Part 6 out of 8
"I am not aware," said Brandon in his most haughty manner, "that I
_am_ putting on flesh."
"Of course I don't mean just now," answered Ronder, smiling. "In any case,
the jolting of this wagonette is certain to reduce one. Anyway, I agree
with you. It's a tiresome subject. There's no escaping fate. We stout men
are doomed, I fancy."
There was a long silence. After Brandon had moved his legs about in every
possible direction and found it impossible to escape Ronder's knees, he
"Excuse my knocking into you so often, Canon."
"Oh, that's all right," said Ronder, laughing. "This drive comes worse on
you than myself, I fancy. You're bonier.... What a splendid figure the
Bishop is! A great man--really, a great man. There's something about a man
of that simplicity and purity of character that we lesser men lack.
Something out of our grasp altogether."
"You haven't known him very long, I think," said Brandon, who considered
himself in no way a lesser man than the Bishop.
"No, I have not," said Ronder, pleasantly amused at the incredible ease
with which he was able to make the Archdeacon rise. "I've never been to
Carpledon before to-day. I especially appreciated his inviting me when he
was having so old a friend as yourself."
Another silence. Ronder looked about him; the afternoon was hot, and
little beads of perspiration formed on his forehead. One trickled down his
forehead, another into his eye. The road, early in the year though it was,
was already dusty, and the high Glebeshire hedges hid the view. The
irritation of the heat, the dust and the sense that they were enclosed and
would for the rest of their lives jog along, thus, knee to knee, down an
eternal road, made Ronder uncomfortable; when he was uncomfortable he was
dangerous. He looked at the fixed obstinacy of the Archdeacon's face and
"Poor Morrison! So he's gone. I never knew him, but he must have been a
fine fellow. And the Pybus living is vacant."
Brandon said nothing.
"An important decision that will be--I beg your pardon. That's my knee
"It's to be hoped that they will find a good man."
"There can be only one possible choice," said Brandon, planting his hands
flat on his knees.
"Really!" said Ronder, looking at the Archdeacon with an air of innocent
interest. "Do tell me, if it isn't a secret, who that is."
"It's no secret," said Brandon in a voice of level defiance. "Rex Forsyth
is the obvious man."
"Really!" said Ronder. "That is interesting. I haven't heard him
mentioned. I'm afraid I know very little about him."
"Know very little about him!" said Brandon indignantly. "Why, his name has
been in every one's mouth for months!"
"Indeed!" said Ronder mildly. "But then I am, in many ways, sadly out of
things. Do tell me about him."
"It's not for me to tell you," said Brandon, looking at Ronder with great
severity. "You can find out anything you like from the smallest boy in the
town." This was not polite, but Ronder did not mind. There was a little
pause, then he said very amiably:
"I have heard some mention of that man Wistons."
"What!" cried Brandon in a voice not very far from a shout. "The fellow
who wrote that abnominable book, _The Four Creeds_?"
"I suppose it's the same," said Ronder gently, rubbing his knee a little.
"That man!" The Archdeacon bounced in his seat. "That atheist! The leading
enemy of the Church, the man above any who would destroy every institution
that the Church possesses!"
"Come, come! Is it as bad as that?"
"As bad as that? Worse! Much worse! I take it that you have not read any
of his books."
"Well, I have read one or two!"
"You _have_ read them and you can mention his name with patience?"
"There are several ways of looking at these things----"
"Several ways of looking at atheism? Thank you, Canon. Thank you very much
indeed. I am delighted to have your opinion given so frankly."
("What an ass the man is!" thought Ronder. "He's going to lose his temper
here in the middle of the road with that coachman listening to every
"You must not take me too literally, Archdeacon," said Ronder. "What I
meant was that the question whether Wistons is an atheist can be argued
from many points of view."
"It can not! It can not!" cried Brandon, now shaking with anger. "There
can be no two points of view. 'He that is not with me is against me'----"
"Very well, then," said Ronder. "It can not. There is no more to be said."
"There _is_ more to be said. There is indeed. I am glad, Canon, that
at last you have come out into the open. I have been wondering for a long
time past when that happy event was to take place. Ever since you came
into this town, you have been subverting doctrine, upsetting institutions,
destroying the good work that the Cathedral has been doing for many years
past. I feel it my duty to tell you this, a duty that no one else is
courageous enough to perform----"
"Really, is this quite the place?" said Ronder, motioning with his hand
towards Bassett's broad back, and the massive sterns of the two horses
that rose and fell, like tubs on a rocking sea.
But Brandon was past caution, past wisdom, past discipline. He could see
nothing now but Render's two rosy cheeks and the round gleaming spectacles
that seemed to catch his words disdainfully and suspend them there in
indifference. "Excuse me. It is time indeed. It is long past the time. If
you think that you can come here, a complete stranger, and do what you
like with the institutions here, you are mistaken, and thoroughly
mistaken. There are those here who have the interests of the place at
heart and guard and protect them. Your conceit has blinded you, allow me
to tell you, and it's time that you had a more modest estimate of yourself
"This really isn't the place," murmured Ronder, struggling to avoid
"Yes, atheism is nothing to you!" shouted the Archdeacon. "Nothing at all!
You had better be careful! I warn you!"
"_You_ had better be careful," said Ronder, smiling in spite of
himself, "or you will be out of the carriage."
That smile was the final insult. Brandon, jumped up, rocking on his feet.
"Very well, then. You may laugh as you please. You may think it all a very
good joke. I tell you it is not. We are enemies, enemies from this moment.
You have never been anything _but_ my enemy."
"Do take care, Archdeacon, or you really _will_ be out of the
"Very well. I will get out of it. I refuse to drive with you another step.
I refuse. I refuse."
"But you can't walk. It's six miles."
"I will walk! I will walk! Stop and let me get out! Stop, I say!"
But Bassett who, according to his back, was as innocent of any dispute as
the small birds on the neighbouring tree, drove on.
"Stop, I say. Can't you hear?" The Archdeacon plunged forward and pulled
Bassett by the collar. "Stop! Stop!" The wagonette abruptly stopped.
Bassett's amazed face, two wide eyes in a creased and crumpled surface,
"It's war, I tell you. War!" Brandon climbed out.
"But listen, Archdeacon! You can't!"
"Drive on! Drive on!" cried Brandon, standing in the road and shaking his
The wagonette drove on. It disappeared over the ledge of the hill.
There was a sudden silence. Brandon's anger pounded up into his head in
great waves of constricting passion. These gradually faded. His knees were
trembling beneath him. There were new sounds--birds singing, a tiny breeze
rustling the hedges. No living soul in sight. He had suddenly a strange
impulse to shed tears. What had he been saying? What had he been doing? He
did not know what he had said. Another of his tempers....
The pain attacked his head--like a sword, like a sword.
He found a stone and sat down upon it. The pain invaded him like an active
personal enemy. Down the road it seemed to him figures were moving--Hogg,
Davray--that other world--the dust rose in little clouds.
What had he been doing? His head! Where did this pain come from?
He felt old and sick and weak. He wanted to be at home. Slowly he began to
climb the hill. An enemy, silent and triumphant, seemed to step behind
June 17, Thursday: Anticipation
It must certainly be difficult for chroniclers of contemporary history to
determine significant dates to define the beginning and end of succeeding
periods. But I fancy that any fellow-citizen of mine, if he thinks for a
moment, will agree with me that that Jubilee Summer of 1897 was the last
manifestation in our town of the separate individual Polchester spirit, of
the old spirit that had dwelt in its streets and informed its walls and
roofs for hundreds of years past, something as separate and distinct as
the smells of Seatown, the chime of the Cathedral bells, the cawing of the
Cathedral rooks in the Precinct Elms.
An interesting and, to one reader at least, a pathetic history might be
written of the decline and death of that same spirit--not in Polchester
alone, but in many another small English town. From the Boer War of 1899
to the Great War of 1914 stretches that destructive period; the agents of
that destruction, the new moneyed classes, the telephone, the telegram,
the motor, and last of all, the cinema.
Destruction? That is, perhaps, too strong a word. We know that that is
simply the stepping from one stage to another of the eternal, the immortal
cycle. The little hamlet embowered in its protecting trees, defended by
its beloved hills, the Rock rising gaunt and naked in its midst; then the
Cathedral, the Monks, the Baron's Castle, the feudal rule; then the mighty
Bishops and the vast all-encircling power of the Church; then the new
merchant age, the Elizabethan salt of adventure; then the cosy seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries, with their domesticities, their little cultures,
their comfortable religion, their stay-at-home unimaginative festivities.
Throughout the nineteenth century that spirit lingers, gently repulsing
the outside world, reproving new doctrine, repressing new movement...and
the Rock and the Cathedral wait their hours, watching the great sea that,
far on the horizon, is bathing its dykes and flooding the distant fields,
knowing that the waves are rising higher and higher, and will at last,
with full volume, leap upon these little pastures, these green-clad
valleys, these tiny hills. And in that day only the Cathedral and the Rock
will stand out above the flood.
And this was a Polchester Jubilee. There may have been some consciousness
of that little old woman driving in her carriage through the London
streets, but in the main the Town suddenly took possession, cried aloud
that these festivities were for Herself, that for a week at least the Town
would assert Herself, bringing into Her celebration the Cathedral that was
her chief glory, but of whom, nevertheless, she was afraid; the Rock upon
which she was built, that never changed, the country that surrounded and
supported her, the wild men who had belonged to her from time immemorial,
the River that encircled her.
That week seemed to many, on looking back, a strangely mad time, days
informed with a wildness for which there was no discernible reason--men
and women and children were seized that week with some licence that they
loved while it lasted, but that they looked back upon with fear when it
was over. What had come over them? Who had been grinning at them?
The strange things that occurred that week seemed to have no individual
agent. No one was responsible. But life, after that week, was for many
people in the town never quite the same again.
On the afternoon of Thursday, June 17, Ronder stood at the window of his
study and looked down upon the little orchard, the blazing flowers, the
red garden-wall, and the tree-tops on the descending hill, all glazed and
sparkling under the hot afternoon sun. As he looked down, seeing nothing,
sunk deeply in his own thoughts, he was aware of extreme moral and
spiritual discomfort. He moved back from the window, making with his
fingers a little gesture of discontent and irritation. He paced his room,
stopping absent-mindedly once and again to push in a book that protruded
from the shelves, staying to finger things on his writing-table, jolting
against a chair with his foot as he moved. At last he flung himself into
his deep leather chair and stared fixedly at an old faded silk fire-guard,
with its shadowy flowers and dim purple silk, seeing it not at all.
