The Nebuly Coat - John Meade Falkner - ebook
Kategoria: Sensacja, thriller, horror Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1903

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John Meade Falkner

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The Nebuly Coat (1903), by J. Meade Falkner, is a novel which tells of the experiences of a young architect, Edward Westray, who is sent to the remote Dorset town of Cullerne to supervise restoration work on Cullerne Minster. He finds himself caught up in Cullerne life, and hears rumours about a mystery surrounding the claim to the title of Lord Blandamer, whose coat of arms in the Minster's great transept window is The Nebuly Coat of the title. When the new Lord Blandamer arrives, promising to pay all the costs of the restoration, Westray suspects that the new lord is not what he seems. The Nebuly Coat includes elements that were central interests in Falkner's life, church architecture and heraldry. The massive Romanesque arches of Cullerne Minster recall those of Durham Cathedral which Falkner was familiar with through his work as Honorary Librarian to the Dean and Chapter as well as viewing it from his house on Palace Green. Colerne which has been Cullerne during its history may have been the source of the name of the town and minster.

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Fragment ebooka The Nebuly Coat - John Meade Falkner

About
Prologue
Chapter 1
Chapter 2

About Falkner:

John Meade Falkner (8 May 1858 - 22 July 1932) was an English novelist and poet, best known for his 1898 novel, Moonfleet. An extremely successful businessman as well, he became chairman of the arms manufacturer Armstrong Whitworth during World War I. He was born in Manningford Bruce, Wiltshire, spent much of his childhood in Dorchester and Weymouth and educated at Marlborough College and Hertford College, Oxford, graduating with a degree in history in 1882. After Oxford, he was a master at Derby School, then went to Newcastle as tutor to the family of Sir Andrew Noble, who ran Armstrongs of Newcastle, one of the largest arms manufacturers in the world. Falkner eventually followed him as chairman in 1916, hard though this is to equate with his interest in poetry, architecture and heraldry. In his business travels round the world, Falkner brought back antiquarian treasures of all kinds. After his retirement as chairman in 1921 he became Honorary Reader in Paleography at Durham University, as well as Honorary Librarian to the Dean and Chapter Library. Falkner fell in love with Durham and, although he spent his later years traveling frequently, he called Durham his home, living in the Divinity House on Palace Green in front of the cathedral from 1902 until his death. There is a commemorative plaque there, while his monument is in the South Cloister of the cathedral. In addition to his three novels and his poetry, he also wrote three topographical guides (Oxfordshire, Bath and Berkshire) and a History of Oxfordshire. Source: Wikipedia

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Prologue

Sir George Farquhar, Baronet, builder of railway-stations, and institutes, and churches, author, antiquarian, and senior partner of Farquhar and Farquhar, leant back in his office chair and turned it sideways to give more point to his remarks. Before him stood an understudy, whom he was sending to superintend the restoration work at Cullerne Minster.

“Well, good-bye, Westray; keep your eyes open, and don’t forget that you have an important job before you. The church is too big to hide its light under a bushel, and this Society-for-the-Conservation-of-National-Inheritances has made up its mind to advertise itself at our expense. Ignoramuses who don’t know an aumbry from an abacus, charlatans, amateur faddists, they will abuse our work. Good, bad, or indifferent, it’s all one to them; they are pledged to abuse it.”

His voice rang with a fine professional contempt, but he sobered himself and came back to business.

“The south transept roof and the choir vaulting will want careful watching. There is some old trouble, too, in the central tower; and I should like later on to underpin the main crossing piers, but there is no money. For the moment I have said nothing about the tower; it is no use raising doubts that one can’t set at rest; and I don’t know how we are going to make ends meet, even with the little that it is proposed to do now. If funds come in, we must tackle the tower; but transept and choir-vaults are more pressing, and there is no risk from the bells, because the cage is so rotten that they haven’t been rung for years.

“You must do your best. It isn’t a very profitable stewardship, so try to give as good an account of it as you can. We shan’t make a penny out of it, but the church is too well known to play fast-and-loose with. I have written to the parson—a foolish old fellow, who is no more fit than a lady’s-maid to be trusted with such a church as Cullerne—to say you are coming to-morrow, and will put in an appearance at the church in the afternoon, in case he wishes to see you. The man is an ass, but he is legal guardian of the place, and has not done badly in collecting money for the restoration; so we must bear with him.”


Chapter 1

 

Cullerne Wharf of the Ordnance maps, or plain Cullerne as known to the countryside, lies two miles from the coast to-day; but it was once much nearer, and figures in history as a seaport of repute, having sent six ships to fight the Armada, and four to withstand the Dutch a century later. But in fulness of time the estuary of the Cull silted up, and a bar formed at the harbour mouth; so that sea-borne commerce was driven to seek other havens. Then the Cull narrowed its channel, and instead of spreading itself out prodigally as heretofore on this side or on that, shrunk to the limits of a well-ordered stream, and this none of the greatest. The burghers, seeing that their livelihood in the port was gone, reflected that they might yet save something by reclaiming the salt-marshes, and built a stone dyke to keep the sea from getting in, with a sluice in the midst of it to let the Cull out. Thus were formed the low-lying meadows called Cullerne Flat, where the Freemen have a right to pasture sheep, and where as good-tasting mutton is bred as on any pré-salé on the other side of the Channel. But the sea has not given up its rights without a struggle, for with a south-east wind and spring-tide the waves beat sometimes over the top of the dyke; and sometimes the Cull forgets its good behaviour, and after heavy rainfalls inland breaks all bonds, as in the days of yore. Then anyone looking out from upper windows in Cullerne town would think the little place had moved back once more to the seaboard; for the meadows are under water, and the line of the dyke is scarcely broad enough to make a division in the view, between the inland lake and the open sea beyond.

