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The Nebuly Coat
by John Meade Falkner
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Though Mrs Westray senior poured out the vials of her wrath on Anastasia for having refused to become Mrs Westray junior, she was at heart devoutly glad at the turn events had taken. At heart Westray could not have said whether he was glad or sorry. He told himself that he was deeply in love with Anastasia, and that this love was further ennobled by a chivalrous desire to shield her from evil; but he could not altogether forget that the unfortunate event had at least saved him from the unconventionality of marrying his landlady's niece. He told himself that his grief was sincere and profound, but it was possible that chagrin and wounded pride were after all his predominant feelings. There were other reflections which he thrust aside as indecorous at this acute stage of the tragedy, but which, nevertheless, were able to exercise a mildly consoling influence in the background. He would be spared the anxieties of early and impecunious marriage, his professional career would not be weighted by family cares, the whole world was once more open before him, and the slate clean. These were considerations which could not prudently be overlooked, though it would be unseemly to emphasise them too strongly when the poignancy of regret should dominate every other feeling.

He wrote to Sir George Farquhar, and obtained ten days' leave of absence on the score of indisposition; and he wrote to Miss Euphemia Joliffe to tell her that he intended to seek other rooms. From the first he had decided that this latter step was inevitable. He could not bear the daily renewal of regret, the daily opening of the wound that would be caused by the sight of Anastasia, or by such chance intercourse with her as further residence at Bellevue Lodge must entail. There is no need to speculate whether his decision was influenced in part by a concession to humiliated pride; men do not take pleasure in revisiting the scenes of a disastrous rout, and it must be admitted that the possibility of summoning a lost love to his presence when he rang for boiling water, had in it something of the grotesque. He had no difficulty in finding other lodgings by correspondence, and he spared himself the necessity of returning at all to his former abode by writing to ask Clerk Janaway to move his belongings.

One morning, a month later, Miss Joliffe sat in that room which had been occupied by the late Mr Sharnall. She was alone, for Anastasia had gone to the office of the Cullerne Advertiser with an announcement in which one A.J. intimated that she was willing to take a post as nursery-governess. It was a bright morning but cold, and Miss Joliffe drew an old white knitted shawl closer about her, for there was no fire in the grate. There was no fire because she could not afford it, yet the sun pouring in through the windows made the room warmer than the kitchen, where the embers had been allowed to die out since breakfast. She and Anastasia did without fire on these bright autumn days to save coals; they ate a cold dinner, and went early to bed for the same reason, yet the stock in the cellar grew gradually less. Miss Joliffe had examined it that very morning, and found it terribly small; nor was there any money nor any credit left with which to replenish it.

On the table before her was a pile of papers, some yellow, some pink, some white, some blue, but all neatly folded. They were folded lengthways and to the same breadth, for they were Martin Joliffe's bills, and he had been scrupulously neat and orderly in his habits. It is true that there were among them some few that she had herself contracted, but then she had always been careful to follow exactly her brother's method both of folding and also of docketing them on the exterior. Yes, no doubt she was immediately responsible for some, and she knew just which they were from the outside without any need to open them. She took up one of them: "Rose and Storey, importers of French millinery, flowers, feathers, ribbons, etcetera. Mantle and jacket show-rooms." Alas, alas! how frail is human nature! Even in the midst of her misfortunes, even in the eclipse of old age, such words stirred Miss Joliffe's interest—flowers, feathers, ribbons, mantles, and jackets; she saw the delightful show-room 19, 20, 21, and 22, Market Place, Cullerne—saw it in the dignified solitude of a summer morning when a dress was to be tried on, saw it in the crush and glorious scramble of a remnant sale. "Family and complimentary mourning, costumes, skirts, etcetera; foreign and British silks, guaranteed makes." After that the written entry seemed mere bathos: "Material and trimming one bonnet, 11 shillings and 9 pence; one hat, 13 shillings 6 pence. Total, 1 pound 5 shillings 3 pence." It really was not worth while making a fuss about, and the bunch of cherries and bit of spangled net were well worth the 1 shilling 9 pence, that Anastasia's had cost more than hers.

Hole, pharmaceutical chemist: "Drops, 1 shilling 6 pence; liniment, 1 shilling; mixture, 1 shilling 9 pence," repeated many times. "Cod-liver oil, 1 shilling 3 pence, and 2 shillings 6 pence, and 1 shilling 3 pence again. 2 pounds 13 shillings 2 pence, with 4 shillings 8 pence interest," for the bill was four years old. That was for Anastasia at a critical time when nothing seemed to suit her, and Dr Ennefer feared a decline; but all the medicine for poor Martin was entered in Dr Ennefer's own account.

Pilkington, the shoemaker, had his tale to tell: "Miss Joliffe: Semi-pold. lace boots, treble soles, 1 pound 1 shilling 0 pence. Miss A. Jol.: Semi-pold. lace boots, treble soles, 1 pound 1 shilling 0 pence. 6 pair mohair laces, 9 pence. 3 ditto, silk, 1 shilling." Yes, she was indeed a guilty woman. It was she that had "run up" these accounts, and she grew red to think that her own hand should have helped to build so dismal a pile.

Debt, like every other habit that runs counter to the common good, brings with it its own punishment, because society protects itself by making unpleasant the ways of such as inconvenience their neighbours. It is true that some are born with a special talent and capacity for debt—they live on it, and live merrily withal, but most debtors feel the weight of their chains, and suffer greater pangs than those which they inflict on any defrauded creditor. If the millstone grinds slowly it grinds small, and undischarged accounts bring more pain than the goods to which they relate ever brought pleasure. Among such bitternesses surely most bitter are the bills for things of which the fruition has ceased—for worn-out finery, for withered flowers, for drunk wine. Pilkington's boots, were they never so treble soled, could not endure for ever, and Miss Joliffe's eyes followed unconsciously under the table to where a vertical fissure showed the lining white at the side of either boot. Where were new boots to come from now, whence was to come clothing to wear, and bread to eat?

Nay, more, the day of passive endurance was past; action had begun. The Cullerne Water Company threatened to cut off the water, the Cullerne Gas Company threatened to cut off the gas. Eaves, the milkman, threatened a summons unless that long, long bill of his (all built up of pitiful little pints) was paid forthwith. The Thing had come to the Triarii, Miss Joliffe's front was routed, the last rank was wavering. What was she to do, whither was she to turn? She must sell some of the furniture, but who would buy such old stuff? And if she sold furniture, what lodger would take half-empty rooms? She looked wildly round, she thrust her hands into the pile of papers, she turned them over with a feverish action, till she seemed to be turning hay once more as a little girl in the meadows at Wydcombe. Then she heard footsteps on the pavement outside, and thought for a moment that it was Anastasia returned before she was expected, till a heavy tread told her that a man was coming, and she saw that it was Mr Joliffe, her cousin, churchwarden and pork-butcher. His bulky and unwieldy form moved levelly past the windows; he paused and looked up at the house as if to make sure that he was not mistaken, and then he slowly mounted the semicircular flight of stone steps and rang the bell.

In person he was tall, but disproportionately stout for his height. His face was broad, and his loose double chin gave it a flabby appearance. A pallid complexion and black-grey hair, brushed straightly down where he was not bald, produced an impression of sanctimoniousness which was increased by a fawning manner of speech. Mr Sharnall was used to call him a hypocrite, but the aspersion was false, as such an aspersion commonly is.

Hypocrites, in the pure and undiluted sense, rarely exist outside the pages of fiction. Except in the lower classes, where deceit thrives under the incentive of clerical patronage, men seldom assume deliberately the garb of religion to obtain temporal advantages or to further their own ends. It is probable that in nine cases out of ten, where practice does not accord sufficiently with profession to please the censorious, the discrepancy is due to inherent weakness of purpose, to the duality of our nature, and not to any conscious deception. If a man leading the lower life should find himself in religious, or high-minded, or pure society, and speak or behave as if he were religious, or high-minded, or pure, he does so in nine cases out of ten not with any definite wish to deceive, but because he is temporarily influenced by better company. For the time he believes what he says, or has persuaded himself that he believes it. If he is froward with the froward, so he is just with the just, and the more sympathetic and susceptible his nature, the more amenable is he to temporary influences. It is this chameleon adaptability that passes for hypocrisy.

Cousin Joliffe was no hypocrite, he acted up to his light; and even if the light be a badly-trimmed, greasy, evil-smelling paraffin-lamp, the man who acts up to it is only the more to be pitied. Cousin Joliffe was one of those amateur ecclesiastics whose talk is of things religious, whom Church questions interest, and who seem to have missed their vocation in not having taken Orders. If Canon Parkyn had been a High Churchman, Cousin Joliffe would have been High Church; but the Canon being Low-Church, Cousin Joliffe was an earnest evangelical, as he delighted to describe himself. He was rector's churchwarden, took a leading part in prayer-meetings, with a keen interest in school-treats, ham teas, and magic lanterns, and was particularly proud of having been asked more than once to assist in the Mission Room at Carisbury, where the Vicar of Christ Church carried on revival work among the somnolent surroundings of a great cathedral. He was without any sense of humour or any refinement of feeling—self-important, full of the dignity of his office, thrifty to meanness, but he acted up to his light, and was no hypocrite.

