"I'm afraid, dear Brother George," the Reverend Father was saying, "I'm very much afraid that you are beginning to think I have outlived my usefulness as Superior of the Order."
"I've never suggested that," Brother George replied angrily.
"You may not have meant to give that impression, but certainly that is what you have succeeded in making me feel personally," said the Superior.
"I have been associated with you long enough to be entitled to express my opinion in private."
"In private, yes. But are you always careful only to do so in private? I'm not complaining. My only desire is the prosperity and health of the Order. Next Christmas I am ready to resign, and let the brethren elect another Superior-general."
"That's talking nonsense," said the Prior. "You know as well as I do that nobody else except you could possibly be Superior. But recently I happen to have had a better opportunity than you to criticize our Mother House, and frankly I'm not satisfied with the men we have. Few of them will be any use to us. Birinus, Anselm, Giles, Chad, Athanasius if properly suppressed, Mark, these in varying degrees, have something in them, but look at the others! Dominic, ambitious and sly, Jerome, a pompous prig, Dunstan, a nincompoop, Raymond, a milliner, Nicholas, a—well, you know what I think Nicholas is, Augustine, another nincompoop, Lawrence, still at Sunday School, and poor Simon, a clown. I've had a dozen probationers through my hands, and not one of them was as good as what we've got. I'm afraid I'm less hopeful of the future than I was in Canada."
"I notice, dear Brother George," said the Father Superior, "that you are prejudiced in favour of the brethren who follow your lead with a certain amount of enthusiasm. That is very natural. But I'm not so pessimistic about the others as you are. Perhaps you feel that I am forgetting how much the Order owes to your generosity in the past. Believe me, I have forgotten nothing. At the same time, you gave your money with your eyes open. You took your vows without being pressed. Don't you think you owe it to yourself, if not to the Order or to me personally, to go through with what you undertook? Your three vows were Chastity, Poverty, and Obedience."
There was no answer from the Prior; a moment later he shut the door behind him, and went downstairs alone. Mark came into the room at once.
"Reverend Father," he said. "I'm sorry to have to tell you that I overheard what you and the Reverend Brother were saying." He went on to explain how this had happened, and why he had not liked to make his presence known.
"You thought the Reverend Brother would not bear the mortification with as much fortitude as myself?" the Father Superior suggested with a faint smile.
It struck Mark how true this was, and he looked in astonishment at Father Burrowes, who had offered him the key to his action.
"Well, we must forget what we heard, my son," said the Father Superior. "Sit down, and let's finish off these letters."
An hour's work was done, at the end of which the Reverend Father asked Mark if his had been the blank paper when the votes were counted in Chapter, and when Mark admitted that it had been, he pressed him for the reason of his neutrality.
"I'm not sure that it oughtn't to be called indecision," said Mark. "I was personally interested in the keeping on of Aldershot, because I had worked there."
"Then why not have voted for doing so?" the Superior asked, in accents that were devoid of the least grudge against Mark for disagreeing with himself.
"I tried to get rid of my personal opinion," Mark explained. "I tried to look at the question strictly from the standpoint of the member of a community. As such I felt that the Reverend Brother was wrong to run counter to his Superior. At the same time, if you'll forgive me for saying so, I felt that you were wrong to give up Aldershot. I simply could not arrive at a decision between the two opinions."
"I do not blame you, my son, for your scrupulous cast of mind. Only beware of letting it chill your enthusiasm. Satan may avail himself of it one day, and attack your faith. Solomon was just. Our Blessed Lord, by our cowardly standards, was unjust. Remembering the Gadarene swine, the barren fig-tree, the parable of the wedding-guest without a garment, Martha and Mary. . . ."
"Martha and Mary!" interrupted Mark. "Why, that was really the point at issue. And the ointment that might have been sold for the benefit of the poor. Yes, Judas would have voted with the Reverend Brother."
"And Pontius Pilate would have remained neutral," added Father Burrowes, his blue eyes glittering with delight at the effect upon Mark of his words.
But when Mark was walking back to the Abbey down the winding drive among the hazels, he wished that he and not the Reverend Father had used that illustration. However, useless regrets for his indecision in the matter of the priory at Aldershot were soon obliterated by a new cause of division, which was the arrival of the Reverend Andrew Hett on the Vigil of the Annunciation, just in time to sing first Vespers.
It fell to Mark's lot to entertain the new chaplain that evening, because Brother Jerome who had become guest-master when Brother Anselm took his place as cellarer was in the infirmary. Mark was scarcely prepared for the kind of personality that Hett's proved to be. He had grown accustomed during his time at the Abbey to look down upon the protagonists of ecclesiastical battles, so little else did any of the guests who visited them want to discuss, so much awe was lavished upon them by Brother Raymond and Brother Augustine. It did not strike Mark that the fight at St. Agnes' might appear to the large majority of people as much a foolish squabble over trifles, a cherishing of the letter rather than the spirit of Christian worship, as the dispute between Mr. So-and-so and the Bishop of Somewhere-or-other in regard to his use of the Litany of the Saints in solemn procession on high days and holy days.
Andrew Hett revived in Mark his admiration of the bigot, which would have been a dangerous thing to lose in one's early twenties. The chaplain was a young man of perhaps thirty-five, tall, raw-boned, sandy-haired, with a complexion of extreme pallor. His light-blue eyes were very red round the rims, and what eyebrows he possessed slanted up at a diabolic angle. His voice was harsh, high, and rasping as a guinea fowl's. When Mark brought him his supper, Hett asked him several questions about the Abbey time-table, and then said abruptly:
"The ugliness of this place must be soul-destroying."
Mark looked at the Guest-chamber with new eyes. There was such a force of assertion in Hett's tone that he could not contradict him, and indeed it certainly was ugly.
"Nobody can live with matchboarded walls and ceilings and not suffer for it," Hett went on. "Why didn't you buy an old tithe barn and live in that? It's an insult to Almighty God to worship Him in such surroundings."
"This is only a beginning," Mark pointed out.
"A very bad beginning," Hett growled. "Such brutalizing ugliness would be inexcusable if you were leading an active life. But I gather that you claim to be contemplative here. I've been reading your ridiculous monthly paper The Dragon. Full of sentimental bosh about bringing back the glories of monasticism to England. Tintern was not built of tin. How can you contemplate Almighty God here? It's not possible. What Divine purpose is served by collecting men under hundreds of square feet of corrugated iron? I'm astonished at Charles Horner. I thought he knew better than to encourage this kind of abomination."
There was only one answer to make to Hett, which was that the religious life of the Community did not depend upon any externals, least of all upon its lodging; but when Mark tried to frame this answer, his lips would not utter the words. In that moment he knew that it was time for him to leave Malford and prepare himself to be a priest elsewhere, and otherwise than by what the Rector had stigmatized as the pseudo-monastic life.
Mark wondered when he had left the chaplain to his ferocious meditations what would have been the effect of that diatribe upon some of his brethren. He smiled to himself, as he sat over his solitary supper in the Refectory, to picture the various expressions he could imagine upon their faces when they came hotfoot from the Guest-chamber with the news of what manner of priest was in their midst. And while he was sipping his bowl of pea-soup, he looked up at the image of St. George and perceived that the dragon's expression bore a distinct resemblance to that of the Reverend Andrew Hett. That night it seemed to Mark, in one of those waking trances that occur like dreams between one disturbed sleep and another, that the presence of the chaplain was shaking the flimsy foundations of the Abbey with such ruthlessness that the whole structure must soon collapse.
"It's only the wind," he murmured, with that half of his mind which was awake. "March is going out like a dragon."
