The Nebuly Coat/Chapter Eleven
The old Bishop of Carisbury was dead, and a new Bishop of Carisbury reigned in his stead. The appointment had caused some chagrin in Low-Church circles, for Dr Willis, the new Bishop, was a High Churchman of pronounced views. But he had a reputation for deep personal piety, and a very short experience sufficed to show that he was full of Christian tolerance and tactful loving-kindness.
One day, as Mr Sharnall was playing a voluntary after the Sunday morning-service, a chorister stole up the little winding steps, and appeared in the organ-loft just as his master had pulled out a handful of stops and dashed into the stretto. The organist had not heard the boy on the stairs, and gave a violent start as he suddenly caught sight of the white surplice. Hands and feet for an instant lost their place, and the music came perilously near breaking down. It was only for an instant; he pulled himself together, and played the fugue to its logical conclusion.
Then the boy began, "Canon Parkyn's compliments," but broke off; for the organist greeted him with a sound cuff and a "How many times have I told you, sir, not to come creeping up those stairs when I am in the middle of a voluntary? You startle me out of my senses, coming round the corner like a ghost."
"I'm very sorry, sir," the boy said, whimpering. "I'm sure I never meant—I never thought—"
"You never do think," Mr Sharnall said. "Well, well, don't go on whining. Old heads don't grow on young shoulders; don't do it again, and there's a sixpence for you. And now let's hear what you have to say."
Sixpences were rare things among Cullerne boys, and the gift consoled more speedily than any balm in Gilead.
"Canon Parkyn's compliments to you, sir, and he would be glad to have a word with you in the clergy-vestry."
"All in good time. Tell him I'll be down as soon as I've put my books away."
Mr Sharnall did not hurry. There were the Psalter and the chant-book to be put open on the desk for the afternoon; there were the morning-service and anthem-book to be put away, and the evening-service and anthem-book to be got out.
The establishment had once been able to afford good music-books, and in the attenuated list of subscribers to the first-edition Boyce you may see to this day, "The Rector and Foundation of Cullerne Minster (6 copies)." Mr Sharnall loved the great Boyce, with its parchment paper and largest of large margins. He loved the crisp sound of the leaves as he turned them, and he loved the old-world clefs that he could read nine staves at a time as easily as a short score. He looked at the weekly list to check his memory—"Awake up my Glory" (Wise). No, it was in
Volume Three instead of Two; he had taken down the wrong volume—a stupid mistake for one who knew the copy so well. How the rough calf backs were crumbling away! The rusty red-leather dust had come off on his coat-sleeves; he really was not fit to be seen, and he took some minutes more to brush it all off. So it was that Canon Parkyn chafed at being kept waiting in the clergy-vestry, and greeted Mr Sharnall on his appearance with a certain tartness:
"I wish you could be a little quicker when you are sent for. I am particularly busy just now, and you have kept me waiting a quarter of an hour at least."
As this was precisely what Mr Sharnall had intended to do, he took no umbrage at the Rector's remarks, but merely said:
"Pardon me; scarcely so long as a quarter of an hour, I think."
"Well, do not let us waste words. What I wanted to tell you was that it has been arranged for the Lord Bishop of Carisbury to hold a confirmation in the minster on the eighteenth of next month, at three o'clock in the afternoon. We must have a full musical service, and I shall be glad if you will submit a sketch of what you propose for my approval. There is one point to which I must call your attention particularly. As his lordship walks up the nave, we must have a becoming march on the organ—not any of this old-fashioned stuff of which I have had so often to complain, but something really dignified and with tune in it."
"Oh yes, we can easily arrange that," Mr Sharnall said obsequiously—"'See the Conquering Hero comes,' by Handel, would be very appropriate; or there is an air out of one of Offenbach's Operas that I think I could adapt to the purpose. It is a very sweet thing if rendered with proper feeling; or I could play a 'Danse Maccabre' slowly on the full organ."
