The Conversion of St. Wilfrid

by Rudyard Kipling

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THEY had bought peppermints up at the village, and were coming home past little St. Barnabas’ Church, when they saw Jimmy Kidbrooke, the carpenter’s baby, kicking at the churchyard gate, with a shaving in his mouth and the tears running down his cheeks.Una pulled out the shaving and put in a peppermint. Jimmy said he was looking for his grand-daddy—he never seemed to take much notice of his father—so they went up between the old graves, under the leaf-dropping limes, to the porch, where Jim trotted in, looked about the empty Church, and screamed like a gate-hinge.

Young Sam Kidbrooke’s voice came from the bell-tower and made them jump.

‘Why, Jimmy,’he called, ‘what are you doin’ here? Fetch him, Father!’

Old Mr Kidbrooke stumped downstairs, jerked Jimmy on to his shoulder, stared at the children beneath his brass spectacles, and stumped back again. They laughed: it was so exactly like Mr Kidbrooke.

‘It’s all right,’ Una called up the stairs. ‘We found him, Sam. Does his mother know?’

‘He’s come off by himself. She’ll be justabout crazy,’ Sam answered.

‘Then I’ll run down street and tell her.’ Una darted off.

‘Thank you, Miss Una. Would you like to see how we’re mendin’ the bell-beams, Mus’ Dan?’

Dan hopped up, and saw young Sam lying on his stomach in a most delightful place among beams and ropes, close to the five great bells. Old Mr Kidbrooke on the floor beneath was planing a piece of wood, and Jimmy was eating the shavings as fast as they came away. He never looked at Jimmy; Jimmy never stopped eating; and the broad gilt-bobbed pendulum of the church clock never stopped swinging across the white-washed wall of the tower.

Dan winked through the sawdust that fell on his upturned face. ‘Ring a bell,’ he called.

‘I mustn’t do that, but I’ll buzz one of ’em a bit for you,’ said Sam. He pounded on the sound-bow of the biggest bell, and waked a hollow groaning boom that ran up and down the tower like creepy feelings down your back. just when it almost began to hurt, it died away in a hurry of beautiful sorrowful cries, like a wine-glass rubbed with a wet finger. The pendulum clanked—one loud clank to each silent swing.

Dan heard Una return from Mrs Kidbrooke’s, and ran down to fetch her. She was standing by the font staring at some one who kneeled at the Altar-rail.

‘Is that the Lady who practises the organ?’ she whispered.

‘No. She’s gone into the organ-place. Besides, she wears black,’ Dan replied.

The figure rose and came down the nave. It was a white-haired man in a long white gown with a sort of scarf looped low on the neck, one end hanging over his shoulder. His loose long sleeves were embroidered with gold, and a deep strip of gold embroidery waved and sparkled round the hem of his gown.

‘Go and meet him,’ said Puck’s voice behind the font. ‘It’s only Wilfrid.’

‘Wilfrid who?’ said Dan. ‘You come along too.’

‘Wilfrid—Saint of Sussex, and Archbishop of York. I shall wait till he asks me.’ He waved them forward. Their feet squeaked on the old grave-slabs in the centre aisle. The Archbishop raised one hand with a pink ring on it, and said something in Latin. He was very handsome, and his thin face looked almost as silvery as his thin circle of hair.

‘Are you alone?’ he asked.

‘Puck’s here, of course,’ said Una. ‘Do you know him?’

‘I know him better now than I used to.’ He beckoned over Dan’s shoulder, and spoke again in Latin. Puck pattered forward, holding himself as straight as an arrow. The Archbishop smiled.

‘Be welcome,’ said he. ‘Be very welcome.’

‘Welcome to you also, O Prince of the church,’ Puck replied.

The Archbishop bowed his head and passed on, till he glimmered like a white moth in the shadow by the font.

‘He does look awfully princely,’ said Una. ‘Isn’t he coming back?’

‘Oh yes. He’s only looking over the church. He’s very fond of churches,’ said Puck. ‘What’s that?’

