H. RIDER HAGGARD
THE REV. PHILIP T. BAINBRIDGE
Vicar of St. Thomas' Regent Street, London
You, whose privilege it is by instruction and example to strengthen the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees of many, may perhaps care to read of one whose human love led her from darkness into light and on to the gates of the Love Eternal.
I HONEST JOHN II ISOBEL KISSES GODFREY III THE PLANTAGENET LADY IV THE GARDEN IN THE SQUARE V MADAME RIENNES VI EXPERIENCES VII MR. KNIGHT AND DUTY VIII THE PASTEUR TAKES THE FIELD IX THE PASTEUR CONQUERS X GODFREY BECOMES A HERO XI JULIETTE'S FAREWELL XII HOME XIII THE INTERVENING YEARS XIV TOGETHER XV FOR EVER XVI LOVE AND LOSS XVII INDIA XVIII FRANCE—AND AFTER XIX MARRIAGE XX ORDERS XXI LOVE ETERNAL
More than thirty years ago two atoms of the eternal Energy sped forth from the heart of it which we call God, and incarnated themselves in the human shapes that were destined to hold them for a while, as vases hold perfumes, or goblets wine, or as sparks of everlasting radium inhabit the bowels of the rock. Perhaps these two atoms, or essences, or monads indestructible, did but repeat an adventure, or many, many adventures. Perhaps again and again they had proceeded from that Home august and imperishable on certain mornings of the days of Time, to return thither at noon or nightfall, laden with the fruits of gained experience. So at least one of them seemed to tell the other before all was done and that other came to believe. If so, over what fields did they roam throughout the aeons, they who having no end, could have no beginning? Not those of this world only, we may be sure. It is so small and there are so many others, millions upon millions of them, and such an infinite variety of knowledge is needed to shape the soul of man, even though it remain as yet imperfect and but a shadow of what it shall be.
Godfrey Knight was born the first, six months later she followed (her name was Isobel Blake), as though to search for him, or because whither he went, thither she must come, that being her doom and his.
Their circumstances, or rather those of their parents, were very different but, as it chanced, the houses in which they dwelt stood scarcely three hundred yards apart.
Between the rivers Blackwater and Crouch in Essex, is a great stretch of land, flat for the most part and rather dreary, which, however, to judge from what they have left us, our ancestors thought of much importance because of its situation, its trade and the corn it grew. So it came about that they built great houses there and reared beautiful abbeys and churches for the welfare of their souls. Amongst these, not very far from the coast, is that of Monk's Acre, still a beautiful fane though they be but few that worship there to-day. The old Abbey house adjacent is now the rectory. It has been greatly altered, and the outbuildings are shut up or used as granaries and so forth by arrangement with a neighbouring farmer. Still its grey walls contain some fine but rather unfurnished chambers, reputed by the vulgar to be haunted. It was for this reason, so says tradition, that the son of the original grantee of Monk's Acre Abbey, who bought it for a small sum from Henry VIII at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, turned the Abbey house into a rectory and went himself to dwell in another known as Hawk's Hall, situate on the bank of the little stream of that name, Hawk's Creek it is called, which finds its way to the Blackwater.
Parsons, he said, were better fitted to deal with ghosts than laymen, especially if the said laymen had dispossessed the originals of the ghosts of their earthly heritage.
The ancient Hawk's Hall, a timber building of the sort common in Essex as some of its premises still show, has long since disappeared. About the beginning of the Victorian era a fish-merchant of the name of Brown, erected on its site a commodious, comfortable, but particularly hideous mansion of white brick, where he dwelt in affluence in the midst of the large estate that had once belonged to the monks. An attempt to corner herrings, or something of the sort, brought this worthy, or unworthy tradesman to disaster, and the Hall was leased to a Harwich smack-owner of the name of Blake, a shrewd person, whose origin was humble. He had one son named John, of whom he was determined to "make a gentleman." With this view John was sent to a good public school, and to college. But of him nothing could make a gentleman, because true gentility and his nature were far apart. He remained, notwithstanding all his advantages, a cunning, and in his way an able man of business, like his father before him. For the rest, he was big, florid and presentable, with the bluff and hearty manner which sometimes distinguishes a faux bonhomme. "Honest John" they called him in the neighbourhood, a soubriquet which was of service to him in many ways.
Suddenly Honest John's father died, leaving him well off, though not so rich as he would have liked to be. At first he thought of leaving Hawk's Hall and going to live at Harwich, where most of his business interests were. But, remembering that the occupation of it gave him a certain standing in the county, whereas in Harwich he would have been only a superior tradesman, he gave up the idea. It was replaced by another—to marry well.
Now John Blake was not an idealist, nor in any sense romantic; therefore, from marriage he expected little. He did not even ask that his wife should be good-looking, knowing that any aspirations which he had towards beauty could be satisfied otherwise. Nor did he seek money, being well aware that he could make this for himself. What he desired were birth and associations. After a little waiting he found exactly what he wanted.
A certain Lord Lynfield from the South of England, who lived in London, and was a director of many Boards, took a pheasant-shooting in the neighbourhood of Hawk's Hall, and with it a house. Here he lived more or less during the winter months, going up to town when necessary, to attend his Boards. Lord Lynfield was cursed with several extravagant sons, with whom John Blake, who was a good shot, soon became friendly. Also he made himself useful by lending one of them a considerable sum of money. When this came to Lord Lynfield's ears, as Honest John was careful that it should, he was disturbed and offered repayment, though as a matter of fact he did not know where to turn for the cash. In his bluffest and heartiest way Blake refused to hear of such a thing.
"No, no, my Lord, let it stand. Your son will repay me one day, and if he doesn't, what will a trifle like that matter?"
"He certainly shall repay you. But all the same, Mr. Blake, you have behaved very well and I thank you much," replied his Lordship courteously.
Thus did John Blake become an intimate of that aristocratic family.
Now Lord Lynfield, who was a widower, had one unmarried daughter. She was an odd and timid little person, with strong religious views, who adored secretly a high-church curate in London. This, indeed, was the reason why she had been brought to Essex when her infatuation was discovered by one of her married sisters, who, like the rest of the family, was extremely "low." Lady Jane was small in body and shrinking and delicate in character, somewhat mouselike indeed. Even her eyes were large and timid as are those of a mouse. In her John Blake perceived the exact parti whom he desired for a wife.
It is not necessary to follow the pitiful story to its inevitable end, one, happily, more common at that time than it is to-day. Mr. Blake played the earnest, ardent lover, and on all occasions proclaimed his own unworthiness at the top of his loud voice. Also he hinted at large settlements to the married sisters, who put the matter before Jane very plainly indeed. In the end, after a few words with her father, who pointed out that the provision which could be made for her was but small, and that he would die more happily if he knew her to be comfortably settled in life with a really trustworthy and generous man such as Mr. Blake had proved himself to be, she gave way, and in due course they were married.
In fact, the tragedy was complete, since Jane loathed her husband, whose real nature she had read from the beginning, as much as she adored the high-church curate from whom in some terrible hour she parted with broken words. Even when he died a few years later, she continued to adore him, so much that her one hope was that she might meet him again in the land where there is no marrying or giving in marriage. But all of this she kept locked in her poor little heart, and meanwhile did her duty by her husband with an untroubled brow, though those mouse-like eyes of hers grew ever more piteous.
He, for his part, did not do his duty by her. Of one side of his conduct she was careless, being totally indifferent as to whom he admired. Others she found it hard to bear. The man was by nature a bully, one who found pleasure in oppressing the helpless, and who loved, in the privacy of his home, to wreak the ill-temper which he was forced to conceal abroad. In company, and especially before any of her people, he treated her with the greatest deference, and would even make loud laudatory remarks concerning her; when they were alone there was a different tale to tell, particularly if she had in any way failed in promoting that social advancement for which he had married her.
"What do you suppose I give you all those jewels and fine clothes for, to say nothing of the money you waste in keeping up the house?" he would ask brutally.
Jane made no answer; silence was her only shield, but her heart burned within her. It is probable, notwithstanding her somewhat exaggerated ideas of duty and wifely obedience, that she would have plucked up her courage and left him, even if she must earn her own living as a sempstress, had it not been for one circumstance. That circumstance was the arrival in the world of her daughter, Isobel. In some ways this event did not add to her happiness, if that can be added to which does not exist, for the reason that her husband never forgave her because this child, her only one, was not a boy. Nor did he lose any opportunity of telling her this to her face, as though the matter were one over which she had control. In others, however, for the first time in her battered little life, she drank deep of the cup of joy. She loved that infant, and from the first it loved her and her only, while to the father it was indifferent, and at times antagonistic.
