at all. I have not
even anything against Mr. Forsyth; I have never seen him--I wish him all
the luck in life. But we are fighting a battle for the Pybus living and
for nothing more nor less than that.
"If my own brother wanted that living and was not the right man for it I
would fight him. The Archdeacon does not see the thing at present as we
do; it is possible that very shortly he may. As soon as he does I'm behind
Foster shook his head. "Have it your own way," he said. "Everything's the
same here--always compromise. Compromise! Compromise! I'm sick of the
cowardly word. We'll say no more of Brandon for the moment then. He'll
come up again, never fear. He's not the sort of man to avoid spoiling his
"Very good," said Bentinck-Major in his most patronising manner. "Now we
are all agreed, I think. You will have noticed that I've been waiting for
this moment to suggest that we should come to business. Our business, I
believe, is to obtain what support we can against the gift of the living
to Mr. Forsyth and to suggest some other candidate...hum, haw...yes,
"There's only one possible candidate," Foster brought out, banging his
lean fist down upon the table near to him. "And that's Wistons of Hawston.
It's been the wish of my heart for years back to bring Wistons here. We
don't know, of course, if he would come, but I think he could be
persuaded. And then--then there'd be hope once more! God would be served!
His Church would be a fitting Tabernacle!..."
He broke off. Amazing to see the rapt devotion that now lighted up his
ugly face until it shone with saintly beauty. The harsh lines were
softened, the eyes were gentle, the mouth tender. "Then indeed," he almost
whispered, "I might say my 'Nunc Dimittis' and go."
It was not he alone who was stirred. Martin spoke eagerly: "Is that the
Wistons of the _Four Creeds_?--the man who wrote _The New Apocalypse_?"
Foster smiled. "There's only one Wistons," he said, pride ringing in his
voice as though he were speaking of his favourite son, "for all the
"Why, that would be magnificent," Martin said, "if he'd come. But would
he? I should think that very doubtful."
"I think he would," said Foster softly, still as though he were speaking
"Why, that, of course, is wonderful!" Martin looked round upon them all,
his eyes glowing. "There isn't a man in England----" He broke off. "But
surely if there's a _real_ chance of getting Wistons nobody on the
Chapter would dream of proposing a man like Forsyth. It's incredible!"
"Incredible!" burst in Foster. "Not a bit of it! Do you suppose Brandon--I
beg pardon for mentioning his name, as we're all so particular--do you
suppose Brandon wouldn't fight just such a man? He regards him as
dangerous, modern, subversive, heretical, anything you please. Wistons!
Why, he'd make Brandon's hair stand on end!"
"Well," said Martin gravely, "if there's any real chance of getting
Wistons into this diocese I'll work for it with my coat off."
"Good," said Bentinck-Major, tapping with a little gold pencil that he had
been fingering, on the table. "Now we are all agreed. The next question
is, what steps are we to take?"
They all looked instinctively at Ronder. He felt their glances. He was
happy, assured, comfortable once more. He was master of them. They lay in
his hand for him to do as he would with them. His brain now moved clearly,
smoothly, like a beautiful shining machine. His eyes glowed.
"Now, it's occurred to me----" he said. They all drew their chairs closer.
Falk by the River
Upon that same evening when the conspirators met in Bentinck-Major's
handsome study Mrs. Brandon had a ridiculous fit of hysterics.
She had never had hysterics before; the fit came upon her now when she was
sitting in front of her glass brushing her hair. She was dressing for
dinner and could see her reflection, white and thin, in the mirror before
her. Suddenly the face in the glass began to smile and it became at that
same instant another face that she had never seen before.
It was a horrid smile and broke suddenly into laughter. It was as though
the face had been hit by something and cracked then into a thousand
She laughed until the tears poured down her cheeks, but her eyes
protested, looking piteously and in dismay from the studied glass. She
knew that she was laughing with shrill high cries, and behind her horror
at her collapse there was a desperate protesting attempt to calm herself,
driven, above all, upon her agitated heart by the fear lest her husband
should come in and discover her.
The laughter ceased quite suddenly and was followed by a rush of tears.
She cried as though her heart would break, then, with trembling steps,
crossed to her bed and lay down. Very shortly she must control herself
because the dinner-bell would ring and she must go. To stay and send the
conventional excuse of a headache would bring her husband up to her, and
although he was so full of his own affairs that the questions that he
would ask her would be perfunctory and absent-minded, she felt that she
could not endure, just now, to be alone with him.
She lay on her bed shivering and wondering what malign power it was that
had seized her. Malign it was, she did not for an instant doubt. She had
asked, did ask, for so little. Only to see Morris for a moment every day.
To see him anywhere in as public a place as you please, but to see him, to
hear his voice, to look into his eyes, to touch his hand (soft and gentle
like a woman's hand)--that had been now for months an absolute necessity.
She did not ask more than that, and yet she was aware that there was no
pause in the accumulating force of the passion that was seizing her. She
was being drawn along by two opposite powers--the tenderness of protective
maternal love and the ruthlessness of the lust for possession.
She wanted to care for him, to watch over him, to guard him, to do
everything for him, and also she wanted to feel her hold over him, to see
him move, almost as though he were hypnotised, towards her.
The thought of him, the perpetual incessant thought of him, ruled out the
thought of every one else in the world--save only Falk. She scarcely now
considered her husband at all; she never for an instant wondered whether
people in the town were talking. She saw only Morris and her future with
Morris--only that and Falk.
Upon Falk now everything hung. She had made a kind of bargain. If Falk
stayed and loved her and cared for her she would resist the power that was
drawing her towards Morris. Now, a million times more than before she had
met Morris, she must have some one for whom she could care. It was as
though a lamp had been lit and flung a great track of light over those
dark, empty earlier years. How could she ever have lived as she did? The
hunger, the desperate, eager, greedy hunger was roused in her. Falk could
satisfy it, but, if he would not, then she would hesitate no longer.
