'Hum!' said he to himself, with a glance at the tall retiring figure, 'that is a nice friend for a bishop to have. He's a jail-bird if I mistake not; and he is afraid of my finding out his business with Pendle. Birds of a feather,' sighed Mr Cargrim, entering the hotel. 'I fear, I sadly fear that his lordship is but a whited sepulchre. A look into the bishop's past might show me many things of moment,' and the fat living of Heathcroft seemed almost within Cargrim's grasp as he came to this conclusion.
'Now then, sir,' interrupted a sharp but pleasant female voice, 'and what may you want?'
Mr Cargrim wheeled round to answer this question, and found himself face to face with a bar, glittering with brass and crystal and bright-hued liquors in fat glass barrels; also with an extremely handsome young woman, dressed in an astonishing variety of colours. She was high-coloured and frank-eyed, with a great quantity of very black hair twisted into many amazing shapes on the top of her head. In manner she was as brisk as a bee and as restless as a butterfly; and being adorned with a vast quantity of bracelets, and lockets, and brooches, all of gaudy patterns, jingled at every movement. This young lady was Miss Bell Mosk, whom the frequenters of The Derby Winner called 'a dashing beauty,' and Mrs Pansey 'a painted jade.' With her glittering ornaments, her bright blue dress, her high colour, and general air of vivacity, she glowed and twinkled in the lamp-light like some gorgeous-plumaged parrot; and her free speech and constant chatter might have been ascribed to the same bird.
'Miss Mosk, I believe,' said the polite Cargrim, marvelling that this gaudy female should be the refined Gabriel's notion of feminine perfection.
'I am Miss Mosk,' replied Bell, taking a comprehensive view of the sleek, black-clothed parson. 'What can I do for you?'
'I am Mr Cargrim, the bishop's chaplain, Miss Mosk, and I wish to see Mr Pendle—Mr Gabriel Pendle.'
Bell flushed as red as the reddest cabbage rose, and with downcast eyes wiped the counter briskly with a duster. 'Why should you come here to ask for Mr Pendle?' said she, in guarded tones.
'I called at his lodgings, Miss Mosk, and I was informed that he was visiting a sick person here.'
'My mother!' replied Bell, not knowing what an amazing lie the chaplain was telling. 'Yes! Mr Pendle comes often to see—my mother.'
'Is he here now?' asked Cargrim, noticing the hesitancy at the end of her sentence; 'because I wish to speak with him on business.'
'He is upstairs. I daresay he'll be down soon.'
'Oh, don't disturb him for my sake, I beg. But if you will permit me I shall go up and see Mrs Mosk.'
'Here comes Mr Pendle now,' said Bell, abruptly, and withdrew into the interior of the bar as Gabriel appeared at the end of the passage. He started and seemed uneasy when he recognised the chaplain.
'Cargrim!' he cried, hurrying forward. 'Why are you here?' and he gave a nervous glance in the direction of the bar; a glance which the chaplain saw and understood, but discreetly left unnoticed.
'I wish to see you,' he replied, with great simplicity; 'they told me at your lodgings that you might be here, so—'
'Why!' interrupted Gabriel, sharply, 'I left no message to that effect.'
Cargrim saw that he had made a mistake. 'I speak generally, my dear friend—generally,' he said in some haste. 'Your worthy landlady mentioned several houses in which you were in the habit of seeing sick people—amongst others this hotel.'
'Mrs Mosk is very ill. I have been seeing her,' said Gabriel, shortly.
'Ay! ay! you have been seeing Mrs Mosk!'
Gabriel changed colour and cast another glance towards the bar, for the significance of Cargrim's speech was not lost on him. 'Do you wish to speak with me?' he asked coldly.
'I should esteem it a favour if you would allow me a few words,' said Cargrim, politely. 'I'll wait for you—outside,' and in his turn the chaplain looked towards the bar.
'Thank you, I can come with you now,' was Gabriel's reply, made with a burning desire to knock Cargrim down. 'Miss Mosk, I am glad to find that your mother is easier in her mind.'
'It's all due to you, Mr Pendle,' said Bell, moving forward with a toss of her head directed especially at Mr Cargrim. 'Your visits do mother a great deal of good.'
'I am sure they do,' said the chaplain, not able to forego giving the girl a scratch of his claws. 'Mr Pendle's visits here must be delightful to everybody.'
'I daresay,' retorted Bell, with heightened colour, 'other people's visits would not be so welcome.'
'Perhaps not, Miss Mosk. Mr Pendle has many amiable qualities to recommend him. He is a general and deserved favourite.'
'Come, come, Cargrim,' interposed Gabriel, anxiously, for the fair Bell's temper was rapidly getting the better of her; 'if you are ready we shall go. Good evening, Miss Mosk.'
'Good evening, Mr Pendle,' said the barmaid, and directed a spiteful look at Cargrim, for she saw plainly that he had intentionally deprived her of a confidential conversation with Gabriel. The chaplain received the look—which he quite understood—with an amused smile and a bland inclination of the head. As he walked out arm-in-arm with the reluctant Pendle, Bell banged the pewters and glasses about with considerable energy, for the significant demeanour of Cargrim annoyed her so much that she felt a great inclination to throw something at his head. But then, Miss Mosk was a high-spirited girl and believed in actions rather than speech, even though she possessed a fair command of the latter.
'Well, Cargrim,' said Gabriel, when he found himself in the street with his uncongenial companion, 'what is it?'
'It's about the bishop.'
'My father! Is there anything the matter with him?'
'I fear so. He told me that he was going to London.'
'What of that?' said Gabriel, impatiently. 'He told me the same thing yesterday. Has he gone?'
'He left by the afternoon train. Do you know the object of his visit to London?'
'No. What is his object?'
'He goes to consult a specialist about his health.'
'What!' cried Gabriel, anxiously. 'Is he ill?'
'I think so; some nervous trouble brought on by worry.'
'By worry! Has my father anything on his mind likely to worry him to that extent?'
Cargrim coughed significantly. 'I think so,' said he again. 'He has not been himself since the visit of that stranger to the palace. I fancy the man must have brought bad news.'
'Did the bishop tell you so?'
'No; but I am observant, you know.'
Privately, Gabriel considered that Cargrim was a great deal too observant, and also of a meddlesome nature, else why had he come to spy out matters which did not concern him. Needless to say, Gabriel was thinking of Bell at this moment. However, he made no comment on the chaplain's speech, but merely remarked that doubtless the bishop had his own reasons for keeping silent, and advised Cargrim to wait until he was consulted in connection with the matter, before troubling himself unnecessarily about it 'My father knows his own business best,' finished Gabriel, stiffly, 'if you will forgive my speaking so plainly.'
'Certainly, certainly, Pendle; but I owe a great deal to your father, and I would do much to save him from annoyance. By the way,' with an abrupt change of subject, 'do you know that I saw the stranger who called at the palace two nights ago during the reception?'
'At that hotel, this evening. He looks a dangerous man.'
Gabriel shrugged his shoulders. 'It seems to me, Cargrim, that you are making a mountain out of a mole hill. A stranger sees my father, and afterwards you meet him at a public-house; there is nothing strange in that.'
'You forget,' hinted Cargrim, sweetly, 'this man caused your father's illness.'
'We can't be sure of that; and in any case, my father is quite clever enough to deal with his own affairs. I see no reason why you should have hunted me out to talk such nonsense. Good-night, Cargrim,' and with a curt nod the curate stalked away, considerably annoyed by the meddlesome spirit manifested by the chaplain. He had never liked the man, and, now that he was in this interfering mood, liked him less than ever. It would be as well, thought Gabriel, that Mr Cargrim should be dismissed from his confidential office as soon as possible. Otherwise he might cause trouble, and Gabriel mentally thought of the high-coloured young lady in the bar. His conscience was not at ease regarding his admiration for her; and he dreaded lest the officious Cargrim should talk about her to the bishop. Altogether the chaplain, like a hornet, had annoyed both Dr Pendle and his son; and the bishop in London and Gabriel in Beorminster were anything but well disposed towards this clerical busybody, who minded everyone's business instead of his own. It is such people who stir up muddy water and cause mischief.
Meanwhile, the busybody looked after the curate with an evil smile; and, gratified at having aroused such irritation as the abrupt parting signified, turned back to The Derby Winner. He had seen Bell, he had spoken to Gabriel, he had even secured an unsatisfactory conversation with the unknown man. Now he wished to question Mrs Mosk and acquaint himself with her nature and attitude. Also he desired to question her concerning the military stranger; and with this resolve presented himself again before Miss Mosk, smiling and undaunted.
'What is it?' asked the young lady, who had been nursing her grievances.
'A mere trifle, Miss Mosk; I wish to see your mother.'
'Why?' was Bell's blunt demand.
'My reasons are for Mrs Mosk's ears alone.'
'Oh, are they? Well, I'm afraid you can't see my mother. In the first place, she's too ill to receive anyone; and in the second, my father does not like clergymen.'
'Dear! dear! not even Mr Pendle?'
'Mr Pendle is an exception,' retorted Bell, blushing, and again fell to wiping the counter in a fury, so as to keep her hands from Mr Cargrim's ears.
'I wish to see Mrs Mosk particularly,' reiterated Cargrim, who was bent upon carrying his point. 'If not, your father will do.'
'My father is absent in Southberry. Why do you want to see my mother?'
'I'll tell her that myself—with your permission,' said Cargrim, suavely.
'You sha'n't, then,' cried Bell, and flung down her duster with sparkling eyes.
'In that case I must go away,' replied Cargrim, seeing he was beaten, 'and I thank you, Miss Mosk, for your politeness. By the way,' he added, as he half returned, 'will you tell that gentleman with the scar on the cheek that I wish to see him also?'
'Seems to me you wish to see everybody about here,' said Bell, scornfully. 'I'll tell Mr Jentham if you like. Now go away; I'm busy.'
'Jentham!' repeated Cargrim, as he walked homeward. 'Now, I wonder if I'll find that name in the bishop's cheque-book.'
AN INTERESTING CONVERSATION
When Mr Cargrim took an idea into his head it was not easy to get it out again, and to this resolute obstinacy he owed no small part of his success. He was like the famous drop of water and would wear away any human stone, however hard it might be. Again and again, when baffled, he returned with gentle persistence to the object he had in view, and however strong of will his adversary happened to be, that will was bound, in the long run, to yield to the incessant attacks of the chaplain. At the present moment he desired to have an interview with Mrs Mosk, and he was determined to obtain one in spite of Bell's refusal. However, he had no time to waste on the persuasive method, as he wished to see the invalid before the bishop returned. To achieve this end he enlisted the services of Mrs Pansey.
