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The Nebuly Coat
by John Meade Falkner
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"Yes, I remember," Westray said; "more fools they."

"More fools, by all means," rejoined the organist; "but still they offer it, and I believe our poor old landlady will come to selling it. 'All the better for her,' you will say, and anyone with an ounce of common-sense would have sold it long ago for fifty pounds or fifty pence. But, then, she has no common-sense, and I do believe it would break her pride and worry her into a fever to part with it. Well, I have been at the pains to find out what sum of money would pull her through, and I fancy something like twenty pounds would tide over the crisis."

He paused a moment, as if he half expected Westray to speak; but the architect making no suggestion, he went on.

"I didn't know," he said timidly; "I wasn't quite sure whether you had been here long enough to take much interest in the matter. I had an idea of buying the picture myself, so that we could still keep it here. It would be no good offering Miss Euphemia money as a gift; she wouldn't accept it on any condition. I know her quite well enough to be sure of that. But if I was to offer her twenty pounds for it, and tell her it must always stop here, and that she could buy it back from me when she was able, I think she would feel such an offer to be a godsend, and accept it readily."

"Yes," Westray said dubitatively; "I suppose it couldn't be construed into attempting to outwit her, could it? It seems rather funny at first sight to get her to sell a picture for twenty pounds for which others have offered fifty pounds."

"No, I don't think so," replied the organist. "It wouldn't be a real sale at all, you know, but only just a colour for helping her."

"Well, as you have been kind enough to ask my advice, I see no further objection, and think it very good of you to show such thoughtfulness for poor Miss Joliffe."

"Thank you," said the organist hesitatingly—"thank you; I had hoped you would take that view of the matter. There is a further little difficulty: I am as poor as a church mouse. I live like an old screw, and never spend a penny, but, then, I haven't got a penny to spend, and so can't save."

Westray had already wondered how Mr Sharnall could command so large a sum as twenty pounds, but thought it more prudent to make no comments.

Then the organist took the bull by the horns.

"I didn't know," he said, "whether you would feel inclined to join me in the purchase. I have got ten pounds in the savings' bank; if you could find the other ten pounds, we could go shares in the picture; and, after all, that wouldn't much matter, for Miss Euphemia is quite sure to buy it back from us before very long."

He stopped and looked at Westray. The architect was taken aback. He was of a cautious and calculating disposition, and a natural inclination to save had been reinforced by the conviction that any unnecessary expenditure was in itself to be severely reprobated. As the Bible was to him the foundation of the world to come, so the keeping of meticulous accounts and the putting by of however trifling sums, were the foundation of the world that is. He had so carefully governed his life as to have been already able, out of a scanty salary, to invest more than a hundred pounds in Railway Debentures. He set much store by the half-yearly receipt of an exiguous interest cheque, and derived a certain dignity and feeling of commercial stability from envelopes headed the "Great Southern Railway," which brought him from time to time a proxy form or a notice of shareholders' meetings. A recent examination of his bankbook had filled him with the hope of being able ere long to invest a second hundred pounds, and he had been turning over in his mind for some days the question of the stocks to be selected; it seemed financially unsound to put so large a sum in any single security.

This suddenly presented proposal that he should make a serious inroad on his capital filled him with dismay; it was equivalent to granting a loan of ten pounds without any tangible security. No one in their senses could regard this miserable picture as a security; and the bulbous green caterpillar seemed to give a wriggle of derision as he looked at it across the breakfast-table. He had it on his tongue to refuse Mr Sharnall's request, with the sympathetic but judicial firmness with which all high-minded persons refuse to lend. There is a tone of sad resolution particularly applicable to such occasions, which should convey to the borrower that only motives of great moral altitude constrain us for the moment to override an earnest desire to part with our money. If it had not been for considerations of the public weal, we would most readily have given him ten times as much as was asked.

Westray was about to express sentiments of this nature when he glanced at the organist's face, and saw written in its folds and wrinkles so paramount and pathetic an anxiety that his resolution was shaken. He remembered the quarrel of the night before, and how Mr Sharnall, in coming to beg his pardon that morning, had humbled himself before a younger man. He remembered how they had made up their differences; surely an hour ago he would willingly have paid ten pounds to know that their differences could be made up. Perhaps, after all, he might agree to make this loan as a thank-offering for friendship restored. Perhaps, after all, the picture was a security: someone had offered fifty pounds for it.

The organist had not followed the change of Westray's mind; he retained only the first impression of reluctance, and was very anxious—curiously anxious, it might have seemed, if his only motive in the acquiring of the picture was to do a kindness to Miss Euphemia.

"It is a large sum, I know," he said in a low voice. "I am very sorry to ask you to do this. It is not for myself; I never asked a penny for myself in my life, and never will, till I go to the workhouse. Don't answer at once, if you don't see your way. Think it over. Take time to think it over; but do try, Westray, to help in the matter, if you can. It would be a sad pity to let the picture go out of the house just now."

The eagerness with which he spoke surprised Westray. Could it be that Mr Sharnall had motives other than mere kindness? Could it be that the picture was valuable after all? He walked across the room to look closer at the tawdry flowers and the caterpillar. No, it could not be that; the painting was absolutely worthless. Mr Sharnall had followed him, and they stood side by side looking out of the window. Westray was passing through a very brief interval of indecision. His emotional and perhaps better feelings told him that he ought to accede to Mr Sharnall's request; caution and the hoarding instinct reminded him that ten pounds was a large proportion of his whole available capital.

Bright sunshine had succeeded the rain. The puddles flashed on the pavements; the long rows of raindrops glistened on the ledges which overhung the shop-windows, and a warm steam rose from the sandy roadway as it dried in the sun. The front-door of Bellevue Lodge closed below them, and Anastasia, in a broad straw hat and a pink print dress, went lightly down the steps. On that bright morning she looked the brightest thing of all, as she walked briskly to the market with a basket on her arm, unconscious that two men were watching her from an upper window.

It was at that minute that thrift was finally elbowed by sentiment out of Westray's mind.

"Yes," he said, "by all means let us buy the picture. You negotiate the matter with Miss Joliffe, and I will give you two five-pound notes this evening."

"Thank you—thank you," said the organist, with much relief. "I will tell Miss Euphemia that she can buy it back from us whenever it suits her to do so; and if she should not buy it back before one of us dies, then it shall remain the sole property of the survivor."

So that very day the purchase of a rare work of art was concluded by private treaty between Miss Euphemia Joliffe of the one part, and Messrs. Nicholas Sharnall and Edward Westray of the other. The hammer never fell upon the showy flowers with the green caterpillar wriggling in the corner; and Messrs. Baunton and Lutterworth received a polite note from Miss Joliffe to say that the painting late in the possession of Martin Joliffe, Esquire, deceased, was not for sale.



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

The old Bishop of Carisbury was dead, and a new Bishop of Carisbury reigned in his stead. The appointment had caused some chagrin in Low-Church circles, for Dr Willis, the new Bishop, was a High Churchman of pronounced views. But he had a reputation for deep personal piety, and a very short experience sufficed to show that he was full of Christian tolerance and tactful loving-kindness.

One day, as Mr Sharnall was playing a voluntary after the Sunday morning-service, a chorister stole up the little winding steps, and appeared in the organ-loft just as his master had pulled out a handful of stops and dashed into the stretto. The organist had not heard the boy on the stairs, and gave a violent start as he suddenly caught sight of the white surplice. Hands and feet for an instant lost their place, and the music came perilously near breaking down. It was only for an instant; he pulled himself together, and played the fugue to its logical conclusion.

Then the boy began, "Canon Parkyn's compliments," but broke off; for the organist greeted him with a sound cuff and a "How many times have I told you, sir, not to come creeping up those stairs when I am in the middle of a voluntary? You startle me out of my senses, coming round the corner like a ghost."

"I'm very sorry, sir," the boy said, whimpering. "I'm sure I never meant—I never thought—"

"You never do think," Mr Sharnall said. "Well, well, don't go on whining. Old heads don't grow on young shoulders; don't do it again, and there's a sixpence for you. And now let's hear what you have to say."

Sixpences were rare things among Cullerne boys, and the gift consoled more speedily than any balm in Gilead.

"Canon Parkyn's compliments to you, sir, and he would be glad to have a word with you in the clergy-vestry."

"All in good time. Tell him I'll be down as soon as I've put my books away."

Mr Sharnall did not hurry. There were the Psalter and the chant-book to be put open on the desk for the afternoon; there were the morning-service and anthem-book to be put away, and the evening-service and anthem-book to be got out.

The establishment had once been able to afford good music-books, and in the attenuated list of subscribers to the first-edition Boyce you may see to this day, "The Rector and Foundation of Cullerne Minster (6 copies)." Mr Sharnall loved the great Boyce, with its parchment paper and largest of large margins. He loved the crisp sound of the leaves as he turned them, and he loved the old-world clefs that he could read nine staves at a time as easily as a short score. He looked at the weekly list to check his memory—"Awake up my Glory" (Wise). No, it was in

Volume Three instead of Two; he had taken down the wrong volume—a stupid mistake for one who knew the copy so well. How the rough calf backs were crumbling away! The rusty red-leather dust had come off on his coat-sleeves; he really was not fit to be seen, and he took some minutes more to brush it all off. So it was that Canon Parkyn chafed at being kept waiting in the clergy-vestry, and greeted Mr Sharnall on his appearance with a certain tartness:

"I wish you could be a little quicker when you are sent for. I am particularly busy just now, and you have kept me waiting a quarter of an hour at least."

