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Maurice tried to speak naturally and without evidence of feeling, but his throat was parched and his heart hot. He hated this inquisition. The long reverence and admiration which had bound him to the Father melted to nothing in the twinkling of an eye. Who was this Jesuit that sat here making of Berenice and her fortune pawns in his game; involving her in a web of intrigue unworthy of his sacred office; and forcing his disciple to listen through a knowledge of facts stammeringly poured out in the confessional? Absence from the Clergy House and from town, and after that a growing reluctance, had prevented Maurice from confessing anything beyond his first attraction to Miss Morison, but he had written to the Father Superior of the accident, and had mentioned that he was thought to have been of assistance in saving her. It came to him now that he was being repaid for the accursed vanity which had led him to make this boast; and he became the more animated against his director from his anger against himself.

“Whatever Mrs. Frostwinch has done with the property,” Father Frontford said, “of course Miss Morison may do if she pleases.”

“I should suppose so; but I know nothing about it.”

“Then if Miss Morison will promise to continue the donations of Mrs. Frostwinch, the position of the beneficiaries will be the same toward her as toward Mrs. Frostwinch.”

Maurice bent forward quickly, unable longer to maintain an appearance of calm.

“Father Frontford,” he exclaimed, “you certainly cannot ask this of Miss Morison! It would be sheer impertinence! I beg your pardon, but I cannot help saying it. Besides, there is something horribly cold- blooded in talking about what shall be done with the property of Mrs. Frostwinch when she is dead. Miss Morison would not listen to anything of the sort.”

“The circumstances justify what otherwise would be inadmissible. It is necessary, Mrs. Wilson thinks, to be able to tell those men that their situation is not changed by the death of Mrs. Frostwinch, which is almost sure to take place before the convention. You must explain that to Miss Morison.”

“I!”

“The obligation which she is under to you,” the Father said, ignoring the exclamation, “will naturally incline her to listen.”

“But I cannot”–

“I had thought that it was mine to decide what you could and should do.”

“But, Father, this is so extraordinary, so impossible, so”–

“Miss Morison is to be in Boston in a couple of days. Mrs. Wilson will let us know when she arrives. I know how strange this looks to you, and how repugnant it must be. Do you think that it is any less hateful to me? Do you think that it is easy for me to be working for what is to be my own personal exaltation if we succeed? I give you my word, Wynne, that the severest sacrifice that any one can be called on to make in this matter is that which I make when I take these steps toward putting myself in office. I am not naturally humble, and it humiliates me to the very soul; but I do what seems to me to be for the good of the church, and try to put my personal feeling entirely out of the matter. It is for you to do the same.”

It was impossible for Maurice to doubt the sincerity with which this was said. He had no answer to give.

“Go now, my son,” the Father concluded, “and do not forget to thank God that the weakness of your heart may be turned into a means by which the church may be served.”

Maurice retired to his room in a whirl of conflicting thoughts. He was summoned almost immediately to vespers and complines. The familiar ritual soothed him, and he was able to join in the chants in much the old way. His feeling was that he would gladly have had the service last into the night. He would have liked to go on with this half emotional, half mechanical devotion, which kept him from thinking, and which put off the dreaded hour when he must face the proposition which had been made to him.

It was the rule of the house that all the inmates should preserve unbroken silence among themselves from complines until after nones the next day. Maurice knew therefore that he was free from intrusion of human companionship, which it seemed to him he could not have borne. Even the talk of dear old Phil, to a chat with whom he had looked forward as the one pleasure in coming back to the Clergy House, would have been intolerable while this nightmarish trouble lay upon him. He went at once to his chamber, a cell-like room, and sat down to think. Could he do it? How would Berenice regard this impertinent interference with her private affairs? How could he go to her and say: “It is necessary for church politics that you assume to dispose of the property which now your cousin holds, and over which you have no rights until she is in her grave.” He could see her eyes sparkle with indignation and contempt, and he grew hot in anticipation. He could not do it, he thought over and over. It was impossible that in this age of the world anybody should dream of having such a thing done. If he were almost a priest, he told himself fiercely, he had not yet ceased to be a gentleman!

The stricture which this thought seemed to cast upon the priesthood made him pause. He had not yet shaken off the dominion of old ideas and old habits. He apologized to an unseen censor for the apparent irreverence of his thought. It was not the priesthood, it was–He came again to a standstill. He was not prepared to own to himself that he disapproved of the Father Superior. He had vowed obedience, and here he sat raging against a decree because it sacrificed his personal feelings to the good of the church. The blame should be upon himself. There was nothing in all this revolt except his own selfishness and wounded vanity. He had transgressed by allowing his thoughts to be entangled in earthly affection, and this misery and wickedness followed inevitably. The fault was in him entirely; it was his own grievous fault. The familiar words of the office of confession made him beat his breast, and fall in prayer before the crucifix which seemed to waver in the flickering candlelight. He repeated petition after petition. He would not allow himself to think. It was his to obey, not to question. He would regain his old tranquillity, his old docility. He would submit passively. It was his own fault, his most grievous fault.

The ten o’clock bell rang, calling for the extinguishing of lights. He sprang from his knees, blew out the candle, threw off his clothes in the dark, and hurried into his hard and narrow bed. He was resolved not to think. He said the offices of the day; he repeated psalms; and at last, in desperate attempt to control his mind and to induce sleep, he began to multiply large numbers. All the time he was resolutely saying to himself: “It is my fault; my most grievous fault!” And all the time some inner self, unsubdued, was persistently replying: “It is not! It is not! I am right!”

XXI

THIS “WOULD” CHANGES
Hamlet, iv. 7.

Maurice woke next morning to a deep sadness, as if some bitter calamity had befallen. In a moment the conversation of the previous evening rushed to his mind, and his gloom rather deepened than grew less. The rising-bell had rung, and he rose languidly in the cold, gray twilight. So long had he tossed restlessly in the night unsleeping that he felt worn out and miserable, and after the hours which he had necessarily kept at the house of his cousin half past five seemed hardly to be day. He shivered with a discouraged disgust as he made his toilet, endeavoring to forget.

The routine of the morning followed: meditation, lauds and prayers; mass; breakfast; prime; then the study hours before luncheon; and so on to nones. All this time the rule of the house protected him from speech, but now that the hour for recreation came he was in the midst of questioning fellow-deacons. They had all so much to tell, however, of the manner in which they had passed their time during their absence from the Clergy House that Maurice was able for the most part to listen instead of speaking. He watched with curiosity to see that they appeared glad to return to seclusion. They had been troubled by the sensation of finding themselves out of their accustomed groove, and had found the world confusing. Most often they seemed to him to have been oppressed by the need of deciding what they should do, and how they should meet trifling unforeseen emergencies.

“It is impossible to be spiritually calm except in seclusion,” one of them said.

Involuntarily Maurice looked at the speaker, feeling that this must be mere cant. It struck him as nonsense, yet one glance at the serene, honest face of the deacon who spoke, with its tender, candid eyes, like those of a pure girl, was enough to convince him of the entire sincerity of the words. He sighed, and turned away; as he did so he caught the eye of Philip, who was watching him with solicitous attention. Maurice put his hand on the arm of his friend, and led him away.

“Why did you look at me that way, Phil?” he asked. “Does it seem to you that spiritual calm is the best thing in life?”

Ashe was silent a moment. Maurice noted that he looked thinner than of old, and reproached himself that he had seen so little of his friend during their absence from the Clergy House.

“I was thinking,” Philip replied at length, hesitating and dropping his voice, “that I feared both you and I had discovered that something more than seclusion is needed to give it, however good it may be.”

Maurice laid his hand on the back of Philip’s, grasping it tightly.

“You too?” was his response.

They stood in silence for some moments, looking out of a window over the dingy back yards which formed the prospect from the rear of the house. Wynne was wondering how it was that for the first time in his life it was impossible to be frankly confidential with Philip, and how far it was probable that his friend would be in sympathy with him in his trouble. He longed for counsel, and the force of old habit pressed him to tell everything.

“Phil,” he said, “will you go out with me for a walk this afternoon?”

“Of course,” Ashe answered. “Don’t we always go together?”

Wynne laughed, turning to look at his companion as if from afar.

“I doubt,” he observed, “if anything I could tell you directly would give you so good an idea of how upset I am, and how completely out of the routine of our life, as the fact that I seem to have forgotten that there ever were any walks before.”

“I am afraid that I am a good deal out of touch with the life here,” Ashe responded seriously. “I have been troubled, and tempted, and–Oh, Maurice,” he broke off suddenly, “Maynard is right: no spiritual calm is possible in the world outside!”

“Even if that were true,” returned Maurice, “I don’t know that I am prepared to agree that calm is the best thing in life.”

“It is the highest thing.”

“I don’t believe it. It isn’t growth.”

The bell for study sounded, and ended their talk. Maurice went to his work uneasy, perhaps a little irritated. He was disquieted that Philip should be so monastically out of sympathy, and he was annoyed with himself for being out of key with his friend. He felt as if he had returned to his old place in the body without being here at all in the spirit. He had while at Mrs. Staggchase’s looked into many books which in the Clergy House would never have come in his way; he had more than once been startled to encounter thoughts which had been in his own mind, but which he had felt it wrong to entertain. Here they were stated coolly, dispassionately, with no consciousness, apparently, that they should not be considered with frankness. He had heard opinions and ideas which from the standpoint of the religious ascetic were not only heretical but little short of blasphemous, yet they were evidently the ordinary current thought of the time. It was impossible that these things should not affect him; and to-day as he sat in lecture he found himself trying all that was said by a new standard and involuntarily taking the position of an objector. He was able to see nothing but flaws in the logic, faults in the deduction, breaks in the argument.

