The Case of Richard Meynell
by Mrs. Humphry Ward
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* * * * *

One night in December Meynell came in late from a carpentering class of village boys. The usual pile of letters and books awaited him, and he began upon them reluctantly. As he read them, and put them aside, one by one, his face gradually changed and darkened. He recalled a saying of Amiel's about the French word "consideration"—what it means to a man to have enjoyed unvarying and growing "consideration" from his world; and then, suddenly, to be threatened with the loss of it. Life and consciousness drop, all in a moment, to a lower and a meaner plane.

Finally, he lit on a letter from one of his colleagues on the Central Modernist Committee. For some months it had been a settled thing that Meynell should preach the sermon in Dunchester Cathedral on the great occasion in January when the new Liturgy of the Reform was to be inaugurated with all possible solemnity in one of England's most famous churches.

His correspondent wrote to suggest that after all the sermon would be more fitly entrusted to the Modernist Bishop of Dunchester himself. "He has worked hard, and risked much for us. I may say that inquiries have been thrown out, and we find he is willing."

No apology—perfunctory regrets—and very little explanation! Meynell understood.

He put the letter away, conscious of a keenly smarting mind. It was now clear to him that he had made a grave misreckoning; humiliating, perhaps irreparable. He had counted, with a certain confident simplicity, on the power of his mere word, backed by his character and reputation, to put the thing down; and they were not strong enough. Barron's influence seemed to him immense and increasing. A proud and sensitive man forced himself to envisage the possibility of an eventual overthrow.

He opened a drawer in order to put away the letter. The drawer was very full, and in the difficulty of getting it out he pulled it too far and its contents fell to the floor. He stooped to pick them up—perceived first the anonymous letter that Barron had handed to him, the letter addressed to Dawes; and then, beneath it, a long envelope deep in dust—labelled "M.B.—Keep for three years." He took up both letter and envelope with no distinct intention. But he opened the anonymous letter, and once more looked searchingly at the handwriting.

Suddenly an idea struck him. With a hasty movement, he lifted the long envelope and broke the seal. Inside was a document headed, "A Confession." And at the foot of it appeared a signature—"Maurice Barron."

Meynell put the two things together—the "confession" and the anonymous letter. Very soon he began to compare word with word and stroke with stroke, gradually penetrating the disguise of the later handwriting. At the end of the process he understood the vague recollection which had disturbed him when he first saw the letter.

He stood motionless a little, expressions chasing each other across his face. Then he locked up both letters, reached a hand for his pipe, called a good night to Anne, who was going upstairs to bed, and with his dogs about him fell into a long meditation, while the night wore on.


It was in the week before Christmas that Professor Vetch—the same Professor who had been one of the Bishop's Commission of Inquiry in Richard Meynell's case—knocked one afternoon at Canon France's door to ask for a cup of tea. He had come down to give a lecture to the Church Club which had been recently started in Markborough in opposition to the Reformers' Club; but his acceptance of the invitation had been a good deal determined by his very keen desire to probe the later extraordinary developments of the Meynell affair on the spot.

France was in his low-ceiled study, occupied as usual with drawers full of documents of various kinds; most of them mediaeval deeds and charters which he was calendaring for the Cathedral Library. His table and the floor were littered by them; a stack of the Rolls publications was on his right hand; a Dugdale's "Monasticon" lay open at a little distance; and curled upon a newspaper beside it lay a gray kitten. The kitten had that morning upset an inkstand over three sheets of the Canon's laborious handwriting. At the time he had indeed dropped her angrily by the scruff of the neck into a wastepaper basket to repent of her sins; but here she was again, and the Canon had patiently rewritten the sheets.

There were not many softnesses in the Canon's life. The kitten was one; of the other perhaps only his sister, nearly as old as himself, who lived with him, was aware. Twenty years before—just after his appointment to the canonry—he had married a young and—in the opinion of his family—flighty wife, who had lived a year and then died. She had passed like a spring flower; and after a year or two all that was remembered about her was that she had chosen the drawing-room paper, which was rather garishly pink, like her own cheeks. In the course of time the paper had become so discoloured and patchy that Miss France was ashamed of it. For years her brother turned a deaf ear to her remarks on the subject. At last he allowed her to repaper the room. But she presently discovered that close to the seat he generally occupied in the drawing-room of an evening there was a large hole in the new paper made by the rubbing and scraping of the Canon's fingers as he sat at tea. Through it the original pink reappeared. More than once Miss France caught her brother looking contentedly at his work of mischief. But she dared not speak of it to him, nor do anything to repair the damage.

As France perceived the identity of the visitor whom his old manservant was showing into the study, a slight shade of annoyance passed over his face. But he received the Professor civilly, cleared a chair of books in order that he might sit down, and gave a vigorous poke to the fire.

The Professor did not wish to appear too inquisitive on the subject of Meynell, and he therefore dallied a little with matters of Biblical criticism. France, however, took no interest whatever in them; and even an adroit description of a paper recently read by the speaker himself at an Oxford meeting failed to kindle a spark. Vetch found himself driven upon the real object of his visit.

He desired to know—understanding that the Canon was an old friend of Henry Barron—where the Meynell affair exactly was.

"Am I an old friend of Henry Barron?" said France slowly.

"He says you are," laughed the Professor. "I happened to go up to town in the same carriage with him a fortnight ago."

"He comes here a good deal—but he never takes my advice," said France.

The Professor inquired what the advice had been.

"To let it alone!" France looked round suddenly at his companion. "I have come to the conclusion," he added dryly, "that Barron is not a person of delicacy."

The Professor, rather taken aback, argued on Barron's behalf. Would it have been seemly or right for a man—a Churchman of Barron's prominence—to keep such a thing to himself at such a critical moment? Surely it had an important bearing on the controversy.

"I see none," said France, a spark of impatience in the small black eyes that shone so vividly above his large hanging cheeks. "Meynell says the story is untrue."

"Ah! but let him prove it!" cried the Professor, his young-old face flushing. "He has made a wanton attack upon the Church; he cannot possibly expect any quarter from us. We are not in the least bound to hold him immaculate—quite the contrary. Men of that impulsive, undisciplined type are, as we all know, very susceptible to woman."

France faced round upon his companion in a slow, contemptuous wonder.

"I see you take your views from the anonymous letters?"

The Professor laughed awkwardly.

"Not necessarily. I understand Barron has direct evidence. Anyway, let Meynell take the usual steps. If he takes them successfully, we shall all rejoice. But his character has been made, so to speak, one of the pieces in the game. We are really not bound to accept it at his own valuation."

"I think you will have to accept it," said France.

There was a pause. The Professor wondered secretly whether France too was beginning to be tarred with the Modernist brush. No!—impossible. For that the Canon was either too indolent or too busy.

At last he said:

"Seriously, I should like to know what you really think."

"It is of no importance what I think. But what suggests itself, of course, is that there is some truth in the story, but that Meynell is not the hero. And he doesn't see his way to clear himself by dishing other people."

"I see." The obstinacy in the smooth voice rasped France. "If so, most unlucky for him! But then let him resign his living, and go quietly into obscurity. He owes it to his own side. For them the whole thing is disaster. He must either clear himself or go."

"Oh, give him a little time!" said France sharply, "give him a little time." Then, with a change of tone—"The anonymous letters, of course, are the really interesting things in the case. Perhaps you have a theory about them?"

The Professor shrugged his shoulders.

"None whatever. I have seen three—including that published in the Post. I understand about twenty have now been traced; and that they grow increasingly dramatic and detailed. Evidently some clever fellow—who knows a great deal—with a grudge against Meynell?"

"Ye—es," said France, with hesitation.

"You suspect somebody?"

"Not at all. It is a black business."

Then with one large and powerful hand, France restrained the kitten, who was for deserting his knee, and with the other he drew toward him the folio volume on which he had been engaged when the Professor came in.

Vetch took the hint, said a rather frosty good-bye, and departed.

"A popinjay!" said France to himself when he was left alone, thinking with annoyance of the Professor's curly hair, of his elegant serge suit, and the gem from Knossos that he wore on the little finger of his left hand. Then he took up a large pipe which lay beside his books, filled it, and hung meditatively over the fire. He was angry with Vetch, and disgusted with himself.

"Why haven't I given Meynell a helping hand? Why did I talk like that to Barron when he first began this business? And why have I let him come here as he has done since—without telling him what I really thought of him?"

He fell for some minutes into an abyss of thought; thought which seemed to range not so much over the circumstances connected with Meynell as over the whole of his own past.

But he emerged from it with a long shake of the head.

"My habits are my habits!" he said to himself with a kind of bitter decision, and laying down his pipe he went back to his papers.

* * * * *

Almost at the same moment the Bishop was interviewing Henry Barron in the little book-lined room beyond the main library, which he kept for the business he most disliked. He never put the distinction into words, but when any member of his clergy was invited to step into the farther room, the person so invited felt depressed.

