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The Altar Steps
by Compton MacKenzie
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"Nothing to laugh at. Nothing to laugh at."

"No, of course not," said Mark feeling abashed. "But I'm afraid I shouldn't be able to serve you. I've never had any practice."

"Perfectly easy. Perfectly easy. I'll give you a book when we get back."

Mark bicycled home that afternoon with a tall thin volume called Ritual Notes, so tall that when it was in his pocket he could feel it digging him in the ribs every time he was riding up the least slope. That night in his bedroom he practised with the help of the wash-stand and its accessories the technique of serving at Low Mass, and in his enthusiasm he bicycled over to Meade Cantorum in time to attend both the Low Mass at seven said by Mr. Dorward and the Low Mass at eight said by Mr. Ogilvie. He was able to detect mistakes that were made by the village boys who served that Sunday morning, and he vowed to himself that the Monday Mass for the Emperor Napoleon should not be disfigured by such inaccuracy or clumsiness. He declined the usual invitation to stay to supper after Evening Prayer that he might have time to make perfection more perfect in the seclusion of his own room, and when he set out about six o'clock of a sun-drowsed morning in early August, apart from a faint anxiety about the Lavabo, he felt secure of his accomplishment. It was only when he reached the church that he remembered he had made no arrangement about borrowing a cassock or a cotta, an omission that in the mood of grand seriousness in which he had undertaken his responsibility seemed nothing less than abominable. He did not like to go to the Vicarage and worry Mr. Ogilvie who could scarcely fail to be amused, even contemptuously amused at such an ineffective beginning. Besides, ever since Mr. Dorward's arrival the Vicar had been slightly irritable.

While Mark was wondering what was the best thing to do, Miss Hatchett, a pious old maid who spent her nights in patience and sleep, her days in worship and weeding, came hurrying down the churchyard path.

"I am not late, am I?" she exclaimed. "I never heard the bell. I was so engrossed in pulling out one of those dreadful sow-thistles that when my maid came running out and said 'Oh, Miss Hatchett, it's gone the five to, you'll be late,' I just ran, and now I've brought my trowel and left my prayer book on the path. . . ."

"I'm just going to ring the bell now," said Mark, in whom the horror of another omission had been rapidly succeeded by an almost unnatural composure.

"Oh, what a relief," Miss Hatchett sighed. "Are you sure I shall have time to get my breath, for I know Mr. Ogilvie would dislike to hear me panting in church?"

"Mr. Ogilvie isn't saying Mass this morning."

"Not saying Mass?" repeated the old maid in such a dejected tone of voice that, when a small cloud passed over the face of the sun, it seemed as if the natural scene desired to accord with the chill cast upon her spirit by Mark's announcement.

"Mr. Dorward is saying Mass," he told her, and poor Miss Hatchett must pretend with a forced smile that her blank look had been caused by the prospect of being deprived of Mass when really. . . .

But Mark was not paying any more attention to Miss Hatchett. He was standing under the bell, gazing up at the long rope and wondering what manner of sound he should evoke. He took a breath and pulled; the rope quivered with such an effect of life that he recoiled from the new force he had conjured into being, afraid of his handiwork, timid of the clamour that would resound. No louder noise ensued than might have been given forth by a can kicked into the gutter. Mark pulled again more strongly, and the bell began to chime, irregularly at first with alternations of sonorous and feeble note; at last, however, when the rhythm was established with such command and such insistence that the ringer, looking over his shoulder to the south door, half expected to see a stream of perturbed Christians hurrying to obey its summons. But there was only poor Miss Hatchett sitting in the porch and fanning herself with a handkerchief.

Mark went on ringing. . . .

Clang—clang—clang! All the holy Virgins were waving their palms. Clang—clang—clang! All the blessed Doctors and Confessors were twanging their harps to the clanging. Clang—clang—clang! All the holy Saints and Martyrs were tossing their haloes in the air as schoolboys toss their caps. Clang—clang—clang! Angels, Archangels, and Principalities with faces that shone like brass and with forms that quivered like flames thronged the noise. Clang—clang—clang! Virtues, Powers, and Dominations bade the morning stars sing to the ringing. Clang—clang—clang! The ringing reached up to the green-winged Thrones who sustain the seat of the Most High. Clang—clang—clang! The azure Cherubs heard the bells within their contemplation: the scarlet Seraphs felt them within their love. Clang—clang—clang! The lidless Eye of God looked down, and Miss Hatchett supposing it to be the sun crossed over to the other side of the porch.

Clang—clang—clang—clang—clang—clang—clang—clang. . . .

"Hasn't Dorward come in yet? It's five past eight already. Go on ringing for a little while. I'll go and see how long he'll be."

Mark in the absorption of ringing the bell had not noticed the Vicar's approach, and he was gone again before he remembered that he wanted to borrow a cassock and a cotta. Had he been rude? Would Mr. Ogilvie think it cheek to ring the bell without asking his permission first? But before these unanswered questions had had time to spoil the rhythm of his ringing, the Vicar came back with Mr. Dorward, and the congregation, that is to say Miss Hatchett and Miss Ogilvie, was already kneeling in its place.

Mark in a cassock that was much too long for him and in a cotta that was in the same ratio as much too short preceded Mr. Dorward from the sacristy to the altar. A fear seized him that in spite of all his practice he was kneeling on the wrong side of the priest; he forgot the first responses; he was sure the Sanctus-bell was too far away; he wished that Mr. Dorward would not mutter quite so inaudibly. Gradually, however, the meetness of the gestures prescribed for him by the ancient ritual cured his self-consciousness and included him in its pattern, so that now for the first time he was aware of the significance of the preface to the Sanctus: It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord, Holy Father, Almighty Everlasting God.

Twenty minutes ago when he was ringing the church bell Mark had experienced the rapture of creative noise, the sense of individual triumph over time and space; and the sound of his ringing came back to him from the vaulted roof of the church with such exultation as the missal thrush may know when he sits high above the fretted boughs of an oak and his music plunges forth upon the January wind. Now when Mark was ringing the Sanctus-bell, it was with a sense of his place in the scheme of worship. If one listens to the twitter of a single linnet in open country or to the buzz of a solitary fly upon a window pane, how incredible it is that myriads of them twittering and buzzing together should be the song of April, the murmur of June. And this Sanctus-bell that tinkled so inadequately, almost so frivolously when sounded by a server in Meade Cantorum church, was yet part of an unimaginable volume of worship that swelled in unison with Angels and Archangels lauding and magnifying the Holy Name. The importance of ceremony was as deeply impressed upon Mark that morning as if he had been formally initiated to great mysteries. His coming confirmation, which had been postponed from July 2nd to September 8th seemed much more momentous now than it seemed yesterday. It was no longer a step to Communion, but was apprehended as a Sacrament itself, and though Mr. Ogilvie was inclined to regret the ritualistic development of his catechumen, Mark derived much strength from what was really the awakening in him of a sense of form, which more than anything makes emotion durable. Perhaps Ogilvie may have been a little jealous of Dorward's influence; he also was really alarmed at the prospect, as he said, of so much fire being wasted upon poker-work. In the end what between Dorward's encouragement of Mark's ritualistic tendencies and the "spiking up" process to which he was himself being subjected, Ogilvie was glad when a fortnight later Dorward took himself off to his own living, and he expressed a hope that Mark would perceive Dorward in his true proportions as a dear good fellow, perfectly sincere, but just a little, well, not exactly mad, but so eccentric as sometimes to do more harm than good to the Movement. Mark was shrewd enough to notice that however much he grumbled about his friend's visit Mr. Ogilvie was sufficiently influenced by that visit to put into practice much of the advice to which he had taken exception. The influence of Dorward upon Mark did not stop with his begetting in him an appreciation of the value of form in worship. When Mark told Mr. Ogilvie that he intended to become a priest, Mr. Ogilvie was impressed by the manifestation of the Divine Grace, but he did not offer many practical suggestions for Mark's immediate future. Dorward on the contrary attached as much importance to the manner in which he was to become a priest.

"Oxford," Mr. Dorward pronounced. "And then Glastonbury."

"Glastonbury?"

"Glastonbury Theological College."

Now to Mark Oxford was a legendary place to which before he met Mr. Dorward he would never have aspired. Oxford at Haverton House was merely an abstraction to which a certain number of people offered an illogical allegiance in order to create an excuse for argument and strife. Sometimes Mark had gazed at Eton and wondered vaguely about existence there; sometimes he had gazed at the towers of Windsor and wondered what the Queen ate for breakfast. Oxford was far more remote than either of these, and yet when Mr. Dorward said that he must go there his heart leapt as if to some recognized ambition long ago buried and now abruptly resuscitated.

"I've always been Oxford," he admitted.

When Mr. Dorward had gone, Mark asked Mr. Ogilvie what he thought about Oxford.

"If you can afford to go there, my dear boy, of course you ought to go."

"Well, I'm pretty sure I can't afford to. I don't think I've got any money at all. My mother left some money, but my uncle says that that will come in useful when I'm articled to this solicitor, Mr. Hitchcock. Oh, but if I become a priest I can't become a solicitor, and perhaps I could have that money. I don't know how much it is . . . I think five hundred pounds. Would that be enough?"

"With care and economy," said Mr. Ogilvie. "And you might win a scholarship."

"But I'm leaving school at the end of this year."

Mr. Ogilvie thought that it would be wiser not to say anything to his uncle until after Mark had been confirmed. He advised him to work hard meanwhile and to keep in mind the possibility of having to win a scholarship.