The Lady who practices the organ was speaking to the blower-boy behind the organ-screen. ‘We can’t very well talk here,’ Puck whispered. ‘Let’s go to Panama Corner.’

He led them to the end of the south aisle, where there is a slab of iron which says in queer, long-tailed letters: Orate P. Annema Jhone Coline. The children always called it Panama Corner.

The Archbishop moved slowly about the little church, peering at the old memorial tablets and the new glass windows. The Lady who practises the organ began to pull out stops and rustle hymn-books behind the screen.

‘I hope she’ll do all the soft lacey tunes—like treacle on porridge,’ said Una.

‘I like the trumpety ones best,’ said Dan. ‘Oh, look at Wilfrid! He’s trying to shut the Altar-gates!’

‘Tell him he mustn’t,’ said Puck, quite seriously.

He can’t, anyhow,’ Dan muttered, and tiptoed out of Panama Corner while the Archbishop patted and patted at the carved gates that always sprang open again beneath his hand.

‘That’s no use, sir,’ Dan whispered. ‘Old Mr Kidbrooke says Altar-gates are just the one pair of gates which no man can shut. He made ’em so himself.’

The Archbishop’s blue eyes twinkled. Dan saw that he knew all about it.

‘I beg your pardon,’ Dan stammered—very angry with Puck.

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‘Yes, I know! He made them so Himself.’ The Archbishop smiled, and crossed to Panama Corner, where Una dragged up a certain padded arm-chair for him to sit on.

The organ played softly. ‘What does that music say?’he asked.

Una dropped into the chant without thinking: ‘“O all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord; praise him and magnify him for ever.” We call it the Noah’s Ark, because it’s all lists of things—beasts and birds and whales, you know.’

‘Whales?’ said the Archbishop quickly.

‘Yes—“O ye whales, and all that move in the waters,”’ Una hummed—‘“Bless ye the Lord.” It sounds like a wave turning over, doesn’t it?’

‘Holy Father,’ said Puck with a demure face, ‘is a little seal also “one who moves in the water”?’

‘Eh? Oh yes—yess!’ he laughed. ‘A seal moves wonderfully in the waters. Do the seal come to my island still?’

Puck shook his head. ‘All those little islands have been swept away.’

‘Very possible. The tides ran fiercely down there. Do you know the land of the Sea-calf, maiden?’

‘No—but we’ve seen seals—at Brighton.’

‘The Archbishop is thinking of a little farther down the coast. He means Seal’s Eye—Selsey—down Chichester way—where he converted the South Saxons,’ Puck explained.

‘Yes—yess; if the South Saxons did not convert me,’ said the Archbishop, smiling. ‘The first time I was wrecked was on that coast. As our ship took ground and we tried to push her off, an old fat fellow of a seal, I remember, reared breast-high out of the water, and scratched his head with his flipper as if he were saying: “What does that excited person with the pole think he is doing” I was very wet and miserable, but I could not help laughing, till the natives came down and attacked us.’

‘What did you do?’ Dan asked.

‘One couldn’t very well go back to France, so one tried to make them go back to the shore. All the South Saxons are born wreckers, like my own Northumbrian folk. I was bringing over a few things for my old church at York, and some of the natives laid hands on them, and—and I’m afraid I lost my temper.’

‘It is said—’ Puck’s voice was wickedly meek—‘that there was a great fight.’

‘Eh, but I must ha’ been a silly lad.’ Wilfrid spoke with a sudden thick burr in his voice. He coughed, and took up his silvery tones again. ‘There was no fight really. My men thumped a few of them, but the tide rose half an hour before its time, with a strong wind, and we backed off. What I wanted to say, though, was, that the seas about us were full of sleek seals watching the scuffle. My good Eddi—my chaplain—insisted that they were demons. Yes—yess! That was my first acquaintance with the South Saxons and their seals.’

‘But not the only time you were wrecked, was it?’ said Dan.

