The Rough Road

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The shadow cast by the great apse of the cathedral slanted over the end of the Deanery garden, leaving the house in the blaze of the afternoon sun, and divided the old red-brick wall into a vivid contrast of tones. The peace of centuries brooded over the place. No outside convulsions could ever cause a flutter of her calm wings. As it was thirty years ago, when the Dean first came to Durdlebury, as it was three hundred, six hundred years ago, so it was now; and so it would be hundreds of years hence as long as that majestic pile housing the Spirit of God should last.

Thus thought, thus, in some such words, proclaimed the Dean, sitting in the shade, with his hands clasped behind his head. Tea was over. Mrs. Conover, thin and faded, still sat by the little table, wondering whether she might now blow out the lamp beneath the silver kettle. Sir Archibald Bruce, a neighbouring landowner, and his wife had come, bringing their daughter Dorothy to play tennis. The game had already started on the court some little distance off---the players being Dorothy, Peggy and a couple of athletic, flannel-clad parsons. Marmaduke Trevor reposed on a chair under the lee of Lady Bruce. He looked very cool and spick and span in a grey cashmere suit, grey shirt, socks and tie, and grey sude shoes. He had a weak, good-looking little face and a little black moustache turned up at the ends. He was discoursing to his neighbour on Palestrina.

The Dean's proclamation had been elicited by some remark of Sir Archibald.

"I wonder how you have stuck it for so long," said the latter. He had been a soldier in his youth and an explorer, and had shot big game.

"I haven't your genius, my dear Bruce, for making myself uncomfortable," replied the Dean.

"You were energetic enough when you first came here," said Sir Archibald. "We all thought you a desperate fellow who was going to rebuild the cathedral, turn the Close into industrial dwellings, and generally play the deuce."

The Dean sighed pleasantly. He had snowy hair and a genial, florid, clean-shaven face.

"I was appointed very young---six-and-thirty---and I thought I could fight against the centuries. As the years went on I found I couldn't. The grey changelessness of things got hold of me, incorporated me into them. When I die---for I hope I shan't have to resign through doddering senility---my body will be buried there"---he jerked his head slightly towards the cathedral---"and my dust will become part and parcel of the fabric---like that of many of my predecessors."

"That's all very well," said Sir Archibald, "but they ought to have caught you before this petrification set in, and made you a bishop."

It was somewhat of an old argument, for the two were intimates. The Dean smiled and shook his head.

"You know I declined------"

"After you had become petrified."

"Perhaps so. It is not a place where ambitions can attain a riotous growth."

"I call it a rotten place," said the elderly worldling. "I wouldn't live in it myself for twenty thousand a year."

"Lots like you said the same in crusading times---Sir Guy de Chevenix, for instance, who was the Lord, perhaps, of your very Manor, and an amazing fire-eater---but---see the gentle irony of it---there his bones lie, at peace for ever, in the rotten place, with his effigy over them cross-legged and his dog at his feet, and his wife by his side. I think he must sometimes look out of Heaven's gate down on the cathedral and feel glad, grateful---perhaps a bit wistful---if the attribution of wistfulness, which implies regret, to a spirit in Paradise doesn't savour of heresy------"

"I'm going to be cremated," interrupted Sir Archibald, twirling his white moustache.

The Dean smiled and did not take up the cue. The talk died. It was a drowsy day. The Dean went off into a little reverie. Perhaps his old friend's reproach was just. Dean of a great cathedral at thirty-six, he had the world of dioceses at his feet. Had he used to the full the brilliant talents with which he started? He had been a good Dean, a capable, business-like Dean. There was not a stone of the cathedral that he did not know and cherish. Under his care the stability of every part of the precious fabric had been assured for a hundred years. Its financial position, desperate on his appointment, was now sound. He had come into a scene of petty discords and jealousies; for many years there had been a no more united chapter in any cathedral close in England. As an administrator he had been a success. The devotion of his life to the cathedral had its roots deep in spiritual things. For the greater glory of God had the vast edifice been erected, and for the greater glory of God had he, its guardian, reverently seen to its preservation and perfect appointment. Would he have served God better by pursuing the ambitions of youth? He could have had his bishopric; but he knew that the choice lay between him and Chanways, a flaming spirit, eager for power, who hadn't the sacred charge of a cathedral, and he declined. And now Chanways was a force in the Church and the country, and was making things hum. If he, Conover, after fifteen years of Durdlebury, had accepted, he would have lost the power to make things hum. He would have made a very ordinary, painstaking bishop, and his successor at Durdlebury might possibly have regarded that time-worn wonder of spiritual beauty merely as a stepping-stone to higher sacerdotal things. Such a man, he considered, having once come under the holy glamour of the cathedral, would have been guilty of the Unforgivable Sin. He had therefore saved two unfortunate situations.

