The Case of Richard Meynell
by Mrs. Humphry Ward
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"Where is Hester?—where are you going to?" cried Stephen in impatient misery, slipping from his horse, as he spoke, to walk beside the Rector.

"In my belief she is at Sandford Abbey."

"At Sandford!" cried the young man under his breath. "Visit that scoundrel in his own house!"

"It appears she has once or twice declared that, in spite of us all, she would go and see his house and his pictures. In my belief, she has done it this morning. It is her last chance. We go to Paris to-morrow. However, we shall soon know."

The Rector pushed on at redoubled speed. Stephen kept up with him, his lips twitching.

"Why did you separate us?" he broke out at last, in a low, bitter voice.

And yet he knew why—or suspected! But the inner smart was so great he could not help the reproach.

"I tried to act for the best," said Meynell, after a moment, his eyes on the ground.

Stephen watched his friend uncertainly. Again and again he was on the point of crying out—

"Tell me the truth about Hester!"—on the point also of warning and informing the man beside him. But he had promised his father. He held his tongue with difficulty.

When they reached the spot where Stephen's path diverged from that which led by a small bridge across the famous trout-stream to Sandford Abbey, Stephen suddenly halted.

"Why shouldn't I come too? I'll wait at the lodge. She might like to ride home. She can sit anything—with any saddle. I taught her."

"Well—perhaps," said Meynell dubiously. And they went on together.

Presently Sandford Abbey emerged above the road, on a rising ground—a melancholy, dilapidated pile; and they struck into a long and neglected evergreen avenue leading up to it. At the end of the avenue there was an enclosure and a lodge, with some iron gates. A man saw them, and came out to the gate.

"Sir Philip's gone abroad, sir," he said, affably, when he saw them. "Shall I take your card?"

"Thank you. I prefer to leave it at the house," said Meynell shortly, motioning to him to open the gate. The man hesitated, then obeyed. The Rector went up the drive, while Stephen turned back a little along the road, letting his horse pasture on its grassy fringe. The lodge keeper—sulky and puzzled—watched him a few moments and then went back into the house.

* * * * *

The Rector paused to reconnoitre as he came in sight of the house. It was a strange, desolate, yet most romantic spot. Although, seen from the road and the stream, it seemed to stand on an eminence, it was really at the bottom of a hill which encircled it on three sides, and what with its own dilapidation, its broken fences and gates, the trees which crowded about it, and the large green-grown pond in front of it, it produced a dank and sinister impression. The centre of the building, which had evidently been rebuilt about 1700, to judge from its rose-red brick, its French classical lunettes, its pedimented doors and windows, and its fine perron, was clearly the inhabited portion of the building. The two wings of much earlier date, remains of the old Abbey, were falling into ruin. In front of one a garage had evidently been recently made, and a motor was standing at its door. To the left of the approaching spectator was a small deserted church, of the same date as the central portion of the Abbey, with twin busts of William and Mary still inhabiting a niche above the classical entrance, and marking the triumph of the Protestant Succession over the crumbling buildings of the earlier faith. The windows of the church were boarded up and a few tottering tombstones surrounded it.

No sign of human habitation appeared as the Rector walked up to the door. A bright sunshine played on the crumbling brick, the small-paned windows, the touches of gilding in the railings of the perron; and on the slimy pond a few ducks moved to and fro, in front of a grass-grown sun-dial. Meynell walked up to the door, and rang.

The sound of the bell echoed through the house behind, but, for a while, no one came. One of the lunette windows under the roof opened overhead; and after another pause the door was slowly opened a few inches by a man in a slovenly footman's jacket.

"Very sorry, sir, but Sir Philip is not at home."

"When did he leave?"

"The end of last week, sir," said the man, with a jaunty air.

"That, I think, is not so," said Meynell, sternly. "I shall not trouble you to take my card."

The youth's expression changed. He stood silent and sheepish, while Meynell considered a moment, on the steps.

Suddenly a sound of voices from a distance became audible through the grudgingly opened door. It appeared to come from the back of the house. The man looked behind him, his mouth twitching with repressed laughter. Meynell ran down the steps and turned to the left, where a door led through a curtain-wall to the garden. Meanwhile the house door was hastily banged behind him.

* * * * *

"Uncle Richard!"

Behind the house Meynell came upon the persons he sought. In an overgrown formal garden, full of sun, he perceived an old stone bench, under an overhanging yew. Upon it sat Hester, bareheaded, the golden masses of her hair shining against the blackness of the tree. Roddy mounted guard beside her, his nose upon her lap; and on a garden chair in front of her lounged Philip Meryon, smoking and chatting. At sight of Meynell they both sprang to their feet. Roddy first growled, and then, as soon as he recognized Meynell, wagged his tail. Philip, with a swaying step, advanced toward the newcomer, cigar in hand.

"How do you do, Richard! It is not often you honour me with a visit."

For a moment Meynell looked from one to the other in silence.

And they, whether they would or no, could not but feel the power of the rugged figure in the short clerical coat and wide-awake, and of the searching look with which he regarded them. Hester nervously began to put on her hat. Philip threw away his cigar, and braced himself angrily.

"Your mother has been anxious about you, Hester," said Meynell, at last. "And I have come to bring you home."

Then turning to Meryon he said—"With you, Philip, I will reckon later on. The lies you have instructed your servants to tell are a sufficient indication that you are ashamed of your behaviour. This young lady is under age. Her mother and I, who are her lawful guardians, forbid her acquaintance with you."

"By what authority, I should like to know?" said Philip sneeringly. "Hester is not a child—nor am I."

"All that we will discuss when we meet," said the Rector. "I propose to call upon you to-morrow."

"This time you may really find me fled," laughed Philip, insolently. But he had turned white.

Meynell made no reply. He went to Hester, and lifting the girl's silk cape, which had fallen off, he put it round her shoulders. He felt them trembling. But she looked at him fiercely, put him aside, and ran to Meryon.

"Good-bye, Philip, good-bye!—it won't be for long!" And she held out her two hands—pleadingly. Meryon took them, and they stared at each other—while the Rector was conscious of a flash of dismay.

What if there was now more in the business than mere mischief and wantonness? Hester was surprisingly lovely, with this touching, tremulous look, so new, and, to the Rector, so intolerable!

"I must ask you to come at once," he said, walking up to her, and the girl, with compressed lips, dropped Meryon's hands and obeyed.

Meryon walked beside them to the garden door, very pale, and breathing quick.

"You can't separate us"—he said to Meynell—"though of course you'll try. Hester, don't believe anything he tells you—till I confirm it."

"Not I!" she said proudly.

Meynell led her through the door, and then turning peremptorily desired Meryon not to follow them. Philip hesitated, and yielded. He stood in the doorway, his hands in his pockets, watching them, a splendid figure, with his melodramatic good looks and vivid colour.


Hester and Meynell walked down the avenue, side by side. Behind them, the lunette window under the roof opened again, and a woman's face, framed in black, touzled hair, looked out, grinned and disappeared.

Hester carried her head high, a scornful defiance breathing from the flushed cheeks and tightened lips. Meynell made no attempt at conversation, till just as they were nearing the lodge he said—"We shall find Stephen a little farther on. He was riding, and thought you might like his horse to give you a lift home."

"Oh, a plot!"—cried Hester, raising her chin still higher—"and Stephen in it too! Well, really I shouldn't have thought it was worth anybody's while to spy upon my very insignificant proceedings like this. What does it matter to him, or you, or any one else what I do?"

She turned her beautiful eyes—tragically wide and haughty—upon her companion. There was absurdity in her pose, and yet, as Meynell uncomfortably recognized, a new touch of something passionate and real.

The Rector made no reply, for they were at the turn of the road and behind it Stephen and his horse were to be seen waiting.

Stephen came to meet them, the bridle over his arm.

"Hester, wouldn't you like my horse? It is a long way home. I can send for it later."

She looked proudly from one to the other. Her colour had suddenly faded, and from the pallor, the firm, yet delicate, lines of the features emerged with unusual emphasis.

"I think you had better accept," said Meynell gently. As he looked at her, he wondered whether she might not faint on their hands with anger and excitement. But she controlled herself, and as Stephen brought the brown mare alongside, and held out his hand, she put her foot in it, and he swung her to the saddle.

"I don't want both of you," she said, passionately. "One warder is enough!"

"Hester!" cried Stephen, reproachfully. Then he added, trying to smile, "I am going into Markborough. Any commission?"

Hester disdained to answer. She gathered up the reins and set the horse in motion. Stephen's way lay with them for a hundred yards. He tried to make a little indifferent conversation, but neither Meynell nor Hester replied. Where the lane they had been following joined the Markborough road, he paused to take his leave of them, and as he did so he saw his two companions brought together, as it were, into one picture by the overcircling shade of the autumnal trees which hung over the road; and he suddenly perceived as he had never yet done the strange likeness between them. Perplexity, love—despairing and jealous love—a passionate championship of the beauty that was being outraged and insulted by the common talk and speculation of indifferent and unfriendly mouths; an earnest desire to know the truth, and the whole truth, that he might the better prove his love, and protect his friend; and a dismal certainty through it all that Hester had been finally snatched from him—these conflicting feelings very nearly overpowered him. It was all he could do to take a calm farewell of them. Hester's eyes under their fierce brows followed him along the road.