“I am come to that state of mind when I should see a seam in the seamless robe,” he groaned in spirit.

Father Frontford lectured that afternoon on church history. Sometimes in the long hour Maurice studied the priest, wondering at him, trying to comprehend the working of his mind. Sometimes he would ask himself whether it were possible that this man were wholly sincere, whether it were possible that an intellect so acute could really believe the things which were the foundation of the teaching of the day; but he came back always to faith in the complete conviction of the Father. Maurice, indeed, said to himself that Frontford was quite capable of taking his spiritual self by the throat and compelling it to believe; and then the young doubter asked himself if this were the secret of the faith which showed in every word and look of the speaker. He told himself that Father Frontford was his Superior, and as such to be followed, not criticised; he resolved not to think, but endeavored to give his whole attention to the lecture. Here however he did little better. The glories of the church upon which the speaker dwelt seemed to Wynne in his present mood poor and paltry triumphs of dogmatism,–or even, why not of superstition indeed? He was startled by the sin of his questioning, yet it seemed impossible to silence the mocking inner voice.

“This is one of the incidents,” he at last became aware that the Father was saying to close, “which strikingly illustrate the need of implicit obedience. If the church were a simple organization of man, if it were for the accomplishment of worldly ends, if its object were the aggrandizement of individuals, nothing could be more dangerous than the establishment in it of what seems like arbitrary power. As it is directed from above; as its aim is nothing less than the spiritual uplifting of the race; as, indeed, upon it rests the salvation, under God, of mankind, the case is different. It is necessary that no energy be lost; that all the power of the church be used to the best advantage; that the hand assist the head and the head have complete control of the hand. Obedience is of all the lessons which you have to learn perhaps the hardest. It is no less one of the most essential. In an age which is lacking not only in obedience but even in that reverence upon which obedience must rest, it is for the true priest to be an example of reverence and obedience alike. Revere and obey, and you have done noble service.”

The deacons buzzed together as they left the lecture-room. They were but boys after all, and some of them light-hearted enough. Maurice heard one or two of them commenting upon the lecture or upon indifferent things. A curly-haired young deacon, a Southerner with the face of a cherub, was laughing lightly to himself. He was the youngest of them all, and Maurice had for him that liking which one might have for a pretty kitten.

“I say, Wynne,” he remarked, looking up into the face of the other with a twinkling eye, “the Dominie gave us a good preachment to-day in support of his authority. It almost made me resolve to rebel the next time I was told to do anything.”

“Then I suppose that you don’t agree with him,” Maurice responded rather absently.

“Oh, it isn’t that. I do agree with him. I mean to be a bishop myself some day, and then the doctrine will come in all right. I’ll work it. Down South we understand that sort of thing better than you do up here.”

“Then what did you object to in the lecture?”

“I didn’t object to anything; only when anybody proves that you ought not to do a thing isn’t it human nature to want to do it, just for the fun of it?”

Maurice felt how far from serious was the temper of the boy, and that it would be utterly unreasonable to expect from him anything like reverence. “Then how do you expect anybody to hold to the doctrine of implicit obedience?” he questioned, smiling.

“Oh, everybody expects to wield the authority sometime,” was the light answer. “Nobody’d hold to it otherwise.”

Maurice instinctively glanced at Ashe. In Philip’s pale, enrapt face was an expression of self-surrender which made Wynne feel how completely the teaching to which they had just listened must appeal to the temperament of his friend.

“To obey for the sake of obeying is precisely what Phil would delight in,” he thought. “How entirely different we are! Yet if it hadn’t been for him I should never have come here. Haven’t I strength enough to follow my own convictions?”

The hour for walking was four, and a few minutes after the clocks had struck, Maurice and Philip started out. It was a dull and lowering afternoon, and the narrow, street was already gloomy with shadows. Half unconsciously Wynne found himself casting about in his mind for topics of conversation which should be free from the personal element. Now that the time for confidences had come, he shrank from words. He reproached himself, and then half peevishly thought: “I seem nowadays to do nothing but to find fault with myself for things that I can’t help feeling!”

“I am glad Father Frontford said what he did today,” Ashe remarked after they had walked in silence for a little. “It was just what I needed. I’ve got so in the habit of following my own will since we have been out in the world that I needed to be reminded that there is something better.”

Maurice felt a faint irritation that the talk was begun in precisely the key he would most gladly have avoided, but honesty would not let him be silent.

“I am afraid, Phil,” he said, “that I’m not entirely in sympathy with you. I didn’t like the lecture. Since we are given will and reason, I believe that it was intended that we should use them.”

“Of course. If I had no reason, how could I bring myself to give up my own will to one that I know to be higher?”

Maurice smiled unhappily.

“Well,” was his answer, “when you begin with a paradox like that it is evident that I couldn’t go on without getting into a discussion darker than the darkness of Egypt. I’d rather just talk about common everyday things. Where shall we go?”

“I want to go to the North End. There is an old woman there that I thought of visiting. I had trouble with her husband the other day; he threw her down and hurt her.”

“What sort of trouble?”

“He struck me, and we had a sort of struggle. He wasn’t sober.”

“Were you on the street?”

“No; in his room. I–I broke in.”

“Broke in?”

“Yes.” Ashe hesitated, and then added: “Mrs. Fenton was there, and he tried to rob her.”

“Mrs. Fenton? Why didn’t you tell me about it? When was it?”

“The day before I went down home. You weren’t here, you know. There was not much to tell.”

Maurice questioned eagerly, and his friend related briefly what had happened.

“Why, Phil, you’re a hero!” Wynne exclaimed. “You’ve quite taken the wind out of my sails. I counted for something of an adventurer simply by having been in a smash-up; but you rushed in and had a real adventure. I never thought of you as a defender of dames.”

The other turned toward him a face contracted with a look of pain.

“Don’t, Maurice,” he protested. “I can’t joke about it. It was not anything to be proud of; and nobody knows better than I how far I am from being a hero.”

“Oh, you’re modest, of course. That’s like you; but I call it stunning. Mrs. Fenton must have admired you tremendously.”

“Do you suppose she did?” Philip demanded impetuously. Then his voice altered. “Oh, she knows me too well!” he added.

The intense bitterness of his tone gave Maurice a shock.

“Phil!” cried he.

His companion apparently understood the thought which lay behind the exclamation. He dropped his head, and for a little distance they walked in silence.

“I may as well tell you,” Ashe said in a moment. “It is true, what you guess. I–I have been thinking of her more than was right. That is one reason why I am glad to get back to the Clergy House.”

“To give her up?”

“She was not mine to give up.”

“But do you mean not to try to–Oh, Phil, doesn’t it ever come to you that all this monkish business is a mistake? We were a couple of foolish boys that didn’t know what we were about when we went into it; and”–

Ashe turned and looked at him with eyes full of reproach, and of almost despairing determination.

“Is that the way you help me?” he asked.

Maurice drew a long, deep breath, and set his strong jaw with a resolve not to abandon so easily the endeavor to bring his friend out of his trouble. It hardly occurred to him for the moment that it was his own cause that he was defending.

“Phil,” he persisted, “isn’t it possible that after all we may be wrong in making ourselves wiser than the church by taking vows that are not required?”

“Do you suppose that the devil has forgotten to say that to me over and over again?” was the response.

“Meaning that I am the old gentleman?” Maurice retorted, trying to be lightsome.

“Oh, don’t joke. I can’t stand it. I’ve been through so much, and this is so terrible a thing to bear anyway.”

Wynne seized his rosary with one hand, and struck it across the other so hard that the corner of the crucifix wounded his finger.

“Phil, old fellow,” he said gravely, “I never felt less like joking. It cuts me to the quick to see you suffer; and I know how hard you will take this. I know what it is, for I’m going through the same thing myself, and I’ve about made up my mind that we are wrong. I begin to think that celibacy is only a device that the early church somehow got into when it was necessary to hold complete authority over the priest, or when men thought that it was. It belongs to the Middle Ages; not to the nineteenth century.”

“Then you don’t see how marriage would be sure to interfere with a man’s zeal for his work?”

“But it would certainly bring him into closer sympathy with humanity.”

Ashe shook his head.

“You don’t seem to realize,” he said with a certain doggedness which Wynne had seldom seen in him, “how it must absorb a man, and take possession of his very reason. Why, see me. I know it is a sin to think of her, and yet”–He broke off and choked. “Besides,” he resumed presently, “you say yourself that you feel as I do, and that means that you are not looking at the thing fairly. You are trying to make your conscience come round to the side of your desires.”

They walked on up the dingy street into which they had come, and for some time nothing more was said. Maurice recognized that it was idle to attempt to reply to the charge of his companion. He had made it to himself and succumbed to it; but now that another stated it, he instinctively found himself refusing to yield. He repeated to himself that he was not trying to befool his conscience, but merely acting with human sanity.

Presently they came into a dusky court, and crossing it, found themselves at the door of an ill-smelling tenement house. Here Ashe turned suddenly, and faced his friend, his face full of strange excitement.

