THE BISHOP'S SECRET
Author of "The Mystery of a Hansom Cab," "For the Defense," "The Harlequin Opal," "The Girl from Malta," Etc.
Chicago and New York: Rand, McNally & Company, Publishers.
Copyright, 1900, by Rand, McNally & Co. Copyright, 1906, by Rand, McNally & Co.
In his earlier works, notably in "The Mystery of a Hansom Cab" and "The Silent House in Pimlico," Mr. Hume won a reputation second to none for plot of the stirring, ingenious, misleading, and finally surprising kind, and for working out his plot in vigorous and picturesque English.
In "The Bishop's Secret," while there is no falling off in plot and style, there is a welcome and marvelous broadening out as to the cast of characters, representing an unusually wide range of typical men and women. These are not laboriously described by the author, but are made to reveal themselves in action and speech in a way that has, for the reader, all the charm of personal intercourse with living people.
Mr. Hume's treatment of the peculiar and exclusive ecclesiastical society of a small English cathedral city is quite worthy of Anthony Trollope, and his leading character, Bishop Pendle, is equal to Trollope's best bishop. The Reverend Mr. Cargrim, the Bishop's poor and most unworthy protege, is a meaner Uriah Heep. Mrs. Pansey is the embodiment of all shrewishness, and yields unlimited amusement. The Gypsies are genuine—such as George Borrow, himself, would have pictured them—not the ignorant caricatures so frequently drawn by writers too lazy to study their subject.
Besides these types, there are several which seem to have had no exact prototypes in preceding fiction. Such are Doctor Graham, "The Man with a Scar," the Mosk family—father, mother, and daughter—Gabriel Pendle, Miss Winchello, and, last but not least, Mr. Baltic—a detective so unique in character and methods as to make Conan Doyle turn green with envy.
All in all, this story is so rich in the essential elements of worthy fiction—in characterization, exciting adventure, suggestions of the marvelous, wit, humor, pathos, and just enough of tragedy—that it is offered to the American public in all confidence that it will be generally and heartily welcomed.
'ENTER MRS PANSEY AS CHORUS'
Of late years an anonymous mathematician has declared that in the British Isles the female population is seven times greater than the male; therefore, in these days is fulfilled the scriptural prophecy that seven women shall lay hold of one man and entreat to be called by his name. Miss Daisy Norsham, a veteran Belgravian spinster, decided, after some disappointing seasons, that this text was particularly applicable to London. Doubtful, therefore, of securing a husband at the rate of one chance in seven, or dissatisfied at the prospect of a seventh share in a man, she resolved upon trying her matrimonial fortunes in the country. She was plain, this lady, as she was poor; nor could she rightly be said to be in the first flush of maidenhood. In all matters other than that of man-catching she was shallow past belief. Still, she did hope, by dint of some brisk campaigning in the diocese of Beorminster, to capture a whole man unto herself.
Her first step was to wheedle an invitation out of Mrs Pansey, an archdeacon's widow—then on a philanthropic visit to town—and she arrived, towards the end of July, in the pleasant cathedral city of Beorminster, in time to attend a reception at the bishop's palace. Thus the autumn manoeuvres of Miss Norsham opened most auspiciously.
Mrs Pansey, with whom this elderly worshipper of Hymen had elected to stay during her visit, was a gruff woman, with a scowl, who 'looked all nose and eyebrows.' Few ecclesiastical matrons were so well known in the diocese of Beorminster as was Mrs Pansey; not many, it must be confessed, were so ardently hated, for there were few pies indeed in which this dear lady had not a finger; few keyholes through which her eye did not peer. Her memory and her tongue, severally and combined, had ruined half the reputations in the county. In short, she was a renowned social bully, and like most bullies she gained her ends by scaring the lives out of meeker and better-bred people than herself. These latter feared her 'scenes' as she rejoiced in them, and as she knew the pasts of her friends from their cradle upwards, she usually contrived, by a pitiless use of her famous memory, to put to rout anyone so ill-advised as to attempt a stand against her domineering authority. When her tall, gaunt figure—invariably arrayed in the blackest of black silks—was sighted in a room, those present either scuttled out of the way or judiciously held their peace, for everyone knew Mrs Pansey's talent for twisting the simplest observation into some evil shape calculated to get its author into trouble. She excelled in this particular method of making mischief. Possessed of ample means and ample leisure, both of these helped her materially to build up her reputation of a philanthropic bully. She literally swooped down upon the poor, taking one and all in charge to be fed, physicked, worked and guided according to her own ideas. In return for benefits conferred, she demanded an unconditional surrender of free will. Nobody was to have an opinion but Mrs Pansey; nobody knew what was good for them unless their ideas coincided with those of their patroness—which they never did. Mrs Pansey had never been a mother, yet, in her own opinion, there was nothing about children she did not know. She had not studied medicine, therefore she dubbed the doctors a pack of fools, saying she could cure where they failed. Be they tinkers, tailors, soldiers, sailors, Mrs Pansey invariably knew more about their vocations than they themselves did or were ever likely to do. In short, this celebrated lady—for her reputation was more than local—was what the American so succinctly terms a 'she-boss'; and in a less enlightened age she would indubitably have been ducked in the Beorflete river as a meddlesome, scolding, clattering jade. Indeed, had anyone been so brave as to ignore the flight of time and thus suppress her, the righteousness of the act would most assuredly have remained unquestioned.
Now, as Miss Norsham wanted, for her own purposes, to 'know the ropes,' she was fortunate to come within the gloom of Mrs Pansey's silken robes. For Mrs Pansey certainly knew everyone, if she did not know everything, and whomsoever she chaperoned had to be received by Beorminster society, whether Beorminster society liked it or not. All protegees of Mrs Pansey sheltered under the aegis of her terrible reputation, and woe to the daring person who did not accept them as the most charming, the cleverest, and in every way the most desirable of their sex. But in the memory of man, no one had ever sustained battle against Mrs Pansey, and so this feminine Selkirk remained monarch of all she surveyed, and ruled over a community consisting mainly of canons, vicars and curates, with their respective wives and offsprings. There were times when her subjects made use of language not precisely ecclesiastic, and not infrequently Mrs Pansey's name was mentally included in the Commination Service.
Thus it chanced that Daisy, the spinster, found herself in Mrs Pansey's carriage on her way to the episcopalian reception, extremely well pleased with herself, her dress, her position, and her social guardian angel. The elder lady was impressively gloomy in her usual black silk, fashioned after the early Victorian mode, when elegance invariably gave place to utility. Her headgear dated back to the later Georgian epoch. It consisted mainly of a gauze turban twinkling with jet ornaments. Her bosom was defended by a cuirass of cold-looking steel beads, finished off at the throat by a gigantic brooch, containing the portrait and hair of the late archdeacon. Her skirts were lengthy and voluminous, so that they swept the floor with a creepy rustle like the frou-frou of a brocaded spectre. She wore black silk mittens, and on either bony wrist a band of black velvet clasped with a large cameo set hideously in pale gold. Thus attired—a veritable caricature by Leech—this survival of a prehistoric age sat rigidly upright and mangled the reputations of all and sundry.
Miss Norsham, in all but age, was very modern indeed. Her neck was lean; her arms were thin. She made up for lack of quality by display of quantity. In her decollete costume she appeared as if composed of bones and diamonds. The diamonds represented the bulk of Miss Norsham's wealth, and she used them not only for the adornment of her uncomely person, but for the deception of any possible suitor into the belief that she was well dowered. She affected gauzy fabrics and fluttering baby ribbons, so that her dress was as the fleecy flakes of snow clinging to a well-preserved ruin.
For the rest she had really beautiful eyes, a somewhat elastic mouth, and a straight nose well powdered to gloss over its chronic redness. Her teeth were genuine and she cultivated what society novelists term silvery peals of laughter. In every way she accentuated or obliterated nature in her efforts to render herself attractive.
Ichabod was writ large on her powdered brow, and it needed no great foresight to foresee the speedy approach of acidulated spinsterhood. But, to do her justice, this regrettable state of single blessedness was far from being her own fault. If her good fortune had but equalled her courage and energy she should have relinquished celibacy years ago.
'Oh, dear—dear Mrs Pansey,' said the younger lady, strong in adjectives and interjections and reduplication of both, 'is the bishop very, very sweet?'
'He's sweet enough as bishops go,' growled Mrs Pansey, in her deep-toned voice. 'He might be better, and he might be worse. There is too much Popish superstition and worship of idols about him for my taste. If the departed can smell,' added the lady, with an illustrative sniff, 'the late archdeacon must turn in his grave when those priests of Baal and Dagon burn incense at the morning service. Still, Bishop Pendle has his good points, although he is a time-server and a sycophant.'
'Is he one of the Lancashire Pendles, dear Mrs Pansey?'
'A twenty-fifth cousin or thereabouts. He says he is a nearer relation, but I know much more about it than he does. If you want an ornamental bishop with good legs for gaiters, and a portly figure for an apron, Dr Pendle's the man. But as a God-fearing priest' (with a groan), 'a simple worshipper' (groan) 'and a lowly, repentant sinner' (groan), 'he leaves much—much to be desired.'
'Oh, Mrs Pansey, the dear bishop a sinner?'
