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Title: And Now Good-bye (1931)
Author: James Hilton
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eBook No.: 0901081.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: December 2009
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: And Now Good-bye (1931)
Author: James Hilton



CONTENTS

      PROLOGUE

I.    MONDAY
II.   TUESDAY
III.  WEDNESDAY
IV.   THURSDAY
V.    FRIDAY MORNING AND AFTERNOON
VI.   FRIDAY TEA
VII.  FRIDAY DINNER
VIII. FRIDAY EVENING
IX.   SATURDAY MORNING
      EPILOGUE



PROLOGUE


The Redford rail smash was a bad business. On that cold November morning,
glittering with sunshine and a thin layer of snow on the fields, the
London-Manchester express hit a wagon that had strayed on to the main
line from a siding. Engine and two first coaches were derailed; scattered
cinders set fire to the wreckage; and fourteen persons in the first coach
lost their lives. Some, unfortunately, were not killed outright. A
curious thing was that even when all the names of persons who could
possibly have been travelling on that particular train on that particular
morning, had been collected and investigated, there were still two
charred bodies completely unaccounted for, and both of women.

Behind the second coach the force of the collision was not felt so
disastrously; there were several casualties in the third, but in the
fourth, which was a restaurant-car, occupants escaped with a shaking.

As usual on such occasions there were heroic incidents. Conspicuous among
these was the behaviour of one of the restaurant-car passengers, a
middle-aged man, who jumped down to the track within a few seconds of the
impact, and began work of rescue amidst the piled up and already burning
debris. Five persons, it was afterwards computed, owed their lives to his
gallantry, nor could he be persuaded to desist until his arms and hands
were badly burned, and all hope of saving further lives had clearly to be
abandoned. Passengers and railway officials alike were limitless in his
praise--"He was like a fury," one said, "dashing into the flames again
and again, just as if they weren't there--it seemed impossible that one
man could do so much in so short a time."

The following day was Sunday and Armistice Day, and the newspapers were
naturally full of stories of the disaster and of its hero. He had
collapsed, it was reported, after his efforts, but letters and papers in
his possession revealed him to be the Reverend Howat Freemantle, a
dissenting minister in Browdley, Lancashire. Interest in him was further
stirred by the disclosure, made by his wife, who was telegraphed for and
arrived later in the day, that he had been travelling alone. This seemed
to set his heroism on a higher pinnacle than ever; Mr. James Douglas made
it the theme of a long and moving article; and a chorus of adulation rose
from all parts of the country. For, as one 'leader' put it: "Many
doubtless would have done as much for their loved ones, but this man's
devotion and self-sacrifice were for complete strangers, and in this he
showed himself magnificently worthy of his profession. In these days,
when so much is heard of the failure of organised religion to attract the
masses, the selfless bravery of this Nonconformist clergyman strikes a
note that will echo far beyond the thunder of rival sectaries."

The Reverend Howat Freemantle spent a week in hospital, and for a few
days there were fears that he might have to lose one of his hands.
Meanwhile the gaze of the whole country was on him, for the Press, with
that capriciously epidemic enthusiasm that partly leads and partly
follows the mood of its registered readers, decided unanimously that he
was the 'big news' of the moment. Photographs of him, looking tired and
rather sad in his hospital bed, appeared on front pages; his face was
impressive and thoughtful, and it was even commented by some that he had
'the eyes of a saint'. Of the disaster and of his own exploits he would
say not a word--a pathetically understandable attitude in a man in whom
modesty and horror were doubtless equally profound. When at last the
announcement was made that his hand might, after all, be saved, and that
he would soon be fit to undertake the journey to Browdley, the
sentimental heart of the newspaper-reading public gave a great upward
leap.

That journey home was rather like the return of a wounded victor after a
successful military campaign. Hundreds cheered him as he walked from the
ambulance to the train at Redford; and by courtesy of the railway company
his coach was sent on a through line to Browdley Station, where he was
welcomed by the Mayor and Corporation, the Salvation Army Silver Prize
Band, and a crowd estimated at nearly five thousand. It had not been
realised, however, that he was so ill; and as he was helped down the
station slope by his wife and sister-in-law, the Mayor hurriedly
cancelled a prepared speech and substituted a few short sentences of
praise and welcome. Even the cheers of the crowd were hushed by the man's
tragic appearance, and his words, "Thank you all--very much," were
clearly heard amidst an awestricken silence. But the cheers swelled out
again as the ambulance passed through the narrow streets to the Manse.

The massed limelights of the Press then focused themselves upon that
middle-sized manufacturing town, of which few persons in other parts of
the country had ever even heard; and it was soon discovered that in the
Reverend Howat Freemantle Browdley had possessed no ordinary minister.
Everywhere citizens and chapel-goers testified to his generosity, his
kindliness, and his devotion to good works, while it was recalled that
during the War he had served in Gallipoli as an ordinary soldier and been
wounded twice. Nor in Browdley had he confined himself to strictly
professional work; his sermons had been eloquent, but he had also
identified himself with local literary and artistic societies, the League
of Nations Union, and other movements. Newspaper interviewers, unable to
approach the man himself (he was confined to his room and could see
nobody), found his wife and sister-in-law most gratifyingly ready to
answer questions; among other matters it was revealed that his stipend
was a very poor one, and that, like so many other clergymen in industrial
districts, he had for some time been hard put to it to make ends meet. In
particular, he could barely afford even the most urgent repairs to the
large, red-bricked residence with which an earlier and more prosperous
generation had burdened him. Such facts, together with an insurgent wave
of popular emotion, prompted a leading daily newspaper to open a fund for
the provision of 'some tangible expression of nation-wide esteem'. Headed
by a contribution of fifty guineas from the proprietor, Sir William
Folgate, it speedily reached a sum of nearly eleven hundred pounds, a
cheque for which was eventually handed to Freemantle at a special meeting
convened in Browdley Town Hall. He was still suffering then from the
effects of a complete nervous and mental breakdown, and could not make
more than a very short speech of thanks. The money, he said, would be
devoted entirely to local charities.

But this was by no means the only tribute paid to his heroism. A certain
Miss Monks, aged eighty-nine, who belonged to Freemantle's chapel, was so
deeply overcome by reading newspaper accounts of how the minister had
behaved that she died of heart failure; whilst another old lady, who
lived at Cheltenham, and had never even seen Freemantle, offered to pay
for the education of his children. He had none, as it happened, of school
age, so that the lady's beneficence was frustrated; but he was able to
accept Sir William Folgate's three months' loan of a luxurious villa
overlooking the sea at Bournemouth. It should perhaps be added that he
received many anonymous gifts, among them being an Austin Seven car,
which had to be sold, since neither he nor any of his family could drive.

One of the many disclosures made by Mrs. Freemantle to an interviewer had
been that her husband's hobby was the composition of music. The
enterprising journalist had wished to know more of this, so she had
hunted up as many of her husband's compositions as she could find and
handed them over. Among them was one, dated 1909, which for some reason
attracted more attention than the rest, and within a few days Mrs.
Freemantle received an offer from a firm of publishers. But she was
unwise enough to hold out for too high terms and negotiations finally
broke down, with the unfortunate result that none of Freemantle's music
has yet been made accessible to the general public.

By the time the minister and his wife returned to Browdley the following
April the whole affair had been almost completely forgotten, and even at
Browdley station there was no one to meet them except Mrs. Freemantle's
sister. But the Manse, when they reached it, was not quite the same as
before; it had been painted inside and out, and there was new linoleum on
the floors, and in the minister's study a small bust of Beethoven, which
had been accidentally smashed during the renovations, had been replaced
by a large silver-framed photograph of Gipsy Smith, subscribed for by the
Young Men's Bible Class.



CHAPTER ONE - MONDAY


The Reverend Howat Freemantle awoke about the usual time on Monday
morning of that second week in November. From habit, as soon as he was
completely conscious, he lit the bedside candle, glanced at his watch
ticking loudly on the table, and then at his wife, whose huddled back and
deep regular breathing presented a familiar picture close by.
Seven-thirty. He reached out an arm to light the gas-ring under the
kettle--a manoeuvre dexterously performed as a result of long practice.
Then he leaned back to doze for those last and frequently most delightful
minutes.

But this morning they were not particularly delightful. Parsons, he had
often reflected, were not immune from the 'Monday morning' feeling--on
the contrary, they were subject to a peculiarly distressing Monday
morning feeling of their own. After Sunday, with its sermons and
services, Monday came, not as the beginning of a six days' holiday, as so
many lay persons imagined, but as a sudden drop to the bottom of a hill
which had to be slowly and laboriously climbed over again.

And it had been a difficult Sunday, he recollected, dark and foggy all
day, with congregations and collections very small--serious matters to a
Nonconformist minister in a northern manufacturing town already
impoverished by the trade slump and unemployment. The chapel, too, had
been bitterly cold, owing to an ancient and defective heating apparatus
(soon, however, to be replaced), and the fog and chill had got at his
throat and given him acute pain during the evening service--'_that_
pain', he had already begun to call it in his mind. Curious how people
could stare at him up there in the pulpit, and not know that the chief
thought in his mind all the time was--'I've got the most frightful
sharpness in my throat--wonder if anything serious starts like this?'

When the kettle began to boil he warmed the teapot, put in the tea, and
poured. Then, reaching out further, he gave his wife's shoulder the
gentle shove which was nearly always sufficient to wake her. She stirred,
opened her eyes sleepily, and gave an incoherent murmur. "Good morning,"
he said, with a smile at her huddled shoulders. He did not look at her
face. He felt, though he scarcely admitted it even to himself, a
reluctance to observe her during those first few inelegant moments after
waking--with her hair crimped up in clusters of curlers, her skin greasy
with perspiration, and her lips dry and parched through breathing through
her mouth. She could not, of course, help all that; the fault, he knew,
lay with himself--in a certain initial fastidiousness which, he feared,
was hardly less a sin for being involuntary.

She did not reply to his 'good morning' except by further murmurs, and
after a little pause he poured out a cup of tea and placed it on the
table next to a novel by W. J. Locke which she was in the course of
reading. Then, after putting on an old brown dressing-gown, he poured two
other cups and carried them out of the room, across the landing, and into
another room where his daughter Mary slept. She was a thin-faced,
sallow-complexioned girl of twenty, working as a teacher in the school
that adjoined the chapel. He lit the gas and wakened her now, according
to established routine; he liked that early morning habit of tea and a
chat. He began desultorily to mention politics (there was a by-election
pending in the neighbourhood), though he had not uttered many words
before he felt again that sharp, cramping sensation in his throat. Mary,
however, was not interested in politics, and plunged into chapel and
school matters with a briskness that made him, as for relief, pull aside
the curtains and see the pale grey dawn outlining the roofs and factories
of Browdley; there was no fog, but a soft slanting rain. Then she asked
if he would 'hear some Latin verbs she had been learning by heart; she
was cramming for a degree examination, and had to make use of every odd
moment. He agreed, and for the next five minutes stood solemnly and
shiveringly by the window with the text-book in his hand (she had slept
with it under her pillow), while she went through the various moods and
tenses of the third conjugation. "Rego, Regis, Regit..." How chilly it
was, he reflected, and there would be no hot water in the bathroom (the
kitchen fire was always allowed to go out on Sunday afternoons), and the
smell of bacon was drifting up the stairs just as it had done for
goodness knew how many years--did there await him, he wondered, some
glorious morning in the dim future, an alternative breakfast smell that
would amaze and delight his nostrils? Not that he disliked bacon, or
would have preferred any other dish for breakfast; it was in atmosphere
rather than actuality that something in him craved for a
change..."Regimus, Regitis, Regunt."...He must call and see Mrs. Roseway
some time today, and perhaps young Trevis as well--oh yes, and Councillor
Higgs about the Armistice Day service. "Well, there you are !" he
exclaimed brightly, when she had finished. "You seem to know them all
right. Now we'd better hurry up and dress, or else Aunt Viney will have
something to say to us when we get down."

Half an hour later breakfast at the Manse began--Quaker oats, bacon and
eggs, toast and marmalade--the whole rather carelessly prepared by the
maid-of-all-work, Ellen, whose intelligence was so far below normal that
Aunt Viney, in her more blustery moments, usually referred to her as
'that half-wit'. But then, you could never get satisfactory servants in
Browdley, and Aunt Viney, with or without the slightest encouragement,
would tell you why. It was because of the dole, which enabled out-of-work
factory hands to live in luxury (silk stockings and lip-stick, Aunt Viney
said) while honest people searched vainly for 'good girls to train'.

Aunt Viney (short for 'Lavinia'), viewed in the grey daylight that came
in through the dining-room window, was always a rather imposing
spectacle. She was fifty-one years of age, and had large staring eyes,
quick bustling movements, more than a tendency to stoutness, a menacing
optimism that was not quite matched by a sense of humour, and the most
decided opinions upon everything. She was an excellent 'manager', and for
more than a decade had lived at the Manse with her sister and
brother-in-law and their children (there had been boys at one time),
looking after them all with undoubted if rather relentless competence.
Mrs. Freemantle, it was generally known, was 'not strong', but happily
there was no such fragility about Aunt Viney. Vigorous in body and
mentally impervious, she knew exactly how to control the children at a
Sunday School treat, she could organise round games at a Missionary
bazaar, prepare tea for seventy at the Women's Annual Social, win the
egg-and-spoon race at the summer outing, turn away the crowd of
mendicants who knocked at the door of the Manse--and all with that same
air of confident downrightness. She entertained a just slightly
contemptuous admiration for Howat. In truth she had never really managed
to like Browdley (she was Kentish by birth), and when, on holiday at
Southport or Llandudno, she saw sleek, well-dressed parsons playing golf
or motoring in smart-looking cars, she often wished that her
brother-in-law, with all the brains he was supposed to have, had belonged
to one or other of the wealthier denominations.

This morning, as on so many other Monday mornings, she faced the oncoming
week with a nonchalant glint of her prominent blue eyes. Breakfast was
her particular scene of triumph, since Mrs. Freemantle took hers in bed,
rarely appearing downstairs till the morning was well aired. Aunt Viney
poured out tea with a steady hand, rebuked her niece for grumbling at the
bacon (it was abominably cooked, she perceived, and privately made up her
mind to have a real good row with that girl Ellen afterwards), and
watched the progress of her brother-in-law's breakfast with managerial
solicitude. He seemed to her exactly as she had always known him at
breakfast times--quiet, good-tempered, perhaps a little dreamy. Over the
Quaker oats he opened his private letters, slitting the envelopes with
the knife he would later use for the bacon. Over the bacon and eggs he
talked a little, and after that, during the hurried moments before his
daughter left for school, he glanced through the _Daily News_ and
mentioned a few odd things that were happening in the vast world outside
Browdley. All this was perfectly according to custom.

From nine till eleven every morning, except Sunday, the Reverend Howat
Freemantle was to be found in his 'study'. During those two hours he
answered letters, planned addresses and sermons, interviewed callers, and
(if he had any spare time left over, which did not often happen) read
books and the more serious type of periodicals. The study was a
moderate-sized and rather gloomy room on the ground floor, overlooking a
tiny soot-blackened front garden. A dozen years ago it had been furnished
by Mrs. Freemantle, who had modelled it upon that of her father, himself
a dissenting preacher; and Howat, who had no especial preferences in
furnishing, had been content to leave it undisturbed from that primal
exactitude. There were books, of course--shelves of them--his own
training college textbooks, and stacks of theological works inherited
from his father-in-law. There was a pedestal writing-desk, a swivel
desk-chair, and a pair of ragged leather armchairs. Two black and white
lithographs, one of "Dawn" and the other of "Sunset," embellished
alcoves on either side of the fireplace; a many-volumed series of the
Expositor's Bible (a gift from his first chapel) occupied a frontal
position above the mantelpiece; and a bust of Beethoven (many visitors
thought it was Luther) stood on the top of a bookcase containing the
latest edition of the _Encyclopedia Britannica_, on which Howat was still
paying monthly instalments. Apart from the Beethoven bust the room was
impeccably what Mrs. Freemantle had originally planned it to be--the
sanctum of a dissenting minister of the more 'thoughtful' type. Its
composition as such was far too massive to be overlaid by any
freakishness of personality, and all that Howat's occupation ever
inflicted on it was a merely surface litter that Aunt Viney easily and
regularly cleared away.

Passing along Browdley High Street, and then up School Lane beyond the
tram junction, the pedestrian reaches the Manse, after a short and rather
depressing walk through a district given over to factories and slum
property. There is a privet hedge along the street frontage, but it is
low enough for a vague interior view of the study to be available to
anyone who deliberately stares, and the Reverend Howat Freemantle must
often have been seen at work there during the last dozen years,
especially in winter when it is so dark as a rule that the lamps have to
be lit.

On that Monday morning in November Howat lit the single gas-burner over
his desk and gave his morning's mail a second perusal. Besides a bunch of
obvious-looking circulars there were three private letters, the first
from a firm of engineers in Queen Victoria Street, London, confirming an
arrangement by which he should call at their head office on the coming
Friday to consult about a new heating apparatus. For his chapel members,
after freezing and catching influenza for several successive winters, had
at last decided to spend money on such an unspiritual but none the less
necessary object; sixty pounds had already been subscribed, and there
would be a bazaar or something to raise whatever extra might be required.
To Howat had fallen the job of going to London to make final
arrangements; of course he knew nothing at all about central heating, but
his congregation had the usual optimistic belief that a parson must know
something about everything.

The second letter was from a well-known missioner, offering to conduct a
week's revival in Browdley for twenty pounds _plus_ his hotel and
travelling expenses.

The third letter was from another London address--Wimpole Street. It
fixed an appointment for the Reverend Howat Freemantle to see Doctor
Blenkiron at 4. p.m. that same Friday. Howat turned it over rather
awesomely in his hand; he had somehow nourished a slender hope that his
little plan to fit in a visit to a London specialist might not have
succeeded. However, there it was; Blenkiron could see him, even at such
short notice, and no one at home, for the present at least, need be told
anything about it. It was not only that he was anxious not to worry
them--he was equally anxious that they should not worry him. He knew from
frequent observation how magisterially Aunt Viney took command of other
people's illnesses; she was always so noisily optimistic about them, and
at the same time so full of parallel anecdotes of persons who had either
died lingering deaths, or had cured themselves by Christian Science or
herbs, or some other specific in which Howat had no particular faith. She
had, too, a robust common sense which would certainly have made her point
out the absurdity of his paying hard-earned guineas to a London
specialist before Ringwood's verdict, which could be obtained for as many
shillings, had been even asked for. Nor could Howat say precisely why he
was unwilling to consult Ringwood first--except that Ringwood was a
personal friend as well as a family doctor, and he shrank, somehow, from
the human touch in such a business.

Ah, he told himself a shade irritably, throwing the letter into the fire,
he was getting nervy--mustn't think any more about it--wait till Friday,
anyhow. Plenty of jobs to be done meanwhile. There was the address on
Mozart he was due to deliver at the Young People's Guild that night.
Fortunately he knew a good deal about Mozart--no need to prepare anything
especially. He might carry over his portable gramophone and a few
records...He took the remainder of his correspondence to the fireside and
pencilled a few memoranda on the back of a circular. Mozart...There was a
Trio in E Major he might play over and also, of course, the overtures to
"Figaro" and the "Magic Flute ". His eyes brightened a little at the
prospect, and he stared across the room to observe, without irony, the
view through the window of dilapidated slum cottages overtopped by a
five-storeyed cotton-mill. Then, in a mood almost of abstraction, he
began to open the circulars hitherto neglected. One was from a tailoring
firm in London, advertising a sale of lounge suits at five guineas--to be
had in either black or 'clerical grey'. Well, perhaps on Friday, if he
could find time, he would call and see about it--he certainly needed a
suit badly enough...Another circular was from a firm of outside
stockbrokers in Leicester, recommending shares in a brewery. A third was
from an ecclesiastical supply stores in Paternoster Row, offering a job
line of individual communion cups. A fourth came from Boston, Mass., and
accosted him with a list of pertinent questions--"Are your sermons full
of pep? Are you sure you are delivering the goods? Are you satisfied with
your freewill offerings? Do you feel tired Sunday nights? Are you
inclined to be low-spirited, diffident, disheartened?" And for a
twenty-dollar course of ten lessons it could all, apparently, be put
right.

Howat read through the enclosed and illustrated brochure, but did not
tear it up afterwards as he had done the other advertising matter.
Instead he put it away in the middle drawer of his desk; it would do for
Ringwood to see some time--he would be amused.

Still with the trace of a smile he tore open one of the remaining
envelopes. A coloured picture dropped out and fell at his feet, making a
little patch of brightness on the drab carpet. He picked it up, guessing
it to be a sample sent him by some firm of art publishers--Raphael's
"Saint Catherine of Alexandria", he recognised, for he had often admired
the original in the National Gallery. The reproduction pleased him, and
he was still examining it when he perceived a handwritten note in the
envelope. It was just the shortest of messages--"Dear Mr. Freemantle, I
am afraid I shall not be able to come for a lesson on Tuesday, as I shall
be out of Browdley that day. I saw the enclosed in a shop recently and
thought you might like it. Yours sincerely, Elizabeth Garland."

His first thought was that he would have an extra free hour on the
following day. Every Tuesday for some months past he had been giving
lessons in German to Miss Garland, the daughter of his chapel secretary.
It was a means of adding to his rather poor income, besides which it
meant rubbing up his own knowledge of German, which was good for him. She
was a pleasant and intelligent girl, and had seemed to pick up the
language quite satisfactorily; still, he could not but feel grateful for
one engagement less during a more than usually crowded week.

He studied the picture again and reflected that it was kindly of the
child to have sent it him--yes, very kindly. There was something boyish
and simple in him that showed instantly when anyone gave him anything, or
even thanked him; he was always pleased in a rather bewildered kind of
way--bewildered because he quite genuinely could not think what he had
done to deserve it.

He put the picture on the mantelpiece, and several times looked towards
it with pleasure during the clerical tasks that kept him employed during
the next hour or so. Finally Aunt Viney came in, saw it, and smiled
steadfastly while he explained the circumstances of its arrival. "Very
kind of her indeed, Howat," was her verdict at length, "but are you
quite sure it is very suitable? After all, it looks rather a Catholic
picture, don't you think?"

Perhaps it was, he admitted, and put it away in a drawer. As a
Nonconformist clergyman he could not be too careful.

Punctually at eleven he put on his overcoat and hat (an ordinary dark
grey and somewhat shabby felt) and went out into School Lane. There, in
the murky daylight that was only a degree brighter than the gloom of the
study, it was possible for one to observe him in some detail. Tall and
slim-built, with just the very slightest stoop of the shoulders that
suggested thoughtfulness, he was, beyond doubt, fine-looking, and would
have been conspicuous among his fellows even had his collar not buttoned
at the back. His hair was touched with silver over the temples, but
otherwise he looked younger than his age, which was forty-three. His eyes
were grey, deep-set, and very bright; he had a strong, rugged profile,
and an expression which, in its stern setting, was rather astonishingly
winsome. Dr. Ringwood often told him he had missed his vocation in being
a parson--he should have been an actor. "With that face you could have
been the answer to the maiden's prayer," he used to say, and Howat was
always, beyond his amusement, a little puzzled, and beyond his
puzzlement, a little grieved. There seemed such a lot of irrelevance in
the world. He was dimly aware that he might be considered not
bad-looking, but, so far as the matter affected him at all, he found it
rather tiresome. Some of the girls at the chapel, for instance, whenever
there was a bazaar or a social--so silly and pointless, all that sort of
thing. Anyhow, he had never tried to trade on his looks, and most
certainly never attempted any gallant airs.

Proceeding along School Lane he entered the High Street. It had stopped
raining, but the roadway and pavements were covered with a film of brown
mud which glittered in the light of some of the shops. The sky was
already yellowing into a kind of twilight; probably there would be fog
again later on. People passed dimly by with a nod or a greeting--women
doing their marketing, unemployed men lounging around, business folk
bustling about the town, and so on. He had to keep his eyes well
open--people were so offended if he didn't see them, they were always
prone to think he had cut them deliberately. Whom should he visit first?
Higgs would be at his place in the High Street; Mrs. Roseway lived over
at Hill Grove; there was young Trevis in Mansion Street, close by. Better
leave Mrs. Roseway till afternoon--she wouldn't like him to call before
everything in the house had been put to rights', though, Heaven knew, he
wasn't the man to notice whether things of that sort were right or not.
Young Trevis then, it might as well be; and he was walking briskly along
with this intention when a little girl suddenly ran up to him. "Please,
Mr. Freemantle, Aunty says will you come and see her at once, as she's
been took very had in the night."

He stared down with a kind of surprised vagueness and then identified the
child as Nancy Kerfoot, one of his Sunday School youngsters. Her aunt, he
knew, was Miss Letitia Monks, and lived in the end house in Lower George
Street. "Very well, my dear," he replied. "Run along and tell your Aunty
I'll come."

It wouldn't do to ignore a summons of that sort, despite the fact that he
had been abruptly sent for by Miss Monks on several previous occasions.
She was a character, the old lady, and he had always rather liked her,
despite the fact that her piercing voice, her equally piercing eyes, her
stern old-fashioned principles, and her quite spotless four-roomed
cottage in which she lived on a very few shillings a week, made him feel
uncomfortably like a large fly in the presence of a small but
exceptionally strong-willed spider. There was something indubitably
wonderful about her, he felt; she was eighty-nine, and had never been
further away from Browdley than Blackpool. Moreover, she had worked in
the same cotton-mill for half a century, had invested all her savings in
that same cotton-mill, and during the last few years had lost the greater
part of them.

He hastened towards Lower George Street, and outside the end house saw
Ringwood's battered Morris-Cowley. As he approached, Ringwood himself
came out of the doorway--an elderly, apple-cheeked, rather shrewd-looking
general practitioner.

"Hullo, Freemantle. You been sent for too?"

"Yes."

"Go along then. Mustn't keep you. It's no false alarm this time, I'm
afraid."

"You think not?"

"Bet you a shilling not."

Ringwood was always outrageously flippant about death. The other clergy
in the town did not care for that, or for him either, but Freemantle
found it an oddly bearable trait. He half-smiled, nodded, and passed
through the open door into the front parlour which had never, he
supposed, been used except for funerals, weddings, Christmas and other
exceptional occasions. The fender was crowded with huge brass fire-irons
that gleamed through the shadows as he passed to the narrow steep
staircase beyond. A woman, doubtless a neighbour, called to him to come
up. He obeyed, feeling his way in almost complete darkness, and was at
last manoeuvred into a very small, hot, and dimly-lit bedroom.

Miss Monks was the oldest member of his chapel; she had belonged to it
ever since its opening in 1860. She had regularly attended services twice
every Sunday until quite recently; she had given generously to all chapel
funds and charities; nor, during her prime, had she ever shirked personal
duties. But that was only one side of the picture. For over four
decades--ever since most people could remember--she had constituted
herself a sort of super-authority to which all chapel questions must in
the last resort be submitted. She had waged bitter and incessant warfare
against anything and everything new, different, or experimental, and it
was hardly an exaggeration to say that she had driven several parsons out
of the town, and at least one into a home for the victims of mental
breakdown. Of Freemantle himself she had misgivings, but they were weaker
ones; and this was partly because she was getting old, partly because he
was tactful, and partly (though neither she nor he realised or would have
admitted it) because she was attracted by his face.

His eyes, accustoming themselves to the dimness, observed the shrivelled
cheeks and piercing eyes that confronted him from the head of the bed.
"Good morning, Miss Monks," he began, stooping slightly. His greeting,
rather huskily spoken, filled the room with its deep resonant tones--he
had a magnificent voice (Ringwood had once said--"It's so damned easy to
listen to you talk that one sometimes doesn't bother what it is you're
saying"--and he had never felt quite the same about his own words after
that). The neighbour passed him a chair and whispered loudly in his ear:
"Doctor says she won't last out the day."

"Ah," he answered vaguely, seating himself at the bedside and gazing at
the subject of this despairing prophecy. He was, he was aware, a little
terrified by Miss Monks. He was just wondering whether she were fully or
only partly conscious when she startled him by croaking suddenly: "Very
poor attendances there must have been at chapel yesterday, Mr.
Freemantle."

"Yes," he admitted, fidgetting under her glance. "The weather, you know,
was most unfortunate. I suppose one really can't expect people to turn
out in thick fog."

"In my young days people wouldn't have let that keep them at home on a
Sunday."

It was her favourite theme, and he gave her the cue she wanted. "Ah, Miss
Monks, I'm afraid this is a slacker generation altogether."

She talked for a few minutes as she enjoyed talking, and as he knew she
enjoyed talking. The conversation touched upon the question of Sunday
games in the parks (soon to come before the Borough Council again), and
the forthcoming service on Armistice Day. She was, of course, a bitter
opponent of Sunday games, and as for the Armistice Day affair, she had
doubts as to the wisdom of those so-called 'undenominational' ceremonies,
at which parsons of all creeds appeared together on a single platform.
"Safer to keep ourselves to ourselves," she declared, with a tightening
of wrinkled lips.

After a time talking seemed to tire her, and Howat was just beginning to
think he might decently take his leave when she whispered, with a kind of
sinister pride: "Doctor says I won't last out the day."

"Oh, dear me, what nonsense!" The exclamation came out trippingly. "I'm
sure Dr. Ringwood never said anything of the sort, and even if he did--"

"He _did_," she insisted, in such a way that further conventional
protests found themselves checked at source. She added hoarsely: "Perhaps
we could have a prayer together, Mr. Freemantle."

"Why, certainly."

And he bent his head into his hands (Miss Monks would have thought any
more abject posture idolatrous) and began to pray. He felt a little
unnerved by it all. It was so difficult to think of anything really
suitable. What _could_ you say to the Almighty by way of introducing an
old lady of eighty-nine who was perfectly certain of going to Heaven and
equally certain that Heaven was full of marble and white tiles, like a
combination of underground convenience and fish-shop? And all the time he
was speaking he knew too that Miss Monks was listening with the air of a
connoisseur; she felt herself in no pressing need of his interpolations
on her behalf--she was merely trying him, seeing what he could do,
enjoying a luxury to which she considered herself entitled.

That, he felt, was the worst of being a Nonconformist parson--in the last
resort people didn't need you, they felt themselves able to get just as
near Heaven on their own. Not that they probably couldn't, but still, if
they thought that, why bother to keep a parson at all? As some species of
communal pet, perhaps. It was different in the Roman Church, where people
really believed in priestly functions. And again, as often before, he
wished there were some ritual for such occasions as this...What could he
say, anyhow?...Yet, to his considerable surprise, he heard himself saying
all kinds of things, quite eloquently and not at all insincerely; he
really meant every word of them--the poor old creature was dying--there
had been something rather grand and magnificent about her--he was
stirred, touched, and aware that his voice was vibrating with emotion.
And when at last he raised his head there were actually tears in his
eyes.

"Thank you, Mr. Freemantle," said Miss Monks rather in the tone of an
examiner to a student who has done passably well in a _viva voce_.

He bade her a kindly farewell, and held her thin hand for a moment. The
stuffy air inside the room (all the windows closed for the past dozen
years, he guessed) and the smells of drugs and bedclothes made him feel a
little faint. His throat too, was giving him pain again. After a few
conventional courtesies to the woman who had shown him up, he descended
the stairs and passed out gladly into the street.

Too late now to call on young Trevis; he had to sec Higgs the councillor,
and there wouldn't be time for both visits. He hastened out of Lower
George Street and into the High Street again. Higgs was an optician, who
had an office and consulting-room on the first floor of Bank Buildings,
just above Phillips's gramophone shop. He was a clever fellow, not yet
thirty, the youngest and in many ways the ablest of the local Labour
Party. Self-educated, he had worked as a mill-hand while studying for the
examinations that entitled him to set up in business. He never attended a
place of worship, but had once surprisingly turned up at a series of
lectures Howat had given on music. The relationship between the two men
was cordial up to a point, and then sharply antagonistic.

Howat felt still somewhat exhausted as he walked along the passage by the
side of the gramophone shop, and climbed the stairs to the first floor.
He rang the bell and Higgs himself answered it. "Oh, Hullo,
Freemantle--glad to see you--do come inside." Howat did not in the least
mind being called Freemantle' without the 'Mister '--indeed he rather
preferred it--but he could not help reflecting that at Higgs's age he
should never have had the nerve to leave out the prefix with a man nearly
twice as old...Nerve, that was it--and Higgs had plenty of it.
Cool-headed fellow climbing steadily up the ladder which began with a
seat on a local council and ended, quite possibly, at Westminster. He was
determined to get on in the world, and Howat liked him for it.

"Good morning, Higgs. I hope I'm not interrupting--I thought I'd better
call where I'd be sure of finding you."

"Quite right. Do take a chair. I've an appointment in ten minutes, but I
daresay he'll be late."

"Well, I don't suppose my business will take more than the ten minutes in
any case. I only wanted to know the plans for the Armistice Day service."

"Ah, yes. There's been the usual fuss about it, you know. Or perhaps you
don't know. Doxley of the Congregationals thought it was unfair for the
Baptist fellow to be given the opening prayer two years in succession. So
we've given him the opening prayer instead. The Vicar of the Parish
Church, of course, does the address--that seems to be generally agreed
upon. Then there's the second prayer--Salcombe rather wants that.
Unfortunately that means you'll have to take the hymns, as you did last
year and the year before. I don't know how you feel about it--if you
object, then Salcombe will have to take his turn with the hymns, whether
he likes it or not, only he's not so good at the job--fusses with the
tuning-fork for about five minutes before he can get the note--I daresay
you've seen him."

Howat smiled. "I don't mind what I do--I'll fit myself in just wherever's
convenient. As it happens, I have absolute pitch, so I don't need a
tuning-fork."

"Absolute pitch? What's that?"

One thing in Higgs that always especially attracted Howat was his
eagerness to assimilate any casual scrap of knowledge that might come his
way. He answered: "It means that if I want a certain note--middle C, for
instance--I know it, instantly, without having to think. Nothing very
unusual a good many people can do it."

"I see. A sort of gift? Must be very useful. You're fond of music, aren't
you, Freemantle?"

"Yes, extremely."

"I think I'm beginning to be, too. When I've time to spare I sometimes go
down to the shop below and play over records. I like Bach." He pronounced
it 'Back' and added: "By the way, how should one say that fellow's
name--was I right?"

Howat replied: "Well, I think 'Bark' is nearer the German pronunciation.
But you don't need to be too particular. Far more important to enjoy
him."

"Far more important to enjoy everything." The youth's face clouded over
with a look of half-truculent eagerness. "Which reminds me, Freemantle,
there's that Sunday games question coming up before the Council again. I
suppose it's no use trying to persuade you to come over to our side?"

"No good at all," Howat answered, with a shake of the head. "And you
ought to know better than ask, after that last argument we had."

"The trouble is, that last argument didn't convince me. And not only
that, but it didn't convince me that it convinced you, either."

"Come now, that's too subtle for a parson on Monday morning."

Higgs leaned forward and tapped Howat's knee with his forefinger. "Look
here, why can't you be serious about it? I've always had a sort of
feeling you were the only parson in the town there was any hope at all
for."

"That's very flattering."

"I mean it sincerely, flattering or not. We Labour fellows constantly
find you on our side in all sorts of things--the housing question,
unemployment grants--oh, any amount of matters that crop up. What we
sometimes wonder is why you don't come over to us altogether. Frankly,
we'd welcome you just as wholeheartedly as we respect you now."