“Do you suppose,” he said, in a voice which, though low, was full of feeling, “that I do not know how absorbing a thing it is to give up life to a woman? Here I am, when she is nothing to me, when I do not mean ever to see her again, going into this place simply because here she was half a minute in my arms, because here for two minutes she looked at me as her preserver. It is sin, and I know it; but it is too strong for me.”

“But, Phil,” Maurice exclaimed in astonishment, “there is surely no harm in going to see a sick woman.”

The other laughed bitterly.

“So I told myself, and so I kept saying over and over till the talk we’ve had forced me to stop lying to myself. I’m not going to see a sick woman. I’m going to stand where she stood that day.”

“If you feel that way about it,” Maurice said, putting his hand on the other’s arm, “you ought not to go in.”

“I will go in.”

“But obedience, Phil. Think what you were saying about the lecture.”

“Nobody has forbidden me,” Ashe responded defiantly. “I will go in. I had made up my mind before I came. Oh, I shall do penance enough for it; you need not be afraid of that. I shall suffer enough for it.”

He started up the stairs, and Maurice followed blindly, full of sympathy and dismay.

XXII

THE BITTER PAST
All’s Well that Ends Well, v. 3.

They found the old woman in bed, attended by a slatternly half-grown girl, who was reading by the dying light a torn and dirty illustrated paper. There was little furniture in the chamber; merely the frowsy bed, a bare table, a single broken chair besides the one in which the girl was sitting. The floor was bare and dirty; one of the window-panes was broken and stuffed with a bundle of paper. There were a rusty stove, a few dishes on the shelf, a kettle and a tin tea-pot. On the window-sill by the bed were a medicine bottle and a cup.

“How do you do, Mrs. Murphy?” Ashe asked. “Are you any better to-day?”

“No better, thank yer riverince. I’ll never be better again. My back is broke, and the pain in me is like purgatory already.”

The slatternly girl laid her paper on her knees, but she neither rose nor spoke. To Maurice she seemed to have an air of contempt.

“I am sorry to hear it, Mrs. Murphy,” said Ashe. “I thought that I would drop in and ask after you.”

Maurice involuntarily glanced at him, surprised by the indifference of the tone. Enlightened by the passionate words which had been spoken below, he could see that Philip was preoccupied, and gave to the sick woman no more than the barest semblance of attention. Ashe mechanically inquired about Mrs. Murphy’s wants, his thin cheeks glowing and his eyes wandering about the room. He was apparently reacting the scene of the fight, and presently he made a step or two backward, so that he stood near the middle of the chamber. Here he took his stand, and seemed to become lost in reverie.

“Might as well set,” remarked the girl, looking toward the unoccupied chair.

Maurice made a slight gesture inviting Philip to the seat; but Philip remained where he was. Wynne realized that his companion must be standing where he had supported Mrs. Fenton in his arms; and so touching was the expression of Ashe’s face that he felt his throat contract. He turned away and looked out of the dim window over the chimney-pots and the irregular roofs.

“I’m used to falls,” the sick woman said. “I’ve had plenty of ’em. I left a good home and them as was good to me, to be beat and starved, and murdered in the end. Women are all like that. If a man asks ’em, they’re always ready to cut their own throats. Sorry was the day for me I ever left old Miss Hannah.”

Maurice turned toward the bed, his attention suddenly arrested. The name was that by which his aunt had usually been called, and he seemed to perceive in the talk of the woman something familiar. The possibility that this battered old creature might be his nurse came to him with a shock, so broken, so altered, so degraded was she; and as he looked at her he rejected the idea as preposterous.

“But your husband will be punished for his brutality,” Ashe remarked absently.

He spoke like a man in a dream, as if his whole intent were fixed upon something so widely apart from the present that he hardly knew what was passing about him.

“Who wants him punished?” cried out the sick woman with sudden shrill vehemence. “That’s what you rich folks are always after. Who asked the lady to come here with her purse in her hand to tempt him when he wasn’t himself to know what he was doing? First you get him into a scrape, and then you punish him for it! What for do I want Tim shut up and me left to starve in me bed? If Tim’s a little pleasant when he’s had a drop more’n would be handy for a priest, whose business is it but mine? It’s little comfort he gets, poor man; and he only takes what he can get to keep up his spirits in these poor times, and me sick and can’t do for him.”

“That’s what I say too, Mrs. Murphy,” the slatternly girl aroused herself to interpose. “Them as never had no hard times in their lives is always ready to jump on a poor man when he’s down.”

Maurice began to feel as if he were entangled in a strange and uncanny dream. Philip seemed more and more to retire within himself, and Wynne felt that he must do something to attract attention from his friend’s conduct.

“We haven’t anything to do with punishment, Mrs. Murphy,” he said soothingly, coming forward as he spoke. “We came only to see if there is anything we can do to make you more comfortable.”

The old woman answered nothing, but she stared at him with wild eyes.

“We may be able to make you more easy,” he went on cheerfully, “if we can’t fix things for you just as they were at Aunt Hannah’s.”

He used the name half unconsciously as the result of the suggestion of old association and half with an impulse to prove the faint possibility that this might be Norah Dolen. As he spoke Mrs. Murphy raised herself on one elbow, stretching out a lean hand convulsively toward him.

“Master Maurice!” she cried. “Holy Mother of Heaven, is it yourself?”

He went to her quickly, and took the outstretched hand.

“Yes, Norah. It is I.”

She gazed at him a moment with haggard eyes, and then a look of deep tenderness came into the worn old face.

“Blessed be the saints!” she murmured. “It’s me own boy!”

She drew her hand out of his grasp to stroke his arm and the folds of his cassock. He sat down by her on the bed, and she fell back upon the dingy pillow, breaking into hysterical tears. She caught one of his hands and carried it to her lips, kissing it in a sort of rapture.

“My own baby,” she chuckled. “My Master Maurice so big and fine! I always said you’d be taller than Master John.”

The allusion to his half-brother, dead nearly a dozen years, seemed to carry him back into a past so remote that he could hardly remember it. He smiled at Norah’s enthusiasm, more moved by it than he cared to show.

“I’ve had time to grow big since you deserted us, Norah.”

A look of terror came into her face.

“It wasn’t my fault,” she gasped, sobbing between her words. “Don’t believe it against me, me darling. I never went to hurt old Miss Hannah in me life, and the saints knows how she died.”

“I never laid any blame on you,” he answered. “I knew you wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

She broke into painful, hysterical laughter.

“No more I wouldn’t. To think it’s me own baby boy that I’ve carried in me arms, and him a priest!”

The attendant, who had been watching in stupid and undisguised curiosity, gave an audible sniff.

“Oh, he ain’t a real priest,” she interrupted with brutal candor. “They’re just fakes. They ain’t even Catholics.”

A pang of irritation shot through Maurice at the girl’s words, but his sense of humor asserted itself, and helped him to smile at his own weakness.

“But, Norah,” he said, ignoring the taunt, “I want to know about yourself. We’ve often tried to find you,” he added, a sudden perception of the possible importance of this recognition coming into his mind. “You know we depended on you to tell us a lot of things at the time of Aunt Hannah’s death.”

“He told me you’d be after me,” Norah exclaimed with rising excitement. “He said you’d be laying it to me; but, Master Maurice, by the Mother of Mercy, I never”–

“I know that,” he interrupted, to check her excitement; “but why did you go off in that way?”

“She told me to go. She ordered me out of the house like a dog, just because I wouldn’t give up Tim when she’d accidentally seen him when he’d had one drop more than the full of him,–and any poor body might take a wee drop more’n he meant to take beforehand. She was that hot in her way when her temper was up, rest her soul,–and that nobody knows better than yourself,–that the devil himself couldn’t hold her with a pair of red-hot tongs,–saving the presence of your riverinces for mentioning the Old Gentleman.”

Her momentary discomposure at having mentioned the arch fiend in the presence of those who were his professional enemies gave Wynne a chance to interpolate a question. He could easily understand that the violent excitement of a quarrel with her old servant might account for the sudden death of his aunt. He perceived in a flash how Norah, terrified by the newspaper reports which had openly accused her of making way with her mistress, would without difficulty be induced by her husband to conceal herself. The matter to him most important, however, had not yet been touched upon.

“But what became of her will?” he asked. “You told me she made a new one.”

“She did that, Master Maurice. Wasn’t I night and day telling her she’d treated you scandalous, and upside down of all reason; and didn’t she send for old Burnham, with the squinchy eyes and the wife that had a wart on her nose, and have it all writ over.”

“So he said. But what became of it?”

“Ain’t you ever had it?”

“No; we could never find it.”

“Why didn’t you look under the bottom of her little desk?” Mrs. Murphy demanded in much excitement.

“Under the bottom of her desk?” he repeated.

“The double bottom. The little traveling-desk with the little pictures on the corners. She was that contrary that she wasn’t willing you should find it all fair and open. She wanted to tease you a while before you found out she’d changed her mind and give in.”

“Maurice,” Ashe broke in, “we have overstayed our time.”

Wynne rose at once, the habit of obedience being strong. Mrs. Murphy clung to his hand, mumbling over it with tears of delight, and could hardly be persuaded to let them go. It was only when he had promised to return on the next day, and the slatternly girl had peremptorily ordered her patient to lie down and stop acting like a buzz-headed fool, that he escaped. He hurried down the dark stairway and out of the house with a step to which excitement lent speed, while Philip followed in silence.