'Why not?' cried Mrs Pansey, ferociously; 'aren't we all miserable sinners? Dr Pendle's a human worm, just as you are—as I am. You may dress him in lawn sleeves and a mitre, and make pagan genuflections before his throne, but he is only a worm for all that.'
'What about his wife?' asked Daisy, to avert further expansion of this text.
'A poor thing, my dear, with a dilated heart and not as much blood in her body as would fill a thimble. She ought to be in a hospital, and would be, too, if I had my way. Lolling all day long on a sofa, and taking glasses of champagne between doses of iron and extract of beef; then giving receptions and wearing herself out. How he ever came to marry the white-faced doll I can't imagine. She was a Mrs Creagth when she caught him.'
'Oh, really! a widow?'
'Of course, of course. You don't suppose she's a bigamist even though he's a fool, do you?' and the eyebrows went up and down in the most alarming manner. 'The bishop—he was a London curate then—married her some eight-and-twenty years ago, and I daresay he has repented of it ever since. They have three children—George' (with a whisk of her fan at the mention of each name), 'who is a good-looking idiot in a line regiment; Gabriel, a curate as white-faced as his mother, and no doubt afflicted as she is with heart trouble. He was in Whitechapel, but his father put him in a curacy here—it was sheer nepotism. Then there is Lucy; she is the best of the bunch, which is not saying much. They've engaged her to young Sir Harry Brace, and now they are giving this reception to celebrate having inveigled him into the match.'
'Engaged?' sighed the fair Daisy, enviously. 'Oh, do tell me if this girl is really, really pretty.'
'Humph,' said the eyebrows, 'a pale, washed-out rag of a creature—but what can you expect from such a mother? No brains, no style, no conversation; always a simpering, weak-eyed rag baby. Oh, my dear, what fools men are!'
'Ah, you may well say that, dear Mrs Pansey,' assented the spinster, thinking wrathfully of this unknown girl who had succeeded where she had failed. 'Is it a very, very good match?'
'Ten thousand a year and a fine estate, my dear. Sir Harry is a nice young fellow, but a fool. An absentee landlord, too,' grumbled Mrs Pansey, resentfully. 'Always running over the world poking his nose into what doesn't concern him, like the Wandering Jew or the Flying Dutchman. Ah, my dear, husbands are not what they used to be. The late archdeacon never left his fireside while I was there. I knew better than to let him go to Paris or Pekin, or some of those sinks of iniquity. Cook and Gaze indeed!' snorted Mrs Pansey, indignantly; 'I would abolish them by Act of Parliament. They turn men into so many Satans walking to and fro upon the earth. Oh, the immorality of these latter days! No wonder the end of all things is predicted.'
Miss Norsham paid little attention to the latter portion of this diatribe. As Sir Harry Brace was out of the matrimonial market it conveyed no information likely to be of use to her in the coming campaign. She wished to be informed as to the number and the names of eligible men, and forewarned with regard to possible rivals.
'And who is really and truly the most beautiful girl in Beorminster?' she asked abruptly.
'Mab Arden,' replied Mrs Pansey, promptly. 'There, now,' with an emphatic blow of her fan, 'she is pretty, if you like, though I daresay there is more art than nature about her.'
'Who is Mab Arden, dear Mrs Pansey?'
'She is Miss Whichello's niece, that's who she is.'
'Whichello? Oh, good gracious me! what a very, very funny name. Is Miss Whichello a foreigner?'
'Foreigner? Bah!' cried Mrs Pansey, like a stentorian ram, 'she belongs to a good old English family, and, in my opinion, she disgraces them thoroughly. A meddlesome old maid, who wants to foist her niece on to George Pendle; and she's likely to succeed, too,' added the lady, rubbing her nose with a vexed air, 'for the young ass is in love with Mab, although she is three years older than he is. Mr Cargrim also likes the girl, though I daresay it is money with him.'
'Really! Mr Cargrim?'
'Yes, he is the bishop's chaplain; a Jesuit in disguise I call him, with his moping and mowing and sneaky ways. Butter wouldn't melt in his mouth; oh, dear no! I gave my opinion about him pretty plainly to Dr Graham, I can tell you, and Graham's the only man with brains in this city of fools.'
'Is Dr Graham young?' asked Miss Norsham, in the faint hope that Mrs Pansey's list of inhabitants might include a wealthy bachelor.
'Young? He's sixty, if you call that young, and in his second childhood. An Atheist, too. Tom Payn, Colonel Ingersoll, Viscount Amberly—those are his gods, the pagan! I'd burn him on a tar-barrel if I had my way. It's a pity we don't stick to some customs of our ancestors.'
'Oh, dear me, are there no young men at all?'
'Plenty, and all idiots. Brainless officers, whose wives would have to ride on a baggage-waggon; silly young squires, whose ideal of womanhood is a brazen barmaid; and simpering curates, put into the Church as the fools of their respective families. I don't know what men are coming to,' groaned Mrs Pansey. 'The late archdeacon was clever and pious; he honoured and obeyed me as the marriage service says a man should do. I was the light of the dear man's eyes.'
Had Mrs Pansey stated that she had been the terror of the late archdeacon's life she would have been vastly nearer the truth, but such a remark never occurred to her. Although she had bullied and badgered the wretched little man until he had seized the first opportunity of finding in the grave the peace denied him in life, she really and truly believed that she had been a model wife. The egotism of first person singular was so firmly ingrained in the woman that she could not conceive what a scourge she was to mankind in general; what a trial she had been to her poor departed husband in particular. If the late Archdeacon Pansey had not died he would doubtless have become a missionary to some cannibal tribe in the South Seas in the hope that his tough helpmate would be converted into 'long-pig.' But, unluckily for Beorminster, he was dead and his relict was a mourning widow, who constantly referred to her victim as a perfect husband. And yet Mrs Pansey considered that Anthony Trollope's celebrated Mrs Proudie was an overdrawn character.
As to Miss Norsham, she was in the depths of despair, for, if Mrs Pansey was to be believed, there was no eligible husband for her in Beorminster. It was with a heavy heart that the spinster entered the palace, and it was with the courage born of desperation that she perked up and smiled on the gay crowd she found within.
THE BISHOP IS WANTED
The episcopalian residence, situate some distance from the city, was a mediaeval building, enshrined in the remnant of a royal chase, and in its perfect quiet and loneliness resembled the palace of the Sleeping Beauty. Its composite architecture was of many centuries and many styles, for bishop after bishop had pulled down portions and added others, had levelled a tower here and erected a wing there, until the result was a jumble of divers designs, incongruous but picturesque. Time had mellowed the various parts into one rich coloured whole of perfect beauty, and elevated on a green rise, surrounded by broad stone terraces, with towers and oriels and turrets and machicolated battlements; clothed with ivy, buried amid ancient trees, it looked like the realisation of a poet's dream. Only long ages and many changing epochs; only home-loving prelates, ample monies, and architects of genius, could have created so beautiful and unique a fabric. It was the admiration of transatlantic tourists with a twang; the desire of millionaires. Aladdin's industrious genii would have failed to build such a masterpiece, unless their masters had arranged to inhabit it five centuries or so after construction. Time had created it, as Time would destroy it, but at present it was in perfect preservation, and figured in steel-plate engravings as one of the stately homes of England. No wonder the mitre of Beorminster was a coveted prize, when its gainer could dwell in so noble and matchless a mansion.
As the present prelate was an up-to-date bishop, abreast of his time and fond of his creature comforts, the interior of the palace was modernised completely in accordance with the luxurious demands of nineteenth century civilisation. The stately reception-rooms—thrown open on this night to what the Beorminster Weekly Chronicle, strong in foreign tongues, tautologically called 'the elite and creme de la creme of the diocese'—were brilliantly illuminated by electric lamps and furnished magnificently throughout, in keeping with their palatial appearance. The ceilings were painted in the Italian style, with decently-clothed Olympian deities; the floors were of parquetry, polished so highly, and reflecting so truthfully, that the guests seemed to be walking, in some magical way, upon still water. Noble windows, extending from floor to roof, were draped with purple curtains, and stood open to the quiet moonlit world without; between these, tall mirrors flashed back gems and colours, moving figures and floods of amber radiance, and enhanced by reduplicated reflections the size of the rooms. Amid all this splendour of warmth and tints and light moved the numerous guests of the bishop. Almost every invitation had been accepted, for the receptions at the palace were on a large and liberal scale, particularly as regards eating and drinking. Dr Pendle, in addition to his official salary, possessed a handsome income, and spent it in the lavish style of a Cardinal Wolsey. He was wise enough to know how the outward and visible signs of prosperity and dignity affect the popular imagination, and frequently invited the clergy and laity to feast at the table of Mother Church, to show that she could dispense loaves and fishes with the best, and vie with Court and Society in the splendour and hospitality of her entertainments. As he approved of an imposing ritual at the cathedral, so he affected a magnificent way of living at the palace. Mrs Pansey and many others declared that Dr Pendle's aims in that direction were Romish. Perhaps they were, but he could scarcely have followed a better example, since the Church of Peter owes much of its power to a judicious employment of riches and ritual, and a dexterous gratification of the lust of the eye. The Anglican Church is more dignified now than she was in the days of the Georges, and very rightly, too, since God's ministers should not be the poorest or meanest of men.
