The serene morning ripened to a splendid noontide, and Mark who had intended to celebrate his birthday by enjoying every moment of it had allowed the best of the hours to slip away in a stupor of indecision. More and more the vision of Esther last night haunted him, and he felt that he could not go and see the Greys as he had intended. He could not bear the contemplation of the three girls with the weight of Esther on his mind. He decided to walk over to Little Fairfield and persuade Richard to make a journey of exploration up the Greenrush in a canoe. He would ask Richard his opinion of Will Starling. What a foolish notion! He knew perfectly well Richard's opinion of the Squire, and to lure him into a restatement of it would be the merest self-indulgence.
"Well, I must go somewhere to-day," Mark shouted at himself. He secured a packet of sandwiches from the Rectory cook and set out to walk away his worries.
"Why shouldn't I go down to Wych Maries? I needn't meet that chap. And if I see him I needn't speak to him. He's always been only too jolly glad to be offensive to me."
Mark turned aside from the high road by the crooked signpost and took the same path down under the ash-trees as he had taken with Esther for the first time nearly a year ago. Spring was much more like Spring in these wooded hollows; the noise of bees in the blossom of the elms was murmurous as limes in June. Mark congratulated himself on the spot in which he had chosen to celebrate this fine birthday, a day robbed from time like the day of a dream. He ate his lunch by the old mill dam, feeding the roach with crumbs until an elderly pike came up from the deeps and frightened the smaller fish away. He searched for a bullfinch's nest; but he did not find one, though he saw several of the birds singing in the snowberry bushes; round and ruddy as October apples they looked. At last he went to the ruined chapel, where after speculating idly for a little while upon its former state he fell as he usually did when he visited Wych Maries into a contemplation of the two images of the Blessed Virgin and St. Mary Magdalene. While he sat on a hummock of grass before the old West doorway he received an impression that since he last visited these forms of stone they had ceased to be mere relics of ancient worship unaccountably preserved from ruin, but that they had somehow regained their importance. It was not that he discerned in them any miraculous quality of living, still less of winking or sweating as images are reputed to wink and sweat for the faithful. No, it was not that, he decided, although by regarding them thus entranced as he was he could easily have brought himself to the point of believing in a supernatural manifestation. He was too well aware of this tendency to surrender to it; so, rousing himself from the rapt contemplation of them and forsaking the hummock of grass, he climbed up into the branches of a yew-tree that stood beside the chapel, that there and from that elevation, viewing the images and yet unviewed by them directly, he could be immune from the magic of fancy and discover why they should give him this impression of having regained their utility, yes, that was the word, utility, not importance. They were revitalized not from within, but from without; and even as his mind leapt at this explanation he perceived in the sunlight, beyond the shadowy yew-tree in which he was perched, Esther sitting upon that hummock of grass where but a moment ago he had himself been sitting.
For a moment, as if to contradict a reasonable explanation of the strange impression the images had made upon him, Mark supposed that she was come there for a tryst. This vanished almost at once in the conviction that Esther's soul waited there either in question or appeal. He restrained an impulse to declare his presence, for although he felt that he was intruding upon a privacy of the soul, he feared to destroy the fruits of that privacy by breaking in. He knew that Esther's pride would be so deeply outraged at having been discovered in a moment of weakness thus upon her knees, for she had by now fallen upon her knees in prayer, that it might easily happen she would never in all her life pray more. There was no escape for Mark without disturbing her, and he sat breathless in the yew-tree, thinking that soon she must perceive his glittering eye in the depths of the dark foliage as in passing a hedgerow one may perceive the eye of a nested bird. From his position he could see the images, and out of the spiritual agony of Esther kneeling there, the force of which was communicated to himself, he watched them close, scarcely able to believe that they would not stoop from their pedestals and console the suppliant woman with benediction of those stone hands now clasped aspiringly to God, themselves for centuries suppliant like the woman at their feet. Mark could think of nothing better to do than to turn his face from Esther's face and to say for her many Paternosters and Aves. At first he thought that he was praying in a silence of nature; but presently the awkwardness of his position began to affect his concentration, and he found that he was saying the words mechanically, listening the while to the voices of birds. He compelled his attention to the prayers; but the birds were too loud. The Paternosters and the Aves were absorbed in their singing and chirping and twittering, so that Mark gave up to them and wished for a rosary to help his feeble attention. Yet could he have used a rosary without falling out of the yew-tree? He took his hands from the bough for a moment and nearly overbalanced. Make not your rosary of yew berries, he found himself saying. Who wrote that? Make not your rosary of yew berries. Why, of course, it was Keats. It was the first line of the Ode to Melancholy. Esther was still kneeling out there in the sunlight. And how did the poem continue? Make not your rosary of yew berries. What was the second line? It was ridiculous to sit astride a bough and say Paternosters and Aves. He could not sit there much longer. And then just as he was on the point of letting go he saw that Esther had risen from her knees and that Will Starling was standing in the doorway of the chapel looking at her, not speaking but waiting for her to speak, while he wound a strand of ivy round his fingers and unwound it again, and wound it round again until it broke and he was saying:
"I thought we agreed after your last display here that you'd give this cursed chapel the go by?"
"I can't escape from it," Esther cried. "You don't understand, Will, what it means. You never have understood."
"Dearest Essie, I understand only too well. I've paid pretty handsomely in having to listen to reproaches, in having to dry your tears and stop your sighs with kisses. Your damned religion is a joke. Can't you grasp that? It's not my fault we can't get married. If I were really the scoundrel you torment yourself into thinking I am, I would have married and taken the risk of my strumpet of a wife turning up. But I've treated you honestly, Essie. I can't help loving you. I went away once. I went away again. And a third time I went just to relieve your soul of the sin of loving me. But I'm sick of suffering for the sake of a myth, a superstition."
Esther had moved close to him, and now she put a hand upon his arm.
"To you, Will. Not to me."
"Look here, Essie," said her lover. "If you knew that you were liable to these dreadful attacks of remorse and penitence, why did you ever encourage me?"
"How dare you say I encouraged you?"
"Now don't let your religion make you dishonest," he stabbed. "No man seduces a woman of your character without as much goodwill as deserves to be called encouragement, and by God is encouragement," he went on furiously. "Let's cut away some of the cant before we begin arguing again about religion."
"You don't know what a hell you're making for me when you talk like that," she gasped. "If I did encourage you, then my sin is a thousand times blacker."
"Oh, don't exaggerate, my dear girl," he said wearily. "It isn't a sin for two people to love each other."
"I've tried my best to think as you do, but I can't. I've avoided going to church. I've tried to hate religion, I've mocked at God . . ." she broke off in despair of explaining the force of grace, against the gift of which she had contended in vain.
"I always thought you were brave, Essie. But you're a real coward. The reason for all this is your fear of being pitchforked into a big bonfire by a pantomime demon with horns and a long tail." He laughed bitterly. "To think that you, my adored Essie, should really have the soul of a Sunday school teacher. You, a Bacchante of passion, to be puling about your sins. You! You! Girl, you're mad! I tell you there is no such thing as damnation. It's a bogey invented by priests to enchain mankind. But if there is and if that muddle-headed old gentleman you call God really exists and if he's a just God, why then let him damn me and let him give you your harp and your halo while I burn for both. Essie, my mad foolish frightened Essie, can't you understand that if you give me up for this God of yours you'll drive me to murder. If I must marry you to hold you, why then I'll kill that cursed wife of mine. . . ."
It was his turn now to break off in despair of being able to express his will to keep Esther for his own, and because argument seemed so hopeless he tried to take her in his arms, whereupon Mark who was aching with the effort to maintain himself unobserved upon the bough of the yew-tree said his Paternosters and Aves faster than ever, that she might have the strength to resist that scoundrel of Rushbrooke Grange. He longed to have the eloquence to make some wonderful prayer to the Blessed Virgin and St. Mary Magdalene so that a miracle might happen and their images point accusing hands at the blasphemer below.
And then it seemed as if a miracle did happen, for out of the jangle of recriminations and appeals that now signified no more than the noise of trees in a storm he heard the voice of Esther gradually gain its right to be heard, gradually win from its rival silence until the tale was told.
"I know that I am overcome by the saving grace of God," she was saying. "And I know that I owe it to them." She pointed to the holy women above the door. The squire shook his fist; but he still kept silence. "I have run away from God since I knew you, Will. I have loved you as much as that. I have gone to church only when I had to go for my brother's sake, but I have actually stuffed my ears with cotton wool so that no word there spoken might shake my faith in my right to love you. But it was all to no purpose. You know that it was you who told me always to come to our meetings through the wood and past the chapel. And however fast I went and however tight I shut myself up in thoughts of you and your love and my love I have always felt that these images spoke to me reproachfully in passing. It's not mere imagination, Will. Why, before we came to Wych-on-the-Wold when you went away to the Pacific that I might have peace of mind, I used always to be haunted by the idea that God was calling me back to Him, and I would run, yes, actually run through the woods until my legs have been torn by brambles."
"Madness! Madness!" cried Starling.
"Let it be madness. If God chooses to pursue a human soul with madness, the pursuit is not less swift and relentless for that. And I shook Him off. I escaped from religion; I prayed to the Devil to keep me wicked, so utterly did I love you. Then when my brother was offered Wych-on-the-Wold I felt that the Devil had heard my prayer and had indeed made me his own. That frightened me for a moment. When I wrote to you and said we were coming here and you hurried back, I can't describe to you the fear that overcame me when I first entered this hollow where you lived. Several times I'd tried to come down before you arrived here, but I'd always been afraid, and that was why the first night I brought Mark with me."
"That long-legged prig and puppy," grunted the squire.
