The Inquisitor - Hugh Walpole - ebook

The Inquisitor ebook

Hugh Walpole

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Walpole wrote horror novels that tended to be more psychological than supernatural, with mysticism underlying thoughtfulness. The Inquisitor is a murder thriller set in a haunted village. This novel will leave a mark with horror lovers.

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Liczba stron: 832

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Contents

PREFATORY LETTER

PART I

BOANERGES

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

PART II

PERFORMANCE

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

INTERLUDE

PART III

MICHAEL FURZE

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

PREFATORY LETTER

London, 1935

My dear Robert,

Whenever I have in the past written a dedicatory letter to a novel, I have been reproached by my friends who tell me that it is a very old-fashioned and otiose thing to do. Whether that be so or not, I see little harm in it, especially if one wishes, as I do in the present instance, to make a certain point clear.

First I would like to acknowledge with what extreme pleasure I dedicate this book to you; modesty forbids my mentioning in public the reasons of my gratitude to you. You well know what they are.

There is something, however, that I have been wanting for many years to say, and this is, I feel, a fair opportunity. The Inquisitor is the fourth of a series of stories about a cathedral town that I have called Polchester. The three that precede it are, The Cathedral, Harmer John and The Old Ladies. The fact that I have written these novels about a cathedral city has persuaded a number of critics, friendly and otherwise, that I have been attempting to rival that wonderful portrayer of Victorian life in a cathedral city–Anthony Trollope. I had, you scarcely need to be told, never any thought of such absurd rivalry. Had I the genius to create characters so masterfully actual as the Bishop, Mr. Slope and Mrs. Proudie, I would wear my hat at an angle and challenge with confidence all the present realists of the English novel. In truth, the aim of my four cathedral novels has been exactly opposite from that of the creator of Barchester, and their ancestor, if they have one, is the author of The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables.

These four novels of mine are, of deliberate purpose, novels of event. There are in the course of them murders, suicides, abductions, riots–not that I would have Polchester supposed to be a town of violence, far otherwise, but there have been in its history, as in the history of all towns, moments of drama, even of melodrama. And these I have deliberately chosen as illustrations of my one continuous theme. In fact, I would hold my breath and declare most dangerously that I am not afraid of melodrama. I think that possibly the contemporary English novel is written too frequently in undertones. Many of the cleverer novelists in England at this present instant seem to myself to talk in whispers. I do not defend melodrama, nor do I think that these cathedral novels of mine are melodramatic, but their violences are deliberate and the scenes at the close of this present novel are true history.

With every good wish,

Yours, dear Robert,

HUGH WALPOLE

PART I

BOANERGES

CHAPTER I

ANOTHER CITIZEN–THE CATHEDRAL IS FILLED–THE CATHEDRAL IS EMPTY

The thin papery sky of the early autumn afternoon was torn, and the eye of the sun, pale but piercing, looked through and down. The eye’s gaze travelled on a shaft of light to the very centre of the town. A little scornful, very arrogant, it surveyed the scene. The Cathedral had chimed at three, and at once the bells began with their accustomed melody to ring for Evensong. The town, bathed in a smoky haze, clustered about and around the Cathedral, Cathedral Green and Arden Gate, dropping through the High Street, then lower to the Market-place, then sharply over the Rock to Seatown that bordered the river. Slowly up, beyond the river, sloped the quiet autumn fields to the hills that spread, like dun cloths, to the sea. For the moment, while the sun’s eye gazed its last on that afternoon, the huddled town, the long fields, the wide band of sea caught a pale glow of light, looking up to the sun with the timidity of a girl reassured by her lover’s unexpected attentions.

Men lolling in Riverside Street said: ‘There’s the sun!’

At the St. Leath Hotel on Pol Hill beyond the town, windows stole a glimmering shade. In Canon’s Yard the old houses with their twisted shapes and crooked chimneys grinned, for an instant, like toothless old men. It was market day and in the Market-place the huddled sheep, the wide-eyed cows, the barking dogs, the farmers, the old women were mistily gold-lit as with a divine dust. The frock-coated statue at the top of Orange Street was illuminated at the nose; in the yard of the old ‘Bull’ a weary maid rubbed her eyes; Hattaway, the architect, standing in the door of Bennett’s bookshop, looked up to the sky and smiled; two of the old ladies of 10 Norman Row, starting out for their walk, said together: ‘Why, there’s the sun!’; Mr. Stephen Furze, alone in his cobwebby room, saw the sun strike ladders of light through the air and shook his head at them; young ‘Penny’ Marlowe, arranging chrysanthemums in the drawing-room at St. James’s Rectory, smiled mysteriously as though surprised in a secret.