That good lady sometimes indulged in a species of persecution she termed district-visiting, which usually consisted in her thrusting herself at untoward times into poor people's houses and asking them questions about their private affairs. When she had learned all she wished to know, and had given her advice in the tone of a command not to be disobeyed, she would retire, leaving the evidence of her trail behind her in the shape of a nauseous little tract with an abusive title. It was no use any poor creature refusing to see Mrs Pansey, for she forced herself into the most private chambers, and never would retire unless she thought fit to do so of her own will. It was for this reason that Cargrim suggested the good lady should call upon Mrs Mosk, for he knew well that neither the father, nor the daughter, nor the whole assembled domestics of the hotel, would be able to stop her from making her way to the bedside of the invalid; and in the devastated rear of Mrs Pansey the chaplain intended to follow.
His principal object in seeing Mrs Mosk was to discover what she knew about the man called Jentham. He was lodging at The Derby Winner, as Cargrim ascertained by later inquiry, and it was probable that the inmates of the hotel knew something as to the reasons of his stay in Beorminster. Mr Mosk, being as obstinate as a mule, was not likely to tell Cargrim anything he desired to learn. Bell, detesting the chaplain, as she took no pains to conceal, would probably refuse to hold a conversation with him; but Mrs Mosk, being weak-minded and ill, might be led by dexterous questioning to tell all she knew. And what she did know might, in Cargrim's opinion, throw more light on Jentham's connection with the bishop. Therefore, the next morning, Cargrim called on the archdeacon's widow to inveigle her into persecuting Mrs Mosk with a call. Mrs Pansey, with all her acuteness, could not see that she was being made use of—luckily for Cargrim.
'I hear the poor woman is very ill,' sighed the chaplain, after he had introduced the subject, 'and I fear that her daughter does not give her all the attention an invalid should have.'
'The Jezebel!' growled Mrs Pansey. 'What can you expect from that flaunting hussy?'
'She is a human being, Mrs Pansey, and I expect at least human feelings.'
'Can you get blood out of a stone, Mr Cargrim? No, you can't. Is that red-cheeked Dutch doll a pelican to pluck her breast for the benefit of her mother? No, indeed! I daresay she passes her sinful hours drinking with young men. I'd whip her at a cart's tail if I had my way.'
'Gabriel Pendle is trying to bring the girl to a sense of her errors.'
'Rubbish! She's trying to bring him to the altar, more like. I'll go with you, Mr Cargrim, and see the minx. I have long thought that it is my duty to reprove her and warn her mother of such goings-on. As for that weak-minded young Pendle,' cried Mrs Pansey, shaking her head furiously, 'I pity his infatuation; but what can you expect from such a mother as his mother? Can a fool produce sense? No!'
'I am afraid you will find the young woman difficult to deal with.'
'That makes me all the more determined to see her, Mr Cargrim. I'll tell her the truth for once in her life. Marry young Pendle indeed!' snorted the good lady. 'I'll let her see.'
'Speak to her mother first,' urged Cargrim, who wished his visit to be less warlike, as more conducive to success.
'I'll speak to both of them. I daresay one is as bad as the other. I must have that public-house removed; it's an eye-sore to Beorminster—a curse to the place. It ought to be pulled down and the site ploughed up and sown with salt. Come with me, Mr Cargrim, and you shall see how I deal with iniquity. I hope I know what is due to myself.'
'Where is Miss Norsham?' asked the chaplain, when they fell into more general conversation on their way to The Derby Winner.
'Husband-hunting. Dean Alder is showing her the tombs in the cathedral. Tombs, indeed! It's the altar she's interested in.'
'My dear lady, the dean is too old to marry!'
'He is not too old to be made a fool of, Mr Cargrim. As for Daisy Norsham, she'd marry Methuselah to take away the shame of being single. Not that the match with Alder will be out of the way, for she's no chicken herself.'
'I rather thought Mr Dean had an eye to Miss Whichello.'
'Stuff!' rejoined Mrs Pansey, with a sniff. 'She's far too much taken up with dieting people to think of marrying them. She actually weighs out the food on the table when meals are on. No wonder that poor girl Mab is thin.'
'But she isn't too thin for her height, Mrs Pansey. She seems to me to be well covered.'
'You didn't notice her at the palace, then,' snapped the widow, avoiding a direct reply. 'She wore a low-necked dress which made me blush. I don't know what girls are coming to. They'd go about like so many Eves if they could.'
'Oh, Mrs Pansey!' remonstrated the chaplain, in a shocked tone.
'Well, it's in the Bible, isn't it, man? You aren't going to say Holy Writ is indecent, are you?'
'Well, really, Mrs Pansey, clergyman as I am, I must say that there are parts of the Bible unfit for the use of schools.'
'To the pure all things are pure, Mr Cargrim; you have an impure mind, I fear. Remember the Thirty-Nine Articles and speak becomingly of holy things. However, let that pass,' added Mrs Pansey, in livelier tones. 'Here we are, and there's that hussy hanging out from an upper window like the Jezebel she is.'
This remark was directed against Bell, who, apparently in her mother's room, was at the window amusing herself by watching the passers-by. When she saw Mrs Pansey and the chaplain stalking along in black garments, and looking like two birds of prey, she hastily withdrew, and by the time they arrived at the hotel was at the doorway to receive them, with fixed bayonets.
'Young woman,' said Mrs Pansey, severely, 'I have come to see your mother,' and she cast a disapproving look on Bell's gay pink dress.
'She is not well enough to see either you or Mr Cargrim,' said Bell, coolly.
'All the more reason that Mr Cargrim, as a clergyman, should look after her soul, my good girl.'
'Thank you, Mr Pendle is doing that.'
'Indeed! Mr Pendle, then, combines business with pleasure.'
Bell quite understood the insinuation conveyed in this last speech, and, firing up, would have come to high words with the visitors but that her father made his appearance, and, as she did not wish to draw forth remarks from Mrs Pansey about Gabriel in his hearing, she discreetly held her tongue. However, as Mrs Pansey swept by in triumph, followed by Cargrim, she looked daggers at them both, and bounced into the bar, where she drew beer for thirsty customers in a flaming temper. She dearly desired a duel of words with the formidable visitor.
Mosk was a lean, tall man with a pimpled face and a military moustache. He knew Mrs Pansey, and, like most other people, detested her with all his heart; but she was, as he thought, a great friend of Sir Harry Brace, who was his landlord, so for diplomatic reasons he greeted her with all deference, hat in hand.
'I have come with Mr Cargrim to see your wife, Mr Mosk,' said the visitor.
'Thank you, ma'am, I'm sure it's very kind of you,' replied Mosk, who had a husky voice suggestive of beer. 'She'll be honoured to see you, I'm sure. This way, ma'am.'
'Is she very ill?' demanded the chaplain, as they followed Mosk to the back of the hotel and up a narrow staircase.
'She ain't well, sir, but I can't say as she's dying. We do all we can to make her easy.'
'Ho!' from Mrs Pansey. 'I hope your daughter acts towards her mother like as a daughter should.'
'I'd like to see the person as says she don't,' cried Mr Mosk, with sudden anger. 'I'd knock his head off. Bell's a good girl; none better.'
'Let us hope your trust in her is justified,' sighed the mischief-maker, and passed into the sickroom, leaving Mosk with an uneasy feeling that something was wrong. If the man had a tender spot in his heart it was for his handsome daughter; and it was with a vague fear that, after presenting his wife to her visitors, he went downstairs to the bar. Mrs Pansey had a genius for making mischief by a timely word.
'Bell,' said he, gruffly, 'what's that old cat hinting at?'
'What about?' asked Bell, tossing her head till all her ornaments jingled, and wiping the counter furiously.
'About you! She don't think I should trust you.'
'What right has she to talk about me, I'd like to know!' cried Bell, getting as red as a peony. 'I've never done anything that anyone can say a word against me.'
'Who said you had?' snapped her father; 'but that old cat hints.'
'Let her keep her hints to herself, then. Because I'm young and good-looking she wants to take my character away. Nasty old puss that she is!'
'That's just it, my gal. You're too young and good-looking to escape folks' talking; and I hear that young Mr Pendle comes round when I'm away.'
'Who says he doesn't, father? It's to see mother; he's a parson, ain't he?'
'Yes! and he's gentry too. I won't have him paying attention to you.'
'You'd better wait till he does,' flashed out Bell. 'I can take care of myself, I hope.'
'If I catch him talking other than religion to you I'll choke him in his own collar,' cried Mr Mosk, with a scowl; 'so now you know.'
'I know as you're talking nonsense, father. Time enough for you to interfere when there's cause. Now you clear out and let me get on with my work.'
Reassured by the girl's manner, Mosk began to think that Mrs Pansey's hints were all moonshine, and after cooling himself with a glass of beer, went away to look into his betting-book with some horsey pals. In the meantime, Mrs Pansey was persecuting his wife, a meek, nervous little woman, who was propped up with pillows in a large bed, and seemed to be quite overwhelmed by the honour of Mrs Pansey's call.
'So you are weak in the back, are you?' said the visitor, in loud tones. 'If you are, what right have you to marry and bring feeble children into the world?'
'Bell isn't feeble,' said Mrs Mosk, weakly. 'She's a fine set-up gal.'
'Set-up and stuck-up,' retorted Mrs Pansey. 'I tell you what, my good woman, you ought to be downstairs looking after her.'
'Lord! mum, there ain't nothing wrong, I do devoutly hope.'
'Nothing as yet; but you shouldn't have young gentlemen about the place.'
'I can't help it, mum,' said Mrs Mosk, beginning to cry. 'I'm sure we must earn our living somehow. This is an 'otel, isn't it? and Mosk's a pop'lar character, ain't he? I'm sure it's hard enough to make ends meet as it is; we owe rent for half a year and can't pay—and won't pay,' wailed Mrs Mosk, 'unless my 'usband comes 'ome on Skinflint.'
'Comes home on Skinflint, woman, what do you mean?'
'Skinflint's a 'orse, mum, as Mosk 'ave put his shirt on.'
Mrs Pansey wagged her plumes and groaned. 'I'm sadly afraid your husband is a son of perdition, Mrs Mosk. Put his shirt on Skinflint, indeed!'
'He's a good man to me, anyhow,' cried Mrs Mosk, plucking up spirit.
'Drink and betting,' continued Mrs Pansey, pretending not to hear this feeble defiance. 'What can we expect from a man who drinks and bets?'
'And associates with bad characters,' put in Cargrim, seizing his chance.
'That he don't, sir,' said Mrs Mosk, with energy. 'May I beg of you to put a name to one of 'em?'
'Jentham,' said the chaplain, softly. 'Who is Jentham, Mrs Mosk?'
'I know no more nor a babe unborn, sir. He's bin 'ere two weeks, and I did see him twice afore my back got so bad as to force me to bed. But I don't see why you calls him bad, sir. He pays his way.'
'Oh,' groaned Mrs Pansey, 'is it the chief end of man to pay his way?'
'It is with us, mum,' retorted Mrs Mosk, meekly; 'there ain't no denying of it. And Mr Jentham do pay proper though he is a gipsy.'