The main line of the Great Southern Railway passes seven miles to the north of this derelict port, and converse with the outer world was kept up for many years by carriers’ carts, which journeyed to and fro between the town and the wayside station of Cullerne Road. But by-and-by deputations of the Corporation of Cullerne, properly introduced by Sir Joseph Carew, the talented and widely-respected member for that ancient borough, persuaded the railway company that better communication was needed, and a branch-line was made, on which the service was scarcely less primitive than that of the carriers in the past.

The novelty of the railway had not altogether worn off at the time when the restorations of the church were entrusted to Messrs Farquhar and Farquhar; and the arrival of the trains was still attended by Cullerne loungers as a daily ceremonial. But the afternoon on which Westray came, was so very wet that there were no spectators. He had taken a third-class ticket from London to Cullerne Road to spare his pocket, and a first-class ticket from the junction to Cullerne to support the dignity of his firm. But this forethought was wasted, for, except certain broken-down railway officials, who were drafted to Cullerne as to an asylum, there were no witnesses of his advent.

He was glad to learn that the enterprise of the Blandamer Arms led that family and commercial hotel to send an omnibus to meet all trains, and he availed himself the more willingly of this conveyance because he found that it would set him down at the very door of the church itself. So he put himself and his modest luggage inside—and there was ample room to do this, for he was the only passenger—plunged his feet into the straw which covered the floor, and endured for ten minutes such a shaking and rattling as only an omnibus moving over cobble-stones can produce.

With the plans of Cullerne Minster Mr Westray was thoroughly familiar, but the reality was as yet unknown to him; and when the omnibus lumbered into the market-place, he could not suppress an exclamation as he first caught sight of the great church of Saint Sepulchre shutting in the whole south side of the square. The drenching rain had cleared the streets of passengers, and save for some peeping-Toms who looked over the low green blinds as the omnibus passed, the place might indeed have been waiting for Lady Godiva’s progress, all was so deserted.

The heavy sheets of rain in the air, the misty water-dust raised by the drops as they struck the roofs, and the vapour steaming from the earth, drew over everything a veil invisible yet visible, which softened outlines like the gauze curtain in a theatre. Through it loomed the Minster, larger and far more mysteriously impressive than Westray had in any moods imagined. A moment later the omnibus drew up before an iron gate, from which a flagged pathway led through the churchyard to the north porch.

The conductor opened the carriage-door.

“This is the church, sir,” he said, somewhat superfluously. “If you get out here, I will drive your bag to the hotel.”

Westray fixed his hat firmly on his head, turned up the collar of his coat, and made a dash through the rain for the door. Deep puddles had formed in the worn places of the gravestones that paved the alley, and he splashed himself in his hurry before he reached the shelter of the porch. He pulled aside the hanging leather mattress that covered a wicket in the great door, and found himself inside the church.

It was not yet four o’clock, but the day was so overcast that dusk was already falling in the building. A little group of men who had been talking in the choir turned round at the sound of the opening door, and made towards the architect. The protagonist was a clergyman past middle age, who wore a stock, and stepped forward to greet the young architect.

“Sir George Farquhar’s assistant, I presume. One of Sir George Farquhar’s assistants I should perhaps say, for no doubt Sir George has more than one assistant in carrying out his many and varied professional duties.”

Westray made a motion of assent, and the clergyman went on: “Let me introduce myself as Canon Parkyn. You will no doubt have heard of me from Sir George, with whom I, as rector of this church, have had exceptional opportunities of associating. On one occasion, indeed, Sir George spent the night under my own roof, and I must say that I think any young man should be proud of studying under an architect of such distinguished ability. I shall be able to explain to you very briefly the main views which Sir George has conceived with regard to the restoration; but in the meantime let me make you known to my worthy parishioners—and friends,” he added in a tone which implied some doubt as to whether condescension was not being stretched too far, in qualifying as friends persons so manifestly inferior.

“This is Mr Sharnall, the organist, who under my direction presides over the musical portion of our services; and this is Dr Ennefer, our excellent local practitioner; and this is Mr Joliffe, who, though engaged in trade, finds time as churchwarden to assist me in the supervision of the sacred edifice.”

The doctor and the organist gave effect to the presentation by a nod, and something like a shrug of the shoulders, which deprecated the Rector’s conceited pomposity, and implied that if such an exceedingly unlikely contingency as their making friends with Mr Westray should ever happen, it would certainly not be due to any introduction of Canon Parkyn. Mr Joliffe, on the other hand, seemed fully to recognise the dignity to which he was called by being numbered among the Rector’s friends, and with a gracious bow, and a polite “Your servant, sir,” made it plain that he understood how to condescend in his turn, and was prepared to extend his full protection to a young and struggling architect.

Beside these leading actors, there were present the clerk, and a handful of walking-gentlemen in the shape of idlers who had strolled in from the street, and who were glad enough to find shelter from the rain, and an afternoon’s entertainment gratuitously provided.

“I thought you would like to meet me here,” said the Rector, “so that I might point out to you at once the more salient features of the building. Sir George Farquhar, on the occasion of his last visit, was pleased to compliment me on the lucidity of the explanations which I ventured to offer.”

There seemed to be no immediate way of escape, so Westray resigned himself to the inevitable, and the little group moved up the nave, enveloped in an atmosphere of its own, of which wet overcoats and umbrellas were resolvable constituents. The air in the church was raw and cold, and a smell of sodden matting drew Westray’s attention to the fact that the roofs were not water-tight, and that there were pools of rain-water on the floor in many places.

“The nave is the oldest part,” said the cicerone, “built about 1135 by Walter Le Bec.”

“I am very much afraid our friend is too young and inexperienced for the work here. What do you think?” he put in as a rapid aside to the doctor.

“Oh, I dare say if you take him in hand and coach him a little he will do all right,” replied the doctor, raising his eyebrows for the organist’s delectation.

