Richard Le Gallienne.

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THE ROMANCE OF

ZION CHAPEL


By

RICHARD LE GALLIENNE


1898




TO

TWO IN HEAVEN

AND

TWO ON EARTH.




Contents

I. OF A CURIOUS MEETING OF EXTREMES
II. INTRODUCES MORE UNROMANTIC MATERIAL
III. OF ELI MOGGRIDGE AND THE NEW SPIRIT
IV. ENDS QUITE ROMANTICALLY
V. OF THE ARTIST IN MAN AND HIS MATERIALS
VI. OF A WONDERFUL QUALITY IN WOMEN
VII. THE LITERARY AND PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY OF COALCHESTER.
VIII. THE PLOT AGAINST COALCHESTER
IX. "THE DAWN"
X. HOW THEY BROUGHT THE GOOD NEWS OF A MORRIS WALL-PAPER TO COALCHESTER
XI. A LITTLE ABOUT JENNY
XII. HOW THE RENAISSANCE CAME IN PERSON TO NEW ZION
XIII. IN WHICH JENNY KISSES MR. MOGGRIDGE
XIV. THE GREAT EVENT OF MR. TALBOT'S LIFE
XV. JENNY'S BOTTOM DRAWER
XVI. THEOPHIL ALL THIS TIME
XVII. "O THAT 'T WERE POSSIBLE..."
XVIII. ONE DAY OUT OF ALL THE YEARS
XIX. PREPARATIONS FOR A FAST AND OTHER SADNESS
XX. IN WHICH JENNY CRIES
XXI. IN WHICH JENNY IS MYSTERIOUSLY HONOURED
XXII. THE TRYST LETHEAN
XXIII. JENNY'S LYING IN STATE
XXIV. THE BEGINNING OF THE PILGRIMAGE - A MESSAGE FROM JENNY
XXV. JENNY'S POSTE RESTANTE
XXVI. FURTHER CONCERNING THEOPHIL'S LIFE AFTER THE DEATH OF JENNY
XXVII. ISABEL CALLING
XXVIII. BACK IN ZION PLACE
XXIX. AND SUDDENLY THE LAST




The Romance of Zion Chapel




CHAPTER I


OF A CURIOUS MEETING OF EXTREMES

On the dreary suburban edge of a very old, very ignorant, very sooty,
hardhearted, stony-streeted, meanly grim, little provincial town there
stands a gasometer. On one side of this gasometer begins a region of
disappointed fields, which, however, has hardly begun before a railway
embankment cuts across, at an angle convenient for its entirely
obscuring the few meadows and trees that in this desolate land do duty
for a countryside. The dull workmen's streets that here abruptly
present unfinished ends to the universe must console themselves with the
gasometer. And indeed they seem more than content. For a street boasting
the best view, as it runs out its sordid line longer than the rest, is
proudly called Gasometer Street. Some of the streets that are denied the
gasometer cluster narrow and dark, hardly built twenty years perhaps,
yet long since drearily old, - with the unattractive antiquity of old
iron and old clothes, - round a mouldy little chapel, in what we can only
describe as the Wesleyan Methodist style of architecture. Cased in
weather-stained and decaying stucco, it bears upon its front the words
"New Zion," and the streets about it are named accordingly: Zion
Passage, Zion Alley, Zion Walk, Zion Street. There is a house too which
had been lucky enough to call itself Zion View, the very morning before
the house at the corner had contemplated doing the same. At Zion View
lived and still lives Mr. Moggridge, the huge, good-natured, guffawing
pillar of New Zion, - on whom, at the moment, however, we will not call.

A nice dull place, you may say, from which to issue invitations to a
romance. Well, of course, it must seem so if pretty places are the
reader's idea of romance. Curiously enough, the preference of the Lady
Romance herself is for just such dull places. These dreary,
soot-begrimed streets are the very streets she loves best to appear in,
on a sudden, some astonished day, with a sound of silk skirts and a
spring wind of attar of roses. Contrast, surprise, - these are her very
soul. Dull places and bright people, - these she loves to bring together,
and watch for laughter and tears. You are never safe from Romance, and
the place to seek her is never the place where she was last found.

Well, at all events, it is to Gasometer Street and New Zion that you are
respectfully invited, and before you decline the invitation with a
shrug, I will tell you this about the gasometer. The romantic eyes of
one of the greatest French poets once looked on that gasometer! I won't
pretend that they dwelt there, but look on it they once did - the eyes of
that great, sad, scandalous, religious French poet - on a night of weary
rain that set someone quoting, - also in that street, -

"Il pleure dans mon coeur
Comme il pleut sur la ville."

