The Altar Steps
by Compton MacKenzie
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Then why don't you compromise," suggested Mark, "and call yourself Brother Simon?"

"Oh, what a splendid idea!" Brother Walter exclaimed, clapping his hands. "Oh, thank you, Brother Mark. That has solved all my difficulties. Oh, do let me pull up that thistle for you."

Brother Walter the probationer resumed his weeding with joyful ferocity of purpose, his mind at peace in the expectation of shortly becoming Brother Simon the postulant.

What Mark enjoyed most in his personal relations with the community were the walks on Sunday afternoons. Sir Charles Horner made a habit of joining these to obtain the Abbey gossip and also because he took pleasure in hearing himself hold forth on the management of his estate. Most of his property was woodland, and the walks round Malford possessed that rich intimacy of the English countryside at its best. Mark was not much interested in what Sir Charles had to ask or in what Sir Charles had to tell or in what Sir Charles had to show, but to find himself walking with his monastic brethren in their habits down glades of mighty oaks, or through sparse plantations of birches, beneath which grew brakes of wild raspberries that would redden with the yellowing corn, gave him as assurance of that old England before the Reformation to which he looked back as to a Golden Age. Years after, when much that was good and much that was bad in his monastic experience had been forgotten, he held in his memory one of these walks on a fine afternoon at July's end within the octave of St. Mary Magdalene. It happened that Sir Charles had not accompanied the monks that Sunday; but in his place was an old priest who had spent the week-end as a guest in the Abbey and who had said Mass for the brethren that morning. This had given Mark deep pleasure, because it was the Sunday after Esther's profession, and he had been able to make his intention her present joy and future happiness. He had been silent throughout the walk, seeming to listen in turn to Brother Dunstan's rhapsodies about the forthcoming arrival of Brother George and Brother Birinus with all that it meant to him of responsibility more than he could bear removed from his shoulders; or to Brother Raymond's doubts if it should not be made a rule that when no priest was in the Abbey the brethren ought to walk over to Wivelrod, the church Sir Charles attended four miles away, or to Brother Jerome's disclaimer of Roman sympathies in voicing his opinion that the Office should be said in Latin. Actually he paid little attention to any of them, his thoughts being far away with Esther. They had chosen Hollybush Down for their walk that Sunday, because they thought that the view over many miles of country would please the ancient priest. Seated on the short aromatic grass in the shade of a massive hawthorn full-berried with tawny fruit, the brethren looked down across a slope dotted with junipers to the view outspread before them. None spoke, for it had been warm work in their habits to climb the burnished grass. It would have been hard to explain the significance of that group, unless it were due to some haphazard achievement of perfect form; yet somehow for Mark that moment was taken from time and placed in eternity, so that whenever afterward in his life he read about the Middle Ages he was able to be what he read, merely by re-conjuring that monkish company in the shade of that hawthorn tree.

On their way back to the Abbey Mark found himself walking with Mr. Lamplugh, the ancient priest, who turned out to have known his father.

"Dear me, are you really the son of James Lidderdale? Why, I used to go and preach at Lima Street in old days long before your father married. And so you're Lidderdale's son. Now I wonder why you want to be a monk."

Mark gave an account of himself since he left school and tried to give some good reasons why he was at Malford.

"And so you were with Rowley? Well, really you ought to know something about missions by now. But perhaps you're tired of mission work already?" the old priest inquired with a quick glance at Mark as if he would see how much of the real stuff existed underneath that probationer's cassock.

"This is an active Order, isn't it?" Mark countered. "Of course, I'm not tired of mission work. But after being with Father Rowley and being kept busy all the time I found that being at home in the country made me idle. I told the Reverend Father that I hoped to be ordained as a secular priest and that I did not imagine I had any vocation for the contemplative life. I have as a matter of fact a great longing for it. But I don't think that twenty-one is a good age for being quite sure if that longing is not mere sentiment. I suppose you think I'm just indulging myself with the decorative side of religion, Father Lamplugh? I really am not. I can assure you that I'm far too much accustomed to the decorative side to be greatly influenced by it."

The old priest laid a thin hand on Mark's sleeve.

"To tell the truth, my dear boy, I was on the verge of violating the decencies of accepted hospitality by criticizing the Order of which you have become a probationer. I am just a little doubtful about the efficacy of its method of training young men. However, it really is not my business, and I hope that I am wrong. But I am a little doubtful if all these excellent young brethren are really desirous . . . no, I'll not say another word, I've already disgracefully exceeded the limitations to criticism that courtesy alone demands of me. I was carried away by my interest in you when I heard whose son you were. What a debt we owe to men like your father and Rowley! And here am I at seventy-six after a long and useless life presuming to criticize other people. God forgive me!" The old man crossed himself.

That afternoon and evening recreation was unusually noisy, and during Vespers one or two of the brethren were seized with an attack of giggles because Brother Lawrence, who was in a rapt condition of mind owing to the near approach of St. Lawrence's day when he was to be clothed as a novice, tripped while he was holding back the cope during the censing of the Magnificat and falling on his knees almost upset Father Lamplugh. There was no doubt that the way Brother Lawrence stuck out his lower jaw when he was self-conscious was very funny; but Mark wished that the giggling had not occurred in front of Father Lamplugh. He wished too that during recreation after supper Brother Raymond would be less skittish and Brother Dunstan less arch in the manner of reproving him.

"Holy simplicity is all very well," Mark thought. "But holy imbecility is a great bore, especially when there is a stranger present."

Luckily Father Burrowes came back the following week, and Mark's deepening impression of the monastery's futility was temporarily obliterated by the exciting news that the Bishop of Alberta whom the brethren were taught to reverence as a second founder would be the guest of the Order on St. Lawrence's day and attend the profession of Brother Anselm. Mark had not yet seen Brother Anselm, who was the brother in charge of the Aldershot priory, and he welcomed the opportunity of witnessing those solemn final vows. He felt that he should gain much from meeting Brother Anselm, whose work at Aldershot was considered after the Reverend Father's preaching to be the chief glory of the Order. Brother Lawrence was a little jealous that his name day, on which he was to be clothed in Chapter as a novice, should be chosen for the much more important ceremony, and he spoke sharply to poor Brother Walter when the latter rejoiced in the added lustre Brother Anselm's profession would shed upon his own promotion.

"You must remember, Brother," he said, "that you'll probably remain a postulant for a very long time."

"But not for ever," replied poor Brother Walter in a depressed tone of voice.

"There may not be time to attend to you," said Brother Lawrence spitefully. "You may have to wait until the Bishop has gone."

"Oh dear, oh dear," sighed Brother Walter looking woeful. "Brother Mark, do you hear what they say?"

"Never mind," said Mark, "we'll take our final vows together when Brother Lawrence is still a doddering old novice."

Brother Lawrence clicked his tongue and bit his under lip in disgust at such a flippant remark.

"What a thing to say," he muttered, and burying his hands in his sleeves he walked off disdainfully, his jaw thrust before him.

"Like a cow-catcher," Mark thought with a smile.

The Bishop of Alberta was a dear old gentleman with silvery hair and a complexion as fresh and pink as a boy's. With his laced rochet and purple biretta he lent the little matchboarded chapel an exotic splendour when he sat in a Glastonbury chair beside the altar during the Office. The more ritualistic of the brethren greatly enjoyed giving him reverent genuflexions and kissing his episcopal ring. Brother Raymond's behaviour towards him was like that of a child who has been presented with a large doll to play with, a large doll that can be dressed and undressed at the pleasure of its owner with nothing to deter him except a faint squeak of protest such as the Bishop himself occasionally emitted.



Brother Anselm was to arrive on the vigil of St. Lawrence. Normally Brother Walter would have been sent to meet him with the Abbey cart at the station three miles away. But Brother Walter was in a state of such excitement over his near promotion to postulant that it was not considered safe to entrust him with the pony. So Mark was sent in his place. It was a hot August evening with thunder clouds lying heavy on the Malford woods when Mark drove down the deep lanes to the junction, wondering what Brother Anselm would be like and awed by the imagination of Brother Anselm's thoughts in the train that was bringing him from Aldershot to this momentous date of his life's history. Almost before he knew what he was saying Mark was quoting from Romeo and Juliet:

My mind misgives Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars, Shall bitterly begin his fearful date With this night's revels.

"Now why should I have thought that?" he asked himself, and he was just deciding that it was merely a verbal sequence of thought when the first far-off peal of thunder muttered a kind of menacing contradiction of so easy an explanation. It would be raining soon; Mark thumped the pony's angular haunches, and tried to feel cheerful in the oppressive air.