“Yes, this is all Le Bec’s work,” the Rector went on, turning back to Westray. “So sublime the simplicity of the Norman style, is it not? The nave arcades will repay your close attention; and look at these wonderful arches in the crossing. Norman, of course, but how light; and yet strong as a rock to bear the enormous weight of the tower which later builders reared on them. Wonderful, wonderful!”

Westray recalled his Chief’s doubts about the tower, and looking up into the lantern saw on the north side a seam of old brick filling; and on the south a thin jagged fissure, that ran down from the sill of the lantern-window like the impress of a lightning-flash. There came into his head an old architectural saw, “The arch never sleeps”; and as he looked up at the four wide and finely-drawn semicircles they seemed to say:

“The arch never sleeps, never sleeps. They have bound on us a burden too heavy to be borne. We are shifting it. The arch never sleeps.”

“Wonderful, wonderful!” the Rector still murmured. “Daring fellows, these Norman builders.”

“Yes, yes,” Westray was constrained to say; “but they never reckoned that the present tower would be piled upon their arches.”

“What, you think them a little shaky?” put in the organist. “Well, I have fancied so, many a time, myself.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I dare say they will last our time,” Westray answered in a nonchalant and reassuring tone; for he remembered that, as regards the tower, he had been specially cautioned to let sleeping dogs lie, but he thought of the Ossa heaped on Pelion above their heads, and conceived a mistrust of the wide crossing-arches which he never was able entirely to shake off.

“No, no, my young friend,” said the Rector with a smile of forbearance for so mistaken an idea, “do not alarm yourself about these arches. ‘Mr Rector,’ said Sir George to me the very first time we were here together, ‘you have been at Cullerne forty years; have you ever observed any signs of movement in the tower?’ ‘Sir George,’ I said, ‘will you wait for your fees until my tower tumbles down?’ Ha, ha, ha! He saw the joke, and we never heard anything more about the tower. Sir George has, no doubt, given you all proper instructions; but as I had the privilege of personally showing him the church, you must forgive me if I ask you to step into the south transept for a moment, while I point out to you what Sir George considered the most pressing matter.”

They moved into the transept, but the doctor managed to buttonhole Westray for a moment en route.

“You will be bored to death,” he said, “with this man’s ignorance and conceit. Don’t pay the least attention to him, but there is one thing I want to take the first opportunity of pressing on you. Whatever is done or not done, however limited the funds may be, let us at least have a sanitary floor. You must have all these stones up, and put a foot or two of concrete under them. Can anything be more monstrous than that the dead should be allowed to poison the living? There must be hundreds of burials close under the floor, and look at the pools of water standing about. Can anything, I say, be more insanitary?”

They were in the south transept, and the Rector had duly pointed out the dilapidations of the roof, which, in truth, wanted but little showing.

“Some call this the Blandamer aisle,” he said, “from a noble family of that name who have for many years been buried here.”

Their vaults are, no doubt, in a most insanitary condition,” interpolated the doctor.

“These Blandamers ought to restore the whole place,” the organist said bitterly. “They would, if they had any sense of decency. They are as rich as Croesus, and would miss pounds less than most people would miss pennies. Not that I believe in any of this sanitary talk—things have gone on well enough as they are; and if you go digging up the floors you will only dig up pestilences. Keep the fabric together, make the roofs water-tight, and spend a hundred or two on the organ. That is all we want, and these Blandamers would do it, if they weren’t curmudgeons and skinflints.”

“You will forgive me, Mr Sharnall,” said the Rector, “if I remark that an hereditary peerage is so important an institution, that we should be very careful how we criticise any members of it. At the same time,” he went on, turning apologetically to Westray, “there is perhaps a modicum of reason in our friend’s remarks. I had hoped that Lord Blandamer would have contributed handsomely to the restoration fund, but he has not hitherto done so, though I dare say that his continued absence abroad accounts for some delay. He only succeeded his grandfather last year, and the late lord never showed much interest in this place, and was indeed in many ways a very strange character. But it’s no use raking up these stories; the old man is gone, and we must hope for better things from the young one.”

“I don’t know why you call him young,” said the doctor. “He’s young, maybe, compared to his grandfather, who died at eighty-five; but he must be forty, if he’s a day.”

“Oh, impossible; and yet I don’t know. It was in my first year at Cullerne that his father and mother were drowned. You remember that, Mr Sharnall—when the Corisande upset in Pallion Bay?”

“Ay, I mind that well enough,” struck in the clerk; “and I mind their being married, becos’ we wor ringing of the bells, when old Mason Parmiter run into the church, and says: ‘Do’ant-’ee, boys—do’ant-’ee ring ’em any more. These yere old tower’ll never stand it. I see him rock,’ he says, ‘and the dust a-running out of the cracks like rain.’ So out we come, and glad enough to stop it, too, because there wos a feast down in the meadows by the London Road, and drinks and dancing, and we wanted to be there. That were two-and-forty years ago come Lady Day, and there was some shook their heads, and said we never ought to have stopped the ring, for a broken peal broke life or happiness. But what was we to do?”

“Did they strengthen the tower afterwards?” Westray asked. “Do you find any excessive motion when the peal is rung now?”

“Lor’ bless you, sir; them bells was never rung for thirty years afore that, and wouldn’t a been rung then, only Tom Leech, he says: ‘The ropes is there, boys; let’s have a ring out of these yere tower. He ain’t been rung for thirty year. None on us don’t recollect the last time he was rung, and if ’er were weak then, ’ers had plenty of time to get strong again, and there’ll be half a crown a man for ringing of a peal.’ So up we got to it, till old Parmiter come in to stop us. And you take my word for it, they never have been rung since. There’s only that rope there”—and he pointed to a bell-rope that came down from the lantern far above, and was fastened back against the wall—“wot we tolls the bell with for service, and that ain’t the big bell neither.”

