THE GATES OF THE WORLD
Stillness in the Meeting-house, save for the light swish of one
graveyard-tree against the window-pane, and the slow breathing of the Quaker
folk who filled every corner. On the long bench at the upper end of the room the
Elders sat motionless, their hands on their knees, wearing their hats; the women
in their poke-bonnets kept their gaze upon their laps. The heads of all save
three were averted, and they were Luke Claridge, his only living daughter,
called Faith, and his dead daughter's son David, who kept his eyes fixed on the
window where the twig flicked against the pane. The eyes of Faith, who sat on a
bench at one side, travelled from David to her father constantly; and if, once
or twice, the plain rebuke of Luke Claridge's look compelled her eyes upon her
folded hands, still she was watchful and waiting, and seemed demurely to defy
the convention of unblinking silence. As time went on, others of her sex stole
glances at Mercy's son from the depths of their bonnets; and at last, after over
an hour, they and all were drawn to look steadily at the young man upon whose
business this Meeting of Discipline had been called. The air grew warmer and
warmer, but no one became restless; all seemed as cool of face and body as the
grey gowns and coats with grey steel buttons which they wore.
At last a shrill voice broke the stillness. Raising his head, one of the
Elders said: "Thee will stand up, friend." He looked at David.
With a slight gesture of relief the young man stood up. He was good to look
at-clean-shaven, broad of brow, fine of figure, composed of carriage, though it
was not the composure of the people by whom he was surrounded. They were
dignified, he was graceful; they were consistently slow of movement, but at
times his quick gestures showed that he had not been able to train his spirit to
that passiveness by which he lived surrounded. Their eyes were slow and quiet,
more meditative than observant; his were changeful in expression, now
abstracted, now dark and shining as though some inner fire was burning. The
head, too, had a habit of coming up quickly with an almost wilful gesture, and
with an air which, in others, might have been called pride.
"What is thy name?" said another owl-like Elder to him.
A gentle, half-amused smile flickered at the young man's lips for an instant,
then, "David Claridge—still," he answered.
His last word stirred the meeting. A sort of ruffle went through the
atmosphere, and now every eye was fixed and inquiring. The word was ominous. He
was there on his trial, and for discipline; and it was thought by all that, as
many days had passed since his offence was committed, meditation and prayer
should have done their work. Now, however, in the tone of his voice, as it
clothed the last word, there was something of defiance. On the ear of his
grandfather, Luke Claridge, it fell heavily. The old man's lips closed tightly,
he clasped his hands between his knees with apparent self-repression.
The second Elder who had spoken was he who had once heard Luke Claridge use
profane words in the Cloistered House. Feeling trouble ahead, and liking the
young man and his brother Elder, Luke Claridge, John Fairley sought now to take
the case into his own hands.
"Thee shall never find a better name, David," he said, "if thee live a
hundred years. It hath served well in England. This thee didst do. While the
young Earl of Eglington was being brought home, with noise and brawling, after
his return to Parliament, thee mingled among the brawlers; and because some evil
words were said of thy hat and thy apparel, thee laid about thee, bringing one
to the dust, so that his life was in peril for some hours to come. Jasper Kimber
was his name."
"Were it not that the smitten man forgave thee, thee would now be in a prison
cell," shrilly piped the Elder who had asked his name.
"The fight was fair," was the young man's reply. "Though I am a Friend, the
man was English."
"Thee was that day a son of Belial," rejoined the shrill Elder. "Thee did use
thy hands like any heathen sailor—is it not the truth?"
"I struck the man. I punished him—why enlarge?"
"Thee is guilty?"
"I did the thing."
"That is one charge against thee. There are others. Thee was seen to drink of
spirits in a public-house at Heddington that day. Twice—thrice, like any drunken
"Twice," was the prompt correction.
There was a moment's pause, in which some women sighed and others folded and
unfolded their hands on their laps; the men frowned.
"Thee has been a dark deceiver," said the shrill Elder again, and with a ring
of acrid triumph; "thee has hid these things from our eyes many years, but in
one day thee has uncovered all. Thee—"
"Thee is charged," interposed Elder Fairley, "with visiting a play this same
day, and with seeing a dance of Spain following upon it."