Meanwhile she and Meynell turned into a bridle-path through the woods. Hester sat erect, her slender body adjusting itself with unconscious grace to the quiet movements of the horse, which Meynell was leading. Overhead the October day was beginning to darken, and the yellow leaves shaken by occasional gusts were drifting mistily down on Hester's hair and dress, and on the glossy flanks of the mare.

At last Meynell looked up. There was intense feeling in his face—a deep and troubled tenderness.

"Hester!—is there no way in which I can convince you that if you go on as you have been doing—deceiving your best friends—and letting this man persuade you into secret meetings—you will bring disgrace on yourself, and sorrow on us? A few more escapades like to-day, and we might not be able to save you from disgrace."

He looked at her searchingly.

"I am going to choose for myself!" said Hester after a moment, in a low, resolute voice; "I am not going to sacrifice my life to anybody."

"You will sacrifice it if you go on flirting with this man—if you will not believe me—who am his kinsman and have no interest whatever in blackening his character—when I tell you that he is a bad man, corrupted by low living and self-indulgence, with whom no girl should trust herself. The action you have taken to-day, your deliberate defiance of us all, make it necessary that I should speak in even plainer terms to you than I have done yet; that I should warn you as strongly as I can that by allowing this man to make love to you—perhaps to propose a runaway match to you—how do I know what villainy he may have been equal to?—you are running risks of utter disaster and disgrace."

"Perhaps. That is my affair."

The girl's voice shook with excitement.

"No!—it is not your affair only. No man liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself! It is the affair of all those who love you—of your family—of your poor Aunt Alice, who cannot sleep for grieving—"

Hester raised her free hand, and angrily pushed back the masses of fair hair that were falling about her face.

"What is the good of talking about 'love,' Uncle Richard?" She spoke with a passionate impatience—"You know very well that nobody at home loves me. Why should we all be hypocrites? I have got, I tell you, to look after myself, to plan my life for myself! My mother can't help it if she doesn't love me. I don't complain; but I do think it a shame you should say she does, when you know—know—know—she doesn't! My sisters and brothers just dislike me—that's all there is in that! All my life I've known it—I've felt it. Why, when I was a baby they never played with me—they never made a pet of me—they wouldn't have me in their games. My father positively disliked me. Whenever the nurse brought me downstairs—he used to call to her to take me up again. Oh, how tired I got of the nursery!—I hated it—I hated nurse—I hated all the old toys—for I never had any new ones. Do you remember"—she turned on him—"that day when I set fire to all the clean clothes—that were airing before the fire?"

"Perfectly!" said the Rector, with an involuntary smile that relaxed the pale gravity of his face.

"I did it because I hadn't been downstairs for three nights. I might have been dead for all anybody cared. Then I was determined they should care—and I got hold of the matches. I thought the clothes would burn first—and then my starched frock would catch fire—and then—everybody would be sorry for me at last. But unfortunately I got frightened, and ran up the passage screaming—silly little fool! That might have made an end of it—once for all—"

Meynell interrupted—

"And after it," he said, looking her in the eyes—"when the fuss was over—I remember seeing you in Aunt Alsie's arms. Have you forgotten how she cried over you, and defended you—and begged you off? You were ill with terror and excitement; she took you off to the cottage, and nursed you till you were well again, and it had all blown over; as she did again and again afterward. Have you forgotten that—when you say that no one loved you?"

He turned upon her with that bright penetrating look, with its touch of accusing sarcasm, which had so often given him the mastery over erring souls. For Meynell had the pastoral gift almost in perfection; the courage, the ethical self-confidence and the instinctive tenderness which belong to it. The certitudes of his mind were all ethical; and in this region he might have said with Newman that "a thousand difficulties cannot make one doubt."

Hester had often yielded, to this power of his in the past, and it was evident that she trembled under it now. To hide it she turned upon him with fresh anger.

"No, I haven't forgotten it!—and I'm not an ungrateful fiend—though of course you think it. But Aunt Alsie's like all the others now. She—she's turned against me!" There was a break in the girl's voice that she tried in vain to hide.

"It isn't true, Hester! I think you know it isn't true."

"It is true! She has secrets from me, and when I ask her to trust me—then she treats me like a child—and shakes me off as if I were just a stranger. If she holds me at arm's-length, I am not going to tell her all my affairs!"

The rounded bosom under the little black mantle rose and fell tumultuously, and angry tears shone in the brown eyes. Meynell had raised his head with a sudden movement, and regarded her intently.

"What secrets?"

"I found her—one day—with a picture—she was crying over. It—it was some one she had been in love with—I am certain it was—a handsome, dark man. And I begged her to tell me—and she just got up and went away. So then I took my own line!"

Hester furiously dashed away the tears she had not been able to stop.

Meynell's look changed. His voice grew strangely pitiful and soft.

"Dear Hester—if you knew—you couldn't be unkind to Aunt Alice."

"Why shouldn't I know? Why am I treated like a baby?"

"There are some things too bitter to tell,"—he said gravely—"some griefs we have no right to meddle with. But we can heal them—or make them worse. You"—his kind eyes scourged her again—"have been making everything worse for Aunt Alsie for a long time past."

Hester shrugged her shoulders passionately, as though to repel the charge, but she said nothing. They moved on in silence for a little. In Meynell's mind there reigned a medley of feelings—tragic recollections, moral questionings, which time had never silenced, perplexity as to the present and the future, and with it all, the liveliest and sorest pity for the young, childish, violent creature beside him. It was not for those who, with whatever motives, had contributed to bring her to that state and temper, to strike any note of harshness.

Presently, as they neared the end of the woody path, he looked up again. He saw her sitting sullenly on the gently moving horse, a vision of beauty at bay. The sight determined him toward frankness.

"Hester!—I have told you that if you go on flirting with Philip Meryon you run the risk of disgrace and misery, because he has no conscience and no scruples, and you are ignorant and inexperienced, and have no idea of the fire you are playing with. But I think I had better go farther. I am going to say what you force me to say to you—young as you are. My strong belief is that Philip Meryon is either married already, or so entangled that he has no right to ask any decent woman to marry him. I have suspected it a long time. Now you force me to prove it."

Hester turned her head away.

"He told me I wasn't to believe what you said about him!" she said in her most obstinate voice.

"Very well. Then I must set at once about proving it. The reasons which make me believe it are not for your ears." Then his tone changed—"Hester!—my child!—you can't be in love with that fellow—that false, common fellow!—you can't!"

Hester tightened her lips and would not answer. A rush of distress came over Meynell as he thought of her movement toward Philip in the garden. He gently resumed:

"Any day now might bring the true lover, Hester!—the man who would comfort you for all the past, and show you what joy really means. Be patient, dear Hester—be patient! If you wanted to punish us for not making you happy enough, well, you have done it! But don't plunge us all into despair—and take a little thought for your old guardian, who seems to have the world on his shoulders, and yet can't sleep at nights, for worrying about his ward, who won't believe a word he says, and sets all his wishes at defiance."

His manner expressed a playful and reproachful affection. Their eyes met. Hester tried hard to maintain her antagonism, and he was well aware that he was but imperfectly able to gauge the conflict of forces in her mind. He resumed his pleading with her—tenderly—urgently. And at last she gave way, at least apparently. She allowed him to lay a friendly hand on hers that held the reins, and she said with a long bitter breath:

"Oh, I know I'm a little beast!"

"My old-fashioned ideas don't allow me to apply that epithet to young women! But if you'll say 'I want to be friends, Uncle Richard, and I won't deceive you any more,' why, then, you'll make an old fellow happy! Will you?"

Slowly she let her cold fingers slip into his warm, protecting palm as he smiled upon her. She yielded to the dignity and charm of Meynell's character as she had done a thousand times before; but in the proud, unhappy look she bent upon him there were new and disquieting things—prophecies of the coming womanhood, not to be unravelled. Meynell pressed her hand, and put it back upon the reins with a sigh he could not restrain.

He began to talk with a forced cheerfulness of their coming journey—of the French milieu to which she was going. Hester answered in monosyllables, every now and then—he thought—choking back a sob. And again and again the discouraging thought struck through him—"Has this fellow touched her heart?"—so strong was the impression of an emerging soul and a developing personality.

Suddenly through the dispersing trees a light figure came hurriedly toward them. It was Alice Puttenham.

She was pale and weary, and when she saw Hester, with Meynell beside her, she gave a little cry. But Meynell, standing behind Hester, put his finger on his lips, and she controlled herself. Hester greeted her without any sign of emotion; and the three went homeward along the misty ways of the park. The sun had been swallowed up by rising fog; all colour had been sucked out of the leaves and the heather, even from the golden glades of fern. Only Hester's hair, and her white dress as she passed along, uplifted, made of her a kind of luminous wraith, and beside her, like the supports of an altar-piece, moved the two pensive figures of Meynell and Alice.