In that petty middle-class, narrow-minded and penuriously pretentious, which was the main factor of Cullerne life, he possessed considerable influence and authority. Among his immediate surroundings a word from Churchwarden Joliffe carried more weight than an outsider would have imagined, and long usage had credited him with the delicate position of censor morum to the community. Did the wife of a parishioner venture into such a place of temptation as the theatre at Carisbury, was she seen being sculled by young Bulteel in his new skiff of a summer evening, the churchwarden was charged to interview her husband, to point out to him privately the scandal that was being caused, and to show him how his duty lay in keeping his belongings in better order. Was a man trying to carry fire in his bosom by dalliance at the bar of the Blandamer Arms, then a hint was given to his spouse that she should use such influence as would ensure evenings being spent at home. Did a young man waste the Sabbath afternoon in walking with his dog on Cullerne Flat, he would receive "The Tishbite's Warning, a Discourse showing the Necessity of a Proper Observance of the Lord's Day." Did a pig-tailed hoyden giggle at the Grammar School boys from her pew in the minster, the impropriety was reported by the churchwarden to her mother.

On such occasions he was scrupulous in assuming a frock-coat and a silk hat. Both were well-worn, and designed in the fashion of another day; but they were in his eyes insignia of office, and as he felt the tails of the coat about his knees they seemed to him as it were the skirts of Aaron's garment. Miss Joliffe was not slow to notice that he was thus equipped this morning; she knew that he had come to pay her a visit of circumstance, and swept her papers hurriedly into a drawer. She felt as if they were guilty things these bills, as if she had been engaged in a guilty action in even "going through" them, as if she had been detected in doing that which she should not do, and guiltiest of all seemed the very hurry of concealment with which she hid such compromising papers.

She tried to perform that feat of mental gymnastics called retaining one's composure, the desperate and forced composure which the coiner assumes when opening the door to the police, the composure which a woman assumes in returning to her husband with the kisses of a lover tingling on her lips. It is a feat to change the current of the mind, to let the burning thought that is dearest or bitterest to us go by the board, to answer coherently to the banalities of conversation, to check the throbbing pulse. The feat was beyond Miss Joliffe's powers; she was but a poor actress, and the churchwarden saw that she was ill at ease as she opened the door.

"Good-morning, cousin," he said with one of those interrogative glances which are often more irritating and more difficult to parry than a direct question; "you are not looking at all the thing this morning. I hope you are not feeling unwell; I hope I do not intrude."

"Oh no," she said, making as good an attempt at continuous speech as the quick beating of her heart allowed; "it is only that your visit is a little surprise. I am a little flurried; I am not quite so young as I was."

"Ay," he said, as she showed him into Mr Sharnall's room, "we are all of us growing older; it behoves us to walk circumspectly, for we never know when we may be taken." He looked at her so closely and compassionately that she felt very old indeed; it really seemed as if she ought to be "taken" at once, as if she was neglecting her duty in not dying away incontinently. She drew the knitted shawl more tightly round her spare and shivering body.

"I am afraid you will find this room a little cold," she said; "we are having the kitchen chimney cleaned, so I was sitting here." She gave a hurried glance at the bureau, feeling a suspicion that she might not have shut the drawer tight, or that one of the bills might have somehow got left out. No, all was safe, but her excuse had not deceived the churchwarden.

"Phemie," he said, not unkindly, though the word brought tears to her eyes, for it was the first time that anyone had called her by the old childhood name since the night that Martin died—"Phemie, you should not stint yourself in fires. It is a false economy; you must let me send you a coal ticket."

"Oh no, thank you very much; we have plenty," she cried, speaking quickly, for she would rather have starved outright, than that it should be said a member of the Dorcas Society had taken a parish coal ticket. He urged her no more, but took the chair that she offered him, feeling a little uncomfortable withal, as a well-clothed and overfed man should, in the presence of penury. It was true he had not been to see her for some time; but, then, Bellevue Lodge was so far off, and he had been so pressed with the cares of the parish and of his business. Besides that, their walks of life were so different, and there was naturally a strong objection to any kinswoman of his keeping a lodging-house. He felt sorry now that compassion had betrayed him into calling her "cousin" and "Phemie"; she certainly was a distant kinswoman, but not, he repeated to himself, a cousin; he hoped she had not noticed his familiarity. He wiped his face with a pocket-handkerchief that had seen some service, and gave an introductory cough.

"There is a little matter on which I should like to have a few words with you," he said, and Miss Joliffe's heart was in her mouth; he had heard, then, of these terrible debts and of the threatened summons.

"Forgive me if I go direct to business. I am a business man and a plain man, and like plain speaking."

It is wonderful to what rude remarks, and unkind remarks and untrue remarks such words as these commonly form the prelude, and how very few of these plain speakers enjoy being plainly spoken to in turn.

"We were talking just now," he went on, "of the duty of walking circumspectly, but it is our duty, Miss Joliffe, to see that those over whom we are set in authority walk circumspectly as well. I mean no reproach to you, but others beside me think it would be well that you should keep closer watch over your niece. There is a nobleman of high station that visits much too often at this house. I will not name any names"—and this with a tone of magnanimous forbearance—"but you will guess who I mean, because the nobility is not that frequent hereabout. I am sorry to have to speak of such things which ladies generally see quick enough for themselves, but as churchwarden I can't shut my ears to what is matter of town talk; and more by token when a namesake of my own is concerned."

The composure which Miss Joliffe had been seeking in vain, came back to her at the pork-butcher's words, partly in the relief that he had not broached the subject of debts which had been foremost in her mind, partly in the surprise and indignation occasioned by his talk of Anastasia. Her manner and very appearance changed, and none would have recognised the dispirited and broken-down old lady in the sharpness of her rejoinder.

"Mr Joliffe," she apostrophised with tart dignity, "you must forgive me for thinking that I know a good deal more about the nobleman in question than you do, and I can assure you he is a perfect gentleman. If he has visited this house, it has been to see Mr Westray about the restoration of the minster. I should have thought one that was churchwarden would have known better than to go bandying scandals about his betters; it is small encouragement for a nobleman to take an interest in the church if the churchwarden is to backbite him for it."

She saw that her cousin was a little taken aback, and she carried the war into the enemy's country, and gave another thrust.

"Not but what Lord Blandamer has called upon me too, apart from Mr Westray. And what have you to say to that? If his lordship has thought fit to honour me by drinking a cup of tea under my roof, there are many in Cullerne would have been glad to get out their best china if he had only asked himself to their houses. And there are some might well follow his example, and show themselves a little oftener to their friends and relations."

The churchwarden wiped his face again, and puffed a little.

"Far be it from me," he said, dwelling on the expression with all the pleasure that a man of slight education takes in a book phrase that he has got by heart—"far be it from me to set scandals afloat—'twas you that used the word scandal—but I have daughters of my own to consider. I have nothing to say against Anastasia, who, I believe, is a good girl enough"—and his patronising manner grated terribly on Miss Joliffe—"though I wish I could see her take more interest in the Sunday-school, but I won't hide from you that she has a way of carrying herself and mincing her words which does not befit her station. It makes people take notice, and 'twould be more becoming she should drop it, seeing she will have to earn her own living in service. I don't want to say anything against Lord Blandamer either—he seems to be well-intentioned to the church—but if tales are true the old lord was no better than he should be, and things have happened before now on your side of the family, Miss Joliffe, that make connections feel uncomfortable about Anastasia. We are told that the sins of the fathers will be visited to the third and fourth generation."

"Well," Miss Joliffe said, and made a formidable pause on this adverb, "if it is the manners of your side of the family to come and insult people in their own houses, I am glad I belong to the other side."

She was alive to the profound gravity of such a sentiment, yet was prepared to take her stand upon it, and awaited another charge from the churchwarden with a dignity and confidence that would have become the Old Guard. But no fierce passage of arms followed; there was a pause, and if a dignified ending were desired the interview should here have ended. But to ordinary mortals the sound of their own voices is so musical as to deaden any sense of anticlimax; talking is continued for talking's sake, and heroics tail off into desultory conversation. Both sides were conscious that they had overstated their sentiments, and were content to leave main issues undecided.

Miss Joliffe did not take the bills out of their drawer again after the churchwarden had left her. The current of her ideas had been changed, and for the moment she had no thought for anything except the innuendoes of her visitor. She rehearsed to herself without difficulty the occasions of Lord Blandamer's visits, and although she was fully persuaded that any suspicions as to his motives were altogether without foundation, she was forced to admit that he had been at Bellevue Lodge more than once when she had been absent. This was no doubt a pure coincidence, but we were enjoined to be wise as serpents as well as innocent as doves, and she would take care that no further occasion was given for idle talk.