"I did not disdain the music," said the young man drily; "the flute, of all
instruments, has a mellow sound." Suddenly his eyes darkened, he became
abstracted, and gazed at the window where the twig flicked softly against the
pane, and the heat of summer palpitated in the air. "It has good grace to my
ear," he added slowly.
Luke Claridge looked at him intently. He began to realize that there were
forces stirring in his grandson which had no beginning in Claridge blood, and
were not nurtured in the garden with the fruited wall. He was not used to
problems; he had only a code, which he had rigidly kept. He had now a glimmer of
something beyond code or creed.
He saw that the shrill Elder was going to speak. He intervened. "Thee is
charged, David," he said coldly, "with kissing a woman—a stranger and a
wanton—where the four roads meet 'twixt here and yonder town." He motioned
towards the hills.
"In the open day," added the shrill Elder, a red spot burning on each
"The woman was comely," said the young man, with a tone of irony, recovering
an impassive look.
A strange silence fell, the women looked down; yet they seemed not so
confounded as the men. After a moment they watched the young man with quicker
flashes of the eye.
"The answer is shameless," said the shrill Elder. "Thy life is that of a
The young man said nothing. His face had become very pale, his lips were set,
and presently he sat down and folded his arms.
"Thee is guilty of all?" asked John Fairley.
His kindly eye was troubled, for he had spent numberless hours in this young
man's company, and together they had read books of travel and history, and even
the plays of Shakespeare and Marlowe, though drama was anathema to the Society
of Friends—they did not realize it in the life around them. That which was drama
was either the visitation of God or the dark deeds of man, from which they must
avert their eyes. Their own tragedies they hid beneath their grey coats and
bodices; their dirty linen they never washed in public, save in the scandal such
as this where the Society must intervene. Then the linen was not only washed,
but duly starched, sprinkled, and ironed.
"I have answered all. Judge by my words," said David gravely.
"Has repentance come to thee? Is it thy will to suffer that which we may
decide for thy correction?" It was Elder Fairley who spoke. He was determined to
control the meeting and to influence its judgment. He loved the young man.
David made no reply; he seemed lost in thought. "Let the discipline
proceed—he hath an evil spirit," said the shrill Elder.
"His childhood lacked in much," said Elder Fairley patiently.
To most minds present the words carried home—to every woman who had a child,
to every man who had lost a wife and had a motherless son. This much they knew
of David's real history, that Mercy Claridge, his mother, on a visit to the
house of an uncle at Portsmouth, her mother's brother, had eloped with and was
duly married to the captain of a merchant ship. They also knew that, after some
months, Luke Claridge had brought her home; and that before her child was born
news came that the ship her husband sailed had gone down with all on board. They
knew likewise that she had died soon after David came, and that her father, Luke
Claridge, buried her in her maiden name, and brought the boy up as his son, not
with his father's name but bearing that name so long honoured in England, and
even in the far places of the earth—for had not Benn Claridge, Luke's brother,
been a great carpet-merchant, traveller, and explorer in Asia Minor, Egypt, and
the Soudan—Benn Claridge of the whimsical speech, the pious life? All this they
knew; but none of them, to his or her knowledge, had ever seen David's father.
He was legendary; though there was full proof that the girl had been duly
married. That had been laid before the Elders by Luke Claridge on an occasion
when Benn Claridge, his brother was come among them again from the East.
At this moment of trial David was thinking of his uncle, Benn Claridge, and
of his last words fifteen years before when going once again to the East,
accompanied by the Muslim chief Ebn Ezra, who had come with him to England on
the business of his country. These were Benn Claridge's words: "Love God before
all, love thy fellow-man, and thy conscience will bring thee safe home, lad."
"If he will not repent, there is but one way," said the shrill Elder.
"Let there be no haste," said Luke Claridge, in a voice that shook a little
in his struggle for self-control.
