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   Chapter 10 BY MERE RIVER.

Brother Copas By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 13865

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Brother Bonaday's heart-attacks, sharp while they lasted, were soon over. Towards evening he had so far recovered that the Nurse saw no harm in his taking a short stroll, with Brother Copas for socius.

The two old men made their way down to the river as usual, and there Brother Copas forced his friend to sit and rest on a bench beside the clear-running water.

"We had better not talk," he suggested, "but just sit quiet and let the fresh air do you good."

"But I wish to talk. I am quite strong enough."

"Talk about what?"

"About the child.… We must be getting her educated, I suppose."


Brother Bonaday, seated with palms crossed over the head of his staff, gazed in an absent-minded way at the water-weeds trailing in the current.

"She's an odd child; curiously shrewd in some ways and curiously innocent in others, and for ever asking questions. She put me a teaser yesterday. She can read pretty well, and I set her to read a chapter of the Bible. By and by she looked up and wanted to know why God lived apart from His wife!"

Brother Copas grunted his amusement.

"Did you tell her?"

"I invented some answer, of course. I don't believe it satisfied her-I am not good at explanation-but she took it quietly, as if she put it aside to think over." "The Athanasian Creed is not easily edited for children.… If she can read, the likelihood is she can also write. Does a girl need to learn much beyond that? No, I am not jesting. It's a question upon which I have never quite made up my mind."

"I had hoped to find you keener," said Brother Bonaday with a small sigh. "Now I see that you will probably laugh at what I am going to confess.… Last night, as I sat a while before going to bed, I found myself hearkening for the sound of her breathing in the next room. After a bit, when a minute or so went by and I could hear nothing, a sort of panic took me that some harm had happened to her: till I could stand it no longer, but picked up the lamp and crept in for a book. There she lay sleeping, healthy and sound, and prettier than you'd ever think.… I crept back to my chair, and a foolish sort of hope came over me that, with her health and wits, and being brought up unlike other children, she might come one day to be a little lady and the pride of the place, in a way of speaking-"

"A sort of Lady Jane Grey, in modest fashion-is that what you mean?" suggested Brother Copas-

'Like Her most gentle, most unfortunate,

Crowned but to die-who in her chamber sate

Musing with Plato, tho' the horn was blown,

And every ear and every heart was won,

And all in green array were chasing down the sun.'

-"Well, if she's willing, as unofficial godfather I might make a start with the Latin declensions. It would be an experiment: I've never tried teaching a girl. And I never had a child of my own, Brother; but I can understand just what you dreamed, and the Lord punish me if I feel like laughing."

He said it with an open glance at his friend. But it found no responsive one. Brother Bonaday's brow had contracted, as with a spasm of the old pain, and his eyes still scrutinised the trailing weeds in Mere river.

"If ever a man had warning to be done with life," said Brother Bonaday after a long pause, "I had it this forenoon. But it's wonderful what silly hopes a child will breed in a man."

Brother Copas nodded.

"Aye, we'll have a shot with her. But-Oh, good Lord! Here's the Chaplain coming."

"Ah, Copas-so here you are!" sung out Mr. Colt as he approached with his long stride up the tow-path. "Nurse Branscome told me I should find you here. Good evening, Bonaday!"

He nodded.

Copas stood up and inclined his body stiffly.

"I hope, sir," was his rebuke, "I have not wholly forfeited the title of Brother?"

The Chaplain flushed.

"I bring a message," he said. "The Master wishes to see you, at half-past six."

"That amounts to a command."

Brother Copas pulled out his watch.

"I may as well warn you," the Chaplain pursued. "You will be questioned on your share in that offensive Petition. As it appears, you were even responsible for composing it."

Brother Copas's eyebrows went up.

"Is it possible, sir, that you recognised the style?… Ah, no; the handwriting must have been your index. The Bishop showed it to you, then?"

"I-er-have been permitted to glance it over."

"Over his shoulder, if I may make a guess," murmured Brother Copas, putting his watch away and searching for his snuff-box.