She would seize Morris as a tiger seizes its prey. She did not disguise
that from herself. As she lay now, trembling, upon her bed, she never
hesitated to admit to herself that the thought of her domination over
Morris was her great glory. She had never dominated any one before. He
followed her like a man in a dream, and she was not young, she was not
beautiful, she was not clever....
It was her own personal, personal, personal triumph. And then, on that,
there swept over her the flood of her tenderness for him, how she longed
to be good to him, to care for him, to mend and sew and cook and wash for
him, to perform the humblest tasks for him, to nurse him and protect him.
She knew that the end of this might be social ruin for both of them!...
Ah, well, then, he would only need her the more! She was quieter now--the
trembling ceased. How strange the way that during these months they had
been meeting, so often without their own direct agency at all! She
recalled every moment, every gesture, every word. He seemed already to be
part of herself, moving within herself.
She sat up on her bed; moved back to her glass. She bathed her face,
slipped on her dress, and went downstairs.
They were a family party at dinner, but, of course, without Falk. He was
always out in the evening now.
Joan talked, chattered on. The meal was soon over. The Archdeacon went to
his study, and the two women sat in the drawing-room, Joan by the window,
Mrs. Brandon, hidden in a high arm-chair, near the fireplace. The clock
ticked on and the Cathedral bells struck the quarters. Joan's white dress,
beyond the circle of lamp-light was a dim shadow. Mrs. Brandon turned the
pages of her book, her ears straining for the sound of Falk's return.
As she sat there, so inattentively turning the pages of her book, the
foreboding sense of some approaching drama flooded the room. For how many
years had she lived from day to day and nothing had occurred--so long that
life had been unconscious, doped, inert. Now it had sprung into vitality
again with the sudden frantic impertinence of a Jack-in-the-Box. For
twenty years you are dry on the banks, half-asleep, stretching out lazy
fingers for food, slumbering, waking, slumbering again. Suddenly a wave
comes and you are swept off--swept off into what disastrous sea?
She did not think in pictures, it was not her way, but to-night, half-
terrified, half-exultant, in the long dim room she waited, the pressure of
her heart beating up into her throat, listening, watching Joan furtively,
seeing Morris, his eternal shadow, itching with its long tapering fingers
to draw her away with him beyond the house. No, she would be true with
herself. It was he who would be drawn away. The power was in her, not in
She looked wearily across at Joan. The child was irritating to her as she
had always been. She had never, in any case, cared for her own sex, and
now, as so frequently with women who are about to plunge into some
passionate situation, she regarded every one she saw as a potential
interferer. She despised women as most women in their secret hearts do,
and especially she despised Joan.
"You'd better go up to bed, dear. It's half-past ten."
Without a word Joan got up, came across the room, kissed her mother, went
to the door. Then she paused.
"Mother," she said, hesitating, and then speaking timidly, "is father all
"All right, dear?"
"Yes. He doesn't look well. His forehead is all flushed, and I overheard
some one at the Sampsons' say the other day that he wasn't well really,
that he must take great care of himself. Ought he to?"
"Ought he what?"
"To take great care of himself."
"What nonsense!" Mrs. Brandon turned back to her book impatiently. "There
never was any one so strong and healthy."
"He's always worrying about something. It's his nature."
"Yes, I suppose so."
Joan vanished. Mrs. Brandon sat, staring before her, her mind running with
the clock--tick-tick-tick-tick--and then suddenly jumping at the mellow
liquid gurgle that it sometimes gave. Would her husband come in and say
How she had grown, during these last weeks, to loathe his kiss! He would
stand behind her chair, bending his great body over her, his red face
would come down, then the whiff of tobacco, then the rough pressure on her
cheek, the hard, unmeaning contact of his lips and hers. His beautiful
eyes would stare beyond her, absently into the room. Beautiful! Why, yes,
they were famous eyes, famous the diocese through. How well she remembered
those years, long ago, when they had seemed to speak to her of every
conceivable tenderness and sweetness, and how, when he thus had bent over
her, she had stretched up her hand and found the buttons of his waistcoat
and pushed her fingers in, stroking his shirt and feeling his heart thump,
thump, and so warm beneath her touch.
Life! Life! What a cheat! What a cheat! She jumped from her chair, letting
the book drop upon the floor, and began to pace the room. And why should
not this, too, cheat her once again? With the tenderness, the poignancy
with which she now looked upon Morris so once she had looked upon Brandon.
Yes, that might be. She would cheat herself no longer. But she was older
now. This was the last chance to live--definitely, positively the last. It
was not the desire to be loved, this time, that drove her forward so
urgently as the desire to love. She knew that, because Falk would do. If
Falk would stay, would let her care for him and mother him and be with
him, she would drive Morris from her heart and brain.
Yes, she almost cried aloud in the dark room. "Give me Falk and I will
leave the other. Give me my own son. That's my right--every mother's
right. If I am refused it, it is just that I should take what I can get
"Give him to me! Give him to me!" One thing at least was certain. She
could never return to the old lethargy. That first meeting with Morris had
fired her into life. She could not go back and she was glad that she could
She stopped in the middle of the room to listen. The hall-door closed
softly; suddenly the line of light below the door vanished. Some one had
turned down the hall-lamp. She went to the drawing-room door, opened it,
looked out, crying softly:
"Yes, mother." He came across to her. He was holding a lighted candle in
his hand. "Are you still up?"
"Yes, it isn't very late. Barely eleven. Come into the drawing-room."
They went back into the room. He closed the door behind him, then put the
candle down on to a small round table; they sat in the candle-light, one
on either side of the table.
He looked at her and thought how small and fragile she looked and how
little, anyway, she meant to him.