Naturally, as the host was clerical and the building ecclesiastical, the clergy predominated at this entertainment. The bishop and the dean were the only prelates of their rank present, but there were archdeacons, and canons and rectors, and a plentiful supply of curates, all, in their own opinion, bishops in embryo. The shape and expression of the many faces were various—ascetic, worldly, pale, red, round, thin, fat, oval; each one revealed the character of its owner. Some lean, bent forms were those of men filled with the fire of religion for its own sake; others, stout, jolly gentlemen in comfortable livings, loved the loaves and fishes of the Church as much as her precepts. The descendants of Friar Tuck and the Vicar of Bray were here, as well as those who would have been Wycliffes and Latimers had the fires of Smithfield still been alight. Obsequious curates bowed down to pompous prebendaries; bluff rectors chatted on cordial terms with suave archdeacons; and in the fold of the Church there were no black sheep on this great occasion. The shepherds and pastors of the Beorminster flock were polite, entertaining, amusing, and not too masterful, so that the general air was quite arcadian.
The laity also formed a strong force. There were lords magnificently condescending to commoners; M.P.s who talked politics, and M.P.s who had had enough of that sort of thing at St Stephen's and didn't; hearty squires from adjacent county seats; prim bankers, with whom the said squires were anxious to be on good terms, since they were the priests of Mammon; officers from near garrison towns, gay and lighthearted, who devoted themselves to the fairer portion of the company; and a sprinkling of barristers, literary men, hardy explorers, and such like minnows among Tritons. Last, but not least, the Mayor of Beorminster was present and posed as a modern Whittington—half commercial wealth, half municipal dignity. If some envious Anarchist had exploded a dynamite bomb in the vicinity of the palace on that night, the greatest, the most intellectual, the richest people of the county would have come to an untimely end, and then the realm of England, like the people themselves, would have gone to pieces. The Beorminster Chronicle reporter—also present with a flimsy book and a restless little pencil—worked up this idea on the spot into a glowing paragraph.
Very ungallantly the ladies have been left to the last; but now the last shall be first, although it is difficult to do the subject justice. The matrons of surrounding parishes, the ladies of Beorminster society, the damsels of town and country, were all present in their best attire, chattering and smiling, and becking and bowing, after the observant and diplomatic ways of their sex. Such white shoulders! such pretty faces! such Parisian toilettes! such dresses of obviously home manufacture never were seen in one company. The married ladies whispered scandal behind their fans, and in a Christian spirit shot out the lip of scorn at their social enemies; the young maidens sought for marriageable men, and lurked in darkish corners for the better ensnaring of impressionable males. Cupid unseen mingled in the throng and shot his arrows right and left, not always with the best result, as many post-nuptial experiences showed. There was talk of the gentle art of needlework, of the latest bazaar and the agreeable address delivered thereat by Mr Cargrim; the epicene pastime of lawn tennis was touched upon; and ardent young persons discussed how near they could go to Giant Pope's cave without getting into the clutches of its occupant. The young men talked golfing, parish work, horses, church, male millinery, polo and shooting; the young ladies chatted about Paris fashions and provincial adaptations thereof, the London season, the latest engagement, and the necessity of reviving the flirtatious game of croquet. Black coats, coloured dresses, flashing jewels, many-hued flowers,—the restless crowd resembled a bed of gaudy tulips tossed by the wind. And all this chattering, laughing, clattering, glittering mass of well-bred, well-groomed humanity moved, and swayed, and gyrated under the white glare of the electric lamps. Urbs in Rus; Belgravia in the Provinces; Vanity Fair amid the cornfields; no wonder this entertainment of Bishop and Mrs Pendle was the event of the Beorminster year.
Like an agreeable Jupiter amid adoring mortals, the bishop, with his chaplain in attendance, moved through the rooms, bestowing a word here, a smile there, and a hearty welcome on all. A fine-looking man was the Bishop of Beorminster; as stately in appearance as any prelate drawn by Du Maurier. He was over six feet, and carried himself in a soldierly fashion, as became a leader of the Church Militant. His legs were all that could be desired to fill out episcopalian gaiters; and his bland, clean-shaven face beamed with smiles and benignity. But Bishop Pendle was not the mere figure-head Mrs Pansey's malice declared him to be; he had great administrative powers, great organising capabilities, and controlled his diocese in a way which did equal credit to his heart and head. As he chatted with his guests and did the honours of the palace, he seemed to be the happiest of men, and well worthy of his exalted post. With a splendid position, a charming wife, a fine family, an obedient flock of clergy and laity, the bishop's lines were cast in pleasant places. There was not even the proverbial crumpled rose-leaf to render uncomfortable the bed he had made for himself. He was like an ecclesiastical Jacob—blessed above all men.
'Well, bishop!' said Dr Graham, a meagre sceptic, who did not believe in the endurance of human felicity, 'I congratulate you.'
'On my daughter's engagement?' asked the prelate, smiling pleasantly.
'On everything. Your position, your family, your health, your easy conscience; all is too smooth, too well with you. It can't last, your lordship, it can't last,' and the doctor shook his bald head, as no doubt Solon did at Croesus when he snubbed that too fortunate monarch.
'I am indeed blessed in the condition of life to which God has been pleased to call me.'
'No doubt! No doubt! But remember Polycrates, bishop, and throw your ring into the sea.'
'My dear Dr Graham,' said the bishop, rather stiffly, 'I do not believe in such paganism. God has blessed me beyond my deserts, no doubt, and I thank Him in all reverence for His kindly care.'
'Hum! Hum!' muttered Graham, shaking his head. 'When men thank fortune for her gifts she usually turns her back on them.'
'I am no believer in such superstitions, doctor.'
'Well, well, bishop, you have tempted the gods, let us see what they will do.'
'Gods or God, doctor?' demanded the bishop, with magnificent displeasure.
'Whichever you like, my lord; whichever you like.'
The bishop was nettled and rather chilled by this pessimism. He felt that it was his duty as a Churchman to administer a rebuke; but Dr Graham's pagan views were well known, and a correction, however dexterously administered, would only lead to an argument. A controversy with Graham was no joke, as he was as subtle as Socrates in discovering and attacking his adversary's weak points; so, not judging the present a fitting occasion to risk a fall, the bishop smoothed away an incipient frown, and blandly smiling, moved on, followed by his chaplain. Graham looked grimly after this modern Cardinal Wolsey.
'I have never,' soliloquised the sceptic, 'I have never known a man without his skeleton. I wonder if you have one, my lord. You look cheerful, you seem thoroughly happy; but you are too fortunate. If you have not a skeleton now, I feel convinced you will have to build a cupboard for one shortly. You thank blind fortune under the alias of God? Well! well! we shall see the result of your thanks. Wolsey! Napoleon! Bismarck! they all fell when most prosperous. Hum! hum! hum!'
Dr Graham had no reason to make this speech, beyond his belief—founded upon experience—that calms are always succeeded by storms. At present the bishop stood under a serene sky; and in no quarter could Graham descry the gathering of the tempest he prophesied. But for all that he had a premonition that evil days were at hand; and, sceptic as he was, he could not shake off the uneasy feeling. His mother had been a Highland woman, and the Celt is said to be gifted with second sight. Perhaps Graham inherited the maternal gift of forecasting the future, for he glanced ominously at the stately form of his host, and shook his head. He thought the bishop was too confident of continuous sunshine.
In the meantime, Dr Pendle, quite free from such forebodings, unfortunately came within speaking distance of Mrs Pansey, who, in her bell of St Paul's voice, was talking to a group of meek listeners. Daisy Norsham had long ago seized upon Gabriel Pendle, and was chatting with him on the edge of the circle, quite heedless of her chaperon's monologue. When Mrs Pansey saw the bishop she swooped down on him before he could get out of the way, which he would have done had courtesy permitted it. Mrs Pansey was the one person Dr Pendle dreaded, and if the late archdeacon had been alive he would have encouraged the missionary project with all his heart. 'To every man his own fear.' Mrs Pansey was the bishop's.
'Bishop!' cried the lady, in her most impressive archidiaconal manner, 'about that public-house, The Derby Winner, it must be removed.'
Cargrim, who was deferentially smiling at his lordship's elbow, cast a swift glance at Gabriel when he heard Mrs Pansey's remark. He had a belief—founded upon spying—that Gabriel knew too much about the public-house mentioned, which was in his district; and this belief was strengthened when he saw the young man start at the sound of the name. Instinctively he kept his eyes on Gabriel's face, which looked disturbed and anxious; too much so for social requirements.
'It must be removed,' repeated the bishop, gently; 'and why, Mrs Pansey?'
'Why, bishop? You ask why? Because it is a hot-bed of vice and betting and gambling; that's why!'
'But I really cannot see—I have not the power—'
'It's near the cathedral, too,' interrupted Mrs Pansey, whose manners left much to be desired. 'Scandalous!'
'When God erects a house of prayer, The devil builds a chapel there.
'Isn't it your duty to eradicate plague-spots, bishop?'
Before Dr Pendle could answer this rude question, a servant approached and spoke in a whisper to his master. The bishop looked surprised.
'A man to see me at this hour—at this time,' said he, repeating the message aloud. 'Who is he? What is his name?'