The confirmation was held on the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. Mark made his first Confession on the vigil, his first Communion on the following Sunday.



CHAPTER XII

THE POMEROY AFFAIR

Mark was so much elated to find himself a fully equipped member of the Church Militant that he looked about him again to find somebody whom he could make as happy as himself. He even considered the possibility of converting his uncle, and spent the Sunday evening before term began in framing inexpugnable arguments to be preceded by unanswerable questions; but always when he was on the point of speaking he was deterred by the lifelessness of his uncle. No eloquence could irrigate his arid creed and make that desert blossom now. And yet, Mark thought, he ought to remember that in the eyes of the world he owed his uncle everything. What did he owe him in the sight of God? Gratitude? Gratitude for what? Gratitude for spending a certain amount of money on him. Once more Mark opened his mouth to repay his debt by offering Uncle Henry Eternal Life. But Uncle Henry fancied himself already in possession of Eternal Life. He definitely labelled himself Evangelical. And again Mark prepared one of his unanswerable questions.

"Mark," said Mr. Lidderdale. "If you can't keep from yawning you'd better get off to bed. Don't forget school begins to-morrow, and you must make the most of your last term."

Mark abandoned for ever the task of converting Uncle Henry, and pondered his chance of doing something with Aunt Helen. There instead of exsiccation he was confronted by a dreadful humidity, an infertile ooze that seemed almost less susceptible to cultivation than the other.

"And I really don't owe her anything," he thought. "Besides, it isn't that I want to save people from damnation. I want people to be happy. And it isn't quite that even. I want them to understand how happy I am. I want people to feel fond of their pillows when they turn over to go to sleep, because next morning is going to be what? Well, sort of exciting."

Mark suddenly imagined how splendid it would be to give some of his happiness to Esther Ogilvie; but a moment later he decided that it would be rather cheek, and he abandoned the idea of converting Esther Ogilvie. He fell back on wishing again that Mr. Spaull had not died; in him he really would have had an ideal subject.

In the end Mark fixed upon a boy of his own age, one of the many sons of a Papuan missionary called Pomeroy who was glad to have found in Mr. Lidderdale a cheap and evangelical schoolmaster. Cyril Pomeroy was a blushful, girlish youth, clever at the routine of school work, but in other ways so much undeveloped as to give an impression of stupidity. The notion of pointing out to him the beauty and utility of the Catholic religion would probably never have occurred to Mark if the boy himself had not approached him with a direct complaint of the dreariness of home life. Mark had never had any intimate friends at Haverton House; there was something in its atmosphere that was hostile to intimacy. Cyril Pomeroy appealed to that idea of romantic protection which is the common appendage of adolescence, and is the cause of half the extravagant affection at which maturity is wont to laugh. In the company of Cyril, Mark felt ineffably old than which upon the threshold of sixteen there is no sensation more grateful; and while the intercourse flattered his own sense of superiority he did feel that he had much to offer his friend. Mark regarded Cyril's case as curable if the right treatment were followed, and every evening after school during the veiled summer of a fine October he paced the Slowbridge streets with his willing proselyte, debating the gravest issues of religious practice, the subtlest varieties of theological opinion. He also lent Cyril suitable books, and finally he demanded from him as a double tribute to piety and friendship that he should prove his metal by going to Confession. Cyril, who was incapable of refusing whatever Mark demanded, bicycled timorously behind him to Meade Cantorum one Saturday afternoon, where he gulped out the table of his sins to Mr. Ogilvie, whom Mark had fetched from the Vicarage with the urgency of one who fetches a midwife. Nor was he at all abashed when Mr. Ogilvie was angry for not having been told that Cyril's father would have disapproved of his son's confession. He argued that the priest was applying social standards to religious principles, and in the end he enjoyed the triumph of hearing Mr. Ogilvie admit that perhaps he was right.

"I know I'm right. Come on, Cyril. You'd better get back home now. Oh, and I say, Mr. Ogilvie, can I borrow for Cyril some of the books you lent me?"

The priest was amused that Mark did not ask him to lend the books to his friend, but to himself. However, when he found that the neophyte seemed to flourish under Mark's assiduous priming, and that the fundamental weakness of his character was likely to be strengthened by what, though it was at present nothing more than an interest in religion, might later on develop into a profound conviction of the truths of Christianity, Ogilvie overlooked his scruples about deceiving parents and encouraged the boy as much as he could.

"But I hope your manipulation of the plastic Cyril isn't going to turn you into too much of a ritualist," he said to Mark. "It's splendid of course that you should have an opportunity so young of proving your ability to get round people in the right way. But let it be the right way, old man. At the beginning you were full of the happiness, the secret of which you burnt to impart to others. That happiness was the revelation of the Holy Spirit dwelling in you as He dwells in all Christian souls. I am sure that the eloquent exposition I lately overheard of the propriety of fiddle-backed chasubles and the impropriety of Gothic ones doesn't mean that you are in any real danger of supposing chasubles to be anything more important relatively than, say, the uniform of a soldier compared with his valour and obedience and selflessness. Now don't overwhelm me for a minute or two. I haven't finished what I want to say. I wasn't speaking sarcastically when I said that, and I wasn't criticizing you. But you are not Cyril. By God's grace you have been kept from the temptations of the flesh. Yes, I know the subject is distasteful to you. But you are old enough to understand that your fastidiousness, if it isn't to be priggish, must be safeguarded by your humility. I didn't mean to sandwich a sermon to you between my remarks on Cyril, but your disdainful upper lip compelled that testimony. Let us leave you and your virtues alone. Cyril is weak. He's the weak pink type that may fall to women or drink or anything in fact where an opportunity is given him of being influenced by a stronger character than his own. At the moment he's being influenced by you to go to Confession, and say his rosary, and hear Mass, and enjoy all the other treats that our holy religion gives us. In addition to that he's enjoying them like the proverbial stolen fruit. You were very severe with me when I demurred at hearing his confession without authority from his father; but I don't like stolen fruit, and I'm not sure even now if I was right in yielding on that point. I shouldn't have yielded if I hadn't felt that Cyril might be hurt in the future by my scruples. Now look here, Mark, you've got to see that I don't regret my surrender. If that youth doesn't get from religion what I hope and pray he will get . . . but let that point alone. My scruples are my own affair. Your convictions are your own affair. But Cyril is our joint affair. He's your convert, but he's my penitent; and Mark, don't overdecorate your building until you're sure the foundations are well and truly laid."

Mark was never given an opportunity of proving the excellence of his methods by the excellence of Cyril's life, because on the morning after this conversation, which took place one wet Sunday evening in Advent he was sent for by his uncle, who demanded to know the meaning of This. This was a letter from the Reverend Eustace Pomeroy.

The Limes,

38, Cranborne Road,

Slowbridge.

December 9.

Dear Mr. Lidderdale,

My son Cyril will not attend school for the rest of this term. Yesterday evening, being confined to the house by fever, I went up to his bedroom to verify a reference in a book I had recently lent him to assist his divinity studies under you. When I took down the book from the shelf I noticed several books hidden away behind, and my curiosity being aroused I examined them, in case they should be works of an unpleasant nature. To my horror and disgust, I found that they were all works of an extremely Popish character, most of them belonging to a clergyman in this neighbourhood called Ogilvie, whose illegal practices have for several years been a scandal to this diocese. These I am sending to the Bishop that he may see with his own eyes the kind of propaganda that is going on. Two of the books, inscribed Mark Lidderdale, are evidently the property of your nephew to whom I suppose my son is indebted for this wholesale corruption. On questioning my son I found him already so sunk in the mire of the pernicious doctrines he has imbibed that he actually defied his own father. I thrashed him severely in spite of my fever, and he is now under lock and key in his bedroom where he will remain until he sails with me to Sydney next week whither I am summoned to the conference of Australasian missionaries. During the voyage I shall wrestle with the demon that has entered into my son and endeavour to persuade him that Jesus only is necessary for salvation. And when I have done so, I shall leave him in Australia to earn his own living remote from the scene of his corruption. In the circumstances I assume that you will deduct a proportion of his school fees for this term. I know that you will be as much horrified and disgusted as I was by your nephew's conduct, and I trust that you will be able to wrestle with him in the Lord and prove to him that Jesus only is necessary to salvation.

Yours very truly,

Eustace Pomeroy.

P.S. I suggest that instead of L6 6s. 0d. I should pay L5 5s. 0d. for this term, plus, of course, the usual extras.

The pulse in Mr. Lidderdale's temple had never throbbed so remarkably as while Mark was reading this letter.

"A fine thing," he ranted, "if this story gets about in Slowbridge. A fine reward for all my kindness if you ruin my school. As for this man Ogilvie, I'll sue him for damages. Don't look at me with that expression of bestial defiance. Do you hear? What prevents my thrashing you as you deserve? What prevents me, I say?"

But Mark was not paying any attention to his uncle's fury; he was thinking about the unfortunate martyr under lock and key in The Limes, Cranborne Road, Slowbridge. He was wondering what would be the effect of this violent removal to the Antipodes and how that fundamental weakness of character would fare if Cyril were left to himself at his age.

"I think Mr. Pomeroy is a ruffian," said Mark. "Don't you, Uncle Henry? If he writes to the Bishop about Mr. Ogilvie, I shall write to the Bishop about him. I hate Protestants. I hate them."

