The Nebuly Coat/Chapter Nine
Among the letters which the postman brought to Bellevue Lodge on the morning following these remarkable events was an envelope which possessed a dreadful fascination. It bore a little coronet stamped in black upon the flap, and "Edward Westray, Esquire, Bellevue Lodge, Cullerne," written on the front in a bold and clear hand. But this was not all, for low in the left corner was the inscription "Blandamer." A single word, yet fraught with so mystical an import that it set Anastasia's heart beating fast as she gave it to her aunt, to be taken upstairs with the architect's breakfast.
"There is a letter for you, sir, from Lord Blandamer," Miss Joliffe said, as she put down the tray on the table.
But the architect only grunted, and went on with ruler and compass at the plan with which he was busy. Miss Joliffe would have been more than woman had she not felt a burning curiosity to know the contents of so important a missive; and to leave a nobleman's letter neglected on the table seemed to her little short of sacrilege.
Never had breakfast taken longer to lay, and still there was the letter lying by the tin cover, which (so near is grandeur to our dust) concealed a simple bloater. Poor Miss Joliffe made a last effort ere she left the room to bring Westray to a proper appreciation of the situation.
"There is a letter for you, sir; I think it is from Lord Blandamer."
"Yes, yes," the architect said sharply; "I will attend to it presently."
And so she retired, routed.
Westray's nonchalance had been in part assumed. He was anxious to show that he, at any rate, could rise superior to artificial distinctions of rank, and was no more to be impressed by peers than peasants. He kept up this philosophic indifference even after Miss Joliffe left the room; for he took life very seriously, and felt his duty towards himself to be at least as important as that towards his neighbours. Resolution lasted till the second cup of tea, and then he opened the letter.
"Dear Sir" (it began),
"I understood from you yesterday that the repairs to the north transept of Cullerne Minster are estimated to cost 7,800 pounds. This charge I should like to bear myself, and thus release for other purposes of restoration the sum already collected. I am also prepared to undertake whatever additional outlay is required to put the whole building in a state of substantial repair. Will you kindly inform Sir George Farquhar of this, and ask him to review the scheme of restoration as modified by these considerations? I shall be in Cullerne on Saturday next, and hope I may find you at home if I call about five in the afternoon, and that you may then have time to show me the church.
"I am, dear sir,
"Very truly yours,
Westray had scanned the letter so rapidly that he knew its contents by intuition rather than by the more prosaic method of reading. Nor did he re-read it several times, as is generally postulated by important communications in fiction; he simply held it in his hand, and crumpled it unconsciously, while he thought. He was surprised, and he was pleased—pleased at the wider vista of activity that Lord Blandamer's offer opened, and pleased that he should be chosen as the channel through which an announcement of such gravity was to be made. He felt, in short, that pleasurable and confused excitement, that mental inebriation, which unexpected good fortune is apt to produce in any except the strongest minds, and went down to Mr Sharnall's room still crumpling the letter in his hand. The bloater was left to waste its sweetness on the morning air.
"I have just received some extraordinary news," he said, as he opened the door.
Mr Sharnall was not altogether unprepared, for Miss Joliffe had already informed him that a letter from Lord Blandamer had arrived for Mr Westray; so he only said "Ah!" in a tone that implied compassion for the lack of mental balance which allowed Westray to be so easily astonished, and added "Ah, yes?" as a manifesto that no sublunary catastrophe could possibly astonish him, Mr Sharnall. But Westray's excitement was cold-waterproof, and he read the letter aloud with much jubilation.
"Well," said the organist, "I don't see much in it; seven thousand pounds is nothing to him. When we have done all that we ought to do, we are unprofitable servants."
"It isn't only seven thousand pounds; don't you see he gives carte-blanche for repairs in general? Why, it may be thirty or forty thousand, or even more."
"Don't you wish you may get it?" the organist said, raising his eyebrows and shutting his eyelids.
Westray was nettled.
"Oh, I think it's mean to sneer at everything the man does. We abused him yesterday as a niggard; let us have the grace to-day to say we were mistaken." He was afflicted with the over-scrupulosity of a refined, but strictly limited mind, and his conscience smote him. "I, at any rate, was quite mistaken," he went on; "I quite misinterpreted his hesitation when I mentioned the cost of the transept repairs."