Howat smiled, but rather wearily. He was in no mood for a political
argument, especially with such a notoriously adroit debater as Councillor
Higgs. He said, quietly: "I don't really believe that parsons ought to
identify themselves entirely with any political party. It's quite true
that I often find myself on your side. On the other hand, I sometimes
don't, and what would you have me do then?"

"Well, we'd try to convince you. This question of Sunday games, now--"

"My dear chap, I'm not going to go over all that again with you. My
position is exactly the same as it was last year--in such a matter I
regard myself as the delegate of my congregation, and as they're
overwhelmingly against the idea, there's nothing more to be discussed."

"I always thought a shepherd led his flock, not was led by it."

"Don't you think a shepherd would be foolish if he led both himself and
his flock over a precipice?" Howat's voice became more animated. "Why
don't you try to understand my position? I hope--I even try to
believe--that I do some good in this town. Amongst other things, I try to
broaden people's minds--I'm keen, as I daresay you know, on literary
societies, debating clubs, music, the drama; anything that I think will
get and keep people out of the commonplace rut. If I step warily, I may
succeed--indeed, I sometimes feel that I am succeeding. But if I were to
back you up in supporting Sunday games, I should merely split my
congregation, smash up all the good work I'm interested in, and--quite
likely--make my whole position in Browdley an impossible one. Do you
think that would really be the best thing that could happen?"

"Yes, since you ask me, I do. It's the only course I'd honour you for. As
it is, I know for certain what I'd for a long time suspected--that you're
secretly on our side, but haven't the courage to stand with us." His
voice rose excitedly, and after a pause for breath he added quickly: "I'm
sorry, Freemantle, I really don't mean to be insulting at all--I'm only
being as frank as I know how."

"Yes, I quite see that." And at the back of Howat's mind was the thought:
I've said too much, somehow or other; I oughtn't to have let myself be
enticed into an argument with this fellow--Heaven knows where it will
lead to, or what tales he'll spread about afterwards...Higgs was one whom
eloquence always stirs to greater eloquence. He went on: "I wouldn't mind
so much if your people were all as virtuous as they pretend to be. But
they're not. Look at the Makepeaces, the Battersbys, that dreadful old
Monks woman--are they _really_ the moral cream of Browdley society? Oh,
and Garland the draper--mustn't forget _him_. He's the chap who shakes
hands at your chapel door after Sunday services--the 'right hand of
fellowship', isn't that what you call it? There's not much fellowship
about him on week-days, I can tell you. We're on to him now about some
cottages he owns in Silk Street; the rain comes in at all the roofs, but
he won't do any repairs--we're trying to make him, but he's got a cute
solicitor. I suppose, though, since he's a pillar of your chapel, this
kind of talk must sound rather offensive?"

Howat thought despairingly: I mustn't argue, whatever happens; the rain
comes in at my roof too, by the way; Higgs and Garland are natural
enemies, and I'm not going to interfere between them...He said: "It
doesn't strike me as particularly offensive, but that's not to say I'd
consider it good taste to join in a discussion of individual chapel
members with outsiders."

"Have a look at those houses in Silk Street and see things for yourself"

"Well, I might do that."

"Good of you if you do. And I don't mind a bit being called an outsider.
Perhaps you'll feel one yourself some day, so far as the chapel's
concerned. The fact is, this town's sunk in narrow-mindedness, and it
really makes a fellow sick sometimes to find out what he's up against.
And I can't help feeling, too, that the sort of chap in these days who
wants to do real good, to improve and elevate people and all that,
doesn't find much scope or encouragement in the church. The church, if he
lets it, will just use him up, waste his energies, and cramp him all the
time. He can find better machinery elsewhere. There's dirt and hypocrisy
in politics, I admit, but I think on the whole it gives bigger
opportunities."

Howat smiled again. "Perhaps so, perhaps so. But I sometimes wonder
whether the people who live most usefully of all are neither parsons nor
politicians, but just ordinary folk, like village postmen and
engine-drivers and charwomen. It's an interesting question, but I mustn't
wait to argue it--I've already taken up far too much of your time, and
I'm pretty busy myself, too...It's settled, then, that I take the hymns?"

"Yes, if you will. Thanks for making so little trouble about it. And as
for the Sunday games--"

"You'll find me, I'm afraid, ranged alongside my brother ministers.
Perhaps that will make you reconsider the comparison you made between me
and them--I hope it will, anyway."

They both laughed and shook hands cordially, and Howat went down the
stairs to the street with a feeling of almost reluctant liking for the
young; councillor. Dangerous, though, to say too much to him...It was
becoming foggy, as had seemed likely, and through the yellow gloom came
the muffled chiming of the parish clock--a quarter to one. He hurried, so
as not to be late for his midday dinner.

Monday's dinner at the Manse was always predictable; it consisted of the
remains of Sunday's joint minced into a sort of rissole and warmed up.
Howat had had this so often and so unfailingly that it seemed now, by
sheer familiarity, to have become appropriate--it both smelt and tasted,
somehow, of Monday. He did not, however, bother a great deal about food,
which was perhaps as well in the circumstances. He was not even aware
that a few minor ailments from which he had suffered at times during the
past dozen years had all been dyspeptic in origin.

Dinner was served for four, since by that time Mrs. Freemantle had
dressed and come downstairs. She was a thin, angular woman with
everything rather sharp about her--her nose, her chin, her cheekbones,
her eyes, her way of moving about, and her voice and speech. She was the
youngest of her family, while Aunt Viney was the eldest, and despite a
difference of physique which could hardly have been greater, there was
yet an obvious sisterhood between them. They might bicker when they were
alone (indeed, they sometimes did), but whenever they were together they
had an air of being ranged foursquare against the rest of the world, even
when the rest of the world consisted only of Howat. Their dispositions
were complementary rather than similar; Aunt Viney could bluster, fly
into tempers, and shout; but Mrs. Freemantle's voice, even in most
perturbed moments, never rose above a high-pitched and hurried wail.

Howat was always extremely thoughtful and polite to both of them, and
submitted good-humouredly to their varying attentions. It was Aunt Viney
who sewed buttons on for him (when she remembered), cooked, ordered from
shops, and did the more domestic work of the household; in a shadowy way,
if ever he were inclined to be irritated by her, he could always reflect
comfortingly that she worked very hard, and that no one could imagine
what they would all do without her. For his wife, of course, he had
tenderer feelings, and if ever she were a little trying he always
remembered how highly strung she was, and that quite small things were
apt to upset her in a way that she couldn't really help.

This particular Monday dinner found both Aunt Viney and Mrs. Freemantle a
little cross, the former from a noisy and indeterminate quarrel with the
servant which had been in progress; most of the morning, and the latter
because the roof of one of the bedrooms was leaking again and the
builder, in her opinion, couldn't have done his job properly when last he
had come to repair it. But she was the kind of woman who could never he
satisfied with saying a thing once; she had to talk rapidly and
indignantly about the leaking roof for over ten minutes, while Howat
listened with sympathy tempered by the knowledge that the roof always
would leak till it was overhauled thoroughly, and that such an operation
would cost more than he was ever likely to he able to afford. His stipend
was just under three hundred a year, and though both his wife and Aunt
Viney had small incomes of their own, there was really nothing like
enough for the upkeep of so big a house. He himself would have preferred
to move into a much smaller one, but his wife would never listen to the
suggestion, and always talked of any residence less in size than the
Manse as 'one of those poky little working-class houses'.

During or just after the midday meal it was Howat's habit to outline and
discuss with her some part of his daily routine; he did this even when it
was an effort, for he believed it his duty to let her share in all his
affairs. He hardly realised that she had other and more satisfying points
of contact with the small world of Browdley, and that a good deal of his
well-meant conversation bored her. It bored her now, for instance, when
he began to talk about the address he was going to deliver that evening
on Mozart. He began to sketch out a plan of his ideas, and as often
happened when once he began, he went chattering on, with slowly mounting
enthusiasm, till Mary began to fidget and his wife to exchange
supercilious glances with her sister. Their private opinion was that
ideas might be all right for the platform or pulpit, but were hardly
suitable for the dinner-table. In the end Mary neatly torpedoed the
monologue by enquiring the date of Mozart's birth. Howat, after a rather
vacant pause, said he didn't know exactly, but he fancied it must be
somewhere about the middle of the eighteenth century. They were all very
much amused at his confessed ignorance, and Mary rejoined pertly: "You
know, dad, I think you always go far above people's heads when you talk
to them about music. Why don't you tell them the useful facts--when he
was born, when he died, the names of the things he wrote, and so on?"

Howat answered: "Yes, of course--I ought to include all that, I admit."

"Anyhow," added Mary, "I don't suppose it matters a great deal, for if
this fog keeps on, there won't be more than half a dozen there."

Howat nodded and stared blankly at the window, where yellow was already
merging through orange to grey.

It was too foggy, indeed, to go visiting in the town that afternoon,
especially with the excuse of his bad throat; so he spent a pleasant
couple of hours in the little school associated with his chapel. It was a
second-rate school, doomed, no doubt, to extinction when any enterprising
education policy should take possession of the Browdley authorities; but
that day was unlikely to happen soon. Architecturally the school was
hopelessly out of date; its rooms were small and badly lit, its corridors
long and draughty, and its playgrounds mere patches of wasteland strewn
with ink-black cinders. In this establishment there were three classes,
the senior in charge of the headmaster, a Mr. Wilkinson, and the two
junior ones taught by his daughter and another young woman.

He first of all, as a matter of courtesy, paid a visit to Mr. Wilkinson.
Wilkinson was a shabby little man with a pompous manner and a very large,
pale, and flabby nose. He experienced certain difficulties of discipline,
of which both he and Howat were well aware, but of which they both
steadfastly pretended not to be aware; the wastepaper-basket in his room
was usually sticky with the remains of half-sucked sweets which, from
time to time, he made his pupils disgorge. (Howat would never have known
this but for a complaint by the caretaker's wife.) After spending a few
perfunctory moments in the senior room, Howat passed on to his
daughter's, and here, indeed, his pleasure began. For he liked children,
with an intensity that was no affectation; he often thought: If I were
not a parson I should like most of all to be a schoolmaster. It was true
enough, in a way, though, on reflection, he recognised that he would
never have made a very good schoolmaster. He would always have shrunk
from teaching the dull stuff that had to be learnt. Besides, he had the
most preposterous ideas about education--preposterous, he was prepared to
admit, from any normal parent's standpoint. As it was, he could put his
theories into strictly limited practice with the certainty that as soon
as he was out of the school the teacher would undo any harm he might have
perpetrated.

His daughter was pleased to let him take the class for a time, since it
gave her extra moments to work at her Latin verbs. He began by walking
round amongst the desks and observing what the children were doing; it
was a geography lesson, apparently, and most of them were laboriously
copying a map of Ireland out of ancient and very dirty text-books. He
asked one boy why they were doing this, but the boy said he did not know.
Then he began to talk to the boy, at first in an undertone, but later,
without definitely realising it, in a voice to which all the class soon
came to listen. He asked if anyone had ever been to Ireland; none had;
then he asked if anyone had ever crossed the sea in a ship. And from that
he progressed to a general talk about islands, and then islands very far
away, and then uninhabited islands, and soon he was off on one of those
extraordinary impromptu stories which he enjoyed just as much as did any
of his listeners. This one was about two small boys sailing across the
sea in a small boat, and coming to a land where nobody from England had
ever been before. Howat then went to the blackboard, wiped out a careful
list of exports and imports which his daughter had drawn up, and began to
sketch a map of this strange land just as it came to the knowledge of the
two boys. First the vague outline of the shore in the distance, then a
narrow river inlet leading into the heart of dense jungle, and so on.
Mountains, lakes, and vast swamps all figured in the boys' wanderings,
and as each exciting adventure happened Howat marked it down on the
board. By the time that the young travellers had lost themselves in the
midst of a forest infested with giant spiders and boa-constrictors, the
whole class was in a ferment of excitement, as was Howat himself; for
half an hour during that November afternoon Browdley did not exist for
some four dozen of its inhabitants; the fog and the cotton-mill across
the road were lost behind a blaze of tropic sunshine. When at last the
school-bell rang, Howat stopped as one disturbed suddenly from a dream;
he seemed to recollect himself and added, in an ordinary voice: "Well,
boys and girls, that's all to-day, I think. Perhaps I'll tell you more
about what happened to the two boys some other time. I hope you know now
something about maps, anyhow." But it was a lame excuse; he didn't
particularly hope they did, or care whether they did or not; his aim had
been different--something not very easy to put into words--something,
indeed, which he was never quite sure of understanding himself.

After he had gone his daughter resumed her work of teaching. She had been
glad of the interval's respite, though she always said that after her
father's intervention a class was completely ruined for the rest of the
day.

Howat usually ignored afternoon tea, though if he were out visiting and
were offered it, he would accept. He preferred, however, when he was at
home, an uninterrupted hour by the fire before his 'proper' tea--a meal
which consisted as a rule of tea and an egg. After this there was often
another gap of an hour or so before the beginning of evening engagements.

On this unpleasant November day Howat occupied both odd hours in reading
a book which would have deeply shocked ninety per cent of his
congregation had there been the slightest possibility of their
understanding it. It was Jeans's "The Universe Around Us," borrowed
from the local library, which had obtained it at his own request.


As Mary had predicted, there was only a very small attendance at the
Young People's Guild that evening. The Guild was one of Howat's pet
institutions; he had founded it himself some half-dozen years before,
and it had flourished, he ventured to think, as handsomely as could have
been expected. It met weekly during the winter months; in summer there
were country rambles, visits to places of interest, and so on. It had
always been Howat's idea to make it a centre of secular enlightenment
(backgrounded, of course, by the chapel atmosphere); most of the weekly
talks were on literary, musical, or artistic subjects--very few were
definitely religious. This aspect alienated the sympathies of some of
the older people, who thought that Howat was coddling the young and
shirking his plain job of rubbing religion into them. Howat, though, did
not care about that; if there were ever to be a choice (though there
would not be if he could help it) he was all out for the young; the old,
he felt, were so confident of attaining Heaven that they could look
after themselves.

As founder and president, Howat always opened the terminal session by an
address on some subject or other; it also fell to him to fill in any gaps
made by speakers dropping out after the programme had been made up. This
November Monday was one of these gap-filling occasions, his talk on
Mozart being in lieu of a paper on modern town-planning by a young local
architect.

The place of meeting was a bleak schoolroom furnished and panelled in
pitch pine--a very hot room at one corner near a stove, and very cold and
draughty elsewhere. Nothing relieved the brown varnished monotony of the
walls except a map of Palestine and a tattered and faded temperance
banner. A desk stood on a slightly raised platform, and on the desk lay a
Bible, a hymn-book, and a carafe of water. (The room was used regularly
for Sunday School and other chapel functions.) There was also a cupboard
which, when incautiously opened, usually emitted a cascade of ragged
hymn-books and tea-party crockery. Two inverted T-shaped gas-brackets
shed a hissing illumination over the rather melancholy scene, and this
evening wisps of fog curled in fitfully when the green-baize doors opened
from the vestibule.

Howat gazed with a certain dreamy satisfaction on the dozen or so young
persons who comprised his audience. In some ways they satisfied him as
much as a far larger gathering; because he could think of most of them
individually, knowing their names, homes, and circumstances; and he could
marvel a little at the spirit that had brought them out, on a foggy
night, to hear him talk about Mozart. Surely he was not wrong, at such a
moment, in thinking that he was accomplishing some kind of good in
Browdley, that his years of persistence were bearing fruit after all? And
he felt, as deeply as he had ever felt in the pulpit, inspired by a
passionate desire to give these few youngsters something adequate to
their degree of needing and wanting. The whole world stretched out beyond
Browdley, a world they might and probably would never see; could he not
show them an inner world of beauty, visible to all whose eyes were
attuned to it? He thought then, quite suddenly and with an odd sensation
of mind-wandering: These walls would look better with a few pictures--why
not some of those coloured reproductions of Italian primitives, and so
on? It wouldn't cost more than a few shillings; I daresay I could afford
it myself. Still, I shall have to economise for a time--that trip to
London will cost a bit, and the specialist's fee will probably be
stiff-five guineas, maybe, or three if I plead poverty. Wonder if there
is anything really serious the matter--queer how that pain comes and
goes--I hadn't it this afternoon while I was talking to those children in
school, but it came back during tea. Never mind, stick it out, whatever
it is--no sense in whining over things...

The mere thinking of his throat made it feel dry and parched; he would
have poured out a drink from the carafe had not the water repelled by its
stale, yellowish tinge. And just for a moment there carne over him the
most absurd and ridiculous longing for something he would never dream of
having--a glass of beer. One of those dark brown frothing tumblers he
sometimes saw through the windows of public-houses--public-houses all
warm and brightly lit, with men in them talking sociably and perhaps
playing darts. In his mind, just for the moment, the picture stood out in
vivid contrast to the chill, comfortless room in which he was shortly to
begin his address.

He half-smiled at the quaintness of the vision, and then, with a quick
return to reality, nodded and smiled to Mr. and Mrs. Garland, who had
just entered. They were by no means 'young people', and he did not
recollect their ever having attended a Guild meeting before; still, he
was glad enough to see them, though faintly surprised.

Swallowing hard to ease the dryness of his throat, Howat rose from his
chair and began to speak. He began haltingly, unfluently, as he so often
did; those who heard him for only the first minute of any speech or
sermon must certainly have thought him a very poor orator. It was as if
he had, by a tremendous effort, to launch himself into a world of mind
and spirit in which words came of their own accord. He kept saying:
Mozart...Mozart...His face had a peculiar nervous twitch during those
initial struggles; his rugged features looked, for the time, almost
agonised; till, with a suddenness that was sometimes rather amusing, he
was 'off'. He had, beyond doubt, a voice and an enunciation of great
beauty.

Certain of his words and phrases sounded, in his own ears, far above
others, and went on echoing long after he had spoken them. Was he soaring
above their heads, he wondered, momentarily, remembering his daughter's
caution? Well no, he thought not; he hoped not; and besides, even if he
were, perhaps he could get them to soar with him--above their own heads
and his too. If only that sharpness in his throat would disappear; it was
absurd, at his age, to be bothered in such a way; he was only forty-three
and already seeing specialists and worrying about his health. And
suddenly, looking round at the young faces in front of him, he saw them
all labelled, as it were, with the inevitable doom of age and death; life
was so tragically short, and it seemed in some sense a kind of divine
toss-up whether one succeeded or failed in getting anything out of it
during the time allowed. How necessary to make the most of youth, to
pursue while the pursuit had zest, to apprehend the beauty of the world
that lay everywhere around, in sight and sound and feeling...He made a
pause in his remarks, wound up his portable gramophone, and played over
the Trio in E Major and then the two great Overtures; the music floated
past him, dissolving, as it were, into the air of which it was born; he
always felt that Mozart was like that, perfectly and enchantingly
meaningless except for that one central unanalysable meaning--beauty.
'fever, he said when the records were finished, there had been an angel
born upon this earth, that angel was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. We might
not know a very great deal about the future life, but we must
feel--indeed it was almost impossible not to feel--that it was linked up
in a marvellous way with the beauty of our own world...Mozart...Raphael
the painter...William Blake the poet...And then, with a little mist
before his eyes, he was aware that he was making contact, that he was
actually and for a second or so putting into the minds of these boys and
girls an urge, a longing for something beyond their own immediate
surroundings.

He finished in secret triumph. He sat down. He felt drained of power, yet
with a tired dreamy feeling of having conquered. Yes, yes, he would get
those pictures. Was the fog worse, he wondered? His throat was not so bad
now, and anyway, he didn't care--he was too tired and triumphant to care.
The tune of the E Major Trio was in his ears. What happened next? Oh yes,
someone usually got up and moved a vote of thanks. Only a
formality--wouldn't take more than a couple of minutes. Then a little
chat with anybody who chose to stay behind, then the short walk through
the fog across the playground and past the front of the chapel, and so
into his house. A cup of hot cocoa. Bed. Heavens--he was tired--he was
sure he would sleep well.

Suddenly he realised that Garland was on his feet and beginning to talk.
Pity it couldn't have been somebody else; Garland had such a raucous
voice and would go on far too long. Never mind, though--decent of him to
come.

Garland, in fact, was one of those fussy, self-important men, full of
official correctness, who never miss a chance to say 'a few words'. An
air of portentous solemnity hovered over everything he did and had, from
the pompous modulations of his ill-pronounced words to the black cut-away
coat whose collar was always lightly powdered with dandruff. He was
rather squat in build, and had a black curling moustache whose waxed ends
were absurdly visible when one saw him from the rear. Howat respected him
as a trustworthy chapel official, but they had never attempted any more
intimate relationship.

Mrs. Garland was a thin-lipped precise-looking woman with a rigidity of
bearing less solemn but more aggressive than her husband's.

Garland was saying: "Of course we're all extremely grateful to Mr.
Freemantle for his address, but I do feel there is an aspect--and a very
important aspect--of his subject which he has left quite out of account.
And that is religion. All this talk about beauty--music, poetry, and all
that--isn't any use without the true spirit of religion. And I must say I
don't hold with him when he said that we might not know a great deal
about the future life. I contend, as every true believer must, that we do
know a great deal about it--we know all about Heaven, and anyone who
doesn't has only got to read his Bible. Fact of the matter is, people
don't read their Bibles enough nowadays--there's far too much discussion
of other books, poetry, music, and what not. First things should come
first...And now let's refresh ourselves with a hymn--'There is a Book who
runs may read'..."

Howat's chin and mouth were half-hidden in the palm of his hand. At the
mention of the hymn, however, he looked up abruptly and gave the opening
note with his clear, vibrant baritone. In a scattered and rather
ineffectual way the audience began to sing, led by Howat, and with
Garland supplying a morose and untuneful rumble far below any
classifiable key. It was unusual to sing hymns after a Guild meeting, but
Howat didn't care--Garland could go through the whole hymn-book if he
wanted. Howat felt: He means well, but I'm glad he doesn't come to these
affairs oftener.

The hymn came to an end, and as the audience began to pick up hats and
wraps and prepare to disperse, he realised that Garland was waiting
behind deliberately, as if he wanted to say something. Howat was just
slightly peeved about that; if the fellow wanted to see him, why didn't
he call at the Manse? After meetings Howat liked a chat with the
youngsters, but there wouldn't be any, clearly, if Garland stayed.

After a few moments he was quite alone in the room with Garland and Mrs.
Garland. The others had all disappeared through the green-baize door, and
there was left no sound except the hissing of the four gas jets. Howat
remarked conversationally as he packed up his gramophone: "Bad night, Mr.
Garland." (Garland was the sort of man who wouldn't do for anyone to drop
the prefix.)

"Very," replied Garland, massively, and went on: "As a matter of fact,
Mr. Freemantle, we shouldn't have come but, only we thought it would give
us a chance of seeing you in private."

"Really? Well, anything I can do, of course--" He felt so thoroughly
tired, and more in the mood for anything on earth than for a private talk
with Garland. However...

"You see, Mr. Freemantle, it's about our girl. She's run away from.
home."

"Indeed?" he made the necessary mental effort--Garland's daughter--the
girl he had been teaching German--a pleasant girl, she had always seemed,
and she had surprised him once, he recollected, by humming a tune from a
Brahms sonata.

He repeated: "Indeed? She's run away from home, you say?"

"Yes. On Saturday. She packed up all her things and went before we knew
anything about it."

"But surely--"

"Oh, it astonishes you, does it?" interrupted Mrs. Garland, tartly. "We
thought maybe you mightn't be so astonished as we were, seeing the
chances she's had lately of confiding in you."

"Confiding in me?" Howat was sheerly bewildered. "I don't understand you,
Mrs. Garland--I really don't understand. Your daughter has been taking
lessons in German from me week by week, but apart from that--"

"And it wasn't our idea she should do it, please don't think that for a
moment. What would she be wanting to learn German for, I should like to
know?"

"She gave no definite reason--not to me, anyhow--but I suppose she wished
to improve her general education. Surely there's nothing very outrageous
in that."

"It's all very outrageous. She was full of mad ideas, always was."

"But in these days, Mrs. Garland--"

"_These days_? It's a pity these days are what they are. A sinful,
godless age, that's what it is."

Howat's fingers drummed on the desk-lid; he was becoming just a shade
impatient. "Well, well, that's a big subject--you were telling me about
your daughter, weren't you? Do you mean that she's disappeared, and that
you don't know where she is at all?"

Garland here thought fit to intervene; he said, as if realising that his
wife would only bungle the business: "The fact is, Mr. Freemantle, we can
only guess. We've had no news at all except a card saying she was quite
well but wouldn't be coming back. We couldn't read the postmark. And what
crossed our minds was that perhaps she might have hinted to you something
about her intentions. It's a most upsetting thing to have happened
altogether."

"I agree with you, Mr. Garland, and I wish I could help, but I assure you
she never gave me the slightest idea that such a notion was in her mind.
If she had, I need hardly say that I should have strongly dissuaded her
and even, if necessary, approached you on the matter."

Garland seemed to find this reply moderately satisfactory, but Mrs.
Garland's eyes narrowed sharply. "You mean that you haven't heard from
her at all, then?" she interposed.

He shook his head and then suddenly remembered the Raphael picture that
had arrived by the first post that day. "Stay, though--well yes, now I
come to recollect it, I did hear from her this morning, but it was merely
a short message to say she wouldn't be coming for her usual German lesson
to-morrow."

"Oh? So she has written to you then? Was that all she said? Did she give
no explanation?"

"She merely said she would be out of Browdley at the time."

"What was the postmark?"

"I must confess I didn't notice."

"Perhaps you still have the letter and it could be examined."

"I don't know, I'm afraid. It may be torn up--quite probably it is.
Naturally it didn't strike me as particularly important when I received
it."

Garland again took the lead. "Well, Mr. Freemantle, it's an unfortunate
business, anyhow. She's left home, and we don't know what's happening to
her."

Howat found himself slowly rising out of a dream into this new and
intricate reality that was being forced upon him. "But surely, Mr.
Garland, you have some idea _why_ she's gone, at any rate? That seems to
me almost as important as where she is, apart from the fact that it might
afford a clue. She can't have acted like that without some big reason of
her own."

He felt: Why are they bothering me about it? I can't help them, but I can
see now it was a mistake to give the girl German lessons--I never guessed
that her parents didn't approve of it. She ought to have told me,
really...

"Oh, she has her reasons, I've no doubt," retorted Mrs. Garland, sourly.
"And precious fine reasons they are, too, if they were only known, I
daresay. The idea--talking of giving up her job at the library and going
abroad! That's what she did talk about, though you mayn't believe it. Of
course we forbade it--absolutely. A good deal that we don't like we may
have to put up with in these days, but there are certain limits, I'm glad
to say.

"She talked of going abroad, did she?"

"She's been talking of it off and on for some time. But it came to a head
last Friday night when we found she'd been writing to a travel agency
about railway tickets to Paris. And then, if you please, she calmly told
us that she was going to go abroad in any case."

"To Paris?"

"That's one of the things we have to guess. It doesn't sound a nice sort
of place for a young girl to want to go to, does it?"

"But, really, she must have had some purpose in mind? People don't
suddenly go to Paris without any reason at all. Did she give you no idea
how--how she intended to support herself while she was away?"

Mr. Garland rubbed his nose decisively. "We didn't argue with her, Mr.
Freemantle. When a daughter calmly informs her parents that she's going
to do what they've forbidden her to do, there's nothing left to argue
about. She went up to her bedroom--as we hoped, to think it over and come
to her senses. It seems, though, that she just packed her things, went to
bed, and went off early in the morning by the first train before any of
us was up. Altogether a most disgraceful affair. Of course one naturally
thinks of all sorts of possibilities when a girl does a thing like that."

Howat stared far away over Garland's head. "I must say, from a very
slight acquaintance with your daughter, she didn't really seem to me the
sort of girl who would do anything that either you or she would need to
be ashamed of."

"That remains to be found out," answered Mrs. Garland. "And I don't mind
telling you to your face, Mr. Freemantle, I think you're one of the prime
causes of it all! You have a thoroughly unsettling influence on the
young people--you always have had--you put ideas into their heads--it was
quite enough to listen to you to-night to realise how all these things
begin. As my husband said, there's a great deal too much loose talk in
the world nowadays, and ministers, of all people, ought to know better
than join in it. They're here to give us religion, that's what I say, not
the things of this world."

Howat said, rather curtly: "I don't think we can discuss all that. You
must let me know if there's anything practical I can do. And I'm afraid I
must go now. Good-night, Mrs. Garland. Goodnight, Mr. Garland." There was
something unusual and rather sharp in his eyes.


He strode out of the schoolroom into the cold moist fog. Something was
hammering away in his head--a sort of desperately controlled temper,
something that made him feel hot and ice-cold simultaneously. Those
intolerable people! He could not bring himself to hate them, but his
impatience of them was like a flame. And then quite suddenly the flame
died down and he felt merely tired, emptied of all energy and willpower
and enthusiasm. He found his way into the dark house and, over the
remains of the kitchen fire, made himself a cup of cocoa. It was after
midnight when he got to bed, and though his tiredness had increased with
every moment, he did not find it easy to sleep.



CHAPTER TWO - TUESDAY


The next morning, Tuesday, there was no fog or rain, but a clear frosty
sunlight and a high wind from the east that scoured the streets of
Browdley till they looked like bones picked clean. Most of Howat's
morning study hours were taken up by callers, and at eleven he went out
with the intention, before anything else, of getting his first breath of
fresh air for several days.

Once the pedestrian leaves the outskirts of Browdley he enters a flat,
loamy, and not unpicturesque countryside, stud ded with small farms and
semi-industrialised villages, with here and there a barn or an old mill
that Rembrandt might have etched. There are paths through almost every
field and in all directions, but one cannot, during an ordinary walk,
lose sight of Browdley. Indeed, Browdley looks almost more massive and
dominating at a distance of a few miles than closer by. Its factories
huddle together into a compact pile, and on a misty day the observer
might with a little effort fancy himself in sight of some medieval walled
and fortified city, so sharply do the square cliff like factories mark
the outlines of the place. There are dozens of tall chimney-stacks, but
at such a moment they can seem almost decorative--the spires, perhaps, of
the black cathedrals of industrialism.

On Tuesday morning Howat took his favourite walk, which was along School
Lane for a quarter of a mile beyond the town, across the potato fields to
Shandly's Farm, and then back over the railway and along the bank of the
canal. The sun was shining, and he walked fast, enjoying the cold wind
and the cheerful landscape. Those who saw him doubtless envied a parson's
freedom to take a constitutional on a fine morning.

Mentally, however, he was still ruffled from that talk with the Garlands
the previous evening, and as often happened, his mood was inclined to be
one of rather desperate unbelief in himself. After all, _could_ he be
quite sure that what he was doing in Browdley was for the best? Could he
even be quite sure that he was doing any good in Browdley at all? Mrs.
Garland had accused him of unsettling the young, of putting ideas into
their heads--well, all that, in a way, was what he wanted to do; and yet,
when the balance was struck, was the net result indubitably favourable?
He wished there were someone over him to say, with authority, either Yes,
go ahead, you're all right', or No, stop it at once, you're wrong'. That
was the weakness, he had always felt, with these independent
Nonconformist creeds--a man, if he were sincere, had to work everything
out for himself, and by the time he had finished doing that he had often
worried himself into complete lack of confidence in his own judgment.

Of course, so far as the runaway daughter herself was concerned, he was
fairly certain he had not been to blame. She had rarely attended chapel,
and had not been a member of any of its associated societies; his
influence on her, of whatever kind, could only have been slight. There
had been the German lessons, true, but they had always, he recollected,
been strictly matter-of-fact; indeed, it was curious how little he knew
about the girl after those regular weekly meetings--she had told him
practically nothing about herself, and he, perhaps unconsciously, had
found this a welcome change from the usual outpourings of self-revelation
to which every parson becomes accustomed. Apart from those German
lessons, and a few chance words in the library where she worked, he
hardly remembered ever speaking to her at all. And that reminded him, as
he turned homeward along the canal bank, that he might use the remaining
time before dinner to change a few library books for young Trevis.

It was a relief, after so much doubting and self-incredulity, to be of
some plain and obvious service to somebody. Trevis was a young fellow of
twenty-one, who, after a successful and even brilliant career at
Cambridge, had had a bad motorcycling smash and was compelled for the
present to take a complete rest. The injuries had affected his spine, and
Ringwood as well as more exalted medical authorities were not too
optimistic about recovery. Fortunately old Mr. Trevis was fairly well off
and could afford to keep the boy at home but the latter hated Browdley
with a fierceness of which only Howat and Ringwood, perhaps, were aware;
it was maddening, on the very brink of what had promised to be a fine
career, to have to spend day after day in a stuffy little drawing-room
full of presentation silver and unreadable law-books. For Mr. Trevis was
a solicitor, a prominent local Freemason, and one of the most popular men
in the town. Bluff, cheery, happy in his widowerhood, and with an elder
son to take over the practice eventually, he did not worry alarmingly
about the lad who, apart from a certain stiffness in moving about, did
not appear to have very much wrong with him. "What you want is fresh air
and exercise," he often said; he did not realise that the boy could not
have walked a hundred yards without falling down.

Howat had liked the boy at their first meeting (Ringwood had brought them
together--neither Trevis nor his family had ever had any connection with
the chapel); and had soon come to feel for him an affection deeper than
for anyone he knew outside his own home circle. One of the few ways he
could help besides visiting was this changing of library books; he knew
the kind of stuff that Trevis liked and took a keen pleasure in making
selections which he thought would please. This morning he chose Somerset
Maugham's "Moon and Sixpence", Edith Wharton's "Ethan Frome", and a book
by a youth named Michael Terry detailing his adventures whilst driving a
Ford car across the Northern Territory of Australia from Queensland to
the Indian Ocean. Carrying this oddly assorted literature under his arm,
Howat called at the house in Mansion Street, and thoroughly enjoyed a
half-hour's chat. There was something almost radiantly attractive about
the boy now; his earlier robust good looks had been transmuted into a
more remote and poignant charm; and to Howat, always acutely eager to put
himself into another's position, it seemed as though Trevis must look on
life as a receding pin-point of light glimpsed from the interior of a
darkening tunnel. He talked to him for a little time about books; it was
what they generally talked about; they certainly did not discuss
religion. That was a topic Howat would never have been the first to
broach. Ringwood, he was aware, told the boy improper stories, and though
Howat hoped to satisfy a loftier need, he could never be quite sure that
any gift, in such a case, could be more precious than a moment of any
sort of amusement.

After they had chatted desultorily for a time, Trevis asked if Howat had
chanced to notice Miss Garland on duty at the library. Howat said no, she
hadn't been there, and asked why Trevis had enquired. The boy replied:
"Because there's a definite rumour going about the town that she's run
away with a man."

"With a man, eh?" Howat exclaimed, and in such a tone that Trevis
interposed acutely: "Oh, so you did know that she'd run off, then?"

Howat's forehead contracted into a slow frown. "Well, yes, I had heard
so. But I didn't know that there was any suggestion of a man in the
case."

"Perhaps it isn't true. It's just the sort of thing people in this town
would say, anyhow. Did you know her at all, by the way? Her father's
something to do with your church, isn't he?"

"Yes, he's the chapel secretary. But I don't know the girl at all well,
though it so happens that for the last few months I've been giving her
private lessons in German."

"Oh, indeed? Enterprising idea. How did you like her?"