How much most mothers meant to their sons, and how little she had ever
meant to him! He had always taken his father's view of her, that it was
necessary for her to be there, that she naturally did her best, but that
she did not expect you to think about her.
"You ought to be in bed," he said, wishing that she would release him.
For the first time in her life she spoke to him spontaneously, losing
entirely the sense that she had always had, that both he and his father
would go away and leave her if she were tiresome.
To-night he would _not_ go away--not until she had struck her bargain
"What have you been up to all these weeks, Falk?" she asked.
"Up to?" he repeated. Her challenge was unexpected.
"Yes; of course I know you're up to something, and you _know_ that I
know. You must tell me. I'm your mother and I ought to be told."
He knew at once as soon as she spoke that she was the very last person in
the world to whom he wished to tell anything. He was tired, dead tired,
and wanted to go to bed, but he was arrested by the urgency in her voice.
What was the matter with her? So intent had he been, for the past months,
on his own affairs that he had not thought of his mother at all. He looked
across the table at her--a little insignificant woman, colourless, with no
personality. And yet to-night something was happening to her. He felt all
the impatience of a man who is closely occupied with his own drama but is
forced, quite against his will, to consider some one else.
"There isn't anything to tell you, mother. Really there is not. I've just
been kicking my heels round this blasted town for the last few months and
I'm restless. I'll be going up to London very shortly."
"Why need you?" she asked him. The candle flame seemed to jump with the
sharpness of her voice.
"Why need I? But of course I must. I ask you, is this a place for _any
one_ to settle down in?"
"I don't know why it shouldn't be. I should have thought you could be very
happy here. There are so many things you could do."
"What, for instance?"
"You could be a solicitor, or go into business, or--or--why, you'd soon
He got up, taking the candle in his hand.
"Well, if that's your idea, mother, I'm sorry, but you can just put it out
of your head once and for all. I'd rather be buried alive than stay in
this hole. I _would_ be buried alive if I stayed."
She looked up at him. He was so tall, so handsome, _and so distant_--
some one who had no connection with her at all. She too got up, putting
her little hand on his arm.
"Then are we, all of us, to count for nothing at all?"
"Of course you count," he answered impatiently, irritated by the pressure
of her fingers on his coat. "You'll see plenty of me. But you can't
possibly expect me to live here. I've completely wasted my beautiful young
life so far--now apparently you want me to waste the rest of it."
"Then," she said, coming nearer to him and dropping her voice, "take me
"Take you with me!" He stepped back from her. He could not believe that he
had heard her correctly. "Take _you_ with me?"
"Take you with me?"
"Yes, yes, yes."
It was the greatest surprise of his life. He stared at her in his
amazement, putting the candle back upon the table.
"Why?...Why do you think?...Because I love you and want to be with you."
"Be with me? Leave this? Leave Polchester?...Leave father?"
"Yes, why not? Your father doesn't need me any longer. Nobody wants me
here. Why shouldn't I go?"
He came close to her, giving her now all his attention, staring at her as
though he were seeing her for the first time in his life.
"Mother, aren't you well?...Aren't you happy?"
She laughed. "Happy? Oh, yes, so happy that I'd drown myself to-night if
that would do any good."
"Here, sit down." He almost pushed her back into her chair. "We've got to
have this out. I don't know what you're talking about. You're unhappy?
Why, what's the matter?"
"The matter? Oh, nothing!" she answered. "Nothing at all, except for the
last ten years I've hated this place, hated this house, hated your
He stared at her as though she had in a moment gone completely mad.
"Yes, why not?" she answered quietly. "What has he ever done that I should
feel otherwise? What attention has he ever paid to me? When has he ever
considered me except as a sort of convenient housekeeper and mistress whom
he pays to keep near him? Why shouldn't I hate him? You're very young,
Falk, and it would probably surprise you to know how many quiet stay-at-
home wives there are who hate their good, honest, well-meaning husbands."
He drew a deep breath.
"What's father ever done," he said, "to make you hate him?"
She should have realised then, from the sound in his voice, that she was,
in her preoccupation with her own affairs, forgetting one of the principal
elements in the whole case, his love for his father.
"It isn't what he's done," she answered. "It's what he hasn't done. Whom
has he ever considered but himself? Isn't his conceit so big that he can't
see any one but himself. Why should we go on pretending that he's so great
and wonderful? Do you suppose that any one can live for twenty years and
more with your father and not see how small and selfish and mean he is?
"You're not to say that," Falk interrupted her angrily. "Father may have
his faults--so has every one--but we've got worse ones. He isn't mean and
he isn't small. He may seem conceited, but that's only because he cares so
for the Cathedral and knows what he's done for it. He's the finest man I
know anywhere. He doesn't see things as I do--I don't suppose that father
and son ever do see alike--but that needn't prevent me from admiring him.
Why, mother, what's come over you? You can't be well. Leave father! Why,
it would be terrible! Think of the talk there'd be! Why, it would ruin
father here. He'd never get over it."
She saw then the mistake that she had made. She looked across at him
"You're right, Falk. I didn't mean that, I don't mean that. But I'm so
unhappy that I don't know what I'm saying. All I want is to be with you.
It wouldn't hurt father if I went up to London with you for a little. What
I really want is a holiday. I could come back after a month or two
refreshed. I'm tired."
Suddenly while she was speaking the ironical contrast hit him. Here was he
amazed at his mother for daring to contemplate a step that would do his
father harm, while he, he who professed to love his father, was about to
do something that would cause the whole town to talk for a year. But that
was different. Surely it was different. He was young and must make his own
life. He must be allowed to marry whom he would. It was not as though he
were intending to ruin the girl....
Nevertheless, this sudden comparison bewildered and shocked him.
He leant across the table to her. "You must never leave father--never," he
said. "You mustn't think of it. He wants you badly. He mayn't show it
exactly as you want it. Men aren't demonstrative as women are, but he'd be
miserable if you went away. He loves you in his own fashion, which is just
as good as yours, only different. You must _never_ leave him, mother,
do you hear?"