“Did Sir George Farquhar know all this?” Westray asked the Rector.

“No, sir; Sir George did not know it,” said the Rector, with some tartness in his voice, “because it was not material that he should know it; and Sir George’s time, when he was here, was taken up with more pressing matters. I never heard this old wife’s tale myself till the present moment, and although it is true that we do not ring the bells, this is on account of the supposed weakness of the cage in which they swing, and has nothing whatever to do with the tower itself. You may take my word for that. ‘Sir George,’ I said, when Sir George asked me—‘Sir George, I have been here forty years, and if you will agree not to ask for your fees till my tower tumbles down, why, I shall be very glad.’ Ha, ha, ha! how Sir George enjoyed that joke! Ha, ha, ha!”

Westray turned away with a firm resolve to report to headquarters the story of the interrupted peal, and to make an early examination of the tower on his own behalf.

The clerk was nettled that the Rector should treat his story with such scant respect, but he saw that the others were listening with interest, and he went on:

“Well, ’taint for I to say the old tower’s a-going to fall, and I hope Sir Jarge won’t ever live to larf the wrong side o’ his mouth; but stopping of a ring never brought luck with it yet, and it brought no luck to my lord. First he lost his dear son and his son’s wife in Cullerne Bay, and I remember as if ’twas yesterday how we grappled for ’em all night, and found their bodies lying close together on the sand in three fathoms, when the tide set inshore in the morning. And then he fell out wi’ my lady, and she never spoke to him again—no, not to the day of her death. They lived at Fording—that’s the great hall over there,” he said to Westray, jerking his thumb towards the east—“for twenty years in separate wings, like you mi’d say each in a house to themselves. And then he fell out wi’ Mr Fynes, his grandson, and turned him out of house and lands, though he couldn’t leave them anywhere else when he died. ’Tis Mr Fynes as is the young lord now, and half his life he’s bin a wandrer in foreign parts, and isn’t come home yet. Maybe he never will come back. It’s like enough he’s got killed out there, or he’d be tied to answer parson’s letters. Wouldn’t he, Mr Sharnall?” he said, turning abruptly to the organist with a wink, which was meant to retaliate for the slight that the Rector had put on his stories.

“Come, come; we’ve had enough of these tales,” said the Rector. “Your listeners are getting tired.”

“The man’s in love with his own voice,” he added in a lower tone, as he took Westray by the arm; “when he’s once set off there’s no stopping him. There are still a good many points which Sir George and I discussed, and on which I shall hope to give you our conclusions; but we shall have to finish our inspection to-morrow, for this talkative fellow has sadly interrupted us. It is a great pity the light is failing so fast just now; there is some good painted glass in this end window of the transept.”

Westray looked up and saw the great window at the end of the transept shimmering with a dull lustre; light only in comparison with the shadows that were falling inside the church. It was an insertion of Perpendicular date, reaching from wall to wall, and almost from floor to roof. Its vast breadth, parcelled out into eleven lights, and the infinite division of the stonework in the head, impressed the imagination; while mullions and tracery stood out in such inky contrast against the daylight yet lingering outside, that the architect read the scheme of subarcuation and the tracery as easily as if he had been studying a plan. Sundown had brought no gleam to lift the pall of the dying day, but the monotonous grey of the sky was still sufficiently light to enable a practised eye to make out that the head of the window was filled with a broken medley of ancient glass, where translucent blues and yellows and reds mingled like the harmony of an old patchwork quilt. Of the lower divisions of the window, those at the sides had no colour to clothe their nakedness, and remained in ghostly whiteness; but the three middle lights were filled with strong browns and purples of the seventeenth century. Here and there in the rich colour were introduced medallions, representing apparently scriptural scenes, and at the top of each light, under the cusping, was a coat of arms. The head of the middle division formed the centre of the whole scheme, and seemed to represent a shield of silver-white crossed by waving sea-green bars. Westray’s attention was attracted by the unusual colouring, and by the transparency of the glass, which shone as with some innate radiance where all was dim. He turned almost unconsciously to ask whose arms were thus represented, but the Rector had left him for a minute, and he heard an irritating “Ha, ha, ha!” at some distance down the nave, that convinced him that the story of Sir George Farquhar and the postponed fees was being retold in the dusk to a new victim.

Someone, however, had evidently read the architect’s thoughts, for a sharp voice said:

“That is the coat of the Blandamers—barry nebuly of six, argent and vert.” It was the organist who stood near him in the deepening shadows. “I forgot that such jargon probably conveys no meaning to you, and, indeed, I know no heraldry myself excepting only this one coat of arms, and sometimes wish,” he said with a sigh, “that I knew nothing of that either. There have been queer tales told of that shield, and maybe there are queerer yet to be told. It has been stamped for good or evil on this church, and on this town, for centuries, and every tavern loafer will talk to you about the ‘nebuly coat’ as if it was a thing he wore. You will be familiar enough with it before you have been a week at Cullerne.”

There was in the voice something of melancholy, and an earnestness that the occasion scarcely warranted. It produced a curious effect on Westray, and led him to look closely at the organist; but it was too dark to read any emotion in his companion’s face, and at this moment the Rector rejoined them.

“Eh, what? Ah, yes; the nebuly coat. Nebuly, you know, from the Latin nebulum, nebulus I should say, a cloud, referring to the wavy outline of the bars, which are supposed to represent cumulus clouds. Well, well, it is too dark to pursue our studies further this evening, but to-morrow I can accompany you the whole day, and shall be able to tell you much that will interest you.”

Westray was not sorry that the darkness had put a stop to further investigations. The air in the church grew every moment more clammy and chill, and he was tired, hungry, and very cold. He was anxious, if possible, to find lodgings at once, and so avoid the expense of an hotel, for his salary was modest, and Farquhar and Farquhar were not more liberal than other firms in the travelling allowances which they granted their subordinates.

