* A Project Gutenberg Canada Ebook *

This ebook is made available at no cost and with very few restrictions. These restrictions apply only if (1) you make a change in the ebook (other than alteration for different display devices), or (2) you are making commercial use of the ebook. If either of these conditions applies, please check gutenberg.ca/links/licence.html before proceeding.

This work is in the Canadian public domain, but may be under copyright in some countries. If you live outside Canada, check your country's copyright laws. If the book is under copyright in your country, do not download or redistribute this file.

Title: The View from the Parsonage
Author: Kaye-Smith, Sheila (1887-1956)
Date of first publication: 1954
Edition used as base for this ebook: New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1954 (first U.S. edition)
Date first posted: 28 May 2009
Date last updated: 28 May 2009
Project Gutenberg Canada ebook #323
This ebook was produced by: Andrew Templeton

[Pg i]

The View from the Parsonage

[Pg ii]

Books by Sheila Kaye-Smith Novels


MRS. GAILEY                     IRON AND SMOKE
EMBER LANE                      LITTLE ENGLAND
GIPSY WAGGON                    SPELL LAND
SUSAN SPRAY                     STARBRACE

Belles Lettres




Short Stories


[Pg iii]

The View
from the Parsonage

by Sheila Kaye-Smith

Harper & Brothers Publishers New York

[Pg iv]


Copyright, 1954, by Sheila Kaye-Smith Fry
Printed in the United States of America

Library of Congress catalog card number: 54-8960

[Pg v]

The View from the Parsonage

[Pg vi]

[Pg 1]

Chapter I

When Adam Cryall thought he was never going to see Palster Manor again, the view of it that he remembered with acutest longing was, he told me, from the field behind the Parsonage. Standing there one could see the house, crouching in the hollow which was its garden and had been its moat, while beyond it the shores of Ebony dropped into the marshes and the sea-born mists. In his dreams he would see it there at his feet and know even in his dreams that he would never see it any other way.

'But surely,' I said, 'you could have gone down, quietly, secretly, one day—just to have a look.'

He shook his head.

'No, I couldn't have borne it—not after having lived there and expected to die with a view of it from my window. Besides, if I'd run into Henry or old Lismore and they'd refused to speak to me. . .'

He shuddered at the thought of that distant martyrdom. Then he smiled as his memories set him on those tracks on which he always found his mind ran pleasantly.

'Shows the folly of taking any notice of dreams and premonitions. There was I, totally convinced that I'd never come back to Ebony, and look at me now.'

Certainly he now was standing in my field, looking down at the coloured pattern of roofs and oast-kilns which was Palster Manor, [Pg 2] while voices rose from it which we knew were the voices of his little girls at play.

'Yes, indeed,' I said, teasing him, 'Mrs. Cryall was right when she called it providential.'

He laughed.

'You've said it. That's exactly my idea of Providence—poor Henry cut off in his prime leaving his young wife childless and nearly penniless. I wonder what she thinks about it?'

'I hope that she thanks God for a good second husband and the kind and generous brother-in-law who helped her live till she found him.'

'That's right, Parson. Stick up for your side. You've had a special providence too—the good God who sent Tom Lismore to the bad and then killed him out in Australia. But for that you wouldn't be here either.'

'O felix culpa . . .'

The conversation was following the lines of many earlier ones that we had both enjoyed. Perhaps I should not have enjoyed them. I should have been more distressed by Adam's flippancy, more scandalized by his past, more painfully conscious of the fact that he had once been a clergyman like myself and had renounced his orders, not to follow the well-worn track to Rome but to become a secularist on the Bradlaugh model, a fool who had said not only in his heart but on public platforms, 'There is no God'.

Be that as it may, our friendship thrived on arguments that were never more than an amiable fencing and usually ended in a joke. When we spoke seriously it was of those things that we had in common, high among which stood our interest in the history and antiquities of Palster and the Isle of Ebony. His love of the place no doubt went deeper than mine, because it was inborn—his family had lived at Palster Manor for five hundred years. But I was able to bring the subject into a wider field of knowledge. I would not seriously call myself a scholar, but all my tastes are learned, and my mind works on those scholastic lines which have given the world [Pg 3] one of its stock figures of fun. The great joy of my position as Rector of Palster-in-Ebony was the opportunities it gave me for reading and study, both in my own library and in that at the Manor House. But this is not my story.

The Isle of Ebony belongs to Kent, but actually lies midway on the marsh between Kent and Sussex. It has a gentle shore—green meadow becomes green marsh, the marsh that was part of the sea's bed when the Romans came. The Romans called the men of Ebony viri palustres, men of the marsh, and out of that name came Palster, one of the oldest places in Britain. The Manor and the church both date back to Saxon times, when King Cnut and his queen, Ælfgiva, granted the land to 'Eadsige, the priest, as foster-land for his soul'. The Cryalls came much later, in the reign of Henry the Third, moving inland from Romenel and Hee, which we now call Romney and Hythe. Bertram de Criol was a Commissioner of the Crown, and had been made rich by his share of the emoluments of the vacant see of Canterbury—rich enough to build a castle in the hollow land below the church. The king confirmed his manorial rights, and the castle was known as the Manor House even before its battlements were made unnecessary by improvements both in domestic architecture and the peace of the realm. The stones of it may still be seen merged with the brick of the present house, the greater part of which was built in Queen Elizabeth's day.

Ebony is no longer an island, though in winter even now the sea is back, salting the overflow of the dykes and the swollen river and lying in sullen floods upon Wet Level—floods that freeze and bring the skaters from the villages of the Weald and even from the big towns on the coast. The ice is only rough, but here they may skim safely as they watch the drowning grass under their feet.

When first I came to the Parsonage as long ago as 1892 the ferry was still working. The lower reaches of Wet Level were seldom clear of water between November and May, and the old black tub would glide across the shallows, at hours of its own choosing, from the wharf below Mockbeggar to the toll-house on the submerged [Pg 4] Rye to Palster road. The tolls for road and water traffic were the same.

I was young to be the Rector of a parish, for I had not been ordained more than eight years, but Adam Cryall was anxious to fill the incumbency, which had gone a-begging for the first time since the Reformation. Until then it had been part of the domain of the monks of Canterbury, but at the Dissolution it passed into the hands of the Cryalls, who used it as a provision for their younger sons. When there were no young Cryalls it served the cadets of the Lismores, the only other landed family in the parish. For nearly four hundred years there had been either a Cryall or a Lismore at the Rectory, excluding always those times when a 'foreigner' had been hired to hold the living for a boy too young for orders.

The term 'foreigner' is even more inclusive in Ebony than in other parts of the Weald, for it extends to everyone who was not born on the isle. I am a Sussex man born and bred, and my two curacies were both served in Sussex coast-towns, Marlingate and the neighbouring resort of Bulverhythe. But it was as a foreigner that I came to Palster-in-Ebony, a stranger from the remote regions of the anthropophagi. If I had indeed, as on the mediaeval maps, had only one huge leg and carried my head under my arm, I could hardly have been more monstrous in the eyes of my parishioners. It made no difference that I had already visited the Isle and spent a summer holiday fishing there. I was not a Cryall and I was not a Lismore, nor was I holding the living for either of those two familiar names. Adam Cryall was the father of two daughters, and though at that time Tom Lismore was still writing home for money from Australia, there was never any question that he would sober up sufficiently to be ordained.

My friends in Bulverhythe thought I was foolish to bury myself at my age in a remote country parish. They pointed out that Palster was the cure of no more than five hundred souls, and that among them only two families had any claim to gentility, that the emoluments were not great, nor would the incumbency of such a backwater [Pg 5] lead to swift promotion. They further pointed out the disadvantages of having a Squire who was an avowed secularist and never went to church. The Cryall-Lismore situation passed them by, for as townsmen they would never understand it.

But I had fallen in love with Palster on that fishing holiday, and I was weary, besides, of the parish routines of a seaside resort. My ideas of clerical life were in those days, and perhaps still are, slightly Hanoverian, having been formed by a scholarly old uncle, who on the death of my parents became my guardian. In his parish two sermons at two services on Sunday, with the concession to modern fervour involved by an early celebration once a month, fulfilled the liturgical duties of the week. There was no 'visiting' in the accepted parochial sense—the clergyman was just one gentleman among others, with the same social obligations and taboos—and what were still unblushingly called the Poor were cared for by pious ladies, who relieved their distresses and organized their thrift. When I decided to take orders I saw myself as a cleric like my uncle, sitting in a Victorian-Gothic study, surrounded by books and emerging only to identify myself in sixteenth-century prose with the sober doctrines of the Church of England, in a building erected by a still older faith.

Very different was my actual experience. Neither Marlingate nor Bulverhythe had any use for a learned clerk, and the setting of my clerical life was not the study but the drawing-room. In both parishes I found myself bound to a circling wheel of clubs, guilds, choir-practices and house-to-house visiting—a whole squirrel cage of activities which, no matter how religious in their presentation, were in their essence mainly social. I hated it all, and would have been glad to escape even without the tragedy which speeded my departure.

As I have said before, this is not my story but Adam Cryall's, so I will not linger over the unhappy love affair which made it a matter of urgency for me to leave Bulverhythe. I had fallen in love with the daughter of one of the churchwardens. She had accepted me, and as I had private means as well as my stipend and she had a little money of her own, there seemed nothing to wait for, and the date of the [Pg 6] marriage was fixed. Within three weeks of it she came to me in tears, begging me to release her, for 'she could not go through with it'. Of course I agreed, but the shock of that moment—for she had not given me any previous hint of her recoil—is doubtless responsible for the celibate life which certainly formed no part of my Hanoverian conceptions. I do not blame her, even for accepting me. Some years later she joined an Anglican sisterhood.

Of course I could not remain in the parish, and was looking round for a curacy as far removed from it as possible when I heard that the Palster living was vacant. The last clerical Lismore had been dead nearly a year, but owing to the peculiar local conditions the patron had had some difficulty in finding a successor. Of course Ebony was not in actual miles very far from Bulverhythe, but in atmosphere it was in another country and another period of history. That fishing holiday still lived in my memory as an experience in another world, a world of green pastures and, shallow waters and long, dreaming days, that called to me now with promises of healing for my trampled heart.

At the time of the holiday old Clifford Lismore had, of course, still been alive. I did not, however, see much of him. When he heard that a clergyman was in lodgings at Weights Farm—on the far south-eastern shore of Ebony, just above the marsh—he naturally did his clerical duty and called upon me, civilly inviting me to 'hang up my surplice' in his vestry. I did not, however, avail myself of the privilege, and only once was I asked to the Rectory. His wife was in poor health—she died soon afterwards—and his daughters had all married and gone to other homes.

He was the uncle of the Lismore who lived at Lambstand, the family place. On my first Sunday, when a good-looking, well-dressed man stepped into the reading-desk to read the First Lesson, I took for granted that he was the Squire from Palster Manor—for the viri palustres are even less communicative than their neighbours across the Kent Ditch, and I knew nothing whatsoever of local [Pg 7] affairs. It was not till I spoke of him to Tom Iggulsden at Weights that I was given the—to me, then—extraordinary information that the Squire never went to church.

'Dat mun a'bin Mus' Lismore. Mus' Cryall he doan't never go to church, nor Miz' Cryall nuther. De Palster pew aun't bin set in sinst Mus' Henry Cryall died.'

He spoke with a certain pride, as one establishing a record. I was surprised, and showed it. Such conduct was unusual in the eighteen-eighties. But he was not going to tell me any more. It was from old Lismore that I had the story, and he gave me no more than an outline. The details were filled in later, either by Adam himself or by others who knew him, such as his old friend Edward Boutflower. When I applied for the living I knew no more than that he had once been a clergyman, in the accepted tradition of Cryall younger sons, but when vicar of a London parish had lost his faith and renounced his orders. His family had (very properly, according to old Lismore) disowned him, and it was owing to a series of unforeseen events that he was now at the Manor. But even old Lismore had had to acknowledge that he was popular with the farmers and villagers and did a great deal of good as a landlord.

As for me, I liked him from the start. Whatever it may have been in the past, his secularism was not now aggressive, and apart from it, as I have said, we found that we agreed in most things, even in church matters. Now that the tradition of three hundred years was to be broken and a stranger lived at Palster Rectory, he was particularly anxious that local prejudices should not be outraged by further innovations. He was relieved to find that I had no liturgical fads. Mr. Lismore had been Rector for nearly fifty years, and by all current standards Palster church was woefully behind the times; but I had not the smallest wish to increase the forces of disruption by bringing it up to date.

We were also in agreement over the fact that though the church should be given some much-needed repairs, it must at all costs be saved from the sacrilegious hand of the restorer. That Victorian [Pg 8] destroying angel had, thanks to old Lismore, passed over Palster-in-Ebony. The lion and the unicorn still danced on either side of the ten commandments above the altar, which with its wooden Jacobean rail was occulted from the south by a three-decker pulpit, while at the west end a gallery sagged over the box-pews, dispensing rustic music from on high, with a choir of village boys whose broad Kentish vowels must have brought our services closer than most others to the original English of the Book of Common Prayer.

The only drawback to this survival of characteristic Anglicanism among all the denatured churches of the Weald, with their choirstalls and reredoses and general air of Mediaevalism and water, was the state of the Manor pew, which proclaimed its emptiness in a way it would never have done had it been, as elsewhere, a mere bench among many. It was to all appearances a room, equipped with a stove, a central table and cushioned seats along the walls. It must have covered at least a sixth of the entire floor-space, and to my conscious eye its yawning vacancy made the church look sparsely filled even when all the other pews were occupied. Sometimes of an evening it would house a couple of servants, but Cryall liked to employ local girls as housemaids, and these as a rule chose to worship with their families. The visitors at Palster were mainly London friends of his own way of thinking, or perhaps they took advantage of that way to give themselves a holiday from church. The only visitors he ever had who went regularly to church were the Boutflowers, and these I found to my surprise and annoyance were Roman Catholics.

I use the word annoyance in no sectarian spirit, for my own was caused by Adam, in a mischievous fit, having told me that this particular family always went to church, leaving me to take for granted that it would be to mine. I think he enjoyed this fling at the divisions of Christendom, otherwise he might have entered more into the feelings of the disappointed clergyman who had been looking forward to a church filled at last. The Boutflower family consisted of, besides the parents, no less than seven children, so their entire [Pg 9] assembly would have made a comfortable difference to the Manor pew. As things were, Adam had them conveyed in the Palster brake to Rye, where Mass in those days was said every Sunday in a private house.

There always seemed to be one or another of the Boutflowers staying at Palster, and I once asked Adam, mischievous in my turn, if he were not afraid that so much faith might be catching and infect his family. He assured me earnestly that he and Edward had made a solemn agreement never to mention religion, and that this had been observed not only by themselves but by their families. I found that the agreement had been suggested in the first place by Boutflower, and that in consequence Adam assumed on his side a smaller confidence and a greater fear than on his own.

Adam Cryall and Edward Boutflower had been friends ever since the days when they were curates together in the slums of East London. They did not work in the same parish, for Edward had ritualistic tendencies which Adam had never shared, but though they could not meet in church, they met constantly in the streets.

'I thought he believed a lot of nonsense, and he thought I didn't know the first rudiments of Christianity, so the situation hasn't altered much,' was Adam's comment.

He always said that he took orders for no other reason than to end his days at Palster Rectory. His elder brother would have the Manor, and his children after him, so his only chance of a home in the Isle of Ebony was to follow the family tradition for younger sons. It was his love of Palster only, he insisted, that had governed his choice.

This statement is not borne out by his history as a clergyman. It is true that he never went to a theological college, being ordained straight from Oxford; but instead of using the Cryall family influence to get him some comfortable curacy or temporary living to fill the years that must elapse before the death of Clifford Lismore, he went straight to work in a slum parish near London Docks. Nor was his friendship with Boutflower born of any similarity in birth [Pg 10] or upbringing (for Edward came from industrial circles in the North) but of a common zeal.

I can see them, two Victorian clergymen in long black frock coats and little round black hats, walking side by side on the filthy pavements, daring together the courts and alleys which were shunned by the police, entering rotten tenements where the stairs broke under their feet and lice and plaster shook down together from the cracked ceilings. In the eighteen-seventies East London was not the comparatively civilized region it has become since. Few 'settlements' had started, and district visitors did not come all the way from Kensington, for 'slumming' was still some twenty years ahead of fashion. Adam Cryall and Edward Boutflower worked unrecognized and unappreciated, not only by the outside world and their ecclesiastical superiors, but also, I fear, by their flocks.

After three years Adam's health gave way. He was not delicate, but he was a countryman, and could not thrive away from fresh air and living green. His lungs were choked by the fog that every winter laid a sooty blanket over the Thames and the low, stinking marshes of Hackney and Shoreditch. He became ill, and his father, who was then alive, used the Cryall influence, which was not inconsiderable, owing to their long clerical history, to get him the important West End living of St. Jude's, Notting Hill. Adam did not want to leave either the slums or Edward Boutflower, but there were circumstances apart from his health that made the change desirable if not exactly welcome.

The chief of these was that he wanted to get married. His portion as a younger son did not amount to more than two hundred a year, and his promised bride had not a penny. Her father was a retired Army Officer living on his pension in some south-eastern suburb, and Adam's love affair had made a characteristic start in the discovery that she had recently been jilted and was very unhappy at home. He entered her life as a knight-errant, saving her from poverty, lovelessness and humiliation, and she in her turn responded by making him her god. He certainly took a risk in marrying a girl [Pg 11] 'on the rebound', but any fears his family may have had on that score were unjustified. He could not have had a more devoted wife, whether at St. Jude's Rectory, Palster Manor or during those sad years of struggle and exile. She never lost her gratitude to him for rescuing her, and he for his part never lost the freshness of his pity. I sometimes thought she was more a child to him than a wife, though there was not any great difference in their ages. When I came to Palster she was nearly fifty, with faded wild-rose cheeks that seemed twenty years older than her eyes. I could see that she must once have been a very pretty girl, but those were not the days when a respectable woman could recover her lost image by the use of make-up. Moreover, it was characteristic of Lucy Cryall that whatever the changes and chances of her husband's status, be he never so militant a secularist or John Bullish a squire, she always contrived with her dim, prim dresses and small anxious coiffure, to look a typical clergyman's wife.

Edward Boutflower was also by this time a married man. But his marriage had nothing to do with his leaving East London. On the contrary, it made it in the eyes of his critics more than ever an act of treachery and folly. For he threw up his curacy to join the Church of Rome, and he and his wife walked out into the street without a penny beyond what they had realized by the sale of their furniture. There is nowadays, I believe, a Roman Catholic society which helps clergymen in his situation, but at that time there was nothing and nobody. If it had not been for Adam Cryall, the Boutflowers might have starved. But Adam, though he was far from approving or even understanding the course his friend had taken, came to the rescue with funds and hospitality, insisting that his Rectory should be the Boutflowers' home until Edward had found a job, and refusing to join in the chorus of abuse which rose on all sides, loudest of all from the ritualistic circles they had left.

Edward and Ellen Boutflower stayed with the Cryalls for several months, and their eldest son Anthony was born in St. Jude's Rectory. This fact, with the attendant circumstance that the child's christening [Pg 12] was not at St. Jude's but at the Papist chapel, created quite an amount of scandal in the parish. In those days Rome was still the Scarlet Woman, and the High Church party worked for the restoration rather than the evasion of Prayer Book discipline. For Adam to have given shelter and support to a man who had forsaken the decencies of Canterbury for the harlot of the Seven Hills was as shocking as it would be, now that the focus of our hate has changed, to harbour a fascist or a communist. It aroused much criticism, not only in the parish but in the high places of the Church, where the behaviour of the new Rector of St. Jude's was henceforth watched with some anxiety.

That anxiety was not allayed by the events of the next few years. Indeed, the Boutflower scandal soon seemed a small affair compared with that of the Two Bad Streets. One of the facts that had reconciled Adam to his move from east to west was that his new parish had a back as well as a front door. The church stood in an elegant, stuccoed square approached by pleasant tree-lined roads of prosperous houses. There was also a street of high-class shops. But at the extreme edge of the parish were two streets of a very different quality. In outward appearance they were not unlike those he had left in East London. The street-lamps, so bright and frequent in the better-class roads, were here thinned down to a few glimmers between long stretches of shadow, while the gutters drifted with rags and old newspapers, for which the dust-cart came just half as often as to the wider, tidier thoroughfares.

Former Rectors of St. Jude's had left these two streets severely alone—to Adam's great indignation; but who shall blame them? For despite their derelict appearance, they were not poor streets; indeed, they were probably the wealthiest streets in the parish. Their scourge was not poverty but vice—lucrative vice; here were not only harlots but all the perversions for hire. Their situation on the edge of a prosperous district made them conveniently accessible to those who could afford to pay handsomely for what they had to offer, and the [Pg 13] promoters of the various rackets knew well how to keep the law at bay.

Adam's decision to clean up Jute Street and Sody Street was an act of clerical swashbuckling, the results of which were more noticeable in his own life than in that of the streets concerned. To a certain extent it was successful, for he made such a public outcry that the powers were forced to act, and certain of the less prosperous undertakings were suppressed. But by it he earned the vengeance of three sections of the community—the vested interests, to whom his purge had meant exposure and financial loss, the patrons of those interests, who had relied on them for gratifications which they must now seek less conveniently elsewhere, and most dangerous of all, the respectable members of his own congregation, who not only resented the undesirable publicity that had been given to their parish, but were jealous of their pastor's preoccupation with the more disreputable members of his flock.

St. Jude's had a Parish Hall—a much rarer possession in those days than it is now. It would be hired by clubs and societies from as far away as Paddington, and Adam thought nothing of booking it to the Royal Oak Working Men's Association for an evening in March. It was not till the bills were out with the name of the lecturer William Dale, that one of his sidesmen recognized Dale as a prominent secularist and the Royal Oak Association as one of the many that had been formed in support of Bradlaugh at the time of his fight against the House of Commons. It was the unanimous opinion of the congregation that Adam should cancel his permission to use the hall. He had the legal right to do so, as by the terms of its erection the letting of it was entirely in his hands. But he was not the sort of man for such an act. He would not even say that he would have refused to let it to the society had he known its real nature. The atheists and secularists had, he insisted, as much right as anybody to free speech, and the hall was the only place for miles around where lectures could be given; moreover, it was not a church hall exclusively—[Pg 14]all sorts of Nonconformist and lay undertakings had had the use of it before now. Nobody need attend the lecture except the Members of the Royal Oak Society, so the faithful of St. Jude's were in no danger as long as they kept away.

This decision roused the greatest indignation, and the churchwardens called a meeting—not in the hall, though Adam would probably have let them have it if they had asked—from which a letter of protest was sent to the Bishop. But it was not his own congregation—of that he is quite sure—which organized the riots that attended William Dale's lecture. It was the temporarily frustrated vice-rings of Jute Street and Sody Street, which in revenge for their exposure imported the toughs who broke up the meeting and nearly murdered Dale. There was fighting with stones and coshes and bottles for more than an hour round the wretched Parish Hall, which had all its windows broken and seats torn up. The police were called in, and with difficulty dispersed the rioters, while the usual crop of prosecutions followed.

But it was Adam himself who caused the biggest scandal of all. As if it were not enough to have plunged his blameless parish once more into public disgrace, he insisted that the battered and bleeding William Dale, when rescued by the police from his assailants, should be brought into his house. Once more the hospitable fold of St. Jude's Rectory was opened to a black sheep, this one of an even deeper dye than his predecessor. Adam might perhaps have been forgiven if he had merely administered first aid, but finding that Dale was poor and lived in lodgings, he insisted on his remaining under his roof until he had completely recovered, which took a considerable time.

The presence of this man in his home must have seriously cramped him in those days of episcopal inquiry, and it certainly put him completely in the wrong with his parishioners, who dispersed to other churches. I know nothing of William Dale beyond what Adam has told me—he died some time before the Cryalls came to Palster—but I have an idea that he took every advantage of the situation. He must [Pg 15] have been a clever and well-read man, all the sharper because self-educated. Adam was not sharp, and he had read very little. None the less, the proceedings started characteristically with an attempt on his part to convert Dale—I think that was one reason why he kept him at the Rectory. An intelligent chap like Dale had soon turned the situation upside down. He had not left the parish many months before Adam resigned his cure for the openly professed reason that he no longer believed what he was supposed to teach.

I am a little cloudy as to the processes of his loss of faith. It was a subject he would never go into thoroughly, because he was convinced that if he did so I would lose my own and find myself in a painful situation. He did not think for a moment that any form of belief—Edward Boutflower's or mine—could stand up against his arguments if he really chose to use them, so out of charity he refrained. Dale had made him read a certain amount of Hume and Spencer and Ingersoll, but I do not think that his reading had much to do with the change.

My opinion is that his beliefs had never been more than an intellectual disguise for his emotions, and once these were redirected—which in view of all that had happened was not difficult—he could shed as a mere husk the doctrines they had worn. The Christian creeds became part of a complex which included the rebukes of his Diocesan, the bigotry of his congregation, and even the vices of Jute Street and Sody Street. I am convinced that he had no mental or spiritual sense of loss, for he still held all that had made his faith alive—his generosity, his idealism, his loving-kindness.

Moreover, the structure of Christian morality still held firm. Adam lost none of the safeguards or sanctions of his religion—which was a common experience in those days of the Victorian 'good man without God'. He brought to virtue all the positive seeking which had been diverted from more metaphysical ends, and the zeal necessary to prove that truth and love and justice did not depend on theology or even theism but belonged to man himself as his natural inheritance.

[Pg 16]

No doubt it was this positive quality in his change, combined with his light hold on dogma, which wiped out the pain of loss that for so many would be the most terrible part of it all. Nevertheless, he had his losses, and some were heavy indeed. Far more painful than his loss of faith were his losses of hope and love. Now he could never hope to make his home at Palster Rectory or die where his heart had always lived. Indeed, he might never see Ebony again, for the Cryalls—who had been none too pleased at his earlier aberrations—at this new crisis cast him off entirely. His father forbade him ever again to come to Palster Manor or set foot on the estate.

It was his loss of Ebony that really shook him. Knowing Adam, I am convinced that he felt it more than his estrangement from a family with whom he had never, it seems, been on particularly good terms.

'I used to feel sick,' he once told me. 'I mean real physical sickness—a nausea of craving—when I realized that I might never again see that view from the Parsonage field—or the red sun hanging in winter above the woods over there by the river's bend at Methersham—or that sharp white corner of Potmanskiln Lane . . . you've seen how it shines in the moonlight above Barrow's Land. I'd look out of the window at the chimneys and think of the moving lights on Wet Level, changing the floods into the sky. I tried to shut it all out of my mind, but it would come, and if I didn't let it come by day it came by night in dreams. There were the people, too—old Haffenden with his talk of old times. . . . I'm sorry he died before you came here—he could have told you a lot. And Tom Iggulsden and his wife—true Kentish stuff—and Weller the ferryman. I don't think I could ever have endured London Docks if I hadn't had the hope of one day climbing out of that old boat at Body's Wharf. It was the same at Notting Hill—when I was in for some dreary parish bunfight, and everyone was jabbering and sucking up tea, I'd fill the room in imagination with real people. . . .'

I do not think that he worried much about the loss of his income, though his elder daughter Blanche had just been born. Nor were [Pg 17] there more than a few stabs in the loss of his friends, for the one whom he most valued remained steadfastly at his side. I am not writing here of his wife—her loyalty could be taken for granted, as from the date of their marriage Adam had been her god, and any other was irrelevant—but of Edward Boutflower. The situation gave Edward his opportunity to repay in kind the debt he owed, and when Adam and Lucy left St. Jude's parsonage they went to stay with the Boutflowers in the small, cramped house where Edward had established himself on being made an usher at a Roman Catholic school in Leeds.

Unlike Edward, Adam had a little money, and owing to the activities of his new secularist friends he found a job more quickly than Edward had done. But in all the years that followed he seemed unable to show himself sufficiently grateful. He completely ignored his own generosity, of which this was the repayment, or if he did would wave it aside with the statement that he had been well off while Edward was still miserably poor. Anyway, he never ceased his bounties to his family. During all the first years of my time at Palster there were very few months in which one or other of the Boutflowers was not staying at the Manor. The children were the more frequent visitors, for Edward generally undertook coaching jobs in the holidays, but Adam's generosity extended far beyond mere hospitality, and included the launching of young Boutflowers in various careers.

I hope that Edward's gratitude was on the same scale as Adam's, and if I am not sure of it, it is probably because I have rather a simple-minded prejudice against Roman Catholic converts. I call it simple-minded, because as Nietzsche says: 'We may not be ready to die for our opinions, but we should always be ready to die for the right to hold and change them.' Also it seems obvious that such a change may involve great sacrifices, and consequently great strength of character, whereas to continue all one's life in the beliefs one was brought up with may be mere indolence. However, the fact remains [Pg 18] that though I always get on very well with, and indeed sometimes envy, what are called cradle Catholics, I don't like 'verts.

Edward Boutflower did nothing to dispel my dislike. I found him humourless and narrow-minded, and in all the years since he had left the Church of England he had never lost that booming, pompous manner which is characteristic of a certain type of clergyman. His wife was altogether different—a bright, lively, intelligent creature who had faced endless adversities in the same spirit as she faced her daily tasks, with gaiety and common sense. The children mainly took after her, or at the worst suffered no more than a harmless dilution of their father. Anthony, the eldest, was the most impulsive, yielding to excitement equally in work or play, sport or piety. When swept by a fit of the last he would declare his intention of becoming a priest, whereat his father would look smug, but his mother would laugh and tell him that he would never endure more than his first year at the seminary. I liked the boy, however. He had good manners, intelligence and a generous heart. All the young Boutflowers had civilized manners—a result I suppose of convent education. The boys—Anthony, Francis and Denis—were not rough and uncouth like most schoolboys, but knew how to talk sensibly to their elders and behave themselves at table. Of the girls—Margaret, Theresa, Anne and Elizabeth—Margaret or Megs as she was called, was always my favourite. She was a little plump, rosy creature with a most maternal heart and for a time I could not help liking her better than Adam's own girls.

These two, Blanche and Lindsay, were several years apart from each other in age. When I first came to Palster, Blanche was thirteen. Her sister Lindsay was eight years younger, not having been born till after her parents were settled in Ebony; and one of the few malicious digs Adam allowed himself to make at his friend was when he compared Edward's family planning with his own. The spate of Boutflower increase had not been checked by any form of prudence or waiting on events. Children had been born in the midst of [Pg 19] struggle, scarcity, poverty and debt, and the fact that they had perversely thrived and were as fine and healthy a lot of children as one would ever want to see, was put down by Adam to the toughness of hereditary strains, a literal example of the Darwinian 'survival of the fittest', entirely ignoring the considerable share that his own hospitality and generosity had had in the matter.

Contraceptives were practically unknown in those days, and I have not a doubt but that the wide spacing of Adam's family was due to chastity and self-control. During the years between his leaving the Church and his totally unexpected inheritance he had often lived precariously. Unlike Edward, he could not seek a schoolmaster's job, for there was not then any such thing as an 'advanced' school. He lived mainly by lecturing for the Secularist Society, by writing for the Rationalist Press and similar concerns, and sometimes by coaching backward boys for examinations.

Then suddenly everything was changed. A series of events which he could never cure his wife of calling providential suddenly transported him from poverty to wealth, from lodgings to a home, from exile to his native land. His father had died early in the eighteen-eighties and had been succeeded at Palster Manor by Henry, his elder son. Henry was only two years older than Adam, and had just married a young wife. Almost certainly he would beget an heir to whom the property would pass in due time. Adam had never for a moment at any period of his life dreamed that he would be Squire of Palster. His renunciation had been of the Parsonage only. But in the year 1887, Henry died after a short illness. He had not been married long enough to feel anxious about the succession, even though there was as yet no child, so had done nothing to cut off the entail. Palster Manor was Adam's by right, and about a year after he and his wife had gone to live there his second daughter Lindsay was born.

Lucy Cryall was forty-three years old at her birth, and there could be no other child. My own opinion is that she would have liked a larger family, and of her own choice would have faced the risks that [Pg 20] her husband's care and tenderness denied her. Palster Manor, low, rambling, many-windowed, many-roofed, full of odd corners and surprising rooms, seemed built for a large family. It is true that Adam's young days had been shared by only one brother, but the constant additions that had been made through the centuries to the central block, so that by this time the house had almost the shape of a star, all spoke of a very different sort of childhood. Apart from Adam's charity, the young Boutflowers were needed to fill the emptiness both of the rooms and of the years between the daughters' ages.

I never saw a bigger contrast between two sisters than between Blanche and Lindsay Cryall. Blanche at thirteen was a fine, strong girl, in looks like her father, with almost jet-black hair and large grey eyes that shone like rain. Her mouth was large, too, with teeth a little too forward over the lower lip, and when I first saw her she was as gawky as most girls of her age. But I always thought she would be beautiful, though I did not know how much the fashion in beauty would change to make her so. She was clever, too, as I had reason to know, being in charge of a part of her education. Adam would not risk the possible upsetting of his daughters' carefully sheltered godlessness by sending them to school, and they were taught at home by a governess who was also a member of the Secularist Society. Miss Merrivale's accomplishments did not go quite as far as Adam would have liked, so Blanche came to me twice a week for Euclid and algebra, which apart from the trust her father placed in my honour, offered few opportunities of corruption.

Lindsay was, of course, still well within Miss Merrivale's scope. Unlike her white-named sister, she was fair, and in looks resembled her mother, with a little pink purse of a mouth and baby-blue eyes. She was a fragile little creature, and given to queer fears and fancies. She had probably been born too late in her parents' life. A farmer once told me that in the farmyard such births are either the best or the worst of the flock. I would certainly not describe Lindsay as the 'runt' of the Cryall family, but for the first ten or twelve years of [Pg 21] her life her health gave her father and mother continual anxiety, an anxiety which when she grew older and stronger was not allayed but transferred to other causes.

It is now nearly fifty years since I came to Palster. Some might say that I have stayed too long and that I should make way for a younger man. But the Isle of Ebony is no place for a young man—not as our theological colleges turn them out nowadays. Neither the income nor the work would be considered enough, and I have reason to believe that the Bishop is only waiting for me to go before he amalgamates the parish with the neighbouring one of Bapchild. This would be detestable to everyone on the isle, whether they went to church or not, and I flatter myself that the change would upset my parishioners even apart from its ecclesiastical consequences. At the end of forty-five years I think I can safely say that I am no longer a stranger, but an accepted member of the community, a naturalized vir paluster or man of the Marsh. So I continue to live on at the Parsonage, and manage to conduct my three services on Sunday and preside at the monthly meetings of the Parochial Church Council and the yearly meeting of the Easter Vestry without any undue strain on my health and intellect.

I wonder if my successor will take as long as I did to become a man of Palster—probably not so long, even though he is practically certain to make more changes. For the times themselves have changed, and we mix more with the world than we did forty years ago. Our link with the shores of Kent and Sussex, as they lie north and south of us, is no longer an old black tub but a smartly painted line of 'buses running several times a day between Rushmonden and Rye. Motorists spin across the marsh on roads that the Catchment Board make sure are never flooded, and sometimes stop at Palster for tea at the Plough Inn. Our middle-aged and elderly men have seen foreign service during the War, and our young people regularly visit the cinemas at both ends of the 'bus route.

In the eighteen-nineties all this was inconceivable. Even the bicycle [Pg 22] was an expensive, suspect novelty, hardly a specimen existing on the isle till I bought my own. Our only form of public transport, apart from the ferry, was the carrier's cart, and that went no more than once a week in each direction. As for our young folk, the sole recreation they had then, apart from the Harvest Supper and the Sunday School Treat at Christmas, was a Penny Reading once a month at the village school.

These Penny Readings were a great feature of village life in winter, and the younger people flocked to them, though most of their elders still preferred to go to bed with the sun. Some no doubt were deadly affairs, though until I bought my bicycle I had no opportunity of sampling those at other places; but I do not think nostalgia for the past misleads me entirely when I say that ours at Palster offered some very good entertainment, as well as providing the only chance of educational improvement possible at that time in country districts for those who had left school at the age of twelve.

It was to Adam Cryall that they mainly owed their superiority. He had a gift for reading aloud, and his experience as a lecturer had given him an excellent platform manner. He read mostly from our classic novelists, with perhaps too great a predilection for George Eliot, as might be expected from his views, but also a large amount from Dickens—always a favourite with country audiences—Thackeray, and the lesser Victorian fry of Lytton, Kingsley, Disraeli and so on. He even ventured on an adaptation of Fielding's Joseph Andrews, and I have never seen a roomful of country people laugh more than over the vicissitudes of Parson Adams at the inn.

Poetry was read by Mrs. Lismore, our solitary example in Palster of the aesthetic movement. She was an intense lady, looking rather like a Du Maurier drawing in Punch with her low frizz of hair and corsetless figure in a greenery-yallery gown. But she read poetry very well, and was not too determinedly precious in her choices. We had Tennyson, Longfellow, Browning and only a little Swinburne. At some of the later readings she gave us William Blake, a debt of [Pg 23] gratitude that I owe her, for he was new to me then, but I do not think the audience liked him much.

We had music too, though not of the same quality, for the performers were mostly young people still rather uncertain of themselves. The Cryall girls shared with the Lismores' only daughter Violet a music master from Rushmonden, and an inevitable feature of these evenings was a piano duet by Lindsay Cryall and Violet Lismore. The best part of this, at least for me, was the sight of their streaming hair, Violet's like a sheet of rippling black silk, Lindsay's a cloud of golden candy-floss, a-shine with moving lamplight as they bobbed and bowed their heads over the piano keys. The two girls were almost exactly of an age, and there was, I think, a stronger link between them than between Lindsay and her elder sister. Blanche had no accomplishments to offer the village beyond an occasional recitation, but if any of the Boutflowers were in residence she and they would generally manage to produce a one-act play.

The Lismores were, as I have already said, the only other family of consequence in Ebony. They were also the only other landowners, and though Lambstand was a smaller estate than Palster Manor, it was much more carefully preserved. Unlike Adam, Harold Lismore was a sportsman. Adam never indulged in what he called blood sports, though he would sometimes go shooting for the pot, either after wild duck on the Marshes or pheasants surviving in his rough, scrambling woods. Lismore, on the other hand, employed a gamekeeper, reared a city of pheasants under hens in his paddock, and went hunting not only with the East Sussex Foxhounds but with the West Kent Staghounds and the Romney Marsh Harriers. He had some wonderfully good port in his cellar, and I always enjoyed my invitations to Lambstand, though I was never, nor expected to be, on the same terms of friendship with the Lismores as I was with the Cryalls.

Lismore had been married twice, and there was a son by the first wife who had turned out badly. His family packed him off to Australia, as was the fashion then with unsatisfactory sons, and the [Pg 24] news of his death in a forest fire came about a year after my arrival at Palster. Mrs. Lismore, though a much younger woman than her predecessor, had apparently known the family at the time of the first marriage, and considered young Tom had been hardly done by.

'There'd have been nothing wrong with him,' she said to me once, 'if they'd let him do what he wanted and go into the Navy. But they were set on this idea of his succeeding his uncle at the Rectory once Adam Cryall was out of the running. Tom was a bright, intelligent boy, and deserved something better than that.'

I did not think this remark in very good taste, and said rather snappily, 'Well, at least if he'd done so he'd be alive now instead of dead.'

Mrs. Lismore, who on certain subjects could be extremely irritating, gave me a superior smile.

'I never can understand you parsons. You make such a fuss and pother about death. But surely if all you preach is true we shall be far happier in the next world than we are in this.'

'That,' I said acidly, 'all depends.'

'Oh, surely,' she cried, 'you don't believe in hell. Dean Farrer says . . .' and she plunged into deep waters, where I left her to drown.

If it had not been for the hospitality of the Cryalls and Lismores—the Manor always open to me, Lambstand more formal but also more lavish of the good things that I sometimes fear I appreciate too much—I should have been very lonely during those first years in Ebony. For apart from strictly professional visits, every other house was shut to me. There were many among the bigger tenant farmers who could have invited me to as good a table as Lucy Cryall kept at the Manor; but neither Enoch Haffenden, my warden, nor Tom Iggulsden, at whose house I had lodged during my fishing holiday, made the smallest gesture of hospitality. I do not mean that there was any boycott or persecution, such as one sometimes hears of in country parishes, and the congregations were just about the same as they had been in old Lismore's day. Rather one would say [Pg 25] that the inhabitants of Ebony were like a herd of bullocks huddling together in the far corner of a field which has just been entered by that unpredictable and alarming quantity, a stranger.

No doubt I did things that delayed my acceptance. I was a townsman, and sometimes found it hard to adapt myself to country ways, or rather I found it hard to follow country ways of thinking. It never occurred to me that anyone would expect me to re-engage old Clifford Lismore's ancient housekeeper, Mrs. Boorman. She was eighty-four, and though she had been caretaker at the Parsonage while it stood empty, I took for granted that she would not only be but feel herself unequal to the demands of so large a house when once again it became inhabited. My ex-landlady at Bulverhythe was anxious for the job, as the daughter who had helped her with the lodging-house had married and left the town. I had had three years' experience of her kindness and efficiency, so engaged her, and saw nothing but what was proper in Mrs. Boorman's retirement to live with a married son. But I had sinned. Not content with being a stranger myself, I had imported another, and the fact that Mrs. Boorman died that winter of heart disease did nothing to excuse me. Adam Cryall was inclined to laugh at my discomfiture.

'I know the whole place thinks that you should have let Mrs. Boorman die on you and then have engaged another incompetent old widow in her place. But don't let it worry you too much. I'm sure that she herself would rather have died among her relations, and it's only a matter of time before your Mrs. Cooke is accepted. She seems a pleasant body, and just the sort to make herself liked round here.'

He was right. Mrs. Cooke was friendly as well as competent: she also, as I was told later, 'knew her place'. That is she took no liberties in the parish, but waited until such folk as wished to know her made the first advances. By the end of the first year she was definitely ahead of me in popularity; but that was due to another set-back that I had of a more serious nature.

I found it very difficult at first to understand the exact relations between church and chapel. In both Marlingate and Bulverhythe [Pg 26] these had been free of trouble, because absolutely clear cut and taken for granted. The two were quite distinct, and functioned separately. Chapel-goers did not expect to be visited by the Parson, and celebrated their marriages and funerals in their own conventicles. But in Ebony conditions were more fluid, because neither of the two Nonconformist chapels was licensed for marriages, so the frequenters of both were obliged to be wed in the parish church, and all, whether church or chapel, must come to be buried in the parish churchyard.

There had in times past been a chapel graveyard in Ebony. Southeast of the island, just above where the Hexden channel and the River Rother meet at the Fivewatering, is a mound, a smaller isle, where a chapel once stood but stands no longer, leaving only its old graveyard to notch the sunrise with a few tombstones. It has the shape of an ancient barrow, a prehistoric burying place, but in fact its formation is entirely natural, the work of many years and many waters, and those who sleep in it were awake among us not many years ago.

'The old chapel' as it is still called, though the actual building is comparatively new, stands now beside the ferry. Though a small place, it is only half-filled, the main stream of dissent in Ebony being Wesleyan Methodist. But when I first came to Palster it was crowded every Sunday by a congregation of High Haldenites. What was the exact teaching of this sect I was never able to discover, and I doubt if they themselves were very clear. They represented a schism which had torn the Baptists of the Kentish Weald some hundred years earlier, and consisted now for the most part of the poorest and most ignorant of our little community.

There was, however, one very respectable family among them—a family called Furnese, which is not an Ebony name, but belongs to Romney Marsh. Joshua Furnese had 'come up the river', as they say, some thirty years earlier, and had worked ever since at Belice Farm, where he married the teamer's daughter. He died after I had been at Palster about a year. I had never exchanged with him more [Pg 27] than the common greeting of passers-by—in those days you said 'good-day' or 'good-night' to everyone you passed on the road—so beyond arranging with Ernie Turk, my sexton and grave-digger, what space was to be allotted to him in the churchyard, I left the funeral to the relations and the High Haldenite Minister who came over from Bapchild.

On the following Sunday there was the grave, with the raw, newly turned earth showing under the replaced turfs and the pathetic little bunches of chrysanthemums. I thought then that perhaps it might have been more gracious of me to have attended the funeral, but it was still a new idea to have other denominations messing about in my churchyard, and I knew the Minister to be an ignorant fellow without even the education normally found in those days among Nonconformist pastors. So I had kept out of the way.

In the evening it was too dark to see the grave, but in church I had a surprise. The entire Furnese family sat in the front row of the free seats at the back. At the head of the row sat the eldest son, Jim, a man of twenty-five, who also worked at Belice; next to him sat his mother, and then the whole tail of the family, ranging down to a mite of three. They were all dressed in black; the widow and the older girls had crepe veils hanging from their heads, while the boys wore crepe arm-bands.

I was astonished, for I had always understood that they were rigorous High Haldenites, and I had never seen them in church before. Then it occurred to me that perhaps it had been old Joshua who had kept them in schism, and now that he was no longer with them they would forsake the chapel and come to church. I hoped they would be impressed by the service, for crude as our music was by Bulverhythe standards, it doubtless far excelled anything they were accustomed to at the Old Chapel. I was also pleased to think that I had chosen a good subject for my sermon in the story of the Prodigal Son, and knowing Nonconformist proclivities in that direction, I allowed it to run on nearly ten minutes over the appointed[Pg 28] time. The Furneses never took their eyes off me during the whole of it, and I left the pulpit with the comfortable feeling that I had impressed them favourably.

But when I looked the following Sunday for their decent black row, it was not to be seen. Nor did they come the next week, or the next. At the same time there settled over Ebony a new sort of chill. Those who after watching me move about among them for a year had offered a tentative response, now seemed to draw back, while those with whom I had been in the habit of speaking, such as Mrs. Luck at the shop and the boy who brought the milk from Haffenden's Church Farm, looked away when I did so and mumbled. The rest did not appear to see me at all. I even thought the congregation smaller. It was a definite set-back, and coming as it did on the heels of a fresh hope, so mightily discouraged me that I spoke to Adam Cryall about it.

I did not generally discuss church affairs with him, apart from funds and fabric, and he had been away at the time of old Furnese's death, taking—in the generosity of his heart—Edward Boutflower, who that autumn had been seriously ill, for a 'cure' at Harrogate. But he was now home again, and I did not think the present relapse had anything specifically to do with the church, while none knew better than Adam the peculiarities of the island temperament.

'I've done something,' I said, 'something that has offended them mortally. I have no idea what it is, but I've done something.'

He smiled and shook his head.

'No, you haven't done anything. It's something you have not done. I heard about it directly I came back.' He looked at me, and added solemnly, 'There was no memorial.'

'What do you mean?' I was puzzled.

'The Furnese family came to church on the Sunday after their father's death——'

'I know, but they never came again.'

'They came for the memorial—to hear you make a memorial of their father in your sermon, tell the parish of his loss. . . . But apparently [Pg 29] you preached for half an hour without once mentioning him.'

'Good heavens!' I cried. 'It never occurred to me to do so. He wasn't a member of the congregation—he went to the Old Chapel.'

'I know—all that. But there's a custom here of mentioning by name at the Sunday evening service anyone who has died in the parish during the week, whether they went to church or chapel. Unfortunately I was away and didn't hear of old Furnese's death till I came back, or I should have warned you.'

I felt annoyed.

'Really, I don't see why his name should be mentioned in a church he never set foot in. Couldn't his own minister have given him his memorial in his own chapel?'

Again Adam smiled as he shook his head.

'The custom goes back far beyond the rivalries of church and chapel. I haven't a doubt but that you're holding the rags of popery in your hand. Before the Reformation a memorial at the parish Mass would have been made on the Sunday after a funeral, and when the Mass was got rid of, decent neighbourliness and human affection retained the memorial, merely transferring it to the evening service as the one more largely attended. I don't suppose such a thing ever happens in a town parish, but in the country it's still fairly common. Palster isn't an exception——'

I felt uncomfortable. No man values old customs more than I do and I hate hurting people's feelings, especially when they are like the Furneses, simple and humble men of goodwill.

'Is there anything I can do about it?' I asked Adam. 'Would next Sunday be too late for a memorial?'

'I'm afraid it would. Anyway the family wouldn't be there.'

'Then I had better go and see them, and explain and apologize for my ignorance.'

'I wouldn't do that. They wouldn't understand an apology—it would put you quite in the wrong. No, I think you had better leave any explanations to me—I may be able to do something for you; in [Pg 30] fact, I have already told Haffenden and some others that things are so different in a town parish that you couldn't possibly be expected to know our Palster ways. Cheer up! Don't look so woebegone. In the course of the next few years you'll live it down.'

I smiled wanly, stifling an ungodly hope that another member of the Old Chapel congregation would die and give me a chance of retrieving myself before long.

[Pg 31]

Chapter II

There was in Ebony a thriving legend that Palster Manor was haunted. Adam, who as a rule approved and cultivated local legends, was deeply annoyed by this one, because it ran contrary to his pattern of the universe. This excluded the supernatural not only in its legitimate and theistic sense but also as abused to cover such things as telepathy, precognition and ghosts. His prejudice had once taken him so far out of himself as to hand over to the law a gipsy woman who had come to the back door telling fortunes, and she would have been given a fortnight's gaol as a rogue and a vagabond if I had not anonymously paid her fine, moved more by my exasperation with Adam, than any sympathy with the old hag.

I was exasperated with him because his non possimus attitude denied him the pleasures of scientific investigation and me the pleasures of discussion. I confess that I am interested in ghosts, though I have never seen one. I should like to know what they really are, for I cannot share the popular belief that they are immortal souls. Rather I should say they are bits of a fractured personality which have been broken off by a violent death or an equally violent local attachment. To my mind their existence sheds little or no light on human survival of death, so Adam need not have cut them out of his philosophy.

I was not, however, greatly impressed by the Palster legend. It had no fixed shape, and seemed to me unworthy of a house that [Pg 32] had lived so long and seen so much. Stories varied with the teller—a head moving about the garden in a cloud of smoke, flames darting out of the windows when there was no fire and the rather ignoble anecdote of a hedger at Dredge's Farm who had seen a white horse 'in a shay light', which had so terrified him that he had been obliged to relieve himself, only to find fire instead of water. The place had never to anybody's knowledge been on fire, and I put down all this smoke and flame to the heat of rustic imagination.

I should have liked to talk to Adam about it and perhaps find out more, for he must have heard many more local tales than I had. But it was not a subject for our light-hearted duels—it definitely belonged to the things that held us apart. His atheism was of the true Victorian type, based on materialism and chance. Nowadays atheism has become metaphysical, but with Adam as with Bradlaugh, metaphysics were as suspect as theology. All I can say is that a more open mind would have saved him a lot of trouble in his own house.

I remember clearly the day it started. It was the evening of the 2nd of July 1902, and the South African war had just ended, to my very great relief. Adam had characteristically declared himself a pro-Boer, and though he was too popular in Ebony for any of those scenes which had involved pro-Boers in more sophisticated places, the Lismores had proclaimed their patriotism by severing all relations with the Manor, and indeed at one time with the Parsonage, as I did not see why I should give up a good friend simply because one more had been added to the subjects on which we disagreed.

Now, I trusted, everything would simmer down and the Lismores accept the Cryall widdershins in the matter of patriotism as calmly as they did in the matter of religion. I had dropped in at the Manor to consult Adam about some secular parish concern, and Lucy Cryall had invited me to stay to tea. It was laid in the library on a small table by the window, and there we sat, Adam, Lucy, Miss Merrivale, Blanche and I watching the shadows of the poplar-trees grow long enough to touch the house. Lindsay for some reason had not yet come in.

[Pg 33]

Both the girls had changed very much since I first saw them. Ten years is a long time in a young life, and had changed Blanche from an awkward hobbledehoy into a very beautiful and graceful young woman. She had done all the proper things—she had put up her hair and let down her skirts and added another preposition by coming out; not at the Rushmonden hunt ball, where the young folk of the district usually came out, for Adam would not countenance hunting even to that extent, but at a small private dance given by her parents—a dance which was as delightful to me as to anybody, though I do not dance, simply for the beauty of the rooms in lamplight and of the young people enjoying themselves to the music of a fiddle and a piano.

Blanche was a clever girl, too. For the last two years, she had been at Girton—after some months of intensive coaching from a retired schoolmaster who had come to live at Bapchild. She had long soared beyond the limits of Miss Merrivale, and though I shared her enthusiasm for English literature and history, I had not felt competent enough as a teacher to bring her up to university standards. Adam considered her sufficiently well grounded in rationalism to be able to withstand any possible ecclesiastical assaults from Cambridge, and he was deeply proud of her intelligence. He would have liked her, I think, to become a teacher, to carry the torch of rationalist enlightenment into the darkness of Christian England—a sort of god-free Miss Beale, pioneering a new advance in education (no one would have disapproved more than Adam of our modern Progressive Schools, had he lived to see them.)

Lindsay was neither so pretty nor so clever as her sister. It seemed unfair that both gifts should have been given to the same girl. Not that Lindsay was plain or stupid, but that was all you could say of her when she was in Blanche's company. When you saw her alone the impression was less negative. She had pretty, gentle manners and a sweet voice, and there was always the golden candy-floss of her hair.

Her mother spoke of her absence.

[Pg 34]

'What's happened to Lindsay? She came in with you, Blanche, didn't she?'

'Yes, but she'd been working in her garden, so she went upstairs to wash.'

'That was ten minutes ago. What can have delayed her? You might go and see, dear.'

But as Blanche stood up to go, the door opened and Lindsay came in.

'Father, there's a man on the stairs.'

Adam half rose.

'A man? What man? Does he want to see me?'

'I don't know. He didn't say.'

'The door-bell hasn't rung,' said Lucy. 'How did he get in?'

But Adam was already out of the room. He came back in a moment.

'There's no one there.'

Lucy Cryall was nervous.

'He must be somewhere if Lindsay's just seen him. Perhaps he's a tramp or a gipsy who's slipped in. Had you seen him before, darling?'