Anastasia on her return found her aunt unusually reserved and taciturn. Miss Joliffe had determined to behave exactly as usual to Anastasia because her niece was entirely free from fault; but she was vexed at what the churchwarden had said, and her manner was so mysterious and coldly dignified as to convince Anastasia that some cause for serious annoyance had occurred. Did Anastasia remark that it was a close morning, her aunt looked frowningly abstracted and gave no reply; did Anastasia declare that she had not been able to get any 14 knitting-needles, they were quite out of them, her aunt said, "Oh!" in a tone of rebuke and resignation which implied that there were far more serious matters in the world than knitting-needles.

This dispensation lasted a full half-hour, but beyond that the kindly old heart was quite unequal to supporting a proper hauteur. The sweet warmth of her nature thawed the chilly exterior; she was ashamed of her moodiness, and tried to "make up" for it to Anastasia by manifestation of special affection. But she evaded her niece's attempts at probing the matter, and was resolved that the girl should know nothing of Cousin Joliffe's suggestions or even of the fact of his visit.

But if Anastasia knew nothing of these things, she was like to be singular in her ignorance. All Cullerne knew; it was in the air. The churchwarden had taken a few of the elders into his confidence, and asked their advice as to the propriety of his visit of remonstrance. The elders, male and female, heartily approved of his action, and had in their turn taken into confidence a few of their intimate and specially-to-be-trusted friends. Then ill-natured and tale-bearing Miss Sharp told lying and mischief-making Mrs Flint, and lying and mischief-making Mrs Flint talked the matter over at great length with the Rector, who loved all kinds of gossip, especially of the highly-spiced order. It was speedily matter of common knowledge that Lord Blandamer was at the Hand of God (so ridiculous of a lodging-house keeper christening a public-house Bellevue Lodge!) at all hours of the day and night, and that Miss Joliffe was content to look at the ceiling on such occasions; and worse, to go to meetings so as to leave the field undisturbed (what intolerable hypocrisy making an excuse of the Dorcas meetings!); that Lord Blandamer loaded—simply loaded—that pert and good-for-nothing girl with presents; that even the young architect was forced to change his lodgings by such disreputable goings-on. People wondered how Miss Joliffe and her niece had the effrontery to show themselves at church on Sundays; the younger creature, at least, must have some sense of shame left, for she never ventured to exhibit in public either the fine dresses or the jewellery that her lover gave her.

Such stories came to Westray's ears, and stirred in him the modicum of chivalry which leavens the lump of most men's being. He was still smarting under his repulse, but he would have felt himself disgraced if he had allowed the scandal to pass unchallenged, and he rebutted it with such ardour that people shrugged their shoulders, and hinted that there had been something between him, too, and Anastasia.

Clerk Janaway was inclined to take a distressingly opportunist and matter-of-fact view of the question. He neither reprobated nor defended. In his mind the Divine right of peers was firmly established. So long as they were rich and spent their money freely, we should not be too particular. They were to be judged by standards other than those of common men; for his part, he was glad they had got in place of an old curmudgeon a man who would take an interest in the Church, and spend money on the place and the people. If he took a fancy to a pretty face, where was the harm? 'Twas nothing to the likes of them, best let well alone; and then he would cut short the churchwarden's wailings and godly lamentations by "decanting" on the glories of Fording, and the boon it was to the countryside to have the place kept up once more.

"Clerk Janaway, your sentiments do you no credit," said the pork-butcher on one such occasion, for he was given to gossip with the sexton on terms of condescending equality. "I have seen Fording myself, having driven there with the Carisbury Field Club, and felt sure it must be a source of temptation if not guarded against. That one man should live in such a house is an impiety; he is led to go about like Nebuchadnezzar, saying: 'Is not this great Babylon that I have builded?'"

"He never builded it," said the clerk with some inconsequence; "'twere builded centuries ago. I've heard 'tis that old no one don't know who builded it. Your parents was Dissenters, Mr Joliffe, and never taught you the Catechism when you was young; but as for me, I order myself to my betters as I should, so long as they orders themselves to me. 'Taint no use to say as how we're all level; you've only got to go to Mothers' Meetings, my old missus says, to see that. 'Tis no use looking for too much, nor eating salt with red herrings."

"Well, well," the other deprecated, "I'm not blaming his lordship so much as them that lead him on."

"Don't go for to blame the girl, neither, too hardly; there's faults on both sides. His grandfather didn't always toe the line, and there were some on her side didn't set too good an example, neither. I've seen many a queer thing in my time, and have got to think blood's blood, and forerunners more to blame than children. If there's drink in fathers, there'll be drink in sons and grandsons till 'tis worked out; and if there's wild love in the mothers, daughters 'll likely sell their apples too. No, no, God-amighty never made us equal, and don't expect us all to be churchwardens. Some on us comes of virtuous forerunners, and are born with wings at the back of our shoulders like you"—and he gave a whimsical look at his listener's heavy figure—"to lift us up to the vaulting; and some on us our fathers fits out with lead soles to the bottom of our boots to keep us on the floor."

Saturday afternoon was Lord Blandamer's hour, and for three Saturdays running Miss Joliffe deserted the Dorcas meeting in order to keep guard at home. It rejoiced the moral hearts of ill-natured and tale-bearing Miss Sharp and of lying and mischief-making Mrs Flint that the disreputable old woman had at least the decency not to show herself among her betters, but such defection was a sore trial to Miss Joliffe. She told herself on each occasion that she could not make such a sacrifice again, and yet the love of Anastasia constrained her. To her niece she offered the patent excuse of being unwell, but the girl watched her with wonder and dismay chafe feverishly through the two hours, which had been immemorially consecrated to these meetings. The recurrence of a weekly pleasure, which seems so limitless in youth and middle age, becomes less inexhaustible as life turns towards sunset. Thirty takes lightly enough the foregoing of a Saturday reunion, the uncongenial spending of a Sunday; but seventy can see the end of the series, and grudges every unit of the total that remains.

For three Saturdays Miss Joliffe watched, and for three Saturdays no suspicious visitor appeared.

"We have seen nothing of Lord Blandamer lately," she would remark at frequent intervals with as much indifference as the subject would allow.

"There is nothing to bring him here now that Mr Westray has gone. Why should he come?"

Why, indeed, and what difference would it make to her if he never came again? These were questions that Anastasia had discussed with herself, at every hour of every day of those blank three weeks. She had ample time for such foolish discussions, for such vain imaginings, for she was left much to herself, having no mind-companions either of her own age or of any other. She was one of those unfortunate persons whose education and instincts' unfit them for their position. The diversions of youth had been denied her, the pleasures of dress or company had never been within her reach. For pastime she was turned back continually to her own thoughts, and an active imagination and much desultory reading had educated her in a school of romance, which found no counterpart in the life of Cullerne. She was proud at heart (and it is curious that those are often the proudest who in their neighbours' estimation have least cause for pride), but not conceited in manner in spite of Mr Joliffe's animadversion on the mincing of her words. Yet it was not her pride that had kept her from making friends, but merely the incompatibility of mental temperament, which builds the barrier not so much between education and ignorance, as between refinement and materialism, between romance and commonplace.

That barrier is so insurmountable that any attempt upon it must end in failure that is often pathetic from its very hopelessness; even the warmth of ardent affection has never yet succeeded in evolving a mental companionship from such discordant material. By kindly dispensation of nature the breadth of the gulf, indeed, is hidden from those who cannot cross it. They know it is there, they have some inkling of the difference of view, but they think that love may build a bridge across, or that in time they may find some other access to the further side. Sometimes they fancy that they are nearer to the goal, that they walk step and step with those they love; but this, alas! is not to be, because the mental sympathy, the touch of illumination that welds minds together, is wanting.

It was so with Miss Joliffe the elder—she longed to be near her niece, and was so very far away; she thought that they went hand in hand, when all the while a different mental outlook set them poles asunder. With all her thousand good honest qualities, she was absolutely alien to the girl; and Anastasia felt as if she was living among people of another nation, among people who did not understand her language, and she took refuge in silence.

The dulness of Cullerne had grown more oppressive to her in the last year. She longed for a life something wider, she longed for sympathy. She longed for what a tall and well-favoured maiden of her years most naturally desires, however much she may be ignorant of her desire; she longed for someone to admire her and to love her; she longed for someone about whom she could weave a romance.

The junior partner in Rose and Storey perhaps discerned her need, and tried to supply it. He paid her such odious compliments on the "hang of her things," that she would never have entered the shop again, were it not that Bellevue Lodge was bound hand and foot to Rose and Storey, for they were undertakers as well as milliners; and, besides, the little affair of the bonnets, the expenses of Martin's funeral, were still unsatisfied. There was a young dairy farmer, with a face like a red harvest moon, who stopped at her aunt's door on his way to market. He would sell Miss Joliffe eggs and butter at wholesale prices, and grinned in a most tiresome way whenever he caught sight of Anastasia. The Rector patronised her insufferably; and though old Mr Noot was kind, he treated her like a small child, and sometimes patted her cheek, which she felt to be disconcerting at eighteen.