"Your chivalrous sentiments do you the greatest credit," the organist said, "and I congratulate you on being able to change your ideas so quickly. As for me, I prefer to stick to my first opinion. It is all humbug; either he doesn't mean to pay, or else he has some plan of his own to push. I wouldn't touch his money with a barge-pole."
"Oh no, of course not," Westray said, with the exaggerated sarcasm of a schoolboy in his tone. "If he was to offer a thousand pounds to restore the organ, you wouldn't take a penny of it."
"He hasn't offered a thousand yet," rejoined the organist; "and when he does, I'll send him away with a flea in his ear."
"That's a very encouraging announcement for would-be contributors," Westray sneered; "they ought to come forward very strongly after that."
"Well, I must get on with some copying," the organist said dryly; and Westray went back to the bloater.
If Mr Sharnall was thus pitiably wanting in appreciation of a munificent offer, the rest of Cullerne made no pretence of imitating his example. Westray was too elated to keep the good news to himself, nor did there appear, indeed, to be any reason for making a secret of it. So he told the foreman-mason, and Mr Janaway the clerk, and Mr Noot the curate, and lastly Canon Parkyn the rector, whom he certainly ought to have told the first of all. Thus, before the carillon of Saint Sepulchre's played "New Sabbath" at three o'clock that afternoon, the whole town was aware that the new Lord Blandamer had been among them, and had promised to bear the cost of restoring the great minster of which they were all so proud—so very much more proud when their pride entailed no sordid considerations of personal subscription.
Canon Parkyn was ruffled. Mrs Parkyn perceived it when he came in to dinner at one o'clock, but, being a prudent woman, she did not allude directly to his ill-humour, though she tried to dispel it by leading the conversation to topics which experience had shown her were soothing to him. Among such the historic visit of Sir George Farquhar, and the deference which he had paid to the Rector's suggestions, occupied a leading position: but the mention of the great architect's name, was a signal for a fresh exhibition of vexation on her husband's part.
"I wish," he said, "that Sir George would pay a little more personal attention to the work at the minster. His representative, this Mr— er—er—this Mr Westray, besides being, I fear, very inexperienced and deficient in architectural knowledge, is a most conceited young man, and constantly putting himself forward in an unbecoming way. He came to me this morning with an exceedingly strange communication—a letter from Lord Blandamer."
Mrs Parkyn laid down her knife and fork.
"A letter from Lord Blandamer?" she said in unconcealed amazement—"a letter from Lord Blandamer to Mr Westray!"
"Yes," the Rector went on, losing some of his annoyance in the pleasurable consciousness that his words created a profound sensation—"a letter in which his lordship offers to bear in the first place the cost of the repairs of the north transept, and afterwards to make good any deficiency in the funds required for the restoration of the rest of the fabric. Of course, I am very loth to question any action taken by a member of the Upper House, but at the same time I am compelled to characterise the proceeding as most irregular. That such a communication should be made to a mere clerk of the works, instead of to the Rector and duly appointed guardian of the sacred edifice, is so grave a breach of propriety that I am tempted to veto the matter entirely, and to refuse to accept this offer."
His face wore a look of sublime dignity, and he addressed his wife as if she were a public meeting. Ruat cœlum, Canon Parkyn was not to be moved a hair's-breadth from the line traced by propriety and rectitude. He knew in his inmost heart that under no possible circumstances would he have refused any gift that was offered him, yet his own words had about them so heroic a ring that for a moment he saw himself dashing Lord Blandamer's money on the floor, as early Christians had flung to the wind that pinch of incense that would have saved them from the lions.
"I think I must refuse this offer," he repeated.
Mrs Parkyn knew her husband intimately—more intimately, perhaps, than he knew himself—and had an additional guarantee that the discussion was merely academic in the certainty that, even were he really purposed to refuse the offer, she would not allow him to do so. Yet she played the game, and feigned to take him seriously.
"I quite appreciate your scruples, my dear; they are just what anyone who knew you would expect. It is a positive affront that you should be told of such a proposal by this impertinent young man; and Lord Blandamer has so strange a reputation himself that one scarcely knows how far it is right to accept anything from him for sacred purposes. I honour your reluctance. Perhaps it would be right for you to decline this proposal, or, at any rate, to take time for consideration."
The Rector looked furtively at his wife. He was a little alarmed at her taking him so readily at his word. He had hoped that she would be dismayed—that she could have brought proper arguments to bear to shake his high resolve.
