by HUGH WALPOLE
Author of The Young Enchanted, The Captives, Jeremy, The Secret City, The Green Mirror, etc.
TO JESSIE AND JOSEPH CONRAD WITH MUCH LOVE
BOOK I: Prelude
I. Brandons II. Ronders III. One of Joan's Days IV. The Impertinent Elephan V. Mrs. Brandon Goes Out to Tea VI. Seatown Mist and Cathedral Dust VII. Ronder's Day VIII. Son—Father
BOOK II: The Whispering Gallery
I. Five O'Clock—The Green Cloud II. Souls on Sunday III. The May-Day Prologue IV. The Genial Heart V. Falk by the River VI. Falk's Flight VII. Brandon Puts On His Armour VIII. The Wind Flies Over the House IX. The Quarrel
Book III: The Jubilee
I. June 17, Thursday: Anticipation II. Friday, June 18: Shadow Meets Shadow III. Saturday, June 19: The Ball IV. Sunday, June 20: In the Bedroom V. Tuesday, June 22: I. The Cathedral VI. Tuesday, June 22: II. The Fair VII. Tuesday, June 22: III. Torchlight
Book IV: The Last Stand
I. In Ronder's House: Ronder, Wistons II. Two in the House III. Prelude to Battle IV. The Last Tournament
"Thou shalt have none other gods but Me."
Adam Brandon was born at Little Empton in Kent in 1839. He was educated at the King's School, Canterbury, and at Pembroke College, Cambridge. Ordained in 1863, he was first curate at St. Martin's, Portsmouth, then Chaplain to the Bishop of Worcester; in the year 1875 he accepted the living of Pomfret in Wiltshire and was there for twelve years. It was in 1887 that he came to our town; he was first Canon and afterwards Archdeacon. Ten years later he had, by personal influence and strength of character, acquired so striking a position amongst us that he was often alluded to as "the King of Polchester." His power was the greater because both our Bishop (Bishop Purcell) and our Dean (Dean Sampson) during that period were men of retiring habits of life. A better man, a greater saint than Bishop Purcell has never lived, but in 1896 he was eighty-six years of age and preferred study and the sanctity of his wonderful library at Carpledon to the publicity and turmoil of a public career; Dean Sampson, gentle and amiable as he was, was not intended by nature for a moulder of men. He was, however, one of the best botanists in the County and his little book on "Glebshire Ferns" is, I believe, an authority in its own line.
Archdeacon Brandon was, of course, greatly helped by his magnificent physical presence. "Magnificent" is not, I think, too strong a word. Six feet two or three in height, he had the figure of an athlete, light blue eyes, and his hair was still, when he was fifty-eight years of age, thick and fair and curly like that of a boy. He looked, indeed, marvellously young, and his energy and grace of movement might indeed have belonged to a youth still in his teens. It is not difficult to imagine how startling an effect his first appearance in Polchester created. Many of the Polchester ladies thought that he was like "a Greek God" (the fact that they had never seen one gave them the greater confidence), and Miss Dobell, who was the best read of all the ladies in our town, called him "the Viking." This stuck to him, being an easy and emphatic word and pleasantly cultured.
Indeed, had Brandon come to Polchester as a single man there might have been many broken hearts; however, in 1875 he had married Amy Broughton, then a young girl of twenty. He had by her two children, a boy, Falcon, now twenty-one years of age, and a girl, Joan, just eighteen. Brandon therefore was safe from the feminine Polchester world; our town is famous among Cathedral cities for the morality of its upper classes.
It would not have been possible during all these years for Brandon to have remained unconscious of the remarkable splendour of his good looks. He was very well aware of it, but any one who called him conceited (and every one has his enemies) did him a grave injustice. He was not conceited at all— he simply regarded himself as a completely exceptional person. He was not elated that he was exceptional, he did not flatter himself because it was so; God had seen fit (in a moment of boredom, perhaps, at the number of insignificant and misshaped human beings He was forced to create) to fling into the world, for once, a truly Fine Specimen, Fine in Body, Fine in Soul, Fine in Intellect. Brandon had none of the sublime egoism of Sir Willoughby Patterne—he thought of others and was kindly and often unselfish—but he did, like Sir Willoughby, believe himself to be of quite another clay from the rest of mankind. He was intended to rule, God had put him into the world for that purpose, and rule he would—to the glory of God and a little, if it must be so, to the glory of himself. He was a very simple person, as indeed were most of the men and women in the Polchester of 1897. He did not analyse motives, whether his own or any one else's; he was aware that he had "weaknesses" (his ungovernable temper was a source of real distress to him at times—at other times he felt that it had its uses). On the whole, however, he was satisfied with himself, his appearance, his abilities, his wife, his family, and, above all, his position in Polchester. This last was very splendid.
His position in the Cathedral, in the Precincts, in the Chapter, in the Town, was unshakable.
He trusted in God, of course, but, like a wise man, he trusted also in himself.
It happened that on a certain wild and stormy afternoon in October 1896 Brandon was filled with a great exultation. As he stood, for a moment, at the door of his house in the Precincts before crossing the Green to the Cathedral, he looked up at the sky obscured with flying wrack of cloud, felt the rain drive across his face, heard the elms in the neighbouring garden creaking and groaning, saw the lights of the town far beneath the low wall that bounded the Precincts sway and blink in the storm, his heart beat with such pride and happiness that it threatened to burst the body that contained it. There had not been, perhaps, that day anything especially magnificent to elate him; he had won, at the Chapter Meeting that morning, a cheap and easy victory over Canon Foster, the only Canon in Polchester who still showed, at times, a wretched pugnacious resistance to his opinion; he had met Mrs. Combermere afterwards in the High Street and, on the strength of his Chapter victory, had dealt with her haughtily; he had received an especially kind note from Lady St. Leath asking him to dinner early next month; but all these events were of too usual a nature to excite his triumph.
No, there had descended upon him this afternoon that especial ecstasy that is surrendered once and again by the gods to men to lead them, maybe, into some especial blunder or to sharpen, for Olympian humour, the contrast of some swiftly approaching anguish.
Brandon stood for a moment, his head raised, his chest out, his soul in flight, feeling the sharp sting of the raindrops upon his cheek; then, with a little breath of pleasure and happiness, he crossed the Green to the little dark door of Saint Margaret's Chapel.
The Cathedral hung over him, as he stood, feeling in his pocket for his key, a huge black shadow, vast indeed to-day, as it mingled with the grey sky and seemed to be taking part in the directing of the wildness of the storm. Two little gargoyles, perched on the porch of Saint Margaret's door, leered down upon the Archdeacon. The rain trickled down over their naked twisted bodies, running in rivulets behind their outstanding ears, lodging for a moment on the projection of their hideous nether lips. They grinned down upon the Archdeacon, amused that he should have difficulty, there in the rain, in finding his key. "Pah!" they heard him mutter, and then, perhaps, something worse. The key was found, and he had then to bend his great height to squeeze through the little door. Once inside, he was at the corner of the Saint Margaret Chapel and could see, in the faint half-light, the rosy colours of the beautiful Saint Margaret window that glimmered ever so dimly upon the rows of cane-bottomed chairs, the dingy red hassocks, and the brass tablets upon the grey stone walls. He walked through, picking his way carefully in the dusk, saw for an instant the high, vast expanse of the nave with its few twinkling lights that blew in the windy air, then turned to the left into the Vestry, closing the door behind him. Even as he closed the door he could hear high, high up above him the ringing of the bell for Evensong.
In the Vestry he found Canon Dobell and Canon Rogers. Dobell, the Minor Canon who was singing the service, was a short, round, chubby clergyman, thirty-eight years of age, whose great aim in life was to have an easy time and agree with every one. He lived with a sister in a little house in the Precincts and gave excellent dinners. Very different was Canon Rogers, a thin esthetic man with black bushy eyebrows, a slight stoop and thin brown hair. He took life with grim seriousness. He was a stupid man but obstinate, dogmatic, and given to the condemnation of his fellow-men. He hated innovations as strongly as the Archdeacon himself, but with his clinging to old forms and rituals there went no self-exaltation. He was a cold-blooded man, although his obstinacy seemed sometimes to point to a fiery fanaticism. But he was not a fanatic any more than a mule is one when he plants his feet four-square and refuses to go forward. No compliments nor threats could move him; he would have lived, had he had a spark of asceticism, a hermit far from the haunts of men, but even that withdrawal would have implied devotion. He was devoted to no one, to no cause, to no religion, to no ambition. He spent his days in maintaining things as they were, not because he loved them, simply because he was obstinate. Brandon quite frankly hated him.
In the farther room the choir-boys were standing in their surplices, whispering and giggling. The sound of the bell was suddenly emphatic. Canon Rogers stood, his hands folded motionless, gazing in front of him. Dobell, smiling so that a dimple appeared in each cheek, said in his chuckling whisper to Brandon:
"Render comes to-day, doesn't he?"
"Ronder?" Brandon repeated, coming abruptly out of his secret exultation.
"Oh, yes—I believe he does...."
Cobbett, the Verger, with his gold staff, appeared in the Vestry door. A tall handsome man, he had been in the service of the Cathedral as man and boy for fifty years. He had his private ambitions, the main one being that old Lawrence, the head Verger, in his opinion a silly old fool, should die and permit his own legitimate succession. Another ambition was that he should save enough money to buy another three cottages down in Seatown. He owned already six there. But no one observing his magnificent impassivity (he was famous for this throughout ecclesiastical Glebeshire) would have supposed that he had any thought other than those connected with ceremony. As he appeared the organ began its voluntary, the music stealing through the thick grey walls, creeping past the stout grey pillars that had listened, with so impervious an immobility, to an endless succession of voluntaries. The Archdeacon prayed, the choir responded with a long Amen, and the procession filed out, the boys with faces pious and wistful, the choir-men moving with nonchalance, their restless eyes wandering over the scene so absolutely known to them. Then came Rogers like a martyr; Dobell gaily as though he were enjoying some little joke of his own; last of all, Brandon, superb in carriage, in dignity, in his magnificent recognition of the value of ceremony.