Brother Anselm did not appear as Mark had pictured him. Instead of the lithe enthusiast with flaming eyes he saw a heavily built man with blunted features, wearing powerful horn spectacles, his expression morose, his movements ungainly. He had, however, a mellow and strangely sympathetic voice, in which Mark fancied that he perceived the power he was reputed to wield over the soldiers for whose well-being he fought so hard. Mark would have liked to ask him about life in the Aldershot priory; perhaps if Brother Anselm had been less taciturn, he would have broken if not the letter at any rate the spirit of the Rule by begging the senior to ask for his services in the Priory. But no sooner were they jogging back to Malford than the rain came down in a deluge, and Brother Anselm, pulling the hood of his frock over his head, was more unapproachable than ever. Mark wished that he had a novice's frock and hood, for the rain was pouring down the back of his neck and the threadbare cassock he wore was already drenched.

"Thank you, Brother," said the new-comer when the Abbey was attained.

It was dark by now, and, with nothing visible of the speaker except his white habit in the gloom, the voice might have been the voice of a heavenly visitant, so rarely sweet, so gentle and harmonious were the tones. Mark was much moved by that brief recognition of himself.

The wind rose high during the night; listening to it roaring through the coppice in which the Abbey was built, Mark lay awake for a long time in mute prayer that Brother Anselm might find peace and felicity in his new state. And while he prayed for Brother Anselm he prayed for Esther in Shoreditch. In the morning when Mark went from cell to cell, rousing the brethren from sleep with his hammer and salutation, the sun was climbing a serene and windless sky. The familiar landscape was become a mountain top. Heaven was very near.

Mark was glad that the day was so fair for the profession of Brother Anselm, and at Lauds the antiphon, versicle, and response proper to St. Lawrence appealed to him by their fitness to the occasion,

Gold is tried in the fire: and acceptable men in the furnace of adversity.

V. The Righteous shall grow as a lily. R. He shall flourish for ever before the Lord.

Mark concerned himself less with his own reception as a postulant. The distinction between a probationer and a postulant was very slight, really an arbitrary one made by Father Burrowes for his own convenience, and until he had to decide whether he should petition to be clothed as a novice Mark did not feel that he was called upon to take himself too seriously as a monk. For that reason he did not change his name, but preferred to stay Brother Mark. The little ceremony of reception was carried through in Chapter before the brethren went into the Oratory to say Terce, and Brother Walter was so much excited when he heard himself addressed as Brother Simon that for a moment it seemed doubtful if he would be sufficiently calm to attend the profession of Brother Anselm at the conventual Mass. However, during the clothing of Brother Lawrence as a novice Brother Simon quieted down, and even gave over counting the three knots in the rope with which he had been girdled. Ordinarily, Brother Lawrence would have been clothed after Mass, but this morning it was felt that such a ceremony coming after the profession of Brother Anselm would be an anti-climax, and it was carried through in Chapter. It took Brother Lawrence all he had ever heard and read about humility and obedience not to protest at the way his clothing on his own saint's day, for which he had been made to wait nearly a year, was being carried through in such a hole in the corner fashion. But he fixed his mind upon the torments of the blessed archdeacon on the gridiron and succeeded in keeping his temper.

Mark felt that the profession of Brother Anselm lost some of its dignity by the absence of Brother George and Brother Birinus, the only other professed members of the Order apart from Father Burrowes himself. It struck him as slightly ludicrous that a few young novices and postulants should represent the venerable choir-monks whom one pictured at such a ceremony from one's reading of the Rule of St. Benedict. Moreover, Father Burrowes never presented himself to Mark's imagination as an authentic abbot. Nor indeed was he such. Malford Abbey was a courtesy title, and such monastic euphemisms as the Abbot's Parlour and the Abbot's Lodgings to describe the matchboarded apartments sacred to the Father Superior, while they might please such ecclesiastical enthusiasts as Brother Raymond, appealed to Mark as pretentious and somewhat silly. In fact, if it had not been for the presence of the Bishop of Alberta in cope and mitre Mark would have found it hard, when after Terce the brethren assembled in the Chapter-room to hear Brother Anselm make his final petition, to believe in the reality of what was happening, to believe, when Brother Anselm in reply to the Father Superior's exhortation chose the white cowl and scapular (which in the Order of St. George differentiated the professed monk from the novice) and rejected the suit of dittos belonging to his worldly condition, that he was passing through moments of greater spiritual importance than any since he was baptized or than any he would pass through before he stood upon the threshold of eternity.

But this was a transient scepticism, a fleeting discontent, which vanished when the brethren formed into procession and returned to the oratory singing the psalm: In Convertendo.

When the Lord turned again the captivity of Sion: then were we like unto them, that dream.

Then was our mouth filled with laughter: and our tongue with joy.

Then said they among the heathen: The Lord hath done great things for them.

Yea, the Lord hath done great things for us already: whereof we rejoice.

Turn our captivity, O Lord: as the rivers in the south.

They that sow in tears: shall reap in joy.

He that now goeth on his way weeping, and beareth forth good seed: shall doubtless come again with joy, and bring his sheaves with him.

The Father Superior of the Order sang the Mass, while the Bishop of Alberta seated in his Glastonbury chair suffered with an expression of childlike benignity the ritualistic ministrations of Brother Raymond, the ceremonial doffing and donning of his mitre. It was very still in the little Oratory, for it was the season when birds are hushed; and even Sir Charles Horner who was all by himself in the ante-chapel did not fidget or try to peep through the heavy brocaded curtains that shut out the quire. Mark dared not look up when at the offertory Brother Anselm stood before the Altar and answered the solemn interrogations of the Father Superior, question after question about his faith and endurance in the life he desired to enter. And to every question he answered clearly I will. The Father Superior took the parchment on which were written the vows and read aloud the document. Then it was placed upon the Altar, and there upon that sacrificial stone Brother Anselm signed his name to a contract with Almighty God. The holy calm that shed itself upon the scene was like a spell on every heart that was beating there in unison with the heart of him who was drawing nearer to Heaven. Prostrating himself, the professed monk prayed first to God the Father:

O receive me according to thy word that I may live; and let me not be disappointed of my hope.

The hearts that beat in unison with his took up the prayer, and the voices of his brethren repeated it word for word. And now the professed monk prayed to God the Son:

O receive me according to thy word that I may live; and let me not be disappointed of my hope.

Once more his brethren echoed the entreaty.

And lastly the professed monk prayed to God the Holy Ghost:

O receive me according to thy word that I may live; and let me not be disappointed of my hope.

For the third time his brethren echoed the entreaty, and then one and all in that Oratory cried:

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

There followed prayers that the peace of God might be granted to the professed monk to enable him worthily to perform the vows which he had made, and before the blessing and imposition of the scapular the Bishop rose to speak in tones of deep emotion:

"Brethren, I scarcely dared to hope, when, now nearly ten years ago, I received the vows of your Father Superior as a novice, that I should one day be privileged to be present at this inspiring ceremony. Nor even when five years ago in the far north-west of Canada I professed your Father Superior and those two devoted souls who will soon be with you, now that their work in Malta is for the time finished, did I expect to find myself in this beautiful Oratory which your Order owes to the generosity of a true son of the Church. My heart goes out to you, and I thank God humbly that He has vouchsafed to hear my prayers and bless the enterprise from which I had indeed expected much, but which Almighty God has allowed to prosper more, far more, than I ventured to hope. All my days I have longed to behold the restoration of the religious life to our country, and now when my eyes are dim with age I am granted the ineffable joy of beholding what for too long in my weakness and lack of faith I feared was never likely to come to pass.

"The profession of our dear brother this morning is, I pray, an earnest of many professions at Malford. May these first vows placed upon the Altar of this Oratory be blessed by Almighty God! May our brother be steadfast and happy in his choice! Brethren, I had meant to speak more and with greater eloquence, but my heart is too full. The Lord be with you."

Now Brother Anselm was clothed in the blessed habit while the brethren sang:

Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire, And lighten with celestial fire.

The Father Superior of the Order gave him the paternal kiss. He begged the prayers of his brethren there assembled, and drawing the hood of his cowl over his head prostrated himself again before the Altar. The Mass proceeded.

