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The Nebuly Coat
by John Meade Falkner
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"Is the water boiling, my dear?" she asked, sitting down at the kitchen table. "I should like to have tea to-day before the gentlemen come in, if you do not mind. The weather is quite oppressive, and the schoolroom was very close because we only had one window open. Poor Mrs Bulteel is so subject to take cold from draughts, and I very nearly fell asleep while she was reading."

"I will get tea at once," Anastasia said; and then added, in a tone of fine unconcern: "There is a gentleman waiting upstairs to see Mr Westray."

"My dear," Miss Joliffe exclaimed deprecatingly, "how could you let anyone in when I was not at home? It is exceedingly dangerous with so many doubtful characters about. There is Mr Westray's presentation inkstand, and the flower-picture for which I have been offered so much money. Valuable paintings are often cut out of their frames; one never has an idea what thieves may do."

There was the faintest trace of a smile about Anastasia's lips.

"I do not think we need trouble about that, dear Aunt Phemie, because I am sure he is a gentleman. Here is his card. Look!" She handed Miss Joliffe the insignificant little piece of white cardboard that held so momentous a secret, and watched her aunt put on her spectacles to read it.

Miss Joliffe focussed the card. There were only two words printed on it, only "Lord Blandamer" in the most unpretending and simple characters, but their effect was magical. Doubt and suspicion melted suddenly away, and a look of radiant surprise overspread her countenance, such as would have become a Constantine at the vision of the Labarum. She was a thoroughly unworldly woman, thinking little of the things of this life in general, and keeping her affections on that which is to come, with the constancy and realisation that is so often denied to those possessed of larger temporal means. Her views as to right and wrong were defined and inflexible; she would have gone to the stake most cheerfully rather than violate them, and unconsciously lamented perhaps that civilisation has robbed the faithful of the luxury of burning. Yet with all this were inextricably bound up certain little weaknesses among which figured a fondness for great names, and a somewhat exaggerated consideration for the lofty ones of this earth. Had she been privileged to be within the same four walls as a peer at a bazaar or missionary meeting, she would have revelled in a great opportunity; but to find Lord Blandamer under her own roof was a grace so wondrous and surprising as almost to overwhelm her.

"Lord Blandamer!" she faltered, as soon as she had collected herself a little. "I hope Mr Westray's room was tidy. I dusted it thoroughly this morning, but I wish he had given some notice of his intention to call. I should be so vexed if he found anything dusty. What is he doing, Anastasia? Did he say he would wait till Mr Westray came back?"

"He said he would write a note for Mr Westray. I found him writing things."

"I hope you gave his lordship Mr Westray's presentation inkstand."

"No, I did not think of that; but there was the little black inkstand, and plenty of ink in it."

"Dear me, dear me!" Miss Joliffe said, ruminating on so extraordinary a position, "to think that Lord Blandamer, whom no one has ever seen, should have come to Cullerne at last, and is now in this very house. I will just change this bonnet for my Sunday one," she added, looking at herself in the glass, "and then tell his lordship how very welcome he is, and ask him if I can get anything for him. He will see at once, from my bonnet, that I have only just returned, otherwise it would appear to him very remiss of me not to have paid him my respects before. Yes, I think it is undoubtedly more fitting to appear in a bonnet."

Anastasia was a little perturbed at the idea of her aunt's interview with Lord Blandamer. She pictured to herself Miss Joliffe's excess of zeal, the compliments which she would think it necessary to shower upon him the marked attention and homage which he might interpret as servility, though it was only intended as a proper deference to exalted rank. Anastasia was quite unaccountably anxious that the family should appear to the distinguished visitor in as favourable a light as possible, and thought for a moment of trying to persuade Miss Joliffe that there was no need for her to see Lord Blandamer at all, unless he summoned her. But she was of a philosophic temperament, and in a moment had rebuked her own folly. What could any impression of Lord Blandamer's matter to her? she would probably never see him again unless she opened the door when he went out. Why should he think anything at all about a commonplace lodging-house, and its inmates? And if such trivial matters did ever enter his thoughts, a man so clever as he would make allowance for those of a different station to himself, and would see what a good woman her aunt was in spite of any little mannerisms.

So she made no remonstrance, but sat heroically quiet in her chair, and re-opened "Northanger Abbey" with a determination to entirely forget Lord Blandamer, and the foolish excitement which his visit had created.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

Miss Joliffe must have had a protracted conversation with Lord Blandamer. To Anastasia, waiting in the kitchen, it seemed as if her aunt would never come down. She devoted herself to "Northanger Abbey" with fierce resolution, but though her eyes followed the lines of type, she had no idea what she was reading, and found herself at last turning the pages so frequently and with so much rustling as to disturb her own reverie. Then she shut the book with a bang, got up from her chair, and paced the kitchen till her aunt came back.

Miss Joliffe was full of the visitor's affability.

"It is always the way with these really great people, my dear," she said with effusion. "I have always noticed that the nobility are condescending; they adapt themselves so entirely to their surroundings." Miss Joliffe fell into a common hyperbole in qualifying an isolated action as a habit. She had never before been brought face to face with a peer, yet she represented her first impression of Lord Blandamer's manner as if it were a mature judgment based upon long experience of those of his rank and position.

"I insisted on his using the presentation inkstand, and took away that shabby little black thing; and I could see at once that the silver one was far more like what he had been accustomed to use. He seemed to know something about us, and even asked if the young lady who had shown him in was my niece. That was you; he meant you, Anastasia; he asked if it was you. I think he must have met dear Martin somewhere, but I really was so agitated by such a very unexpected visit that I scarcely took in all he said. Yet he was so careful all the time to put me at my ease that at last I ventured to ask him if he would take some light refreshment. 'My lord,' I said, 'may I be so bold as to offer your lordship a cup of tea? It would be a great honour if you would partake of our humble hospitality.' And what do you think he answered, my dear? 'Miss Joliffe'—and he had such a winning look—'there is nothing I should like better. I am very tired with walking about in the church, and have still some little time to wait, for I am going to London by the evening train.' Poor young man! (for Lord Blandamer was still young in Cullerne, which had only known his octogenarian predecessor) he is no doubt called to London on some public business—the House of Lords, or the Court, or something like that. I wish he would take as much care of himself as he seems to take for others. He looks so very tired, and a sad face too, Anastasia, and yet is most considerate. 'I should like a cup of tea very much'—those were his exact words—'but you must not trouble to come all the way upstairs again to bring it to me. Let me come down and take it with you.'

"'Forgive me, my lord,' was my answer, 'but I could not permit that. Our establishment is much too homely, and I shall feel it a privilege to wait on you, if you will kindly excuse my walking-clothes, as I have just come back from an afternoon meeting. My niece often wishes to relieve me, but I tell her my old legs are more active than her young ones even still.'"

Anastasia's cheeks were red, but she said nothing, and her aunt went on: "So I will take him some tea at once. You can make it, my dear, if you like, but put a great deal more in than we use ourselves. The upper classes have no call to practise economy in such matters, and he is no doubt used to take his tea very strong. I think Mr Sharnall's teapot is the best, and I will get out the silver sugar-tongs and one of the spoons with the 'J' on them."

As Miss Joliffe was taking up the tea, she met Westray in the hall. He had just come back from the church, and was not a little concerned at his landlady's greeting. She put down her tray, and, with a fateful gesture and an "Oh, Mr Westray, what do you think?" beckoned him aside into Mr Sharnall's room. His first impression was that some grave accident had happened, that the organist was dead, or that Anastasia Joliffe had sprained an ankle; and he was relieved to hear the true state of affairs. He waited a few minutes while Miss Joliffe took the visitor his tea, and then went upstairs himself.

Lord Blandamer rose.

"I must apologise," he said, "for making myself at home in your room; but I hope your landlady may have explained who I am, and how I come to take so great a liberty. I am naturally interested in Cullerne and all that concerns it, and hope ere long to get better acquainted with the place—and the people," he added as an after-thought. "At present I know disgracefully little about it, but that is due to my having been abroad for many years; I only came back a few months ago. But I need not bother you with all this; what I really wanted was to ask you if you would give me some idea of the scheme of restoration which it is proposed to undertake at the minster. Until last week I had not heard that anything of the kind was in contemplation."

His tone was measured, and a clear, deep, voice gave weight and sincerity to his words. His clean-shaven face and olive complexion, his regular features and dark eyebrows, suggested a Spaniard to Westray as he spoke, and the impression was strengthened by the decorous and grave courtesy of his manner.

"I shall be delighted to explain anything I can," said the architect, and took down a bundle of plans and papers from a shelf.

