When she could do so without being conspicuous, Miss
Effie drew the old Vicar into the study, a room that the
coming of his first winter there had naturally dedicated to
poor Blundell, and here among the dead man's personal
belongings his silver cigarette-box, his case full of books,
his photographs, his walking-sticks and his long-unused
pipes Miss Effie button-holed her friend, who was mourn-
ing what he called Miss Flora's lack of self-control, and
told him a little ancient history.
"You mustn't blame Flora," Miss Effie said fiercely, her
hot, dry eyes gazing at him in the gloom, "she can't help
"I know that, my dear Effie, but she will make herself
ill with crying. Her hands are like ice and she is weak
"Let her be," declared Miss Effie with an odd break
in her voice and almost, the old man thought, with sacra-
mental solemnity. "Vicar, you are older than we. You
could have christened us if you had been here ten years
sooner, you knew our father and mother "
A dry sobbing broke the flow of her words, and the
kind old man took her hot hands and held them
"Of course, my dear, I am the oldest and I hope the
closest friend you have in the world. Tell me what it is
that is so troubling you."
Of all the habits on earth, the habit of inborn, culti-
vated, Northern reserve is the hardest to break, and the
Vicar knew how Miss Effie's struggle was hurting her.
"Tell me, my dear, tell me," he kept repeating, as they
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stood by the window in the dim evening light of the raw
And finally, while the sound of Miss Flora's unre-
strained grief reached them for a moment as someone,
probably Esther Oughtenshaw, opened the drawing-room
door, Miss Erne spoke.
"The trouble was," she said, her strong bony hands
hurting the Vicar's soft, fat ones as she squeezed them,
"that although poor Robert married May poor May
Flora always cared for him, and now she is, of course,
The Vicar had never dreamed of such a thing and said
"Are you sure, my dear?" he asked, and Miss Effie
answered that she was sure.
"I have always known, Vicar, though she thinks I do
not, and though she cries so dreadfully now, she won't
allow me to say a word to her ; oh, if you could have seen
her last night he was dying all last night. Oh, Dr. Lox-
ley ! why," the tortured woman cried, breaking off, "must
it take people so long to die? First Father a fortnight
of death agony he had then Mother ; you remember how
she used to sit up in bed and try to breathe, and tried to
make us think that it didn't hurt ? and now poor Bob !
It was frightful he was whiter than the pillows all but
his poor, damp hair; and his hands his hands were wet
all night. He kept drying them on the sheet, but they
were always wet. And Flora, poor, poor Flora she kept
going out of the room; over and over again she would
creep out you know how soft-footed she is well, she
was as silent as a ghost, and kept going out, and then
I would find her crying and bring her back."
"I know, I know, but that, dear Effie was last night,"
the old man returned ; "this, by God's goodness, is another
night; a new one. Look!"
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Through the lustrous dimness of the dove-colored sky
came a pale, flickering light, and there, hooked as it
seemed to the edge of a cloud, hung the little, bright, new
Miss Effie grasped the old man's lesson in silence, and
for a moment they stood side by side, looking up.
"And why have you told me," he said presently, "about
our poor Flora?"
Miss Effie drew back. "Because," she answered, in a
low, strained voice, "I cannot bear it any longer I can-
not bear seeing her cry like that, and I thought perhaps
you might be able to say something, something to com-
fort her "
"Shall I go to her now?" the Vicar asked simply, for
they both belonged to an age when death or sorrow of any
kind naturally expected comfort from a clergyman.
Miss Effie nodded. "Yes," she said at last, "try to
comfort her; but oh, Vicar, never tell her I told you."
He patted her poor, hot hands.
"Of course not, of course not, Miss Effie, and you were
right to tell me, for my knowing may help me to console
her," he answered, with the fine simplicity of his school.
He was about to leave the room when she called him
"Oh, Vicar, he wants wanted Robert, I mean to
have George sing at his grave."
The old man stared, the door in his hand. "Sing at
his grave ? That's a very odd idea."
"I know, but you know how he has loved George's
singing, ever since that first Christmas Eve and only
yesterday he sent for him to sing outside his door (he
would not let him come in lest his looks might alarm the
child) and George sang, 'Hark, hark, my soul' oh, Vicar !
it was ," the poor lady's composure gave way and
she hid her face in her hands.
