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Title: Gallybird
Date of first publication: 1934
Place and date of edition used as base for this ebook: New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1934 (First Edition)
Author: Sheila Kaye-Smith (1887-1956)
Date first posted: 1 July 2007
Date last updated: 1 July 2007
Project Gutenberg Canada ebook #9

This ebook was produced by: Andrew Templeton


A Novel By

Sheila Kaye-Smith

New York and London



§ 1

Old Gervase Alard was walking through Leasan. He did not strictly deserve to be called old, for he was no more than fifty-six; but lately old age seemed to have come down on him like a September frost, showing itself less in any whitening and withering than in a queer twisting, a subtle turning of his mind and body toward winter.

He walked with his cassock and gown bundled up round his haunches, so that his long legs could stride their way over the ruts. In his right hand he clutched a holly stick, which was less a help to his legs than an accent to his thoughts, for it was more often in the air than on the ground—waving and twirling and beating about, as his thoughts took him here and there and up and down, in and out of the little houses and far away across the water.

"Good evenun', Parson"—"Evenun', Parson."

Respectful forelocks were pulled and aprons bobbed, while less respectful voices followed him, as he strode on without noticing either the forelocks or the aprons.

"Up in the clouds as ever."

"Or over the sea."

"Maybe un's thinking how to bring the King back."

"Such an old wagpasty 'ud never do it."

The voices came after him down the April wind, blowing with the cry of lambs and the rumble of a cart behind him, and meaning as little to him as either.

He thought: I do well to go. All the best men are going—the Archbishop's going. Soon they'll find there won't be a manjack of them to take the oath. And if we all go out, we take the Church of England with us. Anyway, we're the Church, and what's left's the schism. I'm wise to go. And I'll be glad . . . twenty years in a parish is too long. I'd like a change before I'm older—and a Bishopric, maybe . . . why not? I've never had a chance, buried in this hole. I was a fool ever to come into it. But now I go out. . . . Besides, it's against my conscience to take the oath. I swore faith to King James, and I'll never have William of Orange save as Regent. . . . My girls 'ull cackle like a yard of hens, but they'll be well enough at my brother's—for my brother must take us. And he must take my books. I pray he have room for my books, for I won't go without 'em. I do well to go. Now at last I've a chance to study, to prove myself a learned man. I shall have hours and days to read in, with none to call for the Parson. . . . But since I'm still the Parson I must look where I'm walking, for it seems I've passed the road. . . . La! La! I'm through the horns and along to Colespore . . . . Eh well, it won't be more than a yard or two to turn back.

He swung round on the road, waving his stick and cracking his fingers. He had been so busily considering his state and the state of the realm that he had walked past the cross-ways without thinking. He must take the southward road from Superstition Corner—the road to Conster, though he would not go so far. He was on his way to Newhouse to visit the sick, a clerkly duty that he must perform, though the fellow was a sad, sour-faced, round-headed scrub who deserved nothing.

Newhouse stood about half a mile from Superstition Corner. Unlike the cross-ways, which was so called because it had once been the turning for a Mass-house, it had got its name in no especial manner, merely through having been a new house a hundred years ago. It was still called new, though it looked old, with its leaning, lime-washed walls, and its sprawl of weathered roof. It had been built for the present owner's grandfather, a Harman who had married a Douce when first they came over from France—before their name was Dows on the local tongue or they had built their hump-roofed house on Starvencrow hill. They had been bad friends to the Alards, the Harmans and Douces, for when King Charles's star went down they had held by the parliament, and the Protector had given them Conster Manor—Harman the house and farmlands, Douce the furnace. It had been hard work getting them out of it when the King came back; but they had gone at last, to save their skins and their own lawful properties at Newhouse and La Petite Douce—though it was certainly a piece of luck that Accepted Harman had died when he did, leaving no heir but his brother Exalted, who was a poor psalm-singing, low-spirited man, too gutless to cling even to an ill-gotten estate. . . .

"Good evening, Mrs. Harman—and how's your goodman to-day?"

"Reckon he's the same, Parson. His affliction never changes."

"Eh well, I'll step up and see him. Is he in his bedroom?"

"Aye—he's in his chair. I haven't had time yet to wash his wound and put him to bed. We're hard at the lambing now, and short-handed for shepherds."

"Short-handed with such a family as yours—five boys and girls, all bred to farming?"

"Maybe, Parson, but they're lumperdee louts for all that, and I've eight lambs in the kitchen crying for their dams' milk. If you'll pardon me I'll go to 'em now, for my pan's on the fire and only that fool Condemnation to watch it."

She whisked off, leaving him to find his own way upstairs. Gervase did not like her and grimaced at her ample backside. The next moment he heard her voice raised loud in anger.

"Aye, to it, scold!" he muttered, fumbling up the dark staircase. "Scold the poor little foundling, since you dare not scold the Parson. I'd give much to have the poor child out of her hand."

§ 2

He knocked at the door.

"Come in."

The room was dark, for the window was hung over with a cloth to keep out the sunset. Blocked against the smothered light was the figure of a man in a chair.

"Ah, so it's Parson. Welcome, and pray sit down, Sir."

Gervase groped for a stool.

"Pox on you, Harman, for your love of darkness. It ill becomes the regenerate son of light that you would be."

"My eyes are feeble, and run in the light. You must learn to pardon my infirmity."

He spoke in a trailing voice that made Gervase snort and blow his nose, as a Christian substitute for more violent expression. It always took him a few minutes to accustom himself to Exalted Harman, who was almost alone in the parish for his Roundhead manners. Everybody save he had long forgotten the Protector and the last revolution but one. No doubt it was his consciousness of wrong-doing, this lapse of his that was always under his nose, that made him prate like an Anabaptist rattler, for all that he was a sober member of a sober church. (Gervase prided himself that there was not a single conventicle in his parish.)

"Hum ha. And how fares your leg? Your good wife says there's no change."

Exalted was a little roused by this.

"Aye, but there's great change since you came last. I had an issue of putrid humours for an hour on Tuesday. Michal and Condemnation were for ever upon the stairs with clean linen, and now there's a darkness gathering round the sore which I take to be a gangrene."

He spoke cheerfully, even hopefully, and to Gervase's disgust, pulled down the linen bandage that wrapped his leg, showing him the wound and its sullen edges. It had been caused three months ago by his fall from a tree when he was cutting off a rotten branch, and it certainly looked worse to-day than it had looked at the start, but Gervase could not pity the man, because of his evident pleasure.

"See, there's broken bits of bone in it: My wife brought one out last week as big as a walnut."

"Cover it now," said Gervase shortly.

Plague on the fellow! he thought to himself. He loves sickness and sores both of body and of soul. He's as proud of his broken, rotting leg as I'll warrant he's proud of his bastard.

"Has the physician called of late?" he asked.

"He came a' Thursday as usual. He says there is näun he can do, save take the leg off."

"And you won't have him do that?"

"No, surely—not even if I was at the point of death. What should I do at the Resurrection of the just with only one leg?"

"As well as the man who plucks out his offending eye in obedience to the Gospels. You are too exact, my friend. There's a natural body and a spiritual body."

"The Scripture says—'It is better for thee to enter into life with one eye than having two eyes be cast into everlasting fire,' And since it's evident from Scripture that the man who has sacrificed his eye for spiritual reasons never has it again, but enters into life with one eye, how could I think to find my leg again when I had cast it from me for reasons of carnal health?"

"Nay, you err altogether. Our bodies shall rise again in their integrity, and the aged shall enjoy eternal youth."

"But the Scripture says——"

"Quote no more Scripture to me. Who, think you, knows more of Scripture—you or I?"

"I am never without the Word of God."

"And I read it daily in the Parish Church as by law commanded . . ."

He broke off suddenly, then said in a different voice:

"Let's not reason and wrangle, for I came here to tell some news that I hope will sadden you. I can't take the oath, so I'm leaving Leasan Parsonage."

"Leaving? . . . What oath?"

"The oath of allegiance—the same that I took to King Charles when first I was made Vicar of Leasan and that when he died I took to King James."

"What! You're never a Jacobite."

"Jacobite forsooth! I'm no Jacobite, as they say in their new impudent, fleering fashion. I'm no Jacobite and I welcome a Protestant hero to save the liberties of England. But I believe in the divine right of kings and the high doctrine of the Lord's anointed. I've sworn allegiance to King James and I can't swear to any other king."

"You would have had the King stay?"

"No—I was all for their sending for the Prince of Orange, but as Regent, not as King. I'm for the Protestant religion at any cost, but not for two kings."

"Nay, there's but one King William."

"You say well that there's only one king, but he's King James."

"And you tell me you're no Jacobite?"

"Aye, and I tell you again. I wouldn't have King James back in London for the whole world: but he's King for all that, made a King for ever when the holy oil touched his head and he became the Lord's Anointed."

"I understand not your High Church disputations."

"High Church hobbyhorse! 'Tis the plain word of God." Gervase sprang to his feet and began to stride the room. "What says the Scripture? That the young man David would not lift up his hand against King Saul, though the King was hot upon his life and he lived in danger of him every hour. And what said David to the Amalekite who had slain Saul? 'Wast thou not afraid to stretch forth thine hand against the Lord's anointed?' And he smote him that he died."

Carried away by the power of his own oratory he wedded action to word, and smote the head of a young woman who had just come into the room.

§ 3

There was a crash of falling crocks, and a platter rolled on the ground, as she stumbled to her knees. Gervase was horrified.

"What have I done? I've hurt thee, pigsnie. Why, I wouldn't have hurt thee for the world, child. I was but quoting Scripture and forgot myself."

He slipped his hands under her armpits and tried to raise her.

"Forgive me, bud. It was all a forgetting on my part. I knew not thou wast there behind me, creeping mouse . . ."


A voice cried from below, and the girl started up at once. She was a small creature, less than five feet high, with a secret little face, which with its great black starting eyes gave her the look of some animal—no creeping mouse, but rather some coney or hare crouching before a spring for safety.

"Condemnation! What hast thou broken now?"

"She has broken naught. It's I who've broken your platter, smiting her as David smote the Amalekite who had slain the King. Had not this happened," he continued, turning to Exalted Harman, "I should have quoted further how David said unto him 'thy blood be upon thy head, for thy mouth hath testified against thee saying I have slain the Lord's anointed.' So if David could thus avenge Saul who had sought his blood for many years and whose place he himself was anointed to take, how much less dare I forswear myself against a King who has done me no harm but only a general injustice through being a Papist."

Exalted always felt enraged when the Parson quoted Scripture. He was the only man in the district who could beat him with a text, and somehow it seemed all wrong for a Royalist Alard, bred in France, to know more of Holy Writ than a godly Harman whose father and brother had both fought for the Parliament. He searched his mind to cap him now, but could find nothing at the moment. His hand reached out for the Bible that was always at his side, when suddenly Gervase recalled himself.

"Where's the poor little bud?"

"Run away, during your argument."

"But I would know if I've hurt the poor rogue."

"Nay, she an't hurt—only scared to have broken another platter. And she an't so little and young as you would make her. She was eighteen at Christmas."

"What, a woman already. I'd no idea of it."

"I thought as much by your address," said Exalted primly. "But she is a woman, and will most likely be married before her next birthday, to my ploughman, Lambert Relph."

"Why, it seems only a few years ago that I held her in my arms at the font and called her by the outlandish name you would give her, adding but the name Ruth for the dignity of the Church, and the integrity of the Sacrament."

"'For I remember my fault, and my sin is ever before me,'" murmured Exalted.

"And you would have called her Sin had I not restrained you."

"Would you have me forget the sin of which she is the fruit?"

"Nay, forget it not, but confess it and be forgiven, and there let it rest. Why visit it upon an innocent babe who had no part in your iniquity?"

"No part! But she is my iniquity. She is my everlasting condemnation."

"Nay, in your soul is your iniquity. What says the Book of Enoch? 'And say not to thyself: I have Adam to my transgression, for I say unto thee that each one of us hath been the Adam of his own soul.'"

For a moment Exalted looked angry and baffled. Then he realized that the Parson had not quoted from Holy Writ.

"What is this Book of Enoch that you speak of? It an't in Scripture, of that I'm certain sure."

Gervase seemed confused.

"So. I was forgetting. I quote from a book I studied when I was in France—a learned book of the Jews."

"Is it the same Enoch that is in Scripture, who was not found because God had translated him?"

"The same, but the book concerns rather the fallen angels . . ." he stopped and stammered a little: "I had forgotten such things."

"The Church of England is much to be blamed," said Harman, "in that she encourages reading outside the Word of God, such as the fabulous books of Wisdom and Sirach, which are only tales."

"Nay, rather they are for example of life and instruction of manners, as the Article says. But Enoch is not among those."

"A Papist book?"

"Nay—nay, I told you—a book of the Jews. But let's have no more of it. . . . And here comes my little bud again, or rather my young woman; for I hear thou art a woman grown now, Condemnation."

The girl did not speak. She came in with a fresh platter of soup for her father, carrying under her arm a besom and a mop, with which she swept up the broken pieces and mopped the spilled soup from the floor. All the while she did not speak, though Gervase joked and teased her on being grown so old. Her air was both frightened and sullen. She seemed afraid to speak: though her fear was not so much a fear of blows—since neither Gervase nor Exalted would have struck her—as a sort of general fear of mankind. She was afraid as a bird is afraid in a man's hand; stroke her or strike her, she would fly away if she could.

At last she had picked up her pieces, and turned to go.

"Nay, not so fast," said the Parson, "I see thee so seldom that when I see thee I must examine thee. Art so old that thou hast forgotten thy Catechism?"

She shook her head.

"Come then, let's hear some of it. What is thy duty towards thy neighbour?"

"My duty to'rds my neighbour is to love 'un as myself and do t'all men as I would they do me to love honest and sucker my father and mother honest and obey the King and all or-orthumbrity under 'un . . ."

"La! La! La!" cried Gervase—"that isn't the English tongue. Where hast thou lost the good English tongue and learned to speak like a hob?"

"She can speak well enough," said Exalted, "but now she's sullen."

"Nay, she isn't sullen. Begin again, child—'my duty towards my neighbour' . . ."

But she would say no more, and when he pressed her, she turned from him and ran out of the room.

"Already reprobate," said Exalted calmly.

"Say rather, timid. She's timid as a jenny-wren. I sometimes wonder, friend, if your good wife isn't over-shrewd with her."

"Maybe she is. But what would you have? She must hate the girl."

"Why should she hate her?"

"You know well, sir."

"I know naught that she should hate her for, though enough that she should have hated you for once had she been so minded. But all that's very long ago, and had she felt bound to hate a poor innocent child for being born to her husband out of wedlock she shouldn't have taken her into her house."

"I commanded her to take her in. She was forced to obey me."

The Parson struggled a smile into a grimace. "You shouldn't have commanded. The child would be happier on the Parish than in a home where she's tormented."

"She an't tormented. She has been brought up under a godly discipline, as beseems a child of rebuke——"

"Nay, have done with that. I'm weary of your rebukes and sins and condemnations. You do but glory in them."

"I will glory in my infirmities, as the Apostle saith."

Gervase sighed stormily.

"Aye, your running sores of body and soul—whereas both could most likely be cured at once with a good plaster."

"You injure me."

"No, I injure you not. But all these years I've been offering you a plaster for your soul, at least, and you'll have none of it."

"If you would again persuade to absolution, I must again remind you of the Apostle's word—'confess your sins one to another,' which means no sacerdotal monopoly but a brotherly exchange. You tell me your transgressions and I will tell you mine."

"You've told me yours till I'm sick of hearing 'em, and mine are for no man's ears. So there's an end on't. But, come now, we won't quarrel. I must be going. I came only to tell you my news, which I lay has made you more glad than sorry."

"No, indeed. I am truly sorry; though I shan't be long in the world to mourn your loss, and your reasons for going don't seem to me plain in Scripture."

Gervase opened his mouth to quote again from the Book of Samuel, but thought better of it.

"You will most likely live longer than any of us," he said, "and I trust my successor may persuade you where I've been unable. Now I must go, and I shall tell my man to make you the famous plaster he made for my horse and cured him of a running sore in thirty-six hours. Good day to 'ee."

And he marched out, priding himself that he had got the better of Harman both in theology and in medicine.

§ 4

A little farther on the road home, it struck him that this was not the right way for a Pastor to feel toward a sick member of his flock. But he could not help it. He could not like Exalted Harman, who, after all, was a Churchman in name only. He had for his own comfort urged his not too difficult conscience to conformity—hence, no doubt, his failure to understand his Vicar's renunciation—but his mind was still full of Anabaptist rubbish and his heart of a secret enmity toward the Church of Laud and Ken and Sancroft, restored and re-established.

The man was a humbug. Gervase had vastly preferred his elder brother Accepted, though he and his family had often cursed him for an arrant, rank, iron-sided Bible thumper, but for whose timely death they would have been kept still longer out of their estates. He had refused to budge from where Cromwell had placed him, and he had thought John Douce a poor washy scoundrel for so readily coming to an agreement and surrendering an ownership for a mere mastership. He would have held Conster against the Philistines another ten years had he lived. But he had died.

Marching home between the hawthorn towers of the hedgerow, Gervase's mind went back to an evening eighteen years ago, soon after the Alards' return to Conster. He had been Vicar of Leasan only a few months, and he saw himself standing in his new gown upon a sunlit lawn, smelling as he smelt now the scents of the warm reviving earth. His father had given a feast to celebrate the family's restoration, nine years after the King's, and a summer-tree had been set up, for all the villagers and country folk who had not seen one since the Rebellion.

They had waited a year after the death of Accepted Harman, so there was nothing unseemly in the festival or likely to upset those families who had always been friendly with the dispossessed Harmans and Douces. But Exalted, he remembered, had watched the proceedings with a sour face, and would not let his wife or children dance—not because he still mourned his brother or resented the loss of Conster to his family, but because he held dancing to be lascivious and a maypole but little less idolatrous than a cross. Gervase remembered how the poor little children had wanted to dance, and how when he had pleaded with their father they had had their first Scripture-quoting contest, bringing the daughter of Herodias and her impious prancing against the godly measure that King David trod before the Ark.

Exalted had beaten him then, he remembered darkly, for he had been ordained no more than a year, and as his pre-Restoration life in France had not been particularly godly, he was as yet untrained to withstand the onslaught of woes and prophets and daughters of Sion, all brought forward to prove how easily the feet can trip the soul. Since then his daily reading of the Book of Common Prayer had given him as extensive an armoury as his antagonist, but on that day he had been defeated and had retired in dudgeon: and then . . . old Gervase gave a sudden hop and skip to the astonishment of some children driving a cow along the road . . . and then the mountebank woman had come.

She had come in at the low gate, he remembered, carrying her bundle high against her shoulder. Her long shadow had run ahead of her over the grass, and her shape had been mere rags and darkness. He had felt surprised when she stopped and asked him for Exalted Harman; but he had pointed him out, and then felt curious enough to follow her. She had gone straight up to where Exalted stood with his wife and children, some twenty yards from the dancers, and had straightway thrust her bundle into his arms—"There, take your brat."

Gervase laughed out loud at his memories, and the passing cow swung her head at him. It had been a famous sight—that sour black stick of a man gaping there with the child in his arms, and the mountebank running away . . . she had got to the fence before anyone thought of stopping her. Of course at first they had all believed it a joke—that she had been paid by some wag to plant her brat on the Puritan. But it was the man himself who had stuck for the truth of her words. He would have it that this was his own child, his own sin, the Lord's rebuke for a wantonness, twelve months old. Nay, he would tell them all how he had met a tinker woman at a fair and been tempted to his undoing.

"For twelve months I've borne the secret smart of my sin. Now the Lord has discovered my shame and visited his condemnation upon me."

All the time his wife was railing at him; for she believed him. It appeared that his manners to her a year ago had agreed with such a story.

"I knew well you'd been up to some wickedness. You were hang-dog and shamefaced and scrambling for a week or more. Nay, filthy! I know thee now."

For a while it was all a hubbub—he proclaiming his fault and she rating him for it; till the Squire walked down from the terrace to see what had happened, and the dancers came crowding and questioning from the summer-tree. There had been a great gabble and rattle of tongues, in the midst of which the poor infant had lifted up her voice and cried lustily. The merrymakers laughed and hullooed and dug one another in the sides. They had drunk some good ale and their spirits were high, and it seemed to them the best thing in the world that Exalted Harman, who had condemned their sport, should stand before them confessing himself the father of a bastard.

In the end they had all joined hands and danced round him as if he were a maypole. Old Gervase laughed aloud and capered, as he remembered Exalted Harman, dressed in black, with a steeple-crowned hat on his head and a squalling brat in his arms, standing there with his eyes rolled up to heaven, while the boys and girls danced round him singing: "Pinch him, pinch him, black and blue . . ." He! He! He! It had been a famous sight, and he felt better for remembering it so well.

"Pinch him blue and pinch him black,
   Let him not lack
Sharp nails to pinch him blue and red
Till sleep has rocked his addle head."

Those nails had certainly done their work when he was home, to judge by his appearance during the next day or two. But for all that Mistress Harman had had to keep the child. She might pinch her husband, but she must obey him and breed up his bastard—if so be it really was his, since none could tell whose child the mountebank might have fathered on him. Possibly she didn't know herself whose it was, but her luck had sent her a mighty fine chance to get rid of it. Sir Charles Alard had had her searched for, but she had gone from the district.

Exalted Harman would never hear a word against the child being his. You might have thought he gloried in it, though for the matter of that Gervase guessed well enough that his faith in Providence was at stake with his paternity. The Lord would never have condemned him with another man's child, so the child must be his and he would bring her up in his family as a perpetual memorial of his sin, its punishment, and its forgiveness. He had drunk strong waters at a fair, and gone with a vagabond woman, and hidden his sin for a year. But there is nothing secret that shall not be revealed, and that which ye shall speak in your closets—or rather in the hollow by the hedge of Dodyland Shaw—shall be proclaimed on the housetops—or on the lawn of Conster Manor at a May-day feast. To that end he had had the poor wretch christened Condemnation, so that he might say when he saw her: my rebuke is ever before me. The old fool! Gervase switched off a head of fennel in the ditch.

They had better have sent her to the workhouse, for she had had a hard life under her father's roof. It was not to be expected that her stepmother should love her, and the young Harmans—solid, healthy, witless boys and girls—were so unlike her that it seemed natural she should be their butt and sport. He'd lay his life she was no Harman; she came of a darker, wilder breed, belike of those Egyptians that were coming into the country. . . . She'd be happier in the hedge than in the house. . . .

But she was growing up now and would soon be married. He did not like the thought of her marrying Lambert Relph, who was nothing but a labourer. Harman had no right to mate her so low—most likely it was all a part of his psalm-singing and sin-snivelling and general Roundheadedness. She ought to have a good husband, the poor little bud—not a yokel or a Puritan, but some tight merry lad. Perhaps he could find one for her—who would do for her, now? He went over a list of names. There was Nick Lord of Peryman's Garden, and young Ned Martin of Cobbeach who soon would be looking for a wife. Or what of William Douce, John Douce's son, when he came back from France? He was a roving lad and might suit a wild, brown girl like Condemnation, though it was more likely he aimed higher. That was the trouble with most of 'em. They wouldn't stoop to a wife born out of wedlock. He'd better mate her with one of the Tuktons of Colespore—being Papists, they couldn't look high, and they too were dark and wild. . . . Thus his thoughts rambled on while his stick smote the tall weeds in the hedgerow.

§ 5

When he came to Leasan the sun was already low, a reddish ball above the little houses and the darkness of Lordine Wood. The church steeple rose in a black tapering shaft against the glow, and from it came the plaint of its ancient bell. He must hurry, or there would not be light enough to read Evening Prayers.

He went in, and the sunset followed him, painting the whitewashed walls of the little bare place with fiery colours, and lighting up into another sun the great brass alms dish that stood upon the altar. He loved his church, with its dim smell of devotion, and suffered his first renunciatory pang when he thought that he must leave it, that perhaps it would be many weeks before a stranger should stand reading prayers to Tom Synden the clerk and old Goody Munskull. . . . No doubt there were many things more glorious than that, but he would miss the godly order of his days, and his honourable position as Parson of the parish, free to stand up in his pulpit and say what he liked, even to his brother the Squire. . . . King of his own little kingdom. His heart sank, heavy with the thought of his sacrifice for conscience's sake.

What should he do in his brother's house? He would feel no better than a layman. Study? What for? He would have no sermons to preach and collect into a goodly volume for issue with a Lewes bookseller, as he had done already and had meant to do again. . . . La! he had too much conscience. Why couldn't he be like his predecessor whose tomb lay under his feet as he reached for his surplice on its nail behind the pulpit? Nicholas Pecksall had been made Vicar of Leasan in 1556 under Queen Mary and had held his living till King Jamie came to the throne in 1603. Like most of the neighbouring clergy at that period he changed from Catholic to Protestant with, apparently, no more trouble than a man changes from his summer to his winter coat. Why couldn't Gervase Alard be like him? Because maybe he was a better man—a man of his oath, a man of his conscience, though with a sound, sensible, theological conscience, unlike some. . . .

"To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses though we have rebelled against him, neither have we obeyed the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in his laws which he set before us. Dearly beloved brethren . . ."

He had begun to read prayers, though the goody had not yet come. Perhaps her rheumatism was troubling her—he had seen rain in the sky, lying in tremulous pools and sheets of green and yellow beside the fine-weather flush. She must have her rheumatism again and would not come at all. There was no use waiting for anybody else. His girls would not come, the flighty wretches—no doubt they were sporting with some young fellow or other in the house; they never came to prayers except on Sundays. Their mother would have come: their mother had always done as she was bid. How was it that his commands had bred out of her obedience so many disobedient children?

But his church was full on Sundays, and next Sunday he would preach 'em a fine rating sermon about coming in the week. His successor must not find the place slack and neglected. He frowned at the cool empty shadows in the nave, and on the empty benches near the door. He was reading the Psalms now and his thoughts could no longer roam freely while his tongue moved between the fences of habit. His thoughts must follow his tongue in his godly duet with Tom Synden. Tom was as good a clerk as you'd find within fifty miles, and spoke the English language instead of some outlandish jargon of his own. Whosoever came to Leasan would marvel at it; but there was no marvel, since his Parish Priest himself had trained him, moulding his speech to gentleness. . . . La! Tom spake better than his own daughters.

Gervase: "Lord, I am not high minded: I have no proud looks."

Tom: "I do not exercise myself in great matters: which are too high for me."

Gervase: "But I refrain my soul and keep it low, like as a child that is weaned from his mother: yea, my soul is even as a weaned child."

Tom: "O Israel, trust in the Lord: from this time forth for ever more."

Gervase opened his Bible and turned over the pages for the Lesson. He generally kept a marker in the place, but it must have fallen out, for he could not find it. The stiff pages crackled as he swung them over. He loved turning the pages of his Bible, which was as fine a Bible as any in the kingdom—one of the first to be printed of King James's version. The Lesson was in the First Book of Samuel—a mighty fine book for those who would assert and prove the divine right of kings—but he was in no great hurry to find it; he enjoyed turning the pages, and there was no one to wait for him but Tom. . . . "And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness . . . Enoch also, the seventh from Adam prophesied . . ." Strange that he should light upon that passage after what he had said to Exalted Harman. . . . It was many years now since he had thought of the fallen angels and their powers among men. Once he had even known their names. Could he remember them now? . . . Ramuel, Taniel, Araziel. . . . Perhaps when he was at Conster he would be able to revive some of that lost knowledge. No, better not—it savoured of magic, touched the corners of it . . . a Parson should not meddle with such things, and he would still be a priest even when he left Leasan, and maybe some day the Archbishop would give him another benefice in the new free church which the dispossessed hierarchy would doubtless set up . . . he might rise high in that . . .

"The lesson's First Samuel fifteen, Sir," said Tom Synden, and craned his head over the reading-desk, where the Parson was muttering to himself as he turned the pages.

§ 6

Evening Prayers had been duly, if somewhat absently, read. The Parson and the Clerk exchanged good nights, and Gervase walked through the churchyard to Leasan Vicarage. His father had rebuilt the house for him soon after his appointment to the living, and it was now handsome and commodious, less like a Vicarage than the house of a small country gentleman. It used to be a little thatched place, snug enough, but too small for a man just married and meaning to breed a family.

Gervase, as Vicar of Leasan, was the first of a long line of Alard's younger sons. On their return with the King, the family had found in occupation an Anabaptist crony of Accepted Harman's. Unable to change his religion as easily as Nicholas Pecksall, he had gone out with the rest of Cromwell's men on Black Bartholomew's day, and soon afterwards Sir Stephen Alard (baroneted by King Charles on Newbury field) had conceived the notion of presenting the living to Gervase. His elder son's boy was alive then and naturally regarded as the heir: he was only doing the best he could for the dissatisfied and rather strange young man who had returned with them from France. Gervase was more than thirty years old, and up till then, like the rest of them, had lived chiefly by his wits, knowing dire poverty as well as dissipation. He had been bred up to nothing, but he had always been fond of books and liable to serious fits, and his father discredited the rumour which accused him of going with the necromancers and magicians of Tours. Gervase would settle down into a good sort of country parson, he had not a doubt, and such an establishment would encourage him to marry and become more like other people.

The young fellow himself did not hesitate long before accepting the offer. He was already tired of living in the country without occupation or interest or very much money, and he believed—erroneously—that the living of Leasan would lead to promotion in the Church of England. He was impressed by that Church itself, by its discreet and godly order, by the solemn cadences of its liturgy, to which he came almost as a stranger after twenty years' exile. At one time he had thought of joining the Romish Church, but had been dissuaded by his family and the sudden turn of affairs toward the King's restoration. Now he was glad that he had not done so; though for several years after their return the Alards had to bear the suspicion of Popery, Charles Alard having brought back with him a young French wife who never came to church, but, it was rumoured, received the ministrations of wandering Jesuits.

Gervase himself had married soon after his ordination—Mary Ann Pye, the daughter of a Kentish Squire who had returned to his estates at much the same time as the Alards. She had been a good wife to him in all save her failure to bear a son. This had not mattered at first, but when Charles's boy died soon after his father's succession to the title and estates, he had grown anxious about it. "Let it be a boy this time, child," he would say to his wife on intimate occasions, and she would answer solemnly, "I'll do my best, dear heart," and give him a girl as sure as clockwork.

Folk said she'd died of her disappointment after the fifth girl was born, though Gervase had never reproached her for what he must believe was the will of God and the course of Nature rather than her fault. He had, however, often been distressed, first by the thought of Louise cutting him out with another son, and then, when he saw this was not going to happen, by the thought of the family's extinction at his death. Once before the chain had been nearly broken, when an earlier Gervase, Peter Alard's son, had become a seminary priest; but the gap had been filled by Peter's brother Tom, Sir Stephen's grandfather. Now there was no brother to inherit: the property without the title would go to the Oxenbrigges of Iden, on the Kentish border, who were the family's next of kin. Gervase's death would mean the end of the house of Alard—that ancient, honourable house of Squires and Crusaders, which would then become mere dead history, as musty as de Icklesham and de Etchingham and other names on tombs.

For a while he played with the idea of marrying again, but nothing came of it and in time he gave up the notion. He had always been of solitary, eccentric habit, and his marriage to poor Mary Ann had alternately bored and exasperated him. He would sooner be free—and as for the inheritance; that must go to the Oxenbrigges. They were no doubt as good as Alard in the eyes of heaven and soon would be as good in the eyes of Leasan. And his daughter Bess was to marry one of them.

Was that Ned Oxenbrigge with them now in the garden? He could see the gaily coloured dresses standing out of the twilight among the tall bushes he had planted. Laughter came to him, and somehow both laughter and colour seemed strangely out of place in that encroaching dusk, which was swallowing up the garden, beginning with the groves and shrubberies and finishing with the grey lawns where the colours moved.

"Hey!" he called. "Hey! Wretches—come in: the dew's falling."

A titter of laughter answered him and one or two colours detached themselves and came floating toward him.

"It'll gather on your gowns and draggle 'em. That ought to move you if obedience won't. Eh, Bess—hast thy gallant here?"

"No, Father. Ned has ridden over to Ashford to see the fighting cocks. The gentlemen here are Monsieur de Champfort and Monsieur de Périgault."

"What, the old fellows?"

"No—Monsieur Eustache and Monsieur Gilles."

"And have they taught thee any French?"

"They've been teaching us all French. That's why we were laughing so."

"Aye, hussy—laugh at the language of thy father's exile; and learn it from thy gallants since thou wouldst never learn it from thine aunt."

"I'd have willingly learned it from my aunt if she hadn't mocked me."

"So it was she who laughed instead of thee and thou'dst sooner do the laughing thyself. Well, well. And here come the young fellows. Bon soir, messieurs."

"Bon soir, Monsieur le Pasteur . . . Bon soir."

The young French gentlemen bowed low and swept the ground with their plumed hats. They were very different from the common run of Huguenot immigrants, from the families, mostly of the trading class—cloth-workers, weavers and iron smelters—that had been dribbling into the country for the last hundred and fifty years. The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes had brought a new type of refugee—ancient families from the south and south-west of France, impoverished but noble, not bred to any trade save war. One or two of these had settled in the neighbourhood of Leasan, living frugally in small houses, but none the less maintaining a civilization that the English-born gentry had never known.

Gervase liked them for their elegance and their panache, and would have asked them in to supper, so that he might discourse with them all the evening in a language his daughters could not understand. But they made their excuses: they had already stayed too long and their families expected them home. Model young men indeed! Gervase pointed and stressed their excellence as he marched in front of his daughters into the house—a tall black prancing shepherd leading a flock of many-coloured sheep.

§ 7

His daughters were a pretty pack, for the Alards were a handsome family, and Mary Ann Pye's face, though luckily not all her fortune, was just as enviable a dowry. She had given her youngest girls, Bridget and Madge, her ruddy, chestnut hair, her skin of honey and roses; the rest were Alards, brown-haired, blue-eyed and white-skinned where they were not tanned. Bess, the eldest, took care of her complexion and kept it white with cucumber and milk and a strange mess of ashes and almond oil which she plastered on at night, to the derision of her sisters, who conjectured freely as to its effect on her bridegroom. After Bess came Ann, then Henrietta; Gervase was sometimes as much bored by them as he had been by their mother, though on the whole he enjoyed their chatter round his table, and always found pleasure in teasing them and in censuring their country manners.

"And how many times have these young sparks been here in your father's absence? Nay, Biddy child, keep thy fingers out of the dish and use thy fork."

"This is the first time they've come, but we met them both last week at my aunt's."

"I'll warrant she's glad to speak her own tongue again, though she must hate their reason for leaving France. Eh well, they're pretty fellows, and you can sort 'em out amongst ye, so long as Bess keeps to Oxenbrigge."

"They'll never marry one of us. Their fathers have lost everything, so they must marry women of fortune."

"And none of ye's penniless. I'll wager that neither the Sieur de Champfort nor the Sieur de Périgault will find four thousand pounds come amiss just now. And when I die there's the furnace, though you can't have the estate."

"Maybe the furnace won't be blowing then. John Douce says the timber will be all used up in another fifty years."

"Well, that's thy life as well as mine, child; and John Douce is an old croaker—maybe he'd sing another tune if the furnace was still his. Henny, hast forgotten what I read 'ee out of Lady Rich's book? 'Throwing your liquor as into a funnel is an action fitter for a juggler than a gentlewoman.'"

"Father, you're as teasing as my aunt."

"I've your good at heart in the same way, child. You've been brought up without a mother's care, and have some sad country manners in consequence. You must behave better at table if you want to marry a fine French gentleman."

"I'd sooner marry an Englishman," said Ann. "The French are for ever mocking and mincing."

"Nay, they're civilized. We're louts beside 'em. I trust your aunt to make some improvement in your manners when you live at Conster."

"Then is it settled that we're to live at Conster?"

"Aye, it's settled. Your uncle must take us since we've nowhere else to go, and there'll be plenty of room for us all."

The girls groaned and made faces.

"I don't like Conster," cried Ann, "it's a great gloomy place, all planted round with trees, and they say Galloping Kate's ghost rides down the hill at nights."

"For shame to believe such a tale! Conster Manor's a fine, cheerful house, with twice as many windows as this."

"If we live at Conster," said Bridget, "our aunt will be for ever scolding us."

"And laughing at us."

"And reading to us out of the 'Closet of Rarities.'"

"Nay, Bess, it an't for you to grumble—you'll soon be away from it all at Iden."

"When shall we go to Conster?" asked Bess.

"I don't know, child. But it must be before August."

"Father, why must we go? We're all happy here."

"We'll all be happy there."

"Shall we have our horses?"

"You shall indeed. I lose four hundred pounds a year, but it needn't trouble you. Your uncle will take your horses into his stable."

"I'd sooner stay here—away from my uncle and aunt. I can't see why we need go."

"Because, as I've told you a hundred times, you thoughtless rogue, I will not take the oath to the new King and they will not let me stay without it."

"I can't see why they won't let you stay nor why you can't take the oath."

Gervase rolled up the whites of his eyes.

"What a litter, what a brood, have I begotten! All ignorant hussies without grace or sense. As if it weren't bad enough my being without a son to inherit the estates, I must have daughters brained no better than conies."

He was half laughing as he spoke, but in his heart was an angry feeling of loneliness. He felt lonely in the midst of their chattering ignorance; their pretty, smiling faces were mere masks—there was no human brain behind them to understand him. He was alone among masks.

§ 8

The next day he went over to Conster as soon as he had read Morning Prayers. He went as usual on foot, for unless the way were very long he would always rather walk than ride, and Conster was barely two miles from Leasan. He walked at a great pace and his mind moved faster than his legs. Striding along with his holly stick in his hand and his cassock bunched round his middle, his thoughts were on horseback, galloping ahead of him; whereas when he rode a horse his thoughts crawled only at a foot pace.

To-day his thoughts were cavalry, charging the future. He saw the Church of England in disruption—what could they do when they found that only a fraction of the clergy would take the oath? They couldn't deprive them all. And no power on earth could deprive them of their orders; Bishops and Priests would remain Bishops and Priests, the ministry of the new church—the bones of the Phoenix. . . . Schism? Nay, the schism lay with those who intruded their swearing nominees into sees and cures already occupied by men too loyal and logical to swear . . . the men who followed Canterbury would be the ministers of the true Church of England, the others but usurpers and schismatics. . . . He was to be turned out of his living, but he would soon have something better—a bishopric maybe. He was a man of ripe age and experience—they would surely give him an important place in any new administration, all the more because he was not a Jacobite . . . he was all for William of Orange and against the Pope. . . . But he would not swear sacrilegious, unscriptural oaths . . . and he was weary of Leasan—his galloping thoughts swept down the fences that yesterday had been set about his mind—weary of a Parson's daily round, of reading prayers to old women and breathing the foul air of sickrooms. He was king of his castle—but it was only a toy castle, and his crown a paper crown. How ran the Psalm? "I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord" . . . or John Milton: "Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven" . . . nay, that was not his meaning; but he was well rid of Leasan. He saw himself a Bishop of some newly created see, resigning at last for an honourable retirement to Conster Manor on his brother's death. . . .

"Good day, brother."

Charles's voice came coolly, unaware that he greeted a retired Bishop who had supplanted him.

Gervase pulled up, a little dazed by the spread of his thoughts and surprised to find that his legs, at an almost equal speed, had taken him all unwittingly over the footbridge that crossed the River Tillingham, and into the lower groves of Conster's garden.

"Good day, Charles. Good day, Master Douce."

Charles was standing on a green lawn-slope beside the river, in conference with his furnace master, John Douce, great-grandson of Robert Douce, the melancholy Frenchman who had come as a refugee from Beauface more than a hundred years ago. The Douces and the Harmans were connected, for a daughter of Robert Douce had married the young Harman of her day, and for a time, as no Alard could ever forget, the Conster estate had been parcelled out between them. But their power had ended with the Commonwealth and the Douces had returned to their former state more philosophically than the Harmans. Perhaps John Douce, as owner of Conster Furnace, had seen the shadow creeping down on it, and thought it as well to put himself in a less responsible position. The shadow came from the high hill behind Conster, where the forest of Mardersham met the forest of Wagenmary. The furnace had blown for a hundred years and already the trees were growing thin. New plantations had been made, but the young stock was not thriving—and anyway it is impossible to grow a tree in the time it takes to cut one down.

Charles had been discussing timber with John Douce when Gervase charged in on them.

"In ten years' time we'll be forced to buy our fuel, and that will sink our profits yet lower. The new plantation at Farthingland won't be up before the rest of the forest is down."

"How's that?" said Gervase. "Your trees look well enough?"

He gazed round him at the tall oaks standing about the lawn, and then up at the tree-covered slope of Wagenmary, where the young foliage of oak and ash and beech burned in a yellowish fire against the sky. All about Conster stood the trees, shutting it away from the countryside into the leafy prison of its wealth. The shadows lay dark against the sunlight in the clear heat of spring.

Gervase repeated: "Your trees look well enough."

"Hark!" said Charles.

Through the silence came the rocketing laugh of a woodpecker. Ha-ha-ha-hi!

"The place is infested with gallybirds," said Douce. "What harm can they do?"

"None to a sound tree; but a gallybird never goes to a sound tree. Our trees are rotting, so the gallybirds are in most of 'em."

"But your wood is wanted mainly for burning, so I can't see that a little unsoundness can affect you much." Charles laughed.

"A rotten tree burns twice—thrice—as fast as a sound one. That's why we shall have burned all our old trees before the new ones are up. I'll lay, brother, that when Conster's yours, the furnace will be blowing at a loss."

"Then it shall blow no more—I'll have no loss on it."

Gervase's inheritance was in the way of being a joke between them—a better joke for the elder than for the younger—because Charles was scarcely two years older than his brother. In point of fact he looked younger; his skin was almost unlined and his forehead was pale and smooth under the eaves of his monstrous periwig. Beside him Gervase looked gnarled, and there was grey in the hard, stubbly thatch of his hair. Only his smile was younger than his brother's, for he had a wide grin showing sound, white teeth, while Charles's teeth were minced together like a rabbit's and his smile was languid.

"And how fares your controversy at Leasan? I see by my 'Newsletter' that those who won't swear are to go."

"I shall go—and so will two-thirds of the clergy on the Establishment."

"Two-thirds?" Charles raised his eyebrows. "I shouldn't have thought two-tenths. But whether you go with the majority or the minority I'm glad that you go. You've been Parson of a parish long enough."

"Eh, how's that?" Gervase was surprised and a little annoyed to find his brother so accurately expressing his recent thoughts.

"You've been Vicar of Leasan more than twenty years. It was a bad scheme of my father's to put you in; but doubtless he thought it would lead to something better."

"And what better am I to have now?"

"You will be able to lead the life of a scholar and a gentleman. Both my wife and I will be glad for you to settle here—our family's too small for such a place."

Gervase was pleased to find his brother proposing what he himself had meant to ask at a more favourable opportunity.

"But, remember, I'm not alone. If your family's small, mine's large—too large, since there's no variety in it."

"No, but there's good room for your daughters, and we shall enjoy having so much young company. Come up to the house and let my wife tell you what we've been talking of."

They had already started to walk, Gervase's long legs setting a pace that gave his brother hard work to keep up with him and made John Douce fall behind.

"We shall all agree together well enough," continued Charles.

"And you will take my books?"

"I wouldn't take you without 'em, and you shall have the east room to study in—it's quiet and away from the rest. You'll be a happier man when you can sit among your books instead of having to go forth into stinking cottages to look at sores and boils or into a cold church to read prayers to witches."

"I read no prayers to witches."

"What! Has no one told you that Goody Munskull is a witch——"

"Nay, I'd never listen to such rank talk."

"But our neighbour Austen was telling me only last night at dinner that the goody's a witch and keeps a little cow no bigger than a cat."

"Foh! there speaks our learned magistrate, our English Squire, with a nose as good for a witch as for a fox."

"Aye indeed. But you mustn't be solemn over it. When you live at the Manor you will laugh at such things. Brother, you and I are still suffering from our seventeen years in France, where we learned to be civilized, and perversely to speak the English tongue. If we had never been away, we should be like any other Squire round here, with no thought save to guzzle ale and hunt the fox, and no speech save the 'uums' and 'aahs' of a yokel at a fair."

"You'll soon see plain that my girls have never been in France."

"Madame shall teach them how to behave à la française; though I'll lay you don't want 'em trained up as wives for the French exiles."

"I've no objection if she makes them polite enough. Two pretty, prancing young fellows were at my house last night and I told the girls they could do as they pleased with 'em so long as they remembered that Bess marries the heir. They'll have money of their own, so can afford to pay for blood."

"We've some fine ancient families exiled now among us, much as we once were exiled among them. Louise was mightily pleased with one or two that she saw, though she doesn't like their religion . . . there she is, on the terrace."

Gervase could see the vivid colours of his sister's gown and petticoat standing against the dim, rosy wall of the manor. The ground floor of Conster was built of old, mellow bricks, above which the upper story hung, three beamed and lime-washed gables.

"Who's that with her?" he asked.

"Mr. Parsons."

Gervase made a grimace.

§ 9

"Ah, Gerr-r-vase," said Louise Alard, coming forward.

She spoke English with charming fluency and some equally charming hesitations. She had been no more than sixteen when Charles Alard married her at the end of his exile, and now she looked far less than her thirty-eight years, for her shape was trim and delicate and her face was like a little pointed heart.

Gervase kissed her hand, which had a mysterious scent upon it, and turned from her to answer her companion's greeting. Mr. Parsons was about forty years old, dark, short, and dressed in a neat, old-fashioned style. Gervase had met him already once or twice, for he was a fairly frequent visitor at the Manor. Rumour held him to be a Jacobite spy, and though Gervase was convinced of his brother's political integrity he had a pretty strong suspicion that the stranger was a Romish priest. Louise, he knew, was periodically visited by such, who ministered to her and to the one or two Papist families that still survived in the neighbourhood. The tolerance of the times allowed it, and he personally was glad that his sister should still be pious in her adopted country and have opportunities to practise her religion. But he respected the silence that Charles always maintained on the subject, reading in it a desire not to embarrass him as Parson of the parish. . . . Apart from his pride in keeping out conventicles (and he was not sure if Mr. Parsons' visits constituted a conventicle) he had no strong feelings against the Romish Church; he had indeed at one time thought of joining it.

"My love, I've told my brother of his coming to us—" Charles's voice broke into his thoughts.

"And he's corning?"

"I trust that he is, with all our pretty nieces."

"We shall be a large family," said Louise, laughing. "But I am pleased. This house often seems lonely, as if more people should be in it."

"And I've promised Gervase that you shall train up his daughters to marry the very best of the French exiles—that they shall wear their caps and mantos and petticoats and trains in such a fashion that no man can resist 'em, and dress their heads in so artful a manner that each hair shall be a chain to lead a beau . . ."

"Nay, I am not a milliner or a hairdresser, and they are more like to take a Frenchman's heart with their pretty English barbarities than with graces learned from a Frenchwoman."

"I don't want my daughters turned into fine ladies," said Gervase, "all I ask you, sister, is to teach 'em gentle manners. They've lacked a mother's care too long."

"My friend," laughed Louise, "I can teach them nothing—they will not learn from me. But I shall be very pleased to have them in the house and listen to them laughing so loud—so loud . . . and I think that the young réfugiés will like it too."

"They are anxious to know if they may bring their horses. Brother, is there room in your stables for my daughters' horses?"

"Yes, we have room—let them bring what they like. And you shall bring your books . . . My joy, I've promised him the east room for his own that he may study there as he pleases."

"Mr. Alard is a great scholar," said Mr. Parsons with a little formal bow—"the clergy of England are known for their learning."

"Aye, stupor mundi is the saying, and I understand there's envy of our learned clerks in countries where the clergy are less learned"—his bright blue eyes, curiously innocent and child-like in a face so marked by experience, raked Parsons' countenance to see the effect of this random shot; but he only bowed again. "But I was never at an English University," continued Gervase—"I spent my youth in Paris, exiled for King Charles, and my studies were under French masters."

"You were perhaps a student of Paris University?"

"Aye, for a time—and in the country."

"The truth is," said Charles, "that in those days we were devilish short of money. My brother's studies were often interrupted. But he was always a great student—would go without his dinner for a book, and sooner spend an evening in reading than in dancing. That's why my father made him Vicar of Leasan—he thought it would give him still further opportunities; and now he's coming to us here it will be better still. I've told you, brother, that you'll be a happier man when you can sit among your books without interruption from your parishioners."

It seemed to Gervase that too rosy a view was being taken of his situation. In the eyes of his brother and sister he was no martyr to a sacred cause but a man who has chosen decidedly for the better.

"Nay, I was happy enough at Leasan. It's sad to leave it now when I should be reaping the fruit of twenty years' labour."

"Then why do you leave? Nay, never tell me it's because of the oath. I'd take that from some, but not from you. Your conscience was never tender."

Gervase resented such talk in front of Mr. Parsons. A dull flush mounted his cheeks and he cracked his finger joints in anger.

"Brother, if you talk more in this style I shall understand that you know nothing of religion or politics."

"You will then understand correctly, and I care even less than I know. But you must allow me to know my brother and feel surprised that he should divide his issues by a hair."

"You call the doctrine of the King's supremacy a hair. My conscience would be tough indeed could I swear allegiance in two places."

"Logic and reason support you as well as conscience," said Mr. Parsons—in his calm, precise voice. "If it's true that the King's supremacy is of divine appointment, then to put him aside and swear allegiance to another is to presume to dictate to Almighty God."

"True, Sir—quite true—you speak well," said Gervase—then was not quite sure if the other had spoken so well. There had been too great a stress upon the if; and why was everyone determined to get rid of his conscience?

§ 10

He sometimes wondered how and why it was that in certain happy moments his heart should fail him suddenly, sinking under some panic of loneliness, disappointment or even despair. Yesterday, among his chattering daughters, he had felt lonely—utterly lonely and forsaken; and to-day, talking to his kind brother and sister and their courteous friend, planning his future among them, he suddenly felt hopeless, frustrated, a man whose life is useless and undone. On the way home the feeling persisted. His thoughts no longer galloped ahead of him, and his bodily pace was slower too. He smote at the hedges with his stick, and scowled as he walked, staring at the dust on his shoes. It was well enough to plan for his life at Conster, but he could not see it now as a life worth living. He would not be independent. His father had left him a small personal fortune, but had always meant it to be supplemented by the tithes and revenues of the Vicarage of Leasan, amounting in all to some four hundred pounds a year—indeed, no doubt he had thought in time of a richer living than Leasan . . . he had not thought of Gervase being stuck there twenty years. At Conster he would feel the want of his fees—that is if he meant to live as an independent gentleman and not on his brother's hospitality. But he would have to accept Charles's hospitality in part . . . his brother would not hear of his paying rent for his rooms or for food that came off the estate—though doubtless Louise would soon find the difference that five healthy young women as hungry as carp would make to her housekeeping. Still, they would doubtless soon be all married and gone. Only he would be left—living on in his brother's house, useless and obscure—he who had once thought to make the world his ball.

As he walked up Starvencrow Hill from Conster, the slope was alight with golden broom and with the green and yellow tops of the young trees that John Douce had planted round his steading. They rose up the hill in a wall of broken fire, pale, gleaming coloured balls round the thatched hump of La Petite Douce standing among them. Over them the blue of the May-day sky ached cloudlessly. . . . Gervase's eyes stared past them to a darker landscape, and saw instead of their bright colours and soft shapes the dark outline of the Château le Thisay under the stars, with the shadow which was the Clos de l'Eternel—in the Pays du Néant. . . . Strange names, that had rung hollowly to him then—they were dead echoes now—the Field of Eternity, the Land of Nothingness. He saw himself slipping through the darkness from the farm, along the rutted track, past the tall ghosts of the agrimony, toward the light that hung in the castle tower.

That seemed another man from the disillusioned clerk now plodding his way home. What would have happened if the King had not enjoyed his own again? He had almost refused to return with his father to England, for he had felt himself on the verge of discovering some tremendous secret of power. But he had not been sure . . . he had hesitated . . . memories had called him—memories of green slopes and buttercups and sun-dappled brooks, queer intrusions into the darkness of his new quest. Besides, his father had been so sure that they would all make their fortunes out of Conster Furnace and the King's gratitude—enticing him back with the bait of riches and honour and then poking him into the Vicarage of Leasan. He should have gone back to France—he could have gone, but he had not. He had not felt quite sure . . . and there had been that night when the Abbé had warned him, and that dreadful experiment in the kitchen under the tower. . . .

He seldom looked back on those times, and yet he never looked back on them without seeing them as days of youth and hope as well as of darkness. There was a glamour about them: he saw them lit up like a city at night, and turned to them almost with longing from the milk-and-water landscape of his present existence—whether at the Parsonage or at the Manor mattered nothing. Even this new adventure of the oath was but a poor, dry, desiccated affair, a crusade of pedants, leading nowhere. . . . He would end his days as Charles's pensioner—he saw that now.

He wondered what had happened to those others who had been with him—le Thisay himself and de la Sourmaise, and the two brothers from Châtençeau. Were they all now as old and disappointed and obscure as he? He was never likely to know. These Frenchmen who were now pouring into the district would never have heard of them. They came from a different part of France—they would never have heard. . . . But surely so much learning and so much experiment could not have been without fruit. For all the years he had been with them he seemed to have been hanging on the verge of some tremendous discovery—powers hitherto unrealized. Yet, if such powers had been discovered, by this time the world must have known it . . . the Abbé had told him it was all useless and worse, all darkness, a mere blind alley of science. But then the Abbé had been prejudiced by his refusal to accept the Romish faith and by the suspicion that this science had dissuaded him . . . as doubtless it had at the moment, though he had better reasons now. He had had the choice between submission and power, and he had chosen power. Yet where was his power? That too was gone—he had let it slip from him while his hand grasped at riches—riches and honour, and he had lost those too . . .

. . . It was queer how he would sometimes come to himself out of a daze of thought, and find himself in some place without knowing how he had got there. Just as two hours ago he had found himself upon the lawn at Conster, now he found himself in his study at Leasan Parsonage. He could not tell how. He had come in through the house and garden. Yet here he was appropriately gazing at his books, his old companions, his only treasure, all that he had saved out of the withering of his years . . . the sun burned low upon them through the little leaded window, waking up their dim colours and filling the air with the warm, musty smell of their ancient leather bindings.

A queer smile twisted and lit up his face. He walked over to them and fingered the brownish rows. He remembered well how some of them had come to him. This copy of Bacon's "Novum Organum" had come from a little shop in the Rue du Bac and had cost him his dinner for a week. Charles was right when he said he would go without food to buy a book. And his hunger seemed delicious to him now. He had gone hungry too for "Several Treatises of Jacob Boehme" . . . how that book had intoxicated him!—it had sung in his head like summer and wine. He took it from the shelf, turning the musty pages. Would it sing to him now that his stomach was full, or was its music only for hungry boys? "So Mars clothes all his servants which love him and Saturn with his cloak, that they find only the copper of Venus, and not the gold which is in the copper; the spirit of the seeker enters into Sol, that is into pride, and supposes that he has Venus, when he has Saturn, which is covetousness. If he went forth in the dark water, that is in the resigned humility of Venus, the stone of the wise men would be revealed to him. . . ."

The voice came thinly like the pipe of a reed—he could barely remember how once he had shouted for alchemy . . . not the base alchemy of the chemists, but the spiritual alchemy of the Magi and Paracelsians . . . "Hunting the Green Lion" . . . "The Rosy Cross." . . . His studies had not all been dark. Jacob Boehme is an excellent Protestant philosopher, worthy reading for an English divine. He had once been full of zeal for Jacob Boehme and for Theophrastus Bombast his master, though he never read either of them now. Perhaps he might resume his study of their works—it might cure him of certain hankerings after a lore that had superseded theirs.

