The organ was not silenced, nor was
the service suspended. Sir George came down
to Cullerne, inspected the arch, and rallied his subordinate
for an anxiety which was considered to be unjustifiable.
Yes, the wall above the arch had moved a little,
but not more than was to be expected from the repairs
which were being undertaken with the vaulting.
It was only the old wall coming to its proper bearingshe
would have been surprised, in fact, if no movement
had taken place; it was much safer as it was.
Canon Parkyn was in high good-humour.
He rejoiced in seeing the pert and officious young
clerk of the works put in his proper place; and Sir
George had lunched at the Rectory. There was
a repetition of the facetious proposal that Sir George
should wait for payment of his fees until the tower
should fall, which acquired fresh point from the circumstance
that all payments were now provided for by Lord Blandamer.
The ha-ha-ing which accompanied this witticism palled
at length even upon the robust Sir George, and he
winced under a dig in the ribs, which an extra glass
of port had emboldened the Canon to administer.
“Well, well, Mr Rector,”
he said, “we cannot put old heads on young shoulders.
Mr Westray was quite justified in referring the matter
to me. It has an ugly look; one needs
experience to be able to see through things
like this.” And he pulled up his collar,
and adjusted his tie.
Westray was content to accept his
Chief’s decision as a matter of faith, though
not of conviction. The black lightning-flash
was impressed on his mental retina, the restless cry
of the arches was continually in his ear; he seldom
passed the transept-crossing without hearing it.
But he bore his rebuke with exemplary resignationthe
more so that he was much interested in some visits
which Lord Blandamer paid him at this period.
Lord Blandamer called more than once at Bellevue Lodge
in the evenings, even as late as nine o’clock,
and would sit with Westray for two hours together,
turning over plans and discussing the restoration.
The architect learnt to appreciate the charm of his
manner, and was continually astonished at the architectural
knowledge and critical power which he displayed.
Mr Sharnall would sometimes join them for a few minutes,
but Lord Blandamer never appeared quite at his ease
when the organist was present; and Westray could not
help thinking that Mr Sharnall was sometimes tactless,
and even rude, considering that he was beholden to
Lord Blandamer for new pedals and new bellows and a
water-engine in esse, and for the entire repair
of the organ in posse.
“I can’t help being `beholden
to him,’ as you genteelly put it,” Mr
Sharnall said one evening, when Lord Blandamer had
gone. “I can’t stop his giving
new bellows or a new pedal-board. And we do want
the new board and the additional pipes. As it
is, I can’t play German music, can’t touch
a good deal of Bach’s organ work. Who is
to say this man nay, if he chooses to alter the organ?
But I’m not going to truckle to anyone, and
least of all to him. Do you want me to fall flat
on my face because he is a lord? Pooh! we could
all be lords like him. Give me another week
with Martin’s papers, and I’ll open your
eyes. Ay, you may stare and sniff if you please,
but you’ll open your eyes then. Ex oriente
luxthat’s where the light’s
coming from, out of Martin’s papers. Once
this Confirmation over, and you’ll see.
I can’t settle to the papers till that’s
done with. What do people want to confirm these
boys and girls for? It only makes hypocrites
of wholesome children. I hate the whole business.
If people want to make their views public, let them
do it at five-and-twenty; then we should believe that
they knew something of what they were about.”
The day of the Bishop’s visit
had arrived; the Bishop had arrived himself; he had
entered the door of Bellevue Lodge; he had been received
by Miss Euphemia Joliffe as one who receives an angel
awares; he had lunched in Mr Sharnall’s room,
and had partaken of the cold lamb, and the Stilton,
and even of the cider-cup, to just such an extent as
became a healthy and good-hearted and host-considering
“You have given me a regular
Oxford lunch,” he said. “Your landlady
has been brought up in the good tradition.”
And he smiled, never doubting that he was partaking
of the ordinary provision of the house, and that Mr
Sharnall fared thus sumptuously every day. He
knew not that the meal was as much a set piece as
a dinner on the stage, and that cold lamb and Stilton
and cider-cup were more often represented by the bottom
of a tin of potted meat anda gill of cheap
“A regular Oxford lunch.”