The King Harry Tower caught the light, then seemed, with a proud gesture of disdain, to toss it away.

The eye of the sun, having seen everything, withdrew.

Mists were rising from the river.

The Reverend Peter Gaselee, young and ardent, was crossing the Cathedral Green to Evensong. Half-way over he was stopped by a bent figure, shoulders wrapped in a grey shawl, hat shabby and shapeless, that said in a sharp and piercing voice: ‘Ah, Mr. Gaselee–Sun came out for a moment but it’s gone in again.’ Peter Gaselee was annoyed by this interruption, for he was in a hurry and old Mr. Mordaunt was a fool. However, it was his policy to be agreeable to everyone–it was also the obligation of his cloth. So he said brightly:

‘Ah, Mr. Mordaunt–been sketching?’

‘Yes, I have. I’ve stopped now because the light’s too bad. If the sun had stayed I’d have had half an hour more.’ He drew his grey shawl closer about his shoulders. ‘Like to see what I’ve been doing?’

‘Delighted,’ Gaselee said, but thought–‘Silly old ass–always must be showing his mad sketches to everyone.’ His fine thin nose twitched as it always did when he was irritated, but his smile was genial as the old man, with a trembling hand, drew out a sketch-book.

‘There–the light’s bad. But you can see it all right, I daresay.’ He opened the book and showed, his fingers tapping against the paper, a double-page drawing. Gaselee flattered himself that he had a fine knowledge of the Arts. He and old Ronder, and possibly Hattaway, were the only men, he told himself, who cared for such things in Polchester.

There was no doubt that old Mordaunt could draw. The Cathedral rose from the paper like a living thing, the King Harry Tower like the proud head of a triumphant giant.

‘Those lines in King Harry look like teeth,’ he said, for he must say something.

‘Well, they do sometimes. In certain lights.’

‘And who’s that standing in the West Door?’

The old man peered more closely. ‘Oh, you see someone there, do you? So did I. But there wasn’t anyone there really. At least I don’t think so.’

‘He’s too large for life anyway.’

‘Yes, long and thin and black. That’s how I saw him.’

‘How do you mean–you saw him–if there wasn’t anyone there?’

The old man began eagerly: ‘Oh well, light does strange things. But I’ve often thought I’ve seen him. Very thin, in black. He never moves even when the light changes.’

‘Shadows, I suppose.’

‘Yes, shadows.’

Gaselee smiled and nodded his head. ‘Good afternoon, Mr. Mordaunt. I must be getting on. Going to Evensong.’

‘Good day to you, Mr. Gaselee. I must be getting on too. Yes, I must. Good day to you.’

Gaselee walked on. He passed in at the West Door.

Old Mordaunt drew his shawl very closely about him indeed and slip-slopped along, hugging the sketch-book closely to him, the sketch-book that was more to him than wife or child or any human being.

Gaselee walked rapidly through the nave and up into the choir. He found his favourite seat, the end one but two on the left towards the altar, knelt down and prayed, then settled himself with comfort and looked about him.

The lights were lit because of the duskiness of the afternoon; the curtains had not been drawn and he could see, beyond the misty candlelight that hovered, like a benediction, over the choir-seats, into the dark colours of the nave. A deep, comforting silence, made more peaceful by the distant rhythm of the bells, brooded at the heart of the building. A choir-boy was moving in and out of the seats arranging the service-papers.

Once the place had blazed with crimson and gold, paintings of extravagant colour on the walls, marble pavements, the windows shining in the pageantry of coloured glass. Behind him to the left was the Black Bishop’s Tomb, the Tomb itself made of a solid block of dark-blue stone, the figure of the Bishop carved in black marble.... Ah, there is Mrs. Braund, wife of the Archdeacon, stout, comfortable, and a strange lady with her. There would be very few people to-day.

A thick-set man came stamping along, head up as though he commanded the place, Lampiron, the sculptor–but he never would show his work to anybody–a rude man of whom Gaselee was secretly afraid....

The bells stopped. The organ began. The procession came in. Only Canons Dale and Moffit to-day–Dale, young, thin, with a face like a hawk, old Moffit hobbling along on a stick.