For he had dabbled in strange learnings, he had ridden off the straight path of his University course down dark alleyways, which had been like the ruelles of Paris—tall houses, full of secrets, nodding their dangerous heads over the tiny figure that creeps between the gutters. Now a light is seen behind a casement—a voice is heard—a door is half opened and shut again.

These books upon his shelves were not those that had taken him out of Paris—that he had taken out of Paris when he had gone into the country. He kept those hidden away in a cupboard. It was not fit that they should lie to hand and be read by his daughters, though that danger was not great since they were most of them written in French. Still, they were better hidden—perhaps better burned. A voice lifted itself out of his memories and he saw the Abbé's face, aglow with exhortation, while the candle-light shone upon the jewelled ring he wore—Gervase could remember now how he had turned and turned his hand, staring at it while he spoke . . . folk said it was a favour granted him by Madame le Thisay with other favours . . . but his voice had been the voice of the Church, rebuking, warning. . . .

Well, no good had come of taking his warning. Here he was, his life all behind him and nothing done—nothing but his books left . . . his books and his daughters. His daughters would marry and go from him, only his books would be there to remind him with dim colours and musty smells of ardours that were cold, and dreams that had fallen into dust.

"O God," he prayed—and he seldom prayed outside his public ministrations—"O God, surely it would be a little thing for thee to let me live again before I die."


§ 1

June was nearly over when Gervase and his daughters removed to Conster Manor. They could have stayed till August, for the suspension of the non-swearing clergy did not take effect till the first of that month, nor would they be deprived of their livings till the February of next year. But his fundamental vanity had resented the notion of being kicked out, as he called it, and he had tendered his resignation in a letter of six closely-written pages, a copy of which he sent to his Bishop.

Bishop Lake of Chichester, himself a non-juror, knew Parson Alard well enough to feel relieved that he was not to have his company in the noble army of martyrs. For this long-winded resignation, with its appeals to law and Scripture and its crowding quotations from Boehme, Paracelsus, Cirvelius, Alanus and other strange philosophers, struck him as no more than the decoration of a natural desire for retirement and leisure. He failed to understand that the writer regarded himself as a martyr and was preparing for an earthly as well as a heavenly reward.

When the actual day came for him to go Gervase felt sorry enough. The roses in the Parsonage garden were all in flower, and he trod sadly between them to where his brother's coach stood waiting. He was sorry to leave the brightness and independence of his little house. At Conster, instead of roses there were trees—great, solemn trees, nodding and scraping against the windows, giving shadow and shelter instead of colour and perfume. The Alard who had rebuilt Conster in 1571 had planted it handsomely with evergreen-pines and yews and cedars of Libanus, to stand inside its outer ring of oaks. He had planted them as so many plant trees, without ever thinking of their growing or realizing how much longer they would live than he. In his day they had been saplings, maintaining summer in winter with their green foliage: now they had grown higher than the roof and some leaned nodding over it, while others laced their boughs into a dense green wall. In front of the house a space had been cleared, but round the back and sides was darkness—heavy crests, branches thrust forward against windows, trunks pale and gnarled among bushy shadows. . . . Gervase was glad to hear the gallybird at work in them and to remember that it never attacks a sound tree. Some day he would persuade Charles to have them all cleared away.

His brother and sister received him warmly. Charles had always been sorry for Gervase, who he felt had suffered through his eccentricity and had never had a fair deal from life. It was difficult to say exactly where the difference between him and his brother lay. They had both grown to adolescence through the alarms and disruptions of the Civil War, they had both spent a racketing, penniless youth in France, they had both returned to England and re-established themselves in ways that had grown foreign to them from disuse. But Charles had fitted himself smoothly into these changes and had been mainly happy in them, while Gervase had been twisted into a suffering shape. It was not merely the difference between the Manor and the Parsonage, between the lots of the elder and the younger son, nor even the difference between Louise d'Aurey and Mary Ann Pye . . . it was a difference of fibre: Charles knew that Gervase was the stronger fibre—strong, but not strong enough; always struggling and resisting and finally warped.

He himself had invariably yielded, adapting himself with very little trouble to conditions that had violently swung between wealth and poverty, country and town, quiet and dissipation. He was now completely happy as a country Squire. He enjoyed hunting and hawking and managing his estate: he took pride and pleasure in his furnace, in the forging of balls and ordnance, gates, bars, bolts and palings. He was always quietly busy, and his domestic happiness was less a relaxation or a background than a glow suffusing the rest.

His only real grief had been the death of his heir. Charles Stephen Alard, his only child, had died of smallpox at the age of seven. Apart from his love for the boy, he sorrowed for the coming end of the family, the loss of the Alard name. He was sorry that Gervase had not had a son. It would have been better for him—better for them all.

Not that he didn't love his nieces. He had been sincere when he spoke of his pleasure in having them at Conster. On the day they arrived it had been a joy to see them tripping one after another up the terrace steps, having tumbled with squeals of laughter out of the coach—first Bess in blue, then Henny in yellow, Bride in green, Ann in crimson, and Madge in blue again. They had been like a procession of pretty birds marching up the steps.

"Welcome, my birds," he cried. "What a twitter! What a chatter! Here you all are."

"Nay, jackdaws," said their father—"jackdaws and pies."

They were not afraid of their uncle as they were of their aunt, and clustered round him, teasing and laughing till she appeared. Then their laughter stopped, and they picked up their skirts to bob curtseys.

"Good day, Aunt . . ." "Good day, Aunt."

"Bon jour, chères enfants."

She took each one by the hand and kissed her, for she wanted them to feel at home. She too had been sincere when she spoke of her joy in having them, though she had more reservations than her husband. She wanted them because he wanted them and his brother under his roof; also it was true that Conster Manor seemed to her sometimes very large and empty. But they were creatures apart from her—beings she could not understand. Their noise, their ignorance, their carelessness of good living—in the sense that she understood good living, as an affair of eating and drinking and dressing and thinking and reading and playing and singing—made them a constant threat to her patience. And though the threat never materialized into more than an occasional sharpness, she was afraid for her husband's sake. She would not humiliate him with a shrewd wife. Also, even while she greeted them, she knew that in spite of their talk and laughter Conster would still sometimes feel empty.

§ 2

She need never have been afraid of their not feeling at home. They were soon as much at their ease as at Leasan Parsonage, with their horses in the stables and their gallants in the drawing-room. Louise was glad for Charles's sake, for he took pleasure in the young life with its noisy intrigues and careless adventures. Besides, she sometimes found entertainment as a spectator. Her nieces' suitors both amused and amazed her. She liked young men, and of late years necessarily few had come her way. Charles had not many friends, for the neighbouring Squirearchy was gross and ignorant in comparison with the post-exile Alards. As for their French neighbours, till her nieces came to the house she had met them but little.

When Louise Alard, as a bride of sixteen, had first come to the district, she had been surprised to find so much of France in it. Her windows looked out across the valley to the homestead of La Petite Douce, and in places with more English-sounding names were the descendants of Poiles, Mouats and Espinettes that had crossed the Channel some eighty years ago. There were fewer of them than there used to be, said Charles, for the signing of the Edict of Nantes had ended the exile of several families, to the relief of the weavers, woolcarders, cloth-workers and iron-smelters of south-east Sussex, who had seen their livelihood being sneaked from them by better tradesmen. Many, however, were too long established to return—like the Douces, their French roots were torn up and they had married into the country of their adoption. They stayed and prospered, marking the district with their type, and even with their language, which gave some quaint corruptions to the local speech and some strange music to the local place-names.

But scarcely had these families become English and been absorbed than a fresh tide flowed in. The Revocation of the Edict brought a new set of exiles, and once more the French tongue was heard in the streets of Rye and the lanes round Vinehall and Leasan. These settlers were more interesting to Louise than those she had found on her arrival. They were from the France that she knew, and they were of her own class.

She viewed them, however, with mixed feelings. Socially and nationally they were her people, all she had of her people now that both her parents were dead and a distant cousin had inherited the Aurey estate. But they were of the Protestant religion, and to her a French Protestant was a low fellow, a traitor and an apostate. The religion of her husband and her husband's family she accepted as a natural growth. England one knew as a Protestant country. But France was Catholic, and Protestantism a disease of that fair body. In her heart she approved of the politics that had driven out the Huguenots and yet she lived in the country that had received them with open arms. She was in an ambiguous position, especially since her own religion was treasonable in strict law, and but for her husband's protection and the recent growth of tolerance in the country, would have involved her in penalties not unlike theirs. She felt that she could not meet them with the warmth and candour that their common blood demanded, so had avoided them as far as her situation allowed.

Now she could no longer avoid them, for two at least were frequent visitors to the house. Eustache de Champfort and Gilles de Périgault belonged to families that had lately settled at Eslede and Silvericke. They were handsome, well-born, well-mannered and well endowed with everything but money. De Champfort was a swarthy, dark-browed Southerner from the Condamine country near Nîmes. De Périgault was of a different type. Save that the modern fashion had shaved his chin he might have been one of the Protestant heroes of La Rochelle—those great, fair, blue-eyed, curly-bearded men that had sailed with Coligny. He wore his own hair in thick yellow curls and his eyes were blue and farseeing as a sailor's. They always looked beyond Gervase Alard's daughters, not one of whom could say he was looking at her, so that there were always teasings and squabblings about him.

With de Périgault and de Champfort sometimes came the latter's brother Etienne, also a changing group from Rye—Gasson, du Bois, Guiver, Mouat and others, less well-born than the young noblemen but more prosperous. As foils to these good-mannered, civilized foreigners came also at whiles the loutish son of the Squire of Redlonde and Bess's betrothed, Ned Oxenbrigge, with his old-fashioned doublet and breeches and his ceaseless talk of cock-fighting.

"We must beware, my friend," said Louise one day to Gervase, "lest the English visitors be given too poor a chance with my nieces. Already I think that Bess's eyes are wandering."

"Eh well, so long as it's but her eyes. Her hand is promised, and she can't deny it. Though, for that, I care not which of my troop he takes so long as he takes one of 'em."

"If I'm not mistaken, he would find it difficult to change to one of her sisters. They are all mad in the same way."

"I'm not sure that it's madness. Your countrymen make a better show than mine. All I'm surprised at is that my wenches have enough grace to see the difference."

"But from your view it is madness. None of these réfugiés has any money, whereas Oxenbrigge is rich, and that poor clumsy Deeck Austen's father has much land and much money."

"But if they marry a Frenchman they marry blood-noble blood."

"La petite noblesse. . . . I am not sure it is worth marrying, at least out of its own country. Even so, my friend, with Austen and Oxenbrigge having their rights, you still have three daughters left——"

"Aye, what a crowd of 'em!"

"It gives you a chance now. Three, if you will, shall marry French blood, and two shall marry English money. But I warn you that your English marriages must be made quickly or they will not be made at all."

"Who is Austen to marry?"

"Why, Henrietta. He sits by her and sighs and twists himself about while his spurs tear the gallons from her petticoat. And when they ride out he is always in her company though he speaks only to his horse. I tell you he is very much in love—à l'Angloise. Henrietta had better take him: and let her and Bess be married as soon as possible. The others can wait. They are younger and in less danger of throwing themselves away; besides, I do not think that my compatriots have yet all made up their minds."

It had occurred to her sometimes that de Périgault looked at her more than at her nieces.

§ 3

Gervase was not at ease in his brother's house, though he might well have been so. His uneasiness was not due to his position, since that had always been one of equality, nor to the mere shifting of his quarters, nor to his establishment in a household considerably more luxurious and imposing than he had known at Leasan. After all, he had been born and had lived the first fifteen years of his life in Conster Manor, he had returned to it after his exile, and on Charles's death it would be his. He was far from being a poor relation, even though his personal fortune at the moment was small. Charles gave him every consideration, every privacy, seemed anxious, too, to consult him on the working of the furnace and the Manor estate as if he already had his rights in them . . . . He might have started a new life as a student and a country gentleman. But he could not do it.

He could not settle down to write and study in the handsome room Charles had allotted him for his books. Indeed his books were mostly not yet on the shelves that the carpenter had set up, but were piled upon the floor and furniture. He paced among them, picked them up and set them down, tearing out scraps of knowledge which his mind seemed at once to cast off. He felt restless, unable to begin any course . . . sometimes he thought it was the breaking up of his habit that had done the harm. He no longer had to set out morning and evening for Leasan Church, to read prayers, nor were there any appointments with his clerk anent registers or fees or gravestones, nor meetings with his churchwardens to discuss repairs and boundaries. His days were mapped out only by meals, and he had always been indifferent to eating.

He spent most of his time out of doors, wandering over what had once been his parish and visiting those who had once been his parishioners. His successor, an amiable, pompous man, would have liked to be on good terms with him, but Gervase chose to regard him with contempt. Dr. Braceley was a fool and a pedant; he made mock of his Whiggish principles and formal learning. The parishioners, he declared, liked their old Parson best, and still considered him the rightful Vicar of the parish—in which he erred, for the majority of Leasan folk much preferred the kindly, bustling Doctor to the erratic shepherd who had not so much led them as wandered among them for the last twenty years. If only he had known it, his connexion with the Manor had been his chief recommendation; when they forgot it he was a "wagpasty," a "strutting old dawcock," a "Tory jack o'lantern." But he had no idea of this.

Yet with it all he knew that he did not want to be back again, as Vicar of Leasan. That part of his life was done with. After all, he had been nearly as long in France as he had been in Leasan, and no one had thought it strange that he should drop France behind him and forget all he had learned there, which was more than he had learned in Leasan. He still wore his gown, but that was partly because as a High Churchman he wished to proclaim that he was still in Holy Orders though he no longer exercised them, partly because he disliked the new fashions that had come into being he gave up wearing lay dress—the surcoats and cravats and ruffles and buckles that had supplanted the doublets, collars, cuffs and boots of the earlier mode.

He spent much of his time writing letters to other non-Jurors among the clergy. . . . That was, he told himself, one reason why he felt so much at a loss—the movement which he had trusted to provide for his activities was making a poor, lame start. Only four hundred parish priests had refused to swear—a sorry number, when he had promised Charles that two-thirds of the Establishment would go out. The vacancies would be as quickly and easily filled as the vacancy at Leasan, and the nine Bishoprics as well. Instead of facing a disruption that would bring it to terms and treaty, the Church of England would go on exactly as before. . . . There had been a far bigger stirabout at the Reformation, when most of the clergy and all the Bishops, save one, had refused to swear; he could no longer tread contemptuously over Nicholas Pecksall's grave.

Also, he soon became aware that the movement was largely going Jacobite. If any new Church were built up—and it was difficult to think of this small, scattered handful as the true Phoenix Church he had once dreamed of—it would be a political Church, a Jacobite Church, bound to recall King James. Gervase had no fancy for King James, though he knew that all the village took him for a Jacobite, and he thought that his fellow clergy lost what small hope they had of capturing the nation by thus dallying with the Irish menace—against which Conster Furnace worked by day as well as by night, forging pike and ordnance. He wrote long, illegible letters to a Mr. Wagstaffe at Oxford—the only prominent non-Juror that he knew—and once even travelled as far as London to meet him: but the meeting was not a success. Wagstaffe thought Alard merely obstinate because he would not see the difference between Jacobitism as a religious principle and as a political force, and Gervase thought Wagstaffe a hair-splitting enthusiast for insisting on what was, after all, not very unlike his own attitude to the movement before he grew disgusted with its small beginnings. He returned to Conster feeling sure that the day would be lost for want of his generalship, and almost—though not for long—wishing himself back at Leasan.

Charles had been at first surprised to find that his brother had so few personal links with the movement that had cost him his living, but on reflection he realized that it was like Gervase to enter alone, to work himself with the aid of a few books and pamphlets and many lonely thoughts, into a state of belief and action that most men achieve only in consultation and combination. No doubt, at the bottom of it all, his brother had grown weary of Leasan and had found an escape more exciting and vainglorious than a common resignation. But he was sorry for the way it had all turned out.

"Shouldn't you like to go to London again for a few weeks?" he asked him once, "or to Oxford? I understand that's where most of your fellow-thinkers are."

"Nay; I hate towns."

"You are no country bumpkin, and I should think would be glad to mix with scholars for a while."

"They're all Jacobites—I am no Jacobite, nor yet a Williamite."

"You're in a delicate position," said Charles, concealing a smile.

"I'm in no position at all," said Gervase. "I'm waiting to see which way affairs will go. I cannot believe that such men as Canterbury or Chichester will let 'em all run to politics and high treason."

"No, surely not."

"But we've yet to see what the hot-heads will do. I'm waiting here—and in weekly communication with Oxford," he added sonorously. "Brother, I tell you there may still be great things happening. If we can but drop these cursed politics and turn our eyes from other kings and countries to other Churches. There's a suggestion that we, the true clergy of the Church of England under our Bishops, may unite with the ancient Church of Greece and Thyratira, called by some the Orthodox Churches of the East."

"And that would be a fine thing for you?"

"I think it would. There are some who say that the East is as corrupt as the West, Thyratira as Rome . . . but I think not. If we could but converse with them we should doubtless find an uncorrupted primitive theology under later growths of superstition. Wagstaffe tells me there are some learned men in Cyprus and in Athens. He speaks of a work called 'Eironikon' . . . but I haven't much Greek."

"It's a lack you can supply now you've leisure here for study."

Charles was anxious to encourage Gervase along harmless paths of erudition.

"I've leisure indeed. Though I had meant to give the greater part of it to writing rather than reading. Brother" and his lean, black form towered importantly over Charles—"I've decided to write a treatise."

"For publication?"

"For what else? You remember my 'Sermons and Addresses on the Nature of God' that were published at Lewes, by Holt the bookseller?"

"I do not forget." Charles found himself automatically checking a yawn. "Did they bring you much money?"

"Money! Money! Why should they bring me money?" And Gervase cracked his fingers angrily. "I don't preach for money, nor write for money. I preach for fame, or rather for the praise of learned men."

"Which you've had, I trust."

"Aye, indeed. I had a letter from every Bishop, Dean and Doctor to whom I sent a copy. Even Canterbury wrote me through his chaplain that he was indebted to me—indebted, mind ye. I shall certainly, now I've the leisure, write another learned work. I shall write on the union of the English and Eastern Churches. But, brother"—his tone suddenly changing—"I like not my present room for writing in. It will do well enough to keep my books, but for writing and studying I would be more private—away from the trees."

"Away from the trees?" repeated Charles in some bewilderment.

"Aye," said Gervase, "I like not the trees looking in through the window at me whiles I work."

They had been walking in the Park, and had now come out on the Tillingham marshes. The trees stood in a wide belt between them and the house, but the valley itself was clear save for a small scrub of thorn. The river ran between steep banks through clumps of reeds and sedges. At one spot the windings of the stream brought forward a cape or promontory rising steeply above it.

"This is where I should like to be," said Gervase. "If I might have some arbour here away from the house, facing clear to the river. Some day we might build one—some stone belvedere or templum."

"You would be troubled with the noise of the furnace."

"Nay, that wouldn't trouble me. But I like not the trees—not when I write. Some day, maybe, we can build such a house."

"Yes, surely, some day," said Charles, thinking that his brother had grown more rather than less eccentric during his few months at Conster.

§ 4

Summer passed over in a warm breath. From the trees hung heavy, listless leaves, that held the brown threat of autumn in their darkness. Under their shadow round Conster the dusk fell earlier than in the fields, but it was a dusk full of flickering, wandering colours—gay colours of gowns and coats and cloaks that touched and swam together, while sounds of speech and laughter passed up from under the trees into the lighted house. It was many years since the place had known such youth and mirth, such singing and laughing and lute-playing. The rose arbours and summerhouses became bowers for courting lovers, and the long alleys of the woods were sped with the running feet of shepherds pursuing nymphs in a chase as dim as any lingering in faded wools on Conster's tapestries. By the end of the summer Bess was married to Oxenbrigge, Madge was betrothed to Eustache de Champfort, and Henrietta to Dick Austen, who had somehow at last contrived to catch more than the trimmings of her petticoat.

Old Gervase watched October come with a sinking heart. It was not that he felt sorry to see his daughters go, but he knew that youth was going—going like summer from the house. When Henny and Madge were married as well as Bess, then Bride and Ann would be mostly away too, for they would always be staying with one sister or another. No one would be in the house save those with their lives behind them, those who, like the woods, looked back on summer, but unlike the woods could not look forward to another spring.

His daughters, foolish, ignorant, noisy girls, had all that quality of youth which seemed as necessary to him now as Charles's kindness of heart, or Louise's elegance of mind. It was new for him to feel this hunger for spring-time. He wondered what had come over him. Was it only that his girls were leaving him, that the house would at last be quiet, that conversation at table would be rational, that he would no longer be put to shame by bad manners and barbarous talk, nor hear screechings and hullooings for ever under his windows? . . . Or was there something in him that was new—something old that was new? . . . Looking up to the boughs of oak and sallow and wild cherry lacing their colours over the lane, he saw himself touched like the trees, he felt the hand of winter upon him, though less tenderly than on the trees. In him were no soft burnishings, no glowing, mingling colours of decadence. Man was not as the trees in his decay. He did not go down glowing, but groaning, into his grave. And yet religion and the Scriptures said that in his body, even as in the bodies of the trees, were the new buds and promises of another life, the signs of another spring.

He could see no such signs; the buddings of immortality were for him invisible . . . a wild protest against death filled his heart. He did not feel old. Yet he was old, or if not old, growing old. Fifty-six was only fourteen years from the allotted span, and how many men had he seen live beyond that or even to it? If they were so fortunate as to escape the poxes, plagues and fevers of youth, there were the agues, palsies and rheums of age awaiting them. He hurried his pace along the lane, as if his vigorous striding legs would show the dead leaves he walked on how far he was yet from being as they.

He came to a bend and beyond it saw a figure moving. It was a strange figure, for in the golden tricky light of the autumn noon, it looked like a large bundle of wood crawling along on human feet. Between the faggots and the feet was just visible the hem of a russet petticoat. It was a woman who went so laden—doubtless some thrifty wise old woman carrying home her fuel for the winter. His pace naturally gained on hers, and he was curious to see who she was—he enjoyed a crack with a goody, and maybe she was one of those old folk who wished him back at Leasan.

But as he drew even with her he saw that he had mistaken May for November. The bundle of wood, which he now saw to be bigger even than he had first thought, was on the shoulders of Harman's foundling, young Condemnation. Her face was nearly lost in the penthouse of it that reached far over her head, but he saw the white gleam of her skin and the dark gleam of her eyes between the paleness of her bare arms lifted on each side of the load.

Gervase greeted her kindly.

"Good day, child. Where art thou for, so laden?"

"Höame," she said, and he saw that she stopped short on the word because she was breathless. She could scarcely breathe under the weight of the faggots.

A gust of anger seized him. This was how she was treated by the Harmans—made a beast of burden. He had not seen her for some time, and it seemed to him that her looks were fading. Her face was strangely white for a country girl's and her eyes seemed too big for it, and they smouldered as if they were eating it away like hot coals in snow.

"Come," he said shortly—"this burden is too heavy for 'ee. Let me take some of it."

"Nay, say, Sir."

But he would not be denied. He clutched at the ends of the faggots, striving to lift them from her shoulders to his own. The result was that, suddenly tilting, her load forced her down on her knees in the lane.

"La! La! Forgive me. There, I've hurt thee, pigsnie—once again"—he remembered how he had buffeted her at Newhouse six months ago—"I'm a clumsy friend, and I must remember besides that you're a woman grown and not to be thee'd and thou'd any more. There, stand up and let me brush your gown. You're not much hurt?"

While he was speaking he had helped her to her feet, and she stood before him, not looking so pale as she had seemed in the shadows, but ripely tanned, her arms and face the same colour as the leaves on the sallows that bordered the lane.

"You're not hurt?" he repeated anxiously.

"Nay, Sir."

"Eh well, dust thy gown—your gown, Mrs. Condemnation."

He tried to make her smile, but her little face was scared and grim. While she was brushing the mud off her skirt, he tried to lift the bundle of wood to his shoulders, but to his surprise and secret humiliation and open indignation he found that he could not do so.

"It's a rank iniquitous load. Surely thy father doesn't know thou'rt carrying anything so heavy?"

"Pray let me täake it, Sir?"

"No, that I will not. We must carry it together if I can't carry it all."

With her help he managed to hoist it from the lane, and though she would have taken it from him entirely he insisted that the heavier part should lie on his shoulders. But she must be strong as a Flanders mare, he thought, for all she looked so slight and small.

They walked on together for a half a mile, he going first and she following. It was not a good position for talking, since not only were they in single file but they were bent almost double, with their heads half lost among twigs and branches. None the less Gervase tried to make her talk to him. He had always liked her and pitied her, and now he felt a little guilty about her, for since his retirement from the Parsonage he had not once been to Newhouse. He disliked Exalted Harman and he suspected that the feeling was mutual, so he preferred to visit those who, he thought, regretted his departure. The pleasure of capping texts would easily be outweighed by any hypocritical praise of Dr. Braceley . . . . But he ought to have gone, if only to keep an eye on the poor little bud. . . . Not that she had any claims on him . . . but she was helpless and abused, and that should be claim enough for any man. Now they were putting disgraceful burdens upon her and working her to death. He must go to see Exalted Harman and rate him for it. He might no longer seem to have any pastoral authority, but he came from the Manor, he was heir of Conster—that should carry weight with a mere yeoman of two hundred acres.

Meanwhile he tried in vain to talk to Condemnation. She would scarcely open her lips except to answer: "Aye, Sir," or "Nay, Sir." Sometimes she would not answer at all. But all the time he could hear her quick, short breath behind him, and the shuffle of her feet on the dry leaves. A great pity and tenderness welled up for her in his heart. He would break down her shyness, which was no doubt a part of her general fear of life; his kindness at last should make her his friend, and she should be to him as the daughters he had lost—as the youth that was departing from the house. . . . He felt her suddenly as youth, moving with him down the autumn lane, bearing on her strong young shoulders the burden that was too much for his. At that moment it seemed as if it were she who helped him with his burden instead of he who helped her. Then he remembered how she had staggered under it alone and his indignation came swinging back.

"Courage, bud," he comforted, "we're nearly home." They passed a pair of cottages at Farthingland, and the woman outside them gaped and giggled to see the old Parson—as they called him to distinguish him from Dr. Braceley—go by with Harman's bastard, carrying a load of wood together. They could see it was the Parson, though his face was hidden, because of his cassock trailing in the mud from his bent knees. Now and then he trod on it and stumbled, and they laughed louder. A waggoner laughed too as he drew his horses to the side of the road to let the strange couple go by.

Gervase did not notice the laughter. It was a hard plod up the hill and his shoulders were sore and aching under his unaccustomed load. The more they ached the more furious he felt with Exalted Harman. His heart sank with a sense of angry disappointment when, at last reaching Newhouse he heard from sundry loafing and sniggering young Harmans that their mother was abroad and Dr. Braceley closeted with their father upstairs.

"Eh well, I shall call again to-morrow, and then we shall see . . . so Saul, so Sam, so David, you stand by and watch your sister carry a double load of firewood to the barn? Pick it up and carry it there, you mannerless hobs."

The boys obeyed him, grimacing and guffawing among themselves. They were inordinately amused to see the old Parson squiring their sister in so grotesque a fashion.

§ 5

As soon as he was gone, their merriment broke out. "Eh, what a gallant thou'st gotten, Con. I reckon thou'dst a valiant walk wud 'un's backside stuck in thy face."

"He helped me along well enough. He's a kind-feeling man."

"Kinder than thy sweetheart?"

"Who's my sweetheart? I've no sweetheart."

"Aye, but thou'st Lambert Relph. He'd never carry wood for thee."

"'At that he wouldn't; but he an't my sweetheart."

"My father says thou art to marry 'un."

"And I say I never will. And if he wur my sweetheart, why didn't he come wud me to fetch yon wood? The Parson said rightly 'twas too much for me. One o' you should ha' come along to help me carry 'un."

Condemnation was no longer the silent little mouse who had crept behind Gervase Alard down the lane. He would have been surprised could he have come back and heard her voice, which ran on swift and husky as a brook.

"So I should have come wud 'ee?" said Sam. "Nay, shouldn't I have brung a pack horse and set 'ee on it wud the wood?"

"Na, but I say the old Parson's been kinder than any of you."

"Why should we be kind?"

"One of you should ha' come along of me to Udgeham. My mother meant it."

"Thy mother! Nay, my mother. Thy mother was a harlot at a fair."

"'T'an't true. Thou durstn't say it."

"At that I durst, and I'll say it agäun. Thy mother was a harlot at a fair and thou'rt but a bastard bred of my mother's charity, so's my father can savour and smack his sins."

At that Condemnation ran at him with her nails uplifted, but before she could reach his face he had seized her and pushed her head under his arm.

"Filthy cat, I'll larn 'ee," and he began to beat her with the flat of his hand.

She screamed like a cat, while the other two boys standing by laughed loudly.

At the noise the Harman girls, Naomi and Michal, came running up, with Relph the ploughman and Nanny Stook the milkmaid.

"Woa, then—woa, then, Sam," cried Relph. "Why shud'ee wallop my doxy?"

"She would have scratched my face. I'll larn her."

"And she says she an't your doxy," said Saul.

"She's my doxy for sure, and to marry me in the spring. The goodman said so."

"I'll let her go," grinned Sam, "if she'll kiss thee now."

But Condemnation only kicked and screamed more frantically.

"Nay, let her go," said Naomi, "or Mr. Braceley 'ull hear her screeching in my father's chamber."

"Let 'un hear. She shan't take on airs and talk of her mother when she means mine."

"So she's been talking of her mother, hath she? The filthy trot! How dare she talk of her mother? I'll scratch her face for't when thou'st done."

"Nay," bellowed Relph as loud as one of his own oxen, "'a done wud your towzing, all of 'ee. I'm the man to towze her."

They tumbled round Condemnation like steers. She fought them, kicking and scratching and spitting, but they were too many for her, and she was flung from one to another. Even Nanny Stook joined in the game, cackling like a hen, and tumbling into the arms of Relph whenever she had the chance. Then suddenly the whole air crashed and roared.

For a moment they all stood still. Then Relph cried. "'Tis the ordnance! Hooray! They mun be testing cannon at Petty Dows."

He had been holding Condemnation, the moment's victor in their game of grab, but in his excitement he let her go. David seized her, just as she would have run away from this new terror.

"Come—off we go!" cried Saul, "to watch the firing. Leave hold of her, Dave."

"Nay, take her along of us. She's scared of ordnance."

"Nay, let her be," said Relph, but he was in too great a hurry to be in john Douce's field to see what they did about her. He and Saul ran off together down the hill. The others decided to bring Condemnation with them—it seemed a fine, comical idea to them, much better than pinching or beating. She was so much afraid of the big guns that her eyes were bolting out of her head, and instead of screaming she only choked and gasped. So Sam and Dave each seized her round the waist, and hauled her along between them; she would not or could not walk, but hung on their arms with her legs trailing out behind her. The boys dragged her along, while the girls followed with squeals and hulloos; her head had fallen back and they laughed loudly to see it rolling and bobbing between her shoulders. Every now and then she would suddenly stiffen and stick her heels into the ground, and they would all have some fine sport getting her on again.

§ 6

Charles Alard stood with John Douce in his field. Close to them were Jack Pyper and other artificers and craftsmen from the furnace, cleaning out the demy-cannon that had just been fired. Over them hung a cloud and reek of gunpowder and all their eyes were smarting. Conster Forge had just turned out six pieces of ordnance which were to go to Ireland for the wars. Two teams had dragged them up the hill to the field by La Petite Douce where the testing was usually done.

They were fine-looking pieces, florid and important with their scrolled hoops—two demy-cannon, a maske, two culverin and a great basiliske. They were mounted on iron carriages embellished with more scroll work and calculated to withstand the violence of their discharge. Already little knots of people were beginning to collect, straying from the farms: soon all the village would be there, for the sound of the first gun would tell them that ordnance was being tried, and everyone would flock to that.

Charles saw the Harmans arrive, but he was too busy to notice the struggle among them, and as for their whooping it was, he knew, part of the fun. He went up to the demy-cannon that had been fired and looked at it closely. The iron was almost red-hot.

"Come here, John Douce."

The two men inspected and consulted together.

"She takes her firing too hard."

"Aye . . . 'tis in the bore . . . Simeon Parnell was the artificer here. Sim, come up."

They parleyed round the gun. Charles Alard knew as much about the casting of ordnance as any of his men. Twenty-five years ago he had known nothing. He had come over from France quite ignorant of iron-smelting and iron-casting, and if John Douce had resented the loss of his proprietorship and taken himself off, he would probably know nothing still. But Douce loved iron as some men love gold, and rather than leave Conster Furnace he would stay as an underling, an indispensable underling. At first he had not meant to show anything to his employer, but he was won over by Alard's interest in the work. Here was another man who loved iron; and between them they had kept the furnace in prosperity, with the help of the Dutch wars. Now prosperity was threatened by the failure of the timber supply; but they worked on, knowing that though the end was certain, they themselves would not live to see it.

"Now fire the maske. Have you gotten her charged?"

"Aye, Master, she's ready."

A long gun, with a bore as slim as an ash-pole, was fired next. She made a great bark, and at the same time loud screams went up from the spectators. There was a crowd watching now. The slope of Starvencrow Hill was dark with folk, run up from the cottages of Farthingland and Udgeham, while all the household of La Petite Douce stood at the orchard gate.

Another demy-cannon was fired and then a culverin, and soon the Leasan villagers were there, for a test of ordnance was almost as good to watch as a hanging. Every now and then either Douce or Alard had to drive the people back; they came pressing round, to their own danger and that of the gunners. The young Harmans who still had hold of Condemnation tried to bring her right up to the gun-carriage.

"Nay, stand back there!" cried Charles, suddenly catching sight of a girl's face shrivelled with terror. He knew who she was, though he saw less of the Harman family than his brother Gervase; and he saw that she was in an extremity of fear. Those louts were holding her and making sport of her.

"Stand back there!" he cried, "and let your sister go. For shame to hold her."

All his quiet, fastidious nature recoiled in disgust from their stupid cruelty, their bumpkin violence, and at the same time an indignant pity for their victim filled his heart.

That pity was his last earthly emotion. His heart had scarcely begun to beat faster with it than his head was torn from his body by a great, flying shard of iron. The basiliske, while being rammed with the charge, had burst and flown asunder with a roar like an earthquake. Another great splinter tore the head off a tree and sent it whirling with all its branches among the onlookers. The noise seemed to hold the earth imprisoned, rocking fields and woods together in a dungeon of sound. The windows of La Petite Douce shivered apart like notes of music.


§ 1

"Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live and is full of misery. He cometh up and is cut down like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one long stay.

"In the midst of life we are in death; of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased?

"Yet, O Lord God most holy, O Lord God most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour, deliver us not unto the bitter pains of eternal death.

"Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not thy merciful ears to our prayer; but spare us, Lord most holy, O God most mighty, O holy and merciful Saviour, thou most worthy Judge eternal, suffer us not, at our last hour, for any pains of death, to fall from thee."

Gervase stood beside his brother's grave and read the funeral service over him. His surplice waved wildly in the autumn wind and his scarf flapped like a scourge upon his shoulders. He felt stunned and exalted and despairing.

He was stunned by the suddenness of the blow—"in the midst of life we are in death"—by the loss of his brother. Charles had been his only friend—he knew that now; he knew that now Charles was gone he had no friend. He was too contemptuous of his daughters, though he loved their youth, too uncertain of his sister, though he admired her intelligence; and as for the parish folk they were but parish folk and beneath his notice. With Charles alone had he ever had any kinship of mind; and now Charles was gone, so suddenly and horribly, slain by the work that had been his pride—"of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord."

Yet mixed with his sense of loss was a sense of gain, and between them his soul was shaken. He had lost his brother, but he had gained Conster. He was now Sir Gervase Alard, Lord of the Manor and owner of the furnace. He inherited his brother's fortune, which, owing to his care and energy, was not small. None of these things should have happened for another twenty years. He had never expected to inherit Conster except as a mere stub and heel, held in the loose grasp of his old age. But now he had the time and the power to use it, to make of it what he would. In spite of his love for his brother he could not suppress a feeling of exaltation at this unexpected triumph over life. Who would have thought that Charles, only two years his senior, would die so long before him? Who could have hoped for such a thing? "Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts."

Yet what could he do with Conster now he had it? He knew nothing of agriculture nor of iron-smelting, and cared nothing; and the money was all tied up in the estate. He would live now pretty much as he had lived before except that he would be quite alone . . . and, after all, how much before him had Charles died? "In the midst of life we are in death" might be true for him as well as for his brother. He might not live another month—another hour . . . and if he lived how many years of health could he count on? Even so early, his promotion came too late—a Martin's summer half in winter, and likely at any time to be swept by snow. "O Lord most holy, O God most mighty, O holy and merciful Saviour, thou most worthy judge eternal, suffer us not, at our last hour, for any pains of death to fall from thee."

"Then while the earth shall be cast upon the body by some standing by, the Priest shall say . . ."

The funeral service rolled on to its end. Gervase hunched his shoulders against the wind, which suddenly seized and whirled the pages of his book. A great crowd filled the churchyard—yeomen and cottagers and villagers who had come out of respect for their dead Squire. Sir Charles Alard was being buried apart from the other victims of the explosion—not only to do him honour, but because Gervase would not officiate with Dr. Braceley. He had no right to officiate at all, but he took it for granted that he should bury his brother and no one had the heart to forbid him or point out that his intolerance of the Doctor amounted to ingratitude. So John Douce was to be buried the next day, with Lot Martin and Samuel Boorman, the other two dead.

It was a marvel, thought everyone, that only four had been killed in such a terrible catastrophe. But though only four were dead—the masters of the furnace and the men who were loading the cannon—a great many had been injured. The village was full of broken heads, though some had recovered enough to be present at the funeral. One of these was Sam Harman, and Gervase spoke to him as he walked out of the churchyard.

"How's thy poor sister?"

"She's well enough."

Sam spoke grumpily, for he held himself too old at two and twenty to be "thee'd," and he disliked Condemnation being called his sister, when at the worst she was only half blood and quite likely of no blood at all.

"Is she still a-bed?"


"Tell her I'll visit her."

"Maybe it'll be some time before she's up again."

"I can visit her while she's a-bed. I'm a minister, who can visit the sick in their beds, for all that I'm Squire too, as I'd have 'ee mind, Master Mannerless," and he strutted away like a crow in his black gown.

§ 2

Gervase would have liked to walk home, but the dignity of the Alards must be maintained on such a solemn occasion and he was obliged to enter the vast family coach with its gilding and glazing and endure the company of his son-in-law, Oxenbrigge. Not that he disliked the young man, but he found him a bore, and his talk no proper exchange for the joyous misery of thinking. To solace himself, he lit his pipe, a formidable weapon which he insisted that he used only for medicinal purposes. And what occasion so medical as a funeral, with its atmosphere of corruption? all out in the cold air, too, since the Alard vault was in the churchyard instead of under the church itself. He had better smoke away the rheums and fevers that had lurked for him in the wind and in the charnel earth. Soon the atmosphere of the coach had become a reeking fog, and Alard and Oxenbrigge, seen through it, had the air of two creatures sitting in a muddy pond. It pleased Gervase, who disliked the family coach, to think that it would be almost a week before the ladies could use it.

Conster looked even more funereal than the churchyard, with the November trees dripping round it and the grim black hatchment of the Alards mounted over the door. For a year that hatchment must be up, as for a year Louise must sleep in a mourning bed with black sheets and pillows. . . . It had arrived only yesterday from the Oxenbrigge family who shared its use with the Alards.

The women were assembled in the parlour. All the girls were there, Bess having come over from Oxenbrigge Manor with her husband. They wore black ribbons on their gowns, and their sobered air suited and refined them. They looked sad enough, for apart from their loss of a kind uncle, the weddings of Madge and Henrietta must now be postponed until the spring and tears had been shed for that. Louise was not with them: she had gone, so they said, to her parlour. She wished to be alone—a thing they thought surprising and unnatural.

Gervase did not think it unnatural; but he determined to seek her when he had given her the liberty of a few hours. They must talk about the future, which he felt to be upon them. Until the funeral was over he would not have discussed it, but now he must find out what she meant to do. He wondered if she wanted to go back to France. It was many years since she had been in touch with her family; after all, only distant relations were now at the Château d'Aurey. But in her widowhood she might wish to return to her own country and her own religion—he did not know how much she loved Conster.

So when they had solaced themselves with a good dinner, he went up to her private parlour, a small room she had chosen because it faced eastward. She was an early riser and loved to watch the sunrise and here the house lay open to the east, looking down the Tillingham Valley, so that she could see the river flowing like a golden lane under the first light of the sun. She was looking out of the window now, but the light was on the other side of the house and all she could see in the east was a gathering darkness.

She turned when she heard Gervase come into the room. She was all in black and looked sallow—her eyes too were faintly reddened, as if she had been weeping; but her hair was as smoothly and elaborately dressed as ever under her widow's cap of lawn. She held something in her hand, which she immediately slipped into her pocket. It gleamed as she did so, and he thought it must be a crucifix or Agnus Dei or some such forbidden religious gawd.

"Welcome, brother," she said sadly.

Moved by a sudden pity, he kissed her hand, and her fingers gripped his a little. It struck him then that she must love him more than he had thought, perhaps because he was all she had left of Charles; whereat his pity grew.

"My poor sister."

She bowed her head, but when he would have laid his hand in blessing upon it, she drew away from him.

"You would rather be alone?"

"No, I have been alone long enough. I should have sent for you, brother, if you had not come, for I have many things to say to you."

"Maybe it's too early to say them now?"

After all, the future was not so close upon them that he need trouble her in her grief.

"No, let it be now. You as well as I will have your plans to make. Perhaps you have wondered if I would return to France."

"Aye, I've wondered. But if you would stay, sister, this house is your home for as long as you wish—for your life if you choose."

Her expression changed. The sallowness left her cheeks in a grateful flush and a smile lifted the sad corners of her mouth.

"You are good, Gervase. It is what I would have asked, but I hesitated . . ."

"Why should you hesitate? The Alards have built no dower house, thinking that Conster Manor would always be big enough for our family. It isn't as if I had a wife . . . and soon all my daughters will be married and gone. I'll lay that we shall go on famously together. All that surprises me is that you don't return to France."

"Because I am French no longer. My husband's death has been my denization; I am an Englishwoman now. My heart belongs to this dear country where I have been happy for more than twenty years. I have lived longer in England than I have lived in France, and I was not happy in France—no, I did not love my parents as I loved my husband; and now even they are gone and only my cousins remain. My cousin Louis has Aurey, and I have seen him only once in my life. If I go back to France I shall be lonely, but if I stay here I shall have you, my brother, and my nieces, and I shall have this dear house which my husband loved and where I can feel close to him still."

"You're a good soul," said Gervase, too much moved to say more. He had not thought that Louise had such feeling for Alard and Conster. He had been deceived by her manner, often so critical, by her weapons of reserve and mockery. Now he saw that she was more one of themselves than he had imagined—he need not feel afraid of her, as he had sometimes felt.

"You're a good soul," he repeated—then fell into a new train of thought, suggested by the last word.

"I promise I shall not trouble you much. This house is very large, and I will keep my rooms if you will let me. They are away from the rest, and I need seldom come out of them."

"I hope you'll often come out, if only to talk to the housekeeper, since none of my wretches is fit to keep house. Heaven help their husbands when they get 'em. But, sister, I've a thought that's troubling me. Here in England you're cut off from your religion."

She looked at him intently.

"Yes. That was one of the matters I wished to discuss."

It was the first time that he had ever talked to her of her religion, nor had he ever talked of it to Charles. He knew that it was a matter agreed for silence, and though he had sometimes resented the supposed doubt of his tolerance, he had never broken the pact. Now he was no longer Parson of a parish, so perhaps Louise would be open with him.

"You an't thinking of becoming a Protestant?"

He threw it partly as a challenge, partly as a vindication. After all, why shouldn't he reconcile converts as well as any Popish priest?

"No," she shook her head, smiling. "Never that. You may find it hard to believe me, but I am pious."

"And are Protestants never pious? And do Catholics never become Protestants?"

"Yes, in answer to both questions. But while a good Protestant may become a good Catholic, I have never known a good Catholic become a good Protestant. Anyway, I shall not change. And that is what I would speak of. If I am to be pious I must practise my religion, and perhaps you knew that ever since my coming here I have practised it."

"I've certainly guessed as much."

"I had my husband's full knowledge and consent. But now if I am to continue here I must have yours."

"And do you expect me to deny it?"

"No, I do not, knowing your kindness. But I hesitate to ask you, for it is asking you to take a risk."

"It's a risk my brother took, and I reckon a very slight one."

"It was slighter before King James went. Maybe soon they will be saying that we Papists want the King back again. And you, having refused the oath, are already taken for a Jacobite."

"I'm no Jacobite—nor yet a Williamite," he paused for her challenge and astonishment, but Louise would not be led into a political issue.

"I shall not stay here," she continued, "unless you are willing for me to be visited as before, knowing the risks we both run. If you refuse, I shall understand you as well as—nay, better than if you consent."

"Dear sister, I shall not refuse. I haven't the smallest objection to Parsons coming here so long as he uses discretion—and I take it that discretion is second nature with a Jesuit."

"Mr. Parsons is not a Jesuit."

"Eh well, he's some sort of seminary priest, I know."

"You know nothing, brother, and that's all you should know. For all you know, Mr. Parsons is a friend of my husband's who still comes to visit me, and whoever comes as priest, comes secretly at dead of night, so that you never see him."

"How now, sister? I thought you were to be open with me."

"Open as to the risk you run, but as to nothing else. If a priest should ever be taken here you had far better plead ignorance of him. I know you so well, mon frère," affectionately taking his hand—"that I would not have you plead from a feigned heart. You could not do it—you would not do it."

"Nay, that I would not."

"Then do not ask to know. It is possible that the law will be made tighter against Catholics. Should it ever be so, I must leave here, for I will not lead you into any real danger. But I do not think it will come to that. Nevertheless, we must be careful, and those that are honest had better be ignorant."

"But I'm not ignorant. I'd be a fool if I didn't know Parsons is a priest of some sort."

"Why should you know? No one has told you and you have not seen him perform one priestly function."

"That's mere quibbling."

"Quibbling is a word I do not understand—there are still some English words that I do not know."

She smiled as she spoke, and he was uncertain how to answer her. If only he were convinced that she trusted him! But though she might trust his tolerance she evidently did not trust his discretion. Why would she not be open about Parsons? For a moment he felt inclined to insist that he should be told all, that complete frankness should be a condition of his agreement. But as he saw the smile die from her face and in its place come that empty look that she had worn ever since her husband's death, his heart melted toward her. She must have her comfort, and have it on terms that would not rob it of its efficacy. Neither her conscience nor her fears must spoil her blessing.

"Eh well," he said, "have it your own way. Maybe a day will come when you can be more open."

And maybe before that a day when I shall have found out everything for myself, so shall not need her to tell me.

§ 3

The next morning Gervase walked over to Newhouse. He meant to inquire for Condemnation and find out how she was being treated. He had the gravest suspicions of the Harmans, male and female, trusting none of them to care properly for the child, who, he heard, had had her poor little head broken by a flying bolt of iron. He would have called before had not the business of his brother's death and burial detained him elsewhere. Now he took his first opportunity.

He found Alice Harman busy making beer with her daughters and Nanny Stook. They did not seem over-pleased to see him, and no doubt it was an inconvenient moment, as they stood with their sleeves rolled to their armpits round the great tub into which they were straining the warm brew through a cloth.

"Naomi," said Alice, "dry thy hands and take Sir Gervase up to see thy father."

"Nay, I came to inquire for Condemnation. I hear she was badly hurt by the explosure."

"She does very well, and will be about again to-morrow. Take Sir Gervase up to thy father, Naomi. You will excuse me, Sir, but I've more on my hands than I can manage."

"There's no need for anyone to accompany me," said Gervase loftily. "I know the way."

It struck him that if he went alone he might search for Condemnation in the bedrooms; but though they let him go, he changed his mind on the stairs. Better see Harman first and find out where she lay. The Roundhead could not stop his going to her. Bless his corrupting leg for that!

Exalted sat as usual in the window with his Bible on his knee. He greeted Gervase somewhat wryly, for he did not see why he should endure his visits now that he was no longer Parson of the parish. Dr. Braceley came and was much more acceptable.

"Morrow," said Gervase, briefly.

"Morrow, friend."

"I came to ask for your daughter Condemnation. Downstairs they're too busy to tell me."

"She does well enough. The surgeon dressed her wounds when he came to see my leg. He tells me now that the putrefaction has spread into the thigh, and talks of opening the flesh just here above the knee."

"Nay, cover it up. I didn't come to see your sores, but to inquire after your daughter, and to see her if you will tell me where she lies."

"I've said that she's well enough," replied Exalted, very much annoyed, "and as for your seeing her, it an't seemly for you to go into her chamber—I've told you she's a woman now."

"And I'm a priest."

"Not since you were turned out of Leasan."

Gervase began to wave his arms and crack his fingers. Harman had hit him in two places.

"I wasn't turned out. I resigned my living rather than take an iniquitous oath. And I'm still a priest be I a hundred times turned out."

"I can't follow your High Church theology. All I know is that you're no longer the Parson here and have no right to enter my daughter's chamber."

"Pish!" cried Gervase.

Harman lost his temper too.

"So you've come to harry a sick man. Begone, Sir."

"Impudence!—and sick of naught but your own laziness and bad humours. Such as you deserve to be harried, and only by harrying will you ever be cured. I visit those that are sick indeed."

"And I am visited by those that are ministers indeed, not retired to plot against the King."

"You dare to say it."

Gervase strode up to him and for a moment stood threatening over his chair.

"Nay, it an't I who say it, but the whole country. Why else should you give up your cure?"

"Because I'm not so impious as to lift my hand against the Lord's anointed."

"And hath not King William been anointed too in Westminster Abbey?"

"Nay, there can never be two Kings anointed."

"David and Saul were both anointed," said Exalted smugly. "Read the sixteenth chapter of the First Book of Samuel."

"But David would not be crowned King till Saul was dead. Read Samuel too for that. But we waste the air with such argument. I will go to see your daughter, or rather the infant that the mountebank woman fathered upon you."

And Gervase marched out of the room, feeling he had made a very witty retort. Exalted Harman rapped loudly on the floor with his stick. But his wife and daughters were either making too much noise to hear him, or too busy to come to him if they did.

§ 4

Outside the room Gervase paused a moment. He still did not know where Condemnation lay, and had moreover lost the means of finding out except by exploration. Still that would not be difficult—the house was not large, and they would most likely have put her in the attics. That was a clever thought—the attics for sure. All he had to do was to find the stair.

There was no stair, but a steep and awkward ladder, which he found at last and climbed with some inconvenience and much dust. At the top was a trap-door, which he pushed up, expecting to find himself in some passage way. Instead of which his head rose through the floor of the very room he was looking for—if room it could be called, for the attic at Newhouse was not divided into separate chambers, but lay open the whole length of the roof. There were no windows, but plenty of sunlight poured in through cracks and chinks, with here and there the larger inlet of a missing tile, so that he could see the great supporting beams that ran across it three feet from the floor, holding up the gable and the slope of the main roof, also the trays of apples that were stored there. The whole place smelt sweetly of apples.

There was no furniture except a pallet bed where the sick girl lay, which was close to the trap-door, so that Gervase's face rose up only a foot or two from hers. She was asleep, but as he looked at her, she opened her eyes and for a moment they stared at each other.

"Nay, be not afraid," said Gervase, as her little face stiffened suddenly into a mask. "I'm come only to inquire for 'ee."

He saw that her head was bound with a bloody cloth, and as his eyes grew more used to the light he saw further that the hair above it was an untidy mass, with leaves and sticks in it. He was struck by the pitiful thought that it had not been combed since the day of the accident, since that day he remembered noticing that it was full of twigs from the faggots he had helped her carry.

"Poor little bud, has no one tended thee or combed thee? Tell me, art thou quite neglected here?"

But Condemnation would tell him nothing. The fear had gone from her eyes, and in her heart was a passionate feeling of gratitude for this further instance of his kindness to her. But she could not show it in more than her looks, and those he could not read.

"Nay, something must be done——"

Which it was—quicker than he had bargained for. Though Harman's wife and daughters might not hear or might choose to ignore the angry rapping of his stick, his faithful dog Towser heard it and came bounding upstairs. There what should he see but two strange male legs, barbarously hung about with an unknown sort of petticoat, perched on the attic ladder. With a whoop the good hound was after them and had torn off a yard of Gervase's cassock, before a burly kick sent him down to the floor.

"Towser, Towser—quiet 'ee, quiet 'ee," called Condemnation through the trap, and Gervase hastily scrambled up into the attic.

Towser barked frenziedly.

"Quiet 'ee—quiet 'ee," cried Condemnation—"'at's a good dog. Come upstairs, then—'at's a good dog."

But Towser could not climb the ladder. He could only scrabble at the rungs and bark louder than ever. "Nay, quiet 'ee—quiet 'ee," cried the girl—"oh, my head—my poor head."

Gervase was at his wits' end. He looked round for water, for cloths, for a comb. There was nothing. Condemnation's gown hung by the sleeve from a nail on the wall. Otherwise there was nothing in her bedroom but the bed and several bushels of apples. She was beginning to moan and roll her head on the pillow. The dog would not go away, but continued to bark, though now more in excitement and goodwill than in fury. Gervase had almost decided to go down and lead him away, when Mrs. Harman and Naomi suddenly appeared from below, unable to ignore the din any longer.

"What's happened? Who's there? Quiet, Towser. Why, 'tis Parson—Sir Gervase. What's he doing here?"

They came clambering up the ladder, smelling of malt. Mrs. Harman was in a great rage, but Naomi was more inclined to laugh.

"What are you doing here, Sir? I thought you were with my husband."

"I came to visit the sick, and I'm shocked at what I find."

"You've no business here, Sir, but with my husband."

"Nay, I've business with this poor little bud, who has suffered your neglect for many days I can plainly see. It was Providential that I came."

"'Twas most unseemly, now that you're no longer Parson of the parish."

"I'm still a priest. See—I wear my cassock—" and he spread it out, displaying its adversities at the teeth of Towser. Naomi sniggered aloud.

"You're the Squire now, should you wear a hundred cassocks, and have no business save with my husband."

"I tell you I have business here, since it's evidently no one else's to care for this poor child."

"She can care for herself. She's well enough. 'Tis but laziness that makes her lie here when she should be about. She has no mind for the brewing—that's why she lies upstairs and feigns to be ill, knowing that I want her down below."

"You call it feigning when her head's all bloody?"

His anger was rising and his finger shook as he pointed to Condemnation.

"That's dry blood. Her head is mended now."

"Dry blood!—if you say that, you say that her head has never been dressed."

"It was dressed by Mr. Homer himself."

"When he came to see your husband on the day of the explosure, and hasn't been touched since. I know well, and I——"

"Nay, but she won't have it," broke in Naomi. "I've brought up cloths and water to dress her head, but she won't have it."

"She's a forward, rank, obstinate, lazy, filthy thing," cried Mrs. Harman, "and I take it ill that you should make such a coil about her. Come away, Sir, and leave her now, for you're encouraging her in wickedness."