"There's your father to the life. You'd like to burn them, wouldn't you?"

"Yes, I would," Mark declared.

"You'd like to burn me, I suppose?"

"Not you in particular."

"Will you listen to him, Helen," he shouted to his sister. "Come here and listen to him. Listen to the boy we took in and educated and clothed and fed, listen to him saying he'd like to burn his uncle. Into Mr. Hitchcock's office you go at once. No more education if this is what it leads to. Read that letter, Helen, look at that book, Helen. Catholic Prayers for Church of England People by the Reverend A.H. Stanton. Look at this book, Helen. The Catholic Religion by Vernon Staley. No wonder you hate Protestants, you ungrateful boy. No wonder you're longing to burn your uncle and aunt. It'll be in the Slowbridge Herald to-morrow. Headlines! Ruin! They'll think I'm a Jesuit in disguise. I ought to have got a very handsome sum of money for the good-will. Go back to your class-room, and if you have a spark of affection in your nature, don't brag about this to the other boys."

Mark, pondering all the morning the best thing to do for Cyril, remembered that a boy called Hacking lived at The Laurels, 36, Cranborne Road. He did not like Hacking, but wishing to utilize his back garden for the purpose of communicating with the prisoner he made himself agreeable to him in the interval between first and second school.

"Hullo, Hacking," he began. "I say, do you want a cricket bat? I shan't be here next summer, so you may as well have mine."

Hacking looked at Mark suspicious of some hidden catch that would make him appear a fool.

"No, really I'm not ragging," said Mark. "I'll bring it round to you after dinner. I'll be at your place about a quarter to two. Wait for me, won't you?"

Hacking puzzled his brains to account for this generous whim, and at last decided that Mark must be "gone" on his sister Edith. He supposed that he ought to warn Edith to be about when Mark called; if the bat was not forthcoming he could easily prevent a meeting. The bat however turned out to be much better than he expected, and Hacking was on the point of presenting Cressida to Troilus when Troilus said:

"That's your garden at the back, isn't it?"

Hacking admitted that it was.

"It looks rather decent."

Hacking allowed modestly that it wasn't bad.

"My father's rather dead nuts on gardening. So's my kiddy sister," he added.

"I vote we go out there," Mark suggested.

"Shall I give a yell to my kiddy sister?" asked Pandarus.

"Good lord, no," Mark exclaimed. "Don't the Pomeroys live next door to you? Look here, Hacking, I want to speak to Cyril Pomeroy."

"He was absent this morning."

Mark considered Hacking as a possible adjutant to the enterprise he was plotting. That he finally decided to admit Hacking to his confidence was due less to the favourable result of the scrutiny than to the fact that unless he confided in Hacking he would find it difficult to communicate with Cyril and impossible to manage his escape. Mark aimed as high as this. His first impulse had been to approach the Vicar of Meade Cantorum, but on second thoughts he had rejected him in favour of Mr. Dorward, who was not so likely to suffer from respect for paternal authority.

"Look here, Hacking, will you swear not to say a word about what I'm going to tell you?"

"Of course," said Hacking, who scenting a scandal would have promised much more than this to obtain the details of it.

"What will you swear by?"

"Oh, anything," Hacking offered, without the least hesitation. "I don't mind what it is."

"Well, what do you consider the most sacred thing in the world?"

If Hacking had known himself, he would have said food; not knowing himself, he suggested the Bible.

"I suppose you know that if you swear something on the Bible and break your oath you can be put in prison?" Mark demanded sternly.

"Yes, of course."

The oath was administered, and Hacking waited goggle-eyed for the revelation.

"Is that all?" he asked when Mark stopped.

"Well, it's enough, isn't it? And now you've got to help him to escape."

"But I didn't swear I'd do that," argued Hacking.

"All right then. Don't. I thought you'd enjoy it."

"We should get into a row. There'd be an awful shine."

"Who's to know it's us? I've got a friend in the country. And I shall telegraph to him and ask if he'll hide Pomeroy."

Mark was not sufficiently sure of Hacking's discretion or loyalty to mention Dorward's name. After all this business wasn't just a rag.

"The first thing is for you to go out in the garden and attract Pomeroy's attention. He's locked in his bedroom."

"But I don't know which is his bedroom," Hacking objected.

"Well, you don't suppose the whole family are locked in their bedrooms, do you?" asked Mark scornfully.

"But how do you know his bedroom is on this side of the house?"

"I don't," said Mark. "That's what I want to find out. If it's in the front of the house, I shan't want your help, especially as you're so funky."

Hacking went out into the garden, and presently he came back with the news that Pomeroy was waiting outside to talk to Mark over the wall.

"Waiting outside?" Mark repeated. "What do you mean, waiting outside? How can he be waiting outside when he's locked in his bedroom?"

"But he's not," said Hacking.

Sure enough, when Mark went out he found Cyril astride the party wall between the two gardens waiting for him.

"You can't let your father drag you off to Australia like this," Mark argued. "You'll go all to pieces there. You'll lose your faith, and take to drink, and—you must refuse to go."

Cyril smiled weakly and explained to Mark that when once his father had made up his mind to do something it was impossible to stop him.

Thereupon Mark explained his scheme.

"I'll get an answer from Dorward to-night and you must escape to-morrow afternoon as soon as it's dark. Have you got a rope ladder?"

Cyril smiled more feebly than ever.

"No, I suppose you haven't. Then what you must do is tear up your sheets and let yourself down into the garden. Hacking will whistle three times if all's clear, and then you must climb over into his garden and run as hard as you can to the corner of the road where I'll be waiting for you in a cab. I'll go up to London with you and see you off from Waterloo, which is the station for Green Lanes where Father Dorward lives. You take a ticket to Galton, and I expect he'll meet you, or if he doesn't, it's only a seven mile walk. I don't know the way, but you can ask when you get to Galton. Only if you could find your way without asking it would be better, because if you're pursued and you're seen asking the way you'll be caught more easily. Now I must rush off and borrow some money from Mr. Ogilvie. No, perhaps it would rouse suspicions if I were absent from afternoon school. My uncle would be sure to guess, and—though I don't think he would—he might try to lock me up in my room. But I say," Mark suddenly exclaimed in indignation, "how on earth did you manage to come and talk to me out here?"

Cyril explained that he had only been locked in his bedroom last night when his father was so angry. He had freedom to move about in the house and garden, and, he added to Mark's annoyance, there would be no need for him to use rope ladders or sheets to escape. If Mark would tell him what time to be at the corner of the road and would wait for him a little while in case his father saw him going out and prevented him, he would easily be able to escape.

"Then I needn't have told Hacking," said Mark. "However, now I have told him, he must do something, or else he's sure to let out what he knows. I wish I knew where to get the money for the fare."

"I've got a pound in my money box."

"Have you?" said Mark, a little mortified, but at the same time relieved that he could keep Mr. Ogilvie from being involved. "Well, that ought to be enough. I've got enough to send a telegram to Dorward. As soon as I get his answer I'll send you word by Hacking. Now don't hang about in the garden all the afternoon or your people will begin to think something's up. If you could, it would be a good thing for you to be heard praying and groaning in your room."

Cyril smiled his feeble smile, and Mark felt inclined to abandon him to his fate; but he decided on reflection that the importance of vindicating the claims of the Church to a persecuted son was more important than the foolishness and the feebleness of the son.

"Do you want me to do anything more?" Hacking asked.

Mark suggested that Hacking's name and address should be given for Mr. Dorward's answer, but this Hacking refused.

"If a telegram came to our house, everybody would want to read it. Why can't it be sent to you?"

Mark sighed for his fellow-conspirator's stupidity. To this useless clod he had presented a valuable bat.

"All right," he said impatiently, "you needn't do anything more except tell Pomeroy what time he's to be at the corner of the road to-morrow."

"I'll do that, Lidderdale."

"I should think you jolly well would," Mark exclaimed scornfully.

Mark spent a long time over the telegram to Dorward; in the end he decided that it would be safer to assume that the priest would shelter and hide Cyril rather than take the risk of getting an answer. The final draft was as follows:—

Dorward Green Lanes Medworth Hants

Am sending persecuted Catholic boy by 7.30 from Waterloo Tuesday please send conveyance Mark Lidderdale.

Mark only had eightpence, and this message would cost tenpence. He took out the am, changed by 7.30 from Waterloo to arriving 9.35 and send conveyance to meet. If he had only borrowed Cyril's sovereign, he could have been more explicit. However, he flattered himself that he was getting full value for his eightpence. He then worked out the cost of Cyril's escape.

s. d. Third Class single to Paddington 1 6 Third Class return to Paddington (for self) 2 6 Third Class single Waterloo to Galton 3 11 Cab from Paddington to Waterloo 3 6? Cab from Waterloo to Paddington (for self) 3 6? Sandwiches for Cyril and Self 1 0 Ginger-beer for Cyril and Self (4 bottles) 8 Total 16 7

The cab of course might cost more, and he must take back the eightpence out of it for himself. But Cyril would have at least one and sixpence in his pocket when he arrived, which he could put in the offertory at the Mass of thanksgiving for his escape that he would attend on the following morning. Cyril would be useful to old Dorward, and he (Mark) would give him some tips on serving if they had an empty compartment from Slowbridge to Paddington. Mark's original intention had been to wait at the corner of Cranborne Road in a closed cab like the proverbial postchaise of elopements, but he discarded this idea for reasons of economy. He hoped that Cyril would not get frightened on the way to the station and turn back. Perhaps after all it would be wiser to order a cab and give up the ginger-beer, or pay for the ginger-beer with the money for the telegram. Once inside a cab Cyril was bound to go on. Hacking might be committed more completely to the enterprise by waiting inside until he arrived with Cyril. It was a pity that Cyril was not locked in his room, and yet when it came to it he would probably have funked letting himself down from the window by knotted sheets. Mark walked home with Hacking after school, to give his final instructions for the following day.