He was angry, and of all things in the world that he hated, he hated most
to be that. He had been angry now for several weeks, and, as though it had
been a heavy cold that had descended upon him, he woke up every morning
expecting to find that his anger had departed--but it had not departed; it
showed no signs whatever of departing.
As he sat there he was not thinking of the Jubilee, the one thought at
that time of every living soul in Polchester, man, woman and child--he was
thinking of no one but Brandon, with whom, to his own deep disgust, he was
at last implacably, remorselessly, angry. How many years ago now he had
decided that anger and hatred were emotions that every wise man, at all
cost to his pride, his impatience, his self-confidence, avoided.
Everything could be better achieved without these weaknesses, and for many
years he had tutored and trained himself until, at last, he had reached
this fine height of superiority. From that height he had suddenly fallen.
It was now three weeks since that luncheon at Carpledon, and in one way or
another the quarrel on the road home--the absurd and ludicrous quarrel--
had become known to the whole town. Had Brandon revealed it? Or possibly
the coachman? Whoever it was, every one now knew and laughed. Laughed! It
was that for which Ronder would never forgive Brandon. The man with his
childish temper and monstrous conceit had made him into a ludicrous
figure. It was true that they were laughing, it seemed, more at Brandon
than at himself, but the whole scene was farcical. But beyond this, that
incident, trivial though it might be in itself, had thrown the
relationship of the two men into dazzling prominence. It was as though
they had been publicly announced as antagonists, and now, stripped and
prepared, ringed in by the breathless Town, must vulgarly afford the
roughs of the place the fistic exhibition of their lives. It was the
publicity that Ronder detested. He had not disliked Brandon--he had merely
despised him, and he had taken an infinite pleasure in furthering schemes
and ambitions, a little underground maybe, but all for the final benefit
of the Town.
And now the blundering fool had brought this blaze down upon them, was
indeed rushing round and screaming at his antagonist, shouting to any one
who would hear that Ronder was a blackguard and a public menace. It had
been whispered--from what source again Ronder did not know--that it was
through Ronder's influence that young Falk Brandon had run off to Town
with Hogg's daughter. The boy thought the world of Ronder, it was said,
and had been to see him and ask his advice. Ronder knew that Brandon had
heard this story and was publicly declaring that Ronder had ruined his
Finally the two men were brought into sharp rivalry over the Pybus living.
Over that, too, the town, or at any rate the Cathedral section of it, was
in two camps. Here, too, Brandon's vociferous publicity had made privacy
Ronder was ashamed, as though his rotund body had been suddenly exposed in
all its obese nakedness before the assembled citizens of Polchester. In
this public quarrel he was not in his element; forces were rising in him
that he distrusted and feared.
People were laughing...for that he would never forgive Brandon so long
as he lived.
On this particular afternoon he was about to close the window and try to
work at his sermon when some one knocked at his door.
"Come in," he said impatiently. The maid appeared.
"Please, sir, there's some one would like to speak to you."
"Who is it?"
"She gave her name as Miss Milton, sir."
He paused, looking down at his papers. "She said she wouldn't keep you
more than a moment, sir."
"Very well. I'll see her."
Fate pushing him again. Why should this woman come to him? How could any
one say that any of the steps that he had taken in this affair had been
his fault? Why, he had had nothing whatever to do with them!
The sight of Miss Milton in his doorway filled him with the same vague
disgust that he had known on the earlier occasions at the Library. To-day
she was wearing a white cotton dress, rather faded and crumpled, and grey
silk gloves; in one of the fingers there was a hole. She carried a pink
parasol, and wore a large straw hat overtrimmed with roses. Her face with
its little red-rimmed eyes, freckled and flushed complexion, her clumsy
thick-set figure, fitted ill with her youthful dress.
It was obvious enough that fate had not treated her well since her
departure from the Library; she was running to seed very swiftly, and was
herself bitterly conscious of the fact.
Ronder, looking at her, was aware that it was her own fault that it was
so. She was incompetent, utterly incompetent. He had, as he had promised,
given her some work to do during these last weeks, come copying, some
arranging of letters, and she had mismanaged it all. She was a muddle-
headed, ill-educated, careless, conceited and self-opinionated woman, and
it did not make it any the pleasanter for Ronder to be aware, as he now
was, that Brandon had been quite right to dismiss her from her Library
post which she had retained far too long.
She looked across the room at him with an expression of mingled obstinacy
and false humility. Her eyes were nearly closed.
"Good-afternoon, Canon Ronder," she said. "It is very good of you to see
me. I shall not detain you very long."
"Well, what is it, Miss Milton?" he said, looking over his shoulder at
her. "I am very busy, as a matter of fact. All these Jubilee affairs--
however, if I can help you."
"You can help me, sir. It is a most serious matter, and I need your
"Well, sit down there and tell me about it."
The sun was beating into the room. He went across and pulled down the
blind, partly because it was hot and partly because Miss Milton was less
unpleasant in shadow.
Miss Milton seemed to find it hard to begin. She gulped in her throat and
rubbed her silk gloves nervously against one another.
"I daresay I've done wrong in this matter," she began--"many would think
so. But I haven't come here to excuse myself. If I've done wrong, there
are others who have done more wrong--yes, indeed."
"Please come to the point," said Ronder impatiently.
"I will, sir. That is my desire. Well, you must know, sir, that after my
most unjust dismissal from the Library I took a couple of rooms with Mrs.
Bassett who lets rooms, as perhaps you know, sir, just opposite St. James'
Rectory, Mr. Morris's."
"Well?" said Ronder.
"Well, sir, I had not been there very long before Mrs. Bassett herself,
who is the least interfering and muddling of women, drew my attention to a
curious fact, a most curious fact."
Miss Milton paused, looking down at her lap and at a little shabby black
bag that lay upon it.
"Well?" said Ronder again.
"This fact was that Mrs. Brandon, the wife of Archdeacon Brandon, was in
the habit of coming every day to see Mr. Morris!"
Ronder got up from his chair.
"Now, Miss Milton," he said, "let me make myself perfectly clear. If you
have come here to give me a lot of scandal about some person, or persons,
in this town, I do not wish to hear it. You have come to the wrong place.
I wonder, indeed, that you should care to acknowledge to any one that you
have been spying at your window on the movements of some people here. That
is a disgraceful action. I do not think there is any need for this
conversation to continue."
"Excuse me, Canon Ronder, there _is_ need." Miss Milton showed no
intention whatever of moving from her chair. "I was aware that you would,
in all probability, rebuke me for what I have done. I expected that. At
the same time I may say that I was _not_ spying in any sense of the
word. I could not help it if the windows of my sitting-room looked down
upon Mr. Morris's house. You could not expect me, in this summer weather,
not to sit at my window.
"At the same time, if these visits of Mrs. Brandon's were all that had
occurred I should certainly not have come and taken up your valuable time
with an account of them; I hope that I know what is due to a gentleman of
your position better than that. It is on a matter of real importance that
I have come to you to ask your advice. Some one's advice I must have, and
if you feel that you cannot give it me, I must go elsewhere. I cannot but
feel that it is better for every one concerned that you should have this
piece of information rather than any one else."
He noticed how she had grown in firmness and resolve since she had begun
to speak. She now saw her way to the carrying out of her plan. There was a
definite threat in the words of her last sentence, and as she looked at
him across the shadowy light he felt as though he saw down into her mean
little soul, filled now with hatred and obstinacy and jealous
"Of course," he said severely, "I cannot refuse your confidence if you are
determined to give it me."
"Yes," she said, nodding her head. "You have always been very kind to me,
Canon Ronder, as you have been to many others in this place. Thank you."
She looked at him almost as severely as he had looked at her. "I will be
as brief as possible. I will not hide from you that I have never forgiven
Archdeacon Brandon for his cruel treatment of me. That, I think, is
natural. When your livelihood is taken away from you for no reason at all,
you are not likely to forget it--if you are human. And I do not pretend to
be more nor less than human. I will not deny that I saw these visits of
Mrs. Brandon's with considerable curiosity. There was something hurried
and secret in Mrs. Brandon's manner that seemed to me odd. I became then,
quite by chance, the friend of Mr. Morris's cook-housekeeper, Mrs. Baker,
a very nice woman. That, I think, was quite natural as we were neighbours,
so to speak, and Mrs. Baker was herself a friend of Mrs. Bassett's.
"I asked no indiscreet questions, but at last Mrs. Baker confessed to both
Mrs. Bassett and myself that she did not like what was going on in Mr.
Morris's house, and that she thought of giving notice. When we asked her
what she meant she said that Mrs. Brandon was the trouble, that she was
always coming to the house, and that she and the reverend gentleman were
shut up for hours together by themselves. She told us, too, that Mr.
Morris's sister-in-law, Miss Burnett, had also made objections. We advised
Mrs. Baker that it was her duty to stay, at any rate for the present."
Miss Milton paused. Ronder said nothing.
"Well, sir, things got so bad that Miss Burnett went away to the sea.
During her absence Mrs. Brandon came to the house quite regularly, and
Mrs. Baker told us that they scarcely seemed to mind who saw them."
As Ronder looked at her he realised how little he knew about women. He
hated to realise this, as he hated to realise any ignorance or weakness in
himself, but in the face of the woman opposite to him there was a mixture
of motives--of greed, revenge, yes, and strangely enough, of a virgin's
outraged propriety--that was utterly alien to his experience. He felt his
essential, his almost inhuman, celibacy more at that moment, perhaps, than
he had ever felt it before.
"Well, sir, this went on for some weeks. Miss Burnett returned, but, as
Mrs. Baker said, the situation remained very strained. To come to my
point, four days ago I was in one evening paying Mrs. Baker a visit. Every
one was out, although Mr. Morris was expected home for his dinner. There
was a ring at the bell and Mrs. Baker said, 'You go, my dear.' She was
busy at the moment with the cooking. I went and opened the hall-door and
there was Mrs. Brandon's parlourmaid that I knew by sight. 'I have a note
for Mr. Morris,' she said. 'You can give it to me,' I said. She seemed to
hesitate, but I told her if she didn't give it to me she might as well
take it away again, because there was no one else in the house. That
seemed to settle her, so telling me it was something special, and was to
be given to Mr. Morris as soon as possible, she left it with me and went.
