THE CULT OF BRUEY

“The instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood, one
difference between him and other animals being that he is the most
imitative of living creatures.” _Poetics_, ARISTOTLE.

Jane-Anne was a true Athenian in that she was ever ready to run after
any new thing, and during her last two terms at the Bainbridge the
strongest influence in her life was that of her Sunday-school teacher,
Miss Stukely.

Jane-Anne whole-heartedly admired Miss Stukely, and where she admired
she invariably imitated. Miss Stukely was delicate, and Jane-Anne
delighted in her own “crepitations” as being the sincerest sort of
flattery of that lady.

Miss Stukely was slender, always elaborately dressed, gentle in manner,
with white, heavily ringed hands. She was not, perhaps, beautiful in
face, being somewhat sallow with a receding chin; but her expression was
kindly, and Jane-Anne read into her face the spiritual excellencies the
lady was most fond of extolling. She had a way of closing her eyes when
she was most earnest in exhortation that Jane-Anne found very
impressive. Moreover, she frequently used a gold-topped smelling
bottle, and the possession of a similar restorative was just then
Jane-Anne’s most cherished aspiration.

To lean back in a chair while inhaling the vinegary fragrance of a
cut-glass bottle, to lean back with closed eyes, in an aura of the
faintness and exhaustion induced by strong emotion, was to Jane-Anne as
the ecstatic vision of a mystic: a state of mind and body only to be
attained by profound spiritual exaltation.

She learned by heart with ease. She could reel off any number of
appropriate, or quite as often, inappropriate texts; and did so on the
smallest provocation, greatly to the indignation of Mrs. Dew, who felt
that she required no religious instruction at her niece’s hands.

This facility greatly impressed Miss Stukely, who felt that in Jane-Anne
she indeed found fertile soil for the good seed, and there was no
question whatever that Jane-Anne fully deserved the prize she gained for
“Bible-searching.”

This prize was the history of one “Bruey,” “a little worker for Christ,”
whose winning personality (Miss Stukely was fond of the word “winning,”
generally using it in the sense of a successful gainer of souls) seized
upon Jane-Anne’s imagination till she lived and walked and had her being
in that character.

Bruey was just her own age, had “great dark eyes” (Jane-Anne was
pleasantly conscious of possessing similar orbs), had palpitations.
Jane-Anne couldn’t quite achieve these, but felt that crepitations were
nearly as good and that she was, at all events, near the rose, if not
the royal flower herself.

Bruey had no father (another resemblance) and a mother, who, though an
industrious church-worker, was perhaps not quite as understanding and
sympathetic as she might have been. Put Mrs. Dew in place of the mother
and there you are!

Bruey always read her Bible seated upon a box in her bedroom window; “a
folded rug upon this box made it soft and comfortable for a seat.” Here
she studied the scriptures and said her prayers, watching the sunset the
while. She always kept a pencil by her and marked the texts she found
most helpful, and Jane-Anne’s Bible already was scored heavily in
hundreds of places. Its newness (being a prize) was rather afflicting,
so she wetted her thumb and doubled down the corners to hasten its look
of age and constant use.

The box and the window were denied to Jane-Anne at the Bainbridge, for
twelve girls slept in a dormitory where the ledges of the windows were
five feet from the ground, and no box of any sort was permitted in an
apartment of almost superhuman neatness.

At Jeune Street, too, the room was so small that the window was blocked
up by a chest of drawers far too heavy for Jane-Anne to move.

But the moment she came to Holywell she perceived glorious possibilities
of Bruey-ness in the fine big bedroom her aunt had given up to her. It
is true that the dressing-table stood in the window, but it was an
old-fashioned, spindle-legged affair with swing looking-glass attached,
quite light and easy to move, and the moment that Jane-Anne could get
about without assistance she pulled it back into the room, dragged her
empty tin box under the window, and having no shawl, folded her
dressing-gown on the top to make it “soft and comfortable for a seat.”

