"Now, do you not understand what I mean when I say that the hymns of Prudentius are an anticipation of the form of the English ballad?... And in the fifth hymn the story of St Vincent is given with that peculiar dramatic terseness that you find nowhere except in the English ballad. But the most beautiful poem of all is certainly the fourteenth and last hymn. In a hundred and thirty-three hendecasyllabic verses the story of a young virgin condemned to a house of ill-fame is sung with exquisite sense of grace and melody. She is exposed naked at the corner of a street. The crowd piously turns away; only one young man looks upon her with lust in his heart. He is instantly struck blind by lightning, but at the request of the virgin his sight is restored to him. Then follows the account of how she suffered martyrdom by the sword—a martyrdom which the girl salutes with a transport of joy. The poet describes her ascending to Heaven, and casting one last look upon this miserable earth, whose miseries seem without end, and whose joys are of such short duration.
"Then his great poem 'Psychomachia' is the first example in mediaeval literature of allegorical poetry, the most Christian of all forms of art.
"Faith, her shoulders bare, her hair free, advances, eager for the fight. The 'cult of the ancient gods,' with forehead chapleted after the fashion of the pagan priests, dares to attack her, and is overthrown. The legion of martyrs that Faith has called together cry in triumphant unison.... Modesty (Pudicitia), a young virgin with brilliant arms, is attacked by 'the most horrible of the Furies' (Sodomita Libido), who, with a torch burning with pitch and sulphur, seeks to strike her eyes, but Modesty disarms him and pierces him with her sword. 'Since the Virgin without stain gave birth to the Man-God, Lust is without rights in the world.' Patience watches the fight; she is presently attacked by Anger, first with violent words, and then with darts, which fall harmlessly from her armour. Accompanied by Job, Patience retires triumphant. But at that moment, mounted on a wild and unbridled steed, and covered with a lionskin, Pride (Superbia), her hair built up like a tower, menaces Humility (Mens humilis). Under the banner of Humility are ranged Justice, Frugality, Modesty, pale of face, and likewise Simplicity. Pride mocks at this miserable army, and would crush it under the feet of her steed. But she falls in a ditch dug by Fraud. Humility hesitates to take advantage of her victory; but Hope draws her sword, cuts off the head of the enemy, and flies away on golden wings to Heaven.
"Then Lust (Luxuria), the new enemy, appears. She comes from the extreme East, this wild dancer, with odorous hair, provocative glance and effeminate voice; she stands in a magnificent chariot drawn by four horses; she scatters violet and rose leaves; they are her weapons; their insidious perfumes destroy courage and will, and the army, headed by the virtues, speaks of surrender. But suddenly Sobriety (Sobrietas) lifts the standard of the Cross towards the sky. Lust falls from her chariot, and Sobriety fells her with a stone. Then all her saturnalian army is scattered. Love casts away his quiver. Pomp strips herself of her garments, and Voluptuousness (Voluptas) fears not to tread upon thorns, &c. But Avarice disguises herself in the mask of Economy, and succeeds in deceiving all hearts until she is overthrown finally by Mercy (Operatica). All sorts of things happen, but eventually the poem winds up with a prayer to Christ, in which we learn that the soul shall fall again and again in the battle, and that this shall continue until the coming of Christ."
"'Tis very curious, very curious indeed. I know nothing of this literature."
"Very few do."
"And you have, I suppose, translated some of these poems?"
"I give a complete translation of the second hymn, the story of St Laurence, and I give long extracts from the poem we have been speaking about, and likewise from 'Hamartigenia,' which, by the way, some consider as his greatest work. And I show more completely, I think, than any other commentator, the analogy between it and the 'Divine Comedy,' and how much Dante owed to it.... Then the 'terza rima' was undoubtedly borrowed from the fourth hymn of the 'Cathemerinon.'"...
"You said, I think, that Prudentius was a contemporary of Claudian. Which do you think the greater poet?"
"Prudentius by far. Claudian's Latin was no doubt purer and his verse was better, that is to say, from the classical standpoint it was more correct."
"Is there any other standpoint?"
"Of course. There is pagan Latin and Christian Latin: Burns' poems are beautiful, and they are not written in Southern English; Chaucer's verse is exquisitely melodious, although it will not scan to modern pronunciation. In the earliest Christian poetry there is a tendency to write by accent rather than by quantity, but that does not say that the hymns have not a quaint Gothic music of their own. This is very noticeable in Sedulius, a poet of the fifth century. His hymn to Christ is not only full of assonance, but of all kinds of rhyme and even double rhymes. We find the same thing in Sedonius, and likewise in Fortunatus—a gay prelate, the morality of whose life is, I am afraid, open to doubt...
"He had all the qualities of a great poet, but he wasted his genius writing love verses to Radegonde. The story is a curious one. Radegonde was the daughter of the King of Thuringia; she was made prisoner by Clotaire I., son of Clovis, who forced her to become his wife. On the murder of her father by her husband, she fled and founded a convent at Poictiers. There she met Fortunatus, who, it appears, loved her. It is of course humanly possible that their love was not a guilty one, but it is certain that the poet wasted the greater part of his life writing verses to her and her adopted daughter Agnes. In a beautiful poem in praise of virginity, composed in honour of Agnes, he speaks in a very disgusting way of the love with which nuns regard our Redeemer, and the recompence that awaits them in Heaven for their chastity. If it had not been for the great interest attaching to his verse as an example of the radical alteration that had been effected in the language, I do not think I should have spoken of this poet. Up to his time rhyme had slipped only occasionally into the verse, it had been noticed and had been allowed to remain by poets too idle to remove it, a strange something not quite understood, and yet not a wholly unwelcome intruder; but in St Fortunatus we find for the first time rhyme cognate with the metre, and used with certainty and brilliancy. In the opening lines of the hymn, 'Vexilla Regis,' rhyme is used with superb effect....
"But for signs of the approaching dissolution of the language, of its absorption by the national idiom, we must turn to St Gregory of Tours. He was a man of defective education, and the lingua rustica of France as it was spoken by the people makes itself felt throughout his writings. His use of iscere for escere, of the accusative for the ablative, one of St Gregory's favourite forms of speech, pro or quod for quoniam, conformable to old French porceque, so common for parceque. And while national idiom was oozing through grammatical construction, national forms of verse were replacing the classical metres which, so far as syllables were concerned, had hitherto been adhered to. As we advance into the sixth and seventh centuries, we find English monks attempting to reproduce the characteristics of Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse in Latin; and at the Court of Charlemagne we find an Irish monk writing Latin verse in a long trochaic line, which is native in Irish poetry.
"Poets were plentiful at the court of Charlemagne. Now, Angilbert was a poet of exquisite grace, and surprisingly modern is his music, which is indeed a wonderful anticipation of the lilt of Edgar Poe. I compare it to Poe. Just listen:—
"'Surge meo Domno dulces fac, fistula versus: David amat versus, surge et fac fistula versus. David amat vates, vatorum est gloria David Qua propter vates cuncti concurrite in unum Atque meo David dulces cantate camoenas. David amat vates, vatorum est gloria David. Dulcis amor David inspirat corda canentum, Cordibus in nostris faciat amor ipsius odas: Vates Homerus amat David, fac, fistula, versus. David amat vates, vatorum est gloria David.'"
"I should have flogged that monk—'ipsius,' oh, oh!—'vatorum.'... It really is too terrible."
John laughed, and was about to reply, when the clanging of the college bell was heard.
"I am afraid that is dinner-time."
"Afraid, I am delighted; you don't suppose that every one can live, chameleon-like, on air, or worse still, on false quantities. Ha, ha, ha! And those pictures too. That snow is more violet than white."
When dinner was over, John and Mr Hare walked out on the terrace. The carriage waited in the wet in front of the great oak portal; the grey, stormy evening descended on the high roofs, smearing the red out of the walls and buttresses, and melancholy and tall the red college seemed amid its dwarf plantation, now filled with night wind and drifting leaves. Shadow and mist had floated out of the shallows above the crests of the valley, and the lamps of the farm-houses gleamed into a pale existence.
"And now tell me what I am to say to your mother. Will you come home for Christmas?"
"I suppose I must. I suppose it would seem so unkind if I didn't. I cannot account even to myself for my dislike to the place. I cannot think of it without a revulsion of feeling that is strangely personal."
"I won't argue that point with you, but I think you ought to come home."
"Why? Why ought I to come to Sussex, and marry my neighbour's daughter?"
"There is no reason that you should marry your neighbour's daughter, but I take it that you do not propose to pass your life here."
"For the present I am concerned mainly with the problem of how I may make advances, how I may meet life, as it were, half-way; for if possible I would not quite lose touch of the world. I would love to live in its shadow, a spectator whose duty it is to watch and encourage, and pity the hurrying throng on the stage. The church would approve this attitude, whereas hate and loathing of humanity are not to be justified. But I can do nothing to hurry the state of feeling I desire, except of course to pray. I have passed through some terrible moments of despair and gloom, but these are now wearing themselves away, and I am feeling more at rest."