And then the Prince of Romance appeared in Lord Blandamer. The moment that she first saw him on the doorstep that windy autumn afternoon, when yellow leaves were flying, she recognised him for a prince. The moment that he spoke to her she knew that he recognised her for a lady, and for this she felt unspeakably glad and grateful. Since then the wonder had grown. It grew all the faster from the hero's restraint. He had seen Anastasia but little, he spoke but little to her, he never gave her even a glance of interest, still less such glances as Westray launched at her so lavishly. And yet the wonder grew. He was so different from other men she had seen, so different from all the other people she had ever met. She could not have told how she knew this, and yet she knew. It must have been an atmosphere which followed him wherever he went—that penumbra with which the gods wrap heroes—which told her he was different.

The gambits of the great game of love are strangely limited, and there is little variation in the after-play. If it were not for the personal share we take, such doings would lack interest by reason of their monotony, by their too close resemblance to the primeval type. This is why the game seems dull enough to onlookers; they shock us with the callousness with which they are apt to regard our ecstasies. This is why the straightforward game palls sometimes on the players themselves after a while; and why they are led to take refuge from dulness in solving problems, in the tangled irregularities of the knight's move.

Anastasia would have smiled if she had been told that she had fallen in love; it might have been a thin smile, pale as winter's sunshine, but she would have smiled. It was impossible for her to fall in love, because she knew that kings no longer marry beggar-maids, and she was far too well brought up to fall in love, except as a preliminary to marriage. No heroine of Miss Austen would permit herself even to feel attraction to a quarter from which no offer of marriage was possible; therefore Anastasia could not have fallen in love. She certainly was not in the least in love, but it was true Lord Blandamer interested her. He interested her so much, in fact, as to be in her thoughts at all hours of the day; it was strange that no matter with what things her mind was occupied, his image should continually present itself. She wondered why this was; perhaps it was his power—she thought it was the feeling of his power, a very insolence of power that dominated all these little folk, and yet was most powerful in its restraint. She liked to think of the compact, close-knit body, of the curling, crisp, iron-grey hair, of the grey eyes, and of the hard, clear-cut face. Yes, she liked the face because it was hard, because it had a resolute look in it that said he meant to go whither he wished to go.

There was no doubt she must have taken considerable interest in him, for she found herself dreading to pronounce his name even in the most ordinary conversation, because she felt it difficult to keep her voice at the dead level of indifference. She dreaded when others spoke of him, and yet there was no other subject that occupied her so much. And sometimes when they talked of him she had a curious feeling of jealousy, a feeling that no one had a right even to talk of him except herself; and she would smile to herself with a little scornful smile, because she thought that she knew more about him, could understand him better than them all. It was fortunate, perhaps, that the arbitrament of Cullerne conversation did not rest with Anastasia, or there would have been but little talking at this time; for if it seemed preposterous that others should dare to discuss Lord Blandamer, it seemed equally preposterous that they should take an interest in discussing anything else.

She certainly was not in love; it was only the natural interest, she told herself, that anyone—anyone with education and refinement—must take in a strange and powerful character. Every detail about him interested her. There was a fascination in his voice, there was a melody in his low, clear voice that charmed, and made even trifling remarks seem important. Did he but say it was a rainy afternoon, did he but ask if Mr Westray were at home, there was such mystery in his tone that no rabbinical cabalist ever read more between the lines than did Miss Anastasia Joliffe. Even in her devotions thought wandered far from the pew where she and her aunt sat in Cullerne Church; she found her eyes looking for the sea-green and silver, for the nebuly coat in Abbot Vinnicomb's window; and from the clear light yellow of the aureole round John Baptist's head, fancy called up a whirl of faded lemon-coloured acacia leaves, that were in the air that day the hero first appeared.

Yet, if heart wavered, head stood firm. He should never know her interest in him; no word, no changing colour should ever betray her; he should never guess that agitation sometimes scarcely left her breath to make so short a rejoinder as "Good-night."

For three Saturdays, then, Miss Joliffe the elder sat on guard at Bellevue Lodge; for three Saturday afternoons in succession, she sat and chafed as the hours of the Dorcas meeting came and went. But nothing happened; the heavens remained in their accustomed place, the minster tower stood firm, and then she knew that the churchwarden had been duped, that her own judgment had been right, that Lord Blandamer's only motive for coming to her house had been to see Mr Westray, and that now Mr Westray was gone Lord Blandamer would come no more. The fourth Saturday arrived; Miss Joliffe was brighter than her niece had seen her for a calendar month.

"I feel a good deal better, my dear, this afternoon," she said; "I think I shall be able to go to the Dorcas meeting. The room gets so close that I have avoided going of late, but I think I shall not feel it too much to-day. I will just change, and put on my bonnet; you will not mind staying at home while I am away, will you?" And so she went.

Anastasia sat in the window-seat of the lower room. The sash was open, for the spring days were lengthening, and a soft, sweet air was moving about sundown. She told herself that she was making a bodice; an open workbox stood beside her, and there was spread around just such a medley of patterns, linings, scissors, cotton-reels, and buttons as is required for the proper and ceremonious carrying on of "work." But she was not working. The bodice itself, the very cause and spring of all these preparations, lay on her lap, and there, too, had fallen her hands. She half sat, half lay back on the window-seat, roaming in fancy far away, while she drank in the breath of the spring, and watched a little patch of transparent yellow sky between the houses grow pinker and more golden, as the sunset went on.

Then a man came down the street and mounted the steps in front of Bellevue Lodge; but she did not see him, because he was walking in from the country, and so did not pass her window. It was the door-bell that first broke her dreams. She slid down from her perch, and hastened to let her aunt in, for she had no doubt that it was Miss Joliffe who had come back from the meeting. The opening of the front-door was not a thing to be hurried through, for though there was little indeed in Bellevue Lodge to attract burglars, and though if burglars came they would surely select some approach other than the main entrance, yet Miss Joliffe insisted that when she was from home the door should be secured as if to stand a siege. So Anastasia drew the top bolt, and slipped the chain, and unlocked the lock. There was a little difficulty with the bottom bolt, and she had to cry out: "I am sorry for keeping you waiting; this fastening will stick." But it gave at last; she swung the heavy door back, and found herself face to face with Lord Blandamer.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

They stood face to face, and looked at one another for a second. Anyone seeing those two figures silhouetted against the yellow sunset sky might have taken them for cousins, or even for brother and sister. They were both dressed in black, were both dark, and of nearly the same height, for though the man was not short, the girl was very tall.

The pause that Anastasia made was due to surprise. A little while ago it would have been a natural thing enough to open the door and find Lord Blandamer, but the month that had elapsed since last he came to Bellevue Lodge had changed the position. It seemed to her that she stood before him confessed, that he must know that all these weeks she had been thinking of him, had been wondering why he did not come, had been longing for him to come, that he must know the pleasure which filled her now because he was come back again. And if he knew all this, she, too, had learnt to know something, had learnt to know how great a portion of her thoughts he filled. This eating of the tree of knowledge had abashed her, for now her soul stood before her naked. Did it so stand naked before him too? She was shocked that she should feel this attraction where there could be no thought of marriage; she thought that she should die if he should ever guess that one so lowly had gazed upon the sun and been dazzled.

The pause that Lord Blandamer made was not due to surprise, for he knew quite well that it would be Anastasia who opened the door. It was rather that pause which a man makes who has undertaken a difficult business, and hesitates for a moment when it comes to the touch. She cast her eyes down to the ground; he looked full at her, looked at her from head to foot, and knew that his resolution was strong enough to carry to a conclusion the affair on which he had come. She spoke first.

"I am sorry my aunt is not at home," and kept her right hand on the edge of the open door, feeling grateful for any support. As the words came out she was relieved to find that it was indeed she herself who was speaking, that it was her own voice, and that her voice sounded much as usual.

"I am sorry she is not in," he said, and he, too, spoke after all in just those same low, clear tones to which she was accustomed—"I am sorry she is not in, but it was you that I came to see."

She said nothing; her heart beat so fast that she could not have spoken even in monosyllables. She did not move, but kept her hand still on the edge of the door, feeling afraid lest she should fall if she let it go.

"I have something I should like to say to you; may I come in?"

She hesitated for a moment, as he knew that she would hesitate, and then let him in, as he knew that she would let him in. He shut the heavy front-door behind them, and there was no talk now of turning locks or shooting bolts; the house was left at the mercy of any burglars who might happen to be thereabout.

Anastasia led the way. She did not take him into Mr Sharnall's old room, partly because she had left half-finished clothes lying there, and partly from the more romantic reflection that it was in Westray's room that they had met before. They walked through the hall and up the stairs, she going first and he following, and she was glad of the temporary respite which the long flights secured her. They entered the room, and again he shut the door behind them. There was no fire, and the window was open, but she felt as if she were in a fiery furnace. He saw her distress, but made as if he saw nothing, and pitied her for the agitation which he caused. For the past six months Anastasia had concealed her feelings so very well that he had read them like a book. He had watched the development of the plot without pride, or pleasure of success, without sardonic amusement, without remorse; with some dislike for a role which force of circumstances imposed on him, but with an unwavering resolve to walk the way which he had set before him. He knew the exact point which the action of the play had reached, he knew that Anastasia would grant whatever he asked of her.

They were standing face to face again. To the girl it all seemed a dream; she did not know whether she was waking or sleeping; she did not know whether she was in the body or out of the body. It was all a dream, but it was a delightful dream; there was no bitterness of reflection now, no anxiety, no regard for past or future, only utter absorption in the present moment. She was with the man who had possessed her thoughts for a month past; he had come back to her. She had not to consider whether she should ever see him again; he was with her now. She had not to think whether he was there for good or evil, she had lost all volition in the will of the man who stood before her; she was the slave of his ring, rejoicing in her slavery, and ready to do his bidding as all the other slaves of that ring.

He was sorry for the feelings which he had aroused, sorry for the affection he had stirred, sorry for the very love of himself that he saw written in her face. He took her hand in his, and his touch filled her with an exquisite content; her hand lay in his neither lifelessly nor entirely passively, yet only lightly returning the light pressure of his fingers. To her the situation was the supreme moment of a life; to him it was passionless as the betrothal piece in a Flemish window.

"Anastasia," he said, "you guess what it is I have to tell you; you guess what it is that I have to ask you."

She heard him speaking, and his voice was as delightful music in her delightful dream; she knew that he was going to ask something of her, and she knew that she would give him anything and all that he asked.

"I know that you love me," he went on, with an inversion of the due order of the proposition, and an assumption that would have been intolerable in anyone else, "and you know that I love you dearly." It was a proper compliment to her perspicuity that she should know already that he loved her, but his mind smiled as he thought how insufficient sometimes are the bases of knowledge. "I love you dearly, and am come to ask you to be my wife."

She heard what he said, and understood it; she had been prepared for his asking anything save this one thing that he had asked. The surprise of it overwhelmed her, the joy of it stunned her; she could neither speak nor move. He saw that she was powerless and speechless, and drew her closer to him. There was none of the impetuous eagerness of a lover in the action; he drew her gently towards him because it seemed appropriate to the occasion that he should do so. She lay for a minute in his arms, her head bent down, and her face hidden, while he looked not so much at her as above her. His eyes wandered over the mass of her dark-brown wavy hair that Mrs Flint said was not wavy by nature, but crimped to make her look like a Blandamer, and so bolster up her father's nonsensical pretensions. His eyes took full account of that wave and the silken fineness of her dark-brown hair, and then looked vaguely out beyond till they fell on the great flower-picture that hung on the opposite wall.

The painting had devolved upon Westray on Mr Sharnall's death, but he had not yet removed it, and Lord Blandamer's eyes rested on it now so fixedly, that he seemed to be thinking more of the trashy flowers and of the wriggling caterpillar, than of the girl in his arms. His mind came back to the exigencies of the situation.

"Will you marry me, Anastasia—will you marry me, dear Anstice?" The home name seemed to add a touch of endearment, and he used it advisedly. "Anstice, will you let me make you my wife?"

She said nothing, but threw her arms about his neck, and raised her face a little for the first time. It was an assent that would have contented any man, and to Lord Blandamer it came as a matter of course; he had never for a moment doubted her acceptance of his offer. If she had raised her face to be kissed, her expectation was gratified; he kissed her indeed, but only lightly on the brow, as actor may kiss actress on the stage. If anyone had been there to see, they would have known from his eyes that his thoughts were far from his body, that they were busied with somebody or something, that seemed to him of more importance than the particular action in which he was now engaged. But Anastasia saw nothing; she only knew that he had asked her to marry him, and that she was in his arms.

He waited a moment, as if wondering how long the present position would continue, and what was the next step to take; but the girl was the first to relieve the tension. The wildest intoxication of the first surprise was passing off, and with returning capacity for reflection a doubt had arisen that flung a shadow like a cloud upon her joy. She disengaged herself from his arms that strove in orthodox manner to retain her.

"Don't," she said—"don't. We have been too rash. I know what you have asked me. I shall remember it always, and love you for it to my dying day, but it cannot be. There are things you must know before you ask me. I do not think you would ask me if you knew all."

For the first time he seemed a little more in earnest, a little more like a man living life, a little less like a man rehearsing a part that he had got by heart. This was an unexpected piece of action, an episode that was not in his acting edition, that put him for the moment at a loss; though he knew it could not in any way affect the main issues of the play. He expostulated, he tried to take her hand again.

"Tell me what it is, child, that is troubling you," he said; "there can be nothing, nothing under heaven that could make me wish to unsay what I have said, nothing that could make us wish to undo what we have done. Nothing can rob me now of the knowledge that you love me. Tell me what it is."

"I cannot tell you," she answered him. "It is something I cannot tell; don't ask me. I will write it. Leave me now—please leave me; no one shall know that you have been here, no one must know what has passed between us."

Miss Joliffe came back from the Dorcas meeting a little downhearted and out of humour. Things had not gone so smoothly as usual. No one had inquired after her health, though she had missed three meetings in succession; people had received her little compliments and cheery small-talk with the driest of negatives or affirmatives; she had an uncomfortable feeling that she was being cold-shouldered. That high moralist, Mrs Flint, edged her chair away from the poor lady of set purpose, and Miss Joliffe found herself at last left isolated from all, except Mrs Purlin, the builder's wife, who was far too fat and lethargic to be anything but ignorantly good-natured. Then, in a fit of pained abstraction, Miss Joliffe had made such a bad calculation as entirely to spoil a flannel petticoat with a rheumatic belt and camphor pockets, which she had looked upon as something of a chef d'oeuvre.

But when she got back to Bellevue Lodge her vexation vanished, and was entirely absorbed in solicitude for her niece.

Anstice was unwell, Anstice was quite ill, quite flushed, and complaining of headache. If Miss Joliffe had feigned indisposition for three Saturdays as an excuse for not leaving the house, Anastasia had little need for simulation on this the fourth Saturday. She was, in effect, so dazed by the event which had happened, and so preoccupied by her own thoughts, that she could scarcely return coherent replies to her aunt's questions. Miss Joliffe had rung and received no answer, had discovered that the front-door was unlocked, and had at last found Anastasia sitting forlorn in Mr Westray's room with the window open. A chill was indicated, and Miss Joliffe put her to bed at once.

Bed is a first aid that even ambulance classes have not entirely taught us to dispense with; it is, moreover, a poor man's remedy, being exceedingly cheap, if, indeed, the poor man is rich enough to have a bed at all. Had Anastasia been Miss Bulteel, or even Mrs Parkyn, or lying and mischief-making Mrs Flint, Dr Ennefer would have been summoned forthwith; but being only Anastasia, and having the vision of debt before her eyes, she prevailed on her aunt to wait to see what the night brought forth, before sending for the doctor. Meanwhile Dr Bed, infinitely cleverest and infinitely safest of physicians, was called in, and with him was associated that excellent general practitioner Dr Wait. Hot flannels, hot bottles, hot possets, and a bedroom fire were exhibited, and when at nine o'clock Miss Joliffe kissed her niece and retired for the night, she by no means despaired of the patient's speedy recovery from so sudden and unaccountable an attack.

Anastasia was alone; what a relief to be alone again, though she felt that such a thought was treasonable and unkind to the warm old heart that had just left her, to that warm old heart which yearned so deeply to her, but with which she had not shared her story! She was alone, and she lay a little while in quiet content looking at the fire through the iron bars at the foot of her bedstead. It was the first bedroom fire she had had for two years, and she enjoyed the luxury with a pleasure proportionate to its rarity. She was not sleepy, but grew gradually more composed, and was able to reflect on the letter which she had promised to write. It would be difficult, and she assured herself with much vigour that it must raise insurmountable obstacles, that they were obstacles which one in Lord Blandamer's position must admit to be quite insurmountable. Yes, in this letter she would write the colophon of so wondrous a romance, the epilogue of so amazing a tragedy. But it was her conscience that demanded the sacrifice, and she took the more pleasure in making it, because she felt at heart that the pound of flesh might never really after all be cut.

How thoroughly do we enjoy these sacrifices to conscience, these followings of honour's code severe, when we know that none will be mean enough to take us at our word! To what easily-gained heights of morality does it raise us to protest that we never could accept the gift that will eventually be forced into our reluctant hands, to insist that we regard as the shortest of loans the money which we never shall be called upon to repay. It was something of the same sort with Anastasia. She told herself that by her letter she would give the death-blow to her love, and perhaps believed what she told, yet all the while kept hope hidden at the bottom of the box, even as in the most real perils of a dream we sometimes are supported by the sub-waking sense that we are dreaming.

A little later Anastasia was sitting before her bedroom fire writing. It has a magic of its own—the bedroom fire. Not such a one as night by night warms hothouse bedrooms of the rich, but that which burns but once or twice a year. How the coals glow between the bars, how the red light shimmers on the black-lead bricks, how the posset steams upon the hob! Milk or tea, cocoa or coffee, poor commonplace liquids, are they not transmuted in the alembic of a bedroom fire, till they become nepenthe for a heartache or a philtre for romance? Ah, the romance of it, when youth forestalls to-morrow's conquest, when middle life forgets that yesterday is past for ever, when even querulous old age thinks it may still have its "honour and its toil"!

An old blue cloak, which served the turn of dressing-gown, had fallen apart in the exigencies of composition, and showed underlying tracts of white nightgown. Below, the firelight fell on bare feet resting on the edge of the brass fender till the heat made her curl up her toes, and above, the firelight contoured certain generous curves. The roundness and the bloom of maidenhood was upon her, that bloom so transient, so irreplaceable, that renders any attempt to simulate it so profoundly ludicrous. The mass of dark hair, which turned lying-and-mischief-making Mrs Flint so envious, was gathered behind with a bow of black ribbon, and hung loosely over the back of her chair. She sat there writing and rewriting, erasing, blotting, tearing up, till the night was far spent, till she feared that the modest resources of the papeterie would be exhausted before toil came to fruition.

It was finished at last, and if it was a little formal or high-flown, or stilted, is not a certain formality postulated on momentous occasions? Who would write that he was "delighted" to accept a bishopric? Who would go to a levee in a straw hat?

"Dear Lord Blandamer" (the letter ran),

"I do not know how I ought to write to you, for I have little experience of life to guide me. I thank you with all my heart for what you have told me. I am glad to think of it, and I always shall be. I believe there must be many strong reasons why you should not think of marrying me, yet if there are, you must know them far better than I, and you have disregarded them. But there is one reason that you cannot know, for it is known to very few; I hope it is known only to some of our own relations. Perhaps I ought not to write of it at all, but I have no one to advise me. I mean what is right, and if I am doing wrong you will forgive me, will you not? and burn this letter when you have read it.

"I have no right to the name I am called by; my cousins in the Market Place think we should use some other, but we do not even know what our real name would be. When my grandmother married old Mr Joliffe, she had already a son two or three years old. This son was my father, and Mr Joliffe adopted him; but my grandmother had no right to any but her maiden name. We never knew what that was, though my father tried all his life to find it out, and thought he was very near finding out when he fell into his last illness. We think his head must have been affected, for he used to say strange things about his parentage. Perhaps the thought of this disgrace troubled him, as it has often troubled me, though I never thought it would trouble me so much as now.

"I have not told my aunt about what you have said to me, and no one else shall ever know it, but it will be the sweetest memory to me of all my life.

"Your very sincere friend,

"Anastasia Joliffe."

It was finished at last; she had slain all her hopes, she had slain her love. He would never marry her, he would never come near her again; but she had unburdened herself of her secret, and she could not have married him with that secret untold. It was three o'clock when she crept back again to bed. The fire had gone out, she was very cold, and she was glad to get back to her bed. Then Nature came to her aid and sent her kindly sleep, and if her sleep was not dreamless, she dreamt of dresses, and horses, and carriages, of men-servants, and maid-servants, of Lady Blandamer's great house of Fording, and of Lady Blandamer's husband.

Lord Blandamer also sat up very late that night. As he read before another bedroom fire he turned the pages of his book with the utmost regularity; his cigar never once went out. There was nothing to show that his thoughts wandered, nothing to show that his mind was in any way preoccupied. He was reading Eugenid's "Aristeia" of the pagans martyred under Honorius; and weighed the pros and cons of the argument as dispassionately as if the events of the afternoon had never taken place, as if there had been no such person as Anastasia Joliffe in the world.

Anastasia's letter reached him the next day at lunch, but he finished his meal before opening it. Yet he must have known whence it came, for there was a bold "Bellevue Lodge" embossed in red on the flap of the envelope. Martin Joliffe had ordered stamped paper and envelopes years ago, because he said that people of whom he made genealogical inquiries paid more attention to stamped than to plain paper—it was a credential of respectability. In Cullerne this had been looked upon as a gross instance of his extravagance; Mrs Bulteel and Canon Parkyn alone could use headed paper with propriety, and even the rectory only printed, and did not emboss. Martin had exhausted his supply years ago, and never ordered a second batch, because the first was still unpaid for; but Anastasia kept by her half a dozen of these fateful envelopes. She had purloined them when she was a girl at school, and to her they were still a cherished remnant of gentility, that pallium under which so many of us would fain hide our rags. She had used one on this momentous occasion; it seemed a fitting cover for despatches to Fording, and might divert attention from the straw paper on which her letter was written.

Lord Blandamer had seen the Bellevue Lodge, had divined the genesis of the embossed inscription, had unravelled all Anastasia's thoughts in using it, yet let the letter lie till he had finished lunch. When he read it afterwards he criticised it as he might the composition of a stranger, as a document with which he had no very close concern. Yet he appreciated the effort which it must have cost the girl to write it, was touched by her words, and felt a certain grave compassion for her. But it was the strange juggle of circumstance, the Sophoclean irony of a position of which he alone held the key, that most impressed themselves upon his mood.

He ordered his horse, and took the road to Cullerne, but his agent met him before he had passed the first lodge, and asked some further instructions for the planting at the top of the park. So he turned and rode up to the great belt of beeches which was then being planted, and was so long engaged there that dusk forced him to abandon his journey to the town. He rode back to Fording at a foot-pace, choosing devious paths, and enjoying the sunset in the autumn woods. He would write to Anastasia, and put off his visit till the next day.

With him there was no such wholesale destruction of writing-paper as had attended Anastasia's efforts on the previous night. One single sheet saw his letter begun and ended, a quarter of an hour sufficed for committing his sentiments very neatly to writing; he flung off his sentences easily, as easily as Odysseus tossed his heavy stone beyond all the marks of the Phaeacians:

"My dearest Child,

"I need not speak now of the weary hours of suspense which I passed in waiting for your letter. They are over, and all is sunshine after the clouds. I need not tell you how my heart beat when I saw an envelope with your address, nor how eagerly my fingers tore it open, for now all is happiness. Thank you, a thousand times thank you for your letter; it is like you, all candour, all kindness, and all truth. Put aside your scruples; everything that you say is not a featherweight in the balance; do not trouble about your name in the past, for you will have a new name in the future. It is not I, but you, who overlook obstacles, for have you not overlooked all the years that lie between your age and mine? I have but a moment to scribble these lines; you must forgive their weakness, and take for said all that should be said. I shall be with you to-morrow morning, and till then am, in all love and devotion,

"Yours,

"Blandamer."

He did not even read it through before he sealed it up, for he was in a hurry to get back to Eugenid and to the "Aristeia" of the heathens martyred under Honorius.

Two days later, Miss Joliffe put on her Sunday mantle and bonnet in the middle of the week, and went down to the Market Place to call on her cousin the pork-butcher. Her attire at once attracted attention. The only justification for such extravagance would be some parish function or festivity, and nothing of that sort could be going on without the knowledge of the churchwarden's family. Nor was it only the things which she wore, but the manner in which she wore them, that was so remarkable. As she entered the parlour at the back of the shop, where the pork-butcher's lady and daughters were sitting, they thought that they had never seen their cousin look so well dressed. She had lost the pinched, perplexed, down-trodden air which had overcast her later years; there was in her face a serenity and content which communicated itself in some mysterious way even to her apparel.

"Cousin Euphemia looks quite respectable this morning," whispered the younger to the elder daughter; and they had to examine her closely before they convinced themselves that only a piece of mauve ribbon in her bonnet was new, and that the coat and dress were just the same as they had seen every Sunday for two years past.

With "nods and becks and wreathed smiles" Miss Euphemia seated herself. "I have just popped in," she began, and the very phrase had something in it so light and flippant that her listeners started—"I have just popped in for a minute to tell you some news. You have always been particular, my dears, that no one except your branch had a right to the name of Joliffe in this town. You can't deny, Maria," she said deprecatingly to the churchwarden's wife, "that you have always held out that you were the real Joliffes, and been a little sore with me and Anstice for calling ourselves by what we thought we had a right to. Well, now there will be one less outside your family to use the name of Joliffe, for Anstice is going to give it up. Somebody has offered to find another name for her."

The real Joliffes exchanged glances, and thought of the junior partner in the drapery shop, who had affirmed with an oath that Anastasia Joliffe did as much justice to his goods as any girl in Cullerne; and thought again of the young farmer who was known for certain to let Miss Euphemia have eggs at a penny cheaper than anyone else.

"Yes, Anstice is going to change her name, so that will be one grievance the less. And another thing that will make matters straighter between us, Maria: I can promise the little bit of silver shall never go out of the family. You know what I mean—the teapot and the spoons marked with 'J' that you've always claimed for yours by right. I shall leave them all back to you when my time comes; Anstice will never want such odds and ends in the station to which she's called now."

The real Joliffes looked at each other again, and thought of young Bulteel, who had helped Anastasia with the gas-standards when the minster was decorated at Christmas. Or was it possible that her affected voice and fine lady airs had after all caught Mr Westray, that rather good-looking and interesting young man, on whom both the churchwarden's daughters were not without hopes of making an impression?