As a matter of fact it did nothing of the kind, the box was dinted and
lumpy and very hard, but what cared Jane-Anne? Bruey’s box was covered
with chintz, but that, she felt, was a very minor detail. The main
properties were all there—box, window, Bible, little girl.

That the window did not face towards the west was disappointing; that
very little sky was to be seen owing to the presence of a tall house
just across the yard was rather annoying. Still, there was the box and
there was the window, and there was Jane-Anne, ready to throw herself
into the part of Bruey with the utmost abandon.

She even improved upon Bruey, grafting on to the character certain
attributes of Miss Stukely.

That morning, Mrs. Dew had turned out the kitchen cupboard, and among
discarded bottles and boxes Jane-Anne had found a tiny phial that had
contained vanilla essence. This she secretly pocketed. She tore a
piece off her sponge, thrust it into the little bottle and then hied her
to the bath-room where there was some Scrubbs’ Ammonia. In a trice the
bits of sponge in the bottle were saturated with that pungent fluid.
Behold Jane-Anne equipped with a smelling bottle, quite as efficacious
if not so handsome as Miss Stukely’s.

She sought her bower at seven o’clock, while her aunt was safely engaged
in the final preparations for Mr. Wycherly’s dinner. She had no time
for reading and meditation at bed-time, for Mrs. Dew always came to take
away the candle. Her aunt mistrusted Jane-Anne ever since she had set
her hair on fire one evening in Jeune Street. When she reached her room
she found that her box had been put back in the corner and her
dressing-gown was hanging behind the door. This constantly happened.

Jane-Anne muttered something that sounded like “interfering old thing”
and hastened to arrange it all again. This didn’t take long, and once
the stage was set she mounted the box, and gazed out into the
uninspiring stone-cutter’s yard with a suitable expression of “winning
tenderness.” Next she closed her eyes wearily and distantly inhaled the
Scrubbs’ Ammonia in the vanilla bottle. It restored her and she opened
her Bible haphazard with a sanctimonious Jack-Horner sort of expression
on her thin, eager little face.

She opened at the book of Job.

Now this was unexplored country. Genesis she knew; Kings and
Chronicles, and the greater part of the New Testament she had read. But
somehow the book of Job hadn’t entered into Miss Stukely’s scheme of
salvation, and Jane-Anne’s only acquaintance with Job so far had been in
her aunt’s phrase, “you’d try the patience of Job,” and she had vaguely
pictured him as a meek old gentleman tormented by a large family of
unruly children.

Montagu and Mr. Wycherly had dipped into “Home Influence” anywhere.
This was a new way of reading to her, and she felt she must at once do
likewise. So into the end of the book of Job she thrust and started at
the words, “Canst thou bind the sweet influences of the Pleiades or
loose the bonds of Orion,” and read on aloud.

Now, there was in Jane-Anne a fine feeling for the beautiful and she
liked the sound of it greatly, her voice growing stronger and more
impressive as she read. Especially was she carried away by the
description of the horse: “_He paweth in the valley and rejoiceth in his
strength; he goeth on to meet the armed men…. He swalloweth the ground
with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of
the trumpet. He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the
battle afar off, the thunder of the captains and the shouting._”

By this time, quite unconsciously, she had raised her voice very
considerably, and she stopped in great confusion as her aunt bounced
into the room demanding anxiously: “What ever is the matter? Who’re you
a-calling out to?”

“I’m only reading to myself,” Jane-Anne mumbled.

“Well, I wish you’d read a bit quieter,” said Mrs. Dew, “frightening a
body to death with ’ha-ha-in’s’ and sech. An’ what are you doin’
sitting on that there box as I put away this very afternoon? Why can’t
you leave it be in the corner?”

Jane-Anne made no reply. It is disconcerting to be snatched suddenly
from all the exciting panoply of a battle-field to a mere discussion as
to the position of boxes. She felt bewildered and unreal.

“Why don’t you answer me?” Mrs. Dew asked impatiently.