'He's a gipsy, is he?' said Cargrim, alertly.
'So he says, sir; and I knows as he goes sometimes to that camp of gipsies on Southberry Heath.'
'Where does he get his money from?'
'Better not inquire into that, Mr Cargrim,' said Mrs Pansey, with a sniff.
'Oh, Mr Jentham's honest, I'm sure, mum. He's bin at the gold diggin's and 'ave made a trifle of money. Indeed, I don't know where he ain't been, sir. The four pints of the compass is all plain sailing to 'im; and his 'airbreadth escapes is too h'awful. I shivers and shudders when I 'ears 'em.'
'What is he doing here?'
'He's on business; but I don't know what kind. Oh, he knows 'ow to 'old 'is tongue, does Jentham.'
'He is a gipsy, he consorts with gipsies, he has money, and no one knows where he comes from,' summed up Cargrim. 'I think, Mrs Pansey, we may regard this man as a dangerous character.'
'I shouldn't be surprised to hear he was an Anarchist,' said Mrs Pansey, who knew nothing about the man. 'Well, Mrs Mosk, I hope we've cheered you up. I'll go now. Read this tract,' bestowing a grimy little pamphlet, 'and don't see too much of Mr Pendle.'
'But he comforts me,' said poor Mrs Mosk; 'he reads beautiful.'
Mrs Pansey grunted. Bold as she was she did not like to speak quite plainly to the woman, as too free speech might inculpate Gabriel and bring the bishop to the rescue. Besides, Mrs Pansey had no evidence to bring forward to prove that Gabriel was in love with Bell Mosk. Therefore she said nothing, but, like the mariner's parrot, thought the more. Shaking out her dark skirts she rose to go, with another grunt full of unspoken suspicions.
'Good-day, Mrs Mosk,' said she, pausing at the door. 'When you are low-spirited send for me to cheer you up.'
Mrs Mosk attempted a curtsey in bed, which was a failure owing to her sitting position; but Mrs Pansey did not see the attempt, as she was already half-way down the stairs, followed by Cargrim. The chaplain had learned a trifle more about the mysterious Jentham and was quite satisfied with his visit; but he was more puzzled than ever. A tramp, a gipsy, an adventurer—what had such a creature in common with Bishop Pendle? To Mr Cargrim's eye the affair of the visit began to assume the proportions of a criminal case. But all the information he had gathered proved nothing, so it only remained to wait for the bishop's return and see what discoveries he could make in that direction. If Jentham's name was in the cheque-book the chaplain would be satisfied that there was an understanding between the pair; and then his next move would be to learn what the understanding was. When he discovered that, he had no doubt but that he would have Dr Pendle under his thumb, which would be a good thing for Mr Cargrim and an unpleasant position for the bishop.
Mrs Pansey stalked down to the bar, and seeing Bell therein, silently placed a little tract on the counter. No sooner had she left the house than Bell snatched up the tract, and rushing to the door flung it after the good lady.
'You need it more than I do,' she cried, and bounced into the house again.
It was with a quiver of rage that Mrs Pansey turned to the chaplain. She was almost past speech, but with some difficulty and much choking managed to convey her feelings in two words.
'The creature!' gasped Mrs Pansey, and shook her skirts as if to rid herself of some taint contracted at The Derby Winner.
ON SATURDAY NIGHT
The bishop returned on Saturday morning instead of on Friday night as arranged, and was much more cheerful than when he left, a state of mind which irritated Cargrim in no small degree, and also perplexed him not a little. If Dr Pendle's connection with Jentham was dangerous he should still be ill at ease and anxious, instead of which he was almost his old genial self when he joined his wife and Lucy at their afternoon tea. Sir Harry was not present, but Mr Cargrim supplied his place, an exchange which was not at all to Lucy's mind. The Pendles treated the chaplain always with a certain reserve, and the only person who really thought him the good young man he appeared to be, was the bishop's wife. But kindly Mrs Pendle was the most innocent of mortals, and all geese were swans to her. She had not the necessary faculty of seeing through a brick wall with which nature had gifted Mrs Pansey in so extraordinary a degree.
As a rule, Mr Cargrim did not come to afternoon tea, but on this occasion he presented himself; ostensibly to welcome back his patron, in reality to watch him. Also he was determined, at the very first opportunity, to introduce the name of Jentham and observe what effect it had on the bishop. With these little plans in his mind the chaplain crept about the tea-table like a tame cat, and handed round cake and bread with his most winning smile. His pale face was even more inexpressive than usual, and none could have guessed, from outward appearance, his malicious intents—least of all the trio he was with. They were too upright themselves to suspect evil in others.
'I am so glad to see you are better, bishop,' said Mrs Pendle, languidly trifling with a cup of tea. 'Your journey has done you good.'
'Change of air, change of air, my dear. A wonderful restorative.'
'Your business was all right, I hope?'
'Oh, yes! Indeed, I hardly went up on business, and what I did do was a mere trifle,' replied the bishop, smoothing his apron. 'Has Gabriel been here to-day?' he added, obviously desirous of turning the conversation.
'Twice!' said Lucy, who presided over the tea-table; 'and the second time he told mamma that he had received a letter from George.'
'Ay, ay! a letter from George. Is he quite well, Lucy?'
'We shall see that for ourselves this evening, papa. George is coming to Beorminster, and will be here about ten o'clock to-night.'
'How vexing!' exclaimed Dr Pendle. 'I intended going over to Southberry this evening, but I can't miss seeing George.'
'Ride over to-morrow morning, bishop,' suggested his wife.
'Sunday morning, my dear!'
'Well, papa!' said Lucy, smiling, 'you are not a strict Sabbatarian, you know.'
'I am not so good as I ought to be, my dear,' said Dr Pendle, playfully pinching her pretty ear. 'Well! well! I must see George. I'll go to-morrow morning at eight o'clock. You'll send a telegram to Mr Vasser to that effect, if you please, Mr Cargrim. Say that I regret not being able to come to-night.'
'Certainly, my lord. In any case, I am going in to Beorminster this evening.'
'You are usually more stay-at-home, Mr Cargrim. Thank you, Lucy, I will take another cup of tea.'
'I do not care for going out at night as a rule, my lord, observed the chaplain, in his most sanctimonious tone, 'but duty calls me into Beorminster. I am desirous of comforting poor sick Mrs Mosk at The Derby Winner.'
'Oh, that is Gabriel's pet invalid,' cried Lucy, peering into the teapot; 'he says Mrs Mosk is a very good woman.'
'Let us hope so,' observed the bishop, stirring his new cup of tea. 'I do not wish to be uncharitable, my dear, but if Mrs Pansey is to be believed, that public-house is not conducted so carefully as it should be.'
'But is Mrs Pansey to be believed, bishop?' asked his wife, smiling.
'I don't think she would tell a deliberate falsehood, my love.'
'All the same, she might exaggerate little into much,' said Lucy, with a pretty grimace. 'What is your opinion of this hotel, Mr Cargrim?'
The chaplain saw his opportunity and seized it at once. 'My dear Miss Pendle, he said, showing all his teeth, 'as The Derby Winner is the property of Sir Harry Brace I wish I could speak well of it, but candour compels me to confess that it is a badly-conducted house.'
'Tut! tut!' said the bishop, 'what is this? You don't say so.'
'Harry shall shut it up at once,' cried Lucy, the pretty Puritan.
'It is a resort of bad characters, I fear,' sighed Cargrim, 'and Mrs Mosk, being an invalid, is not able to keep them away.'
'What about the landlord, Mr Cargrim?'
'Aha!' replied the chaplain, turning towards Mrs Pendle, who had asked this question, 'he is a man of lax morals. His boon companion is a tramp called Jentham!'
'Jentham!' repeated Dr Pendle, in so complacent a tone that Cargrim, with some vexation, saw that he did not associate the name with his visitor; 'and who is Jentham?'
'I hardly know,' said the chaplain, making another attempt; 'he is a tramp, as I have reason to believe, and consorts with gipsies. I saw him myself the other day—a tall, lean man with a scar.'
The bishop rose, and walking over to the tea-table placed his cup carefully thereon. 'With a scar,' he repeated in low tones. 'A man with a scar—Jentham—indeed! What do you know of this person, Mr Cargrim?'
'Absolutely nothing,' rejoined the chaplain, with a satisfied glance at the uneasy face of his questioner. 'He is a gipsy; he stays at The Derby Winner and pays regularly for his lodgings; and his name is Jentham. I know no more.'
'I don't suppose there is more to know,' cried Lucy, lightly.
'If there is, the police may find out, Miss Pendle.'
The bishop frowned. 'As the man, so far as we know, has done nothing against the laws,' said he, quickly, 'I see no reason why the police should be mentioned in connection with him. Evidently, from what Mr Cargrim says, he is a rolling stone, and probably will not remain much longer in Beorminster. Let us hope that he will take himself and his bad influence away from our city. In the meantime, it is hardly worth our while to discuss a person of so little importance.'
In this skilful way the bishop put an end to the conversation, and Cargrim, fearful of rousing his suspicions, did not dare to resume it. In a little while, after a few kind words to his wife, Dr Pendle left the drawing-room for his study. As he passed out, Cargrim noticed that the haggard look had come back to his face, and once or twice he glanced anxiously at his wife. In his turn Cargrim examined Mrs Pendle, but saw nothing in her manner likely to indicate that she shared the uneasiness of her husband, or knew the cause of his secret anxiety. She looked calm and content, and there was a gentle smile in her weary eyes. Evidently the bishop's mind was set at rest by her placid looks, for it was with a sigh of relief that he left the room. Cargrim noted the look and heard the sigh, but was wholly in the dark regarding their meaning.
'Though I daresay they have to do with Jentham and this secret,' he thought, when bowing himself out of the drawing-room. 'Whatever the matter may be, Dr Pendle is evidently most anxious to keep his wife from knowing of it. All the better.' He rubbed his hands together with a satisfied smirk. 'Such anxiety shows that the secret is worth learning. Sooner or later I shall find it out, and then I can insist upon being the rector of Heathcroft. I have no time to lose, so I shall go to The Derby Winner to-night and see if I can induce this mysterious Jentham to speak out. He looks a drunken dog, so a glass of wine may unloosen his tongue.'
From this speech it can be seen that Mr Cargrim was true to his Jesuitic instincts, and thought no action dishonourable so long as it aided him to gain his ends. He was a methodical scoundrel, too, and arranged the details of his scheme with the utmost circumspection. For instance, prior to seeing the man with the scar, he thought it advisable to find out if the bishop had drawn a large sum of money while in London for the purpose of bribing the creature to silence. Therefore, before leaving the palace, he made several attempts to examine the cheque-book. But Dr Pendle remained constantly at his desk in the library, and although the plotter actually saw the cheque-book at the elbow of his proposed victim, he was unable, without any good reason, to pick it up and satisfy his curiosity. He was therefore obliged to defer any attempt to obtain it until the next day, as the bishop would probably leave it behind him when he rode over to Southberry. This failure vexed the chaplain, as he wished to be forearmed in his interview with Jentham, but, as there was no help for it, he was obliged to put the cart before the horse—in other words, to learn what he could from the man first and settle the bribery question by a peep into the cheque-book afterwards. The ingenious Mr Cargrim was by no means pleased with this slip-slop method of conducting business. There was method in his villainy.