"Anyway, you signed it: as Bon-as Brother Bonaday here was too sensible to do: though," added Mr. Colt, "his signature one could at least have respected."

Brother Copas tapped his snuff-box, foreseeing comedy.

"And why not mine, sir?"

"Oh, come, come!" blurted the Chaplain. "I take you to be a man of some education."

"Is that indeed the reason?"

"A man of some education, I say."

"And I hear you, sir." Brother Copas bowed. "'Praise from Sir Richard Strahan is praise indeed'-though my poor friend here seems to get the backhand of the compliment."

"And it is incredible you should go with the ignorant herd and believe us Clergy of the Church of England to be heading for Rome, as your Petition asserts."

Brother Copas slowly inhaled a pinch.

"In England, Mr. Chaplain, the ignorant herd has, by the admission of other nations, a practical political sense, and a somewhat downright way with it. It sees you reverting to many doctrines and uses from which the Reformation cut us free-or, if you prefer it, cut us loose; doctrines and uses which the Church of Rome has taught and practised without a break. It says-this ignorant herd-'If these fellows are not heading for Rome, then where the dickens are they heading?' Forgive this blunt way of putting it, but the question is not so blunt as it looks. It is on the contrary extremely shrewd; and until you High Anglicans answer it candidly, the ignorant herd will suspect-and you know, sir, the lower classes are incurably suspicious-either that yourselves do not know, or that you know and won't tell."

"You say," answered Mr. Colt, "that we revert to many doctrines and uses which, since the Romish clergy preach and practise them, are ignorantly supposed to belong to Rome. But 'many' is not 'all'; nor does it include the most radical doctrine of all. How can we intend Romanising while we deny the supreme authority of the Pope?-or Bishop of Rome, as I should prefer to call him."

"Fairly countered," replied Brother Copas, taking another pinch; "though the ignorant herd would have liked better an answer to its question. You deny the supreme authority of the Pope? Very well. Whose, then, do you accept?"

"The authority of Christ, committed to His Church."

"Oh, la, la, la!… I should have said, Whose authoritative interpretation of Christ's authority?"

"The Church's."

"Aye? Through whose mouth? We shall get

at something definite in time.… I'll put it more simply. You, sir, are a plain priest in holy orders, and it's conceivable that on some point of use or doctrine you may be in error. Just conceivable, hey? At all events, you may be accused of it. To whom, then, do you appeal? To the King?-Parliament?-the Court of Arches, or any other Court? Not a bit of it. Well, let's try again. Is it to the Archbishop of Canterbury? Or to your own Diocesan?"

"I should appeal to the sanction of the Church Catholic as given in her ancient Councils."

"And again-as nowadays interpreted by whom? Let us pass a hundred possible points on which no Council bothered its head, and on which consequently it has left no decision. Who's the man, anywhere, to take you by the scruff of the neck and chastise you for an error?"

"Within the limits of conscience I should, of course, bow to my Diocesan."

"Elastic limits, Mr. Colt! and, substituting Brother Warboise's conscience for yours, precisely the limits within which Brother Warboise bows to you! Anarchy will obey anything 'within the limits of conscience'-that's precisely what anarchy means; and even so and to that extent will you obey Bishop or Archbishop. In your heart you deny their authority; in speech, in practice, you never lose an occasion of flouting them and showing them up for fools. Take this Education Squabble for an example. The successor to the Chair of Augustine, good man-he's, after all, your Metropolitan-runs around doing his best to discover a way out, to patch up a 'concordat,' as they call it? What's the effect, upon any Diocesan Conference? Up springs subaltern after subaltern, fired with zeal to give his commander away. 'Our beloved Archbishop, in his saintly trustfulness, is bargaining away our rights as Churchmen'-all the indiscipline of a middle-class private school (and I know what that is, Mr. Colt, having kept one) translated into the sentimental erotics of a young ladies' academy!"

Mr. Colt gasped.