After Mass next day, when Mark was giving the chaplain his breakfast, the latter asked who kept the key of the tabernacle.
"Brother Birinus, I expect. He is the sacristan."
"It ought to have been given to me before Mass. Please go and ask for it," requested the chaplain.
Mark found Brother Birinus in the Sacristy, putting away the white vestments in the press. When Mark gave him the chaplain's message, Brother Birinus told him that the Reverend Brother had the key.
"What does he want the key for?" asked Brother George when Mark had repeated to him the chaplain's request.
"He probably wishes to change the Host," Mark suggested.
"There is no need to do that. And I don't believe that is the reason. I believe he wants to have Benediction. He's not going to have Benediction here."
Mark felt that it was not his place to argue with the Reverend Brother, and he merely asked him what reply he was to give to the chaplain.
"Tell him that the key of the Tabernacle is kept by me while the Reverend Father is away, and that I regret I cannot give it to him."
The priest's eyes blazed with anger when Mark returned without the key.
"Who is the Reverend Brother?" he rasped.
"Yes, but what is he? Apothecary, tailor, ploughboy, what?"
"Brother George is the Prior."
"Well, please tell the Prior that I should like to speak to him instantly."
When Mark found Brother George he had already doffed his habit, and was dressed in his farmer's clothes to go working on the land.
"I'll speak to Mr. Hett before Sext. Meanwhile, you can assure him that the key of the Tabernacle is perfectly safe. I wear it round my neck."
Brother George pulled open his shirt, and showed Mark the golden key hanging from a cord.
On receiving the Prior's message, the chaplain asked for a railway time-table.
"I see there is a fast train at 10.30. Please order the trap."
"You're not going to leave us?" Mark exclaimed.
"Do you suppose, Brother Mark, that no bishop in the Establishment will receive me in his diocese because I am accustomed to give way? I should not have asked for the key of the Tabernacle unless I thought that it was my duty to ask for it. I cannot take it from the Reverend Brother's neck. I will not stay here without its being given up to me. Please order the trap in time to catch the 10.30 train."
"Surely you will see the Reverend Brother first," Mark urged. "I should have made it clear to you that he is out in the fields, and that all the work of the farm falls upon his shoulders. It cannot make any difference whether you have the key now or before Sext. And I'm sure the Reverend Brother will see your point of view when you put it to him."
"I am not going to argue about the custody of God," said the chaplain. "I should consider such an argument blasphemy, and I consider the Prior's action in refusing to give up the key sacrilege. Please order the trap."
"But if you sent a telegram to the Reverend Father . . . Brother Dominic will know where he is . . . I'm sure that the Reverend Father will put it right with Brother George, and that he will at once give you the key."
"I was summoned here as a priest," said the chaplain. "If the amateur monk left in charge of this monastery does not understand the prerogatives of my priesthood, I am not concerned to teach him except directly."
"Well, will you wait until I've found the Reverend Brother and told him that you intend to leave us unless he gives you the key?" Mark begged, in despair at the prospect of what the chaplain's departure would mean to a Community already too much divided against itself.
"It is not one of my prerogatives to threaten the prior of a monastery, even if he is an amateur," said the chaplain. "From the moment that Brother George refuses to recognize my position, I cease to hold that position. Please order the trap."
"You won't have to leave till half-past nine," said Mark, who had made up his mind to wrestle with Brother George on his own initiative, and if possible to persuade him to surrender the key to the chaplain of his own accord. With this object he hurried out, to find Brother George ploughing that stony ground by the fir-trees. He was looking ruefully at a broken share when Mark approached him.
"Two since I started," he commented.
But he was breaking more precious things than shares, thought Mark, if he could but understand.
"Let the fellow go," said Brother George coldly, when Mark had related his interview with the chaplain.
"But, Reverend Brother, if he goes we shall have no priest for Easter."
"We shall be better off with no priest than with a fellow like that."
"Reverend Brother," said Mark miserably, "I have no right to remonstrate with you, I know. But I must say something. You are making a mistake. You will break up the Community. I am not speaking on my own account now, because I have already made up my mind to leave, and get ordained. But the others! They're not all strong like you. They really are not. If they feel that they have been deprived of their Easter Communion by you . . . and have you the right to deprive them? After all, Father Hett has reason on his side. He is entitled to keep the key of the Tabernacle. If he wishes to hold Benediction, you can forbid him, or at least you can forbid the brethren to attend. But the key of the Tabernacle belongs to him, if he says Mass there. Please forgive me for speaking like this, but I love you and respect you, and I cannot bear to see you put yourself in the wrong."
The Prior patted Mark on the shoulder.
"Cheer up, Brother," he said. "You mustn't mind if I think that I know better than you what is good for the Community. I have had a longer time to learn, you must remember. And so you're going to leave us?"
"Yes, but I don't want to talk about that now," Mark said.
"Nor do I," said Brother George. "I want to get on with my ploughing."
Mark saw that it was as useless to argue with him as attempt to persuade the chaplain to stay. He turned sadly away, and walked back with heavy steps towards the Abbey. Overhead, the larks, rising and falling upon their fountains of song, seemed to mock the way men worshipped Almighty God.
Mark had not spent a more unhappy Easter since the days of Haverton House. He was oppressed by the sense of excommunication that brooded over the Abbey, and on the Saturday of Passion Week the versicles and responses of the proper Compline had a dreadful irony.
V. O King most Blessed, govern Thy servants in the right way. R. Among Thy Saints, O King most Blessed. V. By holy fasts to amend our sinful lives. R. O King most Blessed, govern Thy Saints in the right way. V. To duly keep Thy Paschal Feast. R. Among Thy Saints, O King most Blessed.
"Brother Mark," said Brother Augustine, on the morning of Palm Sunday, "did you notice that ghastly split infinitive in the last versicle at Compline? To duly keep. I can't think why we don't say the Office in Latin."
Mark felt inclined to tell Brother Augustine that if nothing more vital than an infinitive was split during this holy season, the Community might have cause to congratulate itself. Here now was Brother Birinus throwing away as useless the bundle of palms that lacked the blessing of a priest, throwing them away like dead flowers.
Sir Charles Horner, who had been in town, arrived at the Abbey on the Tuesday, and announced that he was going to spend Holy Week with the Community.
"We have no chaplain," Mark told him.
"No chaplain!" Sir Charles exclaimed. "But I understood that Andrew Hett had undertaken the job while Father Burrowes was away."
Mark did not think that it was his duty to enlighten Sir Charles upon the dispute between Brother George and the chaplain. However, it was not long before he found out what had occurred from the Prior's own lips and came fuming back to the Guest-chamber.
"I consider the whole state of affairs most unsatisfactory," he said. "I really thought that when Brother George took charge here the Abbey would be better managed."
"Please, Sir Charles," Mark begged, "you make it very uncomfortable for me when you talk like that about the Reverend Brother before me."
"Yes, but I must give my opinion. I have a right to criticize when I am the person who is responsible for the Abbey's existence here. It's all very fine for Brother George to ask me to notify Bazely at Wivelrod that the brethren wish to go to their Easter duties in his church. Bazely is a very timid man. I've already driven him into doing more than he really likes, and my presence in his church doesn't alarm the parishioners. In fact, they rather like it. But they won't like to see the church full of monks on Easter morning. They'll be more suspicious than ever of what they call poor Bazely's innovations. It's not fair to administer such a shock to a remote country parish like Wivelrod, especially when they're just beginning to get used to the vestments I gave them. It seems to me that you've deliberately driven Andrew Hett away from the Abbey, and I don't see why poor Bazely should be made to suffer. How many monks are you now? Fifteen? Why, fifteen bulls in Wivelrod church would create less dismay!"
