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   Chapter 7 GAUDY DAY.

Brother Copas By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 12392

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


In the sunshine, on a lower step of the stone stairway that leads up and through the shadow of a vaulted porch to the Hundred Men's Hall, or refectory, Brother Biscoe stood with a hand-bell and rang to dinner. Brother Biscoe was a charming old man to look upon; very frail and venerable, with a somewhat weak face; and as senior pensioner of the hospital he enjoyed the privilege of ringing to dinner on Gaudy Days-twenty-seven strokes, distinct and separately counted-one for each brother on the two foundations.

The Brethren, however, loitered in groups before their doorways, along the west side of the quadrangle, awaiting a signal from the porter's lodge. Brother Manby, there, had promised to warn them as soon as the Master emerged from his lodging with the other Trustees and a few distinguished guests-including the Bishop of Merchester, Visitor of St. Hospital-on their way to dine. The procession would take at least three minutes coming through the outer court-ample time for the Brethren to scramble up the stairway, take their places, and assume the right air of reverent expectancy.

As a rule-Brother Copas, standing on the gravel below Brother Biscoe and counting the strokes for him, begged him to note it-they were none so dilatory. But gossip held them. His shrewd glance travelled from group to group, and between the strokes of the bell he counted the women-folk.

"They are all at their doors," he murmured. "For a look at the dear Bishop, think you?"

"They are watching to see what Warboise will do," quavered Brother Biscoe. "Oh, I know!"

"The women don't seem to be taking much truck with Warboise or his Petition. See him over there, with Plant and Ibbetson only.… And Ibbetson's only there because his wife has more appetising fish to fry. But she's keeping an eye on him-watch her! Poor woman, for once she's discovering Rumour to be almost too full of tongues."

"I wonder you're not over there too, lending Warboise support," suggested Brother Biscoe. "Royle told me last night that you had joined the Protestant swim."

"But I am here, you see," Brother Copas answered sweetly; "and just for the pleasure of doing you a small service."

Even this did not disarm the old man, whose temper was malignant.

"Well, I wish you joy of your crew. A secret drinker like Plant, for instance! And your friend Bonaday, in his second childhood-"

"Bonaday will have nothing to do with us."

"Ah?" Brother Biscoe shot him a sidelong glance. "He's more pleasantly occupied, perhaps?-if it's true what they tell me."

"It never is," said Brother Copas imperturbably; "though I haven't a notion to what you refer."

"But surely you've heard?"

"Nothing: and if it concerns Bonaday, you'd best hold your tongue just now; for here he is."

Brother Bonaday in fact, with Nurse Branscome and Corona, at that moment emerged from the doorway of his lodgings, not ten paces distant from the steps of the Hundred Men's Hall. The three paused, just outside-the Nurse and Corona to await the procession of Visitors, due now at any moment. Brother Bonaday stood and blinked in the strong sunlight: but the child, catching sight of Brother Copas as he left Brother Biscoe and hurried towards her, ran to meet him with a friendly nod.

"I've come out to watch the procession," she announced. "That's all we women are allowed; while you-Branny says there's to be ducks and green peas! Did you know that?"

"Surely you must have observed my elation?"

Brother Copas stood and smiled at her, leaning on his staff.

"The Bishop wears gaiters they tell me; and the Master too. I saw them coming out of Chapel in their surplices, and the Chaplain with the Bishop's staff: but Branny wouldn't let me go to the service. She said I must be tired after my journey. So I went to the lodge instead and made friends with Brother Manby. I didn't," said Corona candidly, "make very good weather with Brother Manby, just at first. He began by asking 'Well, and oo's child might you be?'-and when I told him, he said, 'Ow's anyone to know that?' That amused me, of course."

"Did it?" asked Brother Copas in slight astonishment.

"Because," the child explained, "I'd been told that English people dropped their h's; but Brother Manby was the first I'd heard doing it, and it seemed too good to be true. You don't drop your h's; and nor does Daddy, nor Branny."

Brother Copas chuckled.

"Don't reproach us," he pleaded. "You see, you've taken us at unawares more or less. But if it really please you-"

"You are very kind," Corona put in; "but I guess that sort of thing must come naturally, to be any good. You can't think how naturally Brother Manby went on dropping them; till by and by he told me what a mort of Americans came here to have a look around. Then, of course, I saw how he must strike them as the real thing."

Brother Copas under lowered eyebrows regarded the young face. It was innocent and entirely serious.

"So I said," she went on, "that I came from America too, and it was a long way, and please would he hurry up with the bread and beer? After that we made friends, and I had a good time."

"Are you telling me that you spent the forenoon drinking beer in the porter's lodge?"

Corona's laugh was like the bubbling of water in a hidden well.

"It wasn't what you might call a cocktail," she confided. "The tiredest traveller wouldn't ask for crushed ice to it, not with a solid William-the-Conqueror wall to lean against."

Brother Copas admitted that the tenuity of the Wayfarer's Ale had not always escaped the Wayfarer's criticism. He was about to explain that, in a country of vested interests, publicans and teetotallers agreed to require that beer supplied gratis in the name of charity must be innocuous and unenticing. But at this moment Brother Manby signalled from his lodge that the procession was approaching across the outer court, and he hurried away to join the crowd of Brethren in their scramble upstairs to the Hundred Men's Hall.

The procession hove in sight; in number about a dozen, walking two-and-two, headed by Master Blanchminster and the Bishop. Nurse Branscome stepped across to the child and

stood by her, whispering the names of the dignitaries as they drew near. The dear little gaitered white-headed clergyman-the one in the college cap-was the Master; the tall one, likewise in gaiters, the Bishop.