And then they fell to talking of old days, and the
Bishop called Mr Sharnall “Nick,” and Mr
Sharnall called the Bishop of Carum “John”;
and they walked round the room looking at pictures
of college groups and college eights, and the Bishop
examined very tenderly the little water-colour sketch
that Mr Sharnall had once made of the inner quad;
and they identified in it their own old rooms, and
the rooms of several other men of their acquaintance.
The talk did Mr Sharnall good; he
felt the better for it every moment. He had meant
to be very proud and reserved with the Bishopto
be most dignified and coldly courteous. He had
meant to show that, though John Willis might wear
the gaiters, Nicholas Sharnall could retain his sturdy
independence, and was not going to fawn or to admit
himself to be the mental inferior of any man.
He had meant to give a tirade against Confirmation,
against the neglect of music, against rectors, with
perhaps a back-thrust at the Bench of Bishops itself.
But he had done none of these things, because neither
pride nor reserve nor assertiveness were possible
in John Willis’s company. He had merely
eaten a good lunch, and talked with a kindly, broad-minded
gentleman, long enough to warm his withered heart,
and make him feel that there were still possibilities
There is a bell that rings for a few
strokes three-quarters of an hour before every service
at Cullerne. It is called the Burgess Bellsome
say because it was meant to warn such burgesses as
dwelt at a distance that it was time to start for
church; whilst others will have it that Burgess is
but a broken-down form of expergiscere“Awake!
awake!” that those who dozed might
rise for prayer. The still air of the afternoon
was yet vibrating with the Burgess Bell, and the Bishop
rose to take his leave.
If it was the organist of Cullerne
who had been ill at ease when their interview began,
it was the Bishop of Carisbury who was embarrassed
at the end of it. He had asked himself to lunch
with Mr Sharnall with a definite object, and towards
the attainment of that object nothing had been done.
He had learnt that his old friend had fallen upon
evil times, and, worse, had fallen into evil coursesthat
the failing which had ruined his Oxford career had
broken out again with a fresh fire in advancing age,
that Nicholas Sharnall was in danger of a drunkard’s
There had been lucid intervals in
the organist’s life; the plague would lie dormant
for years, and then break out, to cancel all the progress
that had been made. It was like a “race-game”
where the little leaden horse is moved steadily forward,
till at last the die falls on the fatal number, and
the racer must lose a turn, or go back six, or, even
in the worst issue, begin his whole course again.
It was in the forlorn hope of doing something, however
little, to arrest a man on the downward slope that
the Bishop had come to Bellevue Lodge; he hoped to
speak the word in season that should avail.
Yet nothing had been said. He felt like a clerk
who has sought an interview with his principal to ask
for an increase of salary, and then, fearing to broach
the subject, pretends to have come on other business.
He felt like a son longing to ask his father’s
counsel in some grievous scrape, or like an extravagant
wife waiting her opportunity to confess some heavy
“A quarter past two,”
the Bishop said; “I must be going. It has
been a great pleasure to recall the old times.
I hope we shall meet again soon; but remember it
is your turn now to come and see me. Carisbury
is not so very far off, so do come. There is
always a bed ready for you. Will you walk up
the street with me now? I have to go to the Rectory,
and I suppose you will be going to the church, will
“Yes,” said Mr Sharnall;
“I’ll come with you if you wait one minute.
I think I’ll take just a drop of something
before I go, if you’ll excuse me. I feel
rather run down, and the service is a long one.
You won’t join me, of course?” And he
went to the cupboard.
The Bishop’s opportunity was come.
Don’t, Nick,” he said; “don’t
take that stuff. Forgive me for speaking openly,
the time is so short. I am not speaking professionally
or from the religious standpoint, but only just as
one man of the world to another, just as one friend
to another, because I cannot bear to see you going
on like this without trying to stop you. Don’t
take offence, Nick,” he added, as he saw the
change of the other’s countenance; “our
old friendship gives me a right to speak; the story
you are writing on your own face gives me a right to
speak. Give it up. There is time yet to
turn; give it up. Let me help you; is there
nothing I can do to help?”
The angry look that crossed Mr Sharnall’s
face had given way to sadness.