'I don't know, your lordship. He refused to give his name, but he insists upon seeing your lordship at once.'
'I can't see him!' said the bishop, sharply; 'let him call to-morrow.'
'My lord, he says it is a matter of life and death.'
Dr Pendle frowned. 'Most unbecoming language!' he murmured. 'Perhaps it may be as well to humour him. Where is he?'
'In the entrance hall, your lordship!'
'Take him into the library and say I will see him shortly. Most unusual,' said the bishop to himself. Then added aloud, 'Mrs Pansey, I am called away for a moment; pray excuse me.'
'We must talk about The Derby Winner later on,' said Mrs Pansey, determinedly.
'Oh, yes!—that is—really—I'll see.'
'Shall I accompany your lordship?' murmured Cargrim, officiously.
'No, Mr Cargrim, it is not necessary. I must see this man as he speaks so strongly, but I daresay he is only some pertinacious person who thinks that a bishop should be at the complete disposal of the public—the exacting public!'
With this somewhat petulant speech Dr Pendle walked away, not sorry to find an opportunity of slipping out of a noisy argument with Mrs Pansey. That lady's parting words were that she should expect him back in ten minutes to settle the question of The Derby Winner; or rather to hear how she intended to settle it. Cargrim, pleased at being left behind, since it gave him a chance of watching Gabriel, urged Mrs Pansey to further discussion of the question, and had the satisfaction of seeing that such discussion visibly disconcerted the curate.
And Dr Pendle? In all innocence he left the reception-rooms to speak with his untoward visitor in the library; but although he knew it not, he was entering upon a dark and tortuous path, the end of which he was not destined to see for many a long day. Dr Graham's premonition was likely to prove true, for in the serene sky under which the bishop had moved for so long, a tempest was gathering fast. He should have taken the doctor's advice and have sacrificed his ring like Polycrates, but, as in the case of that old pagan, the gods might have tossed back the gift and pursued their relentless aims. The bishop had no thoughts like these. As yet he had no skeleton, but the man in the library was about to open a cupboard and let out its grisly tenant to haunt prosperous Bishop Pendle. To him, as to all men, evil had come at the appointed hour.
THE UNFORESEEN HAPPENS
'I fear,' said Cargrim, with a gentle sigh, 'I fear you are right about that public-house, Mrs Pansey.'
The chaplain made this remark to renew the discussion, and if possible bring Gabriel into verbal conflict with the lady. He had a great idea of managing people by getting them under his thumb, and so far quite deserved Mrs Pansey's epithet of a Jesuit. Of late—as Cargrim knew by a steady use of his pale blue eyes—the curate had been visiting The Derby Winner, ostensibly on parochial business connected with the ill-health of Mrs Mosk, the landlord's wife. But there was a handsome daughter of the invalid who acted as barmaid, and Gabriel was a young and inflammable man; so, putting this and that together, the chaplain thought he discovered the germs of a scandal. Hence his interest in Mrs Pansey's proposed reforms.
'Right!' echoed the archidiaconal widow, loudly, 'of course I am right. The Derby Winner is a nest of hawks. William Mosk would have disgraced heathen Rome in its worst days; as for his daughter—well!' Mrs Pansey threw a world of horror into the ejaculation.
'Miss Mosk is a well-conducted young lady,' said Gabriel, growing red and injudicious.
'Lady!' bellowed Mrs Pansey, shaking her fan; 'and since when have brazen, painted barmaids become ladies, Mr Pendle?'
'She is most attentive to her sick mother,' protested the curate, wincing.
'No doubt, sir. I presume even Jezebel had some redeeming qualities. Rubbish! humbug! don't tell me! Can good come out of Nazareth?'
'Good did come out of Nazareth, Mrs Pansey.'
'That is enough, Mr Pendle; do not pollute young ears with blasphemy. And you the son of a bishop—the curate of a parish! Remember what is to be the portion of mockers, sir. What happened to the men who threw stones at David?'
'Oh, but really, dear Mrs Pansey, you know Mr Pendle is not throwing stones.'
'People who live in glass houses dare not, my dear. I doubt your interest in this young person, Mr Pendle. She is one who tires her head and paints her face, lying in wait for comely youths that she may destroy them. She—'
'Excuse me, Mrs Pansey!' cried Gabriel, with an angry look, 'you speak too freely and too ignorantly. The Derby Winner is a well-conducted house, for Mrs Mosk looks after it personally, and her daughter is an excellent young woman. I do not defend the father, but I hope to bring him to a sense of his errors in time. There is a charity which thinketh no evil, Mrs Pansey,' and with great heat Gabriel, forgetting his manners, walked off without taking leave of either the lady or Miss Norsham. Mrs Pansey tossed her turban and snorted, but seeing very plainly that she had gone too far, held for once her virulent tongue. Cargrim rubbed his hands and laughed softly.
'Our young friend talks warmly, Mrs Pansey. The natural chivalry of youth, my dear lady—nothing more.'
'I'll make it my business to assure myself that it is nothing more,' said Mrs Pansey, in low tones. 'I fear very much that the misguided young man has fallen into the lures of this daughter of Heth. Do you know anything about her, Mr Cargrim?'
Too wise to commit himself to speech, the chaplain cast up his pale eyes and looked volumes. This was quite enough for Mrs Pansey; she scented evil like a social vulture, and taking Cargrim's arm dragged him away to find out all the bad she could about The Derby Winner and its too attractive barmaid.
Left to herself, Miss Norsham seized upon Dean Alder, to whom she had been lately introduced, and played with the artillery of her eyes on that unattractive churchman. Mr Dean was old and wizen, but he was unmarried and rich, so Miss Norsham thought it might be worth her while to play Vivien to this clerical Merlin. His weak point,—speedily discovered,—was archaeology, and she was soon listening to a dry description of his researches into Beorminster municipal chronicles. But it was desperately hard work to fix her attention.
'Beorminster,' explained the pedantic dean, not unmoved by his listener's artificial charms, 'is derived from two Anglo-Saxon words—Beorh a hill, and mynster the church of a monastery. Anciently, our city was called Beorhmynster, "the church of the hill," for, as you can see, my dear young lady, our cathedral is built on the top of a considerable rise, and thence gained its name. The townsfolk were formerly vassals, and even serfs, of the monastery which was destroyed by Henry VIII.; but the Reformation brought about by that king put an end to the abbot's power. The head of the Beorhmynster monastery was a mitred abbot—'
'And Bishop Pendle is a mitred bishop,' interposed the fair Daisy, to show the quickness of her understanding, and thereby displaying her ignorance.
'All bishops are mitred,' said Dr Alder, testily; 'a crozier and a mitre are the symbols of their high office. But the Romish abbots of Beorhmynster were not bishops although they were mitred prelates.'
'Oh, how very, very amusing,' cried Daisy, suppressing a yawn. 'And the name of the river, dear Mr Dean? Does Beorflete mean the church of the hill too?'
'Certainly not, Miss Norsham. "Flete," formerly "fleot," is a Scandinavian word and signifies "a flood," "a stream," "a channel." Beorhfleot, or—as we now erroneously call it—Beorflete, means, in the vulgar tongue, the flood or stream of the hill. Even in Normandy the word fleot has been corrupted, for the town now called Harfleur was formerly correctly designated "Havoflete." But I am afraid you find this information dull, Miss Norsham!'
This last remark was occasioned by Daisy yawning. It is true that she held a fan, and had politely hidden her mouth when yawning; unfortunately, the fan was of transparent material, and Daisy quite forgot that Mr Dean could see the yawn, which he certainly did. In some confusion she extricated herself from an awkward situation by protesting that she was not tired but hungry, and suggested that Dr Alder should continue his instructive conversation at supper. Mollified by this dexterous evasion, which he saw no reason to disbelieve, the dean politely escorted his companion to the regions of champagne and chicken, both of which aided the lady to sustain further doses of dry-as-dust facts dug out of a monastic past by the persevering Dr Alder. It was in this artful fashion that the town mouse strove to ensnare the church mouse, and succeeded so well that when Mr Dean went home to his lonely house he concluded that it was just as well the monastic institution of celibacy had been abolished.
On leaving Mrs Pansey in disgust, Gabriel proceeded with considerable heat into the next room, where his mother held her court as hostess. Mrs Pendle was a pale, slight, small-framed woman with golden hair, languid eyes, and a languid manner. Owing to her delicate health she could not stand for any length of time, and therefore occupied a large and comfortable arm-chair. Her daughter Lucy, who resembled her closely in looks, but who had more colour in her face, stood near at hand talking to her lover. Both ladies were dressed in white silk, with few ornaments, and looked more like sisters than mother and daughter. Certainly Mrs Pendle appeared surprisingly young to be the parent of a grown-up family, but her continuance of youth was not due to art, as Mrs Pansey averred, but to the quiet and undisturbed life which her frail health compelled her to lead. The bishop was tenderly attached to her, and even at this late stage of their married life behaved towards her more like a lover than a husband. He warded off all worries and troubles from her; he surrounded her with pleasant people, and made her life luxurious and peaceful by every means obtainable in the way of money and influence. It was no wonder that Mrs Pendle, treading the Primrose Path with a devoted and congenial companion, appeared still young. She looked as fair and fragile as a peri, and as free from mortal cares.