‘Alas, no! On sea and land my life seems to have been one long shipwreck.’ He looked at the Jhone Coline slab as old Hobden sometimes looks into the fire. ‘Ah, well!’

‘But did you ever have any more adventures among the seals?” said Una, after a little.

‘Oh, the seals! I beg your pardon. They are the important things. Yes—yess! I went back to the South Saxons after twelve—fifteen—years. No, I did not come by water, but overland from my own Northumbria, to see what I could do. It’s little one can do with that class of native except make them stop killing each other and themselves—’

‘Why did they kill themselves?’ Una asked, her chin in her hand.

‘Because they were heathen. When they grew tired of life (as if they were the only people!) they would jump into the sea . They called it going to Wotan. It wasn’t want of food always—by any means. A man would tell you that he felt grey in the heart, or a woman would say that she saw nothing but long days in front of her; and they’d saunter away to the mud-flats and—that would be the end of them, poor souls, unless one headed them off. One had to run quick, but one can’t allow people to lay hands on themselves because they happen to feel grey. Yes—yess—Extraordinary people, the South Saxons. Disheartening, sometimes. … What does that say now?’ The organ had changed tune again.

‘Only a hymn for next Sunday,’ said Una. ‘“The Church’s One Foundation.” Go on, please, about running over the mud. I should like to have seen you.’

‘I dare say you would, and I really could run in those days. Ethelwalch the King gave me some five or six muddy parishes by the sea, and the first time my good Eddi and I rode there we saw a man slouching along the slob, among the seals at Manhood End. My good Eddi disliked seals—but he swallowed his objections and ran like a hare.’

‘Why?’said Dan.

‘For the same reason that I did. We thought it was one of our people going to drown himself. As a matter of fact, Eddi and I were nearly drowned in the pools before we overtook him. To cut a long story short, we found ourselves very muddy, very breathless, being quietly made fun of in good Latin by a very well-spoken person. No—he’d no idea of going to Wotan. He was fishing on his own beaches, and he showed us the beacons and turf-heaps that divided his land from the church property. He took us to his own house, gave us a good dinner, some more than good wine, sent a guide with us into Chichester, and became one of my best and most refreshing friends. He was a Meon by descent, from the west edge of the kingdom; a scholar educated, curiously enough, at Lyons, my old school; had travelled the world over, even to Rome, and was a brilliant talker. We found we had scores of acquaintances in common. It seemed he was a small chief under King Ethelwalch, and I fancy the King was somewhat afraid of him. The South Saxons mistrust a man who talks too well. Ah! Now, I’ve left out the very point of my story. He kept a great grey-muzzled old dog-seal that he had brought up from a pup. He called it Padda—after one of my clergy. It was rather like fat, honest old Padda. The creature followed him everywhere, and nearly knocked down my good Eddi when we first met him. Eddi loathed it. It used to sniff at his thin legs and cough at him. I can’t say I ever took much notice of it (I was not fond of animals), till one day Eddi came to me with a circumstantial account of some witchcraft that Meon worked. He would tell the seal to go down to the beach the last thing at night, and bring him word of the weather. When it came back, Meon might say to his slaves, “Padda thinks we shall have wind tomorrow. Haul up the boats!” I spoke to Meon casually about the story, and he laughed.

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‘He told me he could judge by the look of the creature’s coat and the way it sniffed what weather was brewing. Quite possible. One need not put down everything one does not understand to the work of bad spirits—or good ones, for that matter.’ He nodded towards Puck, who nodded gaily in return.

‘I say so,’ he went on, ‘because to a certain extent I have been made a victim of that habit of mind. Some while after I was settled at Selsey, King Ethelwalch and Queen Ebba ordered their people to be baptized. I fear I’m too old to believe that a whole nation can change its heart at the King’s command, and I had a shrewd suspicion that their real motive was to get a good harvest. No rain had fallen for two or three years, but as soon as we had finished baptizing, it fell heavily, and they all said it was a miracle.’

