Read CHAPTER III - MRS. MOSTYN’S GOSPEL of Cecilia de Noel, free online book, by Lanoe Falconer, on

“No, they have not seen any more ghosts, sir,” replied Castleman scornfully next day, “and never need have seen any. It is all along of this tea-drinking. We did not have this bother when the women took their beer regular. These teetotallers have done a lot of harm. They ought to be put down by Act of Parliament.”

And the kitchen-maid was better. Mrs. Mallet, indeed, assured Lady Atherley that Hann was not long for this world, having turned just the same colour as the late Mr. Mallet did on the eve of his death; but fortunately the patient herself, as well as the doctor, took a more hopeful view of the case.

“I can see Mrs. Mallet is a horrible old croaker,” said Lady Atherley.

“Let her croak,” said Atherley, “so long as she cooks as she did last night. That curry would have got her absolution for anything if your uncle had been here.”

“That reminds me, George, the ceiling of the spare room is not mended yet.”

“Why, I thought you sent to Whitford for a plasterer yesterday?”

“Yes, and he came; but Mrs. Mallet has some extraordinary story about his falling into his bucket and spoiling his Sunday coat, and going home at once to change it. I can’t make it out, but nothing is done to the ceiling.”

“I make it out,” said Atherley; “I make out that he was a little the worse for drink. Have we not a plasterer in the village?”

“I think there is one. I fancy the Jacksons did not wish us to employ him, because he is a dissenter; but after all, giving him work is not the same as giving him presents.”

“No, indeed; nor do I see why, because he is a dissenter, I, who am only an infidel, am to put up with a hole in my ceiling.”

“Only, I don’t know what his name is.”

“His name is Smart. Everybody in our village is called Smart most inappropriately too.”

“No, George, the man the doctor told us about who is so dangerously ill is called Monk.”

“I am glad to hear it; but he doesn’t belong to our parish, though he lives so close. He is actually in Rood Warren. His cottage is at the other side of the Common.”

“Then we can leave the wine and things as we go. And, George, while the boys are having tea with Aunt Eleanour, I think I shall drive on to Quarley Beacon and try and persuade Cecilia to come back and spend the night with us. I think we could manage to put her up in the little blue dressing-room. She is so good-natured; she won’t mind its being so small.”

“Yes, do; I want Lyndsay to see her. And give my best love to Aunt Eleanour, and say that if she is going to send me any more tracts against Popery, I should be extremely obliged if she would prepay the postage sufficiently.”

“Oh no, George, I could not. It was only threepence.”

“Well, then, tell her it is no good sending any at all, because I have made up my mind to go over to Rome next July.”

“No, George; she might not like it, and I don’t believe you are going to do anything of the kind. Oh, are you off already? I thought you would settle something about the plasterer.”

“No, no; I can’t think of plasterers and repairs to-day. Even the galley-slave has his holiday this is mine. I am going to see the hounds throw off at Rood Acre, and forget for one day that I have an inch of landed property in the world.”

“But, George, if the pink-room ceiling is not put right by Saturday, where shall we put Uncle Augustus?”

“Into the room just opposite to Lindy’s.”

“What! that little room? In the bachelor’s passage? A man of his age, and of his position!”

“I am sure it is large enough for any one under a bishop. Besides, I don’t think he is fussy about anything except his dinner.”

“It is not the way he is accustomed to be treated when he is on a visit, I can assure you. He is a person who is generally considered a great deal.”

“Well, I consider him a great deal. I consider him one of the finest old heathen I ever knew.”

Fortunately for their domestic peace, Lady Atherley usually misses the points of her husband’s speeches, but there are some which jar upon her sense of the becoming, and this was one of them.

“I don’t think,” she observed to me, the offender himself having escaped, “that even if Uncle Augustus were not my uncle, a heathen is a proper name to call a clergyman, especially a canon and one who is so looked up to in the Church. Have you ever heard him preach? But you must have heard about him, and about his sermons? I thought so. They are beautiful. When he preaches the church is crammed, and with the best people in the season, when they are in town. And he has written a great many religious books too sermons and hymns and manuals. There is a little book in red morocco you may have seen in my sitting-room I know it was there a week ago which he gave me, The Life of Prayer, with a short meditation and a hymn for every hour of the day all composed by him. We don’t see so much of him as I could wish. He is so grieved about George’s views. He gave him some of his own sermons, but of course George would not look at them; and so annoying the last time he came I put the sermons, two beautiful large volumes of them, on the drawing-room table, and when we were all there after dinner George asked me quite loud what these smart books were, and where they came from. So altogether he has not come to see us for a long time; but as he happened to be staying with the Mountshires, I begged him to come over for a night or two; so you will hear him preach on Sunday.”