“I was reading,” Jane-Anne repeated stupidly.

“An’ a very bad light to read in,” said Mrs. Dew. “You come down into
the kitchen an’ give me a hand with the master’s dinner instead of
sittin’ hollerin’ there, and you put back that box in its proper place.”

While Jane-Anne was washing up she remembered with contrition that she
had not marked a single text.

In two particulars only did she feel that she could never hope to
emulate Bruey. Firstly, because Bruey died in the last chapter of her
palpitations. Now nothing was more opposed to Jane-Anne’s aims than
that she should succumb to her crepitations. Secondly, she felt that
she could not hope even to approach Bruey’s noble self-abnegation in the
matter of hats.

Bruey at first taught her Sunday class wearing a beautiful best hat
adorned with roses; but on a senior teacher pointing out that this
embellishment might have a bad effect upon the morals of her infant
scholars, she begged her mother to remove the offending garniture and
replace it by a simple ribbon.

Never, Jane-Anne was assured, could she attain to such heights of
self-denial. She never had possessed a hat with roses, but if she ever
did—not all the Sunday-school teachers in creation should wrest them
from her. On that point her determination was rooted. She would follow
Bruey in all else but death-beds and hats. At present she felt that her
hat would not excite any emotion save loathing in no matter how
frivolous a breast. But if ever the day came—after all, Miss Stukely
had hydrangeas in her hat—and there was no need to model herself
slavishly on Bruey.

Much as she loved Mr. Wycherly, he caused her some heart-searching. She
adored him. To her, he seemed to combine in his own person every kind
and gracious and beautiful quality; but so far he had not said any “good
words” to her except that twice he had murmured, “God bless you.” Not
one text had he quoted when they spake together, nor had he asked her
any of those searching intimate questions as to her spiritual condition,
that she found so exciting and so wonderfully easy to answer
satisfactorily.

She had the true mystic’s sense of nearness to the unseen; and in giving
to the lonely child this feeling of fellowship with the saints, this
serene confidence in Heaven’s interference in her affairs, Miss Stukely
and Bruey, between them, had bestowed on her a real and precious gift.

But they had also created a mental pose. They had imbued her with a
sense of pious security that armed her against endeavour. What she did
easily she did well. What she disliked and found difficult she did not
try to do at all, and any unpleasantness resulting from such inactivity
she looked upon as a “cross.” So long as she was meek and patient under
rebuke; so long as she turned the other cheek to the smiter and bore no
malice, she felt that she had done all that could be expected of her.

For instance, in the matter of the box, it seemed absolutely vital to
her that she should read her Bible and meditate in Bruey’s fashion no
matter how the constant disturbance of the said box annoyed her aunt.

As she wiped plates in a smeary and perfunctory fashion, she was
rejoicing in the existence of Montagu and Edmund, because Bruey had a
cousin Percy whom she influenced for good. There was a Percy, too, in
“Home Influence,” and like all the Percies in that class of fiction,
these two were dashing, full of generous impulses, but easily led
astray. Bruey’s Percy even read yellow-backed novels in bed at night,
and Jane wondered whether Montagu was given to similar nocturnal orgies.
She had no more idea of what a yellow-back was than she had of a Roman
Catholic, but she was sure that both were equally pernicious.

Edmund fitted more easily into the Percy part, he was so merry and
good-looking; but fond as she was of the centre of the stage, Jane-Anne
could not yet quite see herself enlightening Edmund in the approved
Bruey fashion.

He was so unexpected, he would be certain to say the wrong thing.

At this moment Mrs. Dew came back from the dining-room. “You’re to go
and see the master in his study,” she said; “it’s a quarter to nine now,
and the minute the clock strikes you’re to come.”

Jane-Anne flew to the sink to wash her hands and hastened upstairs,
buttoning her sleeves as she went.

“Well, have you found the poem?” asked Mr. Wycherly.

“No, sir. I’ve read every one you marked, but it isn’t one of them.”

