« ElőzőTovább »
CHAPTER VIII.—THE CHANCEL Pews. The church was just on the outskirts of the park; whether it was dedicated to any saint I do not now recollect, but it seemed to be chiefly associated with Dovercourts past and present, and gave one the idea of having been erected to their honour and glory. The chancel and the side-chapels were crowded with the tombs of deceased Waltons; the richly painted windows displayed their arms and quarterings, and crests in all sorts of brilliant hues; their escutcheons hung between the arches in the aisles, and their banners of battle, all mildewed and tattered, hung high above the marble pavement, which was chronicled with their histories. Even the very bells, I soon found out, bore the antique inscription
“ Walton of Dovrecourte gave me,
That I God's name might gloritie.” And merrily they did ring that Sunday morning, their brave music swelling on the breeze, and dying in sweet, low echoes on the sea. I had never heard church bells before, and the sound made my heart beat half with pain and half with pleasure, and I felt very much as I did when, a few years later, I first heard Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" sung by a full orchestra.
“What ails the bairn ? " said Margery, peering at me over her spectacles, for I was looking pale and awe-stricken. We had finished breakfast, and were all sitting on the little green lawn at the side of the house. Of course I replied that nothing ailed me, only it felt strange.
And Margery rejoined that it did feel strange, “unco' strange," and she felt strange in herself, and everything was strange, and she would give something to see herself back again at Eaglesmere. And the bells were very noisy, and made her head ache, and helped to confuse her thoughts.
But Martin answered, “Whisht, woman, dinna say nowt against t' bells, they're loike the voices o' angels ca'ing us with sweet accord to come oop t' Lord's hoose and pay our vows! Phæbe, my wean, dinna ye loike to listen to t' bonnie bells i' steeple ?"
“ I'm afeard,” said Phæbe; "they seem as if they would ring the dead folk out of their graves. Can the dead folk hear, think ye, Hughy?”
"No," ) replied, gravely, “they are dead and gone to dust, so, of course, they cannot hear—they will hear again some day, though."
“ And how do you know they do not hear now ?” said Rebecca, who just then came out with some crumbs for the birds ; " they are not dead, you know, only their bodies are asleep, their spirits
are all alive; perhaps they are hovering up there now!” And she pointed upwards to the deep blue morning sky, filled with the sweet golden Sabbath sunshine.
"Ay! who knows?” said Margery; "maybe our Ailie and t' lile bairns are not sae far away as we think for, gudeman! What tens to hinder souls fra fleein where they list? I wonder if John and Ailie ken that we're cam awa' fra t' old kirk-yard, where they rest in peace! Ye need na be skeered, Phæbe lassie, t bells do mak bonnie music; there, now, t'wind soughs t'other way, and is na it grand and beautiful ?”
The bells did not ring long. I suppose the full peal rang out in honour of the Marquis and his noble friends, for, as a rule, we had nothing but ordinary chiming and tolling on Sunday morning. Phæbe resumed her catechism at the point where she had left off the Sunday before at Eaglesmere, and I sat among the mignonette, learning a chapter out of one of the Epistles. Martin was very fond of the Epistles, whereas I preferred the Gospels. “Gospils are a' varra weel, laddie,” he used to say; “ they larn ye aboot our Lord's ain life and death, and aboot Peter and John and t' rest o't disciples ; but it's needfu' for ye to larn sound docthrine, and for a gude screed o' docthrine give me t Apostle Paul, especially his Romans, which is fine and hard t' unnerstand, but, at same time, varra instrooctive."
Of course we looked out the Lessons and the Psalms and the Collect for the day, just as usual; but Martin sighed and shook his head when he remembered that he could take no active part in the service of that morning. He would just be one of the congregation, and he must not uplift his voice above the rest; it would be very hard to sit still and hear the hymns given out by a stranger, and to say “ Amen ” in the proper undertone of a private worshipper. And he was really apprehensive, lest, yielding to habit, he should forget his altered position, and respond too audibly, which would be disrespectful to the officiating clerk ; for Martin strongly objected to anything beyond an indistinct murmur from the congregation, and one of our old friends at Eaglesmere had sorely displeased him by uttering the responses in a clear and audible voice, saying “ Amen” so that all in the little church could hear.
We set out in good time, though we had not far to go-just across a corner of the park, and through a little wood or spinney which bordered on the churchyard. And the bells were chiming softly now, and seemed more than ever like the sweet, solemn music of the skies. Hand in hand Phæbe and I passed through the deep porch, and there we stood wondering where we ought to go, not daring to walk up the aisle at the bottom of which we waited. Presently a reverend-looking man, staff in hand, accosted Martin. “Be ye Muster Wray ? "
"Yes, I'm Martin Wray," was the quick response, “late parish clerk of Eaglesmere, in the county of Cumberland." “ Then come this way; I'll show you
to the Gate House pew." Which said pew was quite a small apartment, square of course, with a curious sort of prie-dieu or faldstool in the middle, and shut in on three sides from the vulgar gaze by a curiously wrought oaken screen. The fourth side, looking towards the chancel, was open, so that we could see the minister and all the grand folk from the Castle who sat within the chancel. Presently a door in the south transept opened, and our friend Mr. Duckett appeared, resplendent in his freshest liveries, holding back the door for “the family” to enter. They swept in-a crowd of ladies and gentlemen, all as it seemed to me magnificently dressed. There were six or seven ladies and half a score of gentlemen, and how was J. to know which of them was the Marquis and which the Marchioness ? I watched them till they were all seated, and while their heads were bowed in prayer I ventured to nudge Martin, and whisper, “Which is the Marchioness, grandfather?”
