NONE OTHER GODS
ROBERT HUGH BENSON
AUTHOR OF "THE CONVENTIONALISTS," "THE NECROMANCERS," "A WINNOWING," ETC.
NONE OTHER GODS
MY DEAR JACK KIRKBY,
To whom can I dedicate this book but to you who were, not only the best friend of the man I have written about, but one without whom the book could not have been written? It is to you that I owe practically all the materials necessary for the work: it was to you that Frank left the greater part of his diary, such as it was (and I hope I have observed your instructions properly as regards the use I have made of it); it was you who took such trouble to identify the places he passed through; and it was you, above all, who gave me so keen an impression of Frank himself, that it seems to me I must myself have somehow known him intimately, in spite of the fact that we never met.
I think I should say that it is this sense of intimacy, this extraordinary interior accessibility (so to speak) of Frank, that made him (as you and I both think) about the most lovable person we have ever known. They were very extraordinary changes that passed over him, of course—(and I suppose we cannot improve, even with all our modern psychology, upon the old mystical names for such changes—Purgation, Illumination and Union)—but, as theologians themselves tell us, that mysterious thing which Catholics call the Grace of God does not obliterate, but rather emphasizes and transfigures the natural characteristics of every man upon whom it comes with power. It was the same element in Frank, as it seems to me—the same root-principle, at least—that made him do those preposterous things connected with bread and butter and a railway train, that drove him from Cambridge in defiance of all common-sense and sweet reasonableness; that held him still to that deplorable and lamentable journey with his two traveling companions, and that ultimately led him to his death. I mean, it was the same kind of unreasonable daring and purpose throughout, though it issued in very different kinds of actions, and was inspired by very different motives.
Well, it is not much good discussing Frank in public like this. The people who are kind enough to read his life—or, rather, the six months of it with which this book deals—must form their own opinion of him. Probably a good many will think him a fool. I daresay he was; but I think I like that kind of folly. Other people may think him simply obstinate and tiresome. Well, I like obstinacy of that sort, and I do not find him tiresome. Everyone must form their own views, and I have a perfect right to form mine, which I am glad to know coincide with your own. After all, you knew him better than anyone else.
I went to see Gertie Trustcott, as you suggested, but I didn't get any help from her. I think she is the most suburban person I have ever met. She could tell me nothing whatever new about him; she could only corroborate what you yourself had told me, and what the diaries and other papers contained. I did not stay long with Miss Trustcott.
And now, my dear friend, I must ask you to accept this book from me, and to make the best of it. Of course, I have had to conjecture a great deal, and to embroider even more; but it is no more than embroidery. I have not touched the fabric itself which you put into my hands; and anyone who cares to pull out the threads I have inserted can do so if they will, without any fear of the thing falling to pieces.
I have to thank you for many pleasurable and even emotional hours. The offering which I present to you now is the only return I can make.
I am, Ever yours sincerely, ROBERT HUGH BENSON.
P.S.—We've paneled a new room since you were last at Hare Street. Come and see it soon and sleep in it. We want you badly. And I want to talk a great deal more about Frank.
P.P.S.—I hear that her ladyship has gone back to live with her father; she tried the Dower House in Westmoreland, but seems to have found it lonely. Is that true? It'll be rather difficult for Dick, won't it?
NONE OTHER GODS
"I think you're behaving like an absolute idiot," said Jack Kirkby indignantly.
Frank grinned pleasantly, and added his left foot to his right one in the broad window-seat.
These two young men were sitting in one of the most pleasant places in all the world in which to sit on a summer evening—in a ground-floor room looking out upon the Great Court of Trinity College, Cambridge. It was in that short space of time, between six and seven, during which the Great Court is largely deserted. The athletes and the dawdlers have not yet returned from field and river; and Fellows and other persons, young enough to know better, who think that a summer evening was created for the reading of books, have not yet emerged from their retreats. A white-aproned cook or two moves across the cobbled spaces with trays upon their heads; a tradesman's boy comes out of the corner entrance from the hostel; a cat or two stretches himself on the grass; but, for the rest, the court lies in broad sunshine; the shadows slope eastwards, and the fitful splash and trickle of the fountain asserts itself clearly above the gentle rumble of Trinity Street.
Within, the room in which these two sat was much like other rooms of the same standing; only, in this one case the walls were paneled with white-painted deal. Three doors led out of it—two into a tiny bedroom and a tinier dining-room respectively; the third on to the passage leading to the lecture-rooms. Frank found it very convenient, since he thus was enabled, at every hour of the morning when the lectures broke up, to have the best possible excuse for conversing with his friends through the window.
The room was furnished really well. Above the mantelpiece, where rested an array of smoking-materials and a large silver cigarette-box, hung an ancestral-looking portrait, in a dull gilded frame, of an aged man, with a ruff round his neck, purchased for one guinea; there was a sofa and a set of chairs upholstered in a good damask: a black piano by Broadwood; a large oval gate-leg table; a bureau; shelves filled with very indiscriminate literature—law books, novels, Badminton, magazines and ancient school editions of the classics; a mahogany glass-fronted bookcase packed with volumes of esthetic appearance—green-backed poetry books with white labels; old leather tomes, and all the rest of the specimens usual to a man who has once thought himself literary. Then there were engravings, well framed, round the walls; a black iron-work lamp, fitted for electric light, hung from the ceiling; there were a couple of oak chests, curiously carved. On the stained floor lay three or four mellow rugs, and the window-boxes outside blazed with geraniums. The debris of tea rested on the window-seat nearest the outer door.
Frank Guiseley, too, lolling in the window-seat in a white silk shirt, unbuttoned at the throat, and gray flannel trousers, and one white shoe, was very pleasant to look upon. His hair was as black and curly as a Neapolitan's; he had a smiling, humorous mouth, and black eyes—of an extraordinary twinkling alertness. His clean-shaven face, brown in its proper complexion as well as with healthy sunburning (he had played very vigorous lawn-tennis for the last two months), looked like a boy's, except for the very determined mouth and the short, straight nose. He was a little below middle height—well-knit and active; and though, properly speaking, he was not exactly handsome, he was quite exceptionally delightful to look at.
Jack Kirkby, sitting in an arm-chair a yard away, and in the same sort of costume—except that he wore both his shoes and a Third Trinity blazer—was a complete contrast in appearance. The other had something of a Southern Europe look; Jack was obviously English—wholesome red cheeks, fair hair and a small mustache resembling spun silk. He was, also, closely on six feet in height.
He was anxious just now, and, therefore, looked rather cross, fingering the very minute hairs of his mustache whenever he could spare the time from smoking, and looking determinedly away from Frank upon the floor. For the last week he had talked over this affair, ever since the amazing announcement; and had come to the conclusion that once more, in this preposterous scheme, Frank really meant what he said.
Frank had a terrible way of meaning what he said—he reflected with dismay. There was the affair of the bread and butter three years ago, before either of them had learned manners. This had consisted in the fastening up in separate brown-paper parcels innumerable pieces of bread and butter, addressing each with the name of the Reverend Junior Dean (who had annoyed Frank in some way), and the leaving of the parcels about in every corner of Cambridge, in hansom cabs, on seats, on shop-counters and on the pavements—with the result that for the next two or three days the dean's staircase was crowded with messenger boys and unemployables, anxious to return apparently lost property.
Then there had been the matter of the flagging of a fast Northern train in the middle of the fens with a red pocket-handkerchief, to find out if it were really true that the train would stop, followed by a rapid retreat on bicycles so soon as it had been ascertained that it was true; the Affair of the German Prince traveling incognito, into which the Mayor himself had been drawn; and the Affair of the Nun who smoked a short black pipe in the Great Court shortly before midnight, before gathering up her skirts and vanishing on noiseless india-rubber-shod feet round the kitchen quarters into the gloom of Neville's Court, as the horrified porter descended from his signal-box.
Now many minds could have conceived these things; a smaller number of people would have announced their intention of doing them: but there were very few persons who would actually carry them all out to the very end: in fact, Jack reflected, Frank Guiseley was about the only man of his acquaintance who could possibly have done them. And he had done them all on his own sole responsibility.
He had remembered, too, during the past week, certain incidents of the same nature at Eton. There was the master who had rashly inquired, with deep sarcasm, on the fourth or fifth occasion in one week when Frank had come in a little late for five-o'clock school, whether "Guiseley would not like to have tea before pursuing his studies." Frank, with a radiant smile of gratitude, and extraordinary rapidity, had answered that he would like it very much indeed, and had vanished through the still half-open door before another word could be uttered, returning with a look of childlike innocence at about five-and-twenty minutes to six.
"Please, sir," he had said, "I thought you said I might go?"
"And have you had tea?"
"Why, certainly, sir; at Webber's."
Now all this kind of thing was a little disconcerting to remember now. Truly, the things in themselves had been admirably conceived and faithfully executed, but they seemed to show that Frank was the kind of person who really carried through what other people only talked about—and especially if he announced beforehand that he intended to do it.
It was a little dismaying, therefore, for his friend to reflect that upon the arrival of the famous letter from Lord Talgarth—Frank's father—six days previously, in which all the well-worn phrases occurred as to "darkening doors" and "roof" and "disgrace to the family," Frank had announced that he proposed to take his father at his word, sell up his property and set out like a prince in a fairy-tale to make his fortune.
* * * * *
Jack had argued till he was sick of it, and to no avail. Frank had a parry for every thrust. Why wouldn't he wait a bit until the governor had had time to cool down? Because the governor must learn, sooner or later, that words really meant something, and that he—Frank—was not going to stand it for one instant.
Why wouldn't he come and stay at Barham till further notice? They'd all be delighted to have him: It was only ten miles off Merefield, and perhaps—Because Frank was not going to sponge upon his friends. Neither was he going to skulk about near home. Well, if he was so damned obstinate, why didn't he go into the City—or even to the Bar? Because (1) he hadn't any money; and (2) he would infinitely sooner go on the tramp than sit on a stool. Well, why didn't he enlist, like a gentleman? Frank dared say he would some time, but he wanted to stand by himself a bit first and see the world.
"Let's see the letter again," said Jack at last. "Where is it?"