Mark could have shouted for joy when he heard this, shouted because he was helping with his Paternosters and his Aves to drive this ruffian out of Esther's life for ever, shouted because his long legs were strong enough to hold on to this yew-tree bough.
"He's neither a prig nor a puppy," Esther said. "I've treated him badly ever since he came to live with us, and I treated him badly on your account, because whenever I was with him I found it harder to resist the pursuit of God. Now let's leave Mark out of this. Everything was in your favour, I tell you. I was sure that the Devil. . . ."
"The Devil!" Starling interrupted. "Your Devil, dear Essie, is as ridiculous as your God. It's only your poor old God with his face painted black like the bogey man of childhood."
"I was sure that the Devil," Esther repeated without seeming to hear the blasphemy, "had taken me for his own and given us to each other. You to me. Me to you, my darling. I didn't care. I was ready to burn in Hell for you. So, don't call me coward, for mad though you think me I was ready to be damned for you, and I believe in damnation. You don't. Yet the first time I passed by this chapel on my way to meet you again after that endless horrible parting I had to run away from the holy influence. I remember that there was a black cow in the field near the gates of the Grange, and I waited there while Mark poked about in this chapel, waited in the twilight afraid to go back and tell him to hurry in case I should be recaptured by God and meet you only to meet you never more."
"I suppose you thought my old Kerry cow was the Devil, eh?" he sneered.
She paid no attention, but continued enthralled by the passion of her spiritual adventure.
"It was no use. I couldn't come by here every day and not go back. Why, once I opened the Bible at hazard just to show my defiance and I read Her sins which are many are forgiven for she loved much. This must be the end of our love, my lover, for I can't go on. Those two stone Maries have brought me back to God. No more with you, my own beloved. No more, my darling, no more. And yet if even now with one kiss you could give me strength to sin I should rejoice. But they have made my lips as cold as their own, and my arms that once knew how to clasp you to my heart they have lifted up to Heaven like their own. I am going into a convent at once, where until I die I shall pray for you, my own love."
The birds no longer sang nor twittered nor cheeped in the thickets around, but all passion throbbed in the voice of Esther when she spoke these words. She stood there with her hair in disarray transfigured like a tree in autumn on which the sunlight shines when the gale has died, but from which the leaves will soon fall because winter is at hand. Yet her lover was so little moved by her ordeal that he went back to mouthing his blasphemies.
"Go then," he shouted. "But these two stone dolls shall not have power to drive my next mistress into folly. Wasn't Mary Magdalene a sinner? Didn't she fall in love with Christ? Of course, she did! And I'll make an example of her just as Christians make an example of all women who love much."
The squire pulled himself up by the ivy and struck the image of St. Mary Magdalene on the face.
"When you pray for me, dear Essie, in your convent of greensick women, don't forget that your patron saint was kicked from her pedestal by your lover."
Starling was as good as his word; but the effort he made to overthrow the saint carried him with it; his foot catching in the ivy fell head downward and striking upon a stone was killed.
Mark hesitated before he jumped down from his bough, because he dreaded to add to Esther's despair the thought of his having overheard all that went before. But seeing her in the sunlight now filled again with the voices of birds, seeing her blue eyes staring in horror and the nervous twitching of her hands he felt that the shock of his irruption might save her reason and in a moment he was standing beside her looking down at the dead man.
"Let me die too," she cried.
Mark found himself answering in a kind of inspiration:
"No, Esther, you must live to pray for his soul."
"He was struck dead for his blasphemy. He is in Hell. Of what use to pray for his soul?"
"But Esther while he was falling, even in that second, he had time to repent. Live, Esther. Live to pray for him."
Mark was overcome with a desire to laugh at the stilted way in which he was talking, and, from the suppression of the desire, to laugh wildly at everything in the scene, and not least at the comic death of Will Starling, even at the corpse itself lying with a broken neck at his feet. By an effort of will he regained control of his muscles, and the tension of the last half hour finding no relief in bodily relaxation was stamped ineffaceably upon his mind to take its place with that afternoon in his father's study at the Lima Street Mission which first inspired him with dread of the sexual relation of man to woman, a dread that was now made permanent by what he had endured on the bough of that yew-tree.
Thanks to Mark's intervention the business was explained without scandal; nobody doubted that the squire of Rushbrooke Grange died a martyr to his dislike of ivy's encroaching upon ancient images. Esther's stormy soul took refuge in a convent, and there it seemed at peace.
The encounter between Esther and Will Starling had the effect of strengthening Mark's intention to be celibate. He never imagined himself as a possible protagonist in such a scene; but the impression of that earlier encounter between his mother and father which gave him a horror of human love was now renewed. It was renewed, moreover, with the light of a miracle to throw it into high relief. And this miracle could not be explained away as a coincidence, but was an old-fashioned miracle that required no psychical buttressing, a hard and fast miracle able to withstand any criticism. It was a pity that out of regard for Esther he could not publish it for the encouragement of the faithful and the confusion of the unbelievers.
The miracle of St. Mary Magdalene's intervention on his seventeenth birthday was the last violent impression of Mark's boyhood. Thenceforward life moved placidly through the changing weeks of a country calendar until the date of the scholarship examination held by the group of colleges that contained St. Mary's, the college he aspired to enter, but for which he failed to win even an exhibition. Mr. Ogilvie was rather glad, for he had been worried how Mark was going to support himself for three or four years at an expensive college like St. Mary's. But when Mark was no more successful with another group of colleges, his tutors began to be alarmed, wondering if their method of teaching Latin and Greek lacked the tradition of the public school necessary to success.
"Oh, no, it's obviously my fault," said Mark. "I expect I go to pieces in examinations, or perhaps I'm not intended to go to Oxford."
"I beg you, my dear boy," said the Rector a little irritably, "not to apply such a loose fatalism to your career. What will you do if you don't go to the University?"
"It's not absolutely essential for a priest to have been to the University," Mark argued.
"No, but in your case I think it's highly advisable. You haven't had a public school education, and inasmuch as I stand to you in loco parentis I should consider myself most culpable if I didn't do everything possible to give you a fair start. You haven't got a very large sum of money to launch yourself upon the world, and I want you to spend what you have to the best advantage. Of course, if you can't get a scholarship, you can't and that's the end of it. But, rather than that you should miss the University I will supplement from my own savings enough to carry you through three years as a commoner."
Tears stood in Mark's eyes.
"You've already been far too generous," he said. "You shan't spend any more on me. I'm sorry I talked in that foolish way. It was really only a kind of affectation of indifference. I'm feeling pretty sore with myself for being such a failure; but I'll have another shot and I hope I shall do better."
Mark as a last chance tried for a close scholarship at St. Osmund's Hall for the sons of clergymen.
"It's a tiny place of course," said the Rector. "But it's authentic Oxford, and in some ways perhaps you would be happier at a very small college. Certainly you'd find your money went much further."
The examination was held in the Easter vacation, and when Mark arrived at the college he found only one other candidate besides himself. St. Osmund's Hall with its miniature quadrangle, miniature hall, miniature chapel, empty of undergraduates and with only the Principal and a couple of tutors in residence, was more like an ancient almshouse than an Oxford college. Mark and his rival, a raw-boned youth called Emmett who was afflicted with paroxysms of stammering, moved about the precincts upon tiptoe like people trespassing from a high road.
On their first evening the two candidates were invited to dine with the Principal, who read second-hand book catalogues all through dinner, only pausing from their perusal to ask occasionally in a courtly tone if Mr. Lidderdale or Mr. Emmett would not take another glass of wine. After dinner they sat in his library where the Principal addressed himself to the evidently uncongenial task of estimating the comparative fitness of his two guests to receive Mr. Tweedle's bounty. The Reverend Thomas Tweedle was a benevolent parson of the eighteenth century who by his will had provided the money to educate the son of one indigent clergyman for four years. Mark was shy enough under the Principal's courtly inquisition, but poor Emmett had a paroxysm each time he was asked the simplest question about his tastes or his ambitions. His tongue appearing like a disturbed mollusc waved its tip slowly round in an agonized endeavour to give utterance to such familiar words as "yes" or "no." Several times Mark feared that he would never get it back at all and that Emmett would either have to spend the rest of his life with it protruding before him or submit it to amputation and become a mute. When the ordeal with the Principal was over and the two guests were strolling back across the quadrangle to their rooms, Emmett talked normally and without a single paroxysm about the effect his stammer must have had upon the Principal. Mark did his best to reassure poor Emmett.
"Really," he said, "it was scarcely noticeable to anybody else. You noticed it, because you felt your tongue getting wedged like that between your teeth; but other people would hardly have noticed it at all. When the Principal asked you if you were going to take Holy Orders yourself, I'm sure he only thought you hadn't quite made up your mind yet."
"But I'm sure he did notice something," poor Emmett bewailed. "Because he began to hum."
"Well, but he was always humming," said Mark. "He hummed all through dinner while he was reading those book catalogues."
"It's very kind of you, Lidderdale," said Emmett, "to make the best of it for me, but I'm not such a fool as I look, and the Principal certainly hummed six times as loud whenever he asked me a question as he did over those catalogues. I know what I look like when I get into one of those states. I once caught sight of myself in a glass by accident, and now whenever my tongue gets caught up like that I'm wondering all the time why everybody doesn't get up and run out of the room."
"But I assure you," Mark persisted, "that little things like that—"
"Little things like that!" Emmett interrupted furiously. "It's all very well for you, Lidderdale, to talk about little things like that. If you had a tongue like mine which seems to get bigger instead of smaller every year, you'd feel very differently."
"But people always grow out of stammering," Mark pointed out.
