Meet us on:
Welcome to Read Print! Sign in with
to get started!
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "Never tell evil of a man, if you do not know it for certainty, and if you know it for a certainty, then ask yourself, 'Why should I tell it?'"

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Chapter 5

    • Rate it:
    • Average Rating: 5.0 out of 5 based on 2 ratings
    • 3 Favorites on Read Print
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 5
    Previous Chapter

    They had discussed the rooms in their new house, and the bridesmaids' dresses, and Maude's cooking, and marriage-presents, and the merits of Brighton, and the nature of love, and volleying at tennis (Maude was the lady-champion of a tennis club), and season tickets, and the destiny of the universe--to say nothing of a small bottle of Perrier Jouet. It was reprehensibly extravagant, but this would be their last unmarried excursion, and so they drank to the dear days of the past, and the dearer ones of the future. Good comrades as well as lovers, they talked freely, and with pleasure. Frank never made the common mistake of talking down, and Maude justified his confidence by eagerly keeping up. To both of them silence was preferable to conventional small talk.

    'We'll just get down there after lunch,' said Frank, as he paid his bill. 'You have not seen the Australians, have you?'

    'Yes, dear, I saw them at Clifton four years ago.'

    'But this is a new lot. There are nine of the present team who have never played in England before.'

    'They are very good, are they not?'

    'Very good indeed. And the dry summer has helped them. It is the sticky English wickets which put them off. The wickets are very fast over there. Giffen is their best all-round man, but Darling and Iredale and young Hill are good enough for anything. Well, then--O Lord, what a pity!'

    He had turned towards the window as he rose, and saw one of those little surprises by which Nature relieves the monotony of life in these islands. The sun had gone, a ragged slate-coloured cloud was drifting up from over the river, and the rain was falling with a soft persistency which is more fatal than the most boisterous shower. There would be no more cricket that day.

    'Two coffees and two benedictines,' cried Frank, and they relapsed into their chairs. But a half-hour passed and the grey cloud was thicker and the rain more heavy. The cheerless leaden river flowed slowly under drifting skies. Beyond an expanse of shining pavement the great black Abbey towered amidst the storm.

    'Have you ever done the Abbey, Maude?'

    'No, Frank; I should love to.'

    'I have only been once--more shame to me to say so! Is it not a sin that we young Englishmen should be familiar with every music-hall in London and should know so little of this which is the centre of the British race, the most august and tremendous monument that ever a nation owned. Six hundred years ago the English looked upon it as their holiest and most national shrine, and since then our kings and our warriors and our thinkers and our poets have all been laid there, until there is such an accumulation that the huge Abbey has hardly space for another monument. Let us spend an hour inside it.'

    They made for Solomon's porch, since it was the nearest and they had but the one umbrella. Under its shelter they brushed themselves dry before they entered.

    'Whom does the Abbey belong to, Frank?'

    'To you and me!'

    'Now you are joking!'

    'Not at all. It belongs in the long-run to the British taxpayer. You have heard the story of the Scotch visitor who came on board one of our battleships and asked to see the captain. "Who shall I say?" said the sentry. "One of the proprietors," said the Scotchman. That's OUR position towards the Abbey. Let us inspect our property.'

    They were smiling as they entered, but the smile faded from their lips as the door closed behind them. In this holy of holies, this inner sanctuary of the race, there was a sense of serene and dignified solemnity which would have imposed itself upon the most thoughtless. Frank and Maude stood in mute reverence. The high arches shot up in long rows upon either side of them, straight and slim as beautiful trees, until they curved off far up near the clerestory and joined their sister curves to form the lightest, most delicate tracery of stone. In front of them a great rose-window of stained glass, splendid with rich purples and crimsons, shone through a subdued and reverent gloom. Here and there in the aisles a few spectators moved among the shadows, but all round along the walls two and three deep were ranged the illustrious dead, the perishable body within, the lasting marble without, and the more lasting name beneath. It was very silent in the home of the great dead--only a distant footfall or a subdued murmur here and there. Maude knelt down and sank her face in her hands. Frank prayed also with that prayer which is a feeling rather than an utterance.