"I think it's in that tobacco-jar just behind your head," he said. "No, it isn't; it's in the pouch on the floor. I know I associated it somehow with smoking. And, by the way, give me a cigarette."
Jack tossed him his case, opened the pouch, took out the letter, and read it slowly through again.
"Merefield Court, "near Harrogate. "May 28th, Thursday.
"I am ashamed of you, sir. When you first told me of your intention, I warned you what would happen if you persisted, and I repeat it now. Since you have deliberately chosen, in spite of all that I have said, to go your own way, and to become a Papist, I will have no more to do with you. From this moment you cease to be my son. You shall not, while I live, darken my doors again, or sleep under my roof. I say nothing of what you have had from me in the past—your education and all the rest. And, since I do not wish to be unduly hard upon you, you can keep the remainder of your allowance up to July and the furniture of your rooms. But, after that, not one penny shall you have from me. You can go to your priests and get them to support you.
"I am only thankful that your poor mother has been spared this blow.
Jack made a small murmurous sound as he finished. Frank chuckled aloud.
"Pitches it in all right, doesn't he?" he observed dispassionately.
"If it had been my governor—" began Jack slowly.
"My dear man, it isn't your governor; it's mine. And I'm dashed if there's another man in the world who'd write such a letter as that nowadays. It's—it's too early-Victorian. They'd hardly stand it at the Adelphi! I could have put it so much better myself.... Poor old governor!"
"Have you answered it?"
"I ... I forget. I know I meant to.... No, I haven't. I remember now. And I shan't till I'm just off."
"Well, I shall," remarked Jack.
Frank turned a swift face upon him.
"If you do," he said, with sudden fierce gravity, "I'll never speak to you again. I mean it. It's my affair, and I shall run it my own way."
"I mean it. Now! give me your word of honor—"
"Your word of honor, this instant, or get out of my room!"
There was a pause. Then:
"All right," said Jack.
Then there fell a silence once more.
The news began to be rumored about, soon after the auction that Frank held of his effects a couple of days later. He carried out the scene admirably, entirely unassisted, even by Jack.
First, there appeared suddenly all over Cambridge, the evening before the sale, just as the crowds of undergraduates and female relations began to circulate about after tea and iced strawberries, a quantity of sandwich-men, bearing the following announcement, back and front:
TRINITY COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE.
THE HON. FRANK GUISELEY has pleasure in announcing that on JUNE 7TH (Saturday) at half-past ten a.m. precisely in Rooms 1, Letter J, Great Court, Trinity College, he will positively offer for
SALE BY AUCTION
The household effects, furniture, books, etc., of the Hon. Frank Guiseley, including—
A piano by Broadwood (slightly out of tune); a magnificent suite of drawing-room furniture, upholstered in damask, the sofa only slightly stained with tea; one oak table and another; a bed; a chest of drawers (imitation walnut, and not a very good imitation); a mahogany glass-fronted bookcase, containing a set of suggestive-looking volumes bound in faint colors, with white labels; four oriental mats; a portrait of a gentleman (warranted a perfectly respectable ancestor); dining-room suite (odd chairs); numerous engravings of places of interest and noblemen's seats; a
Silver Cigarette-box and fifteen Cigarettes in it (Melachrino and Mixed American); a cuckoo-clock (without cuckoo); five walking-sticks; numerous suits of clothes (one lot suitable for Charitable Purposes); some books—all VERY CURIOUS indeed—comprising the works of an Eminent Cambridge Professor, and other scholastic luminaries, as well as many other articles.
AT HALF-PAST TEN A.M. PRECISELY All friends, and strangers, cordially invited. NO RESERVE PRICE.
It served its purpose admirably, for by soon after ten o'clock quite a considerable crowd had begun to assemble; and it was only after a very serious conversation with the Dean that the sale was allowed to proceed. But it proceeded, with the distinct understanding that a college porter be present; that no riotous behavior should be allowed; that the sale was a genuine one, and that Mr. Guiseley would call upon the Dean with further explanations before leaving Cambridge.
The scene itself was most impressive.
Frank, in a structure resembling an auctioneer's box, erected on the hearth-rug, presided, with extraordinary gravity, hammer in hand, robed in a bachelor's gown and hood. Beneath him the room seethed with the company, male and female, all in an excellent humor, and quite tolerable prices were obtained. No public explanations were given of the need for the sale, and Jack, in the deepest dismay, looked in again that afternoon, about lunch-time, to find the room completely stripped, and Frank, very cheerful, still in his hood and gown, smoking a cigarette in the window-seat.
"Come in," he said. "And kindly ask me to lunch. The last porter's just gone."
Jack looked at him.
He seemed amazingly genial and natural, though just a little flushed, and such an air of drama as there was about him was obviously deliberate.
"Very well; come to lunch," said Jack. "Where are you going to dine and sleep?"
"I'm dining in hall, and I'm sleeping in a hammock. Go and look at my bedroom."
Jack went across the bare floor and looked in. A hammock was slung across from a couple of pegs, and there lay a small carpet-bag beneath it. A basin on an upturned box and a bath completed the furniture.
"You mad ass!" said Jack. "And is that all you have left?"
"Certainly. I'm going to leave the clothes I've got on to you, and you can fetch the hammock when I've gone."
"When do you start?"
"Mr. Guiseley will have his last interview and obtain his exeat from the Dean at half-past six this evening. He proposes to leave Cambridge in the early hours of to-morrow morning."
"You don't mean that!"
"Certainly I do."
"What are you going to wear?"
Frank extended two flanneled legs, ending in solid boots.
"These—a flannel shirt, no tie, a cap, a gray jacket."
Jack stood again in silence, looking at him.
"How much money did your sale make?"
"That's immaterial. Besides, I forget. The important fact is that when I've paid all my bills I shall have thirteen pounds eleven shillings and eightpence."
"Thirteen pounds eleven shillings and eightpence."
Jack burst into a mirthless laugh.
"Well, come along to lunch," he said.
* * * * *
It seemed to Jack that he moved in a dreary kind of dream that afternoon as he went about with Frank from shop to shop, paying bills. Frank's trouser-pockets bulged and jingled a good deal as they started—he had drawn all his remaining money in gold from the bank—and they bulged and jingled considerably less as the two returned to tea in Jesus Lane. There, on the table, he spread out the coins. He had bought some tobacco, and two or three other things that afternoon, and the total amounted now but to twelve pounds nineteen shillings and fourpence.
"Call it thirteen pounds," said Frank. "There's many a poor man—"
"Don't be a damned fool!" said Jack.
"I'm being simply prudent," said Frank. "A contented heart—"
Jack thrust a cup of tea and the buttered buns before him.
* * * * *
These two were as nearly brothers as possible, in everything but blood. Their homes lay within ten miles of one another. They had gone to a private school together, to Eton, and to Trinity. They had ridden together in the holidays, shot, dawdled, bathed, skated, and all the rest. They were considerably more brothers to one another than were Frank and Archie, his actual elder brother, known to the world as Viscount Merefield. Jack did not particularly approve of Archie; he thought him a pompous ass, and occasionally said so.
For Frank he had quite an extraordinary affection, though he would not have expressed it so, to himself, for all the world, and a very real admiration of a quite indefinable kind. It was impossible to say why he admired him. Frank did nothing very well, but everything rather well; he played Rugby football just not well enough to represent his college; he had been in the Lower Boats at Eton, and the Lent Boat of his first year at Cambridge; then he had given up rowing and played lawn-tennis in the summer and fives in the Lent Term just well enough to make a brisk and interesting game. He was not at all learned; he had reached the First Hundred at Eton, and had read Law at Cambridge—that convenient branch of study which for the most part fills the vacuum for intelligent persons who have no particular bent and are heartily sick of classics; and he had taken a Third Class and his degree a day or two before. He was remarkably averaged, therefore; and yet, somehow or another, there was that in him which compelled Jack's admiration. I suppose it was that which is conveniently labeled "character." Certainly, nearly everybody who came into contact with him felt the same in some degree.
His becoming a Catholic had been an amazing shock to Jack, who had always supposed that Frank, like himself, took the ordinary sensible English view of religion. To be a professed unbeliever was bad form—it was like being a Little Englander or a Radical; to be pious was equally bad form—it resembled a violent devotion to the Union Jack. No; religion to Jack (and he had always hitherto supposed, to Frank) was a department of life in which one did not express any particular views: one did not say one's prayers; one attended chapel at the proper times; if one was musical, one occasionally went to King's on Sunday afternoon; in the country one went to church on Sunday morning as one went to the stables in the afternoon, and that was about all.
Frank had been, too, so extremely secretive about the whole thing. He had marched into Jack's rooms in Jesus Lane one morning nearly a fortnight ago.
"Come to mass at the Catholic Church," he said.
"Why, the—" began Jack.
"I've got to go. I'm a Catholic."
"I became one last week."
Jack had stared at him, suddenly convinced that someone was mad. When he had verified that it was really a fact; that Frank had placed himself under instruction three months before, and had made his confession—(his confession!)—on Friday, and had been conditionally baptized; when he had certified himself of all these things, and had begun to find coherent language once more, he had demanded why Frank had done this.
"Because it's the true religion," said Frank. "Are you coming to mass or are you not?"
Jack had gone then, and had come away more bewildered than ever as to what it was all about. He had attempted to make a few inquiries, but Frank had waved his hands at him, and repeated that obviously the Catholic religion was the true one, and that he couldn't be bothered. And now here they were at tea in Jesus Lane for the last time.
* * * * *
Of course, there was a little suppressed excitement about Frank. He drank three cups of tea and took the last (and the under) piece of buttered bun without apologies, and he talked a good deal, rather fast. It seemed that he had really no particular plans as to what he was going to do after he had walked out of Cambridge with his carpet-bag early next morning. He just meant, he said, to go along and see what happened. He had had a belt made, which pleased him exceedingly, into which his money could be put (it lay on the table between them during tea), and he proposed, naturally, to spend as little of that money as possible.... No; he would not take one penny piece from Jack; it would be simply scandalous if he—a public-school boy and an University man—couldn't keep body and soul together by his own labor. There would be hay-making presently, he supposed, and fruit-picking, and small jobs on farms. He would just go along and see what happened. Besides there were always casual wards, weren't there? if the worst came to the worst; and he'd meet other men, he supposed, who'd put him in the way of things. Oh! he'd get on all right.