Lindsay nodded.

'Yes, once or twice—not often.'

Her voice did not sound natural to me.

'Then he must be someone from the village. You'd better look again, Adam. He may have gone round to the servants' hall.'

But a visit to the servants' hall produced no stranger.

'Can you remember where you've seen him before, Lindsay?' asked Miss Merrivale.

'Only on the stairs.'

'But other times—before this afternoon. You say you've seen him before.'

'It was always on the stairs.'

Her father looked at her in perplexity.

[Pg 35]

'My dear child, are you telling me that you've constantly seen a strange man on the stairs?'

'Not constantly—only once or twice.'

'Then why didn't you tell us before?'

'He didn't seem to want anyone—he just went by. This time he stood still. That's why I'm late for tea. I didn't want to pass him.'

Her hands were shaking, and at once her mother dropped one of her infelicities.

'My darling, you're quite pale, you look as if you'd seen a ghost.'

Lindsay burst into tears.

It was an awkward moment, for Adam really was angry. He believed, or made himself believe, that Lindsay had told a lie in order to excuse herself for being late for tea. He wanted her to tell him what had really happened, but she could only sob and repeat, 'I didn't like to pass him.'

'But you did pass him in the end,' I said.

She shook her head. 'I don't know. . . . I don't know. . . .'

I had made things no better, and Adam soon sent her out of the room.

'I've noticed it before,' he said sadly. 'She makes excuses. She's not truthful.'

'She may have seen some curious shadow or a movement of light,' said Blanche. 'You do sometimes get strange reflections from the staircase window. But if she's frightened it's rather unkind to leave her by herself. I think I'll go after her.'

'As you like, my dear,' said her father, 'and you can take her some tea.' But as soon as she had shut the door he added, 'I don't believe she was frightened of anything but being caught telling a lie.'

I could not resist a comment here.

'There didn't seem any motive for lying. This isn't the sort of house where children are scolded for being late for tea.'

'And my great-grandmother came from the Western Highlands,' stated Lucy, then broke off, looking guilty.

Adam's voice was louder than usual.

[Pg 36]

'There's such a thing as notoriety. The child told us a yarn to call attention to herself. I sometimes think she is too often put in the shadow by her sister, but as Blanche is so much her superior in brains and beauty as well as in age, I don't see how it can be helped. But I don't like this reaction to it.'

His own reaction annoyed me and I insisted, 'The local people are quite convinced that this house is haunted.'

'I know they are,' said Adam. 'By all sorts of things—flames, lights, white horses, smoking heads. I've never heard of a man before, at least not a whole one, but that's where Lindsay got her idea from, you may depend on it. She's heard the village tittle-tattle. I must warn the servants as to what they say in front of her. And surely there's something you can give her to read at her lessons, Miss Merrivale, that will put these things where they belong—in the mental dustbin.'

After such a rebuke I thought it wise to change the subject.

It was not to be revived for some time, in fact for a couple of years. I do not know if in the interval Lindsay saw her 'man' again. If she did, either she was wise enough to hold her tongue about him or Adam was too deeply ashamed of her to mention it. I still wonder what it was she saw, for I am quite convinced that she saw something. Though I have never seen a ghost myself, I have heard too many people say they have to put it all down to lies and superstition. The dream mechanism may work in the waking state for some of us, or there may be some form of visual telepathy from another dimension-no need to call it another world. I was sorry not to be able to discuss these things with Adam. He was the only man in the parish with any claims to education, for Lismore had done no more than scrape through a public school.

I had been right in thinking that the Lismores would again be on good terms with the Cryalls now that the war was over, and with them returned those other families who had been estranged by Adam's unorthodox sympathies. None of these lived very near, but [Pg 37] they provided some sort of social life for Adam's girls, as they were all within driving or cycling distance of the Manor. Lindsay was not 'out' like her sister, but she was old enough to join in the picnics and bicycle paper-chases that were the summer diversions of those unsophisticated days, and in winter there were parties and even dances for girls in their teens, who were then just beginning to be called 'flappers'.

There was also a far more deadly kind of entertainment to which I was unfortunately often invited, as it was considered highly suitable for a clergyman. After Christmas there would be a spate of tea-parties at which the guests were expected to amuse themselves by elementary guessing games—'book teas', where you had to guess the names of books, or worse still go as a well-known book yourself (I went to one as Apuleius' Golden Ass and completely baffled the assembly), or the names of animals or birds or precious stones, in fact, anything guessable. There was also an abuse of whist called 'Progressive Hearts'. . . . They were all excuses for bringing a set of nice people together of a winter's evening, giving them a good tea and offering them prizes. The prizes, I gathered, were a matter of competition among the hostesses as well as among the guests. The good ladies vied with one another to bribe the female intellect with brooches, fans and ornaments for the then popular 'silver table', while for the men there were pocket-books and pipe-racks and even boxes of cigarettes. Luckily I never won anything.

Blanche Cryall took the same view as I did of these festivities, and dodged them whenever she could, but her sister Lindsay took them very seriously. She was desperately anxious, poor child, to win a prize, which for some reason or other she never did. The fact that she always returned empty handed she seemed to regard as a slur on her abilities. In vain I pointed out to her my own want of success. She argued, correctly, that she went to these parties much oftener than I did.

'And you don't really try,' she added with some truth, 'while I [Pg 38] try very hard indeed, especially if the prize is something I want very much.'

So for her sake I was pleased when at last she won a prize at Mrs. Lismore's. It was Blanche who brought the news. She had come in one evening to look at my Book. We called it the Book, as that is what it had always been called by old Enoch Haffenden, who left it to me in his will. Actually it was a very rare edition of the Romney Marsh Charter, printed in London by John Wolfe in 1597. It is of special interest, because at that date John Wolfe is supposed to have gone out of business, yet besides his imprint the woodcut border of the title page contains his device and initials. I do not know how it came into Haffenden's possession, but he told me his father had had it before him, and I was particularly fascinated by several pages of notes added by some other owner early in the eighteenth century. These describe all the post-charter events in the district, all the innings of land and cuttings of dykes and drains, and in their crabbed lines I could read how the isle was preserved when it was threatened with being 'lost', by 'indraughts made at Ebony, Woodruff, Peening and Wittersham'.

But my chief pleasure came from the thought that old Haffenden had left it to me in his will. It seemed the seal of my acceptance by at least one, and by no means the least important, of my parishioners. The Haffendens had been tenants of the Church Farm for no less than five generations, and the position of People's Warden seems to have gone with the tenancy, for Haffenden succeeded Haffenden in the church as at the farm. It was a custom I could not break even if I had wanted to, but for the first few years my warden had little to say to me apart from the inevitable business. It was the illness and death of his wife that thawed the situation. By the mercy of heaven, I did the right instead of the wrong things, and after the funeral was bidden to the funeral feast, the first invitation I had received from that quarter in all the five years of my incumbency. It was then that I had been shown the Book, and the interest I took in it had increased my favour. And now after another five years I had [Pg 39] buried him and received his precious Book as a bequest, personally handed to me by George his eldest son. No wonder that the sight of its brown spine on my rarest shelf filled me with pride and confidence.

I had, of course, shown it to Adam, and Blanche had asked if she might see it too. She was interested not only because she was 'reading' history at Cambridge, but because she shared her father's love of Ebony and all its concerns, both present and past. We spent some time together turning the pages of English blackletter and Latin roman type, though like me she found her chief delight in the manuscript 'animadversions of Mr. Harlakenden'. Then just as she was preparing to leave, she said, 'Lindsay's come home cock-a-hoop from the Lismores. She won the first prize.'

'Did she, indeed? I'm very glad to hear it. What sort of party was it? They didn't ask me.'

'Oh, no, it was only for the younger ones. I didn't go, but Lindsay went with Anne and Theresa. It was the sort of party where names that look like Polish swear-words are stuck about on cards and you have to make something out of them. In this case it was jewels, I believe. Not my idea of profitable mental exercise.'

'Nor mine. But I'm glad for her sake that she's won something at last. Is it a good prize?'

Blanche made a face.

'It's an expensive one—Mrs. Lismore's prizes always are. It's a silver bird with a pink velvet back which I suppose is meant for a pincushion. Lindsay is delighted with it. She thinks it's the most beautiful thing in the world.'

I smiled.

'She's very young, even for her age. Still it's nice to possess the most beautiful thing in the world, even if to other people it's only a hideous pincushion. I daresay she'll bring it in to show me tomorrow when she comes for her lesson.'

For Lindsay was now coming to me for lessons in geometry and algebra as her sister had done. Neither of the girls showed much [Pg 40] ability in that direction, and Lindsay's confusion was sometimes so great as to make her appear stupid. But Adam insisted that the girls should be coached in elementary mathematics, in order that they could pass the university entrance exams that made it a compulsory subject. This had had practical results in Blanche's case, but I thought that if Adam expected Lindsay to follow in her sister's footsteps to Girton he did not really know his younger child.

I suppose it is because I have lived so long in the country that I remember not only what happened but the sort of day it happened on. The next day was the 2nd of February, which is often still called Candlemas, and is said to mark the last day of the winter on which Mass was said by candlelight. It is certainly a day on which spring and winter seem to meet, for the first light comes before the first warmth, and the sky is a spring sky, while the frost is still on the ground. I do not think that before I came to Ebony I saw winter and spring behind old Simeon and the infant Christ. Adam had not yet added to his armoury the weapon of the Golden Bough, and I found my symbols spontaneously in the primrose light full-stretched across the sky as I walked through the morning cold to church, a cold made audible by the crunching frost under my feet.

It is hardly surprising that such a date should be a fount of weather-lore, and in Ebony we still quote the old rhyme—

If Candlemas day be bright,
The worst of the winter's yet in sight.

On that especial morning I shook my head as I walked home from church, where I had been reading Matins and Table Prayers to Mrs. Cooke, Ernie Turk and two old sisters called Yattenden who lived in Rectory Lane. The sky was so bright and blue that the bare twigs of the trees and hedgerows looked out of season, and I saw March snow in the long ray of sunshine that pierced my study window and lost itself in the golden cloud of Lindsay Cryall's hair.

[Pg 41]

She was waiting for me, standing by the table with her head bent as she turned over the pages of a lesson book.

'Good morning,' I said cheerfully, 'and congratulations.'

She started and looked up, and I saw to my amazement that her face was tragic and stained with tears.

'My dear child,' I exclaimed, 'what's the matter?'

She sat down, covering her face with her hands and sobbed. 'Oh, Uncle Harry. . . . Uncle Harry.'

Both Adam's children called me Uncle Harry, and as I seem to have reached this point without telling the reader my name, I may as well say here that it is Harry Chamberlin, and Harry is no informal Henry, but was given me at the font.

'My dear child,' I said, sitting down beside her. 'Tell me what's happened.'

There was a moment or two before she could answer me. Then she sobbed out, 'Father's angry with me.'

'Why is he angry?' Adam was not often angry with his children. Then I remembered that other occasion and the man she had seen or said she had seen on the stairs. Had anything like that happened again?

'It's about my—my—p-p-prize.'

Her head came down on her arms on the table, and she wept as one broken-hearted.

I waited till the storm was over, then offered her my handkerchief. 'Dry your eyes, my dear, and tell me all about it. You'll feel better if you do. I know that you won a prize yesterday at the Lismores'. But how could it possibly make your father angry?'

'It isn't the prize—it's the way I won it. No, I don't mean that. It's because he doesn't believe I won it that way. He says I'm telling lies. But I'm not, Uncle Harry, I'm not.'

So evidently it was something akin to that man on the stairs, though how he could have become mixed up with Mrs. Lismore's silly guessing game was a mystery.

'Suppose,' I said, 'we begin at the beginning. You had to guess [Pg 42] the names of precious stones from jumbled letters—that was what Blanche said.'

'Yes, I'm such a duffer at that sort of thing. But I did want the prize so badly. I saw it, and it was so p-p-pretty—just what I wanted for my dressing-table; and now'—she rocked herself in her woe—'he's made me give it back. He—he's taken it back to Mrs. Lismore this morning. He said he'd have made me go myself if it hadn't been my day for coming to you.'

'Why has he made you give it back?'

'Because he says I cheated.'

'And did you cheat?'

'No—not unless what I did was cheating. But if it was I didn't know it.'

'Suppose,' I resumed, 'you tell me what you did.'

She made a great effort to speak calmly, but her voice was still shaking with tears.

'At first it was just like it always is—the letters didn't seem to mean anything. I just stared, but nothing came. Then Theresa and I were looking at a word together, and quite soon she saw what it was and wrote it down. It meant just nothing to me, and when she moved on I gave it up and went with her, and then suddenly it came——'

She broke off and swallowed a few sobs.

'The word came,' I prompted.

'Yes—amethyst. I knew it was an amethyst, even though I was looking at a different word. I wrote it down, and when Theresa moved on I followed her and got the next word.'

The situation began to dawn on me.

'Are you telling me,' I asked, 'that you got the whole lot like that?'

'Oh, Uncle Harry,' she cried, almost in tears again, 'don't say you don't believe me.'

I nearly said, 'You silly girl,' but found patience in the thought of her lost prize. 'Of course I believe you, but you've told me a very extraordinary thing, and I'd like to hear more about it. Has anything like this ever happened before?'

[Pg 43]

'Yes,' she said solemnly. 'It did a long time ago, when I was very young. It was when we used to play Happy Families with the Boutflowers, and I found if I let my mind go blank I knew who'd got the cards I wanted. I won all the games I played that way.'

'Did you do it often?'

'No, for it made my mind ache. But I remembered it yesterday at the Lismore's. I got those two names off Theresa, but I couldn't get any more, because she was beaten by the next one, so I tried Effie Carter, who had got it. Then I tried Rose Wainwright, but the best was Violet Lismore, because she had written out the cards herself and of course she wasn't playing. Nobody but me got them all right.'

'And did your mind ache?'

'Yes, very much. But it was worth it, or it would have been if——' The tears came back and drowned her voice.

'My poor child, did you really tell your father this?'

'Ye-es. I—I thought he would be in-in-interested.'

I thought, 'Then you know your father as little as he knows you.' I said, 'But he didn't believe you.'

'No. He thought I must have copied the names from other people's lists and was trying to cover up what I'd done. He said I'd cheated and was lying about it. He was very unfair'—her grief became less touching as it withered into anger—'and anyhow, I don't see why he should mind even if I had told lies.'

'My dear, what are you saying?'

'Well, he's got no reason for not telling them. He just says they're wrong.'

'Of course they're wrong.'

'Yes, you say so because you believe you'll go to hell if you tell lies. But he's got no reason.'

My mind paused only for a moment's wrath at this travesty of my beliefs. I was more concerned with the question she had flung at Adam's. It was the first time that I had heard either of his daughters express the smallest criticism of his philosophy, and though [Pg 44] that philosophy was not mine and I had no intention of defending it, I was distressed to see a rift in the closely knit unity of his home, a rift that might widen or at least harden if not closed now.

'Look here,' I said, 'you're feeling hurt and angry, and naturally you're upset. But I'm not going to let you quarrel with your father because he expects his children to speak the truth. He has a very good reason for it, and it's the same as mine—if you don't, no one will believe you, even when you do. What right have you to expect me to believe you now after what you've just said to me about lying?'

She jumped out of her chair.

'But you do believe me, Uncle Harry. You must believe me.'

'I don't see why I should.'

'But you said you did.'

'That was before you told me that there's no reason for anyone who doesn't believe in hell to think lies are wrong.'

She was caught and began to cry again.

'Oh, don't say that. Oh, please believe me. I tell you solemnly I really am speaking the truth. Why shouldn't you believe me? If I'd wanted to cheat and then cover it up with lies I'd have told a different sort. I'd have made out that I was sharper than usual that afternoon or that the words were easier.'

I was caught in my turn, and so was Adam. I chuckled.

'That's exactly what I'm going to tell your father.'

She gazed at me, unsure of which way the situation was going—for or against her.

'I'm going to tell him,' I confirmed, 'that if you really had cheated you'd have told quite a different sort of lie about it—something a lot more convincing. You'd never have invented an explanation like the one you gave.'

'Oh, Uncle Harry. . . .' She was all sunshine now. 'Are you really going to speak to Father and make him understand?'

'I'll do my best. And then I'm going to explain things to Mrs. Lismore.'

'Oh, do you think she'll give me back my bird?'

[Pg 45]

'I make no promises, but I'll do what I can.'

I realized that out of pity for the child I had let myself in for two painful and ridiculous encounters.

The most painful was with Adam, though had other considerations been involved his reaction would have made me laugh.

He was like an aelurophobe who is sure there is a cat in the room. In vain I tried to convince him that even if Lindsay had certain psychic powers they did not necessarily bring back the hierarchy of heaven. Adam refused to believe in a universe that was not solid all through.

'Really, Chamberlin, I can't understand how a man of your abilities can accept all that mumbo-jumbo—telepathy, hypnotism, spiritualism, fortune-telling, ghosts . . . the refuse of the mental dustbin'—adding a phrase with which he had rebuked me before.

'I don't accept all those, and no one would put them all on the same level; but I think some of them would bear investigating.'

'Only a fool would waste his time that way.'

'I'm not so sure. Have you read Myers' book on Human Personality?'

Of course he hadn't, nor had I, so that got us nowhere. I had, however, read some of the S.P.R. reports, enough to convince me that 'psychic' manifestations had nothing to do with religion.

'I don't make any spiritual claims for these things. After all, I'm pretty sure that Breezy (my cocker spaniel) can read my simpler thoughts.'

Adam's look seemed to indicate that all my thoughts must be on that level if I could use such an argument. I realized that I was not helping Lindsay. The more I insisted on the genuineness of her explanations, the more Adam would be convinced that she was lying, and I saw with pain that he would rather believe his daughter a liar than that the powers she claimed existed. He was, however, willing to accept another sort of excuse.

'She's at a bad age,' he said, 'almost seventeen—turning physically [Pg 46] into a woman. It's a medical fact that girls are often mentally upset at that time. She's probably been indulging in daydreams, and they've got mixed up with her ordinary life. I won't deny that perhaps she really believes that she read the other girls' thoughts instead of their scores.'

It may have been an ignoble surrender to take advantage of this concession, for I was convinced that Lindsay had done nothing of the kind; but for her sake I let the matter rest there. It was better that he should believe her deluded by her own bodily changes than condemn her as a liar or bear against her a hidden grudge for possessing powers that for some reason made him doubt his own philosophy.

'In that case,' I said, 'we can't blame her. She obviously had no wish to deceive you, or she wouldn't have told you a story so hard to believe. Nor, if we follow your argument, did she wish to deceive herself. Rather, poor child, it was that self which deceived her. So do you think it would be possible to give her back her prize?'

But Adam would not have this.

'No, for she obviously didn't win it. Whatever we believe she did or did not do, her correct result was due to a trick. I have given back the prize to Mrs. Lismore, to pass on to the next competitor, who won it by legitimate means.'

I saw there was no use arguing or entreating any further; but an association of ideas made me ask, 'What does Blanche think about all this?'

'Blanche,' said Adam gravely, 'is very sorry for her sister.'

I could believe that, and should have liked him to tell me more; but he continued in a different vein:

'I suppose it is unreasonable to wish that two girls so far apart in age should be more alike in character. Blanche is everything I could possibly wish. She thinks and feels and believes just as I do, and I'm glad to think that when I die she will inherit Palster Manor, since the property is not entailed on heirs male.'

'She will marry, of course.'

[Pg 47]

'No doubt she will—and wisely. But marriage will not be all her life, as it is for some women. She loves the place and the people as much as I do, and I'm convinced she will make a first-rate squire. By the way, she was delighted with your Charter Book. She was talking to me about it last night, and we were wondering at the interchangeability of the words marsh and moor—"Mr. Harlakenden" seemed to consider them the same thing—or do you think that isn't so? Also what's happened to Dombarne? He mentions it constantly, though I can't find it on any of my maps. Perhaps it became a "drowned land" when the Rother changed its mouth to Rye.'

The conversation, like the Rother, had found a new outlet—had been found it, rather, for I think that Adam, who hated quarrelling with me except in fun, had deliberately changed it. It was just as well, perhaps, that as far as he and I were concerned, Lindsay's fiasco should become a 'drowned land' like Dombarne. Certainly we never spoke of it again.

My interview with Mrs. Lismore was of a very different nature—not nearly so painful, but much sillier.

'Oh, of course,' she gushed, 'I know that Lindsay's psychic. You needn't tell me.'

I remarked that it was a very awkward situation in her father's daughter.

'Of course it is, and Adam would rather die than acknowledge it. He gave me a lot of solemn stuff this morning about his having decided that the prize had not been fairly won, so he had brought it back. But he offered no real explanation, so I thought she must have confessed that she had cheated.'

'He thinks she has.'

'But she never acknowledged it.'

'Oh, no. The explanation she gave him was the one I've just given you, which was rather simple of her.'

'Of course she really needn't have told him anything, except that no doubt he was surprised at her winning the game. We all were.'

[Pg 48]

'Might I venture to suggest that you don't invite her to any more of those parties?'

'I don't suppose I shall be giving any more. These parlour games are going out of fashion, and the one we had yesterday was only for the younger girls. But I do think that Lindsay's psychic gifts should not be neglected. She must have inherited them from her Highland great-grandmother, and they might be developed into something quite remarkable. I should like to try her one evening with the planchette.'

My blood ran cold.

'Mrs. Lismore, may I beg you not to do that. I don't at all take your view of Lindsay's gifts as you call them—but that's beside the point. One point is that if encouraged they might lead to real trouble with her father. We've no business to encourage her in secret to do things that would so thoroughly upset him. And it isn't as if it would benefit her in any way. Very much to the contrary. I believe that in the interests of her own mental health these things should be let alone.'

She laughed.

'You're very earnest about it all. I suppose that as a parson you disapprove of spiritualism.'

'With all my heart.'

'Have you ever been to a seance?'


'I thought as much. However, we won't quarrel about it. Lindsay and Violet can go for nice healthy walks together, and if the weather goes on like this'—she looked out at the sunny threat of the Candlemas afternoon—'they'll soon be playing tennis. Which reminds me—in view of your explanation, oughtn't she to be given back her prize?'

I shook my head.

'I spoke of that to Adam, but he won't hear of it. He insists that it was unfairly won.'

'What a nuisance he is. I really don't know what to do with it [Pg 49] now. He suggested that I should give it to the next highest score, but both Violet and I have forgotten who that is, as there was only one prize; and it isn't at all the sort of thing I want myself.'

'Then perhaps you would let me have it.'

She laughed.

'Most certainly I will. But have you seen it?'

'Oh, I'm not wanting it for myself.'

She looked at me rather uncertainly, as if she were wondering whether I meant for some lady of my choice or for a church bazaar. However, all she said was, 'Take it by all means. You're more likely to find a way of getting rid of it than I shall.'

So the interview ended in my carrying home a parcel. Lindsay would be seventeen in April, and I did not see how Adam could object to my giving her a birthday present.

Blanche left Girton the following summer. I think her father was surprised that she did not do better in her tripos. He had expected something more of her than second-class honours. I had not been so sure, for I had noticed during the last two years that she had other interests besides study. She was, as I have said before, a remarkably pretty girl, and it seemed inevitable that she should be attractive to men. Adam was inclined, I thought, to treat this side of things too airily. Certainly it did not intrude when she was at home. There were very few marriageable young men in the district, and Palster was still isolated in those days when the motor-car was nothing more than an occasional terror to horses. There were, on the other hand, plenty of young men at Cambridge, but the Girton of King Edward's early reign was a cloistral place where students were guarded and chaperoned in a manner undreamed of today. They were not allowed to make use of public transport, but had to travel to and from their lectures in superannuated cabs, nor were they allowed to enter even a tea-shop unchaperoned. If they were forced by their timetable to eat in Cambridge, it had to be at a room over some stables, which was [Pg 50] considered respectable because it was run by a mother and two daughters who kept ceaseless vigil.

I knew that Blanche regarded these restrictions as a joke, and that in spite of them she had managed to make friends with several undergraduates, and had received offers of marriage from more than one of them. She did not tell her parents this, and the fact that she told me I put down to her having no intimate girl friends. Her contemporary Megs Boutflower was now married and already the mother of two children, and she openly disliked the type of woman she had met at Girton.

'They're all so charmless. Their hair and their clothes. . . . They're just school-marms, that's why I don't want to be one.'

A much bigger disappointment to Adam than her second class had been her refusal to proceed to the Teachers' Training College at Cheltenham.

'I'm sorry,' she said to me. 'I know he feels it. But I really couldn't endure the life. Why should I spend my best years pouring water through a sieve? I enjoy acquiring knowledge—I've enjoyed that side of Cambridge very much—but I don't feel any call to impart it. Besides, I want to be here in Ebony. The trouble is that he expects too much of me. He's disappointed in Lindsay, so he pins all his hopes on me, which isn't fair to either of us. He's got certain ideas on education—quite good ones—and he hoped I was going to put them into practice. Well, I can't, and never could. I believe what he believes, but I'm no teacher or organizer. He'd like to see me in the Votes-for-Women movement, but though I love history I'm simply not interested in politics, which is a thing I can't get him to understand. Besides, I've had enough of women for the last three years. I don't want to have anything more to do with them, at least in droves. What I want now is to lead a normal life, to marry and have children.'

'Have you told your father that?'

'No. It would only upset him. He'd think my mind was running on those things and that was why I'd turned down Cheltenham. [Pg 51] What I'm trying to do is to show him that the education he's given me hasn't been wasted—that it'll be a help to me in any kind of life I lead, even the most domestic. After all, it's taken for granted that a man should go to the university, even if he's not going to follow one of the learned professions. My uncle Henry came back from Cambridge with no idea but to be a country squire. Father's always reminding me that one day I shall come after him at Palster, and I'm trying to make him see that I'll be all the better landlord and country gentleman if I don't spend years as a teacher or lecturer and get all dehumanized and townish and shoppy. . . .'

'You will have to be careful whom you marry, in that case. Suppose you fell in love with an Indian Army officer.'

'Suppose I did. Well, I'd just have to fall out of love with him; that's all.'

'My dear child,' I said, for the youthful arrogance of her words had made me feel quite old and avuncular, 'you don't know what you're talking about.'

She smiled a little secret smile.

'Don't I? Well, I'll tell you something.'

I waited, and after a pause she added:

'I've just turned down a man who I think would have made me very happy if I could have accepted him.'

'I'm sorry to hear that. Are you quite sure it was necessary?

Her next words startled me.

'Yes. He is Anthony Boutflower.'

'Good heavens!' I cried, 'what a fool he must be!'

'Thank you. It's refreshing in these days to meet such old-world courtesy.'

'You know what I mean. It would have been quite a disastrous marriage. You'd be divided in the very foundations of your life.'

'Yes, that's why I refused him. It hurt me rather a lot, but I kept my head. So you see, Uncle Harry . . .'

She talked on, while I thought indignantly of young Boutflower. [Pg 52] I had not seen him for some time, as, thanks largely to Adam's exertions on his behalf, he now had a job in the Bank of England. The idea was that he should go through the whole system and one day come out at the top, but at present he was still at the bottom, and it was confounded cheek of him to propose to marry anybody, apart from other considerations. It appears that Blanche had seen a certain amount of him in London, and he had been down once or twice to Cambridge. She had also spent one week-end in the Boutflower home, which was a thing she had never done before, as, though Adam was lavish of the hospitality of Palster Manor, he never encouraged visits in the opposite direction. He felt no doubt that there was more risk of infection in a house saturated with religious atmosphere than in one kept well-ventilated by the hygienic breezes of free thought.

'I don't think you should have gone,' I told her. 'It was encouraging the young man too much. What does your father know about all this?'

She answered blandly, 'Nothing.'

'I think that's rather unfair. If he has no idea the boy's in love with you he's sure to invite him to Palster again before long, and then either he'll be hurt by continued refusals, or you may find yourself in a rather awkward and painful situation.'

'Oh, it's quite all right,' she said. 'I've made Anthony understand that it's all over.'

I felt a little annoyed with her, even while it struck me that I, the minister of a played-out religion, was receiving confidences that ought to have gone to her enlightened father, who in that respect was in no different position from a pious and tyrannical Victorian papa.

'My dear,' I said, 'since you've confided in me and not in your father, I feel I have a right to play the heavy father in his place and tell you that I think you haven't behaved very well either to him or to Anthony.'

She looked discomfited, but only for a moment. She came back at me.

[Pg 53]

'In what way have I misbehaved?'

'In seeing such a lot of the young man and being apparently willing to see more. You've met him in London, invited him to Cambridge, you've been to stay with him in his home and refuse to take any steps to prevent him staying with you in yours—and all without the smallest intention of marrying him.'

'It sounds more like a man than a woman, doesn't it?' she said with rather an uneasy laugh. 'But I'm not really as bad as all that. Anthony and I have been so very much like brother and sister that I never dreamed for a moment he would propose—at least not till we'd got quite into the habit of meeting that way. You yourself said he was mad to do it.'

'I certainly think it most reckless and irresponsible of him. But don't tell me that a girl like you, experienced in these things as you tell me you are, was taken entirely unawares.'

'No, I told you that I wasn't. But I was pretty deep in by then, and I thought perhaps he would never really bring matters to a head—that his religion wouldn't let him, for one thing—and we were very happy going on as we were.'

'And are you both happy now?'

'Well, perhaps not. But it really is all over. You needn't go on scolding me, for I don't think he's likely to come to Palster for a very long time. He doesn't get much leave from the Bank, and he's been away so long that he's rather lost touch. It's more the younger ones of the family that come these days.'

I did not want to go on scolding her, but I felt she was to blame, though not as much as he was.

After that it was perhaps natural that I should watch her rather anxiously. I was fond of both of Adam's girls. Twelve years of close association had given me the affections of an uncle as well as the brevet rank. Looking back on those years, I realize that for a time I was more than a little in love with Blanche. Lindsay I never thought of except as a child, even after she had long ceased to be one. But [Pg 54] Blanche was not only much nearer me in age—twenty-two to my forty-six—but far more adult in her ways and outlook, as well as far more beautiful. The fact that I did not really succumb—even enough to acknowledge to myself that I was smitten—may be due to a shrewd idea of the effect such an affair would have on Adam were he to know of it (and what good would it be if he did not?) fortified by a steady growth in bachelor habits.

These, no doubt always latent, had thriven notably in the atmosphere of Palster Rectory. I loved the emptiness of this big, sturdy house—differentiated in style from the farmhouse across the road only by the genteel evergreens that surrounded it. I loved my study, where the books accumulated and spread from the shelves to the tables, from the tables to the chairs, and would doubtless soon pile on the floor. I loved the independence which allowed me to have my meals when and where I chose, for though a tyrant in some ways, Mrs. Cooke was domestically far more accommodating than any wife would have been. I loved my garden, where I could avail myself of my human privilege of improving the Creator's work without reference to the decoration of the house. And should you say that all this must still leave my life empty, I will add that I loved the people of Ebony and my labours among them.

I was now beginning to be accepted everywhere in the parish instead of only in a few places. I was even on terms with the gipsies who camped every year on the piece of common land by Peening Quarter on their way into the Weald for the fruit-picking. Perhaps they knew I had paid old Lyra Boswell's fine all those years ago; but whether they did or not, the Parsonage was the only house where it was not necessary to lock up the chickens. As for my nearest neighbours at the Church Farm, George Haflenden and his sisters, we were almost friends. I had a very strong admiration for George. He was in my opinion a man of real integrity, all that a Kentish yeoman ought to be, except of course that territorially he was not a yeoman at all. However, his family's tenancy of their farm had lasted longer than many ownerships, and his present landlord relied absolutely on [Pg 55] his honesty and discretion, never refusing or even questioning anything he asked for in the way of improvements and repairs.

'I do better,' he said to me one day, 'than I could ever hope to do on my own. For one thing I don't have to pay tithe.'

There was nothing in his expression to suggest he was making fun of me. I don't think he was. Fun comes very low down in the list of the virtues of a Kentish yeoman. I thought, however, I would like to make fun of him in a mild way.

'You ought to get married,' I said. 'A thriving man like you ought to get married.'

He muttered something about his sisters.

'They ought to get married too. The whole lot of you ought to get married. Your sisters probably will—they're still quite young—but you're getting on, George. You'll have to start looking around if you mean to get married before you're forty and save yourself from turning into a crusty old bachelor like me.'

He did not even smile, but he took it all in good part, and late that autumn an evening came when he seemed to have done something more.

I was walking along the lane that wanders from Loddington to Owley, on my way home from old Sam Holman's death-bed. He was a good old man, and his painless, peaceful end had been in true affinity with the fields where the wheat slumbered and with the trees that revealed their beauty in their leafless boughs. A low star, netted in the twigs of an ash, hung just above the red sky that marked the sun's burial place beyond Reedbed, and started me on a meditation on the apparent differences between death in the town and death in the country. I was deep in the humbug of urban undertakers, when suddenly brought to myself by a very different phenomenon. I had turned the corner by Nettlehatch, and saw before me a pair of lovers in the lane.

They stood as one body blocked against the red sky. His arm was round her, and he held her up against him while his face lay close on hers and merged with it. I stood stock still and hoped that, their [Pg 56] tenderness over, they would move on without noticing me, in which case I would give them time to get well ahead. But the man as he lifted his head looked round, and I saw to my intense surprise the face of George Haffenden. I had never thought him the sort of man for love-making in the lanes. But my surprise was feeble in comparison with that which I felt when I recognized his sweetheart. She did not look round, but the turn of her head showed me a profile too familiar for any mistake. She was Blanche Cryall.

I still stood motionless, hoping they would move on, hoping they had not seen me. If we had all been in the open the last light would have revealed me more clearly than it had revealed them, but I stood under high banks at the corner of the lane, while for them the hedges had sunk and offered no shadow. To my great relief they went forward, moving quickly, with her hand tucked under his arm.

After a moment or two I recovered myself sufficiently to remember that if I went back half a mile there was a way to Palster through Dredge's Farm. At this time of year it would no doubt be horribly dirty, but I would rather be covered with mud than embarrassment, and if the lovers stopped again or loitered on their way I ran the risk of overtaking them at any of the many turnings of the lane. Nor would a longer distance be unwelcome to me in my present mood. I wanted time to think. Or rather I did not know what to think.

I will not say I was disappointed in Haffenden, because almost at once I felt convinced that with him it was no case either of sensual drifting or empty flirtation. In the plain language he would himself have used, he meant business. But what business? To marry Miss Blanche Cryall, heiress of Palster Manor? It seemed incredible, and yet not more incredible than that he should trifle with her. I remembered that George had always had a pretty good opinion of himself and of his position—or perhaps I should say that pride was one of his yeoman virtues. He might think that he was good enough for her, and in a way, no doubt, he was. The difficulty lay in other folks' opinion which almost certainly would be that he was not good enough. He came of an old Palster family, and was himself a man [Pg 57] of sterling character and a certain refinement and education, but Blanche was not only well-born, she was rich—and in course of time would inherit Palster Manor—we did not in those pre-land-act days know of the taxes and death-duties that would in the end make a liability of her estate. Moreover, she was a woman of considerable scholastic attainments. The equivalent of a Cambridge degree lay between them. It was all very well for her to say she wished to prove that her education had fitted her for ordinary domestic life. Life at Church Farm would not be ordinary domestic life as she understood it, but an existence in which her genius would be sunk as deep as a rusty kettle in a farmhouse pond. There was also the religious angle to consider. George was no fanatic, but he was one of my churchwardens, and therefore, I presumed, believed in God. How wouid he like to be married in a registry office?—for I was convinced that to whatever extent Adam surrendered he would not surrender as far as a church wedding. And what about the children? Would George agree to their being brought up as freethinkers? It was the old problem of the mixed marriage which Blanche had already solved by rejection. It did not look much like rejection here.

But could I believe that she 'meant business' in the same way as her lover? Sadly I shook my head as I walked along. She was dear to me—even if I did not know how dear—but I could not have the same faith in her integrity. Her career at Cambridge, her treatment of Anthony Boutflower, all spoke of a woman irresponsible in the ways of love. Her experience during the last few years might have given her an appetite for more of the same nature, and the Isle of Ebony did not offer her much chance to satisfy it. Her neighbourhood was small, and I knew she did not care about any of the young men she met on social occasions. She had become used to intellectual stimulation, and they did not provide it. Nor of course did, or would, or could, George Haffenden. But he provided stimulations of another sort. If I were a woman instead of an elderly clergyman I should doubtless have mentioned before this that he was a remarkably fine and handsome man. He also offered novelty and contrast. My mind [Pg 58] was troubled by tales I had heard of young girls of good family throwing themselves away, either inside or outside marriage, on handsome young fellows in a different walk in life—yielding possibly to those biological instincts which make the pedigree cat reject her stud-fee'd partner and sire her kittens on the alley tiles. There was always the chance, however, that Blanche meant nothing and was only amusing herself, which, deep as it sunk her, had become my chief hope by the time I reached home.

I spent the next few days in considerable perplexity. I saw nothing of George or Blanche or of their families, so my mind received no help from outside. I could only go on turning without result the wheel of my conjectures. Sometimes I thought I would call at Palster Manor on some pretext, and see if the behaviour of any of its inmates suggested a clue. I even wondered if I could tackle George directly, tell him what I had seen and ask for an explanation. But the next moment I remembered that I was not an Irish priest; nor was I, on the other hand, a Parson Adams, accustomed to receive the confidences of my flock. Blanche's confidences seemed the more likely of the two—or would have seemed, did I not fear I had scolded her too much on that earlier occasion. Every now and then I gave myself a shake and tried to forget the business in my books or in my parish. If anything was meant by what I had seen, it must come to light in time, and if nothing was meant it was nothing to do with me.

More than a week must have passed since my adventure in Loddington Lane when Adam came to see me. I was working in my study, preparing a list of possible confirmation candidates, for the Bishop threatened a confirmation in March, and I was rather doubtful of Palster's resources in that line. I had just added the name of Alice Juglery, youngest daughter of the cowman at Weights, with a question-mark against her, for she was what is (rather touchingly I think) called a 'natural', when he was shown into the room.

He entered it at a moment when almost for the first time that day I had forgotten his daughter's concerns, and I looked up at him, [Pg 59] blinking, my mind still wondering if the difference between Alice and other girls unfitted her for the gifts of God—pretty sure in my own heart that it didn't, but feeling that the Bishop would think it did.

'Good evening, Harry,' said he. 'I see that you're busy, and I'm sorry to interrupt you, but I should like a chat.'

'Oh, that's all right,' I said, pulling forward a chair. 'There's no particular hurry about any of this.'

Adam began to pack his pipe, and as I watched him I suddenly guessed that he had come to speak to me about Blanche.

'Look here,' he said, 'I've come to tell you something that will surprise you very much, and perhaps shock you too.'

I said nothing, but waited for what I felt sure was coming.

'It's Blanche,' he continued, 'she's engaged to be married. She's engaged to George Haffenden.'

My feelings were sufficiently strong and confused to give an impression of amazement.

'Engaged!' I repeated, 'Actually engaged!'

'Yes, I've given my consent. I couldn't do otherwise. They seem so truly in love; and though in some ways it's a very different match from what we had hoped for her, in others it has some striking advantages. She will belong to Ebony now.'

'Surely she has always belonged to it.'

'Oh, yes—in her interests, in her sentiments . . . but she might so easily have married a man from outside, even from far away. In that case her attachment must have weakened—a woman goes naturally to her husband's home, and though in the end she would have come back as my heir, it might have been the return of a stranger.'

I forbore to tell him how Blanche herself had proposed to deal with such a situation. I merely said, 'George Haffenden is an excellent man. I like and admire him in every way. But he is hardly Blanche's equal in education.'

'Very few men would be that,' said Adam, 'certainly none of the [Pg 60] young men round here of her own class. I should say that mentally George Haffenden compares favourably with most of them.'

This was perfectly true, but there were other gaps unfilled of an even more serious nature. Adam must, of course, be as well aware of these as I was, and it was hardly my place to point out the domestic and social differences between Church Farm and Palster Manor. There was one point, however, on which I had a right to speak.

'But what about the religious situation? George goes regularly to church—he's a churchwarden. Surely the division between them there is something rather serious. Have they considered it at all? It may not seem important now when they're so much in love, but it may lead to trouble later on.'

Adam laughed.

'What a cynical old bachelor you are, Harry. If you knew more about the subject you'd know that love and understanding grow with the married state and are greater "later on" than in the romantic beginnings.'

'I may be ignorant,' I said coldly, 'but even bachelors know that married people quite often have children. That's what I meant by "later on".'

'Surely it's a bit early to worry about them now. You're not a Papist with a Ne Temere decree to direct you.' Ne Temere had just been promulgated in this country, and I had welcomed it as an additional barrier between Blanche and Anthony Boutflower. 'These difficulties are more easily settled when they arise.'

'I'm sorry, Adam—I don't agree with you. I'm not a Papist, but no Papist could disapprove of a mixed marriage more than I do. It seems to me that the marriage starts with a cleft in the foundations.'

Adam smiled.

'Yes, if both the parties are bigoted. But Blanche is not bigoted—she has been brought up to be tolerant. For years she's been on almost sisterly terms with the Boutflower family'—I winced—'without a single breath of disagreement or controversy. She has strong [Pg 61] convictions, but strength means tolerance—people argue because they are frightened.'

'I was not thinking of argument. I was thinking of separation in a fundamental matter.' I was also still thinking of the children.

'I doubt if religion is as fundamental with George as it is with Blanche,' said Adam, still smiling, 'he made no objection whatever to not being married in church.'

I began to feel angry. Being married at the registrar's was a very different matter in those days from what it is now; it generally meant a runaway match or a wedding of necessity. Besides, George was one of my churchwardens.

'So you've sounded him on that already,' I said.

'Yes, I thought it best to get things clear, and I found he was all in favour of a quiet wedding—no frills, no fuss. I'm sorry, Harry, if all this displeases you. I was afraid it would. As I've said, it doesn't altogether please me. But the more I think of it, the clearer I see there would have been difficulties anyhow, no matter whom Blanche had chosen. George Haffenden is infinitely superior to most of the young men of our own class whom we know round here, and as for the religious problem, that was bound to arise. Unfortunately none of our friends of our own way of thinking are unmarried or else young enough for a girl of her age'—this was true; I had noticed that the rationalist movement seemed to be making no way among the younger generation—'so it's fortunate that she's fallen in love with a man as tolerant as herself or, perhaps it may be, whose convictions are not strong enough to affect the situation.'

By this time I was really angry, though I had only a confused idea of what was making me so.

'Adam,' I said, 'you may think like an atheist, but you talk like a Jesuit.'

He seemed surprised at my warmth.

'I'm sorry if I said anything I shouldn't—anything that's hurt you. Come, Harry. You and I have had many a fencing bout without [Pg 62] drawing blood. Don't let us start a real argument'—his persisting smile said: You might not win.

'I don't want to argue. There's nothing to argue about. If you approve of your daughter's engagement it would be impertinent of me to interfere. I've made my protest as a clergyman—that's all.'

'And quite right too,' said Adam generously. 'So now you can go forward with a clear conscience. And perhaps, not as a clergyman but as a friend, you will come and say a few words at the wedding.'

'At the registrar's office?'

'Certainly—just a few words of friendship and perhaps a little good advice to the young couple. Blanche would appreciate it, I know, and so, I'm sure, would George. The civil ceremony itself leaves much to be desired. I acknowledge that, and should be grateful if you would help me improve it.'

'If I go to the wedding,' I said firmly, 'I go as a clergyman, and if I speak, I speak as a clergyman on Christian marriage. So perhaps I'd better stay at home.'

'Perhaps you had,' said Adam sadly.

Soon after that he went away. I think we really should have quarrelled if he had stayed much longer. For some time after he was gone I sat on at my desk in a curious trance of thought. Then with a sigh I picked up my pen and returned to my Confirmation Candidates. A name had been added to the list. Unconsciously I must have written it down while we were talking. There it stood at the end of all the Juglerys, Holmans, Iggulsdens and Neatendens—the name of Blanche Cryall.

The wedding took place just before Christmas, and in the intervening weeks I saw very little of the engaged couple. Blanche I purposely avoided, except in company, but I had a few words with George, whom I found rather truculent and on the defensive, evidently aware that I thought a registry-office marriage unworthy of a churchwarden.

'Everyone will know why I'm doing it. No one will call it a [Pg 63] hole-and-corner wedding. Mr. Cryall has a right to his opinions, like everyone else.'

'You realize, I suppose, that his opinions are his daughter's also.'

'Surelye'—the vernacular of Ebony was often strong upon his tongue. 'We've talked all that over many a time, and we each keep to our own way. That's agreed.'

'Well, as long as different ways don't lead you apart. . . .'

'They won't—not Blanche and me. We're both tolerant. I'd never think of asking her to come to church, and she's all set up for me going on as churchwarden. That's where tolerance comes in.'

He was learning a new language. Neither 'tolerant' nor 'tolerance' were words in his own vocabulary. Nor did I think that he himself was in the least tolerant. His idea of Christianity was expressed in his office of churchwarden, and if Blanche had asked him to give that up I'm pretty sure he would have opposed her violently. But she would never do that, for like her father she saw churchwardens as part of Palster's constitution and history—a picturesque survival as harmless as the village stocks. With a pang of compunction I realized that she and Adam might have assessed his fundamental Christianity more clearly than I had. I ceased arguing with him and brought the conversation to an end as nearly as possible on an amiable note.

I did not go to the wedding—actually only the two families attended the ceremony in Rushmonden Town Hall—but I went to the reception at Palster Manor afterwards. Blanche looked beautiful and radiant, all the more so because she did not wear the conventional bride's dress, which I often think is unbecoming to pale girls. She wore rose-coloured velvet, cosy with fur, and a little fur hat. She greeted me with affection, thanking me again for my weddingpresent, which she said would always be one of her greatest treasures. I had wanted to give her a present that had cost me something, so I had given her my Romney Marsh Charter. I always thought of her when I looked at it, so it was best that I should not look at it, and George I could see was pleased that 'the old book' should come [Pg 64] back into the Haffenden family. I think that when he realized how highly she thought of it he felt sorry that his father had left it to me. The wedding may have appeared unconventional by the standards of that day, but the reception was entirely orthodox. I could guess by her rather plaintive air that Lucy Cryall privately mourned the absence of bridesmaids and the fact that the parson moved as it were in a vacuum, detached from the ceremony; but the guests themselves—almost, it seemed, the entire county, assembled to see Adam Cryall's daughter married to one of her father's tenants—were a typical wedding crowd, and the cake was a typical weddingcake, and a typical array of toast-racks, salt-cellars, clocks and crumbscoops was displayed in the dining-room, with a typically obvious detective on guard.

The most valuable of the presents was one, however, that no thief was ever likely to steal. Indeed, I doubt if many of the guests understood even its nature. I own that I myself did not at first realize that the roll of parchment ticketed 'The bride's father to the bride and bridegroom' was nothing less than the title deeds of Church Farm. Adam had given the farm with its two hundred and seventy acres of arable, woodland and marsh fatting-lands as a wedding gift to the young couple, thus at one stroke making a yeoman of George and a landowner of Blanche. I confess that I was amazed at his generosity, and I told him so.

'You're making a considerable hole in your own property, with a corresponding loss of income. George is a first-rate farmer. There can't be many farms on the estate that pay as well as his.'

'There aren't any,' said Adam cheerfully, a glass of champagne in his hand, 'but I'm not a poor man, and can afford to provide for my daughter. I'm doing this mainly on her account—I want her to have some practice as a landowner before she inherits the estate. After all, Church Farm is not going out of the family. When she comes to Palster it will remain a separate property, but she knows that I hope that in the future it will make a suitable provision for a [Pg 65] younger son—since younger sons will no longer go into the church,' and he winked at me over the edge of his glass.

'So,' said I, also with a glass of champagne in my hand, 'you still see the Cryalls as a prosperous family of landed gentry, even when they've lost their name.'

'They won't lose it,' said Adam. 'It's all arranged. When Blanche inherits she will add our name to hers—Haffenden-Cryall. It's quite often done when the inheritance is in the female line—Burdett Coutts, Sutherland Graeme, Pleydell Bouverie . . . I could think of hosts of others.'

He said a great deal more on the subject, for the champagne and general air of festivity had made him expansive. One might almost have thought that his daughter was marrying into the peerage. As for me, I was feeling light-hearted too, and with hardly a qualm for the future watched the bridal pair set out for their improbable honeymoon destination of San Silvestro, a minor resort on the Italian Riviera. This place had been chosen, Adam informed me, after much consideration. A winter honeymoon had better be spent outside this cheerless country. At the Riviera they would find warmth and sunshine, and as neither could speak Italian they would both be equally at a loss, without any of the superiority Blanche might have shown had the language been French. The final inducement was that, being in a Popish country, without, in this small place, any Anglican succours, George would not dream of going to church until he returned to Palster and resumed his duties as churchwarden.

[Pg 66]

Chapter III

Early in 1905 Edward Boutflower died. He had been ill for some time, and the end did not come unexpectedly, but I was deeply sorry for Adam's loss of his life-long friend. I had not before this had any opportunity to observe him in the intimate presence of death, and I could not help a certain curiosity as to how he would be affected. With no belief in another life or in any future reunion, surely such a death would afflict him even more than it would afflict a man who believed in both.

I watched him carefully, but could discern no difference. He grieved, certainly, but not to excess. Indeed, he appeared less stricken than many a good Christian in the same circumstances. In certain ways his reactions were the same, beginning with that strange period of exaltation which we most of us go through when sorrow first sets us apart, then sinking from those heights into regret and a deep consciousness of the empty place. In this last respect he sorrowed beyond my expectations, for their characters were so very unlike that it surprised me to find that one of them could miss the other so much. I wondered what possible link could have held them together beyond past memories and mutual gratitude for mutual loyalty. But 'I miss him at every turn,' Adam said.

He spoke freely of his dead friend, and I sometimes suspected him of a wish to impress me with his own attitude towards death—as if [Pg 67] he had guessed that I had expected something different—'This man expected death to find me out.'

I once expressed the hope that Edward had not suffered much.

'I'm afraid he did,' said Adam, 'quite a lot, but I have no doubt that he died happily.'

'Megs told me that he did,' I replied. For my dear little Megs had written in answer to my letter of condolence that her father had died comforted by the last rites of his church, 'after such a happy day'.

'Oh, I don't mean what Megs means,' said Adam. 'I knew Edward well enough to feel perfectly sure that he could not have died happily with his delusions. He may have lived with them, but for death they would not have been enough.'

'Then what made him so happy?'

'The truth,' said Adam solemnly. 'I have not a doubt but that my friend in his last conscious moments saw the truth.'

I forbore to ask what it was that could have so happily reconciled Boutflower to his own extinction. Since Blanche's marriage I had been careful in my fencing with Adam. For the first time his thrusts were liable to touch something raw.

A few days later Megs came to stay at Palster with her two young children. She was badly in need of a rest, having helped nurse her father while carrying on at the same time with all her usual family concerns. Immediately after Edward's death Adam had invited his widow to come to Palster, and had, I think, been disappointed by her refusal, grateful as it was.

'But she couldn't face it,' said her daughter, confirming my guess. 'She loves Uncle Adam, and will always be eternally grateful to him, but she told me she just couldn't live through those first days without God—not really without him, of course, but in a place where he was never mentioned and wasn't believed in, and knowing that Uncle Adam thinks Father's really dead. . . . Her voice shook. 'She couldn't have borne it, so she went to the nuns at Rugby, and now she's ever so much happier and has gone to look after Terence, so that I can come away.'

[Pg 68]

I was delighted to see her, though she had lost some of her bright looks and found too many extra pounds. The children were dear little pets, and when they saw my clerical collar called me 'father' so prettily that I was sorry when Megs explained my real status. She spent, as was to be expected, a great deal of time with Blanche at Church Farm. The situation there had rather surprised me. I had, perhaps without good reason, thought that Blanche would be active as a farmer's wife and interest herself personally in the running of her little estate. Instead of which she seemed to keep herself in the background—much more than she had at the Manor, where Adam had often consulted her and taken her advice. She loved Ebony, she loved the land, she had declared herself anxious to prove that her scholastic and specialized education had not unfitted her for ordinary married life. Yet here she was living among her books instead of among her cows or her cornfields or her hop-gardens, leaving the care of the land to her husband and the care of the house to servants who were noticeably 'superior' to the ordinary run of farm domestics. There was a new, strange, drawing-room atmosphere about Church Farm; and I was disappointed, for I had not thought Blanche capable of swamping thus with her class and education the life of a Kentish yeoman.

But one day when I spoke, though guardedly, of this to Megs, she said at once, 'Oh, that isn't Blanche's doing. That's George's.'

'You mean——'

'That George wants the marriage to go up to her—not down to him. He doesn't want people to say she married beneath her. On the other hand, he doesn't want to marry a clever and well-born girl and have her looking and behaving like any ordinary farmer's wife.' She laughed, 'I'm explaining all this very badly, but the vulgar fact is that he's got a wife out of the top drawer, and the best way of showing it seems to move up into it himself.'

'And what does Blanche think?'

'Oh, she doesn't mind—at least not much. She'd like to do more about the farm, but she thinks that will come in time if she plays her [Pg 69] cards well. But at present it's all "thou shalt not wash dishes nor yet feed the swine", and as Blanche was never any good at housework, it's just as well that she doesn't have to do that sort of thing.'

'It isn't the servants I object to.'

'Why should you object to any of it?' laughed Megs. 'I only wish that something like it could happen to me. You really needn't worry, Mr. Chamberlin. They've not been married six months yet, so it's only natural that he should like her to sit on a cushion and sew a fine seam and live upon strawberries, sugar and cream. No doubt she'll feed the swine later if she really wants to.'

