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in a day or two."

As he spoke Mr. Bevis rose, and stood for a moment like a man greatly
urged to stretch his arms and legs. An air of uneasiness pervaded his
whole appearance.

"Will you not stop and take tea with us?" said the curate. "My wife will
be disappointed if you do not. You have been good to her for twenty
years, she says."

"She makes an old man of me," returned the rector musingly. "I remember
her such a tiny thing in a white frock and curls. Tell her what we have
been talking about, and beg her to excuse me. I _must_ go home."

He took his hat from the table, shook hands with Wingfold, and walked
back to the inn. There he found his horses bedded, and the hostler away.
His coachman was gone too, nobody knew whither.

To sleep at the inn would have given pointed offense, but he would
rather have done so than go back to the Manor House to hear his curate
abused. With the help of the barmaid, he put the horses to the carriage
himself, and to the astonishment of Mrs. Ramshorn and his wife, drew up
at the door of the Manor House.

Expostulation on the part of the former was vain. The latter made none:
it was much the same to Mrs. Bevis where she was, so long as she was
with her husband. Indeed few things were more pleasant to her than
sitting in the carriage alone, contemplating the back of Mr. Bevis on
the box, and the motion of his elbows as he drove. Mrs. Ramshorn
received their adieux very stiffly, and never after mentioned the rector
without adding the epithet, "poor man!"

Mrs. Bevis enjoyed the drive; Mr. Bevis did not. The doubt was growing
stronger and stronger all the way, that he had not behaved like a
gentleman in his relation to the head of the church. He had naturally,
as I have already shown, a fine, honorable, boyish if not childlike
nature; and the eyes of his mind were not so dim with good living as one
might have feared from the look of those in his head: in the glass of
loyalty he now saw himself a defaulter; in the scales of honor he
weighed and found himself wanting. Of true discipleship was not now the
question: he had not behaved like an honorable gentleman to Jesus
Christ. It was only in a spasm of terror St. Peter had denied him: John
Bevis had for nigh forty years been taking his pay, and for the last
thirty at least had done nothing in return. Either Jesus Christ did not
care, and then what was the church? - what the whole system of things
called Christianity? - or he did care, and what then was John Bevis in
the eyes of his Master? When they reached home, he went neither to the
stable nor the study, but, without even lighting a cigar, walked out on
the neighboring heath, where he found the universe rather gray about
him. When he returned he tried to behave as usual, but his wife saw that
he scarcely ate at supper, and left half of his brandy and water. She
set it down to the annoyance the curate had caused him, and wisely
forbore troubling him with questions.




CHAPTER X.

MR. DRAKE'S ARBOR.


While the curate was preaching that same Sunday morning, in the cool
cavernous church, with its great lights overhead, Walter Drake - the old
minister, he was now called by his disloyal congregation - sat in a
little arbor looking out on the river that flowed through the town to
the sea. Green grass went down from where he sat to the very water's
brink. It was a spot the old man loved, for there his best thoughts came
to him. There was in him a good deal of the stuff of which poets are
made, and since trouble overtook him, the river had more and more
gathered to itself the aspect of that in the Pilgrim's Progress; and
often, as he sat thus almost on its edge, he fancied himself waiting
the welcome summoms to go home. It was a tidal river, with many changes.
Now it flowed with a full, calm current, conquering the tide, like life
sweeping death with it down into the bosom of the eternal. Now it seemed
to stand still, as if aghast at the inroad of the awful thing; and then
the minister would bethink himself that it was the tide of the eternal
rising in the narrow earthly channel: men, he said to himself, called it
_death_, because they did not know what it was, or the loveliness of its
quickening energy. It fails on their sense by the might of its grand
excess, and they call it by the name of its opposite. A weary and rather
disappointed pilgrim, he thus comforted himself as he sat.

