E-text prepared by Lionel Sear
ARTHUR THOMAS QUILLER-COUCH.
TO THE GENTLE READER.
In a former book of mine, Sir John Constantine, I expressed (perhaps extravagantly) my faith in my fellows and in their capacity to treat life as a noble sport. In Brother Copas I try to express something of that corellative scorn which must come sooner or later to every man who puts his faith into practice.. I have that faith still; but that
"He who would love his fellow men Must not expect too much of them"
is good counsel if bad rhyme. I can only hope that both the faith and the scorn are sound at the core.
For the rest, I wish to state that St. Hospital is a society which never existed. I have borrowed for it certain features from the Hospital of St. Cross, near Winchester. I have invented a few external and all the internal ones. My "College of Noble Poverty" harbours abuses from which, I dare to say, that nobler institution is entirely free. St Hospital has no existence at all outside of my imagining.
The Haven, Fowey. February 16th, 1911.
"And a little Child shall lead them."—ISAIAH xi. 6.
I. THE MASTER OF ST. HOSPITAL.
II. THE COLLEGE OF NOBLE POVERTY.
III. BROTHER COPAS HOOKS A FISH.
IV. CORONA COMES.
V. BROTHER COPAS ON RELIGIOUS DIFFERENCES.
VI. GAUDY DAY.
VII. LOW AND HIGH TABLES.
VIII. A PEACE-OFFERING.
IX. BY MERE RIVER.
X. THE ANONYMOUS LETTER.
XI. BROTHER COPAS ON THE ANGLO-SAXON.
XII. MR. ISIDORE TAKES CHARGE.
XIII. GARDEN AND LAUNDRY.
XIV. BROTHER COPAS ON THE HOUSE OF LORDS.
XV. CANARIES AND GREATCOATS.
XVI. THE SECOND LETTER.
XVIII. THE PERVIGILIUM.
XVIX. MERCHESTER PREPARES.
XX. NAUGHTINESS, AND A SEQUEL.
XXII. MR. SIMEON MAKES A CLEAN BREAST.
XXIII. CORONA'S BIRTHDAY.
XXIV. FINIS CORONAT OPUS.
THE MASTER OF ST. HOSPITAL.
'As poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things . . .'
The Honourable and Reverend Eustace John Wriothesley Blanchminster, D.D., Master of St. Hospital-by-Merton, sat in the oriel of his library revising his Trinity Gaudy Sermon. He took pains with these annual sermons, having a quick and fastidious sense of literary style. "It is," he would observe, "one of the few pleasurable capacities spared by old age." He had, moreover, a scholarly habit of verifying his references and quotations; and if the original, however familiar, happened to be in a dead or foreign language, would have his secretary indite it in the margin. His secretary, Mr. Simeon, after taking the Sermon down from dictation, had made out a fair copy, and stood now at a little distance from the corner of the writing-table, in a deferential attitude.
The Master leaned forward over the manuscript; and a ray of afternoon sunshine, stealing in between a mullion of the oriel and the edge of a drawn blind, touched his bowed and silvery head as if with a benediction. He was in his seventy-third year; lineal and sole-surviving descendant of that Alberic de Blanchminster (Albericus de Albo Monasterio) who had founded this Hospital of Christ's Poor in 1137, and the dearest, most distinguished-looking old clergyman imaginable. An American lady had once summed him up as a Doctor of Divinity in Dresden china; and there was much to be allowed to the simile when you noted his hands, so shapely and fragile, or his complexion, transparent as old ivory—and still more if you had leisure to observe his saintliness, so delicately attuned to this world.
"As having nothing, and yet possessing all things."—The Master laid his forefinger upon the page and looked up reproachfully. "os meden echontes—my good Simeon, is it possible? A word so common as os! and after all these years you make it perispomenon!"
Mr. Simeon stammered contrition. In the matter of Greek accents he knew himself to be untrustworthy beyond hope. "I can't tell how it is, sir, but that os always seems to me to want a circumflex, being an adverb of sorts." On top of this, and to make things worse, he pleaded that he had left out the accent in os ptochoi, just above.
"H'm—as poor, and yet thankful for small mercies," commented the Master with gentle sarcasm. He had learnt in his long life to economise anger. But he frowned as he dipped a pen in the ink-pot and made the correction; for he was dainty about his manuscripts as about all the furniture of life, and a blot or an erasure annoyed him. "Brother Copas," he murmured, "never misplaces an accent."
Mr. Simeon heard, and started. It was incredible that the Master, who five-and-twenty years ago had rescued Mr. Simeon from a school for poor choristers and had him specially educated for the sake of his exquisite handwriting, could be threatening dismissal over a circumflex. Oh, there was no danger! If long and (until the other day) faithful service were not sufficient, at least there was guarantee in the good patron's sense of benefits conferred. Moreover, Brother Copas was not desirable as an amanuensis. . . . None the less, poor men with long families will start at the shadow of a fear; and Mr. Simeon started.
"Master," he said humbly, choosing the title by which his patron liked to be addressed, "I think Greek accents must come by gift of the Lord."
The Master glanced up.
"I mean, sir"—Mr. Simeon extended a trembling hand and rested his fingers on the edge of the writing-table for support—"that one man is born with a feeling for them, so to speak; while another, though you may teach and teach him—"
"In other words," said the Master, "they come by breeding. It is very likely."
He resumed his reading:
'—and yet possessing all things. We may fancy St. Paul's actual words present in the mind of our Second Founder, the Cardinal Beauchamp, as their spirit assuredly moved him, when he named our beloved house the College of Noble Poverty. His predecessor, Alberic de Blanchminster, had called it after Christ's Poor; and the one title, to be sure, rests implicit in the other; for the condescension wherewith Christ made choice of His associates on earth has for ever dignified Poverty in the eyes of His true followers.'
"And you have spelt 'his' with a capital 'H'—when you know my dislike of that practice!"
Poor Mr. Simeon was certainly not in luck to-day. The truth is that, frightened by the prospect of yet another addition to his family (this would be his seventh child), he had hired out his needy pen to one of the Canons Residentiary of Merchester, who insisted on using capitals upon all parts of speech referring, however remotely, to either of the Divine Persons. The Master, who despised Canon Tarbolt for a vulgar pulpiteer, and barely nodded to him in the street, was not likely to get wind of this mercenage; but if ever he did, there would be trouble. As it was, the serving of two masters afflicted Mr. Simeon's conscience while it distracted his pen.
"I will make another fair copy," he suggested.
"I fear you must. Would you mind drawing back that curtain? My eyes are troublesome this afternoon. Thank you."—
'Nevertheless it was well done of the great churchman to declare his belief that the poor, as poor, are not only blessed—as Our Lord expressly says—but noble, as Our Lord implicitly taught. Nay, the suggestion is not perhaps far-fetched that, as Cardinal Beauchamp had great possessions, he took this occasion to testify how in his heart he slighted them. Or again—for history seems to prove that he was not an entirely scrupulous man, nor entirely untainted by self-seeking—that his tribute to Noble Poverty may have been the assertion, by a spirit netted among the briars of this world's policy, that at least it saw and suspired after the way to Heaven. Video meliora, proboque—
"O limed soul, that struggling to be free Art more engaged!"
'But he is with God: and while we conjecture, God knows.
'Lest, however, you should doubt that the finer spirits of this world have found Poverty not merely endurable but essentially noble, let me recall to you an anecdote of Saint Francis of Assisi. It is related that, travelling towards France with a companion, Brother Masseo, he one day entered a town wherethrough they both begged their way, as their custom was, taking separate streets. Meeting again on the other side of the town, they spread out their alms on a broad stone by the wayside, whereby a fair fountain ran; and Francis rejoiced that Brother Masseo's orts and scraps of bread were larger than his own, saying, "Brother Masseo, we are not worthy of such treasure." "But how," asked Brother Masseo, "can one speak of treasure when there is such lack of all things needful? Here have we neither cloth, nor knife, nor plate, nor porringer, nor house, nor table, nor manservant, nor maidservant." Answered Francis, "This and none else it is that I account wide treasure; which containeth nothing prepared by human hands, but all we have is of God's own providence—as this bread we have begged, set out on a table of stone so fine, beside a fountain so clear. Wherefore," said he, "let us kneel together and pray God to increase our love of this holy Poverty, which is so noble that thereunto God himself became a servitor."'
The declining sun, slanting in past the Banksia roses, touched the edge of a giant amethyst which the Master wore, by inheritance of office, on his forefinger; and, because his hand trembled a little with age, the gem set the reflected ray dancing in a small pool of light, oval-shaped and wine-coloured, on the white margin of the sermon. He stared at it for a moment, tracing it mistakenly to a glass of Rhone wine—a Chateau Neuf du Pape of a date before the phylloxera—that stood neglected on the writing-table. (By his doctor's orders he took a glass of old wine and a biscuit every afternoon at this hour as a gentle digestive.)
Thus reminded, he reached out a hand and raised the wine to his lips, nodding as he sipped.
"In Common Room, Simeon, we used to say that no man was really educated who preferred Burgundy to claret, but that on the lower Rhone all tastes met in one ecstasy. . . . I'd like to have your opinion on this, now; that is, if you will find the decanter and a glass in the cupboard yonder—and if you have no conscientious objection."
Mr. Simeon murmured, amid his thanks, that he had no objection.
"I am glad to hear it. . . . Between ourselves, there is always something lacking in an abstainer—as in a man who has never learnt Greek. It is difficult with both to say what the lack precisely is; but with both it includes an absolute insensibility to the shortcoming."
Mr. Simeon could not help wondering if this applied to poor men who abstained of necessity. He thought not; being, for his part, conscious of a number of shortcomings.
"Spirits," went on the Master, wheeling half-about in his revolving-chair and crossing one shapely gaitered leg over another, "Spirits—and especially whisky—eat out the health of a man and leave him a sodden pulp. Beer is honest, but brutalising. Wine—certainly any good wine that can trace its origin back beyond the Reformation—is one with all good literature, and indeed with civilisation. Antiquam exquirite matrem: all three come from the Mediterranean basin or from around it, and it is only the ill-born who contemn descent."
"Brother Copas—" began Mr. Simeon, and came to a halt.
He lived sparely; he had fasted for many hours; and standing there he could feel the generous liquor coursing through him—nay could almost have reported its progress from ganglion to ganglion. He blessed it, and at the same moment breathed a prayer that it might not affect his head.