"Ah, your words have unwittingly reminded me of my chief difficulty in refusing. It is the sacred purpose which makes me doubt my own judgment. It would be a painful reflection to think that the temple should suffer by my refusing this gift. Maybe I should be yielding to my own petulance or personal motives if I were to decline. I must not let my pride stand in the way of higher obligations."
He concluded in his best pulpit manner, and the farce was soon at an end. It was agreed that the gift must be accepted, that proper measures should be taken to rebuke Mr Westray's presumption, as he had no doubt induced Lord Blandamer to select so improper a channel of communication, and that the Rector should himself write direct to thank the noble donor. So, after dinner, Canon Parkyn retired to his "study," and composed a properly fulsome letter, in which he attributed all the noblest possible motives and qualities to Lord Blandamer, and invoked all the most unctuously conceived blessings upon his head. And at teatime the letter was perused and revised by Mrs Parkyn, who added some finishing touches of her own, especially a preamble which stated that Canon Parkyn had been informed by the clerk of the works that Lord Blandamer had expressed a desire to write to Canon Parkyn to make a certain offer, but had asked the clerk of the works to find out first whether such an offer would be acceptable to Canon Parkyn, and a peroration which hoped that Lord Blandamer would accept the hospitality of the Rectory on the occasion of his next visit to Cullerne.
The letter reached Lord Blandamer at Fording the next morning as he sat over a late breakfast, with a Virgil open on the table by his coffee-cup. He read the Rector's stilted periods without a smile, and made a mental note that he would at once send a specially civil acknowledgment. Then he put it carefully into his pocket, and turned back to the Di patrii indigetes et Romule Vestaque Mater of the First Georgic, which he was committing to memory, and banished the invitation so completely from his mind that he never thought of it again till he was in Cullerne a week later.
Lord Blandamer's visit, and the offer which he had made for the restoration of the church, formed the staple of Cullerne conversation for a week. All those who had been fortunate enough to see or to speak to him discussed him with one another, and compared notes. Scarcely a detail of his personal appearance, of his voice or manner escaped them; and so infectious was this interest that some who had never seen him at all were misled by their excitement into narrating how he had stopped them in the street to ask the way to the architect's lodgings, and how he had made so many striking and authentic remarks that it was wonderful that he had ever reached Bellevue Lodge at all that night. Clerk Janaway, who was sorely chagrined to think that he should have missed an opportunity of distinguished converse, declared that he had felt the stranger's grey eyes go through and through him like a knife, and had only made believe to stop him entering the choir, in order to convince himself by the other's masterful insistence that his own intuition was correct. He had known all the time, he said, that he was speaking to none other than Lord Blandamer.
Westray thought the matter important enough to justify him in going to London to consult Sir George Farquhar, as to the changes in the scheme of restoration which Lord Blandamer's munificence made possible; but Mr Sharnall, at any rate, was left to listen to Miss Joliffe's recollections, surmises, and panegyrics.
In spite of all the indifference which the organist had affected when he first heard the news, he showed a surprising readiness to discuss the affair with all comers, and exhibited no trace of his usual impatience with Miss Joliffe, so long as she was talking of Lord Blandamer. To Anastasia it seemed as if he could talk of nothing else, and the more she tried to check him by her silence or by change of subject, the more bitterly did he return to the attack.
The only person to exhibit no interest in this unhappy nobleman, who had outraged propriety by offering to contribute to the restoration of the minster, was Anastasia herself; and even tolerant Miss Joliffe was moved to chide her niece's apathy in this particular.
"I do not think it becomes us, love, young or old, to take so little notice of great and good deeds. Mr Sharnall is, I fear, discontented with the station of life to which it has pleased Providence to call him, and I am less surprised at his not always giving praise where praise should be given; but with the young it is different. I am sure if anyone had offered to restore Wydcombe Church when I was a girl—and specially a nobleman—I should have been as delighted, or nearly as delighted, as if he—as if I had been given a new frock." She altered the "as if he had given me" which was upon her tongue because the proposition, even for purposes of illustration, that a nobleman could ever have offered her a new frock seemed to have in itself something of the scandalous and unfitting.