    Then they began to move round the short transept in which they found themselves--a part of the Abbey reserved for the great statesmen. Frank tried to quote the passage in which Macaulay talks about the men worn out by the stress and struggle of the neighbouring parliament-hall, and coming hither for peace and rest. Here were the men who had been strong enough to grasp the helm, and who, sometimes wisely, sometimes foolishly, but always honestly, had tried to keep the old ship before the wind. Canning and Peel were there, with Pitt, Fox, Grattan and Beaconsfield. Governments and oppositions moulder behind the walls. Beaconsfield alone among all the statues showed the hard-lined face of the self-made man. These others look so plump and smooth one can hardly realise how strong they were, but they sprang from those ruling castes to whom strength came by easy inheritance. Frank told Maude the little which he knew of each of them--of Grattan, the noblest Irishman of them all, of Castlereagh, whose coffin was pursued to the gates of the Abbey by a raging mob who wished to tear out his corpse, of Fox the libertine philosopher, of Palmerston the gallant sportsman, who rode long after he could walk. They marvelled together at the realism of the sculptor who had pitted Admiral Warren with the smallpox, and at the absurdity of that other one who had clad Robert Peel in a Roman toga.

    Then turning to the right at the end of the Statesmen's Transept, they wandered aimlessly down the huge nave. It was overwhelming, the grandeur of the roof above and of the contents below. Any one of hundreds of these tombs was worth a devout pilgrimage, but how could one raise his soul to the appreciation of them all. Here was Darwin who revolutionised zoology, and here was Isaac Newton who gave a new direction to astronomy. Here were old Ben Jonson, and Stephenson the father of railways, and Livingstone of Africa, and Wordsworth, and Kingsley, and Arnold. Here were the soldiers of the mutiny--Clyde and Outram and Lawrence,--and painters, and authors, and surgeons, and all the good sons who in their several degrees had done loyal service to the old mother. And when their service was done the old mother had stretched out that long arm of hers and had brought them home, and always for every good son brought home she had sent another forth, and her loins were ever fruitful, and her children loving and true. Go into the Abbey and think, and as the nation's past is borne in upon you, you will have no fear for its future.

    Frank was delighted with some of the monuments and horrified by others, and he communicated both his joy and his anger to Maude. They noticed together how the moderns and the Elizabethans had much in common in their types of face, their way of wearing the hair, and their taste in monuments, while between them lie the intolerable affectations--which culminated towards the end of last century.

    'It all rings false--statue, inscription, everything,' said Frank. 'These insufferable allegorical groups sprawling round a dead hero are of the same class as the pompous and turgid prose of Doctor Johnson. The greatest effects are the simplest effects, and so it always was and so it always will be. But that little bit of Latin is effective, I confess.'

    It was a very much defaced inscription underneath a battered Elizabethan effigy, whose feet had been knocked off, and whose features were blurred into nothing. Two words of the inscription had caught Frank's eye.

    'Moestissima uxor! It was his "most sad wife" who erected it! Look at it now! The poor battered monument of a woman's love. Now, Maude, come with me, and we shall visit the famous Poets' Corner.'

    What an assembly it would be if at some supreme day each man might stand forth from the portals of his tomb. Tennyson, the last and almost the greatest of that illustrious line, lay under the white slab upon the floor. Maude and Frank stood reverently beside it.

    '"Sunset and evening Star And one clear call for me."'

    Frank quoted. 'What lines for a very old man to write! I should put him second only to Shakespeare had I the marshalling of them.'

    'I have read so little,' said Maude.

    'We will read it all together after next week. But it makes your reading so much more real and intimate when you have stood at the grave of the man who wrote. That's Chaucer, the big tomb there. He is the father of British poetry. Here is Browning beside Tennyson-- united in life and in death. He was the more profound thinker, but music and form are essential also.'

    'What a splendid face!' cried Maude.

    'It is a bust to Longfellow, the American.' They read the inscription. 'This bust was placed among the memorials of the poets of England by English admirers of an American poet.'

    'I am so glad to have seen that. I know his poems so well,' said Maude.

    'I believe he is more read than any poet in England.'

    'Who is that standing figure?'

    'It is Dryden. What a clever face, and what a modern type. Here is Walter Scott beside the door. How kindly and humorous his expression was! And see how high his head was from the ear to the crown. It was a great brain. There is Burns, the other famous Scot. Don't you think there is a resemblance between the faces? And here are Dickens, and Thackeray, and Macaulay. I wonder whether, when Macaulay was writing his essays, he had a premonition that he would be buried in Westminster Abbey. He is continually alluding to the Abbey and its graves. I always think that we have a vague intuition as to what will occur to us in life.'

    'We can guess what is probable.'

    'It amounts to more than that. I had an intuition that I should marry you from the first day that I saw you, and yet it did not seem probable. But deep down in my soul I knew that I should marry you.'

    'I knew that I should marry you, Frank, or else that I should never marry at all.'

    'There now! We both had it. Well, that IS really wonderful!'