"I shan't leave," said Gervase furiously, "till I've seen her head bandaged and combed. Don't you see that her hair is full of leaves and sticks."

"But she won't have that neither," cried Naomi, "I would have combed her three days ago, but she pushed me and scratched me. See, I've the scratch here upon my arm."

"Aye, she's a wicked trot," said Mrs. Harman, "and you do ill to stand by her."

"I'll stand by her none the less. I don't believe she refuses to be tended. Fetch some water at once and a clean cloth for her head."

"I tell you, Sir," began Naomi.

"Fetch 'em!" roared Gervase—"fetch 'em, or you'll rue it, since I'm Squire of Conster and a Magistrate."

This was better than telling them he was a Parson. Naomi disappeared through the floor like the ghost in a play, and in a few moments came back with a clean white rag and a bowl of water. Gervase held out his hand.

"What! you'll do it yourself?"

"Aye, since she's scared to have you touch her."

Naomi laughed loudly, but handed him the bowl and cloth. Gervase had not the least idea what to do with them. He turned angrily on the two women and ordered them away; he could not bear their mocking, indignant eyes upon him.

"Come then, child," said her mother. "We've our work to do and no time to dawdle here. Leave the Squire, since he's also the Parson and the Physician, and not much harm can come if we take the trap with us."

With this last shot she sank solemnly away, followed by Naomi, bearing the wooden lid of the trap-door. Gervase was shaking with anger. A large hole gaped by Condemnation's bed, so that anyone on the landing would have a good view of it; but this provision for decency made things extremely awkward, and they had already been awkward enough, heaven knew. On one side of the bed he had scarcely two feet of floor to kneel upon, on the other there was little more than a foot between it, and the wall which sloped steeply forward into the roof. However, he chose the wall side, as any little error or forgetfulness here would mean only a crack on the head, whereas on the other side it might mean his sudden descent to the landing. He did not think of asking Condemnation to leave the bed. She lay there with her great eyes fixed upon him, following his movements as an animal might, half in hope, and half in fear.

He had a little trouble as he tried to take off the bandage, for the blood had clotted it to her head and she began to cry and moan.

"Nay, take it off thyself, my dear. It must come off."

To his great relief she did so, and he was able to bathe her forehead and tie on a clean bandage without much trouble. Certainly the wound seemed to be healing, though there was a great bruise round it that would make her head ache for a long time. His heart welled up with pity for her. Poor little bud . . . it seemed an outrage that her youth should suffer, that age should ill-treat her, that age should ill-treat the young.

It was good that age should care for her now . . . though he did not feel so old. A strange lightness and happiness came to him in the midst of all his awkwardness; then suddenly and surprisingly she smiled at him, and he knew that her smile was an answer to his, for when he would have smiled back he found that he was already smiling.

But the smiles were soon over. When Gervase had successfully bound up her head, he found that he had still to comb her hair. He should have done that first, but he had forgotten it, and now he was at a disadvantage, with the bandage already set. However, he carried a comb in his pocket and with that made an effort to tease out the worst tangles. He found it an impossible task. Blood and sweat had caked the girl's hair into a sort of mat woven with leaves and sticks and grass. He could scarcely get the comb into it, and if he tugged, she cried and caught at his hands.

"Nay, do it thyself, then."

He hoped for the same luck as with the bandage. But Condemnation could not comb her hair—no one could.

"But it must be done."

"Nay, nay," and both her hands came down over it.

"It must be combed or cut."

"Cut it, then."

"What! cut thy pretty hair?"

"It an't pretty, and it hurts me."

"But let me try again."

"Nay, nay—cut 'un, or leave 'un as 'tis."

"If I leave it 'twill grow all lousy for want o' cleanliness and air."

"Cut 'un, then, I care not."

"But I've no shears."

"There's shears in the pocket of my gown."

He found the shears, and reluctantly and desperately cut the tangled mass from her head. He was horrified while he worked at it, but when he had finished he saw that the free ends were already curling. . . . He rap the comb through them and they curled up into many little dark tendrils.

"Eh well, then, it an't so bad. Thou'st a pretty curly head. How goes the rhyme?

"Curly locks, curly locks, wilt thou be mine?
 Thou shalt not wash dishes nor yet feed the swine,
 But sit upon cushions and sew a fine seam,
 And feed upon strawberries, sugar and cream."

He was singing in his relief, and her great eyes stared at him with a new glow in their depths.

"Art better now?"


"And hast made up thy mind to get well?"

She nodded.

"Then I must leave thee, or thy mother will be frantic. I'll come again to see thee if she'll let me."

He was kneeling beside her, but as he would have risen, Condemnation seized his hand and kissed it. At first he was too surprised to move, for never before had she shown gratitude or pleasure in his society; indeed it had been a novelty to find her answering him. Then too, surprise succeeded tenderness; poor little bud, poor little rogue. . . . As he rose from his knees he stroked her soft cropped head; it was like a chick's feathers—poor little chick . . . he felt a tightening of his throat and could not speak till he was halfway through the trap.

"Good-bye, then," he said huskily, "and be a good girl and read thy Bible and thy Catechism, and soon thou'lt be well and about again."

His head disappeared, but Condemnation still watched the trap with her hungry eyes. In her heart was a passion of excitement and gratitude. Gervase had become her king. Never had she met anyone so kind or so great. She would never forget his care and gentleness, his furious defiance of Naomi and Alice Harman. All had pleased her alike. How his eyes had blazed as he stood there cracking his fingers and roaring at them. Crack . . . crack. . . . Condemnation cracked her little hard brown fingers in the same way. Crack . . . crack. . . . If only he were her father instead of that poor old daw-cock below. . . . "Curly locks, curly locks, wilt thou be mine?" . . . She ran her fingers through the free little curling locks on her head. . . . "And feed upon strawberries, sugar and cream." . . . Maybe when he came again he would bring her something good to eat—not strawberries, since now there was none, but maybe purple grapes from the Manor vine or mirabiles or lollipops or a tart. . . .

§ 5

But Gervase did not come again. For one thing, Exalted Harman gave orders that he was not to be allowed inside the yard gate. Be he seven times the Squire, he said, he wouldn't have him roaming over the house and meddling with his maidens. Gervase might have been more insistent had he not heard on his abortive visit that Condemnation was once more up and about. The fever had left her, he was told by the cowman who held the gate and did not see why he should cross the Squire for the sake of a cantankerous master; the fever had left her and she was at her work with the others, clearing stones from the Knabspot field. Gervase's wrath was calmed by a comfortable sense of his skill as a physician—he had not done so badly by the poor little wretch.

He was also too much occupied with his own affairs to brood long over those of others. Even at that moment Jack Pyper was waiting for him at the house, and he had but run over because he had promised the child, and was anxious about her. Now his promise was fulfilled, though ineffectually, and his anxiety allayed. He could go back to Conster and talk with Jack about the furnace.

Ever since his brother's death he had somehow been convinced that Jack Pyper would succeed John Douce as master and clerk of the works. He had worked at Conster since he was a boy, and knew more of the matter than anyone. Gervase himself knew nothing. That side of his inheritance had never particularly interested him. The furnace was the only part of his estate that he was free to leave as he chose; it constituted his private fortune, and he had taken that fortune for granted, without thinking of the labour and skill that must go every week to its earning.

Now he was being made to realize how ticklish, how delicate a business was this iron-smelting, which till then he had thought a plain affair of spade and bellows. Charles Alard and John Douce had been like experienced mariners steering their ship through a storm, and now they were both suddenly taken from the helm and there was no one to fill their place. Jack Pyper was all very well, but he was only a plain artificer and could never be clerk because he could neither read nor write. Gervase's ignorance would have promoted him, but he was too honest to accept such a promotion. He would willingly make himself responsible for the practical side of the works, he said, but there must also be a clerk, and that clerk must also have practical knowledge of smelting and forging. It was a difficult matter.

Gervase found him waiting in his study, where the books were still only half shelved. He stood among them respectfully, for they had not left him a chair to sit on—not that he would have presumed to sit in the Squire's house.

"Sit down then, sit down!" cried Gervase. "So, I will clear thee a place."

"Thank 'ee, Squire, but I'd sooner stand. I can talk better standing."

"And what will thou talk of? This valiant clerk of thine—hast found him?"

"I've heard, Sir, as Master William Dows is coming back. Mistress Dows wur a-telling me that only yesterday."

"John Douce's son—I had forgotten him."

"He went away as a lad to foreign parts. When your family cäum back, Squire, and Master John Dows wur mäade to give up the furnace, he said then as he'd send 'un's son back to France where 'un's gaffer cäum from, the very säum place, where seemingly they blow furnaces säum as here. Mistress Dows told me as they'd heard näun of 'un this two year, but when Master John died they sent a letter over to whur he used to be, and now they've heard from 'un that he's coming home."

"And what good will that be to us?"

"I dunno, Squire, till I've seen 'un. But Mistress Dows wur saying as how all these years he's bin clerk of the works to a French gentleman, and that there's näun to do wud iron as he döan't know. And he's a scholar too."

"Eh well, he might suit us. I'd sooner have him than a stranger."

"So wud I, Squire. I remember 'un here as a lad—not much 'e wur, but maybe he's grown to better."

"Thou didst not think well of him?"

"Nay, not so badly—'e wur but a franion. He mun be thirty years old by now."

"I'd like to have him for the sake of his mother. I think well of Mrs. Douce, and it might be hard for her now John's gone, for the younger sons are only children, and her daughters are still unwed."

"There's allus bin a Dows at the furnace since fust it blowed."

"I know. Robert Douce from Beauface started it for Squire Peter Alard a hundred years ago, and his son was the first clerk. I'll have a look at William. I take it we can go on as we are for a while longer."

"Surelye, Squire—I can manage all säave the writing and reckoning."

"When did his mother expect him back?"

"She said he wur on his way höame."

"Then he'll be here before long. Carry on, honest Jack, with thy bumping and bellowsing, and soon we'll get thee a clerk for thine orders and accounts."

"'Twould be fitting to have William Dows, Squire, an you find 'un to your liking. The men 'ud sooner have 'un than a stranger, so long as he's steady."

"Be of good cheer, if he's but a railleur and a rattle we'll send him back to France. I surely can find a clerk in this country."

"Not a clerk as knows all about iron and ordnance."

"Eh well, maybe not. We must wait till we see the young man. I'll take him if I can. And now give me your report. Is all well at the forge?"

"We finished yesterday a dozen falconets and five demy-culverin for the King's Amy, and there's come now an order for a hundred yard of railings for a church in London town."

"We prosper then?"

"We'll prosper, Squire, so long as we've timber to burn."

"And we've that for the next fifty years."

"Maybe, maybe."

"And after fifty years we'll all be in our graves, so 'twill mean nothing to us if the bellows are silent and the fire is cold. In fifty years we'll all be gone—we and the woods together."

"'Tis sad to think on."

"Nay, not so sad, so long as we don't go with the woods into the fire."

"There's näun burns so quick as an old tree, I'm thinking."

"A pox on thy thinking, Jack. Thou'st lost thy Roundhead minister long ago."

"I wur thinking of the woods, Squire. Maybe they'll be gone before fifty years—they mightn't last out thirty."

"There's no difference. We'll be gone just the same. I've no mind to live past eighty, and you'd be past a hundred."

"And there'll be none to come after us. 'Tis a pity."

"How a pity, since there'll be no furnace to live on?"

"There'll be the land. Anyone might do well out o' that, if Alard wur still at Conster."

"There'll be Oxenbrigge at Conster."

"Aye, and a pity."

"Come, come, Jack. Have done with thy pities. Oxenbrigge will do as well as Alard."

"Maybe, and maybe not so. 'Twill be a sad day for this countryside when Alard's gone, and I doubt if Conster will stay much longer. When Sir Charles wur buried, Squire, the folk wur saying as you'd be sure now to marry agäun."

"Why should I marry now any more than if Charles was alive?—and whom should I marry?"

"There's some fine ladies around here, Squire."

"I know of none, and anyway I don't want to marry a fine lady."

"Many a Squire's done well wud a good yeoman's darter."

"Nor do I want a yeoman's daughter. I've been a widower now for fifteen years and my freedom suits me. As for begetting an heir, my son-in-law will do that—has done it already belike.

"'Oxenbrigge, Oxenbrigge,
  Lay with a lady, and got her big.'"

"'Tis an old rhyme we have around hereabouts, and many times Alard and Oxenbrigge have crossed, but Oxenbrigge never yet had Conster.

"Oxenbrigge first mated with Alard at the time of the Crusades, and at the time of the Armada an Oxenbrigge slew Peter Alard and married his widow. We're doubly mated in blood and arms—and trebly mated now. Let Oxenbrigge come to Conster."

"Nay, Squire—get an Alard to keep him out."

"Get me a wife and I'll get thee an Alard. Ho! Ho!" and Gervase rubbed his hands in high good humour. Though he had not thought for years of marrying again, he felt flattered by all this talk of marrying and begetting.

§ 6

A week later Mr. Parsons arrived at Conster. Louise told Gervase a few hours before he came. He thought that she looked conscious, but she turned aside his questions very calmly. No, she did not know how long he would stay, but it would be only for a short time. No, she did not know where he came from or where he was going. Yes, he was certainly an Englishman, and she had known him about five years. Charles had liked him very much. Yes, maybe other people in the Vinehall and Leasan district would be coming to see him.

The next day he met some of those people and was confirmed by the sight in his idea of Parsons. They were a rough, wild family named Tukton, yeomen farmers of Colespore, though local history showed them as Squires a hundred years ago and Lords of the Manor of Fuggesbroke. They were Papists, and had been despoiled of their estate under Queen Elizabeth; indeed theirs was the Mass House that had given its name to Superstition Corner. Fuggesbroke had been burned down by soldiers at the time of the Armada, since when the family had lived at Colespore. They were now very rough and uncivilized, more so than most yeomen, for their religion separated them from their neighbours, and though the law had slackened of late against Popery, it was still proscribed, and the Tuktons seemed to have inherited a terror of persecution that kept them secret and apart even from those, such as Louise Alard, who would have been their friends.

To-day they all shied off Gervase like steers—the father and mother and their four children trampling aside into the grass as he met them halfway up the drive.

He waved his stick at them and shouted good-day. They mumbled something in reply, and when he had gone on he felt sorry he had not stopped them and asked them if they had had a comfortable shriving. He felt in a mood for baiting someone, and neither Louise nor Mr. Parsons would rise to his bait. Still, he need not now trouble about conventicles—let there be a score in Dr. Braceley's parish!

What he troubled about most was the impression he made on Parsons, and to that end he at last attempted to reduce the disorder in his study. He would get his books in order on the shelves, and then invite the hedge-priest up to drink wine with him and be stupefied by the Church of England's learning. If he could not bait him he would at least impress him; he really had a very fine library, and once it was sorted out could display rare books and learned titles. But the sorting of it would be hard labour, especially as Gervase could not by nature pick up a book without opening and reading it. He started work on the day of Mr. Parsons' arrival, but it looked as if he might not get all straight before he departed.

Still, let him come and find some heaps on the floor—it would look all the more studious . . . books in action instead of merely passive on the shelves. What a mountain there was! Well, he had a fine place here to house them. It had been kind of Charles to give him such a good room. Poor Charles—God rest him. A coldness and a sadness came down on Gervase as he moved the books to the shelves. What was the use of all this learning, since by none of it could a man put off his death one hour? . . . though that wasn't quite true, since the learning of physicians and surgeons can cure diseases. But it's only a matter of mending and patching, and off we go to death, with or without our right hand or our right eye. If Harman's right in his idea of the Resurrection some of us will look like old soldiers back from the wars. . . . And what do we gain by the loss of our limbs?—not life, as the Scripture says, but a mere sniff of it—a pinch—a few grains. An extra twenty years would make no more difference in eternity than the tick of a clock. All these learned tomes, the fruit of long years of labour and study, were no more than the ticks of a clock—a great clock with the sun and moon upon its face and the circle of the zodiac set round it, like the new clock Charles had put at the foot of the stairs—but immense, stupendous, filling all space, the clock of the universe. How dared man think he mattered at all in such a creation? . . . Dickory, dickory, dock; the mouse ran up the clock. . . . A mouse may stop a clock, and a man can hold up the universe if he knows the right formula. . . . Once upon a time he had thought he might find that formula. Shall man by searching find out God? . . . Nay, such things are not of God.

With a shudder he pulled himself out of his reverie. He must work hard if all was to be in order by to-morrow. There were still many books on the floor, and Gervase began to wonder if he would have room on the shelves for all. This chamber must be smaller than his study at Leasan . . . no, that could not be, but at Leasan many of his books had been stowed behind others. The shelves were smaller here . . . eh well, he would have to build that templum he had spoken of to Charles—down by the river, away from the trees. He could keep his rarest books there—under lock and key—those he might wish to study privately, such as this "Amphitheatrum Sapientiæ" which he held in his hand . . . how he remembered coming by it in Paris . . . de Rouvigny had lent it to him . . . de Rouvigny . . . the night before he met de la Sourmaise . . . and he had never given it back.

He held the musty pages up to his nose, and the smell that came from them spoke to him of many things. How strange that a smell can change the world. . . . Till that moment he had been in his study, sorting and arranging his books, with a dozen candles burning and a log fire hissing on the hearth. Now he was in darkness, without light save for the occasional gleam of the river, his cloak huddled round him, his hat pulled forward so as to keep the rain from dripping on his face as he rode beside the river. He could hear the clop and suck of the horses' feet in the mud, and once he had asked de Rouvigny, "Is it far?" He could smell the night, soft and wet, embalmed with vegetation . . . now he was smelling must again and was back in his study at Conster Manor. But he felt shaken. For a moment he had—yes, he really had—been riding on that road six hundred miles away through that night of thirty years ago. Time and space had contracted into a smell. That was a wisdom he had studied once. . . .

He put the book down and picked up another. It was of the same sort as the first—he must have come to a heap of his old books, the books he had had in France, that he had read long before he had ever heard of Hooker's "Ecclesiastical Polity" or Donne's "Sermons" or "Eikon Basiliké." These were the books that he would keep apart and study down in his temple by the river. It would be best to hide them away—or perhaps he should destroy them; some were not good books. . . . Nay, not so bad. They were mostly written against the evil—"Malleus Maleficarum," "Sadueismus Triumphatus," "De Secretis Mulierum," "La Haine de Sathan," no harm in those, but rather good. Yet there were others which he should destroy—he should not have kept them; they belonged to a part of his life that was better forgotten.

But why should he forget it? Why should he forget the times when he was young and lusty and ardent, full of a zeal and curiosity, full of hope and power? Now he was growing old—an old man dying among dying woods—helplessly watching death come down on him before he had ever lived. If a musty smell could take him back to those days, why should he not go back? O Lord, O Lord . . . O Lord Astaroth. . . . A sudden shiver went down him. He could not—he must not—not here. It was foul and damnable—he had known it at the time, and had but tricked with it in the hope of passing through it to cleaner waters. And he would have done so had not everything been overthrown by his return to England. After all, magic had for years been an honourable science, and learned and devout men had studied the "Magia Philosophica" and the works of Theophrastus Bombast von Hohenheim. He had them openly upon his shelves and need not be ashamed of anyone seeing them. But these grimoires, these traictés, they were of another order. . . . What would happen, he wondered, if he were to tell some of these beef-eating English Squires the things he had seen? To them magic was an affair of witchcraft, of an old woman with a tame ferret and an evil eye. Little they knew. . . . How strange it was that at this moment of the night all long-forgotten knowledge should rise up in him, and at the conjuration of a little dust he should be back in the tower room at Château le Thisay, with de Rouvigny and de la Sourmaise and le Bettue and Madelon and Catherine and all those others watching that figure with the broken cross upon its back. . . . "Asmodée, je voas conjure d'accepter le sacrifice que je vous présente!" . . .

His breath seemed to go from him in a suffocation of excitement and fear, and then most terribly and summoningly came a knock at the door.

He could not speak, but without waiting for his voice the door opened and Mr. Parsons walked in.

§ 7

The shock was almost as much of disappointment as of relief.

"Good evening," said Mr. Parsons.

"Good evening," said Gervase.

"I hope I don't intrude, but your sister has been telling me of your books. Before she retired she said that you might be kind enough to let me see them, as you never go to bed before midnight."

"I'd meant to ask you up to-morrow, when I had my shelves in order. I'm sorting them now."

"To-morrow I shan't be here."

"You go so soon?"

"Aye, before breakfast."

"You've far to travel then?"

"Far enough."

Gervase felt annoyed with him for his short answers.

"To your next Mass house," he rumbled.

"Nay, I go to my brother's house near Gloucester. I'm a solitary man without home of my own and I travel from friend to friend."

"You've long known my sister?"

"Some five years—your sister and your brother. He was a good soul."

"God rest him," said Gervase.

"God rest him," said Mr. Parsons.

"You believe, then, in prayers for the dead?"

"Certainly; as you do, I understand."

"Aye, our Church does not condemn it, though some are opposed. It is the Mass that is condemned."

Mr. Parsons bowed.

Gervase, considering that he had fenced with him pretty cleverly, was now hesitating whether or not he should charge him direct, when the other suddenly as it were stepped aside.

"While we've been talking," he said, "I've been considering the titles on your shelves, and I notice that though you are a Minister of the Established Church, you read more French than English and very little of your own Church's theology."

"Nay, judge me not by these few shelves I've set in order. I've the whole of Sancroft and Hooker waiting to go up. This room's too small for all my books, and I'm proposing to build a summer-house in the garden where I can keep the rest."

"Surely it would be better to keep them here with you in the house."

"No, I would be more private than in the house. I would have a place where I can read, write, eat or sleep apart from everyone."

"You like to be alone."

"Aye, I like it."

"And yet the author of our being said 'it is not good for man to be alone.'"

"I must be alone if I'm to write and study. When I've put everything in order, I've planned to write a treatise on reunion with the Eastern Church. It's a matter that the fraternity of non-Jurors to which I belong have much at heart."

"I know of no Eastern Church, but of many Eastern Churches. With which of them will you unite?"

"We're now in correspondence with the Patriarch of Alexandria, and all the Churches, though independent—or as they would say autokephalos—are in league together. Since we're but a small body in England it would be well to unite ourselves with other communions which can claim antiquity with ourselves, and yet are free from those superstitious accretions that other communions have absorbed in their course."

"Aye," said Parsons blandly, "it is not good to be alone, for Churches as for men. Still; I'm not come to talk of Churches but of books. I see here you have Paracelsus in French."

"I spent my young book-buying age in Paris, but I've also Master Pinnell's translation of his 'Philosophy Reformed and Improved.' It's waiting to go up with my English Philosophical and Theological works."

Mr. Parsons picked up a book from the floor.

"Livre des Charmes, Sorcelages ou Enchantements," he read from the title-page.

"Nay, that's but another of my youthful curiosities."

"You were interested in magic?"

Gervase hummed and ha'd. He was not sure if he wished to talk of magic to Mr. Parsons. Popish priests were known to be frenzied against it, and anyway he was done with it now, though not done with his books.

"I was interested, when I was young in France."

The words "young in France" seemed to come smiting back to him from somewhere like an echo. His hands trembled as he picked up one of the books. Mr. Parsons looked at him curiously.

"There was—I believe is still—much magical study in France. Sorcery there has run a headier course than in England, and more malevolent."

"All magic is not malevolent."

"Nay, some is what is called natural or white magic, and much, most of it, is sheer human folly. But some is demonology—you must know that."

"Aye, I know it."

"You have maybe seen some of it—in Paris, or in the country by Tours."

"Nay, how can you know?" cried Gervase.

"I was in France for a part of my education, and heard many rumours and tales of Sabbats. I understand that there's a system of lodges come down from the societies of masons and adorers of the Rosy Cross, which now meet for purely Satanic worship."

Gervase began to walk up and down the room.

"Aye, I've seen it; I've been to their meetings, though not to many."

"You've seen their Mystery of Iniquity."

"Nay, but once."

"And given the osculum infame."

"Nay, nay—never."

"By the light of the Hand of Glory?"

"Nay, nay—have done, Sir."

He stopped in his walk, and swung round to face Parsons, who continued smoothly:

"Was the blood from an infant or a cock?"

"Foh! talk not of such abominations. I never went with the Abbé Gibourg and his sorcerers. . . . But how do you know so much? You must have gone yourself."

"No, no. But as I've told you, I heard the matter talked of when I was in France. The abomination was all over the country."

"Aye, and the French priests were in it too, many of 'em."

"Renegade and unfrocked priests are, I understand, as necessary for those obscene rites as a true priest is necessary for the Mass. For the most part the French clergy fought the evil as doctors fight the plague."

Gervase nodded.

"Aye, I know well. There was an Abbé Fournier at Tours . . . did you know him?"

"No, I was never at Tours. Maybe he warned you?"

"He warned me—and he would have made a Papist of me."

Gervase grinned and looked shrewdly at Parsons, who, however, ignored his challenge.

"You did not take his warning."

"No, for I felt sure that this matter was not so unconditionally evil as he made out. Doubtless there were abominations done, but that was at the Sabbats . . . I went not to the Sabbats more than twice or thrice, and I never belonged to their order."

"What did you practice then?"

"Certain friends of mine practiced divination by the Tarot and talked with the dead. Also we attempted more than once to call up a Magistellum."

"With any good success?"

"Only in part."

"And then you wearied of it all?"

"Nay, but I returned to England and my whole life was changed. For many years I never thought more of it."

"But you kept your books."

Gervase nodded.

"You see them there at your feet."

"Would that they were in the fire," cried Parsons with a sudden, unexpected vehemence.

"But what harm can they do? They're only books."

"Books which, an I mistake not, advance theories that may be put in practice. See—'Veritable dragon Rouge, où il est traité de l'Art de commander les esprits infernaux, et faire apparaître les Morts.' Do you study that?"

"Nay, I've studied none of them for years."

"Then why keep them?"

"Because they've interested me—they still interest me . . . I may study them again."

"I hope not. I know I've no right to counsel you, but I'm a man of some experience, and from that experience I beg you to have no traffic with those mysteries which are either foolish or abominable."

Gervase was offended.

"And I too am a man of experience—more experience than you, Sir, since I've done and seen with my own eyes what you've only heard talked of."

"Why rush back into a danger from which by the mercy of God you've escaped?"

"I'm not rushing back. My good friend, do you expect me to form Sabbats here and call the rustics of Vinehall and Leasan to ride on brooms to Conster on Midsummer Night? Nay, but there's that white, natural magic you yourself have talked of, and if once a man might command it, surely his life and the lives of those around him would be the better—aye, the better. You can't condemn all the books I've here. Would you have me burn good Jacob Boehme and his 'Mysterium Magnum'?"

"Nay, Boehme is harmless enough—that is if we except certain heresies he teaches. He's no magician but a philosopher, and you may study him with advantage. But these others are different—'The Kabalah': what should a Christian do with that? 'De Incantationibus': whom will you summon with your incantations?"

"Good nature spirits—or the dead, maybe."

"Animæ justorum in manu Dei sunt. Leave the dead in their graves; and be sure that much of necromancy is only the tricks our own minds play us, rising up at us and deceiving us with lies."

"Then there an't much harm in it."

"Surely there's harm, since every lie is from the Father of lies, and Satan in our minds and hearts is even more to be feared than Satan in the pulpit of a Sabbat."

"You think then there's no such thing as benevolent magic."

Parsons shook his head.

"I'm sure on't. Satan is in it all, either working transcendentally and openly, or—as I believe happens as often—immanently and secretly, in the folly of our own minds."

Gervase looked uneasy. In spite of himself, the other had disquieted him. Various horrible memories took him and shook him for a moment. Parsons began to walk up and down; he too seemed stirred.

"Sir Gervase," he said suddenly, stopping and turning round. "There's one thing I know and understand, and that is loneliness."

"Loneliness? . . . and you go so much to friends?"

"I go to them and I go from them, but always alone. I spend only a very small part of my days in company. But that's not all my lonelessness; it's my life that is apart, cut off from the lives of others. I can't live as one of them any more than I can live with them. I must always be alone. So I understand particularly the perils of lonely men."

"And you would call me a lonely man—here in this house, with my sister and my daughters?"

"Yes, for you're apart from them: though your body's in their house, your mind has never walked with theirs or held communion with them. You've always been lonely, and like me you must beware. For lonely men are apt to wander into strange ways, to face temptations that don't appear to other men—and delusions, too, delusions of mind rather than delusions of sense, though one may become the other. Take my advice, which I give in all humility, knowing my own temptations, and walk not in strange or doubtful paths, but keep where other men are near and where God is always within call."

Gervase could not help being affected. This man though he might never have gone to a Sabbat, spoke like a trump from another side of experience. But though he was moved he still stood his ground, for something in him revolted from being admonished by one he knew to be a Popish priest.

"A lonely man," he said, "may well seek his comfort in science. What can he do better than acquire knowledge?"

"You're right in so far as the knowledge is not of things forbidden nor the science a superstition."

Gervase fastened on the last word.

"There are many forms of superstition. The crossways here is called Superstition Corner because it was once the turning to a Mass-house. . . . Maybe it is still . . ."

A clock struck twelve.

"I must leave you now, Sir," said Parsons, "I trust I haven't wearied you."

"Nay, stay and have a glass of wine. You haven't seen half my books."

"Thank you, but I mustn't stay; and doubtless by your courtesy I shall some day be here again and then you will perhaps let me see what I've missed to-night."

"Certainly, Sir, certainly. I'll by then have everything in order."

"Good-bye, then, since you mayn't be about when I depart to-morrow. And may I leave this word with you as one Christian to another—if you would rise, rise not by the steps of the Kabalah, but rather by Jacob's Ladder."

"Why should I rise by either?"

"You wish to rise. You wish for change and power—you've told me. The Kabalah rises between Malkuth, the earth, and Kepher, the throne, but you know not which throne you may reach, whereas Jacob's ladder goes up straight to God."

He was gone, leaving Gervase to a conflict of sensations. He felt bewildered and excited—how did this man know? He was also touched, for there had been days when he himself had thought of climbing Jacob's ladder. But mostly he was angry. It seemed to him an outrageous thing that he, Lord of the Manor and a learned Minister of the Church of England who had renounced his living for conscience's sake, should be expected to burn his books at the bidding of a vagrant Popish priest.

§ 8

They were still there a week later when William Douce, John Douce's son, was shown into his study.

He came into the room as a surprise, a young man dressed in green, with a crimson waistcoat and a foppish cravat. Gervase was a little shocked to see such gay clothes and colours—he did not honour his father with so much as a black ribbon. And a report said he had not come straight from France, but had ridden from Dover to Milkhouse Street, twelve miles from Leasan, to visit friends there, unmindful of his mother. Alard was not disposed by rumour to approve of him . . . and yet there was something strangely attractive about him, an air of youth and grace, and an air of deference, too, mixed with a certain dignity.

He stood in front of him in a respectful attitude, his hat in his hand, his head slightly bent, but with his eyes lifted to the older man's face. They were the characteristic eyes of the Douces, dark and prominent, less solemn than his father's but more sad. The only thing Gervase did not like about his face was that it lacked expression; it was smooth and set like a mask—and there were too many masks about. Most people's faces, he thought to himself as he watched him, were comic masks—mouthing and grinning without a thought behind them; others, less frequently, were tragic masks, stiffened into a mould of sorrow. But this mask had no expression at all; it was merely a face worn to hide the man behind it—an actor's mask, a robber's mask. . . .

"Good day, Sir Gervase."

Gervase realized that it was the second time he had said it, and felt a little ashamed and confused.

"Good day to 'ee, Sir. Pray sit down."

William Douce sat down in a shaft of sunlight. He looked younger than he could possibly be, for his figure had still the sapling lightness of a boy's. Once more Alard felt that irresistible call of youth. . . .

"How old are you?" he asked abruptly.

"I'm thirty-one, Sir."

"Married or single?"


If Douce felt any surprise at such questioning he did not show it.

"And how much do you remember of this place?"

"Much—very much indeed. I was more than eighteen years old when I went away."

"True—I'd forgotten. But I saw very little of you in those days."

"I worked at the furnace under my father, and though I frequently met Sir Charles Alard, I don't think that you yourself, Sir, often came that way."

"No, that I didn't—I've never taken much interest in iron and its working, nor did I think the place would so soon be mine. I'm forced to take an interest in it now."

He sighed deeply.

"That's why," he continued, "I want an experienced man as clerk and master. Jack Pyper tells me you were wild and careless as a lad. I trust you've sobered down, for this is sober work."

"None should know that better than I, Sir, for besides learning the rudiments of the trade under my father at your own furnace, I've worked in no less than three bloomeries in France—one near Beauface, one near Dunkirk, and one near Artois, where I was for four years clerk of the works to the Comte de la Pérouse."

Gervase nodded silently. His thoughts had gone off on another track, for he had noticed that while William Douce was speaking his eyes were fixed on one of the bookshelves, where the same shaft of sunlight that held him in its slant across the room burned on the horny covers of the grimoires and traictés and other curiosities of his foreign collection. He felt embarrassed by that glance, and blamed himself for placing the books in such a prominent position. . . . It had all been against Parsons' next visit. . . . Still, he might have hidden them away till he came. And now Douce would probably guess their nature, coming as he did from France; at least he would be able to read the titles. While Gervase wondered, the young man spoke.

"I see that you're a student of magical philosophy."

"Nay, nay—I was once; but I've other things to think of now."

"Doubtless you studied it when you were in France. France is still full of magic, as perhaps you know."

"Still full?"

"Full as an egg."

"Maybe you yourself have studied magic, coming from there?"

"No, no, why should I? But it's a curiosity that takes as all."

His bright, dark eyes moved from the bookshelves to Alard's face, then shifted at once, as if one glance had told him all he wanted to know.

"But now you've spoken of magic," he continued, "I must confess that I've occasionally attended the meetings of a small lodge in France—nothing blasphemous or Satanical, but a mere study of such things as the Bohemian cards."

"Was that all you used—the Tarot?"

"We sometimes talked with spirits—friendly spirits of nature, or sometimes the dead."

"And how did you that?"

Again Douce's eyes lighted upon him arid darted away.

"Some of us had powers—and the spirits used our voices."

"Had you yourself the power?"

"Yes, I had the power. But don't ask me of it, for I can remember nothing. When these things happen the man is taken away, and the spirit uses his body as a tent."

"I know—I know—I know," cried Gervase, "but it's all wickedness, and forbidden by the laws of God and man."

"I'm not talking of witchcraft, but of scientific experiment."

"Nay, nay, it's all the same. Haven't you heard? Haven't you read the Book of Miracles? Popish priests have exorcised such spirits with bell, book and candle."

"I've heard that Popish priests have scared and tormented poor maids with the falling sickness or suffocation of the mother, but that need trouble none but servant girls and others like them who take their orders from Rome."

Gervase could not help feeling pleased to hear Popish priests so well sneered at.

"You were not drawn to Popery in France?"

"No, I was not."

"I was so—but only for a while. Now I'm thankful to be in the Church of Hooker and Andrews and Laud and Cosin and Ken. That Church is rent apart in these days, and I no longer hope so much for it as I did; but a phoenix may still rise from the scattered fire, and meanwhile I have in my mind a portentous treatise on the relations of the Church of England with the Orthodox Churches of the East, with the autokephalous Churches of Greece and Russia and Antioch and Constantinople and Alexandria and Thyratia . . ." and he delivered Douce a long harangue, to which the young man listened patiently.

After that he remembered the purpose of the interview.

"So you wish to come to me as clerk of the works in your father's place?"

"That is my humble request, Sir."

Gervase looked at him shrewdly. He felt a sudden doubt.

"Come now, tell me why a flashing young man like you should come from France to take over a dying furnace, when you'd work a-plenty where you were. You must have heard some swollen tale about the place."

"I've heard nothing, but I've remembered all. I loved Conster Furnace when I was a lad, and all the years I've lived in France I've been hoping and planning to return."

Gervase could not quarrel with that, since it was his own memories—obscure, trivial, yet compelling—which had brought him back to Conster from a land of higher hopes. But he was still uneasy.

"You didn't come straight home," he continued after a pause. "I hear that you arrived from Kent."

"Yes, I landed at Dover, and went for a few nights to some friends I have near by."

"It's strange that you shouldn't have come straight home."

He eyed him severely, for his conduct seemed heartless, and heartlessness is the darker side of youth. Douce answered readily enough.

"I was passing close to my friend's house—I didn't ride five miles out of my way. I had a message to deliver, and he's a dear friend—a very dear friend. He was with me in France for three years, and we studied the magical sciences together."

"So! you were students, then. You told me you'd never studied."

"We were members of the lodge I told you of—that's all."

"And shall you continue your studies now you're home?"

Douce shrugged and smiled.

"How can we study such things here? In England there's no magic—only witchcraft."

"Aye, you're right. In England the devil himself's no more than a hobgoblin. A poor lonely old woman who nurses a half-starved cat is brought before the Magistrate for suckling Beelzebub. Ha! ha! did you ever hear of such a thing? I sometimes wonder what my neighbours Squire Austen and Squire Broomfield would think could they be present at a Grand Mystère . . ."

He broke off. His tongue had kept pace with his thoughts and had run him beyond his intentions. He had a moment of real panic as he saw himself confronted with the past as a present and practical temptation. What if Douce should help him revive more than the memory of those days? He might well do so, with his evident knowledge and recent experience. Gervase shuddered. If he was wise he would get rid of him, tell him he was not suitable for the position of clerk of the works. Yet whom could he get instead of him that would do as well? He must find out more about his qualities.

"What wood did you burn in France?" he asked abruptly.

"We burned chestnut and pine."

"And here we burn oak and ash."

Douce smiled.

"They grow slowly, but for the Englishman there are no other trees."

"Would you plant others here?"

"I would plant trees that grow quickly, so that the new timber will be up before all the old is down."

"But chestnut and pine are not so good for burning."

"Pine is good, and as for chestnut, any wood's better than no wood at all. I'll lay that old Jack Pyper would sit down and be content for all to come to an end in fifty years."

"And why should he care? In fifty years we'll all be dead—even you, young fellow, most likely. Why should any of us care for what happens after fifty years?"

"There are those who follow us," said Douce primly.

"There's none!" cried Gervase. "There's none that follows me. I'm the last of the Alards, and Oxenbrigge doesn't get the Furnace. It's mine to do as I like with, and all I ask is for it to keep me in decent comfort till I die. My daughters have their mother's fortune, so I needn't trouble to leave 'em rich."

"But shouldn't you like to be rich yourself, Sir?" asked Douce in a diffident voice.

"La! you needn't trouble about that—all men would be rich, just as all men would be young, but for most of us it an't worth thinking on."

"Believe me, it's in your power."

"How so?"

"If you'll make me furnace master I promise to make you rich."

"You're more like to ruin me with your notions."

"They're not so much notions, Sir, as the fruits of experience. At the Comte de la Pérouse's furnace we had many hundred hectaires of young wood waiting to take the place of the old as it was burnt."

"And d'ye think I haven't young plantations? But you'll be a magician indeed if you can make a young tree grow as fast as an old tree burns. And my old trees burn quickly, too. For they're rotting—all of 'em—rotting. And I haven't the land for all the plantings I need."

"I would respectfully suggest, Sir, that you buy standing timber till your new plantings are ready."

"So you wouldn't make me rich by selling, but by buying?"

"By buying to sell again more profitably. I'm convinced, Sir, that the future of iron in this country is only a question of fuel. The land is rich, and can still be worked for hundreds of years to come. The only need is a proper supply of timber, and that can be gotten by proper enterprise. My father knew this well, but he lacked ambition. He was content with things as they were."

"And maybe I am too."

"Nay, Sir. I know you're not content."

His eyes were fixed fully upon Gervase now, and this time he let them rest. Their round, bright, expressionless darkness reminded him of a bird's, and yet they pierced him as no bird's eyes would pierce. He moved his own uneasily. He felt that Douce read his heart, but the thought of what he saw there did not disquiet him so much as the thought of what he himself saw in Douce. For he knew now that he saw in him his own lost youth, surviving in a body too old for it, and offering him again his lost ambitions, lost temptations. . . . That was why the man had such power—yes, power, for he knew that in spite of his better wisdom he must have him at the furnace as master and clerk. He was his own youth—dark, mocking and secret as his own youth had been—and the voice that came from him was his own voice, calling him back to lost hopes and forbidden sciences.

"Nay," he said slowly—"you're right. I'm not content—maybe I shall never be content."

"Not when you're rich?"

"Perhaps then least of all."

"Indeed, Sir, I can scarcely believe you."

"Why not? What good will my riches do me when I'm dead? And why should I labour to keep my furnace alive when I myself must die?"

"You wouldn't be so sorrowful at the thought of dying if you'd been rich and happy first. You think so much of dying, not because you fear to leave your possessions, but because you've nothing to leave. A man who's fully alive need never fear death. It's the man who has never lived that fears him."

Gervase stood up and began to crack his fingers.

"Nay, young man, you've no business to talk so to a Parson. 'In the midst of life we are in death.' Our riches shall profit us nothing, nor shall our knowledge—only a virtuous life. 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.' Get you gone now, for you smack of wickedness. I will spend the last years of my life in theological studies and the writing of learned treatises, in the honest administration of my estate and the equitable performance of my duties as a justice of the peace. Good day to 'ee."

"Am I to understand that you don't require my services?"

"Nay, nay, I require 'em—but only to blow my furnace as your father did before you. I want neither to be rich nor to be learned in forbidden wisdom. Good day, and I will see you shortly at the furnace."

William Douce respectfully took his leave.


§ 1

It was spring, but a spring fallen back into winter. A fine scum of half-frozen rain lay upon the new grass, and over the ponds and pools was a green skin of ice. The sheep, fleeing foolishly before the storm, stood huddled with their lambs in the high corners of the field, while the rods of the sleet smote their fleeces. The wiser cattle sheltered in the valley below, close to the brook. The air was December, but the earth was April, with primroses in the woods and blackthorn in the hedges, The buds of the oak were bursting, but the ash buds were still hard and black upon the bough.

Condemnation pulled an ash twig down to her as she stood sheltering against the spinney. The buds were shaped like cows' feet, and here was the flower—purple and shining like a mulberry. This would be a wet summer with the ash in flower so early. It was queer that folk thought so much of the flowers in the gardens and the flowers in the woods, and yet thought nothing of the flowers on the trees, which were just as pretty. Maybe they didn't care for them being such quiet colours—green and brown and blackish purple; but she would like to wear a garland of purple ash flowers.

She could not wear a garland now. Over her head was a large piece of sacking, worn like a shawl to keep out the sleet; but in spite of it wet curls straggled and ringed upon her face. She had kept her hair short ever since the Squire had cut it—it was cleaner that way, and less troublesome, and no one seemed to want to scold her for it. She had hoped that her cropped head might scare away Lambert Relph, but it had made no difference—indeed; of late he had been more troublesome than ever. And now they were all in league with him, saying she should marry him. . . . Her hand clenched upon the ash twig. She would have to marry him if the Squire couldn't save her. But he would save her—of that she felt certain—for he was all power, being a Magistrate, and all kindness, being himself.

She had made up her mind to go to him if her folk pressed her really hard. For she was resolved not to marry Lambert Relph. She could not bear the touch of him or the smell of him, and she would be scared to live with him in his little black cottage away behind Dodyland Shaw. But she knew that her father and stepmother were anxious for her to marry him, because then she could still work for them for nothing when they needed her at hay-making or harvest or hop-picking time. Her father would think it right that she should marry a farm-labourer and live in a hovel, he would think it was what she deserved for having been born; and her stepmother would be glad to get rid of her to someone who did not want a dowry. For they would not give her a dowry as they were giving Naomi when she married in June, and no one but a labourer would marry her without one. They had told her that, and that she was lucky. But she knew there was no luck in it, only toil and sorrow—the same life as she led now, but with the added miseries of housekeeping and child-bearing, and no chance to run away at nights and be in the fields alone, sleeping under a hedge or under a tree, as she had done so often.

The rods of the sleet were beating less mercilessly, and she came out of her shelter to search the sky for the time of day. The westering, dipping gleam told her that the cows would be ready for milking. She must go home. If she hurried now and finished her milking in time, Lambert would still be away cutting osiers by the Pipingclay Stream. She would see no more of him that day. She had learned how to dodge him neatly, ever since he had started following her. At first it had been a game, and she had half enjoyed crouching in the straw to watch him pass, or skimming round the barn door as he drew near, or hiding with the wood-mice in the great tent made by the leaning hop-poles. But all that had changed since she had been told she was to marry him. She had feared him then as the bird on the limed twig fears the fowler. Her escapes had ceased to be a game, but an urge of necessity; and sometimes with a growing sense of hopelessness she would see them as a mere frantic, useless flapping of her wings.

Nanny Stook usually helped her with the milking, but to-day she was not there. Condemnation found herself alone in the cow lodge, and in mortal need to hurry if she would not be caught by her returning swain. Certainly none of the cows was likely to be milked dry, for the milkmaid sat with her eye on the gap of the door, where the fading April day streamed past in rain, and moved her stool so quickly down the row that she might almost have been playing hot cockles instead of milking cows.

At last she was through, and up on her legs, and running across the yard as fast as a heavy pail on each arm would let her. The milk slopped in the pails and would have run over had they been as full as they ought to have been; but as things were, she managed to reach the dairy without more than a splash or two on the stones. In the dairy she found her stepmother and Naomi skimming cream.

"Here, set down those pails," said Alice Harman, "and go into the kitchen."

"Into the kitchen?"

"Aye; don't stare at me, moon-face, but do as thou'rt bid."

"But wot d'ye bid me do in the kitchen?"

"I bid 'ee go into it, that's all. Be gone."

A sudden mistrust seized Condemnation, and she still stood hesitating; then before she knew what was happening Alice Harman had seized her by the shoulders and was running her through the door.

"Nay, be not such a fool. Thou'st more luck than thou deservest."

The door shut behind her, and as she had feared she found herself face to face with Lambert. He stood there grinning at her, and as she stood trembling he moved forward and held out his arms. The hands at the ends of them looked enormous.

"I thought 'ee wur picking osiers," she murmured, foolish with fear.

"Nay, A went not 'to de osier beds. A went to Leasan. Ha! Ha! Ha!"


"Aye, to get us cried. We're to be cried a Sunday."

She understood the plot that had been against her, and desperation made her suddenly calm.

"My fäather and mother sent 'ee."

"Aye. We're handfasted now, A reckon."

"'At that we're not. I'd die sooner."

"Nay, nay, liddle coney. A'll mäake a präaper husband to 'ee."

"But I'll mäake no wife to you; be sure of it, Lambert Relph."

"Nay, wait 'ee till A've tumbled 'ee a bit. Mistress said A can start tumbling 'ee now we're handfasted: 'tis all right and präaper and 'ee'll larn to lik me better that way."

Without a word Condemnation swooped for the latch behind her, but found that the bolt on the other side of it had been run through the stays. Her stepmother had made sure that she should not escape into the dairy. But there were two other doors in the room—one by the fireplace and one by the dresser. She ran for the first, but immediately he was in front of it, his arms spread out, his face gaping nearly in half with his grin.

"Ha! Ha! liddle rabbit-sucker, wouldst run away?"

She turned on her heels and rushed for the other door, but again he was in front of it, capering and guffawing with his arms outstretched. She doubled again for the fireplace, but he was too quick for her, or rather his position gave him an advantage. Twice again she doubled and darted while he pranced before her, hugely enjoying the fun.

"Ha! Ha! liddle sucker, liddle peeper! Wouldst have a game o' fox and geese. Nay, nay, wait till a' smother 'ee"—and he suddenly ran forward, catching her unawares.

His arms came round her, hugging and pawing, and at the same time his hot, laughing face crushed down on hers. His mouth seemed to swallow her, and her terror became the terror of a cat in a snare. Like a cat's her limbs contracted in his hold, and then suddenly expanded in an unnatural strength. She was out of his grasp. She was out of the window. The crash of the falling glass seemed to follow rather than come before her bolting through it.

§ 2

"Please you, Squire, there's a young woman asks to see you."

Gervase started; for the moment he had forgotten he was in his library, supposed to be busy with the apparently endless task of sorting his books. He put down "Magia Philosophica" and stared at the servant.

"She seems in great distress, Sir."

"I'm no refuge for distressed females—send her away."

"I reckon she comes to see the Magistrate. There's blood on her clothes."

"Blood, is there? Her husband's been beating her and she richly deserves it, and the Magistrate's sentence is that she go home to bed. Ho! Ho! Ho!" and Gervase chuckled as he dipped his head once more to the pages.

But the servant was either more or less stupid than he thought, and in five minutes he was back with the message that the young woman said she was not married and her name was Condemnation and she begged and prayed the Squire to see her.

Gervase's manner changed at once. Condemnation, was it? And she was in distress, was she? With blood on her clothes—and he'd very nearly sent the poor little rogue away. He was horrified and ashamed.

"Bring her up at once."

So Condemnation came into the long room that streamed with the curious, smoky sunset that had suddenly broken through the rain. She picked her way among the heaps of books and fell on her knees at his feet, catching at his hand and pouring out a torrent of words of which it was impossible for him to catch more than a few drops.

For him, who had scarcely ever heard her speak more than two words at a time, the situation was surprising. All he could make out was that she did not want to be married to someone or other, but that her father would have it so and her mother had locked the dairy door. He tried to soothe her and persuade her to speak calmly, but the torrent flowed on till at last it choked her in sobs.

"Nay, tell me then, pigsnie—what is it, love? Who's hurt thee? La! La! La! There's blood on thy hands—thou'rt all cut about. Who's dared to hurt thee so?"

"I jumped through the window. I was that tur'ble scared. . . . Oh, kind Sir, good Sir, save me I beg you and don't send me back."

"But who's scared you?—who's made you run off like this?"

"Lambert Relph—I've told you, Sir; him they want me to marry. But I'd sooner die . . ." and once more her voice was lost.

"Thou shalt marry no one thou doesn't fancy. I'll see to that. Why are they forcing 'ee?"

She tried to tell him and at last succeeded. By the time she had told her story three or four times he had gathered enough of it to make him stamp about the room and abuse Exalted Harman.

"Rot him for a low, canting, rascally, roundheaded hob! 'Tis all his doing I'll be bound. He'll exalt his own sin by debasing thee, the mean lecher! But I'll not have thee so ill done by. I'm a magistrate and I'll protect thee, poor little pug. Thou didst well to come to me. I'll see thee righted."

Condemnation watched him as he strode and cursed, with the fairy sunset burning round him and throwing crimson patches on the wall. He was a dark figure among flames. He reminded her of a picture she had once seen of Jehovah riding the whirlwind, a terrible, dark, yet kindly figure, girdled with fire. The whole room seemed to turn red; then suddenly it went black. She fell to the floor.

§ 3

Gervase stopped in his stride, gave one look at her fallen, motionless body, then running out to the stair-head, roared for the women. They came in a moment—Louise, Ann, Bridget and a maid—and found him trying to lift her into a chair.

"No, let her lie," cried Louise, "she has fainted. But who is she?"

"Don't you know her? Harman's foundling, 'Od rot him. I'll warrant she's dead."

"No, she's not dead, only swooned. But she's bleeding—there are great cuts on her arms. Mon Dieu! She must have fainted from loss of blood. Ann, run and fetch me water and some clean linen. What can she have done to herself?"

"She broke through a window to escape from some lout he would have her marry. Poor child, she came to me to help her. I've been a friend to her before this."

"I remember her now, but I have not seen her for many years. Then she was only a child; now she is a beautiful young woman."

Gervase had never noticed whether Condemnation were beautiful or not. Till that moment she had been to him nothing but a child; in spite of all that Harman had said to him and in spite of her present plight he had never truly realized she was grown up. But now he suddenly saw her with the eyes of the world around him. The red light had gone from the room, and in its place a cold, vivid beam lit up her face, washing out the sunburn and leaving it marble white. Her features, which he had scarcely noticed before, were carved with a marble delicacy. Her nose was slightly Roman and the outline of her lips was clear, though they were drained of blood; her eyelashes lay like little clouds upon her cheeks, which curved as slightly from her throat as the folded wings of a dove. The whole face wore a curiously aristocratic air now consciousness with all its fears and ignorances had left it. One might now indeed give credence to the tale that she was no child of Harman's.

Louise attended to her deftly, helped by the maid, and hindered by Ann and Bridget, who blundered round with Las and Jiminies, staring curiously at her coarse clothes and sturdy body. She revived a little when her forehead had been bathed with water, and her eyes wandered in bewilderment and alarm from one woman's face to another's, then came to rest on Gervase's with a changed expression. Louise was surprised to see them express utter peace and content, with a faint accompanying motion of the lips.

"There, that's better!" she said kindly. "Do not try to speak. Lie still."

Condemnation closed her eyes and moaned a little.

"Nay, then," began Gervase, but with his changed vision of her found it difficult to finish what he had begun. Louise's bandaging had checked the flow of blood from cuts upon her arms and forehead. They were none of them really serious—indeed, it was surprising how little harm she had done to herself by bursting through a window—but she had lost a great deal of blood, and she ought certainly to have several days in bed. Moreover, her clothes were soaked through with rain and clung to her limbs like the draperies of a Grecian statue. She looked like catching her death of cold.

"We must send her home in the coach," said Louise.

"Nay," cried Gervase, "she shan't go home. I've sworn to protect her. She stays here."

"But, brother, she should go to bed at once and see a physician."

"She can go to bed here, and a physician may come here as well as to Newhouse."

Louise's lips trembled with another But, which she did not, however, let pass.

"She shan't go home," her brother-in-law continued, "to be treated like a rat—sent up to lie with the rats under the roof, where I found her last time she was sick. At Newhouse there's none will nurse her, and as for a physician he'd never get past the room where her father sits making a peepshow of his putrid leg. Let a chamber be prepared for her here."

"Very well, then. Run, Sally," to the maid, "and warm the bed in the room next yours."

But she had not reckoned fully with her brother yet. Pity and indignation had heated him beyond the mere folly of keeping the girl in his house.

"Nay, nay, she shall not go with the maids. She shall lie in a gentlewoman's bed far once, poor child. It's how she should lie, seeing she's a yeoman's daughter, even if on the wrong side. And maybe she's better than that. The more I look at her the more I doubt if that hobball can have begotten her."

Louise found it difficult not to protest. Her Latin aristocracy revolted from the idea of a sudden promotion from a garret at the farm to a bedchamber at the Manor. And it was quite unnecessary too, for any warm, clean bed would seem good to this poor little wretch. Gervase really was being absurd. But a moment's reflection told her that he was master of the house, and she in it only by sufferance; also that he had been kind and forbearing to the stranger she had brought in. He must be allowed to have his stranger too, as a bargain for hers—after all, he was asking less of her than she had asked of him. So she changed her order to one for the preparation of the peacock room, sent down for a glass of cordial, and despatched one of the grooms for a physician.

All the while Condemnation lay with closed eyes and a little smile upon her face. The loss of blood had made her drowsy, and as in a dream she had felt the tempest rage about her, and the Squire's protection spread over her like an almighty wing. She had known he would save her. He was her friend, he was her father. Though he had not come back to see her as he had promised when she was ill before, that had not been his fault. Of his own accord he would never fail her. She had been wise to come to him—for now she was safe. She would always be safe. He would never let her marry Lambert Relph. Condemnation had not been taught to think in terms of knights and ladies; her imagery was rather of the farmyard. She saw Gervase as a big, black, benevolent bird, protecting some poor chick from the cattle that would trample on it. A peacock, maybe . . . no, peacocks were not black but all glorious colours. She had never seen one, but she was to lie in the peacock room—would there be peacocks in it as there were rats in the attic at Newhouse? She did not think so. But the Squire had put his wing over her like a great bird—a turkey-cock . . . she had once seen a turkey-cock defend his pullets from a butting ram. No, the Squire was not a turkey-cock-he was all black and grey; but his valour was the valour of a turkey-cock, and his wings were as strong. "I shall be safe under his feathers. . . ." She had heard that in church. He was Parson as well as Squire. That was why she thought of him as black. His wings were black and made a darkness in which she could safely fall asleep.