As they were leaving the court they encountered a middle-aged priest, evidently an Irishman, with a kindly face and a bright eye.

“Can you tell me,” he asked in a rich brogue, greeting them in friendly fashion, “where Mrs. Tim Murphy lives?”

“In the house we came out of,” Maurice answered. “She’s on the fifth floor, at the front.”

The priest regarded him with some surprise in his look, and something, too, of uncertainty.

“You haven’t been there, have you?” he asked.

“Yes; we’ve just come from her place.”

“Then perhaps she won’t want me,” the priest remarked. “It’ll save me a good bit of a climb.”

“But we went only as friends,” Maurice explained. “She might wish the consolations of religion.”

“Then you did not”–

“We are not of your church,” Maurice interrupted, flushing.

The priest looked at them with a puzzled air.

“But surely,” he said, “you are Catholic. Haven’t you been to me at the confession?”

Maurice had not at first recognized the priest to whom he had been in the habit of confessing at St. Eulalia, but he had known him before this announcement made Philip stare at him with a face of astonishment.

“Yes,” he responded steadily. “I have confessed to you at St. Eulalia, but I am not of your communion.”

He turned, and walked away quickly, not looking at Phil. He resolved not to bother his head about this unchancy encounter. It was awkward, and the fact that he had never confided in Ashe seemed to give to these visits to St. Eulalia an air almost of under-handedness; but there was nothing wrong, he told himself, and he would not be vexed at this moment when he was full of delight at the probability of discovering the missing will. He was certainly in no danger of becoming a Catholic. He smiled to think how little likely he was to exchange the too strict rule of the Clergy House for one which might be more rigid still. The keen thought now was the remembrance of the wealth which he hoped soon to possess.

“Phil, old man,” he said joyously, “I believe I shall get Aunt Hannah’s money after all. I always felt that it belonged to me.”

“Yes,” Ashe replied, so dully that Maurice turned to him quickly.

“Come, Phil, don’t answer me like that. What are you moping about?”

There was no answer for a moment. Maurice, full of a fresh vigor born of the discovery of the afternoon, was yet rebuked by the silence of his friend.

“Of course, Phil,” he went on, “you know I don’t mean anything unkind. I am no end obliged to you for taking me there this afternoon. When we go tomorrow”–

“I shall never go there again,” Ashe interrupted.

“Nonsense! Why not?”

“I went to-day to say good-by to my sinful folly. I shall not go again.”

A prickling irritation began to make itself felt in the mind of Maurice. Even so slight a contact with the material realities of life as this interest in the will had put him completely out of tune with the monkish mood.

“Oh, stuff, Phil!” he exclaimed. “For heaven’s sake don’t be so morbid. You talk like a mediaeval anchorite.”

Ashe regarded him with a look of pain.

“It doesn’t seem possible that this is you, Maurice.”

“It is I,” was the sturdy answer; “and it is I in a sane frame of mind, old fellow. Come, it’s no sin to be human; and as far as I can see that’s the only fault you’ve committed.”

“Maurice,” Ashe retorted in a voice of intense feeling, “have you thrown away everything that we believe? Aren’t you with us any more?”

The pronoun which seemed to separate him from the company to which his friend belonged struck harshly on Maurice’s ear. He felt himself being forced to define for Philip thoughts which he had thus far declined to define for himself.

“Phil,” he said determinedly, “I insist that your way of looking at this whole matter is morbid; and I won’t get into a discussion with you. I’m in too good spirits to let you upset them. To think I shall get my property after all.”

“But our lives are devoted to poverty.”

Maurice turned upon his friend, more exasperated than he had ever been with him before in the whole course of their lives.

“Look here, Phil,” he declared, “if you want to be as mopish as a mildewed owl yourself, that is no reason why you should try to make me so too.”

There was no response to this, and in silence they went toward the Clergy House. Just as they reached the door, Maurice turned quickly and held out his hand to his friend. Ashe grasped it so hard that it ached; and Maurice went to his room with a sigh on his lips, while in his heart he said to himself, “Poor Philip!”

Maurice went next day to see Mrs. Murphy, and for a number of days thereafter. Norah was sinking, and clung to him with pathetic tenderness. He learned not much more about the will. She was sure that it had been concealed under the false bottom of a little traveling-desk which he remembered, but beyond that she knew nothing. Maurice wrote to Mr. Burnham, the family lawyer, and the question now was, what had become of the desk? The effects of the testator had been sold at auction, but as they had been largely bought by relatives, Maurice believed that it would not be difficult to trace the missing document.

The interest and excitement of this new business so occupied the thoughts of Maurice that he almost ceased to think of religious matters. Perhaps there was more danger to his monastic profession in this indifference than in the most poignant doubt. He went through his duties at the Clergy House cheerfully because he thought little about them. They were part of the routine of life, and when the hour for recreation came he laid all that aside. He even on one occasion wrote a hurried note to Mr. Burnham in the hour for meditation, and it amazed him when he thought of it that his conscience did not protest. He reflected with a certain naive pleasure that it was possible after all to modify the strict rules of the house without suffering undue contrition afterward. The discovery might have seemed to Father Frontford a dangerous one.

XXIII

THIS DEED UNSHAPES ME
Measure for Measure, iv. 4.

So much was Maurice absorbed in his thought of the will and his inquiries after it that he gave little consideration to the disquieting plan of Father Frontford for the securing of Miss Morison’s cooperation in the election schemes. Several days having gone by without farther allusion to the matter, he decided that his remonstrances had been effective, and was greatly relieved to be freed from a task so repugnant under any circumstances and made intolerable by his feeling for Berenice. It was with a most painful shock, therefore, that he one day received from the Father the information that Miss Morison had returned to Boston. He met the Father Superior in the hall one morning after matins, and although it was a silent hour the latter spoke.

“It is better to see her at once,” he added. “Mrs. Frostwinch is very low, and the sooner the thing is settled the better.”

“But,” stammered Maurice, “I”–

“I think,” the other went on, ignoring the interruption, “that it will be best for you to call on her this afternoon at exercise hour. She is likely to be at home then, and it will be rather early for other visitors.”

Maurice struggled with himself, endeavoring to shake off the influence which this man always exercised over him. He determined to speak, and to decline the hateful errand.

“Father Frontford,” he said with an effort, “I cannot undertake this.”

“My son,” the other responded with gentle severity, “you forget that this is a silent hour. Although I may speak to you on affairs concerning the church, that does not give you the right to answer irrelevantly.”

“It is not irrelevantly,” Maurice protested, feeling his growing irritation strengthen his resolve. “I”–

The voice of the old priest was more stern as he interrupted.

“You seem to forget entirely your vow of obedience. There is little merit,” he added, his tone softening persuasively, “in service which is easy and pleasant. It is in the sacrifice of self and our own inclinations that we gain the conquest of self. Go, my son, and pray to be forgiven for pride and insubordination. Do you think that you would be objecting if it were not for the wound to your vanity which this work inflicts? You may repeat ten _paters_ for having violated the rule of silence.”

Maurice moved away, feeling that he dared not trust himself to speak again. To be thus treated like a willful child galled his pride and quickened all the obstinacy of his nature.

“The rule of silence!” he said to himself angrily as he went. “Are we in the Middle Ages?”

It came to him as a sort of jeer from an outside intelligence that after all they were trying to ape mediaeval discipline. He had been for weeks coming to the point where the whole monastic life seemed to him fantastic and theatrical; and now that his personal liberty was so sharply assailed, his self-respect so threatened, he was prepared to see everything in the most unfavorable light. He laughed bitterly in his mind at the tangle he was in, and contempt for himself and for the community took hold of his very soul.

Yet he was not ready to throw off allegiance. The bonds of habit are strong; the power of old belief is stronger; and strongest of all is that vanity which holds a man back from the avowal that he has been mistaken in his most ardent professions. It is one thing to change a conviction; it is quite another to acknowledge that a belief formerly upheld with ardor is now outgrown. It is not simply the ignoble shame of fearing the opinion of others that is involved in such a case, but that of losing confidence in one’s own judgment, of standing convicted of error in that inner court of consciousness where all disguises are stripped away and all excuses vain. To see that even the most passionate conviction may have been mistaken is to feel profound and disquieting doubt of all that human faith may compass; it is to seem to be helpless in the midst of baffling and sphinx-like perplexities. Maurice was already at the point where he could hardly be regarded as holding his old opinions, but he had not reached that of being ready to confess that he had been wrong in a matter so vital that error in it would involve the whole reordering of his life and leave him with no standards of faith.

He was, moreover, noble in his impulses, and he had too long been bred in introspection not to perceive now that he was greatly influenced by his inclinations. He was too honest not to be aware that there was as much passion as reason in his revulsion from the monastic life, and that Berenice Morison’s perfections weighed as heavily in the scale as any shortcomings of theology. He reproached himself stoutly, in thoroughly monkish fashion, and ended by resolving that obedience was a duty; that the errand on which he was sent was one which would abase his sinful pride and must be executed for the benefiting of his spiritual condition.

He said this to himself sincerely, yet he was human, and behind all was the consciousness that in this bad business there was at least the consolation that he should be face to face with Berenice. If humiliation was doubly bitter by being wrought through his love, at least his love might find some scanty comfort in the very means of his humiliation.