Mr. Simeon wished now that he had not begun his sentence. The invigorating Chateau Neuf du Pape seemed to overtake and chase away all uncharitable thoughts. But it was too late.
"Brother Copas—you were saying—?"
"I ought not to repeat it, sir. But I heard Brother Copas say the other day that the teetotallers were in a hopeless case; being mostly religious men, and yet having to explain in the last instance why Our Lord, in Cana of Galilee, did not turn the water into ginger-pop."
The Master frowned and stroked his gaiters.
"Brother Copas's tongue is too incisive. Something must be forgiven to one who, having started as a scholar and a gentleman, finds himself toward the close of his days dependent on the bread of charity."
It was benignly spoken; and to Mr. Simeon, who questioned nothing his patron said or did, no shade of misgiving occurred that, taken down in writing, it might annotate somewhat oddly the sermon on the table. It was spoken with insight too, for had not his own poverty, or the fear of it, sharpened Mr. Simeon's tongue just now and prompted him to quote Brother Copas detrimentally? The little man did not shape this accusation clearly against himself, for he had a rambling head; but he had also a sound heart, and it was uneasy.
"I ought not to have told it, sir. . . . I ask you to believe that I have no ill-will against Brother Copas."
The Master had arisen, and stood gazing out of the window immersed in his own thoughts.
"Eh? I beg your pardon?" said he absently.
"I—I feared, sir, you might think I said it to his prejudice."
"Prejudice?" the Master repeated, still with his back turned, and still scarcely seeming to hear. "But why in the world? . . . Ah, there he goes!—and Brother Bonaday with him. They are off to the river, for Brother Copas carries his rod. What a strange fascination has that dry-fly fishing! And I can remember old anglers discussing it as a craze, a lunacy."
He gazed out, still in a brown study. The room was silent save for the ticking of a Louis Seize clock on the chimney-piece; and Mr. Simeon, standing attentive, let his eyes travel around upon the glass-fronted bookcases, filled with sober riches in vellum and gilt leather, on the rare prints in black frames, the statuette of Diane Chasseresse, the bust of Antinous, the portfolios containing other prints, the Persian carpets scattered about the dark bees'-waxed floor, the Sheraton table with its bowl of odorous peonies.
"Eh? I beg your pardon—" said the Master again after three minutes or so, facing around with a smile of apology. "My wits were wool-gathering, over the sermon—that little peroration of mine does not please me somehow. . . . I will take a stroll to the home-park and back, and think it over. . . . Thank you, yes, you may gather up the papers. We will do no more work this afternoon."
"And I will write out another fair copy, sir."
"Yes, certainly; that is to say, of all but the last page. We will take the last page to-morrow."
For a moment, warmed by the wine and by the Master's cordiality of manner, Mr. Simeon felt a wild impulse to make a clean breast, confess his trafficking with Canon Tarbolt and beg to be forgiven. But his courage failed him. He gathered up his papers, bowed and made his escape.
THE COLLEGE OF NOBLE POVERTY.
If a foreigner would apprehend (he can never comprehend) this England of ours, with her dear and ancient graces, and her foibles as ancient and hardly less dear; her law-abidingness, her staid, God-fearing citizenship; her parochialism whereby (to use a Greek idiom) she perpetually escapes her own notice being empress of the world; her inveterate snobbery, her incurable habit of mistaking symbols and words for realities; above all, her spacious and beautiful sense of time as builder, healer and only perfecter of worldly things; let him go visit the Cathedral City, sometime the Royal City, of Merchester. He will find it all there, enclosed and casketed—"a box where sweets compacted lie."
Let him arrive on a Saturday night and awake next morning to the note of the Cathedral bell, and hear the bugles answering from the barracks up the hill beyond the mediaeval gateway. As he sits down to breakfast the bugles will start sounding nigher, with music absurd and barbarous, but stirring, as the Riflemen come marching down the High Street to Divine Service. In the Minster to which they wend, their disused regimental colours droop along the aisles; tattered, a hundred years since, in Spanish battlefields, and by age worn almost to gauze—"strainers," says Brother Copas, "that in their time have clarified much turbid blood." But these are guerdons of yesterday in comparison with other relics the Minster guards. There is royal dust among them—Saxon and Dane and Norman—housed in painted chests above the choir stalls. "Quare fremuerunt gentes?" intone the choristers' voices below, Mr. Simeon's weak but accurate tenor among them. "The kings of the earth stand up, and the rulers take counsel together . . ." The Riflemen march down to listen. As they go by ta-ra-ing, the douce citizens of Merchester and their wives and daughters admire from the windows discreetly; but will attend their Divine Service later. This, again, is England.
Sundays and week-days at intervals the Cathedral organ throbs across the Close, gently shaking the windows of the Deanery and the Canons' houses, and interrupting the chatter of sparrows in their ivy. Twice or thrice annually a less levitical noise invades, when our State visits its Church; in other words, when with trumpeters and javelin-men the High Sheriff escorts his Majesty's Judges to hear the Assize Sermon. On these occasions the head boy of the great School, which lies a little to the south of the Cathedral, by custom presents a paper to the learned judge, suing for a school holiday; and his lordship, brushing up his Latinity, makes a point of acceding in the best hexameters he can contrive. At his time of life it comes easier to try prisoners; and if he lie awake, he is haunted less by his day in Court than by the fear of a false quantity.
The School—with its fourteenth-century quadrangles, fenced citywards behind a blank brewhouse-wall (as though its Founder's first precaution had been to protect learning from siege), and its precincts opening rearwards upon green playing-fields and river-meads—is like few schools in England, and none in any other country; and is proud of its singularity. It, too, has its stream of life, and on the whole a very gracious one, with its young, careless voices and high spirits. It lies, as I say, south of the Close; beyond the northward fringe of which you penetrate, under archway or by narrow entry, to the High Street, where another and different tide comes and goes, with mild hubbub of carts, carriages, motors—ladies shopping, magistrates and county councillors bent on business of the shire, farmers, traders, marketers. . . . This traffic, too, is all very English and ruddy and orderly.
Through it all, picturesque and respected, pass and repass the bedesmen of Saint Hospital: the Blanchminster Brethren in black gowns with a silver cross worn at the breast, the Beauchamp Brethren in gowns of claret colour with a silver rose. The terms of the twin bequests are not quite the same. To be a Collegian of Christ's Poor it is enough that you have attained the age of sixty-five, so reduced in strength as to be incapable of work; whereas you can become a Collegian of Noble Poverty at sixty, but with the proviso that misfortune has reduced you from independence (that is to say, from a moderate estate). The Beauchamp Brethren, who are the fewer, incline to give themselves airs over the Blanchminsters on the strength of this distinction: like Dogberry, in their time they have "had losses." But Merchester takes, perhaps, an equal pride in the pensioners of both orders.
Merchester takes an even fonder pride in St. Hospital itself—that compact and exquisite group of buildings, for the most part Norman, set in the water-meadows among the ambient streams of Mere. It lies a mile or so southward of the town, and some distance below the School, where the valley widens between the chalk-hills and, inland yet, you feel a premonition that the sea is not far away. All visitors to Merchester are directed towards St. Hospital, and they dote over it—the American visitors especially; because nowhere in England can one find the Middle Ages more compendiously summarised or more charmingly illustrated. Almost it might be a toy model of those times, with some of their quaintest customs kept going in smooth working order. But it is better. It is the real thing, genuinely surviving. No visitor ever finds disappointment in a pilgrimage to St. Hospital: the inmates take care of that.
The trustees, or governing body, are careful too. A few years ago, finding that his old lodgings in the quadrangle were too narrow for the Master's comfort, they erected a fine new house for him, just without the precincts. But though separated from the Hospital by a roadway, this new house comes into the picture from many points of view, and therefore not only did the architect receive instructions to harmonise it with the ancient buildings, but where he left off the trustees succeeded, planting wistarias, tall roses and selected ivies to run up the coigns and mullions. Nay, it is told that to encourage the growth of moss they washed over a portion of the walls (the servants' quarters) with a weak solution of farmyard manure. These conscientious pains have their reward, for to-day, at a little distance, the Master's house appears no less ancient than the rest of the mediaeval pile with which it composes so admirably.
With the Master himself we have made acquaintance. In the words of an American magazine, "the principal of this old-time foundation, Master E. J. Wriothesley (pronounced 'Wrottesley') Blanchminster, may be allowed to fill the bill. He is founder's kin, and just sweet."
The Master stepped forth from his rose-garlanded porch, crossed the road, and entered the modest archway which opens on the first, or outer, court. He walked habitually at a short trot, with his head and shoulders thrust a little forward and his hands clasped behind him. He never used a walking-stick.
The outer court of St. Hospital is plain and unpretending, with a brewhouse on one hand and on the other the large kitchen with its offices. Between these the good Master passed, and came to a second and handsomer gate, with a tower above it, and three canopied niches in the face of the tower, and in one of the niches—the others are empty—a kneeling figure of the great cardinal himself. The passageway through the tower is vaulted and richly groined, and in a little chamber beside it dwells the porter, a part of whose duty it is to distribute the Wayfarers' Dole—a horn of beer and a manchet of bread—to all who choose to ask for it. The Master halted a moment to give the porter good evening.
"And how many to-day, Brother Manby?"
"Thirty-three, Master, including a party of twelve that came in motor-cars. I was jealous the cast wouldn't go round, for they all insisted on having the dole, and a full slice, too—the gentlemen declaring they were hungry after their drive. But," added Brother Manby, with a glance at a card affixed by the archway and announcing that tickets to view the hospital could be procured at sixpence a head, "they were most appreciative, I must say."
The Master smiled, nodded, and passed on. He gathered that someone had profited by something over and above the twelve sixpences.
But how gracious, how serenely beautiful, how eloquent of peace and benediction, the scene that met him as he crossed the threshold of the great quadrangle! Some thousands of times his eyes had rested on it, yet how could it ever stale?
"In the evening there shall be light."—The sun, declining in a cloudless west behind the roof-ridge and tall chimneys of the Brethren's houses, cast a shadow even to the sundial that stood for centre of the wide grass-plot. All else was softest gold—gold veiling the sky itself in a powdery haze; gold spread full along the front of the 'Nunnery,' or row of upper chambers on the eastern line of the quadrangle, where the three nurses of St. Hospital have their lodgings; shafts of gold penetrating the shaded ambulatory below; gold edging the western coigns of the Norman chapel; gold rayed and slanting between boughs in the park beyond the railings to the south. Only the western side of the quadrangle lay in shadow, and in the shadow, in twos and threes, beside their doors and tiny flower-plots (their pride), sat the Brethren, with no anxieties, with no care but to watch the closing tranquil hour: some with their aged wives (for the Hospital, as the Church of England with her bishops, allows a Brother to have one wife, but ignores her existence), some in monastic groups, withdrawn from hearing of women's gossip.
