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   Chapter 5 (I) No.5

None Other Gods By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 40197

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

We are arrived now at one of those few deplorable incidents in Frank's career, against which there is no defense. And the painful thing about it is that Frank never seemed to think that it required any defense. He shows no penitence for it in his diary: and yet moralists are united in telling us that we must never do evil that good may come. It is only, paralleled by his rash action in leaving Cambridge in defiance of all advice and good sense; so far, that is to say, as a legally permissible act, however foolish, can be paralleled by one of actual crime. Moralists, probably, would tell us, in fact, that the first led inevitably to the second.

It fell out in this way.

Once or twice in his travels with the Major he had been haunted by an uncomfortable suspicion that this or that contribution that the warrior made to their common table had not been come by honestly. When a gentleman, known to possess no more than tenpence, and with a predilection to drink, leaves the shelter of a small copse; let us say, at seven o'clock, and reappears, rather breathless, forty minutes later with a newly-plucked fowl-or even with a fowl not plucked at all, and still warm, or with half a dozen eggs; and, in addition, issues out again later in the evening and returns with a strong smell of spirits and a watery eye-it seems a little doubtful as to whether he has been scrupulously honest. In cases of this kind Frank persevered in making some excuse for not joining in the festivity: he put it to himself as being a matter of pride; but it is hard to understand that it was simply that in a young man who made no scruple of begging in cases of necessity. However, there it was, and even the Major, who began by protesting, ended by acquiescing.

* * *

They were somewhere in the neighborhood of Market Weighton when the thing happened-I cannot identify the exact spot. The situation was as follows:

They had secured an excellent barn for their night's lodging-facing on the road on the outskirts of a village. Behind them were, the farm buildings, and the farmer's household gone to bed. The sun had set and it was dark. They had supped sparingly, of necessity, and had finished every morsel of food. (Frank had even found himself mechanically gathering up crumbs on a wet finger.) They had had a bad week of it; the corn was not yet ready for cutting, and there seemed no work anywhere for honest men. The Major's gloom had become terrible; he had even made remarks upon a choice between a workhouse and a razor. He had got up after supper and turned his waistcoat pockets inside out to secure the last possible grains of tobacco, and had smoked about a quarter of a pipeful gathered in this way without uttering one word. He had then uttered a short string of them, had seized his cap and disappeared.

Frank, too, was even more heavy and depressed than usual. The last shreds of romance were gone from his adventure long ago, and yet his obstinacy held firm. But he found he could not talk much. He watched Gertie listlessly as she, listless too, began to spread out nondescript garments to make a bed in the corner. He hardly spoke to her, nor she to him.

He was beginning to feel sleepy, when he heard rather hurried steps, as of one trying to run on tiptoe, coming up the lane, and an instant later in popped the Major.

"Put out that damned light!" he whispered sharply.

The candle end went out with the swiftness of thought.

"What's up?" Frank roused himself to ask. There had been a strenuous look about the face seen an instant before that interested him.

There was dead silence. Gertie seemed frozen into motionlessness in her corner, almost as if she had had experience of this kind of thing before. Frank listened with all his ears; it was useless to stare into the dark: here in this barn the blackness was complete.

At first there was no sound at all, except a very soft occasional scrape of a boot-nail that betokened that the Major was seeking cover somewhere. Then, so suddenly that he started all over, Frank felt a hand on his arm and smelt a tobacco-laden breath. (Alas! there had been no drink to-night.)

"See here, Frankie, my boy.... I ... I've got the thing on me.... What shall I do with it?... It's no good chucking it away: they'd find it."

"Got what?" whispered Frank.

"There was a kid coming along ... she had a tin of something ... I don't even know what it is.... And ... and she screamed out and someone ran out. But they couldn't spot me; it was too dark."

"Hush!" whispered Frank sharply, and the hand tightened on his arm. But it was only a rat somewhere in the roof.

"Well?" he said.

"Frankie ... I suppose you wouldn't take it from me ... and ... and be off somewhere. We could meet again later.... I ... I'm afraid someone may have spotted us coming through the village earlier. They'll ... they'll search, I expect."

"You can do your own dirty work," whispered Frank earnestly through the darkness.