As this was precisely what Mr Sharnall had intended to do, he took no umbrage at the Rector's remarks, but merely said:

"Pardon me; scarcely so long as a quarter of an hour, I think."

"Well, do not let us waste words. What I wanted to tell you was that it has been arranged for the Lord Bishop of Carisbury to hold a confirmation in the minster on the eighteenth of next month, at three o'clock in the afternoon. We must have a full musical service, and I shall be glad if you will submit a sketch of what you propose for my approval. There is one point to which I must call your attention particularly. As his lordship walks up the nave, we must have a becoming march on the organ—not any of this old-fashioned stuff of which I have had so often to complain, but something really dignified and with tune in it."

"Oh yes, we can easily arrange that," Mr Sharnall said obsequiously—"'See the Conquering Hero comes,' by Handel, would be very appropriate; or there is an air out of one of Offenbach's Operas that I think I could adapt to the purpose. It is a very sweet thing if rendered with proper feeling; or I could play a 'Danse Maccabre' slowly on the full organ."

"Ah, that is from the 'Judas Maccabaeus,' I conclude," said the Rector, a little mollified at this unexpected acquiescence in his views. "Well, I see that you understand my wishes, so I hope I may leave that matter in your hands. By the way," he said, turning back as he left the vestry, "what was the piece which you played after the service just now?"

"Oh, only a fugal movement—just a fugue of Kirnberger's."

"I wish you would not give us so much of this fugal style. No doubt it is all very fine from a scholastic point of view, but to most it seems merely confused. So far from assisting me and the choir to go out with dignity, it really fetters our movements. We want something with pathos and dignity, such as befits the end of a solemn service, yet with a marked rhythm, so that it may time our footsteps as we leave the choir. Forgive these suggestions; the practical utility of the organ is so much overlooked in these days. When Mr Noot is taking the service it does not so much matter, but when I am here myself I beg that there may be no more fugue."

The visit of the Bishop of Carisbury to Cullerne was an important matter, and necessitated some forethought and arrangement.

"The Bishop must, of course, lunch with us," Mrs Parkyn said to her husband; "you will ask him, of course, to lunch, my dear."

"Oh yes, certainly," replied the Canon; "I wrote yesterday to ask him to lunch."

He assumed an unconcerned air, but with only indifferent success, for his heart misgave him that he had been guilty of an unpardonable breach of etiquette in writing on so important a subject without reference to his wife.

"Really, my dear!" she rejoined—"really! I hope at least that your note was couched in proper terms."

"Psha!" he said, a little nettled in his turn, "do you suppose I have never written to a Bishop before?"

"That is not the point; any invitation of this kind should always be given by me. The Bishop, if he has any breeding, will be very much astonished to receive an invitation to lunch that is not given by the lady of the house. This, at least, is the usage that prevails among persons of breeding." There was just enough emphasis in the repetition of the last formidable word to have afforded a casus belli, if the Rector had been minded for the fray; but he was a man of peace.

"You are quite right, my dear," was the soft answer; "it was a slip of mine, which we must hope the Bishop will overlook. I wrote in a hurry yesterday afternoon, as soon as I received the official information of his coming. You were out calling, if you recollect, and I had to catch the post. One never knows what tuft-hunting may not lead people to do; and if I had not caught the post, some pushing person or other might quite possibly have asked him sooner. I meant, of course, to have reported the matter to you, but it slipped my memory."

"Really," she said, with fine deprecation, being only half pacified, "I do not see who there could be to ask the Bishop except ourselves. Where should the Bishop of Carisbury lunch in Cullerne except at the Rectory?" In this unanswerable conundrum she quenched the smouldering embers of her wrath. "I have no doubt, dear, that you did it all for the best, and I hate these vulgar pushing nobodies, who try to get hold of everyone of the least position quite as much as you do. So let us consider whom we ought to ask to meet him. A small party, I think it should be; he would take it as a greater compliment if the party were small."

She had that shallow and ungenerous mind which shrinks instinctively from admitting any beauty or intellect in others, and which grudges any participation in benefits, however amply sufficient they may be for all. Thus, few must be asked to meet the Bishop, that it might the better appear that few indeed, beside the Rector and Mrs Parkyn, were fit to associate with so distinguished a man.

"I quite agree with you," said the Rector, considerably relieved to find that his own temerity in asking the Bishop might now be considered as condoned. "Our party must above all things be select; indeed, I do not know how we could make it anything but very small; there are so few people whom we could ask to meet the Bishop."

"Let me see," his wife said, making a show of reckoning Cullerne respectability with the fingers of one hand on the fingers of the other. "There is—" She broke off as a sudden idea seized her. "Why, of course, we must ask Lord Blandamer. He has shown such marked interest in ecclesiastical matters that he is sure to wish to meet the Bishop."

"A most fortunate suggestion—admirable in every way. It may strengthen his interest in the church; and it must certainly be beneficial to him to associate with correct society after his wandering and Bohemian life. I hear all kinds of strange tales of his hobnobbing with this Mr Westray, the clerk of the works, and with other persons entirely out of his own rank. Mrs Flint, who happened to be visiting a poor woman in a back lane, assures me that she has every reason to believe that he spent an hour or more in the clerk's house, and even ate there. They say he positively ate tripe."

"Well, it will certainly do him good to meet the Bishop," the lady said. "That would make four with ourselves; and we can ask Mrs Bulteel. We need not ask her husband; he is painfully rough, and the Bishop might not like to meet a brewer. It will not be at all strange to ask her alone; there is always the excuse of not liking to take a businessman away from his work in the middle of the day."

"That would be five; we ought to make it up to six. I suppose it would not do to ask this architect-fellow or Mr Sharnall."

"My dear! what can you be thinking of? On no account whatever. Such guests would be most inappropriate."

The Rector looked so properly humble and cast down at this reproof that his wife relented a little.

"Not that there is any harm in asking them, but they would be so very ill at ease themselves, I fear, in such surroundings. If you think the number should be even, we might perhaps ask old Noot. He is a gentleman, and would pass as your chaplain, and say grace."

Thus the party was made up, and Lord Blandamer accepted, and Mrs Bulteel accepted; and there was no need to trouble about the curate's acceptance—he was merely ordered to come to lunch. But, after all had gone so well up to this point, the unexpected happened—the Bishop could not come. He regretted that he could not accept the hospitality so kindly offered him by Canon Parkyn; he had an engagement which would occupy him for any spare time that he would have in Cullerne; he had made other arrangements for lunch; he would call at the Rectory half an hour before the service.

The Rector and his wife sat in the "study," a dark room on the north side of the rectory-house, made sinister from without by dank laurestinus, and from within by glass cases of badly-stuffed birds. A Bradshaw lay on the table before them.

"He cannot be driving from Carisbury," Mrs Parkyn said. "Dr Willis does not keep at all the same sort of stables that his predecessor kept. Mrs Flint, when she was attending the annual Christian Endeavour meeting at Carisbury, was told that Dr Willis thinks it wrong that a Bishop should do more in the way of keeping carriages than is absolutely necessary for church purposes. She said she had passed the Bishop's carriage herself, and that the coachman was a most unkempt creature, and the horses two wretched screws."

"I heard much the same thing," assented the Rector. "They say he would not have his own coat of arms painted on the carriage, for what was there already was quite good enough for him. He cannot possibly be driving here from Carisbury; it is a good twenty miles."

"Well, if he does not drive, he must come by the 12:15 train; that would give him two hours and a quarter before the service. What business can he have in Cullerne? Where can he be lunching? What can he be doing with himself for two mortal hours and a quarter?"

Here was another conundrum to which probably only one person in Cullerne town could have supplied an answer, and that was Mr Sharnall. A letter had come for the organist that very day:

"The Palace,

"Carisbury.

"My dear Sharnall,

"(I had almost written 'My dear Nick'; forty years have made my pen a little stiff, but you must give me your official permission to write 'My dear Nick' the very next time.) You may have forgotten my hand, but you will not have forgotten me. Do you know, it is I, Willis, who am your new Bishop? It is only a fortnight since I learnt that you were so near me—

"'Quam dulce amicitias, Redintegrare nitidas' -

"and the very first point of it is that I am going to sponge on you, and ask myself to lunch. I am coming to Cullerne at 12:45 to-day fortnight for the Confirmation, and have to be at the Rectory at 2:30, but till then an old friend, Nicholas Sharnall, will give me food and shelter, will he not? Make no excuses, for I shall not accept them; but send me word to say that in this you will not fail of your duty, and believe me always to be

"Yours,

"John Carum."

There was something that moved strangely inside Mr Sharnall's battered body as he read the letter—an upheaval of emotion; the child's heart within the man's; his young hopeful self calling to his old hopeless self. He sat back in his armchair, and shut his eyes, and the organ-loft in a little college chapel came back to him, and long, long practisings, and Willis content to stand by and listen as long as he should play. How it pleased Willis to stand by, and pull the stops, and fancy he knew something of music! No, Willis never knew any music, and yet he had a good taste, and loved a fugue.