    They stood among the memorials of all those great people, marvelling at the mysteries of their own small lives. A voice at their elbows brought them back to the present.

    'This way, if you please, for the kings,' said the voice. 'They are now starting for the kings.'

    'They' proved to be a curiously mixed little group of people who were waiting at the entrance through the enclosure for the arrival of the official guide. There were a tall red-bearded man with a very Scotch accent and a small gentle wife, also an American father with his two bright and enthusiastic daughters, a petty-officer of the navy in his uniform, two young men whose attention was cruelly distracted from the monuments by the American girls, and a dozen other travellers of various sexes and ages. Just as Maude and Frank joined them the guide, a young fresh-faced fellow, came striding up, and they passed through the opening into the royal burying-ground.

    'This way, ladies and gentlemen,' cried the hurrying guide, and they all clattered over the stone pavement. He stopped beside a tomb upon which a lady with a sad worn face was lying. 'Mary, Queen of Scots,' said he, 'the greatest beauty of her day. This monument was erected by her son, James the First.'

    'Isn't she just perfectly sweet?' said one of the American girls.

    'Well, I don't know. I expected more of her than that,' the other answered.

    'I reckon,' remarked the father, 'that if any one went through as much as that lady did, it would not tend to improve her beauty. Now what age might the lady be, sir?'

    'Forty-four years of age at the time of her execution,' said the guide.

    'Ah weel, she's young for her years,' muttered the Scotchman, and the party moved on. Frank and Maude lingered to have a further look at the unfortunate princess, the bright French butterfly, who wandered from the light and warmth into that grim country, a land of blood and of psalms.

    'She was as hard as nails under all her gentle grace,' said Frank. 'She rode eighty miles and hardly drew rein after the battle of Langside.'

    'She looks as if she were tired, poor dear!' said Maude; 'I don't think that she was sorry to be at rest.'

    The guide was narrating the names of the owners of the tombs at the further end of the chapel. 'Queen Anne is here, and Mary the wife of William the Third is beside her. And here is William himself. The king was very short and the queen very tall, so in the sculptures the king is depicted standing upon a stool so as to bring their heads level. In the vaults beyond there are thirty-eight Stuarts.'

    Thirty-eight Stuarts! Princes, bishops, generals, once the salt of the earth, the mightiest of men, and now lumped carelessly together as thirty-eight Stuarts. So Death the Republican and Time the Radical can drag down the highest from his throne.

    They had followed the guide into another small chapel, which bore the name of Henry VII. upon the door. Surely they were great builders and great designers in those days! Had stone been as pliable as wax it could not have been twisted and curved into more exquisite spirals and curls, so light, so delicate, so beautiful, twining and turning along the walls, and drooping from the ceiling. Never did the hand of man construct anything more elaborately ornate, nor the brain of man think out a design more absolutely harmonious and lovely. In the centre, with all the pomp of mediaeval heraldry, starred and spangled with the Tudor badges, the two bronze figures of Henry and his wife lay side by side upon their tomb. The guide read out the quaint directions in the king's will, by which they were to be buried 'with some respect to their Royal dignity, but avoiding damnable pomp and outrageous superfluities!' There was, as Frank remarked, a fine touch of the hot Tudor blood in the adjectives. One could guess where Henry the Eighth got his masterful temper. Yet it was an ascetic and priest-like face which looked upwards from the tomb.

    They passed the rifled tombs of Cromwell, Blake, and Ireton--the despicable revenge of the men who did not dare to face them in the field,--and they marked the grave of James the First, who erected no monument to himself, and so justified in death the reputation for philosophy which he had aimed at in his life. Then they inspected the great tomb of Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, as surprising and as magnificent as his history, cast a glance at the covering of plucky little George the Second, the last English king to lead his own army into battle, and so onwards to see the corner of the Innocents, where rest the slender bones of the poor children murdered in the Tower.

    But now the guide had collected his little flock around him again, with the air of one who has something which is not to be missed. 'You will stand upon the step to see the profile,' said he, as he indicated a female figure upon a tomb. 'It is the great Queen Elizabeth.'

    It was a profile and a face worth seeing--the face of a queen who was worthy of her Shakespeares upon the land and her Drakes upon the sea. Had the Spanish king seen her, he would have understood that she was not safe to attack--this grim old lady with the eagle nose and the iron lips. You could understand her grip upon her cash-box, you could explain her harshness to her lovers, you could realise the confidence of her people, you could read it all in that wonderful face.

    'She's splendid,' said Frank.

    'She's terrible,' said Maude.