“It is all very easy for you,”
he said; “you’ve done everything in life,
and have a long row of milestones behind you to show
how you’ve moved on. I have done nothing,
only gone back, and have all the milestones in front
to show how I’ve failed. It’s easy
to twit me when you’ve got everything you wantposition,
reputation, fortune, a living faith to keep you up
to it. I am nobody, miserably poor, have no friends,
and don’t believe half we say in church.
What am I to do? No one cares a fig about me;
what have I got to live for? To drink is the
only chance I have of feeling a little pleasure in
life; of losing for a few moments the dreadful consciousness
of being an outcast; of losing for a moment the remembrance
of happy days long ago: that’s the greatest
torment of all, Willis. Don’t blame me
if I drink; it’s the elixir vitae for
me just as much as for Paracelsus.” And
he turned the handle of the cupboard.
“Don’t,” the Bishop
said again, putting his hand on the organist’s
arm; “don’t do it; don’t touch it.
Don’t make success any criterion of life; don’t
talk about `getting on.’ We shan’t
be judged by how we have got on. Come along
with me; show you’ve got your old resolution,
your old will-power.”
“I haven’t got
the power,” Mr Sharnall said; “I can’t
help it.” But he took his hand from the
“Then let me help it for you,”
said the Bishop; and he opened the cupboard, found
a half-used bottle of whisky, drove the cork firmly
into it, and put it under his arm inside the lappet
of his coat. “Come along.”
So the Bishop of Carisbury walked
up the High Street of Cullerne with a bottle of whisky
under his left arm. But no one could see that,
because it was hid under his coat; they only saw that
he had his right arm inside Mr Sharnall’s.
Some thought this an act of Christian condescension,
but others praised the times that were past; bishops
were losing caste, they said, and it was a sad day
for the Church when they were found associating openly
with persons so manifestly their inferiors.
“We must see more of each other,”
the Bishop said, as they walked under the arcade in
front of the shops. “You must get out of
this quag somehow. You can’t expect to
do it all at once, but we must make a beginning.
I have taken away your temptation under my coat, and
you must make a start from this minute; you must make
me a promise now. I have to be in Cullerne
again in six days’ time, and will come and see
you. You must promise me not to touch anything
for these six days, and you must drive back with me
to Carisbury when I go back then, and spend a few
days with me. Promise me this, Nick; the time
is pressing, and I must leave you, but you must promise
me this first.”
The organist hesitated for a moment,
but the Bishop gripped his arm.
“Promise me this; I will not go till you promise.”
“Yes, I promise.”
And lying-and-mischief-making Mrs
Flint, who was passing, told afterwards how she had
overheard the Bishop discussing with Mr Sharnall the
best means for introducing ritualism into the minster,
and how the organist had promised to do his very best
to help him so far as the musical part of the sendee
The Confirmation was concluded without
any contretemps, save that two of the Grammar School
boys incurred an open and well-merited rebuke from
the master for appearing in gloves of a much lighter
slate colour than was in any way decorous, and that
this circumstance reduced the youngest Miss Bulteel
to such a state of hysteric giggling that her mother
was forced to remove her from the church, and thus
deprive her of spiritual privileges for another year.
Mr Sharnall bore his probation bravely.
Three days had passed, and he had not broken his
vowno, not in one jot or tittle.
They had been days of fine weather, brilliantly clear
autumn days of blue sky and exhilarating air.
They had been bright days for Mr Sharnall; he was
himself exhilarated; he felt a new life coursing in
his veins. The Bishop’s talk had done
him good; from his heart he thanked the Bishop for
it. Giving up drinking had done him no harm;
he felt all the better for his abstinence. It
had not depressed him at all; on the contrary, he
was more cheerful than he had been for years.
Scales had fallen from his eyes since that talk;
he had regained his true bearings; he began to see
the verities of life. How he had wasted his time!