That evening, after despatching the telegram to Southberry, the chaplain repaired to The Derby Winner and found it largely patronised by a noisy and thirsty crowd. The weather was tropical, the workmen of Beorminster had received their wages, so they were converting the coin of the realm into beer and whisky as speedily as possibly. The night was calm and comparatively cool with the spreading darkness, and the majority of the inhabitants were seated outside their doors gossiping and taking the air. Children were playing in the street, their shrill voices at times interrupting the continuous chatter of the women; and The Derby Winner, flaring with gas, was stuffed as full as it could hold with artizans, workmen, Irish harvesters and stablemen, all more or less exhilarated with alcohol. It was by no means a scene into which the fastidious Cargrim would have ventured of his own free will, but his desire to pump Jentham was greater than his sense of disgust, and he walked briskly into the hotel, to where Mr Mosk and Bell were dispensing drinks as fast as they were able. The crowd, having an inherent respect for the clergy, as became the inhabitants of a cathedral city, opened out to let him pass, and there was much less swearing and drinking when his black coat and clerical collar came into view. Mosk saw that the appearance of the chaplain was detrimental to business, and resenting his presence gave him but a surly greeting. As to Bell, she tossed her head, shot a withering glance of defiance at the bland new-comer, and withdrew to the far end of the bar.
'My friend,' said Cargrim, in his softest tones, 'I have come to see your wife and inquire how she is.'
'She's well enough,' growled Mosk, pushing a foaming tankard towards an expectant navvy, 'and what's more, sir, she's asleep, sir, so you can't see her.'
'I should be sorry to disturb her, Mr Mosk, so I will postpone my visit till a more fitted occasion. You seem to be busy to-night.'
'So busy that I've got no time for talking, sir.'
'Far be it from me to distract your attention, my worthy friend,' was the chaplain's bland reply, 'but with your permission I will remain in this corner and enjoy the humours of the scene.'
Mosk inwardly cursed the visitor for making this modest request, as he detested parsons on account of their aptitude to make teetotalers of his customers. He was a brute in his way, and a Radical to boot, so if he had dared he would have driven forth Cargrim with a few choice oaths. But as his visitor was the chaplain of the ecclesiastical sovereign of Beorminster, and was acquainted with Sir Harry Brace, the owner of the hotel, and further, as Mosk could not pay his rent and was already in bad odour with his landlord, he judged it wise to be diplomatic, lest a word from Cargrim to the bishop and Sir Harry should make matters worse. He therefore grudgingly gave the required permission.
'Though this ain't a sight fit for the likes of you, sir,' he grumbled, waving his hand. 'This lot smells and they swears, and they gets rowdy in their cups, so I won't answer as they won't offend you.'
'My duty has carried me into much more unsavoury localities, my friend. The worse the place the more is my presence, as a clergyman, necessary.'
'You ain't going to preach, sir?' cried Mosk, in alarm.
'No! that would indeed be casting pearls before swine, replied Cargrim, in his cool tones. 'But I will observe and reflect.'
The landlord looked uneasy. 'I know as the place is rough,' he said apologetically, 'but 'tain't my fault. You won't go talking to Sir Harry, I hope, sir, and take the bread out of my mouth?'
'Make your mind easy, Mosk. It is not my place to carry tales to your landlord; and I am aware that the lower orders cannot conduct themselves with decorum, especially on Saturday night. I repine that such a scene should be possible in a Christian land, but I don't blame you for its existence.'
'That's all right, sir,' said Mosk, with a sigh of relief. 'I'm rough but honest, whatever lies may be told to the contrary. If I can't pay my rent, that ain't my fault, I hope, as it ain't to be expected as I can do miracles.'
'The age of miracles is past, my worthy friend,' replied Cargrim, in conciliatory tones. 'We must not expect the impossible nowadays. By the way'—with a sudden change—'have you a man called Jentham here?'
'Yes, I have,' growled Mosk, looking suspiciously at his questioner. 'What do you know of him, sir?'
'Nothing; but I take an interest in him as he seems to be one who has known better days.'
'He don't know them now, at all events, Mr Cargrim. He owes me money for this last week, he does. He paid all right at fust, but he don't pay now.'
'Indeed,' said the chaplain, pricking up his ears, 'he owes you money?'
'That he does; more nor two quid, sir. But he says he'll pay me soon.'
'Ah! he says he'll pay you soon,' repeated Cargrim; 'he expects to receive money, then?'
'I s'pose so, tho' Lord knows!—I beg pardon, sir—tho' goodness knows where it's coming from. He don't work or get wages as I can see.'
'I think I know,' thought Cargrim; then added aloud, 'Is the man here?'
'In the coffee-room yonder, sir. Half drunk he is, and lying like a good one. The yarns he reels off is wonderful.'
'No doubt; a man like that must be interesting to listen to. With your permission, Mr Mosk, I'll go into the coffee-room.'
'Straight ahead, sir. Will you take something to drink, if I may make so bold, Mr Cargrim?'
'No, my friend, no; thank you all the same,' and with a nod Cargrim pushed his way into the coffee-room to see the man with the scar.
AN EXCITING ADVENTURE
Mr Cargrim found a considerable number of people in the coffee-room, and these, with tankards and glasses before them, were listening to the conversation of Jentham. Tobacco smoke filled the apartment with a thick atmosphere of fog, through which the gas-lights flared in a nebulous fashion, and rendered the air so hot that it was difficult to breathe in spite of the windows being open. At the head of the long table sat Jentham, drinking brandy-and-soda, and speaking in his cracked, refined voice with considerable spirit, his rat-like, quick eyes glittering the while with alcoholic lustre. He seemed to be considerably under the influence of drink, and his voice ran up and down from bass to treble as he became excited in narrating his adventures.
Whether these were true or false Cargrim could not determine; for although the man trenched again and again on the marvellous, he certainly seemed to be fully acquainted with what he was talking about, and related the most wonderful stories in a thoroughly dramatic fashion. Like Ulysses, he knew men and cities, and appeared to have travelled as much as that famous globe-trotter. In his narration he passed from China to Chili, sailed north to the Pole, steamed south to the Horn, described the paradise of the South Seas, and discoursed about the wild wastes of snowy Siberia. The capitals of Europe appeared to be as familiar to him as the chair he was seated in; and the steppes of Russia, the deserts of Africa, the sheep runs of Australia were all mentioned in turn, as adventure after adventure fell from his lips. And mixed up with these geographical accounts were thrilling tales of treasure-hunting, of escapes from savages, of perilous deeds in the secret places of great cities; and details of blood, and war, and lust, and hate, all told in a fiercely dramatic fashion. The man was a tramp, a gipsy, a ragged, penniless rolling-stone; but in his own way he was a genius. Cargrim wondered, with all his bravery, and endurance, and resource, that he had not made his fortune. The eloquent scamp seemed to wonder also.
'For,' said he, striking the table with his fist, 'I have never been able to hold what I won. I've been a millionaire twice over, but the gold wouldn't stay; it drifted away, it was swept away, it vanished, like Macbeth's witches, into thin air. Look at me, you country cabbages! I've reigned a king amongst savages. A poor sort of king, say you; but a king's a king, say I; and king I have been. Yet here I am, sitting in a Beorminster gutter, but I don't stay in it. By ——,' he confirmed his purpose with an oath, 'not I. I've got my plans laid, and they'll lift me up to the stars yet.'
'Hev you the money, mister?' inquired a sceptical listener.
'What's that to you?' cried Jentham, and finished his drink. 'Yes, I have money!' He set down his empty glass with a bang. 'At least I know where to get it. Bah! you fools, one can get blood out of a stone if one knows how to go about it. I know! I know! My Tom Tiddler's ground isn't far from your holy township,' and he began to sing,—
'Southberry Heath's Tom Tiddler's ground, Gold and silver are there to be found. It's dropped by the priest, picked up by the knave, For the one is a coward, the other is brave.
More brandy, waiter; make it stiff, sonny! stiff! stiff! stiff!'
The man's wild speech and rude song were unintelligible to his stupid, drink-bemused audience; but the keen brain of the schemer lurking near the door picked up their sense at once. Dr Pendle was the priest who was to drop the money on Southberry Heath, and Jentham the knave who was to pick it up. As certainly as though the man had given chapter and verse, Cargrim understood his enigmatic stave. His mind flashed back to the memory that Dr Pendle intended to ride over to Southberry in the morning, across the heath. Without doubt he had agreed to meet there this man who boasted that he could get blood out of a stone, and the object of the meeting was to bribe him to silence. But however loosely Jentham alluded to his intention of picking up gold, he was cunning enough, with all his excitement, to hold his tongue as to how he could work such a miracle. Undoubtedly there was a secret between Dr Pendle and this scamp; but what it might be, Cargrim could by no means guess. Was Jentham a disreputable relation of the bishop's? Had Dr Pendle committed a crime in his youth for which he was now being blackmailed? What could be the nature of the secret which gave this unscrupulous blackguard a hold on a dignitary of the Church? Cargrim's brain was quite bewildered by his conjectures.
Hitherto Jentham had been in the blabbing stage of intoxication, but after another glass of drink he relapsed into a sullen, silent condition, and with his eyes on the table pulled fiercely at his pipe, so that his wicked face looked out like that of a devil from amid the rolling clouds of smoke. His audience waited open-mouthed for more stories, but as their entertainer seemed too moody to tell them any more, they began to talk amongst themselves, principally about horses and dogs. It was now growing late, and the most respectable of the crowd were moving homeward. Cargrim felt that to keep up the dignity of his cloth he should depart also; for several looks of surprise were cast in his direction. But Jentham and his wild speeches fascinated him, and he lurked in his corner, watching the sullen face of the man until the two were left the sole occupants of the room. Then Jentham looked up to call the waiter to bring him a final drink, and his eyes met those of Mr Cargrim. After a keen glance he suddenly broke into a peal of discordant laughter, which died away into a savage and menacing growl.
'Hallo!' he grumbled, 'here is the busybody of Beorminster. And what may you want, Mr Paul Pry?'
'A little civility in the first place, my worthy friend,' said Cargrim, in silky tones, for he did not relish the insolent tone of the satirical scamp.
'I am no friend to spies!'
'How dare you speak to me like that, fellow?'
'You call me a fellow and I'll knock your head off,' cried Jentham, rising with a savage look in his eyes. 'If you aren't a spy why do you come sneaking round here?'
