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The Altar Steps
by Compton MacKenzie
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Mark looked puzzled.

"Old man Timbury keeps the Hanover Inn. And he reckons my pa's preaching spoils his trade for a week. That's why he's sexton to the church. 'Tis the only way he can get even with the chapel folk. He used to be in the Navy, and he lost his leg and got that hole in his head in a war with the Rooshians. You'll hear him talking big about the Rooshians sometimes. My father says anybody listening to old Steve Timbury would think he'd fought with the Devil, instead of a lot of poor leary Rooshians."

Mark was so much impressed by the older boy's confident chatter that when he arrived back at the Vicarage and found his mother at breakfast he tried the effect of an imitation of it upon her.

"Darling boy, you mustn't excite yourself too much," she warned him. "Do try to eat a little more and talk a little less."

"But I can go out again with Cass Dale, can't I, mother, as soon as I've finished my breakfast? He said he'd wait for me and he's going to show me where we might find some silver dollars. He says they're five times as big as a shilling and he's going to show me where there's a fox's hole on the cliffs and he's . . ."

"But, Mark dear, don't forget," interrupted his mother who was feeling faintly jealous of this absorbing new friend, "don't forget that I can show you lots of the interesting things to see round here. I was a little girl here myself and used to play with Cass Dale's father when he was a little boy no bigger than Cass."

Just then grandfather came into the room and Mark was instantly dumb; he had never been encouraged to talk much at breakfast in Lima Street. He did, however, eye his grandfather from over the top of his cup, and he found him less alarming in the morning than he had supposed him to be last night. Parson Trehawke kept reaching across the table for the various things he wanted until his daughter jumped up and putting her arms round his neck said:

"Dearest father, why don't you ask Mark or me to pass you what you want?"

"So long alone. So long alone," murmured Parson Trehawke with an embarrassed smile and Mark observed with a thrill that when he smiled he looked exactly like his mother, and had Mark but known it exactly like himself.

"And it's so wonderful to be back here," went on Mrs. Lidderdale, "with everything looking just the same. As for Mark, he's so happy that—Mark, do tell grandfather how much you're enjoying yourself."

Mark gulped several times, and finally managed to mutter a confirmation of his mother's statement.

"And he's already made friends with Cass Dale."

"He's intelligent but like his father he thinks he knows more than he does," commented Parson Trehawke. "However, he'll make quite a good companion for this young gentleman."

As soon as breakfast was over Mark rushed out to join Cass Dale, who sitting crosslegged under an ilex-tree was peeling a pithy twig for a whistle.



CHAPTER VII

LIFE AT NANCEPEAN

For six years Mark lived with his mother and his grandfather at Nancepean, hearing nothing of his father except that he had gone out as a missionary to the diocese of some place in Africa he could never remember, so little interested was he in his father. His education was shared between his two guardians, or rather his academic education; the real education came either from what he read for himself in his grandfather's ancient library of from what he learnt of Cass Dale, who was much more than merely informative in the manner of a sixpenny encyclopaedia. The Vicar, who made himself responsible for the Latin and later on for the Greek, began with Horace, his own favourite author, from the rapid translation aloud of whose Odes and Epodes one after another he derived great pleasure, though it is doubtful if his grandson would have learnt much Latin if Mrs. Lidderdale had not supplemented Horace with the Primer and Henry's Exercises. However, if Mark did not acquire a vocabulary, he greatly enjoyed listening to his grandfather's melodious voice chanting forth that sonorous topography of Horace, while the green windows of the study winked every other minute from the flight past of birds in the garden. His grandfather would stop and ask what bird it was, because he loved birds even better than he loved Horace. And if Mark was tired of Latin he used to say that he wasn't sure, but that he thought it was a lesser-spotted woodpecker or a shrike or any one of the birds that experience taught him would always distract his grandfather's attention from anything that he was doing in order that he might confirm or contradict the rumour. People who are much interested in birds are less sociable than other naturalists. Their hobby demands a silent and solitary pursuit of knowledge, and the presence of human beings is prejudicial to their success. Parson Trehawke found that Mark's company was not so much of a handicap as he would have supposed; on the contrary he began to find it an advantage, because his grandson's eyes were sharp and his observation if he chose accurate: Parson Trehawke, who was growing old, began to rely upon his help. It was only when Mark was tired of listening to the translation of Horace that he called thrushes shrikes: when he was wandering over the cliffs or tramping beside his grandfather across the Rhos, he was severely sceptical of any rarity and used to make short work of the old gentleman's Dartford warblers and fire-crested wrens.

It was usually over birds if ever Parson Trehawke quarrelled with his parishioners. Few of them attended his services, but they spoke well of him personally, and they reckoned that he was a fine old boy was Parson. They would not however abandon their beastly habit of snaring wildfowl in winter with fish-hooks, and many a time had Mark seen his grandfather stand on the top of Pendhu Cliff, a favourite place to bait the hooks, cursing the scattered white houses of the village below as if it were one of the cities of the plain.

Although the people of Nancepean except for a very few never attended the services in their church they liked to be baptized and married within its walls, and not for anything would they have been buried outside the little churchyard by the sea. About three years after Mark's arrival his grandfather had a great fight over a burial. The blacksmith, a certain William Day, died, and although he had never been inside St. Tugdual's Church since he was married, his relations set great store by his being buried there and by Parson Trehawke's celebrating the last rites.

"Never," vowed the Parson. "Never while I live will I lay that blackguard in my churchyard."

The elders of the village remonstrated with him, pointing out that although the late Mr. Day was a pillar of the Chapel it had ever been the custom in Nancepean to let the bones of the most obstinate Wesleyan rest beside his forefathers.

"Wesleyan!" shouted the Parson. "Who cares if he was a Jew? I won't have my churchyard defiled by that blackguard's corpse. Only a week before he died, I saw him with my own eyes fling two or three pieces of white-hot metal to some ducks that were looking for worms in the ditch outside his smithy, and the wretched birds gobbled them down and died in agony. I cursed him where he stood, and the judgment of God has struck him low, and never shall he rest in holy ground if I can keep him out of it."

The elders of the village expressed their astonishment at Mr. Trehawke's unreasonableness. William Day had been a God-fearing and upright man all his life with no scandal upon his reputation unless it were the rumour that he had got with child a half lunatic servant in his house, and that was never proved. Was a man to be refused Christian burial because he had once played a joke on some ducks? And what would Parson Trehawke have said to Jesus Christ about the joke he played on the Gadarene swine?

There is nothing that irritates a Kelt so much as the least consideration for any animal, and there was not a man in the whole of the Rhos peninsula who did not sympathize with the corpse of William Day. In the end the dispute was settled by a neighbouring parson's coming over and reading the burial service over the blacksmith's grave. Mark apprehended that his grandfather resented bitterly the compromise as his fellow parson called it, the surrender as he himself called it. This was the second time that Mark had witnessed the defeat of a superior being whom he had been taught to regard as invincible, and it slightly clouded that perfect serenity of being grown up to which, like most children, he looked forward as the end of life's difficulties. He argued the justification of his grandfather's action with Cass Dale, and he found himself confronted by the workings of a mind naturally nonconformist with its rebellion against authority, its contempt of tradition, its blend of self-respect and self-importance. When Mark found himself in danger of being beaten in argument, he took to his fists, at which method of settling a dispute Cass Dale proved equally his match; and the end of it was that Mark found himself upside down in a furze bush with nothing to console him but an unalterable conviction that he was right and, although tears of pain and mortification were streaming down his cheeks, a fixed resolve to renew the argument as soon as he was the right way up again, and if necessary the struggle as well.

Luckily for the friendship between Mark and Cass, a friendship that was awarded a mystical significance by their two surnames, Lidderdale and Dale, Parson Trehawke, soon after the burial episode, came forward as the champion of the Nancepean Fishing Company in a quarrel with those pirates from Lanyon, the next village down the coast. Inasmuch as a pilchard catch worth L800 was in dispute, feeling ran high between the Nancepean Daws and the Lanyon Gulls. All the inhabitants of the Rhos parishes were called after various birds or animals that were supposed to indicate their character; and when Parson Trehawke's championship of his own won the day, his parishioners came to church in a body on the following Sunday and put one pound five shillings and tenpence halfpenny in the plate. The reconciliation between the two boys took place with solemn preliminary handshakes followed by linking of arms as of old after Cass reckoned audibly to Mark who was standing close by that Parson Trehawke was a grand old chap, the grandest old chap from Rosemarket to Rose Head. That afternoon Mark went back to tea with Cass Dale, and over honey with Cornish cream they were brothers again. Samuel Dale, the father of Cass, was a typical farmer of that part of the country with his fifty or sixty acres of land, the capital to work which had come from fish in the fat pilchard years. Cass was his only son, and he had an ambition to turn him into a full-fledged minister. He had lost his wife when Cass was a baby, and it pleased him to think that in planning such a position for the boy he was carrying out the wishes of the mother whom outwardly he so much resembled. For housekeeper Samuel Dale had an unmarried sister whom her neighbours accused of putting on too much gentility before her nephew's advancement warranted such airs. Mark liked Aunt Keran and accepted her hospitality as a tribute to himself rather than to his position as the grandson of the Vicar. Miss Dale had been a schoolmistress before she came to keep house for her brother, and she worked hard to supplement what learning Cass could get from the village school before, some three years after Mark came to Nancepean, he was sent to Rosemarket Grammar School.