"I should have been delighted, but, dear me! in those days people were so blind as never to think of restorations. We used to sit in quite comfortable seats every Sunday, with cushions and hassocks, and the aisles were paved with flagstones—simple worn flagstones, and none of the caustic tiles which look so much more handsome; though I am always afraid I am going to slip, and glad to be off them, they are so hard and shiny. Church matters were very behindhand then. All round the walls were tablets that people had put up to their relations, white caskets on black marble slates, and urns and cherubs' heads, and just opposite where I used to sit a poor lady, whose name I have forgotten, weeping under a willow-tree. No doubt they were very much out of place in the sanctuary, as the young gentleman said in his lecture on 'How to make our Churches Beautiful' in the Town Hall last winter. He called them 'mural blisters,' my dear, but there was no talk of removing them in my young days, and that was, I dare say, because there was no one to give the money for it. But now, here is this good young nobleman, Lord Blandamer, come forward so handsomely, and I have no doubt at Cullerne all will be much improved ere long. We are not meant to loll at our devotions, as the lecturer told us. That was his word, to 'loll'; and they will be sure to take away the baize and hassocks, though I do hope there will be a little strip of something on the seats; the bare wood is apt to make one ache sometimes. I should not say it to anyone else in the world but you, but it does make me ache a little sometimes; and when the caustic is put down in the aisle, I shall take your arm, my dear, to save me from slipping. Here is Lord Blandamer going to do all this for us, and you do not show yourself in the least grateful. It is not becoming in a young girl."
"Dear aunt, what would you have me do? I cannot go and thank him publicly in the name of the town. That would be still more unbecoming; and I am sure I hope they will not do all the dreadful things in the church that you speak of. I love the old monuments, and like lolling much better than bare forms."
So she would laugh the matter off; but if she could not be induced to talk of Lord Blandamer, she thought of him the more, and rehearsed again and again in day-dreams and in night-dreams every incident of that momentous Saturday afternoon, from the first bars of the overture, when he had revealed in so easy and simple a way that he was none other than Lord Blandamer, to the ringing down of the curtain, when he turned to look back—to that glance when his eyes had seemed to meet hers, although she was hidden behind a blind, and he could not have guessed that she was there.
Westray came back from London with the scheme of restoration reconsidered and amplified in the light of altered circumstances, and with a letter for Lord Blandamer in which Sir George Farquhar hoped that the munificent donor would fix a day on which Sir George might come down to Cullerne to offer his respects, and to discuss the matter in person. Westray had looked forward all the week to the appointment which he had with Lord Blandamer for five o'clock on the Saturday afternoon, and had carefully thought out the route which he would pursue in taking him round the church. He returned to Bellevue Lodge at a quarter to five, and found his visitor already awaiting him. Miss Joliffe was, as usual, at her Saturday meeting, but Anastasia told Westray that Lord Blandamer had been waiting more than half an hour.
"I must apologise, my lord, for keeping you waiting," Westray said, as he went in. "I feared I had made some mistake in the time of our meeting, but I see it was five that your note named." And he held out the open letter which he had taken from his pocket.
"The mistake is entirely mine," Lord Blandamer admitted with a smile, as he glanced at his own instructions; "I fancied I had said four o'clock; but I have been very glad of a few minutes to write one or two letters."
"We can post them on our way to the church; they will just catch the mail."
"Ah, then I must wait till to-morrow; there are some enclosures which I have not ready at this moment."
They set out together for the minster, and Lord Blandamer looked back as they crossed the street.
"The house has a good deal of character," he said, "and might be made comfortable enough with a little repair. I must ask my agent to see what can be arranged; it does not do me much credit as landlord in its present state."
"Yes, it has a good many interesting features," Westray answered; "you know its history, of course—I mean that it was an old inn."
He had turned round as his companion turned, and for an instant thought he saw something moving behind the blind in Mr Sharnall's room. But he must have been mistaken; only Anastasia was in the house, and she was in the kitchen, for he had called to her as they went out to say that he might be late for tea.
Westray thoroughly enjoyed the hour and a half which the light allowed him for showing and explaining the church. Lord Blandamer exhibited what is called, so often by euphemism, an intelligent interest in all that he saw, and was at no pains either to conceal or display a very adequate architectural knowledge. Westray wondered where he had acquired it, though he asked no questions; but before the inspection was ended he found himself unconsciously talking to his companion of technical points, as to a professional equal and not to an amateur. They stopped for a moment under the central tower.