From a covert of thorn in the park, a youth who had retreated into its shelter on their approach watched them with malicious eyes. Another man was with him—a sheepish, red-faced person, who peered curiously at the little procession as it passed about a hundred yards away.

"Quite a family party!" said Maurice Barron with a laugh.

* * * * *

In the late evening Meynell returned to the Rectory a wearied man, but with hours of occupation and correspondence still before him. He had left Hester with Alice Puttenham, in a state which Meynell interpreted as at once alarming and hopeful; alarming because it suggested that there might be an element of passion in what had seemed to be a mere escapade dictated by vanity and temper; and hopeful because of the emotion the girl had once or twice betrayed, for the first time in the experience of any one connected with her. When they entered Alice Puttenham's drawing-room, for instance—for Hester had stipulated she was not to be taken home—Alice had thrown her arms round her, and Hester had broken suddenly into crying, a thing unheard of. Meynell of course had hastily disappeared.

Since then the parish had taken its toll. Visits to two or three sick people had been paid. The Rector had looked in at the schools, where a children's evening was going on, and had told the story of Aladdin with riotous success; he had taken off his coat to help in putting up decorations for an entertainment in the little Wesleyan meeting-house of corrugated iron; the parish nurse had waylaid him with reports, and he had dashed into the back parlour of a small embarrassed tradesman, in mortal fear of collapse and bankruptcy, with the offer of a loan, sternly conditional upon facing the facts, and getting in an auditor. Lady Fox-Wilton of course had been seen, and the clamour of her most unattractive offspring allayed as much as possible. And now, emerging from this tangle of personal claims and small interests, in the silence and freedom of the night hours, Meynell was free to give himself once more to the intellectual and spiritual passion of the Reform Movement. His table was piled with unopened letters; on his desk lay a half-written article, and two or three foreign books, the latest products of the Modernist Movement abroad. His crowded be-littered room smiled upon him, as he shut its door upon the outer world. For within it, he lived more truly, more vividly, than anywhere else; and all the more since its threadbare carpet had been trodden by Mary Elsmere.

Yet as he settled himself by the fire with his pipe and his letters for half an hour's ease before going to his desk, his thoughts were still full of Hester. The incurable optimism, the ready faith where his affections were concerned, which were such strong notes of his character, was busy persuading him that all would be well. At last, between them, they had made an impression on the poor child; and as for Philip, he should be dealt with this time with a proper disregard of either his own or his servants' lying. Hester was now to spend some months with a charming and cultivated French family. Plenty of occupation, plenty of amusement, plenty of appeal to her intelligence. Then, perhaps, travel for a couple of years, with Aunt Alice—as much separation as possible, anyway, from the Northleigh family and house. Alice was not rich, but she could manage as much as that, if he advised it, and he would advise it. Then with her twenty-first year, if Stephen or any other wooer were to the fore, the crisis must be faced, and the child must know! and it would be a cold-blooded lover that would weigh her story against her face.

Comfort himself as he would, however, dream as he would, Meynell's conscience was always sore for Hester. Had they done right?—or hideously wrong? Had not all their devices been a mere trifling with nature—a mere attempt to "bind the courses of Orion," with the inevitable result in Hester's unhappy childhood and perverse youth?

The Rector as he pulled at his pipe could still feel the fluttering of her slender hand in his. The recollection stirred in him again all the intolerable pity, the tragic horror of the past. Poor, poor little girl. But she should be happy yet, "with rings on her fingers," and everything proper!

Then from this fatherly and tender preoccupation he passed into a more intimate and poignant dreaming. Mary!—in the moonlight, under the autumn trees, was the vision that held him; varied sometimes by the dream of her in that very room, sitting ghostly in the chair beside him, her lovely eyes wandering over its confusion of books and papers. He thought of her exquisite neatness of dress and delicacy of movement, and smiled happily to himself. "How she must have wanted to tidy up!" And he dared to think of a day when she would come and take possession of him altogether—books, body and soul, and gently order his life....

"Why, you rascals!"—he said, jealously, to the dogs—"she fed you—I know she did—she patted and pampered you, eh, didn't she? She likes dogs—you may thank your lucky stars she does!"

But they only raised their eager heads, and turned their loving eyes upon him, prepared to let loose pandemonium as soon as he showed signs of moving.

"Well, you don't expect me to take you out for a walk at ten o'clock at night, do you?—idiots!" he hurled at them reprovingly; and after another moment of bright-eyed interrogation, disappointment descended, and down went their noses on their paws again.

* * * * *

His trust in the tender steadfastness of Mary's character made itself powerfully felt in these solitary moments. She knew that while these strenuous days were on he could allow himself no personal aims. But the growing knowledge that he was approved by a soul so pure and so devout had both strung up all his powers and calmed the fevers of battle. He loved his cause the more because it was ever more clear to him that she passionately loved it too. And sensitive and depressed as he often was—the penalty of the optimist—her faith in him had doubled his faith in himself.

There was a singular pleasure also in the link his love for her had forged between himself and Elsmere—the dead leader of an earlier generation. "Latitudinarianism is coming in upon us like a flood!"—cried the Church Times, wringing its hands. In other words, thought Meynell, "a New Learning is at last penetrating the minds and consciences of men—in the Church, no less than out of it." And Elsmere had been one of its martyrs. Meynell thought with emotion of the emaciated form he had last seen in the thronged hall of the New Brotherhood. "Our venture is possible—because you suffered," he would say to himself, addressing not so much Elsmere, as Elsmere's generation, remembering its struggles, its thwarted hopes, and starved lives.

And Elsmere's wife?—that rigid, pathetic figure, who, before he knew her in the flesh, had been to him, through the reports of many friends, a kind of legendary presence—the embodiment of the Old Faith. Meynell only knew that as far as he was concerned something had happened—something which he could not define. She was no longer his enemy; and he blessed her humbly in his heart. He thought also, with a curious thankfulness, of her strong and immovable convictions. Each thinking mind, as it were, carries within it its own Pageant of the Universe, and lights the show with its own passion. Not to quench the existing light in any human breast—but to kindle and quicken where no light is: to bring forever new lamp-bearers into the Lampadephoria of life, and marshal them there in their places, on equal terms with the old, neither excluded, nor excluding: this, surely this was the ideal of Modernism.

Elsmere's widow might never admit his own claim to equal rights within the Christian society. What matter! It seemed to him that in some mysterious way she had now recognized the spiritual necessity laid upon him to fight for that claim; had admitted him, so to speak, to the rights of a belligerent. And that had made all the difference.

He did not know how it had happened. But he was strangely certain that it had happened.

But soon the short interval of rest and dream he had allowed himself was over. He turned to his writing-table.

What a medley of letters! Here was one from a clergyman in the Midlands:

"We introduced the new Liturgy last Sunday, and I cannot describe the emotion, the stirring of all the dead-bones it has brought about. There has been of course a secession; but the church at Patten End amply provides for the seceders, and among our own people one seems to realize at last something of what the simplicity and sincerity of the first Christian feeling must have been! No 'allowances' to make for scandalous mistranslations and misquotations—no foolish legends, or unedifying tales of barbarous people—no cursing psalms—no old Semitic nonsense about God resting on the seventh day, delivered in the solemn sing-song which makes it not only nonsense but hypocrisy....

"I have held both a marriage and a funeral this week under the new service-book. I think that all persons accustomed to think of what they are saying felt the strangest delight and relief in the disappearance of the old marriage service. It was like the dropping of a weight to which our shoulders had become so accustomed that we hardly realized it till it was gone. Instead of pompous and futile absurdity—as in the existing exhortation, and homily—beautiful and fitting quotation from the unused treasures of the Bible. Instead of the brutal speech, the crudely physical outlook of an earlier day, the just reticence and nobler perceptions of our own, combined with perfectly plain and tender statement as to the founding of the home and the family. Instead of besmirching bits of primitive and ugly legend like the solemn introduction of Adam's rib into the prayers, a few new prayers of great beauty—some day you must tell me who wrote them, for I suppose you know? (and, by the way, why should we not write as good prayers, to-day, as in any age of the Christian Church?). Instead of the old 'obey,' for the woman, which has had such a definitely debasing effect, as I believe, on the position of women, especially in the working classes—a formula, only slightly altered, but the same for the man and the woman....

"In short, a seemly, and beautiful, and moving thing, instead of a ceremony which in spite of its few fine, even majestic, elements, had become an offence and a scandal. All the fine elements have been kept, and only the scandal amended. Why was it not done long ago?

"Then as to the burial service. The Corinthian chapter stripped of its arguments which are dead, and confined to its cries of poetry and faith which are immortal, made a new and thrilling impression. I confess I thought I should have broken my heart over the omission of 'I know that my Redeemer liveth'—and yet now that it is gone, there is a sense of moral exhilaration in having let it go! One knew all the time that whoever wrote the poem of Job neither said what he was made to say in the famous passage, nor meant what he was supposed to mean. One was perfectly aware, from one's Oxford days, as the choir chanted the great words, that they were a flagrant mistranslation of a corrupt and probably interpolated passage. And yet the glory of Handel's music, the glamour of association overcame one. But now that it is cut ruthlessly away from those moments in life when man can least afford any make-believe with himself or his fellows—now that music alone declaims and fathers it—there is the strangest relief! One feels, as I have said, the joy that comes from something difficult and righteous done—in spite of everything!

