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   Chapter 18 PUPPETS.

Brother Copas By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 18471

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Throughout the night Brother Bonaday hovered between life and death, nor until four days later did the doctor pronounce him out of danger-that is to say, for the time, since the trouble in his heart was really incurable, and at best the frail little man's remaining days could not be many. Nurse Turner waited on him assiduously, always with her comfortable smile. No trouble came amiss to her, and certainly Nurse Branscome herself could not have done better.

In a sense, too, Corona's first experiences of school-going befell her most opportunely. They would distract her mind, Brother Copas reflected, and tore up the letter he had written delaying her noviciate on the ground of her father's illness. They did; and, moreover, the head mistress of the Greycoats, old Miss Champernowne, aware that the child's father was ill, possibly dying, took especial pains to be kind to her.

Corona was dreadfully afraid her father would die. But, in the main most mercifully, youth lives for itself, not for the old. At home she could have given little help or none. The Brethren's quarters were narrow-even Brother Bonaday's with its spare chamber-and until the crisis was over she could only be in the way. She gave up her room, therefore, to Nurse Turner for the night watching, and went across to the Nunnery to lodge with Nurse Branscome. This again was no hardship, but rather, under all her cloud of anxiety, a delightful adventure; for Branny had at once engaged with her in a conspiracy.

The subject-for a while the victim-of this conspiracy was her black doll Timothy. As yet Timothy knew nothing, and was supposed to suspect nothing, of her goings to school. She had carefully kept the secret from him, intending to take him aback with it when she brought home the Greycoat uniform-frock and cloak and hood of duffle grey- for which Miss Champernowne had measured her. Meanwhile it was undoubtedly hard on him to lie neglected in a drawer, and be visited but twice in the twenty-four hours, to have his garments changed. Corona, putting him into pyjamas, would (with an aching heart) whisper to him to be patient for a little while yet, and all would come right.

"It is hard, Branny," she sighed, "that I can't even take him to bed with me.… But it's not to be thought of. I'd be sure to talk in my sleep."

"He seems to be a very unselfish person," observed Branny. "At any rate, you treat him as such, making him wait all this while for the delight of seeing you happy."

Corona knit her brow.

"Now you're talking upsi-downly, like Uncle Copas," she said. "You don't mean that Timmy's unselfish, but that I'm selfish. Of course, you don't realise how good he is; nobody does but me, and it's not to be es-pected. But all the same, I s'pose I've been thinking too much about myself."

Corona's was a curiously just mind, as has already been said.

Nurse Branscome had a happy inspiration.

"Couldn't we make new clothes for Timmy, and surprise him with them at the same time?"

Corona clapped her hands.

"Oh, Branny, how beautiful! Yes-a Beauchamp gown, just like Daddy's! Why-ever didn't we think of it before?"

"A what?"

"A Beauchamp gown.… Do you know," said Corona gravely, "it's a most 'stonishing thing I never thought of it, because- I'll tell you why. When I first came to St. Hospital often and often I couldn't get to sleep for thinking how happy I was. Daddy got worried about it, and told me it was a good cure to lie still and fancy I saw a flock of sheep jumping one after another through a hedge.… Well, that didn't answer-at least, not ezactly; for you see I wanted to be coaxed off, and I never took any partic'lar truck in sheep. But one night-you know that big stone by the gate of the home-park? the one Uncle Copas calls the Hepping-stone, and says the great Cardinal used to climb on to his horse from it when he went hunting?" (Nurse Branscome nodded.) "Well, one night I closed my eyes, and there I saw all the old folks here turned into children, and all out and around the Hepping-stone, playing leap-frog.… The way they went over each other's backs! It beat the band.… Some were in Beauchamp gowns and others in Blanchminster-but all children, you understand? Each child finished up by leap-frogging over the stone; and when he'd done that he'd run away and be lost among the trees. I wanted to follow, but somehow I had to stand there counting.… And that's all there is to it," concluded Corona, "'cept that I'd found the way to go to sleep."

