The master of St. Benedict's, Vol. 1 (of 2)
THE MASTER OF ST. BENEDICT'S
MASTER OF ST. BENEDICT'S
ALAN St. AUBYN
'A FELLOW OF TRINITY,' 'THE JUNIOR DEAN,' 'THE OLD MAID'S SWEETHEART,''MODEST LITTLE SARA,' ETC.
IN TWO VOLUMES
CHATTO & WINDUS, PICCADILLY
CONTENTS OF VOL. I.
|I.||FULL OF DAYS, RICHES, AND HONOUR||1|
|II.||DICK'S LITTLE DAUGHTER||17|
|III.||ONLY A FRESHER||34|
|VI.||BEHIND THE SCREEN||88|
|IX.||A WOMAN'S PARLIAMENT||136|
|X.||'THAT CONFOUNDED CUCUMBER!'||148|
|XI.||IN THE FELLOWS' GARDEN||163|
|XII.||AN UGLY FALL||180|
MASTER OF ST. BENEDICT'S
FULL OF DAYS, RICHES, AND HONOUR.
The Master of St. Benedict's had got as much out of life as mostmen. His had been a longer life than is allotted to many men—it hadexceeded four score.
There had been room in these eight decades for all the things thatmen desire: for ambition, for wealth, for the world's favour, forsuccess—well-earned success—and for love. There had also beendistinction, and the soft, delightful voice of praise had not beensilent.
The success and the distinction had come early in life, and the lovehad come late. In the nature of things it could not have come earlier.It came in time to crown the rest of the good gifts that Providence hadpoured into the lap of the Master of St. Benedict's. It had been hisalready for twenty years, and it was his still. Surely we are right insaying that he had got as much out of life as most men?
He had begun life on a bleak Yorkshire moor, following the plough overhis father's fields. A kindly North Riding vicar, noting the boy'staste for reading, and his inaptitude for the drudgery of the farm, hadplaced him at his own cost at the grammar school of the adjoining town.With a small scholarship the Yorkshire ploughboy came up to Cambridge.He came up with a very few loose coins in the pocket of his homely-cutclothes, and with a broad North-country dialect as barbarous as the cutof his coat.
He was the butt of all the witty men of St. Benedict's during hisfreshman's year. He was[Pg 3] the subject of all the rough practical jokeswhich undergraduates in old days were wont to play upon impecuniousyouths who had the audacity to elbow them out of the highest places inthe examinations.
He had survived the practical jokes, and he had stayed 'up' whenthe witty men had gone 'down.' He had won the highest honours ofhis year, and in due course he had been promoted to a collegeFellowship. Everything had come in delightful sequence: honour, riches,distinction, love. It had all fallen out exactly as he would have hadit to fall out. He might have liked the love to have come earlier—hehad waited for it forty years: it came at sixty, and he had enjoyed itfor over twenty years!
When Anthony Rae had come up to Cambridge, a poor scholar from acountry grammar school, he had set before himself two things thatseemed at the time equally impossible. He had set before himself thewinning of a high place, perhaps the highest, among the great scholarsof his great[Pg 4] University, and he had also set before himself—in hissecret heart—the hope of winning, to share this distinction with him,the daughter of the kind friend who had paved the way to distinctionand honour.
He had achieved both these things—the dearest wishes of his heart—buthe had to serve a longer apprenticeship than most men. He had to waitforty years.
Rachel Thorne was worth waiting for. She was a child when he went awayto college; she had run down to the Vicarage gate after him on thatmemorable morning to wish him 'good luck,' and she had stood watchinghim until a turn of the road hid him from her eyes.
She had watched for him turning that corner many times since. She hadmet him at the gate of the dear old Yorkshire Vicarage when he cameback, term after term, a modest undergraduate blushing beneath hiswell-earned honours, with the eager question on her lips: 'What greatthings, have you done this term, Anthony?'
She always expected him to do great things, and he justified her faithin him. Perhaps her girlish faith had more to do with his success thanhe dreamed of. It was his beacon through all his lonely hours, and ithad led him onward to distinction and honour.
She was brown-haired and fresh-cheeked when he went away; she was amiddle-aged woman, with silver streaks in her brown hair, when he cameback and asked her to share with him the honours he had won.
She waited for him through all the long years of his Fellowship—sadyears when fortune had left her and sorrow had baptized her—sadfriendless years, growing older, and grayer, and sick with waiting. Butthe reward had come at last, and her tranquil face had regained itscheerfulness, and was 'no longer wan and dree.'
It was a fitting crown to a scholarly life, this mellow, maturelove—this gracious presence pervading the closing decades of hisbrilliant career.
Rachel Rae had been mistress of St. Benedict's over twenty years whenour story opens. She had presided over the graceful hospitalities ofthe Master's lodge in her kindly, gracious way for twenty years. Shehad no daughter to share this delightful duty with her—she had marriedtoo late in life—but a niece of the Master's had been an inmate of thelodge for fifteen years or more, and filled a daughter's place.