She'd never seen me before, I daresay, and didn't know I didn't belong to
the house." She paused, then opening her little eyes wide and staring at
Ronder as though she were seeing him for the first time in her life she
said softly, "I have the note here."
She opened her black bag slowly, peered into it, produced a piece of paper
out of it, and shut it with a sharp little click.
"You've kept it?" asked Ronder.
"I've kept it," she repeated, nodding her head. "I know many would say I
was wrong. But was I? That's the question. In any case that is another
matter between myself and my Maker."
"Please read this, sir?" She held out the paper to him, He took it and
after a moment's hesitation read it. It had neither date nor address. It
ran as follows:
DEAREST--I am sending this by a safe hand to tell you that I cannot
possibly get down to-night. I am so sorry and most dreadfully
disappointed, but I will explain everything when we meet to-morrow.
This is to prevent your waiting on when I'm not coming.
There was no signature.
"You had no right to keep this," he said to her angrily. As he spoke he
looked at the piece of paper and felt again how strange and foreign to him
the whole nature of woman was. The risks that they would take! The foolish
mad things that they would do to satisfy some caprice or whim!
"How do you know that this was written by Mrs. Brandon?" he asked.
"Of course I know her handwriting very well," Miss Milton answered. "She
often wrote to me when I was at the Library."
He was silent. He was seeing those two in the new light of this letter. So
they were really lovers, the drab, unromantic, plain, dull, middle-aged
souls! What had they seen in one another? What had they felt, to drive
them to deeds so desperate, yes, and so absurd? Was there then a world
right outside his ken, a world from which he had been since his birth
Absent-mindedly he had put the letter down on his table. Quickly she
stretched out her gloved hand and took it. The bag clicked over it.
"Why have you brought this to me?" he asked, looking at her with a disgust
that he did not attempt to conceal.
"You are the first person to whom I have spoken about the matter," she
answered. "I have not said anything even to Mrs. Baker. I have had the
letter for several days and have not known what is right to do about it."
"There is only one thing that is right to do about it," he answered
sharply. "Burn it."
"And say nothing to anybody about it? Oh, Canon Ronder, surely that would
not be right. I should not like people to think that you had given me such
advice. To allow the Rector of St. James' to continue in his position,
with so many looking up to him, and he committing such sins. Oh, no, sir,
I cannot feel that to be right!"
"It is not our business," he answered angrily. "It is not our affair."
"Very well, sir." She got up. "It's good of you to give me your opinion.
It is not our affair. Quite so. But it is Archdeacon Brandon's affair. He
should see this letter. I thought that perhaps you yourself might like to
speak to him----" she paused.
"I will have nothing to do with it," he answered, getting up and standing
over her. "You did very wrong to keep the letter. You are cherishing evil
passions in your heart, Miss Milton, that will bring you nothing but harm
and sorrow in the end. You have come to me for advice, you say. Well, I
give it to you. Burn that letter and forget what you know."
Her complexion had changed to a strange muddy grey as he spoke.
"There are others in this town, Canon Ronder," she said, "who are
cherishing much the same passions as myself, although they may not realise
it. I thought it wise to tell you what I know. As you will not help me, I
know now what to do. I am grateful for your advice--which, however, I do
not think you wish me to follow."
With one last look at him she moved softly to the door and was gone. She
seemed to him to leave some muddy impression of her personality upon the
walls and furniture of the room. He flung up the window, walked about
rubbing his hands against one another behind his back, hating everything
The words of the note repeated themselves again and again in his head.
"Dearest...safe hand...dreadfully disappointed.... Dearest."
Those two! He saw Morris, with his weak face, his mild eyes, his rather
shabby clothes, his hesitating manner, his thinning hair--and Mrs.
Brandon, so mediocre that no one ever noticed her, never noticed anything
about her--what she wore, what she said, what she did, anything!
Those two! Ghosts! and in love so that they would risk loss of everything
--reputation, possessions, family--that they might obtain their desire! In
love as he had never been in all his life!
His thoughts turned, with a little shudder, to Miss Milton. She had come
to him because she thought that he would like to share in her revenge.
That, more than anything, hurt him, bringing him down to her base, sordid
level, making him fellow-conspirator with her, plotting...ugh! How
cruelly unfair that he, upright, generous, should be involved like this so
He washed his hands in the little dressing-room near the study, scrubbing
them as though the contact with Miss Milton still lingered there. Hating
his own company, he went downstairs, where he found Ellen Stiles, having
had a very happy tea with his aunt, preparing to depart.
"Going, Ellen?" he asked.
She was in the highest spirits and a hat of vivid green.
"Yes, I must go. I've been here ever so long. We've had a perfectly lovely
time, talking all about poor Mrs. Maynard and her consumption. There's
simply no hope for her, I'm afraid; it's such a shame when she has four
small children; but as I told her yesterday, it's really best to make up
one's mind to the worst, and there'll be no money for the poor little
things after she's gone. I don't know what they'll do."
"You must have cheered her up," said Ronder.
"Well, I don't know about that. Like all consumptives she will persist in
thinking that she's going to get well. Of course, if she had money enough
to go to Davos or somewhere...but she hasn't, so there's simply no hope
"If you are going along I'll walk part of the way with you," said Ronder.
"That _will_ be nice." Ellen kissed Miss Ronder very affectionately.
"Good-bye, you darling. I have had a nice time. Won't it be awful if it's
wet next week? Simply everything will be ruined. I don't see much chance
of its being fine myself. Still you never can tell."
They went out together. The Precincts was quiet and deserted; a bell,
below in the sunny town, was ringing for Evensong. "Morris's church,
perhaps," thought Ronder. The light was stretched like a screen of
coloured silk across the bright green of the Cathedral square; the great
Church itself was in shadow, misty behind the sun, and shifting from shade
to shade as though it were under water.
When they had walked a little way Ellen said: "What's the matter?"
"The matter?" Ronder echoed.
"Yes. You're looking worried, and that's so rare with you that when it
happens one's interested."
He hesitated, looking at her and almost stopping in his walk. An infernal
nuisance if Ellen Stiles were to choose this moment for the exercise of
her unfortunate curiosity! He had intended to go down High Street with her
and then to go by way of Orange Street to Foster's rooms; but one could
reach Foster more easily by the little crooked street behind the
Cathedral. He would say good-bye to her here.... Then another thought
struck him. He would go on with her.
"Isn't your curiosity terrible, Ellen!" he said, laughing. "If you didn't
happen to have a kind heart hidden somewhere about you, you'd be a
perfectly impossible woman. As it is, I'm not sure that you're not."
"I think perhaps I am," Ellen answered, laughing. "I do take a great
interest in other people's affairs. Well, why not? It prevents me from
"But not from being a bore," said Ronder. "I hate to be unpleasant, but
there's nothing more tiresome than being asked why one's in a certain
mood. However, leave me alone and I will repay your curiosity by some of
my own. Tell me, how much are people talking about Mrs. Brandon and
This time she was genuinely surprised. On so many occasions he had checked
her love of gossip and scandal and now he was deliberately provoking it.
It was as though he had often lectured her about drinking too much and
then had been discovered by her, secretly tippling.
"Oh, everybody's talking, of course," she said. "Although you pretend
never to talk scandal you must know enough about the town to know that.
They happen to be talking less just at the moment because nobody's
thinking of anything but the Jubilee."
"What I want to know," said Ronder, "is how much Brandon is supposed to be
aware of--and does he mind?"
"He's aware of nothing," said Ellen decisively. "Nothing at all. He's
always looked upon his wife as a piece of furniture, neither very
ornamental nor very useful, but still his property, and therefore to be
reckoned on as stable and submissive. I don't think that in any case he
would ever dream that she could disobey him in anything, but, as it
happens, his son's flight to London and his own quarrel with you entirely
possess his mind. He talks, eats, thinks, dreams nothing else."
"What would he do, do you think," pursued Ronder, "if he were to discover
that there really _was_ something wrong, that she had been
"Why, is there proof?" asked Ellen Stiles, eagerly, pausing for a moment
in her excitement.
The sharp note of eagerness in her voice checked him.
"No--nothing," he said. "Nothing at all. Of course not. And how should I
know if there were?"
"You're just the person who would know," answered Ellen decisively.
"However many other people you've hoodwinked, you haven't taken _me_
in all these years. But I'll tell you this as from one friend to another,
that you've made the first mistake in your life by allowing this quarrel
with Brandon to become so public."
He marvelled again, as he had often marvelled before, at her unerring
genius for discovering just the thing to say to her friends that would
hurt them most. And yet with that she had a kind heart, as he had had
reason often enough to know. Queer things, women!
"It's not my fault if the quarrel's become public," he said. They were
turning down the High Street now and he could not show all the vexation
that he felt. "It's Brandon's own idiotic character and the love of gossip
displayed by this town."
"Well, then," she said, delighted that she had annoyed him and that he was
showing his annoyance, "that simply means that you've been defeated by
circumstances. For once they've been too strong for you. If you like that
explanation you'd better take it."
"Now, Ellen," he said, "you're trying to make me lose my temper in revenge
for my not satisfying your curiosity; give up. You've tried before and
you've always failed."
She laughed, putting her hand through his arm.
"Yes, don't let's quarrel," she said. "Isn't it delightful to-night with
the sunlight and the excitement and every one out enjoying themselves? I
love to see them happy, poor things. It's only the successful and the
self-important and the patronising that I want to pull down a little. As
soon as I find myself wanting to dig at somebody, I know it's because
they're getting above themselves. You'd better be careful. I'm not at all
sure that success isn't going to your head."
"Success?" he asked.
"Yes. Don't look so innocent. You've been here only a few months and
already you're the only man here who counts. You've beaten Brandon in the
very first round, and it's absurd of you to pretend to an old friend like
myself that you don't know that you have. But be careful."
The street was shining, wine-coloured, against the black walls that hemmed
it in, black walls scattered with sheets of glass, absurd curtains of
muslin, brown, shabby, self-ashamed backs of looking-glasses, door-knobs,
flower-pots, and collections of furniture, books and haberdashery.
"Suppose you leave me alone for a moment, Ellen," said Ronder, "and think,
of somebody else. What I really want to know is, how intimate are you with
"Yes. I mean--could you speak to her? Tell her, in some way, to be more
careful, that she's in danger. Women know how to do these things. I want
to find somebody."