‘And was it?’ Dan asked.

‘Everything in life is a miracle, but’—the Archbishop twisted the heavy ring on his finger—‘I should be slow—ve-ry slow should I be—to assume that a certain sort of miracle happens whenever lazy and improvident people say they are going to turn over a new leaf if they are paid for it. My friend Meon had sent his slaves to the font, but he had not come himself, so the next time I rode over—to return a manuscript—I took the liberty of asking why. He was perfectly open about it. He looked on the King’s action as a heathen attempt to curry favour with the Christians’ God through me the Archbishop, and he would have none of it.

‘“My dear man,” I said, “admitting that that is the case, surely you, as an educated person, don’t believe in Wotan and all the other hobgoblins any more than Padda here?” The old seal was hunched up on his ox-hide behind his master’s chair.

‘“Even if I don’t,” he said, “why should I insult the memory of my fathers’ Gods? I have sent you a hundred and three of my rascals to christen. Isn’t that enough?”

‘“By no means,” I answered. “I want you.”

‘“He wants us! What do you think of that, Padda?” He pulled the seal’s whiskers till it threw back its head and roared, and he pretended to interpret. “No! Padda says he won’t be baptized yet awhile. He says you’ll stay to dinner and come fishing with me tomorrow, because you’re over-worked and need a rest.”

‘“I wish you’d keep yon brute in its proper place,” I said, and Eddi, my chaplain, agreed.

‘“I do,” said Meon. “I keep him just next my heart. He can’t tell a lie, and he doesn’t know how to love any one except me. It ’ud be the same if I were dying on a mud-bank, wouldn’t it, Padda?”

‘“Augh! Augh!” said Padda, and put up his head to be scratched.

‘Then Meon began to tease Eddi: “Padda says, if Eddi saw his Archbishop dying on a mud-bank Eddi would tuck up his gown and run. Padda knows Eddi can run too! Padda came into Wittering Church last Sunday—all wet—to hear the music, and Eddi ran out.”

‘My good Eddi rubbed his hands and his shins together, and flushed. “Padda is a child of the Devil, who is the father of lies!” he cried, and begged my pardon for having spoken. I forgave him.

‘“Yes. You are just about stupid enough for a musician,” said Meon. “But here he is. Sing a hymn to him, and see if he can stand it. You’ll find my small harp beside the fireplace.”

‘Eddi, who is really an excellent musician, played and sang for quite half an hour. Padda shuffled off his ox-hide, hunched himself on his flippers before him, and listened with his head thrown back. Yes—yess! A rather funny sight! Meon tried not to laugh, and asked Eddi if he were satisfied.

‘It takes some time to get an idea out of my good Eddi’s head. He looked at me.

‘“Do you want to sprinkle him with holy water, and see if he flies up the chimney? Why not baptize him?” said Meon.

‘Eddi was really shocked. I thought it was bad taste myself.

‘“That’s not fair,” said Meon. “You call him a demon and a familiar spirit because he loves his master and likes music, and when I offer you a chance to prove it you won’t take it. Look here! I’ll make a bargain. I’ll be baptized if you’ll baptize Padda too. He’s more of a man than most of my slaves.”

‘“One doesn’t bargain—or joke—about these matters,” I said. He was going altogether too far.

‘“Quite right,” said Meon; “I shouldn’t like any one to joke about Padda. Padda, go down to the beach and bring us tomorrow’s weather!”

‘My good Eddi must have been a little over-tired with his day’s work. “I am a servant of the church,” he cried. “My business is to save souls, not to enter into fellowships and understandings with accursed beasts.”

‘“Have it your own narrow way,” said Meon. “Padda, you needn’t go.” The old fellow flounced back to his ox-hide at once.

‘“Man could learn obedience at least from that creature,” said Eddi, a little ashamed of himself. Christians should not curse.

‘“Don’t begin to apologise Just when I am beginning to like you,” said Meon. “We’ll leave Padda behind tomorrow—out of respect to your feelings. Now let’s go to supper. We must be up early tomorrow for the whiting.”