"Thanks very much," said Emmett bitterly, "but where shall I be by the time I've grown out of it? You don't suppose I shall win this scholarship, do you, after they've seen me gibbering and mouthing at them like that? But if only I could manage somehow to get to Oxford I should have a chance of being ordained, and—" he broke off, perhaps unwilling to embarrass his rival by any more lamentations.
"Do forget about this evening," Mark begged, "and come up to my room and have a talk before you turn in."
"No, thanks very much," said Emmett. "I must sit up and do some work. We've got that general knowledge paper to-morrow morning."
"But you won't be able to acquire much more general knowledge in one evening," Mark protested.
"I might," said Emmett darkly. "I noticed a Whitaker's almanack in the rooms I have. My only chance to get this scholarship is to do really well in my papers; and though I know it's no good and that this is my last chance, I'm not going to neglect anything that could possibly help. I've got a splendid memory for statistics, and if they'll only ask a few statistics in the general knowledge paper I may have some luck to-morrow. Good-night, Lidderdale, I'm sorry to have inflicted myself on you like this."
Emmett hurried away up the staircase leading to his room and left his rival standing on the moonlit grass of the quadrangle. Mark was turning toward his own staircase when he heard a window open above and Emmett's voice:
"I've found another Whitaker of the year before," it proclaimed. "I'll read that, and you'd better read this year's. If by any chance I did win this scholarship, I shouldn't like to think I'd taken an unfair advantage of you, Lidderdale."
"Thanks very much, Emmett," said Mark. "But I think I'll have a shot at getting to bed early."
"Ah, you're not worrying," said Emmett gloomily, retiring from the window.
When Mark was sitting by the fire in his room and thinking over the dinner with the Principal and poor Emmett's stammering and poor Emmett's words in the quad afterwards, he began to imagine what it would mean to poor Emmett if he failed to win the scholarship. Mark had not been so successful himself in these examinations as to justify a grand self-confidence; but he could not regard Emmett as a dangerous competitor. Had he the right in view of Emmett's handicap to accept this scholarship at his expense? To be sure, he might urge on his own behalf that without it he should himself be debarred from Oxford. What would the loss of it mean? It would mean, first of all, that Mr. Ogilvie would make the financial effort to maintain him for three years as a commoner, an effort which he could ill afford to make and which Mark had not the slightest intention of allowing him to make. It would mean, next, that he should have to occupy himself during the years before his ordination with some kind of work among people. He obviously could not go on reading theology at Wych-on-the-Wold until he went to Glastonbury. Such an existence, however attractive, was no preparation for the active life of a priest. It would mean, thirdly, a great disappointment to his friend and patron, and considering the social claims of the Church of England it would mean a handicap for himself. There was everything to be said for winning this scholarship, nothing to be said against it on the grounds of expediency. On the grounds of expediency, no, but on other grounds? Should he not be playing the better part if he allowed Emmett to win? No doubt all that was implied in the necessity for him to win a scholarship was equally implied in the necessity for Emmett to win one. It was obvious that Emmett was no better off than himself; it was obvious that Emmett was competing in a kind of despair. Mark remembered how a few minutes ago his rival had offered him this year's Whitaker, keeping for himself last year's almanack. Looked at from the point of view of Emmett who really believed that something might be gained at this eleventh hour from a study of the more recent volume, it had been a fine piece of self-denial. It showed that Emmett had Christian talents which surely ought not to be wasted because he was handicapped by a stammer.
The spell that Oxford had already cast on Mark, the glamour of the firelight on the walls and raftered ceiling of this room haunted by centuries of youthful hope, did not persuade him how foolish it was to surrender all this. On the contrary, this prospect of Oxford so beautiful in the firelight within, so fair in the moonlight without, impelled him to renounce it, and the very strength of his temptation to enjoy all this by winning the scholarship helped him to make up his mind to lose it. But how? The obvious course was to send in idiotic answers for the rest of his papers. Yet examinations were so mysterious that when he thought he was being most idiotic he might actually be gaining his best marks. Moreover, the examiners might ascribe his answers to ill health, to some sudden attack of nerves, especially if his papers to-day had been tolerably good. Looking back at the Principal's attitude after dinner that night, Mark could not help feeling that there had been something in his manner which had clearly shown a determination not to award the scholarship to poor Emmett if it could possibly be avoided. The safest way would be to escape to-morrow morning, put up at some country inn for the next two days, and go back to Wych-on-the-Wold; but if he did that, the college authorities might write to Mr. Ogilvie to demand the reason for such extraordinary behaviour. And how should he explain it? If he really intended to deny himself, he must take care that nobody knew he was doing so. It would give him an air of unbearable condescension, should it transpire that he had deliberately surrendered his scholarship to Emmett. Moreover, poor Emmett would be so dreadfully mortified if he found out. No, he must complete his papers, do them as badly as he possibly could, and leave the result to the wisdom of God. If God wished Emmett to stammer forth His praises and stutter His precepts from the pulpit, God would know how to manage that seemingly so intractable Principal. Or God might hear his prayers and cure poor Emmett of his impediment. Mark wondered to what saint was entrusted the patronage of stammerers; but he could not remember. The man in whose rooms he was lodging possessed very few books, and those few were mostly detective stories.
It amused Mark to make a fool of himself next morning in the general knowledge paper. He flattered himself that no candidate for a scholarship at St. Osmund's Hall had ever shown such black ignorance of the facts of every-day life. Had he been dropped from Mars two days before, he could scarcely have shown less knowledge of the Earth. Mark tried to convey an impression that he had been injudiciously crammed with Latin and Greek, and in the afternoon he produced a Latin prose that would have revolted the easy conscience of a fourth form boy. Finally, on the third day, in an unseen passage set from the Georgics he translated tonsisque ferunt mantelia villis by having pulled down the villas (i. e. literally shaved) they carry off the mantelpieces which he followed up with translating Maeonii carchesia Bacchi as the lees of Maeonian wine (i.e. literally carcases of Maeonian Bacchus).
"I say, Lidderdale," said Emmett, when they came out of the lecture room where the examination was being held. "I had a tremendous piece of luck this afternoon."
"Yes, I've just been reading the fourth Georgics last term, and I don't think I made a single mistake in that unseen."
"Good work," said Mark.
"I wonder when they'll let us know who's got the scholarship," said Emmett. "But of course you've won," he added with a sigh.
"I did very badly both yesterday and to-day."
"Oh, you're only saying that to encourage me," Emmett sighed. "It sounds a dreadful thing to say and I ought not to say it because it'll make you uncomfortable, but if I don't succeed, I really think I shall kill myself."
"All right, that's a bargain," Mark laughed; and when his rival shook hands with him at parting he felt that poor Emmett was going home to Rutland convinced that Mark was just as hard-hearted as the rest of the world and just as ready to laugh at his misfortune.
It was Saturday when the examination was finished, and Mark wished he could be granted the privilege of staying over Sunday in college. He had no regrets for what he had done; he was content to let this experience be all that he should ever intimately gain of Oxford; but he should like to have the courage to accost one of the tutors and to tell him that being convinced he should never come to Oxford again he desired the privilege of remaining until Monday morning, so that he might crystallize in that short space of time an impression which, had he been successful in gaining the scholarship, would have been spread over four years. Mark was not indulging in sentiment; he really felt that by the intensity of the emotion with which he would live those twenty-four hours he should be able to achieve for himself as much as he should achieve in four years. So far as the world was concerned, this experience would be valueless; for himself it would be beyond price. So far as the world was concerned, he would never have been to Oxford; but could he be granted this privilege, Oxford would live for ever in his heart, a refuge and a meditation until the grave. Yet this coveted experience must be granted from without to make it a perfect experience. To ask and to be refused leave to stay till Monday would destroy for him the value of what he had already experienced in three days' residence; even to ask and to be granted the privilege would spoil it in retrospect. He went down the stairs from his room and stood in the little quadrangle, telling himself that at any rate he might postpone his departure until twilight and walk the seven miles from Shipcot to Wych-on-the-Wold. While he was on his way to notify the porter of the time of his departure he met the Principal, who stopped him and asked how he had got on with his papers. Mark wondered if the Principal had been told about his lamentable performance and was making inquiries on his own account to find out if the unsuccessful candidate really was a lunatic.
"Rather badly, I'm afraid, sir."
"Well, I shall see you at dinner to-night," said the Principal dismissing Mark with a gesture before he had time even to look surprised. This was a new perplexity, for Mark divined from the Principal's manner that he had entirely forgotten that the scholarship examination was over and that the candidates had already dined with him. He went into the lodge and asked the porter's advice.
"The Principal's a most absent-minded gentleman," said the porter. "Most absent-minded, he is. He's the talk of Oxford sometimes is the Principal. What do you think he went and did only last term. Why, he was having some of the senior men to tea and was going to put some coal on the fire with the tongs and some sugar in his cup. Bothered if he didn't put the sugar in the fire and a lump of coal in his cup. It didn't so much matter him putting sugar in the fire. That's all according, as they say. But fancy—well, I tell you we had a good laugh over it in the lodge when the gentlemen came out and told me."
"Ought I to explain that I've already dined with him?" Mark asked.
"Are you in any what you might call immediate hurry to get away?" the porter asked judicially.
"I'm in no hurry at all. I'd like to stay a bit longer."
"Then you'd better go to dinner with him again to-night and stay in college over the Sunday. I'll take it upon myself to explain to the Dean why you're still here. If it had been tea I should have said 'don't bother about it,' but dinner's another matter, isn't it? And he always has dinner laid for two or more in case he's asked anybody and forgotten."
Thus it came about that for the second time Mark dined with the Principal, who disconcerted him by saying when he arrived:
"I remember now that you dined with me the night before last. You should have told me. I forget these things. But never mind, you'd better stay now you're here."