From the cradle Isobel showed herself to be an individual of character. Even as a little girl she knew what she wanted and formed her own opinions quite independently of those of others. Moreover, in a certain way she was a good-looking child, but of a stamp totally different from that of either of her parents. Her eyes were not restless and prominent, like her father's, or dark and plaintive, like her mother's, but large, grey and steady, with long curved lashes. In fact, they were fine, but it was her only beauty, since the brow above them was almost too pronounced for that of a woman, the mouth was a little large, and the nose somewhat irregular. Her hair, too, though long and thick, was straight and rather light-coloured. For the rest she was well-ground and vigorous, with a strong, full voice, and as she approached maturity she developed a fine figure.
When she was not much more than ten Isobel had her first trouble with her father. Something had gone wrong with one of his shipping speculations, and as usual, he vented it upon his wife. So cruelly did he speak to her on a household matter for which she was not the least to blame, that the poor woman at last rose and left the room to hide her tears. Isobel, however, remained behind, and walking up to her father, who stood with his back to the fire, asked him why he treated her mother thus.
"Mind your own business, you impertinent brat," he answered.
"Mummy is my business, and you are—a brute," she exclaimed, clenching her little fists. He lifted his hand as though to strike her, then changed his mind and went away. She had conquered. Thenceforward Mr. Blake was careful not to maltreat his wife in Isobel's presence. He complained to her, however, of the child's conduct, which, he said, was due to her bringing up and encouragement, and Lady Jane in turn, scolded her in her gentle fashion for her "wicked words."
Isobel listened, then asked, without attempting to defend herself,
"Were not father's words to you wicked also, Mummy? It was not your fault if James forgot to bring round the dog-cart and made him miss the train to London. Ought you to be sworn at for that?"
"No, dear, but you see, he is my husband, and husbands can say what they wish to their wives."
"Then I will never have a husband; at least, not one like father," Isobel announced with decision.
There the matter ended. Or rather it did not end, since from that moment Isobel began to reflect much on matrimony and other civilized institutions, as to which at last she formed views that were not common among girls of her generation. In short, she took the first step towards Radicalism, and entered on the road of rebellion against the Existing and Acknowledged.
During the governess era which followed this scene Isobel travelled far and fast along that road. The lady, or rather the ladies, hired by her father, for his wife was allowed no voice in their selection, were of the other known as "determined"; disciplinarians of the first water. For one reason or another they did not stay. Isobel, though a quick and able child, very fond of reading moreover, proved unamenable under discipline as understood by those formidable females, and owing to her possession of a curious tenacity of purpose, ended by wearing them down. Also they did not care for the atmosphere of the house, which was depressing.
One of them once tried to strike Isobel. This was when she was nearly thirteen. Isobel replied with the schoolroom inkpot. She was an adept at stone-throwing, and other athletic arts. It caught her instructress fair upon her gentle bosom, spoiled her dress, filled her mouth and eyes with ink, and nearly knocked her down.
"I shall tell your father to flog you," gasped the lady when she recovered her breath.
"I should advise you not," said Isobel. "And what is more," she added after reflection, "if you do I shall advise him not to listen to you."
Then the governess thought better of it and gave notice instead. To be just to John Blake he never attempted to resort to violence against his daughter. This may have been because he knew by instinct that it would not be safe to do so or tend to his own comfort. Or perhaps, it was for the reason that in his way he was fond of her, looking on her with pride not quite untouched by fear. Like all bullies he was a coward at heart, and respected anyone who dared to stand up to him, even although she were but a girl, and his own daughter.
After the victim of the inkpot incident departed, threatening actions at law and proclaiming that her pupil would come to a bad end, questions arose as to Isobel's future education. Evidently the governess experiment had broken down and was not worth repeating. Although she trembled at the idea of parting with her only joy and consolation in life, Lady Jane suggested that she should be sent to school. It was fortunate for her that she did so, since as the idea came from his wife, Mr. Blake negatived it at once firmly and finally, a decision which she accepted with an outward sigh of resignation, having learned the necessity of guile, and inward delight. Indeed, for it that evening she thanked God upon her knees.
It may be also that her father did not wish that Isobel should go away. Lady Jane bored him to distraction, since kicking a cushion soon becomes poor sport. So much did she bore him indeed that for this and other reasons he passed most of his time in London or at Harwich, in both of which places he had offices where he transacted his shipping business, only spending the week-ends at Hawk's Hall. It was his custom to bring with him parties of friends, business men as a rule, to whom, for sundry purposes, he wished to appear in the character of a family man and local magnate. Isobel, who was quick and vivacious even while she was still a child, helped to make these parties pass off well, whereas without her he felt that they would have been a failure. Also she was useful during the shooting season. So it came about that she was kept at home.
It was at this juncture that an idea came to Mr. Blake. A few years before, at the very depth of the terrible agricultural depression of the period, he had purchased at a forced sale by the mortgagees, the entire Monk's Acre estate, at about L12 the acre, which was less than the cost of the buildings that stood upon the land. This, as he explained to all and sundry, he had done at great personal loss in the interest of the tenants and labourers, but as a matter of fact, even at the existing rents, the investment paid him a fair rate of interest, and was one which, as a business man he knew must increase in value when times changed. With the property went the advowson of Monk's Acre, and it chanced that a year later the living fell vacant through the resignation of the incumbent. Mr. Blake, now as always seeking popularity, consulted the bishop, consulted the church-wardens, consulted the parishioners, and in the end consulted his own interests by nominating the nephew of a wealthy baronet of his acquaintance whom he was anxious to secure as a director upon the Board of a certain company in which he had large holdings.
"I have never seen this clerical gentleman and know nothing of his views, or anything about him. But if you recommend him, my dear Sir Samuel, it is enough for me, since I always judge of a man by his friends. Perhaps you will furnish me, or rather my lawyers, with the necessary particulars, and I will see that the matter is put through. Now, to come to more important business, as to this Board of which I am chairman," &c.
The end of it was that Sir Samuel, flattered by such deference, became a member of the Board and Sir Samuel's nephew became rector of Monk's Acre.
Such appointments, like marriages, are made in Heaven—at least that seems to be the doctrine of the English Church, which is content to act thereon. In this particular instance the results were quite good. The Rev. Mr. Knight, the nephew of the opulent Sir Samuel, proved to be an excellent and hard-working clergyman. He was low-church, and narrow almost to the point of Calvinism, but intensely earnest and conscientious; one who looked upon the world as a place of sin and woe through which we must labour and pass on, a difficult path beset with rocks and thorns, leading to the unmeasured plains of Heaven. Also he was an educated man who had taken high degrees at college, and really learned in his way. While he was a curate, working very hard in a great seaport town, he had married the daughter of another clergyman of the city, who died in a sudden fashion as the result of an accident, leaving the girl an orphan. She was not pure English as her mother had been a Dane, but on both sides her descent was high, as indeed was that of Mr. Knight himself.
This union, contracted on the husband's part largely from motives that might be called charitable, since he had promised his deceased colleague on his death bed to befriend the daughter, was but moderately successful. The wife had the characteristics of her race; largeness and liberality of view, high aspirations for humanity, considerable intelligence, and a certain tendency towards mysticism of the Swedenborgian type, qualities that her husband neither shared nor could appreciate. It was perhaps as well, therefore that she died at the birth of her only son, Godfrey, three years after her marriage.
Mr. Knight never married again. Matrimony was not a state which appealed to his somewhat shrunken nature. Although he admitted its necessity to the human race, of it in his heart he did not approve, nor would he ever have undertaken it at all had it not been for a sense of obligation. This attitude, because it made for virtue as he understood it, he set down to virtue, as we are all apt to do, a sacrifice of the things of earth and of the flesh to the things of heaven, and of the spirit. In fact, it was nothing of the sort, but only the outcome of individual physical and mental conditions. Towards female society, however hallowed and approved its form, he had no leanings. Also the child was a difficulty, so great indeed that at times almost he regretted that a wise Providence had not thought fit to take it straight to the joys of heaven with its mother, though afterwards, as the boy's intelligence unfolded, he developed interest in him. This, however, he was careful to keep in check, lest he should fall into the sin of inordinate affection, denounced by St. Paul in common with other errors.
Finally, he found an elderly widow, named Parsons, who acted as his housekeeper, and took charge of his son. Fortunately for Godfrey her sense of parenthood was more pronounced than that of his father, and she, who had lost two children of her own, played the part of mother to him with a warm and loyal heart. From the first she loved him, and he loved her; it was an affection that continued throughout their lives.
When Godfrey was about nine his father's health broke down. He was still a curate in his seaport town, for good, as goodness is understood, and hard-working as he was, no promotion had come his way. Perhaps this was because the bishop and his other superiors, recognising his lack of sympathy and his narrowness of outlook, did not think him a suitable man to put in charge of a parish. At any rate, so it happened.
