A CASUISTICAL DEBATE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.
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
"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
"Treason! high treason! The king can do no wrong," said
John Ledger, in his invariable character of defender of recognised
"Decent fellow, Portman, too," said Ringley, staring hard at
the fire on a line with his face, and wagging his head with
"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
"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,
"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
"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
"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
"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,
"Yewson, you ought to have been an Old Bailey lawyer."
Yewson bowed low in acknowledgment of the compliment, and
"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
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
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
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!"
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
"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
"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,
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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,
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
"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."
"No! Well, I'll teach you. Can you play
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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!"
"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
"You've been soaping her!"
"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?"
"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
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.
WHAT TOOK PLACE AT THE QUARTERLY MEETING.
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!"
"She did! My stars, Parson Ledger, but you must be a
paragon! I never saw her blush before."
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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,
"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
"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
"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
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
"Come again, sir," said Mr. Wheeler heartily, as he helped
Max on with his coat.
"Yes, come again, and soon," chimed in the brothers
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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,
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
"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."
"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
"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
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,
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
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!"