Why had he been so sour? why had he
indulged his spleen? why had he taken such
a jaundiced view of life? He would put aside
all jealousies; he would have no enmities; he would
be broader-mindedoh, so much broader-minded;
he would embrace all mankindyes, even Canon
Parkyn. Above all, he would recognise that he
was well advanced in life; he would be more sober-thinking,
would leave childish things, would resolutely renounce
his absurd infatuation for Anastasia. What a
ridiculous ideaa crabbed old sexagenarian
harbouring affection for a young girl! Henceforth
she should be nothing to himabsolutely
nothing. No, that would be foolish; it would
not be fair to her to cut her off from all friendship;
he could feel for her a fatherly affectionit
should be paternal and nothing more. He would
bid adieu to all that folly, and his life should not
be a whit the emptier for the loss. He would
fill it with interestsall kinds of interests,
and his music should be the first. He would
take up again, and carry out to the end, that oratorio
which he had turned over in his mind for yearsthe
“Absalom.” He had several numbers
at his fingers’ ends; he would work out the
bass solo, “Oh, Absalom, my son, my son!”
and the double chorus that followed it, “Make
ready, ye mighty; up and bare your swords!”
So he discoursed joyfully with his
own heart, and felt above measure elated at the great
and sudden change that was wrought in him, not recognising
that the clouds return after the rain, and that the
leopard may change his spots as easily as man may
change his habits. To change a habit at fifty-five
or forty-five or thirty-five; to ordain that rivers
shall flow uphill; to divert the relentless sequence
of cause and effecthow often dare we say
this happens? Nemo repenteno man
ever suddenly became good. A moment’s
spiritual agony may blunt our instincts and paralyse
the evil in usfor a while, even as chloroform
may dull our bodily sense; but for permanence there
is no sudden turning of the mind; sudden repentances
in life or death are equally impossible.
Three halcyon days were followed by
one of those dark and lowering mornings when the blank
life seems blanker, and when the gloom of nature is
too accurately reflected in the nervous temperament
of man. On healthy youth climatic influences
have no effect, and robust middle age, if it perceive
them, goes on its way steadfast or stolid, with a cela
passerà, tout passerà. But on the feeble
and the failing such times fall with a weight of fretful
despondency; and so they fell on Mr Sharnall.
He was very restless about the time
of the mid-day meal. There came up a thick,
dark fog from the sea, which went rolling in great
masses over Cullerne Flat, till its fringe caught
the outskirts of the town. After that, it settled
in the streets, and took up its special abode in Bellevue
Lodge; till Miss Euphemia coughed so that she had to
take two ipecacuanha lozenges, and Mr Sharnall was
forced to ring for a lamp to see his victuals.
He went up to Westray’s room to ask if he might
eat his dinner upstairs, but he found that the architect
had gone to London, and would not be back till the
evening train; so he was thrown upon his own resources.
He ate little, and by the end of the
meal depression had so far got the better of him,
that he found himself standing before a well-known
cupboard. Perhaps the abstemiousness of the last
three days had told upon him, and drove him for refuge
to his usual comforter. It was by instinct that
he went to the cupboard; he was not even conscious
of doing so till he had the open door in his hand.
Then resolution returned to him, aided, it may be,
by the reflection that the cupboard was bare (for
the Bishop had taken away the whisky), and he shut
the door sharply. Was it possible that he had
so soon forgotten his promisehad come
so perilously near falling back into the mire, after
the bright prospects of the last days, after so lucid
an interval? He went to his bureau and buried
himself in Martin Joliffe’s papers, till the
Burgess Bell gave warning of the afternoon service.
The gloom and fog made way by degrees
for a drizzling rain, which resolved itself into a
steady downpour as the afternoon wore on. It
was so heavy that Mr Sharnall could hear the indistinct
murmur of millions of raindrops on the long lead roofs,
and their more noisy splash and spatter as they struck
the windows in the lantern and north transept.
He was in a bad humour as he came down from the loft.
The boys had sung sleepily and flat; Jaques had murdered
the tenor solo with his strained and raucous voice;
and old Janaway remembered afterwards that Mr Sharnall
had never vouchsafed a good-afternoon as he strode
angrily down the aisle.
Things were no better when he reached
Bellevue Lodge. He was wet and chilled, and
there was no fire in the grate, because it was too
early in the year for such luxuries to be afforded.
He would go to the kitchen, and take his tea there.
It was Saturday afternoon. Miss Joliffe would
be at the Dorcas meeting, but Anastasia would be in;
and this reflection came to him as a ray of sunlight
in a dark and lowering time. Anastasia would
be in, and alone; he would sit by the fire and drink
a cup of hot tea, while Anastasia should talk to him
and gladden his heart. He tapped lightly at
the kitchen-door, and as he opened it a gusty buffet
of damp air smote him on the face; the room was empty.