When the hour for exercise, four in the afternoon, came, Maurice set out on his mission. He had blushed at himself in the mirror for the solicitude with which he regarded his image, but he had tried to believe that this arose only from a disinterested anxiety to appear at his best in behalf of the object which he was sent to accomplish.

Miss Morison was living with Mrs. Frostwinch, and as Maurice walked buoyantly along, forgetting his errand and only remembering that he was to see her, he recalled how on the day when they had first met he had walked home with her from Mrs. Gore’s. He recalled the pretty, willful turn of her head and the saucy side-glance of her eyes, the proud curve of her neck, the color on her cheeks delicate as the first peach- blossom in spring. That he had no right thus to be thinking of a woman perhaps added a certain piquancy to his thought; but he quieted his conscience with the reflection that he was in the path of duty, and of a duty, moreover, which was likely to prove sufficiently hard and humiliating.

Miss Morison was at home, and would see Mr. Wynne.

The high reception room in which he waited for her had a gloomy formality, a sort of petrified respectability, most discouraging. On the wall was a large painting, evidently a copy from some famous original, although Maurice did not know what. The picture represented a painter with a model in the dress of a nun. The artist was evidently engaged in painting a saint for some convent, a beautiful sister had been chosen as his model, and he was improving the opportunity to make love to her. Her reluctant and remorseful yielding was evident in every line of her figure as she allowed the painter to steal his arm around her waist and bend his lips toward hers. Wynne looked at the picture with vague disquiet. Here was the struggle of the natural human impulse against the constraint of ascetic vows; the irresistible yielding to nature and to the call of a passion interwoven with the very fibres of humanity. The sombre Boston parlor vanished, and he seemed to be in some old-world nunnery with the unknown lovers. He felt all their guilty bliss and their scalding remorse. He sighed so deeply that the soft laugh behind him seemed almost an echo. Turning quickly, he found Berenice watching him with a teasing smile on her lips.

“I beg your pardon for startling you,” she said, holding out her hand, “but you were so absorbed in Filippo and his Lucretia that you paid no attention to me.”

“I beg your pardon,” he responded, taking her hand cordially. “I was looking at the picture and wondering what it represented.”

“It is that reprobate Filippo Lippi and Lucretia Buti, the nun that he ran away with. Why it pleased the fancy of my grandfather, I’m sure I can’t imagine. Sit down, please. It is a long time since I have seen you, and now that Lent is coming, I suppose that you will be lost to the world altogether.”

He sat down facing her, but he did not answer. His voice had deserted him, and his ideas had vexatiously scattered like frightened wild geese. He looked at her, beautiful, witching, full of smiles; then without knowing exactly why he did so, he turned and looked again at the Lucretia. Berenice laughed frankly.

“Are you comparing us?” she asked gayly. “Or are you trying to decide what I would have done in her case? I can tell you that.”

“What would you have done?”

“Done? I would have run away from him and the convent both! Do you think I was made to be cooped up in a nunnery if I could escape?”

“No,” he answered with fervor, “you were certainly not made for that.”

“That is an unclerical answer from a monk.”

“I am not a monk.”

She put her head a little on one side with delicious coquetry.

“Would it be rude to ask what you are, then?”

He regarded her a moment, and then with explosive vehemence he broke out:–

“I am a deacon who has not taken the vows, and I am a man who loves you with his whole soul!”

She paled, and then flushed to her temples. She cast her eyes down, and seemed to be struggling for self-control. He did not offer to touch her, although his throat contracted with the intensity of his effort to maintain his outward calm. Then she looked up with a smile light and cold.

“We are not called upon to play Filippo and Lucretia in reversed parts,” she said. “I am not trying to tempt you away from your calling. Wouldn’t it be better to talk about the weather?”

He was unable to answer her, but sat staring with hot eyes into her face, feeling its beauty like a pain.

“It has been very cold for the season during the past week,” she went on.

“Miss Morison,” he retorted hotly, “I had no right to say that, but you needn’t insult me. It is cruel enough as it is.”

Her face softened a little, but she ignored his words.

“Tell me,” she remarked, as if more personal subjects had not come into the conversation, “what are the chances of the election? I hear so many things said that I have ceased to have any clear ideas on the subject at all.”

Maurice sat upright, throwing back his shoulders. This girl should not get the better of him. He lifted his head, his nostrils distending.

“It is too soon to speak with certainty,” he responded; “but it is in regard to that that I came–that I was sent to see you this afternoon. We are under vows of obedience at the Clergy House.”

He said this defiantly, fancying he saw in her face a smile at the idea of his servitude.

“You will regard what I say as the words of a messenger.”

“All?” she interrupted.

He flushed with confusion, but he was determined that he would not again lose control of himself.

“All that I _shall_ say,” he responded. “What I have said is to be forgotten.”

“By me or by you?” she asked, dimpling into a smile so provoking that he had to look away from her or he should have given in.

“By you,” was his reply; but he could not help adding under his breath: “If you wish to forget it.”

She laughed outright.

“I will consider the matter. But this errand from the powers that be at the Clergy House; I am curious about that.”

“You will remember,” he urged, his face falling, “that it is only a message for which I have no responsibility.”

“Certainly; although you would of course bring no message of which you didn’t approve.”

“I am not asked whether I approve or disapprove. It is the decision of the Father Superior that it should be said; and that is the whole of it.”

“Well,” she inquired, as he paused, unable to go on, “after this tremendous preamble, what is it?”

It seemed to Maurice that he could not say it; but he cleared his throat, and forced himself to look her in the face.

“It has to do with your inheritance of the–your inheritance through Mrs. Frostwinch.”

“My inheritance? What do you mean?” she demanded, suddenly becoming grave.

As briefly as possible he explained to her the errand which had been given to him. He could see indignation gathering in her look.

“But who has told Father Frontford that Mrs. Frostwinch is so ill?” she broke out at last. “Cousin Anna is not so well since she came from the South, but that is all. It is shameful to be speculating on her death and disposing of her property as if she were buried already! I wonder at you!”

Wynne smiled bitterly.

“I have already said that I had nothing whatever to do with the matter,” he answered.

“You had no right to come to me with such a message. It puts me in the position of waiting for her death! Oh, it’s an insult! It’s an insult to me and to Cousin Anna! What will she think?”

“She will think nothing,” he said, roused by a sense of her injustice, “because she will never know.”

“Why will she not?”

“Because if it is cruel for me to say a thing which harms nobody except me for bringing the message, it would be a thousand times more cruel for you to tell your cousin that her death was counted on.”

He rose as he spoke, and stood looking down on her with the full purpose of constraining her to his will. She sprang up in her turn.

“Very well; I will not tell her. You may say to Father Frontford from me that it will be time enough for him to undertake the disposal of my property when it is mine. I thank him for his officiousness!”

“You are unjust to Father Frontford. I have made his wish seem offensive by the way I have put it, I suppose. At any rate, he is simply seeking the good of the church.”

“And to have himself made bishop.”

“He would vote to-morrow for any man that he thought would do better than he can do. He would support Mr. Strathmore himself if he believed it well for the church. I do not find myself in sympathy with everything that he does, but I know him, and of one thing I am sure: he would be burned alive in slow fires to advance the good of the church.”

She looked at him curiously. Then she turned away in seeming carelessness, and began to arrange some pink roses which stood in a big vase on a table near at hand.

“Good-by,” he said. “I am sorry to have offended you.”

“Must you go?” responded she with a society manner which cut him to the quick. “Let me give you a rose.”

She broke one off, and handed it to him. He took it awkwardly, wholly at a loss to understand her.

“They are lovely, aren’t they?” she said. “Mr. Stanford sent them to me this morning.”

He looked at her until her eyes fell. Then he laid the rose on the table near the hand which had given it to him, and without further speech went out.

XXIV

FAREWELL AT ONCE, FOR ONCE, FOR ALL, AND EVER Richard II., ii. 2.

Although Ashe had said that he should not go again to the poverty- stricken dwelling of Mrs. Murphy, he found himself a few days later beside her bed. Word had been brought to him that she was dying, and that she begged to see him before her death. There was no resisting a call like this, and on a gloomy afternoon he had gone down to the dingy court, torn by memories and worn with inward struggles.

He found the old woman almost speechless with weakness. The room was more comfortable, and he knew that Maurice had been at work. The slatternly girl was in attendance, and there was also the pleasant- faced priest whom Philip and Maurice had encountered in the court. The priest had come with an acolyte to administer the last rites, and the woman had made her confession. So intent, however, was Mrs. Murphy upon the purpose for which she had summoned Ashe that she cried out to him as he entered, and apparently for the moment forgot all else.

Ashe looked at the priest in apology, but the latter said kindly:–

“Let her speak to you, and then she will be done with things of this earth.”

It was the safety of her husband for which the poor creature was concerned. It was on her mind that Ashe and Mrs. Fenton could save him from punishment if they chose. She pleaded piteously with Philip to have the prisoner set free.

“He’ll be all alone of me,” she moaned. “That’ll be more punishment than you’re thinking, your riverince. He’ll come out of jail sober, and he’ll remember how he had me to do for him night and day these long years. He’ll not be liking that, your riverince; and he’ll be uneasy to think maybe he had some small thing to do with it himself. Not that I say he did,” she added hastily. “His little fun wouldn’t be the cause of harm to me as is used to his ways, but maybe he’ll be after thinking so. It’s the fever I have, from poor living, and maybe from being so long without Tim and worrying the heart out of my body for him, and he there in jail. Only if you’ll promise to let him go, you and the sweet lady that very likely didn’t know his pleasant ways when he had a drop too much, you’d make it easier dying without him.”