The Principal read second-hand book catalogues all through dinner just as he had done two nights ago, and he only interrupted his perusal to inquire in courtly tones if Mark would take another glass of wine. The only difference between now and the former occasion was the absence of poor Emmett and his paroxysms. After dinner with some misgivings if he ought not to leave his host to himself Mark followed him upstairs to the library. The principal was one of those scholars who live in an atmosphere of their own given off by old calf-bound volumes and who apparently can only inhale the air of the world in which ordinary men move when they are smoking their battered old pipes. Mark sitting opposite to him by the fireside was tempted to pour out the history of himself and Emmett, to explain how he had come to make such a mess of the examination. Perhaps if the Principal had alluded to his papers Mark would have found the courage to talk about himself; but the Principal was apparently unaware that his guest had any ambitions to enter St. Osmund's Hall, and whatever questions he asked related to the ancient folios and quartos he took down in turn from his shelves. A clock struck ten in the moonlight without, and Mark rose to go. He felt a pang as he walked from the cloudy room and looked for the last time at that tall remote scholar, who had forgotten his guest's existence at the moment he ceased to shake his hand and who by the time he had reached the doorway was lost again in the deeps of the crabbed volume resting upon his knees. Mark sighed as he closed the library door behind him, for he knew that he was shutting out a world. But when he stood in the small silver quadrangle Mark was glad that he had not given way to the temptation of confiding in the Principal. It would have been a feeble end to his first denial of self. He was sure that he had done right in surrendering his place to Emmett, for was not the unexpected opportunity to spend these few more hours in Oxford a sign of God's approval? Bright as the glimpses of eternity to saints accorded in their mortal hour. Such was Oxford to-night.
Mark sat for a long while at the open window of his room until the moon had passed on her way and the quadrangle was in shadow; and while he sat there he was conscious of how many people had inhabited this small quadrangle and of how they too had passed on their way like the moon, leaving behind them no more than he should leave behind from this one hour of rapture, no more than the moon had left of her silver upon the dim grass below.
Mark was not given to gazing at himself in mirrors, but he looked at himself that night in the mirror of the tiny bedroom, into which the April air came up sweet and frore from the watermeadows of the Cherwell close at hand.
"What will you do now?" he asked his reflection. "Yet, you have such a dark ecclesiastical face that I'm sure you'll be a priest whether you go to Oxford or not."
Mark was right in supposing his countenance to be ecclesiastical. But it was something more than that: it was religious. Even already, when he was barely eighteen, the high cheekbones and deepset burning eyes gave him an ascetic look, while the habit of prayer and meditation had added to his expression a steadfast purpose that is rarely seen in people as young as him. What his face lacked were those contours that come from association with humanity; the ripeness that is bestowed by long tolerance of folly, the mellowness that has survived the icy winds of disillusion. It was the absence of these contours that made Mark think his face so ecclesiastical; however, if at eighteen he had possessed contours and soft curves, they would have been nothing but the contours and soft curves of that rose, youth; and this ecclesiastical bonyness would not fade and fall as swiftly as that.
Mark turned from the glass in sudden irritation at his selfishness in speculating about his appearance and his future, when in a short time he should have to break the news to his guardian that he had thrown away for a kindly impulse the fruit of so many months of diligence and care.
"What am I going to say to Ogilvie?" he exclaimed. "I can't go back to Wych and live there in pleasant idleness until it's time to go to Glastonbury. I must have some scheme for the immediate future."
In bed when the light was out and darkness made the most fantastic project appear practical, Mark had an inspiration to take the habit of a preaching friar. Why should he not persuade Dorward to join him? Together they would tramp the English country, compelling even the dullest yokels to hear the word of God . . . discalced . . . over hill, down dale . . . telling stories of the saints and martyrs in remote inns . . . deep lanes . . . the butterflies and the birds . . . Dorward should say Mass in the heart of great woods . . . over hill, down dale . . . discalced . . . preaching to men of Christ. . . .
Mark fell asleep.
In the morning Mark heard Mass at the church of the Cowley Fathers, a strengthening experience, because the Gregorian there so strictly and so austerely chanted without any consideration for sentimental humanity possessed that very effect of liberating and purifying spirit held in the bonds of flesh which is conveyed by the wind blowing through a grove of pines or by waves quiring below a rocky shore.
If Mark had had the least inclination to be sorry for himself and indulge in the flattery of regret, it vanished in this music. Rolling down through time on the billows of the mighty Gregorian it were as grotesque to pity oneself as it were for an Arctic explorer to build a snowman for company at the North Pole.
Mark came out of St. John's, Cowley, into the suburban prettiness of Iffley Road, where men and women in their Sunday best tripped along in the April sunlight, tripped along in their Sunday best like newly hatched butterflies and beetles. Mark went in and out of colleges all day long, forgetting about the problem of his immediate future just as he forgot that the people in the sunny streets were not really butterflies and beetles. At twilight he decided to attend Evensong at St. Barnabas'. Perhaps the folk in the sunny April streets had turned his thoughts unconsciously toward the simple aspirations of simple human nature. He felt when he came into the warm candle-lit church like one who has voyaged far and is glad to be at home again. How everybody sang together that night, and how pleasant Mark found this congregational outburst. It was all so jolly that if the organist had suddenly turned round like an Italian organ-grinder and kissed his fingers to the congregation, his action would have seemed perfectly appropriate. Even during the Magnificat, when the altar was being censed, the tinkling of the thurible reminded Mark of a tambourine; and the lighting and extinction of the candles was done with as much suppressed excitement as if the candles were going to shoot red and green stars or go leaping and cracking all round the chancel.
It happened this evening that the preacher was Father Rowley, that famous priest of the Silchester College Mission in the great naval port of Chatsea. Father Rowley was a very corpulent man with a voice of such compassion and with an eloquence so simple that when he ascended into the pulpit, closed his eyes, and began to speak, his listeners involuntarily closed their eyes and followed that voice whithersoever it led them. He neither changed the expression of his face nor made use of dramatic gestures; he scarcely varied his tone, yet he could keep a congregation breathlessly attentive for an hour. Although he seemed to be speaking in a kind of trance, it was evident that he was unusually conscious of his hearers, for if by chance some pious woman coughed or turned the pages of a prayer-book he would hold up the thread of his sermon and without any change of tone reprove her. It was strange to watch him at such a moment, his eyes still tightly shut and yet giving the impression of looking directly at the offending member of the congregation. This evening he was preaching about a naval disaster which had lately occurred, the sinking of a great battleship by another great battleship through a wrong signal. He was describing the scene when the news reached Chatsea, telling of the sweethearts and wives of the lost bluejackets who waited hoping against hope to hear that their loved ones had escaped death and hearing nearly always the worst news.
"So many of our own dear bluejackets and marines, some of whom only last Christmas had been eating their plum duff at our Christmas dinner, so many of my own dear boys whom I prepared for Confirmation, whose first Confession I had heard, and to whom I had given for the first time the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ."
He spoke too of what it meant in the future of material suffering on top of their mental agony. He asked for money to help these women immediately, and he spoke fiercely of the Admiralty red tape and of the obstruction of the official commission appointed to administer the relief fund.
The preacher went on to tell stories from the lives of these boys, finding in each of them some illustration of a Christian virtue and conveying to his listeners a sense of the extraordinary preciousness of human life, so that there was no one who heard him but was fain to weep for those young bluejackets and marines taken in their prime. He inspired in Mark a sense of shame that he had ever thought of people in the aggregate, that he had ever walked along a crowded street without perceiving the importance of every single human being that helped to compose its variety. While he sat there listening to the Missioner and watching the large tears roll slowly down his cheeks from beneath the closed lids, Mark wondered how he could have dared to suppose last night that he was qualified to become a friar and preach the Gospel to the poor. While Father Rowley was speaking, he began to apprehend that before he could aspire to do that he must himself first of all learn about Christ from those very poor whom he had planned to convert.
This sermon was another milestone in Mark's religious life. It discovered in him a hidden treasure of humility, and it taught him to build upon the rock of human nature. He divined the true meaning of Our Lord's words to St. Peter: Thou art Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. John was the disciple whom Jesus loved, but he chose Peter with all his failings and all his follies, with his weakness and his cowardice and his vanity. He chose Peter, the bedrock of human nature, and to him he gave the keys of Heaven.
Mark knew that somehow he must pluck up courage to ask Father Rowley to let him come and work under him at Chatsea. He was sure that if he could only make him grasp the spirit in which he would offer himself, the spirit of complete humility devoid of any kind of thought that he was likely to be of the least use to the Mission, Father Rowley might accept his oblation. He would have liked to wait behind after Evensong and approach the Missioner directly, so that before speaking to Mr. Ogilvie he might know what chance the offer had of being accepted; but he decided against this course, because he felt that Father Rowley's compassion might be embarrassed if he had to refuse his request, a point of view that was characteristic of the mood roused in him by the sermon. He went back to sleep for the last time in an Oxford college, profoundly reassured of the rightness of his action in giving up the scholarship to Emmett, although, which was characteristic of his new mood, he had by this time begun to tell himself that he had really done nothing at all and that probably in any case Emmett would have been the chosen scholar.
If Mark had still any doubts of his behaviour, they would have vanished when on getting into the train for Shipcot he found himself in an otherwise empty third-class smoking carriage opposite Father Rowley himself, who with a small black bag beside him, so small that Mark wondered how it could possibly contain the night attire of so fat a man, was sitting back in the corner with a large pipe in his mouth. He was wearing one of those square felt hats sometimes seen on the heads of farmers, and if one had only seen his head and hat without the grubby clerical attire beneath one might have guessed him to be a farmer. Mark noticed now that his eyes of a limpid blue were like a child's, and he realized that in his voice while he was preaching there had been the same sweet gravity of childhood. Just at this moment Father Rowley caught sight of someone he knew on the platform and shouting from the window of the compartment he attracted the attention of a young man wearing an Old Siltonian tie.