"I'm telling you now," he said, "because we oughtn't to be seen together at all to-morrow, in case of arousing suspicion. You must get hold of Pomeroy and tell him to run to the corner of the road at half-past-five, and jump straight into the fly that'll be waiting there with you inside."

"But where will you be?"

"I shall be waiting outside the ticket barrier with the tickets."

"Supposing he won't?"

"I'll risk seeing him once more. Go and ask if you can speak to him a minute, and tell him to come out in the garden presently. Say you've knocked a ball over or something and will Master Cyril throw it back. I say, we might really put a message inside a ball and throw it over. That was the way the Duc de Beaufort escaped in Twenty Years After."

Hacking looked blankly at Mark.

"But it's dark and wet," he objected. "I shouldn't knock a ball over on a wet evening like this."

"Well, the skivvy won't think of that, and Pomeroy will guess that we're trying to communicate with him."

Mark thought how odd it was that Hacking should be so utterly blind to the romance of the enterprise. After a few more objections which were disposed of by Mark, Hacking agreed to go next door and try to get the prisoner into the garden. He succeeded in this, and Mark rated Cyril for not having given him the sovereign yesterday.

"However, bunk in and get it now, because I shan't see you again till to-morrow at the station, and I must have some money to buy the tickets."

He explained the details of the escape and exacted from Cyril a promise not to back out at the last moment.

"You've got nothing to do. It's as simple as A B C. It's too simple, really, to be much of a rag. However, as it isn't a rag, but serious, I suppose we oughtn't to grumble. Now, you are coming, aren't you?"

Cyril promised that nothing but physical force should prevent him.

"If you funk, don't forget that you'll have betrayed your faith and . . ."

At this moment Mark in his enthusiasm slipped off the wall, and after uttering one more solemn injunction against backing out at the last minute he left Cyril to the protection of Angels for the next twenty-four hours.

Although he would never have admitted as much, Mark was rather astonished when Cyril actually did present himself at Slowbridge station in time to catch the 5.47 train up to town. Their compartment was not empty, so that Mark was unable to give Cyril that lesson in serving at the altar which he had intended to give him. Instead, as Cyril seemed in his reaction to the excitement of the escape likely to burst into tears at any moment, he drew for him a vivid picture of the enjoyable life to which the train was taking him.

"Father Dorward says that the country round Green Lanes is ripping. And his church is Norman. I expect he'll make you his ceremonarius. You're an awfully lucky chap, you know. He says that next Corpus Christi, he's going to have Mass on the village green. Nobody will know where you are, and I daresay later on you can become a hermit. You might become a saint. The last English saint to be canonized was St. Thomas Cantilupe of Hereford. But of course Charles the First ought to have been properly canonized. By the time you die I should think we should have got back canonization in the English Church, and if I'm alive then I'll propose your canonization. St. Cyril Pomeroy you'd be."

Such were the bright colours in which Mark painted Cyril's future; when he had watched him wave his farewells from the window of the departing train at Waterloo, he felt as if he were watching the bodily assumption of a saint.

"Where have you been all the evening?" asked Uncle Henry, when Mark came back about nine o'clock.

"In London," said Mark.

"Your insolence is becoming insupportable. Get away to your room."

It never struck Mr. Lidderdale that his nephew was telling the truth.

The hue and cry for Cyril Pomeroy began at once, and though Mark maintained at first that the discovery of Cyril's hiding-place was due to nothing else except the cowardice of Hacking, who when confronted by a detective burst into tears and revealed all he knew, he was bound to admit afterward that, if Mr. Ogilvie had been questioned much more, he would have had to reveal the secret himself. Mark was hurt that his efforts to help a son of Holy Church should not be better appreciated by Mr. Ogilvie; but he forgave his friend in view of the nuisance that it undoubtedly must have been to have Meade Cantorum beleaguered by half a dozen corpulent detectives. The only person in the Vicarage who seemed to approve of what he had done was Esther; she who had always seemed to ignore him, even sometimes in a sensitive mood to despise him, was full of congratulations.

"How did you manage it, Mark?"

"Oh, I took a cab," said Mark modestly. "One from the corner of Cranborne Road to Slowbridge, and another from Paddington to Waterloo. We had some sandwiches, and a good deal of ginger-beer at Paddington because we thought we mightn't be able to get any at Waterloo, but at Waterloo we had some more ginger-beer. I wish I hadn't told Hacking. If I hadn't, we should probably have pulled it off. Old Dorward was up to anything. But Hacking is a hopeless ass."

"What does your uncle say?"

"He's rather sick," Mark admitted. "He refused to let me go to school any more, which as you may imagine doesn't upset me very much, and I'm to go into Hitchcock's office after Christmas. As far as I can make out I shall be a kind of servant."

"Have you talked to Stephen about it?"

"Well, he's a bit annoyed with me about this kidnapping. I'm afraid I have rather let him in for it. He says he doesn't mind so much if it's kept out of the papers."

"Anyway, I think it was a sporting effort by you," said Esther. "I wasn't particularly keen on you until you brought this off. I hate pious boys. I wish you'd told me beforehand. I'd have loved to help."

"Would you? I say, I am sorry. I never thought of you," said Mark much disappointed at the lost opportunity. "You'd have been much better than that ass Hacking. If you and I had been the only people in it, I'll bet the detectives would never have found him."

"And what's going to happen to the youth now?"

"Oh, his father's going to take him to Australia as he arranged. They sail to-morrow. There's one thing," Mark added with a kind of gloomy relish. "He's bound to go to the bad, and perhaps that'll be a lesson to his father."

The hope of the Vicar of Meade Cantorum and equally it may be added the hope of Mr. Lidderdale that the affair would be kept out of the papers was not fulfilled. The day after Mr. Pomeroy and his son sailed from Tilbury the following communication appeared in The Times:

Sir,—The accompanying letter was handed to me by my friend the Reverend Eustace Pomeroy to be used as I thought fit and subject to only one stipulation—that it should not be published until he and his son were out of England. As President of the Society for the Protection of the English Church against Romish Aggression I feel that it is my duty to lay the facts before the country. I need scarcely add that I have been at pains to verify the surprising and alarming accusations made by a clergyman against two other clergymen, and I earnestly request the publicity of your columns for what I venture to believe is positive proof of the dangerous conspiracy existing in our very midst to romanize the Established Church of England. I shall be happy to produce for any of your readers who find Mr. Pomeroy's story incredible at the close of the nineteenth century the signed statements of witnesses and other documentary evidence.

I am, Sir,

Your obedient servant,

Danvers.

The Right Honble. the Lord Danvers, P.C.

President of the Society for the Protection of the English Church against Romish Aggression.

My Lord,

I have to bring to your notice as President of the S.P.E. C.R.A. what I venture to assert is one of the most daring plots to subvert home and family life in the interests of priestcraft that has ever been discovered. In taking this step I am fully conscious of its seriousness, and if I ask your lordship to delay taking any measures for publicity until the unhappy principal is upon the high seas in the guardianship of his even more unhappy father, I do so for the sake of the wretched boy whose future has been nearly blasted by the Jesuitical behaviour of two so-called Protestant clergymen.

Four years ago, my lord, I retired from a lifelong career as a missionary in New Guinea to give my children the advantages of English education and English climate, and it is surely hard that I should live to curse the day on which I did so. My third son Cyril was sent to school at Haverton House, Slowbridge, to an educational establishment kept by a Mr. Henry Lidderdale, reputed to be a strong Evangelical and I believe I am justified in saying rightly so reputed. At the same time I regret that Mr. Lidderdale, whose brother was a notorious Romanizer I have since discovered, should not have exercised more care in the supervision of his nephew, a fellow scholar with my own son at Haverton House. It appears that Mr. Lidderdale was so lax as to permit his nephew to frequent the services of the Reverend Stephen Ogilvie at Meade Cantorum, where every excess such as incense, lighted candles, mariolatry and creeping to the cross is openly practised. The Revd. S. Ogilvie I may add is a member of the S.S.C., that notorious secret society whose machinations have been so often exposed and the originators of that filthy book "The Priest in Absolution." He is also a member of the Guild of All Souls which has for its avowed object the restoration of the Romish doctrine of Purgatory with all its attendant horrors, and finally I need scarcely add he is a member of the Confraternity of the "Blessed Sacrament" which seeks openly to popularize the idolatrous and blasphemous cult of the Mass.

Young Lidderdale presumably under the influence of this disloyal Protestant clergyman sought to corrupt my son, and was actually so far successful as to lure him to attend the idolatrous services at Meade Cantorum church, which of course he was only able to do by inventing lies and excuses to his father to account for his absence from the simple worship to which all his life he had been accustomed. Not content with this my unhappy son was actually persuaded to confess his sins to this self-styled "priest"! I wonder if he confessed the sin of deceiving his own father to "Father" Ogilvie who supplied him with numerous Mass books, several of which I enclose for your lordship's inspection. You will be amused if you are not too much horrified by these puerile and degraded works, and in one of them, impudently entitled "Catholic Prayers for Church of England People" you will actually see in cold print a prayer for the "Pope of Rome." This work emanates from that hotbed of sacerdotal disloyalty, St. Alban's, Holborn.