§ 4

The peacock room at Conster was so named from the peacocks in the tapestry on the walls. Tapestry, of course, had gone out of fashion, and the colours of this had worn dim in the course of a hundred years; but both Louise and Charles had refused to have it changed for more modern panelling or for the painted wallpaper that was beginning to be used in some places. The peacocks strutted and posed all round the room, spreading their fading tails before dim terraces, where the flirtations of ladies and their gallants were only a background to their proud, ghostly loveliness.

Condemnation was to learn to know those peacocks well before she left the room. She lay in bed and watched them, through many long and idle days. Louise had offered her books, but though she could read, reading was a great toil and labour to her, and she would sooner lie still and gaze at the peacocks.

The doctor had said she was not to go home for many days yet, and the Squire had sworn to her that she should not go home at all, though Madame thought differently and said she must go as soon as she was well enough. But Condemnation trusted the Squire. She felt sure that he would not fail her, though what he should do with her if she did not go back was a mystery she did not trouble to explore.

Gervase was forced to explore it, to his great dissatisfaction. He had indeed promised rashly. That very same night of her coming he had gone over to Newhouse and spent an hour arguing with Mrs. Harman, whom he found a more formidable antagonist than her husband. She was not to be dazzled with Scripture, nor with his proposed treatise on the Eastern Churches, to which he resorted in his desperation when the other arguments failed. She was plainly indignant that he should not have sent Condemnation home when she had so madly run over to him, and would barely consent to her staying where she was till the physician gave leave for her to be moved.

As for the marriage, she declared it was an excellent thing and should certainly take place. She must be married soon, for she was nearly twenty and her father could not afford to give her a portion—his true, lawful children must come before his bastard. Lambert Relph was willing to take her without money. He was an honest man, and had savings of his own. The girl was in luck. They might have had to give her to the looker, who was a widower sixty years old.

"But can't some likely young man be found for her? Some farmer's son?"

"No farmer's son 'ud marry bad blood."

"Eh, eh—so you an't sure there's Harman's blood in it?"

"I'm only too sure of that. But who was the woman?—a quean, a giglot at a fair. There's not a farmer's son I know would marry her daughter, even had she been born in wedlock and come with a dowry."

"Have you tried one of the young Tuktons? Being Papists, they haven't much choice as to whom they marry."

"Why should I try 'em, seeing as I've found as good a husband for her on this place as she's ever likely to get off it?"

"But she doesn't like him."

"That an't my affair. And a slut like her's no call to spoil my good plans with being nice. Who is she I'd like to know, to be nice about a stout fellow like Relph. He has more call to be nice about her."

Gervase, who for long had been struggling to keep his temper, found these words too much for him, and lost temper and tact together.

"Aye, woman—so it's your plans, your plans for your own good and advantage, that are at the bottom of this marriage. If she marries, you'll get her out of the house, which will please you mightily, since you hate the sight of the poor innocent thing; but you'll still have her there to work for you and save you paying for other labour, and your husband will still have her near that he may boast of his sin with his sore leg."

At this Mrs. Harman abused him roundly for a meddling old devil, and told him to keep his long nose out of other folks' puddings, and stop at home and mind his own affairs, which in all conscience needed minding if he didn't want to be hanged for a Jacobite.

"Woman, I am no Jacobite," cried Gervase, "nor yet a Williamite."

But, being a woman, she would not be diverted by any political paradox and ordered him out of her house very summarily, telling him that if Condemnation were not home within a week she would have the law on him.

He could not pretend even to himself that it had been a successful interview.

§ 5

The days passed, and the week, and still Condemnation lay and watched the peacocks strutting on the walls against their human background. She had names for them all by now—not very high-sounding names, but rather the kind they gave to animals at the farm: Robin and Tom and Hob and Rutterkin and such like. There was a live peacock in the garden: once she had seen him under the window, spreading his spring tail like a fountain of gems upon the grass. But more often she heard his cry, hoarse and absurdly dreadful, coming from some far corner that she could not see.

She was contented enough to lie there and play in her thoughts with the peacocks. She was at ease in the great bed, which at first had terrified her with its height from the floor and the darkness of its canopy, but which she found friendly now. After the first two or three days she had felt no pain; till then there had been soreness and bruising in all her limbs, but now it had all passed away. Indeed she felt well enough to rise and go out, but they would not let her; they all said that she must lie there a few days longer till the doctor gave her leave to rise, and she obeyed them—though she did not know that Gervase had roundly ordered the physician to keep her in bed for at least a fortnight.

One of the young gentlewomen had lent her a shift that she wore in continual surprise at its softness. She liked to finger the stuff and the fine linen of the sheets. At first the young gentlewomen had often come to see her, and stood at the foot of the bed, staring at her and giggling and asking her foolish questions that she knew better than to answer. After a day or two they gave up coming, and her only visitors besides the doctor and the maid who swept her room—whom she found to be a cousin of Lambert Relph's, but with no very high opinion of him—were Madame Alard and the Squire.

Madame Alard, when she found she did not care for books, brought her needlework and showed her how to do fine stitching, such as she had not learned at Newhouse. Condemnation was at first very much, and always a little, afraid of her ladyship, but she liked her too, because she was kind and did not seem to despise her, even though at first she had wanted to put her into a servant's room. She showed her how to dress her hair in a taure so as to hide the scar upon her forehead. Condemnation liked the look of her face in the glass; with that curly fringe above her eyes and her cheeks pale for want of air and sunlight, and the shirrings of fine linen on her breast, she too seemed to look a lady.

As it happened, Louise Alard was surprised at the effect she had created.

"Truly," she said to Gervase, "she is a neater, nicer thing than I thought. Maintenant que je l'ai coiffé, elle a l'air tout à fait élégante. You will notice when you see her next."

"Well, there's many a lord will go with a gipsy when he's drunk."

"But a gipsy would never so miss her chances as to father a lord's son on a farmer."

"It might be the easier way—and she might have attempted the true father and failed. She could never be caught, so there was no reckoning with her. The more I see of the child the less I see her as Harman's."

"Harman comes of a fine old yeoman family, and if she has his blood she has good blood indeed. I confess, brother, that I've changed my opinion of her in these last few days. She is so quick to learn too, and already her speech is softer—more like that which she hears in this house. It is sad to think that she must marry a yokel, for marry him she must, as far as I can see."

"And I can see nothing of the kind."

"But what is she to do if she does not go back?"

"Stay here. Why not? I've a daughter married, and two more are to be married soon. There's room enough for the poor little bud."

"Brother, you must be mad. We could never do with her here."

"Why not? I say, why not? It'll be well for Bride and Ann to have a new sister, and I'll warrant that after a month or two of your teaching she'll be more of a gentlewoman than either of 'em. Besides"—warming to the idea "—I shall like having her by me. The girls will be away staying with their sisters, and I shall be lost without a young thing in the house. I've always been fond of the child—aye, I love the poor little thing, and it would please me mightily to give her some happiness after all the years she's had of sorrow."

"But the Harmans will never allow you to do such a thing."

"Again I ask you: why not? I take her off their hands—they're rid of her. What more can they want?"

"Much more, or rather something quite different. They do not want to be rid of her; she is useful to them. You yourself have told me, and she has told me, that one reason why they are marrying her to this man is that it will keep her with them to work for them when she is required. If they had wanted merely to be rid of her, they could have sent her to the poorhouse long ago. They must be fond of her, even if sometimes they treat her roughly; or at least she must be very useful to them."

"They haven't sent her to the poorhouse because had she been there that old mountebank would have lost the chief part of his boasting. He likes to say 'my sin is ever before me,' which he could not were she at the poorhouse."

"Nor if she were here. No, no, brother; they will not let her go. Whatever their reasons, they will have her back. Besides, her banns have been cried two Sundays."

"It will be a sin before God if she marries that clown."

"I agree. But I do not know how it is to be prevented."

"Well, we shall see. She has been with us nine days now and not a word from Newhouse."

"You will have one soon, depend on it."

"We shall see, we shall see."

§ 6

Every day he went to visit Condemnation. Like a tall black crow in his cassock and gown he stood by the window and asked her how she did. He was the parson visiting the sick, and to emphasize his office and preserve the proprieties of her chamber he always read a portion of The Order for the Visitation.

"Remember not, Lord, our iniquities nor the iniquities of our forefathers: Spare us, good Lord, spare thy people whom thou hast redeemed with thy most precious blood, and be not angry with us for ever."

It was the same as he had read so often at the grave—the bed and the grave were united in one solemn doom. No opening here for bedside wantonnesses, since he must proclaim that the bed and the grave are one. Now, child, thine answer.

"Spare us, good Lord."

When he had read as much or as little of the Order as suited him, he then turned back to the Catechism and examined her on it. He instructed her carefully on her answers, not only in doctrine but in speech. It was perhaps his influence rather than Louise's which removed the rusticalness from her voice, for she was desperately anxious to please him. Careful and imitative, she made rapid progress and enjoyed these solemn occasions out of all proportion to the entertainment provided. When both the Order and the Catechism were done with he would lay down his book, and talk to her for a while on common matters, but not so freely as he used, though she answered a great deal more freely.

Somehow she had become a woman to him now. She had been a woman ever since that day when he had seen her lying on his study floor, with wisdom carved on her unconscious face; and he could not talk to the woman quite as he had talked to the child. She gave him a feeling of shyness as she sat there with her hair elegantly trimmed upon her forehead, and her mouth like a rose above her rounded chin, smiling at him out of the grave of her bed. He often took leave of her with a certain awkwardness, wondering if he had acquitted himself well.

The days dragged by into a fortnight, and still there was no sign from Newhouse. Then, on the last day of the fortnight, Saul Harman came over. He was the eldest son, twenty-five years old, and the best-looking and best-mannered of all the family. The Harmans had evidently decided that after all a spoonful of honey was more likely than a barrel of vinegar to stop the buzzing of this old fly. Saul listened respectfully to Gervase's arguments and denunciations. He agreed that it was a pity that a better-born husband could not be found for his sister, but that it was quite impossible, and that he believed his parents were doing their best for her. Relph was the head man at Newhouse, and would probably end by farming his own bit of land. Indeed, Saul himself had been surprised to find he would accept a girl who was penniless and illegitimate.

"Don't tell me your father couldn't have given a few pounds with her, or a field or two."

"Maybe he might if my sister Naomi weren't also to be married this summer; but he can't spare a portion for the two of 'em."

"Then the child could well have waited till another year. She's barely seventeen."

"She was nineteen last Christmas, and anyway Relph won't wait. He's been after her a year or more."

Gervase was not so angry with Saul as he would have been with either of his parents, for the young man spoke respectfully and seemed fond of Condemnation, even though he had doubtless been brought up, like his other brothers and sisters, to despise and tease her. But if polite, he was firm. She must be sent home at once. The doctor had told his father that she was to be kept in bed a fortnight, but now that fortnight was over. Her banns were to be cried for the last time next Sunday, and by then both Master and Mrs. Harman respectfully required that she should be back in the care of her lawful guardians.

"And when is the marriage to be?"

"They were talking of Saturday se'nnight."

Gervase groaned.

"It's a rank, monstrous sin. If you could see her now she is washed and combed, sitting up in bed like a lady with her fine needlework . . . and such as she is to marry a boor and scrub his dishes. Foh! . . . and all for want of a dowry. . . . I tell you I'll pay her a dowry myself rather than see her do it."

"'T'an't only that she has no money. You must reckon that her birth's against her too."

"Are then our Leasan farmers' sons so nice as to whom they marry?"

"They are indeed," said the farmer's son of Newhouse.

"But she may be a Peer's daughter."

Saul managed to hide a grin.

Finally it was settled that Gervase should call the next day at Newhouse, and he was promised that he should see both the Harman parents, for he could not face another solitary interview with Mrs. Harman. In his heart he knew well enough that he could not forcibly retain Condemnation in his house. He had no legal rights over her whatever, and if Harman proceeded against him would be forced to give her up; if indeed she were not taken from him by more summary measures—for he was unable to pretend, in his clearer moments, that the neighbourhood would not resent this abuse of his authority as Squire and Magistrate. He would have to give her up, if he could not think of some scheme between now and to-morrow. . . . And he had promised her, poor little wretch—he had promised her . . . so much—too much.

He walked sorrowfully back to the house, for his interview with Saul had taken place down at the furnace, where the young man had been sent to find him. April now had swung from December to June, and the path by the Tillingham was bright with sunshine, and gay with the first tidings of the yellow flags beside the water. The sunshine poured over Conster too from the open west, and the house, as Gervase came to it, had a flushed, rosy look, that made it seem warm and welcoming. Even the trees no longer looked sinister, with the light threading among them and kindling their secret places: he forgot that he had wanted them cleared away. The falling scale of the gallybird's cry ran through them suddenly like a splash of water.

The interior of the house was also alight, as the sunshine poured through the blazoned windows of the stairway, and spilled itself in a fiery shower upon the stairs and wall. Looking upwards, he saw a lady come into the light, lifting her skirts before her to descend. They were gay with colours which might have been in their tissues or in the painted sunshine. They swam toward him like a peacock's tail. At first he thought she was Louise. Then he saw her face, so much rounder, and so much younger; then last of all, as she descended and the sunshine left her head, he saw a mass of little short, tight curls, clustering above the elegant taure or fringe upon her brows.

"Why! It's little Condemnation! Why——"

His breath was almost gone with the surprise of her. Then he ran forward and took her by the hand. "Come, my lady, come, and let your humble slave escort you."

And lifting her hand high he minced beside her into the drawing-room.

§ 7

Here, out of the sunshine, her colours faded and her dress was seen to be but an old gown of Bridget's. Louise, who was sitting at her embroidery frame, looked up in some surprise as she saw Gervase come strutting in beside the girl, handing her grotesquely across the room.

"Why, brother——"

"Why, sister, you never told me we had a fine lady staying in the house."

"'Tis but an old gown of Bridget's," said Louise coolly. "I wished her to rise and have the use of her legs for a few hours, seeing that she must soon go home."

"Nay, never!" cried Gervase, and shouted "Never!" in a louder tone as he saw the look of fear and anguish that came into Condemnation's eyes.

"But I hear that this very afternoon Saul Harman came over to fetch her back."

"And has gone home again without her. Ho! ho! I wouldn't let him have thee, bud. I told him he must go home and that I'd see thy parents to-morrow."

"That will do no one any good. How can you possibly hope to persuade them to let her stay? Condemnation knows very well that she must go home. Is that not so, my dear?"

Condemnation said nothing. She picked up the corner of her gown and twisted it. Louise purposely left the loutish gesture unrebuked.

"Condemnation must face her life like the rest of us," she continued. "It may not be what she has chosen, but which of us has that? I did not choose my husband—he was chosen for me by my father, who wished me to marry an Englishman. But I have been very, very happy."

"And I shall never be happy," cried Condemnation, suddenly bursting into tears.

"Nay, but thou shalt be!" roared Gervase. "I swear thou shalt not go back to marry that dirty jolthead. I spoke a long while with Saul, sister, and I understand it's only an affair of having no portion for her and being able to find only just that one fellow to take her without. Well, then, sweetheart—I will give you a portion, and offer you to some brave farmer's son with two hundred pounds. What would you say to Ned Masters or Nick Tukton? Or what of young William Douce? He's a fine spark and would make you a good husband, I'll be bound. I think much of that young man."

"Brother, don't talk so wildly or put useless notions into the child's head. This is not a question that can be settled with money, and none of the men you have talked of would take her, no matter what you offered. Her birth is against her. It is hard to have to say so, and the poor child herself is not to blame, but she must face the truth, for only by doing so can she be happy."

"Her birth! But I tell 'ee she's a lady born. Haven't I seen it for certain to-day? She came down that staircase like a queen. A yeoman should be proud to get her. I promise thee, bud, I'll give 'ee a fine yeoman. Thou shalt not wed a clown. But take thy choice—which shall it be? Ned, Nick or Will? Shalt have thy choice."

Condemnation said nothing. Her head hung like a sunflower's.

"Come, take thy choice."

Then she burst out——

"I döan't want no choice. I döan't want none of 'em. I döan't want to marry. I want to stay here. Oh, pray Sir, kip me here—döan't send me away."

She fell on her knees before him, clutching his hand and weeping. Louise picked up her embroidery frame and went out of the room.

§ 8

None of them felt happy the next morning. Condemnation was terrified and resentful at the thought of going home, and though a part of her still passionately believed that the Squire would keep his promise, a more reasonable part could not fail to be influenced by Louise's arguments. Louise herself, though she did not see how they could possibly keep her, was sorry that she had to go back. During the past fortnight she had grown fond of the child, and was pleased with the improvement she had made in her manners and looks, though she did not share her brother's extravagant view of what was to her a mere natural quickness. Still, it was a pity that she should marry so much below her station; for after all, she was a yeoman's daughter. By bringing her up in his household, Harman had, in Louise's opinion, contracted almost the same obligations to her as to his lawful children. If he had wanted her to live as a nameless foundling he should have sent her to the poorhouse. It was not right to have bred her up with his family and then condemned her to such a different lot from theirs.

All this Louise held to be wrong; but she did not think that her brother had any right to meddle. It was none of his business. Neither as Parson nor as Magistrate could he interfere, save by reasonable persuasion. She thought he was very much to blame for having promised the child so much, and she told her firmly that she must expect nothing from this last interview.

Condemnation had certainly no cause to believe in the Squire as a peacemaker; nevertheless, hope was her dominant emotion as from her window she watched him walk away, following him with her eyes till he was lost to sight among the trees. That very morning he had been up to tell her not to fret, to promise her again that she should not marry against her will.

Indeed Gervase's determination increased in proportion to his anxiety. He was now really anxious, and dreaded his interview with the two Harmans. How should he persuade them? Should he offer them money? But even his distracted mind realized the unlikelihood of anyone in Harman's position being bought. He might be a hypocrite and a Roundhead, but he was no moneygrubber: he came of a fine stock, as proud and as upright in its way as the Alards were in theirs. He would never accept money—rather he would regard the offering of it as an insult, even in the form of a dowry. He must be careful how he made such a suggestion.

But something must be done, and it had already occurred to him that the best thing would be to take with him to Newhouse a definite offer of marriage for her, such a one as could be refused only by a perverse desire on Harman's part to tread her into the mud (the claims of Lambert Relph, twice cried at Leasan he never thought of once). It was with this end in view that he went to the furnace before setting out, for in the course of a restless and unhappy night he had confirmed himself in the idea that William Douce would make her a good husband. He was at the moment excessively pleased with the young man, who had blown his furnace all the winter without involving Conster in any dangerous enterprises, and had moreover set certain of his other fears at rest. He had found him unexpectedly hardworking and reliable, less of a popinjay than he had thought, and with a righteous horror of any science that was not altogether white and natural.

If the girl was to be married out of hand, William Douce would be the most suitable husband for her. He was of proper age and pleasant appearance, of good though not noble family, and in a thriving position. He certainly ought to marry, and so far local gossip hadn't linked him with any name. And the matter of the dowry could be settled privately between them, so as not to offend the Harmans.

The furnace was working day and night this spring. There had been some quiet times during the winter, but continued threats of invasion and war had brought more orders for cannon. At present Gervase had an order for ten falconets, ten minions, ten culverins, six demy-cannon, six cannon and four basiliskes. The boom of the hammers came as far as his newly-built temple beside the river, and as he drew nearer, the noise was deafening. Outside the forge a great wheel was churning the water of the hammer pond, while from inside came the thud and clang of the iron and the roar of the twenty-foot bellows that blew the fire. Naked to the waist, a dozen men danced like demons in the red cave of the bloomery. Douce was also half naked, but when Gervase beckoned to him from the door he slipped a coat over his shoulders and came out.


He wiped off the sweat that was running down his face.

"How d'ye fare?"

"We're behindhand with the culverins—two of them had to be recast. But we've finished off the falconets and minions—all but the testing."

"You've done well. And I hear we're to be asked for a paling for Odimere churchyard."

"That will be a mouse to follow a lion. But we do well to keep our peaceful trade. Wars and invasions will not last for ever."

Gervase nodded absently. He was thinking how best to introduce his main subject.

"They say that King William will go over to Ireland to raise the Siege of Londonderry."

"Aye, maybe."

He changed the subject abruptly.

"Are you comfortable at home?"

Douce stared at him, but was not taken by surprise. The old fellow had often doubled on him before like this.

"Aye, surely."

"You've no thought of marrying?"

"No, not at the moment."

"When you have, I've a pretty little bride for you and a pretty little dowry."

At this Douce really was surprised—and a little agitated, for marriage brings regret and confusion into the house of Uranus.

"Who is she, Sir?"

"Harman's daughter—his youngest."


"Nay, Condemnation."

"What! His bastard."

"Never his, my boy, I'll warrant, but a nobleman's daughter whom the gipsy fathered on him."

"How do you know that?"

"Know it? By her air, her voice, her looks, all about her. Besides, it's a common guess that the mountebank woman but used his association with her to father on him, another man's child."

"Another man's maybe, but more likely a man of lowlier position than his. It were no wisdom otherwise."

"But have you seen her of late?"

"No, I haven't."

"Well, I have then. As you know she's at my house, and a finer, nobler lady than she's come to be I've never dropped eyes on."

"But who says I'm to marry her? These last two Sundays she's been cried with a labourer. Who says I'm to take such stuff?"

Gervase humm'd and ha'd. With any other man he would have been angry, but already Douce had reached a point with him when he could do little wrong. He did not like to say outright that it was he and he only who had made a plan which the young man evidently felt to be insulting.

"Her marriage to Relph was thought of only because Harman couldn't give her a dowry. But now I myself have promised to endow her with four hundred pounds."

The angry gleam in Douce's prominent eyes made him double his first thought.

"You, Sir," the young man was startled. "Why should you endow her?"

"Because I think well and highly of her, and because I'm right sorry for the poor little thing who's being forced into a marriage she loathes, and fears. You might do worse than take her, Will."

"I don't wish to marry, Sir."

'Od rot the old mountebank! he thought to himself. What does he think I am that he should offer me a foundling with four hundred pounds. If he'd offered her to me with the furnace . . . but most likely he thinks he's being generous and putting a good thing in my way. I must teach him better.

"The money may not be much," continued Gervase, "but it's all I can spare at the moment, and I tell 'ee for certain—I'd swear it in the courts—that you'll be having the veriest bargain in rank and blood. If you like she can stop at the Manor for another six months and see if Madame Alard by then hasn't trained her into a princess."

William Douce nearly laughed.

"No, no. I'm not a marrying man. I don't think to marry at all—not now for certain."

"But every man should marry, and you're past thirty."

"Well then, I may marry someday, but not now. Now I must work if this furnace is to profit us. There are some men whose disposition is not for marriage, and it's but waste of time to try to harry them into it."

"I don't harry you: I only offer you."

"And I, Sir, with all respect and gratitude decline your offer. Let me tell you now about those culverins that were flawed in the casting. . . ."

Gervase scarcely listened to him. At first he felt sullen and disappointed and did not care if his whole artillery failed. But after a while disappointment changed into a more surprising feeling of relief. Yes, on the whole he was glad that Douce would not have the little bud, though it still left him in a coil as to what he should do with her. She had said she did not want to marry, that she wanted to stay at Conster, and though of course at La Petite Douce she would be near Conster, that was very different from actually living in the house. It was strange that she should want so much to live there . . . yet not so strange if you thought who she probably was. . . . No doubt her ancestors had trodden rooms as fine and her spirit was at home in them. And he would be sorry if she were to go. . . . Her youth had come to the house just as his daughters' youth was leaving it. In two months' time Madge and Henny would be married, and he had promised Bride and Ann that they should visit their sister at Oxenbrigge Manor. . . . He and Louise would be alone if Condemnation did not stay. All the music would be gone. Conster would be like a broken viol, waiting in vain for fingers to pluck it. . . . Not that he had ever till then thought of his daughters' noise as music, but now as he stood there knowing how surely youth must leave his house, the whole of youth's noise was music to him, the band of a retreating army. . . .

"Ten falconets," he found himself repeating after William Douce.

The young man had explained the matter to his own satisfaction, though he had soon become aware that his employer was not listening. Well, that made him all the easier to persuade, and he could blame nobody if one day he found himself persuaded into something he hadn't bargained for. Yet on occasion he could be amazingly acute . . . he was a queer old fellow and it would be some time before even William Douce would feel sure of him. Still, it was a comfort to find that he evidently did not resent the failure of his outrageous offer. He seemed, indeed, to have forgotten all about it, and the interview ended in quite another style.

"Shall we meet again to-night, Sir?"


"Yes, it's the first night of the new moon? Had you forgotten?"

Gervase had had enough in his head to excuse any forgetfulness of the moon's phases, but memory returned with a pleasant titillation.

"Aye, and so it is. I will come. Maybe we shall learn something to help us in this coil."

Douce did not ask which coil. He answered encouragingly.

"Maybe we shall. Either the cards or the magistellum."

"The magistellum?"

"Yes—you remember there was a voice last time."

"Aye, there was a voice."

Gervase shuddered at the memory of that flat, dead, toneless voice.

§ 9

He shuddered again on his way to Newhouse, as he passed the little riverside temple, for it was there that the voice had spoken. The temple was a neat little business of brick and stone, though its classicism had been a trifle spoilt by the rusticity of the builders. They had given it rather a kiln-like-air; its tubby walls were round and rosy as an oast's, and the cupola he had planned to crown it looked like the head of a toadstool. But it was a useful place, and he was glad to have it here in this lonely, sheltered corner by the Tillingham. Not only did he feel more important, withdrawn there to write his Treatise on the Orthodox Churches of the East—when he should have brought himself to face its beginning—but it was useful to have such a place for his experiments with William Douce. In his library at the house he was in constant fear of surprise. Though he had a perfect right to experiment as he chose, his studies might provoke opposition from Louise—or, who knows? her derision. He had been fortunate in finding this young man so learned in natural magic, and the new-built belvedere provided just the right setting for their joint investigations.

But he was a little in doubt as to this matter of the voice. The magistellum or spirit that had taken control of Douce at their last meeting might be a harmless nature spirit or might be some dæmon. It was almost impossible to tell from the few words that had been uttered. Perhaps he would learn more to-night, and if he suspected evil the experiments must be brought to an end at once. He had as good a conscience on the matter of sorcery as any Jesuit priest.

These thoughts were able to distract him from the purpose of his walk up Starvencrow Hill. It was not till he had come in sight of Newhouse among its barns that he felt again the full wretchedness of his position. He was advancing weaponless upon his foes; he had hoped to pick up a weapon at the furnace, but he had not been able, and now what was he to do?

Mrs. Harman saw him from the bedroom window.

"Here comes that stalking old huff-snuff," she said to her husband. "We should be wiser to send a gang of our men to Conster than waste our time with him."

"Nay, we must forbear," said Exalted Harman. "Newhouse has always been on good terms with Conster Manor, and I would sooner not have a breach."

"If you were to inherit the property that's yours by right, I should understand it; but now I think it a waste of patience—especially since we've had one good quarrel at least this year."

Michal Harman showed in Gervase with a smirk.

"Good morning, Squire."

"Good morning," said Gervase lifelessly.

He sat down, and thought it might be wise to inquire after Exalted's leg, much as he hated to pander to its display. The farmer replied with an elaborate production—after a six months' interval it looked and smelt certainly worse—Mrs. Harman talked of physicians and for a while they were all stalking round one another like cats.

Then Mrs. Harman mentioned that Mr. Horner had said that Condemnation was now in a fit state to come home, and they would like to have her back before the last crying of her banns on Sunday.

"And I'm sure we're both grateful to the Squire for having cared for her, though what the wicked slut was about to run off like that, I can't imagine."

"She was in terror, ma'am," said Gervase, rousing at such words, "if not for her life then for her honour. The beast would have abused her, and in her virgin delicacy she burst through a window, cutting her tender flesh, and ran to the friends she had nearest."

"Nay," said Exalted, "her nature misled her. Relph only wanted to pay his court. He's an honest fellow."

"He will make her a good husband," said Mrs. Harman, "and he has his own cottage by Dodyland Shaw; she will not have to live at old Holly Crouch with the other men and their wives. It will do her good to marry and settle, for she's growing altogether too wild."

"But there's no need to marry her to a yokel. Let her wait a year or two till you can afford her a portion and then let some yeoman's son marry her as is fitting."

"I shall give her no portion," said Harman, "it would be glorifying sin to send her out with one."

"Besides, you have no money to spare away from your lawful family," said his wife, "why should my children go short for a beggar-woman's brat? She's lucky to have found so good a man as Relph. Certainly no better man would take her with or without a portion, being what she is."

"You know not what she is," said Gervase solemnly.

"I know indeed. She's our disgrace—the punishment of an honest woman for her husband's wickedness. I'm sick and tired of her, and must have her away. Whenever I see her I see that beggar-woman handing up her child to him in the midst of all the people."

"Has it never seemed to you that the beggar-woman was a deceiver, and that Condemnation is not your husband's child?"

"'At that it hasn't, after all he's told me."

"Seeing that I took the woman down under the hedge," droned Exalted, "and to my everlasting shame and condemnation, lay with her there——"

"And did she lie with no one after—even the very next night? Nay, man, how can we tell the father of a child with such a mother? All we can go by is her face, and she doesn't favour you. I've been observing her these last two weeks, and I can tell you she has a Roman nose——"

"You needn't tell us that. We've had her with us longer than two weeks, and for the last twelve months I've watched her growing dark and ugly as a gipsy—soon no man will look at her."

"Nay, how can you say so? She's every day growing finer and lovelier. Her Roman nose puts me in mind of La Belle Stuart, her Grace the Duchess of Richmond. . . . I shouldn't be surprised if she weren't connected with the noblest family in the land."

Mrs. Harman knew scarcely how to answer such folly, and her silence gave her husband the chance to start a long harangue on the Divine justice which would never have allowed him to be imposed upon in so vital a matter.

"Why should He condemn me with another man's sin? To each man his own condemnation. If another man had fathered her, on him should the vials of wrath have been outpoured."

"Nay, but you had sinned whether or not you had fathered her, and why should He not confound you with the fruit of another man's sinning, seeing that it was no fault of yours there'd been no such fruit of your own?" Then realizing that he was on the brink of a roaring argument that might spoil all his chances, he continued more mildly: "I go by the common observation of all my family. Yesterday she was wearing my daughter's gown, and I tell 'ee, looked more of a lady than my daughter in it. Dressing and hairdressing have altogether changed her appearance. For a mountebank to have borne her a nobleman must have begotten her."

Gervase's belief in Condemnation's noble blood had in the last few minutes become a conviction. The more he looked at Harman, sitting there with his pasty, pious face and drooping mouth, the more he hated him, and the more he hated him, the more he would have none of him for his little bud. He loved Condemnation far too much to let her be fathered by such a rat; indeed the rising of her dignity was in proportion to the rising of his tenderness. Neither of the Harmans, however, would tolerate such an idea. Mrs. Harman lost a stick to beat her husband with, and he lost the visible sign and token of his sin.

"You'll be saying next that King Charles himself begot her," sneered Mrs. Harman.

"Eh, well, I've told you she looks a Stuart—and the King would go with wenches. Maybe he met her mother at Newmarket——"

"And she fathered his child on Harman—a likely story. No, Sir, the child's my husband's right and sure enough, and so filthily misbegotten that no decent farmer's son will have her. 'Twould be a waste to give her a portion, and we're lucky to find a man like Relph, who for love of her will take her off us for nothing."

"Love of her, indeed! How dare he talk of love when all he has shown is lust and violence? Maybe he's shrewd enough to tell she is of blood, and seeks her for that in his bumpkin vanity, pleased to have caught a prize his betters have missed."

Mrs. Harman lost her temper.

"Well, Squire, if you think her so fine and so noble and so much above us all, why don't you marry her yourself?"

"Woman," roared Gervase, "you've said it! and I will."

§ 10

At first they thought he was joking. He had shown before a perverse and tricky humour at their expense. But when a few minutes' argument had proved that he was in earnest, their attitude changed. They were amazed, but not altogether contemptuous.

Certainly he could not be right in his head, and would make the girl a very strange sort of husband, but that would not matter to anybody but herself. Harman made a certain amount of talk about sin being encouraged by such an alliance, and Mrs. Harman was secretly jealous for her own girls, who had never had anything like this offer. But the former was consoled by the thought that Condemnation would certainly object to the marriage as much as or more than she had objected to her marriage with Relph, and that her existence as Lady Alard could not fail to be penitential for herself and for her husband; while Mrs. Harman could count on a certain advantage to her own children accruing from such an arrangement—her three sons and her daughter Michal might now hope to marry into the Squirearchy or into the French refugee nobility, who had hitherto been beyond their reach. If she could bring herself to endure the sight of the slut as Lady Alard, she might one day see Michal as Lady Broomfield or Saul or Samuel stepping into the inheritance of Brokesland or Lordine Court. She, as well as her husband, also had the consoling thought that Condemnation herself would obtain no gratification from the marriage, but was bound to be unhappy with such a man and to disgrace herself and him daily with her uncouthness.

As for Gervase, having once conceived the idea, he could not imagine why he had never thought of it before—indeed he would have it now that it had always been in some dim form at the back of his mind. Condemnation had wanted, had asked, had begged, to stay at Conster, and now she would stay there for ever; she would be happy, and he would see that she had all that she needed to make her so. He would have her with him when his daughters were all married . . . she would for years to come be a fountain of youth playing up in the house, in whose waters he could bathe and be young again. Not that he was so very old—only fifty-seven. That age has married with nineteen before this. He might still beget an heir for Conster . . . but of this he would not allow himself to think. The marriage was not made for any such motive, but rather in a spirit of fatherly protection. She would be pleased, his little bud, to know that she was to stay at Conster with him always. That others at Conster would not be so pleased was a thought that would intrude itself, but he banished it firmly with the thought of the heir.

It was not till the discussion had nearly ended that anyone spoke of Lambert Relph, who might be expected to make some clamour at his bride being snatched from him on the eve of his wedding. But here Gervase felt he might safely bring forward his reserve of four hundred pounds, and both the Harmans agreed that Relph could not consider himself ill-used with his claims so nobly settled. Four hundred pounds would enable him to buy his cottage and the land around it, and as a landowner he might court some farmer's daughter who would bring him more money or more land. He would certainly have no cause to regret a penniless brat like Condemnation, and even the smart of being twice cried without being married, might be healed with such a balm.

§ 11

Condemnation sat waiting alone in the drawing-room, bending over an embroidery frame and pricking her fingers. She could not fix her thoughts on her work, for they were astray after the Squire, following him to Newhouse, trying to tell her all he would have said. He had been gone a long while—she had expected him back an hour ago. Why didn't he come? She wondered if his delay meant success or failure; surely if he had failed he would not have stayed so long. Yet he might be arguing and quoting Scripture with her father as she had so often heard him in the old days before he was the Squire—when he was only the Parson. . . .

Now he was the Squire, a great and powerful man, and he had given up preaching sermons and conducting prayers, though possibly not quoting Scripture. But to her his black gown would always be a part of his dignity. And was he not so learned that he had a whole room full of books, and had built besides a kiln to study in, where he read and wrote all day and half the night? And did he not come every day to hear her Catechism and read the Order for the Sick? Oh, what would she do when he came no more?

A tear fell into the heart of the crimson flower she was embroidering, and at the same time she heard his footsteps—his heavy, stalking footsteps that she knew without mistake—coming across the hall. She began to tremble violently and had not the strength to rise when he came in.

He stood in the doorway for a moment watching her. The same shaft of sunlight that came through the oriel window and hung across the room, dusty with motes, held them both, lighting up the sheen of her curls and the tear upon her cheek, and more cruelly his lined and eager face and wiry hair. It would mock him with another ten years of age, and her it would smudge into a child. . . . But he could not know how it had ravaged him, though he saw the tears.

"Art weeping, sweetheart? Weep not; thou art to stay."

She gave a cry, sprang to her feet, upsetting her frame, and then began to dance about the room, jumping wildly and clapping her hands like a child. He was moved and astonished.

"There, there, pigsnie," he said at last, "sit down and listen to me, and I'll tell you all there is to tell. For I have some more," and he nodded and chuckled mysteriously.

Condemnation sat down; she felt dizzy and her heart was fluttering and singing. It sang louder when he sat beside her and took her hand.

"Thou'rt but a child, pretty one, and I shall never rebuke thy frolicking. Thou shalt skip and caper to thy heart's delight even when I've wed thee. For that's what I've settled with thy guardians—I take thee from Relph, who has four hundred pounds to soothe his smart, and marry thee myself. Is it not well done?"

The song in Condemnation's heart turned suddenly into a cry of surprise and fear, and Gervase might have known as much from her eyes as they gazed at him, but he was too full of his own delight to notice any change in hers.

"That was what I settled with 'em," he continued, "they're glad enough for me to wed you, for it will exalt their family, or so they think. But you shan't be plagued with 'em—we'll show 'em the door if they trouble us. They've no rights of kin, seeing they're not of your blood. But you should have seen how they changed their tune when I spoke of our wedding. Your father—or who calls himself your father—had a deal to say about it being a reward of sin, but I soon silenced him, and after a while he began to see what a fine thing it would be to have me for a son. Ho! Ho! Not that I'll take any notice of that. As soon as we're married I shall make it plain that you were never sired by such a hobbyhorse. Ho! Ho! As for the woman, she'll be fawning on you now, mark my words, and setting you to catch favours for her children. You'll have your hour of triumph now, my little bud; you'll be as Joseph at the court of Egypt with his brethren bowing down before him. I tell 'ee it's well done! well done!"

"But, Sir—can't I stay here without being married?"

He stared at her.

"Nay, nay, you can't. And why should you? It's the best plan in the world, and what astounds me is that I never thought of it before. Think how happy you will be, the mistress of a fine house, with servants at your command and a fine coach and horses to ride out in. My girls will all be married soon, and then you and I will be here alone together—save for my sister Alard, who has her own apartments. We shall be as happy as kings, and the chief part of my happiness will be to make yours."

"But I should be scared. . . ."

The voice came faintly as she drooped her head.

"Scared! Nay, scared of what? or whom? Not scared of me? Tell me, sweetheart, you'd never be scared of me."

"I . . . nay, not as you are; but as my husband, I might be scared . . ."

"Nay, you might not; and as your husband I shall be no different from what I am now. Have no fear, pretty one; you shan't find me as some husbands—I shall be a father to you still."

"But I should be scared to keep house—to be called Ladyship. I could never live so fine."

"You will live as you're living now, and never did I see a finer lady than I saw coming downstairs yesterday. And as for keeping house, Louise shall see to that for you, as she does now for my daughters. She will teach you all that you still don't know, and you shall have beautiful gowns to wear, satins and silks, and paddisoys and petticoats and caps——"

He stopped breathless.

"But I should never learn. Oh, must I be married now?"

Gervase had been totally unprepared for any reluctance on her part; but though he was disappointed, he was not in any way shaken. He looked at her a little sternly.

"Come, child," he said, "why all this fuss? If you don't marry me you must marry Relph. Would you rather have that?"

"Oh no, Sir."

"Then say no more about it, for you've no other choice. I'd thought you would be pleased."

"So I should be—to stay. 'Tis only—oh, Sir, believe that I'm grateful."

"I want thee glad, not grateful. Art not glad?"

"Aye, I am glad to stay."

"Then be a good girl and make no more to do, for you can't help yourself."

She babbled something.

"Nay, sweetheart, it is to be."

And as a sign of their betrothal he leaned forward in his seat and kissed her solemnly between the eyes.


§ 1

Though Gervase had been surprised to find that Condemnation had any objections, however ineffectual, to his plan, he was well prepared for the objections of his family. He had not expected them to approve of his marriage to Harman's foundling, and they did not. In vain he raved of his bride's noble birth, in which he now implicitly believed, in vain he offered a presentation of himself that wavered between a knight pledged by his honour to rescue a distressed maiden and a practical man of the world who was doing a very fine thing for everyone; for the next fortnight he was subjected to an assault of argument, persuasion, entreaty, threats and tears, that might have shaken the resolve of another man, but only served to root him more steadily in his.

Louise's opposition was the most formidable because the most rational, and because his affection for his sister-in-law included a sincere respect for her intelligence. She was genuinely concerned for her brother-in-law's judgment, if not for his integrity. Her experience of life and realistic temperament inclined her to think that in spite of all his talk his motive was a sensual one. She saw him a prey to those passions which after years of quiescence will often flare up devastatingly before old age extinguishes them. The pity was that he should give them permanence in an utterly unsuitable marriage; if he was not honest and brave enough to recognize and subdue them, he had better have satisfied them in a manner less socially destructive.

Not that she objected in theory to his marrying again; indeed she had thought for some time that he ought to do so and provide his house with an heir. But her views on marriage were those of the French aristocracy, and in her eyes a misalliance of this kind was an act of social and family treachery as morally reprehensible as the more common forms of incontinence. She did not in the least believe in Condemnation's exalted birth, and looked upon the argument only as further evidence of the subjection of her brother-in-law's reason to his passions.

Of course if the girl had been Harman's lawful child, and properly brought up according to her condition, the situation would not have been so desperate. A farmer's daughter will often make a very good wife for a Squire, and though Gervase could and should have looked higher, the match would not have been degrading. But now she saw everywhere hands lifted to hide sniggering mouths—the common verdict was bound to be that the Squire was out of his wits . . . for not only was Condemnation illegitimate, but her illegitimacy was a jest and byword, owing to the ludicrous circumstances of her first appearance, which were still very much alive in the local memory, and to her father's canting glory in his shame.

At first Louise thought she would have to leave Conster, but Gervase was so deeply distressed at the prospect—though she failed to find any efficacy in it as threat—that she agreed after all to stay.

"I was looking to you to show her proper ways. I'd promised her that you should teach her."

"Oh, but you had no right to promise such a thing."

"You've already been so kind . . . and she has changed so much since she came here. Her folk would scarcely know her if they saw her now."

"Oh yes, she is quick enough, but it is mostly on the outside. In her heart she is still a gypsy—her mother's daughter."

"But she's a mere child yet, and brought up by hate and jealousy to be savage. . . . Why, in a fortnight she's learned more from you than my daughters in their lifetimes. You'll soon teach her to behave like the fine lady that she is."

Louise smiled wearily.

"I would to God I'd never curled her hair."

"Nay, it was I curled her hair, by cutting it close that day she was so ill. It was all matted up with leaves and sticks and blood . . . poor little maid, I sometimes feel I shall never in my life repay her for all she has suffered."

"Why should you repay her? It is not your business."

"Surely, sister, you have a heart?"

"Yes, I have a heart. But it is first for you, my friend."

"If it is for me, you will stay here and help me with her. I can't do all for her that I should, and the girls will plague and tease her abominably without you to restrain 'em. This an't a common marriage, and the poor child has need of a father and mother as well as of a husband. I can be the father, but I can't be mother too. I look to you for that."

Louise hid a grimace. Gervase's appeal seemed to her a part of his aberration—he was losing his mental balance, which, she reflected sadly, had always been a little uncertain. Yet how fond of him Charles had been! For Charles's sake she must not forsake him. Perhaps at least sometimes she would be able to make him hear a little wisdom.

Besides, her heart still clung to the place. . . . She did not wish to leave it and return to France—at least not yet. This marriage would not make her position intolerable; in fact it would probably be more tolerable than if Gervase had married a more suitable bride. For Condemnation was a gentle, fearful little thing, who would not want to assert herself against her sister-in-law; there would be probably none of those jealousies and rivalries that are so common in a house where the dowager remains. From that point of view, she was probably more fortunate than if her brother had married a young Broomfield or Austen. Also, she was fond of the child; she could not deny that, though at the moment she wished her dead.

§ 2

The opposition of the rest of the family was more violent, but not so distressing. Of course Bess and Oxenbrigge were the most concerned, for Bess was now six, months' gone with her first child, who but for this sudden craziness of her father's, might have been Alard's heir as well as Oxenbrigge's. Her husband took the matter to heart, and Gervase had to listen to some of the longest speeches he had ever heard from him. But his argument lacked impressiveness, wavering as it did between the unsuitability of his father-in-law's marrying again and the treachery to an Oxenbrigge involved by the production of an heir at this stage of their alliances. Anyway, Gervase, regarding him as a mere brainless lump, worked by cupidity into a pretence of reasoning, laughed at him outrageously.

As for the other girls, Henny and Madge were chiefly concerned for the effect of the situation on their prospective bridegrooms. In their first horror they imagined that neither Austen nor de Champfort could face a union with a family so disgraced. But their swains were easier than they had expected. Squire Austen had always regarded Gervase as half a madman, and received the news of his latest folly with a loud laugh and a declaration that he'd always known he'd do something like it. Having ascertained that his daughter-in-law's fortune would be the same, he made no difficulties; if crazy Alard chose to tie himself for life to a wench he need have done no more than go to bed with, that was his own concern, since the property was entailed on heirs male—and he wished him a fine boy nine months from his wedding day.

The de Champforts suffered more in their sense of rank and decorum. But they were not in a position to be exacting, and a little eccentricity is sometimes allowable in a second marriage, when the first has been unexceptional. They contented themselves with the undoubted facts that their daughter-in-law was well-born and well-endowed, and that the marriage would enable them to buy land and settle themselves in the country.

Bridget and Ann, the unattached girls, took the matter more casually than their sisters. They regarded it as a fine, merry jest on the part of their father, and laughed so immoderately that he threatened to have them locked up if they couldn't be quiet. They had no suitors to lose, and if in the end they found their stepmother more tiresome and less mirth-provoking than they supposed, they could always go to stay with their sisters. Madge and Henny were to be married in May, and their homes would be a refuge as well as Oxenbrigge Manor. It really mattered to them very little whom their father married so long as they did not have to stay at home.

Meanwhile they had the greatest sport in teasing Condemnation. Indeed their teasing and pinching and horseplay were such as to keep her in constant remembrance of the home she had left. True, she knew that she had only to complain to Gervase to have the whole thing stopped at once; but she shrank from speaking to him on such a matter, and also did not wish to make permanent foes of these young ladies, who in their elegant gowns and caps and curls were capable of inflicting the same vulgar torments that the young Harmans had once taken pleasure in. So she submitted with a good grace to what after all she was well used to.

Indeed, the attacks of Ann and Bridget formed one of the least alarming aspects of her life at Conster. During the days that followed her betrothal to the master of the house, she was bound in the fetters of a growing fear. Even the peacocks on the wall seemed terrifying now that she was to be their mistress. Their dim graces were a part of Conster's contempt—of the sneering dignity of the servants, the kind disapproval of Madame Alard, the new strangeness of the Squire. It had all been so different when she had been merely one of the many small things in the house. Now she felt that everything and everyone had turned against her, and had done so rightly, for it must be wrong that she should ever be mistress of a place like Conster. It was altogether too great and grand for her. The servants would surely never obey her orders, even if she dared to give any, and Madame would despise her uncouthness and weary of her company, and as for the Squire—she could not picture him at all as her husband, nor imagine how he would find her as a wife.

She had never been afraid of him till now; but now she was afraid—there seemed to be a barrier between them. Perhaps it was partly due to his different treatment of her, for he no longer asked her to repeat her Catechism; in fact he never came to her room at all. He treated her as if she were a grand, grown-up lady, handed her in to meals, and asked for her to be taught all the finer stitches. She knew that he had ordered new clothes for her, and he would have had her taught how to sing and play, had she not been so terrified at the prospect. She felt afraid of him, because of all the changes in him and of the further changes that there must be. Yet if ever he asked her if she was afraid—for her manner toward him was often that of a cony at the feet of a hound—she would always say: "Nay—Nay—Nay, Sir"; till the conversation would be changed by his asking her not to call him Sir.

"For I'm to be thy husband now, and thou must learn to call me 'dear,' and 'joy,' and 'jewel,' and 'love.' And as for me I won't any more have thee called Condemnation, for it's a canting, barbarous Roundhead name and unworthy of 'ee. I christened thee Ruth, and Ruth thou shalt be called from henceforth."

So he said; but he very seldonp remembered to do so.

§ 3

Henrietta and Margery were married in May; it was a double wedding, and solemnized with all the pomp that the family's position demanded and their release from mourning allowed. Louise Alard still wore her weeds and kept the house, but she was present at the marriage feast, where there was a great attendance of all the neighbourhood, both the old and the new families—the Broomfields, Laycocks and Austens, of long-established residence and the refugee aristocracy of de Champfort, de Périgault, le Jolie, de Blogue, du Bois. Besides these there was the older contrast of Harman and Douce . . . all down the table England sat side by side with France.

After dinner the brides departed to their homes—Henrietta Austen to the ramshackle manor of Redeland by Wilsham's Cross, Margery de Champfort to Eslede, the small neat house near Rye, which, with its surrounding land, had been bestowed with her on her husband's family. Bridget and Ann went back with their eldest sister to Iden, and Conster was left to quietness.

The wedding of Condemnation and the Squire followed a week later, a week which the bride, for decorum's sake, spent in her father's house. She no longer had her old bed in the attic, but was comfortably chambered with one of her half-sisters. Nor was she set to scrub floors or to milk cows or to scare birds from the corn. Nor was Lambert Relph allowed so much as a sight of her—and there was little fear of him now, as with the four hundred pounds that had bought her from him he had stocked a holding of fifteen acres over by Croffeham with pigs and goats.

Condemnation hardly cared if she saw him or not. She lived among her fears as among a herd of horned cattle—it made little difference which set of horns impaled her. If Lambert Relph did not pursue her with his slobbering kisses, if Michal Harman did not run pins into her in the night, or her stepmother throw a pail of water over her in the kitchen, there was still the Squire to be married next week.

Her father was not able to attend her to the church, but the day before the wedding he sent for her to his room and read her a long, melancholy discourse on the miseries of her position. If she had any hope from it, he said, any idea that she would be happy as Lady Alard and mistress of Conster Manor, let her be rid of it at once. Divine justice would not allow her to be exalted, unless with a view to her further humiliation. She would find the Squire a crazy, violent-tempered man, his sister a sour, superstitious Papist, and his daughters tormenting hoydens who would make her life a misery. As for their wealth, they would lose it all in the furnace under William Douce's management; her husband was bound to die before very long, and she would doubtless spend her old age far more wretchedly than if she had married Lambert Relph. In all this he saw at work the Providence that for one moment he had almost doubted.

Her stepmother gave her much the same advice, but with the counsel that her chief hope lay in her father's family, and she would do well to help and advance them in every way she could.

"After all, you owe us a debt, for we could have sent you to the poorhouse. But your father saw he had a duty by you, though many men wouldn't have seen it; and as for me I've always been the biddable, fawning, virtuous wife that I advise you to be but doubt you never will."

She was given away at the alter by Saul Harman, the eldest and kindest of her half-brothers, and wore a plain white gown, for though Gervase would have brazened out his madness with a fine wedding, Louise Alard was firm in insisting that it must be quietly done. She was able to convince him that the extreme fearfulness of the bride would make any display a torment to her; though it cost something to her pride to persuade him with a slight reason, when she had so many important ones.

Gervase had hesitated whether or not he should wear his cassock and gown to be married in, and came to the conclusion that he should not. He should be married as the Squire, and he doubted if a Parson's robes were seemly on such an occasion. The trouble was that he had nothing else to wear and was as firmly set against the new fashions as ever. If he must have new clothes, they should be the doublet and cloak he had worn as a young man, and his hat should carry a feather. To put on a waistcoat and surcoat was to put on two bags, and a hat with a bow was womanish. So he summoned a tailor out of Hastings and had him make him a doublet and breeches of sky-blue velvet, with a crimson sash and bands of Flanders lace. For a hat he chose the widest brim that he could find, with a buckle and two feathers, one crimson and one blue. Since it was right that he should wear colours as a bridegroom, he would wear the gayest—he would be a young man again.

Louise, who knew no more than that he had ordered a new coat from Hastings, was horrified when she saw him come down to the coach wearing the fashions of thirty years ago. His face, under the drooping feathers of the hat, had a new kind of sinister beauty, a dark mock of youth that was strange and terrible. She saw the coachman and postilion stare, and everywhere she knew there would be those sniggering mouths again. A sharp pity and a sharp anger went out of her together.

As for Condemnation, she scarcely recognized her bridegroom. Here was no black, protecting wing, but a peacock's tail spread out for her in the church—a peacock's tail very much less dim than the peacocks on the wall or even than the peacock in the garden. In her white gown she looked like a dove beside him; and when the ceremony was over and Dr. Braceley had declared them man and wife, as a peacock and a dove they left the church together.

§ 4

It was not till they were shut into the coach that Gervase saw that she was trembling. Till then he had been too busy observing who had come to see him married (which was all the neighbourhood) and criticizing Dr. Braceley's reading of the service and showing him the proper manner by the delivery of his own part, to take notice of his bride. But now he saw that she was shaking all over as she sat beside him on the great cushioned seat—so lost in it that her feet were right off the ground, thrust up in front of her in unaccustomed kid slippers. She looked more than ever like a child, with her straight knees and white gown, in spite of the lace cap she had been made to wear—which had indeed completed the childish picture by falling over one ear.

"Eh, what is it, little bird? Why art thou trembling? There's nothing to affright thee any more."

And spreading out his arms he would have folded her in them had he not seen her shrink away. Then he understood.

"So, thou art afraid of me. . ."

His voice dragged on a deep note of disappointment.

"Nay, nay, Sir."

It was her accustomed pipe; but this time he did not believe her, nor did he remember to scold her for having called him Sir.

"Eh well, you're afraid, I can see—in spite of my having made myself more of an ordinary man to wed you. I'm not a Parson to-day, for all I could have torn the book out of that gabbling Doctor's hand and shown him how a service should be read. To-day I'm dressed as the Squire, though it seems you're as scared of the Squire as of the Parson. Eh well, never fear, poor little bird. I shan't hurt thee."

And he put his elbows on his knees, resting his chin on his hands, and sighed deeply.

Condemnation was sorry, and wished she had not upset him, but she did not know what to say. After a while he grew more cheerful and told her that she had spoken her part of the service very prettily. It was not long before they arrived at Conster.

There was to be no solemn wedding feast, but one or two must be asked to sit down with them to dinner. Louise had insisted on inviting the Harmans. She saw the affair looking best as the marriage of the Squire to a yeoman's daughter, whereas Gervase thought it improved if the Harmans were got rid of altogether, in favour of some unknown sire of noble birth. However, she found him usually to be persuaded in small matters, and he gave way to her in this, enduring the sight of Mrs. Harman and her family at his table with little more than an occasional grimace.

Besides the Harmans there were only his daughters and sons-in-law, and William Douce. This last he had invited on an impulse; he had properly no right to be in such a small, family party, but he had spoken as if he wished to come, and lately he and his master had been drifting into a familiarity that on one side touched affection. Gervase was growing fond of the young man; apart from their common interests, licit and illicit, he still felt the attraction of his youth which was so like his own—of his handsome face and modish accomplished manner, of his rare, sudden laugh, which seemed to start in mirth and end in sorrow. He also found in himself a growing respect for his judgment, in spite of the unfailing deference with which it was expressed. At one time he had thought that William Douce, like everybody else, disapproved of his marriage, but if so his disapproval had been respectful and discreet—he had not clamoured and scolded like the rest. Nor had he made any comment on the evil luck foretold by the Bohemian cards when last they laid them out; it was Gervase himself who had read disaster to his house in the Arcanum of the Falling Tower. . . . But he only half believed these things.