Mark was anxious to attend the Grammar School with Cass; but Mrs. Lidderdale's dread nowadays was that her son would acquire a West country burr, and it was considered more prudent, economically and otherwise, to let him go on learning with his grandfather and herself. Mark missed Cass when he went to school in Rosemarket, because there was no such thing as playing truant there, and it was so far away that Cass did not come home for the midday meal. But in summertime, Mark used to wait for him outside the town, where a lane branched from the main road into the unfrequented country behind the Rose Pool and took them the longest way home along the banks on the Nancepean side, which were low and rushy unlike those on the Rosemarket side, which were steep and densely wooded. The great water, though usually described as heart-shaped, was really more like a pair of Gothic arches, the green cusp between which was crowned by a lonely farmhouse, El Dorado of Mark and his friend, and the base of which was the bar of shingle that kept out the sea. There was much to beguile the boys on the way home, whether it was the sight of strange wildfowl among the reeds, or the exploration of a ruined cottage set in an ancient cherry-orchard, or the sailing of paper boats, or even the mere delight of lying on the grass and listening above the murmur of insects to the water nagging at the sedge. So much indeed was there to beguile them that, if after sunset the Pool had not been a haunted place, they would have lingered there till nightfall. Sometimes indeed they did miscalculate the distance they had come and finding themselves likely to be caught by twilight they would hurry with eyes averted from the grey water lest the kelpie should rise out of the depths and drown them. There were men and women now alive in Nancepean who could tell of this happening to belated wayfarers, and it was Mark who discovered that such a beast was called a kelpie. Moreover, the bar where earlier in the evening it was pleasant to lie and pluck the yellow sea-poppies, listening to tales of wrecks and buried treasure and bygone smuggling, was no place at all in the chill of twilight; moreover, when the bar had been left behind and before the coastguards' cottages came into sight there was a two-mile stretch of lonely cliff that was a famous haunt of ghosts. Drowned light dragoons whose bodies were tossed ashore here a hundred years ago, wreckers revisiting the scene of their crimes, murdered excisemen . . . it was not surprising that the boys hurried along the narrow path, whistling to keep up their spirits and almost ready to cry for help if nothing more dangerous than a moth fanned their pale cheeks in passing. And after this Mark had to undo alone the nine gates between the Vicarage and Nancepean, though Cass would go with him as far along his road as the last light of the village could be seen, and what was more stay there whistling for as long as Mark could hear the heartening sound.

But if these adventures demanded the companionship of Cass, the inspiration of them was Mark's mother. Just as in the nursery games of Lima Street it had always been she who had made it worth while to play with his grenadiers, which by the way had perished in a troopship like their predecessors the light dragoons a century before, sinking one by one and leaving nothing behind except their cork-stands bobbing on the waves.

Mrs. Lidderdale knew every legend of the coast, so that it was thrilling to sit beside her and turn over the musty pages of the church registers, following from equinox to equinox in the entries of the burials the wrecks since the year 1702:

The bodies of fifteen seamen from the brigantine Ann Pink wrecked in Church Cove, on the afternoon of Dec. 19, 1757.

The body of a child washed into Pendhu Cove from the high seas during the night of Jan. 24, 1760.

The body of an unknown sailor, the breast tattooed with a heart and the initials M. V. found in Hanover Cove on the morning of March 3, 1801.

Such were the inscriptions below the wintry dates of two hundred years, and for each one Mark's mother had a moving legend of fortune's malice. She had tales too of treasure, from the golden doubloons of a Spanish galleon wrecked on the Rose Bar in the sixteenth century to the silver dollars of Portugal, a million of them, lost in the narrow cove on the other side of the Castle Cliff in the lee of which was built St. Tugdual's Church. At low spring tides it was possible to climb down and sift the wet sand through one's fingers on the chance of finding a dollar, and when the tide began to rise it was jolly to climb back to the top of the cliff and listen to tales of mermaids while a gentle wind blew the perfume of the sea-campion along the grassy slopes. It was here that Mark first heard the story of the two princesses who were wrecked in what was now called Church Cove and of how they were washed up on the cliff and vowed to build a church in gratitude to God and St. Tugdual on the very spot where they escaped from the sea, of how they quarrelled about the site because each sister wished to commemorate the exact spot where she was saved, and of how finally one built the tower on her spot and the other built the church on hers, which was the reason why the church and the tower were not joined to this day. When Mark went home that afternoon, he searched among his grandfather's books until he found the story of St. Tugdual who, it seemed, was a holy man in Brittany, so holy that he was summoned to be Pope of Rome. When he had been Pope for a few months, an angel appeared to him and said that he must come back at once to Brittany, because since he went to Rome all the women were become barren.

"But how am I to go back all the way from Rome to Brittany?" St. Tugdual asked.

"I have a white horse waiting for you," the angel replied.

And sure enough there was a beautiful white horse with wings, which carried St. Tugdual back to Brittany in a few minutes.

"What does it mean when a woman becomes barren?" Mark inquired of his mother.

"It means when she does not have any more children, darling," said Mrs. Lidderdale, who did not believe in telling lies about anything.

And because she answered her son simply, her son did not perplex himself with shameful speculations, but was glad that St. Tugdual went back home so that the women of Brittany were able to have children again.

Everything was simple at Nancepean except the parishioners; but Mark was still too young and too simple himself to apprehend their complicacy. The simplest thing of all was the Vicar's religion, and at an age when for most children religion means being dressed up to go into the drawing-room and say how d'you do to God, Mark was allowed to go to church in his ordinary clothes and after church to play at whatever he wanted to play, so that he learned to regard the assemblage of human beings to worship God as nothing more remarkable than the song of birds. He was too young to have experienced yet a personal need of religion; but he had already been touched by that grace of fellowship which is conferred upon a small congregation, the individual members of which are in church to please themselves rather than to impress others. This was always the case in the church of Nancepean, which had to contend not merely with the popularity of methodism, but also with the situation of the Chapel in the middle of the village. On the dark December evenings there would be perhaps not more than half a dozen worshippers, each one of whom would have brought his own candle and stuck it on the shelf of the pew. The organist would have two candles for the harmonium; the choir of three little boys and one little girl would have two between them; the altar would have two; the Vicar would have two. But when all the candle-light was put together, it left most of the church in shadow; indeed, it scarcely even illuminated the space between the worshippers, so that each one seemed wrapped in a golden aura of prayer, most of all when at Evensong the people knelt in silence for a minute while the sound of the sea without rose and fell and the noise of the wind scuttling through the ivy on the walls was audible. When the congregation had gone out and the Vicar was standing at the churchyard gate saying "good night," Mark used to think that they must all be feeling happy to go home together up the long hill to Pendhu and down into twinkling Nancepean. And it did not matter whether it was a night of clear or clouded moonshine or a night of windy stars or a night of darkness; for when it was dark he could always look back from the valley road and see a company of lanthorns moving homeward; and that more than anything shed upon his young spirit the grace of human fellowship and the love of mankind.



CHAPTER VIII

THE WRECK

One wild night in late October of the year before he would be thirteen, Mark was lying awake hoping, as on such nights he always hoped, to hear somebody shout "A wreck! A wreck!" A different Mark from that one who used to lie trembling in Lima Street lest he should hear a shout of "Fire! or Thieves!"

And then it happened! It happened as a hundred times he had imagined its happening, so exactly that he could hardly believe for a moment he was not dreaming. There was the flash of a lanthorn on the ceiling, a thunderous, knocking on the Vicarage door. Mark leapt out of bed; flinging open his window through which the wind rushed in like a flight of angry birds, he heard voices below in the garden shouting "Parson! Parson! Parson Trehawke! There's a brig driving in fast toward Church Cove." He did not wait to hear more, but dashed along the passage to rouse first his grandfather, then his mother, and then Emma, the Vicar's old cook.

"And you must get soup ready," he cried, standing over the old woman in his flannel pyjamas and waving his arms excitedly, while downstairs the cuckoo popped in and out of his door in the clock twelve times. Emma blinked at him in terror, and Mark pulled off all the bedclothes to convince the old woman that he was not playing a practical joke. Then he rushed back to his own room and began to dress for dear life.

"Mother," he shouted, while he was dressing, "the Captain can sleep in my bed, if he isn't drowned, can't he?"

"Darling, do you really want to go down to the sea on such a night?"

"Oh, mother," he gasped, "I'm practically dressed. And you will see that Emma has lots of hot soup ready, won't you? Because it'll be much better to bring all the crew back here. I don't think they'd want to walk all that way over Pendhu to Nancepean after they'd been wrecked, do you?"

"Well, you must ask grandfather first before you make arrangements for his house."

"Grandfather's simply tearing into his clothes; Ernie Hockin and Joe Dunstan have both got lanthorns, and I'll carry ours, so if one blows out we shall be all right. Oh, mother, the wind's simply shrieking through the trees. Can you hear it?"

"Yes, dearest, I certainly can. I think you'd better shut your windows. It's blowing everything about in your room most uncomfortably."