"You are quite an intelligent man, Bruce," he said, with a sudden whimsicality, "but I don't think you would ever understand."

The set of tennis being over, Peggy, flushed and triumphant, rushed into the party in the shade.

"Mr. Petherbridge and I have won---six---three," she announced. The old gentlemen smiled and murmured their congratulations. She swung to the tea-table some paces away, and plucked Marmaduke by the sleeve, interrupting him in the middle of an argument. He rose politely.

"Come and play."

"My dear," he said, "I'm such a duffer at games."

"Never mind; you'll learn in time."

He drew out a grey silk handkerchief as if ready to perspire at the first thought of it. "Tennis makes one so dreadfully hot," said he.

Peggy tapped the point of her foot irritably, but she laughed as she turned to Lady Bruce.

"What's the good of being engaged to a man if he can't play tennis with you?"

"There are other things in life besides tennis, my dear," replied Lady Bruce.

The girl flushed, but being aware that a pert answer turneth away pleasant invitations, said nothing. She nodded and went off to her game, and informing Mr. Petherbridge that Lady Bruce was a platitudinous old tabby, flirted with him up to the nice limits of his parsonical dignity. But Marmaduke did not mind.

"Games are childish and somewhat barbaric. Don't you think so, Lady Bruce?"

"Most young people seem fond of them," replied the lady. "Exercise keeps them in health."

"It all depends," he argued. "Often they get exceedingly hot, then they sit about and catch their death of cold."

"That's very true," said Lady Bruce. "It's what I'm always telling Sir Archibald about golf. Only last week he caught a severe chill in that very way. I had to rub his chest with camphorated oil."

"Just as my poor dear mother used to do to me," said Marmaduke.

There followed a conversation on ailments and their treatment, in which Mrs. Conover joined. Marmaduke was quite happy. He knew that the two elderly ladies admired the soundness of his views and talked to him as to one of themselves.

"I'm sure, my dear Marmaduke, you're very wise to take care of yourself," said Lady Bruce, "especially now, when you have the responsibilities of married life before you."

Marmaduke curled himself up comfortably in his chair. If he had been a cat, he would have purred. The old butler, grown as grey in the service of the Deanery as the cathedral itself---he had been page and footman to Dr. Conover's predecessor---removed the tea-things and brought out a tray of glasses and lemonade with ice clinking refreshingly against the sides of the jug. When the game was over, the players came and drank and sat about the lawn. The shadow of the apse had spread over the garden to the steps of the porch. Anyone looking over the garden wall would have beheld a scene typical of the heart of England---a scene of peace, ease and perfectly ordered comfort. The two well-built young men, one a minor canon, the other a curate, lounging in their flannels, clever-faced, honest-eyed, could have been bred nowhere but in English public schools and at Oxford or Cambridge. The two elderly ladies were of the fine flower of provincial England; the two old men, so different outwardly, one burly, florid, exquisitely ecclesiastical, the other thin, nervous, soldierly, each was an expression of high English tradition. The two young girls, unerringly correct and dainty, for all their modern abandonment of attitude, pretty, flushed of cheek, frank of glance, were two of a hundred thousand flowers of girlhood that could have been picked that afternoon in lazy English gardens. And Marmaduke's impeccable grey costume struck a harmonizing English note of Bond Street and the Burlington Arcade. The scent of the roses massed in delicate splendour against the wall, and breathing now that the cool shade had fallen on them, crept through the still air to the flying buttresses and the window mullions and traceries and the pinnacles of the great English cathedral. And in the midst of the shaven lawn gleamed the old cut-glass jug on its silver tray.

Some one did look over the wall and survey the scene: a man, apparently supporting himself with tense, straightened arms on the coping; a man with a lean, bronzed, clean-shaven face, wearing an old soft felt hat at a swaggering angle; a man with a smile on his face and a humorous twinkle in his eyes. By chance he had leisure to survey the scene for some time unobserved. At last he shouted:

"Hello! Have none of you ever moved for the last ten years?"

At the summons every one was startled. The young men scrambled to their feet. The Dean rose and glared at the intruder, who sprang over the wall, recklessly broke through the rose-bushes and advanced with outstretched hand to meet him.

"Hello, Uncle Edward!"

"Goodness gracious me!" cried the Dean. "It's Oliver!"

"Right first time," said the young man, gripping him by the hand. "You're not looking a day older. And Aunt Sophia------" He strode up to Mrs. Conover and kissed her. "Do you know," he went on, holding her at arm's length and looking round at the astonished company, "the last time I saw you all you were doing just the same! I peeped over the wall just before I went away, just such a summer afternoon as this, and you were all sitting round drinking the same old lemonade out of the same old jug---and, Lady Bruce, you were here, and you, Sir Archibald"---he shook hands with them rapidly. "You haven't changed a bit. And you---good Lord! Is this Peggy?" He put his hand on the Dean's shoulder and pointed at the girl.