‘The next was a beautiful crisp autumn morning—a weather-breeder, if I had taken the trouble to think; but it’s refreshing to escape from kings and converts for half a day. We three went by ourselves in Meon’s smallest boat, and we got on the whiting near an old wreck, a mile or so off shore. Meon knew the marks to a yard, and the fish were keen. Yes—yess! A perfect morning’s fishing! If a Bishop can’t be a fisherman, who can?’ He twiddled his ring again. ‘We stayed there a little too long, and while we were getting up our stone, down came the fog. After some discussion, we decided to row for the land. The ebb was just beginning to make round the point, and sent us all ways at once like a coracle.’

‘Selsey Bill,’ said Puck under his breath. ‘The tides run something furious there.’

‘I believe you,’ said the Archbishop. ‘Meon and I have spent a good many evenings arguing as to where exactly we drifted. All I know is we found ourselves in a little rocky cove that had sprung up round us out of the fog, and a swell lifted the boat on to a ledge, and she broke up beneath our feet. We had just time to shuffle through the weed before the next wave. The sea was rising. ‘“It’s rather a pity we didn’t let Padda go down to the beach last night,” said Meon. “He might have warned us this was coming.”

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‘“Better fall into the hands of God than the hands of demons,” said Eddi, and his teeth chattered as he prayed. A nor’-west breeze had just got up—distinctly cool.

‘“Save what you can of the boat,” said Meon; “we may need it,” and we had to drench ourselves again, fishing out stray planks.’

‘What for?’ said Dan.

‘For firewood. We did not know when we should get off. Eddi had flint and steel, and we found dry fuel in the old gulls’ nests and lit a fire. It smoked abominably, and we guarded it with boat-planks up-ended between the rocks. One gets used to that sort of thing if one travels. Unluckily I’m not so strong as I was. I fear I must have been a trouble to my friends. It was blowing a full gale before midnight. Eddi wrung out his cloak, and tried to wrap me in it, but I ordered him on his obedience to keep it. However, he held me in his arms all the first night, and Meon begged his pardon for what he’d said the night before—about Eddi, running away if he found me on a sandbank, you remember.

‘“You are right in half your prophecy,” said Eddi. “I have tucked up my gown, at any rate.” (The wind had blown it over his head.) “Now let us thank God for His mercies.”

‘“Hum!” said Meon. “If this gale lasts, we stand a very fair chance of dying of starvation.”

‘“If it be God’s will that we survive, God will provide,” said Eddi. “At least help me to sing to Him.” The wind almost whipped the words out of his mouth, but he braced himself against a rock and sang psalms.

‘I’m glad I never concealed my opinion—from myself—that Eddi was a better man than I. Yet I have worked hard in my time—very hard! Yes—yess! So the morning and the evening were our second day on that islet. There was rain-water in the rock-pools, and, as a churchman, I knew how to fast, but I admit we were hungry. Meon fed our fire chip by chip to eke it out, and they made me sit over it, the dear fellows, when I was too weak to object. Meon held me in his arms the second night, just like a child. My good Eddi was a little out of his senses, and imagined himself teaching a York choir to sing. Even so, he was beautifully patient with them.

‘I heard Meon whisper, “If this keeps up we shall go to our Gods. I wonder what Wotan will say to me. He must know I don’t believe in him. On the other hand, I can’t do what Ethelwalch finds so easy—curry favour with your God at the last minute, in the hope of being saved—as you call it. How do you advise, Bishop?”

‘“My dear man,” I said, “if that is your honest belief, I take it upon myself to say you had far better not curry favour with any God. But if it’s only your Jutish pride that holds you back, lift me up, and I’ll baptize you even now.”

‘“Lie still,” said Meon. “I could judge better if I were in my own hall. But to desert one’s fathers’ Gods—even if one doesn’t believe in them—in the middle of a gale, isn’t quite—What would you do yourself?”