"-and the gentleman behind him is Mr. Yeo, the Mayor of Merchester. That's the meaning of his chain, you know."

"Why, is he dangerous?" asked Corona.

"His chain of office, dear. It's the rule in England."

"You don't say!… Over in America we've never thought of that: we let our grafters run loose. But who's the tall one next to him? My! but can't you see him, Branny, with his long legs crossed?"

Branny was puzzled.

"-on a tomb, in chain armour, with his hands so." Corona put her two palms together, as in the act of prayer.

"Oh, I see! Well, as it happens, his house has a private chapel with five or six of just those tombs-all of his ancestors. He's Sir John Shaftesbury, and he's pricked for High Sheriff next year. One of the oldest families in the county; in all England, indeed. Everyone loves and respects Sir John."

"Didn't I say so!" The small palms were pressed together ecstatically. "And does he keep a dwarf, same as they used to?"

"Eh?… If you mean the little man beside him, with the straw-coloured gloves, that's Mr. Bamberger; Mr. Julius Bamberger, our Member of Parliament."

"Say that again, please."

The child looked up, wide-eyed.

"He's our Member of Parliament for Merchester; immensely rich, they say."

"Well," decided Corona after a moment's thought, "I'm going to pretend he isn't, anyway. I'm going to pretend Sir John found him and brought him home from Palestine."

Branny named, one by one, the rest of the Trustees, all persons of importance.

Mr. Colt and the Bishop's chaplain brought up the rear.

The procession came to a halt. Old Warboise had not followed in the wake of the Brethren, but stood at the foot of the stairway, and leaned there on his staff. His face was pale, his jaw set square to perform his duty. His hand trembled, though, as he held out a paper, accosting the Bishop.

"My lord," he said, "some of the Brethren desire you as Visitor to read this Petition."

"Hey?" interrupted the Master, taken by surprise. "Tut-tut-my good Warboise, what's the meaning of this?"

"Very sorry, Master," Brother Warboise mumbled: "and meaning no disrespect to you, that have always ruled St. Hospital like a gentleman. But a party must reckon with his conscience."

The Bishop eyed the document dubiously, holding it between finger and thumb.

"Some affair of discipline?" he asked, turning to the Master.

"Romanisers, my lord-Romanisers: that's what's the matter!" answered Brother Warboise, lifting his voice and rapping the point of his staff on the gravel.

Good Master Blanchminster, shocked by this address, lifted his eyes beyond Warboise and perceived the womenkind gathered around their doorways, listening. Nothing of the sort had happened in all his long and beneficent rule. He was scandalised. He lost his temper.

"Brother Warboise," he said severely, "whatever your grievances-and I will inquire into it later-you have chosen a highly indecorous and, er, offensive way of obtruding it. At this moment, sir, we are going together to dine and to thank God for many mercies vouchsafed to us. If you have any sense of these you will stand aside now and follow us when we have passed. His lordship will read your petition at a more convenient opportunity."

"Quite so, my good man." The Bishop took his cue and pocketed the paper, nodding shortly. The procession moved forward and mounted the staircase, Brother Warboise stumping after it at a little distance, scowling as he climbed, scowling after the long back and wide shoulders of Mr. Colt as they climbed directly ahead of him.

Around their tables in the Hundred Men's Hall the Brethren were gathered expectant.

"Buzz for the Bishop-here he comes!" quoted Brother Copas, and stood forth ready to deliver the Latin grace as the visitors found their places at the high table.

St. Hospital used a long Latin grace on holy-days; "and," Brother Copas had once observed, "the market-price of Latinity in England will ensure that we always have at least one Brother capable of repeating it."

"… Gratias agimus pro Alberico de Albo Monasterio, in fide defuncto-"

Here Brother Copas paused, and the Brethren responded "Amen!"

"Ac pro Henrico de Bello Campo, Cardinali."

As the grace proceeded Brother Copas dwelt on the broad vowels with gusto.

"...Itaque precamur; Miserere nostri, te qu?sumus Domine, tuisque donis, quae de tua benignitate percepturi sumus, benedicito. Per Jesum Christum, Dominum nostrum. Amen."

His eyes wandered down to the carving-table, where Brother Biscoe stood ready, as his turn was, to direct and apportion the helpings. He bowed to the dignitaries on the dais, and walked to his place at the board next to Brother Warboise.

"Old Biscoe's carving," he announced as he took his seat. "You and I will have to take a slice of odium theologicum together, for auld lang syne."

Sure enough, when his helping of duck came to him, it was the back. Brother Warboise received another back for his portion.

"Courage, Brother Ridley!" murmured Copas, "you and I this day have raised a couple of backs that will not readily be put down."

Nurse Branscome had been surprised when Brother Warboise accosted the Bishop. She could not hear what he said, but guessed that something unusual was happening. A glance at the two or three groups of women confirmed this, and when the procession moved on, she walked across to the nearest, taking Corona by the hand.

The first she addressed happened to be Mrs. Royle.

"Whatever was Brother Warboise doing just now?" she asked.

Mrs. Royle hunched her shoulders, and turned to Mrs. Ibbetson.

"There's worse scandals in St. Hospital," said she with a sniff, "than ever old Warboise has nosed. Eh, ma'am?"

"One can well believe that, Mrs. Royle," agreed Mrs. Ibbetson, fixing an eye of disapproval on the child.

"And I am quite sure of it," agreed Nurse Branscome candidly; "though what you mean is a mystery to me."

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