At lunch that day Lady Atherley proposed that I should accompany them to Woodcote. “Do come, Mr. Lyndsay,” said Denis. “We shall have cakes for tea, and jam-sandwiches as well.”

“And there is an awfully jolly banister for sliding down,” added Harold, “without any turns or landing, you know.”

I professed myself unable to resist such inducements. Indeed, I was almost glad to go. The recollection of Mrs. Mostyn’s cheerful face was as alluring to me that day as the thought of a glowing hearth might be to the beggar on the door-step. Here, at least, was one to whom life was a blessing; who partook of all it could bestow with an appetite as healthfully keen as her nephew’s, but without his disinclination or disregard for anything besides.

The mild March day felt milder, the rooks cawed more cheerfully, and the spring flowers shone out more fearlessly around us when we had passed through the white gates of Woodcote a favoured spot gently declining to the sunniest quarter, and sheltered from the north and north-east by barricades of elm-woods. The tiny domain was exquisitely ordered, as I love to see everything which appertains to women; and within the low white house, furnished after the simple and stiff fashion of a past generation, reigned the same dainty neatness, the same sunny cheerfulness, the native atmosphere of its chatelaine Mrs. Mostyn a white-haired old lady long past seventy, with the bloom of youth on her cheek, its vivacity in her step, and its sparkle in her eyes.

Hardly were the first greetings exchanged when the children opened the ball of conversation by inquiring eagerly when tea would be ready.

“How can you be so greedy?” said their mother. “Why, you have only just finished your dinner.”

“We dined at half-past one, and it is nearly half-past three.”

“Poor darlings!” cried Mrs. Mostyn, regarding them with the enraptured gaze of the true child-lover; “their drive has made them hungry; and we cannot have tea very well before half-past four, because some old women from the village have come up to have tea, and the servants are busy attending to them. But I can tell you what you could do, dears. You know the way to the dairy; one of the maids is sure to be there; tell her to give you some cream. You will like that, won’t you? Yes, you can go out by this door.”

“And remember to

Lady Atherley’s exhortation remained unfinished, her sons having darted through the door-window like arrows from the bow.

“Since Miss Jones has been gone for her holiday the children are quite unmanageable,” she observed.

“Oh, it is such a good sign!” cried Mrs. Mostyn heartily; “it shows they are so thoroughly well. Mr. Lyndsay, why have you chosen that uncomfortable chair? Come and sit over beside me, if you are not afraid of the fire. And now, Jane, my love, tell me how you are getting on at Weald.”

Then followed a long catalogue of accidents and disappointments, of faithlessness and incapacity, to which Mrs. Mostyn supplied a running commentary of interjections sympathetic and consoling. There were, moreover, many changes for the worse since Sir Marmaduke had resided there: the shooting and the fishing had been alike neglected; the farmers were impoverished; the old places had changed hands.

“And a good many quite new people have come to live in small houses round Weald,” said Lady Atherley. “They have left cards on us. Do you know what they are like?”

“Quite ladies and gentlemen, I believe, and nice enough as long as you don’t get to know them too intimately; but they are always quarrelling.”

“About what?”

“About everything; but especially about church matters decorations and anthems and other rubbish. What they want is less of the church and more of the Bible.”

“I believe Mr. Jackson has a Bible-class every week.”

“But is it a Bible-class, or is it only called so? There is Mr. Austin at Rood Warren, a Romanist in disguise if ever there was one: he is by way of having a Bible-class, and one of our farmers’ daughters attended it. ‘And what part of the Bible are you studying now?’ I asked her. ’We are studying early church history.’ ’I don’t know any such chapter in the Bible as that,’ I said, and yet I know my Bible pretty well. She explained it was a continuation of the Acts of the Apostles. I said: ’My dear child, don’t you be misled by any jugglery of that kind; there is no continuation of the Bible; and as to what people call the early church, its doings and sayings are of no consequence at all. The one question we have to ask ourselves is this: ‘"What does the Book say?"’ What is in the Book is God’s word: what is not in the Book is only man’s.”