"I fear I shall not be able to do much this evening," Lord Blandamer said; "for I have to catch the train to London in a short time; but, if you will allow me, I will take an early opportunity of coming over again. We might then, perhaps, go to the church together. The building has a great fascination for me, not only on account of its own magnificence, but also from old associations. When I was a boy, and sometimes a very unhappy boy, I used often to come over from Fording, and spend hours rambling about the minster. Its winding staircases, its dark wall-passages, its mysterious screens and stalls, brought me romantic dreams, from which I think I have never entirely wakened. I am told the building stands in need of extensive restoration, though to the outsider it looks much the same as ever. It always had a dilapidated air."

Westray gave a short outline of what it was considered should ultimately be done, and of what it was proposed to attack for the present.

"You see, we have our work cut out for us," he said. "The transept roof is undoubtedly the most urgent matter, but there are lots of other things that cannot be left to themselves for long. I have grave doubts about the stability of the tower, though my Chief doesn't share them to anything like the same extent: and perhaps that is just as well, for we are hampered on every side by lack of funds. They are going to have a bazaar next week to try to give the thing a lift, but a hundred bazaars would not produce half that is wanted."

"I gathered that there were difficulties of this kind," the visitor said reflectively. "As I came out of the church after service to-day I met the organist. He had no idea who I was, but gave his views very strongly as to Lord Blandamer's responsibilities for things in general, and for the organ in particular. We are, I suppose, under some sort of moral obligation for the north transept, from having annexed it as a burying-place. It used to be called, I fancy, the Blandamer Aisle."

"Yes, it is called so still," Westray answered. He was glad to see the turn the conversation had taken, and hoped that a deus ex machina had appeared. Lord Blandamer's next question was still more encouraging.

"At what do you estimate the cost of the transept repairs?"

Westray ran through his papers till he found a printed leaflet with a view of Cullerne Minster on the outside.

"Here are Sir George Farquhar's figures," he said. "This was a circular that was sent everywhere to invite subscriptions, but it scarcely paid the cost of printing. No one will give a penny to these things nowadays. Here it is, you see—seven thousand eight hundred pounds for the north transept."

There was a little pause. Westray did not look up, being awkwardly conscious that the sum was larger than Lord Blandamer had anticipated, and fearing that such an abrupt disclosure might have damped the generosity of an intended contributor.

Lord Blandamer changed the subject.

"Who is the organist? I rather liked his manner, for all he took me so sharply, if impersonally, to task. He seems a clever musician, but his instrument is in a shocking state."

"He is a very clever organist," Westray answered. It was evident that Lord Blandamer was in a subscribing frame of mind, and if his generosity did not extend to undertaking the cost of the transept, he might at least give something towards the organ. The architect tried to do his friend Mr Sharnall a service. "He is a very clever organist," he repeated; "his name is Sharnall, and he lodges in this house. Shall I call him? Would you like to ask him about the organ?"

"Oh no, not now; I have so little time; another day we can have a chat. Surely a very little money—comparatively little money, I mean—would put the organ in proper repair. Did they never approach my grandfather, the late Lord Blandamer, on the question of funds for these restorations?"

Westray's hopes of a contribution were again dashed, and he felt a little contemptuous at such evasions. They came with an ill grace after Lord Blandamer's needlessly affectionate panegyric of the church.

"Yes," he said; "Canon Parkyn, the Rector here, wrote to the late Lord Blandamer begging for a subscription to the restoration fund for the church, but never got any answer."

Westray flung something like a sneer into his tone, and was already sorry for his ungracious words before he had finished speaking. But the other seemed to take no offence, where some would have been offended.

"Ah," he said, "my grandfather was no doubt a very sad old man indeed. I must go now, or I shall miss my train. You shall introduce me to Mr Sharnall the next time I come to Cullerne; I have your promise, remember, to take me over the church. Is it not so?"

"Yes—oh yes, certainly," Westray said, though with less cordiality perhaps than he had used on the previous occasion. He was disappointed that Lord Blandamer had promised no subscription, and accompanied him to the foot of the stairs with much the same feelings as a shop-assistant entertains for the lady who, having turned over goods for half an hour, retreats with the promise that she will consider the matter and call again.

Miss Joliffe had been waiting on the kitchen stairs, and so was able to meet Lord Blandamer in the hall quite accidentally. She showed him out of the front-door with renewed professions of respect, for she knew nothing of his niggardly evasions of a subscription, and in her eyes a lord was still a lord. He added the comble to all his graces and courtesies by shaking her hand as he left the house, and expressing a hope that she would be so kind as to give him another cup of tea, the very next time he was in Cullerne.

The light was failing as Lord Blandamer descended the flight of steps outside the door of Bellevue Lodge. The evening must have closed in earlier than usual, for very soon after the visitor had gone upstairs Anastasia found it too dark to read in the kitchen; so she took her book, and sat in the window-seat of Mr Sharnall's room.

It was a favourite resort of hers, both when Mr Sharnall was out, and also when he was at home; for he had known her from childhood, and liked to watch the graceful girlish form as she read quietly while he worked at his music. The deep window-seat was panelled in painted deal, and along the side of it hung a faded cushion, which could be turned over on to the sill when the sash was thrown up, so as to form a rest for the arms of anyone who desired to look out on a summer evening.

The window was still open, though it was dusk; but Anastasia's head, which just appeared above the sill, was screened from observation by a low blind. This blind was formed of a number of little green wooden slats, faded and blistered by the suns of many summers, and so arranged that, by the turning of a brass, urn-shaped knob, they could be made to open and afford a prospect of the outer world to anyone sitting inside.

It had been for some time too dark for Anastasia to read, but she still sat in the window-seat; and as she heard Lord Blandamer come down the stairs, she turned the brass urn so as to command a view of the street. She felt herself blushing in the dusk, at the reiterated and voluminous compliments which her aunt was paying in the hall. She blushed because Westray's tone was too off-handed and easy towards so important a personage to please her critical mood; and then she blushed again at her own folly in blushing. The front-door shut at last, and the gaslight fell on Lord Blandamer's active figure and straight, square shoulders as he went down the steps. Three thousand years before, another maiden had looked between the doorpost and the door, at the straight broad back of another great stranger as he left her father's palace; but Anastasia was more fortunate than Nausicaa, for there is no record that Ulysses cast any backward glance as he walked down to the Phaeacian ship, and Lord Blandamer did turn and look back.

He turned and looked back; he seemed to Anastasia to look between the little blistered slats into her very eyes. Of course, he could not have guessed that a very foolish girl, the niece of a very foolish landlady in a very commonplace lodging-house, in a very commonplace country town, was watching him behind a shutter; but he turned and looked, and Anastasia stayed for half an hour after he had gone, thinking of the hard and clean-cut face that she had seen for an instant in the flickering gaslight.

It was a hard face, and as she sat in the dark with closed eyes, and saw that face again and again in her mind, she knew that it was hard. It was hard—it was almost cruel. No, it was not cruel, but only recklessly resolved, with a resolution that would not swerve from cruelty, if cruelty were needed to accomplish its purpose. Thus she reasoned in the approved manner of fiction. She knew that such reasonings were demanded of heroines. A heroine must be sadly unworthy of her lofty role if she could not with a glance unmask even the most enigmatic countenance, and trace the passions writ in it, clearly as a page of "Reading without Tears." And was she, Anastasia, to fall short in such a simple craft? No, she had measured the man's face in a moment; it was resolved, even to cruelty. It was hard, but ah! how handsome! and she remembered how the grey eyes had met hers and blinded them with power, when she first saw him on the doorstep. Wondrous musings, wondrous thought-reading, by a countrified young lady in her teens; but is it not out of the mouths of babes and sucklings that strength has been eternally ordained?

She was awakened from her reverie by the door being flung open, and she leapt from her perch as Mr Sharnall entered the room.

"Heyday! heyday!" he said, "what have we here? Fire out, and window open; missy dreaming of Sir Arthur Bedevere, and catching a cold—a very poetic cold in the head."

His words jarred on her mood like the sharpening of a slate-pencil. She said nothing, but brushed by him, shut the door behind her, and left him muttering in the dark.

The excitement of Lord Blandamer's visit had overtaxed Miss Joliffe. She took the gentlemen their supper—and Mr Westray was supping in Mr Sharnall's room that evening—and assured Anastasia that she was not in the least tired. But ere long she was forced to give up this pretence, and to take refuge in a certain high-backed chair with ears, which stood in a corner of the kitchen, and was only brought into use in illness or other emergency. The bell rang for supper to be taken away, but Miss Joliffe was fast asleep, and did not hear it. Anastasia was not allowed to "wait" under ordinary circumstances, but her aunt must not be disturbed when she was so tired, and she took the tray herself and went upstairs.