Yes, and that French poet passed the gasometer on his way to New Zion.
Actually.

Romance! Why, I wouldn't exchange Gasometer Street for the Isles of
Greece!




CHAPTER II


INTRODUCES MORE UNROMANTIC MATERIAL

That French poet only concerns us here as, so to say, the highest light
in the contrast which it was the happy business of Theophilus
Londonderry, Jenny Talbot, and two or three devoted friends to make in
the vicinity of Gasometer Street and indeed in little Coalchester
at large.

Theophilus Londonderry! It is rather a mouthful of a name. Yet it's so
like the long, expansive, good-natured, eloquent fellow it stands for,
that I must not shorten it, though we shall presently abbreviate it for
purposes of affectionate reference. He himself liked "Theophil" for its
reminiscence of another French poet, though "Theo" was perhaps the more
suitable abbreviation for one of his profession. Really, or perhaps
rather seemingly, Theophilus Londonderry had two professions, - or say
one was a profession and the other was a vocation, a "call." By day he
professed to be a clerk in a cotton-office, - and he was no fool at that
(there is no need for a clever man to be a fool at anything), but by
night, and occasionally of an afternoon, - when he got leave of absence
to solemnise a marriage, or run through a funeral, - he was a spiritual
pastor, the young father of his flock.

Here I must permit myself some necessary remarks on the subject of
Nonconformity, its influence on individualities and its direct
relationship to Romance. In the churches of England or of Rome, - though
he sometimes looked wistfully towards the latter, - Theophilus
Londonderry, with his disabilities of worldly condition, would have
found no place to be himself in. His was an organism that could not
long have breathed in any rigid organisation. It was the
non-establishment, the comparative free-field, of Nonconformity that
gave him his chance. Conscious, soon after his first few breaths, of a
personal force that claimed operation in some human employment, some
work not made with hands, but into which also entered the spirit of man,
and being quite poor, and entirely hopeless of family wealth or
influence, there were only two fields open to him, Art or Nonconformity.
To art in the usual sense of the word he was not called, but to the art
of Demosthenes he was unmistakably called; and for this
Nonconformity - with a side entrance into politics - was his opportunity.

This bourne of his faculties had indeed been predestined for him by no
remoter influence than his father, himself a lay-preacher, when he was
not the business manager of a large hardware store, - a lay-preacher with
a very gentle face, the face of a father, a woman, a saint, and a
failure all in one.

I say failure by no means unkindly. Londonderry's father was made to be
a good bishop, to radiate from a hallowed security sweet lights of
blessing. His talent was gentleness, not in itself a fighting
quality, - a quality that needs a place prepared for it, needs the hand
of strength or opportunity to set it upon the hill. That he had made
himself learned, that his sympathy knew much of the soul of man, that he
was conscious of a very near communion with the Divine - were
qualifications that alone might not avail. Yet were they not lost, for,
apart from their own restricted exercise in the circle of his own little
"cause" and the other causes for which, in the technical phrase, he
would occasionally "supply," they had passed into his son, and met in
him other more energetic qualities, such as a magnetic eloquence, a love
of laughter, and a mighty humanity.

Thus Theophilus Londonderry was partly his father licked into shape and
partly something bigger and more effectively vital.

At sixteen he was learned in all the theologies; at nineteen he was said
to have preached a great sermon; at twenty-two he was the success of a
big political meeting; and at twenty-four he was the new lay-pastor
at New Zion.

This is not to be the theological history of a soul, so I shall not
attempt to decide upon the exact proportion of literal acceptance of
Christian dogma underlying the young pastor's sermons. I doubt if he
could have told you himself, and I am sure he would have considered the
point as unimportant as I do. His was a message of humanity delivered in
terms of Christianity. The message was good, the meaning honest. He
would, no doubt, have preferred another pulpit with other formulas, but
that pulpit was not forthcoming; so, like all the strong and the wise,
he chose the formulas offered to him, using as few as possible, and
humanising all he used; and never for a single second of time, whatever
the apparent contradictions on the surface, was Theophilus Londonderry
that poorest of all God's creatures, - a hypocrite. However you may judge
him, you must never make that mistake about him.




