"And now we come to the point." (Dick hesitated a fraction of a second. He was genuinely moved.) "The point is that I'm in love with you, and I have been for some time past. I ... I can't put it more plainly ... (One moment, please, I've nearly done.) ... I can't think of anything else; and I haven't been able to for the last two or three months. I ... I ... I'm fearfully sorry for poor old Frank; I'm very fond of him, you know, but I couldn't help finding it an extraordinary relief when I heard the news. And now I've come to ask you, perfectly straight, whether you'll consent to be my wife."
Dick looked at her for the first time since he had begun his little speech.
She still sat absolutely quiet (she had not even moved at the two words she had uttered), but she had gone paler still. Her mouth was in repose, without quiver or movement, and her beautiful eyes looked steadily on to the lawn before her. She said nothing.
"If you can't give me an answer quite at once," began Dick again presently, "I'm perfectly willing to—"
She turned and looked him courageously in the face.
"I can't say 'Yes,'" she said. "That would be absurd.... You have been quite straightforward with me, and I must be straightforward with you. That is what you wish, isn't it?"
Dick inclined his head. His heart was thumping furiously with exultation—in spite of her words.
"Then what I say is this: You must wait a long time. If you had insisted on an answer now, I should have said 'No.' I hate to keep you waiting, particularly when I do really think it will be 'No' in the long run; but as I'm not quite sure, and as you've been perfectly honest and courteous, if you really wish it I won't say 'No' at once. Will that do?"
"Whatever you say," said Dick.
"You mustn't forget I was engaged to Frank till quite lately. Don't you see how that obscures one's judgment? I simply can't judge now, and I know I can't.... You're willing to wait, then?—even though I tell you now that I think it will be 'No'?"
"Whatever you say," said Dick again; "and may I say thank you for not saying 'No' at once?"
A very slight look of pain came into the girl's eyes.
"I would sooner you didn't," she said. "I'm sorry you said that...."
"I'm sorry," said poor Dick.
There was a pause.
"One other thing," said Jenny. "Would you mind not saying anything to my father? I don't want him to be upset any more. Have you told anybody else you were—?"
"Yes," said Dick bravely, "I told Archie."
"I'm sorry you did that. Will you then just tell him exactly what I said—exactly, you know. That I thought it would be 'No'; but that I only didn't say so at once because you wished it."
"Very well," said Dick.
It was a minute or so before either spoke again. Jenny had that delightful and soothing gift which prevents silence from being empty. It is the same gift, in another form, as that which enables its possessor to put people at their ease. (It is, I suppose, one of the elements of tact.) Dick had a sense that they were still talking gently and reasonably, though he could not quite understand all that Jenny was meaning.
She interrupted it by a sudden sentence.
"I wonder if it's fair," she said. "You know I'm all but certain. I only don't say so because—"
"Let it be at that," said Dick. "It's my risk, isn't it?"
When he had left her at last, she sat on perfectly still in the same place. The robin had given it up in despair: this human creature was not going to scratch garden-paths as she sometimes did, and disclose rich worms and small fat maggots. But a cat had come out instead and was now pacing with stiff forelegs, lowered head and trailing tail, across the sunny grass, endeavoring to give an impression that he was bent on some completely remote business of his own.
He paused at the edge of the shadow and eyed the girl malignantly.
"Wow!" said the cat.
There was no response.
"Wow!" said the cat.
Jenny roused herself.
"Wow!" said Jenny meditatively.
"Wow!" said the cat, walking on.
"Wow!" said Jenny.
Again there was a long silence.
"Wow!" said Jenny indignantly.
The cat turned a slow head sideways as he began to cross the path, but said nothing. He waited for another entreaty, but Jenny paid no more attention. As he entered the yews he turned once more.
"Wow!" said the cat, almost below his breath.
But Jenny made no answer. The cat cast one venomous look and disappeared.
* * * * *
Then there came out a dog—a small brown and black animal, very sturdy on his legs, and earnest and independent in air and manner. He was the illegitimate offspring of a fox-terrier. He trotted briskly across from the direction of the orchard, diagonally past Jenny. As he crossed the trail of the cat he paused, smelt, and followed it up for a yard or two, till he identified for certain that it proceeded from an acquaintance; then he turned to resume his journey. The movement attracted the girl's attention.
"Lama!" called Jenny imperiously. "Come here this instant!"
Lama put his head on one side, nodded and smiled at her indulgently, and trotted on.
* * * * *
"Oh, dear me!" said Jenny, sighing out loud.
There lived (and still lives, I believe) in the small Yorkshire village of Tarfield a retired doctor, entirely alone except for his servants, in a large house. It is a very delightful house, only—when I stayed there not long ago—it seemed to me that the doctor did not know how to use it. It stands in its own grounds of two or three acres, on the right-hand side of the road to a traveler going north, separated by a row of pollarded limes from the village street, and approached—or, rather, supposed to be approached—by a Charles II. gate of iron-scroll work. I say "supposed to be approached" because the gate is invariably kept locked, and access can only be gained to the house through the side gate from the stable-yard. The grounds were abominably neglected when I saw them; grass was growing on every path, and as fine a crop of weeds surged up amongst the old autumn flowers as ever I have seen. The house, too, was a sad sight. There here two big rooms, one on either side of the little entrance-hall—one a dining-room, the other a sort of drawing-room—and both were dreary and neglected-looking places. In the one the doctor occasionally ate, in the other he never sat except when a rare visitor came to see him, and the little room supposed to be a study at the foot of the stairs in the inner hall that led through the kitchen was hardly any better. I was there, I say, last autumn, and the condition of the place must have been very much the same as that in which it was when Frank came to Tarfield in October.
For the fact was that the doctor—who was possessed of decent private means—devoted the whole of his fortune, the whole of his attention, and the whole of his life—such as it was—to the study of toxins upstairs.
Toxins, I understand, have something to do with germs. Their study involves, at any rate at present, a large stock of small animals, such as mice and frogs and snakes and guinea-pigs and rabbits, who are given various diseases and then studied with loving attention. I saw the doctor's menagerie when I went to see him about Frank; they were chiefly housed in a large room over the kitchen, communicating with the doctor's own room by a little old powder-closet with two doors, and the smell was indescribable. Ranks of cages and boxes rose almost to the ceiling, and in the middle of the room was a large business-like looking wooden kitchen-table with various appliances on it. I saw the doctor's room also—terribly shabby, but undoubtedly a place of activity. There were piles of books and unbound magazines standing about in corners, with more on the table, as well as a heap of note-books. An array of glass tubes and vary-colored bottles stood below the window, with a microscope, and small wooden boxes on one side. And there was, besides, something which I think he called an "incubator"—a metal affair, standing on four slender legs; a number of glass tubes emerged from this, each carefully stoppered with cotton wool, and a thermometer thrust itself up in one corner.
A really high degree of proficiency in any particular subject invariably leads to atrophy in other directions. A man who eats and breathes and dreams Toxins, for instance, who lives so much in Toxins that he corresponds almost daily with learned and unintelligible Germans; who knows so much about Toxins that when he enters, with shabby trousers and a small hand-bag, into the room of a polished specialist in Harley Street, he sees as in a dream the specialist rise and bow before him—who, when he can be persuaded to contribute a short and highly technical article to a medical magazine, receives a check for twenty-five guineas by return of post—a man of this kind is peculiarly open to the danger of thinking that anything which cannot be expressed in terms of Toxin is negligible nonsense. It is the characteristic danger of every specialist in every branch of knowledge; even theologians are not wholly immune.
It was so in the case of Dr. Whitty (I forget all the initials that should follow his name). He had never been married, he never took any exercise; occasionally, when a frog's temperature approached a crisis, he slept in his clothes, and forgot to change them in the morning. And he was the despair of the zealous vicar. He was perfectly convinced that, since the force that underlay the production of Toxins could accomplish so much, it could surely accomplish everything. He could reduce his roses, his own complexion, the grass on his garden-paths, the condition of his snakes', and frogs' skins, and the texture of his kitchen-table—if you gave him time—to terms of Toxin; therefore, argued Dr. Whitty, you could, if you had more time, reduce everything else to the same terms. There wasn't such a thing as a soul, of course—it was a manifestation of a combination of Toxins (or anti-Toxins, I forget which); there was no God—the idea of God was the result of another combination of Toxins, akin to a belief in the former illusion. Roughly speaking, I think his general position was that as Toxins are a secretion of microbes (I am certain of that phrase, anyhow), so thought and spiritual experiences and so forth are a secretion of the brain. I know it sounded all very brilliant and unanswerable and analogous to other things. He hardly ever took the trouble to say all this; he was far too much interested in what he already knew, or was just on the point of finding out, to treat of these extravagant and complicated ramifications of his subject. When he really got to know his mice and bats, as they deserved to be known, it might be possible to turn his attention to other things. Meanwhile, it was foolish and uneconomical. So here he lived, with a man-of-all-work and his man's wife, and daily went from strength to strength in the knowledge of Toxins.
* * * * *
It was to this household that there approached, in the month of October, a small and dismal procession of three.