Sir Charles's protest on behalf of the Vicar of Wivelrod was effective, for the Prior announced that after all he had decided that it was the duty of the Community to observe Easter within the Abbey gates. The Reverend Father would return on Easter Tuesday, and their Easter duties would be accomplished within the Octave. Withal, it was a gloomy Easter for the brethren, and when they began the first Vespers with the quadruple Alleluia, it seemed as if they were still chanting the sorrowful antiphons of Good Friday.
My spirit is vexed within Me: and My heart within Me is desolate.
Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by: behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto My sorrow, which is done unto Me.
What are these wounds in Thy Hands: Those with which I was wounded in the house of My friends.
Nor was there rejoicing in the Community when at Lauds of Easter Day they chanted:
V. In Thy Resurrection, O Christ. R. Let Heaven and earth rejoice, Alleluia.
Nor when at Prime and Terce and Sext and None they chanted:
This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
And when at the second Vespers the Brethren declared:
V. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the Feast.
R. Not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened Bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.
scarcely could they who chanted the versicle challenge with their eyes those who hung down their heads when they gave the response.
* * * * *
The hour of recreation before Compline, which upon great Feasts was wont to be so glad, lay heavily upon the brethren that night, so that Mark could not bear to sit in the Cloister; there being no guests in the Abbey for his attention, he sat in the library and wrote to the Rector.
My dear Rector,
I should have written before to wish you all a happy Easter, but I've been making up my mind during the last fortnight to leave the Order, and I did not want to write until my mind was made up. That feat is now achieved. I shall stay here until St. George's Day, and then the next day, which will be St. Mark's Eve, I shall come home to spend my birthday with you. I do not regret the year and six months that I have spent at Malford and Aldershot, because during that time, if I have decided not to be a monk, I am none the less determined to be a priest. I shall be 23 this birthday, and I hope that I shall find a Bishop to ordain me next year and a Theological College to accept responsibility for my training and a beneficed priest to give me a title. I will give you a full account of myself when we meet at the end of the month; but in this letter, written in sad circumstances, I want to tell you that I have learnt with the soul what I have long spoken with the lips—the need of God. I expect you will tell me that I ought to have learnt that lesson long ago upon that Whit-Sunday morning in Meade Cantorum church. But I think I was granted then by God to desire Him with my heart. I was scarcely old enough to realize that I needed Him with my soul. "You're not so old now," I hear you say with a smile. But in a place like this one learns almost more than one would learn in the world in the time. One beholds human nature very intimately. I know more about my fellow-men from association with two or three dozen people here than I learnt at St. Agnes' from association with two or three hundred. This much at least my pseudo-monasticism has taught me.
We have passed through a sad time lately at the Abbey, and I feel that for the Community sorrows are in store. You know from my letters that there have been divisions, and you know how hard I have found it to decide which party I ought to follow. But of course the truth is that from the moment one feels the inclination to side with a party in a community it is time to leave that community. Owing to an unfortunate disagreement between Brother George and the Reverend Andrew Hett, who came down to act as chaplain during the absence of the Reverend Father, Andrew Hett felt obliged to leave us. The consequence is we have had no Mass this Easter, and thus I have learned with my soul to need God. I cannot describe to you the torment of deprivation which I personally feel, a torment that is made worse by the consciousness that all my brethren will go to their cells to-night needing God and not finding Him, because they like myself are involved in an earthly quarrel, so that we are incapable of opening our hearts to God this night. You may say that if we were in such a state we should have had no right to make our Easter Communion. But that surely is what Our Blessed Lord can do for us with His Body and Blood. I have been realizing that all this Holy Week. I have felt as I have never felt before the consciousness of sinning against Him. There has not been an antiphon, not a versicle nor a response, that has not stabbed me with a consciousness of my sin against His Divine Love.
"What are these wounds in Thy Hands: Those with which I was wounded in the house of My friends."
But if on Easter eve we could have confessed our sins against His Love, and if this morning we could have partaken of Him, He would have been with us, and our hearts would have been fit for the presence of God. We should have been freed from this spirit of strife, we should have come together in Jesus Christ. We should have seen how to live "with the unleavened Bread of sincerity and truth." God would have revealed His Will, and we, submitting our Order to His Will, should have ceased to think for ourselves, to judge our brethren, to criticize our seniors, to suspect that brother of personal ambition, this brother of toadyism. The Community is being devoured by the Dragon and, unless St. George comes to the rescue of his Order on Thursday week, it will perish. Perhaps I have not much faith in St. George. He has always seemed to me an unreal, fairy-tale sort of a saint. I have more faith in St. Benedict and his Holy Rule. But I have no vocation for the contemplative life. I don't feel that my prayers are good enough to save my own soul, let alone the souls of others. I must give Jesus Christ to my fellow-men in the Blessed Sacrament. I long to be a priest for that service. I don't feel that I want by my own efforts to make people better, or to relieve poverty, or to thunder against sin, or to preach them up to and through Heaven's gates. I want to give them the Blessed Sacrament, because I know that nothing else will be the slightest use to them. I know it more positively to-night than I have ever known it, because as I sit here writing to you I am starved. God has given me the grace to understand why I am starved. It is my duty to bring Our Lord to souls who do not know why they are starved. And if after nearly two years of Malford this passion to bring the Sacraments to human beings consumes me like a fire, then I have not wasted my time, and I can look you in the face and ask for your blessing upon my determination to be a priest.
Your ever affectionate
When Mark had written this letter, and thus put into words what had hitherto been a more or less nebulous intention, and when in addition to that he had affixed a date to the carrying out of his intention, he felt comparatively at ease. He wasted no time in letting the Father Superior know that he was going to leave; in fact he told him after he had confessed to him before making his Communion on Easter Thursday.
"I'm sorry to lose you, my dear boy," said Father Burrowes. "Very sorry. We are just going to open a priory in London, though that is a secret for the moment, please. I shall make the announcement at the Easter Chapter. Yes, some kind friends have given us a house in Soho. Splendidly central, which is important for our work. I had planned that you would be one of the brethren chosen to go there."
"It's very kind of you, Reverend Father," said Mark. "But I'm sure that you understand my anxiety not to lose any time, now that I feel perfectly convinced that I want to be a priest."
"I had my doubts about you when you first came to us. Let me see, it was nearly two years ago, wasn't it? How time flies! Yes, I had my doubts about you. But I was wrong. You seem to possess a real fixity of purpose. I remember that you told me then that you were not sure you wanted to be a monk. Rare candour! I could have professed a hundred monks, had I been willing to profess them within ten minutes of their first coming to see me."
The Father Superior gave Mark his blessing and dismissed him. Nothing had been said about the dispute between the Prior and the Chaplain, and Mark began to wonder if Father Burrowes thought the results of it would tell more surely in favour of his own influence if he did not allude to it nor make any attempt to adjudicate upon the point at issue. Now that he was leaving Malford in little more than a week, Mark felt that he was completely relieved of the necessity of assisting at any conventual legislation, and he would gladly have absented himself from the Easter Chapter, which was held on the Saturday within the Octave, had not Father Burrowes told him that so long as he wore the habit of a novice of the Order he was expected to share in every side of the Community's life.