    'Did I understand you to say, sir,' asked the American, 'that it was this lady who beheaded the other lady, Queen of Scotland, whom we saw 'way back in the other compartment?'

    'Yes, sir, she did.'

    'Well, I guess if there was any beheading to be done, this was the lady to see that it was put through with promptness and despatch. Not a married lady, I gather?'

    'No, sir.'

    'And a fortunate thing for somebody. That woman's husband would have a mean time of it, sir, in my opinion.'

    'Hush, poppa,' said the two daughters, and the procession moved on. They were entering the inner chapel of all, the oldest and the holiest, in which, amid the ancient Plantagenet kings, there lies that one old Saxon monarch, confessor and saint, the holy Edward, round whose honoured body the whole of this great shrine has gradually risen. A singular erection once covered with mosaic work, but now bare and gaunt, stood in the centre.

    'The body of Edward the Confessor is in a case up at the top,' said the guide. 'This hollow place below was filled with precious relics, and the pilgrims used to kneel in these niches, which are just large enough to hold a man upon his knees. The mosaic work has been picked out by the pilgrims.'

    'What is the date of the shrine?' asked Frank.

    'About 1250, sir. The early kings were all buried as near to it as they could get, for it was their belief in those days that the devil might carry off the body, and so the nearer they got to the shrine the safer they felt. Henry the Fifth, who won the battle of Agincourt, is there. Those are the actual helmet, shield, and saddle which he used in the battle upon the crossbeam yonder. That king with the grave face and the beard is Edward the Third, the father of the Black Prince. The Black Prince never lived to ascend the throne, but he was the father of the unfortunate Richard the Second, who lies here--this clean-shaven king with the sharp features. Now, ladies and gentlemen, if you will turn this way, I will show you one of the most remarkable objects in the Abbey.'

    The object in question proved to be nothing more singular than a square block of stone placed under an old chair. And yet as the guide continued to speak, they felt that he had justified his words.

    'This is the sacred stone of Scone upon which the kings of Scotland have been crowned from time immemorial. When Edward the First overran Scotland 600 years ago, he had it brought here, and since then every monarch of England has also sat upon it when crowned.'

    'The present Queen?' asked some one.

    'Yes, she also. The legend was that it was the stone upon which Jacob rested his head when he dreamed, but the geologists have proved that it is red sandstone of Scotland.'

    'Then I understand, sir, that this other throne is the Scottish throne,' said the American gentleman.

    'No, sir, the Scottish throne and the English throne are the same throne. But at the time of William and Mary it was necessary to crown her as well as him, and so a second throne was needed. But that of course was modern.'

    'Only a couple of hundred years ago. I wonder they let it in. But I guess they might have taken better care of it. Some one has carved his name upon it.'

    'A Westminster boy bet his schoolfellows that he would sleep among the tombs, and to prove that he had done it, he carved his name upon the throne.'

    'You don't say!' cried the American. 'Well, I guess that boy ended pretty high up.'

    'As high as the gallows, perhaps,' said Frank, and every one tittered, but the guide hurried on with a grave face, for the dignity of the Abbey was in his keeping.

    'This tomb is that of Queen Eleanor,' said he.

    Frank twitched Maude by the sleeve. 'Eleanor of Charing Cross,' said he. 'See how one little bit of knowledge links on with another.'

    'And here is the tomb of her husband, Edward the First. It was he who brought the stone from Scone. At the time of his death the conquest of Scotland was nearly done, and he gave orders that his burial should be merely temporary until Scotland was thoroughly subdued. He is still, as you perceive, in his temporary tomb.'

    The big Scotchman laughed loudly and derisively. All the others looked sadly at him with the pitying gaze which the English use towards the more excitable races when their emotion gets the better of them. A stream from a garden hose could not have damped him more.

    'They opened the grave last century,' said the guide. 'Inside was an inscription, which said, "Here lies the hammer of the Scots." He was a fine man, six feet two inches from crown to sole.'

    They wandered out of the old shrine where the great Plantagenet kings lie like a bodyguard round the Saxon saint. Abbots lay on one side of them as they passed, and dead crusaders with their legs crossed, upon the other. And then, in an instant, they were back in comparatively modern times again.

    'This is the tomb of Wolfe, who died upon the Heights of Abraham,' said the guide. 'It was due to him and to his soldiers that all America belongs to the English-speaking races. There is a picture of his Highlanders going up to the battle along the winding path which leads from Wolfe's Cove. He died in the moment of victory.'