'Is that you, Gabriel?' she said in a low, soft voice, smiling gently on her younger and favourite son. 'You look disturbed, my dear boy!'
'Mrs Pansey!' said Gabriel, and considering that the name furnished all necessary information, sat down near his mother and took one of her delicate hands in his own to smooth and fondle.
'Oh, indeed! Mrs Pansey!' echoed the bishop's wife, smiling still more; and with a slight shrug cast an amused look at Lucy, who in her turn caught Sir Harry's merry eyes and laughed outright.
'Old catamaran!' said Brace, loudly.
'Oh, Harry! Hush!' interposed Lucy, with an anxious glance, 'You shouldn't.'
'Why not? But for the present company I would say something much stronger.'
'I wish you would,' said Gabriel, easing his stiff collar with one finger; 'my cloth forbids me to abuse Mrs Pansey properly.'
'What has she been doing now, Gabriel?'
'Ordering the bishop to have The Derby Winner removed, mother.'
'The Derby Winner,' repeated Mrs Pendle, in puzzled tones; 'is that a horse?'
'A public-house, mother; it is in my district, and I have been lately visiting the wife of the landlord, who is very ill. Mrs Pansey wants the house closed and the woman turned out into the streets, so far as I can make out!'
'The Derby Winner is my property,' said Sir Harry, bluffly, 'and it sha'n't be shut up for a dozen Mrs Panseys.'
'Think of a dozen Mrs Panseys,' murmured Lucy, pensively.
'Think of Bedlam and Pandemonium, my dear! Thank goodness Mrs Pansey is the sole specimen of her kind. Nature broke the mould when that clacking nuisance was turned out. She—'
'Harry! you really must not speak so loud. Mrs Pansey might hear. Come with me, dear. I must look after our guests, for I am sure mother is tired.'
'I am tired,' assented Mrs Pendle, with a faint sigh. 'Thank you, Lucy, I willingly make you my representative. Gabriel will stay beside me.'
'Here is Miss Tancred,' observed Harry Brace, in an undertone.
'Oh, she must not come near mother,' whispered Lucy, in alarm. 'Take her to the supper-room, Harry.'
'But she'll tell me the story of how she lost her purse at the Army and Navy Stores, Lucy.'
'You can bear hearing it better than mother can. Besides, she'll not finish it; she never does.'
Sir Harry groaned, but like an obedient lover intercepted a withered old dame who was the greatest bore in the town. She usually told a digressive story about a lost purse, but hitherto had never succeeded in getting to the point, if there was one. Accepting the suggestion of supper with alacrity, she drifted away on Sir Harry's arm, and no doubt mentioned the famous purse before he managed to fill her mouth and stop her prosing.
Lucy, who had a quiet humour of her own in spite of her demure looks, laughed at the dejection and martyrdom of Sir Harry; and taking the eagerly-proffered arm of a callow lieutenant, ostentatiously and hopelessly in love with her, went away to play her part of deputy hostess. She moved from group to group, and everywhere received smiles and congratulations, for she was a general favourite, and, with the exception of Mrs Pansey, everyone approved of her engagement. Behind a floral screen a band of musicians, who called themselves the Yellow Hungarians, and individually possessed the most unpronounceable names, played the last waltz, a smooth, swinging melody which made the younger guests long for a dance. In fact, the callow lieutenant boldly suggested that a waltz should be attempted, with himself and Lucy to set the example; but his companion snubbed him unmercifully for his boldness, and afterwards restored his spirits by taking him to the supper-room. Here they found Miss Tancred in the full flow of her purse story; so Lucy, having pity on her lover, bestowed her escort on the old lady as a listener, and enjoyed supper at an isolated table with Sir Harry. The sucking Wellington could have murdered Brace with pleasure, and very nearly did murder Miss Tancred, for he plied her so constantly with delicacies that she got indigestion, and was thereby unable to finish about the purse.
Gabriel and his mother were not long left alone, for shortly there approached a brisk old lady, daintily dressed, who looked like a fairy godmother. She had a keen face, bright eyes like those of a squirrel, and in gesture and walk and glance was as restless as that animal. This piece of alacrity was Miss Whichello, who was the aunt of Mab Arden, the beloved of George Pendle. Mab was with her, and, gracious and tall, looked as majestic as any queen, as she paced in her stately manner by the old lady's side. Her beauty was that of Juno, for she was imperial and a trifle haughty in her manner. With dark hair, dark eyes, and dark complexion, she looked like an Oriental princess, quite different in appearance to her apple-cheeked, silvery-haired aunt. There was something Jewish about her rich, eastern beauty, and she might have been painted in her yellow dress as Esther or Rebecca, or even as Jael who slew Sisera on the going down of the sun.
'Well, good folks,' said the brisk little lady in a brisk little voice, 'and how are you both? Tired, Mrs Pendle? Of course, what else can you expect with late hours and your delicacies. I don't believe in these social gatherings.'
'Your presence here contradicts that assertion,' said Gabriel, giving up his chair.
'Oh, I am a martyr to duty. I came because Mab must be amused!'
'I only hope she is not disappointed,' said Mrs Pendle, kindly, for she knew how things were between her eldest son and the girl. 'I am sorry George is not here, my dear.'
'I did not expect him to be,' replied Mab, in her grave, contralto voice, and with a blush; 'he told me that he would not be able to get leave from his colonel.'
'Ha! his colonel knows what is good for young men,' cried Miss Whichello; 'work and diet both in moderate quantities. My dear Mrs Pendle, if you only saw those people in the supper-room!—simply digging their graves with their teeth. I pity the majority of them to-morrow morning.'
'Have you had supper, Miss Whichello?' asked Gabriel.
'Oh, yes! a biscuit and a glass of weak whisky and water; quite enough, too. Mab here has been drinking champagne recklessly.'
'Only half a glass, aunt; don't take away my character!'
'My dear, if you take half a glass, you may as well finish the bottle for the harm it does you. Champagne is poison; much or little, it is rank poison.'
'Come away, Miss Arden, and let us poison ourselves,' suggested the curate.
'It wouldn't do you any harm, Mrs Pendle,' cried the little old lady. 'You are too pale, and champagne, in your case, would pick you up. Iron and slight stimulants are what you need. I am afraid you are not careful what you eat.'
'I am not a dietitian, Miss Whichello.'
'I am, my dear ma'am; and look at me—sixty-two, and as brisk as a bee. I don't know the meaning of the word illness. In a good hour be it spoken,' added Miss Whichello, thinking she was tempting the gods. 'By the way, what is this about his lordship being ill?'
'The bishop ill!' faltered Mrs Pendle, half rising. 'He was perfectly well when I saw him last. Oh, dear me, what is this?'
'He's ill now, in the library, at all events.'
'Wait, mother,' said Gabriel, hastily. 'I will see my father. Don't rise; don't worry yourself; pray be calm.'
Gabriel walked quickly to the library, rather astonished to hear that his father was indisposed, for the bishop had never had a day's illness in his life. He saw by the demeanour of the guests that the indisposition of their host was known, for already an uneasy feeling prevailed, and several people were departing. The door of the library was closed and locked. Cargrim was standing sentinel beside it, evidently irate at being excluded.
'You can't go in, Pendle,' said the chaplain, quickly. 'Dr Graham is with his lordship.'
'Is this sudden illness serious?'
'I don't know. His lordship refuses to see anyone but the doctor. He won't even admit me,' said Cargrim, in an injured tone.
'What has caused it?' asked Gabriel, in dismay.
'I don't know!' replied Cargrim, a second time. 'His lordship saw some stranger who departed ten minutes ago. Then he sent for Dr Graham! I presume this stranger is responsible for the bishop's illness.'
THE CURIOSITY OF MR CARGRIM
Like that famous banquet, when Macbeth entertained unawares the ghost of gracious Duncan, the bishop's reception broke up in the most admired disorder. It was not Dr Pendle's wish that the entertainment should be cut short on his account, but the rumour—magnified greatly—of his sudden illness so dispirited his guests that they made haste to depart; and within an hour the palace was emptied of all save its usual inhabitants. Dr Graham in attendance on the bishop was the only stranger who remained, for Lucy sent away even Sir Harry, although he begged hard to stay in the hope of making himself useful. And the most unpleasant part of the whole incident was, that no one seemed to know the reason of Bishop Pendle's unexpected indisposition.
'He was quite well when I saw him last,' repeated poor Mrs Pendle over and over again. 'And I never knew him to be ill before. What does it all mean?'
'Perhaps papa's visitor brought him bad news,' suggested Lucy, who was hovering round her mother with smelling-salts and a fan.
Mrs Pendle shook her head in much distress. 'Your father has no secrets from me,' she said decisively, 'and, from all I know, it is impossible that any news can have upset him so much.'
'Dr Graham may be able to explain,' said Gabriel.
'I don't want Dr Graham's explanation,' whimpered Mrs Pendle, tearfully. 'I dislike of all things to hear from a stranger what should be told to myself. As your father's wife, he has no right to shut me out of his confidence—and the library,' finished Mrs Pendle, with an aggrieved afterthought.