The doctor was first roused to a sense of what was happening as he shuffled swiftly through his little powder-closet one morning soon after breakfast, bearing in his hand the corpse of a mouse which had at last, and most disappointingly, succumbed to a severe attack of some hybrid of leprosy. As he flew through to his microscope he became aware of an altercation in the stable-yard beneath.
"I tell you he ain't a proper doctor," he heard his man explaining; "he knows nothing about them things."
"My good fellow," began a high, superior voice out of sight; but Dr. Whitty swept on, and was presently deep in indescribable disgustingness of the highest possible value to the human race, especially in the South Seas. Time meant nothing at all to him, when this kind of work was in hand; and it was after what might be an hour or two hours, or ten minutes, that he heard a tap on his door.
He uttered a sound without moving his eye, and the door opened.
"Very sorry, sir," said his man, "but there's a party in the yard as won't—"
The doctor held up his hand for silence, gazed a few moments longer, poked some dreadful little object two or three times, sighed and sat back.
"There's a party in the yard, sir, wants a doctor."
(This sort of thing had happened before.)
"Tell them to be off," he said sharply. He was not an unkindly man, but this sort of thing was impossible. "Tell them to go to Dr. Foster."
"I 'ave, sir," said the man.
"Tell them again," said the doctor.
"I 'ave, sir. 'Arf a dozen times."
The doctor sighed—he was paying practically no attention at all, of course. The leprous mouse had been discouraging; that was all.
"If you'd step down, sir, an instant—"
The doctor returned from soaring through a Toxined universe.
"Nonsense," he said sharply. "Tell them I'm not practicing. What do they want?"
"Please, sir, it's a young man as 'as poisoned 'is foot, 'e says. 'E looks very bad, and—"
The doctor appeared to reflect a moment (that mouse, you know—); then he recovered.
"I'll be down directly," he said almost mechanically. "Take 'em all into the study."
Dr. Whitty could hardly explain to me, even when he tried, exactly why he had made an exception in this particular instance. Of course, I understand perfectly myself why he did; but, for himself, all he could say was that he supposed the word Poison happened to meet his mood. He had honestly done with the mouse just now; he had no other very critical case, and he thought he might as well look at the poisoned young man for an instant, before finally despatching him to Dr. Foster, six miles further on.
When he came into the study ten minutes later he found the party ranged to meet him. A girl was sitting on a box in the corner by the window, and stood up to receive him; a young man was sitting back in a Windsor chair, with one boot off, jerking spasmodically; his eyes stared unmeaningly before him. A tallish, lean man of a particularly unprepossessing appearance was leaning over him with an air of immense solicitude. They were all three evidently of the tramp-class.
What they saw—with the exception of Frank, I expect, who was too far gone to notice anything—was a benignant-looking old man, very shabby, in an alpaca jacket, with a rusty velvet cap on his head, and very bright short-sighted eyes behind round spectacles. This figure appeared in the doorway, stood looking at them a moment, as if bewildered as to why he or they were there at all; and then, with a hasty shuffling movement, darted across the floor and down on his knees.
The following colloquy was held as soon as the last roll of defiled bandage had dropped to the floor, and Frank's foot was disclosed.
"How long's this been going on?" asked the doctor sharply, holding the discolored thing carefully in his two hands.
"Well, sir," said the Major reflectively, "he began to limp about—let's see—four days ago. We were coming through—"
The doctor, watching Frank's face curiously (the spasm was over for the present), cut the Major short by a question to the patient.
"Now, my boy, how d'you feel now?"
Frank's lips moved; he seemed to be trying to lick them; but he said nothing, and his eyes closed, and he grinned once or twice, as if sardonically.
"When did these spasms begin?" went on the doctor, abruptly turning to the Major again.
"Well, sir—if you mean that jerking—Frankie began to jerk about half an hour ago when we were sitting down a bit; but he's seemed queer since breakfast. And he didn't seem to be able to eat properly."
"How do you mean? D'you mean he couldn't open his mouth?"
"Well, sir, it was something like that."
The doctor began to make comments in a rapid undertone, as if talking to himself; he pressed his hand once or twice against Frank's stomach; he took up the filthy bandage and examined it. Then he looked at the boot.
"Where's the sock?" he asked sharply.
Gertie produced it from a bundle. He looked at it closely, and began to mumble again. Then he rose to his feet.
"What's the matter with him, doctor?" asked the Major, trying to look perturbed.
"We call it tetanus," said the doctor.
"Who are you, my man?" he said. "Any relation?"
The Major looked at him loftily.
"No, sir.... I am his friend."
"Ha! Then you must leave your friend in my charge. He shall be well in a week at the latest."
The Major was silent.
"Well?" snapped the doctor.
"I understood from your servant, sir—"
"You speak like an educated man."
"I am an educated man."
"Ha—well—no business of mine. What were you about to say?"
"I understood from your servant, sir, that this was not quite in your line; and since—"
The specialist smiled grimly. He snatched up a book from a pile on the table, thrust open the title-page and held it out.
"Read that, sir.... As it happens, it's my hobby. Go and ask Dr. Foster, if you like.... No, sir; I must have your friend; it's a good sound case."
The Major read the title-page in a superior manner. It purported to be by a James Whitty, and the name was followed by a series of distinctions and of the initials, which I have forgotten. F.R.S. were the first.
"My name," said the doctor.
The Major handed the book back with a bow.
"I am proud to make your acquaintance, Dr. Whitty. I have heard of you. May I present Mrs. Trustcott?"
Gertie looked confused. The doctor made a stiff obeisance. Then his face became animated again.
"We must move your friend upstairs," he said. "If you will help, Mr. Trustcott, I will call my servant."
It was about half-past nine that night that the doctor, having rung the bell in the spare bedroom, met his man at the threshold.
"I'll sleep in this room to-night," he said; "you can go to bed. Bring in a mattress, will you?"
The man looked at his master's face. (He looked queer-like, reported Thomas later to his wife.)
"Hope the young man's doing well, sir?"
A spasm went over the doctor's face.
"Most extraordinary young man in the world," he said.... Then he broke off. "Bring the mattress at once, Thomas. Then you can go to bed."
He went back and closed the door.
* * * * *
Thomas had seldom seen his master so perturbed over a human being before. He wondered what on earth was the matter. During the few minutes that he was in the room he looked at the patient curiously, and he noticed that the doctor was continually looking at him too. Thomas described to me Frank's appearance. He was very much flushed, he said, with very bright eyes, and he was talking incessantly. And it was evidently this delirious talking that had upset the doctor. I tried to get out of Doctor Whitty what it was that Frank had actually said, but the doctor shut up his face tight and would say nothing. Thomas was more communicative, though far from adequate.
It was about religion, he said, that Frank was talking—about religion.... And that was really about all that he could say of that incident.
Thomas awoke about one o'clock that night, and, still with the uneasiness that he had had earlier in the evening, climbed out of bed without disturbing his wife, put on his slippers and great-coat and made his way down the attic stairs. The October moon was up, and, shining through the staircase window, showed him the door of the spare bedroom with a line of light beneath it. From beyond that door came the steady murmur of a voice....
Now Thomas's nerves were strong: he was a little lean kind of man, very wiry and active, nearly fifty years old, and he had lived with his master, and the mice and the snakes, and disagreeable objects in bottles, for more than sixteen years. He had been a male nurse in an asylum before that. Yet there was something—he told me later—that gripped him suddenly as he was half-way down the stairs and held him in a kind of agony which he could in no way describe. It was connected with the room behind that lighted door. It was not that he feared for his master, nor for Frank. It was something else altogether. (What a pity it is that our system of education teaches neither self-analysis nor the art of narration!)
He stood there—he told me—he should think for the better part of ten minutes, unable to move either way, listening, always listening, to the voice that rose and sank and lapsed now and then into silences that were worse than all, and telling himself vigorously that he was not at all frightened.
It was a creak somewhere in the old house that disturbed him and snapped the thin, rigid little thread that seemed to paralyze his soul; and still in a sort of terror, though no longer in the same stiff agony, he made his way down the three or four further steps of the flight, laid hold of the handle, turned it and peered in.
Frank was lying quiet so far as he could see. A night-light burned by the bottles and syringes on the table at the foot of the bed, and, although shaded from the young man's face, still diffused enough light to shoes the servant the figure lying there, and his master, seated beyond the bed, very close to it, still in his day-clothes—still, even, in his velvet cap—his chin propped in his hand, staring down at his patient, utterly absorbed and attentive.
There was nothing particularly alarming in all that, and yet there was that in the room which once more seized the man at his heart and held him there, rigid again, terrified, and, above all, inexpressibly awed. (At least, that is how I should interpret his description.) He said that it wasn't like the spare bedroom at all, as he ordinarily knew it (and, indeed, it was a mean sort of room when I saw it, without a fireplace, though of tolerable size). It was like another room altogether, said Thomas.
He tried to listen to what Frank was saying, and I imagine he heard it all quite intelligently; yet, once more, all he could say afterwards was that it was about religion ... about religion....
So he stood, till he suddenly perceived that the doctor was looking at him with a frown and contorted features of eloquence. He understood that he was to go. He closed the door noiselessly; and, after another pause, sped upstairs without a sound in his red cloth slippers.
