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PART II.

――――♦――――

THE MINISTER.
__________

CHAPTER I.

A CASUISTICAL DEBATE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.


THREE theological students occupied one of the studies of Didsbury Wesleyan College one miserable day in February about eighteen months after the events narrated in the last chapter.  A steady, depressing drizzle outside having deprived them of the usual exercise, they are consoling themselves with a characteristically noisy debate on a question—always peculiarly interesting to young men in their position—the question of the morality of violated matrimonial engagements.  The one with his back to the door, his chair balanced on its back legs, and his feet on the mantelpiece, is Yewson, a third year's student, with an easy-going, nonchalant manner, short, upstanding black hair, and a long, impertinent nose.  The one on the opposite side of the fire, and his back to the window, is John Ledger, who is now in his second year, and looks broader, healthier, and, at the same time, younger, than when we last saw him.  The last of the trio is not seated at all; in fact, nobody ever knew Max Ringley to remain long in any one position, and during the quarter of an hour he has been in the room he has sat at least once on the mantelpiece itself, besides occupying in turns the table, the top of a movable desk, and a piled-up heap of bundles of firewood out of the coal box under the bookcase.  By the time we look in upon them he has abandoned all sitting accommodation, and lies full length on his stomach with his chin propped up by long, thin hands, and his elbows resting on the hearthrug.  He is evidently very tall and lank, with abundance of unmanageable yellow hair, a heavy yellow moustache, and a canary-coloured smoking cap, whilst one of his fingers is adorned with a diamond ring of some value.  His expressive features change every minute, and his restless grey-blue eyes bespeak a characteristic impetuosity of temperament.  He is far away the most popular preacher in the college and the worst student, in spite of the fact that he has had superior educational advantages as the son of a Midland J.P.

    They were discussing the case of a former student who had been recently condemned to a longer probation for jilting a young lady.

    "Conference, brethren," Yewson was saying languidly, as he tilted his chair back to a perilous angle and carefully scrutinised a slipper of tender history, "Conference is an old woman, and like other old women it sometimes loses its head and gives way to scares.  Justice done in anger is usually over-done, and it is so in this case."

    "Treason! high treason!  The king can do no wrong," said John Ledger, in his invariable character of defender of recognised institutions.

    "Decent fellow, Portman, too," said Ringley, staring hard at the fire on a line with his face, and wagging his head with half-regretful musings.

    "Portman," resumed Yewson, "Portman was a brick, sir.  But then you know, men, if the dear little things will hanker after the black coat and the white tie, what are we to do?  You know how it is yourselves."

    "No, sir!" and Ringley was on his feet and brandishing the short study poker; "we don't know what it is, and please God we never intend to know!  I've heard that miserable cant until I'm tired."

    "Ringley, dear boy," replied Yewson with a patronising drawl, "I love you like that!  It reminds me of my own verdant youth.  Bless thee, lad, we all talk like that until the evil days come when we say we have no pleasure in them."

    "The fellow who gets out of a scrape by throwing the blame on a woman is a cad!" and Ringley brought his fist down upon the mantelpiece with a crash that made the little ornaments dance.

    "Even a parson should be honest," chimed in John.

    "Brethren," cried Yewson, with a bland wave of his fine white hands, "it is charming to hear you talk like that; it proves your happy innocence; to you these things are delightfully simple, the black is black and the white is white, and so you dispose of them with the most engaging emphasis.  Very delightful! but very amateurish.  As a matter of fact, now, the questions are usually confusing, inextricable mixtures and blendings of colours, and the black runs into the white and the white into the black until there is finally produced a shade which would defy the ingenuity of an artist to denominate.  As a rule these things are delicate, subtle cases of casuistry.  Moral philosophy! with all respect to our venerable, if somewhat prolix tutor—for teaching practical moral philosophy there is nothing like a bit of casuistry."

    "Confound casuistry!" roared Ringley.

    "Casuistry always sounds to me suspiciously like jesuitry," added John slowly.

    "Beautiful!" responded Yewson.

    "Brethren, your sentiments do you honour!  But come now," he went on with an air of playful argumentativeness, "let us take one or two of the simplest problems which this sort of thing presents.  Referring to a remark by my excellent friend Ledger about the honesty of parsons; jilting, as it is somewhat rudely termed, takes places sometimes outside the ministerial ranks, I believe.  Did you ever hear of a Church member being expelled, or even suspended, for jilting a young lady?"

    "They shall be!  I'll expel 'em if ever I get the chance!  I'll shake the meanness out of them, the rascals!" and Ringley flourished his fists menacingly at future transgressors.

    "Did you ever hear of a Church officer or a local preacher being deprived of his office for this a—a—offence?"

    John was evidently beginning to be interested, but Ringley declared that he would withdraw the ticket of the President himself if he did such a thing.

    "And further," continued Yewson, now quite in love with his own argument, "jilting takes place in the world every day, but it is never considered a disgrace.  People don't cut a man, or even forbid him the house, for such a transgression—except of course the actual relatives of the injured party, and not always them.  You hear that such and such an engagement is broken off, but it is not spoken of as a crime.  You are often not even told which of the interested parties has done the deed, and nobody dreams of punishing them for it."

    "Yewson," and the indignant Ringley glared at the smiling speaker with something like horror, "you're a perfect Mephistopheles.  If I didn't know you, I should hate you."

    "Exactly! there speaks outraged innocence.  But look you!  I've shown that a rule is applied to us which is applied to no other—never mind whether rightly or wrongly (for John was leaning forward to interrupt).  So it is.  Well now, this very delightful indignation, which warms my heart as I behold it, and which is so beautifully characteristic of my young friend (Yewson was two years the junior of the others), is all based upon the assumption, to come to our second point, that when an engagement is broken off, it is always the man's fault.  As a rule it is, I grant you, but cannot your capacious minds, dearly beloved brethren, take in a case, rare I admit, yet not impossible, in which the lady has only herself to blame?"

    "No!  Never!"—and Ringley, who had somehow exchanged the poker for the dust-brush, shook it fiercely at Yewson, and went on—"They're true as steel, bless 'em! too true for their comfort, poor dears!"

    "Our friend speaks out of the fulness of a large, varied, but singularly fortunate experience," Yewson went on, waving his hand at the drops of rain on the window sill, and alluding playfully to Ringley's notorious popularity with the fair sex.  "Ledger, I appeal to your dispassionate wisdom.  Cannot you conceive circumstances in which the gentleman, even though a cleric, has no option but to retire?"

    "No!" thundered Ringley, and John contented himself with asking—

    "What, for instance?"

    "Well, suppose for instance the lady proved unfaithful?"

    "She wouldn't!  They don't, they never do!"

    Yewson waited with smiling patience, and then looking past the excited Ringley to John, he went on—

    "Or suppose that, having been engaged for some time, incompatibility of temperament should present itself?"

    "There we are!" and Ringley threw the little brush into the coal-bin behind the green baize curtain, and began to prance about the room.  "The cloven hoof at last!  The last refuge of dirty sneaks!  Lack of fortune on lady's part—incompatibility of temperament.  Another girl in the way—incompatibility of disposition.  Girl losing her beauty by long waiting—incompatibility of temperament.  It's caddish, sir!  It's brutal!  It's damnable!"

    Yewson, as the others well knew, had commenced the discussion more from love of dialectics than from any personal sympathy with the cases he was suggesting; but he liked talking, and as the arguments for his position accumulated before his mind he began to display more interest, and so taking his legs down from the mantelpiece and sitting up, he said—

    "Without exactly imitating the youthful exuberance of language indulged in by my learned and eloquent friend on the other side, I should like to ask, through you, my lord (with a glance at Ledger), if my honourable friend takes up the romantic, shall I say quixotic, position that if a man has once given his word to a lady, nothing of any kind should ever induce him to withdraw?"

    "Yes, I do; I say it, and I stick to it!"

    "Even if the lady should turn out a drunkard, or—or worse?"

    Ringley's jaw dropped.

    "But they never do—"

    "But if one did?"

    Ringley, who was quite accustomed to be vanquished in argument, looked rather staggered when the point was pressed, and turning round he glanced at John, as usual when he was in a corner.

    "You are supposing an improbable and almost impossible case," said John quietly.

    "But you do grant that there are exceptions to your rule?" and Yewson seemed quite delighted with himself and his skill.

    "Yes, but not many."

    "But there are some; well then, each case is arguable on its own merits."

    "Well?"

    "Well, suppose that some time after the engagement the fellow discovers that the girl is odd and peculiar."

    "Any stick to beat a dog with," interrupted Ringley scornfully.

    "And suppose that he found that there was insanity in the family, and that his girl had symptoms of it?"

    "Oh, rot!  Talk sense, Yewson!"

    "As I have known one such case, I am not only talking sense, but facts."

    "Yewson, you ought to have been an Old Bailey lawyer."

    Yewson bowed low in acknowledgment of the compliment, and then proceeded—

    "If my honourable and learned brother will allow me, I will put an easier case still.  Suppose a man gets engaged to—well, a worldly, loose sort of girl, and then gets converted and discovers gifts, and is called into the ministry: is he to continue that engagement, and inflict upon Methodism a woman who would be a perpetual disgrace to it?"