'I came to see Mrs Mosk,' explained the chaplain, in a mighty dignified manner, 'but she is asleep, so I could not see her. In passing the door of this room I heard you relating your adventures, and I naturally stopped to listen.'
'To hear if I had anything to say about my visit to your bishop, I suppose?' growled Jentham, unpleasantly. 'I have a great mind to tell him how you watch me, you infernal devil-dodger!'
'Respect my cloth, sir.'
'Begin by respecting it yourself, d—— you. What would his lordship of Beorminster say if he knew you were here?'
'His lordship does know.'
Jentham started. 'Perhaps he sent you?' he said, looking doubtful.
'No, he did not,' contradicted Cargrim, who saw that nothing was to be learned while the man was thus bemused with drink. 'I have told you the reason of my presence here. And as I am here, I warn you, as a clergyman, not to drink any more. You have already had more than enough.'
Jentham was staggered by the boldness of the chaplain, and stared at him open-mouthed; then recovering his speech, he poured forth such a volley of vile words at Cargrim that the chaplain stepped to the door and called the landlord. He felt that it was time for him to assert himself.
'This man is drunk, Mosk,' said he, sharply, 'and if you keep such a creature on your premises you will get into trouble.'
'Creature yourself!' cried Jentham, advancing towards Cargrim. 'I'll wring your neck if you use such language to me. I've killed fifty better men than you in my time. Mosk!' he turned with a snarl on the landlord, 'get me a drink of brandy.'
'I think you've had enough, Mr Jentham,' said the landlord, with a glance at Cargrim, 'and you know you owe me money.'
'Curse you, what of that?' raved Jentham, stamping. 'Do you think I'll not pay you?'
'I've not seen the colour of your money lately.'
'You'll see it when I choose. I'll have hundreds of pounds next week—hundreds;' and he broke out fiercely, 'get me more brandy; don't mind that devil-dodger.'
'Go to bed,' said Mosk, retiring, 'go to bed.'
Jentham ran after him with an angry cry, so Cargrim, feeling himself somewhat out of place in this pot-house row, nodded to Mosk and left the hotel with as much dignity as he could muster. As he went, the burden of Jentham's last speech—'hundreds of pounds! hundreds of pounds!'—rang in his ears; and more than ever he desired to examine the bishop's cheque-book, in order to ascertain the exact sum. The secret, he thought, must indeed be a precious one when the cost of its preservation ran into three figures.
When Cargrim emerged into the street it was still filled with people, as ten o'clock was just chiming from the cathedral tower. The gossipers had retired within, and lights were gleaming in the upper windows of the houses; but knots of neighbours still stood about here and there, talking and laughing loudly. Cargrim strolled slowly down the street towards the Eastgate, musing over his late experience, and enjoying the coolness of the night air after the sultry atmosphere of the coffee-room. The sky was now brilliant with stars, and a silver moon rolled aloft in the blue arch, shedding down floods of light on the town, and investing its commonplace aspect with something of romance. The streets were radiant with the cold, clear lustre; the shadows cast by the houses lay black as Indian ink on the ground; and the laughter and noise of the passers-by seemed woefully out of place in this magical white world.
Cargrim was alive to the beauty of the night, but was too much taken up with his thoughts to pay much attention to its mingled mystery of shadow and light. As he took his musing way through the wide streets of the modern town, he was suddenly brought to a standstill by hearing the voice of Jentham some distance away. Evidently the man had quarrelled with the landlord, and had been turned out of the hotel, for he came rolling along in a lurching, drunken manner, roaring out a wild and savage ditty, picked up, no doubt, in some land at the back of beyond.
Oh, I have treked the eight world climes, And sailed the seven seas: I've made my pile a hundred times, And chucked the lot on sprees.
But when my ship comes home, my lads, Why, curse me, don't I know The spot that's worth, the blooming earth, The spot where I shall go.
They call it Callao! for oh, it's Callao. For on no condition Is extradition Allowed in Callao.'
Jentham roared and ranted the fierce old chanty with as much gusto and noise as though he were camping in the waste lands to which the song applied, instead of disturbing the peace of a quiet English town. As his thin form came swinging along in the silver light, men and women drew back with looks of alarm to let him pass, and Cargrim, not wishing to have trouble with the drunken bully, slipped into the shadow of a house until he passed. As usual, there was no policeman visible, and Jentham went bellowing and storming through the quiet summer night like the dissolute ruffian he was. He was making for the country in the direction of the palace, and wondering if he intended to force his way into the house to threaten Dr Pendle, the chaplain followed immediately behind. But he was careful to keep out of sight, as Jentham was in just the excited frame of mind to draw a knife: and Cargrim, knowing his lawless nature, had little doubt but that he had one concealed in his boot or trouser belt. The delicate coward shivered at the idea of a rough-and-tumble encounter with an armed buccaneer.
On went Jentham, swinging his arms with mad gestures, and followed by the black shadow of the chaplain, until the two were clear of the town. Then the gipsy turned down a shadowy lane, cut through a footpath, and when he emerged again into the broad roadway, found himself opposite the iron gates of the episcopalian park. Here he stopped singing and shook his fist at them.
'Come out, you devil-dodger!' he bellowed savagely. 'Come out and give me money, or I'll shame you before the whole town, you clerical hypocrite.' Then he took a pull at a pocket-flask.
Cargrim listened eagerly in the hope of hearing something definite, and Jentham gathered himself together for further denunciation of the bishop, when round the corner tripped two women, towards whom his drunken attention was at once attracted. With a hoarse chuckle he reeled towards them.
'Come along m' beauty,' he hiccuped, stretching out his arms, 'here's your haven. Wine and women! I love them both.'
The women both shrieked, and rushed along the road, pursued by the ruffian. Just as he laid rude hands on the last one, a young man came racing along the footpath and swung into the middle of the road. The next moment Jentham lay sprawling on his back, and the lady assaulted was clinging to the arm of her preserver.
'Why, it's Mab!' said the young man, in surprise.
'George!' cried Miss Arden, and burst into tears. 'Oh, George!'
'Curse you both!' growled Jentham, rising slowly. 'I'll be even with you for that blow, my lad.'
'I'll kick you into the next field if you don't clear out,' retorted George Pendle. 'Did he hurt you, Mab?'
'No! no! but I was afraid. I was at Mrs Tears, and was coming home with Ellen, when that man jumped on to us. Oh! oh! oh!'
'The villain!' cried Captain Pendle; 'who is he?'
It was at this moment that, all danger being over, Cargrim judged it judicious to emerge from his retreat. He came forward hurriedly, as though he had just arrived on the scene.
'What is the matter?' he exclaimed. 'I heard a scream. What, Captain Pendle! Miss Arden! This is indeed a surprise.'
'Captain Pendle!' cried Jentham. 'The son of the bishop. Curse him!'
George whirled his stick and made a dash at the creature, but was restrained by Mab, who implored him not to provoke further quarrels.
George took her arm within his own, gave a curt nod to the chaplain, whom he suspected had seen more of the affray than he chose to admit, and flung a word to Jentham.
'Clear out, you dog!' he said, 'or I'll hand you over to the police. Come, Mab, yonder is Ellen waiting for you. We'll join her, and I shall see you both home.'
Jentham stood looking after the three figures with a scowl. 'You'll hand me over to the police, George Pendle, will you?' he muttered, loud enough for Cargrim to overhear. 'Take care I don't do the same thing to your father,' and like a noisome and dangerous animal he crept back in the shadow of the hedge and disappeared.
'Aha!' chuckled Cargrim, as he walked towards the park gates, 'it has to do with the police, then, my lord bishop. So much the better for me, so much the worse for you.'
MORNING SERVICE IN THE MINSTER
The cathedral is the glory of Beorminster, of the county, and, indeed, of all England, since no churches surpass it in size and splendour, save the minsters of York and Canterbury. Founded and endowed by Henry II. in 1184 for the glory of God, it is dedicated to the blessed Saint Wulf of Osserton, a holy hermit of Saxon times, who was killed by the heathen Danes. Bishop Gandolf designed the building in the picturesque style of Anglo-Norman architecture; and as the original plans have been closely adhered to by successive prelates, the vast fabric is the finest example extant of the Norman superiority in architectural science. It was begun by Gandolf in 1185, and finished at the beginning of the present century; therefore, as it took six hundred years in building, every portion of it is executed in the most perfect manner. It is renowned both for its beauty and sanctity, and forms one of the most splendid memorials of architectural art and earnest faith to be found even in England, that land of fine churches.
The great central tower rises to the height of two hundred feet in square massiveness, and from this point springs a slender and graceful spire to another hundred feet, so that next to Salisbury, the great archetype of this special class of ecclesiastical architecture, it is the tallest spire in England. Two square towers, richly ornamented, embellish the western front, and beneath the great window over the central entrance is a series of canopied arches. The church is cruciform in shape, and is built of Portland stone, the whole being richly ornamented with pinnacles, buttresses, crocketted spires and elaborate tracery. Statues of saints, kings, queens and bishops are placed in niches along the northern and southern fronts, and the western front itself is sculptured with scenes from Holy Scripture in the quaint grotesque style of mediaeval art. No ivy is permitted to conceal the beauties of the building; and elevated in the clear air, far above the smoke of the town, it looks as fresh and white and clean cut as though it had been erected only within the last few years. Spared by Henry VIII. and the iconoclastic rage of the Puritans, Time alone has dealt with it; and Time has mellowed the whole to a pale amber hue which adds greatly to the beauty of the mighty fane. Beorminster Cathedral is a poem in stone.
Within, the nave and transepts are lofty and imposing, with innumerable arches springing from massive marble pillars. The rood screen is ornate, with figures of saints and patriarchs; the pavement is diversified with brasses and carved marble slabs, and several Crusaders' tombs adorn the side chapels. The many windows are mostly of stained glass, since these were not destroyed by the Puritans; and when the sun shines on a summer's day the twilight interior is dyed with rich hues and quaint patterns. As the Bishop of Beorminster is a High Churchman the altar is magnificently decorated, and during service, what with the light and colour and brilliancy, the vast building seems—unlike the dead aspect of many of its kind—to be filled with life and movement and living faith. A Romanist might well imagine that he was attending one of the magnificent and imposing services of his own faith, save that the uttered words are spoken in the mother tongue.
As became a city whose whole existence depended upon the central shrine, the services at the cathedral were invariably well attended. The preaching attracted some, the fine music many, and the imposing ritual introduced by Bishop Pendle went a great way towards bringing worshippers to the altar. A cold, frigid, undecorated service, appealing more to the intellect than the senses, would not have drawn together so vast and attentive a congregation; but the warmth and colour and musical fervour of the new ritual lured the most careless within the walls of the sacred building. Bishop Pendle was right in his estimate of human nature; for when the senses are enthralled by colour and sound, and vast spaces, and symbolic decorations the reverential feeling thus engendered prepares the mind for the reception of the sublime truths of Christianity. A pure faith and a gorgeous ritual are not so incompatible as many people think. God should be worshipped with pomp and splendour; we should bring to His service all that we can invent in the way of art and beauty. If God has prepared for those who believe the splendid habitation of the New Jerusalem with its gates of pearl and its streets of gold, why should we, His creatures, stint our gifts in His service, and debar the beautiful things, which He inspires us to create with brain and hand, from use in His holy temple? 'Out of the fulness of the heart the mouth speaketh,' and out of the fulness of the hand the giver should give. 'Date et dabitur!' The great Luther was right in applying this saying to the church.