Barron's substantial presence seemed to fill the little study, as, very much on his defence, he sat tete-a-tete with the Bishop. He had recognized from the beginning that nothing of what he had done was really welcome or acceptable to Bishop Craye. While he, on his side, felt himself a benefactor to the Church in general, and to the Bishop of Markborough in particular, instinctively he knew that the Bishop's taste ungratefully disapproved of him; and the knowledge contributed an extra shade of pomposity to his manner.

He had just given a sketch of the church meeting at Upcote, and of the situation in the village up to date. The Bishop sat absently patting his thin knees, and evidently very much concerned.

"A most unpleasant—a most painful scene. I confess, Mr. Barron, I think it would have been far better if you had avoided it."

Barron held himself rigidly erect.

"My lord, my one object from the beginning has been to force Meynell into the open. For his own sake—for the parish's—the situation must be brought to an end, in some way. The indecency of it at present is intolerable."

"You forget. The trial is only a few weeks off. Meynell will certainly be deprived."

"No doubt. But then there is the Privy Council Appeal. And even when he is deprived, Meynell does not mean to leave the village. He has made all his arrangements to stay and defy the judgment. We must prove to him, even if we have to do it with what looks like harshness, that until he clears himself of this business this diocese at least will have none of him!"

"Why, the great majority of the people adore him!" cried the Bishop. "And meanwhile I understand the other poor things are already driven away. They tell me the Fox-Wiltons' house is to let, and Miss Puttenham gone to Paris indefinitely."

Barron slightly shrugged his shoulders. "We are all very sorry for them, my lord. It is indeed a sad business. But we must remember at the same time that all these persons have been in a conspiracy together to impose a falsehood on their neighbours; and that for many years we have been admitting Miss Puttenham to our house and our friendship—to the companionship of our daughters—in complete ignorance of her character."

"Oh, poor thing! poor thing!" said the Bishop hastily. "The thought of her haunts me. She must know what is going on—or a great deal of it—though indeed I hope she doesn't—I hope with all my heart she doesn't! Well, now, Mr. Barron—you have written me long letters—and I trust that you will allow me a little close inquiry into some of these matters."

"The closer the better, my lord."

"You have not as yet come to any opinion whatever as to the authorship of these letters?"

Barron looked troubled.

"I am entirely at a loss," he said, emphatically. "Once or twice I have thought myself on the track. There is that man East, whose license Meynell opposed—"

"One of the 'aggrieved parishioners'," said the Bishop, raising his hands and eyebrows.

"You regret, my lord, that we should be mixed up with such a person? So do I. But with a whole parish in a conspiracy to support the law-breaking that was going on, what could we do? However, that is not now the point. I have suspected East. I have questioned him. He showed extraordinary levity, and was—to myself personally—what I can only call insolent. But he swore to me that he had not written the letters; and indeed I am convinced that he could not have written them. He is almost an illiterate—can barely read and write. I still suspect him. But if he is in it, it is only as a tool of some one else."

"And the son—Judith Sabin's son?"

"Naturally, I have turned my mind in that direction also. But John Broad is a very simple fellow—has no enmity against Meynell, quite the contrary. He vows that he never knew why his mother went abroad with Lady Fox-Wilton, or why she went to America; and though she talked a lot of what he calls 'queer stuff' in the few hours he had with her before my visit, he couldn't make head or tail of a good deal of it, and didn't trouble his head about it. And after my visit, he found her incoherent and delirious. Moreover, he declared to me solemnly that he knew nothing about the letters; and I certainly have no means of bringing it home to him."

The Bishop's blue eyes were sharply fixed upon the speaker. But on the whole Barron's manner in these remarks had favourably impressed his companion.

"We come then"—he said gravely—"to the further question which you will, of course, see will be asked—must be asked. Can you be certain that your own conversation—of course quite unconsciously on your part—has not given hints to some person, some unscrupulous third person, an enemy of Meynell's, who has been making use of information he may have got from you to write these letters? Forgive the inquiry—but you will realize how very important it is—for Church interests—that the suit against Meynell in the Church Courts should not be in any way mixed up with this wretched and discreditable business of the anonymous letters!"

Barron flushed a little.

"I have of course spoken of the matter in my own family," he said proudly. "I have already told you, my lord, that I confided the whole thing to my son Stephen very early in the day."

The Bishop smiled.

"We may dismiss Stephen I think—the soul of honour and devoted to Meynell. Can you remember no one else?"

Barron endeavoured to show no resentment at these inquiries. But it was clear that they galled.

"The only other members of my household are my daughter Theresa, and occasionally, for a week or two, my son Maurice. I answer for them both."

"Your son Maurice is at work in London."

"He is in business—the manager of an office," said Barron stiffly.

The Bishop's face was shrewdly thoughtful. After a pause he said:

"You have, of course, examined the handwriting? But I understand that recently all the letters have been typewritten?"

"All but two—the letter to Dawes, and a letter which I believe was received by Mrs. Elsmere. I gave the Dawes letter to Meynell at his request."

"Having failed to identify the handwriting?"


Yet, even as he spoke, for the first time, a sudden misgiving, like the pinch of an insect, brushed Barron's consciousness. He had not, as a matter of fact, examined the Dawes letter very carefully, having been, as he now clearly remembered, in a state of considerable mental excitement during the whole time it was in his possession and thinking much more of the effect of the first crop of letters on the situation, than of the details of the Dawes letter itself. But he did remember, now that the Bishop pressed him, that when he first looked at the letter he had been conscious of a momentary sense of likeness to a handwriting he knew; to Maurice's handwriting, in fact. But he had repelled the suggestion as absurd in the first instance, and after a momentary start, he angrily repelled it now.

The Bishop emerged from a brown study.

"It is a most mysterious thing! Have you been able to verify the postmarks?"

"So far as I know, all the letters were posted at Markborough."

"No doubt by some accomplice," said the Bishop. He paused and sighed. Then he looked searchingly, though still hesitatingly, at his companion.

"Mr. Barron, I trust you will allow me—as your Bishop—one little reminder. As Christians, we must be slow to believe evil."

Barron flushed again.

"I have been slow to believe it, my lord. But in all things I have put the Church's interest first."

Something in the Bishop suddenly and sharply drew away from the man beside him. He held himself with a cold dignity.

"For myself, personally—I tell you frankly—I cannot bring myself to believe a word of this story, so far as it concerns Meynell. I believe there is a terrible mistake at the bottom of it, and I prefer to trust twenty years of noble living rather than the tale of a poor distraught creature like Judith Sabin. At the same time, of course, I recognize that you have a right to your opinions, as I have to mine. But, my dear sir"—and here the Bishop rose abruptly—"let me urge upon you one thing. Keep an open mind—not only for all that tells against Meynell, but all that tells for him! Don't—you will allow me this friendly word—don't land yourself in a great, perhaps a life-long self-reproach!"

There was a note of sternness in the speaker's voice; but the small parchment face and the eyes of china-blue shone, as though kindled from within by the pure and generous spirit of the man.

"My lord, I have said my say." Barron had also risen, and stood towering over the Bishop. "I leave it now in the hands of God."

The Bishop winced again, and was holding out a limp hand for good-bye, when Barron said suddenly:

"Perhaps you will allow me one question, my lord? Has Meynell been to see you? Has he written to you even? I may say that I urged him to do so."

The Bishop was taken aback and saw no way out.

"I have had no direct communication with him," he said, reluctantly; "no doubt because of our already strained relations."

On Barron's lips there dawned something which could hardly be called a smile—or triumphant; but the Bishop caught it. In another minute the door had closed upon his visitor.

* * * * *

Barron walked away through the Close, his mind seething with anger and resentment. He felt that he had been treated as an embarrassment rather than an ally; and he vowed to himself that the Bishop's whole attitude had been grudging and unfriendly.

As he passed on to the broad stone pavement that bordered the south transept he became aware of a man coming toward him. Raising his eyes he saw that it was Meynell.

There was no way of avoiding the encounter. As the two men passed Barron made a mechanical sign of recognition. Meynell lifted his head and looked at him full. It was a strange look, intent and piercing, charged with the personality of the man behind it.

Barron passed on, quivering. He felt that he hated Meynell. The disguise of a public motive dropped away; and he knew that he hated him personally.

At the same time the sudden slight misgiving he had been conscious of in the Bishop's presence ran through him again. He feared he knew not what; and as he walked to the station the remembrance of Meynell's expression mingled with the vague uneasiness he tried in vain to put from him.

Meynell walked home by Forked Pond to Maudeley. He lingered a little in the leafless woods round the cottage, now shut up, and he chose the longer path that he might actually pass the very window near which Mary had stood when she spoke those softly broken words—words from a woman's soul—which his memory had by heart. And his pulse leapt at the scarcely admitted thought that perhaps—now—in a few weeks he might be walking the dale paths with Mary. But there were stern things to be done first.

At Maudeley he found Flaxman awaiting him, and the two passed into the library, where Rose, though bubbling over with question and conjecture, self-denyingly refrained from joining them. The consultation of the two men lasted about an hour, and when Flaxman rejoined his wife, he came alone.