These vile books I discovered by accident carefully hidden away in my son's bedroom. "Facilis descensus Averni!" You will easily imagine the humiliation of a parent who, having devoted his life to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the heathen, finds that his own son has fallen as low as the lowest savage. As soon as I made my discovery, I removed him from Haverton House, and warned the proprietor of the risk he was running by not taking better care of his pupils. Having been summoned to a conference of missionaries in Sydney, N.S.W., I determined to take my son with me in the hope that a long voyage in the company of a loving parent, eager to help him back to the path of Truth and Salvation from which he had strayed, might cure him of his idolatrous fancies, and restore him to Jesus.

What followed is, as I write this, scarcely credible to myself; but however incredible, it is true. Young Lidderdale, acting no doubt at the instigation of "Father" Ogilvie (as my son actually called him to my face, not realizing the blasphemy of according to a mortal clergyman the title that belongs to God alone), entered into a conspiracy with another Romanizing clergyman, the Reverend Oliver Dorward, Vicar of Green Lanes, Hants, to abduct my son from his own father's house, with what ultimate intention I dare not think. Incredible as it must sound to modern ears, they were so far successful that for a whole week I was in ignorance of his whereabouts, while detectives were hunting for him up and down England. The abduction was carried out by young Lidderdale, with the assistance of a youth called Hacking, so coolly and skilfully as to indicate that the abettors behind the scenes are USED TO SUCH ABDUCTIONS. This, my lord, points to a very grave state of affairs in our midst. If the son of a Protestant clergyman like myself can be spirited away from a populous but nevertheless comparatively small town like Slowbridge, what must be going on in great cities like London? Moreover, everything is done to make it attractive for the unhappy youth who is thus lured away from his father's hearth. My own son is even now still impenitent, and I have the greatest fears for his moral and religious future, so rapid has been the corruption set up by evil companionship.

These, my lord, are the facts set out as shortly as possible and written on the eve of my departure in circumstances that militate against elegance of expression. I am, to tell the truth, still staggered by this affair, and if I make public my sorrow and my shame I do so in the hope that the Society of which your lordship is President, may see its way to take some kind of action that will make a repetition of such an outrage upon family life for ever impossible.

Believe me to be,

Your lordship's obedient servant,

Eustace Pomeroy.

The publication of this letter stirred England. The Times in a leading article demanded a full inquiry into the alleged circumstances. The English Churchman said that nothing like it had happened since the days of Bloody Mary. Questions were asked in the House of Commons, and finally when it became known that Lord Danvers would ask a question in the House of Lords, Mr. Ogilvie took Mark to see Lord Hull who wished to be in possession of the facts before he rose to correct some misapprehensions of Lord Danvers. Mark also had to interview two Bishops, an Archdeacon, and a Rural Dean. He did not realize that for a few weeks he was a central figure in what was called THE CHURCH CRISIS. He was indignant at Mr. Pomeroy's exaggeration and perversions of fact, and he was so evidently speaking the truth that everybody from Lord Hull to a reporter of The Sun was impressed by his account of the affair, so that in the end the Pomeroy Abduction was decided to be less revolutionary than the Gunpowder Plot.

Mr. Lidderdale, however, believed that his nephew had deliberately tried to ruin him out of malice, and when two parents seized the opportunity of such a scandal to remove their sons from Haverton House without paying the terminal fees, Mr. Lidderdale told Mark that he should recoup himself for the loss out of the money left by his mother.

"How much did she leave?" his nephew asked.

"Don't ask impertinent questions."

"But it's my money, isn't it?"

"It will be your money in another six years, if you behave yourself. Meanwhile half of it will be devoted to paying your premium at the office of my friend Mr. Hitchcock."

"But I don't want to be a solicitor. I want to be a priest," said Mark.

Uncle Henry produced a number of cogent reasons that would make his nephew's ambition unattainable.

"Very well, if I can't be a priest, I don't want the money, and you can keep it yourself," said Mark. "But I'm not going to be a solicitor."

"And what are you going to be, may I inquire?" asked Uncle Henry.

"In the end I probably shall be a priest," Mark prophesied. "But I haven't quite decided yet how. I warn you that I shall run away."

"Run away," his uncle echoed in amazement. "Good heavens, boy, haven't you had enough of running away over this deplorable Pomeroy affair? Where are you going to run to?"

"I couldn't tell you, could I, even if I knew?" Mark asked as tactfully as he was able. "But as a matter of fact, I don't know. I only know that I won't go into Mr. Hitchcock's office. If you try to force me, I shall write to The Times about it."

Such a threat would have sounded absurd in the mouth of a schoolboy before the Pomeroy business; but now Mr. Lidderdale took it seriously and began to wonder if Haverton House would survive any more of such publicity. When a few days later Mr. Ogilvie, whom Mark had consulted about his future, wrote to propose that Mark should live with him and work under his superintendence with the idea of winning a scholarship at Oxford, Mr. Lidderdale was inclined to treat his suggestion as a solution of the problem, and he replied encouragingly:

Haverton House,

Slowbridge.

Jan. 15.

Dear Sir,

Am I to understand from your letter that you are offering to make yourself responsible for my nephew's future, for I must warn you that I could not accept your suggestion unless such were the case? I do not approve of what I assume will be the trend of your education, and I should have to disclaim any further responsibility in the matter of my nephew's future. I may inform you that I hold in trust for him until he comes of age the sum of L522 8s. 7d. which was left by his mother. The annual interest upon this I have used until now as a slight contribution to the expense to which I have been put on his account; but I have not thought it right to use any of the capital sum. This I am proposing to transfer to you. His mother did not execute any legal document and I have nothing more binding than a moral obligation. If you undertake the responsibility of looking after him until such time as he is able to earn his own living, I consider that you are entitled to use this money in any way you think right. I hope that the boy will reward your confidence more amply than he has rewarded mine. I need not allude to the Pomeroy business to you, for notwithstanding your public denials I cannot but consider that you were as deeply implicated in that disgraceful affair as he was. I note what you say about the admiration you had for my brother. I wish I could honestly say that I shared that admiration. But my brother and I were not on good terms, for which state of affairs he was entirely responsible. I am more ready to surrender to you all my authority over Mark because I am only too well aware how during the last year you have consistently undermined that authority and encouraged my nephew's rebellious spirit. I have had a great experience of boys during thirty-five years of schoolmastering, and I can assure you that I have never had to deal with a boy so utterly insensible to kindness as my nephew. His conduct toward his aunt I can only characterize as callous. Of his conduct towards me I prefer to say no more. I came forward at a moment when he was likely to be sunk in the most abject poverty, and my reward has been ingratitude. I pray that his dark and stubborn temperament may not turn to vice and folly as he grows older, but I have little hope of its not doing so. I confess that to me his future seems dismally black. You may have acquired some kind of influence over his emotions, if he has any emotions, but I am not inclined to suppose that it will endure.

On hearing from you that you persist in your offer to assume complete responsibility for my nephew, I will hand him over to your care at once. I cannot pretend that I shall be sorry to see the last of him, for I am not a hypocrite. I may add that his clothes are in rather a sorry state. I had intended to equip him upon his entering the office of my old friend Mr. Hitchcock and with that intention I have been letting him wear out what he has. This, I may say, he has done most effectually.

I am, Sir,

Yours faithfully,

Henry Lidderdale.

To which Mr. Ogilvie replied:

The Vicarage,

Meade Cantorum,

Bucks.

Jan. 16.

Dear Mr. Lidderdale,

I accept full responsibility for Mark and for Mark's money. Send both of them along whenever you like. I'm not going to embark on another controversy about the "rights" of boys. I've exhausted every argument on this subject since Mark involved me in his drastic measures of a month ago. But please let me assure you that I will do my best for him and that I am convinced he will do his best for me.

Yours truly,

Stephen Ogilvie.



CHAPTER XIII

WYCH-ON-THE-WOLD

Mark rarely visited his uncle and aunt after he went to live at Meade Cantorum; and the break was made complete soon afterward when the living of Wych-on-the-Wold was accepted by Mr. Ogilvie, so complete indeed that he never saw his relations again. Uncle Henry died five years later; Aunt Helen went to live at St. Leonard's, where she took up palmistry and became indispensable to the success of charitable bazaars in East Sussex.

Wych, a large village on a spur of the Cotswold hills, was actually in Oxfordshire, although by so bare a margin that all the windows looked down into Gloucestershire, except those in the Rectory; they looked out across a flat country of elms and willow-bordered streams to a flashing spire in Northamptonshire reputed to be fifty miles away. It was a high windy place, seeming higher and windier on account of the numbers of pigeons that were always circling round the church tower. There was hardly a house in Wych that did not have its pigeon-cote, from the great round columbary in the Rectory garden to the few holes in a gable-end of some steep-roofed cottage. Wych was architecturally as perfect as most Cotswold villages, and if it lacked the variety of Wychford in the vale below, that was because the exposed position had kept its successive builders too intent on solidity to indulge their fancy. The result was an austere uniformity of design that accorded fittingly with a landscape whose beauty was all of line and whose colour like the lichen on an old wall did not flauntingly reveal its gradations of tint to the transient observer. The bleak upland airs had taught the builders to be sparing with their windows; the result of such solicitude for the comfort of the inmates was a succession of blank spaces of freestone that delighted the eye with an effect of strength and leisure, of cleanliness and tranquillity.