If the strict Benedictine usage had been followed at Malford, Brother Anselm would have remained apart from the others for three days ofter his profession, wrapped in his cowl, alone with God. But he was anxious to go back to Aldershot that very afternoon, excusing himself because Brother Chad, left behind in charge of the Priory, would be overwhelmed by his various responsibilities. Brother Dunstan, who had wept throughout the ceremony of the profession, was much upset by Brother Anselm's departure. He had hoped to achieve great exaltation of spirit by Brother Anselm's silent presence. He began to wonder if the newly professed monk appreciated his position. Had himself been granted what Brother Anselm had been granted, he should have liked to spend a week in contemplation of the wonder which had befallen him. Brother Dunstan asked himself if his thoughts were worthy of a senior novice, of one who had for a while acted as Prior and been accorded the address of Reverend Brother. He decided that they were not, and as a penance he begged for the nib with which Brother Anselm had signed his profession. This he wore round his neck as an amulet against unbrotherly thoughts and as a pledge of his own determination to vow himself eternally to the service of God.

Mark was glad that Brother Anselm was going back so soon to his active work. It was an assurance that the Order of St. George did have active work to do; and when he was called upon to drive Brother Anselm to the station he made up his mind to conquer his shyness and hint that he should be glad to serve the Order in the Priory at Aldershot.

This time, notwithstanding that he had a good excuse to draw his hood close, Brother Anselm showed himself more approachable.

"If the Reverend Father suggests your name," he promised Mark, "I shall be glad to have you with us. Brother Chad is simply splendid, and the Tommies are wonderful. It's quite right of course to have a Mother House, but. . . ." He broke off, disinclined to criticize the direction of the Order's policy to a member so junior as Mark.

"Oh, I'm not asking you to do anything yet awhile," Mark explained. "I quite realize that I have a great deal to learn before I should be any use at Aldershot or Sandgate. I hope you don't mind my talking like this. But until this morning I had not really intended to remain in the Order. My hope was to be ordained as soon as I was old enough. Now since this morning I feel that I do long for the spiritual support of a community for my own feeble aspirations. The Bishop's words moved me tremendously. It wasn't what he said so much, but I was filled with all his faith and I could have cried out to him a promise that I for one would help to carry on the restoration. At the same time, I know that I'm more fitted for active work, not by any good I expect to do, but for the good it will do me. I suppose you'd say that if I had a true vocation I shouldn't be thinking about what part I was going to play in the life of the Order, but that I should be content to do whatever I was told. I'm boring you?" Mark broke off to inquire, for Brother Anselm was staring in front of him through his big horn spectacles like an owl.

"No, no," said the senior. "But I'm not the novice-master. Who is, by the way?"

"Brother Jerome."

The other did not comment on this information, but Mark was sure that he was trying not to look contemptuous.

Soon the junction came in sight, and from down the line the white smoke of a train approaching.

"Hurry, Brother, I don't want to miss it."

Mark thumped the haunches of the pony and drove up just in time for Brother Anselm to escape.

"Thank you, Brother," said that same voice which yesterday, only yesterday night, had sounded so rarely sweet. Here on this mellow August afternoon it was the voice of the golden air itself, and the shriek of the engine did not drown its echoes in Mark's soul where all the way back to Malford it was chiming like a bell.



Mark's ambition to go and work at Aldershot was gratified before the end of August, because Brother Chad fell ill, and it was considered advisable to let him spend a long convalescence at the Abbey.

The Priory,

17, Farnborough Villas,


St. Michael and All Angels.

My dear Rector,

I don't think you'll be sorry to read from the above address that I've been transferred from Malford to one of the active branches of the Order. I don't accept your condemnation of the Abbey as pseudo-monasticism, though I can quite well understand that my account of it might lead you to make such a criticism. The trouble with me is that my emotions and judgment are always quarrelling. I suppose you might say that is true of most people. It's like the palmist who tells everybody that he is ruled by his head or his heart, as the case may be. But when one approaches the problem of religion (let alone what is called the religious life) one is terribly perplexed to know which is to be obeyed. I don't think that you can altogether rule out emotion as a touchstone of truth. The endless volumes of St. Thomas Aquinas, through which I've been wading, do not cope with the fact that the whole of his vast intellectual and severely logical structure is built up on the assumption of faith, which is the gift of emotion, not judgment. The whole system is a petitio principii really.

I did not mean to embark on a discussion of the question of the Ultimate Cause of religion, but to argue with you about the religious life! The Abbot Paphnutius told Cassian that there were three sorts of vocation—ex Deo, per hominem, and ex necessitate. Now suppose I have a vocation, mine is obviously per hominem. I inherit the missionary spirit from my father. That spirit was fostered by association with Rowley. My main object in entering the Order of St. George was to work among soldiers, not because I felt that soldiers needed "missionizing" more than any other class, but because the work at Chatsea brought me into contact with both sailors and soldiers, and turned my thoughts in their direction. I also felt the need of an organization behind my efforts. My first impulse was to be a preaching friar, but that would have laid too much on me as an individual, and from lack of self-confidence, youthfulness, want of faith perhaps, I was afraid. Well, to come back to the Abbot Paphnutius and his three vocations—it seems fairly clear that the first, direct from God, is a better vocation than the one which is inspired by human example, or the third, which arises from the failure of everything else. At the same time they ARE all three genuine vocations. What applies to the vocation seems to me to apply equally to the community. What you stigmatize as our pseudo-monasticism is still experimental, and I think I can see the Reverend Father's idea. He has had a great deal of experience with an Order which began so amateurishly, if I may use the word, that nobody could have imagined that it would grow to the size and strength it has reached in ten years. The Bishop of Alberta revealed much to us of our beginnings during his stay at the Abbey, and after I had listened to him I felt how presumptuous it was for me to criticize the central source of the religious life we are hoping to spread. You see, Rector, I must have criticized it implicitly in my letters to you, for your objections are simply the expression of what I did not like to say, but what I managed to convey through the medium of would-be humorous description. One hears of the saving grace of humour, but I'm not sure that humour is a saving grace. I rather wish that I had no sense of humour. It's a destructive quality. All the great sceptics have been humourists. Humour is really a device to secure human comfort. Take me. I am inspired to become a preaching friar. I instantly perceive the funny side of setting out to be a preaching friar. I tell myself that other people will perceive the funny side of it, and that consequently I shall do no good as a preaching friar. Yes, humour is a moisture which rusts everything except gold. As a nation the Jews have the greatest sense of humour, and they have been the greatest disintegrating force in the history of mankind. The Scotch are reputed to have no sense of humour, and they are morally the most impressive nation in the world. What humour is allowed them is known as dry humour. The corroding moisture has been eliminated. They are still capable of laughter, but never so as to interfere with their seriousness in the great things of life. I remember I once heard a tiresome woman, who was striving to be clever, say that Our Lord could not have had much sense of humour or He would not have hung so long on the Cross. At the time I was indignant with the silly blasphemy, but thinking it over since I believe that she was right, and that, while her only thought had been to make a remark that would create a sensation in the room, she had actually hit on the explanation of some of Our Lord's human actions. And his lack of humour is the more conspicuous because he was a Jew. I was reading the other day a book of essays by one of our leading young latitudinarian divines, in which he was most anxious to prove that Our Lord had all the graces of a well-bred young man about town, including a pretty wit. He actually claimed that the pun on Peter's name was an example of Our Lord's urbane and genial humour! It gives away the latitudinarian position completely. They're really ashamed of Christianity. They want to bring it into line with modern thought. They hope by throwing overboard the Incarnation, the Resurrection of the Body, and the Ascension, to lighten the ship so effectually that it will ride buoyantly over the billows of modern knowledge. But however lightly the ship rides, she will still be at sea, and it would be the better if she struck on the rock of Peter and perished than that she should ride buoyantly but aimlessly over the uneasy oceans of knowledge.

I've once more got a long way from the subject of my letter, but I've always taken advantage of your patience to air my theories, and when I begin to write to you my pen runs away with me. The point I want to make is that unless there is a mother house which is going to create a reserve of spiritual energy, the active work of the Order is going to suffer. The impulse to save souls might easily exhaust itself in the individual. A few disappointments, unceasing hard work, the interference of a bishop, the failure of financial support, a long period in which his work seems to have come to a standstill, all these are going to react on the individual missioner who depends on himself. Looking back now at the work done by my father, and by Rowley at Chatsea, I'm beginning to understand how dangerous it is for one man to make himself the pivot of an enterprise. I only really know about my father's work at second hand, but look at Chatsea. I hear now that already the work is falling to pieces. Although that may not justify the Bishop of Silchester, I'm beginning to see that he might argue that if Rowley had shown himself sufficiently humble to obey the forces of law and order in the Church, he would have had accumulated for him a fresh store of energy from which he might have drawn to consolidate his influence upon the people with whom he worked. Anyway, that's what I'm going to try to acquire from the pseudo-monasticism of Malford. I'm determined to dry up the critical and humorous side of myself. Half of it is nothing more than arrogance. I'm grateful for being sent to Aldershot, but I'm going to make my work here depend on the central source of energy and power. I'm going to say that my work is per hominem, but that the success of my work is ex Deo. You may tell me that any man with the least conception of Christian Grace would know that. Yes, he may know it intellectually, but does he know it emotionally? I confess I don't yet awhile. But I do know that if the Order of St. George proves itself a real force, it will not be per hominem, it will not be by the Reverend Father's eloquence in the pulpit, but by the vocation of the community ex Deo.