    The rapid blinking of John's eyes, and the tightening of his lips, indicated that he saw weak places in Yewson's argument; but Ringley was occupied with the general question, and was watching the third year's man with something very like horror on his face.

    "Or, to take a more simple case still.  Suppose a man in a lowly position; for instance, a collier—there are ex-colliers in our ministry, and fine fellows they are, too—suppose one of this class engaged to a girl of equal position.  Well, he becomes a candidate, comes to college, goes out into the work.  He must have a girl equal to his public position; his own tastes and ideas have also entirely changed; is he to spoil his ministry, and ruin his own and the girl's life, by carrying out an engagement made under totally different conditions?"

    "An engagement's an engagement!" replied Ringley, doggedly.

    "Or, to take one last case," resumed Yewson, waving his fiery opponent aside, and looking steadily at John.  "A man discovers either that what he once thought was love for a girl is not love, or that the love he once had has somehow gone, he knows not how; he is not in love with any other fair maiden, he simply no longer loves the girl he proposes to marry.  Which is the greater transgression, to marry a woman he can never really love, or tell her his changed feelings in time and thus spare them both, or at any rate give her the chance to set him free?"

    "Out at last! the sting's in the beastly tail! a chance to set him free," and Ringley took several long strides up and down the room, gesticulating fiercely, and then coming back and shaking his fist at Yewson, he cried, "Yewson! the beast who breaks a poor girl's heart by jilting her right off is bad enough, but he's a saint by the side of the whining humbug who says he's prepared to marry her, but 'thinks she ought to know.'  The cold-blooded hypocrite!  I'd like to twist his measly neck for him!"

    "Gentlemen of the jury, are you agreed upon your verdict?" and the advocate looked hard at John.

    John seemed to have taken the argument more seriously than the others, and was evidently reluctant to answer; presently, however, he touched the end of his black moustache with the tip of his tongue, and speaking with surprising earnestness, he said shortly, almost sulkily—

    "Yes, I agree with Max."

    "Alas! alas! so bends my vaunting pride!  I waste my fragrance on the desert air.  Ah! the gong!  Five o'clock, I declare.  By-bye, brethren."

    John watched him depart from under overhanging brows, much as though he saw the departure of an evil tempter, and then turned his head and looked gloomily into the fire.

    Ringley, always most influenced by the last argument he had heard, stood looking musingly out of the window at the rain, and, after a few moments' silence, he said—

    "Of course, I wasn't going to say so to him, because such arguments are, as a rule, mere sops to sore consciences, but if there was a real honest case of the kind he mentioned—I don't think there are many, of course, but if there were—"

    "Max!" cried John, with an apparently unnecessary heat; "if a man has won a girl's heart and closed it to all others, and kept her waiting, he ought to marry her."

    "But if he's changed—"

    "Changed! he's no right to change; you might as well think of a married man changing.  If he's made a mistake he must bear the consequences, not the poor innocent girl."

    "But if he loved somebody else—"

    "That would be perfidy! rank, cowardly perfidy!  No man, to say nothing of a minister, could ever do such a thing."

    Ringley stared through the window with comic perplexity for a moment, and then breaking into one of his happy smiles, he said—

    "Right you are, Johnny! right you are, and now for the inner man."

    But when his companion had banged the door after him in his usual fashion, John clasped his hands behind his head and glowered through the window, with a pained, anxious look.  Then his face grew dark with inward storm, and he hid it in his hands and groaned; for the case he had been denouncing so fiercely was, all unknown even to his inseparable friend Ringley—his own.

    When he left Sallie Wood on that night of the fateful telegram, it was with the feeling "that all was now at an end between them; he could not hope, and it depressed him to feel that he did not greatly desire to do so.  The hard, dead feeling he had had in his heart towards her had come back, and even the temporary desire he had had of saving her from worldliness by drawing out her better nature now seemed quixotic and almost silly.  By the time he reached home he had, with many a sad sigh, resigned himself to the inevitable, and then the telegram, with its utterly unexpected message, for a time put even Sallie out of his head.  But that shrewd young lady, though she had meant all she said, and probably more, on the previous evening, changed her mind with most businesslike promptitude when she heard the great news next day.  She knew that John had returned himself on the official schedule as an engaged man, and would find it dangerous now to repudiate the thing.  She knew, or thought she knew, his heart sufficiently well to assure herself that she could take possession of him whenever she chose, and she proceeded to play her part with characteristic smartness.  She kept herself for some days carefully out of John's way, but she slipped down to the house in Shed Lane when she knew he would be at work, and delighted the hearts of his mother and sisters by enlisting their assistance in a little scheme to provide him with an outfit of underclothing; she would provide the materials, and they would all unite in the delightful labour.  The thing was to be a sweet secret between them, and a wonderful surprise eventually to John.

    When some of the chapel people called upon her, in the absence of her father, and invited her to subscribe to a testimonial, which was to take the very sensible shape of a purse of gold, she said, with arch embarrassment and the prettiest possible little blush, that with her relationships to John she could not openly subscribe, "it would look so," but they might put down two pounds in the name of Aunt Pizer.  This, as she well knew, was a tit-bit for the canvassers, who made the most of it, and before many days had passed it was known to everybody who was anybody in Bramwell Methodism that she and the young theological student, of whom they were all now so proud, were formally engaged.  She appeared in public on every possible occasion by John's side, but took care never to be long alone with him, and skilfully frustrated several attempts he made to get speech with her.  At the presentation meeting she wore the shy, self-conscious look of one who was personally interested in the proceedings, and accepted with pretty blushes the congratulations that were offered to her, and when, at John's home that evening, he got up to see her down the lane, she laughingly, but firmly, refused to accept his escort, but put up her red lips demurely to be kissed, and said that she had something strictly private to say to Annie and Lucy, and as the moon was about full and it was almost daylight, they must go with her to talk about—they knew what; and he (John) must go to bed and dream of being President.

    The quiet assurance with which all this was done produced the distinctest possible impression on all present, and John had the feelings of a man who is being forced against his will into something very pleasant, but not quite lawful.  The first thing he did with the testimonial, which the stewards had made up to £40, was to pay off the debt which they owed to Sallie.  This, at any rate, he reflected, as he made the resolve, would give him an opportunity of speaking to her.  The prospect of this interview led him to examine again his own heart, and the result was anything but satisfactory.  His idol had been shattered; she was no longer his ideal of womanhood, but had ordinary human flaws and failings, the one he saw most clearly—worldliness—being the one for which he had least toleration.  And yet she was very dear to him, and the idea which had recently come to him that he might be able to lead her out of her littleness and gradually instil larger and less selfish ideals, was strangely attractive.  His heart misgave him all the same, and he felt that he was somehow weakly ignoring important and vital principles, which ought to be all-potent in his life.  And when he came to think of it, it would look very awkward if he broke off with her as soon as his future had become assured; it would justify the worst things he had ever heard said about young ministers and the changes of affection which came with their changed conditions of life.  He knew Sallie well enough to understand that if he took the step he contemplated she would make the very worst of it, and had the power very probably to wreck his career at its very outset.

    Altogether, the position was not an easy one to decide upon, and so many conflicting arguments presented themselves that he had not made up his mind when the time came to take her the money that was owing.  When he arrived at the house, however, he found that Sallie had a party of young lady friends to tea, and could only give him a very few minutes.  She appeared taken aback when he produced the money, and a little annoyed as well; but she took it all the same, saying, a little resignedly, that it did not really matter which of them had it; and then, as John seemed to be preparing to introduce something more serious, she slipped the money into the table drawer, and called aloud for her lady visitors to come and see the impudent man who never gave her a minute's peace, and who would not let her alone even then.

    The girls came crowding into the parlour with gay, mischievous laughs, and earnestly declared that they would not give her up for a moment; and as he made for the door in mock horror, he noticed that the hand with which Sallie held open the door for him had a ring on the engaged finger.  And so the days slipped rapidly by, and John could get nothing settled.  Sallie left nothing to be desired in her conduct, except that she would never give him the interview he so much wanted.

    But it was clear to him that she was intending him to understand that the change in his prospects had removed the only difficulty in the way, and that he might now be as happy as he wished.  But, unfortunately, John was not so sure that he did wish this happiness now.  Their interview on the night when he received news of his acceptance as a candidate for the ministry had made an impression upon him that seemed likely, not only never to be erased, but to grow deeper the more he thought about it.  Nothing could be more charming than Sallie's manner, and he sometimes felt that he was a sulky, dissatisfied, exacting brute, and that, instead of brooding over things, he ought to accept his own happiness and be thankful, and then, when he had just concluded that it would have to be so, a feeling came to him that forbade the thought, and made him feel that to prolong the present state of things was only the conduct of a coward.  Sometimes he told himself that the difficulty arose entirely from constitutional causes.  Sallie was one of those natures which expanded and unfolded all their beauty in the sunshine of prosperity, but froze up and died in the cold winds of trouble.  Her environment and the moral atmosphere in which she had been brought up, all tended to create in her an exaggerated horror of poverty and discomfort, and the poor girl was not to blame for these things.  She would, he knew, be as bright and sweet as the most exacting lover could wish, in the life which stretched out before him, and which she evidently so much desired.  Why should he not accept the situation and be happy?  Sallie was light-hearted and brisk, and pushing and clever, and could rise to anything if she liked; the life he would be able to offer her would be so grateful to her that she would not only be happy herself, but would make him happy and help him on in his work, for she possessed just the qualities which he missed in himself.