"That's Peggy," said the Dean.

"You're the only thing that's grown. I used to gallop with you on my shoulders all round the lawn. I suppose you remember? How do you do?"

And without waiting for an answer he kissed her soundly. It was all done with whirlwind suddenness. The tempestuous young man had scattered every one's wits. All stared at him. Releasing Peggy------

"My holy aunt!" he cried, "there's another of 'em. It's Doggie! You were in the old picture, and I'm blessed if you weren't wearing the same beautiful grey suit. How do, Doggie?"

He gripped Doggie's hand. Doggie's lips grew white.

"I'm glad to welcome you back, Oliver," he said. "But I would have you to know that my name is Marmaduke."

"Sooner be called Doggie myself, old chap," said Oliver.

He stepped back, smiling at them all---a handsome devil-may-care fellow, tall, tough and supple, his hands in the pockets of a sun-stained double-breasted blue jacket.

"We're indeed glad to see you, my dear boy," said the Dean, recovering equanimity; "but what have you been doing all this time? And where on earth have you come from?"

"I've just come from the South Seas. Arrived in London last evening. This morning I thought I'd come and look you up."

"But if you had let us know you were coming, we should have met you at the station with the car. Where's your luggage?"

He jerked a hand. "In the road. My man's sitting on it. Oh, don't worry about him," he cried airily to the protesting Dean. "He's well trained. He'll go on sitting on it all night."

"You've brought a man---a valet?" asked Peggy.

"It seems so."

"Then you must be getting on."

"I don't think he turns you out very well," said Doggie.

"You must really let one of the servants see about your things, Oliver," said Mrs. Conover, moving towards the porch. "What will people say?"

He strode after her, and kissed her. "Oh, you dear old Durdlebury Aunt! Now I know I'm in England again. I haven't heard those words for years!"

Mrs. Conover's hospitable intentions were anticipated by the old butler, who advanced to meet them with the news that Sir Archibald's car had been brought round. As soon as he recognized Oliver he started back, mouth agape.

"Yes, it's me all right, Burford," laughed Oliver. "How did I get here? I dropped from the moon."

He shook hands with Burford, of whose life he had been the plague during his childhood, proclaimed him as hardy and unchanging as a gargoyle, and instructed him where to find man and luggage.

The Bruces and the two clerical tennis players departed. Marmaduke was for taking his leave too. All his old loathing of Oliver had suddenly returned. His cousin stood for everything he detested---swagger, arrogance, self-assurance. He hated the shabby rakishness of his attire, the self-assertive aquiline beak of a nose which he had inherited from his father, the Rector. He dreaded his aggressive masculinity. He had come back with the same insulting speech on his lips. His finger-nails were dreadful. Marmaduke desired as little as possible of his odious company. But his Aunt Sophia cried out:

"You'll surely dine with us to-night, Marmaduke, to celebrate Oliver's return?"

And Oliver chimed in, "Do! And don't worry about changing," as Doggie began to murmur excuses, "I can't. I've no evening togs. My old ones fell to bits when I was trying to put them on, on board the steamer, and I had to chuck 'em overboard. They turned up a shark, who went for 'em. So don't you worry, Doggie, old chap. You look as pretty as paint as you are. Doesn't he, Peggy?"

Peggy, with a slight flush on her cheek, came to the rescue and linked her arm in Marmaduke's.

"You haven't had time to learn everything yet, Oliver; but I think you ought to know that we are engaged."

"Holy Gee! Is that so? My compliments." He swept them a low bow. "God bless you, my children!"

"Of course he'll stay to dinner," said Peggy; and she looked at Oliver as who should say, "Touch him at your peril: he belongs to me."

So Doggie had to yield. Mrs. Conover went into the house to arrange for Oliver's comfort, and the others strolled round the garden.

"Well, my boy," said the Dean, "so you're back in the old country?"

"Turned up again like a bad penny."

The Dean's kindly face clouded. "I hope you'll soon be able to find something to do."

"It's money I want, not work," said Oliver.

"Ah!" said the Dean, in a tone so thoughtful as just to suggest a lack of sympathy.

Oliver looked over his shoulder---the Dean and himself were preceding Marmaduke and Peggy on the trim gravel path. "Do you care to lend me a few thousands, Doggie?"

"Certainly not," replied Marmaduke.

"There's family affection for you, Uncle Edward! I've come half-way round the earth to see him, and---say, will you lend me a fiver?"