The Master chose the path that, circumventing the grass-plot, led him past these happy-looking groups and couples. To be sure, it was not his nearest way to the home-park, where he intended to think out his peroration; but he had plenty of time, and moreover he delighted to exchange courtesies with his charges. For each he had a greeting—
—"Fine weather, fine weather, Brother Dasent! Ah, this is the time to get rid of the rheumatics! Eh, Mrs. Dasent? I haven't seen him looking so hale for months past."
—"A beautiful evening, Brother Clerihew—yes, beautiful indeed. . . . You notice how the swallows are flying, both high and low, Brother Woolcombe? . . . Yes, I think we are in for a spell of it."
—"Ah, good evening, Mrs. Royle! What wonderful ten-week stocks! I declare I cannot grow the like of them in my garden. And what a perfume! But it warns me that the dew is beginning to fall, and Brother Royle ought not to be sitting out late. We must run no risks, Nurse, after his illness?"
The Master appealed to a comfortable-looking woman who, at his approach, had been engaged in earnest talk with Mrs. Royle—talk to which old Brother Royle appeared to listen placidly, seated in his chair.
—And so on. He had a kindly word for all, and all answered his salutations respectfully; the women bobbing curtseys, the old men offering to rise from their chairs. But this he would by no means allow. His presence seemed to carry with it a fragrance of his own, as real as that of the mignonette and roses and sweet-Williams amid which he left them embowered.
When he had passed out of earshot, Brother Clerihew turned to Brother Woolcombe and said—
"The silly old '—' is beginning to show his age, seemin' to me."
"Oughtn't to," answered Brother Woolcombe. "If ever a man had a soft job, it's him."
"Well, I reckon we don't want to lose him yet, anyhow—'specially if Colt is to step into his old shoes."
Brother Clerihew's reference was to the Reverend Rufus Colt, Chaplain of St. Hospital.
"They never would!" opined Brother Woolcombe, meaning by "they" the governing body of Trustees.
"Oh, you never know—with a man on the make, like Colt. Push carries everything in these times."
"Colt's a hustler," Brother Woolcombe conceded. "But, damn it all, they might give us a gentleman!"
"There's not enough to go round, nowadays," grunted Brother Clerihew, who had been a butler, and knew. "Master Blanchminster's the real thing, of course . . ." He gazed after the retreating figure of the Master. "Seemed gay as a goldfinch, he did. D'ye reckon Colt has told him about Warboise?"
"I wonder. Where is Warboise, by the way?"
"Down by the river, taking a walk to cool his head. Ibbetson's wife gave him a dressing-down at tea-time for dragging Ibbetson into the row. Threatened to have her nails in his beard—I heard her. That woman's a terror. . . . All the same, one can't help sympathising with her. 'You can stick to your stinking Protestantism,' she told him, 'if it amuses you to fight the Chaplain. You're a widower, with nobody dependent. But don't you teach my husband to quarrel with his vittles.'"
"All the same, when a man has convictions—"
"Convictions are well enough when you can afford 'em," Brother Clerihew grunted again. "But up against Colt—what's the use? And where's his backing? Ibbetson, with a wife hanging on to his coat-tails; and old Bonaday, that wouldn't hurt a fly; and Copas, standing off and sneering."
"A man might have all the pains of Golgotha upon him before ever you turned a hair," grumbled Brother Dasent, a few yards away.
He writhed in his chair, for the rheumatism was really troublesome; but he over-acted his suffering somewhat, having learnt in forty-five years of married life that his spouse was not over-ready with sympathy.
"T'cht!" answered she. "I ought to know what they're like by this time, and I wonder, for my part, you don't try to get accustomed to 'em. Dying one can understand: but to be worrited with a man's ailments, noon and night, it gets on the nerves. . . ."
"You're sure?" resumed Mrs. Royle eagerly, but sinking her voice— for she could hardly wait until the Master had passed out of earshot.
"Did you ever know me spread tales?" asked the comfortable-looking Nurse. "Only, mind you, I mentioned it in the strictest secrecy. This is such a scandalous hole, one can't be too careful. . . . But down by the river they were, consorting and God knows what else."
"At his age, too! Disgusting, I call it."
"Oh, she's not particular! My comfort is I always suspected that woman from the first moment I set eyes on her. Instinct, I s'pose. 'Well, my lady,' says I, 'if you're any better than you should be, then I've lived all these years for nothing.'"
"And him—that looked such a broken-down old innocent!"
"They get taken that way sometimes, late in life."
Nurse Turner sank her voice and said something salacious, which caused Mrs. Royle to draw a long breath and exclaim that she could never have credited such things—not in a Christian land. Her old husband, too, overheard it, and took snuff with a senile chuckle.
"Gad, that's spicy!" he crooned.
The Master, at the gateway leading to the home-park, turned for a look back on the quadrangle and the seated figures. Yes, they made an exquisite picture. Here—
"Here where the world is quiet"—
Here, indeed, his ancestor had built a haven of rest.
"From too much love of living, From hope and fear set free, We thank with brief thanksgiving Whatever gods may be That no life lives for ever; That dead men rise up never; That even the weariest river Winds somewhere safe to sea."
As the lines floated across his memory, the Master had a mind to employ them in his peroration (giving them a Christian trend, of course) in place of the sonnet he had meant to quote. This would involve reconstructing a longish paragraph; but they had touched his mood, and he spent some time pacing to and fro under the trees before his taste rejected them as facile and even cheap in comparison with Wordsworth's—
"Men unto whom sufficient for the day, And minds not stinted or untill'd are given, —Sound healthy children of the God of heaven— Are cheerful as the rising sun in May."
"Yes, yes," murmured the Master, "Wordsworth's is the better. But what a gift, to be able to express a thought just so—with that freshness, that noble simplicity! And even with Wordsworth it was fugitive, lost after four or five marvellous years. No one not being a Greek has ever possessed it in permanence. . . ."
Here he paused at the sound of a footfall on the turf close behind him, and turned about with a slight frown; which readily yielded, however, and became a smile of courtesy.
"Ah, my dear Colt! Good evening!"
"Good evening, Master."
Mr. Colt came up deferentially, yet firmly, much as a nurse in a good family might collect a straying infant. He was a tall, noticeably well-grown man, a trifle above thirty, clean shaven, with a square and obstinate chin. He wore no hat, and his close black hair showed a straight middle parting above his low and somewhat protuberant forehead. The parting widened at the occiput to a well-kept tonsure. At the back the head wanted balance; and this lent a suggestion of brutality—of "thrust"—to his abounding appearance of strength. He walked in his priestly black with the gait and carriage proper to a heavy dragoon.
"A fine evening, indeed. Are you disengaged?"
"Certainly, certainly"—in comparison with Mr. Colt's grave voice the Master's was almost a chirrup—"whether for business or for the pleasure of a talk. Nothing wrong, I hope?"
For a moment or two the Chaplain did not answer. He seemed to be weighing his words. At length he said—
"I should have reported at once, but have been thinking it over. At Early Celebration this morning Warboise insulted the wafer."
"Dear, dear, you don't say so!"
—"Took it from me, held it derisively between finger and thumb, and muttered. I could not catch all that he said, but I distinctly heard the words 'biscuit' and 'Antichrist.' Indeed, he confesses to having used them. His demeanour left no doubt that he was insolent of set purpose. . . . I should add that Ibbetson, who was kneeling next to him and must have overheard, walked back from the altar-rail straight out of chapel; but his wife assures me that this was purely a coincidence, and due to a sudden weakness of the stomach."
"You have spoken to Warboise?"
"Yes, and he is defiant. Says that bread is bread, and—when I pressed him for a definition—asked (insolently again) if the Trustees had authorised our substituting biscuit for bread in the Wayfarers' Dole. Advised us to 'try it on' there, and look out for letters in the Merchester Observer. He even threatened—if you'll believe me—to write to the Press himself. In short, he was beyond all self-control."
"I was afraid," murmured the Master, flushing a little in his distress, "you would not introduce this—er—primitive use—or, I should say, restore it—without trouble. Brother Warboise has strong Protestant prejudices; passionate, even."
"Oh, of course, of course! Still—"
"I suggest that, living as he does on the Church's benefaction, eating the bread of her charity—"
The Chaplain paused, casting about for a third phrase to express Brother Warboise's poor dependence.
The Master smiled whimsically.
"'The bread'—that's just it, he would tell you . . . And Alberic de Blanchminster, moreover, was a layman, not even in any of the minor orders; so that, strictly speaking—"
"But he left his wealth expressly to be administered by the Church. . . . Will you forgive me, Master, if I repeat very respectfully the suggestion I made at the beginning? If you could see your way to be celebrant at the early office, your mere presence would silence these mutineers. The Brethren respect your authority without question, and, the ice once broken, they would come to heel as one man."
The Master shook his head tremulously, in too much of a flurry even to note the Chaplain's derangement of metaphors.
"You cannot guess how early rising upsets me. Doctor Ainsley, indeed, positively forbids it. . . . I can sympathise, you see, with Ibbetson . . . and, for Brother Warboise, let us always remember that St. Hospital was not made, and cannot be altered, in a day—even for the better. Like England, it has been built by accretions, by traditions; yes, and by traditions that apparently conflict—by that of Brother Ingman, among others. . . .
"We who love St. Hospital," continued the Master, still tremulously, "have, I doubt not, each his different sense of the genius loci. Warboise finds it, we'll say, in the person of Peter Ingman, Protestant and martyr. But I don't defend his behaviour. I will send for him to-morrow, and talk to him. I will talk to him very severely."
BROTHER COPAS HOOKS A FISH.
"Well," said Brother Copas, "since the fish are not rising, let us talk. Or rather, you can tell me all about it while I practise casting. . . . By what boat is she coming?"
"By the Carnatic, and due some time to-morrow. I saw it in the newspaper."
"Well?—" prompted Brother Copas, glancing back over his shoulder as Brother Bonaday came to a halt.
The bent little man seemed to have lost the thread of his speech as he stood letting his gentle, tired eyes follow the flight of the swallows swooping and circling low along the river and over the meadow-grasses.