There came to him country rambles and country churches and Willis with an "A.B.C. of Gothic Architecture," trying to tell an Early English from a Decorated moulding. There came to him inimitably long summer evenings, with the sky clearest yellow in the north, hours after sunset; dusty white roads, with broad galloping-paths at the side, drenched with heavy dew; the dark, mysterious boskage of Stow Wood; the scent of the syringa in the lane at Beckley; the white mist sheeting the Cherwell vale. And supper when they got home—for memory is so powerful an alchemist as to transmute suppers as well as sunsets. What suppers! Cider-cup with borage floating in it, cold lamb and mint sauce, watercress, and a triangular commons of Stilton. Why, he had not tasted Stilton for forty years!

No, Willis never knew any music, but he loved a fugue. Ah, the fugues they had! And then a voice crossed Mr Sharnall's memory, saying, "When I am here myself, I beg that there may be no more fugue." "No more fugue"—there was a finality in the phrase uncompromising as the "no more sea" of the Apocalyptic vision. It made Mr Sharnall smile bitterly; he woke from his daydream, and was back in the present.

Oh yes, he knew very well that it was his old friend when he first saw on whom the choice had fallen for the Bishopric. He was glad Willis was coming to see him. Willis knew all about the row, and how it was that Sharnall had to leave Oxford. Ay, but the Bishop was too generous and broad-minded to remember that now. Willis must know very well that he was only a poor, out-at-elbows old fellow, and yet he was coming to lunch with him; but did Willis know that he still—He did not follow the thought further, but glanced in a mirror, adjusted his tie, fastened the top button of his coat, and with his uncertain hands brushed the hair back on either side of his head. No, Willis did not know that; he never should know; it was never too late to mend.

He went to the cupboard, and took out a bottle and a tumbler. Only very little spirit was left, and he poured it all into the glass. There was a moment's hesitation, a moment while enfeebled will-power was nerving itself for the effort. He was apparently engaged in making sure that not one minim of this most costly liquor was wasted. He held the bottle carefully inverted, and watched the very last and smallest drop detach itself and fall into the glass. No, his will-power was not yet altogether paralysed—not yet; and he dashed the contents of the glass into the fire. There was a great blaze of light-blue flame, and a puff in the air that made the window-panes rattle; but the heroic deed was done, and he heard a mental blast of trumpets, and the acclaiming voice of the Victor Sui. Willis should never know that he still—because he never would again.

He rang the bell, and when Miss Euphemia answered it she found him walking briskly, almost tripping, to and fro in the room. He stopped as she entered, drew his heels together, and made her a profound bow.

"Hail, most fair chastelaine! Bid the varlets lower the draw-bridge and raise the portcullis. Order pasties and souse-fish and a butt of malmsey; see the great hall is properly decored for my Lord Bishop of Carisbury, who will take his ambigue and bait his steeds at this castle."

Miss Joliffe stared; she saw a bottle and an empty tumbler on the table, and smelt a strong smell of whisky; and the mirth faded from Mr Sharnall's face as he read her thoughts.

"No, wrong," he said—"wrong this once; I am as sober as a judge, but excited. A Bishop is coming to lunch with me. You are excited when Lord Blandamer takes tea with you—a mere trashy temporal peer; am I not to be excited when a real spiritual lord pays me a visit? Hear, O woman! The Bishop of Carisbury has written to ask, not me to lunch with him, but him to lunch with me. You will have a Bishop lunching at Bellevue Lodge."

"Oh, Mr Sharnall! pray, sir, speak plainly. I am so old and stupid, I can never tell whether you are joking or in earnest."

So he put off his exaltation, and told her the actual facts.

"I am sure I don't know, sir, what you will give him for lunch," Miss Joliffe said. She was always careful to put in a proper number of "sirs," for, though she was proud of her descent, and considered that so far as birth went she need not fear comparison with other Cullerne dames, she thought it a Christian duty to accept fully the position of landlady to which circumstances had led her. "I am sure I don't know what you will give him for lunch; it is always so difficult to arrange meals for the clergy. If one provides too much of the good things of this world, it seems as if one was not considering sufficiently their sacred calling; it seems like Martha, too cumbered with much serving, too careful and troubled, to gain all the spiritual advantage that must come from clergymen's society. But, of course, even the most spiritually-minded must nourish their bodies, or they would not be able to do so much good. But when less provision has been made, I have sometimes seen clergymen eat it all up, and become quite wearied, poor things! for want of food. It was so, I remember, when Mrs Sharp invited the parishioners to meet the deputation after the Church Missionary Meeting. All the patties were eaten before the deputation came, and he was so tired, poor man! with his long speech that when he found there was nothing to eat he got quite annoyed. It was only for a moment, of course, but I heard him say to someone, whose name I forget, that he had much better have trusted to a ham-sandwich in the station refreshment-room.

"And if it is difficult with the food, it is worse still with what they are to drink. Some clergymen do so dislike wine, and others feel they need it before the exertion of speaking. Only last year, when Mrs Bulteel gave a drawing-room meeting, and champagne with biscuits was served before it, Dr Stimey said quite openly that though he did not consider all who drank to be reprobate, yet he must regard alcohol as the Mark of the Beast, and that people did not come to drawing-room meetings to drink themselves sleepy before the speaking. With Bishops it must be much worse; so I don't know what we shall give him."

"Don't distress yourself too much," the organist said, having at last spied a gap in the serried ranks of words; "I have found out what Bishops eat; it is all in a little book. We must give him cold lamb— cold ribs of lamb—and mint sauce, boiled potatoes, and after that Stilton cheese."

"Stilton?" Miss Joliffe asked with some trepidation. "I am afraid it will be very expensive."

As a drowning man in one moment passes in review the events of a lifetime, so her mind took an instantaneous conspectus of all cheeses that had ever stood in the cheese-cradle in the palmy days of Wydcombe, when hams and plum-puddings hung in bags from the rafters, when there was cream in the dairy and beer in the cellar. Blue Vinny, little Gloucesters, double Besants, even sometimes a cream-cheese with rushes on the bottom, but Stilton never!

"I am afraid it is a very expensive cheese; I do not think anyone in Cullerne keeps it."

"It is a pity," Mr Sharnall said; "but we cannot help ourselves, for Bishops must have Stilton for lunch; the book says so. You must ask Mr Custance to get you a piece, and I will tell you later how it is to be cut, for there are rules about that too."

He laughed to himself with a queer little chuckle. Cold lamb and mint sauce, with a piece of Stilton afterwards—they would have an Oxford lunch; they would be young again, and undefiled.

The stimulus that the Bishop's letter had brought Mr Sharnall soon wore off. He was a man of moods, and in his nervous temperament depression walked close at the heels of exaltation. Westray felt sure in those days that followed that his friend was drinking to excess, and feared something more serious than a mere nervous breakdown, from the agitation and strangeness that he could not fail to observe in the organist's manner.

The door of the architect's room opened one night, as he sat late over his work, and Mr Sharnall entered. His face was pale, and there was a startled, wide-open look in his eyes that Westray did not like.

"I wish you would come down to my room for a minute," the organist said; "I want to change the place of my piano, and can't move it by myself."

"Isn't it rather late to-night?" Westray said, pulling at his watch, while the deep and slow melodious chimes of Saint Sepulchre told the dreaming town and the silent sea-marshes that it lacked but a quarter of an hour to midnight. "Wouldn't it be better to do it to-morrow morning?"

"Couldn't you come down to-night?" the organist asked; "it wouldn't take you a minute."

Westray caught the disappointment in the tone.

"Very well," he said, putting his drawing-board aside. "I've worked at this quite long enough; let us shift your piano."

They went down to the ground-floor.

"I want to turn the piano right-about-face," the organist said, "with its back to the room and the keyboard to the wall—the keyboard quite close to the wall, with just room for me to sit."

"It seems a curious arrangement," Westray criticised; "is it better acoustically?"

"Oh, I don't know; but, if I want to rest a bit, I can put my back against the wall, you see."

The change was soon accomplished, and they sat down for a moment before the fire.

"You keep a good fire," Westray said, "considering it is bed-time." And, indeed, the coals were piled high, and burning fiercely.

The organist gave them a poke, and looked round as if to make sure that they were alone.

"You'll think me a fool," he said; "and I am. You'll think I've been drinking, and I have. You'll think I'm drunk, but I'm not. Listen to me: I'm not drunk; I'm only a coward. Do you remember the very first night you and I walked home to this house together? Do you remember the darkness and the driving rain, and how scared I was when we passed the Old Bonding-house? Well, it was beginning then, but it's much worse now. I had a horrible idea even then that there was something always following me—following me close. I didn't know what it was—I only knew there was something close behind me."

His manner and appearance alarmed Westray. The organist's face was very pale, and a curious raising of the eyelids, which showed the whites of the eyes above the pupils, gave him the staring appearance of one confronted suddenly with some ghastly spectacle. Westray remembered that the hallucination of pursuant enemies is one of the most common symptoms of incipient madness, and put his hand gently on the organist's arm.

