William Morris Archive


I have told of the inside of the church; I will now do as much for the rectory. There was little modern or gay in it. Inside its high wall you came into a court with a drive round it, and a grass plot in the middle, the stable on one side and the kitchen garden on the other. There were roses enough, trained on the wall right up to the topmost windows—old-fashioned these were, but not the mediaeval ones of the poorer houses: A stone porch led into a big white-panelled hall, with unclerical matters enough for decoration—reminiscences not only of the hunting-field: but of travelled members of the family, the punctual one being a stuffed tiger in the corner, carefully dusted, but bald and shining in many places now. Its death was the handiwork of the late rector, once a sepoy captain, who laid aside his sword to be inducted into the family living. To him, also, were to be referred one or two Indian cabinets and a carved ivory junk in the low-ceilinged square drawing-room, and a carpet growing threadbare in the long dining-room, once a pleasant room enough, but dealt with unluckily by him of the monument, so that it is now drab and bare, with horsehair chairs and a stiff-legged sideboard with a sarcophagus cellaret underneath it, and with four vulgar portraits on the walls.

There stood the present rector now, leaning against the fireplace, though there was nothing in the grate but pink and white strips of paper, and a little, hardbitten, apple-cheeked old man, visibly a doctor, stood opposite to him with his hat in his hand, ready to go.

'Well,' said this latter,  'he'll do now. He's beginning to eat like a trump.'

The rector grunted acquiescence, or pleasure—anything you will—and the doctor looked at him rather hard for a time, and then said:

'How different he is to you—in looks, I mean; not much like his mother either.'

The rector didn't answer, and the doctor said again, after a pause:

'He's a clever lad, your son. I hope he mayn't turn out too clever, and give us the slip.'

'Which do you mean?' said the other, in a tone as if he repented his rudeness  in  not answering  before, yet didn't wish the talk to last.

'Why, Arthur, of course; weren't we talking of him? No, John is all right, though he's clever enough too—but sharp, and full of sense. O, he'll do! He'll die a rich man, I should say.'

The rector smiled faintly, but said nothing, and the little doctor smiled too, as the pleasantest way of showing that he knew he was to go, and bustled out of the room, leaving the usual doctor's injunctions behind him.

When he had shut the hall door upon him, the rector turned, sauntered slowly into the drawing-room and thence through an open glass door and out onto the old-fashioned flower garden with its terrace and mulberry tree, and straight-cut flower borders, and the great row of full-foliaged elms that cut it off from the fields without. He stopped presently in the yellow light of the sinking sun, amid the sweet scent of the June flowers, and stared hard at the beauty before him, muttering: 'She was right that day; it was a dull place to bury oneself in.'

A pang compounded of the memory of hopes and fears, pleasures and pains of many past years shot through him as he spoke; one of those sparks of feeling which sometimes touch dull, or dulled, natures for a moment. If they could only catch at them and grasp in them the thread that would lead them out of the wretched maze! For the scent of the summer evening had somehow mingled with thoughts that the talk about his sons had begun in him, and for that moment he remembered what he might have been, rather than what he was. Old aspirations, old enthusiasms, the kindling of what he thought true love—and the slaking of it—it was too bitter to let him muse long. He turned back again into the house, feeling that less of a prison than the sweet summer garden that led into the fields, that led into other fields that led he didn't care where. He flung himself down into a chair and took a stupid book of travels in his hand and didn't read it.

Sooth to say, he did not look like a man likely to have pleasant thoughts. He was a handsome man, too; liker to a captain of dragons than a parson, one would have said; tall and well­knit, with black hair, black eyebrows over fierce-looking grey eyes, a straight, well-made nose, a well-fashioned mouth and large chin and jaw; all the features cast in a find mould—yet all spoilt; his brow knit in an ugly half-scowl, his eyes with little expression in them but suppressed rage, his nose swelled and reddened, his mouth and chin grown coarse and lumpy—an unlovely face. People in general are not very quick to read character in a face, but the simplest people had found out that Parson Risley was of no use to them, in spite of his good looks. It must be said, too, that he had always (in any case where it was possible) acted with a reckless cruelty which in rougher times would perhaps have developed and won for him the reputation of an Ezzelin; and though he had tempered this from time to time by giving great gifts, yet this man of just forty, with what seemed an easy life to lead, dealing with no very important matters, without ambition, as it seemed, without serious opposition, without fear of having his position lessened, without anything much to grasp at, managed to make himself both feared and hated in the limited society in which he moved.                                                

Yes! even as the beautiful church  was a grave and a ruin, the comely well-conditioned village a dull prison, the fair sweet-scented countryside a sort of dull enchanted valley to be escaped from, so was this handsome house and handsome man, its owner, the scene and actor of a tragedy without meaning and without ending, a curse without a name, a lurking misery that could not be met and grappled with, because its very existence had slain sight, and memory, and hope—that of pain itself, that  quickens  those whom God  will not have die while they seem to live.

Continue to Chapter 3

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