"Gone?" said Rose, with a disappointed look. "Oh! I did want to shake his hand!"

Flaxman's gesture was unsympathetic.

"It is not the time for that yet. This business has gone deep with him. I don't exactly know what he will do. But he has made me promise various things."

"When does he see—Torquemada?" said Rose, after a pause.

"I think—to-morrow morning."

"H'm! Good luck to him! Please let me know also precisely when I may crush Lady St. Morice."

Lady St. Morice was the wife of the Lord Lieutenant, and had at a recent dinner party, in Rose's presence, hotly asserted her belief in the charges brought against the Rector of Upcote. She possessed a private chapel adorned with pre-Raphaelite frescoes, and was the sister of one of the chief leaders of the High Orthodox party in convocation.

"She doesn't often speak to the likes of me," said Rose; "which of course is a great advantage for the likes of me. But next time I shall speak to her—which will be so good for her. My dear Hugh, don't let Meynell be too magnanimous—I can't stand it."

Flaxman laughed, but rather absently. It was evident that he was still under the strong impression of the conversation he had just passed through.

Rose stole up to him, and put her lips to his ear.

"Who—was—Hester's father?"

Flaxman looked up.

"I haven't the least idea."

"But of course we must all know some time," said Rose discontentedly. "Catharine knows already."

* * * * *

Meynell passed that evening in his study, after some hours spent in the Christmas business of a large parish. His mind was full of agitation, and when midnight struck, ushering in Christmas Eve, he was still undecided as to his precise course.

Among the letters of the day lying scattered beside him on the floor there was yet further evidence of the power of Barron's campaign. There were warm expressions indeed of sympathy and indignation to be found among them, but on the whole Meynell realized that his own side's belief in him was showing some signs of distress, while the attack upon him was increasing in violence. His silence even to his most intimate friends, even to his Bishop; the disappearance from England of the other persons named in the scandal; the constant elaborations and embellishments of the story as it passed from mouth to mouth—these things were telling against him steadily and disastrously.

As he hung over the fire, he anxiously reconsidered his conduct toward the Bishop, while Catharine's phrase—"He, too, has his rights!" lingered in his memory. He more than suspected that his silence had given pain; and his affection for the Bishop made the thought a sore one.

But after all what good would have been done had he even put the Bishop in possession of the whole story? The Bishop's bare denial would have been added to his; nothing more. There could have been no explanation, public or private; nothing to persuade those who did not wish to be persuaded.

His thought wandered hither and thither. From the dim regions of the past there emerged a letter....

"My dear old Meynell, the thing is to be covered up. Ralph will acknowledge the child, and all precautions are to be taken. I think what he does he will do thoroughly. Alice wishes it—and what can I do, either for her or for the child? Nothing. And for me, I see but one way out—which will be the best for her too in the end, poor darling. My wife's letter a week ago destroyed my last hope. I am going out to-night—and I shall not come back. Stand by her, Richard. I think this kind of lie on which we are all embarked is wrong (not that you had anything to do with it!) But it is society which is wrong and imposes it on us. Anyway, the choice is made, and now you must support and protect her—and the child—for my sake. For I know you love me, dear boy—little as I deserve it. It is part of your general gift of loving, which has always seemed to me so strange. However—whatever I was made for, you were made to help the unhappy. So I have the less scruple in sending you this last word. She will want your help. The child's lot in that household will not be a happy one; and Alice will have to look on. But, help her!—help her above all to keep silence, for this thing, once done, must be irrevocable. Only so can my poor Alice recover her youth—think, she is only twenty now!—and the child's future be saved. Alice, I hope, will marry. And when the child marries, you may—nay, I think you must—tell the husband. I have written this to Ralph. But for all the rest of the world, the truth is now wiped out. The child is no longer mine—Alice was never my love—and I am going to the last sleep. My sister Fanny Meryon knows something; enough to make her miserable; but no names or details. Well!—good-bye. In your company alone have I ever seemed to touch the life that might have been mine. But it is too late. The will in me—the mainspring—is diseased. This is a poor return—but forgive me!—my very dear Richard! Here comes the boat; and there is a splendid sea rising."

* * * * *

There, in a locked drawer, not far from him, lay this letter. Meynell's thought plunged back into the past; into its passionate feeling, its burning pity, its powerless affection. He recalled his young hero-worship for his brilliant kinsman; the hour when he had identified the battered form on the shore of the Donegal Lough; the sight of Alice's young anguish; and all the subsequent effort on his part, for Christ's sake, for Neville's sake, to help and shield a woman and child, effort from which his own soul had learnt so much.

Pure and sacred recollections!—mingled often with the moral or intellectual perplexities that enter into all things human.

Then—at a bound—his thoughts rushed on to the man who, without pity, without shame, had dragged all these sad things, these helpless, irreparable griefs, into the cruel light of a malicious publicity—in the name of Christ—in the name of the Church!

To-morrow! He rose, with a face set like iron, and went back to his table to finish a half-written review.

* * * * *

"Theresa—after eleven—I shall be engaged. See that I am not disturbed."

Theresa murmured assent, but when her father closed the door of her sitting-room, she did not go back immediately to her household accounts. Her good, plain face showed a disturbed mind.

Her father's growing excitability and irritation, and the bad accounts of Maurice, troubled her sorely. It was only that morning Mr. Barron had become aware that Maurice had lost his employment, and was again adrift in the world. Theresa had known it for a week or two, but had not been allowed to tell. And she tried not to remember how often of late her brother had applied to her for money.

Going back to her accounts with a sigh, she missed a necessary receipt and went into the dining-room to look for it. While she was there the front door bell rang and was answered, unheard by her. Thus it fell out that as she came back into the hall she found herself face to face with Richard Meynell.

She stood paralyzed with astonishment. He bowed to her gravely and passed on. Something in his look seemed to her to spell calamity. She went back to her room, and sat there dumb and trembling, dreading what she might see or hear.

Meanwhile Meynell had been ushered into Barron's study by the old butler, who was no less astonished than his mistress.

Barron rose stiffly to meet his visitor. The two men stood opposite each other as the door closed.

Barron spoke first.

"You will, I trust, let me know, Mr. Meynell, without delay to what I owe this unexpected visit. I was of course quite ready to meet your desire for an interview, but your letter gave me no clue—"

"I thought it better not," said Meynell quietly. "May we sit down?"

Barron mechanically waved the speaker to a chair, and sat down himself. Meynell seemed to pause a moment, his eyes on the ground. Then suddenly he raised them.

"Mr. Barron, what I have come to say will be a shock to you. I have discovered the author of the anonymous letters which have now for nearly three months been defiling this parish and diocese."

Barron's sudden movement showed the effect of the words. But he held himself well in hand.

"I congratulate you," he said coldly. "It is what we have all been trying to discover."

"But the discovery will be painful to you. For the author of these letters, Mr. Barron—is—your son Maurice."

At these words, spoken with an indescribable intensity and firmness, Barron sprang from, his seat.

"It was not necessary, I think, sir, to come to my house in order to insult my family and myself! It would have been better to write. And you may be very sure that if you cannot punish your slanderers we can—and will!"

His attitude expressed a quivering fury. Meynell took a packet from his breast-pocket and quietly laid it on the table beside him.

"In this envelope you will find a document—a confession of a piece of wrongdoing on Maurice's part of which I believe you have never been informed. His poor sister concealed it—and paid for it. Do you remember, three years ago, the letting loose of some valuable young horses from Farmer Grange's stables—the hue and cry after them—and the difficulty there was in recapturing them on the Chase?"

Barron stared at the speaker—speechless.

"You remember that a certain young fellow was accused—James Aston—one of my Sunday school teachers—who had proposed to Grange's daughter, and had been sent about his business by the father? Aston was in fact just about to be run in by the police, when a clue came to my hands. I followed it up. Then I found out that the ringleader in the whole affair had been your son Maurice. If you remember, he was then at home, hanging about the village, and he had had a quarrel with Grange—I forget about what. He wrote an anonymous post-card accusing Aston. However, I got on the track; and finally I made him give me a written confession—to protect Aston. Heavy compensation was paid to Grange—by your daughter—and the thing was hushed up. I was always doubtful whether I ought not to have come to you. But it was not long after the death of your wife. I was very sorry for you all—and Maurice pleaded hard. I did not even tell Stephen; but I kept the confession. I came upon it a night or two ago, in the drawer where I had also placed the letter to Dawes which I got from you. Suddenly, the likeness in the handwritings struck me; and I made a very careful comparison."

He opened the packet, and took out the two papers, which he offered to Barron.

"I think, if you will compare the marked passages, you will see at least a striking resemblance."

With a shaking hand Barron refused the papers.

"I have no doubt, sir, you can manufacture any evidence you please!—but I do not intend to follow you through it. Handwriting, as we all know, can be made to prove anything. Reserve your documents for your solicitor. I shall at once instruct mine."