"Frankie, my boy ... don't be hard on a poor devil.... I ... I can't leave Gertie."

"Well, hide it somewhere."

"No good-they'd ... Good God-!"

The voice was stricken into silence once more, as a light, hardly seen before it was gone again, shone through a crack in the side of the barn. Then there was unmistakable low talking somewhere.

Frank felt the man, crouched at his side, suddenly stand up noiselessly, and in that instant his own mind was made up.

"Give it here, you fool," he said. "Here!"

He felt a smooth flat and circular thing thrust suddenly into his hands with a whisper that he could not catch, and simultaneously he heard a rush of footsteps outside. He had just time to stuff the thing inside his coat and roll over as if asleep when the door flew open, and three or four men, with a policeman at their head, burst into the barn.


It would be charitable, I think, to suppress the name of the small market-town where the trial was held. The excellent magistrates who conducted it certainly did their best under very difficult circumstances; for what are you to do if a man accused of theft cordially pleads guilty? and yet, certainly it would distress them to hear of a very obvious miscarriage of justice executed at their hands.

On Friday morning at ten o'clock the vehicles began to arrive-the motor of the country gentleman, the dog-cart of the neighboring rector, and the brougham of the retired general. It was the General who presided.

The court-room was not more dismal than court-rooms usually are. When I visited it on my little pilgrimage, undertaken a few months ago, it had been repainted and the woodwork grained to represent oak. Even so, it was not cheering.

At the upper end, under one of the windows, were ranged five seats on a da?s, with a long baize-covered table before them. Then, on a lower level, stood the clerk's and solicitors' table, fenced by a rail from the vulgar crowd who pressed in, hot and excited, to see the criminals and hear justice done. There was a case arising from an ancient family feud, exploded at last into crime; one lady had thrown a clog at another as the last repartee in a little dialogue held at street doors; the clog had been well aimed, and the victim appeared now with a very large white bandage under her bonnet, to give her testimony. This swelled the crowd beyond its usual proportions, as both ladies were well known in society.

The General was a kindly-looking old man (Frank recognized his name as soon as he heard it that morning, though he had never met him before) and conversed cheerily with his brother magistrates as they took their seats. The Rector was-well, like other rectors, and the Squire like other squires.

* * *

It was a quarter to twelve before the ladies' claims were adjusted. They were both admonished in a paternal kind of way, and sent about their business, since there was disputed evidence as to whether or not the lady with the bandage had provoked the attack, not only by her language, but by throwing a banana-skin at the lady without the bandage. They were well talked to, their husbands were bidden to keep them in order, and they departed, both a little crestfallen, to discuss the whole matter over a pint of beer.

There was a little shifting about in court; a policeman, looking curiously human without his helmet, pushed forward from the door and took his place by the little barrier. The magistrates and the clerk and the inspector all conferred a little together, and after an order or two, the door near the back of the court leading from the police-cells opened, and Frank stepped forward into the dock, followed by another policeman who clicked the barrier behind the prisoner and stood, waiting, like Rhadamanthus. Through the hedge of the front row of the crowd peered the faces of Gertie and the Major.

We need not bother with the preliminaries-in fact, I forget how they ran-Frank gave his name of Frank Gregory, his age as twenty-two years, his occupation as casual laborer, and his domicile as no fixed abode.

The charge was read to him. It was to the effect that he, on the night of Tuesday, the twenty-third instant, had in the village (whose name I choose to forget, if I ever knew it), seized from Maggie Cooper, aged nine years, a tin of preserved salmon, with intent to steal. The question put to the prisoner was: Did he or did he not plead guilty?

"I plead guilty, sir," said Frank, without a tremor.

He had been two full days in the cells by now, and it had not improved his appearance. He was still deeply sunburned, but he was a little pale under the eyes, and he was unshaven. He had also deliberately rumpled his hair and pulled his clothes to make them look as untidy as possible. He answered in a low voice, so as to attract as little attention as possible. He had given one quick look at the magistrates as he came in, to make sure he had never met them out shooting or at dinner-parties, and he had been deeply relieved to find them total strangers.

"You plead guilty, eh?" said the General.