“Curious,” Mr. Wycherly said thoughtfully; “we must try again. Sit
down, my child, and think if you can remember in what sort of metre it
was written, that would be a help.”

But Jane-Anne knew nothing about metre, so the question of the poem
lapsed for the time being.

The precious moments were fleeting, and Bruey being still in the
ascendant, she asked _apropos_ of nothing:

“Please, sir, do you think Master Montagu and Edmund are little
workers?”

“Edmund certainly isn’t,” Mr. Wycherly replied decidedly; “he’s an idle
young dog”—here he chuckled—”but all the same he can do whatever he sets
himself to do. Montagu, on the contrary, is naturally industrious. He
loves knowledge for its own sake. Why do you ask?” and Mr. Wycherly
looked inquiringly at Jane-Anne.

She was mystified. That anybody should call anybody else “an idle young
dog” in that tone of affectionate amusement was in itself most puzzling.

“I suppose,” she said, deliberately paraphrasing a favourite remark of
Miss Stukely’s, “we can all be workers, ’you in your small corner; I in
mine.’”

“Quite so,” Mr. Wycherly assented politely, though he in his turn was
somewhat staggered by Jane-Anne’s gently patronising tone. Had the
Greek nymph of the afternoon turned into an amazing little prig in the
evening? It was evident that this child was a quick-change artist in
more than the matter of make-up.

As for Jane-Anne, she felt curiously flattened out. This courteous,
kindly old gentleman made her feel incredibly small. Bruey, she was
certain, or even the apostolic Miss Stukely herself, would find it
exceedingly difficult to approach Mr. Wycherly on the subject of his
soul. And then and there was lighted in the youthful mind of Jane-Anne
one little candle of common-sense which illuminated this dark and
difficult situation with the bright suggestion that possibly Mr.
Wycherly’s soul was Mr. Wycherly’s business and not hers; and just at
that very crucial moment she heard him saying:

“By the way, child, isn’t that dress rather hot and heavy for this
summer weather? Don’t you think we’d better see about something else if
you’ve not got anything thinner?”

She jumped to her feet, clasping and unclasping her hands in an agony of
earnestness. Where frocks were concerned souls had a poor chance with
Jane-Anne.

“Oh, sir,” she cried, “it’s a hateful old dress, but my two cotton
frocks were left at the Bainbridge and aunt said we couldn’t ask for
them as I’d left, and they said I could keep this and my best, as I’d
got them with me, but I wish they hadn’t. Mightn’t some poorer child
than me have this? It is so hideous and uncomfortable.”

She had come close up to Mr. Wycherly and was pleading as though her
very life depended on it.

Mr. Wycherly drew her between his knees, and there was a look of
considerable amusement on his handsome old face as he asked: “If it is
so ugly and so uncomfortable, why should you want to bestow it upon
anybody else?”

“But it’s quite good,” Jane-Anne expostulated; “we couldn’t throw it
away. Some child might be glad of it. I’m not. Let’s talk about what
I shall have,” she added coaxingly, and somehow she found herself
sitting on Mr. Wycherly’s knee.

It was years since she had sat on anybody’s knee, and that she should do
so again and in such circumstances seemed to her inconceivably
delightful.

Jane-Anne expanded like a flower.

It did not seem such an extraordinary thing to Mr. Wycherly that a child
should sit on his knee. He had served a long and somewhat severe
apprenticeship to Montagu and Edmund, who both had generally elected to
sit upon him at the same time. What most impressed him about Jane-Anne
was that she was distressingly light.

They had a long and intimate confabulation on the subject of frocks,
finally deciding that, with Mrs. Dew’s permission, Mrs. Methuen should
be taken into their counsels.

The clock struck nine.

Jane-Anne flung her arms round his neck and kissed him, and yet again he
opened the door for her as she went out.

The following afternoon Mrs. Dew sent her out to do some messages, and
while she was outside a shop—there were hats in that shop, and Jane-Anne
flattened her nose against the window in her enthusiastic interest—two
ladies came out to a carriage that was waiting at the kerb.