"Well?—" prompted Brother Copas again.
"Nurse Branscome will go down to meet her."
"I am hoping the Master will let her have my spare room," said Brother Bonaday vaguely.
Here it should be explained that when the Trustees erected a new house for the Master his old lodgings in the quadrangle had been carved into sets of chambers for half a dozen additional Brethren, and that one of these, differing only from the rest in that it contained a small spare room, had chanced to be allotted to Brother Bonaday. He had not applied for it, and it had grieved him to find his promotion resented by certain of the Brethren, who let slip few occasions for envy. For the spare room had been quite useless to him until now. Now he began to think it might be, after all, a special gift of Providence.
"You have spoken to the Master?" asked Brother Copas.
"No: that is to say, not yet."
"What if he refuses?"
"It will be very awkward. I shall hardly know what to do. . . . Find her some lodging in the town, perhaps; there seems no other way."
"You should have applied to the Master at once."
Brother Bonaday considered this, while his eyes wandered.
"But why?" he asked. "The boat had sailed before the letter reached me. She was already on her way. Yes or no, it could make no difference."
"It makes this difference: suppose that the Master refuses, you have lost four days in which you might have found her a suitable lodging. What's the child's name, by the by?
"Corona, it seems."
"She was born just after her mother left me and went to America, having a little money of her own saved out of our troubles." Again Brother Copas, in the act of making a cast, glanced back over his shoulder, but Brother Bonaday's eyes were on the swallows. "In 1902 it was, the year of King Edward's coronation: yes, that will be why my wife chose the name. . . . I suppose, as you say," Brother Bonaday went on after a pause, "I ought to have spoken to the Master at once; but I put it off, the past being painful to me."
"Yet you told Nurse Branscome."
"Someone—some woman—had to be told. The child must be met, you see."
"H'm. . . . Well, I am glad, anyway, that you told me whilst there was yet a chance of my being useful; being, as you may or may not have observed, inclined to jealousy in matters of friendship."
This time Brother Copas kept his face averted, and made a fresh cast across stream with more than ordinary care. The fly dropped close under the far bank, and by a bare six inches clear of a formidable alder. He jerked the rod backward, well pleased with his skill.
"That was a pretty good one, eh?"
But clever angling was thrown away upon Brother Bonaday, whom preoccupation with trouble had long ago made unobservant. Brother Copas reeled in a few feet of his line.
"You'll bear in mind that, if the Master should refuse and you're short of money for a good lodging, I have a pound or two laid by. We must do what we can for the child; coming, as she will, from the other side of the world."
"That is kind of you, Copas," said Brother Bonaday slowly, his eyes fixed now on the reel, the whirring click of which drew his attention, so that he seemed to address his speech to it. "It is very kind, and I thank you. But I hope the Master will not refuse: though, to tell you the truth, there is another small difficulty which makes me shy of asking him a favour."
"Eh? What is it?"
Brother Bonaday twisted his thin fingers together. "I—I had promised, before I got this letter, to stand by Warboise. I feel rather strongly on these matters, you know—though, of course, not so strongly as he does—and I promised to support him. Which makes it very awkward, you see, to go and ask a favour of the Master just when you are (so to say) defying his authority. . . . While if I hide it from him, and he grants the favour, and then next day or the day after I declare for Warboise, it will look like treachery, eh?"
"Damn!" said Brother Copas, still winding in his line meditatively. "There is no such casuist as poverty. And only this morning I was promising myself much disinterested sport in the quarrelling of you Christian brethren. . . . But isn't that Warboise coming along the path? . . . Yes, the very man! Well, we must try what's to be done."
"But I have given him my word, remember."
Brother Copas, if he heard, gave no sign of hearing. He had turned to hail Brother Warboise, who came along the river path with eyes fastened on the ground, and staff viciously prodding in time with his steps.
"Hallo, Warboise! Halt, and give the countersign!"
Brother Warboise halted, taken at unawares, and eyed the two doubtfully from under his bushy grey eyebrows. They were Beauchamp both, he Blanchminster. He wore the black cloak of Blanchminster, with the silver cross patte at the breast, and looked—so Copas murmured to himself—"like Caiaphas in a Miracle Play." His mouth was square and firm, his grey beard straightly cut. He had been a stationer in a small way, and had come to grief by vending only those newspapers of which he could approve the religious tendency.
"The countersign?" he echoed slowly and doubtfully.
He seldom understood Brother Copas, but by habit suspected him of levity.
"To be sure, among three good Protestants! 'Bloody end to the Pope!' is it not?"
"You are mocking me," snarled Brother Warboise, and with that struck the point of his staff passionately upon the pathway. "You are a Gallio, and always will be: you care nothing for what is heaven and earth to us others. But you have no right to infect Bonaday, here, with your poison. He has promised me." Brother Warboise faced upon Brother Bonaday sternly, "You promised me, you know you did."
"To be sure he promised you," put in Brother Copas. "He has just been telling me."
"And I am going to hold him to it! These are not times for falterers, halters between two opinions. If England is to be saved from coming a second time under the yoke of Papacy, men will have to come out in their true colours. He that is not for us is against us."
Brother Copas reeled in a fathom of line with a contemplative, judicial air.
"Upon my word, Warboise, I'm inclined to agree with you. I don't pretend to share your Protestant fervour: but hang it! I'm an Englishman with a sense of history, and that is what no single one among your present-day High Anglicans would appear to possess. If a man wants to understand England he has to start with one or two simple propositions, of which the first—or about the first—is that England once had a reformation, and is not going to forget it. But that is just what these fellows would make-believe to ignore. A fool like Colt—for at bottom, between ourselves, Colt is a fool— says 'Reformation? There was no such thing: we don't acknowledge it.' As the American said of some divine who didn't believe in eternal punishment, 'By gosh, he'd better not!'"
"But England is forgetting it!" insisted Brother Warboise. "Look at the streams of Papist monks she has allowed to pour in ever since France took a strong line with her monastic orders. Look at those fellows—College of St. John Lateran, as they call themselves—who took lodgings only at the far end of this village. In the inside of six months they had made friends with everybody."
"They employ local tradesmen, and are particular in paying their debts, I'm told."
"Oh," said Brother Warboise, "They're cunning!"
Brother Copas gazed at him admiringly, and shot a glance at Brother Bonaday. But Brother Bonaday's eyes had wandered off again to the skimming swallows.
"Confessed Romans and their ways," said Brother Warboise, "one is prepared for, but not for these wolves in sheep's clothing. Why, only last Sunday-week you must have heard Colt openly preaching the confessional!"
"I slept," said Brother Copas. "But I will take your word for it."
"He did, I assure you; and what's more—you may know it or not—Royle and Biscoe confess to him regularly."
"They probably tell him nothing worse than their suspicions of you and me. Colt is a vain person walking in a vain show."
"You don't realise the hold they are getting. Look at the money they squeeze out of the public; the churches they restore, and the new ones they build. And among these younger Anglicans, I tell you, Colt is a force."
"My good Warboise, you have described him exactly. He is a force— and nothing else. He will bully and beat you down to get his way, but in the end you can always have the consolation of presenting him with the shadow, which he will unerringly mistake for the substance. I grant you that to be bullied and beaten down is damnably unpleasant discipline, even when set off against the pleasure of fooling such a fellow as Colt. But when a man has to desist from pursuit of pleasure he develops a fine taste for consolations: and this is going to be mine for turning Protestant and backing you in this business."
"Your accent is so little flattering, Warboise, that I hardly dare to add the condition. Yet I will. If I stand in with you in resisting Colt, you must release Bonaday here. Henceforth he's out of the quarrel."
"But I do not understand." Brother Warboise regarded Brother Copas from under his stiff grey eyebrows. "Why should Bonaday back out?"
"That is his affair," answered Brother Copas smoothly, almost before Brother Bonaday was aware of being appealed to.
"But—you don't mind my saying it—I've never considered you as a Protestant, quite; not, at least, as an earnest one."
"That," said Brother Copas, "I may be glad to remember, later on. But come; I offer you a bargain. Strike off Bonaday and enlist me. A volunteer is proverbially worth two pressed men; and as a Protestant I promise you to shine. If you must have my reason, or reasons, say that I am playing for safety."
Here Brother Copas laid down his rod on the grassy bank and felt for his snuff-box. As he helped himself to a pinch he slyly regarded the faces of his companions; and his own, contracting its muscles to take the dose, seemed to twist itself in a sardonic smile.
"Unlike Colt," he explained, "I read history sometimes, and observe its omens. You say that our clergy are active just now in building and restoring churches. Has it occurred to you that they were never so phenomenally active in building and rebuilding as on the very eve of the Reformation crash? Ask and inquire, my friend, what proportion of our English churches are Perpendicular; get from any handbook the date of that style of architecture; and apply the omen if you will."
"That sounds reassuring," said Brother Warboise. "And so you really think we Protestants are going to win?"
"God forbid! What I say is, that the High Anglicans will probably lose."
"One never knows when you are joking or when serious." Brother Warboise, leaning on his staff, pondered Brother Copas's face. It was a fine face; it even resembled the conventional portrait of Dante, but—I am asking the reader to tax his imagination—with humorous wrinkles set about the eyes, their high austerity clean taken away and replaced by a look of very mundane shrewdness, and lastly a grosser chin and mouth with a touch of the laughing faun in their folds and corners. "You are concealing your real reasons," said Brother Warboise.
"That," answered Brother Copas, "has been defined for the true function of speech. . . . But I am quite serious this time, and I ask you again to let Brother Bonaday off and take me on. You will find it worth while."
Brother Warboise could not see for the life of him why, at a time when it behoved all defenders of the reformed religion to stand shoulder to shoulder, Brother Bonaday should want to be let off.
"No?" said Brother Copas, picking up his rod again. "Well, those are my terms . . . and, excuse me, but was not that a fish over yonder? They are beginning to rise. . . ."
Brother Warboise muttered that he would think it over, and resumed his walk.
"He'll agree, safe enough. And now, no more talking!"
But after a cast or two Brother Copas broke his own injunction.
"A Protestant! . . . I'm doing a lot for you, friend. But you must go to the Master this very evening. No time to be lost, I tell you! Why, if he consent, there are a score of small things to be bought to make the place fit for a small child. Get out pencil and paper and make a list. . . . Well, where do we begin?"
"I—I'm sure I don't know," confessed Brother Bonaday helplessly. "I never, so to speak, had a child before, you see."
