HotFreeBooks.com
The Altar Steps
by Compton MacKenzie
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

THE ALTAR STEPS

BY

COMPTON MACKENZIE

Author of "Carnival," "Youth's Encounter," "Poor Relations," etc.



NEW YORK GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY 1922



The only portrait in this book is of one who is now dead



THIS BOOK, THE PRELUDE TO The Parson's Progress

I INSCRIBE WITH DEEPEST AFFECTION TO MY MOTHER

S. Valentine's Day, 1922.



CONTENTS

I The Bishop's Shadow

II The Lima Street Mission

III Religious Education

IV Husband and Wife

V Palm Sunday

VI Nancepean

VII Life at Nancepean

VIII The Wreck

IX Slowbridge

X Whit-Sunday

XI Meade Cantorum

XII The Pomeroy Affair

XIII Wych-on-the-Wold

XIV St. Mark's Day

XV The Scholarship

XVI Chatsea

XVII The Drunken Priest

XVIII Silchester College Mission

XIX The Altar for the Dead

XX Father Rowley

XXI Points of View

XXII Sister Esther Magdalene

XXIII Malford Abbey

XXIV The Order of St. George

XXV Suscipe Me, Domine

XXVI Addition

XXVII Multiplication

XXVIII Division

XXIX Subtraction

XXX The New Bishop of Silchester

XXXI Silchester Theological College

XXXII Ember Days



THE ALTAR STEPS



CHAPTER I

THE BISHOP'S SHADOW

Frightened by some alarm of sleep that was forgotten in the moment of waking, a little boy threw back the bedclothes and with quick heart and breath sat listening to the torrents of darkness that went rolling by. He dared not open his mouth to scream lest he should be suffocated; he dared not put out his arm to search for the bell-rope lest he should be seized; he dared not hide beneath the blankets lest he should be kept there; he could do nothing except sit up trembling in a vain effort to orientate himself. Had the room really turned upside down? On an impulse of terror he jumped back from the engorging night and bumped his forehead on one of the brass knobs of the bedstead. With horror he apprehended that what he had so often feared had finally come to pass. An earthquake had swallowed up London in spite of everybody's assurance that London could not be swallowed up by earthquakes. He was going down down to smoke and fire . . . or was it the end of the world? The quick and the dead . . . skeletons . . . thousands and thousands of skeletons. . . .

"Guardian Angel!" he shrieked.

Now surely that Guardian Angel so often conjured must appear. A shaft of golden candlelight flickered through the half open door. The little boy prepared an attitude to greet his Angel that was a compound of the suspicion and courtesy with which he would have welcomed a new governess and the admiring fellowship with which he would have thrown a piece of bread to a swan.

"Are you awake, Mark?" he heard his mother whisper outside.

He answered with a cry of exultation and relief.

"Oh, Mother," he sighed, clinging to the soft sleeves of her dressing-gown. "I thought it was being the end of the world."

"What made you think that, my precious?"

"I don't know. I just woke up, and the room was upside down. And first I thought it was an earthquake, and then I thought it was the Day of Judgment." He suddenly began to chuckle to himself. "How silly of me, Mother. Of course it couldn't be the Day of Judgment, because it's night, isn't it? It couldn't ever be the Day of Judgment in the night, could it?" he continued hopefully.

Mrs. Lidderdale did not hesitate to reassure her small son on this point. She had no wish to add another to that long list of nightly fears and fantasies which began with mad dogs and culminated in the Prince of Darkness himself.

"The room looks quite safe now, doesn't it?" Mark theorized.

"It is quite safe, darling."

"Do you think I could have the gas lighted when you really must go?"

"Just a little bit for once."

"Only a little bit?" he echoed doubtfully. A very small illumination was in its eerie effect almost worse than absolute darkness.

"It isn't healthy to sleep with a great deal of light," said his mother.

"Well, how much could I have? Just for once not a crocus, but a tulip. And of course not a violet."

Mark always thought of the gas-jets as flowers. The dimmest of all was the violet; followed by the crocus, the tulip, and the water-lily; the last a brilliant affair with wavy edges, and sparkling motes dancing about in the blue water on which it swam.

"No, no, dearest boy. You really can't have as much as that. And now snuggle down and go to sleep again. I wonder what made you wake up?"

Mark seized upon this splendid excuse to detain his mother for awhile.

"Well, it wasn't ergzackly a dream," he began to improvise. "Because I was awake. And I heard a terrible plump and I said 'what can that be?' and then I was frightened and. . . ."

"Yes, well, my sweetheart, you must tell Mother in the morning."

Mark perceived that he had been too slow in working up to his crisis and desperately he sought for something to arrest the attention of his beloved audience.

"Perhaps my Guardian Angel was beside me all the time, because, look! here's a feather."

He eyed his mother, hoping against hope that she would pretend to accept his suggestion; but alas, she was severely unimaginative.

"Now, darling, don't talk foolishly. You know perfectly that is only a feather which has worked its way out of your pillow."

"Why?"

The monosyllable had served Mark well in its time; but even as he fell back upon this stale resource he knew it had failed at last.

"I can't stay to explain 'why' now; but if you try to think you'll understand why."

"Mother, if I don't have any gas at all, will you sit with me in the dark for a little while, a tiny little while, and stroke my forehead where I bumped it on the knob of the bed? I really did bump it quite hard—I forgot to tell you that. I forgot to tell you because when it was you I was so excited that I forgot."

"Now listen, Mark. Mother wants you to be a very good boy and turn over and go to sleep. Father is very worried and very tired, and the Bishop is coming tomorrow."

"Will he wear a hat like the Bishop who came last Easter? Why is he coming?"

"No darling, he's not that kind of bishop. I can't explain to you why he's coming, because you wouldn't understand; but we're all very anxious, and you must be good and brave and unselfish. Now kiss me and turn over."

Mark flung his arms round his mother's neck, and thrilled by a sudden desire to sacrifice himself murmured that he would go to sleep in the dark.

"In the quite dark," he offered, dipping down under the clothes so as to be safe by the time the protecting candle-light wavered out along the passage and the soft closing of his mother's door assured him that come what might there was only a wall between him and her.

"And perhaps she won't go to sleep before I go to sleep," he hoped.

At first Mark meditated upon bishops. The perversity of night thoughts would not allow him to meditate upon the pictures of some child-loving bishop like St. Nicolas, but must needs fix his contemplation upon a certain Bishop of Bingen who was eaten by rats. Mark could not remember why he was eaten by rats, but he could with dreadful distinctness remember that the prelate escaped to a castle on an island in the middle of the Rhine, and that the rats swam after him and swarmed in by every window until his castle was—ugh!—Mark tried to banish from his mind the picture of the wicked Bishop Hatto and the rats, millions of them, just going to eat him up. Suppose a lot of rats came swarming up Notting Hill and unanimously turned to the right into Notting Dale and ate him? An earthquake would be better than that. Mark began to feel thoroughly frightened again; he wondered if he dared call out to his mother and put forward the theory that there actually was a rat in his room. But he had promised her to be brave and unselfish, and . . . there was always the evening hymn to fall back upon.

Now the day is over, Night is drawing nigh, Shadows of the evening Steal across the sky.

Mark thought of a beautiful evening in the country as beheld in a Summer Number, more of an afternoon really than an evening, with trees making shadows right across a golden field, and spotted cows in the foreground. It was a blissful and completely soothing picture while it lasted; but it soon died away, and he was back in the midway of a London night with icy stretches of sheet to right and left of him instead of golden fields.

Now the darkness gathers, Stars begin to peep, Birds and beasts and flowers Soon will be asleep.

But rats did not sleep; they were at their worst and wake-fullest in the night time.

Jesu, give the weary Calm and sweet repose, With thy tenderest blessing May mine eyelids close.

Mark waited a full five seconds in the hope that he need not finish the hymn; but when he found that he was not asleep after five seconds he resumed:

Grant to little children Visions bright of Thee; Guard the sailors tossing On the deep blue sea.

Mark envied the sailors.

Comfort every sufferer Watching late in pain.

This was a most encouraging couplet. Mark did not suppose that in the event of a great emergency—he thanked Mrs. Ewing for that long and descriptive word—the sufferers would be able to do much for him; but the consciousness that all round him in the great city they were lying awake at this moment was most helpful. At this point he once more waited five seconds for sleep to arrive. The next couplet was less encouraging, and he would have been glad to miss it out.

Those who plan some evil From their sin restrain.

Yes, but prayers were not always answered immediately. For instance he was still awake. He hurried on to murmur aloud in fervour:

Through the long night watches May Thine Angels spread Their white wings above me, Watching round my bed.

A delicious idea, and even more delicious was the picture contained in the next verse.

When the morning wakens, Then may I arise Pure, and fresh, and sinless In Thy Holy Eyes.

Glory to the Father, Glory to the Son, And to thee, blest Spirit, Whilst all ages run. Amen.

Mark murmured the last verse with special reverence in the hope that by doing so he should obtain a speedy granting of the various requests in the earlier part of the hymn.

In the morning his mother put out Sunday clothes for him.

"The Bishop is coming to-day," she explained.

"But it isn't going to be like Sunday?" Mark inquired anxiously. An extra Sunday on top of such a night would have been hard to bear.

"No, but I want you to look nice."

"I can play with my soldiers?"

"Oh, yes, you can play with your soldiers."

"I won't bang, I'll only have them marching."

"No, dearest, don't bang. And when the Bishop comes to lunch I want you not to ask questions. Will you promise me that?"

"Don't bishops like to be asked questions?"

"No, darling. They don't."

Mark registered this episcopal distaste in his memory beside other facts such as that cats object to having their tails pulled.