"I could go on for hours telling you these very simple and obvious things which must be so familiar to you. To me the amazement of this Movement is that it has taken so long to come. We have groaned under the oppression of what we have now thrown off, so long and so hopelessly; the Revision that the High Churchmen made such a bother about a few years ago came to so little; that now, to see this thing spreading like a great spring-tide over the face of England is marvellous indeed! And when one knows what it means—no mere liturgical change, no mere lopping off here and changing there, but a transformation of the root ideas of Christianity; a transference of its whole proof and evidence from the outward to the inward field, and therewith the uprush of a certainty and joy unknown to our modern life; one can but bow one's head, as those that hear mysterious voices on the wind.

"For so into the temple of man's spirit, age by age, comes the renewing Master of man's life—and makes His tabernacle with man. 'Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, And the King of Glory shall come in.'"

Meynell bowed his head upon his hands. The pulse of hope and passion in the letter was almost overpowering. It came, he knew, from an elderly man, broken by many troubles, and tormented by arthritis, yet a true saint, and at times a great preacher.

The next letter he opened came from a priest in the diocese of Aix....

"The effect of the various encyclicals and of the ill-advised attempt to make both clergy and laity sign the Modernist decrees has had a prodigious effect all over France—precisely in the opposite sense to that desired by Pius X. The spread of the Movement is really amazing. Fifteen years ago I remember hearing a French critic say—Edmond Scherer, I think, the successor of Sainte Beuve—'The Catholics have not a single intellectual of any eminence—and it is a misfortune for us, the liberals. We have nothing to fight—we seem to be beating the air.'

"Scherer could not have said this to-day. There are Catholics everywhere—in the University, the Ecole Normale, the front ranks of literature. But with few exceptions they are all Modernist; they have thrown overboard the whole fatras of legend and tradition. Christianity has become to them a symbolical and spiritual religion; not only personally important and efficacious, but of enormous significance from the national point of view. But as you know, we do not at present aspire to outward or ceremonial changes. We are quite content to leaven the meal from within; to uphold the absolute right and necessity of the two languages in Christianity—the popular and the scientific, the mythological and the mystical. If the Pope could have his way, Catholicism would soon be at an end—except as a peasant-cult—in the Latin countries. But, thank God, he will not have his way. One hears of a Modernist freemasonry among the Italian clergy—of a secret press—an enthusiasm, like that of the Carboneria in the forties. So the spirit of the Most High blows among the dead clods of the world—and, in a moment the harvest is there!"

* * * * *

Meynell let the paper drop. He began to write, and he wrote without stopping with great ease and inspiration for nearly two hours. Then as midnight struck, he put down his pen, and gazed into the dying fire. He felt as Wordsworth's skater felt on Esthwaite, when, at a sudden pause, the mountains and cliffs seemed to whirl past him in a vast headlong procession. So it was in Meynell's mind with thoughts and ideas. Gradually they calmed and slackened, till at last they passed into an abstraction and ecstasy of prayer.

When he rose, the night had grown very cold. He hurriedly put his papers in order, before going to bed, and as he did so, he perceived two unopened letters which had been overlooked.

One was from Hugh Flaxman, communicating the news of the loss of two valuable gold coins from the collection exhibited at the party. "We are all in tribulation. I wonder whether you can remember seeing them when you were talking there with Norham? One was a gold stater of Velia with a head of Athene."...

The other letter was addressed in Henry Barron's handwriting. Meynell looked at it in some surprise as he opened it, for there had been no communication between him and the White House for a long time.

"I should be glad if you could make it convenient to see me to-morrow morning. I wish to speak with you on a personal matter of some importance—of which I do not think you should remain in ignorance. Will it suit you if I come at eleven?"

Meynell stood motionless. But the mind reacted in a flash. He thought—

"Now I shall know what she told him in those two hours!"


"The Rector will be back, sir, direckly. I was to I tell you so pertickler. They had 'im out to a man in the Row, who's been drinkin' days, and was goin' on shockin'—his wife was afraid to stop in the house. But he won't be long, sir."

And Anne, very stiff and on her dignity, relieved one of the two armchairs of its habitual burden of books, gave it a dusting with her apron, and offered it to the visitor. It was evident that she regarded his presence with entire disfavour, but was prepared to treat him with prudence for the master's sake. Her devotion to Meynell had made her shrewd; she perfectly understood who were his enemies, and who his friends.

Barron, with a sharp sense of annoyance that he should be kept waiting, merely because a drunken miner happened to be beating his wife, coldly accepted her civilities, and took up a copy of the Times which was lying on the table. But when Anne had retired, he dropped the newspaper, and began with a rather ugly curiosity to examine the room. He walked round the walls, looking at the books, raising his eyebrows at the rows of paper-bound German volumes, and peering closely into the titles of the English ones. Then his attention was caught by a wall-map, in which a number of small flags attached to pins were sticking. It was an outline map of England, apparently sketched by Meynell himself, as the notes and letterings were in his handwriting. It was labelled "Branches of the Reform League." All over England the little flags bristled, thicker here, and thinner there, but making a goodly show on the whole. Barron's face lengthened as he pondered the map.

Then he passed by the laden writing-table. On it lay an open copy of the Modernist, with a half-written "leader" of Meynell's between the sheets. Beside it was a copy of Thomas a Kempis, and Father Tyrrell's posthumous book, in which a great soul, like a breaking wave, had foamed itself away; a volume of Sanday, another of Harnack, into the open cover of which the Rector had apparently just pinned an extract from a Church paper. Barron involuntarily stooped to read it. It ran:

"This is no time for giving up the Athanasian Creed. The moment when the sewage of continental unbelief is pouring into England is not the moment for banishing to a museum a screen that was erected to guard the sanctuary."

Beneath it, in Meynell's writing:

"A gem, not to be lost! The muddle of the metaphor, the corruption of the style, everything is symbolic. In a preceding paragraph the writer makes an attack on Harnack, who is described as 'notorious for opposing' the doctrines of the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection. That history has a right to its say on so-called historical events never seems to have occurred to this gentleman; still less that there is a mystical and sacred element in all truth, all the advancing knowledge of mankind, including historical knowledge, and that therefore his responsibility, his moral and spiritual risk even, in disbelieving Harnack, is probably infinitely greater than Harnack's in dealing historically with the Birth Stories. The fact is the whole onus is now on the orthodox side. It is not we that are on our defence; but they."

Barron raised himself with a flushed cheek, and a stiffened mouth. Meynell's note had removed his last scruples. It was necessary to deal drastically with a clergyman who could write such things.

A step outside. The sleeping dogs on the doorstep sprang up and noisily greeted their master. Meynell shut them out, to their great disgust, and came hurriedly toward the study.

Barron, as he saw him in the doorway, drew back with an exclamation. The Rector's dress and hair were dishevelled and awry, and his face—pale, drawn, and damp with perspiration—showed that he had just come through a personal struggle.

"Sorry to have kept you waiting, Mr. Barron. But that fellow, Pinches—you remember?—the new blacksmith—has been drinking for nearly a week, and went quite mad this morning. We just prevented him from killing his wife, but it was a tough business. I'll go and wash and change my coat, if you will allow me."

So he went away, and Barron had a few more minutes in which to meditate on the room and its owner. When at last Meynell came back, and settled himself in the chair opposite to his visitor, with a quiet "Now I am quite at your service," Barron found himself overtaken with a curious and unwelcome hesitation. The signs—a slightly strained look, a quickened breathing—that Meynell still bore upon him of a physical wrestle, combined perhaps with a moral victory, suddenly seemed, even in Barron's own eyes, to dwarf what he had to say—to make a poor mean thing out of his story. And Meynell's shining eyes, divided between close attention to the man before him and some recent and disturbing recollections in which Barron had no share, reinforced the impression.

But he recaptured himself quickly. After all, it was at once a charitable and a high-judicial part that he had come to play. He gathered his dignity about him, resenting the momentary disturbance of it.

"I am come to-day, Mr. Meynell, on a very unpleasant errand."

The formal "Mr." marked the complete breach in their once friendly relations. Meynell made a slight inclination.

"Then I hope you will tell it me as quickly as may be. Does it concern yourself, or me? Maurice, I hope, is doing well?"

Barron winced. It seemed to him an offence on the Rector's part that Meynell's tone should subtly though quite innocently remind him of days when he had been thankful to accept a strong man's help in dealing with the escapades of a vicious lad.

"He is doing excellently, thank you—except that his health is not all I could wish. My business to-day," he continued, slowly—"concerns a woman, formerly of this village, whom I happened by a strange accident to see just after her return to it—"

"You are speaking of Judith Sabin?" interrupted Meynell.

"I am. You were of course aware that I had seen her?"

"Naturally—from the inquest. Well?"