"But I am only at the beginning of my case," said Meynell with the same composure. "I think you had better listen ... A passage in one of the recent letters gave me a hint—an idea. I went straight to East the publican, and taxed him with being the accomplice of the writer. I blustered a little—he thought I had more evidence than I had—and at last I got the whole thing out of him. The first letter was written"—the speaker raised his finger, articulating each word with slow precision, "by your son Maurice, and posted by East, the day after the cage-accident at the Victoria pit; and they have pursued the same division of labour ever since. East confesses he was induced to do it by the wish to revenge himself on me for the attack on his license; and Maurice occasionally gave him a little money. I have all the dates of the letters, and a statement of where they were posted. If necessary, East will give evidence."

A silence. Barron had resumed his seat, and was automatically lifting a small book which lay on a table near him and letting it fall, while Meynell was speaking. When Meynell paused, he said thickly—

"A plausible tale no doubt—and a very convenient one for you. But allow me to point out, it rests entirely on East's word. Very likely he wrote the letters himself, and is attempting to make Maurice the scapegoat."

"Where do you suppose he could have got his information from?" said Meynell, looking up. "There is no suggestion that he saw Judith Sabin before her death."

Barron's face worked, while Meynell watched him implacably. At last he said:

"How should I know? The same question applies to Maurice."

"Not at all. There the case is absolutely clear. Maurice got his information from you."

"A gratuitous statement, sir!—which you cannot prove."

"From you"—repeated Meynell. "And from certain spying operations that he and East undertook together. Do you deny that you told Maurice all that Judith Sabin told you—together with her identification of myself?"

The room seemed to wait for Barron's reply. He made none. He burst out instead—

"What possible motive could Maurice have had for such an action? The thing isn't even plausible!"

"Oh, Maurice had various old scores to settle with me," said Meynell, quietly. "I have come across him more than once in this parish—no need to say how. I tried to prevent him from publicly disgracing himself and you; and I did prevent him. He saw in this business an easy revenge on a sanctimonious parson who had interfered with his pleasures."

Barron had risen and was pacing the room with unsteady steps. Meynell still watched him, with the same glitter in the eye. Meynell's whole nature indeed, at the moment, had gathered itself into one avenging force; he was at once sword and smiter. The man before him seemed to him embodied cruelty and hypocrisy; he felt neither pity nor compunction. And presently he said abruptly—

"But I am afraid I have much more serious matter to lay before you than this business of the letters."

"What do you mean?"

Taking another letter from his pocket, Meynell glanced at it a moment, and then handed it to Barron. Barron was for an instant inclined to refuse it, as he had refused the others. But Meynell insisted.

"Believe me, you had better read it. It is a letter from Mr. Flaxman to myself, and it concerns a grave charge against your son. I bring you a chance of saving him from prosecution; but there is no time to be lost."

Barron took the letter, carried it to the window, and stood reading it. Meynell sat on the other side of the room watching him, still in the same impassive "possessed" state.

Suddenly, Barron put his hand over his face, and a groan he could not repress broke from him. He turned his back and stood bending over the letter.

At the same instant a shiver ran through Meynell, like the return to life of some arrested energy, some paralyzed power. The shock of that sound of suffering had found him iron; it left him flesh. The spiritual habit of a lifetime revived; for "what we do we are."

He rose slowly, and went over to the window.

"You can still save him—from the immediate consequences of this at least—if you will. I have arranged that with Flaxman. It was my seeing him enter the room alone where the coins were, the night of the party, that first led to the idea that he might have taken them. Then, as you see, certain dealers' shops were watched by a private detective. Maurice appeared—sold the Hermes coin—was traced to his lodgings and identified. So far the thing has not gone beyond private inquiry; for the dealer will do what Flaxman wants him to do. But Maurice still has the more famous of the two coins; and if he attempts to sell that, after the notices to the police, there may be an exposure any day. You must go up to London as soon as you can—"

"I will go to-night," said Barron, in a tone scarcely to be heard. He stood with his hands on his sides, staring out upon the wintry garden outside, just as a gardener's boy laden with holly and ivy for the customary Christmas decorations of the house was passing across the lawn.

There was silence a little. Meynell walked slowly up and down the room. At last Barron turned toward him; the very incapacity of the plump and ruddy face for any tragic expression made it the more tragic.

"I propose to write to the Bishop at once. Do you desire a public statement?"

"There must be a public statement," said Meynell gravely. "The thing has gone too far. Flaxman and I have drawn one up. Will you look at it?"

Barron took it, and went to his writing-table.

"Wait a moment!" said Meynell, following him, and laying his hand on the open page. "I don't want you to sign that by force majeure. Dismiss—if you can—any thought of any hold I may have upon you, because of Maurice's misdoing. You and I, Barron, have known each other some years. We were once friends. I ask you—not under any threat—not under any compulsion—to accept my word as an honest man that I am absolutely innocent of the charge you have brought against me."

Barron, who was sitting before his writing-table, buried his face in his hands a moment, then raised it.

"I accept it," he said, almost inaudibly.

"You believe me?"

"I believe you."

Meynell drew a long breath. Then he added, with a first sign of emotion—"And I may also count upon your doing henceforth what you can to protect that poor lady, Miss Puttenham, and her kinsfolk, from the consequences of this long persecution?"

Barron made a sign of assent. Meynell left him to read and sign the public apology and retraction, which Flaxman had mainly drawn up; while the Rector himself took up a Bradshaw lying on the table, and walked to the window to consult it.

"You will catch the 1.40," he said, as Barron rose from the writing-table. "Let me advise you to get him out of the country for a time."

Barron said nothing. He came heavily toward the window, and the two men stood looking at each other, overtaken both of them by a mounting wave of consciousness. The events, passions, emotions of the preceding months pressed into memory, and beat against the silence. But it was Meynell who turned pale.

"What a pity—to spoil the fight!" he said in a low voice. "It would have been splendid—to fight it—fair."

"I shall of course withdraw my name from the Arches suit," said Barron, leaning over a chair, his eyes on the ground.

Meynell did not reply. He took up his hat; only saying as he went toward the door:

"Remember—Flaxman holds his hand entirely. The situation is with you." Then, after a moment's hesitation, he added simply, almost shyly—"God help you! Won't you consult your daughter?"

Barron made no answer. The door opened and shut.



".... but Life ere long Came on me in the public ways and bent Eyes deeper than of old; Death met I too, And saw the dawn glow through."


A mild January day on the terrace of St. Germains. After a morning of hoar-frost the sun was shining brightly on the terrace, and on the panorama it commands. A pleasant light lay on the charming houses that front the skirts of the forest, on the blue-gray windings of the Seine, on the groves of leafless poplars interwoven with its course, on the plain with its thickly sown villages, on the height of Mont Valerien, behind which lay Paris. In spite of the sunshine, however, it was winter, and there was no movement in St. Germains. The terrace and the road leading from it to the town were deserted; and it was easy to see from the aspect of the famous hotel at the corner of the terrace that, although not closed, it despaired of visitors. Only a trio of French officers in the far distance of the terrace, and a white-capped bonne struggling against the light wind with a basket on her arm, offered any sign of life to the observant eyes of a young man who was briskly pacing up and down that section of the terrace which abuts on the hotel.

The young man was Philip Meryon. His dark tweed suit and fur waistcoat disclosed a figure once singularly agile and slender, on which self-indulgence was now beginning to tell. Nevertheless, as the bonne passed him she duly noted and admired his pictorial good looks, opining at the same time that he was not French. Why was he there? She decided in her own mind that he was there for an assignation, by which she meant, of course, a meeting with a married woman; and she smiled the incorrigible French smile.

Assignation or no, she would have seen, had she looked closer, that the young man in question was in no merely beatific or expectant frame of mind. Meryon's look was a look both of excitement—as of one under the influence of some news of a startling kind—and of anxiety.

Would she come? And if she came would he be able to bring and hold her to any decision, without—without doing what even he shrank from doing?

For that ill chance in a thousand which Meynell had foreseen, and hoped, as mortals do, to baffle, had come to pass. That morning, a careless letter enclosing the payment of a debt, and written by a young actor, who had formed part of one of the bohemian parties at the Abbey, during the summer, and had now been playing for a week in the Markborough theatre, had given Meryon the clue to the many vague conjectures or perplexities which had already crossed his mind with regard to Hester's origin and history.

* * * * *

"Your sanctified cousin, Richard Meynell" [wrote the young man] "seems after all to be made of the common clay. There are strange stories going the round about him here; especially in a crop of anonymous letters of which the author can't be found. I send you a local newspaper which has dared to print one of them with dashes for the names. The landlord of the inn told me how to fill them up, and you will see I have done it. The beauteous maiden herself has vanished from the scene—as no doubt you know. Indeed you probably know all about it. However, as you are abroad, and not likely to see these local rags, and as no London paper will print these things, you may perhaps be interested in what I enclose. Alack, my dear Philip, for the saints! They seem not so very different from you and me."

* * * * *

The eagerness with which Philip had read the newspaper cutting enclosed in the letter was only equalled by the eagerness with which afterward he fell to meditating upon it; pursuing and ferreting out the truth, through a maze of personal recollection and inference.