Meanwhile, here I am at Aldershot. Brother Chad, whose place I have taken, was a character of infinite sweetness and humility. All our Tommies speak of him in a sort of protective way, as if he were a little boy they had adopted. He had—has, for after all he's only gone to the Abbey to get over a bad attack of influenza on top of months of hard work—he has a strangely youthful look, although he's nearly thirty. He hails from Lichfield. I wonder what Dr. Johnson would have made of him. I've already told you about Brother Anselm. Well, now that I've seen him at home, as it were, I can't discover the secret of his influence with our men. He's every bit as taciturn with them as he was with me on that drive from the station, and yet there is not one of them that doesn't seem to regard him as an intimate friend. He's extraordinarily good at the practical side of the business. He makes the men comfortable. He always knows just what they're wanting for tea or for supper, and the games always go well when Brother Anselm presides, much better than they do when I'm in charge! I think perhaps that's because I play myself, and want to win. It infects the others. And yet we ought to want to win a game—otherwise it's not worth playing. Also, I must admit that there's usually a row in the billiard room on my nights on duty. Brother Anselm makes them talk better than I do, and I don't think he's a bit interested in their South African experiences. I am, and they won't say a word about them to me. I've been here a month now, so they ought to be used to me by this time.

We've just heard that the guest-house for soldiers at the Abbey will be finished by the middle of next month, so we're already discussing our Christmas party. The Priory, which sounds so grand and gothic, is really the corner house of a most depressing row of suburban villas, called Glenview and that sort of thing. The last tenant was a traveller in tea and had a stable instead of the usual back-garden. This we have converted into a billiard room. An officer in one of the regiments quartered here told us that it was the only thing in Aldershot we had converted. The authorities aren't very fond of us. They say we encourage the men to grumble and give them too great idea of their own importance. Brother Anselm asked a general once with whom we fell out if it was possible to give a man whose profession it was to defend his country too great an idea of his own importance. The general merely blew out his cheeks and looked choleric. He had no suspicion that he had been scored off. We don't push too much religion into the men at present. We've taught them to respect the Crucifix on the wall in the dining-room, and sometimes they attend Vespers. But they're still rather afraid of chaff, such as being called the Salvation Army by their comrades. Well, here's an end to this long letter, for I must write now to Brother Jerome, whose name-day it is to-morrow. Love to all at the Rectory.

Your ever affectionate


Mark remained at Aldershot until the week before Christmas, when with a party of Tommies he went back to the Abbey. He found that Brother Chad's convalescence had been seriously impeded in its later stages by the prospect of having to remain at the Abbey as guest-master, and though Mark was sorry to leave Aldershot he saw by the way the Tommies greeted their old friend that he was dear to their hearts. When after Christmas Brother Chad took the party back, Mark made up his mind that the right person was going.

Mark found many changes at the Abbey during the four months he had been away. The greatest of all was the presence of Brother George as Prior. The legend of him had led Mark to expect someone out of the ordinary; but he had not been prepared for a personality as strong as this. Brother George was six feet three inches tall, with a presence of great dignity and much personal beauty. He had an aquiline nose, strong chin, dark curly hair and bright imperious eyes. His complexion, burnt by the Mediterranean sun, made him seem in his white habit darker than he really was. His manner was of one accustomed to be immediately obeyed. Mark could scarcely believe when he saw Brother Dunstan beside Brother George that only last June Brother Dunstan was acting as Prior. As for Brother Raymond, who had always been so voluble at recreation, one look from Brother George sent him into a silence that was as solemn as the disciplinary silence imposed by the rule. Brother Birinus, who was Brother George's right hand in the Abbey as much as he had been his right hand on the Moose Rib farm, was even taller than the Prior; but he was lanky and raw-boned, and had not the proportions of Brother George. He was of a swarthy complexion, not given to talking much, although when he did speak he always spoke to the point. He and Brother George were hard at work ploughing up some derelict fields which they had persuaded Sir Charles Horner to let to the Abbey rent free on condition that they were put back into cultivation. The patron himself had gone away for the winter to Rome and Florence, and Mark was glad that he had, for he was sure that otherwise his inquisitiveness would have been severely snubbed by the Prior. Father Burrowes went away as usual to preach after Christmas; but before he went Mark was clothed as a novice together with two other postulants who had been at Malford since September. Of these Brother Giles was a former school-master, a dried-up, tobacco-coloured little man of about fifty, with a quick and nervous, but always precise manner. Mark liked him, and his manual labour was done under the direction of Brother Giles, who had been made gardener, a post for which he was well suited. The other new novice was Brother Nicholas whom, had Mark not been the fellow-member of a community, he would have disliked immensely. Brother Nicholas was one of those people who are in a perpetual state of prurient concern about the sexual morality of the human race. He was impervious to snubs, of which he received many from Brother George, and he had somehow managed to become a favourite of the Reverend Father, so that he had been appointed guest-master, a post that was always coveted, and one for which nobody felt Brother Nicholas was suited.

Besides the increase of numbers there had been considerable additions made to the fabric of the Abbey, if such a word as fabric may be applied to matchboard, felt, and corrugated iron. Mention has already been made of the new Guest-house, which accommodated not only soldiers invited to spend their furloughs at the Abbey, but also tramps who sought a night's lodging. Mark, as Porter, found his time considerably taken up with these casuals, because as soon as the news spread of a comfortable lodging they came begging for shelter in greater numbers than had been anticipated. A rule was made that they should pay for their entertainment by doing a day's work, and it was one of Mark's duties to report on the qualifications of these casuals to Brother George, whose whole life was occupied with the farm that he was creating out of those derelict fields.

"There's a black man just arrived, Reverend Brother. He says he lost his ship at Southampton through a boiler explosion, and is tramping to Cardiff," Mark would report.

"Can he plough a straight furrow?" the Prior would demand.

"I doubt it," Mark would answer with a smile. "He can't walk straight across the dormitory."

"What's he been drinking?"

"Rum, I fancy."

"Why did you let him in?"

"It's such a stormy night."

"Well, send him along to me to-morrow after Lauds, and I'll put him to cleaning out the pigsties."

Mark only had to deal with these casuals. Regular guests like the soldiers, who were always welcome, and ecclesiastically minded inquirers were looked after by Brother Nicholas. One of the things for which Mark detested Brother Nicholas was the habit he had of showing off his poor casuals to the paying guests. It took Mark a stern reading of St. Benedict's Rule and the observations therein upon humility and obedience not to be rude to Brother Nicholas sometimes.

"Brother," he asked one day. "Have you ever read what our Holy Father says about gyrovagues and sarabaites?"

Brother Nicholas, who always thought that any long word with which he was unfamiliar referred to sexual perversion, asked what such people were.

"You evidently haven't," said Mark. "Our Holy Father disapproves of them."

"Oh, so should I, Brother Mark," said Brother Nicholas quickly. "I hate anything like that."

"It struck me," Mark went on, "that most of our paying guests are gyrovagues and sarabaites."

"What an accusation to make," said Brother Nicholas, flushing with expectant curiosity and looking down his long nose to give the impression that it was the blush of innocence and modesty.

When, an hour or so later, he had had leisure to discover the meaning of both terms, he came up to Mark and exclaimed:

"Oh, brother, how could you?"

"How could I what?" Mark asked.

"How could you let me think that it meant something much worse? Why, it's nothing really. Just wandering monks."

"They annoyed our Holy Father," said Mark.

"Yes, they did seem to make him a bit ratty. Perhaps the translation softened it down," surmised Brother Nicholas. "I'll get a dictionary to-morrow."

The bell for solemn silence clanged, and Brother Nicholas must have spent his quarter of an hour in most unprofitable meditation.

Another addition to the buildings was a wide, covered verandah, which had been built on in front of the central block, and which therefore extended the length of the Refectory, the Library, the Chapter Room, and the Abbot's Parlour. The last was now the Prior's Parlour, because lodgings for Father Burrowes were being built in the Gatehouse, the only building of stone that was being erected.

This Gatehouse was to be finished as an Easter offering to the Father Superior from devout ladies, who had been dismayed at the imagination of his discomfort. The verandah was granted the title of the Cloister, and the hours of recreation were now spent here instead of in the Library as formerly, which enabled studious brethren to read in peace.

