Cathedral Prelude

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Francis arrived aboard the popemobile shortly before 5 pm local time in the garden in front of the church rectory. Vested in purple, the liturgical colour of the First Sunday of Advent, he climbed the steps of the Cathedral for the Mass. After entering the church, which was decorated for the occasion with its columns draped in yellow and white, the Pope celebrated Mass for the Central African priests, men and women religious, and seminarians. The Liturgy was said in French with the Preface and Eucharistic Prayer in Latin and was accompanied by a choir that sang in Sango, the national language.

The prayers of the faithful were dedicated to the Pope and to Advent preachers that they may proclaim Christian hope, to governments and those who fight for a more fraternal world, to the sick, the exiled, to orphans and widows, and to consecrated people that they may revive the ardour of their witness.

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Falk was a very good-looking man--fair hair, light blue eyes like his father's, slim and straight and quite obviously fearless. It was that quality of courage that struck every one who saw him; it was not only that he feared, it seemed, no one and nothing, but that he went a step further than that, spending his life in defying every one and everything, as a practised dueller might challenge every one he met in order to keep his play in practice.

Sampson said. He was only twenty-one, a contemptuous age. He looked as though he had been living in that house for weeks, although, as a fact, he had just driven up, after a long and tiresome journey, in an ancient cab through the pouring rain. The Archdeacon gazed at his son in a bewildered, confused amaze, as though he, a convinced sceptic, were suddenly confronted, in broad daylight, with an undoubted ghost.


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  7. It was characteristic of the relationship in that family that, at that statement, Mrs. Brandon and Joan did not look at Falk but at the Archdeacon. You walk in as though nothing had happened! You walk in! You might hear me out first. But I'll come along when I've unpacked and you're a bit cooler. I wanted some tea, but I suppose that will have to wait.

    You just listen, father, and you'll find it isn't so bad. Oxford's a rotten place for any one who wants to be on his own, and, anyway, you won't have to pay my bills any more.

    You are here

    The Archdeacon, as he stood there, felt a dim mysterious pain as though an adversary whom he completely despised had found suddenly with his weapon a joint in his armour. About them the station gathered in a black cloud, dirty, obscure, lit by flashes of light and flame, shaken with screams, rumblings, the crashing of carriage against carriage, the rattle of cab- wheels on the cobbles outside.

    To-day also there was the hiss and scatter of the rain upon the glass roof. The Ronders stood, not bewildered, for that they never were, but thinking what would be best. The new Canon was a round man, round-shouldered, round-faced, round-stomached, round legged. A fair height, he was not ludicrous, but it seemed that if you laid him down he would roll naturally, still smiling, to the farthest end of the station.

    He wore large, very round spectacles. His black clerical coat and trousers and hat were scrupulously clean and smartly cut. He was not a dandy, but he was not shabby. He smiled a great deal, not nervously as curates are supposed to smile, not effusively, but simply with geniality. His aunt was a contrast, thin, straight, stiff white collar, little black bow-tie, coat like a man's, skirt with no nonsense about it.

    No nonsense about her anywhere. She was not unamiable, perhaps, but business came first. They found their bags, and there were a great many of them; Miss Ronder, having seen that they were all there and that there was no nonsense about the porter, moved off to the barrier followed by her nephew. As they came into the station square, all smelling of hay and the rain, the deluge slowly withdrew its forces, recalling them gradually so that the drops whispered now, patter-patter--pit-pat.

    A pigeon hovered down and pecked at the cobbles. Faint colour threaded the thick blotting-paper grey.

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    Old Fawcett himself had come to the station to meet them. Why had he felt it to be an occasion? God only knows. A new Canon was nothing to him. He very seldom now, being over eighty, with a strange "wormy" pain in his left ear, took his horses out himself. He saved his money and counted it over by his fireside to see that his old woman didn't get any of it.