"Nor I . . . but damn it, man, let's do our best and take things in order! When she arrives—let me see—the first thing is, she'll be hungry. That necessitates a small knife and fork. Knife, fork and spoon; regular godfather's gift. You must let me stand godfather and supply 'em. You don't happen to know if she's been christened, by the way?"
"No—o. I suppose they look after these things in America?"
"Probably—after a fashion," said Brother Copas with a fine smile. "Heavens! if as a Protestant I am to fight the first round over Infant Baptism—"
"There is a font in the chapel."
"Yes. I have often wondered why."
Brother Copas appeared to meditate this as he slowly drew back his rod and made a fresh cast. Again the fly dropped short of the alder stump by a few inches, and fell delicately on the dark water below it. There was a splash—a soft gurgling sound dear to the angler's heart. Brother Copas's rod bent and relaxed to the brisk whirr of its reel as a trout took fly and hook and sucked them under.
Then followed fifteen minutes of glorious life. Even Brother Bonaday's slow blood caught the pulse of it. He watched, not daring to utter a sound, his limbs twitching nervously.
But when the fish—in weight well over a pound—had been landed and lay, twitching too, in the grasses by the Mere bank, Brother Copas, after eyeing it a moment with legitimate pride, slowly wound up his reel.
"And I am to be a Protestant! . . . Saint Peter—King Fisherman— forgive me!"
When Nurse Branscome reached the docks and inquired at what hour the Carnatic might be expected, the gatekeeper pointed across a maze of dock-basins, wharves, tramway-lines, to a far quay where the great steamship lay already berthed.
"She've broken her record by five hours and some minutes," he explained. "See that train just pulling out of the station? That carries her mails."
Nurse Branscome—a practical little woman with shrewd grey eyes— neither fussed over the news nor showed any sign of that haste which is ill speed. Scanning the distant vessel, she begged to be told the shortest way alongside, and noted the gatekeeper's instructions very deliberately, nodding her head. They were intricate. At the close she thanked him and started, still without appearance of hurry, and reached the Carnatic without a mistake. She arrived, too, a picture of coolness, though the docks lay shadeless to the afternoon sun, and the many tramway-lines radiated a heat almost insufferable.
The same quiet air of composure carried her unchallenged up a gangway and into the great ship. A gold-braided junior officer, on duty at the gangway-head, asked politely if he could be of service to her. She answered that she had come to seek a steerage passenger—a little girl named Bonaday.
"Ach!" said a voice close at her elbow, "that will be our liddle Korona!"
Nurse Branscome turned. The voice belonged to a blond, middle-aged German, whose gaze behind his immense spectacles was of the friendliest.
"Yes—Corona: that is her name."
"So!" said the middle-aged German. "She is with my wive at this moment. If I may ascort you? . . . We will not then drouble Mister Smid' who is so busy."
He led the way forward. Once he turned, and in the faint light between-decks his spectacles shone palely, like twin moons.
"I am habby you are come," he said. "My wive will be habby. . . . I told her a dozzen times it will be ol' right—the ship has arrived before she is agspected. . . . But our liddle Korona is so agscited, so imbatient for her well-beloved England."
He pronounced "England" as we write it.
"So!" he proclaimed, halting before a door and throwing it open.
Within, on a cheap wooden travelling-trunk, sat a stout woman and a child. The child wore black weeds, and had—as Nurse Branscome noted at first glance—remarkably beautiful eyes. Her right hand lay imprisoned between the two palms of the stout woman, who, looking up, continued to pat the back of it softly.
"A friendt—for our Mees Korona!"
"Whad did I not tell you?" said the stout woman to the child, cooing the words exultantly, as she arose to meet the visitor.
The two women looked in each other's eyes, and each divined that the other was good.
"Good afternoon," said Nurse Branscome. "I am sorry to be late."
"But it is we who are early. . . . We tell the liddle one she must have bribed the cabdain, she was so craved to arr-rive!"
"Are you related to her?"
"Ach, no," chimed in husband and wife together as soon as they understood. "But friendts—friendts, Korona—hein?"
The husband explained that they had made the child's acquaintance on the first day out from New York, and had taken to her at once, seeing her so forlorn. He was a baker by trade, and by name Muller; and he and his wife, after doing pretty well in Philadelphia, were returning home to Bremen, where his brother (also a baker) had opened a prosperous business and offered him a partnership.
—"Which he can well afford," commented Frau Muller. "For my husband is beyond combetition as a master-baker; and at the end all will go to his brother's two sons. . . . We have not been gifen children of our own."
"Yet home is home," added her husband, with an expansive smile, "though it be not the Vaterland, Mees Korona—hein?" He eyed the child quizzically, and turned to Nurse Branscome. "She is badriotic so as you would nevar think—
"'Brit-ons nevar, nevar, nev-ar-will be Slavs!'"
He intoned it ludicrously, casting out both hands and snapping his fingers to the tune.
The child Corona looked past him with a gaze that put aside these foolish antics, and fastened itself on Nurse Branscome.
"I think I shall like you," she said composedly and with the clearest English accent. "But I do not quite know who you are. Are you fetching me to Daddy?"
"Yes," said Nurse Branscome, and nodded.
She seldom or never wasted words. Nods made up a good part of her conversation always.
Corona stood up, by this action conveying to the grown-ups—for she, too, economised speech—that she was ready to go, and at once. Youth is selfish, even in the sweetest-born of natures. Baker Muller and his good wife looked at her wistfully. She had come into their childless life, and had taken unconscious hold on it, scarce six days ago—the inside of a week. They looked at her wistfully. Her eyes were on Nurse Branscome, who stood for the future. Yet she remembered that they had been kind. Herr Muller, kind to the last, ran off and routed up a seaman to carry her box to the gangway. There, while bargaining with a porter, Nurse Branscome had time to observe with what natural good manners the child suffered herself to be folded in Frau Muller's ample embrace, and how prettily she shook hands with the good baker. She turned about, even once or twice, to wave her farewells.
"But she is naturally reserved," Nurse Branscome decided. "Well, she'll be none the worse for that."
She had hardly formed this judgment when Corona went a straight way to upset it. A tuft of groundsel had rooted itself close beside the traction rails a few paces from the waterside. With a little cry— almost a sob—the child swooped upon the weed, and plucking it, pressed it to her lips.
"I promised to kiss the first living thing I met in England," she explained.
"Then you might have begun with me," said Nurse Branscome, laughing.
"Oh, that's good—I like you to laugh! This is real England, merry England, and I used to 'spect it was so good that folks went about laughing all the time, just because they lived in it."
"Look here, my dear, you mustn't build your expectations too high. If you do, we shall all disappoint you; which means that you will suffer."
"But that was a long time ago. I've grown since. . . . And I didn't kiss you at first because it makes me feel uncomfortable kissing folks out loud. But I'll kiss you in the cars when we get to them."
But by and by, when they found themselves seated alone in a third-class compartment, she forgot her promise, being lost in wonder at this funny mode of travelling. She examined the parcels' rack overhead.
"'For light articles only,'" she read out. "But-but how do we manage when it's bedtime?"
"Bless the child, we don't sleep in the train! Why, in little over an hour we shall be at Merchester, and that's home."
"Home!" Corona caught at the word and repeated it with a shiver of excitement. "Home—in an hour?"
It was not that she distrusted; it was only that she could not focus her mind down to so small a distance.
"And now," said Nurse Branscome cheerfully, as they settled themselves down, "are you going to tell me about your passage, or am I to tell you about your father and the sort of place St. Hospital is? Or would you," added this wise woman, "just like to sit still and look out of window and take it all in for a while?"
"Thank you," answered Corona, "that's what I want, ezactly."
She nestled into her corner as the train drew forth beyond the purlieus and dingy suburbs of the great seaport and out into the country—our south country, all green and glorious with summer. Can this world show the like of it, for comfort of eye and heart?
Her eyes drank, devoured it.—Cattle knee-deep in green pasture, belly-deep in green water-flags by standing pools; cattle resting their long flanks while they chewed the cud; cattle whisking their tails amid the meadow-sweet, under hedges sprawled over with wild rose and honeysuckle.—White flocks in the lengthening shade of elms; wood and copse; silver river and canal glancing between alders, hawthorns, pollard willows; lichened bridges of flint and brick; ancient cottages, thatched or red-tiled, timber-fronted, bulging out in friendliest fashion on the high road; the high road looping its way from village to village, still between hedges. Corona had never before set eyes on a real hedge in the course of her young life; but all this country—right away to the rounded chalk hills over which the heat shimmered—was parcelled out by hedges—hedges by the hundred—and such hedges!
"It's—it's like a garden," she stammered, turning around and meeting a question in Nurse Branscome's eyes. "It's all so lovely and tiny and bandboxy. However do they find the time for it?"
"Eh, it takes time," said Nurse Branscome, amused. "You'll find that's the main secret with us over here. But—disappointed, are you?"
"Oh, no—no—no!" the child assured her. "It's ten times lovelier than ever I 'spected—only," she added, cuddling down for another long gaze, "it's different—different in size."
"England's a little place," said Nurse Branscome. "In the colonies— I won't say anything about the States, for I've never seen them; but I've been to Australia in my time, and I expect with Canada it's much the same or more so—in the colonies everything's spread out; but home here, I heard Brother Copas say, if you want to feel how great anything is, you have to take it deep-ways, layer below layer."
Corona knit her small brow.
"But Windsor Castle is a mighty big place?" she said hopefully.
"Well, I'm glad of that anyway."
"But why, dear?"
"Because," said Corona, "that is where the King lives. I used to call him my King over on the Other Side, because my name is Corona, and means I was born the year he was crowned. They make out they don't hold much stock in kings, back there; but that sort of talk didn't take me in, because when you have a King of your own you know what it feels like. And, anyway, they had to allow that King Edward is a mighty big one, and that he is always making peace for all the world. . . . So now you know why I'm glad about Windsor Castle."
"I'm afraid it is not quite clear to me yet," said Nurse Branscome, leading her on.
"I can't 'splain very well."—The child could never quite compass the sound "ex" in words where a consonant followed.—"I'm no good at 'splaining. But I guess if the job was up to you to make peace for all-over-the-world, you'd want to sit in a big place, sort of empty an' quiet, an' feel like God." Corona gazed out of window again. "You can tell he's been at it, too, hereabouts; but somehow I didn't 'spect it to be all lying about in little bits."