Thus arose his appeal to his wealthy and powerful relative, Sir Samuel, and his final nomination to a country benefice, for in the country the doctor said that he must live—unless he wished to die. Convinced though he was of the enormous advantages of Heaven over an earth which he knew to be extremely sinful, the Rev. Mr. Knight, like the rest of the world, shrank from the second alternative, which, as he stated in a letter of thanks to Sir Samuel, however much it might benefit him personally, would cut short his period of terrestrial usefulness to others. So he accepted the rectorship of Monk's Acre with gratitude.
In one way there was not much for which to be grateful, seeing that in those days of depreciated tithes the living was not worth more than L250 a year and his own resources, which came from his wife's small fortune, were very limited. It should have been valuable, but the great tithes were alienated with the landed property of the Abbey by Henry VIII, and now belonged to the lay rector, Mr. Blake, who showed no signs of using them to increase the incumbent's stipend.
Still there was a good house with an excellent garden, too good indeed, with its beautiful and ancient rooms which a former rector of archaeological knowledge and means had in part restored to their pristine state, while for the rest his tastes were simple and his needs few, for, of course, he neither drank wine nor smoked. Therefore, as has been said, he took the living with thankfulness and determined to make the best of it on a total income of about L350 a year.
ISOBEL KISSES GODFREY
On the whole Monk's Acre suited Mr. Knight fairly well. It is true that he did not like the Abbey, as it was still called, of which the associations and architectural beauty made no appeal to him, and thought often with affection of the lodging-house-like abode in which he had dwelt in his southern seaport town amid the Victorian surroundings that were suited to his Victorian nature. The glorious church, too, irritated him, partly because it was so glorious, and notwithstanding all that the Reformation had done to mar it, so suggestive of papistical practice and errors, and partly because the congregation was so scanty in that great expanse of nave and aisle, to say nothing of the chancel and sundry chapels, that they looked like a few wandering sheep left by themselves in a vast and almost emptied fold. Nor was this strange, seeing that the total population of the parish was but one hundred and forty-seven souls.
Of his squire and patron he saw but little. Occasionally Mr. Blake attended church and as lay-rector was accommodated in an ugly oak box in the chancel, where his big body and florid countenance reminded Godfrey of Farmer Johnson's prize polled ox in its stall. These state visits were not however very frequent and depended largely upon the guests who were staying for the week-end at the Hall. If Mr. Blake discovered that these gentlemen were religiously inclined, he went to church. If otherwise, and this was more common, acting on his principle of being all things to all men, he stopped away.
Personally he did not bother his head about the matter which, in secret, he looked upon as one of the ramifications of the great edifice of British cant. The vast majority of people in his view went to church, not because they believed in anything or wished for instruction or spiritual consolation, but because it looked respectable, which was exactly why he did so himself. Even then nearly always he sat alone in the oak box, his visitors generally preferring to occupy the pew in the nave which was frequented by Lady Jane and Isobel.
Nor did the two often meet socially since their natures were antipathetic. In the bosom of his family Mr. Blake would refer to Mr. Knight as the "little parson rat," while in his bosom Mr. Knight would think of Mr. Blake as "that bull of Bashan." Further, after some troubles had arisen about a question of tithe, also about the upkeep of the chancel, Blake discovered that beneath his meek exterior the clergyman had a strong will and very clear ideas of the difference between right and wrong, in short, that he was not a man to be trifled with, and less still one of whom he could make a tool. Having ascertained these things he left him alone as much as possible.
Mr. Knight very soon became aware first that his income was insufficient to his needs, and secondly, especially now when his health was much improved, that after a busy and hard-working life, time at Monk's Acre hung heavily upon his hands. The latter trouble to some extent he palliated by beginning the great work that he had planned ever since he became a deacon, for which his undoubted scholarship gave him certain qualifications. Its provisional title was, "Babylon Unveiled" (he would have liked to substitute "The Scarlet Woman" for Babylon) and its apparent object an elaborate attack upon the Roman Church, which in fact was but a cover for the real onslaught. With the Romans, although perhaps he did not know it himself, he had certain sympathies, for instance, in the matter of celibacy. Nor did he entirely disapprove of the monastic orders. Then he found nothing shocking in the tenets and methods of the Jesuits working for what they conceived to be a good end. The real targets of his animosity were his high-church brethren of the Church of England, wretches who, whilst retaining all the privileges of the Anglican Establishment, such as marriage, did not hesitate to adopt almost every error of Rome and to make use of her secret power over the souls of men by the practice of Confession and otherwise.
As this monumental treatise began in the times of the Early Fathers and was planned to fill ten volumes of at least a hundred thousand words apiece, no one will be surprised to learn that it never reached the stage of publication, or indeed, to be accurate, that it came to final stop somewhere about the time of Athanasius.
Realizing that the work was likely to equal that of Gibbon both in length and the years necessary to its completion; also that from it could be expected no immediate pecuniary profits, Mr. Knight looked round to find some other way of occupying his leisure, and adding to his income. Although a reserved person, on a certain Sunday when he went to lunch at the Hall, in the absence of Mr. Blake who was spending the week-end somewhere else, he confided his difficulties to Lady Jane whom he felt to be sympathetic.
"The house is so big," he complained. "Mrs. Parsons" (Godfrey's old nurse and his housekeeper) "and one girl cannot even keep it clean. It was most foolish of my predecessor in the living to restore that old refectory and all the southern dormitories upon which I am told he spent no less than L1,500 of his own money, never reflecting on the expense which his successors must incur merely to keep them in order, since being once there they are liable for charges for dilapidations. It would have been better, after permission obtained, to let them go to ruin."
"No doubt, but they are very beautiful, are they not?" remarked Lady Jane feebly.
"Beauty is a luxury and, I may add, a snare. It is a mistaken love of beauty and pomp, baits that the Evil One well knows how to use, which have led so large a section of our Church astray," he replied sipping at his tumbler of water.
A silence followed, for Lady Jane, who from early and tender associations loved high-church practices, did not know what to answer. It was broken by Isobel who had been listening to the conversation in her acute way, and now said in her clear, strong voice:
"Why don't you keep a school, Mr. Knight? There's lots of room for it in the Abbey."
"A school!" he said. "A school! I never thought of that. No, it is ridiculous. Still, pupils perhaps. Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings, &c. Well, it is time for me to be going. I will think the matter over after church."
Mr. Knight did think the matter over and after consultation with his housekeeper, Mrs. Parsons, an advertisement appeared in The Times and The Spectator inviting parents and guardians to entrust two or three lads to the advertiser's care to receive preliminary education, together with his own son. It proved fruitful, and after an exchange of the "highest references," two little boys appeared at Monk's Acre, both of them rather delicate in health. This was shortly before the crisis arose as to the future teaching of Isobel, when the last governess, wishing her "a better spirit," had bidden her a frigid farewell and shaken the dust of Hawk's Hall off her feet.
One day Isobel was sent with a note to the Abbey House. She rang the bell but no one came, for Mr. Knight was out walking with his pupils and Mrs. Parsons and the parlour-maid were elsewhere. Tired of waiting, she wandered round the grey old building in the hope of finding someone to whom she could deliver the letter, and came to the refectory which had a separate entrance. The door was open and she peeped in. At first, after the brilliant sunlight without, she saw nothing except the great emptiness of the place with its splendid oak roof on the repair of which the late incumbent had spent so much, since as is common in monkish buildings, the windows were high and narrow. Presently, however, she perceived a little figure seated in the shadow at the end of the long oaken refectory table, that at which the monks had eaten, which still remained where it had stood for hundreds of years, one of the fixtures of the house, and knew it for that of Godfrey, Mr. Knight's son. Gliding towards him quietly she saw that he was asleep and stopped to study him.
He was a beautiful boy, pale just now for he had recovered but recently from some childish illness. His hair was dark and curling, dark, too, were his eyes, though these she could not see, and the lashes over them, while his hands were long and fine. He looked most lonely and pathetic, there in the big oak chair that had so often accommodated the portly forms of departed abbots, and her warm heart went out towards him. Of course Isobel knew him, but not very well, for he was a shy lad and her father had never encouraged intimacy between the Abbey House and the Hall.
Somehow she had the idea that he was unhappy, for indeed he looked so even in his sleep, though perhaps this was to be accounted for by a paper of unfinished sums before him. Sympathy welled up in Isobel, who remembered the oppressions of the last governess—her of the inkpot. Sympathy, yes, and more than sympathy, for of a sudden she felt as she had never felt before. She loved the little lad as though he were her brother. A strange affinity for him came home to her, although she did not define it thus; it was as if she knew that her spirit was intimate with his, yes, and always had been and always would be intimate.