As it happened, Douce's presence was the social salvation of the wedding breakfast. He alone seemed equal to the occasion. It was he who responded to Louise's courtesies, keeping them spinning like little balls between him and her, instead of falling flat into the general blankness of the table. It was he who discussed with the bridegroom the liturgical inadequacy of Dr. Braceley, a topic which, though it seemed to prickle Gervase with a restless and recurrent heat, left the rest of the party cold. It was he who in the end proposed the health of the silent bride.

The Harmans, cowed by their unaccustomed surroundings, were almost entirely silent too. The daughters, married and unmarried, giggled. Oxenbrigge and Austen ate; de Champfort stared at Condemnation and decided that his father-in-law must be mad. It was a sorry company for a wedding feast, and all through his own efforts at gaiety and conversation, William Douce was aware of the general weight of silence. He thought that the Squire himself was at last uneasy about it all. Having blustered through all opposition and won his point, he now felt doubtful of his victory—as well he might.

William Douce had not expected Gervase to stand against the opposition put up by his family. Therefore he had been careful himself to seem to agree, throwing only a general hint into their experiments when they gave him the chance. In the end, when he saw the Squire would have his way, it was too late to change his deportment. He must merely note for future reference that it was useless to appeal to reason. He must couch his influence in a deeper bed.

If he could have stopped the marriage he would for it was as much against his interests as anyone's. He was an ambitious man, and even as a child he had despised the meekness with which his father surrendered the ownership of a promising furnace for a mere mastership. His return home had been quite genuinely actuated by a wish to succeed him and to improve on his old-fashioned methods. But it had been painful to have to defer in everything to an irrational, obstinate old man, who knew nothing about iron for all his prating. He had soon thought of something better. The furnace was not entailed with the rest of the estate, and Alard had no son—only five silly daughters who were already well provided for. There was nothing to prevent him leaving it to a faithful servant who had become as a son to him. . . . Thus, before long (since old Gervase did not look the sort of man to live out his full years) Conster Furnace would be Douce's again—Douce's Furnace, beside the River Tillingham, as it had been during the days of the Commonwealth and as it should be now in strict right.

It had seemed an excellent plan, and not too difficult to carry out; but now this marriage had upset it all, or at least put it in danger. If Gervase had a son he would probably want to leave him the furnace with the rest of the estate, and if he had a daughter he would probably leave it to her as her private fortune. William Douce lost it anyway, unless indeed the marriage was childless, which did not seem likely, with a country wife and a husband who had already sired five children. His only hope lay in the old man's affection and in such influence over him as he could maintain, which might, if he played his cards—his Bohemian cards, in fact—still be considerable. That weakness of Alard's was lucky for him, and he no longer regretted having made him acquainted with his own tendencies. If it helped him to wear a magician's hat, let him wear it, and a feather in it too. Tarver would keep him coached in the latest necromantic fashions. He had not been pleased when he first visited him at Milkhouse Street to find him still so deep in his experiments, but now he saw that it might all turn out to his advantage.

He did not look for any opposition worth considering from Condemnation. She was not a bride who could be expected to have much influence on her husband; indeed, when he had satisfied what was probably a passing lust he would doubtless ignore her entirely. She would be pushed into the background of his life, leaving the foreground free to anyone who chose to occupy it. If it were not for her children. . . . The whole thing was mad and unfortunate, but a master who is mad is in some ways easier to handle than a master who is reasonable, once his servant has learned the method of his madness and that method William Douce hoped with care and assiduity to learn.

After the wedding feast, he added to his social success by playing on the lute. While the silent company sat round the wall, with the light slanting down on them through high windows, he played and sang an old marriage song:

To couple is a custom,
  All things thereto agree;
Why should not I, then, love?
  Since love to all is free.

Though virtue be a dowry,
  Yet I'll choose money store;
If my love prove untrue,
  With that I can get more.

The fair is oft inconstant,
  The black is often proud;
I'll choose a lovely brown—
  Come, fiddler, scrape thy crowd.

There she sat, the lovely brown, stillness itself in her white dress, her spirit drawn by the music from its own sad contemplation to a look of lost wonder as she gazed through the window into the light. His eyes rested on her while he played, and a curious sympathy for her rose in his heart, almost as if he could feel the pain in the beats of hers. She was no bride; but a lost girl, sitting there in white. He became curious to know what she was seeking that she had lost herself in the search. At that moment he pitied her rather than hated her—it was not her fault, perhaps not even her wish, that she sat there, lost, between him and his desires. It was the fault of her prancing old cock of a bridegroom. He brought the music to an end with a sudden thrum.

§ 5

The party broke up early, for there was no merrymaking beyond a little lute playing and a few songs. As Douce was about to go, Gervase spoke to him in a low voice.

"Can you meet me at the temple to-night?"


"Aye, to-night. Can you meet me to-night?"

"At what time?"

"The usual time—the usual hour."

Douce could not help exclaiming again:


"Aye, surely. It's a new moon and right for the calling . . . as we said. Can you do it? You've no other appointment?"

"No, I have none." But what about you? he wanted to add.

"Then we meet at the templum. It's understood."

"It's understood," and Douce went out, far from understanding.

Bridget and Ann went off with their de Champfort sister to Eslede, and Oxenbrigge and Austen had soon departed too. The Harmans were all driven home in the Alard coach. The darkness came down on Conster with a soft sighing of the trees.

Condemnation went to bed early, and her sister-in-law accompanied her to her room. It was still the peacock room, for she had shown such fear of a more splendid apartment that Louise had persuaded Gervase to let her stay where she was till she had grown more used to grandeur. Also, though a woman had been engaged for her, it was understood that her duties were at first to be merely nominal, and to-night Louise sent her away. The new Lady Alard must be protected in some degree from those terrifying splendours that her bridegroom wished to heap upon her and which fitted so ill with her habits. Louise was acutely sorry for the poor little thing. Standing there in the midst of the great candle-lit room, she looked infinitely tired, afraid and pitiful; and it seemed likely that on her would fall the worst effects of this monstrous mistake. The Dowager Lady Alard was not a soft-hearted woman, but to-night she took the little white face between her be-ringed hands and kissed it.

"Good night, sweetheart. Is there any more you would have me do?"

"No, thank you, Ma'am."

"Do not call me Ma'am. I am your sister now."

Condemnation stared at her mutely, absorbing the elegance of her new relation with an evident increase of fear. The kindest thing to do was to leave her alone, and Louise went out.

The bride undressed and climbed into bed, remembering as an afterthought to put on the fine lawn shift that had been laid out for her. She blew out the candle, but the room was full of glimmering starlight, and low in the window she saw the new moon hanging like a shiver of glass. She closed her eyes to make a darkness for herself, in the shelter of which she lay with a wildly beating heart.

The minutes passed. At every tick of the clock she expected her bridegroom. He had gone up to his study when she went to bed, so he would be coming down to her, not coming up. She waited to hear him coming down. The clock ticked on and the minutes passed; she opened her eyes for a moment and saw the peacocks on the wall, and it seemed as if they too were waiting.

She heard footsteps at last. They creaked along a passage overhead, then turned to the stairs. She lay quite still in the unfamiliarity of linen and lawn, and listened, holding her breath. The footsteps came downstairs to the landing, paused for a moment and then went on. She heard them go down into the house, then die away—almost as if they had passed out of it.

She did not know what to think. For a while she lay waiting for him to return; but as he did not she realized that probably he did not mean to come to her that night. It was very strange, but then everything was strange, and she was too tired to wonder where he had gone. She lay for half an hour in a queer muddle of disappointment and relief. She felt relieved that she was not yet to suffer the crowning strangeness of her new life, but in her heart she also felt as if that strangeness might make the rest less strange. She was too simple to understand a marriage that was not a common affair of flesh and blood. This new sort of marriage only added to her feelings of passive bewilderment. But perhaps he would come another night. She did not understand him at all.

§ 6

But the next night and the next the same thing happened, and by the end of a week she had come to expect nothing different. He would kiss her gravely when she went up to bed, and then withdraw to his study, from where she would hear his footsteps come very much later to go to his own room. Or sometimes he would not be so late; in which case she was nearly sure that he went out of the house. It soon occurred to her that he went to his out-door study, where he kept so many of his books, and after a while she gave up listening for him.

She accepted with some bewilderment the fact that her marriage was not to be as other marriages. Hitherto she had taken for granted that her lot with the Squire would be the same, with certain saving differences, as it would have been with Lambert Relph—the lot of wife and mother. She had been terrified, but also perfectly resigned. She was not quite so resigned to the new conditions, because she could not at all understand them. Gervase's motives of pity and tenderness in keeping away from her were quite outside her experience. She remembered certain things he had once said to her about being her father still, and the consideration brought her a little nearer to his mind. He was certainly much older than she, though the decorous waning of desire with age was again outside her experience; and he quite probably did not love her, though here once more experience had nothing to tell her of any inevitable association of desire with love. Of course he was a scholar—one more thing outside her experience—and she came to the conclusion that it was that which made him so different from other men. He spent his nights in study, and doubtless had no time nor inclination for sleeping with a wife he had married only out of goodness and charity. . . . Altogether he was a being far above the common human beings that she knew.

The trouble was that she could not go back to her old happy relationship of trust and devotion. The mere fact of her marriage, of having lain so many nights expecting him, had changed all that. If he had never married her, if he had merely brought her into his house as a daughter or as a servant, she would have been perfectly at her ease; but now she felt conscious with him, and unnatural. Sometimes she longed to be back in the days when he used to sit at the foot of her bed and read the Order for the Visitation of the Sick or hear her say her Catechism. He had gone back to wearing his parson's gown—he was no longer a peacock now, except on occasions when he made himself fine for dinner. But he never came into her room, by day or by night, and having once heard her answer the marriage service correctly, he seemed no longer to care whether or not she knew her Catechism. Sometimes she would try to find some of the old comfort in repeating the Ten Commandments or her Duty Towards her Neighbour; but she soon found that the words lost their savour without his following: "My good child, know this, that thou art not able to do these things of thyself nor to walk in the commandments of God, and to serve him, without his special grace . . ." so that in the end it was easier to forget them entirely.

Apart from the strangeness of her marriage, she was happy enough and growing steadily happier as daily life lost one by one its terrifying aspects. Her waiting woman was a cheerful, lazy creature, chosen for her by Louise on account of her kindly nature rather than for any practical efficiency, and she and Condemnation soon came to terms which allowed one all the independence and the other all the idleness that she wanted. The other servants were too well schooled to be impudent, and that natural quickness which Gervase took for a sign of noble blood soon helped her to acquire manners that would not offend even the kitchen. As she grew accustomed to the ways of the house, she was no longer afraid of giving offence or doing anything wrong. She even learned in time to mix something of her own habit with the ways of Conster, and to spend a part of each day walking by the river or wandering in the woods—freedom from uncongenial toil and unkind companionship doing much to lift the weight of good manners and indoor life which she occasionally found irksome.

Bridget and Ann, returning home in July, found her much improved, and teased her far less than they had done in May. She would often ride out with them on horseback, and they were impressed by the wildness and daring with which she would leap the highest fences and scramble her horse about the woods. She who had galloped bareback on the unbroken colts of her father's farm found these well-trained ladies' hacks as tame as hobbyhorses, and said so. The two girls, who had expected to find her in every way inferior to themselves, were surprised into admiration. Also in their company she lost her provoking gentleness, and talked, shouted and hullooed louder than either of them.

Their return made a certain gaiety for Conster. While they were away scarcely any visitors had come, except Giles de Périgault, who still continued to visit the place regularly—to Gervase's surprise, until he satisfied himself with the explanation that he came to talk French with Louise. He would like him to choose one of the girls, but he remained obstinately without a preference, and it almost looked as if Bride would make a fool of herself with Saul Harman, whom Louise insisted must be admitted to the house when he came, which was fairly often.

"Since you have married his half-sister, my friend, you cannot say that he is not fit to marry your daughter, unless you hold that your marriage makes them of kin."

"Nay, why should it make them of kin, seeing that my wife's no relation to him whatsoever—none at all? But I'd never have my daughter marry into that family of crawling toads, nor have that stinking Roundhead for a father."

Louise, who had of late grown very much more light-hearted, laughed loudly at him.

"Nay, be serious, sister. Surely you can understand my reluctance to have my daughters marry ill when they could marry well. My opinion is that the de Champfort cadet will take Ann, and I don't see why Bride shouldn't have t'other Frenchman."

"Which Frenchman? We have so many here now."

"The big, fair one—de Périgault. I'm told he has money, that his father brought away quite a piece of their fortune from France. Anyway I'd sooner have him for a son than Harman. I'd take it kindly of you, sister, if you'd say a word to him about it."

"I!—but how could I do so?"

"He often comes here, and talks to you more than anyone."

"But I can't force a bride on him."

"Force? force? Who said force? But you may open the subject, may not you? You may give him a pretty strong hint that I dislike his hanging around without intentions."

"But why should he have intentions? Surely, my friend, you can understand a visit of politeness?"

"I can understand one or two, but not a score. He comes too often."

Louise looked vexed.

"If you wish to question him you can do so, though I hope you will not be so hasty. But it's no affair of mine."

"You're the girl's aunt."

"And you're her father. It is for you to make matches for her."

"Eh well, you know I can do nothing with her. She's an obstinate wretch and set on Harman."

"Then why trouble de Périgault? I assure you that he wants her no more than she wants him. He comes here only out of politeness and to wait upon a compatriote. And as for coming often, he does not come nearly so often as William Douce."

Gervase was at once diverted, as she had thought he would be.

"Will? Why, what's wrong with poor Will? He comes here as my guest and to consult me about the furnace."

"His father was clerk of the works before him, but he scarcely ever came to the house."

"That was Charles's affair. Maybe he wasn't as closely interested as I am. I choose to be kept in touch with everything that happens in the bloomery."

He spoke uneasily, for Louise's sharp, brown eyes were upon him, boring cruelly through his defences.

§ 7

Etienne de Champfort, brother-in-law to Madge, came frequently to Conster that summer with de Périgault and an occasional Gasson or le Jolie from Rye; while William Douce chose often to spend his evenings where he could both practise and display his fluent French. Though the place was not so gay as it had been the summer before, when Charles Alard was alive and all the daughters were at home, it was crowded and merry enough in comparison with its spring forsaking. To Condemnation it was all very wonderful, and she soon came to enjoy the talk and laughter and lute-playing. The smooth, soft manners of the young Frenchmen were a pleasant change from those she had hitherto met, either at Newhouse or at Conster. It was still more surprising to have Saul Harman paying her deference and trying to win her favour, even though she knew it was only that he might pay his court to Bridget. Sometimes, sitting of an evening in the great drawing-room soft with candlelight and the thrumming of lutes, while maybe Saul waited on her with comfits on a tray, or a graceful young man with blue eyes and flowing yellow curls smiled up at her as he arranged her footstool, she would remember the rhyme that Gervase had sung to her long ago, the day he had cut her hair:

"Curly locks, Curly locks, wilt thou be mine?
 Thou shalt not wash dishes nor yet feed the swine,
 But sit on a cushion and sew a fine seam,
 And feed upon strawberries, sugar and cream."

Well, it had all happened, and here she was with her cushion and her fine sewing and all the strawberries, sugar and cream that she could eat, which was no small quantity. She had begun to fill out and grow plump, and her voice had lost its timid, childish tones. She almost felt at home at Conster, though as a daughter of the house rather than as its mistress. Louise insisted on her wearing a married-woman's headdress—a little tower of fluted lace that hid the extreme childishness of her curls—but she was in many ways younger than her years, and still enjoyed a game of forfeits or stool-ball. She was, however, too timid and clumsy to dance, and would not be persuaded to join in the dances that sometimes wound up the evening's pleasure.

Nor did Gervase dance, for the official reason that he held it unseemly in a Parson, but really because the dances that he knew were danced no more. The brawl and the coranto had gone out of fashion with doublets and plumed hats; he looked on at what he considered a dreary pacing, whilst his daughters attempted the sarabande, or, under the tuition of the young Frenchmen, the newly-imported minuet. But he was sorry that his little bud should not dance—he did not like to see her sitting there demurely beside Louise while the others paced and pirouetted to William Douce's lute.

One night he asked her why she did not stand up, and she told him she did not know the steps.

"No, child, and nor do I. . . . These aren't the dances I danced when I was young. But one of these young sparks shall teach you. You've but to choose which you will have for dancing master."

"I'd sooner not dance at all. I should be afraid."

"La! Why should you be afraid, sweetheart? You mightn't know the steps, but you'd soon learn them, and all the while you would look as pretty as a bird."

"Nay, nay, I shouldn't—and I'd never learn all those turnings and twiddlings."

"Maybe you're right. They're as abominable as a Dutch puzzle. You should have danced the country dances—they were merry and plain enough. But you may dance them still. This is our house, bud, and we may have what we choose in it. Come, now, I shall ask Will to play us Old Sir Simon. I'll lay you'll have learned the way of it in a twinkle."

"The others wouldn't like it. They're all for the new French dance."

"But they may dance Old English to please their host and hostess. You forget your place, my dear. This is your house and these are your guests. And if none of 'em can teach you a country dance, I'll do it myself. Aye, that's it. I myself shall stand up with you. Come now, Will"—clapping his hands—"we've had enough of bowing and bobbing. Play us a country dance."

Condemnation felt all her old fears coming down on her as the lute changed its tune. She would have given much to stay seated by Louise, but she could not, with Gervase risen up and standing before her. He was wearing his fine new suit and had forgotten all he had ever said about Parsons dancing.

"Come, hurry durry, child—or they'll be through."

And he led her trembling into the set.

Peacock and dove, they paced together, and after a time, a wonderfully short time, she found she was enjoying it. Her beating heels sent the blood to her head—it sang in her ears with the music, and the room became a bubble of colours as the green and red and blue and yellow dresses swung upon the polished floor. When she held Gervase's hand to go up the middle she felt it warm and kind, and the steps were easy enough, a mere running and jumping. She smiled and laughed and bounded, feeling as if it were a game. He himself perhaps danced a little too high, but with a very certain grace, and she was too inexperienced and for once too gay to notice any difference between his skipping and the more languid tread of de Champfort or de Périgault.

That night his kiss was less grave than usual—indeed, she had a sudden feeling of youth and warmth upon her lips that made her uneasy. During that dance, being taught and encouraged by him, she had returned to the lost simplicity of their relations, but now she felt awkward and aware again.

"Art not too tired, pigsnie, with so much dancing?"

"No, no, I'm not tired."

"But you'll fall asleep at once, I'll warrant."

Something newly born in her thought of saying, "I might lie awake." But the words would not leave her tongue. She nodded, as if she had not noticed the search in his voice.

"Eh well, then—dream of your husband."

He patted her lightly on the shoulder, dismissing her to the staircase. But that night she lived her wedding night again—the same waking, the same waiting, the same approach of footsteps that died away.


§ 1

Gervase leaned forward in his chair, his brows furrowed as he strove to gaze into the spirit's face under the mask of Douce's face that covered it. The table was between them, and the only light was a pale shredding of starlight that crept through the curtain folds. But he could see the glimmer of William Douce's eyeballs, rolled up into blindness, and the faint line of his mouth which did not seem to open as a voice came from it, flat and toneless as the voice of sleep.

"It is the voice of Araziel warning thee to act boldly and without delay. If thou waitest longer, the planet will have sunk below the horizon, and Saturn rising will shadow all schemes and hopes and turn them into bitterness. For Saturn is not as Jupiter, and Jupiter is not the light of the sun. Thou must act, or all will become bitter in the Saturnine property."

"Aye, but if I wait longer I tire him and he will sell cheaper."

"He is likelier to sell to another who bargains more swiftly. It is known in Malkuth that the furnace at Pannyngridge is also failing for timber and will buy all that stands."

"But Haneholt's is fifteen miles from Pannyngridge."

"What matter? Are there no horses or oxen? I tell thee thou must be bold, for others are bold, urged by the hunger of the flame."

"I care not so much for the furnace. If it dies when I die, what's that to me?"

"There are those that come after."

"Nay none, since I have no son."

"But thou art free to leave it to whomsoever thou shalt choose—some worthy friend, maybe . . . thou hast a duty to those that love thee, and though thou hast no son in nature thou mayest have a son in alchemy, a son chosen for thee by the free rulers of the stars according to the divine principle. Nature is still in the darkness, in the water-source, but thou mayest beget a son apart from nature, according to the fire and the light."

"I may also beget a son in nature. I still hope that these things may change. After all, the marriage is only six months old."

The spirit was silent for a moment, and a shadow seemed to cross its mask.

"Nay, thou knowest well that Araziel hath naught to say of Venus save: Touch her not. Touch her not. Touch her not. Venus is the weak water-source wherein the elements are quenched. If thou art to triumph thou must keep in the dry lubet of the sun. But I see that thy mind is ever upon Venus; thy mind heareth Venus when I speak of Mars and Jupiter. Thou must altogether be separate from Venus if thou art to carry on thy work."

"You speak of my Treatise on the Eastern Churches?"

"Nay, that is a small part of thy work. Thou shalt do far greater things than that—thou shalt write greater treatises, wherein men shall find wisdom that is to be found nowhere else in human learning. I have much to teach thee still, and thou wilt never learn till thou changest from the water-source to the fiery principle, till thou art altogether Sol."

"What wouldst thou teach me?"

"I would teach thee the wisdom of the magi, of Mercury, Salt and Sulphur, of the light and dark principles, of the nine steps from Malkuth to Kepher. Have I not the lore that was given in the beginning to the sons of God? But I cannot trust thee with such mysteries if thou wilt not obey my commands or if thou quenchest my light in the watery Venus. Learn of me and thou shalt observe the process of the wise men, thou shalt know the signatures, thou shalt rule over the tinctures, essences, properties, sources and astringencies, thou shalt be free in the lubet and have power over all the forms of the spirit's birth."

Gervase was leaning across the table, and it seemed to him as if the mask of Douce's face changed evilly. He suddenly felt afraid.

"There's one thing I would know," he said, "and I would know it now."

"Ask me now, then."

"I ask you of yourself. Tell me—nay, I conjure you, for I must know. I conjure you by the living God to tell me if you are good or evil."

Again a shadow seemed to cross the spirit's mask, and the voice came more sharply.

"I am neither good nor evil."

"But your name is the name of a fallen angel."

"Good and evil are not essences, but appearances; and the fall of the angels was not a fall into evil, but into knowledge."

"I pray you tell me how that can be."

The spirit's voice lost some of its tonelessness; indeed one might say there was a ring of impatience in it.

"The Adonai would have kept angels and men in the light principle, wherein is no difference of forms, so knowledge cannot have its work. For desiring knowledge the angels were cast into the dark principle, wherein also there is no difference of forms; but they were able to maintain themselves in the limbo of the magi which is between light and darkness, and where therefore is knowledge. Aa-a-ah . . ."

The mask became convulsed, and William Douce's hands shivered and beat upon the table. This was the normal sign for the departure of the magistellum, and after a few moments of gasping and struggling, the young man sat up and rubbed his eyes.

Gervase lit the candles, and the little room leapt suddenly into the dim, brown light, showing the books upon the walls, the shrouded window, and the pentagram drawn upon the floor, surrounding both the sitters. A bottle of wine stood with two glasses upon the table. Gervase filled a glass and pushed it toward Douce, who drank it off.

"The spirit came?"

"Aye, the spirit who calls himself Araziel. I conjured him to tell me who he is, for I still fear he may be evil. But he told me that the fall of the angels was not into evil, as I'd hitherto thought, but a fall as it were into knowledge—had they remained innocent they had remained ignorant, because in the light there is no difference of forms. Hitherto I'd always thought that the angels before the fall exceeded in knowledge as in virtue, but according to him it is not so."

"And was all your talk so learned? Had he nothing to tell you of common business? No counsel to give?"

"Nay, but he talked much in the style of alchemy and of astrology, advising me on the rising and setting of planets, fire and essences and the like. He's plainly not of your opinion that such things are contrary to science."

There was a note of triumph in Gervase's voice, for William Douce had more than once spoken disparagingly of the old ways of knowledge, favouring the new sciences and experiments that his master feared. Alchemy and astrology had gone out of fashion with cloaks and doubtlets, the brawl and the coranto, and modern investigations were coming more and more under French influence, and savoured of demonology. Gervase was pleased to find the spirit fluent in Boehme and Paracelsus, whom he considered to be white magicians and reasonable philosophers, rather than in Vair or de Moura, Villapando or the Kabalists, sorcerers whose works he had studied in years gone by but whom he held himself to have forsworn.

William Douce slowly sipped his wine. He looked white and tired, and a trickle of sweat ran down his forehead. He wiped it away.

"But I thought you had many things, private matters, to consult him on. Surely all this theology is a waste of time."

"Nay, since it helps me with my work. He tells me that I'm to do even greater work than my treatise, that he will reveal to me hidden learning, the wisdom of the magi—such as will astonish Wagstaff and Nelson and the non-juring scholars and make them repent altogether of their neglect of me and contempt of my labours."

"But did you not ask him any questions about these things you plan?"

"I plan nothing beyond my treatise."

"Didn't you question him about the furnace?"

"Aye, about the furnace—so I did. And he's all for our buying Haneholt's wood, even at the price Laycock's asking. So you can wait on him again about it, Will, though I should try him first with two hundred pounds."

"But if he won't sell, I may offer his price?"

"Aye, aye. We must have the wood. Seemingly our furnace is to blow for the good of this world and that. I told him, however, that shall bide. Thou art a good lad, Will, and I trust not worn away with all this usage."

Douce was silent. He had gained his point in a small matter, carrying it past an obstinacy that would have kept them bargaining for years. He had also prepared the ground for later assaults. He was not altogether displeased with his labours. . . . But he could have done better if he had not been stopped by a theological discussion, as had so often happened before. Gad! he was weary of this nonsense—of having to wrap up the keen edge of his thought in these old-fashioned clouts. He felt sorry now that his habits of flattery and conformity had led him to give the old fellow all the stuffing he asked for. Yet, in a measure he was right, for it made Alard feel safe to hear the language of the Sciences he had studied in his youth. He had hoped to get more from him now that he could maintain the spirit's voice for so much longer. At first he had not been able to manage more than a few moments and a few disconnected words, but now he could speak pretty freely without moving his lips, though it had made him tired as a dog to-night. His throat ached with weariness—and all for next to nothing.

He stood up.

"Will you of your kindness allow me to go home. Lending one's body to a spirit is weary work."

"To a fallen angel," said Gervase, looking up at him. As he looked up at those pale, stern features in the light above him, it seemed to him for one uneasy moment that Douce's face might indeed be the face of a fallen angel, with its youth scored and marked by evil knowledge, its power held in chains of base desire. The vision passed, but left a curious stamp upon the face the spirit had used. Gervase felt a little shaken.

"Eh well, I must be going too. It's close on two o'clock. I trust you an't too weary."

"Oh no. It will pass."

"And you can meet me again to-morrow?"

Douce was surprised to find him so eager, and a little annoyed. Why should he be deprived of his rest so that an old crow might talk theology?

"Nay, it's too soon. I couldn't give myself again so quickly, and the meeting would be fruitless."

"The next day, then?"

"The next day will be Sunday, when I propose to visit my friends at Milkhouse Street. We can meet on my return."

"On the Monday."

"Very well, then."

For a moment he had forgotten his deference, and spoke as a man conferring favours. He wondered why Gervase was suddenly so eager . . . then he remembered that lately the intervals between their meetings had been growing shorter and shorter until they were within sight of meeting every day. It was Alard who had thus hurried the pace; evidently his itch was increasing.

"You like to talk theology with spirits," he could not resist saying. "You would sooner discuss the nature of God with the magistellum than with our learned Dr. Braceley."

"Dr. Braceley? Foh! It would be no more than talking to a grammar-school lout. But who knows about the other? He has already promised me much. . . . Will, if he should ever reveal to me the secrets and signatures of natural wisdom, I vow that I shan't keep such knowledge to myself, but will share it with thee as a reward for thy services."

"I pray for a better reward than that," was in the heart of William Douce, but on his lips was an assenting gratitude as he opened the door.

The night air blew in, clean as spring water. Gervase stood for a moment in the entrance, watching the sky as it lay over the woods in a dark refreshment. Behind him the light seemed turgid and defiled—the light was less pure than the darkness. He gazed with a curious sense of rebuke at this desert blossoming with night. . . . Above Starvencrow Hill the stars traced a pattern that was both mysterious and immaculate.

§ 2

William Douce was an uninterested practitioner of magic. By a perverseness of fate that might be a quality of his ruling planet, he had been associated all his adult life with a science in which he took no interest. Even his own special gifts and susceptibilities had no power to move him or even to occupy his striving, restless mind. When he was in France his friendship with Tarver had involved him in Tarver's chief obsession. By his side he had sat unmoved through the ultimate rites of Satanism; he had given unmoved the Infamous Kiss, and with no more than a perfunctory shudder of physical disgust had drunk from the Cup of Damnation. But it was all to him so much play-acting, a childish impiety, and but for Tarver he would have avoided it as one avoids the cloacal obscenities of small boys. The minor rites of invocation and divination he had found more interesting, as they were practised privately with his friend and had given him a certain vision of his mind. But when Tarver returned to England, his chief consolation had been that he was now released from the slavery of the mirrors, the Bohemian cards, the pentagrams and the toads.

And here he was mixed up in it all again, as a part of his own return. Not only had he found Tarver as deep as ever in his experiments, but he himself was involved in feebler, less sinister rites with Gervase Alard. He had perhaps been a fool to reveal that he knew anything about the science, but he had seen it as a means to an end, as a part of his recommendation to his employer; and now it was part of whatever hold he had on him. Moreover, that queer sense of difference, of inferiority, that writhed like a serpent at the bottom of his nature, bade him seize on any advantage, on any quality, which recommended him to others. Magic and lute-playing were in that sense the same.

He himself felt a certain contempt of those rites practised in the temnplum, and also a contempt of his associate's growing absorption in them. It was the usual thing, of course. Many times before this he had seen interest become obsession. The occult pool has only a narrow shore, and the dabbler is soon in deep waters. But Gervase's obsession seemed to him of a foolish sort, all overlaid and interlarded with queer notions of his own—with other obsessions that led out of it like so many echoing halls where days are wasted and time forgotten.

For some time he had endured the old fellow's disputations, his arguments, maunderings and harangues, his grotesque preoccupations. He had hoped that among all the chaff a grain or two of wheat might be sifted. But lately he had seemed to stifle in a tempest of chaff. He could almost bear no more; and it was with a sense of escape that he set out on Sunday for Branden Hall, near Milkhouse Street.

At Branden there would of course be magic, but of a different kind. No talk there of alchemy or astrology, no invocation of Jacob Boehme or academic discussions on good and evil. The difference between the temple and the Hall was the difference between England and France. English magic was diffuse, unorganized, sporadic, uncertain and superstitious. It was mostly an affair of witchcraft, and cropped up in diseased old women who sought cheer in the friendship of animals. Half of it did not exist, except in the imaginations of a superstitious peasantry and its ignorant magistrates. Much of what remained was harmless or even helpful.

But French magic was an organized ritual and a formulated science. In every large town there were lodges of magicians, at whose meetings or Sabbats a travesty of religious ceremonial was performed under a president or "devil," who was generally a disgraced priest. The whole aim and method was evil and to create evil, and though the victim whose blood was outpoured, might be, and was in the majority of cases, only a cock, there was constant rumour and certain evidence that the blood of infants was in some places used as the ritual prescribed. Every now and then there would be an outcry and uprising against it, but it was at present too firmly stablished in high places to be overthrown.

At Branden, naturally, the thing must be modified. But Tarver would have nothing of English witchcraft. He had contrived to form a small lodge, consisting of himself, Douce, and one or two friends; but at their Sabbats there could be no Abomination, for the reason that they had no unfrocked priest among them; nor, being Protestants, had they the same urge to travesty the Mass. They contented themselves mostly with the raising of spirits, and it was from them that Douce had learned much of his method with Gervase Alard. Characteristically, however, he had contented himself with merely imitating the phenomena; he had never attempted to reproduce them. After all, if an old fish can be caught with a worm, why trouble to bait him with a dragon.

The dragon was at large in the kitchen of Branden that Sunday night, though his voice was only a feeble mewing, a rattling squeak that came now from the rafters, now from within the walls, now from the hollows of the chimney. Douce sat between Tarver and his new friend Elliland, and hatred and jealousy fed the dragon as a calf is fed with hay. They wore hairy masks, to which were fixed stags' antlers, and their shadows were grotesque upon the wall. Sometimes Elliland would throw himself back and gasp and foam, and speak with the flat, toneless voice that Douce had learned to use. But he himself did not use it—rather it used him, and he would awake afterwards as from an evil dream, pawing at an invisible wall that seemed to be there.

Then they used de Moura's invocation—Tarver officiating, while Douce and Elliland stood by with the four other friends, crying "Har! Har! Har! Har!" The spirit that came was like a sugar-loaf, white on the top and about a foot high. It ran to and fro among the sitters and spoke with an audible voice, but its words could not be understood. Tarver and Elliland were excited, and stamped and shouted themselves into a frenzy: the four other friends were terrified almost out of their lives. William Douce was neither afraid nor excited, but sat watching the scene with sad, indifferent eyes, while his heart still fed the dragon.

§ 3

At the end of the evening the four foolish friends were so frightened that they would not ride home, but had to be given beds in the house. Douce, who was not frightened and had to be early next day at the furnace, rode off alone.

It was a still, dark night, windless and starless, with the edges of the earth and sky woven together by rain. On either side of the road high hedges towered against a sky that was only faintly lighter than their darkness. Many a man would have been afraid to undertake such a journey on such a night, but Douce feared the night and the journey no more than he had feared the spirits. His eyes were good; their pupils spread to catch the radiations of the hidden stars, the glimmers of sky and water. As for his horse, he had many times travelled the road, and could smell his home through the drizzling October rain.

William Douce felt restored by his visit to Branden Hall. Just as a man of another stamp might feel renewed by communion with the godly so Douce's tormented spirit was comforted by those hours with Tarver and his friends, in the dark kitchen where the dragon scratched and mewed. It was not the magic which had done it, but the breath of the place—the turbulent atmosphere of love and hate and jealousy which it was natural for him to breathe, instead of the flat, stale atmosphere of toil and pretence which he was forced to breathe at Conster. He felt better, as a man feels after a return to his native air.

He could now think clearly, with a mind unclouded by the frets and vexations which had beset him on his morning's journey. He saw that he had been wrong to despise his experiments with Gervase Alard. They were undoubtedly, if slowly and exasperatingly, fulfilling a purpose even beyond that which he had first intended. Not only had they recommended him to his employer, but they had given him an importance which he might otherwise never have attained. Alard was a queer old dog, and it was easy enough to make mistakes about him. He would one day appear obstinate and another careless, one day shrewd and another crack-brained: his mind was full of conceits and follies and enthusiasms. He was warm-hearted and generous, and yet so rotten with vanity as to be blind to the needs of those he loved best as well as to his own. It was something to have taken hold of his curiosity . . . and at their last meeting he had been shown how near that curiosity had become to craving.

It was a craving which he, William Douce, alone could satisfy; the mere granting or withholding gave him power. He knew too how such power increases, as craving becomes obsession. He had seen men of greater stability than Gervase Alard utterly dominated by their need of the magical and mysterious. All he had to do was to ladle out the right quantities of mercury, salt and sulphur, signatures, seethings and sources, and all the rest of the astro-chemical candle.

It was worth his while to be patient, to subdue his own intellectual rebellion against the old-fashioned stuff. After all, he was not making serious investigations—magical science had never been with him more than a means to an end. He had endured and still endured its darker implications to maintain his friendship with Tarver; he could as well endure its follies to maintain and increase his influence over Squire Alard. Tarver sought power unnaturally—he practised conjurations and invocations to draw to himself forces otherwise alien or indifferent and thus obtain a mastery denied him in the course of nature. But for Douce there was no need to go outside nature to establish his dominion over a vain, credulous, warm-hearted, mock-learned old man. He required no more than common deceits. All he had to do was to make himself necessary to Gervase Alard, as necessary as a son—more necessary than a son.

He saw now that his chances were entirely personal. He could not hope to inherit Conster Furnace save as Alard's "son in alchemy"—as Araziel had very neatly put it. At one time he had hoped for some political assistance. The State that had taken Conster from Alard and given it to Douce and then from Douce and given it back to Alard, might well take it from Alard again. But he had soon found that the local legend of the Squire as a Jacobite was based on no firmer foundation than the obscurities of his explanation of himself as a non-Juror. If he was truly a Jacobite he was a stranger one than even he was likely to be, since cannon forged under his eye in his own bloomery had driven King James from the Boyne and battered the walls of Limerick. Moreover, Araziel had sounded him, and been answered in terms of oaths and bishoprics, phoenixes and the Lord's anointed. . . . It was a pity that he seemed to have grown suspicious of Araziel. It might be wise at some future time to change the nature of the magistellum and conjure a milder spirit. . . . But Araziel had served his purpose well enough.

Had it not been for Araziel, William Douce would have known nothing of the conditions of his master's marriage, since Alard was not the man to unbosom himself on such a matter to any human being. He had made his confidences entirely in the belief that his clerk of the works lay asleep while a spirit used his voice. If Araziel had done no more than that he would still be worth the sweat of his production. Once more the morning's doubts and obscurities were resolved in the clearness of night. It was wonderful how much more clearly he thought by night than by day—more clearly and more hopefully. The rain beating on his face seemed to beat up his blood, to beat up his spirits into a kind of exaltation. He felt apart from the horse under him, from the creak of leather and the clop of hoofs. He seemed to float between the hedgerows, down the black fissure of the lane. The hedges sank as the lane dipped to the marshes and the wind came over them, wet and blustering. A hidden moonlight gleamed on the Rother, drawn like a pale string across the levels. He thought of another river farther south, and of a furnace standing beside it among cinder-heaps like silvery mountains—a landscape of the moon. That pale moon-place was Douce's—Douce's Furnace beside the River Tillingham, as it had been fifty years ago. Douce—Douce—Douce—the name lived on among the woods and marshes long after Alard's was gone.

Alard's name would soon be gone. The old man was just the sort to die suddenly of a fit or an apoplexy; he would leave no son. His marriage was a wraith, a shadow . . . yet he, William Douce, would be foolish to minimize its importance. He must not make that mistake. In some ways it was even more important than when he had thought it an affair of lust in the control of a parson's conscience. Its significance had then lain only in the chance of an heir, but now he saw that Alard's love for his wife was a love to be reckoned with, since it had generated restraint instead of passion. He saw a self-denying, humble love growing up as a green core in the heart of a rotten tree. The danger of the heir faded into the background, but Condemnation herself became a danger, which she had never been before.

He was already so much aware of this that at times he felt inclined to use the voice of Araziel to urge Gervase to take by force what he had hitherto denied himself. That would almost certainly destroy love by taking from it the glory of virtue and giving it the sickly colours of lust. Such a love was likely to die of a bad conscience, and there were moments when love seemed a bigger danger than procreation. But he did not think that any attempt of this kind could possibly succeed, being in fact an assault on Alard's strength rather than on his weakness. Besides, it might only bring the heir. . . . No, it was safer to starve love than to burn it up. He had been right to do all he could to keep husband and wife apart; though it might not be a bad thing if he gave Alard a new motive for continence. Let chastity be for his own sake rather than his wife's, and in time love would be consumed by the denials that were now cherishing it. All the magistellum had to do was to bubble his postulant with the claims of his maggotty Treatise, in a language approved by his old-fashioned ignorance. . . .

Douce's horse pricked up his ears as his master laughed upon his back, trying over his phrases. . . . "Beware of the planet that corrupts the gold; beware of the child in royal colour that shall upset the seven kingdoms of learning; beware of the weak water-source wherein Sol is quenched. Let the artist care for the work, nor rest, nor give himself to any source till he see the vegetative life appear in the dark death. . . . There it is, old conjuror—there's the sauce for your mutton."

Then his thoughts switched back to Condemnation. Had she any place in this other than a pawn's place on the board? Poor little brown girl. . . . Riding in the darkness, through the soft invisible rain, he felt light-hearted enough to pity her. Pity, pity—that should be her share. "Pity like a naked, new-born babe." . . . Even her husband must pity her more than he loved her. It was pity, after all, that had made him take her and pity that had made him renounce her. He could not have loved her when he had offered her in marriage to Douce, and if he loved her now it was only with a love fed on pity—on milk and water. His love was pale and pure, pale as milk and pure as water. It had no deep, fiery strength; it could not stand against the storms of his own curiosity, of the foolish wild desires of his foolish thwarted youth, rumbling in him like a colic. . . . No, poor little brown girl, you haven't a chance—only pity, pity like a naked new-born babe. There is the fruit of your love, and in time you'll grow weary of nursing it, and go to lie under the hedge with some ploughboy or gipsy lad, as your father lay with your mother and begot you—poor little naked pity.

§ 4

Condemnation had never liked William Douce since the day Gervase offered him to her, with the other young men, as a possible husband. She had indeed taken a dislike to, all those young men, but Douce was the only one with whom it had persisted. It had soon lost its original base, and had acquired new foundations, first in fear and then in jealousy.

She did not know why she was afraid of him, even afraid of his loud, sudden laugh, of his lute-playing and his brightly coloured clothes. At first she had seen him only at the house, when he came up to play and sing and entertain them. Later she had seen him at the furnace, stripped to the waist and standing in the great heat of the bloomery, his body shining with sweat and ruddy with the fire till it looked like a red-hot mould. Whether stripped or clad there was something strange and unpleasant about him—as if he were not real. . . . She could not tell, and her feelings were almost out of reach of her thoughts, but sometimes it seemed to her as if he were not a real person, not a real man like Gervase or Saul or Monsieur de Périgault. . . . She could never feel easy with him.

Lately she had come to think that he did not like her any more than she liked him. He was always polite and obliging, but he looked at her as if he did not like her—sometimes she would catch his big, dark, rather prominent eyes fixed upon her with a curious intentness. His eyes were always unhappy, but in them at such moments she would see, or rather feel, something darker than unhappiness. She wondered why he should dislike her, but after all if she could dislike him without any reason he need have no reason for disliking her. Later on, when she found out that she was jealous of him, she wondered if he too were jealous.

It was not till the end of the winter that she became jealous, when she had been married almost a year. All through the winter he and her husband seemed to be more and more together, down at the furnace or upstairs in Gervase's study. Douce was always coming to the house, strutting up to the door in his gay green waistcoat, his surcoat with crimson froggings and a wide brown hat—on Sundays he wore green silk stockings and a huge waterfall of a cravat. Gervase in his Sunday best looked like a moulting cock beside him. He would often tease William Douce for his smartness and neatness. "Here comes our young spark. Here comes our gallant." But his teasing was affectionate, and he seemed unhappy if Douce did not come, if for any reason he was away at Milkhouse Street. He liked Douce to be always at the house, as if he were a son, and Condemnation, watching them together, would sometimes feel a pang of loneliness.

Then loneliness would burn quickly into jealousy. If he was as dear as a son, she was no dearer than a daughter. She had to meet him on his own ground without any wifely privileges or advantages. She would not have been jealous of him if she had been in reality Gervase's wife—but her marriage was no more real than William Douce. When she thought of this, the tears would dance like knives at the back of her eyes, and her hands would become hard fists upon her needlework. She would long to lunge them into Douce's unhappy, gazing eyes, long to smack him and beat him out of the house.

After a while she was confirmed in these feelings by the discovery that Louise Alard shared them. Condemnation loved Louise better than anyone except Gervase. The older woman had again and again proved herself her friend, and had won the reward of much patience in a devotion which, though long withheld by timidity, was in the end most gratefully and passionately given. Louise had done her best to prevent the marriage, but when she saw that it could not be prevented she had set herself the task of saving it from disaster. She had been unfailingly kind and sympathetic to the poor little bride, she had done her best to remove her fears and win her confidence, also to help her in every way to fill with credit her difficult position. Without any illusions about her, she had in the course of a year trained Condemnation into a fairly presentable young lady. She had taught her to dress herself with neatness and care, to keep her hair and body clean, to wear her caps with dignity; and not to go to bed naked. She had taught her to use a knife and fork at table, to eat and drink without noisy chewing and gulpings, to play cards and sing simple songs to the lute. She had certainly taught her more in a year than she had been able to teach her nieces in their lives; indeed Condemnation's only lapses into barbarism were in their company, when she was too much their equal in age and status to be able to resist joining in their horseplay, tumblings, rompings, whoopings and general wildness.

To Louise, as to William Douce, the discovery of the nature of the marriage had made a great difference. She had very soon found out that she was wrong in her first view of it, though Condemnation never actually confided in her. She was surprised and not altogether approving. No doubt it had been well to start in this way, but it must not go on indefinitely. Such a marriage held in itself the seeds of trouble, and though the bride so far seemed happy enough, she soon came to feel anxious about her brother.

As the winter passed he seemed to grow more and more eccentric and remote from them all. She sometimes came upon him talking to himself, and he was cracking his fingers more and more. . . . He looked older, too; she was continually having to remind herself that he was not really an old man. She wondered if he were studying too much, working too hard on his Treatise . . . but she found it increasingly difficult to take his studies seriously. He spent much of his time in that ridiculous temple, going there frequently, she knew, at dead of night; but she could not imagine that he was always usefully employed there. More likely he sat brooding and gazing into nothing, as she had often seen him sit at home—his staring eyes the guardians of an empty house.

Apart from these changes in body and mind, she saw other changes for the worse. He had almost entirely given up going to church, saying that he could not endure the way Dr. Braceley read the prayers. There was a conventicle for non-Jurors at Wadhurst, but he said it was too far away and would not trouble himself to ride there even once. Louise's own religious life was not such as to make her stress public worship unduly, but she deplored the difference in her brother's habit, the loosening of ties and the dying out of loyalties. There was also a change in his attitude towards Condemnation; it seemed to lose some of its tenderness. There was now a distance in his "bud" and "sweetheart," as if he found her no more than a child about the house.

It was all, she told herself, the result of his unnatural marriage, and that same marriage she felt convinced was responsible for the increasing influence of William Douce. Louise was heartily tired of the young man and of his continual visits to the house. He was entertaining enough, and his manners were good—French manners, in fact; but she had never really liked him, and now she liked him less than ever. If Gervase hankered for a son let him beget one of his own body, instead of adopting—for such it virtually amounted to—this rather undeserving young fellow.

Unlike Condemnation, she knew quite well why she disliked William Douce. In spite of his accomplishments, she held him to be fundamentally ill-bred, and she could see that his years in France had done him no good, had brought him into contact with some bad element that was continually showing itself to her in his words and looks. She disliked his gaiety, which she thought false—no man should have such a laugh that had such eyes. She disliked his youth, which was also false. He was more than thirty years old—old enough to have lost the manners of a boy.

His influence over Gervase she held to be most unfortunate, for though she could not point at the moment to any mismanagement of the furnace or any peculiar dishonesty, she thought it most likely that some day he would fill his pockets at his employer's expense. Gervase knew nothing about the furnace and very little about the estate, and would certainly neither criticize nor inspect very closely the dealings of anyone he trusted, and Louise knew that he trusted where he loved. But apart from these considerations such a close friendship with his clerk of the works was not right or dignified. Gervase and Douce could have nothing fundamentally in common, and she found it hard to believe that the young man would endure his obstinacy and aberrations without some strong self-interest to sustain him.

§ 5

She often wondered what Condemnation thought of it all, but for some time she never asked her, being unwilling to question her on so personal a matter. Louise was essentially reserved, and Condemnation had still in many ways the natural secrecy of a wild thing. Their intercourse had been limited almost entirely to external matters, though on such things they had now come to chat very pleasantly together. But as time passed, the older woman felt that she could not conscientiously remain silent. Here, much more than in any case of manners or decorum, her advice was needed; and such a talk might also resolve some of her own perplexities. It was her duty to break the silence, and she must find her opportunity.

She found it one afternoon when she and the girl were sitting in the parlour after a long visit from de Périgault. Condemnation was not usually there when he came, thinking that he and Louise preferred to be alone, so that they might talk French together. But to-day her sister-in-law had asked her to stay, and she had been glad to sit and listen while he talked in the charming, halting English he used out of courtesy to herself. She liked him better than any of the other young men who came to the house.

As soon as he was gone, she jumped up to put away her work and run out into the garden, for she was tired of sitting still; but Louise bade her wait a moment.

"I have something to ask you."

"What is it, Ma'am?"

"Do you like William Douce?"

Condemnation changed colour in surprise at being asked so close a question, and for a moment forgot the language of her new life.

"'At that I döan't."

"Why don't you like him, my dear?"

The girl was silent.

"I don't like him either, so you needn't be afraid to speak."

"He—he don't seem real, somehow—and he laughs like a gallybird."

"Not real? How do you mean?"

Condemnation became confused.

"I couldn't say for certain."

"Do you mean that he is acting a part?"


"I am not sure if he's acting . . . I don't know. But he's too much with your husband."

Condemnation thrust her needle so violently into her work that she pricked her knee.

Louise pressed her: "Do you not think so?"

"Aye, he's for ever at the house—he walks in as if it belonged to him; and—and"—her words suddenly rushed stammering out—"he treats me as if it didn't belong to me, as if I wasn't there, and I reckon—reckon Sir Gervase is beginning to do the same."

Angry tears choked her voice. Louise spoke tenderly.

"My dear child, he must not do that—you must not let him."

"How can I stop him?"

"By taking what's yours."

Condemnation looked as if she did not understand, and Louise continued:

"I do not speak of Douce. I speak of your husband. He is your husband; he is yours, and you have first claim on him. You must not let this young man come between you."

"But Sir Gervase would be angry if I bade him keep away."

Louise smiled at her naïveté.

"No, I shouldn't do that. But you have a power over Sir Gervase that no one else can have—the power of love. I don't understand his reason for being so friendly with this young man—it is that which alarms me; but I do not think he would be so friendly if his wife loved him more."

Her words were designed to cut away the roots of any pretence, and for a moment she wondered if Condemnation would be hurt by them. But she was not hurt, neither did she pretend: she answered plainly:

"I do love him."

"I know you do—but does he know it?"

"As much as he wants. But he doesn't want me much."

Her tears were flowing quietly now. Louise rose from her chair, crossed the room to her and put her arms round her as she sat disconsolate.

"Sweetheart, forgive me—but does he never come to your bed?"

Condemnation shook her head, shaking her tears into Louise's bosom.

"But he is your husband."

"Aye, I know—but he would sooner be my father . . . and—and he would sooner have a son than a daughter."

"If you gave him a son . . ."

"I can never do that."

"But you must. It is wrong for things to be as they are. I believe you could change them. I'm sure he loves you, and it may be through a mistaken idea of your wishes that he never comes to you. You must show him that you want him."

"I could never do that."

"Why not?"

"I should be afraid."

"Of whom? Of him?"


"But you love him."

"Aye, I love him, but I'm scared of him too. If he'd come to me that first night I shouldn't so much have minded, but he went out instead——"

"Out? Where did he go?"

"I reckon to his temple in the garden. He goes down there and studies hard o'nights. I've heard him go time upon time . . . at first I thought he'd be sure to come to me, and I waited, and waited . . . but he always went out; and now I wouldn't have him come."

She laid her head on Louise's shoulder, sobbing bitterly. The older woman felt both indignant and compassionate. It was wicked of Gervase to spend his nights in study instead of with his wife, and it was pitiful too, considering how little good it was likely to do him. He sat there reading and scribbling when he might be comforting this child—he preferred making a son of his clerk to begetting a son of his own. Her brother was crazy. A brief passion of anger seized her and made her for a moment vow she would trouble no more about him. But the next she looked down at Condemnation's dark head upon her bosom, and knew that she must continue her efforts for her sake. It was shameful that she should be like this, a mere child in her own house. Of course in a measure she was to blame. She must have let many chances slip. Yet perhaps it was unreasonable to look for the wiles of experience in such a young thing—a young English thing, too. Condemnation had no coquetry, no practised allure. Well, such things must be added to her accomplishments, that was all—more lessons for her to learn. . . . But she would not trouble her any more with them now. She must move surely and carefully in her preparation of such delicate ground.

§ 6

In a day or two Condemnation was happy again. Her conversation with Louise had been like the opening of a wound, but now once more the wound was only a scar. She still had her fears and her distrusts, but it was comforting to know that the kind and clever lady shared them: her understanding seemed to hold a measure of protection.

Condemnation now had her own ways in the house, and they were not all known to Louise. Realizing how much of her time must be spent in the drawing-room with her lute or her embroidery frame, how little her dear monitress approved of her lonely roamings in the woods or her horseplay with the girls, she had reverted to her old habit of wandering out at night or in the early morning: Spring had come with its freshness of dew and stars, and the fields and woods she loved were no longer shut away from her at night in darkness and the howling wind. She could go out into them in the early morning when colour was first awake, and the glades were clothed in lightless green, with pale streaks of rose and yellow piled on the sky behind them.

She would wander up into those failing woods, where the tallest trees were already gone, and look down over the bare hillside where the stumps rose like dead wooden Aetnas . . . all the way down to the red eye of the furnace, gleaming among the slag heaps and cinder heaps that stood round it now as tall as itself. Some of the oldest cinder heaps had become covered with dust and soil out of which had budded small plants and flowers, with here and there a young tree among them, a tiny oak or apse, seeded by the wind.

Often she would go down to the furnace and wander among these blossoming slag heaps and fill her hands with little fragile flowers fed on the fire's leavings. She was always careful to avoid the times when she thought William Douce would be there; to shun him she would creep and scramble among the hills, not taking the river path till it had run beyond the track that came from La Petite Douce. But once she had been surprised to meet him all the same, to see him coming as if from the temple. He looked pale and hollow-eyed, and she wondered if he had been working at the furnace all night and then walked out by the river to cool himself. A hurried and not very cordial greeting passed between them. She was both surprised and annoyed to see him, but it did not occur to her to wonder what he thought of her, roaming about the country when she was supposed to be in bed.

Once or twice when she passed the temple she looked in, and smelled respectfully the smell of books. She greatly revered her husband's studies, even though they had deprived her of his society. Indeed, she sometimes thought that if she had been a properly married woman she could not come out like this to wander where she pleased while the rest of the house was asleep. She wondered how long Gervase studied—she never heard him come in, but she knew that he came in before she went out, while she was still asleep, because the little side door they both used was always fastened on the inside. The servants knew that she sometimes went out early, but she did not think they knew about Gervase.

§ 7

Sometimes she went out at night instead of in the morning, but not so often, because she was afraid of Galloping Kate. The people of Leasan said that on windy nights you could hear and sometimes see Kate Alard, sister of Simon Alard the Popish priest, galloping up Starvencrow Hill to Superstition Corner. The legend was that she had set out to warn the recusant Tuktons of that day that a raid was planned against them, but had arrived too late, to find the Mass-house already beset and in flames. Then she had ridden to Chichester and died of the plague . . . and many of the folk round Superstition Corner had seen her setting out on her vain quest, on a great black horse whose eyes were balls of fire, with fiery horns coming out of her hair and lighting up her face.