Because to-day was simply an ordinary afternoon with an ordinary Anthem and an ordinary service (Martin in F) the congregation was small, the gates of the great screen closed with a clang behind the choir, and the nave, purple grey under the soft light of the candle-lit choir, was shut out into twilight. In the high carved seats behind and beyond the choir the congregation was sitting; Miss Dobell, who never missed a service that her brother was singing, with her pinched white face and funny old- fashioned bonnet, lost between the huge arms of her seat; Mrs. Combermere, with a friend, stiff and majestic; Mrs. Cole and her sister-in-law, Amy Cole; a few tourists; a man or two; Major Drake, who liked to join in the psalms with his deep bass; and little Mr. Thompson, one of the masters at the School who loved music and always came to Evensong when he could.
There they were then, and the Archdeacon, looking at them from his stall, could not but feel that they were rather a poor lot. Not that he exactly despised them; he felt kindly towards them and would have done no single one of them an injury, but he knew them all so well—Mrs. Combermere, Miss Dobell, Mrs. Cole, Drake, Thompson. They were shadows before him. If he looked hard at them, they seemed to disappear....
The exultation that he had felt as he stood outside his house-door increased with every moment that passed. It was strange, but he had never, perhaps, in all his life been so happy as he was at that hour. He was driven by the sense of it to that, with him, rarest of all things, introspection. Why should he feel like this? Why did his heart beat thickly, why were his cheeks flushed with a triumphant heat? It could not but be that he was realising to-day how everything was well with him. And why should he not realise it? Looking up to the high vaulted roofs above him, he greeted God, greeted Him as an equal, and thanked Him as a fellow- companion who had helped him through a difficult and dusty journey. He thanked Him for his health, for his bodily vigour and strength, for his beauty, for his good brain, for his successful married life, for his wife (poor Amy), for his house and furniture, for his garden and tennis-lawn, for his carriage and horses, for his son, for his position in the town, his dominance in the Chapter, his authority on the School Council, his importance in the district.... For all these things he thanked God, and he greeted Him with an outstretched hand.
"As one power to another," his soul cried, "greetings! You have been a true and loyal friend to me. Anything that I can do for You I will do...."
The time came for him to read the First Lesson. He crossed to the Lectern and was conscious that the tourists were whispering together about him. He read aloud, in his splendid voice, something about battles and vengeance, plagues and punishment, God's anger and the trembling Israelites. He might himself have been an avenging God as he read. He was uplifted with the glory of power and the exultation of personal dominion...
He crossed back to his seat, and, as they began the "Magnificat," his eye alighted on the tomb of the Black Bishop. In the volume on Polchester in Chimes' Cathedral Series (4th edition, 1910), page 52, you will find this description of the Black Bishop's Tomb: "It stands between the pillars at the far east end of the choir in the eighth bay from the choir screen. The stone screen which surrounds the tomb is of most elaborate workmanship, and it has, in certain lights, the effect of delicate lace; the canopy over the tomb has pinnacles which rise high above the level of the choir- stalls. The tomb itself is made from a solid block of a dark blue stone. The figure of the bishop, carved in black marble, lies with his hands folded across his breast, clothed in his Episcopal robes and mitre, and crozier on his shoulder. At his feet are a vizor and a pair of gauntlets, these also carved in black marble. On one finger of his right hand is a ring carved from some green stone. His head is raised by angels and at his feet beyond the vizor and gauntlets are tiny figures of four knights fully armed. A small arcade runs round the tomb with a series of shields in the spaces, and these shields have his motto, 'God giveth Strength,' and the arms of the See of Polchester. His epitaph in brass round the edge of the tomb has thus been translated:
"'Here, having surrendered himself back to God, lies Henry of Arden. His life, which was distinguished for its great piety, its unfailing generosity, its noble statesmanship, was rudely taken in the nave of this Cathedral by men who feared neither the punishment of their fellows nor the just vengeance of an irate God.
"'He died, bravely defending this great house of Prayer, and is now, in eternal happiness, fulfilling the reward of all good and faithful servants, at his Master's side.'"
It has been often remarked by visitors to the Cathedral how curiously this tomb catches light from all sides of the building, but this is undoubtedly in the main due to the fact that the blue stone of which it is chiefly composed responds immediately to the purple and violet lights that fall from the great East window. On a summer day the blue of the tomb seems almost opaque as though it were made of blue glass, and the gilt on the background of the screen and the brasses of the groins glitter and sparkle like fire.
Brandon to-day, wrapped in his strange mood of almost mystical triumph, felt as though he were, indeed, a reincarnation of the great Bishop.
As the "Magnificat" proceeded, he seemed to enter into the very tomb and share in the Bishop's dust. "I stood beside you," he might almost have cried, "when in the last savage encounter you faced them on the very steps of the altar, striking down two of them with your fists, falling at last, bleeding from a hundred wounds, but crying at the very end, 'God is my right!'"
As he stared across at the tomb, he seemed to see the great figure, deserted by all his terrified adherents, lying in his blood in the now deserted Cathedral; he saw the coloured dusk creep forward and cover him. And then, in the darkness of the night, the two faithful servants who crept in and carried away his body to keep it in safety until his day should come again.
Born in 1100, Henry of Arden had been the first Bishop to give Polchester dignity and power. What William of Wykeham was to Winchester, that Henry of Arden was to the See of Polchester. Through all the wild days of the quarrel between Stephen and Matilda he had stood triumphant, yielding at last only to the mad overwhelming attacks of his private enemies. Of those he had had many. It had been said of him that "he thought himself God—the proudest prelate on earth." Proud he may have been, but he had loved his Bishopric. It was in his time that the Saint Margaret's Chapel had been built, through his energy that the two great Western Towers had risen, because of him that Polchester now could boast one of the richest revenues of any Cathedral in Europe. Men said that he had plundered, stolen the land of powerless men, himself headed forays against neighbouring villages and even castles. He had done it for the greater glory of God. They had been troublous times. It had been every man for himself....
He had told his people that he was God's chief servant; it was even said that he had once, in the plenitude of his power, cried that he was God Himself....
His figure remained to this very day dominating Polchester, vast in stature, black-bearded, rejoicing in his physical strength. He could kill, they used to say, an ox with his fist....
The "Gloria" rang triumphantly up into the shadows of the nave. Brandon moved once more across to the Lectern. He read of the casting of the money-changers out of the Temple.
His voice quivered with pride and exultation so that Cobbett, who had acquired, after many years' practice, the gift of sleeping during the Lessons and Sermon with his eyes open, woke up with a start and wondered what was the matter.
Brandon's mood, when he was back in his own drawing-room, did not leave him; it was rather intensified by the cosiness and security of his home. Lying back in his large arm-chair in front of the fire, his long legs stretched out before him, he could hear the rain beating on the window- panes and beyond that the murmur of the organ (Brockett, the organist, was practising, as he often did after Evensong).
The drawing-room was a long narrow one with many windows; it was furnished in excellent taste. The carpet and the curtains and the dark blue coverings to the chairs were all a little faded, but this only gave them an additional dignity and repose. There were two large portraits of himself and Mrs. Brandon painted at the time of their marriage, some low white book-shelves, a large copy of "Christ in the Temple"—plenty of space, flowers, light.
Mrs. Brandon was, at this time, a woman of forty-two, but she looked very much less than that. She was slight, dark, pale, quite undistinguished. She had large grey eyes that looked on to the ground when you spoke to her. She was considered a very shy woman, negative in every way. She agreed with everything that was said to her and seemed to have no opinions of her own. She was simply "the wife of the Archdeacon." Mrs. Combermere considered her a "poor little fool." She had no real friends in Polchester, and it made little difference to any gathering whether she were there or not. She had been only once known to lose her temper in public—once in the market-place she had seen a farmer beat his horse over the eyes. She had actually gone up to him and struck him. Afterwards she had said that "she did not like to see animals ill-treated." The Archdeacon had apologised for her, and no more had been said about it. The farmer had borne her no grudge.
She sat now at the little tea-table, her eyes screwed up over the serious question of giving the Archdeacon his tea exactly as he wanted it. Her whole mind was apparently engaged on this problem, and the Archdeacon did not care to-day that she did not answer his questions and support his comments because he was very, very happy, the whole of his being thrilling with security and success and innocent pride.
Joan Brandon came in. In appearance she was, as Mrs. Sampson said, "insignificant." You would not look at her twice any more than you would have looked at her mother twice. Her figure was slight and her legs (she was wearing long skirts this year for the first time) too long. Her hair was dark brown and her eyes dark brown. She had nice rosy cheeks, but they were inclined to freckle. She smiled a good deal and laughed, when in company, more noisily than was proper. "A bit of a tomboy, I'm afraid," was what one used to hear about her. But she was not really a tomboy; she moved quietly, and her own bedroom was always neat and tidy. She had very little pocket-money and only seldom new clothes, not because the Archdeacon was mean, but because Joan was so often forgotten and left out of the scheme of things. It was surprising that the only girl in the house should be so often forgotten, but the Archdeacon did not care for girls, and Mrs. Brandon did not appear to think very often of any one except the Archdeacon. Falk, Joan's brother, now at Oxford, when he was at home had other things to do than consider Joan. She had gone, ever since she was twelve, to the Polchester High School for Girls, and there she was popular, and might have made many friends, had it not been that she could not invite her companions to her home. Her father did not like "noise in the house." She had been Captain of the Hockey team; the small girls in the school had all adored her. She had left the place six months ago and had come home to "help her mother." She had had, in honest fact, six months' loneliness, although no one knew that except herself. Her mother had not wanted her help. There had been nothing for her to do, and she had felt herself too young to venture into the company of older girls in the town. She had been rather "blue" and had looked back on Seafield House, the High School, with longing, and then suddenly, one morning, for no very clear reason she had taken a new view of life. Everything seemed delightful and even thrilling, commonplace things that she had known all her days, the High Street, keeping her rooms tidy, spending or saving the minute monthly allowance, the Cathedral, the river. She was all in a moment aware that something very delightful would shortly occur. What it was she did not know, and she laughed at herself for imagining that anything extraordinary could ever happen to any one so commonplace as herself, but there the strange feeling was and it would not go away.
