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   Chapter 13 MR. ISIDORE TAKES CHARGE.

Brother Copas By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 11886

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"Uncle Copas," said Corona, as the two passed out through the small doorway in the southern aisle and stood blinking in the sunshine, "I want you next to show me what's left of the old Castle where the kings lived: that is, if you're not tired."

"Tired, child? 'Tis our business-'tis the Brethren's business- to act as guides around the relics of Merchester. By fetching a very small circuit we can take the Castle on our way, and afterwards walk home along the water-meads, my favourite path."

Corona slipped her hand into his confidentially. Together they left the Close, and passing under the King's Gate, turned down College Street, which led them by the brewhouse and outer porch of the great School. A little beyond it, where by a conduit one of the Mere's hurrying tributaries gushed beneath the road, they came to a regiment of noble elms guarding a gateway, into which Brother Copas turned aside. A second and quite unpretentious gateway admitted them to a green meadow, in shape a rough semicircle, enclosed by ruinated walls.

"You may come here most days of the month," said Brother Copas, holding the gate wide, "and never meet a soul. 'Tis the tranquillest, most forsaken spot in the city's ambit."

But here, as Corona caught her breath, he turned and stared. The enclosure was occupied by a squad of soldiers at drill.

They wore uniforms of khaki, and, dressed up with their backs to the gateway, were performing the simple movements of foot drill in face of a choleric sergeant-major, who shouted the words of command, and of a mounted officer who fronted the squad, silent, erect in saddle, upon a strapping bay. Some few paces behind this extremely military pair stood a couple of civilian spectators side by side, in attire- frock-coats, top-hats, white waistcoats-which at a little distance gave them an absurd resemblance to a brace of penguins.

"Heavens!" murmured Brother Copas. "Is it possible that Bamberger has become twins? One never knows of what these Jews are capable.…"

His gaze travelled from the two penguins to the horseman in khaki. He put up a shaking hand to shade it.

"Colt? Colt in regimentals? Oh, this must be vertigo!"

At a word from the sergeant-major the squad fell out and stood in loose order, plainly awaiting instructions. Mr. Colt-yes, indeed it was the Chaplain-turned his charger's head half-about as the two frock-coated civilians stepped forward.

"Now, Mr. Bamberger, my men are at your disposal."

"I t'ank you, Reverent Mr. Major-if zat is ze form to address you-" began Mr. Bamberger's double.

"'Major,' tout court, if you please," Mr. Colt corrected him. "One drops the 'reverend' while actually on military duty."

"So? Ach, pardon!-I should haf known. . . Now Ze first is, we get ze angle of view, where to place our Grandt Standt so ze backgrount mek ze most pleasing pigture. At ze same time ze Standt must not tresbass-must not imbinge, hein?-upon our stage, our what-you-call-it area. Two t'ousand berformers-we haf not too mooch room. I will ask you, Mr. Major, first of all to let your men-zey haf tent-pegs, hein?-to let your men peg out ze area as I direct. Afterwards, with your leaf, you shall place z'em here-z'ere-in groups, zat I may see in some sort how ze groups combose, as we say. Himmel! what a backgroundt! Ze Cathedral, how it lifts over ze trees-Bar-fect! Now, if you will follow me a few paces to ze right, here… Ach! see yonder, by ze gate! Zat old man in ze red purple poncho-haf ze berformers already begon to aszemble zemselves?…"

Mr. Colt slewed his body about in the saddle.

"Eh?… Oh, that's Brother Copas, one of our Beauchamp Brethren. Mediaeval he looks, doesn't he? I assure you, sir, we keep the genuine article in Merchester."

"You haf old men dressed like zat?… My dear Julius, I see zis Bageant retty-made!"

"It was at St. Hospital-the almshouse for these old fellows-that the notion first came into my head."

"Sblendid!… We will haf a Brocession of them; or, it may be, a whole Ebisode.… Will you bid him come closer, Mr. Major, zat I may study ze costume in its detail?"

"Certainly." Mr. Colt beckoned to Brother Copas, who came forward still holding Corona by the hand. "Brother Copas, Mr. Isidore Bamberger here-brother of Our Member-desires to make your acquaintance."

"I am honoured," said Brother Copas politely.

"Ach, so!" burst in Mr. Isidore. "I was telling the major how moch I admire zat old costume of yours."

"It is not for sale, however." Brother Copas faced the two Hebrews with his ironical smile. "I am sorry to disappoint you, sirs, but I have no old clothes to dispose of, at present."

"No offence, no offence, I hope?" put in Mr. Julius. "My brother, sir, is an artist-"

"Be easy, sir: I am sure that he intended none. For the rest," pursued Brother Copas with a glance at Mr. Colt and a twinkle, "if we had time, all four of us here, to tell how by choice or necessity we come to be dressed as we are, I dare say our stories might prove amusing as the Calenders' in The Arabian Nights."

"You remind me," said Mr. Isidore, "zat I at any rate must not keep zese good Territorials standing idle. Another time-at your service-"

He waved a hand and hurried off to give an instruction to the sergeant-major. His brother followed and overtook him.

"Damn it all, Isidore! You might remember that Merchester is my constituency, and my majority less than half a hundred."

"Hein? For what else am I here but to helb you to increase it?"

"Then why the devil start by offending that old chap as you did?"

"Eh? I offended him somehow. Zat is certain: zough why on earth he should object to having his dress admired-" Mr. Isidore checked his speech upon a sudden surmise. "My goot Julius, you are not telling me he has a Vote!"