Condemnation was very much afraid of her, and never went out at night unless it were fine and still, for Kate rode only in the wind. The May of that year was particularly fine, and the moonlight tempted her to the river. The peacock room seemed shrouded and stuffy in such weather, and often after a few hours' sleep she would escape into the moonlight and enjoy an hour or two in the silver world. On these occasions she did not use the little side door, but her own window, which was only ten feet from the ground, letting herself down by the stout ivy that covered the wall. Louise would have been horrified to see her pupil scrambling down the wall like a cat, but Condemnation was afraid of meeting Gervase if she used the door, for often at such a time he would still be out.

One night she thought she would go to the temple and watch him at his studies. It was only just after midnight, and as she had heard him go out she knew that he must be there. She avoided the path beside the river in case she met him on it—he would scold her if he found her wandering at such an hour and perhaps he would tell Louise. So she crept by the tall reeds that bordered the dyke a hundred yards away, and came to the templum from the south, across a field of marshland washed white by the moon.

As she drew near she was surprised to hear a voice—he was not alone, then. Whom could he be talking to there among his books? Her mind immediately leapt to William Douce—not that she could think of any reason for his being there, but she could not imagine who else it could be. Perhaps he was teaching William Douce, as he had once taught her . . . at such a thought all her jealousy flared up, filling her with anger and pain. She did not ask herself why he should teach him in the middle of the night when they spent a good part of the day together; jealousy had deprived her of reason and of any further doubt.

She ran stealthily to the temple and leaned against the wall under the window. She would listen before she looked. But directly she heard the voice so close she knew that it was not Gervase's or Douce's . . . the revulsion of feeling almost made her weep. Whose, then, could it be? It was low-pitched and monotonous and rather sad; it was difficult to distinguish what it said, but now and then a phrase would reach her, though, without enlightenment, for it was full of long and strange words. Then suddenly she caught Gervase's voice—high, cracked and eager: "But if you tell me that, then you're putting all power into my hands—you're revealing to me the signature of all natural things." The voice resumed: "But you must first . . ."

Condemnation was bewildered. Whom could he be meeting here? Why were they talking together like this at dead of night? She remembered tales she had heard while she was with the Harmans, about the Squire being anxious to bring King James back again and concerning himself with Jacobite plots. Perhaps this was a Jacobite plot . . . she remembered the words Power and Signature, which might have something to do with the King. . . . In that case the man who talked with him was most likely Mr. Parsons, whom everyone said was a Jacobite agent as well as a Popish priest. . . . She wished she could see them. The window, which was a simple casement, stood ajar and she was able to put in her finger and just move the thick curtains. But there was no light inside the room. They were sitting in the dark. She wondered why.

Then suddenly a strange and surprising thing happened. A blue light shone between the curtains. She could see through the gap between them how it was lighting up the room, showing two heavy human shapes sitting at the table. One of them seemed to be rubbing something under the table . . . then he seemed to be struggling—rolling his head upon the table and beating it with his hands. Then he straightened himself with a deep sigh, and at that moment Gervase struck flint and steel and lit a candle. Then she saw that the other man was William Douce after all.

She flattened herself against the wall, staring with fixed eyes through the gap in the curtains. She had no scruples about eavesdropping—throughout her short, turbulent life she had found it too useful a form of self-defence to be discarded for any moral reasons. At Newhouse she had crept about like a cat and listened like a hare. She was cat and hare to-night.

William Douce spoke in his natural voice.

"Did they come?"

"Aye, Araziel and Batrael. I spoke with both of them. Will, they asked me if I wished to speak with the dead."

"And you answered?"

"That I should dearly love a word with my brother Charles if such could be procured without the sin of Endor."

"Which doubtless they told you could be done."

"They said it should be at their pleasure. But it must also be at your pleasure, Will. When can you sit with me again?"

"I can't come again this week."

"But it's only Tuesday. I pray you, Will . . ."

A conversation followed which Condemnation scarcely listened to, for her eye had caught the pentagram upon the floor, also something smoking in a small cup on the table. Gervase and Douce murmured together, and it seemed to her that her husband's tones were those of supplication. Once he lifted his voice and she caught a whole sentence: "If you will meet me Friday, you shall have your way about the culverins—that is, should the spirits approve, as they doubtless will." What did he mean? She could not hear Douce's reply, but she saw him put out his foot and wipe out the sign upon the floor.

Then an unreasonable terror seized her. For a moment she could not move, but remained cowering, blotted against the wall. Then her limbs found power, and she leaped like an animal into flight, strangling the screams that bubbled in her throat as she ran beside the river. She did not know whom or what she was afraid of, whether of Douce or of Gervase, or of Galloping Kate. All she knew was that something dreadful had happened and had plunged her into such fear that even the fire of her jealousy was quenched in it.

§ 8

When she came to Conster she was in too much of a shiver to climb the ivy to her room, but went in through the door, which of course was still open and without danger, since she had left Gervase far behind her in his temple. She was sweating and her heart beat frantically, but neither the sweat nor the heartbeat seemed to come from her running. They were part of this possessing terror which pumped at her heart and crept upon her skin. She could not shake it off, even now that she was safe home again—home, that is, but how safe? . . . Ghosts can follow you . . . and she turned round, fearing to see Galloping Kate behind her in the hall, staring at her with her horned deer's face. She could see nothing but the moon, swimming high across the blazoned staircase window; then suddenly a shivering crack seemed to go all through the house, as if its ancient timbers were squeezed together in a giant hand. Panic overmastered her and twisted her nature. It was no longer enough merely to run somewhere, she must run to someone, to some comforting human refuge. She forgot to creep, but clattered up the stairs crying for help.

"Help! Help!"

Her voice went before her into Louise's parlour, where she sat with Mr. Parsons, who had arrived unexpectedly an hour ago. The next moment they heard her burst into the adjoining bedroom, and Louise ran in to save her from the terror of finding it empty.

"My dear, my dear, what has happened? Tell me . . . what is it, then?"

She led her into the parlour and Mr. Parsons poured her out a glass of cordial, which she drank without appearing to notice him. She then grew a little calmer, and sat in one of the chairs, staring with huge, frightened eyes at them both.

"Now, child," said Louise, "cannot you tell us what has happened?"

For one unhappy moment she thought that it was Gervase who had frightened her, but the next she doubted it.

"Why are you dressed? Have you not been to bed? It is past midnight."

"No-I—I've been out."

"Out of doors?"

"Aye—to the temple."

"What temple? I do not understand."

"Where Sir Gervase works at his studying—I thought I'd watch 'un there—but then I heard . . . I saw . . ." terrified sobs strangled her voice.

"What! the Squire isn't hurt? . . ." "Tell me, has any harm come to Gervase?" cried Parsons and Louise together.

"Nay, I know not . . . but William Douce . . ."

Once more she became hysterical and they had some difficulty in calming her and still more in finding out what had happened. Though at the time she had not been frightened at all—not even when the blue light appeared—she could not now think of the scene without frantic terror. That last moment of it seemed to have swallowed up the rest. For some time she could only talk confusedly and they had to make what they could out of the rags and shreds she gave them. William Douce and Galloping Kate were mixed up together with lights and stars and tokens. There had been a Voice and it had said . . . and Sir Gervase had said . . . and William Douce had rubbed out the signs upon the floor with his foot . . . and he should have his way about the culverins . . . and William Douce was in a falling sickness, rolling his head upon the table . . . and Sir Gervase had begged him to meet him a' Friday . . . and all the house had cracked. . . .

It was Mr. Parsons who first pieced together anything like what had really happened. He had his knowledge of an earlier conversation with Gervase to guide him, also some rumours he had heard in Kent of Douce's visits to Milkhouse Street.

"It was a magical experiment," he said to Louise, when her eyes turned to him in perplexity. "Your brother has always been interested in magic and I believe practised it when he was in France."

"He has never spoken of it."

"He has spoken of it to me. I understood then that he'd left it all behind him, but had kept his books. I begged him to destroy his books; it's a pity he hasn't done so."

Louise looked bewildered and disgusted. She had left France too young to have heard much about the dark tide that was rising over it; but she knew vaguely from a later hearsay that things had happened in Paris and in Tours and in other large towns which had caused considerable anxiety to the ecclesiastical rulers and disquieting rumours among decent people. She found it impossible to connect her brother-in-law with such tales as had reached her.

"I cannot believe . . . Gervase—he is strange, I know, but I know too that he is not wicked."

"He may be deluded."

"And William Douce . . . how can he . . ." Then she remembered. "He is just come from France."

"I know it; and I've heard that he's on friendly terms with a family in Kent about whom there are the strangest rumours. He may have revived your brother's early interest."

"Then he should be thrown into prison. Magic is witchcraft, and witchcraft is a crime. . . . We should find a Magistrate . . ."

"It would be difficult to punish William Douce without injuring your brother."

The momentary flare of her disgust died down.

"Yes, I know well, and no good would come of such a scandal. But all this accounts for his influence over him. He is taking advantage of his weakness—c'est infâme. . . . Tell me, child—did the voice you heard come from William Douce?"

"It came from 'un, but 'tweren't his'n—no, 'twere never his'n."

"But he could have feigned it—he may not actually have led my poor brother into commerce with devils."

"There are doubtless," said Parsons, "as many devils in such deceit as could ever be raised by the De Incantationibus."

"Aye, I know it—and he is determined to have his way with him—to rule him. I have often deplored his influence; only the other day I was lamenting it. But I never thought it would come to this. This is horrible."

She shuddered. For the moment she was inclined to accept the necromantic interpretation.

"Tell me what you truly think of it," she said to Parsons.

"I don't know what to think. It may be either way. The invocation of spirits is a common form of magical art, and it would be easy enough to feign results. . . . On the other hand, there are some men who yield themselves more easily than others to demonological uses, and from what I know I can well imagine Master Douce to be such a one."

"Yes . . . and he is equally the kind to plot all sorts of craft."

"Maybe. I should certainly think so. But if there was no spirit, how do you account for the terror of this poor young gentlewoman."

"Oh, as to that," said Louise with a glance at Condemnation huddled over her cordial, which was beginning to put back the colour into her face, "she has been bred all her life to look for ghosts and goblins, and to see them in every moving shadow or patch or moonshine. Why, to-night, she is more full of Galloping Kate than of William Douce—poor Kate Alard, who died in the true religion and is now in heaven, but whom the villagers must see galloping round their houses with horns on her head. This place is well named Superstition Corner."

Parsons sighed.

"How long will it be before men realize that superstition comes of the defect of religion rather than the excess of it . . . ? Well, be the facts as they may, William Douce is no true servant to your brother. Whether he intendingly deceives him or impiously encourages him in abominable arts, he does evil and devils are about."

"Yes, I know it well, and her ladyship and I have talked of it—of his influence, that is to say, for till just now we neither of us knew anything further. But we can do nothing. At least"—with a piercing glance at Condemnation—"I cannot."

"I will talk to him myself if you wish, but I doubt if he'll hear me."

"I doubt it too. He has always been obstinate—it is almost impossible to make him hear reason on any subject he has close at heart, though I have been able sometimes to persuade him in small matters."

"No doubt this is the lady," said Mr. Parsons, with a kind little bow toward Condemnation, "who will be able to persuade him in a larger matter."

"Yes," said Louise grimly, "it is she, and she only. Do you hear that, child?"

Condemnation nodded.

"You must beg him, for your sake," said Parsons, "never to touch such things again."

"But I dursn't . . . no, I'd never dare tell 'un what I've seen."

"You will have to tell him," said Louise, "unless you are resolved never to be a wife, but always a child in the house—William Douce's younger sister."

Her words bit, but Condemnation was too stricken to cry. Louise came over to her and took the empty glass from her hand.

"Come, my dear, you are better now. You must go to bed."

"You'll come with me, Ma'am?"

"Yes, I will come with you, but I cannot stay, for I have business with my friend here—important business."

Condemnation rose reluctantly, and Louise drew her arm through hers. Together they went down the great empty staircase, glassy with moonlight.

§ 9

Once inside the peacock room, Louise lit all the candles, but still she could not drive the shadows from the corners nor calm the terrors of Condemnation's mind.

"Have you never learned to pray, child?—libera nos a malo . . . deliver us from evil."

But Condemnation could not see much comfort in prayer. She dreaded the moment when Louise would turn and leave her, and delayed as much as possible the undoing of her gown. But Louise was in a hurry to go back to Mr. Parsons; it was not right that she should sit all night with him, and yet she must not let him go till he had heard all there was to tell of this important matter which involved the saving of a soul. His unexpected coming had seemed to her an answer to her prayers—her prayers for one at present right outside the house, who yet might find a blessing in it.

"Come, my dear, let me untie that string—you fumble so."

The gown lay in a golden cheese round Condemnation's legs.

"And now your petticoat."

The girl whimpered a little, but could not help herself. Off must come petticoat, stays, stockings and shift, on must go that fragile night-rail which made her somehow feel more bare than nakedness. The tall mirror at the foot of the bed showed her to herself as another ghost.

"Must you go, Ma'am?"

"As soon as you're in bed."

A door shut far away in the house. Condemnation cried out——

"Oh, what's that? Oh, don't leave me. Stay—I beg you, stay."

Louise felt angry with her.

"Don't be a fool. It was only a door."

"But I hear footsteps."

"It is only your husband coming in."

A resolve came to her—her mind was suddenly full of it. She pushed Condemnation into the bed and drew the bedclothes over her.

"Call him, child. Call him to come and comfort you."

"Nay, nay——"

"But you must. Here is someone who can stay with you, who ought to stay with you. Call him."

But the girl remained dumb. Her great eyes stared with mingled fear and obstinacy, while Gervase's footsteps crossed the hall to the stairs. Louise lost her temper. "Si tu le perds maintenant, tu es infâme--infâme."

Condemnation could not understand the words, but she read their import in the face stooped close to hers, flushed and grimaced with anger. The next moment Louise spoke in a language she knew well enough.

"If you don't call him, and tell him you're frightened, and ask him to stay with you, I'll pray Kate Alard comes in at the window and pierces you with her horns."

Condemnation screamed loudly—not only at the words, but at the sudden change of her protector into a threatening fury. Gervase's footsteps halted on the stairs.

"Oh, help! help! save me."

Louise slipped out, and on the landing met her brother.

"Gervase! Praise heaven you're here! the child's in a fit—scared to death. Go to her and comfort her, for God's sake."

Looking into his eyes she had a moment of fear that he had gone too far for Condemnation to reach him. But the next she knew that he was still there. Something seemed to rise to the surface of his lost eyes. He came to himself.

"What is it? My little bud?—what—who has scared her?"

"Go in to her—I cannot stay."

She pushed him into the room, where shadows and candlelight made a shuttling chiaroscuro round Condemnation sitting up in bed, the covers held to her chin, her mouth and eyes three round O's of terror. Sobs rose and fell in her breast but did not move her lips, which remained fixed in that frozen O.

"My poor little love—what is it? My sweetheart—my poor little rogue."

Louise shut the door behind him, and as she did so she heard Condemnation's sobs rise up into a storm of screams and weeping. The next moment they were still—stifled . . . Gervase must have taken her in his arms.

She suddenly felt sobs rise in her own breath—anger had made her weak. But she would not cry. Instead she began to laugh—at first quietly to herself, then more loudly as she went upstairs. So this was what had come of all her careful plans and preparations, her resolution to tread delicately on delicate ground. She had practically forced Condemnation into her husband's arms. She had behaved like a fury, an insensitive fury. She had kicked and trampled her way over the delicate ground, which she saw now was not delicate at all, but common soil, requiring the plough and the harrow for its good estate.


§ 1

If William Douce had not regarded astrology as an exploded science, fit only to be trotted out when his master took fright at more modern methods, he might have seen all that followed in terms of declension and occultation—Uranus declinant, occulted by Venus in the second house, Sol rising. That lonely planet whose contrary course troubles the Solar orthodoxies was certainly declinant in the heavens of the next few months. But though he had concerned himself magically with many men's futures, he had never sought to read his own except by methods of common foresight; and nothing that had already happened had prepared him for what was now to come. One night he had gone home satisfied and confident of power, to find the very next morning that his power had been made over to another.

That morning Alard did not come to the furnace, and when he asked for him at the house he was told that he had gone out walking with his lady. This in itself was surprising, but Douce did not attach any great importance to it. He had set out after them, for he had matters that he wanted to discuss, and the shock of surprise and disgust had been almost physical when he suddenly came upon them in a grove of the woods walking with their arms enlaced, their faces murmuring together. They looked like a pair of lovers, and at first, before he caught them up, he thought that the man could not be the Squire, that Condemnation had played into his hands with some paramour. Twenty years seemed to have fallen from Gervase Alard—his shoulders were upright, his legs stepped proudly, and the sunshine had washed the sorrows from his hair.

Douce sidled away through the trees, and came as if to meet them down the grove. They slipped apart with all the consciousness of lovers.

"Good morning, Will," said Gervase in much the same abstraction as yesterday he would have said "Good morning, pigsnie."

"May I have a word with you?"

"Aye, sure, so it be brief. Pardon me, bud, while I speak to Will."

His air, as he stepped aside, was of one interrupted in an important matter; it made Douce lose his head.

"I came to say that I find after all I can meet you at the temple."

"Nay, not to-night. I can't come to-night."

"But there's an uneasiness about me which tells me that the spirits have something to impart."

"Nay, nay," Gervase looked distressed and irritated. "I can't come to-night."

"You may be the loser."

"How can that be? I tell you to-night's impossible; I have affairs . . . and last night it was impossible for you too. You were stiff enough about Friday last night—let it be Friday, then."

Douce could press him no more, and with an effort assumed his usual subservience. He raised one or two points about the furnace and took his leave.

In spite of what Gervase had said he did not expect the meeting to take place on Friday. A cold sense of fatality oppressed him. By some means, in the night, without his knowing, the heavens had changed. His master was no longer his servant. He knew whose servant he was, but he could not think how it had happened. He could not think why Gervase had so suddenly fallen into the common ways of nature that were at enmity with William Douce. Last night he had been in admirable subjection. What had changed him? Had little Pity snatched him? She must have done so, but he tried in vain to imagine the circumstances. Unless, perhaps, he had gone too far and scared the old fellow, driving him for comfort into a woman's arms. He had always been a little nervous of their experiments, a little uncertain that the powers they conjured were not evil. Perhaps it would have been as well to lead him more gently . . . he should not have delayed so long with Brother Charles. But he had been obliged to wait till he had perfected his memory and practice; he could not have introduced a too faulty impersonation, or the old chap, who in spite of his credulity, was no fool, might have found him out.

Well, there it was, and he would have to wait some time before he could see what he would do about it. It had happened—what he most dreaded and when he least dreaded it. He felt wretchedly unhappy, but not hopeless. He still could not believe that Condemnation was the sort of woman who would attach a man for ever. Some malignant trick of fate had thrown Gervase into her arms, but she could not content him, and soon he would be restless. Maybe there was nothing more in it than lust, and the whole thing would blow over at once like smoke. If only there was no child—and there might be no child of such a disparate union. . . . He would be a fool if he did anything to show his resentment, for he might still keep his master's trust and affection in spite of little Pity and her power. She would rob him if she could, but there were things about him that she could not take if he guarded them well. Let him hold fast what he still had. He suddenly felt superior to all the world, and very lonely.

§ 2

Gervase came to that spring out of a winter of mistake, out of a deep, sorrowful cold that had driven him for warmth to a fire that threatened to burn him. When Condemnation had called him into her room he had gone to her trembling with a fear that was hardly less than her own—the reaction that always followed his meetings with Douce in the temple. They had been two creatures in fear, clinging and trembling together, and the fear in each had been extinguished by the fear in the other.

Hours later, with the phantom dawn in the room, he had felt like a swimmer who has gained a safe shore, while she felt more like a girl who has slept too long, but is at last awakened. The dawn embodied itself in, colour and sound, the peacocks on the walls came into the light with faded blues and greens, and outside on the terrace their living brother broke the bated silence with his hoarse delight, waking the smaller voices of the birds into a chatter of fragile song. Gervase and Condemnation looked into each other's eyes, and saw a changed world. Time too was changed for them; he was a youth again, while she seemed to have left her wild girlhood behind her, and held him in her arms with the warm, sustaining carefulness of a mother.

It was all a little unreal to them, and dreamlike, as if they had passed into the tapestry on the wall and become a part of its unearthly gallantries. The change had been so unprepared, so overwhelming, that they scarcely felt the same people as those who a few hours ago had faced the world with such different eyes. Or perhaps they were the same people in another world.

Then life grew real again, as sunshine filled the room, and they rose and came into contact with common, everyday things. Their happiness was enormously increased by a sudden sense of ordinariness, a delicious homeliness that completed rather than removed its wonder. Embraces settled into companionship, kisses into jokes; passionate vows became much small business, talk and laughter. Their daily life soaked up their love as the grass soaks up the rain, and sweetened it into many surprising flowers.

In such a life there could be no place for the shadows of a false science. Gervase only gradually came to realize that he could never again conjure the spirits with William Douce. That first morning he had genuinely meant to meet him on Friday, but when Friday came the idea was revolting and impossible. In the first place he did not want to leave his wife. For the first time since the death of Mary Ann Pye he lay in a woman's warm bed and felt no urge to wander out into the night for any purpose whatsoever. In the second place she had begged him not to go, she had been terrified of the idea. He knew all about her visit to the temple, and he felt ashamed of having frightened her so much. He would not frighten her again—he would not leave her trembling at the thought of him in session with the spirits.

But there was another reason why he did not want to go. He had disobeyed the spirits, broken from their direction. Every time he slept with his wife he defied the counsel of two fallen angels. It was a monstrous notion, and a slow fear crept in him when he thought of going back to that monotonous voice and its upbraiding. He had done evil to listen to it so long, he must listen no more, and further, he must warn William Douce not to listen. The magistellum must be evil or it would not have urged him against that which his whole being now acknowledged as right and good. It seemed to him as if it had warped his tender hesitations into distrusts and antagonisms, turned good into evil—it must be evil . . . and William Douce had to listen to a long dissertation on the dangers and wickedness of magic, and an exhortation not to practise even the more respectable forms of the art.

§ 3

Louise was sorry to find that Condemnation's influence did not extend to Douce's dismissal. Perhaps she did not care enough about it. Since she had won all her husband's love, she might not trouble about those scraps the dog contrived to find under the table. William Douce was self-effacing and pitiful; it was difficult for a woman to strike him hard. He had faded out of her emotional life, and no doubt she did not even imagine him as occupying a place in any other. What cared she about the furnace? And indeed it was hard to prove that he did any harm there or had any evil plans in that direction. The business was thriving under his mastership—they had more orders than they could fulfil, even though the Irish wars were ended; and owing to some wise purchases of standing wood it seemed likely that the furnace would blow for some thirty years beyond the span allotted to it by its former master. Louise was inclined to think that Douce was the enemy of Gervase's soul rather than of his estate; which was, indeed, she told herself, infinitely more dreadful, but as the discovery of the nature of his influence had coincided almost exactly with its destruction, the effect on her was not the same as her earlier fears. Douce was even worse than she had thought him—he was a devil; but a devil with his claws cut and his teeth drawn. She no longer felt afraid of him.

But she would be glad when he was gone, when there was no chance of meeting him on the river path or in the woods—his visits to the house were much fewer, and he no longer brought his lute into the drawing-room. Later on, she would talk to Condemnation about it, but she would not trouble her now. She had done enough for her husband at present, and should be left to enjoy her overdue happiness without further contrivances.

Then something happened which made Louise almost forget William Douce altogether. Early in June it became known that Condemnation would have a child. Before the winter was over Alard's dying tree might have budded an heir. . . . In that case, William Douce did not count any more. Any hopes he might ever have had of recovering his influence were destroyed. The poor dog had lost even his diet of crumbs. Louise in her delight could almost pity him.

As for Gervase, his pride and rapture knew no bounds. The last of the shadows that had pursued him out of limbo was now gone. He no longer heard the moaning of that wind which blew from the Pays du Néant. The blessing of heaven was set upon his love, and all his doubts and renunciations had been evil. This was the power he had been craving all along, the power over life and death which only love brings. He was quite sure that the coming child would be the heir—no more daughters—a son at last—Alard continuing at Conster, and Oxenbrigge pulling faces. . . . Ho! Ho! for Oxenbrigge.

A younger man than William Douce smote him on the shoulders and asked for his congratulations. Gervase felt twenty years old. He went swaggering among the men at the furnace, one of themselves, the husband of a wife and the begetter of a child—no longer a lonely, withered old man writing dead theology in a temple . . . the temple should become his wife's summer-house, where she should sit of an afternoon with her infant on her knee—her foot upon the serpent's head . . . she should sweeten the air.

He had all his books brought up to the house—to make a new chaos in his library. Some, however, he did not keep; he said he had not room for them, so he burned them—"De Incantationibus," "Veritable Dragon Rouge," "De Secretis Mulierum," and many a brown, crabbed traicté went into the fire at last. He burned them down on the marsh beside the temple, and the huge black scar of the dead fire became a part of its new condition. Other parts were the rosy silk curtains with which he hung it, the carved and gilt table and tapestried chairs with which he furnished it. It looked almost too gay and as much a travesty of a summer-house as it had been a travesty of a temple. But Condemnation jumped and clapped her hands when she saw it, giving him all the kisses and thanks he asked for, and hiding deep in her heart the knowledge that she could never, never feel safe or happy there.

§ 4

Louise urged her nieces to take advantage of the new springtide in their father's blood, and at about this time Ann won his blessing for her marriage with Eustache de Champfort's penniless young brother Etienne, while Bridget was even able to obtain it for herself and Saul Harman. He grumbled a bit, but his grimaces were soon turned to grins and laughter. If they wanted to make fools of themselves, let 'em: they were, after all, only daughters. Etienne could never hope to be more than a farmer—this new French immigration having, unlike the earlier one of the sixteenth century, no trade to support it, must perforce turn for sustenance to the land—but he was a fine young spark and bore a dozen quarterings on his coat-of-arms. Saul Harman was not fine and carried no arms, but he was prosperous and firmly established, and one day might even be rich. No doubt the married sisters would be able to look down on each other from different points of view.

The closer link with Exalted Harman which would be brought about by Bridget's marriage troubled her father a little; but Providence at this point crowned its favours by the old man's sudden pining and death. For over two years he had taken pride in his rotting leg, but now the corruption began to spread, with fever, to other parts of his body. Mr. Horner came and declared that the precious limb must be sawn off, and after much persuasion the patient agreed, on the express condition that it should be embalmed and carefully preserved for the rest of his life, so that it could be finally buried with him and thus secure the integrity of his resurrection.

But the remedy came too late, and he died a few hours after the leg had been taken off. It did not even have to be embalmed. Dr. Braceley read over his mutilated body: "It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power." Gervase would have liked to read the Service instead of the man he considered an interloper; but Mrs. Harman would not have it, and he comforted himself with the thought that had he done so the neighbours might think he was officiating on account of his relationship to the dead man. Whereas, of course, they were not related at all. He refused even to let Condemnation wear black ribbons for the man who was not her father.

It was the second time that death had overshadowed an approaching marriage in the Alard family, and Bridget Alard wept more bitterly than any widow at the thought that her wedding might have to be postponed. But Louise decided that there was no real need for this. It was not as if the mourning were in the bride's household, nor was it, she told herself the same as when the head of a great family dies and his hatchment is hung out over the door through which the newly married pair must pass. Harman had been for many months half dead, and she, saw no objection to his son's marrying quietly and bringing home his wife at once to share his new life as yeoman of Newhouse. She also felt that it might be a good thing to have both girls out of the house some time before Condemnation's child was born. Her sister-in-law, though a little sobered by events, was still unable to resist their occasional enticements to fooling and roughness, and Louise was aware of the unseemliness as well as the danger of such horseplay. Condemnation should learn to be quiet; she must sit still and grow older—old enough to be the mother of Alard's son and the future generations of an ancient family. There were still a few things that Louise must teach her before she turned to the settlement of her own affairs.

§ 5

Louise had always said that if ever the law should tighten against her religion she would have to leave Conster. She could not stay there once she had become a danger to her friends. During the slackness of the last two reigns she had grown used to a certain measure of toleration, but ever since the crowning of the Protestant Hero she had prepared herself for change. And now, a year after the Battle of the Boyne and the Pacification of Limerick, that change had come. As the new kingdom steadied itself, it hardened against the religion which it felt to be chiefly responsible for its recent troubles and which would stir up those troubles again if it could. The law against Papists was tightened almost into its Elizabethan severity, and Madame Alard, after more than twenty easy-going years, found her faith proscribed and her chaplain with a price on his head.

There were only two things that she could do in fairness to Gervase—one was to forswear Catholicism, the other to go back to France. The former was unthinkable, and she must force herself somehow over the brink of the latter choice. For some weeks she had hesitated, hoping that matters would improve, but in her heart she knew it was impossible that they should. A reaction was long overdue and would probably run its full course of proscription and persecution. Mr. Parsons on his next visit confirmed her in this belief. He understood, indeed, that fresh laws were to come before Parliament, and the English mission-field would doubtless before long bear a new crop of martyrs.

Louise would not have hesitated had she been alone. But she had others to consider, and now, of all times, she must be tender of Alard's repute. She knew that even the local Magistrates, who looked back on a lifelong friendship with the family, could no longer blink at Conster's ways, and that if Mr. Parsons should ever be caught on the estate, not even the Squire's own son-in-law, Austen, could save those who had harboured him. He had been for some years a tolerated figure in the country round Vinehall and Leasan, but now he must become as a priest in the times of the Armada, gliding about at dead of night, ministering, reconciling and absolving at the risk of his life—without even the advantage of a secret hiding place, such as there had been at Fuggesbroke Manor before it was burnt down.

She felt convinced that she ought not to involve Gervase in what was definitely now a dangerous intrigue. It is true that no one would ever accuse him of Popery, and he was completely ignorant of Parsons' visits—the priest now coming at dead of night and leaving before dawn. But there had always been a considerable Jacobite legend about him, due to the wildness of his utterances on the subject of the non-Jurors, and if Parsons were caught on his premises he might be involved politically. As she could not live without her religion and yet must practise it only at the risk of others, she felt that it was her duty to go back to France.

But certain considerations withheld her, apart from her own reluctance, which indeed now was daily growing less. . . . She began to see France as a fair, free country where she could be happy in her life and her religion as long as she did not go to it alone. But Gervase and Condemnation would be bitterly sorry and hurt if she left them before the child was born; and if she went now she would have to go alone. She must wait, and finish her work. She had six months to wait for Alard's heir—six months to work in, to travail for the birth of an heir to another kingdom. . . . She smiled when she thought of those two births, so dear and so different.

§ 6

Condemnation had noticed that de Périgault no longer came to the house. Once she had questioned Louise, who had answered her with such a firm evasion that she realized the subject was closed. But her head was too full of other things for her to trouble about the blue-eyed, curly-headed hero who had once taken up so much of her thoughts. She no longer needed Gilles de Périgault to make her feel a great and happy lady. Gervase asked after him once or twice.

"He shuns your Popery, Louise. There's a tide against you, my dear. I hope you are discreet."

"Surely you are the best judge of that."

"I see nothing in this house to alarm me although I'm a Magistrate. I shouldn't be suspicious but for the fact that Parsons comes no more. He was but a common visitor, yet now he stops away as if he were a Popish priest. Ho! Ho! Ho!"

"Maybe he disapproves of my Popery," said Louise demurely.

"It's likely, forsooth. I'll lay that he and de Périgault stay away for the same reason. Ho! Ho! Ho! What do you think of it, rogue?"

Condemnation said nothing, not hearing his question in her preoccupation with the fine work of a baby's coat that she was making.

"Eh well, eh well—I'm sorry our gallants are gone. De Champfort never comes now, Ann is away with her sister, and since Harman took Bride, le Jolie and the rest are gone off too. And as for de Périgault—we all say it's religion, but I've an idea he stopped coming when he found my little bud and I were so well together."

"I do not think so," said Louise.

"But I think so. What do you think, pigsnie?"

"I think he stops away for religion."

"But Louise is the only Papist here. He can still call on Sir Gervase and Lady Alard. Nay, nay, I will have it that he cast his wicked French eyes upon you—all Frenchmen are wicked, an't they, sister?—and would gobble up a wife as a cat would gobble a mouse. But this little mouse found a fine buck rat to defend her and Purree Tuzzee went off for fear of losing his whiskers. Ho! Ho! Ho!"

He chuckled Condemnation under the chin and made her prick her finger. There was a little spot of blood upon the baby's gown.

§ 7

About a week later, when Condemnation and Louise were sitting together alone, the latter said:

"The reason de Périgault stops away is because his parents have taken fright at his coming here."

Condemnation was surprised to have the subject so suddenly revived. She had not thought at all of de Périgault during the interval.

"Yes," continued Louise, "they are Protestants of a fanatical sort and they are afraid for him."

"What are they afraid of?"

"Of two things. That he should be reconciled to the Church, and that he should marry me."

Condemnation dropped her work in surprise. Looking across the window bay at Louise, she saw that she was holding her fan over her face as if the sunlight were too bright for her.

Her sister-in-law said:

"I hope that one day he will do both."

"Ma'am . . ."

"My dear soul," continued Louise, still speaking with her fan before her face, "when you first came here we were as governess and pupil, and then as aunt and niece; but lately we have been growing more and more into sisters, so I feel I may make you a sisterly confidence. It is hard for me to have a secret always in my heart, and there is no one but you to whom I can talk freely—whom I can trust. . . . Tell me, do you swear that I can trust you?"

"I swear it."

Louise dropped her fan and smiled.

"Some would say I do wrong to confide in you, for you are a married woman and have a duty to conceal nothing from your husband. But it is only for a little while I ask you to hold your tongue."

"I'm not to tell Sir Gervase?"

"Not for a little while, because it would be bad for him to know all that must be planned in his house. I am more anxious than I can say that he should not be brought into any Popish plot as he would call it—he must be able to lift up his hands in innocence, that is to say in England, ignorance. But when all is finished, then you shall tell him."

"When will all be finished?"

"When I have gone back to France—with or without Monsieur de Périgault."

"Oh, Madame, you're never going back to France?"

"I must go back. There was a time when I wished never to see France again, when I hoped I should lay my bones here; but two things have changed since then—two things which you may not understand. You may not understand how it is that I who loved my husband so dearly can now, scarce two years after his death, be thinking of another man; and I do not believe that you can—that you have been brought up to understand how strong religion may grow in a woman's heart."

Condemnation said she thought she understood the first better than the second.

"Yes, child, for you know love; and yet your love, which is fulfilled, might by its very fullness blind you, to the love that is hungry. If I had not loved my dear Alard so much I might not now be loving another man. I might have found comfort in my freedom, in having my heart and my bed all my own. But because I loved him so much, because my heart is empty as well as my bed, it is nothing to me to be free—my freedom is a malaise, and I long again to be bound by love, to feel at ease and comforted. My Charles has no need to be jealous of de Périgault—it is only because I miss him so sadly and constantly that I must fill his place. I cannot bear that empty place to which I stretch out my hands at night . . . surely, child, you can try to understand."

For the first time in her life Condemnation saw that Louise was weeping. The tears brimmed her large eyes and fell over the pale roses of her cheeks, a tragic autumn shower.

"Madame, Madame, don't speak so—don't weep so. I know—I understand. You're lonely. . . . But do you truly love Monsieur de Périgault?"

She had run across the window bay and thrown herself at Louise's feet, kneeling with her hands clasped in her lap, her own eyes full of tears as they looked up at her. The older woman wiped her tears away.

"Yes, child, I love him truly. It is different from my love for Alard—rather, perhaps, it is more like the love I had for our son who died; but it is love. I know you would say that he is young enough to be my son . . . no, he is not that, but he is younger than I—much younger than Alard . . . he is different—my love is different; but it is love. And de Périgault and I will have a bond in our religion, such as my dear Alard and I never had. I would not now at my age and of my free will marry a man who was not of my faith. When I was young I had to do as my parents bade me, and I did well; but I could not do the same again. It is not only that I am free, but throughout these years I have grown more closely into my religion till it is now a part of myself, and to marry out of it would be to marry out of myself and against my nature. But that, my dear, I'm sure you do not understand."

"I was happy when Sir Gervase read to me from the Order for the Visitation of the Sick. I loved it above all things."

Louise patted her cheek.

"And if Dr. Braceley had read you the same? Nay, sweetheart, if I thought you were religious I should not be talking to you as I am. If you were a good religious Protestant you would be in arms against the idea of another Protestant being reconciled to the Church, whereas now I'll warrant you do not care one way or t'other."

"Nay, but I want him to be a Papist if you love him and will not marry him without it."

"As I said, you are quite irreligious. So you may help me."

"How can I help you, Madame?"

"In many ways. There is no one but you, dear sister, whom I can trust, though it hurts my conscience to bid you conceal anything from your husband. But it is only for a short while, and what else can I do? He would still come to the house, but seeing that his parents' fears were raised I thought it better that he should not. In their eyes Conster Manor is the den of two demons—a Popish priest who would pervert their son to error and a Popish widow who would marry him. He is ready to defy them and continue to visit me, but there are a hundred reasons why we should have no open scandal over this. For one thing, you doubtless know that Mr. Parsons' life is forfeit for every soul he reconciles?"

Condemnation nodded. She knew that much law and theology.

"So it would never do if the neighbourhood were to be raised about it. Let all folk think de Périgault a good son and a good Protestant. But soon he will be going every day to the furnace, as he plans to learn something of iron-smelting, with a view to our future in France. He must train himself to some sort of work, should he remain here or should he go there, though I shall still have my jointure—my dear Alard saw to that. . . . On his way to and fro he will pass your summer-house, and no harm will be thought of your occasionally meeting and speaking. His family's quarrel is not with you or with Sir Gervase, and such conversation will seem only neighbourly and natural."

Condemnation made a face, for she did not fancy going to the summer-house. But all she said was——

"Oh, dear Madame, must you really leave us, then?"

"How can I stay after reconciling a Huguenot to the Church? We depend on Mr. Parsons' next visit. I do not know how soon it will be, but certainly I shall not leave before your lying-in. Then you will not care if I go or stay. Neither you nor my brother will need me when your child is born. Perhaps you will even feel glad that I should find some new happiness away from you."

§ 8

Bridget and Ann were married before the summer's end. Gervase gave both his daughters away and saw them go off with their husbands to Newhouse and to Eslede without any fatherly regrets. He had no need of any daughters now, if, indeed, he had ever needed them. He would have a son—perhaps more sons, perhaps, even, more daughters. Condemnation's children would not be noisy and foolish like Mary Ann Pye's. They would inherit the wisdom and dignity of their mother's noble blood.

It was the thought of that same noble blood that swelled his normal care into anxiety as the summer changed to autumn and the time of her lying-in drew nearer. He became obsessed with the idea that women of noble blood bore their children less easily than women of a humbler class. He was soon as convinced of it as of the fact that his wife's blood was blue. Louise reasoned with him as vainly on one point as on the other. She found herself indeed reduced to arguing that since Condemnation's mother was indisputably a gipsy, the nobility of her sire might be balanced by a sturdy maternal inheritance. She became a little concerned for her brother. The improvement in him since the consummation of his marriage, the better balance and rationality, which his happiness had brought, seemed too easily disturbed by what was after all but a common anxiety. She had hoped to find him more established.

She was careful, however, to hide her disappointment from Condemnation. Indeed she told her that it was natural that he should behave as he did—that men who loved their wives were prone to fret over their childbearing. It was a good sign, for on the whole men were inclined to take these matters too carelessly, and show no more concern for a wife's health than a calving heifer's.

Condemnation submitted, as she always did, to Louise's judgment, but she sometimes thought Gervase very tiresome. His anxiety compelled her to forego her rambles, which she still enjoyed, even when she went heavily. One day she had twisted her foot in the bracken, and this had filled him with such alarm that he had dragged from her a promise never to go into the woods alone again. She was to be a prisoner in the grounds and gardens, with no further stretch of her legs than the path along the river's edge to her neglected summer-house. She resented these restrictions, for she had all the health of a young animal in a natural situation, and at the same time some of the restlessness which comes upon such an animal when its time is at hand. She disliked her summer-house, and would not go there more often than she need; she did not care for walking sedately in the grounds or for sitting long hours with her needlework or her lute. It was in vain that she tried to coax Gervase into letting her roam again, for he was not slow to reinforce his own fears with the complaisance of his family physician. All he would offer was to take her out in the coach, an ordeal she endured but once, as the lurching and bumping and rolling of the clumsy vehicle made her sick, and she was brought home as limp as any lady of fashion. She tried more coaxing, she tried a little temper and tears, and once or twice, when he was not there, she walked boldly out into the woods, only to hear in a few minutes his footsteps coming after her. He would argue, entreat and scold, and she would melt to his will, pitying and resenting.

§ 9

The reason for his anxiety lay partly in the fact that it was now seventeen years since he had undergone a similar experience, and that then the temper of his fear had been conditioned by the temper of his love. His fear for Mary Ann Pye had never endangered or even disturbed his daily peace, doubtless for the reason that his love had never done so. The coming of his five daughters had troubled him very little—even the disappointment of their sex had been mild. "Let it be a son this time, my dear . . ." but he had not minded very much that it was never a son.

Now he was quite sure Condemnation's child would be a son. He had the same conviction of it as he had of her noble birth. He was as anxious for the son as for the mother; his extravagant carefulness was largely due to his concern for Alard's heir and for his own life immortal in the life of the family. All the vague ambitions that had flown about uncertainly like bats in the darkness of the last years, that had slept in the dawn of love, were now awake and alert again; no longer flying like bats, but with the arrow-drive of the wild duck toward a foreseen end. He would rebuild the house of Alard and live on in its greatness—his immortal power would lie in those centuries when his children's children's children should inhabit Conster and be rich with the gold and silver of its forests and forges.

After all, what was the use of mere learning? He despised the thirst for knowledge he had had once—the desire to get the wisdom of the magi, to set the world spinning with the utterance of a hidden Name. He would spin the world to a new tune, or rather to a tune older than man—the tune to which it had turned round the sun for nearly six thousand years, when the Lord said: "Let there be light"—the same Lord who had said "In sorrow shalt thou bring forth thy seed. . . ."

His mind turned his most substantial hopes to wind; he could not sit down and be quiet even with a normal anxiety. He swung between a swollen, dynastic vision and an interior conviction of disaster—a conviction that because this thing was so great and because he desired it so much, it could never be. It was too great a thing to depend on anything so little as his wife's body and the tiny, growing shape within her—so small, so frail, so vulnerable. His son was there—Condemnation carried no daughter in her womb—but how disastrously would he be born? He foresaw death, madness and abortion. His dreams were full of a terrible unfulfilment.

He found himself doing little, senseless things to avert the evil threat. He yielded to impulses to touch certain trees, and would not let any more of the old trees round the house be cut down. He fumed and fussed about the furnace, fearing on one hand to venture too far, on the other to cripple it for want of enterprise. He was no longer content to leave its management to William Douce; too much hung on it now—his son's future wealth. He must know all that was done there and interfere. Douce had his fiercest struggles with himself as he forced his manner to respect. He sometimes felt inclined to let Gervase have his obstinate, silly way; for, after all, what could it matter to him now if the place was ruined? But hope, like a strong, bitter root of dandelion or monkshood, still lived on under the soil after its bravery of leaf and flower had been torn away.

§ 10

December came, with gales and a great roaring of wind round the house. Gervase seldom went to bed before two. He had renounced his wife's room, considering quite rightly that his restless, wakeful fellowship disturbed her sleep. Nothing must be allowed to tire or disturb her now. She must be kept like a gem in cotton. He sent her to bed extravagantly early, going up shortly afterward to see that all was well and to kiss her good night; and he would not allow her to rise till he himself went in to wake her in the morning. Condemnation, exhorted by Louise, submitted with a fair grace. All would be well when the child was born, and meanwhile she was often tired enough with sitting still all day and doing nothing.

Gervase spent the first part of the night in his study. To distract and reassure himself, he had taken up two things he had renounced—his Treatise on the Greek Church and the Bohemian cards. He had found them perversely stowed away together in the same drawer. He had hastily pushed back the cards with their gaudy arcana, and rustled over the crabbed pages where another man than he seemed to have written lifeless irrelevancies. He had tried to flog alive a dead interest in filioque and ομοιονσιος, in the new Bishops of Thetford and Norwich, in the Phoenix which would never rise. But it was all to no purpose—he could not concentrate, and he no longer cared for learning, magical or clerkly. The only thing he wanted to know was that his son would be safely and happily born—the only knowledge worth having was knowledge of the future: so he had taken out the cards again. And every night he divided his time between the two. For an hour or so he would ponder the treatise, struggle and groan, read a few paragraphs of Mr. Nelson's book, jot down a few notes for a letter of congratulation to Mr. Wagstaffe on his bishopric—then grow tired of it all, and creep down to watch Condemnation while she slept and make sure that she slept well; then creep up again and take up the cards, to read his fate and hers in the language of wands and pentacles, cups and swords.

His card reading was not successful. The same evil signs seemed always to pursue him, the good signs to avoid him. Night after night he looked for a card which showed a man and woman standing together in a flowery garden, with children playing at their feet, while above them in the sky hung the benevolent sign that had brought them to such happiness, to such domestic peace and power. Instead he always seemed to face the darker threats of the Great Arcana—the Falling Tower foretold the ruin of his house, a Man sat pierced beneath a tree, a Thief appeared and grinned at him.

These menaces did not drive him to forsake the cards. On the contrary, he was always shuffling them. If he had a few solitary moments during the day he would sit down and throw out the pack, in the queer hope that a sudden assault would change it. But any improvement was only temporary; soon he was once more face to face with the dark reflections of his own mind.

§ 11

One Monday morning Douce found him gloomily busy in this way. He had spent his Sunday at Milkhouse Street, and came on his way to the furnace to talk over a matter concerning the buying of woodlands at Odimere. As was usual after his visits to Tarver he felt revived and strengthened; all his journey home he had been conscious of that buried hope alive in his heart, and it had been a leaf on the bitter root of hope to find his master once more concerned with at least the fringes of the world he had renounced.

Gervase had not expected him so early, but he made no effort to hide what he was doing. On the contrary, he turned for encouragement and advice to the man who he knew understood these things.

"I can't make it, Will. There seemed to be evil all around me. This is the fourth time I've cast for the Six Cups, and twice I've brought up the Falling Tower, and once the Hanged Man."

"I thought you had foresworn the cards," Douce could not help saying.

"Aye, in a measure I've foresworn 'em—but only in a measure. It's other things I've foresworn. The cards are harmless enough, I'll warrant. At first I did but play with them."

"Then they would but play with you. If you question, you must question seriously."

"I'm serious enough now, God knows. Will, I'm afraid."

"Of what? Of whom?"

"Of no one, but for someone—for my wife and for her child. I've a dreadful feeling that some harm is coming to them."

"Why should you? Lady Alard looks well enough. I met her going out as I came in."

"Going out?—but she shouldn't have gone out. She'll do herself a mischief, running about as she does. I've forbidden her to go beyond the grounds. Which way did she go? I'd better go after her."

"She was with the Dowager Lady," said Douce hastily. He had come to talk business, and did not want to have Gervase running out after his wife.

"Then all's well. Louise will take care of her. But I can't help fearing for her, Will, when I see the cards. I never turn them out without they show me some black sign."

Douce looked at him closely.

"Are not the cards superstition?"

"Maybe. Maybe. I can't tell. Sometimes I think these things are real enough. Perhaps I should leave them alone—I don't know. But I find it hard to put them down till they've given me a word of hope. If only I could turn up the Six of Cups and see myself and my wife and my children. . ."

Douce took the cards into his slim brown hands that flashed with rings. Once again he felt that angry contempt for his employer that had formerly threatened to wreck what remained of their relations. But his better judgment still controlled him, and he said nothing. Instead he shuffled the cards and slipped them out over the table; the Six of Cups slid into position, surrounded by a bodyguard of rosy wands and golden pentacles.

"There!—now, for you it happens."

"Because I've no fear. The cards reflect your fears for the future rather than the future itself."

Gervase stared at the card, at the little group in its flowery garden, gazing up at the mysterious kindly heavens. Then suddenly he pushed it away.

"'Tis all superstition."

"Maybe," said Douce.

He watched Gervase with a queer kind of pity. The man was sunk in his new life, bound by it; his happiness had become his hell. How good to stand apart from such things, to know the love of neither woman nor child, but to stalk like a cat through life, caring only for self. No, not quite only for self—there were wounds and lacerations in William Douce's heart which would never have been had he cared only for himself. But he was glad to walk widdershins round the sun.

"I do wrong to meddle with it," said Gervase.

"Meddle no more."

"But I seek to quiet my anxieties."

"You'll never quiet them with the Bohemian cards, for if you turn up evil you will still hope, and if you turn good you will still doubt, as you've done to-day."

"Yea, alas! there's no certain voice."

Douce seized his opportunity. For some time he had thought he saw it coming, but he would not allow himself to feel sure of it, even to hope. Now suddenly he found it in his hand.

"Your brother Charles might speak more certainly."


"Yes. Surely he might help you."

"How can he help me? It's I who should help him if the Papists are right—aye, if some of our own divines are right. There's a school that while it does not quite conform to the Romish doctrine of Purgatory, which the Article justly calls a fond thing vainly invented . . ."

"Nay, I speak not of Purgatory," interrupted Douce, "but of the commerce between the dead and the living."

"Ah—the sin of Endor."

Douce had expected him to say that, and betrayed no impatience.

"There are occasions on which it would be no sin."

"How so? What occasions?"

"When the dead entreat the living to hear them. The witch of Endor called the Prophet unwillingly out of the ground. But your brother Charles is anxious to speak to you."

"How can you know?"

"From my dreams. He has appeared to me more than once, nay three times in sleep, and begged me to get him speech with you. I'm one whose body the spirits know they can use."

"The spirits of the dead as well as the spirits of the fallen angels?"

Douce bowed.

"Even so."

Gervase began to stride up and down the room.

"That spirit which spoke to me through you during the winter was an evil spirit."

"Why should you think that?"

"Because he spoke evil, he counselled evil. He warned me against my greatest good—he gave me counsel which had I taken I should have been lost in ruin."

Douce said nothing.

"How do I know that this an't an evil spirit using my brother's voice?"

"You could doubtless tell if you heard him speak. You're not to judge the manners of an angel, but if you heard him, you could know very well if this is your brother or not."

Gervase's hands were shaking with agitation. He swung round in his walk and faced Douce.

"If I heard him—but why should he want to speak to me?"

"He has a message for you."

"Can't you take it?"

"Scarcely so, since he can use only my senseless body. You must be there to listen."

"But I promised my wife—nay, I will never again go to the temple. It's her summer-house and shan't be used for such purposes."

"There's no need for us to go to the temple," said Douce wearily. "Any place where we aren't disturbed will do. If you cared for me to come up here tonight . . ."

"Nay, it's the sin of Endor."

"As you will. But since you're in such care—since you would hear a certain voice . . . I feel that he has some message that concerns your lady—some counsel, perhaps, that might spare you both much sorrow."

Gervase began to tremble violently.

"What makes you think so? How can you tell?"

"Only from the nature of my dreams. I sometimes have strange experiences in sleep. When I was in France my dreams were often useful to my friends. Once I dreamed of the father of a certain sieur—a man I'd never seen; he told me that he'd vital news to impart, and as soon as he was able to use my body, told this gentleman that his wife was untrue to him and plotting against him with, his servant—a plot which he was thus able to discover, prove and punish."

Gervase shuddered.

"Nay, but your brother will have kinder news for you," said Douce.

"You think so?"

"Aye, I think it."

"Then, Will, I will hear him speak once. After all, it will be easy enough for me to tell if it's really he or not. Besides, as you say, the sin of Endor lies in the compulsion of the dead. I won't conjure my brother. Samuel said unto Saul 'Why hast thou disquieted me?' But my brother himself has asked to speak to me. No doubt he has news . . . comfort, maybe—I hope . . . Charles always loved me."

"No doubt he sees your anxiety, and would cheer you a little."

Douce had no precise message for Charles to give. But that did not matter now. All that mattered was that he had won back some—perhaps much—of his lost ground. To-night, if all went as he hoped, master and servant would sit together as before, Alard the servant, Douce the master.

§ 12

He had never expected such a quick return. He had looked forward rather to the inevitable reaction in Gervase after the child's birth, to that time when Condemnation was bound to be a mother rather than a wife. But now here he was suddenly with at least the promise of the old ways.

He had not expected it, and he still set his hope in the later period, though it was good to be making a beginning now. Pray heaven the child was a girl, then there would be some hope of finding himself again a son, even though disinherited. . . . Sitting there with the old man, comforting and cheating him together, Douce felt a sudden queer affection stirring in his heart. For the first time he found that his sonship meant more to him than a good inheritance. His youth which had so unnaturally survived, now suddenly felt naked in his middle age, in need of a father. After all, it was possible to love where one despised, and perhaps, for him it was easier. . . . Out of contempt seemed to grow a queer tenderness, and a perverse respect.

When they had talked over the matter of the Odimere woods, he took his leave, after definitely fixing a time to come again. The old man now seemed in good spirits, but Douce found himself doubting what would be the end of it all. As he walked out of the house and took the path to the river his uneasy temperament swung him into another reaction. Nothing might come of to-night's business. He might fail with Brother Charles and Alard might smell brimstone again. Then the whole thing would be over—and that might be well. He was perhaps better away from the old fellow now he was beginning to grow fond of him. It was an evil and fatal thing to grow fond of anyone, as he knew from experience. Not that he need cheat him any less, but he himself would suffer in a hundred ways. Love was the sling in David's hand, smiting through the forehead of the giant self.

Perhaps he had better give up the struggle and go right away—perhaps to Tarver, perhaps back to France. Conster Furnace could never be his whatever happened: it was waste of time to trouble with it any more. He should go away and make himself rich elsewhere. Yes, he would one day be rich, though he had already said that often and still was poor. A sense of oppression and anxiety came to him, but he fought it off. . . . He was a fool to be so suddenly dejected. After all, if to-night's experiment failed, he was no worse off than he had been for the last six months, and if it succeeded, who knew what it might not lead to? Alard's son was not born yet, and when he was, his brother in alchemy might still play Jacob to his Esau.

The thud of the forge came to him along the river's bank. The hammers hit the damp air in a sharp uneasy rumour. It was like the beating of a heart, the heart of the countryside, fiery and restless under its cold body of earth, its still garment of woods. He lived in that heart, a part of its life, its hidden threat. He had the power to devour and waste all the woods. A sense of power and confidence came to him as he heard the beating of the hammer—thump, thump, thump. . . . His own heart beat with it, three pulses to every one of the forge's, a music, a strong measure.

He drew nearer and could hear more than the hammers, as the smaller sounds came into play, changing the rhythm—rub-a-dub—rub-a-dub. A little farther on he would hear the whine and sigh of the bellows—the lungs as well as the heart—and then the roar and rumble of the fire itself, the hungry belly rumbling for food, for the meat of Conster's woods, Mardersham and Wagenmary, Haneholt and Odimere, which must be shovelled into it to stay its hunger.

He drew near the temple, waking sharply out of his fantasy as the door opened and Condemnation came out of it. She stood with her back to him, and he slipped among the willow growth beside the stream. He hoped that she would walk away without seeing him. He did not want to speak to her, for he hated her now, knowing that she no longer hated him. Then to his surprise someone else came out of the summer-house—a man. At first Douce did not recognize him, then he saw he was de Périgault.