To-day, as always when her father was there, she came in very quietly, sat down near her mother, saw that she made no sort of interruption to the Archdeacon's flow of conversation. She found that he was in a good humour to-day, and she was glad of that because it would please her mother. She herself had a great interest in all that he said. She thought him a most wonderful man, and secretly was swollen with pride that she was his daughter. It did not hurt her at all that he never took any notice of her. Why should he? Nor did she ever feel jealous of Falk, her father's favourite. That seemed to her quite natural. She had the idea, now most thoroughly exploded but then universally held in Polchester, that women were greatly inferior to men. She did not read the more advanced novels written by Mme. Sarah Grand and Mrs. Lynn Linton. I am ashamed to say that her favourite authors were Miss Alcott and Miss Charlotte Mary Yonge. Moreover, she herself admired Falk extremely. He seemed to her a hero and always right in everything that he did.
Her father continued to talk, and behind the reverberation of his deep voice the roll of the organ like an approving echo could faintly be heard.
"There was a moment when I thought Foster was going to interfere. I've been against the garden-roller from the first—they've got one and what do they want another for? And, anyway, he thinks I meddle with the School's affairs too much. Who wants to meddle with the School's affairs? I'm sure they're nothing but a nuisance, but some one's got to prevent the place from going to wrack and ruin, and if they all leave it to me I can't very well refuse it, can I? Hey?"
"You see what I mean?"
"Well, then—" (As though Mrs. Brandon had just been overcome in an argument in which she'd shown the greatest obstinacy.) "There you are. It would be false modesty to deny that I've got the Chapter more or less in my pocket And why shouldn't I have? Has any one worked harder for this place and the Cathedral than I have?"
"Well, then.... There's this new fellow Ronder coming to-day. Don't know much about him, but he won't give much trouble, I expect—trouble in the way of delaying things, I mean. What we want is work done expeditiously. I've just about got that Chapter moving at last. Ten years' hard work. Deserve a V.C. or something. Hey?"
"Yes, dear, I'm sure you do."
The Archdeacon gave one of his well-known roars of laughter—a laugh famous throughout the county, a laugh described by his admirers as "Homeric," by his enemies as "ear-splitting." There was, however, enemies or no enemies, something sympathetic in that laugh, something boyish and simple and honest.
He suddenly pulled himself up, bringing his long legs close against his broad chest.
"No letter from Falk to-day, was there?"
"Humph. That's three weeks we haven't heard. Hope there's nothing wrong."
"What could there be wrong, dear?"
"Nothing, of course.... Well, Joan, and what have you been doing with yourself all day?"
It was only in his most happy and resplendent moods that the Archdeacon held jocular conversations with his daughter. These conversations had been, in the past, moments of agony and terror to her, but since that morning when she had suddenly woken to a realisation of the marvellous possibilities in life her terror had left her. There were other people in the word besides her father....
Nevertheless, a little, her agitation was still with her. She looked up at him, smiling.
"Oh, I don't know, father.... I went to the Library this morning to change the books for mother—"
"Novels, I suppose. No one ever reads anything but trash nowadays."
"They hadn't anything that mother put down. They never have. Miss Milton sits on the new novels and keeps them for Mrs. Sampson and Mrs. Combermere."
"Sits on them?"
"Yes—really sits on them. I saw her take one from under her skirt the other day when Mrs. Sampson asked for it. It was one that mother has wanted a long time."
The Archdeacon was angry. "I never heard anything so scandalous. I'll just see to that. What's the use of being on the Library Committee if that kind of thing happens? That woman shall go."
"Oh no! father!..."
"Of course she shall go. I never heard anything so dishonest in my life!..."
Joan remembered that little conversation until the end of her life. And with reason.
The door was flung open. Some one came hurriedly in, then stopped, with a sudden arrested impulse, looking at them. It was Falk.
Falk was a very good-looking man—fair hair, light blue eyes like his father's, slim and straight and quite obviously fearless. It was that quality of courage that struck every one who saw him; it was not only that he feared, it seemed, no one and nothing, but that he went a step further than that, spending his life in defying every one and everything, as a practised dueller might challenge every one he met in order to keep his play in practice. "I don't like young Brandon," Mrs. Sampson said. "He snorts contempt at you...."
He was only twenty-one, a contemptuous age. He looked as though he had been living in that house for weeks, although, as a fact, he had just driven up, after a long and tiresome journey, in an ancient cab through the pouring rain. The Archdeacon gazed at his son in a bewildered, confused amaze, as though he, a convinced sceptic, were suddenly confronted, in broad daylight, with an undoubted ghost.
"What's the matter?" he said at last. "Why are you here?"
"I've been sent down," said Falk.
It was characteristic of the relationship in that family that, at that statement, Mrs. Brandon and Joan did not look at Falk but at the Archdeacon.
"Yes, for ragging! They wanted to do it last term."
"Sent down!" The Archdeacon shot to his feet; his voice suddenly lifted into a cry. "And you have the impertinence to come here and tell me! You walk in as though nothing had happened! You walk in!..."
"You're angry," said Falk, smiling. "Of course I knew you would be. You might hear me out first. But I'll come along when I've unpacked and you're a bit cooler. I wanted some tea, but I suppose that will have to wait. You just listen, father, and you'll find it isn't so bad. Oxford's a rotten place for any one who wants to be on his own, and, anyway, you won't have to pay my bills any more."
Falk turned and went.
The Archdeacon, as he stood there, felt a dim mysterious pain as though an adversary whom he completely despised had found suddenly with his weapon a joint in his armour.
The train that brought Falk Brandon back to Polchester brought also the Ronders—Frederick Ronder, newly Canon of Polchester, and his aunt, Miss Alice Ronder. About them the station gathered in a black cloud, dirty, obscure, lit by flashes of light and flame, shaken with screams, rumblings, the crashing of carriage against carriage, the rattle of cab- wheels on the cobbles outside. To-day also there was the hiss and scatter of the rain upon the glass roof. The Ronders stood, not bewildered, for that they never were, but thinking what would be best. The new Canon was a round man, round-shouldered, round-faced, round-stomached, round legged. A fair height, he was not ludicrous, but it seemed that if you laid him down he would roll naturally, still smiling, to the farthest end of the station. He wore large, very round spectacles. His black clerical coat and trousers and hat were scrupulously clean and smartly cut. He was not a dandy, but he was not shabby. He smiled a great deal, not nervously as curates are supposed to smile, not effusively, but simply with geniality. His aunt was a contrast, thin, straight, stiff white collar, little black bow-tie, coat like a man's, skirt with no nonsense about it. No nonsense about her anywhere. She was not unamiable, perhaps, but business came first.
"Well, what do we do?" he asked.
"We collect our bags and find the cab," she answered briskly.
They found their bags, and there were a great many of them; Miss Ronder, having seen that they were all there and that there was no nonsense about the porter, moved off to the barrier followed by her nephew.
As they came into the station square, all smelling of hay and the rain, the deluge slowly withdrew its forces, recalling them gradually so that the drops whispered now, patter-patter—pit-pat. A pigeon hovered down and pecked at the cobbles. Faint colour threaded the thick blotting-paper grey.
Old Fawcett himself had come to the station to meet them. Why had he felt it to be an occasion? God only knows. A new Canon was nothing to him. He very seldom now, being over eighty, with a strange "wormy" pain in his left ear, took his horses out himself. He saved his money and counted it over by his fireside to see that his old woman didn't get any of it. He hated his old woman, and in a vaguely superstitious, thoroughly Glebeshire fashion half-believed that she had cast a spell over him and was really responsible for his "wormy" ear.
Why had he come? He didn't himself know. Perhaps Ronder was going to be of importance in the place, he had come from London and they all had money in London. He licked his purple protruding lips greedily as he saw the generous man. Yes, kindly and generous he looked....
They got into the musty cab and rattled away over the cobbles.
"I hope Mrs. Clay got the telegram all right." Miss Ronder's thin bosom was a little agitated beneath its white waistcoat. "You'll never forgive me if things aren't looking as though we'd lived in the place for months."
Alice Ronder was over sixty and as active as a woman of forty. Ronder looked at her and laughed.
"Never forgive you! What words! Do I ever cherish grievances? Never... but I do like to be comfortable."
"Well, everything was all right a week ago. I've slaved at the place, as you know, and Mrs. Clay's a jewel—but she complains of the Polchester maids—says there isn't one that's any good. Oh, I want my tea, I want my tea!"
They were climbing up from the market-place into the High Street. Ronder looked about him with genial curiosity.
"Very nice," he said; "I believe I can be comfortable here."
"If you aren't comfortable you certainly won't stay," she answered him sharply.
"Then I must be comfortable," he replied, laughing.
