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Brother Copas By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 14765

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

"I won't say you sold the pass," snarled Brother Warboise, "though I might. The fact is, there's no trusting your cleverness. You see a chance of showing-off before the Bishop, and that's enough. Off you start with a lecture on architecture (which he didn't in the least want to hear), and then, when he finds a chance to pull you up, you take the disinterested line and put us all in the cart."

"You hit it precisely," answered Brother Copas, "as only a Protestant can. His eye is always upon his neighbour's defects, and I never cease to marvel at its adeptness.… Well, I do seem to owe you an apology. But I cannot agree that the Bishop was bored. To me he appeared to listen very attentively."

"He affected to, while he could: for he saw that you were playing his game. His whole object being to head off our Petition while pretending to grant it, the more nonsense you talked, within limits, the better he was pleased."

Brother Copas pondered a moment.

"Upon my word," he chuckled, "it was something of a feat to take a religious cock-pit and turn it into an Old Men's Mutual Improvement Society. Since the Wesleyans took over the Westminster Aquarium-"

"You need not add insult to injury."

"'Injury'? My good Warboise, a truce is not a treaty: still less is it a defeat.… Now look here. You are in a raging bad temper this evening, and you tell yourself it's because the Bishop, with my artless aid, has-as you express it-put you in the cart. Now I am going to prove to you that the true reason is a quite different one. For why? Because, though you may not know it, you have been in a raging bad temper ever since this business was broached, three months ago. Why again? I have hinted the answer more than once; and now I will put it as a question. Had Zimri peace, who slew his Master?"

"I do not understand."

"Oh yes, you do! You are in a raging bad temper, being at heart more decent than any of your silly convictions, because you have wounded for their sake the eminent Christian gentleman now coming towards us along the river-path. He has been escorting the Bishop for some distance on his homeward way, and has just parted from him. I'll wager that he meets us without a touch of resentment.… Ah, Brother, you have cause to be full of wrath!"

Sure enough the Master, approaching and recognising the pair, hailed them gaily.

"Eh? Brother Copas-Brother Warboise-a fine evening! But the swallows will be leaving us in a week or two."

For a moment it seemed he would pass on, with no more than the usual nod and fatherly smile. He had indeed taken a step or two past them as they stood aside for him in the narrow path: but on a sudden thought he halted and turned about.

"By the way-that sick friend of yours, Brother Warboise.… I was intending to ask about him. Paralysed, I think you said? Do I know him?"

"He is not my friend," answered Brother Warboise gruffly.

"His name is Weekes," said Brother Copas, answering the Master's puzzled look. "He was a master-printer in his time, an able fellow, but addicted to drink and improvident. His downfall involved that of Brother Warboise's stationery business, and Brother Warboise has never forgiven him."

"Dear, dear!" Master Blanchminster passed a hand over his brow. "But if that's so, I don't see-"

"It's a curious story," said Brother Copas, smiling.

"It's one you have no right to meddle with, any way," growled Brother Warboise; "and, what's more, you can't know anything about it."

"It came to me through the child Corona," pursued Brother Copas imperturbably. "You took her to Weekes's house to tea one afternoon, and she had it from Weekes's wife. It's astonishing how these women will talk."

"I've known some men too, for that matter-"

"It's useless for you to keep interrupting. The Master has asked for information, and I am going to tell him the story-that is, sir, if you can spare a few minutes to hear it."

"You are sure it will take but a few minutes?" asked Master Blanchminster doubtfully.

"Eh, Master?" Brother Copas laughed. "Did you, too, find me somewhat prolix this afternoon?"

"Well, you shall tell me the story. But since it is not good for us to be standing here among the river damps, I suggest that you turn back with me towards St. Hospital, and where the path widens so that we can walk three abreast you shall begin."

"With your leave, Master, I would be excused," said Brother Warboise.

"Oh, no, you won't," Brother Copas assured him. "For unless you come too, I promise to leave out all the discreditable part of the story and paint you with a halo.… It began, sir, in this way," he took up the tale as they reached the wider path, "when the man Weekes fell under a paralytic stroke, Warboise took occasion to call on him. Perhaps, Brother, you will tell us why."