They alighted from the idling train at a small country station embowered in roses, the next on this side of Merchester and but a short three-quarters of a mile from St. Hospital, towards which they set out on foot by a meadow-path and over sundry stiles, a porter following (or rather making a detour after them along the high road) and wheeling Corona's effects on a barrow. From the first stile Nurse Branscome pointed out the grey Norman buildings, the chapel tower, the clustering trees; and supported Corona with a hand under her elbow as, perched on an upper bar with her knees against the top rail, she drank in her first view of home.
Her first comment—it shaped itself into a question, or rather into two questions—gave Nurse Branscome a shock: it was so infantile in comparison with her talk in the train.
"Does daddy live there? And is he so very old, then?"
Then Nurse Branscome bethought her that this mite had never yet seen her father, and that he was not only an aged man but a broken-down one, and in appearance (as they say) older than his years. A great pity seized her for Corona, and in the rush of pity all her oddities and grown-up tricks of speech (Americanisms apart) explained themselves. She was an old father's child. Nurse Branscome was midwife enough to know what freakishness and frailty belong to children begotten by old age. Yet Corona, albeit gaunt with growing, was lithe and well-formed, and of a healthy complexion and a clear, though it inclined to pallor.
"Your father is not a young man," she said gently. "You must be prepared for that, dear. . . . And of course his dress—the dress of the Beauchamp Brethren—makes him look even older than he is."
"What is it?" asked Corona, turning about as well as she could on the stile and putting the direct question with direct eyes.
"It's a long gown, a gown of reddish-purple, with a silver rose at the breast."
"Save us!" exclaimed this unaccountable child. "'Seems I'd better start right in by asking what news of the Crusades."
In the spare room pertaining to Brother Bonaday he and Brother Copas were (as the latter put it) making very bad weather with their preparations. They supposed themselves, however, to have plenty of time, little guessing that the captain of the Carnatic had been breaking records. In St. Hospital one soon learns to neglect mankind's infatuation for mere speed; and yet, strange to say, Brother Copas was discoursing on this very subject.
He had produced certain purchases from his wallet, and disposed them on the chest of drawers which was to serve Corona for dressing-table. They included a cheap mirror, and here he felt himself on safe ground; but certain others—such as a gaudily-dressed doll, priced at 1s. 3d., a packet of hairpins, a book of coloured photographs, entitled Souvenir of Royal Merchester—he eyed more dubiously. He had found it hard to bear in mind the child's exact age. "But she was born in Coronation Year. I have told you that over and over," Brother Bonaday would protest. "My dear fellow, I know you have; but the devil is, that means something different every time."
—"The purpose of all right motion," Brother Copas was saying, "is to get back to the point from which you started. Take the sun itself, or any created mass; take the smallest molecule in that mass; take the world whichever way you will—"
'Behold the world, how it is whirled round! And, for it so is whirl'd, is named so.'
"(There's pretty etymology for you!) All movement in a straight line is eccentric, lawless, or would be were it possible, which I doubt. Why this haste, then, in passing given points? If man did it in a noble pride, as a tour de force, to prove himself so much the cleverer than the brute creation, I could understand it; but if that's his game, a speck of radium beats him in a common canter. I read in a scientific paper last week, in a signed article which bore every impress of truth, that there's a high explosive that will run a spark from here to Paris while you are pronouncing its name. Yet extend that run, and run it far and fast as you will, it can only come back to your hand. . . . Which," continued Brother Copas, raising his voice, for Brother Bonaday had toddled into the sitting-room to see if the kettle boiled, "reminds me of a story I picked up in the Liberal Club the other day, the truth of it guaranteed. Ten or eleven years ago the Mayor of Merchester died on the very eve of St. Giles's Fair. The Town Council met, and some were for stopping the shows and steam roundabouts as a mark of respect, while others doubted that the masses (among whom the Mayor had not been popular) would resent this curtailing of their fun. In the end a compromise was reached. The proprietor of the roundabouts was sent for, and the show-ground granted to him, on condition that he made his steam-organ play hymn tunes. He accepted, and that week the merrymakers revolved to the strains of 'Nearer, my God, to Thee.' It sounds absurd; but when you come to reflect—"
Brother Copas broke off, hearing a slight commotion in the next room. Brother Bonaday, kneeling and puffing at the fire which refused to boil the water, had been startled by voices in the entry. Looking up, flushed of face, he beheld a child on the threshold, with Nurse Branscome standing behind her.
Brother Copas from one doorway, Nurse Branscome from the other, saw Brother Bonaday's face twitch as with a pang of terror. He arose slowly from his knees, and very slowly—as if his will struggled against some invisible, detaining force—held out both hands. Corona ran to them; but, grasped by them, drew back for a moment, scanning him before she suffered herself to be kissed.
"My, what a dear old dress! . . . Daddy, you are a dude!"
BROTHER COPAS ON RELIGIOUS DIFFERENCE.
"Ah, good evening, Mr. Simeon!"
In the British Isles—search them all over—you will discover no more agreeable institution of its kind than the Venables Free Library, Merchester; which, by the way, you are on no account to confuse with the Free Public Library attached to the Shire Hall. In the latter you may study the newspapers with all the latest financial, police and betting news, or borrow all the newest novels—even this novel which I am writing, should the Library Sub-Committee of the Town Council (an austerely moral body) allow it to pass. In the Venables Library the books are mostly mellowed by age, even when naughtiest (it contains a whole roomful of Restoration Plays, an unmatched collection), and no newspapers are admitted, unless you count the monthly and quarterly reviews, of which The Hibbert Journal is the newest-fangled. By consequence the Venables Library, though open to all men without payment, has few frequenters; "which," says Brother Copas, "is just as it should be."
But not even public neglect will account for the peculiar charm of the Venables Library. That comes of the building it inhabits: anciently a town house of the Marquesses of Merchester, abandoned at the close of the great Civil War, and by them never again inhabited, but maintained with all its old furniture, and from time to time patched up against age and weather—happily not restored. When, early in the last century, the seventh Marquess of Merchester very handsomely made it over to a body of trustees, to house a collection of books bequeathed to the public by old Dean Venables, Merchester's most scholarly historian, it was with a stipulation that the amenities of the house should be as little as possible disturbed. The beds, to be sure, were removed from the upper rooms, and the old carpets from the staircase; and the walls, upstairs and down, lined with bookcases. But a great deal of the old furniture remains; and, wandering at will from one room to another, you look forth through latticed panes upon a garth fenced off from the street with railings of twisted iron-work and overspread by a gigantic mulberry-tree, the boughs of which in summer, if you are wise enough to choose a window-seat, will filter the sunlight upon your open book,
Annihilating all that's made To a green thought in a green shade.
Lastly, in certain of the rooms smoking is permitted; some bygone trustee—may earth lie lightly on him!—having discovered and taught that of all things a book is about the most difficult to burn. You may smoke in 'Paradise,' for instance. By this name, for what reason I cannot tell, is known the room containing the Greek and Latin classics.
Brother Copas, entering Paradise with a volume under his arm, found Mr. Simeon seated there alone with a manuscript and a Greek lexicon before him, and gave him good evening.
"Good evening, Brother Copas! . . . You have been a stranger to us for some weeks, unless I mistake?"
"You are right. These have been stirring times in politics, and for the last five or six weeks I have been helping to save my country, at the Liberal Club."
Mr. Simeon—a devoted Conservative—came as near to frowning as his gentle nature would permit.
"You disapprove, of course," continued Brother Copas easily. "Well, so—in a sense—do I. We beat you at the polls; not in Merchester—we shall never carry Merchester—though even in Merchester we put up fight enough to rattle you into a blue funk. But God help the pair of us, Mr. Simeon, if our principles are to be judged by the uses other men make of 'em! I have had enough of my fellow-Liberals to last me for some time. . . . Why are you studying Liddell and Scott, by the way?"
"To tell the truth," Mr. Simeon confessed, "this is my fair copy of the Master's Gaudy Sermon. I am running it through and correcting the Greek accents. I am always shaky at accents."
"Why not let me help you?" Brother Copas suggested. "Upon my word, you may trust me. I am, as nearly as possible, impeccable with Greek accents, and may surely say so without vanity, since the gift is as useless as any other of mine."
Mr. Simeon, as we know, was well aware of this.
"I should be most grateful," he confessed, in some compunction. "But I am not sure that the Master—if you will excuse me—would care to have his sermon overlooked. Strictly speaking, indeed, I ought not to have brought it from home: but with six children in a very small house—and on a warm evening like this, you understand—"
"I once kept a private school," said Brother Copas.
"They are high-spirited children, I thank God." Mr. Simeon sighed. "Moreover, as it happened, they wanted my Liddell and Scott to play at forts with."
"Trust me, my dear sir. I will confine myself to the Master's marginalia without spying upon the text."
Brother Copas, as Mr. Simeon yielded to his gentle insistence, laid his own book on the table, and seated himself before the manuscript, which he ran through at great speed.
"H'm—h'm . . . psyche here is oxyton—here and always . . . and anoetos proparoxyton: you have left it unaccented."
"I was waiting to look it up, having some idea that it held a contraction."
Brother Copas dipped pen and inserted the accent without comment.
"I see nothing else amiss," he said, rising.
"It is exceedingly kind of you."
"Well, as a matter of fact it is; for I came here expressly to cultivate a bad temper, and you have helped to confirm me in a good one. . . . Oh, I know what you would say if your politeness allowed: 'Why, if bad temper's my object, did I leave the Liberal Club and come here?' Because, my dear sir, at the Club—though there's plenty—it's of the wrong sort. I wanted a religiously bad temper, and an intelligent one to boot."
"I don't see what religion and bad temper have to do with one another," confessed Mr. Simeon.
"That is because you are a good man, and therefore your religion doesn't matter to you."
"But really," Mr. Simeon protested, flushing; "though one doesn't willingly talk of these inmost things, you must allow me to say that my religion is everything to me."
"You say that, and believe it. Religion, you believe, colours all your life, suffuses it with goodness as with a radiance. But actually, my friend, it is your own good heart that colours and throws its radiance into your religion."
'O lady, we receive but what we give, And in our life alone does Nature live'—
"—Or religion either. . . . Pardon me, but a thoroughly virtuous or a thoroughly amiable man is not worth twopence as a touchstone for a creed; he would convert even Mormonism to a thing of beauty. . . . Whereas the real test of any religion is—as I saw it excellently well put the other day—'not what form it takes in a virtuous mind, but what effects it produces on those of another sort.' Well, I have been studying those effects pretty well all my life, and they may be summed up, roughly but with fair accuracy, as Bad Temper."