She saw that she was defeated, entirely and completely. She cried to the
"You've refused me what I ask. I go my own way, then."
She got up, kissed him on the forehead and said: "I daresay you're right,
Falk. Forget what I've said. I didn't mean most of it. Good-night, dear."
She went out, quietly closing the door behind her.
Falk did not sleep at all that night. This was only one of many sleepless
nights, but it was the worst of them. The night was warm, and a faint dim
colour lingered behind the treetops of the garden beyond his open window.
First he lay under the clothes, then upon the top of his bed, then
stripped, plunging his head into a basin of water, then naked save for his
soft bedroom slippers, paced his room...His head was a flaming fire. The
pale light seemed for an instant to vanish, and the world was dark and
silent. Then, at the striking of the Cathedral clock, as though it were a
signal upon some stage, the light slowly crept back again, growing ever
stronger and stronger. The birds began to twitter; a cock crew. A bar of
golden light broken by the squares and patterns of the dark trees struck
The shock of his mother's announcement had been terrific. It was not only
the surprise of it, it was the sudden light that it flung upon his own
case. He had gone, during these last weeks, so far with Annie Hogg that it
was hard indeed to see how there could be any stepping back. They had
achieved a strange relationship together: one not of comradeship, nor of
lust, nor of desire, nor of affection, having a little of all these things
but not much of any of them, and finally resembling the case of two
strangers, shipwrecked, hanging on to a floating spar of wood that might
bring them into safety.
She was miserable; he was miserable; whether she cared for him he could
not tell, nor whether he cared for her. The excitement that she created in
him was intense, all-devouring, but it was not an excitement of lust. He
had never done more than kiss her, and he was quite ready that it should
remain so. He intended, perhaps, to marry her, but of that he could not be
But he could not leave her; he could not keep away from her although he
was seldom happy when he was with her. Slowly, gradually, through their
meetings there had grown a bond. He was more naturally himself with her
than with any other human being. Although she excited him she also
tranquillised him. Increasingly he admired and respected her--her honesty,
independence, reserve, pride. Perhaps it was upon that that their alliance
was really based--upon mutual respect and admiration. There had been
never, from the very first moment, any deception between them. He had
never been so honest with any one before--certainly not with himself. His
desire, beyond everything else in life, was to be honest: to pretend to no
emotion that he did not truly feel, to see exactly how he felt about life,
and to stand up before it unafraid and uncowed. Honesty seemed to him the
greatest quality in life; that was why he had been attracted to Ronder.
And yet life seemed to be for ever driving him into false positions. Even
now he was contemplating running away with this girl. Until to-night he
had fancied that he was only contemplating it, but his conversation with
his mother had shown him how near he was to a decision. Nevertheless, he
would talk to Ronder and to his father, not, of course, telling them
everything, but catching perhaps from them some advice that would seem to
him so true that it would guide him.
Finally, when the gold bar appeared behind the trees he forced himself
into honesty with his father. How could he have meant so sincerely that
his mother must not hurt his father when he himself was about to hurt him?
And this discovery had not lessened his determination to take the step.
Was he, then, utterly hypocritical? He knew he was not.
He could look ahead of his own affair and see that in the end his father
would admit that it had been best for him. They all knew--even his mother
must in her heart have known--that he was not going to live in Polchester
for ever. His departure for London was inevitable, and it simply was that
he would take Annie with him. That would be for a moment a blow to his
father, but it would not be so for long. And in the town his father would
win sympathy; he, Falk, would be condemned and despised. They would say:
"Ah, that young Brandon. He never was any good. His father did all he
could, but it was no use...." And then in a little time there would come
the news that he was doing well in London, and all would be right.
He looked to his talk with Ronderr. Ronder would advise well. Ronder knew
life. He was not provincial like these others....
Suddenly he was cold. He went back to bed and slept dreamlessly.
* * * * *
Next evening, as half-past eight was striking, he was at his customary
post by the river, above the "Dog and Pilchard."
A heavy storm was mounting up behind the Cathedral, black clouds being
piled tier on tier as though some gigantic shopman were shooting out rolls
of carpet for the benefit of some celestial purchaser. The Cathedral shone
in the last flash of the fleeing light with a strange phantasmal silver
sheen; once more it was a ship sailing high before the tempest.
Down by the river the dusk was grey and sodden. The river, flowing
sullenly, was a lighter dark between the line of houses and the bending
fields. The air was so heavy that men seemed to walk with bending backs as
though the burden was more than they could sustain. This section of the
river had become now to Falk something that was part of himself. The old
mill, the group of trees beside it, the low dam over which the water fell
with its own peculiar drunken gurgle, the pathway with its gritty stony
surface, so that it seemed to grind its teeth in protest at every step
that you took, on the left the town piled high behind you with the
Cathedral winged and dominant and supreme, the cool sloping fields beyond
the river, the dark bend of the wood cutting the horizon--these things
were his history and he was theirs.
There were many other places to which they might have gone, other times
that they might have chosen, but circumstances and accident had found for
them always this same background. He had long ago ceased to consider
whether any one was watching them or talking about them. They were,
neither of them, cowards, although to Annie her father was a figure of
sinister power and evil desire. She hated her father, believed him capable
of infinite wickedness, but did not fear him enough to hesitate to face
him. Nevertheless, it was from him that she was chiefly escaping, and she
gave to Falk a curious consciousness of the depths of malice and vice that
lay hidden behind that smiling face, in the secret places of that fat
jolly body. Falk was certain now that Hogg knew of their meetings; he
suspected that he had known of them from the first. Hogg had his faults
but they did not frighten Falk, who was, indeed, afraid of no man alive
save only himself.