When Frank awoke to normal consciousness again, he lay still, wondering what it was all about. He saw a table at the foot of his bed and noticed on it a small leather case, two green bottles stoppered with india-rubber, and a small covered bowl looking as if it contained beef-tea. He extended his explorations still further, and discovered an Hanoverian wardrobe against the left wall, a glare of light (which he presently discerned to be a window), a dingy wall-paper, and finally a door. As he reached this point the door opened and an old man with a velvet skull-cap, spectacles, and a kind, furrowed face, came in and stood over him.
"Well?" said the old man.
"I am a bit stiff," said Frank.
"Are you hungry?"
"I don't think so."
"Well, you're doing very well, if that's any satisfaction to you," observed the doctor, frowning on him doubtfully.
Frank said nothing.
The doctor sat down on a chair by the bed that Frank suddenly noticed for the first time.
"Well," said the doctor, "I suppose you want to know the facts. Here they are. My name is Whitty; I'm a doctor; you're in my house. This is Wednesday afternoon; your friends brought you here yesterday morning. I've given them some work in the garden. You were ill yesterday, but you're all right now."
"What was the matter?"
"We won't bother about names," said the doctor with a kind sharpness. "You had a blister; it broke and became a sore; then you wore one of those nasty cheap socks and it poisoned it. That's all."
"That's in those bottles?" asked Frank languidly. (He felt amazingly weak and stupid.)
"Well, it's an anti-toxin," said the doctor. "That doesn't tell you much, does it?"
"No," said Frank.... "By the way, who's going to pay you, doctor? I can't."
The doctor's face rumpled up into wrinkles. (Frank wished he wouldn't sit with his back to the window.)
"Don't you bother about that, my boy. You're a case—that's what you are."
Frank attempted a smile out of politeness.
"Now, how about some more beef-tea, and then going to sleep again?"
* * * * *
It was not until the Thursday morning that things began to run really clear again in Frank's mind. He felt for his rosary under his pillow and it wasn't there. Then he thumped on the floor with a short stick which had been placed by him, remembering that in some previous existence he had been told to do this.
A small, lean man appeared at the door, it seemed, with the quickness of thought.
"My rosary, please," said Frank. "It's a string of beads. I expect it's in my trouser-pocket."
The man looked at him with extraordinary earnestness and vanished.
Then the doctor appeared holding the rosary.
"Is this what you want?" he asked.
"That's it! Thanks very much."
"You're a Catholic?" went on the other, giving it him.
The doctor sat down again.
"I thought so," he said.
Frank wondered why. Then a thought crossed his mind.
"Have I been talking?" he said. "I suppose I was delirious?"
The doctor made no answer for a moment; he was looking at him fixedly. Then he roused himself.
"Well, yes, you have," he said.
Frank felt rather uncomfortable.
"Hope I haven't said anything I shouldn't."
The old man laughed shortly and grimly.
"Oh, no," he said. "Far from it. At least, your friends wouldn't think so."
"What was it about?"
"We'll talk about that later, if you like," said the doctor. "Now I want you to get up a bit after you've had some food."
* * * * *
It was with a very strange sensation that Frank found himself out in the garden next day, in a sheltered corner, seated in a wicker chair in which, by the help of bamboo poles, he had been carried downstairs by Thomas and the Major, with the doctor leading the way and giving directions as to how to turn the corners. The chair was brought out through an irregularly-shaped little court at the back of the house and set down in the warm autumn noon, against an old wall, with a big kitchen garden, terribly neglected, spread before him. The smoke of burning went up in the middle distance, denoting the heap of weeds pulled by the Major and Gertie during the last three days. He saw Gertie in the distance once or twice, in a clean sun-bonnet, going about her business, but she made no sign. The smell of the burning weeds gave a pleasant, wholesome and acrid taste to his mouth.
"Now then," said the doctor, "we can have our little talk." And he sat down beside him on another chair.
* * * * *
Frank felt a little nervous, he scarcely knew why. It seemed to him that it would be far better not to refer to the past at all. And it appeared to him a little unusual that a doctor should be so anxious about it. Twice or three times since yesterday this old man had begun to ask him a question and had checked himself. There was a very curious eagerness about him now.
"I'm awfully grateful and all that," said Frank. "Is there anything special you want to know? I suppose I've been talking about my people?"
The doctor waved a wrinkled hand.
"No, no," he said, "not a word. You talked about a girl a little, of course—everybody does; but not much. No, it isn't that."
Frank felt relieved. He wasn't anxious about anything else.
"I'm glad of that. By the way, may I smoke?"
The doctor produced a leather case of cigarettes and held it out.
"Take one of these," he said.
"Because," continued Frank, "I'm afraid I mustn't talk about my people. The name I've got now is Gregory, you know." He lit his cigarette, noticing how his fingers still shook, and dropped the match.
"No, it's not about that," said the doctor; "it's not about that."
Frank glanced at him, astonished by his manner.
"Well, then—?" he began.
"I want to know first," said the doctor slowly, "where you've got all your ideas from. I've never heard such a jumble in my life. I know you were delirious; but ... but it hung together somehow; and it seemed much more real to you than anything else."
"What did?" asked Frank uncomfortably.
The doctor made no answer for a moment. He looked out across the untidy garden with its rich, faded finery of wild flowers and autumn leaves, and the yellowing foliage beyond the wall, and the moors behind—all transfigured in October sunshine. The smoke of the burning weeds drew heavenly lines and folds of ethereal lace-work across the dull splendors beyond.
"Well," he said at last, "everything. You know I've heard hundreds and hundreds of folks ..." he broke off again, "... and I know what people call religion about here—and such a pack of nonsense ..." (He turned on Frank again suddenly.) "Where d'you get your ideas from?"
"Do you mean the Catholic religion?" said Frank.
"Bah! don't call it that. I know what that is—" Frank interrupted him.
"Well, that's my religion," he said. "I haven't got any other."
"But ... but the way you hold it," cried the other; "the grip ... the grip it has of you. That's the point. D'you mean to tell me—"
"I mean that I don't care for anything else in the whole world," said Frank, stung with sudden enthusiasm.
"But ... but you're not mad! You're a very sensible, fellow. You don't mean to tell me you really believe all that—all that about pain and so on? We doctors know perfectly what all that is. It's a reaction of Nature ... a warning to look out ... it's often simply the effects of building up; and we're beginning to think—ah! that won't interest you! Listen to me! I'm what they call a specialist—an investigator. I can tell you, without conceit, that I probably know all that is to be known on a certain subject. Well, I can tell you as an authority—"
Frank lifted his head a little. He was keenly interested by the fire with which this other enthusiast spoke.
"I daresay you can," said Frank. "And I daresay it's all perfectly true; but what in the world has all that got to do with it—with the use made of it—the meaning of it? Now I—"
"Hush! hush!" said the doctor. "We mustn't get excited. That's no good."
He stopped and stared mournfully out again.
"I wish you could really tell me," he said more slowly. "But that's just what you can't. I know that. It's a personal thing."
"But my dear doctor—" said Frank.
"That's enough," said the other. "I was an old fool to think it possible—"
Frank interrupted again in his turn. (He was conscious of that extraordinary mental clearness that comes sometimes to convalescents, and he suddenly perceived there was something behind all this which had not yet made its appearance.)
"You've some reason for asking all this," he said. "I wish you'd tell me exactly what's in your mind."
The old man turned and looked at him with a kind of doubtful fixedness.
"Why do you say that, my boy?"
"People like you," said Frank smiling, "don't get excited over people like me, unless there's something.... I was at Cambridge, you know. I know the dons there, and—"
"Well, I'll tell you," said the doctor, drawing a long breath. "I hadn't meant to. I know it's mere nonsense; but—" He stopped an instant and called aloud: "Thomas! Thomas!"
Thomas's lean head, like a bird's, popped out from a window in the kitchen court behind.
"Come here a minute."
Thomas came and stood before them with a piece of wash-leather in one hand and a plated table-spoon in the other.
"I want you to tell this young gentleman," said the doctor deliberately, "what you told me on Wednesday morning."
Thomas looked doubtfully from one to the other.
"It was my fancy, sir," he said.
"Never mind about that. Tell us both."
"Well, sir, I didn't like it. Seemed to me when I looked in—"
("He looked in on us in the middle of the night," explained the doctor. "Yes, go on, Thomas.")
"Seemed to me there was something queer."
"Yes?" said the doctor encouragingly.
"Something queer," repeated Thomas musingly.... "And now if you'll excuse me, sir, I'll have to get back—"
The doctor waved his hands despairingly as Thomas scuttled back without another word.
"It's no good," he said, "no good. And yet he told me quite intelligibly—"
Frank was laughing quietly to himself.
"But you haven't told me one word—"
"Don't laugh," said the old man simply. "Look here, my boy, it's no laughing matter. I tell you I can't think of anything else. It's bothering me."
The doctor waved his hands.
"Well," he said, "I can say it no better. It was the whole thing. The way you looked, the way you spoke. It was most unusual. But it affected me—it affected me in the same way; and I thought that perhaps you could explain."