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When she looked up she was alone in the room; the
Vicar was gone. He could face Miss Flora's tears but
not Miss Effie's. He stayed an hour with Miss Flora in
the pale drawing-room where the snowdrops still drooped
that he himself had brought Blundell only two days be-
fore. They were faded now, but no one had remembered to
throw them away. Miss Flora no longer cried; she was
tired out, and presently she tried to eat a little supper,
brought to her by Esther Oughtenshaw.
To the Vicar's sorrow and mild resentment his kind
platitudes on the subjects of death and resurrection were
met with polite lack of enthusiasm by the poor lady hang-
ing limply over the tray.
"It is very good of you very kind," she kept saying,
but that was all, and he resumed : "It is, after all, sad as
it is, only to be expected for a man with so little lung
To his dismay Miss Flora gave a little, high laugh at
"I know of course we all knew," she answered, "but
oh, well, Vicar, I cannot explain, but I had a very spe-
cial reason for crying in that horrible way. It wasn't
only that I couldn't help it ; I had a real reason "
"Perhaps I know your reason, my dear Flora," he be-
gan, but stopped at the look in her face. There was there
horror, and shame, and a kind of fear.
"No, oh, no," she cried, setting her tea cup down with
a little crash that sent part of its contents slopping into
the saucer, "you cannot know no one knows," she added,
sitting bolt upright and speaking with an earnest fierceness
that almost alarmed the old man. "No one shall know."
And then quite suddenly, with a complete change of
tone, as if she regretted her vehemence and wished to
destroy his memory of it, she asked him quietly if George
might sing at Blundell's burial.
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"I don't don't know," he replied slowly; "it is a
thing I have never seen done, and it will look very odd.
Besides, the boy is so delicate, so nervous, I prefer to
avoid exciting things for him "
But Miss Flora to his surprise insisted; gently yet
authoritatively she insisted, and finally he gave in, on the
condition that the boy himself was not afraid of doing
"I will ask him," he suggested, rising, but it was Miss
Flora who went into the garden and found George sit-
ting on the low wall watching the moon, and asked
Miss Effie, from her room, which was over the study,
watched them talking, and the Vicar saw them from the
drawing-room; little George's pointed chin and long
nose outlined against the growing light of the moon, Miss
Flora, her damp handkerchief still being dabbed occa-
sionally to her eyes, standing by him. At last Miss
Flora stooped in her irresolute, fluttering way, and kiss-
ing George's cheek hastily, walked back to the house, while
the twelve-year-old boy, apparently neither insulted nor
embarrassed by the kiss, again clasped his thin knees with
his arms and went on looking at the sky.
And now the last words of the service were said. The
Vicar wiped his eyes, and the small group of people round
the open grave drew back a little and waited. There was
Esther Oughtenshaw, holding the eight-year-old Cuckoo
a crow-hued Cuckoo it was by the hand, old Benjie
Brigworthy in his best clothes, Dr. Hawes, Henry Pike,
the sexton, and Sir Peregrine Janeways, who had come
quite unexpectedly, having just heard of the death, and
stopped over a train in order to pay this last compliment
to his old crony.
The Vicar watched the heavily-built figure as it stood
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back in the shade of the church and was gratified, in an
impersonal way, for Roseroofs.
Presently Janeways, after a little pause, crossed the
spongy grass and came to the grave.
"Will you kindly tell the ladies that I came," he said,
in the undertone proper to the presence of those whom no
noise can disturb, "and give them my kindest re-
gards? I must be off or I shall miss my train at Mid-
And he did miss his train at Middleton for, as he spoke,
little George Loxley, in his ill-fitting surplice, opened his
mouth and began to sing.
It was poor Blundell's best-loved hymn, "Hark, hark,
my soul," and after a start that amazed himself, Jane-
ways stood listening, as motionless as if his tan-colored
raincoat had been cut out of stone and he himself one of
the long-dead Herberts of Wiske in the old church. Never
as long as he lived was he to forget the scene.
His nerves were more keenly edged than usual, that
day, for his appearance there in the consecrated place
was, as he put it to himself, sandwiched between two very
different engagements. He was in his usual position of
being not quite off with an old love before he was satis-
factorily on with a new, and the past morning had held
for him an unpleasantly painful interview, while the
coming evening was, he knew, to hold for him an inter-
view as poignant, as dramatic, though far less unpleas-
Also, in spite of the life he lived, the man had a sense of
the beautiful that was a little too keen for him to have
heard, in this quiet place, the words of the burial service
with a perfectly easy conscience.