"Like her? Well, she seemed a pleasant sort of girl, though I can't say I
formed any definite opinion. I just taught her the German, that was
all--we never talked on any other matters."

"That's just like you, isn't it?" Trevis laughed. "I can see now why
you've got the reputation in this town of being absolutely impervious to
female charm. I don't suppose you even noticed whether the girl was
pretty or not?"

Howat smiled; it slightly gratified him to receive this kind of
unsolicited testimonial, for it had always been his aim to avoid any of
that foolishness that so often mars and complicates the relationship
between a minister and the younger ladies of his congregation. He
replied: "Well, anyhow, I certainly don't recollect that she _was_
pretty."

"She isn't," Trevis said, abruptly. "But she's attractive, in her own
way."

"You know her, then?"

"I used to. I haven't seen much of her for the last few years,
though--I've been away so often, and she also doesn't spend more time in.
Browdley than she needs. They say that most nights she's off to
Manchester as soon as the library closes down, and that she doesn't come
back till the last train. Gay life, eh? Possibly--I should say she's
capable of most things, and certainly of not telling anyone her own
business. Unusual sort of girl."

"And you used to know her well?"

"Yes, till my old man quarrelled with her old man-that must have been
about ten years ago. Dad was old Garland's solicitor, you know, and
solicitors have pretty cast-iron consciences, but even Dad boggled at
some of Garland's business. Anyhow, they had a fine old row which ended
by Garland taking his affairs somewhere else. I remember it all quite
well--the girl and I were of the age when we were told that we mustn't
play with each other any more."

"And you didn't?"

"Oh, yes, we did, lots of times. But we gradually saw less of each other,
for all that. I always rather liked her, I must say, and I'd be sorry if
she'd made a fool of herself. I suppose it doesn't exactly fall within
your province to do anything in the matter?"

"At present the difficulty is that she hasn't let anyone know where she's
gone to. Of course, if I could do anything I would--very willingly."

"Yes, I'm sure," said Trevis, and the matter dropped.

During dinner at the Manse conversation eddied and swirled around the
dramatic disappearance of Elizabeth Garland, and Howat, in the centre of
the whirlpool, was rather baffled by it all. He knew so little, and both
his wife and Aunt Viney seemed to expect him to know so much; there were,
it appeared, all kinds of astonishing rumours about the town. Not only
was it now definitely accepted that the girl had absconded with a man,
but the man himself had been provisionally identified as a member of a
cinema orchestra in Manchester. It was quite obvious, Mrs. Freemantle
said, that the girl had a completely bad character, and everyone must
feel sympathy for Mr. and Mrs. Garland, such respectable people, in
having been so disgraced. "And to think," commented Aunt Viney, "that
only last Tuesday she was here for her German lesson, as large as life!"

"I wonder," continued Mrs. Freemantle, "that you found it possible to
get on at all with her, Howat. But then you're so unobservant about
things. I must say, _I_ never took to her."

Howat said nothing for the simple reason that there seemed to him nothing
to say; he had already heard quite enough talk about the girl, besides
which, he hated gossip, especially of the less charitable kind.

"And as for sending you that picture of a woman, I consider it nothing
less than shameless in the circumstances," Mrs. Freemantle still went on.
(Aunt Viney must have told her about it, Howat reflected; but then, of
course, Aunt Viney always did tell her about everything.) "She must
actually have posted it on Saturday, when she was on her way with that
man. I'm surprised, Howat--I really am surprised that even you could have
gone on giving her those lessons week after week without noticing
anything!"

Howat crumbled his bread uncomfortably. "But, my dear, what _could_ I
have noticed? I merely taught her German. She behaved quite' normally
while she was here, if that's what you mean. And I do think that it would
be better to refrain from judging the matter until--at any rate--we know
a little more about it."

And with this very mild rebuke, which he did not for a moment expect to
have any effect, he relapsed again into silence.

During the afternoon he 'visited'. He believed that it was no use
preaching at people merely; you must go and see them in their own homes
and get to know them personally. He had always been regular and
conscientious in so doing, but he did not, despite that, reckon himself a
good 'visitor'. He was pretty fair with people who were in any trouble or
who needed the more straightforward kinds of advice, and he was all right
with people who happened to attract him personally, and he was always a
huge success with children; but there were a few persons who came into
none of these categories. He was never quite certain whether they dreaded
meeting him as much as he dreaded meeting them; and for the sake of this
meagre doubt he kept up the practice, till, after several years of it, he
had developed a barely adequate technique of small-talk suitable for such
occasions.

This afternoon he did a rather strange thing; he thought of all the
people he least liked to visit, and visited them one after another. He
did not quite know why he did this--not entirely, anyhow, to mortify the
spirit, and certainly not at all with any idea of 'getting them over'.
On the contrary these visits were to be extra ones--surplus dividends, as
it were, from the store of loving kindness in his heart. He thought: If
I'm going to be any good in this town, I've got to dive far deeper than
I've done hitherto. Yesterday, while I was with Miss Monks, my feelings
were absolutely selfish--I was thinking all the time what an old tyrant
she was and wondering how soon I could decently get away--that, remember,
with one of my chapel-members lying on her deathbed. After all, what do I
do in this town with any enthusiasm except the things I like doing?--I
like pottering about with children and young people, I like giving talks
on literature and music, I like preaching, too, in a way--I like all
these things, and therefore I do them. It all boils down to the fact of a
rather stupendous selfishness masquerading as virtue; the truth is, I'm
no better than anyone else--I like what I like. But as a parson I ought
to be different--yes, better--or else, in Heaven's name, why do I wear
this collar the wrong way round?

So, in a state of self-disgust that only gradually wore itself out, he
visited old Jack Harmon, who was nearly stone deaf and was interested in
nothing but Association football. Not only had he to be shouted at in a
way of which his daughters alone had acquired the perfect knack, but his
voice, when he spoke, was a barely coherent muttering to which nobody in
his house ever paid the slightest attention. Howat, moreover, was not
learned in football, and could only vaguely follow the gist of the man's
talk. The pleasure his visit was giving was, however, obvious--too
obvious, perhaps, since the old man, delighted to entertain the parson in
a room which directly overlooked the street and through whose window
every passer-by could see, clucked and gurgled his satisfaction till the
saliva dribbled inelegantly down his chin. Howat shouted "Yes" and "No"
and "Really?" while the pain in his throat, rarely absent altogether,
became a white-hot ache; then, after about an hour, he managed to drag
himself away, pursued even from the street-door by the man's joyful
incoherencies.

Next he called on Mrs. Roseway in Hill Grove (he had intended visiting
her the previous day, but had put it off with an excuse which, he knew
now, had been merely a disguise for selfish personal reluctance); she was
eighty-four, and did nothing but grumble because she had rheumatism ("By
Jove," Ringwood had once said, "it's time she had something!") Howat had
never been able to make any headway against the quiet, almost contented
querulousness of this old creature; she was fairly well off, yet (again
quoting Ringwood) 'you couldn't get a penny out of her without
chloroform'. She had children, hard-working but unfortunate, living in
neighbouring towns, and Howat always hoped he might some day persuade her
to deal more generously with them. He had often come near to the point of
broaching the matter, but had never quite managed it; this afternoon,
with new determination in his heart, he decided that he would. He
listened for a time to her complaints, and then began a plea for greater
charitableness and help towards those in need of it, till at last the old
lady, shrewdly perceiving where his eloquence might lead, shut him up
with a quite final if not very courteous remark and resumed the more
satisfying topic of her own ailments.

Then he visited Joe Maracot, a former chapel member, now turned atheist,
who had fallen off a lorry and fractured a leg. Maracot treated him with
scarcely veiled hostility; he was a strong Labour enthusiast, an admirer
of Councillor Higgs, and tried to lure Howat into an argument about
Russia, but Howat, feeling himself being baited, declined to be drawn.

Then (purely as a treat for himself) he looked in at the Infirmary and
spent half an hour in the children's ward. After that he called on the
two Miss Jekylls, who talked endlessly about foreign missions--a
department of religious enterprise for which he had never, somehow, been
able to share the optimism of its partisans. The continual twitter of the
two ladies bored him (try as he would he could not help it), and their
vision of an Africa perfected by frock-coats and hymn-books had that
large simplicity that always affected him with a certain sadness of mind.
And yet, he felt, the Misses Jekyll were very likeable; they believed in
their vision and subscribed money for it with far more generosity than
they could really afford (there was a little box for 'missionary pennies'
behind the clock on the mantelpiece); they thought as kindly of an
idealised black man bowing down to wood and stone as they did harshly of
the real unfortunates who lived within a quarter-mile of their own house.
If only Howat could give a twist to that pathetic stream of good will,
could bring it nearer home and canalise it so that it ran in a warming
current through the streets of Browdley! He tried valiantly, but as fast
as he mentioned local hardship, the two ladies romped merrily along to
some other instance of wholesale conversion in distant lands--"over a
thousand baptised last month in India alone, so my missionary cousin
writes to me." Howat forebore to reply that during that same month in
India there must have been at least a quarter of a million non-Christians
born; he felt so sure that they would be offended as well as unable to
see the point of such a remark. He just let them talk on, accepted a cup
of tea and a piece of cake, and then, after many mutual assurances that
the visit had been enjoyable, took his leave.

Lastly he visited an old man, a former chapel caretaker, slowly dying of
heart disease; the man was obviously too ill to talk or to want to be
talked to, and Howat did not stay more than a few minutes.

By that time it was time for 'high tea' at the Manse.

After tea he went into his study and prayed. He did not kneel or even bow
his head; he just sat back in an armchair before the fire and shut his
eyes. He did not want his wife or Aunt Viney to come in (as they would
often do without knocking) and find him in an obviously prayerful
attitude; not that he was ashamed of praying, but prayer to them was such
a professional business, something a parson did night and morning, a good
deal on Sunday, and occasionally at other people's bedsides; he was sure
they would think him ill if they caught him at it on any less customary
occasion. Besides, his wasn't a definite prayer; he didn't put much of it
even into words; it was just an expression of the feeling of
worthlessness that had come over him, the doubt as to whether he was
doing any good, and the desire to be given (if it were possible) some
secret reassurance.

As it chanced, Aunt Viney did interrupt; a message, she said, had come
from Miss Monks--would Howat call round and see her some time that
evening, if he could, as it was important?

He sighed and answered yes, certainly. It was all over the town, of
course, that the old woman was dying, and that Ringwood had given her the
news, however, had been dwarfed in significance by that more exciting
business about Garland's daughter. He put on his hat and overcoat and
went into the chilly, lamp-lit streets. Well, he reflected, he would have
a chance to do better with the poor old soul than the day before--perhaps
it was more than he deserved. But he was very tired again, and there was
the Temperance meeting he ought to look in at later on--they liked him to
lead the singing.

He reached the house in Lower George Street about half-past seven, and
was shown up into that same stuffy, stale-smelling bedroom. But instead
of a dying woman's greeting he was welcomed by a brisk "Good evening,
Mr. Freemantle ", and saw Miss Monks sitting up cheerfully in bed with
her eyes fixed on him in a way that put him rather in mind of a snake
poised to strike. He began:

"Well, Miss Monks, and how are you to-day?" in the usual manner, but he
was hardly prepared for the tremendous precision with which she replied:
"Better."

"Better? That's great--great!" he murmured, and added irrelevantly that
it was a gloriously clear evening, cold, but no fog--so different from
yesterday.

"And so I suppose," said Miss Monks, ignoring the weather, "that
Garland's girl has run away from home?"

"I believe so, yes."

"I'm not surprised. There was always something queer about that girl. I
put it all down to not being made to go to chapel--Garland seemed to have
no control over her at all. And then having that job at the library,
too." She paused and continued impressively: "There are books in that
library, Mr. Freemantle, whether you believe me or not, which ought not
to exist anywhere--let alone where young people can get hold of them. I
don't hold with public libraries."

Howat made no answer to that, but smiled gently and waited for her to get
to the real reason why she had sent for him. It was soon forthcoming. It
appeared that she had been on the point of death about three o'clock that
morning and had then made a sudden recovery. She was convinced it was a
miracle--the special intervention of a Providence evidently desirous of
preserving her for some future activity. "I'm grateful, too, for such
mercies," she added, "and I'd like you, Mr. Freemantle, to join with me
in a little prayer of thankfulness."

So he prayed again, and when that was over she went on to say that, as a
more practical expression of gratitude, she had been thinking of making
an alteration in her will. She had only a few hundred pounds to dispose
of, and as the will stood, it was all left to Mrs. Kerfoot, her widowed
niece who lived next door and had looked after her for many years. In
view, however, of the recent dramatic intervention of Providence, she had
come to feel that this would be a selfish arrangement; a hundred pounds
would surely be enough for Mrs. Kerfoot, and the rest could then be
devoted to loftier things. She had been thinking out details, in fact,
ever since early morning, and had already sent a message to her lawyer.
What she had in mind was some sort of charity, associated with the chapel
and administered by the parson. She knew there were several existing
charities of the kind in Browdley--one provided for loaves and candles to
be given every Christmas to fifty deserving Church of England
spinsters--she had often seen mentions of it in the local paper, and she
had noticed that it was always called after the name of the original
benefactor. Something like that she had in mind; it seemed to her a
really charitable way of disposing of money, much better than leaving it
all in bulk to a private person, however deserving.

Howat listened rather unhappily as she expounded this evidently
well-prepared scheme. He mentioned with diffidence that most charities of
such a kind dated from hundreds of years back, when social conditions
were different, and survived nowadays merely as antiquities. He also
indicated that it was already becoming a matter of some intricacy to
discover the fifty deserving spinsters who would accept the Christmas
loaves and candles, and that the vicar of the parish church had often
commented that there ought to be some way of altering things to fit in
with more modern needs. In his (Howat's) opinion, if she would forgive
him for expressing it, he didn't think such a bequest would really be the
best way of using the money; there were many other things in these
days--the infirmary, for instance, which badly required new X-ray
equipment, or the cottage hospital--

But that, if he had remembered, was tactless of him, for Miss Monks had a
violent grudge against all such institutions, and answered tartly: "Not
with _my_ money, thank you, Mr. Freemantle--I don't hold with them at
all. Those who give to such things can do what they like with their own,
but I have a right to do what I like with mine."

"Oh quite, quite," agreed Howat.

In the end he did, after much persuasion, manage to convince her that a
Letitia Monks Bequest on the lines of the loaves and candles would be a
rather pointless affair. But he could not convert her to any alternative
idea of his own; two things, he realised, were fixed in her mind--first,
that the bequest should be connected with the chapel, and second, that it
should be permanently associated with her own name. Finally, as the only
terms on which she could be diverted from something absolutely fatuous,
he agreed that the chapel was in some need of a new vestry. Yes, of
course, it could be the Letitia Monks Vestry, and the name could be
inscribed in stone somewhere--oh yes, he was sure it could. And he would
certainly consult with her lawyer about it, if she wished--yes, he would
do anything she asked. A splendid idea--extremely generous of her--future
generations would undoubtedly appreciate it--oh yes, yes--undoubtedly...

"You see," said Miss Monks, with shrewd triumph, "I feel it's the chapel
that has made me what I am."

He stayed a little longer till a distant chiming reminded him that it was
nine o'clock; he had been there for an hour and a half; it really was
time he looked in at that Temperance meeting. He was just shaking hands
and preparing to leave when Ringwood's brusque voice came booming up the
stairs.

Ringwood, red-cheeked and cheerful as ever, came striding into the room
in his heavy motoring coat. "Hullo, Miss Monks! Thought I'd just look in
to see you again on my way home! Still feeling better? That's
right--take things easily. Hullo, Freemantle--you here, too? Wonderful
old lady, isn't she? No, don't run away--we'll go down together in a
minute just give me time to hold her hand!"

He had an air with him, Ringwood had; and Howat had often half-envied it.
He was bluff and sometimes rude in his jovial way, but nobody ever
minded--not that he cared if they did. He was by far the most popular
doctor in Browdley; he was generous, kind-hearted, and hard-working, but
he stood no nonsense and never let anyone waste his time. And the
brusquer he was, the more, in a way, he was liked. In a few years, when
his hair had turned completely white, he and his sayings would doubtless
begin to grow legendary.

Miss Monks, at eighty-nine, was no more impervious to that forceful charm
than many a girl in her teens. She simpered almost coyly as Ringwood felt
her pulse and passed a hand across her forehead. "Keep quiet," he adjured
her. "You've been talking too much. Freemantle's fault, I daresay. Good
night, now. Sleep well. And I'll be round in the morning."

He nodded, drew on his gloves, and took Howat's arm; and the latter, with
a murmured farewell to the old lady, allowed himself to be piloted
downstairs and into the street. The doctor's Morris, five years old,
waited at the kerb. "Get inside," said Ringwood, "I'm going to drive you
home."

Howat clambered in; he was weary, and not sorry to be given a lift. "It's
a cold night," he commented. "Damn cold," agreed Ringwood, and slipped
into gear. It was difficult to talk during the drive, as the car made at
least twice as much noise as any other Howat had ever experienced; he
stared ahead through the murky windscreen, a little confused in mind with
that sudden rush of lamp-posts and shop-fronts past him. "That was a
stuffy room," he shouted, as if in indirect explanation of his silence.
Ringwood shouted back: "Sour as a midden. Why don't she have a window
opened? How long had you been there?" Howat answered: "Since about
half-past seven," and Ringwood, with a curious and characteristic noise
in his throat, exclaimed: "Good God!"

Then it was gradually borne upon Howat's mind that Ringwood was driving
him, not to the Manse, but to his own house in Dawson Street. He said "I
say, Ringwood, I thought you were taking me home," and Ringwood replied,
gruffly: "So I am--to _my_ home. What more do you want?" Howat began to
explain his Temperance meeting, but Ringwood interrupted: "My dear man,
you're coming in with me for a while, and your temperance people can all
go and drink themselves to death."

They drew up outside the ugly detached villa in which the doctor lived.
He had only a housekeeper to look after him, and the house was many rooms
too big; it had formerly belonged to an older-fashioned doctor with a
large family, a top-hat and tail-coat, and a brougham. Ringwood had made
no effort to adapt the premises to his more modest uses; some of the
rooms were altogether unfurnished, and all were shabby. He had a decent
income, but he never cared about the more complicated comforts of life;
he would keep the chairs in his dining-room till they actually fell to
pieces, just as he would drive his old car till the repairers finally
declined to patch it up any more. He liked good, plain food and
fifteen-year-old whisky, and (when he had any spare time, which was not
often) he would read any sort of book except novels.

"Go on," he said, almost pushing Howat out of the car. He followed the
parson up the short gravelled path and, unlocking a side-door, manoeuvred
him into the unlit waiting-room that adjoined the surgery. "Straight
through--you know the way," he directed, switching on a light. The
unlovely room faced them with its stiff array of straight-backed chairs
and table of ancient magazines. Ringwood passed through into the surgery
beyond. It was a crowded, glass-roofed apartment, not unlike a
greenhouse, full of the usual smell of drugs and india-rubber, and lined
with shelves of books, bottles, and the accumulated litter of three
decades in Browdley. It was extraordinary, though true, that amidst this
confusion Ringwood always did know exactly where everything was.

"Now," said the doctor, "sit down and make yourself comfortable."

He put Howat in a big leather chair that could be made to tilt
backwards--the chair in which, before the days of specialised dentistry,
many a Browdley sufferer had lost an aching tooth. Then he lit the
gas-fire and wandered away into the small dispensary that opened off the
surgery at the further end. He kept shouting out from this inner room,
his words punctuated with the clink of bottles and glasses.

"Yes, I was wrong about the old girl after all, Freemantle--you win that
bob. Could have sworn she'd peg out during the night--never was more
surprised than when I saw her perking up in bed at ten o'clock this
morning. They'll have to shoot her, that's all...Seriously, though, her
heart's pretty dicky--take her off sudden one of these days. I wouldn't
mind betting all the money I've got that you and I'll be in at the kill
before this time next month."

Howat half-smiled; Ringwood's flippant phrases sometimes shocked, but
never exactly offended him. He said, after a pause: "You know, Ringwood,
I often envy you doctors. There's something so downright about the things
you do for people. We parsons have to grope about wondering what we _can_
do. You just go and do it. To-night, for instance, you took that woman's
pulse and temperature in about a minute--probably a far more useful
service than I managed to perform in the whole hour and a half I was
there with her."

"Oh, I don't know--it depends a lot on what you did do. Chattered, I
suppose--I noticed her heart was a bit jerkier after it. If she dies in
the night I shall put on the certificate 'Talked to death by a parson.'
Can't think what you found to say to her all that time, I must admit."

"Well, for one thing, I prayed." He said that in a queerly troubled
voice, and added: "Does that sound to you a rather odd confession?"

"Not at all. After all, it's in your line of business, just as I tap
chests and look at tongues."

"I wonder if it really is quite the same sort of thing as that."

"Sometimes, Freemantle, I think you wonder a damn sight too much."
Ringwood came bounding out of the dispensary with a tumbler of whisky and
water in one hand and a half-filled medicine-glass in the other. The
latter he held out to Howat. "Here, drink this. You need it--it's only a
pick-me-up--quite harmless and nonalcoholic. Don't think I haven't
noticed the state you've been getting yourself into these last few
months."

Howat took the glass. "Thanks, Ringwood--though I'm not sure I do need
it. Touch of nerves, perhaps. A few rather troublesome things have been
happening lately. Last night, for instance, I had a worrying kind of
interview with the chapel secretary, Garland."

"Oh, Garland the draper?--yes, I know him. Little chap with black
moustaches--looks rather like a seedy croupier at a fifth-rate casino.
Well, what was all the fuss over? They say, by the way, his daughter's
hopped it--maybe the old boy was feeling a bit peeved over that when you
saw him."

"It was about that--that we had the--the argument," said Howat. Then he
told Ringwood briefly all the details. Ringwood listened intently,
perching himself on the edge of the desk and sipping whisky from time to
time. At the end of the story he said: "So they're trying to blame you
for what's happened, are they? Well, I don't think I'd worry about it if
I were you. Queer sort of girl, I remember--rather nice voice--good
figure, too--I had to give her the once-over, you know, before she took
on that job at the library. Cut above her pa and ma, I thought jolly good
luck to her if she _has_ left the old folks at home. Wish there were more
would do it--look at the unemployed--thousands of 'em--no initiative--no
ambition--rather hang about Browdley street-corners than try their luck
anywhere else. Of course they might say much the same of us--we stick to
the old place, don't we?--but then, we're getting on--at least I am--I'm
sixty next birthday. But you're not so old, Freemantle--I often wonder
why you stay on here. Don't you ever feel you'd like to try for a
change?"

"Often. Terribly often. But there again, you doctors have the advantage.
You could clear out to-morrow and feel that you were doing just as much
good somewhere else, but I couldn't--it's taken me twelve years even to
begin to do anything here, and if I went away all that would probably be
wasted."

"Oh, nonsense. You parsons take yourselves far too seriously. After all,
if you do your best, what more _can_ you do? That's how I always feel in
my job. Sometimes I cure, sometimes I kill--people take the risk when
they call me in--I make no promises except to do as well as I know how.
If I come a cropper over something it's not my fault--I can't help
it--and I assure you I never let it lose me a wink of sleep. Why should
I?"

"I know," Howat said. "But then, you're so certain of the good you
do--you know it--you can see it with your own eyes--people whom you've
cured walk about the streets as a living reminder and proof."

"And a damn sight worse off some of 'em are than if I'd killed 'em! My
dear chap, it isn't a matter of doing good, it's a matter of carrying on
with a job. If I once began to think in terms of ethics, I should
probably send old mother Roseway an overdose of strychnine to-night--yes,
and a dozen others I could name. Fortunately I'm content to plod along at
the job I'm paid for, and it's a pity you can't be satisfied in the same
way. After all, you preach, you visit, you bury and marry and all that,
you run no end of societies and things--I should imagine you give pretty
good value for money, on the whole."

"It isn't even that. I've got to satisfy myself."

Ringwood approached Howat and laid a firm hand on his shoulder. "You
know, Freemantle, I should say you were in for a fairly serious breakdown
if you don't take care. You want a holiday--some kind of change from this
infernal round of visiting old women and singing temperance hymns." His
voice, which had been serious for a moment, relapsed into its more usual
bantering tone as he added: "Personally I never take holidays of the
ordinary kind--haven't done for twenty years--but when I feel myself
getting a bit edgy I ring up Hudson and hand him over my practice for two
or three days; then I pop off to London and have a real good beano.
Dinner at a chophouse, then the silliest show I can find, then a few
drinks wherever I can get them, then--well, I wouldn't like to tell you
all that is on the programme sometimes when I'm in town. But it doesn't
often happen--I find a few days of dissipation lasts me longer now than
it used to. Growing old, I suppose that's what it is."

Howat smiled. "I'm sure you can't really see me doing anything of that
sort. Though as a matter of fact I do happen to be going to London this
Friday--I've got to come to terms with a firm about supplying a new
heating apparatus for the chapel."

"Well, there's your chance. You won't be all day choosing a heating
apparatus. And I don't expect you'll hurry back to this benighted spot by
the very next train, will you?"

"I shall put up for the night at one of those bed-and-breakfast hotels in
Southampton Row, and probably catch the 10.30 back on Saturday morning."

"Rubbish, man! Stay in town and make a week-end of it!"

"Perhaps I might except for the fact that I have a Bazaar
committee-meeting and a young men's class on Saturday evening and two
services to take on Sunday, as well as Sunday school and the Armistice
service. People don't realise that a parson has work to do--indeed, I
hardly dare mention to most people that I'm going to London; they look at
me with that 'lucky dog' expression, as if I were just treating myself to
a holiday."

"Which is precisely what you ought to be doing. Anyhow, you'll have one
night in town--and take my tip: make a real night of it--dinner and
theatre--don't stint yourself--don't go to bed till the small hours.
Remember that: I shall ask you, mind, when you get back, for a full
report, and if you haven't taken my prescription there'll be trouble!"

They laughed and chatted on for a few minutes longer, until Howat looked
at his watch and said he must be going. He rose and glanced shyly at
Ringwood, for momentarily he had an impulse to tell the doctor about that
pain in his throat. Why not, after all?--it would save a few guineas, and
if it were anything serious...but the mere possibility checked the words
long before they could have reached his lips. Ringwood had been a good
friend for years, and Howat suspected real affection behind the ferocity
of manner; it would all be so much less unnerving with someone whom he
did not know.

He said good-bye, but Ringwood insisted on driving him back to the Manse.
When at last he was alone in his study, glancing at a few things that had
arrived by the evening post, he began to think in some detail about his
Friday plans. He would travel up by a morning train, arriving in London
soon after lunch; he could see the engineering people in the early
afternoon, and then be at Wimpole Street for four. And after that? It
would depend, of course, on how he felt; he might not be in the mood for
anything at all. A pity, perhaps, that he couldn't get back to Browdley
the same night...He tore open the wrapper of the London _Times_, which
was sent him by post each day, and on the front page an announcement
caught his eye--a violin and piano recital at the Cavendish Hall on
Friday evening; a good programme, too--Schumann, Beethoven, Brahms.
Sometimes, in earlier years and at very rare intervals, he had made
special trips to London to attend some particular concert or recital; he
had not done so lately, for financial reasons, but now the thought of
sitting once again in a concert-hall and listening to Brahms (Brahms of
all composers) gave him a sudden pricking of anticipation 3 whatever
dreadful things were in store for him on Friday, that would at least help
to redress the balance. He wondered if they would play the Sonata in A
major. The opening theme of the first movement began to pour through his
mind in a clear stream; it reminded him of something, of somebody, of
somewhere he had once heard it before, and not so very long
before--curious, yes--he remembered now--he had heard that 'girl humming
it at the beginning of one of those German lessons, and he had been too
surprised at the time to make a remark or ask a question. Perhaps, he now
reflected, she had picked it up from the cinema musician.



CHAPTER THREE - WEDNESDAY


He slept rather well (it might have been, he guessed, that Ringwood's
pick-me-up had contained something to make him do so) and woke up feeling
considerably refreshed; then, after breakfast, a rare mood seized him,
and for the first time for many months he did not spend his allotted
morning hours in the study. Instead he adjourned to the room on the
opposite side of the lobby--the parlour, a chilly bay-windowed apartment
used only on fairly infrequent occasions, and furnished in a style which
future period connoisseurs will perhaps extol as Edwardian. There was a
litter of spindly chairs, a large-patterned and highly-coloured
Axminster, and a good deal of poor-quality inlaid work and china in
cabinets. The only object, however, which lured him to this unrewarding
scene at nine o'clock on a November morning was the pianoforte--an
upright German instrument, not very good in tone, but on the other hand
not nearly as bad as its surroundings might have suggested. On and off
since he got out of bed Howat had been thinking of that concert on Friday
evening; he had already begun to feel a little excited about it, and
excitement had put him in one of his periodic moods for what his wife
called 'making up bits of tunes'. She could never see much point in the
occupation, for although some of the tunes had occasionally won prizes in
competitions, they were never 'printed,' as she said, nor did they seem
to her at all attractive when Howat played them over to her. She also
disliked the sound of improvising and experimentation on the piano, and
complained that even in the bedroom she could hear it, and that it always
gave her a headache. Howat, therefore, never devoted himself to his
'tunes while she was in the house, which meant that for years he had had
very few opportunities of doing so at all. But this morning, Mrs.
Freemantle, contrary to usual habit, had taken breakfast downstairs and
had gone out immediately afterwards with Aunt Viney; there was a sale at
a dress shop in a neighbouring town, and it was most important that she
should arrive in time.

Howat, in that cold and unwelcoming room, was almost childishly happy
with his music-paper and pencil. They revealed a part of him that few
people ever saw; indeed, he kept it particularly to himself, because (for
one reason) he did not wish his congregation to think he still had
designs on their hymn-book. Years before, when he had first arrived in
Browdley, there had been a tremendous row over that; he had nourished
great visions of making the chapel a centre of musical culture (why, he
had argued, should that sort of thing be left entirely to the Anglicans
and Romans?) and had incautiously let it be known that he did not
consider certain old and well-known revivalist hymn-tunes to be musically
first-rate. The resulting upheaval, which he had barely managed to live
down, had convinced him that his more important work would be sadly
hampered if he allowed himself to be sidetracked into the position of a
musical Savonarola; so thenceforward he had scrupulously left all
questions of hymns and anthems to the organist, a local insurance-agent,
whose dream was to play the "Poet and Peasant" overture on a three-manual
instrument that had a Vox Humana stop.

It was remarkable how completely Howat had learned that early lesson.
Rigid self-discipline over a period of years had given him power to
tolerate what the strictly musical part of him must have detested; Sunday
after Sunday heard him joining, with that deep baritone of his, in music
whose words and tunes matched each other in utter commonplaceness; and
whenever the critical temptation arose he could manage to stifle it by
thinking of the spirit that ranked beyond the mere letter, and of that
deep religious feeling which must be held so much more worthy than any
technique of art.

This morning, however, no such distracting thoughts occurred to him, and
he yielded himself; for two hours and more, to a task which he found
totally absorbing. There was a school concert due to take place about
Christmas time, and he usually taught the children some kind of song for
the occasion; why not, then, something composed by himself, if it seemed
good enough when he had finished it? But the idea, after all, did not
strike him till he had been some time at work; it was a mere excuse for
going on, not a reason for beginning. The truth was, to put it quite
plainly: his wife was out and he felt in the mood.

When he left the Manse, a little later than his usual hour (for he had
somewhat lost count of time whilst at the piano) he felt pleased, though
far from satisfied, with what he had done. It sent him back, in memory,
to those very early years when he had day-dreamed himself the author of
some colossal symphony, bowing acknowledgments before a frantic
first-night audience at the Queen's Hall. Absurd, of course; he knew more
accurately now the true extent of his talent; but it was tempting, and
rather fragrant, to recollect those ancient ecstasies. Sing-song homeward
walks along the Kentish lanes, with stars overhead and his boyhood
friends arm-linked on either side; hours with the piano or violin (he
played both instruments passably well); trips to Canterbury, Dover,
Maidstone, sometimes even London, to sample the art of some celebrity.
One after another, and in completely unchronological order, the great
masters had moved into his youthful comprehension--Chopin first, then
Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, and Brahms last of all. In those days music had
seemed everything to him, but that of course was before the crisis in his
early life which, though he did not greatly care for the term, could only
be called his 'conversion'. Looking back now over a span of a quarter of
a century he had a disappointingly vague recollection of how that had
happened; but he could remember perfectly a certain winter's night when
he had first heard the Kreutzer Sonata and had walked home afterwards
along moonlit and frost-bound roads from the railway station...It was a
pity, really, that there was no kind of musical club or society in
Browdley; he had often thought of starting one, but he was rather afraid
it would take up too much of his time. Besides, nowadays people had
gramophones and the wireless...He wondered if Higgs, who had said he was
keen on music, would support him in the idea of holding short evening
concerts on Sundays after the time of church and chapel services? Of
course one had to move warily in things like that; there would probably
be opposition from some of the older people, or else they would insist
that all the music played on such occasions should be 'sacred' music...as
if all good music were not sacred...

Howat, striding along the High Street with these and other reflections in
mind, was far too preoccupied to keep his usual keen look-out for people
he knew; indeed, he was not even looking where he was going and narrowly
escaped collision with a man who was standing in a rather peculiar
posture on the pavement. He was about to mutter a vague apology when he
caught sight of a pair of very recognisable black moustaches. "Ah, Mr.
Garland," he exclaimed, and wondered whether Garland really wanted him to
stop or not. For Garland was outside his own shop, scrutinising through
the glass a roll of cloth which an assistant was fixing in position. At
intervals of a few seconds he shouted directions, ignoring the fact that
the assistant could not possibly hear him; but as this had been his
method of supervising window-dressing for thirty years or so, he probably
did not see any reason to alter it. "Ah, good morning, Mr. Freemantle,"
he answered, swinging round sharply. He stopped, as if waiting for Howat
to make the first move in the conversation, and for a few moments the two
men stared at each other with some discomfort, while the assistant behind
the plate glass stared at both of them impartially. At last Garland
opened with: "You've heard the latest news about my daughter, I suppose?"

"Latest news? Have you--have you heard from her then?"

"No, we've not heard, but we've got to know, and that's been quite
enough. Come inside a moment--I don't want to shout these things on the
pavement."

Howat followed dubiously, reflecting that there was really no need to
shout them at all. The interior of Garland's shop, as they both walked
through it to an inner apartment, afflicted him with a spasm of
melancholy; it was very dark, and the assistants were pale and
sickly-looking youths, whom Garland glared at fiercely as he passed them.
In a sort of inner office filled with bills and ledgers and patterns of
cloth Garland motioned Howat to a chair, closed the door carefully, and
resumed: "She's run away with a man--a man who plays the fiddle in a
picture-house."

Howat said: "Yes, I'd heard something to that effect, but I was hoping it
could be no more than a rumour."

"A _rumour_? God bless my soul, they were seen together at Manchester
getting into the train!" His voice thickened with indignation. "Of course
neither my wife nor I could countenance that sort of thing. Not at any
price would we take her back now that we know what has happened. She's
disgraced our name--the only thing we can do is to try to forget that
she's our daughter."

Howat found himself staring at a peculiarly sinister-looking tailor's
dummy, armless and legless, that had been flung into a corner of the
office amidst a heap of brown paper. He had been propelled so abruptly,
as it were, from the world of his own thoughts into this other world of
angry fathers and erring daughters and rolls of gents' suitings that he
could hardly, for the moment, get his bearings. Then the last few words
of Garland's remarks echoed in his mind and brought him up with a jerk.
He said, rather sadly: "Don't you think it may be a little too early to
reach such a decision, Mr. Garland?"