    He hated his old woman, and in a vaguely superstitious, thoroughly Glebeshire fashion half-believed that she had cast a spell over him and was really responsible for his "wormy" ear. Why had he come? He didn't himself know. Perhaps Ronder was going to be of importance in the place, he had come from London and they all had money in London. He licked his purple protruding lips greedily as he saw the generous man. Yes, kindly and generous he looked Clay got the telegram all right.

    Alice Ronder was over sixty and as active as a woman of forty. Ronder looked at her and laughed. What words! Do I ever cherish grievances? I've slaved at the place, as you know, and Mrs. Clay's a jewel--but she complains of the Polchester maids--says there isn't one that's any good. Oh, I want my tea, I want my tea! They were climbing up from the market-place into the High Street.

    Ronder looked about him with genial curiosity.

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    He laughed a great deal, but absent-mindedly, as though his thoughts were elsewhere. It would have been interesting to a student of human nature to have been there and watched him as he sat back in the cab, looking through the window, indeed, but seeing apparently nothing. He seemed to be gazing through his round spectacles very short-sightedly, his eyes screwed up and dim. His fat soft hands were planted solidly on his thick knees. The observer would have been interested because he would soon have realised that Ronder saw everything; nothing, however insignificant, escaped him, but he seemed to see with his brain as though he had learnt the trick of forcing it to some new function that did not properly belong to it.

    The broad white forehead under the soft black clerical hat was smooth, unwrinkled, mild and calm He had trained it to be so. The pavements were sleek and shiny after the rain; people were walking with the air of being unusually pleased with the world, always the human expression when the storms have withdrawn and there is peace and colour in the sky. There were lights behind the solemn panes of Bennett's the bookseller's, that fine shop whose first master had seen Sir Walter Scott in London and spoken to Byron.

    In his window were rows of the classics in calf and first editions of the Surtees books and Dr. At the very top of the High Street was Mellock's the pastry- cook's, gay with its gas, rich with its famous saffron buns, its still more famous ginger-bread cake, and, most famous of all, its lemon biscuits. Even as the Ronders' cab paused for a moment before it turned to pass under the dark Arden Gate on to the asphalt of the Precincts, the great Mrs.

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    Mellock herself, round and rubicund, came to the door and looked about her at the weather. An errand-boy passed, whistling, down the hill, a stiff military-looking gentleman with white moustaches mounted majestically the steps of the Conservative Club; then they rattled under the black archway, echoed for a moment on the noisy cobbles, then slipped into the quiet solemnity of the Precincts asphalt.

    It was Brandon who had insisted on the asphalt. Old residents had complained that to take away the cobbles would be to rid the Precincts of all its atmosphere. Very quiet here; not a sound penetrated. The Cathedral was a huge shadow above its darkened lawns; not a human soul was to be seen.

    The cab stopped with a jerk at Number Eight. The bell was rung by old Fawcett, who stood on the top step looking down at Ronder and wondering how much he dared to ask him. Ask him too much now and perhaps he would not deal with him in the future. Moreover, although the man wore large spectacles and was fat he was probably not a fool Fawcett could not tell why he was so sure, but there was something Clay was at the door, smiling and ordering a small frightened girl to "hurry up now. Ronder stood for a moment looking about him as though he were a spy in enemy country and must let nothing escape him.

    Clay, pay the cabman, please. The Ronders had taken this house a month ago; for two months before that it had stood desolate, wisps of paper and straw blowing about it, its "To let" notice creaking and screaming in every wind. The Hon.

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    Pentecoste, an eccentric old lady, had lived there for many years, and had died in the middle of a game of patience; her worn and tattered furniture had been sold at auction, and the house had remained unlet for a considerable period because people in the town said that the ghost of Mrs. Pentecoste's cat a famous blue Persian walked there.

    The Ronders cared nothing for ghosts; the house was exactly what they wanted. It had two panelled rooms, two powder-closets, and a little walled garden at the back with fruit trees. It was quite wonderful what Miss Ronder had done in a month; she had abandoned Eaton Square for a week, worked in the Polchester house like a slave, then retired back to Eaton Square again, leaving Mrs. Clay, her aide-de-camp, to manage the rest.