"Poor old Bob," he had told himself, and with perfect
truth, while the Vicar read the beautiful words, "would
not have minded. He was just as bad oh, yes, quite as
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bad as I am." And yet he himself had minded. He had
almost wished he had not come.
And now, as if rooted to the wet grass by the sound of
the boy's voice, poor Pelly Janeways minded more and
more every minute. Exactly in front of him in the shade
of the ancient, ivy-covered church stood little George
Loxley, his mouse-colored head thrown back, his red mouth
as wide open as if he had been a hungry young bird, his
pointed chin quivering as he sang.
To the left stood the little group of mourners, and off
Janeways' right, outside the double row of fine ash-trees
that grew round the churchyard, was the Vicarage, its lit-
tle windows hung with freshly-washed muslin curtains.
The Vicarage stood a few feet higher than the church, so
that the drawing-room windows were visible behind the
leafless lilac and laburnums in the garden, and at the
drawing-room windows he saw two white blurs which he
knew must be the faces of Miss Effie and Miss Flora.
"Hark, hark, my soul, angelic songs are swelling
O'er earth's green fields and ocean's wave-beat shore,"
sang the boy. His was one of the exquisite, soul-shaking
boy sopranos that so rarely develop into good men's
voices. It had a quality that cannot possibly be described
but that fortunately most people know, the quality called
bird-like, though no bird's voice ever made people cry,
whereas this particular boy's voice draws tears as inno-
cently and inevitably as sunshine draws scent from roses.
Possibly, too, George Loxley's physical delicacy lent
an added element of pathos to his voice, for he was twelve,
and at twelve most boys' voices have lost what for want
of a better name one calls the angelic quality. He was a
simple, fragile child, no more nervous at doing this un-
usual thing than if he had been six and, as he sang, un-
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accompanied, his voice grew in sweetness and poignancy
until he was almost unbearable. He had pitched it
a tone too high as well, and at the last, when he reached
the words, "Singing to welcome," the little quiver by which
he reached by innocent straining the high note was like a
knife in the heart of at least one of his hearers. Janeways,
always a shamelessly emotional man, wiped his eyes
without reserve, and glancing at the Vicarage saw that
two windows were now open and that a lady sat in each.
One of the sisters had gone upstairs, either the better to
see or to be alone.
As the last note of the hymn died away, Janeways
turned to the Vicar. "I never," he said simply, "heard
anything like that."
The old man nodded. "Yes, I cannot bear it some-
times myself. Will you drink a glass of wine with me
before you go? The ladies are there "
Everyone had gone now, except old Pike and Esther
Oughtenshaw and the child, who were walking slowly to-
wards the Vicarage.
Janeways shook his head. "No, thanks, I have missed
my train and shall have to get on the best way I can to
York. I have an engagement "
The two men shook hands, and Janeways had gone
half-way down the damp, flagged path to the front of the
church where his horse stood, when something small and
black attacked him flank-wise and Cuckoo looked up at him
"It is, Esther," she cried. "It is, aren't you?" she in-
sisted, clutching his hand.
"That depends on what you said I was."
"Oh, sir, please excuse her," Esther Oughtenshaw broke
in. "It is only some nonsense about a horse. I told her
it was unseemly talk in a churchyard, but there's nowt
to be done with her."
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Cuckoo did not seem to have grown much in the three
years since he had seen her he had been out of England
most of the time but she was strikingly like her father,
with the jut of her little jaw and the curve of her little
"Come along, Cuckoo," the old servant urged, dragging
at her charge's arm. Cuckoo turned on her fiercely.
"Go away, Esther Oughtenshaw, this is my father's
friend; aren't you?" she added, taking Janeways' hand.
"Yes, yes, of course I was," he agreed, although he had
in truth never regarded poor Blundell as more than an
excellent occasional boon companion, "but you must go
to your aunts now."