The Rectory, dating from the reign of Charles II, did not arrogate to itself the right to retire behind trees from the long line of the single village street; but being taller than the other houses it brought the street to a dignified conclusion, and it was not unworthy of the noble church which stood apart from the village, a landmark for miles, upon the brow of the rolling wold. There was little traffic on the road that climbed up from Wychford in the valley of the swift Greenrush five miles away, and there was less traffic on the road beyond, which for eight miles sent branch after branch to remote farms and hamlets until itself became no more than a sheep track and faded out upon a hilly pasturage. Yet even this unfrequented road only bisected the village at the end of its wide street, where in the morning when the children were at school and the labourers at work in the fields the silence was cloistral, where one could stand listening to the larks high overhead, and where the lightest footstep aroused curiosity, so that one turned the head to peep and peer for the cause of so strange a sound.

Mr. Ogilvie's parish had a large superficial area; but his parishioners were not many outside the village, and in that country of wide pastures the whole of his cure did not include half-a-dozen farms. There was no doctor and no squire, unless Will Starling of Rushbrooke Grange could be counted as the squire.

Halfway to Wychford and close to the boundary of the two parishes an infirm signpost managed with the aid of a stunted hawthorn to keep itself partially upright and direct the wayfarer to Wych Maries. Without the signpost nobody would have suspected that the grassgrown track thus indicated led anywhere except over the top of the wold.

"You must go and explore Wych Maries," the Rector had said to Mark soon after they arrived. "You'll find it rather attractive. There's a disused chapel dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin and St. Mary Magdalene. My predecessor took me there when we drove round the parish on my first visit; but I haven't yet had time to go again. And you ought to have a look at the gardens of Rushbrooke Grange. The present squire is away. In the South Seas, I believe. But the housekeeper, Mrs. Honeybone, will show you round."

It was in response to this advice that Mark and Esther set out on a golden May evening to explore Wych Maries. Esther had continued to be friendly with Mark after the Pomeroy affair; and when he came to live at Meade Cantorum she had expressed her pleasure at the prospect of having him for a brother.

"But you'll keep off religion, won't you?" she had demanded.

Mark promised that he would, wondering why she should suppose that he was incapable of perceiving who was and who was not interested in it.

"I suppose you've guessed my fear?" she had continued. "Haven't you? Haven't you guessed that I'm frightened to death of becoming religious?"

The reassuring contradiction that one naturally gives to anybody who voices a dread of being overtaken by some misfortune might perhaps have sounded inappropriate, and Mark had held his tongue.

"My father was very religious. My mother is more or less religious. Stephen is religious. Miriam is religious. Oh, Mark, and I sometimes feel that I too must fall on my knees and surrender. But I won't. Because it spoils life. I shall be beaten in the end of course, and I'll probably get religious mania when I am beaten. But until then—" She did not finish her sentence; only her blue eyes glittered at the challenge of life.

That was the last time religion was mentioned between Mark and Esther, and since both of them enjoyed the country they became friends. On this May evening they stood by the signpost and looked across the shimmering grass to where the sun hung in his web of golden haze above the edge of the wold.

"If we take the road to Wych Maries," said Mark, "we shall be walking right into the sun."

Esther did not reply, but Mark understood that she assented to his truism, and they walked on as silent as the long shadows that followed them. A quarter of a mile from the high road the path reached the edge of the wold and dipped over into a wood which was sparse just below the brow, but which grew denser down the slope with many dark evergreens interspersed, and in the valley below became a jungle. After the bare upland country this volume of May verdure seemed indescribably rich and the valley beyond, where the Greenrush flowed through kingcups toward the sun, indescribably alluring. Esther and Mark forgot that they were exploring Wych Maries and thinking only of reaching that wide valley they ran down through the wood, rejoicing in the airy green of the ash-trees above them and shouting as they ran. But presently cypresses and sombre yews rose on either side of the path, and the road to Wych Maries was soft and silent, and the serene sun was lost, and their whispering footsteps forbade them to shout any more. At the bottom of the hill the trees increased in number and variety; the sun shone through pale oak-leaves and the warm green of sycamores. Nevertheless a sadness haunted the wood, where the red campions made only a mist of colour with no reality of life and flowers behind.

"This wood's awfully jolly, isn't it?" said Mark, hoping to gain from Esther's agreement the dispersal of his gloom.

"I don't care for it much," she replied. "There doesn't seem to be any life in it."

"I heard a cuckoo just now," said Mark.

"Yes, out of tune already."

"Mm, rather out of tune. Mind those nettles," he warned her.

"I thought Stephen said he drove here."

"Perhaps we've come the wrong way. I believe the road forked by the ash wood above. Anyway if we go toward the sun we shall come out in the valley, and we can walk back along the banks of the river to Wychford."

"We can always go back through the wood," said Esther.

"Yes, if you don't mind going back the way you came."

"Come on," she snapped. She was not going to be laughed at by Mark, and she dared him to deny that he was not as much aware as herself of an eeriness in the atmosphere.

"Only because it seems dark in here after that dazzling sunlight on the wold. Hark! I hear the sound of water."

They struggled through the undergrowth toward the sound; soon from a steep wooded bank they were gazing down into a millpool, the surface of which reflected with a gloomy deepening of their hue the colour but not the form of the trees above. Water was flowing through a rotten sluice gate down from the level of the stream upon a slimy water-wheel that must have been out of action for many years.

"The dark tarn of Auber in the misty mid region of Weir!" Mark exclaimed. "Don't you love Ulalume? I think it's about my favourite poem."

"Never heard of it," Esther replied indifferently. He might have taken advantage of this confession to give her a lecture on poetry, if the millpool and the melancholy wood had not been so affecting as to make the least attempt at literary exposition impertinent.

"And there's the chapel," Mark exclaimed, pointing to a ruined edifice of stone, the walls of which were stained with the damp of years rising from the pool. "But how shall we reach it? We must have come the wrong way."

"Let's go back! Let's go back!" Esther exclaimed, surrendering to the command of an intuition that overcame her pride. "This place is unlucky."

Mark looking at her wild eyes, wilder in the dark that came so early in this overshadowed place, was half inclined to turn round at her behest; but at that moment he perceived a possible path through the nettles and briers at the farther end of the pool and unwilling to go back to the Rectory without having visited the ruined chapel of Wych Maries he called on her to follow him. This she did fearfully at first; but gradually regaining her composure she emerged on the other side as cool and scornful as the Esther with whom he was familiar.

"What frightened you?" he asked, when they were standing on a grassgrown road that wound through a rank pasturage browsed on by a solitary black cow and turned the corner by a clump of cedars toward a large building, the presence of which was felt rather than seen beyond the trees.

"I was bored by the brambles," Esther offered for explanation.

"This must be the driving road," Mark proclaimed. "I say, this chapel is rather ripping, isn't it?"

But Esther had wandered away across the rank meadow, where her meditative form made the solitary black cow look lonelier than ever. Mark turned aside to examine the chapel. He had been warned by the Rector to look at the images of St. Mary the Virgin and St. Mary Magdalene that had survived the ruin of the holy place of which they were tutelary and to which they had given their name. The history of the chapel was difficult to trace. It was so small as to suggest that it was a chantry; but there was no historical justification for linking its fortunes with the Starlings who owned Rushbrooke Grange, and there was no record of any lost hamlet here. That it was called Wych Maries might show a connexion either with Wychford or with Wych-on-the-Wold; it lay about midway between the two, and in days gone by there had been controversy on this point between the two parishes. The question had been settled by a squire of Rushbrooke's buying it in the eighteenth century, since when a legend had arisen that it was built and endowed by some crusading Starling of the thirteenth century. There was record neither of its glory nor of its decline, nor of what manner of folk worshipped there, nor of those who destroyed it. The roofless haunt of bats and owls, preserved from complete collapse by the ancient ivy that covered its walls, the mortar between its stones the prey of briers, its floor a nettle bed, the chapel remained a mystery. Yet over the arch of the west door the two Maries gazed heavenward as they had gazed for six hundred years. The curiosity of the few antiquarians who visited the place and speculated upon its past had kept the images clear of the ivy that covered the rest of the fabric. Mark did not put this to the credit of the antiquarians; but now perceiving for the first time these two austere shapes of divine women under conditions of atmosphere that enhanced their austerity and unearthliness he ascribed their freedom from decay to the interposition of God. To Mark's imagination, fixed upon the images while Esther wandered solitary in the field beyond the chapel, there was granted another of those moments of vision which marked like milestones his spiritual progress. He became suddenly assured that he would neither marry nor beget children. He was astonished to find himself in the grip of this thought, for his mind had never until this evening occupied itself with marriage or children, nor even with love. Yet here he was obsessed by the conviction of his finite purpose in the scheme of the world. He could not, he said to himself, be considered credulous if he sought for the explanation of his state of mind in the images of the two Maries. He looked at them resolved to illuminate with reason's eye the fluttering shadows of dusk that gave to the stone an illusion of life's bloom.

"Did their lips really move?" he asked aloud, and from the field beyond the black cow lowed a melancholy negative. Whether the stone had spoken or not, Mark accepted the revelation of his future as a Divine favour, and thenceforth he regarded the ruined chapel of Wych Maries as the place where the vow he made on that Whit-sunday was accepted by God.