There a great salmon rose and fell, gleaming like a bolt of silver in
the sun! There a little waterbeetle scurried along after some invisible
prey. The blue smoke of his pipe melted in the Sabbath air. The softened
sounds of a singing congregation came across gardens and hedges to his
ear. They sang with more energy than grace, and, not for the first time,
he felt they did. Were they indeed singing to the Lord, he asked
himself, or only to the idol Custom? A silence came: the young man in
the pulpit was giving out his text, and the faces that had turned
themselves up to Walter Drake as flowers to the sun, were now all
turning to the face of him they had chosen in his stead, "to minister to
them in holy things." He took his pipe from his mouth, and sat
motionless, with his eyes fixed on the ground.

But why was he not at chapel himself? Could it be that he yielded to
temptation, actually preferring his clay pipe and the long glide of the
river, to the worship, and the hymns and the sermon? Had there not been
a time when he judged that man careless of the truth who did not go to
the chapel, and that man little better who went to the church? Yet there
he sat on a Sunday morning, the church on one side of him and the chapel
on the other, smoking his pipe! His daughter was at the chapel; she had
taken Ducky with her; the dog lay in the porch waiting for them; the cat
thought too much of herself to make friends with her master; he had
forgotten his New Testament on the study table; and now he had let his
pipe out.

He was not well, it is true, but he was well enough to have gone. Was he
too proud to be taught where he had been a teacher? or was it that the
youth in his place taught there doctrines which neither they nor their
fathers had known? It could not surely be from resentment that they had
super-annuated him in the prime of his old age, with a pared third of
his late salary, which nothing but honesty in respect to the small
moneys he owed could have prevented him from refusing!

In truth it was impossible the old minister should have any great esteem
for the flashy youth, proud of his small Latin and less Greek, a mere
unit of the hundreds whom the devil of ambition drives to preaching; one
who, whether the doctrines he taught were in the New Testament or not,
certainly never found them there, being but the merest disciple of a
disciple of a disciple, and fervid in words of which he perceived scarce
a glimmer of the divine purport. At the same time, he might have seen
points of resemblance between his own early history and that of the
callow chirper of divinity now holding forth from his pulpit, which
might have tended to mollify his judgment with sympathy.

His people had behaved ill to him, and he could not say he was free from
resentment or pride, but he did make for them what excuse lay in the
fact that the congregation had been dwindling ever since the curate at
the abbey-church began to speak in such a strange outspoken fashion.
There now was a right sort of man! he said to himself. No attempted
oratory with him! no prepared surprises! no playhouse tricks! no studied
graces in wafture of hands and upheaved eyes! And yet at moments when he
became possessed with his object rather than subject, every inch of him
seemed alive. He was odd - very odd; perhaps he was crazy - but at least
he was honest. He had heard him himself, and judged him well worth
helping to what was better, for, alas! notwithstanding the vigor of his
preaching, he did not appear to have himself discovered as yet the
treasure hid in the field. He was, nevertheless, incomparably the
superior of the young man whom, expecting him to _draw_, the deacons of
his church, with the members behind them, had substituted for himself,
who had for more than fifteen years ministered to them the bread of
life.

Bread! - Yes, I think it might honestly be called bread that Walter Drake
had ministered. It had not been free from chalk or potatoes: bits of
shell and peel might have been found in it, with an occasional bit of
dirt, and a hair or two; yes, even a little alum, and that is _bad_,
because it tends to destroy, not satisfy the hunger. There was sawdust
in it, and parchment-dust, and lumber-dust; it was ill salted, badly
baked, sad; sometimes it was blue-moldy, and sometimes even maggoty; but
the mass of it was honest flour, and those who did not recoil from the
look of it, or recognize the presence of the variety of foreign matter,
could live upon it, in a sense, up to a certain pitch of life. But a
great deal of it was not of his baking at all - he had been merely the
distributor - crumbling down other bakers' loaves and making them up
again in his own shapes. In his declining years, however, he had been
really beginning to learn the business. Only, in his congregation were
many who not merely preferred bad bread of certain kinds, but were
incapable of digesting any of high quality.

He would have gone to chapel that morning had the young man been such as
he could respect. Neither his doctrine, nor the behavior of the church
to himself, would have kept him away. Had he followed his inclination he
would have gone to the church, only that would have looked spiteful. His
late congregation would easily excuse his non-attendance with them; they
would even pitifully explain to each other why he could not appear just
yet; but to go to church would be in their eyes unpardonable - a
declaration of a war of revenge.