"My dear man," he cried, "how are you? I've just made a most idiotic mistake. I got it into my head that I should be preaching here on the first Sunday in term and was looking forward to seeing so many Silchester men. I can't think how I came to make such a muddle."
Father Rowley's shoulders filled up all the space of the window, so that Mark only heard scattered fragments of the conversation, which was mostly about Silchester and the Siltonians he had hoped to see at Oxford.
"Good-bye, my dear man, good-bye," the Missioner shouted, as the train moved out of the station. "Come down and see us soon at Chatsea. The more of you men who come, the more we shall be pleased."
Mark's heart leapt at these words, which seemed of good omen to his own suit. When Father Rowley was ensconced in his corner and once more puffing away at his pipe, Mark thought how ridiculous it would sound to say that he had heard him preach last night at St. Barnabas' and that, having been much moved by the sermon, he was anxious to be taken on at St. Agnes' as a lay helper. He wished that Father Rowley would make some remark to him that would lead up to his request, but all that Father Rowley said was:
"This is a slow train to Birmingham, isn't it?"
This led to a long conversation about trains, and slow though this one might be it was going much too fast for Mark, who would be at Shipcot in another twenty minutes without having taken any advantage of his lucky encounter.
"Are you up at Oxford?" the priest at last inquired.
It was now or never; and Mark took the opportunity given him by that one question to tell Father Rowley twenty disjointed facts about his life, which ended with a request to be allowed to come and work at Chatsea.
"You can come and see us whenever you like," said the Missioner.
"But I don't want just to come and pay a visit," said Mark. "I really do want to be given something to do, and I shan't be any expense. I only want to keep enough money to go to Glastonbury in four years' time. If you'd only see how I got on for a month. I don't pretend I can be of any help to you. I don't suppose I can. But I do so tremendously want you to help me."
"Who did you say your father was?"
"Lidderdale, James Lidderdale. He was priest-in-charge of the Lima Street Mission, which belonged to St. Simon's, Notting Hill, in those days. St. Wilfred's, Notting Dale, it is now."
"Lidderdale," Father Rowley echoed. "I knew him. I knew him well. Lima Street. Viner's there now, a dear good fellow. So you're Lidderdale's son?"
"I say, here's my station," Mark exclaimed in despair, "and you haven't said whether I can come or not."
"Come down on Tuesday week," said Father Rowley. "Hurry up, or you'll get carried on to the next station."
Mark waved his farewell, and he knew, as he drove back on the omnibus over the rolling wold to Wych that he had this morning won something much better than a scholarship at St. Osmund's Hall.
When Mark had been exactly a week at Chatsea he celebrated his eighteenth birthday by writing a long letter to the Rector of Wych:
St. Agnes' House,
St. Mark's Day.
My dear Rector,
Thank you very much for sending me the money. I've handed it over to a splendid fellow called Gurney who keeps all the accounts (private or otherwise) in the Mission House. Poor chap, he's desperately ill with asthma, and nobody thinks he can live much longer. He suffers tortures, particularly at night, and as I sleep in the next room I can hear him.
You mustn't think me inconsiderate because I haven't written sooner, but I wanted to wait until I had seen a bit of this place before I wrote to you so that you might have some idea what I was doing and be able to realize that it is the one and only place where I ought to be at the moment.
But first of all before I say anything about Chatsea I want to try to express a little of what your kindness has meant to me during the last two years. I look back at myself just before my sixteenth birthday when I was feeling that I should have to run away to sea or do something mad in order to escape that solicitor's office, and I simply gasp! What and where should I be now if it hadn't been for you? You have always made light of the burden I must have been, and though I have tried to show you my gratitude I'm afraid it hasn't been very successful. I'm not being very successful now in putting it into words. I know my failure to gain a scholarship at Oxford has been a great disappointment to you, especially after you had worked so hard yourself to coach me. Please don't be anxious about my letting my books go to the wall here. I had a talk about this with Father Rowley, who insisted that anything I am allowed to do in the district must only be done when I have a good morning's work with my books behind me. I quite realize the importance of a priest's education. One of the assistant priests here, a man called Snaith, took a good degree at Cambridge both in classics and theology, so I shall have somebody to keep me on the lines. If I stay here three years and then have two years at Glastonbury I don't honestly think that I shall start off much handicapped by having missed both public school and university. I expect you're smiling to read after one week of my staying here three years! But I assure you that the moment I sat down to supper on the evening of my arrival I felt at home. I think at first they all thought I was an eager young Ritualist, but when they found that they didn't get any rises out of ragging me, they shut up.
This house is a most extraordinary place. It is an old Congregational chapel with a gallery all round which has been made into cubicles, scarcely one of which is ever empty or ever likely to be empty so far as I can see! I should think it must be rather like what the guest house of a monastery used to be like in the old days before the Reformation. The ground floor of the chapel has been turned into a gymnasium, and twice a week the apparatus is cleared away and we have a dance. Every other evening it's used furiously by Father Rowley's "boys." They're such a jolly lot, and most of them splendid gymnasts. Quite a few have become professional acrobats since they opened the gymnasium. The first morning after my arrival I asked Father Rowley if he'd got anything special for me to do and he told me to catalogue the books in his library. Everybody laughed at this, and I thought at first that some joke was intended, but when I got to his room I found it really was in utter confusion with masses of books lying about everywhere. So I set to work pretty hard and after about three days I got them catalogued and in good order. When I told him I had finished he looked very surprised, and a solemn visit of inspection was ordered. As the room was looking quite tidy at last, I didn't mind. I've realized since that Father Rowley always sets people the task of cataloguing and arranging his books when he doubts if they are really worth their salt, and now he complains that I have spoilt one of his best ordeals for slackers. I said to him that he needn't be afraid because from what I could see of the way he treated books they would be just as untidy as ever in another week. Everybody laughed, though I was afraid at first they might consider it rather cheek my talking like this, but you've got to stand up for yourself here because there never was such a place for turning a man inside out. It's a real discipline, and I think if I manage to deserve to stay here three years I shall have the right to feel I've had the finest training for Holy Orders anybody could possibly have.
You know enough about Father Rowley yourself to understand how impossible it would be for me to give any impression of his personality in a letter. I have never felt so strongly the absolute goodness of anybody. I suppose that some of the great mediaeval saints like St. Francis and St. Anthony of Padua must have been like that. One reads about them and what they did, but the facts one reads don't really tell anything. I always feel that what we really depend on is a kind of tradition of their absolute saintliness handed on from the people who experienced it. I suppose in a way the same applies to Our Lord. I always feel it wouldn't matter a bit to me if the four Gospels were proved to be forgeries to-morrow, because I should still be convinced that Our Lord was God. I know this is a platitude, but I don't think until I met Father Rowley that I ever realized the force and power that goes with exceptional goodness. There are so many people who are good because they were born good. Richard Ford, for example, he couldn't have ever been anything else but good, but I always feel that people like him remain practically out of reach of the ordinary person and that the goodness is all their own and dies with them just as it was born with them. What I feel about a man like Father Rowley is that he probably had a tremendous fight to be good. Of course, I may be perfectly wrong and he may have had no fight at all. I know one of the people at the Mission House told me that, though there is nobody who likes smoking better than he or more enjoys a pint of beer with his dinner, he has given up both at St. Agnes merely to set an example to weak people. I feel that his goodness was with such energy fought for that it now exists as a kind of complete thing and will go on existing when Father Rowley himself is dead. I begin to understand the doctrine of the treasury of merit. I remember you once told me how grateful I ought to be to God because I had apparently escaped the temptations that attack most boys. I am grateful; but at the same time I can't claim any merit for it! The only time in my life when I might have acquired any merit was when I was at Haverton House. Instead of doing that, I just dried up, and if I hadn't had that wonderful experience at Whitsuntide in Meade Cantorum church nearly three years ago I should be spiritually dead by now.
This is a very long letter, and I don't seem to have left myself any time to tell you about St. Agnes' Church. It reminds me of my father's mission church in Lima Street, and oddly enough a new church is being built almost next door just as one was being built in Lima Street. I went to the children's Mass last Sunday, and I seemed to see him walking up and down the aisle in his alb, and I thought to myself that I had never once asked you to say Mass for his soul. Will you do so now next time you say a black Mass? This is a wretched letter, and it doesn't succeed in the least in expressing what I owe to you and what I already owe to Father Rowley. I used to think that the Sacred Heart was a rather material device for attracting the multitude, but I'm beginning to realize in the atmosphere of St. Agnes' that it is a gloriously simple devotion and that it is human nature's attempt to express the inexpressible. I'll write to you again next week. Please give my love to everybody at the Rectory.
Always your most affectionate
Father Rowley had been at St. Agnes' seven or eight years when Mark found himself attached to the Mission, in which time he had transformed the district completely. It was a small parish (actually of course it was not a parish at all, although it was fast qualifying to become one) of something over a thousand small houses, few of which were less than a century old. The streets were narrow and crooked, mostly named after bygone admirals or forgotten sea-fights; the romantic and picturesque quarter of a great naval port to the casual glance of a passer-by, but heartbreaking to any except the most courageous resident on account of its overcrowded and tumbledown condition. Yet it lacked the dreariness of an East End slum, for the sea winds blew down the narrowest streets and alleys, sailors and soldiers were always in view, and the windows of the pawnbrokers were filled with the relics of long voyages, with idols and large shells, with savage weapons and the handiwork of remote islands.