Nurse Branscome laughed, and suggested that no time should be lost in going off to call on Mr. Colling, the tailor, and begging or borrowing a scrap of the claret-coloured Beauchamp cloth. Within ten minutes-for she understood the impatience of children-they had started on this small expedition. They found in Mr. Colling a most human tailor. He not only gave them a square yard of cloth, unsoiled and indeed brand-new, but advised Nurse Branscome learnedly on the cutting-out. There were certain peculiarities of cut in a Beauchamp gown: it was (he could tell them) a unique garment in its way, and he the sole repository of its technical secret. On their way back Corona summarised him as "a truly Christian tradesman."

So the miniature gown was cut out, shaped, and sewn, after the unsuspecting Timothy had been measured for it on a pretence of Corona's that she wanted to discover how much he had grown during his rest-cure. (For I regret to say that, as one subterfuge leads to another, she had by this time descended to feigning a nervous breakdown for him, due to his outgrowing his strength.) Best of all, and when the gown was finished, Nurse Branscome produced from her workbox a lucky threepenny-bit, and sewed it upon the breast to simulate a Beauchamp rose.

When Corona's own garments arrived-when they were indued and she stood up in them, a Greycoat at length from head to heel-to hide her own feelings she had to invent another breakdown (emotional this time) for Timothy as she dangled the gown in front of him.

"Be a man, Timmy!" she exhorted him.

Having clothed him and clasped him to her breast, she turned to Nurse Branscome, who had been permitted, as indeed she deserved, to witness the coup de théatre.

"If you don't mind, Branny, I think we'll go off somewhere- by ourselves."

She carried the doll off to the one unkempt corner of Mr. Battershall's garden, where in the shadow of a stone dovecot, ruinated and long disused, a rustic bench stood deep in nettles. On this she perched herself, and sat with legs dangling while she discoursed with Timothy of their new promotion.

"Of course," she said, "you have the best of it. Men always have." Nevertheless, she would have him know that to be a Greycoat was good enough for most people. She described the schoolroom. "It's something like a chapel," she said, "and something like a long whitewashed bird-cage, with great beams for perches. You could eat your dinner off the floor most days; and Miss Champernowne has the dearest little mole on the left side of her upper lip, with three white hairs in it. When she looks at you over her glasses it's like a bird getting ready to drink; and when she plays 'Another day is done' on the harmonium and pitches the note, it's just the way a bird lifts his throat to let the water trickle down inside. She has the loveliest way of putting things, too. Only yesterday, speaking of China, she told us that words would fail her to describe one-half the wonders of that enchanted land.… After that there's going to be no rest for me until I've seen China for myself. Such a nice lot of children as they are, if it weren't for Marty Jewell. She sits next to me and copies my sums, and when I remind her of it she puts out her tongue; but she has a sister in the infant class at the end of the room with the same trick, so I s'pose it runs in the family.… I'm forgetting, though," she ran on. "You're Brother Timothy now, a Beauchamp Brother, and the Lord knows how I'm to make you sensible of it! I heard Brother Clerihew taking a party around yesterday, and played around close to hear what he had to tell about the place. All he said was that if these old walls could speak what a tale might they not unfold? And then a lady turned round and supposed that the child (meaning me) was following them on the chance of a copper. So I came away.… I've my belief," announced Corona, "Brother Clerihew was speaking through his hat. There's nobody but Uncle Copas knows anything about this place-him and the Lord Almighty; and as the chief engineer told me aboard the Carnatic, when I kept asking him how soon we should get to England, He won't split under a quart. The trouble is, Uncle Copas won't lay up for visitors. Manby, at the lodge, says he's too proud.… But maybe he'll take me round some day if I ask him nicely, and then you can come on my arm and pretend you're not listening.… No," announced Corona, after musing awhile, "that would be deception. I'll have to go to him and make a clean breast of it."