He asked if anyone could tell him of suitable rooms.

“I am sorry,” the Rector said, “not to be able to offer you the hospitality of my own house, but the indisposition of my wife unfortunately makes that impossible. I have naturally but a very slight acquaintance with lodging-houses or lodging-house keepers; but Mr Sharnall, I dare say, may be able to give you some advice. Perhaps there may be a spare room in the house where Mr Sharnall lodges. I think your landlady is a relation of our worthy friend Joliffe, is she not, Mr Sharnall? And no doubt herself a most worthy woman.”

“Pardon, Mr Rector,” said the churchwarden, in as offended a tone as he dared to employ in addressing so superior a dignitary—“pardon, no relation at all, I assure you. A namesake, or, at the nearest, a very distant connection of whom—I speak with all Christian forbearance—my branch of the family have no cause to be proud.”

The organist had scowled when the Rector was proposing Westray as a fellow-lodger, but Joliffe’s disclaimer of the landlady seemed to pique him.

“If no branch of your family brings you more discredit than my landlady, you may hold your head high enough. And if all the pork you sell is as good as her lodgings, your business will thrive. Come along,” he said, taking Westray by the arm; “I have no wife to be indisposed, so I can offer you the hospitality of my house; and we will stop at Mr Joliffe’s shop on our way, and buy a pound of sausages for tea.”


Chapter 2

 

There was a rush of outer air into the building as they opened the door. The rain still fell heavily, but the wind was rising, and had in it a clean salt smell, that contrasted with the close and mouldering atmosphere of the church.

The organist drew a deep breath.

“Ah,” he said, “what a blessed thing to be in the open air again—to be quit of all their niggling and naggling, to be quit of that pompous old fool the Rector, and of that hypocrite Joliffe, and of that pedant of a doctor! Why does he want to waste money on cementing the vaults? It’s only digging up pestilences; and they won’t spend a farthing on the organ. Not a penny on the Father Smith, clear and sweet-voiced as a mountain brook. Oh,” he cried, “it’s too bad! The naturals are worn down to the quick, you can see the wood in the gutters of the keys, and the pedal-board’s too short and all to pieces. Ah well! the organ’s like me—old, neglected, worn-out. I wish I was dead.” He had been talking half to himself, but he turned to Westray and said: “Forgive me for being peevish; you’ll be peevish, too, when you come to my age—at least, if you’re as poor then as I am, and as lonely, and have nothing to look forward to. Come along.”

They stepped out into the dark—for night had fallen—and plashed along the flagged path which glimmered like a white streamlet between the dark turves.

“I will take you a short-cut, if you don’t mind some badly-lighted lanes,” said the organist, as they left the churchyard; “it’s quicker, and we shall get more shelter.” He turned sharply to the left, and plunged into an alley so narrow and dark that Westray could not keep up with him, and fumbled anxiously in the obscurity. The little man reached up, and took him by the arm. “Let me pilot you,” he said; “I know the way. You can walk straight on; there are no steps.”

There was no sign of life, nor any light in the houses, but it was not till they reached a corner where an isolated lamp cast a wan and uncertain light that Westray saw that there was no glass in the windows, and that the houses were deserted.

“It’s the old part of the town,” said the organist; “there isn’t one house in ten with anyone in it now. All we fashionables have moved further up. Airs from the river are damp, you know, and wharves so very vulgar.”

They left the narrow street, and came on to what Westray made out to be a long wharf skirting the river. On the right stood abandoned warehouses, square-fronted, and huddled together like a row of gigantic packing-cases; on the left they could hear the gurgle of the current among the mooring-posts, and the flapping of the water against the quay wall, where the east wind drove the wavelets up the river. The lines of what had once been a horse-tramway still ran along the quay, and the pair had some ado to thread their way without tripping, till a low building on the right broke the line of lofty warehouses. It seemed to be a church or chapel, having mullioned windows with stone tracery, and a bell-turret at the west end; but its most marked feature was a row of heavy buttresses which shored up the side facing the road. They were built of brick, and formed triangles with the ground and the wall which they supported. The shadows hung heavy under the building, but where all else was black the recesses between the buttresses were blackest. Westray felt his companion’s hand tighten on his arm.

“You will think me as great a coward as I am,” said the organist, “if I tell you that I never come this way after dark, and should not have come here to-night if I had not had you with me. I was always frightened as a boy at the very darkness in the spaces between the buttresses, and I have never got over it. I used to think that devils and hobgoblins lurked in those cavernous depths, and now I fancy evil men may be hiding in the blackness, all ready to spring out and strangle one. It is a lonely place, this old wharf, and after nightfall—” He broke off, and clutched Westray’s arm. “Look,” he said; “do you see nothing in the last recess?”

His abruptness made Westray shiver involuntarily, and for a moment the architect fancied that he discerned the figure of a man standing in the shadow of the end buttress. But, as he took a few steps nearer, he saw that he had been deceived by a shadow, and that the space was empty.

“Your nerves are sadly overstrung,” he said to the organist. “There is no one there; it is only some trick of light and shade. What is the building?”

“It was once a chantry of the Grey Friars,” Mr Sharnall answered, “and afterwards was used for excise purposes when Cullerne was a real port. It is still called the Bonding-House, but it has been shut up as long as I remember it. Do you believe in certain things or places being bound up with certain men’s destinies? because I have a presentiment that this broken-down old chapel will be connected somehow or other with a crisis of my life.”

Westray remembered the organist’s manner in the church, and began to suspect that his mind was turned. The other read his thoughts, and said rather reproachfully:

“Oh no, I am not mad—only weak and foolish and very cowardly.”

They had reached the end of the wharf, and were evidently returning to civilisation, for a sound of music reached them. It came from a little beer-house, and as they passed they heard a woman singing inside. It was a rich contralto, and the organist stopped for a moment to listen.