Mary Rae was a daughter of a younger brother of Dr. Rae's, and had beeneducated above the station in which she had been born by her uncle'sliberality. Anthony Rae in his prosperity had not neglected his humblekinsfolk. He had done as much for them as lay in his power. He hadeducated the younger branches, and provided for the declining yearsof the elders. He had kept his two maiden sisters, one an invalid, incomfort and affluence. He had paid the mortgage off the farm and passedit over unembarrassed by debt to his elder brother. He had taken thatbrother's grandson and given him an education at his own[Pg 7] University,and in due time had arranged for him to be presented with a collegeliving. It was not a rich living: it was the only one that fell vacantwhen Richard Rae most wanted it, and he had accepted it gladly. He hadmarried upon it, and brought up a family, six children, of whom oneonly was now living, a girl child, with whom this story has to do.
The old Master of St. Benedict's had aged perceptibly within thelast few years. He was already in his second childhood. His strengthhad become enfeebled and his memory impaired. He could not walkdown the long gallery of the lodge now or across the grass in theFellows' garden without assistance; he could not remember the thingsof yesterday or of last week, but the crabbed characters of his oldSemitic manuscripts were still as familiar to him as ever. He had losta great deal since that stroke of paralysis five years ago, but he hadnot lost all. He remembered his old friends, and he could pore over hisold books, but he was dependent upon his womankind for many things—formost things.
Mary Rae opened his letters and conducted his correspondence. Shehad conducted it so long that she knew more about the college thanthe Master. She transacted all the college business that had to betransacted in the lodge, and when any public function required theMaster's presence in the Senate House Mary Rae took him up to thedoor on her arm and brought him back. It was also rumoured that sheinstructed him how to vote.
She was assisted in her responsible duties by the Senior Tutor of St.Benedict's, who would in the natural course of things succeed to theoffice of Master when it should fall vacant.
Mary Rae was a handsome woman well on in the thirties. She was a womanwho could not help looking handsome at any age, and the few gray hairsthat had put in an appearance in the smooth brown bands drawn backfrom her broad forehead only added a new dignity to her mature beauty.Perhaps the Senior Tutor thought that they supplied the only touchlacking to make Mary Rae a perfect and ideal mistress of a collegelodge.
It was whispered in the combination room, where the old Fellows metafter their Hall dinner, and discussed the affairs of the college overtheir walnuts and their wine, that when the Master received his lastpreferment she would not have to pack up her small belongings and leavethe lodge.
It was one morning early in the Lent term that Mary Rae sat atbreakfast in the cheerful bow-windowed room of the lodge. The Doctor'swife still presided over the breakfast table. She was younger thanthe Doctor, and had worn better. She was still active and cheerful—abright, gentle, patient old soul, ever watchful and considerate for hiscomfort, and anticipating his every want.
While Mrs. Rae poured out the Master's tea, Mary Rae buttered theMaster's toast and read his letters. There were not many letters thismorning, but there was one with a black seal that lay uppermost. Thewriting was unfamiliar, and before opening it Mary glanced at thepostmark.
'A letter from Dick, uncle,' she said across the table. She had tospeak in rather a high key, as[Pg 10] the Doctor was a little deaf, and somedays he was deafer than usual.
'What does Dick say, my dear?' he said, smiling at her across the toastshe had buttered for him. His voice was not very strong, but there wasno North-country burr in it now—a kind, mellow old voice, courteousand gentle in tone, with a quaver in it now and then. 'I have not heardfrom your uncle Dick for a long time. I am very glad he has writtennow. I cannot remember when I last heard from him.'
'It is not from Uncle Dick,' said Mary, opening the letter; 'it is fromhis son—at least, his grandson—Cousin Dick, of Thorpe Regis. Don'tyou remember, uncle?'
'Ye—es, my dear; and what does Dick say?'
Mary read the letter in silence, and looked across the table with ashade of anxiety on her face.
'It is not Cousin Dick who writes; the letter is from his daughter; hehad only one daughter—Lucy, little Lucy. You remember her, uncle?'
Mary Rae was evidently speaking to gain time, and the shade of anxietydeepened on her face as she spoke.
'Ye—es, I remember, my dear. Lucy was her mother's name; she wascalled after her mother. What has Lucy got to say about Dick?'
'She has not much to say, uncle; she is writing in great distress. Herfather has died, almost suddenly. He was preaching a week ago, and nowhe is dead. The poor child is writing in great trouble.'
'Dick dead!' the old man repeated with a bewildered air, and puttingdown his cup with a shaking hand. 'Dick dead, did you say? He was notso many years older than I, and always hale and strong. I ought to havegone first. There were only three of us, and Dick was the eldest.'
'It isn't your brother, Anthony, that is dead; he died long ago, dear.It is his grandson, little Dick—Dickie you used to call him. Youhad him up here,