So little Pity had been meeting a friend in the summer-house. She was not so exclusively wrapped up in her elderly husband as would appear. He watched them as they stood and talked together. Then suddenly the Frenchman stooped, seized both the young woman's hands and kissed them. He seemed strongly moved . . . oh ho! For a moment he held her hands, then dropped them and walked quickly away in the direction of the furnace. Condemnation turned aside into the rough grass beside the track, and started running heavily toward the house. Douce watched her disappear before he walked on after de Périgault.

§ 13

Gervase gazed at his brother, and his brother gazed at him out of William Douce's eyes. It was strange how Will's face had suddenly become Charles's. The tightly curved lips had relaxed into a pout—indeed, the shadow of his moustache seemed to hover above them. The eyelids drooped as Charles's had drooped, half lazily, half humorously—and the voice was Charles's, grating a little like his own.

"Charles!" he cried.

The wind howled round Conster and roared among the trees. The candle flames wavered in the draught that swelled the heavy curtains drawn across the window. Lights shifted in Charles's eyes as they stared at Gervase from under those lowered lids, and he could not be sure whether it were a shadow or his mouth that moved.


"Aye, it's I. But is it you, Charles? Tell me, is it you?"

"It's I indeed."

"I'm all a dread lest it should be some evil spirit."

"Nay, the spirits would not be suffered to practice such deceit. I'm come to speak to you as I used to come o' nights, as you remember, when you were at your studies in Paris. You remember how I would come up to you in the night, to find why you were still at your books?"

"I remember."

"And then, when we came here to Conster, I mocked you because you studied no longer. I said you would be a clerk without learning."

"Aye, you said so, but it was untrue."

"No doubt it was—I tell you only to remind you, to prove myself. You remember, too, no doubt, that night we spent together star-gazing at the time of the comet."

"Aye, and I rapped you for believing in portents. Confess, Charles, that I was never superstitious."

"I confess it willingly. You've studied magic as a science, and science is opposed to superstition as light is opposed to darkness."

"How do you know that I studied magic? You knew nothing of it when we were in France."

There was a moment's silence. Then Charles said:

"I know it now."

A queer freezing thrill went through Gervase.

"Brother," he asked, "how is knowledge come by where you are now? Are all things seen in the Mirror?"

"Aye, in the light—all colours are there in whiteness, even as the parts are hidden in the whole, and the many in the one. I can see all diversity in the pure element."

Gervase was glad to find that his brother had learned something of Jacob Boehme beyond the grave.

"Tell me, Charles, in what part of Creation are you now? The more reasonable divines of our Church have always held that there is an intermediate state or paradise between heaven and hell, where the spirits of the just are in the hand of God until the Judgment Day—which state is very different from the state of Purgatory, 'a fond thing vainly invented'——"

"Nay, brother, I've no time for learned discussions. I shall soon have to return whence I came, and let it suffice you to know that I'm happy and have knowledge that I had not on earth. It's because of that knowledge I would speak to you now. I would warn you——"

"Warn me! But Will declared your message would be one of cheer . . ."

"William Douce knows nothing of what I have to say. I use his voice, but not his brain, and with his voice I would warn you——"

"Not of harm to my bud nor to her babe! Charles, I entreat——"

"You need have no fear for their health or safety. The child will be safely born. My warning is against someone outside your house—outside your nation. Beware of Gilles de Périgault."

Charles's voice rose solemnly above the wind. Gervase was startled.

"De Périgault. But how am I to beware? What will he do? Tell me."

"I can't tell you now. My strength is going. I will meet you again."

The resonant voice died slowly down, as if it had exerted its last strength. Gervase sprang to his feet.

"Charles! stay! tell me more. Nay, don't leave me. You mustn't leave me now. Brother! Brother!"

He stretched out his hands to Charles across the table, but there was no response. William Douce's head fell slowly forward, and Charles disappeared, as if a curtain had come down and shut him out.

§ 14

Gervase found that the tears were streaming down his face. He trembled violently, and could scarcely wait till Douce struggled out of his sleep.

"Will, my brother came—Charles! I swear it. I heard his voice—I spoke with him a moment or so. He warned me against Gilles de Périgault of all men—against Gilles de Périgault. And now he's gone after so short a time—before we'd really spoken together. Oh, Will, I pray you bring him back! bring him back."

"I can't bring him now—at some later time . . ."

"Can't you fall asleep again?"

"No, no; I'm exhausted."

As indeed he was, for this was a much harder trick than conjuring fallen angels; he could not have kept it up for another half minute.

"Will, I beg you. . ."

Douce was surprised to see him so much moved. He spoke comfortingly.

"I'll sleep again to-morrow. Surely you've had enough for to-night, and we can watch against de Périgault for four and twenty hours."

"But I would know what it's all about. He said it was not their health or safety. . . . What can it be? What can de Périgault do to my wife?"

"Maybe the warning is against his morals rather than his malice. Who knows but that a Frenchman such as he may have designs against your wife's honour?"

"Against her honour!—the dirty frog. That he should ever dare. . . . But I'll never believe such a monstrous thing. It an't to be thought of."

"You yourself once told me that you thought he favoured her, and came to visit this house for her sake."

"But now he comes no more . . . still, that may be his guile. He may be scheming from without. I've a distrust of these Calvinised Frenchmen—I know the French, and it's not in their nature to be Protestants. God send my daughters may not repent of marrying 'em."

He spoke more calmly. Evidently he was comforted by the idea that de Périgault plotted against the honour rather than the safety of his wife.

"My bud would never so much as look at him," he continued. "She's a true and honest wife, besides loving me as I don't deserve. But maybe he would affront her—scare and insult her with his vile addresses. . . . I would that Charles had told me more."

"No doubt he'll tell you more to-morrow; and there's this comfort in it that not much can happen between now and then."

"Aye, that's true. But we must keep a watch on the blackguard."

"That will be easy enough. I see him daily at the furnace, and will observe him closely."

"Thank 'ee, Will."

Gervase walked over to the window, and drew back the bellying curtain to stare into a blackness where two reflected candle-flames throbbed like the lost stars. The wind muttered and sobbed round the window, and suddenly a gust of rain came rattling against it.

"What time is it, Will?"

"Past one o'clock."

"Then it's already to-morrow. Let's go to bed. I feel tired—strangely tired. I don't remember to have felt so tired. No doubt it was talking to Charles. . . . Will, it was his very look and voice. My heart feels heavy for him now he's gone."

Douce said nothing. He was troubled strangely by a sense of compunction.

§ 15

He had taken care not to be too explicit, not to form too definite a suspicion in the old fellow's mind. He was not yet sure whether Charles should further unfold himself to-morrow . . . all he wanted was the ground to be prepared and ready should Condemnation's child ever have curly golden hair and blue eyes.

He was himself quite genuinely convinced of some secret understanding between her and de Périgault. Their behaviour during the brief moment he had watched them together had been enough to show him that. And what were they doing in the summerhouse that they should part with such emotion? The idea that they were secret lovers seemed eminently probable to William Douce—it fitted better than any other with his general view of life and his particular view of the Alard household. It had always been a surprise to him that a young and pretty girl like Condemnation should be content with a queer old stick like Gervase. Her obvious contentment and happiness were explained by the presence of a handsome young Frenchman in the background. It is true that he had never suspected de Périgault till that moment yesterday morning when he saw them together, but the discovery was like a missing piece in a puzzle—it suddenly gave a meaning to what had hitherto been meaningless.

If there was not actually a guilty intrigue there was certainly a flirtation, and Condemnation was not the sort of woman to stop short at that. She was no fine lady, skilled and polished in the art of love, enjoying the rapier play of ambiguous words and controlled emotions, but a farm-bred wench of strong passions and simple desires, who would take little pleasure in prancings and approaches, but set her heart on coming as quickly as possible to the chief business of love.

He did not go so far as to say in his heart that the coming child was not Alard's at all; but it might not be, and anyway there was no harm in the old chap having his doubts about it. Brother Charles might throw out a hint to-night . . . and meanwhile he would rigorously fulfill his promise to watch de Périgault. That morning he went later to work than usual, feeling that there was at least a chance of seeing him and Condemnation again at the temple.

He congratulated himself when he caught sight of her walking ahead of him on the riverside path. Doubtless she was on the way to meet her fancy at the appointed spot. It was simple of them to meet so near the house, but there was nothing much better they could do, with her husband in such a state about her, and either forbidding her long walks or else following her on them. Douce now had some explanation of her wanderings; he could understand why he had so often met her coming out of the woods behind the furnace, and why she had seemed on those occasions to avoid him, sneaking off into the cinder hills or among the thorn bushes between the forest and the river.

As he walked behind her along the path a kind of indignation seized him that she should be so sly, that she should thus hunt alone like a fox, and deceive a doting husband, and imagine that no one else had enough wit to know what she was doing. As she drew near to the temple he slipped behind a dogwood bush, his instinct telling him what her next act would be. He was right. She stopped for a moment and gazed all round her to see if anyone was about, then, seeing no one, she slipped into the summer-house.

The next minute she was out again, to his surprise. The young man evidently was not there, and she was not going to wait for him. Douce watched her turn back along the path and wondered what he had better do, as his dogwood bush, now stripped of all its leaves and berries, was not enough to hide him from anyone passing close by. Luckily for him, she turned aside before she had come so far, taking her quickest way home through the trees. Douce waited till she had disappeared, then came out and went on his way again.

When he came to the temple he went in, for it struck him that she might have visited it only to leave some note or message which if he were quick he might read before de Périgault came for it. There was nothing to be seen, except the changes that had taken place since he and Alard had sat there in doubtful converse with the magistellum. Douce had never been in it since, and he looked round for the first time on the curtains and gilt chairs. The books were gone, and the place from being male had become female, silky and rosy . . . but there was a queer, mouldy damp smell about it, as if the curtains were already rotting in the river mists—a poor place, thought he, for lovers to meet in.

Almost the only sign of female occupation was a work-basket on the table, and he at once began to rummage in it, feeling sure that if Condemnation had left a note she would have left it here, since evidently she did not keep it for use: The scissors were rusty, the cottons damp, the silks discoloured and mouldy—the pins were rusted into the pincushion. It must be her post-box, he felt sure, and the next moment under a bobbin of tarnished thread he found what he was seeking.

He unfolded it and read:

"To-night at 1/2 past eleven. I will leave the littel syde door by the parlor open."

The writing as well as the spelling was Condemnation's—her large, uncertain letters covered the whole of the paper, sprawling uncouthly. So she was having him up to the house—that alone could be her meaning . . . "the little side door by the parlour" . . . he knew it well, he had slipped out that way himself last night. The bushes grew right up to it. He agreed that this disused temple-summer-house was a poor place for love. But it was rash of her all the same . . . her husband sat in his study till after midnight and then went to his own room, but suppose that he should think of looking in upon her on his way. . . . No doubt she had long ago patched up some excuse about being afraid of robbers and locking her door. She was a cunning piece—but bold, too bold, and now her boldness had caught her. He was not quite sure what he should do with her now that she was in his hand—let her run the full length of her rope before she hanged herself or draw the noose immediately round her neck. . . . And should he expose her with his own tongue or through the postmortem utterances of Brother Charles? He must think of all that.

He slipped the note back into the basket under the bobbin, and left the temple.

§ 16

For a few minutes he hung about within sight of it, strolling to and fro beside the river, and watching the hillside and the path. He fully expected de Périgault to come and find the message. But time passed and there was no sign of his great striding figure and golden head. Douce walked on and found him already at the furnace.

So either, then, he had not expected Condemnation to come, or he had grown tired of waiting for her and relied on picking up her message on his way home. Douce began to feel curiously irritated by the thought of that scrap of paper lying there. Anyone might come along and read it . . . though it was not likely that anyone should enter that miserable little kiln, serving successively as a magician's cave and a lady's summer-house. It was a ridiculous structure, freak of an old man's folly—and yet once it had been useful to William Douce, and now was being useful to Gilles de Périgault. . . . Suppose Alard should go along and look there for his wife . . . it would be as well if he did, and found her miserable, wanton little note . . . the whole thing filled Douce with a sort of angry contempt—contempt and hate for Condemnation, contempt and love for the old man. It was a shame to have him so tricked by such a slut. But she should not trick him long. The only question was how long. Suddenly he decided that it should not be very long.

His own restless impatience may partly have led him to this decision, and partly the thought of that note lying there in the work-box for anyone to read. He had clapped his hand on a fine piece of evidence, and he might not be so lucky again—or Madam might not be so indiscreet. The chances were, too, that if she continued to be indiscreet someone else would find her out and rob him of his importance. He did not want to be either in himself or in the person of Brother Charles the mere mouthpiece of common gossip. Besides, when the child was born, Alard would most probably forsake his present habit of studying half the night; he would return to normal conjugal ways, and even Condemnation would not think of inviting her paramour to the house.

No, he would strike at once, while he had so good a chance. The lovers should be exposed to-night, and after that all would be well with the faithful servant, who would indeed thenceforward be no longer a servant but a son—the only son. Condemnation's power would be lost for ever, and he would receive a double measure of it. He scarcely tried to picture the effect on Alard of his revelation, though he thought it probable that the besotted old man would begin by doubting him—most likely he would declare Brother Charles to be an evil spirit. But then there would be the witness of his eyes . . . the accusation made with all the mystery and authority of another world would be confirmed with all the concrete and visual evidence of this.

A surge of happiness went through Douce's heart. Standing there in the crimson glare of the forge, with the wind of the great bellows roaring past him, the thunder of the hammers in his ears, he experienced a strange and rapturous sense of union with his surroundings. He was at one with the fire and the wind and the hammers; those other folk who had tried to rob him were just the wood that was burnt and the iron that was pounded.

It was many months since he had felt happy. Happiness was for him as unusual a state as despair is for most men. He could not remember feeling happy except on certain rare and shining occasions which stood up in his memory like mountain peaks above the common jungle. Now he was on a peak again, a fiery volcanic peak that thudded and roared under him . . . the furnace roared like the dreadful Liparen; the hammers and his heart thudded together. He was one with the furnace—a flame forging engines of destruction. The furnace was a part of himself; it was his and would always be his, William Douce's furnace beside the River Tillingham. One far-off day the woods might fail and the fires die down, but long before that day its name would be changed from Alard's to Douce's; and even though he had no son to come after him that name should remain living on beside the stream and in the folds of the hills—Douce, Douce, Douce—after the furnace and the woods were gone.


§ 1

The night was thick and warm for November. The sun set clearly behind the tufted ridges of Mardersham, but as he set fogs rose from the stream, islanding the trees and thorn bushes in queer white pools of vapour, which flowed together, till in the end the Tillingham Valley was full of a ghostly sea.

Gervase watched the night come with a troubled eagerness. He longed to be sitting again with Charles; he both longed and dreaded to hear what he had to say. He felt, too, a strange thrill of satisfaction that once more the darkness held this treasure for him. He forgot the other treasures of darkness that he and Condemnation had counted together, or if he remembered, it was as a memory of common coin and household stuff. To-night his treasure glittered in the higher places of the mind; its enjoyment was a dark adventure, not merely a soft, coddled yielding to bodily impulses.

It seemed to him now as if a certain high stir had gone from his life with the abandonment of magic. He had been happy during the last six months, but grossly, contentedly, commonly so; he had, partly out of kindness, partly out of fear, turned his back on adventure and sought comfort instead. This change seemed to him now less a renunciation than a surrender. The true philosopher and scientist will not be discouraged by one unfortunate experiment. After all, he had reason to know that lying spirits exist to deceive even the elect. His encounter with one of them was no reason for abandoning all contact with that mysterious world which holds perhaps the only answer there is to the only question that is worth asking.

He had in this way reasoned himself into justification, and excitement, hope and fear had done the rest. Condemnation had noticed all day a change in him. He seemed both more and less anxious about her—less careful of her physical state, less inclined to fuss over her meals and rest and garden walks, but inclined to be grandiloquently concerned with vaguer menaces, talking of wolves in sheep's clothing, the devil appearing as an angel of light, Calvinised Frenchmen and what not, till she was alternately alarmed and diverted.

She had always been unconvinced by his fears for her health, and had obeyed him only out of love and submission; but these other dangers he hinted at troubled her more—he knew so much more than she did, and in her respectful ignorance she imagined he might know of enemies, folk that would ill-treat her as they had ill-treated her before, out of cruelty, or as she saw they had grounds for now, out of envy. Then when he talked of Calvinised Frenchmen she had wondered if he could possibly have found out about de Périgault. At first she had not known what the word Calvinised meant, but she had asked him and he had told her.

"Protestant of a desperate sort, such as a Frenchman must be if he is Protestant at all. Beware of all Protestant Frenchmen, my dear."

"But we've so many all around us, Sir, and your daughters are married to two of them. Are we to beware of them all?"

"Beware of most of them, anyway, 'at's a good girl, and trouble me no more at present."

So she had not troubled him, though she had been troubled herself. That night they sat together by the fire and played an old-fashioned game of noddy. It was his custom to play with her in the evenings now that they were dark, and she eagerly looked forward to those quiet hours when they sat opposite each other in the winking firelight, and she could watch his face while he thought out his play, intent upon the cards. The shadows seemed to bite his face out of the firelight, black upon red, and sometimes she thought that he looked haggard and worn, and she would feel anxious lest his cares for her should make him unhappy and resolve all the more to do as he bade her and sit quiet and keep close to the house.

To-night there seemed a suppressed excitement about him; he scarcely watched his cards, and played at random. They were alone, for Louise had gone up to her room after supper. Condemnation knew why she had gone so early, and she too felt uneasy and excited. She wondered again if Gervase had found out anything about de Périgault and Mr. Parsons, but comforted herself with the thought that he was too kind to meddle even if he had—though he might warn her to beware of Protestant Frenchmen. Indeed, she hoped that such was the reason for his warning, and nothing worse. A strange fear crept out of her heart and ran with her blood, so that her hands felt cold and trembled as she dealt the cards.

"What is it, bud? Your hands are shaking."

"I feel cold."

"So close to the fire? Are you sure you're well?"

"Aye, certain sure."

"'Quite sure' or 'sure indeed'," he corrected. "When shall I teach thee to speak?"

"Am I so backward?"

"Aye, indeed you are. But trouble not, sweetheart. You'll learn soon enough when some things are out of your head. Are you sure you're well?"

"Aye, sure indeed."

"Then why should you be cold sitting here in the warm?"

"I'm tired, maybe. I'll go to bed when we've finished our game."

"That's right, go to bed, and sleep sweetly. But there's no need to wait for the end of the game. Better go at once and tire yourself no further."

"But we're within sight of the end."

"Nay, nay—go at once," and he put out his hand and swept the cards about the table. "It's all finished now."

She rose obediently, though she did not want to have to go so early. He kissed her on the forehead, with the grave abstraction of the first weeks of their marriage.

He was glad to have her away. The game bored him—sitting still bored him. His whole mind was in the future of the next two hours. He went across to the window, pulled aside the heavy damask curtains and looked out. He could see nothing, for the mist was right up to the house, thickening the spaces of lawns and the shapes of trees into one close blackness. But as he pressed his burning face against the coolness of the pane the darkness became suddenly and strangely full of images. He seemed to see a country he had almost forgotten. Surely, that was the lane leading to the Château le Thisay and himself hurrying along it . . . it was night, but a curious light hung over the picture, only in part reflected from the wet surface of the road. He saw himself hunched under his cloak, he saw the gleam of his sword beneath it, he saw the tall shapes of the agrimony. . . . So he was back in that lost world again, in the Pays du N éant, by the Clos de l'Eternel . . . and here was a sudden cavern of light and the Abbé Fournier faced him, sitting very stiffly and severely, while his lips moved in warning though no sound came from them. Then it was no longer the Abbé Fournier but that other Abbé, standing with his back to them all so that they could see his hideous black vestment with the broken cross upon his shoulders. . . . Gervase found himself violently shuddering, and then realized in some bewilderment that the light he was staring at was only the firelight reflected in the window pane. There were no images in it now and he turned quickly away from the window, feeling giddy and faint. What had happened? Where had he been? Nowhere, of course, but just gazing out of the window into an exceptionally black night.

He sat down by the fire and poked it, and a little flame rose up and sang and comforted him.

§ 2

An hour later he sat facing Charles. To-night there was no wind to moan through their discourse; only the heavy silence hanging with the mist round the house, a silence of which he was as conscious behind the words as last night he had been conscious of the wind.

For a few moments after that strange experience in the parlour he had thought of giving up the experiment, of sending William Douce away and going to bed. But gradually the sense of fear and confusion had worn off, and he had realized the necessity of speaking to Charles to-night, since his brother had a danger to reveal, a danger which might threaten not only himself but his wife, his little bud. It was his duty for her sake to speak to Charles again, and he must regard that disturbing pageant in the window pane as some hallucination or phantasmagoria, a trick of his tired sense.

So he had gone upstairs and found William Douce lounging by the last of the fire, his long legs stretched out in their green trunks and hosen, his green coat opening over a crimson vest. His hat was crimson, too, and banded with green. He had brought colour and brightness into the gloomy room where there were not enough candles burning. Gervase would have lit more, but the young man told him, on the contrary, to snuff some out, as a dim light was necessary to conjure the spirits.

"I like not that term, 'conjure'," said Gervase, "it smacks of the black art, and to-night we aren't experimenting with darkness, but rather with the light, since we beseech a spirit to come to us from the abode of the blest, the Paradise of admirable souls awaiting judgment."

"Yes, Sir, it's true," said Douce, and asked for a glass of wine, as he had a heavy task before him.

There was a decanter of Bordeaux wine put out with glasses on the table, and Gervase poured some out for himself and Will.

"Thou art the spingtime to me, Will," he said fondly, "dressed in green—thou speakest of the months ahead when we shall all be happy together."

"I toast the spring!" cried Douce, lifting his glass. "And I—the spring!" said Gervase.

Their glasses clinked and they drank.

Then Douce took a piece of chalk and drew a circle round the little table at which they were to sit. In the centre he drew the Seal of Solomon, and set the circumference with alternate pentacles and crosses. All the while he muttered prayers in a language which had once been Latin but was now the mumble-jumble of the magicians. Gervase did not altogether approve of this, feeling that they ought to begin such innocent proceedings with some open prayer—say, a godly collect from the Common Prayer Book or a Psalm in English. But he let the young man follow what had always been his custom, knowing that he felt himself protected by it.

When the circle was finished, Douce sat down at the table and muttered another prayer. Then for some minutes there was silence—the silence of the two men merging with and losing itself in the silence outside. It lasted so long, that after a while Gervase began to fear that it might not be broken. Then Douce began to writhe and twist, struggling in his chair as if he were bound to it and wanted to escape. This was always a sign that spirits were present, and sure enough at that moment came a voice, apparently from one of the corners of the room.

"The Ruler is here. Who desires him?"

"I desire him," said Gervase, repeating the formula. "I desire and I call."

Douce sat up at the table and his eyes opened, rolled up and tucked away. The strange voice came from his mouth.

"I am here. I have taken possession. What is your will?"

"That you bring me the spirit of my brother," said Gervase, trembling.

"Your brother is sad," said the Voice, which was not toneless like the voice of the fallen angel, but thick and heavy. "Your brother is sad and would sooner I gave you his message than speak himself."

"Nay," cried Gervase, "let him speak himself, for if he brings bad news I'll need comfort from him. Let him come to me—I pray you send him."

"You have power over me and over him. He shall come."

William Douce's eyes rolled down, and his dead face came to life, tender and smiling.

"Brother—dear brother."

Gervase stretched out his hands.

"Nay, touch not this body that I use. Dear Gervase. . . ."

"Dear Charles. . . . What have you to say to me?"

"I would speak of the furnace—Douce's Furnace."

"Why Will's? It an't his."

"It was his father's once and it would be justice to make it his again if you have no son."

"But I shall have a son. You told me, Charles—you promised me last night—that no harm should come to them."

"Your wife and her child will do well enough. But that's part of my warning."

"Your warning?"

"The warning I gave you last night. Beware of Gilles de Périgault."

"Nay, Charles, speak not in riddles. Tell me plainly what you mean."

Charles's eyelids drooped and veiled his eyes, and his face seemed to suffuse as if with shame. He said in a low, clear voice:

"It's hard for me to speak, for I love you, brother. But you've been betrayed in your own house and your house too is betrayed. My poor Gervase, if you will go down now at this moment to your wife's chamber you will find her with Gilles de Périgault, the father of her son."


A strange, barking sound broke from Gervase. He sprang to his feet, his face suddenly crimson and swollen.

"Tchah! Tchah!" It was as if for some time rage made any other sound impossible. "Tchah! Tchah."

Douce found it difficult to continue.

"It's for your good I warn you," he said, knowing that his voice cracked nervously on its forced pitch, but hoping that in his rage Alard would not notice the difference, "that you may know who is and who is not your friend, your son . . ."

"Aye, and one thing I know is that you aren't my brother Charles. Only a fiend would thus dare to slander the purest soul alive. Be gone, vile spirit!" and seizing one of the two candles that dimly relieved the darkness, he threw it with its heavily chased candlestick at William Douce's head.

Luckily it missed him by some inches, but the young man saw the advisability of coming out of his trance. He was throwing a preliminary struggle when Gervase, still barking with rage and taking these convulsions for a direct manifestation of Satan, rushed upon him and seized him by the throat, overturning at the same time the other candlestick and plunging the room in darkness.

"Nay, now I have thee, now I have thee! Miserable Asmodeus! Abominable Beelzebub! Be gone! Be gone! I'll throttle 'ee out."

They fell about the room together, Douce too nearly strangled to speak, and able to defend himself only by spasmodic movements that helped increase Alard's conviction that he wrestled with the Prince of Darkness. For a moment he thought that he was lost—his powers were failing—his faculties were growing dim, leaving as the last dregs of consciousness a picture of cinder-hills like mountains reflected in a river and a sense of ludicrous frustration. . . . Then as his body, deprived of its ruler, rose suddenly to automatic frenzy, he was free, gasping in the merciful air, and able to cry—"Master! Master! it's only me—spare poor Will."

§ 3

Gervase came to himself. He felt a warm, smooth, pulsing human throat under his hands and snatched them away. In the darkness he heard Will gasp.

"Nay, forgive me," he murmured, "in my rage against that invading demon I forgot he wore thy shape. Have I hurt 'ee, Will?"

"It's but a trifle."

Douce fumbled for the tinder-box, found it and struck a light. He felt sick with rage and pain. Who would have thought the old mountebank would behave in such a manner? For a moment it almost seemed to him as if his well-laid plans were spoiled. The old madman would sooner believe himself in communication with the devil than that his snow-white blossom was a whore. The old fool. Having doubted a supernatural revelation would he next doubt the evidence of his senses? Douce felt injured in mind as well as in body.

"Forgive me, Will," repeated Gervase, reading his silence, also the wry look on his face.

"Nay, there's nothing to forgive. I shall recover presently."

"Have a glass of wine."

He poured out some wine for both of them, and again they drank together, this time without any toast.

"I should have remembered that he wore thy shape," repeated Alard, "but it was a demon—a demon from the blackest hell that had thee. And yet last night I vow it was my own brother Charles."

"Remember that I know nothing of what has happened."

"Aye, I'd forgotten that too. A demon came—a foul demon—and took possession of thee. I would have choked him out."

"Are you sure, Sir, that he was a demon? From past experience in this art I know that I should now have some inkling—some remaining sense of corruption—had I been used, even for a moment, by any infernal power. What name did he call himself?"

"He called himself my brother Charles. But I'll swear it wasn't he; my brother would never have spoken such foulness . . . such abominable leasing. . . . Will, I can scarcely bring myself to tell you what he said."

Douce said nothing. He sat nursing his injured throat, knowing that Gervase would certainly tell him everything.

"He spoke against my wife," continued Gervase, "against the best and purest being that ever lived. Oh, Will, I shouldn't have come back to this, for it has always been the same. The spirits have always warned me against my little one."

He bowed his head; then an evil question came to him, and he shuddered.

"I thought," said Douce, "that last night they warned you against Monsieur de Périgault."

"Aye, and to-night. The impious accuser said . . . oh, Will, how shall I tell you?—he said that de Périgault is the father of my wife's son."

The breath hissed sympathetically between William Douce's teeth.

"Yes, he dared to utter such a lie. And he said more in his blasphemy. He said that if I went down to her now I should find him with her. I—to whom she has been as a Vestal virgin for the past three months, I who have respected her as I would respect a holy temple . . . he asks me to believe she has this man with her now. . . ."

His voice dropped heavily on the last word. He sat with his hands clenched and trembling between his knees, his eyes staring into the darkness behind the candle flame.

"Well, you can go down and prove her innocent."

"I have no need of proof," said Gervase loftily.

Douce could have kicked him.

"I tell 'ee, Will, she's been my wife for eighteen months, and I tell 'ee she's like a lamb in her innocence. . . . And yet they're all against her—the spirits are against her. Oh, tell me, Will, why all that world of light's against her."

"You yourself have said it's a world of darkness."

"Not entirely—I'll never believe it. But there are evil spirits that come, and one came to-night. Oh, Charles, that you should fail me . . . why can't I be sure even of you?"

"Both your brother and to-night's visitor, even if they weren't the same, gave you the same warning."

"Against Gilles de Périgault. Aye, but Charles said nothing of my wife."

"He lost his power before he could say more."

"What! you'd never tell me that if he could have stayed he'd have injured her like to-night's fiend? You'd never dare . . . Will, I'd not take it even from you."

Will forced himself to patience. He saw that he must coax Gervase as he would a child, and again he felt that peculiar fondness rising in his heart, that affection with its strong roots in contempt which had made these days of his revived power so different from its lost beginning.

"Nay, I would never say such a thing," he answered sweetly. "All I wish is to quiet your mind both in regard to your wife and in regard to the spirits."

"My mind is quiet in regard to my wife."

But Douce knew that it was not. He saw that in spite of himself, the old fellow had been upset. He imagined all sorts of things, though probably he himself did not know what. His protests owed their very violence to the fears they concealed. There had been a Question.

"I would quiet it in regard to the spirits too."

"Nay, but thou canst never do that. If I believe them, I must doubt her, and that's impossible."

"You may have misinterpreted their message."

"How can I have done so? They spoke plain enough. The demon said 'If you go down to her now—at this very moment—you will find her with Gilles de Périgault.'"

"Maybe no more than playing cards together."

"Why should she play cards with him in the middle of the night? and the liar says he is the father of her son . . . and he hasn't come to the house for the last six months—at least not openly. Ah, I remember teasing her with the very fact . . . ."

He was striding violently up and down the room, almost isappearing in the deep shadows that piled each end of it, out of reach of the single candle-flame.

"Nay, it's vain for thee to stand up for thy spirits, Will. They are liars—they come straight from the father of lies. Though I could swear Charles spoke to me last night. Aye, it was he. I know it. He spoke of that time we watched the stars together. . . . Oh, brother. . . . You vow, Will, that you felt no sense of corruption?"

"None at all."

"I can't account for it. For I'm sure a demon had thee; and I will prove it to thee. I will now go down to my darling's bed and kiss her as she sleeps and come up again and tell thee how true and how pure she is. If I do that, will you believe that it was a demon?"

"I shall indeed. But do not think I doubt your lady now."

"Nay, nay, Will; thou'dst never do such an evil thing, I know. But I will prove it to 'ee all the same."

Douce was satisfied that he had found a reason for going downstairs and convincing himself of his wife's innocence. He let him go, perfectly confident that if, as was more than likely, he found what Brother Charles had told him, no false pride would make him conceal his error. There would be another scene, but it would not be as unpleasant as the first, at least for William Douce.

He sat down in an armchair, still trembling a little. He heard Alard's footsteps go down the stairs—a trifle too creakily for his business—then turn along the passage. Douce strained his ears. A door opened . . . what! had the slut never locked it? Then—silence. Douce was surprised. Then the footsteps came running up again.

Gervase burst into the room, fear rather than fury written on his face.

"Will, she an't there—she's gone. Her room's empty."

§ 4

Douce's first sensation was of complete foolishness. His plan had miscarried probably through his own fault. He was a bungler who had left too many edges loose—a gambler who had left too much to chance. But immediately a blander, clearer feeling came. Even if he had been wrong as to the details—as to the actual stage and circumstance of sin—he might still be right as to the fact of it. Condemnation was not in her room, where she ought to be at this time, and her lover, he knew, had been invited to the house. Perhaps she was not so reckless as he thought, and had preferred to meet him in some locked, secret attic rather than in her own bed. Or perhaps she had been more reckless, and had run away with him never to come back. In either case all was well, for in the first a search would find her, and in the second she was gone for good.

Then on the heels of satisfaction trod a fresh set of doubts. Perhaps de Périgault had never found her message in the temple and, as she did not come when she expected him, she was gone out to look for him. Or perhaps the whole plan was changed, and she had decided instead to meet him at the temple or in some hidden thicket of the woods.

"Has her bed been slept in?" he asked. "Has she taken her clothes? Was she dressed?"

Gervase stared at him blankly. He did not seem to have noticed anything save that the room was empty.

They went downstairs together, Douce treading as carefully as possible, for he did not want to rouse anyone till he had found out what was happening.

Alard had left the door of his wife's room wide open, and as Douce entered it he noticed that the window was uncurtained. There was a ghostly light in the room, coming from the stars, for through the uncurtained window it could now be seen that the mists had withdrawn from the house, shrinking back to the river side. The pale unearthly starlight washed the room, showing a faint shadow on the bed, which was the pressure left by a body that must have lain for some time outside it on the coverlet. The peacocks on the walls looked out dimly from their fading castles. A clock struck twelve.

"Where can she have gone?" groaned Gervase. "See, she hasn't been to bed at all."

"Has she taken anything with her?"

He opened one or two drawers that appeared to be full of clothing. It was, of course, impossible for him to know what she had taken. Then suddenly lifting his eyes to the window he saw figures moving at the far end of the lawn. Yes, undoubtedly there was a man slinking along by the trees—and a woman following him . . . they were too far off for him to distinguish faces, but they were certainly there. They appeared to be going toward the house, but might be meaning to slip past it to the river and the road. . . .

"Quickly!" he cried to Gervase. "Quickly."

He dashed out of the room. If they were in time they could intercept them.

"What is it, Will?" cried Alard as he followed him. "In the name of God, what hast thou seen?"

"Those two—your wife and de Périgault."

"Nay, nay, nay——"

"But it is so. Come and prove it—I saw them go under the beechen tree by the end of the lawn. They're making for the river and the Hastings road. No doubt they've horses waiting there."

"My God!" choked Alard, "my merciful God!"

He hurried after Douce down into the hall and then along a passage to the little side door. It was open. "They must have left this way," he moaned. "Oh the villain! the abominable fiend—more foul than any conjured out of hell."

"Sst!" said Douce impatiently. "We're out of doors. They may hear us. Watch."

He gazed toward the distant thickets of beech and alder sloping to the stream, but no one was in sight. They were out on the terrace, facing the cold star-washed lawns beyond which the trees made darkness. Close on their left was an ornamental shrubbery of laurels, and suddenly Gervase pointed to them.

"Look!" he cried, seizing Douce's arm in a grip that almost made him scream.

"Nay, there's nobody—I saw them beyond the lawn."

"But I can see something moving—I can hear . . ."

"Ssst, or they'll hear you" . . . you old fool, he added in his heart.

"I swear there's a man in those bushes."

"A cat," began Douce, but at that moment a man darted out and ran away across the lawn. Gervase was after him at once, and Douce saw to his intense surprise that he really was Gilles de Périgault.

What had happened? Who then were those other two whom he had seen skulking by the thickets? The place was full of mystery. He stood for a few moments utterly bewildered, uncertain what to do next. He could hear Gervase shout "Stop, you blackguard! Stop, you fiend!" and for an instant he thought of joining in the chase. But he saw that it would be useless now—he was too far behind. The young man ran like a deer, and Alard would not catch him either, for he was wearing his Parson's gown, which he had put on to give decorum to the night's proceedings. The old madman would soon be blown and hobbled to a standstill. Already he seemed to be slackening . . . and de Périgault had disappeared into the mists that veiled the lower slopes of the garden.

Then he saw that Gervase had stopped running. He stood motionless half way up the lawn, staring toward the terrace. The light was not clear enough for Douce to see his face, but there was something so tense and startled in his attitude, that the young man immediately turned round to look behind him. Condemnation stood there, close to the house.

§ 5

So all was well. Even if de Périgault escaped the matter was proved and William Douce established by the mouth of a ghost. Fearing that she might dart away, he slipped back to cut off her retreat into the house. Gervase was advancing towards her in great strides, but she did not try to avoid him; on the contrary she took a few steps forward.

"Husband," she cried, as he came up to her, "what has happened? What are you doing here?"

"What are you doing here?" and his hand swooped, seizing her wrist ungently.

She was fully dressed, with a cloak over the gown she had worn yesterday. She murmured something about not being able to sleep.

"Nay, let me not hear your lies. Know at once that they're useless. I've seen de Périgault."

She said nothing, but Douce could see clearly that her expression changed. It became set and blank.

"Yes," he continued, his voice carrying a curious break in it, "as I came out of the door I saw him run out of the bushes."

"But what—what should he be doing here?" she cried.

"Aye, that's what I want to know. What is he dangling after round the house? He ran away like a rat when he saw me, and I ran after him, and would have caught him had I not been hobbled by my gown. Tell me, what was he doing if he wasn't coming after you?—and what are you doing, creeping here when you should be in your chamber? Nay, do not lie to me, do not lie to me! For I can't bear it."

"I an't lying. He an't here on my account. He's here on other business."

"What business?"

All the while Gervase had been blustering at her, Douce had watched her face and it had seemed to him the face of a woman who searched desperately, who was calling up all her wits to defend her. Now she remained silent till Alard had shouted again:

"What business?"

"Nay, how should I know? His coming here has naught to do with me."

"Will you tell me that you knew nothing of it?"

She faltered and was lost before she said: "I knew nothing."

"You're lying!" he cried desperately. "Aye, I can see that you're lying. Oh, my God, that you should lie to me."

Condemnation burst into tears.

"I'm not lying—oh, Gervase, don't speak so terribly. I swear there's nothing wrong—I swear it! I swear it! And in a little while you shall know—I'll tell you all. Only have patience for a while, and you shall know."

She had flung her arms round his neck and was clinging to him, and the feel of her there, so soft and so small and yet heavy against him with the weight of her child, brought him suddenly a terrible sense of weakness. His heart began to beat violently and his head to swim, she had reached up her face and was kissing him; their lips met and he felt his bad angels depart. . . . But she had tricked him and lied to him; she was false—he could still see that she was false. She had been unable to prove her innocence and she had not behaved like an innocent girl; and here she was coaxing him and kissing him because she could not convince him. Her kisses were nothing but lies—more and more lies. His bad angels had come back, and he pushed her from him. "Nay, you shan't bubble me."

He had used more force than he meant or knew, and had sent her staggering from him, towards the edge of the terrace. She tried to save herself, clutching at the air, but the next moment she had fallen backwards down the terrace steps, a flight of seven. She cried out as she fell, and rolled over on the grass.

So fast did his bad angels hold him that at first he thought her writhings were part of her tricks, and that she was merely acting pain instead of love. It was the sight of William Douce running to her that brought him to himself, and in a moment he was at her side. She began to scream, and Gervase forgot her wickedness as he tried to raise her.

"No, no—you hurt me. I'm all twisted. No, no—don't touch me. Go away."

A man came running toward them across the lawn. They took for granted that he was de Périgault, but as he drew nearer they saw that he was shorter, darker and older. He was a stocky, grey-haired man in a riding-suit—Parsons, no less. His sudden appearance out of nowhere seemed to crown the strange happenings of the night.

§ 6

"My bud, my poor little bud."

Gervase knelt beside her helplessly, while her hands beat him off. Then suddenly she managed to scramble to her feet, but immediately shrieked with pain and would have fallen if Parsons had not caught her. With a strength surprising in one of his small build, he lifted her gently and easily in his arms.

"I will carry you to your room, and call Madame Alard. Will you not come too, Sir?"

Gervase, who was standing like a block, saw him carry her towards the house and turned to follow them. He looked back over his shoulder to see if William Douce were coming too, but he had disappeared.

"Will!" he called—"Will!" He felt lost and forlorn without him. In that unnatural moment it seemed as if Condemnation and Parsons were his enemies and only Will of all the world was his friend. He called again, but there was no answer. The priest did not look back, and they went into the house.

Parsons carried Condemnation upstairs into her bedroom with its staring, starlit window, putting her down tenderly on the bed, where the mould of her form still lay like a shadow.

"I'll fetch Madame," he said, and went out.

Gervase went close to the bed and stooped over it. His wife's breath stroked his face, coming up to him in little sighs. There were no candles in the room, but the starlight showed him that she lay with her eyes closed, and that her face was drawn and smudged with tears—like a hurt child's, yet with a look upon it that should never be on a child's face.

"My little bud—my sweetheart. . . ."

There was no answer, and when he touched her she did not move or cry out. Her face was ghostly and her hands were cold. Her breathing was silent now—silent and almost invisible. She must have swooned. What should he do about it?—he felt frightened and incapable. He ran to her pitcher and fetched water to bathe her face, but his hands trembled so that he slopped it over the bed.

Then Louise came in. She did not look like a woman suddenly roused from sleep, for she was fully dressed, her hair was curled and her cap carefully set. But Gervase did not notice anything of this; he saw only that she was there.

"Sister! Sister!—look what has happened."

"Mon pauvre ami . . ."

She came over to the bed, and taking the water bowl and cloth from his fumbling hand, she began to bathe the girl's forehead with tender skill.

"You had better go," she said. "Go to your study and I will fetch you when the maids and I have put her to bed."

He saw two goggling faces in the doorway and began to protest, but Louise interrupted him:

"Nay—I beg you to go. This is women's work."

He was so beaten down by all that had happened that he crept away without another word.

§ 7

His study was as he had suddenly left it, with the wine upon the table and one candle burning, though he noticed that William Douce had remembered to wipe the Sign of Solomon off the floor. He lit more candles and set the room to rights a little in case Louise should come into it. Then he sat down to wait for her.

Five minutes ticked by in a procession of eternal hours. He could feel the tears rolling down his cheeks—it must be nearly forty years since he had wept. They brought him no relief; they seemed to pass down his face like searing irons and to clog his breath with pain and his heart with humiliation. Yet he could not stop them—they would fall. He was in two agonies—one for the thing which had happened, which was also beginning to look like the thing he had done, and one for all that had gone before it, the horror that was only half-revealed. He could not believe that she was innocent, after the spirit's warning that had been so terribly fulfilled . . . and yet she was his little bud, whom he had struck in his anger and hurt—perhaps mortally. At this point the agony became a sword, piercing his heart with a pain so physical that it made him hold his side. He sprang up hastily and went to the door; he would go down, he could not endure this waiting any longer. Then, as he opened the door, he saw Louise's candle coming up the stairs.

He would have gone down at once, but with her white, beringed hand on his chest, she gently pushed him back into the room.

"No. I will talk to you here."

"But I must go down to her."

"When we have talked. If you go down you must not speak at all—you must be very quiet."

"Is she roused up, then? Has she recovered?"

"She has come out of her swoon, but she is still in great pain. I am afraid that she is badly hurt."

"Will she die?" he cried. "Will she die?"

"God forbid. I have sent for Mr. Homer, and he will be here presently. Mr. Parsons tells me she had a fall. How did that happen?"

"I pushed her."

Louise stared at him.

"Aye, I pushed her from me and she fell backward down the steps."

"She told me something of the kind, but I thought she must be wandering in her wits. How can you have done it?"

"She lied to me."

"She lied . . ."

Louise was shocked and puzzled. Condemnation had only added to her perplexity by a few disjointed phrases—Sir Gervase had come out, and he had been angry, and pushed her—and oh, would this pain soon be gone? Would Mr. Horner take it away . . .? She could not understand how Gervase had suddenly appeared on the scene: and with William Douce, too—for Parsons had told her that he had found them there together.

"Where has he gone?" she asked, thinking aloud.


"William Douce."

"I don't know. Would that I did, for he alone is true to me."

"Brother, for shame! I cannot understand. . . . Then it struck her that Douce might by some evil chance have come to hear of the priest's visit, and have brought Gervase to spy on the congregation arriving for Mass. But it was not like her brother to do such a thing. He had always guessed the purpose of Parsons' visits and always ignored them. She remembered earlier conversations they had had. . . . Douce's evil influence must be deeper and more persistent than she had imagined.

"Tell me," she cried, rounding on him almost angrily, "are you sure that he is not gone to tell the searchers, and bring a warrant for the Priest's apprehension?"

Gervase in his turn was puzzled.

"Nay, what are you talking of?"

"I can only believe that you came to spy on Parsons."

"Parsons! I never knew that he was here—his coming was the greatest surprise of all. It was de Périgault that I came to watch—that vile, crawling, unclean seducer, that snake, that frog . . ."

He stopped, choking breathlessly. Louise stared at him, all the colour gone from her face.

"What do you mean?"

"Nay, I will not tell you."

He hid his face in his hands and almost sobbed. Meanwhile she recovered herself, and came to a ridiculous, terrible understanding. She was a quick-minded woman, and it had instantly occurred to her that Gervase was not likely either to suspect or to resent de Périgault's courtship of herself, still less his becoming a Catholic. No, he must suspect him of far worse designs, and it was possible—she could not deny that it was possible—that Condemnation's good offices on her behalf, her running to and fro with notes and messages, might have resulted in attaching to herself a certain amount of suspicion from evil-minded persons . . . the colour ran back into her face; she was crimson with anger against William Douce.

Now she understood what he had been doing on the terrace. He had brought Gervase by some means she could not imagine to spy not merely on a visiting priest but on his own wife. He must have found out that de Périgault was expected at the house to-night, and entirely misread the purpose of his visit. She forced herself to calmness and spoke.

"Brother, I think you have made a mistake."

"How can I have done so?"

"Did you come here to-night to watch for de Périgault?"

"Nay, do not question me."

"But I must do so, in justice to her—I feel—I fear—that you have entertained an abominable suspicion—too abominable for either of us to mention. So I must tell you now and clearly that de Périgault was expected here to-night by me."

"I don't understand."

"If he came here to-night, and I do not know yet if he is come—-"

"Aye, he is come—and gone again. He ran away like a cur out of the bushes, and I ran after him and would have caught him if my gown hadn't hobbled me."

"He ran away, no doubt, because he feared to be recognized. He feared William Douce, even if he did not fear you. He knew that his discovery might mean fines and imprisonment for himself and death for Mr. Parsons."

"How could that be so?"

"You know that a priest is liable to the death penalty if he reconciles anyone to the Church."

"You sure don't mean that he would reconcile de Périgault?"

"Yes, that is what I mean. For many months now he has been wanting to return to the church of his fathers, and I have helped him. . . . Gervase, I will tell you everything. It is my duty to your wife, and I trust you entirely not to betray me nor anyone I love. I love Gilles de Périgault, and I am to marry him one day. You must not be surprised, or angry, for I have not forgotten your dear brother. But—but—I am not yet old, and—this young man—he pleases me. I will marry a man of my own faith and I will be happy . . . yes, happy, though I shall always love Charles—you must not think that I have ceased to love him. This is different. I told Condemnation that it was different. And she has helped me. She has carried notes for me and left them in her summer-house, for him to find on his way back from the furnace. I may have been foolish to let her do so, but I never thought that there were spies about, or such black hearts. . . . I did not want his family to suspect anything—they have already found out a little; that is why he stopped coming to the house. Condemnation took a message for me to-day telling him that Mr. Parsons would be here; and Douce may have found it and read it by the light of his evil mind. I forgot . . . I never thought of him; I am to blame. My dear," taking his dry, shaking hand, "you must forgive me."

Gervase did not speak. Her words had passed over him in a cloud. He could scarcely remember now what she had said; and yet he accepted them—he knew that Condemnation had not been untrue to him, and that he had struck her in ignorance as well as in anger. He vaguely felt that the knowledge ought to comfort him, and in a way it did, but in another way it filled him with a sense of shame and loss.

"But I can't understand," he mumbled, "Charles told me to beware of Gilles de Périgault."

"Charles. But he scarcely knew him—and what he knew he liked. He told me."

Gervase saw that he had blundered.

"Nay, I know not what I'm saying. . . . But why was she there?—what was she after, if she wasn't after him? I went down to her room and found it empty, so I called Will and we went out on the terrace . . . then the Frenchman ran out of the bushes, and she came—I saw her standing . . ."

"He was late, and she had gone to see if he was at the door. It was part of my folly to let her do it, but she was all eager to help me."

"When I asked her she would tell me nothing."

"She had Mr. Parsons' life in her hand and my suitor's safety. She would have been wiser to tell you, but it cannot have entered her head that you would think of her as you did. Gervase! Gervase!" in a sudden bewilderment of indignation, "what evil spirit can have possessed you to make you doubt such a wife?"

Gervase turned pale. For a moment he thought she had guessed what had happened, but the next he knew that her words had another sense. Before he could say anything she added:

"It was that devil in flesh, William Douce. He is your evil spirit."

"But it wasn't he. Louise, I swear to you that it wasn't he. Poor Will knew nothing of it. He came with me—that was all."

"Who told you, then?"

"Nay, that's my business."

"Such a liar and slanderer should be brought to justice. If we have such a person in the house, you should let us know who it is."

She was sure that Gervase was lying to save Douce, and her anger rose against him too.

"What has come over you?" she cried. "You never used to be so credulous."

He stood miserably silent, feeling chidden as well as hurt. Then as she turned from him to go downstairs, his anxious mind suddenly brought him the vindication for which it had been unconsciously searching ever since it had heard the truth—not the vindication of Douce, but of Charles's spirit. Last night's visitor and to-night's were not the same. Charles himself had spoken to him yesterday, and had bidden him beware of de Périgault because he did not wish Louise to marry again. He was hurt and offended by her marrying again so soon, at her age, a man so much younger than herself. That was the truth of it. Charles had said nothing at all about Condemnation—all that had been the later work of some wandering demon taking advantage of his fears. But Charles had spoken to him yesterday—here, in this very room. Louise herself had proved it. It was really and truly possible to speak to the dead.

"Oh, Charles!" he cried, suddenly, throwing up his arms. "Oh, brother! help me, brother! help me now."

Louise felt frightened and sick. Surely he must be mad. Why had he started talking like this of Charles? Already twice, for no reason, he had mentioned him. Her husband's name, smiting across her heart just as she was preparing to give it to another, brought her suddenly a personal sense of loss and anguish. As she walked downstairs her tears began to fall, not for Gervase nor even for Condemnation, but for herself. She forgot her lover, perhaps at that very moment in the house, and thought only of the past and the man whose place he could never fill.


§ 1

The son of the house was born a seven months' child, small without being puny, dark as a nut. Gervase felt no stir of joy at his birth; he was not specially delighted to know that he had an heir, nor did he much care that the child was likely to thrive. In that dark and terrible hour it was nothing to him if the house of Alard continued or came to an end. His hopes seemed all to lie in Condemnation, to rise and fall with her breath. When he was allowed to come in and sit beside her, he watched each breath, fearing that she would not draw another.

The doctor had found her suffering from an injury to her head as well as internal contusions, and for some time hours of pain alternated with bouts of deep unconsciousness. At first it was hoped that her fall would not bring on premature labour, but toward dawn certain changes set in, and an experienced midwife was sent for from the village. The processes of birth were abnormally prolonged, owing to the poor little mother's inability to help herself, and Gervase would never forget those hours he spent pacing and prowling around Conster, afraid to go too far and yet afraid to stay within sight or hearing.

His only companion had been William Douce. Louise had stayed the whole time in the sick room, and Parsons had vanished as mysteriously as he had come. There was only Will to comfort him, to sit with him and drink with him in his study, or walk with him in the grounds, to occupy him with the business of the furnace, to distract him with tales of his work and adventures in France, to reassure him and explain the night's dark doings. Oh, what should he have done without Will.

Toward evening Bridget Harman arrived with her husband, and after her came Eustache and Madge de Champfort. But none of them was any comfort to him. They sat about and tormented him with questions as to Condemnation's fall, with surmises as to her condition and the state of the child. The girls ran up and poked their noses into the bedroom, and came down chattering. He dratted and damned them all.

He was sent for when it was seen that she must die. At first the doctor and the nurse had relied on her youth and health to bring her through her troubles; but she had had too much against her, including the doctor and the nurse. The prolonged bleedings and cuppings which the medicine of the age required had undermined her strength, already brought low, while a midwifery based on superstition rather than on science was unable to cope with conditions outside its normal experience. Gervase found her lying greenish-white from loss of blood, her voice scarcely more than a whisper.

His heart thudded like a drum against his side as he bent over her. He was full of anger, against himself. His anger was a concentrated fire, a lightning, splitting the dark heavens of his thought with one single self-reproach. It did not lighten upon Douce or upon that mysterious outer world which had deceived him, but only upon himself, because he had struck her, given her a blow . . . his little bud, his little bird. Even if she had done all that he had thought, he should not have struck her—he who had been moved to such indignation by her treatment at Newhouse, to whom she had fled for safety and kindness. That blow was now like a sword between them, and the hilt was in her hand and the point was in his heart.

"Sweetheart," he murmured, "my dear little love. Forgive me."

Her lips parted and a word came out. He could only just hear it. "Read."

"What am I to read, my dear?"

"Visit . . . sick."

He gazed at her bewildered, and it was Louise's quicker thought which, snatching on memory, was able to tell him what she asked for.

"She wants you to read to her from the Visitation of the Sick."

He could not refuse, though he could hardly bear it. A Prayer Book was brought and he sat by the bedside, to read to her as he had read, before in this very room.

"Remember not, Lord, our iniquities, nor the iniquities of our forefathers. Spare us, good Lord, spare thy people whom thou hast redeemed with thy most precious blood, and be not angry with us for ever."

Her mouth fluttered like a leaf.

"Spare us, good Lord."

There she lay, as she had lain in those days gone by, smiling up at him out of the grave of her bed; for her eyes smiled at him, even though her lips could not. A little later her replies ceased, but when he looked at her fearfully, he saw that her eyes were still open and smiling. After that he read the responses for her, until near the end, when she gave a little choking sound and Louise rushed to her side.

"Quick! the medicine."

He gave it to her, his hand shaking, his head swimming. He seemed to see Condemnation slipping away, flying out into the dusk as a wild bird flies out of a thicket, vanishing into the freedom of the night. He saw his love for her as a thicket of thorns, a trap in which she had been caught and hurt. . . . "Our soul is escaped even as a bird from the snare of the fowler. . . ."

"My bird," he called after her, "my little bird. Oh, tell me this an't my doing."

He saw her come back for a moment, carrying her light into extinguished eyes; her lips were like shadows moving on her face, and the words came so faintly that he had to put down his ear to them. Her last breath stirred his hair.

"Flowers on the ash tree . . . so pretty."

§ 2

They expected him to take comfort in the child; but he would not look at it. He could not think of it as hers. Buds cannot be fertilized, and it seemed to him then that she had never flowered, but lay folded in her sleep like a bud plucked untimely. This child had been fathered by a doubt out of a dream. It was not real to him, and when Louise and his daughters saw the House of Alard in it, and Oxenbrigge made mock sorrowful grimaces, they all seemed so many players strutting on a stage, and the baby was the pillow that they nursed. He could not look at them or it; he turned away his face and buried it in his books.

Madge de Champfort came to take charge of Alard's heir. She was glad to come to Conster with her husband and her own baby. She did not like living with the de Champfort parents, who had rigid and religious notions, and expected their sons to work like labourers on the land and their daughters to toil like maidservants in the house. It seemed to her and to Eustache an excellent plan that they should go to live with their father and take care of his household and his child. They had wondered at first that the Dowager Lady Alard did not make any objection. They had thought she would want to look after the child, and perhaps make a Papist of him secretly. But Louise had taken her earliest opportunity to express her approval of the plan.