"Brethren," said the Father Superior, "I have brought you back news that will gladden your hearts, news that will show I you how by the Grace of God your confidence in my judgment was not misplaced. Some kind friends have taken for us the long lease of a splendid house in Soho Square, so that we may have our priory in London, and resume the active work that was abandoned temporarily last Christmas. Not only have these kind friends taken for us this splendid house, but other kind friends have come forward to guarantee the working expenses up to L20 a week. God is indeed good to us, brethren, and when I remember that next Thursday is the Feast of our great Patron Saint, my heart is too full for words. During the last three or four months there have been unhappy differences of opinion in our beloved Order. Do let me entreat you to forget all these in gratitude for God's bountiful mercies. Do let us, with the arrival once more of our patronal festival, resolve to forget our doubts and our hesitations, our timidity and our rashness, our suspicions and our jealousies. I blame myself for much that has happened, because I have been far away from you, dear brethren, in moments of great spiritual distress. But this year I hope by God's mercy to be with you more. I hope that you will never again spend such an Easter as this. I have only one more announcement to make, which is that I have appointed Brother Dominic to be Prior of St. George's Priory, Soho Square, and Brother Chad and Brother Dunstan to work with him for God and our soldiers."
In the morning, Brother Simon, whose duty it was nowadays to knock with the hammer upon the doors of the cells and rouse the brethren from sleep with the customary salutation, went running from the dormitory to the Prior's cell, his hair standing even more on end than it usually did at such an hour.
"Reverend Brother, Reverend Brother," he cried. "I've knocked and knocked on Brother Anselm's door, and I've said 'The Lord be with you' nine times and shouted 'The Lord be with you' twice, but there's no answer, and at last I opened the door, though I know it's against the Rule to open the door of a brother's cell, but I thought he might be dead, and he isn't dead, but he isn't there. He isn't there, Reverend Brother, and he isn't anywhere. He's nowhere, Reverend Brother, and shall I go and ring the fire-alarm?"
Brother George sternly bade Brother Simon be quiet; but when the Brethren sat in choir to sing Lauds and Prime, they saw that Brother Anselm's stall was empty, and those who had heard Brother Simon's clamour feared that something terrible had happened.
After Mass the Community was summoned to the Chapter room to learn from the lips of the Father Superior that Brother Anselm had broken his vows and left the Order. Brother Dunstan, who wore round his neck the nib with which Brother Anselm signed his profession, burst into tears. Brother Dominic looked down his big nose to avoid the glances of his brethren. If Easter Sunday had been gloomy, Low Sunday was gloomier still, and as for the Feast of St. George nobody had the courage to think what that would be like with such a cloud hanging over the Community.
Mark felt that he could not stay even until the patronal festival. If Brother George or Brother Birinus had broken his vows, he could have borne it more easily, for he had not witnessed their profession; fond he might be of the Prior, but he had worked for human souls under the orders of Brother Anselm. He went to Father Burrowes and begged to leave on Monday.
"Brother Athanasius and Brother Chad are leaving tomorrow," said the Father Superior, "Yes, you may go."
Brother Simon drove them to the station. Strange figures they seemed to each other in their lay clothes.
"I've been meaning to go for a long time," said Brother Athanasius, who was now Percy Wade. "And it's my belief that Brother George and Brother Birinus won't stay long."
"I hoped never to go," said Brother Chad, who was now Cecil Masters.
"Then why are you going?" asked the late Brother Athanasius. "I never do anything I don't want to do."
"I think I shall be more help to Brother Anselm than to soldiers in London," said the late Brother Chad.
Mark beamed at him.
"That's just like you, Brother. I am so glad you're going to do that."
The train came in, and they all shook hands with Brother Simon, who had been cheerful throughout the drive, and even now found great difficulty in looking serious.
"You seem very happy, Brother Simon," said Mark.
"Oh, I am very happy, Brother Mark. I should say Mr. Mark. The Reverend Father has told me that I'm to be clothed as a novice on Wednesday. All last week when we sung, 'The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared unto Simon,' I knew something wonderful was going to happen. That's what made me so anxious when Brother Anselm didn't answer my knock."
The train left the station, and the three ex-novices settled themselves to face the world. They were all glad that Brother Simon at least was happy amid so much unhappiness.
THE NEW BISHOP OF SILCHESTER
The Rector of Wych thought that Mark's wisest plan if he wished to be ordained was to write and ask the Bishop of Silchester for an interview.
"The Bishop of Silchester?" Mark exclaimed. "But he's the last bishop I should expect to help me."
"On the contrary," said the Rector, "you have lived in his diocese for more than five years, and if you repair to another bishop, he will certainly wonder why you didn't go first to the Bishop of Silchester."
"But I don't suppose that the Bishop of Silchester is likely to help me," Mark objected. "He wasn't so much enamoured of Rowley as all that, and I don't gather that he has much affection or admiration for Burrowes."
"That's not the point; the point is that you have devoted yourself to the religious life, both informally and formally, in his diocese. You have shown that you possess some capacity for sticking to it, and I fancy that you will find the Bishop less unsympathetic than you expect."
However, Mark was not given an opportunity to put the Bishop of Silchester's good-will to the test, for no sooner had he made up his mind to write to him than the news came that he was seriously ill, so seriously ill that he was not expected to live, which in fact turned out a true prognostication, for on the Feast of St. Philip and St. James the prelate died in his Castle of High Thorpe. He was succeeded by the Bishop of Warwick, much to Mark's pleasure and surprise, for the new Bishop was an old friend of Father Rowley and a High Churchman, one who might lend a kindly ear to Mark's ambition. Father Rowley had been in the United States for nearly two years, where he had been treated with much sympathy and where he had collected enough money to pay off the debt upon the new St. Agnes'. He had arrived home about a week before Mark left Malford, and in answer to Mark he wrote immediately to Dr. Oliphant, the new Bishop of Silchester, to enlist his interest. Early in June Mark received a cordial letter inviting him to visit the Bishop at High Thorpe.
The promotion of Dr. Aylmer Oliphant to the see of Silchester was considered at the time to be an indication that the political party then in power was going mad in preparation for its destruction by the gods. The Press in commenting upon the appointment did not attempt to cast a slur upon the sanctity and spiritual fervour of the new Bishop, but it felt bound to observe that the presence of such a man on the episcopal bench was an indication that the party in power was oblivious of the existence of an enraged electorate already eager to hurl them out of office. At a time when thinking men and women were beginning to turn to the leaders of the National Church for a social policy, a government worn out by eight years of office that included a costly war was so little alive to the signs of the times as to select for promotion a prelate conspicuously identified with the obscurantist tactics of that small but noisy group in the Church of England which arrogated to itself the presumptuous claim to be the Catholic party. Dr. Oliphant's learning was indisputable; his liturgical knowledge was profound; his eloquence in the pulpit was not to be gainsaid; his life, granted his sacerdotal eccentricities, was a noble example to his fellow clergy. But had he shown those qualities of statesmanship, that capacity for moderation, which were so marked a feature of his predecessor's reign? Was he not identified with what might almost be called an unchristian agitation to prosecute the holy, wise, and scholarly Dean of Leicester for appearing to countenance an opinion that the Virgin Birth was not vital to the belief of a Christian? Had he not denounced the Reverend Albert Blundell for heresy, and thereby exhibited himself in active opposition to his late diocesan, the sagacious Bishop of Kidderminster, who had been compelled to express disapproval of his Suffragan's bigotry by appointing the Reverend Albert Blundell to be one of his examining chaplains?
