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succeeds the roar of the lion in his primeval forest, silencing even the
twitter of the birds.

"How true that is!" said Sybell, awed by the lurid splendor of Mr.
Harvey's genius. "Woman is man's superior, not his equal. I have felt
that all my life, but I never quite saw how until this moment. Don't you
think so, too, Miss Barker?"

"I have never lost an opportunity of asserting it," said the Apostle,
her elbow on Mr. Tristram's bread, looking at Mr. Harvey with some
asperity for poaching on her manor.

"All sensible women have been agreed for years on that point."


With aching hands and bleeding feet
We dig and heap, lay stone on stone,
We bear the burden and the heat
Of the long day, and wish 'twere done!
Not till the hours of light return
All we have built do we discern.

It was Sunday morning. The night was sinking out of the sky to lean
faint unto death upon the bosom of the earth. The great forms of the
trees, felt rather than seen, were darkness made visible. Among the
night of high elms round Warpington a single yellow light burned in an
upper window. It had been burning all night. And now, as the night
waned, the little light waned with it. At least, it was suddenly blown

Hester came to the window and looked out. There was light, but there was
no dawn as yet. In the gray sky over the gray land the morning-star,
alone and splendid, kept watch in the east.

She sat down and leaned her brow against the pane. She did not know that
it was aching. She did not know that she was cold, exhausted; so
exhausted that the morning-star in the outer heaven and the morning-star
in her soul were to her the same. They stooped together, they merged
into one great light, heralding a perfect day presently to be.

The night was over, and that other long night of travail and patience
and faith, and strong rowing in darkness against the stream, was over,
too, at last - at last. _The book was finished_.

The tears fell slowly from Hester's eyes on to her clasped hands, those
blessed tears which no human hand shall ever intervene to wipe away.

To some of us Christ comes in the dawn of the spiritual life walking
upon the troubled waves of art. And we recognize Him, and would fain go
to meet Him. But our companions and our own fears dissuade us. They say
it is only a spirit, and that Christ does not walk on water, that the
land whither we are rowing is the place He has Himself appointed for us
to meet Him. So our little faith keeps us in the boat, or fails us in
the waves of that windswept sea.

It seemed to Hester as if once, long ago, shrinking and shivering, she
had stood in despair upon the shore of a great sea, and had heard a
voice from the other side say, "Come over." She had stopped her ears;
she had tried not to go. She had shrunk back a hundred times from the
cold touch of the water that each time she essayed let her trembling
foot through it. And now, after an interminable interval, after she had
trusted and doubted, had fallen and been sustained, had met the wind and
the rain, after she had sunk in despair and risen again, she knew not
how, now at length a great wave - the last - had cast her up half drowned
upon the shore. A miracle had happened. She had reached the other side,
and was lying in a great peace after the storm upon the solemn shore
under a great white star.

Hester sat motionless. The star paled and paled before the coming of a
greater than he. Across the pause which God has set 'twixt night and day
came the first word of the robin. It reached Hester's ear as from
another world - a world that had been left behind. The fragmentary notes
floated up to her from an immeasurable distance, like scattered bubbles
through deep water.

The day was coming. God's creatures of tree and field and hill took
form. Man's creature, the little stout church in their midst, thrust
once more its plebeian outline against God's sky. Dim shapes moved
athwart the vacancy of the meadows. Voices called through the gray.
Close against the eaves a secret was twittered, was passed from beak to
beak. In the nursery below a little twitter of waking children broke the
stillness of the house.

But Hester did not hear it. She had fallen into a deep sleep in the low
window-seat, with her pale forehead against the pane; a sleep so deep
that even the alarum of the baby did not rouse her, nor the entrance of
Emma with the hot water.

* * * * *

"James," said Mrs. Gresley, an hour later; as she and her husband
returned through the white mist from early celebration, "Hester was not
there. I thought she had promised to come."

"She had."

There was a moment's silence.

"Perhaps she is not well," said Mr. Gresley, closing the church-yard
gate into the garden.

Mrs. Gresley's heart swelled with a sense of injustice. She had often
been unwell, often in feeble health before the birth of her children,
but had she ever pleaded ill-health as an excuse for absenting herself
from one of the many services which her husband held to be the
main-spring of the religious life?