Blanche's sister Lindsay was now, to use Jane Austen's expressive phrase, 'the only young woman in the drawing-room' at Palster Manor. No doubt it was good for her socially to be without a sister whose beauty and intelligence had always outshone hers, and in the course of that spring she seemed at last to show some signs of growing up. But she would never fill Blanche's place in her father's heart. Poor Adam had been unfortunate in losing his best friend so soon after the marriage of his favourite daughter, but I think he could have done much for his own comfort and the girl's advantage had he cultivated the friendship of the daughter he had left. It was too plain that he did not wish to understand Lindsay. She troubled him—she had troubled him ever since she had told him of that stranger on the Manor stairs; for ever since then he had either to believe her untruthful or to accept what he insisted on regarding as an empirical refutation of his materialism. He took refuge from this alternative in dismissing her as 'her mother's girl'. Certainly Lindsay was more like Lucy than she was like Adam, but even so the resemblance was not great, for Lindsay was nervous and sensitive in a way her mother was not. She was also, I felt convinced, secretive. If Adam meant that when he called her deceitful, he was right, but it was his own doing. I did not encourage her to confide in me, perhaps selfishly foreseeing some future embarrassment. But I was [Pg 70] pretty sure that she still had those experiences which had so deeply vexed her father.

She was now eighteen, and Lucy talked of her 'coming out'. They would probably give a dance for her in the course of the following winter, but I could see that even in a purely social matter Adam's paternal pride fell short of what he had felt for Blanche. It would be a good thing for Lindsay if she married early, but the eligible young men were as few as her sister had found them, and her own powers of attraction considerably less. She was still firm friends with Violet Lismore, but that was a situation without matrimonial chances, since Violet's brother was dead.

I did not altogether approve of this friendship; not on Violet's account, for she was a harmless if not particularly attractive girl, but because I had never altogether trusted Mrs. Lismore since the day of that ridiculous and disastrous parlour game. I felt that she would do her best to encourage Lindsay's 'gifts' in spite of my dissuasions. More than once I made myself unpopular when such things were mentioned, by begging her not to let Lindsay have any share in her experiments with planchette.

'You seem to think the Lambstand games rather deadly,' she once remarked, to which I had offered the lame retort:

'I think they are—for some people.'

She laughed.

'If only you could see the idiotic things it writes, you'd know we only do it for fun.'

'Your guessing-game, I take it, was only for fun, but it made serious trouble between Adam and his daughter.'

'Oh, Adam's impossible,' she said with a shrug.

That was some time before she took up spiritualism and the light really went red. The trouble started when she met in London a young man with the unprepossessing name of Ernest Needle. He was a medium, but strictly amateur. He never took money, though the week that he and his wife were invited to spend at Lambstand must have been the equivalent of at least two five-pound notes. For some [Pg 71] time Mrs. Lismore had been growing tired of her planchette. Lately it had insisted on writing in such colossal script that a sheet of foolscap paper was required for each separate word, which had involved literally heaps of stationery for quite brief communications. Needle's technique was the comparatively simple one of going into a trance, while his wife—Pitman trained for the purpose—took shorthand notes of his utterances. From the very first these were remarkable, and Mrs. Lismore could not resist telling me about them, much as she knew I would disapprove.

She had come to the Rectory to discuss the finances of the Coal and Clothing Club, over which she presided every winter, with the result that by the spring they were in a state of considerable disorder. I tried as tactfully as I could to persuade her to give up this 'good work', as she called it. Mrs. Cooke would have done it much better. But she was for some reason deeply attached to the idea of presiding over Palster's winter comforts, and as I was loath to discourage the only really well-to-do family that supported the Church, I had to be content with helping her sort out the muddle every Easter.

This time she hardly gave me time to add up her first column before she broke in with:

'Who do you think I've been talking to since I saw you last?'

I could think, of course, of dozens of people, for she knew practically everyone on the isle. But obviously that was not the meaning of her rather silly question, so I shook my head.

'Edward Boutflower,' she proclaimed.

I gaped at her, for I knew nothing about the Needles. Then I thought of the planchette.

'So it's stopped being a game,' I said acidly. 'I thought it would.'

'Oh, I'm not talking of that silly toy. This is the real thing. I have a well-known medium staying with me, and last night we had a seance after dinner—just Harold, Violet and I and Mr. and Mrs. Needle. There was no mumbo-jumbo. All the lights were on, and Edward Boutflower came through almost at once.'

'Came through what?' I asked disingenuously.

[Pg 72]

'I mean got into communication, of course. He was introduced by Mr. Needle's control, Laughing Sun, a Red Indian chief. He greeted us all by name, and said how glad he was to have this opportunity of telling us there is no such thing as death. He really was most edifying. He says he lives among beautiful flowers beside a brook that sometimes sings with a human voice. Then he himself sang the hymn "There is a happy land, far, far away".'

All this sounded most unlike Edward Boutflower.

'Didn't he ever mention Purgatory?' I asked, remembering certain conversations in which the theological steam suppressed at the Manor had been let off in my direction.

'No, of course not. It doesn't exist.'

'But he believed in it strongly when he was alive. You'd think he'd have told you if he'd found out he'd been mistaken in such an important matter.'

It was perhaps too much to expect a knowledge of Roman Catholic dogma from a Red Indian Chief, but this was not the only respect in which I found the picture of Edward Boutflower unconvincing. He had sent no message to Adam, though one would have thought that his own personal survival would have been a fine stick with which to beat an atheist. At later seances, when more facts had seeped into the medium's mind, I believe there were messages, but on this first occasion he made no mention of his old friend.

'He had so many things to tell us about the Other Side. Besides, he has promised to come back, and he hopes next time to be able to bring poor Tom Lismore with him. Harold particularly asked for Tom, but Edward'—she had never called him anything but Mr. Boutflower while he was alive—'said he was rather difficult to get hold of.'

I had almost stopped listening, for my mind was busy with the calendar. It seemed providential that Lindsay Cryall should have chosen this very week to visit Miss Merrivale, who had now retired from her duties at Palster and lived with a sister at a small village on the Welsh coast. She would not, I calculated, be home before Ernest Needle was safely out of Ebony. This realization not only [Pg 73] spared me much anxiety but probably a quarrel with Mrs. Lismore. As things were, I let her run on till at last even she seemed to grow tired of talking nonsense and allowed me to bring her back to earth and her accounts.

At the end of the week the Needles went away, and any doubts I may have had of their integrity were removed by Ernest's continued failure to produce Tom Lismore. If he had been a swindler he certainly would not have limited his traffic with another world to Edward Boutflower, of whom by the time he left the Lismores must have grown weary. But he was slick enough not to lose face by this disability.

'You see,' Mrs. Lismore explained, 'Edward has only just passed over, so he hasn't gone far away. He's still hovering near the shore. But Tom has been in the Happy Land for years, and Mr. Needle says that by this time he would almost certainly have gone deep into the interior. After all, one doesn't expect to get into communication with people like Napoleon or even Gladstone. It's only those who are still hovering near us. But he hasn't given up hope, and thinks we may be able to get hold of him on some future occasion.'

While deploring Mr. Needle's trance performances, I commended his waking astuteness.

Adam's reaction to it all was a surprise to me, for it was one of unbridled hilarity. He knew all about the seances—the whole island knew, and I only wish the Lismores could have heard some of the comments that reached my ears—but he was far from regarding them from the same angle as he had regarded his daughter's experiments in a similar line, the reason being, no doubt, that in spite of my arguments he insisted on believing that Ernest Needle was a fraud, yet suffered none of the personal shock and shame that the same belief had aroused in the case of Lindsay. Certainly the psychic investigations at Lambstand had done nothing to shake his secularist convictions; indeed, he took the attitude that such superstitious orgies were only to be expected of a man who for twenty-five years had read the lessons in church every Sunday.

[Pg 74]

I confess that I, too, was disappointed in Harold Lismore, for at one time I had hoped that he would hold himself aloof from his wife's credulities. But she was a dominating woman whom he, being a simple soul, had always accepted at her own intellectual valuation. Besides, he was deeply impressed by Edward Boutflower's revelations of life beyond the grave, which more than once he artlessly retailed to me. 'He says you can even get a drink if you want it very badly. Makes you feel death isn't so terrible after all.'

June in Ebony. The island rusted over as the sorrel reddened the darkening hay and the warm, motionless air thickened at dusk into crimson bars at the western edges of the sky. In June the sea seemed very far away. All the spring it had been blowing over us in salt, sharp winds, but now the smell and the touch of it were hidden with the sight of it beyond the marsh. The waters were gone—the sheet that every winter still carried the black reflection of the ferry from Body's Wharf to Mockbeggar on the Sussex mainland—but Ebony had not ceased to be an island in a green sea of marsh and watermeadows, where the sheep moved like the crests of little waves and cried with voices not unlike the crying of the sea.

June brought me my roses and some of the most pleasant gardening of the year. It also brought me my fishing, and I spent some long, tranquil days above the water at Blackwell Bridge, or sometimes farther from home at the Fivewatering. The present generation of viri palustres were not fishermen, and I mostly fished alone, which suited me very well. But occasionally I would be joined by old Tom Iggulsden of Weights Farm, who, I think, owed his love of sport to me when I had stayed at Weights as a holiday lodger all those years ago. When the fish ceased to bite he would invite me home for a glass of ale, by that time almost the only home-brewed ale to be found in Ebony, where the prejudice against 'brewers' stuff' had long been dying.

On that particular evening I set off home about eight o'clock. The days had not yet been pulled out of their proper length by Summer [Pg 75] Time, so the sky was beginning to grow dark, though fire still burned round the rims and was reflected on the long, flat swords of the Highnock Channel and the White Kemp Sewer. When I came round the shoulder of Ebony the Rother was red too, a burning river winding out of the embers of the west. A huge single star hung above Reedbed. I stood for a moment, drinking the dew-cooled air and watching the strange alteration of light as the moon crept up behind me and shone into the dying fires ahead. Then suddenly a voice came out of the shadows, calling my name.

'Uncle Harry.'

I started. Who was it? Both the Cryall girls had voices very much alike, but the next moment I recognized the figure beyond the field gate as Lindsay. She was sitting on a small hill of land, gazing out towards the Rother Marshes. She must be at least a mile from home. The gate was a swinger, and I opened it.

'My dear child, what are you doing here? The grass is wet with dew. You'll catch cold if you sit on it much longer.'

She stood up.

'I was thinking of moving, but it's so beautiful I can't drag myself away, and I'm so happy—so very, very happy. I feel I don't want to go home just yet.'

The strange weave of afterglow, starlight and moonlight showed me that there were tears in her eyes.

'Well, come and walk in the lane with me. We can watch the colours change as we go along.'

I wondered what was coming next. She must be in love—but how? With whom? Was Adam about to be asked to bestow another daughter on another farmer? Or had she met someone when she was away in Wales?—or at the Lismores? The neighbourhood was widening now, as more and more people bought motor-cars. I hoped she would confide in me, but did not like to press her. I did not even ask her why she was so happy. I had no need. She burst out almost at once.

'I'm so happy. Oh, Uncle Harry, I must tell you. I believe in God.'

How many more shocks had the island hidden for me in its lanes? [Pg 76] This was almost as big a shock as the embracing figures of Blanche Cryall and George Haffenden. I stood still, staring at her.

'My dear . . .' I said feebly.

'Yes, and it's so wonderful. . . . I can't describe it to you. I mean, you must know all about it, yet it isn't the same for you. You've always believed, but I haven't till now—these last few days—and it's like coming out of prison—like breathing fresh air after being shut up in a box.'

I was genuinely moved. I took her hand and pulled it inside my arm as we went forward, but I did not trust myself to speak.

'Up till now,' she continued, pouring out her soul, 'I've been like someone shut up in a box, and I had horrible cloister—the thing you get when you're shut up——'


'That's it. I had that, and every now and then light came through the chinks, but then'—her voice grew suddenly taut—'Father put his hand over the light and made it dark again. But he can't do that any more now, for I'm outside the box altogether. I'm free.'

My mind was in a tumult. Naturally I was glad, both as a professional man of God and for her sake. I realized now that she must have suffered much within the walls of her father's materialism, and saw her poor little psychic flutterings as the pathetic struggles of an imprisoned bird. In my mind, too, was the thought of Adam's possible reactions if and when the change became known to him, and with the thought was mingled an incongruous sympathy. Last of all came wonder and curiosity. How had this change been worked? Had she been reading? Had she met somebody who had helped her? And if so, how and whom?

'My dear child,' I said, 'tell me how it happened.'

For the first time she hesitated.

'I don't know that you'll be pleased when you know how.'

'That seems impossible.'

'Not after all you said to Mrs. Lismore—she seemed to think I'd much better not tell you.'

[Pg 77]

I had a sense of foreboding.

'But what can it have to do with Mrs. Lismore? Surely it isn't she who taught you to believe?'

'But it is. At least it happened through her—at her house. Uncle Harry, I know you'll be angry with me, but I've been going to her house now for weeks, for seances, and it's what happened at those which has made me believe in God.'

I was speechless.

She continued, 'I know you don't approve. But then you've never been to a seance, so you don't really know what happens. I—you knew——'

I realized that I must somehow master this extraordinary situation.

'Tell me what happens—what happened to make you feel like this?'

'It was Tom Lismore. He came and spoke to us. He proved to everyone—Mr. and Mrs. Lismore and Violet—that he really was Tom, alive in another world and remembering them. He used my voice, but he told them things I knew nothing about—used names that I'd never heard. Mrs. Lismore's written it all down. He called her "Queen Mab", which used to be his name for her in the past. She's not his real mother, you know, and he never called her that. Of course I'd never heard of it, nor had Violet. There were all sorts of other things too. They're absolutely sure it's Tom. He wasn't a bit like Mr. Boutflower, describing things in the other world. He gave them quite a lot of information about his life in Australia before he was killed. They often wondered if he had married out there, and he told them that he had, and gave his wife's name and the names of his children. I believe Mr. Lismore's going to try and trace them.'

She rattled all this out rather breathlessly, and I scarcely listened, for my mind had been caught on four words—'he used my voice'.

'Are you telling me,' I asked, trying to speak calmly, 'that they used you as a medium?'

[Pg 78]

She laughed rather nervously.

'I used myself. I mean, when I came back from Wales, Violet told me all about the seances they'd had with Mr. Needle, and how disappointed they were that Tom had never come through. Then Mrs. Lismore suggested that we should all sit round the table after tea and see if anything happened. So we sat, and suddenly I found myself waking up, and Mrs. Lismore was crying, and I really believe Mr. Lismore was crying too.'

'And how often have you done this?'

She hesitated.

'Two or three times. . . .'

I did not believe her, and she looked at me anxiously.

'You're angry,' she said.

'I am, but not with you.'

We had stopped walking, for we had reached the throws where the lane to Palster Manor dives down from the whale back of the island. Her home and her father were only a few hundred yards away. We must finish our conversation here.

'You shouldn't be angry, Uncle Harry,' she continued, 'when I'm so happy. I've told you what I used to feel about life and how miserable Father made me. But now I know for certain that he's wrong. There is a life after death, there is a God. I believe that now, and the whole world's changed. It's come alive. It used to be dead. Before this happened I used to feel a sort of ache when I looked at the sky and fields and everything that seems so lovely now. It seemed lovely then, but it hurt me because it didn't mean anything—it had all come by chance. But now—oh, I can hardly bear to go home out of this beautiful night.'

When she spoke like that there seemed nothing I could say, and we stood there silent for some moments while the last fires guttered behind Ethnam and Marsh Quarter. Then I took her hand, which had fallen from my arm, and put it back there.

'I'm glad you've told me, my dear.'

'I had to tell someone, and of course I can't tell Father or Mother.'

[Pg 79]


'You don't think I ought to, do you?'

'I don't. But later I should like to talk to you again about all this. Now I'm going to take you home.'

There is a collect of my Church which begins: 'O God, who canst bring good out of evil and makest even the wrath of man to turn to thy praise. . . .' Substitute for the wrath of man the folly of woman and you have a pretty clear notion of the state of mind and prayer in which I lay awake for most of the following night.

I am not normally a bad sleeper, and can close my eyes on most sorrows and perplexities, but there was in my heart that night a tumult of emotion which would not let me rest. The night which Lindsay Cryall had found so beautiful was with me through the uncurtained window until dawn. There was no cloud, and for almost the first time in my life I watched the great wheel of the stars turning through the hours. A cypress-tree held up a black finger against the sky, and from behind it the stars rose and climbed towards the zenith, so that from a heeling earth I was given the illusion of a heeling firmament.

For five dark hours I watched the sparks fly upwards, my mind keeping vigil with my eyes, until in that tremulous hour which forms a bridge between night and day I seemed to see clearly all the joys and all the shams of Lindsay's new awakening. I scarcely knew whether to grieve or to rejoice. I rejoiced because she had found God, but grieved because she had found him where I was convinced that he was not and where her continued seeking could do nothing but harm. I saw at once the blessedness and the extreme, the terrifying fragility of her belief. It must be entirely subjective, with no substance in practice other than the practice I deplored and no dogma except one which she had accepted on the strength of a delusion. Yet she believed and was happy, and I could not regard her vision of God as defective because all it had shown her so far was the beauty of the world in which she lived.

[Pg 80]

No doubt much of the happiness came from the conviction that her father was wrong. I realized how the system in which he had brought her up must have maimed and hurt a nature tuned so differently from his. In this respect she was quite unlike the other members of her family. Adam's confidence and contentment seemed to thrive on his rationalism, and with Blanche it had all the inspiration of a crusade. Even her mother, whom she more closely resembled than either of the others, differed from her on this point. She had no God but Adam, and as long as he remained could cheerfully forgo what had never been more than a reflection of his image on the sky.

The confusion in my mind was made greater by a number of practical problems which seemed to grow in urgency with the light. Was I, as a parson, to take a hand in the matter and stiffen and support this girl's faith by definite instruction? She said that she believed in God, but it was very much as children believe in fairies. Her faith was like a cloud which the smallest puff of wind could blow away. Was it my duty to give it substance? She did not seem to have any thought of my helping her. She had confided in me not as a clergyman but as 'Uncle Harry'. She had spoken of God, but had apparently not even thought of Christ. She probably knew nothing about baptism except as something that happens to babies. . . .

I was in a situation in which many men, doubtless better men than I, would have acted differently. Looking back on it after all these years, I am not altogether pleased with myself for my decision to let it ride. No doubt I shirked the issues, one of which was Adam's probable reaction to any support I might give to his daughter's belief. I now understood more clearly why he had found it so difficult to find a new incumbent for Palster. I had lived on good terms with his secularism only because I had never—I saw now—really come up against it. A less easy-going—or shall we say more zealous?—parish priest would have stubbed his toe on it long before this. But I had opposed my patron only in circumstances which [Pg 81] allowed him at least to think that he had got the better of me. This would be something quite different. Even if he agreed to hold me guiltless of Lindsay's actual conversion—I must use the word, though it hardly meets the case—he would never forgive me any attempt to take her farther along her new road. If I made a convinced Christian of her the situation would become intolerable to all three of us. As things were, she might still be able to conceal from him what had happened. . . . Odd that I should have a feeling of guilt towards him even in deciding this. She could cherish her happiness in secret until . . . until . . . something—anything—death or marriage—changed the situation I was too pusillanimous to change myself. May God forgive me if I erred, as I now think I did.

Adam was the connecting link between my two chief problems. The other was how to put an end to these spiritualistic orgies without upsetting the beliefs Lindsay had so perversely attached to them. I ran the risk of robbing her of very much more than I saved her from—emptying the baby with the bathwater is the vulgar but expressive phrase that fits the case. On the other hand, I was quite determined to do all I could to stop the Lismores using her as a medium. Without going as far as Edward Boutflower would have gone and dreading the participaion of evil spirits, I had by this time read enough on the subject to realize its mental and moral dangers.

There was also the danger of Adam coming to know what she was doing, which I regarded as equally serious. He had laughed heartily at the Lismores' seances when the medium had been Ernest Needle, but he certainly would not laugh if he ever found out that his daughter was lending herself to such degrading practices. Obviously the Lismores were aware of this, for they had behaved with unusual discretion and kept their new adventure to themselves, much as Mrs. Lismore must long to tell everyone, especially me, about it. But how long could such a secret be maintained? Knowing Ebony as I did, I was surprised that it had not already leaked out, for the servants both at Lambstand and at Palster Manor had a [Pg 82] way of knowing everything, and over the whole isle functioned a sort of bush telegraph which was always extraordinarily well informed and up to date. If the renewed seances and Lindsay's participation in them became known to the viri palustres there was no hope of the knowledge not reaching her father, for he was far too popular not to be told of a matter that so vitally concerned him. His atheism was accepted in the same spirit as his churchmanship would have been had he remained a clergyman, and all affronts to it equally resented. I saw no hope of avoiding a most distressing family rumpus, with serious consequences for Lindsay's happiness and even her health, unless I could persuade the Lismores to see reason and bring their experiments to an end, at least for a time. In view of past experience, I saw no great chance of success, but I could not resign myself to a policy of total inaction, and this seemed the only action that at the moment I could take. So partly to salve my own conscience I decided to take it.

There was another motive, too, for the visit to Lambstand which was the morning mouse born of the long travail of the night's mountain. I own frankly that my curiosity was aroused. I wanted to know in what sort of a dress Lindsay had clothed her communications. She must be entirely ignorant not only of official spiritualist jargon but of the ordinary language of religion. For her there could be no Other Side, no Happy Land, no brooks that sing tunes from Hymns Ancient and Modern. What exactly had she told the Lismores about Tom? She said Mrs. Lismore had 'written it all down', and undoubtedly there had been some remarkable results in the way of telepathy. I was curious and wanted to investigate; I also wanted to prevent and rebuke, so reached Lambstand in a fine mixed state of indignation and inquiry.

I asked to see both Mr. and Mrs. Lismore, for I had a notion that I would obtain better results from his simplicity than from her sophistication. Also he was a man, and though perhaps it was reactionary of me to think I would get more sense out of a man than [Pg 83] out of a woman (remember those were the days of the militant suffragettes), I always felt more at ease in the company of my own sex, and considered female preponderance one of the drawbacks to clerical life in this country. Certainly his presence gave me confidence, though he said very little throughout the interview.

I came straight to the point, and Mrs. Lismore was highly indignant.

'The silly little thing should never have told you.'

'She said she had to talk to someone about it, and I just happened to be there. I assure you she did not consult me as a clergyman.'

'But it's as a cleryman you're acting now.'

'Only partly. I'm acting chiefly as her friend. I see that she's running great risks, and I want to save her from trouble and danger.'

'Can't you believe that we're her friends too? We've known her all her life—much longer than you have. We're the last people to want to get her into trouble, and as for danger I've never seen her healthier and happier than she is now.'

'Yes, now. But what will she be after three months of this sort of thing? And there's the more immediate danger of her father finding out what she's doing, then I assure you she'll be in trouble, and so will you.'

They both declared there was no fear of that. They did not need me to tell them what Adam's reactions would be, and had taken every precaution.

'We don't even sit in the house,' said Mrs. Lismore. 'We did the first time, but now we always go down to the little gazebo above the marsh.' (Lambstand stands nearly at the bottom of the northward slope of the island, and a small part of the garden is on the marsh itself.) 'There's nobody about there except Juden when he mows the tennis lawn, and we always wait till he's gone home.'

'And you think all this furitiveness and secrecy are doing Lindsay no harm?'

The clergyman was speaking now.

'Lindsay's grown up, and can surely be allowed to lead her own [Pg 84] life without telling her father everything. Besides, it isn't only for discretion's sake that we've moved to the gazebo. The results are much better down there. Her control says the marsh air makes it easier for him to get through.'

'Oh, she has a control, has she?' I exclaimed, curiosity becoming, in spite of myself, the dominant emotion.

'Of course. Every medium has. Lindsay's is rather original, for he hasn't got a name. He just calls himself a Man of Palster, and says he used to live here hundreds of years ago.'

'He said he was one of the viri palustres,' put in Lismore, 'which is most remarkable, for Lindsay doesn't know Latin.'

I now was really interested.

'He's been trying to get into communication with her for years,' resumed Mrs. Lismore. 'He even haunted Palster Manor for a while—you remember that row there was about her seeing a man on the stairs?—for he realized what a splendid medium she would make, and thought it a shame her gifts should be wasted. And we really have had some astonishing results, haven't we, Harold?'

'Lindsay told me you'd written it all down.'

'I don't know about all—she sometimes speaks too quickly—but we've got all the vital facts. Would you like to see what I've written?'

I am afraid that was exactly what I wanted.

'She—I mean he—told us that he was married,' said Lismore when his wife had gone out to fetch what she called the script. 'He married a girl called Ellen Waters and had two children. I'm going to try and trace them through the Australian Government.'

'You aren't going to tell the Australian Government about this?' I said anxiously.

'Not about the seances, of course. I shall give them the facts without saying how I got them. Really that girl is wonderful. When I think of old Needle dithering on for days with Edward Boutflower . . .'

Mrs. Lismore came back into the room with a bundle of untidy papers which she put down in front of me.

[Pg 85]

'I'm afraid it's rather a scrawl, as we none of us know shorthand, so couldn't really keep up with her. But we made her—him—repeat the names to make sure we'd got them right. I hope you can read my writing.'

I could not, and in the end had to let her read it to me.

The first seance had not lasted long, and did little more than introduce the Man of Palster and then bring on Tom Lismore with his use of an old familiar nickname, as Lindsay had already told me.

'That's irrefutable evidence in itself,' said Mrs. Lismore. 'She'd absolutely no idea that he used to call me Queen Mab.'

'But you remembered, and she may have read it in your mind.'

'Oh, yes—telepathy comes in useful when you want to disprove spiritualism. Otherwise, of course, you don't believe in it.'

'I do believe in it. I've observed it not only in Lindsay, but in my dog and in my cat.'

'Do you want me to go on?'

'Yes, please do, and please forgive me.'

'Well' said she with a smile, 'we're coming to something which even you can't put down to telepathy. Listen to this.'

She embarked on the next seance, where the Man of Palster had stayed a little longer and given some account of himself.

'We couldn't quite get the name of the place he lived at. It sounded something like Dunchurch, and he called it one of the lost lands. He used to work in the forest that covered all Kent.'

I caught the echoes of Adam and Blanche talking over the island's history. No doubt Lindsay had often listened.

'Then he said, "But I won't keep you from your son. He wants to speak to you," and Tom immediately called out, "Hullo, Queen Mab. Hullo, Dad. Here I am. The bad penny's turned up again."'

'Did the voice sound at all like Tom's?'

'No, but the words did. I asked him to tell us about himself. Was he happy? He said, "Yes, very happy." Then Violet asked, "Are you in heaven?" and he answered, "I wouldn't exactly say that, but it's quite comfortable." I said, "Tell us about it," but he seemed rather [Pg 86] vague, and said only that the sea was very blue. Then comes the exciting part. Harold wanted to know if he was married—he's always had an idea that he was, and now he asked him: "Did you marry out there?" "Yes—many years ago." "Can you tell us her name?" "Ellen Waters." "That was her maiden name, of course." "Yes, her maiden name." "Is she still alive?" "Yes." "Can you tell us where she's living?" But he didn't seem to know that—at least not then. At a later seance he said it was somewhere near Queensland.'

'But Queensland's a whole division of Australia,' I interjected.

'I am aware of that,' said Mrs. Lismore in a superior voice, 'but she may have lived somewhere near the border, or there may have been a fault in the transmission. We don't guarantee absolute accuracy. Anyhow it's something to go upon. I don't know if Harold has told you that we're making inquiries of the Australian Government.'

'He has.'

'The point of that is that there are two children. When you interrupted me I was just coming to Harold's question. He asked: "Are there any children?" "Yes, two children, a boy and a girl." "What are their names?" "Totty and Dotty."

Her glare wiped out my grin.

'Obviously one was an infant,' she said severely, 'and the other a girl. Dotty is short for Dorothy.'

'Quite so.'

She dashed the papers down upon the table.

'I don't believe you believe any of it.'

'You're mistaken there. I believe in the accuracy of the report, but not on your interpretation of it.'

'Then who do you believe it was if it wasn't Tom?'

'Lindsay herself—her subconscious mind.'

'But she can't have known a word about all this.'

'No, but she may have gifts as a story-teller.'

'Are you suggesting that she made it all up herself?'

'Not consciously. I'm sure she wouldn't consciously deceive you.'

'All this stuff about the subconscious mind,' said Mrs. Lismore, [Pg 87] picking up the papers and rolling them up vindictively, 'I find it more difficult to believe in than the fact that we are allowed to communicate through a proper medium with those who have passed over. What evidence have you that there's any such thing as a subconscious mind?'

'I'm sure I haven't got one,' said Harold.

The controversy was becoming stale and unprofitable. I had no wish to quarrel with the Lismores, and I realized that I had not yet achieved the object of my visit. I thought it best to temporize.

'You're mistaken in thinking that because I'm not convinced, I'm not interested. Don't put away the script. I should very much like to know more. Are Tom Lismore's surroundings described as being at all like Edward Boutflower's?'

She seemed slightly mollified.

'Well, no—not quite. We don't get much of that, but I gather he's somewhere near the sea. It's all very beautiful, of course, and there's a city called Lamira. He said that if we looked we might see it in the clouds at sunset. But as a rule when he starts talking that way the Man of Palster interrupts him and tells us about another city that he used to know when he was on earth, one quite near here, but farther up the river.'

Harold Lismore said:

'We asked Tom last time to tell us more about himself, but he answered that it didn't matter, because we'd soon all be together. I don't like the idea of that.'

'He was only speaking of the next seance,' said his wife. 'He'll probably tell us a great deal more next week.'

'Must there,' I said, 'be another seance next week?'

We were back where we started, and still there when at last I gave up the struggle and came away. I could not move them. They regarded my fears as groundless and my intervention as officious. My only hope now seemed to lie in Lindsay herself. I might be able to put enough stiffness into her faith to allow me to detach it harmlessly from its harmful involvements. As I have already said, I did not [Pg 88] want to quarrel with the Lismores. A cynic would proclaim that I did not want to lose their good dinners, and almost anyone would understand my reluctance to antagonize the only wealthy members of my congregation. They now had a car and could easily have transferred their worship and their collection money to Rye or Rushmonden. I may seem a coward, but it must be remembered that I had no resources of bell, book and candle, and that an open rupture with Lambstand could only have done harm. Not only might it have proved a stumbling-block to Lindsay, but it would also have to be explained to her father. It was better for the moment to let things be, hoping that the craze, like the majority of its predecessors, would pass, and meanwhile striving to protect the poor child with my prayers and seeking for myself more courage and enlightenment.

The crisis came sooner than I had expected, and in a way quite unlike anything I had imagined. Hitherto my position in this story has been very much like that of the chorus in a Greek play. I have participated in none of the major events, merely recorded them as happenings off-stage. But now I was to be plunged without warning right into the thick of the agon.

The cynic's view of my character would have been reinforced by the fact that on the Monday night after my protest I was dining at Lambstand. The invitation had been given informally after Church the day before, and it was only a family party, with nobody present beyond the Lismores, their daughter and their guest. But even at a family party one was sure of excellent food and wine, and I confess that I enjoyed my evening—all the more because our differences had been set aside and were as sedulously ignored by my hosts as by myself.

After dinner Violet and her mother removed to the drawingroom, leaving Lismore and me to our port and our cigars. The room was soft with dusk, bloomed by four candle flames throbbing gently in the breeze from the open window and reflected in the red lake of the mahogany dining-table. From the drawing-room came [Pg 89] the muted sound of a piano. Violet alone of those two little duet-players at the Penny Readings had grown up with any musical gift. Lindsay never touched the piano now.

There is to me something particularly sweet and haunting in the music of a piano played in another room, and I confess that I listened more to the distant sounds of Beethoven's strangely funereal wedding-march than I did to the prattle of my host, whom no one could have called a brilliant or even moderately entertaining conversationalist. I was, however, in the restful, eupeptic state that follows a good dinner, and if he did not entertain neither did he bore me. At one time I thought I heard the sound of the front-door bell, but I was not sure, and as nothing more seemed to happen I had forgotten all about it when the dining-room door opened and one of the Lambstand maids said rather breathlessly:

'If you please, sir, there's a gentleman in the hall who says he's your son.'

Lismore and I stared at each other with our mouths open. Then he burst out:

'What d'you mean? What are you talking about?—and where on earth's Gamlin?'

The Lismores, unlike the Cryalls, employed a butler, but thinking no doubt that his master and I would sit for some time over our wine, he must have delegated his duties to Bessie Pont, a local girl whose family I knew well.

'Mr. Gamlin's busy in his pantry, sir, so he asked me to answer the bell, as he thought it was only someone from the village come to the wrong door.'

'Well, send him here at once——'

He broke off as a man suddenly appeared in the doorway behind Bessie.

'It's all right, Dad, I can show myself in.'

For a moment I thought Lismore would faint. He turned deathly white, and seemed about to fall back in his chair. Then he grabbed his wine-glass and drained it at a gulp.

[Pg 90]

As for me, I must have been staring like an idiot. The man came into the room, and as he did so any doubts I may have had were dispelled by the family likeness. He was a younger, shorter, sturdier, ruddier edition of Harold Lismore. His clothes were rather shabby, and did not suggest an English tailor. His voice, too, had an overseas roughness about it. His eye fell on the decanter.

'I could do with some of that,' he said.

Neither of us moved, but there were some pony glasses on the sideboard. He took one, filled it and drank it off.

'That's better.'

Meanwhile Lismore and I had not uttered a word, and Bessie Pont still stood goggling in the doorway. It was the sight of her that brought me to my senses.

'Go away,' I said, 'and shut the door.'

'Shall I send Mr. Gamlin?'

'Not yet. Wait till we ring.'

The stranger looked at me.

'And who are you?' he asked quite civilly.

'My name's Chamberlin, and I'm Rector of this parish.'

'Uncle handed in his dinner-pail?'

'He died fifteen years ago.'

Then Lismore's wits, suppled by another glass of port, seemed to get hold of the situation.

'Tom,' he croaked hoarsely, 'we thought you were dead.'

'I daresay. A great many people did. Some people still do.'

'A man called Harrison wrote,' continued Lismore. 'He said you'd lost your life in a forest fire——'

'Yes, that fire was most convenient. I'd been wanting to disappear, and the bush went up just at the right moment. I trekked to the other side of the country and started afresh under another name. Now I've come back to the old home. Come along, Dad—you haven't yet said you're pleased to see me.'

'He might have shown more pleasure,' I said acidly, 'if your [Pg 91] arrival had been less of a shock. Surely it would have been tactful to break the news by writing.'

'I did write, but it looks as if I've arrived before my letter. The old Lamira docked at Tilbury this morning, and maybe I got off before the posts.'

Something in this sentence sent out queer echoes, but I was too preoccupied with the situation to investigate.

'Tom,' said Lismore in a changed voice, 'are you married?'

'No fear.'

'But—but you said you were.'

'I said—when?'

'The other evening.'

Shock and the quantity of port he had drunk since his son's arrival must be held responsible for this total collapse of a never very bright intelligence. Tom stared at him, then at me, and shook his head.

'Your parents,' I said, 'have lately been experimenting with spiritualism, and they told me last week they had been in communication with you at a seance.'

My own mind must have been suffering from recent events and my share of the decanter, or I do not think I would have given this explanation, at least not until I had made sure that there was no longer any hope of concealing the matter. But it was too late now. I had spoken, and Tom had thrown himself back in his chair, fairly whooping with laughter.

'Oh, Lord! Lord! That's rich. That takes the cake. So you've been table turning and thought you'd got my spook. . . . In all my days . . .' He nearly choked. 'What else did I tell you, Dad?'

But before he could answer, I stood up. The mention of the seance had reminded me of the other members of the family, and at the same time a sudden swell in the music that had been tinkling in the background all the while suggested to me that the drawing-room door had opened. Possibly Mrs. Lismore had heard the front-door [Pg 92] bell or thought that we had sat quite long enough over our wine. She might come into the room at any moment.

'I think,' I said, 'I had better go and break the news to Mrs. Lismore and Violet. It would be rather a shock if they came in and found you here.'

'Do they think I'm dead too?'

'Naturally,' and I went out, shutting the door after me.

I found the hall full of rather battered-looking luggage and Mrs. Lismore questioning Gamlin.

'What's all this? Who's brought this stuff? It looks as if someone had brought poor Tom's thing over'—some of the bags were visibly from Australia—'if so . . .'

I broke in, to stop Gamlin replying.

'There's been a very unexpected arrival. I'll tell you about it if you'll go back into the drawing-room.'

I shepherded her in and shut the door. The music stopped, and they both stared at me, reading something untoward on my face. A parson is generally experienced in breaking bad news, and I felt pretty sure that Tom's return to life and Lambstand came into that category in spite of all the fuss his family had made about him when they believed him dead. I cleared my throat and began, but I had not gone far before I met a wall of blank incredulity.

'But it's impossible. It can't be Tom. It must be some impostor.'

'Your husband is quite convinced that it's his son, and he's extraordinarily like him.'

'But we've been in communication with his spirit.'

I nearly used an unclerical expression, for which I managed to substitute:

'You know my opinion of seances.'

'But we've had documentary evidence that he's dead.'

She meant, of course, Harrison's letter, so I gave her Tom's account of the affair.

'All the same, I can't believe——' But here Tom spared me further argument by himself coming into the room.

[Pg 93]

'It's all right. You must have broken it to them by this time. Besides, joy never kills.'

He stood grinning at them both. Violet began to cry.

'Those are tears of joy, I trust. Come on, Queen Mab, give us a kiss and say you're glad the bad penny's turned up again.'

'I can't believe you're really Tom Lismore. The evidence of your death is too good.'

'Well, the old man recognized me fast enough. Don't say I've got to show you the strawberry mark on my thigh before you'll let me kiss you.'

'Tom never had a strawberry mark.'

'Nor have I, so I must be Tom.' He took her in his arms and hugged her, and she began to cry too.

I thought it was time I went home, but just as I was going to slip out Lismore came into the room.

'Don't go. Stay and have some whisky. We've finished the port.'

'I think I'd better——' I began, but he gripped my arm and led me back. Evidently he found my presence a support among the female tears.

'And I suppose,' sniffed Mrs. Lismore as she put away her handkerchief, 'it's all untrue about Ellen Waters.'

'Ellen Waters! How did you come to hear about that?'

She brightened noticeably.

'Then it is true?'

'Yes, I certainly lived there for a couple of years after I got away from Ranganoora, but that was when I was supposed to be dead, so how do you know about it?'

She began to cry again.

'Then she isn't your wife.'

'What on earth are you talking about? Ellen Waters isn't a person, it's a place.'

I was on to something now.

'Is it in Queensland?'

'No, in the Northern Territory, not far from Gladstone. There's a [Pg 94] lake there that doesn't dry up in summer, and I joined some Chinks who were planning a sort of irrigation scheme, but it didn't work, so I cleared out.'

'And you aren't married at all?'

'Not the tiniest bit. I know the spooks said I was, but it isn't true.'

'I'm very sorry to hear it. Your father will be particularly disappointed about the children—there were two, and he was so proud and pleased to think himself a grandfather.'

'We-ell,' said Tom, 'he probably is. But I'm afraid some of them may be black.'

Mercifully here we were interrupted. The butler came in with the announcement that the cabman wanted to be paid.

'Dear me,' said Tom, 'this is very awkward. How much does he want?'

'He asks for a sovereign, sir.'

Tom whistled.

'He says he'll have to bait his horse before going back to Rye, because it's tired after coming so far with all that luggage.'

'I wonder it isn't dead,' said Tom cheerfully. 'I expect it will be before he gets home. Look here, give him this'—he held out half-a-crown and a few coppers—'and tell him to sue me for the rest.'

Of course Lismore had to pay the cab, and then Mrs. Lismore began to run about and give orders about getting Tom's room ready and having his luggage carried upstairs. I took the opportunity to escape, for there was now only one thought in my heart, and that was Lindsay.

By breakfast-time the news was all over Ebony. Mrs. Cooke brought it in with my eggs and bacon, and seemed disappointed to find out that I already knew all there was to be known. As soon as I had finished eating I set out for Palster Manor. I had made this plan the night before; indeed, I had thought of calling there on my way home from Lambstand, but had been deterred by the lateness of the hour. The Cryalls, who kept early hours, would almost certainly [Pg 95] be in bed. If anybody was still up it would be Adam, and he was not the one I felt concerned about. My only concern was Lindsay, and by going to the Manor directly after breakfast there was just a chance that I might find her alone. Adam usually set out at about this time to ride around his estate, and his wife was likely to be interviewing the cook.

But I was unfortunate. Not only Adam was out, but also Lindsay.

'She's gone over to see Blanche,' explained Lucy Cryall, who had done with her housekeeping. 'She wasn't so well yesterday.'

'I'm sorry to hear that.'

Blanche was what the village calls 'expecting', and I was glad of it, because I hoped a child would make life at Church Farm more ordinary and natural.

'I don't think it's anything very serious, but George is worried. She would go out to the haymakers, you know. She said that now she's a farmer's wife she's not going to sit at home while they have all the fun, so she took them out their elderflower wine, and George says she did a bit of forking too.'

I shook my head, but not even Blanche could interest me now. I wondered why Lindsay had gone out. Had she really gone to see Blanche? Even if she had, she might call at the Parsonage. She would want my help. I had better go back there.

'Oh, don't hurry away,' said Lucy as I rose with murmurs of calling in later when Adam was at home. 'He'll be home any time now. He's only gone to Odiam to see Crouch about some trees. Then he's coming back to drive me down to Lambstand. You've heard the news, of course.'

'Yes, indeed. I was dining there last night.'

'So you've seen Tom. I haven't seen him since he was a little boy. I expect he's altered. What a joy it must be for Harold and Maisie to have him given back to them from the grave like that.'

I said all I could about the Lismores' joy.

'I hope they aren't too disappointed about there not being a wife.'

I pricked up my ears.

[Pg 96]

'Had they any reason to think there was one?'

'Yes, at those silly seances. No one but themselves could have believed it, of course, but apparently they did and were rather disappointed when they found that Lindsay had only been—pulling their legs is the expression, I think, or is it their feet?'

This extraordinary communication left me dumb. I had been prepared for the news of the seances trickling out—even if the servants had not overheard, it is unlikely that anyone could have persuaded Tom to hold his tongue—but how had Lindsay become involved in the disclosure? Her name had not been mentioned last night at Lambstand, and I had hoped—perhaps rashly—that it never would be.

I asked, 'Who told you all this?'

'Why, Lindsay, of course. Not about the seances—the postman told us about those; at least he told Cook—but it was Lindsay who told us how she had pretended to be a medium and invented all that stuff about his wife. It was really rather naughty of her, but Adam says they deserved it.'

The pain and bewilderment of my thoughts prevented my speaking, but before she had time to notice this other silence there were sounds in the hall, and the next moment Adam came into the room. He greeted me almost boisterously.

'Glad to see you. You've heard the news, of course. Everybody has. But has Lucy told you the latest?'

She answered for me.

'Yes, dear. I was telling him when you came in.'

'Then you can join us in a good laugh. What do you think of this daughter of mine?'

I said truthfully: 'I don't know what to think.'

'She's made fools of them all right. I never thought she had it in her—pretended to be a medium and gave them all that Ernest Needle stuff about the Other Side; and then the fellow turns up alive and kicking. Maisie Lismore always said she was "psychic", so now she knows.'

[Pg 97]

I saw that he was more interested in the seance part of the business than in Tom's actual return.

'I was tickled to death,' he said, 'when they conjured up Edward Boutflower. But it was nothing to this. This must have shaken 'em. They must be through with all that nonsense now.'

'I think it rather inconsiderate of Tom,' I said, trying to change the subject, 'not to have given them any warning of his return. He must have known they thought he was dead.'

'He did write,' said Lucy. 'Postman delivered the letter this morning. He had written it on the steamer.'

'He should have written before he sailed.'

'Tom always was a queer fish,' said Adam. 'I don't know exactly why Harold bundled him out to Australia, but there must have been some good reason. I suppose now he'll try to find a job.'

'Postman said he hadn't enough money to pay the cab that brought him from Rye.'

'I'm afraid it may come rather heavy on Harold for a bit,' said Adam, who had a clearer notion than his wife of Tom's true place in the Lismore affections, 'but he's a rich man, and can stand it. What's shaken him most is the disappointment about his wife. Harold liked to fancy himself a grandfather, but as things have turned out it's lucky for him that he isn't.'

At that moment the door opened and Lindsay came into the room. Our eyes met, and I thought she would go out again, but Adam turned round and saw her.

'Ah, here she is, the naughty little puss. We've been telling Uncle Harry about you, and he's quite shocked.'

'Yes,' she said in a louder voice than usual. 'I thought he would be.'

'But Lindsay didn't mean to disappoint the Lismores,' said her mother. 'She'd never have made up all that about the wife if she'd known he wasn't dead.'

'And she didn't mean to expose them—or did you, my dear? Would you some time have told them it was all my-eye?'

'No, for they'd never speak to me again. You mustn't tell them, [Pg 98] Father. You must let them think I was just—deluded.'

Her eyes met mine, and there was in them a look I did not like at all.

Adam was obviously unwilling to forgo the pleasure of enlightening the Lismores.

'But they ought to be told. Otherwise they may go on believing in this rubbish.'

'How can they after what's happened? Please, don't tell them, Father. They really will be furious with me if you do, and I want to go on being friends with Violet.'

Reluctantly he saw her point of view.

'Very well, my dear; I won't. As you say, their belief in an afterlife must be completely shattered without that.'

I cleared my throat.

'Excuse me—their belief in spiritualism. The two things don't necessarily go together.'

'One's the theory,' said Adam, 'and the other's the proof of it; and if the proof turns out to be nonsense it's reasonable to believe the same of the theory.'

I persevered.

'All the same, though spiritualism is discredited, there were some remarkable results in the way of telepathy. I was at Lambstand last night, so I know exactly what happened. Tom isn't married, but there is an Ellen Waters—only it's a place, not a person.'

Everybody laughed, Lindsay loudest of all.

'I seem to have got mixed,' she said.

'But you'd never heard the name. How did you get it?' My eyes tried hard to tell her that in spite of everything the box was still open.

'Surely,' she said rather impudently, 'you don't believe I was in a trance.'

Ignoring my pain, I remarked that telepathic communication frequently happened in the waking state.

'Well, we don't suppose your dog goes into a trance,' said Adam, and again they all laughed, Lindsay the loudest.

[Pg 99]

'I got the name out of a book,' she said. 'I remember now, but I must have forgotten it was a place.'

'And Lamira—the city in the clouds that was really the name of his ship?'

I had taken the gloves off. So had she.

'Oh, of course I'd heard of that. A friend of Theresa Boutflower's went to Australia in it last year.'

I pitied her from my heart.

[Pg 100]

Chapter IV

Early in September Blanche Haffenden's son was stillborn. I felt deeply for them all. Adam and Lucy had all Harold Lismore's natural desire for a grandchild, and their disappointment, having no links with the grotesque, was all the more tragic and human. But of course I felt most for the poor mother. The isle was full of saws and reminiscences based on the loss of a first child, and leading to the verdict: 'She'll end with half a dozen: But Blanche was not the sort of woman for such casual breeding, and there was besides an aggravation of her loss which any cottage or gipsy woman would have resented—her husband openly blamed her for it. In spite of the doctor's opinion to the contrary, he insisted that it had been her share in the haymaking that had killed the child.

'I told her not to go, but she went. It's a judgment on her if it's nothing else.'

He was beyond the reach of argument, the doctor's or mine. Adam did his best with him, challenged no doubt by his son-in-law's fundamentalist attitude. But though he still liked George Haffenden, he agreed with me that he was in this matter quite invulnerable to reason. An appeal to his humanity was more successful, but by then some harm had already been done. Blanche's resentment had been roused and found plenty to feed on, even in matters apart from this catastrophe.

'Father gave Church Farm to both of us, but George behaves as if it were his entirely.'

[Pg 101]

The month had changed; the misty gold of the hedges had become clear splashes of yellow, red and brown, while the shadows had found once more their sharp edges. Blanche sat in her garden, where her dahlias waited for the frost and the air was fragrant with the scent of burning leaves.

'You must remember,' I said placatingly, 'that he'd got used to running the place on his own—even though it wasn't his—before he married you.'

She made an impatient movement.

'Oh, nonsense. How long was he here without his father?—only a few years, and before that the old man ruled everything.'

'Then this may be some sort of reaction.'

She looked at me, screwing up her eyes.

'Why do you take his part? He doesn't need your support. Are you giving me good advice as a clergyman, or is it only another case of men always hanging together?'

I was sorry. I had perhaps been thinking aloud, trying to reassure myself, and now I had antagonized her, now when she was giving me her confidence more fully than she had ever done. I had called early in the afternoon and found her here in her chaise longue, with a book—by W. H. Mallock, I think it was—lying open on its face in the grass beside her, while she gazed moodily at the column of bonfire smoke rising against the trees.

'Oh, come,' she said, 'come and sit beside me and keep me lounging here, in case I get up and do myself an injury.'

'But you really do feel stronger, don't you?' I said, sitting down beside her in a deck chair.

'I feel perfectly well, but if I so much as go and rake those leaves, and George hears of it he'll ask me if I want to make it impossible for us to have another child.'

She looked as if she might equally easily laugh or cry. When she laughed I thought she had better have cried.

'What's happened?' I asked, for she had never spoken to me like this before.

[Pg 102]

'Oh, nothing very much, you'll probably say. George suddenly brought me a contract to sign. It's for the sale of fifty-eight trees in Palace Wood. He'd never consulted me or told me a word about it, and was quite furious when he found that as I'm the joint owner the sale couldn't go through without me.'

'And you signed?'

'Yes, because I couldn't face the trouble there'd be if I refused. But I'm sorry now. I should have taught him a lesson.'

'I'm glad you didn't—not that way.'

'There isn't any other. I know that. He'll just go on bringing me documents to sign until at last I have the courage to dig my heels in and say no.'

'Perhaps your father could do something. After all, Church Farm was his wedding-present to both of you.'

'Yes—dear Father! He'd be sorry if he knew that George had grabbed the lot.'

The bitterness in her voice was painful to me, because it revealed a grudge I had not suspected. Perhaps I had accepted too readily my little Megs' view of the situation. Megs was no student of human nature, and no doubt she had failed to realize how soon her position as a sort of rural odalisque would pall on a woman of Blanche's sensitiveness and intelligence. Not even consulted—that was bad. George must be spoken to.

'Really, my dear,' I said, 'if I were you I'd tell your father about this. There's nothing that I can do, but I think he might be able to say something useful, not only as the giver of the gift, but as someone who knows how efficient you are on an estate.'

She hesitated.

'Perhaps I shall talk to him about it. He has more influence with George than anybody. But I don't want him to feel disappointed in me, and I have an idea that he is.'

'But why?'

'Because once again I haven't put his theories into practice. You remember how he wanted me to train as a teacher so that I could [Pg 103] carry out his theories on education. I refused, and failed him over that. Now I'm failing him again, because I'm not showing the courage a rationalist ought to show in adversity. He'll think I'm behaving as badly as any Christian'—and she gave me a smile that was more rueful than malicious.

'I'm sure your father feels for you far too much to think of your failing him, and he'll be only too glad to do anything he can to make things easier. He can only be pleased by your wish to have your share in running the farm. I doubt if he quite realizes how much you're shut out, and I think he ought to know.'

Thus I argued, and in time I persuaded her. I don't think Adam had realized how far things had drifted before his first intervention, and with that optimism that sometimes warped his judgment had imagined that it had put everything right. He was concerned to find his daughter in such a bad emotional state, and concerned too at George's high-handed attitude towards her rights as joint owner of Church Farm. This attitude no doubt was part of his general attitude towards marriage, on which it would take a stronger influence than his father-in-law's to shake him. However, Adam managed pretty well.

He persuaded the two of them to go away on a second honeymoon. November was at hand, a quiet month on the farm, which on the first occasion had been left three weeks in the competent hands of the head man Samuel Blazier. So let them get to know and love each other afresh in the warm Italian sunshine that had blessed their first knowledge and love. On the surface it was a good plan, and seemed to work successfully, for the Haffendens came back to Palster apparently as happy and united as they had come back a year ago. But I could not help regarding such a solution as a short-time policy, and more what I should have expected from a woman than a man.

Winter returned to Ebony, bringing cold winds from the marsh and fogs which lay round the isle like another sea. Rising higher than the old sea had ever risen, they sometimes made a drowned land [Pg 104] even of Palster, but more often a few acres at the crown—the church, Church Farm and my Parsonage—would lie in sunshine, and from this contracted island I would look down on the cloudy ocean that drowned Palster Manor, Lambstand, Weights, Odiam and all the other farms. That was the first winter that the ferry did not run. Wet Level was now more thoroughly drained, and no longer overflowed the road to Rye. I was glad, for the old tub had been leaking badly at the end of last season, and what used to be a dreamy glide over its own black shadow had become a distressing wallow in broken waters.

I do not think that the motor-car had increased the number of our winter engagements—we had always been willing to set out behind the plodding horses and the little stars of the carriage lamps—but it had greatly increased their radius. Palster Manor and Lambstand no longer played a sort of social tennis with each other, but tossed their balls over a much wider area—to the Manors and Places beyond Rushmonden and in the Southward country of the Sussex Weald.

As a result, our parties were larger and more varied, which was just as well, as the relations between the Cryalls and Lismores had been complicated by Tom's return, or rather by the secrets it had brought. On each side there was a secret. Adam had loyally kept his promise to Lindsay and refrained, though with obvious reluctance, from telling the Lismores that she had deliberately deceived them, while the Lismores on their side suppressed entirely all mention of her share in the fiasco, convinced that to do so would bring an open rupture with the Manor. So altogether it was just as well that the two families should not have to depend on each other for entertainment.