But Martin never countenanced talking in church. He shook his head, and frowned, and looked extremely scandalised, so I had to resign myself to general uncertainties, consoling myself with the reflection that I could ask Rebecca when we got home, for she would know exactly where Lady Dovercourt sat and what she wore. And in the meantime I resolved to use my eyes as freely as was consistent with good manners. As for joining fervently in the service: that was out of the question. I knew I was wrong, but I effected a sort of compromise with my conscience; that one Sunday I would give to looking about me and to my own secret thoughts, on the next I would turn over a new leaf, repent of my sins, and join heartily in the service and listen to the sermon. Having made this little arrangement I felt quite comfortable, and I was amused to see Martin peering over the people's heads in the direction of the reading-desk, evidently seeking for the clerk, who appeared not to be forthcoming.
The service opened with the Morning Hymn. It was not given out. Everybody stood up; the organ poured forth its strains, and the choristers united in a burst of melody-a most irregular proceeding both to Martin and to Margery. And now I could see the lords and ladies from the Castle, and as I never supposed they would look at me I felt no scruples about looking at them long and atten. tively as I pleased. I soon picked out the Lady Juliana. There she was in modified widow's weeds, tall and lean, grim and severe, with eagle grey eyes, a hooked nose, thin lips, square chin, and the
highest forehead I ever knew an unfortunate woman to display. By her side stood a little girl, not much larger than Phæbe, but undoubtedly older by several years. Indeed, as I afterwards discovered, the young lady was only a few weeks my junior. Of course I had no difficulty in recognising Lady Olive; a prouder and more disdainful-looking little mortal it would be difficult to imagine. She held her hymn-book with an air, she opened her lips as if singing in church were a condescension, and through her half-closed, haughty eyelids she stared scornfully at the congregation. And I felt sure she singled our pew out from all the others; probably ours were the only strange faces she could see, and I thought she glauced at me with proud disapprobation. Once I was certain I caught her gaze fixed on me with freezing disdain and contemptuous displea
But she was not so ugly as Mr. Duckett bad pictured her. She had a patrician cast of feature; her complexion was not so very sallow after all, and her eyebrows were most delicately pencilled. Handsome I suppose she was not, proud and unamiable she certainly was, but somehow I was strangely attracted towards her. I could not help looking at her and thinking about her, and wondering what she thought of me, and whether she knew anything about me. I felt too that I defied her, that I would give her back scorn for scorn, that if we talked together I would return thrust for thrust; for I knew instinctively that, child as she was, she was an adept in the art of wounding, that she could say things to make one writhe and wince, that she could turn her sentences into keenest arrows and poisoned darts. The strongest antagonism sprang up in my heart as I regarded her; I longed to humble her, to shame her, even to torture her if such a thing might be. I thought how I should like to watch the scalding tears streaming down those pale cheeks, how I should rejoice to hear her sob and cry, and to see her wring her small, slender hands in all the abandonment of grief. And yet all the while I wanted her to like me, and determined that she should like me some day or other. If I wished to make her cry I wished also to console her ; if I desired to see her troubled and abased I desired also to help her out of her distress, and with my own hand and by my own will raise her up out of the dust of her humiliation.
Next to Lady Olive was Miss Flogg, the governess, an elderly, sour visaged spinster, who looked quite as spiteful as she really
She was proud and disdainful too, and evidently despised all those whom she considered her inferiors; but she had not the patrician air of her pupil, and I decided at once that she came of obscure parentage, and had lots of vulgar relatives. I fancied she looked like a very unhappy person, and I could not help pitying Lady Olive for being under her domination.
The Castle pews were three in number, without reckoning those occupied by the servants; and this morning they were all full. Indeed, such an influx was there in the servants' pews that some of the Dovercourt domestics were obliged to sit with the ordinary congregation; and just before the Confession began Mr. Duckett entered our pew and seated himself by me.
When we stood up again for the Venite, he whispered, “That's the Marchioness, Master Hugh, that one with the feathery bonnet and the white lace veil. See! just under Sir Robert Walton's monument; and that little girl by her side is my Lady Maud. And that's the Marquis, by the pew door, the tall gentleman looking through a gold eye-glass."
Yes ! I knew that. I was sure it was the Marquis, because I had seen him handing books to his visitors; moreover, I could trace the likeness between him and Lady Olive. He looked much younger than his sister, the Lady Juliana, and was certainly much handsomer; but I did not like him, and I felt as if in some way he had injured me. But that of course was all nonsense, as the Marquis had probably never heard my name, and would never know me from any other lad on the estate; but the longer I looked at him, the more the feeling of repulsion strengthened, and by the time the service was concluded, I am afraid I was in a very unchristian state of mind, for I cordially hated him, and was conscious of owing him a grudge, wherefore I could not tell! Indeed, I was sorely puzzled at myself, both as regarded my feelings towards the Marquis and towards his elder daughter.
But when Mr. Duckett spoke, I looked first at the Marchioness; she must have been sitting down during the singing of the opening hymn, for I had not noticed her before, and yet I am sure if I had seen her I should have been at once struck by her appearance. Anything so lovely I had never imagined. I did not wonder at Rebecca saying she looked like an angel, only to-day she was not singing, her head was bent over her Prayer-book, and she never looked up once, and I watched her very closely,—till the middle of the Creed. She was very pale. Her perfect features looked as if they were sculptured out of purest marble. She was rather tall, and for a matron, rather slight; but her figure had a wand-like grace that made me think of the stately yet drooping lilies in our garden at Eaglesmere. The outlines of the face were most delicate, the expression sweet and noble, but very pensive; and there were certain tremulous curves about the exquisitely cut mouth that spoke of an habitual sadness. Of course I do not mean to say that I noticed all this at the time. It was rather by slow degrees that I learned to understand that most lovely countenance, and to read its lines of care, and sadness, and grave anxiety; I only knew that