Would he ever come to Barham? Well, if it came in the day's work he would. Yes: certainly he'd be most obliged if his letters might be sent there, and he could write for them when he wanted, or even call for them, if, as he said, it came in the day's work.
What was he going to do in the winter? He hadn't the slightest idea. He supposed, what other people did in the winter. Perhaps he'd have got a place by then—gamekeeper, perhaps—he'd like to be a gamekeeper.
At this Jack, mentally, threw up the sponge.
"You really mean to go on at this rotten idea of yours?"
Frank opened his eyes wide.
"Why, of course. Good Lord! did you think I was bluffing?"
"But ... but it's perfectly mad. Why on earth don't you get a proper situation somewhere—land-agent or something?"
"My dear man," said Frank, "if you will have it, it's because I want to do exactly what I'm going to do. No—I'm being perfectly serious. I've thought for ages that we're all wrong somehow. We're all so beastly artificial. I don't want to preach, but I want to test things for myself. My religion tells me—" He broke off. "No; this is fooling. I'm going to do it because I'm going to do it. And I'm really going to do it. I'm not going to be an amateur—like slumming. I'm going to find out things for myself."
"But on the roads—" expostulated Jack.
"Exactly. That's the very point. Back to the land."
Jack sat up.
"Good Lord!" he said. "Why, I never thought of it."
"It's your old grandmother coming out."
"Yes—old Mrs. Kelly."
Frank laughed suddenly and loudly.
"By George!" he said, "I daresay it is. Old Grandmamma Kelly! She was a gipsy—so she was. I believe you've hit it, Jack. Let's see: she was my grandfather's second wife, wasn't she?"
"And he picked her up off the roads on his own estate. Wasn't she trespassing, or something?"
Jack nodded again.
"Yes," he said, "and he was a magistrate and ought to have committed her: And he married her instead. She was a girl, traveling with her parents."
Frank sat smiling genially.
"That's it," he said. "Then I'm bound to make a success of it."
And he took another cigarette.
Then one more thought came to Jack: he had determined already to make use of it if necessary, and somehow this seemed to be the moment.
"And Jenny Launton," he said "I suppose you've thought of her?"
A curious look came into Frank's eyes—a look of great gravity and tenderness—and the humor died out. He said nothing for an instant. Then he drew out of his breast-pocket a letter in an envelope, and tossed it gently over to Jack.
"I'm telling her in that," he said. "I'm going to post it to-night, after I've seen the Dean."
Jack glanced down at it.
"MISS LAUNTON, "The Rectory, "Merefield, Yorks."
ran the inscription. He turned it over; it was fastened and sealed.
"I've told her we must wait a bit," said Frank, "and that I'll write again in a few weeks."
Jack was silent.
"And you think it's fair on her?" he asked deliberately.
Frank's face broke up into humor.
"That's for her to say," he observed. "And, to tell the truth, I'm not at all afraid."
"But a gamekeeper's wife! And you a Catholic!"
"Ah! you don't know Jenny," smiled Frank. "Jenny and I quite understand one another, thank you very much."
"But is it quite fair?"
"Good Lord!" shouted Frank, suddenly roused. "Fair! What the devil does it matter? Don't you know that all's fair—under certain circumstances? I do bar that rotten conventionalism. We're all rotten—rotten, I tell you; and I'm going to start fresh. So's Jenny. Kindly don't talk of what you don't understand."
He stood up, stretching. Then he threw the end of his cigarette away.
"I must go to the Dean," he said. "It's close on the half-hour."
The Reverend James Mackintosh was an excellent official of his college, and performed his duties with care and punctilium. He rose about half-past seven o'clock every morning, drank a cup of tea and went to chapel. After chapel he breakfasted, on Tuesdays and Thursdays with two undergraduates in their first year, selected in alphabetical order, seated at his table; on the other days of the week in solitude. At ten o'clock he lectured, usually on one of St. Paul's Epistles, on which subjects he possessed note-books filled with every conceivable piece of information that could be gathered together—grammatical, philological, topographical, industrial, social, biographical—with a few remarks on the fauna, flora, imports, characteristics and geological features of those countries to which those epistles were written, and in which they were composed. These notes, guaranteed to guide any student who really mastered them to success, and even distinction, in his examinations, were the result of a lifetime of loving labor, and some day, no doubt, will be issued in the neat blue covers of the "Cambridge Bible for Schools." From eleven to twelve he lectured on Church history of the first five centuries—after which period, it will be remembered by all historical students, Church history practically ceased. At one he lunched; from two to four he walked rapidly (sometimes again in company with a serious theological student), along the course known as the Grantchester Grind, or to Coton and back. At four he had tea; at five he settled down to administer discipline to the college, by summoning and remonstrating with such undergraduates as had failed to comply with the various regulations; at half-past seven he dined in hall—a meek figure, clean shaven and spectacled, seated between an infidel philosopher and a socialist: he drank a single glass of wine afterwards in the Combination Room, smoked one cigarette, and retired again to his rooms to write letters to parents (if necessary), and to run over his notes for next day.
And he did this, with the usual mild variations of a University life, every weekday, for two-thirds of the year. Of the other third, he spent part in Switzerland, dressed in a neat gray Norfolk suit with knickerbockers, and the rest with clerical friends of the scholastic type. It was a very solemn thought to him how great were his responsibilities, and what a privilege it was to live in the whirl and stir of one of the intellectual centers of England!
* * * * *
Frank Guiseley was to Mr. Mackintosh a very great puzzle. He had certainly been insubordinate in his first year (Mr. Mackintosh gravely suspected him of the Bread-and-Butter affair, which had so annoyed his colleague), but he certainly had been very steady and even deferential ever since. (He always took off his hat, for example, to Mr. Mackintosh, with great politeness.) Certainly he was not very regular at chapel, and he did not dine in hall nearly so often as Mr. Mackintosh would have wished (for was it not part of the University idea that men of all grades of society should meet as equals under the college roof?). But, then, he had never been summoned for any very grave or disgraceful breach of the rules, and was never insolent or offensive to any of the Fellows. Finally, he came of a very distinguished family; and Mr. Mackintosh had the keenest remembrance still of his own single interview, three years ago, with the Earl of Talgarth.
Mr. Mackintosh wondered, then, exactly what he would have to say to Mr. Guiseley, and what Mr. Guiseley would have to say to him. He thought, if the young man were really going down for good, as he had understood this morning, it was only his plain duty to say a few tactful words about responsibility and steadiness. That ridiculous auction would serve as his text.
* * * * *
Mr. Mackintosh paused an instant, as he always did, before saying "Come in!" to the knock on the door (I think he thought it helped to create a little impression of importance). Then he said it; and Frank walked in.
"Good evening, Mr. Guiseley.... Yes; please sit down. I understood from you this morning that you wished for your exeat."
"Please," said Frank.
"Just so," said Mr. Mackintosh, drawing the exeat book—resembling the butt of a check-book—towards him. "And you are going down to-morrow?"
"Yes," said Frank.
"Going home?" murmured the Dean, inscribing Frank's name in his neat little handwriting.
"No," said Frank.
"Not?... To London, perhaps?"
"Well, not exactly," said Frank; "at least, not just yet."
Mr. Mackintosh blotted the book carefully, and extracted the exeat. He pushed it gently towards Frank.
"About that auction!" he said, smiling indulgently; "I did want to have a word with you about that. It was very unusual; and I wondered.... But I am happy to think that there was no disturbance.... But can you tell me exactly why you chose that form of ... of ..."
"I wanted to make as much money as ever I could," said Frank.
"Indeed!... Yes.... And ... and you were successful?"
"I cleared all my debts, anyhow," said Frank serenely. "I thought that very important."
Mr. Mackintosh smiled again. Certainly this young man was very well behaved and deferential.
"Well, that's satisfactory. And you are going to read at the Bar now? If you will let me say so, Mr. Guiseley, even at this late hour, I must say that I think that a Third Class might have been bettered. But no doubt your tutor has said all that?"
"Yes, I think so."
"Well, then, a little more application and energy now may perhaps make up for lost time. I suppose you will go to the Temple in October?"
Frank looked at him pensively a moment.
"No, Mr. Mackintosh," he said suddenly; "I'm going on the roads. I mean it, quite seriously. My father's disowned me. I'm starting out to-morrow to make my own living."
There was dead silence for an instant. The Dean's face was stricken, as though by horror. Yet Frank saw he had not in the least taken it in.
"Yes; that's really so," he said. "Please don't argue with me about it. I'm perfectly determined."
"Your father ... Lord Talgarth ... the roads ... your own living ... the college authorities ... responsibility!"
Words of this sort burst from Mr. Mackintosh's mouth.
"Yes ... it's because I've become a Catholic! I expect you've heard that, sir."
Mr. Mackintosh threw himself back (if so fierce a word may be used of so mild a manner)—threw himself back in his chair.
"Mr. Guiseley, kindly tell me all about it. I had not heard one word—not one word."
* * * * *
Frank made a great effort, and told the story, quite fairly and quite politely. He described his convictions as well as he could, the various steps he had taken, and the climax of the letter from his father. Then he braced himself, to hear what would be said; or, rather, he retired within himself, and, so to speak, shut the door and pulled down the blinds.
It was all said exactly as he knew it would be. Mr. Mackintosh touched upon a loving father's impatience, the son's youth and impetuosity, the shock to an ancient family, the responsibilities of membership in that family, the dangers of rash decisions, and, finally, the obvious errors of the Church of Rome. He began several sentences with the phrase: "No thinking man at the present day ..."
In fact, Mr. Mackintosh was, so soon as he had recovered from the first shock, extraordinarily sensible and reasonable. He said all the proper things, all the sensible and reasonable and common-sense things, and he said them, not offensively or contemptuously, but tactfully and persuasively. And he put into it the whole of his personality, such as it was. He even quoted St. Paul.