Richard!—nonsense! He laughed, from a full throat. Not for one moment was Philip misled by Judith Sabin's mistake. He was a man of great natural shrewdness, blunted no doubt by riotous living; but there was enough of it left, aided by his recent forced contacts with his cousin Richard all turning on the subject of Hester, to keep him straight. So that without any demur at all he rejected the story as it stood.

But then, what was the fact behind it? Impossible that Judith Sabin's story should be all delusion! For whom did she mistake Richard?

Suddenly, as he sat brooding and smoking, a vision of Hester flashed upon him as she had stood laughing and pouting, beneath the full length picture of Neville Flood, which hung in the big hall of the Abbey. He had pointed it out to her on their way through the house—where she had peremptorily refused to linger—to the old garden behind.

He could hear his own question: "There!—aren't you exactly like him? Turn and look at yourself in the glass opposite. Oh, you needn't be offended! He was the handsome man of his day."

Of course! The truth jumped to the eyes, now that one was put in the way of seeing it. And on this decisive recollection there had followed a rush of others, no less pertinent: things said by his dead mother about the brother whom she had loved and bitterly regretted. So the wronged lady whom he would have married but for his wife's obstinacy was "Aunt Alice!" Philip remembered to have once seen her from a distance in the Upcote woods. Hester had pointed her out, finger on lip, as they stood hiding in a thicket of fern; a pretty woman still. His mother had never mentioned a name; probably she had never known it; but to the love-affair she had always attributed some share in her brother's death.

From point to point he tracked it, the poor secret, till he had run it down. By degrees everything fitted in; he was confident that he had guessed the truth.

Then, abruptly, he turned to look at its bearing on his own designs and fortunes.

He supposed himself to be in love with Hester. At any rate he was violently conscious of that hawk-like instinct of pursuit which he was accustomed to call love. Hester's mad and childish imprudences, which the cooler self in Meryon was quite ready to recognize as such, had made the hawking a singularly easy task so far. Meynell, of course, had put up difficulties; with regard to this Scotch business it had been necessary to lie pretty hard, and to bribe some humble folk in order to get round him. But Hester, by the double fact that she was at once so far removed from the mere ingenue, and so incredibly ready to risk herself, out of sheer ignorance of life, both challenged and tempted the man whom a disastrous fate had brought across her path, to such a point that he had long since lost control of himself, and parted with any scruples of conscience he might possess.

At the same time he was by no means sure of her. He realized his increasing power over her; he also realized the wild, independent streak in her. Some day—any day—the capricious, wilful nature might tire, might change. The prey might escape, and the hawk go empty home. No dallying too long! Let him decide what to risk—and risk it.

Meantime that confounded cousin of his was hard at work, through some very capable lawyers, and unless the instructions he—Philip—had conveyed to the woman in Scotland, who, thank goodness, was no less anxious to be rid of him than he to be rid of her, were very shrewdly and exactly carried out, facts might in the end reach Hester which would give even her recklessness pause. He knew that so far Meynell had been baffled; he knew that he carried about with him evidence that, for the present, could be brought to bear on Hester with effect; but things were by no means safe.

For his own affairs, they were desperate. As he stood there, he was nothing more in fact than the common needy adventurer, possessed, however, of greater daring, and the debris of much greater pretensions, than most such persons. His financial resources were practically at an end, and he had come to look upon a clandestine marriage with Hester as the best means of replenishing them. The Fox-Wilton family passed for rich; and the notion that they must and would be ready to come forward with money, when once the thing was irrevocable, counted for much in the muddy plans of which his mind was full. His own idea was to go to South America—to Buenos Ayres, where money was to be made, and where he had some acquaintance. In that way he would shake off his creditors, and the Scotch woman together; and Meynell would know better than to interfere.

* * * * *

Suddenly a light figure came fluttering round the corner of the road leading to the chateau and the town. Philip turned and went to meet her. And as he approached her he was shaken afresh by the excitement of her presence, in addition to his more sordid preoccupation. Her wild, provocative beauty seemed to light up the whole wintry scene; and the few passers-by, each and all, stopped to stare at her. Hester laughed aloud when she saw Meryon; and with her usual recklessness held up her umbrella for signal. It pleased her that two rapins in large black ties and steeple hats paid her an insolent attention as they passed her; and she stopped to pinch the cheek of a chubby child that had planted itself straight in her path.

"Am I late?" she said, as they met. "I only just caught the train. Oh! I am so hungry! Don't let's talk—let's dejeuner."

Philip laughed.

"Will you dare the hotel?"

And he pointed to the Pavillion Henri Quatre.

"Why not? Probably there won't be a soul."

"There are always Americans."

"Why not, again? Tant mieux! Oh, my hair!"

And she put up her two ungloved hands to try and reduce it to something like order. The loveliness of the young curving form, of the pretty hands, of the golden brown hair, struck full on Meryon's turbid sense.

They turned toward the hotel, and were presently seated in a corner of its glazed gallery, with all the wide, prospect of plain and river spread beneath them. Hester was in the highest spirits, and as she sat waiting for the first plat, chattering, and nibbling at her roll, her black felt hat with its plume of cock feathers falling back from the brilliance of her face, she once more attracted all the attention available; from the two savants who, after a morning in the Chateau, were lunching at a farther table; from an American family of all ages reduced to silence by sheer wonder and contemplation; from the waiters, and, not least, from the hotel dog, wagging his tail mutely at her knee.

Philip felt himself an envied person. He was, indeed, vain of his companion; but certain tyrannical instincts asserted themselves once or twice. When, or if, she became his possession, he would try and moderate some of this chatter and noise.

For the present he occupied himself with playing to her lead, glancing every now and then mentally, with a secret start, at the information he had possessed about her since the morning.

She described to him, with a number of new tricks of gesture caught from her French class-mates, how she had that morning outwitted all her guardians, who supposed that she had gone to Versailles with one of the senior members of the class she was attending at the Conservatoire, a young teacher, "tres sage," with whom she had been allowed once or twice to go to museums and galleries. To accomplish it had required an elaborate series of deceptions, which Hester had carried through, apparently, without a qualm. Except that at the end of her story there was a passing reference to Aunt Alice—"poor darling!"—"who would have a fit if she knew."

Philip, coffee-cup in hand, half smiling, looked at her meantime through his partially closed lids. Richard, indeed! She was Neville all through, the Neville of the picture, except for the colour of the hair, and the soft femininity. And here she sat, prattling—foolish dear!—about "mamma," and "Aunt Alice," and "my tiresome sisters!"

"Certainly you shall not pay for me!—not a sou," said Hester flushing. "I have plenty of money. Take it please, at once." And she pushed her share over the table, with a peremptory gesture.

Meryon took it with a smile and a shrug, and she, throwing away the cigarette she had been defiantly smoking, rose from the table.

"Now then, what shall we do? Oh! no museums! I am being educated to death! Let us go for a walk in the forest; and then I must catch my train, or the world will go mad."

So they walked briskly into the forest, and were soon sufficiently deep among its leaf-strewn paths, to be secure from all observation. Two hours remained of wintry sunlight before they must turn back toward the station.

Hester walked along swinging a small silk bag in which she carried her handkerchief and purse. Suddenly, in a narrow path girt by some tall hollies and withered oaks, she let it fall. Both stooped for it, their hands touched, and as Hester rose she found herself in Meryon's arms.

She made a violent effort to free herself, and when it failed, she stood still and submitted to be kissed, like one who accepts an experience, with a kind of proud patience.

"You think you love me," she said at last, pushing him away. "I wonder whether you do!"

And flushed and panting, she leant against a tree, looking at him with a strange expression, in which melancholy mingled with resentment; passing slowly into something else—that soft and shaken look, that yearning of one longing and yet fearing to be loved, which had struck dismay into Meynell on the afternoon when he had pursued her to the Abbey.

Philip came close to her.

"You think I have no Roddy!" she said, with bitterness. "Don't kiss me again!"

He refrained. But catching her hand, and leaning against the trunk beside her, he poured into her ear protestations and flattery; the ordinary language of such a man at such a moment. Hester listened to it with a kind of eagerness. Sometimes, with a slight frown, as though ear and mind waited, intently, for something that did not come.

"I wonder how many people you have said the same things to before!" she said suddenly, looking searchingly into his face. "What have you got to tell me about that Scotch girl?"

"Richard's Scotch girl?"—he laughed, throwing his handsome head back against the tree—"whom Richard supposes me to have married? Well, I had a great flirtation with her, I admit, two years ago, and it is sometimes rather difficult in Scotland to know whether you are married or no. You know of course that all that's necessary is to declare yourselves man and wife before witnesses? However—perhaps you would like to see a letter from the lady herself on the subject?"

"You had it ready?" she said, doubtfully.