Then, as if from a sudden fear of ridicule, John said, laughing: "Besides, looking at the question from a purely practical side, it must be hardly wise for me to return to society for the present. I like neither fox-hunting, marriage, Robert Louis Stevenson's stories, nor Sir Frederick Leighton's pictures; I prefer monkish Latin to Virgil, and I adore Degas, Monet, Manet, and Renoir, and since this is so, and alas, I am afraid irrevocably so, do you not think that I should do well to keep outside a world in which I should be the only wrong and vicious being? Why spoil that charming thing called society by my unlovely presence?
"Selfishness! I know what you are going to say—here is my answer. I assure you I administer to the best of my ability the fortune God gave me—I spare myself no trouble. I know the financial position of every farmer on my estate, the property does not owe fifty pounds;—I keep the tenants up to the mark; I do not approve of waste and idleness, but when a little help is wanted I am ready to give it. And then, well, I don't mind telling you, but it must not go any further. I have made a will leaving something to all my tenants; I give away a fixed amount in charity yearly."
"I know, my dear John, I know your life is not a dissolute one; but your mother is very anxious, remember you are the last. Is there no chance of your ever marrying?"
"I don't think I could live with a woman; there is something very degrading, something very gross in such relations. There is a better and a purer life to lead ... an inner life, coloured and permeated with feelings and tones that are, oh, how intensely our own, and he who may have this life, shrinks from any adventitious presence that might jar or destroy it. To keep oneself unspotted, to feel conscious of no sense of stain, to know, yes, to hear the heart repeat that this self—hands, face, mouth and skin—is free from all befouling touch, is all one's own. I have always been strongly attracted to the colour white, and I can so well and so acutely understand the legend that tells that the ermine dies of gentle loathing of its own self, should a stain come upon its immaculate fur.... I should not say a legend, for that implies that the story is untrue, and it is not untrue—so beautiful a thought could not be untrue."
[Footnote 1: Qui Romam regis.]
"Urns on corner walls, pilasters, circular windows, flowerage and loggia. What horrible taste, and quite out of keeping with the landscape!" He rang the bell.
"How do you do, Master John!" cried the tottering old butler who had known him since babyhood. "Very glad, indeed, we all are to see you home again, sir!"
Neither the appellation of Master John, nor the sight of the four paintings, Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter, which decorated the walls of the passage, found favour with John, and the effusiveness of Mrs Norton, who rushed out of the drawing-room, followed by Kitty, and embraced her son, at once set on edge all his curious antipathies. Why this kissing, this approachment of flesh? Of course she was his mother.... Then this smiling girl in the background! He would have to amuse her and talk to her; what infinite boredom it would be! He trusted fervently that her visit would not be a long one.
Then through what seemed to him the pollution of triumph, he was led into the library; and he noticed, notwithstanding the presiding busts of Shakespeare and Milton, that there was but one wretched stand full of books in the room, and that in the gloom of a far corner. His mother sat down, and there was a resoluteness in her look and attitude that seemed to proclaim, "Now I hold you captive;" but she said:
"I was very much alarmed, my dear John, about your not sleeping. Mr Hare told me you said that you went two and three nights without closing your eyes, and that you had to have recourse to sleeping draughts."
"Not at all, mother, I never took a sleeping draught but twice in my life."
"Well, you don't sleep well, and I am sure it is those college beds. But you will be far more comfortable here. You are in the best bedroom in the house, the one in front of the staircase, the bridal chamber; and I have selected the largest and softest feather-bed in the house."
"My dear mother, if there is one thing more than another I dislike, it is a feather-bed. I should not be able to close my eyes; I beg of you to have it taken away."
Mrs Norton's face flushed. "I cannot understand, John; it is absurd to say that you cannot sleep on a feather-bed. Mr Hare told me you complained of insomnia, and there is no surer way of losing your health. It is owing to the hardness of those college mattresses, whereas in a feather-bed—"
"There is no use in our arguing that point, mother, I say I cannot sleep on a feather-bed...."
"But you have not tried one; I don't believe you ever slept on a feather-bed in your life."
"Well, I am not going to begin now."
"We haven't another bed aired in the house, and it is really too late to ask the servants to change your room."
"Well, then, I shall be obliged to sleep at the hotel in Henfield."
"You should not speak to your mother in that way; I will not have it."
"There! you see we are quarrelling already; I did wrong to come home."
"I am speaking to you for your own good, my dear John, and I think it is very stubborn of you to refuse to sleep on a feather-bed; if you don't like it, you can change it to-morrow."
The conversation fell, and in silence the speakers strove to master their irritation. Then John, for politeness' sake, spoke of when he had last seen Kitty. It was about five years ago. She had ridden her pony over to see them.
Mrs Norton talked of some people who had left the county, of a marriage, of an engagement, of a mooted engagement; and she jerked in a suggestion that if John were to apply at once, he would be placed on the list of deputy-lieutenants. Enumeration of the family influence—Lord So-and-so, the cousin, was the Lord Lieutenant's most intimate friend.
"You are not even a J.P., but there will be no difficulty about that; and you have not seen any of the county people for years. We will have the carriage out some day this week, and we'll pay a round of visits."
"We'll do nothing of the kind. I have no time for visiting; I must get on with my book. I hope to finish my study of St Augustine before I leave here. I have my books to unpack, and a great deal of reading to get through. I have done no more than glance at the Anglo-Latin. Literature died in France with Gregory of Tours at the end of the sixth century; with St Gregory the Great, in Italy, at the commencement of the seventh century; in Spain about the same time. And then the Anglo-Saxons became the representatives of the universal literature. All this is most important. I must re-read St Aldhelm and the Venerable Bede.... Now, I ask, do you expect me—me, with my head full of Aldhelm's alliterative verses—
"'Turbo terram teretibus Quae catervatim coelitus Neque coelorum culmina ...... ...... Grassabatur turbinibus Crebrantur nigris nubibus Carent nocturna nebula—'
"a letter descriptive of a great storm which he was caught in as he was returning home one night...."
"Now, sir, we have had quite enough of that, and I would advise you not to go on with any of that nonsense here; you will be turned into dreadful ridicule."
"That's just why I wish to avoid them ... but you have no pity for me. Just fancy my having to listen to them! How I have suffered.... What is the use of growing wheat when we are only getting eight pounds ten a load?... But we must grow something, and there is nothing else but wheat. We must procure a certain amount of straw, or we'd have no manure, and you can't work a farm without manure. I don't believe in the fish manure. But there is market gardening, and if we kept shops in Brighton, we could grow our own stuff and sell it at retail price.... And then there is a great deal to be done with flowers."
"Now, sir, that will do, that will do.... How dare you speak to me so! I will not allow it." And then relapsing into an angry silence, Mrs Norton drew her shawl about her shoulders.
One of a thousand quarrels. The basis of each nature was common sense—shrewd common sense—but such similarity of structure is in itself apt to lead to much violent shocking of opinion; and to this end an adjuvant was found in the dose of fantasy, mysticism, idealism which was inherent in John's character. "Why is he not like other people? Why will he waste his time with a lot of rubbishy Latin authors? Why will he not take up his position in the county?" Mrs Norton asked herself these questions as she fumed on the sofa.
"I wonder why she will continue to try to impose her will upon mine. I wonder why she has not found out by this time the uselessness of her effort. But no; she still keeps on hoping at last to wear me down. She wants me to live the life she has marked out for me to live—to take up my position in the county, and, above all, to marry and give an heir to the property. I see it all; that is why she wanted me to spend Christmas with her; that is why she has Kitty Hare here to meet me. How cunning, how mean women are: a man would not do that. Had I known it.... I have a mind to leave to-morrow. I wonder if the girl is in the little conspiracy." And turning his head he looked at her.
Tall and slight, a grey dress, pale as the wet sky, fell from her waist outward in the manner of a child's frock, and there was a lightness, there was brightness in the clear eyes. The intense youth of her heart was evanescent; it seemed constantly rising upwards like the breath of a spring morning—a morning when the birds are trilling. The face sharpened to a tiny chin, and the face was pale, although there was bloom on the cheeks. The forehead was shadowed by a sparkling cloud of brown hair, the nose was straight, and each little nostril was pink tinted. The ears were like shells. There was a rigidity in her attitude. She laughed abruptly, perhaps a little nervously, and the abrupt laugh revealed the line of tiny white teeth. Thin arms fell straight to the translucent hands, and there was a recollection of puritan England in look and in gesture.
Her picturesqueness calmed John's ebullient discontent; he decided that she knew nothing of, and was not an accomplice in, his mother's scheme: For the sake of his guest he strove to make himself agreeable during dinner, but it was clear that he missed the hierarchy of the college table. The conversation fell repeatedly. Mrs Norton and Kitty spoke of making syrup for the bees; and their discussion of the illness of poor Dr ——, who would no longer be able to get through the work of the parish single-handed, and would require a curate, was continued till the ladies rose from table. Nor did matters mend in the library. John's thoughts went back to his book; the room seemed to him intolerably uncomfortable and ugly. He went to the billiard-room to smoke a cigar. It was not clear to him if he would be able to spend two months in this odious place. He might offer them to God as penance for his sins; if every evening passed like the present, it were a modern martyrdom. But had they removed that horrid feather-bed? He went upstairs. The feather-bed had been removed.