One of the congregation at St Wulf's on this particular morning was Captain George Pendle, and he came less for the service than in the hope—after the manner of those in love—of meeting with Mab Arden. During the reading of the lessons his eyes were roving here and there in search of that beloved face, but much to his dismay he could not see it. Finally, on a chair near a pillar, he caught sight of Miss Whichello in her poke bonnet and black silk cloak, but she was alone, and there were no bright eyes beside her to send a glance in the direction of George. Having ascertained beyond all doubt that Mab was not in the church, and believing that she was unwell after the shock of Jentham's attack on the previous night, George withdrew his attention from the congregation, and settled himself to listen attentively to the anthem. It was worthy of the cathedral, and higher praise cannot be given. 'I have blotted out as a thick cloud,' sang the boy soloist in a clear sweet treble, 'I have blotted out thy transgressions, and as a cloud thy sins.' Then came the triumphant cry of the choir, borne on the rich waves of sound rolling from the organ, 'Return unto me, for I have redeemed thee.' The lofty roof reverberated with the melodious thunder, and the silvery altoes pierced through the great volume of sound like arrows of song. 'Return! Return! Return!' called the choristers louder and higher and clearer, and ended, with a magnificent burst of harmony, with the sublime proclamation, 'The Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel!' When the white-robed singers resumed their seats, the organ still continued to peal forth triumphant notes, which died away in gentle murmurs. It was like the passing by of a tempest; the stilling of the ocean after a storm.
Mr Cargrim preached the sermon, and, with a vivid recollection of his present enterprise, waxed eloquent on the ominous text, 'Be sure thy sin will find thee out.' His belief that the bishop was guilty of some crime, for the concealment of which he intended to bribe Jentham, had been strengthened by an examination on that very morning of the cheque-book. Dr Pendle had departed on horseback for Southberry after an early breakfast, and after hurriedly despatching his own, Cargrim had hastened to the library. Here, as he expected, he found the cheque-book carelessly left in an unlocked drawer of the desk, and on looking over it he found that one of the butts had been torn out. The previous butt bore a date immediately preceding that of Dr Pendle's departure for London, so Cargrim had little difficulty in concluding that the bishop had drawn the next cheque in London, and had torn out the butt to which it had been attached. This showed, as the chaplain very truly thought, that Dr Pendle was desirous of concealing not only the amount of the cheque—since he had kept no note of the sum on the butt—but of hiding the fact that the cheque had been drawn at all. This conduct, coupled with the fact of Jentham's allusion to Tom Tiddler's ground, and his snatch of extempore song, confirmed Cargrim in his suspicions that Pendle had visited London for the purpose of drawing out a large sum of money, and intended to pay the same over to Jentham that very night on Southberry Heath. With this in his mind it was no wonder that Cargrim preached a stirring sermon. He repeated his warning text over and over again; he illustrated it in the most brilliant fashion; and his appeals to those who had secret sins, to confess them at once, were quite heartrending in their pathos. As most of his congregation had their own little peccadilloes to worry over, Mr Cargrim's sermon made them quite uneasy, and created a decided sensation, much to his own gratification. If Bishop Pendle had only been seated on his throne to hear that sermon, Cargrim would have been thoroughly satisfied. But, alas! the bishop—worthy man—was confirming innocent sinners at Southberry, and thus lost any chance he might have had of profiting by his chaplain's eloquence.
However, the congregation could not be supposed to know the secret source of the chaplain's eloquence, and his withering denunciations were supposed to arise from a consciousness of his own pure and open heart. The female admirers of Cargrim particularly dwelt in after-church gossip on this presumed cause of the excellent sermon they had heard, and when the preacher appeared he was congratulated on all sides. Miss Tancred for once forgot her purse story, and absolutely squeaked, in the highest of keys, in her efforts to make the young man understand the amount of pleasure he had given her. Even Mrs Pansey was pleased to express her approval of so well chosen a text, and looked significantly at several of her friends as she remarked that she hoped they would take its warning to heart.
George came upon his father's chaplain, grinning like a heathen idol, in the midst of a tempestuous ocean of petticoats, and the bland way in which he sniffed up the incense of praise showed how grateful such homage was to his vain nature. At that moment he saw himself a future bishop, and that at no very great distance of time. Indeed, had the election of such a prelate been in the hands of his admirers, he would have been elevated that very moment to the nearest vacant episcopalian throne. Captain Pendle looked on contemptuously at this priest-worship.
'The sneaking cad!' he thought, sneering at the excellent Cargrim. 'I dare say he thinks he is the greatest man in Beorminster just now. He looks as though butter wouldn't melt in his mouth.'
There was no love lost between the chaplain and the captain, for on several occasions the latter had found Cargrim a slippery customer, and lax in his notions of honour; while the curate, knowing that he had not been clever enough to hoodwink George, hated him with all the fervour and malice of his petty soul. However, he hoped soon to have the power to wound Captain Pendle through his father, so he could afford to smile blandly in response to the young soldier's contemptuous look. And he smiled more than ever when brisk Miss Whichello, with her small face, ruddy as a winter apple, marched up and joined in the congratulations.
'In future I shall call you Boanerges, Mr Cargrim,' she cried, her bright little eyes dancing. 'You quite frightened me. I looked into my mind to see what sins I had committed.'
'And found none, I'm sure,' said the courtly chaplain.
'You would have found one if you had looked long enough,' growled Mrs Pansey, who hated the old maid as a rival practitioner amongst the poor, 'and that is, you did not bring your niece to hear the sermon. I don't call such carelessness Christianity.'
'Don't look at my sins through a microscope, Mrs Pansey. I did not bring Mab because she is not well.'
'Oh, really, dear Miss Winchello,' chimed in Daisy Norsham. 'Why, I thought that your sweet niece looked the very picture of health. All those strong, tall women do; not like poor little me.'
'You need dieting,' retorted Miss Whichello, with a disparaging glance. 'Your face is pale and pasty; if it isn't powder, it's bad digestion.'
'Miss Whichello!' cried the outraged spinster.
'I'm an old woman, my dear, and you must allow me to speak my mind. I'm sure Mrs Pansey always does.'
'You need not be so very unpleasant! No, really!'
'The truth is always unpleasant,' said Mrs Pansey, who could not forbear a thrust even at her own guest, 'but Miss Whichello doesn't often hear it,' with a dig at her rival. 'Come away, Daisy. Mr Cargrim, next time you preach take for your text, "The tongue is a two-edged sword."'
'Do, Mr Cargrim,' cried Miss Whichello, darting an angry glance at Mrs Pansey, 'and illustrate it with the one to whom it particularly applies.'
'Ladies! ladies!' remonstrated Cargrim, while both combatants ruffled their plumes like two fighting cocks, and the more timid of the spectators scuttled out of the way. How the situation would have ended it is impossible to say, as the two ladies were equally matched, but George saved it by advancing to greet Miss Whichello. When the little woman saw him, she darted forward and shook his hand with unfeigned warmth.
'My dear Captain Pendle,' she cried, 'I am so glad to see you; and thank you for your noble conduct of last night.'
'Why, Miss Whichello, it was nothing,' murmured the modest hero.
'Indeed, I must say it was very valiant,' said Cargrim, graciously. 'Do you know, ladies, that Miss Arden was attacked last night by a tramp and Captain Pendle knocked him down?'
'Oh, really! how very sweet!' cried Daisy, casting an admiring look on George's handsome face, which appealed to her appreciation of manly beauty.
'What was Miss Arden doing to place herself in the position of being attacked by a tramp?' asked Mrs Pansey, in a hard voice. 'This must be looked into.'
'Thank you, Mrs Pansey, I have looked into it myself,' said Miss Whichello. 'Captain Pendle, come home with me to luncheon and tell me all about it; Mr Cargrim, you come also.'
Both gentlemen bowed and accepted, the former because he wished to see Mab, the latter because he knew that Captain Pendle did not want him to come. As Miss Whichello moved off with her two guests, Mrs Pansey exclaimed in a loud voice,—
'Poor young men! Luncheon indeed! They will be starved. I know for a fact that she weighs out the food in scales.' Then, having had the last word, she went home in triumph.
MISS WHICHELLO'S LUNCHEON-PARTY
The little lady trotted briskly across the square, and guided her guests to a quaint old house squeezed into one corner of it. Here she had been born some sixty odd years before; here she had lived her life of spinsterhood, save for an occasional visit to London; and here she hoped to die, although at present she kept Death at a safe distance by hygienic means and dietary treatment. The house was a queer survival of three centuries, with a pattern of black oak beams let into a white-washed front. Its roof shot up into a high gable at an acute angle, and was tiled with red clay squares, mellowed by Time to the hue of rusty iron. A long lattice with diamond panes, and geraniums in flower-pots behind them, extended across the lower storey; two little jutting windows, also of the criss-cross pattern, looked like two eyes in the second storey; and high up in the third, the casement of the attic peered out coyly from under the eaves. At the top of a flight of immaculately white steps there was a squat little door painted green and adorned with a brass knocker burnished to the colour of fine gold. The railings of iron round the area were also coloured green, and the appearance of the whole exterior was as spotless and neat as Miss Whichello herself. It was an ideal house for a dainty old spinster such as she was, and rested in the very shadow of the Bishop Gandolf's cathedral like the nest of a bright-eyed wren.
'Mab, my dear!' cried the wren herself, as she led the gentlemen into the drawing-room, 'I have brought Captain Pendle and Mr Cargrim to luncheon.'
Mab arose out of a deep chair and laid aside the book she was reading. 'I saw you crossing the square, Captain Pendle,' she said, shaking his hand. 'Mr Cargrim, I am glad to see you.'
'Are you not glad to see me?' whispered George, in low tones.
'Do you need me to tell you so?' was Mab's reply, with a smile, and that smile answered his question.
'Oh, my dear, such a heavenly sermon!' cried Miss Whichello, fluttering about the room; 'it went to my very heart.'
'It could not have gone to a better place,' replied the chaplain, in the gentle voice which George particularly detested. 'I am sorry to hear you have suffered from your alarm last night, Miss Arden.'
'My nerves received rather a shock, Mr Cargrim, and I had such a bad headache that I decided to remain at home. I must receive your sermon second-hand from my aunt.'
'Why not first-hand from me?' said Cargrim, insinuatingly, whereupon Captain George pulled his moustache and looked savage.
