But this is not--save by way of an occasional parenthesis--a chronicle of Felix Kennaston's doing in the flesh. You may find all that in Mr. Froser's Biography. Flippant, inefficient and moody, Felix Kennaston was not in the flesh particularly en gaging; and in writing this record it is necessary to keep his fat corporeal personality in the background as much as may be possible, lest this workaday mask, of unamiable flesh and mannerisms, should cause you, as it so often induced us of Lichfield, to find the man repellent, and nothing more.
Now it befell that this spring died Bishop Arkwright--of the Cathedral of the Bleeding Heart--and many dignitaries of his faith journeyed to Lichfield to attend the funeral. Chief among these was a prelate who very long ago had lived in Lichfield, when h e was merely a bishop. Kennaston was no little surprised to receive a note informing him that this eminent churchman would be pleased to see Mr. Felix Kennaston that evening at the Bishop's house.
The prelate sat alone in a sparsely furnished, rather dark, and noticeably dusty room. He was like a lean effigy carved in time-yellowed ivory, and his voice was curiously ingratiating. Kennaston recognized with joy that this old man talked like a perso n in a book, instead of employing the fragmentary verbal shorthand of ordinary Lichfieldiam conversation; and Kennaston, to whom the slovenliness of fairly cultured people's daily talk was always a mystery and an irritant, fell with promptitude into the s ame tone.
The prelate, it developed, had when he lived in Lichfield known Kennaston's dead uncle--"for whom I had the highest esteem, and whose friendship I valued most dearly." He hoped that Kennaston would pardon the foibles of old age and overlook this trespas s upon Kennaston's time. For the prelate had, he said, really a personal interest in the only surviving relative of his dead friend.
"There is a portrait of you, sir, in my library--very gorgeous, in full canonicals--just as my uncle left the room," said Kennaston, all at sea. But the prelate had begun to talk--amiably, and in the most commonplace fashion conceivable--of his former li fe in Lichfield, and, of the folk who had lived there then, and to ask questions about their descendants, which Kennaston answered as he best could. The whole affair was puzzling Kennaston, for he could think of no reason why this frail ancient gentleman should have sent for a stranger, even though that stranger were the nephew of a dead friend, just that they might discuss trivialities.
So their talking veered, as it seemed, at random....
"Yes, I was often a guest at Alcluid--a very beautiful home it was in those days, famed, as I remember, for the many breeds of pigions which your uncle amused himself by maintaining. I suppose that you also raise white pigions, my son?"
Kennaston saw that the prelate now held a small square mirror in his left hand. "No, sir," Kennaston answered evenly; "there were a great many about the place when it came into our possession; but we have never gone in very seriously for farming."
"The pigion has so many literary associations that I should have thought it would appeal to a man of letters," the prelate continued. "I ought to have said eariler perhaps that I read Men Who Loved Alison with great interest and enjoyment. It is a notable book. Yet in dealing with the sigil of Scoteia--or so at least it seemed to me--you touched upon subjects which had better be lift undisturbed, There are drugs, my son, which work much good in the hands of the skilled physician, but cannot wi thout danger be entrusted to the vulger."<
"Sir, Kennaston began, "I must tell you that in writing of the sigil--as I called it--I designed to employ only such general terms as romance ordinarily accords to talismans. All I wrote--I thought--was sheer invention. It is true I found by accident a bit of metal, from which I derived the idea of my so-called sigil's appearance. That bit of metal was to me then just a bit of metal; nor have I any notion, even to-day, as to how it came to be lying in one of my own garden-paths."
He paused. The prelate nodded. "It is always interesting to hear whence makers of creative literature draw their material," he stated.
"Since then, sir, by the drollest of concidences, a famous personage has spoken to me in almost the identical words you employed this evening, as to the sigil of Scoteia. The coincidence, sir, lay less in what was said than in the apparenttly irrelevant allusiion to white pigeons which the personage too made, and the litle mirror which he too held as he spoke. Can you not see, sir," Kennaston asked gaily, "to what wild imaginings the coincidence tempts a weaver of romance? I could find it in my heart t o believe it the cream of an ironic jest that you great ones of the earth have tested me with a password mistakenly supposing that I, also, was initiate. I am tempted to imagine some secret understanding, some hidden so-operancy, by which you strengthen or, possibly, have attained your power. Confess, sir, is not the coincidence a droll one?"
He spoke lightly, but his heart was beating fast.
"It is remarkable enough," the prelate conceded, smiling. He asked the name of the personage whom coincidence linked with him, and being told it, chuckled. "I do not think it very odd he carried a mirror," the prelate considered. "He lives before a mir ror, and behiind a megaphone. I confess--mea culpa!--I often find my little looking-glass a convenience, in making sure all is right before I go into the pulpit. Not a few men in public life, I believe, carry such mirrors," he said, slowly. "But you, I take it, have no taste for public life?"
"I can assure you--"Kennaston began.
"Think well, my son! Suppose, for one mad instant, that your wild imaginings were not wholly insane? suppose that you had accidentally stumbled upon enough of a certain secret to make it simpler to tell you the whole mystery? Cannot a trained romancer conceive what you might hope for then?"
Very still it was in the dark room....
Kennaston was horribly frightened. "I can assure you, sir that even then I would prefer my peaceful lazy life and my dreams. I have not any aptitude for action."
"Ah, well," the prelate estimated; "it is scarcely a churchman's part to play advocatus mundi. Believe me, I would not tempt you from your books. And for our dreams, I have always held heretically, we are more responsible than for our actions, si nce it is what we are, uninfluenced, that determines our dreams." He seemed to meditate. "I will not tempt you, therefore, to tell me the whole truth concerning that bitt of metal. I suspect, quite candidly, you are keeping something back, my son. But you exercise a privilege common to all of us."
"At least," said Kennaston, "we will hope my poor wits may not be shaken by any more--coincidences."
"I am tolerably certain," quoth the prelate, with an indulgent smile, "that there will be no more coincidences."
Then he gave Kennaston his stately blessing; and Kennaston went back to his life of dreams.