The effect of this exposition on Lady Atherley was to make her ask eagerly whether the curate in charge at Rood Warren was one of the Austyns of Temple Leigh.

“I believe he is a nephew,” Mrs. Mostyn admitted, quite gloomily for her. “It is painful to see people of good standing going astray in this manner.”

“I was thinking it would be so convenient to get a young man over to dinner sometimes; and Rood Warren cannot be very far from us, for one of Mr. Austyn’s parishioners lives just at the end of Weald.”

“If you take my advice, my dearest Jane, you will not have anything to do with him. He is certain to be attractive men of that sort always are; and there is no saying what he might do: perhaps gain an influence over George himself.”

“I don’t think there need be any fear of that, for at dinner, you know, we need not have any religious discussions; I never will have them; they are almost as bad as politics, they make people so cross.”

Then she rose and explained her visit to Mrs. de Noel.

“But, Mr. Lyndsay,” said Mrs. Mostyn, “are you going to desert the old woman for the young one, or are you going to stay and see my gardens and have tea? That is right. Good-bye, my dearest Jane. Give my dear love to Cissy, and tell her to come over and see me but I shall have a glimpse of her on your way back.”

“I hope Mrs. de Noel may be persuaded to come back,” I said, as the carriage drove off, and we walked along a gravel path by lawns of velvet smoothness; “I would so much like to meet her.”

“Have you never met her? Dear Cecilia! She is a sweet creature the sweetest, I think, I ever met, though perhaps I ought not to say so of my own niece. She wants but one thing the grace of God.”

We passed into a little wood, tapestried with ivy, carpeted with clustering primroses, and she continued

“It is most mysterious. Both Cecilia and George, being left orphans so early, were brought up by my dear sister Henrietta. She was a believing Christian, and no children ever had greater religious advantages than these two. As soon as they could speak they learnt hymns or texts of Scripture, and before they could read they knew whole chapters of the Bible by heart. George even now, I will say that for him, knows his Bible better than a good many clergymen. And the Sabbath, too. They were taught to reverence the Lord’s day in a way children never are nowadays. All games and picture-books put away on Saturday night; regularly to church morning and afternoon, and in the evening Henrietta would talk to them and question them about the sermon. And after all, here is George who says he believes in nothing; and as to Cecilia, I never can make out what she does or does not believe. However, I am quite happy in my mind about them. I feel they are of the elect. I am as certain of their salvation as I am of my own.”

A sudden scampering of feet upon the gravel was followed by the appearance of the boys, rosy with exercise and excitement.

“Well, my darling boys, have you had your cream?”

“Oh yes, Aunt Eleanour,” cried Harold, “and we have been into the farm-yard and seen the little pigs. Such jolly little beasts, Mr. Lyndsay, and squeak so funnily when you pull their tails.”

“Oh, but I can’t have my pigs unkindly treated.”

“Not unkindly, auntie,” cried Denis, swinging affectionately upon my arm; “we only just tried to make their tails go straight, you know. And, Mr. Lyndsay, there is such a dear little baby calf.”

“But I want to give apples to the horses,” cried Harold.

So we went to the fruit-house for apples, which Mrs. Mostyn herself selected from an upper shelf, mounting a ladder with equal agility and grace; then to the stables, where these dainties were crunched by two very fat carriage-horses; then to the miniature farm-yard, and the tiny ivy-covered dairy beyond; and just as I was beginning to feel the first qualms of my besetting humiliation, fatigue, Mrs. Mostyn led us round to the garden a garden with high red walls, and a dial in the meeting-place of the flower-bordered paths; and we sat down in a rustic seat cosily fitted into one sunny corner, just behind a great bed of hyacinths in flower.

The children had but one regret: Tip had been left behind.

“But mamma would not let us bring him,” cried Harold in an aggrieved tone, “because he will roll in the flower-beds.”

“Do you think it is nearly half-past four, Aunt Eleanour?” asked Denis.

“Very nearly, I should think. Suppose you were to go and see if they have brought the tea-kettle in; and if they have, call to me from the drawing-room window, and I will come.”