Certainly the bishop's conduct was very strange, and would have upset even a less nervous woman than Mrs Pendle. Neither of her children could comfort her in any way, for, ignorant themselves of what had occurred, they could make no suggestions. Fortunately, at this moment, Dr Graham, with a reassuring smile on his face, made his appearance, and proceeded to set their minds at ease.
'Tut! tut! my dear lady!' he said briskly, advancing on Mrs Pendle, 'what is all this?'
'The bishop is suffering from a slight indisposition brought on by too much exertion in entertaining. He will be all right to-morrow.'
'This visitor has had nothing to do with papa's illness, then?'
'No, Miss Lucy. The visitor was only a decayed clergyman in search of help.'
'Cannot I see my husband?' was the anxious question of the bishop's wife.
Graham shrugged his shoulders, and looked doubtfully at the poor lady. 'Better not, Mrs Pendle,' he said judiciously. 'I have given him a soothing draught, and now he is about to lie down. There is no occasion for you to worry in the least. To-morrow morning you will be laughing over this needless alarm. I suggest that you should go to bed and take a stiff dose of valerian to sooth those shaky nerves of yours. Miss Lucy will see to that.'
'I should like to see the bishop,' persisted Mrs Pendle, whose instinct told her that the doctor was deceiving her.
'Well! well!' said he, good-humouredly, 'a wilful woman will have her own way. I know you won't sleep a wink unless your mind is set at rest, so you shall see the bishop. Take my arm, please.'
'I can walk by myself, thank you!' replied Mrs Pendle, testily; and nerved to unusual exertion by anxiety, she walked towards the library, followed by the bishop's family and his chaplain, which latter watched this scene with close attention.
'She'll collapse after this,' said Dr Graham, in an undertone to Lucy; 'you'll have a wakeful night, I fear.'
'I don't mind that, doctor, so long as there is no real cause for alarm.'
'I give you my word of honour, Miss Lucy, that this is a case of much ado about nothing.'
'Let us hope that such is the case,' said Cargrim, the Jesuit, in his softest tones, whereupon Graham looked at him with a pronounced expression of dislike.
'As a man, I don't tell lies; as a doctor, I never make false reports,' said he, coldly; 'there is no need for your pious hopes, Mr Cargrim.'
The bishop was seated at his desk scribbling idly on his blotting-pad, and rose to his feet with a look of alarm when his wife and family entered. His usually ruddy colour had disappeared, and he was white-faced and haggard in appearance; looking like a man who had received a severe shock, and who had not yet recovered from it. On seeing his wife, he smiled reassuringly, but with an obvious effort, and hastened to conduct her to the chair he had vacated.
'Now, my dear,' he said, when she was seated, 'this will never do.'
'I am so anxious, George!'
'There is no need to be anxious,' retorted the bishop, in reproving tones. 'I have been doing too much work of late, and unexpectedly I was seized with a faintness. Graham's medicine and a night's rest will restore me to my usual strength.'
'It's not your heart, I trust, George?'
'His heart!' jested the doctor. 'His lordship's heart is as sound as his digestion.'
'We thought you might have been upset by bad news, papa.'
'I have had no bad news, Lucy. I am only a trifle overcome by late hours and fatigue. Take your mother to bed; and you, my dear,' added the bishop, kissing his wife, 'don't worry yourself unnecessarily. Good-night, and good sleep.'
'Some valerian for your nerves, bishop—'
'I have taken something for my nerves, Amy. Rest is all I need just now.'
Thus reassured, Mrs Pendle submitted to be led from the library by Lucy. She was followed by Gabriel, who was now quite easy in his mind about his father. Cargrim and Graham remained, but the bishop, taking no notice of their presence, looked at the door through which his wife and children had vanished, and uttered a sound something between a sigh and a groan.
Dr Graham looked anxiously at him, and the look was intercepted by Cargrim, who at once made up his mind that there was something seriously wrong, which both Graham and the bishop desired to conceal. The doctor noted the curious expression in the chaplain's eyes, and with bluff good-humour—which was assumed, as he disliked the man—proceeded to turn him out of the library. Cargrim—bent on discovering the truth—protested, in his usual cat-like way, against this sudden dismissal.
'I should be happy to sit up all night with his lordship,' he declared.
'Sit up with your grandmother!' cried Graham, gruffly. 'Go to bed, sir, and don't make mountains out of mole-hills.'
'Good-night, my lord,' said Cargrim, softly. 'I trust you will find yourself fully restored in the morning.'
'Thank you, Mr Cargrim; good-night!'
When the chaplain sidled out of the room, Dr Graham rubbed his hands and turned briskly towards his patient, who was standing as still as any stone, staring in a hypnotised sort of way at the reading lamp on the desk.
'Come, my lord,' said he, touching the bishop on the shoulder, 'you must take your composing draught and get to bed. You'll be all right in the morning.'
'I trust so!' replied Pendle, with a groan.
'Of course, bishop, if you won't tell me what is the matter with you, I can't cure you.'
'I am upset, doctor, that is all.'
'You have had a severe nervous shock,' said Graham, sharply, 'and it will take some time for you to recover from it. This visitor brought you bad news, I suppose?'
'No!' said the bishop, wincing, 'he did not.'
'Well! well! keep your own secrets. I can do no more, so I'll say good-night,' and he held out his hand.
Dr Pendle took it and retained it within his own for a moment. 'Your allusion to the ring of Polycrates, Graham!'
'What of it?'
'I should throw my ring into the sea also. That is all.'
'Ha! ha! You'll have to travel a considerable distance to reach the sea, bishop. Good-night; good-night,' and Graham, smiling in his dry way, took himself out of the room. As he glanced back at the door he saw that the bishop was again staring dully at the reading lamp. Graham shook his head at the sight, and closed the door.
'It is mind, not matter,' he thought, as he put on hat and coat in the hall; 'the cupboard's open and the skeleton is out. My premonition was true—true. AEsculapius forgive me that I should be so superstitious. The bishop has had a shock. What is it? what is it? That visitor brought bad news! Hum! Hum! Better to throw physic to the dogs in his case. Mind diseased: secret trouble: my punishment is greater than I can bear. Put this and that together; there is something serious the matter. Well! well! I'm no Paul Pry.'
'Is his lordship better?' said the soft voice of Cargrim at his elbow.
Graham wheeled round. 'Much better; good-night,' he replied curtly, and was off in a moment.
Michael Cargrim, the chaplain, was a dangerous man. He was thin and pale, with light blue eyes and sleek fair hair; and as weak physically as he was strong mentally. In his neat clerical garb, with a slight stoop and meek smile, he looked a harmless, commonplace young curate of the tabby cat kind. No one could be more tactful and ingratiating than Mr Cargrim, and he was greatly admired by the old ladies and young girls of Beorminster; but the men, one and all—even his clerical brethren—disliked and distrusted him, although there was no apparent reason for their doing so. Perhaps his too deferential manners and pronounced effeminacy, which made him shun manly sports, had something to do with his masculine unpopularity; but, from the bishop downward, he was certainly no favourite, and in every male breast he constantly inspired a desire to kick him. The clergy of the diocese maintained towards him a kind of 'Dr Fell' attitude, and none of them had more to do with him than they could help. With all the will in the world, with all the desire to interpret brotherly love in its most liberal sense, the Beorminster Levites found it impossible to like Mr Cargrim. Hence he was a kind of clerical Ishmael, and as dangerous within as he looked harmless without.
How such a viper came to warm itself on the bishop's hearth no one could say. Mrs Pansey herself did not know in what particular way Mr Cargrim had wriggled himself—so she expressed it—into his present snug position. But, to speak frankly, there was no wriggling in the matter, and had the bishop felt himself called upon to explain his business to anyone, he could have given a very reasonable account of the election of Cargrim to the post of chaplain. The young man was the son of an old schoolfellow, to whom Pendle had been much attached, and from whom, in the earlier part of his career, he had received many kindnesses. This schoolfellow—he was a banker—had become a bankrupt, a beggar, finally a suicide, through no fault of his own, and when dying, had commended his wife and son to the bishop's care. Cargrim was then fifteen years of age, and being clever and calculating, even as a youth, had determined to utilise the bishop's affection for his father to its fullest extent. He was clever, as has been stated; he was also ambitious and unscrupulous; therefore he resolved to enter the profession in which Dr Pendle's influence would be of most value. For this reason, and not because he felt a call to the work, he entered holy orders. The result of his wisdom was soon apparent, for after a short career as a curate in London, he was appointed chaplain to the Bishop of Beorminster.
So far, so good. The position, for a young man of twenty-eight, was by no means a bad one; the more so as it gave him a capital opportunity of gaining a better one by watching for the vacancy of a rich preferment and getting it from his patron by asking directly and immediately for it. Cargrim had in his eye the rectorship of a wealthy, easy-going parish, not far from Beorminster, which was in the gift of the bishop. The present holder was aged and infirm, and given so much to indulgence in port wine, that the chances were he might expire within a few months, and then, as the chaplain hoped, the next rector would be the Reverend Michael Cargrim. Once that firm position was obtained, he could bend his energies to developing into an archdeacon, a dean, even into a bishop, should his craft and fortune serve him as he intended they should. But in all these ambitious dreams there was nothing of religion, or of conscience, or of self-denial. If ever there was a square peg which tried to adapt itself to a round hole, Michael Cargrim, allegorically speaking, was that article.