The Prior made a rule that every Sunday afternoon all the brethren should assemble in the Cloister at tea, and spend the hour until Vespers in jovial intercourse. He did not actually specify that the intercourse was to be jovial, but he look care by judicious teazing to see that it was jovial. In his anxiety to bring his farm into cultivation, Brother George was apt to make any monastic duty give way to manual labour on those thistle-grown fields, and it was seldom that there were more than a couple of brethren to say the Office between Lauds and Vespers. The others had to be content with crossing themselves when they heard the bell for Terce or None, and even Sext was sparingly attended after the Prior instituted the eating of the mid-day meal in the fields on fine days. Hence the conversation in the Cloister on Sunday afternoons was chiefly agricultural.

"Are you going to help me drill the ten-acre field tomorrow, Brother Giles?" the Prior asked one grey Sunday afternoon in the middle of March.

"No, I'm certainly not, Reverend Brother, unless you put me under obedience to do so."

"Then I think I shall," the Prior laughed.

"If you do, Reverend Brother," the gardener retorted, "you'll have to put my peas under obedience to sow themselves."

"Peas!" the Prior scoffed. "Who cares about peas?"

"Oh, Reverend Brother!" cried Brother Simon, his hair standing up with excitement. "We couldn't do without peas."

Brother Simon was assistant cook nowadays, a post he filled tolerably well under the supervision of the one-legged soldier who was cook.

"We couldn't do without oats," said Brother Birinus severely.

He spoke so seldom at these gatherings that when he did few were found to disagree with him, because they felt his words must have been deeply pondered before they were allowed utterance.

"Have you any flowers in the garden for St. Joseph?" asked Brother Raymond, who was sacristan.

"A few daffodils, that's all," Brother Giles replied.

"Oh, I don't think that St. Joseph would like daffodils," exclaimed Brother Raymond. "He's so fond of white flowers, isn't he?"

"Good gracious!" the Prior thundered. "Are we a girls' school or a company of able-bodied men?"

"Well, St. Joseph is always painted with lilies, Reverend Brother," said the sacristan, rather sulkily.

He disapproved of the way the Prior treated what he called his pet saints.

"We're not an agricultural college either," he added in an undertone to Brother Dunstan, who shook his finger and whispered "hush."

"I doubt if we ought to keep St. Joseph's Day," said the Prior truculently. There was nothing he enjoyed better on these Sunday afternoons than showing his contempt for ecclesiasticism.

"Reverend Brother!" gasped Brother Dunstan. "Not keep St. Joseph's Day?"

"He's not in our calendar," Brother George argued. "If we're going to keep St. Joseph, why not keep St. Alo—what's his name and Philip Neri and Anthony of Padua and Bernardine of Sienna and half-a-dozen other Italian saints?"

"Why not?" asked Brother Raymond. "At any rate we have to keep my patron, who was a dear, even if he was a Spaniard."

The Prior looked as if he were wondering if there was a clause in the Rule that forbade a prior to throw anything within reach at an imbecile sacristan.

"I don't think you can put St. Joseph in the same class as the saints you have just mentioned," pompously interposed Brother Jerome, who was cellarer nowadays and fancied that the continued existence of the Abbey depended on himself.

"Until you can learn to harness a pair of horses to the plough," said the Prior, "your opinions on the relative importance of Roman saints will not be accepted."

"I've never been used to horses," said Brother Jerome.

"And you have been used to saints?" the Prior laughed, raising his eyebrows.

Brother Jerome was silent.

"Well, Brother Lawrence, what do you say?"

Brother Lawrence stuck out his lower jaw and assumed the expression of the good boy in a Sunday School class.

"St. Joseph was the foster-father of Our Blessed Lord, Reverend Brother," he said primly. "I think it would be most disrespectful both to Our Blessed Lord and to Our Blessed Lady if we didn't keep his feast-day, though I am sure St. Joseph would have no objection to daffodils. No objections at all. His whole life and character show him to have been a man of the greatest humility and forbearance."

The Prior rocked with laughter. This was the kind of speech that sometimes rewarded his teasing.

"We always kept St. Joseph's day at the Visitation, Hornsey," Brother Nicholas volunteered. "In fact we always made it a great feature. We found it came as such a relief in Lent."

The Prior nodded his head mockingly.

"These young folk can teach us a lot about the way to worship God, Brother Birinus," he commented.

Brother Birinus scowled.

"I broke three shares ploughing that bad bit of ground by the fir trees," he announced gloomily. "I think I'll drill in the oats to-morrow in the ten-acre. It's no good ploughing deep," he added reproachfully.

"Well, I believe in deep ploughing," the Prior argued.

Mark realized that Brother Birinus had deliberately brought back the conversation to where it started in order to put an end to the discussion about St. Joseph. He was glad, because he himself was the only one of the brethren who had not yet been called upon to face the Prior's contemptuous teasing. He wondered if he should have had the courage to speak up for St. Joseph's Day. He should have found it difficult to oppose Brother George, whom he liked and revered. But in this case he was wrong, and perhaps he was also wrong to make the observation of St. Joseph's Day a cudgel with which to belabour the brethren.

The following afternoon Mark had two casuals who he fancied might be useful to the Prior, and leaving the ward of the gate to Brother Nicholas he took them down with him through the coppice to where over the bleak March furrows Brother George was ploughing that rocky strip of bad land by the fir trees. The men were told to go and report themselves to Brother Birinus, who with Brother Dunstan to feed the drill was sowing oats a field or two away.

"I don't think Brother Birinus will be sorry to let Brother Dunstan go back to his domestic duties," the Prior commented sardonically.

Mark was turning to go back to his domestic duties when Brother George signed to him to stop.

"I suppose that like the rest of them you think I've no business to be a monk?" Brother George began.

Mark looked at him in surprise.

"I don't believe that anybody thinks that," he said; but even as he spoke he looked at the Prior and wondered why he had become a monk. He did not appear, standing there in breeches and gaiters, his shirt open at the neck, his hair tossing in the wind, his face and form of the soil like a figure in one of Fred Walker's pictures, no, he certainly did not appear the kind of man who could be led away by Father Burrowes' eloquence and persuasiveness into choosing the method of life he had chosen. Yes, now that the question had been put to him Mark wondered why Brother George was a monk.

"You too are astonished at me," said the Prior. "Well, in a way I don't blame you. You've only seen me on the land. This comes of letting myself be tempted by Horner's offer to give us this land rent free if I would take it in hand. And after all," he went on talking to the wide grey sky rather than to Mark, "the old monks were great tillers of the soil. It's right that we should maintain the tradition. Besides, all those years in Malta I've dreamed just this. Brother Birinus and I have stewed on those sun-baked heights above Valetta and dreamed of this. What made you join our Order?" he asked abruptly.

Mark told him about himself.

"I see, you want to keep your hand in, eh? Well, I suppose you might have done worse for a couple of years. Now, I've never wanted to be a priest. The Reverend Father would like me to be ordained, but I don't think I should make a good priest. I believe if I were to become a priest, I should lose my faith. That sounds a queer thing to say, and I'd rather you didn't repeat it to any of those young men up there."

The monastery bell sounded on the wind.

"Three o'clock already," exclaimed the Prior. And crossing himself he said the short prayer offered to God instead of the formal attendance at the Office.

"Well, I mustn't let the horses get chilled. You'd better get back to your casuals. By the way, I'm going to have Brother Nicholas to work out here awhile, and I want you to act as guest-master. Brother Raymond will be porter, and I'm going to send Brother Birinus off the farm to be sacristan. I shall miss him out here, of course."

The Prior put his hand once more to the plough, and Mark went slowly back to the Abbey. On the brow of the hill before he plunged into the coppice he turned to look down at the distant figure moving with slow paces across the field below.

"He's wrestling with himself," Mark thought, "more than he's wrestling with the soil."



At Easter the Abbey Gatehouse was blessed by the Father Superior, who established himself in the rooms above and allowed himself to take a holiday from his labour of preaching. Mark expected to be made porter again, but the Reverend Father did not attempt to change the posts assigned to the brethren by the Prior, and Mark remained guest-master, a duty that was likely to give him plenty of occupation during the summer months now close at hand.