"Ah, that is from the 'Judas Maccabaeus,' I conclude," said the Rector, a little mollified at this unexpected acquiescence in his views. "Well, I see that you understand my wishes, so I hope I may leave that matter in your hands. By the way," he said, turning back as he left the vestry, "what was the piece which you played after the service just now?"
"Oh, only a fugal movement—just a fugue of Kirnberger's."
"I wish you would not give us so much of this fugal style. No doubt it is all very fine from a scholastic point of view, but to most it seems merely confused. So far from assisting me and the choir to go out with dignity, it really fetters our movements. We want something with pathos and dignity, such as befits the end of a solemn service, yet with a marked rhythm, so that it may time our footsteps as we leave the choir. Forgive these suggestions; the practical utility of the organ is so much overlooked in these days. When Mr Noot is taking the service it does not so much matter, but when I am here myself I beg that there may be no more fugue."
The visit of the Bishop of Carisbury to Cullerne was an important matter, and necessitated some forethought and arrangement.
"The Bishop must, of course, lunch with us," Mrs Parkyn said to her husband; "you will ask him, of course, to lunch, my dear."
"Oh yes, certainly," replied the Canon; "I wrote yesterday to ask him to lunch."
He assumed an unconcerned air, but with only indifferent success, for his heart misgave him that he had been guilty of an unpardonable breach of etiquette in writing on so important a subject without reference to his wife.
"Really, my dear!" she rejoined—"really! I hope at least that your note was couched in proper terms."
"Psha!" he said, a little nettled in his turn, "do you suppose I have never written to a Bishop before?"
"That is not the point; any invitation of this kind should always be given by me. The Bishop, if he has any breeding, will be very much astonished to receive an invitation to lunch that is not given by the lady of the house. This, at least, is the usage that prevails among persons of breeding." There was just enough emphasis in the repetition of the last formidable word to have afforded a casus belli, if the Rector had been minded for the fray; but he was a man of peace.
"You are quite right, my dear," was the soft answer; "it was a slip of mine, which we must hope the Bishop will overlook. I wrote in a hurry yesterday afternoon, as soon as I received the official information of his coming. You were out calling, if you recollect, and I had to catch the post. One never knows what tuft-hunting may not lead people to do; and if I had not caught the post, some pushing person or other might quite possibly have asked him sooner. I meant, of course, to have reported the matter to you, but it slipped my memory."
"Really," she said, with fine deprecation, being only half pacified, "I do not see who there could be to ask the Bishop except ourselves. Where should the Bishop of Carisbury lunch in Cullerne except at the Rectory?" In this unanswerable conundrum she quenched the smouldering embers of her wrath. "I have no doubt, dear, that you did it all for the best, and I hate these vulgar pushing nobodies, who try to get hold of everyone of the least position quite as much as you do. So let us consider whom we ought to ask to meet him. A small party, I think it should be; he would take it as a greater compliment if the party were small."
She had that shallow and ungenerous mind which shrinks instinctively from admitting any beauty or intellect in others, and which grudges any participation in benefits, however amply sufficient they may be for all. Thus, few must be asked to meet the Bishop, that it might the better appear that few indeed, beside the Rector and Mrs Parkyn, were fit to associate with so distinguished a man.
"I quite agree with you," said the Rector, considerably relieved to find that his own temerity in asking the Bishop might now be considered as condoned. "Our party must above all things be select; indeed, I do not know how we could make it anything but very small; there are so few people whom we could ask to meet the Bishop."
"Let me see," his wife said, making a show of reckoning Cullerne respectability with the fingers of one hand on the fingers of the other. "There is—" She broke off as a sudden idea seized her. "Why, of course, we must ask Lord Blandamer. He has shown such marked interest in ecclesiastical matters that he is sure to wish to meet the Bishop."
"A most fortunate suggestion—admirable in every way. It may strengthen his interest in the church; and it must certainly be beneficial to him to associate with correct society after his wandering and Bohemian life. I hear all kinds of strange tales of his hobnobbing with this Mr Westray, the clerk of the works, and with other persons entirely out of his own rank. Mrs Flint, who happened to be visiting a poor woman in a back lane, assures me that she has every reason to believe that he spent an hour or more in the clerk's house, and even ate there. They say he positively ate tripe."