The quiet, interrogative tone seemed to Barron an impertinence. With a suddenly heightened colour he struck straight—violently—for the heart of the thing.

"She told me a lamentable story—and she was led to tell it me by seeing—and identifying—yourself—as you were standing with a lady in the road outside the cottage."

"Identifying me?" repeated Meynell, with a slight accent of astonishment. "That I think is hardly possible. For Judith Sabin had never seen me."

"You were not perhaps aware of it—but she had seen you."

Meynell shook his head.

"She was mistaken—or you are. However, that doesn't matter. I gather you wish to consult me about something that Judith Sabin communicated to you?"

"I do. But the story she told me turns very closely on her identification of yourself; and therefore it does matter," said Barron, with emphasis.

A puzzled look passed again over Meynell's face. But he said nothing. His attitude, coldly expectant, demanded the story.

Barron told it—once more. He repeated Judith Sabin's narrative in the straightened, rearranged form he had now given to it, postponing, however, any further mention of Meynell's relation to it till a last dramatic moment.

He did not find his task so easy on this occasion. There was something in the personality of the man sitting opposite to him which seemed to make a narrative that had passed muster elsewhere sound here a mere vulgar impertinence, the wanton intrusion of a common man on things sacredly and justly covered from sight.

He laboured through it, however, while Meynell sat with bent head, looking at the floor, making no sign whatever. And at last the speaker arrived at the incident of the Grenoble visitor.

"I naturally find this a very disagreeable task," he said, pausing a moment. He got, however, no help from Meynell, who was dumb; and he presently resumed—"Judith Sabin saw the gentleman who came distinctly. She felt perfectly certain in her own mind as to his relation to Miss Puttenham and the child; and she was certain also, when she saw you and Miss Puttenham standing in the road, while I was with her that—"

Meynell looked up, slightly frowning, awaiting the conclusion of the sentence—

—"that she saw—the same man again!"

Barron's naturally ruddy colour had faded a little; his eyes blinked. He drew his coat forward over his knee, and put it back again nervously.

Meynell's face was at first blank, or bewildered. Then a light of understanding shot through it. He fell back in his chair with an odd smile.

"So that—is what you have in your mind?"

Barron coughed a little. He was angrily conscious of an anxiety and misgiving he had not expected. He made all the greater effort to recover what seemed to him the proper tone.

"It is all most sad—most lamentable. But I had, you perceive, the positive statement of a woman who should have known the facts first-hand, if any one did. Owing to her physical state, it was impossible to cross-examine her, and her sudden death made it impossible to refer her to you. I had to consider what I should do—"

"Why should you have done anything—" said Meynell dryly, raising his eyes—"but forget as quickly as possible a story you had no means of verifying, and which bore its absurdity on the face of it?"

Barron allowed himself a slight and melancholy smile.

"I admit of course—at once—that I could not verify it. As to its prima facie absurdity, I desire to say nothing offensive to you, but there have been many curious circumstances connected with your relation to the Fox-Wilton family which have given rise before now to gossip in this neighbourhood. I could not but perceive that the story told me threw light upon them. The remarkable language of Sir Ralph's will, the position of Miss Hester in the Fox-Wilton family, your relation to her—and to—to Miss Puttenham."

Meynell's composure became a matter of some difficulty, but he maintained it.

"What was there abnormal—or suspicious—in any of these circumstances?" he asked, his eyes fixed intently on his visitor.

"I see no purpose to be gained by going into them on this occasion," said Barron, with all the dignity he could bring to bear. "For the unfortunate thing is—the thing which obliged me whether I would or no—and you will see from the dates that I have hesitated a long time—to bring Judith Sabin's statement to your notice—is that she seems to have talked to some one else in the neighbourhood before she died, besides myself. Her son declares that she saw no one. I have questioned him; of course without revealing my object. But she must have done so. And whoever it was has begun to write anonymous letters—repeating the story—in full detail—with the identification—that I have just given you."

"Anonymous letters?" repeated Meynell, raising himself sharply. "To whom?"

"Dawes, the colliery manager, received the first."

"To whom did he communicate it?"

"To myself—and by his wish, and in the spirit of entire friendliness to you, I consulted your friend and supporter, Mr. Flaxman."

Meynell raised his eyebrows.

"Flaxman? You thought yourself justified?"

"It was surely better to take so difficult a matter to a friend of yours, rather than to an enemy."

Meynell smiled—but not agreeably.

"Any one else?"

"I have heard this morning on my way here that Miss Nairn has received a copy."

"Miss Nairn? That means the village."

"She is a gossipping woman," said Barron.

Meynell pondered. He got up and began to pace the room—coming presently to an abrupt pause in front of his visitor.

"This story then is now all over the village—will soon be all over the diocese. Now—what was your object in yourself bringing it to me?"

"I thought it right to inform you—to give you warning—perhaps also to suggest to you that a retreat from your present position—"

"I see—you thought it a means of bringing pressure to bear upon me?—you propose, in short, that I should throw up the sponge, and resign my living?"

"Unless, of course, you can vindicate yourself publicly."

Barron to his annoyance could not keep his hand which held a glove from shaking a little. The wrestle between their personalities was rapidly growing in intensity.

"Unless I bring an action, you mean—against any one spreading the story? No—I shall not bring an action—I shall not bring an action!" Meynell repeated, with emphasis.

"In that case—I suggest—it might be better to meet the wishes of your Bishop, and so avoid further publicity."

"By resigning my living?"

"Precisely. The scandal would then drop of itself. For Miss Puttenham's sake alone you must, I think, desire to stop its development."

Meynell flushed hotly. He took another turn up the room—while Barron sat silent, looking straight before him.

"I shall not take action"—Meynell resumed—"and I shall not dream of retreating from my position here. Judith Sabin's story is untrue. She did not see me at Grenoble and I am not the father of Hester Fox-Wilton. As to anything else, I am not at liberty to discuss other people's affairs, and I shall not answer any questions whatever on the subject."

The two men surveyed each other.

"Your Bishop could surely demand your confidence," said Barron coldly.

"If he does, it will be for me to consider."

A silence. Barron looked round for his stick. Meynell stood motionless, his hands in his baggy pockets, his eyes on Barron. Lightings of thought and will seemed to pass through his face. As Barron rose, he began to speak.

"I have no doubt you think yourself justified in taking the line you clearly do take in this matter. I can hardly imagine that you really believe the story you say you got from Judith Sabin—which you took to Flaxman—and have, I suppose, discussed with Dawes. I am convinced—forgive me if I speak plainly—that you cannot and do not believe anything so preposterous—or at any rate you would not believe it in other circumstances. As it is, you take it up as a weapon. You think, no doubt, that everything is fair in controversy as in war. Of course the thing has been done again and again. If you cannot defeat a man in fair fight, the next best thing is to blacken his character. We see that everywhere—in politics—in the church—in private life. This story may serve you; I don't think it will ultimately, but it may serve you for a time. All I can say is, I would rather be the man to suffer from it than the man to gain from it!"

Barron took up his hat. "I cannot be surprised that you receive me in this manner," he said, with all the steadiness he could muster. "But as you cannot deal with this very serious report in the ordinary way, either by process of law, or by frank explanation to your friends—"

"My 'friends'!" interjected Meynell.

"—Let me urge you at least to explain matters to your diocesan. You cannot distrust either the Bishop's discretion, or his good will. If he were satisfied, we no doubt should be the same."

Meynell shook his head.

"Not if I know anything of the odium theologicum! Besides, the Miss Nairns of this world pay small attention to bishops. By the way—I forgot to ask—you can tell me nothing on the subject of the writer of the anonymous letters?—you have not identified him?"

"Not in the least. We are all at sea."

"You don't happen to have one about you?"

Barron hesitated and fumbled, and at last produced from his breast-pocket the letter to Dawes, which he had again borrowed from its owner that morning. Meynell put it into a drawer of his writing-table without looking at it.

The two men moved toward the door.

"As to any appeal to you on behalf of a delicate and helpless lady—" said Meynell, betraying emotion for the first time—"that I suppose is useless. But when one remembers her deeds of kindness in this village, her quiet and irreproachable life amongst us all these years, one would have thought that any one bearing the Christian name would have come to me as the Rector of this village on one errand only—to consult how best to protect her from the spread of a cruel and preposterous story! You—I gather—propose to make use of it in the interests of your own Church party."

Barron straightened himself, resenting at once what seemed to him the intrusion of the pastoral note.

"I am heartily sorry for her"—he said coldly. "Naturally it is the women who suffer in these things. But of course you are right—though you put the matter from your own point of view—in assuming that I regard this as no ordinary scandal. I am not at liberty to treat it as such. The honour concerned—is the honour of the Church. To show the intimate connection of creed and life may be a painful—it is also an imperative duty!"

He threw back his head with a passion which, as Meynell clearly recognized, was not without its touch of dignity.

Meynell stepped back.

"We have talked enough, I think. You will of course take the course that seems to you best, and I shall take mine. I bid you good day."