    But whenever he got to this point, there came over him the sickening remembrance that she did not love him, or at any rate did not love him for himself, but only when he could give her the position she so much coveted.  He could, of course, have had an interview with her, had he been resolute enough; but as he could never make up his mind to do what he felt would be a hard and bitter thing to her, and perhaps provoke her to reckless reprisals which might have far-reaching consequences, he rather weakly let things drift, and went away to college without any such settlement of the case as his judgment told him he ought to have had.

    The day after his arrival Sallie wrote to him, ostensibly sending instructions about some stockings and other hand-knitted garments which his mother feared might be irretrievably injured in the washing.  He had, of course, replied, and so, though no word of love passed between them, a regular correspondence had been set up, and as Sallie seemed satisfied with this state of things, he had told himself that he had to be.  The poverty of his parents, and his apprehensions lest his mother should be in need, prompted him to accept offers of supply work during the vacations, and so he was not much at home; and when he was, Sallie seemed as wary and shy of solitude as he was himself.  Of late, however, a new note had appeared in her correspondence; her letters, which were always worth reading for their own sakes, had contained wistful little half-veiled hints of tender feelings, and latterly she had begged him to give his next holiday to his mother and her.  John felt that she was missing something.  It might even be that there were at last the dawnings of real love to him in her, and so he felt he could not but meet her advances; but when he came to write the words a sense of deception and unreality came over him, and he began to more than suspect that the love he had once felt was as surely dead as though it had never existed.

    It was this letter with which he had been struggling when his friends invaded his study and commenced the discussion just reported.  That this subject of all others should have been sprung upon him struck John as somewhat singular, and the fact that his sense of right had driven him to express himself as he had done in a purely hypothetic case, strengthened his conviction as to how he ought to act in his own affair.  He was still staring at the rain-drops on the window and thinking closely.  He was practically bound to Sallie, and she had many things about her that greatly charmed him.  He was absolutely certain that now could give her the position she coveted, she would prove a bright, capable, and happy little woman.  Nobody would suffer by the carrying out of the engagement but himself; and it seemed more than likely that he would gain rather than otherwise, for she had just the gifts he lacked.  His course, then, was clear.  There were flutterings and sinkings of heart as he reached this point, but they were simply the timid caprices of his cowardly and morbid temperament, and he would tread them down.

    As he reached this point, he heard the feet of his fellow-students in the corridor, as they returned from the afternoon meal.  He turned round with a quick movement, then wavered a little, then turned and gazed abstractedly at a photo of his sister Lucy hanging over the mantelpiece; then, with sudden decision, he strode to a little box that propped up a half-length row of books, unlocked it, and took out a photo of Sallie, and, removing his sister's, placed the other in the frame, and then, stepping backward, looked at the picture with a smile and a sigh, and turned on his heel and hurried off to tea.

    Returning a quarter of an hour later to his study, John caught the sound of Ringley's voice raised in animated speech, and pushing the door softly before him, he beheld Max standing in front of the new photo with a pen behind his ear, a Hebrew lexicon and Bible under his left arm, and a ruler in his right hand.

    "Your most obedient and devoted servant, Mademoiselle," he was saying, as he genuflected obsequiously before the picture.  "Your servant's most humble servant!  Your gallant knight's most devoted esquire, at your service!  Eyes, madam?  Yea, verily!  Dainty nose and chin? of a truth!  Dimples? bewitching!  Your knight is a connoisseur, it would seem, madam.  A sly, still-water-runs-deep sort of rogue.  Look hither, my lady (placing his hand on his heart), cast your eyes over these a—a—exquisitely elongated proportions; note this enslaving hirsute adornment of the upper lip.  Cast not your pearls before a—a—a—porkers; waste not thy fragrance on the desert a—a—Hebraist.  Codlin's the man, not Short, my dear!  Bethink thee, maiden fair! there's better fish in the sea than ever was caught!  The tame, the puerile, the worthless are caught!  Cast in thy dainty harpoon for the whale—the royal whale—fair fisher!  Johannes!  Johannes is a dreary dry-as-dust, compounded of Hebrew roots and Greek irregulars!  Lift thy proud eyes to the noble Maximus! the poet! the orator! the true knight-errant, the hero of romance! the—"

    "The universal lover!" broke in John, with a laugh.

    "Ha! he sneers, fair damsel!  Dry-as-dust is jealous!  I am the universal lover.  This poor heart embraces you all!"

    "And this is he who cudgelled Yewson," laughed John again.  "Oh, inconsistency! thy name is Max!"

    "Consistency, sir! consistency!" cried the rhapsodical fellow, wheeling round with a sudden assumption of apparent earnestness.  "Consistency is the vice of common minds! the besetment of slaves!"


 
CHAPTER II.

A CIRCUIT MINISTER.


THERE was most unusual animation in the dingy Bramwell station on the day John Ledger left for his first circuit.  His sisters stood near him, linked arm-in-arm, alternately prompting and restraining their meek-faced mother as she gave her son final instructions as to the management of his linen and his future landlady.  Sallie, dressed in quiet black, for old Zeph had recently died, stood at the other side of her lover with a pretty air of proprietorship; whilst Wilky Drax was leaning against the door-post of the booking office, and asking the new station-master whether he would ever have thought that the head of a quiet-looking fellow like John could be chock full of Greek and Hebrew; and John's father was sitting in a state of utter mental collapse, on a bench a little farther up the platform, surrounded by a bevy of elderly females, who were emulously striving to soothe the "beautiful" feelings of their friend and leader, and reconcile him to the anguish of parting with his only son.

    "He shall have him," he cries one moment.  "If it tears my heart-strings to flinders, I'll give him up."  And then, as the females glanced at each other in unspeakable admiration of the heroic sacrifice, he suddenly collapses again, and groans out — "Me have ye bereaved of my childern.  Joseph is not, an' Simeon is not, an' now—Oh, by Jings, that's the train!"

    "Ledger!  L—e—d—g—e—r!  Hi!  Ledger! plenty of room up here!" and as John disentangled himself from the group of clinging females and rushed for the train, he beheld the yellow head and long waving arms of his college friend Ringley at the other end of the train, in the carriage closest to the engine.  The race for so distant a seat disarranged all preparations and cruelly abbreviated the leave-takings, and the last thing John saw was Wilky coming waddling down the platform at the top of his speed, and shouting vociferously all the while—

    "Give it 'em hot, Johnny!  Plenty o' pepper!  Plenty o' pep—pep—pep—"

    But Max, unable to control any longer his desire to see the giver of such advice, dragged John into the carriage, and thrusting himself head and shoulders into the aperture, gazed amazedly at the rapidly receding little dwarf, and answered, with a wild wave of his long arms—

    "Cayenne, sir!  Best double strength Indian cayenne, sir!" and with a final war-whoop he backed into the carriage, slammed up the window, and threw himself upon his still breathless friend.

    "Whatever mad freak has brought you here?" demanded John, as he wiped his hot face, for the weather was stifling.

    "Only eighteen miles round, my boy!  Couldn't help it!  My fatherly interest, my son!  My fatherly interest!"

    "But"—and John eyed him over with wonder and something like alarm—"you're not going to turn up in your new circuit in that ungodly golf suit?"

    "Ledger!" and Max planted himself in the seat on the opposite side of the window to John, knitted his brows, pointed his long arm, and beating time with his hand, "I'm—just—going—to—do—that—very—thing."

    "But—"

    "None of your billy-goat buttings at me!  I'm going to do it!  The ministry, sir, is making a profound mistake!  It talks eloquently about seeking the masses, and coming down to the masses, and going to the masses, and all the time it wears a livery and dresses in a style that says as plain as a public-house sign-board, 'Stand thou here, whilst I go and pray yonder.'  I won't have it, sir!  If we are to get at the masses we must be like 'em, dress like 'em, live like 'em, eat like 'em!  And, by the beard of the prophet, I mean to do it!"

    "But, Max, you were always so—"

    "Never mind what I was!  What I am's the question!  I'm leggings and Norfolk suit and golf cap, like the man in the street!"

    "Well, then, in common consistency—"

    "Hang consistency!  Because I've been a fool twenty years, is that any reason why I should be a fool for twenty more?  Consistency, man! consistency means stagnation, sir, and sterility!  It is the pedagogue's perdition; the one little lifeless egg of the solemn old hen of respectability!"

    "But a dress like that—there's moderation and decency in everything."

    "Is there?  I verily believe thee, my son!  And that's why everything's so small and shabby and worthless!  We want something drastic, something out-and-out; that's what we want!"

    But at this moment the train began to slacken, and Max was soon scrambling all over the compartment for his miscellaneous luggage.  They both had to change here, and as they stepped out upon the platform Max gave a shout, and then rushed headlong at the train which was just moving out from the opposite platform.  Several porters gave chase, and by the time John came up he was puffing and panting, and brandishing his watch at the head porter in a vain endeavour to convince him that the train had started before the time.  It would be two hours and twenty minutes before there was another train to Longhope, Ringley's destination, and so John spent the twenty minutes at his disposal in pacifying the wrath of his excited friend, and begging him to respect the usages of his class in the matter of dress.  He still held out, however, but John learnt afterwards that his chum appeared on the platform at Longhope in an unimpeachable black clerical coat, light coloured knee-breeches, and a cap.