He laughed a great deal, but absent-mindedly, as though his thoughts were elsewhere. It would have been interesting to a student of human nature to have been there and watched him as he sat back in the cab, looking through the window, indeed, but seeing apparently nothing. He seemed to be gazing through his round spectacles very short-sightedly, his eyes screwed up and dim. His fat soft hands were planted solidly on his thick knees.
The observer would have been interested because he would soon have realised that Render saw everything; nothing, however insignificant, escaped him, but he seemed to see with his brain as though he had learnt the trick of forcing it to some new function that did not properly belong to it. The broad white forehead under the soft black clerical hat was smooth, unwrinkled, mild and calm.... He had trained it to be so.
The High Street was like any High Street of a small Cathedral town in the early evening. The pavements were sleek and shiny after the rain; people were walking with the air of being unusually pleased with the world, always the human expression when the storms have withdrawn and there is peace and colour in the sky. There were lights behind the solemn panes of Bennett's the bookseller's, that fine shop whose first master had seen Sir Walter Scott in London and spoken to Byron. In his window were rows of the classics in calf and first editions of the Surtees books and Dr. Syntax. At the very top of the High Street was Mellock's the pastry- cook's, gay with its gas, rich with its famous saffron buns, its still more famous ginger-bread cake, and, most famous of all, its lemon biscuits. Even as the Ronders' cab paused for a moment before it turned to pass under the dark Arden Gate on to the asphalt of the Precincts, the great Mrs. Mellock herself, round and rubicund, came to the door and looked about her at the weather. An errand-boy passed, whistling, down the hill, a stiff military-looking gentleman with white moustaches mounted majestically the steps of the Conservative Club; then they rattled under the black archway, echoed for a moment on the noisy cobbles, then slipped into the quiet solemnity of the Precincts asphalt. It was Brandon who had insisted on the asphalt. Old residents had complained that to take away the cobbles would be to rid the Precincts of all its atmosphere.
"I don't care about atmosphere," said the Archdeacon, "I want to sleep at night."
Very quiet here; not a sound penetrated. The Cathedral was a huge shadow above its darkened lawns; not a human soul was to be seen.
The cab stopped with a jerk at Number Eight. The bell was rung by old Fawcett, who stood on the top step looking down at Ronder and wondering how much he dared to ask him. Ask him too much now and perhaps he would not deal with him in the future. Moreover, although the man wore large spectacles and was fat he was probably not a fool.... Fawcett could not tell why he was so sure, but there was something....
Mrs. Clay was at the door, smiling and ordering a small frightened girl to "hurry up now." Miss Ronder disappeared into the house. Ronder stood for a moment looking about him as though he were a spy in enemy country and must let nothing escape him.
"Whose is that big place there?" he asked Fawcett, pointing to a house that stood by itself at the farther corner of the Precincts.
"Archdeacon Brandon's, sir."
"Oh!..." Ronder mounted the steps. "Good night," he said to Fawcett. "Mrs. Clay, pay the cabman, please."
The Ronders had taken this house a month ago; for two months before that it had stood desolate, wisps of paper and straw blowing about it, its "To let" notice creaking and screaming in every wind. The Hon. Mrs. Pentecoste, an eccentric old lady, had lived there for many years, and had died in the middle of a game of patience; her worn and tattered furniture had been sold at auction, and the house had remained unlet for a considerable period because people in the town said that the ghost of Mrs. Pentecoste's cat (a famous blue Persian) walked there. The Ronders cared nothing for ghosts; the house was exactly what they wanted. It had two panelled rooms, two powder-closets, and a little walled garden at the back with fruit trees.
It was quite wonderful what Miss Ronder had done in a month; she had abandoned Eaton Square for a week, worked in the Polchester house like a slave, then retired back to Eaton Square again, leaving Mrs. Clay, her aide-de-camp, to manage the rest. Mrs. Clay had managed very well. She would not have been in the service of the Ronders for nearly fifteen years had she not had a gift for managing....
Ronder, washed and brushed, came down to tea, looked about him, and saw that all was good.
"I congratulate you, Aunt Alice," he said—"excellent!"
Miss Ronder very slightly flushed.
"There are a lot of things still to be done," she said; nevertheless she was immensely pleased.
The drawing-room was charming. The stencilled walls, the cushions of the chairs, the cover of a gate-legged table, the curtains of the mullioned windows were of a warm dark blue. And whatever in the room was not blue seemed to be white, or wood in its natural colour, or polished brass. Books ran round the room in low white book-cases. In one corner a pure white Hermes stood on a pedestal with tiny wings outspread. There was only one picture, an excellent copy of "Rembrandt's mother." The windows looked out to the garden, now veiled by the dusk of evening. Tea was on a little table close to the white tiled fireplace. A little square brass clock chimed the half-hour as Ronder came in.
"I suppose Ellen will be over," Ronder said. He drank in the details of the room with a quite sensual pleasure. He went over to the Hermes and lifted it, holding it for a moment in his podgy hands.
"You beauty!" he whispered aloud. He put it back, turned round to his aunt.
"Of course Ellen will be over," he repeated.
"Of course," Miss Ronder repeated, picking up the old square black lacquer tea-caddy and peering into it.
He picked up the books on the table—two novels, Sentimental Tommy, by J. M. Barrie, and Sir George Tressady, by Mrs. Humphry Ward, Mr. Swinburne's Tale of Balen, and The Works of Max Beerbohm. Last of all Leslie Stephen's Social Rights and Duties.
He looked at them all, with their light yellow Mudie labels, their fresh bindings, then, slowly and very carefully, put them back on the table.
He always handled books as though they were human beings.
He came and sat down by the fire.
"I won't see over the place until to-morrow," he said. "What have you done about the other books?"
"The book-cases are in. It's the best room in the house. Looks over the river and gets most of the light. The books are as you packed them. I haven't dared touch them. In fact, I've left that room entirely for you to arrange."
"Well," he said, "if you've done the rest of this house as well as this room, you'll do. It's jolly—it really is. I'm going to like this place."
"And you hated the very idea of it."
"I hated the discomfort there'd be before we settled in. But the settling in is going to be easier than I thought. Of course we don't know yet how the land lies. Ellen will tell us."
They were silent for a little. Then he looked at her with a puzzled, half- humorous, half-ironical glance.
"It's a bit of a blow to you, Aunt Alice, burying yourself down here. London was the breath of your nostrils. What did you come for? Love of me?"
She looked steadily back at him.
"Not love exactly. Curiosity, perhaps. I want to see at first hand what you'll do. You're the most interesting human being I've ever met, and that isn't prejudice. Aunts do not, as a rule, find their nephews interesting. And what have you come here for? I assure you I haven't the least idea."
The door was opened by Mrs. Clay.
"Miss Stiles," she said.
Miss Stiles, who came in, was not handsome. She was large and fat, with a round red face like a sun, and she wore colours too bright for her size. She had a slow soft voice like the melancholy moo of a cow. She was not a bad woman, but, temperamentally, was made unhappy by the success or good fortune of others. Were you in distress, she would love you, cherish you, never abandon you. She would share her last penny with you, run to the end of the world for you, defend you before the whole of humanity. Were you, however, in robust health, she would hint to every one of a possible cancer; were you popular, it would worry her terribly and she would discover a thousand faults in your character; were you successful in your work, she would pray for your approaching failure lest you should become arrogant. She gossiped without cessation, and always, as it were, to restore the proper balance of the world, to pull down the mighty from their high places, to lift the humble only that they in their turn might be pulled down. She played fluently and execrably on the piano. She spent her day in running from house to house.
She had independent means, lived four months of the year in Polchester (she had been born there and her family had been known there for many generations before her), four months in London, and the rest of the year abroad. She had met Alice Ronder in London and attached herself to her. She liked the Ronders because they never boasted of their successes, because Alice had a weak heart, because Ronder, who knew her character, half-humorously deprecated his talents, which were, as he knew well enough, no mean ones. She bored Alice Ronder, but Ronder found her useful. She told him a great deal that he wanted to know, and although she was never accurate in her information, he could separate the wheat from the chaff. She was a walking mischief-maker, but meant no harm to a living soul. She prided herself on her honesty, on saying exactly what she thought to every one. She was kindness itself to her servants, who adored her, as did railway-porters, cabmen and newspaper men. She overtipped wherever she went because "she could not bear not to be liked." In our Polchester world she was an important factor. She was always the first to hear any piece of news in our town, and she gave it a wrong twist just as fast as she could.
She was really delighted to see the Ronders, and told them so with many assurances of affection, but she was a little distressed to find the room so neat and settled. She would have preferred them to be "in a thorough mess" and badly in need of her help.
"My dear Alice, how quick you've been! How clever you are! At the same time I think you'll find there's a good deal to arrange still. The Polchester girls are so slow and always breaking things. I suppose some things have been smashed in the move—nothing very valuable, I hope."
"Lots of things, Ellen," said Ronder, laughing. "We've had the most awful time and badly need your help. It's only this room that Aunt Alice got straight—just to have something to show, you know. And our journey down! I can't tell you what it was, hardly room to breathe and coming up here in the rain!"
"Oh, you poor things! What a welcome to Polchester! You must simply have hated the look of the whole place. Such a bad introduction, and everything looking as gloomy and depressing as possible. I expect you wished yourselves well out of it. I don't wonder you're depressed. I hope you're not feeling your heart, Alice dear."
"Well, I am a little," acknowledged Miss Ronder. "But I shall go to bed early and get a good night."
"You poor dear! I was afraid you'd be absolutely done up. Now, you're not to get up in the morning and I'll run about and do your shopping for you. I insist. How's Mrs. Clay?"
"A little grumpy at having so much to do," said Ronder, "but she'll get over it."
"I'm afraid she's a little ill-tempered at times," said Miss Stiles with satisfaction. "I thought when I came in that she looked out of sorts. Troubles never come singly, of course."