She gasped out her words as if every syllable were an effort, her eyes appealing with a wildness which touched his heart. The girl went to the bed and leaned over, taking in hers the thin, withered hand.

“There, there, Mrs. Murphy,” she said, “of course the gentleman’ll do it. He couldn’t have the heart to resist your dying prayer.”

“I am ready to do all I can, Mrs. Murphy,” Philip stammered, struggling with his conscience to promise as much as he could; “and I’ll see Mrs. Fenton. I’m sure she won’t wish to have anything done that you would not like.”

The sick woman burst into weak tears, stammering half inarticulate blessings.

“I don’t know,” Philip began, feeling that it was not honest to give her the impression that he could set her husband free, “how much”–

The priest crossed to him and laid a hand quickly on his shoulder.

“Whist!” he said in Philip’s ear. “There’s no need of troubling her with that. You’ll do what you can, and the rest’s with heaven that is good to the poor.”

Mrs. Murphy had not heard or heeded what Ashe said, and still mumbled her thanks while the Father prepared to administer the viaticum. The acolyte and the girl looked at Ashe as if expecting him to withdraw.

“May I remain?” Philip asked, looking at the priest with deep feeling.

The other regarded him benignly.

“Remain, my brother; and may the Holy Virgin bless the sacrament to your soul as well as to hers.”

Ashe could not have told why he had yielded to the impulse to stay. He had for months been coming more and more to feel that the church of Rome was his true refuge, yet he hardly now dared confess this to himself. He had been deeply affected by the discovery that Maurice had been to confession at St. Eulalia, and he longed himself to follow the example of his friend. To Ashe, however, it seemed like trifling with sacred things, and he could not do it. Now as he knelt on the unclean and uneven floor of that sordid chamber he experienced a peace and a security such as he had never before known. He was moved almost to tears; yet he would not yield.

“It is not Rome,” he insisted to himself. “It is the simple faith of these poor souls. That is beautiful and holy. It would be easy for me to think that I was becoming a Catholic.”

He left as soon as the rite was concluded, but the memory of it remained.

He saw Mrs. Fenton on the afternoon following. He had not been alone with her since his mad declaration of love. He wished now to meet her calmly, yet the moment he entered her house his heart quickened its beating. He was no longer a priest bent on an errand of mercy; he was an ardent lover, acutely conscious that he was in the rooms through which she passed day by day, that in a moment he should see her, hear her voice, perhaps touch her hand. He was shown into the library where she was sitting, and she rose to greet him frankly and simply.

“She was not touched by what happened in the carriage,” Philip said to himself, with the woeful wisdom of love, “or she could not so completely ignore it.”

“How do you do, Mr. Ashe?” she said with perfect calmness. “You are just in time for a cup of tea. I am having mine early, because I came in a little chilled.”

He was too confused with the joy of her presence to decline.

“I have come on an errand which is not over pleasant,” he remarked, watching her handling the cups, “and I am afraid that it is useless too.”

“Does that mean that it is something you wish me to do but think I’m too hard-hearted or selfish to agree to?”

“It is not a question of willingness so much as of power. Mrs. Murphy is dying,–very likely by this time she is not living,–and she begs us to save her husband from being punished.”

“But how could that be done?”

“I doubt if it could be done; but I promised her that I would speak to you. I suppose that if we did not give evidence there would not be much that could be told; but I hardly think that we have the right not to.”

Mrs. Fenton thoughtfully regarded the fire a moment; then seemed to be recalled to the present by the active boiling of the little silver teakettle.

“I’m afraid women would drive justice out of the world if they had their way,” she said with a smile.

He smiled in reply, full of delight in her mere presence. They talked the matter over, arriving at some sort of a compromise between their sympathy for the dying woman and their feeling that a man like Murphy should be dealt with by the law. They came for the moment to seem to be on the old footing of simple friendliness, while she made the tea and they discussed the situation.

“One lump or two?” Mrs. Fenton asked, pausing with tongs suspended over the sugar.

“Two,” answered he. “I am afraid I am self-indulgent in my tea, but then I very seldom take it.”

“So small an indulgence,” she said, handing him his cup, “does not seem to me to indicate any great moral laxity.”

“It is the principle of the thing,” Philip returned, smiling because she smiled.

Mrs. Fenton shook her head.

“Come,” she said, “this is a good time for me to say something that has been in my mind for a long time. You may think that it isn’t my affair, but I can’t help saying that it seems to me you have allowed yourself to get into a frame of mind that is rather–well, that isn’t entirely healthy. I hope you don’t think me too presuming.”

“You could not be,” was his reply; “but I do not understand what you mean.”

She had grown graver, and leaned back in her chair with downcast eyes.

“I hardly know how to say it,” she began slowly, “but you seem to me to be feeling rather morbidly about the virtue of personal discomfort. If you will pardon me, I can’t think that you really believe it to be any merit in the sight of heaven that a man should make himself needlessly uncomfortable.”

“But if the mortification of the flesh helps us to”–

She put up her hand and interrupted him.

“I am a good churchwoman, but I am not able to believe in scoring off the sins of the soul by abusing the body. The old monks scourging themselves and the Hindus swinging by hooks in their backs seem to me both pathetically mistaken, and both to be moved by the same feelings.”

“Then you do not believe in asceticism at all?”

“Mr. Fenton used to say that asceticism was the most insolent insult to Heaven that human vanity ever invented.”

“But if we are to follow the devices and desires of our own hearts,” Ashe broke out, his inner excitement bursting forth through his calmness, “if we are to give way to the joys of this life, if–Do you not see, Mrs. Fenton, that this covers so much? It goes down into the depths of a man’s heart. It comes almost at once, for instance, to the question of the marriage of priests.”

She flushed, and her manner grew perceptibly colder.

“That is naturally not a subject that I care to go into,” she said; “but I have no scruple against saying that I do not believe in a celibate priesthood. In our church and our time, it is out of place.”

“But it is the supreme test whether a man is willing to give up all his earthly joy for the service of Heaven.”

She frowned slightly, and he realized how significant his manner must have been.

“The marriage of the clergy is not a subject that it seems to me necessary for us to discuss,” she said.

“Mrs. Fenton,” Philip said, “I have given you too good a right to be offended with me once, but I must say something that I fear may offend you again. It is not about myself. It is about a better man.”

She looked at him in evident surprise and disquiet.

“I asked what you think of the marriage of the clergy,” he went on, “because it seems to me right to tell you that Mr. Candish loves you.”

She flushed to her temples, starting impulsively in her seat.

“Mr. Ashe,” she said vehemently, “what right have you to talk to me of such subjects at all?”

“None,” he answered, “none at all,–unless–None that you would recognize; but I wish to atone for the wrong I did in speaking to you, and to say what he would never say. If it were possible that you cared for him, I should perhaps help you both.”

“You forget, I think, that I have been married.”

“I do not forget anything,” Philip returned desperately. “It is only that he is a good man, a noble man, a man that would never have fallen under his weakness as I did, and if you cared for him, he is too fine to be allowed to suffer. He loved you long before I ever saw you.”

“He has never given me any sign of it.”

Her flushed cheeks and something in the way in which she said this seemed to him to indicate that she did love Candish. He had been moved by the most sincere desire to sacrifice his own will and happiness to the well-being of the woman he loved, and if it were that she loved his rival he had been ready to forget everything but that. Now by a quick revulsion it seemed to him that he could not endure the success of this man whose cause he had been pleading.

“Ah!” he cried, bending toward her, “you love him!”

She rose indignantly to her feet.

“Your impertinence is amazing!” she exclaimed. “It is time that somebody told you the truth. It is hard for me to say unkind things to one who has saved my life, but you ought to know how you appear. You have got yourself into a thoroughly unwholesome state of mind and body; and unless you get out of it you will ruin your whole career. Does it seem to you that a man who has so little control over himself is a fit leader for others? Can’t you see that you have brooded over this question of celibacy until you are completely morbid? Find some wholesome, right-minded woman, Mr. Ashe; love her and marry her, and be done with all this wretched, unwholesome mawkishness. As for me, when I married once, I married for life. My son will never be given a second father.”

He had risen also, and his self-possession had returned to him.

“I have annoyed you,” he said with a new dignity. “You are perhaps right in saying that I am morbid, but in what I said to-day I was trying to put self entirely out of the question. There is only one thing more that I want to say; and that is that it is not fair to judge our order by me. I know only too well how natural it is that you should think all the men at the Clergy House weak and despicable like me; but that is not so. They are sincere, self-forgetful fellows. You have seen my friend Wynne. He, for instance, is as manly and fine and honest as any man alive.”

“I do not misjudge them or you, Mr. Ashe. I only feel that in these past weeks you have not been yourself. We will forget it all, and I hope that you will forgive me if I have hurt you.”

“I have nothing to forgive. It is you who must do that. Good-by.”

He went away with the remembrance of her beautiful eyes looking in pity into his, and once more the phrase of the Persian came into his mind like a refrain: “O thou, to the arch of whose eyebrow the new moon is a slave!”