On Low Sunday the Father Superior convened a full Chapter of the Order, to which were summoned Brother Dominic, the head of the Sandgate house, and Brother Anselm. When the brethren, with the exception of Brother Simon, who was still a postulant, were gathered together, the Father Superior addressed them as follows:

"Brethren, I have called this Chapter of the Order of St. George to acquaint you with our financial position, and to ask you to make a grave decision. Before I say any more I ought to explain that our three professed brethren considered that a Chapter convened to make a decision such as I am going to ask you to make presently should not include the novices. I contended that in the present state of our Order where novices are called upon to fill the most responsible positions it would be unfair to exclude them; and our professed brethren, like true sons of St. Benedict, have accepted my ruling. You all know what great additions to our Mother House we have made during the past year, and you will all realize what a burden of debt this has laid upon the Order and on myself what a weight of responsibility. The closing of our Malta Priory, which was too far away to interest people in England, eased us a little. But if we are going to establish ourselves as a permanent force in modern religious life, we must establish our Mother House before anything. You may say that the Order of St. George is an Order devoted to active work among soldiers, and that we are not concerned with the establishment of a partially contemplative community. But all of you will recognize the advantage it has been to you to be asked to stay here and prepare yourselves for active work, to gather within yourselves a great store of spiritual energy, and hoard within your hearts a mighty treasure of spiritual strength. Brethren, if the Order of St. George is to be worthy of its name and of its claim we must not rest till we have a priory in every port and garrison, and in every great city where soldiers are stationed. Even if we had the necessary funds to endow these priories, have we enough brethren to take charge of them? We have not. I cannot help feeling that I was too hasty in establishing active houses both at Aldershot and at Sandgate, and I have convened you to-day to ask you to vote in Chapter that the house at Sandgate be temporarily given up, great spiritual influence though it has proved itself under our dear Brother Dominic with the men of Shorncliffe Camp, not only that we may concentrate our resources and pay our debts, but also that we may have the help of Brother Dominic himself, and of Brother Athanasius, who has remained behind in charge and is not here today."

The Father Superior then read a statement of the Order's financial liabilities, and invited any Brother who wished, to speak his mind. All waited for the Prior, who after a short silence rose:

"Reverend Father and Brethren, I don't think that there is much to say. Frankly, I am not convinced that we ought to have spent so much on the Abbey, but having done so, we must obviously try and put ourselves on a sound financial basis. I should like to hear what Brother Dominic has to say."

Brother Dominic was a slight man with black hair and a sallow complexion, whose most prominent feature was an, immense hooked nose with thin nostrils. Whether through the associations with his name saint, or merely by his personality, Mark considered that he looked a typical inquisitor. When he spoke, his lips seemed to curl in a sneer. The expression was probably quite accidental, perhaps caused by some difficulty in breathing, but the effect was sinister, and his smooth voice did nothing to counteract the unpleasant grimace. Mark wondered if he was really successful with the men at Shorncliffe.

"Reverend Father, Reverend Brother, and Brethren," said Brother Dominic, "you can imagine that it is no easy matter for me to destroy with a few words a house that in a small way I had a share in building up."

"The lion's share," interposed the Father Superior.

"You are too generous, Reverend Father," said Brother Dominic. "We could have done very little at Sandgate if you had not worked so hard for us throughout the length and breadth of England. And that is what personally I do feel, Brethren," he continued in more emphatic tones. "I do feel that the Reverend Father knows better than we what is the right policy for us to adopt. I will not pretend that I shall be anything but loath to leave Sandgate, but the future of the whole order depends on the ability of brethren like myself," Brother Dominic paused for the briefest instant to flash a quick glance at Brother Anselm, "to recognize that our usefulness to the soldiers among whom we are proud and happy to spend our lives is bounded by our usefulness to the Order of St. George. I give my vote without hesitation in favour of closing the Priory at Sandgate, and abandoning temporarily the work at Shorncliffe Camp."

Nobody else spoke when Brother Dominic sat down, and everybody voted in favour of the course of action proposed by the Father Superior.

Brother Dominic, in addition to his other work, had been editing The Dragon, the monthly magazine of the Order, and it was now decided to print this in future at the Abbey, some constant reader having presented a fount of type. The opening of a printing-press involved housing room, and it was decided to devote the old kitchens to this purpose, so that new kitchens could be built, a desirable addition in view of the increasing numbers in the Abbey and the likelihood of a further increase presently.

Mark had not been touched by the abandonment of the Sandgate priory until Brother Athanasius arrived. Brother Athanasius was a florid young man with bright blue eyes, and so much pent-up energy as sometimes to appear blustering. He lacked any kind of ability to hide his feelings, and he was loud in his denunciation of the Chapter that abolished his work. His criticisms were so loud, aggressive, and blatant, that he was nearly ordered to retire from the Order altogether. However, the Father Superior went away to address a series of drawing-room meetings in London, and Brother George, with whom Brother Athanasius, almost alone of the brethren, never hesitated to keep his end up, discovering that he was as ready to stick up to horses and cows, did not pay attention to the Father Superior's threat that, if Brother Athanasius could not keep his tongue quiet, he must be sent away. Mark made friends with him, and when he found that, in spite of all his blatancy and self-assertion, Brother Athanasius could not keep the tears from his bright blue eyes whenever he spoke of Shorncliffe, he was sorry for him and vexed with himself for accepting the surrender of Sandgate priory so much as a matter of course, because he had no personal experience of its work.

"But was Brother Dominic really good with the men?" Mark asked.

"Oh, Brother Dominic was all right. Don't you try and make me criticize Brother Dominic. He bought the gloves and I did the fighting. Good man of business was Brother D. I wish we could have some boxing here. Half the brethren want punching about in my opinion. Old Brother Jerome's face is squashed flat like a prize-fighter's, but I bet he's never had the gloves on in his life. I'm fond of old Brother J. But, my word, wouldn't I like to punch into him when he gives us that pea-soup more than four times a week. Chronic, I call it. Well, if he doesn't give us a jolly good blow out on my name-day next week I really will punch into him. Old Brother Flatface, as I called him the other day. And he wasn't half angry either. Didn't we have sport last second of May! I took a party of them all round Hythe and Folkestone. No end of a spree!"

Mark was soon too much occupied with his duties as guestmaster to lament with Brother Athanasius the end of the Sandgate priory. The Reverend Father's drawing-room addresses were sending fresh visitors down every week to see for themselves the size of the foundation that required money, and more money, and more money still to keep it going. In the old Chatsea days guests who visited the Mission House were expected to provide entertainment for their hosts. It mattered not who they were, millionaires or paupers, parsons or laymen, undergraduates or board-school boys, they had to share the common table, face the common teasing, and help the common task. Here at the Abbey, although the guests had much more opportunity of intercourse with the brethren than would have been permitted in a less novel monastic house, they were definitely guests, from whom nothing was expected beyond observance of the rules for guests. They were of all kinds, from the distinguished lay leaders of the Catholic party to young men who thought emotionally of joining the Order.

Mark tried to conduct himself as impersonally as possible, and in doing so he managed to impress all the visitors with being a young man intensely preoccupied with his vocation, and as such to be treated with gravity and a certain amount of deference. Mark himself was anxious not to take advantage of his position, and make friends with people that otherwise he might not have met. Had he been sure that he was going to remain in the Order of St. George, he would have allowed himself a greater liberty of intercourse, because he would not then have been afraid of one day seeing these people in the world. He desired to be forgotten when they left the Abbey, or if he was remembered to be remembered only as a guestmaster who tried to make the Monastery guests comfortable, who treated them with courtesy, but also with reserve.

None of the young men who came down to see if they would like to be monks got as far as being accepted as a probationer until the end of May, when a certain Mr. Arthur Yarrell, an undergraduate from Keble College, Oxford, whose mind was a dictionary of ecclesiastical terms, was accepted and a month later became a postulant as Brother Augustine, to the great pleasure of Brother Raymond, who said that he really thought he should have been compelled to leave the Order if somebody had not joined it with an appreciation of historic Catholicism. Early in June Sir Charles Horner introduced another young man called Aubrey Wyon, whom he had met at Venice in May.

"Take a little trouble over entertaining him," Sir Charles counselled. And then, looking round to see that no thieves or highwaymen were listening, he whispered to Mark that Wyon had money. "He would be an asset, I fancy. And he's seriously thinking of joining you," the baronet declared.

To tell the truth, Sir Charles who was beginning to be worried by the financial state of the Order of St. George, would at this crisis have tried to persuade the Devil to become a monk if the Devil would have provided a handsome dowry. He had met Aubrey Wyon at an expensive hotel, had noticed that he was expensively dressed and drank good wine, had found that he was interested in ecclesiastical religion, and, having bragged a bit about the land he had presented to the Order of St. George, had inspired Wyon to do some bragging of what he had done for various churches.

"If I could find happiness at Malford," Wyon had said, "I would give them all that I possess."