It was not until the Monday afternoon that Frank persuaded the doctor to let him go. Dr. Whitty said everything possible, in his emphatic way, as to the risk of traveling again too soon; and there was one scene, actually conducted in the menagerie—the only occasion on which the doctor mentioned Frank's relations—during which he besought the young man to be sensible, and to allow him to communicate with his family. Frank flatly refused, without giving reasons.
The doctor seemed strangely shy of referring again to the conversation in the garden; and, for his part, Frank shut up like a box. They seem both to have been extraordinarily puzzled at one another—as such people occasionally are. They were as two persons, both intelligent and interested, entirely divided by the absence of any common language, or even of symbols. Words that each used meant different things to the other. (It strikes me sometimes that the curse of Babel was a deeper thing than appears on the surface.)
The Major and Gertie, all this while, were in clover. The doctor had no conception of what six hours' manual work could or could not do, and, in return for these hours, he made over to the two a small disused gardener's cottage at the end of his grounds, some bedding, their meals, and a shilling the day. It was wonderful how solicitous the Major was as to Frank's not traveling again until it was certain he was capable of it; but Frank had acquired a somewhat short and decisive way with his friend, and announced that Monday night must see them all cleared out.
The leave-taking—so far as I have been able to gather—was rather surprisingly emotional. The doctor took Frank apart into the study where he had first seen him, and had a short conversation, during which one sovereign finally passed from the doctor to the patient.
I have often tried to represent to myself exactly what elements there were in Frank that had such an effect upon this wise and positive old man. He had been a very upsetting visitor in many ways. He had distracted his benefactor from a very important mouse that had died of leprosy; he had interfered sadly with working hours; he had turned the house, comparatively speaking, upside down. Worse than all, he had—I will not say modified the doctor's theories—that would be far too strong a phrase; but he had, quite unconsciously, run full tilt against them; and finally, worst of all, he had done this right in the middle of the doctor's own private preserve. There was absolutely every element necessary to explain Frank's remarks during his delirium; he was a religiously-minded boy, poisoned by a toxin and treated by the anti-toxin. What in the world could be expected but that he should rave in the most fantastic way, and utter every mad conception and idea that his subjective self contained. As for that absurd fancy of the doctor himself, as well as of his servant that there was "something queer" in the room—the more he thought of it, the less he valued it. Obviously it was the result of a peculiar combination of psychological conditions, just as psychological conditions were themselves the result of an obscure combination of toxin—or anti-toxin—forces.
Yet for all that, argue as one may, the fact remained that this dry and rather misanthropic scientist was affected in an astonishing manner by Frank's personality. (It will appear later on in Frank's history that the effect was more or less permanent.)
Still more remarkable to my mind was the very strong affection that Frank conceived for the doctor. (There is no mystery coming: the doctor will not ultimately turn out to be Frank's father in disguise; Lord Talgarth still retains that distinction.) But it is plainly revealed by Frank's diary that he was drawn to this elderly man by very much the same kind of feelings as a son might have. And yet it is hardly possible to conceive two characters with less in common. The doctor was a dogmatic materialist—and remains so still—Frank was a Catholic. The doctor was scientific to his finger-tips—Frank romantic to the same extremities; the doctor was old and a confirmed stay-at-home—Frank was young, and an incorrigible gipsy. Yet so the matter was. I have certain ideas of my own, but there is no use in stating them, beyond saying perhaps that each recognized in the other—sub-consciously only, since each professed himself utterly unable to sympathize in the smallest degree with the views of the other—a certain fixity of devotion that was the driving-force in each life. Certainly, on the surface, there are not two theories less unlike than the one which finds the solution of all things in Toxin, and the other which finds it in God. But perhaps there is a reconciliation somewhere.
* * * * *
The Major and Gertie were waiting in the stable-yard when the two other men emerged. The Major had a large bag of apples—given him by Thomas at the doctor's orders—which he was proceeding to add to Gertie's load at the very moment when the two others came out. Frank took them, without a word, and slung them over his own back.
The doctor stood blinking a moment in the strong sunshine.
"Well, good-by, my boy," he said. "Good luck! Remember that if ever you come this way again—"
"Good-by, sir," said Frank.
He held out his disengaged hand.
Then an astonishing thing happened. The doctor took the hand, then dropped it; threw his arms round the boy's neck, kissed him on both cheeks, and hurried back through the garden gate, slamming it behind him. And I imagine he ran upstairs at once to see how the mice were.
* * * * *
Well, that is the whole of the incident. The two haven't met since, that I am aware. And I scarcely know why I have included it in this book. But I was able to put it together from various witnesses, documentary and personal, and it seemed a pity to leave it out.
An enormous physical weariness settled down on Frank, as he trudged silently with the Major, towards evening, a week later.
He had worked all the previous day in a farm-yard—carting manure, and the like; and though he was perfectly well again, some of the spring had ebbed from his muscles during his week's rest. This day, too, the first of November, had been exhausting. They had walked since daybreak, after a wretched night in a barn, plodding almost in silence, mile after mile, against a wet south-west wind, over a discouraging kind of high-road that dipped and rose and dipped again, and never seemed to arrive anywhere.
It is true that Frank was no longer intensely depressed; quite another process had been at work upon him for the last two or three months, as will be seen presently; but his limbs seemed leaden, and the actual stiffness in his shoulders and loins made walking a little difficult.
They were all tired together. They did not say much to one another. They had, in fact, said all that there was to be said months ago; and they were reduced—as men always are reduced when a certain pitch is reached—to speak simply of the most elementary bodily things—food, tobacco and sleep. The Major droned on now and then—recalling luxuries of past days—actual roofs over the head, actual hot meat to put in the mouth, actual cigars—and Frank answered him. Gertie said nothing.
* * * * *
She made up for it, soon after dark had fallen, by quite suddenly collapsing into a hedge, and announcing that she would die if she didn't rest. The Major made the usual remarks, and she made no answer.
Frank interposed suddenly.
"Shut up," he said. "We can't stop here. I'll go on a bit and see what can be done."
And, as he went off into the darkness, leaving his bundle, he heard the scolding voice begin again, but it was on a lower key and he knew it would presently subside into a grumble, soothed by tobacco.
* * * * *
He had no idea as to the character of the road that lay before him. They had passed through a few villages that afternoon, whose names meant nothing to him, and he scarcely knew why, even, they were going along this particular road. They were moving southwards towards London—so much had been agreed—and they proposed to arrive there in another month or so. But the country was unfamiliar to him, and the people seemed grudging and uncouth. They had twice been refused the use of an outhouse for the night, that afternoon.
It seemed an extraordinarily deserted road. There were no lights from houses, so far as he could make out, and the four miles that had been declared at their last stopping-place to separate them from the next village appeared already more like five or six. Certainly the three of them had between two and three shillings, all told; there was no actual need of a workhouse just yet, but naturally it was wished to spend as little as possible.
Then on a sudden he caught a glimpse of a light burning somewhere, that appeared and vanished again as he moved, and fifty yards more brought him to a wide sweep, a pair of gate-posts with the gate fastened back, and a lodge on the left-hand side. So much he could make out dimly through the November darkness; and as he stood there hesitating, he thought he could see somewhere below him a few other lights burning through the masses of leafless trees through which the drive went downhill.
He knew very well by experience that lodge-keepers were, taken altogether, perhaps the most unsympathetic class in the community. (They live, you see, right on the high road, and see human nature at its hottest and crossest as well as its most dishonest.) Servants at back doors were, as a rule, infinitely more obliging; and, as obviously this was the entrance to some big country house, the right thing to do would be to steal past the lodge on tiptoe and seek his fortune amongst the trees. Yet he hesitated; the house might be half a mile away, for all he knew; and, certainly there was a hospitable look about the fastened-back gate.
There came a gust of wind over the hills behind him, laden with wet.... He turned, went up to the lodge door and knocked.
He could hear someone moving about inside, and just as he was beginning to wonder whether his double tap had been audible, the door opened and disclosed a woman in an apron.
"Can you very kindly direct me—" began Frank politely.
The woman jerked her head sharply in the direction of the house.
"Straight down the hill," she said. "Them's the orders."
It was no good; the door was shut again in his face, and he stood alone in the dark.
This was all very unusual. Lodge-keepers did not usually receive "orders" to send tramps, without credentials, on to the house which the lodge was supposed to guard.... That open gate, then, must have been intentional. Plainly, however, he must take her at her word; and as he tramped down the drive, he began to form theories. It must be a fanatic of some kind who lived here, and he inclined to consider the owner as probably an eccentric old lady with a fad, and a large number of lap-dogs.
As he came nearer, through the trees, he became still more astonished, for as the branches thinned, he became aware of lights burning at such enormous distances apart that the building seemed more like a village than a house.
Straight before him shone a row of lighted squares, high up, as if hung in air, receding in perspective, till blocked out by a black mass which seemed a roof of some kind; far on the left shone some kind of illuminated gateway, and to his right another window or two glimmered almost beneath his feet.
Another fifty yards down the winding drive disclosed a sight that made him seriously wonder whether the whole experience were real, for now only a few steps further on, and still lower than the level at which he was, stood, apparently, a porter's lodge, as of a great college. There was a Tudor archway, with rooms above it and rooms on either side; a lamp hung from the roof illuminated the dry stone pavement within, and huge barred gates at the further end, shut off all other view. It looked like the entrance to some vast feudal castle, and he thought again that if an eccentric old lady lived here, she must be very eccentric indeed. He began to wonder whether a seneschal in a belt hung with keys would presently make his appearance: he considered whether or not he could wind a horn, if there were no other way of summoning the retainers.