'Oh, I won't tax your good nature so far,' rejoined Mab, laughing. 'What is it, aunty?' for the wren was still fluttering and restless.
'My dear, you must content yourself with Captain Pendle till luncheon, for I want Mr Cargrim to come into the garden and see my fig tree; real figs grow on it, Mr Cargrim,' said Miss Whichello, solemnly, 'the very first figs that have ever ripened in Beorminster.'
'I am glad it is not a barren fig tree,' said Cargrim, introducing a scriptural allusion in his most clerical manner.
'Barren indeed! it has five figs on it. Really, sitting under its shade one would fancy one was in Palestine. Do come, Mr Cargrim,' and Miss Whichello fluttered through the door like an escaping bird.
'With pleasure; the more so, as I know we shall not be missed.'
'Damn!' muttered Captain Pendle, when the door closed on Cargrim's smile and insinuating looks.
'Captain Pendle!' exclaimed Miss Arden, becomingly shocked.
'Captain Pendle indeed!' said the young man, slipping his arm round Mab; 'and why not George?'
'I thought Mr Cargrim might hear.'
'He ought to; like the ass, his ears are long enough.'
'Still, he is anything but an ass—George.'
'If he isn't an ass he's a beast,' rejoined Pendle, promptly, 'and it comes to much the same thing.'
'Well, you need not swear at him.'
'If I didn't swear I'd kick him, Mab; and think of the scandal to the Church. Cargrim's a sneaking, time-serving sycophant. I wonder my father can endure him; I can't!'
'I don't like him myself,' confessed Mab, as they seated themselves in the window-seat.
'I should—think—not!' cried Captain George, in so deliberate and disgusted a tone that Mab laughed. Whereat he kissed her and was reproved, so that both betook themselves to argument as to the righteousness or unrighteousness of kissing on a Sunday.
George Pendle was a tall, slim, and very good-looking young man in every sense of the word. He was as fair as Mab was dark, with bright blue eyes and a bronzed skin, against which his smartly-pointed moustache appeared by contrast almost white. With his upright figure, his alert military air, and merry smile, he looked an extremely handsome and desirable lover; and so Mab thought, although she reproved him with orthodox modesty for snatching a kiss unasked. But if men had to request favours of this sort, there would not be much kissing in the world. Moreover, stolen kisses, like stolen fruit, have a piquant flavour of their own.
The quaint old drawing-room, with its low ceiling and twilight atmosphere, was certainly an ideal place for love-making. It was furnished with chairs, and tables, and couches, which had done duty in the days of Miss Whichello's grandparents; and if the carpet was old, so much the better, for its once brilliant tints had faded into soft hues more restful to the eye. In one corner stood the grandfather of all pianos, with a front of drawn green silk fluted to a central button; beside it a prim canterbury, filled with primly-bound books of yellow-paged music, containing, 'The Battle of the Prague,' 'The Maiden's Prayer,' 'Cherry Ripe,' and 'The Canary Bird's Quadrilles.' Such tinkling melodies had been the delight of Miss Whichello's youth, and—as she had a fine finger for the piano (her own observation)—she sometimes tinkled them now on the jingling old piano when old friends came to see her. Also there were Chippendale cupboards with glass doors, filled with a most wonderful collection of old china—older even than their owner; Chinese jars heaped up with dried rose leaves spreading around a perfume of dead summers; bright silken screens from far Japan; foot-stools and fender-stools worked in worsted which tripped up the unwary; and a number of oil-paintings valuable rather for age than beauty. None of your modern flimsy drawing-rooms was Miss Whichello's, but a dear, delightful, cosy room full of faded splendours and relics of the dead and gone so dearly beloved. From the yellow silk fire-screen swinging on a rosewood pole, to the drowsy old canary chirping feebly in his brass cage at the window, all was old-world and marvellously proper and genteel. Withal, a quiet, perfumed room, delightful to make love in, to the most beautiful woman in the world, as Captain George Pendle knew very well.
'Though it really isn't proper for you to kiss me,' observed Mab, folding her slender hands on her white gown. 'You know we are not engaged.'
'I know nothing of the sort, my dearest prude. You are the only woman I ever intend to marry. Have you any objections? If so, I should like to hear them.'
'I am two years older than you, George.'
'A man is as old as he looks, a woman as she feels. I am quite convinced, Miss Arden, that you feel nineteen years of age, so the disparity rests rather on my shoulders than on yours.'
'You don't look old,' laughed Mab, letting her hand lie in that of her lover's.
'But I feel old—old enough to marry you, my dear. What is your next objection?'
'Your father does not know that you love me.'
'My mother does; Lucy does; and with two women to persuade him, my dear, kind old father will gladly consent to the match.'
'I have no money.'
'My dearest, neither have I. Two negatives make an affirmative, and that affirmative is to be uttered by you when I ask if I may tell the bishop that you are willing to become a soldier's wife.'
'Oh, George!' cried Mab, anxiously, 'it is a very serious matter. You know how particular your father is about birth and family. My parents are dead; I never knew them; for my father died before I was born, and my mother followed him to the grave when I was a year old. If my dear mother's sister had not taken charge of me and brought me up, I should very likely have gone on the parish; for—as aunty says—my parents were paupers.'
'My lovely pauper, what is all this to me? Here is your answer to all the nonsense you have been talking,' and George, with the proverbial boldness of a soldier, laid a fond kiss on the charming face so near to his own.
'Oh, George!' began the scandalised Mab, for the fifth time at least, and was about to reprove her audacious lover again, when Miss Whichello bustled into the room, followed by the black shadow of the parson. George and Mab sprang apart with alacrity, and each wondered, while admiring the cathedral opposite, if Miss Whichello or Cargrim had heard the sound of that stolen kiss. Apparently the dear, unsuspecting old Jenny Wren had not, for she hopped up to the pair in her bird-like fashion, and took George's arm.
'Come, good people,' she said briskly, 'luncheon is ready; and so are your appetites, I've no doubt. Mr Cargrim, take in my niece.'
In five minutes the quartette were seated round a small table in Miss Whichello's small dining-room. The apartment was filled with oak furniture black with age and wondrously carved; the curtains and carpet and cushions were of faded crimson rep, and as the gaily-striped sun-blinds were down, the whole was enwrapped in a sober brown atmosphere restful to the eye and cool to the skin. The oval table was covered with a snow-white cloth, on which sparkled silver and crystal round a Nankin porcelain bowl of blue and white filled with deep red roses. The dinner-plates were of thin china, painted with sprawling dragons in yellow and green; the food, in spite of Mrs Pansey's report, was plentiful and dainty, and the wines came from the stock laid down by the father of the hostess in the days when dignitaries of the Church knew what good wine was. It is true that a neat pair of brass scales was placed beside Miss Whichello, but she used them to weigh out such portions of food as she judged to be needful for herself, and did not mar her hospitality by interfering with the appetites of her guests. The repast was tempting, the company congenial, and the two young men enjoyed themselves greatly. Miss Whichello was an entertainer worth knowing, if only for her cook.
'Mab, my dear,' cried the lively old lady, 'I am ashamed of your appetite. Don't you feel better for your morning's rest?'
'Much better, thank you, aunty, but it is too hot to eat.'
'Try some salad, my love; it is cool and green, and excellent for the blood. If I had my way, people should eat more green stuff than they do.'
'Like so many Nebuchadnezzars,' suggested Cargrim, always scriptural.
'Well, some kinds of grass are edible, you know, Mr Cargrim; although we need not go on all fours to eat them as he did.'
'So many people would need to revert to their natural characters of animals if that custom came in,' said George, smiling.
'A certain great poet remarked that everyone had a portion of the nature of some animal,' observed Cargrim, 'especially women.'
'Then Mrs Pansey is a magpie,' cried Mab, with an arch look at her aunt.
'She is a magpie, and a fox, and a laughing hyaena, my dear.'
'Oh, aunty, what a trinity!'
'I suppose, Cargrim, all you black-coated parsons are rooks,' said George.
'No doubt, captain; and you soldiers are lions.'
'Aunty is a Jenny Wren!'
'And Mab is a white peacock,' said Miss Whichello, with a nod.
'Captain Pendle, protect me,' laughed Miss Arden. 'I decline to be called a peacock.'
'You are a golden bird of paradise, Miss Arden.'
'Ah, that is a pretty compliment, Captain Pendle. Thank you!'
While George laughed, Cargrim, rather tired of these zoological comparisons, strove to change the subject by an allusion to the adventure of the previous night. 'The man who attacked you was certainly a wolf,' he said decisively.
'Who was the man?' asked Miss Whichello, carefully weighing herself some cheese.
'Some tramp who had been in the wars,' replied George, carelessly; 'a discharged soldier, I daresay. At least, he had a long red scar on his villainous-looking face. I saw it in the moonlight, marking him as with the brand of Cain.'
'A scar!' repeated Miss Whichello, in so altered a tone that Cargrim stared at her, and hastened to explain further, so as to learn, if possible, the meaning of her strange look.
'A scar on the right cheek,' he said slowly, 'from the ear to the mouth.'
'What kind of a looking man is he?' asked the old lady, pushing away her plate with a nervous gesture.
'Something like a gipsy—lean, tall and swarthy, with jet-black eyes and an evil expression. He talks like an educated person.'
'You seem to know all about him, Cargrim,' said Captain Pendle, in some surprise, while Miss Whichello, her rosy face pale and scared, sat silently staring at the tablecloth.
'I have several times been to an hotel called The Derby Winner,' explained the chaplain, 'to see a sick woman; and there I came across this scamp several times. He stays there, I believe!'
'What is his name?' asked Miss Whichello, hoarsely.
'Jentham, I have been informed.'
'Jentham! I don't know the name.'
'I don't suppose you know the man either, aunty?'
'No, my love,' replied Miss Whichello, in a low voice. 'I don't suppose I know the man either. Is he still at The Derby Winner, Mr Cargrim?'
'I believe so; he portions his time between that hotel and a gipsy camp on Southberry Common.'
'What is he doing here?'
'Really, my dear lady, I do not know.'
'Aunty, one would think you knew the man,' said Mab, amazed at her aunt's emotion.
'No, Mab, I do not,' said Miss Whichello, vehemently; more so than the remark warranted. 'But if he attacks people on the high road he should certainly be shut up. Well, good people,' she added, with an attempt at her former lively manner, 'if you are finished we will return to the drawing-room.'
All attempts to restore the earlier harmony of the visit failed, for the conversation languished and Miss Whichello was silent and distraught. The young men shortly took their leave, and the old lady seemed glad to be rid of them. Outside, George and Cargrim separated, as neither was anxious for the other's company. As the chaplain walked to the palace he reflected on the strange conduct of Miss Whichello.
'She knows something about Jentham,' he thought. 'I wonder if she has a secret also.'