"Don't excite yourself," he said; "this is all nonsense. Don't get excited so late at night."

Mr Sharnall brushed the hand aside.

"I only used to have that feeling when I was out of doors, but now I have it often indoors—even in this very room. Before I never knew what it was following me—I only knew it was something. But now I know what it is: it is a man—a man with a hammer. Don't laugh. You don't want to laugh; you only laugh because you think it will quiet me, but it won't. I think it is a man with a hammer. I have never seen his face yet, but I shall some day. Only I know it is an evil face—not hideous, like pictures of devils or anything of that kind, but worse—a dreadful, disguised face, looking all right, but wearing a mask. He walks constantly behind me, and I feel every moment that the hammer may brain me."

"Come, come!" Westray said in what is commonly supposed to be a soothing tone, "let us change this subject, or go to bed. I wonder how you will find the new position of your piano answer."

The organist smiled.

"Do you know why I really put it like that?" he said. "It is because I am such a coward. I like to have my back against the wall, and then I know there can be no one behind me. There are many nights, when it gets late, that it is only with a great effort I can sit here. I grow so nervous that I should go to bed at once, only I say to myself, 'Nick'— that's what they used to call me at home, you know, when I was a boy—'Nick, you're not going to be beat; you're not going to be scared out of your own room by ghosts, surely.' And then I sit tight, and play on, but very often don't think much of what I'm playing. It is a sad state for a man to get into, is it not?" And Westray could not traverse the statement.

"Even in the church," Mr Sharnall went on, "I don't care to practise much in the evening by myself. It used to be all right when Cutlow was there to blow for me. He is a daft fellow, but still was some sort of company; but now the water-engine is put in, I feel lonely there, and don't care to go as often as I used. Something made me tell Lord Blandamer how his water-engine contrived to make me frightened, and he said he should have to come up to the loft himself sometimes to keep me company."

"Well, let me know the first evening you want to practise," Westray said, "and I will come, too, and sit in the loft. Take care of yourself, and you will soon grow out of all these fancies, and laugh at them as much as I do." And he feigned a smile. But it was late at night; he was high-strung and nervous himself, and the fact that Mr Sharnall should have been brought to such a pitiable state of mental instability depressed him.

The report that the Bishop was going to lunch with Mr Sharnall on the day of the Confirmation soon spread in Cullerne. Miss Joliffe had told Mr Joliffe the pork-butcher, as her cousin, and Mr Joliffe, as churchwarden, had told Canon Parkyn. It was the second time within a few weeks that a piece of important news had reached the Rector at second-hand. But on this occasion he experienced little of the chagrin that had possessed him when Lord Blandamer made the great offer to the restoration fund through Westray. He did not feel resentment against Mr Sharnall; the affair was of too solemn an importance for any such personal and petty sentiments to find a place. Any act of any Bishop was vicariously an act of God, and to chafe at this dispensation would have been as out of place as to be incensed at a shipwreck or an earthquake. The fact of being selected as the entertainer of the Bishop of Carisbury invested Mr Sharnall in the Rector's eyes with a distinction which could not have been possibly attained by mere intellect or technical skill or devoted drudgery. The organist became ipso facto a person to be taken into account.

The Rectory had divined and discussed, and discussed and divined, how it was, could, would, should, have been that the Bishop could be lunching with Mr Sharnall. Could it be that the Bishop had thought that Mr Sharnall kept an eating-house, or that the Bishop took some special diet which only Mr Sharnall knew how to prepare? Could it be that the Bishop had some idea of making Mr Sharnall organist in his private chapel, for there was no vacancy in the Cathedral? Conjecture charged the blank wall of mystery full tilt, and retired broken from the assault. After talking of nothing else for many hours, Mrs Parkyn declared that the matter had no interest at all for her.

"For my part, I cannot profess to understand such goings-on," she said in that convincing and convicting tone which implies that the speaker knows far more than he cares to state, and that the solution of the mystery must in any case be discreditable to all concerned.

"I wonder, my dear," the Rector said to his wife, "whether Mr Sharnall has the means to entertain the Bishop properly."

"Properly!" said Mrs Parkyn—"properly! I think the whole proceeding entirely improper. Do you mean has Mr Sharnall money enough to purchase a proper repast? I should say certainly not. Or has he proper plates or forks or spoons, or a proper room in which to eat? Of course he has not. Or do you mean can he get things properly cooked? Who is to do it? There is only feckless old Miss Joliffe and her stuck-up niece."

The Canon was much perturbed by the vision of discomfort which his wife had called up.

"The Bishop ought to be spared as much as possible," he said; "we ought to do all we can to save him annoyance. What do you think? Should we not put up with a little inconvenience, and ask Sharnall to bring the Bishop here, and lunch himself? He must know perfectly well that entertaining a Bishop in a lodging-house is an unheard-of thing, and he would do to make up the sixth instead of old Noot. We could easily tell Noot he was not wanted."

"Sharnall is such a disreputable creature," Mrs Parkyn answered; "he is quite as likely as not to come tipsy; and, if he does not, he has no breeding or education, and would scarcely understand polite conversation."

"You forget, my dear, that the Bishop is already pledged to lunch with Mr Sharnall, so that we should not be held responsible for introducing him. And Sharnall has managed to pick up some sort of an education—I can't imagine where; but I found on one occasion that he could understand a little Latin. It was the Blandamer motto, 'Aut Fynes, aut finis.' He may have been told what it meant, but he certainly seemed to know. Of course, no real knowledge of Latin can be obtained without a University education"—and the Rector pulled up his tie and collar—"but still chemists and persons of that sort do manage to get a smattering of it."

"Well, well, I don't suppose we are going to talk Latin all through lunch," interrupted his wife. "You can do precisely as you please about asking him."

The Rector contented himself with the permission, however ungraciously accorded, and found himself a little later in Mr Sharnall's room.

"Mrs Parkyn was hoping that she might have prevailed on you to lunch with us on the day of the Confirmation. She was only waiting for the Bishop's acceptance to send you an invitation; but we hear now," he said in a dubitative and tentative way—"we hear now that it is possible that the Bishop may be lunching with you."

There was a twitch about the corners of Canon Parkyn's mouth. The position that a Bishop should be lunching with Mr Sharnall in a common lodging-house was so exquisitely funny that he could only restrain his laughter with difficulty.

Mr Sharnall gave an assenting nod.

"Mrs Parkyn was not quite sure whether you might have in your lodgings exactly everything that might be necessary for entertaining his lordship."

"Oh dear, yes," Mr Sharnall said. "It looks a little dowdy just this minute, because the chairs are at the upholsterers to have the gilt touched up; we are putting up new curtains, of course, and the housekeeper has already begun to polish the best silver."

"It occurred to Mrs Parkyn," the Rector continued, being too bent on saying what he had to say to pay much attention to the organist's remarks—"it occurred to Mrs Parkyn that it might perhaps be more convenient to you to bring the Bishop to lunch at the Rectory. It would spare you all trouble in preparation, and you would of course lunch with us yourself. It would be putting us to no inconvenience; Mrs Parkyn would be glad that you should lunch with us yourself."

Mr Sharnall nodded, this time deprecatingly.

"You are very kind. Mrs Parkyn is very considerate, but the Bishop has signified his intention of lunching in this house; I could scarcely venture to contravene his lordship's wishes."

"The Bishop is a friend of yours?" the Rector asked.

"You can scarcely say that; I do not think I have set eyes on the man for forty years."

The Rector was puzzled.

"Perhaps the Bishop is under some misconception; perhaps he thinks that this house is still an inn—the Hand of God, you know."

"Perhaps," said the organist; and there was a little pause.

"I hope you will consider the matter. May I not tell Mrs Parkyn that you will urge the Bishop to lunch at the Rectory—that you both"—and he brought out the word bravely, though it cost him a pang to yoke the Bishop with so unworthy a mate, and to fling the door of select hospitality open to Mr Sharnall—"that you both will lunch with us?"

"I fear not," the organist said; "I fear I must say no. I shall be very busy preparing for the extra service, and if I am to play 'See the Conquering Hero' as the Bishop enters the church, I shall need time for practice. A piece like that takes some playing, you know."

"I hope you will endeavour to render it in the very best manner," the Rector said, and withdrew his forces re infecta.

The story of Mr Sharnall's mental illusions, and particularly of the hallucination as to someone following him, had left an unpleasant impression on Westray's mind. He was anxious about his fellow-lodger, and endeavoured to keep a kindly supervision over him, as he felt it to be possible that a person in such a state might do himself a mischief. On most evenings he either went down to Mr Sharnall's room, or asked the organist to come upstairs to his, considering that the solitude incident to bachelor life in advancing years was doubtless to blame to a large extent for these wandering fancies. Mr Sharnall occupied himself at night in sorting and reading the documents which had once belonged to Martin Joliffe. There was a vast number of them, representing the accumulation of a lifetime, and consisting of loose memoranda, of extracts from registers, of manuscript-books full of pedigrees and similar material. When he had first begun to examine them, with a view to their classification or destruction, he showed that the task was distinctly uncongenial to him; he was glad enough to make any excuse for interruption or for invoking Westray's aid. The architect, on the other hand, was by nature inclined to archaeologic and genealogic studies, and would not have been displeased if Mr Sharnall had handed over to him the perusal of these papers entirely. He was curious to trace the origin of that chimera which had wasted a whole life—to discover what had led Martin originally to believe that he had a claim to the Blandamer peerage. He found, perhaps, an additional incentive in an interest which he was beginning unconsciously to take in Anastasia Joliffe, whose fortunes might be supposed to be affected by these investigations.