‘I was lying in his arms, kept alive by the warmth of his big, steady heart. It did not seem to me the time or the place for subtle arguments, so I answered, “No, I certainly should not desert my God.” I don’t see even now what else I could have said.

‘“Thank you. I’ll remember that, if I live,” said Meon, and I must have drifted back to my dreams about Northumbria and beautiful France, for it was broad daylight when I heard him calling on Wotan in that high, shaking heathen yell that I detest so.

‘“Lie quiet. I’m giving Wotan his chance,” he said. Our dear Eddi ambled up, still beating time to his imaginary choir.

‘“Yes. Call on your Gods,” he cried, “and see what gifts they will send you. They are gone on a journey, or they are hunting.”

‘I assure you the words were not out of his mouth when old Padda shot from the top of a cold wrinkled swell, drove himself over the weedy ledge, and landed fair in our laps with a rock-cod between his teeth. I could not help smiling at Eddi’s face. “A miracle! A miracle!” he cried, and kneeled down to clean the cod.

‘“You’ve been a long time finding us, my son,” said Meon. “Now fish—fish for all our lives. We’re starving, Padda.”

‘The old fellow flung himself quivering like a salmon backward into the boil of the currents round the rocks, and Meon said, “We’re safe. I’ll send him to fetch help when this wind drops. Eat and be thankful.”

‘I never tasted anything so good as those rock-codlings we took from Padda’s mouth and half roasted over the fire. Between his plunges Padda would hunch up and purr over Meon with the tears running down his face. I never knew before that seals could weep for joy—as I have wept.

‘“Surely,” said Eddi, with his mouth full, “God has made the seal the loveliest of His creatures in the water. Look how Padda breasts the current! He stands up against it like a rock; now watch the chain of bubbles where he dives; and now—there is his wise head under that rock-ledge! Oh, a blessing be on thee, my little brother Padda!”

‘“You said he was a child of the Devil!” Meon laughed.

‘“There I sinned,” poor Eddi answered. “Call him here, and I will ask his pardon. God sent him out of the storm to humble me, a fool.”

‘“I won’t ask you to enter into fellowships and understandings with any accursed brute,” said Meon, rather unkindly. “Shall we say he was sent to our Bishop as the ravens were sent to your prophet Elijah?”

‘“Doubtless that is so,” said Eddi. “I will write it so if I live to get home.”

‘“No—no!” I said. “Let us three poor men kneel and thank God for His mercies.”

‘We kneeled, and old Padda shuffled up and thrust his head under Meon’s elbows. I laid my hand upon it and blessed him. So did Eddi.

‘“And now, my son,” I said to Meon, “shall I baptize thee?”

‘“Not yet,” said he. “Wait till we are well ashore and at home. No God in any Heaven shall say that I came to him or left him because I was wet and cold. I will send Padda to my people for a boat. Is that witchcraft, Eddi?”

‘“Why, no. Surely Padda will go and pull them to the beach by the skirts of their gowns as he pulled me in Wittering Church to ask me to sing. Only then I was afraid, and did not understand,” said Eddi.

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‘“You are understanding now,” said Meon, and at a wave of his arm off went Padda to the mainland, making a wake like a war-boat till we lost him in the rain. Meon’s people could not bring a boat across for some hours; even so it was ticklish work among the rocks in that tideway. But they hoisted me aboard, too stiff to move, and Padda swam behind us, barking and turning somersaults all the way to Manhood End!’

‘Good old Padda!’ murmured Dan.

‘When we were quite rested and re-clothed, and his people had been summoned—not an hour before—Meon offered himself to be baptized.’

‘Was Padda baptized too?’ Una asked.

‘No, that was only Meon’s joke. But he sat blinking on his ox-hide in the middle of the hall. When Eddi (who thought I wasn’t looking) made a little cross in holy water on his wet muzzle, he kissed Eddi’s hand. A week before Eddi wouldn’t have touched him. That was a miracle, if you like! But seriously, I was more glad than I can tell you to get Meon. A rare and splendid soul that never looked back—never looked back!’ The Arch- bishop half closed his eyes.