Tom Lismore was still at Lambstand, and his continued presence was a testimonial to Adam's generosity and kindness of heart, though not perhaps to his foresight and wisdom. He had guessed that the prodigal son might now settle down to live on his family, so he had offered to employ him as his bailiff on the Manor estate. He, Adam, was now no longer young, and could do with an assistant—that is [Pg 105] what he said, but I have little doubt that he created the post, partly to make the Lismore son and heir financially independent and partly to give him some much-needed training for his future inheritance. I confess I was surprised at Tom's ready acceptance of a job for which he must have known that he was totally unfitted; for his motives did not appear till later.

Soon after Christmas the social life of the district reached its climax in Lindsay's coming-out ball. I had been wrong in supposing that this would be a dimmer occasion than Blanche's, or rather things had changed since I made the surmise. Adam, a little anxious and perhaps also a little disappointed where his elder daughter was concerned, had drawn from the summer's events a new pride and pleasure in her sister. He had seen in the trick he believed she had played on the Lismores a formal repudiation of all those tendencies which had once disquieted and alienated him. Now her psychic powers were proved to be what he had always said they were—all my-eye. The fact that she was also proved a liar did not disturb him so much as when it had been only a theory covering his fears. Of course she had been wrong to invent such things, but she had been very young at the time—much younger than her real age—and children will do anything to attract notice. As for this latest invention, that was wrong too, but very smart of her, and he could not help laughing. I did not see that his change of attitude made any difference in hers towards him. It remained listless and uncordial, and I once saw in her eyes a look in which antagonism and resentment were difficult to distinguish from hate.

I could not, however, be sure of anything, for she sedulously avoided me, and after one or two attempts I let her alone. On the solitary occasion when I succeeeded in cornering her she gave me nothing but pain, for she insisted in playing me the same way as she played her father.

'I know it was very wrong of me, but I just couldn't resist pulling your leg. Forgive me.'

[Pg 106]

'I forgive you,' I said, 'but not for that. There's really no need for you to lie to me. Surely you don't think I'll give you away to your father.'

'I'm not lying.'

'Oh, yes, you are. But you weren't then.'

She laughed brightly.

'It's no good, Uncle Harry. I really do know when I'm lying and when I'm not.'

'I'm not sure that you do—that's what I've always been afraid of for you. And if you're speaking the truth now you're a very bad liar.'

She weaved her head about.

'You're making me giddy.'

'Surely you can see that if you'd wanted to deceive me with a pretended belief in God you wouldn't have told me you'd been converted at a spiritualist seance.'

'Oh, yes, I might—just to make you think.'

'Think yourself, for a change. You believed in God for no reason at all. Nothing whatever that happened at those seances had given you the smallest ground for believing in Him——'

'I'm glad you see that.'

'Of course I see it—I saw it. But I did not want to blow away a cloud which might well be Shekinah. So I said nothing, hoping that some day you'll give me a chance to put the ground under your feet.'

She laughed again, but more uneasily.

'What a pity there was an earthquake.'

'The situation is unchanged.'

'How can it be? Surely there's a difference between a dead man and a living one.'

'Not if it's true that you were only pretending.'

I smiled, but she looked sullen.

'Very well—have it your own way. I wasn't pretending. I did believe in God. But I don't now. It's like a see-saw—Tom dead, God alive—Tom alive, God dead. I don't want to talk about it any longer'—and she walked out of the room.

[Pg 107]

At her ball she looked lovely. Her dress I am unable to describe, but it had the same flossy, frothy look as her hair—a cloud of white beneath a cloud of gold. Between the two clouds her little pale face may have lacked character and beauty, but the general effect was of loveliness, something floating and ethereal out of that other world she did not believe in. I could see that the men admired her and that it was not only the bounden duty of guests that filled her programme down to the last extra.

Tom Lismore was loud in her praises as, glass in hand, he cornered me in the refreshment room.

'She's as pretty a thing as you'd see in ten thousand miles, and I've fallen for her heavily. What a joke it would be—something quite new—for a medium to marry her spook.'

His remark appalled me in so many ways that I did not know which end of it to take first.

'You don't think seriously of marrying her?'

'Why not?'

'Well, you're hardly in a position . . . her father would . . . and do please be careful what you say. You know that your parents don't want her share in that wretched business to get generally known.'

'Known by her father, you mean. I've no intention that it shall. And not so much about my position, please. I'm agent for the Palster estate, and if, after all the fuss he made about it, the old man doesn't think that puts me into a position to marry his daughter, then he's as big a hypocrite as he ever was when his collar fastened at the back.'

He then went and swaggered up to Lindsay, but her programme was full, and her present partner stood at her side; so he did not stay long. I disliked him perhaps too heartily, and saw that my remark about his position had been both impolite and unwise. Later on, in the light of that better judgment which is called being wise after the event, I even came to wonder if my ill-judged words had not started all the trouble that followed. He might have been only bragging at the time, but I had affronted him, and he would show me!

[Pg 108]

As it happened he showed me that I had been right about Adam. When he had done his old friend's son a good turn by making him his bailiff—or rather creating the position for him—he had no thought, however remote, that he would have the effrontery to woo his daughter. Tom had left Ebony with a thoroughly bad reputation, and had done nothing to redeem it on his return. The fact that his sojourn in the antipodean wilds had, as he told everyone, entirely destroyed what was left of his faith in God did not, to his great surprise, ingratiate him in the smallest degree with his chosen father-in-law. Indeed, I think it was the picture of Tom as a practising atheist which decided Adam at all costs to oppose his marrying Lindsay. He was lazy and sometimes drunken, and when in his cups would boast of his amatory successes on both sides of the world in a way that shocked the sedate frequenters of the Plough at Palster or the Red Lion down at the Ferry. His attitude was the reverse of Chesterton's heathen, who had neither the faith nor the fun. By his own account Tom Lismore had all the fun and could not understand why his employer, equally without the faith, had so little.

'Do him all the good in the world to go out on the tiles. He'll be sorry when he's older and isn't equal to it. I can't think why he doesn't have a bust occasionally. There's nothing to stop him.'

There was apparently nothing to stop Tom Lismore, even the faces of the Mus' Iggulsdens and Neatendens and Boormans and Holmans, set in stony disapproval and disgust above their tankards as they declined his offer of another pint all round. By the time he had been in Ebony six months the disapproval, without the disgust, had extended to Adam. The Squire had no business to have taken on young Lismore—though over forty, he would be young till his father died—appointing him his deputy, letting him loose among respectable people. I had never seen so much resentment directed towards the Manor, and had made up my mind to speak to Adam about it, just in case he had not heard the underground rumblings, when the whole thing came out into the open with a loud crash.

I had come back to the Parsonage after a most painful visit to [Pg 109] Coldblow Farm on the eastern horn of the island. Here a little cliff—grass-covered and not too steep for a scrambling pasture—draws the only sharp line in all our coast. The farm is really a marsh farm, with most of its acreage on the old sea-floor below, and like so many of the Cryall farms had been rented by the same family for two or three generations. The Fullers were not so prosperous as the Haffendens, but had the same reputation as superior farmers. One of their daughters had married a yeoman farmer at Boughton Malherbe, the other taught in my Sunday school. It was this girl—quiet, well-behaved, pretty-spoken—who had brought disgrace on her family, who in their turn asked me to support their fruitless efforts to make her tell them the name of the man.

'But I know who it is,' said her father. 'There aun't no need for her to tell me. It's only as I want it all plain and proved—like before I go to the Squire.'

'Wouldn't it be better if you went to the man himself?'

'No, sir, for he'd only laugh at me. And I wouldn't trust myself along of him, neither. Feeling as I do now, I might kill him.'

'If you like I'll speak to the Squire, for like you I'm pretty sure who it is, and even if we can't prove it, there's enough feeling against him to make it all wrong for him to be in his present job. I'm not sure that Mr. Cryall realizes this, so the sooner someone tells him about it the better.'

It was settled that I should call on Adam that afternoon, but I had not been back at the Parsonage an hour when I saw him ride past the gate. I was in the garden, dead-heading my roses, and gave him a loud hail. He stopped, hitched his horse and came towards me. He looked grim and distressed as he told me he had just been to Coldblow.

'I hear you were there this morning, so you know all about it. It's a terrible business. . . . I hadn't an idea till yesterday, when Budgen came to me about his own daughter.'

'You don't tell me——'

Budgen was the lodge-keeper at Palster Manor.

[Pg 110]

'Yes, I do. She's been sacked from Bapchild Rectory, and came home last night six months gone.'

'And she's told them who the man is?'

'Oh, yes. She says he promised to marry her. Poor child!'

'Poor fool.'

We stared at each other gloomily.

'He'll have to go, of course.'

'Of course. But you don't really need him, do you?'

'No. But all this will be very distressing to the Lismores, and he may not leave the district but just loaf about at home, in which case we shan't be any better off.'

'You will be. You'll no longer be compromised by employing a scoundrel.'

'I'd no idea. . . . I knew of course that he wasn't a model of virtue, but I never thought he was just'—his fists clenched—'a dirty seducer. I thought he might go with that Crogham or that Maxfield'—referring to two wretched women of unprepossessing appearance and defective intellect who were in those days Ebony's nearest approach to common harlots—'but I never thought he'd go wrecking respectable families . . . one of your Sunday-school teachers and the parlourmaid at a Rectory . . . and I suppose there are others too. I've heard all sorts of rumours now it's known that I know.'

If half the stories going about were true, Harold Lismore's innocent desire for grandchildren was likely to be gratified on an embarrassingly large scale. But I did not believe any that had no names attached, and these were the only two.

'I think we know the worst, and it's pretty bad.'

'It's damnable. If there wasn't the poor girl herself to be considered, I'd like to see him scared into marrying Elsie Budgen. Her father has threatened to horse-whip him if he doesn't.'

'Let him horse-whip him by all means, but not as an inducement to marriage. I don't suppose the fellow would dare bring a summons for assault.'

'No, but it would be dreadful for the Lismores.'

[Pg 111]

'I don't worry all that much about the Lismores, and anyhow they need know nothing about it. You and I could arrange it with Budgen and be the only witnesses. I'm quite willing to help hold him.'

'Isn't that rather savage for a Christian Minister?' There was a touch of the old banter in his voice, but with his next sentence it was gone. 'My turning him off will be a terrible blow to Harold and Maisie. They'd had such high hopes of this arrangement, and I don't suppose they have the smallest inkling. . . .'

'Oh, come,' I said, 'they know what he's like.'

'Well, Harold does—did, anyhow, or he wouldn't have shipped him to Australia. But Maisie always thought he'd been unfairly treated. She probably will now.'

'She can't, surely, when she hears what's happened.'

He shook his head sadly.

'Whatever she thinks, I'll have to get rid of him. He's coming to see me this afternoon, and I'll tell him he's got to go. I must be off now myself; but drop in some time and I'll tell you the latest'—little knowing what that would be. For he was met at Palster Manor by a blushing and radiant Lindsay with the news that she and Tom Lismore were engaged.

I do not know if this was just coincidence or skilful timing on Tom's part. I strongly suspect the latter, for with Elsie Budgen's return he must have known that the game was up. Moreover, Adam's absence from home that morning had given him his opportunity not only to win his girl but also her mother's blessing. Lucy Cryall, dear simpleton, saw only a happy and suitable engagement between Lindsay and the son of old family friends. She was delighted, and nearly as distressed as her daughter and a great deal more surprised when Adam unhesitatingly forbade the union.

He was sufficiently Victorian not to give them his chief reason. Tom was unsatisfactory, a rolling stone—he had never settled to anything, and Adam had made up his mind that morning that he could not keep him in his present job. How could he possibly support [Pg 112] a wife? Besides, Lindsay was much too young, barely nineteen, not yet old enough to know her own mind, and the gap between their ages was too big. She did not realize what she was doing—tying herself for life to a man old enough to be her father. Thus he argued through his women's tears.

Tom had wisely gone back to Lambstand, to add his parents to the number of his supporters. No doubt he hoped that their countenance would make any Cryall opposition more difficult; and indeed with his tenderness for the Lismores, it must have been hard for Adam to face them with a flat refusal, and still worse with his reason for it. The interview which took place at Lambstand that afternoon was, by his own account, a painful one.

He had wished to see Tom alone, but Mrs. Lismore had come into the room with her congratulations, and his attitude had had to be declared. Indeed, he told me, he had less trouble with the man himself than with his parents. Tom was doubtless prepared for the worst, and had made his plans for dealing with it, but both Lismore and his wife were shocked and indignant when Adam told them he had refused his consent, even though in their case he withheld none of his reasons. They insisted that he was being misled by gossip—Ebony gossip; everyone knew what the isle was like for tattle and scandal. And as for the girls, no doubt it was to their advantage to claim a gentleman as the father of their disgraceful infants. The Fuller girl's refusal to give his name meant nothing, for her family had, and it had probably all been arranged between them. As for Elsie Budgen, there had been talk about her before this. Was Adam really going to wreck the happiness of two young people because of the unproved accusations of these village wantons?

Turning to the more respectable points at issue, they failed to see that Tom was too old for Lindsay. He was only just over forty, and a great many happy marriages acknowledged a gap of twenty years. As for her being too young, that was nonsense, and a veritable stream of friends and relations who had married at nineteen or even younger flowed over Adam without being able to drown his opposition. [Pg 113] But the worst part of it all, in the Lismores' opinion, was the effect it would have on Tom, just when he was settling down. It would have been better if Adam had never given him the job; then he could have taken another which would not have been suddenly snatched away from him at the first breath of scandal. By the end of the interview tempers were almost in rags, and Adam came to see me at the Rectory in a state of real distress.

Of course he could not have done otherwise, and I said all I could to support and encourage him, promising that I would do my best to make the Lismores see reason—though I felt I had had rather too much of this lately—and agreeing with him that at all costs, short of surrender, an open breach must be avoided.

'After all, they're my oldest friends. Harold and I were boys together; and they're the only other landed family in Ebony. It would be a public scandal if we quarrelled over this. It was bad enough when we saw differently about the war . . . but that's all over and done with, and we're both of us too old to start again. I feel that if we quarrel now we'll never make it up.'

Actually there was no quarrel. Neither side wished for it, and soon a surface smoothness was restored, greatly helped by Tom's departure. There had not been much sense or substance in Adam's fear that he might stay on at Lambstand. The Isle of Ebony was, in common speech, too hot to hold him, and in two days he was off—to join a friend in Bristol, who had been among the first of those to see a financial future in the motor-car. Tom had reopened relations with this fellow, whose name was Rutherford, shortly after his return, and was to join him in running a big city garage and repair station, for which Lismore—anxious for the scallywag's rehabilitation—had provided a small amount of capital. Both he and his wife were inclined to take a brighter view of their son's future than Adam or myself. We based our doubts on his character, while they lodged their hopes in the prospects of the car trade and Rutherford's reputation for both common and commercial sense.

Time passed, and in due course I baptized both the Fuller and [Pg 114] the Budgen infants. The latter appeared as Elsie's youngest sister, following a custom widespread in country districts by which a daughter's lapse is covered by the good offices of a mother still young enough for childbearing. There was a string of Budgens dangling nearly as far as Elsie's baby, and if the photograph in a silver frame of her tiny sister accompanied the girl to her next situation, no one was going to connect such a thing with the evasive and stilted phrases of the reference which the Parson's wife at Bapchild had been persuaded to write. For the Fullers the situation was not so easy, and the whole family left for a farm in Essex, Adam releasing Fuller from his tenancy, and indeed finding the new place for him. He insisted on holding himself to blame for both tragedies, since it was due to him that Tom Lismore had had the run of Ebony. But I cannot see that a man has much to reproach himself with when he has been led astray only by the goodness of his heart.

In this life, however, we generally suffer less for our sins than for our mistakes, and in my opinion Adam paid as much for his share in this village tragedy as any of those who bore the guilt. It is true that he had avoided a breach with Lambstead, but in his own home was a far more cruel and painful rift. Nothing that he could say or do would placate Lindsay or make her regard him as other than the wrecker of her life and happiness.

'It's no good,' Blanche said to me, 'she'll never forgive him.'

'Yet I find it difficult to believe that she can really be in love with a cad like Lismore.'

'Oh, I don't know,' said Blanche, 'he's an attractive man.'

That view of Tom was new to me.

'Then he must be very different in a woman's eyes from what he is in mine.'

'Well, isn't that obvious?' said Blanche with a twinkle.

Judging by results, I supposed it was. Yet I had never expected him to attract Lindsay—such grossness to attract anything so fine-spun and ethereal—which probably shows how little I know about [Pg 115] women, or knew then anyway. But I do not think that Lindsay's antagonism and resentment against her father were created entirely by his dismissal of her suitor. Her unforgivingness had an earlier date, and was merely hardened by this later opposition. It was, however, now openly expressed. What once could be read only in an occasional word or glance, now took an ugly shape in action.

She persecuted her father. No other word will express her apparent use of every means she could find to hurt and oppose him. For one thing she now boasted that it was him she had deceived over the seances at Lambstand. She had never misled the Lismores, but had been in a perfectly genuine trance. He did not believe her. She had told too many lies for anything that she said to carry conviction, but there was still the wound of her malice. She also insisted that she had truly seen a ghost on the Manor staircase—that she often saw it still. Indeed, whether truth or lie, this part of her performance became so realistic that it upset the servants.

Stories about the haunting of Palster Manor were once more in circulation, and one of the housemaids left. I was told about extraordinary sounds at night—rappings and footsteps and a noise as of a giant clock being wound up. I did not like it at all. In those days we heard far less about poltergeists than we do now, but I had read enough to know that such tricks are generally associated with unbalanced adolescents, and I thought that Lindsay had already served too long an apprenticeship to the Father of Lies. I knew that it was useless for me to tackle her myself—indeed, she sometimes seemed to be trying to persecute me as well as her father—but I was considering what might be done through Blanche when matters suddenly came to a head.

She had been quarrelling with Adam—a quarrel which began ridiculously with an argument over the novels of Marie Corelli, but ended in a hysterical outburst of taunts and reproaches. He told her, very properly, to leave the room, and as she went out he was struck by a large famille rose vase standing on a table near the door. He was not hurt, at least physically, but the vase was smashed to bits, [Pg 116] and no one believed her insistent declaration that she had not thrown it, but that it had thrown itself.

It was decided that she must go away. Life at Palster Manor had become impossible, both for her and for those she lived with. But the question was where could she go? Having never been to school, she had no school friends who could receive her, and Miss Merrivale, with whom she had stayed before, could not have her now, as her sister was seriously ill.

There seemed nothing for it but one of the Boutflowers. By this time all the girls were married—Theresa, who was Lindsay's contemporary, the last of all. She had married a clerk in a shipping office at Hull, and no doubt would be delighted to show her new little house to her friend before all the freshness of furniture and decorations had worn away under the united action of time, poverty and children. Adam had never liked his daughters to stay with the Boutflowers, but in this case there seemed no alternative. Indeed, so despairing was his view of Lindsay, that I think he would rather have seen her a convert to the Church of Rome than in her present condition.

So she went, and her parents had a quiet if not exactly happy life for nearly three weeks. Then a letter that her mother had written to her at Hull was returned to Palster from Miss Merrivale's address, to which it had been forwarded by Theresa. There was a mystery here, and inquiries brought the alarming news that over a week ago Lindsay had left her friend, ostensibly to stay with Miss Merrivale. She had, of course, never arrived, and Adam and Lucy were thrown into something like panic by the thought of where she might have gone instead.

They were sure that she was with Tom Lismore, probably living with him in sin, and that the sad story of Alice Fuller and Elsie Budgen was to have yet another edition in Lindsay Cryall. The Lismores had heard nothing of Tom for some weeks, but they had every reason to believe that he was still in Bristol, and thither Harold Lismore had the decency to accompany Adam when he went in search of his daughter.

[Pg 117]

The situation turned out to be both better and worse than he had feared—worse because by the time he arrived Lindsay and Tom were irrevocably married, better because it had all been done in the mostly orderly and respectable manner. It was not necessary then for a girl under twenty-one to have her parents' consent, and as Tom had already all the residential qualifications, the marriage had taken place within a week of her arrival. Until the ceremony she had stayed with Rutherford and his wife. No doubt it had all been carefully plotted beforehand, but to whom the decorum was due I cannot say. Lindsay was not the sort of girl to be swept off her feet by her passions, and Tom, with an eye to the future, was no doubt anxious not to offend Adam more than he must. Also, like so many libertines, he may have demanded of his wife an unblemished reputation.

The married pair were away on their honeymoon in the Scilly Islands, so there was nothing for their fathers to do but to go home and break the news to their mothers. This did not present much difficulty. Mrs. Lismore would be delighted. She had always wanted the marriage to take place, thought it would be the making of Tom and that Adam's opposition was both cruel and unreasonable. Lucy Cryall thought, of course, as her husband thought, and would be ready to accept his decision that now this bad thing had actually happened they must make the best of it. To disown his daughter or to forbid his home to her and her husband was not to be dreamed of. External relations must be maintained, and Adam doubtless never expected to have anything closer than external relations with Lindsay after this. The isle, of course, should know, for his credit's sake, that he had opposed the match, and it was to be hoped that some time would elapse before Tom dared show his face in Ebony. But there must be no recriminations, either public or private, nor must 'My daughter Mrs. Tom Lismore' be mentioned in a different voice from 'My daughter Mrs. George Haffenden'. Nor did Lindsay's father think he could do less than Tom's father had once done for the business on which the couple's financial security depended. Altogether I was forced to admire the courage, dignity and charity with which Adam swallowed this extremely bitter pill.

[Pg 118]

Chapter V

Adam had now come to the edge of those clouds which were to shadow the last years of his life. Hitherto one could truthfully have called him a happy man. He was fortunate in his temperament, and his lot had been cast in pleasant places. I have already tried to explain how the loss of his faith, which has scarred many men indelibly, gave him no more than a surface wound. His deepest grief and only real sacrifice had been his loss of Palster and Ebony, and within a very short time that sacrifice was remitted. He had now been Squire of Palster for twenty-eight years—years of prosperity and friendship and domestic comfort. Instead of an exile, he was a little king, whose popularity had survived all the strains put upon it by his eccentric sympathies.

But now there was to be a change. I do not mean that he became poor, though Lloyd George's Land Act would have its effects on him as on all landowners, nor was he ever less than respected and liked on the island. But in his home and family sorrows arose and would not leave him. Lindsay's defection had been the first. She was not his favourite daughter, but he loved her, and she had hurt him, both by her long bitterness and her final defiance. He did not know, of course, the deepest springs of her resentment—he put down everything to her infatuation with Tom Lismore—but as there were deeps in her that he did not penetrate, so there were deeps in his disappointment that he would not speak of. He saw in her, I am [Pg 119] convinced, his own failure—the failure of his love and idealism to mould another life like his own. His careful upbringing—more careful and at the same time more liberal than in many a Christian family—had produced a heartless, selfish and untruthful child. She had betrayed not only his affection but his principles, and therein lay I will not say a greater but a more humbling pain.

This was only the edge of the cloud. The darkness fell in the autumn of that year, when Lucy, who had been ailing for some time, was pronounced to have an inoperable internal cancer. Here would be a test for even the stoutest faith, and I watched Adam face it without faith or hope, but with it seemed a double measure of charity. In those days people mostly died in their own homes—the nursing home was not in vogue, except of absolute necessity—and Lucy had the comfort of familiar suroundings until these became distorted by pain, and pictures, furniture and hangings took frightening shapes that had to be changed by those who watched over her. She had two hospital nurses, but Adam hardly ever left her side. Even when she slept under the influence of drugs he would not withdraw the possible comfort of his presence—'she might wake and not find me there'.

I called frequently, and at first saw her frequently too. Later on I became discouraged by the apparent uselessness of my visits. She was too ill to take pleasure in them as friendly occasions, and it fairly broke my heart to be unable to offer her the Cross to match her pain. I had comforted many death-beds, and it seemed a cruel and bigoted opposition that forbade me to comfort hers. I had always felt that she had never really given up her religion. It had not been of a fervent sort, and certainly had no deep grounds in conviction, but I suspected an emotional deposit which was part of herself, and in which she might now have found help and consolation if her love for Adam did not stand between her and its succours.

Indeed, I was nearly angry with him, and had made up my mind to tackle him, though without much hope, when something happened which changed my view of him entirely. I had gone into [Pg 120] the church late on a December afternoon. The light was failing, and I thought at first that my eyes must have deceived me when I saw Adam standing at the back. But a second glance showed me clearly that it was he, and he had in his hand one of the hymn-books that I kept for those of the congregation who might happen to come unprovided.

The obvious explanation was that he had come to examine certain changes that I had made. For the lion and the unicorn no longer danced their Erastian dance above the altar. The Bishop had frowned upon them when he came for the confirmation, and I had rather reluctantly removed them to a place above the north door. In their stead was a conventional but innocuous reredos presented by the Lismores. The pews had been changed, too, but not at episcopal command. Some time ago dry-rot had set in among them, and in the interests of the three-decker pulpit and Jacobean altar rails, which I was really anxious to preserve, they had had to go. Thanks once again to Lismore generosity, the new benches were of seasoned oak instead of the usual pitch pine, and I am sure all the neighbouring clergy considered my church vastly improved; but the only improvement I could see was that I no longer faced the obtrusive emptiness of the Manor pew.

If Adam had come to inspect all this he had chosen a bad time of day, for the church was almost dark, and for a moment I toyed with an impossible second thought, suggested by the book in his hand, that Lucy's sufferings had driven him at last to prayer. But even as the idea formed he dispelled it.

'I hope you don't mind me rummaging among your hymn-books. But my poor girl likes me to sing hymns to her when she feels bad. Her mind wanders a lot—the doctor said it would towards the end—and she keeps murmuring bits and tags of hymns. It comforts her if I sing them—she sometimes even gets some sleep that way. But I've got a bit rusty on the words after all these years, so if I might borrow one of these . . .'

For a moment I could not speak. I only nodded. Then I cleared [Pg 121] my throat and said, 'If you'll come back with me to the Rectory, I'll give you one with the tunes in it.'

'Oh, I don't want that,' he said smiling. 'I remember all the tunes. But most of the words seem to have disappeared, and a good job too.' Then his manner changed, and he added in quite another voice, 'It's a mercy I don't have to square any of this with my faith in God.'

'Mercy,' I repeated, and our eyes met over the word.

'No,' he said, 'there is no mercy.'

For more than two months Adam sang his Lucy to sleep, till at last early in April the day came when she did not wake. I once asked him which were her favourite hymns, and he answered, 'Oh, all the usual Weary Willy stuff,' adding rather piteously, 'I had no idea she was so tired.' Later on one of the nurses told me that the words she took away with her were:

I heard the voice of Jesus say
        Come unto me and rest.

'She always liked that one, and he'd sing it again and again. He has a lovely voice.'

Adam himself told me nothing about the end. Though he had been expecting it and longing for it, once she was dead he became a man stunned to silence. I called only to press his hand and give him a few words of sympathy, forbearing till some other time to ask him what he wanted done about the funeral. But when I called again and he told me his plans, I found it hard to conceal how much they shocked me. I had never, of course, expected a Christian burial, but I had expected some sort of ceremony, and had been prepared to co-operate to the fullest extent my orders would allow. It was with a sense of chill that I heard him say that he would have her privately cremated and himself dispose of the ashes. 'I wish for no rites or ceremonies of any sort.' Then, seeing my dumbfounded look: 'Here, [Pg 122] take your Atheist's Missal,' and he handed me the hymn-book. 'Did you really expect me to sing hymns over her grave?'

I had not, but I had expected some sort of opportunity for the isle to express its sympathy and loss. If I had been scandalized, it was nothing to the scandal of Ebony. For some time now, as the end became a daily expectation, the cottagers had been setting aside flowers in their gardens, and directly her death was known, only the uncertain date of the funeral prevented the start of those home-made wreaths and crosses which have always adorned our graves in Palster churchyard. Old Ernie Turk had even asked me where he was to dig. The Manor vault had been full for some years, and the last two Squires, Adam's father and brother, had been buried outside it. 'I reckon she'll rest along of they.'

I found it hard to make him understand that there would be no grave—anywhere.

'Surelye, he'll have to put her somewhere, even if he do burn her. But why should he burn her? She aun't done nothing to be burnt for. My dad he used to say how as in the old days they burned witches. He remembered one being burnt at the throws beyond Ethnam—by the folk that was, not the law. He didn't see her, but he smelt her, and it was like meat over-cooking. She'd terrified their horses something cruel, so as the poor beasts were only skin and bone, and they farmers wasn't going to stand for it. But Miz' Cryall, she aun't done no harm to nobody. She wasn't all that smart, but I'll always say she was a nice-feeling old girl.'

I tried to explain cremation to him, but once I had disentangled it from witch-burning and a final hitch-up with the Protestant martyrs, he saw it only as a nefarious attempt to rob poor gravediggers like himself of their too rare rewards. After all, that grave would have been worth a pound to him, and an old chap like Ernie can do quite a lot with a pound.

It was painful, too, having to tell the cottage people that their flowers would not be wanted. No one could understand it, and when one morning Adam stole away with the coffin in a flowerless hearse [Pg 123] it was an affront to something much bigger than themselves. Indeed, had not criticism been blunted by compassion, I should have said that the feeling against the Squire was stronger than it had ever been in Ebony, even over Tom Lismore. His atheism they accepted as a personal conviction, and his absence from church was regarded even with affectionate pride, possibly in protest against their own custom-forced attendance. Nobody could be affronted by it but the parson. But now Adam had affronted Death himself, and the viri palustres knew death more intimately than they knew God. From the days of the island's first rising from the waters of Appledore Bay they had had their dealings with him. They had seen their dead set out for the Druid's Land of Youth, for the Valhalla of Thor and Odin, for the heaven of Christ. But always they had been accompanied by decent rites, by hymns, by prayers, by the sacrifice of birds or animals, and, under Christianity, of the gentle flowers.

'My daffodils were just coming into bloom,' said Mrs. Blazier of Creekers Cottage.

A more articulate but less endearing protest came from the Lismores, who had invited Tom and Lindsay to stay with them for the funeral.

'I thought after all that's happened it would be better and easier for everyone if they came to us, and now here they are, and there's no funeral to go to.'

'I expect Adam will be glad to have Lindsay near him,' I murmured hypocritically.

'I don't think he cares one way or the other. The only daughter he's ever cared about is Blanche—Lindsay's never had a chance, and I realize now what the poor child's had to suffer from her father.'

'Shall they be staying long?'

'Oh, no. Tom says he's fed up and wants to go back tomorrow, and Lindsay won't stay without him. She's still desperately in love.'

I doubted if Lindsay ever had been or could be desperately in love, but had no opportunity of judging, as I saw her for only five minutes at the Lismores' and in their midst. She certainly had more flesh on [Pg 124] her bones and a brighter colour on her cheeks, and eight months of marriage had entirely done away with that ethereal quality which I had always associated with her. It was as if a cloud had solidified—even her hair had ceased to froth, and had become smooth gleams. We shook hands politely and made some conventional remarks.

Later on Mrs. Lismore told me that a baby was expected in July.

'We're so delighted. Harold always has wanted a grandchild.'

Cremation was not then the accepted thing it has become since, and there was no crematorium nearer than London. Adam returned in due course with his Lucy's ashes and scattered them on her herbaceous border.

'Let her live again in her flowers,' he said, 'that is the only immortality I can accept or wish for—some chemical principle of hers surviving in the growth of a lupin or a delphinium.'

I could not say what I should have liked to say, for there could be no light fencing with Robert Blatchford as there had been with Voltaire. I disliked this sort of atheistic piety, and there was a strong vein of it in Adam's grief, giving it a solemnity which was alien to him. It was as if he had to give death a dignity which his actions had denied. I have noticed the same sort of thing among Christians when they do not really feel their loss or think they do not feel it enough. Adam certainly did not come into the first category, but I think that at least a part of his sufferings was due to a sense of inadequacy, which stemmed in its turn from the short-circuiting of his human emotions. I wish I could have done more for him, but I was frustrated in the same way as with Lucy, and for some time our meetings and conversations were like those that take place in a prison, where a barrier is set up between the speakers in case anything should pass more substantial than mere words.

It was right and natural that he should find his chief comfort in his daughter Blanche. Her mind was close to his; she thought as he did, and there could be a free mental exchange between them. I applauded his wisdom when later in the summer he decided to take [Pg 125] with her a trip to Germany. Change and movement were what he most needed, and no doubt a holiday abroad would do her good. But I was disconcerted when the day before they left Palster he told me he was going away as much for her sake as for his.

'She and George need a change from each other's society. It's a situation that arises in many marriages, I believe, though it didn't in mine. It comes from both husband and wife having strong, demanding characters. I don't approve of separate holidays as a rule, but in this case I think it will do them good to be a few weeks apart.'

'I hope—I always thought they were getting on very well since they came back from Italy.'

I remembered my talk with Blanche among the dahlias and the smoking leaves, and I wondered how it was that both Adam's daughters after a sudden burst of intimacy had withdrawn their confidence from me.

'Oh, yes. . . . It's nothing serious. But George, you know, is a difficult man. I like him and I admire him—he's the sort that's made our country what it is. But, like all our men of Palster, he's got some ideas that he can't change, and one is that no woman has any right to a voice in the management of a farm. I begin to wish now that I hadn't given it to him—to them. It's a constant bone of contention. Blanche is very good about letting him have his own way, but naturally she doesn't like not even being consulted.'

'I think she would mind less if he would let her do what most farmers' wives do—run the chicken and the dairy and help with the pigs and haymaking. But he wants her to live like a fine lady, and you know all the trouble there was last year just because she took out a couple of jugs of elderflower wine to the haymakers. Nothing would make him believe that wasn't how she lost her child.'

'No,' said Adam grimly, 'and he still believes it, and what's more he believes that's the reason why there isn't another child on the way. No argument, no qualified opinion will change him. There's a lot like that in Ebony, but somehow I'd thought he was more enlightened.'

[Pg 126]

'Well,' I said, 'I suppose it's natural that hearts of oak should go with heads of the same material.'

Both Adam's girls had married as it were with the wind against them. Against Lindsay it blew strongest, for though she had married within her class and tradition, she had chosen a man of bad character and a great deal older than herself. Blanche, on the other hand, had married outside her class a man of integrity with whom she was passionately in love. Her difficulties should have been the easier to overcome. But as I watched them both, I had to admit that Lindsay's marriage was turning out the more successful of the two.

In this I read no social lesson, though the class barrier was far stiffer then than it is now. It was a question of character and temperament; but even here I was puzzled, for I had thought Blanche with her charm and intelligence very much more likely to make a good wife than hard-hearted, empty-headed little Lindsay. Nevertheless, that marriage—headlong on one side, venal on the other, selfish on both—seemed to establish itself much more securely than the elder sister's.

On reflection, I put down its success to the very circumstances I had feared would wreck it. By marrying Lindsay, Tom had wiped out the scandal of being alive after she had found in his death her own immortality. He had provided her with a way out of her box—even if he had blocked the one she had first chosen—and made himself her escape not only from her home and her father but from herself. I do not think she had ever been wildly in love with him, but for that very reason he had been able after marriage to teach her to love him in his own way, for she obviously found in him as a husband those attractions which Blanche had assured me he possessed.

As for him, if his love for her had been little more than the attraction of her face and fortune, it seemed none the less able to root itself in a settled married life. I do not suppose for a moment that he was faithful to her, but he outraged her by no public scrapes. An important contribution to their happiness was doubtless the thriving [Pg 127] condition of the motor-trade. In the year 1909 it was booming, and Tom in prosperity became such a changed character that for the first time I felt inclined to believe Mrs. Lismore's oft-repeated statement that her predecessor's harshness was chiefly to blame for his delinquency. He had been treated badly, so he had gone to the bad. Harold should have asserted himself, but then he never could assert himself against poor Emily. Look at Tom now that at last he had been given a chance. She and Harold would always be grateful to Lindsay for having defied Adam's unwarranted opposition and bolted with him.

When she had been married about a year Lindsay rose still higher in Lambstand's gratitude and esteem by presenting Harold with his first reputable grandchild. It was a boy, and was named Harold Adam after both its grandfathers. I think the second name was only for show, as was the visit that the infant and his mother paid to Palster Manor. Normally they stayed with the Lismores, but it might rouse comment if they never visited her father's house, especially when Tom was not with them; so as Lydia Wickham was invited to Longbourn 'for the sake of her reputation', so Lindsay Lismore was invited to Palster. But Adam, I think deliberately, provided that she should not be the only guest. Theresa Knight (once Boutflower) was there, also with her first-born, and old Miss Merrivale had been invited for a much-needed rest after the death of her sister.

Adam's generosity and hospitality had received no check from the loss of his wife. Indeed, I think that without feminine caution to restrain him he indulged in them still more lavishly. No doubt Lucy's memory haunted him less in a full house than an empty one, and he never seemed happier than when accommodation was strained to bursting point. Besides, the original sum of his guests had more than trebled itself by natural increase. For all the Boutflowers were married now, even (to my relief) Anthony, and had between them a most remarkable number of children. My little Megs was by this time the mother of four, and no one except Theresa and Anthony, [Pg 128] who had been married only a year and six months respectively, seemed to have less than three. Unless he had the mother alone 'for a rest', while a sister took over her nursery cares, Adam always invited the whole family, and in many ways we might have been back in my first years at Palster, when boys and girls played everywhere about the lawns and shrubberies and risked their necks climbing the trees.

Anthony was the only Boutflower who had not married a Roman Catholic. She was a tall, pretty, delicate-looking girl called Pamela, and I thought she seemed a little out of place in the rough and tumble of the family. I am aware that in this narrative I have not been entirely just to Anthony Boutflower, and no doubt as it continues I shall be more unjust still. I may as well acknowledge this prejudice, so that while I indulge in it the reader may draw his own conclusions. But certainly I now no longer liked him, though I had to acknowledge that outwardly he was still by far the most attractive of the three Boutflower brothers. Both Denis and Francis had some of their father's narrowness and pomposity and none of their mother's good looks. Anthony, on the other hand, was not only goodlooking, but obviously—in view of his marriage—no bigot. He took life and religion altogether more lightly than the other members of his family. But this did not involve any laxity in his own faith and practice—a circumstance I should have noted with approval had he been one of my flock. The girl herself, his wife, was impressed by it. She told me in an awestruck voice, 'He goes to Holy Communion.'

'And don't you?' I asked.

'Oh, well, yes—sometimes; but men don't as a rule—not our men, I mean—not unless they're cissy Anglo-Catholics.'

I denied this statement all the more firmly because it was borne out by my communicant roll at Palster.

'Take care,' I said, 'or one day your husband will convert you.' I found I disliked a mixed marriage much less when Blanche was not involved in it.

However, Pamela assured me that there was no danger of her [Pg 129] joining him. Sometimes she went with him to Roman Catholic services, but she did not like them.

'I like a church which smells old.'

So when she was at Palster she came to mine, which certainly satisfied that form of religious need.

All the Boutflowers, of course, were in and out of Church Farm during their visits, Anthony and Pamela more than the others, since they were Blanche's contemporaries. To my surprise, they got on very well with George Haffenden, and it was he who suggested that they should come and stay there for a week of their summer holidays. I was vexed with myself for my private dislike of the plan. My alarm made me feel old—an old man with memories and anxieties fixed in the past. Surely an undergraduate affair is dead after three years of marriage. But I could not get rid of the idea that Anthony was a much more attractive man than George, though it was Blanche herself who had told me I knew nothing about such things.

As far as I could judge, her married life had stabilized itself again. Her absence for five weeks in Germany had taught them their need of each other in a way more likely to last than the lessons of a second honeymoon. And now once more there was hope of a child. She told me herself:

'I scarce dare breathe in case anything goes wrong again.'

'It won't.' I said firmly.

She laughed, 'How do you know?' and mercifully did not wait for an answer.

The woods that autumn were a slowly dying fire. A succession of early frosts quickened the colouring of the leaves, so that beech, maple, ash and chestnut blazed in red and yellow before September was gone. Then the October storms put out the flames with their sea-drench, leaving only the brown smoulder of the oaks. But it was not till the end of November that the fire was really out and the last-hanging leaf the colour of the twig that bore it. For a month or so round Christmas the woods were dead, but a blessing of these [Pg 130] southern parts is that winter—the true, dead winter—lasts only a few weeks. With the first lengthening creep of light a purple shadow falls upon the woods, a shadow cast by the coming spring; and early in February, as I have told you, the young spring child comes suddenly to his temple, bidding winter depart.

Blanche Haffenden's son was born in March with the first lambs. We lamb late in Ebony, as on the Marsh, and the cry of the new-born child mingled with the drifting cry of the fields. It was a day of great rejoicing, even though Blanche had nearly died. Here was a son for the Haffendens—another man child to be called Adam, the Man. In this case his second name was George, and as a concession to his father's churchwardenship they were both given him in baptism.

It was done at the usual time, at the end of the Sunday afternoon children's service. The mother was still so ill that her absence required no other explanation, and no one had expected the grandfather to attend. George's sister Rose was the godmother. I was one of the godfathers, and the other was Tom Ellman, who farmed Odiam and was a crony of George's. As I held the poor little creature in my arms and listened through the din it made to all the solemn promises vowed in its name by sponsors whose idea of their obligations probably did not go much farther than a christening mug, I wondered what trouble if any his upbringing as 'Christ's faithful soldier and servant' would make in his family. I was afraid very little. George would be satisfied by a few external observances, which Blanche would tolerate as quaint survivals of the past. We had not yet reached the point in Ebony's religious development at which a boy ceased to attend church as soon as he reached man's estate, but I could not imagine that his piety would be such as to rouse his mother's opposition.

Then I remembered that I myself was one of the godparents, and felt my usual cowardly qualm at the thought of action. Obviously I was the only one of the three who could be expected to make more than a nominal Christian of Adam George, and obviously such an [Pg 131] attempt would bring me into conflict with Adam, with Blanche, and probably with George himself. Perhaps I had been unwise to accept the office, but it would have given offence if I had declined it—though nothing to the offence it would give if I ever found the moral courage to perform its functions.

By the middle of May Blanche was well enough to go to Bristol and stay for a few weeks with Lindsay. There was no difficulty about her leaving the child, who had an excellent nurse. At first I had wondered if George's idea of a lady wife would stand up against the traditions of his breed strongly enough to dispense her from the personal care of her son. But he had never faltered, and a nurse had been engaged even before it was known that she would be unable to suckle the child. So she went away—rather reluctantly, I thought, for she had no deep affection for Lindsay and a true if controlled dislike of Tom. But a change of some sort was essential, and George could not possibly leave the farm at this time of year, while Adam, who had recently been made chairman of the Rural District Council, considered himself detained at home with equal urgency. Blanche suffered from the same dearth as her sister of intimate friends outside the Boutflower family, so in a situation like this they must make the best of each other.

The best was evidently not good enough, for at the end of a week Blanche moved to London, and Adam told me to my surprise that she was staying with Anthony and Pamela in their Hammersmith flat.

'As a paying guest, of course. They couldn't afford to keep her. But Dr. Dobbs recommended a month's holiday, and she'd find it lonely staying by herself at a hotel.'

'And do you not fear,' I teased him, 'that Anthony will convert her to the Church of Rome?'

'Oh, no—not Blanche. She knows too much for that.'

'Well, perhaps it would be rather a lot to expect of a man who's failed to convert his own wife.'

[Pg 132]

He pounced on the creeping satisfaction in my voice.

'But I shouldn't be surprised if he did one day. Blanche tells me that she often goes with him to his church on Sundays.'

'Oh, that's all right,' I said, 'as long as it doesn't smell old.'

Adam looked at me as if he expected some explanation to follow, but it would have humiliated me to give it, so I held my tongue.

'You oughtn't to mind,' he continued, as I said nothing. 'You've told me how much you disapprove of mixed marriages. So if this one unmixes itself you ought to be glad.'

'I'd rather it unmixed itself in the other direction.'

The words were perfunctory, for I realized even as I said them that if it really happened that way I should be profoundly shocked. The Boutflowers' faith was so much a part of themselves that I could not imagine any one of them without it. Whereas Pamela's was evidently little more than a habit—or how could she have promised to bring up her children in any other?

Adam was laughing at me.

'It would be a nasty knock for you if it happened—now, wouldn't it?'

'Less for me than for her family. They brought her up as an Anglican. I didn't.'

'That's right—shuffle off your responsibilities, shepherd of Palster's fold. I wonder what you would do if one of your own sheep strayed in the same direction.'

'I think I'd be too surprised to do anything.'

Certainly there was no Romeward movement in my flock; such forsakings as it suffered being all in the direction of chapel, whither sometimes a spell-binding evangelist would decoy its less stable members. Their absence, however, was seldom more than temporary, ending with the special circumstances and the re-establishment of normal chapel routine. My people were snobs, and disliked a minister who had not been to one of the universities, so that sooner or later the faces I had missed for a few Sundays would re-appear. The Vicar of Rushmonden, who had 'high' tendencies, once asked me what [Pg 133] ceremony I used to 'reconcile these returning schismatics', and was a little scandalized when I told him that all I asked for was the payment of their arrears to the collection.

I therefore felt little anxiety at the aberration of Edward Cloute, the Church Farm looker, who, swayed by the eloquence of a locally famous female preacher, deserted his parish church for the Old Chapel. I have already mentioned the Old Chapel and told how it taught me one of my first lessons as Rector of Palster. Since then its fortunes had been in a decline, as the old regulars died off and the younger generation of Dissent showed its preference for the more social and up-to-date technique of the Wesleyans. But every now and then it restored its circulation with a Great Revival, and in this case a lady evangelist was publicly advertised, not only on the usual home-made posters, but in the Kent Messenger itself.

Such a wide net, however, caught only one fish from the Palster congregation, and, as I said, I experienced no misgivings. Cloute would come back when the tumult and the shouting died. He was normally a member of my evening congregation, which as a rule was made up of cottagers, farm labourers and their families, leaving Morning Prayer to those of greater leisure. For three Sundays I missed his red, earnest face staring at me open-mouthed from the old 'free seats'—all our seats in these new enlightened times are free, though more battles rage round their occupation than the Free and Open Church Society can have possibly envisaged. So far, I had felt no alarm. Then one evening his wife came to see me in great distress. Ted had not only been converted by the redoubtable Mrs. Cramp, but had in addition received a call to preach the gospel to every creature, and intended the very next day to set out as an evangelist.

'He'll never do it, sir. He doesn't so much as know how to begin. He talks all jumbled like. And anyways what are the baby and I to live on? Nobody's never going to pay him nothing.'

The country round Ebony must have produced more travelling preachers than almost any other part of England. At the beginning of [Pg 134] the last century it swarmed with small sects, initiated by men not very much more lettered than Edward Cloute. The Beemanites, the High Haldenites, the Wellerites, the Huntingtonians, though fused and faded now, once flourished throughout the Weald, and in my library a row of humble volumes, issued by market-town presses, proclaim the various gospels of their founders. It was rather late now for Cloute to think of joining these, and I entirely sympathized with the practical forebodings of his wife, for though one at least of his far-off predecessors had made a financial success of his vocation and married the widow of a Lord Mayor, for the most part their lives had been as struggling and as starving as those of the poor field-hands to whom they ministered.

However, the matter did not seem difficult to handle. I went straight to George Haffenden, and between us we impressed Cloute with the legal obstacles to his departure. Farm-hands, particularly lookers, so seldom changed their employers that neither Haffenden nor I knew exactly what length of 'notice' was required. It could not, however, be less than a week, and during that week I undertook to make the evangelist see reason.

My most successful move was a visit to Mrs. Cramp herself, with a view to establishing her support. I found her a most excellent, worthy woman, a grocer's wife in Rushmonden, entirely practical, and as quick as anyone to see that Cloute was making a fool of himself at the expense of his wife and child.

'He's mistaken the Word altogether if he thinks it was calling him to leave his family, and I can't think how anything spoken through me can have given him such an idea. He came up to the penitents' form with the others and said he'd found salvation, and his wife was sitting there behind him with the baby in her arms, looking as pleased as Punch. I said to him: "You must bring them into the fold, her and the little lamb." That's all I said that could have suggested preaching. What, a man to leave his home and family unprovided for! I never heard of such a thing, and it seems near blasphemy to [Pg 135] do it in the name of the Lord. You should see the pie I bake on Saturday night when I'm going out on Sunday.'

I begged her to come over and repeat all this to Cloute. The good soul readily agreed, and Adam, always helpful on the human and pastoral side of my ministry, lent his car to bring her to the little cottage on the Marsh below Church Farm, where she set her piety and common sense against what I now recognize was poor Cloute's madness.

It is strange that we none of us recognized it—neither myself nor Haffenden, nor Mrs. Cramp, nor even Mrs. Cloute. It was not till he was found 'speaking with tongues' at Flackley Ash in Sussex that the local authorities took charge of him and shut him up. By then the harm was done, and a course of trouble set in motion that would never have started if we had realized the true state of affairs.

For a week we reasoned and persuaded with what was apparently growing success, and by the end of the week resistance had gone underground, leaving us all comfortably assured that the danger was past. Then one bitter February night, when a cold, rainy wind raged round Ebony and the lanes flowed with slush and water that would probably freeze by dawn, Mrs. Cloute came beating on the door of Church Farm.

It was late, the servants had gone to bed, and Haffenden himself let her in. She was soaked through, and her face was sore with the needles of the rain. She carried the child wrapped in her wet shawl, and was at first too exhausted, blown and shocked to speak. Haffenden brought her into the kitchen, where Blanche attended to her, bringing her blankets and a hot drink and caring for the child. Then at last her pitiful story was told. Ted had been perfectly quiet and normal when he came in for his tea, as the farm-worker's evening meal is always called in Ebony, though it is more in the nature of supper. He had not eaten very much, but he had drunk two glasses of his 'wine'—a shocking beverage with a turnip base, which politeness has forced me to drink more than once. Directly she had washed the crocks she went upstairs to bed, for the child was ailing, and [Pg 136] she had had a tiring day with it. But she had hardly fallen asleep before she was roughly wakened to find him standing beside the bed. 'All changed he was, and his eyes seemed to be turning about in his head as if they didn't belong to him.' He told her to get up at once and get out, for the word of the Lord had come to him saying: 'Cast out the bondwoman and her son.'

In vain she pleaded that the child was ill, that it was late at night and raining hard, begging to be allowed to wait till the morning. He insisted maniacally that she must go at once, and he looked so wild that she was frightened to stay. Without proper shoes and no more than a coat and a shawl over her nightgown she struggled through the rain and darkness up the hill to the nearest human habitation, which was Church Farm.

It was too late to think of moving her anywhere else, so a bed was made up for her and the child in the kitchen, as the warmest place. Both Blanche and George attributed Cloute's violence to drink, for these home-made wines are sometimes deadly strong, and believed that the next morning would see him sober and penitent. But by the next morning he was gone, to be picked up later in Sussex, raving mad, as I have told. Meanwhile his unhappy wife—who had not hitherto mentioned the fact that she was expecting another child—proceeded to have a miscarriage as a result of the night's doings, and became seriously ill.

It was in this crisis that Blanche displayed that true Christian spirit which so often confounds one by its appearance among those who deny its name. None of the Thirty-nine Articles to which as a clergyman of the Church of England I have given my unwilling assent outrages me more than that on 'works before justification' which 'have the nature of sin'. I must confess that here I am entirely on the side of the 'School-Authors', who would allow them grace 'of congruity', and I had always believed that Adam would receive from the God of Aquinas the blessing which the God of Calvin denied. But I had not realized how much in this matter Blanche was her father's child. Her more narrow, intense sort of life, with the [Pg 137] feminine mystery it created, had not prepared me for such selfsacrificing charity as I was to find in her now.

The obvious thing to do—at least it would have appeared obvious to most people—was to send poor Nellie Cloute into hospital at Marlingate. The doctor did not altogether approve of the idea, as it was a long journey by road, and he feared more haemorrhage, but he quite saw the difficulties of keeping her and nursing her in a busy farmhouse. Blanche swept all difficulties aside. It would be dangerous to move her, she might die on the road, and if she did not she would fret in hospital about her sick child, and that would delay her recovery. The resources of Church Farm were quite equal to the emergency. There were two spare bedrooms, and a trained hospital nurse could be engaged to look after the mother while the child was in the care of Blanche's capable and experienced Nannie.

She was so determined that she drove the plan past George's opposition. It seemed to him a totally unsuitable scheme that did not fit anywhere into his set of values. He was a just employer and not unkind, but he had none of that fatherly attitude towards his people which characterizes the best of the Squire class. As a ratepayer he supported the workhouse infirmary at Rushmonden—let Nellie Cloute go there if the journey to Marlingate was too long. Or she could go to her sister, who had lately married the cowman at Coldblow, and having as yet no family of her own, could easily look after both her and the child. He disapproved of her being given accommodation and services he considered fit only for the gentry.

Blanche insisted that a removal to the workhouse was out of the question and that the sister was totally unqualified for looking after a woman in her condition. It was touch and go, the doctor said, and did George really want to have poor Nellie's death at his door? I gave her my convinced support, and between us we managed to persuade him to let her stay until she was at least convalescent, and then perhaps she and her child could go to her sister.

'George simply doesn't understand,' said Blanche, 'that the workhouse infirmary conveys a stigma that people in the Cloutes' position [Pg 138] could probably never live down. It's all wrong, I know—a relic of the bad old days of bumbledom—but so it is, and she'd have eaten her heart out if we'd sent her there.'

'She ought to be grateful to you all her life for what you've done for her.'

Blanche laughed.

'I very much doubt if she will. Poor dear, I don't suppose she realizes for a moment the upset she's causing—George in the sulks, the servants grumbling because the nurse won't fetch her trays from the kitchen, and Nannie so disapproving of having a common child to look after. I gave the poor little thing its bath myself last night.'

'You're a good soul, Blanche,' I said, 'and you'll have your reward.'

'I don't want one, thanks,' she snapped at me, 'that belongs to your system, not mine.'

I said lamely, 'I was only teasing you.'

Twenty-four hours later it was discovered that the Cloute child had scarlet fever.