The room was large and ample, and it was draped with many curtains—pale curtains covered with walking birds and falling petals, a sort of Indian pattern. There was a sofa at the foot of the bed, and the toilette-table hung out its skirts in the wavering light of the fire. John tossed to and fro staring at the birds and petals. He thought of his ascetic college bed, of the great Christ upon the wall, of the prie-dieu with the great rosary hanging, but in vain; he could not rid his mind of the distasteful feminine influences which had filled the day, and which now haunted the night.
After breakfast next morning Mrs Norton stopped John as he was going upstairs to unpack his books. "Now," she said, "you must go out for a walk with Kitty Hare, and I hope you will make yourself agreeable. I want you to see the new greenhouse I have put up; she'll show it to you. And I told the bailiff to meet you in the yard. I thought you might like to see him."
"I wish, mother, you would not interfere in my business; had I wanted to see Burnes I should have sent for him."
"If you don't want to see him, he wants to see you. There are some cottages on the farm that must be put into repair at once. As for interfering in your business, I don't know how you can talk like that; were it not for me the whole place would be falling to pieces."
"Quite true; I know you save me a great deal of expense; but really ..."
"Really what? You won't go out to walk with Kitty Hare?"
"I did not say I wouldn't, but I must say that I am very busy just now. I had thought of doing a little reading, for I have an appointment with my solicitor in the afternoon."
"That man charges you L200 a-year for collecting the rents; now, if you were to do it yourself, you would save the money, and it would give you something to do."
"Something to do! I have too much to do as it is.... But if I am going out with Kitty.... Where is she?"
"I saw her go into the library a moment ago."
And as it was preferable to go for a walk with Kitty than to continue the interview with his mother, John seized his hat and called Kitty, Kitty, Kitty! Presently she appeared, and they walked towards the garden, talking. She told him she had been at Thornby Place the whole time the greenhouse was being built, and when they opened the door they were greeted by Sammy. He sprang instantly on her shoulder.
"This is my cat," she said. "I've fed him since he was a little kitten; isn't he sweet?"
The girl was beautiful on the brilliant flower background; she stroked the great caressing creature, and when she put him down he mewed reproachfully. Further on her two tame rooks cawed joyously, and alighted on her shoulder.
"I wonder they don't fly away, and join the others in the trees."
"One did go away, and he came back nearly dead with hunger. But he is all right now, aren't you, dear?" And the bird cawed, and rubbed its black head against its mistress' cheek. "Poor little things, they fell out of the nest before they could fly, and I brought them up. But you don't care for pets, do you, John?"
"I don't like birds!"
"Don't like birds! Why, that seems as strange as if you said that you didn't like flowers."
"Mrs Norton told me, sir, that you would like to speak to me about them cottages on the Erringham Farm," said the bailiff.
"Yes, yes, I must go over and see them to-morrow morning at ten o'clock. I intend to go thoroughly into everything. How are they getting on with the cottages that were burnt down?"
"Rather slow, sir, the weather is so bad."
"But talking of fire, Burnes, I find that I can insure at a much cheaper rate at Lloyds' than at most of the offices. I find that I shall make a saving of L20 a-year."
"That's worth thinking about, sir."
While the young squire talked to his bailiff Kitty fed her rooks. They cawed, and flew to her hand for the scraps of meat. The coachman came to speak about oats and straw. They went to the stables. Kitty adored horses, it amused John to see her pat them, and her vivacity and light-heartedness rather pleased him than otherwise.
Nevertheless, during the whole of the following week the ladies held little communication with John. He lived apart from them. In the mornings he went out with his bailiffs to inspect farms and consult about possible improvement and necessary repairs. He had appointments with his solicitor. There were accounts to be gone through. He never paid a bill without verifying every item. It was difficult to say what should be done with a farm for which a tenant could not be found even at a reduced rent. At four o'clock he came into tea, his head full of calculations of such a complex character that even his mother could not follow the different statements to his satisfaction. When she disagreed with him, he took up the "Epistles of St Columban of Bangor," the "Epistola ad Sethum," or the celebrated poem, "Epistola ad Fedolium," written when the saint was seventy-two, and continued his reading, making copious notes in a pocket-book. To do so he drew his chair close to the library fire, and when Kitty came quickly into the room with a flutter of skirts and a sound of laughter, he awoke from contemplation, and her singing as she ascended the stairs jarred the dreams of cloister and choir which mounted from the pages to his brain in clear and intoxicating rhapsody.
On the third of November Mrs Norton announced that the meet of the hounds had been fixed for the fifteenth, and that there would be a hunt breakfast.
"Oh, my dear mother! you don't mean that they are coming here to lunch!"
"For the last twenty years all our side of the county has been in the habit of coming here to lunch, but of course you can shut your doors to all your friends and acquaintances. No doubt they will think you have come down here on purpose to insult them."
"Insult them! why should I insult them? I haven't seen them since I was a boy. I remember that the hunt breakfast used to go on all day long. Every woman in the county used to come, and they used to stay to tea, and you used to insist on a great number remaining to supper."
"Well, you can put a stop to all that now that you have consented to come to Thornby Place, only I hope you don't expect me to remain here to see my friends insulted."
"But just think of the expense! and in these bad times. You know I cannot find a tenant for the Woreington farm. I am afraid I shall have to provide the capital and farm it myself. Now, in the face of such losses, don't you think that we should retrench?"
"Retrench! A few fowls and rounds of beef! You don't think of retrenching when you present Stanton College with a stained glass window that costs five hundred pounds."
"Of course, if you like it, mother..."
"I like nothing but what you like, but I really think that for you to put down the hunt breakfast the first time you honour us with a visit, would look very much as if you intended to insult the whole county."
"It will be a day of misery for me!" replied John, laughing; "but I daresay I shall live through it."
"I think you will like it very much," said Kitty. "There will be a lot of pretty girls here: the Misses Green are coming from Worthing; the eldest is such a pretty girl, you are sure to admire her. And the hounds and horses look so beautiful."
Mrs Norton and Kitty spoke daily of invitations, and later on of cooking and the various things that were wanted. John continued to go through his accounts in the morning, and to read monkish Latin in the evening; but he was secretly nervous, and he dreaded the approaching day.
He was called an hour earlier—eight o'clock; he drank a cup of cold tea and ate a piece of dry toast in a back room. The dining-room was full of servants, who laid out a long table rich with comestibles and glittering with glass. Mrs Norton and Kitty were upstairs dressing.
He wandered into the drawing-room and viewed the dead, cumbrous furniture; the two cabinets bright with brass and veneer. He stood at the window staring. It was raining. The yellow of the falling leaves was hidden in the grey mist. It ceased to rain. "This weather will keep many away; so much the better; there will be too many as it is. I wonder who this can be." A melancholy brougham passed up the drive. There were three old maids, all looking sweetly alike; one was a cripple who walked with crutches, and her smile was the best and the gayest imaginable smile.
"How little material welfare has to do with our happiness," thought John. "There is one whose path is the narrowest, and she is happier and better than I." And then the three sweet old maids talked with their cousin of the weather; and they all wondered—a sweet feminine wonderment—if he would see a girl that day whom he would marry.
Presently the house was full of people. The passage was full of girls; a few men sat at breakfast at the end of the long table. Some red coats passed across the green glare of the park, and the hounds trotted about a single horseman. Voices. "Oh! how sweet they look! oh, the dear dogs!" The huntsman stopped in front of the house, the hounds sniffed here and there, the whips trotted their horses and drove them back. "Get together, get together; get back there; Woodland, Beauty, come up here." The hounds rolled on the grass, and leaned their fore-paws on the railings, willing to be caressed.
"How sweet they are, look at their soft eyes," cried an old lady whose deity was a pug, and whose back garden reeked of the tropics. "Look how good and kind they are; they would not hurt anything; it is only wicked men who teach them to be ..." The old lady hesitated before the word "bad," and murmured something about killing.
There was a lady with melting eyes, many children, and a long sealskin, and she availed herself of the excuse of seeing the hounds to rejoin a young man in whom she was interested. There was an old sportsman of seventy winters, as hale and as hearty as an oak, standing on the door-step, and he made John promise to come over and see him. The girls strolled about in groups. As usual young men were lacking. Looking at his watch, the huntsman pressed the sides of his horse, and rode to draw the covers at the end of the park. The ladies followed to see the start, although the mud was inches deep under foot. "Hu in, hu in," cried the huntsman. The whips trotted round cracking their long whips. Not a sound was heard. Suddenly there was a whimper, "Hark to Woodland," cried the huntsman. The hounds rallied to the point, but nothing came of it. Apparently the old bitch was at fault. The huntsman muttered something inaudible. But some few hundred yards further on, in an outlying clump where no one would expect to find, a fox broke clean away.