When Mark came to live in Keppel Street, most of the brothels and many of the public houses had been eliminated from the district, and in their place flourished various clubs and guilds. The services in the church were crowded: there was a long roll of communicants; the civilization of the city of God was visible in this Chatsea slum. One or two of the lay helpers used to horrify Mark with stories of early days there, and when he seemed inclined to regret that he had arrived so late upon the scene, they used to tease him about his missionary spirit.
"If he can't reform the people," said Cartwright, one of the lay helpers, a tall thin young man with a long nose and a pleasant smile, "he still has us to reform."
"Come along, Mark Anthony," said Warrender, another lay helper, who after working for seven years among the poor had at last been charily accepted by the Bishop for ordination. "Come along. Why don't you try your hand on us?"
"You people seem to think," said Mark, "that I've got a mania for reforming. I don't mean that I should like to see St. Agnes' where it was merely for my own personal amusement. The only thing I'm sorry about is that I didn't actually see the work being done."
Father Rowley came in at this moment, and everybody shouted that Mark was going to preach a sermon.
"Splendid," said the Missioner whose voice when not moved by emotion was rich in a natural unction that encouraged everyone round to suppose he was being successfully humorous, such a savour did it add to the most innutritious chaff. Those who were privileged to share his ordinary life never ceased to wonder how in the pulpit or in the confessional or at prayer this unction was replaced by a remote beauty of tone, a plangent and thrilling compassion that played upon the hearts of all who heard him.
"Now really, Father Rowley," Mark protested. "Do I preach a great deal? I'm always being chaffed by Cartwright and Warrender about an alleged mania for reforming people, which only exists in their imagination."
Indeed Mark had long ago grown out of the desire to reform or to convert anybody, although had he wished to keep his hand in, he could have had plenty of practice among the guests of the Mission House. Nobody had ever succeeded in laying down the exact number of casual visitors that could be accommodated therein. However full it appeared, there was always room for one more. Taking an average, day in, day out through the year, one might fairly say that there were always eight or nine casual guests in addition to the eight or nine permanent residents, of whom Mark was soon glad to be able to count himself one. The company was sufficiently mixed to have been offered as a proof to the sceptical that there was something after all in simple Christianity. There would usually be a couple of prefects from Silchester, one or two 'Varsity men, two or three bluejackets or marines, an odd soldier or so, a naval officer perhaps, a stray priest sometimes, an earnest seeker after Christian example often, and often a drunkard who had been dumped down at the door of St. Agnes' Mission House in the hope that where everybody else had failed Father Rowley might succeed. Then there were the tramps, some who had heard of a comfortable night's lodging, some who came whining and cringing with a pretence of religion. This last class was discouraged as much as possible, for one of the first rules of the Mission House was to show no favour to any man who claimed to be religious, it being Father Rowley's chief dread to make anybody's religion a paying concern. Sometimes a jailbird just released from prison would find in the Mission House an opportunity to recover his self-respect. But whoever the guest was, soldier, sailor, tinker, tailor, apothecary, ploughboy, or thief, he was judged at the Mission House as a man. Some of the visitors repaid their host by theft or fraud; but when they did, nobody uttered proverbs or platitudes about mistaken kindness. If one lame dog bit the hand that was helping him over the stile, the next dog that came limping along was helped over just as freely.
"What right has one miserable mortal to be disillusioned by another miserable mortal?" Father Rowley demanded. "Our dear Lord when he was nailed to the cross said 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.' He did not say, 'I am fed up with these people I have come down from Heaven to save. I've had enough of it. Send an angel with a pair of pincers to pull out these nails.'"
If the Missioner's patience ever failed, it was when he had to deal with High Church young men who made pilgrimages to St. Agnes' because they had heard that this or that service was conducted there with a finer relish of Romanism than anywhere else at the moment in England. On one occasion a pietistic young creature, who brought with him his own lace cotta but forgot to bring his nightshirt, begged to be allowed the joy of serving Father Rowley at early Mass next morning. When they came back and were sitting round the breakfast table, this young man simpered in a ladylike voice:
"Oh, Father, couldn't you keep your fingers closed when you give the Dominus vobiscum?"
"Et cum spiritu tuo," shouted Father Rowley. "I can keep my fingers closed when I box your ears."
And he proved it.
It was a real box on the ears, so hard a blow that the ladylike young man burst into tears to the great indignation of a Chief Petty Officer staying in the Mission House, who declared that he was half in a mind to catch the young swab such a snitch on the conk as really would give him something to blubber about. Father Rowley evidently had no remorse for his violence, and the young man went away that afternoon saying how sorry he was that the legend of the good work being done at St. Agnes' had been so much exaggerated.
Mark wrote an account of this incident, which had given him intense pleasure, to Mr. Ogilvie. Perhaps the Rector was afraid that Mark in his ambition to avoid "churchiness" was inclining toward the opposite extreme; or perhaps, charitable and saintly man though he was, he felt a pang of jealousy at Mark's unbounded admiration of his new friend; or perhaps it was merely that the east wind was blowing more sharply than usual that morning over the wold into the Rectory garden. Whatever the cause, his answering letter made Mark feel that the Rector did not appreciate Father Rowley as thoroughly as he ought.
My dear Mark,
I was glad to get your long and amusing letter of last week. I am delighted to think that as the months go by you are finding work among the poor more and more congenial. I would not for the world suggest your coming back here for Christmas after what you tell me of the amount of extra work it will entail for everybody in the Mission House; at the same time it would be useless to pretend that we shan't all be disappointed not to see you until the New Year.
On reading through your last letter again I feel just a little worried lest, in the pleasure you derive from Father Rowley's treatment of what was no doubt a very irritating young man, you may be inclined to go to the opposite extreme and be too ready to laugh at real piety when it is not accompanied by geniality and good fellowship, or by an obvious zeal for good works. I know you will acquit me of any desire to defend extreme "churchiness," and I have no doubt you will remember one or two occasions in the past when I was rather afraid that you were tending that way yourself. I am not in the least criticizing Father Rowley's method of dealing with it, but I am a trifle uneasy at the inordinate delight it seems to have afforded you. Of course, it is intolerable for any young man serving a priest at Mass to watch his fingers all the time, but I don't think you have any right to assume because on this occasion the young man showed himself so sensitive to mere externals that he is always aware only of externals. Unfortunately a very great deal of true and fervid piety exists under this apparent passion for externals. Remember that the ordinary criticism by the man in the street of Catholic ceremonies and of Catholic methods of worship involves us all in this condemnation. I suppose that you would consider yourself justified, should the circumstances permit (which in this case of course they do not), in protesting against a priest's not taking the Eastward Position when he said Mass. I was talking to Colonel Fraser the other day, and he was telling me how much he had enjoyed the ministrations of the Reverend Archibald Tait, the Leicestershire cricketer, who throughout the "second service" never once turned his back on the congregation, and, so far as I could gather from the Colonel's description, conducted this "second service" very much as a conjuror performs his tricks. When I ventured to argue with the Colonel, he said to me: "That is the worst of you High Churchmen, you make the ritual more important than the Communion itself." All human judgments, my dear Mark, are relative, and I have no doubt that this unpleasant young man (who, as I have already said, was no doubt justly punished by Father Rowley) may have felt the same kind of feeling in a different degree that I should feel if I assisted at the jugglery of the Reverend Archibald Tait. At any rate you, my dear boy, are bound to credit this young man with as much sincerity as yourself, otherwise you commit a sin against charity. You must acquire at least as much toleration for the Ritualist as I am glad to notice you are acquiring for the thief. When you are a priest yourself, and in a comparatively short time you will be a priest, I do hope you won't, without his experience, try to imitate Father Rowley too closely in his summary treatment of what I have already I hope made myself quite clear in believing to be in this case a most insufferable young man. Don't misunderstand this letter. I have such great hopes of you in the stormy days to come, and the stormy days are coming, that I should feel I was wrong if I didn't warn you of your attitude towards the merest trifles, for I shall always judge you and your conduct by standards that I should be very cautious of setting for most of my penitents.
Your ever affectionate,
My mother and Miriam send you much love. We miss you greatly at Wych. Esther seems happy in her convent and will soon be clothed as a novice.
When Mark read this letter, he was prompt to admit himself in the wrong; but he could not bear the least implied criticism of Father Rowley.
St. Agnes' House,
My dear Mr. Ogilvie,
I'm afraid I must have expressed myself very badly in my last letter if I gave you the least idea that Father Rowley was not always charity personified. He had probably come to the conclusion that the young man was not much good and no doubt he deliberately made it impossible for him to stay on at the Mission House. We do get an awful lot of mere loafers here; I don't suppose that anybody who keeps open house can avoid getting them. After all, if the young man had been worth anything he would have realized that he had made a fool of himself and by the way he took his snubbing have re-established himself. What he actually did was to sulk and clear out with a sneer at the work done here. I'm sorry I gave you the impression that I was triumphing so tremendously over his discomfiture. By writing about it I probably made the incident appear much more important than it really was. I've no doubt I did triumph a little, and I'm afraid I shall never be able not to feel rather glad when a fellow like that is put in his place. I am not for a moment going to try to argue that you can carry Christian charity too far. The more one meditates on the words, and actions of Our Lord, the more one grasps how impossible it is to carry charity too far. All the same, one owes as much charity to Father Rowley as to the young man. This sounds now I have written it down as if I were getting in a hit at you, and that is the worst of writing letters to justify oneself. What I am trying to say is that if I were to have taken up arms for the young man and supposed him to be ill-used or misjudged I should be criticizing Father Rowley. I think that perhaps you don't quite realize what a saint he is in every way. This is my fault, no doubt, because in my letters to you I have always emphasized anything that would bring into relief his personality. I expect that I've been too much concerned to draw a picture of him as a man, in doing which I've perhaps been unsuccessful in giving you a picture of him as a priest. It's always difficult to talk or write about one's intimate religious feelings, and you've been the only person to whom I ever have been able to talk about them. However much I admire and revere Father Rowley I doubt if I could talk or write to him about myself as I do to you.