The ladies were gorgeously arrayed, evidently on their way to some
party, and she turned to stare after them admiringly. The footman
slammed the door, leapt upon the box, and the carriage started, when she
observed that one of the ladies had dropped her purse in the gutter. It
was a pretty trifle made of links of gold in the shape of a little bag.
She picked it up at once and darted after the carriage, calling out to
them to stop, but the ladies shook their heads at her and the coachman
was far too exalted a personage to take any notice at all. The footman
did just look round, but he regained his proud immobility in the next
second of time.

There was a good deal of traffic that afternoon and the carriage could
not get along very fast. Jane-Anne ran after it, never letting it get
out of sight, though she was breathless and tired, and her heart thumped
in her ears in a fashion that was rather too realistically reminiscent
of Bruey to be altogether agreeable. She was almost giving up in despair
when the carriage turned in through big gates. Faint, but pursuing,
Jane-Anne followed and ran up the broad path after it. There were many
gaily dressed people standing about, who stared at her, and numbers of
other carriages so that the one she followed had to go very slowly. She
came up with it just as it stopped at an entrance.

The ladies saw her. “Go away, little girl,” said the younger crossly;
“we have nothing for you, and you have no business to follow us.”

Too breathless and exhausted to speak, Jane-Anne held out the purse
towards her.

“Good gracious! I must have dropped it, and you followed us; how very
kind. I suppose I’d better give her something,” in an aside to her
companion. “I hope I’ve got some small change. Here you are, and thank
you very much.”

She selected sixpence and held it out towards Jane-Anne.

Now Jane-Anne wanted that sixpence dreadfully, for she hadn’t a farthing
in the world; but she had conceived a dislike for the lady; she was
indignant at being taken for a beggar, and having somewhat recovered her
breath, she said very distinctly:

“No, thank you; but I think you might have told the coachman to stop,
then I shouldn’t have had to run so far,” and with her head in the air,
she set off down the drive again.

A good many people had arrived at the door, and they were all listening.

She hadn’t gone far when she heard quick footsteps behind her and a
short, good-tempered looking gentleman pulled her by the arm. He wore a
festal white waistcoat and looked the personification of jollity. “You
were quite right to refuse her beggarly sixpence, my dear,” he remarked
confidentially; “but it’s a shame you shouldn’t have something for your
trouble; very good-natured of you, I call it, to run all that way.
Here, you go and buy some lollipops with this!” and he held out two
bright new half-crowns towards Jane-Anne.

Never had she seen so much wealth, and it was hers just for the taking;
and yet she was certain she ought not to take it; that Mr. Wycherly
would not like it; and already she had begun to identify herself with
him.

She shook her head a little sadly. “No, thank you,” she said very
gently, for this time she felt the donor meant to be kind. “I mustn’t,
thank you,” and she went on her way.

The stout gentleman looked after her and scratched his chin. “That was
a nasty one,” he said to the nearest passer-by. “The lass is a lady and
I offered her five bob.”

Jane-Anne made her way blindly into the road. She was nearly run over
three several times by carriages coming up the drive. As she turned
into the open she charged into someone walking in the opposite
direction, and recovering from the impact, discovered that she had run
into Mr. Wycherly.

Mutual explanations followed. Mr. Wycherly was taking the daily walk he
had promised Montagu to take. Jane-Anne explained her presence at the
garden-party, but said nothing about the rewards offered.

Presently she found herself walking home hand in hand with Mr. Wycherly,
and when they reached the house he said: “We must have more walks
together, you and I, and if I forget to go out you must come and stir me
up.”

At tea she told her aunt about the purse, and about the money offered.

“You were quite right to refuse it,” said Mrs. Dew, “an’ I’m glad you
had that much sense; but what made you?”

“I thought the master wouldn’t have liked it.”

“The master needn’t never have known nothing about it.”

“But I should have known,” said Jane-Anne.