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She often lunched at Holyrood House, and never without stating in her nice, candid, humble way,
'I call this dinner. I never think of having any other meal after I have had luncheon with you.'
This remark came so regularly that Mr. Simonds always instantly handed her a further supply of provisions, and immediately replenished her wine-glass. He paid the lady these and other delicate attentions for 'the sport,' and not because of any love he bore Miss Banks, of whom he spoke disparagingly in the free discussion hall below-stairs, referring to her with a fine sneer as the 'head dish' at Sir John's table.
There was nothing more noticeable about Lady Moffat than the way she stopped all conversation. Coleridge himself could scarcely have talked in her presence. less she was discussing some matter of dress or fashion or pleasure, she figuratively banged the door in the face of every topic upon which persons were rash enough to engage. Nothing which did not in some way or other relate to herself had the smallest attraction for her.
'She is more ignorant than her own cook,' thought Miss Banks, 'and ruder than a street arab;' but she kept these daring opinions to herself, and proceeded to make such remarks as she felt were suitable to Lady Moffat's understanding; gossip about mutual acquaintances, criticisms on bonnets and mantles, sly little hits at Mrs. This and Miss The-other, the latest news about Lady Griffin, with whom she was going to dine that evening, and speculations as to the manner of man the curate who was to replace Mr. Woodham would prove.
All the time this mild trickle of talk was proceeding from Miss
Banks' insincere old lips, Sir John stalked along in silence, wrapped in a reverie which seemed as dark as it was deep, and which absorbed him until the trio reached Holyrood House.
Arrived there he went straight to his library, and when Simonds announced luncheon was ready, excused himself from partaking of that meal.
'I feel quite sure Sir John is not well,' said Miss Banks, when this message was delivered. 'I noticed how pale he looked when he came out of church. If you remember, I asked him if he were ill.'
'I do not think there is anything the matter with him,' returned Lady Moffat; don't rise from table, Rachel. I won't have it. I am sure your papa would be very angry if you were to disturb him; you are so fond of putting yourself forward. No,' she continued, returning to her original text after this agreeable remark, 'he often refuses to take luncheon on Sundays, and very frequently will not have dinner on week-days. Gentlemen are odd, you know.'
'Ah,' commented Mr. Simonds to himself, they are not half as odd as ladies.'
He heard a good deal of this sort of thing, and though he did not approve of his master he approved less of his mistress.
Meanwhile Sir John was reading the story of that life, the like of which no dramatist ever imagined, no romance ever approached. He began it at the beginning, at the point when the youth, ruddy and of a beautiful countenance, comes last of all Jesse's sons into the presence of Samuel.
From this point he followed the narrative on: followed David from the lonely hill-side, which he must so often have thought of in his after life, from the care of
those few sheep he exchanged for the care of a whole people. He saw how those early experiences were never forgotten, how they influenced the imagery of the psalms, how the cool water and the green grass and suchlike peaceful recollections and associations recurred to memory in the midst of danger and turmoil and the thousand sorrows that encompassed his throne; he saw him go down and slay the Philistine, he heard the sweet tones of that harp he played so cunningly, he beheld him in jeopardy of his life from the mad jealousy of Saul, he read of the love passing the love of woman he felt for Jonathan, he tracked his footsteps as he fled from the king's insane vengeance -shared his perils, his fears, his privations.
A wonderful story, one which for incident never was surpassed; for hairbreadth escapes, for wild adventure, for marvellous excitement, for strange vicissitude, never has been, and never will be, equalled.
Yes, Mr. Woodham said right; such a tale to be properly understood must be taken in its entirety. From the wilderness to the palace, from the camp to the court, from the solitary midnight vigils to the pomp and circumstance of a king! What a varied life, what strange experiences, what extraordinary chances and changes! Certainly Sir John felt he had never before fully grasped the whole marvellous history, never previously comprehended the nature of the man.
He read on-still on. The glory of the day was over, and the afternoon shadows began to creep down Palace Gardens; but Sir John did not notice the passage of time.
His spirit was away from London; he paced the slopes of Palestine; he entered Jerusalem; he
followed the progress of the soldier-king; he saw him for once taking rest and refraining from going down into the battle; and, though it was all so old a tale, though thousands of years had come and gone since the actors in that wonderful drama trod the soil of Judea, it seemed fresh to him as though the incidents were being enacted then. He felt the temptation sweeping by; it seemed to rush through his own soul, as it went straight to the heart of the king. That time of soft idleness; that hour of dangerous leisure; the fair woman; the impulsive reckless man; the sin which could never be undone; the crime which begot something so far more monstrous, that God Himself smote the offender, destroying the fruit of his body for the sin of the soul.