Another heretofore silent Elder, sitting beside John Fairley, exchanged words
in a whisper with him, and then addressed them. He was a very small man with a
very high stock and spreading collar, a thin face, and large wide eyes. He kept
his chin down in his collar, but spoke at the ceiling like one blind, though his
eyes were sharp enough on occasion. His name was Meacham.
"It is meet there shall be time for sorrow and repentance," he said. "This, I
pray you all, be our will: that for three months David live apart, even in the
hut where lived the drunken chair-maker ere he disappeared and died, as rumour
saith—it hath no tenant. Let it be that after to-morrow night at sunset none
shall speak to him till that time be come, the first day of winter. Till that
day he shall speak to no man, and shall be despised of the world, and—pray
God—of himself. Upon the first day of winter let it be that he come hither again
and speak with us."
On the long stillness of assent that followed there came a voice across the
room, from within a grey-and-white bonnet, which shadowed a delicate face
shining with the flame of the spirit within. It was the face of Faith Claridge,
the sister of the woman in the graveyard, whose soul was "with the Lord," though
she was but one year older and looked much younger than her nephew, David.
"Speak, David," she said softly. "Speak now. Doth not the spirit move thee?"
She gave him his cue, for he had of purpose held his peace till all had been
said; and he had come to say some things which had been churning in his mind too
long. He caught the faint cool sarcasm in her tone, and smiled unconsciously at
her last words. She, at least, must have reasons for her faith in him, must have
grounds for his defence in painful days to come; for painful they must be,
whether he stayed to do their will, or went into the fighting world where
Quakers were few and life composite of things they never knew in Hamley.
He got to his feet and clasped his hands behind his back. After an instant he
"All those things of which I am accused, I did; and for them is asked
repentance. Before that day on which I did these things was there complaint, or
cause for it? Was my life evil? Did I think in secret that which might not be
done openly? Well, some things I did secretly. Ye shall hear of them. I read
where I might, and after my taste, many plays, and found in them beauty and the
soul of deep things. Tales I have read, but a few, and John Milton, and Chaucer,
and Bacon, and Montaigne, and Arab poets also, whose books my uncle sent me. Was
this sin in me?"
"It drove to a day of shame for thee," said the shrill Elder.
He took no heed, but continued: "When I was a child I listened to the lark as
it rose from the meadow; and I hid myself in the hedge that, unseen, I might
hear it sing; and at night I waited till I could hear the nightingale. I have
heard the river singing, and the music of the trees. At first I thought that
this must be sin, since ye condemn the human voice that sings, but I could feel
no guilt. I heard men and women sing upon the village green, and I sang also. I
heard bands of music. One instrument seemed to me more than all the rest. I
bought one like it, and learned to play. It was the flute—its note so soft and
pleasant. I learned to play it—years ago—in the woods of Beedon beyond the hill,
and I have felt no guilt from then till now. For these things I have no
"Thee has had good practice in deceit," said the shrill Elder.
Suddenly David's manner changed. His voice became deeper; his eyes took on
that look of brilliance and heat which had given Luke Claridge anxious thoughts.
"I did, indeed, as the spirit moved me, even as ye have done."
"Blasphemer, did the spirit move thee to brawl and fight, to drink and curse,
to kiss a wanton in the open road? What hath come upon thee?" Again it was the
voice of the shrill Elder.
"Judge me by the truth I speak," he answered. "Save in these things my life
has been an unclasped book for all to read."
"Speak to the charge of brawling and drink, David," rejoined the little Elder
Meacham with the high collar and gaze upon the ceiling.