The other element in the affair that increased as the week passed was
Falk's consciousness of the strange spirit of nobility that there was in
Annie. Although she stirred him so deeply she did not blind him as to her
character. He saw her exactly for what she was--uneducated, ignorant,
limited in all her outlook, common in many ways, sometimes surly, often
superstitious; but through all these things that strain of nobility ran,
showing itself in many unexpected places, calling to him like an echo from
some high, far-distant source. Because of it he was beginning to wonder
whether after all the alliance that was beginning to spring up between
them might not be something more permanent and durable than at first he
had ever supposed it could be. He was beginning to wonder whether he had
not been fortunate far beyond his deserts....
On this thunder-night they met like old friends who had known one another
for many years and between whom there had never been anything but
comradeship. They did not kiss, but simply touched hands and moved up
through the gathering dark to the little bridge below the mill. From here
they felt the impact of the chattering water rising to them and falling
again like a comment on their talk.
"It'll not be many more times," Annie said, "we'll be coming here."
"Why?" Falk asked.
"Because I'm going up to London whether you come or no--and _soon_
He admired nothing in her more than the clear-cut decision of her mind,
which moved quietly from point to point, asking no advice, allowing no
regrets when the decision was once made.
"What has happened since last time?"
"Happened? Nothing. Only father and the 'Dog,' and drink. I'm through with
"And what would you do in London if you went up alone?"
She flung up her head suddenly, laughing. "You think I'm helpless, don't
you? Well, I'm not."
"No, I don't--but you don't know London."
"A fearsome place, mebbe, but not more disgustin' than father."
There was irritation in his voice as he said:
"Then it doesn't matter to you whether I come with you or not?"
Her reply was soft. She suddenly put out her hand and took his.
"Of course it matters. We're friends. The best friend I'm likely to find,
I reckon. What would I be meeting you for all these months if I didn't
care for you? Just to be admiring the scenery?--shouldn't like."
She laughed softly.
She went on: "I'm ready to go with you or without you. If we go together
I'm independent, just as though I went without you. I'm independent of
every one--father and you and all. I'll marry you if you want me, or I'll
live with you without marrying, or I'll live without you and never see you
again. I won't say that leaving you wouldn't hurt. It would, after being
with you all these weeks; but I'd rather be hurt than be dependent."
He held her hand tightly between his two.
"Folks 'ud say," she went on, "that I had no right to be talkin' of going
away with you--that I'd be ruining your future and making people look down
on you, and all that. Well, that's for you to say. If you think it harms
your prospects being with me you needn't see me. I've my own prospects to
think of. I'm not going to have any man ashamed of me."
"You're right to speak of it, and we're right to think of it," said Falk.
"It isn't my prospects that I've got to think about, but it's my father I
wouldn't like to hurt. If we go away together there'll be a great deal of
talk here, and it will all fall on my father."
"Well, then," she said, tossing her head and taking her hand away from
his, "don't come. _I'm_ not asking you. As for your father, he's that
proud----" She stopped suddenly. "No. I'm saying nothing about that. You
care for him, and you're right to. As far as that goes, we needn't go
together; you can come up later and join me."
When she said that, he knew that he couldn't bear the thought of her going
alone, and that he had all along been determined in his thought that she
should not go alone.
"If you'd say you loved me," he said, suddenly bending towards her, "I'd
never let you out of my sight again."
"Oh, yes, you would," she said; "you don't know whether you _do_ love
me. Many's the time you think you don't. And I don't know whether I love
you. Sometimes I think I do. What's love, anyway? I dunno. I think
sometimes I'm not made to feel that way towards any one. But what I really
meant to say to-night is, that I'm dead sick of this hanging-on. I'm going
up to a cousin I've got Blackheath way a week from to-night. If you're
coming, I'm glad. If you're not--well, I reckon I'll get over it."
"A week from to-day--" He looked out over the water.
"Aye. That's settled."
Then, unexpected, as she so often was, she put her arms round his neck and
drew his head down to her bosom and let her hand rest on his hair.
"I like to feel you there," she said. "It's more a mother I feel to you
than a lover."
She would not let him kiss her, but suddenly moved away from him, into the
dark, leaving him where he stood.
When he was half-way home the storm that had been slowly, during the last
hour and a half, climbing up above the town, broke. As he was crossing the
market-place the rain came down in torrents, dancing upon the uneven
cobbles with a kind of excited frenzy, and thickening the air with a
curtain of mist. He climbed the High Street, his head down, feeling a
physical satisfaction in the fierce soaking that the storm was giving him.
The town was shining and deserted. Not a soul about. No sound except the
hissing, sneering, chattering whisper of the deluge. He went up to his
room and changed, putting on a dinner jacket, and came down to his
father's study. It was too late for dinner, but he was not hungry; he did
not know how long it was since he had felt hungry last.
He knocked and went in. He felt a desperate urgency that he must somehow
reconcile the interests and happiness of the two people who were then
filling all his thoughts--his father and Annie. There must _be_ a
way. He could feel still the touch of Annie's hand upon his head; he was
more deeply bound to her by that evening's conversation than he had ever
been before, but he longed to be able to reassure himself by some contact
with his father that he was not going to hurt the old man, that he would
be able to prove to him that his loyalty was true and his affection deep.
Small causes produce lasting results, and the lives of many people would
have been changed had Falk caught his father that night in another mood.
The Archdeacon did not look up at the sound of the closing door. He was
sitting at his big table writing letters, the expression of his face being
that of a boy who has been kept in on a fine afternoon to write out the
first fifty lines of the _Iliad_. His curly hair was ruffled, his
mouth was twisted with disgust, and he pushed his big body about in his
chair, kicked out his legs and drew them in as though beneath his
concentration on his letters he was longing to spring up, catch his enemy
by the throat, roll him over on to the ground and kick him.