Mark's soul expanded in gratitude to God when he found himself neither in a dream nor in a story, but actually, and without any possibility of self-deception hurrying down the drive toward the sea beside Ernie and Joe, who had come from the village to warn the Vicar of the wreck and were wearing oilskins and sou'westers, thus striking the keynote as it were of the night's adventure. At first in the shelter of the holm-oaks the storm seemed far away overhead; but when they turned the corner and took the road along the valley, the wind caught them full in the face and Mark was blown back violently against the swinging gate of the drive. The light of the lanthorns shining on a rut in the road showed a field-mouse hurrying inland before the rushing gale. Mark bent double to force himself to keep up with the others, lest somebody should think, by his inability to maintain an equal pace that he ought to follow the field-mouse back home. After they had struggled on for a while a bend of the valley gave them a few minutes of easy progress and Mark listened while Ernie Hockin explained to the Vicar what had happened:

"Just before dark Eddowes the coastguard said he reckoned there was a brig making very heavy weather of it and he shouldn't be surprised if she come ashore tonight. Couldn't seem to beat out of the bay noways, he said. And afterwards about nine o'clock when me and Joe here and some of the chaps were in the bar to the Hanover, Eddowes come in again and said she was in a bad way by the looks of her last thing he saw, and he telephoned along to Lanyon to ask if they'd seen her down to the lifeboat house. They reckoned she was all right to the lifeboat, and old man Timbury who do always go against anything Eddowes do say shouted that of course she was all right because he'd taken a look at her through his glass before it grew dark. Of course she was all right. 'She's on a lee shore,' said Eddowes. 'It don't take a coastguard to tell that,' said old man Timbury. And then they got to talking one against the other the same as they belong, and they'd soon got back to the same old talk whether Jackie Fisher was the finest admiral who ever lived or no use at all. 'What's the good in your talking to me?' old man Timbury was saying. 'Why afore you was born I've seen' . . . and we all started in to shout 'ships o' the line, frigates, and cavattes,' because we belong to mock him like that, when somebody called 'Hark, listen, wasn't that a rocket?' That fetched us all outside into the road where we stood listening. The wind was blowing harder than ever, and there was a parcel of sea rising. You could hear it against Shag Rock over the wind. Eddowes, he were a bit upset to think he should have been talking and not a-heard the rocket. But there wasn't a light in the sky, and when we went home along about half past nine we saw Eddowes again and he said he'd been so far as Church Cove and should walk up along to the Bar. No mistake, Mr. Trehawke, he's a handy chap is Eddowes for the coastguard job. And then about eleven o'clock he saw two rockets close in to Church Cove and he come running back and telephoned to Lanyon, but they said no one couldn't launch a boat to-night, and Eddowes he come banging on the doors and windows shouting 'A Wreck' and some of us took ropes along with Eddowes, and me and Joe here come and fetched you along. Eddowes said he's afeard she'll strike in Dollar Cove unless she's lucky and come ashore in Church Cove."

"How's the tide?" asked the Vicar.

"About an hour of the ebb," said Ernie Hockin. "And the moon's been up this hour and more."

Just then the road turned the corner, and the world became a waste of wind and spindrift driving inland. The noise of the gale made it impossible for anybody to talk, and Mark was left wondering whether the ship had actually struck or not. The wind drummed in his ears, the flying grit and gravel and spray stung his face; but he struggled on hoping that this midnight walk would not come to an abrupt end by his grandfather's declining to go any farther. Above the drumming of the wind the roar of the sea became more audible every moment; the spume was thicker; the end of the valley, ordinarily the meeting-place of sand and grass and small streams with their yellow flags and forget-me-nots, was a desolation of white foam beyond which against the cliffs showing black in the nebulous moonlight the breakers leapt high with frothy tongues. Mark thought that they resembled immense ghosts clawing up to reach the summit of the cliff. It was incredible that this hell-broth was Church Cove.

"Hullo!" yelled Ernie Hockin. "Here's the bridge."

It was true. One wave at the moment of high tide had swept snarling over the stream and carried the bridge into the meadow beyond.

"We'll have to get round by the road," shouted the Vicar.

They turned to the right across a ploughed field and after scrambling through the hedge emerged in the comparative shelter of the road down from Pendhu.

"I hope the churchyard wall is all right," said the Vicar. "I never remember such a night since I came to Nancepean."

"Sure 'nough, 'tis blowing very fierce," Joe Dunstan agreed. "But don't you worry about the wall, Mr. Trehawke. The worst of the water is broken by the Castle and only comes in sideways, as you might say."

When they drew near the gate of the churchyard, the rain of sand and small pebbles was agonizing, as it swept across up the low sandstone cliffs on that side of the Castle. Two or three excited figures shouted for them to hurry because she was going to strike in Dollar Cove, and everybody began to scramble up the grassy slope, clutching at the tuffets of thrift to aid their progress. It was calm here in the lee; and Mark panting up the face thought of those two princesses who were wrecked here ages ago, and he understood now why one of them had insisted on planting the tower deep in the foundation of this green fortress against the wind and weather. While he was thinking this, his head came above the sky line, his breath left him at the assault of the wind, and he had to crawl on all fours toward the sea. He reached the edge of the cliff just as something like the wings of a gigantic bat flapped across the dim wet moonlight, and before he realized that this was the brig he heard the crashing of her spars. The watchers stood up against the wind, battling with it to fling lines in the vain hope of saving some sailor who was being churned to death in that dreadful creaming of the sea below. Yes, and there were forms of men visible on board; two had climbed the mainmast, which crashed before they could clutch at the ropes that were being flung to them from land, crashed and carried them down shrieking into the surge. Mark found it hard to believe that last summer he had spent many sunlit hours dabbling in the sand for silver dollars of Portugal lost perhaps on such a night as this a hundred years ago, exactly where these two poor mariners were lost. A few minutes after the mainmast the hull went also; but in the nebulous moonlight nothing could be seen of any bodies alive or dead, nothing except wreckage tossing upon the surge. The watchers on the cliff turned away from the wind to gather new breath and give their cheeks a rest from the stinging fragments of rock and earth. Away up over the towans they could see the bobbing lanthorns of men hurrying down from Chypie where news of the wreck had reached; and on the road from Lanyon they could see lanthorns on the other side of Church Cove waiting until the tide had ebbed far enough to let them cross the beach.

Suddenly the Vicar shouted:

"I can see a poor fellow hanging on to a ledge of rock. Bring a rope! Bring a rope!"

Eddowes the coastguard took charge of the operation, and Mark with beating pulses watched the end of the rope touch the huddled form below. But either from exhaustion or because he feared to let go of the slippery ledge for one moment the sailor made no attempt to grasp the rope. The men above shouted to him, begged him to make an effort; but he remained there inert.

"Somebody must go down with the rope and get a slip knot under his arms," the Vicar shouted.

Nobody seemed to pay attention to this proposal, and Mark wondered if he was the only one who had heard it. However, when the Vicar repeated his suggestion, Eddowes came forward, knelt down by the edge of the cliff, shook himself like a bather who is going to plunge into what he knows will be very cold water, and then vanished down the rope. Everybody crawled on hand and knees to see what would happen. Mark prayed that Eddowes, who was a great friend of his, would not come to any harm, but that he would rescue the sailor and be given the Albert medal for saving life. It was Eddowes who had made him medal wise. The coastguard struggled to slip the loop under the man's shoulders along his legs; but it must have been impossible, for presently he made a signal to be raised.

"I can't do it alone," he shouted. "He's got a hold like a limpet."

Nobody seemed anxious to suppose that the addition of another rescuer would be any more successful.

"If there was two of us," Eddowes went on, "we might do something."

The people on the cliff shook their heads doubtfully.

"Isn't anybody coming down along with me to have a try?" the coastguard demanded at the top of his voice.

Mark did not hear his grandfather's reply; he only saw him go over the cliff's edge at the end of one rope while Eddowes went down on another. A minute later the slipknot came untied (or that was how the accident was explained) and the Vicar went to join the drowned mariners, dislodging as he fell the man whom he had tried to save, so that of the crew of the brig Happy Return not one ever came to port.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the effect upon Mark Lidderdale of that night. He was twelve years old at the time; but the years in Cornwall had retarded that precocious development to which he seemed destined by the surroundings of his early childhood in Lima Street, and in many ways he was hardly any older than he was when he left London. In after years he looked back with gratitude upon the shock he received from what was as it were an experience of the material impact of death, because it made him think about death, not morbidly as so many children and young people will, but with the apprehension of something that really does come in a moment and for which it is necessary for every human being to prepare his soul. The platitudes of age may often be for youth divine revelations, and there is nothing so stimulating as the unaided apprehension of a great commonplace of existence. The awe with which Mark was filled that night was too vast to evaporate in sentiment, and when two days after this there came news from Africa that his father had died of black-water fever that awe was crystallized indeed. Mark looking round at his small world perceived that nobody was safe. To-morrow his mother might die; to-morrow he might die himself. In any case the death of his grandfather would have meant a profound change in the future of his mother's life and his own; the living of Nancepean would fall to some other priest and with it the house in which they lived. Parson Trehawke had left nothing of any value except Gould's Birds of Great Britain and a few other works of ornithology. The furniture of the Vicarage was rich neither in quality nor in quantity. Three or four hundred pounds was the most his daughter could inherit. She had spoken to Mark of their poverty, because in her dismay for the future of her son she had no heart to pretend that the dead man's money was of little importance.