With all his love for the father, Dr Pendle could never bring himself to like the son, and determined in his own mind to confer a benefice on him when possible, if only to get rid of him; but not the rich one of Heathcroft, which was the delectable land of Cargrim's desire. The bishop intended to bestow that on Gabriel; and Cargrim, in his sneaky way, had gained some inkling of this intention. Afraid of losing his wished-for prize, he was bent upon forcing Dr Pendle into presenting him with the living of Heathcroft; and to accomplish this amiable purpose with the more certainty he had conceived the plan of somehow getting the bishop into his power. Hitherto—so open and stainless was Dr Pendle's life—he had not succeeded in his aims; but now matters looked more promising, for the bishop appeared to possess a secret which he guarded even from the knowledge of his wife. What this secret might be, Cargrim could not guess, in spite of his anxiety to do so, but he intended in one way or another to discover it and utilise it for the furtherance and attainment of his own selfish ends. By gaining such forbidden knowledge he hoped to get Dr Pendle well under his thumb; and once there the prelate could be kept in that uncomfortable position until he gratified Mr Cargrim's ambition. For a humble chaplain to have the whip-hand of a powerful ecclesiastic was a glorious and easy way for a meritorious young man to succeed in his profession. Having come to this conclusion, which did more credit to his head than to his heart, Cargrim sought out the servant who had summoned the bishop to see the stranger. A full acquaintance with the circumstances of the visit was necessary to the development of the Reverend Michael's ingenious little plot.
'This is a sad thing about his lordship's indisposition, said he to the man in the most casual way, for it would not do to let the servant know that he was being questioned for a doubtful purpose.
'Yes, sir,' replied the man. ''Tis mos' extraordinary. I never knowed his lordship took ill before. I suppose that gentleman brought bad news, sir.'
'Possibly, John, possibly. Was this gentleman a short man with light hair? I fancy I saw him.'
'Lor', no, Mr Cargrim. He was tall and lean as a rake; looked like a military gentleman, sir; and I don't know as I'd call him gentry either,' added John, half to himself. 'He wasn't what he thought he was.'
'A decayed clergyman, John?' inquired Cargrim, remembering Graham's description.
'There was lots of decay but no clergy about him, sir. I fancy I knows a parson when I sees one. Clergymen don't have scars on their cheekses as I knows of.'
'Oh, indeed!' said Cargrim, mentally noting that the doctor had spoken falsely. 'So he had a scar?'
'A red scar, sir, on the right cheek, from his temple to the corner of his mouth. He was as dark as pitch in looks, with a military moustache, and two black eyes like gimblets. His clothes was shabby, and his looks was horrid. Bad-tempered too, sir, I should say, for when he was with his lordship I 'eard his voice quite angry like. It ain't no clergy as 'ud speak like that to our bishop, Mr Cargrim.'
'And his lordship was taken ill when this visitor departed, John?'
'Right off, sir. When I got back to the library after showing him out I found his lordship gas'ly pale.'
'And his paleness was caused by the noisy conduct of this man?'
'Couldn't have bin caused by anything else, sir.'
'Dear me! dear me! this is much to be deplored,' sighed Cargrim, in his softest manner. 'And a clergyman too.'
'Beggin' your pardon, sir, he weren't no clergyman,' cried John, who was an old servant and took liberties; 'he was more like a tramp or a gipsy. I wouldn't have left him near the plate, I know.'
'We must not judge too harshly, John. Perhaps this poor man was in trouble.'
'He didn't look like it, Mr Cargrim. He went in and came out quite cocky like. I wonder his lordship didn't send for the police.'
'His lordship is too kind-hearted, John. This stranger had a scar, you say?'
'Yes, sir; a red scar on the right cheek.'
'Dear me! no doubt he has been in the wars. Good-night, John. Let us hope that his lordship will be better after a night's rest.'
The chaplain walked away with a satisfied smile on his meek face.
'I must find the man with the scar,' he thought, 'and then—who knows.'
THE DERBY WINNER
As its name denotes, Beorminster was built on a hill, or, to speak more precisely, on an eminence elevated slightly above the surrounding plain. In former times it had been surrounded by aguish marshes which had rendered the town unhealthy, but now that modern enterprise had drained the fenlands, Beorminster was as salubrious a town as could be found in England. The rich, black mud of the former bogs now yielded luxuriant harvests, and in autumn the city, with its mass of red-roofed houses climbing upward to the cathedral, was islanded in a golden ocean of wheat and rye and bearded barley. For the purposes of defence, the town had been built originally on the slopes of the hill, under the very shadow of the minster, and round its base the massive old walls yet remained, which had squeezed the city into a huddled mass of uncomfortable dwellings within its narrow girdle. But now oppidan life extended beyond these walls; and houses, streets, villas and gardens spread into the plain on all sides. Broad, white roads ran to Southberry Junction, ten miles away; to manufacturing Irongrip, the smoke of whose furnaces could be seen on the horizon; and to many a tiny hamlet and sleepy town buried amid the rich meadowlands and golden cornfields. And high above all lorded the stately cathedral, with its trio of mighty towers, whence, morning and evening, melodious bells pealed through the peaceful lands.
Beyond the walls the modern town was made up of broad streets and handsome shops. On its outskirts appeared comfortable villas and stately manors, gardens and woody parks, in which dwelt the aristocracy of Beorminster. But the old town, with its tall houses and narrow lanes, was given over to the plebeians, save in the Cathedral Close, where dwelt the canons, the dean, the archdeacon, and a few old-fashioned folk who remained by preference in their ancestral dwellings. From this close, which surrounded the open space, wherein the cathedral was built, narrow streets trickled down to the walls, and here was the Seven Dials, the Whitechapel, the very worst corner of Beorminster. The Beorminster police declared that this network of lanes and alleys and malodorous cul-de-sacs was as dangerous a neighbourhood as any London slum, and they were particularly emphatic in denouncing the public-house known as The Derby Winner, and kept by a certain William Mosk, who was a sporting scoundrel and a horsey scamp. This ill-famed hostel was placed at the foot of the hill, in what had once been the main street, and being near the Eastgate, caught in its web most of the thirsty passers-by who entered the city proper, either for sight-seeing or business. It affected a kind of spurious respectability, which was all on the outside, for within it was as iniquitous a den as could well be conceived, and was usually filled with horse-copers and sporting characters, who made bets, and talked racing, and rode or drove fiery steeds, and who lived on, and swindled through, the noblest of all animals. Mr Mosk, a lean light-weight, who wore loud check suits, tight in the legs and short in the waist, was the presiding deity of this Inferno, and as the Ormuz to this Ahrimanes, Gabriel Pendle was the curate of the district, charged with the almost hopeless task of reforming his sporting parishioners. And all this, with considerable irony, was placed almost in the shadow of the cathedral towers.
Not a neighbourhood for Mr Cargrim to venture into, since many sights therein must have displeased his exact tastes; yet two days after the reception at the palace the chaplain might have been seen daintily picking his way over the cobble-stone pavements. As he walked he thought, and his thoughts were busy with the circumstances which had led him to venture his saintly person so near the spider's web of The Derby Winner. The bishop, London, curiosity, Gabriel, this unpleasant neighbourhood—so ran the links of his chain of thought.
The day following his unexpected illness brought no relief to the bishop, at all events to outward seeming, for he was paler and more haggard than ever in looks, and as dour as a bear in manner. With Mrs Pendle he strove to be his usual cheerful self, but with small success, as occasionally he would steal an anxious look at her, and heave deep sighs expressive of much inward trouble. All this was noted by Cargrim, who carefully strove, by sympathetic looks and dexterous remarks, to bring his superior to the much-desired point of unburdening his mind. Gabriel had returned to his lodgings near the Eastgate, and to his hopeless task of civilising his degraded centaurs. Lucy, after the manner of maids in love, was building air-castles with Sir Harry's assistance, and Mrs Pendle kept her usual watch on her weak heart and fluctuating pulse. The bishop thus escaped their particular notice, and it was mainly Cargrim who saw how distraught and anxious he was. As for Dr Graham, he had departed after a second unsatisfactory visit, swearing that he could do nothing with a man who refused to make a confidant of his doctor. Bishop Pendle was therefore wholly at the mercy of his suspicious chaplain, to be spied upon, to be questioned, to be watched, and to be made a prey of in his first weak moment. But the worried man, filled with some unknown anxiety, was quite oblivious to Cargrim's manoeuvres.
For some time the chaplain, in spite of all his watchfulness, failed to come upon anything tangible likely to explain what was in the bishop's mind. He walked about restlessly, he brooded continuously, and instead of devoting himself to his work in his usual regular way, occupied himself for long hours in scribbling figures on his blotting-paper, and muttering at times in anxious tones. Cargrim examined the blotting-paper, and strained his ears to gather the sense of the mutterings, but in neither case could he gain any clue to the bishop's actual trouble. At length—it was on the morning of the second day after the reception—Dr Pendle abruptly announced that he was going up to London that very afternoon, and would go alone. The emphasis he laid on this last statement still further roused Cargrim's curiosity.
'Shall I not accompany your lordship?' he asked, as the bishop restlessly paced the library.
'No, Mr Cargrim, why should you?' said the bishop, abruptly and testily.