When at last he tapped at a small interior door, also studded and barred with iron, and the door opened, the figure he did see was hardly less of a shock to him than a seneschal would have been.
For there stood, as if straight out of a Christmas number, the figure of a monk, tall, lean, with gray hair, clean-shaven, with a pair of merry eyes and a brisk manner. He wore a broad leather band round his black frock, and carried his spare hand thrust deep into it.
The monk sighed humorously.
"Another of them," he said. "Well, my man?"
The monk closed his eyes as in resignation.
"You needn't try that on," he said. "Besides, I'm not a father. I'm a brother. Can you remember that?"
Frank smiled back.
"Very well, brother. I'm a Catholic myself."
"Ah! yes," sighed the monk briskly. "That's what they all say. Can you say the 'Divine Praises'? Do you know what they are?... However, that makes no difference, as—"
"But I can, brother. 'Blessed be God. Blessed be His—"
"But you're not Irish?"
"I know I'm not. But—"
"Are you an educated man? However, that's not my affair. What can I do for you, sir?"
The monk seemed to take a little more interest in him, and Frank took courage.
"Yes," he said, "I'm an educated man. My name's Frank Gregory. I've got two friends out on the road up there—a man and a woman. Their name's Trustcott—and the woman—"
"No good; no good," said the monk. "No women."
"But, brother, she really can't go any further. I'm very sorry, but we simply must have shelter. We've got two or three shillings, if necessary—"
"Oh, you have, have you?" said the monk keenly. "That's quite new. And when did you touch food last? Yesterday morning? (Don't say 'S'elp me!' It's not necessary.)"
"We last touched food about twelve o'clock to-day. We had beans and cold bacon," said Frank deliberately. "We're perfectly willing to pay for shelter and food, if we're obliged. But, of course, we don't want to."
The monk eyed him very keenly indeed a minute or two without speaking. This seemed a new type.
"Come in and sit down a minute," he said. "I'll fetch the guest-master."
It was a very plain little room in which Frank sat, and seemed designed, on purpose, to furnish no temptation to pilferers. There was a table, two chairs, a painted plaster statue of a gray-bearded man in black standing on a small bracket with a crook in his hand; a pious book, much thumb-marked, lay face downwards on the table beside the oil lamp. There was another door through which the monk had disappeared, and that was absolutely all. There was no carpet and no curtains, but a bright little coal fire burned on the hearth, and two windows looked, one up the drive down which Frank had come, and the other into some sort of courtyard on the opposite side.
About ten minutes passed away without anything at all happening. Frank heard more than one gust of rain-laden wind dash against the little barred window to the south, and he wondered how his friends were getting on. The Major, at any rate, he knew, would manage to keep himself tolerably dry. Then he began to think about this place, and was surprised that he was not surprised at running into it like this in the dark. He knew nothing at all about monasteries—he hardly knew that there were such things in England (one must remember that he had only been a Catholic for about five months), and yet somehow, now that he had come here, it all seemed inevitable. (I cannot put it better than that: it is what he himself says in his diary.)
Then, as he meditated, the door opened, and there came in a thin, eager-looking elderly man, dressed like the brother who followed him, except that over his frock he wore a broad strip of black stuff, something like a long loose apron, hanging from his throat to his feet, and his head was enveloped in a black hood.
Frank stood up and bowed with some difficulty. He was beginning to feel stiff.
"Well," said the priest sharply, with his bright gray eyes, puckered at the corners, running over and taking in the whole of Frank's figure from close-cut hair to earthy boots. "Brother James tells me you wish to see me."
"It was Brother James who said so, father," said Frank.
"What is it you want?"
"I've got two friends on the road who want shelter—man and woman. We'll pay, if necessary, but—"
"Never mind about that," interrupted the priest sharply. "Who are you?"
"The name I go by is Frank Gregory."
"The name you go by, eh?... Where were you educated?"
"Eton and Cambridge."
"How do you come to be on the roads?"
"That's a long story, father."
"Did you do anything you shouldn't?"
"No. But I've been in prison since."
"And your name's Frank Gregory.... F.G., eh?"
Frank turned as if to leave. He understood that he was known.
The priest turned with upraised hand.
"Brother James, just step outside."
Then he continued as the door closed.
"You needn't go, Mr.—er—Gregory. Your name shall not be mentioned to a living being without your leave."
"You know about me?"
"Of course I do.... Now be sensible, my dear fellow; go and fetch your friends. We'll manage somehow." (He raised his voice and rapped on the table.) "Brother James ... go up with Mr. Gregory to the porter's lodge. Make arrangements to put the woman up somewhere, either there or in a gardener's cottage. Then bring the man down here.... His name?"
"Trustcott," said Frank.
"And when you come back, I shall be waiting for you here."
Frank states in his diary that an extraordinary sense of familiarity descended on him as, half an hour later, the door of a cell closed behind Dom Hildebrand Maple, and he found himself in a room with a bright fire burning, a suit of clothes waiting for him, a can of hot water, a sponging tin and a small iron bed.
I think I understand what he means. Somehow or other a well-ordered monastery represents the Least Common Multiple of nearly all pleasant houses. It has the largeness and amplitude of a castle, and the plainness of decent poverty. It has none of that theatricality which it is supposed to have, none of the dreaminess or the sentimentality with which Protestants endow it. He had passed just now through, first, a network of small stairways, archways, vestibules and passages, and then along two immense corridors with windows on one side and closed doors on the other. Everywhere there was the same quiet warmth and decency and plainness—stained deal, uncarpeted boards, a few oil pictures in the lower corridor, an image or two at the turn and head of the stairs; it was lighted clearly and unaffectedly by incandescent gas, and the only figures he had seen were of two or three monks, with hooded heads (they had raised these hoods slightly in salutation as he passed), each going about his business briskly and silently. There was even a cheerful smell of cooking at the end of one of the corridors, and he had caught a glimpse of two or three aproned lay brothers, busy in the firelight and glow of a huge kitchen, over great copper pans.
The sense of familiarity, then, is perfectly intelligible: a visitor to a monastery steps, indeed, into a busy and well-ordered life, but there is enough room and air and silence for him to preserve his individuality too.
* * * * *
As soon as he was washed and dressed, he sat down in a chair before the fire; but almost immediately there came a tap on his door, and the somewhat inflamed face of the Major looked in.
"Frankie?" he whispered, and, reassured, came in and closed the door behind. (He looked very curiously small and unimportant, thought Frank. Perhaps it was the black suit that had been lent him.)
"By gad, Frankie ... we're in clover," he whispered, still apparently under the impression that somehow he was in church. "There are some other chaps, you know, off the roads too, but they're down by the lodge somewhere." (He broke off and then continued.) "I've got such a queer Johnnie in my room—ah! you've got one, too."
He went up to examine a small plaster statue of a saint above the prie-dieu.
"It's all right, isn't it?" said Frank sleepily.
"And there's another Johnnie's name on the door. The Rev. S. Augustine, or something."
He tip-toed back to the fire, lifted his tails, and stood warming himself with a complacent but nervous smile.
(Frank regarded him with wonder.)
"What do all the Johnnies do here?" asked the Major presently. "Have a rare old time, I expect. I bet they've got cellars under here all right. Just like those chaps in comic pictures, ain't it?"
(Frank decided it was no use to try to explain.)
The Major babbled on a minute or two longer, requiring no answer, and every now and then having his roving eye caught by some new marvel. He fingered a sprig of yew that was twisted into a crucifix hung over the bed. ("Expect it's one of those old relics," he said, "some lie or other.") He humorously dressed up the statue of the saint in a pocket-handkerchief, and said: "Let us pray," in a loud whisper, with one eye on the door. And all the while there still lay on him apparently the impression that if he talked loud or made any perceptible sound he would be turned out again.
He was just beginning a few steps of a noiseless high-kicking dance when there was a tap at the door, and he collapsed into an attitude of weak-kneed humility. Dom Hildebrand came in.
"If you're ready," he said, "we might go down to supper."
* * * * *
Frank relates in his diary that of all else in the monastery, apart from the church, the refectory and its manners impressed him most. (How easy it is to picture it when one has once seen the ceremonies!)
He sat at a center table, with the Major opposite (looking smaller than ever), before a cloth laid with knife, spoon and forks. All round the walls on a low dais, with their backs against them, sat a row of perhaps forty monks, of every age, kind and condition. The tables were bare wood, laid simply with utensils and no cloths, with a napkin in each place. At the end opposite the door there sat at a table all alone a big, portly, kindly-faced man, of a startlingly fatherly appearance, clean-shaven, gray-haired, and with fine features. This was the Abbot. Above him hung a crucifix, with the single word "Sitio" beneath it on a small black label.
The meal began, however, with the ceremony of singing grace. The rows of monks stood out, with one in the middle, facing the Abbot, each with his hood forward and his hands hidden in his scapular. It was sung to a grave tone, with sudden intonations, by the united voices in unison—blessing, response, collect, psalm and the rest. (Frank could not resist one glance at the Major, whose face of consternation resembled that of a bird in the company of sedate cats.)