Until I came here I don't think I ever quite realized all that the Blessed Sacrament means. I had accepted the Sacrifice of the Mass as one accepts so much in our creed, without grasping its full implication. If anybody were to have put me through a catechism about the dogma I should have answered with theological exactitude, without any appearance of misapprehending the meaning of it; but it was not until I came here that its practical reality—I don't know if I'm expressing myself properly or not, I'm pretty sure I'm not; I don't mean practical application and I don't mean any kind of addition to my faith; perhaps what I mean is that I've learnt to grasp the mystery of the Mass outside myself, outside that is to say my own devotion, my own awe, as a practical fact alive to these people here. Sometimes when I go to Mass I feel as people who watched Our Lord with His disciples and followers must have felt. I feel like one of those people who ran after Him and asked Him what they could do to be saved. I feel when I look at what has been done here as if I must go to each of these poor people in turn and beg them to bring me to the feet of Christ, just as I suppose on the shores of the sea of Galilee people must have begged St. Peter or St. Andrew or St. James or St. John to introduce them, if one can use such a word for such an occasion. This seems to me the great work that Father Rowley has effected in this parish. I have only had one rather shy talk with him about religion, and in the course of it I said something in praise of what his personality had effected.
"My personality has effected nothing," he answered. "Everything here is effected by the Blessed Sacrament."
That is why he surely has the right without any consideration for the dignity of churchy young men to box their ears if they question his outward respect for the Blessed Sacrament. Even Our Lord found it necessary at least on one occasion to chase the buyers and sellers out of the Temple, and though it is not recorded that He boxed the ears of any Pharisee, it seems to me quite permissible to believe that He did! He lashed them with scorn anyway.
To come back to Father Rowley, you know the great cry of the so-called Evangelical party "Jesus only"? Well, Father Rowley has really managed to make out of what was becoming a sort of ecclesiastical party cry something that really is evangelical and at the same time Catholic. These people are taught to make the Blessed Sacrament the central fact of their lives in a way that I venture to say no Welsh revivalist or Salvation Army captain has ever made Our Lord the central fact in the lives of his converts, because with the Blessed Sacrament continually before them, Which is Our Lord Jesus Christ, their conversion endures. I could fill a book with stories of the wonderful behaviour of these poor souls. The temptation is to say of a man like Father Rowley that he has such a natural spring of human charity flowing from his heart that by offering to the world a Christlike example he converts his flock. Certainly he does give a Christlike example and undoubtedly that must have a great influence on his people; but he does not believe, and I don't believe, that a Christlike example is of any use without Christ, and he gives them Christ. Even the Bishop of Silchester had to admit the other day that Vespers of the Blessed Sacrament as held at St. Agnes' is a perfectly scriptural service. Father Rowley makes of the Blessed Sacrament Christ Himself, so that the poor people may flock round Him. He does not go round arguing with them, persuading them, but in the crises of their lives, as the answer to every question, as the solution of every difficulty and doubt, as the consolation in every sorrow, he offers them the Blessed Sacrament. All his prayers (and he makes a great use of extempore prayer, much to the annoyance of the Bishop, who considers it ungrammatical), all his sermons, all his actions revolve round that one great fact. "Jesus Christ is what you need," he says, "and Jesus Christ is here in your church, here upon your altar."
You can't go into the little church without finding fifty people praying before the Blessed Sacrament. The other day when the "King Harry" was sunk by the "Trafalgar," the people here subscribed I forget how many pounds for the widows and children of the bluejackets and marines of the Mission who were drowned, and when it was finished and the subscription list was closed, they subscribed all over again to erect an altar at which to say Masses for the dead. And the old women living in Father Rowley's free houses that were once brothels gave up their summer outing so that the money spent on them might be added to the fund. When the Bishop of Silchester came here last week for Confirmation he asked Father Rowley what that altar was.
"That is the ugliest thing I've ever seen," he said. But when Father Rowley told him about the poor people and the old women who had no money of their own, he said: "That is the most beautiful thing I've ever heard."
I am beginning to write as if it was necessary to convince you of the necessity of making the Blessed Sacrament the central feature of the religious life to-day and for ever until the end of the world. But, I know you won't think I'm doing anything of the kind, for really I am only trying to show you how much my faith has been strengthened and how much my outlook has deepened and how much more than ever I long to be a priest to be able to give poor people Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
Your ever affectionate
THE DRUNKEN PRIEST
Gradually, Mark found to his pleasure and his pride that he was becoming, if not indispensable to Father Rowley (the Missioner found no human being indispensable) at any rate quite evidently useful. Perhaps Father Rowley though that in allowing himself to rely considerably upon Mark's secretarial talent he was indulging himself in a luxury to which he was not entitled. That was Father Rowley's way. The moment he discovered himself enjoying anything too much, whether it was a cigar or a secretary, he cut himself off from it, and this not in any spirit of mortification for mortification's sake, but because he dreaded the possibility of putting the slightest drag upon his freedom to criticize others. He had no doubt at all in his own mind that he was perfectly justified in making use of Mark's intelligence and energy. But in a place like the Mission House, where everybody from lay helper to casual guest was supposed to stand on his own feet, the Missioner himself felt that he must offer an example of independence.
"You're spoiling me, Mark Anthony," he said one day. "There's nothing for me to do this evening."
"I know," Mark agreed contentedly. "I want to give you a rest for once."
"Rest?" the priest echoed. "You don't seriously expect a fat man like me to sit down in an armchair and rest, do you? Besides, you've got your own reading to do, and you didn't come to Chatsea as my punkah walla."
Mark insisted that he was getting along in his own way quite fast enough, and that he had plenty of time on his hands to keep Father Rowley's correspondence in some kind of order.
"All these other people have any amount to do," said Mark. "Cartwright has his boys every evening and Warrender has his men."
"And Mark Anthony has nothing but a fat, poverty-stricken, slothful mission priest," Father Rowley gurgled.
"Yes, and you're more trouble than all the rest put together. Look here, I've written to the Bishop's chaplain about that confirmation; I explained why we wanted to hold a special confirmation for these two boys we are emigrating, and he has written back to say that the Bishop has no objection to a special confirmation's being held by the Bishop of Matabeleland when he comes to stay here next week. At the same time, he says the Bishop doesn't want it to become a precedent."
"No. I can quite understand that," Father Rowley chuckled. "Bishops are haunted by the creation of precedents. A precedent in the life of a bishop is like an illegitimate child in the life of a respectable churchwarden. No, the only thing I fear is that if I devour all your spare time you won't get quite what you wanted to get by coming to live with us."
He laid a fat hand on Mark's shoulder.
"Please don't bother about me," said Mark. "I get all I want and more than I expected if I can be of the least use to you. I know I'm rather disappointing you by not behaving like half the people who come down here and want to get up a concert on Monday, a dance on Tuesday, a conjuring entertainment on Wednesday, a street procession on Thursday, a day of intercession on Friday, and an amateur dramatic entertainment on Saturday, not to mention acting as ceremonarius on Sunday. I know you'd like me to propose all sorts of energetic diversions, so that you could have the pleasure of assuring me that I was only proposing them to gratify my own vanity, which of course would be perfectly true. Luckily I'm of a retiring disposition, and I don't want to do anything to help the ten thousand benighted parishioners of Saint Agnes', except indirectly by striving to help in my own feeble way the man who really is helping them. Now don't throw that inkpot at me, because the room's quite dirty enough already, and as I've made you sit still for five minutes I've achieved something this evening that mighty few people have achieved in Keppel Street. I believe the only time you really rest is in the confessional box."
"Mark Anthony, Mark Anthony," said the priest, "you talk a great deal too much. Come along now, it's bedtime."
One of the rules of the Mission House was that every inmate should be in bed by ten o'clock and all lights out by a quarter past. The day began with Mass at seven o'clock at which everybody was expected to be present; and from that time onward everybody was so fully occupied that it was essential to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Guests who came down for a night or two were often apt to forget how much the regular workers had to do and what a tax it put upon the willing servants to manage a house of which nobody could say ten minutes before a meal how many would sit down to it, nor even until lights out for how many people beds must be made. In case any guest should forget this rule by coming back after ten o'clock, Father Rowley made a point of having the front door bell to ring in his bedroom, so that he might get out of bed at any hour of the night and admit the loiterer. Guests were warned what would be the effect of their lack of consideration, and it was seldom that Father Rowley was disturbed.
Among the guests there was one class of which a representative was usually to be found at the Mission House. This was the drunken clergyman, which sounds as if there was at this date a high proportion of drunken clergymen in the Church of England; but which means that when one did come to St. Agnes' he usually stayed for a long time, because he would in most cases have been sent there when everybody else had despaired of him to see what Father Rowley could effect.
About the time when Mark was beginning to be recognized as Father Rowley's personal vassal, it happened that the Reverend George Edward Mousley who had been handed on from diocese to diocese during the last five years had lately reached the Mission House. For more than two months now he had spent his time inconspicuously reading in his own room, and so well had he behaved, so humbly had he presented himself to the notice of his fellow guests, that Father Rowley was moved one afternoon to dictate a letter about him to Mark, who felt that the Missioner by taking him so far into his confidence had surrendered to his pertinacity and that thenceforth he might consider himself established as his private secretary.