There was, however, a reason besides, why Mr. Drake could not go to
church that morning, and if not a more serious, it was a much more
painful one. Some short time before he had any ground to suspect that
his congregation was faltering in its loyalty to him, his daughter had
discovered that the chapel butcher, when he sent a piece of meat,
invariably charged for a few ounces beyond the weight delivered. Now Mr.
Drake was a man of such honesty that all kinds of cheating, down to the
most respectable, were abominable to him; that the man was a professor
of religion made his conduct unpardonable in his eyes, and that he was
one of his own congregation rendered it insupportable. Having taken
pains to satisfy himself of the fact, he declined to deal with him any
further, and did not spare to tell him why. The man was far too
dishonest to profit by the rebuke save in circumspection and cunning,
was revengeful in proportion to the justice of the accusation, and of
course brought his influence, which was not small, to bear upon the
votes of the church-members in respect of the pastorate.

Had there been another butcher in connection with the chapel, Mr. Drake
would have turned to him, but as there was not, and they could not go
without meat, he had to betake himself to the principal butcher in the
place, who was a member of the Church of England. Soon after his
troubles commenced, and before many weeks were over he saw plainly
enough that he must either resign altogether, and go out into the great
world of dissent in search of some pastorless flock that might vote him
their crook, to be guided by him whither they wanted to go, and whither
most of them believed they knew the way as well as he, or accept the
pittance offered him. This would be to retire from the forefront of the
battle, and take an undistinguished place in the crowd of mere
camp-followers; but, for the sake of honesty, as I have already
explained, and with the hope that it might be only for a brief season,
he had chosen the latter half of the alternative. And truly it was a
great relief not to have to grind out of his poor, weary, groaning mill
the two inevitable weekly sermons - labor sufficient to darken the face
of nature to the conscientious man. For his people thought themselves
intellectual, and certainly were critical. Mere edification in holiness
was not enough for them. A large infusion of some polemic element was
necessary to make the meat savory and such as their souls loved. Their
ambition was not to grow in grace, but in social influence and
regard - to glorify their dissent, not the communion of saints. Upon the
chief corner-stone they would build their stubble of paltry religionism;
they would set up their ragged tent in the midst of the eternal temple,
careless how it blocked up window and stair.

Now last week Mr. Drake had requested his new butcher to send his
bill - with some little anxiety, because of the sudden limitation of his
income; but when he saw it he was filled with horror. Amounting only to
a very few pounds, causes had come together to make it a large one in
comparison with the figures he was accustomed to see. Always feeding
some of his flock, he had at this time two sickly, nursing mothers who
drew their mortal life from his kitchen; and, besides, the doctor had,
some time ago, ordered a larger amount of animal food for the little
Amanda. In fine, the sum at the bottom of that long slip of paper, with
the wood-cut of a prize ox at the top of it, small as he would have
thought it at one period of his history, was greater than he could
imagine how to pay; and if he went to church, it would be to feel the
eye of the butcher and not that of the curate upon him all the time. It
was a dismay, a horror to him to have an account rendered which he could
not settle, and especially from his new butcher, after he had so
severely rebuked the old one. Where was the mighty difference in honesty
between himself and the offender? the one claimed for meat he had not
sold, the other ordered that for which he could not pay! Would not Mr.
Jones imagine he had left his fellow-butcher and come to him because he
had run up a large bill for which he was unable to write a check? This
was that over which the spirit of the man now brooded by far the most
painfully; this it was that made him leave his New Testament in the
study, let his pipe out, and look almost lovingly upon the fast-flowing
river, because it was a symbol of death.