"I must write and ask your father what we ought to do." . . . She stopped in painful awareness of the possessive pronoun. Mark was unresponsive, until there came the news from Africa, which made him throw his arms about his mother's neck while she was still alive. Mrs. Lidderdale, whatever bitterness she may once have felt for the ruin of her married life, shed fresh tears of sorrow for her husband, and supposing that Mark's embrace was the expression of his sympathy wept more, as people will when others are sorry for them, and then still more because the future for Mark seemed hopeless. How was she to educate him? How clothe him? How feed him even? At her age where and how could she earn money? She reproached herself with having been too ready out of sensitiveness to sacrifice Mark to her own pride. She had had no right to leave her husband and live in the country like this. She should have repressed her own emotion and thought only of the family life, to the maintenance of which by her marriage she had committed herself. At first it had seemed the best thing for Mark; but she should have remembered that her father could not live for ever and that one day she would have to face the problem of life without his help and his hospitality. She began to imagine that the disaster of that stormy night had been contrived by God to punish her, and she prayed to Him that her chastisement should not be increased, that at least her son might be spared to her.

Mrs. Lidderdale was able to stay on at the Vicarage for several weeks, because the new Vicar of Nancepean was not able to take over his charge immediately. This delay gave her time to hold a sale of her father's furniture, at which the desire of the neighbours to be generous fought with their native avarice, so that in the end the furniture fetched neither more nor less than had been expected, which was little enough. She kept back enough to establish herself and Mark in rooms, should she be successful in finding some unfurnished rooms sufficiently cheap to allow her to take them, although how she was going to live for more than two years on what she had was a riddle of which after a month of sleepless nights she had not found the solution.

In the end, and as Mrs. Lidderdale supposed in answer to her prayers, the solution was provided unexpectedly in the following letter:

Haverton House,

Elmhurst Road,

Slowbridge.

November 29th.

Dear Grace,

I have just received a letter from James written when he was at the point of death in Africa. It appears that in his zeal to convert the heathen to Popery he omitted to make any provision for his wife and child, so that in the event of his death, unless either your relatives or his relatives came forward to support you I was given to understand that you would be destitute. I recently read in the daily paper an account of the way in which your father Mr. Trehawke lost his life, and I caused inquiries to be made in Rosemarket about your prospects. These my informant tells me are not any too bright. You will, I am sure, pardon my having made these inquiries without reference to you, but I did not feel justified in offering you and my nephew a home with my sister Helen and myself unless I had first assured myself that some such offer was necessary. You are probably aware that for many years my brother James and myself have not been on the best of terms. I on my side found his religious teaching so eccentric as to repel me; he on his side was so bigoted that he could not tolerate my tacit disapproval. Not being a Ritualist but an Evangelical, I can perhaps bring myself more easily to forgive my brother's faults and at the same time indulge my theories of duty, as opposed to forms and ceremonies, theories that if carried out by everybody would soon transform our modern Christianity. You are no doubt a Ritualist, and your son has no doubt been educated in the same school. Let me hasten to give you my word that I shall not make the least attempt to interfere either with your religious practices or with his. The quarrel between myself and James was due almost entirely to James' inability to let me and my opinions alone.

I am far from being a rich man, in fact I may say at once that I am scarcely even "comfortably off" as the phrase goes. It would therefore be outside my capacity to undertake the expense of any elaborate education for your son; but my own school, which while it does not pretend to compete with some of the fashionable establishments of the time is I venture to assert a first class school and well able to send your son into the world at the age of sixteen as well equipped, and better equipped than he would be if he went to one of the famous public schools. I possess some influence with a firm of solicitors, and I have no doubt that when my nephew, who is I believe now twelve years old, has had the necessary schooling I shall be able to secure him a position as an articled clerk, from which if he is honest and industrious he may be able to rise to the position of a junior partner. If you have saved anything from the sale of your father's effects I should advise you to invest the sum. However small it is, you will find the extra money useful, for as I remarked before I shall not be able to afford to do more than lodge and feed you both, educate your son, find him in clothes, and start him in a career on the lines I have already indicated. My local informant tells me that you have kept back a certain amount of your father's furniture in order to take lodgings elsewhere. As this will now be unnecessary I hope that you will sell the rest. Haverton House is sufficiently furnished, and we should not be able to find room for any more furniture. I suggest your coming to us next Friday. It will be easiest for you to take the fast train up to Paddington when you will be able to catch the 6.45 to Slowbridge arriving at 7.15. We usually dine at 7.30, but on Friday dinner will be at 8 p.m. in order to give you plenty of time. Helen sends her love. She would have written also, but I assured her that one letter was enough, and that a very long one.

Your affectionate brother-in-law,

Henry Lidderdale.

Mrs. Lidderdale would no doubt have criticized this letter more sharply if she had not regarded it as inspired, almost actually written by the hand of God. Whatever in it was displeasing to her she accepted as the Divine decree, and if anybody had pointed out the inconsistency of some of the opinions therein expressed with its Divine authorship, she would have dismissed the objection as made by somebody who was incapable of comprehending the mysterious action of God.

"Mark," she called to her son. "What do you think has happened? Your Uncle Henry has offered us a home. I want you to write to him like a dear boy and thank him for his kindness." She explained in detail what Uncle Henry intended to do for them; but Mark would not be enthusiastic. He on his side had been praying to God to put it into the mind of Samuel Dale to offer him a job on his farm; Slowbridge was a poor substitute for that.

"Where is Slowbridge?" he asked in a gloomy voice.

"It's a fairly large place near London," his mother told him. "It's near Eton and Windsor and Stoke Poges where Gray wrote his Elegy, which we learned last summer. You remember, don't you?" she asked anxiously, for she wanted Mark to cut a figure with his uncle.

"Wolfe liked it," said Mark. "And I like it too," he added ungraciously. He wished that he could have said he hated it; but Mark always found it difficult to tell a lie about his personal feelings, or about any facts that involved him in a false position.

"And now before you go down to tea with Cass Dale, you will write to your uncle, won't you, and show me the letter?"

Mark groaned.

"It's so difficult to thank people. It makes me feel silly."

"Well, darling, mother wants you to. So sit down like a dear boy and get it done."

"I think my nib is crossed."

"Is it? You'll find another in my desk."

"But, mother, yours are so thick."

"Please, Mark, don't make any more excuses. Don't you want to do everything you can to help me just now?"

"Yes, of course," said Mark penitently, and sitting down in the window he stared out at the yellow November sky, and at the magpies flying busily from one side of the valley to the other.

The Vicarage,

Nancepean,

South Cornwall.

My dear Uncle Henry,

Thank you very much for your kind invitation to come and live with you. We should enjoy it very much. I am going to tea with a friend of mine called Cass Dale who lives in Nancepean, and so I must stop now. With love,

I remain,

Your loving nephew,

Mark.

And then the pen must needs go and drop a blot like a balloon right over his name, so that the whole letter had to be copied out again before his mother would say that she was satisfied, by which time the yellow sky was dun and the magpies were gone to rest.

Mark left the Dales about half past six, and was accompanied by Cass to the brow of Pendhu. At this point Cass declined to go any farther in spite of Mark's reminder that this would be one of the last walks they would take together, if it were not absolutely the very last.

"No," said Cass. "I wouldn't come up from Church Cove myself not for anything."

"But I'm going down by myself," Mark argued. "If I hadn't thought you'd come all the way with me, I'd have gone home by the fields. What are you afraid of?"

"I'm not afraid of nothing, but I don't want to walk so far by myself. I've come up the hill with 'ee. Now 'tis all down hill for both of us, and that's fair."

"Oh, all right," said Mark, turning away in resentment at his friend's desertion.

Both boys ran off in opposite directions, Cass past the splash of light thrown across the road by the windows of the Hanover Inn, and on toward the scattered lights of Nancepean, Mark into the gloom of the deep lane down to Church Cove. It was a warm and humid evening that brought out the smell of the ferns and earth in the high banks on either side, and presently at the bottom of the hill the smell of the seaweed heaped up in Church Cove by weeks of gales. The moon, about three days from the full, was already up, shedding her aqueous lustre over the towans of Chypie, which slowly penetrated the black gulfs of shadow in the countryside until Mark could perceive the ghost of a familiar landscape. There came over him, whose emotion had already been sprung by the insensibility of Cass, an overwhelming awareness of parting, and he gave to the landscape the expression of sentiment he had yearned to give his friend. His fear of seeing the spirits of the drowned sailors, or as he passed the churchyard gate of perceiving behind that tamarisk the tall spectre of his grandfather, which on the way down from Pendhu had seemed impossible to combat, had died away; and in his despair at losing this beloved scene he wandered on past the church until he stood at the edge of the tide. On this humid autumnal night the oily sea collapsed upon the beach as if it, like everything else in nature, was overcome by the prevailing heaviness. Mark sat down upon some tufts of samphire and watched the Stag Light occulting out across St. Levan's Bay, distant forty miles and more, and while he sat he perceived a glow-worm at his feet creeping along a sprig of samphire that marked the limit of the tide's advance. How did the samphire know that it was safe to grow where it did, and how did the glow-worm know that the samphire was safe?