"Not at all. We're a respectable family--we're not going to make any
terms with evil-doing. Out she stays, now that she's gone, and I'd say
the same to any of my other children. She need never come back to
Browdley thinking she'll be admitted here again."

"Well, well, I suppose if you feel like that about it--"

I _do_ feel like that, and my wife would say the same. If thine eye
offend thee, pluck it out, so the Good Book says."

"It also, I believe, mentions forgiveness--"

"It says we should forgive our enemies, not our daughters."

Which set Howat reflecting absently that it was, most certainly, much
easier to forgive one's enemies than one's friends and relatives--could
it be, then, that the more difficult achievement was not seriously
expected of us? Garland, however, had clearly not meant so much, and
Howat answered, with sudden distaste for the entire argument: "Anyhow,
Mr. Garland, there doesn't seem much point in discussing all this till we
definitely hear where the girl is and what she's doing. I wish--I do wish
sincerely--that I could help you in some way--I assure you I sympathise
most deeply--"

"I don't see what anybody _can_ do. Personally, I don't expect ever to
hear from her again--if she's decided to live that sort of life, she'll
know that we won't have anything more to do with her. We don't even want
to hear her name mentioned. Henceforward--"

Garland continued in this strain for several minutes longer, and Howat,
at the first considerable pause, was glad to make his excuses and get
away.


The second post usually arrived at the Manse towards noon, and was placed
on the study table to await Howat's return from his morning's visits.
That Wednesday morning, when he reached home, there was quite a
collection for him to deal with--bills, circulars, appeals--the usual
mixture, and then, between two larger envelopes, a small one, addressed
in a writing which he faintly recognised, though he could not quite
decide where he had seen it before. He opened the envelope and read, from
a single sheet of plain paper without any address heading:


"DEAR MR. FREEMANTLE,--YOU will be surprised to hear from me, I am sure,
but I am presuming on our slight acquaintance to ask a favour. No doubt
by this time you and everyone else in Browdley must know that I have left
home, and though I do not regret doing so, I do not want my parents to
worry about me unnecessarily. I wish you could assure them that I am
perfectly all right and quite happy. I hate leaving as I had to do, but I
really do feel that I am too old to be treated as a child. Do you think
you could possibly explain that to them? I know it is asking a great
deal, but I cannot think of anyone else who could do it. I must thank
you, too, for the German lessons which I am sure will prove of use to
rue, and I enclose two pounds which I think I owe you for them. I have no
permanent address just at present, but for the next few clays anything
addressed c/o the Charing Cross post office would reach me. With kindest
regards and many thanks, Yours sincerely, ELIZABETH GARLAND."


Howat stared at the letter with a sharp sensation of dismay. This Garland
affair seemed to get more and more complicated and to be dragging him,
against his will, nearer and nearer to the centre of it. He had always
been careful to avoid any sort of private friendship with the younger
girls of his chapel--he thought it undesirable for a good many
reasons--yet here he was, the confidant, whether he chose to be or not,
of a girl who had run away from home and was eloping (to use the politest
word) to Paris. It was all rather unfortunate, and he did not quite know
what would be the best course to take. If he showed the letter or
conveyed the message to Garland, he could imagine the fellow's
conclusions. Nor, despite the girl's optimism, did he feel at all equal
to explaining to Garland that his daughter was 'too old to be treated as
a child'. Really, it was a most difficult situation and he went into
dinner feeling sadly perplexed. Almost as soon as he sat down, his wife
said: "I suppose you didn't call on the Garlands, Howat? Don't you think
you ought to--to express our sympathy?"

He answered: "I met Garland in the street outside his shop and we went in
for a little talk. I told him how sorry we were."

"Did he tell you that the person the girl's run off with is a man over
fifty--married and with a family?"

"Good heavens, no? Wherever did you hear that?"

Mrs. Freemantle smiled in a satisfied way and exchanged a glance with
Aunt Viney; it was so rarely that she could rouse her husband's interest,
much less a touch of excitement, in any titbit of local gossip. "Viney
heard it from a woman in the baker's shop this morning. It's true,
because the woman's son has a job at the same cinema--he's a ticket
attendant or something."

"I--I don't know. It sounds so--so incredible. A man of that age and a
girl of--how old would she be--nineteen--twenty or so--I suppose?"

"She's twenty-two."

Howat did not answer for a time, and at last he merely remarked, as if to
himself: "Oh, then she has a legal right to do as she likes. I didn't
quite realise that. But still..." He checked himself, feeling he had
already discussed the matter at far too great a length. "It's all most
unfortunate," he ended up, "and I do think that the less people talk and
spread gossip about it, the better."

Wednesday afternoon was the time for the weekly meeting of his Ladies'
Working Party and Sewing Guild, and it was his custom to look in about
three o'clock, and take an unwanted cup of tea in a schoolroom that
always smelt rather depressingly of old clothes. He did not much care for
the job, but it was expected of him; the women liked the few minutes of
social contact with the minister; it gave them food for gossip afterwards
whether he looked well or ill, whether his clothes were shabby, whether
he got on all right with his wife, if it were true that his son in Canada
had entirely gone to the bad and never wrote home, and so on.

Howat read in his study till three o'clock that afternoon; then he walked
over to the schoolroom. The women greeted him with their usual fussy
murmurs of appreciation, but it was noticed immediately by the more
observant of them that he did not seem altogether himself'--he did not
make those customary jovial remarks about the garments they were working
at, those time-honoured witticisms which never failed to produce attacks
of coyly restrained giggling. On the contrary, he seemed preoccupied, his
smiles went over their heads as if directed at another world, and he went
on stirring his tea in an absent-minded way long after the two lumps of
sugar were most certainly dissolved.

And at a quarter-past three, which was rather earlier than his habit, he
bade adieu to the ladies and went out into the glooming streets. He felt
he wanted a walk, and left the town by the main road, turning into muddy
fields as soon as he could. He walked briskly for a mile or so, and then
leaning against a stile, re-read the letter in his pocket amidst the
falling twilight. A puzzle, really, to know what to do. She had appealed
to him, and despite the impossibility of what she asked, he rather liked
the style of the letter--simple, straightforward, neither explaining nor
apologising, but merely asking. And no mention of the man in the case.
That, he thought, showed a certain delicacy. But a married man with a
family...really, how could such a thing be possible?

Howat, in fact, was bewildered; for, despite his years, he knew little
about the world of private scandal--certainly less than did an average
girl at a boarding-school, He never read the _News of the World_, and
never went to the cinema; throughout his adult life, even during the War,
he had preserved an ignorance, perhaps even an innocence, that was
largely compounded of distaste and lack of interest. Divorces, liaisons,
_crimes passionels_, and all the rest of the Sunday diet of many a quite
respectable family, affected him with a slightly disgusted incredulity
which he found hard to conceal; fortunately, however, such things
belonged mainly to a world with which Browdley had little in common.

Then, with a jerk of inward perception, he passed from bewilderment to
personal misgiving. Here was a girl, a daughter of one of his own chapel
officials, proposing to do something monstrously unwise (quite apart from
any question of morals); and he, the Reverend Howat Freemantle, was
stirred by the matter to no more profound emotion than a sort of peeved
fastidiousness. It was rather as if Ringwood, meeting a man bleeding to
death by the roadside, should pass by for fear of getting Ms clothes
soiled. After all, what was the good of his pastorate if he couldn't make
himself of use in such an emergency? He thought, with a quick return of
his old self-upbraiding mood: Oh yes, you're all right for giving
addresses about Mozart and drinking tea with the ladies, but when it
comes to tackling the practical sort of work that justifies the rather
eccentric costume you wear and the prefix to your name, then you fail
utterly and hopelessly. Really, really, you aren't going to let a girl of
twenty-two run off with a married man of fifty...or are you? (He answered
himself: But you can't stop her; she's over age; she has the legal right
to do what she wants and she knows it.) But, man, you can stop her, or
you've got to try, anyhow. She's given you a loophole; she's sent you an
address; there's nothing, indeed, to prevent you from actually meeting
her, if she'll see you, when you go to London on Friday; then you can put
your persuasive eloquence to a more vital test than the luring of
threepenny bits into the collecting plate. However much you dislike the
job, you've got to see that girl, you've got to talk her into her right
senses, and you've got to make her return home. (But then, Garland says
he won't have her back at any price.) Nonsense; he will, or, if he says
he won't, then you've got another job--to persuade _him_. And in any
case, whether he relents or not, your duty with the girl is plain...

Howat was thoroughly wretched by the time he returned to the Manse for
tea. He had made up his mind that he would not and could not shirk his
duty, but he felt no sort of enthusiasm about it, still less any
confidence of being successful. It was all so extraordinary, so
unpleasantly removed from his usual 'beat'. During the past dozen years
there had been many occasions on which he had had to exert his personal
influence in some cause or other, but they had all been interventions of
a more straightforward kind--pleading with an employer not to prosecute
in a case of theft, arranging terms of peace between landlord and tenant,
telling youths they oughtn't to spend so much money in the public-houses,
and so on. But this affair was clearly different in kind as well as
in degree.

That evening there took place in the chapel the customary week-night
service, and for perhaps the first time in his life Howat gave an address
which he knew, while he was speaking, did not represent the best that was
in him. The subject was 'prayer', and he heard, with dismay, his own
voice, perfectly fluent and modulated, dispensing a representative
selection of all the more obvious platitudes that had ever been coined on
the topic.

He wished, while he was leading the singing of the last hymn, that he
could remember more about the girl. He couldn't even picture her in his
mind, but then, he had never had a good memory for faces. All he
recollected (rather oddly, in the circumstances) was that she had seemed
to him quite normal and pleasant.

He felt so sure that he would not easily sleep that night that after
making cocoa in the kitchen he took the cup to his study, and settled
himself in his favourite armchair. But in such a solitude he was more
than ever at the mercy of upbraiding conscience; he knew that he must,
inevitably, see the girl, and he could no longer even shirk the necessary
details of fixing an appointment. In the end (about midnight) he took pen
and paper and wrote the following:

"DEAR MISS GARLAND,-I received your letter, but before attempting to do
what you ask, I would rather like to talk things over with you. It
happens that I shall be in London on Friday of this week--could you meet
me, say, at Charing Cross post office at 5.30 p.m.? There will not be
time for you to write in answer, so I will hope to see you there if you
can manage it."

As he read this over he had the ignoble thought: Maybe she won't come;
she'll guess I mean to argue with her and try to get her back...And that,
after another troubled bout with his conscience, made him compose a much
shorter note--merely:

"DEAR MISS GARLAND,-I shall be in London on Friday--can you meet me at
Charing Cross post office at 5.30 p.m.? There will not be time for you to
reply to me here, but I will hope to see you if you can possibly manage
it."

It was almost one o'clock when he went out to post the letter. Caution
advised him not to drop it in the pillar-box at the corner of School
Lane; the Browdley post office was notorious as a centre of gossip and
scandal-mongering. Instead he walked to a small wall-box about a mile
away in the country and in a different postal area. A tired wakefulness
was on him, and his throat was giving pain again; well, never mind, in
another couple of days he would know the truth about that. The walk
calmed him a little; the night was cold and clear, and even the
badly-proportioned façade of the chapel loomed with a certain dignity
into the blue-black sky. The theme of the song he had been composing that
morning recurred, but somehow failed to satisfy--poor stuff now,
remembered against a background of pain and starlight that seemed to
throb in rhythmic unison together.

Back at the Manse he thought of the earlier draft of his letter, thrown
into the wastepaper-basket; safer, perhaps, to burn it. He did so, with
difficulty in the dying embers of the fire, and afterwards, on sudden
impulse, opened the drawer of his desk which contained the Raphael
picture. He stared at it for a moment, almost as if he hoped it would
tell him something; then, after a faint sigh, nothing was left but to put
it away, turn out the light, and go to bed.



CHAPTER FOUR - THURSDAY


He had slept poorly; his throat was bad again; and the bacon and eggs,
due to renewed miscalculation or negligence on the part of Ellen, were
almost uneatable. He did not grumble, partly because Mary grumbled so
much, but chiefly because he had no appetite. "I suppose you'll be
wanting your breakfast early tomorrow, Howat?" Aunt Viney said, but he
replied: "Oh no, I'll make myself a cup of tea before I go--I can get a
meal on the train. There's no need for you or Ellen to get up any earlier
than usual." He disliked giving trouble, not wholly from unselfish
motives--he disliked the trouble that giving trouble caused.

After breakfast he had hoped for an hour or so of quietness; as it
chanced, however, several callers took up his time; a woman wanted a
'character' written out for her small boy, a Sunday school pupil; and an
unemployed young fellow, a complete stranger, called to know if Howat
could give him some job of painting or cleaning windows in the chapel.
Howat couldn't, but the man's long story of tramping the country in
search of work depressed him in a way which the narrator joyfully
perceived; he amplified his tale till Howat was finally reduced to a
condition of nodding melancholy. In the end a ten-shilling note, which
Howat could ill afford, changed hands, and the man was sent to the
kitchen to see if he could be given a meal. He got one, but Aunt Viney
meanwhile put him through various tests of her own devising, with the
result that, so she claimed afterwards to Mrs. Freemantle, she felt sure
he was a fraud--"though, of course, you can never prove these things, and
Howat had given him something, I'll dare be bound, as he always does
unless I catch them first before they get inside the house."

Afterwards came a professional call from Salcombe, the Wesleyan minister
at the other end of the town--a large, grey-bearded man with a harsh
voice and a curious trick of fidgeting with his pince-nez all the time he
was speaking. He wanted to talk to Howat about the Armistice Day service;
Howat, he understood, had charge of the hymns; what hymns were going to
be chosen? Something well-known, of course; and if he, Salcombe, might be
excused for making a few suggestions...Howat found that Salcombe had
everything most accurately mapped out--he wanted this hymn and that, and
this and that verse omitted--all, naturally, for reasons which he was
quite prepared to explain in detail. Howat, however, saved him the
trouble by a swift and comprehensive acquiescence; yes, quite; exactly;
he was perfectly agreeable; oh, most certainly, just so, just so. And
Salcombe went home afterwards and remarked to his wife at lunch (they
took dinner in the evening): "By the way, I called on Freemantle this
morning, my dear. I got my way with him about those hymns. An easy man to
deal with, if only one uses a little tact."

About a quarter-past eleven Howat went out; he had several calls to make
in the town. One was at the bank; he cashed a cheque on his own private
account for twenty pounds (more than enough, he reckoned, for the London
trip, including the cost of a new suit of clothes, if he should decide to
buy one, and the highest conceivable specialist's fee.) Then visited the
library, verified the times of his trains the next morning, and chose
another batch of books for young Trevis. The boy read so fast it was
difficult to keep up with him, but at length Howat made a selection which
he hoped would please--Haldane's "Possible Worlds", and two novels,
Hergesheimer's "Java Head" and one called "Brown on Resolution" by a
writer named Forrester. Those ought to last Trevis over the week-end,
anyway. He went round to Mansion Street with them and spent an hour or so
chatting with the boy, whom he found at first in a rather depressed mood.
Before leaving, he asked if there were anything Trevis would like him to
bring back from London--"I shan't be there more than a few hours, but
I'll have time to run round the shops, if there's anything you think
you'd care about."

Trevis answered, rather sadly: "If it isn't too much trouble you could
bring me a London evening paper--I haven't seen one since I left
Cambridge. And it'll only cost threepence if you get them all. There's
nothing else I want, thanks all the same."

"Right, then. I won't forget. And you can expect me round with them on
Monday morning."

He shook hands and was just going out of the room when Trevis called
back: "Oh, by the way--any more news about that girl of Garland's?"

Howat answered: "Nothing very definite, I'm afraid. Only rumours which
perhaps I oughtn't to repeat."

"No need--I've probably heard them. They say the man's a dreadful
creature fat little Jew with a bald head and gold teeth. So they say,
mind you But I thought you might know something."

Howat shook his head. "I wish I did. Who gave you that description of the
man?"

"Our maid had it from one of the neighbours, and heaven knows where she
got it."

"It's extraordinary--if it's true."

"Yes, isn't it? But then, Elizabeth was always an extraordinary girl."
There was a pause, after which Howat continued, with growing intensity:
"It's not only extraordinary, it's--it's monstrous. A young girl barely
out of her teens and a man--like that--married--twice her age--"

"But I suppose it all counts for nothing when two people reckon themselves
to be in love."

"_Love?_"

Howat uttered the word incredulously, as if it were the last that would
ever have occurred to him in such a connection. Even its very sound,
though he enunciated it often enough in his public prayers and sermons,
had a way of seeming different when uttered in a small room and in the
course of casual conversation. _Love_, indeed? Love to him was the
feeling he had for his wife, and which he presumed other men had for
their wives; he understood it as such; it was a straightforward, simple
feeling, perfectly reasonable and devoid of complication. Whereas this
feeling of Elizabeth Garland for her paramour (the quaintly old-fashioned
term was the only one he could bring to mind) must be something
altogether different, something totally and mercifully outside his own
and most other people's personal experience.

He said, abruptly: "Good-bye, Trevis, must get away--so many odd things
to do before tomorrow. I won't forget those papers for you...And as for
that other matter--the one we've just been discussing I'm afraid it's
useless to theorise. Perhaps things may not turn out as badly as we fear.
Good-bye, now, until Monday." Then he went home to dinner at the Manse.


He was busy all afternoon; it was amazing how even a projected absence of
two days entailed all sorts of arrangings and postponements, letters to
this person and that, instructions, suggestions, and excuses. He was by
nature a hard and enthusiastic worker, and Browdley had well learnt that
if there were a charity concert to be organised, a subscription to be
raised, a movement to be launched, a defunct society to be resuscitated,
or any particularly tiresome or exasperating piece of work to be done,
the Reverend Howat Freemantle could usually be relied upon for the job.
It was not that he enjoyed the fuss and bother of such things (quite the
contrary, indeed), but it was always easy to persuade him that they were
duties that someone ought to do, and that if he didn't tackle them,
probably nobody would. It was known, too, that once he had set his hand
to a task, he never flagged, never complained, and never shirked
responsibility.

So, during a dozen years, his life had gradually become more fretfully
busy, nor had he developed to any degree the art of delegating authority
and leaving odd jobs to subordinates. He was old-fashioned, too, in his
methods; a telephone would have been a help to him, but he believed he
could not afford it, and he still wrote out all his letters by hand. He
would sometimes have welcomed assistance from his daughter, but he felt
that she had her own work to do, and he did not care to ask her. Often,
when a succession of exacting trivialities tired him out completely, he
would feel that he really must cut down some of his societies; but when
he began to think out which ones to cut, he always found the problem far
too hard. Enthusiasm, indeed, was ever ready in him to rise up at the
mere thought of neglecting or abandoning anything.

This afternoon, this Thursday afternoon, he found the hundred and one
urgencies of the moment producing in him that familiar mood of tired
resentment. One of his activities was the treasurership of a Savings
Certificate Club; children at day and Sunday school brought their pennies
to him or to Mary, and the accumulation was invested at the local post
office. All this required careful booking, and now, he discovered, as he
went through the records, Mary had let things get in a muddle. After over
an hour of exceedingly tiresome reckoning he succeeded in restoring the
club to solvency by means of a grant from his own pocket of three and
ten-pence. It was annoying, and he was, so far as he could ever be,
annoyed. If Mary had been there in the house he might even have addressed
her strongly; but she was out, and he could only feel vaguely out of
humour with himself and things in general. Really, he reflected,
surveying the litter on his desk that represented work both finished and
unfinished, he would have to prune away a lot of his routine work; he
felt like a pioneer in a tropical jungle, growing weaker every moment
while the enveloping foliage became denser and harder to penetrate. There
was the Antiquarian Society, which always for some reason sent him the
most troublesome Latin documents to translate he knew Latin, it was true,
but he was no particular scholar--why couldn't the Grammar School masters
try their hands at that sort of thing? And the Tennis Club (he wasn't
interested in tennis and couldn't imagine why they had asked him to be
secretary), and the local League of Nations Society (he was interested in
the League of Nations, but there were other people who ought to be able
to do the job of President quite as adequately), and the Hospital Sunday
Fund (a splendid thing, doubtless, but why didn't some of his
professional colleagues take their turn with it?)--he reviewed them all
in his mind, one after the other, and wondered which obligation he could
get rid of with least commotion.

And then, on top of it all, and in addition to that annoying three and
ten-pence, came the thought of the morrow--the early rise, the walk
through the dark streets to the station, bag in hand, the crawling local
train, the ride across Manchester in a tram, the express to London,
booking a room at a hotel, visiting the heating-apparatus people in the
afternoon, then the appointment with the specialist, and after that, if
she turned up, his meeting with that girl at Charing Cross. What a day!
It was the last two items that seemed most to be feared, and perhaps even
of the last two, the vision of the Wimpole Street consulting-room did not
trouble him quite so much as the thought of what he would have to say to
the girl. Yet he felt, with slow rage inside him: This is my real work,
this job of saving souls--this one job which I shirk is the real thing
I'm here for. All this other stuff, this parade of being busy that makes
many a parson think he's a success when he's really only doing a clerk's
job--all this merely disguises the real issue--the fact that if I fail in
this Garland affair, I fail utterly. These societies and clubs and
meetings and such-like have been a veil hiding life from me and me from
life; after all my years of ministerial work, I don't know where I am
when I'm faced with something out of the ordinary; I don't understand the
mainsprings of human conduct, probably not as well as young Trevis,
certainly not as well as Ringwood or the Catholic priest...

Towards twilight he took his letters to the pillar-box, and after posting
them walked along School Lane as far as the edge of the town, despite a
light rain that was falling. The problem of what he should say to
Elizabeth Garland and how he should persuade her to return to Browdley,
was more than perplexing; it was beginning to be an obsession. All the so
far known and meagrely reported ingredients of the affair danced before
his mind like animated fragments of a jig-saw puzzle--the Raphael picture
she had sent him, the fuss with Garland, her letter from London, and
Trevis's description of the fat little Jew fiddler with the bald head and
the gold teeth. What was it that she or any girl could feel for such a
man? Some kind of physical infatuation? But there once more he was in
uncharted seas, wondering at the sort of desire that could so outweigh
considerations of home, family, position, and morals.

He tried even to recollect his own desires, so far as he had ever been
conscious of them; and, though he felt it almost sacrilegious to do so,
he cast back in memory to his early days of courtship and marriage. Of
course he had always loved his wife, and he was still, he would have
said, 'in love' with her; but he recognised, nevertheless, that there was
a fiercer passion that belonged peculiarly to youth. In his own life it
had coincided with his 'conversion', and when he tried to think of those
early days he had a vision of peaceful evening walks across fields to
chapel, with Mary by his side; he could not, at such a distance in time,
recollect exactly what had been his feelings during those walks, but he
was quite certain that the course of true love, in his case, had been
exceptionally smooth.

As for temptation of any kind since marriage, he could honestly and with
confidence assert that he had never even known what it was; indeed, the
mere contemplation of it was distasteful. Yet there was a world, he knew,
in which unpleasant things of that sort did abound--a strange world in
which Elizabeth Garland, for one, was dangerously adrift, and which lay
pitilessly beyond the scope of all the societies of which he was
president and secretary. He dared not, merely to preserve his own
comfort, shirk total knowledge of that world; on the contrary, it might
sometimes be his unpleasant duty to explore.

He went home for tea, and in the evening there was the weekly Brotherhood
Meeting. His throat, which was definitely worse, gave him a good excuse
for not attending, but he would not take it; he went, sang, spoke, and
made his throat so painful that it kept him awake for half the night. In
the early morning darkness of his bedroom he felt desperately afraid of
all that the coming day might bring, and when at last he fell asleep and
dreamed, his dreams were of restless, inexplicable things.



CHAPTER FIVE - FRIDAY MORNING AND AFTERNOON


Unless on some definitely professional errand Howat always travelled in
mufti. He did so quite openly, even sometimes when he went no further
than Manchester, and though many of his colleagues in the town did not
approve, the lay population were quite accustomed to seeing him dressed
as one of themselves. "There's something about a parson's collar that
puts people off," Howat had once said to Doxley, of the Congregational
Church, "especially in such a confined space as a railway compartment,
where they have nothing to do but stare. It makes them uncomfortable
among themselves, they feel under constraint with one another--they
either talk at' you, or else relapse into a brooding silence which you
can feel to be anti-clerical. When I was a young fellow, just beginning,
I used to wear the whitest and highest of clerical collars because I was
so proud of my profession, but now I think I'm less proud of that than I
am of my common humanity. I feel that if I've got to wear something that
marks me out as different or superior to others, then in fairness to them
I ought to travel first-class--like officers in the army."

"But surely," Doxley had said, "that argument would apply just as much
against wearing the clerical habit at all, even in Browdley?"

"Not quite. In Browdley, I'm on business, as it were--my professional
badge is as appropriate as a doctor's black bag or a collier's black
face. But when I'm shopping, say, in Manchester, or on holiday at the
seaside, then I'd feel as unseemly in my parson's rig-out as a judge if
he had to play golf in his wig and gown."

"You mean that when you're out of Browdley, you don't want people to know
what you are?"

"Well, I don't see why I should fling my profession in their faces,
anyhow." Doxley always put Howat in the impish mood of the small boy who
knocks at doors and then runs away; he had added, then, with a touch of
that impishness: "I consider it an impertinence to approach strangers
with a sort of label tied on to you saying--' Beware! I'm not an
ordinary person like you'."

And as the Reverend Jefferson Doxley had never for a moment believed
himself to be an ordinary person like anyone else, the argument had here
tapered away into an infinite shaft of disagreement. Doxley had, however,
said one thing that Howat afterwards remembered. "Well, Freemantle,
whatever you say, you can't deny that a parson's collar does mean
something to people; they look on it as a guarantee of character, even if
they pretend to scoff at it. Take, for instance, the case of some timid,
nervous girl walking alone along a country lane late at night. She sees a
man approaching her in the distance, wonders who and what he is, begins
to feel rather terrified, and then--suddenly--sees that collar. Don't you
think it's a relief? She may be agnostic or an atheist or anything you
like, but she knows she needn't be afraid of meeting a parson in the
dark."

"It seems a rather negative tribute to parsons in general," Howat had
answered, still impishly. That conversation had taken place some
half-dozen years before, since when Doxley had never wholly 'approved of'
his brother minister; he suspected him, indeed, of being dangerously
imbued with eccentric, undignified, and even socialistic ideas.

But now, on this Friday morning in November as the Manchester-London
express raced over the plains of Northamptonshire, there could have
seemed little eccentric, much less dangerous, in the quiet, tired-looking
man who took lunch by himself at the far end of the dining-car. He had
been sleeping for part of the journey, and there were lines beneath his
eyes that made many a traveller, especially women, give him a fleetingly
compassionate glance as they hurried along the centre aisle. There was
something in his face that curiously attracted most people--a sort of
rather sad winsomeness that made them feel they could rely on him for
infinite depths of sympathy and understanding. Though, as a matter of
fact, he did not always understand as well as they imagined; people often
poured out intimate personal confessions to which his carefully kind
attention was only a mask to cover up extreme uncomfortableness and a
bewildered lack of comprehension.

He took coffee and a cigarette after lunch (he only very rarely smoked,
and never knew quite whether it gave him any pleasure or not); then he
looked through the _Manchester Guardian_, and tried to interest himself
in the passing scenes of the countryside; but soon his head was slipping
forward again and he dozed fitfully till the train slowed down for the
terminus.

After leaving the train he walked to an hotel in Southampton Row, at
which he had stayed on the occasion of his first overnight visit to
London as a youth. It consisted of three adjacent Georgian houses, a good
deal spoiled in the process of conversion into one establishment, and
always smelling (more or less, according to the time of day) of cabbage
and floor-polish. Its principal and perhaps only merits were that it was
cheap (seven-and-six for bed-and-breakfast), respectable, and near the
big northern railway stations.

This last was an important consideration for Howat, who reckoned himself
unable to afford cabs (he knew little about the prices of things and had
never bothered to discover that London taxis were only half as expensive
as those in Manchester and about a quarter the cost of hiring any sort of
car in Browdley).

Having lunched on the train, he had nothing to do at the hotel except
book a room. They gave him a small low-ceilinged, top-floor apartment,
overlooking the roof of a garage, sparingly but perhaps just adequately
furnished for its purpose, with a shilling-in-the-slot gas-fire, and an
electric light in the most difficult of all positions for either tying a
tie or reading in bed. Howat hurriedly dumped down his bag; it was
already two o'clock (the train had been rather late); he must get along
to those engineering people. In the hotel lobby as he descended, the
proprietress called to him to sign the register; he did so, writing
'Howat Freemantle, Browdley, British' in his usual clear script. He
disliked the title 'Reverend' and never used it of himself, though he
could not prevent others doing so. He disliked it for a certain
pretentiousness it seemed to have, just as he never much cared for the
word 'study' as applied to the room at home in which he worked.

It was a fine day, fortunately, for it had been intermittently on his
mind throughout the journey that he had forgotten to bring an umbrella.
He boarded a bus outside the hotel and rode to Aldwych; then he changed
to another bus and got down at Mansion House station. It was a quarter to
three when he arrived at the showrooms and city headquarters of Neal &
Sons, Sanitary, Hydraulic, and Central Heating Engineers. In another hour
and a quarter, he reflected, he would be arriving at Wimpole Street.
Another hour and a quarter of uncertainty, followed, perhaps, by a
certainty that would be even more dreadful. He felt his throat like
something burning and malevolent that did not belong to him; he was sure
now, with a sudden inward lurch of panic, that the verdict would be all
that he had feared.. As he gave his name to the clerk in the outside
office he heard his own voice as that of another man speaking; he
wondered if he would be able to mobilise his wits for this earlier
interview. The clerk ushered him through an inner office into the
presence of a smartly dressed and very shining, voluble person who shook
him eagerly by the hand, offered him an arm-chair, and proceeded to talk
in a hearty way about the weather. "And was it raining in Manchester when
you came through this morning, Mr. Freemantle? Ha, Ha!" The weather,
politics, bad trade, and finally, as if with apologies that such an
irrelevant thing should after all be mentioned, this question of a new
heating apparatus.

Howat sat back and wished that the chair were not such an easy chair; he
was in grave danger of falling into a sleep, or at any rate, into a
dream; he kept hearing the other man's voice and had to wonder whether he
were still just talking or had begun to ask questions that demanded
answers. "Well, Mr. Freemantle, we could probably do you quite a
satisfactory system for a hundred pounds or so--of course I couldn't give
an exact quotation till our man has been up to see the place. I can
assure you we're used to the job just take a look at this catalogue--it
contains merely a few examples of churches and chapels throughout the
country that have given us their heating contract..." Howat fingered the
smooth, glossy pages and had a misty vision of one church after
another--plain-looking churches with oblong windows, elaborate-looking
churches with stone facings and Gothic stained-glass, churches with stone
crosses, churches without stone crosses, churches surrounded by a litter
of schoolrooms and vestries, churches with turrets, cupolas, even (so it
appeared) minarets, churches with machicolated towers, crocheted spires,
and Ionic porticoes, churches enveloped by apparently tropical verdure,
churches with the minister standing on the front step, churches of all
sizes, denominations, architectures, and degrees of prosperity. It had
hardly seemed possible that there could be so many churches in the world,
and all, it appeared, were warmed by radiators supplied by Neal and Sons.

Howat said at length: "Well, yes, I think it will be all right. We shall
be very glad to have your system."

"I can promise you, sir, that both you and your congregation will be well
pleased with it."

"Oh, I'm sure, I'm sure."

"A good heating apparatus, sir, is half the battle, I always think. Warm
your church well and people will flock into it. How can people worship
when their feet are cold?"

"Quite--oh, quite." At any other time Howat might have found it
refreshing to talk to this enthusiastic young fellow, and even to discuss
with him such vital matters as he had just touched upon; but as it was,
he felt anxious at all costs to end the interview. He said: "Perhaps,
then, you'll get on with the job as soon as you can, eh?"

The other seemed genuinely grieved by this display of haste. "Would you
care to step down into the basement, sir, and see the kind of
installations we put in? We have a few models on view and we can also
show you the apparatus that actually heats this office, and is heating it
at the present moment--identical, of course, with the type we shall he
supplying to you. I think you'll admit, sir, that the temperature of this
room is just about what one would wish for."

Too hot, Howat thought sleepily--far too hot; but he said: "Oh yes, just
about right."

"We can regulate it, of course. A single turn of the knob--like this--"

Howat watched him rather sadly. Was it merely professional, such
enthusiasm? Did the youth go home and dream about heating-apparatus? Did
heating-apparatus fill a 'niche in his soul? Howat felt: I wish at this
present moment I could believe in anything as fervently as this fellow
seems to believe in these pipes and radiators...

"Perhaps, sir, you would care to come down and inspect--"

Howat rose and shook his head sombrely. "Well, no, I don't think I'll
bother, if you don't mind. I--I have several other appointments this
afternoon, and not much time left for them. Your apparatus, I have no
doubt, will suit us admirably. I'd better be getting along now."

"Very good, sir. And when would it be convenient for us to send our man
up to Browdley?"

"Your man? Oh yes, about the pipes and things--yes--oh, any time next
week would do."

"Very good, Mr. Freemantle. We will advise you definitely by postcard.
Good-bye, sir--very pleased indeed to have met you."

And in another moment Howat was outside in the street again. It was
nearly half-past three.


He boarded a bus at the corner and rode past the Temple and Charing Cross
and up Regent Street. By that time it was ten minutes to four, and at
Oxford Circus he took to the pavements and began to thread his way
diagonally into that stately district almost equally consecrated to music
and medicine. He tried to think of the concert he might attend that
evening, and of his more immediate rendezvous at Charing Cross at
half-past five; but he hardly succeeded in either effort; a greater
imminence was on him, a vertical barrier of time beyond which even
futurity seemed scarcely to exist. He knew now that this interview with
the specialist had been an unrealised background of all his thoughts and
emotions for weeks. He felt beyond panic just numb with a secret,
paralysing excitement of mind.

It was a few minutes past the hour when he rang the bell beside the
massive blue-enamelled door. He recalled the last time he had been there,
ten years before, when his youngest boy had been discovered tubercular;
it had been Blenkiron's partner then whom he had seen, and he had still a
memory of the old man, and of his calm and somehow almost reassuring way
of telling a father that his boy was seriously affected. He remembered
coming out of the house with the boy's hand in his; they had walked
aimlessly round a few corners, and had then had muffins for tea in a
small café, which he was sure he would never be able to find again, even
if it still existed. Eighteen months after that, the boy had died.

Now, he thought, waiting for the door to open, it was _his_ turn. The
door swung back; he gave his name to the maid; he was shown into the same
room, with the same furnishings--exactly the same, they looked, despite
the fact that the old man had died in the interval and his
assistant-partner had succeeded to the practice. There was certainly the
same ormolu clock on the mantelpiece and the same locked bookcase full of
richly bound copies of Dickens, Thackeray, and Lord Lytton. Howat put his
hat and gloves on the table with a gesture almost of familiarity, and the
maid, as she left him, switched on a cluster of lights that hardly
illumined the room so much as extinguished the fading daylight outside.

The clock ticked on; and he knew, as he listened to it, that he was no
longer nervous at all, but just calm, frozenly calm, and ready for
whatever fate might send. Even the pain his his throat had merged into
that all-enveloping numbness of sensation.