“She has a fine voice,” he said, “and would sing well if she had been taught. I wonder how she comes here.”

The blind was pulled down, but did not quite reach the bottom of the window, and they looked in. The rain blurred the pains on the outside, and the moisture had condensed within, so that it was not easy to see clearly; but they made out that a Creole woman was singing to a group of topers who sat by the fire in a corner of the room. She was middle-aged, but sang sweetly, and was accompanied on the harp by an old man:

“Oh, take me back to those I love!
    Or bring them here to me!
I have no heart to rove, to rove
    Across the rolling sea.”

“Poor thing!” said the organist; “she has fallen on bad days to have so scurvy a company to sing to. Let us move on.”

They turned to the right, and came in a few minutes to the highroad. Facing them stood a house which had once been of some pretensions, for it had a porch carried on pillars, under which a semicircular flight of steps led up to the double door. A street-lamp which stood before it had been washed so clean in the rain that the light was shed with unusual brilliance, and showed even at night that the house was fallen from its high estate. It was not ruinous, but Ichabod was written on the paintless window-frames and on the rough-cast front, from which the plaster had fallen away in more than one place. The pillars of the porch had been painted to imitate marble, but they were marked with scabrous patches, where the brick core showed through the broken stucco.

The organist opened the door, and they found themselves in a stone-floored hall, out of which dingy doors opened on both sides. A broad stone staircase, with shallow steps and iron balustrades, led from the hall to the next story, and there was a little pathway of worn matting that threaded its way across the flags, and finally ascended the stairs.

“Here is my town house,” said Mr Sharnall. “It used to be a coaching inn called The Hand of God, but you must never breathe a word of that, because it is now a private mansion, and Miss Joliffe has christened it Bellevue Lodge.”

A door opened while he was speaking, and a girl stepped into the hall. She was about nineteen, and had a tall and graceful figure. Her warm brown hair was parted in the middle, and its profusion was gathered loosely up behind in the half-formal, half-natural style of a preceding generation. Her face had lost neither the rounded outline nor the delicate bloom of girlhood, but there was something in it that negatived any impression of inexperience, and suggested that her life had not been free from trouble. She wore a close-fitting dress of black, and had a string of pale corals round her neck.

“Good-evening, Mr Sharnall,” she said. “I hope you are not very wet”—and gave a quick glance of inquiry at Westray.

The organist did not appear pleased at seeing her. He grunted testily, and, saying “Where is your aunt? Tell her I want to speak to her,” led Westray into one of the rooms opening out of the hall.

It was a large room, with an upright piano in one corner, and a great litter of books and manuscript music. A table in the middle was set for tea; a bright fire was burning in the grate, and on either side of it stood a rush-bottomed armchair.

“Sit down,” he said to Westray; “this is my reception-room, and we will see in a minute what Miss Joliffe can do for you.” He glanced at his companion, and added, “That was her niece we met in the passage,” in so unconcerned a tone as to produce an effect opposite to that intended, and to lead Westray to wonder whether there was any reason for his wishing to keep the girl in the background.

In a few moments the landlady appeared. She was a woman of sixty, tall and spare, with a sweet and even distinguished face. She, too, was dressed in black, well-worn and shabby, but her appearance suggested that her thinness might be attributed to privation or self-denial, rather than to natural habit.

Preliminaries were easily arranged; indeed, the only point of discussion was raised by Westray, who was disturbed by scruples lest the terms which Miss Joliffe offered were too low to be fair to herself. He said so openly, and suggested a slight increase, which, after some demur, was gratefully accepted.

“You are too poor to have so fine a conscience,” said the organist snappishly. “If you are so scrupulous now, you will be quite unbearable when you get rich with battening and fattening on this restoration.” But he was evidently pleased with Westray’s consideration for Miss Joliffe, and added with more cordiality: “You had better come down and share my meal; your rooms will be like an ice-house such a night as this. Don’t be long, or the turtle will be cold, and the ortolans baked to a cinder. I will excuse evening dress, unless you happen to have your court suit with you.”

Westray accepted the invitation with some willingness, and an hour later he and the organist were sitting in the rush-bottomed armchairs at either side of the fireplace. Miss Joliffe had herself cleared the table, and brought two tumblers, wine-glasses, sugar, and a jug of water, as if they were natural properties of the organist’s sitting-room.

“I did Churchwarden Joliffe an injustice,” said Mr Sharnall, with the reflective mood that succeeds a hearty meal; “his sausages are good. Put on some more coal, Mr Westray; it is a sinful luxury, a fire in September, and coal at twenty-five shillings a ton; but we must have some festivity to inaugurate the restoration and your advent. Fill a pipe yourself, and then pass me the tobacco.”

“Thank you, I do not smoke,” Westray said; and, indeed, he did not look like a smoker. He had something of the thin, unsympathetic traits of the professional water-drinker in his face, and spoke as if he regarded smoking as a crime for himself, and an offence for those of less lofty principles than his own.