He paused. _Did_ he want to find somebody? Why this strange
tenderness towards Mrs. Brandon of which he was quite suddenly conscious?
Was it his disgust of Miss Milton, so that he could not bear to think of
any one in the power of such a woman?
"Warn her?" said Ellen. "Then she _is_ in danger."
"Only if, as you say, every one is talking. I'm sorry for her."
They had come to the parting of their ways. "No. I don't know her well
enough for that. She wouldn't take it from me. She wouldn't take it from
anybody. She's prouder than you'd think. And it's my belief she doesn't
care if she is in danger. She'd rather welcome it. That's my belief."
"Good-bye then. I won't ask you to keep our talk quiet. I don't suppose
you could if you wanted to. But I will ask you to be kind."
"Why should I be kind? And you know you don't want me to be, really."
"I do want you to be."
"No, it's part of the game you're playing. Or if it isn't, you're changing
more than you've ever changed before. Look out! Perhaps it's you that's in
As he turned up Orange Street he wondered again what impulse it was that
was making him sorry for Mrs. Brandon. He always wished people to be
happy--life was easier so--but had he, even yesterday, been told that he
would ever feel concern for Mrs. Brandon, that supreme symbol of feminine
colourless mediocrity, he would have laughed derisively.
Then the beauty of the hour drove everything else from him. The street
climbed straight into the sky, a broad flat sheet of gold, and on its
height the monument, perched against the quivering air, was a purple
shaft, its gesture proud, haughty, exultant. Suddenly he saw in front of
him, moving with quick, excited steps, Mrs. Brandon, an absurdly
insignificant figure against that splendour.
He felt as though his thoughts had evoked her out of space, and as though
she was there against her will. Then he felt that he, too, was there
against his will, and that he had nothing to do with either the time or
He caught her up. She started nervously when he said, "Good evening, Mrs.
Brandon," and raised her little mouse-face with its mild, hesitating,
grey eyes to his. He knew her only slightly and was conscious that she did
not like him. That was not his affair; she had become something quite new
to him since he had gained this knowledge of her--she was provocative,
suggestive, even romantic.
"Good evening, Canon Ronder." She did not smile nor slacken her steps.
"Isn't this a lovely evening?" he said. "If we have this weather next week
we shall be lucky indeed."
"Yes, shan't we--shan't we?" she said nervously, not considering him, but
staring straight at the street in front of her.
"I think all the preparations are made," Ronder went on in the genial easy
voice that he always adopted with children and nervous women. "There
should be a tremendous crowd if the weather's fine. People already are
pouring in from every part of the country, they tell me--sleeping
anywhere, in the fields and the hedges. This old town will be proud of
"Yes, yes," Mrs. Brandon looked about her as though she were trying to
find a way of escape. "I'm so glad you think that the weather will be
fine. I'm so glad. I think it will myself. I hope Miss Ronder is well."
"Very well, thank you." What _could_ Morris see in her, with her ill-
fitting clothes, her skirt trailing a little in the dust, her hat too big
and heavy for her head, her hair escaping in little untidy wisps from
under it? She looked hot, too, and her nose was shiny.
"You're coming to the Ball of course," he went on, relieved that now they
were near the top of the little hill. "It's to be the best Ball the
Assembly Rooms have seen since--since Jane Austen."
"Jane Austen?" asked Mrs. Brandon vaguely.
"Well, her time, you know, when dancing was all the rage. We ought to have
more dances here, I think, now that there are so many young people about."
"Yes, I agree with you. My daughter is coming out at the Ball."
"Oh, is she? I'm sure she'll have a good time. She's so pretty. Every
one's fond of her."
He waited, but apparently Mrs. Brandon had nothing more to say. There was
a pause, then Mrs. Brandon, as though she had been suddenly pushed to it
by some one behind her, held out her hand....
"Good evening, Canon Ronder."
He said good-bye and watched her for a moment as she went up past the neat
little villas, her dress trailing behind her, her hat bobbing with every
step. He looked up at the absurd figure on the top of the monument, the
gentleman in frock-coat and tall hat commemorated there. The light had
left him. He was not purple now but a dull grey. He, too, had doubtless
had his romance, blood and tears, anger and agony for somebody. How hard
to keep out of such things, and yet one must if one is to achieve
anything. Keep out of it, detached, observant, comfortable. Strange that
in life comfort should be so difficult to attain!
Climbing Green Lane he was surprised to feel how hot it was. The trees
that clustered over his head seemed to have gathered together all the heat
of the day. Everything conspired to annoy him! Bodger's Street, when he
turned into it, was, from his point of view, at its very worst, crowded
and smelly and rocking with noise. The fields behind Bodger's Street and
Canon's Yard sloped down the hill then up again out into the country
It was here on this farther hill that the gipsies had been allowed to
pitch their caravans, and that the Fair was already preparing its
splendours. It was through these gates that the countrymen would penetrate
the town's defences, just as on the other side, low down in Seatown on the
Pol's banks, the seafaring men, fishermen and sailors and merchantmen,
were gathering. Bodger's Street was already alive with the anticipation of
the coming week's festivities. Gas-jets were flaming behind hucksters'
booths, all the population of the place was out on the street enjoying the
fine summer evening, shouting, laughing, singing, quarrelling. The effect
of the street illumined by these uncertain flares that leapt unnaturally
against the white shadow of the summer sky was of something mediaeval, and
that impression was deepened by the overhanging structure of the Cathedral
that covered the faint blue and its little pink clouds like a swinging
Ronder, however, was not now thinking of the town. His mind was fixed upon
his approaching interview with Foster. Foster had just paid a visit, quite
unofficial and on a private personal basis, to Wistons, to sound him about
the Pybus living and his action if he were offered it.
Ronder understood men very much better than he understood women. He
understood Foster so long as ambition and religion were his motives, but
there was something else in play that he did not understand. It was not
only that Foster did not like him--he doubted whether Foster liked anybody
except the Bishop--it was rather perhaps that Foster did not like himself.
Now it is the first rule of fanaticism that you should be so lost in the
impulse of your inspiration that you should have no power left with which
to consider yourself at all. Foster was undoubtedly a fanatic, but he did
consider himself and even despised himself. Ronder distrusted self-
contempt in a man simply because nothing made him so uncomfortable as
those moments of his own when he wondered whether he were all that he
thought himself. Those moments did not last long, but he hated them so
bitterly that he could not bear to see them at work in other people.
Foster was the kind of fanatic who might at any minute decide to put peas
in his shoes and walk to Jerusalem; did he so decide, he would abandon,
for that decision, all the purposes for which he might at the time be
working. Ronder would certainly never walk to Jerusalem.
The silence and peace of Canon's Yard when he left Bodger's Street was
almost dramatic. All that penetrated there was a subdued buzz with an
occasional shrill note as it might be on a penny whistle. The Yard was
dark, lit only by a single lamp, and the cobbles uneven. Lights here and
there set in the crooked old windows were secret and uncommunicative: the
Cathedral towers seemed immensely tall against the dusk. It would not be
dark for another hour and a half, but in those old rooms with their small
casements light was thin and uncertain.
He climbed the rickety stairs to Foster's rooms. As always, something made
him pause outside Foster's door and listen. All the sounds of the old
building seemed to come up to him; not human voices and movements, but the
life of the old house itself, the creaking protests of stairways, the
sighs of reluctant doors, the harping groans of ill-mannered window-
frames, the coughs and wheezes of trembling walls, the shudders of ill-
"This house will collapse, the first gale," he thought, and suddenly the
Cathedral chimes, striking the half-hour, crashed through the wall,
knocking and echoing as though their clatter belonged to that very house.
The echo died, and the old place recommenced its murmuring.
Foster, blinking like an old owl, came to the door and, without a word,
led the way into his untidy room. He cleared a chair of papers and books
and Ronder sat down.
"Well?" said Ronder.
Foster was in a state of overpowering excitement, but he looked to Ronder
older and more worn than a week ago. There were dark pouches under his
eyes, his cheeks were drawn, and his untidy grey hair seemed thin and
ragged--here too long, there showing the skull guant and white beneath
it. His eyes burnt with a splendid flame; in them there was the light of
"Well?" said Ronder again, as Foster did not answer his first question.
"He's coming," Foster cried, striding about the room, his shabby slippers
giving a ghostly tip-tap behind him. "He's coming! Of course I had never
doubted it, but I hadn't expected that he would be so eager as he is. He
let himself go to me at once. Of course he knew that I wasn't official,
that I had no backing at all. He's quite prepared for things to go the
other way, although I told him that I thought there would be little chance
of that if we all worked together. He didn't ask many questions. He knows
all the conditions well. Since I saw him last he's gained in every way--
wiser, better disciplined, more sure of himself--everything that I have
never been...." Foster paused, then went on. "I think never in all my life
have I felt affection so go out to another human being. He is a man after
my own heart--a child of God, an inheritor of Eternal Life, a leader of
Ronder interrupted him.
"Yes, but as to detail. Did you discuss that? He knew of the opposition?"
Foster waved his hand contemptuously. "Brandon? What does that amount to?
Why, even in the week that I have been away his power has lessened. The
hand of God is against him. Everything is going wrong with him. I loathe
scandal, but there is actually talk going on in the town about his wife. I
could feel pity for the man were he not so dangerous."
"You are wrong there, Foster," Ronder said eagerly. "Brandon isn't
finished yet--by no manner of means. He still has most of the town behind
him and a big majority with the Cathedral people. He stands for what they
think or _don't_ think--old ideas, conservatism, every established
dogma you can put your hand on, bad music, traditionalism, superstition
and carelessness. It is not Brandon himself we are fighting, but what he
Foster stopped and looked down at Ronder. "You'll forgive me if I speak my
mind," he said. "I'm an older man than you are, and in any case it's my
way to say what I think. You know that by this time. You've made a mistake
in allowing this quarrel with Brandon to become so personal a matter."
Ronder flushed angrily.
"Allowing!" he retorted. "As though that were not the very thing that I've
tried to prevent it from becoming. But the old fool has rushed out and
shouted his grievances to everybody. I suppose you've heard of the
ridiculous quarrel we had coming away from Carpledon. The whole town knows
of it. There never was a more ridiculous scene. He stood in the middle of
the road and screamed like a madman. It's my belief he _is_ going
mad! A precious lot I had to do with that. I was as amiable as possible.