"Aren't you ever coming?" the voice of Esther called across the field, and Mark hurried away to rejoin her on the grassgrown drive that led round the cedar grove to Rushbrooke Grange.

"It's too late now to go inside," he objected.

They were standing before the house.

"It's not too late at all," she contradicted eagerly. "Down here it seems later than it really is."

Rushbrooke Grange lacked the architectural perfection of the average Cotswold manor. Being a one-storied building it occupied a large superficial area, and its tumbling irregular roofs of freestone, the outlines of which were blurred by the encroaching mist of vegetation that overhung them, gave the effect of water, as if the atmosphere of this dank valley had wrought upon the substance of the building and as if the architects themselves had been confused by the rivalry of the trees by which it was surrounded. The owners of Rushbrooke Grange had never occupied a prominent position in the county, and their estates had grown smaller with each succeeding generation. There was no conspicuous author of their decay, no outstanding gamester or libertine from whose ownership the family's ruin could be dated. There was indeed nothing of interest in their annals except an attack upon the Grange by a party of armed burglars in the disorderly times at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when the squire's wife and two little girls were murdered while the squire and his sons were drinking deep in the Stag Inn at Wychford four miles away. Mark did not feel much inclined to blunt his impression of the chapel by perambulating Rushbrooke Grange under the guidance of Mrs. Honeybone, the old housekeeper; but Esther perversely insisted upon seeing the garden at any rate, giving as her excuse that the Rector would like them to pay the visit. By now it was a pink and green May dusk; the air was plumy with moths' wings, heavy with the scent of apple blossom.

"Well, you must explain who we are," said Mark while the echoes of the bell died away on the silence within the house and they waited for the footsteps that should answer their summons. The answer came from a window above the porch where Mrs. Honeybone's face, wreathed in wistaria, looked down and demanded in accents that were harsh with alarm who was there.

"I am the Rector's sister, Mrs. Honeybone," Esther explained.

"I don't care who you are," said Mrs. Honeybone. "You have no business to go ringing the bell at this time of the evening. It frightened me to death."

"The Rector asked me to call on you," she pressed.

Mark had already been surprised by Esther's using her brother as an excuse to visit the house and he was still more surprised by hearing her speak so politely, so ingratiatingly, it seemed, to this grim woman embowered in wistaria.

"We lost our way," Esther explained, "and that's why we're so late. The Rector told me about the water-lily pool, and I should so much like to see it."

Mrs. Honeybone debated with herself for a moment, until at last with a grunt of disapproval she came downstairs and opened the front door. The lily pool, now a lily pool only in name, for it was covered with an integument of duckweed which in twilight took on the texture of velvet, was an attractive place set in an enclosure of grass between high grey walls.

"That's all there is to see," said Mrs. Honeybone.

"Mr. Starling is abroad?" Esther asked.

The housekeeper nodded.

"And when is he coming back?" she went on.

"That's for him to say," said the housekeeper disagreeably. "He might come back to-night for all I know."

Almost before the sentence was out of her mouth the hall bell jangled, and a distant voice shouted:

"Nanny, Nanny, hurry up and open the door!"

Mrs. Honeybone could not have looked more startled if the voice had been that of a ghost. Mark began to talk of going until Esther cut him short.

"I don't think Mr. Starling will mind our being here so much as that," she said.

Mrs. Honeybone had already hurried off to greet her master; and when she was gone Mark looked at Esther, saw that her face was strangely flushed, and in an instant of divination apprehended either that she had already met the squire of Rushbrooke Grange or that she expected to meet him here to-night; so that, when presently a tall man of about thirty-five with brick-dust cheeks came into the close, he was not taken aback when Esther greeted him by name with the assurance of old friendship. Nor was he astonished that even in the wan light those brick-dust cheeks should deepen to terra-cotta, those hard blue eyes glitter with recognition, and the small thin-lipped mouth lose for a moment its immobility and gape, yes, gape, in the amazement of meeting somebody whom he never could have expected to meet at such an hour in such a place.

"You," he exclaimed. "You here!"

By the way he quickly looked behind him as if to intercept a prying glance Mark knew that, whatever the relationship between Esther and the squire had been in the past, it had been a relationship in which secrecy had played a part. In that moment between him and Will Starling there was enmity.

"You couldn't have expected him to make a great fuss about a boy," said Esther brutally on their way back to the Rectory.

"I suppose you think that's the reason why I don't like him," said Mark. "I don't want him to take any notice of me, but I think it's very odd that you shouldn't have said a word about knowing him even to his housekeeper."

"It was a whim of mine," she murmured. "Besides, I don't know him very well. We met at Eastbourne once when I was staying there with Mother."

"Well, why didn't he say 'How do you do, Miss Ogilvie?' instead of breathing out 'you' like that?"

Esther turned furiously upon Mark.

"What has it got to do with you?"

"Nothing whatever to do with me," he said deliberately. "But if you think you're going to make a fool of me, you're not. Are you going to tell your brother you knew him?"

Esther would not answer, and separated by several yards they walked sullenly back to the Rectory.



CHAPTER XIV

ST. MARK'S DAY

Mark tried next day to make up his difference with Esther; but she repulsed his advances, and the friendship that had blossomed after the Pomeroy affair faded and died. There was no apparent dislike on either side, nothing more than a coolness as of people too well used to each other's company. In a way this was an advantage for Mark, who was having to apply himself earnestly to the amount of study necessary to win a scholarship at Oxford. Companionship with Esther would have meant considerable disturbance of his work, for she was a woman who depended on the inspiration of the moment for her pastimes and pleasures, who was impatient of any postponement and always avowedly contemptuous of Mark's serious side. His classical education at Haverton House had made little of the material bequeathed to him by his grandfather's tuition at Nancepean. None of his masters had been enough of a scholar or enough of a gentleman (and to teach Latin and Greek well one must be one or the other) to educate his taste. The result was an assortment of grammatical facts to which he was incapable of giving life. If the Rector of Wych-on-the-Wold was not a great scholar, he was at least able to repair the neglect of, more than the neglect of, the positive damage done to Mark's education by the meanness of Haverton House; moreover, after Mark had been reading with him six months he did find a really first-class scholar in Mr. Ford, the Vicar of Little Fairfield. Mark worked steadily, and existence in Oxfordshire went by without any great adventures of mind, body, or spirit. Life at the Rectory had a kind of graceful austerity like the well-proportioned Rectory itself. If Mark had bothered to analyze the cause of this graceful austerity, he might have found it in the personality of the Rector's elder sister Miriam. Even at Meade Cantorum, when he was younger, Mark had been fully conscious of her qualities; but here they found a background against which they could display themselves more perfectly. When they moved from Buckinghamshire and the new rector was seeing how much Miriam appreciated the new surroundings, he sold out some stock and presented her with enough ready money to express herself in the outward beauty of the Rectory's refurbishing. He was luckily not called upon to spend a great deal on the church, both his predecessors having maintained the fabric with care, and the fabric itself being sound enough and magnificent enough to want no more than that. Miriam, though shaking one of those capable and well-tended fingers at her beloved brother's extravagance, accepted the gift with an almost childish determination to give full value of beauty in return, so that there should not be a servant's bedroom nor a cupboard nor a corridor that did not display the evidence of her appreciation in loving care. The garden was handed over to Mrs. Ogilvie, who as soon as May warmed its high enclosures bloomed there like one of her own favourite peonies, rosy of face and fragrant, ample of girth, golden-hearted.

Outside the Rectory Mark spent most of his time with Richard Ford, the son of the Vicar of Little Fairfield, with whom he went to work in the autumn after his arrival in Oxfordshire. Here again Mark was lucky, for Richard, who was a year or two older than himself and a student at Cooper's Hill whence he would emerge as a civil engineer bound for India, was one of those entirely admirable young men who succeed in being saintly without any rapture or righteousness.

Mark said one day:

"Rector, you know, Richard Ford really is a saint; only for goodness' sake don't tell him I said so, because he'd be furious."

The Rector stopped humming a joyful Miserere to give Mark an assurance of his discretion. But Mark having said so much in praise of Richard could say no more, and indeed he would have found it hard to express in words what he felt about his friend.

Mark accompanied Richard on his visits to Wychford Rectory where in this fortunate corner of England existed a third perfect family. Richard was deeply in love with Margaret Grey, the second daughter, and if Mark had ever been intended to fall in love he would certainly have fallen in love with Pauline, the youngest daughter, who was fourteen.

"I could look at her for ever," he confided in Richard. "Walking down the road from Wych-on-the-Wold this morning I saw two blue butterflies on a wild rose, and they were like Pauline's eyes and the rose was like her cheek."

"She's a decent kid," Richard agreed fervently.

Mark had had such a limited experience of the world that the amenities of the society in which he found himself incorporated did not strike his imagination as remarkable. It was in truth one of those eclectic, somewhat exquisite, even slightly rarefied coteries which are produced partly by chance, partly by interests shared in common, but most of all, it would seem, by the very genius of the place. The genius of Cotswolds imparts to those who come beneath his influence the art of existing appropriately in the houses that were built at his inspiration. They do not boast of their privilege like the people of Sussex. They are not living up to a landscape so much as to an architecture, and their voices lowered harmoniously with the sigh of the wind through willows and aspens have not to compete with the sea-gales or the sea.