He perspired a little, gently, towards the end: so he took off his glasses and wiped them, looking, still with a smile, through kind, short-sighted eyes, at this young man who sat so still. For Frank was so quiet that the Dean thought him already half persuaded. Then once more he summed up, when his glasses were fixed again; he ran through his arguments lightly and efficiently, and ended by a quiet little assumption that Frank was going to be reasonable, to write to his father once more, and to wait at least a week. He even called him "my dear boy!"
"Thanks very much," said Frank.
"Then you'll think it over quietly, my dear boy. Come and talk to me again. I've given you your exeat, but you needn't use it. Come in to-morrow evening after hall."
Frank stood up.
"Thanks, very much, Mr. Mackintosh. I'll ... I'll certainly remember what you've said." He took up his exeat as if mechanically.
"Then you can leave that for the present," smiled the Dean, pointing at it. "I can write you another, you know."
Frank put it down quickly.
"Oh, certainly!" he said.
"Well, good-night, Mr. Guiseley.... I ... I can't tell you how glad I am that you confided in me. Young men are a little unwise and impetuous sometimes, you know. Good-night ... good-night. I shall expect you to-morrow."
When Frank reached the court below he stood waiting a moment. Then a large smile broke out on his face, and he hurried across to a passage opposite, found a friend's door open, and rushed in. The room was empty. He flew across to the window and crouched down, peeping over the sill at the opening on the other side of the court leading to Mr. Mackintosh's staircase.
He was rewarded almost instantly. Even as he settled himself on the window seat a black figure, with gown ballooning behind, hurried out and whisked through the archway leading towards the street. He gave him twenty seconds, and then ran out himself, and went in pursuit. Half-way up the lane he sighted him once more, and, following cautiously on tiptoe, with a handkerchief up to his face, was in time to behold Mr. Mackintosh disappear into the little telegraph office on the left of Trinity Street.
"That settles it, then," observed Frank, almost aloud. "Poor Jack—I'm afraid I shan't be able to breakfast with him after all!"
It was a little after four o'clock on the following morning that a policeman, pacing with slow, flat feet along the little lane that leads from Trinity Hall to Trinity College, yawning as he went, and entirely unconscious of the divine morning air, bright as wine and clear as water, beheld a remarkable spectacle.
There first appeared, suddenly tossed on to the spikes that top the gate that guards the hostel, a species of pad that hung over on both sides of the formidable array of points. Upon this, more cautiously, was placed by invisible hands a very old saddle without any stirrups.
The policeman stepped back a little, and flattened himself—comparatively speaking—against the outer wall of the hostel itself. There followed a silence.
Suddenly, without any warning, a heavy body, discernible a moment later as a small carpet-bag, filled to bursting, fell abruptly on to the pavement; and, again, a moment later, two capable-looking hands made their appearance, grasping with extreme care the central rod on which the spikes were supposed to revolve, on either side of the saddle.
Still the policeman did not make any sign; he only sidled a step or two nearer and stood waiting.
When he looked up again, a young gentleman, in flannel trousers, gray jacket, boots, and an old deerstalker, was seated astride of the saddle, with his back to the observer. There was a pause while the rider looked to this side and that; and then, with a sudden movement, he had dropped clear of the wall, and come down on feet and hands to the pavement.
"Good morning, officer!" said the young gentleman, rising and dusting his hands, "it's all right. Like to see my exeat? Or perhaps half a crown—"
About six o'clock in the morning, Jack Kirkby awoke suddenly in his bedroom in Jesus Lane.
This was very unusual, and he wondered what it was all about. He thought of Frank almost instantly, with a jerk, and after looking at his watch, very properly turned over and tried to go to sleep again. But the attempt was useless; there were far too many things to think about; and he framed so many speeches to be delivered with convincing force at breakfast to his misguided friend, that by seven o'clock he made up his mind that he would get up, go and take Frank to bathe, and have breakfast with him at half-past eight instead of nine. He would have longer time, too, for his speeches. He got out of bed and pulled up his blind, and the sight of the towers of Sidney Sussex College, gilded with sunshine, determined him finally.
When you go to bathe before breakfast at Cambridge you naturally put on as few clothes as possible and do not—even if you do so at other times—say your prayers. So Jack put on a sweater, trousers, socks, canvas shoes, and a blazer, and went immediately down the oilcloth-covered stairs. As he undid the door he noticed a white thing lying beneath it, and took it up. It was a note addressed to himself in Frank's handwriting; and there, standing on the steps, he read it through; and his heart turned suddenly sick.
* * * * *
There is all the difference in the world between knowing that a catastrophe is going to happen, and knowing that it has happened. Jack knew—at least, with all his reasonable part—that Frank was going to leave Cambridge in the preposterous manner described, after breakfast with himself; and it was partly because of this very knowledge that he had got up earlier in order to have an extra hour with Frank before the final severance came. Yet there was something in him—the same thing that had urged him to rehearse little speeches in bed just now—that told him that until it had actually happened, it had not happened, and, just conceivably, might not happen after all. And he had had no idea how strong this hopeful strain had been in him—nor, for that matter, how very deeply and almost romantically he was attached to Frank—until he felt his throat hammering and his head becoming stupid, as he read the terse little note in the fresh morning air of Jesus Lane.
It ran as follows:
"It's no good, and I'm off early! That ass Mackintosh went and wired to my people directly I left him. I tracked him down. And there'll be the devil to pay unless I clear out. So I can't come to breakfast. Sorry.
"P.S.—By the way, you might as well go round to the little man and try to keep him quiet. Tell him it'll make a scandal for Trinity College, Cambridge, if he makes a fuss. That'll stop him, perhaps. And you might try to rescue my saddle from the porter. He's probably got it by now."
Three minutes later a figure in a sweater, gray trousers, canvas shoes, Third Trinity blazer and no cap, stood, very inarticulate with breathlessness, at the door of the Senior Dean's rooms, demanding of a scandalized bed-maker to see the official in question.
"'E's in his barth, sir!" expostulated the old woman.
"Then he must come out of it!" panted Jack.
"—That is, if 'e's out o' bed."
"Then he can stop in it, if he isn't.... I tell you—"
Jack gave up arguing. He took the old lady firmly by the shoulders, and placed her in the doorway of the audience-room; then he was up the inner stairs in three strides, through the sitting-room, and was tapping at the door of the bedroom. A faint sound of splashing ceased.
"Who's there? Don't—"
"It's me, sir—Kirkby! I'm sorry to disturb you, but—"
"Don't come in!" cried an agitated voice, with a renewed sound of water, as if someone had hastily scrambled out of the bath.
Jack cautiously turned the handle and opened the door a crack. A cry of dismay answered his move, followed by a tremendous commotion and swishing of linen.
"I'm coming in, sir," said Jack, struggling between agitation and laughter. It was obvious from the sounds that the clergyman had got into bed again, wet, and as God made him. There was no answer, and Jack pushed the door wider and went in.
It was as he had thought. His unwilling host had climbed back into bed as hastily as possible, and the bed-clothes, wildly disordered, were gathered round his person. A face, with wet hair, looking very odd and childlike without his glasses, regarded him with the look of one who sees sacrilege done. A long flannel nightgown lay on the ground between the steaming bath and the bed, and a quantity of water lay about on the floor, in footprints and otherwise.
"May I ask what is the meaning of this disgraceful—"
"I'm sorry, sir," said Jack briefly, "but Frank Guiseley's bolted. I've just found this note." It did not occur to him, as he handed the note to a bare arm, coyly protruded from the tangled bed-clothes, that this very officer of the college was referred to in it as "that ass" and "the little man." ... All his attention, not occupied with Frank, was fixed on the surprising new discovery that deans had bodies and used real baths like other people. Somehow that had never occurred to him he had never imagined them except in smooth, black clothes and white linen. His discovery seemed to make Mr. Mackintosh more human, somehow.
The Dean read the note through as modestly as possible, holding it very close to his nose, as his glasses were unattainable, with an arm of which not more than the wrist appeared. He swallowed in his throat once or twice, and seemed to taste something with his lips, as his manner was.
"This is terrible!" said the Dean. "Had you any idea—"
"I knew he was going some time to-day," said Jack, "and understood that you knew too."
"But I had no idea—"
"You did telegraph, didn't you, sir?"
"I certainly telegraphed. Yes; to Lord Talgarth. It was my duty. But—"
"Well; he spotted it. That's all. And now he's gone. What's to be done?"
Mr. Mackintosh considered a moment or two. Jack made an impatient movement.
"I must telegraph again," said the Dean, with the air of one who has exhausted the resources of civilization.
"But, good Lord! sir—"
"Yes. I must telegraph again. As soon as I'm dressed. Or perhaps you would—"
"Office doesn't open till eight. That's no good. He'll be miles away by then."
"It's the only thing to be done," said the Dean with sudden energy. "I forbid you to take any other steps, Mr. Kirkby. I am responsible—"
"We must not make a scandal.... What else did you propose?"
"Why—fifty things. Motor-cars; police—"
"Certainly not. We must make no scandal as he ... as he very properly says." (The Dean swallowed in his throat again. Jack thought afterwards that it must have been the memory of certain other phrases in the letter.) "So if you will be good enough to leave me instantly, Mr. Kirkby, I will finish my dressing and deal with the matter."
* * * * *
Jack wheeled and went out of the room.
* * * * *
It was a miserable breakfast to which he sat down half an hour later—still in flannels, and without his bath. Frank's place was laid, in accordance with the instructions he had given his landlady last night, and he had not the heart to push the things aside. There were soles for two, and four boiled eggs; there was coffee and marmalade and toast and rolls and fruit; and the comfortable appearance of the table simply mocked him.
He had had very confused ideas just now as to what was possible with regard to the pursuit of Frank; a general vision of twenty motor-cars, each with a keen-eyed chauffeur and an observant policeman, was all that had presented itself to his imagination; but he had begun to realize by now that you cannot, after all, abduct a young man who has committed no crime, and carry him back unwillingly, even to Cambridge! Neither the Dean of Trinity nor a father possesses quite unlimited power over the freedom of a pupil and a son. And, after all, Frank had only taken his father at his word!