The country is as flat as a smooth sea. Chanctonbury Ring stands up like a mighty cliff on a northern shore; its crown of trees is grim. The abrupt ascents of Toddington Mount bear away to the left, and tide-like the fields flow up into the great gulf between.
"He's making for the furze, but he'll never reach them; he got no start, and the ground is heavy."
Then the watchers saw the horsemen making their way up the chalky roads cut in the precipitous side of the downs. Rain began to fall, umbrellas were put up, and all hurried home to lunch.
"Now John, try and make yourself agreeable, go over and talk to some of the young ladies. Why do you dress yourself in that way? Have you no other coat? You look like a young priest. Look at that young man over there! how nicely dressed he is! I wish you would let your moustache grow; it would improve you immensely." With these and similar remarks whispered to him, Mrs Norton continued to exasperate her son until the servants announced that lunch was ready. "Take in Mrs So-and-so," she said to John, who would fain have escaped from the melting glances of the lady in the long sealskin. He offered her his arm with an air of resignation, and set to work valiantly to carve a huge turkey.
As soon as the servants had cleared away after one set another came, and although the meet was a small one, John took six ladies in to lunch. About half-past three the men adjourned to the billiard-room to smoke. The girls, mighty in numbers, followed, and, with their arms round each other's waists, and interlacing fingers, they grouped themselves about the room. Two huntsmen returned dripping wet, and much to his annoyance, John had to furnish them with a change of clothes. There was tea in the drawing-room about five o'clock, and soon after the visitors began to take their leave.
The wind blew very coldly, the roosting rooks rose out of the branches, and the carriages rolled into the night; but still a remnant of visitors stood on the steps talking to John. His cold was worse; he felt very ill, and now a long sharp pain had grown through his left side, and momentarily it became more and more difficult to exchange polite words and smiles. The footmen stood waiting by the open door, the horses champed their bits, the green of the park was dark, and a group of kissing girls moved about the loggia, wheels grated on the gravel ... all were gone! The butler shut the door, and John went to the library fire.
There his mother found him. She saw that something was seriously the matter. He was helped up to bed, and the doctor was sent for. A bad attack of pleurisy. John was rolled up in an enormous mustard plaster—mustard and cayenne pepper; it bit into the flesh. He roared with pain; he was slightly delirious; he cursed those around him, using blasphemous language.
For more than a week he suffered. He lay bent over, unable to straighten himself, as if a nerve had been wound up too tightly in the left side. He was fed on gruel and beef-tea, the room was kept very warm; it was not until the twelfth day that he was taken out of bed.
"You have had a narrow escape," the doctor said to John, who, well wrapped up, lay back, looking very weak and pale, before a blazing fire. "It was very lucky I was sent for. Twenty-four hours later I would not have answered for your life."
"I was delirious, was I not?"
"Yes, slightly; you cursed and swore fearfully at us when we rolled you up in the mustard plaster.... Well, it was very hot, and must have burnt you."
"Yes, it was; it has scarcely left a bit of skin on me. But did I use very bad language? I suppose I could not help it.... I was delirious, was I not?"
"Yes; but I remember, and if I remember right, I used very bad language; and people when they are really delirious do not know what they say. Is not that so, doctor?"
"If they are really delirious they do not remember, but you were only slightly delirious ... you were maddened by the pain occasioned by the pungency of the plaster."
"Yes; but do you think I knew what I was saying?"
"You must have known what you were saying, because you remember what you said."
"But could I be held accountable for what I said?"
"Accountable.... Well, I hardly know what you mean. You were certainly not in the full possession of your senses. Your mother (Mrs Norton) was very much shocked, but I told her that you were not accountable for what you said."
"Then I could not be held accountable, I did not know what I was saying."
"I don't think you did exactly; people in a passion don't know what they say!"
"Ah! yes, but we are answerable for sins committed in the heat of passion: we should restrain our passion; we were wrong in the first instance in giving way to passion.... But I was ill, it was not exactly passion. And I was very near death; I had a narrow escape, doctor?"
"Yes, I think I can call it a narrow escape."
The voices ceased,—five o'clock,—the curtains were rosy with lamp light, and conscience awoke in the langours of convalescent hours. "I stood on the verge of death!" The whisper died away. John was still very weak, and he had not strength to think with much insistance, but now and then remembrance surprised him suddenly like pain; it came unexpectedly, he knew not whence nor how, but he could not choose but listen. Each interval of thought grew longer; the scabs of forgetfulness were picked away, the red sore was exposed bleeding and bare. Was he responsible for those words? He could remember them all now; each like a burning arrow lacerated his bosom, and he pulled them to and fro. Remembrance in the watches of the night, dawn fills the dark spaces of a window, meditations grow more and more lucid. He could now distinguish the instantaneous sensation of wrong that had flashed on his excited mind in the moment of his sinning.... Then he could think no more, and in the twilight of contrition he dreamed vaguely of God's great goodness, of penance, of ideal atonements. Christ hung on the cross, and far away the darkness was seared with flames and demons.
And as strength returned, remembrance of his blasphemies grew stronger and fiercer, and often as he lay on his pillow, his thoughts passing in long procession, his soul would leap into intense suffering. "I stood on the verge of death with blasphemies on my tongue. I might have been called to confront my Maker with horrible blasphemies in my heart and on my tongue; but He in His Divine goodness spared me: He gave me time to repent. Am I answerable, O my God, for those dreadful words that I uttered against Thee, because I suffered a little pain, against Thee Who once died on the cross to save me! O God, Lord, in Thine infinite mercy look down on me, on me! Vouchsafe me Thy mercy, O my God, for I was weak! My sin is loathsome; I prostrate myself before Thee, I cry aloud for mercy!"
Then seeing Christ amid His white million of youths, beautiful singing saints, gold curls and gold aureoles, lifted throats, and form of harp and dulcimer, he fell prone in great bitterness on the misery of earthly life. His happinesses and ambitions appeared to him less than the scattering of a little sand on the sea-shore. Joy is passion, passion is suffering; we cannot desire what we possess, therefore desire is rebellion prolonged indefinitely against the realities of existence; when we attain the object of our desire, we must perforce neglect it in favour of something still unknown, and so we progress from illusion to illusion. The winds of folly and desolation howl about us; the sorrows of happiness are the worst to bear, and the wise soon learn that there is nothing to dream of but the end of desire.... God is the one ideal, the Church the one shelter from the misery and meanness of life. Peace is inherent in lofty arches, rapture in painted panes.... See the mitres and crosiers, the blood-stained heavenly breasts, the loin-linen hanging over orbs of light.... Listen! ah! the voices of chanting boys, and out of the cloud of incense come Latin terminations, and the organ still is swelling.
In such religious aestheticisms the soul of John Norton had long slumbered, but now it awoke in remorse and pain, and, repulsing its habitual exaltations even as if they were sins, he turned to the primal idea of the vileness of this life, and its sole utility in enabling man to gain heaven. Beauty, what was it but temptation? He winced before a conclusion so repugnant to him, but the terrors of the verge on which he had so lately stood were still upon him in all their force, and he crushed his natural feelings....
The manifestation of modern pessimism in John Norton has been described, and how its influence was checked by constitutional mysticity has also been shown. Schopenhauer, when he overstepped the line ruled by the Church, was instantly rejected. From him John Norton's faith had suffered nothing; the severest and most violent shocks had come from another side—a side which none would guess, so complex and contradictory are the involutions of the human brain. Hellenism, Greek culture and ideal; academic groves; young disciples, Plato and Socrates, the august nakedness of the Gods were equal, or almost equal, in his mind with the lacerated bodies of meagre saints; and his heart wavered between the temple of simple lines and the cathedral of a thousand arches. Once there had been a sharp struggle, but Christ, not Apollo, had been the victor, and the great cross in the bedroom of Stanton College overshadowed the beautiful slim body in which Divinity seemed to circulate like blood; and this photograph was all that now remained of much youthful anguish and much temptation.
A fact to note is that his sense of reality had always remained in a rudimentary state; it was, as it were, diffused over the world and mankind. For instance, his belief in the misery and degradation of earthly life, and the natural bestiality of man, was incurable; but of this or that individual he had no opinion; he was to John Norton a blank sheet of paper, to which he could not affix even a title. His childhood had been one of bitter tumult and passionate sorrow; the different and dissident ideals growing up in his heart and striving for the mastery, had torn and tortured him, and he had long lain as upon a mental rack. Ignorance of the material laws of existence had extended even into his sixteenth year, and when, bit by bit, the veil fell, and he understood, he was filled with loathing of life and mad desire to wash himself free of its stain; and it was this very hatred of natural flesh that precipitated a perilous worship of the deified flesh of the God. But mysticity saved him from plain paganism, and the art of the Gothic cathedral grew dear to him. It was nearer akin to him, and he assuaged his wounded soul in the ecstacies of incense and the great charms of Gregorian chant.