    It was bewildering, the way in which they skipped from age to age. The history of England appeared to be not merely continuous, but simultaneous, as they turned in an instant from the Georgian to the Elizabethan, the one monument as well preserved as the other. They passed the stately de Vere, his armour all laid out in fragments upon a marble slab, as a proof that he died at peace with all men; and they saw the terrible statue of the onslaught of Death, which, viewed in the moonlight, made a midnight robber drop his booty and fly panic-stricken out of the Abbey. So awful and yet so fascinating is it, that the shuffling feet of the party of sightseers had passed out of hearing before Maude and Frank could force themselves away from it.

    In the base of the statue is an iron door, which has been thrown open, and the sculptor's art has succeeded wonderfully in convincing you that it has been thrown open violently. The two leaves of it seem still to quiver with the shock, and one could imagine that one heard the harsh clang of the metal. Out of the black opening had sprung a dreadful thing, something muffled in a winding-sheet, one bony hand clutching the edge of the pedestal, the other upraised to hurl a dart at the woman above him. She, a young bride of twenty- seven, has fallen fainting, while her husband, with horror in his face, is springing forward, his hand outstretched, to get between his wife and her loathsome assailant.

    'I shall dream of this,' said Maude. She had turned pale, as many a woman has before this monument.

    'It is awful!' Frank walked backwards, unable to take his eyes from it. 'What pluck that sculptor had! It is an effect which must be either ludicrous or great, and he has made it great.'

    'Roubillac is his name,' said Maude, reading it from the pedestal.

    'A Frenchman, or a man of French descent. Isn't that characteristic! In the whole great Abbey the one monument which has impressed us with its genius and imagination is by a foreigner. We haven't got it in us. We are too much afraid of letting ourselves go and of giving ourselves away. We are heavy-handed and heavy-minded.'

    'If we can't produce the monuments, we can produce the men who deserve them,' said Maude, and Frank wrote the aphorism down upon his shirt-cuff.

    'We are too severe both in sculpture and architecture,' said he. 'More fancy and vigour in our sculptors, more use of gold and more ornament in our architects--that is what we want. But I think it is past praying for. It would be better to subdivide the work of the world, according to the capacity of the different nations. Let Italy and France embellish us. We might do something in exchange--organise the French colonies, perhaps, or the Italian exchequer. That is our legitimate work, but we will never do anything at the other.'

    The guide had already reached the end of his round, an iron gate corresponding to that by which they had entered, and they found him waiting impatiently and swinging his keys. But Maude's smile and word of thanks as she passed him brought content into his face once more. A ray of living sunshine is welcome to the man who spends his days among the tombs.

    They walked down the North Transept and out through Solomon's Porch. The rain-cloud had swept over, and the summer sun was shining upon the wet streets, turning them all to gold. This might have been that fabled London of which young Whittington dreamed. In front of them lay the lawns of vivid green, with the sunlit raindrops gleaming upon the grass. The air was full of the chirping of the sparrows. Across their vision, from the end of Whitehall to Victoria Street, the black ribbon of traffic whirled and circled, one of the great driving-belts of the huge city. Over it all, to their right, towered those glorious Houses of Parliament, the very sight of which made Frank repent his bitter words about English architecture. They stood in the old porch gazing at the scene. It was so wonderful to come back at one stride from the great country of the past to the greater country of the present. Here was the very thing which these dead men lived and died to build.

    'It's not much past three,' said Frank. 'What a gloomy place to take you to! Good heavens, we have one day together, and I take you to a cemetery! Shall we go to a matinee to counteract it?'

    But Maude laid her hand upon his arm.

    'I don't think, Frank, that I was ever more impressed, or learned more in so short a time, in my life. It was a grand hour--an hour never to be forgotten. And you must not think that I am ever with you to be amused. I am with you to accompany you in whatever seems to you to be highest and best. Now before we leave the dear old Abbey, promise me that you will always live your own highest and never come down to me.'

    'I can very safely promise that I will never come down to you,' said Frank. 'I may climb all my life, and yet there are parts of your soul which will be like snow-peaks in the clouds to me. But you will be now and always my own dear comrade as well as my sweetest wife. And now, Maude, what shall it be, the theatre or the Australians?'

    'Do you wish to go to either very much?'

    'Not unless you do.'

    'Well, then, I feel as if either would be a profanation. Let us walk together down to the Embankment, and sit on one of the benches there, and watch the river flowing in the sunshine, and talk and think of all that we have seen.'
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 5
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a Arthur Conan Doyle essay and need some advice, post your Arthur Conan Doyle essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Want to read

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?