CHAPTER II

THE LIMA STREET MISSION

In the year 1875, when the strife of ecclesiastical parties was bitter and continuous, the Reverend James Lidderdale came as curate to the large parish of St. Simon's, Notting Hill, which at that period was looked upon as one of the chief expositions of what Disraeli called "man-millinery." Inasmuch as the coiner of the phrase was a Jew, the priests and people of St. Simon's paid no attention to it, and were proud to consider themselves an outpost of the Catholic Movement in the Church of England. James Lidderdale was given the charge of the Lima Street Mission, a tabernacle of corrugated iron dedicated to St. Wilfred; and Thurston, the Vicar of St. Simon's, who was a wise, generous and single-hearted priest, was quick to recognize that his missioner was capable of being left to convert the Notting Dale slum in his own way.

"If St. Simon's is an outpost of the Movement, Lidderdale must be one of the vedettes," he used to declare with a grin.

The Missioner was a tall hatchet-faced hollow-eyed ascetic, harsh and bigoted in the company of his equals whether clerical or lay, but with his flock tender and comprehending and patient. The only indulgence he accorded to his senses was in the forms and ceremonies of his ritual, the vestments and furniture of his church. His vicar was able to give him a free hand in the obscure squalor of Lima Street; the ecclesiastical battles he himself had to fight with bishops who were pained or with retired military men who were disgusted by his own conduct of the services at St. Simon's were not waged within the hearing of Lima Street. There, year in, year out for six years, James Lidderdale denied himself nothing in religion, in life everything. He used to preach in the parish church during the penitential seasons, and with such effect upon the pockets of his congregation that the Lima Street Mission was rich for a long while afterward. Yet few of the worshippers in the parish church visited the object of their charity, and those that did venture seldom came twice. Lidderdale did not consider that it was part of the Lima Street religion to be polite to well-dressed explorers of the slum; in fact he rather encouraged Lima Street to suppose the contrary.

"I don't like these dressed up women in my church," he used to tell his vicar. "They distract my people's attention from the altar."

"Oh, I quite see your point," Thurston would agree.

"And I don't like these churchy young fools who come simpering down in top-hats, with rosaries hanging out of their pockets. Lima Street doesn't like them either. Lima Street is provoked to obscene comment, and that just before Mass. It's no good, Vicar. My people are savages, and I like them to remain savages so long as they go to their duties, which Almighty God be thanked they do."

On one occasion the Archdeacon, who had been paying an official visit to St. Simon's, expressed a desire to see the Lima Street Mission.

"Of which I have heard great things, great things, Mr. Thurston," he boomed condescendingly.

The Vicar was doubtful of the impression that the Archdeacon's gaiters would make on Lima Street, and he was also doubtful of the impression that the images and prickets of St. Wilfred's would make on the Archdeacon. The Vicar need not have worried. Long before Lima Street was reached, indeed, halfway down Strugwell Terrace, which was the main road out of respectable Notting Hill into the Mission area, the comments upon the Archdeacon's appearance became so embarrassing that the dignitary looked at his watch and remarked that after all he feared he should not be able to spare the time that afternoon.

"But I am surprised," he observed when his guide had brought him safely back into Notting Hill. "I am surprised that the people are still so uncouth. I had always understood that a great work of purification had been effected, that in fact—er—they were quite—er—cleaned up."

"In body or soul?" Thurston inquired.

"The whole district," said the Archdeacon vaguely. "I was referring to the general tone, Mr. Thurston. One might be pardoned for supposing that they had never seen a clergyman before. Of course one is loath—very loath indeed—to criticize sincere effort of any kind, but I think that perhaps almost the chief value of the missions we have established in these poverty-stricken areas lies in their capacity for civilizing the poor people who inhabit them. One is so anxious to bring into their drab lives a little light, a little air. I am a great believer in education. Oh, yes, Mr. Thurston, I have great hopes of popular education. However, as I say, I should not dream of criticizing your work at St. Wilfred's."

"It is not my work. It is the work of one of my curates. And," said the Vicar to Lidderdale, when he was giving him an account of the projected visitation, "I believe the pompous ass thought I was ashamed of it."

Thurston died soon after this, and, his death occurring at a moment when party strife in the Church was fiercer than ever, it was considered expedient by the Lord Chancellor, in whose gift the living was, to appoint a more moderate man than the late vicar. Majendie, the new man, when he was sure of his audience, claimed to be just as advanced as Thurston; but he was ambitious of preferment, or as he himself put it, he felt that, when a member of the Catholic party had with the exercise of prudence and tact an opportunity of enhancing the prestige of his party in a higher ecclesiastical sphere, he should be wrong to neglect it. Majendie's aim therefore was to avoid controversy with his ecclesiastical superiors, and at a time when, as he told Lidderdale, he was stepping back in order to jump farther, he was anxious that his missioner should step back with him.

"I'm not suggesting, my dear fellow, that you should bring St. Wilfred's actually into line with the parish church. But the Asperges, you know. I can't countenance that. And the Adoration of the Cross on Good Friday. I really think that kind of thing creates unnecessary friction."

Lidderdale's impulse was to resign at once, for he was a man who found restraint galling where so much passion went to his belief in the truth of his teaching. When, however, he pondered how little he had done and how much he had vowed to do, he gave way and agreed to step back with his vicar. He was never convinced that he had taken the right course at this crisis, and he spent hours in praying for an answer by God to a question already answered by himself. The added strain of these hours of prayer, which were not robbed from his work in the Mission, but from the already short enough time he allowed himself for sleep, told upon his health, and he was ordered by the doctor to take a holiday to avoid a complete breakdown of health. He stayed for two months in Cornwall, and came back with a wife, the daughter of a Cornish parson called Trehawke. Lidderdale had been a fierce upholder of celibacy, and the news of his marriage astonished all who knew him.

Grace Lidderdale with her slanting sombre eyes and full upcurving lips made the pink and white Madonnas of the little mission church look insipid, and her husband was horrified when he found himself criticizing the images whose ability to lure the people of Lima Street to worship in the way he believed to be best for their souls he had never doubted. Yet, for all her air of having trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants, Mrs. Lidderdale was only outwardly Phoenician or Iberian or whatever other dimly imagined race is chosen for the strange types that in Cornwall more than elsewhere so often occur. Actually she was a simple and devout soul, loving husband and child and the poor people with whom they lived. Doubtless she had looked more appropriate to her surroundings in the tangled garden of her father's vicarage than in the bleak Mission House of Lima Street; but inasmuch as she never thought about her appearance it would have been a waste of time for anybody to try to romanticize her. The civilizing effect of her presence in the slum was quickly felt; and though Lidderdale continued to scoff at the advantages of civilization, he finally learnt to give a grudging welcome to her various schemes for making the bodies of the flock as comfortable as her husband tried to make their souls.

When Mark was born, his father became once more the prey of gloomy doubt. The guardianship of a soul which he was responsible for bringing into the world was a ceaseless care, and in his anxiety to dedicate his son to God he became a harsh and unsympathetic parent. Out of that desire to justify himself for having been so inconsistent as to take a wife and beget a son Lidderdale redoubled his efforts to put the Lima Street Mission on a permanent basis. The civilization of the slum, which was attributed by pious visitors to regular attendance at Mass rather than to Mrs. Lidderdale's gentleness and charm, made it much easier for outsiders to explore St. Simon's parish as far as Lima Street. Money for the great church he designed to build on a site adjoining the old tabernacle began to flow in; and five years after his marriage Lidderdale had enough money subscribed to begin to build. The rubbish-strewn waste-ground overlooked by the back-windows of the Mission House was thronged with workmen; day by day the walls of the new St. Wilfred's rose higher. Fifteen years after Lidderdale took charge of the Lima Street Mission, it was decided to ask for St. Wilfred's, Notting Dale, to be created a separate parish. The Reverend Aylmer Majendie had become a canon residentiary of Chichester and had been succeeded as vicar by the Reverend L. M. Astill, a man more of the type of Thurston and only too anxious to help his senior curate to become a vicar, and what is more cut L200 a year off his own net income in doing so.

But when the question arose of consecrating the new St. Wilfred's in order to the creation of a new parish, the Bishop asked many questions that were never asked about the Lima Street Mission. There were Stations of the Cross reported to be of an unusually idolatrous nature. There was a second chapel apparently for the express purpose of worshipping the Virgin Mary.

"He writes to me as if he suspected me of trying to carry on an intrigue with the Mother of God," cried Lidderdale passionately to his vicar.

"Steady, steady, dear man," said Astill. "You'll ruin your case by such ill-considered exaggeration."

"But, Vicar, these cursed bishops of the Establishment who would rather a whole parish went to Hell than give up one jot or one tittle of their prejudice!" Lidderdale ejaculated in wrath.

Furthermore, the Bishop wanted to know if the report that on Good Friday was held a Roman Catholic Service called the Mass of the Pre-Sanctified followed by the ceremony of Creeping to the Cross was true. When Majendie departed, the Lima Street Missioner jumped a long way forward in one leap. There were many other practices which he (the Bishop) could only characterize as highly objectionable and quite contrary to the spirit of the Church of England, and would Mr. Lidderdale pay him a visit at Fulham Palace as soon as possible. Lidderdale went, and he argued with the Bishop until the Chaplain thought his Lordship had heard enough, after which the argument was resumed by letter. Then Lidderdale was invited to lunch at Fulham Palace and to argue the whole question over again in person. In the end the Bishop was sufficiently impressed by the Missioner's sincerity and zeal to agree to withhold his decision until the Lord Bishop Suffragan of Devizes had paid a visit to the proposed new parish. This was the visit that was expected on the day after Mark Lidderdale woke from a nightmare and dreamed that London was being swallowed up by an earthquake.