These reflections, however, did not improve the situation. He felt quite certain, in theory, that something more could be done than feebly to send another telegram or two; the only difficulty was to identify that something. He had vague ideas, himself, of hiring a motor-car by the day, and proceeding to scour the country round Cambridge. But even this did not stand scrutiny. If he had failed to persuade Frank to remain in Cambridge, it was improbable that he could succeed in persuading him to return—even if he found him. About eight important roads run out of Cambridge, and he had not a glimmer of an idea as to which of these he had taken. It was possible, even, that he had not taken any of them, and was walking across country. That would be quite characteristic of Frank.
* * * * *
He finished breakfast dismally, and blew through an empty pipe, staring lackadaisically out of the window at the wall of Sidney Sussex for two or three minutes before lighting up. Cambridge seemed an extraordinary flat and stupid place now that Frank was no longer within it. Really there was nothing particular to do. It had become almost a regular engagement for him to step round to the Great Court about eleven, and see what was to be done. Sometimes Frank wanted lawn-tennis—sometimes a canoe on the Backs—at any rate, they would either lunch or dine together. And if they didn't—well, at any rate, Frank was there!
He tried to picture to himself what Frank was doing; he had visions of a sunlit road running across a fen, with a figure tramping up it; of a little wayside inn, and Frank drinking beer in the shade. But it seemed an amazing waste of company that the figure should always be alone. Why hadn't he proposed to go with him himself? He didn't know; except, that it certainly would not have been accepted. And yet they could have had quite a pleasant time for a couple of months; and, after a couple of months, surely Frank would have had enough of it!
But, again—would he?... Frank seemed really in earnest about making his living permanently; and when Frank said that he was going do a thing, he usually did it! And Jack Kirkby did not see himself leaving his own mother and sisters indefinitely until Frank had learned not to be a fool.
He lit his pipe at last; and then remembered the commission with regard to the saddle—whatever that might mean. He would stroll round presently and talk to the porter about it ... Yes, he would go at once; and he would just look in at Frank's rooms again. There was the hammock to fetch, too.
But it was a dreary little visit. He went round as he was, his hands deep in his pockets, trying to whistle between his teeth and smoke simultaneously; and he had to hold his pipe in his hand out of respect for rules, as he conversed with the stately Mr. Hoppett in Trinity gateway. Mr. Hoppett knew nothing about any saddle—at least, not for public communication—but his air of deep and diplomatic suspiciousness belied his words.
"It's all right," said Jack pleasantly, "I had nothing to do with the elopement. The Dean knows all about it."
"I know nothing about that, sir," said Mr. Hoppett judicially.
"Then you've not got the saddle?"
"I have not, sir."
Frank's outer door was open as Jack came to the familiar staircase, and his heart leaped in spite of himself, as he peered in and heard footsteps in the bedroom beyond. But it was the bed-maker with a mop, and a disapproving countenance, who looked out presently.
"He's gone, Mrs. Jillings," said Jack.
Mrs. Jillings sniffed. She had heard tales of the auction and thought it a very improper thing for so pleasant a young gentleman to do.
"There isn't a saddle here, is there?"
"Saddle, sir? No, sir. What should there be a saddle here for?"
"Oh, well," said Jack vaguely. "I've come to fetch away the hammock, anyhow."
Certainly the rooms looked desolate. Even the carpets were gone, and the unstained boards in the middle seemed suggestive of peculiar dreariness. It was really very difficult to believe that these were the rooms where he and Frank had had such pleasant times—little friendly bridge-parties, and dinners, and absurd theatricals, in which Frank had sustained, with extreme rapidity, with the aid of hardly any properties except a rouge-pot, a burnt cork and three or four wisps of hair of various shades, the part of almost any eminent authority in the University of Cambridge that you cared to name. There were long histories, invented by Frank himself, of the darker sides of the lives of the more respectable members of the Senate—histories that grew, like legends, term by term—in which the most desperate deeds were done. The Master of Trinity, for example, in these Sagas, would pass through extraordinary love adventures, or discover the North Pole, or give a lecture, with practical examples, of the art of flying; the Provost of King's would conspire with the President of Queen's College, to murder the Vice-Chancellor and usurp his dignities. And these histories would be enacted with astonishing realism, chiefly by Frank himself, with the help of a zealous friend or two who were content to obey.
And these were all over now; and that was the very door through which the Vice-Chancellor was accustomed to escape from his assassins!
* * * * *
Jack sighed again; passed through, picked up the parcel of clothes that lay in the window-seat, unhitched the hammock in which Frank had slept last night (he noticed the ends of three cigarettes placed on the cover of a convenient biscuit-tin), and went off resembling a retiarius. Mrs. Jillings sniffed again as she looked after him up the court. She didn't understand those young gentlemen at all; and frequently said so.
At half-past six o'clock that morning—about the time that Jack awoke in Cambridge—John Harris, laborer, emerged, very sleepy and frowsy—for he had sat up late last night at the "Spotted Dog"—from the door of a small cottage on the Ely road, in the middle of Grunty Fen. He looked this way and that, wondering whether it were as late as his kitchen-clock informed him, and observing the sun, that hung now lamentably high up in that enormous dome of summer sky that sat on the fenland like a dish-cover on a dish. And as he turned southwards he became aware of a young gentleman carrying a carpet-bag in one hand, and a gray jacket over his other arm, coming up to him, not twenty yards away. As he came nearer, Mr. Harris noticed that his face was badly bruised as by a blow.
"Good morning," said the young gentleman. "Hot work."
John Harris made some observation.
"I want some work to do," said the young gentleman, disregarding the observation. "I'm willing and capable. Do you know of any? I mean, work that I shall be paid for. Or perhaps some breakfast would do as a beginning."
John Harris regarded the young gentleman in silence.
Merefield Court, as every tourist knows may be viewed from ten to five on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when the family are not in residence, and on Tuesdays only, from two to four, when they are. It is unnecessary, therefore, to describe it very closely.
It stands very nearly on the top of a hill, protected by woods from the north winds of Yorkshire; and its towers and pinnacles can be seen from ten miles away down the valley. It is built, architecturally considered, in the form of an irregular triangular court—quite unique—with the old barbican at the lower end; the chapel wing directly opposite; the ruins of the old castle on the left, keep and all, and the new house that is actually lived in on the right. It is of every conceivable date (the housekeeper will supply details) from the British mound on which the keep stands, to the Georgian smoking-room built by the grandfather of the present earl; but the main body of the house, with which we are principally concerned—the long gray pile facing south down to the lake, and northwards into the court—is Jacobean down to the smallest detail, and extremely good at that. It was on the end of this that the thirteenth earl the fifteenth baron and the fourteenth viscount (one man, not three) thought it proper to build on a Palladian kind of smoking-room of red sandstone, brought at enormous cost from half across England. Fortunately, however, ivy has since covered the greater part of its exterior.
It was in this room—also used as a billiard-room—that Archie Guiseley (Viscount Merefield), and Dick Guiseley, his first cousin, first heard the news of Frank's intentions.
They were both dressed for dinner, and were knocking the balls about for ten minutes, waiting for the gong, and they were talking in that incoherent way characteristic of billiard-players.
"The governor's not very well again," observed Archie, "and the doctor won't let him go up to town. That's why we're here."
Dick missed a difficult cannon (he had only arrived from town himself by the 6.17), and began to chalk his cue very carefully.
"There's nothing whatever to do," continued Archie, "so I warn you."
Dick opened his mouth to speak and closed it again, pursing it up precisely as once more he addressed himself to the balls, and this time brought off a really brilliant stroke.
"And he's in a terrible way about Frank," continued the other. "You've heard all about that?"
"And he swears he won't have him home again, and that he can go to the devil."
Dick arched his eyebrows interrogatively.
"Of course, he doesn't mean it.... But the gout, you know, and all that.... I think Frank had better keep out of the way, though, for a bit. Oh! by the way, the Rector and Jenny are coming to dinner."
"What does Jenny say to it all?" asked Dick gently.
"Oh! Jenny laughs."
These two young men—for Archie was only twenty-five, and Dick a year or two older—were quite remarkably like one another in manner and general bearing. Each, though their faces were entirely different, wore that same particular form of mask that is fashionable just now. Each had a look in his eyes as if the blinds were down—rather insolent and yet rather pleasant. Each moved in the same kind of way, slow and deliberate; each spoke quietly on rather a low note, and used as few words as possible. Each, just now, wore a short braided dinner-jacket of precisely the same cut.
For the rest, they were quite unlike. Archie was clean-shaven, of a medium sort of complexion, with a big chin and rather loosely built; Dick wore a small, pointed brown beard, and was neat and alert. Neither of them did anything particular in the world. Archie was more or less tied to his father, except in the autumn—for Archie drew the line at Homburg, and went about for short visits, returning continually to look after the estate; Dick lived in a flat in town on six hundred a year, allowed him by his mother, and was supposed to be a sort of solicitor. They saw a good deal of one another, off and on, and got on together rather better than most brothers; certainly better than did Archie and Frank. It was thought a pity by a good many people that they were only cousins.
* * * * *
Then, as they gossiped gently, the door suddenly opened and a girl came in.
She was a very striking girl indeed, and her beauty was increased just now by obvious excitement held well in check. She was tall and very fair, and carried herself superbly, looking taller than she really was. Her eyes, particularly bright just now, were of a vivid blue, wide-open and well set in her face; her mouth was strong and sensible; and there was a glorious air of breeziness and health about her altogether. She was in evening dress, and wore a light cloak over her white shoulders.
"I'm sorry to interrupt," she said—"Oh! good evening, Mr. Dick!—but there's something wrong. Clarkson ran out to tell us that Lord Talgarth—it's a telegram or something. Father sent me to tell you."
Archie looked at her a second; then he was gone, swiftly, but not hurriedly. The girl turned to Dick.
"I'm afraid it's something about Frank," she said. "I heard Clarkson mention his name to father. Is there any more news?"
Dick laid down his cue across the table.
"I only came an hour ago," he said. "Archie was telling me just now."
Jenny went across to the deep chair on the hearth, threw off her cloak and sat down.