But fear now for the first time took possession of him, and he realised—if not in all its truth, at least in part—that his love of God had only taken the form of a gratification of the senses, a sensuality higher but as intense as those which he so much reproved. Fear smouldered in his very entrails, and doubt fumed and went out like steam—long lines and falling shadows and slowly dispersing clouds. His life had been but a sin, an abomination, and the fairest places darkened as the examination of conscience proceeded. His thought whirled in dreadful night, soul-torturing contradictions came suddenly under his eyes, like images in a night-mare; and in horror and despair, as a woman rising from a bed of small-pox drops the mirror after the first glance, and shrinks from destroying the fair remembrance of her face by pursuing the traces of the disease through every feature, he hid his face in his hands and called for forgiveness—for escape from the endless record of his conscience. With staring eyes and contracted brows he saw the flames which await him who blasphemes. To the verge of those flames he had drifted. If God in His infinite mercy had not withheld him?... He pictured himself lost in fires and furies. Then looking up he saw the face of Christ, grown pitiless in final time—Christ standing immutable amid His white million of youths....
And the worthlessness and the abjectness of earthly life struck him with awful and all-convincing power, and this vision of the worthlessness of existence was clearer than any previous vision. He paused. There was but one conclusion ... it looked down upon him like a star—he would become a priest. All darkness, all madness, all fear faded, and with sure and certain breath he breathed happiness; the sense of consecration nestled in its heart, and its light shone upon his face.
There was nothing in the past, but there is the sweetness of meditation in the present, and in the future there is God. Like a fountain flowing amid a summer of leaves and song, the sweet hours came with quiet and melodious murmur. In the great arm-chair of his ancestors he sits thin and tall. Thin and tall. The great flames decorate the darkness, and the twilight sheds upon the rose curtains, walking birds and falling petals. But his thoughts are dreaming through long aisle and solemn arch, clouds of incense and painted panes.... The palms rise in great curls like the sky; and amid the opulence of gold vestments, the whiteness of the choir, the Latin terminations and the long abstinences, the holy oil comes like a kiss that never dies ... and in full glory of symbol and chant, the very savour of God descends upon him ... and then he awakes, surprised to find such dreams out of sleep.
His resolve did not alter; he longed for health because it would bring the realisation of his desire, and time appeared to him cruelly long. Nor could he think of the pain he inflicted on his mother, so centred was he in this thought; he was blind to her sorrowing face, he was deaf to her entreaty; he could neither feel nor see beyond the immediate object he had in mind, and he spoke to her in despair of the length of months that separated him from consecration; he speculated on the possibility of expediting that happy day by a dispensation from the Pope. The moment he could obtain permission from the doctor he ordered his trunks to be packed, and when he bid Mrs Norton and Kitty Hare good-bye, he exacted a promise from the former to be present at Stanton College on Palm Sunday. He wished her to be present when he embraced Holy Orders.
Every morning Mrs Norton flung her black shawl over her shoulders, rattled her keys, and scolded the servants at the end of the long passage. Kitty, as she watered the flowers in the greenhouse, often wondered why John had chosen to become a priest and grieve his mother. Three times out of five when the women met at lunch, Mrs Norton said:
"Kitty, would you like to come out for a drive?"
Kitty answered, "I don't mind; just as you like, Mrs Norton."
After tea at five Kitty read for an hour, and in the evening she played the piano; and she sometimes endeavoured to console her hostess by suggesting that people did change their minds, and that John might not become a priest after all. Mrs Norton looked at the girl, and it was often on her lips to say, "If you had only flirted, if you had only paid him some attentions, all might have been different." But heart-broken though she was, Mrs Norton could not speak the words. The girl looked so candid, so flowerlike in her guilelessness, that the thought seemed a pollution. And in a few days Mr Hare sent for Kitty; and with her departed the last ray of sunlight, and Thornby Place grew too sad and solitary for Mrs Norton.
She went to visit some friends; she spent Christmas at the Rectory; and in the long evenings when Kitty had gone to bed, she opened her heart to her old friend. The last hope was gone; there was nothing for her to look for now. John did not even write to her; she had not heard from him since he left. It was very wrong of the Jesuits to encourage him in such conduct, and she thought of laying the whole matter before the Pope. The order had once been suppressed; she did not remember by what Pope; but a Pope had grown tired of their intrigues, and had suppressed the order. She made these accusations in moments of passion, and immediately after came deep regret.... How wrong of her to speak ill of her religion, and to a Protestant! If John did become a priest it would be a punishment for her sins. But what was she saying? If John became a priest, she should thank God for His great goodness. What greater honour could he bestow upon her? Next day she took the train to Brighton, and went to confession; and that very same evening she pleadingly suggested to Mr Hare that he should go to Stanton College, and endeavour to persuade John to return home. The parson was of course obliged to decline. He advised her to leave the matter in the hands of God, and Mrs Norton went to bed a prey to scruples of conscience of all kinds.
She even began to think it wrong to remain any longer in an essentially Protestant atmosphere. But to return to Thornby Place alone was impossible, and she begged for Kitty. The parson was loth to part with his daughter, but he felt there was much suffering beneath the calm exterior that Mrs Norton preserved. He could refuse her nothing, and he let Kitty go.
"There is no reason why you should not come and dine with us every day; but I shall not let you have her back for the next two months."
"What day will you come and see us, father dear?" said Kitty, leaning out of the carriage window.
"On Thursday," cried the parson.
"Very well, we shall expect you," replied Mrs Norton; and with a sigh she sank back on the cushions, and fell to thinking of her son.
At Thornby Place everything was soon discovered to be in a sad state of neglect. There was much work to be done in the greenhouse, the azaleas were being devoured by insects, and the leaves required a thorough washing. It was easy to see that the cats had not been regularly fed, and one of the tame rooks had flown away. Remedying these disasters, Mrs Norton and Kitty hurried to and fro. There was a ball at Steyning, and Mrs Norton consented to do the chaperon for once; and the girl's dress was a subject of gossip for a month—for a fortnight an absorbing occupation. Most of the people who had been at the hunt breakfast were at the ball, and Kitty had plenty of partners. These suggested husbands to Mrs Norton, and she questioned Kitty; but she did not seem to have thought of the ball except in the light of a toy which she had been allowed to play with one evening. The young men she had met there had apparently interested her no more than if they had been girls, and she regretted John only because of Mrs Norton. Every morning she ran to see if there was a letter, so that it might be she who brought the good news. But no letter came. Since Christmas John had written two short notes, and now they were well on in April. But one morning as she stood watching the springtide, Kitty saw him walking up the drive; the sky was growing bright with blue, and the beds were catching flower beneath the evergreen oaks. She ran to Mrs Norton, who was attending to the canaries in the bow-window.
"Look, look, Mrs Norton, John is coming up the drive; it is he; look!"
"John!" said Mrs Norton, seeking for her glasses nervously; "yes, so it is; let's run and meet him. But no; let's take him rather coolly. I believe half his eccentricity is only put on because he wishes to astonish us. We won't ask him any questions; we'll just wait and let him tell his own story...."
"How do you do, mother?" said the young man, kissing Mrs Norton with less reluctance than usual. "You must forgive me for not having answered your letters. It really was not my fault; I have been passing through a very terrible state of mind lately.... And how do you do, Kitty? Have you been keeping my mother company ever since? It is very good in you; I am afraid you must think me a very undutiful son. But what is the news?"
"One of the rooks is gone."
"Is that all?... What about the ball at Steyning? I hear it was a great success."
"Oh, it was delightful."
"You must tell me about it after dinner. Now I must go round to the stables and tell Walls to take the trap round to the station to fetch my things."
"Are you going to be here some time?" said Mrs Norton, assuming an indifferent air.
"Yes, I think so; that is to say, for a couple of months—six weeks. I have some arrangements to make, but I will speak to you about all that after dinner."
With these words John left the room, and he left his mother agitated and frightened.
"What can he mean by having arrangements to make?" she asked. Kitty could of course suggest no explanation, and the women waited the pleasure of the young man to speak his mind. He seemed, however, in no hurry to do so; and the manner in which he avoided the subject aggravated his mother's uneasiness. At last she said, unable to bear the suspense any longer:
"Are you going to be a priest, John, dear?"
"Of course, but not a Jesuit...."
"And why? have you had a quarrel with the Jesuits?"
"Oh, no; never mind; I don't like to talk about it; not exactly a quarrel, but I have seen a great deal of them lately, and I have found them out. I don't mean in anything wrong, but the order is so entirely opposed to the monastic spirit. It is difficult to explain; I really can't.... What I mean is ... well, that their worldliness is repugnant to me—fashionable friends, confidences, meddling in family affairs, dining out, letters from ladies who need consolation.... I don't mean anything wrong; pray don't misunderstand me. I merely mean to say that I hate their meddling in family affairs. Their confessional is a kind of marriage bureau; they have always got some plan on for marrying this person to that, and I must say I hate all that sort of thing.... If I were a priest I would disdain to ... but perhaps I am wrong to speak like that. Yes, it is very wrong of me, and before ... Kitty, you must not think I am speaking against the principles of my religion, I am only speaking of matters of—"
"And have you given up your rooms in Stanton College?"