Frank nodded.

"Well, well! let's hear the whole story. Where is the complainant?"

A rather pale and awe-stricken child appeared somewhere in a little box opposite Frank, with a virtuous mother in black silk behind her. It appeared that this child was on her way to her aunt-her father was a grocer-with a tin of salmon that had been promised and forgotten (that was how she came to be out so late). As she reached the corner by Barker's Lane a man had jumped at her and seized the tin. (No; he had not used any other violence.) She had screamed at the top of her voice, and Mrs. Jennings' door had opened. Then the man had run away.

"Had she seen the man clearly?" No, she hadn't seen him at all; she had just seen that he was a man. ("Called himself one," put in a voice.) The witness here cast an indignant-almost vindictive-look at Frank.

Then a few corroborations were issued. Mrs. Jennings, a widow lady, keeping house for her brother who was a foreman in Marks' yard, ratified the statement about the door being opened. She was going to shut up for the night when she heard the child scream. Her brother, a severe-looking man, with a black beard, finished her story. He had heard his sister call out, as he was taking off his boots at the foot of the stairs; he had run out with his laces dangling, in time to see the man run past the public-house fifty yards up the street. No ... he, too, had not seen the man clearly, but he had seen him before, in company with another; the two had come to his yard that afternoon to ask for work and been refused, as they wanted no more hands.

"Well, what had happened then?"

He had hammered at two or three doors as he ran past, among them that of the police-constable, and himself had run on, in time to hear the prisoner's footsteps run up the lane leading to the barn. He had stopped then as he was out of breath, and as he thought they would have the man now, since there was no exit from the lane except through Mr. Patten's farm-yard, and if he'd gone that way they'd have heard the dogs.

Finally the police-constable corroborated the entire story, and added that he, in company with the foreman and two other men, had "proceeded" to the barn immediately, and there had found the prisoner, who was pretending to be asleep, with the tin of salmon (produced and laid on the table) hidden inside his jacket. He had then taken him into custody.

"Was there any one else in the barn?"

Yes-two persons, who gave the names of George and Gertie Trustcott. These were prepared to give evidence as to the prisoner's identity, and as to his leaving and returning to the barn on the evening in question, if the magistrate wished.... Yes; they were present in court.

* * *

The General began to turn a little testy as the constable finished. He seemed a magistrate who liked to be paternal, and he appeared to grow impatient under the extraordinarily correct language of the policeman.

He turned to Frank-seeming to forget all about the two witnesses not yet called-and spoke rather sharply:

"You don't deny all that? You plead guilty, eh?"

"Yes, sir," said Frank, gazing at the very pink salmon emblazoned on the tin.

"Why did you do it?"

"I was hungry, sir."

"Hungry, eh? An able-bodied lad like you? Can't you work, then?"

"When I can get it, sir," said Frank

"Eh?... eh? Well, that's true enough. You couldn't get it that day, anyhow. Mr. What's-his-name's told us that."

"Yes, sir."

Then the Rector leaned forward swiftly-to Frank's horror.

"You speak like an educated man."

"Do I, sir? I'm very pleased to hear it."

There was a faint snigger in court.

"Where were you educated?" persisted the Rector.

"Am I bound to incriminate myself, sir?"

"Incriminate?" said the General suddenly interested. "Eh? you mean, after a good education. I see. No, of course you're not, my lad."

"Thank you, sir."

"And you plead guilty? And you'd like the case dealt with now?"

"If you please, sir."

The clerk rose swiftly in his place and began to whisper to the magistrates behind his hand. Frank understood perfectly what was happening; he understood that it was doubtful whether or no his case could be dealt with in this court. He exploded within himself a violent adjuration to the Supreme Authorities, and the next instant the General sat back.

"Nonsense! nonsense! It isn't highway robbery at all within the meaning of the term. We'll deal with it now-eh, gentlemen?"

There was a little more whispering, and finally the General settled himself and took up a quill pen.