"If you need it," said Marmaduke in a dignified way, "I shall be very happy to advance you five pounds."

Oliver brought the little party to a halt and burst into laughter.

"I believe you good people think I've come back broke to the world. The black sheep returned like a wolf to the fold. Only Peggy drew a correct inference from the valet---wait till you see him! As Peggy said, I've been getting on." He laid a light hand on the Dean's shoulder. "While all you folks in Durdlebury, especially my dear Doggie, for the last ten years have been durdling, I've been doing. I've not come all this way to tap relations for five-pound notes. I'm swaggering into the City of London for Capital---with a great big C."

Marmaduke twirled his little moustache. "You've taken to company promoting," he remarked acidly.

"I have. And a damn---I beg your pardon, Uncle Edward---we poor Pacific Islanders lisp in damns for want of deans to hold us up---and a jolly good company too. We---that's I and another man---that's all the company as yet---two's company, you know---own a trading fleet."

"You own ships?" cried Peggy.

"Rather. Own 'em, sail 'em, navigate 'em, stoke 'em, clean out the boilers, sit on the safety valves when we want to make speed, do every old thing------"

"And what do you trade in?" asked the Dean.

"Copra, bche-de-mer, mother-of-pearl------"

"Mother-of-pearl! How awfully romantic!" cried Peggy.

"We've got a fishery. At any rate, the concession. To work it properly we require capital. That's why I'm here---to turn the concern into a limited company."

"And where is this wonderful place?" asked the Dean.


"What a beautiful word!"

"Isn't it?" said Oliver. "Like the sigh of a girl in her sleep."

The old Dean shot a swift glance at his nephew; then took his arm and walked on, and looked at the vast mass of the cathedral and at the quiet English garden in its evening shadow.

"Copra, bche-de-mer, mother-of-pearl, Huaheine," he murmured. "And these strange foreign things are the commonplaces of your life!"

Peggy and Marmaduke lagged behind a little. She pressed his arm.

"I'm so glad you're staying for dinner. I shouldn't like to think you were running away from him."

"I was only afraid of losing my temper and making a scene," replied Doggie with dignity.

"His manners are odious," said Peggy. "You leave him to me."

Suddenly the Dean, taking a turn that brought him into view of the porch, stopped short.

"Goodness gracious!" he cried. "Who in the world is that?"

He pointed to a curious object slouching across the lawn; a short hirsute man wearing a sailor's jersey and smoking a stump of a blackened pipe. His tousled head was bare; he had very long arms and great powerful hands protruded at the end of long sinewy wrists from inadequate sleeves. A pair of bright eyes shone out of his dark shaggy face, like a Dandy Dinmont's. His nose was large and red. He rolled as he walked. Such a sight had never been seen before in the Deanery garden.

"That's my man. Peggy's valet," said Oliver airily. "His name is Chipmunk. A beauty, isn't he?"

"Like master, like man," murmured Doggie.

Oliver's quick ears caught the words intended only for Peggy. He smiled brightly.

"If you knew what a compliment you were paying me, Doggie, you wouldn't have said such a thing."

The man seeing the company stare at him, halted, took his pipe out of his mouth, and scratched his head.

"But---er---forgive me, my dear Oliver," said the Dean. "No doubt he is an excellent fellow---but don't you think he might smoke his pipe somewhere else?"

"Of course he might," said Oliver. "And he jolly well shall." He put his hand to his mouth, sea-fashion---they were about thirty yards apart---and shouted: "Here, you! What the eternal blazes are you doing here?"

"Please don't hurt the poor man's feelings," said the kindly Dean.

Oliver turned a blank look on his Uncle. "His what? Ain't got any. Not that kind of feelings." He proceeded: "Now then, look lively! Clear out! Skidoo!"

The valet touched his forehead in salute, and---"Where am I to go to, Cap'en?"

"Go to------"

Oliver checked himself in time, and turned to the Dean.

"Where shall I tell him to go?" he asked sweetly.

"The kitchen garden would be the best place," replied the Dean.

"I think I'd better go and fix him up myself," said Oliver. "A little conversation in his own language might be beneficial."

"But isn't he English?" asked Peggy.

"Born and bred in Wapping," said Oliver.

He marched off across the lawn; and, could they have heard it, the friendly talk that he had with Chipmunk would have made the Saint and the Divines, and even the Crusader, Sir Guy de Chevenix, who were buried in the cathedral, turn in their tombs.

Doggie, watching the disappearing Chipmunk, Oliver's knuckles in his neck, said:

"I think it monstrous of Oliver to bring such a disreputable creature down here."

Said the Dean: "At any rate, it brings a certain excitement into our quiet surroundings."

"They must be having the time of their lives in the Servants' Hall," said Peggy.

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