"The letter is to the Lord Bishop Suffragan of Warwick, St. Peter's Rectory, Warwick," Father Rowley began. "My dear Bishop of Warwick, I have now had poor Mousley here for two months. It is not a long time in which to effect a lasting reformation of one who has fallen so often and so grievously, but I think you know me well enough not to accuse me of being too sanguine about drunken priests. I have had too many of them here for that. In his case however I do feel justified in asking you to agree with me in letting him have an opportunity to regain the respect due to himself and the reverence due to his priesthood by being allowed once more to the altar. I should not dream of allowing him to officiate without your permission, because his sad history has been so much a personal burden to yourself. I'm afraid that after the many disappointments he has inflicted upon you, you will be doubtful of my judgment. Yet I do think that the critical moment has arrived when by surprising him thus we might clinch the matter of his future behaviour once and for all. His conduct here has been so humble and patient and in every way exemplary that my heart bleeds for him. Therefore, my dear Bishop of Warwick, I hope you will agree to what I firmly trust will be the completion of his spiritual cure. I am writing to you quite impersonally and informally, as you see, so that in replying to me you will not be involving yourself in the affairs of another diocese. You will, of course, put me down as much a Jesuit as ever in writing to you like this, but you will equally, I know, believe me to be, Yours ever affectionately in Our Blessed Lord.
"And I'll sign it as soon as you can type it out," Father Rowley wound up.
"Oh, I do hope he will agree," Mark exclaimed.
"He will," the Missioner prophesied. "He will because he is a wise and tender and godly man and therefore will never be more than a Bishop Suffragan as long as he lives. Mark!"
Mark looked up at the severity of the tone.
"Mark! Correct me when I fall into the habit of sneering at the episcopate."
That night Father Rowley was attending a large temperance demonstration in the Town Hall for the purpose of securing if possible a smaller proportion of public houses than one for every eighty of the population, which was the average for Chatsea. The meeting lasted until nearly ten o'clock; and it had already struck the hour when Father Rowley with Mark and two or three others got back to Keppel Street. There was nothing Father Rowley disliked so much as arriving home himself after ten, and he hurried up to his room without inquiring if everybody was in.
Mark's window looked out on Keppel Street; and the May night being warm and his head aching from the effects of the meeting, he sat for nearly an hour at the open window gazing down at the passers by. There was not much to see, nothing more indeed than couples wandering home, a bluejacket or two, an occasional cat, and a few women carrying jugs of beer. By eleven o'clock even this slight traffic had ceased, and there was nothing down the silent street except a salt wind from the harbour that roused a memory of the beach at Nancepean years ago when he had sat there watching the glow-worm and decided to be a lighthouse-keeper keeping his lamps bright for mariners homeward bound. It was of streets like Keppel Street that they would have dreamed, with the Stag Light winking to port, and the west wind blowing strong astern. What a lighthouse-keeper Father Rowley was! How except by the grace of God could one explain such goodness as his? Fashions in saintliness might change, but there was one kind of saint that always and for every creed spoke plainly of God's existence, such saints as St. Francis of Assisi or St. Anthony of Padua, who were manifestly the heirs of Christ. With what a tender cynicism Our Lord had called St. Peter to be the foundation stone of His Church, with what a sorrowful foreboding of the failure of Christianity. Such a choice appeared as the expression of God's will not to be let down again as He was let down by Adam. Jesus Christ, conscious at the moment of what He must shortly suffer at the hands of mankind, must have been equally conscious of the failure of Christianity two thousand years beyond His Agony and Bloody Sweat and Crucifixion. Why, within a short time after His life on earth it was necessary for that light from heaven to shine round about Saul on the Damascus road, because already scoffers, while the disciples were still alive, may have been talking about the failure of Christianity. It must have been another of God's self-imposed limitations that He did not give to St. John that capacity of St. Paul for organization which might have made practicable the Christianity of the master Who loved him. Woman, behold thy son! Behold thy mother! That dying charge showed that Our Lord considered John the most Christlike of His disciples, and he remained the most Christlike man until twelve hundred years later St. Francis was born at Assisi. St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Dominic, if Christianity could only produce mighty individualists of Faith like them, it could scarcely have endured as it had endured. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. There was something almost wistful in those words coming from the mouth of St. Paul. It was scarcely conceivable that St. John or St. Francis could ever have said that; it would scarcely have struck either that the three virtues were separable.
Keppel Street was empty now. Mark's headache had been blown away by the night wind with his memories and the incoherent thoughts which had gathered round the contemplation of Father Rowley's character. He was just going to draw away from the window and undress when he caught sight of a figure tacking from one pavement to the other up Keppel Street. Mark watched its progress, amused at the extraordinary amount of trouble it was giving itself, until one tack was brought to a sharp conclusion by a lamp-post to which the figure clung long enough to be recognized as that of the Reverend George Edward Mousley, who had been tacking like this to make the harbour of the Mission House. Mark, remembering the letter which had been written to the Bishop of Warwick, wondered if he could not at any rate for to-night spare Father Rowley the disappointment of knowing that his plea for re-instatement was already answered by the drunken priest himself. He must make up his mind quickly, because even with the zigzag course Mousley was taking he would soon be ringing the bell of the Mission House, which meant that Father Rowley would be woken up and go down to let him in. Of course, he would have to know all about it in the morning, but to-night when he had gone to bed tired and full of hope for temperance in general and the reformation of Mousley in particular it was surely right to let him sleep in ignorance. Mark decided to take it upon himself to break the rules of the house, to open the door to Mousley, and if possible to get him upstairs to bed quietly. He went down with a lighted candle, crept across the gymnasium, and opened the door. Mousley was still tacking from pavement to pavement and making very little headway against a strong current of drink. Mark thought he had better go out and offer his services as pilot, because Mousley was beginning to sing an extraordinary song in which the tune and the words of Good-bye, Dolly, I must leave you, had got mixed up with O happy band of pilgrims.
"Look here, Mr. Mousley, you mustn't sing now," said Mark taking hold of the arm with which the drunkard was trying to beat time. "It's after eleven o'clock, and you're just outside the Mission House."
"I've been just outside the Mission House for an hour and three quarters, old chap," said Mr. Mousley solemnly. "Most incompatible thing I've ever known. I got back here at a quarter past nine, and I was just going to walk in when the house took two paces to the rear, and I've been walking after it the whole evening. Most incompatible thing I've ever known. Most incompatible thing that's ever happened to me in my life, Lidderdale. If I were a superstitious man, which I'm not, I should say the house was bewitched. If I had a moment to spare, I should sit down at once and write an account of my most incompatible experience to the Society of Psychical Research, if I were a superstitious man, which I'm not. Yes. . . ."
Mr. Mousley tried to focus his glassy eyes upon the arcana of spiritualism, rocking ambiguously the while upon the kerb. Mark murmured something more about the need for going in quietly.
"It's very kind of you to come out and talk to me like this," the drunken priest went on. "But what you ought to have done was to have kept hold of the house for a minute or two so as to give me time to get in quietly. Now we shall probably both be out here all night trying to get in quietly. It's impossible to keep warm by this lamp-post. Most inadequate heating arrangement. It is a lamp-post, isn't it? Yes, I thought it was. I had a fleeting impression that it was my bedroom candle, but I see now that I was mistaken, I see now perfectly clearly that it is a lamp-post, if not two. Of course, that may account for my not being able to get into the Mission House. I was trying to decide which front door I should go in by, and while I was waiting I think I must have gone in by the wrong one, for I hit my nose a most severe blow on the nose. One has to remember to be very careful with front doors. Of course, if it was my own house I should have used a latch-key instanter; for I inevitably, I mean invariably, carry a latch-key about with me and when it won't open my front door I use it to wind my watch. You know, it's one of those small keys you can wind up watches with, if you know the kind of key I mean. I'd draw you a picture of it if I had a pencil, but I haven't got a pencil."
"Now don't stay talking here," Mark urged. "Come along back, and do try to come quietly. I keep telling you it's after eleven o'clock, and you know Father Rowley likes everybody to be in by ten."
"That's what I've been saying to myself the whole evening," said Mr. Mousley. "Only what happened, you see, was that I met the son of a man who used to know my father, a very nice fellow indeed, a very intellectual fellow. I never remember spending a more intellectual evening in my life. A feast of reason and a flowing bowl, I mean soul, s-o-u-l, not b-o-u-l. Did I say bowl? Soul. . . . Soul. . . ."
"All right," said Mark. "But if you've had such a jolly evening, come in now and don't make a noise."
"I'll come in whenever you like," Mr. Mousley offered. "I'm at your disposition entirely. The only request I have to make is that you will guarantee that the house stays where it was built. It's all very fine for an ordinary house to behave like this, but when a mission house behaves like this I call it disgraceful. I don't know what I've done to the house that it should conceive such a dislike to me. I say, Lidderdale, have they been taking up the drains or something in this street? Because I distinctly had an impression just then that I put my foot into a hole."
"The street's perfectly all right," said Mark. "Nothing has been done to it."
"There's no reason why they shouldn't take up the drains if they want to, I'm not complaining. Drains have to be taken up and I should be the last man to complain; but I merely asked a question, and I'm convinced that they have been taking up the drains. Yes, I've had a very intellectual evening. My head's whirling with philosophy. We've talked about everything. My friend talked a good deal about Buddhism. And I made rather a good joke about Confucius being so confusing, at which I laughed inordinately. Inordinately, Lidderdale. I've had a very keen sense of humour ever since I was a baby. I say, Lidderdale, you certainly know your way about this street. I'm very much obliged to me for meeting you. I shall get to know the street in time. You see, my object was to get beyond the house, because I said to myself 'the house is in Keppel Street, it can dodge about in Keppel Street, but it can't be in any other street,' so I thought that if I could dodge it into the corner of Keppel Street—you follow what I mean? I may be talking a bit above your head, we've been talking philosophy all the evening, but if you concentrate you'll follow my meaning."