"We view with the gravest apprehension the appointment of Dr. Aylmer Oliphant to the historic see of Silchester," said one great journal. "Such reckless disregard, such contempt we might almost say, for the feelings of the English people demonstrates that the present government has ceased to enjoy the confidence of the electorate. We have for Dr. Oliphant personally nothing but the warmest admiration. We do not venture for one moment to impugn his sincerity. We do not hesitate to affirm most solemnly our disbelief that he is actuated by any but the highest motives in lending his name to persecutions that recall the spirit of the Star Chamber. But in these days when the rapid and relentless march of Scientific Knowledge is devastating the plain of Theological Speculation we owe it to our readers to observe that the appointment of Dr. Aylmer Oliphant to the Bishopric of Silchester must be regarded as an act of intellectual cowardice. Not merely is Dr. Oliphant a notorious extremist in religious matters, one who for the sake of outworn forms and ceremonies is inclined to keep alive the unhappy dissensions that tear asunder our National Church, but he is also what is called a Christian Socialist of the most advanced type, one who by his misreading of the Gospel spreads the unwholesome and perilous doctrine that all men are equal. This is not the time nor the place to break a controversial lance with Dr. Oliphant. We shall content ourselves with registering a solemn protest against the unparagoned cynicism of a Conservative government which thus gambles not merely with its own security, but what is far more unpardonable with the security of the Nation and the welfare of the State."
The subject of this ponderous censure received Mark in the same room where two and a half years ago the late Bishop had decided that the Third Altar in St. Agnes' Church was an intolerable excrescence. Nowadays the room was less imposing, not more imposing indeed than the room of a scholarly priest who had been able to collect a few books and buy such pieces of ancient furniture as consorted with his severe taste. Dr. Oliphant himself, a tall spare man, seeming the taller and more spare in his worn purple cassock, with clean-shaven hawk's face and black bushy eyebrows most conspicuous on account of his grey hair, stood before the empty summer grate, his long lean neck out-thrust, his arms crossed behind his back, like a gigantic and emaciated shadow of Napoleon. Mark felt no embarrassment in genuflecting to salute him; the action was spontaneous and was not dictated by any ritualistic indulgence. Dr. Oliphant, as he might have guessed from the anger with which his appointment had been received, was in outward semblance all that a prelate should be.
"Why do you want to be a priest?" the Bishop asked him abruptly.
"To administer the Sacraments," Mark replied without hesitation.
The Bishop's head and neck wagged up and down in grave approbation.
"Mr. Rowley, as no doubt he has told you, wrote to me about you. And so you've been with the Order of St. George lately? Is it any good?"
Mark was at a loss what to reply to this. His impulse was to say firmly and frankly that it was no good; but after not far short of two years at Malford it would be ungrateful and disloyal to criticize the Order, particularly to the Bishop of the diocese.
"I don't think it is much good yet," Mark said. He felt that he simply could not praise the Order without qualification. "But I expect that when they've learnt how to combine the contemplative with the active side of their religious life they will be splendid. At least, I hope they will."
"What's wrong at present?"
"I don't know that anything's exactly wrong."
Mark paused; but the Bishop was evidently waiting for him to continue, and feeling that this was perhaps the best way to present his own point of view about the life he had chosen for himself he plunged into an account of life at Malford.
"Capital," said the Bishop when the narrative was done. "You have given me a very clear picture of the present state of the Order and incidentally a fairly clear picture of yourself. Well, I'm going to recommend you to Canon Havelock, the Principal of the Theological College here, and if he reports well of you and you can pass the Cambridge Preliminary Theological Examination, I will ordain you at Advent next year, or at any rate, if not in Advent, at Whitsuntide."
"But isn't Silchester Theological College only for graduates?" Mark asked.
"Yes, but I'm going to suggest that Canon Havelock stretches a point in your favour. I can, if you like, write to the Glastonbury people, but in that case you would be out of my diocese where you have spent so much of your time and where I have no doubt you will easily find a beneficed priest to give you a title. Moreover, in the case of a young man like yourself who has been brought up from infancy upon Catholic teaching, I think it is advisable to give you an opportunity of mixing with the moderate man who wishes to take Holy Orders. You can lose nothing by such an association, and it may well happen that you will gain a great deal. Silchester Theological College is eminently moderate. The lecturers are men of real learning, and the Principal is a man whom it would be impertinent for me to praise for his devout and Christian life."
"I hardly know how to thank you, my lord," said Mark.
"Do you not, my son?" said the Bishop with a smile. Then his head and neck wagged up and down. "Thank me by the life you lead as a priest."
"I will try, my lord," Mark promised.
"Of that I am sure. By the way, didn't you come across a priest at St. Agnes' Mission House called Mousley?"
"Oh rather, I remember him well."
"You'll be glad to hear that he has never relapsed since I sent him to Rowley. In fact only last week I had the satisfaction of recommending him to a friend of mine who had a living in his gift."
Mark spent the three months before he went to Silchester at the Rectory where he worked hard at Latin and Greek and the history of the Church. At the end of August he entered Silchester Theological College.
SILCHESTER THEOLOGICAL COLLEGE
The theological students of Silchester were housed in a red-brick alley of detached Georgian houses, both ends of which were closed to traffic by double gates of beautifully wrought iron. This alley known as Vicar's Walk had formerly been inhabited by the lay vicars of the Cathedral, whose music was now performed by minor canons.
There were four little houses on either side of the broad pavement, the crevices in which were gay with small rock plants, so infrequent were the footsteps that passed over them. Each house consisted of four rooms and each room held one student. Vicar's Walk led directly into the Close, a large green space surrounded by the houses of dignitaries, from a quiet road lined with elms, which skirted the wall of the Deanery garden and after several twists and turns among the shadows of great Gothic walls found its way downhill into the narrow streets of the small city. One of the houses in the Close had been handed over to the Theological College, the Principal of which usually occupied a Canon's stall in the Cathedral. Here were the lecture-rooms, and here lived Canon Havelock the Principal, Mr. Drakeford the Vice-Principal, Mr. Brewis the Chaplain, and Mr. Moore and Mr. Waters the Lecturers.
There did not seem to be many arduous rules. Probably the most ascetic was one that forbade gentlemen to smoke in the streets of Silchester. There was no early Mass except on Saints' days at eight; but gentlemen were expected, unless prevented by reasonable cause, to attend Matins in the Cathedral before breakfast and Evensong in the College Oratory at seven. A mutilated Compline was delivered at ten, after which gentlemen were requested to retire immediately to their rooms. Academic Dress was to be worn at lectures, and Mark wondered what costume would be designed for him. The lectures took place every morning between nine and one, and every afternoon between five and seven. The Principal lectured on Dogmatic Theology and Old Testament history; the Vice-Principal on the Old and New Testament set books; the Chaplain on Christian worship and Church history; Mr. Moore on Pastoralia and Old Testament Theology; and Mr. Waters on Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.
As against the prevailing Gothic of the mighty Cathedral Vicar's Walk stood out with a simple and fragrant charm of its own, so against the prevailing Gothic of Mark's religious experience life at the Theological College remained in his memory as an unvexed interlude during which flesh and spirit never sought to trouble each other. Perhaps if Mark had not been educated at Haverton House, had not experienced conversion, had not spent those years at Chatsea and Malford, but like his fellow students had gone decorously from public school to University and still more decorously from University to Theological College, he might with his temperament have wondered if this red-brick alley closed to traffic at either end by beautifully wrought iron gates was the best place to prepare a man for the professional service of Jesus Christ.
Sin appeared very remote in that sunny lecture-room where to the sound of cawing rooks the Principal held forth upon the strife between Pelagius and Augustine, when prevenient Grace, operating Grace, co-operating Grace and the donum perseverantiae all seemed to depend for their importance so much more upon a good memory than upon the inscrutable favours of Almighty God. Even the Confessions of St. Augustine, which might have shed their own fierce light of Africa upon the dark problem of sin, were scarcely touched upon. Here in this tranquil room St. Augustine lived in quotations from his controversial works, or in discussions whether he had not wrongly translated [Greek] in the Epistle to the Romans by in quo omnes peccaverunt instead of like the Pelagians by propter quod omnes peccaverunt. The dim echoes of the strife between Semipelagian Marseilles and Augustinian Carthage resounded faintly in Mark's brain; but they only resounded at all, because he knew that without being able to display some ability to convey the impression that he understood the Thirty-Nine Articles he should never be ordained. Mark wondered what Canon Havelock would have done or said if a woman taken in adultery had been brought into the lecture-room by the beadle. Yet such a supposition was really beside the point, he thought penitently. After all, human beings would soon be degraded to wax-works if they could be lectured upon individually in this tranquil and sunny room to the sound of rooks cawing in the elms beyond the Deanery garden.
