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Pages (PDF): 476
Publication Date: 1935
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The thin papery sky of the early autumn afternoon was torn, and the eye of the sun, pale but piercing, looked through and down. The eye's gaze travelled on a shaft of light to the very centre of the town. A little scornful, very arrogant, it surveyed the scene.
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The Cathedral had chimed at three, and at once the bells began with their accustomed melody to ring for Evensong. The town, bathed in a smoky haze, clustered about and around the Cathedral, Cathedral Green and Arden Gate, dropping through the High Street, then lower to the Market-place, then sharply over the Rock to Seatown that bordered the river. Slowly up, beyond the river, sloped the quiet autumn fields to the hills that spread, like dun cloths, to the sea. For the moment, while the sun's eye gazed its last on that afternoon, the huddled town, the long fields, the wide band of sea caught a pale glow of light, looking up to the sun with the timidity of a girl reassured by her lover's unexpected attentions.
Men lolling in Riverside Street said: 'There's the sun!'
At the St. Leath Hotel on Pol Hill beyond the town, windows stole a glimmering shade. In Canon's Yard the old houses with their twisted shapes and crooked chimneys grinned, for an instant, like toothless old men. It was market day and in the Market-place the huddled sheep, the wide-eyed cows, the barking dogs, the farmers, the old women were mistily gold-lit as with a divine dust. The frock-coated statue at the top of Orange Street was illuminated at the nose; in the yard of the old 'Bull' a weary maid rubbed her eyes; Hattaway, the architect, standing in the door of Bennett's bookshop, looked up to the sky and smiled; two of the old ladies of 10 Norman Row, starting out for their walk, said together: 'Why, there's the sun!'; Mr. Stephen Furze, alone in his cobwebby room, saw the sun strike ladders of light through the air and shook his head at them; young 'Penny' Marlowe, arranging chrysanthemums in the drawing-room at St. James's Rectory, smiled mysteriously as though surprised in a secret.
The King Harry Tower caught the light, then seemed, with a proud gesture of disdain, to toss it away.
The eye of the sun, having seen everything, withdrew.
Mists were rising from the river.
The Reverend Peter Gaselee, young and ardent, was crossing the Cathedral Green to Evensong. Half-way over he was stopped by a bent figure, shoulders wrapped in a grey shawl, hat shabby and shapeless, that said in a sharp and piercing voice: 'Ah, Mr. Gaselee—Sun came out for a moment but it's gone in again.' Peter Gaselee was annoyed by this interruption, for he was in a hurry and old Mr. Mordaunt was a fool. However, it was his policy to be agreeable to everyone—it was also the obligation of his cloth. So he said brightly:
'Ah, Mr. Mordaunt—been sketching?'
'Yes, I have. I've stopped now because the light's too bad. If the sun had stayed I'd have had half an hour more.' He drew his grey shawl closer about his shoulders. 'Like to see what I've been doing?'
'Delighted,' Gaselee said, but thought—'Silly old ass—always must be showing his mad sketches to everyone.' His fine thin nose twitched as it always did when he was irritated, but his smile was genial as the old man, with a trembling hand, drew out a sketch-book.
'There—the light's bad. But you can see it all right, I daresay.' He opened the book and showed, his fingers tapping against the paper, a double-page drawing. Gaselee flattered himself that he had a fine knowledge of the Arts. He and old Ronder, and possibly Hattaway, were the only men, he told himself, who cared for such things in Polchester.
There was no doubt that old Mordaunt could draw. The Cathedral rose from the paper like a living thing, the King Harry Tower like the proud head of a triumphant giant.
'Those lines in King Harry look like teeth,' he said, for he must say something.
'Well, they do sometimes. In certain lights.'
'And who's that standing in the West Door?'
The old man peered more closely. 'Oh, you see someone there, do you? So did I. But there wasn't anyone there really. At least I don't think so.'
'He's too large for life anyway.'
'Yes, long and thin and black. That's how I saw him.'
'How do you mean—you saw him—if there wasn't anyone there?'
The old man began eagerly: 'Oh well, light does strange things. But I've often thought I've seen him. Very thin, in black. He never moves even when the light changes.'
'Shadows, I suppose.'
Gaselee smiled and nodded his head. 'Good afternoon, Mr. Mordaunt. I must be getting on. Going to Evensong.'
'Good day to you, Mr. Gaselee. I must be getting on too. Yes, I must. Good day to you.'
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