"I saw in his seizure the visitation of God's wrath," said Warboise. "The man had done me a notorious wrong. He had been a swindler, and my business was destroyed through him."

"Mrs. Weekes said that even the sight of the wretch's affliction did not hinder our Brother from denouncing him. He sat down in a chair facing the paralytic, and talked of the debt: 'which now,' said he, 'you will never be able to pay.'… Nay, Master, there is better to come. When Brother Warboise got up to take his leave, the man's lips moved, and he tried to say something. His wife listened for some time, and then reported, 'He wants you to come again.' Brother Warboise wondered at this; but he called again next day. Whereupon the pleasure in the man's face so irritated him, that he sat down again and began to talk of the debt and God's judgment, in words more opprobrious than before.… His own affairs, just then, were going from bad to worse: and, in short, he found so much relief in bullying the author of his misfortunes, who could not answer back, that the call became a daily one. As for the woman, she endured it, seeing that in some mysterious way it did her husband good."

"There was nothing mysterious about it," objected Brother Warboise. "He knew himself a sinner, and desired to pay some of his penance before meeting his God."

"I don't believe it," said Copas. "But whether you're right or wrong, it doesn't affect the story much.… At length some friends extricated our Brother from his stationery business, and got him admitted to the Blanchminster Charity. The first afternoon he paid a visit in his black gown, the sick man's face so lit up at the sight that Warboise flew into a passion-did you not, Brother?"

"Did the child tell you all this?"

"Aye: from the woman's lips."

"I was annoyed, because all of a sudden it struck me that, in revenge for my straight talk, Weekes had been wanting me to call day by day that he might watch me going downhill; and that now he was gloating to see me reduced to a Blanchminster gown. So I said, 'You blackguard, you may look your fill, and carry the recollection of it to the Throne of Judgment, where I hope it may help you. But this is your last sight of me.'"

"Quite correct," nodded Copas. "Mrs. Weekes corroborates.… Well, Master, our Brother trudged back to St. Hospital with this resolve, and for a week paid no more visits to the sick. By the end of that time he had discovered, to his surprise, that he could not do without them-that somehow Weekes had become as necessa

ry to him as he to Weekes."

"How did you find that out?" asked Brother Warboise sharply.

"Easily enough, as the child told the story.… At any rate, you went. At the door of the house you met Mrs. Weekes. She had put on her bonnet, and was coming that very afternoon to beseech your return. You have called daily ever since to talk about your debt, though the Statute of Limitations has closed it for years. … That, Master, is the story."

"You have told it fairly enough," said Warboise. "Now, since the Master knows it, I'd be glad to be told if that man is my friend or my enemy. Upon my word I don't rightly know, and if he knows he'll never find speech to tell me. Sometimes I think he's both."

"I am not sure that one differs very much from the other, in the long run," said Copas.

But the Master, who had been musing, turned to Warboise with a quick smile.

"Surely," he said, "there is one easy way of choosing. Take the poor fellow some little gift. If you will accept it for him, I shall be happy to contribute now and then some grapes or a bottle of wine or other small comforts."

He paused, and added with another smile, still more penetrating-

"You need not give up talking of the debt, you know!"

By this time they had reached the gateway of his lodging, and he gave them a fatherly good night just as a child's laugh reached them through the dusk at the end of the roadway. It was Corona, returning from rehearsal; and the Chaplain-the redoubtable William the Conqueror-was her escort. The two had made friends on their homeward way, and were talking gaily.

"Why, here is Uncle Copas!" called Corona, and ran to him.

Mr. Colt relinquished his charge with a wave of the hand. His manner showed that he accepted the new truce de bon c?ur.

"Is it peace, you two?" he called, as he went past.

Brother Warboise growled. What hast thou to do with peace? Get thee behind me, the growl seemed to suggest. At all events, it suggested this answer to Brother Copas-

"If you and Jehu the son of Nimshi start exchanging r?les," he chuckled, "where will Weekes come in?"

Master Blanchminster let himself in with his latchkey, and went up the stairs to his library. On the way he meditated on the story to which he had just listened, and the words that haunted his mind were Wordsworth's-

"Alas! the gratitude of men

Hath oftener left me mourning."