"He is a striking-looking man enough," Westray was saying as she entered the room; "but I must say he did not impress me favourably in other respects. He spoke too enthusiastically about the church. It would have sat on him with a very good grace if he had afterwards come down with five hundred pounds, but ecstasies are out of place when a man won't give a halfpenny to turn them into reality."

"He is a chip of the old block," said the organist.

"'Leap year's February twenty-nine days, And on the thirtieth Blandamer pays.'

"That's a saw about here. Well, I rubbed it into him this afternoon, and all the harder because I hadn't the least idea who he was."

There was a fierce colour in Anastasia's cheeks as she packed the dirty plates and supper debris into the tray, and a fiercer feeling in her heart. She tried hard to conceal her confusion, and grew more confused in the effort. The organist watched her closely, without ever turning his eyes in her direction. He was a cunning little man, and before the table was cleared had guessed who was the hero of those dreams, from which he had roused her an hour earlier.

Westray waved away with his hand a puff of smoke which drifted into his face from Mr Sharnall's pipe.

"He asked me whether anyone had ever approached the old lord about the restoration, and I said the Rector had written, and never got an answer."

"It wasn't to the old lord he wrote," Mr Sharnall cut in; "it was to this very man. Didn't you know it was to this very man? No one ever thought it worth ink and paper to write to old Blandamer. I was the only one, fool enough to do that. I had an appeal for the organ printed once upon a time, and sent him a copy, and asked him to head the list. After a bit he sent me a cheque for ten shillings and sixpence; and then I wrote and thanked him, and said it would do very nicely to put a new leg on the organ-stool if one should ever break. But he had the last word, for when I went to the bank to cash the cheque, I found it stopped."

Westray laughed with a thin and tinkling merriment that irritated Anastasia more than an honest guffaw.

"When he stuck at seven thousand eight hundred pounds for the church, I tried to give you a helping hand with the organ. I told him you lived in the house; would he not like to see you? 'Oh no, not now,' he said; 'some other day.'"

"He is a chip of the old block," the organist said again bitterly. "Gather figs of thistles, if you will, but don't expect money from Blandamers."

Anastasia's thumb went into the curry as she lifted the dish, but she did not notice it. She was only eager to get away, to place herself outside the reach of these slanderous tongues, to hide herself where she could unburden her heart of its bitterness. Mr Sharnall fired one more shaft at her as she left the room.

"He takes after his grandfather in other ways besides close-fistedness. The old man had a bad enough name with women, and this man has a worse. They are a poor lot—lock, stock, and barrel."

Lord Blandamer had certainly been unhappy in the impression which he created at Bellevue Lodge; a young lady had diagnosed his countenance as hard and cruel, an architect had detected niggardliness in his disposition, and an organist was resolved to regard him at all hazards as a personal foe. It was fortunate indeed for his peace of mind that he was completely unaware of this, but, then, he might not perhaps have troubled much even if he had known all about it. The only person who had a good word for him was Miss Euphemia Joliffe. She woke up flushed, but refreshed, after her nap, and found the supper-things washed and put away in their places.

"My dear, my dear," she said deprecatingly, "I am afraid I have been asleep, and left all the work to you. You should not have done this, Anastasia. You ought to have awakened me." The flesh was weak, and she was forced to hold her hand before her mouth for a moment to conceal a yawn; but her mind reverted instinctively to the great doings of the day, and she said with serene reflection: "A very remarkable man, so dignified and yet so affable, and very handsome too, my dear."



CHAPTER NINE.

Among the letters which the postman brought to Bellevue Lodge on the morning following these remarkable events was an envelope which possessed a dreadful fascination. It bore a little coronet stamped in black upon the flap, and "Edward Westray, Esquire, Bellevue Lodge, Cullerne," written on the front in a bold and clear hand. But this was not all, for low in the left corner was the inscription "Blandamer." A single word, yet fraught with so mystical an import that it set Anastasia's heart beating fast as she gave it to her aunt, to be taken upstairs with the architect's breakfast.

"There is a letter for you, sir, from Lord Blandamer," Miss Joliffe said, as she put down the tray on the table.

But the architect only grunted, and went on with ruler and compass at the plan with which he was busy. Miss Joliffe would have been more than woman had she not felt a burning curiosity to know the contents of so important a missive; and to leave a nobleman's letter neglected on the table seemed to her little short of sacrilege.

Never had breakfast taken longer to lay, and still there was the letter lying by the tin cover, which (so near is grandeur to our dust) concealed a simple bloater. Poor Miss Joliffe made a last effort ere she left the room to bring Westray to a proper appreciation of the situation.

"There is a letter for you, sir; I think it is from Lord Blandamer."

"Yes, yes," the architect said sharply; "I will attend to it presently."

And so she retired, routed.

Westray's nonchalance had been in part assumed. He was anxious to show that he, at any rate, could rise superior to artificial distinctions of rank, and was no more to be impressed by peers than peasants. He kept up this philosophic indifference even after Miss Joliffe left the room; for he took life very seriously, and felt his duty towards himself to be at least as important as that towards his neighbours. Resolution lasted till the second cup of tea, and then he opened the letter.

"Dear Sir" (it began),

"I understood from you yesterday that the repairs to the north transept of Cullerne Minster are estimated to cost 7,800 pounds. This charge I should like to bear myself, and thus release for other purposes of restoration the sum already collected. I am also prepared to undertake whatever additional outlay is required to put the whole building in a state of substantial repair. Will you kindly inform Sir George Farquhar of this, and ask him to review the scheme of restoration as modified by these considerations? I shall be in Cullerne on Saturday next, and hope I may find you at home if I call about five in the afternoon, and that you may then have time to show me the church.

"I am, dear sir,

"Very truly yours,

"Blandamer."

Westray had scanned the letter so rapidly that he knew its contents by intuition rather than by the more prosaic method of reading. Nor did he re-read it several times, as is generally postulated by important communications in fiction; he simply held it in his hand, and crumpled it unconsciously, while he thought. He was surprised, and he was pleased—pleased at the wider vista of activity that Lord Blandamer's offer opened, and pleased that he should be chosen as the channel through which an announcement of such gravity was to be made. He felt, in short, that pleasurable and confused excitement, that mental inebriation, which unexpected good fortune is apt to produce in any except the strongest minds, and went down to Mr Sharnall's room still crumpling the letter in his hand. The bloater was left to waste its sweetness on the morning air.

"I have just received some extraordinary news," he said, as he opened the door.

Mr Sharnall was not altogether unprepared, for Miss Joliffe had already informed him that a letter from Lord Blandamer had arrived for Mr Westray; so he only said "Ah!" in a tone that implied compassion for the lack of mental balance which allowed Westray to be so easily astonished, and added "Ah, yes?" as a manifesto that no sublunary catastrophe could possibly astonish him, Mr Sharnall. But Westray's excitement was cold-waterproof, and he read the letter aloud with much jubilation.

"Well," said the organist, "I don't see much in it; seven thousand pounds is nothing to him. When we have done all that we ought to do, we are unprofitable servants."

"It isn't only seven thousand pounds; don't you see he gives carte-blanche for repairs in general? Why, it may be thirty or forty thousand, or even more."

"Don't you wish you may get it?" the organist said, raising his eyebrows and shutting his eyelids.

Westray was nettled.

"Oh, I think it's mean to sneer at everything the man does. We abused him yesterday as a niggard; let us have the grace to-day to say we were mistaken." He was afflicted with the over-scrupulosity of a refined, but strictly limited mind, and his conscience smote him. "I, at any rate, was quite mistaken," he went on; "I quite misinterpreted his hesitation when I mentioned the cost of the transept repairs."

"Your chivalrous sentiments do you the greatest credit," the organist said, "and I congratulate you on being able to change your ideas so quickly. As for me, I prefer to stick to my first opinion. It is all humbug; either he doesn't mean to pay, or else he has some plan of his own to push. I wouldn't touch his money with a barge-pole."

"Oh no, of course not," Westray said, with the exaggerated sarcasm of a schoolboy in his tone. "If he was to offer a thousand pounds to restore the organ, you wouldn't take a penny of it."

"He hasn't offered a thousand yet," rejoined the organist; "and when he does, I'll send him away with a flea in his ear."

"That's a very encouraging announcement for would-be contributors," Westray sneered; "they ought to come forward very strongly after that."

"Well, I must get on with some copying," the organist said dryly; and Westray went back to the bloater.

If Mr Sharnall was thus pitiably wanting in appreciation of a munificent offer, the rest of Cullerne made no pretence of imitating his example. Westray was too elated to keep the good news to himself, nor did there appear, indeed, to be any reason for making a secret of it. So he told the foreman-mason, and Mr Janaway the clerk, and Mr Noot the curate, and lastly Canon Parkyn the rector, whom he certainly ought to have told the first of all. Thus, before the carillon of Saint Sepulchre's played "New sabbath" [See Appendix at the end of the volume] at three o'clock that afternoon, the whole town was aware that the new Lord Blandamer had been among them, and had promised to bear the cost of restoring the great minster of which they were all so proud—so very much more proud when their pride entailed no sordid considerations of personal subscription.

