« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
‘SWEETHEART,' wrote Michael, after giving the particulars of his doings in London which Winefride had read aloud to her mother and aunt, you will want to hear all I can tell you of Fort Aloysius. I arrived yesterday afternoon, having come from Edinburgh via Perth and Inverness, and by great good luck travelled with an acquaintance whom I have always liked, and who now bids fair to become a friend of mine-one Alaric Tremaine; a giant hailing from the borders of Devon and Somerset ; a splendid fellow-burnt an even brown, with eyes startling in their blueness, and bronze hair thick upon his massive head. He is thirty-seven years oldscarce ten years my senior, and has already seen nearly twenty years' service in the East; though he is such a magnificent specimen of a man that it is clear the Tropics have done him no harm. I needn't tell you what an idle, useless beggar I feel beside him. He has come to Fort Aloysius to see his young brother Cuthbert, who is a novice here. I hadn't any idea that he was a Catholic. The run down the Caledonian Canal in the little steamer was delightful-heather-covered hills, with the canal threading its way at their base; clumps of wood, and now and then a small village, but for the most part no sign of man or beast. The Canal opened into a sort of lake about a couple of miles above the monastery, and as we turned into this the Abbey burst upon our view-a monument of cold grey stone against the green of the hill-side.
“A lay brother had been sent to meet us and take charge of our luggage; and when this had been placed in a small cart we set off on foot; he leading his shaggy pony, and Tremaine and I walking by his side.
'The lay brother was just a rough peasant lad, with a bright and honest face. He answered our questions civilly, but volunteered no remarks on his own account.
The guest-master, Father Petroc's brother, greeted us with a smile so like his that I could have laughed.
' He was very polite to me, but to Tremaine effusive ; beaming upon him with an affectionate admiration that pleased me.
"“A very great man, you know-a very great man," he said ; one of our Empire-builders. We are all very proud to welcome him here.” Tremaine seemed quite at home, and remained in the
parlour to greet his brother, who had been sent for ; but I was ill at ease.
'I was taken upstairs to a small, very clean bedroom, which he told me was reserved for me as long as I chose to occupy it.
' It contained a truckle-bed, over which a crucifix was nailed to a lime-washed wall; a chest of drawers which served also as a dressing-table; two chairs and a washstand.
* You'll be ready for your supper,” he said, smiling. “It will be served in the refectory.”
• “But how shall I find my way?”
""I'll come and fetch you. You won't be long? We don't dress for dinner here.” This small jest served as an excuse for another hearty laugh.
• He did not give me much law, and I had barely time to wash and change before he returned.
' He led the way down the stairs, and along a passage which turned into a wide cloister running round an open space of grass.
'I observed that the guest house was only an annexe to the great monastery.
•We passed through a lobby and thence into a lofty room, with an arched oaked ceiling, and ecclesiastical-looking windows set high in the walls, and with long tables flanking its sides.
‘A single table stood on a daïs at the end of the room. Behind this was a high-backed carven chair ; but the other tables had only wooden forms placed between them and the wall, by way of sitting accommodation. I was shown my place at the extreme end of one of these forms, and found myself next to Tremaine.
'The distant sound of low chanting attracted my attention. It grew momentarily louder, and presently a long procession of monks, with their cowls drawn and their hands hidden in their full sleeves, and crossed before them, began to file into the refectory, walking two and two. They broke off to right and left, and took their stand between the forms and the table, with their backs to the wall.
* The abbot, a portly old monk distinguished from his fellows by the heavy gold chain with its dependent cross which was hung about his neck, brought up the rear, and marched to the table reserved for him on the daïs. At a sign from him a Latin grace was chanted.
After bowing to the abbot, all save half a dozen monks seated themselves. The six were told off for the day to wait upon their fellows. One other mounted a pulpit between the daïs and the right-hand table, and at a sign from the abbot began to read aloud.
• He read the life of some saint in a high-pitched, expressionless voice, and the only other sound in the room was the chink of crockery, besides the soft footfall of the monks who waited at table.
* The meal consisted of soup, a joint of boiled mutton, vegetables, and a hunk of bread. A large jug of ale was placed before Tremaine and myself, but for the rest only water was served.
The monks drew back their cowls as soon as they were seated, and I then had an opportunity of observing their faces.
'I hadn't much difficulty in recognising the younger Tremaine—one of the nicest-looking boys I ever saw. A great hulking fellow like his brother, with the same extraordinary blue eyes. An athlete by training, as was obvious--an honest, open, laughing countenance. I couldn't help saying to myself, What a shame for a splendid fellow like that to be cooped up here! But this will vex you, my darling! Consider it unwritten.
'Young Cuthbert Tremaine's name in religion is Brother David, which suits him well, for he is certainly “ ruddy and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look upon.” The only prize I won at my dame-school was for Scripture history, beloved, and it interested me greatly, but I observe that you never recognise my quotations from the Old Testament.