* * * * *

From the study window Meynell watched the disappearing figure of his adversary. The day was wet, and the funereal garden outside was dank with rain. The half-dead trees had shed such leaves as they had been able to put forth, and behind them was a ragged sky of scudding cloud.

In Meynell's soul there was a dull sense of catastrophe. In Barron's presence he had borne himself as a wronged man should; but he knew very well that a sinister thing had happened, and that for him, perhaps, to-morrow might never be as yesterday.

What was passing in the village at that moment? His quick visualizing power showed him the groups in the various bar parlours, discussing the Scandal, dividing it up into succulent morsels, serving it up with every variety of personal comment, idle or malicious; amplyfying, exaggerating, completing. He saw the neat and plausible spinster from whose cruel hands he had rescued a little dumb, wild-eyed child, reduced by ill-treatment to skin and bone—he saw her gloating over the anonymous letter, putting two and two maliciously together, whispering here, denouncing there. He seemed to be actually present in the most disreputable public-house of the village, a house he had all but succeeded in closing at the preceding licensing sessions. How natural, human, inevitable, would be the coarse, venomous talk—the inferences—the gibes!

There would be good men and true of course, his personal friends in the village, the members of his Parish Council, who would suffer, and stand firm. The postponed meeting of the Council, for the acceptance of the new Liturgy, was to be held the day after his return from Paris. To them he would speak—so far as he could; yes, to them he would speak! Then his thought spread to the diocese. Charges of this kind spread with extraordinary rapidity. Whoever was writing the anonymous letters had probably not confined himself to two or three. Meynell prepared himself for the discovery of the much wider diffusion.

He moved back to his writing-table, and took the letter from the drawer. Its ingenuity, its knowledge of local circumstance, astonished him as he read. He had expected something of a vulgarer and rougher type. The handwriting was clearly disguised, and there was a certain amount of intermittent bad spelling, which might very easily be a disguise also. But whoever wrote it was acquainted with the Fox-Wilton family, with their habits and his own, as well as with the terms of Sir Ralph's will, so far as—mainly he believed through the careless talk of the elder Fox-Wilton girls—it had become a source of gossip in the village. The writer of it could not be far away. Was it a man or a woman? Meynell examined the handwriting carefully. He had a vague impression that he had seen something like it before, but could not remember where or in what connection.

He put it back in his drawer, and as he did so his eyes fell upon his half-written article for the Modernist and on the piles of correspondence beside it. A sense of bitter helplessness overcame him, a pang not for himself so much as for his cause. He realized the inevitable effect of the story in the diocese, weighted, as it would be, with all the colourable and suspicious circumstances that could undoubtedly be adduced in support of it; its effect also beyond the diocese, through the Movement of which he was the life and guiding spirit; through England—where his name was rapidly becoming a battle-cry.

And what could he do to meet it? Almost nothing! The story indeed as a whole could be sharply and categorically denied, because it involved a fundamental falsehood. He was not the father of Hester Fox-Wilton.

But simple denial was all that was open to him. He could neither explain, nor could he challenge inquiry. His mouth was shut. He had made no formal vow of secrecy to any one. He was free to confide in whom he would. But all that was tender, pitiful, chivalrous in his soul stood up and promised for him, as he stood looking out into the October rain, that for no personal—yes!—and for no public advantage—would he trifle with what he had regarded for eighteen years as a trust, laid upon him by the dying words of a man he had loved, and enforced more and more sharply with time by the constant appeal of a woman's life—its dumb pain, the paradox of its frail strength, its shrinking courage. That life had depended upon him during the worst crisis of its fate as its spiritual guide. He had toward Alice Puttenham the feeling of the "director," as the saints have understood it; and toward her story something of the responsibility of a priest toward a confession. To reveal it in his own interest was simply impossible. If the Movement rejected him—it must reject him.

"Not so will I fight for thee, my God!—not so!" he said to himself in great anguish of mind.

It was true indeed that at some future time Alice Puttenham's poor secret must be told—to a specified person, with her consent, and by the express direction of that honest, blundering man, her brother-in-law, whose life, sorely against his will, had been burdened with it. But the indiscriminate admission of the truth, after the lapse of years, would, he believed, simply bring back the old despair, and paralyze what had always been a frail vitality. And as to Hester, the sudden divulgence of it might easily upset the unstable balance in her of mind and nerve and drive her at once into some madness. He must protect them, if he could.

Could he? He pondered it.

At any moment one of these letters might reach Alice. What if this had already happened? Supposing it had, he might not be able to prevent her from doing what would place the part played toward her by himself in its true light. She would probably insist upon his taking legal action, and allowing her to make her statement in court.

The thought of this was so odious to him that he promptly put it from him. He should assume that she knew nothing; though as a practical man he was well aware that she could not long remain ignorant; certainly not if she continued to live in Upcote. Then, it was a question probably of days or hours. Her presence in the cottage, when once the village was in full possession of the slander, would be a perpetual provocation. One way or another the truth must penetrate to her.

An idea occurred to him. Paris! So far he had insisted on going himself with Hester to Paris because of his haunting feeling of responsibility toward the girl, and his resolve to see with his own eyes the household in which he was placing her. But suppose he made excuses? The burden of work upon him was excuse enough for any man. Suppose he sent Alice in his stead, and so contrived as to keep her in or near Paris for a while? Then Edith Fox-Wilton would of course have the forwarding of her sister's correspondence, and might, it seemed to him, take the responsibility of intercepting whatever might inform or alarm her.

Not much prospect of doing so indefinitely!—that he plainly saw. But to gain time was an immense thing; to prevent her from taking at once Quixotic steps. He knew that in health she had never been the same since the episode of Judith's return and death. She seemed suddenly to have faded and drooped, as though poisoned by some constant terror.

He stood lost in thought a little longer by his writing-table. Then his hand felt slowly for a parcel in brown paper that lay there.

He drew it toward him and undid the wrappings. Inside it was a little volume of recent poems of which he had spoken to Mary Elsmere on their moonlit walk through the park. He had promised to lend her his copy, and he meant to have left it at the cottage that afternoon. Now he lingeringly removed the brown paper, and walking to the bookcase, he replaced the volume.

He sat down to write to Alice Puttenham, and to scribble a note to Lady Fox-Wilton asking her to see him as soon as possible. Then Anne forced some luncheon on him, and he had barely finished it when a step outside made itself heard. He looked up and saw Hugh Flaxman.

"Come in!" said the Rector, opening the front door himself. "You are very welcome."

Flaxman grasped—and pressed—the proffered hand, looking at Meynell the while with hesitating interrogation. He guessed from the Rector's face that the errand on which he came had been anticipated.

Meynell led him into the study and shut the door.

"I have just had Barron here," he said, turning abruptly, after he had pushed a chair toward his guest. "He told me he had shown one of these precious documents to you." He held up the anonymous letter.

Flaxman took it, glanced it over in silence and returned it.

"I can only forgive him for doing it when I reflect that I may thereby—perhaps—be enabled to be of some little use to you. Barron knows what I think of him, and of the business."

"Oh! for him it is a weapon—like any other. Though to do him justice he might not have used it, but for the other mysterious person in the case—the writer of these letters. You know—" he straightened himself vehemently—"that I can say nothing—except that the story is untrue?"

"And of course I shall ask you nothing. I have spent twenty-four hours in arguing with myself as to whether I should come to you at all. Finally I decided you might blame me if I did not. You may not be aware of the letter to my sister-in-law?"

Meynell's start was evident.

"To Mrs. Elsmere?"

"She brought it to us on Friday, before the party. It was, I think, identical with this letter"—he pointed to the Dawes envelope—"except for a few references to the part Mrs. Elsmere had played in helping the families of those poor fellows who were killed in the cage-accident."

"And Miss Elsmere?" said Meynell in a tone that wavered in spite of himself. He sat with his head bent and his eyes on the floor.

"Knows, of course, nothing whatever about it," said Flaxman hastily. "Now will you give us your orders? A strong denial of the truth of the story, and a refusal to discuss it at all—with any one—that I think is what you wish?"

Meynell assented.

"In the village, I shall deal with it at the Reform meeting on Thursday night." Then he rose. "Are you going to Forked Pond?"

"I was on my way there."

"I will go with you. If Mrs. Elsmere is free, I should like to have some conversation with her."

They started together through a dripping world on which the skies had but just ceased to rain. On his way through the park Meynell took off his hat and walked bareheaded through the mist, evidently feeling it a physical relief to let the chill, moist air beat freely on brow and temples. Flaxman could not help watching him occasionally—the forehead with its deep vertical furrow, the rugged face, stamped and lined everywhere by travail of mind and body, and the nobility of the large grizzled head. In the voluminous cloak—of an antiquity against which Anne protested in vain—which was his favourite garb on wet days, he might have been a friar of the early time, bound on a preaching tour. The spiritual, evangelic note in the personality became—so Flaxman thought—ever more conspicuous. And yet he walked to-day in very evident trouble, without, however, allowing to this trouble any spoken expression whatever.

As they neared the Forked Pond enclosure, Meynell suddenly paused.

"I had forgotten—I must go first to Sandford—where indeed I am expected."