He had chosen preaching as a profession, just as so many take
orders - with this difference from a large proportion of such, that he
had striven powerfully to convince himself that he trusted in the merits
of the Redeemer. Had he not in this met with tolerable success, he would
not have yielded to the wish of his friends and left his father's shop
in his native country-town for a dissenting college in the neighborhood
of London. There he worked well, and became a good scholar, learning to
read in the true sense of the word, that is, to try the spirits as he
read. His character, so called, was sound, and his conscience, if not
sensitive, was firm and regnant. But he was injured both spiritually and
morally by some of the instructions there given. For one of the objects
held up as duties before him, was to become capable of rendering himself
_acceptable_ to a congregation.

Most of the students were but too ready to regard, or at least to treat
this object as the first and foremost of duties. The master-duty of
devotion to Christ, and obedience to every word that proceeded out of
His mouth, was very much treated as a thing understood, requiring little
enforcement; while, the main thing demanded of them being sermons in
some sense their own - honey culled at least by their own bees, and not
bought in jars, much was said about the plan and composition of sermons,
about style and elocution, and action - all plainly and confessedly, with
a view to pulpit-_success_ - the lowest of all low successes, and the
most worldly.

These instructions Walter Drake accepted as the wisdom of the holy
serpent - devoted large attention to composition, labored to form his
style on the _best models_, and before beginning to write a sermon,
always heated the furnace of production with fuel from some exciting or
suggestive author: it would be more correct to say, fed the mill of
composition from some such source; one consequence of all which was,
that when at last, after many years, he did begin to develop some
individuality, he could not, and never did shake himself free of those
weary models; his thoughts, appearing in clothes which were not made for
them, wore always a certain stiffness and unreality which did not by
nature belong to them, blunting the impressions which his earnestness
and sincerity did notwithstanding make.

Determined to _succeed_, he cultivated eloquence also - what he supposed
eloquence, that is, being, of course, merely elocution, to attain the
right gestures belonging to which he looked far more frequently into his
landlady's mirror, than for his spiritual action into the law of
liberty. He had his reward in the success he sought. But I must make
haste, for the story of worldly success is always a mean tale. In a few
years, and for not a few after, he was a popular preacher in one of the
suburbs of London - a good deal sought after, and greatly lauded. He
lived in comfort, indulged indeed in some amount of show; married a
widow with a large life-annuity, which between them they spent entirely,
and that not altogether in making friends with everlasting habitations;
in a word, gazed out on the social landscape far oftener than lifted his
eyes to the hills.

After some ten or twelve years, a change began. They had three children;
the two boys, healthy and beautiful, took scarlatina and died; the poor,
sickly girl wailed on. His wife, who had always been more devoted to her
children than her husband, pined, and died also. Her money went, if not
with her, yet away from him. His spirits began to fail him, and his
small, puny, peaking daughter did not comfort him much. He was capable
of true, but not yet of pure love; at present his love was capricious.
Little Dora - a small Dorothy indeed in his estimation - had always been a
better child than either of her brothers, but he loved them the more
that others admired them, and her the less that others pitied her: he
did try to love her, for there was a large element of justice in his
nature. This, but for his being so much occupied with _making himself
acceptable_ to his congregation, would have given him a leadership in
the rising rebellion against a theology which crushed the hearts of men
by attributing injustice to their God. As it was, he lay at anchor, and
let the tide rush past him.

Further change followed - gradual, but rapid. His congregation began to
discover that he was not the man he had been. They complained of lack of
variety in his preaching; said he took it too easy; did not study his
sermons sufficiently; often spoke extempore, which was a poor compliment
to _them_; did not visit with impartiality, and indeed had all along
favored the carriage people. There was a party in the church which had
not been cordial to him from the first; partly from his fault, partly
from theirs, he had always made them feel they were of the lower grade;
and from an increase of shops in the neighborhood, this party was now
gathering head. Their leaders went so far at length as to hint at a
necessity for explanation in regard to the accounts of certain charities
administered by the pastor. In these, unhappily, _lacunae_ were patent.
In his troubles the pastor had grown careless. But it was altogether to
his own loss, for not merely had the money been spent with a rigidity of
uprightness, such as few indeed of his accusers exercised in their
business affairs, but he had in his disbursements exceeded the
contribution committed to his charge. Confident, however, in his
position, and much occupied with other thoughts, he had taken no care to
set down the particulars of his expenditure, and his enemies did not
fail to hint a connection between this fact and the loss of his wife's
annuity. Worst of all, doubts of his orthodoxy began to be expressed by
the more ignorant, and harbored without examination by the less
ignorant.