‘But, sir,’ said Puck, most respectfully, ‘haven’t you left out what Meon said afterwards?’ Before the Bishop could speak he turned to the children and went on: ‘Meon called all his fishers and ploughmen and herdsmen into the hall and he said: “Listen, men! Two days ago I asked our Bishop whether it was fair for a man to desert his fathers’ Gods in a time of danger. Our Bishop said it was not fair. You needn’t shout like that, because you are all Christians now. My red war-boat’s crew will remember how near we all were to death when Padda fetched them over to the Bishop’s islet. You can tell your mates that even in that place, at that time, hanging on the wet, weedy edge of death, our Bishop, a Christian, counselled me, a heathen, to stand by my fathers’ Gods. I tell you now that a faith which takes care that every man shall keep faith, even though he may save his soul by breaking faith, is the faith for a man to believe in. So I believe in the Christian God, and in Wilfrid His Bishop, and in the Church that Wilfrid rules. You have been baptized once by the King’s orders. I shall not have you baptized again; but if I find any more old women being sent to Wotan, or any girls dancing on the sly before Balder, or any men talking about Thun or Lok or the rest, I will teach you with my own hands how to keep faith with the Christian God. Go out quietly; you’ll find a couple of beefs on the beach.” Then of course they shouted “Hurrah!” which meant “Thor help us!” and—I think you laughed, sir?’

‘I think you remember it all too well,’ said the Archbishop, smiling. ‘It was a joyful day for me. I had learned a great deal on that rock where Padda found us. Yes—yess! One should deal kindly with all the creatures of God, and gently with their masters. But one learns late.’

He rose, and his gold-embroidered sleeves rustled thickly.

The organ cracked and took deep breaths.

‘Wait a minute,’ Dan whispered. ‘She’s going to do the trumpety one. It takes all the wind you can pump. It’s in Latin, sir.’

‘There is no other tongue,’ the Archbishop answered.

‘It’s not a real hymn,’ Una explained. ‘She does it as a treat after her exercises. She isn’t a real organist, you know. She just comes down here sometimes, from the Albert Hall.’

‘Oh, what a miracle of a voice!’ said the Archbishop.

It rang out suddenly from a dark arch of lonely noises—every word spoken to the very end:

‘Dies Irae, dies illa,
Solvet saeclum in favilla,
Teste David cum Sibylla.’

The Archbishop caught his breath and moved forward. The music carried on by itself a while.

‘Now it’s calling all the light out of the windows,’ Una whispered to Dan.

‘I think it’s more like a horse neighing in battle,’ he whispered back. The voice continued:

‘Tuba mirum spargens sonum
Per sepulchre regionum.’

Deeper and deeper the organ dived down, but far below its deepest note they heard Puck’s voice joining in the last line:

‘Coget omnes ante thronum.’

As they looked in wonder, for it sounded like the dull jar of one of the very pillars shifting, the little fellow turned and went out through the south door.

‘Now’s the sorrowful part, but it’s very beautiful.’ Una found herself speaking to the empty chair in front of her.

‘What are you doing that for?’ Dan said behind her. ‘You spoke so politely too.’

‘I don’t know … I thought—’ said Una. ‘Funny!’

‘’Tisn’t. It’s the part you like best,’ Dan grunted.

The music had turned soft—full of little sounds that chased each other on wings across the broad gentle flood of the main tune. But the voice was ten times lovelier than the music.

‘Recordare Jesu pie,
Quod sum causa Tuae viae,
Ne me perdas illi die!’

There was no more. They moved out into the centre aisle.

‘That you?’ the Lady called as she shut the lid. ‘I thought I heard you, and I played it on purpose.’

‘Thank you awfully,’ said Dan. ‘We hoped you would, so we waited. Come on, Una, it’s pretty nearly dinner-time.’