"Not yet; that is to say, nothing is settled definitely, but I do not think I shall go back there; at least not to live."
"And you still are determined on becoming a priest?"
"Certainly, but not a Jesuit."
"A Carmelite. I have seen a great deal of these monks lately, and it is only they who preserve some of the old spirit of the old ideal. To enter the Carmelite Chapel in Kensington is to step out of the mean atmosphere of to-day into the lofty charm of the Middle Ages. The long straight folds of habits falling over sandalled feet, the great rosaries hanging down from the girdles, the smell of burning wax, the large tonsures, the music of the choir; I know nothing like it. Last Sunday I heard them sing St Fortunatus' hymn,... the Vexilla regis heard in the cloud of incense, and the wrath of the organ!... splendid are the rhymes! the first stanza in U and O, the second in A, and the third in E; passing over the closed vowels, the hymn ascends the scale of sound—"
"Now, John, none of that nonsense; how dare you, sir? Don't attempt to laugh at your mother."
"My dear mother, you must not think I am sneering because I speak of what is uppermost in my mind. I have determined to become a Carmelite monk, and that is why I came down here."
Mrs Norton was very angry; her temper fumed, and she would have burst into violent words had not the last words, "and that is why I came down here," frightened her into calmness.
"What do you mean?" she said, turning round in her chair. "You came down here to become a Carmelite monk; what do you mean?"
John hesitated. He was clearly a little frightened, but having gone so far he felt he must proceed. Besides, to-day, or to-morrow, sooner or later the truth would have to be told. He said:
"I intend altering the house a little here and there; you know how repugnant this mock Italian architecture is to my feelings.... I am coming to live here with some monks—"
"You must be mad, sir; you mean to say that you intend to pull down the house of your ancestors and turn it into a monastery?"
John drew a breath of relief, the worst was over now; she had spoken the fulness of his thought. Yes, he was going to turn Thornby Place into a monastery.
"Yes," he said, "if you like to put it in that way. Yes, I am going to turn Thornby Place into a monastery. Why shouldn't I? I am resolved never to marry; and I have no one except those dreadful cousins to leave the place to. Why shouldn't I turn it into a monastery and become a monk? I wish to save my soul."
Mrs Norton groaned.
"But you make me say more than I mean. To turn the place into a Gothic monastery, such a monastery as I dreamed would not be possible, unless indeed I pulled the whole place down, and I have not sufficient money to do that, and I do not wish to mortgage the property. For the present I am determined only on a few alterations. I have them all in my head. The billiard room, that addition of yours, can be turned into a chapel. And the casements of the dreadful bow-window might be removed, and mullions and tracery fixed on, and, instead of the present flat roof, a sloping tiled roof might be carried up against the wall of the house. The cloisters would come at the back of the chapel."
John stopped aghast at the sorrow he was causing, and he looked at his mother. She did not speak. Her ears were full of merciless ruins; hope vanished in the white dust; and the house with its memories sacred and sweet fell pitilessly: beams lying this way and that, the piece of exposed wall with the well-known wall paper, the crashing of slates. How they fall! John's heart was rent with grief, but he could not stay his determination any more than his breath. Youth is a season of suffering, we cannot surrender our desire, and it lies heavy and burning on our hearts. It is so easy for age, so hard for youth to make sacrifices. Youth is and must be wholly, madly selfish; it is not until we have learnt the folly of our aims that we may forget them, that we may pity the sufferings of others, that we may rejoice in the triumphs of our friends. To the superficial therefore, John Norton will appear but the incarnation of egotism and priggishness, but those who see deeper will have recognised that he is one who has suffered bitterly, as bitterly as the outcast who lies dead in his rags beneath the light of the policeman's lantern. Mental and physical wants!—he who may know one may not know the other: is not the absence of one the reason of the other? Mental and physical wants! the two planes of suffering whence the great divisions of mankind view and envy the other's destinies, as we view a passing pageant, as those who stand on the decks of crossing ships gaze regretfully back.
Those who have suffered much physical want will never understand John Norton; he will find commiseration only from those who have realised a priori the worthlessness of existence, the vileness of life; above all, from those who, conscious of a sense of life's degradation, impetuously desire their ideal—the immeasurable ideal which lies before them, clear, heavenly, and crystalline; the sea into which they would plunge their souls, but in whose benedictive waters they may only dip their fingertips, and crossing themselves, pass up the aisle of human tribulation. We suffer in proportion to our passions. But John Norton had no passion, say they who see passion only in carnal dissipation. Yet the passions of the spirit are more terrible than those of the flesh; the passion for God, the passion of revolt against the humbleness of life; and there is no peace until passion of whatever kind has wailed itself out.
Foolish are they who describe youth as a time of happiness; it is one of fever and anguish.
Beneath its apparent calm, there was never a stormier youth than John's. The boy's heart that grieves to death for a chorus-girl, the little clerk who mourns to madness for the bright life that flashes from the point of sight of his high office stool, never felt more keenly the nervous pain of desire and the lassitudes of resistance. You think John Norton did not suffer in his imperious desire to pull down the home of his fathers and build a monastery! Mrs Norton's grief was his grief, but to stem the impulse that bore him along was too keen a pain to be endured. His desire whelmed him like a wave; it filled his soul like a perfume, and against his will it rose to his lips in words. Even when the servants were present he could not help discussing the architectural changes he had determined upon, and as the vision of the cloister, with its reading and chanting monks, rose to his head, he talked, blinded by strange enthusiasm, of latticed windows, and sandals.
His mother bit her thin lips, and her face tightened in an expression of settled grief. Kitty was sorry for Mrs Norton, but Kitty was too young to understand, and her sorrow evaporated in laughter. She listened to John's explanations of the future as to a fairy tale suddenly touched with the magic of realism. That the old could not exist in conjunction with the new order of things never grew into the painful precision of thought in her mind. She saw but the show side; she listened as to an account of private theatricals, and in spite of Mrs Norton's visible grief, she was amused when John described himself walking at the head of his monks with tonsured head and a great rosary hanging from a leather girdle. Her innocent gaiety attracted her to him. As they walked about the grounds after breakfast, he spoke to her about pictures and statues, of a trip he intended to take to Italy and Spain, and he did not seem to care to be reminded that this jarred with his project for immediate realisation of Thornby Priory.
Leaning their backs against the iron railing which divided the green sward from the park, John and Kitty looked at the house.
"From this view it really is not so bad, though the urns and the loggia are so intolerably out of keeping with the landscape. But when I have made my alterations it will harmonise with the downs and the flat-flowing country, so English with its barns and cottages and rich agriculture, and there will be then a charming recollection of old England, the England of the monastic ages, before the—but I forgot, I must not speak to you on that subject."
"Do you think the house will look prettier than it does now? Mrs Norton says that it will be impossible to alter Italian architecture into Gothic.... Of course I don't understand."
"Mother does not know what she is talking about. I have it all down in my pocket-book. I have various plans.... I admit it is not easy, but last night I fancy I hit on an idea. I shall of course consult an architect, although really I don't see there is any necessity for so doing, but just to be on the safe side; for in architecture there are many practical difficulties, and to be on the safe side I will consult an experienced man regarding the practical working out of my design. I made this drawing last night." John produced a large pocket-book.
"But, oh, how pretty; will it be really like that?"
"Yes," exclaimed John, delighted; "it will be exactly like that; but I will read you my notes, and then you will understand it better.
"Alter and add to the front to represent the facade of a small cathedral. This can be done by building out a projection the entire width of the building, and one storey in height. This will be divided into three arched divisions, topped with small gables."
"What are gables, John?"
"Those are the gables. The centre one (forming entrance) being rather higher than the other gables. The entrance would be formed with clustered columns and richly moulded pointed arches, the door being solid, heavy oak, with large scroll and hammered iron hinges.
"The centre front and back would be carried up to form steep gables, the roof being heightened to match. The large gable in front to have a large cross at apex."
"What is an apex? What words you do use."
John explained, Kitty laughed.
"The top I have indicated in the drawing. And to have a rose window. You see the rose window in the drawing," said John, anticipating the question which was on Kitty's lips.
"Yes," said she, "but why don't you say a round window?"
Without answering John continued:
"_The first floor fronts would be arcaded round with small columns with carved capitals and pointed arches.
"At either corner of front, in lieu of present Ionic columns, carry up octagonal turrets with pinnacles at top_.
"You see them in the drawing. These are the octagonal turrets."
"And which are the pinnacles?"
"The ornaments at the top.
"From the centre of the roof carry up a square tower with battlemented parapets and pinnacles at all corners, and flying buttresses from the turrets of the main buildings.
"The bow window at side will have the old casements removed, and have mullions and tracery fixed and filled with cathedral glazings, and, instead of the present flat, a sloping roof will be carried up and finished against the outer wall of the house. At either side of bay window buttresses with moulded water-tables, plinths, &c.