"I feel especially grateful," Westray said, "for your generosity in giving us a free hand for all fabric work, because we shall now be able to tackle the tower. Nothing will ever induce me to believe that all is right up there. The arches are extraordinarily wide and thin for their date. You will laugh when I tell you that I sometimes think I hear them crying for repair, and especially that one on the south with the jagged crack in the wall above it. Now and then, when I am alone in the church or the tower, I seem to catch their very words. 'The arch never sleeps,' they say; 'we never sleep.'"
"It is a romantic idea," Lord Blandamer said. "Architecture is poetry turned into stone, according to the old aphorism, and you, no doubt, have something of the poet in you."
He glanced at the thin and rather bloodless face, and at the high cheekbones of the water-drinker as he spoke. Lord Blandamer never made jokes, and very seldom was known to laugh, yet if anyone but Westray had been with him, they might have fancied that there was a whimsical tone in his words, and a trace of amusement in the corners of his eyes. But the architect did not see it, and coloured slightly as he went on:
"Well, perhaps you are right; I suppose architecture does inspire one. The first verses I ever wrote, or the first, at least, that I ever had printed, were on the Apse of Tewkesbury Abbey. They came out in the Gloucester Herald, and I dare say I shall scribble something about these arches some day."
"Do," said Lord Blandamer, "and send me a copy. This place ought to have its poet, and it is much safer to write verses to arches than to arched eyebrows."
Westray coloured again, and put his hand in his breast-pocket. Could he have been so foolish as to leave those half-finished lines on his desk for Lord Blandamer or anyone else to see? No, they were quite safe; he could feel the sharp edge of the paper folded lengthways, which differentiated them from ordinary letters.
"We shall just have time to go up to the roof-space, if you care to do so," he suggested, changing the subject. "I should like to show you the top of the transept groining, and explain what we are busy with at present. It is always more or less dark up there, but we shall find lanterns."
"Certainly, with much pleasure." And they climbed the newel staircase that was carried in the north-east pier.
Clerk Janaway had been hovering within a safe distance of them as they went their round. He was nominally busy in "putting things straight" for the Sunday, before the church was shut up; and had kept as much out of sight as was possible, remembering how he had withstood Lord Blandamer to the face a week before. Yet he was anxious to meet him, as it were, by accident, and explain that he had acted in ignorance of the real state of affairs; but no favourable opportunity for such an explanation presented itself. The pair had gone up to the roof, and the clerk was preparing to lock up—for Westray had a key of his own—when he heard someone coming up the nave.
It was Mr Sharnall, who carried a pile of music-books under his arm.
"Hallo!" he said to the clerk, "what makes you so late? I expected to have to let myself in. I thought you would have been off an hour ago."
"Well, things took a bit longer to-night than usual to put away." He broke off, for there was a little noise somewhere above them in the scaffolding, and went on in what was meant for a whisper: "Mr Westray's taking his lordship round; they're up in the roof now. D'ye hear 'em?"
"Lordship! What lordship? D'you mean that fellow Blandamer?"
"Yes, that's just who I do mean. But I don't know as how he's a fellow, and he is a lordship; so that's why I call him a lordship and not a fellow. And mid I ask what he's been doing to set your back up? Why don't you wait here for him, and talk to him about the organ? Maybe, now he's in the giving mood, he'd set it right for 'ee, or anyways give 'ee that little blowin'-engine you talk so much about. Why do 'ee always go about showin' your teeth?—metaforally, I mean, for you haven't that many real ones left to make much show—why ain't you like other folk sometimes? Shall I tell 'ee? 'Cause you wants to be young when you be old, and rich when you be poor. That's why. That makes 'ee miserable, and then you drinks to drown it. Take my advice, and act like other folk. I'm nigh a score of years older than you, and take a vast more pleasure in my life than when I was twenty. The neighbours and their ways tickle me now, and my pipe's sweeter; and there's many a foolish thing a young man does that age don't give an old one the chanst to. You've spoke straight to me, and now I've spoke straight to you, 'cause I'm a straight-speaking man, and have no call to be afraid of anyone—lord or fellow or organist. So take an old man's word: cheer up, and wait on my lord, and get him to give 'ee a new organ."