"Lord Talgarth's—well—if he was my father I should say he was in a passion. I heard his voice." She smiled a little.
Dick leaned against the table, looking at her.
"Poor Frank!" he said.
She smiled again, more freely.
"Yes ... poor, dear Frank! He's always in hot water, isn't he?"
"I'm afraid it's serious this time," observed Dick. "What did he want to become a Catholic for?"
"Oh, Frank's always unexpected!"
"Yes, I know; but this happens to be just the one very thing—"
She looked at him humorously.
"Do you know, I'd no notion that Lord Talgarth was so deeply religious until Frank became a Catholic."
"Yes, I know," said Dick. "But it is just his one obsession. Frank must have known that."
"And I've not the slightest doubt," said Jenny, "that that was an additional reason for his doing it."
"Well, what'll happen?"
She jerked her head a little.
"Oh! it'll pass off. You'll see. Frank'll find out, and then we shall all be happy ever afterwards."
"Oh! Frank'll go and stay with friends a month or two. I daresay he'll come to the Kirkbys', and I can go and see him."
"Suppose he does something violent? He's quite capable of it."
"Oh! I shall talk to him. It'll be all right. I'm very sensible indeed, you know. All my friends tell me that."
Dick was silent.
"Don't you think so?"
"That I'm very sensible."
Dick made a little movement with his head.
"Oh! I suppose so. Yes, I daresay.... And suppose my uncle cuts him off with a shilling? He's quite capable of it. He's a very heavy father, you know."
"He won't. I shall talk to him too."
"Yes; but suppose he does?"
She threw him a swift glance.
"Frank'll put the shilling on his watch-chain, after it's been shown with all the other wedding-presents. What are you going to give me, Mr. Dick?"
"I shall design a piece of emblematic jewelry," said Dick very gravely. "When's the wedding to be?"
"Well, we hadn't settled. Lord Talgarth wouldn't make up his mind. I suppose next summer some time."
"Tell me—quite seriously—what you'd do if there was a real row—a permanent one, I mean—between Frank and my uncle?"
"Dear Mr. Dick—don't talk so absurdly. I tell you there's not going to be a row. I'm going to see to that myself."
"But suppose there was?"
Jenny stood up abruptly.
"I tell you I'm a very sensible person, and I'm not going to imagine absurdities. What do you want me to say? Do you want me to strike an attitude and talk about love in a cottage?"
"Well, that would be one answer."
"Very well, then. That'll do, won't it? You can take it as said.... I'm going to see what's happening."
But as she went to the door there came footsteps and voices outside; and the next moment the door opened suddenly, and Lord Talgarth, followed by his son and the Rector, burst into the room.
I am very sorry to have to say it, but the thirteenth Earl of Talgarth was exactly like a man in a book—and not a very good book. His character was, so to speak, cut out of cardboard—stiff cardboard, and highly colored, with gilt edges showing here and there. He also, as has been said, resembled a nobleman on the stage of the Adelphi. He had a handsome inflamed face, with an aquiline nose and white eyebrows that moved up and down, and all the other things; he was stout and tall, suffered from the gout, and carried with him in the house a black stick with an india-rubber pad on the end. There were no shades about him at all. Construct a conventionally theatrical heavy father, of noble family, and you have Lord Talgarth to the life. There really are people like this in the world—of whom, too, one can prophesy, with tolerable certainty, how they will behave in any given situation.
Certainly, Lord Talgarth was behaving in character now. He had received meek Mr. Mackintosh's deferential telegram, occupying several sheets, informing him that his son had held an auction of all his belongings, and had proposed to take to the roads; asking, also, for instructions as to how to deal with him. And the hint of defiant obstinacy on the part of Frank—the fact, indeed, that he had taken his father at his word—had thrown that father into a yet more violent fit of passion. Jenny had heard him spluttering and exclamatory with anger as she came into the hall (the telegram had but that instant been put into his hands), and even now the footmen, still a little pale, were exchanging winks in the hall outside; while Clarkson, his valet, and the butler stood in high and subdued conference a little way off.
What Lord Talgarth would really have wished was that Frank should have written to him a submissive—even though a disobedient—letter, telling him that he could not forego his convictions, and preparing to assume the role of a Christian martyr. For he could have sneered at this, and after suitable discipline forgiven its writer more or less. Of course, he had never intended for one instant that his threats should really be carried out; but the situation—to one of Lord Talgarth's temperament—demanded that the threats should be made, and that Frank should pretend to be crushed by them. That the boy should have behaved like this brought a reality of passion into the affair—disconcerting and infuriating—as if an actor should find his enemy on the stage was armed with a real sword. There was but one possibility left—which Lord Talgarth instinctively rather than consciously grasped at—namely, that an increased fury on his part should once more bring realities back again to a melodramatic level, and leave himself, as father, master both of the situation and of his most disconcerting son. Frank had behaved like this in minor matters once or twice before, and Lord Talgarth had always come off victor. After all, he commanded all the accessories.
* * * * *
When the speeches had been made—Frank cut off with a shilling, driven to the Colonies, brought back again, and finally starved to death at his father's gates—Lord Talgarth found himself in a chair, with Jenny seated opposite, and the rest of the company gone to dinner. He did not quite realize how it had all been brought about, nor by whose arrangement it was that a plate of soup and some fish were to come presently, and Jenny and he to dine together.
He pulled himself together a little, however, and began to use phrases again about his "graceless son," and "the young villain," and "not a penny of his." (He was, of course, genuinely angry; that must be understood.)
Then Jenny began to talk.
"I think, you know," she said quietly, "that you aren't going the right way to work. (It's very impertinent of me, isn't it?—but you did say just now you wanted to hear what I thought.)"
"Of course I do; of course I do. You're a sensible girl, my dear. I've always said that. But as for this young—"
"Well, let me say what I think. (Yes, put the soup down here, will you. Is that right, Lord Talgarth?)." She waited till the man was gone again and the old man had taken up his spoon. Then she took up her own. "Well, I think what you've done is exactly the thing to make Frank more obstinate than ever. You see, I know him very well. Now, if you'd only laughed at him and patted his head, so to speak, from the beginning, and told him you thought it an excellent thing for a boy of his character, who wants looking after—"
Lord Talgarth glared at her. He was still breathing rather heavily, and was making something of a noise over his soup.
"But how can I say that, when I think—"
"Oh! you can't say it now, of course; it's too late. No; that would never do. You must keep it up—only you mustn't be really angry. Why not try a little cold severity?"
She looked so charming and humorous that the old man began to melt a little. He glanced up at her once or twice under his heavy eyebrows.
"I wonder what you'll do," he said with a kind of gruffness, "when you find you've got to marry a pauper?"
"I shan't have to marry a pauper," said Jenny. "That wouldn't do either."
"Oh! you're counting on that eight hundred a year still, are you?"
Jenny allowed a little coldness to appear on her face. Rude banter was all very well, but it mustn't go too far. (Secretly she allowed to herself sometimes that this old man had elements of the cad in his character.)
"That's entirely my own affair," she said, "and Frank's."
Lord Talgarth blazed up a little.
"And the eight hundred a year is mine," he said.
Jenny laid down her spoon as the servant reappeared with the fish and the menu-card. He came very opportunely. And while her host was considering what he would eat next, she was pondering her next move.
Jenny, as has been said, was an exceedingly sensible girl. She had grown up in the Rectory, down at the park gates; and since her mother's death, three years previously, had managed her father's house, including her father, with great success. She had begun to extend her influence, for the last year or two, even over the formidable lord of the manor himself, and, as has been seen, was engaged to his son. Her judgment was usually very sound and very sane, and the two men, with the Rector, had been perfectly right just now in leaving the old man to her care for an hour or so. If anything could quiet him it would be this girl. She was quite fearless, quite dignified, and quite able to hold her own. And her father perceived that she rather enjoyed it.
When the man had gone out again, she resumed:
"Well, let's leave it," she said, "for a day or two. There's no hurry, and—"
"But I must answer this—this telegram," he growled. "What am I to say to the feller?"
"Tell him to follow his discretion, and that you have complete confidence—"
"Yes; I know you haven't, really. But it'll do no harm, and it'll make him feel important."
"And what if the boy does take to the roads?"
"Let him," said Jenny coolly. "It won't kill him."
He looked up at her again in silence.
Jenny herself was very far from comfortable, though she was conscious of real pleasure, too, in the situation. She had seen this old man in a passion pretty often, but she had never seen him in a passion with any real excuse. No one ever thwarted him. He even decided where his doctor should send him for his cure, and in what month, and for how long. And she was not, therefore, quite certain what would happen, for she knew Frank well enough to be quite sure that he meant what he said. However, she reflected, the main thing at present was to smooth things down all round as far as possible. Then she could judge.
"Can't make out why you ever consented to marry such a chap at all!" he growled presently.
"Oh, well—" said Jenny.
It was a delicious evening, and the three men, after dinner, strolled out on to the broad terrace that ran, looking over the lake, straight up and down the long side of the house. They had not had the advantage, since the servants were in the room, of talking over the situation as they wished, and there was no knowing when Lord Talgarth and Jenny might emerge. So they sat down at a little stone table at the end furthest from the smoking-room, and Archie and Dick lit their cigarettes.
There is not a great deal to say about the Rector. The most effective fact about him was that he was the father of Jenny. It was a case, here, of "Averill following Averill": his father and grandfather, both second sons, as was the Rector himself, had held the living before him, and had performed the duties of it in the traditional and perfectly respectable way. This one was a quiet middle-aged man, clean-shaven except for two small whiskers. He wore a white tie, and a small gold stud was visible in the long slit of his white shirt-front. He was on very easy terms in this house, in an unintimate manner, and dined here once a fortnight or so, without saying or hearing anything of particular interest. He had been secretly delighted at his daughter's engagement, and had given his consent with gentle and reserved cordiality. He was a Tory, not exactly by choice, but simply—for the same reason as he was Church of England—because he was unable, in the fiber of him, to imagine anything else. Of course, Lord Talgarth was the principal personage in his world, simply because he was Lord Talgarth and owned practically the whole parish and two-thirds of the next. He regarded his daughter with the greatest respect, and left in her hands everything that he decently could. And, to do her justice, Jenny was a very benevolent, as well as capable, despot. In short, the Rector plays no great part in this drama beyond that of a discreet, and mostly silent, Greek chorus of unimpeachable character. He disapproved deeply, of course, of Frank's change of religion—but he disapproved with that same part of him that appreciated Lord Talgarth. It seemed to him that Catholicism, in his daughter's future husband, was a defect of the same kind as would be a wooden leg or an unpleasant habit of sniffing—a drawback, yet not insuperable. He would be considerably relieved if it could be cured.