Through a half-open sash the wet had driven in, and
darkened the top of the deal table which stood against
the window; the fire was but a smouldering ash.
He shut the window instinctively while he reflected.
Where could Anastasia be? She must have left
the kitchen some time, otherwise the fire would not
be so low, and she would have seen that the rain was
beating in. She must be upstairs; she had no
doubt taken advantage of Westray’s absence to
set his room in order. He would go up to her;
perhaps there was a fire in Westray’s room.
He went up the circular stone staircase,
that ran like a wide well from top to bottom of the
old Hand of God. The stone steps and the stone
floor of the hall, the stuccoed walls, and the coved
stucco roof which held the skylight at the top, made
a whispering-gallery of that gaunt staircase; and
before Mr Sharnall had climbed half-way up he heard
They were voices in conversation;
Anastasia had company. And then he heard that
one was a man’s voice. What right had any
man to be in Westray’s room? What man
had any right to be talking to Anastasia? A
wild suspicion passed through his mindno,
that was quite impossible. He would not play
the eavesdropper or creep near them to listen; but,
as he reflected, he had mounted a step or two higher,
and the voices were now more distinct. Anastasia
had finished speaking, and the man began again.
There was one second of uncertainty in Mr Sharnall’s
mind, while the hope that it was not, balanced the
fear that it was; and then doubt vanished, and he
knew the voice to be Lord Blandamer’s.
The organist sprang up two or three
steps very quickly. He would go straight to
themstraight into Westray’s room;
he wouldAnd then he paused; he would do,
what? What right had he to go there at all?
What had he to do with them? What was there
for anyone to do? He paused, then turned and
went downstairs again, telling himself that he was
a foolthat he was making mountains of
molehills, that there did not exist, in fact, even
a molehill; yet having all the while a sickening feeling
within him, as if some gripping hand had got hold of
his poor physical and material heart, and was squeezing
it. His room looked more gloomy than ever when
he got back to it, but it did not matter now, because
he was not going to remain there. He only stopped
for a minute to sweep back into the bureau all those
loose papers of Martin Joliffe’s that were lying
in a tumble on the open desk-flap. He smiled
grimly as he put them back and locked them in. Le
jour viendra qui tout paiera. These papers
held a vengeance that would atone for all wrongs.
He took down his heavy and wet-sodden
overcoat from the peg in the hall, and reflected with
some satisfaction that the bad weather could not seriously
damage it, for it had turned green with wear, and must
be replaced as soon as he got his next quarter’s
salary. The rain still fell heavily, but he
must go out. Four walls were too narrow
to hold his chafing mood, and the sadness of outward
nature accorded well with a gloomy spirit. So
he shut the street-door noiselessly, and went down
the semicircular flight of stone steps in front of
the Hand of God, just as Lord Blandamer had gone down
them on that historic evening when Anastasia first
saw him. He turned back to look at the house,
just as Lord Blandamer had turned back then; but was
not so fortunate as his illustrious predecessor, for
Westray’s window was tight shut, and there was
no one to be seen.
“I wish I may never look upon
the place again,” he said to himself, half in
earnest, and half with that cynicism which men affect
because they know Fate seldom takes them at their
For an hour or more he wandered aimlessly,
and found himself, as night fell, on the western outskirts
of the town, where a small tannery carries on the
last pretence of commercial activity in Cullerne.
It is here that the Cull, which has run for miles
under willow and alder, through deep pastures golden
with marsh marigolds or scented with meadow-sweet,
past cuckoo-flower and pitcher-plant and iris and nodding
bulrush, forsakes better traditions, and becomes a
common town-sluice before it deepens at the wharves,
and meets the sandy churn of the tideway. Mr
Sharnall had become aware that he was tired, and he
stood and leant over the iron paling that divides
the roadway from the stream. He did not know
how tired he was till he stopped walking, nor how the
rain had wetted him till he bent his head a little
forward, and a cascade of water fell from the brim
of his worn-out hat.
It was a forlorn and dismal stream
at which he looked. The low tannery buildings
of wood projected in part over the water, and were
supported on iron props, to which were attached water-whitened
skins and repulsive portions of entrails, that swung
slowly from side to side as the river took them.