Canon Parkyn was ruffled. Mrs Parkyn perceived it when he came in to dinner at one o'clock, but, being a prudent woman, she did not allude directly to his ill-humour, though she tried to dispel it by leading the conversation to topics which experience had shown her were soothing to him. Among such the historic visit of Sir George Farquhar, and the deference which he had paid to the Rector's suggestions, occupied a leading position: but the mention of the great architect's name, was a signal for a fresh exhibition of vexation on her husband's part.

"I wish," he said, "that Sir George would pay a little more personal attention to the work at the minster. His representative, this Mr— er—er—this Mr Westray, besides being, I fear, very inexperienced and deficient in architectural knowledge, is a most conceited young man, and constantly putting himself forward in an unbecoming way. He came to me this morning with an exceedingly strange communication—a letter from Lord Blandamer."

Mrs Parkyn laid down her knife and fork.

"A letter from Lord Blandamer?" she said in unconcealed amazement—"a letter from Lord Blandamer to Mr Westray!"

"Yes," the Rector went on, losing some of his annoyance in the pleasurable consciousness that his words created a profound sensation—"a letter in which his lordship offers to bear in the first place the cost of the repairs of the north transept, and afterwards to make good any deficiency in the funds required for the restoration of the rest of the fabric. Of course, I am very loth to question any action taken by a member of the Upper House, but at the same time I am compelled to characterise the proceeding as most irregular. That such a communication should be made to a mere clerk of the works, instead of to the Rector and duly appointed guardian of the sacred edifice, is so grave a breach of propriety that I am tempted to veto the matter entirely, and to refuse to accept this offer."

His face wore a look of sublime dignity, and he addressed his wife as if she were a public meeting. Ruat coelum, Canon Parkyn was not to be moved a hair's-breadth from the line traced by propriety and rectitude. He knew in his inmost heart that under no possible circumstances would he have refused any gift that was offered him, yet his own words had about them so heroic a ring that for a moment he saw himself dashing Lord Blandamer's money on the floor, as early Christians had flung to the wind that pinch of incense that would have saved them from the lions.

"I think I must refuse this offer," he repeated.

Mrs Parkyn knew her husband intimately—more intimately, perhaps, than he knew himself—and had an additional guarantee that the discussion was merely academic in the certainty that, even were he really purposed to refuse the offer, she would not allow him to do so. Yet she played the game, and feigned to take him seriously.

"I quite appreciate your scruples, my dear; they are just what anyone who knew you would expect. It is a positive affront that you should be told of such a proposal by this impertinent young man; and Lord Blandamer has so strange a reputation himself that one scarcely knows how far it is right to accept anything from him for sacred purposes. I honour your reluctance. Perhaps it would be right for you to decline this proposal, or, at any rate, to take time for consideration."

The Rector looked furtively at his wife. He was a little alarmed at her taking him so readily at his word. He had hoped that she would be dismayed—that she could have brought proper arguments to bear to shake his high resolve.

"Ah, your words have unwittingly reminded me of my chief difficulty in refusing. It is the sacred purpose which makes me doubt my own judgment. It would be a painful reflection to think that the temple should suffer by my refusing this gift. Maybe I should be yielding to my own petulance or personal motives if I were to decline. I must not let my pride stand in the way of higher obligations."

He concluded in his best pulpit manner, and the farce was soon at an end. It was agreed that the gift must be accepted, that proper measures should be taken to rebuke Mr Westray's presumption, as he had no doubt induced Lord Blandamer to select so improper a channel of communication, and that the Rector should himself write direct to thank the noble donor. So, after dinner, Canon Parkyn retired to his "study," and composed a properly fulsome letter, in which he attributed all the noblest possible motives and qualities to Lord Blandamer, and invoked all the most unctuously conceived blessings upon his head. And at teatime the letter was perused and revised by Mrs Parkyn, who added some finishing touches of her own, especially a preamble which stated that Canon Parkyn had been informed by the clerk of the works that Lord Blandamer had expressed a desire to write to Canon Parkyn to make a certain offer, but had asked the clerk of the works to find out first whether such an offer would be acceptable to Canon Parkyn, and a peroration which hoped that Lord Blandamer would accept the hospitality of the Rectory on the occasion of his next visit to Cullerne.

The letter reached Lord Blandamer at Fording the next morning as he sat over a late breakfast, with a Virgil open on the table by his coffee-cup. He read the Rector's stilted periods without a smile, and made a mental note that he would at once send a specially civil acknowledgment. Then he put it carefully into his pocket, and turned back to the Di patrii indigetes et Romule Vestaque Mater of the First Georgic, which he was committing to memory, and banished the invitation so completely from his mind that he never thought of it again till he was in Cullerne a week later.

Lord Blandamer's visit, and the offer which he had made for the restoration of the church, formed the staple of Cullerne conversation for a week. All those who had been fortunate enough to see or to speak to him discussed him with one another, and compared notes. Scarcely a detail of his personal appearance, of his voice or manner escaped them; and so infectious was this interest that some who had never seen him at all were misled by their excitement into narrating how he had stopped them in the street to ask the way to the architect's lodgings, and how he had made so many striking and authentic remarks that it was wonderful that he had ever reached Bellevue Lodge at all that night. Clerk Janaway, who was sorely chagrined to think that he should have missed an opportunity of distinguished converse, declared that he had felt the stranger's grey eyes go through and through him like a knife, and had only made believe to stop him entering the choir, in order to convince himself by the other's masterful insistence that his own intuition was correct. He had known all the time, he said, that he was speaking to none other than Lord Blandamer.

Westray thought the matter important enough to justify him in going to London to consult Sir George Farquhar, as to the changes in the scheme of restoration which Lord Blandamer's munificence made possible; but Mr Sharnall, at any rate, was left to listen to Miss Joliffe's recollections, surmises, and panegyrics.

In spite of all the indifference which the organist had affected when he first heard the news, he showed a surprising readiness to discuss the affair with all comers, and exhibited no trace of his usual impatience with Miss Joliffe, so long as she was talking of Lord Blandamer. To Anastasia it seemed as if he could talk of nothing else, and the more she tried to check him by her silence or by change of subject, the more bitterly did he return to the attack.

The only person to exhibit no interest in this unhappy nobleman, who had outraged propriety by offering to contribute to the restoration of the minster, was Anastasia herself; and even tolerant Miss Joliffe was moved to chide her niece's apathy in this particular.

"I do not think it becomes us, love, young or old, to take so little notice of great and good deeds. Mr Sharnall is, I fear, discontented with the station of life to which it has pleased Providence to call him, and I am less surprised at his not always giving praise where praise should be given; but with the young it is different. I am sure if anyone had offered to restore Wydcombe Church when I was a girl—and specially a nobleman—I should have been as delighted, or nearly as delighted, as if he—as if I had been given a new frock." She altered the "as if he had given me" which was upon her tongue because the proposition, even for purposes of illustration, that a nobleman could ever have offered her a new frock seemed to have in itself something of the scandalous and unfitting.

"I should have been delighted, but, dear me! in those days people were so blind as never to think of restorations. We used to sit in quite comfortable seats every Sunday, with cushions and hassocks, and the aisles were paved with flagstones—simple worn flagstones, and none of the caustic tiles which look so much more handsome; though I am always afraid I am going to slip, and glad to be off them, they are so hard and shiny. Church matters were very behindhand then. All round the walls were tablets that people had put up to their relations, white caskets on black marble slates, and urns and cherubs' heads, and just opposite where I used to sit a poor lady, whose name I have forgotten, weeping under a willow-tree. No doubt they were very much out of place in the sanctuary, as the young gentleman said in his lecture on 'How to make our Churches Beautiful' in the Town Hall last winter. He called them 'mural blisters,' my dear, but there was no talk of removing them in my young days, and that was, I dare say, because there was no one to give the money for it. But now, here is this good young nobleman, Lord Blandamer, come forward so handsomely, and I have no doubt at Cullerne all will be much improved ere long. We are not meant to loll at our devotions, as the lecturer told us. That was his word, to 'loll'; and they will be sure to take away the baize and hassocks, though I do hope there will be a little strip of something on the seats; the bare wood is apt to make one ache sometimes. I should not say it to anyone else in the world but you, but it does make me ache a little sometimes; and when the caustic is put down in the aisle, I shall take your arm, my dear, to save me from slipping. Here is Lord Blandamer going to do all this for us, and you do not show yourself in the least grateful. It is not becoming in a young girl."