The tempered sunlight fell full upon the delicate hyacinth clusters coral, snow-white, and faintest lilac exhaling their exquisite odour, and the warm sweet air seemed to enwrap us tenderly. My spirits, heavy as lead, began to rise strangely, irrationally. Sunlight has always for me a supersensuous beauty, while the colour and perfume of flowers move me as sound vibrations move the musician. Just then it was to me as if through Nature, from that which is behind Nature, there reached me a pitying, a comforting caress.

And in the same key were Mrs. Mostyn’s words when she next spoke.

“Mr. Lyndsay, I am an old woman and you are very young, and my heart goes out to all young creatures in sorrow, especially to one who has no mother of his own, no, nor father even, to comfort him. I know what trouble you have had. Would you be offended if I said how deeply I felt for you?”

“Offended, Mrs. Mostyn!”

“No. I see you understand me; you will not think me obtrusive when I say that I pray this great trial may be for your lasting good; may lead you to seek and to find salvation. The truth is brought home to us in many different ways, by many different instruments. My own eyes were opened by very extraordinary means.”

She was silent for a few instants, and then went on

“When I was young, Mr. Lyndsay, I lived for the world only. I went to church, of course, like other people, and said my prayers and called myself a Christian, but I did not know what the word meant. My sister Henrietta would often talk seriously to me, but it had no effect, and she was quite grieved over my hardened state; but my dear mother, a true saint, used to tell her to have no fear, that some day I should be sharply awakened to my soul’s danger. But it was not till years after she was in heaven that her words came true.”

I looked at her and waited.

“We were still living at Weald Manor with my brother Marmaduke, and we had young people staying with us. They were all going all but myself to a ball at Carchester. I stayed at home because I had a slight cold, which made me feel tired and feverish, and disinclined to be dancing till early next morning. I went to bed early, and when I had sent away my maid I sat beside the fire for a little, thinking. You know the long gallery?”


“My room was there; so I was quite alone, for the servants slept, just as they do now, in the opposite end of the house. But I had my dog with me, such a dear little thing, a black-and-tan terrier. He was lying asleep on the rug beside me. Well, all at once he got up and put his head on one side as if he heard something, and he began barking. I only said ‘Nonsense, Totty, lie down,’ and paid no more attention to him, till some moments afterwards he made a strange kind of noise as if he were trying to bark and was choked in some way. This made me look at him, and then I observed that he was trembling from head to foot, and staring in the strangest way at something behind me. I will honestly tell you he made me feel so uncomfortable I was afraid to look round; and still it was almost as bad to sit there and not look round, so at last I summoned up courage and turned my head. Then I saw it.”

“The ghost?”


“What was it like?”

“It was like a shadow, only darker, and not lying against the wall as a shadow would do, but standing out from it in the air. It stood a little way from me in a corner of the room. It was in the shape of a man, with a ruff round his neck, and sleeves puffed out at the shoulders, as you often see in old pictures; but I don’t remember much about that, for at the time I could think of nothing but the face.”

“And that ?”

“That was simply dreadful. I can’t tell you what it was like. I could not have imagined it, if I had not seen it. It was the look the look in its eyes. After all these years it makes me tremble when I think of it. But what I felt was not the same nervous feeling which made me afraid to turn round. It went much deeper indeed it went deeper than anything in my life had ever gone before; it went right down to my soul, in fact, and made me feel I had a soul.”

She had turned quite pale.

“Yes, Mr. Lyndsay, strange as it sounds, the mere sight of that face made me realise in an instant what I had read and heard thousands of times, and what my mother and Henrietta had told me over and over again about the utter nothingness of earthly aims and comforts of what in an ordinary way is called life. I had heard very fine sermons preached about the same thing: ‘What is our life, it is even a vapour,’ and the ‘vain shadow’ in which we walk. Have you ever thought how we can go on hearing and even repeating true and wise words without getting at their real sense, and, what is worse, without suspecting our own ignorance?”

“I know it well.”

“When Henrietta used to say that the whirl of worldly occupations and interests and amusements in which I was so engrossed did not deserve to be called life, and could never satisfy the eternal soul within me, it used to seem to me an exaggerated way of saying that the next world would be better than this one; but I saw the meaning of her words, I saw the truth of them, as I see these flowers before me, and feel the gravel under my feet: it came to me in a moment, the night these terrible eyes looked into mine. The feeling did not last, but I have never forgotten it, and never shall. It was as if a veil were lifted for an instant, and I was standing outside of my life and looking back at it; and it seemed so poor and worthless and unreal I can’t explain myself properly.”