The door opened, and there half-entered a man of rather more than
middle-age, keen-faced and handsome in conventional morning-dress. He
shook hands with Howat, and guided him into an inner room.


Half an hour later the examination, which had been very thorough, was
finished. Blenkiron sat in his swivel desk-chair, with his long fingers
splayed out on the shining mahogany. He looked as if he could not quite
decide how to begin. So far he had hardly spoken at all, except to ask
questions. Howat faced him steadfastly from an armchair opposite; he was
pale, excited, and twitching about the mouth as he sometimes did when he
began sermons.

"I understand, Mr. Freemantle," mused Blenkiron at length, "that you
decided to consult me because my late partner, Doctor Newsome, once
examined your son?"

"Yes. It was the only medical address in London I knew."

"Quite." A faint superciliousness edged round the doctor's clear--cut
lips. "And you have a great deal of faith, I suppose, in a London medical
address?"

"Perhaps one has, rather naturally."

Blenkiron smiled and began to fidget with a brass paperweight. "Well,
well, I wonder whether one ought to say so--but it's a fact, you know,
that there are some exceedingly clever doctors and surgeons in the
provinces. Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester--really, I could give you
names in those cities, but of course I won't--dear me, no. It is a most
gratifying and profitable superstition that the best medical brains in
this country are all congregated in the region bounded by Oxford Street
and the Marylebone Road. Only a superstition, of course, but I don't know
what we doctors would do without it. I suppose you think that every brass
plate in Wimpole Street and Harley Street means a fabulous income? Not at
all--the superstition has shown signs of waning in recent years. Believe
me, there are men in this road who can hardly find the cash for their
quarterly telephone bills."

Howat nodded and wished he would get to the point. Doctors seemed to
enjoy keeping their patients in suspense as long as possible--as a nerve
test, perhaps? Blenkiron caught the impatient glance and went on: "But
these are digressions, are they not? By the way, Mr. Freemantle, how is
your boy now? It was--let me see--what was the trouble exactly?"

"He died. It was consumption."

"Oh, that's bad, very bad. I didn't realise." He paused, apparently for
deep thought, and then added: "And I understand that you yourself are a
clergyman in Browdley?"

"A minister--a Nonconformist minister."

"I don't know the town, but I gather from the papers that trade has been
very bad lately in that part of the country. I suppose cotton is the
black spot."

"Yes."

"And coal? Have you any coal mines?"

"Several in the district."

"And I don't suppose you've ever been down one, eh? You're just as bad as
some of us Londoners. I had a titled person consulting me yesterday--I
won't tell you his name, but he's very well known in politics--he
confessed to me that he had never yet been inside the Tower of London. As
I never had either, we were able to share the deep disgrace...However,
that is rather by the by...Are you happy in your work in Browdley? Have
you any particular worries--professional worries, I mean?"

"No more than most parsons, I should think."

"You work hard, no doubt?"

"I try to."

"Yes, of course. And you have to talk a good deal in public, that's
rather inevitable, isn't it?"

"It is, I'm afraid, yes."

"Well, you'll have to drop doing so much of it for a time. I don't
suppose you're surprised to hear me tell you that, eh?...Is your wife
living?"

"Yes."

"And in good health?"

"Fairly good. She's not strong, I'm sorry to say.

"And your children--have you any other children?"

"I have a boy--in Canada--and a girl, who lives at home."

"They are both well?"

"The girl is. The boy--well, we haven't heard from him for several
years."

"Really? Perhaps he'll come romping home someday with his pockets bulging
with banknotes. They do sometimes, you know."

"I should be glad to see him whether his pockets were bulging or not."

"Ah, yes, of course...What would you do, though, if he did strike lucky
and make you a present of a few thousand pounds? I suppose you'd rebuild
your church or something of the sort."

"I don't know. I've never considered it."

"I thought you clergymen always knew what to do with money?...But tell me
now, coming back to the point, do you often have headaches?"

"Fairly often."

"And your eyes--have they been tested lately?"

"About a year or so ago."

"Do you enjoy your food?"

"Moderately."

Only moderately?"

"I don't think I ever was very keen on eating and drinking."

"Are you an abstainer?"

"Yes."

"Perhaps that accounts for your not being keen on drinking, eh?
Seriously, though, it's a pity you don't enjoy good food. Do you like
corn on the cob?"

"I don't think I know what it is."

"It's an American dish--they do it very well at Fouchard's, in Greek
Street. It's something you oughtn't to miss during your visit to London.
You eat it, you know, with your fingers--rather like playing a mouth
organ. Very messy, but extremely palatable. I have a doctor friend who
says that a great part of its value lies in the mode of eating--it
satisfies the atavistic desire we all have, consciously or unconsciously,
to take our food in our hands and tear it to pieces with our teeth. I
wonder if that is really so."

"I wonder," said Howat, without wondering at all.

Blenkiron gave the brass paperweight a little push to one side of the
desk. "Well, I expect you're waiting for me to tell you something about
yourself. Of course the really hard problem in such a case as yours is
not 'what' but 'why'. I must confess that for the last ten minutes I've
been puzzling myself over that...and I'm not much nearer an answer.
You'll have to knock off most things for a time, that's clear. I daresay
you know that your nervous system isn't exactly a strong spot. But what
prevented you from letting your own local doctor tell you so? As for your
throat, I gather it's been causing you a fair amount of worry, lately?"

"It has, yes."

"Which means, I suppose, that you've been having the same worry that
ninety-nine people out of every hundred have nowadays when they feel a
pain. Oh, you needn't bother to confide in me--I know all about it. Even
doctors aren't immune. I made a report on one the other day--a woman
doctor--she suspected she had an internal carcinoma, but it turned out
she was only going to have a baby. So you see--"

"You mean, then, that there's _nothing wrong with me?_"

"My dear sir, there's a very great deal wrong with you. You are, I should
say, within a very short distance of a serious nervous breakdown. But
apart from that, which is quite bad enough, surely, I don't find anything
much amiss--your heart and lungs are sound, you have a reasonable blood
pressure, and as for the larynx--well, clergyman's sore throat is rather
a vocational disease, isn't it?"

He went on to say a great deal more, but Howat did not hear him, and was
hardly aware of the three pound notes that somehow escaped from his
wallet and into the doctor's. The fee, in fact, was three guineas, but
Howat forgot the odd shillings and Blenkiron did not remind him. Of that
final handshake and the maid's guidance through the hall to the
street-door Howat was almost totally unconscious; but the cold air
awakened him when he found himself standing on the pavement outside the
house, with his hat and gloves still in his hand and the street-lamps
glittering like chains of gems in either direction. Beyond them, into the
star-speckled sky loomed the tall grey houses, and a taxi came cruising
slowly down that enchanted canyon. Howat raised his hand; the driver
pulled up at the kerb; Howat sprang inside, without a word till the
driver asked where he was to drive to; then Howat stammered--"Oh, yes,
of course--the main street, where the shops are--Oxford Street, yes--oh,
anywhere..."

He sat well forward on the seat and stared hard out of the window, as one
who had somehow never used his eyes before. It did not even occur to him
that he had never been in a London taxi before, so completely was that
trivial novelty submerged in the vaster novelty of life itself. All the
doubts and miseries of the last few months were lifted; the barrier was
down, and life stretched ahead of him like a new dream, buoyant and
zestful and rich in promise. He opened the window, despite the cold, and
took in deep draughts of air that seemed to him purer than any he had
ever breathed before; he could see a woman crossing the road with a pram
and smiling at the baby inside it; there, over there, two men were
standing at a corner reading the same newspaper and laughing; in the
middle of the road a night-watchman slowly filled his pipe as he settled
himself beside a brazier-fire. And suddenly, with a little swirl, the
taxi turned out of that lovely tributary into the full tide of the river
itself, that blazing river of shops and omnibuses and skysigns--Oxford
Street. "Go on!" he shouted through the window on the driver's side, and
then sank back amidst the cushions with glorious exhaustion.

The cab soon became embedded in a long line of slow-moving traffic, and
he thought, during those moments, that he had never seen anything in the
world so truly lovely as that pageant of shop-windows and eager happy
faces. There was one window full of gorgeously tinted silks, slung
rainbow-like from corner to corner, and there was a shop that had a
machine in the window that twisted skeins of toffee together, and a
sky-sign, high up above, that gave the weather forecast in scampering
electric letters, and a huge shop-building with a frontage of Ionic
columns silver-white in the upward glow of arc-lamps, and people,
people--hundreds and thousands of them in one long, throbbing, colourful
fresco of life itself.

And the loveliness was in his ears as well--he heard the clamour of
motor-horns and the shouting of newsboys and all the mingled noises of
streets and houses like some triumphant symphony on a new theme; he
wanted to join in it, to lean his head out of the window and shout to
someone in sheer exultation; and then he thought: Steady, Steady--keep
calmer--you've got a happy evening before you--there's that concert--have
you forgotten it? They're playing Brahms...and all at once, with that
little twist of recollection, his mind was flooded with imagined melody,
and he saw himself, as in those ridiculous boyhood dreams, standing on a
conductor's rostrum, baton in hand, controlling a world of his own
creation.

There were trees now, iron railings, vistas of glittering headlights, and
a faint smell of wood-smoke on the air; then he caught sight of a
clock--twenty-five past five--and suddenly remembered that business at
Charing Cross. His spirits fell momentarily at the thought, but rose
again almost instantly and with new intensity, for his imagination
transformed him magically from the conductor of an orchestra into an
orator of burning zeal, a Peter the Hermit and Savonarola combined, whose
impassioned pleadings no sinner could hope to resist. He was certain now
that he would meet that girl, talk to her, convince her, and have her
returning to Browdley that very night; there was no longer any doubt
about it; he could not fail with this new and god-like strength that was
in him. He put his head out of the window and called to the driver--"
Charing Cross--the post office--as quick as you can!"

It was beginning to be the evening 'rush' period, and the taxi was held
up many times, at the Marble. Arch, at Berkeley Street, and for several
minutes at Piccadilly Circus. It was nearly a quarter to six when Howat
stepped to the pavement at the corner of Trafalgar Square; he was rather
excited by that time; perhaps she hadn't come, or had got tired of
waiting; he paid the driver, adding a far too lavish tip, and found
him-self staring vacantly at buses and sky-signs and a pavement artist's
drawings of Ramsay MacDonald and Lloyd George; it was an absurd place, he
reflected, as he became conscious of the crowds all about him, to have
fixed for meeting anyone, especially someone he didn't know very well.

He had been staring about for several minutes when he felt a hand
touching his arm. He looked round and saw a girl, and though he knew
immediately that it was Elizabeth Garland, he was certain he would never
have recognised her of his own accord. Really, it was as if he had never
seen her before.



CHAPTER SIX - FRIDAY TEA


"Good evening, Mr. Freemantle," she said, in a slow soft-toned voice (it
was as if, too, he had never heard it before), and he said "Good evening"
and observed her rather incredulously. A certain sense of the
extraordinariness of the situation came over him, and with a little
effort he made himself recollect how matters stood--he a Browdley parson
meeting a young girl at Charing Cross to persuade her not to run away to
Paris with an elderly Jew with a bald head and gold teeth (he could not
unfix that graphic picture from his mind). But the picture gave him
renewed and indignant confidence; by God, he thought, glancing at her
again, she mustn't do a thing like that; it would be worse than an
offence against morals, it would be--and then he checked himself and
wondered what _could_ be worse than an offence against morals? Dimly he
felt that something could be, and the feeling, obscure and transient,
linked itself with all the new and astonishing perceptions that were
invading him from all directions. By God, no, she mustn't; he must
prevent her, at all costs. And, as earnestly as he had ever prayed for
anything, he prayed, wordlessly, for strength to achieve that end.

"I got your letter," she was saying, returning his glance with one just
as curious. "It was nice of you to think of meeting me. Are you in London
for long?"

"I go back to-morrow. Just a business visit. I'm afraid I must have kept
you waiting a long time--the traffic delayed me. What a crowd there is
here!"

"Yes," she agreed. They were still standing exactly where they had met,
on the edge of the pavement, surrounded by eddies of omnibuses, cabs, and
pedestrians. "Have you had tea?" she continued. "Because if not we might
find it quieter inside a café."

"Ah, a good idea." He had forgotten all about tea himself and was
relieved by the suggestion. It would be easier, no doubt, than talking in
the streets. There was a Lyons tea-shop within a few yards of them, and
they made their way to it, finding a couple of scats at a small table in
a corner of a first-floor room. In the sudden brilliance of electric
lights his eyes were dazzled at first, but as soon as he could see her
clearly again he felt indignation and determination rising in him to
fever-point--she must not, must not, do a thing like that--it was
monstrous, a sin more certainly a sin than anything he could ever have
imagined. He wondered how he should broach the matter, whether directly
or by oblique remarks; or whether, during tea, he had better let the talk
remain just casual. But it was she who left him no choice, for she said,
almost straightway: "Did you give my message at home, Mr. Freemantle?"

He shook his head. "I'm afraid I didn't." Then he went on, slowly and
with not half the fluency he had hoped for: "The fact is, you don't seem
to realise what--what a commotion you have caused by--by leaving home
like this."

"Has there been such a terrible fuss?"

"Well, naturally. What else could you have expected? Your parents are
both extremely upset, and I would gladly have conveyed your message if I
had thought it would relieve their minds at all. Unfortunately it seemed
to me quite likely to make matters worse, which was why--or one of the
reasons why, at any rate--I didn't do as you suggested."

"You mean that they wouldn't have been relieved to learn that I'm all
right and quite happy?"

"Well, that's not quite the way to put it. You must remember how deeply
you have hurt their pride as well as their affections. I saw your father
the other day, and I found him in a very angry mood about you. After all,
you can understand that, I'm sure. He feels you have disgraced him. But I
still think it possible--even probable--that if you were to go back now,
immediately, giving up all--all that you have in mind--they would be
reasonable with you. At least I can promise that I would do my best to
smooth matters over."

"That's very kind indeed of you, Mr. Freemantle, but really, you know, I
haven't the slightest intention of going back. You mustn't think I'm
repentant or anything like that. I'd like to be on good terms with them
if it's possible--that's why I wrote to you--but I can't alter my plans."

He faced her solemnly for a long moment and then said: "I hope you
realise that unless you do go back, your parents arc quite determined to
have nothing more to do with you--ever."

"Well, I suppose if they take up that rather silly attitude, I'll have to
make the best of it, that's all."

"Make the best of it and go back?"

"No. Make the best of it and stay away."

She spoke so calmly that he just stared at her in amazement and then
replied: "You really mean that--quite finally?"

"Why, of course. I do Hope you haven't made a special journey here just
to try to argue me round."

"Oh, no, no--not at all." He seemed tremendously eager to convince her of
that. "Oh no, you see, I had to come to London to make arrangements for a
new heating apparatus we are having installed in the chapel--it was just
an idea of mine that, since you were in London also, we might meet and
talk things over. I'm sorry you're so determined--I had hoped, you
see--" And all the time he was stammering these and similar things, he
felt: You've failed, You've bungled it all, You can do nothing with her!
Where's that marvellous eloquence you were going to employ? You're no
use, and why, in Heaven's name, should you ever have imagined you could
be? Does anybody decide on a course of action as important as hers is and
then give it up because a parson comes along with a few tea-table
platitudes? And suddenly, with a new note in his voice, he leaned towards
her across the table and began to speak, not with his usual easy flow of
words, but in sharp, broken sentences and in a voice husky with
disappointment: "My dear girl, I'm not preaching at you--don't think
that--I don't want you to think I'm talking to you as a parson just,
shall we say, as a friend--a friend rather older than you--though even
that I won't plead too strongly, because in some ways I'm nearly as much
a stranger to life as you are. Perhaps you don't know what I mean by
that--well, never mind, it doesn't matter--it's a side issue. What I feel
is that I want to talk to you--perhaps impertinently, in a way--I want to
tell you how this course that you're taking strikes me, as a complete
outsider. It's difficult, really, for me to express what I mean; I don't
want to bring in the question of morals; I'd rather put it to you as a
matter of wisdom--after all, you probably believe in wisdom--you don't
look at all the sort of person to act recklessly, without thinking things
out beforehand--"

"I've thought out everything beforehand, I assure you."

"I know, I expected you to say that. All the same, there are times when
one's thoughts aren't very reliable, when imagination loses its proper
perspective, runs riot, as it were--do you know what I mean? It's like
all this new mathematics--I've been reading a book about it lately.
Normally we live in a Euclidian sort of world--straight lines, everything
very logical, just the ordinary life that we all grow accustomed
to--then, suddenly, without any warning, something gets hold of us and we
go switching over into an Einstein world full of curved space and
parallel lines that do meet in the end--all very marvellous and perhaps
truer, in a way, than the other sort of world, but we can't afford to
think so, because it wouldn't work. All I want is for you to ask yourself
whether what you are going to do will work--will it be a practical
success--will it--will it--do you--are you going to--" He stopped
abruptly and continued, after a pause and with a slight smile: "I wonder
if you really understand what I'm talking about?"

"I think I probably do," she answered cautiously, "though I'm puzzled to
know why you're talking about it."

"Because I _must_, whether I offend you or not. To be quite frank, this
man whom you know, whom you're proposing to go to Paris with--is he--"

Her eyes widened incredulously. "A _man?_" she interrupted. "What man?
And you say I'm going to Paris with him? Really--"

"Please don't be offended. As I told you at the beginning, I don't intend
to preach--"

She suddenly laughed. "But, Mr. Freemantle, it's all so utterly
ridiculous! Oh, how absurd it is!" She laughed again, a little
helplessly. "I can't imagine how you got hold of such an idea. There's no
man at all. I'm not going with anybody."

"You mean to say it's all untrue? You're not going to Paris with--with
that man--"

"I am going abroad, certainly, but not with that man, or any man. And
not, incidentally, to Paris, either. But I wish you'd tell me who that
man is. I'm quite curious about him."

His eyes, watching her and her amusement, half-filled with tears, he did
not know why, and all the world around him seemed drowned in the most
shattering and unspeakable loveliness. "I--I don't know what to say," he
stammered. "Of course I'm only going by all the talk in Browdley; how
people find everything out I can't think. Someone, I believe, saw you
getting into the train at Manchester with this man--a musician, I
understood--"

Her laughing was almost hysterical now. "Oh, poor Isaac--how funny he'd
think it all if he knew! He plays the fiddle at a cinema in Manchester;
he's married and has three children, I think--or perhaps four. He's a
dear old man, and a very great friend of mine. He saw me off at the
station because I had a lot of luggage to handle, and before the train
started we sat in the compartment together and talked. I suppose that
must have been when people saw us."

Howat could only stammer: "You must forgive me, forgive me."

"Why, of course, if there were anything to forgive. It's Browdley that's
to blame, not you. Anyhow, it doesn't matter. It all makes me rather more
determined that ever not to go back."

"You're not going back? You still say that?"

"Still? Why do you think I ought to change my mind?"

"I--I don't know--except that I'm sure that your parents, now that this
horrible story turns out to be untrue--would be very glad--very glad
indeed--to have you back."

"I'm not sure that they would, and in any case, I wouldn't be glad at
all. You don't seem to realise that I don't want to go back. I've got all
sorts of other plans. I'm going to Vienna to study music. Didn't you hear
that? Weren't there any true rumours flying about?"

"_Music?_"

"Yes."

They stared at each other across the table amidst a curiously fateful
silence. She continued, with sudden eagerness: "Oh, I'm so pleased we've
cleared up all that stupid misunderstanding--we can talk to each other
now just as I've wanted to for a long time. I was often on the point of
telling you during those German lessons, but you never gave me the least
encouragement--I had an impression you weren't interested in me and my
affairs. But you're different now--I can see that--I suppose it's because
you're out of Browdley. Anyhow, I must tell you all about it now that
we're here together. Do you mind?"

At first she had been aloof, baffling, cordial but on the defensive; now,
however, the armour dropped and a warm friendliness took its place and
made him exclaim: "Mind? Good heavens, no! I want to be told the whole
story--especially about the music. I'm rather interested in music myself,
but I'd no idea you were. What is it, the piano?"

"No, the fiddle. I've always been keen, ever since I was a child. There
was a fiddle at our house that used to belong to an uncle of mine who
died, and I taught myself to play on that. I never had any lessons at
first; my father didn't believe in that sort of thing. As a matter of
fact, though perhaps you'll smile and won't believe it, I have an idea he
thought all music, except hymn tunes and funeral marches, rather
irreligious." Howat certainly did smile, and she went on, as though
encouraged: "When I was fifteen I wanted to earn a living somehow or
other, so I got a job in the town library--the usual graft, you know,
father being a Councillor. It wasn't at all a bad job, and it gave me a
chance of reading all sorts of books as well as studying music in my
spare time. As soon as I could afford it I began having lessons from
Isaac in Manchester--his real name's Isaacstein, but everybody calls him
Isaac--I used to go once a week till he said he'd give me two lessons for
the same money. He's really been awfully kind and generous, and he's
quite a marvellous teacher. I wish you knew him. Well, all this has been
going on now for some years; I've been improving my playing, I think, and
I must admit I've been fairly happy all the time, only--only--" Her
fluency ceased, and she gave him a queer abrupt smile across the table.
"Only it isn't any longer enough to satisfy me. I could never get anyone
to realise that, except Isaac. It's really not much use, is it, being
fairly comfortable in what you're doing, if there's something else you
want so dreadfully that you're willing to put up with all the discomforts
in the world for it?"

"I know. I think I can understand that."

"That's how I feel about music. It's probably quite ridiculous of me, but
I don't care--other people are constantly doing things which I think
ridiculous."

"It's a difficult profession, of course."

"I know that. I'm prepared for all sorts of hardships, because I'm so
certain in my own mind that they could never make me as unhappy as
staying at home in Browdley. Besides, though it may seem a conceited
thing to say, there is something in me. Musically, I mean. Even Isaac
thinks there is. If I give myself a chance I might, some day, do
something worth doing. Haven't you ever felt like that about anything?"

He did not answer, but said, instead: "What I'm rather puzzling over is
why you didn't tell all this to your parents before you left. It seems
such a pity to have needlessly quarrelled with them."

"But there was no quarrel--not on my side, at any rate. I told them I was
going to live abroad, and I was quite ready and willing to give them the
fullest details about it, but they wouldn't listen. I believe I did tell
them a few things, but they obviously didn't believe me. When I saw it
was no use talking to them any more, I just went to bed, packed up my
things during the night, and caught the first train in the morning."

"Wasn't that rather precipitate?"

"What else could I have done? They wouldn't believe me or even listen.
They never understood how I could be so keen on music, and I don't think
they ever believed that when I went to Manchester so often in the
evenings it was only for fiddle lessons. Recently, too, I've been doing
most of my practising in Manchester, in a room belonging to a music-shop,
because they didn't like the noise of it at home. Of course it is rather
an awful noise sometimes, I admit."

"It seems a pity, though, that you couldn't have convinced them that it
was all quite genuine."

"I often tried, I assure you. But in the end I just had to give up
bothering. After all, if people _want_ to think things of that sort..."
She shrugged her shoulders and added: "I'm afraid you must think me very
cool and ruthless about it. I dare-say you'd understand better if you
knew my parents."

He said, more gently: "I do know them, a little. I can understand they
were not very--sympathetic...Now tell me, what's given you this idea of
going to Vienna?"

"I want to join a school there. Isaac says it's the best school in
Europe, except one in Berlin, which I couldn't afford. Ail sorts of
people attend the classes--men and women of all ages and from all
countries. I have to pass a kind of entrance examination first of all,
but Isaac says I'll do that quite easily."

"Has this Mr. Isaacstein--is that it?--has he been encouraging you in all
these ideas?"

"No. He says, as you say, that it's a fearfully hard profession, and that
I'm taking a big risk in giving up home and a job. But he likes my
playing, all the same, and thinks there's about a hundred to one chance
that I'll turn out pretty good."

"A hundred to one in your favour?"

'No, against me, of course."

"That doesn't sound very optimistic."

"He isn't optimistic, he just means everything he says."

"And, assuming he's correct, are you satisfied with such a chance?"

"I've got to be, haven't I? It's either that or no chance at all."

"What exactly will you do in this school?"

"Play the fiddle every day for hours and hours. Have lessons--perhaps
from somebody of importance if I'm lucky. Eventually, if the hundred to
one chance comes off, I'll begin giving recitals."

"Even that doesn't necessarily mean success. There are scores of
recitalists one never hears of."

"Oh, I know. And you know, too, apparently. We both know." She laughed.

"I suppose you've carefully looked into the financial side of it all?"

"So carefully and so often that I know it by heart. I can live in
Vienna--not luxuriously, of course, but then I wouldn't want to--on a
hundred and fifty or so a year. Living's a little cheaper than it is in
England. At the end of six months, if I show promise, the school may
grant me a scholarship, and I might also be able to get a few outside
pupils. I've saved up exactly a hundred and eighty-seven pounds during
the past six years, so I can afford at least twelve months at the school,
even as an experiment."

"What if the experiment doesn't succeed?"

"Then I'll at least know that I've had the chance and failed."

"You may find yourself back in England penniless and without a job."

"Possibly. But I'll manage somehow--I can typewrite and do
shorthand, card-indexing, and all that sort of thing. I shan't need to go
back to Browdley."

"It's taking a big plunge."

"I know."

"And you're not afraid of doing it?"

"I'm more afraid of not doing it. I'd be afraid of looking back when I'm
older and wishing I'd had the nerve when I was young."

Howat rose abruptly from his chair, picking up the bill that the waitress
had placed on the table. "Shall we go?" he said, smiling. "By the way,
where are you staying in London?"

"With friends in South Kensington. Till to-morrow. I'm off in the
morning."

"To Vienna?"

"Yes. It's the middle of term, but I think they'll probably let me begin.
If not, I'll just wait there till next term."

He paid the bill downstairs and walked with her into the street. The
crowds and traffic had not noticeably subsided in the interval. He
reached the kerbside with her; they had neither of them spoken since
leaving the shop; and he thought, as he stood there: Shall I say good-bye
and wish her luck, or shall I continue an argument that hasn't the
slightest chance of making her alter a single one of her intentions?
Finally he adopted neither course, but said, altogether on impulse: "It
just occurs to me that I'm feeling hungry. I haven't had anything to eat
since my lunch on the train this morning. What about your own plans? Are
you doing anything particular this evening?"

"There was a violin concert I wanted to go to."

"The one at the Cavendish?"

"That's it. How did you know?"

"I saw it advertised and rather thought of going myself."

"Then let's go together after we've had some food somewhere."

"That sounds a very happy suggestion."

"I know a place in Soho, quite good and not expensive."

"Splendid. We'll go there."

"It's near Regent Street. If you're hungry we'd better take a bus and go
there now."

They crossed the road and waited for a Regent Street bus, but it was full
inside and they had to climb to the roof, which was open to the sky and
the cold wind. Yet something in that arctic elevation gave all Howat's
perceptions a renewal of acuteness; once again he was caught up in swirls
and eddies of enchantment, and as he felt her small tense body at his
side, he knew that finding out the real truth about her had set a
dizzying crown upon his happiness. She was pure and good; that was
everything; and her purity merged with the new hopefulness of his own
future into a single celestial harmony. He could not be quite sure how it
all fitted in, but he felt, during that short tingling journey: There is
nothing wrong with me, in the way I feared, and there is nothing wrong
with her, in the way I feared. We are both all right, and the whole world
is all right...and the more he thought about it, the more marvellous that
simple discovery seemed to him. In the ever-changing pattern of lamplight
he observed her profile, the delicate little chin cushioned serenely in
the fur collar, the bold slope of the forehead under the close fitting
hat--it was a pure profile, he thought, matching her in other ways,
too--it looked so eager, intent, and not to be deflected. There was
something in the way she stared ahead that put him in mind of a rather
lovely figurehead of a ship.

But he still felt it somehow his duty to persuade her to return to
Browdley, even though he knew the futility of the attempt. The Vienna
idea seemed to him quite hopelessly impractical; even her friend Isaac
had not been encouraging. Howat felt that he ought, at least, to stress
the uncertainty of it, the risks of ultimate disappointment and failure.
On the other hand, he reflected, she knew all the risks quite as well as
he did; she was walking into them with her eyes open; and then, glancing
towards her momentarily, he saw her as the living symbol of an
attitude--that attitude of knowing and taking risks with eyes wide open.
And it was an attitude which suddenly, by sheer loveliness of appeal,
broke down his last misgiving, so that he said, there on that bus-top,
just the opposite of what he felt he ought to say and just the essence of
what he felt; he said, stooping a little to her: "My dear girl, I'm going
to give you some advice which may rather surprise you. You go. Go to
Vienna. Take your chance. Work hard, and may God be with you and reward
your courage!"

She turned to him with a look of eager, startled friendliness, clutching
his arm meanwhile like an excited child. "Thank you--thank you very
much," she said simply, and he responded--"Oh, no, no--" and held her
gloved fingers for a fraction of a moment in his cold hand. Her instant
response to his benediction had filled him with overmastering ease of
mind; he had done right, he was certain now, and he could even feel a
touch of that priestly serenity he had so often imagined and envied. "But
I _do_ thank you," she insisted, and he could only repeat-"-Oh no, not at
all..." His head was full of a divine singing, and all he could think of
again was the astonishing rightness of himself, herself; and of all the
world.



CHAPTER SEVEN - FRIDAY DINNER


She had said the Soho restaurant was not expensive; but it was, in fact,
like most Soho restaurants, cheap if you picked out the very cheapest
things, but fairly expensive to the person who asked for just what he
wanted. Howat, sitting down at the small table and studying the bill of
fare, did not feel in any mood to make intricate mathematical
calculations. He was never very competent with money; if he had been
alone he would doubtless have had eggs on toast in a Lyons shop for
cheapness' sake; but, on the other hand, if Lyons had grossly overcharged
him he would never have noticed it. So that, though he stared hard at the
items on Barroli's comprehensive list, they conveyed little to his
understanding--three and six for _poulet en casserole_ seemed to him
neither more nor less outrageous than a hundred pounds for a heating
apparatus. Nor, apart from the prices, did he peruse very intelligently;
he knew French, but to know French is not always to know the identities
of dishes in a Soho restaurant owned by an Italian. Two things, however,
supervened immensely above all his perceptions; he was hungry, and the
world still retained its extraordinary attributes of perfection. As he
gazed about he could not have conceived any restaurant pleasanter than
the one whose interior surrounded him; he liked its touch of
old-fashionedness, its red plush benches and baroque decorations; he
liked the red-shaded table-lamp near his elbow, and the French and
Italian newspapers on wooden frames that lay about; he liked the
quick-moving and slightly shabby waiters, the smallness and easygoingness
of the place, and the fact that at two tables nearest his own two
different gentlemen were dining, the one, in full evening dress, with a
lady, and the other, alone, in a very exuberant plus-fours.

In truth, it was just an average sort of place, better than some and not
so good as others; its chief title to distinction, among a limited circle
being an attractive kind of egg-nog made with sherry.

He said, across the table: "Remember now, this is a little farewell
dinner in celebration of your Vienna adventure."

She smiled, and looking at her as she did so, he wondered how it had been
possible for her to come to him for those lessons week after week without
his noticing her more particularly. In the glow of the table-lamp he saw
a rather pale oval face with a slender nose, longer than average, and a
decidedly small mouth--like an Italian picture, he thought suddenly, and
then, remembering the Raphael Saint Catherine, he said: "Oh, by the way,
thanks for the picture you sent me. I liked it very much."

"I hoped you would. I felt I had to send you something, however trivial,
in return for your kindness to me."

"_My_ kindness to you?" As always, he was bewildered by the notion that
he had ever been particularly kind to anybody.

"Yes, indeed," she answered, spiritedly. "You worked hard with my German,
and you were always so patient. I did appreciate it, though I had an
impression you didn't appreciate me. I rather came to the conclusion that
I bored you."

"I'm sure you didn't do that."

"You always would keep so strictly to the subject--I so often wanted to
have a real talk with you about other things, but you froze me up." She
laughed. "How absurd it is to be telling you all this now!"

He laughed also. "It's rather odd as well as amusing, considering my
daughter's opinion of me as a teacher. Sometimes, you know, I visit the
school and take her class for a chance hour or so. She says I wander
about from one subject to another in a most distracting way, that I never
teach the children anything, and that I undermine her discipline by
making them laugh too much."

"That sounds utterly delightful."

"Not from her point of view, though. She has to prepare them for
examinations."

"Well, anyhow, I can't join her in complaining about you. You certainly
taught me German all right and I don't think you made me laugh at
all--not even once."

"Probably because I was being paid for the job. A sort of fundamental
honesty urging me to give the utmost value for money."

They both laughed again, but in the background he was searching his
memory for some clue to that earlier attitude; how was it, once again,
that he had never noticed her particularly during those German lessons?
He remembered how, when she had first approached him about giving them,
he had wondered who she was, for the moment, and would have made some
excuse for declining had she not revealed herself as his chapel
secretary's daughter. Even after accepting, he had felt a little
doubtful; he hadn't cared for the idea of giving private lessons to young
girls...But the waiter's approach cut short such tangled recollections;
it was more important now to decide what to eat.

A moment later, when the waiter had left them after taking the order,
they intercepted each other's glances and smiled. "You're just thinking
how extraordinary it is for you and me to be here, aren't you?" she
asked.

"Yes, I was. But so many extraordinary things have been happening to me
to-day. One of them, for instance, happened just before I met you. I went
to see a specialist, thinking I might have something rather serious the
matter with me, and he told me it was all nerves."

"Weren't you delighted?"

"Yes, altogether. I felt like a condemned prisoner who's been give a
reprieve and a free pardon all at the same moment. I still feel rather
like that. I left the doctor's place soon after a quarter to five, I
suppose it was, and I hardly know what I did between then and seeing you.
I remember getting into a taxi and being driven along Oxford Street. I
never ride in taxis as a rule. For that matter, I never dine alone with
young ladies in Soho restaurants. If I could see myself now from the
outside, I daresay I should think I'd gone completely crazy."

"Having left the Euclid world and passed into the Einstein--that was your
own simile, wasn't it?"

He looked across at her then with a curious, tranquil admiration. She
was clever; she could seize a point; she had an alertness of mind that
perfectly matched the alertness of her eyes and bearing. Trevis had the
same kind of alertness, dimmed, though, by physical suffering; Ringwood
had a touch of it, but in him it was rougher, less clarified. Only in her
did this quality which he liked so much seem brought almost to
perfection.

She went on: "I'm glad it was nothing seriously wrong. As a matter of
fact, I had noticed you looking ill lately. I suppose you were worrying?"

"Yes, frightfully."

"I think you work far too hard in Browdley. Didn't the doctor tell you
you had to take a rest?"

"I believe he did. D'you know, I hardly remember what he did tell me,
except that I hadn't got what I thought I had. I believe he forbade me to
speak in public again for a long time--it was my throat, you see, that
was the bother--and I rather think he talked about a nervous breakdown. A
breakdown! Do I look like it?"

"Not now, but you may when you get back to Browdley. I think you probably
will. I don't know how you can ever stand the place. You must be so
unhappy." She spoke that last word with a rather scared glance, as if it
had arrived too impulsively to be checked.

"_Unhappy?_"

"Well, yes. Of course it's always difficult to imagine oneself in someone
else's place, but I always feel--I always have felt--that if I were you I
should be terribly unhappy."