All was well now and Miss Stiles completely satisfied. She admired the room and the Hermes, and prophesied that, after a week or two, they would probably find things not so bad after all. She drank several cups of tea and passed on to general conversation. It was obvious, very soon, that she was bursting with a piece of news.
"I can see, Ellen," said Ronder, humorously observing her, "that you're longing to tell us something."
"Well, it is interesting. What do you think? Falk Brandon has been sent down from Oxford for misbehaviour."
"And who is Falk Brandon?" asked Ronder.
"The Archdeacon's son. His only boy. I've told you about Archdeacon Brandon many times. He thinks he runs the town and has been terribly above himself for a long while. This will pull him down a little. I must say, although I don't want to be uncharitable, that I'm glad of it. It's too absurd the way that he's been having everything his own way here. All the Canons are over ninety and simply give in to him about everything."
"When did this happen?"
"Oh, it's only just happened. He arrived by your train. I saw young George Lascelles as I was on my way up to you. He met him at the station—Falk, I mean—and he didn't pretend to disguise it. George said 'Hullo, Brandon, what are you doing here?' and Falk said 'Oh, I've been sent down'—just like that. Didn't pretend to disguise it. He's always been as brazen as anything. He'll give his father a lot of trouble before he's done."
"There's nothing very terrible," said Ronder, laughing, "in being sent down from Oxford. I've known plenty of good fellows who were."
Miss Stiles looked annoyed. "Oh, but you don't know. It will be terrible for his father. He's the proudest man in England. Some people call it conceit, but, however that may be, he thinks there's nothing like his family. Even poor Mrs. Brandon he's proud of when she isn't there. It will be awful for him that every one should know."
Ronder said nothing.
"You know," said Miss Stiles, who felt that her news had fallen flat, "you'll have to fight him or give in to him. There's no other way here. I hope you'll fight him."
"I?" said Ronder. "Why, I never fight anybody. I'm much too lazy."
"Then you'll never be comfortable here, that's all. He can't bear being crossed. He must have his way about everything. If the Bishop weren't so old and the Dean so stupid.... What we want here is a little life in the place."
"You needn't look to us for that, Ellen," said Ronder. "We've come here to rest——"
"Peace, perfect peace...."
"I don't believe you," said Miss Stiles, tossing her head. "I'd be disappointed to think it of you."
Alice Ronder gave her nephew a curious look, half of amusement, half of expectation.
"It's quite true, Ellen," she said. "Now, if you've finished your tea, come and look at the rest of the house."
One of Joan's Days
I find it difficult now to realise how apart from the life of the world Polchester was in those days. Even now, when the War has shaken up and jostled together every small village in Great Britain, Polchester still has some shreds of its isolation left to it; but then—why, it might have been a walled-in fortress of mediaeval times, for all its connection with the outside world!
This isolation was quite deliberately maintained. I don't mean, of course, that Mrs. Combermere and Brandon and old Bentinck-Major and Mrs. Sampson said to themselves in so many words, "We will keep this to ourselves and defend its walls against every new invader, every new idea, new custom, new impulse. We will all be butchered rather than allow one old form, tradition, superstition to go!" It was not as conscious as that, but in effect it was that that it came to. And they were wonderfully assisted by circumstances. It is true that the main line ran through Polchester from Drymouth, but its travellers were hurrying south, and only a few trippers, a few Americans, a few sentimentalists stayed to see the Cathedral; and those who stayed found "The Bull" an impossibly inconvenient and uncomfortable hostelry and did not come again. It is true that even then, in 1897, there were many agitations by sharp business men like Crosbie and John Allen, Croppet and Fred Barnstaple, to make the place more widely known, more commercially attractive. It was not until later that the golf course was laid out and the St. Leath Hotel rose on Pol Hill. But other things were tried—steamers on the Pol, char-a-bancs to various places of local interest, and so on—but, at this time, all these efforts failed. The Cathedral was too strong for them, above all Brandon and Mrs. Combermere were too strong for them. Nothing was done to encourage strangers; I shouldn't wonder if Mrs. Combermere didn't pay old Jolliffe of "The Bull" so much a year to keep his hotel inconvenient and insanitary. The men on the Town Council were for the most part like the Canons, aged and conservative. It is true that it was in 1897 that Barnstaple was elected Mayor, but without Ronder I doubt whether even he would have been able to do very much.
The town then revolved, so to speak, entirely on its own axis; it revolved between the two great events of the year, the summer Polchester Fair, the winter County Ball, and those two great affairs were conducted, in every detail and particular, as they had been conducted a hundred years before. I find it strange, writing from the angle of to-day, to conceive it possible that so short a time ago anything in England could have been so conservative. I myself was only thirteen years of age when Ronder came to our town, and saw all grown figures with the exaggerated colour and romance that local inquisitive age bestows. About my own contemporaries, young Jeremy Cole for instance, there was no colour at all, but the older figures were strange—gigantic, almost mythological. Mrs. Combermere, the Dean, the Archdeacon, Mrs. Sampson, Canon Ronder, moved about the town, to my young eyes, like gods and goddesses, and it was not until after my return to Polchester at the end of my first Cambridge year that I saw clearly how small a town it was and how tiny the figures in it.
Joan Brandon thought her father a marvellous man, as I have already said, but she had seen him too often lose his temper, too often snub her mother, too often be upset by trivial and unimportant details, to conceive him romantically. Falk, her brother, was romantic to her because she had seen so much less of him; her father she knew too well. For some time after Falk's return from Oxford nothing happened. Joan did not know what exactly she had expected to happen, but she had an uneasy sense that more was going on behind the scenes than she knew.
The Archdeacon did not speak to Falk unless he were compelled, but Falk did not seem to mind this in the least. His handsome defiant face flashed scorn at the whole family.
He was out of the house most of the day, came down to breakfast when every one else had finished, and often was not present at dinner in the evening. The Archdeacon had said that breakfast was not to be kept for him, but nevertheless breakfast was there, on the table, however late he was. The cook and, indeed, all the servants adored him because, I suppose, he had no sense of class-difference at all and laughed and joked with any one if he was in a good temper. All these first days he spoke scarcely one word to Joan; it was as though the whole family were in his black books for some disgraceful act—they were the guilty ones and not he.
Joan blamed herself for feeling so light-hearted and gay during this family crisis, but she could not help it. A very short time ago the knowledge that battle was engaged in the very heart of the house would have made her miserable and apprehensive, but now it seemed to be all outside her and unconnected with her as though she had a life of her own that no one could touch. Her courage seemed to grow with every half-hour of her life. Some months passed, and then one morning she came into the drawing-room and found her mother rather bewildered and distressed.
"Oh dear, I really don't know what to do!" said her mother.
It was so seldom that Joan was appealed to for advice that her heart now beat with pride.
"What's the matter, mother?" she asked, trying to look dignified and unconcerned.
Mrs. Brandon looked at her with a frightened and startled look as though she had been speaking to herself and had not wished to be overheard.
"Oh, Joan!...I didn't know that you were there!"
"What's the matter? Is it anything I can help about?"
"'No, dear, nothing...really I didn't know that you were there."
"No, but you must let me help, mother." Joan marvelled at her own boldness as she spoke.
"It's nothing you can do, dear."
"But it's sure to be something I can do. Do you know that I've been home for months and months simply with the idea of helping you, and I'm never allowed to do anything?"
"Really, Joan—I don't think that's quite the way to speak."
"No, but, mother, it's true. I want to help. I'm grown up. I'm going to dinner at the Castle, and I must help you, or—or—I shall go away and earn my own living!"
This last was so startling and fantastic that both Joan and her mother stared at one another in a kind of horrified amazement.
"No, I didn't mean that, of course," Joan said, hurriedly recovering herself. "But you must see that I must have some work to do."
"I don't know what your father would say," said Mrs. Brandon, still bewildered.
"Oh, never mind father," said Joan quickly; "this is a matter just between you and me. I'm here to help you, and you must let me do something. Now, what's the trouble to-day?"
"I don't know, dear. There's no trouble exactly. Things are so difficult just now. The fact is that I promised to go to tea with Miss Burnett this afternoon and now your father wants me to go with him to the Deanery. So provoking! Miss Burnett caught me in the street, where it's always so difficult to think of excuses."
"Let me go to Miss Burnett's instead," said Joan. "It's quite time I took on some of the calling for you. I've never seen Mr. Morris, and I hear he's very nice."
"Very well, dear," said Mrs. Brandon, suddenly beginning, as her way was when there was any real opposition, to capitulate on all sides at once. "Suppose you do go, dear. I'm sure it's very kind of you. And you might take those books back to the Circulating Library as well. It's Market-Day. Are you sure you won't mind the horses and cows and dogs?"
Joan laughed. "I believe you think I'm still five years old, mother. That's splendid. I'll start off after lunch."
Joan went up to her room, elated. Truly, this was a great step forward. It occurred to her on further reflection that something very serious indeed must be going on behind the scenes to cause her mother to give in so quickly. She sat on her old faded rocking-chair, her hands crossed behind her head, thinking it all out. Did she once begin calling on her own account she was grown-up indeed. What would these Morrises be like?
She found now that she was beginning to be a little frightened. Mr. Morris was the new Rector of St. James', the little church over by the cattle market. He had not been in Polchester very long and was said to be a shy timid man, but a good preacher. He was a widower, and his sister-in-law kept house for him. Joan considered further on the great importance of these concessions; it made all the difference to everything. She was now to have a life of her own, and every kind of adventure and romance was possible for her. She was suddenly so happy that she sprang up and did a little dance round her room, a sort of polka, that became so vehement that the pictures and the little rickety table rattled.