Then each went to his place, and, noiselessly, the orderly meal began and continued to the reading first of the gospel, and then of a history, from a pulpit built high in the wall. All were served by lay brothers, girded with aprons; almost every movement, though entirely natural, seemed ordered by routine and custom, and was distinguished by a serious sort of courtesy that made the taking of food appear, for once, as a really beautiful, august, and almost sacramental ceremony. The great hall, too, with its pointed roof, its tiled floor, its white-wood scrubbed tables, and its tall emblazoned windows, seemed exactly the proper background—a kind of secular sanctuary. The food was plain and plentiful: soup, meat, cheese and fruit; and each of the two guests had a small decanter of red wine, a tiny loaf of bread, and a napkin. The monks drank beer or water.
Then once more followed grace, with the same ceremonial.
When this was ended, Frank turned to see where Father Hildebrand was, supposing that all would go to their rooms; but as he turned he saw the Abbot coming down alone. He moved on, this great man, with that same large, fatherly air, but as he passed the two guests, he inclined slightly towards them, and Frank, with a glance to warn the Major, understanding that they were to follow, came out of his place and passed down between the lines of the monks, still in silence.
The Abbot went on, turned to the right, and as he moved along the cloister, loud sonorous chanting began behind. So they went, on and on, up the long lighted corridor, past door after door, as in some church procession. Yet all was obviously natural and familiar.
They turned in at last beneath an archway to the left, went through a vestibule, past a great stone of a crowned Woman with a Child in her arms, and as they entered the church, the Abbot dipped his finger into a stoop and presented it to Frank. Frank touched the drop of water, made the sign of the cross, and presented again his damp finger to the Major, who looked at him with a startled eye.
The Abbot indicated the front row of the seats in the nave, and Frank went into it, to watch the procession behind go past, flow up the steps, and disappear into the double rows of great stalls that lined the choir.
There was still silence—and longer silence, till Frank understood....
His eyes grew accustomed to the gloom little by little, and he began to be able to make out the magnificence of the place he was in. Behind him stretched the immense nave, its roof and columns lost in darkness, its sides faintly illuminated by the glimmer of single oil-lamps, each in a small screened-off chapel. But in front of him was the greater splendor.
From side to side across the entrance to the choir ran the rood-screen, a vast erection of brown oak and black iron, surmounted by a high loft, from which glimmered down sheaves of silvered organ pipes, and, higher yet, in deep shadow, he could make out three gigantic figures, of which the center one was nailed to a cross. Beyond this began the stalls—dark and majestic, broken by carving—jutting heads of kings and priests leaning forward as if to breathe in the magnetism of that immense living silence generated by forty men at their prayers. At the further end there shone out faintly the glory of the High Altar, almost luminous, it seemed, in the light of the single red spark that hung before it. Frank could discern presently the gilded figures that stood among the candlesticks behind, the throne and crucifix, the mysterious veiling curtains of the Tabernacle.... Finally, in the midst of the choir, stood a tall erection which he could not understand.
* * * * *
An extraordinary peace seemed to descend and envelop him as he looked—a kind of crown and climax of various interior experiences that were falling on him now—for the last few weeks. (It is useless trying to put it into words. I shall hope to do my best presently by quoting Frank himself.) There was a sense of home-coming; there was a sense of astonishing sanity; there was a sense of an enormous objective peace, meeting and ratifying that interior peace which was beginning to be his. It appeared to him, somehow, as if for the first time he experienced without him that which up to now he had chiefly found within. Certainly there had been moments of this before—not merely emotional, you understand—when heart and head lay still from their striving, and the will reposed in Another Will. But this was the climax: it summed up all that he had learned in the last few months; it soothed the last scars away, it explained and answered—and, above all, correlated—his experiences. No doubt it was the physical, as well as the spiritual, atmosphere of this place, the quiet corridors, the warmth and the plainness and the solidity, even the august grace of the refectory—all these helped and had part in the sensation. Yet, if it is possible for you to believe it, these were no more than the vessels from which the heavenly fluid streamed; vessels, rather, that contained a little of that abundance that surged up here as in a fountain....
Frank started a little at a voice in his ear.
"When's it going to begin?" whispered the Major in a hoarse, apprehensive voice.
A figure detached itself presently from the dark mass of the stalls and came down to where they were sitting. Frank perceived it was Father Hildebrand.
"We're singing Mattins of the Dead, presently," he said in a low voice. "It's All Souls' Eve. Will you stay, or shall I take you to your room?"
The Major stood up with alacrity.
"I'll stay, if I may," said Frank.
"Very well. Then I'll take Mr. Trustcott upstairs."
* * * * *
Half an hour later the ceremony began.
Here, I simply despair of description. I know something of what Frank witnessed and perceived, for I have been present myself at this affair in a religious house; but I do not pretend to be able to write it down.
First, however, there was the external, visible, audible service: the catafalque, a bier-like erection, all black and yellow, guarded by yellow flames on yellow candles—the grave movements, the almost monstrous figures, the rhythm of the ceremonies, and the wail of, the music of forty voices singing as one—all that is understood....
But the inner side of these things—the reverse of which these things are but a coarse lining, the substance of which this is a shadow—that is what passes words and transcends impressions.
It seemed to Frank that one section, at any rate, of that enormous truth at which he had clutched almost blindly when he had first made his submission to the Church—one chamber in that House of Life—was now flung open before him, and he saw in it men as trees walking.... He was tired and excited, of course; he was intensely imaginative; but there are some experiences that a rise of temperature cannot explain and that an imagination cannot originate....
For it seemed to him that here he was aware of an immeasurable need to which those ministrations were addressed, and this whole was countless in its units and clamant in its silence. It was as a man might see the wall of his room roll away, beyond which he had thought only the night to lie, and discern a thronging mass of faces crying for help, pressing upon him, urging, yet all without sound or word. He attempts in his diary to use phrases for all this—he speaks of a pit in which is no water, of shadows and forms that writhe and plead, of a light of glass mingled with fire; and yet of an inevitability, of a Justice which there is no questioning and a Force that there is no resisting. And, on the other side, there was this help given by men of flesh and blood like himself—using ceremonies and gestures and strange resonant words.... The whole was as some enormous orchestra—there was the wail on this side, the answer on that—the throb of beating hearts—there were climaxes, catastrophes, soft passages, and yet the result was one vast and harmonious whole.
It was the catafalque that seemed to him the veiled door to that other world that so manifested itself—seen as he saw it in the light of the yellow candles—it was as the awful portal of death itself; beneath that heavy mantle lay not so much a Body of Humanity still in death, as a Soul of Humanity alive beyond death, quick and yet motionless with pain. And those figures that moved about it, with censor and aspersorium, were as angels for tenderness and dignity and undoubted power. They were men like himself, yet they were far more; and they, too, one day, like himself, would pass beneath that pall and need the help of others that should follow them....
* * * * *
Something of this is but a hint of what Frank experienced; it came and went, no doubt, in gusts, yet all through he seems to have felt that sense that here was a door into that great watching world beyond—that here, in what is supposed by the world to be the narrow constraint of religion, was a liberty and an outlook into realities such as the open road and nature can but seldom give. But for my part, I can no more follow him further than I can write down the passion of the lover and the ecstasy of the musician. If these things could be said in words, they would have been said long ago. But at least it was along this path of perception that Frank went—a path that but continued the way along which he had come with such sure swiftness ever since the moment he had taken his sorrows and changed them from bitter to sweet. Some sentences that he has written mean nothing to me at all....
Only this I see clearly, both from my talks with Father Hildebrand and from the diary which Frank amplified at his bidding—that Frank had reached the end of a second stage in his journey, and that a third was to begin.
It is significant also, I think, in view of what is to follow, that the last initiation of this stage should have taken place on such an occasion as this.
There are certain moods into which minds, very much tired or very much concentrated, occasionally fall, in which the most trifling things take on them an appearance of great significance. A man in great anxiety, for example, will regard as omens or warnings such things as the ringing of a bell or the flight of a bird. I have heard this process deliberately defended by people who should know better. I have heard it said that those moods of intense concentration are, as a matter of fact states of soul in which the intuitive or mystical faculties work with great facility, and that at such times connections and correlations are perceived which at other times pass unnoticed. The events of the world then are, by such people, regarded as forming links in a chain of purpose—events even which are obviously to the practical man merely the effects of chance and accident. It is utterly impossible, says the practical man, that the ringing of a bell, or the grouping of tea-leaves, or the particular moment at which a picture falls from a wall, can be anything but fortuitous: and it is the sign of a weak and superstitious mind to regard them as anything else. There can be no purpose or sequence except in matters where we can perceive purpose or sequence.
Of course the practical man must be right; we imply that he is right, since we call him practical, and I have to deplore, therefore, the fact that Frank on several occasions fell into a superstitious way of looking at things. The proof is only too plain from his own diary—not that he interprets the little events which he records, but that he takes such extreme pains to write them down—events, too, that are, to all sensibly-minded people, almost glaringly unimportant and insignificant.