"Good men or bad," persisted Mr. Simeon, "what can the Christian religion do but make them both better?"
"Which Christian religion? Catholic or Protestant? Anglican or Nonconformist? . . . I won't ask you to give away your own side. So we'll take the Protestant Nonconformists. There are a good many down at the Club: you heard some of the things they said and printed during the Election; and while your charity won't deny that they are religious—some of 'em passionately religious—you will make haste to concede that their religion and their bad temper were pretty well inseparable. They would say pretty much the same of you Anglo-Catholics."
"You will not pretend that we show bad temper in anything like the same degree."
"Why should you? . . . I don't know that, as a fact, there is much to choose between you; but at any rate the worse temper belongs very properly to the under dog. Your Protestant is the under dog in England to-day; socially, if not politically. . . . Yes, and politically, too; for he may send what majority he will to the House of Commons pledged to amend the Education Act of 1902: he does it in vain. The House of Lords—which is really not a political but a social body, the citadel of a class—will confound his politics, frustrate his knavish tricks. Can you wonder that he loses his temper, sometimes inelegantly? And when the rich Nonconformist tires of striving against all the odds—when he sets up his carriage and his wife and daughters find that it won't carry them where they had hoped—when he surrenders to their persuasions and goes over to the enemy—why, then, can you wonder that his betrayed coreligionists roar all like bears or foam like dogs and run about the city? . . . I tell you, my dear Mr. Simeon, this England of ours stands in real peril to-day of merging its class warfare in religious differences."
"You mean it, of course, the other way about—of merging our religion in class warfare."
"I mean it as I said it. Class warfare is among Englishmen a quite normal, healthy function of the body politic: it keeps the blood circulating. It is when you start infecting it with religion the trouble begins. . . . We are a sane people, however, on the whole; and every sane person is better than his religion."
"How can you say such a thing?"
"How can you gainsay it—nay, or begin to doubt it—if only you will be honest with yourself? Consider how many abominable things religion has taught, and man, by the natural goodness of his heart, has outgrown. Do you believe, for example, that an unchristened infant goes wailing forth from the threshold of life into an eternity of punishment? Look me in the face, you father of six! No, of course you don't believe it. Nobody does. And the difference is not that religion has ceased to teach it—for it hasn't—but that men have grown decent and put it, with like doctrines, silently aside in disgust. So it has happened to Satan and his fork: they have become 'old hat.' So it will happen to all the old machinery of hell: the operating decency of human nature will grow ashamed of it—that is all . . . Why, if you look into men's ordinary daily conduct—which is the only true test—they never believed in such things. Do you suppose that the most frantic Scotch Calvinist, when he was his douce daily self and not temporarily intoxicated by his creed, ever treated his neighbours in practice as men predestined to damnation? Of course he didn't!"
"But religion," objected Mr. Simeon, "lifts a man out of himself—his daily self, as you call it."
"It does that, by Jove!" Brother Copas felt for his snuff-box. "Why, what else was I arguing?"
"And," pursued Mr. Simeon, his voice gaining assurance as it happened on a form of words he had learnt from somebody else, "the efficacy of religion is surely just here, that it lifts the individual man out of his personality and wings him towards Abba, the all-fatherly—as I heard it said the other day," he added lamely.
"Good Lord!"—Brother Copas eyed him over a pinch. "You must have been keeping pretty bad company, lately. Who is it? . . . That sounds a trifle too florid even for Colt—the sort of thing Colt would achieve if he could . . . Upon my word, I believe you must have been sitting under Tarbolt!"
Mr. Simeon blushed guiltily to the eyes. But it was ever the mischief with Brother Copas's worldly scent that he overran it on the stronger scent of an argument.
"But it's precisely a working daily religion, a religion that belongs to a man when he is himself, that I'm after," he ran on. "You fellows hold that a sound religious life will ensure you an eternity of bliss at the end. Very well. You fellows know that the years of a man's life are, roughly, threescore and ten. (Actually it works out far below that figure, but I make you a present of the difference.) Very well again. I take any average Christian aged forty-five, and what sort of premium do I observe him paying—I won't say on a policy of Eternal Bliss—but on any policy a business-like Insurance Company would grant for three hundred pounds? There is the difference too," added Brother Copas, "that he gets the eternal bliss, while the three hundred pounds goes to his widow."
Brother Copas took a second pinch, his eyes on Mr. Simeon's face. He could not guess the secret of the pang that passed over it—that in naming three hundred pounds he had happened on the precise sum in which Mr. Simeon was insured, and that trouble enough the poor man had to find the yearly premium, due now in a fortnight's time. But he saw that somehow he had given pain, and dexterously slid off the subject, yet without appearing to change it.
"For my part," he went on, "I know a method by which, if made Archbishop of Canterbury and allowed a strong hand, I would undertake to bring, within ten years, every Dissenter in England within the Church's fold."
"What would you do?"
"I would lay, in one pastoral of a dozen sentences, the strictest orders on my clergy to desist from all politics, all fighting; to disdain any cry, any struggle; to accept from Dissent any rebuff, persecution, spoliation—while steadily ignoring it. In every parish my Church's attitude should be this: 'You may deny me, hate me, persecute me, strip me: but you are a Christian of this parish and therefore my parishioner; and therefore I absolutely defy you to escape my forgiveness or my love. Though you flee to the uttermost parts of the earth, you shall not escape these: by these, as surely as I am the Church, you shall be mine in the end.' . . . And do you think, Mr. Simeon, any man in England could for ever resist that appeal? A few of us agnostics, perhaps. But we are human souls, after all; and no one is an agnostic for the fun of it. We should be tempted—sorely tempted—I don't say rightly."
Mr. Simeon's eyes shone. The picture touched him.
"But it would mean that the Church must compromise," he murmured.
"That is precisely what it would not mean. It would mean that all her adversaries must compromise; and with love there is only one compromise, which is surrender. . . . But," continued Brother Copas, resuming his lighter tone, "this presupposes not only a sensible Archbishop but a Church not given up to anarchy as the Church of England is. Let us therefore leave speculating and follow our noses; which with me, Mr. Simeon—and confound you for a pleasant companion!—means an instant necessity to cultivate bad temper."
He picked up his volume from the table and walked off with it to the window-seat.
"You are learning bad temper from a book?" asked Mr. Simeon, taking off his spectacles and following Brother Copas with mild eyes of wonder.
"Certainly. . . . If ever fortune, my good sir, should bring you (which God forbid!) to end your days in our College of Noble Poverty, you will understand the counsel given by the pilot to Pantagruel and his fellow-voyagers—that considering the gentleness of the breeze and the calm of the current, as also that they stood neither in hope of much good nor in fear of much harm, he advised them to let the ship drive, nor busy themselves with anything but making good cheer. I have done with all worldly fear and ambition; and therefore in working up a hearty Protestant rage (to which a hasty promise commits me), I can only tackle my passion on the intellectual side. Those fellows down at the Club are no help to me at all. . . . My book? It is the last volume of Mr. Froude's famous History of England. Here's a passage now—
"'The method of Episcopal appointments, instituted by Henry VIII, as a temporary expedient, and abolished under Edward as an unreality, was re-established by Elizabeth, not certainly because she believed that the invocation of the Holy Ghost was required for the completeness of an election which her own choice had already determined, not because the bishops obtained any gifts or graces in their consecration which she herself respected, but because the shadowy form of an election, with a religious ceremony following it, gave them the semblance of spiritual independence, the semblance without the substance, which qualified them to be the instruments of the system which she desired to enforce. They were tempted to presume on their phantom dignity, till a sword of a second Cromwell taught them the true value of their Apostolic descent. . . .
"That's pretty well calculated to annoy, eh? Also, by the way, in its careless rapture it twice misrelates the relative pronoun; and Froude was a master of style. Or what do you say to this?—
"'But neither Elizabeth nor later politicians of Elizabeth's temperament desired the Church of England to become too genuine. It has been more convenient to leave an element of unsoundness at the heart of an institution which, if sincere, might be dangerously powerful. The wisest and best of its bishops have found their influence impaired, their position made equivocal, by the element of unreality which adheres to them. A feeling approaching to contempt has blended with the reverence attaching to their position, and has prevented them from carrying the weight in the councils of the nation which has been commanded by men of no greater intrinsic eminence in other professions.'
"Yet another faulty relative!
"'Pretensions which many of them would have gladly abandoned have connected their office with a smile. The nature of it has for the most part filled the Sees with men of second-rate abilities. The latest and most singular theory about them is that of the modern English Neo-Catholic, who disregards his bishop's advice, and despises his censures; but looks on him nevertheless as some high-bred, worn-out animal, useless in himself, but infinitely valuable for some mysterious purpose of spiritual propagation.'"
Brother Copas laid the open volume face-downward on his knee—a trivial action in itself; but he had a conscience about books, and would never have done this to a book he respected.
"Has it struck you, Mr. Simeon," he asked, "that Froude is so diabolically effective just because in every fibre of him he is at one with the thing he attacks?"
"He had been a convert of the Tractarians in his young days, I have heard," said Mr. Simeon.
"Yes, it accounts for much in him. Yet I was not thinking of that— which was an experience only, though significant. The man's whole cast of mind is priestly despite himself. He has all the priesthood's alleged tricks: you can never be sure that he is not faking evidence or garbling a quotation. . . . My dear Mr. Simeon, truly it behoves us to love our enemies, since in this world they are often the nearest we have to us."
In the sunshine, on a lower step of the stone stairway that leads up and through the shadow of a vaulted porch to the Hundred Men's Hall, or refectory, Brother Biscoe stood with a hand-bell and rang to dinner. Brother Biscoe was a charming old man to look upon; very frail and venerable, with a somewhat weak face; and as senior pensioner of the hospital he enjoyed the privilege of ringing to dinner on Gaudy Days—twenty-seven strokes, distinct and separately counted—one for each brother on the two foundations.
The Brethren, however, loitered in groups before their doorways, along the west side of the quadrangle, awaiting a signal from the porter's lodge. Brother Manby, there, had promised to warn them as soon as the Master emerged from his lodging with the other Trustees and a few distinguished guests—including the Bishop of Merchester, Visitor of St. Hospital—on their way to dine. The procession would take at least three minutes coming through the outer court—ample time for the Brethren to scramble up the stairway, take their places, and assume the right air of reverent expectancy.