Sir Charles had warned the Father Superior that he would do well to accept Wyon as a probationer, should he propose himself; and the Father Superior, who was by now as anxious for money as a company-promoter, made himself as pleasant to Wyon as he knew how, flattering him carefully and giving voice to his dreams for the great stone Abbey to be built here in days to come.

Mark took an immediate and violent dislike to the newcomer, which, had he been questioned about it, he would have attributed to his elaborate choice of socks and tie, or to his habit of perpetually tightening the leather belt he wore instead of braces, as if he would compel that flabbiness of waist caused by soft living to vanish; but to himself he admitted that the antipathy was deeper seated.

"It's like the odour of corruption," he murmured, though actually it was the odour of hair washes and lotions and scents that filled the guest's cell.

However, Aubrey Wyon became for a week a probationer, ludicrously known as Brother Aubrey, after which he remained a postulant only a fortnight before he was clothed as a novice, having by then taken the name of Anthony, alleging that the inspiration to become a monk had been due to the direct intervention of St. Anthony of Padua on June 13th.

Whether Brother Anthony turned the Father Superior's head with his promises of what he intended to give the Order when he was professed, or whether having once started he was unable to stop, there was continuous building all that summer, culminating in a decision to begin the Abbey Church.

Mark wondered why Brother George did not protest against the expenditure, and he came to the conclusion that the Prior was as much bewitched by ambition for his farm as the head of the Order was by his hope of a mighty fane.

Thus things drifted during the summer, when, since the Father Superior was not away so much, his influence was exerted more strongly over the brethren, though at the same time he was not attracting as much money as was now always required in ever increasing amounts.

Such preaching as he did manage later on during the autumn was by no means so financially successful as his campaign of the preceding year at the same time. Perhaps the natural buoyancy of his spirit led Father Burrowes in his disappointment to place more trust than he might otherwise have done in Brother Anthony's plan for the benefit of the Order. The cloister became like Aladdin's Cave whenever there were enough brethren assembled to make an audience for his luscious projects and prefigurations. Sundays were the days when Brother Anthony was particularly eloquent, and one Sunday in mid-September—it was the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross—he surpassed himself.

"My notion would be to copy," he proclaimed, "with of course certain improvements, the buildings on Monte Cassino. We are not quite so high here; but then on the other hand that is an advantage, because it will enable us to allot less space to the superficial area. Yes, I have a very soft spot for the cloisters of Monte Cassino."

Brother Anthony gazed round for the approbation of the assembled brethren, none of whom had the least idea what the cloisters of Monte Cassino looked like.

"And I think some of our altar furniture is a little mean," Brother Anthony continued. "I'm not advocating undue ostentation; but there is room for improvement. They understood so well in the Middle Ages the importance of a rich equipment. If I'd only known when I was in Sienna this spring that I was coming here, I should certainly have bought a superb reredos that was offered to me comparatively cheap. The columns were of malachite and porphyry, and the panels of rosso antico with scrolls of lumachella. They only asked 15,000 lire. It was absurdly cheap. However, perhaps it would be wiser to wait till we finish the Abbey Church before we decide on the reredos. I'm very much in favour of beaten gold for the tabernacle. By the way, Reverend Father, have you decided to build an ambulatory round the clerestory? I must say I think it would be effective, and of course for meditation unique. I shall have to find if my money will run to it. Oh, and Brother Birinus, weren't you saying the other day that the green vestments were rather faded? Don't worry. I'm only waiting to make up my mind between velvet and brocade for the purple set to order a completely new lot, including a set in old rose damask for mid-Lent. It always seems to me such a mistake not to take advantage of that charming use."

Father Burrowes was transported to the days of his youth at Malta when his own imagination was filled with visions of precious metals, of rare fabrics and mighty architecture.

"A silver chalice of severe pattern encrusted round the stem with blue zircons," Brother Anthony was chanting in his melodious voice, his eyes bright with the reflection of celestial splendours. "And perhaps another in gold with the sacred monogram wrought on the cup in jacinths and orange tourmalines. Yes, I'll talk it over with Sir Charles and get him to approve the design."

The next morning two detectives came to Malford Abbey, and arrested Aubrey Wyon alias Brother Anthony for obtaining money under false pretences in various parts of the world. With them he departed to prison and a life more ascetic than any he had hitherto known. Brother Anthony departed indeed, but he was not discredited until it was too late. His grandiose projects and extravagant promises had already incited Father Burrowes to launch out on several new building operations that the Order could ill afford.

Perhaps the cloister had been less like the Cave of Aladdin than the Cave of the Forty Thieves.

After Christmas another Chapter was convened, to which Brother Anselm and Brother Chad were both bidden. The Father Superior addressed the brethren as he had addressed them a year ago, and finished up his speech by announcing that, deeply as he regretted it, he felt bound to propose that the Aldershot priory should be closed.

"What?" shouted Brother Anselm, leaping to his feet, his eyes blazing with wrath through his great horn spectacles.

The Prior quickly rose to say that he could not agree to the Reverend Father's suggestion. It was impossible for them any longer to claim that they were an active Order if they confined themselves entirely to the Abbey. He had not opposed the shutting down of the Sandgate priory, nor, he would remind the Reverend Father, had he offered any resistance to the abandonment of Malta. But he felt obliged to give his opinion strongly in favour of making any sacrifice to keep alive the Aldershot priory.

Brother George had spoken with force, but without eloquence; and Mark was afraid that his speech had not carried much weight.

The next to rise was Brother Birinus, who stood up as tall as a tree and said:

"I agree with Brother George."

And when he sat down it was as if a tree had been uprooted.

There was a pause after this, while every brother looked at his neighbour, waiting for him to rise at this crisis in the history of the Order. At last the Father Superior asked Brother Anselm if he did not intend to speak.

"What can I say?" asked Brother Anselm bitterly. "Last year I should have been true to myself and voted against the closing of the Sandgate house. I was silent then in my egoism. I am not fit to defend our house now."

"But I will," cried Brother Chad, rising. "Begging your pardon, Reverend Father and Brethren, if I am speaking too soon, but I cannot believe that you seriously consider closing us down. We're just beginning to get on well with the authorities, and we've a regular lot of communicants now. We began as just a Club, but we're something more than a Club now. We're bringing men to Our Lord, Brethren. You will do a great wrong if you let those poor souls think that for the sake of your own comfort you are ready to forsake them. Forgive me, Reverend Father. Forgive me, dear Brethren, if I have said too much and spoken uncharitably."

"He has not spoken uncharitably enough," Brother Athanasius shouted, rising to his feet, and as he did so unconsciously assuming the attitude of a boxer. "If I'd been here last year, I should have spoken much more uncharitably. I did not join this Order to sit about playing with vestments. I wanted to bring soldiers to God. If this Order is to be turned into a kind of male nunnery, I'm off to-morrow. I'm boiling over, that's what I am, boiling over. If we can't afford to do what we should be doing, we can't afford to build gatehouses, and lay out flower-beds, and sit giggling in tin cloisters. It's the limit, that's what it is, the limit."

Brother Athanasius stood there flushed with defiance, until the Father Superior told him to sit down and not make a fool of himself, a command which, notwithstanding that the feeling of the Chapter had been so far entirely against the head of the Order, such was the Father Superior's authority, Brother Athanasius immediately obeyed.

Brother Dominic now rose to try, as he said, to bring an atmosphere of reasonableness into the discussion.

"I do not think that I can be accused of inconsistency," he pointed out smoothly, "when we look back to our general Chapter of a year ago. Whatever my personal feelings were about closing the Sandgate priory, I recognized at once that the Reverend Father was right. There is really no doubt that we must be strong at the roots before we try to grow into a tall tree. However flourishing the branches, they will wither if the roots are not fed. The Reverend Father has no desire, as I understand him, to abandon the activity of the Order. He is merely anxious to establish us on a firm basis. The Reverend Brother said that we should make any sacrifice to maintain the Aldershot house. I have no desire to accuse the Reverend Brother of inconsistency, but I would ask him if he is willing to give up the farm, which, as you know, has cost so far a great deal more than we could afford. But of course the Reverend Brother would give up the farm. At the same time, we do not want him to give it up. We realize that under his capable guidance that farm will presently be a source of profit. Therefore, I beg the Reverend Brother to understand that I am making a purely rhetorical point when I ask him if he is prepared to give up the farm. I repeat, we do not want the farm given up.