This subtle knowledge went through Isobel like fire and shook her. She turned pale, her nostrils expanded, her large eyes opened and she sighed. She did more indeed. Drawn by some over-mastering impulse she drew near to Godfrey and kissed him gently on the forehead, then glided back again frightened and ashamed at her own act.
Now he woke up; she felt his dark eyes looking at her. Then he spoke in a slow, puzzled voice, saying:
"I have had such a funny dream. I dreamed that a spirit came and kissed me. I did not see it, but I think it must have been my mother's."
"Why?" asked Isobel.
"Because no one else ever cared enough for me to kiss me, except Mrs. Parsons, and she has given it up now that the other boys are here."
"Does not your father kiss you?" she asked.
"Yes, once a week, on Sunday evening when I go to bed. Because I don't count that."
"No, I understand," said Isobel, thinking of her own father, then added hastily, "it must be sad not to have a mother."
"It is," he answered, "especially when one is ill as I have been, and must lie so long in bed with pains in the head. You know I had an abscess in the ear and it hurt very much."
"I didn't know. We heard you were ill and mother wanted to come to see you. Father wouldn't let her. He thought it might be measles and he is afraid of catching things."
"Yes," replied Godfrey without surprise. "It wasn't measles, but if it had been you might have caught them, so of course he was right to be careful."
"Oh! he wasn't thinking of me or Mummy, he was thinking of himself," blurted out Isobel with the candour of youth.
"Big, strong men don't catch measles," said Godfrey in mild astonishment.
"He says they do, and that they are very dangerous when you are grown up. Why are you alone here, and what are you working at?"
"My father has kept me in as a punishment because I did my sums wrong. The other boys have gone out bird-nesting, but I have to stop here until I get them right. I don't know when that will be," he added with a sigh, "as I hate rule of three and can't do it."
"Rule of three," said Isobel, "I'm quite good at it. You see I like figures. My father says it is the family business instinct. Here, let me try. Move to the other side of that big chair, there's plenty of room for two, and show it to me."
He obeyed with alacrity and soon the brown head and the fair one were bent together over the scrawled sheet. Isobel, who had really a budding talent for mathematics, worked out the sum, or rather the sums, without difficulty and then, with guile acquired under the governess regime, made him copy them and destroyed all traces of her own handiwork.
"Are you as stupid at everything as you are at sums?" she asked when he had finished, rising from the chair and seating herself on the edge of the table.
"What a rude thing to ask! Of course not," he replied indignantly. "I am very good at Latin and history, which I like. But you see father doesn't care much for them. He was a Wrangler, you know."
"A Wrangler! How dreadful. I suppose that is why he argues so much in his sermons. I hate history. It's full of dates and the names of kings who were all bad. I can't make out why people put up with kings," she added reflectively.
"Because they ought to, 'God bless our gracious Queen,' you know."
"Well, God may bless her but I don't see why I should as she never did anything for me, though Father does hope she will make him something one day. I'd like to be a Republican with a President as they have in America."
"You must be what father calls a wicked Radical," said Godfrey staring at her, "one of those people who want to disestablish the Church."
"I daresay," she replied, nodding her head. "That is if you mean making clergymen work like other people, instead of spying and gossiping and playing games as they do about here."
Godfrey did not pursue the argument, but remarked immorally:
"It's a pity you don't come to our class, for then I could do your history papers and you could do my sums."
She started, but all she said was:
"This would be a good place to learn history. Now I must be going. Don't forget to give the note. I shall have to say that I waited a long while before I found anyone. Goodbye, Godfrey."
"Goodbye, Isobel," he answered, but she was gone.
"I hope he did dream that it was his mother who kissed him," Isobel reflected to herself, for now the full enormity of her performance came home to her. Young as she was, a mere child with no knowledge of the great animating forces of life and of the mysteries behind them, she wondered why she had done this thing; what it was that forced her to do it. For she knew well that something had forced her, something outside of herself, as she understood herself. It was as though another entity that was in her and yet not herself had taken possession of her and made her act as uninfluenced, she never would have acted. Thus she pondered in her calm fashion, then, being able to make nothing of the business, shrugged her shoulders and let it go by. After all it mattered nothing since Godfrey had dreamed that the ghost of his mother had visited him and would not suspect her of being that ghost, and she was certain that never would she do such a thing again. The trouble was that she had done it once and that the deed signified some change in her which her childish mind could not understand.
On reaching the Hall, or rather shortly afterwards, she saw her father who was waiting for the carriage in which to go to the station to meet some particularly important week-end guest. He asked if she had brought any answer to his note to Mr. Knight, and she told him that she had left it in the schoolroom, as she called the refectory, because he was out.
"I hope he will get it," grumbled Mr. Blake. "One of my friends who is coming down to-night thinks he understands architecture and I want the parson to show him over the Abbey House. Indeed that's why he has come, for you see he is an American who thinks a lot of such old things."
"Well, it is beautiful, isn't it, Father?" she said. "Even I felt that it would be easy to learn in that big old room with a roof like that of a church."
An idea struck him.
"Would you like to go to school there, Isobel?"
"I think so, Father, as I must go to school somewhere and I hate those horrible governesses."
"Well," he replied, "you couldn't throw inkpots at the holy Knight, as you did at Miss Hook. Lord! what a rage she was in," he added with a chuckle. "I had to pay her L5 for a new dress. But it was better to do that than to risk a County Court action."
Then the carriage came and he departed.
The upshot of it all was that Isobel became another of Mr. Knight's pupils. When Mr. Blake suggested the arrangement to his wife, she raised certain objections, among them that associating with these little lads might make a tomboy of the girl, adding that she had been taught with children of her own sex. He retorted in his rough marital fashion, that if it made something different of Isobel to what she, the mother, was, he would be glad. Indeed, as usual, Lady Jane's opposition settled the matter.
Now for the next few years of Isobel's life there is little to be told. Mr. Knight was an able man and a good teacher, and being a clever girl she learned a great deal from him, especially in the way of mathematics, for which, as has been said, she had a natural leaning.
Indeed very soon she outstripped Godfrey and the other lads in this and sundry other branches of study, sitting at a table by herself on what once had been the dais of the old hall. In the intervals of lessons, however, it was their custom to take walks together and then it was that she always found herself at the side of Godfrey. Indeed they became inseparable, at any rate in mind. A strange and most uncommon intimacy existed between these young creatures, almost might it have been called a friendship of the spirit. Yet, and this was the curious part of it, they were dissimilar in almost everything that goes to make up a human being. Even in childhood there was scarcely a subject on which they thought alike, scarcely a point upon which they would not argue.
Godfrey was fond of poetry; it bored Isobel. His tendencies were towards religion though of a very different type from that preached and practised by his father; hers were anti-religious. In fact she would have been inclined to endorse the saying of that other schoolgirl who defined faith as "the art of believing those things which we know to be untrue," while to him on the other hand they were profoundly true, though often enough not in the way that they are generally accepted. Had he possessed any powers of definition at that age, probably he would have described our accepted beliefs as shadows of the Truth, distorted and fantastically shaped, like those thrown by changeful, ragged clouds behind which the eternal sun is shining, shadows that vary in length and character according to the hour and weather of the mortal day.
Isobel for her part took little heed of shadows. Her clear, scientific stamp of mind searched for ascertainable facts, and on these she built up her philosophy of life and of the death that ends it. Of course all such contradictions may often be found in a single mind which believes at one time and rejects at another and sees two, or twenty sides of everything with a painful and bewildering clearness.
Such a character is apt to end in profound dissatisfaction with the self from which it cannot be free. Much more then would one have imagined that these two must have been dissatisfied with each other and sought the opportunities of escape which were open to them. But it was not so in the least. They argued and contradicted until they had nothing more to say, and then lapsed into long periods of weary but good-natured silence. In a sense each completed each by the addition of its opposite, as the darkness completes the light, thus making the round of the perfect day.
As yet this deep affection and remarkable oneness showed no signs of the end to which obviously it was drifting. That kiss which the girl had given to the boy was pure sisterly, or one might almost say, motherly, and indeed this quality inspired their relationship for much longer than might have been expected. So much was this so that no one connected with them on either side ever had the slightest suspicion that they cared for each other in any way except as friends and fellow pupils.
So the years went by till the pair were seventeen, young man and young woman, though still called boy and girl. They were good-looking in their respective ways though yet unformed; tall and straight, too, both of them, but singularly dissimilar in appearance as well as in mind. Godfrey was dark, pale and thoughtful-faced. Isobel was fair, vivacious, open-natured, amusing, and given to saying the first thing that came to her tongue. She had few reservations; her thoughts might be read in her large grey eyes before they were heard from her lips, which generally was not long afterwards. Also she was very able. She read and understood the papers and followed all the movements of the day with a lively interest, especially if these had to do with national affairs or with women and their status.