But in a little while Westray noticed a change in the organist's attitude as touching the papers. Mr Sharnall evinced a dislike to the architect examining them further; he began himself to devote a good deal more time and attention to their study, and he kept them jealously under lock and key. Westray's nature led him to resent anything that suggested suspicion; he at once ceased to concern himself with the matter, and took care to show Mr Sharnall that he had no wish whatever to see more of the documents.

As for Anastasia, she laughed at the idea of there being any foundation underlying these fancies; she laughed at Mr Sharnall, and rallied Westray, saying she believed that they both were going to embark on the quest of the nebuly coat. To Miss Euphemia it was no laughing matter.

"I think, my dear," she said to her niece, "that all these searchings after wealth and fortune are not of God. I believe that trying to discover things"—and she used "things" with the majestic comprehensiveness of the female mind—"is generally bad for man. If it is good for us to be noblemen and rich, then Providence will bring us to that station; but to try to prove one's self a nobleman is like star-gazing and fortune-telling. Idolatry is as the sin of witchcraft. There can be no blessing on it, and I reproach myself for ever having given dear Martin's papers to Mr Sharnall at all. I only did so because I could not bear to go through them myself, and thought perhaps that there might be cheques or something valuable among them. I wish I had burnt everything at first, and now Mr Sharnall says he will not have the papers destroyed till he has been through them. I am sure they were no blessing at all to dear Martin. I hope they may not bewitch these two gentlemen as well."



CHAPTER TWELVE.

The scheme of restoration had been duly revised in the light of Lord Blandamer's generosity, and the work had now entered on such a methodical progress that Westray was able on occasion to relax something of that close personal supervision which had been at first so exacting. Mr Sharnall often played for half an hour or more after the evening-service, and on such occasions Westray found time, now and then, to make his way to the organ-loft. The organist liked to have him there; he was grateful for the token of interest, however slight, that was implied in such visits; and Westray, though without technical knowledge, found much to interest him in the unfamiliar surroundings of the loft. It was a curious little kingdom of itself, situate over the great stone screen, which at Cullerne divides the choir from the nave, but as remote and cut off from the outside world as a desert island. Access was gained to it by a narrow, round, stone staircase, which led up from the nave at the south end of the screen. After the bottom door of this windowless staircase was opened and shut, anyone ascending was left for a moment in bewildering darkness. He had to grope the way by his feet feeling the stairs, and by his hand laid on the central stone shaft which had been polished to the smoothness of marble by countless other hands of past times.

But, after half a dozen steps, the darkness resolved; there was first the dusk of dawn, and soon a burst of mellow light, when he reached the stairhead and stepped out into the loft. Then there were two things which he noticed before any other—the bow of that vast Norman arch which spanned the opening into the south transept, with its lofty and over-delicate roll and cavetto mouldings; and behind it the head of the Blandamer window, where in the centre of the infinite multiplication of the tracery shone the sea-green and silver of the nebuly coat. Afterwards he might remark the long-drawn roof of the nave, and the chevroned ribs of the Norman vault, delimiting bay and bay with a saltire as they crossed; or his eyes might be led up to the lantern of the central tower, and follow the lighter ascending lines of Abbot Vinnicomb's Perpendicular panelling, till they vanished in the windows far above.

Inside the loft there was room and to spare. It was formed on ample lines, and had space for a stool or two beside the performer's seat, while at the sides ran low bookcases which held the music library. In these shelves rested the great folios of Boyce, and Croft, and Arnold, Page and Greene, Battishill and Crotch—all those splendid and ungrudging tomes for which the "Rectors and Foundation of Cullerne" had subscribed in older and richer days. Yet these were but the children of a later birth. Round about them stood elder brethren, for Cullerne Minster was still left in possession of its seventeenth-century music-books. A famous set they were, a hundred or more bound in their old black polished calf, with a great gold medallion, and "Tenor: Decani," or "Contra-tenor: Cantoris", "Basso," or "Sopra," stamped in the middle of every cover. And inside was parchment with red-ruled margins, and on the parchment were inscribed services and "verse-anthems" and "ffull-anthems," all in engrossing hand and the most uncompromising of black ink. Therein was a generous table of contents— Mr Batten and Mr Gibbons, Mr Mundy and Mr Tomkins, Doctor Bull and Doctor Giles, all neatly filed and paged; and Mr Bird would incite singers long since turned to churchyard mould to "bring forthe ye timbrell, ye pleasant harp and ye violl," and reinsist with six parts, and a red capital letter, "ye pleasant harp and ye violl."

It was a great place for dust, the organ-loft—dust that fell, and dust that rose; dust of wormy wood, dust of crumbling leather, dust of tattered mothy curtains that were dropping to pieces, dust of primeval green baize; but Mr Sharnall had breathed the dust for forty years, and felt more at home in that place than anywhere else. If it was Crusoe's island, he was Crusoe, monarch of all he surveyed.

"Here, you can take this key," he said one day to Westray; "it unlocks the staircase-door; but either tell me when to expect you, or make a noise as you come up the steps. I don't like being startled. Be sure you push the door to after you; it fastens itself. I am always particular about keeping the door locked, otherwise one doesn't know what stranger may take it into his head to walk up. I can't bear being startled." And he glanced behind him with a strange look in his eyes.

A few days before the Bishop's visit Westray was with Mr Sharnall in the organ-loft. He had been there through most of the service, and, as he sat on his stool in the corner, had watched the curious diamond pattern of light and dark that the clerestory windows made with the vaulting-ribs. Anyone outside would have seen islands of white cloud drifting across the blue sky, and each cloud as it passed threw the heavy chevroned diagonals inside into bold relief, and picked out that rebus of a carding-comb encircled by a wreath of vine-leaves which Nicholas Vinnicomb had inserted for a vaulting-boss.

The architect had learned to regard the beetling roof with an almost superstitious awe, and was this day so fascinated with the strange effect as to be scarcely aware that the service was over till Mr Sharnall spoke.

"You said you would like to hear my service in D flat—'Sharnall in D flat,' did you not? I will play it through to you now, if you care to listen. Of course, I can only give you the general effect, without voices, though, after all, I don't know that you won't get quite as good an idea of it as you could with any voices that we have here."

Westray woke up from his dreams and put himself into an attitude of proper attention, while Mr Sharnall played the service from a faded manuscript.

"Now," he said, as he came towards the end—"now listen. This is the best part of it—a fugal Gloria, ending with a pedal-point. Here you are, you see—a tonic pedal-point, this D flat, the very last raised note in my new pedal-board, held down right through." And he set his left foot on the pedal. "What do you think of that for a Magnificat?" he said, when it was finished; and Westray was ready with all the conventional expressions of admiration. "It is not bad, is it?" Mr Sharnall asked; "but the gem of it is the Gloria—not real fugue, but fugal, with a pedal-point. Did you catch the effect of that point? I will keep the note down by itself for a second, so that you may get thoroughly hold of it, and then play the Gloria again."

He held down the D flat, and the open pipe went booming and throbbing through the long nave arcades, and in the dark recesses of the triforium, and under the beetling vaulting, and quavered away high up in the lantern, till it seemed like the death-groan of a giant.

"Take it up," Westray said; "I can't bear the throbbing."

"Very well; now listen while I give you the Gloria. No, I really think I had better go through the whole service again; you see, it leads up more naturally to the finale."

He began the service again, and played it with all the conscientious attention and sympathy that the creative artist must necessarily give to his own work. He enjoyed, too, that pleasurable surprise which awaits the discovery that a composition laid aside for many years and half forgotten is better and stronger than had been imagined, even as a disused dress brought out of the wardrobe sometimes astonishes us with its freshness and value.

Westray stood on a foot-pace at the end of the loft which allowed him to look over the curtain into the church. His eyes roamed through the building as he listened, but he did not appreciate the music the less. Nay, rather, he appreciated it the more, as some writers find literary perception and power of expression quickened at the influence of music itself. The great church was empty. Janaway had left for his tea; the doors were locked, no strangers could intrude; there was no sound, no murmur, no voice, save only the voices of the organ-pipes. So Westray listened. Stay, were there no other voices? was there nothing he heard—nothing that spoke within him? At first he was only conscious of something—something that drew his attention away from the music, and then the disturbing influence was resolved into another voice, small, but rising very clear even above "Sharnall in D flat." "The arch never sleeps," said that still and ominous voice. "The arch never sleeps; they have bound on us a burden too heavy to be borne. We are shifting it; we never sleep." And his eyes turned to the cross arches under the tower. There, above the bow of the south transept, showed the great crack, black and writhen as a lightning-flash, just as it had showed any time for a century—just the same to the ordinary observer, but not to the architect. He looked at it fixedly for a moment, and then, forgetting Mr Sharnall and the music, left the loft, and made his way to the wooden platform that the masons had built up under the roof.