* * * * *
The three men sat there for some while without interruption from the smoking-room, while the evening breeze died, the rosy sky paled, and the stars came out one by one, like diamonds in the clear blue. They said, of course, all the proper things, and Dick heard a little more than he had previously known.
Dick was always conscious of a faint, almost impersonal, resentment against destiny when he stayed at Merefield. It was obvious to him that the position of heir there was one which would exactly have suited his tastes and temperament. He was extremely pleased to belong to the family—and it was, indeed, a very exceptional family as regards history: it had been represented in nearly every catastrophe since the Norman Conquest, and always on the winning side, except once—but it was difficult to enjoy the distinction as it deserved, living, as he did, in a flat in London all by himself. When his name was mentioned to a well-informed stranger, it was always greeted by the question as to whether he was one of the Guiseleys of Merefield, and it seemed to him singularly annoying that he could only answer "First cousin." Archie, of course, was a satisfactory heir; there was no question of that—he was completely of Dick's own school of manner—but it seemed a kind of outrage that Frank, with his violent convictions and his escapades, should be Archie's only brother. There was little of that repose about him that a Guiseley needed.
It would be about half-past nine that the sound of an opening door, and voices, from the further end of the terrace, told them that the smoking-room conference was over, and they stood up as Jenny, very upright and pale in the twilight, with her host at her side, came up towards them. Dick noticed that the cigar his uncle carried was smoked down almost to the butt, and augured well from that detail. The old man's arm was in the girl's, and he supported himself on the other side, limping a little, on his black stick.
He sat down with a grunt and laid his stick across the table.
"Well, boys, we've settled it," he said. "Jenny's to write the telegram."
"No one need be anxious any more," announced Jenny imperturbably. "Lord Talgarth's extremely angry still, as he has every right to be, and Frank's going to be allowed to go on the tramp if he wants to."
The Rector waited, in deferential silence, for corroboration.
"Jenny's a very sensible girl," observed Lord Talgarth. "And what she says is quite right."
"Do you mean to say—" began Archie.
The old man frowned round at him.
"All that I've said holds good," he said.
"Frank's made his bed and he must lie on it. I warned him. And Jenny sees that, too."
Archie glanced at the girl, and Dick looked hard at her, straight into her face. But there was absolutely no sign there of any perturbation. Certainly she looked white in the falling dusk, but her eyes were merry and steadfast, and her voice perfectly natural.
"That's how we've settled it," she said. "And if I'm satisfied, I imagine everyone else ought to be. And I'm going to write Frank a good long letter all by myself. Come along, father, we must be going. Lord Talgarth isn't well, and we mustn't keep him up."
When the last game of billiards had been played, and whisky had been drunk, and Archie had taken up his candle, Dick stood still, with his own in his hand.
"Aren't you coming?" said Archie.
"I think I'll smoke one more cigarette on the terrace," he said. "It's a heavenly night, and I want to get the taste of the train out of my mouth."
"All right, then. Lock up, will you, when you come in? I'm off."
It was, indeed, a heavenly night. Behind him as he sat at the table where they had had coffee the great house shimmered pale in the summer twilight, broken here by a line or two of yellow light behind shuttered windows, here with the big oriel window of the hall, blazing with coats, fully illuminated. (He must remember, he thought, to put out the lights there as he went to bed.)
And about him was the great soft, sweet-smelling darkness, roofed in by the far-off sky alight with stars; and beneath him in the valley he could catch the glimmer of the big lake and the blotted masses of pine and cypress black against it.
It was here, then, under these circumstances, that Dick confessed to himself, frankly and openly for the first time, that he was in love with Jenny Launton.
He had known her for years, off and on, and had thought of her as a pretty girl and a pleasant companion. He had skated with her, ridden with her, danced with her, and had only understood, with a sense of mild shock, at the time of her engagement to Frank six months before, that she was of an age to become a wife to someone.
That had been the beginning of a process which culminated to-night, as he now understood perfectly. Its next step had been a vague wonder why Archie hadn't fallen in love with her himself; and he had explained it by saying that Archie had too great a sense of his own importance to permit himself to marry a rector's daughter with only a couple of hundred a year of her own. (And in this explanation I think he was quite correct.) Then he had begun to think of her himself a good deal—dramatically, rather than realistically—wondering what it would feel like to be engaged to her. If a younger son could marry her, surely a first cousin could—even of the Guiseleys. So it had gone on, little by little. He had danced with her here at Christmas—just after the engagement—and had stayed on a week longer than he had intended. He had come up again at Easter, and again at Whitsuntide, though he always protested to his friends that there was nothing to do at Merefield in the summer. And now here he was again, and the thing had happened.
At first, as he sat here, he tried to analyze his attitude to Frank.
He had never approved of Frank altogether; he didn't quite like the queer kinds of things that Frank did; for Frank's reputation at Merefield was very much what it was at Cambridge. He did ridiculous and undignified things. As a small boy, he had fought at least three pitched battles in the village, and that was not a proper thing for a Guiseley to do. He liked to go out with the keepers after poachers, and Dick, very properly, asked himself what keepers were for except to do that kind of thing for you? There had been a bad row here, too, scarcely eighteen months ago; it had been something to do with a horse that was ill-treated, and Frank had cut a very absurd and ridiculous figure, getting hot and angry, and finally thrashing a groom, or somebody, with his own hands, and there had been uncomfortable talk about police-courts and actions for assault. Finally, he had fallen in love with, proposed to, and become engaged to, Jenny Launton. That was an improper thing for a younger son to do, anyhow, at his age, and Dick now perceived that the fact that Jenny was Jenny aggravated the offense a hundredfold. And, last of all, he had become a Catholic—an act of enthusiasm which seemed to Dick really vulgar.
Altogether, then, Frank was not a satisfactory person, and it would do him no harm to have a little real discipline at last....
* * * * *
It was the striking of midnight from the stable clock that woke Dick up from his deep reverie, and was the occasion of his perceiving that he had come to no conclusion about anything, except that Frank was an ass, that Jenny was—well—Jenny, and that he, Dick, was an ill-used person.
I do not like to set down here, even if I could, all the considerations that had passed through Dick's mind since a quarter-past eleven, simply because the very statement of them would give a false impression. Dick was not a knave, and he did not deceive himself about himself more than most of us do. Yet he had considered a number of points that, strictly speaking, he ought not to have considered. He had wondered whether Frank would die; he had wondered whether, if he did not, Lord Talgarth would really be as good as his word; and, if so, what effect that would have on Jenny. Finally, he had wondered, with a good deal of intellectual application, what exactly Jenny had meant when she had announced all that about the telegram she was going to send in Lord Talgarth's name, and the letter she was going to send in her own. (He had asked Archie just now in the smoking-room, and he, too, had confessed himself beaten. Only, he had been quite sure that jenny would get her way and obtain Frank's forgiveness.)
Also, in the course of his three-quarters of an hour he had considered, for perhaps the hundredth time since he had come to the age of discretion, what exactly three lives between a man and a title stood for. Lord Talgarth was old and gouty; Archie was not married, and showed no signs of it; and Frank—well, Frank was always adventurous and always in trouble.
Well, I have set down the points, after all. But it must not be thought that the gentleman with the pointed brown beard and thoughtful eyes, who at five minutes past twelve went up the two steps into the smoking-room, locked the doors, as he had been directed, took up his candle and went to bed, went with an uneasy conscience, or, in fact, was a villain in any way whatever.
The first spot in Frank's pilgrimage which I have been able to visit and identify in such a way that I am able to form to myself a picture of his adventure more or less complete in all its parts, lies about ten miles north-west of Doncaster, in a little valley, where curiously enough another pilgrim named Richard lived for a little while nearly six hundred years ago.
Up to the time of Frank's coming there, in the season of hay-making, numberless little incidents of his experience stand out, vivid, indeed, but fragmentary, yet they do not form to my mind a coherent whole. I think I understand to some extent the process by which he became accustomed to ordinary physical hard living, into which the initiation began with his series of almost wholly sleepless nights and heavy sleep-burdened days. Night was too strange—in barns, beneath hay-ricks, in little oppressive rooms, in stable-lofts—for him to sleep easily at first; and between his tramps, or in the dinner-hour, when he managed to get work, he would drop off in the hot sunshine down into depths of that kind of rest that is like the sea itself—glimmering gulfs, lit by glimpses of consciousness of the grass beneath his cheek, the bubble of bird-song in the copses, stretching down into profound and utter darkness.
Of how the little happenings of every day wore themselves into a coherent whole, and modified, not indeed himself, but his manner of life and his experience and knowledge, I can make no real picture at all. The first of these took place within ten miles of Cambridge on his first morning, and resulted in the bruised face which Mr. Harris noticed; it concerned a piece of brutality to a dog in which Frank interfered.... (He was extraordinarily tender to animals.) Then there was the learning as to how work was obtained, and, even more considerable, the doing of the work. The amateur, as Frank pointed out later, began too vigorously and became exhausted; the professional set out with the same deliberation with which he ended. One must not run at one's spade, or hoe, or whatever it was; one must exercise a wearisome self-control ... survey the work to be done, turn slowly, spit on one's hands, and after a pause begin, remembering that the same activity must show itself, if the work was to be renewed next day, up to the moment of leaving off.