"Well, considering that Richard has been threatening me for months, not only with the loss of you, but with all sorts of pains and penalties besides, I have had to do something! Of course I have done a great deal. This is one of the documents in the case. It is an affidavit really, drawn up by my solicitor and signed by the lady whom Richard supposes to be my injured wife!"

He placed an envelope in her hands.

Hester opened it with a touch of scornful reluctance. It contained a categorical denial and repudiation of the supposed marriage.

"Has Uncle Richard seen it?" she asked coldly, as she gave it back to him.

"Certainly he has, by now." He took another envelope from his pocket. "I won't bother you with anything more—the thing is really too absurd!—but here, if you want it, is a letter from the girl's brother. Brothers are generally supposed to keep a sharp lookout on their sisters, aren't they? Well, this brother declares that Meynell's inquiries have come to nothing, absolutely nothing, in the neighbourhood—except that they have made people very angry. He has got no evidence—simply because there is none to get! I imagine, indeed, that by now he has dropped the whole business. And certainly it is high time he did; or I shall have to be taking action on my own account before long!"

He looked down upon her, as she stood beside him, trying to make out her expression.

"Hester!" he broke out, "don't let's talk about this any more—it's damned nonsense! Let's talk about ourselves. Hester!—darling!—I want to make you happy!—I want to carry you away. Hester, will you marry me at once? As far as the French law is concerned, I have arranged it all. You could come with me to a certain Mairie I know, to-morrow, and we could marry without anybody having a word to say to it; and then, Hester, I'd carry you to Italy! I know a villa on the Riviera—the Italian Riviera—in a little bay all orange and lemon and blue sea. We'd honeymoon there; and when we were tired of honeymooning—though how could any one tire of honeymooning, with you, you darling!—we'd go to South America. I have an opening at Buenos Ayres which promises to make me a rich man. Come with me!—it is the most wonderful country in the world. You would be adored there—you would have every luxury—we'd travel and ride and explore—we'd have a glorious life!"

He had caught her hands again, and stood towering over her, intoxicated with his own tinsel phrases; almost sincere; a splendid physical presence, save for the slight thickening of face and form, the looseness of the lips, the absence of all freshness in the eyes.

But Hester, after a first moment of dreamy excitement, drew herself decidedly away.

"No, no!—I can't be such a wretch—I can't! Mamma and Aunt Alice would break their hearts. I'm a selfish beast, but not quite so bad as that! No, Philip—we can meet and amuse ourselves, can't we?—and get to know each other?—and then if we want to, we can marry—some time."

"That means you don't love me!" he said, fiercely.

"Yes, yes, I do!—or at least I—I like you. And perhaps in time—if you let me alone—if you don't tease me—I—I'll marry you. But let's do it openly. It's amusing to get one's own way, even by lies, up to a certain point. They wouldn't let me see you, or get to know you, and I was determined to know you. So I had to behave like a little cad, or give in. But marrying's different."

He argued with her hotly, pointing out the certainty of Meynell's opposition, exaggerating the legal powers of guardians, declaring vehemently that it was now or never. Hester grew very white as they wandered on through the forest, but she did not yield. Some last scruple of conscience, perhaps—some fluttering fear, possessed her.

So that in the end Philip was pushed to the villainy that even he would have avoided.

Suddenly he turned upon her.

"Hester, you drive me to it! I don't want to—but I can't help it. Hester, you poor little darling!—you don't know what has happened—you don't know what a position you're in. I want to save you from it. I would have done it, God knows, without telling you the truth if I could; but you drive me to it!"

"What on earth do you mean?"

She stopped beside him in a clearing of the forest. The pale afternoon sun, now dropping fast to westward, slipped through the slender oaks, on which the red leaves still danced, touched the girl's hair and shone into her beautiful eyes. She stood there so young, so unconscious; a victim, on the threshold of doom. Philip, who was no more a monster than other men who do monstrous things, felt a sharp stab of compunction; and then, rushed headlong at the crime he had practically resolved on before they met.

He told her in a few agitated words the whole—and the true—story of her birth. He described the return of Judith Sabin to Upcote Minor, and the narrative she had given to Henry Barron, without however a word of Meynell in the case, so far at least as the original events were concerned. For he was convinced that he knew better, and that there was no object in prolonging an absurd misunderstanding. His version of the affair was that Judith in a fit of excitement had revealed Hester's parentage to Henry Barron; that Barron out of enmity toward Meynell, Hester's guardian, and by way of getting a hold upon him, had not kept the matter to himself, but had either written or instigated anonymous letters which had spread such excitement in the neighbourhood that Lady Fox-Wilton had now let her house, and practically left Upcote for good. The story had become the common talk of the Markborough district; and all that Meynell, and "your poor mother," and the Fox-Wilton family could do, was to attempt, on the one hand, to meet the rush of scandal by absence and silence; and on the other to keep the facts from Hester herself as long as possible.

The girl had listened to him with wide, startled eyes. Occasionally a sound broke from her—a gasp—an exclamation—and when he paused, pursued by almost a murderer's sense of guilt, he saw her totter. In an instant he had his arm round her, and for once there was both real passion and real pity in the excited words he poured into her ears.

"Hester, dearest!—don't cry, don't be miserable, my own beautiful Hester! I am a beast to have told you, but it is because I am not only your lover, but your cousin—your own flesh and blood. Trust yourself to me! You'll see! Why should that preaching fellow Meynell interfere? I'll take care of you. You come to me, and we'll show these damned scandal-mongers that what they say is nothing to us—that we don't care a fig for their cant—that we are the masters of our own lives—not they!"

And so on, and so on. The emotion was as near sincerity as he could push it; but it did not fail to occur, at least once, to a mind steeped in third-rate drama, what a "strong" dramatic scene might be drawn from the whole situation.

Hester heard him for a few minutes, in evident stupefaction; then with a recovery of physical equilibrium she again vehemently repulsed him.

"You are mad—you are mad! It is abominable to talk to me like this. What do you mean? 'My poor mother'—who is my mother?"

She faced him tragically, the certainty which was already dawning in her mind—prepared indeed, through years, by all the perplexities and rebellions of her girlhood—betraying itself in her quivering face, and lips. Suddenly, she dropped upon a fallen log beside the path, hiding her face in her hands, struggling again with the sheer faintness of the shock. And Philip, kneeling in the dry leaves beside her, completed his work, with the cruel mercy of the man who kills what he has wounded.

He asked her to look back into her childhood; he reminded her of the many complaints she had made to him of her sense of isolation within her supposed family; of the strange provisions of Sir Ralph's will; of the arrangement which had made her Meynell's ward in a special sense.

"Why, of course, that was so natural! You remember I suggested to you once that Richard probably judged Neville from the same Puritanical standpoint that he judged me? Well, I was a fool to talk like that. I remember now perfectly what my mother used to say. They were of different generations, but they were tremendous friends; and there was only a few years between them. I am certain it was by Neville's wish that Richard became your guardian." He laughed, in some embarrassment. "He couldn't exactly foresee that another member of the family would want to cut in. I love you—I adore you! Let's give all these people the slip. Hester, my pretty, pretty darling—look at me! I'll show you what life means—what love means!"

And doubly tempted by her abasement, her bewildered pain, he tried again to take her in his arms.

But she held him at arm's length.

"If," she said, with pale lips—"if Sir Neville was my father—and Aunt Alsie"—her voice failed her—"were they—were they never married?"

He slowly and reluctantly shook his head.

"Then I'm—I'm—oh! but that's monstrous—that's absurd! I don't believe it!"

She sprang to her feet. Then, as she stood confronting his silence, the whole episode of that bygone September afternoon—the miniature—Aunt Alice's silence and tears—rushed back on memory. She trembled, and the iron entered into her soul.

"Let's go back to the station," she said, resolutely. "It's time."

They walked back through the forest paths, for some time without speaking, she refusing his aid. And all the time swiftly, inexorably, memory and inference were at work, dragging to light the deposit—obscure, or troubling, or contradictory—left in her by the facts and feelings of her childhood and youth.

She had told him with emphasis at luncheon that he was not to be allowed to accompany her home; that she would go back to Paris by herself. But when, at the St. Germains station, Meryon jumped into the empty railway carriage beside her, she said nothing to prevent him. She sat in the darkest corner of the carriage, her arms hanging beside her, her eyes fixed on objects of which she saw nothing. Her pride in herself, her ideal of herself, which is to every young creature like the protective sheath to the flower, was stricken to the core. She thought of Sarah and Lulu, whom she had all her life despised and ridiculed. But they had a right to their name and place in the world!—and she was their nameless inferior, the child taken in out of pity, accepted on sufferance. She thought of the gossip now rushing like a mud-laden stream through every Upcote or Markborough drawing-room. All the persons whom she had snubbed or flouted were concerning themselves maliciously with her and her affairs—were pitying "poor Hester Fox-Wilton."

Her heart seemed to dry and harden within her. The strange thought of her real mother—her suffering, patient, devoted mother—did not move her. It was bound up with all that trampled on and humiliated her.

