Read EPILOGUE - HUGH SEYMOUR of The Golden Scarecrow, free online book, by Hugh Walpole, on ReadCentral.com.

I

It happened that Hugh Seymour, in the month of December, 1911, found himself in the dreamy orchard-bound cathedral city of Polchester.  Polchester, as all its inhabitants well know, is famous for its cathedral, its buns, and its river, the cathedral being one of the oldest, the buns being among the sweetest, and the Pol being amongst the most beautiful of the cathedrals, buns and rivers of Great Britain.

Seymour had known Polchester since he was five years old, when he first lived there with his father and mother, but he had only once during the last ten years been able to visit Glebeshire, and then he had been to Rafiel, a fishing village on the south coast.  He had, therefore, not seen Polchester since his childhood, and now it seemed to him to have shrivelled from a world of infinite space and mystery into a toy town that would be soon packed away in a box and hidden in a cupboard.  As he walked up and down the cobbled streets he was moved by a great affection and sentiment for it.  As he climbed the hill to the cathedral, as he stood inside the Close with its lawns, its elm trees, its crooked cobbled walks, its gardens, its houses with old bow windows and deep overhanging doors, he was again a very small boy with soap in his eyes, a shining white collar tight about his neck, and his Eton jacket stiff and unfriendly.  He was walking up the aisle with his mother, his boots creaked, the bell’s note was dropping, dropping, the fat verger with his staff was undoing the cord of their seat, the boys of the choir-school were looking at him and he was blushing, he was on his knees and the edge of the kneeler was cutting into his trousers, the precentor’s voice, as remote from things human as the cathedral bell itself, was crying, “Dearly beloved brethren.”  He would stop there and wonder whether there could be any connection between that time and this, whether those things had really happened to him, whether he might now be dreaming and would wake up presently to find that it would be soon time to start for the cathedral, that if he and his sisters were good they would have a chapter of the “Pillars of the House” read to them after tea, with one chocolate each at the end of every two pages.  No, he was real, March Square was real, Polchester was real, Glebeshire and London were real together nothing died, nothing passed away.

On the second afternoon of his stay he was standing in the Close, bathed now in yellow sunlight, when he saw coming towards him a familiar figure.  One glance was enough to assure him that this was the Rev. William Lasher, once Vicar of Clinton St. Mary, now Canon of Polchester Cathedral.  Mr. Lasher it was, and Mr. Lasher the same as he had ever been.  He was walking with his old energetic stride, his head up, his black overcoat flapping behind him, his eyes sharply investigating in and out and all round him.  He saw Seymour, but did not recognise him, and would have passed on.

“You don’t know me?” said Seymour, holding out his hand.

“I beg your pardon, I ” said Canon Lasher.

“Seymour Hugh Seymour whom you were once kind enough to look after at Clinton St. Mary.”

“Why!  Fancy!  Indeed.  My dear boy.  My dear boy!” Mr. Lasher was immensely cordial in exactly his old, healthy, direct manner.  He insisted that Seymour should come with him and drink a cup of tea.  Mrs. Lasher would be delighted.  They had often wondered....  Only the other day Mrs. Lasher was saying....  “And you’re one of our novelists, I hear,” said Canon Lasher in exactly the tone that he would have used had Seymour taken to tight-rope walking at the Halls.

“Oh, no!” said Seymour, laughing, “that’s another man of my name.  I’m at the Bar.”

“Ah,” said the Canon, greatly relieved, “that’s good!  That’s good!  Very good indeed!”

Mrs. Lasher was, of course, immensely surprised.  “Why!  Fancy!  And it was only yesterday!  Whoever would have expected!  I never was more astonished!  And tea just ready!  How fortunate!  Just fancy you meeting the Canon!”

The Canon seemed, to Seymour, greatly mellowed by comfort and prosperity; there was even the possibility of corpulence in the not distant future.  He was, indeed, a proper Canon.

“And who,” said Seymour, “has Clinton St. Mary now?”

“One of the Trenchards,” said Mr. Lasher.  “As you know, a very famous old Glebeshire family.  There are some younger cousins of the Garth Trenchards, I believe.  You know of the Trenchards of Garth?  No?  Ah, very delightful people.  You should know them.  Yes, Jim Trenchard, the man at Clinton, is a few years senior to myself.  He was priest when I was deacon in let me see dear me, how the years fly in ’pon my word, how time goes!”