Then there was the need of becoming accustomed to an entirely different kind of food, eaten in an entirely different way, and under entirely different circumstances. There was experience to be gained as to washing clothes—I can almost see Frank now by a certain kind of stream, stripped to the waist, waiting while his shirt dried, smoking an ill-rolled cigarette, yet alert for the gamekeeper. Above all, there was an immense volume of learning—or, rather, a training of instinct—to be gained respecting human nature: a knowledge of the kind of man who would give work, the kind of man who meant what he said, and the kind of man who did not; the kind of woman who would threaten the police if milk or bread were asked for—Frank learned to beg very quickly—the kind of woman who would add twopence and tell him to be off, and the kind of woman who, after a pause and a slow scrutiny, would deliberately refuse to supply a glass of water. Then there was the atmosphere of the little towns to be learned—the intolerable weariness of pavements, and the patient persistence of policemen who would not allow you to sit down. He discovered, also, during his wanderings, the universal fact that policemen are usually good-hearted, but with absolutely no sense of humor whatever; he learned this through various attempts to feign that the policeman was in fancy-dress costume and had no real authority. He learned, too, that all crimes pale before "resisting the police in the execution of their duty"; then, he had to learn, to, the way in which other tramps must be approached—the silences necessary, the sort of questions which were useless, the jokes that must be laughed at and the jokes that must be resented.
All this is beyond me altogether; it was beyond even Frank's own powers of description. A boy, coming home for the holidays for the first time, cannot make clear to his mother, or even to himself, what it is that has so utterly changed his point of view, and his relations towards familiar things.
* * * * *
So with Frank.
He could draw countless little vignettes of his experiences and emotions—the particular sensation elicited, for example, by seeing through iron gates happy people on a lawn at tea—the white china, the silver, the dresses, the flannels, the lawn-tennis net—as he went past, with string tied below his knees to keep off the drag of the trousers, and a sore heel; the emotion of being passed by a boy and a girl on horseback; the flood of indescribable associations roused by walking for half a day past the split-oak paling of a great park, with lodge-gates here and there, the cooing of wood-pigeons, and the big house, among its lawns and cedars and geranium-beds, seen now and then, far off in the midst. But what he could not describe, or understand, was the inner alchemy by which this new relation to things modified his own soul, and gave him a point of view utterly new and bewildering. Curiously enough, however (as it seems to me), he never seriously considered the possibility of abandoning this way of life, and capitulating to his father. A number of things, I suppose—inconceivable to myself—contributed to his purpose; his gipsy blood, his extraordinary passion for romance, the attraction of a thing simply because it was daring and unusual, and finally, a very exceptionally strong will that, for myself, I should call obstinacy.
The silence—as regards his old world—was absolute and unbroken. He knew perfectly well that by now letters and telegrams must be waiting for him at Jack's home, including at least one from Jenny, and probably a dozen; but as to Jenny, he knew she would understand, and as to the rest, he honestly did not care at all. He sent her a picture postcard once or twice—from Ely, Peterborough, Sleaford and Newark—towns where he stayed for a Sunday (I have seen in Sleaford the little room where he treated himself to a bed for two nights)—and was content. He made no particular plans for the future; he supposed something would turn up; and he settled with himself, by the help of that same will which I have mentioned before, that he would precipitate no conclusions till he reached Barham later on in the early autumn.
His faith and morals during these weeks are a little difficult to describe. As regards his morals, at least in one particular point, he had formulated the doctrine that, when he was very hungry, game might not be touched, but that rabbits and birds were permissible if they could be snared in the hedges of the high-road. He became an expert at this kind of thing, and Jack has described to me, as taught by Frank, a few devices of which I was entirely ignorant. Frank tramped for a couple of days with a gamekeeper out of work, and learned these things from him, as well as one or two simple methods of out-of-door cookery. As regards his religion, I think I had better not say much just now; very curious influences were at work upon him: I can only say that Frank himself has described more than once, when he could be induced to talk, the extraordinary, and indeed indescribable, thrill with which he saw, now and again, in town or country, a priest in his vestments go to the altar—for he heard mass when he could....
So much, then, is all that I can say of the small, detached experiences that he passed through, up to the point when he came out one evening at sunset from one of the fields of Hampole where he had made hay all day, when his job was finished, and where he met, for the first time, the Major and Gertie Trustcott.
They were standing with the sunset light behind them, as a glory—two disreputable figures, such as one sees in countless thousands along all the high-roads of England in the summer. The Major himself was a lean man, with a red mustache turning gray, deep-set, narrow, blood-shot eyes, a chin and very square jaw shaved about two days previously. He had an old cricketing cap on his head, trousers tied up with string, like Frank's, and one of those long, square-tailed, yellowish coats with broad side-pockets such as a gamekeeper might have worn twenty years ago. One of his boots was badly burst, and he, seemed to rest his weight by preference on the other foot. He was not prepossessing; but Frank saw, with his newly-gained experience, that he was different from other tramps. He glanced at the girl and saw that she too was not quite of the regular type, though less peculiar than her companion; and he noticed with an odd touch at his heart that she had certain characteristics in common with Jenny. She was not so tall, but she had the same colored hair under a filthy white sun-bonnet and the same kind of blue eyes: but her oval face again was weak and rather miserable. They were both deeply sunburned.
Frank had learned the discretion of the roads by now, and did no more than jerk his head almost imperceptibly as he went past. (He proposed to go back to the farm to get his dwindled belongings, as the job was over, and to move on a few miles northward before sleeping.)
As he went, however, he knew that the man had turned and was looking after him: but he made no sign. He had no particular desire for company. He also knew by instinct, practically for certain, that these two were neither husband and wife, nor father and daughter. The type was obvious.
"I say, sir!"
Frank turned as bucolically as he could.
"I say, sir—can you direct this lady and myself to a lodging?"
Frank had tried to cultivate a low and characterless kind of voice, as of a servant or a groom out of work. He knew he could never learn the proper accent.
"Depends on what kind of lodging you want, sir."
"What'd suit you 'ud suit us," said the Major genially, dropping the "sir."
"I'm going further, sir," said Frank. "I've done my job here."
The Major turned to the girl, and Frank caught the words, "What d'you say, Gertie?" There was a murmur of talk; and then the man turned to him again:
"If you've no objection, sir, we'll come with you. My good lady here is good for a mile or two more, she says, and we'd like some company."
Frank hesitated. He did not in the least wish for company himself. He glanced at the girl again.
"Very good, sir," he said. "Then if you'll wait here I'll be back in five minutes—I've got to get my belongings."
He nodded to the low farm buildings in the valley just below the village.
"We will await you here, sir," said the Major magnificently, stroking his mustache.
* * * * *
As Frank came back up the little hill a few minutes later, he had made up his mind as to what to say and do. It was his first experience of a gentleman-tramp, and it was obvious that under the circumstances he could not pretend to be anything else himself. But he was perfectly determined not to tell his name. None of his belongings had anything more than his initials upon them, and he decided to use the name he had already given more than once. Probably they would not go far together; but it was worth while to be on the safe side.
He came straight up to the two as they sat side by side with their feet in the ditch.
"I'm ready, sir," he said. "Yes; you've spotted me all right."
"University man and public school boy," said the Major without moving.
"Eton and Cambridge," said Frank.
The Major sprang up.
"Harrow and the Army," he said. "Shake hands."
This was done.
"Name?" said the Major.
"I haven't my card with me," he said. "But Frank Gregory will do."
"I understand," said the Major. "And 'The Major' will do for me. It has the advantage of being true. And this lady?—well, we'll call her my wife."
Frank bowed. He felt he was acting in some ridiculous dream; but his sense of humor saved him. The girl gave a little awkward bow in response, and dropped her eyes. Certainly she was very like Jenny, and very unlike.
"And a name?" asked Frank. "We may as well have one in case of difficulties."
The Major considered.
"What do you say to Trustcott?" he asked. "Will that do?"
"Perfectly," said Frank. "Major and Mrs. Trustcott.... Well, shall we be going?"
* * * * *
Frank had no particular views as to lodgings, or even to roads, so long as the direction was more or less northward. He was aiming, generally speaking, at Selby and York; and it seemed that this would suit the Major as well as anything else. There is, I believe, some kind of routine amongst the roadsters; and about that time of the year most of them are as far afield as at any time from their winter quarters. The Major and Mrs. Trustcott, he soon learned, were Southerners; but they would not turn homewards for another three months yet, at least. For himself, he had no ideas beyond a general intention to reach Barham some time in the autumn, before Jack went back to Cambridge for his fourth year.
"The country is not prepossessing about here," observed the Major presently; "Hampole is an exception."
Frank glanced back at the valley they were leaving. It had, indeed, an extraordinarily retired and rural air; it was a fertile little tract of ground, very limited and circumscribed, and the rail that ran through it was the only sign of the century. But the bright air was a little dimmed with smoke; and already from the point they had reached tall chimneys began to prick against the horizon.
"You have been here before?" he said.
"Why, yes; and about this time last year, wasn't it, Gertie? I understand a hermit lived here once."
"A hermit might almost live here to-day," said Frank.
"You are right, sir," said the Major.
* * * * *
Frank began to wonder, as he walked, as to why this man was on the roads. Curiously enough, he believed his statement that he had been in the army. The air of him seemed the right thing. A militia captain would have swaggered more; a complete impostor would have given more details. Frank began to fish for information.
"You have been long on the roads?" he said.
The Major did not appear to hear him.
"You have been long on the roads?" persisted Frank.
The other glanced at him furtively and rather insolently. "The younger man first, please."
"Oh, certainly!" he said. "Well, I have left Cambridge at the end of June only."
"Ah! Anything disgraceful?"
"You won't believe me, I suppose, if I say 'No'?"
"Oh! I daresay I shall."
"Well, then, 'No.'"
"Then may I ask—?"
"Oh, yes! I was kicked out by my father—I needn't go into details. I sold up my things and came out. That's all!"
"And you mean to stick to it?"
"Certainly—at least for a year or two."
"That's all right. Well, then—Major—what did we say? Trustcott? Ah, yes, Trustcott. Well, then, I think we might add 'Eleventh Hussars'; that's near enough. The final catastrophe was, I think, cards. Not that I cheated, you understand. I will allow no man to say that of me. But that was what was said. A gentleman of spirit, you understand, could not remain in a regiment when such things could be said. Then we tumbled downhill; and I've been at this for four years. And, you know, sir, it might be worse!"