"Sandford? I trust there is no fresh anxiety?"

"There is anxiety," said Meynell briefly.

Flaxman expressed an unfeigned sympathy.

"What is Miss Hester doing to-day?"

"Packing, I hope. She goes to-morrow."

"And you—are going to interview this fellow?" asked Flaxman reluctantly.

"I have done it already—and must now do it again. This time I am going to threaten."

"With anything to go upon?"

"Yes. I hope at last to be able to get some grip on him; though no doubt my chances are not improved since yesterday," said Meynell, with a grim shadow of a smile, "supposing that anybody from Upcote has been gossipping at Sandford. It does not exactly add to one's moral influence to be regarded as a Pharisaical humbug."

"I wish I could take the business off your shoulders!" said Flaxman, heartily.

Meynell gave him a slight, grateful look. They walked on briskly to the high road, Flaxman accompanying his friend so far. There they parted, and Hugh returned slowly to the cottage by the water, Meynell promising to join him there within an hour.



"Such was my mother's way, learnt from Thee in the school of the heart, where Thou art Master."


In the little drawing-room at Forked Pond Catharine and Mary Elsmere were sitting at work. Mary was embroidering a curtain in a flowing Venetian pattern—with a handful of withered leaves lying beside her to which she occasionally matched her silks. Catharine was knitting. Outside the rain was howling through the trees; the windows streamed with it. But within, the bright wood-fire threw a pleasant glow over the simple room, and the figures of the two ladies. Mary's trim jacket and skirt of prune-coloured serge, with its white blouse fitting daintily to throat and wrist, seemed by its neatness to emphasize the rebellious masses and the fare colour of her hair. She knew that her hair was beautiful, and it gave her a pleasure she could not help, though she belonged to that type of Englishwoman, not yet nearly so uncommon as modern newspapers and books would have us believe, who think as little as they can of personal adornment and their own appearance, in the interests of some hidden ideal that "haunts them like a passion; of which even the most innocent vanity seems to make them unworthy."

In these feelings and instincts she was, of course, her mother's daughter. Catharine Elsmere's black dress of some plain woollen stuff could not have been plainer, and she wore the straight collar and cuffs, and—on her nearly white hair—the simple cap of her widowhood. But the spiritual beauty which had always been hers was hers still. One might guess that she, too, knew it; that in her efforts to save persons in sin or suffering she must have known what it was worth to her; what the gift of lovely line and presence is worth to any human being. But if she had been made to feel this—passingly, involuntarily—she had certainly shrunk from feeling it.

Mary put her embroidery away, made up the fire, and sat down on a stool at her mother's feet.

"Darling, how many socks have you knitted since we came here? Enough to stock a shop?"

"On the contrary. I have been very idle," laughed Catharine, putting her knitting away. "How long is it? Four months?" she sighed.

"It has done you good?—yes, it has!" Mary looked at her closely.

"Then why don't you let me go back to my work?—tyrant!" said Catharine, stroking the red-gold hair.

"Because the doctor said 'March'—and you sha'n't be allowed to put your feet in London a day earlier," said Mary, laying her head on Catharine's knee. "You needn't grumble. Next week you'll have your fells and your becks—as much Westmoreland as ever you want. Only ten days more here," and this time it was Mary who sighed, deeply, unconsciously.

The face above her changed—unseen by Mary.

"You've liked being here?"

"Yes—very much."

"It's a dear little house, and the woods are beautiful."

"Yes. And—I've made a new friend."

"You like Miss Puttenham so much?"

"More than anybody I have seen for years," said Mary, raising herself and speaking with energy; "but, oh dear, I wish I could do something for her!"

Catharine moved uneasily.

"Do what?"

"Comfort her—help her—make her tell me what's the matter."

"You think she's unhappy?"

Mary propped her chin on her hand, and looked into the fire.

"I wonder whether she's ever had any real joy—a week's—a day's—happiness—in her life?"

She said it musingly but intensely. Catharine did not know how to answer her. All the day long, and a good deal of the night, she had been debating with herself what to do—toward Mary. Mary was no longer a child. She was a woman, of nearly six and twenty, strong in character, and accustomed of late to go with her mother into many of the dark places of London life. The betrayal—which could not be hidden from her—of a young servant girl in their employ, the year before, and the fierce tenderness with which Mary had thrown herself into the saving of the girl and her child, had brought about—Catharine knew it—a great deepening and overshadowing of her youth. Catharine had in some ways regretted it bitterly; for she belonged to that older generation which believed—and were amply justified in believing—that it is well for the young to be ignorant, so long as they can be ignorant, of the ugly and tragic things of sex. It was not that her Mary seemed to her in the smallest degree besmirched by the experience she had passed through; that any bloom had been shaken from the flower. Far from it. It was rather that some touch of careless joy was gone forever from her child's life; and how that may hurt a mother, only those know who have wept in secret hours over the first ebbing of youth in a young face.

So that she received Mary's outburst in silence. For she said to herself that she could have no right to reveal Alice Puttenham's secret, even to Mary. That cruel tongues should at that moment be making free with it burnt like a constant smart in Catharine's mind. Was the poor thing herself aware of it?—could it be kept from her? If not, Mary must know—would know—sooner or later. "But for me to tell her without permission"—thought Catharine firmly—"would not be right—or just. Besides, I know nothing—directly."

As to the other and profounder difficulty involved, Catharine wavered perpetually between two different poles of feeling. The incidents of the preceding weeks had made it plain that her resistance to Meynell's influence with Mary had strangely and suddenly broken down. Owing to an experience of which she had not yet spoken to Mary, her inner will had given way. She saw with painful clearness what was coming; she was blind to none of the signs of advancing love; and she felt herself powerless. An intimation had been given her—so it seemed to her—to which she submitted. Her submission had cost her tears often, at night, when there was no one to see. And yet it had brought her also a strange happiness—like all such yieldings of soul.

But if she had yielded, if there was in her a reluctant practical certainty that Mary would some day be Meynell's wife, then her conscience, which was that of a woman who had passionately loved her husband, began to ask: "Ought she not to be standing by him in this trouble? If we keep it all from her, and he suffers and perhaps breaks down, when she might have sustained him, will she not reproach us? Should I not have bitterly reproached any one who had kept me from helping Robert in such a case?"

A state of mind, it will be seen, into which there entered not a trace of ordinary calculations. It did not occur to her that Mary might be injured in the world's eyes by publicly linking herself with a man under a cloud. Catharine, whose temptation to "scruple" in the religious sense was constant and tormenting, who recoiled in horror from what to others were the merest venial offences, in this connection asked one thing only. Where Barron had argued that an unbeliever must necessarily have a carnal mind, Catharine had simply assured herself at once by an unfailing instinct that the mind was noble and the temper pure. In those matters she was not to be deceived; she knew.

That being so, and if her own passionate objections to the marriage were to be put aside, then she could only judge for Mary as she would judge for herself. Not to love—not to comfort—could there be—for Love—any greater wound, any greater privation? She shrank, in a kind of terror, from inflicting it on Mary—Mary, unconscious and unknowing.

... The soft chatter of the fire, the plashing of the rain, filled the room with the atmosphere of reverie. Catharine's thoughts passed from her obligations toward Mary to grapple anxiously with those she might be under toward Meynell himself. The mere possession of the anonymous letter—and Flaxman had not given her leave to destroy it—weighed upon her conscience. It seemed to her she ought not to possess it; and she had been only half convinced by Flaxman's arguments for delay. She was rapidly coming to the belief that it should have been handed instantly to the Rector.

A step outside.

"Uncle Hugh!" said Mary, springing up. "I'll go and see if there are any scones for tea!" And she vanished into the kitchen, while Catharine admitted her brother-in-law.

"Meynell is to join me here in an hour or so," he said, as he followed her into the little sitting-room. Catharine closed the door, and looked at him anxiously. He lowered his voice.

"Barron called on him this morning—had only just gone when I arrived. Meynell has seen the letter to Dawes. I informed him of the letter to you, and I think he would like to have some talk with you."

Catharine's face showed her relief.

"Oh, I am glad—I am glad he knows!"—she said, with emphasis. "We were wrong to delay."

"He told me nothing—and I asked nothing. But, of course, what the situation implies is unfortunately clear enough!—no need to talk of it. He won't and he can't vindicate himself, except by a simple denial. At any ordinary time that would be enough. But now—with all the hot feeling there is on the other subject—and the natural desire to discredit him—" Flaxman shrugged his shoulders despondently. "Rose's maid—you know the dear old thing she is—came to her last night, in utter distress about the talk in the village. There was a journalist here, a reporter from one of the papers that have been opposing Meynell most actively—"

"They are quite right to oppose him," interrupted Catharine quickly. Her face had stiffened.

"Perfectly! But you see the temptation?"

Catharine admitted it. She stood by the window looking out into the rain. And as she did so she became aware of a figure—the slight figure of a woman—walking fast toward the cottage along the narrow grass causeway that ran between the two ponds. On either side of the woman the autumn trees swayed and bent under the rising storm, and every now and then a mist of scudding leaves almost effaced her. She seemed to be breathlessly struggling with the wind as she sped onward, and in her whole aspect there was an indescribable forlornness and terror.