Mark made no intimate friendships among his fellows. Perhaps the moderation of their views chilled him into an exceptional reserve, or perhaps they were an unusually dull company that year. Of the thirty-one students, eighteen were from Oxford, twelve from Cambridge, and the thirty-first from Durham. Even he was looked at with a good deal of suspicion. As for Mark, nothing less than God's prevenient grace could explain his presence at Silchester. Naturally, inasmuch as they were going to be clergymen, the greatest charity, the sweetest toleration was shown to Mark's unfortunate lack of advantages; but he was never unaware that intercourse with him involved his companions in an effort, a distinct, a would-be Christlike effort to make the best of him. It was the same kind of effort they would soon be making when as Deacons they sought for the sick, poor, and impotent people of the Parish. Mark might have expected to find among them one or two of whom it might be prophesied that they would go far. But he was unlucky. All the brilliant young candidates for Ordination must have betaken themselves to Cuddesdon or Wells or Lichfield that year.
Of the eighteen graduates from Oxford, half took their religion as a hot bath, the other half as a cold one. Nine resembled the pale young curates of domestic legend, nine the muscular Christian that is for some reason attributed to the example of Charles Kingsley. Of the twelve graduates from Cambridge, six treated religion as a cricket match played before the man in the street with God as umpire, six regarded it as a respectable livelihood for young men with normal brains, social connexions, and weak digestions. The young man from Durham looked upon religion as a more than respectable livelihood for one who had plenty of brains, an excellent digestion, and no social connexions whatever.
Mark wondered if the Bishop of Silchester's design in placing him amid such surroundings was to cure him for ever of moderation. As was his custom when he was puzzled, he wrote to the Rector.
The Theological College,
All Souls, '03.
My dear Rector,
My first impressions have not undergone much change. The young men are as good as gold, but oh dear, the gold is the gold of Mediocritas. The only thing that kindles a mild phosphorescence, a dim luminousness as of a bedside match-tray in the dark, in their eyes is when they hear of somebody's what they call conspicuous moderation. I suppose every deacon carries a bishop's apron in his sponge-bag or an archbishop's crosier among his golf-clubs. But in this lot I simply cannot perceive even an embryonic archdeacon. I rather expected when I came here that I should be up against men of brains and culture. I was looking forward to being trampled on by ruthless logicians. I hoped that latitudinarian opinions were going to make my flesh creep and my hair stand on end. But nothing of the kind. I've always got rather angry when I've read caricatures of curates in books with jokes about goloshes and bath-buns. Yet honestly, half my fellows might easily serve as models to any literary cheapjack of the moment. I'm willing to admit that probably most of them will develop under the pressure of life, but a few are bound to remain what they are. I know we get some eccentrics and hotheads and a few sensual knaves among the Catholic clergy, but we do not get these anaemic creatures. I feel that before I came here I knew nothing about the Church of England. I've been thrown all my life with people who had rich ideas and violent beliefs and passionate sympathies and deplorable hatreds, so that when I come into contact with what I am bound to accept as the typical English parson in the making I am really appalled.
I've been wondering why the Bishop of Silchester told me to come here. Did he really think that the spectacle of moderation in the moulding was good for me? Did he fancy that I was a young zealot who required putting in his place? Or did he more subtly realize from the account I gave him of Malford that I was in danger of becoming moderate, even luke-warm, even tepid, perhaps even stone-cold? Did he grasp that I must owe something to party as well as mankind, if I was to give up anything worth giving to mankind? But perhaps in my egoism I am attributing much more to his lordship's paternal interest, a keener glance to his episcopal eye, than I have any right to attribute. Perhaps, after all, he merely saw in me a young man who had missed the advantages of Oxford, etc., and wished out of regard for my future to provide me with the best substitute.
Anyway, please don't think that I live in a constant state of criticism with a correspondingly dangerous increase of self-esteem. I really am working hard. I sometimes wonder if the preparation of a "good" theological college is the best preparation for the priesthood. But so long as bishops demand the knowledge they do, it is obvious that this form of preparation will continue. There again though, I daresay if I imagined myself an inspired pianist I should grumble at the amount of scales I was set to practice. I'm not, once I've written down or talked out some of my folly, so very foolish at bottom.
Beyond a slight inclination to flirt with the opinions of most of the great heresiarchs in turn, but only with each one until the next comes along, I'm not having any intellectual adventures. One of the excitements I had imagined beforehand was wrestling with Doubt. But I have no wrestles. Shall I always be spared?
Your ever affectionate,
Gradually, as the months went by, either because the students became more mellow in such surroundings or because he himself was achieving a wider tolerance, Mark lost much of his capacity for criticism and learned to recognize in his fellows a simple goodness and sincerity of purpose that almost frightened him when he thought of that great world outside, in the confusion and complexity of which they had pledged themselves to lead souls up to God. He felt how much they missed by not relying rather upon the Sacraments than upon personal holiness and the upright conduct of the individual. They were obsessed with the need of setting a good example and of being able from the pulpit to direct the wandering lamb to the Good Shepherd. Mark scarcely ever argued about his point of view, because he was sure that perception of what the Sacraments could do for human nature must be given by the grace of God, and that the most exhaustive process of inductive logic would not avail in the least to convince somebody on whom the fact had not dawned in a swift and comprehensive inspiration of his inner life. Sometimes indeed Mark would defend himself from attack, as when it was suggested that his reliance upon the Sacraments was only another aspect of Justification by Faith Alone, in which the effect of a momentary conversion was prolonged by mechanical aids to worship.
"But I should prefer my idolatry of the outward form to your idolatry of the outward form," he would maintain.
"What possible idolatry can come from the effect upon a congregation of a good sermon?" they protested.
"I don't claim that a preacher might not bring the whole of his congregation to the feet of God," Mark allowed. "But I must have less faith in human nature than you have, for I cannot believe that any preacher could exercise a permanent effect without the Sacraments. You all know the person who says that the sound of an organ gives him holy thoughts, makes him feel good, as the cant phrase goes? I've no doubt that people who sit under famous preachers get the same kind of sensation Sunday after Sunday. But sooner or later they will be worshipping the outward form—that is to say the words that issue from the preacher's mouth and produce those internal moral rumblings in the pit of the soul which other listeners get from the diapason. Have your organs, have your sermons, have your matins and evensong; but don't put them on the same level as the Blessed Sacrament. The value of that is absolute, and I refuse to consider It from the point of view of pragmatic philosophy."
All would protest that Mark was putting a wrong interpretation upon their argument; what they desired to avoid was the substitution of the Blessed Sacrament for the Person of the Divine Saviour.
"But I believe," Mark argued, "I believe profoundly with the whole of my intellectual, moral, and emotional self that the Blessed Sacrament is our Divine Saviour. I maintain that only through the Blessed Sacrament can we hope to form within our own minds the slightest idea of the Person of the Divine Saviour. In the pulpit I would undertake to present fifty human characters as moving as our Lord; but when I am at the Altar I shall actually give Him to those who will take Him. I shall know that I am doing as much for the lowest savage as for the finest product of civilization. All are equal on the altar steps. Elsewhere man remains divided into classes. You may rent the best pew from which to see and hear the preacher; but you cannot rent a stone on which to kneel at your Communion."