He was puzzled and a little shocked at the child's man-
ner, and he wondered vaguely at what age children do
begin to realize death, or to mourn their parents. Per-
haps something of this showed in his face, for Esther said
hurriedly, "She's tired out, poor bairn she has cried out
all her tears "
But however that might be, Cuckoo had no tears now
and no intention of pretending. Her curious little sloe-
like eyes gazed earnestly, avidly, up at the man her father
had known, and with a gesture of amusing hauteur to the
old servant, she said to Janeways:
"Where's the pony?"
It is odd that he should have been horrified at this
question, but he was, and his rebuke was so serious that
a moment later he had given her a sovereign to console her
for what he had said.
She took the sovereign but added, "You said you would,
you know you did."
"Yes, yes, and so I will some day, if you are a good
girl. Now, good-bye " He stooped to kiss her, but
the little creature drew back.
"When you have kept your word," she returned, and he
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knew that she was repeating a phrase of her Aunt Effie's,
"I will kiss you," and he went his way, leaving her in the
churchyard, firm in her integrity of purpose.
And for the second time on leaving her, Janeways said,
"Well, I'm damned!"
GEORGE LOXLEY was, after all, educated at
home. His delicacy, though not of the kind from
which any particular disease is expected to de-
velop, was yet great enough to induce the school doctor in
the south to advise his grandfather to remove him from
school and keep him at home, where he could have not
only his fine native air, but the greatest individual care
care such as can be given a child only by his own
The old man and his still older housekeeper, Mrs.
Bridlegoose, were wise in their unremitting oversight ; and
the little wisp of a boy who had looked so very small and
so very light on his return was hardly to be recognized
after two or three months at the Vicarage, in the more
solid, comparatively rosy child he had become.
Educationally, the Vicar was less of a success. His in-
tentions were of course of the best, and at first he devoted
several hours a day to instructing his grandson but, as
things turned out, it was just as well that the boy's four
years under the wise guidance of Mr. Porter, as well as
his own natural love of study, had in an unusual degree
prepared him for self-education.
The Vicar was a hopeless, ever-sighing book-lover; his
easy duties in a small, healthful, rural parish had for
many years allowed him to gratify his passion, with the
result that it was now beyond his powers to turn his
mind effectually to teaching his grandson the things it
seemed to him the boy must already know.
"Latin," he assured George gravely, "is extremely easy.
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
All you've got to do is to read it, and you know where all
my books are. Help yourself," with the unexpected re-
sult that George at fifteen presented him with a little
blank book filled with excellent but hair-raising transla-
tions from Catullus.
"Wh-where did you get that book, sir?" the old man
stammered in all innocence.
George surveyed him mildly with his big, short-sighted
gray eyes. "In the corner of the window next the Hor-
ace, sir," he answered.
The poor Vicar had forgotten the book and spent a
penitential day in going through his library and the din-
ing-room (in which for lack of room they no longer took
their meals) to weed out the books which were unsuitable
to a boy of fifteen.
Alas! this mission of pious elimination was never
accomplished, for the Vicar was one of those people who
cannot look at books without looking into them, and when
tea-time came it found a dusty, beatific old man crouch-
ing in a book-filled armchair, deep in a fine old copy of
Castiglione's "Courtier," while the shabby carpet round
him seethed an inchoate sea of volumes which, he explained
vaguely, he was going to look at next.
It was George who had come in and George stood, his
hands in the pockets of his shabby jacket, smiling whim-
sically at the scene.
"What are you going to do to them, Gran'pa?" he
asked. Dr. Loxley closed his book, rose, and blew his
nose, which he always did in moments of embarrassment.
"Well," he answered diplomatically, "they really ought
to be arranged according to subject, you know, and
somehow, I never have had time to do it, and it being
such a very wet day, I thought "
In the library, by the pleasant fire, the two sat down
to their tea and while George, in accordance with a habit
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
dear to them both, toasted the tea-cake on an ancient,
three-pronged toasting-fork, the subject was resumed.
"I suppose," the boy began, "that you think I ought
not to read all the books. Is that it ?"
The Vicar nodded, his ruddy, round face grave.
"Porter never let us get at the poets much that's
why I made for Catullus when I found him the other
"Some of him is beautiful and delightful," said the
Vicar " this j am is excellent, my boy and some of him
"That's what Porter said. So I thought I'd just try.
Are my translations good, Gran'pa ?"
The Vicar was a truthful man by the grace of God.