"Bah!" said Mr Sharnall, who was far too used to Janaway's manner to take umbrage or pay attention to it. "Bah! I hate all Blandamers. I wish they were as dead and buried as dodos; and I'm not at all sure they aren't. I'm not at all sure, mind you, that this strutting peacock has any more right to the name of Blandamer than you or I have. I'm sick of all this wealth. No one's thought anything of to-day, who can't build a church or a museum or a hospital. 'So long as thou doest well unto thyself, men will speak good of thee.' If you've got the money, you're everything that's wonderful, and if you haven't, you may go rot. I wish all Blandamers were in their graves," he said, raising his thin and strident voice till it rang again in the vault above, "and wrapped up in their nebuly coat for a shroud. I should like to fling a stone through their damned badge." And he pointed to the sea-green and silver shield high up in the transept window. "Sunlight and moonlight, it is always there. I used to like to come down and play here to the bats of a full moon, till I saw that would always look into the loft and haunt me."
He thumped his pile of books down on a seat, and flung out of the church. He had evidently been drinking, and the clerk made his escape at the same time, being anxious not to be identified with sentiments which had been so loudly enunciated that he feared those in the roof might have overheard them.
Lord Blandamer wished Westray good-night at the church-door, excusing himself from an invitation to tea on the ground of business which necessitated his return to Fording.
"We must spend another afternoon in the minster," he said. "I hope you will allow me to write to make an appointment. I am afraid that it may possibly be for a Saturday again, for I am much occupied at present during the week."
Clerk Janaway lived not far from the church, in Governor's Lane. No one knew whence its name was derived, though Dr Ennefer thought that the Military Governour might have had his quarters thereabouts when Cullerne was held for the Parliament. Serving as a means of communication between two quiet back-streets, it was itself more quiet than either, and yet; for all this, had about it a certain air of comfort and well-being. The passage of vehicles was barred at either end by old cannon. Their breeches were buried in the ground, and their muzzles stood up as sturdy iron posts, while the brown cobbles of the roadway sloped to a shallow stone gutter which ran down the middle of the lane. Custom ordained that the houses should be coloured with a pink wash; and the shutters, which were a feature of the place, shone in such bright colours as to recall a Dutch town.
Shutter-painting was indeed an event of some importance in Governour's Lane. Not a few of its inhabitants had followed the sea as fishermen or smack-owners, and when fortune so smiled on them that they could retire, and there were no more boats to be painted, shutters and doors and window-frames came in to fill the gap. So, on a fine morning, when the turpentine oozing from cracks, and the warm smell of blistering varnish brought to Governour's Lane the first tokens of returning summer, might have been seen sexagenarians and septuagenarians, and some so strong that they had come to fourscore years, standing paint-pot and paint-brush in hand, while they gave a new coat to the woodwork of their homes.
They were a kindly folk, open of face, and fresh-complexioned, broad in the beam, and vested as to their bodies in dark blue, brass-buttoned pilot coats. Insuperable smokers, inexhaustible yarn-spinners, they had long welcomed Janaway as a kindred spirit—the more so that in their view a clerk and grave-digger was in some measure an expert in things unseen, who might anon assist in piloting them on that last cruise for which some had already the Blue Peter at the fore.
A myrtle-bush which grew out of a hole in the cobbles was carefully trained against the front of a cottage in the middle of the row, and a brass plate on the door informed the wayfarer and ignorant man that "T. Janaway, Sexton," dwelt within. About eight o'clock on the Saturday evening, some two hours after Lord Blandamer and Westray had parted, the door of the myrtle-fronted cottage was open, and the clerk stood on the threshold smoking his pipe, while from within came a cheerful, ruddy light and a well-defined smell of cooking; for Mrs Janaway was preparing supper.
"Tom," she called, "shut the door, and come to thy victuals."
"Ay," he answered, "I'll be with 'ee directly; but gi'e me a minute. I want to see who this is coming up the lane."
Someone that the clerk knew at once for a stranger had entered the little street at the bottom. There was half a moon, and light enough to see that he was in search of some particular house; for he crossed from one side of the lane to the other, and peered at the numbers on the doors. As he came nearer, the clerk saw that he was of spare build, and wore a loose overcoat or cape, which fluttered in the breeze that blew at evening from the sea. A moment later Janaway knew that the stranger was Lord Blandamer, and stepped back instinctively to let him pass. But the open door had caught the attention of the passer-by; he stopped, and greeted the householder cheerily.