"Dear aunt, what would you have me do? I cannot go and thank him publicly in the name of the town. That would be still more unbecoming; and I am sure I hope they will not do all the dreadful things in the church that you speak of. I love the old monuments, and like lolling much better than bare forms."

So she would laugh the matter off; but if she could not be induced to talk of Lord Blandamer, she thought of him the more, and rehearsed again and again in day-dreams and in night-dreams every incident of that momentous Saturday afternoon, from the first bars of the overture, when he had revealed in so easy and simple a way that he was none other than Lord Blandamer, to the ringing down of the curtain, when he turned to look back—to that glance when his eyes had seemed to meet hers, although she was hidden behind a blind, and he could not have guessed that she was there.

Westray came back from London with the scheme of restoration reconsidered and amplified in the light of altered circumstances, and with a letter for Lord Blandamer in which Sir George Farquhar hoped that the munificent donor would fix a day on which Sir George might come down to Cullerne to offer his respects, and to discuss the matter in person. Westray had looked forward all the week to the appointment which he had with Lord Blandamer for five o'clock on the Saturday afternoon, and had carefully thought out the route which he would pursue in taking him round the church. He returned to Bellevue Lodge at a quarter to five, and found his visitor already awaiting him. Miss Joliffe was, as usual, at her Saturday meeting, but Anastasia told Westray that Lord Blandamer had been waiting more than half an hour.

"I must apologise, my lord, for keeping you waiting," Westray said, as he went in. "I feared I had made some mistake in the time of our meeting, but I see it was five that your note named." And he held out the open letter which he had taken from his pocket.

"The mistake is entirely mine," Lord Blandamer admitted with a smile, as he glanced at his own instructions; "I fancied I had said four o'clock; but I have been very glad of a few minutes to write one or two letters."

"We can post them on our way to the church; they will just catch the mail."

"Ah, then I must wait till to-morrow; there are some enclosures which I have not ready at this moment."

They set out together for the minster, and Lord Blandamer looked back as they crossed the street.

"The house has a good deal of character," he said, "and might be made comfortable enough with a little repair. I must ask my agent to see what can be arranged; it does not do me much credit as landlord in its present state."

"Yes, it has a good many interesting features," Westray answered; "you know its history, of course—I mean that it was an old inn."

He had turned round as his companion turned, and for an instant thought he saw something moving behind the blind in Mr Sharnall's room. But he must have been mistaken; only Anastasia was in the house, and she was in the kitchen, for he had called to her as they went out to say that he might be late for tea.

Westray thoroughly enjoyed the hour and a half which the light allowed him for showing and explaining the church. Lord Blandamer exhibited what is called, so often by euphemism, an intelligent interest in all that he saw, and was at no pains either to conceal or display a very adequate architectural knowledge. Westray wondered where he had acquired it, though he asked no questions; but before the inspection was ended he found himself unconsciously talking to his companion of technical points, as to a professional equal and not to an amateur. They stopped for a moment under the central tower.

"I feel especially grateful," Westray said, "for your generosity in giving us a free hand for all fabric work, because we shall now be able to tackle the tower. Nothing will ever induce me to believe that all is right up there. The arches are extraordinarily wide and thin for their date. You will laugh when I tell you that I sometimes think I hear them crying for repair, and especially that one on the south with the jagged crack in the wall above it. Now and then, when I am alone in the church or the tower, I seem to catch their very words. 'The arch never sleeps,' they say; 'we never sleep.'"

"It is a romantic idea," Lord Blandamer said. "Architecture is poetry turned into stone, according to the old aphorism, and you, no doubt, have something of the poet in you."

He glanced at the thin and rather bloodless face, and at the high cheekbones of the water-drinker as he spoke. Lord Blandamer never made jokes, and very seldom was known to laugh, yet if anyone but Westray had been with him, they might have fancied that there was a whimsical tone in his words, and a trace of amusement in the corners of his eyes. But the architect did not see it, and coloured slightly as he went on:

"Well, perhaps you are right; I suppose architecture does inspire one. The first verses I ever wrote, or the first, at least, that I ever had printed, were on the Apse of Tewkesbury Abbey. They came out in the Gloucester Herald, and I dare say I shall scribble something about these arches some day."

"Do," said Lord Blandamer, "and send me a copy. This place ought to have its poet, and it is much safer to write verses to arches than to arched eyebrows."

Westray coloured again, and put his hand in his breast-pocket. Could he have been so foolish as to leave those half-finished lines on his desk for Lord Blandamer or anyone else to see? No, they were quite safe; he could feel the sharp edge of the paper folded lengthways, which differentiated them from ordinary letters.

"We shall just have time to go up to the roof-space, if you care to do so," he suggested, changing the subject. "I should like to show you the top of the transept groining, and explain what we are busy with at present. It is always more or less dark up there, but we shall find lanterns."

"Certainly, with much pleasure." And they climbed the newel staircase that was carried in the north-east pier.

Clerk Janaway had been hovering within a safe distance of them as they went their round. He was nominally busy in "putting things straight" for the Sunday, before the church was shut up; and had kept as much out of sight as was possible, remembering how he had withstood Lord Blandamer to the face a week before. Yet he was anxious to meet him, as it were, by accident, and explain that he had acted in ignorance of the real state of affairs; but no favourable opportunity for such an explanation presented itself. The pair had gone up to the roof, and the clerk was preparing to lock up—for Westray had a key of his own—when he heard someone coming up the nave.

It was Mr Sharnall, who carried a pile of music-books under his arm.

"Hallo!" he said to the clerk, "what makes you so late? I expected to have to let myself in. I thought you would have been off an hour ago."

"Well, things took a bit longer to-night than usual to put away." He broke off, for there was a little noise somewhere above them in the scaffolding, and went on in what was meant for a whisper: "Mr Westray's taking his lordship round; they're up in the roof now. D'ye hear 'em?"

"Lordship! What lordship? D'you mean that fellow Blandamer?"

"Yes, that's just who I do mean. But I don't know as how he's a fellow, and he is a lordship; so that's why I call him a lordship and not a fellow. And mid I ask what he's been doing to set your back up? Why don't you wait here for him, and talk to him about the organ? Maybe, now he's in the giving mood, he'd set it right for 'ee, or anyways give 'ee that little blowin'-engine you talk so much about. Why do 'ee always go about showin' your teeth?—metaforally, I mean, for you haven't that many real ones left to make much show—why ain't you like other folk sometimes? Shall I tell 'ee? 'Cause you wants to be young when you be old, and rich when you be poor. That's why. That makes 'ee miserable, and then you drinks to drown it. Take my advice, and act like other folk. I'm nigh a score of years older than you, and take a vast more pleasure in my life than when I was twenty. The neighbours and their ways tickle me now, and my pipe's sweeter; and there's many a foolish thing a young man does that age don't give an old one the chanst to. You've spoke straight to me, and now I've spoke straight to you, 'cause I'm a straight-speaking man, and have no call to be afraid of anyone—lord or fellow or organist. So take an old man's word: cheer up, and wait on my lord, and get him to give 'ee a new organ."

"Bah!" said Mr Sharnall, who was far too used to Janaway's manner to take umbrage or pay attention to it. "Bah! I hate all Blandamers. I wish they were as dead and buried as dodos; and I'm not at all sure they aren't. I'm not at all sure, mind you, that this strutting peacock has any more right to the name of Blandamer than you or I have. I'm sick of all this wealth. No one's thought anything of to-day, who can't build a church or a museum or a hospital. 'So long as thou doest well unto thyself, men will speak good of thee.' If you've got the money, you're everything that's wonderful, and if you haven't, you may go rot. I wish all Blandamers were in their graves," he said, raising his thin and strident voice till it rang again in the vault above, "and wrapped up in their nebuly coat for a shroud. I should like to fling a stone through their damned badge." And he pointed to the sea-green and silver shield high up in the transept window. "Sunlight and moonlight, it is always there. I used to like to come down and play here to the bats of a full moon, till I saw that would always look into the loft and haunt me."

He thumped his pile of books down on a seat, and flung out of the church. He had evidently been drinking, and the clerk made his escape at the same time, being anxious not to be identified with sentiments which had been so loudly enunciated that he feared those in the roof might have overheard them.

Lord Blandamer wished Westray good-night at the church-door, excusing himself from an invitation to tea on the ground of business which necessitated his return to Fording.

"We must spend another afternoon in the minster," he said. "I hope you will allow me to write to make an appointment. I am afraid that it may possibly be for a Saturday again, for I am much occupied at present during the week."