    John had a compartment to himself from the junction to Partidge, his destination, and spent his time speculating on the character of the reception that awaited him.  He had been what is known in Methodism as "thrust upon" the circuit to which he was going.  They had invited another man, and in the earlier drafts of the stations their nominee had been "put down" for them, but in the last half-hour of "stationing" the arrangement had been interfered with, and John found himself transferred from a modest little circuit in Devonshire to the somewhat sinister reputed Partidge, in his own county.  He had received no welcoming communication from the officials; the only message, in fact, of any kind had been one on a post-card, enquiring what time he would arrive.

    "Whatever you do at Partidge, Mr. John," the super. at Bramwell had said, "be sure you make friends with the Wheelers; they are the leading people; get on with them, and you will get on with everybody."

    "Beware of the Wheelers, my friend," the second minister had exhorted, "they are a stuck-up lot, I'm told, and awfully disliked.  They have ruled the roost there for a generation, but things are coming to a head, I hear, so you mind your P's and Q's."

    John's meditations, therefore, as the train whirled him along, were not of the pleasantest kind, and when about six o'clock he found himself pulling up opposite a great board, on which was written in letters nearly a foot long,


PARTIDGE
(Lowtown),


he looked about for a friendly face in no very confident frame of mind.  When a new minister arrived at Bramwell both the stewards were there to meet him, and sometimes their wives as well, whilst quite a number of minor people found they had business at the station about that time, and the faces of Sampson Ledger and Wilky Drax could always be seen jammed against the railings of the platform on the look-out for the coming man.  But John, though he lingered about the platform for two or three minutes, found no one to greet him, and was just sauntering towards the heap of luggage to select his belongings when he heard light feet come pattering behind him, a small hand was placed on his arm, and a high, clear, girlish voice cried breathlessly—

    "Here we are!  Hip! hip!  I knew you at once.  Welcome to Partidge, sir!"

    Turning round, John beheld a tall, fair girl of about sixteen, with great grey eyes, long dark lashes, and piquant, expressive face, which changed every moment.  She had a wealth of long, light hair down her back, and wore a walking costume of small black and white check, with a picture hat.

    "Now don't look so disappointed, sir!  Frown as much as you like at poor me, but don't blame anybody else.  It was Hobson's choice, and even I am better than nobody."

    John made a stiff bow to this totally novel specimen of humanity, and murmured something about being delighted to make Miss—and there he stuck.

    "Betty Wheeler!  But don't begin your ministerial career by telling stories.  You expected the circuit steward and the super. to meet you, and you only find the steward's youngest daughter, a sort of circuit scullery-maid.  Well, it is too bad, but—" and here she broke off, and stepping up to him tapped the button of his clerical coat with the handle of her sunshade, and went on, "But never mind, sir, 'the first shall be last, and the last first,' 'the bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet shall be the flower.'  Everybody's gone to receive the new super., who changed his time of arrival after everything had been arranged; but cheer up, sir, you'll go with me, and if we don't have the jolliest of all jolly times—Nathan, take Mr. Ledger's umbrella and bag, and the rest can come after.  This way, sir."

    A moment later John found himself seated by his fair friend's side in as pretty a little pony phaeton as he had ever seen.

    "You're come, Mr. Ledger, to one of the most famous towns in Lancashire," said Betty, as she snatched up the reins and screwed her little mouth into a squeaking signal for departure.

    "Famous for what?" John asked, with an incredulous glance round at the long chimneys, the heavy smoke, and the dingy brick buildings.

    "Famous for ugliness, sir, pure unmitigated colossal ugliness; but never mind, it's the people that make the place, and they are ' gradely folk.'  We are jolly here, sir; some of us jolly bad—steady, Pindar—but all jolly.  At our house we're all bricks, sir; grandmother, dad, Lady Mary, the kids, and myself.  Oh, we do have larks.  Mr. Ledger, can you play tennis?"

    "Yes, a little."

    "And golf?"

    "No."

    "No!  Well, I'll teach you.  Can you play billiards?"

    "A very little."

    "Then you'll be a match for me, but don't take on the kids; they're demons, all three of them!" and then, as another thought suddenly struck her, she turned her eyes upon him with a flash.  "But we're all rippin' Methodists, out-and-outers, you know.  Why, I'm a seasoned official myself."

    John raised his eyebrows in polite surprise.

    "Yes, I'm junior secretary of the Guild, junior leader, collector for Missions, and Sunday School organist; and the kids! why, they are up to the eyes in it—Pindar!"

    The little dapple-grey, thus sternly adjured, gave a start and a hypocritical pretence of haste, but as they were approaching the second hill he soon resumed his leisurely pace.

    John was looking at the busy streets through which they were passing, and the public buildings, and he was just turning to ask a question when he noticed that Miss Betty was studying him sideways, with a severely critical pucker on her brow.

    "Mr. Ledger, I think I shall like you, I do, honest injun; but the point is, will 'her ladyship' like you?"

    "Whom do you mean by her ladyship?"

    "Who? why Mary.  She's the one, you know.  Even dad's small potatoes where she comes.  But you lie low a bit, Mr. Ledger; I'll find out how the land lies, and tell you how to work her."

    John didn't much believe in working anybody, and couldn't for the life of him see how a female occupant of the steward's house could be of such first-rate importance, but he was too cautious and perhaps too shy to push enquiries, and merely remarked—

    "She is your elder sister, I presume?"

    "She is that! she's everybody's elder sister!  She's the patron saint of the circuit, bless you!  They called the new chapel in Brand Street 'St. Mary's' after her.  She's a B.A. and a great mechanic; she invented some sort of a thing-me-gum one day, and dad says there's a fortune in it.  Sing! she's the best amateur contralto in the provinces."

    John felt he was conceiving a prejudice against this petticoat marvel, and, as if she read his thoughts, Betty leaned over until her light hair touched his forehead, and said impressively—

    "You'll begin by hating her, Mr. Ledger, and you'll end up by adoring her; we all do.  But there she is at the window!  No!  She's vanished, of course."

    John checked, just in time, an impulse to look round, as the pony drew up before an imposing, stone-fronted, modern villa.

    "Come in, Mr. Ledger!  Janet, take Mr. Ledger to his room.  But be sharp, sir; tea's waiting, and I'm just famished.  Oh, here she is! Mary—Mr. Ledger."

    "Welcome to Partidge, sir; dad's up receiving the super.; but you're our man, you know.  We always claim the young minister."

    John raised his eyes a little shyly, and looked into the frankest woman's face he had ever beheld.  The brow was broad and white, and gave an intellectual cast to the whole face; the mouth was a little wide, but firm and almost masculine; the complexion creamy, with the slightest tinge of colour in the cheeks, whilst the eyes were of a deep violet, and wonderfully soft and reassuring.  The little hand which he took was put out with easy frankness, and John felt certain at once that whatever he did in the future he would never misunderstand this most uncommon specimen of womanhood.

    "I scarcely understand," said John hesitatingly.  These are not my lodgings."

    Betty ran off into a long rippling laugh.

    "No, not your lodgings, sir," said Mary, quietly, "but your home, if you choose to make it such.  Every Christian minister is welcome here, sir, but we always claim the junior preacher.  Work in your lodgings, but when you want recreation and company and cheering up, well, come here, week-day or Sunday, morning, noon, or night."

    The form of these words sounded, at least, a little stilted, but the frank, easy heartiness of them went to the stranger's heart, and he ascended the broad staircase with relief and even gratitude.  As he came down into the hall again, Betty pounced out upon him from the smoke-room and grabbed him by the arm.

    "I say, you mustn't, you know! she won't like it.  Don't you come polite piety with her.  Contradict her, bully her, but for mercy's sake don't soap her!" and she dragged him unceremoniously into the dining-room.

    That night, as John rolled about in a luxurious bed at the Wheelers', he tried hard to define the impression made upon him by this singular family.  They were the most unconventional people he had ever met; there were no signs of particular politeness, but he found his needs quietly anticipated and attended to.  They had very little small talk, and now that he came to notice it, no petty scandal; but the absence of it seemed rather from taste than from either religiousness or politeness.

    They were pronouncedly Lancastrian in their studious avoidance of religious talk, and yet they were keenly interested in the chapel and the circuit.  The "kids" turned out to be three great manly fellows, whose ages ranged from about thirty to eighteen, and who spoke of their Church work and official duties as if they were amusing jokes.

    The father was most evidently the chosen chum of his sons, Betty was the household libertine and jester, "Lady" Mary an object of quiet but deep regard that amounted almost to reverence, and they all talked the dialect when they spoke to the cherry-checked old woman called grandmother.

    A conscientious scruple had constrained John to mention quite early in the evening that he was an ex-factory lad, but the only change the information produced was an increase of cordiality, and they showed more inclination to talk "shop" to him.

    Towards Mary Wheeler John had a curious feeling; he was conscious of a subtle, but very genuine accession of self-reliance.  It was as though some long-felt deficiency had been met, and that as he approached perilous waters a pilot had come aboard his little ship.