Why it was not discovered till then I cannot say, except that the symptoms were slow to develop, and it is always difficult to make a diagnosis in the case of an infant that cannot speak for itself. The mother, poor ignorant soul, had put down her baby's ill-health to teething, and the others, with their main anxiety centred elsewhere, were inclined to take her word for it until the rash appeared. Then, though it was only a mild case, the alarm was terrific. George insisted that the patient must go at once to the Isolation Hospital—a dreary, deserted building out on the Marsh beyond Bapchild and still popularly known as the Pest House—and this time no one opposed him. Blanche was as frightened as anybody.

The doctor spoke reassuringly. He did not consider the risk of infection very great in the early stages of the disease, and there had been only slight contacts between Adam George and the invader of his nursery. His nurse, however, took a different view. According to her, you could catch scarlet fever out in the garden. She had [Pg 139] known a case where a mother had died after talking to her sick child through the bedroom window—'five yards away at least'. She was quite sure that Blanche would be smitten as well as her son, and saw nothing but death as a result for both of them.

I myself felt uneasy, and was truly concerned when the Haffenden child justified his share of these forebodings. Expert opinion, however, still clung to the bright side. The illness was only of a mild type. Little Willie Cloute was already over the worst, and what with his midnight exposure and his banishment to the Pest House, he had had some heavy odds against him. With a hospital nurse and a Nannie in devoted attendance and a mother who scarcely ever left his bedside—luckily she escaped infection—Adam George was not likely to succumb to any average assault of the disease. And of course, we all said, scarlet fever was not in these days the menace it used to be—measles was really more dangerous to young children, and it was only the other's bad name and past history that made people so much afraid of it—and so on and so on—feverish talk.

There were bulletins on the farmhouse door, and passing folk went up the garden path to read them. For everyone's anxiety had been roused by my request on Sunday for the prayers of the congregation for Adam George Haffenden, with whom in the name of justice and democracy I coupled William Elijah Cloute. It was the prayers, I think, that frightened everybody, for none of the bulletins was ever very grave, and soon they were announcing 'condition much improved' and 'improvement maintained'.

By the end of the week we were all breathing more easily, and I sat down to prepare my sermons for the two Sunday services in a spirit of chastened thanksgiving. I preach extempore, but I like to have full notes, and though I have not dared to go the lengths of my Hanoverian predecessors and read Blair's or Robertson's sermons instead of my own, I always quote generously from the great spiritual writers, being well aware of the boredom attached to listening every Sunday to the same not highly gifted preacher. I was sitting there busy with my books and wondering what my congregation would [Pg 140] make of a rather long excerpt from Fénélon's Letters, when I suddenly felt a movement close by me. I had heard no one come into the room, but now when I lifted my eyes I saw Blanche standing in front of my writing-table. Her look prepared me for her words: 'The child is dead.'

Something froze between us. We stared at each other, neither of us able to speak. Then she suddenly sat down and put her hands over her face; but she did not cry.

I asked stupidly: 'Where is George?'

There was no answer.

We stayed like that while the clock ticked through a few seconds. Then it struck, and we both seemed to wake. I rose and went over to her, patting her shoulder. 'Cry, my dear,' I said. But she said she did not want to cry.

'Then tell me about it. What happened? I thought he was doing well.'

'So everyone thought and so he was. But with these very young children you never know. I—I was carrying him about in my arms—and his face changed; I saw it first in the mirror . . . a convulsion . . . everything possible was done.'

I soothed. 'That must comfort you.'

'I don't know that it does much.'

'Of course it does. It must comfort you to know that no mistake was made and that there was no unnecessary suffering.'

'But it was all a mistake, and everything he and we have suffered was unnecessary. None of this would have happened if I hadn't taken in that wretched woman and her brat. If I'd bundled them straight off to the workhouse or to her sister's, my baby would be alive. I'm to blame for it all. It's I who've killed him.'

I had no answer to that; for of course it was true. The death of little Adam George was due solely to her kindness in befriending the poor Cloutes. A wave of protest rose in my heart. Why, oh Lord? Why? Is this Thy merciful response to an act of selfless [Pg 141] generosity? 'I was a stranger and you took me in'—what about that? Or is the promise of none effect because her action, 'not springing from faith, had the nature of sin?'—a Work before Justification, eh? So Calvin was right after all.

As if following my thoughts, she said bitterly: 'You told me I'd have my reward.'

'We don't know . . .' I began, then held my tongue. I had better leave it alone. In that respect she was better off than I, and I remembered Adam's words in a similar context: 'At least I am fortunate in not having to square all this with my beliefs.'

She took my poor lame words and shook them.

'No, we don't know—the gnostic knows no more than the agnostic. Everything's as badly off as nothing. I'm glad you admit it.'

I was glad I had not said any more, and as the numbness of shock passed off I realized the need for something more comforting than words.

'Look here,' I said, 'I'm going to ring the bell and order some tea for both of us. No—' as she stood up—'don't tell me you can't stay. Since you've come, you may spare a few more minutes and you'll go home in a far better case.' I wonder, I thought to myself, what made you come to me.

She sat down as the door opened and my little maid, Ivy Huggett, came in to answer the bell. I gave the order, watching the girl's face for any signs of concern or interest that would tell me the news had crossed the road; but there was none, and it was not till the tea had been brought that I asked: 'Does George know?'

She shook her head.

'No. The baby was so much better this morning that he went over to an auction at Shadoxhurst. I thought of sending a man after him, but he's probably already on his way home.'

'Would you like me to break the news to him?'

She shrugged her shoulders.

'It's kind of you, but it won't make any difference. I know exactly what he'll say and this time he'll be right.'

[Pg 142]

'I might be able . . . naturally not having your feeling . . . not being so distressed—' I felt that at all costs I must prevent these two meeting now—'it might be easier for you to talk to him later, when he's heard the facts.'

'Thanks very much, but it isn't worth the trouble. My marriage is as dead as my child.'

'Don't talk nonsense,' I said angrily. 'If you take that attitude you'll ruin everything.'

She gave an ugly laugh.

'I can't ruin what's been a ruin from the start.'

'Now you really are talking nonsense. You started off with George very well, and though later you had your troubles, I've always had faith in your power to overcome them. Surely you aren't telling me that you and George haven't been happy together ever since you came home from Germany, a whole year before the child was born.'

There must be something about tea that affects women in a way unknown to me. It is supposed to be good for shock—hence my ordering it—and I had expected it to revive and comfort Blanche; but I had not expected it to have the effects of alcohol. If the teapot had been full of brandy I might have been prepared for her next remark, but as things were it shook me.

'I've never been happy with George except in bed.'

Remember that the year was 1911, when young women had not the freedom of speech that even clergymen have grown used to now. I confess that I was startled.

'I'm sorry if I've shocked you, but it's true. In every other way he and I are unsuited, and when we try to keep our marriage going in those other ways it falls down. So it has to be revived by second honeymoons and long absences that give it back its early kick. Otherwise it's finished, or rather it never began.'

'I don't believe you. When you married him you were deeply in love.'

[Pg 143]

'Only in that way. He had that sort of attraction for me, and I hoped he would help me forget Anthony.'

'Anthony . . .'

'Yes'—she stood up—'Anthony. He's the man I loved and should have married. I was a fool not to. Oh, I know what you're going to say, but it isn't true. Our differences didn't matter, for we had minds in common in spite of them. George hasn't got a mind at all, only a bundle of traditions and prejudices and fixed ideas. Oh, I can't go on with this sham!'—and she burst out crying.

I did not move. I just sat there and let her cry. I had a small, smug idea that it was good for her—tears are a release . . . have a good cry, my dear. But at the bottom of my heart was another sort of idea, that she was not crying for the child. Its death had been like a fuse, touching off a secret mine of grief and disappointment—all the past five years exploding into the present. Was she crying for Anthony? I could not believe it, yet she may have thought how different her sorrow would have been if he had been the one to share it instead of George. Perhaps that was why she had come to me—because I alone knew that she had loved Anthony. Or was it just because I lived across the road?

I could not answer any of these questions, and suddenly she stopped crying and dried her eyes.

'Forgive me, Uncle Harry,' she said in a voice made gentle by tears, 'and please forget too.'

'I will; but you must promise to do the same.'

'I don't know whom I've got to forgive except myself, and you surely don't want me to forget—not my poor baby,' and her voice shook again.

'God forbid,' I said, 'but you might try forgiving George and forgetting Anthony.'

She would not let me take her home, and the best thing I could do as soon as she was gone seemed to hurry across the fields to Palster Manor and tell Adam what had happened, begging him to [Pg 144] go to Church Farm. He would probably be able to help her more effectively than I, not only because he was her father, but because he was not involved as I was in the metaphysical and emotional extremes of her situation—God and Anthony.

Luckily he was at home and set out with me at once.

'This is really quite terrible,' he said as we walked up the hill, 'the end of all their hopes. The doctor told me that there can't be another child.'

I found, however, that he was as far as I was from blaming her for befriending the Cloutes. Her kindness was as much in tune with his convictions as with mine.

'Why, what else could she have done? Of course, if she'd known that the child was sickening for scarlet fever she'd have acted differently. But there was no indication. . . . I wonder where he picked it up—we haven't any on the isle at present. No, there's no question about it—she did right, and I must try and make her see that she did. There's nothing more stultifying than regret.'

'I'm afraid you won't get much help from George.'

'Oh, yes I shall. I take a more hopeful view of him than you do'—Adam was still inclined to idealize George as his man of Palster—'and considering it was all done in opposition to his wishes, he's behaved very well up till now.'

'But don't you remember the way he behaved when she lost her first child?—blaming it all on her and her perfectly harmless action in going to the haymakers.'

'Ah, but she had crossed him as a farmer—that was the way it got him. You know what he's always been like about the farm. The farm isn't involved in this. She had her own way, but over quite another matter. I really don't expect to find him unreasonable—or unkind. He loves her, and he must know that her sorrow's as great as his—or, rather, much greater, poor girl. I shouldn't be surprised if this tragedy didn't bring them closer to each other.'

I should, but I did not say so, for we had reached Church Farm, and he had to leave me.

[Pg 145]

I thought him unduly optimistic, but I had often thought him that before and been proved wrong. Indeed, on the whole up till now his optimism had read the future more accurately than my fears. This might be another instance, to be added to his oft-expressed contempt of me for distrusting human nature. One used to read more often than one does now, in novels, of a husband and wife being brought together after an estrangement by the death of their child, and as a result one may have come to believe that such reconciliations belong only to fiction. But most clichés are stereotypes of experience, and it is not contrary to human experience to believe that lips meeting in a bitter cup may find there a long-lost kiss.

Anyway, Adam was right. George did not on this occasion behave as he had done before. It may have been that his own grief was so great—grief for a child he had loved for a year, instead of one that had never breathed—that he needed the comfort of his wife, the comfort she was generous enough to give him. Or it may have been, at least partly, as Adam had said. But certainly his behaviour was exemplary, and hers took colour from it. I began to think I could rank that confidential explosion in my study with that earlier confidence of years ago, or with Lindsay's secret, which I alone had seen born and die. It seemed strange that I should have had these releases of confidence from both Adam's daughters, confidence not given to their father and no sooner given to me than withdrawn. When I next saw Blanche her face was tear-stained and her shoulders drooped, but she uttered no more than the commonplaces of grief.

Neither she nor Adam came to the child's funeral. George carried the little coffin, which old Ernie lowered into a grave apparently already filled with the spring gardens of Ebony. The whole sympathy of the isle was present, and nearly the whole population. The mother's place, curiously enough, seemed taken by Mrs. Cloute, there without her child, who was still in quarantine, and weeping almost deliriously over her tribute of a florist's wreath, which I feared had cost her everything she possessed, till I heard that Adam had paid for it. A section of local opinion was against her as the [Pg 146] cause of the tragedy, but her misfortune on the whole outweighed her guilt, and she received no unkindness and very little coldness. Ultimately she went to live with Dick Ovens, the shepherd at Marsh Quarter, an arrangement I deplored, but must excuse, as I hope did heaven, on the score of the ripe old age to which her husband survived in the County Asylum.

[Pg 147]

Chapter VI

Looking back on those years is like looking across a dark valley at some distant hill-top on which the sun still shines. No doubt it is partly an old man's elegiac love of the past that makes it all seem so beautiful, just as it is the black gulf of war that makes it seem so very far away. But we had blessings then that I fear we have lost for ever. We have almost forgotten the sort of peace we had in those times. As I write we are once again under the shadow of war, but in those days, close as we were, the shadow did not fall. No doubt our rulers knew what was coming, and there were alarmists who talked on one hand of the need for military training and on the other of the perils attached to the employment of so many German waiters. But they did not trouble us in Ebony; nor did the Iggulsdens, the Haffendens, the Neatendens, the Braziers, the Holmans, the Huggetts, the Furneses, all the families of the isle, ever dream of their names carved in Bethersden marble on the war memorial cross that now stands at Palster Throws. We had our sorrows, as you must have seen, and top wages for a cowman or a teamer were only sixteen shillings a week, and if it had not been for the hop-picking (at a penny a bushel) few women in Ebony could have clothed their children. But in spite of all that, we believed in peace and progress and human perfectability—words that nowadays provoke a question if not a smile.

It was largely to Adam that we owed our creed. Old age had [Pg 148] fallen on him like a golden cloud, and the whole world shone in the mellow, misty sunshine of his humanism. The fact that he was able to make it shine for others who lacked his advantages was no doubt due to his overflowing goodness and charity. He believed in mankind, and in return mankind in Ebony believed in Adam.

Owing to increased taxation he was not as wealthy as he used to be, but what he had he freely spent in the service of the isle. He was mainly responsible for the Parish Hall, which now gave tone to our public meetings and village concerts. He handed over the top meadow of his Home Farm to be a recreation ground and playingfield, so that our cricket and football matches need no longer be played on a slope—a change, however, which some deplored, for the vagaries of the old ground had always given the home team an advantage over visitors. As much appreciated and as widely known, though seldom talked about, were the secret acts by which he saved poor men from debt and old folk from the workhouse. Such acts were still often needed in spite of the new legislation on Unemployment Insurance and Old Age Pensions; for, as he pointed out to me, people no longer felt obliged to provide for their dependants in sickness or old age, and what used to be the normal if sometimes unwilling practice in well-to-do households had been made a sacrifice to political resentment. The Lismores, for instance, did nothing for old Tom Juden when he got past work—'He can go and live with his daughter. She ought to look after him, and it won't cost her anything now he gets five bob a week out of the taxpayer's pocket.' The daughter, harassed mother of a large family in a four-roomed cottage, had reason to be as grateful as her father for the kindness that doubled the old man's pension and provided such necessities as extra crocks and bedding. The Lismores knew nothing of the matter, though they sometimes pointed out to other householders in the same situation how well their selfish plan had worked.

Ebony was now no longer an island as far as the outer world was concerned. The better draining of the Marsh had made us accessible by road, even in the worst days of winter, though there was a toll-gate [Pg 149] and dues to be paid at what was still called the Ferry. In spite of the new village hall, the young folk chiefly sought their pleasures outside the isle, travelling by jolting bus—a private venture of the landlord of the Plough—to the Kinema Palace at Rushmonden. The Penny Readings had been dead some years, but Mrs. Lismore occasionally staged dramatic performances for the benefit of the neighbourhood. She had of late become very much addicted to this sort of thing, collecting young people from miles around, and coaching them in 'Scenes from Cranford', 'A Pantomime Rehearsal' and other amateur delights. Sometimes they performed at Palster, sometimes at Bapchild, once even at Rye, though here I believe they were considered inferior to local talent. I regarded this activity as a great improvement on some of her earlier ones, partly no doubt because I benefited from it financially, since all her productions were given the right note of gentility by being 'in aid' of something. Thanks to her, I was able to repair the church organ, mend the chancel roof and provide new surplices for the choir-boys. With all these, except perhaps the last, Adam would have helped me had I asked him, but partly out of revenge for what I had previously suffered at her hands in the way of seances and clothing club accounts, I preferred to make use of Mrs. Lismore.

Early in 1911 Violet Lismore's engagement was announced in The Times. No doubt her mother's amateur theatricals had a share in bringing about this desirable event, if indeed that had not been their purpose. Violet nearly always played the leading lady, and from a succession of leading men selected the highly eligible elder son of Sir Thomas Reynolds, Bart. (she was very insistent on the Bart., in case anyone suspected him of a mere knighthood), who had recently bought Morghew Hall, a fine property outside Rushmonden. It was a marriage to put both the Cryall alliances into an even deeper shade, and it gave Ebony its first experience for many years of a big, slap-up, expensive wedding. Blanche Cryall had married in a registry office and Lindsay Cryall had eloped, but Violet Lismore walked up the aisle in white satin and chiffon on [Pg 150] her father's arm, followed by no less than eight bridesmaids in what I was told were 'hydrangea colours' of blue and pink, with two unhappy-looking little boys in satin boiler suits to carry her yardslong train. Afterwards there was a big reception at Lambstand, 'where photographs were taken for the Tatler and the Sketch, and a tea for the tenants and villagers in the Parish Hall, where photographs were taken for the Kent Messenger. Adam beamed through it all, making no comparisons. Incidentally he was happy at the moment about both his girls, for Lindsay's marriage had obviously been more successful than anyone had dared hope, and Blanche's was no longer in an eruptive state.

Blanche came with her father to the reception, but not to the church. Lindsay, however, was present throughout the ceremony. This may have been considered necessary in view of her relationship to the bride, but I was shaken when she told me afterwards that both her children—she now had two boys—had been christened.

'Tom says it would tell against them if we didn't have it done. He wants to send them to Winchester, which is very Church of England, and those boys always feel out of things who can't be confirmed when the others are.'

For some reason this shocked me more than all her angry disavowals in the past.

Lucy Cryall had now been dead two years, and as far as I could judge, Adam had completely recovered from her loss. There was some speculation on the isle as to whether he would marry again, but he was now almost seventy, and not at all the sort of man who makes a fool of himself in old age.

'I am perfectly happy as I am,' he said to me once, when we were discussing a ridiculous rumour—not of local origin—that linked him with the widow of a Sussex squire. 'I am surrounded by friends, and my house is in every sense a home—for others besides myself. I hope my servants regard it as their home and that my guests are something more than visitors. My daughters have given me some anxious [Pg 151] moments, but all that is over now. I can look forward to a peaceful old age and backward on a happy, prosperous life. Your God must be getting out of practice, Chamberlin, for he ought to have blasted me long ago. Instead of which he couldn't have blessed me more abundantly if I'd read the lessons in church every Sunday like friend Harold Lismore.'

Harold Lismore's lections were becoming rather a problem, as dental troubles had removed any powers he may once have had in the way of elocution, and I had lately been obliged to limit him to the Old Testament—feeling that it mattered less if the congregation received only a confused impression of Balaam's Ass or the fate of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, than if they missed the actual words of Christ and his Apostles. A young farmer who had last year introduced new blood into the isle as tenant of Peening Quarter read the Second Lesson in a soft Sussex voice which was uncharacteristically clear. Harold, I think, was not sorry to halve his commitments. He was ageing rapidly, and Adam shook his head over him.

'Too much to eat and drink—too little work and exercise. He's a younger man than I, but he won't last as long.'

In the events of the next few weeks some men might have seen Jahweh's challenge to this boast and vengeance for its preceding insult. Indeed, I am not sure if the first would be mere superstition or the second sheer blasphemy. Adam was getting altogether too pleased—not with himself, for he had very little personal conceit, but with his answer to the riddle of the universe. It was just as well that he should prove himself and match his rationalism with the Cross.

The test came in the shape of an unexpected diagnosis of certain symptoms for which he had consulted Dr. Dobbs.

'He says it's not stomach at all. It's heart, and I've got to look out. He's making an appointment for me with Sir Miles Armstrong in Harley Street. What a terrible nuisance it all is.'

I was deeply concerned—very much more deeply than he appeared [Pg 152] to be, even after the specialist's verdict, which was coronary thrombosis—though that was not the name we gave it then.

'But he says I may last some years yet, and I still think I'll outlive Harold. Now it's a race between us to the tomb. Ha! Ha!—a slow race—which will come in last?—like the donkey races there used to be at fairs when I was a boy.'

Again he laughed, but I could not share his mirth. In fact, it struck me as unbecoming. Death and love are alike in being too big to be laughed at. Adam would never have laughed at love, but he laughed at death. Suddenly I knew that he was afraid of it, and that was why he laughed.

He said, 'Don't look so dismal, Chamberlin. As I've told you, I may last for years. And anyhow I'm an old man. I've got to end sooner or later, in this way if not in another. Or is it the word "end" that depresses you?'

I felt too heavy hearted for any riposte. Yet what he had said was perfectly—indeed obviously—true. He was growing old, and sooner or later Palster and Ebony must manage without him, and his illness, though the attacks were painful, was on the whole a less-agonizing way of leaving this world than his poor wife's. I suppose he was right, and it was that word 'end' . . . not so much depressing as frustrating me. In his case, as it had been in Lucy's, my friendship and my ministry alike were stultified.

'I simply can't,' I murmured, 'imagine the isle without you.'

'But there'll be Blanche. In that sense there is no end. She comes after me and carries on my work. For her sake I'm glad that it may not be a long wait.' Then he told me something that astonished me. Blanche had asked him if he would mind very much if she made over her share of Church Farm by Deed of Gift to her husband. 'She says it's still an occasional source of friction, and they'd both be happier if he had the place to himself. It's not what I intended, but I see now that I made a big mistake when I handed it over. It would have been better if I'd kept George as my tenant. But how was I to know that? I thought my wedding-present would raise his [Pg 153] status in the isle and give her some useful practice for her future inheritance. Instead of which it's nearly wrecked their marriage, and she tells me she hasn't done a thing on or about the place for the last three years, except add her signature to contracts about which she's never been consulted. I think she's doing quite right in giving up her share.'

'If you ask me what I think,' I said, 'it's that George has behaved abominably.'

'Well, I own he's been difficult. But then no doubt we neither of us really understand him. You have no call to, as you come from foreign parts, but I should have known better what goes to make a Kentishman. He doesn't like women farmers, and he has strong ideas about what's becoming. If Blanche had been of his own class he'd have made no objection to her looking after the chicken and the dairy and doing perhaps quite a lot of work in the kitchen; but, having married a Cambridge graduate and a squire's daughter, he wants her to behave like a Cambridge graduate and a squire's daughter. He was perfectly agreeable to her taking on this lecturing job at Mill Hill.'

'What lecturing job at Mill Hill?'

'Oh, haven't you heard about it? I thought it was all over the village. A woman she used to know at Girton has asked her to lecture on English literature and history once a week at a big girls' school she runs at Mill Hill. Blanche thought she would find it interesting, and it'll be a pleasant change for her to spend a day every week among people of her own type and education.'

'But how will she manage to get to Mill Hill and back here in the day? The double journey won't give her much time for lecturing.'

Our nearest station was still Rye, and from there the journey to London involved a change at Ashford, with sometimes a good deal of waiting. Then she would have to cross London to St. Pancras to find another train to Mill Hill. It seemed a brute of a day's journey.

'Oh, she won't attempt to come back the same day,' said Adam. [Pg 154] 'She'll spend the night at Mrs. Boutflower's. That's all happened most conveniently. Mrs. Boutflower has just taken a house in Hampstead, and intends to run it for city workers—bed and breakfast only, so it won't involve her in too much work; but I believe that sort of thing pays very well. She says she'll keep a few rooms for occasional visitors, so there'll always be a bed for Blanche. It's all happened most conveniently.'

It certainly had—especially for Mrs. Boutflower. When I last had news of her she had been teaching sewing and English conversation to foreign girls in a Convent School near Stafford. It seemed unlikely that she should have been able to equip out of her savings a bed-and-breakfast house in Hampstead.

'I wonder what saint she's thanking for that?' I said, fixing him with my eye. He looked away.

'She's no longer young,' he said, 'and ever since Edward died she's had to take jobs. But this house ought to make things fairly easy, and if it's successful Anne and her husband may join her and help her run it.'

'I think that a very good idea. What's Francis doing now, by the way?'

We had some desultory talk about the Boutflowers and ex-Boutflowers, in the course of which I was pleased to learn that Terence Conlan, Megs's husband, had been given a very good job at St. Albans, where he had been appointed manager of a newly-established branch of the insurance business that had employed him in Leeds. St. Albans was in those days still something of a sleepy old cathedral town, and Megs welcomed the change from northern cold and grime for herself and her family.

'She could easily put up Blanche for a night,' said Adam, 'if Mrs. Boutflower's house is full. By the way, I don't want Blanche to know about this—about my heart. I don't want anyone to know besides the doctor and yourself.'

'Wouldn't it be a help to you if Blanche knew?'

[Pg 155]

'Not in the least. It would only distress her, and she's got plenty on her mind just now, without that.'

I wondered then why he had told me. Had he thought my knowing would help him? From the deep, from the grave where he had buried his own soul, had a cry gone out for help from the spirit he had denied and whom I so inadequately represented? Or was it just that he must talk to someone, and I was conveniently near without being a relation? That was the answer with which I had earlier doused the same question twice. There were now three Cryall secrets that I held. I alone knew that Blanche had once loved Anthony, that Lindsay had once loved God and that Adam had been sentenced to death. I felt that I would rather not know any of these things.

Afterwards, when I was alone in my study, thinking it all over, I liked it even less. I had spoken the sad truth when I told Adam that I could not imagine the isle without him. Blanche could never take his place either with me or with our little community. Apart from the fact that he was my friend, that in spite of our differences we had shared a world of interest and affection, it seemed certain that Palster Manor must lose its central position in the kingdom of Ebony. Blanche might try to be as much a queen as her father had been a king, but she would have a very dubious Prince Consort. I had by now convinced myself that it was impossible to guess George Haflenden's reactions to anything, but I did not imagine that in any circumstances would he play a harmonious second fiddle. Either he would interfere with his wife's management of her estate, or his heart and interest would stay locked up in the farm that was now entirely his—possibly both might happen.

I wondered if, had she known how soon she might inherit Palster, she would have made this gift to her husband. In many ways it seemed a practical and generous arrangement, but it might also have been a gesture of despair, and it was possible to see her weekly lecture at Mill Hill in the light of an escape. If she had wanted merely to use her powers and prevent her undoubted abilities from [Pg 156] growing rusty, or even to provide an interest in the place of all she had lost or sacrificed, she could have found a similar occupation much nearer home—one which did not involve her absence for a night and two days every week, one which did not involve Mrs. Boutflower.

There it was—my old fear, my old obsession if you like. Anthony Boutflower, safely married for over two years, was still dangerous to Blanche in my imagination. I saw her sitting in this study, in that chair, saying, 'Anthony is the man I love and should have married.' In my imagination she did not say 'loved' but 'love'. Now that her marriage was failing, that she was running away from it, there had been a call in her heart from Anthony—a call to go where he was most likely to be found. He was sure to visit his mother's house, and she might meet him too at his sister's house in St. Albans. I mistrusted this family closeness, though I knew that of all people the Boutflowers were the least likely to encourage a dangerous intimacy. But did they suspect any danger? They did not, and that was where it lay. They did not know what I knew—that she was running away from George and towards, if not actually to, Anthony. No doubt this lecturing engagement would lead to others, around or in London. More and more of her time would be spent away from Ebony.

Events moved ahead even of my fears. Blanche's lectures at Mill Hill were so much appreciated that her first term was hardly over before she received a similar offer from a school in Queen's Gate. This did not necessarily involve another night away from home but it made it sometimes convenient.

I shook my head over it all, but I said nothing to her about it. She did not give me a chance. I once asked Adam if he thought it a good idea for her to be so much away, and he argued quite reasonably that, as she had now cut herself off entirely from the management of the farm and had no further hopes of a family, it was a good plan for her to occupy herself on her own lines and give some scope to her abilities.

'What does George think of it all?'

[Pg 157]

For the first time Adam looked disconcerted.

'I really don't know. I like George, but I don't understand him. He's secretive. Ebony people all are, but I'd thought him a cut above the others. He seems to be changing—"going back" as we say round here. You as a gardener know how certain plants have a tendency to lose their civilization and go back to a primitive state. Well, George seems to me to be doing something like that.'

'You mean that he minds,' I said firmly.

'He didn't mind at first—not when she took on that first job. He seemed gratified in a way—proud of her. She was playing up to his idea of the clever woman he'd married. But he didn't like her being away at night, and wanted her to try and get back, which, of course, would have been much too tiring for her. He saw that, but he never has liked it; and then when she got fixed up at this other place . . .'

'She oughtn't to have done it,' I said, 'it wasn't worth upsetting him.'

'But he wasn't upset. It's only lately he's got so queer about it.'

'Well, if he doesn't like her to be away one night, you can't expect him to be pleased if she stops away two.'

'She doesn't do that often. Once she got delayed and missed her train, and twice she's stopped up for a theatre. A London theatre's a great treat to a girl like Blanche.'

I had no doubt of it, but I also had a certain sympathy for George.

I have always kept a dog and a cat. I find the two are necessary—the dog as a companion (though I am more often irritated by deficiencies of understanding than comforted by its manifestations), the cat to catch mice and either exercise or thwart, according to mood, the maternal instincts of Mrs. Cooke. When I first came to Ebony, I had a townsman's idea of the relative status of these animals, and was rather surprised to find Breezy, my spaniel, despised, even disliked, as a mere pet, whereas my cat, facetiously named Catullus, was universally respected.

'He works,' Ernie Turk had said; 'does a lot of work, that cat. [Pg 158] I've even seen him bring in a rat, and a cat that'll catch rats is worth twenty paound in money. Maas' Breezy he doan't work and costs yer a pretty penny, I'll be baound. Not but if I had the ordering of things I wouldn't charge you more fur'un. Stands to reason that a pet dog should pay more tax than a working dog. He doan't do no good to nobody—nought but harm.'

'Oh, come,' I said, 'poor old Breezy doesn't do anybody any harm.'

Ernie looked glum and shook his head.

'What about that pullet at Weights? And all them ship at Odiam?'

'He didn't chase that pullet more than a few yards, I called him to heel, and he's a most obedient dog. As for the sheep, you make me laugh—they're far more likely to chase him.'

Nothing, however, would convince Ebony that my poor Breezy did not chase sheep, even in his latter days, when the name of Wheezy would have suited him better. In the isle sheep-chasing is the crime, and I should have been a criminal if I had kept a dog at all addicted to it. I am convinced that Breezy was innocent, and that the damage was done by 'working' dogs—that is dogs kept chained up in the yard to bark at all-comers and running haywire in their rare moments of liberty. But nothing would rid my 'pet' of his evil reputation, and when he finally had to be put to sleep I filled his place with a Sealyham bitch, surely beyond suspicion where sheepchasing is concerned.

I was therefore exceedingly surprised and annoyed when I was told that George Haffenden, of all people, was accusing me via my dog of a massacre which had taken place on his marsh fatting lands. The idea was quite ridiculous, as Dinah never went out alone by day, and was properly shut in the house at night, but I knew the strength such a rumour, growing in the fertile soil of prejudice, would develop if I did not nip it at once, so directly I was told this ridiculous story by Tim Holman, who had come to me to have some paper signed, I went straight over to see George at Church Farm.

It was late on a Wednesday evening, and as I crossed the road which his trees and my trees had now laced over with a net for stars, [Pg 159] I realized that Blanche might just be returning after her second day from home, in which case he would probably have gone to meet her train at Rye.

So I was not surprised when the girl who answered the doorbell said her master was out.

'But he'll be home any minute now.'

'Has he gone to meet Mrs. Haffenden?'

'No, sir. She sent a telegram to say she won't be coming back tonight. But if you like to come in and wait he won't be long.'

I hesitated, knowing well how far 'any minute now' could stretch into the hour. But perhaps this was a good opportunity to see George without Blanche, and spare her the discussion of a farm crisis in which she had no voice. I was still hesitating and looking at my watch when the gate clicked and a step fell heavily on the path behind me. George had come back.

'Good evening,' I said, 'I hope it's not too late to have a word with you.'

'No,' he said, 'you can come in if you like.'

He did not sound friendly, and walked ahead of me into the house in a very ungracious manner. I followed him into the dining-room, which like most farmers of his type—the type which no longer sits in the kitchen—he liked to use as a sitting-room. The room which Blanche called the sitting-room he probably avoided entirely while she was away. He sat down in the only armchair, leaving me to take a less comfortable seat at the table, where I noticed that an uneaten supper was laid for one. His boorishness provoked me, but I did my best to hide my annoyance, knowing well that he was the sort of man who must be handled carefully. The last thing I wanted was a row.

'George,' I said, 'I hear you've had some trouble with——'

He broke in before I could finish the sentence, 'I'm not going to talk about it to you.'

I realized then with a shock of surprise that he had been drinking. I had always hitherto found him a sober man; he seldom went to [Pg 160] the public-house, and drank nothing at home beyond half a pint with his meals. But it was not only his rudeness and truculence that told me he had had considerably more than that tonight. There was a lamp on the table, and in its light I saw the shining of his glassy eyes, while his voice stumbled as he added 'Don't you come meddling in it.'

'But I must meddle,' I said, trying to speak lightly and resolved to bring the interview to a close as soon as possible, 'if you really think that poor little bitch——'

He shot to his feet.

'It aun't for you to miscall her. But you're right, and you're responsible—you egged her on—you and her father—told her she should ought to use her talents and not waste herself on me. Told her she should ought to meet clever folk and——'

'George!' I cried. 'Stop it. We're not talking about the same thing.'

I experienced a sickening desire to laugh, which caught in my breast a fear and a pain so deep that I coughed instead, and George was able to finish his sentence, 'despise her husband.'

I clutched at the situation before it got beyond me.

'Look here, old man, I didn't come here to discuss your wife, but to make clear to you that whatever dog worried your sheep, it wasn't mine. She never goes out without either me or Mrs. Cooke, and she's carefully shut up in the house at night. That's what I came to tell you, and perhaps now I'd better go home.'

I stood up, but he shouted at me, 'No, you stay here and answer for yourself.'

I began to get angry.

'I've told you that I've nothing to do with the matter. Your sheep——'

'We aun't talking about my sheep. Maybe your bitch chased 'em, and maybe she didn't. It'll be for the law to decide. We're talking about my wife and all the addled stuff you've put into her head.'

'Whatever we're talking about, I think must wait till you're sober.'

'Who dares say I aun't sober?'

I let the question remain rhetorical as I edged towards the door. In [Pg 161] all my years in Ebony I had never seen George looking so unlike a churchwarden.

The next day the whole village was agog. It appeared that I had come in only for the last quiver of what had been a considerable earthquake. Blanche's telegram had arrived at the untimely hour when her husband was setting out to meet her at Rye. He had, so the report said, immediately crumpled it into his pocket and walked away, which had not prevented its contents being known throughout Palster within half an hour. He had gone straight to the Plough Inn and bought himself a large whisky, to the surprise of the company in the bar, for George very seldom came in, and then drank only beer. The effect of the whisky had been to make him want another and yet another. Then it was that Ted Chantler, a rather foolish creature who rented one of Lismore's farms, remarked that he hoped he wasn't worrying about the Missus. Without speaking a word to anybody, George knocked him down.

Such a thing had not happened at the Plough within living memory. It was as decent and respectable an inn as ever put up a notice 'No gipsies served'; and that George should have chosen it as a setting for drunkenness and assault was either because it was nearer at hand than the Red Lion (where the disorderly element amongst us occasionally found expression) or because the contrariness of his nature had been goaded by his wife's telegram to include the whole of Palster.

After knocking down Ted he had walked straight out. Nobody had followed him. The company instead had occupied itself with picking up his victim and assuring him that he was not hurt. Ted, of course, threatened the extremity of legal retaliation, and when I went into the village that morning I found two actions pending—one by George against me and certain others, for not keeping dangerous dogs under control, and one by Ted against George, for assault and battery.

Neither was likely to come to anything. The nearest policeman was stationed at Bapchild, too far off to have any local interest in [Pg 162] fanning the flames or to be easily accessible to farmers busy with their spring sowings. George had no real evidence, against me or anyone else, and as for Ted, public opinion was strongly against his indulging in any form of vengeance. For some reason George was extremely popular in Ebony. That a community which had taken Adam to its heart should also take George can be put down only to the fact that both of them were probably less individuals than institutions—Adam hereditary Squire and George hereditary farmer and churchwarden. I myself, though by this time no longer a foreigner, was still some way from becoming an institution. I doubt if even now I have achieved it, since there are no generations behind me.

Having absorbed through different conduits the full distress of the affair, I thought the best plan would be to go to see Adam. Not that I imagined he did not know all about it, but some sort of consultation seemed necessary for both our sakes. George was his son-in-law and my churchwarden, so we were both involved in his—I was going to write downfall, but it certainly was not that. Morally, no doubt, certain things could be said against him, but I had seen that popular sympathy—excluding Ted Chantler and perhaps the landlord of the Plough—was strongly on his side. It was someone else who risked a downfall in local esteem, and that person was even more Adam's concern—and mine.

I found him just about to put my plan into reverse and come to see me.

'Well, Harry,' he said, 'this is bad.'

'It certainly is.'

'I'd never have thought it of George. I'd noticed that he was getting secretive—I told you I had—but I never thought he was bottling up all this. It must have been going on for some time—just when I thought their marriage was on its legs again. What do you think I ought to do about it? My own idea is that we should go and see him.'

'We?' I said uncertainly.

'Yes. You're involved too. He's one of your church officials, and [Pg 163] your nearest neighbour. He's also brought the most ridiculous accusations against you.'

'I know. Still I'm not sure that gives me a right . . . and anyhow I doubt if we'd get any sense or satisfaction out of him this morning. He'll have got over his outbreak and be shut up as tight as a clam. He had plenty to say last night, but I'm afraid I deliberately missed my opportunity.'

Adam sighed.

'I expect you're right. He's been very difficult to talk to for the last few weeks, and, as you say, he's likely to be worse than ever this morning.'

'Yes, and from what he said last night I gather that he blames both you and me for what's happening now. He thinks we've encouraged Blanche to leave home and taught her to despise him. We're hardly the people to bring him to reason, but we might possibly do something with her.'

'In what way? As far as I can judge, the only thing that will quiet him will be for her to give up these mid-week visits to town.'

'Well, I think she will have to do that.'

Adam looked worried.

'I don't like asking her. Apart from other considerations, she can't chuck up two paid jobs in mid-term, without warning. She'll have to go on till Easter.'

'But if she'd definitely given notice, he mightn't mind so much.'

'Well, perhaps not. . . . But we neither of us know. Anyhow, it's hard for the poor girl to have to give up work she likes doing and spend the whole week shut up with a man like George.'

'She won't be shut up with him. He'll be out and about all day; but he likes to feel that she's at home—that he'll find her there when he comes back.'

Adam looked at me rather curiously.

'Is that really your idea of marriage? You're more of a reactionary than I thought.'

[Pg 164]

'Because I believe a husband and wife ought to stay together and not live apart for half the week?'

'It isn't nearly half the week—you're exaggerating.'

'I shouldn't be surprised if it came to that.'

He began to walk up and down the room.

'Really, Chamberlin—I don't understand you. One would think you were on George's side.'

I was certainly very far from that, but I did not think he saw clearly enough that the man had, if not an excuse, at least a reason for his behaviour. Of course, most of his trouble was of his own making—if he had been a kinder and more intelligent husband Blanche would not have wanted to spend so much time away from home. On the other hand, I did not think she had treated him fairly, and I had a feeling (I could not call it more than that, and no doubt it came from my own anxiety) that her doubled absence and these extra nights had roused in him certain suspicions. For the first time I regretted that I had so precipitately left him last night. If he had not knocked me down he might have told me something that I now badly wanted to know.

'Look here,' I said, 'let's keep our heads over this. I'm not on George's side, but he obviously has a grievance which some men would call a just grievance, and I don't see how their married life can go on unless that grievance is removed. It would be best if we could make him see Blanche's side of things, but I really doubt if that is possible. We're much more likely to mend matters by making her see his.'

'And give way to him all along the line?'

'Well, wives are supposed to, aren't they? Yours did.'

He looked astounded.

'My wife! Lucy! I'd never have dreamed of asking such a thing of her.'

The idea of Lucy Cryall even thinking of spending two nights a week away from her husband was enough to provoke a smile.

'With you such a situation didn't arise. But when you changed [Pg 165] your ideas completely and forswore all the beliefs and customs of a lifetime, didn't she follow you without a single doubt?'

'Her ideas had changed too.'

'Because yours had. If they hadn't she'd have remained a pious and orthodox clergyman's wife till the end of her days.'

I had never spoken so plainly before, but he did not contradict me. I think he remembered those hymns. Instead he remarked rather obviously, 'Blanche is different.'

I said, 'You may be right in not liking to ask her to give up her lecture work entirely, but can't you persuade her to find it somewhere nearer home? There are plenty of schools in Marlingate and Bulverhythe, and she could easily get to either of those places and back in the same day. It's her being away at night that's upsetting George.'

'I don't think anywhere in Marlingate or Bulverhythe would do for her at all. None of their schools would approve of her rationalist approach to her subjects, which is as important to her as it is to me, and I really don't see why George should be upset because she stops away one night a week. She very seldom makes it two, and anyhow she's perfectly comfortable and safe with Mrs. Boutflower.'

I hesitated. Should I—could I possibly—suggest that the Boutflower situation might be worrying George as it was worrying me? Should I tell Adam that Blanche had been in love—perhaps was still half in love—with Anthony, and that as her marriage was in such poor condition it might be better if she did not run so many chances of meeting him? It is true that she had told me in confidence—or what amounted to it—but I was not a priest in the confessional, and had no moral or spiritual reason for silence. What restrained my tongue was only the strangulation of the Old School Tie, to which again I had no right, having been—oh undying stigma—'privately educated'. I hesitated, and while I hesitated the telephone bell rang.

Adam went out into the hall to answer it. In a very few moments he was back.

[Pg 166]

'That was Blanche,' he said. 'She's at Rye station, but no one's come to meet her.'

'Did George know her train?'

'Yes; she told him in her wire yesterday. But he hasn't come, and Church Farm isn't on the phone, so she rang up and asked if my car could fetch her. There isn't a bus till this afternoon.'

We looked at each other in silence.

One of the saddest experiences in the life of a parish clergyman is to see a fine character disintegrate not through its vices or failings but through the unbalanced excess of its virtues. I had always admired George Haffenden for his uprightness, his dignity and his reticence, but of late these qualities seemed to have undergone a sort of ankylosis—uprightness had ossified into rigorism, dignity into pride and reticence into secrecy. Moreover, the long, faithful memory of the countryman, which can hold indefinitely a place once visited, a road once travelled, a face once seen, was now to show me how tenaciously it could hold an injury once received.

Not only did George refuse to meet his wife at the station, but he refused to speak to her when Adam's car brought her home. He did not greet her. He made no reply when she explained the circumstances that had kept her in town overnight. He did not say a word all the time they sat at dinner at the same table—he did not even, being himself, make a show of conversation before the servants. She had sinned against him, and must not be forgiven.

I had heard this first from her father, and then later from herself. By the time she came to see me she had even more to tell. It was on a Monday, and the next day she was due for her lecture at Mill Hill and another night in town. I do not think she wanted to consult me, for her mind was already made up, but I believe that for some reason she wanted to justify herself in my eyes.

'Father says you think I ought to give up lecturing and stop at home and be a good wife to George. I wonder if you'd think the same if you'd lived through the last five days in the way I have.'

'Your father has put my ideas rather crudely if that's really what [Pg 167] he said. I was only wondering if it mightn't be possible to find the same sort of work nearer home.'

'That's out of the question. This place of Enid Gardiner's at Mill Hill is something quite special, and so is the Beatrice Dale School in Queen's Gate. If I went anywhere in Bulverhythe or Marlingate I'd be just a school-marm, and it certainly wouldn't be worth leaving home, even for a day, only for that. No, Uncle Harry—I've found my work, and I've found my friends, and I'm not going to let George bully me into giving them up. It's all his fault that I've had to go and make a life apart from him. When I married I hadn't the smallest idea of doing such things, and if only he . . . but it all boils down to this—he hates me.'

'My dear Blanche!'

'He must, or he couldn't possibly treat me the way he has, and say . . .' Her eyes began to fill, and I was troubled. 'After all,' she resumed after a pause which seemed full of tears, 'I've suffered as much as he has. The deaths of our children . . .' She swallowed, and then her words suddenly became dry with anger. 'He thinks my only concern with that is that I killed them.'

'But surely he can't——' I began.

'I assure you he can—anything. Oh, I know he behaved all right when poor little Adam died. I think at the moment he really was sorry for me. But it was all put away never to be forgotten—put away with the first; and now that he hates me, out they both come. I've shown myself unfit to be a mother—or a wife. I despise him—I want to get away from him, which of course is true. I tell you, there's a whole long bill against me, adding up and up, and last night he presented the whole of it for immediate settlement.'

'He spoke to you last night?—that was something.'

'Yes, wasn't it? Under the softening influence of religion he spoke to me on Sunday night for the first time since last Thursday. He told me among other things that if I go away tomorrow he won't have me back.'

This was worse than anything I had expected.

'Oh, my dear,' I said feebly.

[Pg 168]

'Well, that's how it is. I thought you'd better know.'

'But,' I cried, 'you can't let it go like that. You can't let it happen.'

'It's got to happen. Uncle Harry, I really am through with George. I've had enough of it, and I can bear no more. I've done my best. I won't bother you with all the times I've endured his aggressiveness or given way to his completely unreasonable demands. I can only assure you from the bottom of my heart that I've tried my hardest to keep our marriage going. Why, after all, I gave up to him my share of the farm—just so that it shouldn't come between us any more. Surely that shows you that I've tried.'

'Dear Blanche,' I said, taking her hand, 'you've tried so hard that it seems a pity to stop trying now. Can't you stay at home just this one week and see what effect that has? It might make all the difference if you gave him just that. Can't you send a wire to both those schools, and say that for this week you're unavoidably detained at home? I really think that might work something.'

'I assure you that it wouldn't. Things are long past mending now. Besides, I don't know that now I want to mend them. I can't go on living like this. I'd rather it all ended. Our marriage has completely broken up, and isn't worth saving.'

'Any marriage is worth saving.'

'Oh, don't talk like a clergyman to me.'

'I'm talking like a sailor. The captain doesn't leave his ship till it's foundered under him.'

'Well, I'm not the captain, and anyhow the ship has foundered. It's time I swam for the shore.'

I thought that (preserving the nautical atmosphere) she was making exaggeratedly heavy weather. George was undoubtedly a terrible fellow, but I could not see that Blanche had as much to complain of as certain other wives in Ebony. Her husband had never beaten her, or spent all his money on drink, and the wildest rumour had never accused him of being unfaithful.

'Have you thought,' I asked her, 'what you're going to do if you don't come back?'

[Pg 169]

'Why, yes. In London I can easily get other jobs of the sort I'm doing and make quite a possible income. I have a little money, too, of my own, so I'll be quite decently off without asking Father to help me; and I can stay with Mrs. Boutflower till I find a flat somewhere.'

I looked at her as she sat in the afternoon light, and the sunshine that dipped through the trees into my study showed me new hollows and shadows on her face. She looked strained and tired, but she was as beautiful as ever—more beautiful, for the stamp of sorrow gave her distinction, and the smoulder in her eyes lit up a more exciting promise than the lost light of youth.

'Blanche,' I said, 'do you propose to stay single till the end of your life?'

She started, as if I had waked her out of a daydream.

'Single? Why—why do you ask that? I'm married, aren't I?'

'But you're proposing to live apart from your husband, in which case you'll be in a far worse position than if you really were single, for you won't be able to marry anyone else.'

She said nothing.

'Blanche,' I pleaded, 'do give my plan a chance.'

She shook her head.

'No. Believe me it would be utterly useless—merely prolong the agony.' She stood up. 'Good-bye, Uncle Harry. I don't know when we'll meet again.'

'But you'll be coming down—to Palster Manor to see your father.'

'Not for some time, anyway. I expect our meetings will be in town.'

'Have you told him about all this?'

'I have, and he approves of my going away. He thinks it may bring George to his senses; but that's nonsense, of course.' She held out her hand. 'Thank you for being such a good friend to me.'

'I wish you had let me be a better one.'

We shook hands, and I suppose I showed her out, but my heart was so full that I cannot remember any more that we did or said.

[Pg 170]

Chapter VII

The woods, the fields, the flocks, the weather were all that changed that spring. The human situation remained stagnant. Blanche was still away in London, and Adam still pathetically believed that her absence would bring George to his senses. From his long experience of Kentishmen in general and George in particular he should have known better. But I could not altogether deplore his irrational optimism, since no doubt it was a help to him in the long fight which he must wage against a disease which I am told causes panic as well as pain. On the other hand, there was something smug about his cheerfulness which occasionally exasperated me.

One day when we were strolling together in his garden he suddenly broke out into a song of praise—not of the daffodils or of the blackbird's flute, but of his runaway daughter, whom he now suddenly saw as an apostle of light and learning, carrying the gospel of free thought into the darkness of female education.

'She is doing now what I always wanted her to do—what I educated her for. She was wasted—utterly wasted—as things were. What was there for her to do down here once she had given up her share of the farm?'

'What will there be for her to do if things work out as you hope, and she comes back to a reformed George Haffenden?'

'I'm not suggesting that she comes back to total enclosure and inactivity. That would be terrible. But I think she would be willing [Pg 171] to compound for the status quo and be away only one night a week.'

I thought this showed a view of Blanche as unpractically hopeful as his view of George, and I decided to give him a hint of her decision never to return. But he would not have it.

'She said all sorts of wild things when she went away. I expect she feels differently now.'

'And how about George? Do you think he feels differently?'

'I haven't seen him. I am deliberately leaving him to cool off.'

I had seen him only the day before, and I suddenly made up my mind to tell Adam what he had said. My decision was not due to impatience with his unrealistic attitude. Ever since I had spoken to George I had been haunted by the idea that the time had come for her father to know something more about Blanche's state of mind. Not only had I no inclination, but I felt by now that I had no right to bear the burden of it alone. There was also the chance that any sudden springing of a new mine, of a situation entirely unforeseen through his rose-coloured spectacles, might be a shock that would seriously affect his health. He looked so well and made so little fuss about himself that one had a tendency to forget the doctor's verdict. But if George were suddenly to threaten divorce proceedings. . . .'

My own heart beat quickly as I remembered that interview.

I had been on a visit to Marsh Quarter, where there was a newborn child. It was a soft spring day, sunless but full of sap and loamy scents of growth, and I thought I should enjoy walking home by the right of way across the fields, which I had not trodden since November. The two fields next to the village belonged to Church Farm, and there in the last of them, surveying his young wheat, stood George, actually on the pathway.

'Good morning,' said I.

He mumbled something, and stood aside for me to pass, but I did not go on. There was something I wanted to say to him. I had already met him twice since Blanche's departure, but both times had been in the vestry after Evensong, when the two churchwardens—[Pg 172]he and Harold Lismore—came in to count the money. On neither occasion had there been any chance of a serious or even sensible conversation. The choir-boys were all round us, struggling out of their surplices, there were one or two of the congregation waiting for me with papers to sign, and Harold Lismore never ceased blethering about his grandchildren. But I had always meant to have a serious talk with George. As Rector of the parish I could not let the situation pass without some comment. Not that I had any great hopes of making him change his mind, but I thought he ought to know my point of view. His reticence did not strike me as altogether worthy of imitation.

'Looks as if your wheat has made a good start. Is this Lothian again?'

I had learned by now enough of local manners not to begin a conversation with my principal subject; but I think he knew what was coming, and received my remark so ungraciously that I decided to waste no more time on preliminaries and went straight to the point.

'Look here, George,' I said. 'I've always thought we were good friends, and it's a privilege of friendship to speak openly. So I want to say how sorry I am there's been this trouble between you and Blanche and to offer my services if there's any way I can help in the matter.'

'How can you help,' he cut at me, 'seeing it's you who've egged her on?'

That was the maddening aspect of George in his present mood. Any conversation was at once transferred into the sphere of rudeness. I did my best to answer quietly.

'I assure you that, on the contrary, I did all I possibly could to persuade her to give up this work in London.'

He said nothing. He obviously did not believe me, and I went on, rather unwisely perhaps, 'I never really approved of her taking it, nor would her father have approved if he'd known how much it distressed you. But you never said a word to either of us.'

[Pg 173]

'Why should I? It aun't none of your business.'

I fought for patience.

'Well, if we'd known we'd both have acted differently. It isn't fair to blame us for encouraging Blanche if we were completely in the dark as to how you felt about it.'

'You could have known without my telling you. Stands to reason a man doesn't want his wife to be away half the week.'

'But you made no objection when the thing started. In fact, Mr. Cryall thought that you were pleased and proud that your wife should have been offered this very important job.'

He mumbled something I could not quite catch, turning away from me so that his words were doubly lost, but what I thought I heard startled me considerably.

'I beg your pardon. What did you say?'

He muttered again, and this time I was sure he said something about 'that chap'.

I was so worried that I pressed on, determined to make sure.

'Are you suggesting that her work is merely a covering for something else—something that no one could possibly approve of?'

He still looked away from me, but twice I heard him say, 'I'm angry. . . . I'm angry.'

'Of course you're angry if you suspect anything of that sort. But how can you? She hasn't given you the smallest reason for it.'

I spoke almost violently, as if I believed every word I said, but at the same time my blood ran cold.

He said, and this time I heard him clearly, 'I'll have 'em watched.'

'Look here,' I began, then suddenly became aware that there was someone coming along the path towards us, for in those days public footpaths were used, and not neglected as they are now. George moved off, though whether it was to avoid me or to avoid young Sam Iggulsden, I cannot tell. He walked towards the hedge, and I, feeling quite unequal to Sam's company, went hurriedly on my way to the village.