It occurred to her that Brother Manby was a friend of hers. He didn't know much, to be sure; but he was capable of entering into a joke and introducing Timothy to the Wayfarer

s' Dole. She tucked the doll under her arm and wended towards the porter's lodge, where, as it happened, she met Brother Copas coming through the gateway in talk with the Chaplain.

The Chaplain in fact had sought out Brother Copas, had found him in his customary haunt, fishing gloomily and alone beside the Mere, and had opened his purpose for once pretty straightly, yet keeping another in reserve.

"The Master has told me he gave you an anonymous letter that reached him concerning Brother Bonaday. I have made up my mind to ask you a question or two quite frankly about it."

"Now what in the world can he want?" thought Copas, continuing to whip the stream. Aloud he said: "You'll excuse me, but I see no frankness in your asking questions before telling me how much you know."

"I intended that. I have received a similar letter."

"I guessed as much.… So you called on him with it and bullied him into another attack of angina pectoris? That, too, I guessed. Well?"

The Chaplain made no answer for a moment. Then he said with some dignity-

"I might point out to you-might I not?-that both your speech and the manner of it are grossly insubordinate."

"I know it.… I am sorry, sir; but in some way or another-by showing him your letter, I suppose-you have come near to killing my only friend."

"I did not show him the letter."

"Then I beg your pardon." Brother Copas turned and began to wind in his line. "If you wish to talk about it, I recognise that you have the right, sir; but let me beg you to be brief."

"The more willingly because I wish to consult you afterwards on a pleasanter subject.… Now in this matter, I put it to you that- the Master choosing to stand aside-you and I have some responsibility. Try, first, to understand mine. So long as I have to account for the discipline of St. Hospital I can scarcely ignore such a scandal, hey?"

"No," agreed Brother Copas, after a long look at him. "I admit that you would find it difficult." He mused a while. "No," he repeated; "to be quite fair, there's no reason why you-who don't know Bonaday-should assume him to be any better than the rest of us."

"-While you, on your part, will naturally be eager to clear your friend."

"If I thought the accusation serious."

"Do you mean to say that you have simply ignored it?"

Now this happened to be an awkward question; and Brother Copas, seeking to evade it, jumped (as they say) from the frying-pan into the fire.

"Tut, sir! The invention of some poisonous woman!"

"You are sure the letter was written by a woman?"

Brother Copas was sure, but had to admit that he lacked evidence. He did not confess to having laid a small plot which had failed him. He had received no less than eleven tenders for his weekly laundry, but not one of the applicants had written the 'W' in 'Washing List' with that characteristic initial curl of which he was in search.

"Then you have made some investigations?… Nay, I don't wish more of your confidence than you choose to give me. So long as I know that you are not treating the business as negligible-"

"I don't promise to inquire one inch farther."

"But you will, nevertheless," concluded Mr. Colt with the patronising laugh of one who knows his man.

"Damn the fellow!" thought Copas. "Why cannot he be always the fool he looks?"

"And now," pursued Mr. Colt blithely, "I want to engage your interest in another matter-I mean the Pageant."

"Oh!" said Brother Copas. "Is that still going forward?"

"Settled, my dear sir! When Mr. Bamberger once puts his hand to the plough.… A General Committee has been formed, with the Lord-Lieutenant himself for President. The guarantee fund already runs to £1,500, and we shall get twice that amount promised before we've done. In short, the thing's to come off some time next June, and I am Chairman of the Performance Committee, which (under Mr. Isidore Bamberger) arranges the actual Pageant, plans out the 'book,' recruits authors, performers, et cetera. There are other committees, of course: Finance Committee, Ground and Grand Stand Committee, Costume Committee, and so on; but ours is the really interesting part of the work, and, sir, I want you to join us."

"You flatter me, sir; or you fish with a narrow mesh indeed."

"Why, I dare swear you would know more of the past history of Merchester than any man you met at the committee-table."

Brother Copas eyed him shrewdly.

"H'm! ... To be sure, I have been specialising of late on the Reformation period."

"I-er-don't think we shall include any episode dealing specially with that period."

"Too serious, perhaps?"