"Another point which I feel has been missed. In giving up Aldershot, we are not giving up active work entirely. We have a good deal of active work here. We have our guest-house for casuals, and we are always ready to feed, clothe, and shelter any old soldiers who come to us. We are still young as an Order. We have only four professed monks, including the Reverend Father. We want to have more than that before we can consider ourselves established. I for one should hesitate to take my final vows until I had spent a long time in strict religious preparation, which in the hurry and scurry of active work is impossible. We have listened to a couple of violent speeches, or at any rate to one violent speech by a brother who was for a year in close touch with myself. I appeal to him not to drag the discussion down to the level of lay politics. We are free, we novices, to leave to-morrow. Let us remember that, and do not let us take advantage of our freedom to impart to this Mother House of ours the atmosphere of the world to which we may return when we will.

"And let us remember when we oppose the judgment of the Reverend Father that we are exalting ourselves without reason. Let us remember that it is he who by his eloquence and by his devotion and by his endurance and by his personality, has given us this wonderful house. Are we to turn round and say to him who has worked so hard for us that we do not want his gifts, that we are such wonderful fishers of men that we can be independent of him? Oh, my dear Brethren, let me beg you to vote in favour of abandoning all our dependencies until we are ourselves no longer dependent on the Reverend Father's eloquence and devotion and endurance and personality. God has blessed us infinitely. Are we to fling those blessings in His face?"

Brother Dominic sat down; after him in succession Brother Raymond, Brother Dunstan, Brother Lawrence, Brother Jerome, Brother Nicholas, and Brother Augustine spoke in support of the Father Superior. Brother Giles refused to speak, and though Mark's heart was thundering in his mouth with unuttered eloquence, at the moment he should rise he could not find a word, and he indicated with a sign that like Brother Giles, he had nothing to say.

"The voting will be by ballot," the Reverend Father announced. "It is proposed to give up the Priory at Aldershot. Let those brethren who agree write Yes on a strip of paper. Let those who disagree write No."

All knelt in silent prayer before they inscribed their will; after which they advanced one by one to the ballot-box, into which under the eyes of a large crucifix they dropped their papers. The Father Superior did not vote. Brother Simon, who was still a postulant, and not eligible to sit in Chapter, was fetched to count the votes. He was much excited at his task, and when he announced that seven papers were inscribed Yes, that six were inscribed No, and that one paper was blank, his teeth were chattering.

"One paper blank?" somebody repeated.

"Yes, really," said Brother Simon. "I looked everywhere, and there's not a mark on it."

All turned involuntarily toward Mark, whose paper in fact it was, although he gave no sign of being conscious of the ownership.

"In a General Chapter of the Order of St. George, held upon the Vigil of the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the year of Grace, 1903, it was resolved to close the Priory of the Order in the town of Aldershot."

The Reverend Father, having invoked the Holy Trinity, declared the Chapter dissolved.



Mark was vexed with himself for evading the responsibility of recording his opinion. His vote would not have changed the direction of the policy; but if he had voted against giving up the house at Aldershot, the Father Superior would have had to record the casting vote in favour of his own proposal, and whatever praise or blame was ultimately awarded to the decision would have belonged to him alone, who as head of the Order was best able to bear it. Mark's whole sympathy had been on the side of Brother George, and as one who had known at first hand the work in Aldershot, he did feel that it ought not to be abandoned so easily. Then when Brother Athanasius was speaking, Mark, in his embarrassment at such violence of manner and tone, picked up a volume lying on the table by his elbow that by reading he might avoid the eyes of his brethren until Brother Athanasius had ceased to shout. It was the Rule of St. Benedict which, with a print of Fra Angelico's Crucifixion and an image of St. George, was all the decoration allowed to the bare Chapter Room, and the page at which Mark opened the leather-bound volume was headed: DE PRAEPOSITO MONASTERII.

"It happens too often that through the appointment of the Prior grave scandals arise in monasteries, since some there be who, puffed up with a malignant spirit of pride, imagining themselves to be second Abbots, and assuming unto themselves a tyrannous authority, encourage scandals and create dissensions in the community. . . .

"Hence envy is excited, strife, evil-speaking, jealousy, discord, confusion; and while the Abbot and the Prior run counter to each other, by such dissension their souls must of necessity be imperilled; and those who are under them, when they take sides, are travelling on the road to perdition. . . .

"On this account we apprehend that it is expedient for the preservation of peace and good-will that the management of his monastery should be left to the discretion of the Abbot. . . .

"Let the Prior carry out with reverence whatever shall be enjoined upon him by his Abbot, doing nothing against the Abbot's will, nor against his orders. . . ."

Mark could not be otherwise than impressed by what he read.

Ii qui sub ipsis sunt, dum adulantur partibus, eunt in perditionem. . . .

Nihil contra Abbatis voluntatem faciens. . . .

Mark looked up at the figure of St. Benedict standing in that holy group at the foot of the Cross.

Ideoque nos proevidemus expedire, propter pacis caritatisque custodiam, in Abbatis pendere arbitrio ordinationem monasterii sui. . . .

St. Benedict had more than apprehended; he had actually foreseen that the Abbot ought to manage his own monastery. It was as if centuries ago, in the cave at Subiaco, he had heard that strident voice of Brother Athanasius in this matchboarded Chapter-room, as if he had beheld Brother Dominic, while apparently he was striving to persuade his brethren to accept the Father Superior's advice, nevertheless taking sides, and thereby travelling along the road that leads toward destruction. This was the thought that paralyzed Mark's tongue when it was his turn to speak, and this was why he would not commit himself to an opinion. Afterward, his neutrality appeared to him a weak compromise, and he regretted that he had not definitely allied himself with one party or the other.

The announcement in The Dragon that the Order had been compelled to give up the Aldershot house produced a large sum of sympathetic contributions; and when the Father Superior came back just before Lent, he convened another Chapter, at which he told the Community that it was imperative to establish a priory in London before they tried to reopen any houses elsewhere. His argument was cogent, and once again there was the appearance of unanimity among the Brethren, who all approved of the proposal. It had always been the custom of Father Burrowes to preach his hardest during Lent, because during that season of self-denial he was able to raise more money than at any other time, but until now he had never failed to be at the Abbey at the beginning of Passion Week, nor to remain there until Easter was over.

The Feast of St. Benedict fell upon the Saturday before the fifth Sunday in Lent, and the Father Superior, who had travelled down from the North in order to be present, announced that he considered it would be prudent, so freely was the money flowing in, not to give up preaching this year during Passion Week and Holy Week. Naturally, he did not intend to leave the Community without a priest at such a season, and he had made arrangements with the Reverend Andrew Hett to act as chaplain until he could come back into residence himself.

Brother Raymond and Brother Augustine were particularly thrilled by the prospect of enjoying the ministrations of Andrew Hett, less perhaps because they would otherwise be debarred from their Easter duties than because they looked forward to services and ceremonies of which they felt they had been robbed by the austere Anglicanism of Brother George.

"Andrew Hett is famous," declared Brother Raymond at the pitch of exultation. "It was he who told the Bishop of Ipswich that if the Bishop made him give up Benediction he would give up singing Morning and Evening Prayer."

"That must have upset the Bishop," said Mark. "I suppose he resigned his bishopric."

"I should have thought that you, Brother Mark, would have been the last one to take the part of a bishop when he persecutes a Catholic priest!"

"I'm not taking the part of the Bishop," Mark replied. "But I think it was a silly remark for a curate to make. It merely put him in the wrong, and gave the Bishop an opportunity to score."

The Prior had questioned the policy of engaging Andrew Hett as Chaplain, even for so brief a period as a month. He argued that, inasmuch as the Bishop of Silchester had twice refused to licence him to parishes in the diocese, it would prejudice the Bishop against the Order of St. George, and might lead to his inhibiting the Father Superior later on, should an excuse present itself.

"Nonsense, my dear Brother George," said the Reverend Father. "He won't know anything about it officially, and in any case ours is a private oratory, where refusals to licence and episcopal inhibitions have no effect."

"That's not my point," argued Brother George. "My point is that any communication with a notorious ecclesiastical outlaw like this fellow Hett is liable to react unfavourably upon us. Why can't we get down somebody else? There must be a number of unemployed elderly priests who would be glad of the holiday."

"I'm afraid that I've offered Hett the job now, so let us make up our minds to be content."

Mark, who was doing secretarial work for the Reverend Father, happened to be present during this conversation, which distressed him, because it showed him that the Prior was still at variance with the Abbot, a state of affairs that was ultimately bound to be disastrous for the Community. He withdrew almost immediately on some excuse to the Superior's inner room, whence he intended to go downstairs to the Porter's Lodge until the Prior was gone. Unfortunately, the door of the inner room was locked, and before he could explain what had happened, a conversation had begun which he could not help overhearing, but which he dreaded to interrupt.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse