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   Chapter 4 BROTHER COPAS HOOKS A FISH.

Brother Copas By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 14655

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"Well," said Brother Copas, "since the fish are not rising, let us talk. Or rather, you can tell me all about it while I practise casting.… By what boat is she coming?"

"By the Carnatic, and due some time to-morrow. I saw it in the newspaper."

"Well?-" prompted Brother Copas, glancing back over his shoulder as Brother Bonaday came to a halt.

The bent little man seemed to have lost the thread of his speech as he stood letting his gentle, tired eyes follow the flight of the swallows swooping and circling low along the river and over the meadow-grasses.

"Well?-" prompted Brother Copas again.

"Nurse Branscome will go down to meet her."

"And then?-"

"I am hoping the Master will let her have my spare room," said Brother Bonaday vaguely.

Here it should be explained that when the Trustees erected a new house for the Master his old lodgings in the quadrangle had been carved into sets of chambers for half a dozen additional Brethren, and that one of these, differing only from the rest in that it contained a small spare room, had chanced to be allotted to Brother Bonaday. He had not applied for it, and it had grieved him to find his promotion resented by certain of the Brethren, who let slip few occasions for envy. For the spare room had been quite useless to him until now. Now he began to think it might be, after all, a special gift of Providence.

"You have spoken to the Master?" asked Brother Copas.

"No: that is to say, not yet."

"What if he refuses?"

"It will be very awkward. I shall hardly know what to do.… Find her some lodging in the town, perhaps; there seems no other way."

"You should have applied to the Master at once."

Brother Bonaday considered this, while his eyes wandered.

"But why?" he asked. "The boat had sailed before the letter reached me. She was already on her way. Yes or no, it could make no difference."

"It makes this difference: suppose that the Master refuses, you have lost four days in which you might have found her a suitable lodging. What's the child's name, by the by?

"Corona, it seems."

"Seems?"

"She was born just after her mother left me and went to America, having a little money of her own saved out of our troubles." Again Brother Copas, in the act of making a cast, glanced back over his shoulder, but Brother Bonaday's eyes were on the swallows. "In 1902 it was, the year of King Edward's coronation: yes, that will be why my wife chose the name.… I suppose, as you say," Brother Bonaday went on after a pause, "I ought to have spoken to the Master at once; but I put it off, the past being painful to me."

"Yet you told Nurse Branscome."

"Someone-some woman-had to be told. The child must be met, you see."

"H'm.… Well, I am glad, anyway, that you told me whilst there was yet a chance of my being useful; being, as you may or may not have observed, inclined to jealousy in matters of friendship."

This time Brother Copas kept his face averted, and made a fresh cast across stream with more than ordinary care. The fly dropped close under the far bank, and by a bare six inches clear of a formidable alder. He jerked the rod backward, well pleased with his skill.

"That was a pretty good one, eh?"

But clever angling was thrown away upon Brother Bonaday, whom preoccupation with trouble had long ago made unobservant. Brother Copas reeled in a few feet of his line.

"You'll bear in mind that, if the Master should refuse and you're short of money for a good lodging, I have a pound or two laid by. We must do what we can for the child; coming, as she will, from the other side of the world."

"That is kind of you, Copas," said Brother Bonaday slowly, his eyes fixed now on the reel, the whirring click of which drew his attention, so that he seemed to address his speech to it. "It is very kind, and I thank you. But I hope the Master will not refuse: though, to tell you the truth, there is another small difficulty which makes me shy of asking him a favour."

"Eh? What is it?"

Brother Bonaday twisted his thin fingers together. "I-I had promised, before I got this letter, to stand by Warboise. I feel rather strongly on these matters, you know-though, of course, not so strongly as he does-and I promised to support him. Which makes it very awkward, you see, to go and ask a favour of the Master just when you are (so to say) defying his authority.… While if I hide it from him, and he grants the favour, and then next day or the day after I declare for Warboise, it will look like treachery, eh?"

"Damn!" said Brother Copas, still winding in his line meditatively. "There is no such casuist as poverty. And only this morning I was promising myself much disinterested sport in the quarrelling of you Christian brethren.… But isn't that Warboise coming along the path?… Yes, the very man! Well, we must try what's to be done."

"But I have given him my word, remember."

Brother Copas, if he heard, gave no sign of hearing. He had turned to hail Brother Warboise, who came along the river path with eyes fastened on the ground, and staff viciously prodding in time with his steps. "Hallo, Warboise! Halt, and give the countersign!"

Brother Warboise halted, taken at unawares, and eyed the two doubtfully from under his bushy grey eyebrows. They were Beauchamp both, he Blanchminster. He wore the black cloak of Blanchminster, with the silver cross patté at the breast, and looked-so Copas murmured to himself-"like Caiaphas in a Miracle Play." His mouth was square and firm, his grey beard straightly cut. He had been a stationer in a small way, and had come to grief by vending only those newspapers of which he could approve the religious tendency.

"The countersign?" he echoed slowly and doubtfully.

He seldom understood Brother Copas, but by habit suspected him of levity.

"To be sure, among three good Protestants! 'Bloody end to the Pope!' is it not?"

"You are mocking me," snarled Brother Warboise, and with that struck the point of his staff passionately upon the pathway. "You are a Gallio, and always will be: you care nothing for what is heaven and earth to us others. But you have no right to infect Bonaday, here, with your poison. He has promised me." Brother Warboise faced upon Brother Bonaday sternly, "You promised me, you know you did."

"To be sure he promised you," put in Brother Copas. "He has just been telling me."

"And I am going to hold him to it! These are not times for falterers, halters between two opinions. If England is to be saved from coming a second time under the yoke of Papacy, men will have to come out in their true colours. He that is not for us is against us."

Brother Copas reeled in a fathom of line with a contemplative, judicial air.

"Upon my word, Warboise, I'm inclined to agree with you. I don't pretend to share your Protestant fervour: but hang it! I'm an Englishman with a sense of history, and that is what no single one among your present-day High Anglicans would appear to possess. If a man wants to understand England he has to start with one or two simple propositions, of which the first-or about the first-is that England once had a reformation, and is not going to forget it. But that is just what these fellows would make-believe to ignore. A fool like Colt-for at bottom, between ou

rselves, Colt is a fool- says 'Reformation? There was no such thing: we don't acknowledge it.' As the American said of some divine who didn't believe in eternal punishment, 'By gosh, he'd better not!'"

"But England is forgetting it!" insisted Brother Warboise. "Look at the streams of Papist monks she has allowed to pour in ever since France took a strong line with her monastic orders. Look at those fellows-College of St. John Lateran, as they call themselves-who took lodgings only at the far end of this village. In the inside of six months they had made friends with everybody."

"They employ local tradesmen, and are particular in paying their debts, I'm told."

"Oh," said Brother Warboise, "They're cunning!"

Brother Copas gazed at him admiringly, and shot a glance at Brother Bonaday. But Brother Bonaday's eyes had wandered off again to the skimming swallows.

"Confessed Romans and their ways," said Brother Warboise, "one is prepared for, but not for these wolves in sheep's clothing. Why, only last Sunday-week you must have heard Colt openly preaching the confessional!"

"I slept," said Brother Copas. "But I will take your word for it."

"He did, I assure you; and what's more-you may know it or not-Royle and Biscoe confess to him regularly."

"They probably tell him nothing worse than their suspicions of you and me. Colt is a vain person walking in a vain show."

"You don't realise the hold they are getting. Look at the money they squeeze out of the public; the churches they restore, and the new ones they build. And among these younger Anglicans, I tell you, Colt is a force."

"My good Warboise, you have described him exactly. He is a force- and nothing else. He will bully and beat you down to get his way, but in the end you can always have the consolation of presenting him with the shadow, which he will unerringly mistake for the substance. I grant you that to be bullied and beaten down is damnably unpleasant discipline, even when set off against the pleasure of fooling such a fellow as Colt. But when a man has to desist from pursuit of pleasure he develops a fine taste for consolations: and this is going to be mine for turning Protestant and backing you in this business."

"You?"

"Your accent is so little flattering, Warboise, that I hardly dare to add the condition. Yet I will. If I stand in with you in resisting Colt, you must release Bonaday here. Henceforth he's out of the quarrel."