"Well, it will certainly do him good to meet the Bishop," the lady said. "That would make four with ourselves; and we can ask Mrs Bulteel. We need not ask her husband; he is painfully rough, and the Bishop might not like to meet a brewer. It will not be at all strange to ask her alone; there is always the excuse of not liking to take a businessman away from his work in the middle of the day."
"That would be five; we ought to make it up to six. I suppose it would not do to ask this architect-fellow or Mr Sharnall."
"My dear! what can you be thinking of? On no account whatever. Such guests would be most inappropriate."
The Rector looked so properly humble and cast down at this reproof that his wife relented a little.
"Not that there is any harm in asking them, but they would be so very ill at ease themselves, I fear, in such surroundings. If you think the number should be even, we might perhaps ask old Noot. He is a gentleman, and would pass as your chaplain, and say grace."
Thus the party was made up, and Lord Blandamer accepted, and Mrs Bulteel accepted; and there was no need to trouble about the curate's acceptance—he was merely ordered to come to lunch. But, after all had gone so well up to this point, the unexpected happened—the Bishop could not come. He regretted that he could not accept the hospitality so kindly offered him by Canon Parkyn; he had an engagement which would occupy him for any spare time that he would have in Cullerne; he had made other arrangements for lunch; he would call at the Rectory half an hour before the service.
The Rector and his wife sat in the "study," a dark room on the north side of the rectory-house, made sinister from without by dank laurestinus, and from within by glass cases of badly-stuffed birds. A Bradshaw lay on the table before them.
"He cannot be driving from Carisbury," Mrs Parkyn said. "Dr Willis does not keep at all the same sort of stables that his predecessor kept. Mrs Flint, when she was attending the annual Christian Endeavour meeting at Carisbury, was told that Dr Willis thinks it wrong that a Bishop should do more in the way of keeping carriages than is absolutely necessary for church purposes. She said she had passed the Bishop's carriage herself, and that the coachman was a most unkempt creature, and the horses two wretched screws."
"I heard much the same thing," assented the Rector. "They say he would not have his own coat of arms painted on the carriage, for what was there already was quite good enough for him. He cannot possibly be driving here from Carisbury; it is a good twenty miles."
"Well, if he does not drive, he must come by the 12:15 train; that would give him two hours and a quarter before the service. What business can he have in Cullerne? Where can he be lunching? What can he be doing with himself for two mortal hours and a quarter?"
Here was another conundrum to which probably only one person in Cullerne town could have supplied an answer, and that was Mr Sharnall. A letter had come for the organist that very day:
- "The Palace,
- "My dear Sharnall,
- "(I had almost written 'My dear Nick'; forty years have made my pen a little stiff, but you must give me your official permission to write 'My dear Nick' the very next time.) You may have forgotten my hand, but you will not have forgotten me. Do you know, it is I, Willis, who am your new Bishop? It is only a fortnight since I learnt that you were so near me—
- "'Quam dulce amicitias,
- Redintegrare nitidas' -
- "and the very first point of it is that I am going to sponge on you, and ask myself to lunch. I am coming to Cullerne at 12:45 to-day fortnight for the Confirmation, and have to be at the Rectory at 2:30, but till then an old friend, Nicholas Sharnall, will give me food and shelter, will he not? Make no excuses, for I shall not accept them; but send me word to say that in this you will not fail of your duty, and believe me always to be
- "John Carum."
There was something that moved strangely inside Mr Sharnall's battered body as he read the letter—an upheaval of emotion; the child's heart within the man's; his young hopeful self calling to his old hopeless self. He sat back in his armchair, and shut his eyes, and the organ-loft in a little college chapel came back to him, and long, long practisings, and Willis content to stand by and listen as long as he should play. How it pleased Willis to stand by, and pull the stops, and fancy he knew something of music! No, Willis never knew any music, and yet he had a good taste, and loved a fugue.