"Well, we'll deal with it now, my lad, as you wish. I'm sorry to see a fellow like you in this position-particularly if you've had a good education, as you seem to have had. Cowardly thing, you know, to attack a child like that, isn't it? even if you were hungry. You ought to be more hardy than that, you know-a great fellow like you-than to mind a bit of hunger. Boys like you ought to enlist; that'd make a man of you in no time. But no.... I know you; you won't.... You'd sooner loaf about and pick up what you can-sooner than serve His Majesty. Well, well, there's no compulsion-not yet; but you should think over it. Come and see me, if you like, when you've done your time, and we'll see what can be done. That'd be better than loafing about and picking up tins of salmon, eh?"

"Well, I've no more to say. But you just think over it. And we'll give you fourteen days."

* * *

Then as Frank went out he saw the three magistrates lean back in conversation.


I find it very hard to explain, even to myself, the extraordinary depression that fell upon Frank during his fourteen days. He could hardly bear even to speak of it afterwards, and I find in his diary no more than a line or two, and those as bald as possible. Apparently it was no kind of satisfaction to him to know that the whole thing was entirely his own doing, or that it was the thought of Gertie that had made him, in the first instance, take the tin from the Major. Yet it was not that there was any sense of guilt, or even of mistake. One would have thought that from everybody's point of view, and particularly Gertie's, it would be an excellent thing for the Major to go to prison for a bit. It would certainly do him no harm, and it would be a real opportunity to separate the girl from his company. As for any wrong in his pleading guilty, he defended it (I must say, with some adroitness) by saying that it was universally acknowledged that the plea of "Not Guilty" is merely formal, and in no way commits one to its intrinsic truth (and he is right there, at least according to Moral Theology as well as common sense) and, therefore, that the alternative plea is also merely formal.

And yet he was depressed by his fourteen days to the verge of melancholia.

There are several contributory causes that may be alleged.

First, there is the extreme ignominy of all the circumstances, beginning with the paternal scolding in court, in the presence of grocers and persons who threw clogs, continuing with the dreary journey by rail, in handcuffs, and the little crowds that gathered to laugh or stare, and culminating with the details of the prison life. It is not pleasant for a cleanly man to be suspected of dirt, to be bathed and examined all over by a man suffering himself apparently from some species of eczema; it is not pleasant to be ordered about peremptorily by uniformed men, who, three months before, would have touched their hats to you, and to have to do things instantly and promptly for the single reason that one is told to do them.

Secondly, there was the abrupt change of life-of diet, air and exercise....

Thirdly, there was the consideration, the more terrible because the more completely unverifiable, as to what difference all this would make, not only to the regard of his friends for him, but to his own regard for himself. Innocence of a fault does not entirely do away with the distress and stigma of its punishment. He imagined himself telling Jenny; he tried to see her laughing, and somehow he could not. It was wholly uncharacteristic of all that he knew of her, and yet somehow, night after night, as the hours dragged by, he seemed to see her looking at him a little contemptuously.

"At any rate," he almost heard her say, "if you didn't do it, you made a friend of a man who did. And you were in prison."

Oh! there are countless excellent explanations of his really terrible depression; and yet somehow it does not seem to me at all in line with what I know of Frank, to think that they explain it in the least. I prefer to believe, with a certain priest who will appear by and by, that the thing was just one stage of a process that had to be accomplished, and that if it had not come about in this way, it must have come about in another. As for his religion, all emotional grasp of that fled, it seemed finally, at the touch of real ignominy. He retained the intellectual reasons for which he had become a Catholic, but the thing seemed as apart from him as his knowledge of law-such as it was-acquired at Cambridge, or his proficiency in lawn-tennis. Certainly it was no kind of consolation to him to reflect on the sufferings of Christian martyrs!

It was a Friday evening when he came out and went quickly round the corner of the jail, in order to get away from any possibility of being identified with it.

He had had a short interview with the Governor-a very conscientious and religious man, who made a point of delivering what he called "a few earnest words" to every prisoner before his release. But, naturally enough, they were extraordinarily off the point. It was not helpful to Frank to have it urged upon him to set about an honest livelihood-it was what he had tried to do every day since June-and not to go about robbing innocent children of things like tins of salmon-it was the very last thing he had ever dreamed of doing.