All of which gave Seymour to understand that the Rev. James Trenchard was a failure in life, although a good enough fellow.  Then it was that suddenly, in the heart of that warm and cosy drawing-room, Hugh Seymour was, sharply, as though by a douche of cold water, awakened to the fact that he must see Clinton St. Mary again.  It appeared to him, now, with its lanes, its hedges, the village green, the moor, the Borhaze Road, the pirates, yes, and the Scarecrow.  It came there, across the Canon’s sumptuous Turkey carpet, and demanded his presence.

“I must go,” Seymour said, getting up and speaking in a strange, bewildered voice as though he were just awakening from a dream.  He left them, at last, promising to come and see them again.

He heard the Canon’s voice in his ears:  “Always a knife and fork, my boy ... any time if you let us know.”  He stepped down into the little lighted streets, into the town with its cosy security and some scent, even then in the heart of winter, perhaps, from the fruit of its many orchards.  The moon, once again an orange feather in the sky, reminded him of those early days that seemed now to be streaming in upon him from every side.

Early next morning he caught the ten o’clock train to Clinton.

II

“Why,” in the train he continued to say to himself, “have I let all these years pass without returning?  Why have I never returned?...  Why have I never returned?”

The slow, sleepy train (the London express never stops at Clinton) jerked through the deep valleys, heavy with woods, golden brown at their heart, the low hills carrying, on their horizons, white drifting clouds that flung long grey shadows.  Seymour felt suddenly as though he could never return to London again exactly as he had returned to it before.  “That period of my life is over, quite over....  Some one is taking me down here now I know that I am being compelled to go.  But I want to go.  I am happier than I have ever been in my life before.”

Often, in Glebeshire, December days are warm and mellow like the early days of September.  It so was now; the country was wrapped in with happy content, birds rose and hung, like telegraph wires, beyond the windows.  On a slanting brown field gulls from the sea, white and shining, were hovering, wheeling, sinking into the soil.  And yet, as he went, he was not leaving March Square behind, but rather taking it with him.  He was taking the children too Bim, Angelina, John, even Sarah (against her will), and it was not her who was in charge of the party.  He felt as though, the railway carriages were full and he ought to say continually, “Now, Bim, be quiet.  Sit still and look at the picture-book I gave you.  Sarah, I shall leave you at the next station if you aren’t careful,” and that she replied, giving him one of her dark sarcastic looks, “I don’t care if you do.  I know how to get home all right without your help.”

He wished that he hadn’t brought her, and yet he couldn’t help himself.  They all had to come.  Then, as he looked about the empty carriage, he laughed at himself.  Only a fat farmer reading The Glebeshire Times.

“Marnin’, sir,” said the farmer.  “Warm Christmas we’ll be havin’, I reckon.  Yes, indeed.  I see the Bishop’s dying poor old soul too.”

When they arrived at Clinton he caught himself turning round as though to collect his charges; he thought that the farmer looked at him curiously.

“Coming back again has turned my wits....  Now, Angelina, hurry up, can’t wait all day.”  He stopped then abruptly, to pull himself together.  “Look here, you’re alone, and if you think you’re not, you’re mad.  Remember that you’re at the Bar and not even a novelist, so that you have no excuse.”

The little platform usually swept by all the winds of the sea, but now as warm as a toasted bun flooded him with memory.  It was a platform especially connected with school, with departure and return departures when money in one’s pocket and cake in one’s play-box did not compensate for the hot pain in one’s throat and the cold marble feeling of one’s legs; but when every feeling of every sort was swallowed by the great overwhelming desire that the train would go so that one need not any longer be agonised by the efforts of replying to Mr. Lasher’s continued last words:  “Well, good-bye, my boy.  A good time, both at work and play” the train was off.

“Ticket, please, sir!” said the long-legged young man at the little wooden gate.  Seymour plunged down into the deep, high-hedged lane that even now, in winter, seemed to cover him with a fragrant odour of green leaves, of flowers, of wet soil, of sea spray.  He was now so conscious of his company that the knowledge of it could not be avoided.  It seemed to him that he heard them chattering together, knew that behind his back Sarah was trying to whisper horrid things in Bim’s ear, and that he was laughing at her, which made her furious.

“I must have eaten something,” he thought.  “It’s the strangest feeling I’ve ever had.  I just won’t take any notice of them.  I’ll go on as though they weren’t there.”  But the strangest thing of all was that he felt as though he himself were being taken.  He had the most comfortable feeling that there was no need for him to give any thought or any kind of trouble.  “You just leave it all to me,” some one said to him.  “I’ve made all the arrangements.”