    His natural apprehensiveness warned him that this was all too good to last, and he fell asleep wondering what it could have been that made the second minister at home warn him against this most interesting and hospitable family.

    In a few days he got settled down in his lodgings and was soon hard at work.  And so the days ran into weeks, and the weeks into months, and he was increasing every day in his intimacy with, and respect for the Wheelers, and more perplexed than ever as to the grounds for the prejudice which he had met with amongst outsiders, and which he soon perceived was present in the minds of the people amongst whom he was now mixing.  A hard student, a fastidious sermon-maker, and an almost painfully diligent pastor, he found in the house on Shuttle Hill relaxation and company, and quick but quiet sympathy, that made number seven as it was familiarly called—for the Wheelers had a sort of contempt for the modern craze for "titled" houses—a haven of comfort and rest.  At the same time he was aware that he was living in an atmosphere of suspicion and petty scandal, and that the family he had grown to respect so deeply were in anything but good odour in the town.

    "Yes, yes, Ledger," said the super., a little impatiently, "the Wheelers have made a pet of you and you are inexperienced and cannot see."

    "I speak of them as I find them," replied John stoutly.  "In the home and in the church they are always the same."

    "They are so purse-proud and worldly, you know, you never hear anything spiritual in their talk."

    John silently thanked God he didn't, but as he answered not, the super. went on—

    "It cannot go on!  It must not go on.  I shall change the stewardship at Christmas."

    "I hope not, sir."

    It was almost necessary for the senior minister to carry his colleague with him in a step of this kind, and so—they were talking at the usual Monday morning preachers' meeting—he fidgeted about in his chair and cried—

    "You hope not!  Good heavens, Ledger, you've only to look at his face to see that he drinks."

    "I don't believe it, sir!"

    "But, man, it has been the talk of the circuit for years, everybody knows it; they say he never comes from the Manchester market sober."

    "It's a wicked, envious falsehood, sir," and the quiet John was on his feet in indignation.

    There was a momentary pause, and then the super. went on—

    "I feel as if some curse were hanging over the circuit; besides he's been steward for twenty years; there ought to be a change for that reason."

    "Change for that reason if you like," said John, "but for common honesty's sake let us have nothing of the other."

    "Ledger, it is right to be charitable, but we've no right to be deaf and blind.  We have the reputation of the circuit and the church to think of, my dear fellow, besides—and here he dropped into a portentious whisper—I'm told the firm is not solvent.  I'm assured that there will be a crash before long, and I'm resolved that before that day comes I'll have him out and save the scandal, as far as we are concerned."

    "And I'll prepare him for what is coming."

    "What!  You'll betray your super.!  Good heavens, man, are you mad?"

    "If you act on mere malicious rumour and get him out on a mean subterfuge, I'll tell him everything."

    "You will!  You'll betray me?  Young man, I'll have you before the Synod!"

    "I shall do it sir, Synod or no Synod."

    They were standing now and glaring at each other with threatening looks.

    The super. was the first to quail, however, and he dropped into a chair with a baffled, querulous snarl—

    "Very well, young man, you'll do as you please, and take the consequences, but have him out I will!"

    "By all means, sir, if you think it best, only go to him and tell him what you propose to do; I daresay if you give him slightest hint, he'll save you the trouble."  The super. answered with an angry snarl, and in parting ostentatiously, overlooked his colleague's outstretched hand.  As for John, he went away in an anxious and indignant mood.

    To think of it!  He, the safest man in his college year, embroiled in a struggle with his super. before he had been three months in the work!

    He had had four services on the preceding day, and was limp and washed-out, and the encounter he had just had depressed and worried him.  It was madness to try a fall with his superior, and it was ungrateful and cowardly to refuse to stand up for his friends.

    Oh that he were safely back in his beloved Alma Mater, with nothing to think of but his books!  But, perhaps, he had been to blame; he had certainly shown a marked preference for the Wheelers.  It was not right for a minister to have favourites.  Perhaps if he quietly and gradually drop—No, no, it was mean, it was—

    "What ho, there!  Sir nose-i-th cloud!  Can't you see a poor girl because she isn't a mill chimney?  Take hold of this 'bike' please, don't you see I've got two!"

    "Betty!"

    "Yes, it's Betty, poor fetch-and-carry Betty, the circuit slave; but you cannot 'bike' in full canonicals.  Oh, dear, we shall have to go back to that horrible den!"

    "But, Betty, I cannot, I'm busy—"

    "And I cannot, I'm busy, but we're going all the same.  I promised the 'Goddess' I'd do my duty by her, and I'm doing it."

    The Goddess was Betty's name for the photo of Sallie on the study mantelpiece, at which, whenever John's back was turned, she made most unladylike grimaces.  She was the only "alien" who ever invaded John's sanctum, and certain cushions, rugs, flowers, and dishes of out-of-season fruit which were to be seen there had been brought by her in spite of John's polite protests.  She had noticed the photo on her first invasion of the room, and thus became aware of his engagement.  She pretended to be hugely disappointed, and to fiercely hate the original.  She criticised the photo with reckless frankness on every possible occasion, and often roused John from pensive thoughts by chaffing him about the singularity of his taste.

    "You must excuse me to-day, Betty," John said, as he took the machine from her.  It was her youngest brother's, and she had brought it for her favourite minister's use.

    "Excuse? certainly!  You are in for a Monday mope—I'll excuse you!  You want to write to the Goddess—I'll excuse you!  You want to visit the flock—I'll excuse you!  Duty calls you and me to Bellerly, and we're going, jump up!" and without giving him time for further remonstrance she sprang upon her pretty "Swift," and darted away to John's lodgings.

    John tried to get out of the trip again when they reached his own door, but his imperious little ruler waved him peremptorily indoors to change his clothes, and began industriously to oil his machine whilst she waited.

    "I've a bone to pick with you, Mr. Thirdly," she cried, as they rode abreast along the highway, in the crisp December air.

    "Oh, dear!  What now?"

    "What have you been doing to her ladyship?"

    "I? Miss Wheeler?  How do you mean?" and accustomed as he was to the reckless and startling onslaughts of his lively companion, John looked really alarmed and steered a little closer.

    "You've been coming it over her some way that's certain.  What do you mean, sir?"

    "I?  I've done nothing!  What does she say?"

    "Say!  That's it!  She doesn't say anything; she talked of you often enough when first you came, but she never even alludes to you now.  Now for a jolly coaster," and away she flew down the hill.

    "But, Betty, you must be mistaken," cried John, when he overtook her.  "I've followed your instructions most carefully."

    "You've been soaping her!"

    "No!"

    "Then you've been polite, you haven't sat upon her.  Have you ever made her cry?"

    "Cry?  Good gracious, Betty, I should think not."

    "Tchat!  What sillies men are!  You'll never get on with her until you 'boss' her."

    The idea of "bossing" the most frank and cool-headed woman he had ever met amused John; he would like to see any one, his friend, Ringley, for instance, trying it, and he grinned as he pictured the scene.  He tried again and again to get some clearer idea of the case from Betty, but failed, and just when he was giving the matter up she turned on her machine, and looking at him with the surprise of a new and rather sobering thought, she said—

    "Of course you haven't been spooning on her?"

    "Betty?"

    "Of course, only men do such silly things; that would spoil everything, you know, even if there were no Goddess.'"

    John would have liked to ask just one question more, but it seemed rather a difficult one to frame, and before he had got it ready they had arrived at his door, and Betty flew on without stopping.

    After a light lunch our young preacher settled down to the preparation of a new sermon, but he found his line of thought constantly traversed by the gay Betty's mysterious conversation, and the remembrance of the altercation he had had with his super.  He interpreted his own duty as a minister very literally, and so, as he brooded over the condition of the Church, and the things that were taking place about him, he found himself later in the day collecting together materials for a sermon on evil speaking.  By Thursday night the discourse was finished, but almost immediately he found himself full of misgivings and wondering whether a direct attack on the popular and injurious vice was the best possible way of dealing with it; and so by noon on Friday he had put the manuscript away and was busily employed on a discourse on charity.  It was late on Saturday night before he finished it, and he spent the time which ought to have been given to sleep in debating which of the two homilies he would deliver at St. Mary's the following morning.  The question was undecided when he left his bedroom on Sunday, and close application for several days and the worry occasioned by his relations with his colleague had made him nervous and miserable.  His style was practical and didactic; he liked to say plainly what he meant, but even the milder of the two sermons was sufficiently straight for all purposes.

    He had not made up his mind when the time came to adjourn to the sanctuary, but as soon as he faced the congregation his judgment seemed to clear, and he decided upon the least direct method of dealing with the evil his soul hated.  He was so nervous that his first few sentences could not be heard at the other end of the chapel.  Just as he began to feel at home in his work he saw Bowden, Mr. Wheeler's brother-in-law, and chief though secret enemy, lean over and whisper something to his wife.  That lady referred to the Revised Version lying on her knee, lifted her eyes and looked straight at John, and then turned and nodded with curling lip at her husband.  With a sinking heart the preacher proceeded, but a minute later Ramsden, the poor steward, got up in his seat with a smothered exclamation and began fumbling for his hat; then he looked at John, listened a little while, and finally stepped into the aisle and made for the door, banging it resentfully after him as he retired.