* * *

He had also had more than one interview with the chaplain of the Established Church, in consequence of his resolute refusal to acknowledge any religious body at all (he had determined to scotch this possible clue to his identification); and those interviews had not been more helpful than any other. It is not of much use to be entreated to turn over a new leaf when you see no kind of reason for doing so; and little books left tactfully in your cell, directed to the same point, are equally useless. Frank read them drearily through. He did not actually kick them from side to side of his cell when he had finished; that would have been offensive to the excellent intentions of the reverend gentleman....

Altogether I do not quite like to picture Frank as he was when he came out of jail, and hurried away. It is such a very startling contrast with the gayety with which he had begun his pilgrimage.

* * *

He had had plenty of time to think over his plans during the last fortnight, and he went, first, straight to the post-office. The Governor had given him half-a-crown to start life with, and he proposed to squander fourpence of it at once in two stamps, two sheets of paper and two envelopes.

His first letter was to be to Jack; the second to Major Trustcott, who had thoughtfully given him the address where he might be found about that date.

But there were to be one or two additional difficulties first.

He arrived at the post-office, went up the steps and through the swing doors. The place had been newly decorated, with a mahogany counter and light brass lattice rails, behind which two young ladies of an inexpressibly aristocratic demeanor and appearance were engaged in conversation: their names, as he learned from a few sentences he listened to before daring to interrupt so high a colloquy, were Miss Mills and Miss Jamieson.

After a decent and respectful pause Frank ventured on his request.

"Two stamps, two sheets of paper and two envelopes, please ... miss." (He did manage that!)

Miss Mills continued her conversation:

"So I said to her that that would never do, that Harold would be sure to get hold of it, and that then-"

Frank shuffled his feet a little. Miss Mills cast him a high glance.

"-There'd be trouble, I said, Miss Jamieson."

"You did quite right, dear."

"Two stamps, two sheets of paper and two envelopes, please, miss." He clicked four pence together on the counter. Miss Mills rose slowly from her place, went a yard or two, and took down a large book. Frank watched her gratefully. Then she took a pen and began to make entries in it.

"Two stamps, two sheets of paper and two envelopes, please."

Frank's voice shook a little with anger. He had not learned his lesson yet.

Miss Mills finished her entry; looked at Frank with extreme disdain, and finally drew out a sheet of stamps.

"Pennies?" she inquired sharply.


Two penny stamps were pushed across and two pennies taken up.

"And now two sheets of paper and two envelopes, please, miss," went on Frank, encouraged. He thought himself foolish to be angry. Miss Jamieson uttered a short laugh and glanced at Miss Mills. Miss Mills pursed her lips together and took up her pen once more.

"Will you be good enough to give me what I ask for, at once, please?"

The whole of Frank blazed in this small sentence: but Miss Mills was equal to it.

"You ought to know better," she said, "than to come asking for such things here! Taking up a lot of time like that."

"You don't keep them?"

Miss Mills uttered a small sound. Miss Jamieson tittered.

"Shops are the proper places for writing-paper. This is a post-office."

Words cannot picture the superb high breeding shown in this utterance. Frank should have understood that he had been guilty of gross impertinence in asking such things of Miss Mills; it was treating her almost as a shop-girl. But he was extremely angry by now.

"Then why couldn't you have the civility to tell me so at once?"

Miss Jamieson laid aside a little sewing she was engaged on.

"Look here, young man, you don't come bullying and threatening here. I'll have to call the policeman if you do.... I was at the railway station last Friday week, you know."

Frank stood still for one furious instant. Then his heart sank and he went out without a word.

* * *

The letters got written at last, late that evening, in the back room of a small lodging-house where he had secured a bed. I have the one he wrote to Jack before me as I write, and I copy it as it stands. It was without address or date.

"Dear Jack,

"I want you to do, something for me. I want you to go to Merefield and see, first, Jenny, and then my father; and tell them quite plainly and simply that I've been in prison for a fortnight. I want Jenny to know first, so that she can think of what to say to my father. The thing I was sent to prison for was that I pleaded guilty to stealing a tin of salmon from a child called Mary Cooper. You can see the account of the case in the County Gazette for last Saturday week, the twenty-seventh. The thing I really did was to take the tin from somebody else I was traveling with. He asked me to.