CHAPTER III

RELIGIOUS EDUCATION

When Mark was grown up and looked back at his early childhood—he was seven years old in the year in which his father was able to see the new St. Wilfred's an edifice complete except for consecration—it seemed to him that his education had centered in the prevention of his acquiring a Cockney accent. This was his mother's dread and for this reason he was not allowed to play more than Christian equality demanded with the boys of Lima Street. Had his mother had her way, he would never have been allowed to play with them at all; but his father would sometimes break out into fierce tirades against snobbery and hustle him out of the house to amuse himself with half-a-dozen little girls looking after a dozen babies in dilapidated perambulators, and countless smaller boys and girls ragged and grubby and mischievous.

"You leave that kebbidge-stalk be, Elfie!"

"Ethel! Jew hear your ma calling you, you naughty girl?"

"Stanlee! will you give over fishing in that puddle, this sminute. I'll give you such a slepping, you see if I don't."

"Come here, Maybel, and let me blow your nose. Daisy Hawkins, lend us your henkerchif, there's a love! Our Maybel wants to blow her nose. Oo, she is a sight! Come here, Maybel, do, and leave off sucking that orange peel. There's the Father's little boy looking at you. Hold your head up, do."

Mark would stand gravely to attention while Mabel Williams' toilet was adjusted, and as gravely follow the shrill raucous procession to watch pavement games like Hop Scotch or to help in gathering together enough sickly greenery from the site of the new church to make the summer grotto, which in Lima Street was a labour of love, since few of the passers by in that neighbourhood could afford to remember St. James' grotto with a careless penny.

The fact that all the other little boys and girls called the Missioner Father made it hard for Mark to understand his own more particular relationship to him, and Lidderdale was so much afraid of showing any more affection to one child of his flock than to another that he was less genial with his own son than with any of the other children. It was natural that in these circumstances Mark should be even more dependent than most solitary children upon his mother, and no doubt it was through his passion to gratify her that he managed to avoid that Cockney accent. His father wanted his first religious instruction to be of the communal kind that he provided in the Sunday School. One might have thought that he distrusted his wife's orthodoxy, so strongly did he disapprove of her teaching Mark by himself in the nursery.

"It's the curse of the day," he used to assert, "this pampering of children with an individual religion. They get into the habit of thinking God is their special property and when they get older and find he isn't, as often as not they give up religion altogether, because it doesn't happen to fit in with the spoilt notions they got hold of as infants."

Mark's bringing up was the only thing in which Mrs. Lidderdale did not give way to her husband. She was determined that he should not have a Cockney accent, and without irritating her husband any more than was inevitable she was determined that he should not gobble down his religion as a solid indigestible whole. On this point she even went so far as directly to contradict the boy's father and argue that an intelligent boy like Mark was likely to vomit up such an indigestible whole later on, although she did not make use of such a coarse expression.

"All mothers think their sons are the cleverest in the world."

"But, James, he is an exceptionally clever little boy. Most observant, with a splendid memory and plenty of imagination."

"Too much imagination. His nights are one long circus."

"But, James, you yourself have insisted so often on the personal Devil; you can't expect a little boy of Mark's sensitiveness not to be impressed by your picture."

"He has nothing to fear from the Devil, if he behaves himself. Haven't I made that clear?"

Mrs. Lidderdale sighed.

"But, James dear, a child's mind is so literal, and though I know you insist just as much on the reality of the Saints and Angels, a child's mind is always most impressed by the things that have power to frighten it."

"I want him to be frightened by Evil," declared James. "But go your own way. Soften down everything in our Holy Religion that is ugly and difficult. Sentimentalize the whole business. That's our modern method in everything."

This was one of many arguments between husband and wife about the religious education of their son.

Luckily for Mark his father had too many children, real children and grown up children, in the Mission to be able to spend much time with his son; and the teaching of Sunday morning, the clear-cut uncompromising statement of hard religious facts in which the Missioner delighted, was considerably toned down by his wife's gentle commentary.

Mark's mother taught him that the desire of a bad boy to be a good boy is a better thing than the goodness of a Jack Horner. She taught him that God was not merely a crotchety old gentleman reclining in a blue dressing-gown on a mattress of cumulus, but that He was an Eye, an all-seeing Eye, an Eye capable indeed of flashing with rage, yet so rarely that whenever her little boy should imagine that Eye he might behold it wet with tears.

"But can God cry?" asked Mark incredulously.

"Oh, darling. God can do everything."

"But fancy crying! If I could do everything I shouldn't cry."

Mrs. Lidderdale perceived that her picture of the wise and compassionate Eye would require elaboration.

"But do you only cry, Mark dear, when you can't do what you want? Those are not nice tears. Don't you ever cry because you're sorry you've been disobedient?"

"I don't think so, Mother," Mark decided after a pause. "No, I don't think I cry because I'm sorry except when you're sorry, and that sometimes makes me cry. Not always, though. Sometimes I'm glad you're sorry. I feel so angry that I like to see you sad."

"But you don't often feel like that?"

"No, not often," he admitted.

"But suppose you saw somebody being ill-treated, some poor dog or cat being teased, wouldn't you feel inclined to cry?"

"Oh, no," Mark declared. "I get quite red inside of me, and I want to kick the people who is doing it."

"Well, now you can understand why God sometimes gets angry. But even if He gets angry," Mrs. Lidderdale went on, for she was rather afraid of her son's capacity for logic, "God never lets His anger get the better of Him. He is not only sorry for the poor dog, but He is also sorry for the poor person who is ill-treating the dog. He knows that the poor person has perhaps never been taught better, and then the Eye fills with tears again."

"I think I like Jesus better than God," said Mark, going off at a tangent. He felt that there were too many points of resemblance between his own father and God to make it prudent to persevere with the discussion. On the subject of his father he always found his mother strangely uncomprehending, and the only times she was really angry with him was when he refused out of his basic honesty to admit that he loved his father.

"But Our Lord is God," Mrs. Lidderdale protested.

Mark wrinkled his face in an effort to confront once more this eternal puzzle.

"Don't you remember, darling, three Persons and one God?"

Mark sighed.

"You haven't forgotten that clover-leaf we picked one day in Kensington Gardens?"

"When we fed the ducks on the Round Pond?"

"Yes, darling, but don't think about ducks just now. I want you to think about the Holy Trinity."

"But I can't understand the Holy Trinity, Mother," he protested.

"Nobody can understand the Holy Trinity. It is a great mystery."

"Mystery," echoed Mark, taking pleasure in the word. It always thrilled him, that word, ever since he first heard it used by Dora the servant when she could not find her rolling-pin.

"Well, where that rolling-pin's got to is a mystery," she had declared.

Then he had seen the word in print. The Coram Street Mystery. All about a dead body. He had pronounced it "micetery" at first, until he had been corrected and was able to identify the word as the one used by Dora about her rolling-pin. History stood for the hard dull fact, and mystery stood for all that history was not. There were no dates in "mystery:" Mark even at seven years, such was the fate of intelligent precocity, had already had to grapple with a few conspicuous dates in the immense tale of humanity. He knew for instance that William the Conqueror landed in 1066, and that St. Augustine landed in 596, and that Julius Caesar landed, but he could never remember exactly when. The last time he was asked that date, he had countered with a request to know when Noah had landed.

"The Holy Trinity is a mystery."

It belonged to the category of vanished rolling-pins and dead bodies huddled up in dustbins: it had no date.

But what Mark liked better than speculations upon the nature of God were the tales that were told like fairy tales without its seeming to matter whether you remembered them or not, and which just because it did not matter you were able to remember so much more easily. He could have listened for ever to the story of the lupinseeds that rattled in their pods when the donkey was trotting with the boy Christ and His mother and St. Joseph far away from cruel Herod into Egypt and how the noise of the rattling seeds nearly betrayed their flight and how the plant was cursed for evermore and made as hungry as a wolf. And the story of how the robin tried to loosen one of the cruel nails so that the blood from the poor Saviour drenched his breast and stained it red for evermore, and of that other bird, the crossbill, who pecked at the nails until his beak became crossed. He could listen for ever to the tale of St. Cuthbert who was fed by ravens, of St. Martin who cut off his cloak and gave it to a beggar, of St. Anthony who preached to the fishes, of St. Raymond who put up his cowl and floated from Spain to Africa like a nautilus, of St. Nicolas who raised three boys from the dead after they had been killed and cut up and salted in a tub by a cruel man that wanted to eat them, and of that strange insect called a Praying Mantis which alighted upon St. Francis' sleeve and sang the Nunc Dimittis before it flew away.

These were all stories that made bedtime sweet, stories to remember and brood upon gratefully in the darkness of the night when he lay awake and when, alas, other stories less pleasant to recall would obtrude themselves.

Mark was not brought up luxuriously in the Lima Street Mission House, and the scarcity of toys stimulated his imagination. All his toys were old and broken, because he was only allowed to have the toys left over at the annual Christmas Tree in the Mission Hall; and since even the best of toys on that tree were the cast-offs of rich little children whose parents performed a vicarious act of charity in presenting them to the poor, it may be understood that Mark's share of these was not calculated to spoil him. His most conspicuous toy was a box of mutilated grenadiers, whose stands had been melted by their former owner in the first rapture of discovering that lead melts in fire and who in consequence were only able to stand up uncertainly when stuck into sliced corks.