The lane was hot, and the midday winter sun covered the paths with pools and splashes of colour.  He came out on to the common and saw the village, the long straggling street with the white-washed cottages and the hideous grey-slate roofs; the church tower, rising out of the elms, and the pond, running to the common’s edge, its water chequered with the reflection of the white clouds above it.

The main street of Clinton is not a lovely street; the inland villages and towns of Glebeshire are, unless you love them, amongst the ugliest things in England, but every step caught at Seymour’s heart.

There was Mr. Roscoe’s shop which was also the post-office, and in its window was the same collection of liquorice sticks, saffron buns, reels of cotton, a coloured picture of the royal family, views of Trezent Head, Borhaze Beach, St. Arthe Church, cotton blouses made apparently for dolls, so minute were they, three books, “Ben Hur,” “The Wide, Wide World,” and “St. Elmo,” two bottles of sweets, some eau-de-Cologne, and a large white card with bone buttons on it.  So moving was this collection to Seymour that he stared at the window as though he were in a trance.

The arrangement of the articles was exactly the same as it had been in the earlier days the royal family in the middle, supported by the jars of sweets; the three books, very dusty and faded, in the very front; and the bootlaces and liquorice sticks all mixed together as though Mr. Roscoe had forgotten which was which.

“Look here, Bim,” he said aloud, “I’ve left you up I really am going off my head!” he thought.  He hurried away.  “If I am mad I’m awfully happy,” he said.

III

The white vicarage gate closed behind him with precisely the old-remembered sound the whiz, the sudden startled pause, the satisfied click.  Seymour stood on the sun-bathed lawn, glittering now like green glass, and stared at the house.  Its square front of faded red brick preserved a tranquil silence; the only sound in the place was the movement of some birds, his old friend the robin perhaps in the laurel bushes behind him.

Although the sun was so warm there was in the air a foreshadowing of a frosty night; and some Christmas roses, smiling at him from the flower beds to right and left of the hall door, seemed to him that they remembered him; but, indeed, the whole house seemed to tell him that.  There it waited for him, so silent, laid ready for his acceptance under the blue sky and with no breath of wind stirring.  So beautiful was the silence, that he made a movement with his hand as though to tell his companion to be quiet.  He felt that they were crowded in an interested, amused group behind him waiting to see what he would do.  Then a little bell rang somewhere in the house, a voice cried “Martha!”

He moved forward and pulled the wire of the bell; there was a wheezy jangle, a pause, and then a sharp irritated sound far away in the heart of the house, as though he had hit it in the wind and it protested.  An old woman, very neat (she was certainly a Glebeshire woman), told him that Mr. Trenchard was at home.  She took him through the dark passages into the study that he knew so well, and said that Mr. Trenchard would be with him in a moment.

It was the same study, and yet how different!  Many of the old pieces of furniture were there the deep, worn leather arm-chair in which Mr. Lasher had been sitting when he had his famous discussion with Mr. Pidgen, the same bookshelves, the same tiles in the fireplace with Bible pictures painted on them, the same huge black coal-scuttle, the same long, dark writing-table.  But instead of the old order and discipline there was now a confusion that gave the room the air of a waste-paper basket.  Books were piled, up and down, in the shelves, they dribbled on to the floor and lay in little trickling streams across the carpet; old bundles of papers, yellow with age, tied with string and faded blue tape, were in heaps upon the window-sill, and in tumbling cascades in the very middle of the floor; the writing-table itself was so hopelessly littered with books, sermon papers, old letters and new letters, bottles of ink, bottles of glue, three huge volumes of a Bible Concordance, photographs, and sticks of sealing-wax, that the man who could be happy amid such confusion must surely be a kindly and benevolent creature.  How orderly had been Mr. Lasher’s table, with all the pens in rows, and little sharp drawers that clicked, marked A, B, and C, to put papers into.

Mr. Trenchard entered.

He was what the room had prophesied fat, red-faced, bald, extremely untidy, with stains on his coat and tobacco on his coat, that was turning a little green, and chalk on his trousers.  His eyes shone with pleased friendliness, but there was a little pucker in his forehead, as though his life had not always been pleasant.  He rubbed his nose, as he talked, with the back of his hand, and made sudden little darts at the chalk on his trousers, as though he would brush it off.  He had the face of an innocent baby, and when he spoke he looked at his companion with exactly the gaze of trusting confidence that a child bestows upon its elders.

“I hope you will forgive me,” said Seymour, smiling; “I’ve come, too, at such an awkward time, but the truth is I simply couldn’t help myself.  I ought, besides, to catch the four o’clock train back to Polchester.”

“Yes, indeed,” said Mr. Trenchard, smiling, rubbing his hands together, and altogether in the dark as to what his visitor might be wanting.