"But I do not understand." Brother Warboise regarded Brother Copas from under his stiff grey eyebrows. "Why should Bonaday back out?"

"That is his affair," answered Brother Copas smoothly, almost before Brother Bonaday was aware of being appealed to.

"But-you don't mind my saying it-I've never considered you as a Protestant, quite; not, at least, as an earnest one."

"That," said Brother Copas, "I may be glad to remember, later on. But come; I offer you a bargain. Strike off Bonaday and enlist me. A volunteer is proverbially worth two pressed men; and as a Protestant I promise you to shine. If you must have my reason, or reasons, say that I am playing for safety."

Here Brother Copas laid down his rod on the grassy bank and felt for his snuff-box. As he helped himself to a pinch he slyly regarded the faces of his companions; and his own, contracting its muscles to take the dose, seemed to twist itself in a sardonic smile.

"Unlike Colt," he explained, "I read history sometimes, and observe its omens. You say that our clergy are active just now in building and restoring churches. Has it occurred to you that they were never so phenomenally active in building and rebuilding as on the very eve of the Reformation crash? Ask and inquire, my friend, what proportion of our English churches are Perpendicular; get from any handbook the date of that style of architecture; and apply the omen if you will."

"That sounds reassuring," said Brother Warboise. "And so you really think we Protestants are going to win?"

"God forbid! What I say is, that the High Anglicans will probably lose."

"One never knows when you are joking or when serious." Brother Warboise, leaning on his staff, pondered Brother Copas's face. It was a fine face; it even resembled the conventional portrait of Dante, but-I am asking the reader to tax his imagination-with humorous wrinkles set about the eyes, their high austerity clean taken away and replaced by a look of very mundane shrewdness, and lastly a grosser chin and mouth with a touch of the laughing faun in their folds and corners. "You are concealing your real reasons," said Brother Warboise.

"That," answered Brother Copas, "has been defined for the true function of speech.… But I am quite serious this time, and I ask you again to let Brother Bonaday off and take me on. You will find it worth while."

Brother Warboise could not see for the life of him why, at a time when it behoved all defenders of the reformed religion to stand shoulder to shoulder, Brother Bonaday should want to be let off.

"No?" said Brother Copas, picking up his rod again. "Well, those are my terms… and, excuse me, but was not that a fish over yonder? They are beginning to rise.…"

Brother Warboise muttered that he would think it over, and resumed his walk.

"He'll agree, safe enough. And now, no more talking!"

But after a cast or two Brother Copas broke his own injunction.

"A Protestant!… I'm doing a lot for you, friend. But you must go to the Master this very evening. No time to be lost, I tell you! Why, if he consent, there are a score of small things to be bought to make the place fit for a small child. Get out pencil and paper and make a list.… Well, where do we begin?"

"I-I'm sure I don't know," confessed Brother Bonaday helplessly. "I never, so to speak, had a child before, you see."

"Nor I… but damn it, man, let's do our best and take things in order! When she arrives-let me see-the first thing is, she'll be hungry. That necessitates a small knife and fork. Knife, fork and spoon; regular godfather's gift. You must let me stand godfather and supply 'em. You don't happen to know if she's been christened, by the way?"

"No-o. I suppose they look after these things in America?"

"Probably-after a fashion," said Brother Copas with a fine smile. "Heavens! if as a Protestant I am to fight the first round over Infant Baptism-"

"There is a font in the chapel."

"Yes. I have often wondered why."

Brother Copas appeared to meditate this as he slowly drew back his rod and made a fresh cast. Again the fly dropped short of the alder stump by a few inches, and fell delicately on the dark water below it. There was a splash-a soft gurgling sound dear to the angler's heart. Brother Copas's rod bent and relaxed to the brisk whirr of its reel as a trout took fly and hook and sucked them under.

Then followed fifteen minutes of glorious life. Even Brother Bonaday's slow blood caught the pulse of it. He watched, not daring to utter a sound, his limbs twitching nervously.

But when the fish-in weight well over a pound-had been landed and lay, twitching too, in the grasses by the Mere bank, Brother Copas, after eyeing it a moment with legitimate pride, slowly wound up his reel.

"And I am to be a Protestant!… Saint Peter-King Fisherman- forgive me!"

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