"A beautiful night, but with a cold touch in the air that makes your warm room look very cheerful." He recognised the clerk's face as he spoke, and went on: "Ah, ha! we are old friends already; we met in the minster a week ago, did we not?"
Mr Janaway was a little disconcerted at the unexpectedness of the meeting, and returned the salutation in a confused way. The attempt which he had made to prevent Lord Blandamer from entering the choir was fresh in his memory, and he stammered some unready excuses.
Lord Blandamer smiled with much courtesy.
"You were quite right to stop me; you would have been neglecting your duty if you had not done so. I had no idea that service was going on, or I should not have come in; you may make your mind quite easy on that score. I hope you will have many more opportunities of finding a place for me in Cullerne Church."
"No need to find any place for you, my Lord. You have your own seat appointed and fixed, as sure as Canon Parkyn, and your own arms painted up clear on the back of it. Don't you trouble for that. It is all laid down in the statutes, and I shall make the very same obeisance for your lordship when you take your seat as for my Lord Bishop. 'Two inclinations of the body, the mace being held in the right hand, and supported on the left arm.' I cannot say more fair than that, for only royalties have three inclinations, and none of them has ever been to church in my time—no, nor yet a Lord Blandamer neither, since the day that your dear father and mother, what you never knew, was buried."
Mrs Janaway drummed with her knuckles on the supper-table, in amazement that her husband should dare to stand chattering at the door when she had told him that the meal was ready. But, as the conversation revealed by degrees the stranger's identity, curiosity to see the man whose name was in all Cullerne mouths got the better of her, and she came curtseying to the door.
Lord Blandamer flung the flapping cape of his overcoat over the left shoulder in a way that made the clerk think of foreigners, and of woodcuts of Italian opera in a bound volume of the Illustrated London News which he studied on Sunday evenings.
"I must be moving on," said the visitor, with a shiver. "I must not keep you standing here; there is a very chill air this evening."
Then Mrs Janaway was seized with a sudden temerity.
"Will your lordship not step in and warm yourself for a moment?" she interposed. "We have a clear fire burning, if you will overlook the smell of cooking."
The clerk trembled for a moment at his wife's boldness, but Lord Blandamer accepted the invitation with alacrity.
"Thank you very much," said he; "I should be very glad to rest a few minutes before my train leaves. Pray make no apology for the smell of cookery; it is very appetising, especially at supper-time."
He spoke as if he took supper every evening, and had never heard of a late dinner in his life; and five minutes later he sat at table with Mr and Mrs Janaway. The cloth was of roughest homespun, but clean; the knives and forks handled in old green horn, and the piece-of-resistance tripe; but the guest made an excellent meal.
"Some folk think highly of squash tripe or ribband tripe," the clerk said meditatively, looking at the empty dish; "but they don't compare, according to my taste, with cushion tripe." He was emboldened to make these culinary remarks by that moral elevation which comes to every properly-constituted host, when a guest has eaten heartily of the viands set before him.
"No," Lord Blandamer said, "there can be no doubt that cushion tripe is the best."
"Quite as much depends upon the cooking as upon the tripe itself," remarked Mrs Janaway, bridling at the thought that her art had been left out of the reckoning; "a bad cook will spoil the best tripe. There are many ways of doing it, but a little milk and a leek is the best for me."
"You cannot beat it," Lord Blandamer assented—"you cannot beat it"—and then went on suggestively: "Have you ever tried a sprig of mace with it?"
No, Mrs Janaway had never heard of that; nor, indeed, had Lord Blandamer either, if the point had been pushed; but she promised to use it the very next time, and hoped that the august visitor would honour them again when it was to be tasted.
"'Tis only Saturday nights that we can get the cushion," she went on; "and it's well it don't come oftener, for we couldn't afford it. No woman ever had a call to have a better husband nor Thomas, who spends little enough on hisself. He don't touch nothing but tea, sir, but Saturday nights we treat ourselves to a little tripe, which is all the more convenient in that it is very strengthening, and my husband's duties on Sunday being that urgent-like. So, if your lordship is fond of tripe, and passing another Saturday night, and will do us the honour, you will always find something ready."
"Thank you very much for your kind invitation," Lord Blandamer said; "I shall certainly take you at your word, the more so that Saturday is the day on which I am oftenest in Cullerne, or, I should say, have happened to be lately."