Mark was suddenly conscious of the protection of God, for might not he expect as much as the glow-worm and the samphire? The ache of separation from Nancepean was assuaged. That dread of the future, with which the impact of death had filled him, was allayed.

"Good-night, sister glow-worm," he said aloud in imitation of St. Francis. "Good-night, brother samphire."

A drift of distant fog had obliterated the Stag Light; but of her samphire the glow-worm had made a moonlit forest, so brightly was she shining, yes, a green world of interlacing, lucid boughs.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

And Mark, aspiring to thank God Who had made manifest His protection, left Nancepean three days later with the determination to become a lighthouse-keeper, to polish well his lamp and tend it with care, so that men passing by in ships should rejoice at his good works and call him brother lighthouse-keeper, and glorify God their Father when they walked again upon the grass, harking to the pleasant song of birds and the hum of bees.



CHAPTER IX

SLOWBRIDGE

When Mark came to live with Uncle Henry Lidderdale at Slowbridge, he was large for his age, or at any rate he was so loosely jointed as to appear large; a swart complexion, prominent cheek-bones, and straight lank hair gave him a melancholic aspect, the impression of which remained with the observer until he heard the boy laugh in a paroxysm of merriment that left his dark blue eyes dancing long after the outrageous noise had died down. If Mark had occasion to relate some episode that appealed to him, his laughter would accompany the narrative like a pack of hounds in full cry, would as it were pursue the tale to its death, and communicate its zest to the listener, who would think what a sense of humour Mark had, whereas it was more truly the gusto of life.

Uncle Henry found this laughter boisterous and irritating; if his nephew had been a canary in a cage, he would have covered him with a table-cloth. Aunt Helen, if she was caught up in one of Mark's narratives, would twitch until it was finished, when she would rub her forehead with an acorn of menthol and wrap herself more closely in a shawl of soft Shetland wool. The antipathy that formerly existed between Mark and his father was much sharper between Mark and his uncle. It was born in the instant of their first meeting, when Uncle Henry bent over, his trunk at right angles to his legs, so that one could fancy the pelvic bones to be clicking like the wooden joints of a monkey on a stick, and offered his nephew an acrid whisker to be saluted.

"And what is Mark going to be?" Uncle Henry inquired.

"A lighthouse-keeper."

"Ah, we all have suchlike ambitions when we are young. I remember that for nearly a year I intended to be a muffin-man," said Uncle Henry severely.

Mark hated his uncle from that moment, and he fixed upon the throbbing pulse of his scraped-out temples as the feature upon which that dislike should henceforth be concentrated. Uncle Henry's pulse seemed to express all the vitality that was left to him; Mark thought that Our Lord must have felt about the barren fig-tree much as he felt about Uncle Henry.

Aunt Helen annoyed Mark in the way that one is annoyed by a cushion in an easy chair. It is soft and apparently comfortable, but after a minute or two one realizes that it is superfluous, and it is pushed over the arm to the floor. Unfortunately Aunt Helen could not be treated like a cushion; and there she was soft and comfortable in appearance, but forever in Mark's way. Aunt Helen was the incarnation of her own drawing-room. Her face was round and stupid like a clock's; she wore brocaded gowns and carpet slippers; her shawls resembled antimacassars; her hair was like the stuff that is put in grates during the summer; her caps were like lace curtains tied back with velvet ribbons; cameos leant against her bosom as if they were upon a mantelpiece. Mark never overcame his dislike of kissing Aunt Helen, for it gave him a sensation every time that a bit of her might stick to his lips. He lacked that solemn sense of relationship with which most children are imbued, and the compulsory intimacy offended him, particularly when his aunt referred to little boys generically as if they were beetles or mice. Her inability to appreciate that he was Mark outraged his young sense of personality which was further dishonoured by the manner in which she spoke of herself as Aunt Helen, thus seeming to imply that he was only human at all in so far as he was her nephew. She continually shocked his dignity by prescribing medicine for him without regard to the presence of servants or visitors; and nothing gave her more obvious pleasure than to get Mark into the drawing-room on afternoons when dreary mothers of pupils came to call, so that she might bully him under the appearance of teaching good manners, and impress the parents with the advantages of a Haverton House education.

As long as his mother remained alive, Mark tried to make her happy by pretending that he enjoyed living at Haverton House, that he enjoyed his uncle's Preparatory School for the Sons of Gentlemen, that he enjoyed Slowbridge with its fogs and laburnums, its perambulators and tradesmen's carts and noise of whistling trains; but a year after they left Nancepean Mrs. Lidderdale died of pneumonia, and Mark was left alone with his uncle and aunt.

"He doesn't realize what death means," said Aunt Helen, when Mark on the very afternoon of the funeral without even waiting to change out of his best clothes began to play with soldiers instead of occupying himself with the preparation of lessons that must begin again on the morrow.

"I wonder if you will play with soldiers when Aunt Helen dies?" she pressed.

"No," said Mark quickly, "I shall work at my lessons when you die."

His uncle and aunt looked at him suspiciously. They could find no fault with the answer; yet something in the boy's tone, some dreadful suppressed exultation made them feel that they ought to find severe fault with the answer.

"Wouldn't it be kinder to your poor mother's memory," Aunt Helen suggested, "wouldn't it be more becoming now to work harder at your lessons when your mother is watching you from above?"

Mark would not condescend to explain why he was playing with soldiers, nor with what passionate sorrow he was recalling every fleeting expression on his mother's face, every slight intonation of her voice when she was able to share in his game; he hated his uncle and aunt so profoundly that he revelled in their incapacity to understand him, and he would have accounted it a desecration of her memory to share his grief with them.

Haverton House School was a depressing establishment; in after years when Mark looked back at it he used to wonder how it had managed to survive so long, for when he came to live at Slowbridge it had actually been in existence for twenty years, and his uncle was beginning to look forward to the time when Old Havertonians, as he called them, would be bringing their sons to be educated at the old place. There were about fifty pupils, most of them the sons of local tradesmen, who left when they were about fourteen, though a certain number lingered on until they were as much as sixteen in what was called the Modern Class, where they were supposed to receive at least as practical an education as they would have received behind the counter, and certainly a more genteel one. Fine fellows those were in the Modern Class at Haverton House, stalwart heroes who made up the cricket and football teams and strode about the playing fields of Haverton House with as keen a sense of their own importance as Etonians of comparable status in their playing fields not more than two miles away. Mark when everything else in his school life should be obliterated by time would remember their names and prowess. . . . Borrow, Tull, Yarde, Corke, Vincent, Macdougal, Skinner, they would keep throughout his life some of that magic which clings to Diomed and Deiphobus, to Hector and Achilles.

Apart from these heroic names the atmosphere of Haverton House was not inspiring. It reduced the world to the size and quality of one of those scratched globes with which Uncle Henry demonstrated geography. Every subject at Haverton House, no matter how interesting it promised to be, was ruined from an educative point of view by its impedimenta of dates, imports, exports, capitals, capes, and Kings of Israel and Judah. Neither Uncle Henry nor his assistants Mr. Spaull and Mr. Palmer believed in departing from the book. Whatever books were chosen for the term's curriculum were regarded as something for which money had been paid and from which the last drop of information must be squeezed to justify in the eyes of parents the expenditure. The teachers considered the notes more important than the text; genealogical tables were exalted above anything on the same page. Some books of history were adorned with illustrations; but no use was made of them by the masters, and for the pupils they merely served as outlines to which, were they the outlines of human beings, inky beards and moustaches had to be affixed, or were they landscapes, flights of birds.

Mr. Spaull was a fat flabby young man with a heavy fair moustache, who was reading for Holy Orders; Mr. Palmer was a stocky bow-legged young man in knickerbockers, who was good at football and used to lament the gentle birth that prevented his becoming a professional. The boys called him Gentleman Joe; but they were careful not to let Mr. Palmer hear them, for he had a punch and did not believe in cuddling the young. He used to jeer openly at his colleague, Mr. Spaull, who never played football, never did anything in the way of exercise except wrestle flirtatiously with the boys, while Mr. Palmer was bellowing up and down the field of play and charging his pupils with additional vigour to counteract the feebleness of Mr. Spaull. Poor Mr. Spaull, he was ordained about three years after Mark came to Slowbridge, and a week later he was run over by a brewer's dray and killed.