“And did the figure remain for any time?”

“I do not know. I think I must have fainted. They found me lying in a half-unconscious state in my chair when they came home. I was ill in bed for weeks with what the doctors call low fever. But neither the fever nor anything else could remove the impression that had been made. That terrible thing was a blessed messenger to me. My real conversion was not till years later, but the way was prepared by the great shock I then received, and which roused me to a sense of my danger.”

“What do you think the thing you saw Was, Mrs. Mostyn?”

“The ghost?”


Slowly, thoughtfully, she answered me

“I am certain it was a lost soul: nothing else could have worn that dreadful look.”

She paused for a few moments and then continued

“Perhaps you are one of those who do not believe in the punishment of sin?”

“Who can disbelieve it, Mrs. Mostyn? Call it what we like, it is a fact. It confronts us on every side. We might as well refuse to believe in death.”

“It is not that I meant! I was talking of punishment in the next world, Mr. Lyndsay.”

“Well, there, too, no doubt it must continue, until the uttermost farthing is paid. I believe at least I hope that.”

She shook her head with a troubled expression.

“There is no paying that debt in the next world. It can only be paid here. Here, a free pardon is offered to us, and if we do not accept it, then It is the fashion, even among believers, nowadays to avoid this awful subject. Preachers of the Gospel do not speak of it in the pulpit as they once did. It is considered too shocking for our modern notions. I have no patience with such weakness, such folly worse than folly. It seems to me even more wrong to try and hide this terrible danger from ourselves and from others than to deny it altogether, as some poor deluded souls do. Mr. Lyndsay, have you ever realised what the place of torment will be like?”

“Yes; once, Mrs. Mostyn.”

“You were in pain?”

“I suppose it was pain,” I said.

For always, when anything revives this recollection, seared into my memory, the question rises: was it merely pain, physical pain, of which we all speak so easily and lightly? It lasted only ten minutes; ten minutes by the clock, that is. For me time was annihilated. There was no past or future, but only an intolerable present, in which mind and soul were blotted out, and all of sentient existence that remained was the animal consciousness of agony. I cannot share men’s stoical contempt for a Gehenna, which is nothing worse.

“Mr. Lyndsay, imagine pain, worse than any ever endured on earth going on and on, for ever!”

A bird, not a thrush, but one of the minor singers, lighting on a bough near us, trilled one simple but ecstatic phrase.

“Do you really and truly believe, Mrs. Mostyn, that this will be the fate of any single being?”

“Of any single being? Do we not know that it is what will happen to the greatest number? For what does the Book say? ’Many are called but few are chosen.’”

Through the still, mild air, across the sun-steeped gardens, came the voices of the children

“Aunt Eleanour! Aunt Eleanour!”

“Many are called,” she repeated, “but few are chosen; and those who are not chosen shall be cast into everlasting fire.”

There was a pause. She turned to look at me, and, as if struck by something in my face, said gently, soothingly:

“Yes, it is a terrible thought, but only for the unregenerate. It has no terror for me. I trust it need have no terror for you. After all, how simple, how easy is the way of escape! You have only to believe.”

“And then?”

“And then you are safe, safe for evermore. Think of that. The foolish people who wish to explain away eternal punishment, forget that at the same time they explain away eternal happiness! You will be safe now, and after death you will be in heaven for evermore.”

“I shall be in heaven for evermore, and always there will be hell.”


“Where the others will be?”

“What others? Only the wicked!”

“Aunt Eleanour! Aunt Eleanour!” called the children once more.

“I must go to them! But, Mr. Lyndsay, think over what I have said.”

And I remained and obeyed her, and beheld, entire, distinct, the spectre that drives men to madness or despair illimitable omnipotent Malice. In its shadow the colour of the flowers was quenched, and the music of the birds rang false. Yet it wore the consecration of time and authority! What if it were true?

“Mr. Lyndsay,” said Denis at my elbow, “Aunt Eleanour has sent me to fetch you to tea. Mr. Lyndsay, do you hear? Why do you look so strange?”

He caught my hand anxiously as he spoke, and by that little human touch the spell was broken. The phantom vanished; and, looking into the child’s eyes, I felt it was a lie.