"I do not think she can be very unwell. She is standing by the magnolia
now," she said, her lip quivering, and withdrawing her hand from her
husband's arm. She almost hated the slight, graceful figure, which was
not of her world, which was, as she thought, coming between her and her

"I will speak seriously to her," said Mr. Gresley, dejectedly, who
recollected that he had "spoken seriously" to Hester many times at his
wife's instigation without visible result. And as he went alone to meet
his sister he prayed earnestly that he might be given the right word to
say to her.

A ray of sunlight, faint as an echo, stole through the lingering mist,
parting it on either hand, and fell on Hester.

Hester, standing in a white gown under the veiled trees in a glade of
silver and trembling opal, which surely mortal foot had never trod,
seemed infinitely removed from him. Dimly he felt that she was at one
with this mysterious morning world, and that he, the owner, was an alien
and a trespasser in his own garden.

But a glimpse of his cucumber-frames in the background reassured him. He
advanced with a firmer step, as one among allies.

Hester did not hear him.

She was gazing with an absorption that shut out all other sights and
sounds at the solitary blossom on the magnolia-tree. Yesterday it had
been a bud; but to-day the great almond-white petals which guarded it,
overlapping each other so jealously, had opened wide, and the perfect
flower, keeping nothing back, had laid bare all its pure white soul
before its God.

As Mr. Gresley stopped beside her, Hester turned her little pinched,
ravaged face towards him and smiled. Something of the passionate
self-surrender of the flower was reflected in her eyes.

"Dear Hester," he said, seeing only the wan, drawn face. "Are you ill?"

"Yes - no. I don't think so," said Hester, tremulously, recalled suddenly
to herself. She looked hastily about her. The world of dew and silver
had deserted her, had broken like an iridescent bubble at a touch. The
magnolia withdrew itself. Hester found herself suddenly transplanted
into the prose of life, emphasized by a long clerical coat and a bed of
Brussels sprouts.

"I missed you," said Mr. Gresley, with emphasis.

"Where? When?" Hester's eyes had lost their fixed look and stared
vacantly at him.

Mr. Gresley tried to subdue his rising annoyance.

Hester was acting, pretending not to understand, and he saw through it.

"At God's altar," he said, gravely, the priest getting the upper hand of
the man.

"Have you not found me there?" said Hester, below her breath, but so low
that fortunately her brother did not catch the words, and was spared
their profanity.

"I will appeal to her better feelings," he said to himself. "They must
be there, if I can only touch them."

He did not know that in order to touch the better feelings of our
fellow-creatures we must be able to reach up to them, or by reason of
our low stature we may succeed only in appealing to the lowest in them,
in spite of our tiptoe good intentions. Is that why such appeals too
often meet with bitter sarcasm and indignation?

But fortunately a robust belief in the assiduities of the devil as the
cause of all failures, and a conviction that who-so opposed Mr. Gresley
opposed the Deity, supported and blindfolded the young Vicar in
emergencies of this kind.

He spoke earnestly and at length to his sister. He waved aside her timid
excuse that she had overslept herself after a sleepless night, and had
finished dressing but the moment before he found her in the garden. He
entreated her to put aside such insincerity as unworthy of her. He
reminded her of the long months she had spent at Warpington with its
peculiar spiritual opportunities; that he should be to blame if he did
not press upon her the first importance of the religious life, the
ever-present love of God, and the means of approaching Him through the
sacraments. He entreated her to join her prayers with his that she might
be saved from the worship of her own talent, which had shut out the
worship of God, from this dreadful indifference to holy things, and the
impatience of all religious teaching which he grieved to see in her.

He spoke well, the earnest, blind, would-be leader endeavoring to guide
her to the ditch from which he knew not how she had emerged,
passionately distressed at the opposition he met with as he would have
drawn her lovingly towards it.

The tears were in Hester's eyes, but the eyes themselves were as flint
seen through water. She stifled many fierce and cruel impulses to speak
as plainly as he did, to tell him that it was not religion that was
abhorent to her, but the form in which he presented it to her, and that
the sin against the Holy Ghost was disbelief, like his, in the religion
of others. But when have such words availed anything? When have they
been believed? Hester had a sharp tongue, and she was slowly learning to
beware of it as her worst enemy. She laid down many weapons before she
trusted herself to speak.