Catharine peered into the rain....

"Hugh!"—She turned swiftly to her brother-in-law—"There is some one coming to see me. Will you go?"—she pointed to the garden door on the farther side of the drawing-room—"and will you take Mary? Go round to the back. You know the old summer-house at the end of the wood-walk. We have often sheltered there from rain. Or there's the keeper's cottage a little farther on. I know Mary wanted to go there this afternoon. Please, dear Hugh!"

He looked at her in astonishment. Then through the large French window he too saw the advancing form. In an instant he had disappeared by the garden door. Catharine went into the hall, opened the door of the kitchen and beckoned to Mary, who was standing there with their little maid. "Don't come back just yet, darling!" she said in her ear—"Get your things on, and go with Uncle Hugh. I want to be alone."

Mary stepped back bewildered, and Catharine shut her in. Then she went back to the hall, just as a bell rang faintly.

"Is Mrs. Elsmere—"

Then as the visitor saw Catharine herself standing in the open doorway, she said with broken breath: "Can I come in—can I see you?"

Catharine drew her in.

* * * * *

"Dear Miss Puttenham!—how tired you are—and how wet! Let me take the cloak off."

And as she drew off the soaked waterproof, Catharine felt the trembling of the slight frame beneath.

"Come and sit by the fire," she said tenderly.

Alice sank into the chair that was offered her, her eyes fixed on Catharine. Every feature in the delicate oval face was pinched and drawn. The struggle with wild weather had drained the lips and the cheeks of colour, and her brown hair under her serge cap fell limply about her small ears and neck. She was an image not so much of grief as of some unendurable distress.

Catharine began to chafe her hands—but Alice stopped her—

"I am not cold—oh no, I'm not cold. Dear Mrs. Elsmere! You must think it so strange of me to come to you in this way. But I am in trouble—such great trouble—and I don't know what to do. Then I thought I'd come to you. You—you always seem to me so kind—you won't despise—or repulse me—I know you won't!"

Her voice sank to a whisper. Catharine took the two icy hands in her warm grasp.

"Tell me if there is anything I can do to help you."

"I—I want to tell you. You may be angry—because I've been Mary's friend—when I'd no right. I'm not what you think. I—I have a secret—or—I had. And now it's discovered—and I don't know what I shall do—it's so awful—so awful!"

Her head dropped on the chair behind her—and her eyes closed. Catharine, kneeling beside her, bent forward and kissed her.

"Won't you tell me?" she said, gently.

Alice was silent a moment. Then she suddenly opened her eyes—and spoke in a whisper.

"I—I was never married. But Hester Fox-Wilton's—my child!"

The tears came streaming from her eyes. They stood in Catharine's.

"You poor thing!" said Catharine brokenly, and raising one of the cold hands, she pressed it to her lips.

But Alice suddenly raised herself.

"You knew!"—she said—"You knew!" And her eyes, full of fear, stared into Catharine's. Then as Catharine did not speak immediately she went on with growing agitation, "You've heard—what everybody's saying? Oh! I don't know how I can face it. I often thought it would come—some time. And ever since that woman—since Judith—came home—it's been a nightmare. For I felt certain she'd come home because she was angry with us—and that she'd said something—before she died. Then nothing happened—and I've tried to think—lately—it was all right. But last night—"

She paused for self-control. Catharine was alarmed by her state—by its anguish, its excitement. It required an effort of her whole being before the sufferer could recover voice and breath, before she hurried on, holding Catharine's hands, and looking piteously into her face.

"Last night a woman came to see me—an old servant of mine who's nursed me sometimes—when I've been ill. She loves me—she's good to me. And she came to tell me what people were saying in the village—how there were letters going round, about me—and Hester—how everybody knew—and they were talking in the public-houses. She thought I ought to know—she cried—and wanted me to deny it. And of course I denied it—I was fierce to her—but it's true!"

She paused a moment, her pale lips moving soundlessly, unconsciously.

"I—I'll tell you about that presently. But the awful thing was—she said people were saying—that the Rector—that Mr. Meynell—was Hester's father—and Judith Sabin had told Mr. Barron so before her death. And they declared the Bishop would make him resign—and give up his living. It would be such a scandal, she said—it might even break up the League. And it would ruin Mr. Meynell, so people thought. Of course there were many people who were angry—who didn't believe a word—but this woman who told me was astonished that so many did believe.... So then I thought all night—what I should do. And this morning I went to Edith, my sister, and told her. And she went into hysterics, and said she always knew I should bring disgrace on them in the end—and her life had been a burden to her for eighteen years—oh! that's what she says to me so often! But the strange thing was she wanted to make me promise I would say nothing—not a word. We were to go abroad, and the thing would die away. And then—"

She withdrew her hands from Catharine, and rising to her feet she pressed the damp hair back from her face, and began to pace the room—unconsciously—still talking.

"I asked her what was to happen about Richard—about the Rector. I said he must bring an action, and I would give evidence—it must all come out. And then she fell upon me—and said I was an ungrateful wretch. My sin had spoilt her life—and Ralph's. They had done all they could—and now the publicity—if I insisted—would disgrace them all—and ruin the girls' chances of marrying, and I don't know what besides. But if I held my tongue—we could go away for a time—it would be forgotten, and nobody out of Upcote need ever hear of it. People would never believe such a thing of Richard Meynell. Of course he would deny it—and of course his word would be taken. But to bring out the whole story in a law-court—"

She paused beside Catharine, wringing her hands, gathering up as it were her whole strength to pour it—slowly, deliberately—into the words that followed:

"But I—will run no risk of ruining Richard Meynell! As for me—what does it matter what happens to me! And darling Hester!—we could keep it from her—we would! She and I could live abroad. And I don't see how it could disgrace Edith and the girls—people would only say she and Ralph had been very good to me. But Richard Meynell!—with these trials coming on—and all the excitement about him—there'll be ever so many who would be wild to believe it! They won't care how absurd it is—they'll want to crush him! And he—he'll never say a word for himself—to explain—never! Because he couldn't without telling all my story. And that—do you suppose Richard Meynell would ever do that?—to any poor human soul that had trusted him?"

The colour had rushed back into her cheeks; she held herself erect, transfigured by the emotion that possessed her. Catharine looked at her in doubt—trouble—amazement. And then, her pure sense divined something—dimly—of what the full history of this soul had been; and her heart melted. She put out her hands and drew the speaker down again into the seat beside her.

"I think you'll have to let him decide that for you. He's a strong man—and a wise man. He'll judge what's right. And I ought to warn you that he'll be here probably—very soon. He wanted to see me."

Alice opened her startled eyes.

"About this? To see you? I don't understand."

"I had one of these letters—these wicked letters," said Catharine reluctantly.

Alice shrank and trembled. "It's terrible!"—her voice was scarcely to be heard. "Who is it hates me so?—or Richard?"

There was silence a moment. And in the pause the stress and tumult of nature without, the beating of the wind, and the plashing of the rain, seemed to be rushing headlong through the little room. But neither Catharine nor Alice was aware of it, except in so far as it played obscurely on Alice's tortured nerves, fevering and goading them the more. Catharine's gaze was bent on her companion; her mind was full of projects of help, which were also prayers; moments in that ceaseless dialogue with a Greater than itself, which makes the life of the Christian. And it was as though, by some secret influence, her prayers worked on Alice; for presently she turned in order that she might look straight into the face beside her.

"I'd like to tell you"—she said faintly—"oh—I'd like to tell you!"

"Tell me anything you will."

"It was when I was so young—just eighteen—like Hester. Oh! but you don't know about Neville—no one does now. People seem all to have forgotten him. But he came into his property here—the Abbey—the old Abbey—just when I was growing up. I saw him here first—but only once or twice. Then we met in Scotland. I was staying at a house near his shooting. And we fell in love. Oh, I knew he was married!—I can never say that I didn't know, even at the beginning. But his wife was so cruel to him—he was very, very unhappy. She couldn't understand him—or make allowances for him—she despised him, and wouldn't live with him. He was miserable—and so was I. My father and mother were dead! I had to live with Ralph and Edith; and they always made me feel that I was in their way. It wasn't their fault!—I was in the way. And then Neville came. He was so handsome, and so clever—so winning and dear—he could do everything. I was staying with some old cousins in Rossshire, who used to ask me now and then. There were no young people in the house. My cousins were quite kind to me, but I spent a great deal of time alone—and Neville and I got into a way of meeting—in lonely places—on the moors. No one found out. He taught me everything I ever knew, almost. He gave me books—and read to me. He was sorry for me—and at last—he loved me! And we never looked ahead. Then—in one week—everything happened together. I had to go home. He talked of going to Sandford, and implored me still to meet him. And I thought how Ralph and Edith would watch us, and spy upon us, and I implored him never to go to Sandford when I was at Upcote. We must meet at other places. And he agreed. Then the day came for me to go south. I travelled by myself—and he rode twenty miles to a junction station and joined me. Then we travelled all day together."

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