"I'll be so grown-up at the Morrises' this afternoon that they'll think I've been calling for years," she said to herself.
She had need of all her courage and optimism at luncheon, for it was a gloomy meal. Only her father and mother were present. They were all very silent.
After lunch she went upstairs, put on her hat and coat, picked up the three Library books, and started off. It was a sunny day, with shadows chasing one another across the Cathedral green. There was, as there so often is in Polchester, a smell of the sea in the air, cold and invigorating. She paused for a moment and looked across at the Cathedral. She did not know why, but she had been always afraid of the Cathedral. She had never loved it, and had always wished that they could go on Sundays to some little church like St. James'.
For most of her conscious life the Cathedral had hung over her with its dark menacing shadow, forbidding her, as it seemed to her, to be gay or happy or careless. To-day the thought suddenly came to her, "That place is going to do us harm. I hate it," and for a moment she was depressed and uneasy; but when she came out from the Arden Gate and saw the High Street all shining with the sun, running down the hill into glittering distance, she was gloriously cheerful once more. There the second wonderful thing that day happened to her. She had taken scarcely a step down the hill when she came upon Mrs. Sampson. There was nothing wonderful about that; Mrs. Sampson, being the wife of a Dean who was much more retiring than he should be, was to be seen in public at all times and seasons, having to do, as it were, the work of two rather than one. No, the wonderful thing was that Joan suddenly realised that her terror of Mrs. Sampson—a terror that had always been a real thorn in her flesh—was completely gone. It was as though a charm, an Abracadabra, had been whispered over Mrs. Sampson and she had been changed immediately into a rabbit. It had never been Mrs. Sampson's fault that she was alarming to the young. She was a good woman, but she was cursed with two sad burdens—a desperate shyness and a series, unrelenting, unmitigating, mysterious, desperate, of nervous headaches.
Her headaches were a feature of Polchester life, and those who were old enough to understand pitied her and offered her many remedies. But the young cannot be expected to realise that there can be anything physically wrong with the old, and Mrs. Sampson's sharpness of manner, her terrifying habit of rapping out a "Yes" or a "No," her gloomy view of boisterous habits and healthy appetites, made her one most truly to be avoided. Before to-day Joan would have willingly walked a mile out of her way to escape her; to-day she only saw a nervous, pale-faced little woman in an ill-fitting blue dress, for whom she could not be anything but sorry.
"Good morning, Mrs. Sampson."
"Good morning, Joan."
"Isn't it a nice day?"
"It's cold, I think. Is your mother well?"
"Very well, thank you."
"Give her my love."
"I will, Mrs. Sampson."
Mrs. Sampson's nose, that would take on a blue colour on a cold day, quivered, her thin mouth shut with a snap, and she was gone.
"But I wasn't afraid of her!" She was almost frightened at this new spirit that had come to her, and, feeling rather that in another moment she would be punished for her piratical audacity, she turned up the steps into the Circulating Library.
It was the custom in those days that far away from the dust of the grimy shelves, in the very middle of the room, there was a table with all the latest works of fiction in their gaudy bindings, a few volumes of poetry and a few memoirs. Close to this table Miss Milton sat, wrapped, in the warmest weather, in a thick shawl and knitting endless stockings. She hated children, myself in particular. She was also a Snob of the Snobs, and thanked God on her knees every night for Lady St. Leath, Mrs. Combermere and Mrs. Sampson, by whose graces she was left in her present position.
Joan was still too near childhood to be considered very seriously, and it was well known that her father did not take her very seriously either. She was always, therefore, on the rare occasions when she entered the Library, snubbed by Miss Milton. It must be confessed that to-day, in spite of her success with Mrs. Sampson, she was nervous. She was nervous partly because she hated Miss Milton's red-rimmed eyes, and never looked at them if she could help it, but, in the main, because she knew that her mother was returning the Library books too quickly, and had, moreover, insisted that she should ask for Mr. Barrie's Sentimental Tommy and Mr. Seton Merriman's The Sowers, both of them books that had been asked for for weeks and as steadily and persistently refused.
Joan knew what Miss Milton would say, "That they might be in next week, but that she couldn't be sure." Was Joan strong enough now, in her new- found glory, to fight for them? She did not know.
She advanced to the table smiling. Miss Milton did not look up, but continued to knit one of her horrible stockings.
"Good-morning, Miss Milton. Mother has sent back these books. They were not quite what she wanted."
"I'm sorry for that." Miss Milton took the books into her chilblained protection. "It's a little difficult, I must say, to know what Mrs. Brandon prefers."
"Well, there's Sentimental Tommy," began Joan.
But Miss Milton was an old general.
"Oh, that's out, I'm afraid. Now, here's a sweetly pretty book—Roger Varibrugh's Wife, by Adeline Sergeant. It'a only just out...."
"Or there's The Sowers," said Joan, caught against her will by the red-rimmed eyes and staring at them.
"Oh, that's out, I'm afraid. There are several books here—"
"You promised mother," said Joan, "that she should have Sentimental Tommy this week. You promised her a month ago. It's about time that mother had a book that she cares for."
"Really," said Miss Milton, wide-eyed at Joan's audacity. "You seem to be charging me with some remissness, Miss Brandon. If you have any complaint, I'm sure the Library Committee will attend to it. It's to them I have to answer. When the book is in you shall have it. I can promise no more. I am only human."
"You have said that now for three months," said Joan, beginning, to her own surprised delight, to be angry. "Surely the last reader hasn't been three months over it. I thought subscribers were only allowed to keep a book a week."
Miss Milton's crimson colouring turned to a deep purple.
"The book is out," she said. "Both books are out. They are in great demand. I have no more to say."
The Library door opened, and a young man came in. Joan was still too young to wish for scenes in public. She must give up the battle for to-day. When, however, she saw who it was she blushed. It was young Lord St. Leath —Johnny St. Leath, as he was known to his familiars, who were many and of all sorts and conditions. Joan hated herself for blushing, especially before the odious Miss Milton, but there was a reason. One day in last October after morning service Joan and her mother had waited in the Cloisters to avoid a shower of rain. St. Leath had also waited and very pleasantly had talked to them both. There was nothing very alarming in this, but as the rain cleared and Mrs. Brandon had moved forward across the Green, he had suddenly, with a confusion that had seemed to her charming, asked Joan whether one day they mightn't meet again. He had given her one look straight in the eyes, tried to say something more, failed, and turned away down the Cloisters.
Joan had never before been asked by any young man to meet him again. She had told herself that this was nothing but the merest, most obvious politeness; nevertheless the look that he had given her remained.
Now, as she saw him advancing towards her, there was the thought, was it not on that very morning that her new courage and self-confidence had come to her? The thought was so absurd that she flung it at Miss Milton. But the blush remained.
Johnny was an ungainly young man, with a red face, freckles, a large mouth, and a bull-terrier—a conventional British type, I suppose, saved, nevertheless, from conventionality by his affection for his three plain sisters, his determination to see things as they were, and his sense of humour, the last of these something quite his own, and always appearing in unexpected places. The bull-terrier, in spite of the notice on the Library door that no dogs were admitted, advanced breathlessly and dribbling with excitement for Miss Milton's large black felt slippers.
"Here, Andrew, old man. Heel! Heel!" said Johnny. Andrew, however, quite naturally concluded that this was only an approval of his intentions, and there might have followed an awkward scene had his master not caught him by the collar and held him suspended in mid-air, to his own indignant surprise and astonishment.
Joan laughed, and Miss Milton, quivering between indignation, fear and snobbery, dropped the stocking that she was knitting.
Andrew burst from his master's clutches, rushed the stocking into the farthest recesses of the Library, and proceeded there to enjoy it.
"Oh, it's quite all right, Lord St. Leath," said Miss Milton. "What a fine animal!"
"Yes, he is," said Johnny, rescuing the stocking. "He's as strong as Lucifer. Here, Andrew, you devil, I'll break every bone in your body."
During this little scene Johnny had smiled at Joan, and in so pleasant a way that she was compelled to smile back at him.
"How do you do, Miss Brandon?" He had recalled Andrew now, and the dog was slobbering happily at his feet. "Jolly day, isn't it?"
"Yes," said Joan, and stood there awkwardly, feeling that she ought to go but not knowing quite how to do so. He also seemed embarrassed, and turned abruptly to Miss Milton.
"I say, look here.... Mother asked me to come in and get that book you promised her. What's the name of the thing?...I've got it written down."
He fumbled in his pocket and produced a bit of paper.
"Here it is. Sentimental Tommy, by a man called Barrie. Silly name, but mother's always reading the most awful stuff."
Joan turned towards Miss Milton.
"How funny!" she said. "That's the book I've just been asking for. It's out."
Miss Milton's face was a curious purple.
"Well, that's odd," said Johnny. "Mother told me that you'd sent her a line to say it was in whenever she sent for it."
"It's been out three months," said Joan, staring now straight into Miss Milton's angry eyes.
"I've been keeping..." said Miss Milton. "That is, there's a special copy.... Lady St. Leath specially asked——"
"Is it in, or isn't it?" asked Johnny.
"There is a copy, Lord St. Leath——" With confused fingers Miss Milton searched in a drawer. She produced the book.
"You told me," said Joan, forgetting now in her anger St. Leath and all the world, "that there wouldn't he a copy for weeks. If you'd told me you were keeping one for St. Leath, that would have been different. You shouldn't have told me a lie."
"Do you mean to say," said Johnny, opening his eyes very widely indeed, "that you refused this copy to Miss Brandon?"
"Certainly," said Miss Milton, breathing very hard as though she had been running a long distance. "I was keeping it for your mother."
"Well, I'm damned," said Johnny. "I beg your pardon, Miss Brandon,...but I never heard such a thing. Does my mother pay a larger subscription than other people?"