Business, too, came naturally to her, so much so that her father would consult her about his undertakings, that is, about those of them which were absolutely above board and beyond suspicion of sharp dealing. The others he was far too wise to bring within her ken, knowing exactly what he would have heard from her upon the subject. And yet notwithstanding all his care she suspected him, by instinct, not by knowledge. For his part he was proud of her and would listen with pleasure when, still a mere child, she engaged his guests boldly in argument, for instance a bishop or a dean on theology, or a statesman on current politics. Already he had formed great plans for her future; she was to marry a peer who took an active part in things, or at any rate a leading politician, and to become a power in the land. But of this, too, wisely he said nothing to Isobel, for the time had not yet come.
During these years things had prospered exceedingly with John Blake who was now a very rich man with ships owned, or partly owned by him on every sea. On several occasions he had been asked to stand for Parliament and declined the honour. He knew himself to be no speaker, and was sure also that he could not attend both to the affairs of the country and to those of his ever-spreading business. So he took another course and began to support the Conservative Party, which he selected as the safest, by means of large subscriptions.
He did more, he bought a baronetcy, for only thus can the transaction be described. When a General Election was drawing near, one evening after dinner at Hawk's Hall he had a purely business conversation with a political Whip who, perhaps not without motive, had been complaining to him of the depleted state of the Party Chest.
"Well," said Mr. Blake, "you know that my principles are yours and that I should like to help your, or rather our cause. Money is tight with me just now and the outlook is very bad in my trade, but I'm a man who always backs his fancy; in short, would L15,000 be of use?"
The Whip intimated that it would be of the greatest use.
"Of course," continued Mr. Blake, "I presume that the usual acknowledgment would follow?"
"What acknowledgment?" asked the Whip sipping his port wearily, for such negotiations were no new thing to him. "I mean, how do you spell it?"
"With a P," said Mr. Blake boldly, acting on his usual principle of asking for more than he hoped to get.
The Whip contemplated him through his eyeglass with a mild and interested stare.
"Out of the question, my dear fellow," he said. "That box is full and locked, and there's a long outside list waiting as well. Perhaps you mean with a K. You know money isn't everything, as some of you gentlemen seem to think, and if it were, you would have said fifty instead of fifteen."
"K be damned!" replied Mr. Blake. "I'm not a mayor or an actor-manager. Let's say B, that stands for Beginning as well as Baronet; also it comes before P, doesn't it?"
"Well, let's see. You haven't a son, have you? Then perhaps it might be managed," replied the Whip with gentle but pointed insolence, for Mr. Blake annoyed him. "I'll make inquiries, and now, shall we join the ladies? I want to continue my conversation with your daughter about the corruption which some enemy, taking advantage of her innocence, has persuaded her exists in the Conservative Party. She is a clever young lady and makes out a good case against us, though I am sure I do not know whence she got her information. Not from you, I suppose, Sir John—I beg your pardon, Mr. Blake."
So the matter was settled, as both of them knew it would be when they left the room. The cash found its way into some nebulous account that nobody could have identified with any party, and in the Dissolution Honours, John Blake, Esq., J.P., was transformed into Sir John Blake, Bart.; information that left tens of thousands of the students of the list mildly marvelling why. As the same wonder struck them regarding the vast majority of the names which appeared therein, this, however, did not matter. They presumed, good, easy souls, that John Blake, Esq., J.P., and the rest were patriots who for long years had been working for the good of their country, and that what they had done in secret had been discovered in high places and was now proclaimed from the housetops.
Lady Jane was inclined to share this view. She knew that a great deal of her husband's money went into mysterious channels of which she was unable to trace the ends, and concluded in her Victorian-wife kind of fashion, or at any rate hoped, that it was spent in alleviating the distress of the "Submerged Tenth" which at that time was much in evidence. Hence no doubt the gracious recognition that had come to him. John Blake himself, who paid over the cash, naturally had no such delusions, and unfortunately in that moment of exultation, when he contemplated his own name adorning the lists in every newspaper, let out the truth at breakfast at which Isobel was his sole companion. For by this time Lady Jane had grown too delicate to come down early.
"Well, you've got a baronet for a father now, my girl"—to be accurate he called it a "bart."—he said puffing himself out like a great toad before the fire, as he threw down the Daily News in which his name was icily ignored in a spiteful leaderette about the Honours List, upon the top of The Times, The Standard, and The Morning Post.
"Oh!" said Isobel in an interested voice and paused.
"It's wonderful what money can do," went on her father, who was inclined for a discussion, and saw no other way of opening up the subject. "Certain qualifications of which it does not become me to speak, and a good subscription to the Party funds, and there you are with Bart. instead of Esq. after your name and Sir before it. I wonder when I shall get the Patent? You know baronets do not receive the accolade."
"Don't they?" commented Isobel. "Well, that saves the Queen some trouble of which she must be glad as she does not get the subscription. I know all about the accolade," she added; "for Godfrey has told me. Only the other day he was showing me in the Abbey Church where the warriors who were to receive it, knelt all night before the altar. But they didn't give subscriptions, they prayed and afterwards took a cold bath."
"Times are changed," he answered.
"Yes, of course. I can't see you kneeling all night with a white robe on, Father, in prayer before an altar. But tell me, would they have made you a baronet if you hadn't given the subscription?"
Sir John chuckled till his great form shook—he had grown very stout of late years.
"I think you are sharp enough to answer that question for yourself. I have observed, Isobel, that you know as much of the world as most young girls of your age."
"So you bought the thing," she exclaimed with a flash of her grey eyes. "I thought that honours were given because they were earned."
"Did you?" said Sir John, chuckling again. "Well, now you know better. Look here, Isobel, don't be a fool. Honours, or most of them, like other things, are for those who can pay for them in this way or that. Nobody bothers how they come so long as they do come. Now, listen. Unfortunately, as a girl, you can't inherit this title. But it doesn't matter much, since it will be easy for you to get one for yourself."
Isobel turned red and uttered an exclamation, but enjoining silence on her with a wave of his fat hand, her father went on:
"I haven't done so badly, my dear, considering my chances. I don't mind telling you that I am a rich man now, indeed a very rich man as things go, and I shall be much richer, for nothing pays like ships, especially if you man them with foreign crews. Also I am a Bart," and he pointed to the pile of newspapers on the floor, "and if my Party gets in again, before long I shall be a Lord, which would make you an Honourable. Anyway, my girl, although you ain't exactly a beauty," here he considered her with a critical eye, "you'll make a fine figure of a woman and with your money, you should be able to get any husband you like. What's more," and he banged his fist upon the table, "I expect you to do it; that's your part of the family business. Do you understand?"
"I understand, Father, that you expect me to get any husband I like. Well, I'll promise that."
"I think you ought to come into the office, you are so smart," replied Sir John with sarcasm. "But don't you try it on me, for I'm smarter. You know very well that I mean any husband I like, when I say 'any husband you like.' Now do you understand?"
"Yes," replied Isobel icily. "I understand that you want to buy me a husband as you have bought a title. Well, titles and husbands are alike in one thing; once taken you can never be rid of them day or night. So I'll say at once, to save trouble afterwards, that I would rather earn my living as a farm girl, and as for your money, Father, you can do what you wish with it."
Then looking him straight in the eyes, she turned and left the room.
"An odd child!" thought Sir John to himself as he stared after her. "Anyway, she has got spirit and no doubt will come all right in time when she learns what's what."
THE PLANTAGENET LADY
In the course of these years of adolescence, Godfrey Knight had developed into a rather unusual stamp of youth. In some ways he was clever, for instance at the classics and history which he had always liked; in others and especially where figures were concerned, he was stupid, or as his father called him, idle. In company he was apt to be shy and dull, unless some subject interested him, when to the astonishment of those present, he would hold forth and show knowledge and powers of reflection beyond his years. By nature he was intensely proud; the one thing he never forgot was a rebuff, or forgave, was an insult. Sir John Blake soon found this out, and not liking the lad, whose character was antagonistic to his own in every way, never lost an opportunity of what he called "putting him in his place," perhaps because something warned him that this awkward, handsome boy would become a stumbling-block to his successful feet.
Godfrey and Isobel were both great readers. Nor did they lack for books, for as it chanced there was a good library at Hawk's Hall, which had been formed by the previous owner and taken over like the pictures, when Mr. Blake bought the house. Also it was added to constantly, as an order was given to a large London bookseller to supply all the important new works that came out. Although he never opened a book himself, Sir John liked to appear intellectual by displaying them about the rooms for the benefit of his visitors. These publications Isobel read and lent to Godfrey; indeed they perused a great deal which young people generally are supposed to leave alone, and this in various schools of thought, including those that are known as "free."