CHAPTER X

WHIT-SUNDAY

Mark at the age of fifteen was a bitter, lonely, and unattractive boy. Three years of Haverton House, three years of Uncle Henry's desiccated religion, three years of Mr. Palmer's athletic education and Mr. Spaull's milksop morality, three years of wearing clothes that were too small for him, three years of Haverton House cooking, three years of warts and bad haircutting, of ink and Aunt Helen's confident purging had destroyed that gusto for life which when Mark first came to Slowbridge used to express itself in such loud laughter. Uncle Henry probably supposed that the cure of his nephew's irritating laugh was the foundation stone of that successful career, which it would soon be time to discuss in detail. The few months between now and Mark's sixteenth birthday would soon pass, however dreary the restrictions of Haverton House, and then it would be time to go and talk to Mr. Hitchcock about that articled clerkship toward the fees for which the small sum left by his mother would contribute. Mark was so anxious to be finished with Haverton House that he would have welcomed a prospect even less attractive than Mr. Hitchcock's office in Finsbury Square; it never occurred to him that the money left by his mother could be spent to greater advantage for himself. By now it was over L500, and Uncle Henry on Sunday evenings when he was feeling comfortably replete with the day's devotion would sometimes allude to his having left the interest to accumulate and would urge Mark to be up and doing in order to show his gratitude for all that he and Aunt Helen had conferred upon him. Mark felt no gratitude; in fact at this period he felt nothing except a kind of surly listlessness. He was like somebody who through the carelessness of his nurse or guardian has been crippled in youth, and who is preparing to enter the world with a suppressed resentment against everybody and everything.

"Not still hankering after a lighthouse?" Uncle Henry asked, and one seemed to hear his words snapping like dry twigs beneath the heavy tread of his mind.

"I'm not hankering after anything," Mark replied sullenly.

"But you're looking forward to Mr. Hitchcock's office?" his uncle proceeded.

Mark grunted an assent in order to be left alone, and the entrance of Mr. Palmer who always had supper with his headmaster and employer on Sunday evening, brought the conversation to a close.

At supper Mr. Palmer asked suddenly if the headmaster wanted Mark to go into the Confirmation Class this term.

"No thanks," said Mark.

Uncle Henry raised his eyebrows.

"I fancy that is for me to decide."

"Neither my father nor my mother nor my grandfather would have wanted me to be confirmed against my will," Mark declared. He was angry without knowing his reasons, angry in response to some impulse of the existence of which he had been unaware until he began to speak. He only knew that if he surrendered on this point he should never be able to act for himself again.

"Are you suggesting that you should never be confirmed?" his uncle required.

"I'm not suggesting anything," said Mark. "But I can remember my father's saying once that boys ought to be confirmed before they are thirteen. My mother just before she died wanted me to be confirmed, but it couldn't be arranged, and now I don't intend to be confirmed till I feel I want to be confirmed. I don't want to be prepared for confirmation as if it was a football match. If you force me to go to the confirmation I'll refuse to answer the Bishop's questions. You can't make me answer against my will."

"Mark dear," said Aunt Helen, "I think you'd better take some Eno's Fruit Salts to-morrow morning." In her nephew's present mood she did not dare to prescribe anything stronger.

"I'm not going to take anything to-morrow morning," said Mark angrily.

"Do you want me to thrash you?" Uncle Henry demanded.

Mr. Palmer's eyes glittered with the zeal of muscular Christianity.

"You'll be sorry for it if you do," said Mark. "You can of course, if you get Mr. Palmer to help you, but you'll be sorry if you do."

Mr. Palmer looked at his chief as a terrier looks at his master when a rabbit is hiding in a bush. But the headmaster's vanity would not allow him to summon help to punish his own nephew, and he weakly contented himself with ordering Mark to be silent.

"It strikes me that Spaull is responsible for this sort of thing," said Mr. Palmer. "He always resented my having any hand in the religious teaching."

"That poor worm!" Mark scoffed.

"Mark, he's dead," Aunt Helen gasped. "You mustn't speak of him like that."

"Get out of the room and go to bed," Uncle Henry shouted.

Mark retired with offensive alacrity, and while he was undressing he wondered drearily why he had made himself so conspicuous on this Sunday evening out of so many Sunday evenings. What did it matter whether he were confirmed or not? What did anything matter except to get through the next year and be finished with Haverton House?

He was more sullen than ever during the week, but on Saturday he had the satisfaction of bowling Mr. Palmer in the first innings of a match and in the second innings of hitting him on the jaw with a rising ball.

The next day he rose at five o'clock on a glorious morning in early June and walked rapidly away from Slowbridge. By ten o'clock he had reached a country of rolling beech-woods, and turning aside from the high road he wandered over the bare nutbrown soil that gave the glossy leaves high above a green unparagoned, a green so lambent that the glimpses of the sky beyond seemed opaque as turquoises amongst it. In quick succession Mark saw a squirrel, a woodpecker, and a jay, creatures so perfectly expressive of the place, that they appeared to him more like visions than natural objects; and when they were gone he stood with beating heart in silence as if in a moment the trees should fly like woodpeckers, the sky flash and flutter its blue like a jay's wing, and the very earth leap like a squirrel for his amazement. Presently he came to an open space where the young bracken was springing round a pool. He flung himself down in the frondage, and the spice of it in his nostrils was as if he were feeding upon summer. He was happy until he caught sight of his own reflection in the pool, and then he could not bear to stay any longer in this wood, because unlike the squirrel and the woodpecker and the jay he was an ugly intruder here, a scarecrow in ill-fitting clothes, round the ribbon of whose hat like a chain ran the yellow zigzag of Haverton House. He became afraid of the wood, perceiving nothing round him now except an assemblage of menacing trunks, a slow gathering of angry and forbidding branches. The silence of the day was dreadful in this wood, and Mark fled from it until he emerged upon a brimming clover-ley full of drunken bees, a merry clover-ley dancing in the sun, across which the sound of church bells was being blown upon a honeyed wind. Mark welcomed the prospect of seeing ugly people again after the humiliation inflicted upon him by the wood; and he followed a footpath at the far end of the ley across several stiles, until he stood beneath the limes that overhung the churchyard gate and wondered if he should go inside to the service. The bells were clanging an agitated final appeal to the worshippers; and Mark, unable to resist, allowed himself to flow toward the cool dimness within. There with a thrill he recognized the visible signs of his childhood's religion, and now after so many years he perceived with new eyes an unfamiliar beauty in the crossings and genuflexions, in the pictures and images. The world which had lately seemed so jejune was crowded like a dream, a dream moreover that did not elude the recollection of it in the moment of waking, but that stayed with him for the rest of his life as the evidence of things not seen, which is Faith.

It was during the Gospel that Mark began to realize that what was being said and done at the Altar demanded not merely his attention but also his partaking. All the services he had attended since he came to Slowbridge had demanded nothing from him, and even when he was at Nancepean he had always been outside the sacred mysteries. But now on this Whit-sunday morning he heard in the Gospel:

Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me.

And while he listened it seemed that Jesus Christ was departing from him, and that unless he were quick to offer himself he should be left to the prince of this world; so black was Mark's world in those days that the Prince of it meant most unmistakably the Prince of Darkness, and the prophecy made him shiver with affright. With conviction he said the Nicene Creed, and when the celebrating priest, a tall fair man, with a gentle voice and of a mild and benignant aspect, went up into the pulpit and announced that there would be a confirmation in his church on the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Mark felt in this newly found assurance of being commanded by God to follow Him that somehow he must be confirmed in this church and prepared by this kindly priest. The sermon was about the coming of the Holy Ghost and of our bodies which are His temple. Any other Sunday Mark would have sat in a stupor, while his mind would occasionally have taken flights of activity, counting the lines of a prayer-book's page or following the tributaries in the grain of the pew in front; but on this Sunday he sat alert, finding every word of the discourse applicable to himself.

On other Sundays the first sentence of the Offertory would have passed unheeded in the familiarity of its repetition, but this morning it took him back to that night in Church Cove when he saw the glow-worm by the edge of the tide and made up his mind to be a lighthouse-keeper.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

"I will be a priest," Mark vowed to himself.

Give grace, O heavenly Father, to all Bishops and Curates that they may both by their life and doctrines set forth thy true and lively word, and rightly and duly administer thy holy Sacraments.

"I will, I will," he vowed.

Hear what comfortable words our Saviour Christ saith unto all that truly turn to him. Come unto me all that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.

Mark prayed that with such words he might when he was a priest bring consolation.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord; according to whose most true promise, the Holy Ghost came down as at this time from heaven with a sudden great sound, as it had been a mighty wind, in the likeness of fiery tongues, lighting upon the Apostles, to teach them and to lead them to all truth;

The red chasuble of the priest glowed with Pentecostal light.

giving them both the gift of divers languages, and also boldness with fervent seal constantly to preach the Gospel unto all nations; whereby we have been brought out of darkness and error into the clear light and true knowledge of thee, and of thy Son Jesus Christ.

And when after this proper preface of Whit-sunday, which seemed to Mark to be telling him what was expected of his priesthood by God, the quire sang the Sanctus, Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name; evermore praising thee, and saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory: Glory be to thee, O Lord most High. Amen, that sublime proclamation spoke the fullness of his aspiring heart.

Mark came out of church with the rest of the congregation, and walked down the road toward the roofs of the little village, on the outskirts of which he could not help stopping to admire a small garden full of pinks in front of two thatched cottages that had evidently been made into one house. While he was standing there looking over the trim quickset hedge, an old lady with silvery hair came slowly down the road, paused a moment by the gate before she went in, and then asked Mark if she had not seen him in church. Mark felt embarrassed at being discovered looking over a hedge into somebody's garden; but he managed to murmur an affirmative and turned to go away.

"Stop," said the old lady waving at him her ebony crook, "do not run away, young gentleman. I see that you admire my garden. Pray step inside and look more closely at it."