Miss Joliffe enjoyed their curiosity; she was in a teasing and mischievous mood, to which she had been a stranger for thirty years.

"Yes," she said, "I am one that like to own up to it when I make a mistake, and I will state I have made a mistake. I suppose I must take to spectacles; it seems I cannot see things that are going on under my very eyes—no, not even when they are pointed out to me. I've come round to tell you, Maria, one and all, that I was completely mistaken when I told the churchwarden that it was not on Anstice's account that Lord Blandamer has been visiting at Bellevue Lodge. It seems it was just for that he came, and the proof of it is he's going to marry her. In three weeks' time she will be Lady Blandamer, and if you want to say goodbye to her you'd better come back and have tea with me now, for she's packed her box, and is off to London to-morrow. Mrs Howard, who keeps the school in Carisbury where Anstice went in dear Martin's lifetime, will meet her and take charge of her, and get her trousseau. Lord Blandamer has arranged it all, and he is going to marry Anstice and take her for a long tour on the Continent, and I'm sure I don't know where else."

It was all true. Lord Blandamer made no secret of the matter, and his engagement to Anastasia, only child of the late Martin Joliffe, Esquire, of Cullerne, was duly announced in the London papers. It was natural that Westray should have known vacillation and misgiving before he made up his mind to offer marriage. It is with a man whose family or position are not strong enough to bear any extra strain, that public opinion plays so large a part in such circumstances. If he marries beneath him he falls to the wife's level, because he has no margin of resource to raise her to his own. With Lord Blandamer it was different: his reliance upon himself was so great, that he seemed to enjoy rather than not, the flinging down of a gauntlet to the public in this marriage.

Bellevue Lodge became a centre of attraction. The ladies who had contemned a lodging-house keeper's daughter courted the betrothed of a peer. From themselves they did not disguise the motive for this change, they did not even attempt to find an excuse in public. They simply executed their volte face simultaneously and with most commendable regularity, and felt no more reluctance or shame in the process than a cat feels in following the man who carries its meat. If they were disappointed in not seeing Anastasia herself (for she left for London almost immediately after the engagement was made public), they were in some measure compensated by the extreme readiness of Miss Euphemia to discuss the matter in all its bearings. Each and every detail was conscientiously considered and enlarged upon, from the buttons on Lord Blandamer's boots to the engagement-ring on Anastasia's finger; and Miss Joliffe was never tired of explaining that this last had an emerald—"A very large emerald, my dear, surrounded by diamonds, green and white being the colours of his lordship's shield, what they call the nebuly coat, you know."

A variety of wedding gifts found their way to Bellevue Lodge. "Great events, such as marriages and deaths, certainly do call forth the sympathy of our neighbours in a wonderful way," Miss Joliffe said, with all the seriousness of an innocent belief in the general goodness of mankind. "Till Anstice was engaged, I never knew, I am sure, how many friends I had in Cullerne." She showed "the presents" to successive callers, who examined them with the more interest because they had already seen most of them in the shop-windows of Cullerne, and so were able to appreciate the exact monetary outlay with which their acquaintances thought it prudent to conciliate the Fording interest. Every form of useless ugliness was amply represented among them— vulgarity masqueraded as taste, niggardliness figured as generosity—and if Miss Joliffe was proud of them as she forwarded them from Cullerne, Anastasia was heartily ashamed of them when they reached her in London.

"We must let bygones be bygones," said Mrs Parkyn to her husband with truly Christian forbearance, "and if this young man's choice has not fallen exactly where we could have wished, we must remember, after all, that he is Lord Blandamer, and make the best of the lady for his sake. We must give her a present; in your position as Rector you could not afford to be left out. Everyone, I hear, is giving something."

"Well, don't let it be anything extravagant," he said, laying down his paper, for his interest was aroused by any question of expense. "A too costly gift would be quite out of place under the circumstances. It should be rather an expression of goodwill to Lord Blandamer than anything of much intrinsic value."

"Of course, of course. You may trust me not to do anything foolish. I have my eye on just the thing. There is a beautiful set of four salt-cellars with their spoons at Laverick's, in a case lined with puffed satin. They only cost thirty-three shillings, and look worth at least three pounds."



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

The wedding was quiet, and there being no newspapers at that time to take such matters for their province, Cullerne curiosity had to be contented with the bare announcement: "At Saint Agatha's-at-Bow, Horatio Sebastian Fynes, Lord Blandamer, to Anastasia, only child of the late Michael Joliffe, of Cullerne Wharfe." Mrs Bulteel had been heard to say that she could not allow dear Lord Blandamer to be married without her being there. Canon Parkyn and Mrs Parkyn felt that their presence also was required ex-officio, and Clerk Janaway averred with some redundancies of expletive that he, too, "must see 'em turned off." He hadn't been to London for twenty year. If 'twere to cost a sovereign, why, 'twas a poor heart that never made merry, and he would never live to see another Lord Blandamer married. Yet none of them went, for time and place were not revealed.

But Miss Joliffe was there, and on her return to Cullerne she held several receptions at Bellevue Lodge, at which only the wedding and the events connected with it were discussed. She was vested for these functions in a new dress of coffee-coloured silk, and what with a tea-urn hissing in Mr Sharnall's room, and muffins, toast, and sweet-cakes, there were such goings-on in the house, as had not been seen since the last coach rolled away from the old Hand of God thirty years before. The company were very gracious and even affectionate, and Miss Joliffe, in the exhilaration of the occasion, forgot all those cold-shoulderings and askance looks which had grieved her at a certain Dorcas meeting only a few weeks before.

At these reunions many important particulars transpired. The wedding had been celebrated early in the morning at the special instance of the bride; only Mrs Howard and Miss Euphemia herself were present. Anstice had worn a travelling dress of dark-green cloth, so that she might go straight from the church to the station. "And, my dears," she said, with a glance of all-embracing benevolence, "she looked a perfect young peeress."

The kind and appreciative audience, who had all been expecting and hoping for the past six weeks, that some bolt might fall from the blue to rob Anastasia of her triumph, were so astonished at the wedding having finally taken place that they could not muster a sneer among them. Only lying-and-mischief-making Mrs Flint found courage for a sniff, and muttered something to her next neighbour about there being such things as mock marriages.

The honeymoon was much extended. Lord and Lady Blandamer went first to the Italian lakes, and thence, working their way home by Munich, Nuremburg, and the Rhine, travelled by such easy stages that autumn had set in when they reached Paris. There they wintered, and there in the spring was born a son and heir to all the Blandamer estates. The news caused much rejoicing in the domain; and when it was announced that the family were returning to Cullerne, it was decided to celebrate the event by ringing a peal from the tower of Saint Sepulchre's. The proposal originated with Canon Parkyn.

"It is a graceful compliment," he said, "to the nobleman to whose munificence the restoration is so largely due. We must show him how much stronger we have made our old tower, eh, Mr Westray? We must get the Carisbury ringers over to teach Cullerne people how such things should be done. Sir George will have to stand out of his fees longer than ever, if he is to wait till the tower tumbles down now. Eh, eh?"

"Ah, I do so dote on these old customs," assented his wife. "It is so delightful, a merry peal. I do think these good old customs should always be kept up." It was the cheapness of the entertainment that particularly appealed to her. "But is it necessary, my dear," she demurred, "to bring the ringers over from Carisbury? They are a sad drunken lot. I am sure there must be plenty of young men in Cullerne, who would delight to help ring the bells on such an occasion."

But Westray would have none of it. It was true, he said, that the tie-rods were fixed, and the tower that much the stronger; but he could countenance no ringing till the great south-east pier had been properly under-pinned.

His remonstrances found little favour. Lord Blandamer would think it so ungracious. Lady Blandamer, to be sure, counted for very little; it was ridiculous, in fact, to think of ringing the minster bells for a landlady's niece, but Lord Blandamer would certainly be offended.

"I call that clerk of the works a vain young upstart," Mrs Parkyn said to her husband. "I cannot think how you keep your temper with such a popinjay. I hope you will not allow yourself to be put upon again. You are so sweet-tempered and forbearing, that everyone takes advantage of you."

So she stirred him up till he assured her with considerable boldness that he was not a man to be dictated to; the bells should be rung, and he would get Sir George's views to fortify his own. Then Sir George wrote one of those cheery little notes for which he was famous, with a proper admixture of indifferent puns and a classic conceit: that when Gratitude was climbing the temple steps to lay an offering on Hymen's altar, Prudence must wait silent at the base till she came down.

Sir George should have been a doctor, his friends said; his manner was always so genial and reassuring. So having turned these happy phrases, and being overwhelmed with the grinding pressure of a great practice, he dismissed the tower of Saint Sepulchre from his mind, and left Rector and ringers to their own devices.