Mark accepted the manners of the society in which good fortune had set him as the natural expression of an inward orderliness, a traditional respect for beauty like the ritual of Christian worship. That the three daughters of the Rector of Wychford should be critical of those who failed to conform to their inherited refinement of life did not strike him as priggish, because it never struck him for a moment that any other standard than theirs existed. He felt the same about people who objected to Catholic ceremonies; their dislike of them did not present itself to him as arising out of a different religious experience from his own; but it appeared as a propensity toward unmannerly behaviour, as a kind of wanton disregard of decency and good taste. He was indeed still at the age when externals possess not so much an undue importance, but when they affect a boy as a mould through which the plastic experience of his youth is passed and whence it emerges to harden slowly to the ultimate form of the individual. In the case of Mark there was the revulsion from the arid ugliness of Haverton House and the ambition to make up for those years of beauty withheld, both of which urged him on to take the utmost advantage of this opportunity to expose the blank surface of those years to the fine etching of the present. Miriam at home, the Greys at Wychford, and in some ways most of all Richard Ford at Fairfield gave him in a few months the poise he would have received more gradually from a public school education.

So Mark read Greek with the Vicar of Little Fairfield and Latin with the Rector of Wych-on-the-Wold, who, amiable and holy man, had to work nearly twice as hard as his pupil to maintain his reserve of instruction. Mark took long walks with Richard Ford when Richard was home in his vacations, and long walks by himself when Richard was at Cooper's Hill. He often went to Wychford Rectory, where he learnt to enjoy Schumann and Beethoven and Bach and Brahms.

"You're like three Saint Cecilias," he told them. "Monica is by Luini and Margaret is by Perugino and Pauline. . . ."

"Oh, who am I by?" Pauline exclaimed, clapping her hands.

"I give it up. You're just Saint Cecilia herself at fourteen."

"Isn't Mark foolish?" Pauline laughed.

"It's my birthday to-morrow," said Mark, "so I'm allowed to be foolish."

"It's my birthday in a week," said Pauline. "And as I'm two years younger than you I can be two years more foolish."

Mark looked at her, and he was filled with wonder at the sanctity of her maidenhood. Thenceforth meditating upon the Annunciation he should always clothe Pauline in a robe of white samite and set her in his mind's eye for that other maid of Jewry, even as painters found holy maids in Florence or Perugia for their bright mysteries.

While Mark was walking back to Wych and when on the brow of the first rise of the road he stood looking down at Wychford in the valley below, a chill lisping wind from the east made him shiver and he thought of the lines in Keats' Eve of St. Mark:

The chilly sunset faintly told Of unmatured green vallies cold, Of the green thorny bloomless hedge, Of rivers new with spring-tide sedge, Of primroses by shelter'd rills, And daisies on the aguish hills.

The sky in the west was an unmatured green valley tonight, where Venus bloomed like a solitary primrose; and on the dark hills of Heaven the stars were like daisies. He turned his back on the little town and set off up the hill again, while the wind slipped through the hedge beside him in and out of the blackthorn boughs, lisping, whispering, snuffling, sniffing, like a small inquisitive animal. He thought of Monica, Margaret, and Pauline playing in their warm, candle-lit room behind him, and he thought of Miriam reading in her tall-back chair before dinner, for Evensong would be over by now. Yes, Evensong would be over, he remembered penitently, and he ought to have gone this evening, which was the vigil of St. Mark and of his birthday. At this moment he caught sight of the Wych Maries signpost black against that cold green sky. He gave a momentary start, because seen thus the signpost had a human look; and when his heart beat normally it was roused again, this time by the sight of a human form indeed, the form of Esther, the wind blowing her skirts before her, hurrying along the road to which the signpost so crookedly pointed. Mark who had been climbing higher and higher now felt the power of that wind full on his cheeks. It was as if it had found what it wanted, for it no longer whispered and lisped among the boughs of the blackthorn, but blew fiercely over the wide pastures, driving Esther before it, cutting through Mark like a sword. By the time he had reached the signpost she had disappeared in the wood.

Mark asked himself why she was going to Rushbrooke Grange.

"To Rushbrooke Grange," he said aloud. "Why should I think she is going to Rushbrooke Grange?"

Though even in this desolate place he would not say it aloud, the answer came back from this very afternoon when somebody had mentioned casually that the Squire was come home again. Mark half turned to follow Esther, but in the moment of turning he set his face resolutely in the direction of home. If Esther were really on her way to meet Will Starling, he would do more harm than good by appearing to pry.

Esther was the flaw in Mark's crystal clear world. When a year ago they had quarrelled over his avowed dislike of Will Starling, she had gone back to her solitary walks and he conscious, painfully conscious, that she regarded him as a young prig, had with that foolish pride of youth resolved to be so far as she was concerned what she supposed him to be. His admiration for the Greys and the Fords had driven her into jeering at them; throughout the year Mark and she had been scarcely polite to each other even in public. The Rector and Miriam probably excused Mark's rudeness whenever he let himself give way to it, because their sister did not spare either of them, and they were made aware with exasperating insistence of the dullness of the country and of the dreariness of everybody who lived in the neighbourhood. Yet, Mark could never achieve that indifference to her attitude either toward himself or toward other people that he wished to achieve. It was odd that this evening he should have beheld her in that relation to the wind, because in his thoughts about her she always appeared to him like the wind, restlessly sighing and fluttering round a comfortable house. However steady the candle-light, however bright the fire, however absorbing the book, however secure one may feel by the fireside, the wind is always there; and throughout these tranquil months Esther had always been most unmistakably there.

In the morning Mark went to Mass and made his Communion. It was a strangely calm morning; through the unstained windows of the clerestory the sun sloped quivering ladders of golden light. He looked round with half a hope that Esther was in the church; but she was absent, and throughout the service that brief vision of her dark transit across the cold green sky of yester eve kept recurring to his imagination, so that for all the rich peace of this interior he was troubled in spirit, and the intention to make this Mass upon his seventeenth birthday another spiritual experience was frustrated. In fact, he was worshipping mechanically, and it was only when Mass was over and he was kneeling to make an act of gratitude for his Communion that he began to apprehend how he was asking fresh favours from God without having moved a step forward to deserve them.

"I think I'm too pleased with myself," he decided, "I think I'm suffering from spiritual pride. I think. . . ."

He paused, wondering if it was blasphemous to have an intuition that God was about to play some horrible trick on him. Mark discussed with the Rector the theological aspects of this intuition.

"The only thing I feel," said Mr. Ogilvie, "is that perhaps you are leading too sheltered a life here and that the explanation of your intuition is your soul's perception of this. Indeed, once or twice lately I have been on the point of warning you that you must not get into the habit of supposing you will always find the onset of the world so gentle as here."

"But naturally I don't expect to," said Mark. "I was quite long enough at Haverton House to appreciate what it means to be here."

"Yes," the Rector went on, "but even at Haverton House it was a passive ugliness, just as here it is a passive beauty. After our Lord had fasted forty days in the desert, accumulating reserves of spiritual energy, just as we in our poor human fashion try to accumulate in Lent reserves of spiritual energy that will enable us to celebrate Easter worthily, He was assailed by the Tempter more fiercely than ever during His life on earth. The history of all the early Egyptian monks, the history indeed of any life lived without losing sight of the way of spiritual perfection displays the same phenomena. In the action and reaction of experience, in the rise and fall of the tides, in the very breathing of the human lungs, you may perceive analogies of the divine rhythm. No, I fancy your intuition of this morning is nothing more than one of those movements which warn us that the sleeper will soon wake."

Mark went away from this conversation with the Rector dissatisfied. He wanted something more than analogies taken from the experience of spiritual giants, Titans of holiness whose mighty conquests of the flesh seemed as remote from him as the achievements of Alexander might appear to a captain of the local volunteers. What he had gone to ask the Rector was whether it was blasphemous to suppose that God was going to play a horrible trick on him. He had not wanted a theological discussion, an academic question and reply. Anything could be answered like that, probably himself in another twenty years, when he had preached some hundreds of sermons, would talk like that. Moreover, when he was alone Mark understood that he had not really wanted to talk about his own troubles to the Rector at all, but that his real preoccupation had been and still was Esther. He wondered, oh, how much he wondered, if her brother had the least suspicion of her friendship with Will Starling, or if Miriam had had the least inkling that Esther had not come in till nine o'clock last night because she had been to Wych Maries? Mark, remembering those wild eyes and that windblown hair when she stood for a moment framed in the doorway of the Rector's library, could not believe that none of her family had guessed that something more than the whim to wander over the hills had taken her out on such a night. Did Mrs. Ogilvie, promenading so placidly along her garden borders, ever pause in perplexity at her daughter's behaviour? Calling them all to mind, their attitudes, the expressions of their faces, the words upon their lips, Mark was sure that none of them had any idea what Esther was doing. He debated now the notion of warning Miriam in veiled language about her sister; but such an idea would strike Miriam as monstrous, as a mad and horrible nightmare. Mark shivered at the mere fancy of the chill that would come over her and of the disdain in her eyes. Besides, what right had he on the little he knew to involve Esther with her family? Superficially he might count himself her younger brother; but if he presumed too far, with what a deadly retort might she not annihilate his claim. Most certainly he was not entitled to intervene unless he intervened bravely and directly. Mark shook his head at the prospect of doing that. He could not imagine anybody's tackling Esther directly on such a subject. Seventeen to-day! He looked out of the window and felt that he was bearing upon his shoulders the whole of that green world outspread before him.

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