I was now convinced of what I had always suspected—that [Pg 174] jealousy was the chief ingredient of George's new bitterness against his wife. It was not her mere absence that he objected to; indeed, the reason for it had flattered his self-esteem. He had always been proud of her education and attainments, to such a point that his pride became a part of her difficulties. I remembered Adam's words: 'He married a Cambridge graduate and a squire's daughter, and he wants her to behave like a Cambridge graduate and a squire's daughter.' He had resisted and resented her attempts to behave like a farmer's wife. He had seen no slight to himself in her pleasure in cultivated society. After all, it was he, not she, who had invited Anthony and Pamela to stay at Church Farm. He and Anthony had seemed to get on very well together. Something must have happened to change him—something Blanche had said—or he had heard. . . .

I was puzzled. I asked myself: had she blazed out at him under one of his provocations as she had blazed out at me, 'I loved Anthony Boutflower and I should have married him,' adding perhaps 'instead of you'? I could not be sure, but I did not think so. She had told me so much that I thought she would have told me this if it had happened. Or was his secretiveness an infection of their marriage? As to his having heard any rumour of her meeting Anthony in London, I felt that such a rumour could have reached him only as common property, in which case I should have heard it too. Of course 'that chap' may not have been Anthony, but if he were not, the situation was still more baffling. I did not feel inclined to discuss it with George again, and at first I hesitated as to whether I should tell Adam. I thought my fears and surmises were too vague to pass on. George had actually told me nothing. On the other hand, Adam ought to know of this new complication and possible explanation of his son-in-law's obstinacy. His optimism needed correction. I hesitated until it finally drove me to the point and I told him all.

Adam was not, as may have been easily gathered from these pages, the sort of freethinker who believes in free love. But neither [Pg 175] did he believe in an unbreakable marriage bond—which smacked altogether too much of the word of God—and he had for many years belonged to a society for reforming the divorce laws. But just as no amount of enthusiasm for prison reform will reconcile a respectable citizen to the idea of a member of his family going to gaol, so Adam's zeal to change the marriage laws failed to prepare him for his daughter's marriage ending in the divorce court. The modern attitude to divorce is so very different that it may be hard to imagine the consternation of a man neither conventional nor religious when faced with the threat of it twenty-five years ago.

'But this is shocking. I'd no idea it had come to this.'

'I'm afraid my information is rather vague,' I said. 'George would hardly speak to me, and when he did he muttered such a lot that I could not always hear what he was saying. But I'm pretty sure he's jealous and suspects somebody.'

'But whom can he suspect? It's incredible! My Blanche . . . the soul of honour and uprightness . . . how can he think her capable of . . . And how could there possibly be anyone? She works among women and girls all day, and spends her nights at Mrs. Boutflower's.'

I thought it best to say all I possibly could, and tore off the old school tie.

'Blanche once told me that long ago she was in love with Anthony Boutflower.'

'Anthony!' Adam laughed, 'why, they were brought up virtually as brother and sister.'

'That didn't stop them having some sort of an affair when she was at Cambridge. She told me about it—I can't think why, I suppose the conversation led that way—but she told me he had proposed and she had refused him.'

Adam looked annoyed. 'The young fool!'

'That's what I said.'

'Anyway that was all over and done with years ago.'

[Pg 176]

I hesitated. I must make him face at least as much as I saw of the situation.

'I'm not sure,' I said, 'that since then she's never regretted him. Not long ago—when the child died—she told me he was the only man she had ever really loved and that she ought to have married him.'

'But she was desperate then, poor girl. You can't go by what she said. She wasn't herself. I won't believe that she's still in love with Anthony—if she ever really was in love with him. Besides he's married now.'

'It may not be Anthony. I was only guessing. It may not be anyone outside George's imagination. He's worked himself up into this state of jealousy and suspicion, but goodness knows what started him off. Perhaps in an unguarded moment she told him about Anthony and he added that on to his vexation at her being away so much.'

Adam shook his head.

'The whole thing is incredible and outrageous. I must speak to George. It will never do if he goes about hinting at such things in the way that he did to you. I'll call at Church Farm and get him to tell me exactly what he suspects, and why.'

This seemed to me another instance of hope soaring beyond the bounds of reason, but I could not discourage him from such a course, seeing how much more closely he was involved than I. There was also the chance—no more than that—that as he had no dangerous dog to add to his offences, George might dislike him less than he disliked me.

I do not think that Adam obtained much satisfaction from his son-in-law. Anyway, he did not tell me the result of the interview, but went off next day to see Blanche in London. It was certainly the best thing to do, and perhaps should have been done first instead of afterwards, but again I felt doubtful as to what the result would be. It was a strange fact that neither of the Cryall girls seemed ever to have been disposed to confide in their father. [Pg 177] They had chosen rather to confide in me. There had been a good reason for this in Lindsay's case, since religion was involved, but why Blanche should have chosen an ageing bachelor cleric as a depository for her love affairs does not stand out so clearly.

Adam came back as I expected—with very little information, on which he had put the most hopeful construction possible. Most of it, I found, had come from Mrs. Boutflower. He had seen Blanche, who had told him that of course she often saw Anthony, and if going to a theatre with a man provided sufficient grounds for divorce, then George had a clear case and had better get started. She had no idea, however, what had made him jealous, except that Anthony was the only man whom he knew she knew.

It was Mrs. Boutflower who told Adam that after the first time she had stayed away another night there had been a stormy scene with George because she had repulsed his conjugal advances. It seemed odd that Mrs. Boutflower should have given this information, until I found that it had come out in the course of a conversation about Anthony's marriage—a subject to which Adam did not seem to attach the significance that I did. Anthony was having his troubles too. Pamela had had a miscarriage, followed by a nervous breakdown, of which the most distressing symptom was a pathological dislike of Anthony as a husband. The doctor had assured Mrs. Boutflower that the condition was not uncommon and would pass, but meanwhile poor Anthony was condemned to celibacy and, it seemed to me, particularly vulnerable to attraction elsewhere.

Adam did not share my fears—in fact they annoyed him. He became sententious.

'I don't understand you, Chamberlin. You talk as if you depend on Anthony rather than on Blanche to keep her marriage out of the divorce courts. Do you really think that because she has been brought up as a rationalist she doesn't understand and obey the moral law? You may require a God for your sacrifices, but she offers hers for the good of mankind. Even if she did love Anthony and knew he loved her, she would never do anything she knew to be base or antisocial. [Pg 178] No, until divorce can be granted on honourable grounds, Blanche will neither seek it nor give occasion for it.'

I was rebuked but not convinced. Blanche was no doubt a woman of honour, but she might see nothing dishonourable in seeking to be free of an impossible marriage in order to marry the man she loved. Then I remembered something and grinned as I said, 'Anyhow there would be no object in seeking a divorce to marry Anthony. His Church would not allow him to marry her, even if she was divorced.'

Adam did not grin as he said, 'An Anglican parson may not think it undignified to rely on the prohibitions of the Church of Rome, but I have a surer guarantee in my daughter's honour and uprightness.'

We left it at that.

Events moved slowly. George had abandoned neither of his campaigns, but their progress reflected the slowness as well as the secrecy of his reversion to type. I had practically forgotten the accusation he had brought against my Dinah when the policeman from Bapchild called. His visit was not a long one—the sight of the accused was enough to acquit her, even without my testimony or Mrs. Cooke's. The prosecution finally boiled down to a single cur at Ethnam, which had been in trouble before, and was sentenced to death proverbially on the strength of his bad name. But no decision of the police or magistrates could make George believe I was not guilty, and he showed his disapproval by ceasing to come to church.

He had never come much oftener than on Sunday evenings, but now he did not come at all, and Harold Lismore had to count the money either with my help or that of one of the sidesmen. Harold's arithmetic was very like his wife's, and I missed George's slow but accurate dealings with the alms-dish. However, it was time for the Easter vestry, and as I did not dream that George [Pg 179] would wish to be re-elected I had designs on young Sussex Fuller (as he was called on the isle), who read the Second Lesson.

But I was always finding something more that I did not know about the local mind, and at the Vestry Meeting a fresh field of my ignorance was exposed. There was no intention of not reelecting George, and his name was duly proposed and seconded by the sidesmen who had proposed and seconded it ever since he succeeded his father in office. I suggested that as he had apparently given up churchgoing he might not wish to serve, but I was assured that he did, and as he was not a Jew or a Catholic or a lunatic or a felon I could not refuse him. A few weeks later, perhaps fearing that his absence from church might give Adam the idea that he had rationalist sympathies, he began to attend, rather irregularly, the Ferry chapel.

The episode was a pointed—public opinion was on his side. As I have already said, he enjoyed a mysterious popularity in Ebony, and recent events had not affected it. This amazed me and made me wonder if the isle knew more about his affairs than Adam or I did. I had hitherto taken for granted that if he were acting on the strength of any local rumour I should have heard it too, but this might be only another indication of my having yet much more to learn about my parish. Of course, I knew that Blanche's behaviour as a wife did not come up to local standards, for I had heard some adverse comments on her weekly absence, even in its earlier, more pardonable, stages. But if that were all, I doubted if Palster would have submitted so tamely to being knocked down and having its dogs committed to destruction. I could not help fearing that there were some circumstances known in the cottages and public-houses, but deliberately withheld from the Manor and the Parsonage. Such a thing was possible, and did not necessarily point to our decline in favour. Indeed, goodwill might account for its suppression if it concerned Blanche. Adam was her father, and I was known to be her friend—we should be upset if we had any idea what she was really up to.

[Pg 180]

This suspicion was confirmed by my talkative old friend Ernie Turk. We had been prospecting the churchyard for the most suitable place to 'put down' old Mrs. Kemp, the farmer's mother at Barrow's Land, who had reluctantly consented to depart this life at the age of eighty-nine; and when at last after much consideration we had chosen our site, he suddenly asked me if 'Mus' Anthony and Miz' Boutflower' were coming to stay at Palster Manor this summer. I answered that I had not heard that they were.

'Then I reckon they woan't be coming at all this year.'

His words were clearly meant to imply that there was no chance of their being invited again to Church Farm. Not liking the subject, I was about to change it when he added, 'Sims a pity.' I felt more hopeful after this.

'You'd like to see them here again, would you?'

He shook his head.

'Not as things are. But it sims a pity he's turned out so bad.'

I felt bound to tell him that he had no right to say that.

'I suppose Mr. Haffenden's been abusing him to you, but you can't go by what he says. He's an angry and unhappy man, with all sorts of wrong ideas in his head. I do hope, Ernie, that you're not going about repeating these things. Ill-founded gossip like that does a lot of harm.'

I had measured my words, but evidently not enough. Vir paluster is sensitive to criticism, and Ernie was offended.

'Mus' Haffenden aun't toald me nothing,' he grumbled, 'but I know what I'm talking about, all the saum. Maybe wot's bad to me aun't bad to you, but I calls it bad when a chap taakes another chap's wife down into the Shires by an evening train and leaves his own wife at home.'

'Are you still talking of Mr. Anthony Boutflower?'

'Surelye. Naun other.'

'Of Mr. Anthony Boutflower and Mrs. Haffenden?'

He muttered something. He disliked what was evidently the [Pg 181] humour taking shape like this upon my lips, especially as my face and my voice showed him that I did not think the shape a pretty one.

'Who told you this?' I asked him. 'Come, Ernie—you can't just talk at random.'

'I talk of what I know.'

I was resolved to keep my temper, for only in some return of his goodwill was there any hope of my finding out anything, and I was now quite determined to find out.

'Look here,' I said, 'you and I have always been good friends and done a lot of work together, but it isn't treating me as a friend to hint at things like this, unless you tell me everything. I'm very much concerned about these two people, and if you can tell me more about them, I shall be most grateful. I've suspected for some time that there's been some sort of rumour going round, but as I don't know what it is, I can't confirm it or deny it. After all, I'm the Rector here, and it's my business to know.'

Ernie was not like George, and he relented.

'It was Sam Boorman saw'em when he was coming back from his wife's mother's funeral—her wot died somewheres in the Shires. He saw'em on the platform together, getting into the train, him carrying a bag; and it was laate in the day, fur he and his Missus had to sleep at her sister's, having missed the last train home.'

'Was that all he saw?—just those two getting into the train with a bag?'

'It wur enough, surelye.'

'Not nearly enough in my opinion. What station was it?'

But Ernie didn't know, except that it was 'the station for the Shires'.

'In London,' I said, 'there are several stations for the Shires, and one of them is St. Pancras. It's where you take the train for St. Albans, which is where Mr. Boutflower's sister lives with her family. She had probably invited them both for the night, or they may have been only going down to dinner. When did this happen?'

But again Ernie did not know.

[Pg 182]

I felt irritated and frustrated. I had only a slight acquaintance with the Boormans, who were chapel people, but I had heard about the funeral in the Shires. Boorman had married a 'foreign' maid in service at Bellhurst on the Sussex shore of the Marsh, and her mother had died some weeks—or was it months?—ago. I had been told they had gone to the funeral, but 'the Shires' had been considered a sufficient destination.

'Now, Ernie,' I said, 'if you hear any more of this you can tell whoever tells you that Mr. Boutflower has this sister living at St. Albans, which is quite near London, and no doubt he often goes down to see her late in the evening, because he works all day. His wife wouldn't want to go with him, because she isn't well, but Mrs. Haffenden is one of his sister's greatest friends—she'd be glad of a chance to go when she was staying in London. It really is a shame that these two people can't go together to see a sister and an old friend without being suspected of something wicked.'

Ernie said nothing, and I said no more, because a painful thought had forced its way among my happy guesses. If Blanche had paid this perfectly innocent visit to Megs, why had she said nothing to George about it? For obviously she had not told him, or when the Boorman rumour reached him he would not have reacted so violently. He had never in the past shown any disposition to be jealous of Anthony—something must have touched him off, and what more likely match for the explosion than the discovery that Blanche, on one of her resented absences, had left London for a night without telling him a word about it? That alone would have been enough to upset him, even without Anthony and the bag. But if you added Anthony and the bag . . . and then added her repulse of her husband's advances . . . and then three extra, uncovenanted nights . . . I shook my head over the sum. It added up into a very substantial case for George against his wife. He really had a grievance, and considering all things, he had been slow to wrath. I wondered how long ago he had heard all this, and did Blanche know what he had heard?

[Pg 183]

Lost in these thoughts, I had forgotten Ernie, and now that I remembered him, I could not say any more. What I had already said might or might not do some good in scotching the rumour, but my own heart was in a turmoil. I switched back for a few last words about Mrs. Kemp's grave, and then hurried home to the Parsonage. Here I sat down at once and wrote to the only person who could help me—my little Megs—asking her if Blanche had been to see her at St. Albans since starting her lectures at Mill Hill. I made it as non-committal as I could, and I did not mention Anthony. Three days later her reply came in a long letter, of which for a time I could read and re-read only one sentence: 'I have not seen Blanche since she came down here with Anthony to dinner about three months ago.'

I sang—literally and audibly sang—with relief. Here was, after all, the perfectly innocent cause of this silly and wicked rumour. My guesses had indeed been right, though I had not dared to believe them. Blanche had gone down to St. Albans to dinner with her old friend, and Anthony had been invited too, just as I had said. The bag? It may have been the attache-case with which he had gone to business, or he may have been taking something to his sister, or carrying something for Blanche. There were a dozen possible explanations. As for her not having told George about the expedition, it was probably such an ordinary, simple event that she had not thought of mentioning it, especially if it had happened on the night she regularly spent in town. Of course, if she had known of the rumour she would have told him at once, but how could she have known unless he had told her?—it was his fatal silence and secrecy that had done this. Rejoicing, I restored the blame to his side. As for her repulse of him as a lover, even an inexperienced bachelor could understand that a wife might not favour such advances from a sulking husband. Words with which she once had startled me came back into my mind, and I saw her as too fine to accept any more of these carnal reconciliations. She [Pg 184] would not give her body unless her love and understanding went with it, and as he himself had cast these out, his was the repulse.

When I had read the rest of Megs's letter I saw the situation yet more clearly. She was worried about Blanche, but not in the same way as I had been.

'I don't think she realizes what an impossible life she has let herself in for—neither married nor single. I know that you think about these things very much as we do, and we all feel she ought to go back to George, difficult as he is. Can't you persuade him to go just a little way to meet her? It's difficult to ask someone who has no religion to go all the way. But George must have some religion, or he would not be your churchwarden'—bless your Catholic ignorance, my dear—'and if only he would forget the past, for which after all she was not to blame, as she acted only out of goodness and mercy, they might still be happy together, for I always thought him such a nice man'—a truly surprising view of George, but typical of Megs.

Her version of Anthony's troubles showed, I thought, a less charitable disposition.

'Pamela's terribly nervy, and though I know she's been through a bad time, I wish she could realize that it's been nearly as bad for him. In fact, I think that at the moment he's decidedly got the worst of it. She's staying with her family in Yorkshire for a few weeks, and I hope that will put her right. But it's hard for Anthony having to manage for himself, and he's terribly worried about whether he ought or ought not to accept this job in Paris. It means promotion for him, but he can't get her to say whether or not she wants to go and live over there. By the time she makes up her mind he may have lost the chance.'

A job in Paris! That sounded good to me. The English Channel would flow safely between him and Blanche, and even George might forget his suspicions. I was surprised, for I had thought Anthony irrevocably fixed at the Bank of England, and evidently [Pg 185] Megs thought I knew more than I actually did, for she did not tell me anything further about it.

The rest of the letter gave news of her mother and the bed-and-breakfast house, which she said Blanche would shortly be leaving, as she had found a flat in Chelsea; it also told me about all the other Boutflowers. I am afraid I did not study this part of it very closely, for I already knew all I wanted to know. I finished my breakfast with renewed appetite, and then went out into the parish to kill the rat of rumour with the hard stick of fact.

At one time I had wondered if I ought to tell George, but decided that he had better hear about the matter from someone else. He was so prejudiced against me that he might not believe me in spite of the evidence. But I told old Ernie for a start, and then made out a visiting-list of cottages which I already knew as springs of gossip. I was perfectly frank. I said I had only just heard the rumour and had immediately made inquiries which had showed me it was without foundation. I think most people believed me, and some even were glad to know that the Squire's daughter was not, after all, a bad lot. By the end of the morning I was heartily tired of that trip to St. Albans, and felt sure that Blanche would not have been so selfish as to take it if she had known all the trouble it would give me.

I decided, however, to call at the Manor before I went home. Here again I had hesitated—Adam had not heard the rumour, so there was no urgent need for him to be told it was groundless. On the other hand, it could conceivably still reach him, so it might as well arrive accompanied by its own refutation. Besides, he knew that George was muttering threats of divorce, and it would comfort him to realize that his suspicions had been roused by a mere tale.

I had feared that the tale itself might distress him—the knowledge that his daughter's reputation had been so defamed. But I found him inclined to take the matter lightly.

'It isn't often that an Ebony rumour is without foundation, and apart from the nature of this one, I'm always pleased when it happens. [Pg 186] I remember once that the whole isle insisted that Noakes of Starvenden was going to give me notice and move to a farm near Court-at-Street. It was all quite circumstantial, but he swears he never had the smallest idea of it. There's only partial truth in the proverb, "No smoke without fire", and that was a case of a rumour started without any foundation at all. This one at least has a small basis of fact.'

'But not enough to bear the construction that's been put on it. I shall preach next Sunday on the wickedness of spreading gossip and scandal.'

'Perhaps now,' said Adam cheerfully, 'there's a hope of George being brought to see reason. When he finds out that there's nothing at all to justify his suspicions he may feel ashamed of them.'

I rather doubted that.

That sermon on the evils of gossip was never preached. On the Friday night I had a letter from Blanche. She had not written to me since going to live in London, but I thought at once: this is to give me the address of her new flat. And there sure enough was '15, Cloudesley Mansions, Chelsea, S.W.' engraved at the letter's head. But the letter was not about the flat.


I am writing to you instead of to Father, because I think it would be best if you told him what I have to say. I'm afraid it will be a terrible blow to him—and to you too, for the matter of that—and it struck me when he last came to see me in town that he was not looking well. So will you of your great kindness break to him the news that I am letting George divorce me. I had a letter from him (that is Father) yesterday morning which told me that all sorts of rumours about me have been going round, but he seems to think, poor darling, that they have been disproved by some investigations on your part. That's as may be, and certainly the journey to St. Albans was innocent enough. But by the time you get this Anthony and I will have gone to France together. We had meant to wait till the end of term, but I can't let poor Father go on [Pg 187] thinking that everything has been comfortably explained when it hasn't. So I have cut my last few lectures and we leave tonight. Believe me, I should not have done this if Anthony's marriage had not failed as well as mine. I don't know how much you have heard about this, but you can take it from me that he and Pamela have lost all affection for each other, and now she has definitely refused to accompany him to his new job in Paris. I expect that she, too, will bring an action for divorce. So there we are, and I am sorry for all the pain that this letter will give you and Father. I know that he does not disapprove of divorce in theory, but in practice he will be shocked at the idea of my being the 'guilty partner'. As for you, you don't have to tell me that it cuts across all your ideas of what is right and good. So please forgive me and believe that I know what I am doing. When all this fuss is over I hope that Anthony and I will be able to show you that we can make a good thing out of life. I really do think we are entitled to a little happiness after all the misery we have both been through. We were fools not to have married years ago.

Our immediate plans are uncertain. His new job does not begin till September, and till then we shall probably stay at some little place in the Auvergne. Tell Father I will send him our address as soon as we are settled. And please tell him to look after himself and not to worry about me. I think that for the first time in my life I am going to be really happy.


P.S. I have no right to be happy when I have caused so much misery—to Father and to you and to the Boutflower family. They will feel it most, because their religion comes into it. Anthony is writing to his mother.

After that it was only to be expected that Adam's small measure of health should fail. Apart from the shock and misery caused by Blanche's letter, the heat of that summer had a very bad effect on him. Sometimes in hot weather the Isle of Ebony is swallowed up in an airless haze which covers not only the Rother levels but all great Romney Marsh beyond. The isle lies a shapeless lump, with Chapel Bank a smaller lump beside, it, so colourless and featureless that the woods are no more than stains on the meadowland and the church spire is smudged into the churchyard trees. No wind stirs, and a sort of miasma steams out of the earth, such [Pg 188] as in years gone by brought ague and marsh fever to the viri palustres. There is no ague or marsh fever now, but the thick, still air in which they used to thrive hangs over us like a weight. Adam felt it acutely. He could not breathe, and after a few days' struggle retired to bed.

He insisted that it was the weather and not Blanche's news which caused his illness.

'I hope,' he said, 'that I'm able to take a rap as well as the next man.'

But I think he knew that I did not believe him. What he called a rap had been a crushing blow. I had broken it to him as gently as I could, but there was no softening the hard fact that his favourite daughter had most bitterly disappointed him. Her honour and her integrity . . . where were they? She had behaved just like any ordinary unprincipled woman in love, stealing her happiness out of other people's hearts, and there was about it all a humbug and inconsistency that dyed every word she had written in excuse. She was deceiving herself and trying to deceive us about Anthony's marriage, the troubles of which she must know were only temporary, and it almost made one smile to see her cutting nearly half a term of those precious lectures, not one of which could be cut to save her marriage to George. And then to make out that her father's story of Ebony's gossip and my refutation of it had driven her to this reckless flight. . . . I felt quite furious with Adam when he found excuses for her in the unfairness of the divorce laws—'If only cruelty had been made a ground for divorce, we should have had a good case against George, and none of this would have happened.'

I could not agree, but I would not argue. In spite of my fury, I would do nothing to add to the distress of my old friend. Instead, I sat down and wrote to Blanche—a flaming, coruscating letter, the angriest letter I have written in my life. It was a good thing that I did not know where to send it.

By the time that she had given us her address my heart had [Pg 189] cooled and I felt rather ashamed of some of the things I had written, so I tore the letter up.

I think it was to Mrs. Boutflower that the change was chiefly due. When I saw her wrestling with her own sorrow, she made me feel that anger was out of place. She had broken down completely on first hearing the news, and Adam had invited her to stay at Palster Manor, hoping that they would be able to comfort each other and that the rest and change would do her good.

I doubt whether they comforted each other much, except for that wordless sympathy which was a part of their almost life-long friendship. They approached the tragedy from two different angles, and while he was shocked and irritated by what he called her 'eschatological view' of it, she was bored and irritated by his moral indignation.

'Why should he expect the wretched girl to sacrifice herself to a set of moral values or put the welfare of humanity before the man she loves? I never thought the sort of upbringing he gave those girls could stand any real strain, and when I think of what Anthony has flung aside'—tears for the moment choked her—'I simply can't find it in my heart to blame Blanche.'

I think she found more comfort in talking to me than to Adam, for though there was less hell-fire in my outlook than in hers, I naturally saw things from the religious and ecclesiastical point of view. To neither of us were divorce and a second marriage any solution to the problem, and though I could not go so far as she did in horror and fear at such a prospect, I at least understood what she must feel.

'It's sad to think,' she said, 'that my chief hope lies in Anthony's impulsiveness. He's always been impulsive—changeable. . . . I used to shake my head over it, but I'm banking on it now. I know that it will be terrible for Blanche if he leaves her, but she will not suffer so much as I—as all of us—as he will in the end—if he does not.'

Remembering that Anthony's love for Blanche went back to her undergraduate days, I could not see him as so very changeable [Pg 190] where she was concerned. But Mrs. Boutflower knew nothing of this, and I would not be so cruel as to enlighten her.

'When he was a boy,' she continued brokenly, 'he wanted to be a priest. I knew he had not the perseverance for that; and of course it was a disappointment to the whole family when he married a non-Catholic girl . . . he's never been quite the same as the rest of us about these things. But he's always practised his religion—I thought that there at least his heart was fixed. And I believe it is still. These things go deeper than the things that change, and my prayer is that he does not do anything that would make repentance more difficult. I know that you understand me, my friend.'

I understood her very well—much better than I understood a man who, brought up with religion as a part of daily life and family love, had yielded to a temptation which I now acknowledge might have been too strong for mere ethical resistance.

'Do you know,' I asked, 'if his wife intends to divorce him?'

'No, I don't. You've heard of his difficulties with her, and of course, as she isn't a Catholic, she may jump at the chance. But the last letter I had from her before this happened was quite different from the earlier ones. She seemed much better, and almost to look forward to coming home. That's what makes it all so terrible'—and her tears flowed again, though she had never been the weeping sort of woman.

Of course, the story of Blanche and Anthony was now all over the isle. She had written to George from Paris and sent him an hotel bill, so that he should have no difficulty in setting the law in motion. I wondered if he would show any signs of shame or affliction at this public end to his marriage. But on the contrary, it almost seemed to please him—as if in a curious way he had been justified. Certainly he went about his business of divorcing Blanche without any of the muttering and secrecy he had indulged in when merely suspecting her. His elder sister conveniently became a widow at this time, and he invited her to live at Church Farm and keep [Pg 191] house for him. He still absented himself from church, and refused to speak to Adam, but I was told that at markets and with the other farmers of the isle he was almost his old self again.

As for the gossips, of course they had always been right, and the journey to St. Albans was restored with honours to the place from which I had dislodged it with so much effort—indeed, as evidence, it came in time to rank with the journey to France. But everyone was sorry for Adam and scrupulous not to say or do anything that might add to his distress. The parish still—in fact more outspokenly—favoured George, and what it said about Blanche I was careful not to hear, but Adam did not lose any popularity or prestige through his share in the tragedy. That Blanche might have done better if she had received a different sort of upbringing did not seem to occur to anyone except Mrs. Boutflower and myself.

The Lismores were highly indignant, but all their blame was for the Haffenden marriage.

'He should never have allowed her to marry that oaf. Of course they couldn't be happy together, and it's only natural that she should gravitate back into her own class. I hope to goodness that Boutflower's wife divorces him, so that they can get married, and she may find a little happiness at last.'

A liberal attitude towards divorce was Mrs. Lismore's current phase of enlightenment. On the other hand, the attitude of the squirearchy and professional classes of the Weald was more like that of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. It seems strange to look back across the war and its sexual aftermath on a society in which the word divorcée was applied to somebody almost too bad to be described in English. Whether she married again or not, Blanche would wear that label and be excluded from the homes of decent people. And what would happen when she inherited Palster Manor, with her ex-husband living barely a mile away? I feared that she might find atheism far easier to live down than adultery. Only apparently at Lambstand would she be received, and not even [Pg 192] there if Tom and Lindsay were visitors. 'I could not possibly allow her to meet the children,' said Lindsay.

But it was some time before the promised letter arrived to give her father Blanche's settled address. July was over and August in full flight before he received it. The couple must have wandered about a lot, or more probably did not want to hear from anyone at home. Adam let me see the letter. It was not unlike the first in that it lamented the misery she knew she had caused, and it made me wonder whether it was better to offend and be aware of it or to offend without knowing. I had always said that deliberate rudeness was a more hopeful sign than being rude in ignorance, as the offender at least understood what good manners were; but I was not so sure about selfishness. If Blanche really knew the misery she caused, she was a sinner against the light and most unlikely to reform; but I do not think she knew. In fact, she could not have known. So I granted her a measure of that excuse which the mercy of God himself once made for mankind.

She and Anthony were staying at a small place called Ste. Pelagie des Monts in a narrow valley of the Massif Central. She wrote enthusiastically about the scenery and the weather, declared that they were both well and inquired so tenderly after her father's health that it was hard to realize she was unaware how ill he was or that he might have died without anyone being able to let her know.

He was better now, but not what he used to be before the summer, and he had abandoned his regular practice of riding round his estate every morning. His car now took him to any place where his presence was required.

'It's a surrender,' he said to me with a faint smile. 'I shall surrender gradually—slowly—giving up with a good grace ground I can no longer hold. It's more dignified, I think, than struggling.'

I begged him either to let Blanche know how ill he was or to let me tell her. But he shook his head.

'No, Chamberlin. That would be blackmail. When they're settled [Pg 193] in Paris I may let her know, as then she could fairly easily come over here to see me. But let's leave her now and give her own conscience a chance to act.'

The chance, I thought, was a feeble one. But I did not write. I could not have written without mentioning Adam or mention him without alluding to his health, so I did not write at all, though she had sent me a very kind message. My earlier letter I tore up, as I have said.

Anthony had written to his mother at the same time as Blanche wrote to Adam, producing a very different reaction. She had now been back in her own home some weeks, so at first I could only guess how the letter had been received. But I felt for her enough to write offering my prayers and sympathy, little knowing how much more closely I was to be involved. It now seems strange to think that to the Boutflower family I owe one of the most remarkable experiences of my uneventful life.

I was sitting in my study after supper one still, rather close evening, idly dipping into Furley's History of the Weald of Kent, and still more idly wishing that I had been born two hundred years earlier than I was, when there was a ring at the door-bell and, instead of the expected parishioner with a paper to be signed or a tale to be told, in walked the unexpected Megs Conlan.

I sprang to my feet.

'Hullo!' I cried. 'I'd no idea you were in these parts.'

'It's only for a couple of days. I came down to talk to Uncle Adam about what I'm going to do. I couldn't do it without telling him first, and I thought I'd like to tell you too.'

As far as her little round face and plump figure would allow, she looked strained and tired. I made her sit in an armchair and rang for Mrs. Cooke to make some coffee.

'I'm glad to see you,' I said. 'It's a long time since you've been here, and it's kind of you to say you want to tell me what you've told Cryall. I hope, my dear, it's nothing very sad.'

[Pg 194]

'Everything's sad now,' she said in her little soft voice, 'or this would be exciting. I'm going to France.'

I stared at her. It was idle to pretend I did not know what she meant; nevertheless, my breath stopped for a moment. There she sat, so small that my big chair seemed to swallow her, and her short legs stuck out like a child's and would not reach the floor. Yet she had conceived—or, if others had conceived, she was to carry out—this mad, difficult, useless plan.

'You!' I said. That was all.

'Yes, me,' she laughed. 'You see, none of the others could go. Mother isn't particularly well these days, and Anne can't be spared from the boarding-house. Francis can't get leave from his office, and Denis's Clementina is expecting a baby this month. As for the girls, they just can't manage it, with their homes to run, and they haven't the money either. Terence and I are lucky that way. We can afford it if I go second class on the main line and third afterwards, and there's a nursemaid for the children. So it had to be.'

'But, Megs—surely—I mean I know what you all feel about this, but is it really advisable that anyone should go? What good do you think you're going to do?'

Her eyes filled with tears.

'Now we know where he is, we must do something. We can't just let him go like that.'

I hardly knew what to say.

'But . . . has your mother written?'

'Oh, yes, of course.'

'Then do you really feel—hope that you can do more than her letter might?'

She nodded gravely.

'Yes, I think seeing me . . . and knowing I had come all that way . . . he and I were always a special sort of brother and sister.'

'But he must know how he's hurting you all. What new persuasion can you bring to bear?'

[Pg 195]

She looked at me, and again her eyes glazed slowly with tears as she murmured, 'Our faith.'

'But surely . . . my dear child, hang it all! He knows—none better—that he's breaking the law of God.'

'Oh, he does—it's terrible . . . yet if I was there . . . you see, alone with Blanche he can shut his mind. She can make him think that he's like her. But he isn't, and never can be.'

'Then do you mean to appeal to Blanche?'

'Oh, no. It wouldn't be any use. I don't suppose she knows they're doing wrong.'

This seemed to be going one step further than Mrs. Boutflower, and I could not allow it.

'Of course she knows, my dear. She may be an agnostic, but her father's daughter could not fail to know that it's wrong for a married woman to run away with a married man.'

'But she thinks both their marriages have failed, and she sees nothing wrong in divorce, so it's only natural for her to want to marry him and make a fresh start. That's what we dread so much. She's a much stronger character than he is, and she might be able to make him think—make him feel he must . . . unless there's someone on the other side to plead.'

'Plead? Is that what you mean to do?'

'Yes. That's all I can do. There'd be no sense in arguing, for he knows.'

'You say you've told Adam. What does he think of it?'

'He thinks like you that I'd better not go. He doesn't understand.'

This nettled me, but as Mrs. Cooke at that moment brought in the coffee I could say nothing till we were settled with our cups and she had gone out again.

'Look here,' I said then, 'have you ever been in France before?'

'No, I've never been abroad. We haven't been able to afford it.'

'Can you speak French?'

She shook her head.

'I ought to be able to—the nuns did their best to teach me when [Pg 196] I was at school, but I never was any good at it, and now I seem to have forgotten it all completely. It may come back when I find myself over there.'

'That's doubtful, and it may not be much use if it does. Really, Megs, I don't like the idea of your setting out alone on this wild-goose chase. For that's what I honestly believe it to be. I don't think you'll be able to do the smallest good. Anthony will probably be annoyed—in fact, furious—at your coming. Is it really worth facing a long, difficult journey—for this place they're at seems quite out of the way—I don't suppose it even has a railway station——?'

'No; I've found out all that—Terence did it for me at Cook's. There's no station, but I can go by train as far as Le Puy, and a coach goes from there over the pass——'

'You'll be worn out by the time you arrive and fit for nothing. Then, as I say, Anthony will probably be furious when he sees you. And where shall you stay? They most likely will be staying at the only decent inn, and I'm sure they won't want you staying there with them. I expect you'll find you're only making matters worse——'

'Oh, don't,' she cried, 'don't make me doubt myself.'

But I ruthlessly pressed the advantage I seemed to have gained.

'If I believed you could do the smallest bit of good by going, I'd say so; go, and risk it. But what good do you think you can do? Do you seriously think you can persuade Anthony to leave Blanche and go back to his wife? If his religion didn't prevent him leaving her, I can't see that any appeal you make to it will send him back. You yourself say he knows what he is doing. So how can you hope to persuade him? Have you any concrete proposals to offer?'

I was making her cry, but she still faced up to me.

'We all—all the family—believe he's been made to think that Pamela doesn't want him any more. Blanche thinks that, but it isn't true. She's had a nervous breakdown and behaved very oddly—badly, in fact. But she's his wife, and the doctor says that if she has another child—and there's no physical reason why she shouldn't—[Pg 197]she'll probably be quite normal again. She's better as it is, and we all feel sure she doesn't really want to divorce him, though she seems to think she ought to.'

'Ought to?'

'Yes—not be a dog in the manger—a woman who won't let a man go if he's tired of her. She doesn't in the least understand things. If she refused to divorce him Anthony wouldn't be able to marry Blanche, and in time he might come to himself—come back to the Church. But if they're both divorced, he may feel he's got to marry her, and then—and then there'll be all sorts of difficulties, and he may let his mind be turned upside down and not even think he's doing wrong.'

We sat for a while in silence. We had finished our coffee and apparently our conversation. But Megs did not go, and I did not want her to—not until I had finished thinking. I had been thinking all the time we had been talking. Ideas and plans had chased each other across my mind while my tongue argued vainly with a gentle, determined woman. Now I wanted to get my thoughts into a practical shape. The dusk came down from the ceiling as we sat there, and the windows gathered the light out of the room.

At last I said, 'My dear, are you quite determined to go after them?'

She answered, 'Yes—quite.'

'Then I'm coming with you.'

She stared at me, and on her face was a look of mingled surprise, bewilderment, doubt and, I hoped and thought, delight.

'Mr. Chamberlin, you can't mean it.'

'I do mean it. I very much dislike the idea of your going that long, complicated journey by yourself, and then at the end of it finding yourself in such a very difficult situation. I haven't much experience of foreign travel, but as a young man I sometimes went to France, and I speak French after a fashion. I think you'll find me useful on the journey, and at least not in the way at the journey's end.'

[Pg 198]

'But how can you manage it? What about your church? We're sure to be away at least one Sunday.'

'I can arrange for someone to do the duty here. There's a retired clergyman in Marlingate who always comes when I have my holiday, and I'm pretty sure I can get hold of him now.'

'And then there's the expense. Even if we travelled third class all the way——'

'We're not going to travel third class. I'm not a poor man, Megs, and I think I may afford myself this trip. I'm sure your family will be pleased to know you've got someone with you.'

'Yes, they will. Terence didn't at all like the thought of my going alone. He'd have come with me himself, but he's only just had his holiday and can't leave the office again so soon. Besides, we couldn't have afforded another ticket. Mother didn't like my being alone either; but they both saw that I must go.'

'Well, I don't see it at all, but I'm going with you. In a way I shall enjoy it, and it will be an experience for me—get me out of my rut. When do you want to start?'

'As soon as possible—early next week.'

'Very well, then. I'll get hold of Potter at once and be ready to take you to France next Monday or Tuesday.'

She said almost nothing for a few moments. Then she murmured almost as if I shouldn't hear, 'You dear friend.'

I could not see her any longer now, for the darkness had quite fallen between us. I said, 'I'm going to take you back to Palster Manor. We can discuss details on the way.'

[Pg 199]

Chapter VIII

So it happened that on a fine morning early in September Megs Conlan and I set out for France. I had not been abroad for thirty years, and she had never made a journey longer than that from Leeds to Palster, my French was old and rusty and hers a nightmare left over from school, but in certain respects we travelled more easily than today. There were no passports, and the exchange was a simple matter of twenty-five francs to the pound, while the Customs—appeased by our modest pinches of tobacco and tea—did not trouble us with a search for diamonds or other occult forms of contraband.

We spent the first night in Paris at a small hotel near the Quai d'Orsay station. Megs was far too tired for us to attempt the night journey. The Channel crossing had been smooth but alarming to her inexperience, while her English stomach had been further shocked by the food on the train. For my part, I must confess that I was enjoying the expedition more than I had expected. The complete change—of air, of scene, of food, of language—was stimulating after all those years when I had gone no farther afield than London or the Shires. I was glad to see France again, and soon I found my forgotten French reviving beyond my hopes. I frequently told myself that my coming was an excellent thing on Megs's account—indeed, I still cannot think how she would have managed without me—but common honesty forced me to add that it was not altogether a bad thing on my own.

[Pg 200]

Apart from this, our attitudes were reversed, for Megs travelled in hope and I without a gleam of it. She looked forward to the journey's end that I dreaded, knowing that our troubles would begin when she thought them over. But I did not like to add to her trials by discouragement, and all the next day as we made our way down central France I listened to her hopeful talk without intruding my own fears.

'I don't say that I'll be able to persuade Anthony to come home with me—I can see that he wouldn't—that he couldn't—do that. But when he sees me perhaps he'll realize what he's doing in a way he hasn't before. He's thoughtless and easily swayed by his feelings, and now Blanche fills up his life. I'm bringing the old life back to him—his faith. Oh, dear Mr. Chamberlin, though you don't belong to our Church—I'm sure you know what our faith means to us.'

I thought I did, but even so, I was unable to share her conviction that it had only to be stirred up like a sulking fire in order to devour the dross of Anthony's love for Blanche.

'If this turns out well,' she said, 'and he doesn't finally cut himself off from the Church by marrying her, it'll be your doing as much as mine. I see now what an impossible adventure this would have been without you. But you've been so kind—you've made everything so easy—and I shall arrive feeling equal to the situation, as I'm sure I should never have done if I'd struggled all this way alone. Besides, there's Blanche—I should never have been able to tackle Blanche.'

'You surely don't expect me to do so.'

She smiled uncertainly.

'I'd hoped you would.'

'But, my dear child, I've nothing to hold her by. You say you can appeal to Anthony's faith. There's nothing I can appeal to in Blanche. She's taken what appears to her the only way; with her there's no going back to the cross-roads and trying another one.'

'But if you could make her see all the misery she's causing.'

'She would still see all the joy she's giving the man she loves.'

[Pg 201]

'But his joy can't be real—it's a deception of the devil.'

'How do you expect me to make her see that?'

She shook her head, hurt a little, I think, by my lack of co-operation.

'You've told me yourself,' I continued, 'that you believe she doesn't think she's doing wrong. I don't agree with you. I believe she knows she's doing wrong, but doesn't see why she shouldn't. Her father brought her up with a moral outlook as strict as any to be found in your Church. Unfortunately he built without a foundation—at least without any solid enough to carry the weight of sacrifice. Her father is not a logical man; he carried his Christian preconceptions unedited into secularism. Blanche has a more logical mind and no Christian preconceptions. She has no idea of sacrificing her own and Anthony's happiness to the common good or their personal present to the future of the race. As for the misery she's causing, she would probably say she must cause misery anyhow—to herself and Anthony if not to others. And why should she choose others before herself and the man she loves? Mark you, I'm not defending her. I leave that to you.'

'Oh, I'm not defending her,' said my artless Megs, 'but I always think you can appeal to people—to their better feelings. There was a case I once heard of—Terence told me—of one of our priests, a dreadful thing. He ran away with a woman. I don't know if she was married or not—I don't think she was. But that really made no difference. I mean if he had married her himself, he would have been lost. But the Bishop went after him and followed him to where he was and went down on his knees before them both and appealed to him in the name of his priesthood, and to the woman in the name of her love for the man; and they were both so stricken that they parted at once.'

'Well, I'm not going down on my knees to anyone, and surely you see, my dear, that the cases aren't parallel. I can hardly appeal to Blanche in the name of the future of the human race.'

'But you can in the name of her love for Anthony.'

[Pg 202]

There were times when I wondered how I could be so fond of Meg, for she never could talk long without saying something silly. None of the Boutflowers could be called clever or intellectual, but most of them (always excepting Anthony) were sensible; and indeed, when I saw Megs with her devoted husband and happy, healthy children I had to grant that she was sensible too. But mentally she was limited, and my affection for her must have been much like a father's—probably still for the little fat child I had loved years ago and whose image her continuing sweetness and docility had kept undefaced.

There were moments, however, on that journey when the conversation was more illuminating. She was able to shed light on parts of the story which had hitherto been dark to me. It appeared that until the final break-up the Boutflowers had known nothing of George's suspicions, and it had seemed natural to them that Anthony, left solitary by his wife's illness, should take Blanche to a concert or a theatre when she came for her weekly visit to town. Megs was quite sure that at first they did not meet except on such harmless, public occasions. But by the time of the final break between Blanche and George, Anthony's own marrriage was in a bad way, and the family had become anxious about them both.

'Mother started being worried—she thought perhaps they oughtn't to go about together so much, though we still had no idea that Anthony had anything to do with her leaving George. Mother thought it might make things more difficult with Pamela. But I don't think she said anything to Blanche, and I'm quite sure she and Anthony would not have done anything dreadful while she was still living in Mother's house. But then she found this flat, and of course we don't know how often she saw him there. Though somehow I don't think they'd have carried on in secret—at least not for long. Blanche wanted to give grounds for divorce and for Anthony to give them too. That's why they went off together like this.'

That now seemed clear. What was less clear was why we were going after them.

[Pg 203]

We arrived at Le Puy late at night, and the platform was swept by rain. A cab took us to two hotels before we found accommodation. This part of the trip was always most embarrassing. French hotels do not appear to contain many single rooms, and the receptionists invariably failed to see why Megs and I should reject a double one. I found myself unequal to explaining our relationship in a foreign tongue, and was well aware that it would have to be very remote indeed before it gave us the right to separation. My Roman collar was an added difficulty. In Paris, no doubt, I had been recognized as an English clergyman, but in less sophisticated parts my status was dubious. The French clergy invariably wear their cassocks, and in any case do not travel alone with women unless closely related to them. I was, of course, known to be a foreigner, but Megs's episcopal anecdote had made me wonder if I was also thought to be on the spree. Only in that case surely I should have changed my collar. . . . It was impossible to know. I could only repeat 'Non—non. Il nous faut deux chambres separées'—'Mais, Monsieur, la belle chambre! et deux grands lits!'—Non—non—Je veux deux.' Scarcely a dialogue from Chardenal or Le Petit Precepteur—and I cannot tell if the nuns would have been pleased or sorry to know that their ex-pupil had not understood a word of it.

The next morning the sun shone, lighting up a world that filled us both with delight and wonder. I was in a part of France quite unknown to me—indeed, I had no idea that the country possessed so much fantastic beauty. The normal loveliness of mountain scenery was enhanced by the terror of uncouth volcanic shapes. Hills were capped with ligneous knobs, and from the plain rose turrets and pinnacles that it was hard to believe were only rocks; while everywhere man, as if to proclaim his triumph over the impossible, had crowned nature's work with his own—castles, churches, statues, poised on such apparently inaccessible heights that it was easier to imagine them dropped from above than raised from below.

Megs and I gazed at it all and marvelled. We should have liked to spend the day in this strange and lovely place. But there was no [Pg 204] time to do more than buy view-postcards of it for her husband and children. The rest of our journey was to be by road, in what must have been one of the last horse-drawn diligences in France. Ste. Pelagie des Monts was buried deep in the mountains of Massif Central, at the far end of a long, twisted valley. One might have thought that the lovers had feared pursuit and had hidden themselves from it in the remotest parts of the earth. Yet I am convinced that in the hot, gay sunshine of that day they had not a thought of the plump little English housewife and elderly Anglican clergyman who were rattling and bumping their way towards them.

I had always dreaded this last stage of the journey, feeling that my conviction of the failure of its end would plunge me also into the last stage of my fears. But as we drove down the long, green chain of valleys between the mountain walls, through vineyards and villages trellised with vines, through pastures where the shepherdess sat knitting among her sheep and the shepherd walked slowly ahead of them beside the river, a strange peace and acceptance came down upon me, the blessing of the hills. I could feel my anxious heart tune into harmony with this pastoral country, so that instead of fear and foreboding were sunshine and the shadow of the mountain and the slow movements of the flock. It is a state I cannot adequately describe. I had never known it before, in spite of all the sheep on Romney Marsh, and I have never known it since, except perhaps in occasional moments of reading the twenty-third psalm—'He shall feed me in a green pasture and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort. He shall convert my soul and bring me forth in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death . . .'—it is nothing but the shadow of a great height. In this far country I no longer felt the shepherd I was at home, but one of the sheep. Yet I cannot call it a specifically religious experience, or perhaps I might say that for me then, by some unlikely grace, two worlds that should be one but have been long parted merged together and for a brief hour became my paradise.

[Pg 205]

Megs must have found me a poor companion, for she herself was full of talk and excitement. Never before had she seen grapes growing, except on the great vine at Hampton Court, and she was overcome with delight and surprise when at Le Béage she found our luncheon-table laid under a pergola dripping with purple bunches. The river flowed scarcely a yard below us, and from it came a fine trout to start our meal and be followed by veal grilled over a wood fire and tasting faintly of smoke. It was all interesting and delicious to her now that the first strangeness had worn off. But before evening came we were both very tired. The diligence gave us a better view of the country than the train, but its wheels did not run so smoothly, and towards the end of the day each rattling furlong seemed to stretch a mile.

Ste. Pelagie was only a small place, almost exactly like other small places we had passed through—a street of houses wedged between the mountains and the river. The 'monts' that distinguished it were two conical hills, probably volcanic in origin, though possibly burial places. On the top of one of them was a sort of watch tower, on the other what might once have been a hermitage. The village looked clean, and was gay with flowers, but the sun had left it long ago, cut off by the mountains.

One of my fears had been that we should find only one inn—l'Hôtel de l'Univers et d'André Prioult. My other fear, that Blanche and Anthony would naturally have chosen the best hotel, was only too well founded. My room had no outlook save a dark passage, constantly tramped by those on their way to the privy in the yard. Megs was upstairs and a little better off, but the dinner they served that night toppled her completely from the high opinion of French cookery she had formed at lunch.

'Why, if cook had sent me in this at home, I'd have spoken to her seriously,' she said as she struggled with what must have been the oldest inhabitant of the barnyard. 'And this wine tastes just like vinegar. Do you think I might have some water?'

I strongly advised against it, and after some reproach and argument [Pg 206] the landlord produced a bottle of Rhone wine from his private cellar, and we went to bed in a good humour after all.

We had agreed that Megs had better wait till the morning before going to see Anthony. She was in need of a good night's rest before facing such an ordeal, and she further wished, dear soul, to fortify herself by attending Mass. The church was close to the hotel, and to her intense delight I decided to go with her, so that my heretical prayers might join with hers for the success of her hopeless enterprise. Unlike many of my clerical brethren, especially those of an ultramarine complexion, I had never before attended a Roman Catholic service, and I think that when we came out again she was disappointed that I had not been more impressed. But even to please her I would not pretend to have been edified by a Low Mass gabbled at a side altar in a Latin so unlike that Latin of my youth that it was almost a different language. What had edified me had been her composed and happy face as she came back from the altar, but I was too English and too Anglican to be able to tell her that.

We had breakfast together at a little table on the pavement outside the inn. Then Megs, still apparently composed and happy, went off on her quest. Or rather I took her as far as a street corner from which I could see the hotel and watched her go in. A few minutes passed, and as she did not come out again, I concluded that she found her brother. I personally was anxious not to be involved more closely than as escort and courier, so I went back to our inn and settled down under its pergola to spend the morning watching the street over a café cognac.

Once more the day was fine, and the morning sun was no longer hidden by the mountains, but blazed down the valley from the south-east, so that I was glad of the dusty vine-leaves over my head. The wall of the house opposite was a cerulean wash of morning glory, and I was wondering whether I could find a corner of my Parsonage sheltered and warm enough for the growth of this exquisite climber, when suddenly a woman's figure came between me and the blue.

'Oh, there you are,' said Blanche.

[Pg 207]

Somehow I had never imagined that she would leave Anthony alone with his sister, or I might have told Megs not to divulge my presence in Ste. Pelagie. Anyhow, I was sufficiently taken aback, not only by her sudden appearance but by the cool calmness of her manner as she came in under the pergola and sat down beside me. I fear I must have looked rather foolish, but in a moment I recovered and offered her a café cognac.

'No thank you, Uncle Harry—at least not now and not here. I came to suggest that you and I should go off somewhere together for the day and leave those two completely to themselves.'

I stared at her. Was she being quixotic or merely brazen?

'Look here,' I said, 'have you spoken to Megs?'

'Yes, we've had some conversation. I told her what I've thought of doing. She's to have lunch with Anthony, and won't come back here till the evening.'

'You take all this very calmly. Weren't you surprised to see her?'

She hesitated.

'I was, and I wasn't. That is, I thought it quite possible that someone might come out here, but I hadn't expected it would be her—or you.'

'She was the only member of her family who could leave home just now, and I came solely for the reason that I couldn't let an innocent like her undertake a journey like this alone.'

'Well, I hope you won't have undertaken it in vain.'

Once more I stared at her.

'What are you talking about? You surely don't want her to succeed.'

'No, I don't—not in what she's come for. But I want both her and you to see for yourselves that Anthony and I aren't just dreary sinners, but two responsible beings who have deliberately thrown our lot together for better or for worse. That's why I'm leaving Megs alone with him all day. I want her to hear from himself that he's not just been led astray by my godlessness, and that his religion means nothing to him in comparison with me. As for you, Uncle Harry, I'm going to take you right to the edge of the mountains, to [Pg 208] Aubenas, where we shall sit high above the Rhône Valley and talk about anything in the world you would like, including Anthony and me, just to show you that I'm not a woman with a secret shame and a reproachful conscience.'

'But,' said I, 'with a considerable nerve.'

She smiled.


I had seldom seen her so poised, so assured, so happy. I suddenly found myself wanting to hurt her, and at that moment she gave me the opportunity, for she asked, 'How's Father?'

'Not well—very ill.'

That shook her.

'How do you mean? What is it?'

'Heart. He went to a specialist some months ago and was told he had heart disease. He didn't want me to tell you, but I think the time has come when you ought to know.'

'I didn't think he looked well last time I saw him. I hope all this hasn't made him worse.'

'It certainly hasn't done him any good.'

She was silent, and I saw that her light had faded. I remembered the postscript of her letter—'I have no right to be happy when I have made so many people miserable'—and hoped she remembered it too. Evidently she did, for the next moment she said, 'If only Father—if only you—and even the Boutflowers (though I expect that's too much to hope) would realize that Anthony and I aren't just yielding to our passions, but trying to put our lives straight after a wrong start, you wouldn't be so distressed about us. Our going off like this was the only way we could get out of two impossible marriages. It isn't our fault that the divorce laws are so immoral as to demand adultery. Father would have been the first to approve of my divorce if it had been on any other grounds, and he really has no reason to grieve just because I've walked out of the only door that wasn't locked. That's why I'm glad you've come, for I want you to see for yourself and to make him see that Anthony and I aren't just [Pg 209] sordid libertines, but people who love each other enough to take risks and defy the world.'

'That's all very well for you. You've only one world to defy. But poor Anthony has two—this world and the next.'

'I can assure you,' she said lightly, 'that the next doesn't appear to worry him much. And now'—she looked at her watch—'we really ought to push off if we're going to Aubenas. The bus starts from the Place de l'Eglise in about ten minutes.'

'I'm not at all sure that I want to go.'

I did not like her present mood, which seemed a queer mixture of smugness, idealism and effrontery. There was something about it, too, which pricked me—a personal thorn.

'Oh, come, Uncle Harry,' she said, 'don't be stuffy. I can't go to Aubenas all alone, and I know you'll enjoy it. If you like I'll promise not to say another word about ourselves—we'll talk only of impersonal matters.'

'As if we could. But it's all right—I'll come. I don't want to spend the day alone, any more than you do.'

'Gallantly spoken. Come on.'

That was a queer day we spent at Aubenas. I shall always remember it. An explosive motor-bus coughed us through a succession of narrow villages to the end of the gorge, and then down another, past the junction of the Avre with a larger river, of which I forget the name, bringing us out at last on what seemed the edge of the world. Aubenas is a town poised on the last shelf of the Massif Central, and from it we looked down on the Rhône Valley as from a cliff-top into the sea. I do not know what happened to the river—there were no falls, so it must have flowed into some other gorge. No doubt there was a road down the mountainside, for the town was full of traffic, and smelt impartially of petrol and horses, but none appeared from the high place where we sat outside the principal hotel, eating our déjeuner under a striped umbrella.

The day was hot, but out here a great wind blew—sweeping across [Pg 210] the valley from the far-off ranges of the Côtes du Rhône. It brought no coolness, but a fine dust which was gritty on our skins and even on our tongues as we ate quenelles of pike and mushrooms.

'Perhaps we should have lunched indoors,' said Blanche, 'but I love this feeling of being at the end of everything and the beginning of nothing.'

'Have you been here before?'

'Oh, yes. We came ten days ago. There isn't much to see in the town, but this hotel doesn't feed one badly, and one never tires of the view. Ste. Pelagie isn't much of a place, and we both occasionally want to get out of it.'

I was determined not to ask 'What made you go there?' or 'Are you comfortable at the Etoile?' or any of the questions I should have asked her if she and Anthony had been an ordinary married couple. Perhaps this determination was a mistake, for it faced me with a perpetual awkwardness and made me tongue-tied, so that she was able to do what she liked with the conversation. And I found to my annoyance that there was nothing that she liked better than talking about herself and Anthony.

We were still some years ahead of the terms of Freud's psychology, but even then it seemed to me that she was doing everything she could to rationalize a position of which she was unconsciously ashamed, using all her powers to make her emotional yieldings acceptable to her mind. She had left England in a state of conflict, longing for freedom and happiness, but at the same time aware that she had hauled down the flag of her moral convictions. Now that flag was being hoisted again over a new set of convictions. Her father, whose grief and disappointment she had so tenderly considered at the start, was now illogical, and to be treated by argument; the Boutflowers were sunk in superstition, and I was an old reactionary; whereas she and Anthony were idealists whose defiance of convention and unjust laws would help bring the world to a better frame of mind.

I found to my dismay that the job in Paris no longer awaited him. He had lost it through his sudden, unauthorized departure from [Pg 211] the Bank of England, where he was due to remain till the second week in August. Put bluntly, the French office refused to employ a man who had skipped.

'But we don't worry,' said Blanche, 'we will go to Paris at the end of the month just the same. He thinks he is sure to get work with one of the tourist agencies, and I believe there is more than one school which would be glad of my lectures in English.'

'And won't think anything of your having cut those lectures not one of which could be missed for George's sake?'

I regretted the words as soon as I had spoken them, for I saw they could lead only to a topic I wished to avoid. But, as with the psalmist, a fire had kindled.

She came back at me at once.

'You can't say I didn't do my damnedest to save that marriage.'

'You certainly did a lot till you gave up trying.'

She looked at me almost angrily.

'I gave up trying only when George made it perfectly clear that he didn't want me back.'

'The time you gave up trying was when you thought Anthony's marriage had failed.'

Was it because I had drunk two glasses of Rhône wine that I said this? I had an uneasy feeling that it was, yet at the same time I was glad the words were spoken. If only I could make her see herself even for a moment. . . . But Blanche also had drunk two glasses of Rhône wine.

'Well, what of it? It only shows that we both held back while his marriage was still working. I've told you before this that I ought to have married him long ago, before he'd even met Pamela—who, after all, was only a passing physical attraction, the same as George was for me.'

'Whereas you and Anthony, of course, are soul-mates.'

Her eyes flashed at me.

'You're out of your depth—and being rather offensive.'

'I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be offensive, and I don't profess to be experienced in these matters. But I know at least this much—that [Pg 212] when a man and a woman are divided in their minds and souls you can hardly call their attraction for each other spiritual.'

'I don't want to call it spiritual. Why should I? That's your word. But if you're talking about religion, Anthony's has never had much to do with his mind. It was just a bundle of tales and taboos, which, being an intelligent man, he accepted rather than believed. Besides, come to that, what about him and Pamela? He was divided from her over religion just as much as from me.'

'No—not just as much as from you. Pamela's a Christian, and she has always respected his faith and done nothing to separate him from it. They were never at odds over these matters.'

'Nor are Anthony and I.'

'Do you talk about them much?'

'No; they're not important.'

I smote the table with my fist.

'There you go!—Blind! Blind! Blind! Can't you see that even a delusion must be important when it's been part of a man's life ever since he was born? Because you yourself don't believe in Anthony's religion, you lightheartedly assume it doesn't matter. You've changed since the days when he first proposed to you and you turned him down because you thought it did. In those days you saw that the point wasn't whether his religion was true or false, but that he'd been brought up in it as a sort of personal civilization which wouldn't mix with yours. It would have been like marrying a foreigner. Now you don't see these things any longer. You don't see that in taking him out of his religious world you're taking him out of the atmosphere he's breathed all his life, and that he may die. Yes, the Anthony you know and love may die, for want of his native air.'

'Not so much of that, please. You talk as if he had no will of his own—as if I'd made all the running. Nothing could be farther from the facts.'

'I believe you. I haven't a doubt that he is very much in love with you, and that your coming away like this was as much his doing as yours. But if he marries you—does he intend to marry you?'

[Pg 213]

'What are you talking about? Of course he does—unless Megs has made him change his mind, in which case she'll have worked a miracle bigger than any in her holy books. If Pamela will only decide not to be a dog in the manger we shall be married by this time next year. We neither of us want to go on living in sin, as it's politely called. Though you probably don't believe me, we're both moral people, and took this way to marriage only because no other was open to us.'

'Now you really are speaking for yourself and not for Anthony. He won't believe that because he has married you he has ceased to live in sin. On the contrary. He'll feel himself deeper in sin than ever, because he'll have shut the door behind him. I know he's impulsive and emotional, and I daresay that before this he's done things that his Church disapproves of. But there's always been a way back—if he marries you there won't be.'

She laughed rather angrily.

'If you talk like that I shall expect you to go the way of the Reverend Edward Boutflower. What an excitement that would be for Ebony!'

'Nonsense! I'd never dream of such a thing. But like Anthony I happen to have a religion I believe in, so I can understand his position in a way you obviously don't.'

'Now it's you who're talking nonsense. You know nothing about Anthony. How often have you seen him or spoken to him during the last five years? And really I've had enough of this impossible argument. I'm going off to look at the town.'

By this time we had each drunk three glasses of Rhône wine. She stood up, and we faced each other furiously over the dead bottle and the empty plates. Then she turned and walked off, while I stayed behind to settle the bill.

For some time afterwards I sat on, waiting for my blood to cool and the anger to die in my heart. Down in the valley mists empurpled the mysterious country that lay spread beneath me like [Pg 214] another firmament. I might have been gazing from a cloud on the Ebony marshes, except that our mists never held that regal darkness unless against the sunset, and that our river would from such a height have looked no wider than a string, instead of the silver sash that tied the north and south. I gazed, dragging out the details of towns and villages as from above Ebony I should have dragged out farms. It was a curious god-like sensation—the god of an eighteenth-century deist, infinitely remote from his creation. I enjoyed it for about half an hour. Then I, too, decided to go and have a look at the town.

There was not much to see. The market was over, and most of it had been carted away, leaving only litter and a curious fertile vegetable smell that I have never met outside France. The church was in a native style of Gothic, and from the outside looked interesting, so I went in, only to find it atrocious. I believe that since the war France has undergone something in the nature of a religious revival and that most of the churches are now well cared for and liturgically correct. But we were still several years short of that, and this church was little better than a pious junk room, cluttered with hideous objects in a state of dusty neglect. The numerous altars were a mess of artificial flowers and lolling candles, while everywhere—on altars, on pedestals, on windowsills, on the ground, stood images of saints, varying in size from a giant St. Roche, robbed by some misadventure of half his nose, to a midget St. Francis, with a face as grey as his habit. I stared at it all in horror. Was it really this which I had been defending with such heat from Blanche's contempt? Was this the faith of which I had so bitterly accused her of robbing Anthony?—the faith for which I expected both him and her to renounce their love? Of course I knew it wasn't, but I felt annoyed—as if the Church of Rome which I had so incongruously championed had let me down. Beneath it all, no doubt, was the beauty of holiness—even those ghastly images were probably the offerings of pious souls—but the beauty of Helen of Troy would show dim on a dirty face.

I was still gazing in horror and thinking lovingly of my swept [Pg 215] aisles and polished pews at home when I became aware of a movement among the shadows, and there close by me stood an aged priest. He smiled and bowed very politely, no doubt misled by my collar into thinking me a priest of his Church, so I explained as well as I could in my halting French who I really was. To my surprise he seemed delighted. 'Ah!' he exclaimed, 'un clergyman! Violà ce qui est intéressant!' and proceeded to ask me all sorts of questions. Was it true that the Church of England had bishops? Was it true that Queen Victoria had died a Catholic? Had I ever met Cardinal Newman? and others, to which I found it difficult to return answers that were both courteous and rational.

However, he was most friendly and invited me into his sacristy, where he showed me a really beautiful monstrance and the relic of a female saint, or rather, I gathered, of a young woman who was not yet canonized. She had not been dead more than a few years, he said, but was already working miracles. She had worked one for one of his parishioners—'and as soon as she is canonized we will have a statue of her in the church'. I longed to suggest that he take away some of the other dollies to make room for it, but had not enough French at my command. Indeed, the Tower of Babel stood between us during the whole of our conversation. Otherwise, when he asked me if I was at Aubenas on holiday, I should have liked to tell him that I had come out in pursuit of an absconding member of his Church; but all I felt equal to was, 'Non—pour quelque chose très triste.' I found that I could understand everything he said, but that he understood nothing of what I said in English and very little in French. Nevertheless, we parted with the greatest goodwill, and he promised to pray for me.

This curious episode nearly made me lose the bus. When I arrived Blanche was already in her seat, looking anxiously about her. I wondered whether she thought that I had taken umbrage to such an extent that I was prepared to spend the night in Aubenas. She said nothing, but was obviously relieved at my appearance, and we talked very carefully for the whole of the way back to Ste. Pelagie.

[Pg 216]

Here we found the early darkness of the gorge—a village plunged untimely into dusk while the mountain-tops still glowed above it in the sunshine. We even walked past one or two lamplit windows on our way up the street. I escorted Blanche to her hotel, but would not accept her invitation to go in.

'I'd better not. I expect Megs is back at the Univers by now.'

She did not press me, and we parted in a quiet, casual way as if we were going to meet next morning.

As it happened, we did not meet again for over a year. When I reached the Univers I found that Megs had been back already for some time. She still looked composed, but no longer happy—in fact very unhappy. She had enjoyed her day with Anthony even less than I had enjoyed mine with Blanche. That they should spend it together had been Blanche's idea entirely. He obviously had not wanted her. He had appeared upset and annoyed by her arrival.

'He's changed. He's quite different from what he used to be. He didn't want to see me, and he wouldn't talk about anything—I mean anything that mattered. He seemed angry.'

I was not surprised, but I did my best to cheer her.

'On the whole, that isn't a bad sign. It shows he's kicking against the pricks, that he knows he's doing wrong. He feels guilty. He isn't like Blanche—he hasn't been able to dress up a new set of ideas to meet the occasion.'

'But he isn't himself. He said things he'd never have said before this happened. And I couldn't get him to take any interest in Mother and the family—he didn't want to hear anything about any of us. Of course he knows he's doing wrong, but it's made him sneer. Oh, why did God let her change him?' And to my sorrow she began to cry.

I comforted her as best I could, but only partly believing my own words. It appeared that he had refused to say he would not marry Blanche, and Megs was now convinced that nothing lay between him and final renegacy but his wife's possible refusal to divorce [Pg 217] him, which seemed of all things most unlikely. One could hardly expect her to hold her hand just to please the Boutflowers and give Anthony a better chance of returning to a Church she did not belong to. I felt pretty sure that Blanche had won.

Megs soon dried her tears, and we talked things over quietly. I persuaded her that there was nothing to be gained by stopping on at Ste. Pelagie. Anthony would only resent her presence, and what could she possibly add to what she had already said?—to her 'appeal' as she still continued pathetically to call it. She had better go back to her husband and children, and in their love and faith lose some of her grief at her brother's delinquency.

'I'll ask the children to pray for him. I can tell them that he's ill—and so he is, spiritually. We shall all pray, and God will do what we can't. Perhaps this is his lesson to me for thinking I could do things myself. I've done no good at all—only harm.'

'No, no—not harm. You mustn't judge by his immediate reactions. Your goodness and affection in coming all this way to see him may influence him later. Anyway, you've seen for yourself how things are, and that's bound to be helpful.'

Thus I jollied her along, and early the next morning we left Ste. Pelagie. The diligence to Le Puy ran on alternate days only, so if we had not left then, we should have had to stay over the weekend, which would have been intolerable. This time we did not break our journey at Le Puy, but took the night train to Paris, where we arrived early on Sunday morning.

After depositing our luggage in the consigne at the Gare du Nord, Megs insisted on going to Mass at the Madeleine, but this time I did not go with her, preferring to refresh myself at the wells of Anglicanism in the Rue Boissy d'Anglas. I did not like the service—they said the litany in French, which struck me as peculiar and unnecessary, and seemed altogether too much inclined to imitate their surroundings. No doubt I was growing crotchety and parochial, but my heart yearned for my own quiet ways at Palster, for the smell of the ancient walls and the sound of the Kentish voices, uncouth [Pg 218] as was their psalmody, compared with the refined utterance of a choir composed, I was informed, mainly of English chorus girls. I felt sorry that there was no chance of our reaching home in time for Evensong.

Our journey back was a good deal more tiring than our journey out, when we had spent two nights in hotels. But not only were we both eager, once we had started, to be among the things and the people that we loved, but I relied on physical fatigue to dull the worst pangs of disappointment in Megs's heart until her dear ones would be there to comfort her. By the time we reached Dover she was nearly exhausted, but we had announced our return by telegram from Paris, and Terence was there to meet her as she came off the boat.

Gladly I gave her into his care. Poor, good little soul, in the midst of her fatigue and distress she could make pretty speeches of gratitude, as also did he. I told them not to thank me for giving myself a trip abroad. I only wished it had been for a different reason and with a different result.

This was true enough. In spite of everything, I had enjoyed much of it. Or rather I should say I had had some very enjoyable experiences. Those that have lingered longest in my memory—they are sometimes with me even now—are that journey through the valleys of the Auvergne, when for the first and only time I touched a world which is only partly in this, and the day when I sat on that high shelf at Aubenas, gazing down into the purple lands beneath me and feeling like a god. It is true that I had also felt extremely angry, but in the circumstances I do not think an angry god is altogether out of place.

Megs and Terence left in the boat train, and I, after some waiting, jogged my way along the coast to Rye. Here the car from the Plough Inn met me and brought me home to Palster and my Parsonage. The chills of a September evening were gathering round it when I arrived, and the swifts flew to and fro across the welcome of its lighted windows, already restless with the urge to fly in the direction [Pg 219] I had come from. As I alighted from the car I could hear droning from the church across the road the old vesper hymn, 'Lord keep us safe this night', that I believe is now seldom sung in our churches, but in those days was the changeless end of a country Evensong.

The next morning I went to see Adam. He was still in bed, for the doctor had advised him to take all the rest he could. He lay tranquilly in his big bedroom with its far view of Kent, The Times newspaper propped against his knees, and books and magazines strewn all over the counterpane.

He greeted me almost eagerly, holding out his hand.

'Well, Harry, here you are, and I'm glad you're back. Mrs. Cooke kindly let us know that you were coming.'

'I'm glad to be back, though in some ways I enjoyed that curious expedition. You don't expect good news, I hope?'

'Oh, no. Why should I? You were premature. I strongly advised Megs against going.'

'So did I. But as she would go, I thought I had better go with her, just to help her on the journey. She had never been abroad at all, and spoke no French.'

'Did you see Blanche?'

'Yes—I saw her. I spent a whole day with her, in fact.'

I must have smiled grimly as I said it, for he immediately asked me what had happened. So I told him of his daughter's swaggering tactics—how she had left Anthony and Megs alone together and taken me out on an excursion, just to show me how useless the whole thing was.

'Poor little Megs. I'm sorry for her. She had such high hopes of her wild-goose chase. Did you see Anthony?'

'No. I wouldn't—I didn't want to. Megs seemed to think he's changed for the worse.'

'Did you talk to Blanche about the situation?'

I told him we had talked of almost nothing else.

'But what is her attitude? What position does she take up?'

[Pg 220]

I did my best, without too great a show of distaste, to describe Blanche's position. He seemed undaunted by it.

'She's looking at the future, of course, rather than at the present, and she's right in saying that our divorce laws have forced her into an act she would otherwise disapprove of. If only she could have divorced George for cruelty or he could have divorced her for desertion none of this would have happened.'

'Anthony would still be married to Pamela.'

'He could have brought an action against her for desertion.'

'Which would put him into an even worse position with his Church than if she brought one against him for adultery.'

'But his Church has ceased to matter to him.'

'Has it? I'm not so sure.'

'You told me that he's going to marry Blanche.'

'He is, but that isn't the end.'

'You think,' said Adam rather portentously, 'that his Church may come between them later.'

'Possibly. I don't really know. All I know for certain is that you can't get rid of a man's faith as easily as you and Blanche seem to think.'

Adam beamed on me.

'My dear old friend, I don't suppose I can persuade you any more than I can persuade the Boutflowers that it will be a good thing when these two marry. At one time I shouldn't have thought it a good thing myself—too much like trying to mix oil and water. But now it seems as if their differences were ended. It looks as if Blanche had—if you will forgive the word—converted him. This is the first time he has ever been in close contact with her mind. You remember how scrupulous I always was about keeping the Boutflower children and my own apart on the subjects of free thought and religion. Edward Boutflower and I had proved that a deep and true friendship can exist without any discussion of these things. But lovers are different—they don't like having in their lives any matters they mayn't discuss, and I haven't a doubt that for the first time Anthony and [Pg 221] Blanche have discussed them. For the first time he has heard the voice of freedom and of reason, and it has shown him how frail and false is the structure on which he has hitherto based his life.'

If this was a sample of Adam's lecturing style I was not impressed either by the matter or the manner of it, but I would not oppose him. He was a sick man, and not only should he not be excited by argument but he was probably the better for his rosy view of a far from rosy situation. I had not expected him to accept Blanche's brazen attitude so cheerfully. I knew that at the start he had been bitterly disappointed in her, and I think he was still disappointed, even though he did his best to defend her. How much he had actually expected of her I could not say—whether he had really thought secularism a sufficient inspiration for sacrifice. But I am sure that her lapse from his own high standards had been a bitter blow, and even now, in spite of his apparent confidence, caused him a secret distress.

I was confirmed in this belief by the fact that during the months that followed his health continued to deteriorate. Soon it was no longer merely a case of having breakfast in bed and giving up his rides round his farms. He had one or two really serious heart attacks, followed by periods of increasing weakness. Shortly after Christmas a nurse was engaged, and as the year climbed slowly through the spring gales into the last summer of our peaceful world, Adam at last found himself facing death.

Of course, in a manner of speaking, he had faced death ever since the specialist's verdict, but I am convinced that, in spite of some of the things he said, it had never been a close view. Where a more timid soul might have quailed at the chance of dying any day, his unquenchable optimism had fastened on the equal chance that he might live for many years longer. His gesture of indifference had been made in order to impress me—a waving of the atheist flag in the clerical face. He did not make it now. Instead, I saw with some pleasure that he had found comfort in a sort of nature mysticism. [Pg 222] The nearness of death had brought him into closer union with the earth and its changes, with the seasons, the showers, the sunshine, the falling leaves, the creatures that fulfilled themselves in such brief lives. He saw death as a part of Nature, one of her processes for cleansing and remaking the world. He saw it too as a part of the brotherhood of man.

'When I am dead,' he said to me once, 'I shall be one with the viri palustres. Past, present and future will matter no more, the years will no longer divide us. I shall be as they are.'

Another time he used a phrase which startled me, because I had already heard it on the lips of his daughter. Something I had said made him think that I felt sorry for him, and he said, 'Don't be sorry for me. It's very peaceful here at the end of everything and the beginning of nothing.'

Those were the words Blanche had used when we sat on the terrace at Aubenas. I told him so, and could not resist adding that everything had been only a long, dusty road through interminable gorges, while nothing was an undiscovered country of beauty and wealth. He smiled rather sadly and shook his head.

'It doesn't tempt me. I'm too tired.'

Both his daughters came to visit him. For Lindsay it was easy enough. She had only to invite herself and the children to stay with their doting grandparents at Lambstand. She never proposed that she should stay at Palster Manor, and I do not think Adam would have liked her so constantly with him. He was always pleased to see the children, but he was too ill to endure any protraction of their noise. As for Lindsay herself, I doubt if he ever felt quite at ease with her. He was certainly in no danger of any 'psychic' recurrences—a more solid matron both literally and metaphorically could hardly exist—but he could not fail to be aware of a basic insincerity, or, worse and more likely still, of a yet surviving enmity towards himself. On the surface nothing appeared that was not creditable and amiable, but I am pretty sure that he as well as I realized what lay beneath.

[Pg 223]

She once and once only—for thereafter I refused the subject—talked to me of Blanche.

I was sitting next to her at Sunday dinner with the Lismores, after the whole family, including Tom and the little boys, had attended Morning Prayer. The Vanes of Kitchenhour were there and the Rectory people from Bapchild, so we were altogether too big a party for general conversation, and under cover of the talk around us she asked, 'Do you know if it's true that Pamela has at last consented to divorce Anthony?'

I replied that I believed it was.

'She's been long enough about it. I wonder why.'

I knew why; for—cashing in on the fact that Pamela was so to speak the only corner of the triangle in my own field—I had ventured to use what small influence a clergyman possesses in an effort to convince her that the pressure being brought on her to divorce Anthony had no moral sanctions. The poor child had not entirely given up hope of getting her husband back. The pathological aversion had passed—as the doctors had always said it would—leaving her in a double misery of longing and regret. She felt—unnecessarily, I think—that she was to blame, and her feelings of guilt urged her to make the reparation that everyone seemed to require. Her parents, furious with Anthony, wanted her to get rid of him, so that later on she might make a fresh start with someone better worth having. Her friends told her to be a 'sport', and Blanche wrote letters that showed her to herself as in a distorting mirror. I did my best against all these influences, but my voice, even when combined with the more hesitant one of the parson of her own parish (a Broad Churchman), went unheeded.

I did not, however, feel inclined to tell Lindsay any of this, and while I was hesitating she continued, 'Blanche will be pleased, if not Anthony. She never really liked the idea of living in sin, but I'm afraid she'll find that divorce won't put her back on her pedestal.'

'What pedestal?' I asked crossly.

'The pedestal of a superior woman. She'll find herself reduced in [Pg 224] size by this adventure—these two adventures, rather; first marrying a loutish farmer, and then running off with another man. I don't know where she proposes to live when she marries Anthony, but I hope they'll stay in France.'

'I daresay they will. They both have work there.'

'But'—Lindsay lowered her voice—'if—when Father—you know—the doctor didn't seem to think it would be long. Then Blanche will have Palster Manor.'

'Yes,' I said, wanting to plague her, for she had intensely annoyed me, 'that will make a difference. Of course she'll want to live there.'

'With her decree perhaps not yet made absolute and her ex-husband living only half a mile away?'

'Blanche was always indifferent to public opinion.'

'But her relations aren't. I really don't want our family to disgrace' the Lismores more than it has already.'

I did not attempt to suppress my smile.

'Oh, please do take this seriously and use your influence to persuade her that she mustn't—that she can't—come back here.'

'I have no influence with Blanche whatever.'

'Then why did you go chasing after her across France when she first ran away?'

'I went to make things easier for Megs Conlan, who thought she had some influence with Anthony.'

Here luckily I was swept into a conversation with my host, who suddenly appealed to me on some subject or other. But for him I believe that Lindsay and I would have quarrelled openly.

Blanche came once to see her father, but I did not meet her. She stayed only a night, for apparently she had a number of regular engagements in Paris, where she lectured on English literature and history in various Lycées. Adam said she looked well and happy, but I could see that he still felt disappointed in her, though I did not ask him what they had talked about. Anthony had a job at Thomas [Pg 225] Cook's, and everything was going as they had planned it, even to a small flat out at Neuilly. They were both in love with France.

'I could have wished that she had chosen to live in Germany. Our Movement has more of a future there. I know that France is full of those who call themselves franc-maçons and libres-penseurs, but there's too much foaming at the mouth, too little real thinking, and the inspiration is political rather than philosophical. In Germany, on the other hand, we have all the leading philosophers—Haekel, Hegel, Harnack, Nietzsche. It's to Germany that I look for the future.'

It was characteristic of those last months that he seemed sometimes to forget that he and I were not united in our views on the secularist movement. No doubt he was too tired for our old sparring, but his Blatchford-Ingersoll outbreaks were now without challenge, and often he spoke as if to a sympathizer. I hope I did not do wrong in holding my peace to ensure his.

Of his sons-in-law he would have seen nothing had not his crypto-Christianity urged him to die in charity with all men. At his request both Tom and George came to see him, and afterwards he spoke kindly of them both.

'Tom seems really to have settled down and become a good citizen. Marriage has steadied him, and I think that he and Lindsay are quite happy. I'm sorry about the boys'—he did not say why, but I suspected that Tom had revealed their baptism and the prospect of Winchester—'but when I think of the past I salute the human spirit that has triumphed over so many failings and weaknesses.'

Again, like the psalmist, I kept silence even from good words; my private opinion was that a good wife—I must grant Lindsay that—and a good income had combined to show Tom Lismore the hitherto unseen advantages of being respectable.

George Haffenden was a different proposition. At first I thought he would refuse to come, and indeed I believe that was his first reaction. But when he heard that Adam was stricken for death and that this was probably his last summer, he went and sat with him, [Pg 226] talking of crops and cattle and fertilizers and hay-rakes and planting chestnut and draining marshland for at least an hour, when he left without having once mentioned either Adam's illness or his own divorce.

'It was a remarkable case of detachment,' said Adam, and I am glad to say that his eye twinkled, 'that is, detachment from what most people would think important, and concentration on what to him are the only important things in life.'

'I should rather call it embarrassment—the embarrassed talk of a man anxious to avoid an obvious but painful subject. I won't go so far as to say that George thinks he has behaved badly, but he has a pretty good idea that you think so.'

'That wouldn't apply to my illness.'

'Not rationally. But I suspect that your illness is linked up in his mind with his own troubles. They started about the same time—he may even think one caused the other. I don't know. Some of us are still rather primitive in our associations. Besides, there are other aspects of it that it might embarrass him to discuss.'

'Yes,' said Adam, nodding his head rather sadly. 'George is certainly a primitive character—a throw-back to older generations of the Men of the Marsh. I see now that we did him an injury in allowing Blanche to marry him. Up till this moment I've felt that the injury was to her, but now I see that we have hurt him quite as much.'

I forbore to tell him that as Blanche had made up her mind to marry George, nobody could have stopped her. But I agreed that temperamentally he belonged to the earlier days of Ebony. In these he was a ghost, haunting the present as uneasily as Lindsay's Man of Palster had haunted the Manor stairs.

It may not be out of place here to give the later history of that extraordinary man George Haffenden. He did not marry again for some years after his divorce, but continued to live on at Church Farm with his widowed sister. Then, just before the war ended, he married suddenly and unexpectedly a strange woman, of whom [Pg 227] nobody knew anything except that for a time she had lived with the gipsies, without being actually one of them. She was tall and dark and beautiful and, I am convinced, a little mad. I do not know whether she made George happy, for I saw little of him, as by then he had ceased to be even nominally a churchwarden. Then suddenly one day he disappeared. The whole isle searched for him, and in due course the police, but it was not till summer came and the waters fell that his body was found in the mud at the bottom of the White Kemp Sewer. Meanwhile the woman, too, had vanished, and was rumoured to be again with the gipsies. Nothing was proved against her, and I do not believe she murdered him, though I would not say it for certain, and many were inclined to think so. He may have committed suicide, or he may have fallen in when under the influence of drink. During those last months he was often far from sober. He and his wife used to drink together and make a great noise. I could sometimes hear them from across the road, late at night, after I was in bed. He left Church Farm to his sister's son John Coleman, who still farms it very efficiently on modern lines.

[Pg 228]

Chapter IX

Adam lived through the summer, rather to his doctor's surprise. He saw the fields ripen and the harvest gathered, he saw the hop-gardens stripped, and the last apples fall. On the day of his death the robin was the only bird left singing, and as I sat beside him that sweet, descending note fell repeatedly through the evening air. He was unconscious and did not hear it, nor smell the smoke of the bonfires that told of his garden's lovely death. He did not know that I sat beside him, waiting for him to go, keeping silent even from prayer except in my heart. Just as the first star appeared, dim in the twilight sky above the garden smoke, the nurse came into the room and laid her hand on his pulse. He was gone.

In the last week he had seemed a little better, and it was only two days since I had sat with him in a sheltered, sunny corner, against the wall of his house—a place where some of the old stones of the castle were embedded and gave out under the sun an ancient smell that blended with the last sweetness of a climber rose dangling above our heads.

'I hope,' he said to me, 'that I shan't go on much longer. I don't want to live into the winter. I would rather go now—with the others.' His eye travelled lovingly over his reddening sumachs, the flowering trails and tanglings of the herbaceous border, the blue column that rose from the kitchen garden beyond the beech hedge, while farther still the fields of Kent stood pale after their reaping. [Pg 229] 'I've been very happy,' he said. 'I've had a happy life. It's been mostly summer with me. Yet I'm ready to go, even though I believe death is the end. The future that I see is not for Adam, not for 'the man', but for mankind. I'm only a part of the whole, a leaf that must fall. But it's the tree, not the leaf, that matters. I would like to leave that thought with you, Harry, for it has often comforted me. I will acknowledge to you now that one or two people—people I love—have disappointed me. But what is that? They are, like myself, no more than falling leaves. But mankind, our humanity, is a tree that grows taller and stronger with every generation. Why, look at the things that have happened even in my own lifetime. Looking back I can see such advances, so much progress. . . . I don't mean just legal and social reforms, though many of those have been remarkable, but real changes in the spirit of man. You remember the South African war—all the fuss there was, the flag-wagging, the ill-feeling? How childish and shocking it seems to us now. In these days nobody wants war or believes it can settle anything. Why, only think, if the 1911 crisis with Germany had happened fifty years ago, we should probably be at war at this very moment.'

It may have been his Maker's reward for a good life lived without Him that took Adam from this world six months before that shot was fired at Sarajevo and the lights went out.

He had at one time asked me if I would act as his executor, but I had begged him not to thrust that honour upon me. I did not want to be brought into the close and constant contact with Blanche that the position would involve, and there may also have been in my refusal something of my constitutional dislike of responsibility. I suggested that he should employ some more impersonal agent, such as his bank or his solicitor, and being in all things unconnected with religion a reasonable man, he saw my point at once and did as I asked.

Over his funeral I had more trouble. When he told me that he was putting instructions on this matter into his will I remembered the [Pg 230] local disappointment and frustration that had followed Lucy Cryall's death, and felt determined that the isle should not have to put up with another such affront.

'These people love you, Adam, and they will want to show their sorrow. If you insist on cremation, at least let there be some public occasion at which they can express their feelings. I'm asking for no more than what is human and natural. Even the men of the Stone Age had burial rites.'

'I had hoped,' said Adam, 'that we had moved beyond the Stone Age.'

We were then in the earlier days of his illness, when his touch was still occasionally light.

'Well, we haven't in these matters, and shan't till we've moved beyond human nature. I'm not asking you to be buried according to the rites of the Book of Common Prayer or even to leave things to me. But I suggest—it's only a suggestion, but I think it would meet the case—that you let the casket containing the ashes be publicly deposited in the family vault of the Cryalls. There is no room for another coffin, but a small casket would fit in very well.'

I thought this idea would appeal to him, but it did not.

'I dislike the thought of being buried in what is called consecrated ground, that is ground that has been magically treated. I would far rather that my ashes were buried in an open field, or better still scattered over it.'

'If that were done, would you object to the people of Ebony being invited to attend?'

'No, as long as there were no prayers.'

We compromised on that, Adam finally choosing the ten-acre field between the village and his house as his place of repose—if the word will fit the spreading of his dust upon the dust of the stubbled wheat. When he died the field had been reaped some weeks, and only the next day it was ploughed again. I have seen the ashes of cremated persons strewn on the grass of crematoria and Gardens of Rest, and the sight has always been to me a painful combination [Pg 231] of pathos and offence. So I am glad that Adam's were ploughed straight into the furrows of a field being laid down for potash in the coming year.

Once he had agreed to something that might be called a funeral, his instructions were minute, and this extraordinary conversation ended in another argument, this time as to who should do the scattering. He wanted it to be me, but I told him that I absolutely refused to do it without a prayer. He, with his knowledge of folklore and antiquities, must have known as well as I that scattering is one of the rites of witchcraft, much more magical in essence and in history than the consecration of a churchyard, and I was not going to let the people of Ebony see me practising publicly as a sorcerer.

'Very well, then,' he said crossly, 'let the undertaker do it, or old Barlow' (his solicitor).

Still with people of the isle in view, I insisted on something more dignified.

'Why not ask Blanche to do it? She is sure to come over here, and could have no possible objection.'

'I think she might have many, though not of the same kind as yours. However, I'll put her name first. If she declines, one of my farmers might be asked to do it—say, Kemp of Barrow's Land or Holbeam of Odiam—anyhow,' and his tired eyes lit up, 'a man of Palster. I'll leave the choice to you, Harry. It's scarcely a job for the executors.'

He was right about Blanche—she firmly refused to act. She gave no reason, but when I thought things over I could guess why and realized that I had been rather tactless in suggesting it. I had perhaps been thinking less of her than of my parishioners. She made only a very brief appearance, and did not attend the 'funeral'.

'I'll be over again before long,' she said. 'But I won't stay now. I've a lot of involvements in Paris, and I must unwind some of the coil before I can leave for any length of time.'

I thought, 'She'll wait till she and Anthony are married and they can come and live at Palster.' Then I thought, 'But what about [Pg 232] George, living less than a mile away?' No matter how she handled it, from the local point of view it was a bad situation.

I met her only once, and very briefly. We did not talk of personal matters—I had no wish to, and she was like a house with all the blinds drawn down. We said what was inevitable about Adam, and I made some perfunctory inquiries about her work in Paris. That was all.

Lindsay did not appear. I think she would have come had there been an orthodox funeral, but when she heard what I had arranged, both she and Tom decided that their presence was not required. The Lismores also held back, and seemed to think I should. Mrs. Lismore was now going through a High Church phase, and often affronted me by driving past my church on Sunday mornings on her way to Pedlinge on Romney Marsh, where she was exceedingly welcome to the Vicar, whose own flock had been scattered by his Romish practices. Her husband still scrambled the Old Testament at my lectern.

She urged me to have some sort of memorial service at Palster. 'I don't mean a Mass, for I know that wouldn't meet your views, and Father Leighton has promised to say one for me—for Adam, I mean—at Pedlinge. But I feel strongly there ought to be something Christian at his burial.'

'He particularly didn't want that, and I'm not going outside his wishes. If you want to pray for his soul, why not come out to the Middle Field on Tuesday with the rest of the isle? There will be no public prayers, but I'm sure we shall all be praying in our hearts.'

Mrs. Lismore, however, chose to regard that as an occasion for the proletariat only, as indeed I had meant it to be. It was Ebony's farewell to the man who had known and loved it, and whom it had known and loved. Barlow, the solicitor, would attend in his capacity of executor, but the various public bodies to which Adam had belonged were not even notified, nor were those of the 'mainland' families he had counted among his friends.

This did not stop a number of them sending flowers. Adam had [Pg 233] lived long enough in the district for the dust of his unorthodoxy to have settled and his story to have dwindled to a legend. This and the decreasing bellicosity of old age had left at least a section of the more distant public unaware of his views, and it was from these that the wreaths came. I did not know what to do with them, but finally gave them to old Ernie to spread round the Cryall tomb.

Either Ernie did not approve of this solution or thought the weather of the equinoctial gales too big a threat to so many lovely flowers, for instead of following my instructions he put the whole lot in the church, arranging them under a photograph of Adam which he had procured from somewhere and hung on the wall. The result was something closely resembling a saint's shrine. He had done it, of course, without consulting me, and what Adam would have said about it I can barely imagine, but somehow when I saw it I had not the heart to order it to be taken away. So it remained till the flowers faded, which, as the village women took charge of them, sprinkling them daily with fresh water and adding sundry vases of their own, was not for several weeks.

Whatever he might have thought of this, Adam would have found no fault with my 'memorial' of him at Sunday Evensong. Had he not himself told me, after that first dreadful lapse over the poor Furneses, that it was expected to follow the death of every man of Palster, whether or not a member of my flock? So on the Sunday evening after his death I addressed the congregation out of the fullness of my heart.

'You all know,' I said, 'that he himself did not believe in God. But he was a much better man than many of us—than any of us—who do. God did his work in him without his knowing it. All that you and I loved in Adam Cryall was God's work. We shall respect his wishes, and there will be no public prayers when his ashes are scattered in the Middle Field. But in our hearts we will remember him before God and give thanks for his life among us. I hope you will all come.'

They came—men, women and children. The entire population [Pg 234] of Ebony seemed to flow round and over the Middle Field. Some wore black as if in a churchyard, others came in their working-clothes and a few in their Sunday best. They all stood round Kemp of Barrow's Land, who had agreed to do the scattering, while the high clouds flew over us before the sea-born wind. In silence I handed him the casket, and for a moment he hesitated, as if not quite sure how to perform his task. Then he filled his hand and, to my delight, made the motion of broadcasting. As a man sows wheat, so he sowed the mortality of Adam Cryall in the furrows of the field. Like a corn of wheat he entered the ground, and in that fertile gesture seemed from across death to say Amen to the hope he had denied.

That winter was an empty space in the history of the isle. There was no one at Palster Manor except the servants, whom Blanche had asked to remain. I believe that she had invited the Boutflowers to use the house as they pleased—she evidently wanted to keep up her father's tradition of hospitality—but none of them came, though she herself was very seldom there, and only for short periods. Not long after Adam's death, Pamela obtained her divorce against Anthony.

'Now, I suppose,' wrote Megs, with whom, since our escapade, I had kept up an irregular correspondence, 'they will soon be married. But I don't know. We never hear from him now. He didn't answer Mother's last letter. Poor Mother! she is quite ill with sorrow, and we have persuaded her to leave Carlyon House for a week or two and stay with the nuns at Rugby. They always do her good, and Anne says she can manage the place quite well while she's away. How strange Palster Manor must seem with nobody living there. I don't suppose Blanche ever will, unless George goes away. It would be shocking to have two husbands within a mile of each other. But if she doesn't live there, I hope she will let or sell it—if she is able to do that—so that Palster may have a Squire again and you some neighbours. I am afraid you must feel lonely.'

[Pg 235]

Dear little Megs! She was the only one to think of that, and I should have liked to invite her to bring herself and her younger children to stay with me for a while. But Mrs. Cooke would never have borne it. She was growing old now, and disliked visitors. I sometimes found it difficult even to put up a visiting preacher, and if I had insisted on having the Conlans, she would have let them see how unwelcome they were. I suppose that is often the way with privileged servants, especially when a bachelor is the so-called master of the house.

But I did sometimes feel lonely, and once when I met Blanche at the top of the Manor lane, after the usual trivialities I asked her if she had made any plans for the future of the house. I saw her manner become guarded at once.

'No, I haven't made any yet—not definitely. But I shall probably let it furnished for a few months in the spring. I know a French family who would like to have it for a bit.'

This would not be much good to Ebony, and it surprised me that Blanche with her strong local attachments, should have no feeling of duty towards the isle. But perhaps she had and it was circumstances that kept her away. Certainly George's presence so near would be an embarrassment, whether she married Anthony or not. I had considered the possibility of his being persuaded to leave, and made one or two approaches to other members of his family. But no one would meddle with George. He was there, and there he would stay. Besides, though everyone deplored the empty Manor House, Blanche's local reputation was not high. Through the good offices of the Rector at Bapchild I obtained for him the offer of a fine Weald farm near Rushmonden, which the owner, who loved it well, wished to sell to a farmer who had proved his efficiency. At the same time Barlow told me that the estate would gladly buy back Church Farm for even a larger sum than that asked for Great Nineveh. But George would not be tempted. 'I was born in this house,' he said, 'and I'll die in it.' Which the reader already knows he did not.

Thus time passed unproductively. In due course the French family [Pg 236] arrived, arousing in the men of Palster mixed feelings of curiosity and distress. I personally found them quite pleasant people. They did not, of course, attend my church, nor as far as I could tell, any other, but I think Blanche must have given me a favourable report, for they seemed anxious to be friendly, and once even asked me to dinner. I understood from local gossip that at first Madame Philippeau 'had done a lot of interfering' in the kitchen—actually going in herself to make sauces and expecting provisions to be bought personally by the cook instead of ordered unseen by telephone. However, when more than one of the servants threatened to give notice, she mended her ways and resigned herself to ours. The dinner I ate that night was no different from others I had eaten at the same table, except that the wine seemed to me very young.

The Philippeaus stayed at Palster till the clouds began to gather. Then they panicked and went back to France. I wondered what would happen next. Would Blanche return to Ebony? or would she see things out in Paris? or was she, like her father, convinced that everything would be settled peacefully because mankind had progressed beyond the possibility of war? I could not make up my mind about her, and I actually knew nothing. I do not think that she wrote to the Philippeaus after the first week's exchanges. I gathered that they had never been intimate with her, and their invariable mention of her as Meesis Boutflower did not, of course, tell me anything. I wondered if by this time she and Anthony were married. There was no reason why they should not be, as his Decree Absolute was now some weeks old. But his family had heard nothing—though neither I nor they really expected him to write and tell them about it. I wondered if some deep reluctance in him was still holding out. . . . It was all conjecture, and I found it both disturbing and depressing. My mind moved in restless uncertainty from public to private woes.

All my life I have found solace in gardening. The world of plants offers a welcome escape from the world of men, or even the world of animals, with their human propensity to annoy and grieve us. [Pg 237] Among my roses I am always at peace, even though their cultivation has involved some disappointments. From my first day in the Parsonage garden it was my ambition to grow a rose of my own, a rose of my choice, my personal creation. In my mind was a white rose, something like Frau Karl Druscke, but sweetly scented and with golden shadows at its heart. It took me more than twenty years to transplant this rose from the Platonic world of ideas to the clay and compost of our own.

This was partly due to my ignorance, as there was no one on the isle to help me in this particular matter. Viri palustres were content with the old favourites; besides, flowers of any sort were considered the province of the women and beneath the dignity of the cabbage-rearing male. So I made a number of mistakes, grafting and budding industriously without result and it was not till a nurseryman from Peasmarsh told me to grow from seed that my hopes seemed to have any chance of being realized. I struggled on, but it was not till the June of 1914 that I got what I really wanted.

I shall never forget that drowsy, dewy morning when the white bud opened. I had so often been disappointed when this happened that I hardly dared to go to look inside. The white might unfold on silver or on lemon or even a faint blush. But on this day when I looked closer the base of each petal was golden-a deep colour fading towards the curled brim. I stooped lower still, holding my breath, then drawing it in on a gust of sweetness—the sweetness of tea and honey. I had done it at last. I had made my rose. My poor human mind and purpose had joined the legions of those idées forces, which are, I am persuaded, more likely instruments of creation than Darwin's natural selection. I was thrilled. I could have given a party for the village to meet my rose. Instead, I worked off my excitement by showing it to everybody who came to the house, from errand boys to visiting clergymen. I was sad because I could not show it to Adam, who had always been interested in my endeavours. Instead, I decided to call it Adam Cryall. At first I had meant to name it after Blanche—whose name certainly suited it better, whether Cryall or [Pg 238] Haffenden came after. But now it should be Adam's, and as his it should appear one day at the Chelsea Rose Show. Those were my hopes in June.

I have written all this to introduce that evening at the end of July when, as I was busy among my roses, Blanche came to see me at the Parsonage. She had not been since she left Church Farm, so apart from everything else it was an occasion. I was stooping over an Etoile de Hollande and trying to take my mind off the morning's news by conceiving the idea of a red rose with shadows that were black instead of blue when I heard a step on the gravel behind me and turned round. There stood Blanche, no longer now in mourning, but wearing a summer dress with coloured roses on it. I do not usually notice much what women wear, but I noticed this dress of hers because of the roses. I may also have noticed it because its gay colours contrasted so strangely with her pale and tragic face.

'Hullo, my dear,' I said, twitched by surprise into a long-past greeting. 'I had no idea you were in Ebony.'

'I've only just arrived.'

In that case it seemed doubly strange that she should have come to see me. But I was not altogether surprised by her return to Palster. I had been wondering for some time whether she would think it advisable to come back. With the increasing threat of war, she would not, as an Englishwoman, wish to remain in France. I longed to ask her if Anthony had come back too.

'Well,' I said, 'I'm glad you're over here. I was beginning to feel anxious about you. Things may get very difficult soon. I hope you didn't have too tiring a journey.'

'No, not at all bad. I left Paris very early—about three in the morning—but I got to Palster in time for a late lunch. Of course, my telegram hadn't arrived, so things were really more difficult this side than over there. But I managed all right in the end.'

I said, 'It's very good of you to come to see me so soon after getting home. Won't you come in and sit down?'

I felt pretty sure that there was a special purpose in her visit, [Pg 239] though whether it was personal or national I could not guess. She might have come to warn me of some danger which, through her French connections, she knew of before the ordinary British civilian. She shook her head.

'No, thank you. I won't come in. But I should like to sit down. Haven't you a garden bench or some place where we can sit out of doors?'

There was at the end of the rose-garden a so-called rustic seat, made by the loving hands of Bert Holman of Flitters Lane as a reward for having found a good place for his daughter after she had got spectacularly into trouble, with a married postman in Rye. I seldom sat there, for Bert's goodwill had exceeded his knowledge of carpentry, but it was well placed, with a view over the marshes, and having warned Blanche to look out for nails and splinters, we sat down.

For a moment we sat in silence. Then she said, 'How breathlessly beautiful it all is. I can't bear to think of Prussian jack-boots trampling here.'

'They won't,' I said jauntily, 'we've got the Navy.' (How many times in the next four years was I to say that?) 'But I'm sorry for France.'

'France has an army, and we'll pin at least some hopes on that. But I didn't come to talk to you about the war.'

This made me wonder more than ever, and I waited anxiously for her next words. There was another silence before they came. Then at last she said, 'I want to tell you that I was wrong and you were right.'

'About what?' I asked, my mind full of surmises.

'About Anthony, of course. You remember what you said that day at Aubenas?'

The sunken firmament of the Rhône Valley seemed to rise out of the mists of Romney Marsh.

'Yes, I remember—that is, most things.'

'You said that I couldn't destroy a man's faith, that he'd been [Pg 240] born into and brought up in and lived with all his life, without destroying the man himself.'

'Did I say that?'

'I don't know that you said it in so many words, but that was, the gist of your remarks. And you were right. I've lived with Anthony now for two years, and seen him become somebody quite different from the man I fell in love with and hoped to marry. If you met him now, you'd see that he's completely changed.'

'You mean for the worse?'

'Certainly for the worse.'

I did not know what to say. I remembered some words that Megs had uttered, right at the start of things, when we were at Ste. Pelagic des Monts; she had said, 'He's changed.' Then I remembered some other words, though I could not then recall who had spoken them: 'And say not we shall be as the heathen, for I say unto you that ye cannot be as the heathen.'

'Of course I might have known,' continued Blanche, as I did not speak, 'he couldn't face up to what we'd done. His religion called it a sin, and at the back of his mind it was always a sin, even after he'd stopped believing in God.'

'So he stopped believing in God?'

'He said he had. And I don't think he said it only to please me.'

'No, he's more likely to have said it to reassure himself.'

'I wonder. . . .' She fell silent again for a moment or two, then she said bitterly, almost angrily, 'But I was pleased. I thought that the only barrier between us had broken down, and congratulated myself on what I'd done. Not that we ever talked much about those things, but sometimes his old attitude towards them, his faith as you call it, would put its head out. Then I'd slap it back, and in the end I killed it. I didn't know then that he was unable to put anything else in its place.'

'What had he got to put in its place?'

She smiled awkwardly.

'Some people might have thought his love for me, and just at [Pg 241] first that seemed to be enough. He sometimes had fits of remorse, I suppose you would call it. But he always turned to me, and I was able to comfort him and reason him out of them. That was while we were still in the mountains. Later on, when we were living a more normal sort of life in Paris, his love seemed to change—to go underground with his sense of sin. Then he gave up turning to me; in fact, he turned against me, as if I was his enemy.'

A tear rolled down her cheek, but she wiped it away.

'Forgive me. It's because I'm tired and the last few weeks have been extremely trying—both in the public and the personal sense.'

I silently pressed her hand.

'What about the future?' I asked her after a while. 'Do you still intend to marry him?'

'Oh, no. Certainly not. I've left him, and I hope I never see him again.'

This was more drastic than I expected, but though I had enough humanity to feel sorry for her, I could not help giving what I hope was not an audible sigh of relief. No longer bound to his misdeeds, there was still a chance for Anthony. His family would rejoice and give thanks to God, who had answered their prayers.

'I think you're wise,' I said.

'Wise!' She laughed unmirthfully. 'This isn't wisdom, but necessity. I couldn't marry him if I wanted to. He's marrying someone else.'

I felt as if I had been struck a blow just under the heart.

'Blanche,' I said faintly.

'Yes, it's a surprise for you, no doubt. You thought he loved me, and so did I once. But I've told you what became of his love. However, he isn't in the least in love with this girl. He's marrying her because he's got to. It's what he's brought on himself by seducing one of my pupils at the Lycée. I used to invite her to our flat because she was lonely. Her parents lived at Angers, and she was staying in Paris with an aunt. She was pretty and amiable, but very stupid, and as I felt she had a poor chance of passing her examination, I gave [Pg 242] her some private classes. But one day she made a mistake about the time and came when I was out. I think Anthony must have had too much to drink—he did occasionally—and now there's a baby coming. Unluckily for him, her parents found out that we weren't married, and French parents can be very terrible when the family honour is at stake. So he's marrying her next week, and if there isn't war he'll spend the rest of his life as a petit bourgeois with a yellow paper flower in his buttonhole to show he doesn't believe in God.'

'Really! Is that how they do it in France?' I was diverted in spite of myself.

'In certain provincial franc-maçon circles. They scatter them at funerals too. Her father's a prominent freemason, and I daresay Anthony will become one now.'

'Oh, God!' I cried, 'the poor Boutflowers!'

Blanche bowed her head.

'I'm sorry.'

I jumped up and began walking up and down in front of the bench. I was furious with Anthony. I had never thought much of him, but I had not imagined he could fall so low as this. I had deemed him no worse than impulsive and selfish—not, as he appeared now, faithless and vicious. It is true that I had never known him well—in fact, the only one of the Boutflowers whom I knew at all well was Megs—but if there had been anything like this before I should have heard of it. Adam would have told me. I thought of Adam and the goodness he had never lost. Even Blanche's made-to-measure morality had a certain dignity and idealism about it. I silenced my angry thoughts and tried to comfort her.

'You mustn't blame yourself too much, my dear. This couldn't have happened if he hadn't been rotten at the core.'

'But he wasn't. I shouldn't have loved him if he had been; and hang it all, I've known him for years. He never was a strong character, but he had his integrity, and he lost it through me. I don't mean because of things I said—he wouldn't have listened if he [Pg 243] hadn't wanted me to help him. He wanted me to help him lose his faith, because it frightened him and spoiled his happiness with me.'

'That's all very well. But why did his faith frighten him? Because he had done something which it told him was wrong, and as you've said he couldn't face up to it. But who started it all? Don't you remember how indignant you were at Aubenas when something I said made you think I thought you had made the running?'

'Yes, I was angry, but that was because it was true, at least as far as "running" is concerned. When it comes to taking the word literally, I'm the one to blame. I don't think that at the start Anthony had any idea of breaking up his own marriage or being named as co-respondent in mine. I know it was silly and irresponsible of him, but he always was happy-go-lucky. No doubt he thought he was doing wrong, but he also thought he could put it right again—the way back was open, he hadn't committed himself. Then things seemed to close in on us, and when Father wrote and told me about that rumour you had scotched, I just felt I couldn't endure carrying on in secret any longer. Besides, by then I wanted to get rid of George and marry Anthony. I don't think Anthony really wanted any of it. He would have liked to go on as we were.'

'None of this makes me like him any better.'