Mr Sharnall did not even perceive that he had gone down, and dashed con furore into the Gloria. "Give me the full great," he called to the architect, who he thought was behind him; "give me the full great, all but the reed," and snatched the stops out himself when there was no response. "It went better that time—distinctly better," he said, as the last note ceased to sound, and then turned round for Westray's comment; but the loft was empty—he was alone.

"Curse the fellow!" he said; "he might at least have let me know that he was going away. Ah, well, it's all poor stuff, no doubt." And he shut up the manuscript with a lingering and affectionate touch, that contrasted with so severe a criticism. "It's poor stuff; why should I expect anyone to listen to it?"

It was full two hours later that Westray came quickly into the organist's room at Bellevue Lodge.

"I beg your pardon, Sharnall," he said, "for leaving you so cavalierly. You must have thought me rude and inappreciative; but the fact is I was so startled that I forgot to tell you why I went. While you were playing I happened to look up at that great crack over the south transept arch, and saw something very like recent movement. I went up at once to the scaffolding, and have been there ever since. I don't like it at all; it seems to me that the crack is opening, and extending. It may mean very serious mischief, and I have made up my mind to go up to London by the last train to-night. I must get Sir George Farquhar's opinion at once."

The organist grunted. The wound inflicted on his susceptibility had rankled deeply, and indignation had been tenderly nursed. A piece of his mind was to have been given to Westray, and he regretted the very reasonableness of the explanation that robbed him of his opportunity.

"Pray don't apologise," he said; "I never noticed that you had gone. I really quite forgot that you had been there."

Westray was too full of his discovery to take note of the other's annoyance. He was one of those excitable persons who mistake hurry for decision of action.

"Yes," he said, "I must be off to London in half an hour. The matter is far too serious to play fast-and-loose with. It is quite possible that we shall have to stop the organ, or even to forbid the use of the church altogether, till we can shore and strut the arch. I must go and put my things together."

So, with heroic promptness and determination, he flung himself into the last train, and spent the greater part of the night in stopping at every wayside station, when his purpose would have been equally served by a letter or by taking the express at Cullerne Road the next morning.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

The organ was not silenced, nor was the service suspended. Sir George came down to Cullerne, inspected the arch, and rallied his subordinate for an anxiety which was considered to be unjustifiable. Yes, the wall above the arch had moved a little, but not more than was to be expected from the repairs which were being undertaken with the vaulting. It was only the old wall coming to its proper bearings—he would have been surprised, in fact, if no movement had taken place; it was much safer as it was.

Canon Parkyn was in high good-humour. He rejoiced in seeing the pert and officious young clerk of the works put in his proper place; and Sir George had lunched at the Rectory. There was a repetition of the facetious proposal that Sir George should wait for payment of his fees until the tower should fall, which acquired fresh point from the circumstance that all payments were now provided for by Lord Blandamer. The ha-ha-ing which accompanied this witticism palled at length even upon the robust Sir George, and he winced under a dig in the ribs, which an extra glass of port had emboldened the Canon to administer.

"Well, well, Mr Rector," he said, "we cannot put old heads on young shoulders. Mr Westray was quite justified in referring the matter to me. It has an ugly look; one needs experience to be able to see through things like this." And he pulled up his collar, and adjusted his tie.

Westray was content to accept his Chief's decision as a matter of faith, though not of conviction. The black lightning-flash was impressed on his mental retina, the restless cry of the arches was continually in his ear; he seldom passed the transept-crossing without hearing it. But he bore his rebuke with exemplary resignation—the more so that he was much interested in some visits which Lord Blandamer paid him at this period. Lord Blandamer called more than once at Bellevue Lodge in the evenings, even as late as nine o'clock, and would sit with Westray for two hours together, turning over plans and discussing the restoration. The architect learnt to appreciate the charm of his manner, and was continually astonished at the architectural knowledge and critical power which he displayed. Mr Sharnall would sometimes join them for a few minutes, but Lord Blandamer never appeared quite at his ease when the organist was present; and Westray could not help thinking that Mr Sharnall was sometimes tactless, and even rude, considering that he was beholden to Lord Blandamer for new pedals and new bellows and a water-engine in esse, and for the entire repair of the organ in posse.

"I can't help being 'beholden to him,' as you genteelly put it," Mr Sharnall said one evening, when Lord Blandamer had gone. "I can't stop his giving new bellows or a new pedal-board. And we do want the new board and the additional pipes. As it is, I can't play German music, can't touch a good deal of Bach's organ work. Who is to say this man nay, if he chooses to alter the organ? But I'm not going to truckle to anyone, and least of all to him. Do you want me to fall flat on my face because he is a lord? Pooh! we could all be lords like him. Give me another week with Martin's papers, and I'll open your eyes. Ay, you may stare and sniff if you please, but you'll open your eyes then. Ex oriente lux—that's where the light's coming from, out of Martin's papers. Once this Confirmation over, and you'll see. I can't settle to the papers till that's done with. What do people want to confirm these boys and girls for? It only makes hypocrites of wholesome children. I hate the whole business. If people want to make their views public, let them do it at five-and-twenty; then we should believe that they knew something of what they were about."

The day of the Bishop's visit had arrived; the Bishop had arrived himself; he had entered the door of Bellevue Lodge; he had been received by Miss Euphemia Joliffe as one who receives an angel awares; he had lunched in Mr Sharnall's room, and had partaken of the cold lamb, and the Stilton, and even of the cider-cup, to just such an extent as became a healthy and good-hearted and host-considering bishop.

"You have given me a regular Oxford lunch," he said. "Your landlady has been brought up in the good tradition." And he smiled, never doubting that he was partaking of the ordinary provision of the house, and that Mr Sharnall fared thus sumptuously every day. He knew not that the meal was as much a set piece as a dinner on the stage, and that cold lamb and Stilton and cider-cup were more often represented by the bottom of a tin of potted meat and—a gill of cheap whisky.

"A regular Oxford lunch." And then they fell to talking of old days, and the Bishop called Mr Sharnall "Nick," and Mr Sharnall called the Bishop of Carum "John"; and they walked round the room looking at pictures of college groups and college eights, and the Bishop examined very tenderly the little water-colour sketch that Mr Sharnall had once made of the inner quad; and they identified in it their own old rooms, and the rooms of several other men of their acquaintance.

The talk did Mr Sharnall good; he felt the better for it every moment. He had meant to be very proud and reserved with the Bishop—to be most dignified and coldly courteous. He had meant to show that, though John Willis might wear the gaiters, Nicholas Sharnall could retain his sturdy independence, and was not going to fawn or to admit himself to be the mental inferior of any man. He had meant to give a tirade against Confirmation, against the neglect of music, against rectors, with perhaps a back-thrust at the Bench of Bishops itself. But he had done none of these things, because neither pride nor reserve nor assertiveness were possible in John Willis's company. He had merely eaten a good lunch, and talked with a kindly, broad-minded gentleman, long enough to warm his withered heart, and make him feel that there were still possibilities in life.

There is a bell that rings for a few strokes three-quarters of an hour before every service at Cullerne. It is called the Burgess Bell—some say because it was meant to warn such burgesses as dwelt at a distance that it was time to start for church; whilst others will have it that Burgess is but a broken-down form of expergiscere—"Awake! awake!"— that those who dozed might rise for prayer. The still air of the afternoon was yet vibrating with the Burgess Bell, and the Bishop rose to take his leave.

If it was the organist of Cullerne who had been ill at ease when their interview began, it was the Bishop of Carisbury who was embarrassed at the end of it. He had asked himself to lunch with Mr Sharnall with a definite object, and towards the attainment of that object nothing had been done. He had learnt that his old friend had fallen upon evil times, and, worse, had fallen into evil courses—that the failing which had ruined his Oxford career had broken out again with a fresh fire in advancing age, that Nicholas Sharnall was in danger of a drunkard's judgment.

There had been lucid intervals in the organist's life; the plague would lie dormant for years, and then break out, to cancel all the progress that had been made. It was like a "race-game" where the little leaden horse is moved steadily forward, till at last the die falls on the fatal number, and the racer must lose a turn, or go back six, or, even in the worst issue, begin his whole course again. It was in the forlorn hope of doing something, however little, to arrest a man on the downward slope that the Bishop had come to Bellevue Lodge; he hoped to speak the word in season that should avail. Yet nothing had been said. He felt like a clerk who has sought an interview with his principal to ask for an increase of salary, and then, fearing to broach the subject, pretends to have come on other business. He felt like a son longing to ask his father's counsel in some grievous scrape, or like an extravagant wife waiting her opportunity to confess some heavy debt.

"A quarter past two," the Bishop said; "I must be going. It has been a great pleasure to recall the old times. I hope we shall meet again soon; but remember it is your turn now to come and see me. Carisbury is not so very far off, so do come. There is always a bed ready for you. Will you walk up the street with me now? I have to go to the Rectory, and I suppose you will be going to the church, will you not?"

"Yes," said Mr Sharnall; "I'll come with you if you wait one minute. I think I'll take just a drop of something before I go, if you'll excuse me. I feel rather run down, and the service is a long one. You won't join me, of course?" And he went to the cupboard.