"It is good of you to care what becomes of me," she said, gently, but
her voice was cold. "I am sorry you regard me as you do. But from your
point of view you were right to speak - as - as you have done. I value the
affection that prompted it."

"She can't meet me fairly," said Mr. Gresley to himself, with sudden
anger at the meanness of such tactics. "They say she is so clever, and
she can't refute a word I say. She appears to yield and then defies me.
She always puts me off like that."

The sun had vanquished the mist, and in the brilliant light the two
figures moved silently, side by side, back to the house, one with
something very like rage in his heart, the rage that in bygone days
found expression in stake and fagot.

Perhaps the heaviest trouble which Hester was ever called upon to bear
had its mysterious beginnings on that morning of opal and gossamer when
the magnolia opened.


Il le fit avec des arguments inconsistants et irréfutables, de ces
arguments qui fondent devant la raison comme la neige an feu, et
qu'on ne peut saisir, des arguments absurdes et triomphants, de
curé de campagne qul démontre Dieu. - Guy DE MAUPASSANT.

Sybell's party broke up on Saturday, with the exception of Rachel and
Mr. Tristram, who had been unable to finish by that date a sketch he was
making of Sybell. When Doll discovered that his wife had asked that
gentleman to stay over Sunday he entreated Hugh, in moving terms, to do
the same.

"I am not literary," said Doll, who always thought it necessary to
explain that he was not what no one thought he was. "I hate all that
sort of thing. Utter rot, I call it. For goodness' sake, Scarlett, sit
tight. I must be decent to the beast in my own house, and if you go I
shall have to have him alone jawing at me till all hours of the night in
the smoking-room."

Hugh was easily persuaded, and so it came about that the morning
congregation at Warpington had the advantage of furtively watching Hugh
and Mr. Tristram as they sat together in the carved Wilderleigh pew,
with Sybell and Rachel at one end of it, and Doll at the other. No one
looked at Rachel. Her hat attracted a momentary attention, but her face

The Miss Pratts, on the contrary, well caparisoned by their man
milliner, well groomed, well curled, were a marked feature of the sparse
congregation. The spectator of so many points, all made the most of,
unconsciously felt with a sense of oppression that everything that could
be done had been done. No stone had been left unturned.

Their brother, Captain Algernon Pratt, sitting behind them, looked
critically at them, and owned that they were smart women. But he was not
entirely satisfied with them, as he had been in the old days, before he
went into the Guards and began the real work of his life, raising
himself in society.

Captain Pratt was a tall, pale young man - _assez beau
garçon_ - faultlessly dressed, with a quiet acquired manner. He was not
ill-looking, the long upper lip concealed by a perfectly kept mustache,
but the haggard eye and the thin line in the cheek, which did not
suggest thought and overwork as their cause, made his appearance vaguely

"Jesu, lover of my soul,"

sang the shrill voices of the choir-boys, echoed by Regie and Mary,
standing together, holding their joint hymnbook exactly equally between
them, their two small thumbs touching.

Fräulein, on Hester's other side, was singing with her whole soul,
accompanied by a pendulous movement of the body:

"Cover my defenceless 'ead,
Wiz ze sadow of Zy wing."

Mr. Gresley, after baying like a blood-hound through the opening verses,
ascended the pulpit and engaged in prayer. The congregation amened and
settled itself. Mary leaned her blond head against her mother, Regie
against Hester.

The supreme moment of the week had come for Mr. Gresley.

He gave out the text:

"Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch?"

* * * * *

All of us who are Churchmen are aware that the sermon is a period
admirably suited for quiet reflection.

"A good woman loves but once," said Mr. Tristram to himself, in an
attitude of attention, his fine eyes fixed decorously on a pillar in
front of him. Some of us would be as helpless without a Bowdlerized
generality or a platitude to sustain our minds as the invalid would be
without his peptonized beef-tea.