"From these roofs and the front projections at intersection of small gables, carved gargoyles to carry off water.
"The billiard-room to be converted into a chapel, by building a new high-pitched roof."
"Oh, John, why should you do away with the billiard-room; why shouldn't the monks play billiards? You played billiards on the day of the meet."
"Yes, but I am not a monk yet. No one ever heard of monks playing billiards; besides, that dreadful addition of my mother's could not remain in its present form, it would be ludicrous to a degree, whereas it can be converted very easily into a chapel. We must have a chapel—building a high-pitched timber roof, throwing out an apse at the end, and putting in mullioned and traceried windows filled with stained glass."
"And the cloister you are always speaking about, where will that be?"
"The cloister will come at the back of the chapel, and an arched and vaulted ambulatory will be laid round the house. Later on I shall add a refectory, and put a lavatory at one end of the ambulatory."
"But don't you think, John, you may get tired of being a monk, and then the house will have to be built back again."
"Never, the house will be from every point of view, a better house when my alterations are carried into effect. Beside, why should I be tired of being a monk? Your father does not get tired of being a parson."
This reply, although singularly unconvincing, was difficult to answer, and the conversation fell. And day by day, John's schemes strengthened and took shape, and he seemed to look upon himself already as a Carmelite. He had even gone so far as to order a habit, it had arrived a few days ago; and an architect, too, had come down from London. He was the ray of hope in Mrs Norton's life. For although he had loudly commended the artistic taste exhibited in the drawing, and expressed great wonderment at John's architectural skill, he had, nevertheless, when questioned as to their practicability, declared the scheme to be wholly impossible. And the reasons he advanced in support of his opinions were so conclusive that John was fain to beg of him to draw up a more possible plan for the conversion of an Italian house into a Gothic monastery.
Mr —— seemed to think the idea a wild one, but he promised to see what could be done to overcome the difficulties he foresaw, and in a week he forwarded John several drawings for his consideration. Judged by comparison with John's dreams, the practical architecture of the experienced man seemed altogether lacking in expression and in poetry of proportion; and comparing them with his own cherished project, John hung over the billiard-table, where the drawings were laid out, hour after hour, only to rise more bitterly fretful, more utterly unable than usual to reconcile himself to natural limitation, more hopelessly longing for the unattainable.
He could think of nothing but his monastery; his Latin authors were forgotten; he drew facades and turrets on the cloth during dinner, and he went up to his room, not to bed, but to reconsider the difficulties that rendered the construction of a central tower an impossibility.
Midnight: the house seems alive in the silence: night is on the world. The twilight sheds on the walking birds, on the falling petals, and in the rich shadow the candle burns brightly. The great bridal bed yawns, the lace pillows lie wide, the curtains hang dreamily in the hallowed light. John leans over his drawings. Once again he takes up the architect's notes.
"The interior would be so constructed as to make it impossible to carry up the central tower. The outer walls would not be strong enough to take the large gables and roof. Although the chapel could be done easily, the ambulatory would be of no use, as it would lead probably from the kitchen offices.
"Would have to reduce work on front facade to putting in new arched entrance. Buttresses would take the place of columns.
"The bow-window could remain.
"The roof to be heightened somewhat. The front projection would throw the front rooms into almost total darkness."
"But why not a light timber lantern tower?" thought John. "Yes, that would get over the difficulty. Now if we could only manage to keep my front ... if my design for the front cannot be preserved, I might as well abandon the whole thing! And then?"
And then life seemed to him void of meaning and light. He might as well settle down and marry....
His face contracted in an expression of anger. He rose from the table, and he looked round the room. Its appearance was singularly jarring, shattering as it did his dream of the cloister, and up-building in fancy the horrid fabric of marriage and domesticity. The room seemed to him a symbol—with the great bed, voluptuous, the corpulent arm-chair, the toilet-table shapeless with muslin—of the hideous laws of the world and the flesh, ever at variance and at war, and ever defeating the indomitable aspirations of the soul. John ordered his room to be changed; and, in the face of much opposition from his mother, who declared that he would never be able to sleep there, and would lose his health, he selected a narrow room at the end of the passage. He would have no carpet. He placed a small iron bed against the wall; two plain chairs, a screen to keep off the draught from the door, a basin-stand such as you might find in a ship's cabin, and a prie-dieu, were all the furniture he permitted himself.
"Oh, what a relief!" he murmured. "Now there is line, there is definite shape. That formless upholstery frets my eye as false notes grate on my ear;" and, becoming suddenly conscious of the presence of God, he fell on his knees and prayed. He prayed that he might be guided aright in his undertaking, and that, if it were conducive to the greater honour and glory of God, he might be permitted to found a monastery, and that he might be given strength to surmount all difficulties.
Next morning, calm in mind, and happier, he went downstairs to the drawing-room, a small book in his hand, an historical work of great importance by the Venerable Bede, intitled Vita beatorum abbatum Wiremuthensium, et Girvensiuem, Benedicti Ceolfridi, Easteriwini, Sigfridi atque Hoetberti. But he could not keep his attention fixed on the book, it appeared to him dreary and stupid. His thoughts wandered. He thought of Kitty—of how beautiful she looked on the background of red geraniums, with the soft yellow cat on her shoulder, and he wondered which of the four great painters, Manet, Degas, Monet, or Renoir would have best rendered the brightness and lightness, the intense colour vitality of that motive for a picture. He thought of her young eyes, of the pale hands, of the sudden, sharp laugh; and finally he took up one of her novels, "Red as a Rose is She." He read it, and found it very entertaining.
But the evening post brought him a letter from the architect's head clerk, saying that Mr —— was ill, had not been to the office for the last three or four days, and would not be able to go down to Sussex again before the end of the month. Very much annoyed, John spent the evening thinking whom he could consult on the practicability of his last design for the front, and next, morning he was surprised at not seeing Kitty at breakfast.
"Where is Kitty?" he asked abruptly.
"She is not feeling well; she has a headache, and will not be down to-day."
At the end of a long silence, John said:
"I think I will go into Brighton.... I must really see an architect."
"Oh, John, dear, you are not really determined to pull the house down?"
"There is no use, mother dear, in our discussing that subject; each and all of us must do the best we can with life. And the best we can do is to try and gain heaven."
"Breaking your mother's heart, and making yourself ridiculous before the whole county, is not the way to gain heaven."
"Oh, if you are going to talk like that...."
John went into the drawing-room to continue his reading, but the Latin bored him even more than it had done yesterday. He took up the novel, but its enchantment was gone, and it appeared to him in its tawdry, original vulgarity. He got on a horse and rode towards the downs, and went up the steep ascents at a gallop. He stood amid the gorse at the top and viewed the great girdle of blue encircling sea, and the long string of coast towns lying below him, and far away. Lunch was on the table when he returned. After lunch, harassed by an obsession of architectural plans, he went out to sketch. But it rained, and resisting his mother's invitation to change his clothes, he sat down before the fire, damp without, and feverishly irritable within. He vacillated an hour between his translation of St Fortunatus' hymn, Quem terra, pontus aethera, and "Red as a Rose is She," which, although he thought it as reprehensible for moral as for literary reasons, he was fain to follow out to the vulgar end. But he could interest himself in neither hymn nor novel. For the authenticity of the former he now cared not a jot, and he threw the book aside vowing that its hoydenish heroine was unbearable and he would read no more.
"I never knew a more horrible place to live in than Sussex. Either of two things: I must alter the architecture of this house, or I must return to Stanton College."
"Don't talk nonsense, do you think I don't know you? you are boring yourself because Kitty is upstairs in bed, and cannot walk about with you."
"I do not know how you contrive, mother, always to say the most disagreeable possible things; the marvellous way in which you pick out what will, at the moment, wound me most is truly wonderful. I compliment you on your skill, but I confess I am at a loss to understand why you should, as if by right, expect me to remain here to serve continuously as a target for the arrows of your scorn."
John walked out of the room. During dinner mother and son spoke very little, and he retired early, about ten o'clock, to his room. He was in high dudgeon, but the white walls, the prie-dieu, the straight, narrow bed were pleasant to see. His room was the first agreeable impression of the day. He picked up a drawing from the table, it seemed to him awkward and slovenly. He sharpened his pencil, cleared his crow-quill pens, got out his tracing-paper, and sat down to execute a better. But he had not finished his outline sketch before he leaned back in his chair, and as if overcome by the insidious warmth of the fire, lapsed into fire-light attitudes and meditations.
He looked a little backwards into the blaze; he nibbled his pencil point. Wavering light and wavering shade followed fast over the Roman profile, followed and flowed fitfully—fitfully as his thoughts. Now his thought followed out architectural dreams, and now he thought of himself, of his unhappy youth, of how he had been misunderstood, of his solitary life; a bitter, unsatisfactory life, and yet a life not wanting in an ideal—a glorious ideal. He thought how his projects had always met with failure, with disapproval, above all failure ... and yet, and yet he felt, he almost knew there was something great and noble in him. His eyes brightened; he slipped into thinking of schemes for a monastic life; and then he thought of his mother's hard disposition and how she misunderstood him,—everyone misunderstood him. What would the end be? Would he succeed in creating the monastery he dreamed of so fondly? To reconstruct the ascetic life of the Middle Ages, that would be something worth doing, that would be a great ideal—that would make meaning in his life. If he failed ... what should he do then? His life as it was, was unbearable ... he must come to terms with life....