The Bishop's opportunity was come.

"Don't, Sharnall. Don't, Nick," he said; "don't take that stuff. Forgive me for speaking openly, the time is so short. I am not speaking professionally or from the religious standpoint, but only just as one man of the world to another, just as one friend to another, because I cannot bear to see you going on like this without trying to stop you. Don't take offence, Nick," he added, as he saw the change of the other's countenance; "our old friendship gives me a right to speak; the story you are writing on your own face gives me a right to speak. Give it up. There is time yet to turn; give it up. Let me help you; is there nothing I can do to help?"

The angry look that crossed Mr Sharnall's face had given way to sadness.

"It is all very easy for you," he said; "you've done everything in life, and have a long row of milestones behind you to show how you've moved on. I have done nothing, only gone back, and have all the milestones in front to show how I've failed. It's easy to twit me when you've got everything you want—position, reputation, fortune, a living faith to keep you up to it. I am nobody, miserably poor, have no friends, and don't believe half we say in church. What am I to do? No one cares a fig about me; what have I got to live for? To drink is the only chance I have of feeling a little pleasure in life; of losing for a few moments the dreadful consciousness of being an outcast; of losing for a moment the remembrance of happy days long ago: that's the greatest torment of all, Willis. Don't blame me if I drink; it's the elixir vitae for me just as much as for Paracelsus." And he turned the handle of the cupboard.

"Don't," the Bishop said again, putting his hand on the organist's arm; "don't do it; don't touch it. Don't make success any criterion of life; don't talk about 'getting on.' We shan't be judged by how we have got on. Come along with me; show you've got your old resolution, your old will-power."

"I haven't got the power," Mr Sharnall said; "I can't help it." But he took his hand from the cupboard-door.

"Then let me help it for you," said the Bishop; and he opened the cupboard, found a half-used bottle of whisky, drove the cork firmly into it, and put it under his arm inside the lappet of his coat. "Come along."

So the Bishop of Carisbury walked up the High Street of Cullerne with a bottle of whisky under his left arm. But no one could see that, because it was hid under his coat; they only saw that he had his right arm inside Mr Sharnall's. Some thought this an act of Christian condescension, but others praised the times that were past; bishops were losing caste, they said, and it was a sad day for the Church when they were found associating openly with persons so manifestly their inferiors.

"We must see more of each other," the Bishop said, as they walked under the arcade in front of the shops. "You must get out of this quag somehow. You can't expect to do it all at once, but we must make a beginning. I have taken away your temptation under my coat, and you must make a start from this minute; you must make me a promise now. I have to be in Cullerne again in six days' time, and will come and see you. You must promise me not to touch anything for these six days, and you must drive back with me to Carisbury when I go back then, and spend a few days with me. Promise me this, Nick; the time is pressing, and I must leave you, but you must promise me this first."

The organist hesitated for a moment, but the Bishop gripped his arm.

"Promise me this; I will not go till you promise."

"Yes, I promise."

And lying-and-mischief-making Mrs Flint, who was passing, told afterwards how she had overheard the Bishop discussing with Mr Sharnall the best means for introducing ritualism into the minster, and how the organist had promised to do his very best to help him so far as the musical part of the sendee was concerned.

The Confirmation was concluded without any contretemps, save that two of the Grammar School boys incurred an open and well-merited rebuke from the master for appearing in gloves of a much lighter slate colour than was in any way decorous, and that this circumstance reduced the youngest Miss Bulteel to such a state of hysteric giggling that her mother was forced to remove her from the church, and thus deprive her of spiritual privileges for another year.

Mr Sharnall bore his probation bravely. Three days had passed, and he had not broken his vow—no, not in one jot or tittle. They had been days of fine weather, brilliantly clear autumn days of blue sky and exhilarating air. They had been bright days for Mr Sharnall; he was himself exhilarated; he felt a new life coursing in his veins. The Bishop's talk had done him good; from his heart he thanked the Bishop for it. Giving up drinking had done him no harm; he felt all the better for his abstinence. It had not depressed him at all; on the contrary, he was more cheerful than he had been for years. Scales had fallen from his eyes since that talk; he had regained his true bearings; he began to see the verities of life. How he had wasted his time! Why had he been so sour? why had he indulged his spleen? why had he taken such a jaundiced view of life? He would put aside all jealousies; he would have no enmities; he would be broader-minded—oh, so much broader-minded; he would embrace all mankind—yes, even Canon Parkyn. Above all, he would recognise that he was well advanced in life; he would be more sober-thinking, would leave childish things, would resolutely renounce his absurd infatuation for Anastasia. What a ridiculous idea—a crabbed old sexagenarian harbouring affection for a young girl! Henceforth she should be nothing to him—absolutely nothing. No, that would be foolish; it would not be fair to her to cut her off from all friendship; he could feel for her a fatherly affection—it should be paternal and nothing more. He would bid adieu to all that folly, and his life should not be a whit the emptier for the loss. He would fill it with interests—all kinds of interests, and his music should be the first. He would take up again, and carry out to the end, that oratorio which he had turned over in his mind for years—the "Absalom." He had several numbers at his fingers' ends; he would work out the bass solo, "Oh, Absalom, my son, my son!" and the double chorus that followed it, "Make ready, ye mighty; up and bare your swords!"

So he discoursed joyfully with his own heart, and felt above measure elated at the great and sudden change that was wrought in him, not recognising that the clouds return after the rain, and that the leopard may change his spots as easily as man may change his habits. To change a habit at fifty-five or forty-five or thirty-five; to ordain that rivers shall flow uphill; to divert the relentless sequence of cause and effect—how often dare we say this happens? Nemo repente—no man ever suddenly became good. A moment's spiritual agony may blunt our instincts and paralyse the evil in us—for a while, even as chloroform may dull our bodily sense; but for permanence there is no sudden turning of the mind; sudden repentances in life or death are equally impossible.

Three halcyon days were followed by one of those dark and lowering mornings when the blank life seems blanker, and when the gloom of nature is too accurately reflected in the nervous temperament of man. On healthy youth climatic influences have no effect, and robust middle age, if it perceive them, goes on its way steadfast or stolid, with a cela passera, tout passera. But on the feeble and the failing such times fall with a weight of fretful despondency; and so they fell on Mr Sharnall.

He was very restless about the time of the mid-day meal. There came up a thick, dark fog from the sea, which went rolling in great masses over Cullerne Flat, till its fringe caught the outskirts of the town. After that, it settled in the streets, and took up its special abode in Bellevue Lodge; till Miss Euphemia coughed so that she had to take two ipecacuanha lozenges, and Mr Sharnall was forced to ring for a lamp to see his victuals. He went up to Westray's room to ask if he might eat his dinner upstairs, but he found that the architect had gone to London, and would not be back till the evening train; so he was thrown upon his own resources.

He ate little, and by the end of the meal depression had so far got the better of him, that he found himself standing before a well-known cupboard. Perhaps the abstemiousness of the last three days had told upon him, and drove him for refuge to his usual comforter. It was by instinct that he went to the cupboard; he was not even conscious of doing so till he had the open door in his hand. Then resolution returned to him, aided, it may be, by the reflection that the cupboard was bare (for the Bishop had taken away the whisky), and he shut the door sharply. Was it possible that he had so soon forgotten his promise—had come so perilously near falling back into the mire, after the bright prospects of the last days, after so lucid an interval? He went to his bureau and buried himself in Martin Joliffe's papers, till the Burgess Bell gave warning of the afternoon service.

The gloom and fog made way by degrees for a drizzling rain, which resolved itself into a steady downpour as the afternoon wore on. It was so heavy that Mr Sharnall could hear the indistinct murmur of millions of raindrops on the long lead roofs, and their more noisy splash and spatter as they struck the windows in the lantern and north transept. He was in a bad humour as he came down from the loft. The boys had sung sleepily and flat; Jaques had murdered the tenor solo with his strained and raucous voice; and old Janaway remembered afterwards that Mr Sharnall had never vouchsafed a good-afternoon as he strode angrily down the aisle.

Things were no better when he reached Bellevue Lodge. He was wet and chilled, and there was no fire in the grate, because it was too early in the year for such luxuries to be afforded. He would go to the kitchen, and take his tea there. It was Saturday afternoon. Miss Joliffe would be at the Dorcas meeting, but Anastasia would be in; and this reflection came to him as a ray of sunlight in a dark and lowering time. Anastasia would be in, and alone; he would sit by the fire and drink a cup of hot tea, while Anastasia should talk to him and gladden his heart. He tapped lightly at the kitchen-door, and as he opened it a gusty buffet of damp air smote him on the face; the room was empty. Through a half-open sash the wet had driven in, and darkened the top of the deal table which stood against the window; the fire was but a smouldering ash. He shut the window instinctively while he reflected. Where could Anastasia be? She must have left the kitchen some time, otherwise the fire would not be so low, and she would have seen that the rain was beating in. She must be upstairs; she had no doubt taken advantage of Westray's absence to set his room in order. He would go up to her; perhaps there was a fire in Westray's room.

He went up the circular stone staircase, that ran like a wide well from top to bottom of the old Hand of God. The stone steps and the stone floor of the hall, the stuccoed walls, and the coved stucco roof which held the skylight at the top, made a whispering-gallery of that gaunt staircase; and before Mr Sharnall had climbed half-way up he heard voices.