And, moreover, strange and piteous fact, realized by them both! this sudden sense of fall and degradation had in some mysterious way altered her whole relation to the man who had brought it upon her. His evil power over her had increased. He felt instinctively that he need not in future be so much on his guard. His manner toward her became freer. She had never yet returned him the kisses which, as on this day, she had sometimes allowed him to snatch. But before they reached Paris she had kissed him; she had sought his hands with hers; and she had promised to meet him again.

While these lamentable influences and events were thus sweeping Hester's life toward the abyss, mocking all the sacrifices and the efforts that had been made to save her, the publication of Barron's apology had opened yet another stage in "the Meynell case."

As drafted by Flaxman, it was certainly comprehensive enough. For himself, Meynell would have been content with much less; but in dealing with Barron, he was the avenger of wrongs not his own, both public and private; and when his own first passion of requital had passed away, killed in him by the anguish of his enemy, he still let Flaxman decide for him. And Flaxman, the mildest and most placable of men, showed himself here inexorable, and would allow no softening of terms. So that Barron "unreservedly withdrew" and "publicly apologized" "for those false and calumnious charges, which to my great regret, and on erroneous information, I have been led to bring against the character and conduct of the Rev. Richard Meynell, at various dates, and in various ways, during the six months preceding the date of this apology."

With regard to the anonymous letters—"although they were not written, nor in any way authorized, by me, I now discover to my sorrow that they were written by a member of my family on information derived from me. I apologize for and repudiate the false and slanderous statements these letters contain, and those also included in letters I myself have written to various persons. I agree that a copy of this statement shall be sent to the Bishop of Markborough, and to each parish clergyman in the diocese of Markborough; as also that it shall be published in such newspapers as the solicitors of the Rev. Richard Meynell may determine."

The document appeared first on a Saturday, in all the local papers, and was greedily read and discussed by the crowds that throng into Markborough on market day, who again carried back the news to the villages of the diocese. It was also published on the same day in the Modernist and in the leading religious papers. Its effect on opinion was rapid and profound. The Bishop telegraphed—"Thank God. Come and see me." France fidgeted a whole morning among his papers, began two or three letters to Meynell, and finally decided that he could write nothing adequate that would not also be hypocritical. Dornal wrote a little note that Meynell put away among those records that are the milestones of life. From all the leading Modernists, during January, came a rush of correspondence and congratulations, in all possible notes and tones of indignant triumph; and many leaders on the other side wrote with generous emotion and relief. Only in the extreme camp of the extreme Right there was, of course, silence and chagrin. Compared to the eternal interests of the Church, what does one man's character matter?

The old Bishop of Dunchester, a kind of English Doellinger, the learned leader of a learned party, and ready in the last years of life to risk what would have tasked the nerves and courage of a man in the prime of physical and mental power, wrote:

"MY DEAR RICHARD MEYNELL: Against my better judgment, I was persuaded that you might have been imprudent. I now know that you have only been heroic. Forgive me—forgive us all. Nothing will induce me to preach the sermon of our opening day. And if you will not, who will, or can?"

Rose meanwhile descended upon the Rectory, and with Flaxman's help, though in the teeth of Anne's rather jealous opposition, she carried off Meynell to Maudeley, that she might "help him write his letters," and watch for a week or two over a man wearied and overtaxed. It was by her means also that the reaction in public opinion spread far beyond Meynell himself. It is true that even men and women of good will looked at each other in bewilderment, after the publication of the apology, and asked each other under their breaths—"Then is there no story!—and was Judith Sabin's whole narrative a delusion?" But with whatever might be true in that narrative no public interest was now bound up; and discussion grew first shamefaced, and then dropped. The tendency strengthened indeed to regard the whole matter as the invention of a half-crazy and dying woman, possessed of some grudge against the Fox-Wilton family. Many surmised that some tragic fact lay at the root of the tale, since those concerned had not chosen to bring the slanderer to account. But what had once been mere matter for malicious or idle curiosity was now handled with compunction and good feeling. People began to be very sorry for the Fox-Wiltons, very sorry for "poor Miss Puttenham." Cards were left, and friendly inquiries were made; and amid the general wave of scepticism and regret, the local society showed itself as sentimental, and as futile as usual.

Meanwhile poor Theresa had been seen driving to the station with red eyes; and her father, it was ascertained, had been absent from home since the day before the publication of the apology. It was very commonly guessed that the "member of my family" responsible for the letters was the unsatisfactory younger son; and many persons, especially in Church circles, were secretly sorry for Barron, while everybody possessed of any heart at all was sorry for his elder son Stephen.

Stephen indeed was one of Meynell's chief anxieties during these intermediate hours, when a strong man took a few days' breathing space between the effort that had been, and the effort that was to be. The young man would come over, day by day, with the same crushed, patient look, now bringing news to Meynell which they talked over where none might overhear, and now craving news from Paris in return. As to Stephen's own report, Barron, it seemed, had made all arrangements to send Maurice to a firm of English merchants trading at Riga. The head of the firm was under an old financial obligation to Henry Barron, and Stephen had no doubt that his father had made it heavily worth their while to give his brother this fresh chance of an honest life. There had been, Stephen believed, some terrible scenes between the father and son, and Stephen neither felt nor professed to feel any hope for the future. Barron intended himself to accompany Maurice to Riga and settle him there. Afterward he talked of a journey to the Cape. Meanwhile the White House was shut up, and poor Theresa had come to join Stephen in the little vicarage whence the course of events in the coming year would certainly drive him out.

So much for the news he gave. As to the news he hungered for, Meynell had but crumbs to give him. To neither Stephen nor any one else could Alice Puttenham's letters be disclosed. Meynell's lips were sealed upon her story now as they had ever been; and, however shrewdly he might guess at Stephen's guesses, he said nothing, and Stephen asked nothing on the subject.

As to Hester, he was told that she was well, though often moody and excitable, that she seemed already to have tired of the lessons and occupations she had taken up with such prodigious energy at the beginning of her stay, and that she had made violent friends with a young teacher from the Ecole Normale, a refined, intelligent woman, in every way fit to be her companion, with whom on holidays she sometimes made long excursions out of Paris.

But to Meynell, poor Alice Puttenham poured out all the bitterness of her heart:

"It seems to me that the little hold I had over her, and the small affection she had for me when we arrived here, are both now less than they were. During the last week especially (the letter was dated the fourteenth of January) I have been at my wits' end how to amuse or please her. She resents being watched and managed more than ever. One feels there is a tumult in her soul to which we have no access. Her teachers complain of her temper and her caprice. And yet she dazzles and fascinates as much as ever. I suspect she doesn't sleep—she has a worn look quite unnatural at her age—but it makes her furious to be asked. Sometimes, indeed, she seems to melt toward me; the sombre look passes away, and she is melancholy and soft, with tears in her eyes now and then, which I dare not notice.

"Oh, my dear friend, I am grateful for all you tell me of the changed situation at Markborough. But after all the thing is done—there can be no undoing it. The lies mingled with the truth have been put down. Perhaps people are ready now to let the truth itself slip back with the lies into the darkness. But how can we—Edith and I—and Hester—ever live the old life again? The old shelter, the old peace, are gone. We are wanderers and pilgrims henceforward!

"As far as I know, Hester is still in complete ignorance of all that has happened. I have told her that Edith finds Tours so economical that she prefers to stay abroad for a couple of years, and to let the Upcote house. And I have said also that when she herself is tired of Paris, I am ready to take her to Germany, and then to Italy. She laughed, as though I had said something ridiculous! One never knows her real mind. But at least I see no sign of any suspicion in her; and I am sure that she has seen no English newspaper that could have given her a clue. As to Philip Meryon, as I have told you before, I often feel a vague uneasiness; but watch as I will, I can find nothing to justify it. Oh! Richard, my heart is broken for her. A little love from her, and the whole world would change for me. But even what I once possessed these last few months seem to have taken from me!"

"The thing is done!—there can be no undoing it." That was the sore burden of all Meynell's thoughts, awakening in him, at times, the "bitter craving to strike heavy blows" at he knew not what. What, indeed, could ever undo the indecency, the cruelty, the ugly revelations of these three months? The grossness of the common public, the weakness of friends, the solemn follies to which men are driven by hate or bigotry: these things might well have roused the angry laughter that lives in all quick and honest souls. But the satiric mood, when it appeared, soon vanished. He remembered the saying of Meredith concerning the spectacle of Bossuet over the dead body of Moliere—"at which the dark angels may, but men do not, laugh."

This bitterness might have festered within him, but for the blessedness of Mary Elsmere's letters. She had seen the apology; she knew nothing of its causes. But she betrayed a joy that was almost too proud to know itself as joy; since what doubt could there ever have been but that right and nobleness would prevail? Catharine wrote the warmest and kindest of letters. But Mary's every word was balm, just because she knew nothing, and wrote out of the fulness of her mere faith in him, ready to let her trust take any shape he would. And though she knew nothing, she seemed by some divine instinct to understand also the pain that overshadowed the triumph; to be ready to sit silent with him before the irreparable. Day by day, as he read these letters, his heart burned within him; and Rose noted the growing restlessness. But he had heavy arrears of parish business upon him, of correspondence, of literary work. He struggled on, the powers of mind and body flagging, till one night, when he had been nearly a week at Maudeley, Rose came to him one evening, and said with a smile that had in it just a touch of sweet mockery—

"My dear friend, you are doing no good here at all! Go and see Mary!"