'Your lordship seems ill, and I thought—'
'There is no need for you to think, sir. I am not well, and my visit to London is in connection with my health.'
'Or with your secret!' thought the chaplain, deferentially bowing.
'I have every confidence in Dr Graham,' continued Pendle, 'but it is my intention to consult a specialist. I need not go into details, Mr Cargrim, as they will not interest you.'
'Oh, your lordship, your health is my constant thought.'
'Your anxiety is commendable, but needless,' responded the bishop, dryly. 'I am due at Southberry this Sunday, I believe.'
'There is a confirmation at St Mark's, your lordship.'
'Very good; you can make the necessary arrangements, Mr Cargrim. To-day is Thursday. I shall return to-morrow night, and shall rest on Saturday until the evening, when I shall ride over to Southberry, attend at St Mark's, and return on Sunday night.'
'Does not your lordship desire my attendance?' asked Cargrim, although he knew that he was the morning preacher in the cathedral on Sunday.
'No,' answered Dr Pendle, curtly, 'I shall go and return alone.'
The bishop looked at Cargrim, and Cargrim looked at the bishop, each striving to read the other's thoughts, then the latter turned away with a frown, and the former, much exercised in his mind, advanced towards the door of the library. Dr Pendle called him back.
'Not a word about my health to Mrs Pendle,' he said sharply.
'Certainly not, your lordship; you can rely upon my discretion in every way,' replied the chaplain, with emphasis, and glided away as soft-footed as any panther, and as dangerous.
'I wonder what the fellow suspects,' thought the bishop when alone. 'I can see that he is filled with curiosity, but he can never find out the truth, or even guess at it. I am safe enough from him. All the same, I'll have a fool for my next chaplain. Fools are easier to deal with.'
Cargrim would have given much to have overheard this speech, but as the door and several passages were between him and the talker, he was ignorant of the incriminating remarks the bishop had let slip. Still baffled, but still curious, he busied himself with attending to some business of the See which did not require the personal supervision of Dr Pendle, and when that prelate took his departure for London by the three o'clock train, Cargrim attended him to the station, full of meekness and irritating attentions. It was with a feeling of relief that the bishop saw his officious chaplain left behind on the platform. He had a secret, and with the uneasiness of a loaded conscience, fancied that everyone saw that he had something to conceal—particularly Cargrim. In the presence of that good young man, this spiritual lord, high-placed and powerful, felt that he resembled an insect under a microscope, and that Cargrim had his eye to the instrument. Conscience made a coward of the bishop, but in the case of his chaplain his uneasy feelings were in some degree justified.
On leaving the railway station, which was on the outskirts of the modern town, Cargrim took his way through the brisk population which thronged the streets, and wondered in what manner he could benefit by the absence of his superior. As he could not learn the truth from Dr Pendle himself, he thought that he might discover it from an investigation of the bishop's desk. For this purpose he returned to the palace forthwith, and on the plea of business, shut himself up in the library. Dr Pendle was a careless man, and never locked up any drawers, even those which contained his private papers. Cargrim, who was too much of a sneak to feel honourable scruples, went through these carefully, but in spite of all his predisposition to malignity was unable to find any grounds for suspecting Dr Pendle to be in any serious trouble. At the end of an hour he found himself as ignorant as ever, and made only one discovery of any note, which was that the bishop had taken his cheque-book with him to London.
To many people this would have seemed a natural circumstance, as most men with banking accounts take their cheque-books with them when going on a journey. But Cargrim knew that the bishop usually preferred to fill his pockets with loose cash when absent for a short time, and this deviation from his ordinary habits appeared to be suspicious.
'Hum!' thought the chaplain, rubbing his chin, 'I wonder if that so-called clergyman wanted money. If he had wished for a small sum, the bishop could easily have given it to him out of the cash-box. Going by this reasoning, he must have wanted a lot of money, which argues blackmail. Hum! Has he taken both cheque-books, or only one?'
The reason of this last query was that Bishop Pendle had accounts in two different banks. One in Beorminster, as became the bishop of the See, the other in London, in accordance with the dignity of a spiritual lord of Parliament. A further search showed Mr Cargrim that the Beorminster cheque-book had been left behind.
'Hum!' said the chaplain again, 'that man must have gone back to London. Dr Pendle is going to meet him there and draw money from his Town bank to pay what he demands. I'll have a look at the butts of that cheque-book when it comes back; the amount of the cheque may prove much. I may even find out the name of this stranger.'
But all this, as Cargrim very well knew, was pure theory. The bishop might have taken his cheque-book to London for other reasons than paying blackmail to the stranger, for it was not even certain that there was any such extortion in the question. Dr Pendle was worried, it was true, and after the departure of his strange visitor he had been taken ill, but these facts proved nothing; and after twisting and turning them in every way, and connecting and disconnecting them with the absence of the London cheque-book, Mr Cargrim was forced to acknowledge that he was beaten for the time being. Then he fancied he might extract some information from Gabriel relative to his father's departure for London, for Mr Cargrim was too astute to believe in the 'consulting a specialist' excuse. Still, this might serve as a peg whereon to hang his inquiries and develop further information, so the chaplain, after meditating over his five-o'clock cup of tea, took his way to the Eastgate, in order to put Gabriel unawares into the witness-box. Yet, for all these doings and suspicions Cargrim had no very good reason, save his own desire to get Dr Pendle under his thumb. He was groping in the dark, he had not a shred of evidence to suppose that the uneasiness of the bishop was connected with anything criminal; nevertheless, the chaplain put himself so far out of his usual habits as to venture into the unsavoury neighbourhood wherein stood The Derby Winner. Truly this man's cobweb spinning was of a very dangerous character when he took so much trouble to weave the web.
As in Excelsior, the shades of night were falling fast, when Cargrim found himself at the door of the curate's lodging. Here he met with a check, for Gabriel's landlady informed him that Mr Pendle was not at home, and she did not know where he was or when he would be back. Cargrim made the sweetest excuses for troubling the good lady, left a message that he would call again, and returned along Monk Street on his way back to the palace through the new town. By going in this direction he passed The Derby Winner—not without intention—for it was this young man's belief that Gabriel might be haunting the public-house to see Mrs Mosk or—as was more probable to the malignant chaplain—her handsome daughter.
As he came abreast of The Derby Winner it was not too dark but that he could see a tall man standing in the doorway. Cargrim at first fancied that this might be Gabriel, and paced slowly along so as to seize an opportunity of addressing him. But when he came almost within touching distance, he found himself face to face with a dark-looking gipsy, fiery-eyed and dangerous in appearance. He had a lean, cruel face, a hawk's beak for a nose, and black, black hair streaked with grey; but what mostly attracted Cargrim's attention was a red streak which traversed the right cheek of the man from ear to mouth. At once he recalled John's description—'A military-looking gentleman with a scar on the right cheek.' He thought, 'Hum! this, then, is the bishop's visitor.'
THE MAN WITH THE SCAR
This engaging individual looked at Cargrim with a fierce air. He was not sober, and had just reached the quarrelsome stage of intoxication, which means objection to everyone and everything. Consequently he cocked his hat defiantly at the curate; and although he blocked up the doorway, made no motion to stand aside. Cargrim was not ill pleased at this obstinacy, as it gave him an opportunity of entering into conversation with the so-called decayed clergyman, who was as unlike a parson as a rabbit is like a terrier.
'Do you know if Mr Pendle is within, my friend?' asked the chaplain, with bland politeness.
The stranger started at the mention of the name. His face grew paler, his scar waxed redder, and with all his Dutch courage there was a look of alarm visible in his cold eyes.
'I don't know,' said he, insolently, yet with a certain refinement of speech. 'I shouldn't think it likely that a pot-house like this would be patronised by a bishop.'
'Pardon me, sir, I speak of Mr Gabriel Pendle, the son of his lordship.'
'Then pardon me, sir,' mimicked the man, 'if I say that I know nothing of the son of his lordship; and what's more, I'm d—d if I want to.'
'I see! You are more fortunate in knowing his lordship himself,' said the chaplain, with great simplicity.
The stranger plucked at his worn sleeve with a look of irony. 'Do I look as though I were acquainted with bishops?' said he, scoffingly. 'Is this the kind of coat likely to be admitted into episcopalian palaces?'
'Yet it was admitted, sir. If I am not mistaken you called at the palace two nights ago.'
'Did you see me?'
'Certainly I saw you,' replied Cargrim, salving his conscience with the Jesuitic saying that the end justifies the means. 'And I was informed that you were a decayed clergyman seeking assistance.'
'I have been most things in my time,' observed the stranger, gloomily, 'but not a parson. You are one, I perceive.'
Cargrim bowed. 'I am the chaplain of Bishop Pendle.'
'And the busybody of Beorminster, I should say,' rejoined the man with a sneer. 'See here, my friend,' and he rapped Cargrim on the breast with a shapely hand, 'if you interfere in what does not concern you, there will be trouble. I saw Dr Pendle on private business, and as such it has nothing to do with you. Hold your tongue, you black crow, and keep away from me,' cried the stranger, with sudden ferocity, 'or I'll knock your head off. Now you know,' and with a fierce glance the man moved out of the doorway and sauntered round the corner before Cargrim could make up his mind how to resent this insolence.