"Hullo, governor!" Falk said, and settled down into one of the big leather
arm-chairs, produced a pipe from his pocket and slowly filled it.
The Archdeacon went on writing, muttering to himself, biting the end of
his quill pen. He had not apparently been aware of his son's entrance, but
suddenly he sprang up, pushed back his chair until it nearly fell over,
and began to stride up and down the room. He was a fine figure then,
throwing up his head, flinging out his arms, apostrophising the world.
"Gratitude! They don't know what it means. Do you think I'll go on working
for them, wearing myself to a shadow, staying up all night--getting up at
seven in the morning, and then to have this sort of return? I'll leave the
place. I'll let them make their own mistakes and see how they like that.
I'll teach them gratitude. Here am I; for ten years I've done nothing but
slave for the town and the Cathedral. Who's worked for them as I have?"
"What's the matter, father?" Falk asked, watching him from the chair.
Every one knows the irritation of coming to some one with matters so
urgent that they occupy the whole of your mind, and then discovering that
your audience has its own determined preoccupation. "Always thinking of
himself," Falk continued. "Fusses about nothing."
"The matter?" His father turned round upon him. "Everything's the matter.
Everything! Here's this Jubilee business coming on and everything going to
ruin. Here am I, who know more about the Cathedral and what's been done in
the Cathedral for the last ten years than any one, and they are letting
Ryle have a free hand over all the Jubilee Week services without another
word to anybody."
"Well, Ryle is the Precentor, isn't he?" said Falk.
"Of course he is," the Archdeacon answered angrily. "And what a Precentor!
Every one knows he isn't capable of settling anything by himself. That's
been proved again and again. But that's only one thing. It's the same all
the way round. Opposition everywhere. It'll soon come to it that I'll have
to ask permission from the Chapter to walk down the High Street."
"All the same, father," Falk said, "you can't be expected to have the
whole of the Jubilee on your shoulders. It's more than any one man can
"I know that. Of course I know that. Ryle's case is only one small
instance of the way the wind's blowing. Every one's got to do their share,
of course. But in the last three months the place is changed--the
Chapter's disorganised, there's rebellion in the Choir, among the Vergers,
everywhere. The Cathedral is in pieces. And why? Who's changed everything?
Why is nothing as it was three months ago?"
"Oh, Lord! what a bore the old man is!" thought Falk. He was in the last
possible mood to enter into any of his father's complaints. They seemed
now, as he looked across at him, to be miles apart. He felt, suddenly, as
though he did not care what happened to his father, nor whether his
feelings were hurt or no----
"Well, tell me!" said the Archdeacon, spreading his legs out, putting his
hands behind his back and standing over his son. "Who's responsible for
"Oh, I don't know!" said Falk impatiently.
"You don't know? No, of course you don't know, because you've taken no
interest in the Cathedral nor in anything to do with it. All the same, I
should have thought it impossible for any one to be in this town half an
hour and _not_ know who's responsible. There's only one man, and that
man is Ronder."
Unfortunately Falk liked Ronder. "I think Ronder's rather a good sort," he
said. "A clever fellow, too."
The Archdeacon stared at him.
"You like him?"
"Yes, father, I do."
"And of course it matters nothing to you that he should by your father's
persistent enemy and do his best to hinder him in everything and every way
Falk smiled, one of those confident, superior smiles that are so justly
irritating to any parent.
"Oh, come, father," he said. "Aren't you rather exaggerating?"
"Exaggerating? Yes, of course you would take the other side. And what do
you know about it? There you are, lolling about in your chair, idling week
after week, until all the town talks about it----"
Falk sprang up.
"And whose fault is it if I do idle? What have I been wanting except to go
off and make a decent living? Whose fault----?"
"Oh, mine, of course!" the Archdeacon shouted. "Put it all down to me! Say
that I begged you to leave Oxford, that I want you to laze the rest of
your life away. Why shouldn't you, when you have a mother and sister to
"Stop that, father." Falk also was shouting. "You'd better look out what
you're saying, or I'll take you at your word and leave you altogether."
"You can, for all I care," the Archdeacon shouted back. They stood there
facing one another, both of them red in the face, a curious family
likeness suddenly apparent between them.
"Well, I will then," Falk cried, and rushed from the room, banging the
door behind him.
Ronder sat in his study waiting for young Falk Brandon. The books smiled
down upon him from their white shelves; because the spring evening was
chill a fire glittered and sparkled and the deep blue curtains were drawn.
Ronder was wearing brown kid slippers and a dark velvet smoking-jacket. As
he lay back in the deep arm-chair, smoking an old and familiar briar, his
chubby face was deeply contented. His eyes were almost closed; he was the
very symbol of satisfied happy and kind-hearted prosperity.
He was really touched by young Falk's approach towards friendship. He had
in him a very pleasant and happy vein of sentiment which he was only too
delighted to exercise so long as no urgent demands were made upon it. Once
or twice women and men younger than himself _had_ made such urgent
demands; with what a hurry, a scurry and a scamper had he then run from
But the more tranquil, easy and unexacting aspects of sentiment he
enjoyed. He liked his heart to be warmed, he liked to feel that the
pressure of his hand, the welcome of the eye, the smile of the lip were
genuine in him and natural; he liked to put his hand through the arm of a
young eager human being who was full of vitality and physical strength. He
disliked so deeply sickness and decay; he despised them.
Falk was young, handsome and eager, something of a rebel--the greater
compliment then that he should seek out Ronder. He was certainly the most
attractive young man in Polchester and, although that was not perhaps
saying very much, after all Ronder lived in Polchester and wished to share
in the best of every side of its life.
There were, however, further, more actual reasons that Ronder should
anticipate Falk's visit with deep interest. He had heard, of course, many
rumours of Falk's indiscretions, rumours that naturally gained greatly in
the telling, of how he had formed some disgraceful attachment for the
daughter of a publican down in the river slums, that he drank, that he
gambled, that he was the wickedest young man in Polchester, and that he
would certainly break his father's heart.