Luckily Mark had better armies of his own in the coloured lines that crossed the blankets of his bed. There marched the crimson army of St. George, the blue army of St. Andrew, the green army of St. Patrick, the yellow army of St. David, the rich sunset-hued army of St. Denis, the striped armies of St. Anthony and St. James. When he lay awake in the golden light of the morning, as golden in Lima Street as anywhere else, he felt ineffably protected by the Seven Champions of Christendom; and sometimes even at night he was able to think that with their bright battalions they were still marching past. He used to lie awake, listening to the sparrows and wondering what the country was like and most of all the sea. His father would not let him go into the country until he was considered old enough to go with one of the annual school treats. His mother told him that the country in Cornwall was infinitely more beautiful than Kensington Gardens, and that compared with the sea the Serpentine was nothing at all. The sea! He had heard it once in a prickly shell, and it had sounded beautiful. As for the country he had read a story by Mrs. Ewing called Our Field, and if the country was the tiniest part as wonderful as that, well . . . meanwhile Dora brought him back from the greengrocer's a pot of musk, which Mark used to sniff so enthusiastically that Dora said he would sniff it right away if he wasn't careful. Later on when Lima Street was fetid in the August sun he gave this pot of musk to a little girl with a broken leg, and when she died in September her mother put it on her grave.



CHAPTER IV

HUSBAND AND WIFE

Mark was impressed by the appearance of the Bishop of Devizes; a portly courtly man, he brought to the dingy little Mission House in Lima Street that very sense of richness and grandeur which Mark had anticipated. The Bishop's pink plump hands of which he made such use contrasted with the lean, scratched, and grimy hands of his father; the Bishop's hair white and glossy made his father's bristly, badly cut hair look more bristly and worse cut than ever, and the Bishop's voice ripe and unctuous grew more and more mellow as his father's became harsher and more assertive. Mark found himself thinking of some lines in The Jackdaw of Rheims about a cake of soap worthy of washing the hands of the Pope. The Pope would have hands like the Bishop's, and Mark who had heard a great deal about the Pope looked at the Bishop of Devizes with added interest.

"While we are at lunch, Mr. Lidderdale, you will I am sure pardon me for referring again to our conversation of this morning from another point of view—the point of view, if I may use so crude an expression, the point of view of—er—expediency. Is it wise?"

"I'm not a wise man, my lord."

"Pardon me, my dear Mr. Lidderdale, but I have not completed my question. Is it right? Is it right when you have an opportunity to consolidate your great work . . . I use the adjective advisedly and with no intention to flatter you, for when I had the privilege this morning of accompanying you round the beautiful edifice that has been by your efforts, by your self-sacrifice, by your eloquence, and by your devotion erected to the glory of God . . . I repeat, Mr. Lidderdale, is it right to fling all this away for the sake of a few—you will not misunderstand me—if I call them a few excrescences?"

The Bishop helped himself to the cauliflower and paused to give his rhetoric time to work.

"What you regard, my lord, as excrescences I regard as fundamentals of our Holy Religion."

"Come, come, Mr. Lidderdale," the Bishop protested. "I do not think that you expect to convince me that a ceremony like the—er—Asperges is a fundamental of Christianity."

"I have taught my people that it is," said the Missioner. "In these days when Bishops are found who will explain away the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection of the Body, I hope you'll forgive a humble parish priest who will explain away nothing and who would rather resign, as I told you this morning, than surrender a single one of these excrescences."

"I do not admit your indictment, your almost wholesale indictment of the Anglican episcopate; but even were I to admit at lunch that some of my brethren have been in their anxiety to keep the Man in the Street from straying too far from the Church, have been as I was saying a little too ready to tolerate a certain latitude of belief, even as I said just now were that so, I do not think that you have any cause to suspect me of what I should repudiate as gross infidelity. It was precisely because the Bishop of London supposed that I should be more sympathetic with your ideals that he asked me to represent him in this perfectly informal—er—"

"Inquest," the Missioner supplied with a fierce smile.

The Bishop encouraged by the first sign of humour he had observed in the bigoted priest hastened to smile back.

"Well, let us call it an inquest, but not, I hope, I sincerely and devoutly hope, Mr. Lidderdale, not an inquest upon a dead body." Then hurriedly he went on. "I may smile with the lips, but believe me, my dear fellow labourer in the vineyard of Our Lord Jesus Christ, believe me that my heart is sore at the prospect of your resignation. And the Bishop of London, if I have to go back to him with such news, will be pained, bitterly grievously pained. He admires your work, Mr. Lidderdale, as much as I do, and I have no doubt that if it were not for the unhappy controversies that are tearing asunder our National Church, I say I do not doubt that he would give you a free hand. But how can he give you a free hand when his own hands are tied by the necessities of the situation? May I venture to observe that some of you working priests are too ready to criticize men like myself who from no desire of our own have been called by God to occupy a loftier seat in the eyes of the world than many men infinitely more worthy. But to return to the question immediately before us, let me, my dear Mr. Lidderdale, do let me make to you a personal appeal for moderation. If you will only consent to abandon one or two—I will not say excrescences since you object to the word—but if you will only abandon one or two purely ceremonial additions that cannot possibly be defended by any rubric in the Book of Common Prayer, if you will only consent to do this the Bishop of London will, I can guarantee, permit you a discretionary latitude that he would scarcely be prepared to allow to any other priest in his diocese. When I was called to be Bishop Suffragan of Devizes, Mr. Lidderdale, do you suppose that I did not give up something? Do you suppose that I was anxious to abandon some of the riches to which by my reading of the Ornaments Rubric we are entitled? But I felt that I could do something to help the position of my fellow priests struggling against the prejudice of ignorance and the prey of political moves. In twenty years from now, Mr. Lidderdale, you will be glad you took my advice. Ceremonies that to-day are the privilege of the few will then be the privilege of the many. Do not forget that by what I might almost describe as the exorbitance of your demands you have gained more freedom than any other priest in England. Be moderate. Do not resign. You will be inhibited in every diocese; you will have the millstone of an unpaid debt round your neck; you are a married man."

"That has nothing . . ." Lidderdale interrupted angrily.

"Pray let me finish. You are a married man, and if you should seek consolation, where several of your fellow priests have lately sought it, in the Church of Rome, you will have to seek it as a layman. I do not pretend to know your private affairs, and I should consider it impertinent if I tried to pry into them at such a moment. But I do know your worth as a priest, and I have no hesitation in begging you once more with a heart almost too full for words to pause, Mr. Lidderdale, to pause and reflect before you take the irreparable step that you are contemplating. I have already talked too much, and I see that your good wife is looking anxiously at my plate. No more cauliflower, thank you, Mrs. Lidderdale, no more of anything, thank you. Ah, there is a pudding on the way? Dear me, that sounds very tempting, I'm afraid."

The Bishop now turned his attention entirely to Mrs. Lidderdale at the other end of the table; the Missioner sat biting his nails; and Mark wondered what all this conversation was about.

While the Bishop was waiting for his cab, which, he explained to his hosts, was not so much a luxury as a necessity owing to his having to address at three o'clock precisely a committee of ladies who were meeting in Portman Square to discuss the dreadful condition of the London streets, he laid a fatherly arm on the Missioner's threadbare cassock.

"Take two or three days to decide, my dear Mr. Lidderdale. The Bishop of London, who is always consideration personified, insisted that you were to take two or three days to decide. Once more, for I hear my cab-wheels, once more let me beg you to yield on the following points. Let me just refer to my notes to be sure that I have not omitted anything of importance. Oh, yes, the following points: no Asperges, no unusual Good Friday services, except of course the Three Hours. Is not that enough?"

"The Three Hours I would give up. It's a modern invention of the Jesuits. The Adoration of the Cross goes back. . . ."

"Please, please, Mr. Lidderdale, my cab is at the door. We must not embark on controversy. No celebrations without communicants. No direct invocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary or the Saints. Oh, yes, and on this the Bishop is particularly firm: no juggling with the Gloria in Excelsis. Good-bye, Mr. Lidderdale, good-bye, Mrs. Lidderdale. Many thanks for your delicious luncheon. Good-bye, young man. I had a little boy like you once, but he is grown up now, and I am glad to say a soldier."

The Bishop waved his umbrella, which looked much like a pastoral staff, and lightly mounted the step of his cab.

"Was the Bishop cross with Father?" Mark inquired afterward; he could find no other theory that would explain so much talking to his father, so little talking by his father.

"Dearest, I'd rather you didn't ask questions about the Bishop," his mother replied, and discerning that she was on the verge of one of those headaches that while they lasted obliterated the world for Mark, he was silent. Later in the afternoon Mr. Astill, the Vicar, came round to see the Missioner and they had a long talk together, the murmur of which now softer now louder was audible in Mark's nursery where he was playing by himself with the cork-bottomed grenadiers. His instinct was to play a quiet game, partly on account of his mother's onrushing headache, which had already driven her to her room, partly because he knew that when his father was closeted like this it was essential not to make the least noise. So he tiptoed about the room and disposed the cork-bottomed grenadiers as sentinels before the coal-scuttle, the washstand, and other similar strongholds. Then he took his gun, the barrel of which, broken before it was given to him, had been replaced by a thin bamboo curtain-rod, and his finger on the trigger (a wooden match) he waited for an invader. After ten minutes of statuesque silence Mark began to think that this was a dull game, and he wished that his mother had not gone to her room with a headache, because if she had been with him she could have undoubtedly invented, so clever was she, a method of invading the nursery without either the attackers or the defenders making any noise about it. In her gentle voice she would have whispered of the hordes that were stealthily creeping up the mountain side until Mark and his vigilant cork-bottomed grenadiers would have been in a state of suppressed exultation ready to die in defence of the nursery, to die stolidly and silently at their posts with nobody else in the house aware of their heroism.