"Then what right had you to tell Miss Brandon a lie?"
Miss Milton, in spite of long training in the kind of warfare attaching, of necessity, to Circulating Libraries, was very near to tears—also murder. She would have been delighted to pierce Joan's heart with a bright stiletto, had such a weapon been handy. She saw the softest, easiest, idlest job in the world slipping out of her fingers; she saw herself, a desolate and haggard virgin, begging her bread on the Polchester streets. She saw...but never mind her visions. They were terrible ones. She had recourse to her only defence.
"If I have misunderstood my duty," she said in a trembling voice, "there is the Library Committee."
"Oh, never mind," said Joan whose anger had disappeared. "It doesn't matter a bit. We'll have the book after Lady St. Leath."
"Indeed you won't," said Johnny, seizing the volume and forcing it upon Joan. "Mother can wait. I never heard of such a thing." He turned fiercely upon Miss Milton. "My mother shall know exactly what has happened. I'm sure she'd be horrified if she understood that you were keeping books from other subscribers in order that she might have them.... Good afternoon."
He strode from the room. At the door he paused.
"Can I—Shall we—Are you going down the High Street, Miss Brandon?"
"Yes," said Joan. They went out of the room and down the Library steps together.
In the shiny, sunny street they paused. The dark cobwebs of the Library hung behind Joan's consciousness like the sudden breaking of a mischievous spell.
She was so happy that she could have embraced Andrew, who was, however, already occupied with the distant aura of a white poodle on the other side of the street.
Johnny was driven by the impulse of his indignation down the hill. Joan, rather breathlessly, followed him.
"I say!" said Johnny. "Did you ever hear of such a woman! She ought to be poisoned. She ought indeed. No, poisoning's too good for her. Hung, drawn and quartered. That's what she ought to be. She'll get into trouble over that."
"Oh no," said Joan. "Please, Lord St. Leath, don't say any more about it. She has a difficult time, I expect, everybody wanting the same books. After all a promise is a promise."
"But she'd promised your mother——"
"No, she never really did. She always said that it would be in in a day or two. She never properly promised. I expect we'd have had it next."
"The snob, the rotten snob!" Johnny paused and raised his stick. "I hate women like that. No, she's not doing her job properly. She oughtn't to be there."
So swift had been their descent that they arrived in a moment at the market.
Because to-day was market-day there was a fine noise, confusion and splendour—carts rattling in and out, sheep and cows driven hither and thither, the wooden stalls bright with flowers and vegetables, the dim arcades looming behind the square filled with mysterious riches. They could not talk very much here, and Joan was glad. She was too deeply excited to talk. At one moment St. Leath took her arm to guide her past a confused mob of bewildered sheep. The Glebeshire peasant on marketing-day has plenty of conversation. Old wrinkled women, stout red-faced farmers, boys and girls all shouted together, and above the scene the light driving clouds flung their transparent shadows, like weaving shuttles across the sun.
"Oh, do let's stop here a moment," said Joan, peering into one of the arcades. "I've always loved this one all my life. I've never been able to resist it."
This was the Toy Arcade, now, I'm afraid, gone the way of so many other romantic things. It had been to all of us the most wonderful spot in Polchester from the very earliest days, this partly because of the toys themselves, partly because it was the densest and darkest of all the Arcades, never utterly to be pierced by our youthful eyes, partly because only two doors away were the sinister rooms of Mr. Dawson, the dentist. Here not only was there every kind of toy—dolls, soldiers, horses, carts, games, tops, hoops, dogs, elephants—but also sweets—chocolates, jujubes, caramels, and the best sweet in the whole world, the Polchester Bull's- eye.
They went in together. Mrs. Magnet, now with God, an old woman like a berry, always in a bonnet with green flowers, smiled and bobbed. The colours of the toys jumbled against the dark walls were like patterns in a carpet.
"What do you say, Miss Brandon?" said Johnny. "If I give you a toy will you give me one?"
"Yes," said Joan, afraid a little of Mrs. Magnet's piercing black eye.
"You're not to see what I get. Turn your back a moment."
Joan turned around. As she waited she could hear the "Hie!...Hie! Woah!" of the market-cries, the bleating of the sheep, the lowing of a cow.
"Here you are, then." She turned. He presented her with a Japanese doll, gay in a pink cotton frock, his waist girdled with a sash of gold tissue.
"Now you turn your back," she said.
In a kind of happy desperation she seized a nigger with bold red checks, a white jacket and crimson trousers.
Mrs. Magnet wrapped the presents up. They paid, and walked out into the sun again.
"I'll keep that doll," said Johnny, "just as long as you keep yours."
"Good-bye," said Joan hurriedly. "I've got to call at a house on the other side of the market.... Good-bye."
She felt the pressure of his hand on hers, then, clutching her parcel, hurried, almost ran, indeed, through the market-stalls. She did not look back.
When she had crossed the Square she turned down into a little side street. The plan of Polchester is very simple. It is built, as it were, on the side of a rock, running finally to a flat top, on which is the Cathedral. Down the side of the rock there are broad ledges, and it is on one of these that the market-place is built. At the bottom of the rock lies the jumble of cottages known most erroneously as Seatown, and round the rock runs the river Pol, slipping away at last through woods and hills and valleys into the sea. At high tide you can go all the way by river to the sea, and in the summer, this makes a pleasant and beautiful excursion. It is because of this that Seatown has, perhaps, some right to its name, because in one way and another sailors collect in the cottages and at the "Dog and Pilchard," that pleasant and democratic hostelry of which, in 1897, Samuel Hogg was landlord. Many visitors have been known to declare that Seatown was "too sweet for anything," and that "it would be really wicked to knock down the ducks of cottages," but "the ducks of cottages" were the foulest and most insanitary dwelling-places in the south of England, and it has always been to me amazing that the Polchester Town Council allowed them to stand so long as they did. In 1902, as all the Glebeshire world knows, there was the great battle of Seatown, ending in the cottages' destruction. In 1897 those evil dwelling-places gloried in their full magnificence of sweet corruption, nor did the periodical attacks of typhoid alarm in the least the citizens of the Upper Town. Once and again gentlemen from other parts paid mysterious official visits, but we had ways, in old times, of dealing with inquisitive meddlers from the outside world.
Because the market-place was half-way down the Rock, and because the Rectory of St. James' was just below the market-place, the upper windows of that house commanded a wonderful view both of the hill, High Street and Cathedral above it, and of Seatown, river and woods below it. It was said that it was up this very rocky street from the river, through the market, and up the High Street that the armed enemies of the Black Bishop had fought their way to the Cathedral on that great day when the Bishop had gone to meet his God, and a piece of rock is still shown to innocent visitors as the place whence some of his enemies, in full armour, were flung down, many thousand feet, to the waters of the Pol.
Joan had often longed to see the view from the windows of St. James' Rectory, but she had not known old Dr. Burroughs, the former Rector, a cross man with gout and rheumatism. She walked up some steps and found the house the last of three all squeezed together on the edge of the hill. The Rectory, because it was the last, stood square to all the winds of heaven, and Joan fancied what it must be in wild wintry weather. Soon she was in the drawing-room shaking hands with Miss Burnett, who was Mr. Morris' sister-in-law, and kept house for him.
Miss Burnett was a stout negative woman, whose whole mind was absorbed in the business of housekeeping, prices of food, wickedness and ingratitude of servants, maliciousness of shopkeepers and so on. The house, with all her managing, was neither tidy nor clean, as Joan quickly saw; Miss Burnett was not, by temperament, methodical, nor had she ever received any education. Her mind, so far as a perception of the outside world and its history went, was some way behind that of a Hottentot or a South Sea Islander. She had, from the day of her birth, been told by every one around her that she was stupid, and, after a faint struggle, she had acquiesced in that judgment. She knew that her younger sister, afterwards Mrs. Morris, was pretty and accomplished, and that she would never be either of those things. She was not angry nor jealous at this. The note of her character was acquiescence, and when Agatha had died of pleurisy it had seemed the natural thing for her to come and keep house for the distressed widower. If Mr. Morris had since regretted the arrangement he had, at any rate, never said so.
Miss Burnett's method of conversation was to say something about the weather and then to lapse into a surprised and distressed stare. If her visitor made some statement she crowned it with, "Well, now, that was just was I was going to say."
Her nose, when she talked, twinkled at the nostrils apprehensively, and many of her visitors found this fascinating, so that they suddenly, with hot confusion, realised that they too had been staring in a most offensive manner. Joan had not been out in the world long enough to enable her to save a difficult situation by brilliant talk, and she very quickly found herself staring at Miss Burnett's nose and longing to say something about it, as, for instance, "What a stronge nose you've got, Miss Burnett—see how it twitches!" or, "If you'll allow me, Miss Burnett, I'd just like to study your nose for a minute." When she realised this horrible desire in herself she blushed crimson and gazed about the untidy and entangled drawing-room in real desperation. She could see nothing in the room that was likely to save her. She was about to rise and depart, although she had only been there five minutes, when Mr. Morris came in.
Joan realised at once that this man was quite different from any one whom she had ever known. He was a stranger to her Polchester world in body, soul and spirit, as though, a foreigner from some far-distant country, he had been shipwrecked and cast upon an inhospitable shore. So strangely did she feel this that she was quite surprised when he did not speak with a foreign accent. "Oh, he must be a poet!" was her second thought about Mr. Morris, not because he dressed oddly or had long hair. She could not tell whence the impression came, unless it were in his strange, bewildered, lost blue eyes. Lost, bewildered—yes, that was what he was! With every movement of his slim, straight body, the impulse with which he brushed back his untidy fair hair from his forehead, he seemed like a man only just awake, a man needing care and protection, because he simply would not be able to look after himself. So ridiculously did she have this impression that she almost cried "Look out!" when he moved forward, as though he would certainly knock himself against a chair or a table.