BELL MOSK PAYS A VISIT
Although the palace was so near Beorminster, and the sphere of Gabriel's labours lay in the vicinity of the cathedral, Bishop Pendle did not judge it wise that his youngest son should dwell beneath the paternal roof. To teach him independence, to strengthen his will and character, and because he considered that a clergyman should, to a certain extent, share the lot of those amongst whom he laboured, the bishop arranged that Gabriel should inhabit lodgings in the old town, not far from The Derby Winner. It was by reason of this contiguity that Gabriel became acquainted with the handsome barmaid of the hotel, and as he was a more weak-natured man than his father dreamed of, it soon came about that he fell in love with the girl. Matters between them had gone much further than even Cargrim with all his suspicions guessed, for in the skilful hands of Miss Mosk the curate was as clay, and for some time he had been engaged to his charmer. No one knew this, not even Mrs Mosk, for the fair Bell was quite capable of keeping a secret; but Gabriel was firmly bound to her by honour, and Bell possessed a ring, which she kept in the drawer of her looking-glass and wore in secret, as symbolic of an engagement she did not dare to reveal.
On Sunday evening she arrayed herself in her best garments, and putting on this ring, told her mother that she was going to church. At first Mrs Mosk feebly objected, as her husband was away in Southberry and would not be back all night; but as Bell declared that she wanted some amusement after working hard at pulling beer all the week, Mrs Mosk gave way. She did not approve of Bell's mention of evening service as amusement, but she did approve of her going to church, so when the young lady had exhibited herself to the invalid in all her finery, she went away in the greatest good-humour. As the evening was hot, she had put on a dress of pale blue muslin adorned with white ribbons, a straw hat with many flowers and feathers, and to finish off her costume, her gloves and shoes and sunshade were white. As these cool colours rather toned down the extreme red of her healthy complexion, she really looked very well; and when Gabriel saw her seated in a pew near the pulpit, behaving as demurely as a cat that is after cream, he could not but think how pretty and pious she was. It was probably the first time that piety had ever been associated with Bell's character, although she was not a bad girl on the whole; but that Gabriel should gift her with such a quality showed how green and innocent he was as regards the sex.
The church in which he preached was an ancient building at the foot of the hill, crowned by the cathedral. It was built of rough, grey stone, in the Norman style of architecture, and very little had been done to adorn it either within or without, as the worshippers were few and poor, and Low Church in their tendencies. Those who liked pomp and colour and ritual could find all three in the minster, so there was no necessity to hold elaborate services in this grey, cold, little chapel. In her heart Bell preferred the cathedral with its music and choir, its many celebrants and fashionable congregation, but out of diplomacy she came to sit under Gabriel and follow him as her spiritual guide. Nevertheless, she thought less of him in this capacity, than as a future husband likely to raise her to a position worthy of her beauty and merits, of both of which she entertained a most excellent opinion.
As usual, the pews were half empty, but Gabriel, being a devout parson, performed the service with much earnestness. He read the lessons, lent his voice to the assistance of the meagre choir, and preached a short but sensible discourse which pleased everyone. Bell did not hear much of it, for her mind was busy with hopes that Gabriel would shortly induce his father to receive her as a daughter-in-law. It is true that she saw difficulties in the way, but, to a clever woman like herself, she did not think them unconquerable. Having gone so far as to engage herself to the young man, she was determined to go to the whole length and benefit as much as possible for her sacrifice—as she thought it—of accepting the somewhat trying position of a curate's wife. With her bold good looks and aggressive love of dress and amusement, Bell was hardly the type likely to do credit to a parsonage. But any doubts on that score never entered her vain mind.
When the service was over, and the sparse congregation had dwindled away, she went round to the vestry and asked Jarper, the cross old verger, if she could see Mr Pendle. Jarper, who took a paternal interest in the curate, and did not like Miss Mosk over much, since she stinted him of his full measure of beer when he patronised her father's hotel, replied in surly tones that Mr Pendle was tired and would see no one.
'But I must see him,' persisted Bell, who was as obstinate as a mule. 'My mother is very ill.'
'Then why don't ye stay t'ome and look arter her?'
'She sent me out to ask Mr Pendle to see her, and I want none of your insolence, Jacob Jarper.'
'Don't 'ee be bold, Miss Mosk. I hev bin verger here these sixty year, I hev, an' I don't want to be told my duty by sich as you.'
'Such as me indeed!' cried Bell, with a flash of the paternal temper. 'If I wasn't a lady I'd give you a piece of my mind.'
'He! he!' chuckled Jarper, ''pears as yer all ladies by your own way of showin'. Not that y'ain't 'andsome—far be it from me to say as you ain't—but Muster Pendle—well, that's a different matter.'
At this moment Gabriel put an end to what threatened to develop into a quarrel by appearing at the vestry door. On learning that Mrs Mosk wished to see him, he readily consented to accompany Bell, but as he had some business to attend to at the church before he went, he asked Bell to wait for a few minutes.
'I'll be some little time, Jarper,' said he kindly to the sour old verger, 'so if you give me the keys I'll lock up and you can go home to your supper.'
'I am hungry, Muster Pendle,' confessed Jarper, 'an' it ain't at my time of life as old folk shud starve. I've locked up the hull church 'ceptin' the vestry door, an' 'eres th' key of't. Be careful with the light an' put it out, Muster Pendle, for if you burns down the church, what good is fine sermons, I'd like to know?'
'It will be all right, Jarper. I'll give you the key to-morrow. Good-night!'
'Good-night, Jarper!' chimed in Bell, in her most stately manner.
'Thankee, Muster Pendle, good-night, but I don't want no beer fro' you this evening, Miss Bell Mosk,' growled the old man, and chuckling over this exhibition of wit he hobbled away to his supper.
'These common people are most insolent,' said Bell, with an affectation of fine ladyism. 'Let us go into the vestry, Gabriel, I wish to speak to you. Oh, you needn't look so scared; there's nobody about, now that old Dot-and-carry-one has gone'—this last in allusion to Jarper's lameness.
'Bell, please, don't use such language,' remonstrated Gabriel, as he conducted her into the vestry; 'someone might hear.'
'I don't care if someone does,' retorted Miss Mosk, taking a chair near the flaring, spluttering gas jet, 'but I tell you there is no one about. I wouldn't be here alone with you if there were. I'm as careful of my own reputation as I am of yours, I can tell you.'
'Is your mother ill again?' asked Gabriel, arranging some sheets of paper on the table and changing the conversation.
'Oh, she's no better and no worse. But you'd better come and see her, so that folks won't be talking of my having spoken to you. A cat can't look at a jug in this town without they think she's after the cream.'
'You wish to speak with me, Bell?'
'Yes, I do; come and sit 'longside of me.'
Gabriel, being very much in love, obeyed with the greatest willingness, and when he sat down under the gas jet would have taken Bell in his arms, but that she evaded his clasp. 'There's no time for anything of that sort, my dear,' said she sharply; 'we've got to talk business, you and I, we have.'
'Business! About our engagement?'
'You've hit it, Gabriel; that's the business I wish to understand. How long is this sort of thing going on?'
'What sort of thing?'
'Now, don't pretend to misunderstand me,' cried Bell, with acerbity, 'or you and I shall fall out of the cart. What sort of thing indeed! Why, my engagement to you being kept secret; your pretending to visit mother when it's me you want; my being obliged to hide the ring you gave me from father's eyes; that's the sort of thing, Mr Gabriel Pendle.'
'I know it is a painful position, dearest, but—'
'Painful position!' echoed the girl, contemptuously. 'Oh, I don't care two straws about the painful position. It's the danger I'm thinking about.'
'Danger! What do you mean? Danger from whom?'
'From Mrs Pansey; from Mr Cargrim. She guesses a lot and he knows more than is good for either you or I. I don't want to lose my character.'
'Bell! no one dare say a word against your character.'
'I should think not,' retorted Miss Mosk, firing up. 'I'd have the law on them if they did. I can look after myself, I hope, and there's no man I know likely to get the better of me. I don't say I'm an aristocrat, Gabriel, but I'm an honest girl, and as good a lady as any of them. I'll make you a first-class wife in spite of my bringing up.'
Gabriel kissed her. 'My darling Bell, you are the sweetest and cleverest woman in the world. You know how I adore you.'
Bell knew very well, for she was sharp enough to distinguish between genuine and spurious affection. Strange as it may appear, the refined and educated young clergyman was deeply in love with this handsome, bold woman of the people. Some lovers of flowers prefer full blown-roses, ripe and red, to the most exquisite buds. Gabriel's tastes were the same, and he admired the florid beauty of Bell with all the ardour of his young and impetuous heart. He was blind to her liking for incongruous colours in dress: he was deaf to her bold expressions and defects in grammar. What lured him was her ripe, rich, exuberant beauty; what charmed him was the flash of her white teeth and the brilliancy of her eyes when she smiled; what dominated him was her strong will and practical way of looking on worldly affairs. Opposite natures are often attracted to one another by the very fact that they are so undeniably unlike, and the very characteristics in Bell which pleased Gabriel were those which he lacked himself.
Undoubtedly he loved her, but, it may be asked, did she love him? and that is the more difficult question to answer. Candidly speaking, Bell had an affection for Gabriel. She liked his good looks, his refined voice, his very weakness of character was not unpleasing to her. But she did not love him sufficiently to marry him for himself alone. What she wished to marry was the gentleman, the clergyman, the son of the Bishop of Beorminster, and unless Gabriel could give her all the pleasures and delights attendant on his worldly position, she was not prepared to become Mrs Gabriel Pendle. It was to make this clear to him, to clinch the bargain, to show that she was willing to barter her milkmaid beauty and strong common sense for his position and possible money, that she had come to see him. Not being bemused with love, Bell Mosk was thoroughly practical, and so spoke very much to the point. Never was there so prosaic an interview.
'Well, it just comes to this,' she said determinedly, 'I'm not going to be kept in the background serving out beer any longer. If I am worth marrying I am worth acknowledging, and that's just what you've got to do, Gabriel.'
'But my father!' faltered Gabriel, nervously, for he saw in a flash the difficulties of his position.
'What about your father? He can't eat me, can he?'
'He can cut me off with a shilling, my dear. And that's just what he will do if he knows I'm engaged to you. Surely, Bell, with your strong common sense, you can see that for yourself!'
'Of course I see it,' retorted Bell, sharply, for the speech was not flattering to her vanity; 'all the same, something must be done.'
'We must wait.'
'I'm sick of waiting.'
Gabriel rose to his feet and began to pace to and fro. 'You cannot desire our marriage more than I do,' he said fondly. 'I wish to make you my wife in as public a manner as possible. But you know I have only a small income as a curate, and you would not wish us to begin life on a pittance.'
'I should think not. I've had enough of cutting and contriving. But how do you intend to get enough for us to marry on?'
'My father has promised me the rectorship of Heathcroft. The present incumbent is old and cannot possibly live long.'