    The young preacher broke out into a cold sweat, and before he had got another dozen sentences out, he noticed that two or three persons had turned half-round, and were glancing resentfully at the Wheelers' pew.  The super.'s wife and daughter had their heads down, and were looking exceedingly embarrassed.  In the Wheelers' pew six pairs of eyes were fixed on him with close, sympathetic attention, and this gave him heart again.  A moment later he perceived Bowden standing up in his pew and looking round upon his fellow-worshippers with pious protest in his eyes.  Distracted by these unwonted signs of disapproval John stopped, and his mind and memory became complete blanks.

    "Thirst reet, lad!  Go on wi' thee!" shouted old Crake from the free seats; and as Bowden sank disgustedly into his place, John resumed his discourse.  With sudden and strange confidence, he laid bare the secret spring of uncharitableness, and, warming to his work, with bravery now almost reckless, he sent home-thrust after home-thrust at his startled hearers, and then with a sudden pathetic break in his voice, he began to plead for forbearance and consideration, and mutual loyalty, finishing at length, in a voice almost choked with emotion, with that exquisite entreaty of St. Paul's—

    "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and clamour, and evil-speaking be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you."

    A small crowd gathered, with eyes still shining, at the foot of the pulpit stairs, and enthusiastically shook the preacher's hand and blessed him.

    "Let's see, charity's another name for love, isn't it?" giggled Bradshaw, the society steward, as he bent over the vestry table counting the collection.

    "Ay, but Lady Mary 'ull want summat warmer nor charity," grinned Smales, his colleague.

    John glanced from one to the other of the officials with a look of mystified anxiety, and then as the meaning of their coarse jokes flashed upon him he turned and rushed, hatless as he was, out of the back entrance and home to his own study.


 
CHAPTER III.

WHAT TOOK PLACE AT THE QUARTERLY MEETING.


"SHE did!  She said it!  She just stood there on the rug and twisted her gloves like that (suiting the action to the word), and then she said, 'He's the manliest man I ever knew,' and then by all that's wonderful, she blushed!"

    "Betty!"

    "She did!  My stars, Parson Ledger, but you must be a paragon!  I never saw her blush before."

    "Never?"

    "Never; not even when your illustrious predecessor proposed to her.  How do I know?  I saw them, though they didn't see me.  I couldn't help it, really—a—a—I didn't like your sermon."

    "Why not?"

    "It made me feel mean.  I like sermons that make me feel teary and comfortable—but the dinner will be in, come along."

    But John was in no mood for dining out that day; he resisted both the entreaties and the high-flown threats of his visitor, and fed on toast-water and biscuits the rest of the day.  His poor little sermon had complicated matters indeed, as he might have known it would.  It had, he felt certain, driven waverers into the camp of the enemy.  They evidently regarded him as an interested partisan of the Wheelers, and his discourse as an open declaration of war.  They had associated him with the peerless Mary, and any action he might take in defence of his friends would be discounted and misunderstood.  He could not think any longer of resisting the proposals of his super. under these circumstances; what a bungler he was! instead of mending matters he had made them infinitely worse.  Mary Wheeler! that incomparable woman's name, linked with that of a man already engaged to be married!  He writhed at the thought of it, and stamped on the floor in the bitter anguish of his spirit.

    He resolved once over to go to the officials who had flung the cruel innuendo at him, and argue them out of their monstrous delusion, but the very vehemence of his effort, he reflected, would only strengthen their suspicions and justify their sneers.  Presently he grew calmer; he had done his duty and would leave the rest.  Nothing strengthened suspicion so much as incessant denial.  He would therefore, for their own sakes, leave the Wheelers alone, and—yes—he would get some friend to invite Sallie over and make it abundantly clear, by this means, how foolish and unworthy the slander was.  But when he thought of Sallie, he was conscious of a very curious feeling; a sense, somehow, that it would be unjust to her to bring her into comparison with the lovely mistress of number seven.  And then his heart misgave him, the old doubts and fears he had fought down so often came to the surface again, and he tramped about the room and wrung his hands and sent up little snatches of prayer, until, before he realised it, it was time to go to Bellerly-green, where he was expected for the evening service.

    Monday morning brought him a small shoal of letters—anonymous—anent the previous morning's sermon, and later on a visit and a sharp rebuke from his super.

    The following Thursday morning, as he sat at his desk, vainly trying to forget his perplexities in work, a knock came at the door, and 'Cilla, the little maid who waited upon him, came in to say that a gentleman wanted to see him, and after making her announcement she held on to the door knob, and projecting her body as far into the room as she could, she continued in an impressive, confidential whisper

    "A Catholic priest, sir."

    "Show him in, 'Cilla," said John, turning his head and laying down his pen.

    The "priest" seemed in a violent hurry, for he came bounding up the narrow staircase three steps at a time, and burst into the room with a noisy—

    "Here we are again, Johannes!  What cheer, my hearty?"

    "Max!" cried John, in eager surprise, and then, as he eyed his friend over from top to toe, he cried "Max!" again.

    "'Tis he; 'tis he!  The same bad penny turning up again!" and rushing up to him he gave his hand a boisterous shake, and thrusting him back into his chair, looked him over with hungry affection.

    "But, Max, this is never you?  Where's your coming down to the masses now?  Where's your doing in Rome as Rome does?  Where are those worldly togs, and where, oh where, is that cherished moustache?"

    Max's appearance fully justified his friend's amazement, for he had got himself up in the most extreme ritualistic attire — broad-brimmed, low-crowned, rosetted soft hat; long, black, ultra-clerical coat; cassock vest, and stock to match; a little gold cross, hanging pendant and prominent on his long-hair watch-chain; and his upper lip as bare as a table top.

    "Yes, my ancient and only," he said, perching himself like a wheedling school-girl on the creaking arm of John's basket-chair.  "We live and learn, my inseparable.  Our beloved people are babies, and must be taught in symbols.  From the Pope at one end to General Booth on the other, we are all symbolists.  The great things in all great religions are the symbols.  To the masses the abstract is the incomprehensible; it is the concrete, the palpable, they understand.  He taught them in parables, and so must we."

    John laughed again, and after ringing for a cup of Bovril, he unearthed from behind a pile of books a little tin biscuit box, and bade his friend help himself.  Whilst the appetising drink was being prepared downstairs, Max stepped from his perch and began to explore the room.  He scrutinised the pictures on the walls, picked up and carefully examined every knicknack he could lay his hands upon, and finally put his long, black, gold-headed cane into a corner, hung up his hat, and throwing himself into the deep chair John had just vacated, he stretched out his long limbs until he had effectually blocked the approach to the fire.

    "Yes, my only one," he resumed, puckering his brow as he usually did when about to announce his last and greatest discovery, "you rabid Protestants can see nothing in Romanism but superstition and flummery; but there's a great deal more in it than you imagine, I can tell you."

    "For instance?" asked John, as he handed him the Bovril.

    "For instance—hand over the biscuits—we'll take that thing which most of all shocks the souls of you hide-bound respectables.  Why, man, there's more wisdom in it than in the whole policy of Methodism."

    "What is that?"

    "The celibacy of the clergy!  Wisdom, sir!  Why, it's too great to be a mere human invention; it's a Divine inspiration, sir!"

    "W-h-e-w!" and John laughed in amused astonishment.

    "It is, I tell you!  Why, since I entered the work three months and a fortnight since, I've made several marvellous discoveries, but that is the greatest of them all."

    "And the newest, I suppose," laughed Ledger again.

    "I mean it, Johannes; I do!  If a man will do his duty to his Church and the world he must know nothing about wife or family.  The Church is his wife; the people are his family.  No man going to war entangleth himself.'"

    John, who had thrown himself back upon a couch, was now shaking with laughter.

    "Oh, Reuben! unstable as water!" he cried presently, "which of the six fair charmers has proved cruel now?  It was six, wasn't it?"

    "Six or sixty, I renounce them all!  I'm a eunuch of the Kingdom of God!"

    "For how long?"

    "For ever and for aye.  I mean it, man!  Eyes, and dimples, and figures, and wonderful hair are nothing to me now.  I have sterner work to do—


    "'No room for mirth or trifling here.'


You primrose-on-the-river's-brim sort of fellows may go your own way, but I'm married to Mother Church.  I live for my race."

    "'Lord, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are,"' mocked John.  "But what brought you here to-day?"

    "Yammerings and yearnings, dear boy, to gaze on thy venerable visage."

    "It will be venerable if I mope in this dreary den much longer.  What say you to a walk?"

    As they climbed the rough rain-channelled lane up the side of Bilberry Hill, Max enlarged still further on his last great resolve.  It was not the freak of a moment; his striking conversions never were.  He had seen the necessity more and more for a long time.  A married minister was more than half a layman.  He could never be the spiritual adviser of the girl to whom he was a possible lover, or the man whose rival or whose son or brother-in-law he might become.  This generation, with its wistful private problems and infinite questionings, its needs of and longing for comprehension and sympathy, wanted detachment and disinterestedness in its chosen guides and confidants.  The man who would share and relieve the troubles of his fellows must have none of his own to preoccupy him.