But you can't deal with him. His conceit and his obstinacy are monstrous."
Nothing was more irritating in Foster than the way that he had of not
listening to excuses; he always brushed them aside as though they were
"You shouldn't have made it a personal thing," he repeated. "People will
take sides--are already doing so. It oughtn't to be between you two at
"I tell you it is not!" Ronder answered angrily. Then with a great effort
he pulled himself in. "I don't know what has been happening to me lately,"
he said with a smile. "I've always prided myself on keeping out of
quarrels, and in any case I'm not going to quarrel with you. I'm sure
you're right. It _is_ a pity that the thing's become personal. I'll
see what I can do."
But Foster paid as little attention to apologies as to excuses.
"That's been a mistake," he said; "and there have been other mistakes. You
are too personally ambitious, Ronder. We are working for the glory of God
and for no private interests whatever."
Ronder smiled. "You're hard on me," he said; "but you shall think what you
like. I won't allow that I've been personally ambitious, but it's
difficult sometimes when you're putting all your energies into a certain
direction not to seem to be serving your own ends. I like power--who
doesn't? But I would gladly sacrifice any personal success if that were
needed to win the main battle."
"Win!" Foster cried. "Win! But we've got to win! There's never been such a
chance for us! If Brandon wins now our opportunity is gone for another
generation. What Wistons can do here if he comes! The power that he will
Suddenly there came into Ronder's mind for the first time the thought that
was to recur to him very often in the future. Was it wise of him to work
for the coming of a man who might threaten his own power? He shook that
from him. He would deal with that when the time came. For the present
Brandon was enough....
"Now as to detail..." Ronder said.
They sat down at the paper-littered table. For another hour and a half
they stayed there, and it would have been curious for an observer to see
how, in this business, Ronder obtained an absolute mastery. Foster, the
fire dead in his eyes, the light gone, followed him blindly, agreeing to
everything, wondering at the clearness, order and discipline of his plans.
An hour ago, treading the soil of his own country, he had feared no man,
and his feeling for Ronder had been one half-contempt, half-suspicion. Now
he was in the other's hands. This was a world into which he had never won
right of entry.
The Cathedral chimes struck nine. Ronder got up and put his papers away
with a little sigh of satisfaction. He knew that his work had been good.
"There's nothing that we've forgotten. Bentinck-Major will be caught
before he knows where he is. Ryle too. Let us get through this next week
safely and the battle's won."
"Yes, yes," he said hurriedly. "Yes, yes. Good-night, good-night," and
almost pushed Ronder from the room.
"I don't believe he's taken in a word of it," Ronder thought, as he went
down the creaking stairs.
At the top of Badger's Street he paused. The street was still; the sky was
pale green on the horizon, purple overhead. The light was still strong,
but, to the left beyond the sloping fields, the woods were banked black
and sombre. From the meadow in front of the woods came the sounds of an
encampment--women shouting, horses neighing, dogs barking. A few lights
gleamed like red eyes. The dusky forms of caravans with their thick-set
chimneys, ebony-coloured against the green sky, crouched like animals
barking. A woman was singing, men's voices took her up, and the song came
rippling across the little valley.
All the stir of an invading world was there.
Friday, June 18: Shadow Meets Shadow
On that Friday evening, about half-past six o'clock, Archdeacon Brandon,
just as he reached the top of the High Street, saw God.
There was nothing either strange or unusual about this. Having had all his
life the conviction that he and God were on the most intimate of terms,
that God knew and understood himself and his wants better than any other
friend that he had, that just as God had definitely deputed him to work
out certain plans on this earth, so, at times, He needed his own help and
advice, having never wavered for an instant in the very simplest tenets of
his creed, and believing in every word of the New Testament as though the
events there recorded had only a week ago happened in his own town under
his own eyes--all this being so, it was not strange that he should
sometimes come into close and actual contact with his Master.
It may be said that it was this very sense of contact, continued through
long years of labour and success, that was the original foundation of the
Archdeacon's pride. If of late years that pride had grown from the seeds
of the Archdeacon's own self-confidence and appreciation, who can blame
We translate more easily than we know our gratitude to God into our
admiration of ourselves.
Over and over again in the past, when he had been labouring with especial
fervour, he was aware that, in the simplest sense of the word, God was
"walking with him." He was conscious of a new light and heat, of a fresh
companionship; he could almost translate into physical form that
comradeship of which he was so tenderly aware. How could it be but that
after such an hour he should look down from those glorious heights upon
his other less favoured fellow-companions? No merit of his own that he had
been chosen, but the choice had been made.
On this evening he was in sad need of comfort. Never in all his past years
had life gone so hardly with him as it was going now. It was as though,
about three or four months back, he had, without knowing it, stepped into
some new and terrible country. One feature after another had changed, old
familiar faces wore new unfamiliar disguises, every step that he took now
seemed to be dangerous, misfortune after misfortune had come to him, at
first slight and even ludicrous, at last with Falk's escape, serious and
bewildering. Bewildering! That was the true word to describe his case! He
was like a man moving through familiar country and overtaken suddenly by a
dense fog. Through it all, examine it as minutely as he might, he could
not see that he had committed the slightest fault.
He had been as he had always been, and yet the very face of the town was
changed to him, his son had left him, even his wife, to whom he had been
married for twenty years, was altered. Was it not natural, therefore, that
he should attribute all of this to the only new element that had been
introduced into his life during these last months, to the one human being
alive who was his declared enemy, to the one man who had openly, in the
public road, before witnesses, insulted him, to the man who, from the
first moment of his coming to Polchester, had laughed at him and mocked
and derided him?
To Ronder! To Ronder! The name was never out of his brain now, lying
there, stirring, twisting in his very sleep, sneering, laughing even in
the heart of his private prayers.
He was truly in need of God that evening, and there, at the top of the
High Street, he saw Him framed in all the colour and glow and sparkling
sunlight of the summer evening, filling him with warmth and new courage,
surrounding him, enveloping him in love and tenderness.
Cynics might say that it was because the Archdeacon, no longer so young as
he had been, was blown by his climb of the High Street and stood,
breathing hard for a moment before he passed into the Precincts, lights
dancing before his eyes as they will when one is out of breath, the ground
swaying a little under the pressure of the heart, the noise of the town
rocking in the ears.
That is for the cynics to say. Brandon knew; his experiences had been in
the past too frequent for him, even now, to make a mistake.
Running down the hill went the High Street, decorated now with flags and
banners in honour of the great event; cutting the sky, stretching from
Brent's the haberdasher's across to Adams' the hairdresser's, was a vast
banner of bright yellow silk stamped in red letters with "Sixty Years Our
Queen. God Bless Her!"
Just beside the Archdeacon, above the door of the bookshop where he had
once so ignominiously taken refuge, was a flag of red, white and blue, and
opposite the bookseller's, at Gummridge's the stationer's, was a little
festoon of flags and a blue message stamped on a white ground: "God Bless
Our Queen: Long May She Reign!"
All down the street flags and streamers were fluttering in the little
summer breeze that stole about the houses and windows and doors as though
anxiously enquiring whether people were not finding the evening just a
little too warm.
People were not finding it at all too warm. Every one was out and
strolling up and down, laughing and whistling and chattering, dressed,
although it was only Friday, in nearly their Sunday best. The shops were
closing, one by one, and the throng was growing thicker and thicker. So
little traffic was passing that young men and women were already marching
four abreast, arm-in-arm, along the middle of the street. It was a long
time--ten years, in fact--since Polchester had seen such gaiety.
This was behind the Archdeacon; in front of him was the dark archway in
which the grass of the Cathedral square was framed like the mirrored
reflection of evening light where the pale blue and pearl white are
shadowed with slanting green. The peace was profound--nothing stirred.
There in the archway God stood, smiling upon His faithful servant, only as
Brandon approached Him passing into shadow and sunlight and the intense
blue of the overhanging sky.
Brandon tried then, as he had often tried before, to keep that contact
close to himself, but the ecstatic moment had passed; it had lasted, it
seemed, on this occasion a shorter time than ever before. He bowed his
head, stood for a moment under the arch offering a prayer as simple and
innocent as a child offers at its mother's knee, then with an
instantaneous change that in a more complex nature could have meant only
hypocrisy, but that with him was perfectly sincere, he was in a moment the
hot, angry, mundane priest again, doing battle with his enemies and
defying them to destroy him.
Nevertheless the transition to-night was not quite so complete as usual.
He was unhappy, lonely, and in spite of himself afraid, afraid of he knew
not what, as a child might be when its candle is blown out. And with this
unhappiness his thoughts turned to home. Falk's departure had caused him
to consider his wife more seriously than he had ever done in all their
married life before. She had loved Falk; she must be lonely without him,
and during these weeks he had been groping in a clumsy baffled kind of way
towards some expression to her of the kindness and sympathy that he was
But those emotions do not come easily after many years of disuse; he was
always embarrassed and self-conscious when he expressed affection. He was
afraid of her, too, thought that if he showed too much kindness she might
suddenly become emotional, fling her arms around him and cover his face
with kisses--something of that kind.
Then of late she had been very strange; ever since that Sunday morning
when she had refused to go to Communion.... Strange! Women are strange! As
different from men as Frenchmen are from Englishmen!
But he would like to-night to come closer to her. Dimly, far within him,
something was stirring that told him that it had been his own fault that
during all these years she had drifted away from him. He must win her
back! A thing easily done. In the Archdeacon's view of life any man had
only got to whistle and fast the woman came running!
But to-night he wanted some one to care for him and to tell him that all
was well and that the many troubles that seemed to be crowding about him
were but imaginary after all.
When he reached the house he found that he had only just time to dress for
dinner. He ran upstairs, and then, when his door was closed and he was
safely inside his bedroom, he had to pause and stand, his hand upon his
heart. How it was hammering! like a beast struggling to escape its cage.
His knees, too, were trembling. He was forced to sit down. After all, he
was not so young as he had been.
These recent months had been trying for him. But how humiliating! He was
glad that there had been no one there to see him. He would need all his
strength for the battle that was in front of him. Yes, he was glad that
there had been no one to see him. He would ask old Puddifoot to look at
him, although the man _was_ an ass. He drank a glass of water, then
He came downstairs and went into the drawing-room. His wife was there,
standing in the shadow by the window, staring out into the Precincts. He
came across the room softly to her, then gently put his hand on her
She had not heard his approach. She turned round with a sharp cry and then
faced him, staring, her eyes terrified. He, on his side, was so deeply
startled by her alarm that he could only stare back at her, himself
frightened and feeling a strange clumsy foolishness at her alarm.