"Shall I not speak when I am moved? Ye have struck swiftly; I will draw the
arrow slowly from the wound. But, in truth, ye had good right to wound. Naught
but kindness have I had among you all; and I will answer. Straightly have I
lived since my birth. Yet betimes a torturing unrest of mind was used to come
upon me as I watched the world around us. I saw men generous to their kind,
industrious and brave, beloved by their fellows; and I have seen these same men
drink and dance and give themselves to coarse, rough play like young dogs in a
kennel. Yet, too, I have seen dark things done in drink—the cheerful made
morose, the gentle violent. What was the temptation? What the secret? Was it but
the low craving of the flesh, or was it some primitive unrest, or craving of the
soul, which, clouded and baffled by time and labour and the wear of life, by
this means was given the witched medicament—a false freedom, a thrilling
forgetfulness? In ancient days the high, the humane, in search of cure for
poison, poisoned themselves, and then applied the antidote. He hath little
knowledge and less pity for sin who has never sinned. The day came when all
these things which other men did in my sight I did—openly. I drank with them in
the taverns—twice I drank. I met a lass in the way. I kissed her. I sat beside
her at the roadside and she told me her brief, sad, evil story. One she had
loved had left her. She was going to London. I gave her what money I had—"
"And thy watch," said a whispering voice from the Elders' bench.
"Even so. And at the cross-roads I bade her goodbye with sorrow."
"There were those who saw," said the shrill voice from the bench.
"They saw what I have said—no more. I had never tasted spirits in my life. I
had never kissed a woman's lips. Till then I had never struck my fellow-man; but
before the sun went down I fought the man who drove the lass in sorrow into the
homeless world. I did not choose to fight; but when I begged the man Jasper
Kimber for the girl's sake to follow and bring her back, and he railed at me and
made to fight me, I took off my hat, and there I laid him in the dust."
"No thanks to thee that he did not lie in his grave," observed the shrill
"In truth I hit hard," was the quiet reply.
"How came thee expert with thy fists?" asked Elder Fairley, with the shadow
of a smile.
"A book I bought from London, a sack of corn, a hollow leather ball, and an
hour betimes with the drunken chair-maker in the hut by the lime-kiln on the
hill. He was once a sailor and a fighting man."
A look of blank surprise ran slowly along the faces of the Elders. They were
in a fog of misunderstanding and reprobation.
"While yet my father"—he looked at Luke Claridge, whom he had ever been
taught to call his father—"shared the great business at Heddington, and the
ships came from Smyrna and Alexandria, I had some small duties, as is well
known. But that ceased, and there was little to do. Sports are forbidden among
us here, and my body grew sick, because the mind had no labour. The world of
work has thickened round us beyond the hills. The great chimneys rise in a
circle as far as eye can see on yonder crests; but we slumber and sleep."
"Enough, enough," said a voice from among the women. "Thee has a friend gone
to London—thee knows the way. It leads from the cross-roads!"
Faith Claridge, who had listened to David's speech, her heart panting, her
clear grey eyes—she had her mother's eyes—fixed benignly on him, turned to the
quarter whence the voice came. Seeing who it was—a widow who, with no
demureness, had tried without avail to bring Luke Claridge to her—her lips
pressed together in a bitter smile, and she said to her nephew clearly:
"Patience Spielman hath little hope of thee, David. Hope hath died in her."
A faint, prim smile passed across the faces of all present, for all knew
Faith's allusion, and it relieved the tension of the past half-hour. From the
first moment David began to speak he had commanded his hearers. His voice was
low and even; but it had also a power which, when put to sudden quiet use,
compelled the hearer to an almost breathless silence, not so much to the meaning
of the words, but to the tone itself, to the man behind it. His personal force
was remarkable. Quiet and pale ordinarily, his clear russet-brown hair falling
in a wave over his forehead, when roused, he seemed like some delicate engine
made to do great labours. As Faith said to him once, "David, thee looks as
though thee could lift great weights lightly." When roused, his eyes lighted
like a lamp, the whole man seemed to pulsate. He had shocked, awed, and troubled
his listeners. Yet he had held them in his power, and was master of their minds.
The interjections had but given him new means to defend himself. After Faith had
spoken he looked slowly round.
"I am charged with being profane," he said. "I do not remember. But is there
none among you who has not secretly used profane words and, neither in secret
nor openly, has repented? I am charged with drinking. On one day of my life I
drank openly. I did it because something in me kept crying out, 'Taste and see!'