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Clerk Janaway lived not far from the church, in Governor's Lane. No one knew whence its name was derived, though Dr Ennefer thought that the Military Governour might have had his quarters thereabouts when Cullerne was held for the Parliament. Serving as a means of communication between two quiet back-streets, it was itself more quiet than either, and yet; for all this, had about it a certain air of comfort and well-being. The passage of vehicles was barred at either end by old cannon. Their breeches were buried in the ground, and their muzzles stood up as sturdy iron posts, while the brown cobbles of the roadway sloped to a shallow stone gutter which ran down the middle of the lane. Custom ordained that the houses should be coloured with a pink wash; and the shutters, which were a feature of the place, shone in such bright colours as to recall a Dutch town.

Shutter-painting was indeed an event of some importance in Governour's Lane. Not a few of its inhabitants had followed the sea as fishermen or smack-owners, and when fortune so smiled on them that they could retire, and there were no more boats to be painted, shutters and doors and window-frames came in to fill the gap. So, on a fine morning, when the turpentine oozing from cracks, and the warm smell of blistering varnish brought to Governour's Lane the first tokens of returning summer, might have been seen sexagenarians and septuagenarians, and some so strong that they had come to fourscore years, standing paint-pot and paint-brush in hand, while they gave a new coat to the woodwork of their homes.

They were a kindly folk, open of face, and fresh-complexioned, broad in the beam, and vested as to their bodies in dark blue, brass-buttoned pilot coats. Insuperable smokers, inexhaustible yarn-spinners, they had long welcomed Janaway as a kindred spirit—the more so that in their view a clerk and grave-digger was in some measure an expert in things unseen, who might anon assist in piloting them on that last cruise for which some had already the Blue Peter at the fore.

A myrtle-bush which grew out of a hole in the cobbles was carefully trained against the front of a cottage in the middle of the row, and a brass plate on the door informed the wayfarer and ignorant man that "T. Janaway, Sexton," dwelt within. About eight o'clock on the Saturday evening, some two hours after Lord Blandamer and Westray had parted, the door of the myrtle-fronted cottage was open, and the clerk stood on the threshold smoking his pipe, while from within came a cheerful, ruddy light and a well-defined smell of cooking; for Mrs Janaway was preparing supper.

"Tom," she called, "shut the door, and come to thy victuals."

"Ay," he answered, "I'll be with 'ee directly; but gi'e me a minute. I want to see who this is coming up the lane."

Someone that the clerk knew at once for a stranger had entered the little street at the bottom. There was half a moon, and light enough to see that he was in search of some particular house; for he crossed from one side of the lane to the other, and peered at the numbers on the doors. As he came nearer, the clerk saw that he was of spare build, and wore a loose overcoat or cape, which fluttered in the breeze that blew at evening from the sea. A moment later Janaway knew that the stranger was Lord Blandamer, and stepped back instinctively to let him pass. But the open door had caught the attention of the passer-by; he stopped, and greeted the householder cheerily.

"A beautiful night, but with a cold touch in the air that makes your warm room look very cheerful." He recognised the clerk's face as he spoke, and went on: "Ah, ha! we are old friends already; we met in the minster a week ago, did we not?"

Mr Janaway was a little disconcerted at the unexpectedness of the meeting, and returned the salutation in a confused way. The attempt which he had made to prevent Lord Blandamer from entering the choir was fresh in his memory, and he stammered some unready excuses.

Lord Blandamer smiled with much courtesy.

"You were quite right to stop me; you would have been neglecting your duty if you had not done so. I had no idea that service was going on, or I should not have come in; you may make your mind quite easy on that score. I hope you will have many more opportunities of finding a place for me in Cullerne Church."

"No need to find any place for you, my Lord. You have your own seat appointed and fixed, as sure as Canon Parkyn, and your own arms painted up clear on the back of it. Don't you trouble for that. It is all laid down in the statutes, and I shall make the very same obeisance for your lordship when you take your seat as for my Lord Bishop. 'Two inclinations of the body, the mace being held in the right hand, and supported on the left arm.' I cannot say more fair than that, for only royalties have three inclinations, and none of them has ever been to church in my time—no, nor yet a Lord Blandamer neither, since the day that your dear father and mother, what you never knew, was buried."

Mrs Janaway drummed with her knuckles on the supper-table, in amazement that her husband should dare to stand chattering at the door when she had told him that the meal was ready. But, as the conversation revealed by degrees the stranger's identity, curiosity to see the man whose name was in all Cullerne mouths got the better of her, and she came curtseying to the door.

Lord Blandamer flung the flapping cape of his overcoat over the left shoulder in a way that made the clerk think of foreigners, and of woodcuts of Italian opera in a bound volume of the Illustrated London News which he studied on Sunday evenings.

"I must be moving on," said the visitor, with a shiver. "I must not keep you standing here; there is a very chill air this evening."

Then Mrs Janaway was seized with a sudden temerity.

"Will your lordship not step in and warm yourself for a moment?" she interposed. "We have a clear fire burning, if you will overlook the smell of cooking."

The clerk trembled for a moment at his wife's boldness, but Lord Blandamer accepted the invitation with alacrity.

"Thank you very much," said he; "I should be very glad to rest a few minutes before my train leaves. Pray make no apology for the smell of cookery; it is very appetising, especially at supper-time."

He spoke as if he took supper every evening, and had never heard of a late dinner in his life; and five minutes later he sat at table with Mr and Mrs Janaway. The cloth was of roughest homespun, but clean; the knives and forks handled in old green horn, and the piece-of-resistance tripe; but the guest made an excellent meal.

"Some folk think highly of squash tripe or ribband tripe," the clerk said meditatively, looking at the empty dish; "but they don't compare, according to my taste, with cushion tripe." He was emboldened to make these culinary remarks by that moral elevation which comes to every properly-constituted host, when a guest has eaten heartily of the viands set before him.

"No," Lord Blandamer said, "there can be no doubt that cushion tripe is the best."

"Quite as much depends upon the cooking as upon the tripe itself," remarked Mrs Janaway, bridling at the thought that her art had been left out of the reckoning; "a bad cook will spoil the best tripe. There are many ways of doing it, but a little milk and a leek is the best for me."

"You cannot beat it," Lord Blandamer assented—"you cannot beat it"—and then went on suggestively: "Have you ever tried a sprig of mace with it?"

No, Mrs Janaway had never heard of that; nor, indeed, had Lord Blandamer either, if the point had been pushed; but she promised to use it the very next time, and hoped that the august visitor would honour them again when it was to be tasted.

"'Tis only Saturday nights that we can get the cushion," she went on; "and it's well it don't come oftener, for we couldn't afford it. No woman ever had a call to have a better husband nor Thomas, who spends little enough on hisself. He don't touch nothing but tea, sir, but Saturday nights we treat ourselves to a little tripe, which is all the more convenient in that it is very strengthening, and my husband's duties on Sunday being that urgent-like. So, if your lordship is fond of tripe, and passing another Saturday night, and will do us the honour, you will always find something ready."

"Thank you very much for your kind invitation," Lord Blandamer said; "I shall certainly take you at your word, the more so that Saturday is the day on which I am oftenest in Cullerne, or, I should say, have happened to be lately."

"There's poor and poor," said the clerk reflectively; "and we're poor, but we're happy; but there's Mr Sharnall poor and unhappy. 'Mr Sharnall,' says I to him, 'many a time have I heard my father say over a pot of tenpenny, "Here's to poverty in a plug-hole, and a man with a wooden leg to trample it down;" but you never puts your poverty in a plug-hole, much less tramples it down. You always has it out and airs it, and makes yourself sad with thinking of it. 'Tisn't because you're poor that you're sad; 'tis because you think you're poor, and talk so much about it. You're not so poor as we, only you have so many grievances.'"

"Ah, you are speaking of the organist?" Lord Blandamer asked. "I fancy it was he who was talking with you in the minster this afternoon, was it not?"

The clerk felt embarrassed once more, for he remembered Mr Sharnall's violent talk, and how his anathema of all Blandamers had rang out in the church.

"Yes," he said; "poor organist was talking a little wild; he gets took that way sometimes, what with his grievances, and a little drop of the swanky what he takes to drown them. Then he talks loud; but I hope your lordship didn't hear all his foolishness."

"Oh dear no; I was engaged at the time with the architect," Lord Blandamer said; but his tone made Janaway think that Mr Sharnall's voice had carried further than was convenient. "I did not hear what he said, but he seemed to be much put out. I chatted with him in the church some days ago; he did not know who I was, but I gathered that he bore no very good will to my family."

Mrs Janaway saw it was a moment for prudent words. "Don't pay no manner of attention to him, if I may make so bold as to advise your lordship," she said; "he talks against my husband just as well. He is crazy about his organ, and thinks he ought to have a new one, or, at least, a waterworks to blow it, like what they have at Carisbury. Don't pay no attention to him; no one minds what Sharnall says in Cullerne."