Mark thought at first by her manner of speech that she was laughing at him; but soon perceiving that she was in earnest he followed her inside, and walked behind her along the narrow winding paths, nodding with an appearance of profound interest when she poked at some starry clump and invited his admiration. As they drew nearer the house, the smell of the pinks was merged in the smell of hot roast beef, and Mark discovered that he was hungry, so hungry indeed that he felt he could not stay any longer to be tantalized by the odours of the Sunday dinner, but must go off and find an inn where he could obtain bread and cheese as quickly as possible. He was preparing an excuse to get away, when the garden wicket clicked, and looking up he saw the fair priest coming down the path toward them accompanied by two ladies, one of whom resembled him so closely that Mark was sure she was his sister. The other, who looked windblown in spite of the serene June weather, had a nervous energy that contrasted with the demeanour of the other two, whose deliberate pace seemed to worry her so that she was continually two yards ahead and turning round as if to urge them to walk more quickly.

The old lady must have guessed Mark's intention, for raising her stick she forbade him to move, and before he had time to mumble an apology and flee she was introducing the newcomers to him.

"This is my daughter Miriam," she said pointing to one who resembled her brother. "And this is my daughter Esther. And this is my son, the Vicar. What is your name?"

Mark told her, and he should have liked to ask what hers was, but he felt too shy.

"You're going to stay and have lunch with us, I hope?" asked the Vicar.

Mark had no idea how to reply. He was much afraid that if he accepted he should be seeming to have hung about by the Vicarage gate in order to be invited. On the other hand he did not know how to refuse. It would be absurd to say that he had to get home, because they would ask him where he lived, and at this hour of the morning he could scarcely pretend that he expected to be back in time for lunch twelve miles and more from where he was.

"Of course he's going to stay," said the old lady.

And of course Mark did stay; a delightful lunch it was too, on chairs covered with blue holland in a green shadowed room that smelt of dryness and ancientry. After lunch Mark sat for a while with the Vicar in his study, which was small and intimate with its two armchairs and bookshelves reaching to the ceiling all round. He had not yet managed to find out his name, and as it was obviously too late to ask as this stage of their acquaintanceship he supposed that he should have to wait until he left the Vicarage and could ask somebody in the village, of which by the way he also did not know the name.

"Lidderdale," the Vicar was saying meditatively, "Lidderdale. I wonder if you were a relative of the famous Lidderdale of St. Wilfred's?"

Mark flushed with a mixture of self-consciousness and pleasure to hear his father spoken of as famous, and when he explained who he was he flushed still more deeply to hear his father's work praised with such enthusiasm.

"And do you hope to be a priest yourself?"

"Why, yes I do rather," said Mark.

"Splendid! Capital!" cried the Vicar, his kindly blue eye beaming with approval of Mark's intention.

Presently Mark was talking to him as though he had known him for years.

"There's no reason why you shouldn't be confirmed here," the Vicar said. "No reason at all. I'll mention it to the Bishop, and if you like I'll write to your uncle. I shall feel justified in interfering on account of your father's opinions. We all look upon him as one of the great pioneers of the Movement. You must come over and lunch with us again next Sunday. My mother will be delighted to see you. She's a dear old thing, isn't she? I'm going to hand you over to her now and my youngest sister. My other sister and I have got Sunday schools to deal with. Have another cigarette? No. Quite right. You oughtn't to smoke too much at your age. Only just fifteen, eh? By Jove, I suppose you oughtn't to have smoked at all. But what rot. You'd only smoke all the more if it was absolutely forbidden. Wisdom! Wisdom! Wisdom with the young! You don't mind being called young? I've known boys who hated the epithet."

Mark was determined to show his new friend that he did not object to being called young, and he could think of no better way to do it than by asking him his name, thus proving that he did not mind if such a question did make him look ridiculous.

"Ogilvie—Stephen Ogilvie. My dear boy, it's we who ought to be ashamed of ourselves for not having had the gumption to enlighten you. How on earth were you to know without asking? Now, look here, I must run. I expect you'll be wanting to get home, or I'd suggest your staying until I get back, but I must lie low after tea and think out my sermon. Look here, come over to lunch on Saturday, haven't you a bicycle? You could get over from Slowbridge by one o'clock, and after lunch we'll have a good tramp in the woods. Splendid!"

Then chanting the Dies Irae in a cheerful tenor the Reverend Stephen Ogilvie hurried off to his Sunday School. Mark said good-bye to Mrs. Ogilvie with an assured politeness that was typical of his new found ease; and when he started on his long walk back to Slowbridge he felt inclined to leap in the air and wake with shouts the slumberous Sabbath afternoon, proclaiming the glory of life, the joy of living.

Mark had not expected his uncle to welcome his friendship with the Vicar of Meade Cantorum; but he had supposed that after a few familiar sneers he should be allowed to go his own way with nothing worse than silent disapproval brooding over his perverse choice. He was surprised by the vehemence of his uncle's opposition, and it must be added that he thoroughly enjoyed it. The experience of that Whit-sunday had been too rich not to be of enduring importance to his development in any case; but the behaviour of Uncle Henry made it more important, because all this criticism helped Mark to put his opinions into shape, consolidated the position he had taken up, sharpened his determination to advance along the path he had discovered for himself, and gave him an immediate target for arrows that might otherwise have been shot into the air until his quiver was empty.

"Mr. Ogilvie knew my father."

"That has nothing to do with the case," said Uncle Henry.

"I think it has."

"Do not be insolent, Mark. I've noticed lately a most unpleasant note in your voice, an objectionably defiant note which I simply will not tolerate."

"But do you really mean that I'm not to go and see Mr. Ogilvie?"

"It would have been more courteous if Mr. Ogilvie had given himself the trouble of writing to me, your guardian, before inviting you out to lunch and I don't know what not besides."

"He said he would write to you."

"I don't want to embark on a correspondence with him," Uncle Henry exclaimed petulantly. "I know the man by reputation. A bigoted Ritualist. A Romanizer of the worst type. He'll only fill your head with a lot of effeminate nonsense, and that at a time when it's particularly necessary for you to concentrate upon your work. Don't forget that this is your last year of school. I advise you to make the most of it."

"I've asked Mr. Ogilvie to prepare me for confirmation," said Mark, who was determined to goad his uncle into losing his temper.

"Then you deserve to be thrashed."

"Look here, Uncle Henry," Mark began; and while he was speaking he was aware that he was stronger than his uncle now and looking across at his aunt he perceived that she was just a ball of badly wound wool lying in a chair. "Look here, Uncle Henry, it's quite useless for you to try to stop my going to Meade Cantorum, because I'm going there whenever I'm asked and I'm going to be confirmed there, because you promised Mother you wouldn't interfere with my religion."

"Your religion!" broke in Mr. Lidderdale, scornful both of the pronoun and the substantive.

"It's no use your losing your temper or arguing with me or doing anything except letting me go my own way, because that's what I intend to do."

Aunt Helen half rose in her chair upon an impulse to protect her brother against Mark's violence.

"And you can't cure me with Gregory Powder," he said. "Nor with Senna nor with Licorice nor even with Cascara."

"Your behaviour, my boy, is revolting," said Mr. Lidderdale. "A young Mohawk would not talk to his guardians as you are talking to me."

"Well, I don't want you to think I'm going to obey you if you forbid me to go to Meade Cantorum," said Mark. "I'm sorry I was rude, Aunt Helen. I oughtn't to have spoken to you like that. And I'm sorry, Uncle Henry, to seem ungrateful after what you've done for me." And then lest his uncle should think that he was surrendering he quickly added: "But I'm going to Meade Cantorum on Saturday." And like most people who know their own minds Mark had his own way.



CHAPTER XI

MEADE CANTORUM

Mark did not suffer from "churchiness" during this period. His interest in religion, although it resembled the familiar conversions of adolescence, was a real resurrection of emotions which had been stifled by these years at Haverton House following upon the paralyzing grief of his mother's death. Had he been in contact during that time with an influence like the Vicar of Meade Cantorum, he would probably have escaped those ashen years, but as Mr. Ogilvie pointed out to him, he would also never have received such evidence of God's loving kindness as was shown to him upon that Whit-sunday morning.

"If in the future, my dear boy, you are ever tempted to doubt the wisdom of Almighty God, remember what was vouchsafed to you at a moment when you seemed to have no reason for any longer existing, so black was your world. Remember how you caught sight of yourself in that pool and shrank away in horror from the vision. I envy you, Mark. I have never been granted such a revelation of myself."

"You were never so ugly," said Mark.

"My dear boy, we are all as ugly as the demons of Hell if we are allowed to see ourselves as we really are. But God only grants that to a few brave spirits whom he consecrates to his service and whom he fortifies afterwards by proving to them that, no matter how great the horror of their self-recognition, the Holy Ghost is within them to comfort them. I don't suppose that many human beings are granted such an experience as yours. I myself tremble at the thought of it, knowing that God considers me too weak a subject for such a test."

"Oh, Mr. Ogilvie," Mark expostulated.