There came to him country rambles and country churches and Willis with an "A.B.C. of Gothic Architecture," trying to tell an Early English from a Decorated moulding. There came to him inimitably long summer evenings, with the sky clearest yellow in the north, hours after sunset; dusty white roads, with broad galloping-paths at the side, drenched with heavy dew; the dark, mysterious boskage of Stow Wood; the scent of the syringa in the lane at Beckley; the white mist sheeting the Cherwell vale. And supper when they got home—for memory is so powerful an alchemist as to transmute suppers as well as sunsets. What suppers! Cider-cup with borage floating in it, cold lamb and mint sauce, watercress, and a triangular commons of Stilton. Why, he had not tasted Stilton for forty years!
No, Willis never knew any music, but he loved a fugue. Ah, the fugues they had! And then a voice crossed Mr Sharnall's memory, saying, "When I am here myself, I beg that there may be no more fugue." "No more fugue"—there was a finality in the phrase uncompromising as the "no more sea" of the Apocalyptic vision. It made Mr Sharnall smile bitterly; he woke from his daydream, and was back in the present.
Oh yes, he knew very well that it was his old friend when he first saw on whom the choice had fallen for the Bishopric. He was glad Willis was coming to see him. Willis knew all about the row, and how it was that Sharnall had to leave Oxford. Ay, but the Bishop was too generous and broad-minded to remember that now. Willis must know very well that he was only a poor, out-at-elbows old fellow, and yet he was coming to lunch with him; but did Willis know that he still—He did not follow the thought further, but glanced in a mirror, adjusted his tie, fastened the top button of his coat, and with his uncertain hands brushed the hair back on either side of his head. No, Willis did not know that; he never should know; it was never too late to mend.
He went to the cupboard, and took out a bottle and a tumbler. Only very little spirit was left, and he poured it all into the glass. There was a moment's hesitation, a moment while enfeebled will-power was nerving itself for the effort. He was apparently engaged in making sure that not one minim of this most costly liquor was wasted. He held the bottle carefully inverted, and watched the very last and smallest drop detach itself and fall into the glass. No, his will-power was not yet altogether paralysed—not yet; and he dashed the contents of the glass into the fire. There was a great blaze of light-blue flame, and a puff in the air that made the window-panes rattle; but the heroic deed was done, and he heard a mental blast of trumpets, and the acclaiming voice of the Victor Sui. Willis should never know that he still—because he never would again.
He rang the bell, and when Miss Euphemia answered it she found him walking briskly, almost tripping, to and fro in the room. He stopped as she entered, drew his heels together, and made her a profound bow.
"Hail, most fair chastelaine! Bid the varlets lower the draw-bridge and raise the portcullis. Order pasties and souse-fish and a butt of malmsey; see the great hall is properly decored for my Lord Bishop of Carisbury, who will take his ambigue and bait his steeds at this castle."
Miss Joliffe stared; she saw a bottle and an empty tumbler on the table, and smelt a strong smell of whisky; and the mirth faded from Mr Sharnall's face as he read her thoughts.
"No, wrong," he said—"wrong this once; I am as sober as a judge, but excited. A Bishop is coming to lunch with me. You are excited when Lord Blandamer takes tea with you—a mere trashy temporal peer; am I not to be excited when a real spiritual lord pays me a visit? Hear, O woman! The Bishop of Carisbury has written to ask, not me to lunch with him, but him to lunch with me. You will have a Bishop lunching at Bellevue Lodge."
"Oh, Mr Sharnall! pray, sir, speak plainly. I am so old and stupid, I can never tell whether you are joking or in earnest."
So he put off his exaltation, and told her the actual facts.