CHAPTER III


OF ELI MOGGRIDGE AND THE NEW SPIRIT

New Zion, despite its name, was, as I have hinted, no longer new. The
fiery zeal which had once made it a living schism had long since died
out of it. Carried years before, a little blazing ember of faith, from a
flourishing hearth of Nonconformity some streets away, it had puffed and
gleamed a little space in the eloquence of the offended zealots who
carried it hotfoot that Sunday morning, but its central fire had been
poor, and for a long time no evangelistic bellows had awakened in it
even a spark.

Its original elders had long since lost heart and passed away. A
dwindling remnant of their children, from old association, just kept its
doors from actually closing, and made a mournful interruption in its
musty silence on Sundays. Life was too low to support a Wednesday
prayer-meeting, and Sunday by Sunday that life ebbed lower. New life
from the outside must come, and speedily, or it must die.

But new life was already on the way. On the town side the sad streets
round New Zion led one into a more prosperous High Street, and indeed
Zion Street itself, as it turned the corner, flamed into quite a jovial
and ruddy shop - a provision merchant's, and kept by Eli Moggridge. The
name did its owner considerable wrong, for its suggestion of puritanical
sanctimoniousness was a flat contradiction of the jovial and ruddy
personality, the huge red-whiskered laugher, for whom it stood, and of
whom the shop, with its healthy smell of cheese and its air of exuberant
prosperity, was a much more truthful expression. Well, the business was
growing with such gusto that Mr. Moggridge felt he might afford a home
away from his shop, and thus he came to take the biggish empty house
which presently put on new paint and once more seemed quite proud of
being "Zion View."

Till this time, Mr. Moggridge. had "attended" elsewhere, but he was not
so young as he had been and somewhat stouter, and the stealthy approach
of comfortable habits had suggested to him that his old chapel was
rather at an unnecessary distance. Then, too, the fact of his house
being called after New Zion seemed to impose a sort of obligation
towards the sad old chapel. Besides, Mr. Moggridge was not inhumanly
above the pleasures of self-importance, and though he did not express it
in just those words, or indeed in any words at all, the idea of his
being the Maecenas of New Zion was suddenly born within him.

Now, quick was even the word with Mr. Moggridge, as became a successful
man of business, and for him to conceive an idea was to carry it out, as
goods were always delivered from Mr. Moggridge's shop, with despatch.
Also in some dim far-off way Mr. Moggridge's mind had, all
unconsciously, been stirred by vibrations of what we call the New
Spirit. The new spirit of any age works its way even into its
businesses, and though Mr. Moggridge wouldn't have so described it, it
was the "New Spirit" that had made the success of his provision shop.
Speaking of the need of New Zion, Mr. Moggridge called it "new blood."
He meant the "New Spirit;" and it was in reply to his advertisement for
a new pastor, that the "New Spirit" in the person of Theophilus
Londonderry came one Sunday to preach at New Zion.




CHAPTER IV


ENDS QUITE ROMANTICALLY

Eli Moggridge was a judge of men, and he liked Theophilus Londonderry at
a glance. Theophilus Londonderry was also a judge of men, and he liked
Eli Moggridge. In fact, two men that needed each other had met.

You couldn't help laughing a little at Mr. Moggridge at first, soon you
couldn't help respecting him, - Theophilus Londonderry was almost to know
what it was to love him. Indeed, that Mr. Moggridge was just the man he
was was a matter of no small importance to the young minister. A chief
deacon is nothing less than a fate, and it is in his power to be no
little of a tyrant. Had Mr. Moggridge's interest in New Zion been of a
different character, he would inevitably have been as great a hindrance
as he was to prove a help. Fortunately that interest was recreative
rather than severely religious. It was to be for him a sort of
Sunday-business to which he was to devote his vast spare energies. He
wanted to see it a "going concern," and, hating stagnation in his
neighbourhood, he looked about for a specialist whom he could trust to
make it move and hum and whizz.

Luckily, in so far as he was an amateur theologian, he was broad, with
further mental allowances for expansion. What was wanted at New Zion, he
explained to the young minister at supper after the close of an evening
service which had more than kept the promise of the morning, was not
Dogma, but common-sense every-day religion, a religion to help a man in
his business, not a Sunday-coat religion, a cheerful human religion; and
it happened that something of this very sort was what Theophilus
Londonderry was eagerly prepared to supply.