"Next, I want you to send on any letters that may have come for me to the address I enclose on a separate piece of paper. Please destroy the address at once; but you can show this letter to Jenny and give her my love. You are not to come and see me. If you don't, I'll come and see you soon.

"Things are pretty bad just now, but I'm going to go through with it.



"P.S.-By the way, please address me as Mr. F. Gregory when you write."

* * *

He was perfectly obstinate, you understand, still.

* * *

Frank's troubles as regards prison were by no means exhausted by his distressing conversation with the young ladies in the post office, and the next one fell on him as he was leaving the little town early on the Saturday morning.

He had just turned out of the main street and was going up a quiet side lane that looked as if it would lead to the York Road, when he noticed a disagreeable little scene proceeding up a narrow cul-de-sac across whose mouth he was passing.

A tall, loose-limbed young man, in his working-clothes, obviously slightly excited with drink, had hold of a miserable old man by the scruff of the neck with one hand, and was cuffing him with the other.

Now I do not wish to represent Frank as a sort of knight-errant, but the fact is that if anyone with respectable and humane ideas goes on the tramp (I have this from the mouth of experienced persons) he has to make up his mind fairly soon either to be a redresser of wrongs or to be conveniently short-sighted. Frank was not yet sufficiently experienced to have learned the wisdom of the second alternative.

He went straight up the cul-de-sac and without any words at all hit the young man as hard as possible under the ear nearest to him.

There seems to have been a moment of amazed silence; the young man dropped the old one, who fled out into the lane, and struck back at Frank, who parried. Simultaneously a woman screamed somewhere; and faces began to appear at windows and doors.

It is curious how the customs of the Middle Ages, as well as some of their oaths, seem to have descended to the ranks of the British working-man. In the old days-as also in prize-fights to-day-it was quite usual to assail your adversary with insults as well as with blows. This was done now. The young man, with a torrent of imprecations, demanded who Frank thought he was, asked where he was coming to, required of society in general an explanation of a stranger's interfering between a son and a qualified father. There was a murmur of applause and dissent, and Frank answered, with a few harmless expletives such as he had now learned to employ as a sort of verbal disguise, that he did not care how many sons or fathers were in question, that he did not propose to see a certain kind of bully abuse an old man, and that he would be happy to take the old man's place....

Then the battle was set.

Frank had learned to box in a certain small saloon in Market Street, Cambridge, and knew perfectly well how to take care of himself. He received about half the force of one extremely hard blow just on his left cheek-bone before he got warmed to his work; but after that he did the giving and the loose-limbed young man the receiving, Frank was even scientific; he boxed in the American manner, crouching, with both arms half extended (and this seems to have entirely bewildered his adversary) and he made no effort to reach the face. He just thumped away steadily below the spot where the ribs part, and where-a doctor informs me-a nerve-center, known as the solar plexus, is situated. He revolved, too, with considerable agility, round his opponent, and gradually drew the battle nearer and nearer to the side lane outside. He knew enough of slum-chivalry by now to be aware that if a sympathizer, or sycophant, of the young man happened to be present, he himself would quite possibly (if the friend happened to possess sufficient courage) suddenly collapse from a disabling blow on the back of the neck. Also, he was not sure whether there was any wife in the question; and in this case it would be a poker, or a broken bottle, held dagger-wise, that he would have to meet. And he wished therefore to have more room round him than the cul-de-sac afforded.

But there was no need for precaution.

The young man had begun to look rather sickly under the eyes and to hiccup three or four times in distressed manner; when suddenly the clamor round the fight ceased. Frank was aware of a shrill old voice calling out something behind him; and the next instant, simultaneously with the dropping of his adversary's hands, he himself was seized from behind by the arms, and, writhing, discerned is blue sleeve and a gloved hand holding him.

"Now, what's all this?" said a voice in his ear.

There was a chorus of explanation, declaring that "'Alb" had been set upon without provocation. There was a particularly voluble woman with red arms and an exceedingly persuasive manner, who advanced from a doorway and described the incident from her own point of view. She had been hanging out the children's things, she began, and so forth; and Frank was declared the aggressor and "'Alb" the innocent victim.