"Rachel is a good woman, a saint. Such a woman does not love in a hurry,
but when she does she loves forever." What was that poem he and she had
so often read together? Tennyson, wasn't it? About love not altering
"when it alteration finds," but bears it out even to the crack of doom.
Fine poet, Tennyson; he knew the human heart. She had certainly adored
him four years ago, just in the devoted way in which he needed to be
loved. And how he had worshipped her! Of course he had behaved badly. He
saw that now. But if he had it was not from want of love. She had been
unable to see that at the time. Good women were narrow, and they were
hard, and they did not understand men. Those were their faults. Had she
learned better by now? Did she realize that she had far better marry a
man who had loved her for herself, and who still loved her, rather than
some fortune-hunter, like that weedy fellow Scarlett. (Mr. Tristram
called all slender men weedy.) He would frankly own his fault and ask
for forgiveness. He glanced for a moment at the gentle, familiar face
beside him.

"She will forgive me," he said, reassuring himself, in spite of an
inward qualm of misgiving. "I am glad I arranged to stay on. I will
speak to her this afternoon. She has become much softened, and we will
bury the past and make a fresh start together."

* * * * *

"I will walk up to Beaumere this afternoon," said Doll, stretching a leg
outside the open end of the pew. "I wish Gresley would not call the
Dissenters worms. They are some of my best tenants, and they won't like
it when they hear of it. And I'll go round the young pheasants. (Doll
did this, or something similar, every Sunday afternoon of his life, but
he always rehearsed it comfortably in thought on Sunday mornings.) And
if Withers is about I'll go out in the boat - the big one, the little one
leaks - and set a trimmer or two for to-morrow. I'm not sure I'll set one
under the south bank, for there was the devil to pay last time, when
that beast of an eel got among the roots. I'll ask Withers what he
thinks. I wish Gresley would not call the Dissenters blind leaders of
the blind. It's such bad form, and I don't suppose the text meant that
to start with, and what's the use of ill-feeling in a parish? And I'll
take Scarlett with me. We'll slip off after luncheon, and leave that
bounder to bound by himself. And poor old Crack shall come too. Uncle
George always took him."

* * * * *

"James is simply surpassing himself," said Mrs. Gresley to herself, her
arm round her little daughter. "Worms what a splendid comparison! The
Churchman, the full-grown man after the stature of Christ, and the
Dissenter invertebrate (I think dear James means inebriate), like a worm
cleaving to the earth. But possibly God in His mercy may let them slip
in by a back-door to heaven! How like him to say that, so generous, so
wide-minded, taking the hopeful view of everything! How noble he looks!
These are days in which we should stick to our colors. I wonder how he
can think of such beautiful things. For my part, I think the duty of the
true priest is not to grovel to the crowd and call wrong right and right
wrong for the sake of a fleeting popularity. How striking! What a lesson
to the Bishop, if he were only here. He is so lax about Dissent, as if
right and wrong were mere matters of opinion! What a gift he has! I know
he will eat nothing for luncheon. If only we were somewhere else where
the best joints were a little cheaper, and his talents more
appreciated." And Mrs. Gresley closed her eyes and prayed earnestly, a
tear sliding down her cheek on to Mary's floss-silk mane, that she might
become less unworthy to be the wife of one so far above her, that the
children might all grow up like him, and that she might be given
patience to bear with Hester even when she vexed him.

* * * * *

Captain Pratt's critical eye travelled over the congregation. It
absolutely ignored Mrs. Gresley and Fräulein. It lingered momentarily on
Hester. He knew what he called "breeding" when he saw it, and he was
aware that Hester possessed it, though his sisters would have laughed at
the idea. He had seen many well-bred women on social pinnacles look like
that, whose houses were at present barred against him. The Pratt sisters
were fixed into their smartness as some faces are fixed into a grin. It
was not spontaneous, fugitive, evanescent as a smile, gracefully worn,
or lightly laid aside, as in Hester's case. He had known Hester slightly
in London for several years. He had seen her on terms of intimacy, such
as she never showed to his sisters, with inaccessible men and women with
whom he had achieved a bare acquaintance, but whom, in spite of many
carefully concealed advances, he had found it impossible to know better.
Captain Pratt had reached that stage in his profession of raising
himself when he had become a social barometer. He was excessively
careful whom he knew, what women he danced with, what houses he visited;
and any of his acquaintances who cared to ascertain their own social
status to a hair's-breadth had only to apply to it the touchstone of
Captain Pratt's manner towards them.

