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Brother Copas

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'As poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things…'

The Honourable and Reverend Eustace John Wriothesley Blanchminster, D.D., Master of St. Hospital-by-Merton, sat in the oriel of his library revising his Trinity Gaudy Sermon. He took pains with these annual sermons, having a quick and fastidious sense of literary style. "It is," he would observe, "one of the few pleasurable capacities spared by old age." He had, moreover, a scholarly habit of verifying his references and quotations; and if the original, however familiar, happened to be in a dead or foreign language, would have his secretary indite it in the margin. His secretary, Mr. Simeon, after taking the Sermon down from dictation, had made out a fair copy, and stood now at a little distance from the corner of the writing-table, in a deferential attitude.

The Master leaned forward over the manuscript; and a ray of afternoon sunshine, stealing in between a mullion of the oriel and the edge of a drawn blind, touched his bowed and silvery head as if with a benediction. He was in his seventy-third year; lineal and sole-surviving descendant of that Alberic de Blanchminster (Albericus de Albo Monasterio) who had founded this Hospital of Christ's Poor in 1137, and the dearest, most distinguished-looking old clergyman imaginable. An American lady had once summed him up as a Doctor of Divinity in Dresden china; and there was much to be allowed to the simile when you noted his hands, so shapely and fragile, or his complexion, transparent as old ivory—and still more if you had leisure to observe his saintliness, so delicately attuned to this world.

"As having nothing, and yet possessing all things."—The Master laid his forefinger upon the page and looked up reproachfully. "—my good Simeon, is it possible? A word so common as ! and after all these years you make it perispomenon!"

Mr. Simeon stammered contrition. In the matter of Greek accents he knew himself to be untrustworthy beyond hope. "I can't tell how it is, sir, but that always seems to me to want a circumflex, being an adverb of sorts." On top of this, and to make things worse, he pleaded that he had left out the accent in , just above.

"H'm—as poor, and yet thankful for small mercies," commented the Master with gentle sarcasm. He had learnt in his long life to economise anger. But he frowned as he dipped a pen in the ink-pot and made the correction; for he was dainty about his manuscripts as about all the furniture of life, and a blot or an erasure annoyed him. "Brother Copas," he murmured, "never misplaces an accent."

Mr. Simeon heard, and started. It was incredible that the Master, who five-and-twenty years ago had rescued Mr. Simeon from a school for poor choristers and had him specially educated for the sake of his exquisite handwriting, could be threatening dismissal over a circumflex. Oh, there was no danger! If long and (until the other day) faithful service were not sufficient, at least there was guarantee in the good patron's sense of benefits conferred....