Then the chorus broke out again, and "'Alb," after another fit of hiccupping, corroborated the witnesses in a broken and pathetically indignant voice.

Frank tore himself from one embracing arm and faced round, still held by the other.

"All right; I shan't run away.... Look here; that's a black lie. He was hitting that old man. Where is he? Come on, uncle, and tell us all about it."

The old man advanced, his toothless face contorted with inexplicable emotion, and corroborated the red-armed woman, and the chorus generally, with astonishing volubility and emphasis.

"You old fool!" said Frank curtly. "What are you afraid of? Let's have the truth, now. Wasn't he hitting you?"

"He, he, he!" giggled the old man, torn by the desire of self-preservation on one side and, let us hope, by a wish for justice on the other. "He warn't hittin' of me. He's my son, he is.... 'Alb is.... We were just having-"

"There! get out of this," said the policeman, releasing Frank with a shove. "We don't want your sort here. Coming and making trouble.... Yes; my lad. You needn't look at me like that. I know you."

"Who the deuce are you talking to?" snapped Frank.

"I know who I'm talking to, well enough," pronounced the policeman judicially. "F. Gregory, ain't it? Now you be off out of this, or you'll be in trouble again."

There was something vaguely kindly about the man's manner, and Frank understood that he knew very tolerably where the truth lay, but wished to prevent further disturbance. He gulped down his fury. It was no good saying anything; but the dense of the injustice of the universe was very bitter. He turned away-

A murmur of indignation broke out from the crowd, bidding the policeman do his duty.

And as Frank went up the lane, he heard that zealous officer addressing the court with considerable vigor. But it was very little comfort to him. He walked out of the town with his anger and resentment still hot in his heart at the indignity of the whole affair.


By the Sunday afternoon Frank was well on his way to York.

It was a heavy, hot day, sunny, but with brooding clouds on the low horizons; and he was dispirited and tired as he came at last into a small, prim village street rather after two o'clock (its name, once more, I suppress).

His possessions by now were greatly reduced. His money had gone, little by little, all through his journey with the Major, and he had kept of other things only one extra flannel shirt, a pair of thick socks and a small saucepan he had bought one day. The half-crown that the Governor had given him was gone, all but fourpence, and he wanted, if possible, to arrive at York, where he was to meet the Major, at least with that sum in his possession. Twopence would pay for a bed and twopence more for supper.

Half-way up the street he stopped suddenly. Opposite him stood a small brick church, retired by a few yards of turf, crossed by a path, from the iron railings that abutted on the pavement: and a notice-board proclaimed that in this, church of the Sacred Heart mass was said on Sundays at eleven, on holidays of obligation at nine, and on weekdays at eight-thirty a.m. Confessions were heard on Saturday evenings and on Thursday evenings before the first Friday, from eight to nine p.m. Catechism was at three p.m. on Sundays; and rosary, sermon and benediction at seven p.m. A fat cat, looking as if it were dead, lay relaxed on the grass beneath this board.

The door was open and Frank considered an instant. But he thought that could wait for a few minutes as he glanced at the next house. This was obviously the presbytery.

Frank had never begged from a priest before, and he hesitated a little now. Then he went across the street into the shadow on the other side, leaned against the wall and looked. The street was perfectly empty and perfectly quiet, and the hot summer air and sunshine lay on all like a charm. There was another cat, he noticed, on a doorstep a few yards away, and he wondered how any living creature in this heat could possibly lie like that, face coiled round to the feet, and the tail laid neatly across the nose. A dreaming cock crooned heart-brokenly somewhere out of sight, and a little hot breeze scooped up a feather of dust in the middle of the road and dropped again.

Even the presbytery looked inviting on a day like this. He had walked a good twenty-five miles to-day, and the suggestion of a dark, cool room was delicious. It was a little pinched-looking house, of brick, like the church, squeezed between the church and a large grocery with a flamboyant inscription over its closed shutters. All the windows were open, hung inside with cheap lace curtains, and protected with dust-screens. He pictured the cold food probably laid out within, and his imagination struck into being a tall glass jug of something like claret-cup, still half-full. Frank had not dined to-day.