It was seldom that such studies led to unanimity between them, but to argument, which sharpened their intellects, they did lead, followed invariably by a charitable agreement to differ.
About the time of the addition of the name of John Blake to the roll of British Chivalry, a book on Mars came their way—it was one by a speculative astronomer which suggests that the red planet is the home of reasoning beings akin to humanity. Isobel read it and was not impressed. Indeed, in the vigorous language of youth, she opined that it was all "made-up rot."
Godfrey read it also and came to quite a different conclusion. The idea fired him and opened a wide door in his imagination, a quality with which he was well provided. He stared at Mars through the large Hall telescope, and saw, or imagined that he saw the canals, also the snow-caps and the red herbage. Isobel stared too and saw, or swore that she saw—nothing at all—after which they argued until their throats were dry.
"It's all nonsense," said Isobel. "If only you'll study the rocks and biology, and Darwin's 'Origin of Species,' and lots of other things, you will see how man came to develop on this planet. He is just an accident of Nature, that's all."
"And why shouldn't there be an accident of Nature on Mars and elsewhere?" queried Godfrey.
"Perhaps, but if so, it is quite another accident and has nothing to do with us."
"I don't know," he answered. "Sometimes," here his voice became dreamy as it had a way of doing, "I think that we pass on, all of us, from star to star. At least I know I often feel as if I had done so."
"You mean from planet to planet, Godfrey; stars are hot places, you know. You should not swallow all that theosophical bosh which is based on nothing."
"There's the Bible," went on Godfrey, "which tells us the same thing, that we live eternally——"
"Then we must always have lived, since eternity is a circle."
"Why not, Isobel? That is what I was trying to say. Well, if we live eternally, we must live somewhere, perhaps in those planets, or others, which it would be a waste to keep empty."
"I daresay—though Nature does not mind waste, or what seems to be waste. But why should you think of living eternally at all? Many people live a great deal too long as it is, and it is horrible to believe that they go on for ever."
"You see they might grow to something splendid in the end, Isobel. You must not judge them by what they are now."
"Oh! I know, the caterpillar and the butterfly, and all the rest of it."
"The Bible"—continued Godfrey imperturbably—when she cut him short.
"Well, what of the Bible? How do you know that it is true?"
"Because I do know it, though the truth in it may be different for everyone. What is more, I know that one day you will agree with me."
She looked at him curiously in the flashing way that was peculiar to her, for something in his tone and manner impressed her.
"Perhaps. I hope so, Godfrey, but at present I often feel as though I believed in nothing, except that I am I and you are you, and my father is—there he's calling me. Goodbye," and she was gone.
This particular conversation, one of many, had, as it happened, important results on the lives of these two young creatures. Isobel, in whom the love of Truth, however ugly it might be and however destructive of hope, faith, charity and all the virtues, was a burning, inbred passion, took to the secret study of theology in order to find out why Godfrey was so convinced as to the teachings of the Bible. She was not old or mellowed enough to understand that the real reason must be discovered, not in the letter but in the spirit, that is in the esoteric meaning of the sayings as to receiving the Kingdom of Heaven like a child and the necessity of being born again. Therefore with a fierce intensity, thrusting aside the spirit and its promptings which perhaps are shadows of the only real truths, she wrestled with the letter. She read the Divines, also much of the Higher Criticism, the lives of Saints, the Sacred Books themselves and many other things, only to arise bewildered, and to a great extent unbelieving.
"Why should I believe what I cannot prove?" she cried in her heart, and once with her lips to Godfrey.
He made her a very wise answer, although at the moment it did not strike either of them in that light.
"When you tell me of anything that you can really prove, I will show you why," he said. To this he added a suggestion that was most unwise, namely, that she should consult his father.
Now Mr. Knight was, it is true, a skilled theologian of a certain, narrow school and learned in his way. It is probable, however, that in all the wide world it would have been difficult to find any man less sympathetic to a mind like Isobel's or more likely to antagonize her eager and budding intelligence. Every doubt he met with intolerant denial; every argument with offensive contradiction; every query with references to texts.
Finally, he lost his temper, for be it acknowledged, that this girl was persistent, far from humble, and in a way as dogmatic as himself. He told her that she was not a Christian, and in her wrath she agreed with him. He said that she had no right to be in church. She replied that if this were so she would not come and, her father being indifferent upon the point (Lady Jane did not count in such matters), ceased her attendance. It was the old story of a strait-minded bigot forcing a large-minded doubter out of the fold that ought to have been wide enough for both of them. Moreover, this difference of opinion on matters of public and spiritual interest ended in a private and mundane animosity. Mr. Knight could never forgive a pupil of his own, whose ability he recognized, who dared to question his pontifical announcements. To him the matter was personal rather than one of religious truth, for there are certain minds in whose crucibles everything is resolved individually, and his was one of them. He was the largest matters through his own special and highly-magnifying spectacles. So, to be brief, they quarrelled once and for all, and thenceforward never attempted to conceal their cordial dislike of each other.
Such was one result of this unlucky discussion as to the exact conditions of the planet Mars, god of war. Another was that Godfrey developed a strong interest in the study of the heavenly bodies and when some domestic debate arose as to his future career, announced with mild firmness that he intended to be an astronomer. His father, to whom the heavenly bodies were less than the dust beneath his human feet and who believed in his heart that they had been created, every one of them, to give a certain amount of light to the inhabitants of this world when there was no moon, was furious in his arctic fashion, especially as he was aware that with a few distinguished exceptions, these hosts of heaven did not reward their votaries with either wealth or honour.
"I intend you for my own profession, the Church," he said bluntly. "If you choose to star-gaze in the intervals of your religious duties, it is no affair of mine. But please understand, Godfrey, that either you enter the Church or I wash my hands of you. In that event you may seek your living in any way you like."
Godfrey remonstrated meekly to the effect that he had not made up his mind as to his fitness for Holy Orders or his wish to undertake them.
"You mean," replied his father, "that you have been infected by that pernicious girl, Isobel. Well, at any rate, I will remove you from her evil influence. I am glad to say that owing to the fact that my little school here has prospered, I am in a position to do this. I will send you for a year to a worthy Swiss pastor whom I met as a delegate to the recent Evangelical Congress, to learn French. He told me he desired an English pupil to be instructed in that tongue and general knowledge. I will write to him at once. I hope that in new surroundings you will forget all these wild ideas and, after your course at college, settle down to be a good and useful man in the walk of life to which you are so clearly called."
Godfrey, who on such occasions knew how to be silent, made no answer, although the attack upon Isobel provoked him sorely. In his heart indeed he reflected that a year's separation from his parent would not be difficult to bear, especially beneath the shadow of the Swiss mountains which secretly he longed to climb. Also he really wished to acquire French, being a lad with some desire for knowledge and appreciation of its advantages. So he looked humble merely and took the first opportunity to slip from the presence of the fierce little man with small eyes, straight, sandy hair and a slit where his lips should be, through whose agency, although it was hard to believe it, he had appeared in this disagreeable and yet most interesting world.
In point of fact he had an assignation, of an innocent sort. Of course it was with the "pernicious" Isobel and the place appointed was the beautiful old Abbey Church. Here they knew that they would be undisturbed, as Mr. Knight was to sleep at a county town twenty miles away, where on the following morning he had business as the examiner of a local Grammar School, and must leave at once to catch his train. So, when watching from an upper window, he had seen the gig well on the road, Godfrey departed to his tryst.
Arriving in the dim and beauteous old fane, the first thing he saw was Isobel standing alone in the chancel, right in the heart of a shaft of light that fell on her through the rich-coloured glass of the great west window, for now it was late in the afternoon. She wore a very unusual white garment that became her well, but had no hat on her head. Perhaps this was because she had taken the fancy to do her plentiful fair hair in the old Plantagenet fashion, that is in two horns, which, with much ingenuity she had copied more or less correctly from the brass of an ancient, noble lady, whereof the two intended to take an impression. Also she had imitated some of the other peculiarities of that picturesque costume, including the long, hanging sleeves. In short, she wore a fancy dress which she proposed to use afterwards at a dance, and one of the objects of the rubbing they were about to make, was that she might study the details more carefully. At least, that was her object. Godfrey's was to obtain an impression of the crabbed inscription at the foot of the effigy.
There she stood, tall and imposing, her arms folded on her young breast, the painted lights striking full on her broad, intellectual forehead and large grey eyes, shining too in a patch of crimson above her heart. Lost in thought and perfectly still, she looked strange thus, almost unearthly, so much so that the impressionable and imaginative Godfrey, seeing her suddenly from the shadow, halted, startled and almost frightened.