He looked where David lay weeping and fasting, mourning for the child who was to die, burdened by the reproaches of his own conscience, bowed down by the weight of his guilt.
And so to the end. Through all the complications that vexed and harassed the king's declining days, mournfully in the gathering twilight the bitter cry, My son, my son!' seemed to echo about the quiet room. Torn, distracted, perplexed, his strength gone, his heart broken, the kingdoms of this world waxing small, the pageant of life growing indistinct and dim! Sir John could not see the page, for his own eyes were full of tears. The letters grew blurred and indistinct before him; he forgot where he was; forgot the book lying open he had been reading, and, covering his face with his hands, wept drops of bitterness in silence.
He did not hear the door softly open, or know that a sweet face had peeped round the screen, and
then, with a sorrowful look upon it, as quietly withdrawn. He was gone back-back into his own past. He saw before him the blue eyes of the man he had wronged; he beheld again that storm he was for ever picturing in his own fancy, and across the waste of waters could almost hear the last despairing cry for help. It grew darker still; it was now quite dark. Once again the door opened, this time not so silently. Round the screen, across the thick carpet, swept my lady.
'John,' she said, laying her hand upon his shoulder, and bringing him with that one word out from the irrevocable past to the miserable present.
'What is it?' he asked, without uncovering his face or changing his attitude.
'Why do you go reading such things?' she asked, seeing the Bible open on the table, and jumping instantly to a knowledge of how Sir John had spent the afternoon. What is the use of it? I cannot think what possessed that man to preach such a sermon. I know it was nothing else upset you.'
He did not answer a word. He made no movement when she closed the volume and put it away.
'Come,' she said, moving over again to his side. Don't sit there any longer. Fretting won't do any good; besides, what is there to fret about? Come, Miss Banks will be going almost directly.'
Her speech was not sympathetic, but Sir John heard with some surprise a ring in her voice both of distress and anxiety.
Sir John lifted his head, and answered,
'What can it matter whether she thinks it strange or not? Any one might imagine you were afraid of her.'
'I cried Lady Moffat. 'I am not afraid of anybody in the world!' and she flounced out of the room, the noiseless sweep of her velvet dress in singular contrast to the hurry and irritation of her movements.
MR. WOODHAM IS ASTONISHED.
It was the next evening. Dinner at Holyrood House had been over for some little time, and before a blazing fire, with shaded lights softening down the eccentricities of the Egyptian decorations, Sir John Moffat and one guest sat talking confidentially over their wine.
At the banquet recently finished the usual skeleton had been absent, for my lady kept her room. Well as she seemed on the previous day, she was now laid up with one of those attacks which baffled the skill of her doctor and defied the penetration of those great physicians Sir John had insisted upon her consulting. One hour no woman need have desired to look better or to feel better than did Lady Moffat; the next she was prostrate with what, for want of a better name, her doctor called 'nervous irritability.' She would eat nothing, drink nothing, say nothing; but remain
'I will join you presently,' he solitary till the malady wore itreplied.
'Do,' she entreated; 'and make haste. Miss Banks must leave immediately, and she will think it so strange if she does not see you.'
self out, or the fit of despondency passed over.
Only one clue the doctor ever was able to gain. Invariably the illness seemed to be preceded by bad dreams.
'If I only could keep from dreaming! said my lady irritably. 'I never used to dream.'
Judging from Sir John's appearance, any one would have thought he had spent his night also in wandering through some dark and terrible land peopled by ghostly phantoms of memory or fancy.
Many people in the City had asked him during the course of that day if he were ill, and Mr. Woodham, who was the only guest, could not avoid noticing at dinner the anxious glances Rachel directed across the table, and the deep abysses of abstraction into which Sir John occasionally fell, and from which he roused himself with a perceptible effort.
The two girls had dined with them, but flitted away almost the moment the last course was over. Mr. Woodham also, shortly after Simonds finally retired from the room, said he thought he had better go, as Lady Moffat was so unwell, and would have carried his suggestion into effect had not his host pressed him to remain with an earnestness there was no mistaking.