"Unhappy!" he echoed again, but not interrogatively this time. He was so
happy at that moment that the mere conception of being otherwise evaded
him till, with a strong effort of imagination, he pictured Browdley, the
Browdley he would be returning to on the morrow, its narrow streets of
slums leading from the railway station to the Manse, the factory
overshadowing the chapel, the little rooms in all the little houses that
he visited.

"Because," she suggested, again with a scared glance, "because I feel
that you try for so much, and must so often be disappointed."

He said: "Ah yes, but it isn't all disappointment, you know. And whether
it is or not, I have to do it."

"You feel about it as I feel about music? That you must do it, whatever
happens? You never have any doubts?"

"I don't think I ever had any when I was your age, anyhow. Perhaps when
one reaches middle life, it isn't natural to be as certain of things."

"You have doubts, then?"

"Only of my own usefulness. It doesn't seem quite so inevitable that I
shall convert the world as it did when I first left college."

"Do you want to convert the world?"

"I don't say I do--now. I'll be satisfied with doing a certain amount of
good in Browdley."

"Giving up the big ambitions?"

"Don't you think doing a certain amount of good in Browdley is a big
ambition? I do."

"Yes, so do I, but--" The waiter came with soup, and the interruption
broke the sequence of discussion. "Really," she said afterwards, with a
smile, "you must think I'm terribly impertinent, cross-examining you like
this."

"Not so impertinent as I was to you a little while ago, I'm sure."

"Oh, _that?_" She laughed. "You don't mind my being amused by it, do
you?"

"I'm relieved that you can be."

"Well, don't you think it was rather funny?"

"Perhaps..." And he laughed, with an effort at first, and then
spontaneously.

"It was such an odd way of getting to know you," she went on. "I'd
imagined all sorts of ways, but none in the least like that. Yes, I _had_
imagined all sorts of ways. As a matter of fact, I'd been really wanting
to know you ever since I heard you give an address on William Blake--two
years ago, it must have been. Usually I hate literary talks, they're so
artificial, and gushing, and speakers always quote the tags that you
privately don't think much of--but you were different. You were rather
queer, in a way. You talked totally above the heads of everybody in the
audience (totally above my head, anyhow), and you went rambling on and
on, about all sorts of things that had nothing to do with the
subject--and yet somehow, in the end, I did get a vague idea of what you
were driving at. Anyhow, I didn't come away feeling bored."

"So that was why, when you wanted to learn German--"

"Yes, precisely. I knew you knew the language, because I've seen you
getting German books out of the library. But my parents didn't at all
approve. To begin with, they couldn't see why I wanted to learn German at
all, and then they said that since I never attended the chapel it was a
piece of impudence for me to ask you."

"Oh, no, no, that never occurred to me." He paused a moment and then
said: "By the way, as a mere matter of curiosity, why have you never
attended the chapel?"

"Do you really want me to tell you?"

"Yes, very much."

She seemed to be having to arrange her thoughts. At length she replied:
"I used to go regularly when I was younger. I was made to. It was the
Silk Street chapel then, till my father had some kind of row with the
minister there and decided to change to yours. I was seventeen and came
to the conclusion that if he could please himself about which chapel he
attended I ought to be able to please myself whether I attended one at
all. There was a fuss about it at home, of course, but after all, at
seventeen one can't exactly be dragged screaming along the aisle. And. I
did go once or twice, just to sample it."

"And you didn't like it?"

"Not a very great deal. I never heard you preach, if that's any personal
consolation."

"I'm afraid it isn't. What I really want to find out is your reason for
disliking chapel itself."

"Well, to begin with, the building's not very attractive, is it? I
wouldn't mind if it were downright ugly, like a factory, but it's got all
those extra things on it--I don't know how to describe them--but it looks
as if it had been built in a straightforward way by a builder and then
someone had gone round sticking architecture on afterwards. Perhaps
that's rather a vague criticism. As a matter of fact it reminds me too
much of Gounod's music."

"You don't like Gounod?"

"No."

"Neither do I, particularly. And I quite agree with all that you say
about the chapel building; it's the product of a period when taste in
architecture was at its lowest. Still, that alone oughtn't to keep anyone
outside."

"Oh no, it wouldn't keep me, either, if I liked everything else. But I
suppose I don't."

"Tell me, if you can, some of the other things that you don't like."

"Well, there's the organ, and the way the organist plays it, and the
hymns--such stupid words, very often, which people sing without meaning
them--'False and full of sin I am', for instance--do you think anyone in
your chapel really thinks he's false and full of sin? I'm quite sure my
father doesn't. Nor do the rest, either--they're far too proud of being
respectable middle-class people ever to have such a thought...And the
tunes are sometimes rather dreadful, too."

"I'll even agree with you in most of all that. I did try years ago to
improve the music, but it led to trouble with the organist and
choirmaster; they said I was interfering outside my province. Probably I
was. It isn't an easy job, you know, being a parson."

"I'm sure it isn't. That's why I said just now I was sorry for you--you
must find so many things that seem all wrong."

"Most of us have that experience, don't we? But tell me now, apart from
the building and the music, which we both agree are far from perfect,
what is it that you really dislike? I'm certain it can't be entirely a
matter of externals."

"It isn't, but it's rather difficult to answer without being impolite."

"Oh, I shan't be offended--I asked for it, and anyhow, I really do want
to know."

She replied, musingly and with evident care: "I think it's probably that
I don't feel sympathy with the spirit of the place. It all seems rather
bleak to me, and it doesn't seem to have much room for art and beauty--in
a way, I feel it almost distrusts that sort of thing. I know I can't
prove what I'm saying--I'm only telling you just how things appear to me.
And the revivals you sometimes have--they're a bit hysterical--and I'm
not built to like that sort of business. And then the preaching--I don't
care much for the system that encourages practically anybody to preach. I
can't feel interested, somehow, in what all kinds of people tell me, out
of their own heads, so to speak, about religion."

"There, of course, you attack the whole foundation of
Nonconformity--perhaps even of Protestantism altogether."

"Do I? I'm not really trying to attack anything--I'm only describing a
few rather shadowy feelings I have."

"Quite. I see that." On any other occasion he would have felt immensely
worried and perturbed and would have been bursting with eloquent
confutations and counter-arguments; but with her, rather oddly, he felt
no inclination to do anything but just go on talking quietly and
discovering her opinions on one thing after another. It was queer how
comfortable he felt, and how pleasantly in sympathy with her, even all
the time that she was undermining, in a few calm sentences, the whole
fabric of his professional existence; the truth was that beyond and
surpassing any disagreement with her ideas was an extraordinary interest
in them that had taken possession of him.

The waiter here provided a second interruption by removing the
soup-plates and bringing a large _Sole Colbert_ on a dish; it looked so
enormous, even when divided, that they broke off their religious argument
to discuss the more urgent if less exalted matter of appetite. "I'm
astonished to find how hungry I am," he declared, zestfully. "I never fed
equal to this sort of thing at home. It must be the change of air."

"More likely the good cooking," she answered, and then, perceiving the
implication of her remark, flushed slightly. "Really, I'm saying the most
dreadful things; I don't know why it is; I just seem to find myself
speaking to you exactly as I feel--anything that comes into my head...But
I think it's true, though, about the cooking. Once, when I came to your
house for a German lesson, you were out, and the maid had me in the
kitchen talking to her. She was alone there, cooking your dinner, I
suppose, and ever since watching her that morning, I've had an extra
reason for being sorry for you."

He laughed. "I never trouble about food when I'm at home. I don't think
I'm really very interested in it. Of course, it's different to-night, but
then, to-night..."

The waiter approached with the wine-list, and Howat, after a moment's
hesitation, passed it across the table to her. "Will you choose something
you like?" he asked, doubtfully.

She also was doubtful. "I'm afraid I'm very ignorant about drinks. I'd
rather you ask for something _you_ would like."

"Something _I'd_ like?" He was about to disclaim any desire for
non-teetotal drink of any kind when suddenly an impulse seized him and he
began talking, almost to himself: "I remember something I once had--I was
in Germany, on a holiday, as a youth--it was some kind of beer, I
think--ah, here's the list--I wonder if I shall call to mind the name..."
He glanced down the column and felt a slight stirring of memory. "Ah,
Pilsener, Pilsener--that was it. Yes, I think I'd like to drink it again,
after all these years. But what about you? Won't you have wine?"

"I'll have the beer with you. May I?"

"All right." And he gave the order to the waiter, who had probably never
before heard Pilsener discussed with such solemnity.

But when the waiter had gone she laughed. "I think that's rather a
symbolic act," she said. "Wouldn't Browdley be shocked?"

"Possibly. But without reason. It's merely another instance of the quite
exceptional things that can happen during an Einstein interlude." He
smiled buoyantly, yet a moment later, after watching the pale brown
liquid stream into the glasses, he took up his own with a certain sense
of significance. It was true, of course, that this simple glass of beer
was quite sufficient to shatter all kinds of reputations that he
possessed in Browdley; but somehow he could not bring himself to be
concerned about it. The cool drink, slightly iced, gave him far different
thoughts, breaking through the years till he remembered himself, a young
man in his early twenties, on that first thrilling holiday abroad,
walking along a winding Rhenish lane amidst blazing sunlight, and calling
for a drink at a little wayside refreshment-house where he had sat
outside at a bare scrubbed table with a group of working men in peaked
caps. He had asked for mineral water, but the girl, misunderstanding his
German, had brought him a mug of something which he drank and enjoyed
before he realised that it was actually that horrible and dreaded
infamy--beer.

He told this story now and she was highly amused, and they went on
talking gaily, yet with certain intervals of seriousness, throughout the
rest of the meal, until the black coffee, accompanied with cigarettes,
provided just that epilogue of reflectiveness that prepared them for the
next stage of the evening's progress. The concert was timed to begin at
eight, and at seven thirty he called for the bill and paid a sum which,
if he had ever thought about it (but he did not), would have seemed
entirely fantastic.

On the pavement outside the restaurant someone said "Taxi, sir?" and he
answered "Yes" in the same mood of impulsiveness that had made him ask for
Pilsener.



CHAPTER EIGHT - FRIDAY EVENING


In the taxi he began to wonder what was really happening, and after
musing for a time a word occurred to him, a rather astonishing word, he
thought, but so definitely the right one that he did not seek for any
other. It was all a 'lark'. It was quite the most gigantic lark he had
ever had; but then, in fact, his life up to the present had been somewhat
deficient in larks of any kind. And it was good for him, he felt, or at
any rate, not bad for him, to indulge in such an occasional escapade.
Dinner, talk, music--what could be more harmless? After all, he
reflected, he had something to celebrate as well as she.

Besides, like all the best larks--perhaps it was what made them the
best--it was all to be such a transient thing. To-morrow she would be
abroad, to-morrow he would be in Browdley, and possibly, indeed probably,
they would never see each other again. She would have those hours and
hours of fiddle practice that she longed for, and he would be back in his
little world of guild meetings and chapel services, good works and bad
cooking. He saw, with a certain grim relish, the years stretching ahead
of him; viewed in mind from the dark recesses of a taxi after a good
dinner they seemed to reflect, mirror-like, something of that queer
quality in the present-which could only be indicated by that same
word--a. 'lark'. After all, the spirit of fun, of adventure, of
enterprise, was surely not to be confined to a single place or occasion.
Why should there not be adventure in Browdley? He felt, with conviction,
that he would be all the better for this London 'night-out' when he got
home; it had been a revelation of something he had so far rather
missed--the joy of life, that unreasonable and illogical human joy that
made a man buy what he could not afford and drink (for once) against his
convictions and progress to sudden enchanting intimacy with someone whose
very charm, perhaps, lay partly in the unlikelihood of any further
meeting.

He looked out of the cab-window and glimpsed again the throbbing and
incredibly lovely world--the omnibuses and taxis and private cars passing
by with people in them he would never know, each with a life-history,
ambitions, and a soul to be saved; the whole pageant of life, no more
real of course than was to be seen in Browdley, yet somehow swifter, more
picturesque in its setting of electric sky-signs and opera-cloaks. He
felt like an explorer, almost, in a strange land; all this goes on, he
thought, night after night, just as night after night in Browdley the
factory-sirens scream at half-past five and the crowds come tumbling into
the streets--the curious, animated routine of two worlds, each ignorant
of the other, and meeting, when they did, only in the gaze of some
bewildered intermediary like himself. He thought of how such a contrast
would strike Councillor Higgs, how it would all seem to him no more than
a demonstrated theorem from the economics text-book; which might be very
sound and scientific, but now Howat was perceiving another aspect--there
was this question of joy, of 'having a lark', in which, despite
Councillor Higgs, the poor were altogether in agreement with the rich.
Both understood perfectly the technique of 'the good time', and both were
looked at askance by the intermediate class. That made him think of the
girl's description of his Browdley congregation--'respectable
middle-class people', she had called them, and it was accurate enough; he
tried in vain to call to mind a single 'chapel' family that did not come
easily within the category. Some were hard up, he knew, but all were of
the class that could sniff superiorly in both directions. Why was it that
none of the really poorest and commonest people ever came to his chapel?
He had seen them often enough outside the Catholic church. Was it
possible, he thought, with an uprush of indignation, that he had been
doing nothing for a dozen years but preach to the already converted?
Suppose for the future he were to concentrate on the rest? But what had
he to offer them? Respectability? The right hand of fellowship as
dispensed by a narrow-minded and tight-fisted shopkeeper? A Letitia Monks
Vestry complete with sham-Gothic gargoyles? Sermons about the Christian
life by one who had passed the age of forty without knowing much about
any kind of life?

She interrupted his stormy self-questionings to ask what it was that had
kept him silent for half the length of Regent Street.

"Rather an odd thought," he answered. "It just occurred to me that if
ever there's armed revolution in this country I daresay I shall escape,
if I wear my collar, and I wouldn't be surprised if those fellows in
opera-hats over there escape too, but the gutters will probably be
running with the blood of respectable middle-class people who go to
chapel."

"That sounds rather fierce."

"Yes, perhaps I don't mean it very seriously. But I feel fierce enough
when I call to mind all the lies that were told me about you.

"Oh, don't bother about them. Why do you care any more than I do what
people say?"

"You really don't care, do you?"

"Not a bit."

Accidentally in the darkness of the cab his hand touched hers, and the
contact, together with her answer, gave him a suddenly warming affection
for her, and through her, for all struggling and adventurous
humanity--for the street urchin fighting his first fight, for the
speculator staking a fortune on some hairline of probability, for the
artist never quite succeeding, and for all kinds of obvious heroes and
heroines as well; he saw her spirit in them all, and that such a spirit
should be maligned by the secure and the unadventurous swept him again
into passionate indignation.

But they had reached the concert-hall and the uniformed commissionaire
was holding open the taxi-door.


As soon as he was settled comfortably in his seat he wanted to laugh. He
felt so happy, and he had been anticipating this moment of settlement for
so long, and the people all around him looked so very solemn, and the
girl at his side stared ahead with such radiant eagerness at the sleek
grand piano on the platform. The Cavendish was one of the older concert
halls, and gazing round at its chocolate and gold decorations he said:
"This is nearly as ugly as my chapel, isn't it?"--"Rather uglier, if
anything, I think," she replied, and the retort pleased him obscurely and
made him want to laugh more than ever.

But soon they found something definitely merrymaking, for the printed
programme contained a series of verbal descriptions and interpretations
of the music, such as--"Now all the noontide rapture and pulsating
vitality of the preceding movement have given place to a calm twilight
atmosphere in which the soul begins to glimmer like a star"; and they
made the sudden mutual discovery that this was the sort of thing that
amused them both intensely. For the next few minutes it seemed a pity to
do anything but rummage through their programmes with occasional remarks
of "Oh, _do_ read this--it's better still!"--until they became so
uproarious that people near them began to look round reprovingly.
"Really," he exclaimed at last, after laughing a great deal, "is this a
proper mood for approaching great music?"--and she answered: "Yes, I
think it is--much better, anyhow, than the mood of the person who wrote
that programme stuff." He responded: "Yes, yes--oh, yes," with almost
worshipful eagerness; he knew what she meant, and it was somehow deep
with all kinds of meanings that were his also.

"It would be much more intelligent to call music just a nice noise, as a
child might," she said.

"I agree. These attempts to describe tunes in words are ridiculous. You
can't ever be sure what a composer means."

"Why should he mean anything at all? Isn't the nice noise that he invents
reason enough?"

"Reason enough for us, but is it _his_ reason? Why does he compose?"

"Because he feels like it, or because it's his job. Or, most often
perhaps, because he can't help it."

"The person who wrote these programme notes would think your reasons very
unromantic."

"I think they're tremendous reasons. Especially to do something because
you can't help doing it."

"Yes, I think I've had that feeling myself at odd times."

"When you first became a minister, I suppose?"

He seemed puzzled for a moment. "No doubt," he replied at length. "But
that wasn't really in my mind. I was thinking of once or twice when
_I've_ tackled music composition."

"You've composed?" she queried, her eyes showing more surprise than her
words.

"Only a little. When I was younger I was very keen."

"What did you compose?"

"Songs, hymn-tunes, all sorts of things. I once won ten pounds for a
string quartet. That was my biggest hit."

"Where was that?"

"At a musical festival in East London. I had the pleasure of hearing my
quartet played once, very badly, at a special festival concert; that was
twenty odd years ago, and I'm fairly certain it's never been heard
anywhere since."

"It must have been pretty good."

"It wasn't bad, I admit. But it wasn't very good, either. I won the prize
because the others were worse."

"I'd like to know more about it. I never guessed you'd done that sort of
thing."

"Well, I never guessed you were interested in music at all."

"I know. It was a pity."

And while he was pondering on what exactly she meant or could mean by
that, the pianist and violinist appeared on the platform and the audience
broke into applause. The first item was the Kreutzer Sonata, and from the
very opening notes Howat had the impression of never having heard it, or
even any music, before. He was amazed and a little awed by the feeling;
it was terrifying, this acuteness of perception that had come over
him--something beyond his mastery, threatening to engulf him in a flood
of turbulent sensation, and though he could not identify it with anything
known or imagined, yet during the Andante movement it rose in him to such
a curious ache that but for the girl at his side and the thought of
making a disturbance he might have left the hall. He gripped with his
hands tightly on the arm-rests and commanded himself not to be so
foolish, so overcome; it was absurd that even music should create such
emotional tumult; but it was not the music alone, he explained to
himself, but the strange sequence of events that had been happening all
day. To-morrow, anyhow, he reflected, would see him reduced to his normal
temperature; to-morrow, walking down the slope at Browdley Station, he
would step into his old accustomed groove. But the final presto movement
swept him out of all such reassurance into a world in which even thought
could not be resolved into words, or even feeling into thought. Only the
applause at the finish wakened him to reality. He felt dazed, then, and
exhausted, as if he had been fighting some secret battle all alone.

The girl, fresh and confidant, turned to him immediately. They discussed
the Kreutzer performance for a time, and then she wanted to know more, in
detail, about composing work. He told her, as well as he could, and she
listened with grave attention. "Why don't you do any of it now?" she
asked, afterwards.

"I do, occasionally. I put in an hour or two only this last week--trying
a song for the school Christmas concert."

"But you've given up your big ambitions?"

"Oh, entirely."

"Is it because you don't think any more that you _could_ do anything big?
Don't you think it's in you to do it?"

He pondered and replied slowly: "Honestly, I don't know for certain, but
I should say probably not. I was far too ambitious years ago, that's
obvious. Of course I have a certain amount of talent--it could perhaps be
developed if I had the time. But I haven't the time, and never will have,
so really it's not much use thinking about it, is it?"

"I believe," she said, thoughtfully, "that these things usually work
themselves out in the right way. I mean, if there is great stuff in
anyone, it _does_ come out--it _has_ to--nothing else can happen. One
would just give up everything for it. The same old reason--doing
something because you can't help doing it."

He smiled. "Very well, when you hear that I've given up my pastorate in
Browdley to go and compose string quartets in some garret in Chelsea, or
wherever they do compose them, you can assume that I've done it because I
couldn't help doing it."

The programme then continued. The pianist played a Schumann group; next
followed the Brahms A Major Piano and Violin Sonata.

Howat had hoped all along that they would play this, and its name on the
programme had set a further seal upon the perfection of the evening. Now,
as it began, he fell into a second storm of emotion, but he did not, as
during the Kreutzer, attempt resistance; he let himself be carried along
the crest of the flood-tide and, at the end, found himself tranquil,
though in a strange harbour. He could not collect his thoughts for a
time, but it was the end of the concert and people were already
chattering and shuffling out of their seats. He rose with his companion
and joined the crowd streaming to the exits; "I like that Brahms," he
said, soberly; and she answered: "So do I." There came a point in
experience, he reflected (and he felt that she realised it also), when
understatement was the less absurd of alternatives. When they were
halfway to the doors renewed applause brought on the performers again;
they played a short encore piece--some little modern thing which Howat
did not know and did not particularly care for either. Nor did she; and
he thought: How I like that way she has of being so effortlessly cool and
downright--the way she says 'I like this' or 'I don't care .for
that'--with her eyes clear as crystal and her nose in the air like some
high-spirited thoroughbred. But there was something warm and excited
behind the crystal coolness, and in the lobby outside the hall she
suddenly took his arm and exclaimed: "I don't want to go in yet--it's
quite early. Are you tired? Do you want to go back to your hotel?"

He had never thought about the matter until now, but he answered: "Oh no,
I'm not tired, either."

"I'm afraid it's selfish of me--I'm forgetting the long day you've had."

"I've had one of the most extraordinary days of my life--far too
wonderful to have been tiring."

"You'll be tired to-morrow."

"I shall probably sleep in the train all the way.

"Then at Browdley I suppose your work begins again immediately?"

"Yes. I've got a Bazaar Committee meeting and the Young Men's class
to-morrow night, and Sunday's going to be even busier than usual, because
it's Armistice Day."

"And I shall be on my way to Vienna. Isn't it odd to think about it?
Do you suppose we shall ever meet again?"

"If you come to Browdley, perhaps, or if I go to Vienna."

"Neither of which seems very likely, does it?"

"I'm afraid it doesn't."

"Then we've got to make the most of what's left. When I think of all
those hours we spent over the German without ever guessing how much we
both liked--Brahms--"

"I once heard you humming the opening theme of that sonata. I was rather
surprised."

"There was your chance. If you had only asked me about it--"

"I know. I wish I had asked you. I'm an awful misser of chances."

"Does nobody in Browdley know _anything_ about you?"

"Oh, I'm not really such a mystery as all that. I think quite a number of
people know me fairly well."

"But the music?"

"That's not a secret--it's merely that most people aren't interested. You
wouldn't be, unless you were keen on the thing yourself."

They had walked away from the hall and were now in quiet and almost
deserted side-streets. "Where shall we go?" she asked, and he could not
give any definite answer, except a suggestion that they should make their
way nearer to the the theatres and restaurants. He knew little about
London's night civilisation and at that moment cared even less. His
senses were full of enchantments, and he was perfectly happy to be
strolling in a direction which, by instinct rather than calculation, he
believed to be correct. With her arm in his they walked all the way,
skirting spacious squares and across the main traffic highways and into
narrow yards and alleys and diagonally across short streets from
lamp-post to lamp-post, past shuttered windows and cabmen's shelters and
cats sitting delicately in doorways; till at last a distant glow over
roofs came so near that they walked abruptly right into it--it was
Piccadilly Circus. All the way they had been talking, but now they
stopped, dazzled by the brilliance, and felt for a moment like country
cousins. There were so many restaurants where evening dress was clearly
expected, and so many others whose precise character did not look too
obvious, that finally Howat made for the swing doors of the Regent Palace
Hotel; he had heard of it; it was where people from Browdley sometimes
stayed.

Under the dome in the lounge of that rather amazing establishment they
took coffee and sandwiches and smoked cigarettes. A certain recklessness
was on him, not diminished by the realisation that it was approaching an
hour when all good parsons are in bed. The colourful scene alternately
attracted and repelled; it pulsated with crude, animal vitality, and the
saxophones droning in the distance expressed that vitality to
perfection, within the limits of their own peculiar technique. It was
all something that he rather disliked, yet it drew him nearer in mind
and sympathy to the girl at his side; he looked at her as she sat there,
so calm and close to him, and he thought: But for you I should be
fantastically unhappy in this place, but with you it's rather
exhilarating; you make its vitality stand out; you're like a prism,
through which I'm managing to see all kinds of different, magical
things...And then, in a way that had never happened before, he
reflected: Browdley--Browdley--Browdley to-morrow...

"I hope we _shall_ meet again sometime," he said, transmuting his thought
a little.

"Yes, I do, too," she answered, and they exchanged a glance that lasted
only a fraction of a second, and then went on talking, about music and
pictures and books and all kinds of side-topics that thrust themselves
unwanted yet unshirked into the conversation; it was midnight before they
decided that they really must go. As they passed through the crowded
lobby and into the street, he said: "Let me see now--where is it you said
you were staying?"

"South Kensington. It's a studio in a sort of mews. The people who have
it are rather amusing--the man's an actor and the woman paints--very
badly, I'm afraid--but they've both been awfully nice to me. They're
friends of Isaac's, and when he wrote to them about me they asked me to
stay with them as long as I was in London."

Crowds were jostling down the tube entrances.

"I suppose the tube's your best way," he said, "but there seems a
tremendous rush. Would you rather try for a bus? It's not so quick, but
usually pleasanter."

"I've got a return ticket from Charing Cross. That's only a few minutes'
walk away."

So they set off down the Haymarket and across Trafalgar Square;
six-and-a-half hours, he reflected, since he had met her there outside
the post office; but the interval was hardly reckonable in time. Down
Northumberland Avenue to the river the wind swept past them in cold
gusts; little pools in the gutters were already frozen hard. They crossed
the tramlines to look at the river, rolling by like coils of black
snakes; the railway bridge soared above them, glittering with red and
green signal-lights. A moving brilliance zoomed across and sent a cascade
of silver-blue sparks into the darkness below. "How beautiful that is,"
she exclaimed, watching the train disappear over the south side.

"That's the bridge they're always talking of pulling down because they
say it's ugly and spoils what's supposed to be one of the finest views in
the world."

"I think it's much more beautiful than a good many views of that sort."

"Yes. It represents the best of its period just as the architecture of my
chapel represents the worst. The Victorians only achieved beauty when
they aimed at utility."

"I know. I always think the best things in Browdley to show visitors are
the cotton-mills. They're so downright ugly you can stand them--they're
almost beautiful because of that. Anyhow, they're not depressing, and
they don't put on airs, like the Town Hall and the Technical School."

They walked over the road to the station entrance and he was full of the
feeling that there were unnumbered things he wanted to say to her and
that as soon as she was gone they would all come tumbling upon him. But
when they reached the booking-hall they found there were no more trains.
They might get a bus, someone suggested, in the Strand, so they hurried
back along Northumberland Avenue to Trafalgar Square and puzzled
themselves over several vehicles, all quite full, that were bound for
places neither of them had ever heard of. At length he said: "Well, we
can walk a little way, unless you're tired, and get one as it overtakes
us. I daresay there'll be room in them soon." It sounded rather vague,
but she agreed without argument, and they skirted the corner of the
square and passed under the Admiralty Arch into the Mall, unaware that
omnibuses did not traverse that spacious highway. But it was pleasant
enough to stroll at one o'clock in the morning under the leafless trees.
At last a turning opened out on the left and she exclaimed: "Oh, let's go
down here, it leads through St. James's Park to Victoria Station--I know
there are always late buses from there. And there's no hurry so far as
I'm concerned; those people I'm with always stay up half the night.
Besides, they gave me a key."

They entered the park. He was not quite sure how it would help the
journey to South Kensington, but he was still in rather the mood of not
caring--after all, it was their last chance, they would never meet and
talk again. The prospect of that imminent farewell gave him not so much a
feeling of sadness as of something cold and rather blank that he must
soon encounter and become used to. He wondered, then, for the first time,
if they would correspond. On the whole, he thought better not; there
could be no particular point in it, since they would probably never renew
the acquaintance. But he did say, with a fervour that rather astonished
him: "When you're in Vienna I don't suppose you'll think a great deal
about Browdley--no reason, of course, why you should--but I do want you
to feel that--in any emergency--you have a friend there. Remember now. At
any time--years hence, perhaps--a letter to me will not be wasted. I
mean, I shall always want to help you, if it should ever happen that I
can. And I daresay I shall always be in Browdley, so you'll know where to
write."

She said: "It's very kind of you, and I do thank you. I shall like to
feel that. I wish there'd been more time for us to get to know each
other. It's absurd, really--dashing away like this to the opposite ends
of the earth. They are rather opposite ends, aren't they?"

"Absolutely, I should say."

"And it's so lovely here to-night. What's that building over there with
all the lights shining on it?"

"I don't know. I don't think I really know where I am."

"Probably I'm dragging you miles out of your way. I keep forgetting how
tired you must be. What time's your train to-morrow?"

"There's one at ten-thirty I might try for."

"Mine's at ten."

"I suppose we both ought to hurry up and get some sleep."

"I won't sleep. I'll be too excited."

"About to-morrow?"

"Yes. And to-day."

He felt the very slightest pressure of her arm in his, and the sensation
moved him to a curious whimsical tenderness. "Elizabeth," he said (he had
never called her by her name until then)--"to-day _has_ been rather fine,
hasn't it? Finer, for me, probably, than for you. It seems a hundred
years since a solitary grey-haired parson stepped out of a train at St.
Pancras Station and carried his bag to a second-rate hotel in Bloomsbury.
He was tired and worried, partly because he thought he was very ill, and
partly because he had to face an embarrassing interview with a certain
young lady of whom he had not had, to be candid, the very best reports."

He had expected her to be amused, but instead she was silent for a time
and then responded, as if with some effort to achieve the same mood: "But
you're not solitary and I don't think you're really very grey-haired,
either. Besides, even if you were both, the description wouldn't do,
because it suggests someone old and decrepit. You aren't exactly that,
are you, Howat? Is 'Howat' what I have to call you? It's a queer name,
isn't it?"

"It was my father's. I think it suits a parson, though _he_ wasn't
one--it has just a slight flavour of pretentiousness. I sometimes wish I
had another name. No, no, I don't--I really don't care at all. I'm not
sure that I know what I'm talking about."

"Perhaps that's why you called yourself solitary."

"More likely I was thinking of those old-fashioned boys' yarns in
magazines years ago that used to begin--'One glorious summer's evening,
in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, a solitary horseman might have been
seen--'"

"I don't think you do know what you're talking about."

"Of course not. I warn you, I shall talk nothing but nonsense till we say
good-bye."

He felt, indeed, as if a divine yet rather wistful nonsense were closing
round him on all sides. The sky was full of stars and there was a new
moon, and that shining building, whatever it was, now stood directly
ahead, its tall square tower, brilliantly flood-lit, facing them like
some fairy goal beyond the trees. The path they were traversing sloped
gently down to the suspension bridge over the ornamental water, and there
the loveliness of the scene was like a sudden droning in his ears; he
stopped, and put his arm round her shoulder as they both gazed down at
the water and then across to the spectral buildings in the distance.
"There's the Foreign Office, I think," she said, and he replied: "Ah yes,
yes..." But he was thinking of something else; he was thinking--By God, I
believe there is something in me, if it had a chance; I believe what I'm
everlastingly seeking for wouldn't always elude...He felt as if some
utmost beauty of the world were calling to him with open arms, while he,
for some unfathomable reason, wanted to answer yet could not either speak
nor stir.

When, a few moments later, they entered Bird-cage Walk, Big Ben was
chiming the quarter, and it was too late, he guessed, to think of finding
an omnibus. He asked for the address where she was staying and summoned
the first taxi that carne along. He would accompany her, he planned, say
good-bye at her destination, and return to his hotel in the same taxi.


As they drove off she said: "Don't go back straight away. Can't you spare
a minute to come up and see the people I'm staying with? I think you'll
probably like them--they're interesting."

"Isn't it rather late for paying a call?"

"Oh, they don't care. They very often stay up most of the night talking
to people. And they've got a photograph of Isaac--I'd rather like you to
see it."

"Yes, 'I'd like to myself. All right, I'll come, but I really mustn't
stay long. Think of my train to-morrow."

"And mine. Just now I find them both rather dreadful to think of."

"Ah, but you'll love Vienna."

"Have you been there?"

"No, but I've always had a great desire to go. Not that I ever will--it's
too far. The Viennese are supposed to be delightful people."

"So long as Viennese landladies don't object to fiddle practice."

"Perhaps some day I shall pay my five-and-ninepence to hear that fiddle."

"I should think it very, very improbable."

"You don't know."

"In a way I don't care. As I told you, I'm not especially optimistic
about making money and being successful. I'm just doing everything
because I must--because I don't seem to be able to get what I want any
other way. It's a personal thing. I don't really care a bit about showing
off before other people, though I'd be willing enough to do it for a
living. I just want to play the fiddle, that's all."

"I think I understand."

"I really believe you do, and I'm certain nobody else does."

"Except Isaac?"

"Ah yes, except him." They both laughed. "You'll like his face, I think.
He's terribly ugly, so people say, but I never noticed it particularly."

"He has understanding, anyhow."

"Yes. He knows how it is that so many things don't matter when once
you're certain what does matter. At his cinema, for instance, he has to
play the most awful music from three every afternoon until eleven at
night, but he doesn't mind. He says very often he doesn't even _hear_
it."

"I can believe that. Often I don't hear my own congregation singing a
very bad hymn_ tune half a semitone fiat. I suppose I've got used to it."

"Isn't that a pity, though, in your case? You'd have hated it at one
time, wouldn't you?"

"Yes, I did hate it, then."

"And nowadays you don't bother?"

"I try not to. Somehow, though it perhaps sounds foolish to say so, I'm a
bit afraid of bothering. It would be so easy for me to bother too much."

"You weren't afraid years ago."

"Oh, heavens, no. I was keen enough till--oh, till I realised it wasn't
much use being keen. When I was in my teens and early twenties I used to
scribble down tunes nearly every night. My parents died when I was young,
and I went to live with a rather fine old dissenting preacher in a small
Kentish village. There was a family of seven daughters. I remember some
of them used to sing--the usual kind of songs people did sing in those
days--and I sometimes tried to teach them things of my own, but it was
never much of a success. I'm sure the fault was chiefly mine--they were
probably written in impossible keys. It was the youngest girl, by the
way, who afterwards became my wife."

"Were you very much in love with her?"

The question, so artless and direct, took him by surprise, so far as
anything, in the mood he was in, could have done so; he reflected for a
second and then evaded with: "Don't you think people who marry are
usually in love at the time?"

"At the time? Do you mean only that?"

He felt her keen, eager mind in sharp contact with his own; it was
exciting and a little uncanny, the way she could open up long avenues of
speculation, not so much by her questions as by the questions that her
questions suggested. He did not know what to say in answer, but the taxi
rescued him from the problem by drawing in and halting at the kerbside.
He paid the driver and then, as the cab drove away, stared around with a
renewed sense of strangeness; there they were, the two of them, marooned
at that rather forlorn hour of the morning amidst a waste of empty
pavements and tall unlit houses. "This way," she said, leading him into a
narrow side turning that appeared to expand further on into a sort of
enclosed yard. "These used to be stables belonging to those big houses,
but now they're mostly garages. My friends are lucky because the garage
they live over belongs to a man who spends half the year abroad. They're
really quite comfortable places to live in. This way. I suppose as it's
so late I'd better use the key."