XXV

WHOM THE FATES HAVE MARKED
Comedy of Errors, i. I

Maurice soon heard from his lawyer that the missing desk had passed into the hands of his sister-in-law, Mrs. Singleton, and that that lady was staying at Montfield as the guest of Mrs. Ashe. He determined to go down himself, feeling unwilling to trust business so important to any other. In order to leave the Clergy House, it was necessary to have permission from the Father Superior, and on Monday of Shrove week Wynne requested what the deacons jestingly called among themselves a dispensation. He did not think it honest to conceal the reason for his wishing leave of absence, and briefly related the story of his finding his old nurse and of her revelation.

“Poor old Norah is dead,” he concluded, “but I had her affidavit taken, and if the will can be found there should be no difficulty in establishing it. The other witnesses are alive.” They were sitting in the Father’s study, a room severely plain in its furnishings, like all the apartments in the Clergy House. The table by which the Superior sat was covered with papers and letters, the signs of the large correspondence which Wynne knew Frontford to keep up with members of his order in England and this country. The furniture was stiff and uncompromising, the windows covered only by plain shades, while the bookshelves took an austere air from the dull leather of the bindings of their tall, formal volumes. Father Frontford leaned back in his uncushioned chair and pressed together his thin finger-tips in the gesture which was habitual with him, regarding the young man with keen eyes.

“This property, if I understand you rightly, is now in the possession of the church?”

“It was given by the will that was found to the church and to missions. Some of it went to the founding of a home for invalid priests. My aunt was the one of my relatives who was a churchwoman.”

“And if you succeed in finding and establishing this new will, you mean to divert the money to your own use?”

“If the will is valid, is not the money mine?”

The Father looked at him a moment before he answered. Then he sighed.

“My son,” he asked, “would you have put that question six months ago?”

Maurice flushed, but he did not wish to show that he understood.

“Why not?” he demanded.

“There was not then in your heart a wish to wrest property from the church that you might enjoy it yourself.”

“I haven’t any wish now to take from the church anything which is not mine already.”

“By divine right or by human?” the Father inquired with cold inflexibility.

Maurice began to be irritated. He felt that he was being treated with too high a hand.

“Have I no rights as a man?” demanded he warmly.

The other sighed once more, and a look of genuine pain came into his face.

“My son,” he said with a gentleness which touched Maurice in spite of himself, “when you gave yourself to the church, did you keep back part of the price? Was not your gift all you were and all you might possess?”

Maurice was silent. He could not for shame answer, that he did not then know that he had so much to give, and he realized too that this would then have made no difference. He felt as if he were now being held to a pledge which he had never meant to make, yet he could not see what reply there was to the words of the Superior. He cast down his eyes, but he said in his heart that he would not yield his claim; that the demand was unjust.

“I have for some time,” Father Frontford went on, “in fact ever since your return, seen with pain that your heart is no longer single to the good of the church. An earthly passion has eaten into your soul. Your confessions are evidently attempts to satisfy your own conscience by telling as little as possible of the doubts which you have been harboring in your heart. Now there is given you an opportunity to see for yourself, without the possibility of disguise, what your true feeling is. The question now is whether you are seeking your own will or the good of religion. Will you fail us and yourself?”

Maurice was touched by the tone in which this was said. While he had been growing to be less and less in sympathy with Father Frontford and with the ideals which the brotherhood represented, he had never for an instant ceased to believe in the sincerity of the Superior. He might think him narrow, mistaken, even at times so blinded by desire for the success of the brotherhood as to become almost Jesuitical in method; but he felt that the Father lived faithful to his belief, ready, if the cause required, to sacrifice himself utterly. He could not but be moved by the appeal which the priest made, and by the genuine feeling which rang through every word.

“Father,” he said, raising his eyes to the face of the other, “I cannot deny that I am less satisfied about our faith than I used to be. I can see now that I perhaps have not been entirely frank in confession, though I hadn’t recognized it before. I cannot go into a discussion of my doubts now. I am not in a mood to talk with you when we must look at so many things from different points of view. I haven’t hidden from you anything that has happened, and you could not be persuaded that all the change in me has not come from the fact that I–has not come from my feeling toward–my feeling about marriage. This is not true. Everything has changed; and while I may be wrong, I have been trying to act conscientiously. I feel that it is right for me to follow up this matter of my aunt’s will; and if I cannot make you share my feeling, I can only say that I don’t wish to do anything that seems to me wrong.”

The other smiled sadly.

“What does that mean in plainer words?” asked he. “It means that you do not wish to do wrong because whatever you desire will seem to you right.”

“You are unjust!” Maurice retorted, flushing.

The face of the Father grew stern. “Since when did the rule of the order allow you to use such language to your superiors? If you are not thinking of evading your vows, you do evade them daily; and the throwing them off can be nothing but an affair of time.”

Maurice felt that he could not endure this longer without breaking out into words which he should afterward repent. He rose at once.

“Will you permit me to retire?” he said. “I shall be glad of your answer to my request for leave of absence, but I cannot go on with this conversation.”

The other stretched out his hand with a gesture infinitely tender.

“My son!” he entreated. “Do not stray into the wilderness!”

Maurice looked at the outstretched hand. His eyes moistened, but he could not yield. He felt tenderness for Father Frontford, but he was more and more at war with the Father Superior. For an instant they remained thus, and then the thin hand dropped.

“You are then still resolute in asking leave?” the Father said, in his coldest voice.

“It seems to me my duty to see that if possible the last wishes of my aunt be carried out.”

“Is that your only motive?”

Maurice flushed hotly, but he looked the other boldly in the face.

“I must allow you to impute to me any motive you please. The point is whether I am to have your permission.”

“Under the circumstances I do not feel justified in granting it. We will speak of the matter again, when you have examined your heart more carefully.”

Maurice bowed and left the room in silence, his spirit hot within him. That he should be denied had not entered his mind. He was now confused by the conflict in his thoughts. To disobey would be equivalent to nothing less than a defiance of the authority of the Father Superior. To assert his right to decide this matter could only mean a resolve to break away from the brotherhood altogether. He was hardly prepared for a step so extreme; yet he could not but ask himself whether he were willing to accept the conditions involved in remaining. He realized for the first time what the vow of obedience meant. He had received the slight sacrifices involved thus far in his novitiate as right and proper; simple things which had marked his willingness to yield to the authority which by his own choice was above him. Now he said to himself that to continue this life was to become a mere puppet; to give up independence and manhood itself.

On the other hand, he had not been bred in theological subtilties without having come to see that the act cannot be judged without the motive, and he had been more nearly touched by the words of Father Frontford than he would have been willing to confess. He knew that he had been hiding from his confessor the extent to which a longing for the world had taken possession of him; that there was in this wish to secure the will and through it the property an eagerness to be independent of control and to take his place in the world as a man among men. The thought that the money was now in the hands of the church to which he had pledged himself tormented him. There came into his mind the question what he would do with the wealth if he obtained it. He had vowed himself to poverty, at least in his intention. If he had this fortune and became a priest, he would be pledged to endow the church with all his worldly goods.

He faced his inner self with sudden defiance, as if he had thrown off a disguise cunningly but weakly worn. He confessed with frankness that he had secretly desired this money that he might be in a position to gain Berenice. He pleaded with himself that he did not mean to abandon the priesthood; that he had simply discovered that he had not a vocation for the existence he had contemplated. He tried to see some way in which he might gain the end he desired without giving up the faith he professed; and in the end he succeeded only in getting his mind into a confusion so great that it seemed impossible to think of anything clearly.

He had an errand at Mrs. Wilson’s on Shrove Tuesday, and she invited him to accompany her to midnight service at the Church of the Nativity. When he repeated the request to Father Frontford, he was given permission to go.

“It is an unusual, and even an extraordinary request,” the Superior said; “but Mrs. Wilson is so deeply interested in the welfare of the brotherhood that it is better to make a concession. What time are you to meet her?”

“She is to send her carriage for me at half past eleven. She was so sure that you would not object that she told me not to send any word.”

“It is not well to have her treat so great a departure from rules as a matter of course,” the Father answered gravely. “I will send her a note which will show her this. You have permission not to retire at the usual hour.”

The carnival season was celebrated at the Clergy House with a meal better than usual, and with some gayety on the part of the young deacons. The light-hearted Southerner improved to the full the permission to talk at dinner, and chatted away with a volubility which seemed to Maurice to indicate a nature too buoyant or too shallow to be deeply stirred. Father Frontford was absent, and there was nothing to throw a shadow of restraint over the feast, the other priests being almost as boyish as the deacons.

“Here’s Wynne,” the Southerner said laughing, “is as glum as if he were Lent incarnate, come six hours too soon. You must have a good deal on your conscience to be so solemn.”

Maurice smiled, trying to shake off his depression.

“It isn’t always what is on one’s conscience,” he retorted, “so much as how tender the conscience is.”

“Good! He has you there, Ballentyne,” one of the deacons cried.

“Oh, not at all. If a conscience is tender, it must be because it is harrowed up. Now Wynne has probably vexed his so that it is habitually sore.”

Maurice was out of the mood of the company, but he tried to answer with a light word. The jesting seemed to him trifling; and his companions, compared to the men he had seen during his stay with Mrs. Staggchase, appeared like boys chattering at boarding-school. He wondered where they had been for their absence; then he remembered that they had all told him, and that he had forgotten. He had had no real interest in them after all, he reflected; and at the thought he reproached himself with egotism and a lack of brotherliness. He glanced at Ashe, and was struck by the paleness of his friend. His look was perhaps followed by Ballentyne, for the latter commented on the downcast aspect of Philip.