I tasted and saw, and know; and I know that oblivion, that brief pitiful respite
from trouble, which this evil tincture gives. I drank to know; and I found it
lure me into a new careless joy. The sun seemed brighter, men's faces seemed
happier, the world sang about me, the blood ran swiftly, thoughts swarmed in my
brain. My feet were on the mountains, my hands were on the sails of great ships;
I was a conqueror. I understood the drunkard in the first withdrawal begotten of
this false stimulant. I drank to know. Is there none among you who has, though
it be but once, drunk secretly as I drank openly? If there be none, then I am
"Amen," said Elder Fairley's voice from the bench. "In the open way by the
cross-roads I saw a woman. I saw she was in sorrow. I spoke to her. Tears came
to her eyes. I took her hand, and we sat down together. Of the rest I have told
you. I kissed her—a stranger. She was comely. And this I know, that the matter
ended by the cross-roads, and that by and forbidden paths have easy travel. I
kissed the woman openly—is there none among you who has kissed secretly, and has
kept the matter hidden? For him I struck and injured, it was fair. Shall a man
be beaten like a dog? Kimber would have beaten me."
"Wherein has it all profited?" asked the shrill Elder querulously.
"I have knowledge. None shall do these things hereafter but I shall
understand. None shall go venturing, exploring, but I shall pray for him."
"Thee will break thy heart and thy life exploring," said Luke Claridge
bitterly. Experiment in life he did not understand, and even Benn Claridge's
emigration to far lands had ever seemed to him a monstrous and amazing thing,
though it ended in the making of a great business in which he himself had
prospered, and from which he had now retired. He suddenly realized that a day of
trouble was at hand with this youth on whom his heart doted, and it tortured him
that he could not understand.
"By none of these things shall I break my life," was David's answer now.
For a moment he stood still and silent, then all at once he stretched out his
hands to them. "All these things I did were against our faith. I desire
forgiveness. I did them out of my own will; I will take up your judgment. If
there be no more to say, I will make ready to go to old Soolsby's hut on the
hill till the set time be passed."
There was a long silence. Even the shrill Elder's head was buried in his
breast. They were little likely to forego his penalty. There was a gentle
inflexibility in their natures born of long restraint and practised
determination. He must go out into blank silence and banishment until the first
day of winter. Yet, recalcitrant as they held him, their secret hearts were with
him, for there was none of them but had had happy commerce with him; and they
could think of no more bitter punishment than to be cut off from their own
society for three months. They were satisfied he was being trained back to
happiness and honour.
A new turn was given to events, however. The little wizened Elder Meacham
said: "The flute, friend—is it here?"
"I have it here," David answered.
"Let us have music, then."
"To what end?" interjected the shrill Elder.
"He hath averred he can play," drily replied the other. "Let us judge whether
vanity breeds untruth in him."
The furtive brightening of the eyes in the women was represented in the men
by an assumed look of abstraction in most; in others by a bland assumption of
judicial calm. A few, however, frowned, and would have opposed the suggestion,
but that curiosity mastered them. These watched with darkening interest the
flute, in three pieces, drawn from an inner pocket and put together swiftly.
David raised the instrument to his lips, blew one low note, and then a little
run of notes, all smooth and soft. Mellowness and a sober sweetness were in the
tone. He paused a moment after this, and seemed questioning what to play. And as
he stood, the flute in his hands, his thoughts took flight to his Uncle Benn,
whose kindly, shrewd face and sharp brown eyes were as present to him, and more
real, than those of Luke Claridge, whom he saw every day. Of late when he had
thought of his uncle, however, alternate depression and lightness of spirit had
possessed him. Night after night he had troubled sleep, and he had dreamed again
and again that his uncle knocked at his door, or came and stood beside his bed
and spoke to him. He had wakened suddenly and said "Yes" to a voice which seemed
to call to him.
Always his dreams and imaginings settled round his Uncle Benn, until he had
found himself trying to speak to the little brown man across the thousand
leagues of land and sea. He had found, too, in the past that when he seemed to
be really speaking to his uncle, when it seemed as though the distance between
them had been annihilated, that soon afterwards there came a letter from him.
Yet there had not been more than two or three a year. They had been, however,
like books of many pages, closely written, in Arabic, in a crabbed
characteristic hand, and full of the sorrow and grandeur and misery of the East.