The clerk was astonished at his wife's wisdom, yet apprehensive as to how it might be taken. But Lord Blandamer bowed his head graciously by way of thanks for sage counsel, and went on:

"Was there not some queer man at Cullerne who thought he was kept out of his rights, and should be in my place—who thought, I mean, he ought to be Lord Blandamer?"

The question was full of indifference, and there was a little smile of pity on his face; but the clerk remembered how Mr Sharnall had said something about a strutting peacock, and that there were no real Blandamers left, and was particularly ill at ease.

"Oh yes," he answered after a moment's pause, "there was a poor doited body who, saving your presence, had some cranks of that kind; and, more by token, Mr Sharnall lived in the same house with him, and so I dare say he has got touched with the same craze."

Lord Blandamer took out a cigar instinctively, and then, remembering that there was a lady present, put it back into his case and went on:

"Oh, he lived in the same house with Mr Sharnall, did he? I should like to hear more of this story; it naturally interests me. What was his name?"

"His name was Martin Joliffe," said the clerk quickly, being surprised into eagerness by the chance of telling a story; and then the whole tale of Martin, and Martin's father and mother and daughter, as he had told it to Westray, was repeated for Lord Blandamer.

The night was far advanced before the history came to an end, and the local policeman walked several times up and down Governour's Lane, and made pauses before Mr Janaway's house, being surprised to see a window lighted so late. Lord Blandamer must have changed his intention of going by train, for the gates of Cullerne station had been locked for hours, and the boiler of the decrepit branch-line engine was cooling in its shed.

"It is an interesting tale, and you tell tales well," he said, as he got up and put on his coat. "All good things must have an end, but I hope to see you again ere long." He shook hands with hostess and host, drained the pot of beer that had been fetched from a public-house, with a "Here's to poverty in a plug-hole, and a man with a wooden leg to trample it down," and was gone.

A minute later the policeman, coming back for yet another inspection of the lighted window, passed a man of middle height, who wore a loose overcoat, with the cape tossed lightly over the left shoulder. The stranger walked briskly, and hummed an air as he went, turning his face up to the stars and the wind-swept sky, as if entirely oblivious of all sublunary things. A midnight stranger in Governour's Lane was even more surprising than a lighted window, and the policeman had it in his mind to stop him and ask his business. But before he could decide on so vigorous a course of action, the moment was past, and the footsteps were dying away in the distance.

The clerk was pleased with himself, and proud of his success as a story-teller.

"That's a clever, understanding sort of chap," he said to his wife, as they went to bed; "he knows a good tale when he hears one."

"Don't you be too proud of yourself, my man," answered she; "there's more in that tale than your telling, I warrant you, for my lord to think about."



CHAPTER TEN.

The extension of the scheme of restoration which Lord Blandamer's liberality involved, made it necessary that Westray should more than once consult Sir George Farquhar in London. On coming back to Cullerne from one of these visits on a Saturday night, he found his meal laid in Mr Sharnall's room.

"I thought you would not mind our having supper together," Mr Sharnall said. "I don't know how it is, I always feel gloomy just when the winter begins, and the dark sets in so soon. It is all right later on; I rather enjoy the long evenings and a good fire, when I can afford a good one, but at first it is a little gloomy. So come and have supper with me. There is a good fire to-night, and a bit of driftwood that I got specially for your benefit."

They talked of indifferent subjects during the meal, though once or twice it seemed to Westray that the organist gave inconsequential replies, as though he were thinking of something else. This was no doubt the case, for, after they had settled before the fire, and the lambent blue flames of the driftwood had been properly admired, Mr Sharnall began with a hesitating cough:

"A rather curious thing happened this afternoon. When I got back here after evening-service, who should I find waiting in my room but that Blandamer fellow. There was no light and no fire, for I had thought if we lit the fire late we could afford a better one. He was sitting at one end of the window-seat, damn him!"—(the expletive was caused by Mr Sharnall remembering that this was Anastasia's favourite seat, and his desire to reprobate the use of it by anyone else)—"but got up, of course, as I came in, and made a vast lot of soft speeches. He must really apologise for such an intrusion. He had come to see Mr Westray, but found that Mr Westray had unfortunately been called away. He had taken the liberty of waiting a few minutes in Mr Sharnall's room. He was anxious to have a few moments' conversation with Mr Sharnall, and so on, and so on. You know how I hate palaver, and how I disliked—how I dislike" (he corrected himself)—"the man; but he took me at a disadvantage, you see, for here he was actually in my room, and one cannot be so rude in one's own room as one can in other people's. I felt responsible, too, to some extent for his having had to wait without fire or light, though why he shouldn't have lit the gas himself I'm sure I don't know. So I talked more civilly than I meant to, and then, just at the moment that I was hoping to get rid of him, Anastasia, who it seems was the only person at home, must needs come in to ask if I was ready for my tea. You may imagine my disgust, but there was nothing for it but to ask him if he would like a cup of tea. I never dreamt of his taking it, but he did; and so, behold! there we were hobnobbing over the tea-table as if we were cronies."

Westray was astonished. Mr Sharnall had rebuked him so short a time before for not having repulsed Lord Blandamer's advances that he could scarcely understand such a serious falling away from all the higher principles of hatred and malice as were implied in this tea-drinking. His experience of life had been as yet too limited to convince him that most enmities and antipathies, being theoretical rather than actual, are apt to become mitigated, or to disappear altogether on personal contact—that it is, in fact, exceedingly hard to keep hatred at concert-pitch, or to be consistently rude to a person face to face who has a pleasant manner and a desire to conciliate.

Perhaps Mr Sharnall read Westray's surprise in his face, for he went on with a still more apologetic manner:

"That is not the worst of it; he has put me in a most awkward position. I must admit that I found his conversation amusing enough. We spoke a good deal of music, and he showed a surprising knowledge of the subject, and a correct taste; I do not know where he has got it from."

"I found exactly the same thing with his architecture," Westray said. "We started to go round the minster as master and pupil, but before we finished I had an uncomfortable impression that he knew more about it than I did—at least, from the archaeologic point of view."

"Ah!" said the organist, with that indifference with which a person who wishes to recount his own experiences listens to those of someone else, however thrilling they may be. "Well, his taste was singularly refined. He showed a good acquaintance with the contrapuntists of the last century, and knew several of my own works. A very curious thing this. He said he had been in some cathedral—I forget which—heard the service, and been so struck with it that he went afterwards to look it up on the bill, and found it was Sharnall in D flat. He hadn't the least idea that it was mine till we began to talk. I haven't had that service by me for years; I wrote it at Oxford for the Gibbons' prize; it has a fugal movement in the Gloria, ending with a tonic pedal-point that you would like. I must look it up."

"Yes, I should like to hear it," Westray said, more to fill the interval while the speaker took breath than from any great interest in the matter.

"So you shall—so you shall," went on the organist; "you will find the pedal-point adds immensely to the effect. Well, by degrees we came to talking of the organ. It so happens that we had spoken of it the very first day I met him in the church, though you know I never talk about my instrument, do I? At that time it didn't strike me that he was so well up in the matter, but now he seemed to know all about it, and so I gave him my ideas as to what ought to be done. Then, before I knew where I was, he cut in with, 'Mr Sharnall, what you say interests me immensely; you put things in such a lucid way that even an outsider like myself can understand them. It would be a thousand pities if neglect were permanently to injure this sweet-toned instrument that Father Smith made so long ago. It is no use restoring the church without the organ, so you must draw up a specification of the repairs and additions required, and understand that anything you suggest shall be done. In the meantime pray order at once the water-engine and new pedal-board of which you speak, and inform me as to the cost.' He took me quite aback, and was gone before I had time to say anything. It puts me in a very equivocal position; I have such an antipathy to the man. I shall refuse his offer point-blank. I will not put myself under any obligation to such a man. You would refuse in my position? You would write a strong letter of refusal at once, would you not?"

Westray was of a guileless disposition, and apt to assume that people meant what they said. It seemed to him a matter for much regret that Mr Sharnall's independence, however lofty, should stand in the way of so handsome a benefaction, and he was at pains to elaborate and press home all the arguments that he could muster to shake the organist's resolve. The offer was kindly-meant; he was sure that Mr Sharnall took a wrong view of Lord Blandamer's character—that Mr Sharnall was wrong in imputing motives to Lord Blandamer. What motives could he have except the best? and however much Mr Sharnall might personally refuse, how was a man to be stopped eventually from repairing an organ which stood so manifestly in need of repair?

Westray spoke earnestly, and was gratified to see the effect which his eloquence produced on Mr Sharnall. It is so rarely that argument prevails to change opinion that the young man was flattered to see that the considerations which he was able to marshal were strong enough, at any rate, to influence Mr Sharnall's determination.