"I am sure I don't know, sir, what you will give him for lunch," Miss Joliffe said. She was always careful to put in a proper number of "sirs," for, though she was proud of her descent, and considered that so far as birth went she need not fear comparison with other Cullerne dames, she thought it a Christian duty to accept fully the position of landlady to which circumstances had led her. "I am sure I don't know what you will give him for lunch; it is always so difficult to arrange meals for the clergy. If one provides too much of the good things of this world, it seems as if one was not considering sufficiently their sacred calling; it seems like Martha, too cumbered with much serving, too careful and troubled, to gain all the spiritual advantage that must come from clergymen's society. But, of course, even the most spiritually-minded must nourish their bodies, or they would not be able to do so much good. But when less provision has been made, I have sometimes seen clergymen eat it all up, and become quite wearied, poor things! for want of food. It was so, I remember, when Mrs Sharp invited the parishioners to meet the deputation after the Church Missionary Meeting. All the patties were eaten before the deputation came, and he was so tired, poor man! with his long speech that when he found there was nothing to eat he got quite annoyed. It was only for a moment, of course, but I heard him say to someone, whose name I forget, that he had much better have trusted to a ham-sandwich in the station refreshment-room.
"And if it is difficult with the food, it is worse still with what they are to drink. Some clergymen do so dislike wine, and others feel they need it before the exertion of speaking. Only last year, when Mrs Bulteel gave a drawing-room meeting, and champagne with biscuits was served before it, Dr Stimey said quite openly that though he did not consider all who drank to be reprobate, yet he must regard alcohol as the Mark of the Beast, and that people did not come to drawing-room meetings to drink themselves sleepy before the speaking. With Bishops it must be much worse; so I don't know what we shall give him."
"Don't distress yourself too much," the organist said, having at last spied a gap in the serried ranks of words; "I have found out what Bishops eat; it is all in a little book. We must give him cold lamb— cold ribs of lamb—and mint sauce, boiled potatoes, and after that Stilton cheese."
"Stilton?" Miss Joliffe asked with some trepidation. "I am afraid it will be very expensive."
As a drowning man in one moment passes in review the events of a lifetime, so her mind took an instantaneous conspectus of all cheeses that had ever stood in the cheese-cradle in the palmy days of Wydcombe, when hams and plum-puddings hung in bags from the rafters, when there was cream in the dairy and beer in the cellar. Blue Vinny, little Gloucesters, double Besants, even sometimes a cream-cheese with rushes on the bottom, but Stilton never!
"I am afraid it is a very expensive cheese; I do not think anyone in Cullerne keeps it."
"It is a pity," Mr Sharnall said; "but we cannot help ourselves, for Bishops must have Stilton for lunch; the book says so. You must ask Mr Custance to get you a piece, and I will tell you later how it is to be cut, for there are rules about that too."
He laughed to himself with a queer little chuckle. Cold lamb and mint sauce, with a piece of Stilton afterwards—they would have an Oxford lunch; they would be young again, and undefiled.
The stimulus that the Bishop's letter had brought Mr Sharnall soon wore off. He was a man of moods, and in his nervous temperament depression walked close at the heels of exaltation. Westray felt sure in those days that followed that his friend was drinking to excess, and feared something more serious than a mere nervous breakdown, from the agitation and strangeness that he could not fail to observe in the organist's manner.
The door of the architect's room opened one night, as he sat late over his work, and Mr Sharnall entered. His face was pale, and there was a startled, wide-open look in his eyes that Westray did not like.
"I wish you would come down to my room for a minute," the organist said; "I want to change the place of my piano, and can't move it by myself."
"Isn't it rather late to-night?" Westray said, pulling at his watch, while the deep and slow melodious chimes of Saint Sepulchre told the dreaming town and the silent sea-marshes that it lacked but a quarter of an hour to midnight. "Wouldn't it be better to do it to-morrow morning?"
"Couldn't you come down to-night?" the organist asked; "it wouldn't take you a minute."
Westray caught the disappointment in the tone.
"Very well," he said, putting his drawing-board aside. "I've worked at this quite long enough; let us shift your piano."
They went down to the ground-floor.
"I want to turn the piano right-about-face," the organist said, "with its back to the room and the keyboard to the wall—the keyboard quite close to the wall, with just room for me to sit."
"It seems a curious arrangement," Westray criticised; "is it better acoustically?"
"Oh, I don't know; but, if I want to rest a bit, I can put my back against the wall, you see."
The change was soon accomplished, and they sat down for a moment before the fire.