A solitary light burned in the library-the electric lamp on his table beside the fire-place. It had a green shade, and for a second or two the Master did not perceive that someone stood a pace or two from it in the penumbra.


"Hey!"-with a start-"Is it Simeon?… My good Simeon, you made me jump. What brings you back here at this hour? You've forgotten some paper, I suppose."

"No, Master."

"What then?"

By the faint greenish light the Master missed to observe that Mr. Simeon's face was deadly pale.

"Master, I have come to make confession-to throw myself on your mercy! For a long time-for a year almost-I have been living dishonestly.… Master, do you believe in miracles?"

For a moment there was no answer. Master Blanchminster walked back to an electric button beside the door, and turned on more light with a finger that trembled slightly.

"If you have been living dishonestly, Simeon, I certainly shall believe in miracles."

"But I mean real miracles, Master."

"You are agitated, Simeon. Take a seat and tell me your trouble in your own way-beginning, if you please, with the miracle."

"It was that which brought me. Until it happened I could not find courage-"

Mr. Simeon's eyes wandered to this side and that, as though they still sought a last chance of escape.

"The facts, if you please?"

The Master's voice had of a sudden become cold, even stern. He flung the words much as one dashes a cupful of water in the face of an hysterical woman. They brought Mr. Simeon to himself. His gaze shivered and fixed itself on the Master's, as in a compass-box you may see the needle tremble to magnetic north. He gripped the arms of his chair, caught his voice, and went on desperately.

"This afternoon it was.… On my way here I went around, as I go daily, by the Cathedral, to hear if the workmen have found any fresh defects.… They had opened a new pit by the south-east corner, a few yards from the first, and as I came by one of the men was levering away with a crowbar at a large stone not far below the surface. I waited while he worked it loose, and then, lifting it with both hands, he flung it on to the edge of the pit.… By the shape we knew it at once for an old gravestone that, falling down long ago, had somehow sunk and been covered by the turf. There was lettering, too, upon the undermost side when the man turned it over. He scraped the earth away with the flat of his hands, and together we made out what was written."

Mr. Simeon fumbled in his waistcoat, drew forth a scrap of paper, and handed it to the Master.

"I copied it down then and there: no, not at once. At first I looked up, afraid to see the whole building falling, falling upon me-"

The Master did not hear. He had unfolded the paper. Adjusting his spectacles, he read: "God have Mercy on the Soul of Giles Tonkin. Obiit Dec. 17th, 1643. No man can serve two masters."

"A strange text for a tombstone," he commented. "And the date-1643? That is the year when our city surrendered in the Parliament wars. … Who knows but this may have marked the grave of a man shot because he hesitated too long in taking sides… or perchance in his flurry he took both, and tried to serve two masters."

"Master, I am that man.… Do not look at me so! I mean that, whether he knew it or not, he died to save me… that his stone has risen up for witness, driving me to you. Ah, do not weaken me, now that I am here to confess!"

And leaning forward, his elbows on his knees, his hands spread to hide his face, Mr. Simeon blurted out his confession.

When he had ended there was silence in the room for a space.

"Tarbolt!" murmured the Master, just audibly and no more. "If it had been anyone but Tarbolt!"

There was another silence, broken only by one slow sob.

"For either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. . . Simeon, which was I?"

Mr. Simeon forced himself to look up. Tears were in his eyes, but they shone.

"Master, can you doubt?"

"I am sorry to appear brutal," said Master Blanchminster, coldly and wearily, "but my experiences to-day have been somewhat trying for an old man. May I ask if, on taking your resolution to confess, you came straight to me; or if, receiving just dismissal from my service, you yet hold Canon Tarbolt in reserve?"

Mr. Simeon stood up.

"I have behaved so badly to you, sir, that you have a right to ask it. But as a fact I went to Canon Tarbolt first, and said I could no longer work for him."

"Sit down, please.… How many children have you, Mr. Simeon?"

"Seven, sir.… The seventh arrived a fortnight ago-yesterday fortnight, to be precise. A fine boy, I am happy to say."

He looked up pitifully. The Master stood above him, smiling down; and while the Master's stature seemed to have taken some additional inches, his smile seemed to irradiate the room.

"Simeon, I begin to think it high time I raised your salary."

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