“Ashe,” the young man said, “looks ten times more doleful than Wynne. What have you fellows been doing? One would think that you had been eating the bitterest of all the apples of Sodom.”

“They have been in the gay world,” another rejoined.

“Then they might be set up as a warning against it,” was the retort.

Laughter that one cannot share is more nauseous than sweets to the sick; and this harmless trifling was intolerable to Maurice. He got away from it as soon as it was possible, and passed the heavy hours in his chamber, waiting for the coming of the carriage. He tried at first to read and then to pray; but in the end he abandoned himself to bitter reverie.

He did not attempt to reason, he merely gave way to gloomy retrospect, without sequence or order. Seen in the light of his experiences during the past weeks, his life looked poor, and dull, and misdirected. It was little comfort to assert that he had at least been true to ideals high, no matter how mistaken.

“It is not what one does,” he thought, “but the intention with which he does it. Only that does not excuse one for being stupid, and raw, and ignorant. When a man is a weakling and a fool, he always takes refuge in the excuse that he is at least fine in his intentions. Bah! No wonder she laughed at me! I have shut myself up with ideas as mouldy as a mediaeval skeleton, and when I come to daylight all that I can say is that I meant well. I suppose an idiot means well from his point of view!”

He looked about for something which should divert him from thoughts so tormenting. His eye fell upon his Bible, and he took it up half mechanically. On the title page was written the name of his aunt, to whom it had once belonged. The name brought back the interview with Father Frontford, and the refusal of his request for leave of absence.

“Nothing belongs to me,” he said to himself. “I am a thing, a sort of thing like a numbered prisoner. How could she care for a chattel, a creature without even identity! I will go down to Montfield. I am not yet so completely out of the world that I can’t have a word in the disposition of my own property.”

He threw himself on the bed and tried to sleep, but sleep was impossible. He only thought the more hotly and wildly. The hours stretched on and on interminably before he heard the bell ring, and knew that the carriage had come. Rising hastily, he adjusted his cassock and his tumbled hair, and went down.

“Perhaps I may find peace at the mass,” he sighed with a great wistfulness.

The fresh, cool air of night was grateful, and as he was driven along the quiet streets, a new hopefulness came to him. He had supposed that he was to be taken to Mrs. Wilson’s, and when the carriage stopped was surprised to find himself before a large building which he did not recognize.

“But I was to meet Mrs. Wilson,” he said doubtfully to the footman who opened the carriage door.

“Mrs. Wilson is here, sir,” was the answer. “She said to carry you here. James is inside to tell you what to do.”

A footman was indeed within, waiting for him.

“Mrs. Wilson says will you please come to her, sir,” the man said, and led the way upstairs.

The sound of gay music, growing louder as he advanced, filled Wynne’s ears. He began to feel disquieted, and once half halted.

“Are you sure there is no mistake?” he asked.

“Oh, no mistake at all, sir,” his guide answered. “Mrs. Wilson has arranged everything. Leave your hat and cloak here, sir, if you please.”

Maurice mechanically did as requested, but as he threw off his outer garment the opening of a door let in a burst of music which seemed so close at hand that he was startled. He was in what was evidently a coat-room, the attendant of which regarded him with open curiosity; and he realized suddenly that he must be near a ball-room.

“Where am I?” he demanded.

“It’s the ball, sir, that they has to end the season before Lent. It’s Lent to-morrow, sir, as I thought you’d know.”

Maurice stared at him in amazement and anger.

“There is a mistake,” he said. “Give me my cloak.”

“Indeed, sir,” the man said, holding back the garment he had taken, “Mrs. Wilson said, sir, that I was to say that she particular wanted you to come fetch her in the ball-room, sir; and I was to bring you without fail.”

“You may send her word that I am here.”

“Please, sir,” the man returned, in a voice which struck Maurice as absurdly pleading, “she was very particular, and it’s no hurt to go in, sir. She’ll blame me, sir.”

Maurice looked at him, and laughed at the solemnity of the man’s homely face. A spirit of recklessness leaped up within him. He said to himself that at least Mrs. Wilson should not think that he dared not come.

“Very well,” he said. “Show me the way.”

“Thank you, sir,” the servant said, as if he had received a great favor. “It’s not easy to bear blame that don’t belong to you.”

He opened a door into an anteroom thronged with people laughing and chatting. The sound of the music was clear and loud, with the voices striking through its cadences. Across this he led Wynne, to the wide door of a ball-room flooded with light and full of moving figures.

XXVI

O WICKED WIT AND GIFT
Hamlet, i. 5.

The brilliant glare of lights, the strident sound of dance-music, the enlivening sense of a living, vivaciously stirring company of gayly dressed merrymakers, assailed Maurice as he followed his guide across the anteroom. At the door of the ball-room he was for a moment hindered by a group of men who were lounging and chatting there. All his senses were keenly alert, and he perhaps unconsciously listened to hear if there were any comment on his appearance in such a place. He had not realized what he was coming into, and now that it was too late for him to withdraw without sacrificing his pride, he saw how incongruous his presence really was. Almost instantly he caught a name.

“By Jove!” one of the men said. “Isn’t the Wilson in great form to- night! That diamond on her toe must be worth a fortune.”

“She saves the price in the materials of her gowns,” another responded lightly. “I never saw her with quite so little on.”

“No material is allowed to go to waist there,” put in a third.

“She has two straps and a rosebud,” yet another voice laughed; “and nothing else above the belt but diamonds.”

“Her very smile is decollete” some one commented. “This is one of her nights. When I see Mrs. Wilson with that expression, I am prepared for anything.”

Maurice felt his cheeks burn at this light talk. It seemed to him ribald, and he was outraged that the name of a woman should be bandied about so carelessly. He raised his head and set his square jaw defiantly; then began to push his way through the group, keenly conscious of the stare which greeted him.

“Hallo! What the devil’s that?” he heard behind him.

“The skeleton at the feast,” responded one voice.

“Oh, it’s some devilish trick of Mrs. Wilson’s, of course,” put in another.

All this Maurice heard with an outraged sense that there was no attempt to prevent him from hearing. He might have been a servant or a piece of furniture for any restraint these men put upon their speech. He was troubled with the fear of what absurdity Mrs. Wilson might intend. Now that he was here, however, he would go on. The natural obstinacy of his temper asserted itself, and if there was little pious meekness in his spirit at that moment, there was plenty of grit.

The ball-room was garlanded with wreaths of laurel stuck thickly with red roses; women in white and in bright-hued gowns, with fair shoulders and arms, were floating about in the embraces of men; the music set everything to a rhythmic pulse, and gaily quickened the blood in the veins of the young deacon as he looked. The throbbing of the violins made him quiver with an excitement joyous and bewildering. He was dazzled by the bright, moving figures, the shining colors, the sparkling of gems, the lovely faces, the alluring creamy necks and arms; a sweet intoxication began to creep over him, despite the defiance of his feelings toward the men he had passed in the doorway. Half blinded by the glare, dazed and fascinated by the sights, the sounds, the perfumes, he followed the footman down the hall.

He was obliged to skirt the room, even then hardly evading the dancers. His progress was necessarily slow. The footman so continually paused to apologize for having brushed against some lady in his anxiety to avoid a whirling pair of dancers, that it began to seem to Maurice that they should never reach Mrs. Wilson. He cast his eyes to the floor, resolved not to look at the worldly sights around him. Country bred and trained in the asceticism of the Clergy House, he could not see these women without blushing; and more than ever he wondered that he had been so blindly obedient as to allow himself to be brought to such a place.

He heard a man clap his hands. He looked up to see a flock of dancers hurrying to the upper end of the room. Among them, with a shock so violent that his heart seemed to stand still, he recognized Berenice Morison. He saw her go to a table and pick up something; then she and her companions turned and came glancing and gleaming down the hall like a flock of pigeons which fly and shine in the sun. Fair, flushed softly, more beautiful than all the rest in his eyes, Berenice came on, her hair curling about her forehead, her eyes shining with laughter and pleasure. She was dressed in white, and at one shoulder, crushed against her bare, creamy neck, was a bunch of crimson roses. Maurice trembled at the sight of her beauty; he reddened at the consciousness of her dress; over him came some inexplicable sense of fear.

Suddenly he perceived that she had caught sight of him. He could see the look of amazement rise in her face, give place to one of amusement, then change instantly into sparkling mischievousness. He moved on toward her, abashed, bewildered, feeling as if he were running a gauntlet. He could not withdraw his gaze from her, as she came quickly onward, dimpling, smiling, her face overflowing with saucy fun, her glance holding his.

“Good-evening, Mr. Wynne,” she said lightly, coming up to him. “This is an unexpected pleasure.”

“Good-evening,” Maurice responded, hardly able to drag the words out of his parched throat.

“Of course you came for the german,” Miss Morison went on, more mockingly than before. “I am so glad that I happen to have a favor for you.”

She leaned forward, swaying toward him her white shoulders, dazzling him with the hint of the swell of her bosom, bewildering him with the perfume of her dark hair, the alluring feminine presence which brought the hot blood to his face. Before he guessed her intention, she had pinned to his cassock a grotesque little dangling mask which swung from a bright ribbon.

“There,” she commented, drawing back as if critically to observe. “The

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