She took a Yale key from her bag and unlocked a door that gave directly
on to the yard. A dark interior was revealed, and a second later, when
she had switched on the light, a small lobby with a flight of stairs
ascending to a first floor. "We'll go up," she said, "they're probably
in the studio." She climbed the stairs, with Howat following her. All
this seemed to be happening, so far as he was aware, in a curious dream,
a dream in which the most fantastic things followed one another with a
kind of preposterous reasonableness. At the top of the stairs was a
landing with several closed doors; she opened one of them, switched on a
light, and gazed around. The room was empty, but it bore signs of having
been fairly recently inhabited. Used glasses stood on a Sheraton
sideboard, and there was a cabinet gramophone with a record still on the
turntable. It was a rather cosily furnished room, in which one window had
evidently been enlarged to give a good north light. There were several
bookcases, a baby grand piano, and an easel supporting a half finished
and not very attractive portrait of a ballet-dancer.

"They don't seem here," she said, and then caught sight of a letter on
the mantelpiece addressed, in a very conspicuous scribble, to herself.
She tore open the envelope and a few seconds later exclaimed: "They've
gone away for the week-end--some friends called and invited them
suddenly." She handed Howat the note; it was signed 'Finola', and in the
course of a few dozen roughly pencilled words conveyed an explanation, an
apology, good wishes for the future, a hope that she would be sure to
come again when next she was in London, and a command for her to make
herself thoroughly comfortable during that last night at the studio.
"That's Finola," she added, and pointed to a portrait on the wall of a
pale thin-lipped woman with prominent cheek bones and a necklace of large
green beads. "She painted that of herself, but it doesn't flatter. I'm
sorry you couldn't have met her--and her husband. But its really just
like them to go rushing off in such a hurry."

"I'm sorry, too. I like their room. It's got a sort of genial untidiness
about it."

"They're like that themselves--genial and untidy. I'm very fond of them
both, though I've only known them for a few days. It's queer how a room
can sometimes make you feel at home, isn't it?"

"Yes, this one does, I admit. It's the casualness of it--everything just
comfortably anyhow."

"They _are_ casual--the way they just go off at a moment's notice like
this, for instance. Somehow I don't feel it's at all impolite of them."

"No, it's almost a charming characteristic. This room makes me wish my
own wasn't so stiff and formal. But I'm afraid that's in the hands of my
sister-in-law. She has the strictest ideas about tidying up. I can just
imagine how shocked she'd be by a place like this."

"Yes, I know. I met her once. I found her just a bit terrifying."

"She's very good-hearted, of course. I don't know what my wife would do
without her, with all that great house to look after."

"Why don't you move into a smaller house?"

"I think that's what I would do if I had my own way."

"I'm sure you'd be happier."

"Yes...Those enormous houses were part of a different social system
altogether. I'd be just as comfortable and certainly much better off
living over a garage. After all, what does it matter where you live?"

"Provided you're happy in what you're doing...I like that picture over
there, don't you? They picked it up at a sale the other day--they're
always picking things up. That's why the place is in such a glorious
muddle. I don't believe they ever 'furnished', as people say. I imagine
they just began with an almost empty room and let things accumulate."

"Not a bad way. Better than going to a shop and buying vanloads of
standardised stuff all at once."

She was leaning against the mantelpiece with her heels on the fender-rail
when suddenly she slipped and caused a little clatter of fire-irons. The
noise awoke him from the almost trance-like gossip in which he had been
taking part; it was as if both of them, more or less unconsciously, had
been talking hard to obscure the fact that they were alone in someone
else's studio at half-past one in the morning, and would soon be saying
good-bye, never to meet again.

He looked at his watch. "Really, I ought to go. It's very late."

"Yes, I suppose it is...Oh, you haven't seen that photograph of Isaac.
It's in their other room--I'll get it for you."

She rushed away and reappeared a few seconds later with a cabinet-sized
photograph of a rather fleshy, genial-looking man, obviously a Jew, with
a high domed forehead and deep-set eyes that more than made up for coarse
features in the lower part of the face. Howat studied it closely and with
a certain willingness to be impressed. "Yes, he's an interesting-looking
man," he said at length.

She was standing near him, gazing over his arm at the photograph.
"He--he's a musician," she responded, with a sudden stammer in her voice.

I know--I can believe ii. He felt a warm spring of sympathy rising in
him, and beyond it, a tinge of whimsical envy; the girl, he realised, was
fond of this man in a way which it was not given to many men to
experience; and he had a vague sensation of desire, of desire to share
the rays of such eager, comradely affection. He felt, amidst the flurry
of that desire--I wish she were my daughter; and then he thought of his
own daughter, cramming away at her text-books, and rejecting all in life
that did not assist in her melancholy progress from matriculation to
'inter' and from 'inter' to 'final'; he thought, dispassionately: Mary's
a rather unattractive girl, she'll probably never marry, it's just as
well she is keen on degrees and things. Yet why, be reflected, was there
such a tremendous difference, between his own daughter's ambitions and
this girl's musical career in Vienna, between his daughter's Latin verbs
and the German lessons he had given to Elizabeth Garland? He felt that
there _was_ a difference, absolutely and in kind; but _why?_ The answer
eluded him, and was lost, anyhow, in a renewal of desire as he laid the
photograph on the table and began buttoning his overcoat. Oh, I _wish_
she were my daughter, he kept thinking, and as he saw her clear
unswerving eyes still fixed on the photograph, he thought further:
There's something in you that means all that I've been meaning, all those
ideas I've been trying to spread, everything I've been groping for in a
blind way for years...

"Well," he said, smiling at her.

She moved back to the mantelpiece and stood again with her heels on the
fender-rail. "Must you go?" she said, casually.

"Well...it's late, isn't it?"

"I'm going to make myself some coffee before I go to bed.

"I think perhaps--"

"It's probably too late for you to find a taxi in the streets. There's a
telephone in the other room--I could ring for one when you wanted it."

"Well..."

"Take off your coat for a few minutes. I'll light the fire. After all,
they told me to make myself comfortable, didn't they?"

She knelt on the rug to strike a match, and the gas-fire lit with a loud
pop. When she rose he saw that her eyes were wet with tears. "I'd--I'd
much rather--you didn't go till--till I've made you some coffee," she
said, in a level voice.

"All right," he answered cheerfully. He took off his overcoat and almost
flung himself into one of the deep armchairs that lay about. "I agree
with you," he added, with a sort of forced nonchalance, "this room does
make one feel at home. You'll have a job to turn me out of it if you're
not careful." He laughed and she laughed also, and then went out to the
little kitchenette that adjoined the studio.



CHAPTER NINE - SATURDAY MORNING


He lounged by the fire while she made coffee. A certain outward
excitement died down in him, and he began to feel very cosy and tranquil
and quietly talkative, so that when she brought the coffee and sat
opposite him at the other side of the fire, they both plunged into
chatter about the concert and music and other topics as casually as if
the time and the place had been utterly normal. He felt, as he sat there,
that he would like nothing better than for such a thing to happen after
every long day of his life--to talk thus, and drink coffee, with her at
the other side of a fire. It was something else in life that he had
missed, and was now enjoying with all the more relish because till then
he had never even guessed its existence--this pleasant comradely
domesticity of two persons sitting up late to talk together after
everyone else had gone to bed. A dreamy tenderness enveloped him as he
gazed across at her; and gradually, in the midst of that tenderness,
there grew in him the thought that she was beautiful. Like the lovely
figurehead of a ship, he had imagined formerly, but now he imagined much
more--she seemed to him rather like every beautiful thing there ever was
or had been in the world--like Brahms, Raphael, William Blake...

They talked for over half an hour before he said he would have to go.
"Really, I must--it's nearly half-past two, and I don't believe there's a
night-porter at my hotel. I assure you I don't want to go a bit--I'm so
comfortable here."

"Are you?"

"Yes, I'm hating the thought of going out into that cold street, but it's
got to be."

"I'm hating the thought of you going."

"Yes, it's lonely for you by yourself. You're not nervous, are you, in a
strange place?"

"No, no..." She seemed all at once filled with regret too intense even to
try to conceal. "I'll go then and ring for a cab for you."

She hurried away and he heard her switch on the light in some further
room. Left alone, he had a disconcerting vision of Browdley as it would
await him on the morrow, of his prim and comfortless study, of the
routine of weeks and months and years reaching into the future, of being
an old man some day. Such thoughts induced him in a gloom which was all
the harder to endure after his previous serenity--come now, he thought,
as she returned, let's say good-bye and get it over quickly. "I think I'd
better go down and wait in the street," he said, "the man will never
find his way through that narrow entry. No, you mustn't come with me,
it's far too cold. Don't bother to come down even--I'll let myself out.
Thanks for the coffee. And remember what I said--if there's ever any way
I can help you, write and tell me...The very best of luck...Good-bye,
Elizabeth...Goodbye, my--my dear girl..." He did not look at her while he
was speaking--come on, come on, he urged himself, don't linger and make
it all more difficult...

Those few words; that quick handshake; and he was down the stairs,
feeling for the door-catch. In another moment the door closed behind him
and he stood shivering in the night air. He felt chilled and numb, with a
little pinpoint of misery somewhere inside him that was expanding with
every second. The world hung still and silent; it would take a minute or
two, no doubt, for the cab to arrive. He paced up and down a short
stretch of pavement, trying not to think, not even to feel.

Then, in the darkness of the yard whence he had come, a patch of light
shone suddenly; he stared round, and saw her standing at the doorway.
Never had his whole being swung into keener ecstasy than at such a
reprieve--a few pitiful seconds snatched from an eternity ahead. He went
back, trying to seem rather offhand and casual. "You shouldn't," he
began, but he could hardly control his voice, "you shouldn't have
bothered to come down. It's too cold for you to stand here. Do please go
back. The cab will be up in a minute--there's really no need--"

"Come here," she whispered, clutching his sleeve. Dimly he wondered, and
when she drew him into the little lobby at the foot of the stairs, the
wondering grew to a tingling excitement. "That cab," he stammered, "I
must keep a lookout for that cab...

"It won't come...Howat, I never rang for it...I couldn't--I found I
couldn't...Are you very angry with me?"

The world dizzied about him, and he took her closely into his arms with
all his senses brimming over. He did not and could not speak, but he knew
bewilderedly that he had wanted her like that. After a moment, and
without a word between them, they climbed the stairs and stood again in
that warm, companionable room; it seemed full of welcome now. He took her
to him again and the sweetness of her body streamed into his, and made
him feel like a youth about to conquer the world. She clung to him with
that strange, simple intentness that was in the way she talked and
looked; he still could not think of any words, but she said to him, in a
calm whisper: "I do love you so much, Howat. I can't help it. It began
all the time you were giving me those lessons--all the time you weren't
taking any notice of me. Of course it was absurd--that's what I told
myself then--but now it doesn't seem absurd any more. It's everything
else that seems absurd now."

"Yes, yes--I know." His mind was tremulously aflame at her confession,
but especially at her mention of those earlier meetings; somehow the
realisation that her love had come spontaneously and long before his,
lifted him to a supreme pinnacle of rapture. "My dearest child..." he
began, and meant to say such infinities of things, but found he could not
progress beyond those few words. They drew away from each other then, and
she went on talking in abrupt but still calm sentences. "Howat, I
couldn't help it. I. tried, but it was no use. And I'm glad now that this
has happened--yes, I'm glad, even if you aren't."

"But I'm glad too."

"Are you? You don't think you'll begin to hate me as soon as you get back
to Browdley?"

He said then, only just audibly: "Impossible to do that--impossible...And
as for Browdley--"

She watched him in gentle silence, and he saw the future dissolving into
new backgrounds of such impossibilities. He felt as if he were sitting in
the stalls of a theatre, seeing the curtain rise on the strangest and
newest of plays, the play of the life which he himself had yet to live.
He returned her gaze incredulously, and the thought came to him: Every
day and night for so many years I have praised God with my lips, but now
for the first time I praise Him with all my heart. He sank into a chair,
silenced with thankfulness, and she came to him then; she sat on the arm
of the chair and drew his head against her small firm bosom. "How tired
you must be, Howat," she whispered. That enchantment of her bodily
nearness soothed him; he did feel tired, but somehow eager as well, and
he knew that he could rest, because she understood utterly both his
eagerness and his tiredness. He closed his eyes and visions crowded on
him--of music and painting and poetry and all the beauty of line and
contour; a hundred sensuous images took meaning, while tunes raced
through his mind with sharp unlooked-for harmonies; the whole world
seemed on fire about him, while he, at its centre, found peace on the
breast of this girl. "I can't go back," he stammered, huskily. "I
can't...Do you realise that? Do you realise what you've done?"

"If I've done to you what you've done to me, then I'm glad."

"But I can't go back now! Do you realise that?"

"To your hotel? Well, it doesn't matter. You can stay here. We can talk.
I'm not sleepy."

"It's--it's more than that I mean. Much more. I'm thinking of
Browdley...Oh, Elizabeth, I wish I'd known you years and years ago!"

"Before I was born, that would have been!"

"Yes, I know. It's monstrous, I admit--a child like you and a man of my
age. With a wife--children--and--and a chapel! My God, a chapel--think of
that! Tell me, how much does all this mean to you? How long will it last?
I want to know--is it just a fancy--the sort of thing you feel in the
mood for after Brahms? How much exactly does it mean?"

She touched his forehead and then his hair with 'her fingertips.
"Everything, Howat. There's only one thought in my mind, and that's how
much I could be to you if you wanted me. Howat, I'm not afraid."

"_You're not afraid!_" He drew her to him exultantly and kissed her in
the flush of splendour that her words had evoked. "Elizabeth, do you mean
that-absolutely? You strange girl--you're so cool and calm all the time,
and it's all so marvellous--the most marvellous thing that's ever
happened to me. Do you think I could dare to let it go now?"

"Not if you feel certain that it's everything. _I'm_ certain, in my own
case, because I've never felt anything like it before. That makes it so
simple. But you, of course--"

"And do you think I ever have, either?"

She gave him a single fearless glance that made him certain that there
was nothing in his life beyond her instant comprehension. "Haven't you?"
she said softly, and he shook his head, knowing that she would understand
how true it was. Never before had there been in him this curious ache
that made him feel almost raw with tenderness at the sight of her fingers
stretched out on the arm of the chair or the delicate curving of her
nostril or the little side-tooth that wasn't quite in line with the
others. He said, abruptly: "You were right when you said I've not been
happy. I've had some bad times. Did you ever hear about my two boys? One
died when he was twelve--he would have been clever, I think, especially
at music. The other, the elder, wasn't so clever, but he was a dear
fellow--a bit wild at times, but there was no harm in him--oh, no real
harm at all. He didn't like Browdley, and he was rather bored at home--we
got him a job in a bank, but he wouldn't stay--he went off to Canada
then--I haven't had any letter for three years. Perhaps I'll see him
again sometime."

"You were very fond of him?"

"Yes." He added, fiercely: "He went off because he couldn't stand it. The
routine of the bank, and then the routine of home life--the chapel
services and everything else--I can see now, I ought to have taken his
part more than I did. He told me, before he left, that he couldn't stand
it. And I can't stand it now, either. The very thought of it turns me
cold--to leave you and go back to that life--my God, I _can't_ do it,
Elizabeth. Do you think I ought to?"

"Do you think I want you to?"

"But ought I--_ought_ I?"

"I don't think I'm ever sure what other people ought to do, Howat."

"That being more in my line of business, eh?" He laughed sharply. "It
used to be, but it isn't any more. I've found myself out. I see my chance
now, just as you see yours. I want to take it--oh, I want to take it so
much--"

"And I want everything that _you_ want--everything you could possibly
want."

"I want _you_--I want--oh, my darling, we've only our two lives and they
belong to us more than to any other person--shall we _run_ for those
lives of ours?"

"I know what you mean, Howat. I feel it, too--I feel it just like
that--it's curious and rather dreadful, yet it makes me very happy." She
stooped and laid her cheek against his. "I've thought of it all, as well
as you--probably long before you did, really even to working out details.
During dinner while we were talking I kept thinking of it all, though it
seemed such absolute nonsense then." She smiled and went on softly: "I
was imagining the two of us in Vienna together. Some big comfortable room
with a piano in it, where you could compose when you felt in the mood,
and I could fiddle away. And again later on, while I was making the
coffee, I thought of it--a room perhaps something like this, though with
a real fire for preference, and all kinds of interesting people dropping
in at odd times to see us, and then afterwards, when they'd gone, being
by ourselves--and drinking coffee--and talking--oh, plenty of
talk--there'd always be that, wouldn't there? Howat, I can see it just
exactly as it ought to be--why couldn't it all happen to us?"

He turned to her with a look of worship; he too was entranced by the
imagined picture of that room, and as for the music he would compose, it
was in his cars already. "It shall happen," he whispered, and there stole
over him again that divine tenderness for her, making him aware, even had
he not earlier guessed it, that there was still something more; it was
not enough to have found the meaning of love, since on the very crest of
discovery a further peak swung into view.

He kissed her and whispered again, with this new certainty of desire: "It
shall happen," and felt her tears warm and then cool upon his face.


Later he began to tell her about his early life at Kimbourne...


It was early in the century when he had first arrived there. He was
sixteen then, a tall thin youth wearing a grammar-school cap of exuberant
hues that aroused the liveliest conjectures in the little Kentish
village. His father, after losing money in rash speculation, had been
killed in the South African War, and his mother had survived her husband
by barely a year, having tried vainly in the meantime to retrieve the
family fortunes by running a seaside boarding-house. The lawyer who wound
up the estate had not known quite what to do with Howat; he thought him a
nice-looking and decently-educated youth, but rather young to be flung
into the world entirely on his own; clearly it would be a good thing if
he could be got into a family for a few years; he would probably earn his
keep, at least, as soon as he was put to work. It so happened that about
that time the lawyer was visiting a client of his, a Mr. Coverdale, who
was noted as a very religious and philanthropic person; he mentioned
Howat's case, and Coverdale suggested that the boy should come along to
Kimbourne, at any rate for a short holiday.

Howat walked from the station on a blazing June afternoon. Coverdale's
house was about a mile out of the village a pleasant detached property
with verandahs and low windows and a big garden full of flowers; the path
from the garden gate to the porch was through an avenue of tall
hollyhocks. Howat was hot from the walk, and he was also very shy. The
house seemed grand to him after the miserable boarding-house basement,
and he felt shyer than ever when a rather plump and cheerful-looking
woman introduced herself as Mrs. Coverdale and asked him if he had had
tea. He said no, and she took him into a room which, to his rather
faltering eyes at that first sight of it, seemed entirely full of girls.

There were, indeed, seven of them, and they were presented one after
another. Howat was struck almost completely dumb; he had never had
anything to do with girls, and didn't know in the least what to say to
them. He merely answered their questions when they asked if the train had
been late, and whether he liked the hot summer; for the rest of the time
he sat silent and uncomfortable. They chattered loudly all around him,
and he wondered if it would be very rude to ask permission to go to his
bedroom and wash, but he was too nervous to do so, and he actually made
up his mind to run away to London the following morning after breakfast.
Soon, however, the girls disappeared in ones and twos, leaving him alone
with Mrs. Coverdale. He was not so nervous with her; she had a very
genial and easygoing manner, and asked him scores of questions about
himself, what his tastes were, what subjects he had liked best at school,
and so on. He told her he liked music, and she said: "Ah, Mr. Coverdale
will want you to play the harmonium this evening, then." The thought of
that made him nervous again, and he wished he had said nothing at all
about music.

Towards seven o'clock a mysterious imminence made itself felt in the
atmosphere; there was a good deal of scurrying about on the part of the
seven girls, and at a certain moment one of them, who had apparently been
looking out of an upstairs window, called out: "Father's coming!" A few
moments later a rather elderly man, grey-haired but very upright, walked
briskly between the two rows of hollyhocks and entered the house. He
kissed his wife and each one of his daughters very loudly, and then, on
being made aware of Howat's presence, said gruffly: "How do you do, my
boy?" and shook hands with him. After that he led the way to the
dining-room and said a slow and solemn grace. There was little talking
during the meal; sometimes he made a remark to which someone gave answer,
but there was none of the chatter that had made the tea-table so noisy,
and even Mrs. Coverdale did not seem in such an easy-going mood.

Afterwards she mentioned that Ho wat had confessed to being 'musical,'
and sure enough, Mr. Coverdale suggested that he should 'play a tune' on
the harmonium. For this purpose he was conducted into a very primly
furnished drawing-room, full of stuffed birds and china ornaments; he was
terribly nervous with all the family crowding round him, and more
especially because he had never played a harmonium before. At first he
failed to realise that he had to work the pedals, and even when he had
made this important discovery he found that some of the notes wouldn't
sound, and that a rather rapid Chopin study hardly suited the
peculiarities of the instrument. He made what he felt to be a complete
hash of the whole thing, but to his surprise and relief everyone appeared
delighted, and Mr. Coverdale even went so far as to thank him in a deep
booming voice.

A fortnight later it was somehow or other settled that Howat's holiday
should not come to an end in the normal way, but that he should take up a
permanent position in the Coverdale household.

Mr. Coverdale, indeed, thought the boy might 'do pretty well', and this,
from such a source, was high enough praise. He had been a little
prejudiced against him at first for having been brought up 'Church of
England', but he soon found that the boy was intelligent, well-mannered,
and ready to work hard. Mr. Cover-dale owned a saw-mill and timber-yard
adjoining Kimbourne station, and it was not difficult to find ways in
which the boy, by working eight or nine hours a day, could thoroughly
earn the weekly half-crown which, in addition to his keep, became his
initial wage.

Mr. Coverdale was a strict employer, but he was a strict man altogether;
he neither drank nor smoked; he would literally have shrunk from touching
a pack of cards; and his dislike of strong language went so far as to
bring even such phrases as 'good heavens' under the ban. Every Sunday,
without fail, he preached long and lugubriously eloquent sermons in
little dissenting chapels scattered over the surrounding districts; some
of these engagements involved journeys of ten or a dozen miles, and he
would always make these on foot and in all weathers, disdaining even to
saddle a horse, much less to make use of the unhallowed Sunday train
service. Fortunately, he was a man of strong constitution and excellent
physique; it was his boast, made with due thankfulness, that he had never
had a day's illness in his life.

Howat did not dislike him even from the beginning, and soon came to be
quite comfortable at Kimbourne. After a week or so he knew all the girls
by sight and by name, though he was still rather nervous of them; the
eldest, Lavinia, was hardly a girl at all; she was twenty-four, which
seemed to him an immense age. It was Lavinia who kept the others in
order, but Howat, if his shyness permitted him to have any active
preferences at all, liked the younger ones better; the youngest of all
was Mary, aged fifteen. He felt rather more drawn to Mary because she was
only a 'kid', and was a good deal bullied by the elder girls.

Life would really have been very pleasant, but for Sunday, which came as
a day of gloom after the comparatively cheerful activities of the working
week. On Sunday no newspapers or ordinary books were allowed to be read,
though if Mr. Coverdale's preaching engagements were at a distance it was
sometimes possible to persuade Mrs. Coverdale to unlock the bookcase
after he had gone. When, however, as very often happened he was occupied
locally, the day progressed from morn to evening according to a most
rigid routine. The whole family trooped out twice to the bleak little
chapel at the Dover end of the village and filled up the pew immediately
under the pulpit. Howat usually sat at one end and Mrs. Coverdale at the
other, with the seven girls in between. He did not exactly enjoy the
services, which seemed to him cold and uninteresting compared with the
ones he had been used to, but there were times when Mr. Coverdale's rough
eloquence stirred him to a vague self-scrutiny; and in any case, he
always liked the singing, for he was beginning to develop a good voice
and enjoyed using it. Then one Sunday the organist failed to appear, and
Howat was asked, in an emergency, to play the hymns. He did so, fairly
well, and when, some months later, the organist died, the boy was
officially appointed in his place.

It was only an old and very wheezy American harmonium, but in it Howat
found something to make Sunday a day to look forward to; he enjoyed
particularly the opening and closing voluntaries, which gave him a chance
of showing what he could do. Usually he played one or other of the simple
pieces that had been left behind by the previous organist, but one
morning, in a mood of great daring, he ignored the music sheet before him
and made up something of his own as he went along. Rather to his
astonishment no one complained or even appeared to notice any departure
from the normal; and thus emboldened, he made a fairly regular habit of
such improvisations. He did not, though, tell anyone about it.

After be had been at Kimbourne a year Mr. Coverdale increased his wage to
ten shillings a week, and declared himself 'quite satisfied with him.

Those were the years when Howat was growing up, and when every month,
almost every day, marked new and noticeable development. He was a rather
quiet boy, good-looking in a thoughtful way, and he had very fine and
striking eyes. He was not, however, particularly observant or
knowledgeable, or he would have been aware that at least three of the
Coverdale girls were head over ears in love with him. Lavinia, the
eldest, considered she had a prior right to any attachment he might
eventually make, and there were frequent quarrels between her and her
sisters on this account. Howat, in fact, treated them all with complete
impartiality, except that Mary, as still something of a kid, was admitted
to more casual intimacies.

Howat's chief thoughts at this time were all on one subject--music. Since
his very earliest days he had been entranced by tunes, and now, with
advancing youth, the desire to explore the magic world of harmony became
speedily a passion. After the discovery that he could improvise, he
seriously set himself to study the technique of composition; and most
evenings, if he had time to spare, he would go to the harmonium in the
drawing-room and try over invented tunes of his own. The family believed
him to be 'practising', but at last the secret had to come out. He had
submitted a song in a competition run by a musical journal, and had
received the second prize of a guinea. The cheque arrived one morning at
breakfast-time, and his delight was quite impossible to hide. When they
all learned the truth, they were rather mystified; it seemed odd to them
that Howat should have been able to pick up actual money in such a
peculiar way.

One effect the disclosure had was to remove any further need for secrecy;
henceforth all Howat's musical work was carried on openly. Some of the
girls had mediocre voices, and Howat sometimes composed songs for them;
but this was never much of a success, and the girls only bothered about
it because they enjoyed the intimacy with Howat which trying over the
songs involved. Even Lavinia, who had no voice at all, tried to develop
one so as not to be at a disadvantage in this respect.

Howat was happy enough. He had come gradually to like as well as to
respect Mr. Coverdale, and the old man, in his turn, had begun to feel
for the boy an affection all the deeper because he had always wished for
a son of his own. The family did nit know, and would perhaps hardly have
credited, the terms upon which the two worked together at the
timber-yard. Howat's job had developed into a sort of informal private
secretaryship, but there was not always much work of that sort to be
done, and sometimes in the afternoons they would sit together in the
little matchboard office amidst the smells of glue and sawdust and hold
most solemn discussions. There was something very impressive about the
old man; with his white bushy hair and bright almost jet-black eyes, he
looked rather like Howat's conception of an Old Testament patriarch.
Howat soon perceived that the saw-mill and timber-yard were utterly
secondary considerations with him; he ran them efficiently and
conscientiously 'enough, but his real interest in life, and more and more
as he was growing older, was religion. There was no doubting the
sincerity of that religion, or that it was vastly more than a
one-day-a-week affair. It steeped Coverdale's whole life, not precisely
in happiness, but in a sort of wild and stupendous triumph. Once when
Howat heard a certain theme of Beethoven's he thought instantly that it
reminded him of Coverdale's attitude.

Howat was always very sensitive and impressionable, and the fervent
booming eloquence of the old man, both publicly and in private, easily
stirred him emotionally. Coverdale had, indeed, a noble though
undisciplined command over English; he could paint the joys of heaven and
the pains of hell in language which filled Howat's mind like great chords
of music. The girls were all apparently unmoved by it, but often when
Howat raised his head in chapel at the close of one of Coverdale's long
prayers, his eyes were dim with tears. He always felt that the prayers
had been framed to apply to himself personally, and though he knew that
this was absurd, he could not get the idea out of his mind.

One day a curious incident took place at the saw-mill. A workman had been
censured by Mr. Coverdale for using bad language; Coverdale had had him
up in the office and, in Howat's hearing, had delivered a long and
impressive harangue on the sinfulness of such conduct and on the
possibility that Providence might inflict sudden and condign punishment
on anyone guilty of it. A few minutes after the man had returned to his
work loud screams sounded from the saw-mill; Howat and Coverdale both
rushed down, and found that the offending machinist had had all the
fingers of one hand taken off by the circular saw. After he had been
removed to hospital, Howat fainted; the sight had been too much for him;
and when he recovered he saw Coverdale kneeling by his side with a
fiercely triumphant light in his eyes. He was convinced that Providence
had spoken through the medium of the ghastly affair, and into Howat's
ears he poured there and then a terrific exposition of his own religious
feelings and convictions. It was then that he told Howat that he prayed
every night that the boy might 'get' religion as he had 'got' it, and
might come to realise that there were more serious things in life than
experimenting with little bits of tunes. Howat was touched and moved by
the revelation that Coverdale thought so much about him and his future;
and when the old man suggested that they should both pray aloud and in
turn for the quick recovery of the injured workman, Howat, who was in a
rather dazed mood, agreed. After a little preliminary nervousness when it
came to his turn, he found that the words sprang to his lips quite
fluently; he had listened to so much of Coverdale's eloquence that mere
imitativeness, if nothing else, could have carried him along. He found
the experience rather exhilarating in a way; he enjoyed the consciousness
of control over language; it was rather like the first zestful sensation
of riding a bicycle. When he had finished Coverdale signified a grave
approval; he was convinced, from that moment, that the boy was destined
to be the means of saving innumerable souls.

Gradually, after that, and to a degree that Howat hardly realised,
Coverdale's influence over him deepened and became more dominating. The
day came when Coverdale at last persuaded him to use his 'gift of
tongues' in public; he was very reluctant, but at last consented. It was
a meeting held in the chapel schoolroom to raise funds for a new organ,
and Howat, as organist, felt that there was some small excuse if he chose
to say a few words on such an occasion. When he first stood up before
that audience of forty odd people he was so nervous he could scarcely
enunciate a word; his mouth began to twitch; and Lavinia's eyes, staring
at him from the front row, seemed to transfix him into stupor. He did,
however, manage at last to begin, and after a few halting sentences found
himself escaping into some extraordinary upper air in which words came
pouring on him, copiously and without effort. He spoke for ten minutes,
and those ten minutes established his fame far more thoroughly than any
of his tunes had done. The family, in particular, were thrilled to the
point of hero-worship. They had never been able to comprehend the
significance of his musical activities, but his eloquence, modelled on
that of Mr. Coverdale, but delivered with such a refreshingly youthful
and pleasant-sounding voice, seemed to them convincingly successful.

He was nineteen then, and a youth for whom in that little world of
Kimbourne, the future seemed large with promise. There was a world,
however, beyond Kimbourne, which he still privately inhabited, and even
this world, to some extent, gave him encouragement. He bought himself a
violin, and learned to play it moderately well; but it was not so much
his intention to become a skilled executant as to master the technical
possibilities of stringed instruments. In that twentieth year he began to
compose pieces for violin and piano; he even tried his hand at trios and
quartets, and a string quartet of his actually won a ten-pound prize at a
London musical festival, and was performed once at a special concert.
Kimbourne knew little of this, and the family, though they knew, were
much less interested in it than in the verbal eloquence with which Howat
could occasionally be persuaded to deluge them. For his successful first
speech had naturally led to others, even to short addresses in the
chapel; he found that he rather liked talking in public when once he got
over the initial nervousness that always assailed him; it was the same
sort of enjoyment that he derived from improvising on the organ or on the
schoolroom piano to which he now had permanent access--all his speeches
were, in a sense, improvisations on a theme. Success did not make him
conceited, though he was human enough to enjoy sometimes the fulsome
flatteries that were showered upon him; he was still very shy and rather
unapproachable by strangers. But it was true, in a literal way, that he
liked the sound of his own voice; and no wonder, for that voice, both in
talking and singing, was a vibrant baritone which perfectly matched a
face of singularly tender and thoughtful handsomeness. All the Coverdale
girls were now more or less in love with him, even including Mary, and he
was still entirely unaware of it. Even the prettiest girls in the village
(which the Coverdale girls certainly were not) found him disappointingly
aloof and unsusceptible.

At last he made a further surrender to Cover-dale's fervent pleading, and
conducted a whole Sunday service--prayers, sermon, hymns, organ
voluntaries, everything. As a one-man show it would in any case have been
a noteworthy exhibition of versatility; but it was actually much more
than that--so much more that it is possibly remembered to this day by
some of the older inhabitants of Kimbourne. It happened that a massacre
of workmen had just taken place in St. Petersburg, and Howat's sermon was
a spirited attack on autocracy which brought the small assembly
dangerously near to cheering point; Coverdale felt that there should have
been more religion in it, but as a strong Liberal in politics, he could
not but approve of the boy's sentiments. One effect of this rather
astonishing outburst was to attract the attention of the local Liberal
party organisers, and during the general election campaign a year later
Howat made many speeches throughout the constituencies. By that time he
had become a recognised local preacher, and the chapels in which he
preached were always crowded with folk who came, many of them, to savour
the novelty of a youth of twenty who could, as was said, 'let go as well
as all the rest of them put together'.

Coverdale's dream was now that Howat should ascend to far loftier
pinnacles than that of mere preaching in country chapels. He saw in the
boy a coming Spurgeon, and he wished him to have all the benefits that
the completest religious training could provide. His idea was that Howat
should spend a few years at a college for prospective ministers, and then
astonish the world by eloquence made more tumultuous than ever by means
of book-learning; the old man, whose education had been entirely
self-acquired, had a pathetically simple belief in the efficacy of study
and collegiate life. To Howat, however, the whole idea did not especially
appeal; he was not keen on becoming a full-time professional minister,
nor did he wish to give up helping Coverdale at the saw-mill. He liked
sermonising as a sort of hobby, but he was not sure that he wanted more
of it than that. A good many of his friends, too, were urging him to take
up a political career, and several constituencies were nibbling at him as
a prospective Liberal candidate for the next election.

Then, quite suddenly, Coverdale had a slight stroke. For the first time
in his life he had to resign himself to the ways of a semi-invalid; the
doctor said he would probably recover, but would never be the same again,
and would certainly have to sacrifice the cast-iron routine to which his
life had up to then been dedicated. To Coverdale this meant only one
thing; he would have to give up the saw-mill, since he would not, while
there was breath in him, neglect his religious duties. Unfortunately
Howat, though a hard and willing worker, had no aptitude for business and
could not, it was clear, take on the job of management; but at that time,
as it chanced, the profits were considerable, and it was not hard to
obtain a satisfactory offer of purchase from a big joinery firm in
Maidstone. The deal was put through; the Coverdale family found
themselves with some thousands of pounds comfortably invested in
gilt-edged securities, and Howat, of course, was out of a job.

That was in May of the year in which he had turned twenty-one. Coverdale,
now a retired gentleman, passed most of his time at home, greatly to the
family's discomfort; the immense seriousness of the problems of life and
death weighed upon him more heavily than ever. He bought quantities of
theological literature and studied it in a rather uncomprehending way;
his mind was not attuned to subtleties, but he felt that the books would
be very useful to Howat when he went to college. He had quite made up his
mind that the boy should go, and Howat, with nothing else immediately in
prospect, was also beginning to let such a future be taken for granted.
Term began the following September, and the college, with which Coverdale
had been in communication, had already signified its willingness to
accept so promising an entrant.