How many books on the East David had read he would hardly have been able to say;
but something of the East had entered into him, something of the philosophy of
Mahomet and Buddha, and the beauty of Omar Khayyam had given a touch of colour
and intellect to the narrow faith in which he had been schooled. He had found
himself replying to a question asked of him in Heddington, as to how he knew
that there was a God, in the words of a Muslim quoted by his uncle: "As I know
by the tracks in the sand whether a Man or Beast has passed there, so the heaven
with its stars, the earth with its fruits, show me that God has passed." Again,
in reply to the same question, the reply of the same Arab sprang to his
lips—"Does the Morning want a Light to see it by?"
As he stood with his flute—his fingers now and then caressingly rising and
falling upon its little caverns, his mind travelled far to those regions he had
never seen, where his uncle traded, and explored. Suddenly, the call he had
heard in his sleep now came to him in this waking reverie. His eyes withdrew
from the tree at the window, as if startled, and he almost called aloud in
reply; but he realised where he was. At last, raising the flute to his lips, as
the eyes of Luke Claridge closed with very trouble, he began to play.
Out in the woods of Beedon he had attuned his flute to the stir of leaves,
the murmur of streams, the song of birds, the boom and burden of storm; and it
was soft and deep as the throat of the bell-bird of Australian wilds. Now it was
mastered by the dreams he had dreamed of the East: the desert skies, high and
clear and burning, the desert sunsets, plaintive and peaceful and unvaried—one
lovely diffusion, in which day dies without splendour and in a glow of pain. The
long velvety tread of the camel, the song of the camel-driver, the monotonous
chant of the river-man, with fingers mechanically falling on his little drum,
the cry of the eagle of the Libyan Hills, the lap of the heavy waters of the
Dead Sea down by Jericho, the battle-call of the Druses beyond Damascus, the
lonely gigantic figures at the mouth of the temple of Abou Simbel, looking out
with the eternal question to the unanswering desert, the delicate ruins of
moonlit Baalbec, with the snow mountains hovering above, the green oases, and
the deep wells where the caravans lay down in peace—all these were pouring their
influences on his mind in the little Quaker village of Hamley where life was so
bare, so grave.
The music he played was all his own, was instinctively translated from all
other influences into that which they who listened to him could understand. Yet
that sensuous beauty which the Quaker Society was so concerned to banish from
any part in their life was playing upon them now, making the hearts of the women
beat fast, thrilling them, turning meditation into dreams, and giving the sight
of the eyes far visions of pleasure. So powerful was this influence that the
shrill Elder twice essayed to speak in protest, but was prevented by the wizened
Elder Meacham. When it seemed as if the aching, throbbing sweetness must surely
bring denunciation, David changed the music to a slow mourning cadence. It was a
wail of sorrow, a march to the grave, a benediction, a soft sound of farewell,
floating through the room and dying away into the mid-day sun.
There came a long silence after, and David sat with unmoving look upon the
distant prospect through the window. A woman's sob broke the air. Faith's
handkerchief was at her eyes. Only one quick sob, but it had been wrung from her
by the premonition suddenly come that the brother—he was brother more than
nephew—over whom her heart had yearned had, indeed, come to the cross-roads, and
that their ways would henceforth divide. The punishment or banishment now to be
meted out to him was as nothing. It meant a few weeks of disgrace, of ban, of
what, in effect, was self-immolation, of that commanding justice of the Society
which no one yet save the late Earl of Eglington had defied. David could refuse
to bear punishment, but such a possibility had never occurred to her or to any
one present. She saw him taking his punishment as surely as though the law of
the land had him in its grasp. It was not that which she was fearing. But she
saw him moving out of her life. To her this music was the prelude of her
A moment afterwards Luke Claridge arose and spoke to David in austere tones:
"It is our will that thee begone to the chair-maker's but upon the hill till
three months be passed, and that none have speech with thee after sunset
"Amen," said all the Elders.
"Amen," said David, and put his flute into his pocket, and rose to go.