Then he limped boldly across the street, rapped with the cast-iron knocker, and waited.

Nothing at all happened.

* * *

Presently the cat from the notice-board appeared round the corner, eyed Frank suspiciously, decided that he was not dangerous, came on, walking delicately, stepped up on to the further end of the brick stair, and began to arch itself about and rub its back against the warm angle of the doorpost. Frank rapped again, interrupting the cat for an instant, and then stooped down to scratch it under the ear. The cat crooned delightedly. Steps sounded inside the house; the cat stopped writhing, and as the door opened, darted in noiselessly with tail erect past the woman who held the door uninvitingly half open.

She had a thin, lined face and quick black eyes.

"What do you want?" she asked sharply, looking up and down Frank's figure with suspicion. Her eyes dwelt for a moment on the bruise on his cheek-bone.

"I want to see the priest, please," said Frank.

"You can't see him."

"I am very sorry," said Frank, "but I must see him."

"Coming here begging!" exclaimed the woman bitterly. "I'd be ashamed! Be off with you!"

Frank's dignity asserted itself a little.

"Don't speak to me in that tone, please. I am a Catholic, and I wish to see the priest."

The woman snorted; but before she could speak there came the sound of an opening door and a quick step on the linoleum of the little dark passage.

"What's all this?" said a voice, as the woman stepped back.

He was a big, florid young man, with yellow hair, flushed as if with sleep; his eyes were bright and tired-looking, and his collar was plainly unbuttoned at the back. Also, his cassock was unfastened at the throat and he bore a large red handkerchief in his hand. Obviously this had just been over his face.

Now, I do not blame this priest in the slightest. He had sung a late mass-which never agreed with him-and in his extreme hunger he had eaten two platefuls of hot beef, with Yorkshire pudding, and drunk a glass and a half of solid beer. And he had just fallen into a deep sleep before giving Catechism, when the footsteps and voices had awakened him. Further, every wastrel Catholic that came along this road paid him a call, and he had not yet met with one genuine case of want. When he had first come here he had helped beggars freely and generously, and he lived on a stipend of ninety pounds a year, out of which he paid his housekeeper fifteen.

"What do you want?" he said.

"May I speak to you, father?" said Frank.

"Certainly. Say what you've got to say."

"Will you help me with sixpence, father?"

The priest was silent, eyeing Frank closely.

"Are you a Catholic?"

"Yes, father."

"I didn't see you at mass this morning."

"I wasn't here this morning. I was walking on the roads."

"Where did you hear mass?"

"I didn't hear it at all, father. I was on the roads."

"What's your work?"

"I haven't any."

"Why's that?"

Frank shrugged his shoulders a little.

"I do it when I can get it," he said.

"You speak like an educated man."

"I am pretty well educated."

The priest laughed shortly.

"What's that bruise on your cheek?"

"I was in a street fight, yesterday, father."

"Oh, this is ridiculous!" he said. "Where did you come from last?"

Frank paused a moment. He was very hot and very tired.... Then he spoke.

"I was in prison till Friday," he said. "I was given fourteen days on the charge of robbing a child, on the twenty-sixth. I pleaded guilty. Will you help me, father?"

If the priest had not been still half stupid with sleep and indigestion, and standing in the full blaze of this hot sun, he might have been rather struck by this last sentence. But he did have those disadvantages, and he saw in it nothing but insolence.

He laughed again, shortly and angrily.

"I'm amazed at your cheek," he said. "No, certainly not! And you'd better learn manners before you beg again."

Then he banged the door.

* * *

About ten minutes later he woke up from a doze, very wide awake indeed, and looked round. There lay on the table by him a Dutch cheese, a large crusty piece of bread and some very soft salt butter in a saucer. There was also a good glass of beer left-not claret-cup-in a glass jug, very much as Frank had pictured it.

He got up and went out to the street door, shading his eyes against the sun. But the street lay hot and dusty in the afternoon light, empty from end to end, except for a cat, nose in tail, coiled on the grocery door-step.

Then he saw two children, in white frocks, appear round a corner, and he remembered that it was close on time for Catechism.

* * *

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