The water here is little more than three feet deep,
and beneath its soiled current can be seen a sandy
bottom on which grow patches of coarse duck-weed.
To Mr Sharnall these patches of a green so dark and
drain-soiled as to be almost black in the failing light,
seemed tresses of drowned hair, and he weaved stories
about them for himself as the stream now swayed them
to and fro, and now carried them out at length.
He observed things with that vacant
observation which the body at times insists on maintaining,
when the mind is busy with some overmastering preoccupation.
He observed the most trivial details; he made an
inventory of the things which he could see lying on
the dirty bed of the river underneath the dirty water.
There was a tin bucket with a hole in the bottom;
there was a brown teapot without a spout; there was
an earthenware blacking-bottle too strong to be broken;
there were other shattered glass bottles and shards
of crockery; there was a rim of a silk hat, and more
than one toeless boot. He turned away, and looked
down the road towards the town. They were beginning
to light the lamps, and the reflections showed a criss-cross
of white lines on the muddy road, where the water
stood in the wheel-tracks. There was a dark
vehicle coming down the road now, making a fresh track
in the mud, and leaving two shimmering lines behind
it as it went. He gave a little start when it
came nearer, and he saw that it was the undertaker’s
cart carrying out a coffin for some pauper at the
He gave a start and a shiver; the
wet had come through his overcoat; he could feel it
on his arms; he could feel the cold and clinging wet
striking at his knees. He was stiff with standing
so long, and a rheumatic pain checked him suddenly
as he tried to straighten himself. He would walk
quickly to warm himselfwould go home at
once. Home what home had
he? That great, gaunt Hand of God. He detested
it and all that were within its walls. That
was no home. Yet he was walking briskly towards
it, having no other whither to go.
He was in the mean little streets,
he was within five minutes of his goal, when he heard
singing. He was passing the same little inn which
he had passed the first night that Westray came.
The same voice was singing inside which had sung
the night that Westray came. Westray had brought
discomfort; Westray had brought Lord Blandamer.
Things had never been the same since; he wished Westray
had never come at all; he wishedoh, how
he wished!that all might be as it was beforethat
all might jog along quietly as it had for a generation
before. She certainly had a fine voice, this
woman. It really would be worth while seeing
who she was; he wished he could just look inside the
door. Stay, he could easily make an excuse for
looking in: he would order a little hot whisky-and-water.
He was so wet, it was prudent to take something to
drink. It might ward off a bad chill. He
would only take a very little, and only as a medicine,
of course; there could be no harm in thatit
was mere prudence.
He took off his hat, shook the rain
from it, turned the handle of the door very gently,
with the consideration of a musician who will do nothing
to interrupt another who is making music, and went
He found himself in that sanded parlour
which he had seen once before through the window.
It was a long, low room, with heavy beams crossing
the roof, and at the end was an open fireplace, where
a kettle hung above a smouldering fire. In a
corner sat an old man playing on a fiddle, and near
him the Creole woman stood singing; there were some
tables round the room, and behind them benches on which
a dozen men were sitting. There was no young
man among them, and most had long passed the meridian
of life. Their faces were sun-tanned and mahogany-coloured;
some wore earrings in their ears, and strange curls
of grey hair at the side of their heads. They
looked as if they might have been sitting there for
yearsas if they might be the crew of some
long-foundered vessel to whom has been accorded a Nirvana
of endless tavern-fellowship. None of them took
any notice of Mr Sharnall, for music was exercising
its transporting power, and their thoughts were far
away. Some were with old Cullerne whalers, with
the harpoon and the ice-floe; some dreamt of square-stemmed
timber-brigs, of the Baltic and the white Memel-logs,
of wild nights at sea and wilder nights ashore; and
some, remembering violet skies and moonlight through
the mango-groves, looked on the Creole woman, and
tried to recall in her faded features, sweet, swart
faces that had kindled youthful fires a generation
“Then the grog, boysthe
grog, boys, bring hither,”
sang the Creole.
“Fill it up true to the brim.
May the mem’ry of Nelson ne’er
Nor the star of his glory grow dim.”