It was this relation of the boy to his father that interested him most of
all. He continued to remark to the little god who looked after his affairs
and kept an eye upon him that the last thing that he wanted was to
interfere in Brandon's family business, and yet to the same little god he
could not but comment on the curious persistency with which that same
business would thrust itself upon his interest. "If Brandon's wife, son,
and general _menage_ will persist in involving themselves in absurd
situations it's not my fault," he would say. But he was not exactly sorry
that they should.
Indeed, to-night, in the warm security of his room, with all his plans
advancing towards fulfillment, and life developing just as he would have
it, he felt so kindly a pity towards Brandon that he was warm with the
desire to do something for him, make him a present, or flatter his vanity,
or give way publicly to him about some contested point that was of no
When young Falk was ushered in by the maid-servant, Ronder, looking up at
him, thought him the handsomest boy he'd ever seen. He felt ready to give
him all the advice in the world, and it was with the most genuine warmth
of heart that he jumped up, put his hand on his shoulder, found him
tobacco, whisky and soda, and the easiest chair in the room.
It was apparent at once that the boy was worked up to the extremity of his
possible endurance. Ronder felt instantly the drama that he brought with
him, filling the room with it, charging every word and every movement with
the implication of it.
He turned about in his chair, struck many matches, pulled desperately at
his pipe, stared at Ronder with a curious mixture of shyness and eagerness
that betrayed his youth and his sense of Ronder's importance. Ronder began
by talking easily about nothing at all, a diversion for which he had an
especial talent. Falk suddenly broke upon him:
"Look here. You don't care about that stuff--nor do I. I didn't come round
to you for that. I want you to help me."
"I'll be very glad to," Ronder said, smiling. "If I can."
"Perhaps you can--perhaps you can't. I don't know you really, of course--I
only have my idea of you. But you seem to me much older than I am. Do you
know what I mean? Father's as young or younger and so are so many of the
others. But you must have made your mind up about life. I want to know
what you think of it."
"That's a tall order," said Ronder, smiling. "What one thinks of life!
Well, one can't say all in a moment, you know."
And then, as though he had suddenly decided to take his companion
seriously, his face was grave and his round shining eyes wide open.
Falk coloured. "Perhaps you think me impertinent," he said. "But I don't
care a damn if you do. After all, isn't it an absurd thing that there
isn't another soul in this town you could ask such a question of? And yet
there's nothing else so important. A fellow's thought an impossible prig
if he mentions such a thing. I expect I seem in a hurry too, but I can
tell you I've been irritated for years by not being able to get at it--the
truth, you know. Why we're here at all, whether there is some kind of a
God somewhere or no. Of course you've got to pretend you think there is,
but I want to know what you _really_ think and I promise it shan't go
a step farther. But most of all I want to know whether you don't think
we're meant all of us to be free, and why being free should be the hardest
thing of all."
"You must tell me one thing," said Ronder. "Is the impulse that brought
you in to see me simply a general one, just because you are interested in
life, or is there some immediate crisis that you have to settle? I ask
that," he added, smiling gently, "because I've noticed that people don't
as a rule worry very urgently about life unless they have to make up their
minds about which turn in the road they're going to take."
Falk hesitated; then he said, speaking slowly, "Yes, there is something.
It's what you'd call a 'crisis in my life, I suppose. It's been piling up
for months--for years if you like. But I don't see why I need bother you
with that--it's nobody's business but my own. Although I won't deny that
things you say may influence me. You see, I felt the first moment I met
you that you'd speak the truth, and speaking the truth seems to me more
important than anything else in the world."
"But," said Ronder, "I don't want to influence you blindly. You've no
right to ask me to advise you when I don't know what it is I am advising
"Well, then," said Falk, "it's simply this--that I want to go up to London
and live my own life. But I love my father--it would all be easy enough if
I didn't--and he doesn't see things as I do. There are other things too--
it's all very complicated. But I don't want you to tell me about my own
affairs! I just want you to say what you think this is all about, what
we're here for anyway. You must have thought it all through and come out
the other side. You look as though you had."
Ronder hesitated. He really wished that this had not occurred. He could
defeat Brandon without being given this extra weapon. His impulse was to
put the boy off with some evasion and so to dismiss him. But the
temptation that was always so strong in him to manipulate the power placed
in his hands was urging him; moreover, why should he not say what he
thought about life? It was sincere enough. He had no shame of it....
"I couldn't advise you against your father's wishes," he said. "I'm very
fond of your father. I have the highest opinion of him."
Falk moved uneasily in his chair: "You needn't advise me against him," he
said; "you can't have a higher opinion of him than I have. I'm fonder of
him than of any one in the world; I wouldn't be hesitating at all
otherwise. And I tell you I don't want you to advise me on my particular
case. It just interests me to know whether you believe in a God and
whether you think life means anything. As soon as I saw you I said to
myself, 'Now I'd like to know what _he_ thinks.' That's all."
"Of course I believe in a God," said Ronder, "I wouldn't be a clergyman
"Then if there's a God," said Falk quickly, "why does He let us down, make
us feel that we must be free, and then make us feel that it's wrong to be
free because, if we are, we hurt the people we're fond of? Do we live for
ourselves or for others? Why isn't it easier to see what the right thing
"If you want to know what I think about life," said Ronder, "it's just
this--that we mustn't take ourselves too seriously, that we must work our
utmost at the thing we're in, and give as little trouble to others as
Falk nodded his head. "Yes, that's very simple. If you'll forgive my
saying so, that's the sort of thing any one says to cover up what he
really feels. That's not what _you_ really feel. Anyway it accounts
for simply nothing at all. If that's all there is in life----"
"I don't say that's all there is in life," interrupted Ronder softly, "I
only say that that does for a start--for one's daily conduct I mean. But
you've got to rid your head of illusions. Don't expect poetry and magic
for ever round the corner. Don't dream of Utopias--they'll never come.