"And so, believe me, sir," concluded Brother Copas, snapping down the lid of his snuff-box, "this country of ours did not get rid of the Pope in order to make room for a thousand and one Popelings, each in his separate parish practising what seems right in his own eyes. At any rate, let us say, remembering the parable of the room swept and garnished, it intended no such result. Let us agree, Mr. Chaplain, to economise in Popes, and to condemn that business of Avignon. So the ignorant herd comes back on you with two questions, which in effect are one: 'If not mere anarchists, what authority own you? And if not for Rome, for what in the world are you heading?' You ask Rome to recognise your Orders.-Mais, soyez consequent, monsieur."

It was Mr. Colt's turn to pull out his watch.

"Permit me to remind you," he said, "that you, at any rate, have to own an authority, and that the Master will be expecting you at six-thirty sharp. For the rest, sir, you cannot think that thoughtful Churchmen have no answer to these questions, if put by anyone with the right to put them. But you-not even a communicant! Will you dare to use these arguments to the Master, for instance?"

"He had the last word there," said Brother Copas, pocketing his snuff-box and gazing after the Chaplain's athletic figure as it swung away up the tow-path. "He gave me no time to answer that one suits an argument to the adversary. The Master? Could I present anything so crude to one who, though lazy, is yet a scholar?-who has certainly fought this thing through, after his lights, and would get me entangled in the Councils of Carthage and Constance, St. Cyprian and the rest?… Colt quotes the ignorant herd to me, and I put him the ignorant herd's question-without getting a reply."

"You did not allow him much time for one," said Brother Bonaday mildly.

Brother Copas stared at him, drew out his watch again, and chuckled.

"You're right. I lose count of time, defending my friends; and this is your battle I'm fighting, remember."

He offered his arm, and the two friends started to walk back towards St. Hospital. They had gone but a dozen yards when a childish voice hailed them, and Corona came skipping along the bank.

"Daddy! you are to come home at once! It's past six o'clock, and Branny says the river fog's bad for you."

"Home?" echoed Brother Bonaday inattentively. The word had been unfamiliar to him for some years, and his old brain did not grasp it for a moment. His eyes seemed to question the child as she stood before him panting, her hair dishevelled.

"Aye, Brother," said Copas with a glance at him, "you'll have to get used to it again, and good luck to you! What says the pessimist, that American fellow?-"

'Nowhere to go but out,

Nowhere to come but back '-

"Missy don't agree with her fellow-countryman, eh?"

His eye held a twinkle of mischief.

"He isn't my fellow-countryman!" Corona protested vehemently. "I'm English-amn't I, Daddy?"

"There, there-forgive me, little one! And you really don't want to leave us, just yet?"

"Leave you?" The child took Brother Bonaday's hand and hugged it close. "Uncle Copas, if you won't laugh I want to tell you something-what they call confessing." She hesitated for a moment. "Haven't you ever felt you've got something inside, and how awful good it is to confess and get it off your chest?"

Brother Copas gave a start, and eyed his fellow-Protestant.

"Well?" he said after a pause.

"Well, it's this way," confessed Corona. "I can't say my prayers yet in this place-not to get any heft on them; and that makes me feel bad, you know. I start along with 'Our Father, which art in heaven,' and it's like calling up a person on the 'phone when he's close at your elbow all the time. Then I say 'God bless St. Hospital,' and there I'm stuck; it don't seem I want to worry God to oblige beyond that. So I fetch back and start telling how glad I am to be home-as if God didn't know-and that bats me up to St. Hospital again. I got stone-walled that way five times last night. What's the sense of asking to go to heaven when you don't particularly want to?"

"Child," Brother Copas answered, "keep as honest as that and peg away. You'll find your prayers straighten themselves out all right."

"Sure?… Well, that's a comfort: because, of course, I don't want to go to hell either. It would never do.… But why are you puckering up your eyes so?"

"I was thinking," said Brother Copas, "that I might start teaching you Latin. Your father and I were discussing it just now."

"Would he like me to learn it?"

"It's the only way to find out all that St. Hospital means, including all it has meant for hundreds of years.… Bless me, is that the quarter chiming? Take your father's hand and lead him home, child. Venit Hesperus, ite capellae."

"What does that mean?"

"It's Latin," said Brother Copas. "It's a-a kind of absolution."

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