Well, perhaps there was something in what Mr Westray said. Mr Sharnall would think it over. He would not write the letter of refusal that night; he could write to refuse the next day quite as well. In the meantime he would see to the new pedal-board, and order the water-engine. Ever since he had seen the water-engine at Carisbury, he had been convinced that sooner or later they must have one at Cullerne. It must be ordered; they could decide later on whether it should be paid for by Lord Blandamer, or should be charged to the general restoration fund.

This conclusion, however inconclusive, was certainly a triumph for Westray's persuasive oratory, but his satisfaction was chastened by some doubts as to how far he was justified in assailing the scrupulous independence which had originally prompted Mr Sharnall to refuse to have anything to do with Lord Blandamer's offer. If Mr Sharnall had scruples in the matter, ought not he, Westray, to have respected those scruples? Was it not tampering with rectitude to have overcome them by a too persuasive rhetoric?

His doubts were not allayed by the observation that Mr Sharnall himself had severely felt the strain of this mental quandary, for the organist said that he was upset by so difficult a question, and filled himself a bumper of whisky to steady his nerves. At the same time he took down from a shelf two or three notebooks and a mass of loose papers, which he spread open upon the table before him. Westray looked at them with a glance of unconscious inquiry.

"I must really get to work at these things again," said the organist; "I have been dreadfully negligent of late. They are a lot of papers and notes that Martin Joliffe left behind him. Poor Miss Euphemia never had the heart to go through them. She was going to burn them just as they were, but I said, 'Oh, you mustn't do that; turn them over to me. I will look into them, and see whether there is anything worth keeping.' So I took them, but haven't done nearly as much as I ought, what with one interruption and another. It's always sad going through a dead man's papers, but sadder when they're all that's left of a life's labour—lost labour, so far as Martin was concerned, for he was taken away just when he began to see daylight. 'We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we shall carry nothing out.' When that comes into my mind, I think rather of the little things than of gold or lands. Intimate letters that a man treasured more than money; little tokens of which the clue has died with him; the unfinished work to which he was coming back, and never came; even the unpaid bills that worried him; for death transfigures all, and makes the commonplace pathetic."

He stopped for a moment. Westray said nothing, being surprised at this momentary softening of the other's mood.

"Yes, it's sad enough," the organist resumed; "all these papers are nebuly coat—the sea-green and silver."

"He was quite mad, I suppose?" Westray said.

"Everyone except me will tell you so," replied the organist; "but I'm not so very sure after all that there wasn't a good deal more in it than madness. That's all that I can say just now, but those of us who live will see. There is a queer tradition hereabout. I don't know how long ago it started, but people say that there is some mystery about the Blandamer descent, and that those in possession have no right to what they hold. But there is something else. Many have tried to solve the riddle, and some, you may depend, have been very hot on the track. But just as they come to the touch, something takes them off; that's what happened to Martin. I saw him the very day he died. 'Sharnall,' he said to me, 'if I can last out forty-eight hours more, you may take off your hat to me, and say "My lord."'

"But the nebuly coat was too much for him; he had to die. So don't you be surprised if I pop off the hooks some of these fine days; if I don't, I'm going to get to the bottom, and you will see some changes here before so very long."

He sat down at the table, and made a show for a minute of looking at the papers.

"Poor Martin!" he said, and got up again, opened the cupboard, and took out the bottle. "You'll have a drop," he asked Westray, "won't you?"

"No, thanks, not I," Westray said, with something as near contempt as his thin voice was capable of expressing.

"Just a drop—do! I must have just a drop myself; I find it a great strain working at these papers; there may be more at stake in the reading than I care to think of."

He poured out half a tumbler of spirit. Westray hesitated for a moment, and then his conscience and an early puritan training forced him to speak.

"Sharnall," he said, "put it away. That bottle is your evil angel. Play the man, and put it away. You force me to speak. I cannot sit by with hands folded and see you going down the hill."

The organist gave him a quick glance; then he filled up the tumbler to the brim with neat spirit.

"Look you," he said: "I was going to drink half a glass; now I'm going to drink a whole one. That much for your advice! Going down the hill indeed! Go to the devil with your impertinence! If you can't keep a civil tongue in your head, you had better get your supper in someone else's room."

A momentary irritation dragged Westray down from the high podium of judicial reproof into the arena of retort.

"Don't worry yourself," he said sharply; "you may rely on my not troubling you with my company again." And he got up and opened the door. As he turned to go out, Anastasia Joliffe passed through the passage on her way to bed.

The glimpse of her as she went by seemed still further to aggravate Mr Sharnall. He signed to Westray to stay where he was, and to shut the door again.

"Damn you!" he said; "that's what I called you back to say. Damn you! Damn Blandamer! Damn everybody! Damn poverty! Damn wealth! I will not touch a farthing of his money for the organ. Now you can go."

Westray had been cleanly bred. He had been used neither to the vulgarity of ill-temper nor to the coarser insolence of personal abuse. He shrank by natural habit even from gross adjectives, from the "beastly" and the "filthy" which modern manners too often condone, and still more from the abomination of swearing. So Mr Sharnall's obloquy wounded him to the quick. He went to bed in a flutter of agitation, and lay awake half the night mourning over a friendship so irreparably broken, bitter with the resentment of an unjustified attack, yet reproaching himself lest through his unwittingness he might have brought it all upon himself.

The morning found him unrefreshed and dejected, but, whilst he sat at breakfast, the sun came out brightly, and he began to take a less despondent view of the situation. It was possible that Mr Sharnall's friendship might not after all be lost beyond repair; he would be sorry if it were, for he had grown fond of the old man, in spite of all his faults of life and manner. It was he, Westray, who had been entirely to blame. In another man's room he had lectured the other man. He, a young man, had lectured the other, who was an old man. It was true that he had done so with the best motives; he had only spoken from a painful sense of duty. But he had shown no tact, he had spoken much too strongly; he had imperilled his own good cause by the injudicious manner in which he had put it forward. At the risk of all rebuffs, he would express his regret; he would go down and apologise to Mr Sharnall, and offer, if need be, the other cheek to the smiter.

Good resolves, if formed with the earnest intention of carrying them into effect, seldom fail to restore a measure of peace to the troubled mind. It is only when a regular and ghastly see-saw of wrong-doing and repentance has been established, and when the mind can no longer deceive even itself as to the possibility of permanent uprightness of life, that good resolves cease to tranquillise. Such a see-saw must gradually lose its regularity; the set towards evil grows more and more preponderant; the return to virtue rarer and more brief. Despair of any continuity of godliness follows, and then it is that good resolves, becoming a mere reflex action of the mind, fail in their gracious influence, and cease to bring quiet. These conditions can scarcely occur before middle age, and Westray, being young and eminently conscientious, was feeling the full peacefulness of his high-minded intention steal over him, when the door opened, and the organist entered.

An outbreak of temper and a night of hard drinking had left their tokens on Mr Sharnall's face. He looked haggard, and the rings that a weak heart had drawn under his eyes were darker and more puffed. He came in awkwardly, and walked quickly to the architect, holding out his hand.

"Forgive me, Westray," he said; "I behaved last night like a fool and a cad. You were quite right to speak to me as you did; I honour you for it. I wish to God there had been someone to speak to me like that years ago."

His outstretched hand was not so white as it should have been, the nails were not so well trimmed as a more fastidious mood might have demanded; but Westray did not notice these things. He took the shaky old hand, and gripped it warmly, not saying anything, because he could not speak.

"We must be friends," the organist went on, after a moment's pause; "we must be friends, because I can't afford to lose you. I haven't known you long, but you are the only friend I have in the world. Is it not an awful thing to confess?" he said, with a tremulous little laugh. "I have no other friend in the world. Say those things you said last night whenever you like; the oftener you say them the better."

He sat down, and, the situation being too strained to remain longer at so high a pitch, the conversation drifted, however awkwardly, to less personal topics.

"There is a thing I wanted to speak about last night," the organist said. "Poor old Miss Joliffe is very hard up. She hasn't said a word to me about it—she never would to anyone—but I happen to know it for a fact: she is hard up. She is in a chronic state of hard-up-ishness always, and that we all are; but this is an acute attack—she has her back against the wall. It is the fag-end of Martin's debts that bother her; these blood-sucking tradesmen are dunning her, and she hasn't the pluck to tell them go hang, though they know well enough she isn't responsible for a farthing. She has got it into her head that she hasn't a right to keep that flower-and-caterpillar picture so long as Martin's debts are unpaid, because she could raise money on it. You remember those people, Baunton and Lutterworth, offered her fifty pounds for it."

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