Hester, who grasped many facts of that kind, was always amused by the
cold consideration with which he treated her on his rare visits to the
parental Towers; and which his sisters could only construe as a sign
that "Algy was gone on Hessie."

"But he will never marry her," they told each other. "Algy looks

It was true. If Hester had been Lady Hester, it is possible that the
surname of Pratt, if frequently refused by stouter women, might
eventually have been offered to her. But Captain Pratt was determined
to marry rank, and nothing short of a Lady Something was of any use to
him. An Honorable was better than nothing, but it did not count for much
with him. It had a way of absenting itself when wanted. No one was
announced as an Honorable. It did not even appear on cards. It might he
overlooked. Rank, to be of any practical value, must be apparent,
obvious. Lady Georgiana Pratt, Lady Evelina Pratt! Any name would do
with that prefix. His eye travelled as far as Sybell and stopped again.
She was "the right sort" herself, and she dressed in the right way. Why
could not Ada and Selina imitate her? But he had never forgiven her the
fact that he had met "a crew of cads" at her house, whom he had been
obliged to cut afterwards in the Row. No, Sybell would not have done for
him. She surrounded herself with vulgar people.

Captain Pratt was far too well-mannered to be guilty of staring, except
at pretty maid-servants or shop-girls, and his eye was moved on by the
rigid police of etiquette which ruled his every movement. It paused
momentarily on Rachel. He knew about her, as did every bachelor in
London. A colossal heiress. She was neither plain nor handsome. She had
a good figure, but not good enough to counterbalance her nondescript
face. She had not the air of distinction which he was so quick to detect
and appraise. She was a social nonentity. He did not care to look at her
a second time. "I would not marry her with twice her fortune," he said
to himself.

* * * * *

Regie's hand had stolen into Hester's. His even breathing, felt rather
than heard, as he dropped asleep against her shoulder, surrounded Hester
with the atmosphere of peace and comfort which his father had broken
earlier in the day. Regie often brought back to her what his father
wrested from her.

She listened to the sermon as from a warm nest safely raised above the
quaggy ground of personal feeling.

"Dear James! How good he is! how much in earnest! But worms don't go in
at back-doors. Why are not clergymen taught a few elementary rules of
composition before they are ordained? But perhaps no one will notice it
except myself. James is certainly a saint. He has the courage of his
opinions. I believe he loves God and the Church with his whole heart,
and would go to the stake for them, or send me there if he thought it
was for the good of my soul. Why has he no power? Why is he so much
disliked in the parish and neighborhood? I am sure it is not because he
has small abilities, and makes puns, and says cut-and-dried things. How
many excellent clergymen who do the same are beloved? Is it because he
deals with every one as he deals with me? What dreadful things he thinks
of me. I don't wonder he is anxious about me. What unworthy motives of
wilful blindness and arrogance he is attributing to the Nonconformists!
Oh, James, James! will you never see that it is disbelief in the
sincerity of the religion of others, because it is not in the same
narrow form as your own, which makes all your zeal and earnestness of
none effect! You think the opposition you meet with everywhere is the
opposition of evil to good, of indifference to piety. When will you
learn that it is the good in your hearers which opposes you, the love of
God in them which is offended by your representation of Him?"

* * * * *

Hugh's eyes were fixed on the same pillar as Mr. Tristram's, but if he
had been aware of that fact he would have chosen another pillar. His
thin, handsome face was beginning to show the marks of mental strain.
His eyes had the set, impassive look of one who, hedged in on both
sides, sees a sharp turn ahead of him on an unknown road.

* * * * *

"Rachel! Rachel! Rachel! Don't you hear me calling to you? Don't you
hear me telling you that I can't live without you? The hymn was
right - 'Other refuge have I none, Hangs my helpless soul on Thee' - only
it was written of you, not of that far, far away God who does not care.
Only care for me. Only love me. Only give me those cool hands that I may
lean my forehead against them. No help can come to me except through

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Online LibraryMary CholmondeleyRed Pottage → online text (page 12 of 27)