All at once he became aware of the general disloyalty of his flock, and
immediately resigned. Scarcely had he done so when he was invited to
Glaston, and received with open arms. There he would heal his wounds,
and spend the rest of his days in peace. "He caught a slip or two" in
descending, but soon began to find the valley of humiliation that
wholesome place which all true pilgrims have ever declared it.
Comparative retirement, some sense of lost labor, some suspicion of the
worth of the ends for which he had spent his strength, a waking desire
after the God in whom he had vaguely believed all the time he was
letting the dust of paltry accident inflame his eyes, blistering and
deadening his touch with the efflorescent crusts and agaric tumors upon
the dry bones of theology, gilding the vane of his chapel instead of
cleansing its porch and its floor - these all favored the birth in his
mind of the question, whether he had ever entered in at the straight
gate himself, or had not merely been standing by its side calling to
others to enter in. Was it even as well as this with him? Had he not
been more intent on gathering a wretched flock within the rough,
wool-stealing, wind-sifting, beggarly hurdles of his church, than on
housing true men and women safe in the fold of the true Shepherd?
Feeding troughs for the sheep there might be many in the fields, and
they might or might not be presided over by servants of the true
Shepherd, but the fold they were not! He grew humble before the Master,
and the Master began to lord it lovingly over him. He sought His
presence, and found Him; began to think less of books and rabbis, yea
even, for the time, of Paul and Apollos and Cephas, and to pore and
ponder over the living tale of the New Covenant; began to feel that the
Lord meant what He said, and that His apostles also meant what He said;
forgot Calvin a good deal, outgrew the influences of Jonathan Edwards,
and began to understand Jesus Christ.

Few sights can be lovelier than that of a man who, having rushed up the
staircase of fame in his youth - what matter whether the fame of a paltry
world, or a paltry sect of that world! - comes slowly, gently, graciously
down in his old age, content to lose that which he never had, and
careful only to be honest at last. It had not been so with Walter Drake.
He had to come down first to begin to get the good of it, but once down,
it was not long ere he began to go up a very different stair indeed. A
change took place in him which turned all aims, all efforts, all
victories of the world, into the merest, most poverty-stricken trifling.
He had been a tarrer and smearer, a marker and shearer of sheep, rather
than a pastor; but now he recognized the rod and leaned on the staff of
the true Shepherd Who feeds both shepherds and sheep. Hearty were the
thanks he offered that he had been staid in his worse than foolish
career.

Since then, he had got into a hollow in the valley, and at this moment,
as he sat in his summer-house, was looking from a verge abrupt into what
seemed a bottomless gulf of humiliation. For his handsome London house,
he had little better than a cottage, in which his study was not a
quarter of the size of the one he had left; he had sold two-thirds of
his books; for three men and four women servants, he had but one old
woman and his own daughter to do the work of the house; for all
quadrupedal menie, he had but a nondescript canine and a contemptuous
feline foundling; from a devoted congregation of comparatively educated
people, he had sunk to one in which there was not a person of higher
standing than a tradesman, and that congregation had now rejected him as
not up to their mark, turning him off to do his best with fifty pounds a
year. He had himself heard the cheating butcher remark in the open
street that it was quite enough, and more than ever his Master had. But
all these things were as nothing in his eyes beside his inability to pay
Mr. Jones's bill. He had outgrown his former self, but this kind of
misery it would be but deeper degradation to outgrow. All before this
had been but humiliation; this was shame. Now first he knew what poverty
was! Had God forgotten him? That could not be! that which could forget
could not be God. Did he not care then that such things should befall
his creatures? Were they but trifles in his eyes? He ceased thinking,
gave way to the feeling that God dealt hardly with him, and sat stupidly



Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldPaul Faber, Surgeon → online text (page 5 of 38)