He turned upon her, amazed.

"She has not sent for me."

Rose laughed out.

"Did you expect her to be as modern as that?"

He murmured—

"I have been waiting for a word."

"What right had you to wait? Go and get it out of her! Where will you stay?"

He gasped.

"There is the farm at the head of the valley."

"Telegraph to-night."

He thought a little—the colour flooding into his face. And then he quietly went to Rose's writing-table, and wrote his telegram.


But before he took the midday train from Markborough to the North, on the following day, Meynell spent half an hour with his Bishop in the episcopal library.

It was a strange meeting. When Bishop Craye first caught sight of the entering figure, he hurried forward, and as the door closed upon the footman, he seized Meynell's hand in both his own.

"I see what you have gone through," he said, with emotion; "and you would not let me help you!"

Meynell smiled faintly.

"I knew you wished to help me—but—"

Then his voice dropped, and the Bishop would not have pressed him for the world. They fell upon the anonymous letters, a comparatively safe topic, and the relation of Barron to them. Naturally Meynell gave the Bishop no hint whatever of the graver matter which had finally compelled Barron's surrender. He described his comparison of the Dawes letters with "a document in the young man's handwriting which I happened to have in my possession," and the gradual but certain conviction it had brought about.

"I was extraordinarily blind, however, not to find the clue earlier."

"It is not only you, my dear Meynell, that need regret it!" cried the Bishop. "I hope you have sometimes given a thought to the men on our side compelled to see the fight waged—"

"With such a weapon? I knew very well that no one under your influence, my lord, would touch it," said Meynell simply.

The Bishop observed him, and with an inner sympathy, one might almost say a profound and affectionate admiration, which contrasted curiously with the public position in which they stood to each other. It was now very generally recognized, and especially in Markborough and its diocese, that Meynell had borne himself with extraordinary dignity and patience under the ordeal through which he had passed. And the Bishop—whose guess had so nearly hit the truth, who had been persuaded that in the whole matter Meynell was but the victim of some trust, some duty, which honour and conscience would not let him betray in order to save himself—the Bishop was but the more poignantly of this opinion now that he had the man before him. The weeks of suffering, the long storm of detraction, had left their mark; and it was not a light one. The high-hearted little Bishop felt himself in some way guilty, obscurely and representatively, if not directly.

Yet, at the same time, when the personal matter dropped away, and they passed, as they soon did, to a perfectly calm discussion of the action in the Court of Arches which was to begin within a week, nothing could be clearer or more irrevocable than the differences, ecclesiastical and intellectual, which divided these two men, who in matters of personal feeling were so sensitively responsive the one to the other.

Meynell dwelt on the points of law raised in the pleadings, on the bearing of previous cases—the Essays and Reviews case above all—upon the suit. The antecedents of the counsel employed on both sides, the idiosyncrasies of the judge, the probable length of the trial; their talk ranged round these matters, without ever striking deeper. It was assumed between them that the expulsion of the Modernist clergy was only a question of months—possibly weeks. Once indeed Meynell referred slightly to the agitation in the country, to the growing snowball of the petition to Parliament, to the now certain introduction of a Bill "To promote an amended constitution for the Church of England." The Bishop's eyebrows went up, his lip twitched. It was the scorn of a spiritual aristocracy threatened by the populace.

But in general they talked with extraordinary frankness and mutual good feeling; and they grasped hands more than cordially at the end. They might have been two generals, meeting before a battle, under the white flag.

* * * * *

Still the same mild January weather; with unseasonable shoots putting forth, and forebodings on the part of all garden-lovers, as fresh and resentful as though such forebodings, with their fulfilments, were not the natural portion of all English gardeners.

In the Westmoreland dales, the month was rainier than elsewhere, but if possible, milder. Yellow buds were already foolishly breaking on the gorse, and weak primroses, as though afraid to venture, and yet venturing, were to be found in the depths of many woods.

Meynell had slept at Whindale. In the morning a trap conveyed him and his bag to the farmhouse at the head of the valley; and the winter sun had only just scattered the mists from the dale when, stick in hand, he found himself on the road to Mrs. Elsmere's little house, Burwood.

With every step his jaded spirits rose. He was a passionate lover of mountains, with that modern spirit which finds in them man's best refuge from modernness. The damp fragrance of the mossy banks and bare hedges; the racing freshness of the stream, and the little eddies of foam blown from it by the wind; the small gray sheep in the fields; the crags overhead dyed deep in withered heather; the stone farmhouses with their touch of cheerful white on door and window; all the exquisite detail of grass, and twig and stone; and overhead the slowly passing clouds in the wide sweep of the dale—these things to him were spiritual revival, they dressed and prepared him for that great hour to which dimly, yet through all his pulses, he felt he was going.

The little house sent up a straight column of blue smoke into the quiet air. Its upper windows were open; the sun was on its lichened porch, and on the silver stem of the birch tree which rose from the mossy grass beside it.

He did not need to knock. Mary was in the open doorway, her face all light and rose colour; and in the shadows of the passage behind her stood Catharine. When with the touch of Mary's hand still warm in his, Meynell turned to greet her mother, he was seized, even through the quiet emotion which held them all, by an impression of change. Some energy of physical life had faded from the worn nobility of Catharine's face, instead a "grave heavenliness" which disquieted the spectator, beautiful as it was.

But the momentary shock was lost in the quiet warmth of her greeting.

"You are going to take her for a walk?" she asked wistfully, as Mary left them alone in the little sitting-room.

"You allow it?" said Meynell, hardly knowing what he said, and still retaining her hand.

Catharine smiled.

"Mary is her own mistress." Then she added, with a deep, involuntary sigh: "Whatever she says to you, she knows she has her mother's blessing."

Meynell stooped and kissed her hand.

A few minutes later, he and Mary had taken the road along the dale.

Catharine stood under the little porch to look after them. Mingled sweetness and bitterness filled her mind. She pictured to herself for an instant what it would have been if she had been giving Mary to a Christian pastor of the stamp of her own father, "sound in the faith," a "believer," entering upon what had always seemed to her from her childhood the ideal and exalted life of the Christian ministry. As things were, in a few weeks, Richard Meynell would be an exile and a wanderer, chief among a regiment of banished men, driven out by force from the National Church; without any of the dignity—that dignity which had been her husband's—of voluntary renunciation. And Mary would become his wife only to share in his rebellion, his defiance, and his exile.

She crossed her hands tightly upon her breast as though she were imprinting these sad facts upon her consciousness, learning to face them, to bear them with patience. And yet—in some surprising way—they did not hurt her as sharply as they would once have done. Trembling—almost in terror—she asked herself whether her own faith was weakening. And amid the intensity of aspiration and love with which her mind threw itself on the doubt, she turned back, tottering a little, to her chair by the fire. She was glad to be alone, passionately as she loved her Mary. And as she sat now following Meynell and Mary in thought along the valley, and now listening vaguely to the murmur of the fire or the stream outside, there came upon her a first gentle premonition—as though a whisper, from far away—of the solitude of death.

Lines from the Christian Year, the book on which her girlhood had been nourished, stole into her mind:

Why should we faint and fear to live alone, Since all alone, so Heaven has willed, we die?

Never had sunshine seemed to Meynell so life-giving as this pale wintry warmth. The soft sound of Mary's dress beside him; the eyes she turned upon him when she spoke, so frank and sweet, yet for her lover, so full of mystery; the lines of her young form, compact of health and grace; the sound of her voice, the turn of her head—everything about her filled him with a tumult of feeling not altogether blissful, though joy was uppermost. For now that the great moment was come, now that he trembled on the verge of a happiness he had every reason to think was his, he was a prey to many strange qualms and tremors. In the first place he was suddenly and sorely conscious of his age! Forty-four to her twenty-six! Was it fitting?—was it right? And more than that! Beside her freshness, her springing youth, he realized his own jaded spirit, almost with a sense of guilt. These six months of strenuous battle and leadership, these new responsibilities, and the fierce call which had been made on every gift and power, ending in the dumb, proud struggle, the growing humiliation of the preceding weeks, had left him ripened indeed, magnified indeed, as a personality; but it was as though down the shadowed vista of life he saw his youth, as "Another self," a Doppelgaenger, disappearing forever.

While she!—before her were all the years of glamour, of happy instinctive action, when a man or woman is worth just what they dream, when dream and act flow together. Could he give her anything worth her having in exchange for this sheer youth of hers? He saw before him a long and dusty struggle; the dust of it choking, often, the purest sources of feeling. Cares about money; cares about health; the certain enmity of many good men; the bitterness that waits on all controversial success or failure: all these there must be—he could not shield her from them.

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