The stipend was small, a poor sixty pounds a year, but Mr. Moggridge
guaranteed to swell it to a hundred if necessary from his own resources,
and he wanted it clearly understood that, short, of course, of the broad
general principles of Christian teaching, no restrictions were to be
placed either by him or anyone else on the young man's expression of the
faith that was in him. "All we want you to do," he said in conclusion,
"is to make the place go, give it new blood, new fire; as to how you do
it, that is your own business - and I shall no more interfere with you in
that than I should expect you to instruct me on the subject of York
hams. We must all be specialists nowadays, - specialists," repeated Mr.
Moggridge, with a feeling that he too had discovered planets.

So it came to pass that "The Rev. Theophilus Londonderry, Pastor,"
presently lit up with a sudden vehemence of new gold-leaf the faded
dusty name board of the chapel, and that, his own home being at too
great a distance for his ministrations, he came to lodge with some nice
old-fashioned people called Talbot at No. 3, Zion Lane.

I want you to like funny old Mrs. Talbot, and I want you to love her
little daughter Jenny; so, to make it the easier, I shall not describe
them at too great a length. Old Mr. and Mrs. Talbot were the sole
survivors of the less active founders of New Zion, meekly not militantly
pious, stubborn as sheep in a dumb obstinacy of ancient faith, but in no
sense dialectical, and in every sense harmless.

Mr. Talbot was a working stone-mason, and on rare occasions when front
parlour people caught glimpses of him, he was observed to be sitting in
the kitchen in some uncomfortable attitude of unoccupation, "like
white-haired Saturn, quiet as a stone." It is not recorded that he ever
thought on any subject, and it is certain that he seldom spoke. He would
flee from a stranger as from a lion, and, when confronted by such from
the wilds of the front parlour, he would bob his old head pathetically,
and make no attempt at speech beyond a muffled good-evening. It
disconcerted him to be expected to speak, and his tongue slumbered in
his mouth, - for he was an old weary man, and perhaps very wise.

Old Mrs. Talbot, whose wifehood had long since been submerged in an
immeasurable motherhood and the best of cooks, would do the little
thinking the house required, take charge of the old man's earnings, pay
the rent and the burial club, and scheme little savings against Jenny's
marriage - which she kept, not in an old stocking, but in a precious
teapot of some old-fashioned ware reputed valuable, and itself carefully
wrapped up in a yellow handkerchief of Cashmere. The old lady had a
heart of fun in her, and even her notion of romance, and her withered
old apple of a face, with its quaint ringleted hair, had once been bonny
and red, you might be sure. But she was half blind now, and a good deal
deaf, and her sweet old mouth was hard to get at when she kissed you, as
she had a motherly way of insisting if she liked you. She, too, was very
old, and she, I know, was very wise.

Jenny - well, there is really not much to describe about Jenny, beyond
that she was sweetly little, had a winning old-fashioned air about her,
was very good, that is, very kind, and was adored by the
school-children, whom she taught first for love and then for dress and
pocket-money. She was but nineteen, and all unminted woman as yet. No
lover had yet come to stamp her features with his masterful
superscription. Was she pretty? Heroines ought to be either very pretty
or very plain. Well, the beauty that was going to be was as yet only
beginning at the eyes. They were already beautiful. No, she wasn't
pretty yet, but she wasn't plain.

Jenny's face slept as yet. When the fairy prince came and kissed it,
there was no telling to what beauty it would awake. The fairy prince!
That was going to be our friend Theophil, of course. Well, of course,
though it's a little early on to admit it. However, I am unequal to the
task of concealing from the hawk-eyed reader through a succession of
chapters that Jenny and Theophil were to be each other's "fates." Of
course, he hadn't been there a month before Jenny's face was beginning
to wear that superscription of his passionate intelligence, to grow
merry from his laughter, and still sweeter by his kisses.

Of course, Theophil and Jenny fell in love. Do you think it was merely
to save New Zion and to bring the Renaissance to Coalchester that
Theophilus Londonderry was sent to live in Zion Place - or for any other
purpose less important than to love Jenny? Yes, we may as well take that
for granted as we begin the next chapter.




CHAPTER V


OF THE ARTIST IN MAN AND HIS MATERIALS

There is only one way to give life to the dead or the moribund, the way
of the Hebrew prophet, - to give it one's own. Theophilus Londonderry
instinctively knew this, and he began at once to breathe mightily
upon New Zion.

The goldsmith blows merrily all day through his little blowpipe, but it
is gold he is working on. The poet breathes upon the dictionary, and lo!
it flushes and breaks into flower. But then he is breathing on words.
The material of such artists is a joy in itself. They are workers in the
precious metals. Theophilus Londonderry had very different material to
mould, - an old chapel and some very dull humanity. Humanity is not a
precious metal, but if you know how to use it, it is excellent clay, - a
clay not without streaks of gold.