"You keep a good fire," Westray said, "considering it is bed-time." And, indeed, the coals were piled high, and burning fiercely.
The organist gave them a poke, and looked round as if to make sure that they were alone.
"You'll think me a fool," he said; "and I am. You'll think I've been drinking, and I have. You'll think I'm drunk, but I'm not. Listen to me: I'm not drunk; I'm only a coward. Do you remember the very first night you and I walked home to this house together? Do you remember the darkness and the driving rain, and how scared I was when we passed the Old Bonding-house? Well, it was beginning then, but it's much worse now. I had a horrible idea even then that there was something always following me—following me close. I didn't know what it was—I only knew there was something close behind me."
His manner and appearance alarmed Westray. The organist's face was very pale, and a curious raising of the eyelids, which showed the whites of the eyes above the pupils, gave him the staring appearance of one confronted suddenly with some ghastly spectacle. Westray remembered that the hallucination of pursuant enemies is one of the most common symptoms of incipient madness, and put his hand gently on the organist's arm.
"Don't excite yourself," he said; "this is all nonsense. Don't get excited so late at night."
Mr Sharnall brushed the hand aside.
"I only used to have that feeling when I was out of doors, but now I have it often indoors—even in this very room. Before I never knew what it was following me—I only knew it was something. But now I know what it is: it is a man—a man with a hammer. Don't laugh. You don't want to laugh; you only laugh because you think it will quiet me, but it won't. I think it is a man with a hammer. I have never seen his face yet, but I shall some day. Only I know it is an evil face—not hideous, like pictures of devils or anything of that kind, but worse—a dreadful, disguised face, looking all right, but wearing a mask. He walks constantly behind me, and I feel every moment that the hammer may brain me."
"Come, come!" Westray said in what is commonly supposed to be a soothing tone, "let us change this subject, or go to bed. I wonder how you will find the new position of your piano answer."
The organist smiled.
"Do you know why I really put it like that?" he said. "It is because I am such a coward. I like to have my back against the wall, and then I know there can be no one behind me. There are many nights, when it gets late, that it is only with a great effort I can sit here. I grow so nervous that I should go to bed at once, only I say to myself, 'Nick'— that's what they used to call me at home, you know, when I was a boy—'Nick, you're not going to be beat; you're not going to be scared out of your own room by ghosts, surely.' And then I sit tight, and play on, but very often don't think much of what I'm playing. It is a sad state for a man to get into, is it not?" And Westray could not traverse the statement.
"Even in the church," Mr Sharnall went on, "I don't care to practise much in the evening by myself. It used to be all right when Cutlow was there to blow for me. He is a daft fellow, but still was some sort of company; but now the water-engine is put in, I feel lonely there, and don't care to go as often as I used. Something made me tell Lord Blandamer how his water-engine contrived to make me frightened, and he said he should have to come up to the loft himself sometimes to keep me company."
"Well, let me know the first evening you want to practise," Westray said, "and I will come, too, and sit in the loft. Take care of yourself, and you will soon grow out of all these fancies, and laugh at them as much as I do." And he feigned a smile. But it was late at night; he was high-strung and nervous himself, and the fact that Mr Sharnall should have been brought to such a pitiable state of mental instability depressed him.
The report that the Bishop was going to lunch with Mr Sharnall on the day of the Confirmation soon spread in Cullerne. Miss Joliffe had told Mr Joliffe the pork-butcher, as her cousin, and Mr Joliffe, as churchwarden, had told Canon Parkyn. It was the second time within a few weeks that a piece of important news had reached the Rector at second-hand. But on this occasion he experienced little of the chagrin that had possessed him when Lord Blandamer made the great offer to the restoration fund through Westray. He did not feel resentment against Mr Sharnall; the affair was of too solemn an importance for any such personal and petty sentiments to find a place. Any act of any Bishop was vicariously an act of God, and to chafe at this dispensation would have been as out of place as to be incensed at a shipwreck or an earthquake. The fact of being selected as the entertainer of the Bishop of Carisbury invested Mr Sharnall in the Rector's eyes with a distinction which could not have been possibly attained by mere intellect or technical skill or devoted drudgery. The organist became ipso facto a person to be taken into account.