He spoke the truth as naturally as he breathed. So he
nodded, his bright old eyes the brighter for his scholarly
appreciation of his grandson's work.
"Yes, George, excellent. But there are other things
to translate. Why not try your hand at Horace?"
George, it appeared, had tried his hand at some of the
Odes. Also, he had put one or two of Bacon's Essays
into Latin. In this last feat the boy had been less suc-
cessful, but, in the production and criticism of his work,
the original reason for the Vicar's going through his
library was lost sight of and the two passed a delightful,
bookish afternoon, with no further thought of arranging
Late that night Dr. Loxley woke suddenly, and sitting
up in bed in the darkness, he remembered.
"Dear me, dear me," he whispered. "I must do it.
He is only fifteen and he must not read all those
It was October, and very stormy. Rain pelted against
the windows, and the great trees in Widdybank Bottom
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were holding high revel with the wind, while against the
side of the house the bough of a great cedar seemed to be
trying to saw itself in two, as it ground against the roof.
In his old four-poster the Vicar sat for a while, listen-
ing to the glorious uproar, then, lighting a candle with a
glass shade to it, he rose, his old-fashioned nightshirt
flapping round his fat legs as he passed the open window,
and put on his dressing-gown. It was very cold and it
had been luxuriously, almost romantically, pleasant to lie
in bed and listen to the wind and rain. He paused for
a moment and shivered. Then he went silently, resolutely,
down the little winding stairs, feeling his way, for the
stone steps were worn under the old carpet, and their nar-
row side was perilously narrow.
As the old man reached the little hall, he stood still,
listening to the clock strike three.
"I'll work," he thought, "till six. I'll put all the ones
he mustn't read in one corner and tell him. He will keep
his word, the dear boy and then he can browse as he
"After all," he thought, as he crept quietly towards
the library door, "I don't believe the Catullus hurt him.
He's just too young for that." And then he stood sud-
denly still, for there was a light on the carpet under the
door. Naturally, the old gentleman thought it must
be burglars, and creeping back to his room, he found his
old revolver in a drawer, saw that it was loaded, and came
silently downstairs again. He paused outside the library
door, not frightened, filled with a pleasant spirit of ad-
venture. He had no intention of shooting the thief, rather
would he argue with him. He would ask him whence he
came, he would ask if he was hungry, and offer him food ;
it was a cold night, and perhaps the poor fellow had been
tempted in by the fire and light. Finally, making as little
noise as possible, the old gentleman opened his library
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door and there, quite naturally, as he at once realized,
he found George, busily engaged in putting aside the
books he ought not yet to read.
The boy, more delicate-looking than ever through his
fatigue and the comparative cold, looked up nervously,
and then, when he saw the revolver, gave a soft laugh.
"Gran'pa, how you frightened me! Did you think I
was a burglar?" The Vicar laughed, too.
"I did. What in the name of goodness are you doing?"
Suddenly his bonny old face hardened and he looked with
suspicion at a book in the boy's hands.
"Surely, George " he began.
George's steady, tired young eyes returned his gaze
for a moment, and then comprehension came to him.
"Oh, Gran'pa," he burst out, his pale little face flush-
ing, "how could you think that? How could you?"
He pointed to the green baize-covered, old writing-
table, and there lay, neatly piled together, some dozen
"They are there," he went on passionately, adding
the book he held to the collection. "All the ones I knew
you wouldn't want me to read. How could you
The Vicar set down his candle, laid the revolver by it,
and, to gain time for his grandson, looked at the books
on the table.
There was his Boccaccio, one of his greatest treasures,
brought to England after Magliaveechi's sale in Florence
early in the eighteenth century and bought by the Vicar's
father at Hever's sale in 1834; his "Heptameron" ; the
fatal Catullus; his Rabelais, and many others.
After a pause, the Vicar went to where the boy was
standing and laid his arm across the thin young shoulders.
"George I beg your pardon. Will you forgive me?"
George turned, his long lashes wet, his lower lip pinned
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
Hy his teeth but not quite steady. And as he held his
hand, the old man kissed him and was forgiven. Subse-
quently, by way of a mild celebration, they made cocoa
with milk, in a saucepan over the library fire, and ate
biscuits with it.
As he munched, his bare feet in their old slippers tucked