"Rorke's Drift," said Mark to himself, trying to fancy that he heard in the distance a Zulu impi and whispering to his cork-bottomed grenadiers to keep a good look-out. One of them who was guarding the play-cupboard fell over on his face, and in the stillness the noise sounded so loud that Mark did not dare cross the room to put him up again, but had to assume that he had been shot where he stood. It was no use. The game was a failure; Mark decided to look at Battles of the British Army. He knew the pictures in every detail, and he could have recited without a mistake the few lines of explanation at the bottom of each page; but the book still possessed a capacity to thrill, and he turned over the pages not pausing over Crecy or Poitiers or Blenheim or Dettingen; but enjoying the storming of Badajoz with soldiers impaled on chevaux de frise and lingering over the rich uniforms and plumed helmets in the picture of Joseph Bonaparte's flight at Vittoria. There was too a grim picture of the Guards at Inkerman fighting in their greatcoats with clubbed muskets against thousands of sinister dark green Russians looming in the snow; and there was an attractive picture of a regiment crossing the Alma and eating the grapes as they clambered up the banks where they grew. Finally there was the Redan, a mysterious wall, apparently of wickerwork, with bombs bursting and broken scaling-ladders and dead English soldiers in the open space before it.

Mark did not feel that he wanted to look through the book again, and he put it away, wondering how long that murmur of voices rising and falling from his father's study below would continue. He wondered whether Dora would be annoyed if he went down to the kitchen. She had been discouraging on the last two or three occasions he had visited her, but that had been because he could not keep his fingers out of the currants. Fancy having a large red jar crammed full of currants on the floor of the larder and never wanting to eat one! The thought of those currants produced in Mark's mouth a craving for something sweet, and as quietly as possible he stole off downstairs to quench this craving somehow or other if it were only with a lump of sugar. But when he reached the kitchen he found Dora in earnest talk with two women in bonnets, who were nodding away and clicking their tongues with pleasure.

"Now whatever do you want down here?" Dora demanded ungraciously.

"I wanted," Mark paused. He longed to say "some currants," but he had failed before, and he substituted "a lump of sugar." The two women in bonnets looked at him and nodded their heads and clicked their tongues.

"Did you ever?" said one.

"Fancy! A lump of sugar! Goodness gracious!"

"What a sweet tooth!" commented the first.

The sugar happened to be close to Dora's hand on the kitchen-table, and she gave him two lumps with the command to "sugar off back upstairs as fast as you like." The craving for sweetness was allayed; but when Mark had crunched up the two lumps on the dark kitchen-stairs, he was as lonely as he had been before he left the nursery. He wished now that he had not eaten up the sugar so fast, that he had taken it back with him to the nursery and eked it out to wile away this endless afternoon. The prospect of going back to the nursery depressed him; and he turned aside to linger in the dining-room whence there was a view of Lima Street, down which a dirty frayed man was wheeling a barrow and shouting for housewives to bring out their old rags and bottles and bones. Mark felt the thrill of trade and traffick, and he longed to be big enough to open the window and call out that he had several rags and bottles and bones to sell; but instead he had to be content with watching two self-important little girls chaffer on behalf of their mothers, and go off counting their pennies. The voice of the rag-and-bone man, grew fainter and fainter round corners out of sight; Lima Street became as empty and uninteresting as the nursery. Mark wished that a knife-grinder would come along and that he would stop under the dining-room window so that he could watch the sparks flying from the grindstone. Or that a gipsy would sit down on the steps and begin to mend the seat of a chair. Whenever he had seen those gipsy chair-menders at work, he had been out of doors and afraid to linger watching them in case he should be stolen and his face stained with walnut juice and all his clothes taken away from him. But from the security of the dining-room of the Mission House he should enjoy watching them. However, no gipsy came, nor anybody else except women with men's caps pinned to their skimpy hair and little girls with wrinkled stockings carrying jugs to and from the public houses that stood at every corner.

Mark turned away from the window and tried to think of some game that could be played in the dining-room. But it was not a room that fostered the imagination. The carpet was so much worn that the pattern was now scarcely visible and, looked one at it never so long and intently, it was impossible to give it an inner life of its own that gradually revealed itself to the fanciful observer. The sideboard had nothing on it except a dirty cloth, a bottle of harvest burgundy, and half a dozen forks and spoons. The cupboards on either side contained nothing edible except salt, pepper, mustard, vinegar, and oil. There was a plain deal table without a drawer and without any interesting screws and levers to make it grow smaller or larger at the will of the creature who sat beneath it. The eight chairs were just chairs; the wallpaper was like the inside of the bath, but alas, without the water; of the two pictures, the one over the mantelpiece was a steel-engraving of the Good Shepherd and the one over the sideboard was an oleograph of the Sacred Heart. Mark knew every fly speck on their glasses, every discoloration of their margins. While he was sighing over the sterility of the room, he heard the door of his father's study open, and his father and Mr. Astill do down the passage, both of them still talking unceasingly. Presently the front door slammed, and Mark watched them walk away in the direction of the new church. Here was an opportunity to go into his father's study and look at some of the books. Mark never went in when his father was there, because once his mother had said to his father:

"Why don't you have Mark to sit with you?"

And his father had answered doubtfully:

"Mark? Oh yes, he can come. But I hope he'll keep quiet, because I shall be rather busy."

Mark had felt a kind of hostility in his father's manner which had chilled him; and after that, whenever his mother used to suggest his going to sit quietly in the study, he had always made some excuse not to go. But if his father was out he used to like going in, because there were always books lying about that were interesting to look at, and the smell of tobacco smoke and leather bindings was grateful to the senses. The room smelt even more strongly than usual of tobacco smoke this afternoon, and Mark inhaled the air with relish while he debated which of the many volumes he should pore over. There was a large Bible with pictures of palm-trees and camels and long-bearded patriarchs surrounded by flocks of sheep, pictures of women with handkerchiefs over their mouths drawing water from wells, of Daniel in the den of lions and of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace. The frontispiece was a coloured picture of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden surrounded by amiable lions, benevolent tigers, ingratiating bears and leopards and wolves. But more interesting than the pictures were some pages at the beginning on which, in oval spaces framed in leaves and flowers, were written the names of his grandfather and grandmother, of his father and of his father's brother and sister, with the dates on which they were born and baptized and confirmed. What a long time ago his father was born! 1840. He asked his mother once about this Uncle Henry and Aunt Helen; but she told him they had quarrelled with his father, and she had said nothing more about them. Mark had been struck by the notion that grown-up people could quarrel: he had supposed quarrelling to be peculiar to childhood. Further, he noticed that Henry Lidderdale had married somebody called Ada Prewbody who had died the same year; but nothing was said in the oval that enshrined his father about his having married anyone. He asked his mother the reason of this, and she explained to him that the Bible had belonged to his grandfather who had kept the entries up to date until he died, when the Bible came to his eldest son who was Mark's father.

"Does it worry you, darling, that I'm not entered?" his mother had asked with a smile.

"Well, it does rather," Mark had replied, and then to his great delight she took a pen and wrote that James Lidderdale had married Grace Alethea Trehawke on June 28th, 1880, at St. Tugdual's Church, Nancepean, Cornwall, and to his even greater delight that on April 25th, 1881, Mark Lidderdale had been born at 142 Lima Street, Notting Dale, London, W., and baptized on May 21st, 1881, at St. Wilfred's Mission Church, Lima Street.

"Happy now?" she had asked.

Mark had nodded, and from that moment, if he went into his father's study, he always opened the Family Bible and examined solemnly his own short history wreathed in forget-me-nots and lilies of the valley.

This afternoon, after looking as usual at the entry of his birth and baptism written in his mother's pretty pointed handwriting, he searched for Dante's Inferno illustrated by Gustave Dore, a large copy of which had recently been presented to his father by the Servers and Choir of St. Wilfred's. The last time he had been looking at this volume he had caught a glimpse of a lot of people buried in the ground with only their heads sticking out, a most attractive picture which he had only just discovered when he had heard his father's footsteps and had closed the book in a hurry.

Mark tried to find this picture, but the volume was large and the pictures on the way of such fascination that it was long before he found it. When he did, he thought it even more satisfying at a second glance, although he wished he knew what they were all doing buried in the ground like that. Mark was not satisfied with horrors even after he had gone right through the Dante; in fact, his appetite was only whetted, and he turned with relish to a large folio of Chinese tortures, in the coloured prints of which a feature was made of blood profusely outpoured and richly tinted. One picture of a Chinaman apparently impervious to the pain of being slowly sawn in two held him entranced for five minutes. It was growing dusk by now, and as it needed the light of the window to bring out the full quality of the blood, Mark carried over the big volume, propped it up in a chair behind the curtains, and knelt down to gloat over these remote oriental barbarities without pausing to remember that his father might come back at any moment, and that although he had never actually been forbidden to look at this book, the thrill of something unlawful always brooded over it. Suddenly the door of the study opened and Mark sat transfixed by terror as completely as the Chinaman on the page before him was transfixed by a sharpened bamboo; then he heard his mother's voice, and before he could discover himself a conversation between her and his father had begun of which Mark understood enough to know that both of them would be equally angry if they knew that he was listening. Mark was not old enough to escape tactfully from such a difficult situation, and the only thing he could think of doing was to stay absolutely still in the hope that they would presently go out of the room and never know that he had been behind the curtain while they were talking.

"I didn't mean you to dress yourself and come downstairs," his father was saying ungraciously.

"My dear, I should have come down to tea in any case, and I was anxious to hear the result of your conversation with Mr. Astill."

"You can guess, can't you?" said the husband.

Mark had heard his father speak angrily before; but he had never heard his voice sound like a growl. He shrank farther back in affright behind the curtains.

"You're going to give way to the Bishop?" the wife asked gently.

"Ah, you've guessed, have you? You've guessed by my manner? You've realized, I hope, what this resolution has cost me and what it's going to cost me in the future. I'm a coward. I'm a traitor. Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. A coward and a traitor."

"Neither, James—at any rate to me."