* * * * *
I have two such incidents to record between the the travelers' leaving the Benedictine monastery and their arriving in London in December. The Major and Gertie have probably long since forgotten the one which they themselves witnessed, and, indeed, there is no particular reason why they should remember it. Of the other Frank seems to have said nothing to his friends. Both of them, however, are perfectly insignificant—they concern, respectively, only a few invisible singers and a couple of quite ordinary human beings. They are described with a wholly unnecessary wealth of detail in Frank's diary, though without comment, and I write them down here for that reason, and that reason only.
The first was as follows:
They were approaching a certain cathedral town, not a hundred miles from London, and as the evening was clear and dry, though frosty, and money was low, they determined to pass the night in a convenient brick-yard about half a mile out of the town.
There was a handy shed where various implements were kept; the Major, by the help of a little twisted wire, easily unfastened the door. They supped, cooking a little porridge over a small fire which they were able to make without risk, and lay down to sleep after a pipe or two.
Tramps go to sleep early when they mean business, and it could not have been more than about eleven o'clock at night when Frank awoke with the sense that he had slept long and deeply. He seems to have lain there, content and quiet enough, watching the last ember dying in the brazier where they had made their fire.... There was presently a stir from the further corner of the shed, a match was struck, and Frank, from his improvised pillow, beheld the Major's face suddenly illuminated by the light with which he was kindling his pipe once more. He watched the face with a sort of artistic interest for a few seconds—the drooping shadows, the apparently cavernous eyes, the deep-shaded bar of the mustache across the face. In the wavering light cast from below it resembled the face of a vindictive beast. Then the Major whispered, between his puffs:
"Oh! you're awake too, are you?"
A minute later, though they had spoken only in whispers, Gertie drew a long sighing breath from her corner of the shed and they could hear that she, too, sat up and cleared her throat.
"Well, this is a pretty job," said the Major jovially to the company generally. "What's the matter with us?"
Frank said nothing. He lay still, with a sense of extraordinary content and comfort, and heard Gertie presently lie down again. The Major smoked steadily.
Then the singing began.
* * * * *
It was a perfectly still night, frost-bound and motionless. It was late enough for the sounds of the town to have died away (cathedral towns go to bed early and rise late), and, indeed, almost the only sounds they had heard, even three or four hours before, had been the occasional deliberate chime of bells, like a meditative man suddenly uttering a word or two aloud. Now, however, everything was dead silent. Probably the hour had struck immediately before they awoke, since Frank remarks that it seemed a long time before four notes tolled out the quarter.
The singing came first as a sensation rather than as a sound, so far away was it. It was not at once that Frank formulated the sense of pleasure that he experienced by telling himself that someone was singing.
At first it was a single voice that made itself heard—a tenor of extraordinary clarity. The air was unknown to him, but it had the character of antiquity; there was a certain pleasant melancholy about it; it contained little trills and grace-notes, such as—before harmony developed in the modern sense—probably supplied the absence of chords. There was no wind on which the sound could rise or fall, and it grew from a thread out of the distance into clear singing not a quarter of a mile away....
The Major presently grunted over his pipe some expression of surprise; but Frank could say nothing. He was almost holding his breath, so great was his pleasure.
The air, almost regretfully, ran downhill like a brook approaching, an inevitable full close; and then, as the last note was reached, a chord of voices broke in with some kind of chorus.
The voices were of a quartette of men, and rang together like struck notes, not loud or harsh, but, on the contrary, with a restrained softness that must, I suppose, have been the result of very careful training. It was the same air that they were repeating, but the grace-notes were absent, and the four voices, in chord after chord, supplied their place by harmony. It was impossible to tell what was the subject of the song or even whether it were sacred or secular, for it was of that period—at least, so I conjecture—when the two worlds were one, and when men courted their love and adored their God after the same fashion. Only there ran through all that air of sweet and austere melancholy, as if earthly music could do no more than hint at what the heart wished to express.
* * * * *
Frank listened in a sort of ecstasy. The music was nearer now, coming from the direction from which the three travelers had themselves come this afternoon. Presently, from the apparent diminuendo, it was plain that the singers were past, and were going on towards the town. There was no sound of footsteps; the Major remarked on that, when he could get Frank to attend a few minutes later, when all was over; but there were field paths running in every direction, as well as broad stretches of grass beside the road, so the singers may very well have been walking on soft ground. (These points are dispassionately noted down in the diary.)
The chorus was growing fainter now; once more the last slopes of the melody were in sight—those downhill gradations of the air that told of the silence to come. Then once more, for an instant, there was silence, till again, perhaps nearly a quarter of a mile away, the single tenor voice began da capo. And the last that Frank heard, at the moment before the quarter struck and, soft and mellow though it was, jarred the air and left the ear unable to focus itself again on the tiny woven thread of sound, was, once more the untiring quartette taking up the melody, far off in the silent darkness.
It seems to me a curious little incident—this passing of four singers in the night; it might have seemed as if our travelers, by a kind of chance, were allowed to overhear the affairs of a world other than their own—and the more curious because Frank seems to have been so much absorbed by it. Of course, from a practical point of view, it is almost painfully obvious what is the explanation. It must have been a quartette from the cathedral choir, returning from some festivity in the suburbs; and it must have happened that they followed the same route, though walking on the grass, along which Frank himself had come that evening.
The second incident is even more ordinary, and once again I must declare that nothing would have induced me to incorporate it into this story had it not appeared, described very minutely in the sort of log-book into which Frank's diary occasionally degenerates.
They were within a very few miles of the outskirts of London, and December had succeeded November. They had had a day or two of work upon some farm or other. (I have not been able to identify the place), and had run into, and, indeed, exchanged remarks with two or three groups of tramps also London bound.
They were given temporary lodgings in a loft over a stable, by the farmer for whom they worked, and this stable was situated in a court at the end of the village street, with gates that stood open all day, since the yard was overlooked by the windows of the farmer's living-house—and, besides, there was really nothing to steal.
They had finished their work in the fields (I think it had to do with the sheep and mangel-wurzels, or something of the kind); they had returned to their lodgings, received their pay, packed up their belongings, and had already reached the further end of the village on their way to London, when Frank discovered that he had left a pair of socks behind. This would never do: socks cost money, and their absence meant sore feet and weariness; so he told the Major and Gertie to walk on slowly while he went back. He would catch them up, he said, before they had gone half a mile. He hid his bundle under a hedge—every pound of weight made a difference at the end of a day's work—and set off.
It was just at that moment between day and night—between four and five o'clock—as he came back into the yard. He went straight through the open gates, glancing about, to explain matters to the farmer if necessary, but, not seeing him, went up the rickety stairs, groped his way across to the window, took down his socks from the nail an which he had hung them last night, and came down again.
As he came into the yard, he thought he heard something stirring within the open door of the stable on his right, and thinking it to be the farmer, and that an explanation would be advisable, looked in.
At first he saw nothing, though he could hear a horse moving about in the loose-box in the corner. Then he saw a light shine beneath the crack of the second door, beside the loose-box, that led into the farm-yard proper; and the next instant the door opened, a man came in with a lantern obviously just lighted, as the flame was not yet burned up, and stopped with a half-frightened look on seeing Frank. But he said nothing.
Frank himself was just on the point of giving an explanation when he, too, stopped dead and stared. It seemed to him that he had been here before, under exactly the same circumstances; he tried to remember what happened next, but he could not....
For this was what he saw as the flame burned up more brightly.
The man who held the lantern and looked at him in silence with a half-deprecating air was a middle-aged man, bearded and bare-headed. He had thrown over his shoulders a piece of sacking, that hung from him almost like a robe. The light that he carried threw heavy wavering shadows about the stable, and Frank noticed the great head of a cart-horse in the loose-box peering through the bars, as if to inquire what the company wanted. Then, still without speaking, Frank let his eyes rove round, and they stopped suddenly at the sight of yet one more living being in the stable. Next to the loose-box was a stall, empty except for one occupant; for there, sitting on a box with her back to the manger and one arm flung along it to support her weight, was the figure of a girl. Her head, wrapped in an old shawl, leaned back against her arm, and a very white and weary face, absolutely motionless, looked at him. She had great eyes, with shadows beneath, and her lips were half opened. By her side lay a regular tramp's bundle.
Frank looked at her steadily a moment, then he looked back at the man, who still had not moved or spoken. The draught from the door behind blew in and shook the flame of his lantern, and the horse sighed long and loud in the shadows behind. Once more Frank glanced at the girl; she had lowered her arm from the manger and now sat looking at him, it seemed, with a curious intentness and expectancy.
There was nothing to be said. Frank bowed a little, almost apologetically, and went out.
Now that was absolutely all that happened. Frank says so expressly in his diary. He did not speak to them, nor they to him; nor was any explanation given on either side. He went out across the yard in silence, seeing nothing of the farmer, but hearing a piano begin to play beyond the brightly lighted windows, of which he could catch a glimpse over the low wall separating the yard from the garden. He walked quickly up the village street and caught up his companions, as he had said, less than half a mile further on. He said nothing to them of his experience—indeed, what was there to say?—but he must have written it down that same night when they reached their next lodging, and written it down, too, with that minuteness of detail which surprised me so much when I first read it.