‘Dearly beloved brethren...’ The service began.

After a while Gaselee lost himself in reminiscence.

Although he was only twenty-eight he seemed to himself to have led already a life of surpassing interest and excitement. He was to himself a figure of quite extraordinary interest. Everything that happened to him was wonderful, although not so wonderful as the things that were going to happen to him.

The first thing that astonished him was that he had been able to do so much for himself. Nothing could have been more ordinary than his parentage, his birthplace. His father had been rector of a Wiltshire parish, miles from anywhere, lost in rolling down and country lane. He had been the only child, and his parents had, from the very first, thought him exceptional. His mother had adored him and he had for her all the condescending love of a favoured only child. His father was a saint, an old stout man now with dishevelled white hair, a passion for gardening, for cricket, for dogs and the people of his village. Gaselee felt for him a stern protective affection, the feeling that one has for someone who knows nothing about life, who may be taken in by anyone or anything, who is so simple as to be not altogether sane. When people spoke to Gaselee of his father and said that he was one of God’s saints and a very merry man, adored by his people, Gaselee agreed, but with an implication that it was kind and generous of them to say so.... Dear old man...

From a very early age his parents had been astonished at their son’s ability to express himself, for they themselves had never found words easy. They wondered, too, at his appetite for reading, at the things that he knew and, as he grew older, they listened with loving attention to his opinions about everything. He told them, affectionately, how old-fashioned they were, and they agreed absolutely with his opinion.

Because they were poor they could not send him to one of the larger public schools. He went to Taunton.

He did very well there, though not brilliantly. He knew a little of everything and was popular because he behaved to everybody as they would wish him to behave. He made no very close relationships because he never gave himself completely to anybody. He had no time for that because he was so busy organizing his own progress. This with one exception. Much to his own surprise and even to his chagrin he developed a passion for a boy called Radcliffe. He was not accustomed to passion and it made him uncomfortable. He could not help himself. Charlie Radcliffe was a quiet, good-natured boy with nothing at all remarkable about him. He could be of no use to Gaselee in any way. At first he returned Gaselee’s friendship; then he quietly withdrew, giving no reasons. This was the greatest trouble in Gaselee’s school life. He was baffled and bewildered by it. Everything else went well and he won an Exhibition at Jesus College, Cambridge. At Cambridge he lived carefully–he never threw money about. He rowed for his College, was popular exactly as he had been at school and made no close friends. He went to a Clergy Training College at Drymouth and did well there too. Then he had a curacy near Exeter; two years ago he became curate of St. James’s, Polchester, whose Rector was the Reverend Richard Marlowe.

He had come to Polchester because he felt that it was a good stepping-stone for him. Bishop Kendon was an old man now but famous in the world for his books, his energy, his strength of character. Many remarkable men had been at Polchester–Bishop Purcell, Archdeacon Brandon, Wistons of Pybus St. Anthony. The Pybus living was famous for its incumbents, the majority of whom had been moved to great preferment.

During his two years in Polchester he had, he was sure, made a real mark. He was popular, considered intelligent, and as a preacher increasingly in demand. He was an excellent preacher, modern, easy, well informed, sometimes eloquent, always sensible. He took part in many of the town’s activities, played golf, sang with an agreeable light tenor, was considered better-read than anyone in the town save old Canon Ronder.

With Ronder he had made a strong alliance and here there was something genuine and real. Although the old man was seventy-five, disgracefully stout and exceedingly lazy, he had a mind that delighted young Gaselee’s–sharp, cynical, brilliantly instructed, keen as a dagger. Gaselee’s two years had been very happy and successful ones. He had a right to be pleased.

He realized that the time of the anthem had arrived. He looked at a printed sheet that had been laid in front of him and murmured, ‘Another of Doggett’s experiments.’ It was like Doggett to write a new anthem and perform it for the first time at an ordinary daily Evensong when there would be no audience.

Some people said Doggett had genius, and Gaselee, who loved music and knew when it was good, thought that he might have, but the man was so silent, so retiring, did so little for himself and his future–a little mousy man with a large round head and a face like an egg, who seemed not to care whether one liked his music or no. Gaselee had been kind to him, but Doggett didn’t seem to know it.

This was a setting of a poem of Christina Rossetti’s.

Gaselee read the poem:

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