The organist lighted his pipe, and went on:

“This is an airy house—sanitary enough to suit our friend the doctor; every window carefully ventilated on the crack-and-crevice principle. It was an old inn once, when there were more people hereabouts; and if the rain beats on the front, you can still read the name through the colouring—the Hand of God. There used to be a market held outside, and a century or more ago an apple-woman sold some pippins to a customer just before this very door. He said he had paid for them, and she said he had not; they came to wrangling, and she called Heaven to justify her. ‘God strike me dead if I have ever touched your money!’ She was taken at her word, and fell dead on the cobbles. They found clenched in her hand the two coppers for which she had lost her soul, and it was recognised at once that nothing less than an inn could properly commemorate such an exhibition of Divine justice. So the Hand of God was built, and flourished while Cullerne flourished, and fell when Cullerne fell. It stood empty ever since I can remember it, till Miss Joliffe took it fifteen years ago. She elevated it into Bellevue Lodge, a select boarding-house, and spent what little money that niggardly landlord old Blandamer would give for repairs, in painting out the Hand of God on the front. It was to be a house of resort for Americans who came to Cullerne. They say in our guide-book that Americans come to see Cullerne Church because some of the Pilgrim Fathers’ fathers are buried in it; but I’ve never seen any Americans about. They never come to me; I have been here boy and man for sixty years, and never knew an American do a pennyworth of good to Cullerne Church; and they never did a pennyworth of good for Miss Joliffe, for none of them ever came to Bellevue Lodge, and the select boarding-house is so select that you and I are the only boarders.” He paused for a minute and went on: “Americans—no, I don’t think much of Americans; they’re too hard for me—spend a lot of money on their own pleasure, and sometimes cut a dash with a big donation, where they think it will be properly trumpeted. But they haven’t got warm hearts. I don’t care for Americans. Still, if you know any about, you can say I am quite venal; and if any one of them restores my organ, I am prepared to admire the whole lot. Only they must give a little water-engine for blowing it into the bargain. Shutter, the organist of Carisbury Cathedral, has just had a water-engine put in, and, now we’ve got our own new waterworks at Cullerne, we could manage it very well here too.”

The subject did not interest Westray, and he flung back:

“Is Miss Joliffe very badly off?” he asked; “she looks like one of those people who have seen better days.”

“She is worse than badly off—I believe she is half starved. I don’t know how she lives at all. I wish I could help her, but I haven’t a copper myself to jingle on a tombstone, and she is too proud to take it if I had.”

He went to a cupboard in a recess at the back of the room, and took out a squat black bottle.

“Poverty’s a chilly theme,” he said; “let’s take something to warm us before we go on with the variations.”

He pushed the bottle towards his friend, but, though Westray felt inclined to give way, the principles of severe moderation which he had recently adopted restrained him, and he courteously waved away the temptation.

“You’re hopeless,” said the organist. “What are we to do for you, who neither smoke nor drink, and yet want to talk about poverty? This is some eau-de-vie old Martelet the solicitor gave me for playing the Wedding March at his daughter’s marriage. ‘The Wedding March was magnificently rendered by the organist, Mr John Sharnall,’ you know, as if it was the Fourth Organ-Sonata. I misdoubt this ever having paid duty; he’s not the man to give away six bottles of anything he’d paid the excise upon.”

He poured out a portion of spirit far larger than Westray had expected, and then, becoming intuitively aware of his companion’s surprise, said rather sharply: “If you despise good stuff, I must do duty for us both. Up to the top of the church windows is a good maxim.” And he poured in yet more, till the spirit rose to the top of the cuts, which ran higher than half-way up the sides of the tumbler. There was silence for a few minutes, while the organist puffed testily at his pipe; but a copious draught from the tumbler melted his chagrin, and he spoke again:

“I’ve had a precious hard life, but Miss Joliffe’s had a harder; and I’ve got myself to thank for my bad luck, while hers is due to other people. First, her father died. He had a farm at Wydcombe, and people thought he was well off; but when they came to reckon up, he only left just enough to go round among his creditors; so Miss Euphemia gave up the house, and came into Cullerne. She took this rambling great place because it was cheap at twenty pounds a year, and lived, or half lived, from hand to mouth, giving her niece (the girl you saw) all the grains, and keeping the husks for herself. Then a year ago turned up her brother Martin, penniless and broken, with paralysis upon him. He was a harum-scarum ne’er-do-well. Don’t stare at me with that Saul-among-the-prophets look; he never drank; he would have been a better man if he had.” And the organist made a further call on the squat bottle. “He would have given her less bother if he had drunk, but he was always getting into debt and trouble, and then used to come back to his sister, as to a refuge, because he knew she loved him. He was clever enough—brilliant they call it now—but unstable as water, with no lasting power. I don’t believe he meant to sponge on his sister; I don’t think he knew he did sponge, only he sponged. He would go off on his travels, no one knew where, though they knew well what he was seeking. Sometimes he was away two months, and sometimes he was away two years; and then, when Miss Joliffe had kept Anastasia—I mean her niece—all the time, and perhaps got a summer lodger, and seemed to be turning the corner, back would come Martin again to beg money for debts, and eat them out of house and home. I’ve seen that many a time, and many a time my heart has ached for them; but what could I do to help? I haven’t a farthing. Last he came back a year ago, with death written on his face. I was glad enough to read it there, and think he was come for the last time to worry them; but it was paralysis, and he a strong man, so that it took that fool Ennefer a long time to kill him. He only died two months ago; here’s better luck to him where he’s gone.”

The organist drank as deeply as the occasion warranted.

“Don’t look so glum, man,” he said; “I’m not always as bad as this, because I haven’t always the means. Old Martelet doesn’t give me brandy every day.”

Westray smoothed away the deprecating expression with which he had felt constrained to discountenance such excesses, and set Mr Sharnall’s tongue going again with a question:

“What did you say Joliffe used to go away for?”

“Oh, it’s a long story; it’s the nebuly coat again. I spoke of it in the church—the silver and sea-green that turned his head. He would have it he wasn’t a Joliffe at all, but a Blandamer, and rightful heir to Fording. As a boy, he went to Cullerne Grammar School, and did well, and got a scholarship at Oxford. He did still better there, and just when he seemed starting strong in the race of life, this nebuly coat craze seized him and crept over his mind, like the paralysis that crept over his body later on.”

“I don’t quite follow you,” Westray said. “Why did he think he was a Blandamer? Did he not know who his father was?”