But towards the end of June Howat went up to London for a concert; it
would finish too late for him to return the same night, so he put up at a
little hotel in Southampton Row which had been recommended him as cheap.
It was the first time he had ever stayed overnight in London, and he was
rather thrilled at being so completely on his own. The concert was not a
public one; it was given by the students at a college of music, and Howat
had been sent a ticket by a friend. A few men and girl students played
Mozart and Haydn chamber music, not very marvellously, but with much
enthusiasm, and afterwards there were ham sandwiches and lemonade and
informal chatter round the piano. Howat got into conversation with
several youths and was invited to join a party in somebody's rooms in St.
John's Wood, close by; he went, and stayed there front eleven until the
party broke up about three in the morning. As usual he was very shy at
first, but after a time he found himself talking and discussing with the
rest, and he even played over on the piano one or two of his own
compositions, which were admired, though not excessively. A rather
elderly man, well-known as a critic on a weekly paper, led him aside,
however, and asked him if he intended to take up music composition
seriously. "I don't want to give you a swelled head," he said, "but I
think your stuff shows a certain amount of promise."

That night, as he walked from St. John's Wood to his hotel, with the
first glimmer of dawn streaking the eastern sky, Howat saw the future
clearly enough. He did not want to be a minister. He did not want to go
into politics. His overwhelming triumphs in the pulpit and on the
platform seemed tame and petty things compared with the very moderate
amount of success he had so far achieved in the realm of music. He hated
himself for having already wasted so much time. He felt that there was
only one thing in life he could do, with any honesty of purpose; and that
was to devote himself to the work that he loved, whether it would
eventually bring success or not.

When he arrived at Kimbourne he made this decision known to Coverdale. He
had guessed that the latter would be extremely disappointed, but he had
scarcely been prepared for such a storm as ensued. Still less had he
conceived it possible that Coverdale, in the heat of his excited
protests, would have another and more serious stroke, rendering him
speechless and partly paralysed.

During the days that followed, Howat spent hours at the old man's
bedside, stared at by quivering eyes that now, in default of words, had
to perform the whole function of expression. Howat was stirred as he had
been years before, on the occasion of the saw-mill accident; only now he
felt a personal remorse; he knew that he had given Coverdale what might
prove a deathblow. The odd thing was that no one else knew this; no one
had heard the argument; no one suspected that Howat had changed his mind
about the training college. If only the others had known all about it,
Howat could have defended himself; after all, it hadn't been really his
fault--surely he had a right to please himself about his own future. But
as he watched Coverdale through so many hours, he began to be oppressed
with an emotion profounder than such comforting assurances; he began to
doubt whether, after all, he had done right in flouting the old man's
wishes; and he heard again, as in a dream, the Beethovian chords that
stood for the grandeur and magnificence of Coverdale's beliefs. Remorse
blackened and deepened upon him, and one afternoon, alone by the bedside,
he was so moved that he knelt down, took Coverdale's hand, and asked for
forgiveness. He would go to college, he said, and would become a
minister. The look in Coverdale's eyes, instant and revealing, came to
him then as a directly approving answer from Providence.

A kind of frenzy swept over Howat during that summer. He was definitely
booked to enter college in September, and in the meantime he sought, with
every atom of strength that was in him, to make amends for the harm he
reckoned himself to have done. His sermons and prayers in the little
chapels rose to impassioned intensity; he gave up all his political work,
and took a leading part in an evangelist revival that was being conducted
in the district. All this was reported to Coverdale and so encouraged his
partial recovery that by August he was able to speak again, though slowly
and with difficulty. His first words were to utter a prayer of
thankfulness that Howat had at last 'seen the light'.

Howat, in fact, was in an almost hysterically emotional condition and
overworked himself dangerously; he discontinued all his music composition
because he found that the revival he was assisting in left him no time
for it; yet somehow, rather to his dismay, he discovered that he could
not escape it altogether; casual airs and tunes often obsessed him when
he walked hone at evening across starlit fields; all kinds of things,
moreover, seemed to excite him emotionally in a way he had never exactly
experienced before--the sight of sunset over the long ridge of the Downs,
the distant hoot of a steamer entering harbour at night, the smell of hay
in the noonday lanes. Sometimes at twilight he passed lovers strolling
side by side, and though they presented no novel phenomenon, he was aware
of them now, for the first time, as part of the strange insurgent problem
to which only religion, he felt, could supply an answer. He was dimly
conscious that love must be a very lofty and spiritual thing, and he was
sure that if he ever loved a woman, it would be in such a way.

Mary was then almost twenty. He had always been more intimate with her
than with any of her sisters, some of whom he now almost disliked; they
were silly, he had discovered, and shirked the main seriousness of life.
Three, anyhow, had definitely given up all hopes of him and had accepted
the attentions of other young men; Howat would occasionally find them
loitering in the garden late at night, caressing and being caressed in a
manner which seemed to him unnecessary as well as disagreeable. Lavinia
was still unattached; she was too busy about the house to have time for
that sort of thing, she said; for now Mrs. Coverdale also was in failing
health, and a good deal of domestic responsibility fell on the eldest
girl. Fortunately she was the type that could well shoulder it--a brisk,
managing young woman, hardworking and capable, except that she did not
cook very well. Howat now liked her perhaps best of the lot, next to
Mary.

He liked Mary because, of all the seven, she was the only one who
appeared to him in any way spiritual. Formerly he had appreciated her as
a 'kid'; now it was as if at one clear bound she had acquired womanhood,
but womanhood of a rather special kind. Even physically she was marked
out from the rest; she had none of that tendency to plumpness that was a
family trait. Really, she was not at all strong; she was nervous (Howat
was nervous, too), and little things often upset her in a way that drew
his particular sympathy. Moreover, she was deeply interested in his
religious work; she attended all his meetings and services most
assiduously, and during homeward walks she talked earnestly, if a shade
ingenuously, about the more momentous concerns of life. On the night
before he left for college, after a very prolonged and emotional talk
with Mr. Coverdale, he asked her calmly if she would marry him when he
had finished his training, and she answered, instantly but with equal
calmness, that she would...


Most of this, so far as he was able to recollect it, Howat told Elizabeth
as they sat by the studio fire throughout that November night.


About five o'clock they wakened after fitfully dozing in armchairs...

She prepared a small meal (they were far too excited to be very hungry),
and by dawn were in the streets. It was bitterly cold, and there was a
bleak, scouring easterly wind with a hint of snow in it. Everything had
been planned and discussed; it only remained to put into execution all
the strange things that had been decided on. The first Howat did without
delay; he called at his hotel, retrieved his luggage, paid the bill for
the room, and gave the proprietress (who was not really interested) some
shadowy reason for not having occupied it. So much had been easy, but the
next thing, though it seemed at first only a detail, gave much more
trouble--the question of passports for the journey. Elizabeth had hers,
of course, but Howat did not possess one at all, and the matter proved
full of complications. He had the necessary photographs taken at a shop
in the Strand as soon as it opened, but then came the business of having
them endorsed by someone who knew him. He rushed to Blenkiron, in Wimpole
Street, but found the doctor had gone away for the week-end; failing him,
and after much cogitation, the nearest person he could think of was a
minister, living near Kettering, whom he had not seen for six years. It
meant a journey, but it had to be done, and he would probably be back in
time to have the passport made out before the office closed that
afternoon--then they could cross by the night boat and be in Paris the
following morning.

It was settled that they should go to Kettering together, because they
were in the mood of children; to have been separated even for those few
hours would have seemed intolerable to both. They were wildly excited,
but she, beyond her excitement, was calm enough to remember all the
details of what had to be done; though it was he, perhaps, who was in the
bigger hurry to get through them all. In the bus to the station he talked
and laughed in sheer high spirits; he was a little drowsy, but it was the
rapturous drowsiness of a small boy awakened early for some gloriously
anticipated outing.

They caught the nine-fifty express with a few minutes to spare, and as
soon as they were settled for the journey, in a compartment which they
had to themselves, an attendant asked if they would take breakfast. Howat
did not need to look long for her answer; they were both, it appeared,
exceedingly hungry.

They passed along the corridors to the restaurant car and there commenced
what Howat felt to be altogether the most delightful meal of his life. A
thin film of snow had fallen during the night, enough just to cover the
fields and roofs; bright sunshine struck tints of saffron into the pallor
and a delicate unearthly glow came flooding into the train through the
wide windows. As he watched her, he saw that it had turned her face to
golden-brown; she looked lovelier to him than ever, and it was as if he
were bathing all his nerves in that soothing loveliness. Even his sore
throat, which had returned somewhat, he could now regard with toleration
if not affection.

He was happy in an almost foolish way; he kept laughing and chattering
and then falling half-asleep for a moment; and the smallest and most
trivial things gave him infinite pleasure--because, for instance, he
found he could have fish for breakfast as an alternative to eggs and
bacon his eyes glistened like a child's. He felt, indeed, that in some
secret way he had got back to childhood, that he was facing all life
afresh, and with no anxiety save lest the years he was escaping from
might somehow turn in pursuit. For the sake of that instinct rather than
reason, he was feverishly eager to begin everything; he wanted to cross
the Channel that night if it could possibly be managed, and she kept
comforting him by talking about it and about the rest of the journey they
would have. She was concerned for his tiredness and would gladly have
spent another night in London, but he was passionately determined; and
when she asked if he would not find three successive nights without
proper rest rather fatiguing, he only laughed and answered: "I shall be
perfectly happy on the train, unless you happen to know some kind friends
in Paris who've gone off for the week-end and left their studio vacant."

That put them both in a mood of ecstatic recollection. "Oh yes, wasn't it
extraordinary? Will you ever forget it, Howat? Even if I were never to
see you again, I know I'd remember last night better than anything else
that could ever happen."

"Yes, so would I. That curious way the clock stopped at seventeen minutes
to four. Did you notice it? I suppose it was the sort that needs winding
every night."

"We might really have wound it ourselves, mightn't we?"

"It would only have gone on for another twenty-four hours."

"Till we were over in France, perhaps." And there they were, back again
at the irresistible topic. "We reach Dieppe about three in the morning,
don't we? It's the cheapest route, and I don't mind a long crossing. At
least I think I don't. I've been abroad once before, but only to Paris.
We get there towards breakfast-time, I think. What shall we do if we have
a few hours to spare? Have you been to Paris ever?"

"Once, years ago. I had the usual tourist's week. We'll stroll along the
Boulevards, if it isn't too cold, and drink beer outside a café."

"And then we go through Switzerland, don't we, into Austria? I've never
seen high mountains before. We go through Zürich and Innsbrück and
Salzburg. What shall we do as soon as we get to Vienna?"

"Drive straight to the best hotel--if they'll have anything to do with us
when they see our luggage. We'll afford it, for one day, anyhow. Then the
morning after we'll search for that big room with the piano in it. And
also, by the way, I shall have to buy some shirts and things. I won't
have time in London to-night."

"What _fun_ it's all going to be, Howat, as well as everything else!"

Just then they became aware of the grinding of brakes on the
train-wheels, and she said, getting up: "I think we're slowing down for
somewhere. We mustn't forget we've left things in the compartment--it's
not the coats that matter, but those passport papers in the pocket of
yours are really too precious...perhaps I'd better dash back and make
sure that they're safe."

He answered: "All right. I'll attend to the bill and follow you along in
a moment..."

She nodded smilingly and left him signalling to the waiter. Those were
the last words he ever spoke to her.



EPILOGUE


One April evening Ringwood sat sipping his whisky and water in a very
characteristic attitude. He was balancing himself on the edge of his
pedestal desk, with his legs dangling and kicking the drawers, and his
eyes directed over the edge of the tumbler in a rather quizzical stare.
It was a favourite pose, though instead of a tumbler he would more
usually hold up a medicine-bottle or a thermometer or a box of pills. The
front of his desk was full of marks where he had been kicking it for
thirty years.

To-night, however, the object of his scrutiny, though a patient, was also
rather more than a patient. Ringwood was not quite certain how much more,
but he knew, as he would have said, that he 'kind of cottoned on' to that
chap Freemantle. He disliked parsons, as a rule (though no more than they
disliked him); but Freemantle was an exception; you could talk to him; he
wasn't stiff and starchy or shocked at a little strong language; and he
had been particularly decent with young Trevis. Pity he had such a wife
and that dreadful sister-in-law...

But Ringwood was puzzled. It was a week now since Freemantle had returned
from his three months' rest-cure in Bournemouth, and every evening of
that week he had called round at the surgery. Not that Ringwood minded,
of course; he enjoyed a chat, especially if Freemantle wanted one; but
the chats had not been the usual desultory discussions of politics and
local affairs. On the contrary, Freemantle had seemed to have something
on his mind all the time; he had kept harking back to matters which,
Ringwood was sure, it was far better that he should try to forget
altogether.

Ringwood, indeed, was just a little contemptuous of the newspaper fuss
that had been made over Freemantle. It was all over now, of course, but
at the time it had slightly irritated him. He disliked mob-emotion, and
it seemed to him rather silly that a man should work hard and
meritoriously for twenty years without any recognition at all and then
suddenly leap into fame because of something perfectly accidental and
irrelevant. Of course he'd behaved very pluckily; but wasn't there
something rather fatuous in the way the Press and public had gone wild
over him? It had been nothing less than disgusting, anyhow, to see those
two women exploiting the poor devil as hard as they could go--that
article, for instance, in one of the Sunday papers--"My Husband, by the
Wife of the Clergyman-Hero of Browdley"--it was rumoured that she'd been
given a hundred guineas for it, and every word had been written by a
Fleet Street journalist. Disgusting...And Ringwood had thought, after
reading it: God, I wish they'd give me a hundred and five quid to write
"My Patient, by the Doctor of the Clergyman-Hero of Browdley"--I wouldn't
need to have it done for me; I'd just tell the stark truth; I'd say: This
chap's been slaving away at a damned hard job for donkey's years, and
that's why he's a hero, if he is one, not because of a few hectic minutes
after a railway smash...And I'd also say: It's true he's had a bad
breakdown, but that's not all through doing the heroic stuff, as the mob
likes to think--he was heading for trouble long before that, and if
anyone wants to know the reason, call at the Manse and take a look at
those two damned women, or three, counting the scraggy daughter...'

He drank a little whisky, and then resumed his gaze at the man for whom,
as much as for any person in the world, he felt a concern mounting to
affection. Yes, he did look ill, there was no doubt of that; and his
hand, his right hand, unfortunately, would never be much good to him
again; he had gone greyer, too, much greyer, since the affair. The
Bournemouth holiday had toned him up physically, but there was a good
deal, obviously, that was still wrong. Yet if the whole experience had
been so terrible, as could well be believed, why did he want to go on
talking about it night after night, and to Ringwood only, it appeared,
out of the entire population of Browdley?

"Look here," Ringwood said, with more seriousness than was usual with
him, "why don't you drop it all, Freemantle? I can see how it's still on
your mind, and I can understand it's something you can't easily forget,
but why don't you try to? After all, you did your best, and a damn good
best it was--you've nothing to reproach yourself with."

"Oh, I know..." Freemantle's quiet, troubled voice trailed off, but his
eyes continued to speak; and they were queer eyes, Ringwood
thought--indeed, he could almost agree with a sensational journalist's
description of them as 'haunted'. He thought to himself: We'll have him
going off his rocker yet if we're not careful...

"You see, Ringwood," Freemantle continued, you haven't heard the true
story. The newspapers got hold of everything but that."

"They seem to get hold of quite enough, if you ask me. Frankly, in your
place, I'd just drop the matter--"

"But I can't, Ringwood. I want to begin at the beginning--before the
newspapers came into it at all. Last night and for several nights I've
been trying to tell you, but somehow I couldn't get started. But I've
made up my mind to-night. I'll be happier afterwards. Do you remember,
before I went to London, you said when I came back I was to report to you
what sort of a time I'd had there?"

"Oh yes, I think I remember. I was only chaffing you, of course."

"Well, I've come to make that report now. You don't mind listening, do
you? Am I taking up too much of your time?"

"Oh, Lord, no, don't think that. It's only that I feel...still, if you
say it's going to do you good, fire away, by all means."

And Freemantle began, with what Ringwood at first took to be a mere
irrelevance that would further delay the matter: "Do you remember that
girl who ran away from home--Elizabeth Garland, her name was?"


Some little time afterwards, Ringwood interrupted: "Well, Freemantle, if
that's your yarn, all I can say is, I don't quite know what you're being
so dashed serious about. First you went to a specialist who diagnosed a
sore throat--which I could have done for less than three guineas, by the
way--then, feeling pretty bucked with life, you met this girl, and
discovered that she wasn't, after all, eloping with a Jew old enough to
be her father, but was off to Vienna on her own to study music.
Personally I'd have thought the former project rather less of a risk, but
that's by the by. Anyhow, you took her to dinner in Soho, and then went
on to a concert. Quite the thing to do--I'd have done the same myself
except that I'd have chosen a music-hall. Really, Freemantle, you don't
expect me to be very shocked by this revelation of a parson's night out
in the metropolis, do you?"

(Behind his banter, Ringwood was thinking: Wonder what they talked about,
those two? Fearfully highbrow stuff, I suppose--can't imagine Freemantle
being very gallant--she probably thought he was rather sweet, but a bit
of a bore--unless, of course, she was a bit of the same sort of bore
herself. Must say, I can't abide 'arty' women at any price, but then, I'm
not artistic, and as for music, I hardly know 'God Save the King' till I
see people standing up...)

"I've more to tell you yet," Freemantle went on, deliberately. "After the
concert we spent an hour or so at an hotel, and then, as it was getting
late, I took her to the place where she was staying. It was a studio over
a garage in Kensington--it belonged to some friends of hers. When we got
there she asked me to come up and meet them, but we found the place
empty. They'd left a note to say they'd been called away suddenly for the
week-end."

"I see. So there you were, pleasantly parked with this girl in an
untenanted studio?"

Freemantle took no notice. "She made some coffee and we sat and talked by
the fire. I stayed on--talking--and--in the end--I didn't go back to my
hotel at all."

"Didn't you, by Jove? Bit imprudent, eh? Supposing the studio people had
come back unexpectedly?"

"I don't think we either of us thought about that. We were too absorbed
thinking of other things. We--we discovered that--that we were both
rather--rather desperately fond of each other."

Ringwood flushed slightly, not exactly from embarrassment, but because he
felt he was going to be made a reluctant confidant in a matter which, for
some reason, he would not be able to treat in any of his usual ways.
Scores of times in that surgery men had confessed, as a rule
shamefacedly, to some kind of amorous adventure, and scores of times he
had kicked his heels against the desk and shouted at them, blusteringly:
"Well, don't look so solemn about it--it's not the first time such a
thing's been done in the history of the world, you know!" But with
Freemantle an instinct warned him that his customary banter would not be
appropriate; in his case there might be, after all, a certain
seriousness. Ringwood, in fact, was just a little astonished; he hadn't
really suspected Freemantle of being that sort of chap. Not that he
thought any less of him for it; as a man; heavens, no--but really, you
did somehow expect parsons to behave themselves a bit more than other
people. Rather like the Wakeford case, in a way...

He said, after another gulp of whisky: "Look here, old man, I really
don't see the point in your telling me all this. I'm not a
father-confessor or a censor of morals or anything like that, but I do
suggest, as a man of the world, that all that sort of thing is better not
chattered about. Know what I mean, eh? Lots of things we all do that we
shouldn't--naturally--but what I do feel is, Why tell people--why tell
anybody?"

But you don't understand what I am telling you, Ringwood! There wasn't
anything anything like that! We just talked--and talked--there was
nothing--of the kind of thing you're suggesting--nothing at all--"

"All right, old chap, all right. Sorry if I dropped a brick." (He
thought: Poor devil, does he really think anyone would believe that? And
Ringwood reflected curiously upon the morbid mentality that would embark
upon a totally unnecessary confession and then furiously deny the only
thing that gave the confession any point at all.) He went on, almost
gently: "My dear Freemantle, I still say--Why bother about it? Whether
you did or didn't do this or that, what the hell's the use of arguing
about it now? It's over and done with for better or worse--why can't you
forget it with all the rest?"

But Freemantle still went on, and still with the same slow and inexorable
emphasis: "I was telling you, wasn't I, that she and I had discovered
that--that we--meant everything to each other. So--so we talked things
over--and decided--in the end--to go and live in Vienna together."

"_What?_ What's that?"

"Just as I said. And the next morning we--she and I--were going to
Kettering, because I knew somebody there who would sign my passport
papers--that was necessary, you know, before I could get away. We were
having breakfast together on the train, and she'd just gone along to the
compartment while I stayed behind a moment to settle the bill--I didn't
even have time to do that--I never paid it, as a matter of fact--because
the other thing happened so quickly...Now--_now_ do you understand?"

Ringwood's heels banged against the desk. "What? I don't quite
follow--what's that you're saying?"

"It happened--then--you see--while she was away--and I was staying
behind...Don't you understand?"

"Good God, man, I've heard all you've said, but--but I can't grasp
it--surely you don't mean--"

"Yes, yes, I do mean it. It's--it's a rather queer and awful thing to
have happened, isn't it? But it's the truth."

"The truth!"

"Yes. The truth that the newspapers never guessed."

"You mean--that she--this girl you were travelling with--was _killed?_"

Freemantle answered quietly, but with his voice deep with horror: "She
must have just reached the first coach when--it happened. I saw her
there--amongst it all. I tried to get her out. I couldn't. She was burned
to death. I _saw her_..."

His eyes took on a vivid glare, and Ringwood, even in the midst of his
amazement, sprang to instinctive professional awareness. "Come, come," he
said, putting down his glass and walking over to Freemantle. "None of
that, now. No good, you know." He put a hand on the parson's swaying
shoulders, and Freemantle seemed to derive strength from the contact.
After a while he looked up with more tranquil eyes and said, with a sharp
sigh: "Well, there it is. I've told you now. I'm glad somebody knows at
last."

"My dear chap, yes..." Ringwood went to a cupboard and drew out his
emergency bottle of brandy, but Freemantle waved it aside; he was all
right, he said, now that he had told what he wanted to tell. He added,
plaintively: "I'm sorry, Ringwood, for wasting your time all the other
evenings of this week."

"Oh, that's all right..."

"I must have been a terrible nuisance."

"Oh, nonsense..."

"Well...you can understand...now..."

"I'm trying to, anyway. But--but it's--it's all so damned extraordinary I
don't know what to think. It's just about taken the wind out of my sails.
D'you mean--I suppose you do--that nobody's got the slightest inkling of
what's really happened?"

"Not the slightest, Ringwood. All the passport things were left in the
compartment and were burned. Nobody who knew either of us had seen us on
the train, and it happened to be a Manchester train that I might very
well have been travelling on in any case. I was even using up the return
half of my Manchester ticket. And she--she was wearing no
jewellery--nothing that gave any clue--afterwards. Even her parents
aren't curious--they've quite made up their minds that she's gone to the
bad, and they neither expect nor wish to see her again."

"It's all most amazing. The most amazing thing I ever heard of in my
life." A faint thought struck him and he added: "I suppose you've not
been dreaming all this by any chance, have you, Freemantle?"

"Hardly."

Ringwood flung himself down in his swivel-chair and for a few seconds
scribbled idly on his blotting pad, trying to absorb the intricacies of
a situation to which all his years of experience could provide nothing
approaching a parallel. He was not a very imaginative person, and he
found himself more and more befogged as he pondered over it all. The
only theory which to him, as a medical man, seemed to fit the case was
that Freemantle might be completely off his head, and have invented the
whole story with the fervid ingenuity of the mentally deranged. At last,
throwing down his pencil, he exclaimed: "Well, if you say it all
happened I'll have to believe it did, that's all. But what I chiefly
can't fathom is this Vienna business. You say you had definitely made
plans to go out there with this girl?"

"Yes. If the passport could have been arranged quickly enough, we should
have left London that same Saturday evening."

"But what on earth would you have done when you got there?"

"She was going to study music. I was going to compose, if I could."

"_Compose?_"

"Yes. Compose music."

"Would it have brought in any money?"

"Probably not. I might have tried for some teaching job in a school. I
could have taught English, perhaps."

"And what if you couldn't have found such a job?"

"Then I don't know how things would have turned out."

"Had you money?"

"She had nearly two hundred pounds, and there were a few shares and
things I might have sold for a hundred or so. It would have been enough
to begin on."

"To begin what on?"

"Our lives. To begin our lives on."

He said that with such simplicity that Ringwood was swept into still
further bewilderment. "But good heavens, man, do you mean you were never
going to come back at all?"

"Yes, probably that."

"But what about your wife--your daughter--and, for that matter, your
chapel?"

"I felt that all that didn't matter compared--compared with the other
thing."

"What other thing?"

"Something I can't exactly describe--I never could--but I saw it
then--while I was with her."

Ringwood shrugged his shoulders with a gesture of profound bafflement.
"You'd have had to be less vague than that to your wife when you wrote
explaining things."

"I shouldn't have tried to explain. She wouldn't have starved--she has
money of her own. And as for caring, do you think she'd have cared a
great deal, apart from the scandal?"

"But really, Freemantle, even if she wouldn't, you can't throw over your
responsibilities in that casual fashion. It's preposterous!"

"I felt then that everything else was preposterous."

"You mean that you'd no doubts or misgivings of any sort?"

"I couldn't doubt anything that seemed so beautiful to me at the time."

"Seems to me, old chap, it isn't so much a question of what's beautiful
or not beautiful as of what's right and what's wrong."

"I wonder if thinking that makes you really a more religious man than I
am."

Ringwood shrugged his shoulders again; he was no metaphysician; his code
was rough but simple. Much as he disliked Freemantle's wife, he was,
though he would not perhaps have used the word, a little shocked at the
idea of any husband so calmly deserting his legal partner. Casual
adultery he could comprehend and excuse, much as he might deplore the bad
taste of subsequent confession; it was human, in his view, compared with
the chilly ruthlessness of Freemantle's Vienna proposition. He gave his
nose a vigorous blowing and went on, rather gruffly: "Well, all I can
say, Freemantle, is that to me the whole thing's still perfectly
astonishing. Do you really believe you could have been happy for long in
a foreign country with a mere girl you hardly knew?"

"Yes. Absolutely happy. And always."


A quarter of an hour later Ringwood had recovered something of his normal
equanimity of mind. It was characteristic of him that he never worried
for long over a problem; if it proved too much of a twister he merely
gave it up, and passed on to the next. Freemantle's emotional altitudes
were beyond him, and he felt, moreover, a sort of reluctant crossness
over them; he preferred a discussion in territory where he knew a few
signposts. He didn't want to preach; but there was, after all, a certain
rough-and-ready morality which, as a man of the world, he felt it his
duty to impart on rare occasions; and the more he thought about it, the
more convinced he was that Freemantle was desperately in need of someone
to give him a dose of good 'horse sense'. That was, of course, assuming
that his amazing story were true; Ringwood could not yet make up his mind
entirely about that. He noticed that Freemantle's face was very pale and
that a rather unnatural and bloodshot brilliance was still in his eyes;
he felt so confoundedly sorry for the chap, but what could one do--except
give him sound advice? Completely mad, he must have been, Ringwood
reflected, to be bowled over like that by a mere girl--attractive girl,
though, with a deuced good figure, he remembered--and some excuse,
perhaps, for any man with a wife like that and a sister-in-law bullying
him all the time...But what was clearest of all to Ringwood was that it
was the future that had to be faced, not a lot of had-beens and
might-have-beens. Ringwood's natural outlook on life soon cut through the
tangle of Freemantle's position; he did not solve the problem; he just
thrust it to one side in a you-be-damned kind of way, and with growing
confidence gave the man's shoulder a few encouraging shakes. "Look here,
old chap, you may think I've not been particularly sympathetic over all
this, but believe me, I'm just about as sorry for you as anyone could be.
I can quite understand how you feel about it all, but the fact is, you're
rather bound not to see things as logically as a mere outsider can.
That's natural, isn't it? Well, I'm the outsider, and I look at it rather
in this way, if you don't mind d a very candid opinion--You've had a
damned narrow escape!"

"_An escape?_"

"Yes. Don't you see what I mean? Really, though I wouldn't call myself in
any sense a religious chap, there does almost seem a sort Providence in
it--don't you feel that? At any rate, what's the harm in thinking so? You
go and get yourself into the deuce of a hole and then, just as you stand
on the very brink of the precipice Providence steps in and cuts all the
knots for you, so to speak. Those are mixed metaphors, but you can see
what I'm driving at. Don't you realise that you're being given a
chance--a chance to put all that silly escapade on one side as if it had
never happened? Why, man, you've got half your life in front of you
yet--think of it--think of the future--and if at odd times you do happen
to recollect this queer business, call it just a mistake--a single
solitary mistake that you couldn't help!"

"_A mistake?_"

"Well, we all make 'em don't we? And we're dashed lucky if we're given
the chance of covering them up without a trace. Why, when you're as old
as me, and you look back on a lifetime of decent honest straightforward
doing-your-job, you won't bother much about a mad mood that happened in
the midst of it all."

"Doing my job? What do you mean by that?"

"Why, your ordinary everyday parson's job, of course."

"Here--in Browdley?"

"Why not."

"You think I can carry on here--as if--as if nothing had happened?"

"Why not? You told me yourself that nothing did happen."

"Did I?"

(Ah, Ringwood thought, just as I suspected--anyhow, he's admitted it
now--that's better than persisting in an absurd fairy-tale that nobody in
his senses would believe--and, after all, there's nothing so very
dreadful in it--she probably lured him on, anyway.) He replied, with
growing cordiality: "My dear Freemantle, I understand all that of course,
of course. But the point is, as I've been saying a good many times, it's
what's going to happen that matters, not what did happen. Here you are,
with all your roots, as it were, in Browdley, working well and doing
quite a deuce of a lot of good--perhaps in a smallish way, but then, when
you come to think about it, aren't all our ways pretty small? It's the
small ways, anyhow, that keep the world going--I'm certain of that. Well,
here you are, as I said, and whether you know it or not, you're liked in
this town, you're respected, even admired, and folks would damn well miss
you. That's as much as can truthfully be put on most tombstones. You've
had a dozen years of useful slogging away, and there ought to be at least
twice as many ahead of you in the future--are you going to smash all that
for the sake of a single incident that nobody knows or could ever know
about unless you tell them?"

"Some of the biggest things that have ever happened have been single
incidents."

"Nonsense!" replied Ringwood, stoutly, in haste to check any further
plunge into abstract philosophy. "Believe me, nothing's forgotten more
quickly than a week-end flirtation, however much you think it means at
the time...The point is, once again, that you've been given this chance
to carry on, and you've jolly well got to take it. D'you suppose other
people haven't got Secrets in their pasts? See, here's a little yarn
about myself--it's the sort of story most doctors could tell, no doubt,
only they don't--no more would I, except to convince a chap like you. It
happened about five years ago; I was called in to attend to two kids with
the measles--ordinary working-class family, you know--no nurse or anybody
like that to look after them. Well, they didn't have it very badly, and
all seemed to be going along quite normally when one afternoon I was sent
for in a mighty hurry--those two kids had suddenly got worse. I went
along and found--to make the story short--that somehow or other in mixing
up the medicine for them I'd come an awful cropper--I'd put loads of
strychnine in by mistake--heaven knows how I'd managed to do it, but
there it was. My God, I worked pretty hard, that day--I was at the house
till nearly midnight, trying to rinse out the stomachs of those kids. The
boy kicked the bucket, but I managed with the girl. Well, what d'you
suppose I did then? Blabbed it all to the first person I met? Not a bit
of it--I said to myself: Ringwood, this is a nasty business, but mistakes
will happen--it's the first of this kind you've ever made, and with luck
it'll be the last. You do more good than harm on balance, and that's as
much as can be said of most men. So I just signed 'measles' as the cause
of death on the certificate and that was that. The kids' mother swears by
me--she tells everyone how I slaved away for hours trying to save their
lives--nobody could have done more, she says, which is true enough, by
Jove. I'm not Inventing that, Freemantle--I once actually overheard the
woman praising me to the skies at a street-corner...I suppose it seems a
terribly immoral story to you? Perhaps you think I ought to have phoned
the coroner and confessed to manslaughter?"

"No, no--I don't blame you."

"Well, isn't it the same sort of thing in your case?"

They talked for a little time longer, but Freemantle seemed exhausted,
and Ringwood, too, felt that the argument might prove all the more
effective if it were now curtailed. When Freemantle rose to go, Ringwood
wanted to drive him home, or at least walk with him, but Freemantle said
no; there was no need; it was bright moonlight; and Ringwood had an
impression he rather wished to be alone to think things over. "Just as
you prefer then," he answered, jovially, and gave the parson a hearty
handshake at the surgery-door. "Good-bye, old chap, remember what I've
said."


Howat walked slowly along the High Street, trying to remember what had
been said by both of them, but hardly a word or a sentence of the long
discussion came to memory. All he could sec and think of was that silver
slope of the roofs as the moonlight streamed upon them, and the pale
glare that filled the middle of the roadway. He was more tranquil in mind
than he had been for many days, but it was the moonlight making him so,
he felt--not anything that had been said that night. And yet he was glad
to have had that talk with Ringwood; he liked the doctor--a thorough good
fellow.

Just one small matter was still on his mind, even when all else had been
pacified; he was aware, though dimly, of having forgotten something--some
time ago--yet not so very long ago, really--what was it, he wondered? He
had been wondering for many days and had often felt himself on the brink
of recollection; and now, all at once, as he was turning the corner from
the High Street into School Lane, he remembered; it was those evening
papers he had promised to bring back for Trevis. Only a little thing, but
he felt helplessly sorry about it; it was the one thing, of all things,
that stirred him to real remorse. Perhaps he might visit Trevis in the
morning.

And suddenly then the whole familiar routine of life swung into focus and
became once more possible. The meetings and services and committees and
what not, the daily hours in the study and the visits to old ladies and
the baptisms and weddings and funerals and all the rest of it--there it
was, facing him inexorably, but somehow with the beauty of that night
around it all, lending it a rich and fragrant hopefulness. That factory
over there, black against the sky, but with all its windows gleaming, and
that line of workmen's cottages pushing out into the sea of moonlight
like a long black jetty, and the tramlines shimmering into the distance
as he crossed the road--lovely, lovely, all that was. He hummed a tune
that was in his head--ah, that thing of Brahms again--strange how it
seemed to fit in with everything he felt. How short life was, and how
brief the moments in it that really mattered! Nor could the framework of
years enclose such divine fragments; they were timeless, notes in the
never-finished symphony of the world. It was the quality of life that
counted; forty years, a whole lifetime, could be as nothing weighed in
the balance against a moment's lifting of the veil that hid beauty.

As he came within sight of his house and chapel a small boy passed by
with a timid smile. Howat stopped and spoke to him in the friendly way he
always had with children, and after a few shy answers the boy asked:
"When are you going to tell us some more, sir, about the two little boys
who sailed in a boat to an island?"

Howat was puzzled at first; he could not think was being referred to; but
at length he called to mind that foggy afternoon when he had given his
daughter's class a so-called geography lesson. He said, happily: "Very
soon--perhaps this week," and gave the boy all the money he had in his
pocket--four pennies and two half-pennies.

When he reached the Manse he found his wife waiting up for him in one of
her less amiable moods; but of course she was so highly-strung--he knew
it was really not her fault. "If you're well enough to stay gossiping
with that man Ringwood until this hour," she said, with some asperity, "I
should think you might begin on the pile of correspondence that's been
waiting for you to answer for the last four months."

"Perhaps so, perhaps so," he replied softly, blinking his eyes to the
light. "It's time I was back again at work, isn't it?" He gave her a
very gentle smile and added: "If you like, my dear, you can tell Ellen to
put a fire in the study to-morrow..."



THE END



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