"How strange," she thought, "that this man should live with Miss Burnett! What does he think of her?" She was excited by her discovery of him, but that meant very little, because just now she was being excited by everything. She found at once that talking to him was the easiest thing in the world. Mr. Morris did not say very much; he smiled gently, and when Miss Burnett, awaking suddenly from her torpor, said, "You'll have some tea, Miss Brandon, won't you?" he, smiling, softly repeated the invitation.
"Thank you," said Joan. "I will. How strange it is," she went on, "that you are so close to the market and, even on market-day, you don't hear a sound!"
And it was strange! as though the house were bewitched and had suddenly, even as Joan entered it, gathered around it a dark wood for its protection.
"Yes," said Mr. Morris. "We found it strange at first. But it's because we are the last house, and the three others protect us. We get the wind and rain, though. You should hear this place in a storm. But the house is strong enough; it's very stoutly built; not a board creaks in the wildest weather. Only the windows rattle and the wind comes roaring down the chimneys."
"How long have you been here?" asked Joan.
"Nearly a year—and we still feel strangers. We were near Ashford in Kent for twelve years, and the Glebeshire people are very different."
"Well," said Joan, who was a little irritated because she felt that his voice was a little sadder than it ought to be, "I think you'll like Polchester. I'm sure you will. And you've come in a good year, too. There's sure to be a lot going on this year because of the Jubilee."
Mr. Morris did not seem to be as thrilled as he should be by the thought of the Jubilee, so Joan went on:
"It's so lucky for us that it comes just at the Polchester Feast time. We always have a tremendous week at the Feast—the Horticultural Show and a Ball in the Assembly Rooms, and all sorts of things. It's going to be my first ball this year, although I've really come out already." She laughed. "Festivities start to-morrow with the arrival of Marquis."
"Marquis?" repeated Mr. Morris politely.
"Oh, don't you know Marquis? His is the greatest Circus in England. He comes to Polchester every year, and they have a procession through the town—elephants and camels, and Britannia in her chariot, and sometimes a cage with the lions and the tigers. Last year they had the sweetest little ponies—four of them, no higher than St. Bernards—and there are the clowns too, and a band."
She was suddenly afraid that she was talking too much—silly too, in her childish enthusiasms. She remembered that she was in reality deputising for her mother, who would never have talked about the Circus. Fortunately at that moment the tea came in; it was brought by a flushed and contemptuous maid, who put the tray down on a little table with a bang, tossed her head as though she despised them all, and slammed the door behind her.
Miss Burnett was upset by this, and her nose twitched more violently than ever. Joan saw that her hand trembled as she poured out the tea, and she was at once sorry for her.
Mr. Morris talked about Kent and London, and tea was drunk and the saffron cake praised, and Joan thought it was time to go. At the last, however, she turned to Mr. Morris and said:
"Do you like the Cathedral?"
"It's wonderful," he answered. "You should see it from our window upstairs."
"Oh, I hate it—" said Joan.
"Why?" Morris asked her.
There was a curious challenge in his voice. They were both standing facing one another.
"I suppose that's a silly thing to say. Only you don't live as close to it as we do, and you haven't lived here so long as we have. It seems to hang right over you, and it never changes, and I hate to think it will go on just the same, years after we're dead."
"Have you seen the view from our window?" Morris asked her.
"No," said Joan, "I was never in this house before."
"Come and see it," he said.
"I'm sure," said Miss Burnett heavily, "Miss Brandon doesn't want to be bothered—when she's seen the Cathedral all her life, too."
"Of course I'd love to see it," said Joan, laughing. "To tell you the truth, that's what I've always wanted. I looked at this house again and again when old Canon Burroughs was here, and thought there must be a wonderful view."
She said good-bye to Miss Burnett.
"My mother does hope you will soon come and see us," she said.
"I have just met Mrs. Brandon for a moment at Mrs. Combermere's," said Mr. Morris. "We'll be very glad to come."
She went out with him.
"It's up these stairs," he said. "Two flights. I hope you don't mind."
They climbed on to the second landing. At the end of the passage there was a window. The evening was grey and only little faint wisps of blue still lingered above the dusk, but the white sky threw up the Cathedral towers, now black and sharp-edged in magnificent relief. Truly it was a view!
The window was in such a position that through it you gazed behind the neighbouring houses, above some low roofs, straight up the twisting High Street to the Cathedral. The great building seemed to be perched on the very edge of the rock, almost, you felt, swinging in mid-air, and that so precariously that with one push of the finger you might send it staggering into space. Joan had never seen it so dominating, so commanding, so fierce in its disregard of the tiny clustered world beneath it, so near to the stars, so majestic and alone.
"Yes—it's wonderful," she said.
"Oh, but you should see it," he cried, "as it can be. It's dull to-day, the sky's grey and there's no sunset,—but when it's flaming red with all the windows shining, or when all the stars are out or in moonlight... it's like a great ship sometimes, and sometimes like a cloud, and sometimes like a fiery palace. Sometimes it's in mist and you can only see just the top of the towers...."
"I don't like it," said Joan, turning away. "It doesn't care what happens to us."
"Why should it?" he answered. "Think of all it's seen—the battles and the fights and the plunder—and it doesn't care! We can do what we like and it will remain just the same."
"People could come and knock it down," Joan said.
"I believe it would still be there if they did. The rock would be there and the spirit of the Cathedral.... What do people matter beside a thing like that? Why, we're ants...!"
He stopped suddenly.
"You'll think me foolish, Miss Brandon," he said. "You have known the Cathedral so long——" He paused. "I think I know what you mean about fearing it——"
He saw her to the door.
"Good-bye," he said, smiling. "Come again."
"I like him," she thought as she walked away. What a splendid day she had had!
The Impertinent Elephant
Archdeacon Brandon had surmounted with surprising celerity the shock of Falk's unexpected return. He was helped to this firstly by his confident belief in a God who had him especially in His eye and would, on no account, do him any harm. As God had decided that Falk had better leave Oxford, it was foolish to argue that it would have been wiser for him to stay there. Secondly, he was helped by his own love for, and pride in, his son. The independence and scorn that were so large a part of Falk's nature were after his own heart. He might fight and oppose them (he often did), but always behind the contest there was appreciation and approbation. That was the way for a son of his to treat the world—to snap his fingers at it! The natural thing to do, the good old world being as stupid as it was. Thirdly, he was helped by his family pride. It took him only a night's reflection to arrive at the decision that Falk had been entirely right in this affair and Oxford entirely in the wrong. Two days after Falk's return he wrote (without saying anything to the boy) Falk's tutor a very warm letter, pointing out that he was sure the tutor would agree with him that a little more tact and diplomacy might have prevented so unfortunate an issue. It was not for him, Brandon, to suggest that the authorities in Oxford were perhaps a little behind the times, a little out of the world. Nevertheless it was probably true that long residence in Oxford had hindered the aforesaid authorities from realising the trend of the day, from appreciating the new spirit of independence that was growing up in our younger generation. It seemed obvious to him, Archdeacon Brandon, that you could no longer treat men of Falk's age and character as mere boys and, although he was quite sure that the authorities at Oxford had done their best, he nevertheless hoped that this unfortunate episode would enable them to see that we were not now living in the Middle Ages, but rather in the last years of the nineteenth century. It may seem to some a little ironical that the Archdeacon, who was the most conservative soul alive, should write thus to one of the most conservative of our institutions, but—"Before Oxford the Brandons were...."
What the tutor remarked when he read this letter is not recorded. Brandon said nothing to Falk about all this. Indeed, during the first weeks after Falk's return he preserved a stern and dignified silence. After all, the boy must learn that authority was authority, and he prided himself that he knew, better than any number of Oxford Dons, how to train and educate the young. Nevertheless light broke through. Some of Falk's jokes were so good that his father, who had a real sense of fun if only a slight sense of humour, was bound to laugh. Very soon father and son resumed their old relations of sudden tempers and mutual admiration, and a strange, rather pathetic, quite uneloquent love that was none the less real because it was, on either side, completely selfish.
But there was a fourth reason why Falk's return caused so slight a storm. That reason was that the Archdeacon was now girding up his loins before he entered upon one of his famous campaigns. There had been many campaigns in the past. Campaigns were indeed as truly the breath of the Archdeacon's nostrils as they had been once of the great Napoleon's—and in every one of them had the Archdeacon been victorious.
This one was to be the greatest of them all, and was to set the sign and seal upon the whole of his career.
It happened that, three miles out of Polchester, there was a little village known as Pybus St. Anthony. A very beautiful village it was, with orchards and a stream and old-world cottages and a fine Norman church. But not for its orchards nor its stream nor its church was it famous. It was famous because for many years its listing had been regarded as one of the most important in the whole diocese of Polchester. It was the tradition that the man who went to Pybus St. Anthony had the world in front of him. When likely men for preferment were looked for it was to Pybus St. Anthony that men looked. Heaven alone knows how many Canons and Archdeacons had made their first bow there to the Glebeshire world! Three Deans and a Bishop had, at different times, made it their first stepping-stone to fame. Canon Morrison (Honorary Canon of the Cathedral) was its present incumbent. Less intellectual than some of the earlier incumbents, he was nevertheless a fine fellow. He had been there only three years when symptoms of cancer of the throat had appeared. He had been operated on in London, and at first it had seemed that he would recover. Then the dreaded signs had reappeared; he had wished, poor man, to surrender the living, but because there was yet hope the Chapter, in whose gift the living was, had insisted on his remaining.