That central tower! how could he manage it! and that built-out front. Was it true, as the architect said, that it would throw all the front rooms into darkness? Without this front his design would be worthless. What a difference it made!
Kitty liked it. She had thought it charming. How young she was, how glad and how innocent, and how clever, her age being taken into consideration. She understood all you said. It would not surprise him if she developed into something: but she would marry....
But why was he thinking of her? What concern had she in his life? A little slip of a girl—a girl—a girl more or less pretty, that was all. And yet it was pleasant to hear her laugh. That low, sudden laugh—she was pleasanter company than his mother, she was pleasant to have in the house, she interrupted many an unpleasant scene. Then he remembered what his mother had said. She had said that he was disappointed that she was ill, that he had missed her, that ... that it was because she was not there that he had found the day so intolerably wearisome.
Struck as with a dagger, the pain of the wound flowed through him piercingly; and as a horse stops and stands trembling, for there is something in the darkness beyond, John shrank back, his nerves vibrating like highly-strung chords; and ideas—notes of regret and lamentation died in great vague spaces. Ideas fell.... Was this all; was this all he had struggled for; was he in love? A girl, a girl ... was a girl to soil the ideal he had in view? No; he smiled painfully. The sea of his thoughts grew calmer, the air grew dim and wan, a tall foundered wreck rose pale and spectral, memories drifted. The long walks, the talks of the monastery, the neighbours, the pet rooks, and Sammy the great yellow cat, and the green-houses ... he remembered the pleasure he had taken in those conversations!
What must all this lead to? To a coarse affection, to marriage, to children, to general domesticity.
And contrasted with this....
The dignified and grave life of the cloister, the constant sensation of lofty and elevating thought, a high ideal, the communion of learned men, the charm of headship.
Could he abandon this? No, a thousand times no; but there was a melting sweetness in the other cup. The anticipation filled his veins with fever.
And trembling and pale with passion, John fell on his knees and prayed for grace. But prayer was sour and thin upon his lips, and he could only beg that the temptation might pass from him....
"In the morning," he said, "I shall be strong."
But if in the morning he were strong, Kitty was more beautiful than ever, and they walked out in the sunlight. They walked out on the green sward, under the evergreen oaks where the young rooks are swinging; out on the mundane swards into the pleasure ground; a rosery and a rockery; the pleasure ground divided from the park by iron railings, the park encircled by the rich elms, the elms shutting out the view of the lofty downs.
The meadows are yellow with buttercups, and the birds fly out of the gold. And the golden note is prolonged through the pleasure grounds by the pale yellow of the laburnums, by the great yellow of the berberis, by the cadmium yellow of the gorse, by the golden wallflowers growing amid rhododendrons and laurels.
And the transparent greenery of the limes shivers, and the young rooks swinging on the branches caw feebly.
And about the rockery there are purple bunches of lilac, and the striped awning of the tennis seat touches with red the paleness of the English spring.
Pansies, pale yellow pansies!
The sun glinting on the foliage of the elms spreads a napery of vivid green, and the trunks come out black upon the cloth of gold, and the larks fly out of the gold, and the sky is a single sapphire, and two white clouds are floating. It is May time.
They walked toward the tennis seat with its red striped awning. They listened to the feeble cawing of young rooks swinging on the branches. They watched the larks nestle in, and fly out of the gold. It was May time, and the air was bright with buds and summer bees. She was dressed in white, and the shadow of the straw hat fell across her eyes when she raised her face. He was dressed in black, and the clerical frock coat buttoned by one button at the throat fell straight.
They sat under the red striped awning of the tennis seat. The large grasping hands holding the polished cane contrasted with the reedy translucent hands laid upon the white folds. The low sweet breath of the May time breathed within them, and their hearts were light; hers was conscious only of the May time, but his was awake with unconscious love, and he yielded to her, to the perfume of the garden, to the absorbing sweetness of the moment. He was no longer John Norton. His being was part of the May time; it had gone forth and had mingled with the colour of the fields and sky; with the life of the flowers, with all vague scents and sounds; with the joy of the birds that flew out of and nestled with amorous wings in the gold. Enraptured and in complete forgetfulness of his vows, he looked at her, he felt his being quickening, and the dark dawn of a late nubility radiated into manhood.
"How beautiful the day is," he said, speaking slowly. "Is it not all light and colour, and you in your white dress with the sunlight on your hair seem more blossom-like than any flower. I wonder what flower I should compare you to.... Shall I say a rose? No, not a rose, nor a lily, nor a violet; you remind me rather of a tall delicate pale carnation...."
"Why, John, I never heard you speak like that before; I thought you never paid compliments."
The transparent green of the limes shivers, the young rooks caw feebly, and the birds nestle with amorous wings in the blossoming gold. Kitty has taken off her straw hat, the sunlight caresses the delicate plenitudes of the bent neck, the delicate plenitudes bound with white cambric, cambric swelling gently over the bosom into the narrow circle of the waist, cambric fluted to the little wrist, reedy translucid hands; cambric falling outwards and flowing like a great white flower over the green sward, over the mauve stocking, and the little shoe set firmly. The ear is as a rose leaf, a fluff of light hair trembles on the curving nape, and the head is crowned with thick brown gold. "O to bathe my face in those perfumed waves! O to kiss with a deep kiss the hollow of that cool neck!..." The thought came he know not whence nor how, as lightning falls from a clear sky, as desert horsemen come with a glitter of spears out of the cloud; there is a shock, a passing anguish, and they are gone.
He left her. So frightened was he at this sudden and singular obsession of his spiritual nature by a lower and grosser nature, whose existence in himself was till now unsuspected, and of whose life and wants in others he had felt, and still felt, so much scorn, that in the tumult of his loathing he could not gain the calm of mind necessary for an examination of conscience. He could not look into his mind with any present hope of obtaining a truthful reply to the very eminent and vital question, how far his will had participated in that burning but wholly inexcusable desire by which he had been so shockingly assailed.
That inner life, so strangely personal and pure, and of which he was so proud, seemed to him now to be befouled, and all its mystery and inner grace, and the perfect possession which was his sanctuary, lost to him for ever. For he could never quite forget the defiling thought; it would always remain with him, and the consciousness of the stain would preclude all possibility of that refining happiness, that attribute of cleanliness, which he now knew had long been his. In his anger and self-loathing his rage turned against Kitty. It was always the same story—the charm and ideality of man's life always soiled by woman's influence; so it was in the beginning, so it shall be....
He stopped before the injustice of the accusation; he remembered her candour and her gracious innocence, and he was sorry; and he remembered her youth and her beauty, and he let his thoughts dwell upon her. Turning over his papers he came across the old monk's song to David:
"Surge meo domno dulces fac, fistula versus: David amat versus, surge fac fistula versus, David amat vates vatorum est gloria David...."
The verses seemed meaningless and tame, but they awoke vague impulses in him, and, his mind filled by a dim dream of King David and Bathsheba, he opened his Bible and turned over the pages, reading a phrase here and there until he had passed from story and psalm to the Song of songs, and was finally stopped by—"I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, that ye tell him that I am sick of love."
He laid the book down and leaned back in his chair, and holding his temple with one hand (this was his favourite attitude) he looked in the fire fixedly. He was ravaged by emotion. The magical fervour of the words he had just read had revealed to him the depth of his passion.
But he would tear the temptation out of his heart. The conduct of his life had been long ago determined upon. He had known the truth as if by instinct from the first; no life was possible except an ascetic life, at least for him. And in this hour of weakness he summoned to his aid all his ancient ideals: the solemnity and twilight of the arches, the massive Gregorian chant which seems to be at once their voice and their soul, the cloud of incense melting upon the mitres and sunsets, and the boys' treble hovering over an ocean of harmony. But although the picture of his future life rose at his invocation it did not move him as heretofore, nor did the scenes he evoked of conjugal grossness and platitude shock him to the extent he had expected. The moral rebellion he succeeded in exciting was tepid, heartless, and ineffective, and he was not moved by hate or fear until he remembered that God in His infinite goodness had placed him for ever out of the temptation which he so earnestly sought to escape from. Kitty was a Protestant. In a pang of despair, windows and organ collapsed like cardboard; incense and arches vanished, and then rose again with the light of a more gracious vision upon them. For if the dignity and desire of mere self-salvation had departed, all the lighter colours and livelier joys of the conversion of others filled the sky of faith with morning tones and harmonies. And then?... Salvation before all things, he answered in his enthusiasm;—something of the missionary spirit of old time was upon him, and forgetful of his aisles, his arches, his Latin authors, he went down stairs and asked Kitty to play a game of billiards.