Broken sentences came from her: "What did you--? Who--? You shouldn't have
done that. You frightened me."
Her voice was sharply angry, and in all their long married life together
he had never before felt her so completely a stranger; he felt as though
he had accosted some unknown woman in the street and been attacked by her
for his familiarity. He took refuge, as he always did when he was
confused, in pomposity.
"Really, my dear, you'd think I was a burglar. Hum--yes. You shouldn't be
so easily startled."
She was still staring at him as though even now she did not realise his
identity. Her hands were clenched and her breath came in little hurried
gasps as though she had been running.
"No--you shouldn't...silly...coming across the room like that."
"Very well, very well," he answered testily. "Why isn't dinner ready? It's
ten minutes past the time."
She moved across the room, not answering him.
Suddenly his pomposity was gone. He moved over to her, standing before her
like an overgrown schoolboy, looking at her and smiling uneasily.
"The truth is, my dear," he said, "that I can't conceive my entering a
room without everybody hearing it. No, I can't indeed," he laughed
boisterously. "You tell anybody that I crossed a room without your hearing
it, and they won't believe you. No, they wont."
He bent down and kissed her. His touch tickled her cheek, but she made no
movement. He felt, as his hand rested on her shoulder, that she was still
"Your nerves must be in a bad way," he said. "Why, you're trembling still!
Why don't you see Puddifoot?"
"No--no," she answered hurriedly. "It was silly of me----" Making a great
effort, she smiled up at him.
"Well, how's everything going?"
"Yes, for the great day. Is everything settled?"
He began to tell her in the old familiar, so boring way, every detail of
the events of the last few hours.
"I was just by Sharps' when I remembered that I'd said nothing to Nixon
about those extra seats at the back off the nave, so I had to go all the
Joan came in. His especial need of some one that night, rejected as it had
been at once by his wife, turned to his daughter. How pretty she was, he
thought, as she came across the room sunlit with the deep evening gold
that struck in long paths of light into the darkest shadows and corners.
That moment seemed suddenly the culmination of the advance that they had
been making towards one another during the last six months. When she came
close to him, he, usually so unobservant, noticed that she, too, was in
She was smiling but she was unhappy, and he suddenly felt that he had been
neglecting her and letting her fight her battles alone, and that she
needed his love as urgently as he needed hers. He put his arm around her
and drew her to him. The movement was so unlike him and so unexpected that
she hesitated a little, then happily came closer to him, resting her head
on his shoulder. They had both, for a moment, forgotten Mrs. Brandon.
"Tired?" he asked Joan.
"Yes. I've been working at those silly old flags all the afternoon. Two of
them are not finished now. We've got to go again to-morrow morning."
"Everything ready for the Ball?"
"Yes, my dress is lovely. Oh, mummy, Mrs. Sampson says will you let two
relations of theirs sit in our seat on Sunday morning? She hadn't known
that they were coming, and she's very bothered about it, and I'll tell her
whether they can in the morning."
They both turned and saw Mrs. Brandon, who had gone back to the window and
again was looking at the Cathedral, now in deep black shadow.
"Yes, dear. There'll be room. There's only you and I----"
Joan had in the pocket of her dress a letter. As they went in to dinner
she could hear its paper very faintly crackle against her hand. It was
from Falk and was as follows:
DEAR JOAN--I have written to father but he hasn't answered. Would you
find out what he thought about my letter and what he intends to do? I
don't mind owning to you that I miss him terribly, and I would give
anything just to see him for five minutes. I believe that if he saw me
I could win him over. Otherwise I am very happy indeed. We are married
and live in two little rooms just off Baker Street. You don't know
where that is, do you? Well, it's a very good place to be, near the
park, and lots of good shops and not very expensive. Our landlady is a
jolly woman, as kind as anything, and I'm getting quite enough work to
keep the wolf from the door. I know more than ever now that I've done
the right thing, and father will recognise it, too, one day. How is
he? Of course my going like that was a great shock to him, but it was
the only way to do it. When you write tell me about his health. He
didn't seem so well just before I left. Now, Joan, write and tell me
everything. One thing is that he's got so much to do that he won't
have much time to think about me.--Your affectionate brother,
This letter, which had arrived that morning, had given Joan a great deal
to think about. It had touched her very deeply. Until now Falk had never
shown that he had thought about her at all, and now here he was depending
on her and needing her help. At the same time, she had not the slightest
guide as to her father's attitude. Falk's name had not been mentioned in
the house during these last weeks, and, although she realised that a new
relationship was springing up between herself and her father, she was
still shy of him and conscious of a deep gulf between them. She had, too,
her own troubles, and, try as she might to beat them under, they came up
again and again, confronting her and demanding that she should answer
Now she put the whole of that aside and concentrated on her father.
Watching him during dinner, he seemed to her suddenly to have become
older; there was a glow in her heart as she thought that at last he really
needed her. After all, if through life she were destined to be an old
maid--and that, in the tragic moment of her youth that was now upon her,
seemed her inevitable destiny--here was some one for whom at last she
She had felt before she came down to dinner that she was old and ugly and
desperately unattractive. Across the dinner-table she flung away, as she
imagined for ever, all hopes for beauty and charm; she would love her
father and he should love her, and every other man in the world might
vanish for all that she cared. And had she only known it, she had never
before looked so pretty as she did that night. This also she did not know,
that her mother, catching a sudden picture of her under the candle-light,
felt a deep pang of almost agonising envy. She, making her last desperate
bid for love, was old and haggard; the years for her could only add to
that age. Her gambler's throw was foredoomed before she had made it.
After dinner, Brandon, as always, retired into the deepest chair in the
drawing-room and buried himself in yesterday's _Times_. He read a
little, but the words meant nothing to him. Jubilee! Jubilee! Jubilee! He
was sick of the word. Surely they were overdoing it. When the great day
itself came every one would be so tired....
He pushed the paper aside and picked up _Punch_. Here, again, that
eternal word--"How to see the Procession. By one who has thought it out.
Of course you must be out early. As the traffic...."
JOKE--Jinks: Don't meet you 'ere so often as we used to, Binks, eh?
Binks: Well--no. It don't run to Hopera Box _this_ Season, because,
you see, we've took a Window for this 'ere Jubilee.
Then, on one page, "The Walrus and the Carpenter: Jubilee Version." "In
Anticipation of the Naval Review." "Two Jubilees?" On the next page an
illustration of the Jubilee Walrus. On the next--"Oh, the Jubilee!" On the
next, Toby M.P.'s "Essence of Parliament," with a "Reed" drawing of "A
Naval Field Battery for the Jubilee."
The paper fell from his hand. During these last days he had had no time to
read the paper, and he had fancied, as perhaps every Polcastrian was just
then fancying, that the Jubilee was a private affair for Polchester's own
private benefit. He felt suddenly that Polchester was a small out-of-the-
way place of no account; was there any one in the world who cared whether
Polchester celebrated the Jubilee or not? Nobody....
He got up and walked across to the window, pulling the curtains aside and
looking out at the deep purple dusk that stained the air like wine. The
clock behind him struck a quarter past nine. Two tiny stars, like
inquisitive mocking eyes, winked at him above the high Western tower.
Moved by an impulse that was too immediate and peremptory to be
investigated, he went into the hall, found his hat and stick, opened
softly the door as though he were afraid that some one would try to stop
him, and was soon on the grass in front of the Cathedral, staring about
him as though he had awakened from a bewildering dream.
He went across to the little side-door, found his key, and entered the
Cathedral, leaving the gargoyle to grin after him, growing more alive, and
more malicious too, with every fading moment of the light.
Within the Cathedral there was a strange shadowy glow as though behind the
thick cold pillars lights were burning. He found his way, stumbling over
the cane-bottomed chairs that were piled in measured heaps in the side
aisle, into the nave. Even he, used to it as he had been for so many
years, was thrilled to-night. There was a movement of preparation abroad;
through all the stillness there was the stir of life. It seemed to him
that the armoured knights and the high-bosomed ladies, and the little
cupids with their pursed lips and puffing cheeks, and the angels with
their too solid wings were watching him and breathing round him as he
passed. Late though it was, a dim light from the great East window fell in
broad slabs of purple and green shadow across the grey; everything was
indistinct; only the white marble of the Reredos was like a figured sheet
hanging from wall to wall, and the gilded trumpets of the angels on the
choir-screen stood out dimly like spider pattern. He felt a longing that
the place should return his love and tenderness. The passion of his life
was here; he knew to-night, as he had never before, the life of its own
that this place had, and as he stayed there, motionless in the centre of
the nave, some doubt stole into his heart as to whether, after all, he and
it were one and indivisible, as for so long he had believed. Take this
away, and what was left to him? His son had gone, his wife and daughter
were strange to him; if this, too, went....
The sudden chill sense of loneliness was awful to him. All those naked and
sightless eyes staring from those embossed tombs were menacing, scornful,
He had never known such a mood, and he wondered suddenly whether these
last months had affected his brain.
He had never doubted during the last ten years his power over this and its
gratitude to him for what he had done: now, in this chill and green-hued
air, it seemed not to care for him at all.
He moved up into the choir and sat down in his familiar stall; all that he
could see--his eyes seemed to be drawn by some will stronger than his own
--was the Black Bishop's Tomb. The blue stone was black behind the gilded
grating, the figure was like a moulded shell holding some hidden form. The
light died; the purple and green faded from the nave--the East window was
dark--only the white altar and the whiter shadows above it hovered,
thinner light against deeper grey. As the light was withdrawn the
Cathedral seemed to grow in height until Brandon felt himself minute, and
the pillars sprang from the floor beneath him into unseen canopied
distance. He was cold; he longed suddenly, with a strange terror quite new
to him, for human company, and stumbled up and hurried down the choir,
almost falling over the stone steps, almost running through the long,
dark, deserted nave. He fancied that other steps echoed his own, that
voices whispered, and that figures thronged beneath the pillars to watch
him go. It was as though he were expelled.