What was Theophilus Londonderry's purpose with his material, his will
towards the uncreated world over which his young vitalising spirit was
moving? To save it? Yes, incidentally; but primarily to express himself
by means of it, to set it vibrating to the rhythm of his nature, to set
it dancing to a tune of his piping. Already he was being stamped in gold
on Jenny's face. The coarser face of the world was to wear his smile
too. For the pebble had only been thrown in at New Zion. Who knows to
what coasts of fame the imperious ripples of his personality would
circle on before they touched the shores of death?

We may be polite as we please to humanity in the mass, and humanity in
occasional rarely encountered individuals is - well, divine; and to such
we gladly and humbly and rapturously pay divine honours. But in any
given thousand human beings, poor or rich, what would be your
calculation for the average of such divine, - how many faces would you
fall down and worship, how many hands would you care to take, how many
hearts would you dare to trust?

Alas, the rather good eyes must go so often with the disastrous chin,
the mouth succeed where the nose fails, the expansive impulse be checked
by the narrow habit, the little gleam of gold be lost in the clay.

Preponderant charm does not crowd into chapels or anywhere else to be
minted, it is busy on some vantage height of its own, impressing its own
image; and it is with minds maimed by the cruel machinery of life,
natures stunted and starved by adverse and innutritive condition, that
the artist in man must be satisfied. With what pathetic little flashes
of faculty, what fleeting and illusory glimpses of insight, what waifs
and strays of attractiveness, must he work and be happy, and with what
a thankfulness that the tenth rate is not twentieth or thirtieth!

Then, too, how often must the intractible material be impressed again
and again and again before it begins to wear the first trace of your
image. Once a poet has impressed himself with mastery upon words, the
impression remains for ever, the words do not disperse in idle crowds
when he has done speaking to them, never again to reassemble in a like
combination; whereas the greatest oratorical mover of men is doomed,
even after his most electrical self-impression, to see his image, as
soon as taken, fade away, with a shuffle of escaping feet and a scramble
for hats and cloaks. It was a masterpiece; but with the last touch, see,
the colours are flying in a hundred directions, and the very canvas
itself is off in a thousand threads of hurried disintegration!

But all this, of course, has to do entirely with the poetry of the
ministerial life; prosaic even as preaching and praying to the New
Zioners may sound, there was yet a drearier prose. For these artistic
materials had not only to be preached and prayed to, - they had to be in
a measure lived with, listened to, personally studied, and individually
considered. Each was an atom to be set in vibration, and each needed to
be set or kept going in his own way. All this prose had to be made help
in the poetry. How skilful you had to be to rouse the interest you
needed and escape the many interests you did not need, to awaken the
single gift without bringing upon you all the rest, to suffer the fool
wisely, - that is, to the extent of his tiny wisdom, and no more. To
encourage say Miss Annie Smith in her district-visiting - what a talent
she has for that! - but firmly to forget her at concerts; to welcome Mr.
Jones's services at collections, but gently to discourage him at prayer
meetings; in short, to meet all at the point where their natures were
really and usefully alive, but at no other point of their
circumferences.

However, nature had made this as easy as breathing to the Reverend
Theophilus, for, apart from his humour and good nature, he was a lover
of character for its own sake, and to the student of character there is
no such person as a bore. Brother Saunderson was no doubt as wearisome
an old man as the world holds, but his manner of neighing to the Lord in
prayer was worth it all. And it is rather a pity if the reader imagines
that to laugh at his neigh is to forget respect for his venerable faith.

Thus mightily, gently, cunningly, coaxingly, Theophilus Londonderry
breathed upon New Zion, and Eli Moggridge was a noble second, according
to his word. At every service of every kind, and at all times, he was
there, swelling out from a pewful of ruddy daughters, and endlessly
beaming round at his fellow-worshippers, as much as to say, "Didn't I
say he was the man for New Zion?"

The old channels were beginning to fill with the new spirit, the old
disused machinery was once more in motion. In two months' time every
possible form of meeting was in a healthy condition of attendance,
prayer-meeting, church-meeting, mothers' meeting, Bible class, Dorcas
society, Band of Hope, Sunday-school, all briskly in motion; and the
ladies, led by Jenny, were all as busy as bees over a bazaar. New Zion
had indeed become a veritable merry-go-round of religious and social


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