"There's poor and poor," said the clerk reflectively; "and we're poor, but we're happy; but there's Mr Sharnall poor and unhappy. 'Mr Sharnall,' says I to him, 'many a time have I heard my father say over a pot of tenpenny, "Here's to poverty in a plug-hole, and a man with a wooden leg to trample it down;" but you never puts your poverty in a plug-hole, much less tramples it down. You always has it out and airs it, and makes yourself sad with thinking of it. 'Tisn't because you're poor that you're sad; 'tis because you think you're poor, and talk so much about it. You're not so poor as we, only you have so many grievances.'"
"Ah, you are speaking of the organist?" Lord Blandamer asked. "I fancy it was he who was talking with you in the minster this afternoon, was it not?"
The clerk felt embarrassed once more, for he remembered Mr Sharnall's violent talk, and how his anathema of all Blandamers had rang out in the church.
"Yes," he said; "poor organist was talking a little wild; he gets took that way sometimes, what with his grievances, and a little drop of the swanky what he takes to drown them. Then he talks loud; but I hope your lordship didn't hear all his foolishness."
"Oh dear no; I was engaged at the time with the architect," Lord Blandamer said; but his tone made Janaway think that Mr Sharnall's voice had carried further than was convenient. "I did not hear what he said, but he seemed to be much put out. I chatted with him in the church some days ago; he did not know who I was, but I gathered that he bore no very good will to my family."
Mrs Janaway saw it was a moment for prudent words.
"Don't pay no manner of attention to him, if I may make so bold as to advise your lordship," she said; "he talks against my husband just as well. He is crazy about his organ, and thinks he ought to have a new one, or, at least, a waterworks to blow it, like what they have at Carisbury. Don't pay no attention to him; no one minds what Sharnall says in Cullerne."
The clerk was astonished at his wife's wisdom, yet apprehensive as to how it might be taken. But Lord Blandamer bowed his head graciously by way of thanks for sage counsel, and went on:
"Was there not some queer man at Cullerne who thought he was kept out of his rights, and should be in my place—who thought, I mean, he ought to be Lord Blandamer?"
The question was full of indifference, and there was a little smile of pity on his face; but the clerk remembered how Mr Sharnall had said something about a strutting peacock, and that there were no real Blandamers left, and was particularly ill at ease.
"Oh yes," he answered after a moment's pause, "there was a poor doited body who, saving your presence, had some cranks of that kind; and, more by token, Mr Sharnall lived in the same house with him, and so I dare say he has got touched with the same craze."
Lord Blandamer took out a cigar instinctively, and then, remembering that there was a lady present, put it back into his case and went on:
"Oh, he lived in the same house with Mr Sharnall, did he? I should like to hear more of this story; it naturally interests me. What was his name?"
"His name was Martin Joliffe," said the clerk quickly, being surprised into eagerness by the chance of telling a story; and then the whole tale of Martin, and Martin's father and mother and daughter, as he had told it to Westray, was repeated for Lord Blandamer.
The night was far advanced before the history came to an end, and the local policeman walked several times up and down Governour's Lane, and made pauses before Mr Janaway's house, being surprised to see a window lighted so late. Lord Blandamer must have changed his intention of going by train, for the gates of Cullerne station had been locked for hours, and the boiler of the decrepit branch-line engine was cooling in its shed.
"It is an interesting tale, and you tell tales well," he said, as he got up and put on his coat. "All good things must have an end, but I hope to see you again ere long." He shook hands with hostess and host, drained the pot of beer that had been fetched from a public-house, with a "Here's to poverty in a plug-hole, and a man with a wooden leg to trample it down," and was gone.
A minute later the policeman, coming back for yet another inspection of the lighted window, passed a man of middle height, who wore a loose overcoat, with the cape tossed lightly over the left shoulder. The stranger walked briskly, and hummed an air as he went, turning his face up to the stars and the wind-swept sky, as if entirely oblivious of all sublunary things. A midnight stranger in Governour's Lane was even more surprising than a lighted window, and the policeman had it in his mind to stop him and ask his business. But before he could decide on so vigorous a course of action, the moment was past, and the footsteps were dying away in the distance.
The clerk was pleased with himself, and proud of his success as a story-teller.
"That's a clever, understanding sort of chap," he said to his wife, as they went to bed; "he knows a good tale when he hears one."
"Don't you be too proud of yourself, my man," answered she; "there's more in that tale than your telling, I warrant you, for my lord to think about."