Out in the evening air he was in his own world again. He was almost
tempted to return into the Cathedral to rid himself of the strange fancies
that he had had, so that they might not linger with him. He found himself
now on the farther side of the Cathedral, and after walking a little way
he was on the little narrow path that curved down through the green banks
to the river. Behind him was the Cathedral, to his right Bodger's Street
and Canon's Yard, in front of him the bending hill, the river, and then
the farther slips where the lights of the gipsy encampment sparkled and
shone. Here the air was lovely, cool and soft, and the stars were crowding
into the summer sky in their myriads. But his depression did not leave
him, nor his loneliness. He longed for Falk with a great longing. He could
not hold out against the boy for very much longer; but even then, were the
quarrel made up, things would not now he the same. Falk did not need him
any more. He had new life, new friends, new work.
"It's my nerves," thought Brandon. "I will go and see Puddifoot." It
seemed to him that some one, and perhaps more than one, had followed him
from the Cathedral. He turned sharply round as though he would catch
somebody creeping upon him. He turned round and saw Samuel Hogg standing
"Evening, Archdeacon," said Hogg.
Brandon said, his voice shaking with anger: "What are you following me
"Following you, Archdeacon?"
"Yes, following me. I have noticed it often lately. If you have anything
to say to me write to me."
"Following you? Lord, no! What makes you think of such a thing,
Archdeacon? Can't a feller enjoy the evenin' air on such a lovely night as
this without being accused of following a gentleman?"
"You know that you are trying to annoy me." Brandon, had pulled himself
up, but his hatred of that grinning face with its purple veins, its
piercing eyes, was working strongly upon his nerves, so that his hands
seemed to move towards it without his own impulsion. "You have been trying
to annoy me for weeks now. I'll stand you no longer. If I have any more of
this nuisance I'll put it into the hands of the police."
Hogg spat out complacently over the grass. "Now, that _is_ an absurd
thing," he said, smiling. "Because a man's tired and wants some air after
his day's work he's accused of being a nuisance. It's a bit thick, that's
what it is. Now, tell, Archdeacon, do you happen to have bought this 'ere
town, because if so I should be glad to know it--and so would a number of
"Very well, then," said Brandon, moving away. "If you won't go, I will."
"There's no need for temper that I can see," said Hogg. "No call for it at
all, especially that we're a sort of relation now. Almost brothers, seeing
as how your son has married my daughter."
Lower and lower! Lower and lower!
He was moving in a world now where figures, horrible, obscene and foul,
could claim him, could touch him, had their right to follow him.
"You will get nothing from me," Brandon answered. "You are wasting your
"Wasting my time?" Hogg laughed. "Not me! I'm enjoying myself. I don't
want anything from you except just to see you sometimes and have a little
chat. That's quite enough for me! I've taken quite a liking to you,
Archdeacon, which is as it should be between relations, and, often enough,
it isn't so. I like to see a proud gentleman like yourself mixing with
such as me. It's good for both of us, as you might say."
Brandon's anger--always dangerously uncontrolled--rose until it seemed to
have the whole of his body in his grasp, swaying it, ebbing and flowing
with swift powerful current through his heart into his brain. Now he could
only see the flushed, taunting face, the little eyes....
But Hogg's hour was not yet. He suddenly touched his cap, smiling.
"Well, good evening, Archdeacon. We'll be meeting again,"--and he was
As swiftly as the anger had flowed now it ebbed, leaving him trembling,
shaking, that strange sharp pain cutting his brain, his heart seeming to
leap into his head, to beat there like a drum, and to fall back with heavy
thud into his chest again. He stood waiting for calm. He was humiliated,
desperately, shamefully. He could not go on here; he must leave the place.
Leave it? Be driven away by that scoundrel? Never! He would face them all
and show them that he was above and beyond their power.
But the peace of the evening and the glory of the stars gradually stole
into his heart. He had been wrong, terribly wrong. His pride, his conceit,
had been destroying him. With a sudden flash of revelation he saw it. He
had trusted in his own power, put himself on a level with the God whom he
served. A rush of deep and sincere humility overwhelmed him. He bowed his
head and prayed.
* * * * *
Some while later he turned up the path towards home. The whole sky now
burnt with stars; fires were a dull glow across the soft gulf of grey, the
gipsy fires. Once and again a distant voice could be heard singing. As he
reached the corner of the Cathedral, and was about to turn up towards the
Precincts, a strange sound reached his ears. He stood where he was and
listened. At first he could not define what he heard--then suddenly he
realised. Quite close to him a man was sobbing.
There is something about the sounds of a man's grief that is almost
indecent. This sobbing was pitiful in its abandonment and in its effort to
control and stifle.
Brandon, looking more closely, saw the dark shadow of a man's body pressed
against the inside buttress of the corner of the Cathedral wall. The
shadow crouched, the body all drawn together as though folding in upon
itself to hide its own agony.
Brandon endeavoured to move softly up the path, but his step crunched on
some twigs, and at the sharp noise the sobbing suddenly ceased. The figure
It was Morris. The two men looked at one another for an instant, then
Morris, still like a shadow, vanished swiftly into the dusk.
Saturday, June 19: The Ball
Joan was in her hedroom preparing for the Ball. It was now only half-past
six and the Ball was not until half-past nine, but Mr. Mumphit, the
be-curled, the be-scented young assistant from the hairdresser's in the
High Street had paid his visit very early because he had so many other
heads of so many other young ladies to dress in Polchester that evening.
So Joan sat in front of the long looking-glass, a towel still over her
shoulders, looking at herself in a state of ecstasy and delight.
It was wrong of her, perhaps, to feel so happy--she felt that deep in her
consciousness; wrong, with all the trouble in the house, Falk gone in
disgrace, her father unhappy, her mother so strange; but to-night she
could not help herself. The excitement was spluttering and crackling all
over the town, the wonderful week upon which the whole country was
entering, the Ball, her own coming-out Ball, and the consciousness that He
would be there, and, even though He did love another, would be sure to
give her at least one dance; these things were all too strong for her--she
was happy, happy, happy--her eyes danced, her toes danced, her very soul
danced for sheer delirious joy. Had any one been behind her to look over
her shoulder into the glass, he would have seen the reflection in that
mirror of one of the prettiest children the wide world could show;
especially childish she looked to-night with her dark hair piled high on
her head, her eyes wide with wonder, her neck and shoulders so delicately
white and soft. Behind her, on the bed, was the dress, on the dingy carpet
a pair of shoes of silver tissue, the loveliest things she had ever had.
They were reflected in the mirror, little blobs of silver, and as she saw
them the colour mounted still higher in her cheeks. She had no right to
them; she had not paid for them. They were the first things that she had
ever, in all her life, bought on credit. Neither her father nor her mother
knew anything about them, but she had seen them in Harriott's shop-window
and had simply not been able to resist them.
If, after all, she was to dance with Him, that made anything right. Were
she sent to prison because she could not pay for them it would not matter.
She had done the only possible thing.
And so she looked into the mirror and saw the dark glitter in her hair and
the red in her cheeks and the whiteness of her shoulders and the silver
blobs of the little shoes, and she was happy--happy with an almost fearful
* * * * *
Mrs. Brandon also was in her bedroom. She was sitting on a high stiff-
backed chair, staring in front of her. She had been sitting there now for
a long time without making any movement at all. She might have been a dead
woman. Her thin hands, with the sharply marked blue veins, were clasped
tightly on her lap. She was feeding, feverishly, eagerly feeding upon the
thought of Morris.
She would see him that evening, they would talk together, dance together,
their hands would burn as they touched; they would say very little to one
another; they would long, agonize for one another, to be alone together,
to be far, far away from everybody, and they would be desperately unhappy.
She wondered, in her strange kind of mouse-in-the-trap trance, about that
unhappiness. Was there to be no happiness, for her anywhere? Was she
always to want more than she got, was all this passion now too late? Was
it real at all? Was it not a fever, a phantom, a hallucination? Did she
see Morris? Did she not rather see something that she must seize to slake
her burning feverish thirst? For one moment she had known happiness, when
her arms had gone around him and she had been able to console and comfort
him. But comfort him for how long? Was he not as unhappy as she, and would
they not always be unhappy? Was he not weighed down by the sin that he had
committed, that he, as he thought, had caused her to commit?...At that
she sprang up from the chair and paced the room, murmuring aloud: "No, no,
I did it. My sin, not his. I will care for him, watch over him--watch over
him, care for him. He must be glad."...She sank down by the bed, burying
her face in her hands.
* * * * *
Brandon was in his study finishing his letters. But behind his application
to the notes that he was writing his brain was moving like an animal
steathily investigating an unlighted house. He was thinking of his wife--
and of himself. Even as he was writing "And therefore it seems to me, my
dear Ryle, that with regard to the actual hour of the service, eight
o'clock----" his inner consciousness was whispering to him. "How you miss
Falk! How lonely the house seems without him! You thought you could get
along without love, didn't you? or, at least, you were not aware that it
played any very great part in your life. But now that the one person whom
you most sincerely loved is gone, you see that it was not to be so simply
taken for granted, do you not? Love must be worked for, sacrificed for,
cared for, nourished and cherished. You want some one to cherish now, and
you are surprised that you should so want...yes, there is your wife--
Amy...Amy.... You had taken her also for granted. But she is still with
you. There is time."
His wife was illuminated with tenderness. He put down his pen and stared
in front of him. What he wanted and what she wanted was a holiday. They
had been too long here in this place. That was what he needed, that was
the explanation of his headaches, of his tempers, of his obsession about
As soon as this Pybus St. Anthony affair was settled he would take his
wife abroad. Just the two of them. Another honeymoon after all these
years. Greece, Italy...and who knows? Perhaps he would see Falk on his
way through London returning...Falk....
He had forgotten his letters, staring in front of him, tapping the table
with his pen.
There was a knock on the door. The maid said, "A lady to see you, sir. She
says it's important"--and, before he could ask her name, some one else was
in the room with him and the door was closed behind her.
He was puzzled for a moment as to her identity, a rather seedy, down-at-
heels-looking woman. She was wearing a rather crumpled white cotton dress.
She carried a pink parasol, and on her head was a large straw hat
overburdened with bright red roses. Ah, yes! Of course! Miss Milton--who
was the Librarian. Shabby she looked. Come down in the world. He had
always disliked her. He resented now the way in which she had almost
forced her way into his room.
She looked across at him through her funny half-closed eyes.
"I beg your pardon, Archdeacon Brandon," she said, "for entering like this
at what must be, I fear, an unseemly time. My only excuse must be the
urgency of my business."