Mark rarely indulged in these outbursts. On him too Silchester exerted a mellowing influence, and he gained from his sojourn there much of what he might have carried away from Oxford; he recaptured the charm of that June day when in the shade of the oak-tree he had watched a College cricket match, and conversed with Hathorne the Siltonian who wished to be a priest, but who was killed in the Alps soon after Mark met him.
The bells chimed from early morning until sombre eve; ancient clocks sounded the hour with strikes rusty from long service of time; rooks and white fantail-pigeons spoke with the slow voice of creatures that are lazily content with the slumbrous present and undismayed by the sleepy morrow. In Summer the black-robed dignitaries and white choristers, themselves not more than larger rooks and fantails, passed slowly across the green Close to their dutiful worship. In Winter they battled with the wind like the birds in the sky. In Autumn there was a sound of leaves along the alleys and in the Gothic entries. In Spring there were daisies in the Close, and daffodils nodding among the tombs, and on the grey wall of the Archdeacon's garden a flaming peacock's tail of Japanese quince.
Sometimes Mark was overwhelmed by the tyranny of the past in Silchester; sometimes it seemed that nothing was worth while except at the end of living to have one's effigy in stone upon the walls of the Cathedral, and to rest there for ever with viewless eyes and cold prayerful hands, oneself in harmony at last with all that had gone before.
"Yet this peace is the peace of God," he told himself. "And I who am privileged for a little time to share in it must carry away with me enough to make a treasure of peace in my own heart, so that I can give from that treasure to those who have never known peace."
The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always.
When Mark heard these words sound from the altar far away in the golden glooms of the Cathedral, it seemed to him that the building bowed like a mighty couchant beast and fell asleep in the security of God's presence.
After Mark had been a year at the Theological College he received a letter from the Bishop:
High Thorpe Castle.
Sept. 21, '04.
I have heard from Canon Havelock that he considers you are ready to be ordained at Advent, having satisfactorily passed the Cambridge Preliminary Theological Examination. If therefore you succeed in passing my examination early in November, I am willing to ordain you on December 18. It will be necessary of course for you to obtain a title, and I have just heard from Mr. Shuter, the Vicar of St. Luke's, Galton, that he is anxious to make arrangements for a curate. You had better make an appointment, and if I hear favourably from him I will licence you for his church. It has always been the rule in this diocese that non-graduate candidates for Holy Orders should spend at least two years over their theological studies, but I am not disposed to enforce this rule in your case.
Yours very truly,
This expression of fatherly interest made Mark anxious to show his appreciation of it, and whatever he had thought of St. Luke's, Galton, or of its incumbent he would have done his best to secure the title merely to please the Bishop. Moreover, his money was coming to an end, and another year at the Theological College would have compelled him to borrow from Mr. Ogilvie, a step which he was most anxious to avoid. He found that Galton, which he remembered from the days when he had sent Cyril Pomeroy there to be met by Dorward, was a small county town of some eight or nine thousand inhabitants and that St. Luke's was a new church which had originally been a chapel of ease to the parish church, but which had acquired with the growth of a poor population on the outskirts of the town an independent parochial status of its own. The Reverend Arnold Shuter, who was the first vicar, was at first glance just a nervous bearded man, though Mark soon discovered that he possessed a great deal of spiritual force. He was a widower and lived in the care of a housekeeper who regarded religion as the curse of good cooking. Latterly he had suffered from acute neurasthenia, and three or four of his wealthier parishioners—they were only relatively wealthy—had clubbed together to guarantee the stipend of a curate. Mark was to live at the Vicarage, a detached villa, with pointed windows and a front door like a lychgate, which gave the impression of having been built with what material was left over from building the church.
"You may think that there is not much to do in Galton," said Mr. Shuter when he and Mark were sitting in his study after a round of the parish.
"I hope I didn't suggest that," Mark said quickly.
The Vicar tugged nervously at his beard and blinked at his prospective curate from pale blue eyes.
"You seem so full of life and energy," he went on, half to himself, as though he were wondering if the company of this tall, bright-eyed, hatchet-faced young man might not prove too bracing for his worn-out nerves.
"Indeed I'm glad I do strike you that way," Mark laughed. "After dreaming at Silchester I'd begun to wonder if I hadn't grown rather too much into a type of that sedate and sleepy city."
"But there is plenty of work," Mr. Shuter insisted. "We have the hop-pickers at the end of the summer, and I've tried to run a mission for them. Out in the hop-gardens, you know. And then there's Oaktown."
"Oaktown?" Mark echoed.
"Yes. A queer collection of people who have settled on a derelict farm that was bought up and sold in small plots by a land-speculator. They'll give plenty of scope for your activity. By the way, I hope you're not too extreme. We have to go very slowly here. I manage an early Eucharist every Sunday and Thursday, and of course on Saints' days; but the attendance is not good. We have vestments during the week, but not at the mid-day Celebration."
Mark had not intended to attach himself to what he considered a too indefinite Catholicism; but inasmuch as the Bishop had found him this job he made up his mind to give to it at any rate his deacon's year and his first year as a priest.
"I've been brought up in the vanguard of the Movement," he admitted. "But you can rely on me, sir, to be loyal to your point of view, even if I disagreed with it. I can't pretend to believe much in moderation; but I should always be your curate before anything else, and I hope very much indeed that you will offer me the title."
"You'll find me dull company," Mr. Shuter sighed. "My health has gone all to pieces this last year."
"I shall have a good deal of reading to do for my priest's examination," Mark reminded him. "I shall try not to bother you."
The result of Mark's visit to Galton was that amongst the various testimonials and papers he forwarded two months later to the Bishop's Registrar was the following:
To the Right Reverend Aylmer, Lord Bishop of Silchester.
I, Arnold Shuter, Vicar of St. Luke's, Galton, in the County of Southampton, and your Lordship's Diocese of Silchester, do hereby nominate Mark Lidderdale, to perform the office of Assistant Curate in my Church of St. Luke aforesaid; and do promise to allow him the yearly stipend of L120 to be paid by equal quarterly instalments; And I do hereby state to your Lordship that the said Mark Lidderdale intends to reside in the said Parish in my Vicarage; and that the said Mark Lidderdale does not intend to serve any other Parish as Incumbent or Curate.
Witness my hand this fourteenth day of November; in the year of our Lord, 1904.
St. Luke's Vicarage,
I, Arnold Shuter, Incumbent of St. Luke's, Galton, in the County of Southampton, bona fide undertake to pay Mark Lidderdale, of the Rectory, Wych-on-the-Wold, in the County of Oxford, the annual sum of one hundred and twenty pounds as a stipend for his services as Curate, and I, Mark Lidderdale, bona fide intend to receive the whole of the said stipend. And each of us, Arnold Shuter and Mark Lidderdale, declare that no abatement is to be made out of the said stipend in respect of rent or consideration for the use of the Glebe House; and that I, Arnold Shuter, undertake to pay the same, and I, Mark Lidderdale, intend to receive the same, without any deduction or abatement whatsoever.