They were voices in conversation; Anastasia had company. And then he heard that one was a man's voice. What right had any man to be in Westray's room? What man had any right to be talking to Anastasia? A wild suspicion passed through his mind—no, that was quite impossible. He would not play the eavesdropper or creep near them to listen; but, as he reflected, he had mounted a step or two higher, and the voices were now more distinct. Anastasia had finished speaking, and the man began again. There was one second of uncertainty in Mr Sharnall's mind, while the hope that it was not, balanced the fear that it was; and then doubt vanished, and he knew the voice to be Lord Blandamer's.

The organist sprang up two or three steps very quickly. He would go straight to them—straight into Westray's room; he would—And then he paused; he would do, what? What right had he to go there at all? What had he to do with them? What was there for anyone to do? He paused, then turned and went downstairs again, telling himself that he was a fool—that he was making mountains of molehills, that there did not exist, in fact, even a molehill; yet having all the while a sickening feeling within him, as if some gripping hand had got hold of his poor physical and material heart, and was squeezing it. His room looked more gloomy than ever when he got back to it, but it did not matter now, because he was not going to remain there. He only stopped for a minute to sweep back into the bureau all those loose papers of Martin Joliffe's that were lying in a tumble on the open desk-flap. He smiled grimly as he put them back and locked them in. Le jour viendra qui tout paiera. These papers held a vengeance that would atone for all wrongs.

He took down his heavy and wet-sodden overcoat from the peg in the hall, and reflected with some satisfaction that the bad weather could not seriously damage it, for it had turned green with wear, and must be replaced as soon as he got his next quarter's salary. The rain still fell heavily, but he must go out. Four walls were too narrow to hold his chafing mood, and the sadness of outward nature accorded well with a gloomy spirit. So he shut the street-door noiselessly, and went down the semicircular flight of stone steps in front of the Hand of God, just as Lord Blandamer had gone down them on that historic evening when Anastasia first saw him. He turned back to look at the house, just as Lord Blandamer had turned back then; but was not so fortunate as his illustrious predecessor, for Westray's window was tight shut, and there was no one to be seen.

"I wish I may never look upon the place again," he said to himself, half in earnest, and half with that cynicism which men affect because they know Fate seldom takes them at their word.

For an hour or more he wandered aimlessly, and found himself, as night fell, on the western outskirts of the town, where a small tannery carries on the last pretence of commercial activity in Cullerne. It is here that the Cull, which has run for miles under willow and alder, through deep pastures golden with marsh marigolds or scented with meadow-sweet, past cuckoo-flower and pitcher-plant and iris and nodding bulrush, forsakes better traditions, and becomes a common town-sluice before it deepens at the wharves, and meets the sandy churn of the tideway. Mr Sharnall had become aware that he was tired, and he stood and leant over the iron paling that divides the roadway from the stream. He did not know how tired he was till he stopped walking, nor how the rain had wetted him till he bent his head a little forward, and a cascade of water fell from the brim of his worn-out hat.

It was a forlorn and dismal stream at which he looked. The low tannery buildings of wood projected in part over the water, and were supported on iron props, to which were attached water-whitened skins and repulsive portions of entrails, that swung slowly from side to side as the river took them. The water here is little more than three feet deep, and beneath its soiled current can be seen a sandy bottom on which grow patches of coarse duck-weed. To Mr Sharnall these patches of a green so dark and drain-soiled as to be almost black in the failing light, seemed tresses of drowned hair, and he weaved stories about them for himself as the stream now swayed them to and fro, and now carried them out at length.

He observed things with that vacant observation which the body at times insists on maintaining, when the mind is busy with some overmastering preoccupation. He observed the most trivial details; he made an inventory of the things which he could see lying on the dirty bed of the river underneath the dirty water. There was a tin bucket with a hole in the bottom; there was a brown teapot without a spout; there was an earthenware blacking-bottle too strong to be broken; there were other shattered glass bottles and shards of crockery; there was a rim of a silk hat, and more than one toeless boot. He turned away, and looked down the road towards the town. They were beginning to light the lamps, and the reflections showed a criss-cross of white lines on the muddy road, where the water stood in the wheel-tracks. There was a dark vehicle coming down the road now, making a fresh track in the mud, and leaving two shimmering lines behind it as it went. He gave a little start when it came nearer, and he saw that it was the undertaker's cart carrying out a coffin for some pauper at the Union Workhouse.

He gave a start and a shiver; the wet had come through his overcoat; he could feel it on his arms; he could feel the cold and clinging wet striking at his knees. He was stiff with standing so long, and a rheumatic pain checked him suddenly as he tried to straighten himself. He would walk quickly to warm himself—would go home at once. Home— what home had he? That great, gaunt Hand of God. He detested it and all that were within its walls. That was no home. Yet he was walking briskly towards it, having no other whither to go.

He was in the mean little streets, he was within five minutes of his goal, when he heard singing. He was passing the same little inn which he had passed the first night that Westray came. The same voice was singing inside which had sung the night that Westray came. Westray had brought discomfort; Westray had brought Lord Blandamer. Things had never been the same since; he wished Westray had never come at all; he wished—oh, how he wished!—that all might be as it was before—that all might jog along quietly as it had for a generation before. She certainly had a fine voice, this woman. It really would be worth while seeing who she was; he wished he could just look inside the door. Stay, he could easily make an excuse for looking in: he would order a little hot whisky-and-water. He was so wet, it was prudent to take something to drink. It might ward off a bad chill. He would only take a very little, and only as a medicine, of course; there could be no harm in that—it was mere prudence.

He took off his hat, shook the rain from it, turned the handle of the door very gently, with the consideration of a musician who will do nothing to interrupt another who is making music, and went in.

He found himself in that sanded parlour which he had seen once before through the window. It was a long, low room, with heavy beams crossing the roof, and at the end was an open fireplace, where a kettle hung above a smouldering fire. In a corner sat an old man playing on a fiddle, and near him the Creole woman stood singing; there were some tables round the room, and behind them benches on which a dozen men were sitting. There was no young man among them, and most had long passed the meridian of life. Their faces were sun-tanned and mahogany-coloured; some wore earrings in their ears, and strange curls of grey hair at the side of their heads. They looked as if they might have been sitting there for years—as if they might be the crew of some long-foundered vessel to whom has been accorded a Nirvana of endless tavern-fellowship. None of them took any notice of Mr Sharnall, for music was exercising its transporting power, and their thoughts were far away. Some were with old Cullerne whalers, with the harpoon and the ice-floe; some dreamt of square-stemmed timber-brigs, of the Baltic and the white Memel-logs, of wild nights at sea and wilder nights ashore; and some, remembering violet skies and moonlight through the mango-groves, looked on the Creole woman, and tried to recall in her faded features, sweet, swart faces that had kindled youthful fires a generation since.

"Then the grog, boys—the grog, boys, bring hither,"

sang the Creole.

"Fill it up true to the brim. May the mem'ry of Nelson ne'er wither Nor the star of his glory grow dim."

There were rummers standing on the tables, and now and then a drinking-brother would break the sugar-knobs in his liquor with a glass stirrer, or take a deep draught of the brown jorum that steamed before him. No one spoke to Mr Sharnall; only the landlord, without asking what he would take, set before him a glass filled with the same hot spirit as the other guests were drinking.

The organist accepted his fate with less reluctance than he ought perhaps to have displayed, and a few minutes later was drinking and smoking with the rest. He found the liquor to his liking, and soon experienced the restoring influences of the warm room and of the spirit. He hung his coat up on a peg, and in its dripping condition, and in the wet which had penetrated to his skin, found ample justification for accepting without demur a second bumper with which the landlord replaced his empty glass. Rummer followed rummer, and still the Creole woman sang at intervals, and still the company smoked and drank.

Mr Sharnall drank too, but by-and-by saw things less clearly, as the room grew hotter and more clouded with tobacco-smoke. Then he found the Creole woman standing before him, and holding out a shell for contributions. He had in his pocket only one single coin—a half-crown that was meant to be a fortnight's pocket-money; but he was excited, and had no hesitation.

"There," he said, with an air of one who gives a kingdom—"there, take that: you deserve it; but sing me a song that I heard you sing once before, something about the rolling sea."

She nodded that she understood, and after the collection was finished, gave the money to the blind man, and bade him play for her.

It was a long ballad, with many verses and a refrain of:

"Oh, take me back to those I love, Or bring them here to me; I have no heart to rove, to rove Across the rolling sea."

At the end she came back, and sat down on the bench by Mr Sharnall.

"Will you not give me something to drink?" she said, speaking in very good English. "You all drink; why should not I?"

He beckoned to the landlord to bring her a glass, and she drank of it, pledging the organist.

"You sing well," he said, "and with a little training should sing very well indeed. How do you come to be here? You ought to do better than this; if I were you, I would not sing in such company."

She looked at him angrily.

"How do I come to be here? How do you come to be here? If I had a little training, I should sing better, and if I had your training, Mr Sharnall"—and she brought out his name with a sneering emphasis—"I should not be here at all, drinking myself silly in a place like this."

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