As a rule—Brother Copas, standing on the gravel below Brother Biscoe and counting the strokes for him, begged him to note it—they were none so dilatory. But gossip held them. His shrewd glance travelled from group to group, and between the strokes of the bell he counted the women-folk.
"They are all at their doors," he murmured. "For a look at the dear Bishop, think you?"
"They are watching to see what Warboise will do," quavered Brother Biscoe. "Oh, I know!"
"The women don't seem to be taking much truck with Warboise or his Petition. See him over there, with Plant and Ibbetson only. . . . And Ibbetson's only there because his wife has more appetising fish to fry. But she's keeping an eye on him—watch her! Poor woman, for once she's discovering Rumour to be almost too full of tongues."
"I wonder you're not over there too, lending Warboise support," suggested Brother Biscoe. "Royle told me last night that you had joined the Protestant swim."
"But I am here, you see," Brother Copas answered sweetly; "and just for the pleasure of doing you a small service."
Even this did not disarm the old man, whose temper was malignant.
"Well, I wish you joy of your crew. A secret drinker like Plant, for instance! And your friend Bonaday, in his second childhood—"
"Bonaday will have nothing to do with us."
"Ah?" Brother Biscoe shot him a sidelong glance. "He's more pleasantly occupied, perhaps?—if it's true what they tell me."
"It never is," said Brother Copas imperturbably; "though I haven't a notion to what you refer."
"But surely you've heard?"
"Nothing: and if it concerns Bonaday, you'd best hold your tongue just now; for here he is."
Brother Bonaday in fact, with Nurse Branscome and Corona, at that moment emerged from the doorway of his lodgings, not ten paces distant from the steps of the Hundred Men's Hall. The three paused, just outside—the Nurse and Corona to await the procession of Visitors, due now at any moment. Brother Bonaday stood and blinked in the strong sunlight: but the child, catching sight of Brother Copas as he left Brother Biscoe and hurried towards her, ran to meet him with a friendly nod.
"I've come out to watch the procession," she announced. "That's all we women are allowed; while you—Branny says there's to be ducks and green peas! Did you know that?"
"Surely you must have observed my elation?"
Brother Copas stood and smiled at her, leaning on his staff.
"The Bishop wears gaiters they tell me; and the Master too. I saw them coming out of Chapel in their surplices, and the Chaplain with the Bishop's staff: but Branny wouldn't let me go to the service. She said I must be tired after my journey. So I went to the lodge instead and made friends with Brother Manby. I didn't," said Corona candidly, "make very good weather with Brother Manby, just at first. He began by asking 'Well, and oo's child might you be?'—and when I told him, he said, 'Ow's anyone to know that?' That amused me, of course."
"Did it?" asked Brother Copas in slight astonishment.
"Because," the child explained, "I'd been told that English people dropped their h's; but Brother Manby was the first I'd heard doing it, and it seemed too good to be true. You don't drop your h's; and nor does Daddy, nor Branny."
Brother Copas chuckled.
"Don't reproach us," he pleaded. "You see, you've taken us at unawares more or less. But if it really please you—"
"You are very kind," Corona put in; "but I guess that sort of thing must come naturally, to be any good. You can't think how naturally Brother Manby went on dropping them; till by and by he told me what a mort of Americans came here to have a look around. Then, of course, I saw how he must strike them as the real thing."
Brother Copas under lowered eyebrows regarded the young face. It was innocent and entirely serious.
"So I said," she went on, "that I came from America too, and it was a long way, and please would he hurry up with the bread and beer? After that we made friends, and I had a good time."
"Are you telling me that you spent the forenoon drinking beer in the porter's lodge?"
Corona's laugh was like the bubbling of water in a hidden well.
"It wasn't what you might call a cocktail," she confided. "The tiredest traveller wouldn't ask for crushed ice to it, not with a solid William-the-Conqueror wall to lean against."
Brother Copas admitted that the tenuity of the Wayfarer's Ale had not always escaped the Wayfarer's criticism. He was about to explain that, in a country of vested interests, publicans and teetotallers agreed to require that beer supplied gratis in the name of charity must be innocuous and unenticing. But at this moment Brother Manby signalled from his lodge that the procession was approaching across the outer court, and he hurried away to join the crowd of Brethren in their scramble upstairs to the Hundred Men's Hall.
The procession hove in sight; in number about a dozen, walking two-and-two, headed by Master Blanchminster and the Bishop. Nurse Branscome stepped across to the child and stood by her, whispering the names of the dignitaries as they drew near. The dear little gaitered white-headed clergyman—the one in the college cap—was the Master; the tall one, likewise in gaiters, the Bishop.
"—and the gentleman behind him is Mr. Yeo, the Mayor of Merchester. That's the meaning of his chain, you know."
"Why, is he dangerous?" asked Corona.
"His chain of office, dear. It's the rule in England."
"You don't say! . . . Over in America we've never thought of that: we let our grafters run loose. But who's the tall one next to him? My! but can't you see him, Branny, with his long legs crossed?"
Branny was puzzled.
"—on a tomb, in chain armour, with his hands so." Corona put her two palms together, as in the act of prayer.
"Oh, I see! Well, as it happens, his house has a private chapel with five or six of just those tombs—all of his ancestors. He's Sir John Shaftesbury, and he's pricked for High Sheriff next year. One of the oldest families in the county; in all England, indeed. Everyone loves and respects Sir John."
"Didn't I say so!" The small palms were pressed together ecstatically. "And does he keep a dwarf, same as they used to?"
"Eh? . . . If you mean the little man beside him, with the straw-coloured gloves, that's Mr. Bamberger; Mr. Julius Bamberger, our Member of Parliament."
"Say that again, please."
The child looked up, wide-eyed.
"He's our Member of Parliament for Merchester; immensely rich, they say."
"Well," decided Corona after a moment's thought, "I'm going to pretend he isn't, anyway. I'm going to pretend Sir John found him and brought him home from Palestine."
Branny named, one by one, the rest of the Trustees, all persons of importance.
Mr. Colt and the Bishop's chaplain brought up the rear.
The procession came to a halt. Old Warboise had not followed in the wake of the Brethren, but stood at the foot of the stairway, and leaned there on his staff. His face was pale, his jaw set square to perform his duty. His hand trembled, though, as he held out a paper, accosting the Bishop.
"My lord," he said, "some of the Brethren desire you as Visitor to read this Petition."
"Hey?" interrupted the Master, taken by surprise. "Tut—tut—my good Warboise, what's the meaning of this?"
"Very sorry, Master," Brother Warboise mumbled: "and meaning no disrespect to you, that have always ruled St. Hospital like a gentleman. But a party must reckon with his conscience."
The Bishop eyed the document dubiously, holding it between finger and thumb.
"Some affair of discipline?" he asked, turning to the Master.
"Romanisers, my lord—Romanisers: that's what's the matter!" answered Brother Warboise, lifting his voice and rapping the point of his staff on the gravel.
Good Master Blanchminster, shocked by this address, lifted his eyes beyond Warboise and perceived the womenkind gathered around their doorways, listening. Nothing of the sort had happened in all his long and beneficent rule. He was scandalised. He lost his temper.
"Brother Warboise," he said severely, "whatever your grievances—and I will inquire into it later—you have chosen a highly indecorous and, er, offensive way of obtruding it. At this moment, sir, we are going together to dine and to thank God for many mercies vouchsafed to us. If you have any sense of these you will stand aside now and follow us when we have passed. His lordship will read your petition at a more convenient opportunity."
"Quite so, my good man." The Bishop took his cue and pocketed the paper, nodding shortly. The procession moved forward and mounted the staircase, Brother Warboise stumping after it at a little distance, scowling as he climbed, scowling after the long back and wide shoulders of Mr. Colt as they climbed directly ahead of him.
Around their tables in the Hundred Men's Hall the Brethren were gathered expectant.
"Buzz for the Bishop—here he comes!" quoted Brother Copas, and stood forth ready to deliver the Latin grace as the visitors found their places at the high table.
St. Hospital used a long Latin grace on holy-days; "and," Brother Copas had once observed, "the market-price of Latinity in England will ensure that we always have at least one Brother capable of repeating it."
" . . . Gratias agimus pro Alberico de Albo Monasterio, in fide defuncto—"
Here Brother Copas paused, and the Brethren responded "Amen!"
"Ac pro Henrico de Bello Campo, Cardinali."
As the grace proceeded Brother Copas dwelt on the broad vowels with gusto.
"...Itaque precamur; Miserere nostri, te quaesumus Domine, tuisque donis, quae de tua benignitate percepturi sumus, benedicito. Per Jesum Christum, Dominum nostrum. Amen."
His eyes wandered down to the carving-table, where Brother Biscoe stood ready, as his turn was, to direct and apportion the helpings. He bowed to the dignitaries on the dais, and walked to his place at the board next to Brother Warboise.
"Old Biscoe's carving," he announced as he took his seat. "You and I will have to take a slice of odium theologicum together, for auld lang syne."
Sure enough, when his helping of duck came to him, it was the back. Brother Warboise received another back for his portion.
"Courage, Brother Ridley!" murmured Copas, "you and I this day have raised a couple of backs that will not readily be put down."
Nurse Branscome had been surprised when Brother Warboise accosted the Bishop. She could not hear what he said, but guessed that something unusual was happening. A glance at the two or three groups of women confirmed this, and when the procession moved on, she walked across to the nearest, taking Corona by the hand.
The first she addressed happened to be Mrs. Royle.
"Whatever was Brother Warboise doing just now?" she asked.
Mrs. Royle hunched her shoulders, and turned to Mrs. Ibbetson.
"There's worse scandals in St. Hospital," said she with a sniff, "than ever old Warboise has nosed. Eh, ma'am?"
"One can well believe that, Mrs. Royle," agreed Mrs. Ibbetson, fixing an eye of disapproval on the child.
"And I am quite sure of it," agreed Nurse Branscome candidly; "though what you mean is a mystery to me."
LOW AND HIGH TABLES.
"This," said Brother Copas sweetly, turning over his portion of roast duck and searching for some flesh on it, "is not a duck at all, but a pelican, bird of wrath. See, it has devoured its own breast."
Beside the dais, at the eastern end of the Hundred Men's Hall, an ancient staircase leads to an upper chamber of which we shall presently speak; and on the newel-post of this staircase stands one of the curiosities of St. Hospital—a pelican carved in oak, vulning its breast to feed its young. Brother Copas, lifting a pensive eye from his plate, rested it on this bird, as though comparing notes.