“Ah, but I haven’t explained; how stupid of me!  My name is Seymour.  I was here during several years, as a small boy, with Canon Lasher in my holidays, you know.  It’s years ago, and I’ve never been back.  I was at Polchester this morning and suddenly felt that I must come over.  I wondered whether you’d be so good as to let me look a little at the house and garden.”

There was nothing that Mr. Trenchard would like better.  How was Canon Lasher?  Well?  Good.  They met sometimes at meetings at Polchester.  Canon Lasher, Mr. Trenchard believed, liked it better at Polchester than at Clinton.  Honestly, it would break Mr. Trenchard’s heart if he had to leave the place.  But there was no danger of that now.  Would Mr. Seymour his wife would be delighted would he stay to luncheon?

“Why, that is too kind of you,” said Seymour, hesitating, “but there are so many of us, such a lot I mean,” he said hurriedly, at Mr. Trenchard’s innocent stare of surprise, “that it’s too hard on Mrs. Trenchard, with so little notice.”

He broke off confusedly.

“We shall only be too delighted,” said Mr. Trenchard.  “And if you have friends ...”

“No, no,” said Seymour, “I’m quite alone.”

When, afterwards, he was introduced to Mrs. Trenchard in the drawing-room, he liked her at once.  She was a little woman, very neat, with grey hair brushed back from her forehead.  She was like some fresh, mild-coloured fruit, and an old-fashioned dress of rather faded green silk, and a large locket that she wore gave her a settled, tranquil air as though she had always been the same, and would continue so for many years.  She had a high, fresh colour, a beautiful complexion and her hands had the delicacy of fragile egg-shell china.  She was cheerful and friendly, but was, nevertheless, a sad woman; her eyes were dark and her voice was a little forced as though she had accustomed herself to be in good spirits.  The love between herself and her husband was very pleasant to see.

Like all simple people, they immediately trusted Seymour with their confidence.  During luncheon they told him many things, of Rasselas, where Mr. Trenchard had been a curate, at their joy at getting the Clinton living, and of their happiness at being there, of the kindness of the people, of the beauty of the country, of their neighbours, of their relations, the George Trenchards, at Garth of Glebeshire generally, and what it meant to be a Trenchard.

“There’ve been Trenchards in Glebeshire,” said the Vicar, greatly excited, “since the beginning of time.  If Adam and Eve were here, and Glebeshire was the Garden of Eden, as I daresay it was, why, then Adam was a Trenchard.”

Afterwards when they were smoking in the confused study, Seymour learnt why Mrs. Trenchard was a sad woman.

“We’ve had one trial, under God’s grace,” said Mr. Trenchard.  “There was a boy and a girl Francis and Jessamy.  They died, both, in a bad epidemic of typhoid here, five years ago.  Francis was five, Jessamy four.  ‘The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.’  It was hard losing both of them.  They got ill together and died on the same day.”

He puffed furiously at his pipe.  “Mrs. Trenchard keeps the nursery just the same as it used to be.  She’ll show it to you, I daresay.”

Later, when Mrs. Trenchard took him over the house, his sight of the nursery was more moving to him than any of his old memories.  She unlocked the door with a sharp turn of the wrist and showed him the wide sun-lit room, still with fresh curtains, with a wall-paper of robins and cherries, with the toys dolls, soldiers, a big dolls’-house, a rocking-horse, boxes of bricks.

“Our two children, who died five years ago,” she said in her quiet, calm voice, “this was their room.  These were their things.  I haven’t been able to change it as yet.  Mr. Lasher,” she said, smiling up at him, “had no children, and you were too old for a nursery, I suppose.”

It was then, as he stood in the doorway, bathed in a shaft of sunlight, that he was again, with absolute physical consciousness, aware of the children’s presence.  He could tell that they were pressing behind him, staring past him into the room, he could almost hear their whispered exclamations of delight.

He turned to Mrs. Trenchard as though she must have perceived that he was not alone.  But she had noticed nothing; with another sharp turn of the wrist she had locked the door.

IV

To-morrow was Christmas Eve:  he had promised to spend Christmas with friends in Somerset.  Now he went to the little village post-office and telegraphed that he was detained; he felt at that moment as though he would never like to leave Clinton again.

The inn, the “Hearty Cow,” was kept by people who were new to him “foreigners, from up-country.”  The fat landlord complained to Seymour of the slowness of the Clinton people, that they never could be induced to see things to their own proper advantage.  “A dead-alive place I call it,” he said; “but still, mind you,” he added, “it’s got a sort of a ’old on one.”