"To you," the husband scoffed. "I should hope not to you, considering that it is on your account I am surrendering. Do you suppose that if I were free, as to serve God I ought to be free, do you suppose then that I should give up my principles like this? Never! But because I'm a married priest, because I've a wife and family to support, my hands are tied. Oh, yes, Astill was very tactful. He kept insisting on my duty to the parish; but did he once fail to rub in the position in which I should find myself if I did resign? No bishop would license me; I should be inhibited in every diocese—in other words I should starve. The beliefs I hold most dear, the beliefs I've fought for all these years surrendered for bread and butter! Woman, what have I to do with thee? Our Blessed Lord could speak thus even to His Blessed Mother. But I! He that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me."

The Missioner threw himself into his worn armchair and stared into the unlighted grate. His wife came behind him and laid a white hand upon his forehead; but her touch seemed to madden him, and he sprang away from her.

"No more of that," he cried. "If I was weak when I married you I will never be weak again. You have your child. Let that be enough for your tenderness. I want none of it myself. Do you hear? I wish to devote myself henceforth to my parish. My parish! The parish of a coward and a traitor."

Mark heard his mother now speaking in a voice that was strange to him, in a voice that did not belong to her, but that seemed to come from far away, as if she were lost in a snowstorm and calling for help.

"James, if you feel this hatred for me and for poor little Mark, it is better that we leave you. We can go to my father in Cornwall, and you will not feel hampered by the responsibility of having to provide for us. After what you have said to me, after the way you have looked at me, I could never live with you as your wife again."

"That sounds a splendid scheme," said the Missioner bitterly. "But do you think I have so little logic that I should be able to escape from my responsibilities by planting them on the shoulders of another? No, I sinned when I married you. I did not believe and I do not believe that a priest ought to marry; but having done so I must face the situation and do my duty to my family, so that I may also do my duty to God."

"Do you think that God will accept duty offered in that spirit? If he does, he is not the God in Whom I believe. He is a devil that can be propitiated with burnt offerings," exclaimed the woman passionately.

"Do not blaspheme," the priest commanded.

"Blaspheme!" she echoed. "It is you, James, who have blasphemed nature this afternoon. You have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, and may you be forgiven by your God. I can never forgive you."

"You're becoming hysterical."

"How dare you say that? How dare you? I have loved you, James, with all the love that I could give you. I have suffered in silence when I saw how you regarded family life, how unkind you were to Mark, how utterly wrapped up in the outward forms of religion. You are a Pharisee, James, you should have lived before Our Lord came down to earth. But I will not suffer any longer. You need not worry about the evasion of your responsibilities. You cannot make me stay with you. You will not dare keep Mark. Save your own soul in your own way; but Mark's soul is as much mine as yours to save."

During this storm of words Mark had been thinking how wicked it was of his father to upset his mother like that when she had a headache. He had thought also how terrible it was that he should apparently be the cause of this frightening quarrel. Often in Lima Street he had heard tales of wives who were beaten by their husbands and now he supposed that his own mother was going to be beaten. Suddenly he heard her crying. This was too much for him; he sprang from his hiding place and ran to put his arms round her in protection.

"Mother, mother, don't cry. You are bad, you are bad," he told his father. "You are wicked and bad to make her cry."

"Have you been in the room all this time?" his father asked.

Mark did not even bother to nod his head, so intent was he upon consoling his mother. She checked her emotion when her son put his arms round her neck, and whispered to him not to speak. It was almost dark in the study now, and what little light was still filtering in at the window from the grey nightfall was obscured by the figure of the Missioner gazing out at the lantern spire of his new church. There was a tap at the door, and Mrs. Lidderdale snatched up the volume that Mark had let fall upon the floor when he emerged from the curtains, so that when Dora came in to light the gas and say that tea was ready, nothing of the stress of the last few minutes was visible. The Missioner was looking out of the window at his new church; his wife and son were contemplating the picture of an impervious Chinaman suspended in a cage where he could neither stand nor sit nor lie.



CHAPTER V

PALM SUNDAY

Mark's dream from which he woke to wonder if the end of the world was at hand had been a shadow cast by coming events. So far as the world of Lima Street was concerned, it was the end of it. The night after that scene in his father's study, which made a deeper impression on him than anything before that date in his short life, his mother came to sleep in the nursery with him, to keep him company so that he should not be frightened any more, she offered as the explanation of her arrival. But Mark, although of course he never said so to her, was sure that she had come to him to be protected against his father.

Mark did not overhear any more discussions between his parents, and he was taken by surprise when one day a week after his mother had come to sleep in his room, she asked him how he should like to go and live in the country. To Mark the country was as remote as Paradise, and at first he was inclined to regard the question as rhetorical to which a conventional reply was expected. If anybody had asked him how he should like to go to Heaven, he would have answered that he should like to go to Heaven very much. Cows, sheep, saints, angels, they were all equally unreal outside a picture book.

"I would like to go to the country very much," he said. "And I would like to go to the Zoological Gardens very much. Perhaps we can go there soon, can we, mother?"

"We can't go there if we're in the country."

Mark stared at her.

"But really go in the country?"

"Yes, darling, really go."

"Oh, mother," and immediately he checked his enthusiasm with a sceptical "when?"

"Next Monday."

"And shall I see cows?"

"Yes."

"And donkeys? And horses? And pigs? And goats?"

To every question she nodded.

"Oh, mother, I will be good," he promised of his own accord. "And can I take my grenadiers?"

"You can take everything you have, darling."

"Will Dora come?" He did not inquire about his father.

"No."

"Just you and me?"

She nodded, and Mark flung his arms round her neck to press upon her lips a long fragrant kiss, such a kiss as only a child can give.

On Sunday morning, the last Sunday morning he would worship in the little tin mission church, the last Sunday morning indeed that any of the children of Lima Street would worship there, Mark sat close beside his mother at the children's Mass. His father looking as he always looked, took off his chasuble, and in his alb walked up and down the aisle preaching his short sermon interspersed with questions.

"What is this Sunday called?"

There was a silence until a well-informed little girl breathed through her nose that it was called Passion Sunday.

"Quite right. And next Sunday?"

"Palm Sunday," all the children shouted with alacrity, for they looked forward to it almost more than to any Sunday in the year.

"Next Sunday, dear children, I had hoped to give you the blessed palms in our beautiful new church, but God has willed otherwise, and another priest will come in my place. I hope you will listen to him as attentively as you have listened to me, and I hope you will try to encourage him by your behaviour both in and out of the church, by your punctuality and regular attendance at Mass, and by your example to other children who have not had the advantage of learning all about our glorious Catholic faith. I shall think about you all when I am gone and I shall never cease to ask our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ to guard you and keep you safe for Him. And I want you to pray to Our Blessed Lady and to our great patron Saint Wilfred that they will intercede for you and me. Will you all do this?"

There was a unanimous and sibilant "Yes, father," from the assembled children, and then one little girl after being prodded by her companions on either side of her spoke up and asked the Missioner why he was going.

"Ah, that is a very difficult question to answer; but I will try to explain it to you by a parable. What is a parable?"

"Something that isn't true," sang out a too ready boy from the back of the church.

"No, no, Arthur Williams. Surely some other boy or girl can correct Arthur Williams? How many times have we had that word explained to us! A parable is a story with a hidden meaning. Now please, every boy and girl, repeat that answer after me. A parable is a story with a hidden meaning."

And all the children baa'd in unison:

"A parable is a story with a hidden meaning."

"That's better," said the Missioner. "And now I will tell you my parable. Once upon a time there was a little boy or a little girl, it doesn't matter which, whose father put him in charge of a baby. He was told not to let anybody take it away from him and he was told to look after it and wheel it about in the perambulator, which was a very old one, and not only very old but very small for the baby, who was growing bigger and bigger every day. Well, a lot of kind people clubbed together and bought a new perambulator, bigger than the other and more comfortable. They told him to take this perambulator home to his father and show him what a beautiful present they had made. Well, the boy wheeled it home and his father was very pleased with it. But when the boy took the baby out again, the nursemaid told him that the baby had too many clothes on and said that he must either take some of the clothes off or else she must take away the new perambulator. Well, the little boy had promised his father, who had gone far away on a journey, that nobody should touch the baby, and so he said he would not take off any of the clothes. And when the nurse took away the perambulator the little boy wrote to his father to ask what he should do and his father wrote to him that he would put one of his brothers in charge who would know how to do what the nurse wanted." The Missioner paused to see the effect of his story. "Now, children, let us see if you can understand my parable. Who is the little boy?"

A concordance of opinion cried "God."

"No. Now think. The father surely was God. And now once more, who was the little boy?"

Several children said "Jesus Christ," and one little boy who evidently thought that any connexion between babies and religion must have something to do with the Holy Innocents confidently called out "Herod."

"No, no, no," said the Missioner. "Surely the little boy is myself. And what is the baby?"

Without hesitation the boys and girls all together shouted "Jesus Christ."

"No, no. The baby is our Holy Catholic Faith. For which we are ready if necessary to—?"

There was no answer.

"To do what?"

"To be baptized," one boy hazarded.

"To die," said the Missioner reproachfully.

"To die," the class complacently echoed.

"And now what is the perambulator?"

This was a puzzle, but at last somebody tried:

"The Body and Blood of Our Lord, Jesus Christ."

"No, no. The perambulator is our Mission here in Lima Street. The old perambulator is the Church where we are sitting at Mass and the new perambulator is—"

"The new church," two children answered simultaneously.

"Quite right. And now, who is the nursemaid? The nursemaid is the Bishop of London. You remember that last Sunday we talked about bishops. What is a bishop?"

"A high-priest."

"Well, that is not a bad answer, but don't you remember we said that bishop meant 'overseer,' and you all know what an overseer is. Any of your fathers who go out to work will tell you that. So the Bishop like the nursemaid in my parable thought he knew better what clothes the baby ought to wear in the new perambulator, that is to say what services we ought to have in the new St. Wilfred's. And as God is far away and we can only speak to Him by prayer, I have asked Him what I ought to do, and He has told me that I ought to go away and that He will put a brother in charge of the baby in the new perambulator. Who then is the brother?"