What did she resemble? What might she not be? he queried to himself. His quick mind suggested an answer. The ghost of some lady dead ages since, killed, for there was the patch of blood upon her bosom, standing above the tomb wherein her bones crumbled, and dreaming of someone from whom she had been divorced by doom and violence.
He sickened a little at the thought; some dread fell upon him like a shadow of Fate's uplifted and pointed finger, stopping his breath and causing his knees to loosen. In a moment it was gone, to be replaced by another that was nearer and more natural. He was to be sent away for a year, and this meant that he would not see Isobel for a year. It would be a very long year in which he did not see Isobel. He had forgotten that when his father told him that he was to go to Switzerland. Now the fact was painfully present.
He came on up the long nave and Isobel, awakening, saw him.
"You are late," she said in a softer voice than was usual to her. "Well, I don't mind, for I have been dreaming. I think I went to sleep upon my feet. I dreamed," she added, pointing to the brass, "that I was that lady and—oh! all sorts of things. Well, she had her day no doubt, and I mean to have mine before I am as dead and forgotten as she is. Only I would like to be buried here. I'll be cremated and have my ashes put under that stone; they won't hurt her."
"Don't talk like that," he said with a little shiver, for her words jarred upon him.
"Why not? It is as well to face things. Look at all these monuments about us, and inscriptions, a lot of them to young people, though now it doesn't matter if they were old or young. Gone, every one of them and quite forgotten, though some were great folk in their time. Gone utterly and for always, nothing left, except perhaps descendants in a labourer's cottage here and there who never even heard of them."
"I don't believe it," he said almost passionately, I believe that they are living for ever and ever, perhaps as you and I, perhaps elsewhere."
"I wish I could," she answered, smiling, "for then my dream might have been true, and you might have been that knight whose brass is lost," and she pointed to an empty matrix alongside that of the great Plantagenet lady.
Godfrey glanced at the inscription which was left when the Cromwellians tore up the brass.
"He was her husband," he said, translating, "who died on the field of Crecy in 1346."
"Oh!" exclaimed Isobel, and was silent.
Meanwhile Godfrey, quite undisturbed, was spelling out the inscription beneath the figure of the knight's wife, and remarked presently:
"She seems to have died a year before him. Yes, just after marriage, the monkish Latin says, and—what is it? Oh! I see, 'in sanguine,' that is, in blood, whatever that may mean. Perhaps she was murdered. I say, Isobel, I wish you would copy someone else's dress for your party."
"Nonsense," she answered. "I think its awfully interesting. I wonder what happened to her."
"I don't know. I can't remember anything in the old history, and it would be almost impossible to find out. There are no coats of arms, and what is more, no surname is given in either inscription. The one says, 'Pray for the soul of Edmundus, Knight, husband of Phillippa, and the other, 'Pray for the soul of Phillippa, Dame, wife of Edmundus.' It looks as though the surnames had been left out on purpose, perhaps because of some queer story about the pair which their relations wished to be forgotten."
"Then why do they say that one died in blood and the other on the field of Crecy?"
Godfrey shook his head because he did not know. Nor indeed was he ever able to find out. That secret was lost hundreds of years ago. Then the conversation died away and they got to their work.
At length the rubbing, as it is termed technically, was finished and the two prepared to depart out of the gloom of the great church which had gathered about them as the evening closed in. Solitary and small they looked in it surrounded by all those mementoes of the dead, enveloped as it were in the very atmosphere of death. Who has not felt that atmosphere standing alone at nightfall in one of our ancient English churches that embody in baptism, marriage and burial the hopes, the desires, and the fears of unnumbered generations?
For remember, that in a majority of instances, long before the Cross rose above these sites, they had been the sacred places of faith after faith. Sun-worshippers, Nature-worshippers, Druids, votaries of Jove and Venus, servants of Odin, Thor and Friga, early Christians who were half one thing and half another, all have here bowed their brows to earth in adoration of God as they understood Him, and in these hallowed spots lies mingled the dust of every one of them.
So Godfrey felt in that hour and the same influences impinged upon and affected even the girl's bold, denying soul. She acknowledged them to herself, and after a woman's way, turned and almost fiercely laid the blame upon her companion.
"You have infected me with your silly superstitions," she said, stamping her foot as they shut and locked the door of the church. "I feel afraid of something, I don't know what, and I was never afraid of anything before."
"What superstitions?" he asked, apologetically. "I don't remember mentioning any."
"There is no need for you to mention them, they ooze out of you. As though I could not read your mind! There's no need for you to talk to tell me what you are thinking of, death—and separations which are as bad, and unknown things to come, and all sorts of horrors."
"That's odd," he remarked, still without emotion, for he was used to these attacks from Isobel which, as he knew, when she was upset, always meant anything but what she said, "for as a matter of fact I was thinking of a separation. I am going away, Isobel, or rather, my father is sending me away."
He turned, and pointing to the stormy western sky where the day died in splendour, added simply in the poetic imagery that so often springs to the lips of youth:
"There sets our sun; at least it is the last we shall look upon together for a whole year. You go to London to-morrow, don't you? Before you come back I shall be gone."
"Gone! Why? Where? Oh! what's the use of asking? I knew something of the sort was coming. I felt it in that horrible old church. And after all, why should I mind? What does it matter if you go away for a year or ten years—except that you are the only friend I have—especially as no doubt you are glad to get out of this dreadful hole? Don't stand there looking at me like a moon-calf, whatever that may be, but tell me what you mean, or I'll, I'll——" and she stopped.
Then he told her—well, not quite everything, for he omitted his father's disparaging remarks about herself.
She listened in her intent fashion, and filled in the gaps without difficulty.
"I see," she said. "Your father thinks that I am corrupting you about religion, as though anybody could corrupt you when you have got an idea into your stupid head; at least, on those subjects. Oh! I hate him, worse even than I do my own, worse than you do yourself."
Godfrey, thinking aloud, began to quote the Fourth Commandment. She cut him short:
"Honour my father!" she said. "Why should we honour our fathers unless they are worthy of honour? What have we to thank them for?"
"Life," suggested Godfrey.
"Why? You believe that life comes from God, and so do I in a way. If so, what has a father to do with it who is just a father and no more? With mothers perhaps it is different, but you see I love my mother and he treats her like—like a dog, or worse," and her grey eyes filled with tears. "However, it is your father we are talking of, and there is no commandment telling me to honour him. I say I hate him and he hates me, and that's why he is sending you away. Well, I hope you won't find anyone to contaminate you in Switzerland."
"Oh! Isobel, Isobel," he broke out, "don't be so bitter, especially as it is of no use. Besides after all you have got everything that a girl can have—money and position and looks——"
"Looks!" she exclaimed, seizing on the last word, "when you know I am as ugly as a toad."
He stared at her.
"I don't know it; I think you beautiful."
"Wait till you see someone else and you will change your mind," she snapped, flushing.
"And you are going to come out," he went on hastily.
"Yes, at a fancy ball in this Plantagenet lady's dress, but I almost wish I was—to go out instead—like her."
"And I daresay you will soon be married," he blurted, losing his head for she bewildered him.
"Married! Oh! you idiot. Do you know what marriage means—to a woman? Married! I can bear no more of this. Goodbye," and turning she walked, or rather ran into the darkness, leaving him amazed and alone.
This was the last time that Godfrey spoke with Isobel for a long while. Next morning he received a note addressed in her clear and peculiar writing, which from the angular formation of the letters and their regularity, at a distance looked not unlike a sheet of figures.
It was short and ran:—
Dear Old Godfrey,—Don't be vexed with me because I was so cross this evening. Something in that old church upset me, and you know I have a dreadful temper. I didn't mean anything I said. I daresay it is a good thing you should go away and see the world instead of sticking in this horrid place. Leave your address with Mother Parsons, and I will write to you; but mind you answer my letters or I shan't write any more. Good-bye, old boy. Your affectionate Isobel. Who is always thinking of you.
P.S.—I'll get this to the Abbey with your milk. Can't leave it myself, as we are starting for town at half-past seven to-morrow morning to catch the early train.
THE GARDEN IN THE SQUARE
As it chanced Godfrey did see Isobel once more before he left England. It was arranged that he was to leave Charing Cross for Switzerland early on a certain Wednesday morning. Late on the Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Knight brought the lad to the Charing Cross Hotel. There, having taken his ticket and made all other necessary arrangements, he left him, returning himself to Essex by the evening train. Their farewell was somewhat disconcerting, at any rate to the mind of the youth.
His father retired with him to his room at the top of the hotel, and there administered a carefully prepared lecture which touched upon every point of the earnest Christian's duty, ending up with admonitions on the dangers of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and a strong caution against frivolous, unbelieving and evil-disposed persons, especially such as were young, good-looking and wore petticoats.