Not only was it right that Gervase should receive help and comfort from his own daughter, that at least one of his five chatterboxes should show herself dutiful in his adversity, but she was desperately anxious that a home should be built up round him, a home in which she had no place, so that when at last she set out on her own way and saw him no more he would not feel himself bereaved a second time.

She could not look at him without a sinking of her heart and occasionally wondered if she had any right to a happiness that had already cost him so much. But she remembered that her life did not belong to her now; if she sacrificed it to Gervase, she also sacrificed Gilles de Périgault's. Her lover's life was bound to hers with a double strand, and the fact that she had fulfilled one part of her duty toward him only made it the more necessary that she should fulfil the other. She saw him as a young child, her spiritual child, standing in his white baptismal robe on the far shore of a river—the deep, sundering river that now ran between him and his past life, all his kin, all his hopes of advancement and prosperity in his adopted country.

He had crossed that river with his hand in hers, looking to her for love and guidance and an everlasting companionship in the promised land. She could not let him go. She could not leave his new, untried faith in the desert to be fed by ravens. He was nine years younger than she, and his white baptismal robe had made him a child. All her heart yearned in love and pity over him, even more than over the stricken Gervase. She could not bear to think of him struggling without her either in his spirit or in his flesh. It hurt her to imagine him in his parents' house at Sliverick, his secret heavy upon him, his newly-given faith—which she knew in her heart was still little more than a part of his love for her—in jeopardy every hour. He must at all costs escape from this life of duplicity and danger: he must go back to France, and she could endure the thought of his going without her even less than she could endure the thought of leaving Gervase. She saw plainly—her mind and her heart both showed her—that she must go with him and break all lesser ties.

As often as she realized this all her desire was to go quickly—before his faith was too much tried in isolation and before any rumour of what had happened could spread to incriminate Parsons. Already Gervase knew his secret, and though she relied on her brother's honour she could not equally rely on his discretion. Besides, William Douce must know something, too, about it all. Gervase would certainly have told him that his suspicions of Condemnation had been unjustified, and that de Périgault had come to the house on a very different errand. He might even have disclosed—or partly disclosed—what that errand was. In which case they were all in the hands of William Douce—sad hands indeed to be in. . . . She must be gone.

All that held her back was her affection for Gervase and something shamefaced that made her think she was serving Charles by staying with his brother. She told herself that she must wait for the end of the winter. By then she hoped to have Gervase's new household more firmly established and to see him better comforted. That was the utmost she could or ought to do for him: he could ask no more of her—indeed he scarcely asked as much. He knew that she was going, but he made no protest and showed no curiosity. Sometimes she told herself that she might as well go at once, because he did not seem to care whether she went or stayed; but in her heart she knew that his indifference was another reason for her staying. It was not due to any comfort he found in his daughters or in his infant son, but to his growing absorption in William Douce. Since his wife's death they had scarcely been parted; either they were together at the furnace or together in the house. The young man came to Conster more often than he had come before—more boldly and more openly—and Gervase seemed to grow more and more dependent on him, less and less able to do without his company.

"Let him stay—he's my son," he said to her once, when she had made protest at his continual presence.

"How can you say so!" she cried angrily. "You have only one son—Charles Gervase Alard—and you scarcely look at him."

He stared at her in a mazed, bewildered fashion, and murmured:

"He's too young."

Louise was more than ever uneasy. As time passed she suspected Douce of having persuaded him back to necromancy. He came to the house almost every night, and Gervase would take him to his study and lock the door.

"We've matters to discuss," he would say, "he's helping me with my work," but Louise could not think that the business of Conster Furnace needed discussion after midnight, or that young, sparkish Douce was learned enough to help her brother with that everlasting Treatise, which had been brought out again to lie brown and crabbed and fly-blown on his table, with every day a few lines added in a hand that reeled and sank across the page.

Sometimes she would feel an almost superstitious terror of the young man; she would imagine that all the trouble that had come to them was his doing, that he was Conster's evil angel. She was certainly convinced that Alard's sudden, insane suspicion of his wife was due to him and to him alone—she could not believe anything he said to the contrary. Douce was at the bottom of that dreadful affair; for some reason he had suspected Condemnation and had brought Gervase to share his suspicion—or perhaps he had not even suspected her, but had merely used her innocence to his own vile ends. And now she was sure that he watched the house for Parsons, hoping to incriminate and betray him—and perhaps not him only. . . . When she thought of these things she would feel suddenly beside herself, torn in two by her fears of what might happen if she stayed and what might happen if she went.

In her more reasonable moments she knew that she had no good foundation for many of her suspicions. Perhaps she was a fool to mistrust Douce at all—and ungracious, too, since Gervase obviously found comfort in his society. He was still abstracted and self-absorbed, he still refused to notice his son and seemed bored by the attentions of his daughters, but she often thought she saw a look of exaltation on his face, as if at least his dreams were happy. . . .

When she examined her fears they seemed to have no substance, but to be mere shadows in her mind, perhaps the broken reflections of her own self-reproach and uneasy state. After all, it was perhaps unreasonable to expect a man of fifty-eight to delight in a young child, and she had always herself looked upon his daughters as clattering hoydens without sense or charm. Marriage had improved them a little, but not enough to make their society congenial to a dreamer and a scholar, even though he were their father. Young Douce, on the other hand, if you ignored the dark streak which she possibly imagined, was both attractive and intelligent, and his manner to the old man was, she noticed, a model for sons. He was besides a most efficient master of Conster Furnace, which prospered under him as it had never done under his father.

As for the necromancy, she had no real evidence of it. Certainly neither of them ever went near that ill-omened little temple. Every night she heard the door of Gervase's bedroom shut behind him; and the temple stood beside the river empty, damp and rotting, smelling of neglect, its rosy curtains yellowed by the damp and the winter sunshine, and Condemnation's work-box still on the table, with its faded silks and tarnished bobbins. She had gone in one day and found it so.

§ 3

Gervase walked up and down his study. The February day was done, reduced to a few shaking stars above the tops of the trees, which bowed their heads and roared together as the wind rushed over them. The night was all sound—looking out of the window he could not see even those few stars, only the mirrored candle-light upon blackness. He stared anxiously into the light, waiting for it to change, eager for the images he both hoped and dreaded to see. They did not belong to his practice now—they had nothing to do with it. It was vain for the Abbé to stare at him with warning eyes as he had stared last night—out of the round, gold blob of the candle-flame, which had shown the carved back and arms of his chair but allowed his feet to slide down into darkness. . . . Gervase had said to him, "You're wrong. I've no truck with the devil. My visitor's an angel of light—a woman made sweet by forgiveness, holding my seven stars in her hands." The Abbé's lips had moved—he had mouthed soundless warnings out of the window-pane. Was he sitting there now? Had he only just vanished? Or did all this belong to yesterday? Gervase could hear a movement behind him in the room; a door opened and shut. "Ay, Will—I'm ready," he mumbled, then with a sudden feeling of strangeness and alarm, he turned round and saw not Will, but Mr. Parsons.

His mind flashed back to an earlier occasion when Parsons had surprised him like this, at midnight in his room; and once more past and future became curiously linked together . . . merged . . . confused. . . .

"Good evening," said Mr. Parsons.

Gervase recovered himself, and felt very much annoyed.

"What are you doing here, Sir?"

He had not seen the priest since his equally sudden appearance on the terrace three months ago, and then he had scarcely looked at him—at least not to remember what he saw. Now he noticed that his head was quite grey, and his face was seamed and drawn like an old man's. He looked fifteen years older than in the days when he used to come and stay openly at Conster as the guest of Louise and Charles. By contrast his clothes were younger and brighter, as if he had been forced by persecution into some gesture of laity. His maroon surcoat and crimson vest pathetically challenged his spare form and stooping shoulders.

"I hope you will forgive my intrusion."

Gervase found his annoyance calming a little.

"I'm honoured, Sir, but I should have preferred the day to the night."

"Indeed, Sir, and so should I. Unfortunately I have no choice."

"You are proscribed."

Parsons bowed. Then he moved forward into the room, and pulled up a chair to the fire, sitting down and rubbing his hands.

"It's a cold and stormy night."

Gervase still stood by the window. He was vexed to see Parsons make himself at home, and uneasy too, for he expected William Douce to come in at any moment.

"I suppose you're here on your usual business."

"I shall be gone to-morrow."

Gervase swung round on him.

"Don't you think, Sir, that you're a little rash to come walking openly into a Magistrate's room? Let's have no more of our common pretences. I know who you are, and I could, an I would, commit you."

"Yes, Sir, an you would; but you would not—you would never so treat an old friend."

"You should wear a periwig."

Parsons looked startled, then followed his leap.

"I wear one now when I'm abroad, but in the house I find it hot and unaccustomed. Do you mind if I smoke a pipe? I know it's an outlandish custom, but it cheers a lonely man, and I thought I got the smell of tobacco in this room."

"Aye, Sir, I sometimes burn a pipeful or two myself; it's better than taking snuff like a Dutchman. But let me warn you that I'm expecting at any moment my master and clerk of the works, William Douce. He comes here to discuss important business with me."

"Your clerk treats you ill if he comes to talk business in the middle of the night."

"He has been away all day."

"I understand; and I'll go directly he comes if you'll suffer me a few moments now."

Gervase hesitated, then crossed the room, and sat down opposite him beside the fire. Parsons leaned forward.

"One reason I came is that I wish to tell you how truly and sincerely I feel for you in your sorrow."

Gervase said nothing; he stared in front of him and his lips twitched a little. His eyes became suddenly full of a strange exaltation.

"She was a sweet soul," said the other, "may she rest in peace."

"Away from me?" said Gervase tensely. "Away from me?"

"Nay, close to you, if so be you, like her, are in God's keeping."

"I tell you she's very close to me."

Parsons looked at him silently, and saw the strong emotion that lay shaking behind his words.

"She's close—and I didn't kill her."

"Nay, but who said such a thing?"

"Everyone. They all said her death is at my door. They didn't say it with their lips, but they said it in their hearts—that is, all except Will. It was because I pushed her from me, not knowing the edge was so near. I shouldn't have done it—I shouldn't have used her so violently, but the guilt of her death an't upon me. No, she says it was of her own weakness that she died. She would have died anyway. . . . Her death was written in her stars for that very month. And she's happy now—a free spirit, free to come and go as she chooses; she always loved to roam . . . eh well, now she has all the stars to roam in and never lose her way. One day I shall go to her, and we'll take hands and roam together. I pray it be soon."

Parsons let him run on, though he longed to stop him. He now saw that Louise's fears were justified. The old fellow raved like a madman, and he was waiting for William Douce. . . . God help him. A sudden choke of pity rose in the priest's throat.

"My dear friend, can't you think of her as safely hidden in the hand of God? Animæ justorum in manu Dei sunt. Isn't your first duty to her a duty of prayer? I myself have offered the Holy Sacrifice for her soul. I trust your theology will allow you to take this from me."

"Eh, why not? My theology's broader than yours and will cover the whole of my way and yours too."

Parsons fell silent again. It was neither in his policy nor in his temperament to make a direct attack, and yet he knew that to-night his time was short and uncertain; he must not waste it in approaches. At any moment now William Douce might come in and his chance would be lost. He sharply rallied his unwilling forces.

"Surely nothing can be broader than the universal; and the greater must include the less. But I confess that there's a part of your belief that must stand eternally outside and opposed to mine."

"What's that?" asked Gervase, and regretted the question as his own mind immediately answered it.

"I won't call it theology, but rather demonology, such as you've practised in the past and I believe are now practising again."

Alard turned white.

"Why should you think so?"

"I judge by your own words. From them I gather you've conjured the spirits."

"Nay, that was long ago. I confess that for some time I held converse with a fallen angel or magistellum, Araziel by name. But his philosophy wasn't pure, and he misled me. Since then I've conjured no spirits at all."

"Not even the spirits of the dead?"

"Nay, why should I conjure them, since they've freely offered themselves to me without conjuring?"

"They've offered themselves?"

"Aye, surely. But why should you question me like this? It's no affair of yours. You an't my confessor."

"No, friend. But I treat you as I treat my penitents, in that I come to you at the risk of my life for your soul's good. Why have I intruded myself into the presence of one of the King's justices, who has power to have me seized and thrust into prison, aye and hanged at last? Much as I value your friendship, it isn't only that we may smoke a pipe together. It's to warn you of a plot against your soul, a plan to seize your soul and use it far more dreadfully than any man can use my body—to imprison it in Tartarus and hang it on the gallows that Judas made for those who betray the light of reason."

Gervase gaped at him, his pipe half way to his mouth.

"Nay, I tell 'ee," he cried. "I'll have none of your Jesuitical remonstrance. You've no right to it, and no knowledge of what I do."

"Indeed I have knowledge, if I haven't strictly speaking right, for you yourself have told me. Your mind is losing its alacrity and has betrayed you. Remember that I warned you once before, and begged you to forsake practices that would mean your mind's as well as your soul's destruction."

"Your knowledge is small indeed if you think my practice now is the same as it was then, nay even as it was two years ago. I tell you that my practice is blameless—I do but speak to the purest soul that ever passed into Paradise. Our conversation is all of love and forgiveness, happiness and goodness. She tells me of God and the angels, she confirms me in the truths of religion and the blessed hope of everlasting life. You shan't rob me of my comfort, nor trail your stinking doctrines over our intercourse, which is pure and elevated and orthodox."

"Nay, friend, be not angry with me," said Parsons mildly, "I do but question whether a man who casts his line into a bottomless lake can ever be sure of hooking his fish. There's always the chance that he will bring up a monster which may devour him. You fish in deep waters."

"Aye, but there's no monster on the line. I know my little one."

"With what voice does she speak?"

"With the voice of William Douce; it's a faculty he has. But it's her language, her thought, her spirit. . . ."

He bowed his head and a deep sigh went through him, that might have been a sigh of thankfulness or of longing. Parsons looked at the hands of the clock, moving towards midnight.

"Nay, but those things can be contrived. The monster you hook may not be a supernatural fiend but a mere human impostor."

"What! You would speak against poor Will? I tell you, I'll have none of it. He's the best, truest lad in the world, and all these months has been a devoted son to me. For shame to miscall an honest man."

"I know nothing of him," said Parsons coolly, "save that he has belonged to a lodge of magicians, and may belong still."

"Nay, he has utterly foresworn it. He abhors black magic as I do. Besides, there's no magicians' lodge in England."

"There's one twelve miles from here—at Branden Hall, by Milkhouse Street."

Gervase stared at him, shocked and unbelieving.

"What, there? It can't be."

"But it is. Already there's been scandal in the district, and the justices are uneasy. You would do well to warn William Douce not to go there so often."

"I'll certainly warn him. But it can't be true. He'd never go there if it was. He's scared of the devil."

"Then he'd better leave things of that sort alone—white as well as black. Many a man has asked a white question and gotten a black answer."

"Only those who are beginners—tyros . . . Douce faulted with me once, but never since."

"He faulted with you once?"

"Aye, a lying spirit came in the place of my brother Charles."

"And may not another lying spirit come in the place of your wife? And may not both be but the lie of William Douce?"

"I tell 'ee, I won't have Will talked against."

"But you're bound as a true philosopher to consider every chance. My certain knowledge is that such experiments enfeeble the integrity of the ablest men. Douce may not mean to lie to you, but he may lie, since by such practices he as well as you puts himself in the power of the father of lies. I would entreat you, Sir, with all the respect and fervour of my heart, to flee those demons that lurk in human treachery, greed and superstition—as black as any that ever came out of the pit. Wherever man deals untruly or betrays the reason God has given him, there is the devil—we have no need to conjure him; he is all too ready."

Gervase sprang to his feet.

"You've said enough, Sir. In injuring my friend, you injure me. Pray be gone."

"I will go at once. I thank you for hearing me so far, and I beg your pardon for offending you. But to warn you was a burden on my ministry. Good night."

"Good night," said Gervase, "and to hell with your ministry."

§ 4

He had not quite cooled down when William Douce came in.

"The fellow said you were a liar, Will."

"Which fellow?"

"That prancing Jesuit; he has been talking here for hours, warning me against you and against my little bud."

"What! against her, too?"

"Aye, he swears it an't her spirit, because it's all against his doctrine, forsooth. You and I know differently, Will—we have the evidence of our senses."

"You have, Sir," said Will demurely. "You must remember that I know nothing of what happens while I'm asleep. But this fellow, Sir—I'm surprised that he should dare come into your presence, and provoke you, knowing that you've power to have him gaoled."

"He trusts my good nature, but one day he will trust it too far. And what else do you think he says? That there's a lodge or sabbat of magicians over at Milkhouse Street. You come straight from there, so you can tell me if it's so."

"Indeed it isn't so."

"He says the neighbourhood is all agog and the Magistrates warned."

"He seeks to scare you. My friend Tarver is a good sort of scholarly man, and though he's interested in magic, it is as you are—as a scholar and philosopher; his practice is no more than we practise here. If the neighbours are uneasy, it's that they've been misled. But I've heard none of it."

"I thought as much. I thought he was lying. Jesuits are brought up to be liars—it's part of their training given in the seminaries. Their rule is to do evil that good may come, and he will lie himself to hell in order to save me from necromancy, as he calls it. Not that I would have you think, Will, that our Church approves of necromancy. But in her wisdom and tolerance she knows the difference between white and black, and she will always allow learned and approved philosophers, such as myself, to investigate the white science under proper safeguards."

As if in illustration of his last word, Douce drew two intersecting pentacles upon the floor and swept a circle round them.

He was a little disturbed by what Gervase had said. If it was indeed true that the doings at Branden were being rumoured abroad, then Tarver, and possibly he himself, stood in a certain peril, since conjuring and witchcraft were punishable by death. He must warn Tarver at the first opportunity . . . he would go over to Milkhouse Street to-morrow . . . but he must pacify the old man first—he could see that he was greatly upset. His face was white and his hands were shaking; his head too shook a little, as if nodding with a palsy. The priest had disturbed the little store of comfort that was growing in him under the nurture and supply of William Douce. That damned Jesuit should get his deserts—he'd prowled about long enough. Young Douce was hot with moral indignation against Parsons, who he held had behaved cruelly, striking at a half-healed wound. That was always the way with priests and religious people—cruel, cruel, cruel, persecuting the old and the poor for their comforts—the delicate comforts of a false religion . . . it had always been the way. The Inquisition existed to destroy any comfort that could be found outside its rigid bands of doctrine. And now here was this priest, himself forbidden and proscribed, harrying this poor old man out of his happiness. Douce's heart yearned in indignation over the old man who had become his child.

"Now, Sir, if you want me, I'm ready to go to sleep."

"Indeed I want you, Will, or rather I want her. But I want you too. . . . Will, I've told my sister that you are my son."

"You've told Madame Alard . . ."

"That you are more to me than that poor unhappy babe. I feel to you as a father."

"And I feel as your son, Sir."

He spoke without deceit, for his heart was warm with a queer filial tenderness. This poor broken old man now seemed to him the only father he had ever known. Gervase put out his hand and touched his.

"Life is very dark, Will—dark, I sometimes think, for both of us."

"That is true, Sir."

"You hold the only light there is in it, and I bless you for it—my son."

Will suddenly sank to his knees, and the hot, shaking hand came upon his bent head.

"God bless you, Will."

Douce murmured something, he scarcely knew what. Alard continued:

"I pray that the light you carry doesn't shine for me alone—that you get some comfort from it, Will."

"Yes, that I do. You comfort me too."

"But why should you be sorrowful?"

"I know not. I'm so made—unlike and unhappy. . . . But if I make you happy, Sir, then I'm happier. It's all the happiness I ask now."

"Then bring her to me, Will—I'm ready. I want her more than ever to-night, after what that fellow said . . . a monster . . . he told me I might catch a monster."

"Think no more of him, I beg, and come inside the circle."

"Aye, I will come inside the circle, for fear that I should get a monster—or is it that the monster should get me? Ho! Ho! Ho! I must take care to-night."

"Princhiporatverbum . . ." said William Douce, beginning his magician's Latin.

Condemnation should speak with an extra tenderness to-night. She should confirm her widower in his hope that the priest was lying—she should indeed give him a redoubtable vision of the Jesuits as seen from the angle of a better life. But chiefly her speech should be of love and love's communion, for her mouthpiece and inventor had no thought except to comfort the old man she had left. Very soon after her death he had been moved to take this way of assuaging Alard's frantic grief. He had found himself able to reproduce her voice. After all, once the difficulty of the pitch was overcome, her speech was easy enough, with its country accents and childish phrases. Gervase was not critical—all he wanted from her was her love, her forgiveness and her assurance that he was not to blame for her death.

Douce had provided all this without afterthought, without any plan to influence him or to control the future. If later on Condemnation should ever think that her husband's son in alchemy deserved more of him than the son of her womb, she had nothing to say about it now. He had raised her spirit only to comfort Alard's distress, to calm his wild, self-reproaching sorrow, to make him eat and sleep again. At the moment the old man's comfort meant more to him than any schemes of his own. Why, only a few minutes ago he had missed an excellent chance to plead his claims. . . . But he had not thought of it. He thought of it now and felt surprised at himself—surprised but not really sorry. He would have more chances later.

He leaned back in his chair and began to breathe stertorously; the sweat rose on his forehead. But before he exercised another useful faculty and rolled up his eyes into blindness, he parted his eyelids to glance across at Gervase, sitting hunched over the table. The light was dim—only two candles in the vast room—but something in his attitude gave Will a sudden alarm. He opened his eyes wide and stared at him. His face had a queer, empty look. Then suddenly he spoke:

"Will, Will—come back. I an't feeling well."

"I'm here. What is it, Sir?"

"I don't feel well."

He struggled to his feet.

"Pray be seated, Sir, and I'll fetch you a glass of wine."

"No, no, I mun't sit—I mun go to her," and his speech rushed curiously together. "I see her, Will—she's here over against you. Why can't I walk? I mun go to her. Why can't I move?"

He made a few steps forward, with a terrible effort as if his feet were shod with iron. Then suddenly he cried out, and fell forward—lying all along upon the ground, like Saul before the witch of Endor.

§ 5

Douce rushed to his side and tried to raise him. There was a tremor in his limbs and his face was crimson and puffy. He felt strangely heavy—almost the weight of two men; Douce laid him gently back on the floor, then seeing that his head rolled from side to side on the hard wood, he picked his own cloak off a chair and folded it for his pillow. There was water in a decanter beside the wine, and he bathed Alard's forehead with it, expecting him to revive. But he showed no signs of recovery; on the contrary, he seemed to sink deeper into unconsciousness. His breathing became loud and laboured, and after a while he began to mutter, addressing someone in a strange gabble that came more and more thickly, and as it thickened grew harsher till it was at last an animal sort of crying.

Douce felt convinced that he had fallen under a magical influence, into a trance such as he himself had feigned. This was not the first time he had seen some practitioner of magic other than the "magician" himself become as it were infected and carried into a fit. He had seen it in France and he had seen it at Milkhouse Street. Sometimes the victim would lie silent and motionless, as if dead, sometimes he would rave and throw himself about; but always he returned to consciousness without a single memory of what had happened.

For this reason he did not want to summon help. If only he waited patiently Alard would recover, and be little or none the worse. He seated himself beside him on the floor, and continued to bathe his head and chafe his hands. But as the minutes passed the old man's fit became more rather than less violent. He rolled from side to side so frantically that sometimes he rolled right over, and his mutterings and cries grew louder and more agonized. Then he began suddenly to arch himself on his heels and head, stiff as a bow, while his face grew dark and suffused—a bloody froth began to run out of the corner of his mouth.

William Douce was frightened; he had never seen anything like it. Alard seemed likely to choke and it struck him that he might be, after all, in some sort of bodily fit—in which case he ought to summon help at once. Gervase had rolled his head off the folded cloak and was beating it on the floor. Douce could not make him lie still—he seemed to have not only the weight of two men but the strength of them, while his limbs were astonishingly flexible as well as vigorous, seeming at times to have an unnatural power of extension . . . it was impossible to hold him for more than a moment; and all the time from his mouth poured, with the blood and saliva, a harsh gabbling sound that was like an inhuman colloquy.

Douce could bear no more of it. He forgot the urgent need for concealment, he forgot even those enlaced pentagrams upon the floor; he thought only of the old man whom he loved with all the angry force of contempt. Whether he was in a bodily fit or in the hold of some demon, he might die if help did not come; so he rushed to the door, flung it open and shouted down the passage:

"Help! Help!"

The empty echoes of the house answered him, with the creakings and strainings of ancient wood and the roar of wind. Far away, as it were in a tower a door opened.

§ 6

Gervase felt giddy with loneliness. The whole world seemed empty, as if he were the only creature in it. The two candle flames that had for countless centuries illuminated Douce's face seemed to recede like the lights of a procession. Two acolytes marched before the priest on his way to the altar. This was a holy place, and he felt a little comforted, but there was still that dreadful pain of loneliness, that feeling of a void above, around and beneath. The acolytes marched on, and he saw that their heads were shaggy like the heads of deer, with sprouting antlers. He began to feel uneasy about them, but continued to follow them, on and on and on up a great empty nave to where a tiny glimmer proclaimed the altar. They were suddenly there, and the priest already stood before it, wearing a black vestment, with a broken column on his back.

Gervase turned to flee, knowing that the uttermost horror was upon him, but all around him now there was a People—the nave was full, arms were thrust out to stop him, and he saw a congregation of snouts and antlers. How could this be? There was no black lodge in England. Yes, there was one at Branden Hall, near Milkhouse Street. He must be there.

The roof of the church cracked open and fell apart, the walls fell silently away, and he was in an empty country, dark and hushed, with a rustle of wind about him and a flow of water. He heard the water of a little stream plashing and gurgling, and in the darkness he began to distinguish hedgerows and fields asleep. It was night, and he seemed bodiless, alone there in a countryside he knew or that was like a countryside he knew. He wondered how he could go home. He had no idea which direction to take, nor could he move, having no body. He felt that he ought to be able to project himself at will, but instead he was as rooted as if he had been bodied by a tree. And why was the world so empty? Was nothing alive?

The darkness began to lift, not slowly in a natural manner, but quickly like a curtain. He could now see fields and hedges and stacks and woods quite clearly, without the light of sun or moon. Then, away where the source of the light seemed to be, he saw a house. It was a red house, flat fronted, with a steep roof and windows that stared; it stood on a slope above a small valley, with fruit trees at the back of it. It seemed dead, just as the whole countryside was dead. It was all flat like a picture, and yet it was not a picture, for he was in it, a part of it, also dead.

Then he began to feel that the house was sucking him towards it. Though unable to move he was yet coming nearer. It drew him with a definite suction, and he seemed to have a body now, a body made of fear, displaying all fear's degrading incontinences, but without any other functions. He tried to cry out, but his voice was not there; he tried to hold himself back, and found that he could do so in a measure, but the effort was exhausting and only partially successful—his strength failed, and he was drawn on again.

Just as he came into the valley before the house, he saw William Douce standing a short way off. His voice rose in him like a fountain.

"Will!" he called. "Will!"

Douce moved toward him, then stood still. He stretched out his arms as Gervase passed and the tips of his fingers seemed an inch away. His lips moved, but no sound came from them. Gervase felt himself rising up the hill, and in a few moments the house sucked him in like a mouth.

He knew that he was lost. Here is Tartarus. He could not cry out nor pray. But suddenly, he did not know how, there was prayer. It seemed to split the rafters, and beyond them, as it were in light, he saw a beautiful picture. At first he was conscious only of its beauty and its goodness, but in a moment or two he realized that it was a picture of Isaac about to be sacrificed by Abraham, and that it was a living picture, just as all that he had seen hitherto had been dead pictures. But though living it was nevertheless the same picture that he and Charles had known so well as children in their father's Bible. The colours were the same, and the crude drawing—yet it was alive.

The rafters closed again and it was gone. He found himself in a large high-ceiled room with a fire burning in it. He felt shaken and bewildered, but no longer so much afraid. Then a young man came into the room with a mincing gait. He wore brightly coloured clothes and an elaborately curled wig. He spoke to Gervase.

"If you are looking for Will, he isn't here."

Gervase found that he had a voice—or rather that he was a voice—and asked:

"Where is he, then?"

"Surely you must know, since you've taken him from me."

"I passed him outside the house."

"Nay, that isn't Will, but his image—his image that I keep, having lost the substance of him."

"I know nothing of him, then, unless he's at Conster."

"He returned there a few hours ago—he was determined to go because he had a meeting with you, though I would have kept him here for a far more interesting experiment. I tried to get him back, but it seems that I have gotten you instead. How did you come?"

"I know not," said Gervase.

He was beginning to feel afraid again. He had a sensation that he and the young man were not alone. Someone or something was watching them. A mist rose in a corner of the room, and he saw a sign-post standing at three went-ways. There had been a fourth, but it had been wiped out for fear of making a cross. Gervase found himself walking down one of the roads, through the same country as he had seen a short time earlier—the dead images of fields and woods. He went on, oppressed and lonely, but comforted by the thought that he was moving away from the house—till suddenly he saw it before him again. He realized then that his movement was not free, but that he was being, as before, sucked toward it. He was going back, and desperation seized him.

"Will!" he cried. "Will!"

Again he saw Will standing before the house, but this time the image was malevolent, and Gervase knew that the soundless words that came from it were curses and reproaches. Once more Douce stretched out his hand, and once more he could not reach him. Gervase passed within an inch of his clutching fingers.

He was drawn into the house, and this time there was no prayer, no parting of the roof above him. Instead he found himself in the same high-ceiled room as before. The same young man sat by the fire, combing his periwig. He raised his eyebrows as Gervase came in.

"What! you're back again?"

"I couldn't help myself. I was dragged here—by you, no doubt."

"Nay, certainly not by me. I've no interest in you at all. It's only, as the saying is, that the dog has returned to his vomit again, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire."

"You're insolent, Sir. I know not who you are, but I know you have no right to talk so to one who is the Squire of a Manor, a Justice of the Peace and a Clerk in Holy Orders."

"My name's Tarver," said the young fellow, "and you look monstrous like a Squire and a Justice and a Parson—especially a Parson."

Gervase seemed suddenly to see himself, from outside as it were. He wore his best suit, the same that he had worn at his wedding; but it was sprouted all over ridiculously with peacocks' feathers. How had they come there? Someone must have played a trick on him. But why had he never found it out till now? He felt a zany and buffoon, and longed to run away from the other's appraising stare. But he could not move.

Then once more the mist began to form itself in the corner of the room, and he knew that in another moment he would see the signpost and the three went ways. All his terrors revived and he cried out—"Nay, nay, not again."

"Surely," said Tarver, "you wouldn't wish to stay here."

"But I can't for ever be travelling in and out. I know you for who you are, Sir, a conjuror and a magician; but you've no right to treat me like this."

"I tell you it's none of my doing. It's you who've chosen to come back again and again."

"But can't you use your power to save me?"

"Why should I save you? I care nothing for you at all. But if you ask me, your friends are already in this. They're trying to get you out."

As he spoke a light shone below the chimney, and Gervase saw another picture there. This time it was of Joseph being sold by his brethren, and once again he recognized it as a picture in his father's Bible turned to life. The colours had all the luminous beauty of a childhood's dream, and he looked closer to see if a figure was there which he remembered with a special tenderness, the figure of a little shepherd-boy carrying a lamb. . . . "Fear Him who was sacrificed in Isaac, who was sold in Joseph, was slain in the Lamb." . . . He could not tell where the words came from, and leaned forward to see if they were written underneath the picture. As he did so it faded into the fire; but the mist in the corner had also disappeared.

"I told you your friends were helping you," said Tarver, "but while you're here I should like you to meet a friend of mine."

For some reason Gervase was frozen with terror at his words.

"Nay, nay!" he cried desperately. "I will not meet him."

"Why not? I show you a courtesy."

"But I want none of your courtesies. I must go."

"Wait only a moment. He's in the house. You took my friend, but I'm generous and give you mine."

"Nay, I never took your friend. You do ill to be revenged, Sir. I think highly of Will, but I've never interfered with his liberties. Why, he was here only yesterday."

"He was not himself. You can see by his image at the door that he's not himself. He has no powers, either for good or evil. Come, I will call my friend."

"I will not see him! I will not speak to him."

"But I will call him, none the less."

Once more Gervase found himself unable to move. His bodily appearance too was gone. He was just a motionless point in space. He could not hear Tarver call, but he heard someone approach, someone on the stairs, coming down them without footsteps but with heavy thumps . . . thump—thump—thump. . . . His fear seemed to split him into fragments; he was no longer a single point, but a thousand disrupted atoms, whirling in chaos. . . .

"A porta inferi, erue, Domine, animam ejus."

Again he did not know where the words came from, whether they were spoken or written, but the thumping noise on the stairs was suddenly still. Tarver had disappeared. In his chair sat a small black animal, like a hare and also like a dog. Gervase watched it anxiously, fearing that it would change suddenly into something malevolent and pursuing. Then he saw that the mist was forming itself in the corner, and this time he waited almost eagerly for the sign-post to appear. He would escape down one of the roads; after all, he had tried only one. There were three, and they might not all lead back again.

He was just able, by a concentrated effort of his will, to move toward the vision. The three went-ways shone luminously, and out of their radiance the sign-post formed itself at last. It bore three directions, and he approached the first—"To Branden Hall." That must be the way he had travelled before, which had brought him back. He read the next with a shudder—"Au Pays du Néant." His only hope was the third, and he just managed to drag himself to it and read it as the radiance died away. It ran "Ad portam inferi."

With a wail of terror he fell back, and as he did so he heard the thump again upon the stairs.

"Ecce Crux Domine."

Once again words seemed to hang mysteriously poised between speech and writing. He knew that there must be a fourth road at the Cross—he could just see the traces of the way that had been smudged out. He tried to force himself along it, but his powers were nearly exhausted. The thumping grew louder, it rocked the house. The door opened and he saw clouds rush under the ceiling. The image of William Douce came into the room, standing up to the waist under the floor, like a man standing in water. The floor became water, it flowed round him—he and Will were drowning in it together. He did not know if Will ware trying to help him or trying to destroy him, but which ever it was he seemed powerless. The waters carried them apart as they rushed over the fourth went-way, trying to blot it out. He felt himself being sucked down the road that led back to Branden Hall, to start again and again on his eternal round of escape and return. . . .

But he seemed now to have a little power of his own, and the land had power against the waters. The waters rose against the land, but the land rose out of the waters. The four went-ways became a Cross. . . . Behold the Cross of the Lord—flee ye that are of the contrary part . . . he was gazing at the Cross, which shone and rose above him, filling the heavens with love and wisdom and power. . . . He was lying on his back, gazing up at a crucifix held above him by Mr. Parsons. . . .

Then the darkness covered him again, but through it he heard a woman's voice say:

"He opened his eyes."

§ 7

Parsons stood up, pulling his stole from Gervase's neck. He thrust back the crucifix into his pocket, but he forgot to remove the stole, which dangled strangely over the secular smartness of his velvet coat.

Louise still knelt on the floor, a pannikin of water shaking in her hand. Then she began to cry.

"Oh, mon Dieu . . . mon Dieu! c'était horrible . . oh, mon Dieu! Faites que ça ne revient plus."

"Be of good cheer," said Parsons, "he's quiet now."

"But will the spirit return?"

"Nay, if it be a spirit, for I have exorcised him by the Crux Domine."

"If it be a spirit . . . but how can you doubt it?"

"Indeed there's little room for doubt; but we're commanded to be prudent and not to insist on a supernatural explanation where a natural one is possible. That's why, even as I put on my stole, I bade you send for a physician."

"He should be here in a very short time."

Parsons stooped down and looked closely at Gervase. He remembered and removed his stole, and as he did so the fringed end swept the old man's face, but he made no sign. He lay there motionless, stricken and ravaged, like a fallen tree.

"He's unconscious still. I shall be glad for a doctor to see him. After all, he hasn't been himself for many weeks, and may well have fallen into some fit or apoplexy. But at the same time we know that the powers of evil have been invoked and the devil called up."

His eyes, suddenly bright with anger, glanced round to where William Douce stood in the shadows behind him. Louise's gaze followed his, and the two pairs of eyes seemed to hold the young man in a cross-fire of rebuke.

Then Louise attacked him with her tongue. She looked and spoke as if she wished her eyes to burn him and her tongue to cut him to pieces.

"How is it that you're still here? How dare you stand and watch your work?"

Douce spoke calmly and contemptuously, though there was a hectic flush on his cheeks and his hands were shaking—he held them behind his back.

"Like you, I'm waiting for the physician, having learned nothing from the exorcist."

"There is no need for you to stay. You have done enough harm."

"I stay not to do harm, but to be informed as to the state of a man I regard as my friend."

"You have no need for information beyond what your eyes can give you. You have brought him to this. . . . Nay, you shan't deny it—your necromancy is plain, with your kabalistic sign upon the floor."

Douce smiled faintly.

"It's but a drawing, made to please an old man."

"Nay, do not lie. You've conjured spirits, and one of them has taken him."

"Madame, would you send for a sword to cut your sewing-cotton? I use no sword where scissors will do as well. I myself was all the spirit there was."

"You pretended to invoke a magistellum or ruler?" inquired Parsons.

"Not even that. I spoke to him as nearly as I could with the voice of his wife. I tried to comfort him in his distress. You couldn't comfort him with all your prayers and pieties. But I could comfort him. I knew what he needed and I gave it to him, and he was comforted."

"And behold him now."

"His state is more like to be due to the rating he had from this Jesuit gentleman just before I came than to anything I did. For that matter, I did nothing—we had scarce begun. But I found him here in very great distress. If anyone is to blame for this fit, it's you, Sir," turning to Parsons, "and not I."

"I took my life in my hands to warn him against infernal wickedness and the abuse of his reason, and you, Sir, took your life in your hands in order to bring help to him in his calamity. So we won't quarrel."

"How's that?" cried Louise. "How did he risk his life?"

"His heart moved him so warmly, if I mistake not, that he forgot his own danger. He ran out and called for help, leaving the room all set for the practice of necromancy. He called us, and we came, catching him as it were red-handed. We could have him condemned for witchcraft."

"Let us do so then!" cried Louise. "The servants are all about. He can't leave the house if I forbid."

"Nay, you must not forbid. Let his generous act purchase his freedom."

"Why should he be free to do more harm?"

"He will do no more harm—at least not here; and I hope nowhere else, for he has seen the fruit of his works."

"Come, Sir," said Douce, smiling ironically, "you do ill to raise Madame's hopes with a tale that has no bottom to it. Not a single Magistrate would convict me of witchcraft on your evidence or even on my lady's. I can prove I was but playing."

"But there were times when you weren't playing—is it not so? There's plenty of evidence against you in connexion with your friend Tarver. Madame would but see to the apprehending—the evidence would come from elsewhere."

For the first time Douce's face showed signs of anxiety.

"There's none that can speak of my dealings with Tarver."

"There's many that can speak and are speaking. I believe that in a very few days a warrant will be out and that your name as well as Tarver's will be in it."

Douce turned pale. But he still bluffed.

"You can know nothing."

"But I know. And if you take my advice you will leave here at once."

"And for ever," cried Louise. "Deo gratias!"

He stared at her boldly with his black, bright eyes.

"I shall take my dismissal from no one but my master."

"He may never be able to give it," said Louise in a strangled voice.

"I shouldn't wait here for that," said Parsons, "it may involve you in some unpleasantness. Be warned by me again, and leave at once."

"Nay," cried Louise, "why should he leave? You are altogether too kind, Sir. This man has done enough harm, and, if we let him go, will do more. I will call the servants."

And before Parsons could restrain her she had run out in the passage, calling "Sam! Simon! Gregory!"

Douce looked for a moment as if he would run out too and go past her down the stairs. But he controlled himself with a gesture of some dignity, and stood where he was, motionless and upright. It was Parsons who went out, and laying a restraining hand on Louise's arm, called over her shoulder:

"Sam! Bring two men up to carry down your master to his bedchamber."

Then he led her back into the room.

"Go quickly," he said to Douce, "and they shan't stop you. Go and sin no more."

"I'll go," said Douce, in a new, slow passion of hate, "but wherever I go I'll make it hard for you, you damned Jesuit. I'm not the only one of us that's proscribed, and you needn't think to buy your safety with mine. I'll set 'em all on your track."

"As you will," said Parsons mildly, "but they'll have some trouble to catch me."

He walked out of the room as he spoke. Douce hesitated a moment, then after one last look at Gervase, he picked up his cloak and followed him. He thought he was behind him on the stairs, but when he came down into the hall there was no one there but the servants and some bustle round the door for the doctor, who had just arrived.

§ 8

Gervase stood beside an ash tree—a sapling rather, with the bare, spring boughs on a level with his hand. He saw the delicate black buds, shaped like a deer's feet . . . how beautiful it was!—grey and black; was anything in the world more exquisite? And here were the flowers, also black upon the bough and tightly curled. He put out his hand and touched them . . . "Ash flowers . . . so pretty" . . . his hand shook as he stroked the flowers, and he felt them under it, all soft and nubbly. He was stroking curls . . . a curly head . . . oh, my love, where have you been this long time? Look up and let me see your face. . . .

"Remember not, Lord, our iniquities, nor the iniquities of our forefathers."

He was reading the Order for the Visitation of the Sick—reading it over her, his little bud, lying there in the grave of her bed. . . . Nay, he was not reading it—that great booming voice was not his. It was being read over him by Dr. Braceley, as he lay in his own bed, and the morning light was in the room.

"Spare us, good Lord, spare thy people, whom thou hast redeemed with thy most precious blood. . . ."

How ill the fellow reads, thought Gervase. But he ever read ill. He is the murderer of prayers—I'll frighten him.

And when the Doctor came to the response, he cried out with all the voice he had——

"Spare us, good Lord."

He had expected a great shout to come, but instead came the merest whisper. His voice was no more than a sigh. He did not think anyone had heard it. . . . What did that mean, then? He must be ill—very ill. He had only a vague, uneasy memory of how his illness had come upon him, but they wouldn't have sent for Dr. Braceley for a trifle.

Perhaps he was dying. . . . He could not move or speak. He was inside his body—he no longer wandered a desolate point in space—but he seemed to have lost his control of it, his power over it. It was no more than a prison-house, through the darkening windows of which he watched a receding earth. He felt Louise come up to the bedside. She moistened his lips with water, and he was sure that she had not even heard his cry. With a great effort he opened his eyes, and saw her face close to his. She started, and whispered something, but the Doctor's voice boomed on.

"Dearly beloved, know this, that Almighty God is the Lord of life and death and of all things to them pertaining, as youth, strength, health, age, weakness and sickness. Wherefore, whatsoever your sickness is . . ."

The voice was growing fainter, and the light seemed to die with it. Light and sound died away together, and he was alone. Yet he knew that he was still lying in the bed and that Braceley was still reading the Order of Visitation. Also he seemed to know when he shut the book. An empty age went by: then he began to feel things about him—hands that touched him, that moved him. They were taking blood from him—he could feel his life's blood run out. Why didn't Louise stop them? He didn't want to die.

Yet he knew that he must die. He had already lived too long. His life had been useless, empty, wasted, lost down strange paths and perilous streams. To whom shall we turn for mercy but to thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased? . . . How shall I turn to him—now? Louise . . . give me the Crux Domine.

He had tried to speak, but he knew he had not spoken. He was to all appearances unconscious, even dead. Perhaps he was already dead. O Lord, have mercy on me . . . O Lord, suffer me thus far . . . the cross!

He had uttered it—the sound had passed his lips and rang in his head like thunder dying through empty halls. But it was not the word he had expected to hear or had striven to say. "Condemnation." He had called for her instead of for the cross. He wanted her—oh, how he wanted her! his little bud. . . . She would not have let him die without the cross. Condemnation! Condemnation! . . . Condemn—condemn . . . neither do I condemn thee. . . . Oh, my little love, my dear, my dear—can you pray for me now? Can you help me who loved you so much and treated you so badly?

He tried again, and once more the sound passed his lips, while his whole body shook with its last effort. This time he did not think he had said a word at all. Had they understood? had she understood, rather? . . . Another age went by, and he felt the cross in his hand. Hearing and sight and speech were gone, but he knew it was the cross. Louise had given him the little cross she wore, and as his sense of touch faded round its outlines, his prayer formed itself in hope out of the dust—Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.

§ 9

A fortnight later Louise set out from Conster on her way to France. Though Madge de Champfort had offered her the family coach, she went on horseback, and two men and a maid rode with her. She ought to have been light with happiness, thinking of the new life before her, but for the first hours of her journey her heart lagged heavily with the life she had left behind. She had no actual anxieties and no actual regrets, merely attachments that had become habits, a way of life that had ruled her for twenty-five years. She left the last Alard in good hands—there was nothing to fear on his account. Madge would look after him well with her own brood, now promised an increase, and her husband would be a kind, practical, unsentimental guardian.

Louise sometimes thought that Providence had befriended the child in removing the strange pair who had given him birth and leaving him to be brought up by common, sensible folk. He certainly ran a better chance of growing into a normal citizen than if his father had lived to neglect or to mislead him; and as for poor little Condemnation, she would probably have been like a mother of the woods, careful and tender to the child in the nest, but totally unable to guide or influence him once he had grown out of it. No, Louise need not reproach herself for leaving a fatherless and motherless child behind her. Little Charles Gervase would grow up among good, ordinary people, among children of his own age. The fact that his birth had robbed one or two of them of their inheritance would not make any difference at all; she was clear-headed enough to believe that the generality of people are law-abiding and kind-hearted. Little Charles Gervase would come of age and step into his inheritance of decaying forest land—perhaps by then there would be hardly enough timber to keep the furnace blowing. . . . Certainly he would have been richer if William Douce had stayed on as clerk of the works; she did not believe that the homely Englishman whom de Champfort had engaged from Sir Peter Agate's furnace at Bolney had either the experience or the ambition of his predecessor.

But she could never think of Douce's going without a thankful prayer. She could not have endured the thought of him still at Conster, with his mirthless laugh and rapacious eyes. She saw those eyes now when she shut her own, sorrowfully staring at some invisible desire. If he had stayed, Conster might have become a richer place, but she could not believe that the riches would have prospered anyone but William Douce . . . and with the gold and the silver he would doubtless, like the harlot of the Apocalypse, have amassed that other merchandise of slaves and souls of men.

Her only fear was that he might come back, but she did not think he would. She had heard from the household of La Petite Douce that he had gone to France; and he was likely to remain there, as his friend Tarver had been arrested a week ago an a warrant which also bore his name. If she met him again she would meet him in France, but she did not think she would meet him again. He would go to the dark country of the pines and forges, and she would go to the country of the vineyards and the sunshine, her own country, which was her husband's country too.

Lifting away her heart from Douce, she looked into the future. Laus Deo! She had no right to let her mind drag with the past, for she was more fortunate than most women. At forty years old, when many a woman is settled in custom and thinks she is happy for no better reason than that she has grown used to pain, she was beginning life and love anew. Two years ago she had looked upon herself as a lonely widow, asking no more than to be allowed to end her days among the ghosts of her lost happiness, and here she was leaving those ghosts behind, and riding forward into a future once more substantial and alive.

She had given twenty-five years of her life to Conster, and it was enough. She would be glad to see no more of it and its ways. She was tired of stolen love and stolen religion—dangerous kisses and dangerous prayers. She would be glad to kneel openly by her husband's side in some great church where the organ pealed and incense smoked to heaven and both love and faith could lift up their voices. As she rode between the last seaward hedges of a Protestant land, she felt in her heart a sudden longing for those French churches she had not seen since her girlhood—for the dark, gilded ceilings discoloured by the smoke of a hundred candles swinging on huge candelabra beneath them, for the giant, crowned statues of Saints rising above the incense fume, for the sombre glittering vestments of the priests, the dark glow of French religion, sombre and gilt, as remote from normal English religion, whether Protestant or Catholic, as the sinister pageantry of French diabolism was remote from the common English witcheries of maumets and familiars . . . her thoughts were drawing back to Douce—at present too many ways led to the remembrance of him. She was glad when de Périgault joined her at the crossroads before Appledore and they continued their way together.

He brought a servant with him who rode ahead with one of Louise's, while the man who carried her maid on his pillion fell behind, leaving her and Gilles to enjoy each other's public company, for the first time in many months. She had said nothing about her intended marriage when she left Conster—it was a surprise to take them later—and he had left his father's house presumably to visit a friend at Deal. They would be married as soon as they reached her cousin's house at Aurey, whence letters would be despatched to their two families—to spread astonishment, pleasure, grief or indignation, as the case might be.

It was near a week since they had spoken to each other, but now that they were alone together they had not much to say. The past had sobered them, or rather it had sobered Louise, and de Périgault pitched his tone on hers. Glancing at his great, powerful figure beside her, she indulged in a smile of tender satisfaction at the thought of his gentleness. This mighty man would always be a little in submission to her small, active self. He would be in a manner her son as well as her husband—by marrying him she lost the ache of childlessness as well as of widowhood. He was her child. She had already done a mother's best part by teaching him his prayers. She would make him happy too in other ways. She knew that she could, for his youth was of the leaning rather than of the questing sort, such as would be glad of her experience and find charm in her maturity. Apart from this gentleness of mind, he was a fine, brave, handsome, vigorous man—and she was fortunate . . . no, blessed rather. God had blessed her with a rich reward. Her smile grew wider, and turning his head he saw it lighting her face back to youth and beauty.

"Mon ange . . ." he whispered.

After that they rode almost in silence through Appledore, Ruckinge and Bilsington. As they drew near the cross-ways by Court-at-Street, they saw a horseman waiting. The servants laid their hands on the pistols they carried, but Louise and de Périgault had been expecting to meet him at some point of their road, and now hailed him gladly.

"Good evening, Sir. Good evening, Mr. Parsons."

"May I ride with you as far as Dymchurch Hill? Then I must turn back, for I've some miles to cover, and anyway I'd better not go into the town."

"It's kind of you to come and speed us on our journey."

"No kindness at all. I would see the last of you for my own sake. And there are some things I want to know. Tell me—how did he die?"

"Peacefully," said Louise, "at least quietly. He did not recover consciousness. At one time I saw his eyes open, and I thought he might revive; but he never spoke—except once when he cried out her name."

"Whose? His wife's?"

"Yes—he asked for 'Condemnation' and then died."

"Poor soul—his love for her was the best thing he had, and in dying on her name he died as well as he could. Tell me, was a minister of his religion with him?"

"Yes. Dr. Braceley came and read prayers. But he can have heard none of it. Right at the end I slipped my little cross into his hand and he seemed to take hold of it, but I doubt if he knew what it was."

"He may have known more than you think," said Parsons.

Louise was crying.

"Ne pleur pas, mon amour," whispered de Périgault. Then he said to Parsons, "She must forget these things."

"I shall never forget them," said Louise. "God forbid that I should, since I may still help him with my prayers."

"Which is help indeed."

"Yes, I know . . . you must forgive my tears and weakness, but these past months have tried me. And that dreadful night. . . . Oh, mon Dieu! even now I can't believe that he died of a bodily disease. Mr. Homer holds it was a common apoplexy brought on by his habit."

"An apoplexy, maybe; but who is to say how it was brought on? Mr. Homer did not see him as we first saw him; nor did he know there were devils about."

"It's monstrous to think of my brother being sucked into such wickedness. I cannot understand it, for as I've always known him he was orthodox in his religion and honest, though strange in his ways."

"He was a lonely man," said Parsons, "and there is always a special devil besetting lonely men—a devil that may take one shape or another."

"I should not have called him lonely. He was twice married and the father of many children."

"None the less he was alone—in himself, in his heart. Even when he was happy with his second wife I think he was still alone. His loneliness may have been his fault—I cannot say . . . I would not say. I am not here to judge him, only to pray for him. God rest his soul—it was weary enough."

"Amen," said Louise.

They had come to the edge of the high ground which used to be the coast of England, and looked down over the marshes, partly inned for pasture, partly overflowed with great pools and saltings and creeping tideways. Far away beyond the marshes lay the sea, mysterious with twilight, and beyond the sea lay France, invisible.

For a while the little company halted in silence. De Périgault's thoughts crossed the sea to the great country he had left only a few years ago and had thought never to see again. Louise's thoughts went back rather in time, to her girlhood, to the life and ways she had nearly forgotten. The only possessions she had taken from France and still kept were her language and her religion. The former had grown a little stiff from want of use, the latter had been strengthened and deepened by the discipline of persecution. She found herself thanking God for the fast that prepared her for the feast. Parsons thought rather sadly that he would probably see her no more, that his ministrations in the country round Leasan must henceforth be without the comfort of his welcome and shelter at Conster. The poor old dog must leave his place by the fire and make what use he could of the dog-kennel.

"I must turn back now," he said.

"It is hard to bid you adieu, my dear, dear friend," cried Louise, the tears filling her eyes, "for I owe you my soul indeed."

"Nay, you owe that to your own courage and the grace of God. We may meet again. If I should ever live to be too old for work, the Mission may recall me to Rheims and we shall at least be in the same country."

"Shall you return to Leasan now I'm gone?"

"Yes, certainly I must return. There are the Tuktons to be visited and one or two others. But I doubt if I shall be able to see them so often, having no hiding-place in the district."

"I should have stayed."

"Nay, you've done more than enough; and God will reward you. God bless you now—God bless you both."

As he held up his hand in blessing, he turned his horse's head, and the next moment he was trotting briskly back toward Court-at-Street.

The dusk fell quickly round him, and soon the night was dark, but clear and still, promising a good passage for the travellers. After he had ridden away he slackened speed and let his reins drop on his horse's neck while he fumbled in his pocket. "At last," he murmured as he found his pipe.

He knew that he had almost longed to leave them so that he might get at the comfort of his pipe again. His pipe was his good friend now that his other good friends were gone. He filled it carefully, put it in his mouth, and drew his tinder-box from his pocket. Then suddenly his thoughts changed—and instead of lighting his pipe he took it out of his mouth and stared at it wryly. Then he threw it far away into the bushes by the roadside.

"There you go, old copesmate—better be there, in case you should ever become a lonely man's temptation. You were growing too dear. 'If thine eye should offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee,' so lie there, my right eye. I will enter into life without thee."

He shook the reins and rode on. The country darkened round him and round the travellers who now must be close on the edges of Hythe. When the tide turned they would put out to sea and he prayed for their fair journey and good estate. Then he said a prayer for those they had left, he prayed for Conster and the young child there, and last of all he prayed for the child's parents, especially for his father—that delivered from Tartarus and the thick darkness, he might come at last to the home of Paradise, that native land.

"O Lord Jesus Christ, king of glory, deliver the souls of all the faithful departed from the pains of hell and from the deep pit; deliver them from the lion's mouth, that hell may not swallow them up and they may not fall into darkness, but may holy Michael the standard-bearer lead them into the holy light: which thou didst promise to Abraham and his seed of old."

His hand kept groping for his pipe, so he thrust it into his pocket and kept it there, secretly telling his beads—a habit he had acquired on his long, lonely journeys. He had a long way to go to-night, for he was riding to visit a family near Maidstone, a family which he feared was now backsliding from the faith. Perhaps they would give him shelter for the night, but more likely they would not. He would have to risk going to the inn, or else sleep out under the hedgerow. Sometimes he almost wished he could be taken, so that all these lonely journeyings and dodgings and strugglings might cease. But he knew that his life was needed by the Mission and would profit it more than his death; so when the thought came to him to-night he dismissed it at once, as another of those temptations that come to lonely men.