* Next to Brother David was a sallow sour-visaged youth called Brother Canice, with thin lips that spoke of temper suppressed, and red-rimmed eyes, and a rather timid, brow-beaten look. But the novice that interested me most was one rejoicing in the strange name of Brother Emidius.
Quite young, with a face almost transparent in its whiteness, and sunken clear blue eyes beneath a great overhanging brow : the only face among the novices that bore the outward impression of an intense spiritual nature.
' Among the professed monks, there was of course every variety of expression upon faces intellectual, faces animal, faces simple, faces ascetic ; but this in common honesty must I write you, my Winefride--that the bitterest sceptic, the most impatient critic who ever held a man's life wasted that was given to this thraldomcould not deny that the predominant expression in all that variety of the human countenance was that of peace.
'A peace that could not fairly be called apathetic, nor anything approaching it. Rather the look of men freed for ever from the wearing fret of doubt or indecision ; a kind of serene lightheartedness.
' The peace of those who have, so far as this world is concerned,
doffed their individual responsibilities and ambitions for ever ; and thus entered, as it were, prematurely into rest.
'Rest of the spirit—for the body or the mind must be actively exercised to ensure that the restlessness of the spirit be not aroused. So much even an outsider like myself can perceive. ...
At the end of the meal the abbot struck a bell, and the monks at once rose to their feet. The reader closed his book and descended from the pulpit. A Latin grace was sung, and then, re-forming into a procession, two by two the monks filed out of the refectory in the direction of the chapel. Those who had served at table and the young monk who had read to us remained behind to eat
* Alaric Tremaine and I returned to the guest house, and he asked me to join in a stroll and smoke a cigarette in the pleasant evening air. We talked a little, but not much. I think the trend of our talk is conveyed more or less by my reflections as recorded above. From the church close at hand came the sound of the monks intoning their office.
* At half-past nine the guest-house closed for the night.
'I wasn't called next morning, and when I passed the open door of Tremaine's room, which was next my own, I saw that it was empty.
* The church bells had been ringing all the time I was dressing, and for aught I knew, long before I was awake.
It was about half-past seven when I made my way into the chapel, and Mass was being said at the high altar, and in several of the side chapels.
'I joined Alaric Tremaine, and we went to the refectory together for breakfast at eight; and on the way he told me that he had been up at half-past four. “The dawn wakes me.” So he has evidently not lived in the East for so many years for nothing. He looked surprisingly fresh, and without ado profited by the hospitality of the convent, and finished the dish of eggs and bacon set before us; some foolishness made me loth to touch it, for only bread and tea was served to the monks during the meal, of which the manner was that of the preceding evening.
' After breakfast Tremaine went off with his brother for a walk and a talk, and I rather envied him. The young monk was beaming with a pride and delight in his distinguished elder that was, to an onlooker, rather touching. I could see that Alaric was moved by it in spite of his rough pretence of chaffing indifference.
They went off together as happily as two schoolboy friends ;
Brother David doing the honours of the place eagerly, and Alaric nodding and listening with no lack of interest on his strong sensitive face. The guest-master sought me out and talked of Father Petroc, and I began to think I was the only person in the world who knew not the meaning of brotherly love, and realised what a grudge an only child may owe its parents.
* All this time no instruction ! for which the community deserves and receives my gratitude. The retreat is not yet-not until Father Petroc arrives.
* At present only peace, as I have said. The strange peace which, pervading the whole atmosphere of Fort Aloysius, sheds also a portion of its balm upon the worldling within its gates.
“How curiously far away seems London from the cold pure stillness of this refuge among the hills of the north! London and its absurdly overloaded dinner-tables, and the antics of the players in the vitiated air of the theatre which I found pleasant enough but a day or two ago. But a few hours since indeed it appeared to me almost essential that I should read the news of the day as fast as it could be telegraphed or printed ; and now, behold, a change of surroundings, and the outside world seems to regard me not at all, and to be not at all regarded by me.
Tremaine attended High Mass at ten, and as he seemed to expect me to go with him, I went. All the monks were present in their stalls, chanting in Latin during the whole ceremony.
' After Mass, the two brothers invited me so warmly to join them that I could not refuse; though I thought of the long, long time that must elapse before they could meet again, and hesitated to interrupt them.
We've told each other all our news,” said Brother David, frankly ...
When lunch, or as they prefer to call it, dinner, was over, we filed off with the monks and followed them as they moved chanting along the cloisters, till we reached a large bare apartment where a number of chairs were set in the middle of the floor in a horseshoe shape. The novices were excluded, but the abbot seated himself at the apex of the horseshoe, and the monks took their places in their appointed chairs; they only spoke when addressed by the abbot, or when he had signed to them his permission.
'I guessed that he was more indulgent than usual in consideration of the circumstances, from the number of questions addressed to Tremaine concerning his life in the East, and especially of the