* * * * *
For the explanation of the whole thing is as foolishly obvious as was that of the singing that the three had heard in the suburbs of Peterborough. Obviously a couple of tramps had turned into this stable for shelter. Perhaps the girl was the man's daughter; perhaps his wife; perhaps neither. Plainly they had no right there—and that would explain the embarrassed silence of the two: they knew they were trespassing, and feared to be turned away. Perhaps already they had been turned away from the village inn. But the girl was obviously tired out, and the man had determined to risk it.
That, then, was the whole affair—commonplace, and even a little sordid. And yet Frank thought that it was worth writing down!
An extract, taken by permission, from a few pages of Frank Guiseley's diary. These pages were written with the encouragement of Dom Hildebrand Maple, O.S.B., and were sent to him later at his own request.
"... He told me a great many things that surprised me. For instance, he seemed to know all about certain ideas that I had had, before I told him of them, and said that I was not responsible, and he picked out one or two other things that I had said, and told me that these were much more serious....
"I went to confession to him on Friday morning, in the church. He did not say a great deal then, but he asked if I would care to talk to him afterwards. I said I would, and went to him in the parlor after dinner. The first thing that happened was that he asked me to tell him as plainly as I could anything that had happened to me—in my soul, I mean—since I had left Cambridge. So I tried to describe it.
"I said that at first things went pretty well in my soul, and that it was only bodily things that troubled me—getting fearfully tired and stiff, being uncomfortable, the food, the sleeping, and so on. Then, as soon as this wore off I met the Major and Gertie. I was rather afraid of saying all that I felt about these; but he made me, and I told him how extraordinarily I seemed to hate them sometimes, how I felt almost sick now and then when the Major talked to me and told me stories.... The thing that seemed to torment me most during this time was the contrast between Cambridge and Merefield and the people there, and the company of this pair; and the only relief was that I knew I could, as a matter of fact, chuck them whenever I wanted and go home again. But this relief was taken away from me as soon as I understood that I had to keep with them, and do my best somehow to separate them. Of course, I must get Gertie back to her people some time, and till that's done it's no good thinking about anything else.
"After a while, however—I think it was just before I got into trouble with the police—I began to see that I was a conceited ass for hating the Major so much. It was absurd for me, I said, to put on airs, when the difference between him and me was just that he had been brought up in one way and I in another. I hated the things he did and said, not because they were wrong, but because they were what I called 'bad form.' That was really the whole thing. Then I saw a lot more, and it made me feel miserable. I used to think that it was rather good of me to be kind to animals and children, but I began to see that it was simply the way I was made: it wasn't any effort to me. I simply 'saw red' when I came across cruelty. And I saw that that was no good.
"Then I began to see that I had done absolutely nothing of any good whatever—that nothing had really cost me anything; and that the things I was proud of were simply self-will—my leaving Cambridge, and all the rest. They were theatrical, or romantic, or egotistical; there was no real sacrifice. I should have minded much more not doing them. I began to feel extraordinarily small.
"Then the whole series of things began that simply smashed me up.
"First there was the prison business. That came about in this way:
"I had just begun to see that I was all wrong with the Major—that by giving way to my feelings about him (I don't mean that I ever showed it, but that was only because I thought it more dignified not to!), I was getting all wrong with regard to both him and myself, and that I must do something that my whole soul hated if it was to be of any use. Then there came that minute in the barn, when I heard the police were after us, and that there was really no hope of escape. The particular thing that settled me was Gertie. I knew, somehow, that I couldn't let the Major go to prison while she was about. And then I saw that this was just the very thing to do, and that I couldn't be proud of it ever, because the whole thing was so mean and second-rate. Well, I did it, and it did me a lot of good somehow. I felt really rolled in the dirt, and that little thing in the post-office afterwards rubbed it in. I saw how chock-full I must be of conceit really to mind that, as I did, and to show off, and talk like a gentleman.
"Then there came the priest who refused to help me. That made me for a time perfectly furious, because I had always said to myself that Catholics, and especially priests, would always understand. But before I got to York I saw what an ass I had made of myself. Of course, the priest was perfectly right (I saw that before I got ten yards away, though I wouldn't acknowledge it for another five miles). I was a dirty tramp, and I talked like a brazen fool. (I remember thinking my 'openness' to him rather fine and manly!) Well, that made me smaller still.
"Then a sort of despair came on me when the police got me turned out of my work in York. I know it was only a little thing (though I still think it unfair), but it was like a pebble in your boot when you're already going lame from something else.
"And then came Jenny's letter. (I want to write about that rather carefully.)
"I said just now that I was getting to feel smaller and smaller. That's perfectly true, but there was still a little hard lump in the middle that would not break. Things might have gone crumbling away at me for ever, and I might have got smaller still, but they wouldn't have smashed me.
"Now there were two things that I held on to all this time—my religion and Jenny. I gave them turns, so to speak, though Jenny was never absent. When everything religious tasted flat and dull and empty, I thought about Jenny: when things were better—when I had those two or three times I told Father Hildebrand about (...)—I still thought of Jenny, and imagined how splendid it would be when we were both Catholics together and married. But I never dreamed that Jenny would ever be angry or disappointed. I wouldn't talk about her to anybody ever, because I was so absolutely certain of her. I knew, I thought, that the whole world might crumble away, but that Jenny would always understand, down at the bottom, and that she and I would remain....
"Well, then came her letter.
"Honestly, I don't quite know what I was doing inside for the next week or so. Simply everything was altered. I never had any sort of doubt that she meant what she said, and it was as if there wasn't any sun or moon or sky. It was like being ill. Things happened round me: I ate and drank and walked, but the only thing I wanted was to get away, and get down somewhere into myself and hide. Religion, of course, seemed no good at all. I don't understand quite what people mean by 'consolations' of religion. Religion doesn't seem to me a thing like Art or Music, in which you can take refuge. It either covers everything, or it isn't religion. Religion never has seemed to me (I don't know if I'm wrong) one thing, like other things, so that you can change about and back again.... It's either the background and foreground all in one, or it's a kind of game. It's either true, or it's a pretense.
"Well, all this, in a way, taught me it was absolutely true. Things wouldn't have held together at all unless it was true. But it was no sort of satisfaction. It seemed to me for a while that it was horrible that it was true; that it was frightful to think that God could be like that—since this Jenny-business had really happened. But I didn't feel all this exactly consciously at the time. I seemed as if I was ill, and could only lie still and watch and be in hell. One thing, however, Father Hildebrand thought very important (he asked me about it particularly) was that I honestly did not feel any resentment whatever against either God or Jenny. It was frightful, but it was true, and I just had to lie still inside and look at it. He tells me that this shows that the first part of the 'process,' as he called it, was finished (he called it the 'Purgative Way'). And I must say that what happened next seems to fit in rather well.
"The new 'process' began quite suddenly when I awoke in the shepherd's hut one morning at Ripon. The instant I awoke I knew it. It was very early in the morning, just before sunrise, but there was a little wood behind me, and the birds were beginning to chirp.
"It's very hard to describe it in words, but the first thing to say is that I was not exactly happy just then, but absolutely content. I think I should say that it was like this: I saw suddenly that what had been wrong in me was that I had made myself the center of things, and God a kind of circumference. When He did or allowed things, I said, 'Why does He?'—from my point of view. That is to say, I set up my ideas of justice and love and so forth, and then compared His with mine, not mine with His. And I suddenly saw—or, rather, I knew already when I awoke—that this was simply stupid. Even now I cannot imagine why I didn't see it before: I had heard people say it, of course—in sermons and books—but I suppose it had meant nothing to me. (Father Hildebrand tells me that I had seen it intellectually, but had never embraced it with my will.) Because when one once really sees that, there's no longer any puzzle about anything. One can simply never say 'Why?' again. The thing's finished.
"Now this 'process' (as Father H. calls it) has gone on in a most extraordinary manner ever since. That beginning near Ripon was like opening a door into another country, and I've been walking ever since and seeing new things. All sorts of things that I had believed as a Catholic—things, I mean, which I assented to simply because the Church said so, have, so to speak, come up and turned themselves inside out. I couldn't write them down, because you can't write these things down, or even put them intelligibly to yourself. You just see that they are so. For instance, one morning at mass—quite suddenly—I saw how the substance of the bread was changed, and how our Lord is united with the soul at Communion—of course it's a mystery (that's what I mean by saying that it can't be written down)—but I saw it, in a flash, and I can see it still in a sort of way. Then another day when the Major was talking about something or other (I think it was about the club he used to belong to in Piccadilly), I understood about our Lady and how she is just everything from one point of view. And so on. I had that kind of thing at Doctor Whitty's a good deal, particularly when I was getting better. I could talk to him all the time, too, or count the knobs on the wardrobe, or listen to the Major and Gertie in the garden—and yet go on all the time seeing things. I knew it wasn't any good talking to Doctor Whitty himself much, though I can't imagine why a man like that doesn't see it all for himself....
"It seems to me most extraordinary now that I ever could have had those other thoughts I told Father H. about—I mean about sins, and about wondering whether, after all, the Church was actually true. In a sort of way, of course, they come back to me still, and I know perfectly well I must be on my guard; but somehow it's different.