“He was brought up as a son of old Michael Joliffe, a yeoman who died fifteen years ago. But Michael married a woman who called herself a widow, and brought a three-year-old son ready-made to his wedding; and that son was Martin. Old Michael made the boy his own, was proud of his cleverness, would have him go to college, and left him all he had. There was no talk of Martin being anything but a Joliffe till Oxford puffed him up, and then he got this crank, and spent the rest of his life trying to find out who his father was. It was a forty-years’ wandering in the wilderness; he found this clue and that, and thought at last he had climbed Pisgah and could see the promised land. But he had to be content with the sight, or mirage I suppose it was, and died before he tasted the milk and honey.”

“What was his connection with the nebuly coat? What made him think he was a Blandamer?”

“Oh, I can’t go into that now,” the organist said; “I have told you too much, perhaps, already. You won’t let Miss Joliffe guess I have said anything, will you? She is Michael Joliffe’s own child—his only child—but she loved her half-brother dearly, and doesn’t like his cranks being talked about. Of course, the Cullerne wags had many a tale to tell of him, and when he came back, greyer each time and wilder-looking, from his wanderings, they called him ‘Old Nebuly,’ and the boys would make their bow in the streets, and say ‘Good-morning, Lord Blandamer.’ You’ll hear stories enough about him, and it was a bitter thing for his poor sister to bear, to see her brother a butt and laughing-stock, all the time that he was frittering away her savings. But it’s all over now, and Martin’s gone where they don’t wear nebuly coats.”

“There was nothing in his fancies, I suppose?” Westray asked.

“You must put that to wiser folk than me,” said the organist lightly; “ask the Rector, or the doctor, or some really clever man.”

He had fallen back into his sneering tone, but there was something in his words that recalled a previous doubt, and led Westray to wonder whether Mr Sharnall had not lived so long with the Joliffes as to have become himself infected with Martin’s delusions.

His companion was pouring out more brandy, and the architect wished him good-night.

Mr Westray’s apartment was on the floor above, and he went at once to his bedroom; for he was very tired with his journey, and with standing so long in the church during the afternoon. He was pleased to find that his portmanteau had been unpacked, and that his clothes were carefully arranged in the drawers. This was a luxury to which he was little accustomed; there was, moreover, a fire to fling cheerful flickerings on spotlessly white curtains and bedlinen.

Miss Joliffe and Anastasia had between them carried the portmanteau up the great well-staircase of stone, which ran from top to bottom of the house. It was a task of some difficulty, and there were frequent pauses to take breath, and settings-down of the portmanteau to rest aching arms. But they got it up at last, and when the straps were undone Miss Euphemia dismissed her niece.

“No, my dear,” she said; “let me set the things in order. It is not seemly that a young girl should arrange men’s clothes. There was a time when I should not have liked to do so myself, but now I am so old it does not very much matter.”

She gave a glance at the mirror as she spoke, adjusted a little bit of grizzled hair which had strayed from under her cap, and tried to arrange the bow of ribbon round her neck so that the frayed part should be as far as possible concealed. Anastasia Joliffe thought, as she left the room, that there were fewer wrinkles and a sweeter look than usual in the old face, and wondered that her aunt had never married. Youth looking at an old maid traces spinsterhood to man’s neglect. It is so hard to read in sixty’s plainness the beauty of sixteen—to think that underneath the placidity of advancing years may lie buried, yet unforgotten, the memory of suits urged ardently, and quenched long ago in tears.

Miss Euphemia put everything carefully away. The architect’s wardrobe was of the most modest proportions, but to her it seemed well furnished, and even costly. She noted, however, with the eye of a sportsman marking down a covey, sundry holes, rents, and missing buttons, and resolved to devote her first leisure to their rectification. Such mending, in anticipation and accomplishment, forms, indeed, a well-defined and important pleasure of all properly constituted women above a certain age.

“Poor young man!” she said to herself. “I am afraid he has had no one to look after his clothes for a long time.” And in her pity she rushed into the extravagance of lighting the bedroom fire.

After things were arranged upstairs, she went down to see that all was in order in Mr Westray’s sitting-room, and, as she moved about there, she heard the organist talking to the architect in the room below. His voice was so deep and raucous that it seemed to jar the soles of her feet. She dusted lightly a certain structure which, resting in tiers above the chimney-piece, served to surround a looking-glass with meaningless little shelves and niches. Miss Joliffe had purchased this piece-of-resistance when Mrs Cazel, the widow of the ironmonger, had sold her household effects preparatory to leaving Cullerne.

“It is an overmantel, my dear,” she had said to dubious Anastasia, when it was brought home. “I did not really mean to buy it, but I had not bought anything the whole morning, and the auctioneer looked so fiercely at me that I felt I must make a bid. Then no one else said anything, so here it is; but I dare say it will serve to smarten the room a little, and perhaps attract lodgers.”

Since then it had been brightened with a coat of blue enamel paint, and a strip of Brusa silk which Martin had brought back from one of his wanderings was festooned at the side, so as to hide a patch where the quicksilver showed signs of peeling off. Miss Joliffe pulled the festoon a little forward, and adjusted in one of the side niches a present-for-a-good-girl cup and saucer which had been bought for herself at Beacon Hill Fair half a century ago. She wiped the glass dome that covered the basket of artificial fruit, she screwed up the “banner-screen” that projected from the mantelpiece, she straightened out the bead mat on which the stereoscope stood, and at last surveyed the room with an expression of complete satisfaction on her kindly face.

An hour later Westray was asleep, and Miss Joliffe was saying her prayers. She added a special thanksgiving for the providential direction to her house of so suitable and gentlemanly a lodger, and a special request that he might be happy whilst he should be under her roof. But her devotions were disturbed by the sound of Mr Sharnall’s piano.

“He plays most beautifully,” she said to her niece, as she put out the candle; “but I wish he would not play so late. I am afraid I have not thought so earnestly as I should at my prayers.”

Anastasia Joliffe said nothing. She was grieved because the organist was thumping out old waltzes, and she knew by his playing that he had been drinking.