Mark, having been notified that he had been successful in passing the Bishop's examination for Deacons, was summoned to High Thorpe on Thursday. He travelled down with the other candidates from Silchester on an iron-grey afternoon that threatened snow from the louring North, and in the atmosphere of High Thorpe under the rule of Dr. Oliphant he found more of the spirit of preparation than he would have been likely to find in any other diocese at this date. So many of the preliminaries to Ordination had consisted of filling up forms, signing documents, and answering the questions of the Examining Chaplain that Mark, when he was now verily on the threshold of his new life, reproached himself with having allowed incidental details and petty arrangements to make him for a while oblivious of the overwhelming fact of his having been accepted for the service of God. Luckily at High Thorpe he was granted a day to confront his soul before being harassed again on Ember Saturday with further legal formalities and signing of documents. He was able to spend the whole of Ember Friday in prayer and meditation, in beseeching God to grant him grace to serve Him worthily, strength to fulfil his vows, and that great donum perseverantiae to endure faithful unto death.
"Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord," Mark remembered in the damasked twilight of the Bishop's Chapel, where he was kneeling. "Let me keep those words in my heart. Not everyone," he repeated aloud. Then perversely as always come volatile and impertinent thoughts when the mind is concentrated on lofty aspirations Mark began to wonder if he had quoted the text correctly. He began to be almost sure that he had not, and on that to torment his brain in trying to recall what was the exact wording of the text he desired to impress upon his heart. "Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord," he repeated once more aloud.
At that moment the tall figure of the Bishop passed by.
"Do you want me, my son?" he asked kindly.
"I should like to make my confession, reverend father in God," said Mark.
The Bishop beckoned him into the little sacristy, and putting on rochet and purple stole he sat down to hear his penitent.
Mark had few sins of which to accuse himself since he last went to his duties a month ago. However, he did have upon his conscience what he felt was a breach of the Third Commandment in that he had allowed himself to obscure the mighty fact of his approaching ordination by attaching too much importance to and fussing too much about the preliminary formalities.
The Bishop did not seem to think that Mark's soul was in grave peril on that account, and he took the opportunity to warn Mark against an over-scrupulousness that might lead him in his confidence to allow sin to enter into his soul by some unguarded portal which he supposed firmly and for ever secure.
"That is always the danger of a temperament like yours?" he mused. "By all means keep your eyes on the high ground ahead of you; but do not forget that the more intently you look up, the more liable you are to slip on some unnoticed slippery stone in your path. If you abandoned yourself to the formalities that are a necessary preliminary to Ordination, you did wisely. Our Blessed Lord usually gave practical advice, and some of His miracles like the turning of water into wine at Cana were reproofs to carelessness in matters of detail. It was only when people worshipped utility unduly that He went to the other extreme as in His rebuke to Judas over the cruse of ointment."
The Bishop raised his head and gave Mark absolution. When they came out of the sacristy he invited him to come up to his library and have a talk.
"I'm glad that you are going to Galton," he said, wagging his long neck over a crumpet. "I think you'll find your experience in such a parish extraordinarily useful at the beginning of your career. So many young men have an idea that the only way to serve God is to go immediately to a slum. You'll be much more discouraged at Galton than you can imagine. You'll learn there more of the difficulties of a clergyman's life in a year than you could learn in London in a lifetime. Rowley, as no doubt you've heard, has just accepted a slum parish in Shoreditch. Well, he wrote to me the other day and suggested that you should go to him. But I dissented. You'll have an opportunity at Galton to rely upon yourself. You'll begin in the ruck. You'll be one of many who struggle year in year out with an ordinary parish. There won't be any paragraphs about St. Luke's in the Church papers. There won't be any enthusiastic pilgrims. There'll be nothing but the thought of our Blessed Lord to keep you struggling on, only that, only our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ."
The Bishop's head wagged slowly to and fro in the silence that succeeded his words, and Mark pondering them in that silence felt no longer that he was saying "Lord, Lord," but that he had been called to follow and that he was ready without hesitation to follow Him whithersoever He should lead.
The quiet Ember Friday came to an end, and on the Saturday there were more formalities, of which Mark dreaded most the taking of the oath before the Registrar. He had managed with the help of subtle High Church divines to persuade himself that he could swear he assented to the Thirty-nine Articles without perjury. Nevertheless he wished that he was not bound to take that oath, and he was glad that the sense in which the Thirty-nine Articles were to be accepted was left to the discretion of him who took the oath. Of one thing Mark was positive. He was assuredly not assenting to those Thirty-nine Articles that their compilers intended when they framed them. However, when it came to it, Mark affirmed:
"I, Mark Lidderdale, about to be admitted to the Holy Order of Deacons, do solemnly make the following declaration:—I assent to the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, and to the Book of Common Prayer, and the ordering of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. I believe the doctrine of the Church of England, as therein set forth, to be agreeable to the Word of God; and in Public Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments I will use the Form in the said Book prescribed, and none other, except so far as shall be ordered by lawful authority.
"I, Mark Lidderdale, about to be admitted to the Holy Order of Deacons, do swear that I will be faithful and bear true Allegiance to His Majesty King Edward, his heirs and successors according to law.
"So help me God."
"But the strange thing is," Mark said to one of his fellow candidates, "nobody asks us to take the oath of allegiance to God."
"We do that when we're baptized," said the other, a serious young man who feared that Mark was being flippant.
"Personally," Mark concluded, "I think the solemn profession of a monk speaks more directly to the soul."
And this was the feeling that Mark had throughout the Ordination of the Deacons notwithstanding that the Bishop of Silchester in cope and mitre was an awe-inspiring figure in his own Chapel. But when Mark heard him say:
Receive the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a Priest in the Church of God,
he was caught up to the Seventh Heaven and prayed that, when a year hence he should be kneeling thus to hear those words uttered to him and to feel upon his head those hands imposed, he should receive the Holy Ghost more worthily than lately he had received authority to execute the office of a Deacon in the Church of God.
Suddenly at the back of the chapel Mark caught sight of Miriam, who must have travelled down from Oxfordshire last night to be present at his Ordination. His mind went back to that Whit-Sunday in Meade Cantorum nearly ten years ago. Miriam's plume of grey hair was no longer visible, for all her hair was grey nowadays; but her face had scarcely altered, and she sat there at this moment with that same expression of austere sweetness which had been shed like a benison upon Mark's dreary boyhood. How dear of Miriam to grace his Ordination, and if only Esther too could have been with him! He knelt down to thank God humbly for His mercies, and of those mercies not least for the Ogilvies' influence upon his life.
Mark could not find Miriam when they came out from the chapel. She must have hurried away to catch some slow Sunday train that would get her back to Wych-on-the-Wold to-night. She could not have known that he had seen her, and when he arrived at the Rectory to-morrow as glossy as a beetle in his new clerical attire, Miriam would listen to his account of the Ordination, and only when he had finished would she murmur how she had been present all the time.
And now there was still the oath of canonical obedience to take before lunch; but luckily that was short. Mark was hungry, since unlike most of the candidates he had not eaten an enormous breakfast that morning.
Snow was falling outside when the young priests and deacons in their new frock coats sat down to lunch; and when they put on their sleek silk hats and hurried away to catch the afternoon train back to Silchester, it was still falling.
"Even nature is putting on a surplice in our honour," Mark laughed to one of his companions, who not feeling quite sure whether Mark was being poetical or profane, decided that he was being flippant, and looked suitably grieved.
It was dusk of that short winter day when Mark reached Silchester, and wandered back in a dream toward Vicar's Walk. Usually on Sunday evenings the streets of the city pattered with numerous footsteps; but to-night the snow deadened every sound, and the peace of God had gone out from the Cathedral to shed itself upon the city.
"It will be Christmas Day in a week," Mark thought, listening to the Sabbath bells muffled by the soft snow-laden air. For the first time it occurred to him that he should probably have to preach next Sunday evening.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.
That should be his text, Mark decided; and, passing from the snowy streets, he sat thinking in the golden glooms of the Cathedral about his sermon.