Thus on an autumn afternoon there was a sound in Cullerne that few of the inhabitants had ever heard, and the little town stopped its business to listen to the sweetest peal in all the West Country. How they swung and rung and sung together, the little bells and the great bells, from Beata Maria, the sweet, silver-voiced treble, to Taylor John, the deep-voiced tenor, that the Guild of Merchant Taylors had given three hundred years ago. There was a charm in the air like the singing of innumerable birds; people flung up their windows to listen, people stood in the shop-doors to listen, and the melody went floating away over the salt-marshes, till the fishermen taking up their lobster-pots paused in sheer wonder at a music that they had never heard before.

It seemed as if the very bells were glad to break their long repose; they sang together like the morning stars, they shouted together like the sons of God for joy. They remembered the times that were gone, and how they had rung when Abbot Harpingdon was given his red hat, and rung again when Henry defended the Faith by suppressing the Abbey, and again when Mary defended the Faith by restoring the Mass, and again when Queen Bess was given a pair of embroidered gloves as she passed through the Market Place on her way to Fording. They remembered the long counter-change of life and death that had passed under the red roofs at their feet, they remembered innumerable births and marriages and funerals of old time; they sang together like the morning stars, they shouted together like the sons of God for joy, they shouted for joy.

The Carisbury ringers came over after all; and Mrs Parkyn bore their advent with less misgiving, in the hope that directly Lord Blandamer heard of the honour that was done him, he would send a handsome donation for the ringers as he had already sent to the workhouse, and the old folk, and the school-children of Cullerne. The ropes and the cage, and the pins and the wheels, had all been carefully overhauled; and when the day came, the ringers stood to their work like men, and rang a full peal of grandsire triples in two hours and fifty-nine minutes.

There was a little cask of Bulteel's brightest tenpenny that some magician's arm had conjured up through the well-hole in the belfry floor: and Clerk Janaway, for all he was teetotaler, eyed the foaming pots wistfully as he passed them round after the work was done.

"Well," he said, "there weren't no int'rupted peal this time, were there? These here old bells never had a finer set of ringing-men under them, and I lay you never had a finer set of bells above your heads, my lads; now did 'ee? I've heard the bells swung many a time in Carisbury tower, and heard 'em when the Queen was set upon her throne, but, lor'! they arn't so deep-like nor yet so sweet as this here old ring. Perhaps they've grow'd the sweeter for lying by a bit, like port in the cellars of the Blandamer Arms, though I've heard Dr Ennefer say some of it was turned so like sherry, that no man living couldn't tell the difference."

Westray had bowed like loyal subaltern to the verdict of his Chief. Sir George's decision that the bells might safely be rung lifted the responsibility from the young man's shoulders, but not the anxiety from his mind. He never left the church while the peal was ringing. First he was in the bell-chamber steadying himself by the beams of the cage, while he marked the wide-mouthed bells now open heavenwards, now turn back with a rush into the darkness below. Then he crept deafened with the clangour down the stairs into the belfry, and sat on the sill of a window watching the ringers rise and fall at their work. He felt the tower sway restlessly under the stress of the swinging metal, but there was nothing unusual in the motion; there was no falling of mortar, nothing to attract any special attention. Then he went down into the church, and up again into the organ-loft, whence he could see the wide bow of that late Norman arch which spanned the south transept.

Above the arch ran up into the lantern the old fissure, zigzag like a baleful lightning-flash, that had given him so much anxiety. The day was overcast, and heavy masses of cloud drifting across the sky darkened the church. But where the shadows hung heaviest, under a stone gallery passage that ran round the inside of the lantern, could be traced one of those heavy tie-rods with which the tower had recently been strengthened. Westray was glad to think that the ties were there; he hoped that they might indeed support the strain which this bell-ringing was bringing on the tower; he hoped that Sir George was right, and that he, Westray, was wrong. Yet he had pasted a strip of paper across the crack, so that by tearing it might give warning if any serious movement were taking place.

As he leant over the screen of the organ-loft, he thought of that afternoon when he had first seen signs of the arch moving, of that afternoon when the organist was playing "Sharnall in D flat." How much had happened since then! He thought of that scene which had happened in this very loft, of Sharnall's end, of the strange accident that had terminated a sad life on that wild night. What a strange accident it was, what a strange thing that Sharnall should have been haunted by that wandering fancy of a man following him with a hammer, and then have been found in this very loft, with the desperate wound on him that the pedal-note had dealt! How much had happened—his own proposal to Anastasia, his refusal, and now that event for which the bells were ringing! How quickly the scenes changed! What a creature of an hour was he, was every man, in face of these grim walls that had stood enduring, immutable, for generation after generation, for age after age! And then he smiled as he thought that these eternal realities of stone were all created by ephemeral man; that he, ephemeral man, was even now busied with schemes for their support, with anxieties lest they should fall and grind to powder all below.

The bells sounded fainter and far off inside the church. As they reached his ears through the heavy stone roof they were more harmonious, all harshness was softened; the sordino of the vaulting produced the effect of a muffled peal. He could hear deep-voiced Taylor John go striding through his singing comrades in the intricacies of the Treble Bob Triples, and yet there was another voice in Westray's ears that made itself heard even above the booming of the tenor bell. It was the cry of the tower arches, the small still voice that had haunted him ever since he had been at Cullerne. "The arch never sleeps," they said—"the arch never sleeps;" and again, "They have bound on us a burden too heavy to be borne; but we are shifting it. The arch never sleeps."

The ringers were approaching the end; they had been at their work for near three hours, the 5,040 changes were almost finished. Westray went down from the organ-loft, and as he walked through the church the very last change was rung. Before the hum and mutter had died out of the air, and while the red-faced ringers in the belfry were quaffing their tankards, the architect had made his way to the scaffolding, and stood face to face with the zigzag crack. He looked at it carefully, as a doctor might examine a wound; he thrust his hand like Thomas into the dark fissure. No, there was no change; the paper strip was unbroken, the tie-rods had done their work nobly. Sir George had been quite right after all.

And as he looked there was the very faintest noise heard—a whisper, a mutter, a noise so slight that it might have passed a hundred times unnoticed. But to the architect's ear it spoke as loudly as a thunderclap. He knew exactly what it was and whence it came; and looking at the crack, saw that the broad paper strip was torn half-way across. It was a small affair; the paper strip was not quite parted, it was only torn half-way through. Though Westray watched for an hour, no further change took place. The ringers had left the tower, the little town had resumed its business. Clerk Janaway was walking across the church, when he saw the architect leaning against a cross-pole of the scaffolding, on the platform high up under the arch of the south transept.

"I'm just a-locking up," he called out. "You've got your own key, sir, no doubt?"

Westray gave an almost imperceptible nod.

"Well, we haven't brought the tower down this time," the clerk went on. But Westray made no answer; his eyes were fixed on the little half-torn strip of paper, and he had no thought for anything else. A minute later the old man stood beside him on the platform, puffing after the ladders that he had climbed. "No int'rupted peal this time," he said; "we've fair beat the neb'ly coat at last. Lord Blandamer back, and an heir to keep the family going. Looks as if the neb'ly coat was losing a bit of his sting, don't it?" But Westray was moody, and said nothing. "Why what's the matter? You bain't took bad, be you?"

"Don't bother me now," the architect said sharply. "I wish to Heaven the peal had been interrupted. I wish your bells had never been rung. Look there"—and he pointed at the strip of paper.

The clerk went closer to the crack, and looked hard at the silent witness. "Lor' bless you! that ain't nothing," he said; "'tis only just the jarring of the bells done that. You don't expect a mushet of paper to stand as firm as an anvil-stone, when Taylor John's a-swinging up aloft."

"Look you," Westray said; "you were in church this morning. Do you remember the lesson about the prophet sending his servant up to the top of a hill, to look at the sea? The man went up ever so many times and saw nothing. Last he saw a little cloud like a man's hand rising out of the sea, and after that the heaven grew black, and the storm broke. I'm not sure that bit of torn paper isn't the man's hand for this tower."

"Don't bother yourself," rejoined the clerk; "the man's hand showed the rain was a-coming, and the rain was just what they wanted. I never can make out why folks twist the Scripture round and make the man's hand into something bad. 'Twas a good thing, so take heart and get home to your victuals; you can't mend that bit of paper for all your staring at it."

Westray paid no attention to his remarks, and the old man wished him good-night rather stiffly. "Well," he said, as he turned down the ladder, "I'm off. I've got to be in my garden afore dark, for they're going to seal the leek leaves to-night against the leek-show next week. My grandson took first prize last year, and his old grandad had to put up with eleventh; but I've got half a dozen leeks this season as'll beat any plant that's growed in Cullerne."

By the next morning the paper strip was entirely parted. Westray wrote to Sir George, but history only repeated itself; for his Chief again made light of the matter, and gave the young man a strong hint that he was making mountains of molehills, that he was unduly nervous, that his place was to diligently carry out the instructions he had received. Another strip of paper was pasted across the crack, and remained intact. It seemed as if the tower had come to rest again, but Westray's scruples were not so easily allayed this time, and he took measures for pushing forward the under-pinning of the south-east pier with all possible despatch.

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