"I am very sorry, Miss Milton," he said sternly; "it is quite impossible
for me to see you just now on any business whatever. If you will make an
appointment with me in writing, I will see what can be done."
At the sound of his voice her eyes closed still further. "I'm very sorry,
Archdeacon," she said. "I think you would do well to listen to what I am
going to tell you."
He raised his head and looked at her. At those words of hers he had once
again the sensation of being pushed down by strong heavy hands into some
deep mire where he must have company with filthy crawling animals--Hogg,
Davray, and now this woman....
"What do you mean?" he asked, disgust thickening his voice. "What can
_you_ have to tell _me_?"
She smiled. She crossed the floor and came close to his desk. Her fingers
were on the shabby bag that hung over her arm.
"I was greatly puzzled," she said, "as to what was the right thing to do.
I am a good and honest woman, Archdeacon, although I was ejected from my
position most wrongfully by those that ought to have known better. I have
come down in the world through no fault of my own, and there are some who
should be ashamed in their hearts of the way they've treated me. However,
it's not of them I've to speak to-day." She paused.
Brandon drew back into his chair. "Please tell me, Miss Milton, your
business as soon as possible. I have much to do."
"I will." She breathed hard and continued. "Certain information was placed
in my hands, and I found it very difficult to decide on the justice of my
course. After some hesitation I went to Canon Ronder, knowing him to be a
At the name "Ronder" the Archdeacon's lips moved, but he said nothing.
"I showed him the information I had obtained. I asked him what I should
do. He gave me advice which I followed."
"He advised you to come to me."
Miss Milton saw at once that a lie here would serve her well. "He advised
me to come to you and give you this letter which in the true sense of the
word belongs to you."
She fumbled with her bag, opened it, took out a piece of paper.
"I must tell you," she continued, her eyes never for an instant leaving
the Archdeacon's face, "that this letter came into my hands by an
accident. I was in Mr. Morris's house at the time and the letter was
delivered to me by mistake."
"Mr. Morris?" Brandon repeated. "What has he to do with this affair?"
Miss Milton rubbed her gloved hands together. "Mrs. Brandon," she said,
"has been very friendly with Mr. Morris for a long time past. The whole
town has been talking of it."
The clock suddenly began to strike the hour. No word was spoken.
Then Brandon said very quietly, "Leave this house, Miss Milton, and never
enter it again. If I have any further trouble with you, the police will be
"Before I go, Archdeacon," said Miss Milton, also very quietly, "you
should see this letter. I can assure you that I have not come here for
mere words. I have my conscience to satisfy like any other person. I am
not asking for anything in return for this information, although I should
be perfectly justified in such an action, considering how monstrously I
have been treated. I give you this letter and you can destroy it at once.
My conscience will be satisfied. If, on the other hand, you don't read it
--well, there are others in the town who must see it."
He took the letter from her.
DEAREST--I am sending this by a safe hand to tell you that I cannot
possibly get down to-night. I am so sorry and most dreadfully
disappointed, but I will explain everything when we meet to-morrow. This
is to prevent your waiting on when I'm not coming.
It was in his wife's handwriting.
"Dearest...cannot possibly get down tonight...." In his wife's
handwriting. Certainly. Yes. His wife's. And Ronder had seen it.
He looked across at Miss Milton. "This is not my wife's handwriting," he
said. "You realise, I hope, in what a serious matter you have become
involved--by your hasty action," he added.
"Not hasty," she said, moistening her lips with her tongue. "Not hasty,
Archdeacon. I have taken much thought. I don't know if I have already told
you that I took the letter myself at the door from the hand of your own
maid. She has been to the Library with books. She is well known to me."
He must exercise enormous, superhuman, self-control. That was his only
thought. The tide of anger was rising in him so terribly that it pressed
against the skin of his forehead, drawn tight, and threatened to split it.
What he wanted to do was to rise and assault the woman standing in front
of him. His hands longed to take her! They seemed to have life and
volition of their own and to move across the table of their own accord.
He was aware, too, once more, of some huge plot developing around him,
some supernatural plot in which all the elements too were involved--earth,
sun and sky, and also every one in the town, down to the smallest child
He seemed to see behind him, just out of his sight, a tall massive figure
directing the plot, a figure something like himself, only with a heavy
black beard, cloudy, without form....
They would catch him in their plot as in a net, but he would escape them,
and he would escape them by wonderful calm, and self-control, and the
absence of all emotion.
So that, although his voice shook a little, it was quietly that he
"This is not in my wife's handwriting. You know the penalties for
forgery." Then, looking her full in the face, he added, "Penal servitude."
She smiled back at him.
"I am sure, Archdeacon, that all I require is a full investigation. These
wickednesses are going on in this town, and those principally concerned
should know. I have only done what I consider my duty."
Her eyes lingered on his face. She savoured now during these moments the
revenge for which, in all these months, she had ceaselessly longed. He had
moved but little, he had not raised his voice, but, watching his face, she
had seen the agony pass, like an entering guest, behind his eyes. That
guest would remain. She was satisfied.
"I have done my duty, Archdeacon, and now I will wish you good-evening."
She gave a little bow and retired from the room, softly closing the door
He sat there, looking at the letter....
* * * * *
The Assembly Rooms seemed to move like a ship on a sunset sea. Hanging
from the ceiling were the two great silver candelabra, in some ways the
most famous treasure that the town possessed. Fitted now with gas, they
were nevertheless so shaded that the light was soft and mellow. Round the
room, beneath the portraits of the town's celebrities in their heavy gold
frames, the lights were hidden with shields of gold. The walls were ivory
white. From the Minstrels' Gallery flags with the arms of the Town, of the
Cathedral, of the St. Leath family fluttered once and again faintly. In
the Minstrels' Gallery the band was playing just as it had played a
hundred years ago. The shining floor was covered with moving figures.
Every one was there. Under the Gallery, surveying the world like Boadicea
her faithful Britons, was Lady St. Leath, her white hair piled high above
her pink baby face, that had the inquiring haughty expression of a
cockatoo wondering whether it is being offered a lump of sugar or an
insult. On either side of her sat two of her daughters, Lady Rose and Lady
Mary, plain and patient.
Near her, in a complacent chattering row, were some of the more important
of the Cathedral and County set. There were the Marriotts from Maple
Durham, fat, sixty, and amiable; old Colonel Wotherston, who had fought in
the Crimea; Sir Henry Byles with his large purple nose; little Major
Garnet, the kindest bachelor in the County; the Marquesas, who had more
pedigree than pennies; Mrs. Sampson in bright lilac, and an especially bad
attack of neuralgia; Mrs. Combermere, sheathed in cloth of gold and very
jolly; Mrs. Ryle, humble in grey silk; Ellen Stiles in cherry colour; Mrs.
Trudon, Mrs. Forrester and Mrs. D'Arcy, their chins nearly touching over
eager confidences; Dr. Puddifoot, still breathless from his last dance;
Bentinick-Major, tapping with his patent-leather toe the floor, eager to
be at it again; Branston the Mayor and Mrs. Branston, uncomfortable in a
kind of dog-collar of diamonds; Mrs. Preston, searching for nobility;
Canon Martin; Dennison, the head-master of the School; and many others.
It was just then a Polka, and the tune was so alluring, so entrancing,
that the whole world rose and fell with its rhythm.
And where was Joan? Joan was dancing with the Reverend Rex Forsyth, the
proposed incumbent of Pybus St. Anthony. Had any one told her a week ago
that she would dance with the elegant Mr. Forsyth before a gathering of
all the most notable people of Polchester and Southern Glebeshire, and
would so dance without a tremor, she would have derided her informant. But
what cannot excitement and happiness do?
She knew that she was looking nice, she knew that she was dancing as well
as any one else in the room--and Johnny St. Leath had asked her for two
dances and _then_ wanted more, and wanted these with the beautiful
Claire Daubeney, all radiant in silver, standing close beside him. What,
then, could all the Forsyths in the world matter? Nevertheless he
_was_ elegant. Very smart indeed. Rather like a handsome young horse,
groomed for a show. His voice had a little neigh in it; as he talked over
her shoulder he gave a little whinny of pleasure. She found it very
difficult to think of him as a clergyman at all.
You should SEE me DANCE the POLKA,
Yes, she should. And _he_ should. And he was very pleasant when he
did not talk.
"You dance--very well--Miss Brandon."
"Thank you. This is my first Ball."
"Who would--think that? Ta-ram-te-tum-te-TA.... Jolly tu-une!"
She caught glimpses of every one as they went round. Mrs. Combermere's
cloth of gold, Lady St. Leath's white hair. Poor Lady Mary--such a pity
that they could not do something for her complexion. Spotty. Joan liked
her. She did much good to the poor in Seatown, and it must be agony to
her, poor thing, to go down there, because she was so terribly shy. Her
next dance was with Johnny. She called him Johnny. And why should she not,
secretly to herself? Ah, there was mother, all alone. And there was Mr.
Morris coming up to speak to her. Kind of him. But he _was_ a kind
man. She liked him. Very shy, though. All the nicest people seemed to be
shy--except Johnny, who wasn't shy at all.
The music stopped and, breathless, they stayed for a moment before finding
two chairs. Now was coming the time that she so greatly disliked. Whatever
to say to Mr. Forsyth?
They sat down in the long passage outside the ballroom. The floor ran like
a ribbon from under their feet into dim shining distance. Or rather, Joan
thought, it was like a stream, and on either side the dancers were
sitting, dabbling their toes and looking self-conscious.
"Do you like it where you are?" Joan asked of the shining black silk
waistcoat that gleamed beside her.
"Oh, you know...." neighed Mr. Forsyth. "It's all right, you know. The old
Bishop's kind enough."
"Bishop Clematis?" said Joan.
"Yes. There ain't enough to do, you know. But I don't expect I'll be there
long. No, I don't.... Pity poor Morrison at Pybus dying like that."
Joan of course at once understood the allusion. She also understood that
Mr. Forsyth was begging her to bestow upon him any little piece of news
that she might have obtained. But that seemed to her mean--spying--spying
on her own father. So she only said:
"You're very fond of riding, aren't you?"
"Love it," said Mr. Forsyth, whinnying so exactly like a happy pony that
Joan jumped. "Don't you?"
"I've never been on horseback in my life," said Joan. "I'd like to try."
"Never in your life?" Mr. Forsyth stared. "Why, I was on a pony before I
was three. Fact. Good for a clergyman, riding----"