The Rectory had divined and discussed, and discussed and divined, how it was, could, would, should, have been that the Bishop could be lunching with Mr Sharnall. Could it be that the Bishop had thought that Mr Sharnall kept an eating-house, or that the Bishop took some special diet which only Mr Sharnall knew how to prepare? Could it be that the Bishop had some idea of making Mr Sharnall organist in his private chapel, for there was no vacancy in the Cathedral? Conjecture charged the blank wall of mystery full tilt, and retired broken from the assault. After talking of nothing else for many hours, Mrs Parkyn declared that the matter had no interest at all for her.
"For my part, I cannot profess to understand such goings-on," she said in that convincing and convicting tone which implies that the speaker knows far more than he cares to state, and that the solution of the mystery must in any case be discreditable to all concerned.
"I wonder, my dear," the Rector said to his wife, "whether Mr Sharnall has the means to entertain the Bishop properly."
"Properly!" said Mrs Parkyn—"properly! I think the whole proceeding entirely improper. Do you mean has Mr Sharnall money enough to purchase a proper repast? I should say certainly not. Or has he proper plates or forks or spoons, or a proper room in which to eat? Of course he has not. Or do you mean can he get things properly cooked? Who is to do it? There is only feckless old Miss Joliffe and her stuck-up niece."
The Canon was much perturbed by the vision of discomfort which his wife had called up.
"The Bishop ought to be spared as much as possible," he said; "we ought to do all we can to save him annoyance. What do you think? Should we not put up with a little inconvenience, and ask Sharnall to bring the Bishop here, and lunch himself? He must know perfectly well that entertaining a Bishop in a lodging-house is an unheard-of thing, and he would do to make up the sixth instead of old Noot. We could easily tell Noot he was not wanted."
"Sharnall is such a disreputable creature," Mrs Parkyn answered; "he is quite as likely as not to come tipsy; and, if he does not, he has no breeding or education, and would scarcely understand polite conversation."
"You forget, my dear, that the Bishop is already pledged to lunch with Mr Sharnall, so that we should not be held responsible for introducing him. And Sharnall has managed to pick up some sort of an education—I can't imagine where; but I found on one occasion that he could understand a little Latin. It was the Blandamer motto, Aut Fynes, aut finis.' He may have been told what it meant, but he certainly seemed to know. Of course, no real knowledge of Latin can be obtained without a University education"—and the Rector pulled up his tie and collar—"but still chemists and persons of that sort do manage to get a smattering of it."
"Well, well, I don't suppose we are going to talk Latin all through lunch," interrupted his wife. "You can do precisely as you please about asking him."
The Rector contented himself with the permission, however ungraciously accorded, and found himself a little later in Mr Sharnall's room.
"Mrs Parkyn was hoping that she might have prevailed on you to lunch with us on the day of the Confirmation. She was only waiting for the Bishop's acceptance to send you an invitation; but we hear now," he said in a dubitative and tentative way—"we hear now that it is possible that the Bishop may be lunching with you."
There was a twitch about the corners of Canon Parkyn's mouth. The position that a Bishop should be lunching with Mr Sharnall in a common lodging-house was so exquisitely funny that he could only restrain his laughter with difficulty.
Mr Sharnall gave an assenting nod.
"Mrs Parkyn was not quite sure whether you might have in your lodgings exactly everything that might be necessary for entertaining his lordship."
"Oh dear, yes," Mr Sharnall said. "It looks a little dowdy just this minute, because the chairs are at the upholsterers to have the gilt touched up; we are putting up new curtains, of course, and the housekeeper has already begun to polish the best silver."
"It occurred to Mrs Parkyn," the Rector continued, being too bent on saying what he had to say to pay much attention to the organist's remarks—"it occurred to Mrs Parkyn that it might perhaps be more convenient to you to bring the Bishop to lunch at the Rectory. It would spare you all trouble in preparation, and you would of course lunch with us yourself. It would be putting us to no inconvenience; Mrs Parkyn would be glad that you should lunch with us yourself."