"Woman," said Mr. Knight, "is the great danger of man. She is the Devil's favourite bait, at least to some natures of which I fear yours is one, though that is strange, as I may say that on the whole I have always disliked the sex, and I married for other reasons than those which are supposed to be common. Woman," he went on, warming to his topic, "although allowed upon the world as a necessary evil, is a painted snare, full of [he meant baited with] guile. You will remember that the first woman, in her wicked desire to make him as bad as herself, tempted Adam until he ate the apple, no doubt under threats of estranging herself from him if he did not, and all the results that came from her iniquity, one of which is that men have had to work hard ever since."
Here Godfrey reflected that there was someone behind who tempted the woman, also that it is better to work than to sit in a garden in eternal idleness, and lastly, that a desire for knowledge is natural and praiseworthy. Had Isobel been in his place she would have advanced these arguments, probably in vigorous and pointed language, but, having learnt something of Adam's lesson, he was wiser and held his tongue.
"There is this peculiarity about women," continued his parent, "which I beg you always to remember. It is that when you think she is doing what you want and that she loves you, you are doing what she wants and really she only loves herself. Therefore you must never pay attention to her soft words, and especially beware of her tears which are her strongest weapon given to her by the father of deceit to enable her to make fools of men. Do you understand?"
"Yes," said Godfrey, with hesitation, "but——" this burst from him involuntarily, "but, Father, if you have always avoided women, as you say, how do you know all this about them?"
For a moment Mr. Knight was staggered. Then he rose to the occasion.
"I know it, Godfrey, by observing the effect of their arts on others, as I have done frequently."
A picture rose in Godfrey's mind of his father with his eye to keyholes, or peering through fences with wide-open ears, but wisely he did not pursue the subject.
"My son," continued and ended Mr. Knight, "I have watched you closely and I am sure that your weakness lies this way. Woman is and always will be the sin that doth so easily beset you. Even as a child you loved Mrs. Parsons much more than you did me, because, although old and unsightly, she is still female. When you left your home this morning for the first time, who was it that you grieved to part from? Not your companions, the other boys, but Mrs. Parsons again, whom I found you embracing in that foolish fashion, yes, and mingling your tears with hers, of which at your age you should be ashamed. Indeed I believe that you feel being separated from that garrulous person, who is but a servant, more than you do from me, your father."
Here he waited for Godfrey's contradiction, but as none came, went on with added acerbity:
"Of that anguis in herba, that viper, Isobel, who turns the pure milk of the Word to poison and bites the hand that fed her, I will say nothing, nothing," (here Godfrey reflected that Isobel would have been better described as a lion in the path rather than as a snake in the grass) "except that I rejoice that you are to be separated from her, and I strictly forbid any communication between you and her, bold, godless and revolutionary as she is. I had rather see any man for whose welfare I cared, married to a virtuous and pious-minded housemaid, than to this young lady, as she is called, with all her wealth and position, who would eat out his soul with her acid unbelief and turn the world upside down to satisfy her fancy. Now I must go or I shall miss my train. Here is a present for you, of which I direct you to read a chapter every day," and he produced out of a brown paper parcel a large French Bible. "It will both do you good and improve your knowledge of the French tongue. I especially commend your attention to certain verses in Proverbs dealing with the dangers on which I have touched, that I have marked with a blue pencil. Do you hear?"
"Yes, Father. Solomon wrote Proverbs, didn't he?"
"It is believed so and his wide—experience—gives a special value to his counsel. You will write to me once a week, and when you have had your dinner get to bed at once. On no account are you to go out into the streets. Goodbye."
Then he planted a frosty kiss upon Godfrey's brow and departed, leaving that youth full of reflections, but to tell the truth, somewhat relieved.
Shortly afterwards Godfrey descended to the coffee-room and ate his dinner. Here it was that the universal temptress against whom he had been warned so urgently, put in a first appearance in the person of a pleasant and elderly lady who was seated alongside of him. Noting this good-looking and lonely lad, she began to talk to him, and being a woman of the world, soon knew all about him, his name, who he was, whither he was going, etc. When she found out that it was to Lucerne, or rather its immediate neighbourhood, she grew quite interested, since, as it happened, she—her name was Miss Ogilvy—had a house there where she was accustomed to spend most of the year. Indeed, she was returning by the same train that Godfrey was to take on the following morning.
"We shall be travelling companions," she said when she had explained all this.
"I am afraid not," he answered, glancing at the many evidences of wealth upon her person. "You see," he added colouring, "I am going second and have to spend as little as possible. Indeed I have brought some food with me in a basket so that I shall not need to buy any meals at the stations."
Miss Ogilvy was touched, but laughed the matter off in her charming way, saying that he would have to be careful that the Custom-house officers did not think he was smuggling something in his basket, and as she knew them all must look to her to help him if he got into difficulties on the journey. Then she went on chatting and drawing him out, and what is more, made him take several glasses of some delicious white wine she was drinking. It was not very strong wine, but except for a little small beer, practically Godfrey had been brought up as a teetotaller for economy's sake, and it went to his head. He became rather effusive; he told her of Sir John Blake about whom she seemed to know everything already, and something of his friendship with Isobel, who, he added, was coming out that very night at a fancy dress ball in London.
"I know," said Miss Ogilvy, "at the de Lisles' in Grosvenor Square. I was asked to it, but could not go as I am starting to-morrow."
Then she rose and said "Good-night," bidding him be sure not to be late for the train, as she would want him to help her with her luggage.
So off she went looking very charming and gracious, although she was over forty, and leaving Godfrey quite flattered by her attention.
Not knowing what to do he put on his hat and, walking across the station yard, took his stand by a gateway pillar and watched the tide of London life roll by. There he remained for nearly an hour, since the strange sight fascinated him who had never been in town before, the object of some attention from a policeman, although of this he was unaware. Also some rather odd ladies spoke to him from time to time which he thought kind of them, although they smelt so peculiar and seemed to have paint upon their faces. In answer to the inquiries of two of them as to his health he told them that he was very well. Also he agreed cordially with a third as to the extreme fineness of the night, and assured a fourth that he had no wish to take a walk as he was shortly going to bed, a statement which caused her to break into uncalled-for laughter.
It was at this point that the doubting policeman suggested that he should move on.
"Where to?" asked Godfrey of that officer of the law.
"To 'ell if you like," he replied. Then struck with curiosity, he inquired, "Where do you want to go to? This pillar ain't a leaning post."
Godfrey considered the matter and said with the verve of slight intoxication:
"Only two places appeal to me at present, heaven (not hell as you suggested), and Grosvenor Square. Perhaps, however, they are the same; at any rate, there is an angel in both of them."
The policeman stared at him but could find no fault with the perfect sobriety of his appearance.
"Young luny, I suspect," he muttered to himself, then said aloud: "Well, the Strand doesn't lead to 'eaven so far as I have noticed, rather t'other way indeed. But if you want Grosvenor Square, it's over there," and he waved his hand vaguely towards the west.
"Thank you," said Godfrey, taking off his hat with much politeness. "If that is so, I will leave heaven to itself for the present and content myself with Grosvenor Square."
Off he started in the direction indicated, and, as it seemed to him, walked for many miles through a long and bewildering series of brilliant streets, continually seeking new information as to his goal. The end of it was that at about a quarter to eleven he found himself somewhere in the neighbourhood of the Edgware Road, utterly stranded as it were, since his mind seemed incapable of appreciating further indications of locality.
"Look here, young man," said a breezy costermonger to whom he had appealed, "I think you had better take a 'ansom for the 'orse will know more about London than you seem to do. There's one 'andy."
"That is an idea," said Godfrey, and entered the cab, giving the address of Grosvenor Square.
"What number?" asked the driver.
"I don't know," replied Godfrey, "the Ball, Grosvenor Square."
Off they went, and in due course, reaching the square, drove round it until they came to a great house where there were signs of festivity in the shape of an awning above the entrance and a carpet on the pavement.
The cab stopped with a jerk and a voice from above—never having been in a hansom before, at first Godfrey could not locate it—exclaimed:
"Here's your Ball, young gent. Now you'd better hop out and dance."
His fare began to explain the situation through the little trap in the roof, demonstrating to the Jehu that his object was to observe the ball from without, not to dance at it within, and that it was necessary for him to drive on a little further. That worthy grew indignant.
"Blowed if I don't believe you're a bilk," he shouted through the hole. "Here, you pay me my fare and hook it, young codger."
Godfrey descended and commenced a search for money, only to remember that he had left his purse in his bag at the hotel. This also he explained with many apologies to the infuriated cabby, two gorgeous flunkeys who by now had arrived to escort him into the house, and a group of idlers who had collected round the door.