Mind your own daily business."
"Play for safety, in fact," said Falk.
Ronder coloured a little. "Not at all. Take every kind of risk if you
think your happiness depends upon it. You're going to serve the world best
by getting what you want and resting contented in it. It's the
discontented and disappointed who hang things up."
Falk smiled. "You're pushing on to me the kind of philosophy that I'd like
to follow," he said. "I don't believe in it for a moment nor do I believe
it's what you really think, but I think I'm ready to cheat myself if you
give me encouragement enough. I don't want to do any one any harm, but I
must come to a conclusion about life and then follow it so closely that I
can never have any doubt about any course of action again. When I was a
small boy the Cathedral used to terrify me and dominate me too. I believed
in God then, of course, and I used to creep in and listen, expecting to
hear Him speak. That tomb of the Black Bishop seemed to me the place where
He'd most likely be, and I used to fancy sometimes that He did speak from
the heart of that stone. But I daresay it was the old Bishop himself.
"Anyway, I determined long ago that the Cathedral has a life of its own,
quite apart from any of us. It has more immortality in one stone of its
nave than we have in all our bodies."
"Don't be too sure of that," Ronder said. "We have our immortality--a tiny
flame, but I believe that it never dies. Beauty comes from it and dwells
in it. We increase it or diminish it as we live."
"And yet," said Falk eagerly, "you were urging, just now, a doctrine of
what, if you'll forgive my saying so, was nothing but selfishness. How do
you reconcile that with immortality?"
Ronder laughed. "There have only been four doctrines in the history of the
world," he answered, "and they are all Pursuits. One is the pursuit of
Unselfishness. 'Little children, love one another. He that seeks to save
his soul shall lose it.' The second is the opposite of the first--
Individualism. 'I am I. That is all I know, and I will seek out my own
good always because that at least I can understand.' The third is the
pursuit of God and Mysticism. 'Neither I matter nor my neighbour. I give
up the world and every one and everything in it to find God.' And the
fourth is the pursuit of Beauty. 'Beauty is Truth and Truth Beauty. That
is all we need to know.' Every man and woman alive or dead has chosen one
of those four or a mixture of them. I would say that there is something in
all of them, Charity, Individualism, Worship, Beauty. But finally, when
all is said and done, we remain ourselves. It is our own life that we must
lead, our own goal for which we are searching. At the end of everything we
remain alone, of ourselves, by ourselves, for ourselves. Life is, finally,
a lonely journey to a lonely bourne, let us cheat ourselves as we may."
Ronder sat back in his chair, his eyes half closed. There was nothing that
he enjoyed more than delivering his opinions about life to a fit audience
--and by fit he meant intelligent and responsive. He liked to be truthful
without taking risks, and he was always the audience rather than the
speaker in company that might be dangerous. He almost loved Falk as he
looked across at him and saw the effect that his words had made upon him.
There was, Heaven knew, nothing very original in what he had said, but it
had been apparently what the boy had wanted to hear.
He jumped up from his chair: "You're right," he said. "We've got to lead
our own lives. I've known it all along. When I've shown them what I can
do, then I'll come back to them. I love my father, you know, sir; I
suppose some people here think him tiresome and self-opinionated, but he's
like a boy, you always know where you are with him. He's no idea what
deceit means. He looks on this Cathedral as his own idea, as though he'd
built it almost, and of course that's dangerous. He'll have a shock one of
these days and see that he's gone too far, just as the Black Bishop did.
But he's a fine man; I don't believe any one knows how proud I am of him.
And it's much better I should go my own way and earn my own living than
hang around him, doing nothing--isn't it?"
At that direct appeal, at the eager gaze that Falk fixed upon him,
something deep within Ronder stirred.
Should he not even now advise the boy to stay? One word just then might
effect much. Falk trusted him. He was the only human being in Polchester
to whom the boy perhaps had come. Years afterwards he was to look back to
that moment, see it crystallised in memory, see the books, piled row upon
row, gleam down upon him, see the blue curtain and hear the crackling
fire...a crisis perhaps to himself as well as to Falk.
He went across to the boy and put his hands on his shoulders.
"Yes," he said, "I think it's better for you to go."
"And about God and Beauty?" Falk said, staring for a moment into Ronder's
eyes, smiling shyly, and then turning away. "It's a long search, isn't it?
But as long as there's something there, beyond life, and I know there is,
the search is worth it."
He looked rather wistfully at Ronder as though he expected him to confirm
him again. But Ronder said nothing.
Falk went to the door: "Well, I must go. I'll show them that I was right
to go my own way. I want father to be proud of me. This will shock him for
a moment, but soon he'll see. I think you'll like to know, sir," he said,
suddenly turning and holding out his hand, "that this little talk has
meant a lot to me. It's just helped me to make up my mind."
When he had gone Ronder sat in his chair, motionless, for a while; he
jumped up, went to the shelves, and found a book. Before he sat down again
he said aloud, as though he were answering some accuser, "Well, I told him
Falk had, from the moment he left Ronder's door, his mind made up, and now
that it _was_ made up he wished to act as speedily as possible. And
instantly there followed an appeal of the Town, so urgent and so poignant
that he was taken by surprise. He had lived there most of his days and
never seen it until now, but every step that he took soon haunted him. He
made his plans decisively, irrevocably, but he found himself lingering at
doors and at windows, peering over walls, hanging over the Pol bridge,
waiting suddenly as though he expected some message was about to be given
The town was humming with life those days. The May weather was lovely,
softly blue with cool airs and little white clouds like swollen pin-
cushions drifting lazily from point to point. The gardens were dazzling