"A heart at leisure from itself
 To soothe and sympathise,"


was what the times called for.  He was evidently in most serious earnest, and every objection raised by his companion had apparently been anticipated, and was most conclusively answered.

    They found the irrepressible Betty waiting for them on their return.  She opened her great eyes very wide when she beheld the priestly Max, and though she bowed with punctilious decorum when he was introduced, she made grimaces at him behind his back and included him in the invitation she had brought for "high tea" with most evident reluctance.

    At first Max seemed to object to this bit of dainty earthliness, so far below the lofty moral grandeur of the ideas he had been ventilating in the lane, but-in a few moments he was watching her every movement and listening with more than mere polite interest to her audacious little sallies.  He ran down the stairs to open the door for her when she departed, and appeared not to notice the tell-tale grin on John's face when he returned.  John hypocritically attempted to resume the topic they had been discussing, but the exponent of ministerial celibacy seemed to have exhausted himself, and showed faint interest.  John showed him a new book, but he slipped it down under the table almost before his friend's back was turned, and did not seem at all interested in the subject of the approaching Probationers' Examinations.  Presently he flung himself down on the little hard sofa, and began to kick his long legs about inmost characteristic restlessness.  Then in a studiously indifferent voice he inquired if there were any decent folk amongst the Partidge Methodists, and John gave a detailed and exhaustive account of the chief families in his church, mischievously omitting any reference to the Wheelers or even to Betty.  'Cilla came in to set the table for dinner, and when she had gone, Max sat up on the sofa and declared that he really wished they had not accepted the invitation out, he would very much rather have had a quiet evening to themselves.  John ought, of course, to have pooh-poohed the idea, and told him all about the family they were about to visit, but with a perversity little short of maliciousness, he simply pointed out that there was no decent way out of it.

    Max grumbled that he had come to see John and not to sit twiddling his thumbs in a spruced-up drawing-room with a match-making mamma and a swarm of giggling daughters.

    The obtuse John rang the bell and went over to his desk.

    "What's up now?" cried Max, suddenly sitting up and watching his friend selecting notepaper.

    "I'll just drop a note and ask them to excuse us; it will be all right, I dare say."

    Max stood a moment in tantalising perplexity, and then as 'Cilla came into the room he shouted: "No, no! it's all right, my girl; we don't want anything now"; and as the little domestic disappeared he sprang upon John, and seizing him by the throat he cried: "You aggravating beast!  You torturer!  Sit down here and tell me all about them."

    John's description of the Wheelers, though it took ten minutes to give, proved painfully bald and incomplete, and for the next half-hour he was subject to a searching series of questions which came very well indeed from the lofty celibate of the morning.  Max was ready to go long before the time fixed, and fumed and fidgeted until John started earlier than was necessary and took a roundabout way so as not to arrive too punctually.  That night Max surpassed himself, and took the Wheelers literally by storm.  He and Betty were hand and glove in half an hour.  She beat him at billiards, gave him a special buttonhole of her own selection, asked him riddles until his head ached, coaxed him into singing a very innocent and ancient humorous song, and finally shocked all present by addressing him as "Father Max."  The male Wheelers seemed as much taken by their vivacious visitor as was Betty, and outdid themselves in hearty Lancashire cordiality.  The evening was gone all too soon, and when after a scratch supper the men folk dropped into social and political topics there was mutual delight at the discovery that on all important points they were absolutely agreed.  The only thing that surprised John was that, as he watched his friend's very evident enjoyment, he noticed that he seemed almost oblivious of the chief person in the house--the queenly Mary.

    Max seemed scarcely to see her, and "carried on" with Betty in a manner that would have alarmed him if he had not known him so well.

    "Come again, sir," said Mr. Wheeler heartily, as he helped Max on with his coat.

    "Yes, come again, and soon," chimed in the brothers enthusiastically.

    "Don't come again; you bore me screamed Betty halfway up the staircase, where she had retreated to be out of his reach.

    "Wesleyan ministers never come at the wrong time here, sir.  Do take the muffler; it is foggy outside," said the quieter elder sister; and John, who was watching the adjustment of the muffler with envious feelings, wondered to himself that Max had nothing to say to this of all women.

    Ledger expected that his voluble and excited friend would plunge into extravagant praise of the Wheelers as soon as they were alone, and when they had reached the bottom of Shuttle Hill, and were turning into Broad Street without a word having been spoken, he glanced up at his companion's face and was puzzled to find it puckered into a prodigious frown of moody preoccupation.  He was conscious, also, that the easy pace at which they had started had already increased into a rapid stride.

    " Well, you've had a jolly time, at any rate," he ventured at last.

    But Max was staring before him with frowning brow, in deep thought.

    "They are everything they appear to be, and more, but why this break-neck pace?"

    As John laid his hand upon him, Max pulled up, scowled perplexedly at him, and then, with a sudden start, strode away faster than ever.

    "Max, you stupid, stop!  We are not going to catch a train."

    "Eh, what!  Catching a train?"

    Slowly he seemed to realise where he was, and dropped into an easier pace; but in a moment or two he was striding away as fast as ever, with gathered brow and dazed, far-away looks.

    In despair of getting anything satisfactory out of the mad fellow, John allowed him to go his way.  At the end of Broad Street, however, he saw him taking the wrong turn, and rushing after him, and seizing him by the arm and giving him a hearty shake, he brought him to a standstill.

    Max looked dazedly around for a moment, laughed apologetically, took his friend's arm, and made for the road where John's lodgings were situated.

    "Betty's a character, isn't she?" said John, as they went along.

    "No—yes I —that is—what did you say, old fellow?"

    "I say you're dotty, that's what I say."

    "Yes, of course.  Ah, ah—dotty, did you say?"

    "For goodness sake, Max, what is the matter?"

    They had reached the terrace where John lived, and had unconsciously come to a standstill.

    Max gazed around him with a dazed, wandering look, first on the dim street lights, and then up at the distant stars.  He bent forward and surveyed the whole row of houses near them as if he were counting them, and then, scowling down at John, he asked in bewilderment—

    "What were you saying?"

    "I was saying that you are demented, moonstruck, dotty.  That's what I was saying."

    Max appeared to realise everything all at once.  He looked long and dreely at John, scrutinised the street lamps again, glanced up into the murky darkness, and then at the mud under their feet, and speaking in awed, tremulous undertones, he put his face close to John's, and said breathlessly—

    "John, I've met my fate to-night!"

    John's laugh pealed down the silent street, and he caught the mooning fellow by the arm and dragged him indoors.

    John felt a little annoyed.  He was quite accustomed to the wild rhapsodies of his friend, and knew and loved the heart of gold that was underneath them, but it seemed to him indecent for a young minister of six-and-twenty to be going into these wild ravings about a mere girl of sixteen.  There was no knowing what the impetuous fellow might do, and it would be a sin to allow him to put notions into Betty's innocent little head.  And so he determined he would speak to his mercurial friend and put a stop to matters before any mischief was done.  But when he arose next morning with this intention in his mind, Max had disappeared, and though at first he was inclined to fear that he might have sallied forth to the Wheelers', on some mad errand, early as it was, he soon discovered from 'Cilla that he had taken his departure, and though a little puzzled, he was on the whole relieved and thankful.  On the following Monday, however, Max turned up again and dragged John off, nolens volens, to number seven.  John had a preaching appointment that night, and was compelled to leave his friend to enjoy himself.  On his way back he called at the super.'s, and what he heard there about the growing opposition in the circuit against his friends so occupied his mind that his intended straight talk with Max was forgotten, and, in fact, as they sat over the fire at his lodgings in the small hours, John told his chum the whole story; and Max's indignation, which flamed up now, as always, against wrongdoing, excluded every other topic, and it was some consolation to him to find that his friend's judgment supported him in all he had done.

    "Well," said Max, when they had talked the matter out, "you can't oppose your super., you know, and it would do no good if you did, but you must take blessed good care that you make your real feelings clear to the Wheelers."

    John seemed to think that was only a poor sort of consolation after all, and when the other left him next day, he found it impossible to settle down to work.  The matter seemed the worse to him because he could not help admitting that on the surface, at least, there was some justification for the super.'s attitude.  Mr. Wheeler was not exactly what would be called a spiritually-minded man; there was a hard, commercial ring about all his conversation, even on the most sacred topics.  His face amply justified the suspicion that he was not sufficiently temperate, and as John was an ardent teetotaller himself, it appeared to him that the chief layman of the circuit ought to be above suspicion on that point.  Of the hints about financial difficulty he could, of course, form no opinion, but rumours of that kind had, in his experience, an awkward habit of proving substantial.  It appeared very mean even to think like this about people from whom he had received so many kindnesses, but he knew, on the other hand, that he was facing in this case one of the commonest tests of ministerial loyalty.

    The following Monday was the Quarterly meeting, and John spent the intervening time alternately resolving that he would not go near his friends until after it was over, and then rebuking himself for lack of gratitude and manliness.  The result was that he found himself at number seven several times during the remaining days.

    "I saw the super. this morning," said Mary Wheeler, as she handed John his tea on one of these evenings.  "He looks more worried than you.  We must be dreadful people to manage in Partidge."

    "You are," said John playfully, "but I think the super. is troubled about his daughter."