"I'm not talking to you as Mark Lidderdale, but as the recipient of the grace of God, to one who before my own unworthy eyes has been lightened by celestial fire. Mine eyes have seen thy salvation, O Lord. As for yourself, my dear boy, I pray always that you may sustain your part, that you will never allow the memory of this Whitsuntide to be obscured by the fogs of this world and that you will always bear in mind that having been given more talents by God a sharper account will be taken of the use you make of them. Don't think I'm doubting your steadfastness, old man, I believe in it. Do you hear? I believe in it absolutely. But Catholic doctrine, which is the sum of humanity's knowledge of God and than which nothing more can be known of God until we see Him face to face, insists upon good works, demanding as it were a practical demonstration to the rest of the world of the grace of God within you. You remember St. Paul? Faith, Hope, and Love. But the greatest of these is Love. The greatest because the least individual. Faith will move mountains, but so will Love. That's the trouble with so many godly Protestants. They are inclined to stay satisfied with their own godliness, although the best of them like the Quakers are examples that ought to make most of us Catholics ashamed of ourselves. And one thing more, old man, before we get off this subject, don't forget that your experience is a mercy accorded to you by the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. You owe to His infinite Love your new life. What was granted to you was the visible apprehension of the fact of Holy Baptism, and don't forget St. John the Baptist's words: I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but he that cometh after me is mightier than I. He shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. Those are great words for you to think of now, and during this long Trinitytide which is symbolical of what one might call the humdrum of religious life, the day in day out sticking to it, make a resolution never to say mechanically The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore. Amen. If you always remember to say those wonderful words from the heart and not merely with the lips, you will each time you say them marvel more and more at the great condescension of Almighty God in favouring you, as He has favoured you, by teaching you the meaning of these words Himself in a way that no poor mortal priest, however eloquent, could teach you it. On that night when you watched beside the glow-worm at the sea's edge the grace of our Lord gave you an apprehension, child as you were, of the love of God, and now once more the grace of our Lord gives you the realization of the fellowship of the Holy Ghost. I don't want to spoil your wonderful experience with my parsonic discoursing; but, Mark, don't look back from the plough."

Uncle Henry found it hard to dispose of words like these when he deplored his nephew's collapse into ritualism.

"You really needn't bother about the incense and the vestments," Mark assured him. "I like incense and vestments; but I don't think they're the most important things in religion. You couldn't find anybody more evangelical than Mr. Ogilvie, though he doesn't call himself evangelical, or his party the Evangelical party. It's no use your trying to argue me out of what I believe. I know I'm believing what it's right for me to believe. When I'm older I shall try to make everybody else believe in my way, because I should like everybody else to feel as happy as I do. Your religion doesn't make you feel happy, Uncle Henry!"

"Leave the room," was Mr. Lidderdale's reply. "I won't stand this kind of talk from a boy of your age."

Although Mark had only claimed from his uncle the right to believe what it was right for him to believe, the richness of his belief presently began to seem too much for one. His nature was generous in everything, and he felt that he must share this happiness with somebody else. He regretted the death of poor Mr. Spaull, for he was sure that he could have persuaded poor Mr. Spaull to cut off his yellow moustache and become a Catholic. Mr. Palmer was of course hopeless: Saint Augustine of Hippo, St. Paul himself even, would have found it hard to deal with Mr. Palmer; as for the new master, Mr. Blumey, with his long nose and long chin and long frock coat and long boots, he was obviously absorbed by the problems of mathematics and required nothing more.

Term came to an end, and during the holidays Mark was able to spend most of his time at Meade Cantorum. He had always been a favourite of Mrs. Ogilvie since that Whit-sunday nearly two months ago when she saw him looking at her garden and invited him in, and every time he revisited the Vicarage he had devoted some of his time to helping her weed or prune or do whatever she wanted to do in her garden. He was also on friendly terms with Miriam, the elder of Mr. Ogilvie's two sisters, who was very like her brother in appearance and who gave to the house the decorous loving care he gave to the church. And however enthralling her domestic ministrations, she had always time to attend every service; while, so well ordered was her manner of life, her religious duties never involved the household in discomfort. She never gave the impression that so many religious women give of going to church in a fever of self-gratification, to which everything and everybody around her must be subordinated. The practice of her religion was woven into her life like the strand of wool on which all the others depend, but which itself is no more conspicuous than any of the other strands. With so many women religion is a substitute for something else; with Miriam Ogilvie everything else was made as nearly and as beautifully as it could be made a substitute for religion. Mark was intensely aware of her holiness, but he was equally aware of her capable well-tended hands and of her chatelaine glittering in and out of a lawn apron. One tress of her abundant hair was grey, which stood out against the dark background of the rest and gave her a serene purity, an austere strength, but yet like a nun's coif seemed to make the face beneath more youthful, and like a cavalier's plume more debonair. She could not have been over thirty-five when Mark first knew her, perhaps not so much; but he thought of her as ageless in the way a child thinks of its mother, and if any woman should ever be able to be to him something of what his mother had been, Mark thought that Miss Ogilvie might.

Esther Ogilvie the other sister was twenty-five. She told Mark this when he imitated the villagers by addressing her as Miss Essie and she ordered him to call her Esther. He might have supposed from this that she intended to confer upon him a measure of friendliness, even of sisterly affection; but on the contrary she either ignored him altogether or gave him the impression that she considered his frequent visits to Meade Cantorum a nuisance. Mark was sorry that she felt like that toward him, because she seemed unhappy, and in his desire for everybody to be happy he would have liked to proclaim how suddenly and unexpectedly happiness may come. As a sister of the Vicar of the parish, she went to church regularly, but Mark did not think that she was there except in body. He once looked across at her open prayer book during the Magnificat, and noticed that she was reading the Tables of Kindred and Affinity. Now, Mark knew from personal experience that when one is reduced to reading the Tables of Kindred and Affinity it argues a mind untouched by the reality of worship. In his own case, when he sat beside his uncle and aunt in the dreary Slowbridge church of their choice, it had been nothing more than a sign of his own inward dreariness to read the Tables of Kindred and Affinity or speculate upon the Paschal full moons from the year 2200 to the year 2299 inclusive. But St. Margaret's, Meade Cantorum, was a different church from St. Jude's, Slowbridge, and for Esther Ogilvie to ignore the joyfulness of worshipping there in order to ponder idly the complexities of Golden Numbers and Dominical Letters could not be ascribed to inward dreariness. Besides, she wasn't dreary. Once Mark saw her coming down a woodland glade and almost turned aside to avoid meeting her, because she looked so fay with her wild blue eyes and her windblown hair, the colour of last year's bracken after rain. She seemed at once the pursued and the pursuer, and Mark felt that whichever she was he would be in the way.

"Taking a quick walk by myself," she called out to him as they passed.

No, she was certainly not dreary. But what was she?

Mark abandoned the problem of Esther in the pleasure of meeting the Reverend Oliver Dorward, who arrived one afternoon at the Vicarage with a large turbot for Mrs. Ogilvie, and six Flemish candlesticks for the Vicar, announcing that he wanted to stay a week before being inducted to the living of Green Lanes in the County of Southampton, to which he had recently been presented by Lord Chatsea. Mark liked him from the first moment he saw him pacing the Vicarage garden in a soutane, buckled shoes, and beaver hat, and he could not understand why Mr. Ogilvie, who had often laughed about Dorward's eccentricity, should now that he had an opportunity of enjoying it once more be so cross about his friend's arrival and so ready to hand him over to Mark to be entertained.

"Just like Ogilvie," said Dorward confidentially, when he and Mark went for a walk on the afternoon of his arrival. "He wants spiking up. They get very slack and selfish, these country clergy. Time he gave up Meade Cantorum. He's been here nearly ten years. Too long, nine years too long. Hasn't been to his duties since Easter. Scandalous, you know. I asked him, as soon as I'd explained to the cook about the turbot, when he went last, and he was bored. Nice old pussy cat, the mother. Hullo, is that the Angelus? Damn, I knelt on a thistle."

"It isn't the Angelus," said Mark quietly. "It's the bell on that cow."

But Mr. Dorward had finished his devotion before he answered.

"I was half way through before you told me. You should have spoken sooner."

"Well, I spoke as soon as I could."

"Very cunning of Satan," said Dorward meditatively. "Induced a cow to simulate the Angelus, and planted a thistle just where I was bound to kneel. Cunning. Cunning. Very cunning. I must go back now and confess to Ogilvie. Good example. Wait a minute, I'll confess to-morrow before Morning Prayer. Very good for Ogilvie's congregation. They're stuffy, very stuffy. It'll shake them. It'll shake Ogilvie too. Are you staying here to-night?"

"No, I shall bicycle back to Slowbridge and bicycle over to Mass to-morrow."

"Ridiculous. Stay the night. Didn't Ogilvie invite you?"

Mark shook his head.

"Scandalous lack of hospitality. They're all alike these country clergy. I'm tired of this walk. Let's go back and look after the turbot. Are you a good cook?"

"I can boil eggs and that sort of thing," said Mark.

"What sort of things? An egg is unique. There's nothing like an egg. Will you serve my Mass on Monday? Saying Mass for Napoleon on Monday."

"For whom?" Mark exclaimed.

"Napoleon, with a special intention for the conversion of the present government in France. Last Monday I said a Mass for Shakespeare, with a special intention for an improvement in contemporary verse."

Mark supposed that Mr. Dorward must be joking, and his expression must have told as much to the priest, who murmured:

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