Nevertheless Sir John soon relapsed into silence, and the bulk of the conversation fell upon Mr. Woodham, who began to talk of himself and his somewhat dreary prospects-his reasons for leaving St. Theresa's, and his determination not again to accept a curacy surrounded by similar restrictions and hampered by the same forms.
He had been behind the scenes of Ritualism, and he waxed eloquent in denouncing what he considered its narrowing influences to his host, whom he had no reason to doubt belonged to the straitest of Puritan sects; and his astonishment was therefore great
VOL. XXXVII. NO. CCXXVI.
when Sir John asked him if he did not think there might, after all, be some virtue in confession.
'You know we have never discussed these matters before,' went on the master of Holyrood House, 'because I always believed our opinions upon them were far as the Poles asunder.'
'Well, I must confess I was once more of a Ritualist than I am now,' said Mr. Woodham, smiling, and yet looking somewhat confused. I never was one thoroughly, but I felt open to conviction. Now I may say I do not think any man could convince me that the childish details, say of such a ceremonial as you saw yesterday, can really benefit the cause of true religion.
'Conscientiously I could not take any prominent part in such a service,' went on Mr. Woodham; 'and so there is nothing for it save to look out for another curacy. My decision has grieved my mother, and will possibly injure my worldly prospects; but I felt it was impossible for me to continue at St. Theresa's and seem even tacitly to acquiesce in all the changes the vicar has lately inaugurated; and as he concluded he looked at Sir John with a certain appeal in his expression which was completely unnoticed by that gentleman.
Instead of answering, Sir John poured himself out another glass of port and said nothing.
Mr. Woodham toyed vously with some filberts he had taken, but which he did not seem inclined to eat. Watching his host narrowly, he saw him sink once again down, down into that strange reverie which seemed to engulf his mind as a morass might his body.
'What can he be thinking of? thought Mr. Woodham. 'Has he lost his money, or is he going to
lose it and involuntarily he glanced round the room which he knew another City man had decorated, wherein that other man had sat on the night when he knew his ship was gone down, and that his only chance of even personal safety was instant flight.
The idea, fleeting though it was, gave him courage to speak once more of his own more modest fortunes. He talked a little about his cousin, who might have done something for him, but who had refused to do so; of the excuses he felt should be made for a man who had lost the one possession he desired, and gained wealth and rank too late. said he had formerly thought of joining one of the foreign missions, but that now he should like to remain in England, because his mother was not strong, and— and for other reasons, he added. He was very careful to add, he never expected to succeed to the family title.
'It is said about here, I know, freely,' he went on, that one day I shall be Lord Chesunt ; but I assure you there is not the slightest likelihood of such a thing coming to pass. Neither should I wish to stand in my cousin's shoes. I have no desire to be great or very rich. I'
'That was a wonderful sermon of yours yesterday,' interrupted Sir John, not in the smallest degree as a comment on Mr. Woodham's statements, but as a natural result of his own train of thought.
The clergyman looked gratified, and murmured modestly,
It is very kind of you to think so.'
'Yes, a wonderful sermon,' repeated his host. You know, I have never heard you preach before.'
It is so very difficult to acknowledge praise of this sort that Mr.
Woodham remained discreetly silent.
'You have a great gift,' continued Sir John. 'I do not know that I ever listened to a discourse which made so deep an impression upon me.'
'I am very glad to hear you say that,' answered Mr. Woodham; for I wanted to touch some amongst the regular congregation, and you encourage me to hope I may have produced an impression even on them.'
Sir John did not reply. was looking across the table into the dim distance of the room, where certainly there was nothing for him to see, and the strange look which had so puzzled his guest crept slowly like a shadow across his face; then, without the smallest relevancy, as it seemed, he plunged into a dissertation on the character of David. He went round and round the subject; he fenced with it, toyed with it, tore himself away, and then instantly returned to the subject, till Mr. Woodham, listening to him first amazedly and then perplexedly, could not but feel some subtle attraction he was unable to discover lay within the Bible story, that there existed an intimate connection, some near association, between the psalmist's sin and Sir John's interest in the narrative.
The two faces were a study at that moment: Mr. Woodham's severely handsome, high-bred, ascetic, with an expression upon it of the most painful and engrossing doubt and attention; Sir John's worn, hard-featured, drawn almost with the intensity of the feelings which were working in his heart.
Suppose now,' he went on, 'there were any one amongst your congregation yesterday troubled in mind, doubtful as to his own past, seeing nothing save sorrow