"Jesus Christ," said the class, convinced that this time it must be He.

"No, no. The brother is the priest who will come to take charge of the new St. Wilfred's. He will be called the Vicar, and St. Wilfred's, instead of being called the Lima Street Mission, will become a parish. And now, dear children, there is no time to say any more words to you. My heart is sore at leaving you, but in my sorrow I shall be comforted if I can have the certainty that you are growing up to be good and loyal Catholics, loving Our Blessed Lord and His dear Mother, honouring the Holy Saints and Martyrs, hating the Evil One and all his Spirits and obeying God with whose voice the Church speaks. Now, for the last time children, let me hear you sing We are but little children weak."

They all sang more loudly than usual to express a vague and troubled sympathy:

There's not a child so small and weak But has his little cross to take, His little work of love and praise That he may do for Jesus' sake.

And they bleated a most canorous Amen.

Mark noticed that his mother clutched his hand tightly while his father was speaking, and when once he looked up at her to show how loudly he too was singing, he saw that her eyes were full of tears.

The next morning was Monday.

"Good-bye, Mark, be a good boy and obedient to your mother," said his father on the platform at Paddington.

"Who is that man?" Mark whispered when the guard locked them in.

His mother explained, and Mark looked at him with as much awe as if he were St. Peter with the keys of Heaven at his girdle. He waved his handkerchief from the window while the train rushed on through tunnels and between gloomy banks until suddenly the world became green, and there was the sun in a great blue and white sky. Mark looked at his mother and saw that again there were tears in her eyes, but that they sparkled like diamonds.



CHAPTER VI

NANCEPEAN

The Rhos or, as it is popularly written and pronounced, the Rose is a tract of land in the south-west of the Duchy of Cornwall, ten miles long and six at its greatest breadth, which on account of its remoteness from the railway, its unusual geological formation, and its peninsular shape possesses both in the character of its inhabitants and in the peculiar aspects of the natural scene all the limitations and advantages of an island. The main road running south to Rose Head from Rosemarket cuts the peninsula into two unequal portions, the eastern and by far the larger of which consists of a flat tableland two or three hundred feet above the sea covered with a bushy heath, which flourishes in the magnesian soil and which when in bloom is of such a clear rosy pink, with nothing to break the level monochrome except scattered drifts of cotton grass, pools of silver water and a few stunted pines, that ignorant observers have often supposed that the colour gave its name to the whole peninsula. The ancient town of Rosemarket, which serves as the only channel of communication with the rest of Cornwall, lies in the extreme north-west of the peninsula between a wide creek of the Roseford river and the Rose Pool, an irregular heart-shaped water about four miles in circumference which on the west is only separated from the Atlantic by a bar of fine shingle fifty yards across.

The parish of Nancepean, of which Mark's grandfather the Reverend Charles Elphinstone Trehawke had been vicar for nearly thirty years, ran southward from the Rose Pool between the main road and the sea for three miles. It was a country of green valleys unfolding to the ocean, and of small farms fertile enough when they were sheltered from the prevailing wind; but on the southern confines of the parish the soil became shallow and stony, the arable fields degenerated into a rough open pasturage full of gorse and foxgloves and gradually widening patches of heather, until finally the level monochrome of the Rhos absorbed the last vestiges of cultivation, and the parish came to an end.

The actual village of Nancepean, set in a hollow about a quarter of a mile from the sea, consisted of a smithy, a grocer's shop, a parish hall and some two dozen white cottages with steep thatched roofs lying in their own gardens on either side of the unfrequented road that branched from the main road to follow the line of the coast. Where this road made the turn south a track strewn with grey shingle ran down between the cliffs, at this point not much more than grassy hummocks, to Nancepean beach which extended northward in a wide curve until it disappeared two miles away in the wooded heights above the Rose Pool. The metalled coast road continued past the Hanover Inn, an isolated house standing at the head of a small cove, to make the long ascent of Pendhu Cliff three hundred and fifty feet high, from the brow of which it descended between banks of fern past St. Tugdual's Church to the sands of Church Cove, whence it emerged to climb in a steep zigzag the next headland, beyond which it turned inland again to Lanyon and rejoined the main road to Rose Head. The church itself had no architectural distinction; but the solitary position, the churchyard walls sometimes washed by high spring tides, the squat tower built into the rounded grassy cliff that protected it from the direct attack of the sea, and its impressive antiquity combined to give it more than the finest architecture could give. Nowhere in the surrounding landscape was there a sign of human habitation, neither on the road down from Pendhu nor on the road up toward Lanyon, not on the bare towans sweeping from the beach to the sky in undulating waves of sandy grass, nor in the valley between the towans and Pendhu, a wide green valley watered by a small stream that flowed into the cove, where it formed a miniature estuary, the configuration of whose effluence changed with every tide.

The Vicarage was not so far from the church as the church was from the village, but it was some way from both. It was reached from Nancepean by a road or rather by a gated cart-track down one of the numerous valleys of the parish, and it was reached from the church by another cart-track along the valley between Pendhu and the towans. Probably it was an ancient farmhouse, and it must have been a desolate and austere place until, as at the date when Mark first came there, it was graced by the perfume and gold of acacias, by wistaria and jasmine and honeysuckle, by the ivory goblets of magnolias, by crimson fuchsias, and where formerly its grey walls grew mossy north and east by pink and white camelias and the waxen bells of lapagerias. The garden was a wilderness of scarlet rhododendrons from the thickets of which innumerable blackbirds and thrushes preyed upon the peas. The lawns were like meadows; the lily ponds were marbled with weeds; the stables were hardly to be reached on account of the tangle of roses and briers that filled the abandoned yard. The front drive was bordered by evergreen oaks, underneath the shade of which blue hydrangeas flowered sparsely with a profusion of pale-green foliage and lanky stems.

Mark when he looked out of his window on the morning after his arrival thought that he was in fairyland. He looked at the rhododendrons; he looked at the raindrops of the night sparkling in the morning sun; he looked at the birds, and the blue sky, and across the valley to a hillside yellow with gorse. He hardly knew how to restrain himself from waking his mother with news of the wonderful sights and sounds of this first vision of the country; but when he saw a clump of daffodils nodding in the grass below, it was no longer possible to be considerate. Creeping to his mother's door, he gently opened it and listened. He meant only to whisper "Mother," but in his excitement he shouted, and she suddenly roused from sleep by his voice sat up in alarm.

"Mother, there are seven daffodils growing wild under my window."

"My darling, you frightened me so. I thought you'd hurt yourself."

"I don't know how my voice came big like that," said Mark apologetically. "I only meant it to be a whisper. But you weren't dreadfully frightened? Or were you?"

His mother smiled.

"No, not dreadfully frightened."

"Well, do you think I might dress myself and go in the garden?"

"You mustn't disturb grandfather."

"Oh, mother, of course not."

"All right, darling. But it's only six o'clock. Very early. And you must remember that grandfather may be tired. He had to wait an hour for us at Rosemarket last night."

"He's very nice, isn't he?"

Mark did not ask this tentatively; he really did think that his grandfather was very nice, although he had been puzzled and not a little frightened by his bushy black eyebrows slanting up to a profusion of white hair. Mark had never seen such eyebrows, and he wondered whatever grandfather's moustache would be like if it were allowed to grow.

"He's a dear," said Mrs. Lidderdale fervidly. "And now, sweetheart, if you really intend to dress yourself run along, because Mother wants to sleep a little longer if she can."

The only difficulty Mark had was with his flannel front, because one of the tapes vanished like a worm into its hole, and nothing in his armoury was at once long enough and pointed enough to hook it out again. Finally he decided that at such an early hour of the morning it would not matter if he went out exposing his vest, and soon he was wandering in that enchanted shrubbery of rhododendrons, alternating between imagining it to be the cave of Aladdin or the beach where Sinbad found all the pebbles to be precious stones. He wandered down hill through the thicket, listening with a sense of satisfaction to the increasing squelchiness of the peaty soil and feeling when the blackbirds fled at his approach with shrill quack and flapping wings much more like a hunter than he ever felt in the nursery at Lima Street. He resolved to bring his gun with him next time. This was just the place to find a hippopotamus, or even a crocodile. Mark had reached the bottom of the slope and discovered a dark sluggish stream full of decayed vegetable matter which was slowly oozing on its course. Or even a crocodile, he thought again; and he looked carefully at a half-submerged log. Or even a crocodile . . . yes, but people had often thought before that logs were not crocodiles and had not discovered their mistake until they were half way down the crocodile's throat. It had been amusing to fancy the existence of crocodiles when he was still close to the Vicarage, but suppose after all that there really were crocodiles living down here? Feeling a little ashamed of his cowardice, but glossing it over with an assumption of filial piety, Mark turned to go back through the rhododendrons so as not to be late for breakfast. He would find out if any crocodiles had been seen about here lately, and if they had not, he would bring out his gun and . . . suddenly Mark was turned inside out by terror, for not twenty yards away there was without any possibility of self-deception a wild beast something between an ant-eater and a laughing hyena that with nose to the ground was evidently pursuing him, and what was worse was between him and home. There flashed through Mark's mind the memories of what other hunters had done in such situations, what ruses they had adopted if unarmed, what method of defence if armed; but in the very instant of the panoramic flash Mark did what countless uncelebrated hunters must have done, he ran in the opposition direction from his enemy. In this case it meant jumping over the stream, crocodile or not, and tearing his away through snowberries and brambles until he emerged on the moors at the bottom of the valley.