    Mr. Wheeler, who sat nearer the fire, and had not appeared to be listening, cocked an inquiring eye at his guest, and Mary said, in a sympathetic tone—

    "Is she no better, then?"

    "She cannot be better without a very difficult and expensive operation."

    Mary's eyes travelled towards her apparently indifferent parent, and then she asked—

    "How do you mean?"

    "Miss Irene is so fragile that they fear the result of an operation unless it could be done by some specialist, and that, of course, is beyond them."

    "But—" and Mary, glancing past John, looked at her father again, and stopped, and then, after watching him a moment, deftly changed the subject.

    Two days later the super., looking younger than he had done for some time, came smiling into John's study and informed him that a gracious Providence had interfered to help him, and that Sir Edward Swaine, the famous Manchester surgeon, had offered through Dr. Markham, the local physician, to perform the operation on Miss Irene without charge.  The conversation with the Wheelers flashed into John's mind, and he nearly blurted out his guess; but the super. seemed so certain that it was some peculiarity in the disease which had reached the great man's ears and excited his curiosity, that he had not the heart to express what were, after all, only suspicions; and when he called at number seven and "fished," they were all so very innocent that he understood that if they had anything to do with it they wished things to remain as they were.  All the same, the signs made him confident he was not mistaken, and the position seemed to him to be becoming unendurable, whilst a conversation he had with Mary Wheeler that very night further increased his embarrassment.

    "That is a great kindness your father is doing for the Holts," he said, when he and Mary were left alone for a few minutes.

    "Oh, it is like him; he thinks of everybody but himself," she replied, as though what John had hinted at was the most everyday affair possible.

    "You admire your father, Miss Wheeler," he said approvingly.

    "Admire is a very poor word, Mr. Ledger.  Why, sir, father is my ideal man!"

    John was both puzzled and disappointed; he had given her credit for more discernment than that.  He was interested, however, and so he made a perilous venture.

    "He is not what you would call a great Christian.  I suppose a man with his commercial experiences scarcely could be, eh?"

    It was a foolish, clumsy sort of remark, but Mary had very keen religious sympathies and spoke very openly on all such matters, and yet he felt he was treading on dangerous ground.

    "Father!" cried Mary, opening her large expressive eyes in most genuine astonishment.  "Why, father's a saint, Mr. Ledger! a lowly saint! far away the best man I ever knew," and then she broke off with a recollecting laugh.  "I see how it is; he's been opening his mind to you.  Well, that is a compliment."

    "Mr. Wheeler has never spoken to me about his own religious life."

    "Hasn't he? then he will do; for he's taken to you wonderfully, and so you had better be prepared or he will surprise you—and deceive you."

    "Deceive me!"

    "Yes; don't you know?  He thinks he's an awful hypocrite and a disgrace to his church.  He'd give anything to be out of office; we have to frighten him into retaining it."

    John really began to wonder whether he was not dreaming, but Mary, as if she were retailing the absurdest of jokes, went on—

    "That's why he goes to old Crake's class; he always scolds him."

    "Crake's class!  Your father meets with the super."

    "Yes, he subscribes and is counted in that class, but he attends Crake's, down in Bobbin Alley.  Old Crake is one of father's pensioners, you know, but he talks to dad in class as though he were a hardened, worldly-minded sinner, and father likes it, and thinks old Crake and his members saints."

    "But old Crake is not a fit person to lead your father!"

    "Isn't he, though!  You'd think he was if you saw them together.  He calls father by his Christian name, orders him to pray in class, and if he is absent, he comes here and scolds him for 'running with the giddy multitude to do evil' until that ridiculous man looks as thoroughly ashamed as if he had been caught in the act of theft."

    John left number seven that night more perplexed than ever.  Mary Wheeler was too clear-eyed to be deceived and too honest to practise deceit.  If Mr. Wheeler was what she had described him to be, it was very strange that those who had known him so long should have formed such totally different opinions about him.

    Early on Monday morning he hastened to the Manse to make one last appeal to the super.  Before he had got many words out the senior minister interrupted him by stating that it was now too late.  Mr. Wheeler's designated successor had been spoken to, and had consented to stand.  And then he explained, with a little show of importance, that the specialist was expected for the operation, and somewhat brusquely dismissed his colleague.  The tea before the Quarterly meeting was more largely attended than the previous one, at which John had been present for the first time, and he noted with uneasy resentment that there was an unusual number of lay preachers and extreme teetotallers present.

    He had resolved, before going, to seat himself at the junior steward's table, but seeing how numerous the opposition was, he took his place defiantly at Mary Wheeler's side, sitting himself intentionally next to her father and returning the significant glances with looks of cold unconcern.  When the meeting itself opened, the super. motioned to him to take his place by his side, and John followed the promptings of his own indignant heart by drawing his chair as near as possible to Mr. Wheeler's and putting his arm on that gentleman's chair back.  Just as they were commencing business Mr. Wheeler got up, and in a few sympathetic words congratulated the chairman on the successful operation that had taken place that day and the encouraging reports they had of the patient, and John watched with increasing astonishment the impassive face of the senior steward as the super. explained how much he and his daughter were indebted to the generosity of the eminent scientist who had performed the operation.

    Somebody was beginning to say that a resolution of thanks ought to be sent to "Sir Edward," but Mr. Wheeler somewhat unceremoniously interrupted him, and the meeting passed to the business of the day.  Presently the question for which they were all waiting was reached, and a complete silence fell on the gathering as the chairman rose to introduce the election of stewards.  He had a sort of pained smile about his pale lips, but his face was hard and white.  A hasty glance round the room revealed to John that whilst the uninitiated were looking up with pleasant interest, the majority held their heads a little down.

    "We now come to the election of stewards," said the super., speaking with some effort.  "As you are aware, gentlemen, our dear friend Mr. Wheeler has held this office for eighteen years, and you will all bear me out that he has done his work with his accustomed zeal and ability.  (Hear, hear!)  Mr. Wheeler does everything he undertakes well, but you will all agree with me that he has never distinguished himself in anything more than in the painstaking and, in fact, brilliant service he has rendered as the chief lay officer of this circuit.  (More responses.)  But our dear friend is, as you all know, an exceedingly busy man, and is occupied in all sorts of important offices and duties.  It appears to me that for his sake and our own we ought not to overwork the willing horse.  I propose, therefore, to release our dear friend from this particular appointment (dead silence), and give him a well-earned, though, I hope, only temporary rest."

    John, whose head was on his chest, shot from under his eyebrows a quick glance at Mr. Wheeler, and noted that he seemed to be listening with a bland, ingenuous smile.

    "Before we proceed any further, however," the super. went on, "I am sure it will be your wish to mark your sense of Mr. Wheeler's valuable services by a hearty vote of thanks.  You would all like to speak to a resolution of this kind, I know, but perhaps I shall meet your wishes if I ask his old friend and former colleague Mr. Bullough to move a resolution."

    Bullough, a short, nervous little man, who was evidently prepared for the call, rose, and in fulsome, extravagant terms moved the vote, which was seconded immediately and doubly supported, and the resolution was just being put when Collier, the junior steward, broke in with an alarmed—

    "Wait a moment, Mr. Super."

    At this point Wheeler leaned over, and, with a whispered exhortation, tried to induce his friend to resume his seat.

    "No, no!" cried Collier excitedly; "I don't understand this, and I don't like it either.  If he goes out, I go out, that's all."

    Wheeler again tried to pacify his friend, and the chairman, whose face had become flushed, begged him to wait a moment until the resolution had been put.  When that had been done, it was carried with great show of cordiality; and the super., in a long and not very coherent speech, begged the senior steward's acceptance of the vote.  As John glanced at the man who stood to receive these long and strained compliments, he was amazed to find neither surprise nor resentment in his face, but only an uncomfortable and shamed impatience, as though he were anxious to get the ordeal over.  A significant stillness fell all at once on the company, and men held their breath to listen.

    "I thank you, Mr. Super. and brethren, for your kind words," began Mr. Wheeler.  "I'm glad you have put me out, for I should never have resigned.  I owe all I have and am to Methodism, and was proud to serve her.  But I have always felt I was not worthy.  I stayed in so long to please my dear ones, and—a—a—help a bit.  May God forgive me, and make me a better man!"

    The speaker paused here a moment, and John, watching the man thrust thus meanly out of office, felt a lump rise in his throat, whilst his surprise-widened eyes shone with moist light; but Wheeler was speaking again.

    "Of course I cannot hand over the books with a deficit, so I'll wipe off the little balance, and if you, Mr. Super., will just dot down the little bits o' debts on the circuit chapels, I'll—I'll see to 'em as a bit of a thank-offering."

    There was a suspicious sniffing in several parts of the room as the man who appeared to John at that moment the biggest soul present sank shyly into his seat, and as the chairman, abashed and confused, rose to continue the business, a muttering broke out amongst the back seats; two or three rose to their feet, and snatched their hats from overhanging pegs and made for the door.

    "Stop! stop, brethren!" cried the super., in sudden alarm.  "We have not finished."

    "Yes you have!" shouted Rippon, a country official, turning round as he reached the door.  "You've done now!  There's nothing else you could do to hurt the circuit and shame yourselves.  You've done!  You've done!"



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