From the diamond-paned windows of his bedroom next morning he surveyed a glorious day, the very sky seemed to glitter with frost, and when his window was opened he could hear quite plainly the bell on Trezent Rock, so crystal was the air.  He walked that morning for miles; he covered all his old ground, picking up memories as though he were building a pleasure-house.  Here was his dream, there was disappointment, here that flaming discovery, there this sudden terror nothing had changed for him, the Moor, St. Arthe Church, St. Dreot Woods, the high white gates and mysterious hidden park of Portcullis House all were as though it had been yesterday that he had last seen them.  Polchester had dwindled before his giant growth.  Here the moor, the woods, the roads had grown, and it was he that had shrunken.

At last he stood on the sand-dunes that bounded the moor and looked down upon the marbled sand, blue and gold after the retreating tide.  The faint lisp and curdle of the sea sang to him.  A row of sea-gulls, one and then another quivering in the light, stood at the water’s edge; the stiff grass that pushed its way fiercely from the sand of the dunes was white with hoar-frost, and the moon, silver now, and sharply curved, came climbing behind the hill.

He turned back and went home.  He had promised to have tea at the Vicarage, and he found Mrs. Trenchard putting holly over the pictures in the little dark square hall.  She looked as though she had always been there, and as though, in some curious way, the holly, with its bright red berries, especially belonged to her.

She asked him to help her, and Seymour thought that he must have known her all his life.  She had a tranquil, restful air, but, now and then, hummed a little tune.  She was very tidy as she moved about, picking up little scraps of holly.  A row of pins shone in her green dress.  After a while they went upstairs and hung holly in the passages.

Seymour had turned his back to her and was balanced on a little ladder, when he heard her utter a sharp little cry.

“The nursery door’s open,” she said.  He turned, and saw very clearly, against the half-light, her startled eyes.  Her hands were pressed against her dress and holly had fallen at her feet.  He saw, too, that the nursery door was ajar.

“I locked it myself, yesterday; you saw me.”

She gasped as though she had been running, and he saw that her face was white.

He moved forward quickly and pushed open the door.  The room itself was lightened by the gleam from the passage and also by the moonlight that came dimly through the window.  The shadow of some great tree was flung upon the floor.  He saw, at once, that the room was changed.  The rocking-horse that had been yesterday against the wall had now been dragged far across the floor.  The white front of the dolls’-house had swung open and the furniture was disturbed as though some child had been interrupted in his play.  Four large dolls sat solemnly round a dolls’ tea-table, and a dolls’ tea service was arranged in front of them.  In the very centre of the room a fine castle of bricks had been rising, a perfect Tower of Babel in its frustrated ambition.

The shadow of the great tree shook and quivered above these things.

Seymour saw Mrs. Trenchard’s face, he heard her whisper: 

“Who is it?  What is it?”

Then she fell upon her knees near the tower of bricks.  She gazed at them, stared round the rest of the room, then looked up at him, saying very quietly: 

“I knew that they would come back one day.  I always waited.  It must have been they.  Only Francis ever built the bricks like that, with the red ones in the middle.  He always said they must be....”

She broke off and then, with her hands pressed to her face, cried, so softly and so gently that she made scarcely any sound.

Seymour left her.

V

He passed through the house without any one seeing him, crossed the common, and went up to his bedroom at the inn.  He sat down before his window with his back to the room.  He flung the rattling panes wide.

The room looked out across on to the moor, and he could see, in the moonlight, the faint thread of the beginning of the Borhaze Road.  To the left of this there was some sharp point of light, some cottage perhaps.  It flashed at him as though it were trying to attract his attention.  The night was so magical, the world so wonderful, so without bound or limit, that he was prepared now to wait, passively, for his experience.  That point of light was where the Scarecrow used to be, just where the brown fields rise up against the horizon.  In all his walks to-day he had deliberately avoided that direction.  The Scarecrow would not be there now; he had always in his heart fancied it there, and he would not change that picture that he had of it.  But now the light flashed at him.  As he stared at it he knew that to-day he had completed that adventure that had begun for him many years ago, on that Christmas Eve when he had met Mr. Pidgen.

They were whispering in his ear, “We’ve had a lovely day.  It was the most beautiful nursery....  Two other children came too.  They wore their things....”

“What, after all,” said his Friend’s voice, “does it mean but that if you love enough we are with you everywhere for ever?”

And then the children’s voices again: 

“She thought they’d come back, but they’d never gone away really, you know.”

He gazed once more at the point of light, and then turned round and faced the dark room....