There were rummers standing on the
tables, and now and then a drinking-brother would
break the sugar-knobs in his liquor with a glass stirrer,
or take a deep draught of the brown jorum that steamed
before him. No one spoke to Mr Sharnall; only
the landlord, without asking what he would take, set
before him a glass filled with the same hot spirit
as the other guests were drinking.
The organist accepted his fate with
less reluctance than he ought perhaps to have displayed,
and a few minutes later was drinking and smoking with
the rest. He found the liquor to his liking,
and soon experienced the restoring influences of the
warm room and of the spirit. He hung his coat
up on a peg, and in its dripping condition, and in
the wet which had penetrated to his skin, found ample
justification for accepting without demur a second
bumper with which the landlord replaced his empty
glass. Rummer followed rummer, and still the
Creole woman sang at intervals, and still the company
smoked and drank.
Mr Sharnall drank too, but by-and-by
saw things less clearly, as the room grew hotter and
more clouded with tobacco-smoke. Then he found
the Creole woman standing before him, and holding
out a shell for contributions. He had in his
pocket only one single coina half-crown
that was meant to be a fortnight’s pocket-money;
but he was excited, and had no hesitation.
“There,” he said, with
an air of one who gives a kingdom“there,
take that: you deserve it; but sing me a song
that I heard you sing once before, something about
the rolling sea.”
She nodded that she understood, and
after the collection was finished, gave the money
to the blind man, and bade him play for her.
It was a long ballad, with many verses and a refrain
“Oh, take me back to those I love,
Or bring them here to me;
I have no heart to rove, to rove
Across the rolling sea.”
At the end she came back, and sat
down on the bench by Mr Sharnall.
“Will you not give me something
to drink?” she said, speaking in very good English.
“You all drink; why should not I?”
He beckoned to the landlord to bring
her a glass, and she drank of it, pledging the organist.
“You sing well,” he said,
“and with a little training should sing very
well indeed. How do you come to be here?
You ought to do better than this; if I were you,
I would not sing in such company.”
She looked at him angrily.
“How do I come to be
here? How do you come to be here?
If I had a little training, I should sing better,
and if I had your training, Mr Sharnall”and
she brought out his name with a sneering emphasis“I
should not be here at all, drinking myself silly in
a place like this.”
She got up, and went back to the old
fiddler, but her words had a sobering influence on
the organist, and cut him to the quick. So all
his good resolutions had vanished. His promise
to the Bishop was broken; the Bishop would be back
again on Monday, and find him as bad as everwould
find him worse; for the devil had returned, and was
making riot in the garnished house. He turned
to pay his reckoning, but his half-crown had gone
to the Creole; he had no money, he was forced to explain
to the landlord, to humiliate himself, to tell his
name and address. The man grumbled and made
demur. Gentlemen who drank in good company,
he said, should be prepared to pay their shot like
gentlemen. Mr Sharnall had drunk enough to make
it a serious thing for a poor man not to get paid.
Mr Sharnall’s story might be true, but it was
a funny thing for an organist to come and drink at
the Merrymouth, and have no money in his pocket.
It had stopped raining; he could leave his overcoat
as a pledge of good faith, and come back and fetch
it later. So Mr Sharnall was constrained to leave
this part of his equipment, and was severed from a
well-worn overcoat, which had been the companion of
years. He smiled sadly to himself as he turned
at the open door, and saw his coat still hang dripping
on the peg. If it were put up to auction, would
it ever fetch enough to pay for what he had drunk?
It was true that it had stopped raining,
and though the sky was still overcast, there was a
lightness diffused behind the clouds that spoke of
a rising moon. What should he do? Whither
should he turn? He could not go back to the
Hand of God; there were some there who did not want
himwhom he did not want. Westray
would not be home, or, if he were, Westray would know
that he had been drinking; he could not bear that
they should see that he had been drinking again.
And then there came into his mind
another thought: he would go to the church, the
water-engine should blow for him, and he would play
himself sober. Stay, should he go to
the churchthe great church of Saint Sepulchre
alone? Would he be alone there? If he thought
that he would be alone, he would feel more secure;
but might there not be someone else there, or something
else? He gave a little shiver, but the drink
was in his veins; he laughed pot-valiantly, and turned
up an alley towards the centre tower, that loomed
dark in the wet, misty whiteness of the cloud screened