"You silly fool, of course he has!"

"Gott in himmel! I am sorry, Julius.… I-I sobbosed, in England, that paupers-"

"S

tate-paupers," corrected his brother. "Private paupers, like the Brethren of St. Hospital, rank as tenants of their living-rooms."

"I shall never gombrehend the institutions of zis country," groaned Mr. Isidore.

"Never mind: make a Pageant of 'em," said his brother grimly. "I'll forgive you this time, if you'll promise me to be more careful."

"I'll do more, Julius. I'll get aroundt ze old boy somehow: mek him bivot-man in a brocession, or something of the sort. I got any amount of tagt, once I know where to use it."

"Smart man, Our Member!" commented Mr. Colt, gazing after the pair. "And Mr. Isidore doesn't let the grass grow under his feet, hey?"

"Has an eye for detail, too," answered Brother Copas, taking snuff. "See him there, upbraiding his brother for want of tact towards a free and independent elector.… But-excuse me-for what purpose are these two parcelling out the Castle Meadow?"

"You've not heard? There's a suggestion-and I may claim some share in the credit of it, if credit there be-to hold a Pageant here next summer, a Merchester Pageant. Mr. Bamberger's full of it. What's your idea?"

"A capital notion," said Brother Copas slowly. "Since jam pridem Syrus in Tamesin defluxit Orontes, I commend any attempt to educate Mr. Bamberger and his tribe in the history of this England they invade. But, as you say, this proposed Pageant is news to me. I never seem to hear any gossip. It had not even reached me, Mr. Chaplain, that you were deserting St. Hospital to embrace a military career."

"Nor am I.… At Cambridge I ever was an ardent volunteer. Here in Merchester (though this, too, may be news to you) I have for years identified myself with all movements in support of national defence. The Church Lads' Brigade, I may say, owed its inception to me; likewise the Young Communicants' Miniature Rifle Association; and for three successive years our Merchester Boy Scouts have elected me President and Scoutmaster. It has been a dream of my life, Brother Copas, to link up the youth of Britain in preparation to defend the Motherland, pending that system of compulsory National Service which (we all know) must eventually come. And so when Sir John Shaftesbury, as Chairman of our County Territorial Force Association, spoke to the Lord-Lieutenant, who invited me to accept a majority in the Mershire Light Infantry, Second Battalion, Territorial-"

"I can well understand, sir," said Brother Copas, as Mr. Colt drew breath; "and I thank you for telling me so much. No wonder Sir John enlisted such energy as yours! Yet-to be equally frank with you-I am sorry."

"You disapprove of National Service?"

"I approve of it with all my heart. Every young man should prepare himself to fight, at call, for his country. But the devotion should be voluntary."

"Ah, but suppose our young men will not? Suppose they prefer to attend football matches-"

"That, sir-if I may respectfully suggest it-is your business to prevent. And I might go on to suggest that the clergy, by preaching compulsory military service, lay themselves open, as avowed supporters of 'law and order,' to a very natural suspicion. We will suppose that you get your way, and every young Briton is bound, on summons, to mobilise. We will further suppose a Conservative Government in power, and confronted with a devastating strike-shall we say a railwaymen's strike? What more easy than to call out one-half of the strikers on service and oblige them, under pain of treason, to coerce the other half? Do you suppose that this nation will ever forget Hounslow Heath?"

"Let us, then," said Mr. Colt, "leave arguing this question of compulsory National Service until another occasion, when I shall hope to convince you. For the moment you'll allow it to be every man's duty, as a citizen, to carry arms for his country?"

"Every man's, certainly-if by that you exclude priests."

"Why exclude priests?"

"Because a priest, playing at warfare, must needs be mixing up things that differ. As I see it, Mr. Colt, your Gospel forbids warfare; and if you consent to follow an army, your business is to hold a cross above human strife and point the eyes of the dying upward, to rest on it, thus rebuking men's passions with a vision of life's ultimate peace."

"Yet a Bishop of Beauvais (as I read) once thought it not unmeet to charge with a mace at the head of a troop; and our own dear Archbishop Maclagan of York, as everyone knows, was once lieutenant in a cavalry regiment!"

"Oh, la, la!" chuckled Brother Copas. "Be off, then, to your Territorials, Mr. Chaplain! I see Mr. Isidore, yonder, losing his temper with the squad as only an artist can.… But-believe an old man, dear sir-you on your horse are not only misreading the Sermon but mistaking the Mount!"

Mr. Colt rode off to his squad, and none too soon; for the men, startled by Mr. Isidore's sudden onslaught of authority and the explosive language in which he ordered them hither and thither, cursing one for his slowness with the measuring-tape, taking another by the shoulders and pushing him into position, began to show signs of mutiny. Mr. Julius Bamberger mopped a perspiring brow as he ran about vainly trying to interpose.

"Isidore, this is damned nonsense, I tell you!"

"You leave 'em to me," panted Mr. Isidore. "Tell me I don't understand managing a crowd like this! It's part of ze method, my goot Julius. Put ze fear of ze Lord into 'em, to start wiz. Zey gromble at first; Zen zey findt zey like it: in the endt zey lof you. Hein? It is not for nozzing zey call me ze Bageant King!…"

The old man and the child, left to themselves, watched these operations for a while across the greensward, over which the elms now began to lengthen their shadows.

"The Chaplain was right," said Brother Copas. "Mr. Isidore certainly does not let the grass grow under his feet."

"If I were the grass, I shouldn't want to," said Corona.

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