'It isn't meant to. What I want to make clear is that I'm the one who's responsible for all that's happened since. Before we went away, he hadn't shut the door behind him, but then he was trapped; and that was my doing.'

'And his. Stop talking of him, Blanche, as if he was a child.'

She sighed.

'That is the most charitable view one can take of him now, and I sometimes take it to ease my heart.'

I sat down beside her and took her hand.

'My poor dear. I can't tell you how deeply I feel for you. And I absolutely refuse to let you take all the blame. The man must be rotten. Think of your father—he lost his faith, but he didn't fall to pieces like this.'

[Pg 244]

It occurred to me then that I was arguing against myself, taking the opposite side from my old self at Aubenas. Blanche, too, seemed to have changed over.

'Father was different,' she said. 'I don't think his beliefs had ever meant very much to him. They were just a tradition he had accepted—like taking orders as a Cryall younger son. I don't think he'd ever really loved his religion.'

'That's exactly what you said at Aubenas about Anthony.'

She coloured faintly.

'Did I? Well, I was wrong. But I was fighting for him then—fighting you and fighting him and fighting myself. I wanted to think he was like Father. But he wasn't. Instead of being a strong man to whom his faith meant little or nothing, he was a weak man to whom it meant a lot. Because I had seen a strong man walk without crutches, I was a fool to take them away from a cripple.'

This was too much like the old Blanche to pass muster.

'I should use the word "backbone" rather than "crutches".'

I expected her to fire back at me. But the flash was dead.

'Should you?' she said listlessly. 'Well, in that case—if I broke his back—we can't be surprised at his falling down.'

We seemed to be round once more at the beginning of our argument. I would not have gone on with it if I had not wanted to prevent her taking fully on herself the guilt she ought to share.

'The fact,' I said, 'that he had faith, that he believed in the commandments of God, and therefore knew that he was doing wrong, makes him far more to blame than you. The Boutflowers saw that. You should have heard some of the things they said—excusing you—insisting that it was he, not you, who was really guilty.'

She sighed.

'I know nothing about guilt. I know only what I've done.'

We were silent then for quite a long time. There did not seem any use saying more. The day sank slowly round us as we sat above the shadows, as at another, lesser Aubenas, watching them creep over Romney Marsh towards the isle. The sun had not yet set, but [Pg 245] a long, purple cloud lay across the west, and the fire was only in its edges. Beyond it fountains of green light promised rain for tomorrow. At last Blanche spoke.

'Do you think there will be war?'

The relief of her change of subject was intense, even though it did no more than bring me from a private to a public woe.

'I'm pretty sure there will. Have you seen this morning's paper?'

'Oh, yes. I read Le Figaro on the boat and picked up the Daily News at Dover.'

'Then you must feel pretty much as I do. There's hardly any hope of a peaceful solution after that last note to Russia.'

'I'm thankful,' said Blanche, 'that Father died when he did. He did so love his illusions.'

'You think they were illusions?'

'What else can I think after what's happened? Not that I ever felt about things as he did. I belong to a younger, sadder generation of agnostics. I could never pretend that the world was a good place, even before all this happened. All I've done has been to refuse the anaesthetic.'

This again was too much like the old Blanche, and I asked abruptly, 'Have you made any plans for the future? Shall you stay at Palster?'

'Only until I've fixed things up there. If there's war, and it's scarcely an "if", I shall offer it as a hospital. As for me, I want to train as a nurse under the Red Cross. I shall join the V.A.D. and try to get work somewhere in London.'

'And when the war's over?'

'It isn't time yet to think of that.'

'People say it may be over by Christmas.'

'"People say"—that means "people hope". I haven't a hope myself.'

We sat a few moments longer, gazing at the western cloud and the rainy evening light. Then she said, 'I shall put Ashenden in charge of things at Palster. He's been foreman at the Home Farm so long that I think he could easily run the estate. He knew Father's [Pg 246] ways, and Father trusted him. The tenants like him too. He'll keep things going while the war lasts, and then—well, then we'll have to think again. Meanwhile, by offering the house as a hospital, I believe I'm doing what Father would have liked.'

'I agree with you there.'

She smiled.

'I'm glad we agree over something. We seem to be always arguing when we meet. Some day I hope we'll have a long, amiable, cosy conversation in which we agree about everything.'

'That would be very dull,' I said, 'and I don't believe we ever shall. But I hope you'll be able to come down here from time to time even if—after war breaks out.'

'Oh, yes. Don't think for a moment that you've seen the last of me. But I must be off now. I've loads of things to see to at the Manor, and we don't know yet how short time's going to be. Good-bye, dear Uncle Harry. You've been very sweet.'

'Good-night,' I said. 'I won't say good-bye, for I hope I'll see you again before you leave Ebony.'

'I'm afraid not. I'm off again tomorrow—I shall have settled everything at Palster by the afternoon.'

'Off again? Must you? Where are you going?'

'To London. I would rather see things happen from closer than this.'

There was no more for me to say. I walked with her in silence to the garden gate, where we clasped hands, and I stood for some minutes watching her go up the road towards the crossways. She had filled my mind so full, that it was not till she had disappeared that I realized I had never shown her my new rose.

Three days later our world came to an end.

[Pg 247]

Chapter X

In the summer of 1926 my white rose Adam Cryall won a first prize at the Chelsea Rose Show. This may seem out of keeping with the eschatological ending to my last chapter. Nevertheless, it is true that my exhibit received its honour in a very different world from that in which it had first bloomed. I shall always admire old Emanuel Swedenborg for insisting that the end of the world came in 1757, even though nobody had noticed it; but he had not half the evidence that I had for believing that it had come to an end in 1914. Only twelve years had passed since then, but already with them the old order had passed away.

I had come up to London to gloat over my exhibit and to meet Megs Conlan, with whom I was having lunch. As I stood waiting for her in the warm shade of the tent, drowsy with the sweetness of roses and trodden grass, my mind slipped back to the isle I had left that morning and sighed over its changes. The view from the Parsonage was not among them. When I stood in the field behind the house I could still gaze down at the old roofs and walls of Palster Manor. The garden looked unchanged too, and as before I could sometimes see figures moving in it and even children at play. But the view was now an illusion. These people were, not Cryalls, nor were they viri palustres—they were strangers. In the refined vocabulary of the new world they were 'guests'—in the old we should have called them boarders. Palster Manor was a guest-house.

[Pg 248]

Adam had sometimes spoken, when he wanted to tease me, of a new order in which the parson no longer existed. I think it would have surprised him to know that the parson had outlived the squire. The parsons of the Weald were very much as they had always been, but dwindling incomes, rising costs and high taxation had dispossessed the squires. In my mind was a long tail of Manors, Parks and Places that since the war ended (only eight years ago) had been transformed into schools, institutions or hotels. Morghew Hall, near Rushmonden, where in the old days Blanche and Lindsay had often gone to dance, and where Violet Lismore had found a husband, was now a school for backward girls, and schools had also taken over Brickwall Park and Battle Abbey on the Sussex side of the Weald. Hornbrook Park near Shadoxhurst and lovely Witherenden were now occupied by Roman Catholic religious orders, while Possingworth Place outside Heathfield had become a hotel. On the isle itself the Lismores had sold Lambstand and retired to Bulverhythe. They were both elderly—not to say old—and found the place difficult to manage with labour scarce and wages high. Tom and Lindsay had decided that they did not want to live there—they much preferred town life and the west, and saw, moreover, for their boys a more likely future in the car trade than as landed gentry. So the whole estate was put up for sale in 1921. Two of the farmers bought back their farms, and the other two were sold with the house to a London stockbroker, whose enormous car made light of the distance between him and his main field of operations. As for Palster Manor . . .

But I can hardly bear to write about that, even after so many years, for Palster Manor—as it used to be—is still very close to my heart. Adam had loved it and served it, and had taken for granted that his daughter would love and serve it too. Even after the blow she had struck at his good opinion of her, he still hoped—with that invincible hope which had taken in him the place of faith though not of charity. What would he have said had he known that as soon as the war ended Blanche and Lindsay would agree to take legal [Pg 249] measures to cut off the entail, so that the house and land could be sold? During the war the old place had nobly played its part as a convalescent hospital, but when in 1919 the War Office required it no longer, and I was beginning to ask myself how soon Blanche would come home (for George had been dead six months), this dreadful thing happened and nearly broke my heart.

Something else that happened nearly surprised me out of my wits, so altogether I sound in a bad case; but I think I may have exaggerated things a little. Writing sometimes leads to overwriting, and by now I seem to have written a book. I started with the idea of writing the story of Adam Cryall, my dear friend, but I see that it has been just as much the story of his daughter Blanche. Had it been only the story of Adam, it should have ended when he died, but I found that I could not stop till I had finished with Blanche, and what is in many respects the most remarkable part of her history is still to come. I do not know if the reader has been prepared for it by some of the things she said when she came to see me at the Parsonage. If so, he must be more acute in his perceptions than I am.

During the war I saw very little of her. She had visited Ebony only once or twice, being occupied first with training as a V.A.D. nurse in a London hospital and then driving an ambulance in France. She was in France for the last two years of the war, and was once slightly wounded by a piece of shrapnel. She wrote to me sometimes, and though I received many letters with the field postmark—and it was a great consolation to know that the Ebony boys still thought of me out there and wrote to me—hers were those I enjoyed most. Then at the end of the war she came back and did this thing.

She told me nothing about it till the deed was done. Then she wrote from London. She knew I would be angry and upset.

. . . . But I don't want to argue all the time when we next meet, so I haven't told you till everything was settled. Dear Uncle Harry, believe me [Pg 250] when I say I haven't done this thing lightly. I've thought it over in view of everything else—certain things I shall tell you when I come down to Ebony, and others I shall tell you now. You mustn't think of Palster in the golden days when Father was alive. Things were different then. He had plenty of money to keep it going, and his farms paid well. Now there isn't so much money—a part of what he had to leave went to Lindsay, and anyhow taxation is something like four times what it used to be. Wages have more than doubled, and quite rightly because of the high price of everything; but that affects us too, and I could never afford to pay the proper number of servants and gardeners, to say nothing of labourers for the Home Farm. I couldn't have kept the place going as he would have liked it, and you yourself wouldn't like to see it getting all seedy and shabby and weed-grown while I kept up a few of the rooms within. I shall offer the tenants their farms at a special rate; I think this is better than attempting to sell the estate as a whole, and I'm sure Father wouldn't mind my making yeomen of Holbeam and Neatenden and Kemp and others of his good friends. As for them, the tenants, I think they'll like that much better than holding their farms under me. They loved Father and were glad to be his tenants, but I know quite well that they don't love me. I've done things they don't approve of, and anyhow I'm a woman and not to be trusted as a landlord. I know the Men of the Marsh. So please, dear Uncle Harry, don't be angry with me. I'm coming down next week for quite a spell to settle things, and I particularly want to see you and talk to you. Will you come and have tea with me on Tuesday? Let me know—not that I'm making any other engagements yet, but I'd rather you got all your scolding done in a letter, so that when we meet we can talk about other things.

What else were we to talk about? My heart was full of the sale of Palster Manor, and I could not imagine what else my lips could find to discuss. But I relieved my feelings, to some extent, as she had suggested, for I wrote her a letter in which I pointed out all the follies and fallacies of her position. It was all very well to talk of making yeomen of the tenants, I said—where were they to find the money to buy their farms? Moreover, since George's death she need no longer feel uncertain of her status in Ebony, and the farms [Pg 251] ought certainly to bring in enough to pay a good bailiff. Ashenden, who for years had been foreman on the Home Farm and knew all Adam's ways and had looked after the estate during the war, was perfectly capable of taking on the job, and was liked by everybody. As to the house and garden, surely a little care and contrivance on her part could prevent them going to seed. In the past she had spoken of her wish to use her talents and education in the service of common things. Here was her grand opportunity. A woman of her intelligence was just what was needed for running an estate in these difficult times. She had cut off the entail, but that scarcely mattered, since there were no willing heirs, and she had not yet sold the place. She could still retrieve Palster Manor and make it worthy of what it had been in her father's day.

When I read over this letter it sounded like a cry from the depths of Queen Victoria's reign. Having let off steam, my cooler judgment saw that most of the tenants could perfectly well afford to buy their farms. They had all made money during the war, and building-society mortgages were available for just this sort of purchase. As for Ashenden, he would probably want to retire, for I had forgotten in my zeal that he was over seventy, and had over-worked pretty constantly during the war. There was also a local belief that in the course of his unsupervised management of the estate he had amassed a considerable sum of money.

All this occurred to me before I thought of Blanche herself and realized the full dreariness of the future I had sketched out for her. I had condemned her to a lonely, struggling life in a world of which she would be almost the sole inhabitant. Apart from the local view of her, which was not as cordial as I had represented, there was now no one in Ebony with whom she could consort on equal terms except myself, and I well knew my limitations as a companion. The people at Lambstand she would not like at all, and many of those Weald families whom she used to know in the old days had been dispersed by death and other changes. What is more, I was asking her to endure all this not to prevent but merely to delay the inevitable end. [Pg 252] When she died in twenty—thirty—years Palster Manor would have to be sold. My call to battle was no more than the call to a delaying action from which no one would benefit but myself, who would not live to see the end, and I could scarcely offer that as a motive for sacrifice.

So I tore up my letter and wrote another in which I scolded a little but not too much. I also magnanimously conceded her right to do what she liked with her own property, and finally thanked her for her invitation to tea, which I gladly accepted.

But my heart was heavy as I walked up the drive of Palster Manor for what might well be the last time under the old dispensation. It did not look quite as it had done in Adam's day, for the Army had knocked it about a bit; but give me only half a day a week in that garden, I thought—forgetting my increasing age and infirmity—and I could do wonders. Inside the house the change was more apparent, for the furniture, removed in its hospital days, had been perfunctorily restored to its former positions. The library, into which I was shown by none other than little Elsie Budgen, whom I really must stop thinking of as Tom Lismore's daughter, looked particularly desolate and unlived in, in spite of the tea-table. Adam's books were in process of being sorted, and I wondered who would buy them. Some of them were rare and interesting, but there was a lot of dead rationalist stuff that could not be worth much. Perhaps Blanche would take it with her to wherever she decided to set up house.

Then she came into the room, and everything was changed by her welcome.

'Here you are at last, dear Uncle Harry, and I'm so glad to see you. It seems ages since we met.'

'It must be quite six months.'

'And then it was only for about five minutes at my club. I was in process of being demobbed, and had to hurry off. Now we've plenty of time for a good long chat; so do sit down, and I'll ring for tea.'

[Pg 253]

We did not talk much about anything except the weather until Elsie Budgen had brought in the tea-pot, then she said, 'What a very nice letter you wrote me. I hadn't expected such a nice one.'

'Ah,' said I, 'but you should have seen the one that got away.'

She laughed, then immediately looked grave.

'I know you must have felt it badly, but believe me when I say I've done what I really think is best. I couldn't have carried on here alone. I might conceivably have done it if there hadn't been a war. I'm not thinking of the changes except in myself—it's I who've changed. I've been about and seen a lot in the last two years, and now I can't bear the thought of staying put. I want to see more.'

'You could let the house instead of selling it.'

'I could, but what would be the sense? I'm over forty now—quite old enough to know my own mind—and I'm sure I never shall come back. Besides, as you said in your letter, it would be only postponing the end for one generation.'

I agreed, but my heart bled. To distract my thoughts I said, 'I take it you mean to travel. Have you made any plans yet as to where you shall go?'

'Nothing definite, except that I want to go to Italy. I've seen enough of France for the time being, and Germany isn't a place one can visit now. But I know nothing of Italy, except San Silvestro and the Riviera. I want to see the rest, and particularly I want to go to Rome.'

This rather surprised me, for it was before the days when so much of classical Rome was dug out by Mussolini. I should have thought that Florence or Siena would have attracted her more.

'I hope you won't go before the autumn,' I said. 'I've never been to Rome, but I've heard that in summer the heat is insupportable.'

'That's true, and I certainly shan't go till the summer is over. I shan't have cleared up here for one thing, for another I'm hoping to have an audience with the Pope, and he usually spends the summer months at Castel Gandolpho.'

'An audience with the Pope,' I echoed, my cup of tea checked [Pg 254] midway between its saucer and my mouth, 'whatever do you want that for?'

'Well, a great many people go to see him when they're in Rome. It's considered the proper thing to do.'

I remembered then that I'd heard of the Pope receiving Muslim and pagan monarchs.

'But——' I hesitated. 'It seems an odd idea to me. I wonder what your father would have said about it?'

'I don't suppose he'll mind—if he knows.'

I stared at her—something was beginning to come through. She started to laugh, then tears came into her eyes. Then she said, 'Darling Uncle Harry, this is all part of an effort to break to you as gently as possible that I was received into the Roman Catholic Church last week—here, let me take your cup.'

I carefully put down my cup myself. It was perfectly under my control. But my speech was not. The announcement she had just made should have had more than a mere half-dozen sentences of preparation, and for some time words were beyond me.

'I've often wondered,' she continued, as I sat silent, though I trust not with my mouth open, 'if you've noticed any change in me. I think you must have.'

'Well, I haven't!' I burst forth. 'How could I? You never gave me the smallest clue.'

'Not that time I came to see you just before the war?'

'On the contrary. You said one or two things about religion that were quite in the old style and annoyed me very much.'

'They were just kicks. But surely you saw that something in me had changed when I told you how right you had been about Anthony, while I had been so completely, damnably wrong.'

'That was a change certainly. But I'd no idea it was so fundamental, or'—I searched through many stammers for the right word—'dynamic.'

'You sound distressed.'

[Pg 255]

'I'm not in the least distressed—very much the opposite. But I'm still trying to pull myself together.'

'I'm sorry. I should have been more tactful. But I thought you must have guessed something—if not from my visit, then from my letters.'

'But they told me nothing at all.'

She smiled.

'When one's heart is full, one probably thinks it has overflowed when it hasn't. I couldn't be explicit in a letter which I knew would be read by a third person, but I thought I'd let out enough for you to read between the lines.'

'Forgive me, my dear. I'm doubtless a very stupid old man not to have at least tried to read between the lines of a field post-office letter. But somehow it had never occurred to me that one did such a thing except to acquire secret military information. I never thought that the soul could express itself in invisible ink.'

'I doubt now if mine did—obviously not clearly. Things weren't clear to me then—not even a few weeks ago. My dear friend, I can't describe to you the mental and spiritual turmoil I've lived in for the last five years. My life in the war zone was absolute peace and order compared with what was going on inside.'

'Won't you tell me how it happened? I'm quite calm and collected now.'

'But even now I don't know that I can give you a very clear account. There were experiences in France which would probably seem meaningless to you if I were to describe them . . . but they all pushed me or pulled me. I've met people and read books . . . I've been "under instruction" as it's called three times and then drawn back. No one can say I've acted impulsively or neglected to think things over.'

'Did the Boutflowers help you at all?'

'I never told any of them a thing until I had definitely made up my mind. As you know, we haven't been on very close terms since I went off with Anthony. Besides, I couldn't bear to think of the [Pg 256] possibility of disappointing them over such a matter. When everything was finally settled I told Megs, and she had Mrs. Boutflower were witnesses at my reception.'

'Thank God for that. I could never bear the thought of your being estranged from such old friends—friends your father loved so much. You must have made them very happy, my dear.'

'If I can atone to any extent,' she said gravely, 'for the misery I've caused them, that is all I want.'

We were silent again for a moment before I asked, 'Have they heard anything more about Anthony?'

'No—nothing more; though that was what I prayed for at the font.'

The reader has heard even less about Anthony, for I have not yet got round to the information that he joined the French Army as a volunteer very soon after war broke out. His family had hoped he would return to England to join some British regiment—we all imagined that he would welcome an escape from his wife's parents, even if courage and generosity had not survived the general wreck of his character. But Anthony obviously did not want to come home and possibly face his family, so he joined up in France—a circumstance of which we knew nothing until conscription was introduced in Britain. The inquiries then made by the authorities proved more successful than those of his family, and his mother received the news that soon after his enlistment in the Foreign Legion he had been killed in the Battle of the Somme. No details were available, and though immediately after the war Mrs. Boutflower had tried to get into communication with his wife's people at Angers, she had so far received no reply. The family's great fear now was that Anthony had died unreconciled—since the infidel French Government allowed no chaplains in the field. In that case his soul might be lost for ever, and though I did my best to comfort them with quotations from Dante's Purgatorio and even the old jingle about the saddle and the ground, I was aware that nothing short of definite information would meet the case.

[Pg 257]

While I was thinking about Anthony, Blanche was lighting a cigarette and telling me to light my pipe, for we had given up the pretence of having tea. When at last we had both relaxed into our more accustomed selves, she said, 'It's really very sweet of you, Uncle Harry, never to have spoken a word of regret at my not having joined the Church of England. You must feel in your heart that I had better have done so.'

'I don't know that I feel anything of the kind'—this was qot quite true, for there had been a momentary personal pang, but nothing that could be told—'I am a priest of the Church of England, and I hope to die as I have lived, her loyal, devoted son; but I am well aware of the difficulties and drawbacks of Anglicanism, and I don't know that I could recommend it to anyone like yourself, coming in from outside, without any previous religious experience. Apart from this, my thankfulness that you have found God within the framework of a strong organization swallows up all differences of creed.'

My mind was back with Lindsay and that short ecstasy of belief, which had died as a helpless newborn babe will die without its mother's milk.

'What are you thinking of?' asked Blanche. But even now I would not tell her.

'No,' I said decidedly, 'it may seem odd, and of course I couldn't have given you the advice if you had asked me, but Rome is the Church I should have chosen for you if—and it would have seemed in your case a big "if"—you could swallow what she teaches.'

Blanche laughed.

'I object to the word swallow in this connection. It suggests something so very different from my slow-motion progress, with endless set-backs and false starts—like a game of snakes and ladders. Actually the part I found most difficult to swallow was the Nicene Creed, and that I presume you have swallowed yourself. The rest seemed to follow logically.'

'Well, my dear child, you can believe me when I say that I am glad, and I know that in spite of your choice, you will never think [Pg 258] disparagingly of me in my office. It's the great fault of converts from Anglicanism, to disparage their past loyalties. Up to a point it's natural—indeed inevitable—but it's what makes me dislike converts. You are quite different. You did not begin with us. You began at the beginning.'

'At the very beginning,' said Blanche. She smiled. 'Quasimodo—as a newborn babe I entered the Church, though unlike a newborn babe, I had the unparalleled joy of knowing what was being done to me. Think of it, Uncle Harry, for you believe this too. I stood there at the font absolutely pure and sinless after all my sins. It wasn't just the scrubbed cleanness of absolution, but the perfect whiteness of a new creature. For five minutes I was what God had meant me to be.'

'For no more than five minutes?' I asked with a grin.

'Well, I can't be sure it was longer than that before some little crossness or selfishness spoilt the picture. But I don't remember. All I do remember is that perfect moment at the font, and I'm glad today has given me a chance of thanking you.'

'Me!' I cried, and I really did gape this time. 'But I had nothing whatever to do with it.'

'Indeed, you had. I'm not suggesting you've done everything, but if it hadn't been for that day at Aubenas——'

'When we quarrelled the whole time——'

'We did, but in the course of our quarrelling you told me that if Anthony lost his religion I should lose Anthony.'

'And all the notice you took was to get up and go away.'

'Yes, I was furious. But that was then. Later on, when I had lost Anthony . . .'

'You came to see me at the Parsonage, to tell me I was right. Dear generous Blanche—but you were certainly then a great way from the front.'

'I was, but the movement had started. Anyhow, I date that first call back to Aubenas, even though it wasn't till two years later that it reached my brain. You had shown me something of which I was [Pg 259] ignorant, and it began to occur to me that I might also be ignorant in other ways. I was learning—I was groping—and though I kept on falling back and having to start again, at last I reached a point when I saw that the best atonement I could make for robbing Anthony of his Church and his Church of Anthony was to offer myself in his place.'

'Happy the Church that exchanges Anthony for Blanche,' I would have misquoted had I not known from the look on her face that it would distress her. She had always been vexed by my poor opinion of him, and after all, she knew him better than I.

'But there's one point on which we are agreed,' I said, as if she had actually spoken, and the thought of Adam passed from my mind to hers.

'You're thinking of Father and what I said in my clumsy efforts to prepare you for all this.'

'If he knows, I am sure he is glad.'

'And will forgive me for the sale of Palster Manor?'

'Possibly,' I said, without a smile.

As it happened, Palster Manor was very hard to sell. The farms were disposed of without much difficulty. Most of the tenants were glad of the opportunity to buy their own, having thriven substantially during the war, as my second thoughts had suggested. Odiam was bought by a firm of commercial hopgrowers, Barrow's Land went, to my delight, to a Kentishman of the name of Harlakenden, no doubt in some way descended from that Mr. Harlakenden whose 'animadversions' had so much increased my delight in my copy of the Romney Marsh Charter. (By the way, when George Haffenden died, his sister gave that book back to me, saying that neither she nor her son cared about it, and she knew that her father had always wanted it to be mine.) Weights, where my long-past fishing holiday had started my life in Ebony, went, to my sorrow, to a retired colonel, who in the mud and misery of the trenches had [Pg 260] dreamed of an English farm, and now must learn that farms are not such stuff as dreams are made of.

But the house itself, with its gardens and Home Farm, hung on the market for almost a year. It was well advertised, its photograph appeared in The Field and Country Life, and a great many people came to see it; but the same objections were always raised—it was too isolated, with no railway station nearer than Rye, no golf course and no 'amenities', the house-agents' word which they told me meant electricity, gas, water-mains, sewage and all those things its inhabitants had lived contentedly without for several hundred years. It was also old-fashioned and inconvenient, and would require, I was told, a lot of money spent on it before it could be run with the small number of servants that people could now afford.

So altogether it was a relief when early in 1920 it was bought by a young couple with a number of small children. They made no alterations to the house—in fact, they never seemed to do more than camp in it—and had only one servant, Elsie Budgen, who, as was still our local custom, 'went with' the place, while Mrs. Allnutt from Shover's Cottage scrubbed for them twice a week. But, even with such a modest establishment, the poor things before very long were financially sunk and had to go. I was sorry, for I liked them. They were merry and friendly, and their improvidence was never selfish. They came to church, too, when they had time and remembered that it was Sunday.

A new element of change was creeping over Ebony. The young Staffords had hardly gone before Luck of Belice gave up his farm and moved into a tenancy at Ashburnham in Sussex. He had found the business of running his own place too much for him, and was in debt, both to his mortgagees and to Queen Anne's Bounty. Other farmers, too, seemed to find the honour of yeomanship outweighed by its responsibilities. When old Neatenden died at Owley his only son, instead of stepping into his inheritance, sold it and bought a garage on the outskirts of Bapchild. I began to feel like something left on shore from which the tide is receding. I was parched for the [Pg 261] old ways and the old people, and a feeling very like resentment would still occasionally move me against Blanche, whose word it seemed could have kept the waters over me until I, too, went out with the tide.

But I never indulged in such moods for long. They were moods of an old fogey, and I considered myself still a few years short of that. The tide was changing not only in Ebony but all along the coasts of the new world in which I had surely a better part to play than that of a stranded starfish. Blanche had been wise in refusing to drag the process through another generation. She had sensibly taken advantage of a natural break with the past, and no doubt when I had succeeded in re-adjusting myself to the new ways I should feel less desolate.

In this endeavour Blanche herself helped me a good deal. For one thing, I found myself in closer friendship with her now that she had severed her links with Palster than in the days when she was still nominally attached to it. She wrote to me often in the course of her various travels—I saw Spain, Tunis, Greece, the two Americas and many other places through her eyes—and besides occasional meetings in London, she sometimes came down to Ebony. Once she actually stayed with me at the Parsonage—an event made possible by the pensioning off of Mrs. Cooke and the engagement in her stead of a much younger woman who liked me to have visitors because she found Palster 'dull'. She did not stay more than a year, but while she remained with me I did my best to entertain her, for she was an excellent cook. Not only Blanche, but Megs, Mrs. Boutflower, in fact all the family, as well as various clerical friends and acquaintances, received invitations from a hitherto inhospitable quarter.

When, in spite of my efforts, Miss Moberley could endure the isle no longer and gave place to someone more on the lines of Mrs. Cooke, Blanche very nobly came twice to stay at the Manor Guest House, which I thought showed the strength both of her character and of her affection for me. The place, according to her, was tolerably [Pg 262] well run. I did not myself like Mr. and Mrs. Coldwell, but they always seemed to have a full house in summer, and some at least of their boarders attended church. Blanche was sweetly apologetic about hiring the Plough taxi to take her in to Rye on Sundays, and on the way home always stopped at the Parsonage to drink a glass of sherry with me.

On this morning of the Rose Show, from which I have wandered away so long, I was looking forward to meeting her after lunch at Megs's house in St. John's Wood. She had just come back from a second visit to New York, and was staying with the Conlans, who now lived in London. I had wanted her to come with Megs to see my rose, but she said she had an engagement which would also prevent her joining us at lunch. By this time I had begun to wonder if my other guest was going to fail me. Dear little Megs had no idea of time, but an hour was longer than she usually kept me waiting. However, just when I had decided to move off, she came panting up to me, full of apologies and what I suppose must be called explanations.

She was a grandmother now, and the adjective 'stout' should displace the milder 'plump' in describing her figure. But she had the same sweet, artless face and earnest, breathy little voice that I had loved in those olden, golden days at Palster.

'Don't worry, my dear. I haven't minded waiting, and if we've no time to look at anything besides my rose, that saves me at least from the danger of comparison.'

She gazed in rapture at Adam Cryall and his first-prize label.

'Oh, Mr. Chamberlin, how beautiful!—the Papal colours!'

'I'm afraid that was by accident rather than design.'

'Oh, yes, of course. But it's a nice thing to have happened, and it's called Adam Cryall. How very sweet of you! Has Blanche seen it?'

'She's seen it on the bush; I've been growing it for some years now, but this is its first public appearance.'

[Pg 263]

'You must feel so proud.'

'Honestly I do. I've been trying to grow a rose like that ever since I came to Ebony—a scented white rose with a golden base to the petals.'

She sniffed ecstatically.

'Yes, you've chosen the right name for it. It's Uncle Adam's rose. He was so very sweet. It's just like him.'

From any point of view save that of goodwill, her praise was valueless, but it pleased me more than many better-informed laudations. Feeling, against my judgment, intensely gratified, I took her to lunch at Ludovic's, a small restaurant in Dean Street, my club not having yet surrendered to the feminine invasion. Here in a pleasant corner, dark enough for lamplight, I could enjoy my guest.

'Blanche is sorry she couldn't come,' she said, 'but she had a lot to do this morning. Besides, she'd rather meet you at the house. She's got something to tell you, and thinks it would be better not to do it in a restaurant.'

'What can Blanche have to tell me, I wonder?'

My mind started prospecting. Was Blanche going to get married? She must now be nearly fifty, but she was still very attractive, and had some money. It was just possible. . . . Or had she bought a place somewhere?—a small place? Or even—for my mind was now careering madly—Palster Manor? I tried to question Megs, but she would tell me nothing, and finally distracted my attention with her own news.

'Mother's heard at last from Madame Poisson.'

Such was the sorry name of Anthony's mother-in-law.

'My dear, I'm so glad. I hope she was able to give you some information.'

But Megs shook her head sadly.

'No, nothing that we didn't know already. They themselves didn't know much. They just had the usual telegram—"Mort au champ d'honneur", you know—and the slaughter was so great that there was practically no one left to give his family any details. We shall [Pg 264] never know now what happened. Oh, poor Anthony! One can only hope that he was able to make an act of perfect contrition, but I don't know . . . it's rather a difficult thing to do in an emergency, as I found when the Zeppelins came over.'

'He laid down his life for his country. Surely that counts for something.'

'Oh, yes, it does—if only we weren't afraid he'd enlisted in order to get away from Genevieve's people. . . . But of course it was in France, and though there weren't Army chaplains, he might have gone to confession in some village near the battlefield—when he thought he was in danger of death it might have brought him to his senses . . . or he may have lain wounded some time before he died and managed an act of perfect contrition after all . . . or one of those conscripted soldier priests may have found him and heard his confession and then been killed himself. Or he might——'

'My dear,' I interrupted as she was nearly in tears, 'among all those trees there is a wood, and its name is God's mercy.'

'Yes, I should have more faith. It's ungrateful of me to be worrying God about Anthony when I've got my Terence safely back and nobody else in our family has been more than slightly wounded. Compared with other families, we've been lucky—there's no denying it. Still Anthony was always my special brother, and I should so much like to know for certain that I shall meet him in heaven. But you're perfectly right—I should have more faith.'

To lift the theological cloud I asked her how it was that they had only just heard from Madame Poisson when Mrs. Boutflower's first inquiries had been made at least seven years ago.

'Well, you see, for one thing she isn't Madame Poisson any longer. She's Madame Chirat, for Monsieur Poisson died early in the war, and she married again. She'd left Angers, too, and was living in Fanjeaux, right in the South of France. We'd never have got in touch with her if it hadn't been for Blanche. She tried everything—advertising in the French provincial papers, which we'd never thought of. But nothing happened till she was in France last year, [Pg 265] when she went to the police, and they recommended a detective agency. It was one of their detectives who found Madame Poisson—Chirat, I mean—and gave Blanche the address. She wouldn't write herself, but Mother did, and I'm glad Blanche was there when the answer came. I only wish it had told us more. However, it was a very kind letter, full of sympathy. She called Anthony "notre fils". But Genevieve is dead. She married again too, and died when her first—I mean her second—child was born. Anthony's daughter is with Madame Chirat at Fanjeaux.'

All I said was, 'Hum.'

I wondered why Blanche had told me nothing about all this, until I realized that it involved two subjects on which we were divided, and therefore, as good friends, never discussed—Roman Catholic doctrine and Anthony Boutflower. No doubt she had been as interested as any of the Boutflowers in the results of the inquiry, and for her sake as well as theirs I was sorry they had been so disappointing. But I did not want to talk about Anthony any longer, and in order to snatch the conversation off him I began to tease Megs about the mysterious 'something' Blanche had to tell me.

'I shall make three guesses,' I said. 'Is she going to be married?'

'Oh, please don't ask me, for I promised I wouldn't tell you.'

'You needn't tell me anything. I shall know by your face whether I'm right or wrong. Has she bought a house or a cottage somewhere? Is she going to settle down at last?'

The face across the table was a face of agony.

'Please don't, Mr. Chamberlin. You're making me feel miserable.'

'But why? You haven't broken your promise.'

'No, but when I hear you guessing things like that I feel sorry for you. I—I—I mean, I—I—I'm afraid you'll be disappointed.'

I saw real compassion in her eyes, and suddenly felt deflated.

'I understand. She's going to tell me something I shan't like.'

'She—I—she's afraid you won't like it, though really—— Oh, please may we go now, before I tell you any more.'

I paid the bill, and contrary to my usual frugal habit, ordered a [Pg 266] taxi. I was anxious to get this bad news over, and spent the drive to St. John's Wood in vain conjectures as to what it might be. I wondered if Blanche meant to announce her permanent settlement in some far country. She had just come back from New York, and I know that when she had been there before she had taken great interest in a social experiment being made by an ex-Communist woman called, I think, Dorothy Day. Could she by any chance mean to end her days working in the slums of Brooklyn? If she did, it would be just like her, and just like her father, but the thought did not please me.

The Conlans were in easy circumstances now, for Terence had reached the higher grades of his profession. They had a charming little house in Acacia Road, and by the time we arrived there I had already cheered myself with the thought that even if Blanche chose to live in New York, she would still be able to come home from time to time and visit me in Ebony.

Blanche was in the long, french-windowed sitting-room, waiting for us with the greeting of an old friend. It seemed to me that she merely skimmed her own rich supply of news and almost immediately asked for mine, which I told her was nil.

'Oh, come, Uncle Harry, you can't say that, with your rose winning a first prize.'

'That isn't news, for you've heard it already.'

'Don't be such a purist. I want all the particulars. What made you suddenly decide to exhibit?'

'I didn't suddenly decide. I deliberately made up my mind last winter, as I would have told you if you hadn't been on the other side of the world. What made you suddenly decide to go back to New York?'

'For one thing, a number of nice people asked me to visit them, for another, I wanted a second look at those Friendship Houses.'

'And did your second look impress you as much as the first?'

'Oh, certainly. It's a wonderful work—to help the people at the [Pg 267] bottom not from above them, but from the bottom too, as one of themselves.'

I waited for her to go on, for I felt she would take this opportunity to tell me if she planned to end her days in some American slum, but instead she brought the conversation back to my damned rose.

'It's so wonderfully named after father—white and gold—his blameless life and golden heart' Then she began to describe to Megs the difficulties I had had in preventing the heart of my rose being pink or silver.

'Instead of which,' I said rather irritably, 'I've pleased you both. Blanche sees her father's blameless life and golden heart, and Megs sees the Papal colours. It's a pity I never intended either.'

They both looked at me in some surprise, for I was not often irritable.

'I'm sorry, my dears. I'm cross because I'm curious. Meg tells me that Blanche has something to tell me that I shan't like.'

Blanche shot a reproachful glance at Megs.

'Don't scold her,' I said. 'It isn't her fault. I teased her too much with my guesses. I thought perhaps you might be meaning to get married or something pleasant like that, and she didn't want me to be disappointed.'

'No,' said Blanche very seriously, 'I'm not meaning to get married.'

'Then I thought that perhaps you meant to go and spend the rest of your life working with that woman Dorothy Day in the slums of New York.'

'I'm not going to do that either, but I did go over to New York just to make sure it wasn't that which God required of me before I decided on this other thing.'

My unusually close association (for an Anglican parson) with Roman Catholics had taught me to feel nervous when one of them began to talk of 'what God requires of me'. A sudden dreadful guess anticipated Blanche's next words.

Fixing her eyes on Megs, as if to draw support from her, she said, 'I've decided to join the Order of Poor Clares.'

[Pg 268]

There was total silence. I have no idea how long it lasted, but it was broken by Megs saying nervously, 'Franciscans, you know.'

I glared at her.

'Blanche!' I thundered. 'You can't do it.'

She turned pale.

'Why not?'

I could not tell her. There were no words to express this final outrage, which struck at something in me beyond reason. I knew very little about religious orders, even though the girl I had lost long ago had joined one, and the idea of a young woman shutting herself up for life in a convent was of itself repugnant to me. In the case of Blanche—even though she was no longer young—it was inhuman and vile.

'Why not?' she repeated in a firmer voice.

'Don't ask me why not. You tell me why.'

'I will if you keep calm. Do pull yourself together, Uncle Harry. This isn't like you.'

I knew I was behaving badly, but she had given me a shock. I groped for my pipe, and without asking permission to smoke it in Megs's drawing-room began to light it with shaking hands.

'Remember,' I said, 'that I'm not a Roman Catholic. I'm not even moderately High Church, and convents and monasteries are things I thoroughly disapprove of.'

Megs began to say something, but Blanche beckoned her to be silent.

'I'm sorry,' she said, 'I didn't realize all that. Perhaps I ought to have. But you've been so sympathetic over everything and so forgiving—-'

'This is quite different. I've told you what I felt about your joining the Church of Rome instead of the Church of England, but I shouldn't have felt it if I'd known it might lead to this. As for forgiving you the sale of Palster—in the first place I don't know that I have forgiven you, and if I did it was because I thought it [Pg 269] would set you free to lead the sort of life you really wanted and would make you happy.'

'Well, that's the sort of life I've been leading for seven years, and I think that's long enough to be thoroughly selfish. Do listen to me, Uncle Harry, and try to understand. For some time now I've been feeling that my life wasn't the right sort—for me. I've been feeling that God wants something different—wants me to give myself to him more completely. I can't describe it, but I believe it's the state of mind that often precedes a vocation.'

'Or a second marriage.'

'That isn't worthy of you.'

I privately acknowledged that it wasn't, but I was too angry to apologize.

'You ought to have married again, then you wouldn't feel you were leading a selfish life.'

'Thank you. But there's no one more spoilt and selfish than the average happily married woman without a family, and as for being unhappily married again, I'd rather wear sackcloth and ashes for the rest of my life.'

'But Blanche won't wear sackcloth and ashes as a Poor Clare,' said Megs. 'She'll wear a brown habit and a black veil, and you'll be able to go and see her at their lovely convent near Basingstoke and talk to her through the grille.'

'If Blanche enters any convent, however lovely, I won't see her again as long as I live.'

At that she really looked unhappy.

'Oh, please, Uncle Harry, don't make things so difficult.'

'I would like to make them impossible.'

There the conversation ended for a while. I sat fuming, both literally and metaphorically, and the two women looked at each other in silence. Then Megs said something about getting tea, and I remembered that I had a train to catch. I was calmer now—my pipe and better inspirations had soothed me—and beginning to feel ashamed of myself. I wanted to ask Blanche if she was quite sure [Pg 270] that her 'call' to a different life was not really to work with Dorothy Day, for I would far rather have her in New York at the other side of the world than in a convent as near as Basingstoke. But I did not want to revive the subject with all its conflict and painfulness. So I decided I would write. At the moment all I would do was to apologize, which I hope I did handsomely. Anyhow I was forgiven.

When it came to the point, I did not even write. My opposition was so made up of emotion and prejudice—some deep emotional disturbance caused by this latter-day repetition of my early pattern of loss, combined with the inherited prejudice of three hundred years—that any attempt to translate it into the language of reasonable remonstrance could only be ridiculous. Also I had already begun to fear in Megs's drawing-room and feared more definitely from any correspondence, that the subject was within a touch of involving Anthony. Should Blanche try to explain her immolation in anything like the terms she had used in explaining her conversion, my attitude would lose its last shreds of friendship and sobriety, and I should finally disgrace myself. So instead of writing to Blanche, I wrote to Megs, apologizing afresh for making such a fuss, and sending my love to them both. In return, Megs wrote me a long letter in which she tried to comfort me with the information that Blanche would enter the convent only as a postulant, and might leave any day she chose—that in any case she would not take her final vows for seven years, 'which will give her plenty of time to find out if she's made a mistake'.

None of this had any effect on me. I was quite convinced that Blanche would never come out of that convent, in which case I was determined never to see her again. I would not visit her in a convent or talk to her through a grille or see her pale, lovely face, to which time had only added beauty, without the perfect frame of her dark hair. Nor would I ever call her Sister Somebody, which meant, of course, that I wouldn't even write to her. Better not write. Better let her go out of my life for ever. She was leaving the world, she was dead; one does not write letters to the dead.

[Pg 271]

I did, however, see Blanche once again. She asked me if she might come down and say good-bye to me before she went away, and I could not be so churlish as to refuse. So she came, and I believe made some other farewells in Ebony. She came in a hired car, so that she could be back in London again the same evening, and the September sun was already low over Ethnam and Marsh Quarter when she called at the Parsonage. We walked to the seat at the end of the rose-garden, but we did not sit down. Our conversation was studied and careful, quite unlike old times. She admired the last of Adam Cryall, flaking from his bush after an early gale. She was very knowledgeable over my new Sealyham, and respectfully returned the dignified but friendly greeting of Pseudo Dionysus my cat—so called because he was not really my cat at all but a similar one restored to me in error when my own Dionysus was lost.

'I'm glad you've taken to cats at last, Uncle Harry,' she said, 'there's something so attractive about their wickedness. A priest friend of mine says he keeps one entirely for the theological piquancy of a creature who can be a murderer, and lecher and a thief, and yet at the same time entirely pleasing to God.'

That was as near as we got to anything religious. As for the purpose of her visit, we never mentioned it at all. But when it was time to say good-bye and her hand was for the last time in mine, moved by a sudden weakness I leaned forward and gave her the kiss which the pang in my heart told me I should have given her thirty years ago.

I never saw her again. I was true to my word, and she was true to my expectations. I do not think she wanted me to write, for though she sometimes sent me messages through Megs, the request for a letter was never one of them. I could not stop Megs giving me news of her—or, I suspect, conversely giving her news of me. She often went to see her, and from Megs I learned that she had been given the name of Sister Mary Veronica of the Holy Cross and that she was well and she was happy—inconceivable. I cannot say that I [Pg 272] forgot her, for I never did, or would—even without Meg's reminders—but I came to think of her less often, and in my thoughts was less of tragedy.

But once, and once only, we did have another sort of contact. It was an odd coincidence—she no doubt would call it something different—that brought us together, if one may use such an expression for two people seventy miles apart. But certainly for a very brief moment the old Blanche and the old Harry Chamberlin seemed to meet. I was in the reading-room of my club when I came across a Roman Catholic periodical called the Tablet, and started reading the advertisements—advertisements have always fascinated me, and from them I have learned a lot about human nature, much of it deplorable. From the Personal advertisement column of the Tablet I learned that—

The Poor Clares of Chinkworth Priory, near Basingstoke, will have to spend the winter without fuel unless generous friends will defray the cost of the twenty tons of coke needed to heat the Priory from December to March.

Megs had told me that the Poor Clares used originally to live by begging, and though they were not such fools as to believe that they could still live that way in a Protestant country, they were allowed to turn to the public when in special need. She had also told me that the nuns went about with bare feet. My own feet curled up inside my warm woollen socks as I thought of Blanche's, bare on the unheated floor.

Now for the coincidence or whatever it was. The old uncle who had brought me up in such an eccentric manner had on dying divided his money between myself and another nephew—a much younger man, whom I scarcely knew. This nephew, though my junior by ten years, had lately died without issue, and by the terms of the will his share of the money came to me. The sum was not vast—about five hundred pounds—but I could easily afford twenty tons of coke, [Pg 273] even at the current price of two pounds a ton. It was not my custom to give handsome presents to Papist religious orders, or indeed to religious orders of any kind, but I could not endure the thought of Blanche's poor bare feet. So that very afternoon I went to a coal merchant in Notting Hill High Street and ordered twenty-five tons of the best coke to be sent to the Poor Clare Convent at Basingstoke. Then at the last minute some imp inspired me to send a message with it, and I wrote on a card in a hand I tried to disguise: 'To Sister Mary Veronica, from an Old Flame.'

Later on I began to wish I hadn't done it. I felt that I had let loose the cat among the pigeons, and I feared that I might have got her into trouble. But apparently nothing of the kind happened. Megs, when she next came down to spend the day with me—which could now be done quite easily from London by bus—talked of little else than the marvellous event. The nuns were full of gratitude for the answer to their prayers—it did not seem to strike them or Megs that it might be an answer to their advertisement—and had all joked Sister Mary Veronica about her 'old flame'.

'They were wondering who it could be. She thinks it's Ron Pascoe.'

'And who on earth is Ron Pascce?' I asked sharply.

'Oh, one of the young men she used to have. Blanche had lots of young men, you know, and she believes he still lives somewhere near Notting Hill Gate, where the coke came from. She told me to tell you that she thought it was Ron Pascoe.'

Megs's blue eyes were fixed on me in a stare of the utmost innocence, but from behind them the eyes of the old Blanche thanked me and mocked me gently.

The Bishop came to see me a few days ago. He inspected the church and churchyard, both kept in excellent order by old Ernie's successor, Ted Holbeam, and then had a cup of tea with me in my study, which is one of the only two rooms that I still inhabit in the Rectory, as my present housekeeper, though all that is amiable towards myself, does not get on well with the village girls, or rather [Pg 274] such few of them as still go out to service. I guessed what he had come for, so it was no surprise when he began to talk of my retirement.

'You must now, Mr. Chamberlin,' he said, 'be nearly eighty, and after your long ministry here you have earned an honourable repose.'

He then proceeded to enlarge on the delights of a Home for Retired Clergymen near East Grinstead, or alternatively, of lodgings in Bulverhythe or Marlingate, where I might still make myself useful, if such was my wish, by taking the weekly late celebration for invalids.

I replied that I felt perfectly equal to performing the duties of my present situation. Every Sunday in Palster church there was an early service besides Morning and Evening Prayer, with two sermons from which my congregation would never learn either Anglo-Romish doctrine or the latest whimsy of that curious assembly of ancients, the Modern Churchmen's Union. As for the daily services, having no wife to provide a congregation, I said them privately at home in Latin, as the Prayer Book explicitly allows.

The Bishop stated that he found no fault with my performance in church. But he was afraid he must say that the parish was rather behindhand in other ways. For one thing, there were no Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, in fact no church clubs of any kind (the Coal and Clothing Club had died a natural death years ago). I obviously would not wish to start such organizations at my present age—a mental image of myself in a scoutmaster's uniform was at once dismissed by me in horror—but to a younger man they would present no difficulty, especially if he had a wife to help him.

I told him that I taught the children of the parish—or rather such as would attend—their catechism every week in Sunday School, and as for the secular activities of Scouts and Guides, such as 'hiking' and 'spooring' or whatever they are called, the average country child learned these things in the course of an ordinary country life, and would show no enthusiasm for being taught them over again by the parson. In this I was not strictly accurate, or rather I was speaking [Pg 275] in the terms of the days that were gone; for though today there are still some children in Ebony who understand country life, there are many more who understand nothing but films and cars and radio. However, the Bishop did not know enough about country life, either ancient or modern, to expose me, and merely transferred his argument to the advantages of a clergyman's being married, so that his wife could run the Guides and the Women's Institute, 'and that, ha! ha! I feel you would be even less inclined to undertake'.

I longed to tell him that I was engaged to a beautiful girl and hoped to be married next week. The newspapers are constantly printing stories of clergymen as old as myself getting married to the most unsuitable young persons. But he was not the sort of bishop whose leg you can pull, if such indeed exists, so I merely laughed respectfully at his joke and let him return to the joys of living by myself in seaside lodgings, with alternating remarks on the need for a vigorous policy in parish work. Before he left he revealed a scheme, which I had always suspected, of combining the livings of Palster and Bapchild, which made me more than ever determined not to go. However, I made no protest, and we parted amicably, he doubtless hoping much from my good humour, whereas it was due entirely to my knowledge that, no matter how much he wanted to do so, he could not get rid of me.

A great deal has been said against the Parson's Freehold, but ever since that interview I have been truly thankful for it. Unless I commit some serious misdemeanour, which would surprise nobody more than myself, I am here in Ebony till I die.

I do not think this will happen as soon as the Bishop doubtless hopes. I am seventy-eight, but I have a good constitution, and I lead a regular, healthy life, with many interests and many friends. It did not seem to occur to him to wonder what I would do without my books and my flowers. I have far too many of the former for even the most accommodating and stoutly built seaside lodging, and I doubt if I could grow a prize rose in a window-box—the next one is [Pg 276] to be scarlet with coal-black shadows, and I tell Megs I shall call it 'the wicked cardinal'.

As for my friends, Adam is dead and Blanche is dead to me, but Megs still comes to see me, and has even brought her children and her grandchildren to stay at the Manor Guest House. I have become friendly with the new people at Lambstand—I call them new, though they have been there over fifteen years—and I often dine with them and find Tom Anderson's port is as good as Harold Lismore's. At week-ends he sometimes comes fishing with me; and there is another of my life-long interests that I should lose in exile. I suppose I could fish off the pier at Marlingate, but that would not be the same as sitting by the White Kemp Sewer through all the long, hot, drowsy afternoon, with the marsh sunhazed behind me and the hawthorn brakes like ghosts beyond the buttercups.

But the real point of my obstinacy does not lie in any of these things. I stay here because I love Ebony and the men of the Marsh, who are still my men, in spite of all the newcomers and changes. Weights Farm has been sold up, and its road verges have fallen to the speculative builder, while Odiam and Barrow's Land have been bought by 'gentry', who have spent much money on their houses and left the fields to decay. But 'young Sussex Fuller' is still at Peening Quarter, though his son does most of the work, and Chantler has managed to hang on at Blackbrook in spite of bad times. Church Farm does pretty well under George Haffenden's nephew, John Coleman, and I am glad to say that an old tradition is restored, and the Church Farm family once more provides a churchwarden. As for the cottage people, they are much as they always were, never having been caught in the perilous toils of landowning, and I enjoy many a pleasant chat over garden gates with men and women who remember the old days and like to talk about them.

If it is true, as most people believe, that we are on the brink of another war, that is yet another reason for my staying at Palster. For I feel sure that in times of peril and hardship my little flock would rather have their old shepherd with them than a stranger, however [ Pg 277] young and vigorous. The clouds are already gathering, though not so swiftly as in 1914, and in this coming war we shall not say so often and with such confidence: 'Thank God for the Navy!' I do not share the opinion of our Civil Defence Force, as organized from Rushmonden, that the first objective of the Luftwaffe will be the villages of the Kentish Weald, but I can well believe that a certain number of bombs will be jettisoned by fighting or escaping aircraft, and there may well be some civilian casualties. With this thought in my mind, I have given over to A.R.P. activities the old village schoolroom, still occasionally used for whist drives, and am myself attending some very boring lectures on poison gas which are delivered there on Tuesday evenings by a well-meaning but only semi-articulate young woman from Bapchild.

The ventilating system of this hall is one of the few things in Ebony that have not changed, and towards the end of the evening the heat of some thirty bodies, combined with that of the old potbellied coke stove, has generated an atmosphere in which I invariably fall asleep. I do not object to this, as I go mainly as an example, and being able to read—a contingency which these lectures do not seem to envisage—I find it easier to absorb the necessary information from my A.R.P. handbook at home. Meanwhile I enjoy my dreams, which the familiar stuffiness sets in that same schoolroom on the old Penny Reading nights; and I sometimes wake quite surprised to find that on the platform are no longer to be seen the jet and golden manes of Violet Lismore and Lindsay Cryall bobbing over the piano, or Blanche in her white frock reciting The Ancient Mariner or Adam reading in his rich, kindly voice from Great Expectations, but only a rather flustered little woman telling me to be sure never to leave my gas-mask at home.

However, when the lecture is over, we all stumble out with the same eagerness, and wish each other the same cheerful good-nights, while in the winter sky overhead shine the same unchanging stars.

The End

[End of The View from the Parsonage by Sheila Kaye-Smith]