Mr Sharnall nodded, this time deprecatingly.
"You are very kind. Mrs Parkyn is very considerate, but the Bishop has signified his intention of lunching in this house; I could scarcely venture to contravene his lordship's wishes."
"The Bishop is a friend of yours?" the Rector asked.
"You can scarcely say that; I do not think I have set eyes on the man for forty years."
The Rector was puzzled.
"Perhaps the Bishop is under some misconception; perhaps he thinks that this house is still an inn—the Hand of God, you know."
"Perhaps," said the organist; and there was a little pause.
"I hope you will consider the matter. May I not tell Mrs Parkyn that you will urge the Bishop to lunch at the Rectory—that you both"—and he brought out the word bravely, though it cost him a pang to yoke the Bishop with so unworthy a mate, and to fling the door of select hospitality open to Mr Sharnall—"that you both will lunch with us?"
"I fear not," the organist said; "I fear I must say no. I shall be very busy preparing for the extra service, and if I am to play 'See the Conquering Hero' as the Bishop enters the church, I shall need time for practice. A piece like that takes some playing, you know."
"I hope you will endeavour to render it in the very best manner," the Rector said, and withdrew his forces re infecta.
The story of Mr Sharnall's mental illusions, and particularly of the hallucination as to someone following him, had left an unpleasant impression on Westray's mind. He was anxious about his fellow-lodger, and endeavoured to keep a kindly supervision over him, as he felt it to be possible that a person in such a state might do himself a mischief. On most evenings he either went down to Mr Sharnall's room, or asked the organist to come upstairs to his, considering that the solitude incident to bachelor life in advancing years was doubtless to blame to a large extent for these wandering fancies. Mr Sharnall occupied himself at night in sorting and reading the documents which had once belonged to Martin Joliffe. There was a vast number of them, representing the accumulation of a lifetime, and consisting of loose memoranda, of extracts from registers, of manuscript-books full of pedigrees and similar material. When he had first begun to examine them, with a view to their classification or destruction, he showed that the task was distinctly uncongenial to him; he was glad enough to make any excuse for interruption or for invoking Westray's aid. The architect, on the other hand, was by nature inclined to archaeologic and genealogic studies, and would not have been displeased if Mr Sharnall had handed over to him the perusal of these papers entirely. He was curious to trace the origin of that chimera which had wasted a whole life—to discover what had led Martin originally to believe that he had a claim to the Blandamer peerage. He found, perhaps, an additional incentive in an interest which he was beginning unconsciously to take in Anastasia Joliffe, whose fortunes might be supposed to be affected by these investigations.
But in a little while Westray noticed a change in the organist's attitude as touching the papers. Mr Sharnall evinced a dislike to the architect examining them further; he began himself to devote a good deal more time and attention to their study, and he kept them jealously under lock and key. Westray's nature led him to resent anything that suggested suspicion; he at once ceased to concern himself with the matter, and took care to show Mr Sharnall that he had no wish whatever to see more of the documents.
As for Anastasia, she laughed at the idea of there being any foundation underlying these fancies; she laughed at Mr Sharnall, and rallied Westray, saying she believed that they both were going to embark on the quest of the nebuly coat. To Miss Euphemia it was no laughing matter.
"I think, my dear," she said to her niece, "that all these searchings after wealth and fortune are not of God. I believe that trying to discover things"—and she used "things" with the majestic comprehensiveness of the female mind—"is generally bad for man. If it is good for us to be noblemen and rich, then Providence will bring us to that station; but to try to prove one's self a nobleman is like star-gazing and fortune-telling. Idolatry is as the sin of witchcraft. There can be no blessing on it, and I reproach myself for ever having given dear Martin's papers to Mr Sharnall at all. I only did so because I could not bear to go through them myself, and thought perhaps that there might be cheques or something valuable among them. I wish I had burnt everything at first, and now Mr Sharnall says he will not have the papers destroyed till he has been through them. I am sure they were no blessing at all to dear Martin. I hope they may not bewitch these two gentlemen as well."