"Our-er-object is to sweep broadly down the stream of time, embodying the great part our city played for hundreds of years in the history of our nation-I may say of the Anglo-Saxon race."

"I shouldn't, if I were you," said Brother Copas, "not even to please Mr. Bamberger.… As a matter of fact, I had guessed your object to be something of the sort," he added dryly.

"As you may suppose-and as, indeed, is but proper in Merchester- special stress will be laid throughout on the ecclesiastical side of the story: the influence of Mother Church, permeating and at every turn informing our national life."

"But you said a moment ago that you were leaving out the Reformation."

"We seek rather to illustrate the continuity of her influence."

Brother Copas took snuff.

"You must not think, however," pursued the Chaplain, "that we are giving the thing a sectarian trend. On the contrary, we are taking great care to avoid it. Our appeal is to one and all: to the unifying civic sense and, through that, to the patriotic. Several prominent Nonconformists have already joined the Committee; indeed, Alderman Chope-who, as you know, is a Baptist, but has a remarkably fine presence-has more than half consented to impersonate Alfred the Great. If further proof be needed, I may tell you that, in view of the coming Pan-Anglican Conference, the Committee has provisionally resolved to divide the proceeds (if any) between the British and Foreign Bible Society and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel."

"Ah!" murmured Brother Copas, maliciously quoting Falstaff. "'It was alway yet the trick of our English nation, if they have a good thing, to make it too common.'"

The Chaplain did not hear.

"I earnestly hope," said he, "you will let me propose you for my Committee."

"I would not miss it for worlds," said Brother Copas gravely.

He had disjointed and packed up his rod by this time, and the two were walking back towards St. Hospital.

"You relieve me more than I can say. Your help will be invaluable."

Brother Copas was apparently deaf to this compliment.

"You'll excuse me," he said after a moment, "but I gather that the whole scheme must be well under weigh, since you have arrived at allocating the proceeds. Experience tells me that all amateurs start with wanting to act something; when they see that desire near to realisation, and not before, they cast about for the charity which is to deserve their efforts.… May I ask what part you have chosen?"

"I had thoughts of Alberic de Blanchminster, in an Episode of the 'Founding of St. Hospital.'"

"Alberic de Blanchminster?"

They had reached the outer court of the hospital, and Brother Copas, halting to take snuff, eyed the Chaplain as if taking his measure.

"But the Committee, in compliment to my inches, are pressing me to take William the Conqueror," said Mr. Colt almost bashfully.

"I, too, should advise it, if we are to adhere to history; though, to be sure, from the sole mention of him in the chronicle, our founder Alberic appears to have been a sportsman. ' Nam, quodam die, quia perdiderat accipitrem suum cum erat sub divo, detrexit sibi bracas et posteriora nuda ostendit caelo in signum opprobrii et convitii atque derisionis.'-You remember the passage?"

He paused mischievously, knowing well enough that the Chaplain would laugh, pretending to have followed the Latin. Sure enough, Mr. Colt laughed heartily.

"About William the Conqueror, though-"

But at this moment Corona came skipping through the archway.

"Uncle Copas!" she hailed, the vault echoing to her childish treble. "You look as though you had mistaken Mr. Colt for a visitor, and were telling him all about the history of the place. Oh! I know that you never go the round with visitors; but seeing it's only me and Timmy- look at him, please! He's been made a Beauchamp Brother, not half an hour ago. If only you'd be guide to us for once, and make him feel his privileges.… I dare say Mr. Colt won't mind coming too," she wound up tactfully.

"Shall we?" suggested the Chaplain, after asking and receiving permission to inspect the doll.

"Confound it!" muttered Brother Copas to himself. "I cannot even begin to enjoy a fool nowadays but that blessed child happens along to rebuke me."

Aloud he said-

"If you command, little one.… But where do we begin?"

"At the beginning." Corona took charge of him with a nod at the Chaplain. "We're pilgrims, all four of us, home from the Holy Land; and we start by knocking up Brother Manby and just perishing for a drink."

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