It was not until he had put half a dozen small streams between himself and the unknown beast that Mark paused to look round. Behind him the valley was lost in a green curve; before him another curve shut out the ultimate view. On his left the slope of the valley rose to the sky in tiers of blazing yellow gorse; to his right he could see the thickets through which he had emerged upon this verdant solitude. But beyond the thickets there was no sign of the Vicarage. There was not a living thing in sight; there was nothing except the song of larks high up and imperceptible against the steady morning sun that shed a benign warmth upon the world, and particularly upon the back of Mark's neck when he decided that his safest course was to walk in the direction of the valley's gradual widening and to put as many more streams as he could between him and the beast. Having once wetted himself to the knees, he began to take a pleasure in splashing through the vivid wet greenery. He wondered what he should behold at the next curve of the valley; without knowing it he began to walk more slowly, for the beauty of the day was drowsing his fears; the spell of earth was upon him. He walked more slowly, because he was passing through a bed of forget-me-nots, and he could not bear to blind one of those myriad blue eyes. He chose most carefully the destination of each step, and walking thus he did not notice that the valley would curve no more, but was opening at last. He looked up in a sudden consciousness of added space, and there serene as the sky above was spread the sea. Yesterday from the train Mark had had what was actually his first view of the sea; but the rain had taken all the colour out of it, and he had been thrilled rather by the word than by the fact. Now the word was nothing, the fact was everything. There it was within reach of him, blue as the pictures always made it. The streams of the valley had gathered into one, and Mark caring no more what happened to the forget-me-nots ran along the bank. This morning when the stream reached the shore it broke into twenty limpid rivulets, each one of which ploughed a separate silver furrow across the glistening sand until all were merged in ocean, mighty father of streams and men. Mark ran with the rivulets until he stood by the waves' edge. All was here of which he had read, shells and seaweed, rocks and cliffs and sand; he felt like Robinson Crusoe when he looked round him and saw nothing to break the solitude. Every point of the compass invited exploration and promised adventure. That white road running northward and rising with the cliffs, whither did it lead, what view was outspread where it dipped over the brow of the high table-land and disappeared into the naked sky beyond? The billowy towans sweeping up from the beach appeared to him like an illimitable prairie on which buffaloes and bison might roam. Whither led the sandy track, the summit of whose long diagonal was lost in the brightness of the morning sky? And surely that huddled grey building against an isolated green cliff must be grandfather's church of which his mother had often told him. Mark walked round the stone walls that held up the little churchyard and, entering by a gate on the farther side, he looked at the headstones and admired the feathery tamarisks that waved over the tombs. He was reading an inscription more legible than most on a headstone of highly polished granite, when he heard a voice behind him say:

"You mind what you're doing with that grave. That's my granfa's grave, that is, and if you touch it, I'll knock 'ee down."

Mark looked round and beheld a boy of about his own age and size in a pair of worn corduroy knickerbockers and a guernsey, who was regarding him from fierce blue eyes under a shock of curly yellow hair.

"I'm not touching it," Mark explained. Then something warned him that he must assert himself, if he wished to hold his own with this boy, and he added:

"But if I want to touch it, I will."

"Will 'ee? I say you won't do no such a thing then."

Mark seized the top of the headstone as firmly as his small hands would allow him and invited the boy to look what he was doing.

"Lev go," the boy commanded.

"I won't," said Mark.

"I'll make 'ee lev go."

"All right, make me."

The boy punched Mark's shoulder, and Mark punched blindly back, hitting his antagonist such a little way above the belt as to lay himself under the imputation of a foul blow. The boy responded by smacking Mark's face with his open palm; a moment later they were locked in a close struggle, heaving and panting and pushing until both of them tripped on the low railing of a grave and rolled over into a carefully tended bed of primroses, whence they were suddenly jerked to their feet, separated, and held at arm's length by an old man with a grey beard and a small round hole in the left temple.

"I'll learn you to scat up my tombs," said the old man shaking them violently. "'Tisn't the first time I've spoken to you, Cass Dale, and who's this? Who's this boy?"

"Oh, my gosh, look behind 'ee, Mr. Timbury. The bullocks is coming into the churchyard."

Mr. Timbury loosed his hold on the two boys as he turned, and Cass Dale catching hold of Mark's hand shouted:

"Come on, run, or he'll have us again."

They were too quick for the old man's wooden leg, and scrambling over the wall by the south porch of the church they were soon out of danger on the beach below.

"My gosh, I never heard him coming. If I hadn't have thought to sing out about the bullocks coming, he'd have laid that stick round us sure enough. He don't care where he hits anybody, old man Timbury don't. I belong to hear him tap-tapping along with his old wooden stump, but darn 'ee I never heard 'un coming this time."

The old man was leaning over the churchyard wall, shaking his stick and abusing them with violent words.

"That's fine language for a sexton," commented Cass Dale. "I'd be ashamed to swear like that, I would. You wouldn't hear my father swear like that. My father's a local preacher."

"So's mine," said Mark.

"Is he? Where to?"

"London."

"A minister, is he?"

"No, he's a priest."

"Does he kiss the Pope's toe? My gosh, if the Pope asked me to kiss his toe, I'd soon tell him to kiss something else, I would."

"My father doesn't kiss the Pope's toe," said Mark.

"I reckon he does then," Cass replied. "Passon Trehawke don't though. Passon Trehawke's some fine old chap. My father said he'd lev me go church of a morning sometimes if I'd a mind. My father belongs to come himself to the Harvest Home, but my granfa never came to church at all so long as he was alive. 'Time enough when I'm dead for that' he used to say. He was a big man down to the Chapel, my granfa was. Mostly when he did preach the maids would start screeching, so I've heard tell. But he were too old for preaching when I knawed 'un."

"My grandfather is the priest here," said Mark.

"There isn't no priest to Nancepean. Only Passon Trehawke."

"My grandfather's name is Trehawke."

"Is it, by gosh? Well, why for do 'ee call him a priest? He isn't a priest."

"Yes, he is."

"I say he isn't then. A parson isn't a priest. When I'm grown up I'm going to be a minister. What are you going to be?"

Mark had for some time past intended to be a keeper at the Zoological Gardens, but after his adventure with the wild beast in the thicket and this encounter with the self-confident Cass Dale he decided that he would not be a keeper but a parson. He informed Cass of his intention.

"Well, if you're a parson and I'm a minister," said Cass, "I'll bet everyone comes to listen to me preaching and none of 'em don't go to hear you."

"I wouldn't care if they didn't," Mark affirmed.

"You wouldn't care if you had to preach to a parcel of empty chairs and benches?" exclaimed Cass.

"St. Francis preached to the trees," said Mark. "And St. Anthony preached to the fishes."

"They must have been a couple of loonies."

"They were saints," Mark insisted.

"Saints, were they? Well, my father doesn't think much of saints. My father says he reckons saints is the same as other people, only a bit worse if anything. Are you saved?"

"What from?" Mark asked.

"Why, from Hell of course. What else would you be saved from?"

"You might be saved from a wild beast," Mark pointed out. "I saw a wild beast this morning. A wild beast with a long nose and a sort of grey colour."

"That wasn't a wild beast. That was an old badger."

"Well, isn't a badger a wild beast?"

Cass Dale laughed scornfully.

"My gosh, if that isn't a good one! I suppose you'd say a fox was a wild beast?"

"No, I shouldn't," said Mark, repressing an inclination to cry, so much mortified was he by Cass Dale's contemptuous tone.

"All the same," Cass went on. "It don't do to play around with badgers. There was a chap over to Lanbaddern who was chased right across the Rose one evening by seven badgers. He was in a muck of sweat when he got home. But one old badger isn't nothing."

Mark had been counting on his adventure with the wild beast to justify his long absence should he be reproached by his mother on his return to the Vicarage. The way it had been disposed of by Cass Dale as an old badger made him wonder if after all it would be accepted as such a good excuse.

"I ought to be going home," he said. "But I don't think I remember the way."

"To Passon Trehawke's?"

Mark nodded.

"I'll show 'ee," Cass volunteered, and he led the way past the mouth of the stream to the track half way up the slope of the valley.

"Ever eat furze flowers?" asked Cass, offering Mark some that he had pulled off in passing. "Kind of nutty taste they've got, I reckon. I belong to eat them most days."

Mark acquired the habit and agreed with Cass that the blossoms were delicious.

"Only you don't want to go eating everything you see," Cass warned him. "I reckon you'd better always ask me before you eat anything. But furze flowers is all right. I've eaten thousands. Next Friday's Good Friday."

"I know," said Mark reverently.

"We belong to get limpets every Good Friday. Are you coming with me?"

"Won't I be in church?" Mark inquired with memories of Good Friday in Lima Street.

"Yes, I suppose they'll have some sort of a meeting down Church," said Cass. "But you can come afterward. I'll wait for 'ee in Dollar Cove. That's the next cove to Church Cove on the other side of the Castle Cliff, and there's some handsome cave there. Years ago my granfa knawed a chap who saw a mermaid combing out her hair in Dollar Cove. But there's no mermaids been seen lately round these parts. My father says he reckons since they scat up the apple orchards and give over drinking cider they won't see no more mermaids to Nancepean. Have you signed the pledge?"

"What's that?" Mark asked.

"My gosh, don't you know what the pledge is? Why, that's when you put a blue ribbon in your buttonhole and swear you won't drink nothing all your days."

"But you'd die," Mark objected. "People must drink."

"Water, yes, but there's no call for any one to drink anything only water. My father says he reckons more folk have gone to hell from drink than anything. You ought to hear him preach about drink. Why, when it gets known in the village that Sam Dale's going to preach on drink there isn't a seat down Chapel. Well, I tell 'ee he frightened me last time I sat under him. That's why old man Timbury has it in for me whenever he gets the chance."

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse